Today we have a beautiful and talented mama who will be sharing her journey and her experience with mental illness and motherhood.
Before we get started let me Introduce this beautiful mama first.
Her name is Katrina (Kat) Fankhauser
52 years old and lives in Auckland New Zealand. She is divorced and has a 20 year old daughter. She grew up in Taranaki New Zealand.
Has a Bachelor of Creative Arts specializing in Creative Writing degree.
For most of her adult life has suffered from chronic illnesses, both mental and physical. Trained as a nurse and massage therapy. Sold cosmetics and aromatherapy oils in the past. Creating a small publishing company called Creative Kitty Publishing to self publish poetry collections and create three dimensional cards. Have worked on a few book projects with other authors and publishers.
Hobbies include: reading, playing the keyboard and singing in choirs.
Check out her website https://katfank2.wordpress.com
Let’s get started.
“What Mental Illness Taught Me About Motherhood.”
By Kat Fankhauser
I have struggled with mental health issues since becoming a teenager. I didn’t have a sense of myself. There were numerous instances where I reacted on irrational impulse, acted recklessly and experienced uncontrollable angry outbursts. This effected the way I responded to other people, especially my future husband and child.
Psychiatrist’s Differing Opinions
When I lived in Australia as a 27 year old I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Paying no attention to that, my New Zealand psychiatrists dismissed that diagnosis and blamed my erratic mood swings on Acute Depression and Anxiety. These labels became important because they dictated how I was being treated. Depression, is not a respecter of persons. There is a difference between feeling sad for a few hours, maybe a few days, than constantly waking up with an unrelenting sadness that sticks around. That was me.
Will Getting Married and Having a Child Make Me Happy?
I rationalized that getting married would make me happy. Growing up in a church that strongly advocated marriage, it was the ‘expected thing for a woman to do.’ By the age of 30 I remained unmarried. This caused feelings of guilt, emptiness and a lot of self-loathing. As you can imagine I had a constant feeling of unhappiness, discontentment and believed I was unlovable. These intense emotions lead me to accept a proposal of marriage, from a ‘nice guy’ who showed an interest in me. I imagined him to be my ‘prince.’ Au contraire he turned out to be a ‘frog.’ My husband’s mistreatment of me only intensified the negative feelings and insecurities I’d felt my entire life. Whenever he lost his temper intense anxiety would take hold of me. It was like walking on egg shells.
Trying to be the perfect wife didn’t seem to make him treat me any kinder or love me more. So I pressured him into having a baby, with the false hope of improving our marriage. My pregnancy and labour was nothing like the ‘beautiful portrayals of a healthy glowing pregnancy,’ that I had envisioned. Our daughter was born by emergency C-section in 1999. Everyday since then I beat myself up for not being able to deliver her ‘normally.’
Post Natal Depression (PND)
Post Natal Depression appeared pretty much immediately after her birth. My baby didn’t sleep well, she cried constantly. I got up every night to soothe her, breastfeeding her every two hours. I had so much milk that it turned sour, and she wasn’t getting the nutritional value out of it. When we changed to feeding her formula milk her sleeping improved to a certain extend. For me changes and difficulties with my sleeping patterns emerged. One day I was so tired I needed to rest. Thinking that my daughter was asleep, I allowed myself to rest. There was a knock on my door. A policeman had my daughter, apparently she went for a little wander by herself. My husband wouldn’t allow me to sleep during the day. This increased my tiredness.
The only way I could get her to settle was by letting her sleep in our bed. When she was a little older I sat and sung little songs to her, she loved this – Snippets of happiness for both of us. The habit of sitting with her became a source of her tantrums. She wouldn’t settle without one of us sitting with her until she fell asleep. It usually fell to me to be responsible for settling her. He was too busy watching telly or looking at ‘other women’ on the computer. My mood continued to decline, by the time she turned 4 I was a walking talking zombie. I lost myself and any sense of happiness. Though I do admit that when it was just me and my angel I felt little morsels of joy. We’d play pretend games. Her toys were our audience as we performed magic tricks at the circus.
