International Day of the Girl & World Mental Health Day
Like most of my blogs, I don't really draft them...I just write them from my heart. Writing is my therapy and as much a part of my spiritual practice as meditation. In honour of two of my most passionate subjects I am writing this in two parts that weave together, because being a feminist and having mental illness make me the woman I am and yet neither define me.
What is my experience as a woman in Australia today?
Each day I am bombarded by images of the "ideal" woman. I am taught how to dress and how my body should look, I am taught how to behave and how to present myself. I don't watch TV, so all of these messages come through via social media and movies/billboards/buses/radio etc.
I am incredibly privileged as a white, middle class female compared to my sisters from Indigenous and other backgrounds.
I have the choice to work and marry whom I want (though it has to be a man at this stage - ridiculous).
My chosen career is dominated by men, and luckily I haven't really experienced sexism in the last four years. I worked with the Melbourne Storm Rugby under 18s for almost a year and THAT was horrible. I was bullied for breastfeeding at the first CrossFit gym I owned, and told by our business partner that I didn't deserve the same pay as he did. The men there completely ignored my coaching. The business coach we hired suggested I should "stay behind the desk" despite being the most qualified person in the room.
Since opening CrossFit Croydon I have felt respected and valued as a woman with an abundance of knowledge. It has allowed me to heal and become confident once more in my ability to coach and create a healthy community.
My primary job is as a mother, and I've been lucky to marry a man that believes in raising his children and whom works with me to peacefully parent them. We have three kids and because we work together, we do most of our parenting together. He supported me in my desire for a home birth after cesarean and supported me in breastfeeding them past 2years of age. We have a better than average sex life and feel deeply connected in this way, we both work hard to be fit and healthy and find the rewards of this include mutual attraction/desire.
I am LUCKY because many women that I know do experience workplace inequality and have unsupportive partners, this seems ridiculous to me. I am LUCKY that I can bring my children to work with me because even if I wanted to utilise expensive childcare, my decision not to vaccinate means my children are unable to attend.
What does it mean to be a four year old girl today, from her mother's perspective?
My daughter is fierce, loud, super intelligent and very blessed to have the space to express herself at home and at our work. She is stubborn and knows exactly what she wants, which makes parenting difficult, but these are great qualities for the future. When she spends time with her elders she is often scolded, told she is behaving like a "baby" and that she's not as strong as her brothers, that pink is a girls colour, that girls have germs etc. This frustrates me, though my job is to create a home environment where she is valued, knows her worth and feels wanted. We never really did gender stereotyped toys or clothes, and certainly not abilities (she's such a well coordinated and strong chick). The Steiner playgroup she attends each week is gender neutral and fosters her independence and spirit.
My daughter is lucky because she does not hear that she is "too much" of anything. She is not smacked or punished. She has a roof over her head, an organic vegan diet, access to health care as needed, she has travelled overseas often and has a tribe of people who love her. She does not hear her mother speak negatively about women's bodies, including her own. The relationship her parents have is not perfect but she can see us working hard for the life we desire.
What does having depression feel like when you do not have children?
Depression to me has always felt like drowning. It feels heavy, suffocating and exactly like you cannot call for help. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 10. My parents separated and I already did not have much self worth or confidence. In my case, I am also affected by lack of sunlight (called Seasonal Affective Disorder) so I literally get winter blues. The worst periods of depression in my life were the year I turned 11, I have no memory of this year, and when I was 14-15 years old. It was likely influenced by hormones and diet. In between these stages I was bright, had good friendship groups, was creative and excelled at whatever I put my mind to. Then after losing my best friend in a car accident, I was consumed by grief and felt I'd lost the only person who "got me". So from 18-22years I was a menace. I coped in various unhealthy ways and always felt like a fraud because I believed so much in health but I couldn't fix myself. During this period I was also abused by others. The men that hurt me in different ways were lost themselves, and I believed I deserved what I got. It took lots of changes for me to claw my way back to a positive mind and life.
What was my experience of depression after babies?
River's birth was deeply traumatic for me. I felt disempowered from the moment we arrived at the hospital. After I had an emergency cesarean I felt numb. I loved my baby more than anything in the world but I felt cheated of my magical birth. I struggled to breastfeed but I refused to fail that too. I felt like I had failed myself. River didn't sleep...I was at my uni exams two weeks after his birth, my husband worked FIFO and I felt had no one. I punched holes in the wall late at night, I screamed into my pillow, I was crazed from sleep deprivation and fierce protectiveness of my child. Everyone mocked me, or so I believed, for being a "crunchy" mumma and breastfeeding on demand, using cloth nappies, hand washing his organic clothes, not using plastic, going vegan, not vaccinating, using elimination communication and then doing Baby Led Weaning. I had so much hatred inside me, I was angry that he wouldn't sleep, that a surgeon had cut me open, that no one understood. I loved being a mum but those first few months were hell.
When Raine was about 6months old our business partner bought us out of our business, his girlfriend and her friend were bullying me and he wanted to run things his own way. It was a horrible experience and we were in the middle of moving houses, everything came crashing down. Both Eric and myself endured a difficult process of starting CrossFit Croydon with two young children, we lost friends and couldn't even pay our rent. We felt like we had no one to talk to and it was mortifying to ask for financial help to get groceries. In this time we fully experienced the trauma of what had happened to us in the past year or so, E losing his mum and my separation from my husband as well as getting pregnant so quickly and unexpectedly. Both of us experienced depression.
With Reef it was different, I didn't feel depressed at first...it was after three months that I just had this lingering heaviness, this fear that everything was going wrong, that I was out of control. It escalated when Reef was one. I lost the will to live and I thought my husband was going to leave me, our finances were completely fucked and I couldn't see any single way out of the dark hole I was in. It was horrible for me to put my children through that experience. Both River and Raine still sometimes ask me about the main event and when I recently sliced my finger open I had a few minutes of confusion and felt as though I was right back in that time and place.
It's really strange looking back on these times right now as I'm not experiencing depressive symptoms. Sometimes I feel like I've made it all up. I don't know that I'm not going to feel depressed again, because when my mind is like that I cant stop it. It's the same with anxiety...my rational mind knows that there is no need to panic but I cant stop the feelings from consuming me.
What do I see as a solution?
Moving forward I really do not know. For myself, I am in a more consistent routine and training six days each week. I've been spending time with people that really light me up and have been making an effort to see my friends outside of the gym more (this is still hard when I work most days). I feel more confident that with Spring here and Summer approaching I can better manage my emotions, and I have honestly found that not talking negatively about our financial situation has helped.
I am striving to create an environment for my children where they feel valued and wanted, where they understand that no means no and that only they can choose what to do with their own body, I know that they have two loving parents (Riv has three) and we are creating a more stable family life for them.
I am striving to connect with other mothers so that they too can raise families with consciousness and compassion, so that the generation of children growing up now may not have to suffer from mental illness.
I believe it is my responsibility to help women birth in a way that promotes healthy babies, to help mothers love themselves so that they teach positive body image to their children. That it is my responsibility to share my experiences as an attachment parent, a vegan, an environmentalist and spread hope that it is possible to achieve a life of love and happiness despite having depression, anxiety and limited support.