KiranMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 18-May-16 16:36:17

Guest post: "My mother believed I could get better - it's only now I appreciate that"

This Time to Talk Day, we look back at this guest post from Hannah Woodhead, who says her mother's support was invaluable when she was diagnosed with depression as a teenager

Hannah Woodhead


Posted on: Wed 18-May-16 16:36:17


Lead photo

"Mum tried to keep me safe from myself and fought my corner relentlessly."

I was 14 when the doctors finally diagnosed my depression - it was about 18 months after it all began, and I've done my best to erase most of the early memories. I write it down when I do recall them – a form of remembering, rebuilding the past. Trying to make sense of it.

My mum was a witness to me falling apart. She saw me break down into hysterics at the thought of even leaving the house, let alone going to school. She washed and bandaged my arms and legs when I self-harmed. She heard 13-year-old me say that I wanted to kill myself, time and time again. I don't know how much my dad remembers, as I haven't seen him in almost a decade. He didn't believe I was ill - I remember he said I was lazy, and that I 'had nothing to be sad about'. He shouted at me to pull myself together and dragged me by my arm to the school bus stop – I ran home and remained there for another week.

These were the two approaches my parents had to my mental illness. While one rang adolescent psychiatric units and fought battles with the LEA, the other regarded me with contempt and staunchly believed I was making the whole thing up. I blamed myself for their divorce when I was fourteen, and I said I thought I should kill myself, because everyone would be happier. I'd even worked out how. Mum never told me I was being stupid or overdramatic, or even suggested that I shouldn't think or talk like that – she listened to everything I said (though she did point out the divorce was categorically not my fault).

My mum was a witness to me falling apart. She saw me break down into hysterics at the thought of even leaving the house. She washed and bandaged my arms and legs when I self-harmed. She heard 13-year-old me say that I wanted to kill myself.

I spent hours at the outpatient unit, undergoing art therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, attending psychiatrist and psychologist appointments – at 16 I started on medication and the veil lifted for a little while. I eventually learnt how to talk about my illness, how to understand and recognise when I was getting worse.

At university it did get worse. I had a breakdown at Christmas in my first year. I rang her in the middle of the night and told her I didn't feel safe, I was worried I was going to hurt myself. I couldn't call an ambulance, I couldn’t speak to my housemates – I was too ashamed. She drove up to take me straight to A&E. More psychiatrists followed. More medication, more CBT, another diagnosis to add to the pile.

Over the years the breakdowns have become less frequent, but my depression and anxiety drift in and out. They never disappear - you just get a little better at carrying them around on your back. Depression possesses you, amplifies the bad and hides the good. There are inexplicable highs and desperate lows, crippling numbness too - but ultimately, it's such a personal nightmare to live out, no two experiences can ever be the same.

Mum believed in me, believed I could get better. She tried to keep me safe from myself and fought my corner relentlessly. She drove me to school across the city almost every day for years, just to make sure I made it through the gates. I didn't make it easy; I hated her at times and I told her as much.

It's only now that I can really appreciate what she did for me when I was a teenager, and how hard it is to maintain a dialogue when one party is intent on pushing you out – I felt unlovable, and tried to make everyone around me believe it too. Recognising the signs becomes important when you are caring for someone battling depression, but equally, it's important to retain some element of trust. I trusted her to not tell anyone, and I was trusted to tell her when things were getting too bad for me to handle alone. My thoughts, as fragmented and desperate as they were, were always important. When I didn't want to talk, I didn't have to. Doing simple things such as going to the supermarket or having a haircut allowed me to gradually feel I was becoming human again, after an extended period living as a stranger in my own skin. The process is still ongoing, even nine years since that first diagnosis – I think, in all honesty, it always will be.

To the other parents and carers who are helping their children with mental illness, know this - it takes extraordinary strength to love someone who does not want to be loved, and to help them find a reason to keep breathing. You are extraordinary, and you are doing the best you can.

By Hannah Woodhead

Twitter: @goodjobliz

ATailofTwoKitties Wed 18-May-16 16:39:38

Hannah, thank you.
I have a young daughter going through some of this at the moment, and it's so helpful to see things from her side.

thecatfromjapan Wed 18-May-16 17:22:18

That's a real "pass it on post" - thanks, Hannah.
My child is not OK at the moment. There are days when I feel completely overwhelmed and down. I felt really lifted reading this - it has given me a bit of strength to put in my rucksack for the long journey ahead.

I wish you (and your mum) much love and luck for your own journeys.

Thank you

MissElizaBennettsBookmark Wed 18-May-16 18:17:25

That's a really uplifting and inspiring post. You and your mum must be amazing women. Well done OP xx


Fauchelevent Wed 18-May-16 21:48:19

Thank you so much for this. My mum was the same as yours in the face of teachers, friends and relatives saying the same as your father.

thisusernameisnotavailable Wed 18-May-16 23:11:47

I'm going through similar with my 16 year old daughter.

I feel hurt like I've never felt before when she tells me she no longer wants to keep living. I try to keep her safe as best I can. I've had some very dark moments when she has been not just been verbally abusive to me but physically violent.

I've often wondered if letting her take her own life is really that much of a bad thing if she is in so much pain but she's my child and its instinct to keep her safe and I shall continue to do so.

She's my everything even if she can't see it.

Thank you for your post and letting me get some of this out my system.

GretchenBeckett Wed 18-May-16 23:36:51

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I have a 15yo son who has anxiety and OCD. It's been desperately hard at times but with the help of medication and CBT he's coming out the other side now.
You are a brave, wonderful woman and I'm sure your Mother is very proud of you.


Mazzer1952 Sat 21-May-16 08:36:11

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

user1486133872 Fri 03-Feb-17 15:05:08

You're so incredibly brave to share your story, thank you. And yet it shouldn't be brave...we need to normalise these forms of discussions. Lets be honest

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