Oh Little You. What if you had known that this journey of menstrual hell, poor health, psychological trauma and self sabotage would eventually lead you to finding your best, most compassionate self? If you had known this would you have been kinder to you? I wish that you had, it may have made the road here easier. The paths you walked were often the wrong ones, but it wasn’t entirely your fault. You have an illness, several actually. A brain that absorbs too much and erupts like a volcano every few weeks. I wish you had believed in more holistic methods like therapy and diet much sooner as they may have helped you earlier. I wish you’d given yourself more opportunities and grasped life with less fear. I also wish you’d known that PMDD was lying to you. People didn’t always hate you, some did, and some didn’t know how to handle you, but I wish you hadn’t let PMDD convince you it was always your fault. That you were just some fucked up kid that there was little hope for, because that wasn’t true. I wish you had believed in your creative self sooner and found better ways to self soothe.
Right now in the present day, you are managing a lot, but you have the experience now that Little You didn’t have. The lessons you have learned and the life you have led, have not been easy. Without those lessons and life choices though, you may have never made it to this point. I wish you had known that when you felt as though you were fighting against the wind, that storms come and go. That it never stays dark forever, that believing your life is inherently terrible will only leave you feeling, terrible! PMDD has kept you stuck, on a loop of misery that left you feeling inadequate, wrong, and misunderstood. It didn’t tell you that one day you would be proud of your journey. That when you felt suicidal you didn’t want to die, but instead for the way you felt in those moments to die. For it to stop.
Little You should know, that you’ll also learn a lot from PMDD. You’ll learn that better days come. That somethings are out of your control. That life is a marathon and not a sprint and that deep down you are not some angry, misunderstood teenager. You’re a person that will grow, heal and learn.
I started out really unhappy writing this one. I’ll forewarn now that it includes some glumness! (Maybe a lot) As ever though, I keep it honest.
The beginning off the week was tough going because I was exhausted from Ciara’s party and already feeling a little run down. Then Wednesday night about midnight I started, (pretty much out of nowhere) vomiting. It was awful, and it went on for 3 days. When the vomiting finally subsided it started coming out of the other end. Vile. And I cried, a lot. It was my birthday Saturday and I spent it in bed, crying. Monday we were due to go on holiday with the kids to Dorset and Shaun began vomiting for over 24 hours, so we weren’t able to make the trip as planned.
Life: It’s just life. And it is! It’s one of those things that can’t be helped or avoided or unpacked, because it just happens, people get sick. But when you get sick on top of your everyday sick, I’m not gonna lie it kicks you a little harder in the kidneys. Vomiting always makes me feel quite heightened anxiety because it’s a involuntary action. I have no control over it, and no power to stop it. I’ll be honest it’s taken a lot from me this week. I’ve felt pissed off at a ruined birthday and genuine frustration at how long my body takes to recover from ‘everyday illness’ whilst managing its’ several chronic illnesses. Taking a bath at my mum’s yesterday to avoid sharing the only bathroom we have at home with Shaun, I felt sick and faint.
Kaiser gave me zero grace in my recovery. He woke up at midnight for 1.5 hours and then again 2-4am both nights whilst Shaun was ill. Again, just life stuff. I keep repeating the ‘it’s just life’ sentence, not because I’m minimising my experience. I’m not. It’s been awful. But because, I have spent many years battling out of the ordinary things. Things like having a baby and spending nine months in therapy because you believed with every ounce of your being that you were crazy, incapable, and unsafe. Things like getting pregnant and suddenly being unable to walk, driving around in a mobility scooter and eating your way to gestational diabetes. Things like never being able to show up because your illnesses’ block you at every turn. Those things are not just life, they’re my life, sure, but they’re not everybodies. Sickness bugs though – they are a free for all and one of the things I learned during my time in therapy, is that I have to give a certain level of acceptance to this everyday stuff and not let it consume me.
