News

I’m delighted to announce I have been nominated for two categories in this years’ Mental Heath Blog Awards.

MHBA are a way to showcase patients and advocates in the mental health community and it’s an honour to have been nominated.

See full list of nominees and their categories here. Voting is open and it would mean the world to have your support. 💚

Please click here to vote. 🗳 🗳 🗳

It’s time…..

HRT to treat PMDD – Week 3

If I could sum up the last three weeks in three words they’d be INSOMNIA, ANXIETY, and HOPE.

Insomnia

So let’s start by telling you about the insomnia. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s been horrific. It began almost as soon as I started using Oestrogel and unfortunately it remains. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a HRT user yourself, menopausal, someone who thinks they may have PMDD or a PMDD sufferer. Or maybe you’re none of the above and have no previous insight into hormone replacement therapy at all… I know it can be confusing when deciding whether or not to try a new treatment, especially with how the media portray HRT as either a wonder drug (and for many it is) or a carcinogenic. But like with anything we put into our bodies, there are side effects to consider. For me, insomnia has been one of the most problematic. As a mother and someone whom lives with chronic fatigue and on occasion hypersomnia, I have found this particular symptom difficult to navigate. Mainly because, if you’ve ever lived with insomnia you’ll be aware of how it can feed into anxiety. Just how dark the depths of the night can become when sleep is evading you.

Anxiety

Since beginning HRT I’ve had loads more energy – which to some would be deemed a positive side effect. However, for me it’s not been so good, because the energy I seem to now have in surplus, is creating a quagmire of anxiety and ‘nervous tension.’ In short – I can’t relax. I’m feeling often keyed up and on edge.

A few other notable side effects have been:

  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Breakthrough bleeding – though this could be attributed to the recent mirena coil I now have in situ.

Hope

But I’m still hopeful…. Mainly because what else have we got if there’s no hope? And also because it’s very early days and adding in additional hormones was always likely to cause some symptoms particularly when you’re adding them to treat a hormone sensitivity and not necessarily a depletion as you would in menopause.

I’ve also just finished reading I BLAME THE HORMONES by Caroline Suzi Church and that gave me hope. It’s something I want to review on its own blog post, because the similarities between mine and Caroline’s PMDD trajectory are so similar, it’s more than I can possibly squeeze into a paragraph on this blog, but if you have PMDD you absolutely need to read it! Not only is it scarily accurate, a whole half of it is dedicated to treatment and self help. It really is a wonder of a book with so much insight into reproductive mental illness.

Positive changes

Finally, I need to finish by saying there have been some positive side effects, though fewer, it’s important for me to be transparent. Many people have great results using HRT and as mentioned above I am still really hopeful that I too, will get to experience more of these going forward. One positive change I’ve noticed is a reduction in the severity of my overall joint pain. Which is pretty huge considering I’m in pain almost all of the time. I’m not pain free now by any means, but my joints are beginning to allow more range of movement and I can only attribute this change to coinciding with my use of HRT. Another thing that’s improved is the horrific intrusive thoughts I was having. They are not gone altogether, but when it comes to feeling out of my mind I’ll take every single win (however small) I can get and this is one that suggests HRT could be the right direction for me.

Dear Steph – My friend had a secret abortion.

Dear Steph

My husband and I have been friends with another couple for over ten years, the female being a friend of mine from uni, which is where we both met our now husbands. We’ve been an inseparable foursome ever since and holiday together most years. My female pal told me recently she’d found out she was pregnant just after getting a promotion at work, she then went on to say she’d had an abortion while her husband was working away. I’m not against abortion, and am very much pro choice, but I find this so difficult being friends with them both! She also asked me not to tell my husband. I’ve tried to persuade her to talk to her husband but she won’t, and says he wouldn’t understand her reasons. I’m not sure I do either (understand her reasons) They are both thirty this year and have openly expressed their want for children in the past, but my friend says she just wasn’t ready this time. I feel really torn and have been avoiding her husband ever since. My own husband is even getting suspicious about why I don’t want to spend time with them. Keeping this to myself is eating me up, I don’t know what to do.

Gemma 29 Aldershot

Dear Gemma,

I don’t think you’re going to like what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure many readers will. However, I’m going to give you my honest opinion, anyway. Before I do there are a few things to consider first. I understand you feel a sense of loyalty to both parties in the relationship and not just your female friend, in these circumstances though, I’m going to advise to refrain from making this about you. Your friend made a decision and for whatever reason, she believes that was the right decision for her. Do I think she should have told her husband? Maybe… but is it any of my business? No. Do I also believe women have the absolute and unconditional right to body autonomy? Yes. Therefore I would be a hypocrite if suggested that it was imperative she tell her husband about the pregnancy. Secondly, it’s done now and it’s highly likely that your friend is already feeling a mixed bag of emotion which possibly but not necessarily, includes guilt. Third and finally, it is absolutely none of your husband’s business. Telling your husband will only make him feel awkward and guilty for not telling his friend. I’m sorry if this sound’s harsh but I feel given what’s going on in the world in terms of abortion right now, we must support women and their decisions over what happens to their bodies. I do understand that this is a difficult situation to be in, and sometimes being a loyal and trustworthy friend will leave us feeling conflicted. Ask yourself whom would benefit from you telling anybody of your friend’s secret? It’s fine for you to express your discomfort to your friend about the situation you’re in, but I’d suggest for the time being that you don’t. Instead, give your friend a safe space to discuss her reasons with you, if and when she feels comfortable. She told you because she trusted you, I think you should honour that trust. It’s unlikely your friend is going to tell her husband you knew, but if she does, tell the truth – you wanted to tell him but realised (I hope you’ve realised) it simply wasn’t your place.

I made a mistake once of telling a friend of mine’s partner whom I was also friends with, that she was cheating on him. He didn’t believe me and neither of them have spoken to me since. They are still together and went on to get married , despite my meddling. Your friend hasn’t cheated on her husband. Yes she is keeping a secret and maybe it’s wrong of her, but that’s really not for anyone else to decide. She could have very good reason not to have told her husband and there might be things happening in their marriage you know nothing about.

Whatever you decide I wish both you and your friend, love and healing.

Steph x

HRT to treat PMDD – Week 1

What is Oestrogel?

Me holding an Oestrogel pump pack

Oestrogel is a transdermal oestrogen supplement that is used to replace lost hormones during peri menopause and menopause. It’s also less commonly used to suppress the ovarian cycle in the treatment of Premenstrual Dysphoric disorder, which happens to be what I am using it for. After twenty years and many, many attempts at treatment, including antidepressants, birth control and birth control induced cycle suppression, my symptoms have, over time, bettered and then worsened again. After giving birth to my son in 2021 and suffering severe perinatal mental illness, I noticed an increase in the severity of my PMDD symptoms. Symptoms included intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and brain fog. Along with exacerbation of physical symptoms; frequent migraine attacks, perennial fatigue, recurrent shingles outbreaks and an increase in fibromyalgia associated musculoskeletal pain. My doctor, (after some persuasion) finally got advice from gynaecology who agreed to proceed with Oestrogel as a treatment, providing I had a mirena coil fitted which contains localised progesterone to protect my uterus from hyperplasia. Please note it’s strongly advised you discuss the use of add back progesterone with your health care provider in the treatment of PMDD.

