So this week it was World Mental Health Day, Baby Loss Awareness Week, and International Day of the Girl.
For me these are all sort of related. And I’ve struggled to say one thing about any of them.
I think being a girl brings with it particular mental health challenges. I suppose they start with hormonal imbalances… and power imbalances. Expectations, from others and then from yourself. Pregnancy, pregnancy loss, baby loss, infertility, post birth PTSD, post natal depression, the whole-life upheaval of motherhood, shaped by both biology and society.
Life batters women’s bodies and minds and it’s supposed to be normal but when it’s you it’s not – and the thwarted expectation of normal is probably the hardest of them all. It feels like there’s a conspiracy of silence around being a girl, that minimises our pain, and leaves women very much isolated as a result.
We’re not supposed to tell anyone we’re pregnant until 3 months, becuase early miscarriage is just a thing that happens and should be gotten over, and God forbid it might make others uncomfortable.
We have to grieve our losses, appropriately, in private, at the correct volume, for the correct duration or we are unstable, hysterical, need to get over it now, have you considered taking up a new hobby?
We’re supposed to live with the pain of endometriosis because that’s normal and we should stop complaining when the decorators are in, it can’t be that bad.
We’re not allowed to address or even process a traumatic birth because at least the baby is healthy and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?
We can’t say how awful and hard and boring our new baby is because that’s ungrateful and some people would kill to be in your position, you know – you don’t deserve to be a mother.
We can’t share the thought the baby would be better off without us, in case they take it away.
We can’t say we are struggling – with motherhood, work, life, our marriages and relationships, with crippling loneliness and disconnection because that’s failure, other people are doing it all, look at the Facebook pictures.
We can’t talk about waking up in the middle of the night terrified the baby has stopped breathing, even when they’re 8, living the worst case scenario in our heads and fighting off crippling fear every waking moment of every single day – of which there are too many – in case the world thinks we’re mad, because maybe we are.
And those silences leave women alone in their heads. They leave women’s mental health untreated. They leave too many too normal things a taboo.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned about my own mental health, over the years but particularly recently, it’s that you need to be able to feel your feelings. They are not wrong. Ever. No one else should tell you how to feel, when, for how long, or how to express it.
Not feeling a feeling, suppressing it, denying it, trying to shape it to fit someone else’s expectations, replacing it with another feeling like anger instead of fear or sadness – turns it dark. And it will eat you up from the inside out.
We owe it to ourselves – and to each other – to come out of hiding. To say the things we’re afraid to think out loud. To share our pain, so it is heard and we are witnessed, and so that others can find comfort in the mirror of their own feelings.
I suppose really, that’s what this page has become about. It’s a bit about motherhood, sure. It’s a bit about mental health. It’s a bit about being a girl. But mostly it’s about truth. It’s about not being afraid anymore. And stepping out of the shadows.