So a bout of mega anxiety snuck up on me a few weeks ago. I was merrily plugging along, eleven months in, adjusting as I went to the ever-changing task that is looking after a baby. I wasn’t smashing it by any means but we did have some great days. One day we discovered Babease food pouches for 4p (4p!) in Boots. Another day I caught (not literally caught) a giant turd JUST before it leaked all over her clothes, the new pram liner and probably me. Things were ticking over. Things were good. Then all of a sudden I turned into an anxious mess.
When you have a baby there is always a base level of “what the fuck” and “shiiiiiiiiit” as you adjust to the weight of first growing another human inside you and then continuing to grow that human outside you. You gradually accept that responsibility whilst at the same time thinking “pretty sure this is not what I signed up for”. You agree to make sure they are fed, watered and developing into a well-rounded person who doesn’t want to set fire to ants and turn them into necklaces to sell in the school playground (I have gone a bit Silence of the Lambs meets Richard Branson there, sorry.) And you start to get into a unique rhythm, where you bumble along constantly searching for reassurance but at the same time growing more confident. So I was shocked when I suddenly turned into a gibbering wreck of a human.
I think it was triggered by Bella’s nursery insisting on FIVE WEEKS of settling in prior to her official start date. That meant that my head, which had been firmly and happily planted in the sand, was suddenly wrenched out and made to face real life. Nursery was not happening in five weeks, it was happening now. My sloping, lazy days of going to budget supermarkets and sitting in fetid ball pits frantically wishing I had a Michael Jackson flu mask were ALMOST OVER. And I desperately wasn’t ready to give them up.
I also wasn’t ready to think about Bella going to nursery. Her stranger danger radar has been fairly aggressive thus far, which gives me scant hope that she will settle smoothly into nursery life. I fear that she will be one of those babies who cry from the moment I leave to the moment I return, with brief breaks to pull her own sock off and gum the floor. All you want as a mum is for your baby to be content and the thought that leaving her will upset her so much is hard to stomach. I say this even though my rational mind knows nursery is the best place for her. She needs to socialise and get the stimulation that trained professionals will provide (let’s face it, she doesn’t like This Morning and there’s only so many Cup and Cushion obstacle courses I can create before she fires me for being incompetent).
So how did this anxiety manifest itself? Well I was suddenly overemotional at everything, like the worst case of PMT but with no “M” in sight. Even TV adverts sent me into floods of tears, “but the meerkat was left by himmmmmmself” I would wail. I sat in the diseased play areas of SW17 with tears leaking down my cheeks like a broken tap for NO REASON. And I felt too nervous to eat, which let’s face it has NEVER happened before. There is no bad thing that a tub of Nutella and a dessertspoon can’t fix, but this time, nada, I just wasn’t hungry. And I found myself getting really scratchy at night time, again for no discernable reason. I was also supposed to go and visit my parents up t’north but had a borderline panic attack at the thought of the journey (well, Northern Trains do prompt that reaction in a lot of people). And more than all this, I just didn’t feel like me. I am known as a “glass MORE than half full” kind of person, not a person who questions the very existence of the glass.
According to the Royal College of Midwives up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and/or the first year of their babies lives. Whilst many people are aware that you can become depressed after giving birth, it’s less well known that many women experience anxiety. Yet it is so reassuring to know that others have felt the same way. When I realised that this might not just go away I slowly started to talk about it, even though it wasn’t easy to admit something was wrong because that made it real. I also felt embarrassed that I was feeling anxious at this stage, almost a year in, when surely I should be taking everything in my stride. As well as talking, I created lists; lists of what triggered my anxiety. This helped, as when you put shape and structure to overwhelmingly amorphous bad feelings they become more understandable and less daunting. I also started counselling two weeks ago, and plan to write more about how that goes. I selected a counsellor from an Awareness Centre near me who uses Behavioural Cognitive Therapy, which, as I understand it, is a practical way of helping you cope with anxiety.
I wasn’t sure I should share this as I have never experienced anxiety before and was a little afraid to let people under my mental ‘hood’. But I do believe mental health is as important as physical health and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. I also want Bella to grow up in an environment where she is free to share how she feels. And if MY teenage years are anything to go by she will have plenty of feelings to talk about; adolescents practically make anxiety an art form. (I remember in my teens I used to chat to the Paul Nicholls poster on my wall when I felt down. Yes Paul Nicholls. Circa 1995 he was F.I.T.) So apologies, this story has no conclusion right now as I am at the start of a journey and I am not sure where it will go. But I will write about this again because it has definitely helped me. Turns out a “problem shared is a problem halved” isn’t just a nice sounding idiom after all.