Needed: More Respect for Struggles with Mental Health & Motherhood

                I recently attended a food writing conference in Richmond. During one of the sessions, a panelist mentioned that in addition to her work for Eatocracy, she was also working on a book about mental health and her own anxiety and depression. I got the sense that public ownership and admission of that had been a long time coming, that she hadn't always felt the strength or support to do so.

                We hear a lot about mental health these days: the warped "health" of those who go on shooting sprees; the enormous numbers of mentally ill inmates; post-partum depression and the sometimes even more tragic turns it takes.

                Mental health and its as-important counterpoint, mental un-health, very much need to be addressed, treated, made more of a priority in national health policies and covered by insurance plans. Most important, we need to get over the antiquated, deleterious and heartless stigma associated with mental un-health.

                As no one initially chooses whether they are born as male or female or what state or country they are born into, people also don't opt for mental illness because it sounds like fun. If they ail, due to a wiring snafu or chemical imbalance, it's nothing more than mean to blame them for that, to think of them as weak or lesser or unworthy.

                In the realm of motherhood, the same is true for women who struggle with the job. And yes, marvelous though it may be, it's a job, a very serious and often onerous one on which a lot rides. To assume that motherhood should be always pleasurable, always rewarding, never stress-inducing is to have one's head so far up one's ass that the view again becomes clear.

                I actually don't think most people assume those things completely, but, and this is a critical caveat, denigrating or condescending to or judging rather than supporting mothers who struggle is to isolate and invalidate them in a cruel way.

                The most offensive act is the looking down the nose at a struggler by the mother who has full-time help, who always has an extra pair of hands, who never has to wake a sleeping baby in order to pick up big sibling on time, who never has to race between schools to inevitably be late at one, who can always take a moment's reprieve because she can pay for it. Even if you are a Zen master, all that is hard when you're alone, and I get sick of witnessing and experiencing scorn by those who literally don't know.

                If you don't have or admit to mental health challenges, you can be considered weak or pitiful. But the same judgment is true if you do admit to mental health concerns. Damned if you are, damned if you aren't.  Isn't it easy to agree that this is wrong?

                It should be, but too many people can't or won't put themselves in another's shoes. The cheap way to feel better about oneself is to judge oneself against another, rather than against one's own standards of behavior and self. If I can say, "well, at least I'm not her," then simplistically, I "win."    Talk about a shitty way to "win." How about instead saying, "Wow, I'm lucky to not struggle and I'm so sorry that you are. Can I help? Would you like me to listen? Is there anything I can do?" That is empathy and kindness and, might I add, a means of connection rather than distance.

               It's wrenching, gut-blasting and confidence-shaking awful to struggle in parenthood. To not want to do it sometimes. To desperately want some time alone, some quiet, a few hours without stupid squabbling over a toy that hasn't been noticed in a year. At least for me, these are the times when I judge myself most harshly, feel most disappointed in myself, consider myself a somewhat-failed parent.

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