I’m feeling extremely honoured to be able to write for Kate and her wonderful CheltenhamMaman blog amongst so many talented Mamas. This blogging world is pretty new to me and I’ll admit it still scares me a little. Sharing and being open about my feelings has never been easy for me but seeing stories and personal experiences shared by so many amazing women inspires me daily. Their courage and honesty in sharing their most personal thoughts and feelings is truly something I see as inspirational.
One of the things that I have always struggled to share, which only a handful of people incredibly close to me know, is my life long battle with depression. Even they probably don’t know the full extent of what it has been like over the years. My husband has been my rock and without him I don’t know where I’d be with my illness. I know that pressing send to Kate on this blog will be something that I will struggle with and it will probably cause me a lot of anxiety.
The depression I suffer with is something I’ve always kept incredibly private for fear of being defined by it, for fear of people seeing my illness and not me. I don’t want to be that person or be that illness, but it is part of me and I’m learning that can be okay. I am learning that I don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed of it, and I’m working on accepting that sometimes it is okay not to be okay.
I spent many years dreaming of being a mama to a sweet little baby but also worrying about what a mother with depression would be like. Was I selfish to bring a child into that?! When we eventually decided to have a baby and became pregnant I then began to fear that depression would come back in the form of PND. After discussions with my midwife I knew there was a massive risk of this happening. There have been times that I’ve been very close to taking my own life, it really has been that bad, and my biggest worry was finding myself in that place again. That wasn’t something I ever wanted to happen again, especially with a new baby to look after.
After the birth of my son the inevitable happened and I struggled to cope with being a new mother and all the difficulties that came with it. To all of my friends, family and people around me, I was just a new mother getting on with this new life. At home it wasn’t quite the same picture and things were pretty tough. I relied on my husband a lot and I can’t stress enough how amazing he has always been at ‘holding the fort’ when I just haven’t been strong enough to.
I’d often spend the days trying the best I could to look after my son and hold myself together. I felt a huge amount of love for my little boy but at the same time felt helpless and often felt like I had a big fat empty hole inside of me. The support of my husband and a group of mums who I’d become close to during pregnancy got me through those hard days. Those friends have no idea how much they helped me and how much I was struggling but I am truly grateful to them.
During this stage of my depression I realised that in order to be able to be the mother I wanted to be to my son, I had to start taking better care of myself. In the past I’ve always chosen helping and supporting other people over myself, in turn sacrificing my own happiness. On top of that, I have always had a massive sweet tooth and during pregnancy I ate a tub of ice cream a day – my husband will tell you how true that is. Then, like most new mums, I was living on whatever I could find in the sleepy newborn haze to survive; often meeting other mums in coffee shops and gobbling cake to keep me going.
I knew that eating in this way wasn’t doing me any good and probably wasn’t contributing to my mental health. So, I decided that I had to make changes to my life, both in terms of the things I was doing that were contributing to making me unhappy and how I was nourishing my body. I needed to make the changes in my life to find a healthier me and to start putting myself first.
Around this time I was also weaning my son who had developed food reactions (that’s a story for another day). I began to look a lot into what I was feeding him and I realised that it was important to feed him natural wholesome foods. It also meant I began looking a lot more into the amount of refined sugar I was consuming. I made the decision that I didn’t need sugar in my diet to make me happy as I once thought I did. To me sugar was a reward and a comfort food, but quite honestly I’d say it was an addiction. Something I had grown up eating lots of and something that was a part of my life – as crazy as that sounds, sugar was ingrained in me. When I started to look at what it really was…empty food that was making me feel exhausted and pretty rubbish a lot of the time…the appeal suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
Healthy eating for me isn’t about sacrifice nor is it about not enjoying yummy food. Goodness I want to eat tasty treats too! To me it’s about eating the things I love but just in a more nutritious way. I want to eat food that benefits my body and makes me feel better, not worse. I try to eat less processed foods, very little or no refined sugar, plus have lots of vegetables and nutritious foods in my diet. In turn this is the way I try to feed my son too.
I won’t sit here and say that all of this has been a miracle cure for my depression, it’s something I know will be with me possibly forever, and we are definitely not a perfect family. I can however say that we are working on it. That’s one of the reasons I started Happy Healthy Tums and why I’m over there talking about nutritious family food. I’m sharing the things I learn, the things I love and some of the recipes I love and am happy to feed my family. I won’t promise your kids will love every recipe I share, nor can I claim that my son will always eat them, because feeding a little person isn’t that straight forward. Feeding kids is hard and that’s the only thing I can promise.
The depression I have suffered, and continue to suffer, has taught me that looking after myself has to be a priority, especially as a mother, in order for me to be the best I can be for my son and my husband. Doing little things to make sure I give myself some time to take care of myself…those are the things that will help me get through it all. That’s why you will also see me over at Happy Healthy Tums talking about this too. To me being happy and healthy as a mother is about everything, it’s not just about the food I put in to my body but about the good things I can do to help my mental health and wellbeing. I am now passionate about helping myself to be happier and healthier as well as teaching my son good values that will hopefully help him grow the same way too.
A Guest Blog from Vanessa Stockdale
Vanessa lives in the countryside with her little family; husband David, two year old son Elliot and very cheeky dog Lily. Their weekends as a family are spent exploring and eating the best of the Cotswolds. You can find Vanessa at Happy Healthy Tums on Instagram and Twitter talking about uncomplicated and delicious family food, as well as about the realities of feeding a small human. You will also find lots of wonderful meal ideas to feed the family.
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