The Fire Inside Me

It’s time I confessed to something.

I started this blog so I could share my experiences of post-natal depression, for myself and potentially for others in the same situation. I was proudly outspoken against the stigma of mental illness and encouraged myself and my readers to love and accept themselves, and to speak out without shame. My writing was raw and honest, on my violently ambivalent feelings about my newborn baby to the agoraphobia that makes functioning as a parent so difficult for me. I didn’t hide anything.

But I did.

The truth is, parenthood was finally the platform I could safely speak from. Before I became a mother I was just a trainwreck adult, a waste of potential; another millennial screaming my problems into the wind. Motherhood gave me a cause, something to stand behind and shout about. And while all the experiences I wrote were completely true, I admit I relished being able to share them because, perversely, PND felt like a safer, less shameful story to tell than the one that underpinned most of my life.

My children gave me a goal and a purpose, and my depression gave me a battle to fight. I grasped it with both hands and ran with it and for a while I believed I was in control of my mental health. For the first time I had a problem I felt brave enough to declare to the world, and one I could defeat. That doesn’t mean it was easy – anyone who’s been affected by post-natal illness can testify to that – but there were success stories out there, support groups, the warmth and safety of other parents who’d been there first, and it all gave me hope.

My marriage was tested, my health was strained by too many (or just enough) medications that caused horrible side effects, I had to learn to bond with my son in a way most take for granted. But I did it. I got through it all and came out the other side a stronger, wiser parent to two wonderful boys.

But I was still agoraphobic, still a mess, so I still should have had something to shout about, a cause to get behind… I still had something to fight. Fighting felt good! It felt proactive and positive, like I was wrestling my demons and was finally strong enough to win.

Except for me, agoraphobia isn’t an illness in its own right.

It’s a symptom.

The mental illness I live with every day and carry with me like an iron weight inside my head is actually complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).

Anxiety, fear of being in certain situations, hypervigilance, low self-worth, depression, flashbacks, photographic recall, reckless behaviour, insomnia, panic attacks, avoidance,  self-harm, guilt, shame, blame.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t something I can easily write about, even when I sideline the trauma itself, but god, I am so desperately fucking tired of hiding. If I’m meant to believe I matter and that I’m not at fault, I can’t carry on pretending the illness I live with every day is something different, or isn’t there at all, or is manageable. Because it isn’t. And it isn’t my job to protect other people from having to confront the reality of my life. I find simply existing overwhelming and I work every day to make sure I’m strong enough to face the next. It isn’t just going to get better through time and willpower. It’s part of me.

My amazing children deserve to have a mummy who isn’t ashamed, who holds her head high and is proud of her achievements. Who doesn’t blame herself for not realising all her potential, for not having a great education or glittering career. Who believes she deserves respect and dignity, no matter how it was stripped from her. Who doesn’t treat her scars like swear words telling the world to fuck itself when all they really say is, “I was hurt once.”

I didn’t post here for a while in part because of all this. Writing about anxiety without the broader context felt empty and pointless, and writing about my children has started to feel more intrusive as T’s developmental delays become more clear. I have to do some unpacking and soul searching about how I’ll approach sharing his story, whether I ever will, because after all, it isn’t mine to tell. The same goes for L, who is also showing some signs of delay. But I realised I liked having a place to tell the universe that my pain mattered, however many or few people were there to read it. It was a way for me to convince myself my journey was worthy of space and a few minutes of someone’s time. For a new mother struggling with depression that was massive, and sometimes the only difference between an okay day and the worst imaginable.

I’m not a new mother anymore and I don’t have PND. I’m an experienced parent, a good mum and the best advocate for my sons. I’m also living with an acute mental illness that may never go away. But I still want my space, I still want to be heard. I’m so tired of hiding.

I’ll sign off with this, one of my favourite quotes –

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”

Thank you for reading, it really means everything.

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