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.  

Sometimes mummy forgets.

‘When you say you’re going to do something it takes a really long time sometimes, and sometimes you just forget all together.’

My six year old said to me tonight as we thought up new ways for her to learn her spellings. I spent ages cutting up letters so she could arrange them correctly. The traditional practising aloud was becoming tiresome for her and I could see her frustration. ‘Mummy doesn’t ever mind you getting something wrong, it’s how we learn’ I said to her, face screwed up in confusion at why she’s so upset. I want to prod but not too hard. I want to ask her why her emotional reaction is so major to something so minor. My brain working overtime, wondering whether someone has ever made her feel inferior for making a mistake, hoping that someone has never been me.

‘We still haven’t done my homework, you said we’d do it last night’

I did say that, but last night I was in bed, a migraine attack had me so sick, I couldn’t see, mid-cycle bleeding, cramps, along with feelings of anxiety and guilt all throbbing at my temples. I’d discussed with her how we were going to do her homework, we’d talked it through and even thought of different mediums to use for a collage. Then, like she said, I forgot. I had to work today, her brother up every two hours in the night, I can’t remember the last time I managed to watch a tv show all the way through with my husband without being interrupted by ‘I need a drink’ or ‘Waaah waaah waaaah, cough, cough, cough’ from the baby. The car was in for MOT today. I forgot to check out my online food shop too, and when it didn’t arrive as I expected today at 12 noon, I had a few choice words for the Asda customer service lady. That was until, I realised my error, apologised profusely and cried into a cold cup of tea.

‘You said we were going to put my picture in a frame’

I have no idea which out of the twenty seven pictures she’s drawn this week she’s referring to. I’ve forgotten. I love her artwork, but they’re not always memorable and some of them are awfully samey. I still love them, but not enough to frame each and every one. My hormone addled brain cannot hold on to another memory of felt tip hearts and swirls, or colouring pencil sketches of trees and mermaids.

‘You said I could have a balloon at the food festival, but we didn’t get one’

She’s right, I did say that, not wanting to get it on arrival in case she let go and the six pound foil dolphin flew up into the sky, never to be seen again. I had meant to get it for her before we left, but it was busy, the throng of bodies distracting me, exacerbating the heat from the sun. All of us tired from being amongst so many people. Her brother on his fifth suncream application. A desperate bid to get us all to the car before he woke up and terrorised us with post danger nap screams, on the ride home. I forgot. I just forgot.

And you know what? I feel bad. Of course I do. Every time I forget and she remembers, I feel terrible. But she forgets too. She’s forgotten that mummy took her to Little pink café on Saturday and the food festival Sunday. She’s forgotten that I tuck her in every single night and make sure she has clean clothes and her spellings are done, her books read, her PE kit ready, clothes for forest school too. I make sure she has money for whatever mufty day is occurring this week. That breakfast club is booked, and nanny’s picking her up. I’m also pretty good at whipping up a costume or two for the seemingly constant dress up days and Easter bonnet parades. She forgets to brush her teeth but I remind her. I clean her eyeglasses every night before she goes to sleep, and when she’s finally spent, I creep into her room and make sure she’s tucked in. I stroke her hair back from her face and tell her again (because I’ve already told her 100 times that day) how much I love her. She doesn’t know the impact of a mother’s load. To her it’s promises broken and forgotten moments.

Sometimes I forget things, but I remember a lot too. I remember without fail to remind her just how adored she and her brother are. Every day, of every week, of every year and I’ll continue to do that until it embarrasses her in front of her first crush, I’ll do it when they’re thirty and maybe have their own children to love. I’ll never stop. Because every word I say and every promise I make, is true, and yes I might forget, but when I’m reminded, I try my best to follow through. And our best is all we’ve got, right!?

If you’re a mummy that sometimes forgets and feels bad. Know this, it’s not just you. You’re not doing it wrong, it’s just hard. And if you’re worrying about being a good mum, the chances are, you already are one.

Little pink café- Bristol’s Hanham Suburb

If you have a pink obsessed small person (or big person) in your life, or you’re just after a decent breakfast that doesn’t cost the earth, The Little Pink Café is now firmly on my favourites list.

Aesthetically pleasing in all pink and white, it’s atmosphere is that of a traditional bustling coffee shop. Set in the heart of Hanham high street this place is for everyone, not just the members of pink lovers anonymous.

Pink lattes and decent coffee

Enjoy funky pink drinks, traditional teas and coffees, English breakfasts and American style pancakes in cute and kitsch surroundings. The choice is vast here at The Little Pink Cafe. An independently run business by a group of friendly females, this is an ideal place for those mothers’ meetings and Saturday morning breakfasts with the kids. it’s also a lovely place to host an event such as a baby shower, when we attended this morning there was a group hosting a 40th birthday breakfast, and I just love that idea!

