31 Weeks of growing you.

I’m tired. Tired of explaining why things are so hard. Tired of feeling stuck on a loop. Tired of the unknown. Tired of my body failing us. Tired of pain. I’m just so fucking tired.

I’m irritable, I’m fed up of people saying stupid shit to me, shit they don’t of course even know, is stupid – because how can anyone be expected to know what the right thing to say is, when I don’t even know? I’m just tired of all of it. I’m tired of feeling like I have to fight to have questions answered. I’m tired of having my situation dismissed or compared to that of so many others. I’m tired of feeling like I’m broken.

I have maintained the pretence that I’m not depressed throughout this pregnancy, because I don’t want to take more medication, it’s the first thing anyone says when I complain of low mood. Do you need to go back on your antidepressants? – and I feel like saying, please fuck off.

Because I know what depression feels like, and whilst I do feel very low many days, I also have a list of reasons as long as my arm as to why that is and a pill, unless it’s one that reignites my ability to walk, or makes me promises of a healthy baby isn’t going to change that at the moment.

So far I still feel like I have some grip on my mood and reality. However low I feel, I don’t feel like I’m fully depressed yet, but maybe I am and I’m in denial, who knows. I have gotten this far though and I can see it through until you’re born. We will then reassess my mental capacity, once we have a better understanding of my physical abilities.

I also feel like I’m becoming a social outcast – I can maintain a level of strength and resilience as long as I don’t have to talk to anyone. When I speak to people I feel like I either have to explain all the whys and what ifs or I have to appear strong and excited, whilst really feeling neither.

Feeling like I can’t hide myself wincing in pain, like I can’t hide the fact that I am in uncontrollable pain, every single day. Even before you existed I had to navigate a social life around pain and bad days, now I’m starting to feel as though I am incapable of a social life at all, where are the good days? Good hours pass by too quickly only to be met by flare ups of more uncontrollable pain. Most of my friends are amazing, they want to help and include me, they care, they check in, but I still feel like I am bringing the vibe down at every conversation. Like I’m just that person that people would rather avoid. I know I’m probably overthinking it, as you’ll learn, I do this a lot. It’s a work in progress.

We haven’t got long left – so it is exciting in lots of ways, but fear overrides. I don’t know what to expect this time despite having done this before. When I was pregnant with your sister the excitement was more pronounced because the outcome was completely unknown. This time the worry overtakes the excitement because we know how bad it can get. A pessimistic view I know, but in my head it’s also a realistic one. It’s a self preservation tactic, if I expect the worst I’ll be happy when better happens.

I’ve learned some things about you recently that do make me smile. Things like you hate me lying on my right side even though it’s the one I find most comfortable. You kick and kick and kick until I turn back. You don’t like loud noises. Your sister dropped a dumbbell the other day and you jumped with such force I thought you would jump right out of my body. You’re not bothered about baths even though everyone says babies go crazy in the water, neither you or your sister did. You protest after I indulge in too much sugar and you push back now when any one of us prod my bump.

I nearly didn’t write this, this week. It’s maternal mental health awareness week and my feeds are full of recovery stories, whilst I don’t feel like we are any closer to recovery. I know I will recover mentally, because I’ve been in much darker places than this before, but will I ever recover physically? Trauma, whether to the body or the mind comes with very real physical implications that filter into the everyday.

Mourning your old life is a daily battle when it comes to chronic illness and it’s why I find words of optimism so hollow, however well intended.

Still we move through the days, bringing us closer to you, and we hope that one day in the not so distant future these down days will be memories easily forgotten and better ones will replace them.

You could be here in a matter of weeks and I know I have to be strong for you, so I’ll keep fighting.

Baby Cullen number 2. Can’t wait to meet you. ❤️

A letter to myself.

I wrote this because I had to make sense of my thoughts as mother and an expectant one, one who is trying to find the strength to be both whilst battling the demons that are chronic illness and mental health.

Reach out they said, so you did, and it didn’t immediately help, and when it didn’t help people stopped reaching in. You are not their responsibility, this is not their fight, and they have their own shit going on. In the middle of a pandemic everyone has their own shit going on, some worse than yours. People can’t take on your shit too. They don’t want to, they shouldn’t have to, so what are you supposed to do now?

