Pregnant and chronically ill.

Some of you might know my story already. I married my husband in January 2020, we did it just the two of us and it was amazing, but since our wedding, lockdown and covid-19 have presented challenges, as it has for everyone, I’m not naïve enough to believe I’m alone with that and I know there are people everywhere that have it a lot worse than I do.

For me though, my health deteriorated again and baby making was not on the cards for us during lockdown…. or so we thought.

We had a baby in 2016, and she’s a healthy, sassy four year old, but her start in life was hard, on her and on me.

My pregnancy was not an enjoyable experience, I didn’t feel well for a single day of it. I was debilitated by hormonal migraines and nausea throughout, and by 16 weeks I was on crutches diagnosed with Symphis Pubis Dysfunction- a condition that causes your pelvic ligaments to become stretchy and relaxed, making walking painful, the same condition had me in a wheelchair by 25 weeks completely disabled. Later I had preeclampsia, I was admitted to hospital and after several attempts a doctor finally managed to break my waters, my contractions were then hormonally induced. I often refer to labour as the easy part after 9 months of what felt like torture, but honestly, none of it was easy for me.

I was taking antidepressants throughout my pregnancy to manage my mental health, and as a result my daughter was born with Neo Natal Abstinence Syndrome.

A condition where babies are born withdrawing from drugs they’re exposed to in utero. I wasn’t warned about this, I was told the medication I was taking was safe for my baby. Withdrawal was something I assumed only illicit drug using mothers experienced, I was wrong.

She was in NICU for 10 days and then she screamed for 15 hours a day for almost 10 months. I’ve since spoken to people who were on similar medicines and they’ve had different experiences so it’s important to note, I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I believe in looking after your mental health, but there is no dressing up that it was a very traumatic time for us. I think the consensus is not to force mums to stop medication that keeps them well, and of course this makes a lot of sense, I just wish I had been armed with facts sooner. I was peri and postnatally depressed, suicidal at times, and it hurt. It massively effected my pregnancy and birth experience, my early bond with my daughter, and I don’t consider it a positive time to reminisce about.

Given the story so far you’ll have probably read/heard me freak the fuck out at the thought of baby no 2. Yet here we are, we got bored in lockdown. We ran out of things to do, we also ran out of condoms. (That was a joke btw don’t @me) Shaun always wanted baby number two, and for the last year Ciara has asked for a sibling, but the truth is I never wanted to be pregnant again.

But I am, kind of by accident, almost certainly by fate.

In truth, I’m petrified. I haven’t acted happy about it, because I’m not about being pregnant, not really. I know how ungrateful that must sound, and let me be clear, I want the baby, I love being a mother, it’s my life’s biggest achievement. What I don’t love are the effects pregnancy has on my health and well-being.

I battle with guilt daily about my dislike for pregnancy, because I know I’m lucky to be able to birth children.

In an ideal world I would have weaned off all of my medication before conception this time, but I have a chronic illness, one that takes over much of my life. I am constantly met with new symptoms, making it impossible to imagine a life without medical intervention. You know when people say ‘you’re pregnant not ill‘ – Well in my case I’m both. Most of the time giving things up in pregnancy is par for the course but what about when you’re giving up drugs that have kept you well for years.

So, I’m withdrawing from several different types of medication at the moment, but I’m still not medication free and I might not ever be. It’s hard on me mentally, to know I could go through the same thing twice with NAS and having a baby in NICU.

In my dreams this pregnancy would be totally different, I’d be fitter and healthier, mentally stronger.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m not going to miraculously become well whilst living with a chronic illness, (chronic = ongoing) if anything it worsens as the years progress. I haven’t gotten better, and I feel as awful as I did in my first pregnancy if not worse, because there’s more to worry about – a lot more.

Midwives have classed my pregnancy as ‘high risk’ for preeclampsia and SPD again (I’m already struggling with this just 14 weeks in), and for diabetes, and that’s without accounting for my illnesses and the cretin that is Coronavirus robbing us all of joy.

I feel like somedays, even before pregnancy, I was barely hanging on to my ability to cope as a functional human being, do the fundamentals like washing and cooking meals, and yet I’m putting my body through this again and it already feels hard.

So what happens if I can’t look after a new baby?

What if they cry for 15 hours a day again and I have a breakdown?

What if Shaun leaves me for our skinny neighbour with muscular thighs and perky tits?

What if, what if, what if…..

It’s a redundant question, because what if I got ran over by a bus tomorrow?

I could cite an endless lists of what ifs, but to get hung up on them means I also need to think of the flip side, that being, what if things work out ok?

A pandemic is a big deal to the most hardened of us. So being pregnant with several illnesses and a penchant for going fucking mental at the first sign of a hormone shift feels ominous, but we’re doing it.

Baby 2.0 is coming!!

