When it comes to mental health, i’m not ashamed to say that I hold that Yorkshire ‘stiff upper lip’ thing about ‘manning up’ and ‘getting on with it’ but its only in recent years have I realised that actually, mental health is not something you choose, you can control how you look after your own mental health but when the struggle is real. It is well and truly real.
I fall into many categories which makes me at higher risk for mental health struggles and i’m not embarrassed to say there have been times when it has been difficult, but being able to say to those nearest and dearest ‘i’m not ok’ and actually, to blog about my struggles and put it out there, has helped me beyond measure. It is ok not to be ok.
I am a woman.
Greater social factors make women at higher risk of mental health issues but their willingness to talk about their feelings and strong social networks make for great protection of their mental health.
I look after family members as well as myself.
As a Wife, Mother, Sister, Daughter, Granddaughter, traditionally women are guardians for the whole family and often put that before their own mental health.
I am a carer.
Women carers are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than women in the general population.
Looking after a family member with a health problem can have a significant impact on carers’ own mental health. Mental health problems of carers include emotional stress, depressive symptoms and, in some cases, clinical depression.
71% of carers have poor physical or mental health.
A Carers UK’s annual survey with over 5,000 carers across the UK revealed that 84% of carers feel more stressed, 78% feel more anxious and 55% reported that they suffered from depression as a result of their caring role.
I am a Mother.
More women than men are the main carer for their children and they may care for other dependent relatives too – intensive caring can affect emotional health, physical health, social activities and finances which all have an impact on mental health.
I struggled with fertility.
It has long been a taboo subject and I have to admit that when I openly shared our journey, there were so many people within our circle who had experienced some problems or support to conceive and it just pointed out how people felt ’embarrassed’ or ‘ashamed’ and like they couldn’t share and of course this in itself leads to mental health struggles. I know the older generation can often feel that IVF is unnatural and see children conceived this way as ‘different’ and hopefully now we are moving towards a much more open minded society.
The stress of the non-fulfillment of a wish for a child has been associated with anger, depression, anxiety, marital problems and social isolation. Couples experience stigma, sense of loss, and diminished self-esteem due to their infertility.
Stress, depression and anxiety are described as common consequences of infertility.
I had IVF treatment.
While many couples presenting for infertility treatment have high levels of psychological distress associated with infertility, the process of assisted reproduction itself is also associated with increased levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
I had failed IVF cycles.
A growing number of research studies have examined the impact of infertility treatment at different stages, with most focusing on the impact of failed IVF trials. They found that women presenting for IVF were more depressed, had lower self-esteem and were less confident than fertile women and after a failed IVF cycle, experienced a further lowering of self-esteem and an increase in depression.
I experienced miscarriage.
Pregnancy loss has been linked to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Also linked with miscarriage are;
- Panic attacks – you may feel sweaty, sick, disconnected, shaky and out of control.
- Self-harm – hurting yourself to help deal with overwhelming emotions and painful thoughts.
- Suicidal feelings – thinking the world would be better off without you, having more abstract thoughts about death, or making a plan to end your life.
- Insomnia or problems with sleep – finding yourself unable to sleep because you are worrying and thinking a lot about your loss – or for another reason.
- Nightmares – having nightmares related to your loss when you do sleep.
- Feeling tired all the time – even if you have managed to get enough sleep.
- Intrusive thoughts – not being able to control when images or thoughts related to your loss appear in your mind.
- Flashbacks – feeling as if you are reliving your loss (as if it is happening right now).
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Phobias – feeling very scared or anxious about something specific, perhaps related to your loss (but not always)
I had a rubbish pregnancy.
I blamed myself and felt like I could have eaten more and that I wasn’t doing enough to care for my unborn twins, but the truth was, my body was shutting down. It was out of my control. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I couldn’t eat, I lost so much weight, I was like a baby bird with a big bump. I was frail. I spent weeks in bed. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t enjoy that pregnancy that I had been through so much to have. I was in and out of hospital every couple of days on a drip, in the end they gave me a day pass to go and get IV fluids.
The nausea and vomiting of HG can impact your life at a time when you were expecting to be enjoying pregnancy and looking forward to the birth of your baby.
It can affect you both emotionally and physically. The symptoms can be hard to cope with.
Severe sickness can be exhausting and stop you doing everyday tasks, such as going to work or even getting out of bed.
In addition to feeling very unwell and tired, you might also feel:
- anxious about going out or being too far from home in case you need to vomit
- isolated because you do not know anyone who understands what it’s like to have HG
- confused as to why this is happening to you
- unsure about how to cope with the rest of the pregnancy if you continue to feel very ill
Bear in mind that HG is much worse than regular pregnancy sickness. It is not the result of anything you have or have not done, and you do need treatment and support.
I gave birth prematurely.
Parents with premature babies are 50% more likely to experience psychological distress.
PTSD can begin after childbirth, with extreme distress during traumatising events linked to how symptoms appear.
Parents whose baby is born premature or sick often experience trauma during birth. This can be for lots of different reasons. Some of the most common experiences are:
- Suffering anxiety after giving birth before parents were expecting to
- Going into labour suddenly, and outside of a hospital
- Having emergency surgery, such as a cesarean section
- Specific parts of the birth, for example lots of blood loss or being alone
- Being separated from their baby as soon as they’re born
Research also shows that parents who don’t feel they know enough about their situation or what is happening to their baby, or who don’t feel sure of what will happen next, can struggle more with their mental health.
I spent 99 days on the neonatal unit before I took my babies home.
80% of parents mental health go worse after spending time on the neonatal unit.
Anxiety, PTSD, depression, OCD, post-natal depression, post-partum psychosis, seperation anxiety, suicidal thoughts and all common in parents whose babies spend time in neonatal care.
All of the above information is either my own experience, or data taken from the following sources;
When I think about this in an anecdotal way, as opposed to seeing myself as any of those statistics above, I think about the emotional rollercoaster of the IVF, dealing with the grief and the loss through failed IVF cycles and miscarriages. The mourning of a pregnancy I imagined and dreamt of and instead struggling for the entire 5 months, anxious that my poor health and inability to eat would result in losing our ‘last chance’ that were Austin and Rory. The flashbacks of that morning I went into premature labour at 26 weeks, my desperate plea’s in the ambulance and my point blank refusal to push in the labour suite, desperate to control some element of this nightmare.
The 99 days in neonatal care, the sounds of those machines, those weeks / months in intensive care, those 17 days I had to wait for a cuddle. Planning your childs funeral just in case, because you daren’t believe they will ever come home. The anxiety and pressure 24/7 of caring for your childs airway, his life in your hands. That desperate need for normality. These past 3 years that have been so so so hard. And the overwhelming knowledge that there are more to come.
I have a great support network, I like to talk. Blogs like this have been my saviour.
Yes, I am anxious sometimes. Yes, I have guilt. Some days I feel overwhelmed with everything. Yes, I still mourn that life I imagined.
But that’s ok. It is ok not to be ok.
Share this post with friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues. We are all a statistic somewhere along the line. Mental health is everyones responsibility. Talk. Lets open up the conversation. Raise awareness.
It’s ok not to be ok!