I confess that I have always been a person that reacts negatively to stress. Where some people might shrug off the everyday stuff, I take it and wrap it around me in layers. I’ll also go as far as confessing to having used it as excuses over the years. Yet, I’ve also felt the weight of it. Learning to accept certain scenarios doesn’t mean I’m ok with them. Nor does it mean I don’t have to work hard to live through them, it just means, simply - that I have to prioritise peace.
Moving on from all the sickness, and bugs and life as a disabled mum, for a second…. If you’ve been following me on socials you’ll know that I’m fundraising for IAPMD by way of a raffle. It was my intention to make a fuss about this via my birthday weekend and really try and get some momentum going. Unfortunately, you know what, put paid to that! However I have managed to raise significant funds in the last few days and we’re now on a grand total of £308 smashing my self set target of £250 out of the park. I’m thrilled. And forever grateful to all the strangers on the internet that want to support a cause close to me. Of course my friends and family too, but strangers on the internet are definitely more frivolous with their cheering, that’s for sure! (Just stating an observation, don’t @ me!)
Today, we made it to Dorset. I am still expecting one of the kids to start vomming any second but I shan’t dwell! We drove down this afternoon, made it to the beach for a chippy tea and then holed up in the caravan and listened to the rain pelt it’s tin roof. I didn’t realise how much I needed this break until I arrived here and my shoulders dropped. Tension leaving my body, anxieties being swept up with the spume of the sea, literally. I don’t even apologise for my over the top description of just how sacred this trip is. I needed it, the kids needed it, Shaun, though still feeling fragile, needed it. I hope the bastard that is norovirus and his mate covid manage to stay the fuck away from us for the rest of the week and beyond.
This month is premenstrual disorder awareness month and I have teamed up with The International Association Of Premenstrual Disorders as a PMD Awareness Champion. Over the course of the month I’ll be sharing my personal experience of living with PMDD, as well as catching up with other PMDD warriors. This year’s theme is Connect The Dots and I talked to several women I’ve connected with via Instagram to find out how they connected the dots, between their hormones and their mental health.
I asked these brave women three questions which were:
1. When was your ‘light bulb’ moment? 2. How did you connect the dots? 3. Do you feel as though you’ve found a manageable treatment and if so, would you mind sharing what that is?
I’ve included my own answers below too.
I can’t tell you exactly when I knew it was PMDD because hormonal changes have affected me my whole life.
For me, I was quite aware of the fact that hormones played a big role in my life and on both my physical health and mood, from a young age. In childhood I had a hormone condition called Premature Adrenarche. PA is diagnosed when your adrenal glands over produce sex hormones. Adrenarche can happen in both male and females, but obviously for females and AFAB individuals, puberty means periods. A lot of my dot connecting came down to PMD’s running in my family, thus having knowledge of them from other sufferers. Since menarche my moods have been severe during luteal, so bad that I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 13 years old and prescribed antidepressants. I also attempted suicide. It wasn’t until some almost ten years later, and I got my first iPhone, that I started cycle tracking using an app. Along with my mum’s knowledge of my symptoms and their severity, we pieced it all together and it became apparent that my symptoms were very obviously cyclical.
Over the years I have had many successes followed by, ultimate failures with treatment. Many treatment options have worked for a limited amount of time, until 𝐏𝐌𝐃𝐃 comes back with a vengeance. For example I’ve tried countless antidepressants and birth control and they have all helped for a period, until they don’t anymore. I can also say it’s definitely worsened in severity and duration since having children. Symptoms have also increased, such as allergies. I’m now allergic to the hair dye I’ve been using for a decade and silver. Migraine is relentless and an attack lasts for days. Treatment wise, I have biweekly B12 injections, try to manage my sugar intake, take SSRI’s month round and use progesterone only contraception – The latter has limited success in the treatment of PMDD, but combined with other methods works ok for me at the moment. What I have found really useful is, since the birth of my son 9 months ago, I have been having intense Dialectal Behavioural Therapy. DBT involves learning distress tolerance skills, and how to dial down the intensity of emotions. Skills include using holistic treatments too such as cold therapy. I really feel DBT has been invaluable in treating symptoms of PMDD particularly.
