A letter to myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X

Pregnant and chronically ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if, what if, what if…..

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

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

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

Baby 2.0 is coming!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For fibromyalgia resources it’s FMAUK

And for migraines it’s Migraine Trust

Here we go again, sertraline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things

I was having a little rest from socials wasn’t I? But the truth is I often feel so much relief when I express how I feel here, insta or on my blog, that it’s become a compulsion to just get it out of my head. This is me. Straight up. No bullshit. Being my true self.
I know I will never win any prizes for flying under the radar, but what of it?
My latest battle is a cycle of Mum guilt ergo
Wifey guilt. Guilt about work. Guilt about shit I did 15 plus years ago and since. Guilt about guilt. Guilt on guilt.
Currently I have this desperate need for a break from our diva child. It’s like a certified panic button that only she can force me to press, followed by an overwhelming sense of ‘This is her last summer before school take in every second. Finish that scrapbook. Build a fucking tree house and what not.’
I feel like I’m depriving her of valuable time and offering up instead stale days in front of a screen wearing 2 day old pjs.
We fucked off last week, down the coast for a bit of R&R. Our honeymoon holiday in the costa brava with a hot tub clad chalet got cancelled, and we’re still waiting for that refund so we settled for a caravan substitute. Nice caravan too, but of course I ruined it with an obligatory 2 day migraine. Throwing up battered cod into a 2×2 toilet with zero soundproofing and spending the following day with the curtains closed and crying about my uselessness.
It’s so traditional for me to ruin holidays with my health now, that we don’t even consider planning excursions without a day in between for little ole’ me to catch up.
Such is the Spoonie life. Ciara didn’t care less of course. She had Daddy to herself for a day and as always he dutifully complied with her ever growing demands.
So lucky am I to have him as my husband aren’t I? Queue more guilt about how the poor fucker just signed his life away to a woman only capable of frolics approximately 2 days a month – the rest of the month is spent recovering from that thing we take for granted called life.
Anyway whilst I’ve been torturing myself, and it has very felt much like torture in this chubby little head of mine, I got to thinking. So there’s a list as long as Peter Crouch’s leg that consists of why I’m the worst wife and at best, average parent, but I reckon there’s a few things I’m good at. Surely?
I’ve been using this app for a while called Three Things. (Not an ad! It’s a free app too) Every evening you are prompted to write 3 positive things that happened during the day. Somedays though, I just can’t do it. And somedays I’m so trapped in a negative spin cycle that I just don’t want to. So instead I’m doing something a bit different starting today. I’m going to write 3 things I like about myself, every day. It’s a challenge, but I have to get back on the positivity train soon, before I go off the track to no return.
3 good things might not occur on a day spent in bed with a migraine or crying into my pillow cause I can’t find the T-shirt I wanted to wear and I’m due on BUT…..What if I just decide that I have good hair, which I do (if a little grey under the ‘natural colour’ that I now dye it) or that my toes look cute on my tiny feet. Or that I did a good deed and I like myself more because of it? ✔️✔️ ✔️ 3 things. Everyday. I’m no therapist but even I know the key to my happiness isn’t hanging on someone else’s keyring. Whitney said it didn’t she?…. “learning to love yourself…” sing the rest. 🎵
So I’m starting today. I haven’t thought of the 3 things yet, so I can’t share them, but if you think of 3 things you want to share over here, please do. And even if you can’t, start with 1. Start today. And just keep going. Practice makes perfect. Pick something about yourself that’s a quality you’d want in a friend, or don’t. Maybe this is a bit ‘cheese on toast’ but I’m feeling positive about feeling positive, even if it’s just for today because one day at a time, right? Three things. ✅✅✅💗

A Decade Of Lessons

The last 10 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy new year 🥳

Just another chronic illness blog

When I got diagnosed with a chronic illness I didn’t get the same quota that you get when you’re told you have pneumonia or you break your leg. I didn’t get ‘get well soon’ cards or flowers – which I guess is a good thing as get well soon doesn’t really exist in the chronically ill community. But we still appreciate the sentiments.

