So far in this mini-series of blog posts about my mental health I’ve talked about how my struggles first came about, how I dealt with it then and how I feel I’ve begun to tackle it now. But I’ve mostly avoided discussion about one pretty major component in it all; my daughter Millie.
If I boil it down my main problem was being overwhelmed with too many things to worry about on a day to day basis, and of course Millie is a huge part of that. There were days when I really struggled to just get to the end of the day, and I was so frustrated, but I knew that her demands weren’t anything out of the ordinary and the problems were mine.
As time wore on and I felt lower and lower, and I began to feel disconnected from her. If I tried to say no to something and she protested, I gave in instantly. I normally feel guilty if she watches any TV or if she eats something I think is unhealthy, but I just went with the quickest and easiest option instead. I was lacking the mental energy to cope with most things day to day, and that included Millie.
That’s actually quite painful to admit to. Obviously she was never neglected or open to harm in any way, but if I’m honest our emotional relationship suffered for a time, because I had just begun to go through the motions. I had to remind myself to get more involved with her; smile when she did something funny and looked at me for a response, sit with her and cuddle while she watched Peppa Pig for the millionth time, and just not let it go when she refused to do more important things like clean her teeth.
I had been signed off work and had decided to keep Millie in her routine of spending two days a week at nursery. She also spent a day a week with my sister in law, and my Mum and Dad would help out and take her for odd days too. If anyone was able to give me a few hours to myself, I took it.
I was drowning and constantly dreamed of ways out. I often fantasised that I could book somewhere and go away to just be completely by myself, because all I wanted was for everything in my life to stop and leave me alone. I particularly remember a day when my sister was off work after an operation and couldn’t drive, and we were going to visit her. She lives about 20 minutes from me and I packed Millie and the dog into the car, and cried the whole way there. I genuinely considered what might happen if I asked my sister to take Millie for a few weeks and just drove away.
Afterwards I felt ridiculous and incredibly guilty. I felt guilty because I knew I was letting Millie (and everyone else) down and giving her far less than she deserved from her mother. I felt guilty because other people were coping with more children and more complicated lives than me, and yet I was crumbling. I felt guilty because there are people who would give everything to be parents, and I was wishing my daughter away. I felt like a failure.
One day my Mum popped in to see us and Millie saw her at the door and immediately went to get her bag and shoes as if she was going out, and then cried when she realised her Nanny was staying in the house with us. That was a bit of a slap to be honest, because I realised just how accustomed she’d gotten to being taken by other people, and how my company was wasn’t enjoyable for her.
I slowly started trying to spend time with Millie one on one. We often do things with others, and I thought it would be good to be together, away from home (because we both go a bit stir crazy when we’re in for too long), with no expectations.
We went to a local play café, we went to the farm, we went to the forest. I tried to let go of everything else in my head and just see her. I would sit with her and talk, play, or do nothing, just watch her. Forget my worries about what she was eating, what else was going on that day, everything.
You know what I realised? I need her. Dear God, do I need her. All the time I had been pulling away from her, and yet when I began to let her back in, she was the one healing me. When I focused on her I could smile because I was happy, and laugh because I wanted to, not because I thought I should. Children are such unaffected, joyous little souls, and I was getting to share that, and see things the way she did.
She doesn’t give a shit if I didn’t shower today, or if she had spaghetti hoops for tea three times this week. Everything she does is interesting to her, or fun, and when I began to just follow her lead, I saw it that way too. I would come home from our times out feeling lighter, and a little at a time I was genuinely enjoying life more, in all aspects.
Millie and sleep have never been great pals and in the last few months she’s spent a lot of nights in bed with me, then more recently we’ve moved her bed into our room, and this has also been really wonderful. It’s meant her sleep has settled and she no longer wakes nearly as much at night, which helps with my sleep deprivation, and I love being so close to her. Laying in the dark and listening to her breathing is very relaxing, and always makes me feel comforted and warm. Then in the mornings she doesn’t wake crying, I roll over and she’s right there, all bed head and chatter.
Now I continue to make time from myself away from everything else, including Millie, because I know I need it, and I know it’s ok to have that. I also continue to make time for just the two of us, because it seems to centre me a bit, we always have a great time, and I know one day she’ll be grown and gone, and I will be fantasising about our lives now instead.
I’ve read a number of times that having time away from your kids makes you a better parent, and it’s so true. If I have time to refuel myself I can give her everything when we are together, and I’ve accepted that now. I’ve realised that I can’t learn to manage my mental health issues without her, so from here on in, it’s a team effort.