Treatment pathway for PMDD

Below is the treatment pathway for UK patients. You can find out more detailed information by visiting IAPMD or NAPS for resources.

How to apply the gel.

There are various ways to apply Oestrogel, for most women, application to the upper arms is the easiest and preferred method. I was specifically advised by my doctor not to apply above the waist due to the other health issues I have, and therefore, I apply my Oestrogel to the inner thighs, one pump to each. Rub the gel over a large area leaving a sheen on the skin and then allow to dry before getting dressed. It’s important not to apply too close the the genitals due to the absorption differences in that area, or breasts, because of the oestrogen receptors present there. I was also advised to apply the gel at roughly the same time each day.

How’s it going?

I’ve been applying this gel everyday for a week and I’ve felt pretty rubbish if I’m honest. I’ve experienced saturating night sweats, insomnia, nightmares, nausea, migraine attacks, plus prominent feelings of anxiety and agitation. However – and this is important; looking at my cycle tracker I felt the same on these days last month. Aside from the night sweats and insomnia, last month at this exact time, I reported feeling ‘keyed up’ suffered a three day migraine attack, and felt particularly unwell requiring a day off from work. I also believe some of my current anxiety could be directly related to my personal fear of negative side effects. I did ask my GP the likelihood of a worsening in symptoms upon starting the HRT, and she said it was unlikely to have a result on mood – she knows pretty much nothing about PMDD so naturally I did my own research and pulled the below reference from the late Prof John Studd’s clinic website, referring to the use of transdermal oestrogen in the treatment of PMDD:

Ovulation can also be suppressed by moderately high dose transdermal oestrogens in the form of oestradiol patches or oestradiol gel. Appropriate doses would be a 200ugs oestradiol patch or 2 or 3 doses of oestrogel twice daily. Woman may occasionally feel a little worse in the first two weeks on this high dose, like an early pregnancy, but should be advised to continue as substantial benefit is almost certain if the diagnosis is correct.

John Studd Women’s Health Clinic

I found this reference particularly relevant because I said to my husband just yesterday that I feel almost exactly like I did in early pregnancy, and that was bad!

Moving forward

There’s a fair amount of controversy about the long term use of HRT particularly for women who are not yet experiencing symptoms of menopause. That said, it’s not a short term fix either, my doctor advised I need to give the Oestrogel a minimum of three months at the current dose before deciding if it’s of benefit. So I’ll continue, and aim to update you fortnightly going forward. I also plan to save enough money to visit a private gynaecologist, because sadly as we know the NHS is not doing so great and the wait times for appointments when you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing symptoms so debilitating it’s affecting your everyday life just aren’t acceptable. If you’re wondering how I can afford this, the answer is, I can’t afford it, but nor can I continue to live through this hell. Wish me luck.

Disclaimer: Every PMDD patient will respond to treatment differently. In the writing of this blog I aim to provide an honest account of my personal experience. Although this post contains hyperlinks to official medical resources, it does not constitute medical advice. My experience is individual and yours will be too. Please see your healthcare provider to discuss all of the treatment options available to you. 

Disability Pride

Disability Pride Month can mean various things to each individual in the disabled community.

Some people may see the month as a time to celebrate their individual success and accomplishments, whereas others may celebrate the feeling of pride about being disabled.

https://www.inclusiveemployers.co.uk

Have you heard about Disability Pride? Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years into my diagnosis that I first heard of it myself. Though I think that’s because I wasn’t referring to myself as disabled back then, despite spending weeks at a time in bed, wracked with pain and requiring months and months off from work. Unable to function without help, everyday activities became once in a blue moon activities. There have been many times over the last six or so years that I’ve been too unwell to dress myself or shower. Not as a one off, but consistently for long periods of time. At times I’ve been too disabled to work and to walk. My own disability pride has arrived, but only after battling years of internalised ableism.

I was once a person that believed disabilities were -for the majority at least- visible. I believed you had to have a permanent wheelchair or an aid, a prosthetic or an obvious disfigurement to be considered disabled.

I believed if you were depressed you had to look depressed (whatever that looks like) Despite myself suffering from mental ill health since childhood, I still had this idea that mental illness meant being obviously and outwardly ‘crazy.’ (I use this term to poke fun at my own misconceptions and it is not intended to cause offence.)

I’m here today to say, I was wrong. Not only was this way of thinking disrespectful to minority groups including those with disabilities, it was wholly inaccurate, and it was disrespectful to myself. I spent a lifetime playing down my own experiences, symptoms and health issues, because there was no way I was possibly suffering as much as someone else. But there’s an issue with the notion that other people have it worse and therefore we must ‘suck it up’ and the issue is that it’s harmful. It’s harmful because it attempts to invalidate a person’s suffering. Someone will always have it worse, we know this without a doubt, but to apply that to a person’s suffering (including your own) leaves us open to discrimination, feelings of shame and guilty whilst also furthering to escalate mental health issues.

Disability pride means celebrating all disabled persons regardless of the severity of their disability or it’s visibility. Not everyone who becomes disabled will remain so forever, though many people with chronic and ongoing illnesses will be impacted enough by their conditions to be considered disabled.

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010

My battle with internalised ableism is an ongoing one. Despite feeling more comfortable, open and able to discuss my health and it’s effects on my life, I still feel some guilt around doing so. I feel as if I am seen to be attention seeking if I tell the truth about how my illnesses affect me. There’s a real crossover between being positive and not focusing on all of the things you can’t do, and downplaying symptoms to appear more positive to the outside world.

In 2020 around 20% of the working population reported disabilities. This number, though higher than previous years, is still disproportionately low, considering more than 1 in 5 of us are affected by disabilities in the UK. It is unfortunately more likely that disabled people don’t feel able or comfortable disclosing their disability to their employers. Disability pride is a great way to celebrate disabled people for whom we are. As well as raise awareness, and shine a spotlight on discriminations such as the disability pay gap and lack of world wide accessibility in the work place.

The purpose of DP is to highlight that a disability can have a significant impact on a person’s life, whatever the cause and regardless of its visibility. It also encourages more people to be proud of their disabilities. Perhaps you’re like me, and find it hard to pride yourself on things that have felt traumatic, debilitating and painful. Or perhaps you are proud of how far you’ve come, in spite of, or alongside your disabilities. Perhaps, you’re just proud you’ve managed to stay alive. And that’s ok too.

Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, and 3 times as likely to be economically inactive

https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures/
Disability Pride Flag
The charcoal background – to represent those in the community who have been subjected to ableist violence, as well as representing protest in the community.
The “band/road” shape – represents how disabled people face barriers and have to navigate their life according to them. The different colours in the shape represent the creativity in navigating life, and how the community is breaking free from stigmatisation.
The colours – represent the various experiences and needs (mental illness, developmental disability, invisible disabilities, physical disabilities and sensory disabilities) in the disabled community.

