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

30 weeks of growing you

With each week my mobility decreases, yours increases. You are kicking those feet like your life depends on it whilst my vagina feels (and looks) like a punched lasagne. (I hope you grow up with a sense of humour because if I stop making jokes I will die)

Thirty weeks of uncertainty and stormy waters.

Thirty weeks of tests and tears.

Of what ifs, of percentages. Of comparisons. Of risks.

Thirty weeks of unanswered questions, of time spent in survival mode, counting down and hope.

You are so precious. So physical. So big, so heavy. The excitement I’ve been holding back, too scared to make room for, is pushing it’s way through my fear. I won’t lie and say I’m not scared, because I want you to know it’s okay to be scared. I won’t lie and say it’s not been horrifically hard, because I won’t lie to you, ever. With the exception of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, maybe also that the ice cream van is out of stock, oh and superheroes are totally real too, your dad is mine.

What I will say is, it’s worth it, I know this every time I look at your sister. She is so worth it and her start was hard too. Carrying her felt hard too. It’s harder with you because we have already had a taste of what it feels like when nightmares happen, but we also know how it feels to pull through them.

I wonder sometimes how people manage to love all of their children equally when they love the first so much. With such visceral intensity. However, I know with certainty that I will love you as much. I might love you differently, but it won’t be less. I will love you as hard, and you will probably be as much of a pain in my ass as she was (occasionally still is) but none of that really matters. Nothing diminishes a mother’s love. It is unconditional. I didn’t really understand it before I became a mum. I love my own mum unconditionally, with forgiveness and without limits, but it’s different when you become the mum. I can’t explain it. I can’t make sense of it, I just know you’ll be loved as fiercely with the same primal instinct that is ever present in my love for your sister.

You’re not an accident, you’re not a mistake, you’re not unwanted. Just because I haven’t enjoyed carrying you, I haven’t loved the process, I just don’t love it. I don’t even like it, but I still know how much I will love you, because I already do.

I’m not a maternal person, I don’t brood over babies, I don’t love being surrounded by other people’s children and chaos. But I love my own children more than I have ever loved anything. With such ferocity, that it scares me sometimes.

Being a mum is scary generally, it’s always guessing what to do for the best with nobody able to give you a definitive answer. It’s always wondering if you could of done something differently. I wonder that about the last thirty weeks. I wonder if I had done anything differently would I feel differently, would I feel more able, less disabled? Sometimes I think I could of tried harder to fight through pain, fed you better foods, looked after myself better. I’ve done my best though, the best I know how with what I have.

I’ve tried, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that my best is all I’ve got, and it’s enough. I hope when and if you ever read these, you will know that despite hopelessness and despair, fear and pain, the goal never changed. The goal has always been to add you to our family someday, even before we knew about it. To love you, to bring you into this world. A world full of uncertainty, but one in which you will be loved with certainty.

The doctor has told us now that you might come early, they’ve told us you might have a hard start, they’ve told us a lot of things that we didn’t want to hear, lots of things that impact both you and I, but we can’t predict what will happen. So I’m holding out for the might nots, because with risk comes worse case scenarios, and we aren’t in control of those, but with hope comes dreams, and we have big dreams for you.

Thanks for sticking with me for these 30 long weeks. Reminding me that every sacrifice, every ailment, every ‘bump’ in the road, brings me closer to you.

Third trimester

You made it.

You’re on the homestretch now.

Is the baby ok…..?

When I was pregnant with my daughter I had chronic migraine from the minute I found out I was expecting. I was diagnosed with SPD at 16 weeks unable to walk and that was extremely painful. I soon became very depressed and ridden with anxiety and intrusive thoughts. By the third trimester I was bedridden and had developed preeclampsia. We were induced later, she was born in withdrawal from antidepressant medication. Her first year was defined by trauma and towards the end when she was recovering, I was being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. As she grows, and continues to thrive I feel like with each flare up I die a little inside.

You’re so strong.

Lot’s of people go through complications and come out of it okay.

Stay positive.

It’s a myth (I believe) that people come away from pregnancy and birth trauma ‘ok’ we all move through trauma very differently, but what your mind is able to process your body fights against and you don’t always fully recover. Trauma and stress have a lasting impact on the physical health of a person.

This week I turned 28 weeks pregnant. Last week I found out I didn’t have gestational diabetes and I cried tears of joy, because I didn’t think I would cope with more complications. But every glimmer of hope is followed by a plummet, a sense of doom. Here we are today and my diagnosis and risk catalogue, continue to grow and the list of complications multiply again. I’ve again suffered migraine from conception, got diagnosed with SPD at 16 weeks, again. My blood pressure has been high. I’ve had a reoccurring shingles infection that isn’t responding well to treatment. My whole body is in a constant flare, I’m in agony, not just occasionally now, all of the time, surviving on the very minimum of pain relief. Some days I can’t move my body at all. This week I turned up for a growth scan only to be told I have a low lying placenta (placenta praevia) they’ll book another scan for 36 weeks but and I quote, ‘if you make it to 36 weeks.’

