It’s difficult being a parent, nobody ever really prepares you for what is about to happen. When Max was born, things were brilliant. When he was 8 months old, I went back to work, and Jay and I worked separate shifts, so we didn’t have to pay for a nursery or a pre-school or anything like that.
Max started nursery when he was 2 so he could socialise and see other children, and that was when he brought home a stomach bug. That started a very rapid decline in my mental health, as well as my psychical health. The stomach bug left my anxiety really dreadful and I was off work for over 3 months. It was during these 3 months that I decided I wanted to move home and be closer to my parents. We looked at all our options, and Jay managed to get a job there so we moved home.
When we came back, instead of us both working part time, Jay got a full time job so I could be at home with Max, which was brilliant, because l love being with him. He’s my whole world, but I kinda got stuck in a rut, and all I did was change nappies and do load after never ending load of washing, and I became just “mummy”. I wasn’t me anymore. I didn’t really have much adult conversation outside of Jay and my parents, and I didn’t really have any friends around here, because most of the people I knew before I moved away, didn’t have children.
When you have kids you don’t tend to see those people who don’t have kids as much, because all your free time is spent looking after your children, and when you go out somewhere it has to be appropriate for the children, and your friends without kids don’t want to go and hang out at soft play centres for 2 hours, with what feels like hundreds of screaming kids, when they don’t have to and they could go to Costa or Starbucks and have a nice relaxing cup of coffee. Unfortunately as a parent that’s not always an option.
I found I was slipping into the daily grind of being a mum, and that the only reason I was here was to be a mum and to look after this tiny human. My anxiety had got really bad, to the point that I didn’t want to go to those busy places, I didn’t want to go to soft play or anywhere where there was a high risk of germs. I was very lucky that my Health Visitor got me in touch with a charity called Home Start (who are an amazing resource), and I had a volunteer called Hazel, who would come and visit me for about 2 hours each week. She would help me get out and navigate my anxiety over soft play centres, and provide me with some adult conversation. Just for those 2 hours each week, I was me again. It was about me and not just “mummy”. Eventually those services dropped off, and I’d developed much more confidence to to be able to go to some of these places alone.
Then Max started school, and I found myself thinking that I really wanted to do something, and make a difference, but it was difficult because I still needed to be around for Max after school, and my Crohn’s wasn’t completely under control so I worried about getting a job and childcare and with my Crohn’s and whether I’d need time off work. I mentioned in passing to a friend from Max’s class that I wanted to do something and she mentioned a charity called Motherwell, that helps mothers with their mental health, were looking for volunteers, and I thought to myself how brilliant it would be because it’s the 2 things that I am most passionate about and that dominate the majority of my life.
I got in touch with Kate who founded Motherwell, and the job was to help with Marketing and Social Media, which I could do in the office or at home. I had been helping with the the school PTA and got their Facebook page off the ground and had been making images to grab attention, so the position seemed perfect. With the PTA work, it is fab, but it all stems back to being a mum and mum duties, this opportunity would allow me to help someone else outside of my family unit. I went and had an interview/informal chat and it worked out brill. She was happy for me to come on board and I’ve been there 9 months now and I feel more like me again, and not just here to be a mum for Max. I have a purpose. The job I do is a volunteer role, it’s not something I’m paid for, and I do it just for a few hours each week, and that allows me to be that other person.
My role with Motherwell has led me to meet other people who’ve been in similar situations to me who have suffered with mental health conditions and who have had issues with losing their identity as a person and that they felt like they’d become just a mother. They’ve come out of the other side of it though, they’ve come out of the young family stage and are facing new challenges with the menopause, and with this, they want to pass on help to young mothers and families using their own experiences. It is brilliant because there is always such a diverse group of people and someone has been through what you’re going through and can reassure you that you will come out of the other side.
It made me realise that the only stigma related to Mental health is because we don’t talk about it enough, and once you start talking others will too, and you will find more people have been through it that you can ever imagine. For example, over the summer holidays, Max and I met with one of his friends, and I don’t know the mum overly well, but we had time to chat, and she disclosed that she had suffered with PND, and it came as quite a shock to me, because this person is so well put together, she is a very successful business woman and always seems to juggle work and family like this is what she was born to do. Some people are just better at hiding it than others.
People can lose their identity of who they are, especially mothers who aren’t working, and there are so many things that you can do to claim that identity back. You could go and volunteer somewhere for a couple of hours, whether you use skills you already have, or if you want to get out for a walk and deliver some leaflets or volunteer with an RSPCA shelter or kennels and walk the dogs or help clean them out. There are loads of charities that you can help out with like baking cakes for a bake sale, this also gives you the opportunity to go and meet new people as well by heading to the event.
Be who you are. Be more than mummy. You are a person in your own right and it’s time we claim ourselves back, however that may be. Speak to friends, see what they do, see if they need help and if you can do something together.
If you can find something you’re passionate about that can make all the difference. I don’t regret for a second doing my volunteer work, and I’ve even taken on more tasks and responsibilities since I began because I love it so much and I’ve gained so much of my identity back.
Don’t get me wrong, my mental health is still my biggest challenge, every single day, but I fight it because I have to. I’m not just “mummy” anymore, I’m me and I do things to help myself and other people. When I discover someone I’ve been in contact with has managed to get some help because of me, that sense of satisfaction can turn my bad day to a brilliant day for me.
If you’re starting to feel like you’ve lost your identity, you can do something about it. Go out there and grab the opportunity, and don’t ever feel alone.