You have spoken to your doctor, you’ve got yourself in touch with organisations that can help support your mental health, but your physical health is declining further, your hormones are sending you crazy and you’re in limbo. You’ve requested help, but there’s no magic pill, no imminent cure for your troubles. So what happens next? You’ve written a thousand blogs, almost as many poems, you’ve cried, screamed and forced yourself to calm.

Keeping busy helps, keeping moving, except you can’t do anything because you’re immobile. Stay positive, think happy thoughts, so you try, really hard to do both but your mind is clouded in worry. You wonder sometimes if you have the strength to be the person everyone needs you to be. To get back some of your fire. You’re losing interest in the things that have previously brought you joy, like reading, and writing, you feel blocked. Getting outside is increasingly difficult and because you’re not going anywhere you’re not getting up and ‘ready’ because your whole body is racked with pain you’re not focusing on getting outside, it feels too hard.

You know you need to nourish your body to give your growing baby what it needs but even eating is becoming boring, a chore, you don’t have the ability to stand at a countertop and cook, you can’t be bothered to decide what to have next so takeaway’s are your go to, but they’re distorting the view of what you see in the mirror. Your need for medication increases with your pain and with that comes more guilt because it’s not just about you anymore.

You tried to do ‘yoga’ and got stuck on the floor for an hour with only your four year old home. You tried to shower but you can’t stand so even cleanliness is taking a backseat. You have to depend on your husband to help you in and out of the bath and you feel your self esteem being crushed further, your sense of humour no longer able to gloss over the hard parts with a funny anecdote.

People care, you know that, but they don’t know what to say, so they stop saying anything. You feel like a shit friend because you know your life is consumed by your disability and as much as they can’t take on your burdens you can’t take on theirs either, so thats another stick you can use to beat yourself with. You’re still trying to be everything everyone needs you to be but it’s draining. You feel like your lack of positivity confirms your worst fears – that you can’t be saved.

You feel more connected to strangers you talk to online than anyone you know in real life, because strangers can’t judge you in the same way friends can. They don’t expect you to man up, or try harder because your lack of effort doesn’t impact them.

You spend most days led down trying to find a focus, trying to be better, to do better, to find some joy in anything.

Glimmers of hope come from your loved ones. They carry on loving you despite your struggles and your children carry on depending on you. You know that without them, your life doesn’t mean all that much to you, but to them it’s everything it means everything, you are their everything and so you snatch the glimmers, you pocket them, and you remember that this period in time isn’t forever.

Your life isn’t what it used to be and you grieve it, desperately, sometimes so much that it physically hurts, but you’ve grieved it before and you’re still here, you still have a life. You still have a future. It’s a new version, and not everyone will walk your new journey with you, not because they don’t care (that’s just your brain telling you that) but maybe because they don’t understand and your own acceptance of the things you can’t change takes time.

Learning to live a newer life, a more conscious life, a life that has limitations, isn’t easy. Sometimes the grief will be daily and feel renewed, but someday, in your future you will look back on this time like you’ve looked back on all the other hard times, times you thought you couldn’t live through and you will know that you survived it. You survived it because you put one swollen foot in front of the other, because you held on when you thought there was no hope for you, and you found a way.

You know with certainty, that you have grown. This is a set back, this is not a failure, your health has declined as a result of you trying to do what’s best for your baby.

So Steph, the message is clear, when you really aren’t ok and you feel like you’re alone with your troubles, don’t take it day by day, don’t wait for tomorrow to be better, take it hour by hour, do the things that you feel able, even if that is nothing, because it won’t always be nothing. Each day that you wake up is you doing something. You’re surviving, and when you find a way to survive you can find a way to thrive.

X

Pregnant and chronically ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if, what if, what if…..

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

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

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

Baby 2.0 is coming!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For fibromyalgia resources it’s FMAUK

And for migraines it’s Migraine Trust

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go again, sertraline.

When I recorded last months #PMDD diary I mentioned I’d started taking antidepressants again, but only during the luteal phase of my cycle. Unfortunately my symptoms have not improved greatly in the months since I decided I didn’t want to be here anymore (again).

