Mental health: Surviving and thriving

I was originally going to call this column: 'My kids have given me a reason to live,' but sadly mental health isn't that simple.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 11th May 2017, 3:22 pm
Updated Friday, 12th May 2017, 12:07 pm

Some of my darkest moments were in fact when I was pregnant with my second child with a toddler running around, a successful media career and a fiancé, as well as, a safe place to live.

And yet I was faced with the prospect of being admitted into a Mother and Baby Unit, being separated from my husband and eldest daughter. I had everything I had ever dreamed of and yet that didn’t stop me from wanting to kill myself.

That’s the thing with mental illness, it’s irrational, illogical and it just doesn’t make sense, especially, when you put a mentally ill mind next to a ‘saner’ one. During some of my darkest moments, which I’ve experienced since age 11, I have heard voices, I have been delusional and the only option I had in my head was to harm myself. Some people think it is selfish to do such a thing, especially now I’m a mother.

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I have tried my best to survive, but I have also been close to the edge. It’s not that my children, my husband, my family or my friends aren’t enough, far from it, it’s because I don’t feel enough. As a parent or carer your job is to guide and nurture your little ones, it is to instill confidence into them and it is to help them to dream.

But what if you can’t even care for yourself? I have put every ounce of my being into looking after my children and they do help me to be mindful, to see a future and give me a reason to live.

And yet when my mental illness grabs me, it is hard to see so clearly. But I am still a good (far from perfect) mum because my children are my world. Yes I can be lazy with my mental health but it’s not always in my control. By “lazy” I mean there can be choices when it comes to recovering from a mental illness, take for example eating disorders. I choose to challenge myself to eat a variety of foods, but sometimes it is the eating disorder controlling me. And some days I am just too tired to try. I remember going to a self-help group and the counsellor saying that I “wasn’t ready for treatment.” I felt rejected and hurt. But now looking back, I probably wasn’t ready because I didn’t want to recover.

I still wanted to lose weight and I wasn’t interested in getting better. Being better meant I’d failed. Even when I was hospitalised with my eating disorder and it was my last real chance of intensive treatment, I could not find the drive in me to recover, because my mind was too poorly.

In my head, losing that bit of control over my body, giving in to the nurses, would have been worse than death.

Now I have my own kids I realise how mental health still affects me and sometimes more now I’m a mum because deep down I want to recover but I’m battling with my mind and sometimes physical addictions.

It also feels more painful because I can see what I am missing out on with this illness.

Some days are okay and I can bear it, other days I just can’t cope. So whilst having children gives me a focus and challenges me daily – they are not be able to completely fix my broken mind as much as they wouldn’t be able to fix a broken leg.

My mentally ill health is a complex outcome of a difficult past, what I believe to be a predisposition genetically and bad habits (or maybe even an addiction). Don’t get me wrong, I want so much to live for my children which is why I now honestly want to get better. I want to live and I am constantly challenging myself.

But it is too simplistic a view that children can cure you. I have to want to live for myself as well as for my children. And that’s the hardest part of it all. I want my children to watch me thrive rather than merely just survive. At the moment I feel I am thriving thanks to good medication, lots of exercise and a close family unit.