There are many ways you can still get involved in disability pride month. Sharing on social media, writing your story, and talking to your employer about supporting disability pride, are all great places to start.

Dear Steph – I’m afraid my partner will cheat on me.

Dear Steph,

I’m in a new relationship with a great guy. I’ve been dating him for seven months, we met through work and have been inseparable since. The relationship is moving fast and we’ve already talked about moving in together. But I’m so insecure, every-time he goes out with his friends I’m convinced he’s cheating on me. We’re both 28 and my last relationship was two years ago. My ex who I thought was the love of my life cheated, and it killed me. I know my new partner is already getting fed up of some of my comments about his social life, but I can’t stop myself from saying them or feeling jealous when he’s out…. I even feel insecure when he’s at work or the gym. I know how this’ll sound and I am embarrassed, but I feel so paranoid when we’re not together. I don’t text him all the time when he’s out, but the next day I’m so stressed about what he might have been up to, that I avoid talking to him altogether sometimes. He’s never given me any reason to doubt his loyalty to me but he is a lad’s lad. He’s getting annoyed with me over my ‘jealously’ what can I do?

Emma – Swindon Uk

Dear Emma,

I’m sorry you’re feeling like this. I’ve been there; and don’t doubt that almost every woman I know has at some point in time been where you are also. You probably already guessed what my advice is going to be, and that is to start unpacking the insecurities that have embedded because of the infidelity with your ex. Whether that be with a therapist, or with yourself. Jealousy and fear are like mould in a relationship, it starts off as the odd spec but if you don’t treat it, it grows at a rapid pace. Before you know it, your whole house is covered in rot. You obviously, though not unsurprisingly, have some trust issues. But your new man isn’t your ex, and it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect him to be penalised for someone else’s mistake. I myself have trust issues, mainly from a fear of abandonment, and I’ve been in relationships that have torn me inside out wondering ‘what if.’ When I met my now husband, I was forever waiting for him to let me down. And on occasion he has, and it’s likely will again, because he’s human. I had to learn to trust him regardless. What I’m trying to say is, your partner might fuck up by staying out late with the lads or forgetting to text you back, but that doesn’t mean he’s being unfaithful. I suggest being honest about how you’re feeling with your partner. You may find that rather than making him want to run a mile, it’ll help him understand and for you both to learn to compromise. You might worry that being honest with him will push him away, but your snide comments and avoiding him when your pissed off, is likely to do so much faster than an honest conversation will. It’s normal to fear history repeating itself, but moving in together is a huge step that requires a lot of trust. You don’t want to be the girl that goes through his phone and smells his shirts after nights out. That’s no fun for either of you. Talk to him now, explain that you have trust issues but you understand they aren’t his issues, and you want to work on them. Chances are he will be able to both reassure you and help you work through them. From experience I can promise you that any work you do on yourself to overcome this cycle of insecurity will pay dividends. Break the cycle now. I’ve included some links to organisations that may be able to offer you some support. In Swindon you can also self refer to talking therapies who provide free cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on changing the thought process and can be particularly useful if you have a specific anxietywhich in your case seems to be around trust, and probably also self esteem that was shattered by your exes betrayal.

Relate

IAPT self referral (talking therapies)

I also found this book which may be of some use to you. Insecure In Love By Leslie Becker-Phelps and it’s available to buy on Amazon.

Wishing you all the best, Emma. Acknowledging that you have these issues is the first step to overcoming them and being happy.

Steph x

Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful ~ Review

Got a preschooler who loves to explore? A baby under six months that is fascinated by their surroundings but still limited with movement? A tornado crawler? A toddler? If you answered yes to any of the above BWBWBW will surpass your play expectations. Situated in East Bristol’s Longwell Green suburb, occupying an old shop space with free parking, it’s a play hub like no other.

The hub is open plan so wherever you are you can see your little person playing safely

If like me you dread soft play and get jittery just thinking about joining a baby group Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful is the perfect alternative to both. Roomy, open plan interiors and infinite open ended play resources, even an indoor sandpit, the play hub offers an ideal space for your little ones to roam free and explore safely. Possibly what’s even more special about this place is that they offer proper coffee in childsafe cups! That’s right, you can crawl about with your little ones and get your caffeine hit whilst it’s still hot. Teas and coffees are served in flasks with closed lids, making it much harder for your little one to come into contact with any hot liquid, yet miles easier for you to be able to enjoy a hot beverage. The perfect place for a Mother’s meeting too, aka a catch up with your bestie, where you can chat away freely whilst your babies safely enjoy all the hub has to offer. And there’s a lot on offer. Areas of imaginative play include a dress up station full of vintage treasures. An outside space to enjoy the summer months. A corner den lit up with twinkling fairy lights with hanging shower loofahs posing as pom poms. Giant teddy bears and a monochrome section, sure to peak your child’s imagination whatever their age.

Kaiser is a huge fan of the metallics and spends ages with the sensory bottles

Down the middle of the hub is a huge tube ready and waiting to have wooden cars and balls launched down its innards, enticing laughter and repetitive delight from the little people.

In our favourite corner – the black and white area

The hub also sports a café so you can grab a cake with your coffee, or feed your little’n lunch so they’re nice and full in time for a nap on the way home.

The hub is designed for children aged under five, from tiny babies and beyond.

To access the play hub, booking is essential and can be done quickly and easily online via the website. Also on offer are classes including mother and baby fitness, and creative Little Pumpkins Play Time along with scheduled events for all of the family. The hub is run by early years specialists and all staff have the passion and knowledge required to bring out creativity, and inspire imagination in tiny brains. And if all of that isn’t enough to prompt a visit, they also have a range of items available to purchase from local small businesses. All products on offer -which include clothing, toys and child essentials- have been tried and tested by the hub’s staff.

Kaiser and I have recently purchased a membership which allows us to visit the hub for everyday play sessions as many times as we like, for just £18 a month. Usual pricing for everyday play is £4 per child and £2 per adult, so even if you only manage to go once a week, you’re still saving a tidy £6 a month with a membership.

Give the hub a follow on Instagram to stay up to date with all their latest goings on.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #17

It feels as though the last week has been littered with extremes. I have felt full all the emotions. Health has been quite poor, a migraine attack the weekend saw me in bed for three days. The longest I have been out of action for a while. To make matters worse I was due to be out with mum and friends yesterday and had to cancel. I’ll never get over the sinking feeling of firstly, having to let people down, and secondly, serious fomo at having your life made smaller because of illness.

