Confessions of a chronically ill mum #17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #15

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

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

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

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

Platty Joobs Stuff

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

PLATTY JOOBS
WOODLAND WARRIORS

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

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

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

So, tell us, what is it?

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

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

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

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

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

If it were that easy we’d all do it

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

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

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

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

For more information on DBT click here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #11

I started out really unhappy writing this one. I’ll forewarn now that it includes some glumness! (Maybe a lot) As ever though, I keep it honest.

The beginning off the week was tough going because I was exhausted from Ciara’s party and already feeling a little run down. Then Wednesday night about midnight I started, (pretty much out of nowhere) vomiting. It was awful, and it went on for 3 days. When the vomiting finally subsided it started coming out of the other end. Vile. And I cried, a lot. It was my birthday Saturday and I spent it in bed, crying. Monday we were due to go on holiday with the kids to Dorset and Shaun began vomiting for over 24 hours, so we weren’t able to make the trip as planned.

Life: It’s just life. And it is! It’s one of those things that can’t be helped or avoided or unpacked, because it just happens, people get sick. But when you get sick on top of your everyday sick, I’m not gonna lie it kicks you a little harder in the kidneys. Vomiting always makes me feel quite heightened anxiety because it’s a involuntary action. I have no control over it, and no power to stop it. I’ll be honest it’s taken a lot from me this week. I’ve felt pissed off at a ruined birthday and genuine frustration at how long my body takes to recover from ‘everyday illness’ whilst managing its’ several chronic illnesses. Taking a bath at my mum’s yesterday to avoid sharing the only bathroom we have at home with Shaun, I felt sick and faint.

Kaiser gave me zero grace in my recovery. He woke up at midnight for 1.5 hours and then again 2-4am both nights whilst Shaun was ill. Again, just life stuff. I keep repeating the ‘it’s just life’ sentence, not because I’m minimising my experience. I’m not. It’s been awful. But because, I have spent many years battling out of the ordinary things. Things like having a baby and spending nine months in therapy because you believed with every ounce of your being that you were crazy, incapable, and unsafe. Things like getting pregnant and suddenly being unable to walk, driving around in a mobility scooter and eating your way to gestational diabetes. Things like never being able to show up because your illnesses’ block you at every turn. Those things are not just life, they’re my life, sure, but they’re not everybodies. Sickness bugs though – they are a free for all and one of the things I learned during my time in therapy, is that I have to give a certain level of acceptance to this everyday stuff and not let it consume me.

I confess that I have always been a person that reacts negatively to stress. Where some people might shrug off the everyday stuff, I take it and wrap it around me in layers. I’ll also go as far as confessing to having used it as excuses over the years. Yet, I’ve also felt the weight of it. Learning to accept certain scenarios doesn’t mean I’m ok with them. Nor does it mean I don’t have to work hard to live through them, it just means, simply - that I have to prioritise peace. 

Moving on from all the sickness, and bugs and life as a disabled mum, for a second…. If you’ve been following me on socials you’ll know that I’m fundraising for IAPMD by way of a raffle. It was my intention to make a fuss about this via my birthday weekend and really try and get some momentum going. Unfortunately, you know what, put paid to that! However I have managed to raise significant funds in the last few days and we’re now on a grand total of £308 smashing my self set target of £250 out of the park. I’m thrilled. And forever grateful to all the strangers on the internet that want to support a cause close to me. Of course my friends and family too, but strangers on the internet are definitely more frivolous with their cheering, that’s for sure! (Just stating an observation, don’t @ me!)

Today, we made it to Dorset. I am still expecting one of the kids to start vomming any second but I shan’t dwell! We drove down this afternoon, made it to the beach for a chippy tea and then holed up in the caravan and listened to the rain pelt it’s tin roof. I didn’t realise how much I needed this break until I arrived here and my shoulders dropped. Tension leaving my body, anxieties being swept up with the spume of the sea, literally. I don’t even apologise for my over the top description of just how sacred this trip is. I needed it, the kids needed it, Shaun, though still feeling fragile, needed it. I hope the bastard that is norovirus and his mate covid manage to stay the fuck away from us for the rest of the week and beyond.

PMDD Lightbulb Moments

This month is premenstrual disorder awareness month and I have teamed up with The International Association Of Premenstrual Disorders as a PMD Awareness Champion. Over the course of the month I’ll be sharing my personal experience of living with PMDD, as well as catching up with other PMDD warriors. This year’s theme is Connect The Dots and I talked to several women I’ve connected with via Instagram to find out how they connected the dots, between their hormones and their mental health.

I asked these brave women three questions which were: 

1. When was your ‘light bulb’ moment?
2. How did you connect the dots?
3. Do you feel as though you’ve found a manageable treatment and if so, would you mind sharing what that is?

I’ve included my own answers below too.

Me, Steph:

I can’t tell you exactly when I knew it was PMDD because hormonal changes have affected me my whole life.

If I look back now I can see how the most traumatic experiences in my life were either in relation to my menstrual cycle or my reaction to such experiences was exacerbated by my hormones and their fluctuating.

For me, I was quite aware of the fact that hormones played a big role in my life and on both my physical health and mood, from a young age. In childhood I had a hormone condition called Premature Adrenarche. PA is diagnosed when your adrenal glands over produce sex hormones. Adrenarche can happen in both male and females, but obviously for females and AFAB individuals, puberty means periods. A lot of my dot connecting came down to PMD’s running in my family, thus having knowledge of them from other sufferers. Since menarche my moods have been severe during luteal, so bad that I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 13 years old and prescribed antidepressants. I also attempted suicide. It wasn’t until some almost ten years later, and I got my first iPhone, that I started cycle tracking using an app. Along with my mum’s knowledge of my symptoms and their severity, we pieced it all together and it became apparent that my symptoms were very obviously cyclical.

