Mothers and babies in mind

When I first became a mother over twenty years ago I had never heard of perinatal mental health. Though my pregnancy was very much wanted and I had longed to become a mother for many years, I was unprepared for the maelstrom of feelings that would engulf me both during the pregnancy and following the birth of my first child. I had heard of the ‘baby blues’, but did not fully grasp that the physiological and emotional changes of pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn baby can make this a particularly vulnerable time for new mothers.

Having already experienced depression and anxiety, I realise now that pregnancy was a catalyst for a surge in emotions that further affected my mental health. I was consumed by fears about not only having my baby, but by how others would perceive me and how I would be judged as an inadequate mother. And after the safe delivery of my first child my anxieties became magnified. Despite no evidence to suggest this was or would become the case, I became overly concerned that people would see me as an ‘unfit mother’ and they would take my baby away.

These fears were ‘irrational’, but they felt very real and they affected my ability to enjoy my time as a first time mother. Above everything else, I felt alone and isolated. I had few friends or family nearby that I could share my anxieties with. Although I felt depressed and anxious I didn’t see it as related to becoming a mother and wasn’t sure that I could get support for these feelings. I also felt guilty and ashamed for not being able to cope as well as I thought I should. I did however find support through a local breastfeeding group. Here I found a community of mothers who met weekly to give mutual support to each other. This really helped me and my self esteem around my baby and my abilities to parent her.

Thankfully I was fortunate, and my anxieties did not completely overwhelm me, becoming a more serious mental health crisis. Over time I felt less anxious about motherhood and began to enjoy my time with my baby a lot more. Sadly, this isn’t the case for some new or expectant mothers, whose experiences can lead to serious conditions such as ‘postpartum psychosis’, that often affects women soon after birth.

By the time I had my second baby two years later I realised that I needed more professional support so saw my GP who referred me for counselling. This greatly helped address underlying issues I had with my mental health and ultimately helped me navigate motherhood more successfully.

If you (or somebody you know) have any concerns about your mental health during the perinatal period, help and support are available to ensure you find a healthier and more rewarding journey through parenthood.

For more information or support you can visit the NHS website on https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/perinatal/ or visit the mental health charity MIND at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/about-maternal-mental-health-problems/

To gain peer support from other mothers who have experience of perinatal mental health problems visit The National Childbirth Trust at https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/commissioned-services/parents-mind-perinatal-mental-health-peer-support

And remember that here at Harmless we aim to support anyone experiencing difficulties with self harm or suicidal thoughts, whether these occur during the perinatal period or not.

My perinatal mental health – a blog by Lisa Williamson

In line with this week’s theme of perinatal mental health, I thought I would share a few words. I am a mum to five children (now fully grown adults) and I experienced a ‘wobble’ with my mental health, following the birth of my fourth child.

I must admit, I had become quite complacent about the whole ‘parenting’ thing and having already had three children with no problems, I thought I was invincible…………I wasn’t!

I wasn’t prepared for the huge wave of sadness that hit me. I couldn’t understand how I had just given birth to a beautiful healthy child, who I absolutely fell in love with, yet I felt so incredibly sad and all I wanted to do was sit alone and cry. I was angry with myself and tried to ‘pull myself together’ but this underlying feeling would not go away. Eventually I dragged myself to the doctors feeling a complete failure at admitting defeat. He diagnosed post natal depression and after a series of medication and a bit of self-care (not an easy task to fit in when you’re a busy mum), I slowly got  back to being the energetic, happy mum of four little girls.

It was at this point that I learned anyone can suffer with their mental health. I had looked for excuses everywhere……..I must just be tired, it was due to family issues, it was because my husband worked shifts. I had looked everywhere for the answer, without looking at me.

Here is a picture of my children when they were younger and a more recent one of them now.

 

Lisa Williamson

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Happy growing

It has now become widely accepted, through research and many people’s own lived experience, that gardening and being outdoors are hugely beneficial for our mental wellbeing. Gardening is recognised as having healing properties, in that it can help restore us to a sense of wholeness and offer connection to the cycle of life. This is certainly something that I have experienced throughout my own life.

