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Two weeks ago, not even my dad knew about my depression, and neither did some of my very closest friends. Everyone has been incredibly supportive, but still I admit I’ve questioned myself. I have a terrible habit of reading into things that people say and imagining hidden messages that usually aren’t there.
I think there is something about sharing your darkest secrets with the wider world that makes people trust you and feel comfortable sharing their own stories. I’ve received messages from people I’ve not seen for years, telling me about their struggles with depression, and messages of encouragement from mental health professionals congratulating me for my honesty and advocacy.
One very dear friend asked me via text message how I felt about my story being “out there’ in the Facebook world. She was worried that I was feeling regretful. My mind started racing and my imagination went into overdrive. Does she think I’m over-sharing? Are people talking about me or criticising me for putting so much out there? Am I doing the wrong thing?
I don’t take compliments well, and I have a hard time believing nice things people say about me. There is a technical term for this that I learned during my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is called Mind Reading – assuming you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.
For me, it’s not enough to just share my story in the hope that other mums like me will know that they’re not alone. I want to remind mums that they’re not the only ones feeling like proverbial swans on a lake, seemingly gliding along on the surface whilst underneath, kicking and thrashing about to stay afloat.
In my old life, I used to have a pretty high profile job negotiating advertising contracts for a national newspaper. I was responsible for bringing in tens of millions of pounds in revenue a year. It was a big responsibility. But I had a manager, and she had a manager; and he had a manager; and his manager reported in to the City. Everyone was accountable to someone. We had regular one-to-one meetings and appraisals, and knew in no uncertain terms whether or not our performance was up to scratch.
Move on four years, and I find myself doing the most important job in the world: raising two small children. I have no ‘boss.’ As mums, we’re only really answerable to ourselves, and we’re our own worst critics.
Rightly or wrongly, other mums are the benchmark for how well I feel I’m doing as a parent. My husband or mum may tell me they think I’m doing a good job, but in my mind they’re obligated to say that. It’s in their job description. There’s a CBT term for this, too. It’s called Discounting Positives, or dismissing positive things as trivial.
At a very low point in my life, I couldn’t really believe anything complimentary that my friends and family might have said to me. I discounted their positives without actually hearing them.
We may believe we know another person, but we never really know what’s going on behind the scenes. The mum who you think has it all together may well be falling apart at the seams and feel completely unable to discuss it with anyone. But what can we do? How can we make a difference?
This we can do something about. This is where we can affect change.
If you see a mum who’s managed to make it out of Tesco’s with shopping done and sanity seemingly intact, what’s to stop you saying, “Nice work there, Sister! I take my hat off to you. Well done!”
Conversely, when the mama with the screaming kids in the supermarket is – for once – not you, a friendly smile or words to the effect of, “We’ve all been there, Love. Don’t worry.” It could well go such a long way in helping her to survive her ordeal. I’d argue that random words of encouragement from strangers is just as valuable as praise from those we know well. And remember, we don’t know what’s going on under the surface of even the most immaculately made-up face.
We’re all fighting our own individual battles and we could be lightening each other’s loads. I bet you can think of countless mums that you admire for different reasons, but do they know this? Could it be that whilst you’re comparing your insides with her outsides, she’s doing the same, and finding herself to be lacking?
So with this post, I’m setting you some homework. Please go out in the world and practice some Mummy Kindness today. Then come back here and tell me and your fellow readers how it felt to make someone else’s day.
Nice work, Sister. Well done!
Rachel is the married mum of two little ones from London, UK. She hopes her blog, “Mummy Kindness”: http://mummykindness.com, will encourage mums to stop competing and comparing, and start practicing more kindness to themselves and each other.