I’m waiting for a call from the doctor regarding my referral for a more detailed treatment plan for PMDD. At the moment despite taking medication and birth control I seem to have fallen back into a fortnightly switch. Meaning, I get two goodish weeks, and two that set me on fire with the flames of hell. (Not an exaggeration) My anxiety has been so palpable the last two weeks, coming at me in waves, and I’ll confess, there’s been a few incidences where I’ve felt really terrified, again. Terrified that all it’s going to take is that one hormonal cycle that tips me over the edge and into madness. For those of you that think I’m already over that edge… Hun, you have no idea!

A few things have been niggling at me for a while – like Kaiser’s birthday and feeling some panic around what I remember from hospital and his birth. Those feelings of insanity and desperation- and PMDD seems to bring those niggles into the spotlight. I’ve tried again to write Kaiser’s birth story but it just too painful and triggering for me to go back there, it’s also too long! So much happened in those ten days I was in hospital, every-time I think I’ve told the story, I remember more, and it’s mostly hell.

Another thing PMDD does, is make my physical health so much harder to manage. This week I’ve had hives, migraine attacks, nausea, all over body pain in the extreme, and profound fatigue like someone has pulled the plug on my body and it cannot function until it’s recharged, which isn’t as easy as just getting some rest, when you’re a mum!

I think I mentioned quite recently that I’ve been working really hard on trying to be more consistent with my blog. I’ve also had a couple of other writing projects in the pipeline. I’ve had a few rejections too, which have been quite hard for me to move past. Not because I think I’m better than I am, but because it takes so much energy to be creative that when it doesn’t pay off as you hoped it would, it can be disappointing in a much more personal way. As I said, hormones don’t help my mood and undeniably influence how I perceive rejection whilst in luteal. It’s funny though, I’m writing this today after a hellish migraine, and there’s some pattern to me feeling a need to write after an attack. I have no idea if there’s any scientific evidence to suggest the brain becomes more focused after migraine, but for me, it seems fitting.

It’s been mentioned to me that I seem fixated with my hormones lately. And looking back at my last few COACIM it would appear to be true, I am fixated. However, I don’t think it’s just lately. I’ve always been obsessed with them, because of their insurmountable affect on my life. But I will confess again, that since having Kaiser they have felt magnified and I am both distraught and fascinated at how the fluctuations of hormones affect me (and one in twenty other women, too.) It’s hugely important for me to raise awareness of hormones and their effects on health, mental health in particular. So this is one fixation that’s here to stay. So much so, my next blog post is going to be about why you should track your menstrual cycle.

Also this week, I spoke to Enable magazine about living with Fibromyalgia and the impact of the condition. The lack of support during covid, for people in chronic pain, along with the changes to NICE guidelines and the prescribing of pain relief. The publication hasn’t gone live yet, so I don’t know how accurately I’ve been quoted, but when it does I’ll definitely share.

Finally, the kids…. Kaiser has been having tummy troubles since transitioning to cows milk and this has further affected his already crap sleep. And Ciara, well, she’s been her own kind of emotional. She is such a good kid, but communicating with her can be difficult at times. I notice she isn’t like me in my directness, she can hold back and that can make me panic, thinking there could be something going on she isn’t telling me about. However I also know, I need to learn not to push her too hard, together we are navigating this new stage and trying to respect each other’s feelings. It’s a whole new world, and finally I’m about to say something I never normally do…. She’s growing up too fast!

All in all, I’d say this has been a below par seven days. Life has felt harder, but in keeping with trying to retain some positivity, I am confident it will improve again soon. For now though I’ll leave you with some pics of the kids, because they may be enough to cheer someone who may have also had a shit week, up!

Almost one, not a fan of the sun 🌞
We chose to visit a man made beach on the coldest day of the week

Reasons You Should Track Your Menstrual Cycle

One of the things I get asked occasionally when discussing PMDD and how I manage it, is how I track my menstrual cycle. Now, I know, as a writer, I should probably favour good old fashioned pen and paper, but instead I prefer to use an app. It’s quick and easy, and all the information you need is available at your fingertips. I’ll go into more detail about which app I use and why, shortly, but first a few reasons why you should track your menstrual cycle.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A PREMENSTRUAL DISORDER….

There are many reasons why you might wish to start tracking your menstrual cycle, or maybe you haven’t been considering it previously at all. Either way, here’s a few core points as to why you might start. Not all of them are relevant to PMDD, but if you do have PMDD see this as a reminder that in order to gain access to adequate treatment, and or diagnosis, you really need to have tracked your cycle for a minimum of two months (or two previous cycles.)

The reason being, cycles as we know, change, with hormones fluctuating regularly. When living with PMDD specifically I would (personally) recommend cycle tracking to have taken place for a minimum of three to six months. Because, as a consequence of hormone fluctuations, symptoms will too fluctuate and it’s important, for diagnostic purposes, to note the severity in symptoms and whether they occur frequently or ad hoc. It’s also useful for you individually to note how long your PMDD episodes last, their impact on your life, and whether normal every day activities are compromised. PMDD doesn’t only come with psychological symptoms, despite it being a hormone based mood disorder. Many persons with PMDD also experience a range of more prominent physical symptoms than those with PMS. And all of that’s without really delving into the influence they have on our moods and mental health. IAPMD recently published a study showing that an alarming 34% of persons with a menstrual disorder such as PMDD will attempt suicide. If you have been feeling depressed, anxious or dealing with intrusive thoughts, see a health care provider as soon as possible and start cycle tracking. It’s a really useful tool in determining if your symptoms could be related to, or be exacerbated by hormonal changes and your period.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A NORMAL CYCLE….

If you’re someone who has never experienced menstrual health issues, you might be wondering why you’d bother to track your menstrual cycle. Surely if your period arrives like clockwork every month with minimal impact on your life, cycle tracking is an unnecessary chore? Well…not necessarily. The purpose of tracking your menstrual cycle is a personal one, but many people still want to get ahead of aunt Flow’s monthly visit, and keeping track is a great way to do it. You may be planning a holiday in advance and having tracked your cycle for the last few months is more likely to give you an accurate prediction of when a future cycle is likely to end and your period start. You may be keen to learn when you’re likely to ovulate. Again, this is more likely to be accurate if you are regularly keeping track of when you bleed. Many people now use cycle tracking as a medicinal birth control alternative, as well as when planning pregnancy. Perhaps your period has always been regular but now isn’t. Could you be pregnant? Is it peri menopause or even menopause itself? You might also be experiencing symptoms that you are completely unaware could be caused or exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations. Did you know common illnesses such as colds and sort throats can also be caused by hormonal changes including being premenstrual? Learn more about ‘period flu’ here. It’s even possible you’ve developed random hives, or your hay-fever is much worse. When you are cycle tracking though, looking back at the calendar you can pinpoint when this is likely to occur in future and potentially prevent the impact. Perhaps your migraine attacks have worsened or increased despite avoiding your usual triggers. Aches and pains have been bothering you, and fatigue is something you’ve been sure is just ‘normal tiredness’ but has become overwhelming recently.