Don’t have sex – I can’t even move my legs hun let alone spread them.

Don’t do…. (insert anything) here.

You might need a cesarian.

No big deal right? Women have c-sections all of the time. Except it is a big deal for me because my body is already broken and major surgery only hinders it’s recovery further.

But the baby is ok, right?

My baby, the one I’ve been fighting for. My second baby, is currently safely cocooned inside me. But We don’t know if he’s ok, not really. I find it odd that this is the first question people ask when so many babies suffer complications late in pregnancy and post delivery. I also feel like it unintentionally goes towards invalidating my struggle. The baby’s fine so therefore you’re fine, stop moaning. We know he has a 1 in 3 chance of suffering the withdrawal similar to his sister, albeit to different medication. We know he’s at risk of infection because my body isn’t fighting them off well. We know that he is at risk of being born prematurely. We hope that he will come out of this unscathed. I am doing everything I can to ensure that happens, but I am not in control of this situation. So I can’t answer the question with anymore certainty than my doctor can answer me.

As a family we are doing our very best to survive, and surpass the finish line, in one piece. We are trying to stay focused on the outcome of a healthy baby, but we are definitely not okay.

My daughter who can’t wait to meet her brother has no understanding of why her mum is ruining all her fun by not participating in anything. My husband is now my carer, and he’s not getting paid, not even in kind.

I am thirty three years old and I feel like my world has been tipped on its head for the 100th time in my life, except this time I have no control, no way to turn it around. I don’t feel brave or strong. I feel petrified. I feel weak. I feel out of control and I feel bone weary, exhausted! As though cement has been poured into my body by mistake and set overnight.

I don’t like the idea that we must keep calm and carry on, because I don’t feel calm. I’m carrying on regardless, because I have no choice. Not because I’m not broken. Or because I’m coping better than I make out. It’s because carrying on is the only option. There’s a saying that goes, you don’t know how strong you are until strong is your only option.

I hope once our baby arrives we will look back on this time like we look back on that time with his sister and we will be okay. We will have all survived, together. We will be happy, and we will have reasons to laugh. I hope that I will regain some control over my health and days will look brighter again. Hope is my coping mechanism. I hope, because to give that up isn’t an option. You might be wondering why I continue to share all of this information, why I’m not holding out to share better news, and the answer isn’t a simple one either. I write to hear myself think. I write to process my thoughts, and to unburden myself of the doors negative thoughts lock when trapped inside my head.

I’m not a person who believes her suffering trumps someone else’s. I know other people have it worse. I know I may come away from this beating the odds and better, but I don’t share for your attention or your sympathy. I share for my own peace of mind. I share so that when we come out the other side, we can look back and know we survived.

28 Weeks of growing you

After your sisters birthday it was my own. An event that used to have such a big place in my life but that has dwindled in importance over the years and many are now spent in recovery after the buzz of your sister’s celebrations.

We have been out a few days, me on my scooter and had some fun with it too. There’s no denying that it takes it out of me so significantly now, just popping out for a few hours leaves me feeling like I’ve ran a marathon. The SPD is worsening as you grow, and for the last few days I have been completely unable to get myself up in the mornings. Your dad is having to lift me from bed and before I’ve even got my feet on the ground I am crying in pain and it’s hard. It’s not in my nature to be this dependent on another person it’s also scary and feels like another string in my bow of can’ts at the moment.

On the plus side, and there have been pluses, mentally I feel a little less erratic and panicked and more prepared for the worst in terms of my health and mobility. We have had some changes made to the house which is enabling my independence whilst you’re inside me, and will hopefully continue once you are here. Grab rails are appearing everywhere and though cosmetically unsightly, they are providing me with much needed independence.

We will see you again this week, on a scan and talk to the consultant about your arrival. I hope we’ll be able to avoid going overdue with a planned induction rather than a cesarian, just because my recovery is already a worry, but what will be will be. Now things are opening up again and restrictions continue to ease, I hope extended family will make more effort to be involved and help with your sister if only to take the onus off of your dad. He returns to work this week after a week off, being without him will impact me again. He has been so hands on and it’s fair to say I don’t know what I would do without him how I would of gotten through these months without his undivided support. Your sister is going into holiday club for a few days this week to take the edge off and we’re lucky that she is a sociable little darling who’s happy to make new friends.