I don’t get much love for my illness, I get eye rolls and people annoyed at me talking about it again, but I don’t get much love.

I get people accusing me of using it as an excuse and comparing me to people with the same problems. But not love.

I get disbelieving shakes of the head and funny looks when pulling into a disabled parking space, but not love.

I get people telling me to be positive and exercise more but I don’t get presents or hugs.

Imagine waking up one day and not being able to get out of bed, yesterday you could of ran for the bus, but today you can’t move. Now imagine feeling too ashamed to talk about it for fear of being dismissed, accused of faking, or mocked. Because that’s what living with chronic illness is. That’s what happens when people can’t see your pain. They assume it doesn’t exist or that you’re making it out to be much worse than it is.

Even your friends think you’re exaggerating, and even your family get fed up when it encroaches on plans with them yet again. When I tell people I have to pace myself or I’m not feeling too good, I literally brace myself for their reaction. Nobody ever says, it must be so hard, I admire your strength.

That’s why I write it down, and that’s why I share it on the internet with people whom I’ve never met. Because some of those people get it and they aren’t (at least not visibly) rolling their eyes at yet another post. People are happy to offer you their support for the occasional bout of misfortune, but when its ongoing nobody wants to get dragged down with it. I get it! I really do, I’m a realist, I know it’s hard for people to understand, and it can be miserable to hear about, but imagine living with it.

Imagine just for a minute that it’s you who’s sick all the time. Then imagine feeling like nobody cares. Feeling like you’re burdening people whenever you talk about it, feeling guilty for being sick, imagine how lonely that gets.

Everyone has their own battles and some people have it much worse than you or I, that’s a fact. Some people have the same illness on a different level and some people have diseases that are killing them.

What living with a chronic illness has taught me is not to make assumptions on people’s lives, to believe people when they tell you they’re suffering, and to remember to check in on your friends. Pain changes people, in different ways, sometimes it’s empowering and when you’re on top of it you feel like you’re winning, other times it’s dark and makes you wonder what’s the point of living at all if this is how you’re destined to feel everyday. It’s overwhelming and hard to explain – but by sharing my experiences with it I’m remaining sane. I’m not hiding and so that is the reason behind yet another chronic illness post. If you know, you know. 💜

View this post published on The Mighty here.

https://themighty.com/2020/01/when-people-cant-see-your-chronic-illness/?utm_source=engagement_bar&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=story_page.engagement_bar/

Forgetting your illness

Things are good, you’ve had low impacting symptoms for a while and you’re starting to remember your pre-diagnosis life. Surviving quite happily on a steady dose of painkillers and enjoying the festive fun.

Not so fast pal!

Cue a poorly child you’re responsible for nursing back to good health, a weather change, or maybe an allergic reaction to some costume jewellery. Could it maybe you’ve done a little more walking than you usually do, or a long drive? – and bang!

Hey chronic illness, long time no see.

Now there’s no need to pretend like all the above things haven’t been thoroughly enjoyable, because if it wasn’t for those things you would have been sure to shrivel up and die of sadness, but when a flare up occurs it can be completely life limiting, and that’s why it’s called an invisible illness, because you don’t see it coming.

It’s December and Christmas cheer is everywhere. You’re getting right into the spirit of it and so you should, but then you catch that cold your daughter came home from preschool last week with, and it’s downhill from here.

I wanted to write a bit about how it feels to have a ‘just a cold‘ whilst fighting a chronic illness and what catching viruses does to our already weakened immune system.

Of course at first it starts like any other common cold and you get a sniffle or a bit of a sore throat. Then the pain from your congested sinuses trigger a migraine and the onslaught of nausea that follows makes you feel weak and shaky – for days!

