It arrived in the post last month- a welcome surprise on a dull Monday via Amazon. It was a gift to my future self- a book I’d pre-ordered months ago. (God space by Keri Wyatt Kent)
I first heard the phrase ‘gift for my future self’ on Gretchen Ruben’s Happier podcast …& I liked it. The idea of doing something now to help your future self is appealing.Like pre-ordering a book. Or starting to exercise.Or making overnight oats for breakfast the night before.
‘But that’s just being organized!’ my sister-in-law Linda exclaimed. And it is!
But a gift for your future self sounds less ordinary & more whimsical!
My teenage children still tease me about my overnight oats as a gift to my future self!
Recently I’ve been thinking about gifts I should have given to my future self years ago, when those teenagers were small.
Back then, I had two children under two- both in nappies. Caris was just a toddler when Ethan was born in Nov 2002. His birth was straightforward- but there was an eruption of stress in the days before his birth. I didn’t sleep at all in the days before or after delivery. My mind was on over-drive filled with crazy, racing thoughts. After a week I was diagnosed with postnatal psychosis.
Postnatal psychosis is a tsunami in the mind that creates chaos in everyday life – the aftermath takes years to settle.The happy celebration of new life in the family morphs into a life-altering nightmare.My sleep-starved deluded self existed in a world that made sense initially but disintegrated as thoughts clash faster & faster.The fabric of daily life unravelled beneath me into tangles & we’re free falling from the life we love into the abyss of depression & psychosis.
Medication meant that the racing thoughts subsided relatively quickly, but months of depression followed. Chances are, statistically speaking, that more than a few of you reading this will know what I mean- when I talk of days of living in black & white rather than colour. Days of existing without truly living. Doing life with the joy squeezed out of it. Having ‘eyes without sparkle’ as one writer put it.
Just getting through the day felt like a momentous achievement.
But I did get through those long days & seemingly short years. This Thanksgiving I felt blessed & grateful for good mental health.
And as another birthday approaches, I think of the dark days less than the years before.
So what gifts should I have given myself for my future self then?
It would have been reassuring to know back then that things would get better with time.
It does take time to recover from mental illness -an unquantifiable length of time. But gradually, painstakingly slowly,you will get better.
Your baby won’t actually remember those days & with time your own memories will fade into the background.
In the middle of the mayhem,take time out doing whatever helps.Whatever works for you.
In time I would see the therapeutic value of writing. And reading when concentration improved.And running. Someone wrote ‘Running is the washing machine of the mind’ – I should have used it sooner!
Make time to go to Mother & Toddlers- even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it feels awkward initially.
You need to accept help.Trust those who know you best & love you most. If they suggest you need professional help- you probably do!
Your Community Midwife,Health Visitor or GP can all help. It’s what they’re there for!
During your Postnatal Visit with your GP, they’ll want to check your mental well-being. They may ask if you been bothered by feeling down, depressed,or hopeless over the past month. Or if you have had little interest/ pleasure in doing things. They are relying on you telling the truth & will offer help & support if you do.
Going through the dark days, I had some faith. I wish I had more.
‘I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.’
(Philip Yancey )
As I look back I know that I never walked alone – I was carried by God (as it says in the Footsteps poem)
You may not share my faith, but TBH I just can’t fathom how you make it through life without God
‘Does that make my faith a crutch? Maybe. But what does a crutch do? It helps you stand and makes you stronger. So, yes, when I face overwhelming odds, I need a bit of that.’
When I was most unwell, I could only read a few verses at a time.These verses meant a lot to me at the time, & would even more to my future self:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end-
Because I am GOD, your personal God”
‘He heals the broken-hearted & binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars & calls them each by name. Great is our Lord & mighty in power-His understanding has no limit’ (Psalm147:3-5)
I would remind my future self that in the messy middle of our story, the Author of life walks through our dark chapters with us.
If you are still there in the messy middle, stressed out but struggling through, pause & give your future self the gift of time,help & faith
(I say future self for when your mind is messed up & everyday life is disturbed, your current self cannot see any benefit to doing anything!)
Time. Help. Faith.
The bottom line is it’s ok not to be ok – even when you’re pregnant or if you’ve just had a baby. Speak to someone about how you are feeling.And give a gift to your future self!