Aside from being terrified, feeling even more like shit than usual and eating everything in site, I’m optimistic, because despite ALL of that, this time I really do know it’s all worth it in the end.

I’m being seen by the maternal mental health team this time, an option I wasn’t (but definitely should have been) offered in my first pregnancy. And I have a plan for my physical health issues and medicines, it’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan that involves a lot of listening to my body.

On top of that, I have a family who have my back. We’re a team and we’ll get through it because we have each other and because we are lucky, and this, however hard it feels, is a blessing.

I wanted to write this, because there still feels much stigma around not loving every second of pregnancy and motherhood.

There is never a time when I feel unlucky in motherhood. But sometimes I feel unlucky in health, and pregnancy is hard on my health, it’s hard in general, as is parenting, at times, for all of us. And it’s ok to say that out loud.

Our journeys are different and we are forever a divided world on how to parent, because there’s no rule book and we all have our own unique way.

I wish I could flip a switch and love every tender second of motherhood, but my truth is, I don’t love pregnancy and my experience of newborns brings with it traumatic memories.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love being a mother, it just means it’s not straightforward. I didn’t want to announce my pregnancy without having explained how I feel because I’m sure there are other expectant mothers who feel similar to me that don’t have the confidence to say so aloud.

There’s so much pressure to say over and over again how much you love your kids, how blessed you are, and if god forbid you forget to mention that, obviously you don’t deserve to have them.

What I actually think is, all you can do in these times is YOUR best. There will always be people that are struggling for different reasons in every aspect of life.

When it comes to your baby though, I really feel, like your best is good enough and what works for you, what keeps you well and healthy is as important as protecting that newborn head.

We will delight in the birth of our second child as we did our first and we will get through the tough times because this time, we know they really don’t last forever and the long nights whiz by with painfully short years.

Motherhood is hands down the hardest, most rewarding job and my only goal is to be good at it (and to get to the end of this pregnancy with both of us in one piece)

NB: If you’re struggling with maternal mental health please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance for support.

For fibromyalgia resources it’s FMAUK

And for migraines it’s Migraine Trust

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

A couple of weeks ago I had some news that really turned my world upside down a bit. I haven’t talked about it much because there is so much other stuff going on, but it’s been a struggle managing my emotions. I felt myself spiralling a bit, like I do every so often, usually when I’m due on. I decided to try and get ahead of this, so I called my GP who offered to refer me for talking therapies. I’ve had talk therapy before, many times actually, sometimes it’s helped other times not so much, but I’m never opposed to it, because I believe when you’re feeling mentally unwell you need to be open to trying things that might help. So I gratefully agreed to have a telephone appointment.

The lady I spoke to ran through a standard mental health questionnaire, then at the end she said I score mildly for depression and anxiety. I told her yes, it is mild at the moment, but I’m trying to intercept it before it gets moderate-severe. Her response was that I don’t meet the criteria at this stage for ongoing therapy. I’ve had this conversation before. I’ve written posts about it before too. I feel like this is the reason we are in the crisis we are in with mental health in this country, because we are waiting for people to be in their own full blown mental health crisis before offering them any support. I know that whilst the NHS is under so much pressure their resources might need to be elsewhere, but this isn’t a new thing; even before covid people were being turned away for not being depressed enough. Because I don’t want to die I’m not in crisis, because I’m not self harming or hurting anyone else I’m not in crisis. The sad thing is… I have wanted to die. I have self harmed and I have hurt people I love in the process of all of that. This time, this time I wanted to ask for help before I spiralled, before I lost control and needed to pick up the broken pieces of my life for the hundredth time.

Instead I got given some reading material and a thank you for my time.

This is not enough. Luckily for me. I am well aware of my triggers, I’m aware of my privilege and I have a great support network in my family. There is always the option to go private, but with my physical health being as rubbish as it is I usually need to top up care with massage or B12 injections, therapy is an added expense and when you’re down to the last penny you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. The trouble is with therapy is, it’s not just a one off cost. You have to pay this every week or every month sometimes forever and my fear is I’m one of those people that will need therapy forever. The thing with physical health is it affects our mental health too and so if I sacrifice the things that make me feel physically better, I’ll also be putting myself at a higher risk of feeling mentally worse. The struggle is real.

Life is hard right now for everyone and there will be people out there in worse situations than myself, probably not getting the help they need either. Learning to live through these times has been a colossal trek and we are all still hiking up cliffs hanging on for dear life. But mental health is not a new problem, it’s not a craze or a trend, it’s a continuous battle in the modern world, a battle that if not fought early and hard, can be and too often is, deadly. It’s a life threatening problem that we as a society have still not been able to tackle.

It’s great to post about mental health and raise awareness, open up and find solace in each other online but still this isn’t enough. Saying it’s ok to not be okay is one thing, telling people to reach out is another, neither are cures for a breakdown or social anxiety and sometimes they’re not even easy to do. I may know I’ll feel better if I reach out but doing it is a different matter all together.

