Ruth Durkin: Looking After Mummy

This story has a trigger warning

Support is crucial in mental health conditions especially when it is unconditional and based on love. Ruth Durkin’s story tells of support from her young son and how this strengthens their relationship and fosters emotional growth. Trigger warning: references to suicidal thoughts

Little boy picking dandelions

I’ve always wanted to be a mum. In 2017 I had my first child, a beautiful boy called Gabriel. Pregnancy and motherhood can be challenging and overwhelming for all women but I’ve had a few added complications due to my mental health.

I’m lucky to have some wonderful support around me but over the past four years a new supporter has come into my life: my son.

My Bipolar II Disorder is controlled very well with medication. I’ve not had a serious episode of hypomania since Gabriel was born but I have experienced depression in varying degrees. Gabriel has never seen me hurt myself in any way although he has seen me cry on many occasions.

“Don’t cry, Mummy,” he says whilst cuddling me, “don’t be sad.” He then touches both sides of my lips and forces them into a smile. He then says, “Are you happy now, Mummy?”

I feel incredibly lucky that he is so loving and caring towards me and he always comforts me when I’m not feeling my best.

I had thought about hiding my tears and emotions from him but I don’t want him to grow up in a household where there are secrets. I don’t think my upset upsets him and my husband and I are encouraging him to be honest and talk about how he’s feeling. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that it’s bad to show emotions. If I had a physical ailment I wouldn’t be able to hide it from him, so we decided it should be the same for emotional difficulties.

My husband and I feel that this openness is encouraging him to be a very compassionate and caring little man, which in my opinion can only be a good thing.

I am, of course, still his mum and I have to tell him not to do things and point him in the right direction but I feel that we have a two-way relationship where we help each other. I am not trying to put unnecessary responsibility on his little shoulder but I think his limited understanding of Mummy being sad is helping his emotional development.

When I was pregnant with Gabriel I was told that it was not recommended for me to breastfeed because of the levels of medication in my blood. I was heartbroken but came to realise I was still doing the very best I could for him, which in my case was formula milk. In the same way I am still doing my best despite him seeing me upset.

I don’t feel like my mental health diagnosis is holding me back or making me a ‘bad’ mother. In my opinion it is enriching the relationship between myself and Gabriel as it is cementing an unbreakable bond within which we care for and understand each other.

I have come very close to ending my life, some attempts more serious than others. I have not made such an attempt since I became a mum but that’s not to say the feeling hasn’t been there on occasions. When I am so distraught my husband begs me to “think of Gabriel” and that always helps get me out of the other side of the mood.

When I’ve been crying, cuddling my boy, I promise him, “I would do anything for you Gabriel” and he promises me the same. “I would do anything for you Mummy, I love you.”

He is my raison d’etre.

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