Mom’s Mental Health - my personal experience and plea - another long & emotional post :)
May is National Mental Health Awareness month in USA and you might have come across a lot of material on the topic.
Last year, I had written up a blog post on the mental health of Moms around Mother's' day. I wasn't totally forthcoming in that write up! I would like to elaborate and reiterate the reasons behind my concerns about the mental health of mothers in this generation, like no other.
I lost my Mom to long term stress and eventual depression. The depression made her take her own life in 2012!
The why and what behind my mother’s case might have been extreme but not rare. The reasons could go back decades into her childhood and maybe several generations past but I have found similar parts of the narrative in my own life and other women I have met. I would like to share some of my experience in case it might resonate with you and encourage you towards some positive action.
At first after she passed away, I was in shock & denial which is very common, then came the guilt & anger, again very common. She was the most kind-hearted person, loving, sensitive human I knew and would lend her ears to everyone for sympathy. She also kept herself and her children motivated by constantly trying to keep growing by learning new things. What had made her take this drastic step was beyond my belief and imagination!
I took on a ton of stress on top of this overwhelming grief, concerns about my Dad that he would now have to deal with my younger brother who has had a few mental health issues himself AND run a household in India, which is way more daily work than in USA. I started struggling to take care of my two kids, who were both under ten years old. Loving and caring for them after a full time (long) IT work day seemed beyond exhausting. I ended up with thyroid and digestive issues so I resigned from the job, hoping to join back when I felt better- hopefully in a few months.
It was hard being home, not only was there the drowning grief from losing my Mom so tragically but I felt I lost my sense of identity too, after having to quit my job as well. It has been a very traumatic time and I still feel its effects today!
I did try to get some therapy and I discovered that my issues were not just grief over losing my Mom but a lot of other misguided beliefs about happiness, relationships and money that I was conditioned into, not just from our families but the patriarchal culture, in general.
Some were as simple as assuming that only women are responsible for running a home and all financial decisions should be handled by men, even if women are contributing in their own ways. That I should be cooking fresh meals at home from scratch for my family every single day else I am not a good wife and mother. And not just any meal, fun & interesting with tons of variety too. Any time I spent taking care of myself was vain & selfish - pretty much keep everyone else happy except yourself.
Also, you HAVE to follow the advice of the authority figures like seniors and they are always right and they know best! FEAR was the underlying essence in all these beliefs. And the biggest of them that happiness is something you get from outside yourself - your home, kids and other family members, and things - cars, gadgets, bags, shoes, jewelery, clothing. I also took everything being said to me very personally, just like my Mom did.
My parents had to move around a lot till I was almost a teen for better jobs and the constantly changing environments and school curriculum would stress out my already sensitive Mom. She grew up in a small village and had very low self-esteem. On top of that, she didn't have any support from family and friends at the new places. Later on when we settled down in Mumbai, she would get very anxious regarding my marriage and my brother’s education, given the social pressures. But every new place we would go, she would try to adjust herself to the place and grow.
Now that I had time to grieve and understand her life from the viewpoint of a Mom in this generation and the life of an immigrant, I felt like not only was I was reliving her life, so were a lot of other women I have gotten to know over the past few years. Most of us have had to move away from the communities we have grown up in and now with all the changes in the world, it was stressful bringing up "successful" kids in the new environments.
My brother unfortunately ended up having some mental health issues from moving to New York City to do a MBA in Finance. He had traveled to a brand new city and country with its own culture and mannerisms in the middle of the bone-chilling New England winter where he didn't have a single friend. He suffered classic burnout from the pressures of a MBA plus isolation.
After he returned back home, upon seeing his state of mind, my mother fell into a state of despair and depression and after 10 years of fighting it, she decided she was done! She had a bit of some self-faith when she was younger and it was gone down the drain after my brother got sick. Unfortunately, under all the stresses of taking care of my brother, my grieving Dad also passed away from a suspected heart attack in Sep. 2018.
It took all my strength and faith to not get sucked into the whirlpool of stress trying to figure out the next steps for my brother as he has valiantly tried to pick up the pieces of his life. Every single day and sometimes every moment, I have to try to stay focused on what really matters and the blessings we have around us, so that I can support my brother and my kids the right way.
Today, as a mother to my kids who are 10+ and facing the never seen before challenges in this new world, I observe mothers under tremendous pressures. There is pressure to raise kids with “more than good” grades in “beautiful” homes and a variety of extracurricular activities to get into well known colleges and good paying careers to brag about. And as women of this generation, we also expect ourselves to have “successful” careers or at least look “successful”, especially on social media.
All of us have had some cultural conditioning and follow certain belief systems but in this generation, it’s reaching breaking point for everyone, men, women and children alike! We expect too much out of ourselves and our children as well, don't you think?
1 in 4 people are being diagnosed with mental health problems today and these are the only ones who are seeking some kind of help.
I implore everyone to really question their definition of "success" & “perfection” and how they approach it. Do we really want to create “cookie cutter” unhappy kids and lives which are not happy or healthy? WHAT really really matters at the end of the day and HOW do you intend to go about achieving it?
Life can be unpredictable and very fragile. What would you do differently if you knew that today was the last day of your or one of your loved one’s life?
Start slowly shifting away from stress and depression TODAY, by questioning the thought process and the belief system! Obesity, high BP, hormonal issues, anxiety, anger, skin problems and eating disorders are all symptoms of stress too. Hormonal changes also affect the mental health of 40+ women so it is even more important to listen to your symptoms.
Talk to non-judgmental friends and family and if the symptoms persist, don’t hesitate to approach professionals! If the stress persists too long, it can spiral into something more severe. Educate and empower yourself with so many treatment options from yoga/meditation, art, hobbies, journaling, and talk therapy. If you follow a certain faith, find solace in it’s oasis. Prioritize your own personal needs.
My Dad would have turned 75 this June and my Mom would have been 71 this past February! I miss them everyday and I wish they had less suffering in the last days of their life!
I have started on the path to make peace with the past and have resolved to live a more mindful, balanced, kind, compassionate, harmonious, grateful, joyously rich life filled with lots of moments and memories with my precious family, in honor of my parents and brother!!
There is a saying “Each of us is a house with four rooms --- a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual room. We tend to live in one room most of the time; but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.”
I hope you discover your true happiness and health and live it. And I pray that your children follow you down the same path! Namaste!!