So what can you do if you don’t meet the criteria for intervention but are still struggling? You can prioritise self care. You can access online support. You can reach out to family members or friends if you feel able. You can make time to read, write, do a course that makes you feel better about yourself. You can practice breathing and you can call any of the below numbers for professional support. If financially able you can look into finding private therapists that are able to support you long term. What you mustn’t do, is feel like the lack of free support available means you’re not worthy. You are. Whatever your next move is, please take this reminder that your struggles are valid. Your life still matters and you are going to make it.

To the you that feels too much.

Some days if not many, I feel like life is too much for me.

Too problematic

Too demanding

Too stressful

Too hard

Too expensive 

Too ominous

So I had a think about how I can break it down, because in all honesty I am all too often feeling as though I am one meltdown away from a psychotic break, and that isn’t a healthy way to live.

That’s when I realised problems are unavoidable, but I have the power to stop reacting to them and start tackling them with a clearer head. 

Most of the demands I speak of, I put upon myself. I am not able to meet the unrealistic expectations of my own making. However I am able to lower my expectation all together and treat myself with more kindness. Celebrate the small successes and work a little harder to focus on a solution based outlook.

Stress is part of life, but it doesn’t have to be the soul dictator of mine. The only reason it sinks it’s claws deep into my psyche is because I feed it with my adrenaline fuelled responses. I am highly sensitive and I am emotive but I don’t have to let my overriding emotion be stress.

Life is hard. It can be. It is. Though treating myself with disscontempt seems to come easy. Why is that? What can I do to change how I view situations? Could I perhaps allow myself more time to process difficulties? I think considering the amount of time I spend feeling like I’m climbing Ben Nevis it’s possible there’s room for improvement on my processing techniques.

Expenditure is essential to the cost of living, but it doesn’t have to be essential to my happiness. Material things are not that important to me so why do I always feel like I am missing out when I can’t afford stuff? Maybe because I spend too long comparing myself to my peers instead of accepting like our thoughts, opinions and lifestyles, our budgets are different.

I don’t believe a positive outlook will automatically grant you a positive life. What I have learned over time is the people I have come across with bigger problems than my own, people facing harder challenges and worse health, all seem to be more optimistic than I am. So maybe, I’ll try and count my blessings more often and throw away the curse that is negativity. I gain nothing from it and it gains everything from me.

My whole life I have felt as though I am too much for some people. It has taken me 30 (and then some) years to accept, they are just not my people. I’ve been battling with the ‘too’ instead of accepting just being me. It’ll come as no surprise to my family and friends that I feel this way because I’ve felt for a long time like I’ve been told I’m….

Too loud 

Too dramatic 

Too sensitive 

Too outspoken 

Too fiery

Too wild 

Too intense 

Too blunt 

If I had to describe myself now I would still use a few of the above words, but I would drop the too and I’d try and rephrase, because nobody has the right to tell me I am ‘too’ anything.

Yes as I mentioned, I am highly sensitive, but that makes way for empathy, for compassion. I care, not too much, there is no too much. I am caring, and that is something the world needs more of. It’s ok to care. In fact it’s good, until it isn’t, and you care too much about what other people think. I don’t want to do that anymore. 

Yes I am fiery, but only when it comes to things I believe in, I am passionate and I am driven by things that excite me. They are not the same things that excited me 10 years ago. Now I am excited by books, and words, and art. I’m excited by flavours and food and Sundays in bed. Safely replacing 10 jägers and a scrap outside the kebab shop. I’m excited AF when my daughter comes home with a bronze star or shares her sweets with her little best mate.

I am blunt, because I can’t fake anything. It’s funny really that I’ve been coined a ‘drama queen’ because my acting skills are fucking awful. My face will say everything my mouth forgets. If anything, I might be ‘too’ honest, but only because I genuinely believe honesty is always the best policy, and my sensitivity, believe it or not actually makes me quite a good judge of character. I don’t have the time, and I DEFINITELY ain’t got the energy to pretend. 

I WAS wild, now I am about as far from wild as a candle flickering into winter giving off vague scents of unwashed hair and 2 day old pyjamas. I am the opposite of wild, providing the opposite is not chilled. No, I’m not chilled, because I worry. I worry because I care. I want to be better. I want people to see me for the better person I am because I deserve that. Are you still with me?

I am still intense, because once I start speaking I really spill my guts. My opinions are emotive, and I have no façade. I do not hide myself behind pretence. I am intensely vulnerable and I am open. 

This can be a blessing and a curse. I overshare, but I also over love. I know if I was advising a friend on these qualities I would tell them both are ok.  

