As I walked home from the school run this morning, I was deep in thought. I must have been frowning, as I was pulled from my thoughts by a man shouting across the road at me “You look really happy pushing your pram!” Now, I should tell you that I’m fluent in sarcasm – to the point where it’s got me into trouble! So there was no doubt that what he really meant was “Cheer up!”
I laughed it off with him, as I was in no way offended, but it started a train of thought that I couldn’t shake: why is it that we need everyone around us to be happy all of the time? Why is our first response to tell someone to cheer up if they look less than ecstatic? When asked how are you? why is our immediate response I’m fine?
We may think we’re trying to cheer someone up, or make light of a situation, but actually it can be a dangerous game to play. If we feel that we can’t admit that we’re sad/feeling low/grumpy, we run the risk of bottling it up and feeling sadder/lower/grumpier.
Hiding sadness from my family and friends is something I’m good at. I did it so well that I even managed to cover up the postnatal depression I had after having my third wee ray. It didn’t manifest itself until just before she was a year old, and even then it took me another year and a half before I admitted it to myself. It was never diagnosed, as I didn’t ever seek outside help – probably because it appeared so late on. The signs were there though, when I eventually dared to look: feeling sad/low most of the time; loss of interest in all the hobbies I had; wanting to hide myself away from the world; feeling overwhelmed when I had to make any sort of decision.
Luckily for me, my husband noticed. Instead of confronting me head-on about it (I don’t do confrontation), he gently encouraged me to see friends, let me cry when I needed to, and was just there to pick me up when I was at my lowest. He hid me from the world when I needed to hide, and held my hand when I began to emerge slowly.
When I was expecting my littlest ray, I spoke to my midwife about it – it was the first time I had admitted it to someone, other than my husband. I spoke of my concern that it would happen again, and what I could do to ensure it didn’t go undiagnosed if it were to occur again. During my pregnancy I lost interest in my hobbies again, and it set off alarm bells. However, my littlest ray is now nine months old, and although it could still appear, my interest in craftiness has returned and so far I’m feeling quite positive and upbeat.
I think one of the reasons I couldn’t see what was wrong with me, was that there is a history of depression/mental health issues in my family. Both my Dad and my Granny were hospitalised due to mental health problems. The way I was feeling didn’t look like what they seemed to be feeling. I wasn’t like them; I was supposed to be the strong one. I still felt able to laugh occasionally. I still had fun with my husband and children. I couldn’t see that that although I had these lovely moments, the cloud hanging over me was always there. I couldn’t see that admitting it wasn’t a sign of weakness, but one of strength.
Only by admitting it and talking it through with my husband, was I finally able to start feeling more like me again. It’s taken time, but I finally feel able to say that the cloud has disappeared. I still have low moments, but that’s part of being human. The trick is to be able to say when we’re feeling low or sad, and then working through it in whatever way works for us.
I try hard not to dismiss it if my children are feeling sad or hurt in any way. I want them to be able to talk about their feelings without inhibition, no matter what those feelings are. If they are grumpy, they aren’t told to cheer up or to stop being grumpy; they are told to go and have a think about why they are feeling that way, so that we can talk it through. I’ve encouraged my two biggest rays to keep a diary of their feelings, so that they can better understand them. It’s so important not to belittle their feelings, as they are all valid.
Emotions are what make us human. All emotion. Being able to express ourselves is vital for our mental health. So if you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like laughing, laugh. Encourage each other to talk about how you’re truly feeling – and listen.
How are you feeling today?