When I say not improved, what I mean is not enough for me to do this on my own. So here I am again, where I’ve been for almost 20 years, trying to get a grip on my mental health with the help of antidepressants full time.

I am still here, so I’d be lying if I discredited their power in helping me get through dark days, but when you live on a cocktail of drugs for survival, it can make you feel like you’re never really moving forward, just treading water.

Antidepressants for breakfast, painkillers for lunch, more antidepressants for nerve pain at tea time, a side of beta blockers, followed by occasional benzos for supper.

I often feel like I’m failing by being so dependent on medication, but I weigh it up with my need to be able to function.

I’ve made many positive changes over the years for my mental health.

I very rarely drink alcohol anymore and have drank only 3 times in all of 2020. Though I feel no better for it really, I’ve not missed hangovers, and truthfully, I’m scared of it now.

I’m scared of doing ANYTHING that might trigger a migraine, a flare up, PEM. I’m scared of walking too far, or dancing too hard, or staying still too long. I’m scared of things I used to enjoy, and not enjoying, is depressing. I know I feel better if I don’t over plan, if I have a day in between activities and I know I feel better if I get enough sleep, but trying to implement that into a modern world where we have to work, and parent and show up for shit, is hard.

When I think about how hard it is I also try to think about how lucky I am.

Because if I don’t think about the good things I will be forced to believe there are no good things, and that is simply not true.

So how do I remind myself of everything that’s great when all I can see is what’s not? I look at my family. That’s it, I see them and I am reminded of my luck 💗 Though I don’t imagine they feel the same about being stuck with this bitch 🤣 This is your Tuesday night reminder, to TAKE YOUR MEDS💊

Acute Anxiety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Decade Of Lessons

The last 10 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy new year 🥳

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Chin up, cheer up, smile…

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

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

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

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

Frank Bruno

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

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

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

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

Time To Talk

Every year on Time To Talk Day, I write a post about mental health. Every year it gets lots of likes, and people reach out with their own stories. But year after year, mental health post, after mental health post, people still shy away from talking about mental health, or more often people shy away from listening to people talk about their mental health!

I still get ridiculed for posting about my mental health. I still get judged for being ‘mental’ or ‘dramatic’ or an ‘oversharer’ (self confessed by the way, no fucks)

Why is it that we still can’t accept people speaking out?

Obviously it must surely mean they’re attention seeking if they post how upset they are on Facebook or instagram right?

They only post for the likes. They’re not depressed, they bring it on themselves, blah blah blah, yada, yada, yada!

Year after year, people are still committing suicide because they were too afraid to speak out about their mental health problems, or they did try and speak out and were shunned or called one of the names of mentioned, or worse.

Social media is great for spreading awareness, but what about real people who reach out and are made to feel stupid, or are judged? Those people are where we should be directing our listening resources. You can repost anxiety references or share mental health charities all over your page, but if you’re ignoring your depressed or anxious friend when she puts up yet another cry for help, you could be missing the opportunity to support someone in need. Donating £5 is fab, but did you text your sister back after she poured her heart out because her boyfriend is a bastard. Or your friend who’s recently postnatal and desperate for 5 minute to have the shower she’s avoided for 4 days. Or your friend who cancels every 5 minutes because her anxiety prevents her from leaving the house? Or the one you rescheduled 5 times because you didn’t want to listen to them go on about their problems?

Of course some people will post for attention, it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise, we all post on social media to ‘share’ and for the ‘likes.’

So what though, if she’s posted something that’s a bit cringe, she’s your mate and she’s asking you to listen.

She’s reaching out.

Nobody expects you to sacrifice your own mental health to save someone else’s, and triggers are very real, but sometimes all it takes is a text to say you’re thinking of that friend in need. Don’t just scroll on by or avoid answering. It could change someone’s whole day and sometimes even their life. Make Time to Talk day a reminder to make not only Time to Talk, but Time to Listen. ❤️

Stop saying sorry.

Given that this blog is for the most part, sweary rants about life as a mum, as well as being about a fiancé whose snoring makes me consider our future, and whether I can fit a bed for him in the shed, you’ll probably find it hard to believe that I spend a lot of my time apologising. But the fact remains, I do.