After giving birth I began mapping how I was feeling along side some cbt for PTSD due to a traumatic birth experience and I started to realise every cycle I was physically and emotionally not well
CBD oils have been amazing, I live with chronic pain which worsens around my cycle and impacts sleep so these help me get into a deeper sleep, SSRI’s all month too. And lastly, the fitbit app tracking my cycle to rationalise why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling (I can pretty much tell exactly when I’m about to ovulate or bleed based on my emotional state)
For me, it was when I stumbled across the PMDD Information page on the Mind website.
I went back to the doctor armed with this new knowledge plus a symptom diary that i’d been keeping for the previous 6 months and they agreed that the diagnosis was PMDD.
Yes. But it’s just sticking to it that’s the problem! My go to treatments are regular B12 injections, keeping on top of my SSRI intake, Ice hats, pain medication, plus loads of water and trying to cut down on sugar and fatty foods (even though this can seem like the most impossible task in the universe, during hell week!)
My lightbulb moment came when the doctors kept telling me I was ‘just’ depressed and giving me SSRI’s and the pill and wouldn’t listen that I only felt this way some of the time rather than fully. Hormonal contraceptives do not agree with me and I knew there was more to it than that but trusted them that they know what they’re doing.
It took a long time but I noticed that I felt immediately relieved and lighter as soon as my period started so good old google came to the rescue and I started reading about PMDD
I just don’t know how bad each cycle is going to be, however I did find an SSRI useful for a while, they’re not for everyone and I no longer take them. I’ve found that taking things easier/slowing down and planning things for the parts of my cycle where I know I’ll be more positive and less likely to cancel helps because I don’t then feel like I’m letting people down or being unreliable which is a big thing for me – getting outside whenever you can works wonders too even if you don’t feel like it or it’s raining being in nature does more good than people realise
My light bulb moment was when I was with my ex partner and he called me a psychopath. I was so upset and angry that I punched a hole in the wall. I scared myself with how angry I got. I was so angry that he called me that, but it made me think about what I had done to warrant that, and I thought “shit, I’m not a psychopath, but I’m not myself either, somewhere in between maybe”. It was going round and round in my head, and for a few days every month leading up to my period, I was so deeply upset, I didn’t want to be here, and it was like a cycle that I couldn’t get out of. Why am I like this? This isn’t me. But in the moment, I couldn’t see it.
It wasn’t until I was out the other side of those few days that I could reflect on my behaviour and feelings and realise properly that it ISNT me! I spoke to my GP, who put it down to “bad periods”.
I pushed for more help, tests, anything. I was advised to have therapy for my dark thoughts, and they prescribed me SSRI’s. After I gave birth, they changed me to ca different SRRI. But the main help for me is telling my close people “it’s coming” or “it’s happening”. I find myself apologising in advance. “I’m not going to be myself for the next few days and I’m sorry”. Which makes me even more frustrated. No one that I have met so far, has ever heard of PMDD. Except a few queens on Insta! I try to explain it to people by saying “it’s like the volume is turned up full blast on everything. My emotions, the hurt, the anger.” You could say something to me on a normal day and I’d brush it off. But say the same thing to me on those few days and my world comes crashing down. The best treatment I’ve found more than telling people, or medication, or therapy, is reminding myself that it’s all in my head. Sometimes that can be hard, and it doesn’t take the thoughts or sadness or anger away, but it makes them more bearable, knowing that I am ill, not crazy. My ex partner didn’t help, but now he’s gone it’s so much clearer to see. I’m poorly. I have been diagnosed with PMDD, it’s not just in my head but at the same time that’s all it is. Finding others who are going through the same thing and trying to raise awareness for PMDD to others as well as medical professionals helps too. I felt like I was going mad, because I was told I was, and felt like I was. But it was all in my head and that’s where it stays. Like you say (sic) Cunty Carol just comes to visit a few days a week, and where I used to be terrified of her unpredictability, now I can at least say “fuck off Carol, I know why you’re here and I’m okay with it, close the door on your way out”
Still horizontal. My pelvis has not improved. I still can’t drive and I still can’t get up and move around freely. What I have noticed though is how different my mindset has been this time being so disabled. I feel less…. Devastated. As if by some miracle I’m accepting the things that aren’t within my control and I’m just cracking on, regardless. I mean, let’s not pretend I’m not frustrated or upset at what I’m missing, the stress it causes and the worry being immobile brings, because of course, I am. But I’m not obsessing, ruminating, catastrophising or all of that other shit I’m so prone to doing when I can’t live the way I’d like. Maybe it’s therapy that has taught me to be more accepting, or maybe it’s the state of the world and my gratitude at having the life I do, even whilst it’s hard. Maybe it’s the spring weather. Maybe it’s because I’ve been bleeding for weeks and when I’m bleeding I’m at my best mentally. Maybe it’s just because luteal hasn’t punched me in the brain yet! Who knows, who cares, I’ll take this more ‘normal’ reaction to the situation and just be thankful for it.