Whatever your occasion, or even if there isn’t one, give these guys a visit.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum 13 – I’m back

COACIM had a bit of a hiatus. This was unintentional but life has been both busy and really quite difficult in recent weeks. I’ve not been as active on socials as I usually would. My youngest child Kaiser, has been quite poorly. This has coincided with both my return to work and my discharge from perinatal mental health services. You can probably imagine what I am likely to say next… Yes, I’ve had a flare up. An exacerbation of my symptoms is common with life’s stresses and I’ve been feeling pretty rubbish in general. Mentally, I am still coping. My discharge from PNMH definitely rocked the foundations I’ve built though, and it’s been a weird and destabilising week.

Migraine attacks have plagued me, I had been back to work just days when I had to leave early to collect Kaiser from childcare because he was so unwell. It was also my mum’s 60th birthday. We’d had a weekend away planned that my sister and I had bought her as a present, I wasn’t sure Kaiser was well enough for me to leave at home, and I wasn’t sure I’d be well enough to attend myself. As it turns out, I did manage to spend a few days away with my mum.

It was lovely, not just to chill out with my mum but because one of my great friends came up from Devon and stayed with us also. I don’t get to see her very often and always miss her dearly, so to spend a few days in her company, alongside celebrating my lovely mum’s coming of age, was amazing. Amazing doesn’t mean perfect though, unfortunately after a walk Saturday I spent all day Sunday in bed unable to get up and move my body freely without crying out in pain. Several times my mum had to come into my room and help my up out of bed and onto the toilet. My life’s reality is hard to accept always, but particularly when I’m supposed to be celebrating and bringing the fun with me. I didn’t drink any alcohol so there was no trigger warning, just a body that doesn’t function well at times, and those times are usually times I am trying to live. Somedays I thrive but most days I just survive.

Kaiser is recovering well but the four top teeth that all cut at once in his tiny little chops, are still giving us hell, as is his endless cough!

I’ll confess, I felt a whole heap of ‘mum guilt’ about leaving him with my husband. When my babies’ are unwell I want to be with them, comforting them. I also wanted to be there for my mum to celebrate her sixtieth. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain this, but I did ensure Kaiser’s symptoms were well managed before leaving him to recover with his dad and without mummy cuddles.  

What’s also been really arduous has been talking myself down when feeling anxious, without the support of the community perinatal team helping to keep me in check. My discharge with them was emotional. I have been supported by them for a year and that’s a long time when you’re spending it living day by day, often hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. I’ve had a few wobbles already and I was only discharged Wednesday, when thinking about moving forward and how I navigate this brave new world on my own I often overthink and find myself panicking. I made great connections with my key-workers’ and whilst there were always clear professional boundaries, it’s not easy letting go of relationships that have served you so well. I felt really truly supported for the first time in my life by professionals, and I’m worried I’ll have to go back to fighting for basic support and healthcare. I write this knowing it could be worse, but always wishing the system was better.

An Instagram post I wrote just a couple of days before discharge

For now I need to get back into the habit of better self care. In recent weeks I’ve resorted back to eating crap, the fact I’m not able to move much again doesn’t help, but it stops now. I’m restarting getting my diabetes coursework back out, along with my DBT handbook and I’m taking action before things spiral again.

I know what I need to do I just need to learn to maintain healthy habits and ditch the many unhealthy ones I seem to find so easy to stick to!

In other news – you may have seen on my ‘News’ page that I’ve been nominated for two awards in the Mental Health Bloggers Awards this year, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a few minutes out of your day to give me a vote. Your support continues to mean so much to me. Vote 🗳

Dear Steph – My Mother hangs out with my violent ex.

Hi, 

Let’s get stuck in…before my husband I was in a relationship with a very violent cretin, who beat me up regularly. One time he ended up in jail for it, due to how bad it was…15yrs on and he still terrifies me…I have frozen on the rare occasions I have seen him..(he’s in jail more than out of it, he’s a burglar to feed his habit)

My Mum lives in part of the city where Travellers live…in a trailer…she has been having said ex round, long story short I’m feeing really betrayed.. AGAIN and let down by Mum AGAIN!

I’m now way too scared to pop round there in case he’s there and I certainly won’t be taking my children to see her!!!

I’m always getting  hurt one way or another by my mum  this letter is literally the tip pf the iceberg 