Living with depression and anxiety since my teens, I felt alienated from nature and consumed by my own worries and fears about life. It was only after I left home that my relationship with gardening began to blossom, when I first started growing vegetables whilst living as a student in a shared house with a very small garden. It was with great pride that I sowed my first tomato seeds and nurtured them on my windowsill until they were mature enough to be planted outside. This process saw me connecting with nature and myself in a way that I never had before and brought about a shift in the way I viewed life. Seeing those little seedlings appear was like watching magic happen before my eyes, and with them, a sense of accomplishment and confidence in my own abilities also began to grow. My seedlings continued to develop into sturdy plants in the grow bags that became their new home and within a couple of months I was rewarded for my efforts with my first delicious home-grown tomatoes!

Many years later, after starting a family, it was with great excitement that I introduced my children to the world of gardening and they delighted in growing their own little plants. Cress seeds were particularly fun to try first, as they could be sprinkled on the earth to form letters as they grew. Potatoes and carrots were always a big hit, because harvesting them was like digging for treasure, with instant rewards being unearthed by little hands. Peas were also popular because they tasted so fresh when eaten straight from their pods. And we found that there is no supermarket competition for freshly picked corn on the cob, which was particularly sweet when cooked straight after harvesting.

In time I took on an allotment, where we grew more and bigger crops. And not only was it a productive place for growing fruit and vegetables, it became my sanctuary, a safe place I could escape to when life got too busy and chaotic. I often took with me a book to read, or wrote in my journal as I sat under the apple tree on my plot, feeling a sense of renewed peace as my batteries were recharged by nature. But as my life has continued to grow busier I have had less time to spend on there and it was with some sadness that after fifteen happy years I recently gave up my plot.

All is not lost though, and here’s another great thing about nature – it is all around us and we don’t need to travel far to feel its benefit. I am fortunate to have a back garden at home and this is where I am now turning my attention again. But even without a garden you can still experience the joy of gardening, growing flowers and vegetables in pots that can fit on small balconies and windowsills. Or you can enjoy one of the larger community gardens that have sprung up and been cultivated in many of our towns and cities.

Happy growing!

Sonia

Noticing beauty

At the moment, the world seems like a really ugly place. The news is full of illness, death rates, stress, and chaos, and seeing that on a daily basis can make us forget that the world is full of beautiful things too.

I have recently started enjoying going out for a walk, and actively looking for beautiful things. When I find them, I stop and take a photo, so at the end of my walk I have a soothing photo collection of nice things that I’ve seen that day. Not only does this temporarily take my mind off the stress of going through a global pandemic, but it also reminds me of how simply lovely the world is. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to do this, I just use my phone! 

Here are some of the photos that I took on one of my walks last week!

Hope you’re all well and are staying safe,

Laura

How Tom rediscovered the great outdoors

One thing the lockdown has really highlighted for me is how under appreciative I was of the Derbyshire countryside only a 10 minute walk from my house. The dry, warm weather we have experienced through most of March and April has encouraged me to step into the countryside and really explore its beauty and nature.  It is not as dramatic as High Peak areas of the Peak district or have the spectacular views of Kinder Scout, but it is still stunningly picturesque. If I can take a positive from the current situation, it has at least enabled me to rediscover what I forgot was right in front of me and how it benefits me.

I have realised that walking in the countryside has some almost therapeutic benefits. It really seems to stimulate the senses and set me loose from my thoughts, anxieties, and stresses. Even when it does not alleviate those worries, there is a calmness and serenity which helps me think more clearly and calmly, meaning I can often come up with ideas and solutions to my problems whilst I am walking.

A further beneficial by-product of walking in the countryside is the exercise itself, which has replaced going the gym, and the mental health benefits that has. It keeps me active and when I am active, I feel less agitated and more relaxed. I also experience that feel-good factor or sense of achievement you often get when you have achieved a goal or target.

I realise I am very fortunate to be able to walk in the countryside, and not everyone can, but I would like to think most people have a place or an activity that can give them a sense of calmness and can give them an escape from their worries and anxiety.  However, like I took the countryside on my doorstep for granted, we sometimes forget what these are or forget the benefits they have on us. When life and time seem to fly by and external pressures are everywhere, it is easy to forget activities we can do to benefit our mental well being. Now, with many of us at home most of the day and social contact unattainable, seems to be a good time to discover (or rediscover) what we can do to help ourselves as individuals.

Tom,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Blending in

This week’s theme here at Harmless is Gardening, Nature and the Outdoors. I have tried gardening before. Let us just say it is a work in progress… But nature and the outdoors – oh I could talk for days about that.