What else is going on?
BIG NEWS. I’m fundraising for iapmd in April. The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders. I’ll be running a raffle and an auction and you can find details of both by visiting my Instagram page and tapping on PMDD raffle highlights. I’ve been blown away by the generosity from people donating prizes, especially in the current climate. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
But I’ll confess, I’ve also felt a bit disheartened that the buzz on my social media pages has dropped significantly since I started posting about the charity. I do understand that awareness posts will not land or resonate with everyone but it can be a bit of a kick in the guts when your friends don’t get on board to back you. The thing with socials is they are unfortunately slave to the algorithm and if people aren’t liking your posts, people aren’t seeing them, either. So remember even if you’re unable to donate, buy tickets or relate to the cause, a simple like or a share can make just as much difference and may reach people that are able to help. I also need to confess that whilst I’m coping better being so immobile I haven’t coped well with the atrocity that is our GP system. In fact I’ve coped so badly with it I lost my shit both with a receptionist and a pharmacist recently. And whilst I do believe both of them were antagonistic I still feel like my rage is sometimes something I have less control over. Firstly the physio I was referred to last October called me to say he’d never sent my referral to the hospital… he was apologetic and I thanked him for taking accountability, but I’ve been left without any physiotherapy for six months so some might argue it’s no wonder my mobility is worsening again. Anyway, then I requested medication and was told I’d have to wait 3 weeks to speak to a doctor to okay the meds. 3 weeks. They are psychiatric meds and I could of been on top of Clifton suspension bridge long before I got them. I’m not suicidal, but if I was in crisis this notion that we must just grin and bear it is, in my opinion not acceptable. The mental health crisis has long been a pandemic and with GP’s refusing to see people face to face the consequences are real for many. I feel both situations could have saved me a lot of stress and pain had I just been able to talk to a doctor there and then.
Because of my limited mobility, I have been finding staying on track with the healthy eating harder, but I’m determined in whatever way I can to continue this journey of better nutrition. Though there have been days I’ve succumbed to a few treats, overall I’m still managing to reduce my portion intake and include more fruit and veg.
It’s Ciara’s birthday party next weekend and I’m really hoping I’m able to move better for that. However I know whatever happens she will have the best day. With the help of our families and support of all of her friends we’ll make sure it’s a good one. She’s such a beautiful, kind and sensitive soul, my daughter! She asked for a party this year INSTEAD of presents. What kind of amazing little kid offers to forfeit presents to spend the day with her friends. I mean it’s a good job she did because the party has cost an absolute fortune but we’ve still got her some gifts to open on the big day! She also lost another tooth, her third one, whilst her brother is just cutting his third. Speaking of Kaiser he now knows and responds to his name, nose, and Raa Raa (the noisy little lion) or Thomas (The tank engine) He still never sleeps though.
I guess for now that’s about all that’s new. I’m busy trying to manage my health before I’m due to go back to work in May, and I’m also soon to be discharged from the perinatal service so I just need to get my head around that. Bear with, and watch this space!
That chronic illness life is the gift that keeps on giving. Lots of things happening over here at DivamumHQ! Big and small changes being made and as ever, 100’s of appointments.
