In support of the national RUOK Day? tomorrow, I’m going to go back in time. Way way back, well, not too far back actually, 2006.
I had given birth to the most beautiful of creatures and loved her more than anything. But when she was about 3 months old I started to feel anxious. Not anxious that she would be hurt or kidnapped or anything, but anxious that she wouldn’t sleep when I wanted her to. I resented her when she screamed her head off (I’m sure the neighbours heard “What the f*ck do you WANT FROM ME” more than once), needing me more than anything and I was too wrapped up in my own sense of failure and frustration to see it. I read EVERY SLEEP BOOK and went to 3 sleep schools and there were so many answers and no answers. I went crazy trying to solve a “problem” that (I know now) would get better with time.
I wish I’d taken a deep breath. Wish I’d looked upon this tiny defenceless baby and gone with my gut rather than relying on everyone else’s good intentions (Hell’s paved with them. I think I’ve been there) and “advice”. Advice is at once both wonderful and terrible. Some people give it out of love, some people don’t. As a first time mother with NO CLUE about what was normal, whether I should have a routine, whether I should let her sleep with me when she cried, the terrible confusion of what was going on with my daughter and with me sent me trotting off to the G.P when she was about 6 months old. I’d gotten to the stage where I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognise myself anymore.
I hadn’t slept properly for months (I still have residual insomnia, but that’s another story). I was exhausted and the G.P did one of those little PND questionnaire thingies and told me I was high risk for PND. That was the end of the conversation. She prescribed me some anti-depressants and sent me on my way. The clinical way she did this made the feelings worse. I didn’t take the drugs. I had no issue with taking anti-depressants if I genuinely thought I had depression, but I reckoned I was just. so. tired. So tired. I became a horrible, anxious shadow after a bad night with Scout. Even when she started sleeping through, I woke up at 2am every night and would be awake for HOURS trying desperately to get back to sleep. The more I forced it, the worse it was. I thought “why bother going back to sleep when I’m just going to be up again in a couple of hours”. So even when Scout slept soundly, I didn’t. Night after night I was in tears. Husband was at his wits end wondering how to deal with this mound of blithering mess as I was so irrational. In retrospect, I should have taken the drugs, but I was too proud and stubborn.
I was clearly not OK. When I had my second daughter, her sleep was even more rubbish, but I dealt with it so much better. It had a lot to do with it being my second rodeo, though. And the fact that I hadn’t screwed up my first daughter. Scout was turning out to be an absolute cracker of a kid, with a wonderful spirit. One day, fairly recently, she said to me:
Scout: You’re the best mum in the whole world!
Mum: I’m sure that’s not true, Scout. I don’t feel like the best mum sometimes.
Scout: Well, you’re the best mum for me.
There’s my inspiration right there.
As a first-time mum I sought advice when what I should have been asking for was a non-judgemental ear to listen to my shit. I found a better G.P (a wonderful G.P actually) and although my sleep isn’t crash hot even now, I don’t feel the same horrific anxiety at 2am. I have amazing friends and family. A fabulous school community full of mums who, not only feel the same way, but verbalise feeling the same way. But I acknowledge that I’m lucky in that respect. There is a lot of not talking out there in mum land, because of shame, because of fear that others will think they are freaks if they admit to actually beating their head on a wall out of frustration (I’ve sure as hell done it) or sitting cross-legged on the floor of their child’s room rocking and sobbing because their child has been awake for 3 hours in the middle of the night (I may or may not have been this person last night). But there are people out there who feel the same way, remarkable parents who feel like they are losing their shit, their mind, their everything some days.
I may be a second time parent and my confidence in my parenting skills is higher, sure, but there are days when sleep deprivation kicks me square in the patootie (like, ahem, today). Australia and the States (and other similar first-world nations) still use sleep deprivation as a “method” of torture. So if we use it to force confessions out of terrorists, what the hell is it doing to us, as otherwise sane people?
If you are not OK:
- Talk to a non-judgemental friend - all it takes is one beautiful soul with an open heart to ease the burden.
- If you’re not happy with the care given by your G.P, see someone else. It’s not worth feeling worthless when you’re already feeling hopeless.
- Write about it. Writing can be the most cathartic way to put emotions into perspective. You don’t have to show it to the world, but that act of putting pen to paper (or keypad to monitor) can be wonderful.
- Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Shame can be such a destructive emotion. Ask for help from friends and family, your local GP or health professional, your psychologist or counsellor or from crisis counselling services such as Lifeline (131114), Sane Australia Helpline (1800 18 SANE) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). For more information about these services, contact Mindframe.
- Laugh. Laugh at stupid shit. Laugh at people being hilariously dicky on Youtube. Watch some Jon Stewart. Crack open some One Direction and sing and dance loudly with your kids in the lounge room. When you’re in the middle of a funk, it can be bloody hard to break the cycle, but life surprises us like that. Kids are wonderful people to blindside you with their unorthodox hilarity. If you don’t have kids, hire some for a few hours. You won’t regret it.