Dear Exhausted Mother,
We wear so many hats during the day, don’t we?
Today I have been:
Mummy, Iron Man, daughter, wife, sister, friend, cook, vegetable negotiator, art facilitator, laundrette, cleaner, Bat Girl, train track fixer, That Baddy From PJ Masks, taxi driver, hoist, swimming teacher, mediator, toy doctor, project manager, CEO, designer, sock-reuniter, personal dresser, reader, medical assessor, first aid giver… exhausted mother…
The list goes on, and I bet yours does too.
Being a mum is without a doubt the best thing that has ever happened to me. However, it is also the most physically and mentally challenging. It is exhausting, physically from the quadrupled work-load, but also mentally. We approach motherhood expecting a certain degree of exhaustion. Nonetheless, the reality can hit us like a freight train, and this can happen at any time.
Pregnancy the second time around was a different experience. When I was pregnant with my first, I spent my time when I wasn’t working doing lovely relaxing things. I would float in the swimming pool, take leisurely strolls and yoga classes, and lounge on the sofa watching box sets. My second pregnancy was spent running around after a very active toddler and working. To say I felt tired by the time baby no. 2 arrived was an understatement!
I can’t remember when the dark clouds started closing in. Ornella didn’t sleep well for a year and I didn’t prioritise rest, I just muddled through with caring for both children and working. I expected to feel tired. ‘This is just how everyone feels with two young children and a job’ I thought.
Slowly the exhaustion became all consuming. I would wake up feeling exhausted. I felt low all the time and couldn’t look forward to anything in the future. I felt anxious and easily tearful. The last thing I wanted was to let how I was feeling affect my children. As such I held everything in and tried to put on a brave face.
‘I am just exhausted’ I told myself. When I catch up on my sleep, everything will be better.
My lovely Mum, who recently retired from General Practice thought otherwise. ‘I think you are depressed’ she told me.
‘I can’t be depressed’ I replied. ‘ Everything is OK’. I repeated this again and again in my head, and kept going. I worried that if I admitted I wasn’t coping, I would be seen as a bad parent.
This is the thing with depression. It isn’t something you choose or you can just shut off. It can affect you when everything in your life is OK.
Eventually I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. I didn’t want the children to see me upset so I went to get help. I was lucky I had my Mum to point out my symptoms were more than just exhaustion, but sometimes this can be difficult to work out on your own.
We just expect exhaustion as mothers; it can be easy to ignore how we are feeling and put everything down to tiredness.
I asked my Mum, Nancy, to tell me more about how to differentiate tiredness and exhaustion from depression. I wanted to share it here for you.
‘Despite one in three of us being affected by mental health problems in our lives, there is still unnecessary stigma attached to admitting we need help. I spend 38 years working in general practice, and mental health was one of my specialist areas. I have three children (Alex is my eldest) and I remember the exhaustion of caring for three small children very well. Exhaustion and tiredness can make us irritable, tearful and mentally and physically slow. When we are tired or exhausted, enough sleep and rest will alleviate our symptoms and we will feel better.
If we are depressed, unfortunately rest will not be the only thing we need to help recover. Continual and prolonged sleep deprivation can cause depression, and tiredness is one of the symptoms associated with depression. However, it isn’t the only symptom.
Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep, altered appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. Depression is different from feeling down or sad. Unhappiness is something which everyone feels at one time or another, usually due to a particular cause. A person experiencing depression will experience intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness, and the feelings stay with them instead of going away.
Symptoms and signs of depression.
- Excessively anxious with irrational thoughts
- Difficulty getting to sleep or waking up early (without the help of children!)
- Constantly tired and waking up tired
- Low mood and tearful
- Family history or a previous history of depression
- Blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong
- Continual worry you are a bad parent
- Unable to look forward to anything in the future
- Changes in appetite (feeling more hungry than usual or not wanting to eat)
- Loss of self- confidence and self esteem
- Unable to function and work or at home
- Thoughts about self-harm or suicide
If you are experiencing more than one of these symptoms, for even part of the day, most days for more than two weeks, please make an appointment to see your GP urgently.’
If you are feeling low, it can be easy to feel isolated. Please remember that having depression does not make you a bad parent, and you are not alone.
I’m sending you a big hug over the internet,
Alex is a designer, writer, entrepreneur, problem solver and mother to two multilingual children. She is passionate about using design to improve people’s lives and has worked on projects around the world. Alex is a champion for languages and creative arts in early education and the creator of Lil’ollo.