I started this week proud and feeling relatively ‘good’ I’ll tell you about it….
So you know I said last week that the cardiologist explained I’m showing signs of heart disease? Yeah well that’s still a thing, but I’d also had loads of blood tests taken in Jan and many of them came back abnormal. One of them, was my plasma viscosity or ‘inflammation in the blood’ I found this, like all of the others, stressful to take in. I have fibromyalgia as you know, and usually Fibro doesn’t show elevated inflammatory markers and so I couldn’t really understand what had changed. With the blood glucose also being high and everything else with my heart, it was a worry. The GP I spoke to suggested doing a repeat blood test once I’d got going with my healthy lifestyle changes. Now we all know, I don’t walk very good, and I think I’ve also mentioned I’m overweight. Well, since these findings I’ve been trying really hard to be healthier. Not so much even to lose weight, but put a little effort in to eat right (healthy), reduce portions, try and move more. Anyway I’ve managed to lose 9lbs now, and I had the repeat blood test this week and guess what my plasma viscosity is back within normal range! I’m so so so pleased, I honestly can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it is to see tangible evidence that the work I’m putting in may well really improve my health. Of course there’s lots that can’t be done and in terms of heart disease, if I have that, it can’t be reversed BUT I can still prevent serious complications by sticking with healthy choices.
I’ve also been attending a group focused on diabetes prevention. It’s a national programme run by the NHS that has an 80% success rate. I’d gotten to a point where doing it on my own was only adding to my stress and stress itself is a factor that can increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. I’ve only had two course meetings so far but already I’m starting to understand my food intake better and the things that are within my control to be able to change. If you are reading this and considering the course, I would highly recommend it.
So that was all great… yeah? Yeah…. Until…. I went to my mum’s Thursday and when I came home and sat down, I couldn’t get back up. My pelvis has gone again. The trouble with this is, I don’t know why or how, so that means I also don’t know when or if my mobility will return to as it was. I can tell you, being immobile with a crawling baby is frightening & quite dangerous to be honest. It’s upset me because during pregnancy I was told often that my mobility would be limited postnatally, but it did improve and that gave me hope. So now it’s poor again, it’s scary! My health is forever fluctuating, I am learning to be more accepting and appreciative of my limitations, but it’s far from easy and acceptance isn’t linear. Some days I’m able to find gratitude in the smaller things, able to accept the things I cannot change, and others, I despair.
Confession: When my pelvis went I questioned if this was it. Is this when my body gives up? Will I walk again. Will I walk with aids again, maybe forever?
But that aside, I have had a few positive take aways from this week, and I’ve included them below in an Instagram post I wrote this weekend.
I’m only four weeks away from the group therapy I’ve been involved in coming to an end. I really can’t describe in words how educational, enlightening and empowering attending the group has been. I want to do a whole blog post on group therapy, so I’ll save the ins and outs. One of the things we have been working on though, is radical acceptance. If you’ve not heard of this check out the link, as someone who lives with both physical and psychological illnesses that are not curable, this has been a really useful tool in my arsenal.
We started well. The weekend the kids and I went for a short walk on our own. This was a big deal because I rarely go out alone these days, and it was the first time I’d been out on foot with both children. As my health has worsened so dramatically in recent months, I have developed quite significant, but understandable, health anxiety! I took the win Saturday, rested in the afternoon and woke up Sunday ready to attack the day. But it didn’t quite work out like that. I woke up feeling extremely fatigued to the point where I couldn’t keep my eyes open and had to have a nap mid afternoon. For most of us with fibromyalgia this is normal, particularly following a day in which we’re more active. However, for me, fatigue is also a symptom of the pro-drome phase of migraine.
Being the hormonal mess that I am, I have noticed migraine attacks increasing in frequency again in the last two months. 2am Monday morning I was woken by the head pain, swiftly followed by cold sweats, hectic fever and vomiting. Monday was a write off. I spent all day in bed unable to watch tv or read and silently crying in between naps. I’ve said it before, but migraine is the most debilitating symptom for me, even more so than not being able to walk well, because migraine is a complex neurological disease that affects everything!