Over the years I have had many successes followed by, ultimate failures with treatment. Many treatment options have worked for a limited amount of time, until 𝐏𝐌𝐃𝐃 comes back with a vengeance. For example I’ve tried countless antidepressants and birth control and they have all helped for a period, until they don’t anymore. I can also say it’s definitely worsened in severity and duration since having children. Symptoms have also increased, such as allergies. I’m now allergic to the hair dye I’ve been using for a decade and silver. Migraine is relentless and an attack lasts for days. Treatment wise, I have biweekly B12 injections, try to manage my sugar intake, take SSRI’s month round and use progesterone only contraception – The latter has limited success in the treatment of PMDD, but combined with other methods works ok for me at the moment. What I have found really useful is, since the birth of my son 9 months ago, I have been having intense Dialectal Behavioural Therapy. DBT involves learning distress tolerance skills, and how to dial down the intensity of emotions. Skills include using holistic treatments too such as cold therapy. I really feel DBT has been invaluable in treating symptoms of PMDD particularly.

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Lori:

After giving birth I began mapping how I was feeling along side some cbt for PTSD due to a traumatic birth experience and I started to realise every cycle I was physically and emotionally not well

Research, research, research

CBD oils have been amazing, I live with chronic pain which worsens around my cycle and impacts sleep so these help me get into a deeper sleep, SSRI’s all month too. And lastly, the fitbit app tracking my cycle to rationalise why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling (I can pretty much tell exactly when I’m about to ovulate or bleed based on my emotional state)

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Amy:

For me, it was when I stumbled across the PMDD Information page on the Mind website.

After years of various tests and being told by the doctor that I’m ‘fine’ this was huge. I ticked every single box for PMDD symptoms and I just knew that this was what I was going through each month.

I went back to the doctor armed with this new knowledge plus a symptom diary that i’d been keeping for the previous 6 months and they agreed that the diagnosis was PMDD.

Yes. But it’s just sticking to it that’s the problem! My go to treatments are regular B12 injections, keeping on top of my SSRI intake, Ice hats, pain medication, plus loads of water and trying to cut down on sugar and fatty foods (even though this can seem like the most impossible task in the universe, during hell week!)

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Jaimie:

My lightbulb moment came when the doctors kept telling me I was ‘just’ depressed and giving me SSRI’s and the pill and wouldn’t listen that I only felt this way some of the time rather than fully. Hormonal contraceptives do not agree with me and I knew there was more to it than that but trusted them that they know what they’re doing.

It took a long time but I noticed that I felt immediately relieved and lighter as soon as my period started so good old google came to the rescue and I started reading about PMDD

I felt like for the first time what I had been going through was valid and real when no one seemed to believe me or understand.

I just don’t know how bad each cycle is going to be, however I did find an SSRI useful for a while, they’re not for everyone and I no longer take them. I’ve found that taking things easier/slowing down and planning things for the parts of my cycle where I know I’ll be more positive and less likely to cancel helps because I don’t then feel like I’m letting people down or being unreliable which is a big thing for me – getting outside whenever you can works wonders too even if you don’t feel like it or it’s raining being in nature does more good than people realise

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Maisie:

My light bulb moment was when I was with my ex partner and he called me a psychopath. I was so upset and angry that I punched a hole in the wall. I scared myself with how angry I got. I was so angry that he called me that, but it made me think about what I had done to warrant that, and I thought “shit, I’m not a psychopath, but I’m not myself either, somewhere in between maybe”. It was going round and round in my head, and for a few days every month leading up to my period, I was so deeply upset, I didn’t want to be here, and it was like a cycle that I couldn’t get out of. Why am I like this? This isn’t me. But in the moment, I couldn’t see it.

It wasn’t until I was out the other side of those few days that I could reflect on my behaviour and feelings and realise properly that it ISNT me! I spoke to my GP, who put it down to “bad periods”.

I told them this wasn’t just bad periods, bad periods don’t make you suicidal, aggressive, or run away. Bad periods are tummy cramps and a heavy flow.

I pushed for more help, tests, anything. I was advised to have therapy for my dark thoughts, and they prescribed me SSRI’s. After I gave birth, they changed me to ca different SRRI. But the main help for me is telling my close people “it’s coming” or “it’s happening”. I find myself apologising in advance. “I’m not going to be myself for the next few days and I’m sorry”. Which makes me even more frustrated. No one that I have met so far, has ever heard of PMDD. Except a few queens on Insta! I try to explain it to people by saying “it’s like the volume is turned up full blast on everything. My emotions, the hurt, the anger.” You could say something to me on a normal day and I’d brush it off. But say the same thing to me on those few days and my world comes crashing down. The best treatment I’ve found more than telling people, or medication, or therapy, is reminding myself that it’s all in my head. Sometimes that can be hard, and it doesn’t take the thoughts or sadness or anger away, but it makes them more bearable, knowing that I am ill, not crazy. My ex partner didn’t help, but now he’s gone it’s so much clearer to see. I’m poorly. I have been diagnosed with PMDD, it’s not just in my head but at the same time that’s all it is. Finding others who are going through the same thing and trying to raise awareness for PMDD to others as well as medical professionals helps too. I felt like I was going mad, because I was told I was, and felt like I was. But it was all in my head and that’s where it stays. Like you say (sic) Cunty Carol just comes to visit a few days a week, and where I used to be terrified of her unpredictability, now I can at least say “fuck off Carol, I know why you’re here and I’m okay with it, close the door on your way out”

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Confessions of a chronically ill mum #7

We started well. The weekend the kids and I went for a short walk on our own. This was a big deal because I rarely go out alone these days, and it was the first time I’d been out on foot with both children. As my health has worsened so dramatically in recent months, I have developed quite significant, but understandable, health anxiety! I took the win Saturday, rested in the afternoon and woke up Sunday ready to attack the day. But it didn’t quite work out like that. I woke up feeling extremely fatigued to the point where I couldn’t keep my eyes open and had to have a nap mid afternoon. For most of us with fibromyalgia this is normal, particularly following a day in which we’re more active. However, for me, fatigue is also a symptom of the pro-drome phase of migraine.

Being the hormonal mess that I am, I have noticed migraine attacks increasing in frequency again in the last two months. 2am Monday morning I was woken by the head pain, swiftly followed by cold sweats, hectic fever and vomiting. Monday was a write off. I spent all day in bed unable to watch tv or read and silently crying in between naps. I’ve said it before, but migraine is the most debilitating symptom for me, even more so than not being able to walk well, because migraine is a complex neurological disease that affects everything!

Fast forward to today, Thursday and I am feeling better. Not by any means ‘well’ but I was able to get out yesterday and I haven’t needed my husband to stay home from work to care for me. I also managed to get out this afternoon even though I couldn’t think of anything worse at the time I forced myself to do it and I have to say…. I’m converted. All the times people said to me ‘you need to get out’ while I led in my bed riddled with pain and anxiety, I thought those people were prize pricks to be honest, but I can see there’s merit there. I will say it’s not as simple as just getting outside when you live with chronic and or mental illness, and even in motherhood it can be hard to just get up and out. Let’s be real here it takes longer to wrestle a screaming baby into the buggy and pack your nappy bag than it does to do your weekly shop! But if you can get outside, you may benefit to some degree. For me the benefits are:

  • It’s a scenery change from the monotony of mum life.
  • I feel a sense of achievement if I’ve been able to do something, even if it’s as simple as popping to the shops.
  • That sense of achievement rewards me with feel good endorphins.
  • It’s so much easier (for me anyway) to be ‘present’ whilst in nature and not dwell on negative thoughts.
  • It’s free!

During pregnancy when I ate every meal in bed and couldn’t get down the stairs, going out was not only a physical impossibility, but it became mentally terrifying. I avoided leaving the house for so long, doing it now feels alien, but it also feels good. I feel like I’m taking back some control.

I don’t have any major confessions this week, other than I’ve spent a lot of it feeling sorry for myself and on occasion a little bitter about how shit and unpredictable life can be when you’re unwell. I’m worried about how I’m going to do my job in a few months when I’ve already cancelled a Keeping In Touch Day because I was so unwell. However, those feelings were scuppered by guilt as they always are when I look at the bigger picture and remind myself how lucky I am to have the life I do. I’ve also learnt that life is more fun and fulfilling when you’re grateful for the tiny things. Like a hot cup of tea or getting into bed with a good book.  Kaiser, my youngest, is an absolute rogue. I’ve had to take deep breaths a plenty in the last couple of days whilst trying to stop him climbing the stairs and then throwing himself down them. Dunno if this is a boy thing but fuck, it’s hard work. 

It’s easy for me to write this today because today has been such a huge improvement opposed to earlier in the week. That’s not to say I won’t feel the sadness and resentment again in the near future, but it means today I choose happy. We don’t always get a choice, and so on the days that we are gifted one, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to make it a good one.

Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this!
Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations.
Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link. https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #6

I cannot write a blog at the moment and not mention the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine. I feel, as many or all of you do, helpless and extremely overwhelmed. There are things we can do though, many local communities have teamed up to take donations and we can donate financially. We can also all spend a little more time looking after the people that we love.

It’s important to remember when we’re/I’m feeling overwhelmed and powerless, to focus on things within our control. As mentioned with the Ukraine situation, we may not be able to make an immediate impact, but we can make an impact by doing things to help that are within our power. Donate in anyway possible. If you cannot afford to donate financially, donate physical items. You can find more information on how to donate with The Red Cross here

But I’ll confess, that this week I have turned down the news. Not because I don’t care, but because I do. I’ll confess that I am scared. I’ll confess that I feel immense guilt about situations out of my control. I’ll confess that sometimes the world’s problems weigh heavy on my mind, and other times I am consumed by my own. You can be a good person and care and still prioritise your mental health by taking a break from the influx of news occasionally. 

The impact of stress on our physical health

When I become overwhelmed my anxiety spikes and if it spikes too high, it topples over into full blown panic. When I am experiencing panic attacks I cannot care for myself or my family. I become plagued by intrusive thoughts and life starts to spiral. I cannot just sit by and allow that to happen again. I have to try and use the skills I’ve learned in recent months to dial down the anxiety. Particularly because I was told this week that I am significantly high risk for heart attack or stroke, not in the future, but now. I’ve mentioned before that these risk factors showed up on recent blood tests. This week I had an appointment with the cardiologist who confirmed said risks. I am very frightened about what this means, of course I am, I am only 33 years old… and I have a family. However I am taking important life changing steps that are within my control, to reduce these risks as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less taxing, or terrifying.

Reminders

What I need to remind myself of though, is that risks do not equal certainties. Because again, if I overthink the risks I am likely to spiral and lose my shit entirely. Group therapy is helping me learn lots of coping skills and medication is levelling me out, to a degree. Ultimately though, I have to take back my power and remind myself everyday that my best is good enough. There are many people in the world without my underlying health conditions whose lives still follow a trajectory that ends with ill health. Therefore I have no control over how my body responds to stressors, but I do have some control in eliminating some of those stressors. I am working hard on cutting down on my sugar and lowering my GI intake because of the prediabetes. I have removed fast food from my diet and I am trying to move more.

  • Mentally I am trying to relieve myself of guilt associated with my worsening health.
  • Physically I am trying to move more and be proactive.
  • Emotionally I am setting aside gripes and trying to improve communication with my family. I am trying to be more present, always.
  • Proactively I am following all advice from doctors and taking them up on the offerings of lifestyle support.

Tonight I had my first diabetes group. It’s a nine month program offered to NHS patients to reduce the risk of developing, or experiencing, complications from diabetes. I didn’t want to attend, mainly because I’m hormonal today, experiencing a moderate flare up in fibromyalgia symptoms and profound fatigue. Kaiser turned 8 months old, he still doesn’t sleep, is teething and very, very demanding. You cannot take your eyes off him for a second because he’ll be chewing the dog’s leg or eating the dirt dirt off the bottom of Ciara’s wellies (FML). Ultimately though, I just couldn’t be assed. I debated several times throughout the day not bothering with the course at all, because of course I know how to lose weight and be healthier all on my own. Diabetes isn’t just about being overweight though, in fact it isn’t at all, many slim and even underweight people, have diabetes. It’s about learning what is going to fuel your body and what is likely to hinder it in specific relation to blood glucose.

I’m so glad I attended, because I learned a lot. I’d go as far as to say I’m excited about the course now, because it’s giving me back some of the control I’ve been scrambling around anxiously for.

More than anything I want to make positive but sustainable changes. I know my life will be hindered by illness I’ve lived with chronic symptoms for a long time now and unfortunately there’s no cure for most of them. But there are things I can do to help myself. My whole life I have fallen victim to believing that everything is shit so what is the point, and the point is…. Everything doesn’t have to be shit all of the time.

If you are affected by diabetes you can find support here Diabetes Uk

Finishing quickly on another positive, I lobbed off my hair and went even more Cruella, let me know what you think via my insta.

Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this!
Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations.
Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link. https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #3

Where to start. Good news or bad? I think I’ll start with the good. The weekend just passed, my husband and I went away for a cheeky, little, couple’s soirée. We travelled about an hour away from where we live in Bristol, to the Mendip hills and stayed in a holiday cottage. It was divine. The most exquisite bedroom complete with a roll top bath and Netflix, we spent most of our time in there catching up on….. you guessed it, sleep!

It also had a wood fired hot tub, we only successfully heated it up once, so the following day we had to cold dip instead! Suffice to say that ‘dip’ was much shorter in duration!

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I don’t really drink alcohol anymore. Only on very rare occasions, not because I’m a martyr or anything like that, just because my health doesn’t really allow for it these days. I was worried about how we would entertain ourselves without booze as this is the first time we’ve been away together since our wedding in Jan 2020! I needn’t of worried though, we had such a lovely relaxing time, chilled, acted stupid and just made the most of not having a child hanging off an arm each for three nights! I also managed to get through the weekend without any real flare issues. I did have hormonal cramps on one of the days but given the pain levels I’m used to, it was manageable and I’m so thankful for that.

Fast forward to Tuesday and I received a letter I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had a lot of tests recently because of a decline in my health and new unexplained symptoms. One of the tests was a standard blood glucose test and one of them was a cholesterol test. My cholesterol has been high for some time and I’m now, at aged just 33 being told I’m at serious risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next five to ten years and will require lifelong medication to prevent the risk of heart attack and stroke. I had gestational diabetes in pregnancy and was prescribed both oral and injectable insulin. It was hell on earth to be honest, I became obsessed with my sugar levels and racked with anxiety and panic. My blood glucose result is high again and I read it and cried, my father has type two diabetes and because of having gestational diabetes I am high risk already. I believed immediately I had type2 and would need insulin again. It turns out after reading the results properly, I’m in pre-diabetes or borderline diabetic. Which means: I need a lifestyle overhaul immediately.

It’s safe to say despite not yet being diabetic I am still devastated by these findings. On top of, Fibromyalgia PMDD Migraine SPD and Post Herpetic Neuralgia (reoccurring shingles pain) and catching covid at Christmas and currently being screened for heart and breast problems, I’m already in a pretty bad way. If we add in the mental health stuff too, Panic disorder and Perinatal Anxiety you might be starting to understand, as to why this has devastated me so much. Or you might be thinking I’m a hypochondriac, I wish I was. But sadly, all of this is very real.

At the moment, I feel shrouded in guilt and shame around having so many health problems at 33 years old.

That might sound crazy, because I didn’t ask for any of this, but I haven’t always followed advice either. I haven’t always done the right thing when it comes to self care & I’m struggling with that, because now I’m having to live with real life consequences.

I’m struggling with it because I have two kids & I feel like they deserve better than what I’ve been able to give them. I can’t even get decent life insurance with a premium that I can afford because my health is in such a poor state.

I feel guilty when I can’t get to Kaiser fast enough because my body isn’t playing ball or when I can’t rock him to sleep or carry him upstairs. When Ciara sees me in bed for the 1000th time on a weekend (the only time I can get a break when my husband is home) and asks me when I’m going to feel better, it makes me feel like shit.

I mentioned last week that I’ve let myself go, particularly in reference to my weight and I know some people reading this will think, just lose weight then! But it IS hard when your body punishes you every time you exercise and your mobility is extremely limited.
It IS hard when you’ve given up lots of the things you used to enjoy, and now your main thing to look forward to is what you’re eating.
It’s hard when your hormones upturn your life every two weeks and your hunger is cloaked in rage and desperation. It’s hard when you have no energy to prepare food, and you can’t open the lid on a jar, or lift a pan without help. It’s embarrassing. I am embarrassed. I’m ashamed to admit these things, they are the things I keep hidden or try to do independently and pay for afterwards. I’m telling you now, because it’s the truth. And because I know I have to take some accountability for the state my health is in.

Confession: These are excuses, but (hear me out) in some cases they’re valid excuses, because they do affect my ability to live a healthy lifestyle. And on top of those excuses I have been making positive changes. I’ve made so many I can’t even tell you, especially in direct relation to my mental health. However, physically it’s not enough, there is no alternative. I have to start somewhere, I have to lose weight, I have to try and build on my fitness somehow, and I have to start now. 

I’m not wallowing in this latest health hit. I refuse to do that. I cannot be overcome with additional anxiety about my health. I cannot change these things overnight, but I may be able to limit some of the risks if I start now.
So here I am, baring it all. Starting where I am and working with what I have, now, today. (Well actually I started yesterday, as soon as I read the letter.) It’s not going to be easy, but I can’t waste anymore time on excuses. I can’t just wait and see. I have to take drastic action.

I have to take action, for my family.

If you or someone you know lives with any of the health conditions mentioned you can access information about where to get support via the hyperlinks. 

Confessions of a chronically ill mum.

I stood on my mum’s drive yesterday morning, trying to make plans to go for a walk together like we had earlier in the week. As I walked away from her with a ‘provisional’ plan for the following week, I felt sadness, embarrassment and shame. My mum is my best friend. I needn’t feel any of these things in her presence, but the truth is, I feel it in everyone’s presence. Since the beginning of December my physical health has been increasingly hard to manage. I have spent days in bed. My husband has had to take days off from work, and my daughter has said the words ‘when you feel better, mummy’ on repeat. I missed a visit to Santa with her, and I didn’t get to spend Boxing Day with family as was planned. Then on top of that, we all, everyone in our house, caught covid.

I’ve cried in pain holding my son and I’ve listened to his cries when I’ve been physically unable to hold him any longer.

I’ve also had good days. I had friends round and we toasted marshmallows in the garden. I sat through a pantomime with my son on my lap and my daughter by my side. I spent a night in a hotel with my husband. Following those days though, I suffered immensely for the privilege. That’s when life can be really sucky, when your body (and mind) punishes you, just for living. In the last two years I’ve abstained from alcohol. I’ve had one night out since August 2020. I’ve tried to eat better and I’ve tried to get enough sleep (not an easy feat with a baby.)

And I can say with honesty and confidence that I have done my best to partake in activities with my family. I have done my best to limit my symptoms. I’ve done an incredible amount of work on my mental health and I’ve worked through a lot of what was previously, unresolved trauma. I’ve fucking tried. But the thing with your health is, you can do everything right and still be unwell. You can do everything in your power to manage your illnesses and still suffer flare ups. You can get eight hours sleep and still be bone weary fatigued as though someone has poured cement into your bones.

I’m writing this because it’s true. Not for sympathy, though I’ll be honest, more empathy is always welcome. I don’t gain anything from sharing my illness and it’s trials. It doesn’t serve me personally, but occasionally I’m told it helps other people. I’ve said before, but sympathy is in short supply when people realise your condition is long term but not life threatening. Not life threatening no, but it IS life limiting in some way, every single day.

I feel often as if managing my health is a full time job. Being a parent is a full time job. I have no time for my actual job, and no energy left for anything fun. For six months I have had medical appointments every week, often twice a week. I’ve been unable to walk, and then I’ve been able to walk, followed by days unable again.

I often write about holding onto the good days and I stand by that, but it does get tiresome when you feel like you’re always being punished for them. I’m not even talking always good days, sometimes it’s good hours followed by a migraine, or a surge of otherworldly fatigue so achingly exhausting that there’s nothing left to do but take to your bed. The trouble with taking to your bed when you have kids is, you rarely get the opportunity to do such a thing, and secondly, but probably more notably, you miss things.

My confession is, sometimes I find the responsibility of my illness on top of the responsibility of my kids so overwhelming I pray for oblivion. Sometimes I find time with my kids assaulting to my senses. And sometimes I feel so guilty for their plight having me as their mother that I wonder if they are better off without me. 

Thankfully, and going back to all of the ‘work’ I’ve done on my mental health this past year, I know this isn’t true. I know they love me including my flaws, health problems and weaknesses, not in spite of.

I guess the narrative for this blog was to get these feelings off my chest, and also remind myself that (and I’m sure I’ve used this quote before) but….