Hormones affect so much of our bodily functioning and have the power to better or worsen how we feel much of the time. Without tracking your cycle it’s simply impossible to know if physical symptoms you could be putting down to everyday problems, are actually linked to hormonal fluctuations, imbalances, sensitivities, and in some cases more serious illnesses such as PMDD, endometriosis or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and even some cancers.

HOW DO I TRACK MY CYCLE?

There are infinite ways you can cycle track. Of course, as previously mentioned, good old fashioned pen and paper AKA a wall calendar or diary, will suffice. Just be sure to be consistent with diarising your symptoms and how they affect you. Specific menstrual health diaries are available to purchase on Amazon too.

The reasons I personally choose to track using an app are: it’s quicker, you can set reminders to prompt you to log symptoms, and even add medication prompts on some. Ovulation prediction is easier via an app too, it does it for you based on your previous two cycles. The App I use and have always used is simply called Period Tracker and is free via AppStore it has all the above features and also includes a place to diarise what’s going on, or leave yourself notes. Other common favourites seem to be FitBit and using your phone’s built in calendar, adding emojis to describe mood and notes for symptoms. There are so many to choose from though, plenty of options to make finding the one that works best for you easy!Typing in key words such as menstruation or period in your preferred App Store will allow you to see which ones are available on your device. As ever the infinite wealth of resources available via IAPMD is also a fantastic place to start. They have a self screen tool for people who feel their symptoms could be related to PMDD or PME. Diagnostic criteria and advice as well as symptom tracker sheets specifically designed for PMDD. You can access all of their resources via this link

I personally use a cycle tracker to prevent, reflect, prepare and manage my periods and their impact on my life and abilities. It helps me understand why I might be feeling a certain way and is also a useful tool when presenting symptoms to healthcare professionals. Good luck, ‘appy tracking!

Disclaimer: Everything mentioned in this post, including the links and suggestions, are my own personal experiences, opinions and preferences, and are not affiliated in any way with the websites or brands mentioned.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #16

So much can change in a week. Such as estrogen dissolving as fast as an effervescent pill. Or progesterone over egging the pudding and ballsing up those chemical reactions, more catastrophically than Walter White on his first cook. I’m speaking in metaphors because I’m bored of saying the same thing about how I feel being attributed to hormones. My boredom doesn’t make it any less true though.

This week I’ve felt my patience being stretched and my rage reaction time quickening. My body has shown signs of a flare up in similarly dramatic fashion.

Aside from that though, there have been good things happening too, and as is the new and improved version of myself; I want to concentrate on those. Not because I’m feeling overly positive, but because I am trying to extract the positive from days when there feels like there hasn’t been any.

On Saturday I wrote a caption on Instagram that saw me confessing to finding parenting both of my children, whilst alone and with physical limitations, really fucking hard.

The reason for the post wasn’t even so much about the kids, but more in relation to how I feel about myself and my disabilities. I know they are there, I know how much they impact me, and you all know, because I write about it. However, in my everyday life I find myself playing down how bad things get sometimes, because I’m worried about what other people might think. Or even sometimes because I do go as far as gaslighting myself and telling myself that I’m the problem, rather than the fact that my being unwell, is the problem. I compare myself to other mothers, as many of us do, but I compare myself to healthier more able mothers, and that is not a fair comparison. Being kinder to myself and remembering that I have limitations is an important part of healing. Even if that healing must occur every luteal phase, every flare up in chronic pain, with every migraine attack, I must remember it’s not my fault.

After I posted the above to Insta I packed up a picnic for Ciara and I, leaving the boys at home and we went out to meet up with our friends. A girly afternoon in the woods was exactly what was needed to distract myself from overthinking, to calm down and get some reprieve from the noise and the chaos of being home alone with both children earlier that morning. It did wonders for my mood in lots of ways and was great bonding time for Ciara & I. We made a den in the woods and ate chocolate cakes and cold pizza slices from tinfoil. Ciara climbed trees and used her imagination whilst I got to sit and have a moan to a friend. It was therapy, and simultaneously a reminder that these are things I need when I’m not feeling great. When I’m overwhelmed and unable to fight through the mental and emotional fog of everyday life. I need to take a break, get outside, force myself out the door and just enjoy being away from my phone pinging a comparison inducing notification every 75 seconds.

That little outing also reminded me, it’s ok to not love every second of motherhood. Reiterating to me that my not loving every second of motherhood, has no bearing on my love of being a mother. Which is an insurmountable amount of love. I just needed the quiet time to be able to reflect on that.

Outdoorsy but make it chill
Unless you’re six, then make it fun.

This coming week I have a lot going on in general ‘life stuff’ terms, and I need to remind myself of the things that soothe me when my mental health, hormones, or physical ailments are drip feeding their steady dose of hell into my body.

Do you have a go to self soothe aid? During therapy last year, one of the first things the psychologist advised me to do was to create a self soothe kit. I plan to write about this in more detail in a new blog, but until then, do share your personal self soothe favourites – but keep it clean! 😜

A novel for the migraineur

As someone who identifies as disabled, living with several debilitating chronic illnesses, I am forever searching my beloved books for representation of such characters. Until now I’ve been yet to find a protagonist whom is presented as disabled and humble. A character doing things along side of their disability, as opposed to in spite of. So many portrayals of disability can come across as though everyone living with one should be more productive, and offering accurate representation of invisible yet life limiting chronic illness, is paramount for awareness. Fiction writers are getting better at being more inclusive, particularly with mental health in narratives, but many are still falling short on the disability front. It’s a hard balance to strike when wanting to write exciting plot twists, but including a realistic representation of disabled or mentally unwell characters. What tends to happen is, a disabled character may get a side part in an able bodied person’s story. Or a mentally unwell character might end up being the villain in an attempt to emphasise the extremity of an illness, but I’m pleased to say, not in this book.

Seven Days In June by Tia Williams is a tale, written with grit and heart. Honestly, I devoured it, what a marvel! A book that really inspires the likes of me, a chronically sick, wannabe author.

Eva Mercy is a single mother and bestselling erotica writer who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning novelist, who, to everyone's surprise, shows up unexpectedly in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their buried traumas, but also the eyebrows of the Black literati. What no one knows is that fifteen years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. While they may be pretending not to know each other, they can't deny their chemistry - or the fact that they've been secretly writing to each other in their books through the years.

Over the next seven days, amidst a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect - but Eva's wary of the man who broke her heart, and wants him out of the city so her life can return to normal. Before Shane disappears though, she needs a few questions answered . . .

What the blurb doesn’t tell you, is:

Protagonist Eva Mercy lives with the (often invisible) disability, migraine. The pages dedicated to her illness are raw, heart wrenching and honest, despite their fictional nature. Eva is a complex character and Williams is a perfect story teller. Offering up a window into the life of a young disabled mother. Not only is Eva a disabled person but a talented author, mother and sexual human being, too! Real life with migraine is often painkillers and dark rooms and this book captures that, even down to triggering smells and ‘face melting’ pain. It also tells the full story, the story of a woman with complex emotions, sexual desires, ambition and drive, that is often hindered by migraine attacks. As is her ability to parent and participate in loving relationships. It links trauma which is so often the catalyst to a life of chronic pain. But includes subtext, relating to mental health and teenage mistakes, drug abuse and even parental neglect.

A Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick

If I had to rate this book in stars I’d give it a full house simply based on the mention of migraine, and the debilitating nature of their attacks. However, I’m giving it a 4.5, and the reason I hold back the full five, is that the plot itself, whilst raunchy, does teeter over the edge into contemporary romance. If happy endings aren’t your bag, this book may not be for you. What I will say, is the road to happiness is portrayed with honesty, stubbornness and heart. Bonus, it’s a relatively short read that isn’t clunky to digest.

Praise for Tia Williams. You have a new fan!

Buy Online at Amazon now

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #15

Hey! If you’re reading this, thank you. I’ve been really trying to up my blogging game of late, and it’s hard to keep up the momentum to post regularly sometimes, so I appreciate and value your time as readers, immensely.

I posted to Instagram yesterday confessing that I’m feeling really quite triggered by my son Kaiser’s fast approaching first birthday. I don’t remember feeling like this on Ciara’s first birthday, despite the memories of her in NICU I just felt proud and glad to have made it twelve whole months, and whilst I still feel proud and glad to have made it twelve whole months with Kaiser, the memories are stirring up emotion, too!

In other news, I’ve had my first physio appointment 18 months after the onset of pelvic dysfunction. It’s a long road to regaining strength, but I know I need to focus and do the exercises provided to get the best results.

Another confession from me this week, I’ve been eating really badly. I have zero motivation, hormones are wreaking their usual havoc and I can’t focus on eating well. I’m craving all the wrong foods and it’s doing me absolutely no good whatsoever. I need to do better. I know that diet affects how I feel and even though I know this I still find it so bloody hard to get it right. Our Gousto box usually turns up on a Monday and at least takes one problem (deciding on what to eat) out of the equation. Except, this Monday it didn’t turn up and that means I have to go shopping with no idea what to buy and even less idea of what to cook. If you’re a food blog, help a girl out, give me your best ideas.

Platty Joobs Stuff

I had a bloody lush little rendezvous with friends over ‘Platty Joobs’ last week, it was proper soul food. If you’re wondering if I’ve suffered because of it, then the answer is not as much as I thought I would. I really did enjoy myself despite not really drinking much alcohol. I laughed a lot and just felt really safe and able to be myself, which is something I value in my adult friendships. Following the rendezvous, Shaun and I spent all day Friday in bed, eating, chilling, binging Power Force and just being our pre kid selves, which was a delight. On Saturday I was starting to feel hormonal and my mood plummeted a bit, I’ve been feeling Fibro flarey for weeks and this was more prominent on Saturday too, but we got outside with the kids and it perked us all up for a few hours. Following that, Kaiser was sick everywhere and has slept like shit since. Oh and Ciara has another cough. The joys, eh! You know what though? We’re ok. We’re not great, we still struggle, the battle is ongoing, but in between, during mundane moments and fresh air, and sofa snuggles, we’re ok.

PLATTY JOOBS
WOODLAND WARRIORS

Final note, please remember I’m still looking for content for Dear Steph you can email in your dilemmas to divamumsteph@hotmail.com

Menstruation and it’s effect on underlying health conditions.

You all, or at least those of you that have been following me for a while, know that I am big into learning about how hormones effect mental health. Living with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder my whole menstruating life, and an extreme sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations, I have made it a mission of mine to know exactly where I am in my menstrual cycle at all times in order for me to be able to predict how hormonal changes will impact my mood. In doing so I have become increasingly aware how the rest of my health is also impacted by hormonal fluctuations, and in this blog I’ll talk a bit about my personal experience and provide links to evidence based information supporting my theory, that hormones affect everything! Including, mental and physical health.

In 2016 around ten months after my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I have lived with chronic pain for as long as I can remember, but after pregnancy this seemed to worsen to such a degree that I was becoming less able to function and struggling to participate in every day activities. I also had a range of other symptoms such as cognitive dysfunction, profound fatigue, and an exacerbation in conditions that were already present such as PMDD and Migraine. The same year I was also diagnosed with shingles.

Since then, with every menstrual cycle I have experienced an exacerbation in all of the above symptoms in the extreme.

Society already knows that menstruation comes with its own set of symptoms, like bloating, menstrual cramps and backache. As well as for some women and in some cases, brain fog, nausea, fainting and migraine. But what about for those of us with underlying health conditions? Are you aware, that like me, your period could be exacerbating symptoms of illnesses already in situ? For example, during the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle I will experience excruciating joint pain, severe, frequent and lengthy migraine attacks, reoccurring shingles site pain, profound fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction that interferes with daily living. Alongside common symptoms of poor immune function, such as mouth ulcers, sore throat, wheeziness and more.

Why does this happen? It’s a good question and reliable studies are difficult to come across. So far I have struggled to find any solid UK based studies, that are available to view online. That’s not to suggest there aren’t any, just that we can’t view them. However, as well as studies showing how menstrual health affects mental health, Ncbi have various studies that show how oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone have been known to affect immune and inflammatory markers. Below is a paragraph was taken from two separate studies on immunity and sex hormones:

Exacerbation of common medical and mental health disorders at specific phases of the menstrual cycle is a prevalent phenomenon. Although the precise cause is unclear, studies implicate complex interactions between the immune and neuroendocrine systems. Females and males differ in the energy consumption and nutritional requirements which are based on the interactions between environmental factors and sex hormones (1). The studies in early 1940s ascertained that females have enhanced capability of producing antibodies (2, 3). This enhanced immune reactivity in females helps mount an effective resistance to infection and therefore females are less susceptible to viral infections, but can develop immune-pathogenic effects and predisposition to autoimmunity due to hyper immune responses.

Separate, but few studies have taken place in the US to determine whether conditions such as fibromyalgia may be related to low oestrogen as it’s a condition that preferentially affects women.

Many women/AFABI with chronic health conditions report increased severity in symptoms around menstruation.

We know that oestrogens affect diseases like cancers and can cause significant disruption to the most bizarre of health issues, including things like dental problems during pregnancy and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. We also know that hormones are a key trigger for many women with migraine. Myself included. I cannot take the combined pill as a treatment for PMDD because of the increased risk of stroke associated with oral oestrogen and migraine with aura. We also know that peri and post menopausal women suffer increased symptoms similar to those mentioned, including joint pain, migraine, frequent viral infections and reoccurring oral health issues, and those associated with syndromes such as fibromyalgia.

