Anna Foulkes is about to celebrate her 25th birthday. She’s a Mum to Enlli Sion, who’s 4 and pregnant with her second daughter, who’s due at the end of October. Anna and her fiancé Tom have just moved into their new home in Trefeglwys, ready for the arrival of their new-born baby. At first glance, her life looks perfect, but during an interview with Mam Cymru, Anna reveals how mental illness affects her life on a daily basis.
When did you realise that you were suffering from mental health issues?
Two years ago, but the signs have been there for years. I didn’t realise what this ‘thing’ was, until my Mum became ill with mental health problems for the first time three and a half years ago. Mum has been really ill, she suffers from psychosis, anxiety and severe depression. I’m not sure if mental health is hereditary, but it occurs within so many families and I’m sure there is a link.
What symptoms did you have?
I had no energy, a common problem for us Mums, but this was extreme. I didn’t want to get out of bed or see anyone. Enlli was almost two years old at the time, and she had to come into bed with me in the mornings and wait until I had the energy and the desire to get up. I felt so guilty and I still do, but unfortunately its part of this illness. If it wasn’t for Enlli, I wouldn’t have left the house some days, but being a Mum forced me to go out and attend the Mummy groups. Enlli has been a great help to me.
When you decide to seek medical advice?
Enlli was 3 years old. I was trying to juggle life as a Mum, looking after my own Mum and trying to complete my degree in History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University. Mum had been in and out of Hergest, the mental health hospital and she ended up having electric shock treatment at a hospital in Bristol. Seeing my Mum in this state was very difficult. I didn’t want Enlli to see me going through the same thing, so I decided I had to go to see my doctor.
What was the treatment?
The Doctor wasn’t surprised to see me and hear about my health issues, as he’d seen me there with my Mum so many times. He prescribed antidepressants within minutes. I left the surgery without much knowledge about my illness, and I wasn’t sure about taking the tablets, but I tried them. The side effects were extreme tiredness, which is difficult when you have a young child and a Mum to look after. The doctor said I had to continue to take them and after the third appointment, he prescribed a stronger dose, which helped a little. The treatment which really helped was the counselling, talking about it and sharing my problems made it a lot easier and helped me get better.
How did the illness affect your family life?
The tablets affected my moods and you have no control over this, which is hard. I was worried that this would affect Enlli. She understood that her Nain – Gran, was ill, but she’d never met Nain before she became ill, she just wants to help her get better every time we see her. Enlli’s always so happy, she’s amazing and she’s never acknowledged that she knows about my illness, but I do worry that it may affect her.
Revealing my illness to Mum and Dad was difficult. Dad has to do everything for Mum, I didn’t want to add to their problems or make Mum feel guilty about anything, but it’s important to tell your family and friends, like you would with any other illness.
Does the illness affect your relationship with Tom?
When I met Tom, I told him about my illness straight away and told his family too, they have been supportive from the outset. Now, 95% of my days are good, but I do have bad days when I have no energy and I need to be left alone. Carwyn, Enlli’s Dad, also looks after her when needed, we all work as a team and I’m lucky to have this support.
You have now graduated, what are your hopes for the future?
My graduation day was both special and difficult, as my Mum wasn’t with me, she was in hospital. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, returning to University with a 10-month-old baby and dealing with your own illness and your Mums illness isn’t easy. When our new born is older, I would like to return to University to study an MA in Translation Studies and become a professional translator. That’s my dream.
What advice do you have for other Mums who suffer from mental health problems?
Talk. Everyone says it and it’s important. You have to talk to whoever you feel comfortable with, sometimes that’s a complete stranger, but just find that person and start talking. It’s also important to see your GP, you don’t have to take tablets, that’s up to you. Remember that it’s not just you, there are people like us everywhere and people are becoming more aware of this illness and understand a lot more than you think. The worst thing you can do is keep quiet, this won’t help you or the people you love.
Mam Cymru would like to thank Anna for talking to us and sharing her story. We wish you the best of luck for the future and a very happy birthday X
Visit the MIND website for further information and advice about mental health.
By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru.