A Coffee Break with Ellamental Mama

This week I am chatting to the lovely blogger from Ellamental Mama blog which can be found here. Ella is an anonymous blogger who uses the name Ella for writing purposes and when you read her blog you really do get drawn in and it doesn’t matter in the slightest that you don’t know her “real” name. Whilst I would like you to read more and find out what Ella blogs about I will say now it talks about some mental health issues and may not be suitable for a younger reader.

First things first we need a drink before we can chat! Do you drink tea or coffee? or something else? how do you drink it? and what are your favourite biscuits? 

I’m a weird one – I don’t drink tea or coffee! So I’d probably have water, or possibly herbal tea or hot chocolate if it was a cold day. It would definitely be chocolate biscuits though, the more chocolate the better!

Your blog really isn’t a typical parenting blog at all is it! Once I first discovered your blog I spent ages just reading and reading you really do have a way of writing that really draws people in and gives true insight into your world. Can you give my readers a little idea of what you and your blog are about?

Thanks, that’s lovely to hear. I’m a part-time working, thirty-something year old mum to a lively three year old. My blog is an alternative single mum blog that gives a raw and honest account of the trials and tribulations that many of us face but often don’t talk about. I want to raise awareness of the realities of motherhood, especially single motherhood and all that it entails. I’m not really one for parenting theories, I’m more of a ‘whatever gets us through the day’ kind of mum, and I think that’s really all that counts at the end of the day and I’m sure that comes across on my blog.

You talk so openly about your own depression, although I have also talked about my depression I really don’t think I am as open as you. What makes you want to share these thoughts and experiences?

I started off my blog totally anonymously because I wanted to raise awareness of the realities faced by single mums both so that single mums would realise they weren’t alone, but also so the friends and family of single mums might be able to understand more the kinds of challenges some single mums face. When I started writing the blog I didn’t think I had any mental health issues as such, just that I was struggling being a single mum and going through a difficult breakup, which sadly many people experience. Over time that’s changed but I’ve found writing really therapeutic. Some of my posts have been very hard to write, but through writing them I feel I’ve been able to let go a little of my experiences and the trauma they contained, for example the one about how breastfeeding cleansed me and that’s also been a big part of why I write about my experiences.  
You talk about your ex husband suffering psychosis he has experiences from your perspective. I have never previously read anything written from such a perspective and so honestly. Do you find it helps you to accept how things were (and still could be despite you being separated) by sharing them?

Absolutely. After I wrote the post about my ex (then husband) having psychosis I read it over and over before I pressed publish. The first few times I read it I was in floods of tears, by the end I could read it with only a few tears welling up. The whole process was so therapeutic and really helped me get some of the trauma I had experienced out of my system. At the time I went through these experiences I was in survival mode, I had to just get on with it, I had to try and help my then partner, I didn’t have time to think about what it was all doing to me and my wellbeing. Although friends and family knew about the jist of what was happening at the time I couldn’t explain it to them in a way they would really grasp how traumatic it was, I’m not sure people ever want to hear those things. I needed to get it all out though because it couldn’t stay buried forever and writing about it helped so much in that process.
I know it’s probably clichéd to say but if by writing about my experiences I can help even one other person know they are not alone then it’s worth it. No-one ever talks about the reality of these issues, which is often very painful and traumatic, not only for the person experiencing it but for their loved ones too. I’ve had other women reach out to me about similar experiences they’ve faced and it’s really helped me feel less alone in what I’ve experienced (and, to a much lesser extent, continue to experience). When I was experiencing these things I had no-one who could talk to me and understand what it was like. There was no support systems in place (that I was aware of) for the loved ones of people suffering psychosis, I hope my writing raises some awareness of what our experiences are and how we also need support not just as carers for people with severe mental health issues but as individuals in our own right too.  

Your post about mental health campaigns and the reality of them is something I have often thought too because as you have said they very much talk about the easier to talk about subjects and happy solutions. How would you like awareness to be improved of psychosis? Do you feel there is enough awareness?

This might be a bit controversial but I actually think the links between recreational drugs and psychosis should be explored more. My experiences are anecdotal based on what I saw and heard in the mental health wards I went to and the story of my ex-husband. However, that said, there are links between drug use and mental illhealth, and whilst we aren’t 100% sure which comes first – the mental health issue pushes the drug use, or the drug use creates the mental health issue, the link is there. This isn’t talked about enough in drugs awareness within schools or with young people, or indeed adults. I’d also like there to be more general awareness that some mental health issues are really tough and it can’t always all be sorted out by a two minute ‘how are you’ and for people to be aware that the loved ones around people with severe mental health conditions need support too. It’s great that people are talking about mental health more but it’s still only a very sanitised view.
When I published my psychosis post many people thought it was really well written, I sent it to numerous mental health charities etc, only one agency involved in drugs and mental health shared the post and said “this will be a game changer”. That made me feel really positive that maybe people would see this article and start to understand what it all meant to families in those situations. In reality though none of the mental health charities wanted to know and no-one got back to me or shared it or discussed it. This isn’t about my writing not being liked, I think this is about not wanting to unearth the (sometimes) horrible truths behind some of the more severe mental health conditions and an idea that the general public won’t be able to deal with that reality. To meet funders targets, mental health charities will continue to focus on the ‘easy’ to accept issues like mild depression etc. And these are important issues too, don’t get me wrong – it’s just they are only part of the mental health story. I can understand the challenges these charities face, I work in the charity sector, and there are so many issues out there it’s hard to get broad public support but I think we are doing a disservice to people living with mental illhealth and their loved ones if we don’t talk about the reality and start to discuss what could really help in these situations.
As a single mum with depression and the ongoing issues that you have been faced with due to your ex husbands mental health and the reality that these issues could come back at any time how do you cope day to day?

