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 🥳

Do you know Carol?

If anyone’s ever referred to you as a nutter, a drama queen or an attention seeker because you opened up about your mental health, then you may have some things in common with Carol. There’s a fine line between getting a pat on the back for opening up and being called an attention seeker for airing your dirty laundry online, in public, to too many people.

Example – Carol writes a status about how she’s been battling depression for years and she wants help.

Queue 100 comments of support ‘always here for you babe’ and other such pleasantries that flurry in.

One month later after getting approximately 2 people reach out ‘in real life’ since her last status. Carol writes another one about how down she’s feeling, and how her life is becoming unmanageable.

This post only acquires 3 comments, all from acquaintances, 2 of concern, one attempting banter, by telling her to stop moaning! None of her close friends comment support.

That could well be because they have messaged her privately, and that’s the most hopeful outcome. But it could also be because they’re bored. Bored of hearing again, about how depressed she is. They aren’t sure she’s genuine, their opinion is she’s putting too much on her facebook. It’s past her depression expiry date. She’s been like this for ages now.

Your time’s up on the depression clock Carol, get better or keep quiet.

3 months later and Carol is dead by suicide. Thousands of tributes pour in, with memories of times long passed, lovely well wishes to her family and such.

Is it not the typically British view when it comes to talking about our mental health, to reach out and then be shunned for reaching out. Keep it to yourself Carol, the world doesn’t need to know. DESPITE the fact we’re still banging on about how ok it is to not be ok. It isn’t though is it?

To publicly share that you aren’t ok, is deemed unnecessary, attention seeking, desperate, and yet to publicly share pics of almost anything else, including, your dinner, dead birds, neck nominations, and those kind of ridiculous trends, to rant about anything else on your status is ok (I’m using these as a vague comparison)

The point I’m trying to make is, people aren’t always ok. Sure there is always somebody worse off but how much worse than Carol can you get? Just because one person hurts differently shouldn’t devalue the feelings of others. Just because we don’t deem Carol’s depression relevant, doesn’t mean it isn’t. None of us have the monopoly on who feels worse.

A lot of us have grown up during a time where talking about your feelings was deemed over the top, or melodramatic and yet here we are now countering it, telling our kids to open up, then vilifying someone else’s for doing just that. Eye rolling with the inconvenience of having to read someone else ‘drama’ on social media. Cheer up Carol for fucks sake!

But Carol didn’t cheer up.

I’ve been both the oversharer (no shit) and the person who moans profusely about people sharing their life stories (the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me)

In recent years I’ve tried to give myself a reprimand when it comes to being judgemental, however of course I still judge people. I just do it a lot more silently and with more compassion. We’re only human, nobody expects us not to have an opinion, but it’s important for me to try and reflect on how damaging our opinions can be when outwardly shared.

I came off Facebook for a long time, leaving only my blog open, because I battled internally about what was too much to share on my personal page when I felt at my weakest. I also took the lack of comments from people close to me as personal slights. Nobody cares about me. I’ve talked before about my insecurities so that won’t come as a shock.

Most of the time when we feel like opening up, or at least in my experience with it, we may just need to sound off and maybe it’s a cry for help, but predominantly it’s more about finding someone who gets ‘it’ rather than it being about seeking the attention of strangers in a bid to win the ‘who’s more depressed competition’

If you struggle to open up, when you finally do find the courage, hearing comments like ‘oh bore off’ ‘she/he’s such an attention seeker’ ‘drama queen’ and so on can be really damaging.

Of course we could all work harder to remain positive, to accept that life could be much worse and to moan less about trivial things, but we would also do well to listen more. To care more. To find a bit more compassion, and remember that mental illness whatever it stems from, whether it be trauma, a chemical imbalance, addiction, as a reaction to a personal circumstances, injury, WHATEVER it is still just that, an illness. Desperate people do desperate things, waiting until someone’s dead by suicide to give them the shout out you feel is obligatory on Facebook, is categorically too late. If they’re reaching out now, assume it’s genuine.

I’m also in no way implying we’re complicit in someone’s depression or suicide by not responding to their statuses or stories on social media. I simply mean – if you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing. And if you care about someone, let them know.

That was a rather long winded attempt at explaining the above 2 lines, but I hope it sinks in. Stop telling Carols everywhere to open up, then shaming them when they do.

And finally, if you are worrying about what you should be saying or doing. Don’t! People will judge you whatever your choices and actions, even the good ones, so just be yourself and keep talking about how you feel, because it’s your truth, and I’m almost certain, there’s someone out there who needs to hear it. ❤️

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!

Anxiety Behind The Screen!

My experience with anxiety is, or at least has, been a parody of Prozac Nation. Have you ever watched it? It’s a film with Christina Ricci, I recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re going insane. I’ve learned over the years to control it better. I function these days for the most part, and it’s rarely all consuming as it was during my first panic attack.

I remember that day like it was yesterday, I was 14 years old, and maybe unsurprisingly, it came on after I’d been hacking a bong full of hash. But it wasn’t the stoned feeling that was scaring me and making me panic. It was every wrong thing I’d ever done in my life come back to haunt me in those moments. It was all the things that I couldn’t undo, couldn’t unsay. Teenagers do a lot of questionable things during adolescence and I was no exception. Those things now enveloped me and choked me as though I was dying. I was so swamped by thoughts of my failings I couldn’t breathe. I was physically trembling and my heart was beating so fast it’s a wonder it didn’t pop out of my chest.

For about two years following that first panic attack I was quite severely mentally ill. I had nightmares, I had obtrusive thoughts and my poor mum couldn’t leave the house without me phoning her every twenty minutes. Every time she did go out, I had convinced myself she was going to die and the fear of that was beyond what my young mind was able to rationalise. I was out of my depth, popping antidepressants like sweets and using everything in my power to numb the constant noise inside my head. I often wondered then if I was some kind of monster. If I had a kink in my armour that made me mental. If I deserved to feel so helpless and desperate every moment I was awake. I lost friends, my relationships with my family suffered and I feared everything.

Now I’m in my thirties plodding along with a bit more self control and the strength to be open (at least on paper) about how I’m feeling. That doesn’t mean I feel any less though. For example I have a hormone imbalance and when I’m feeling a dip, like now, I get a bit introvert. I actively avoid people and places. I don’t have any patience for small talk and I get irritated easily. Sounds like a bit of PMT eh? But it’s not just a bit of PMT it’s my life. The school run for instance is a nightmare for me this week. I’m really struggling with it. I don’t have a good network of school mum friends as yet and I feel like I have to keep part of myself, this part, hidden. For fear of judgement. So I avoid talking to people. I know you may think that’s silly but whether you believe it or not, there is still a stigma around mental health, especially mum’s with mental health problems. I’m trying hard not to take medication at the moment for other reasons, but yesterday morning, given my hormonally anxious state, I took a Valium to enable me to get through a meeting. I was sat in Pret A Manger drinking decaf coffee with sweaty palms and a knee twitch that I couldn’t stop. It worked (The Valium) and I did some self care by way of talking myself round. I don’t sit there chanting to myself or anything, I just try and focus on something else and remind myself there’s no reason to panic.

Some days it isn’t as easy as that to shake off those feelings of impending doom, even with the aid of a tranquilliser. The mind is a scary place, followed by you’re body’s reactive physical symptoms, you really do feel like you’re dying sometimes. I’ve had days where I’ve felt so out of control I’ve wanted to run away. Before I became a mum it was easier to hide. We all know the mental health service is practically non existent, extremely under funded and under resourced. You only have to try and get an appointment with a counsellor to realise how unlikely it is you’ll ever receive said appointment. All the more reason for us to be more mindful of each other, to look after ourselves. To learn new techniques to manage our symptoms. Of course intervention will in some cases, always be necessary, but there’s a lot we can do to help each other and ourselves too.

    Listen – Ask someone how they are and actually listen to the answer. Check in with your friend who’s gone a bit introvert. He/she might not reply straight away but they’ll know you care, and in times of anxiety that can be a real comfort.
    Practise Self Care – It sounds so cheesy doesn’t it? Self care! Breathing exercises and all that bollocks, but for some people these are a ritual that does the job and kicks a panic attack where it hurts before it’s taken hold. Cut yourself some slack too, rest when you’re stressed and do some feel good things, even when you don’t feel like doing them!
    Ask for help – I know I’ve given the psych services a bit of a bashing, but you don’t necessarily need a qualified professional to help you through a period of high anxiety. You might just need a friend. Tell someone. I am guilty of not doing this because it’s something I feel stupid for feeling, so although I’m able to write about it now, actually talking aloud is still a struggle.
    Don’t play it down– In doing so you’re lying to yourself too. You deserve to feel safe and if you don’t it’s ok to say you don’t.
    Think rationally– I know you must be reading this last one thinking, if it was that fucking easy I wouldn’t be panicking. But I don’t mean during an attack (well, then too if you can) but I mean the rest of the time. Tell yourself over and over again when you’re not in the midst of an attack why you don’t need to worry and why you’re not going to have another one. Psychosomatic!

I’m not an expert and everyone’s symptoms of anxiety will be different. I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying it, mental health doesn’t discriminate. There are hundred of different types of mental illness but they will all meet over lapping symptoms. We are each at risk of having some period of depression or high anxiety during our time on this earth, so we need to work together to educate people and ourselves. We need to mean it when we go around saying it’s ok to not be ok.

When you see this pic of me, perfect make up, fresh hair….. What do you see?

Do you see a happy girl?

A girl with her shit together?

Confidence?

If you answered yes to any of the above you’d be wrong. I got up this morning and it took me an age to feel like I looked ‘ok’ I’m not feeling my best at the moment.

I have no job so deffo don’t fall into the ‘shit together’ category, and my confidence is under par. My anxiety is bad, I’ve had about 4 hours of broken sleep and I’m tired. So fucking tired.

Moral of this post: Don’t assume. All is never as it seems. Looks are deceptive. You never really know what’s going on behind the screens.