In her own words, Megan Blandford spent the first little while of motherhood, "With her career down the toilet, a husband who was never home, a baby screaming non-stop and cries for help falling on deaf ears." With all that going on, she spent her time saying, "I'm fine!"
Sound familiar? As mothers, we are all too often guilty of pushing our experiences to the side, shoving down hard emotions, or refusing to admit we might need some help. For Megan, it took eight years before she properly put her hand up, and was diagnosed with postnatal depression. This experience – which is sadly far more common than we’d like to admit – is documented in her new book, I’m Fine (And Other Lies). Heartfelt, honest and even uplifting, her beautiful account of motherhood is not only a great read, but a must-read for mothers. We spoke to Megan about her experience of motherhood, why we struggle to ask for help, and what she’s learnt from the process. Megan’s wonderful new book – I’m Fine (And Other Lies) is available from Wild Dingo Press or Booktopia.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and “I’m Fine (And Other Lies)”.
Hi! I’m mum to two girls, who are now ten and six, and I’m a full-time freelance writer. I write about mental health, parenting, food and wine, business and health for The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, SBS, Kidspot, Essential Baby, Good Food and lots more. I’ve just released my first book, I’m Fine (and other lies), which is my story of postnatal depression and motherhood. In it, I share what it was like inside the battleground of depression and anxiety, with plenty of laughs about the challenges of parenting, and I look at how we can find hope within it all. It’s very relatable for mums and for anyone who’s ever been hard on themselves.
What was your experience of early motherhood like?
In many ways, it was a joy: I’d struggled to conceive, so to finally have my baby in my arms was a wonderful feeling. That said, it was also a really confusing time. My first baby cried for much of each day, so I shut myself at home so that others couldn’t see that I wasn’t very good at this mum thing; I left my career so that I could get my baby through that time; I breastfed even though I very much didn’t want to; the support systems I needed just weren’t there. There was so much going on that I couldn’t quite grasp any of it. It’s all a blur, really.
What do you think the danger is of looking like “we have it all together”?
My experience has been that, in looking like we’re “fine”, we shut each other out. When I admitted I wasn’t doing well, so many friends told me that they were struggling too – yet we’d seen each other so many times and said, “Good!” when we’d ask how each other was. It’s a shame that we’d missed so many opportunities to help each other over the years.
How did you ask for help when you needed it? What response were you met with?
I tried many times to ask for help, but couldn’t quite get the response I needed at the time. Eventually, I felt confident in pushing harder to get help. I went to a GP and spoke up about the things that I did and didn’t want to do in order to recover. It was really important to me that I had some say in whether to take medication, what sort of counselling I had, and trying different lifestyle factors in order to feel better.
Can you tell us about your experience with postnatal depression - particularly that it was diagnosed when your eldest was eight years old?
I didn’t realise I had postnatal depression for a long time, because I didn’t fit the stereotypical image of it. I loved and connected with my baby, and I was out of bed every day doing all the things that had to be done – and this wasn’t the picture that was going around about what PND looked like. So, even when I realised that things weren’t good, I thought it must be what motherhood was like for everyone; I thought I just had to push through. So, push through I did! For years – and another baby – I kept going, keeping my battles quiet and convincing myself (and everyone around me) that I was “fine”. Eventually, of course, I had to face up to the reality that I’d been trying to hide. It shocks a lot of people that it took so long; by the time I got help, my children were eight and four. But this is more common than you’d think. We know that around one in seven new mums experience postnatal depression, and the figures are similar for mums who are diagnosed when their children are around four years old. That’s because it can take time to understand that things aren’t okay, and to feel we can put our hands up to ask for help.
What about your recovery? What has this process been like?
I say that I’m “recovered” from depression, but the reality is that I still have to stay on top of it. That means that my recovery and ongoing wellbeing is all about looking after myself – continuing counselling as I need it, developing boundaries in the things I commit to, eating well and giving myself time for the things that I enjoy. The biggest thing I do is try to be really kind with myself. While I used to be very hard on myself – from the way I spoke to myself to having impossibly high expectations – I’m now really conscious of being kind in my self-talk and treating myself the way I’d treat a good friend.
Mothers are often wearing a badge of martyrdom, being “fine” when they’re really not. Why do you think this is? What did it take for you to speak out?
I think that, for some of us, it’s just a way of getting through. We sometimes feel like, if we stop and admit to what’s really going on, we might struggle to get back up again – and in motherhood, we don’t want to take that risk because there’s so much we need to do. It took me a long time to not only speak out about needing help, but also pursue it until I got the help I needed. The breaking point was when I questioned whether I should continue living – and I had to get honest with myself about how long these problems had been going on, how often I’d had those terrifying thoughts, and that it would continue if I didn’t reach out.
What’s your opinion on social media and the constant sharing of "perfect lives”?
That’s an image that some are comfortable in portraying, and which fits a purpose in their lives and perhaps in the lives of their followers. I think there’s a place for all sorts of people online, and we need to become smarter in what makes each of us feel good to follow along with.
What’s your relationship like with Instagram?
I enjoy Instagram, because I’ve curated it so that I’m following friends and friendly people who share some of my values, and images that make me feel good. I’m aware there’s a lot of toxicity within the platform, though, and that concerns me more for the kids in my life than for myself; I think kids and teenagers are more vulnerable to it than those of us who had the luxury to be grown-up before embarking on social media.
How do you make time for yourself and self care today?
What I do is ask myself every morning what it is I need that day. The answer is always different. One day it might be that I need to get outside for a long walk in the sunshine, while on another day I just really want a nap. One day I might have some chocolate, and the next day I make a healthy soup to nourish myself. Sometimes I need a bit of time alone, and other days I want to do something fun with my husband and kids. And as I do each of those things (in between working, parenting and general life, of course), I put extra attention into it. They’re small moments, but being mindful can magnify them. It’s a little like practising gratitude: I think that noticing the self-kindness is as important as the act itself.
What’s one message you would like to share with new mothers?
Please know that it’s okay if your motherhood experience isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, and that it’s okay to ask for help. If you feel you need more support, then that’s what you deserve, so push for it if you have to. Also: go gently with yourself.