I am a complex mass of physical pain and panic. Of memories I’d rather forget and a future I’m desperate to control. To panic is to care. To be aware of your faults isn’t heroic or admirable, not really, but owning them and trying to fine tune them takes effort. And effort itself is admirable. 

I have had struggles, but they are not worse or more severe than those of others, they are just mine, they are part of me. They shape me, and I have no doubt. Not one speck of doubt, that I am a better person because of them. 

I am not too much. 

I’m just me.

You can also read this blog here at House 21

Acute Anxiety.

I can’t tell you why I’ve been feeling anxious lately, not really. I could guess a few contributing factors but I don’t know why it feels so bad, or why when I’m led in bed at night things I did 15 years ago pop into my head and I can’t get them out. Or the fact that I can be stood in the post office queue and have to walk out leaving my parcels on the counter because my mind is in flight mode. Or why I wake up at 4am crying. Why I feel like I can’t breathe.

I can tell you that intrusive thoughts (like those in the above pic) are fucking awful I can be there one minute planning my next holiday or working on the laptop and the next – bam ‘why did you do____ (insert all and any life mistakes here.)’

Hormones are also the devil when it comes to anxiety. People often underestimate their power to make you feel off kilter seemingly for no reason. Anxiety can manifest into physical symptoms such as stomach upset, fatigue, tension and or cluster headaches, increased flare ups in other conditions eg in my case fibromyalgia.

I’ve spent this week convincing myself why I should keep putting one foot in front of the other. (With a little help from my friends) I’m not exaggerating when I say somedays I can’t see the wood for the trees, and the urge to disappear is overwhelming. I don’t want to feel like this, but it’s exactly the out of control response that is anxiety’s sole purpose.

Fight or flight, our bodies natural response to intensely stressful situations. Some say they also freeze in these situations. When I’m anxious I find it hard to retain even simple information. I can become irritable as the panic overwhelms me and overly sensitive to noise, smells, touch. A literal sensory overload.

Here I’ve included some things that have helped me this week. They are by no means a cure or substitute for medical advice but they have helped me go from ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ to ‘let’s get through today one step at a time.’

Fresh air is free and highly underrated. My natural response is always to take to my bed when I feel depressed or anxious. To block the world out and keep myself safe in my sanctuary, but this week I’ve fought that urge, it wasn’t without difficulty and I took some convincing from my friends and mum, but I got outside. And the results were almost instantaneous. The blustery air helped calm me in a way that lying in bed shaking just wasn’t doing.

Phone a friend. This one is always really hard for me because I hate talking on the phone and the idea of speaking to people when I feel like this is all consuming. I worry what they will think of me and I know I’ll cry because crying is my autopilot response, but on Monday I dragged myself and my daughter to my friends house and for a few hours I felt completely relieved of the demons in my head. It was a great distraction. Choose friends you know will understand if you need to offload.

Crying is a completely normal reaction to an anxious situation- let the tears come they release oxytocin and the likely hood is you’ll feel a little better afterwards.

Distraction is a great therapy tool and never underestimate its power. Some people say you need to face the problem head on and I’m sure in certain circumstances that’s true but to get through an acute phase of anxiety I find it particularly helpful. I do a lot of reading so choose the kind of things you read based on how you’re feeling. If you’re anxious a chic lit book maybe more suitable than a psychological thriller.

Finally my last and favourite – Swear!! No I’m not joking. Science somewhere proves that swearing aloud can’t reduce stress levels. So chuck it in the fuck it bucket and call it a prick for good luck. You can read this blog over on House21 also!

Tired and Needy – the follow up to Love For Lockdown.

I wrote a post a little over a week ago about my love for lockdown. I still love lots about it, like the family bubble and not having to worry about the outside world. In fact I still love it—full stop! Buuuuuut, I’m also losing my shit a bit. I’m still worrying about stuff that isn’t on the scale of importance to most people.

Like it’s a rollercoaster, right?

Up, down, plateauing and plummeting.

I struggle with life under normal circumstances I don’t ‘cope’ well on a daily basis. Well some might say I do cope well, and others think I’m mad.

— Balance

Writing is my salvation but I have to admit there’s little inspiration flying about my gaff, so I’m losing my creative flow and my anxious mind is finding room to fill up the creative space instead.

If you suffer from anxiety you may relate to some of this. Or you might think I’m a nut job. I am.

I have a brain that understands rationale but doesn’t practice it.

I have a desperate need for reassurance and it’s exhausting to be honest: it’s exhausting for me, it’s exhausting for my friends, my family, and  it’s exhausting for my husband.

Years of therapy and we’re no further forward in killing the bug that is my insecurity.

I know where it comes from – I don’t need a £50 an hour shrink to tell me about it (again).

I know it’s not rational or reasonable but I genuinely can’t help it.

I can’t help how I feel inside my head sometimes. I say sometimes, because it’s not all the time. Sometimes I am content, it can be fleeting, but it does happen.