Unfortunately at this stage and without hard and steadfast reporting it’s not suggested that HRT is a treatment for any of the aforementioned ailments (besides PMDD.) However, if, like me, you’ve noticed a key link between when your body is experiencing hormonal changes and a decline in your physical well-being, it’s worth tracking your symptoms for at least three months. I use an app called Period Tracker which is available on all app stores and is free to download. It’s easy to use and converts to PDF for easy printing. Tracking your cycle is not only imperative to make connections for symptoms of physical health decline, it’s also as mentioned, a useful tool to predict mood changes, ovulation, and to document any treatments you might try to combat symptoms. The period tracker I’ve mentioned (not aff) also has a prompt for medication which I find really useful particularly during the premenstrual period, when brain fog and memory are affected.

For me and many women like me, it’s not just a period. It’s not just menopause. These hormonal changes are having a profound effect on quality of life and more needs to be done in order to find reliable and safe treatment.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #14

It’s Tuesday and yesterday wasn’t a great day. I’ve been doing lots lately, socialising and catching up with friends, rearranging things that were supposed to happen around my birthday in April, but couldn’t go ahead because of sickness. Along with my mum’s sixtieth earlier this month. I’ve been out and about a lot. What should be, and is, a treat to most of us, costs me a lot physically and emotionally. That became paramount yesterday when I suffered my first panic attack in months upon waking. My thoughts were whizzing through my brain so fast I was getting snippets of memories that I couldn’t latch on to and feeling like I had zoned out. I told Shaun I was too afraid to be home with the kids on my own and that he would need to stay home too. After a short while that felt like a looooong while, I regained some composure. I acknowledged what I was feeling and thought about all of the discussions I’d had previously with the mental health team about how to rationalise my thoughts. I used distraction techniques learned in DBT too.

After that short while, I felt well enough to engage with the children and told Shaun I would be ok and for him to go to work. Then I did what I always do when I’m feeling anxious, I checked my period tracker. Now, the period tracker is doing half a job at the moment, because I’m no longer having a period in the blood shedding sense, but I am very much still suffering cyclically with PMDD. I’ve had random bleeds recently that have upset the original equilibrium of follicular and luteal. To be honest I dunno whether I’m coming or going! I blame the hormones.

But, and it’s a relevant but, I also did something brave. I reached out to The Pmdd Collective. The collective is a group of health and well-being practitioners that are PMDD informed and provide both psychotherapy and peer support to the PMDD community. Please do check out their website and Instagram page to stay up to date with all the amazing work they are doing, including offering reduced priced therapy sessions, PMDD focused poetry groups and much more.

After writing a message to Emily, a founding member of the collective via instagram, I realised in fact, the panic attack probably didn’t come out of nowhere. My discharge from the mental health team has been a heavy weight, mainly because of not being able to get any support whatsoever from my GP, despite my complaints and self advocacy. So I have felt a little lost and out on a limb. My hormones, of course are there, fluctuating and torturing me whilst they’re at it. My kids, are exhausting, and my body cannot often keep up with the physical demands required, to chase around a prewalker hellbent on making himself a Jason Statham stunt double. My pelvis has been agony lately, making even sitting excruciatingly painful and that’s more of an issue now that I’m back to work. It’s been a minute, and settling back in to routine whilst managing symptoms 24/7 and children and life, hasn’t been easy. Despite my employers being really supportive and attempting to make the transition smooth for me. My social life has turned up a notch and I’ve had to suffer the pain and fatigue, migraine and mouth ulcer, repercussions of having a social life as chronically hormonal and chronically sick person.

Lastly, the most notable reason for my panic yesterday was, I had a hospital appointment at 10am. A heart scan that will determine the function of my heart and either diagnose or debunk the original theory that I may have heart disease.

So I guess you could say, maybe it’s not that surprising or out of nowhere to have suffered a panic attack yesterday morning.

As always with these musings though, I like to try and think about the positives. I believe this counts as my confession, because I’m finally confessing to the belief that positivity can and does exist alongside all of the other shit! Here’s a little list of yesterdays positives for clarification.

  • I got through the panic attack. Without taking medication. I used skills I’ve learned and listened to voices I’ve heard before (in my head) teach me how to sit with these feelings for a while.
  • I got another perspective from Emily. It wasn’t about reassurance seeking, but rather a different viewpoint.
  • Writing it down, helped.
  • I danced (upper body only obvs) with the kids in the kitchen to The Specials, as a distraction technique and to boost endorphins.
  • I went into my hospital appointment strong. I have no control over the results so much like the breast clinic appointments I was having recently, I reminded myself not to panic about things that are out of my control.
  • I didn’t go crazy because of a panic attack.
  • My wise mind kicked in and I was able to calm myself down, something I haven’t been able to do on my own in 11 months.
  • The kids are both, alive, happy and loved. I’m doing a good job.

I know I’ve crammed a lot in, and much of it sounds negative, but it’s not all bad. I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to see my friends again more often recently, it’s been a wholesome experience. I just need to pace the social aspects of my life better. I’m grateful that I still have friends that want to spend time with me and invite me places. I’m grateful to have been able to go for walks with my mum and the kids, and I’m grateful to have spent some time as a family with Shaun and the kids. I’m also grateful to be shipping them (the kids) off to their other Nanny’s house on Thursday for the night because, Jesus, looking after Kaiser is like raising an unruly hyena cub, or at least what I imagine that to be like.

Life isn’t bad. Rough somedays, yes. But not bad. Ciara and I have talked a lot recently about extracting the good from the days. We’ve spent some time working through emotions and of course I have a husband who has his shit together and shares the load. Here’s where I say, probably not often enough, that I am grateful for him, too.

My Family

Radical Acceptance – What it is, and what it is not.

I’ve mentioned on my socials recently that I’ve become more accepting of certain aspects of my life. First and foremost I’ve accepted the fact that I am disabled. It’s taken me seven years to fully get on board with the idea that this is something I must accept. In fact, my acceptance came very recently whilst attending a course of Dialectal Behavioural Therapy. One of the sessions was based solely on radical acceptance and what it means.

So, tell us, what is it?

In a nutshell: Radical Acceptance is a skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that helps people learn how to accept very painful events, challenges, people, or aspects of their life. It’s one of the skills found in the Distress Tolerance module of DBT.

Radical acceptance for me personally has been about the above, accepting my illnesses and the fact they are life limiting, but that there are still moments, days, weeks, that are good. Sometimes even great. Radical acceptance has also played a role in how I relate to my pregnancies, my early motherhood experiences and things in my past that I cannot change. Major regrets and mistakes that I have made that have played an overwhelming role throughout my life.

So are you saying we should accept people who treat us badly, or forgive ourselves or others for things we’ve previously felt were unforgivable?