Bad days do not equal a bad life

It’s hard being a mum regardless of health, wealth or any of the other things that make life easier. Perinatal depression and anxiety do not discriminate, chronic illness, illnesses of any kind actually, do not discriminate. The world is a tough place to parent, and knowing this doesn’t make it easier, but it does remind me I’m not alone.

Sending love to anyone else feeling like they’re on their knees. Know this, better days are always coming.

Another new year

Last year I wrote a post titled Unhappy New Year and in short it was about what a shit show 2020 had been for us all. At the end of the blog I gave myself some small resolutions, to be less judgemental and apply less blame, find the positives etc. It wasn’t until I read back over the post that I realised I have achieved most of them. I think my mindset is definitely different these days. Whilst I won’t pretend I’m Lady Optimistic I am more optimistic than the me of previous years. I’m also, so much more self aware. Aware in general. I have therapy to thank for most of these changes.

The first half of 2021 was awful for us. Worse than 2020, tenfold. With me being in a wheelchair, trying to homeschool and work from home, a baby on the way that I wasn’t managing to care for as I’d hoped, gestational diabetes along with other complications made me so unwell. It all felt as though I was on a rapid decline. As Kaiser’s due date neared, my mental health worsened. Most of you know what happened next, but in case you don’t, I was hospitalised and my labour induced after psychiatric evaluation. It was decided that for the sake of my mental health and the health of our baby, he needed to be born.

I’m six months postpartum now and on my road to recovery of perinatal mental illness. I’m working hard to regain my mobility, manage my chronic illnesses, care for a newborn, and five year old, keep house and balance my hormones, oh and avoid covid, there have been many, many, bumps.

However, I believe despite the awful ordeals we have faced, the fact everyone in the house contracted covid over Christmas resulting in a real scare with Kaiser (currently all still positive and feeling really quite bad) as well as living with perpetual lack of sleep, we’ve smashed 2021. As a family we have worked harder than ever, there are broken pieces where we were once whole, and there have been rivers cried too. Our marriage has taken a hit, and parenting two children instead of one has been a huge change for us. But, having weekly therapy, finding a decent medication combination, owning my shit, being brave, digging deep, along with all that mindful bollocks previously discarded as useless information I’ll never need has been put to great, life changing use.

I don’t believe I made it through 2021 on luck or a wing and a prayer. No, I made it through this year with sheer determination, love, and hard mental graft.

Two days ago I was back in the hospital I birthed Kaiser in. I’ve been there only once since I had him, and that was recently to find out I had a tumour (benign) in my left breast. During that appointment I had my mum holding my hand. The second time was two nights ago, alone, with a baby who’d just tested positive for covid along with a husband at home who’d also tested positive so couldn’t be there to support me and our son.

I sat in the hospital room and cried alone, whilst the nurse told me my baby would need oxygen. I cried again when his levels were back up and we were told we could go home.

I’m still suffering anxiety six months postnatal, but most of the time it’s in response to ‘normal’ anxiety provoking situations, like hospitals and poor health. The rest of the time I’m using the tools it’s taken me six months to master, to manage it. I’m trying to show myself compassion and I’m working really fucking hard on gratitude too.

As I write this late at night after finally getting my kids to sleep, oscillating between shivering and sweating buckets with a fever. I decided to think about whether I have any resolutions for 2022, and the truth is I do, but my main and most important one is, I plan to continue to heal. For myself, and for my family. My kids deserve a mum who isn’t falling apart at the seams, and I deserve the love and care I so readily give to others.

If I could give my readers any advice for the new year, it would be that you treat yourself with more kindness.

Ok so I’ll throw in a few more for good measure… here goes

  • Love the people who treat you well
  • Have empathy for the ones that don’t (unless they’re just c*nts, then fuck them) but try the empathy first. It might surprise you.
  • Stay in your own lane. Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • Tell people you love them, tell them often.
  • Stay in the present, if it’s not happening right now, it’s not happening.
  • Get more fresh air.
  • You don’t need permission to rest.
  • Don’t look back, unless it’s to see how far you’ve come.
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM ME AND MINE TO YOU AND YOURS XOXO

All I want for Christmas, is you.

What a year. I can’t believe that just six months ago I felt as though my world had imploded without any real warning. I woke up one day and didn’t feel like me anymore. I was afraid for my sanity, for my mobility, for my family and our future.
I couldn’t see past six hours without having a panic attack let alone six months.
I led in my bed, day in day out for 7 months, unable to walk.
As my son’s due date approached my mental health declined.
I felt consumed by all consuming, claustrophobic, fear. Wracked with perinatal anxiety.
I was broken.
I guess that’s why they call it a breakdown.
But here we are now, a family of four, surviving interminable routine and carnage, poor health and therapy, work and parenthood simultaneously.
Loving each other through it all.
It’s not been easy, it’s been hard getting here, ridiculously fucking hard in fact, but it has paid dividends to keep going.

I’ve got everything I need this Christmas. Genuinely. I feel so content with my family. When I say this I mean content as in they are enough, not content as in getting loads of sleep or life being perfect, unfortunately! Ha! I know how blessed I am, I’ve always known it, but I really feel it this year. After everything we’ve been through I have a desire to keep them close and let them know how much I love them. The only thing I want for the big day is more of that contentment (as well as good health & freedom for all, world peace too, but I’ll refrain from getting too ambitious.)