I am one of the first people to harp on about getting the help you need when you need it for your mental health, but I have had help, lots of it in abundance, and variety.

I’m not fixed, because you can’t ‘fix’ people.

I manage better, better than I did 10 or 15 years ago, but my neediness and insecurity hasn’t dissipated, it probably never will, because it’s part of me.

It’s in my makeup to worry, fret & overthink.

During this lockdown I’ve occupied my days with all sorts of filler. Some of it has been really pleasant and some of it has been unintentionally damaging. The trouble is you don’t always know which is which until it’s too late and even things like reading books and watching TV can play a whole heap of havoc with an anxious mind.

If you too are feeling tired and needy I can only reiterate the importance of having a mental clear out! You’ve probably heard this a lot during the span of Coronavirus. I’ll say it again anyway.

Take time to find things that bring you small wins.

—Something that makes you grateful.

—Do something you enjoy like painting your toenails or going for a walk.

—Cook something exciting.

—Phone a friend.

—Be wary of what you’re watching and reading. I love nothing more than crime thrillers to read, but sometimes they get inside my head and it can create a state of heightened anxiety without me even realising it.

—Pick something you love about yourself and focus on it for a little while.

—Cuddle your kids and remind yourself you’re doing your best.

—Most importantly, be kind to yourself. It’s a tough time for all of us.

You’re not wrong for feeling how you feel. You can’t help it, but you can try to do little things that reinforce the positives. I’m trying to take my own advice today. I’m trying to do a few small things that help me feel better about myself and the current situation. Some days are all consuming and it’s ok to fall apart every now and again.

Feeling guilty about it won’t help. Instead try and concentrate on what’s needed to put yourself back together again.

I won’t profess to own the secret to a positive mindset, it’s something I battle with daily, but it’s also something that really does work if you can get the can of it. Positive minds attract positive vibes.

To the husband who’s wife has PMDD

To the husband whose wife has PMDD.

I know it’s not your fault. I know you didn’t mean to bring home the wrong milk. I know you didn’t climb inside my fallopian tubes and set my ovaries on fire.

I know you’ve had a long day at work and the last thing you want to do is come home to me, your wife, in tears again.

This time because I’ve ran out of chocolate or because the TV show I wanted to watch didn’t record.

It’s true I’ve cried over the wrong sandwich filling before.

I’m making it sound funnier than it is.

It isn’t funny. Not at all.

There’s nothing funny about my hormones making me want to kill myself at least once every month.

There’s nothing funny about me threatening to leave you every time I’m ovulating because I can’t cope with the depression the change in hormones bring. There’s nothing funny about the pain I feel when my uterus is about to start shedding and the agony that follows it’s onslaught.

It’s not easy for you, to live with this unpredictability. It’s not easy for me either, I don’t recognise myself some weeks. I can’t sleep yet sleep is all I want to do.

I know it must be completely mind boggling for you, when one minute I am Psycho Sasha (the name I’ve given to the me that PMDD releases) and one minute I am just me, your wife, again.

One minute I want to rip your clothes off, or cuddle up close and the next, I quite literally want to punch your face in. Your touch makes me recoil.

I know it’s not your fault when I beg you to turn the Rugby down on the tv because the noise is giving me sensory overload.

I know it’s not your fault that the bubble bath you ran me has to be emptied because the bubbles you added are causing my skin to come out in hives.

You didn’t know, because it didn’t do that last month.

I know it must be hard to keep up, I know it must feel like you can’t do anything right. But please know this, you are doing something right. You are sticking with me. You are amazing to put up with me.

You are a hero for supporting me.

If it’s possible to ask anymore of you, I ask you this… please read about my conditions, please familiarise yourself to better understand the signs. Please educate yourself. That is how you can help me, and in turn I will try everything available to me to help me control it.

It’s not easy, and because of my other conditions some medications are counter productive.

Because of how I feel mentally, counselling can be triggering, but together we can ride this storm better.

Thank you.

A Decade Of Lessons

The last 10 years

Well, it’s been a testing decade that’s for sure, but it’s also been the most amazing pilgrimage of self discovery I’ve ever been on.

I feel like the last decade is where I really became an adult and anything before was part of my youth.

In 2010 I was glassed in a nightclub in an unprovoked attack whilst out with friends, and it shook me beyond measure and took me to a place I didn’t know existed. I’d been in fights before, been given a slap when I probably deserved it, in my teens, I’d even (believe it or not) been hit with a bottle before, but it hadn’t shattered the first time and this was on another level. This was in response to me just being out having a laugh with friends, and it could have left me blind. Thankfully, physically most of the scars are on my décolletage and not my face (though I do have a dent in my skull) it could have been a lot worse physically.

But despite keeping up appearances, mentally I was scarred beyond recognition. I was scared too just by the weight of the attack, but in being scared I got angry.

