As a mum to four children under the age of six coping with pre-natal depression, things can often get a bit much for Stephanie Brisbane sometimes.
This was very much the case earlier this week when the young mum said she again found herself in a Centrelink office trying to sort out the same simple administration error which had prevented her from receiving paid parental leave payments for four months.
It was a Monday morning and the home she had only just finished moving into was left in a state of “chaos” when she ventured out with her four-month-old baby and two toddlers in tow to try to get the issue sorted.
The three children had initially been well-behaved, but as the news was delivered to Ms Brisbane, from Sydney, by a Centrelink employee her paid parental leave application had been denied because the wrong box was ticked four months prior – meaning the whole thing needed to be lodged again, things spiralled out of control.
“That’s when I just burst into tears,” the 32-year-old told Yahoo News Australia.
To make matters worse, at that moment two-year-old Tiberius decided to start hitting four-month-old Dakota.
“I sat at the Centrelink desk with my three youngest kids going crazy and I just cried,” the mum later wrote about the incident, which she prefaced with: “Today I broke.”
But then, “without saying a word, a beautiful lady came and sat next to my kids, gave them her phone to watch shows on and even handed me a tissue”.
It was a tiny gesture of kindness, but as Ms Brisbane later wrote on the social media account where she regularly blogs about being a “struggling mum”, the stranger’s simple act meant the world to her.
“She didn’t know that Centrelink has stuffed up my paid parental leave for the second time in four months and it’s taking a toll,” the mum said.
“She didn’t know that I have literally just moved house and living out of boxes in chaos and it’s taking a toll.
“She didn’t know that I have bad post-natal depression and everyday is a battle and lately it’s been taking a toll.
“She just knew that I was a struggling mum.”
‘You have me in tears’
Gripped in the throes of her panic attack which was so crippling she wasn’t able to drive home, the mum hadn’t caught the name of the kind stranger who helped her.
She had “just got up and left” the Centrelink office and sat outside crying until her husband was able to come and pick her and their children up.
Later that day, Ms Brisbane posted about her Centrelink meltdown on her page which she then shared to a local Facebook group in the hope it would find the person who helped her.
And it did.
The 32-year-old was able to reconnect with her Good Samaritan – a local woman named Kelly with three children of her own.
“You have me in tears,” the fellow parent told Ms Brisbane.
“Something honestly just made me get up and come over.”
Kelly added she had very briefly “second-guessed” herself about approaching a stranger in tears before she very quickly rid herself of the thought because she preferred to risk being told to “go away” than to walk out of Centrelink feeling ashamed of herself for not helping someone who looked like they needed it.
“I saw myself in you,” Kelly said.
“I could see you getting upset and so I just wanted to at least entertain the kids so you didn’t have to worry about them. I wanted to give you a hug and tell you it’s okay.”
The Department of Human Services has since reached out to Ms Brisbane to try and rectify the issue with her Centrelink application, with the department also expressing gratitude to “the compassionate woman who came over to help Stephanie”.
“Due to privacy we can’t discuss individual cases. However, we’ve reached out to Stephanie and we’re currently working with her to make sure she gets the right support, including the offer to speak with one of our social workers,” general manager Hank Jongen said in a statement to Yahoo News Australia.
Mr Jongen also added that “if people are facing hardship or feeling overwhelmed, we encourage them to speak with our trained staff”.
“Our staff can provide tailored support, and connect people with other support services in the community,” he said.
‘It takes a village’
Among the raft of others to see Ms Brisbane’s post and reach out to show support was the real estate agent she and her husband had only just signed a rental lease with.
They responded by dropping in gift bags of food for the family to try and take some of the “stress out of the move”.
Other community members heaped a huge show of support upon Ms Brisbane, and also Kelly, congratulating the 32-year-old mum for her honesty on a topic many parents find incredibly hard to speak openly about – or acknowledge at all.
“Don’t ever feel embarrassed you are human, hope you got it all sorted and they pay you right, please reach out and get support for your post-natal depression. I wish you all the best and to the lady that helped you today, thank you for helping,” one local wrote.
Another added: “Well done to you for for being brave enough to let people in. I hope that your week improves. From one mum to another, you’re doing the best you can. The fact you left your house with your children, that can be a daunting task for some. Well done.”
Someone else observed it “takes a mum to know a mum and all her struggles in between”.
“This is the type of story that helps restore our faith in humanity,” she added.
“It takes a village and sometimes the village isn’t there like it once was – I am glad that yesterday Kelly was there for you. And I hope today is a better day.”
Ms Brisbane is not alone in her ongoing battle with juggling mental illness and parenting.
According to Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia, up to one in 10 women and one in 20 men struggle with antenatal depression, and more than one in seven new mums and up to one in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression.
‘It’s okay to struggle’
Ms Brisbane told Yahoo News Australia she started ‘The Struggling Mum’ blog earlier this year when she was pregnant with Dakota and had been diagnosed with antenatal depression.
After giving birth, her mental health issues continued with post-natal depression.
“The main reason [I started the blog] was because I would be going through these meltdowns and whenever I mentioned it to someone they were like, ‘Oh I’ve been struggling with the same thing but... I didn’t say anything because I was too embarrassed or didn’t want people to know’,” she said.
“I wanted to raise awareness that it’s okay to have meltdowns, it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to want a break from your kids.
“You don’t have to want to be a parent 24/7 and that doesn’t make you a bad parent, it just means that you know, hey, you want to be able to clock off. Everyone else gets to clock off from their jobs but parents don’t get to clock off.”
At the time she started The Struggling Mum blog, Ms Brisbane said she was enduring “the worst” depression she had had in years.
“[I] had a couple of really bad turns when I was still pregnant,” she explained.
But after going through both antenatal and postnatal depression she had a better idea of what she needed to do to try and cope.
That involved being more vocal with her husband and family about what was happening and not shutting them out, and asking for help.
Since the creation of her blog it had become her way “of venting” and a way of connecting with other women going through similar situations.
“A lot of people send me private messages because... they don’t know they’re depressed or they’re worried about judgment,” Ms Brisbane said.
“Every time I post something saying I had bad day or whatever, [I] get responses back [from people] saying, ‘I had one of those too’,” she said, adding it was validating to know that despite outward appearances, a lot of people were struggling too.
Readers seeking help or support with the challenges of pregnancy or early parenthood can do so through PANDA – the National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline – on 1300 726 306 or through their website.
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