After a few weeks break, Mental HealthÂ Mondays is back this week. Sharing stories of parents who have encountered all sorts of mental health issues, I hope that this series will educate, reassure and work towards removing the stigma of mental illness encountered by parents. The reception to it so far has been astounding, I’ve been really grateful to so many who have taken part, and to those who have read and commented and given feedback. It’s all about opening the lines of communication, removing the elephant in the room and making it a better space for people to be able to put their hand up and say “Hey, I need a bit of help here”. If you’ve not seen any of the previous posts, make sure to check them out here.
This week, Aoife from BuggyWalksIreland is talking all about the links between physical and mental health. She discusses the links to her increase in physical activity, like going for walks, to the upward levels of calm and happiness. This is something which definitely rang true with me, as I found no greater calm than putting E into the buggy and heading off on a long walk. The fresh air, the endorphins, the lack of four walls closing in on me – it did the world of good and definitely improved my view on the world.Â So without further intro, here’s Aoife and her story for this weeks Mental Health Mondays post.
I am on a quest to shine a light on maternal physical and mental health. Although not an expert in either department, being a mother to two small and beautiful children has given me an education in both. Physically I gained a bellyful – and bumful – of excess weight during my second pregnancy due to comfort-eating and a very unhealthy relationship with sugary treats. As a result any type of physical activity became an enormous struggle. Being deprived of my normal healthy routine also negatively impacted on my mood, energy levels and general ability to cope with every day demands. The synergistic effect of the assault on my mind and body throughout pregnancy and beyond left me anxious, feeling blue, isolated and overwhelmed.
As my children â€“ and struggles â€“ grew I began to realise that mothers donâ€™t talk about their own battles, anxieties, sleepless nights or feeding woes. Was I the only one? We should be all part of the same club, able to share in our triumphs and failures equally. But no, thereâ€™s a real fear amongst us to admit to any of these things. Maybe by admitting to a failure of our ability to cope we would in some way be saying that we have failed as women and as mothers. We also fear judgement. To confess to our weaknesses and humanity ought to be a cathartic experience, but we sit silent, complicit in the lie that everything is okay.
The first step in my journey to a happier body and mind was exercise. I knew the benefits of keeping fit before I got pregnant, but what I didnâ€™t know was how to combine the timetable of a baby with regular exercise. Prioritising our needs usually is bottom of the list under children, work and maintaining the house. Letâ€™s be honest even thinking about it is exhausting! Finally it dawned on me that walking with my baby in our buggy was my only option to factor in some physical activity. This was a life-changing moment. By motivating myself to leave the house for a walk I became lighter. The four walls of our homes can protect but they can also imprison. By getting outside and freeing my legs, body, mind and soul on a walk the clouds of stress and anxiety dissipated and burned, along with the fat.
This new found love for walking with baby soon became a passion for exploring walks that were accessible to buggies. To the extent that I am currently trying to compile a database of accessible and buggy-friendly walks around the country (www.buggywalksireland.com). This became a shared experience as I invited friends, and their babies, along for a wheeled walk. As we pushed our buggies alongside each other we talked more freely about our daily struggles and shed our fears easier than if sitting opposite each other over a coffee.
The highs and lows of parenting ebb and flow like the tide. On the high tide weâ€™re lifted on the joy and magic of it all, but when the water rushes out it can expose our buried fears and anxieties. We need not fight the swell or row against it alone. While post natal depression is a serious medical condition and doesnâ€™t affect all mothers my guess is that most new mothers have dealt with some of the issues mentioned above. Together we can try to end the stigma of maternal mental health and open up about how tough mothering is. By walking, and talking together we can lighten the load.
Hopefully you’ve found Aoife’s piece to be food for thought – let us know what you think in the comments below. If you’d like to partake and share your story, I’d love to hear from you – drop me an email at [email protected], or chat me on Facebook or Twitter.