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:

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

Reasons not to have a second kid….

Huffing spectacularly in a bid for attention, my five year old turns up the volume on whichever device she’s glued to, whilst readjusting her headphones. Meanwhile the baby, who has just turned two months old, screams as though someone is pouring boiling water on his fluffy brown head (I can confirm this was definitely not the scene.) So shrill are his screams, I can still hear them even when he eventually falls silent, an eternal imprint in my echoic memory.

It’s funny really, because I remember so vividly his sister making the same sounds. The torturous cries of an inconsolable infant, a sure fire way to make you feel as though you are royally failing in the parenting game.

When my husband waltzes in from his 9-5 with a smile on his face ready to greet the family, I am already in tears. A red faced baby thrusts violently in my arms and the five year old looks as though she’s about to pack her shit and leave home. He takes the baby from me whilst the other one needs her tea cooking. Another drawback of levelling the numbers, is you get one kid each to look after. When you only have one to pass between you, the minutes in which the other parent takes over feel like a luxury spa treatment.

Your attention will constantly feel as though it’s paying mind to the wrong child at the wrong time. Because how can you know who needs you more when they both need you for differing reasons at the same time? One needs a hand because she got her head stuck in between the sofa and the wall, and the other has been waiting 30 seconds for their milk and their wails let you know…. It’s 30 seconds too long.

What’s that saying ‘If my first baby behaved like this, I’d never have another one’ I clearly didn’t get that memo. There’s also a saying which promises you never get two children the same, I cough when I hear this one now, but whilst pregnant with my second I prayed to god it was true. Turns out, the joke is on me.

Even the most stoic of mothers (that’s not me by the way) struggle at some point, but if your little gremlin has some digestive issues, colic & reflux mama’s I know you feel my pain. Not even touching on if you yourself are struggling, my chronic illness & relentless anxiety make this mountain a hard slog, that sometimes feels so overwhelming you wonder if you’re actually losing your mind.

So if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably been wondering who the hell writes this stuff and what kind of message am I sending? Where’s my positive outlook? My gratitude, for two healthy children? And you’ll be pleased to know it’s right here:

It’s true your kids will pull you in every direction, make you feel like you just can’t give enough of yourself, they’ll unintentionally make you feel guilty as hell – but they will also make you feel needed, whole, and complete.

They will push every button, overload your senses and make you wish they were born with built in pause and volume control. But, it’s that sensory invasion that will have you laughing until you cry, your heart swelling with pride, and have you sluicing tears of joy when you wave them off for their first day at school! Yay – someone else’s problem for the next ten years. (That was a joke, don’t @me)

The jealously you might notice from your older child will on occasion be replaced with an adorably primal sibling bond. Watching them teach their younger sibling, watching them do everything imaginable to make them smile for the first time -including cannon balls off the sofa- is priceless. Maybe they’ll grow up to hate each other, but maybe they’ll grow up to be the very best of friends, either way you’ll have fun watching them grow.

Your anxiety, will occasionally be replaced with minor worries, like have you got any bread for their packed lunch or the fact you forgot to pick up nappies on your weekly shop. It will of course also be redirected to your kids if they’re not the source already. I can’t promise you a reprieve because I know only too well, mental health doesn’t work like that…. But I can promise you a reason to live, or in the case of this blog, two reasons.

If you’re a chronic pain sufferer like me, you won’t get any relief, but what you will get is distraction. They will keep you so busy some days you’ll unknowingly forget about the pain for a while.

It won’t be easy, it won’t even always be fun, and some days you might wonder what the fuck you have done….. but you’ll never regret it. No matter how hard. For me, these kids have given meaning to a life that lacked direction. They’ve given hope to a pessimist. They’ve brought joy in my darkest moments and they’re my reasons for staying alive.

One last saying: The days are long but the years are short.

In other words – you’ll soon be sipping cocktails and eating tapas in Benidorm whilst your teenage kids are trashing the house in your absence and sleeping till noon.

54 Days postpartum

23.08.21

My daughter was on her way to bed last night when out of nowhere panic hit me full force. My son, lying in the crook of my arm, suddenly started to spit milk out from the sides of his slow flow teat, and I realised, the hand that was holding his bottle was shaking. I felt hot, from the feet up, like a flush, my brain scrambling for grounding thoughts that just couldn’t make their way to the forefront of my mind. It’s coming I thought, knowingly.