I went ‘mad’ for want of a better word. I was wild. Following that night every time I went out I braced myself for a row and alcohol only fuelled that self destruction. I got in more rows and fights than I’d ever had before. I rowed and physically fought with my then partner, and when I ended that relationship I continued down a rabbit hole of hell.

I did some messed up things and 2013 saw the catalyst to that phase of crazy.

I lost my job, almost my house, and I was alone. Friends had given me a wide berth and my nights out were spent with people I didn’t even really like and who only hung out with me for some drama or entertainment.

I’ve always had a need to fill the shoes of the life and soul of the party, but I’ve filled them by acting like a fool. Being the loudest, the craziest and the wildest person in the room.

I met my now partner at the end of that year. I saw the new year in in Ireland with a good friend and it was like something just clicked, an epiphany if you like, and I didn’t want to be that self destructive, unemployed mess, that I had become.

I got a job, a pretty good one, and from there life has progressed at a steady pace. The following year I was shaving my hair off for charity and raising thousands of pounds. I’ve had some backslides, like being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and it’s affect on my both my physical and mental health. Having a baby wasn’t an easy feat for me, and it can be hard work just being ‘normal’ most days, but I’m surviving it, and thriving too.

Last year my mum nearly died from a freak fall and I can say with certainty, I’ve never been as scared as I was then. It puts what’s important into perspective.

Nowadays I don’t feel like I’m falling from Beachy Head every time I wake up. I don’t want to hide for a week after a night out anymore, and I don’t wish I was dead. Even on the bad days, I’m glad to be alive.

I still feel like some days I fight stigmas and a bad reputation, but it took me a long time to make it, so I guess it’s only normal that it will take me a long while to break it, too.

That being said, my future is bright and I’m lucky. All the people in my life are in it because they want to be and contribute in some way to helping me be and feel better. So I’d say, despite all of that drama, this past decade has been pretty spectacular and I’m looking forward to the next one. Taking nothing for granted is my only resolution.

Happy new year 🥳

The truth behind living life to it’s fullest – By Sandra Skelton.

I am a huge believer in the idea that you only get one chance at life and that it is not a dress rehearsal. To ignore that will only bring you regret of a life wasted. It took me a very long time to learn the truth behind those statements and with that knowledge I share my journey with you and the reason why I love my life today!

The last year of my life has been a difficult one in so many ways. Waking up and not knowing where you are or how you got there puts a totally new perspective on your life. Just over six months ago I fell and fractured my skull which led to a bleed on my brain. I now live every day grateful that I am still here, I so very nearly wasn’t. That however, brings many thoughts and feelings to the forefront of my mind the major one being my life as a parent. Those who know me really well will know I wasn’t always a great mum. I am however blessed with the knowledge that my two girls probably won’t agree with this statement! My eldest daughter suffered the most (now your Diva mum) and grew up with 666 tattooed on the back of her neck. It took me far too long to realise the importance of good parenting and because of that my girls suffered, but I am blessed with the knowledge that it is never too late to make amends.

It’s ok to tell it how it is and share it with the world. My girls have proven to me time and time again that it makes you a better parent to speak out about your struggles and always try to find the positivity in every situation that life throws at you. There is nothing better than being a mother or grandmother but you don’t have to have gained an A star in either, in order to be loved!! We live and we learn, just keep going, you will get there.

Believe me! I did and I was crap!!!

Diva mum’s rule.. be one, love one and learn from one. It is what life is all about 😘

Sandra Skelton – AKA Divanan

5 things not to say to someone with mental health problems.

1) But why are you depressed? What have you got to be depressed about.

Maybe nothing. Why have you got a cold when it’s warm outside? Getting the message? Things that seem trivial to some are huge for others and maybe there’s not a specific reason. Remember it’s a chemical imbalance, an illness like any other.

2) It could be worse, you need to think yourself lucky.

And you Karen, need to shut the fuck up. We know it could be worse. It could always be worse. But honestly, that’s irrelevant and unhelpful.

3) You just need to ______ (insert unsolicited advice here) go to the gym, eat better, go out more, lighten up. Etc etc.

Again, unhelpful and bordering on offensive. A) We may have already tried what you mention or B) We may not feel able or ready to tackle these ‘small’ things yet.

4) Chin up, cheer up, smile…

Suck a dick, eat shit…. see where I’m going with this?

5) At least you haven’t got____ or you’re lucky to have_____

Don’t state the obvious. This is the reason many people feel unable to speak out, in fear of being ridiculed or not taken seriously.

