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

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.

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.