To my daughter:

Sorry for shouting earlier darling, Mummy is very stressed today.

Sorry you ate fish fingers for tea 4 days straight because I couldn’t deal with the fall out of offering you something else.

Sorry I give you the iPad to shut you up sometimes.

To my fiancé:

Sorry I don’t have a job and therefore am not bringing much by way of fruition to the table babe.

Sorry my anxiety means sometimes I’m irrational and worry too much.

Sorry I have a chronic illness and it affects 99% of the plans I make with you and our friends.

Sorry I talk too much about said illness.

Sorry I’ve come off my antidepressants and you are having to deal with non SNRI infused, Steph.

Sorry I’m not skinnier.

Sorry I swear too much in front of the in laws.

To my followers and friends:

Sorry I bore you with toddler spam on your news feed and in our real life conversations.

Sorry my opinion isn’t favoured always by the masses.

Sorry I speak openly about mental health even though it makes people uncomfortable.

Sorry I didn’t enjoy being pregnant and I share my horror story with you.

Sorry I keep sharing boring blogs on the same old topics because they’re important to me.

Sorry I moan about being fat then eat McDonald’s twice in a row.

Can you see now? That’s a lot of ‘sorry’s’

When I apologise, I do it with sincerity, I mean it. But sometimes I wonder if I should be saying sorry at all. I seem to spend my life apologising for my very existence. Then I have a mental breakdown and apologise for not being normal enough. Is it a wonder mental health problems have hit an all time high.

The facts are these:

I’m not sorry I have anxiety, fibromyalgia and mental health issues, because these all bore from situations that have shaped me and made me a strong woman, and despite my insecurities, I am a strong woman.

I’m also not sorry I’ve stopped taking medication so I can decide whether or not even I like the ‘Real Steph.’

I’m not sorry for getting upset and being honest about why I am upset, because all ‘we‘ do is tell people to open up more, and then we shy away from listening, or criticise them for being ‘too honest‘ or for ‘airing their dirty linen.’ People commit suicide everyday because nobody listened. So when I’m airing my shit, I’m healing. Not sorry for that.

I’m not sorry I shouted at my toddler who threw her 3lb plastic dinosaur at my head because I wouldn’t let her have her third chocolate biscuit. Or that I gave in and let her have an hour on the iPad and a fish finger tea on the sofa because I needed a break.

I’m not really even sorry I don’t have a job, because I do have A job. I’m a mum, I’m managing an illness, I’m trying to study & follow a passion too. I’m not making any money at the moment, but I’m making a whole load of memories, and laying down foundations, ones that my daughter will hopefully later remember too. When and if we struggle financially, I will go and clean precinct toilets to put food on the table. So spare me the ‘get a job’ speech I only resigned last month.

I’m definitely not sorry I swear too much, because I actually Fucking. Love. Swearing. I find it such a useful tool to express myself. Fudge nugget in replace of Wanky Fucktard just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. It’s 2019 don’t tell me it’s not ladylike, or I’ll remind you that according to the Stone Age you seem to be from, nor is women going to work, or being able to vote.

If like me, you find you too are constantly apologising for being who you are, it’s time we stopped. We are not sorry, we’re brilliant and eccentric and in our own way, bring loads to the fucking table, shit, I lay the fucking table.

Can you make a pact with me that we agree to say sorry less, accept when it’s genuinely necessary.

That we agree to feel shit about ourselves less, and to focus on our strong points more. So much more!

Well can you? It’s not as easy as one would think to love yourself more. I have spent a lifetime loathing so many parts of me, that I now feel a bit cringe when I try and ‘sell myself’ I instead, wait for someone else to provide me with positive endorsements, as if it means more when someone else says it. But it doesn’t. Not really.

When you can say it yourself and mean it, when you can tell yourself you’re brilliant, that’s when it means the very most.

I’m not anywhere near that place yet, but I encourage us as a collective, to get there!! We can do this.

Share with your friends, let’s start an epidemic of #Not Sorry Divas 💝🙌🏻

Also published on SelfishMother Blogazine.