These things may seem obvious, they may seem a bit pedantic but to be frank, they could save someone’s life. In my experience someone who is really suffering mentally needs the opposite of what these words convey. They need a listening ear and empathy, not an I told you, you should… or a chin up! The age old saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, doesn’t apply to people with depression. All it takes is a little bit of rephrasing on your part. Nobody expects you to walk on egg shells but try to put yourself in that persons shoes and ask yourself if you would find the above 5 things helpful to hear in your time of need. If the answer’s no, stop saying them!

Mindfulness

As a rule I’m not very good at mindfulness. I don’t practise it anywhere near as often as I should. I know it’s proven to work for millions of people and I am trying to warm to it, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical assuming it borders on hippyish and that’s just not me.

However I realise now I’m wrong and actually it can be as simple as getting outside for ten minutes a day and taking stock.

Today I sat by the river working on my novel and applying for yet more jobs. Feeling absolutely exhausted with corporate bollocks and rejection. I’ve been attending interviews like it’s my full time job and I’m starting to take the knock backs personally.

If you know me, you’ll know I take everything to heart and have a real complex around rejection. I decided instead to try and be rational. Give myself some time to take in the beauty of today. I know it sounds über cheesy and it’s not what you think. I don’t chant mantras or meditate (not that there’s anything wrong with those things, it’s just not very me) instead I just sat watching the river, listening to the running water of the weir and gave myself a bit of a pep talk. I always try and be thankful for the big and small things in my life. Like I have a roof over my head, a beautiful family, we don’t live on the bread line (even if we are always skint) and it was important for me to remind myself of these things today. I am a professional, I will find a job that suits me soon, it’s just taking longer than I anticipated but that’s ok.

Mindfulness is about being present, focusing on your surroundings and calmly accepting your feelings. So that’s what I did and I felt all the better for it! I was only sat there an hour, it gave me just enough time to write a synopsis and edit my copy to 3000 words. It was also enough time to feel like I’d had a break, got outdoors, took in the fresh air and got a bit of ‘me’ time in. The sunshine helps and maybe I wouldn’t of made the effort to be mindful if I’d been stuck indoors, but I plan to, going forward to get in a few minutes of mindfulness everyday.

Hamster Wheel

Do you ever feel like your on a hamster wheel?

Round and round you’re turning but you still can’t seem to heal?

You’re doing what they say, talking and moving, eating drinking.

But you’re still not able to stop your mind from over thinking.

Intrusive thoughts they grow, as if from a planted seed.

They are watered daily by you, even given feed.

You want to stop the cycle but you’re not sure how.

You try to spread awareness but it doesn’t seem to help.

You feel like you are failing, as a mother and in life.

But you’re so not failing, I wish you could see.

How strong you are getting through everyday and going about your routine.

People don’t seem to notice, but don’t do it for them.

Do it for yourself, write a journal, grab a pen.

Whatever makes you feel better is an improvement, an act of self care.

Don’t let other people’s opinions ruin your hard work.

They aren’t you, they’re not there.

You’re doing so amazing, I wish that you could see.

To others, to me, just how strong you seem.

Frank Bruno

On Saturday the 2nd March I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Frank Bruno. Being an avid boxing fan I was excited to hear about his bouts against the greats, such as Mike Tyson and Bone Crusher Smith, and of course his amazing win of the title against Oliver McCall. When these fight’s originally occurred I was very young so didn’t watch them first hand, I do however remember Mike Tyson Vs Frank Bruno 2. Purely because it was strange to have this on in my nan’s house, but there she was up late in all her glory on the date of 16th March 1996 with a Tia Maria in hand, watching this brutal rematch that would see Frank defeated a second time by the animal that is ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson. Hearing Frank speak honestly about these fights often with huge respect for the other fighters was fascinating. Even after the grudge match with Lennox Lewis, Frank regarded him with respect. He also talked about current fighters such as Chris Eubank Jnr and Tyson Fury.

But for me, the most fascinating, heart wrenching and humbling part of the evening was hearing Frank talk about his battle with Mental Health and how he started the Frank Bruno Foundation, in a bid to ‘knock out’ the stigma that still surrounds mental health today. Frank spiralled into a depression after retiring from the great sport and following the break down of his marriage. He was victim to phone tapping and harassment from the media that made him feel as though he was ‘going mad.’ He was eventually sectioned for the first time in 2003. For years following this he suffered a long and debilitating battle with mental illness and described it as his ‘toughest fight.’ When asked how he overcame his demons, Frank’s reply was ‘I haven’t, but I fight very hard, I use fitness and determination to keep me going.’ I think that’s a really important message for anyone who thinks mental illness is some kind of excuse or elaboration, and believe me, sadly those people do exist. I urge those people to read Frank’s latest book Let Me Be Frank and then decide if you still feel this is some glorified publicity stunt. This is a man who has battled with some of the toughest men in history, but found battling with his mind so much tougher. You have to admire his strength and determination as well as his courage to speak out.

