I don’t religiously follow Constance Hall but one of her Facebook posts appeared in my newsfeed one-day that made me pay more attention than usual, particularly the first sentence:
“Anxiety in parenthood is normal.”
It immediately made me think back to my experience with anxiety, I was in quick disagreement but I read on.
“If someone handed you 1 billion dollars in cash and told you that you needed to take it everywhere you went, shops, town, holidays for the next 20 years with no bodyguards or insurance you would be pretty fucking anxious. Well, your baby is worth more to you than 1 billion dollars and you have to do all of that and more with it… Yet you’re supposed to be relaxed? Congratulations on your anxiety, it’s proof that you understand the worth of your baby.”
I think an important aspect of anxiety in motherhood has been overlooked in this statement. What about when anxiety in parenthood isn’t normal? How does a mother actually differentiate between what is and what isn’t normal?
In my experience, figuring out what is normal is extremely difficult. Unfortunately too, the endless posts in the media claiming what parenting should and shouldn’t be like can do more harm than good, although I can understand that Constance is trying to talk about the realities of parenting. I’m a parenting blogger, that’s what I do, too.
My experience with anxiety
It was well after I’d had my son that I went to see my GP because I wasn’t coping. I burst into tears in her office telling her how I felt, the deep dark hole I could never escape from, waking up with the feeling of dread and deep sadness every day, experiencing anxiety attacks where I’d have uncontrollable outbursts and my body would tense up so much that I’d want to punch a wall.
Still in tears, I told her more about my anxiety: that I’d cancel outings, that if I had to go somewhere, I’d run through every single step in my head the night before, over and over. From leaving the house, to how I’d get my baby into the car and out of it, I repeated every aspect. I told her how my anxiety made me feel physically sick and how snappy I was all the time. And what did the GP do? She wrote me a script to go back on the smallest dosage of the anti-depressant I was on prior to conceiving my son and sent me home.
I went home and felt like a complete idiot. I couldn’t believe I let myself go like that in front of my doctor over nothing. “It’s called, being a mother,” I remember telling myself. This was my reality, I just had to suck it up and get over it.
So on I went for months, living my idea of normal.
It was when my son was 19 months old that I went to see a different GP. I explained the same things, but at this point, I was feeling much worse. The outcome was so different. The anxiety and depression I had been experiencing were in fact NOT normal and I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and post-natal depression. I was given a higher dosage of medication and referred to a psychologist, both which helped me turn my life around.
You see, if I had seen this post from Constance Hall back then when I was struggling with my anxiety, I would have probably believed that the anxiety I was experiencing was normal. After seeing the first GP I sure did. It makes me wonder how many other mums have done the same?
When anxiety isn’t normal and how you can recognise it
Beyond Blue suggests that if you have one or more of these symptoms, you should talk to your GP.
- Your daily tasks and thoughts are hindered due to your anxieties or fears
- You have overwhelming panic attacks that you feel you cannot control
- You have consistent anxiety and worry popping into your mind
- You’re highly irritable, restless or edgy
- You experience tight muscles, a tight chest or heart palpitations
- You find it difficult to relax or to fall asleep
- Your anxiety or fears stop you from going out with your baby
- Your anxiety or fears have you always checking on your baby.
Look beyond other mums’ experiences
I urge all mothers to look beyond what others perceive as their normal, whether they are friends, family or media identities. Consider exactly how it is YOU are feeling, particularly if it’s one or more of the above, you will know what doesn’t feel right, no one else.
Contrary to what Constance Hall says in her post, the level of anxiety I’m talking about should not be congratulated, it goes well beyond understanding the ‘worth’ of your baby. Understanding the level of anxiety you’re experiencing and seeking help where needed is all about valuing your self-worth and self-worth goes a long way towards being the best mother you can be.
Take any parenting book you read, personal blog or social media post with a grain of salt, no matter how famous or well-liked a person is. Go with your intuition about how you’re feeling, don’t compare your parenting experience to anyone else’s because no one’s experience is the same, and, most importantly, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to seek help or even a second opinion.
If you or someone you know needs support, talk to a doctor or other health professional about getting appropriate treatment. You can find more information at Beyond Blue.
Read more about mental health and mothering:
- I Think My Friend Has Postnatal Depression (and I Have No Idea How to Help Her)
- How Motherhood is Making My OCD Better
- My Insomnia is Worse Now I’m a Mum