It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness week and this subject is very close to my heart and a lot of other single mums. As a single parent you are twice as likely to be depressed than a mum in a coupled relationship. I had Post Natal Depression with both of my children, and I want other mums to know that they aren’t alone in their dark feelings and thoughts at this difficult time of having a new baby. I also think that you are the only person that can make yourself well again. The feelings I had after my recent relationship breakdown of being lonely, isolated, not part of a ‘normal’ family and feeling heartbroken, were so overwhelming for me. But even more so was the stigma, self criticism and failure that I felt as a newly single parent. Eventually, I learned that my post natal depression was a ‘gift wrapped in sandpaper’ for me. As in 2016, with a need to prove that I wasn’t a failure, I, along with a fellow single mum, started a Social Enterprise for Single Parents with a focus on wellbeing called Single Parents Wales. I wanted to reach out to others and end the stigma, instead replacing this with love and compassion.
My top 5 for Mental Health Nurturing.
1. Peer Support.
The best thing for my mental health was to go out and find other people who were in a similar position to me, who truly understood what was in my head and heart. I could feel the judgement and stigma disappear because they were the same as me. Peer support and the power of a group and true empathy is astonishing, I witness it’s almighty ability all the time. It is so healing knowing that you can talk to someone and that you have someone to turn to. Sometimes not offering a solution, just simply understanding. I have met amazing and inspiring single parents that truly pulled me out of the dark hole that I was in. But more than that made me recognise what a super hero you are being a single parent. The feeling of not being alone and being part of a community gives me endless strength.
2. Me Time.
As a parent we all struggle to find time to have a wee, so the thought of ‘me time’ seems impossible. But what if I told you it reboots the brain and has lots of health benefits? It is inevitably a bit trickier for single parents to find this time, but once you work out the logistics or really embrace the importance of ‘me time’ it will be easier. It could be saying to the kids that you are having a cuppa for 5 minutes whilst they play, having a hot bath with candles when they are in bed, or making some time for a hobby or interest. You have to start seeing that you are just as important as your children, and that if you are in a strong resilient state of mind then the first people that will benefit is your children.
3. Your Thoughts vs Reality.
The most poignant thing that someone pointed out to me was that my thoughts aren’t always true. When we are depressed, stressed, low in confidence and high in anxiety, our brains keep on at us about how useless we are, how our children deserve better and what a burden we are. Well these thoughts are not true, and if only we knew how more than enough we are, especially for our children, how enormously loved and missed we would be to our loved ones if we weren't around, and how amazing we are for what we have been through and the strength, determination and kick arse ability we show on a day to day basis.
4. Not Letting Things Escalate.
It is so important to learn to master the tool of self regulating. This is about not letting your feelings, thoughts and anxieties get too far before you make a positive change. The longer that you leave things when you are feeling stressed and anxious the harder they will be to bring back. So it might be that you take the time to meet up with a friend, as you’ve noticed you are a bit snappier with the children, or you do some Mindfulness as the children’s dad is pushing your buttons. Rather than letting it escalate to the point where you are having to have time off sick from work as things have become too much. It’s about being emotionally intelligent and listening to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves and recognising that we are only human, so all of these things that we have to juggle without a partner means that we will get stressed, angry, anxious and upset. But it’s how we deal with this in the moment rather than letting it snowball.
5. What Works For You.
It might not be what works for you, works for me, and it seems that there isn’t a one size fits all, but it’s important to be armed with a massive resilience tool kit, with a hammer, spirit level, monkey wrench and three different screw drivers, to make sure that you can get to work maintaining and fixing your mental health. I find physical exercise works wonders for me personally. Which is why one of the first things we set up at Single Parents Wales was a ramble to promote exercise as a positive way to manage mental health. However, when the grey cloud descends this is the most difficult task for me. In this case I focus on just getting outside and going for a walk, as I know that this will make me feel better, and has a 100% success rate. I recently couldn’t shake my anxiety so got up and climbed a mountain, Pen-y- Fan in the Brecon Beacons, which I know sounds a bit extreme! I felt that I left my anxiety at the top and as I descended I couldn’t contain the smile and sense of achievement. For others it may be that talking things through to a friend, family or a professional helps. It might be ensuring that you are getting a healthy diet or making time to read or study. Whatever works for you, recognise that and make steps to do it often and make it a part of your life.
If you’re a single parents then why not join us? We hold social events, with and without the children. Including our popular rambles fortnightly. We also hold Wellbeing Workshops and Mindful Play and Art Therapy sessions. Get in touch.