After the show on Saturday we had a photo opportunity with Frank so you can imagine my excitement. I patiently awaited my turn, thinking in my head of something to say, it was probably going to be the one and only time I got to speak to him so I wanted to say something memorable. Frank talked during the evening about his battle with antidepressant medication and how he was now 4 years medication free, I wanted to tell him about my own battle trying to withdraw from the same type of drugs, but there wasn’t enough time. All I was able to stutter when my turn came around was ‘Frank, I’m so excited, shit, everything you do for mental health is amazing’ and I truly meant it. For someone in his stature use his voice to promote health and well being for people who suffer mental illness is truly commendable. We all battle demons from time to time but we tend to put celebrities on pedestals or misunderstand their motives. Frank now has his own charity in The Frank Bruno Foundation and that charity works hard to really help sufferers. He makes no excuses for his illness, blames nobody for his failings and refers to his dad as his ‘hero’ it was a truly inspirational evening and I felt privileged to have been there, obviously I paid a premium for that privilege but it was worth it. It’s a night I will probably remember for the rest of my life. I think I may have found a new hero myself.

His parting line after being asked ‘ Who hit you the hardest Frank?’ Was ‘The Taxman.’ What a legend.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have A Type

Last night:

I’m in bed, I’ve been here since 9.30pm It’s now 2.00am, but still I can’t sleep. I’ve come close, twice actually, but every time I feel as though I am drifting off to sleep I have a sudden feeling as though I’m falling. Impossible I know, seeing as I’m lead flat, so there’s only one culprit, and it’s anxiety.

I’m falling hard in the dark and as soon as I’m about to hit the ground I am startled awake. That’s not the end of it though, oh no. I startle, my heart racing, mind on overdrive like an update on your ancient laptop doing the loop for hours.

I even get anxious about being anxious. It makes absolutely no logical sense but it’s there just the same.

I take medication, practise breathing exercises (which I find are bollocks btw) I do everything I’m supposed to, even have talk therapy. The fact still remains that I have an anxiety disorder.

It’s aggravated of course, by life’s stressors, but sometimes it’s there for no fucking reason at all, other than just to be the mental version of thrush, in layman’s terms that’s an irritating cunt.

What has she got to be anxious about? You ask. I hear it all the time, whether to my face or through third parties. Well guess what sista, anxiety doesn’t have a type!

It might be your turn next love, and I can pretty much say truthfully, (unless you’ve committed crimes against children, in which case, suffer) that I wouldn’t wish this on you, or anyone else.

Maybe the bloke who cheated on and gaslighted me a few years back, or maybe the bitch in River Island who wouldn’t give me my parcel without photo ID, but I definitely wouldn’t wish it on your average Joe.

It sucks. And not good sucks, seriously fuckeduppy kind of sucky. Makes you question your own sanity kind of sucky. Makes you hide from the world and push people away through fear and exhaustion kind of sucky.

It can literally come on for me whilst I’m enjoying a nice relaxing bath or doing my shopping in Aldi. It takes one tiny thing, and here I am catastrophising and questioning my reasons to live. If you’ve never experienced anything like it, I beg you please stop dismissing it as if it’s nothing. It’s soul destroying and it takes strength to get through an attack, it takes strength to live with anxiety. It takes strength to talk about your anxieties and it takes that bit more strength to ask for help.

Most people in my experience who have an anxiety disorder are afraid to ask for help. It frightens them. What may be reasonable to you, is magnified 1000 for someone suffering from anxiety.

Sometimes the signs are obvious, like a full blown panic attack, hyperventilating, sweating, feeling faint. Some are much more subtle, a silent tear, a slight change in mood, irritability, lack of sleep. Some people are put off their food, where others purge and so on, basically you get it, it’s not always visible.

It’s not one size fits all. You can have all the money in the world and still be troubled. You can have family and friends who have no idea you’re even suffering. Or ones that stop asking because they’re tired of hearing about it. Or ones that are supportive but don’t know how to help.

I’ve kept things in and I’ve talked about it. Neither particularly work for me. I still feel just as anxious either way. I’m not saying don’t talk about it, do keep talking, as it gives others an opportunity to at least try and understand.

What does help me is recognising that anxiety doesn’t have a type and it’s not because I was a bastard in a past life, or that I’m clinically insane. It’s just my body’s reaction to fight or flight mode. More importantly, once I recognise it’s triggers I can sometimes even turn it off. Not always, but sometimes if I can find logic to my thoughts I am able to rationalise better and thus slow down the physical symptoms at least. Sometimes though your anxiety is so bad everything is a trigger, and that’s when for me, the only thing that works is medical intervention. I’m not ashamed that I take pills to relieve these symptoms when they are all consuming.

Of course my other chosen therapy is to write, that’s the main reason you’re reading this now. I hope someone reading this takes comfort in knowing they aren’t crazy! The brain is just a complex and sketchy place.