I am not the same old me I was last Christmas. Granted, I’m still a stressy, messy, bitch with a foul mouth who is always exhausted…. but I am also different. I’m softer round the edges. More vulnerable I guess, if that’s possible, but stronger too. I believe that what doesn’t kill us can leave us with a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and I by no means, have ditched all mine. I haven’t turned into a preacher or someone who promotes their new lifestyle as some big epiphany, desperate for people to follow. But I am interested in change, in finding fun and contentment in new places. That makes me further away from those unhealthy coping mechanisms than I once was and I’m proud of that. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’m more open to learning better ways to survive and enjoy the mundane in the everyday.

I’m less inclined to sweat the small stuff whilst simultaneously being more interested in the big stuff.
My tolerance for a lot of things is greater, but less for small talk. I’ve always struggled with chatting aimlessly about the weather and the like, I’m too nosy, too inquisitive, I want to meet people and know them, not skirt around edges with hollow pleasantries. Similarly I’d rather be quizzed on my life than have it glossed over, skipped or ignored. I’m over hanging on to dead end relationships and chasing things that don’t bring me joy. Whether that be friendships that are more effort than fulfilment, or doing things I don’t enjoy anymore, for example forcing myself to be somewhere I don’t want to be. This year I have no desire for big boozy nights feigning Christmas cheer. I mean obviously the pandemic has some impact on those kinda outings, but I honestly think even without the plague, I’d still just want to be snuggled up close with my nearest and dearest.

Transitioning from one child to two has been a lot. I’m already anxious about how I’m going to cope with a baby that hates sleep whilst I’m trying to eat my turkey dinner. However, I’m ok with those kind of anxieties, they’re normal, they make me feel normal, whatever ‘normal’ is.
The biggest change of all for us this year is of course the fact we have an extra person round the tree to love. And love him we do. ❤️🎄

Subtle break-throughs

If you suffer from anxiety, or the feeling of impending doom and inexplicable terror that comes with panic attacks, the debilitating calamity that is intrusive thoughts, the unrelenting personality shift before your menstrual cycle because of PMDD? I hear you. I see you. I am you.

If you suffer from one or all of the mental illnesses mentioned above, you will know that logic is about as far away from fear as is possible. You may as well fly a rocket to Mars and you’d be no closer to logical thoughts during a panic attack. I’ve been having therapy for five months. The single longest stint I’ve ever managed to stick at anything relating to my mental health that doesn’t come in a blister pack. Full disclosure I take the pills too, I need them, but therapy is a different level of healing. It’s eye opening, confronting and real hard graft.

During these five months I have had breakdowns, many breakdowns. I have also experienced breakthroughs. These tend to be subtler, less outwardly monumental, but I can tell you from experience they are transcendent and quite awe-inspiring when you become aware of them.

I’m going to give you an example of one of my recent breakthroughs.

I am currently waiting for several hospital appointments, one of them may end up being quite life defining so it’s pretty important. With anything of importance for me, almost always comes anxiety. Throw in a self diagnosed terminal illness via Dr Google and we’re talking full blown life limiting panic attacks. But, not this time. I got my appointment letter a few days after the referral was made, though supposed to be seen within two weeks the NHS backlog means the clinic are running two weeks behind. Where as this kind of delay would usually lead to more panic, endless overthinking and probable sleepless nights, something has shifted in me and I feel different.

My logical brain has always known that there is little point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but regardless of my knowledge I have never been able to stop myself from said worry.

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

After going through what I have in the last five months, being scared of my own brain and constantly coming up against new challenges in trying to change the way I think, I decided right at the beginning of my recovery that I no longer wanted to live in fear. Of course simply not wanting something isn’t usually enough to stop it from happening. But with subtle changes and a keen desire to get better, engaging and working hard during therapy sessions and opening up fully to my mental health team, I have noticed a shift. I still feel anxiety around the appointment of course, but anxiety itself is a normal healthy human response. It only becomes problematic when it interferes with our everyday lives. And in this instance, relating to this appointment….I’m so happy to say it’s not doing that.

I don’t want to waste time worrying about an outcome that I cannot predict or influence. I don’t want to fear the worst only to find out when the time comes that it’s not the worst, then look back regretfully that I had wasted precious moments living in fear.

What if it isn’t a tiger in the long grass? What if it’s just a fluffy little kitten?

I won’t bullshit you, I know I’m not always going to be able to rationalise in this way. So many factors contribute to my own personal experience with anxiety and panic, that there will inevitably be times when I falter, and times when I fall. But what I’m doing right now, today, is I’m saying no to worrying about things that aren’t within my control. Isn’t anxiety itself a deep rooted need to control our fears and possible catastrophes?

How did I get here?

  • I took on board the offerings of tips my therapist suggested, such as grounding and breathing techniques and practised them even when I didn’t believe in them.
  • I reminded myself that if there’s a possibility that my world might fall apart, there’s also a possibility, it won’t.
  • I take prescribed medication religiously and stick with it for the recommended amount of time.
  • I’m trying, I say trying because I don’t always succeed, to implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier.
  • I write my feelings. It’s a personal favourite in helping me to process them.
  • I try to stay more in the present moment.
  • I have an amazing mental health team that I talk to regularly, even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

I know these things aren’t easy to do, I know this because it’s taken me twenty years to even begin to start really healing. But along with the above list, I also believe that celebrating small wins is a great way to remind ourselves that even when we are not where we want to be, we are further forward than we once were.

Me this week on a particularly bad day. Reminding myself it’s just a bad day not a bad life.
Also me this week on a better day

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

Some people when they hear the words intrusive thoughts automatically assume that the person experiencing said thoughts is hearing voices. Some people think OCD and others believe intrusive thoughts to be a sign that a person is bad and will act on their thoughts.

