Parenting with mental illness. Top 3 essentials to weather the storm.

Yesterday marked six full years since birthing my first and only child.

Birthing did not go as planned.

Conception not as planned.

Life over the years has not gone as planned.

However, the experience and lessons learned have been more beneficial and enriching than I could have ever planned for.

I live with the symptoms from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Disorder, as defined by the DSM-5. And while I have decided not to go into too much detail about the illnesses themselves, I’d like to reflect on parenting whilst managing my mental health.

Before I continue, I’d like to remind you that I’m reflecting on my personal experience as a sole parent. This article should not be used as an alternative to the mental health services that you may need at this time. If you’re in urgent need, please stop reading and seek medical attention immediately.

Parenting without mental illness still requires us to be ON all of the time. Most especially during the early years. This means sleep depravation, and dysregulation of many sorts.

Parenting with mental illness means our emotional and cognitive thresholds are shorter than usual, as our nervous system is dysregulated. Our internal panic button has been smashed and we’re operating, regardless. So, as some of you might likely assume, my first tip for parenting with mental illness is;

Image by Alison Anton
  1. Amp up the self care in as many areas as possible.
  • Find yourself a good support network. Ask for help and accept the help offered to you.
  • Drink water, eat regular meals and try your very best to sleep as much as physically possible.
  • Get outdoors and ground yourself at least once a day.
  • Set boundaries; whatever that looks like to you. “No, I’m not taking visitors today” (adjust accordingly).
  • Remind yourself of what felt good before kids – your favourite book, film or TV show and carve the time out to enjoy those again. If you don’t have time; revisit bullet-point one.

In the midst of an anxious or depressive episode, our feelings can become so overwhelming. It’s important to ensure we’ve got a good set of coping techniques and an action plan in place. With that said, my second tip is:

Image by Danielle MacInnes

2. Get yourself a good therapist; they’re trained to help you through this!

You don’t need to know all of the answers, or exactly how you’re going to get through this. Just like surgeons study and train for years to perform life-saving surgery, Counsellors, Psychologists and Psychotherapists have trained for years for this very reason; to help you through this particularly painful and challenging part of your life. Doing your research and pairing with the appropriate and relevant mental health professional can help you in the following ways:

  • By providing you with a safe space to vent your frustration in. A good therapist offers unbiased understanding and validation of your feelings.
  • By helping you to understand how current environmental factors apply to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
  • By providing you with practicable techniques to cope with your emotional and cognitive processing. A good therapist will help you gain clarity and teach you to apply evidence-based techniques during your time of need.

Realistically speaking, parenting in the early years can be difficult. It’s messy, stressful and our boundaries and patience can be pushed to their limits. My third and final tip applies to a time where our children are able to really perceive and observe our behaviour and a time where we’ve adjusted and settled into our recent life event.

Image by Daniel Cheung

3. Work on acceptance, get realistic, be honest and play.

This is not to be mistaken for defeat and we should try our best to avoid becoming nihilistic. Coming to a point where we accept that our mind and body is struggling under current circumstances can be the catalyst for change that we’re so in need of. In my view, “allowing the dust to settle” and viewing my current state of being in a realistic manner is sobering, yet necessary. Doing away with the pressure of what’s expected of me by my social circle or society at large can be empowering and rather freeing. When I rest in the knowledge that my relationship with myself and my relationship with my child is taking priority right now, I’m better able to bring about a sense of calm, safety, wellness and confidence in my abilities as a parent. This only strengthens the bond in our relationship, because children are naturally very sensitive to the emotions of their caregivers.

The kind of honesty I’m referring to here is honesty with accountability, as it relates specifically to admitting we’re having a hard time or crying in front of our children, while maintaining accountability for our behaviour. Normalising crying is important, as it models the healthy expression of emotion. Maintaining accountability is important, as it prevents children’s tendency to develop self-blame as a pattern of their conditioning. This might sound like “Mummy/Daddy is having a hard time right now and it isn’t your fault. I’m feeling really sad (or nervous) but I’m going to help myself and get through this”.

Lastly, I mention play as an essential element to parenting with mental illness. Play is medicine. It’s education. It’s connection. Play is communication where words fail us. And if we’re wanting to create healthy neural pathways in ourselves and our children, respectively. We need to keep playing.

These three essentials have helped me to live through mental illness in my six years as a parent. While I acknowledge that one size never fits all, I hope you’ve found something useful from this article. Below, I will list some Australian Mental Health resources as well as parenting resources. And as always, I wish you healing – With Gratitude x

https://raisingchildren.net.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

https://www.panda.org.au/

Featured image by Aswin.

Meditation and Mental Wellbeing (Development and Maintenance)

I read somewhere on “the socials” this week that 2021 is just 2020 with a cute, new haircut… and while it’s not Jung, Confucius, or Thích Nhất Hạnh, it’s relevant and profound. Why don’t most New Years Resolution’s last throughout the year? Why do we impulsively sign up to that expensive Gym Membership with grand plans of changing our lifestyle in a heartbeat? Why are “bad” habits so hard to break? And how can we develop and maintain a Mental Wellness routine with longevity in mind? In this article, I’ll be discussing just that.