Fast forward to today, Thursday and I am feeling better. Not by any means ‘well’ but I was able to get out yesterday and I haven’t needed my husband to stay home from work to care for me. I also managed to get out this afternoon even though I couldn’t think of anything worse at the time I forced myself to do it and I have to say…. I’m converted. All the times people said to me ‘you need to get out’ while I led in my bed riddled with pain and anxiety, I thought those people were prize pricks to be honest, but I can see there’s merit there. I will say it’s not as simple as just getting outside when you live with chronic and or mental illness, and even in motherhood it can be hard to just get up and out. Let’s be real here it takes longer to wrestle a screaming baby into the buggy and pack your nappy bag than it does to do your weekly shop! But if you can get outside, you may benefit to some degree. For me the benefits are:
It’s a scenery change from the monotony of mum life.
I feel a sense of achievement if I’ve been able to do something, even if it’s as simple as popping to the shops.
That sense of achievement rewards me with feel good endorphins.
It’s so much easier (for me anyway) to be ‘present’ whilst in nature and not dwell on negative thoughts.
During pregnancy when I ate every meal in bed and couldn’t get down the stairs, going out was not only a physical impossibility, but it became mentally terrifying. I avoided leaving the house for so long, doing it now feels alien, but it also feels good. I feel like I’m taking back some control.
I don’t have any major confessions this week, other than I’ve spent a lot of it feeling sorry for myself and on occasion a little bitter about how shit and unpredictable life can be when you’re unwell. I’m worried about how I’m going to do my job in a few months when I’ve already cancelled a Keeping In Touch Day because I was so unwell. However, those feelings were scuppered by guilt as they always are when I look at the bigger picture and remind myself how lucky I am to have the life I do. I’ve also learnt that life is more fun and fulfilling when you’re grateful for the tiny things. Like a hot cup of tea or getting into bed with a good book. Kaiser, my youngest, is an absolute rogue. I’ve had to take deep breaths a plenty in the last couple of days whilst trying to stop him climbing the stairs and then throwing himself down them. Dunno if this is a boy thing but fuck, it’s hard work.
It’s easy for me to write this today because today has been such a huge improvement opposed to earlier in the week. That’s not to say I won’t feel the sadness and resentment again in the near future, but it means today I choose happy. We don’t always get a choice, and so on the days that we are gifted one, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to make it a good one.
Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this! Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations. Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link. https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph
I cannot write a blog at the moment and not mention the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine. I feel, as many or all of you do, helpless and extremely overwhelmed. There are things we can do though, many local communities have teamed up to take donations and we can donate financially. We can also all spend a little more time looking after the people that we love.
It’s important to remember when we’re/I’m feeling overwhelmed and powerless, to focus on things within our control. As mentioned with the Ukraine situation, we may not be able to make an immediate impact, but we can make an impact by doing things to help that are within our power. Donate in anyway possible. If you cannot afford to donate financially, donate physical items. You can find more information on how to donate with The Red Cross here
But I’ll confess, that this week I have turned down the news. Not because I don’t care, but because I do. I’ll confess that I am scared. I’ll confess that I feel immense guilt about situations out of my control. I’ll confess that sometimes the world’s problems weigh heavy on my mind, and other times I am consumed by my own. You can be a good person and care and still prioritise your mental health by taking a break from the influx of news occasionally.
The impact of stress on our physical health
When I become overwhelmed my anxiety spikes and if it spikes too high, it topples over into full blown panic. When I am experiencing panic attacks I cannot care for myself or my family. I become plagued by intrusive thoughts and life starts to spiral. I cannot just sit by and allow that to happen again. I have to try and use the skills I’ve learned in recent months to dial down the anxiety. Particularly because I was told this week that I am significantly high risk for heart attack or stroke, not in the future, but now. I’ve mentioned before that these risk factors showed up on recent blood tests. This week I had an appointment with the cardiologist who confirmed said risks. I am very frightened about what this means, of course I am, I am only 33 years old… and I have a family. However I am taking important life changing steps that are within my control, to reduce these risks as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less taxing, or terrifying.