With the exception of possible OCD, none of the above tend to be true.

So what are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and or distressing thoughts that are often reoccurring. They are likely to leave the thinker very upset, distressed, disgusted, confused and ashamed.

It is thought that 1 in 5 women and mothers will suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and 57% of those will have experienced intrusive thoughts. Mental health professionals are not entirely sure why more women in the perinatal period experience intrusive thoughts, but it’s believed to be related to a variety of hormonal, environmental, and emotional factors. That said it’s a common symptom of PMADS. Typically, the thoughts that occur in the PP (perinatal period) are fears that surround our children, ‘What if I harm the baby?’ But the thoughts don’t always stop at physical harm and can relate to sexual fears too.

To be clear before you read on, suffering from intrusive thoughts is NOT a reflection on a person’s character, desires or beliefs. The thoughts themselves go against all of our beliefs and natural instincts as mothers and do not align with our values hence the very word for them being ‘intrusive.’ We don’t want these thoughts, we can’t bear them and it’s the very reason we are left feeling as though they are ruining our life.

During pregnancy with my second child I became overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts, some of them too weird and harrowing for me to share —though in some ways I wish I felt I could share them all, then maybe they wouldn’t consume my brain— It got so bad that at just shy of 38 weeks I was hospitalised and my labour was induced, whilst I was medicated for my mental health.

After my son was born and I was again assessed by a psychiatrist, she told me thoughts that are harmful or as mentioned sexual in nature are the most common type of intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period. I asked her why this was, and she gave me a fantastic analogy.

You have this tiny human to care for. It’s your most important job, above any other. The thoughts that you are having are in direct conflict with your own anxieties about what could happen to your child. The thoughts are the very things you want less than anything in the world to happen.

But how do you know I’m not just a psychopath? I asked.

‘Because psychopaths don’t phone me up hysterical about upsetting thoughts, Steph. That’s how I know you pose absolutely no risk to your children.’

At this stage I felt so out of my mind I didn’t know if I posed a risk to my children. I felt like I couldn’t think straight. But Dr Pysch was adamant about this, and though it didn’t ease the thoughts initially it helped me to understand I wasn’t alone and other women and new mothers went through this too. She then went on to say (I feel like this is a big one…) the only person you pose a risk to, is yourself with your judgement about the thoughts.

I found that particular line about judgement really interesting because I realised quite quickly that it WAS the judgement that was keeping me in a cycle of constant fight or flight.

I was overthinking every single thought and if I dared speak out about my thoughts, rather than feel better all I did was worry about other people’s judgement instead. That was until I met the most wonderful community psychiatric nurse. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to refer to him as Neo (He will appreciate the reference.) Neo has changed the way I think about intrusive thoughts, but more importantly the way I feel toward opening up about them.

Maternal OCD is a mental illness that affects women in the perinatal period and includes intrusive and obsessive thoughts followed by compulsions completed in order to relieve some of the discomfort from the thought. Ironically for me, my most intrusive thoughts were about convincing myself I had, or was going to develop severe mental illness (the irony isn’t lost on me) I first believed I was developing psychosis and felt disassociated often, then I believed I was suffering from severe OCD despite not having any compulsions.

When I discussed this with Neo he went through a protocol of having me fill out an OCD assessment and we discovered that yes I have obsessive and at times disturbing thoughts, but I don’t have the compulsions in the same way a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might. So why did I feel as though talking about my fears meant I was constantly reassurance seeking?

The truth was there may have been an element to seeking reassurance, but for the most part I was doing what I needed to do, engaging in therapy and discussing my fears.

Once I finally opened up and said aloud that one of my biggest fears was I didn’t want to be alone with my baby because I was terrified I would have a psychotic break and murder him whilst he slept, I was not only able to then unpack this thought and see it with clarity for what it was, just a thought. But I also learned that I’m not alone, not even a little bit.

The mind plays tricks on all of us occasionally and thoughts are the perfect segue into us believing we are not good people and therefore convincing us we’re unworthy of the love we so desperately NEED to give ourselves particularly in the early stages postpartum.

If we all talked about our deepest darkest thoughts we might be less bothered by them, but there is so much assumption and stigma attached to thoughts. People believe that if you think something you must feel it. With intrusive thoughts it’s the exact opposite.

The vulnerability of a woman who has just been through childbirth is like no other time in her life, the fear that we feel is immense. I know I personally believed if I told the truth about my thoughts immediately postpartum that my children would be taken away and I would have been sectioned.

You don’t have to open up about every thought in order to dismantle their hold on you though, you can put in to practise strategies and use them for all thoughts that cause you distress.

Neo recommended a book for me to read during the early stages of recovery and it’s called The Happiness Trap and is written by Australian doctor, Russ Harris.

In the pages of the happiness trap Harris provides tools to defuse yourself from negative thoughts and the book itself centres very much on acceptance. It took me a while to come round to the idea that I would ever accept distressing thoughts, but the idea is not to engage with them, just to accept them for what they are, random mental events and words. I won’t say I’m cured, because that would be a lie, but I’m working towards how to better manage intrusive thoughts and not allow them to take over my life.

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

If you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period I would urge you to talk to your doctor. I know it’s hard, you may be feeling judged and terrified, but I promise you the road to recovery starts when you learn that you are not alone with these thoughts.

Other organisations that can provide help during the perinatal period are:

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