Once that’s passed, the aching from the flu like symptoms, makes your already weary joints feel like they’ve been battered with a hammer, every single bone in your body feels bruised and your skin is sore to the touch. The raging temperature you’ve acquired messes with your already shot internal thermostat, and you constantly flit between grabbing extra layers and peeling sweat covered ones from your limbs. After you’ve done that a few times the fatigue completely floors you, and you have to close your eyes. Which is a bit of a problem when you’re sat at your desk or the school run needs doing.

What is just a sniffle to the average Joe can disable someone with an already weakened immune system and if you see them feeling a bit sorry for themselves try and refrain from telling them to man up. You can’t see the fight they’re fighting but underneath the snot their body feels like they’re in the ring with Ali. Don’t make an assumption that because people look well means they aren’t battling, they may well be trying harder to conceal it.

It’s so important to pace yourself when you suffer from a chronic condition but it’s also really difficult when you’re feeling well to remember to do this, and not get down about missing out on fun stuff. Suffice to say I didn’t pace myself all too well this time around and now I’m paying for it.

I’ve tried really hard to fight through the tougher days lately too, and I’ve done so with not much back lash, however the start of this flare up is swiftly reminding me that actually I need to slow down. So this is my reminder to you, be kinder to yourself and anyone you know who has an invisible illness – the winter struggle is real for us all, but it’s even harder for them.

When losers win.

I have always been the girl, who never does anything extraordinary. Never got nominated for anything in school. Never got a part in the school play even though drama is my forte, because I didn’t put myself forward. I didn’t raise my hand to answer questions even though I knew the answer. I didn’t stay for after school clubs in my favourite subjects because I was more interested in smoking weed and playing spin the bottle (that’s a euphemism for whatever the fuck I liked) When I didn’t know the answers I didn’t seek to learn them. I didn’t like rules and I didn’t get the right kind of attention, any attention I did get was for the wrong reasons. My attitude took a long time to change and I’m still learning from the bad decisions I’ve made, and I’ve made plenty.

When my first stint at secondary school didn’t work out and I moved on to the next one I didn’t get praise for good work, I got chastised for bad work.

When I got my one and only A in GSCE I didn’t get told well done. I got told I could of done better in other subjects, if I’d have only worked harder.

When I went to work and had time off sick because my mental health can’t always be relied upon to remain ‘normal’ enough for me to function at full capacity all of the time, I got told I would never excel in my career if I couldn’t show up. I got told to suck it up and do better.

When I got diagnosed with a physical condition I had to take a lesser paid and much lesser privileged job, because I wasn’t deemed reliable enough to do important work. Suffice to say I left that job.

So when I won this award today, it wasn’t a victory because I was awarded winner status. It wasn’t a cash prize or a holiday to the Maldives. It was just a certificate, but it was a certificate rewarding my effort.

It was a victory because I won it doing what I love (writing) and it’s a potential doorway to another realm, one where hope exists and efforts are recognised. One where I’m good enough. It was a small award for a reasonably well read blog, but one day it might be a big award for a bestselling book (never say never) and even if it’s not, it doesn’t matter, because it’s given me the confidence boost needed to pursue a passion. It was a reminder that you can do whatever you want, we have the power to change our futures if we’re willing to give things a try.

Take a chance on yourself, it might not pay off, but it’s a lovely way to learn more about where your strengths are. We can’t all be good at everything but it helps if we like what we are good at.

So my apologies for milking this day to high heaven, but for the first time in my life I feel like a winner. 🥳

Living my best life with fibromyalgia.

Cough, I know you’re thinking Jesus, Steph has finally decided to get out of her funk and help herself.

Not really, I don’t know, maybe I’ve just been lucky. Since I left my job my health has improved tenfold. I believe this to be because I have more time to rest when I need to, but it could be due to a lot of factors, or it could just be good old coincidence.

Mentally, I am stronger than I have been for some time. I’m off of antidepressants for the first time in years, and I’m not feeling constant impending doom. This is a really big deal for me, and I’m feeling positive about the next chapter.