Living in a Zombie-numb state
Anyway in this zombie-numb state I did something that I regret until this day. Not long after she turned 4 I was putting her to bed. She wouldn’t stop crying. My mind was completely numb. All I wanted to do was make the crying stop. Four long years of tears and tantrums catapulted into one single moment. One dreadful mistake could have had a magnitude of consequences worse than what occurred. My experience shows me that unless you actually feel the severity of the depressive flames, as I feel them, then you really don’t understand the lack of control, the inability to move on or the desperation of being trapped within my own head. Because I was honest with my counsellor and revealed my actions, she had a duty to tell Child, Youth and Family (CYF also known as CYPS).
The social service department responsible for the welfare of children, were swift in uplifting our child into foster care. They came to my house with the police and one of my support workers. My doctor had to declare me mentally unstable and insisted I should be admitted to the psychiatric ward at the local hospital.
Child Youth & Family
CYF had a huge list of what they labeled neglect, from daycare and other agencies. They complained about how my daughter wore stained clothes, had continual bouts of head lice and a myriad of other excuses for removing her from my care. My depression caused me to lose interest and motivation to do normal activities. As a byproduct of my inability to care for myself, and having an exaggerated sense of self loathing, I struggled to give my daughter the proper care and protection she deserved. Under the extreme conditions on which I was forced to live, I did the best I could. CYF promised that she’ll be returned to us if we met the conditions they set. At first we were only allowed to visit her with supervision, one day a week. The more my husband and I could show, the authorities that we were fulfilling their requirements, our access was increased to over night stays. Eighteen months after she was uplifted our baby came home. She was almost 6 and attending a primary school close to her foster home.
Black Dog & Chronic Pain
Even though my mood improved, my black dog of mental illness still lingered. Family life continued to be unhealthy, and stressful. I experienced physical symptoms. All over body pain, overwhelming fatigue and cognitive difficulties became the bane of my life. Digestive problems caused embarrassing symptoms.
Ten Year’s of Misery Come to an End
I finally found the courage to leave my marriage. My inner being whispered thoughts such as, “Stay die. Leave live.” I chose to live. Before I had gotten to this point, my counsellors and support workers encouraged me to leave my unhealthy marriage, but the fear of what other people would think kept me locked in an abusive marriage. In January 2007 at the age of 40 I made the decision to leave. After talking with family members my daughter and I moved to the place of my childhood. We were starting a new life.
Custody & BPD
Unfortunately my husband applied to be the custodial parent stating that I was unfit to parent my daughter, and he used the incident with CYF to support his argument. A court appointed psychiatrist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder and deemed me to be incapable of caring for my child on a full time basis. So she went to live with him permanently. Parenting my daughter from a distance has been a whirlwind of extreme mood swings and heartache. I feel a deep feeling of abandonment and rejection.
Life After Divorce
My mental health and fibromyalgia flare up on a consistent basis and impinges my life in such a way that I have basically imprisoned myself at home. I stay at home because when I walk out the door I am vulnerable and paranoid that people are making judgments about me.
It impacts my ability to work for others, or study fulltime, and after all these years, the inability to parent my child in a healthy conflict free way. Despite the noise in my head I somehow managed to complete a Bachelor of Creative Arts degree, specializing in Creating Writing. BPD disrupts my interaction with others on a social and community level. I exhibit patterns of being involved in unstable relationships, lack the ability to control my emotions and find it difficult to think positively. In the mist of chaos I do experience happiness and have found my voice through my writing. I’ve proven to myself that I can survive without my ex.
Sometimes I wonder if things would be different if my original diagnosis of BPD was taken seriously and given the correct treatment. Even though I hate the fact that my ex was given custody of our child, I’ve learned that she is better off with him. The cliché ‘two halves make a whole,’ tricked me into thinking that marrying a man with OCD, combined with my own mental illnesses, would bring about happiness. Adding a baby into the mix was a lethal combination.
True happiness doesn’t depend on another person, it only comes with self love, self respect and positive thinking.
Despite my physical and mental health disorders I’ve never stopped loving my daughter. She turns 20 in a few days time.
WOW.. I really enjoyed this read. Thank you Kat for sharing your story with us. I really appreciate it. Stay tuned we will be sharing some of Kat’s poems on the blog over the next few weeks.