I didn’t become pregnant and think I was going to be a terrible parent. I worried I wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing, sure. But I felt fairly confident I was going to be a good mum – a fun mum, a happy mum. Yet as I sat on my sofa, listening to my baby cry in her cot for what seemed like the millionth time, I felt like none of those things. Instead I felt stuck, trapped; with a feeling of despair I had never experienced before. I was a long way from the happy mum I wanted to be, and instead all I felt an overwhelming sense of doom and failure. I longed for something to change, but I just didn’t know how to make that change happen or where to start.
The reality was I needed a break. After leaving my fast-paced PR job I had literally thrown myself into my new role as a mum, full throttle. As a stay-at-home parent it was literally my job to be a mum 24/7, and so that’s what I did. But when the inevitable sleep deprivation set in and the baby decided she had her own agenda when it came to any kind of routine, I felt like I was losing control and it was suprising how quickly my mental health spiralled. I felt ashamed to admit to anyone but my husband that I needed help, and the act I put on in front of friends was Oscar worthy. But it wasn’t sustainable, and eventually, after the birth of my second baby, I found myself in pieces on our kitchen floor in the midst of a panic attack, and I knew then I had to seek real help.
Counselling and regular childcare was what I needed in this instance to give me the break I so desperately craved. But later, after the birth of my third baby, and when I was subsequently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy was a game changer. It was then I started to think about how I could help other mums in the same boat, and this is when the idea for my company, Calm Mamas Club, was born.
Mental illness is never simple, but I knew that my inability to prioritise my own needs along with those of my family was a major problem. I therefore wanted to create a space where mums needs came first for a few important hours. Where mums could be open without fear of judgment, feel understood and meet other mums – extending their support network, whilst also learning some takeaway tips that boost wellbeing at home on a daily basis. But more than anything I wanted those mums to leave feeling relaxed, ready to face family life, and ultimately happy and calm.
Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the Pandas Foundation when I was struggling, but I so wish I had. Funded solely by donations, PANDAS provides crucial support for parents suffering from pre and post-natal mental illness in the form of telephone and email helplines, plus in-person support groups. I often think of how things might have been different if I had spoken with one of their trained volunteers, which is why I try to raise as much awareness of their services as possible, and donate in the region of 10% from the sale of every ticket and every shop purchase to the charity. Knowing they could save a mum or dad from falling to the floor as I did.
I wish I could say that since receiving CBT it has been nothing but an uphill trajectory, but anyone who suffers from mental illness will know that it’s a bumpy road. However, I now know to be kind to myself and that prioritising my own self-care is far from selfish. In fact it is essential for the happiness of not just me, but my entire family. I also know that feelings of anxiety will fade, and that whilst it may feel like I’m simply surviving thanks to things like my health hazard of a house and the never-ending washing pile, as a family we’re thriving, and I hope I can help other mums realise this too.
If you relate to any of the symptoms described in this article, or have been suffering from low mood or irritability consistently for more than two weeks, please contact your GP or reach out to the PANDAS Foundation for advice from their trained volunteers. For information on their helplines please click here.