My husband comes when I call, and holds me tight. Our son, bewildered at why he’s suddenly had his bottle snatched from his mouth, our daughter, obliviously cleaning her teeth in the bathroom above our heads. Breathe Shaun tells me. Why am I like this???? I sob, trying to catch my breath. You’re not like anything, Steph. It’s a panic attack and it will pass. He reassures me, never letting me go.

It’s been 54 days since I gave birth. Our son will be 8 weeks old on Thursday 26th August.

This isn’t a birth story, because my birth story is too long, the trauma that surrounds my pregnancy will not shrink into an Instagram caption or a rushed blog post. This is a progress report.

When my son Kaiser was born, and during the days preceding, I was in a constant state of panic. I would have moments of calm, but they were fleeting and hard to grab onto. I’ve plateaued at a panic attack approximately once a week now. I know that a large part of their occurrence is directly linked to hormone sensitivity, yet that gives me no control or reassurance regarding their assault on my life.

I’m currently under the care of the most amazing perinatal mental health team, they are some of the best medical professionals I have ever come across in my entire life and I’ve met a few. Sadly this support was massively lacking during my pregnancy – but that is a story I’ve semi already told and one that would take up the duration of the rest of this blog. The point, is that I have some amazing people in my life at the moment helping me heal from acute anxiety, intrusive thoughts and various states of panic. I genuinely don’t believe without their consistent support during the postpartum period, that I would have gotten these bastard attacks down to once a week on my own.

The trouble is, I’m still very much in a state of fight or flight. During the periods of calm, I am logical. In fact I am probably calmer than I’ve ever been in my life and generally laid back (a term probably not often used to describe me as a person) but I can’t stay there, because as quick as I’m calm, a storm cloud opens up the heavens on my head and I am ready to flee the country as though I’m being chased by a hungry tiger.

However, during those moments of calm I have reflected. I have corrected, and I have made changes to my mindset. Living with chronic illnesses as I do, migraine, fibromyalgia, PMDD etc it’s easy to become all consumed by pain and suffering. The shift in my mindset has been that I don’t want to be consumed by this suffering anymore. I know I am going to suffer, bad days, sometimes bad weeks and maybe even bad months, but I don’t want it to consume me. I want change.

My community nurse said to me this week you have to do different to feel different and so I’m doing different. Every day I’m fighting tiny fires of fear. For example, I’m frightened of being alone with my kids in case I have a panic attack, but I’m staying alone with them anyway, because I know if I avoid this fear it will only grow.

I was absolutely distraught about Shaun returning to work after paternity leave, but I knew if he delayed that process I would be as scared, if not more so, when he eventually did.

I’ve been avoiding books and television that might be triggering or that contain storylines of anyone with mental illness, but very slowly I’m reintroducing those things into my life.

I’ve been too afraid to walk or drive anywhere on my own because of how much pain I’m in. What if I get stuck with the kids? And then what if whilst I’m stuck, I panic?

I’ve been too scared to enjoy days out for fear of repercussions on my body, or to go places more than half an hour away from my house in case I panic and need to flee, but slowly I am doing both.

I’m making this sound easy, and yet it’s been the hardest most hellish experience ever, doing things I’m so desperate to avoid goes against the grain. But I’m using these examples to measure my progress, because it’s so easy to feel as though I’m making absolutely no progress at all when anxiety strikes.

I want change. I want my life back. And I have to do different to feel different. I have to be open to the idea there are positive outcomes in life, because if I don’t open myself up to this possibility, I will forever be living half a life.

Perinatal anxiety and me

I’ve written a lot about this in the past, in my first pregnancy it became crippling and really took over my everyday. This time round I’ve had so many physical complications that although this doesn’t help anxiety, it’s actually been a distraction in lots of ways from worrying about all the other stuff that flits into my head when it feels like it. Sounds confusing, I know.

But whilst I’ve had so much to think about, different appointments every week and new ‘diagnoses’ popping up all over the shop I’ve not been left thinking about what will happen when the baby comes too much. Mainly because I’ve been too focused on getting him here in one piece just getting through the weeks. Now that’s coming to an imminent end, doubts are creeping in.

Can I really do this again?

What if I don’t enjoy it, what if I don’t bond with him?

We have no money and have accrued some debt trying to manage my disability this pregnancy. How will I afford a new baby?

What if all of the challenges I’ve been facing hit me after birth and I struggle with my mental health?

What if I have a break down?

What if my body doesn’t recover and I can’t physically care for these children?

What if I mess them up, and I’m just not good enough?

I shared my experience of severe SPD recently on another platform – not even going to link it because the article has been republished with false information and generally isn’t very accurate. That wasn’t the worst of it though, the comments section. WOW. Those things should be banned. One woman commented that I ‘couldn’t value my mobility or my children very much seeing as I chose to have another one even though I’d suffered in my first pregnancy and knew what was coming.’ Another said I ‘should have adopted.’ Another said my ‘husband looks depressed.’

Brutal, but senseless comments from people that know nothing about my life or what led to us having a second baby and the choices we had to make or the mental turmoil we deliberated over. But words once spoken or written can’t be undone. It hurts and it is something I’ve thought about myself often, questioned myself and agonised over in detail, even more so in recent weeks. Some of you may argue if you share online you automatically allow yourself to be subject to negativity and public scrutiny by default, but I counter that with – this is my personal journey we don’t get to question or invalidate people’s own experiences, their trauma, or their choices.

I’m not sleeping – I would say I’m not sleeping well, but I’m barely sleeping at all, having piled on an obscene amount of weight from being so immobile I seem to have developed sleep apnea and that in itself is anxiety provoking so I’m awake at night torturing myself with what ifs and worse case scenarios.

When the baby is born we have to stay in hospital for a minimum of a week, and the thought of being parted from Ciara for that long makes me emotional. The idea that my little girl won’t get to meet and hold her brother straight away, won’t get to cuddle her mum whilst she goes through the biggest change of her life, saddens me. I know and understand the reasoning, though I don’t agree that she isn’t allowed to visit. I get that it’s just a week in the grand scheme of things but I’m still sad about it. I still feel sad about lots of things. I feel sad because I haven’t enjoyed a minute of this pregnancy and at every opportunity I’ve wished it away, and now it’s coming to an end and I didn’t get to even like it.

After last week and me sharing good news that we’d hit a milestone – this week we had some conflicting information and not so great news again. My health hasn’t improved or stayed the same as we’d hope and is now deteriorating again at the final hurdle. It feels like one step forward and ten back as it has throughout this whole journey. Constantly. It’s draining. Some days I feel empowered to stay positive and I do try, but most I just feel physically and emotionally done.

I really wanted to like it this time.

I know with anxiety the whole concept is a bit ridiculous, (I don’t mean that in a critical way) what I mean is it’s a lot of worrying about things we can’t change, things we aren’t in control of, and things that haven’t even happened yet. But it’s also very real. It’s the thief of so much joy and it takes a lot of strength to overcome. Sometimes the battle is long, and other times we are better at controlling it. With parenting comes more anxiety, and it really is a never ending worry, hitting us all differently but equally at times.

I promise to always share the good and bad, and I do fear that maybe I share too much bad sometimes, but I’m just trying to keep it real during a time when I feel so up and down.

It’s like that; my life. It’s a rollercoaster of juggling my health, looking after my babies and trying to get some semblance of living a good life, enjoying it. And sometimes it really is a case of ‘well you were fine yesterday’ I know, crazy right? And today I’m losing my shit and that’s just me.

Anxiety is something that presents in strange ways. I find it really hard to communicate how anxiety effects me to people, even those who know me well. Most of them probably just think I’m a stressy, moaning old bitch (not wrong) but the reality is very different inside my head. For me, anxiety is often restlessness, sometimes accompanied by rage and anger, sometimes tears and fear. My natural instinct used to always be attack first, now it’s always defend, so I’m defensive when I feel attacked. I don’t even mean attacked by people, I also mean when I’m in a place or a situation that overwhelms me. This is another reason I’m worried about being in hospital, staying over night on a ward full of other people and noise, when these are real triggers for me. I don’t like being forced into situations, I like being solitary and if I want to have a cry or a scream I like do it in private. Being surrounded by other mums who’s babies need similar care post partum may be reassuring for many, but for me, it’s my idea of hell. I want to birth my baby, bring him home, lock all the doors and collapse into a heap so that I can process all the overriding emotions I’ve felt whilst carrying him.

