Postnatal anxiety or weak executive skills?
It's the start of mental health week today and so I wanted to share with you some of my mental health struggles in hopes of making someone else out there feel a little less alone.
As a new mum, I found leaving the house overwhelming. It got so bad that I quit classes I enjoyed because it was just too hard to get there. This led to more isolation, more feeling useless, and made it even harder to drag me and my baby out.
I reached out to the local health visitor team and a very kind health visitor came out to see me. She put me in touch with other local services and eventually I received CBT for postnatal anxiety which worked in that I was now able to drag myself out of the house. Horray.
But it was still really hard to organize all the things that are needed to take a baby out. The nappies, snacks, water bottles, spare clothes, toys, it still felt overwhelming if I'm honest. CBT trained me to ignore the voice that said 'this is too hard' and to just go out anyway. But it hadn't made it any easier. Or allowed me to ask 'why is this so hard'?
There are a lot of answers to 'why is this so hard' and it took me a very long time to realize the most obvious one. It's hard because I have weak executive functioning. I forget this because I also have excellent coping skills but I hadn't developed coping skills for parenting and it takes a lot of executive skill to get a small baby ready to go out (fed, not too tired, not mid nap, clean nappy) at a particular time.
So if I could go back and give myself some advice, I'd like to tell myself to be kinder to myself. Not to force myself to go out all the time just because I felt I should. To choose outings that would be more fun and less stressful, to ditch the classes with strict start and finish times in favor of meeting other mums in the park. Not to stress about catching the train down to London for overnight trips when I wasn't ready.
I'd also like to give myself a checklist or two so I didn't have to think about what I needed to pack. Even better, packing that bag the night before would have removed a barrier to leaving the house and made it possible to enjoy going out. The best option of all is having someone else pack the bag.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, I have plenty of strengths but one of my weaknesses is executive functioning. It's really really hard for me to organize a bag full of baby stuff. I talk a lot about playing to your strengths, the flip side is delegating your weaknesses. Acknowledging, then asking for help when something is just too hard.