World Mental Health Day was on 10th October and it has prompted me to blog about my own experience of mental ill-health. For obvious reasons, it’s a deeply personal subject so I’ll try my best to be as open and honest as possible without being too much.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when my triplets were around six months old. One of the babies has spina bifida and hydrocephalus and I’d just had my worst ever relapse of my Multiple Sclerosis. I just felt totally overwhelmed and remember sitting in front of my doctor and saying “I’m scared for Jacob all the time, I can’t stop worrying I’ll lose him.” He was amazing and gently let me explain how I was just not coping with the demands that were in front of me or the emotional load of having a beautiful little boy with complex health needs. He then told me part of the problem was the fact I was a trained nurse so was always watching for clinical signs when I should be enjoying being a mummy. He also said he’d be more worried if I hadn’t gone to see him. We worked out a management plan together and I felt so much better for it.
In saying that, I think anxiety will always be something I will have to manage instead of something I can be cured of. I’m sure a lot of special needs parents will relate completely to this because it is terrifying to have such love for a little person who may be very unwell at times. Seven years on, I believe my anxiety is better managed but I still take medication for it and I still find certain things will flare it massively such as Jacob (or his siblings!) being unwell. There are some “traits” recognised in people with mental health difficulties that I also experience.
For example, I have what doctors like to call “catastrophic thinking” which basically means if Jacob has a simple cold, I’ll always have a nagging voice telling me I’m missing a shunt blockage/malfunction and he’s going to die. If my MS is bad one day, I’ll always feel that it’s this exact day that I’ll be unable to walk anymore. I sometimes feel that people, even good friends or family, think the absolute worst of me. My rational brain knows all of these things are unlikely, but my anxiety will take a small thing and blow it up massively. I’ve had to learn how to step back and ask myself “Is this possible? Is it true? Could this be anxiety-driven?”.
I also find it hard to switch my brain off. I overthink everything. I forget why I walk into a room at times because of my MS (and possibly having triplets…) but could tell you what I said wrong in a conversation from a decade ago. I’ll worry about what will happen if I can’t stick to a commitment I have made and whether or not I’ll be believed if I’m unwell. Night times are the worst for this resulting in insomnia, which is obviously very unhelpful (everything is worse without sleep isn’t it?!). We have a camera for Jacob’s nocturnal seizures and I end up watching it sometimes just checking he is breathing. It is truly so terrifying.
Apparently, a happy Mum (and/or dad or caregiver) can literally almost “immunise” your kids against mental health challenges by teaching healthy coping mechanisms. We talk a lot about feelings in our house- what they are, why we have them, the fact they are normal and healthy ways to cope with them. Jacob now sees a counsellor himself and as she put it, we all want our kids to grow up in a world where they’d never face any hardships, but that’s just not realistic. So it’s our job to show them HOW to manage in healthy ways when things go wrong. That’s now what I try to teach our kids and what I am constantly trying to practice myself.