Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of suicidal thoughts that may be triggering to some.
“I was lucky. I had a happy, secure childhood. I grew up with my parents and younger brother and was close to my grandparents. I had lots of friends and lived in a stable environment. I knew my own mind, and although I was a quiet and shy individual, I was self-confident; sure of what I wanted and what my boundaries were. This strong belief in myself continued throughout a period of being bullied at school, moving to university in another country, and into the early stages of becoming a wife and mother.
That, however, all changed one day in 2017 after having my second child. Katie was a really grumpy baby. She used to cry a LOT, had difficulty latching on and feeding (which was stressful and upsetting for both of us), only had 20-minute naps during the day, and would be very unsettled when out and about. She would only ever be happy if she was with me, and even then, this was never guaranteed. After a straightforward, easy-going first child (my son, James, would be thoroughly content being passed around from person to person), this was a shock to the system. It was exhausting having such a clingy baby. Others would try to take her from me, but inevitably she would end up screaming pretty quickly (even with her dad), and so she would come straight back to me. They would give up trying. Understandably…
About 3 months after Katie was born, I was in town with her picking up some essentials and she would not stop screaming. Not just a little baby cry (which is kind of cute and not loud to anyone but the parents), but proper screaming. I didn’t even know someone so tiny could be that loud! I was getting a lot of glances from other, grumpy shoppers, obviously judging me for not being able to control my baby out in public.
The build-up of the last few months and how drained I had become came to a head that day. I’m the type of person who does not show emotions and is an incredibly private individual, but I ended up having a huge meltdown in the middle of the supermarket. I was bawling my eyes out as I paid for my groceries (luckily at a self-checkout) and left the shop. I felt so useless. So alone. Like I was completely failing as a mother.
I knew then and there I was not okay and made an urgent appointment to see the doctor. Shortly after, I was (unsurprisingly) diagnosed with post-partum depression (known as postnatal depression, here in the UK). I quickly made some changes and started giving Katie formula instead of attempting to carry on with breast milk, moved her into a cot in her own room at night (instead of co-sleeping), and introduced the cry it out method. I know there will be those who will disagree with all of these choices (and with my first, I was in that camp), but they worked, and honestly, I didn’t look back. I was totally broken, barely surviving. These changes were needed for me to keep my sanity. And as a result of more food and better sleep, Katie was slowly becoming happier and more settled.
Even after these changes, I spiraled into some dark and disturbing places; having a number of suicidal thoughts. One particularly poignant memory I have is of being on holiday in Gran Canaria with my family. My husband, parents and brother had taken the kids to the pool while I stayed behind in the apartment to have a nap. I could see (and hear) them from the balcony, so I went to see what was happening. All I could think as I looked over was how easy it would be to fall over the edge, and all my pain and suffering would be over. Then I felt guilty about my kids losing their mom and me missing out on them growing up, and the whole cycle of self-destructive thoughts came flooding back, leaving me in floods of tears and shaking like a leaf on the floor.
I had completely lost myself and become a shell of a person. Only there to feed, change and help my children grow. When I wasn’t crying uncontrollably, I had no feelings whatsoever. At some points, I was so numb to everything that I couldn’t even speak.
From the outside, no one would know anything was wrong. I would plaster a smile on my face as I went to work or dropped the kids off at nursery, and everything would appear to be ‘normal.’ To the world, we were a regular, happy family. It’s incredible how much heartache a smile can hide. In between photos I was crying.
After counseling and a lot of personal reflection, years later I am thankfully now over the worst of it. Katie is an extremely happy little girl, and we have an incredibly close relationship.
I still struggle sometimes when standing up for myself, making decisions or even working out what makes me happy, but overall I am in a much better place. I believe no one truly recovers from depression and will always be fighting self-destructive thoughts on some subconscious level. Because of this, I find it difficult dealing with stress, and can snap easily under pressure. This has led to me also recently being diagnosed with Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).
For both depression and ME/CFS (and the underlying issue of stress), I have found many ways to cope, but one thing, in particular, that has helped shift my perspective on life, and given me a more positive outlook, is discovering the power of kindness.
The memory that sticks out for me, and gave me a fundamental change in focus, is the day I chose to sit outside in a park during my lunch break at work (a big step in itself as I usually eat at my desk). It was a lovely sunny day, and being around nature was incredibly relaxing, but otherwise just an ordinary day. However, it was one short 15-second exchange with a stranger, who complimented my new bag, that completely changed my attitude. It was such a little thing, and the lady has probably not even thought about it since, but it shifted something within me. It made me realize how even small acts of kindness have the power to make people feel really happy and give someone a boost. It can change their whole day or even their entire life, like in my case. Its power should not be underestimated.
After this, I decided to find something positive that happened each day for a whole week; either something I did or something someone else did for me. See if I found a difference in my attitude and stress levels, by noticing regular small acts of kindness. Some of the things I did that week include: leaving coins around for strangers to find (because who doesn’t like finding money?), picking up litter from the street, posting sweeties to the neighbor’s children, and giving a bag of clothes to charity. I then posted these acts of kindness onto social media to hopefully encourage friends and family to also look out for the positive acts that occur all around us every day.
Once this week was over, I decided it had such a profound impact on me and my happiness that I would purposely go out and perform acts of kindness regularly, so others may feel even a little of the joy I felt that day in the park. Even now, I leave little gifts for strangers to find around our town or send uplifting messages to friends.
I then set up a Facebook page, A Boost of Positivity (ABOP), to document these acts of kindness and also spread positivity through daily posts of good news stories, inspirational quotes, tips for self-care, ideas for acts of kindness, and beautiful or happy photos. Showing that good things are happening all around us. I also now have set up a page on Instagram.
I love social media and always have; it is a great way to keep in contact with others (especially for an introvert like me), but I understand for some, it can be a dark place. I have found it is easy to go online (whether on social media or news channels) and get swept up looking at negative and upsetting articles or comments – known as ‘doom scrolling.’ During the pandemic, in particular, this made my anxiety levels skyrocket. I’m sure I am not alone here. ABOP aims for the exact opposite— helping people focus on the good, the happy, the beautiful. I use ABOP as a way to provide a little light relief; making social media a more positive and cheerful place. The type of optimistic page I like to follow and provide me with a news feed full of happiness.
As I have continued with ABOP, I do find I look out for and spot more and more positive things happening in the world— online and in real life. It has encouraged me, despite my physical and mental disabilities, to focus on something positive— a mission to spread kindness. As Robin Williams once said, ‘I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.’ I definitely relate to that.
Despite all of this, it has been hard to be kind to myself. I have made some progress, ensuring I do things I enjoy and making sure I rest more often (mainly because I have been forced to through my ME/CFS), but I think I will always struggle more with that. As a mother, it is difficult to justify putting your own needs first. However, I have roped in the kids at various points through my journey to show them being kind to others and themselves is important, and I hope they will take this with them throughout their life.
But at least for now, I know I am a good mother. I adore my kids, and they love me. They are happy and healthy, and really that is all that matters to me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Davidson from Oxford, UK. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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