The post I wrote earlier only seemed to stir up more thoughts about depression and motherhood. Of course, you could insert whatever mental illness into the place of depression and many of the consequences and outcomes would be similar. So here goes round two of motherhood and depression from a mom who’s been there.
Many women feel the pressure to be supermoms — do it all with a smile and have it all at the end of the day. This is so difficult to fulfill that women often feel like they come up short. Somewhere somehow something has to give. Many families certainly have to sacrifice to make ends meet, and especially now the economy isn’t making it any easier. But it’s just this type of “be everything to everyone” kind of expectation that can get moms in a trap.
Not every mom has big problems with this. However, any woman with the genetic factors, a strained partner relationship, or other stressors could certainly succumb to a mental illness under these circumstances. I know I did and even when I decreased my working hours I found little relief. The scales had been tipped and I was dealing with a full blown mood disorder. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a parent or not, or how it got started — if you are in the midst of any sort of mental illness, everything seems harder.
For me, I eventually left my job. That exposed the patterns that allowed me to see the premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Once my kids were a little older and I felt like I was really coming back to myself, I sought work opportunities again and felt truly ready for them. This isn’t going to be everyone’s solution, but it does show the point that something always gives when there is a mental illness. And moms (especially those who work) have some vulnerabilities to be aware of in today’s society.
By all means, a woman with no plans for work can also have postpartum depression, anxiety, or other problems. Let me be clear that this association is representative of my experience and for many other women, but it is not limited to moms who work. Motherhood is work, and women often have many expectations of themselves and from others that do not just include paid work.
It’s the combination of “must, can’t, won’t, should, could” kinds of thoughts with the high level of emotion that can send moms down into the pit of depression or anxiety. Black and white thinking is a setup for disappointment, despair, lack of satisfaction and meaning, and low self worth. And these factors are also present in other mental illnesses besides just major depression or anxiety. These thoughts are often rooted in beliefs that are one-sided and extreme in nature. While a healthy woman might be able to amend and get around this, a woman with a mental illness takes these as absolute law. A slippery slope, a perpetual trap.
The road of parenthood is fraught with peril and uncertainty no matter what. It’s a gamble you take on from day one. And many times, women are not as aware of their mental health vulnerabilities until after the fact. More than anything, this is a commentary on today’s society through the lens of my experience and professional knowledge. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from being a parent, even if you do have difficulties in your life, just stating that mental illness vulnerability is there and many women who are likely to succumb to it are not as aware as they could be. I know I felt blindsided by my depression, and others do as well.
As I have in past posts, I invite you to share your experience as a mom with a mental illness or as someone close to a mom with a mental illness (parent, spouse, partner, friend, etc). The more we discuss these things the lower the stigma becomes to reach out and make things better for everyone with mental illnesses.