Obviously hormones are factoring into my anxiety at the moment but even in general and pre pregnancy – when I feel anxious it can present in any of the three ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses. It’s not linear. It’s not something that ever really leaves me, and there are times in my life when I’m really good at managing it, and other times when I just don’t feel like I can regain that control.

Luckily for me, I guess, is I’m good at recognising its onset so I am able to at least minimise its effects by surrounding myself with things that comfort me.

It’s all very well being under the mental health team, it’s all well and good reaching out to our GP’s but as far as I’ve found the last 9 months not a single one has listened to anything I’ve said. And whilst I hugely advocate for speaking out when you are struggling, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to force people to hear you, and sometimes you just don’t want to. So getting through in whichever way works is so important.

35 weeks of growing you

It was going much better until your dad and I went out the weekend and it threw me into a flare up. Again. We were only out for 2 hours.

So whilst Saturday was a good day Sunday was not.

You know that sleep is evading me, I know you know, because you’re awake with me – it’s not unusual for that to happen this late in pregnancy, some might even argue it’s par for the course and being tired now is some kind of subconscious way of prepping me for your arrival. Maybe, except it’s now making me really unwell again. I’m getting about 2 hours broken sleep a night. I’m having flare ups of fibromyalgia symptoms that I can’t treat. I’ve started getting the skin crawling sensation again, from head to foot – it lasts hours, sometimes days. I have been desperate for cold showers at 4am and I’m scratching so much my skin is bleeding and marked.
I’m also feeling rage viscerally, like I could actually start caving your dad’s head in if his foot touches mine in the middle of the night, because the slightest touch sets my whole body off with paresthesia.
Itching, numbness and tingling are common symptoms of fibromyalgia, except that usually they would be treated with heavy duty drugs. They’re also not uncommon symptoms of pregnancy, but you can’t take heavy duty anything, when you’re up the duff.
I phoned maternity Sunday who wanted to see me urgently to rule out intrehapatic cholestasis…. so we did the 80 minute round trip to the hospital again to wait and see if you have to come out even earlier than your planned early delivery.
The sun is not a helpful addition for me at the moment. It’s making my symptoms worse. It’s nice for my mood, but as much as I’d like that to be enough, as much as someone might tell me it’s enough, feeling better mentally doesn’t provide a cure for a physical problem.

Next week we find out hopefully how you’ll be making your entrance. I’m excited and plagued with anxiety at the same time. We know we have to stay in hospital for a couple of days minimum, and that’s bothering me because now we have your sister, your dad won’t be able to be with me every second. I don’t feel confident about doing any of this alone. I’m frightened now that things have taken another turn and that’s how quickly it happens. One minute we’re loving life and trying to move forward with positivity and the next it all comes crashing down in an instant. I have hope that if it can change this quickly, the positives can also come as quick and we can be pleasantly surprised too.

I’ve been solely focused on you and the few people that have been present on this hellish journey with us. Whilst trying hard to give less thought to the people who haven’t shown an interest. I don’t blame people for not wanting to jump into our hell, I know they have their own. But recently, I really have needed to remind myself that everyone has their own shit going on and I shouldn’t take it personally. I am mindful of this and I am giving people the benefit of the doubt, and accepting my journey isn’t someone else’s to bear, but sometimes I find that it still stings and I get hung on up on thinking about it. It’s still hurtful that people I consider close friends, people who I’ve involved in all big life events like your sister’s christening and our wedding have just stopped bothering. I know as a 33 year old woman, mother and person who can be totally overwhelmed with her own life, how hard it is to sometimes connect with people, so I am conscious of this, and the older I get the better I am at empathising with other people’s struggles. Occasionally though, I still, rightly or wrongly, feel their absence like rejection. I’m human at the end of the day, and maybe too honest about this stuff. When you grow up, you’ll go through all sorts of life trials and hurdles, but you never really stop needing people in your corner. Luckily for me I have my mum and your dad always. And luckily for you, you’ll have all of us.

Things are easier now restrictions have eased and people are helping us keep your sister busy again. She is happiest when she is busy and that has taken some of the pressure off your dad, which makes me feel less like a burden on him. I worry sometimes if one day he will wake up and feel like we’re a full time job, but he’s a good man, I hope you’ll end up just like him.

I’m not ready for your arrival if I’m being honest. People keep asking me if I’m ready but I’m not really, because it still feels like there’s so much we don’t know. Is anyone ever really ready though? I do know it will all fall into place when you’re here as life often has a way of working out.

Can’t wait to finally announce your name either! See you soon little chief. 💚

32 weeks of growing you

TW: Perinatal anxiety & depressive thoughts.

Too many tears. Too many days in bed. I’m done now. I have nothing left. Except I’m not allowed to be done, because there is more time left, there is more to do, there are more weeks you must stay inside of me to keep you safe, and despite feeling like I am losing my fucking mind and having no control over my body, my goal is still to keep you safe. You’re still the most important thing.

It has been over four months now that I’ve not been able to walk, drive, leave the house alone, spend one on one alone time with your sister. Four months of being told over and over again ‘it’ll all be worth it’ and that ‘it’s not long now’ it is long, it feels like fucking forever. Every single day feels like ten years. My skin feels like it’s crawling with insects. I cannot move without feeling like I’m rolling around in glass. I have put on so much weight, because I can’t move. My anxiety is through the roof, I am getting no sleep, and I cry all the time. What will I do when you come? How will I cope?

Nobody will tell me what happens next, I still don’t know if I will regain mobility and if I do, how long it will take. I’m just waiting, and wading through treacle, with limbs that don’t work. I feel like I can’t plan anything, look forward to anything. I feel physical pain so acutely, but I’m mentally numb.

People message to ask me how I am and when I tell them, they don’t reply, because they don’t know what to say. I think it’d be easier if they stopped asking, because it’s worse to open up and be vulnerable, only to then get ignored.

Everywhere I turn I keep seeing messages of hope, speak out, don’t suffer in silence, etc etc…. it’s everywhere, but it doesn’t feel real, because when you do speak out, when you do open up, people judge you. People think you should be doing better, feeling a certain way, being more grateful. People give you their opinion on how you should treat your mood. They tell you what they think, they try and fix you, they tell you that someone else has it worse, and they aren’t really listening.

It’s the honest, ugly, truth that nobody wants to hear. Not really. They say they do, but they find it uncomfortable. People tell you how well you’ve done when you’re out the other side of something. When you’re in it, they don’t know what to say, and I do get it. I really do, I understand, because it’s hard to support someone whose in a negative place. But sometimes you don’t have to say anything, you definitely don’t have to ask questions or have answers, sometimes you just have to be available to listen.

I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to be ungrateful or feel like a burden. It’s not a choice, it’s a lot of self doubt, and it’s a reaction to a difficult situation.

With all this in mind, I’ve been working really hard to try and change my mindset today. I know it’s only me that can do it. I know I can’t expect to be rescued. After days in bed over the weekend, today I got up. I had a bath and washed my hair, it was an exhausting task, but I know it helps. I put on clean clothes, I had soup for lunch instead of binging on crisps and junk. I took painkillers, because I needed them and tried not to feel any guilt. I watched a comforting film that felt like a hug and downloaded a feel good book to read. I’ve drank plenty of water, and the cloud is lifting.

I know I can do this, I know I have to do this, I know I’m strong enough to do this, but sometimes I don’t feel like doing any of it.

I’m downstairs now, waiting for your sister to get home from school, with a smile plastered on my face. I will watch another film with her, talk to her about her day and she will give me the hope I need to keep going and do the same tomorrow. I won’t sleep today, because if I nap now, sleep will evade me again tonight, and I need sleep. I need it to allow my brain to switch off. I need it to keep going. I need to enable me to focus on the positives, and they are that we are lucky, we are lucky to have you and I want to feel that. I want to feel joy override all these other emotions. I want to feel better, excited.

The below pics were taken less than 24 hours apart. It’s hard to believe that the extremes can peak and trough so rapidly. But I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think, I’m surviving a hard and long journey, and I’m doing it whilst keeping you safe. I’m doing my best. I’m going to be okay, and so are you. ❤️