What do I do about it? X

Rebecca – UK

Dear Rebecca,

I am so sorry to hear that you suffered so much abuse from your ex. I know the long term psychological impact a volatile relationship can have and it sounds as though the abuse you suffered was well beyond the level I myself am familiar with. What’s as upsetting to hear, is that it doesn’t sound as though you’ve had much support from your mum in processing what you’ve endured. You’re not clear in your email on the nature of the relationship your mother has with your ex, but what is clear from is the impact her being in contact with him is having on you. To answer your question ‘what do I do about it?’ I think you need to ask yourself firstly what you want to do about it. If the goal is for your mum to step up and tell your ex to back the fuck off, consider her doing this and whether that would actually lessen the betrayal you feel, and if not, how you would rectify that in the long term. I believe that when it comes to our parents we have ideals that often don’t meet reality. You report you feel let down by your mum again, so this is not the first time she’s betrayed you. Is the reason you are unable to cut her off because of some inherent loyalty that she clearly isn’t capable of reciprocating? In your situation I would want to be having this conversation with my mum, imploring her to understand the impact her repeated betrayals have had on me. As is often the case in these circumstances though, we don’t get the response we anticipate. I understand you may love and want a relationship with your mum and if that’s the case you need to be calling her out on her behaviour. The issue here of course, is that she may not hear you, or offer you the apology and love you crave. Should this be the case my advice would be some trauma counselling, and possibly some radical acceptance work to help you accept an apology you may never receive. It’s a really heartbreaking situation to be in, we frequently base our lives around familial connections and accepting that in your case your mum isn’t able to participate in a reciprocal relationship must be soul crushing, it also might be necessary in order to move on with your life. As for your ex, there is no valid reason to see or speak to him again, I would continue to stay out of his way.

I’m including here some instagram pages you might find relatable and also the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website as this is the best place to start if you one day consider looking for an accredited therapist.

https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/

I wish you the best of luck.

Steph x

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.  

Dear Steph – My daughter was assaulted.

Can you advise how to communicate with my 15 year old daughter after sexual assault as we’re trying everything and failing, suicide attempts, self harm….She’s missing so much school she’s withdrawn but still wants to go out all the time with friends. We’ve got counselling through the police and school. Trying to just be there for her and show love and understanding but it’s affecting the whole family her younger sibling is self harming as she sees her doing it and thinks that’s how you handle things. I should have protected her but I’ve let her down.

Dad – East Anglia Uk

Dear Dad,

First and foremost I’d like to express my sincere apologies for what you and your family are going through right now. I can only imagine how traumatic this must be for each and every one of you. I’m really pleased to read your daughter has been referred for counselling, as someone specialist in this field will be paramount to her healing. With regards to her still wanting to go out with friends, I imagine it might come from a place of craving normality. Her friends will likely be carrying on as normal to some degree, where as you as her parents are understandably concerned and unable to ignore the enormity of what she’s been through. Many victims of sexual assault will feel misplaced shame in relation to the attack, and this can have an impact on familial relationships. I am not a mother of teens but I have been a female teenager who suffered with her mental health, during a time when sexually inappropriate behaviour was common place. My advice is purely based on me empathising with your daughter and not from experience or professionalism. I personally wouldn’t advise forcing her to talk, it may be simply that she isn’t ready yet, or hasn’t fully processed what happened to her. I do recommend that when she is ready, having frank and honest conversations about the assault. Acknowledging that it happened and was extremely traumatic for her, may be an important part of her healing. It sounds as though she is unsurprisingly experiencing extreme emotions around the incident. There is a particular type of therapy I have found really useful for emotional regulation. It’s called Dialectal Behavioural Therapy and is focused on coping with uncomfortable emotions and better managing the effects of them. It really helped me with intrusive thoughts and extreme anxiety and panic attacks. It could be worth asking your GP to refer your daughter or looking to see if there is anywhere that offers sessions in your area. I would also suggest that if you are ever concerned about your daughter taking her own life or attempting to, calling 999 or taking her to A&E. Many GP’s are proving, in my opinion, quite useless recently, so if you’re ever concerned for her mental health and aren’t getting support from them, hospital is the next place to try. I understand that might not be what any of you want, but my experience of being in hospital for my mental health actually turned out to be a really positive one. I believe it saved my life. Your daughter may need trauma counselling alongside DBT so still accept the offers from the police and school. Additionally I want to address what you’ve mentioned about feeling as though you’ve let her down and didn’t protect her. I have heard this being a really common thought process for loved ones of victims, but I need to stress that you are not responsible. You are clearly a loving and concerned father and everything you are feeling right now is valid. But you cannot take the blame for someone else’s actions. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t allow it to happen, and you are not in any way shape or form to blame. I think every parent on the planet wants to protect their children at all times but unfortunately it’s not possible for us to do so. Please if you take nothing else from this response, know this is NOT your fault. I hope that the police are providing you ALL with support, but if not please ask your doctor for help or talk to someone you trust. Lastly in relation to your younger child, I would recommend trying to access counselling for them too and having a chat with their school to see if they can offer some support. I’ve listed below support services that may be able to help you further. You may already be aware of some of them.

Young Victims provide support for both victims and families.

Young Minds could be well placed to support your younger child to process what’s going on in the family.

Give us a shout offer free and completely confidential text support to anyone struggling to cope. This may be useful for yourself and your daughter.

Rape Crisis England and Wales these guys have some useful resources for supporting a loved one.

Finally, I’d like to wish you and your family healing and hope. Please know you are not alone, you are not to blame and you are doing everything you possibly can to help your daughter. Being strong for our children isn’t easy and in these circumstances I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for you. I hope that with the right support your daughter and your family will be able to heal.

Take good care of yourself.

Steph x

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.