But it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows (yes that was a Trolls quote) Pain has got a lot to do with mood, low mood can exacerbate pain. Especially when suffering with a condition that effects your central nervous system, as that’s when it’s on high alert. Psychological pain can bring on physiological symptoms. I’m not a doctor, but I have spent a lot of time researching my condition. I’m not going to sit here and spout that positivity cures illnesses as that’s untrue and offensive, but when you feel happy it makes pain more manageable. That much I do know.

Today I woke up earlier than usual due to Ciara’s new found love for 6am. I felt terrible, my body was heavy and I can feel pain deep inside each joint. This is not imaginary, this is real pain, and I’ve had to take some heavy duty painkillers to combat it today. Despite being in very real pain today, I feel good. Good, because I’ve had a decent run of late, without this kind of debilitating pain. I’ve had pain, but the kind of pain I’m in today, is what reminds me I have a disability. In short, it sucks.

However moving on to the positive bits again. I’ve been doing little things that make me feel better. Small things like, having a tidy living space, getting enough sleep (when I can and Shaun’s snoring allows) but generally doing things that make me feel good. Avoiding toxic people, not analysing every little thing, not comparing myself to everyone, and trying to accept my pain without beating myself up. All these little things help. They aren’t a cure but they do make a difference. I went through such a battle with myself to accept this illness without it breaking me. To allow myself time since my formal diagnosis to grieve for the old me. I’ve spent two years grieving, and I still suffer! I won’t play it down, but I’m in a place now where I can accept it without it breaking me. I can move forward and still live a good life. I can have bad days but they aren’t all bad. Some of them are fucking brilliant!! You too can have good days again. It’s not going to be easy, but even without an illness or disability life isn’t easy.

But I have all my faith in you. You can do this, you can live your best life too. 💕

Stop saying sorry.

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

To my daughter:

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

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

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

To my fiancé:

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

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

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

Sorry I talk too much about said illness.

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

Sorry I’m not skinnier.

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

To my followers and friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The facts are these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also published on SelfishMother Blogazine.

Winging it

When I decided to resign from my job I was excited, full of hope at all the spare time I’d have to write. Truth is I have absolutely no spare time, there’s ALWAYS something to do at home. At work, it’s just your job that needs doing until you get home, at home all day and it’s the dishes, the washing, the dust on the skirting boards, the charity shop clothes bags, the shopping, the planning and prepping dinner from scratch etc.

How did I manage that before you ask? I didn’t.

Before, I didn’t do the shopping, well not physically anyway. Amazon pantry was my bff along with whichever super market had the best BOGOFF deals. Before, I didn’t clean the skirting boards or do the sorting for the charity shops, I just lived in a mess. So why am I doing it now? Because it does need doing, and now I don’t have a hard day’s work an as excuse as to why I’m not getting it done.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, it’s great that I have time to do all this stuff, but I have found little if no time at all to write, study, or do any of the things I said I was going to do.

When I was working, my mum did the school runs, Shaun did the washing, we ate from jars, and the shopping was delivered at a time of my choosing. But I find, rightly or wrongly, it’s expected of you to get things done if ‘You’re at home all day’ remember though, we’re still doing school run’s or looking after little people, we’re still trying (at least I am) to get some work done.

I can actually take an oath that I haven’t watch a SINGLE episode of Jeremy Kyle since leaving work. I have however, caught up on Lose Women on more than one occasion.

I really miss the social bustle of working for a large organisation and I’ve gone from feeling excited to feeling scared and at times lonely.

I want to be successful in my work, my parenting, my social groups, managing my health. I want people to believe I have it all covered from the every angle, but of course I don’t. I’m 100% winging it, with little guidance accept the online world of other mum’s who’ve followed their passions and my family and friends. The few people in my life that truly have my back, the ones that want to see me succeed are at the forefront of my mind every time I feel like quitting.