Nature is (for me that is) the utmost definition of what non judgemental means. It is real, visible, factual, and tangible. Places of calm and quiet, with just the right type of noise and the right amount of light. Nothing clashes, everything has a place where it belongs. And you can just blend in.

Not many places are completely free of human intrusion and meddlesome, but I still try my best to find them. Back home, you would usually find me swimming in the ocean. Now, the Peaks are where I feel at home. And I miss my walks terribly right now, so I’ll end my short contribution to this week’s theme by sharing some of my favourite places out there in the big wide world.

Ana,

Suicide Bereavement Lead

Music and Mental Health

“Music is what feelings sound like” (Georgia Cates).

Is there anything more powerful than music? If you’re like me you’ll love listening to music.

I wish I could play a musical instrument. In one of my impulsive moments I bought us a baby grand piano with the intention of playing great tunes for my kids to sing along. This never happened (well not beyond ‘Silent Night’ which I’d learnt, aged 8, on my sisters’ xylophone!).

Music is my constant companion: following me around wherever I go. From waking up, driving my car, being at work or being at home, I love to hear my favourite tunes. I guess music for me is like my comfort blanket. If I feel sad, music can cheer me up, when I pick something that I know will lift my mood. It can also give me the chance to let it all out and have an almighty sob, when I’m in a safe place to do so. Some songs can make me cry even when I don’t feel sad, simply because they are just meaningful or hold a special memory.

Music supports me in whatever I do. It helps me get ready, putting me in the right mood. It can make me want to dance and comes with me when I’m running. Music helps me relax and unwind: there’s nothing better than taking a bubble bath with some classical chill out tunes filling the bathroom. Music has helped me study and calmed my nerves. It keeps me company when I’m feeling alone and is the backbone to controlling my emotions. If I have music in my life, I can be anyone I want to be (after all, I KNOW I’m Beyonce when I’m singing in my car!). I cannot imagine how I would be in a world without music.

 

Lisa Williamson

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Being kind to ourselves

Hi, I’m Ian – a Therapist with Harmless. The perspective I’d like to share is the importance of being kind to ourselves during this time. This is a scary situation, and if you’re feeling anxious or down, remember that those are completely normal responses to fearful situations. But also keep in mind that our emotions are influenced by our thoughts – if we’re preparing ourselves for the worst outcomes or dwelling on the things we don’t have, then we’re naturally going to feel more fear or sadness. But if we focus on the fact that every second brings us closer to the end of the lockdown and the virus, and that by isolating we’re potentially saving lives, these thoughts can help us keep calm and focused. Have compassion for yourself, and remember that this won’t last forever.

Best wishes,

Ian

One of our Therapists, Rani, talks about helping to get some perspective on our thoughts

Rani talks about helping to get some perspective on our thoughts during the current lockdown situation.

A reflection on loss and self-care

There are so many times in life, (particularly when we are going through things that are hard to deal with) when we wish the world would just stop and that we could get off for a while. Life has a pace that sometimes makes it difficult to reflect on whether we are where we want to be or whether we are on the road to achieving what we want. This is often because we really don’t give time or energy to self- reflection or self care.

An example of this for me was when I lost my dog Boe in January after he became ill with cancer. Two hours of my day for 15 years had been allocated to dog walking, suddenly when my dog had gone this time was quickly absorbed by other things, ironing, shopping, housework. Not only did I find myself doing no exercise but I also missed the time that I spent just being mindful of where I am and enjoying the day.

When I was asked why I didn’t still walk my answer was I was now busy with other things, but in truth nothing that really pertained to me and only me. I have now started walking again because I realise that this time was not only important to Boe but really important to me and my well being, a time when life slowed up for a while and I could smell the roses. It was my time to just be, in the guise of exercising the dog.

Having had this light bulb moment I have to ask, how hard is it for most of us to just be, and sit with only that. I know that this is really tough especially when we have been through something difficult or traumatic, or if we are suffering with poor mental health, but there really is some value in slowing life down to the point where we have to consider our real priorities and look at where we are in the here and now. My own intention is to find some real value in this time, we will probably never experience life in its simplest form again, at least in my lifetime, so I’m turning on the blues and taking it real slow.

 

Helen,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer