Speaking out on mental health support
First-time mum Ellie House believes it’s good to talk, and thinks we need to speak out on mental health support
The light is soft and the woman sitting opposite me smiles kindly. There is a strange intimacy between us – she feels like an old friend yet we have only known each other for seven weeks. I love her bold jewellery and thick-framed glasses, and she makes a pretty good cup of coffee.
The room is small and plain, save for two snug armchairs and an orderly desk.
I spend just one hour here each week but this space has become almost sacred.
This is therapy. I always imagined therapy to involve a couch and a clipboard, with cliches about childhood and Freud.
I didn’t think I would find myself in need of mental health support 18 months after becoming a mother.
A lot can happen in 18 months, though, dizzying highs and gut-wrenching lows.
Maybe it was the shock of motherhood, the constant guilt and uneasy memories of a traumatic birth.
Maybe it was my insistence on returning to work full-time when I wasn’t quite ready but so determined to prove that I was.
Maybe it was watching my own father cradle my son, Reuben, for the first time, knowing full well he wouldn’t live to see him grow up.
I lost my dad one month after Reuben’s first birthday, and I was thrown into an unknown world of funerals and death certificates.
Whatever it was that drove me to sit opposite a stranger once a week, I am surprisingly glad.
I am glad I listened to the nagging voice in my head, which suggested I wasn’t coping all that well.
I was papering over the cracks with dark humour and the insistence that I was fine, really I was – until one day I wasn’t and the pain in my chest became too painful to ignore.
We talk about all sorts of things therapy, we even have the odd joke.
It’s not shameful to need to talk, to address your mental health in a safe space.
It was my unconditional love for Reuben which saw me seek help, because if I’m not OK, neither is he.
He has been my glimmering light in the dark but I cannot expect my beautiful son to fix me.
There is far less stigma surrounding mental health, particularly when it comes to discussing symptoms and treatment. in
There is also increased awareness about post-natal depression in new mothers, and more support readily available.
I honestly believe we would all benefit from going to therapy, though.
In a world where we are more connected than ever before, with the constant ping of notifications from smartphones, it would seem we still aren’t talking.
We’re rushing here and there, working, parenting, organising and juggling.
There is no time to stop and reflect, no solitary hour in the day where we can do what makes our heart happy.
This is particularly true for mothers, both those who work and those who stay at home.
We put the needs of our family before our own, sacrificing our wellbeing in the belief that there is no time for personal indulgence.
It struck me as I took my son to be fitted for a new pair of shoes before getting his hair cut, that I couldn’t remember when I had last enjoyed either such activity for myself.
Self-care is increasingly being sold as an expensive candle or overpriced moisturiser, with promises that we will feel rejuvenated.
In my experience, therapy is far more effective in getting underneath the exhaustion, the stress and hastily wipedaway tears.
As a parent, it feels slightly luxurious to do nothing but talk for 60 whole minutes, with no interruptions from an excessively loud toddler.
I can’t do a food shop or put away the towering laundry pile. I have no choice but to confront what’s bothering me, and that in itself is empowering.
I’ve opted for maintenance sessions now I’m coming towards the end of a two-month programme.
To me, from me.
You wouldn’t forget to MoT your car or ignore toothache for months on end so why not give your mental health the same treatment?
You don’t need to be in the depths of depression to benefit from therapy, and talking about your feelings might be your idea of hell.
All I know is that every day, I edge towards feeling a little bit more OK.
More able to laugh from the depths of my stomach instead of a forced chuckle, more willing to let grief ebb and flow without becoming consumed.
And that can only be a good thing.
A lot can happen in 18 months