I may never succeed in my dream to write a novel, but I sure as shit won’t, if I don’t even try.

So it’s with a slight wobble I’m reminding you (and myself) to keep going. To let your creativity drive you in whatever form you find it. To keep at it because mama’s don’t quit and diva’s don’t lie down.

I will tell myself and you, everyday if I have to, that WE have got this.

And when we don’t got it, there’s always Guinness.

Antidepressants vs insulin.

I’ve been on antidepressants on and off since I was 14 years old. More on than off. Over half of my life. I’m not depressed, not anymore, I haven’t been for some time now, but I do GET depressed when in pain, and I also have varying forms of anxiety. When I say varying, it can go from mild to unbearable in seconds, if you have anxiety, you’ll know where I’m coming from. I am insecure and often struck with self loathing and paranoia.

So, I’ve always taken antidepressants to kind of keep me on a level. They do work, and if they aren’t working for you, you might need a different type or dose adjustment.

I’ve never felt shame in taking them even before it was ‘cool’ to talk about your mental health. (I mean that in the best possible way, being that I think it is cool we talk about it)

Diabetics don’t feel shame at taking insulin and therefore depressives shouldn’t feel shame in taking antidepressants.

Today I am 14 days free of Duloxetine (Cymbalta).

I’ve been on it for 2 years 8 months for fibromyalgia pain and low mood. I still have both of those, so why you ask, am I ceasing treatment? Well the main reason is because, Ciara was born withdrawing from antidepressants that I was told by my healthcare professionals, were safe to take during pregnancy. They weren’t safe for us though, and she fought for her life for the first 6 days following her birth. So before I contemplate having another child I want to be drug free.

I take a variety of other drugs too for my condition, and therefore this is just one pill in a long line of pills, that I am planning to quit.

The withdrawal has been hard, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. The brain zaps are something else, like electric shocks through the temples and the emotions have been flooding out of me like someone pulled the plug on a whale tank. I’ve cried, laughed, snapped, it’s been the proverbial whirlwind alright. Even more reason I refuse to subject another baby to these symptoms. I live with a lot of guilt about the start Ciara had, and even though I know I absolutely needed those drugs at the time, I still don’t think if I knew of the consequences I would of continued to take them. They potentially saved my life whilst almost costing me my daughter’s. So you can see why I’m conflicted?

I’m using CBD oil now and whilst I’ve used that before, I’ve never used it to combat withdrawal, it’s probably a bit early to say whether or not it’s helping, as like I said, the withdrawal definitely has been noticeable.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this isn’t so you go and throw away your pills, it’s so you don’t feel ashamed when making decisions about treatment.

I would go back on them tomorrow if I felt suicidal again or my functionality was off because of my mood. I’m not precious about taking drugs and if something works for you I think it’s important you feel comfortable with whatever treatment you decide upon. Depression can be, a life long condition, it’s also often a life threatening one when left untreated. It’s so important to remember you’re not the minority! So many people take antidepressants these days, they aren’t as invasive as they were years ago. Even the ones I took when I was 14 were a whole lot more zombifying than the ones I take now. Most people function well with treatment. My excuses are quite lazy, I need to do some more natural boosting of the endorphins in order to combat the repercussions of coming off my meds.

It’s not a case of flick a switch and everything’s fine, and it would be naive of me to expect it to be. I do however want to share the journey of transitioning from pills to plants and homeopathic therapies. Mainly because I want to review whether it actually works and if there are other ways for me to combat pain and depression aside from prescription drugs.

Today I drank celery juice for the first time and you can find me gagging on Instagram. It was vile, but I’m told these things aren’t instant, so I may need to try it for a while longer to feel the benefit! I’ll be buying a nose peg and hoping for the best.

Feel free to share your tips of what works for you. So many people say exercise and I’ve always got an excuse as to why I can’t do it. 2019 needs to be a year of less excuses because, time doesn’t wait and the clocks are ticking.