I didn’t become pregnant and think I was going to be a terrible parent. I worried I wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing, sure. But I felt fairly confident I was going to be a good mum – a fun mum, a happy mum. Yet as I sat on my sofa, listening to my baby cry in her cot for what seemed like the millionth time, I felt like none of those things. Instead I felt stuck, trapped; with a feeling of despair I had never experienced before. I was a long way from the happy mum I wanted to be, and instead all I felt an overwhelming sense of doom and failure. I longed for something to change, but I just didn’t know how to make that change happen or where to start.
The reality was I needed a break. After leaving my fast-paced PR job I had literally thrown myself into my new role as a mum, full throttle. As a stay-at-home parent it was literally my job to be a mum 24/7, and so that’s what I did. But when the inevitable sleep deprivation set in and the baby decided she had her own agenda when it came to any kind of routine, I felt like I was losing control and it was suprising how quickly my mental health spiralled. I felt ashamed to admit to anyone but my husband that I needed help, and the act I put on in front of friends was Oscar worthy. But it wasn’t sustainable, and eventually, after the birth of my second baby, I found myself in pieces on our kitchen floor in the midst of a panic attack, and I knew then I had to seek real help.
Counselling and regular childcare was what I needed in this instance to give me the break I so desperately craved. But later, after the birth of my third baby, and when I was subsequently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy was a game changer. It was then I started to think about how I could help other mums in the same boat, and this is whenthe idea for my company, Calm Mamas Club, was born.
Mental illness is never simple, but I knew that my inability to prioritise my own needs along with those of my family was a major problem. I therefore wanted to create a space where mums needs came first for a few important hours. Where mums could be open without fear of judgment, feel understood and meet other mums – extending their support network, whilst also learning some takeaway tips that boost wellbeing at home on a daily basis. But more than anything I wanted those mums to leave feeling relaxed, ready to face family life, andultimately happy and calm.
Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the Pandas Foundation when I was struggling, but I so wish I had. Funded solely by donations, PANDAS provides crucial support for parents suffering from pre and post-natal mental illness in the form of telephone and email helplines, plus in-person support groups. I often think of how things might have been different if I had spoken with one of their trained volunteers, which is why I try to raise as much awareness of their services as possible, and donate in the region of 10% from the sale of every ticket to the charity. Knowing they could save a mum or dad from falling to the floor as I did.
I wish I could say that since receiving CBT it has been nothing but an uphill trajectory, but anyone who suffers from mental illness will know that it’s a bumpy road. However, I now know to be kind to myself and that prioritizing my own self-care is far from selfish. In fact it is essential for the happiness of not just me, but my entire family. I also know that feelings of anxiety will fade, and that whilst it may feel like I’m simply surviving thanks to things like my health hazard of a house and the never-ending washing pile, as a family we’re thriving, and I hope I can help other mums realise this too.
To find out more about Calm Mamas Club and buy tickets to Gemma’s events, please visit www.calmmamasclub.co.uk
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