No. Foremost, radical acceptance doesn’t mean forgiveness. You can regret something you have done, dislike the part of you that did it and still accept that it happened. Similarly with actions of others. For example if you’ve been in an abusive relationship and your partner has hurt you badly, radical acceptance isn’t about forgiving the person who hurt you, or continuing to accept abuse. It is about accepting a situation, to help you gain the most peace and enjoyment from your life. If hatred for that abusive partner is eating you up, or if because of the trauma you suffered, you’re too scared to go out, practising radical acceptance can help you move forward to live a life more inline with your personal values. You do not have to forgive someone’s mistakes, you just have to stop letting them take up space in your head. I know it’s not easy. Another example for me: I have many regrets but one in particular has been eating away at me for over a decade. Everyday I was continuing to punish myself by telling myself I was not a good person. My ruminating became so bad it was affecting my parenting, I was having daily panic attacks and feeling as if my family would be better off without me. When learning about radical acceptance the psychologist advised me that I didn’t need to forgive myself, I could still hate what I’d done and understand that I could not change it. I could accept that it happened and try and build a life for myself, or I could continue to ruin my life by going over and over the same thing. In doing the latter I was hurting my family because they were worried for me, and that only served to make me feel more guilty and unloveable. RA is complex at first, but once you come to learn more about the concept, practice radical acceptance of the little things, like spilling cereal all over a freshly washed floor, the easier it becomes to do it with the big things. Like me with my regrets and my health.

Another one that I’ve been practicing (if you’ve been following my blog for sometime you may have come across me talking about this before) is the acceptance that sometimes people won’t like me and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I don’t like everyone, in fact I’m quite selective in the people I call friends. But when it comes to others not liking me, I have been known to take it really personally. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s an abandonment thing, or a need for external validation. Anyway, the point is radical acceptance has helped me manage the impact of this and get outside of my own head.

If it were that easy we’d all do it

I know. And it isn’t easy. Therapy never is though. I think the first thing to remember with RA is that it’s about not fighting with your reality. Not actively trying to overcome something. Instead allowing the feelings you have about it to be there, but not take over. One of the psychologists on the course I attended, gave a good example of how to practise RA in the everyday. She used the analogy of being late. You know you’re late, you could stress and rush to get to your destination faster but you’re still going to be late. And if you stress and rush you’re likely going to feel worse. So accept that you’re late and are still going to arrive late, but this way, hopefully in a much calmer state.

You may never fully accept trauma you’ve experienced, and that’s ok.

The idea of practising radical acceptance isn’t to negate every bad feeling you’ve ever experienced, but to better manage those feelings when they are taking over your life.

Try it with the small stuff, and if it feels too traumatic to build up to the big stuff on your own, consider a course in dialectal behaviour therapy. My personal experience of DBT is that it’s worth it’s weight in gold when learning to manage painful and intense emotions. Being a big ol’ bag of emotions almost permanently, it’s been a freeing and life changing experience for me.

For more information on DBT click here

Dear Steph – I’m unhappily married and feel trapped.

I am in my 40’s and have been married for a long time and have 2 kids with a man that I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love with. I was treated badly in previous relationships and my self esteem and mental health had hit rock bottom when I met my husband. He was the first person in a long time who openly adored me and didn’t hide me away like a dirty little secret. I didn’t particularly reciprocate his feelings but it felt nice to have someone who I knew would be loyal to me. It was comfortable and easy…but never passionate or electric. We ended up getting married and having kids and my husband has become more and more lazy over the years and I am at my wits end with him. I have to pay for everything and he never wants to do anything with us as a family. If he does come out with us, he just moans and makes the experience un-enjoyable. His temper is awful and he often shouts at the kids and calls them stupid or idiots. He is very rough with them too which is upsetting. I cook, I clean, I take care of the kids and I pay for absolutely everything whilst he sits on his ass doing nothing. He also gaslights me and makes me feel like I’m a bad Mum.
It’s safe to say, I’m not in love with him and I feel extremely trapped. It’s not as easy as just leaving as we have debt and the kids love him to death despite his temper.
We haven’t had sex for over 6 years and if he touches me I get the ick really bad!
Despite all of this, I feel dreadful and guilty for even thinking of leaving.
I don’t feel in a very good place at the moment if I’m honest, which just makes me really alone and sad and even more suffocated within my marriage.

Please help Steph! – Anon Somerset Uk

Dear Anon,

Your situation sounds really hard. I can relate to a lot of what you mentioned about past relationships and feelings of low self esteem. In my experience, it is all too easy when feeling this way, to get entangled in relationships that offer us even snippets of what we have previously been missing. It seems a shame to me that it went as far with this man as getting married and having kids, but you can’t turn back time. And you’re definitely not alone. I know people in ‘real life’ who too, have married for convenience or particularly comfort, especially as we get older and crave the quieter life. The issues are many for you, but the main one I’ve noted is this marriage is no longer making you feel comfortable, nor is it convenient. You mentioned that you pay for everything and I wonder in reality if you might actually SAVE money from not being with your husband. However, I do understand that it’s not as simple as that, when houses, children and debt are involved. I wonder have you ever had this conversation with your husband directly? Does he know you don’t hold any feelings for him anymore? It doesn’t sound as though he’s doing much to change that in any case. Maybe he too is feeling unhappy or unwanted and that’s fuelling his laziness and shitty behaviour. The trouble is though, if you’re not interested in igniting the fire (reigniting seems inappropriate in this case) Then what would your ideal solution be? In relation to the children, it’s really awful to hear that your husband treats them quite badly. You didn’t say how old they were but I’m assuming school age. What’s most concerning is the fact you said he’s rough with them. Without more information I can’t be sure what you mean, but I’m going to assume that you mean physically. This I’m sure, is a major concern for you. The thing on my mind right now when I read this is, firstly, the impact this will have on them long term. By you staying in a marriage with a man who treats your children badly, despite how amazing a mother you might be, there is a small possibility that as the kids grow up and see for themselves what their dad is like (and they likely will, unless he makes any major changes, despite adoring him presently) that they may one day think by remaining in this relationship, that you were complicit in his treatment of them. Forgive me if I have this all wrong but it sounds like you could be struggling to admit how bad your husband’s behaviour is. I say this, because you have already told me all of the reasons why you SHOULD leave. Your husband is lazy, and somewhat abusive to you and your children, he criticises your parenting and makes you feel like a shit mum. I understand you feel trapped, but I can promise you, if you see this through with no intention of pursuing a loving relationship with him, you’ll will only grow arms and legs for the reasons you can’t leave. There is never a right time. Financially there may be organisations that can help. You say you feel guilty, and obviously, I’m only getting one picture here… but it sounds to me like your husband gives you many reasons to leave and NOT feel guilty. I think in this case, aside from his initial enamour of you, he’s not given you much reason TO love him. Do you feel guilt because he took you under his wing at a time you felt vulnerable? If so – that time has passed and it sounds like you’ve definitely paid your ‘debt’ to him. I would first and foremost tell your husband how you feel, who knows he might make the decision for you! That way guilt can be evaded. I wish you every luck in finding the courage to do what is best for you and your children.

I’ve listed below a charity I found that can help you manage debt upon separation. StepChange.org along with this page on Citizens Advice both have some advice for people whom are in similar situations to yourself, I hope they are useful.

Love and luck, Steph xx

Send your questions or confessions to divamumsteph@hotmail.com and include ‘Dear Steph’ in the subject line. Can be 100% anonymous if requested. Otherwise first name and region will be shared.