Guest Post by Mihaela Gruia, Research Retold.
Social media can be a wonderful place to connect with others but at times it can feel like a highlight reel. To bring more vulnerability and real-life experience to my feed, on World Maternal Mental Health Day, I opened up in a post about my experience.
My message was that showing up for myself every morning and taking care of my mind and body is a conscious decision. I make this decision every day as a result of the journey I have been on overcoming depression. I no longer fool myself into thinking that it should come naturally or without effort. What’s more, I don’t wait to ‘feel like doing it’ but actually do it and reap the rewards of feeling better afterwards. The importance of this habit has been highlighted even more since I became a mother.
The benefit of sharing a vulnerable post online is that it allows others to be vulnerable in return. After sharing my post, I connected with other women who have gone through similar experiences and I also received messages where people told me they felt inspired to be kinder to themselves.
Unexpectedly, it has led me to sharing my experience in a guest blogpost, as Jodie kindly reached out and asked me to share more on how I manage my mental health as a mother. So here I am, taking advantage of my daughter’s 20-minute nap, to write this post. I sincerely hope that sharing these three lessons will be useful for any parent on their mental health journey.
Ask for help
This is a lesson I learned in business and one I started practicing more heavily once I became a mother. Underpinning this way of thinking is realising that we don’t get any prizes or medals if we do it all by ourselves. The only result of trying to do so is exhausting ourselves and we all know it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup.
As a result, asking for help when I need it is my number one tool to manage my mental health. What this looks like for me is being clear with my partner in asking for what I need – whether it’s help to take care of baby so I can have a break, work on a project, have some space, or asking for help with making food, bringing me a cup of tea or fixing something for me – whatever it is, I ask myself whether I can get help to make things easier.
Beyond my partner, I have also asked for help from my family, in-laws and friends, especially during the early weeks of my daughter being born. I confess that before she was born I resisted the thought of receiving help from my family – I was standing in my own way, underestimating how hard having a baby is.
Becoming a mother has quickly taught me that that way of thinking is unsustainable. I am so glad to have opened my mind and allowed myself to be honest about what and when I need help.
It can be hard to do this if you’ve never done it before. My advice would be to start small. Think of little every day things that you could get help with, which you’re not bothered about controlling. Seeing that it’s OK and that other people can make your life easier will build up your confidence.
Making time for myself was very hard for me in the early days of becoming a mother. My world was shifted upside down and I had a hard time distinguishing day from night. The hours were melting into one and, not to scare you, but I was simply surviving. Trying to get through the day was an achievement and I made sure to pat myself on the back every night.
Yet, self care was not totally impossible. Even in those moments, taking as little as a minute for myself to wash my face, floss or mediate was my precious self-care.
As we grew into a routine and were able to predict our schedule a little bit, my ritual of self care expanded and improved to accommodate for my needs and to allow me to thrive, not just to survive.
For me, prioritising self care means paying extra attention to exercising and eating well. If I incorporate these two aspects in my daily routine everything I do on top is ‘gravy’. That might include journaling, beauty routines, baths, massages, turning my phone off, whichever of these I pick, on the days when I can squeeze them in, I feel like superwoman.
The point is that prioritising self care cannot be done if you feel uncomfortable asking for help. You need to have time alone and with a baby that can be tough if you have a hard time letting go of control and being vulnerable about your needs.
Remember also that and prioritising self care is not selfish – it is imperative for you to be able to take care of others and to life a healthy life. Even a half hour of quiet time doing something you enjoy can make a massive difference to your mood and attitude. (I love this pin that has this positive message).
Remembering who you are
This can be somewhat controversial for some people but before I think of myself as a mother I am Mihaela Gruia. I am my own person with wants, needs and desires and this kind of independence is something that I aim to instil in my daughter too.
Before my care and love for my daughter, before my loving marriage and my role as a wife, I am my own person. And to celebrate this I make a point to every day remember to do something for me only.
What’s more, I keep a mental note of things that I still enjoy doing, I reflect on what has changed, on how I feel, I constantly sift through my thoughts, habits and surrounding to stay in tune with myself.
I think this is especially important as a parent because raising strong, resilient and independent babies can be an all-consuming role. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in caring for your baby and family, that can we forget about ourselves.
I firmly believe that protecting, nurturing and developing myself beyond being a mother – as a business woman, entrepreneur, creator – will offer a solid foundation to my daughter in how she sees herself and her abilities. I want to raise her knowing that she can be all the things she wants to be and that she has a strong mother who still went after her dreams while raising her.
In conclusion, managing my mental health as a mother is a precious, important, and invaluable process. I encourage you to develop your ability to ask for help, define what self care means for you and prioritise it and remember who you are. Mothers around the world, you are doing a great job. Whenever you doubt yourself remember that your baby never doubts you and that you are the best mother for your child.
Before I leave, I’d like to leave you with a video that I made to detail how I manage my mental health – especially now in lockdown. Remember to be kind to yourself and to be your own champion. And if you need some inspiration, here is an insight into how I work from home with a baby.
Happy World Maternal Mental Health Day!
Mihaela is the founder and director of Research Retold, a Leeds-based company that provides a research communication service to researchers across UK universities, charities and businesses. You can connect with Mihaela on her YouTube channel where she shares videos about motherhood and business, as well as follow her on Instagram and Twitter @mihagruia.