Err, Prozac! I’m saying that a little tongue in cheek, but honestly I’ve been a lot stronger since being on medication. It’s not right for everyone and I’m hoping to soon come off it as I don’t really like the idea of being on medication long-term. I wish our society was set up so that we would support each other more and I truly believe if that were the case I wouldn’t have reached such a low point. However, I’m trying to build up a support network with single mums in my area and we help each other out with childcare and have fun together which is really helping but sometimes I’ve overly critical of myself which can make this a long, hard slog at times. Having had these experiences means I don’t sweat the small stuff and that certainly helps me get through the everyday challenges of having a young child. I don’t worry if my son watches hours of telly one day, or doesn’t go out, or the house is a tip and we eat cereal and frozen pizza all week. I know that I give him cuddles and read him stories and show him love every single day and these other things don’t matter. His hugs and love also get me through. He’s the most amazing little boy ever.

I am aware that your blog does not use your real name, are your friends and family aware of your blog and the personal issues you share?

A few are. My mum is a real support to me and I show her some of my blog posts as I find it an easy way to let her know how I feel. However, she doesn’t go on my blog to read it herself (so I censor some of it!). My siblings are sort of aware but I don’t think they read it (or not much). A few of my older friends know about it – I’ve told them gradually over the months. I’ve found it much easier to be open about this blog with newer friends and other single mums though. It’s almost like, because they didn’t know me before all this happened, there’s less judgement from them. I also have less of a fear of them misunderstanding my feelings because even if their stories are very different to mine, they tend to understand that everyone’s story can sometimes go massively off track through no fault of our own and that this can often involve a hell of a lot of pain and strength to get through.
If any of my readers are living with someone who is experiencing severe mental health issues such as psychosis as you did what advice would you give them about their future and where they can get help?

First off, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. Speak with the local mental health charities in your area, ask them about support groups for you as well as the person who is living with the mental illhealth. My depression and anxiety was directly triggered from the stress of my ex-husbands mental illhealth – if I’d been given support too perhaps that wouldn’t have happened. Beyond that I can’t give you advice for your future. Everyone’s situation is different and it all depends on the individual’s condition and how well they are able to manage it. For some people it may be a one off – my understanding is that post-birth psychosis often fit this pattern. However, if you have a partner who is using recreational drugs and has an underlying mental health condition or needs medication and refuses to take it (correctly), the prognosis is very different, but only medical experts can really talk about these matters. The only overarching advice I can give is reach out and try to get help. That’s easier said than done though. I’ve really struggled to reach out because it’s so hard when all you are doing is trying to get through the day. But if you can talk about what’s going on and your concerns please do. I’d also like to give advice to others who are one-step removed and know friends and family who are going through this – you can potentially really help. You can reach in, you don’t need to wait till someone asks, if you know someone is experiencing this within their family reach in, talk to them, listen and be there as much as you possibly can. Even the act of asking for support can be so incredibly hard sometimes, however, in my experience, if you do reach in the other person will open up and it will be a massive help.

Do you ever regret sharing such sensitive and personal feelings publicly?
Sometimes after I press publish I get nervous and embarrassed. I have to disappear off-line for a bit before I dare go back and see any responses I’ve got. Other times I can feel upset when people don’t respond though because it feels like I’m really putting myself out there and no-one is bothered/ interested/ understands and it can just exacerbate some of the negative feelings I have in ‘real life’. I don’t think I regret sharing any of it though. When I get a message from someone about how much they relate to my words and how they feel less alone, it makes it all worth it. For me, if even one person now understands their friend better and is able to reach out and help them then that’s the best thing that can happen from my blog because that’s why I started it all.

After reading this chat with you I am sure that some of my readers would love to follow you further and read more about you, how can they do this?
I’d love for people to come and follow my stories of life as a single mum facing mental health challenges. I also talk about other things, like feminist parenting, travelling with toddlers and the toddler sleep clocks. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, or you can sign up for email reminders directly on my blog
Every week on Just Average Jen I have a cuppa with someone different so you can find more blogs to read, more inspiring people, or just have a few minutes to yourself reading something different. Remember to keep coming back to see who else I feature and do contact me if you think you would be a great person for me to feature. To read my previous coffee break chats click here.

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