As an introvert and empath, I’ve always struggled around this time of year. Constant social interaction over Christmas and the New Year. In my circle, everyone’s birthday seems to fall in between late December and early Jan! Packed shopping centres with people flooding to purchase the newest gadgets and the latest sneakers; it’s a marathon! Suddenly, I find myself taking on other people’s nervous energy as well as my own and when did I suddenly stop my self-care routine and find this sudden urge to keep up with the Kardashians/Jones’s/whatever’s? After the holiday mayhem passed, I collected and compartmentalised my thoughts, and this is what I found. (Note: extroverts read on; this applies to you too!)

Big sudden changes don’t work! Avoid making them!

The brain is a muscle, just like your abs. If you go hard and try to workout like a machine on Week 1, you’re going to find yourself in a load of pain and burnt out before you’re able to actually enjoy the progress you’re making on your wellbeing journey. Small, incremental steps are best when it comes to developing any routine. Instead of planning a regime of hour long, daily meditation sessions, begin with 5 minutes when you wake and before you sleep. Then, gradually build on that when you know you’re ready to. So let’s talk development and maintenance. Where do we begin?

Get creative! This routine is of your creation!

Dedicating a personal space in my home has been one of the best things I’ve done to contribute to a more effective Meditation routine. I’m lucky enough now to be able to dedicate an entire room to this space but when I began, it was in a small corner of my bedroom; and it was a game-changer! A space filled with lush fabric, oracle decks, crystals, candles, incense and feel good books. Another option is a quiet space outdoors, amongst a garden and tranquil scenery. I added a personal flourish to my self-care routine and I truly encourage you to do the same. Where energy goes, results flow!

Experiment! One style doesn’t fit all.

All styles aim to elicit a meditative state; where we’re focused and calm, our emotions are under control and we’re consciously aware of our actions and reactions. That said, what works for one person may not work as well for another. This is because we’re unique and our learning styles all vary. Where one may learn kinaesthetically (by doing) another may learn by watching and another by listening; or varying degrees of all three. There are many common misconceptions about what meditation is, so seek to play and you shall find.

What happens if you just can’t get into it or you “fall off the horse”?

You jump back on, of course! Incorporating consciously aware, mindful moments into your daily life is a wonderful way to normalise healthier habits – until it becomes so ingrained that a meditative state just becomes a part of you. Except for when you’re operating machinery, that is!

Where and how can we begin to practice these ‘mindful moments’?
1) In our interpersonal relationships and our relationship with self.
When our nervous systems aren’t regulated, our relationships tend to be more strained than usual. This might look something like this:
– Moodiness and ‘snapping’ easily
– A shorter tolerance to challenging situations
– Taking things personally
– Thinking negatively
– Feeling as if everything that could go wrong, does go wrong
It’s very helpful to Practice the Pause. That is, pausing before we yell, or project our negative emotions onto others or deeper into ourselves. We can do this by moving into four long seconds of deep belly breathing. This simple act of deep breathing sends an immediate message to our Parasympathetic Nervous system which then works with our Sympathetic Nervous system to communicate messages of safety and relaxation throughout. Please see my blog for a basic understanding of the Stress response, here https://danieladlspiteri.com.au/2020/12/15/stress-cause-effect-and-clarity-a-mindbody-approach/ Practicing the Pause in challenging interpersonal situations is beneficial to both ourselves and others.

2) Tune in and listen to your body’s needs. Regularly checking our Emotional Barometer is a powerfully helpful technique in really getting to know and regulate our nervous system. You might like to do this by simply asking “How am I feeling?” regularly throughout the day, keeping a diary/journal handy or using a scaling system. If we find our emotions are in “the red zone”, then we know we need to ground and regulate. Meditating is the best way to do this, however if that seems too overwhelming, here are some simple things we can do more of, until the idea of meditating seems doable:
– Work with The Vagus Nerve to elicit a sense of safety by taking cold showers, or merely splashing cold water on our face.
– Singing and dancing. Working somatically – moving nervous energy out of our system is incredibly useful!
– Box breathing. To learn about this technique, click here – https://www.facebook.com/danieladeniselouise/posts/619925428693067
– Getting out of our heads and into nature. Get barefoot and get grounded.

And finally, be kind to and forgiving of yourself! Mental conditioning isn’t easy to break free from.

Mental Conditioning is a form of belief’s which have been instilled into us from birth and form the first part of our lives. For a majority of us, this system of belief’s was far from positive and may have contributed to a great deal of our perceived suffering. However, our caregivers did their best and considering you’re awake to this fact, your wellness is of your creation. Your wellness is of your choosing! Holding on to feelings of guilt for dropping off schedule isn’t benefiting you or those around you. Find peace in the fact that this is a process. We fall. We rise. We learn.

Yours in wellness and empowerment,

Daniela x

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To book a class, visit here – https://www.trybooking.com/BNVVB Please note that I am not a trained medical professional and as it stands I do not work with complex, unhealed trauma, but I am happy to direct you to seek a referral.

Back On Track Healing Services would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of this land (Kulin Nation) and thus pay their deepest respects.