In the summer of 2009, my husband and I met a young Irish boxer at a friend’s house party in London (we were visiting from Dublin at the time). Darren had won a bronze medal for Ireland in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and had moved to London to pursue a professional boxing career, I was starstruck and very much flattered when he said it was a relief to hear another Irish accent in the room and “was a breath of fresh air“. We had a great conversation that night talking about our youth days in Dublin.
One thing he said in particular was how hard it was for him to make friends in London “..too many cliques” he said… Sadly he was found hanging in his flat a couple of months after our encounter, believed to have been suicide. [Watch Darren Sutherland – 5yrs on]. We had only met once but the news still shocked me, I had heard of how people seem “normal” and cheerful, giving no indication that they might commit suicide but never had such a close encounter.
As September is ‘National Suicide Prevention’ month, it seems appropriate to write this post in memory of Darren and to share my experience dealing with my mental health. Also I recently came across Ruby Browne’s blog which talks about depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues in beautiful poetry/story form – some really deep issues which are incomparable to my experience but it gave me the courage to want to share this part of my life, to create awareness.
Before my baby girl was born I had so many plans for maternity leave; I would bring my baby out to lunch with my friends, take strolls, go jogging, join a mummy+baby workout group, go shopping and meet other mums. Like many 1st time mums, things didn’t exactly turn out this way, I started feeling like a moving “milk factory”, I did not enjoy being a mommy as it became somewhat like a function. I felt so low to the point where I didn’t want to get up from bed, not only from fatigue but to just lie there and drown in the emptiness around me.
I didn’t think much of it at the time because I put it all down to stress and fatigue, even my doctor asked about my feelings during postnatal check-up but didn’t open up to him, partly because I had no clue what was wrong with me. Plus I seriously thought it was normal for me to feel that way as a new mum, though it was surprising how the other mummies around me were coping with their babies. To cope with my situation, I became immersed in caring for my child, not asking for help with anything. I could see myself drifting away from my loved ones, my husband especially asked me so many times if anything was wrong but I would say “nothing” then go in the room to cry – it’s very hard to explain that you mind hurts when there are no physical symptoms like feeling your head pound while having a headache. This was how 6 months of assumed blissful maternity leave almost became a nightmare if not for the existence of my little one, she became the rock I held onto for support. Having her to care for, cuddle, sing to & play with gave me a break from my issues.
An interview on TV changed things around, the lady in question explained her situation – how she assumed “mental health” meant “crazy” until she was diagnosed with acute depression, how she had a very bubbly personality but hated getting up in the mornings, how she was in denial for a really long time; she literally summarised the past 6 months of my life. I opened up to my husband that evening which I believe kicked off my healing process and as anyone would, he was upset that I didn’t talk earlier or feel secure enough to let him in (bless him!); pains me too but I was helpless at the time. He has since made peace and has been very supportive. I also got to share with one of my closest friends after she complained about how much I had changed since having a baby “… you are not the Temi I remember”
It’s easy to associate paths of recovery with physical health issues i.e. exercising, diet, etc but slightly harder for mental health as many people lack the understanding required to deal with our mental health. For most part I turned to my faith – I sing praise & worship songs, pray and meditate on the word of God for those times I go through disappointments (these are the times we are most vulnerable so is hugely important to focus on our feelings during these times). I also make a conscious effort to keep my mind occupied either by reading, catching up with friends, date nights with hubster and of recent, blogging. I’m so blessed and grateful that I didn’t have a much worse experience, that I still had a bond with my baby and got to document certain development milestones.
There’s still so much to learn about mental health but a big lesson learnt is to be more aware of my mind, a balanced mental health is of utmost importance. On a final note, please read this article (credit: Ross Szabo for the Huffington Post) about general knowledge of mental health (applies to everybody whether you’ve had issues or not). See also Postnatal Depression for more detail on diagnosing and dealing with “lows” after childbirth. Please leave your thoughts below (or share your story) in solidarity with National Suicide Prevention month. Thanks a million for reading.