She went quiet for a while asking about you but her interest has piqued again and we are getting back to our daily chats and cuddles, though your kicks don’t seem as exciting to her at the moment, your pending arrival definitely still is. Onwards we move through the quagmire of a loose routine and no real structure, getting by on a wing and a prayer, but getting by we are with a lot of love and a little help from our friends. 💙

What’s it like to be half way through a high risk pregnancy?

Lonely. Because everyone experiences pregnancy differently and when you’re more worried than you are excited, people think you’re being negative.

Hopeful. Because hope is all you really have. We can’t change the future or the past but we can hope for better.

To get excited could mean to jinx it. I don’t want to rave about how excited I am when I still can’t fully envisage a happy ending.

Only another 4.5 months to go, I can do this.

Oh shit another 4.5 months left of this, I can’t do it anymore.

What does high risk mean?

Different things for different people, even pregnancies for mums without underlying health issues come with environmental risks. Sometimes the risk will be more prominent for the mother and sometimes for the baby. But risk factors can be present for both.

What does in mean in my case?

For me, it’s meant the risk of long term immobility because my Symphis Pubis is at risk of rupture and I can no longer walk. It means another 4.5 months minimum of immobility to go. If the SP ruptures it could mean further more extreme long term disability, loss of mobility, incontinence and need for surgical intervention.

Preeclampsia. You are more at risk of preeclampsia if you had it during a previous pregnancy, which I did. I have had also high blood pressure throughout this pregnancy along with chronic migraine. Migraine can be an indicator of preeclampsia and I’ve had one every 3-4 days for the last 22 weeks. So you can imagine the worry is ongoing, and the risk of early onset preeclampsia is higher. Survival rates for babies increase significantly if preeclampsia is developed later in the pregnancy.

Withdrawal. 1 in 3 babies exposed to medication in utero are at risk of being born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Ciara was born with NAS from antidepressant medication. I no longer take antidepressants but I still take medicines that I need to be able function medication that I will be on for the rest of my life in all probability. I take more medicines than I was taking when pregnant with Ciara so our risk is already much higher this time.

Underlying health conditions. Though Fibromyalgia & Migraine don’t directly impact the baby during pregnancy, the reduction in medication along with hormonal changes exacerbate symptoms drastically, and I have spent the last 22 weeks in pain, every second of every day. There are no ‘good days’ we are getting good hours and that is the best we can hope for. We know pregnancy is impacting my health, but we don’t know what it means long term.

When you tell me it’s not forever I am reminded of how long I have left to go being unable to walk, dress myself and cook, and that actually as a functional human being I was already struggling. A positive mindset is very difficult to hang onto when you lose your sense of self through physical disability. Your mind knows what’s going on but your body doesn’t do what you want it to.

When you tell me you’re excited for me I’m reminded of how scared I am. I’m reminded that I too should be excited, instead I’m fearful.

When you ask how’s the baby? I’m reminded that I’m their house and I don’t know really how they’re doing, not really, because until they are here and in my arms I won’t know if all of the above risks have impacted their development. I wish you would ask me how I am instead because that’s a question I can answer. But when you do and I’m honest I feel like it’s the wrong answer and I’m a burden, so again I feel forced to stay optimistic about something that scares me.

It’s been 22 weeks of anxiety, worry and physical disablement for me and though we have hope, hope is still all we have.

Nobody knows what to say so they stop saying anything at all and some might question why I even bothered to get pregnant in the first place if all I am going to do is complain. But my complaints are not born out of a dislike for pregnancy. They aren’t because I don’t want my baby. They are born out of fear and worry and the inability to fix a broken body. They are born from exhaustion, and guilt and trauma.

I do need help, but I won’t ask family and friends for it because it makes me feel like more of a failure and because I know that every single person in the world right now needs something. I know that people are all going through stuff, maybe worse stuff like dying and losing loved ones and everybody’s mental health is in a state of decline, so what makes me special? Nothing.

So why am I speaking up? Why don’t I do my wallowing in private? Because I still want to feel connected. Because I don’t want to be the person who suffers in silence anymore. Because if it was my daughter going through this I would want her to feel able to open up in whatever form that helped her, and incase you’re new here. Writing is what helps me.

Today we found out the gender of our baby, and all I could think was at least they’re alive. Grief does not only come from loss, I am grieving the excitement I want to feel, I’m grieving the process, and I’m grieving past pregnancy and birth trauma that still haunt me vividly whilst I wait for the arrival of my second child and hope that when they get here I will be strong enough to keep them safe. I am grateful that we have gotten this far, and I am hopeful that will can get to the end.

I’m grateful for a little girl who can’t wait to find out if she’s having a brother or sister and who has enough hope and excitement for all of us.