What I need to remind myself of though, is that risks do not equal certainties. Because again, if I overthink the risks I am likely to spiral and lose my shit entirely. Group therapy is helping me learn lots of coping skills and medication is levelling me out, to a degree. Ultimately though, I have to take back my power and remind myself everyday that my best is good enough. There are many people in the world without my underlying health conditions whose lives still follow a trajectory that ends with ill health. Therefore I have no control over how my body responds to stressors, but I do have some control in eliminating some of those stressors. I am working hard on cutting down on my sugar and lowering my GI intake because of the prediabetes. I have removed fast food from my diet and I am trying to move more.
Mentally I am trying to relieve myself of guilt associated with my worsening health.
Physically I am trying to move more and be proactive.
Emotionally I am setting aside gripes and trying to improve communication with my family. I am trying to be more present, always.
Proactively I am following all advice from doctors and taking them up on the offerings of lifestyle support.
Tonight I had my first diabetes group. It’s a nine month program offered to NHS patients to reduce the risk of developing, or experiencing, complications from diabetes. I didn’t want to attend, mainly because I’m hormonal today, experiencing a moderate flare up in fibromyalgia symptoms and profound fatigue. Kaiser turned 8 months old, he still doesn’t sleep, is teething and very, very demanding. You cannot take your eyes off him for a second because he’ll be chewing the dog’s leg or eating the dirt dirt off the bottom of Ciara’s wellies (FML). Ultimately though, I just couldn’t be assed. I debated several times throughout the day not bothering with the course at all, because of course I know how to lose weight and be healthier all on my own. Diabetes isn’t just about being overweight though, in fact it isn’t at all, many slim and even underweight people, have diabetes. It’s about learning what is going to fuel your body and what is likely to hinder it in specific relation to blood glucose.
I’m so glad I attended, because I learned a lot. I’d go as far as to say I’m excited about the course now, because it’s giving me back some of the control I’ve been scrambling around anxiously for.
More than anything I want to make positive but sustainable changes. I know my life will be hindered by illness I’ve lived with chronic symptoms for a long time now and unfortunately there’s no cure for most of them. But there are things I can do to help myself. My whole life I have fallen victim to believing that everything is shit so what is the point, and the point is…. Everything doesn’t have to be shit all of the time.
If you are affected by diabetes you can find support here Diabetes Uk
Finishing quickly on another positive, I lobbed off my hair and went even more Cruella, let me know what you think via my insta.
Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this! Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations. Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link. https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph
Where to start. Good news or bad? I think I’ll start with the good. The weekend just passed, my husband and I went away for a cheeky, little, couple’s soirée. We travelled about an hour away from where we live in Bristol, to the Mendip hills and stayed in a holiday cottage. It was divine. The most exquisite bedroom complete with a roll top bath and Netflix, we spent most of our time in there catching up on….. you guessed it, sleep!
It also had a wood fired hot tub, we only successfully heated it up once, so the following day we had to cold dip instead! Suffice to say that ‘dip’ was much shorter in duration!
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I don’t really drink alcohol anymore. Only on very rare occasions, not because I’m a martyr or anything like that, just because my health doesn’t really allow for it these days. I was worried about how we would entertain ourselves without booze as this is the first time we’ve been away together since our wedding in Jan 2020! I needn’t of worried though, we had such a lovely relaxing time, chilled, acted stupid and just made the most of not having a child hanging off an arm each for three nights! I also managed to get through the weekend without any real flare issues. I did have hormonal cramps on one of the days but given the pain levels I’m used to, it was manageable and I’m so thankful for that.
Fast forward to Tuesday and I received a letter I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had a lot of tests recently because of a decline in my health and new unexplained symptoms. One of the tests was a standard blood glucose test and one of them was a cholesterol test. My cholesterol has been high for some time and I’m now, at aged just 33 being told I’m at serious risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next five to ten years and will require lifelong medication to prevent the risk of heart attack and stroke. I had gestational diabetes in pregnancy and was prescribed both oral and injectable insulin. It was hell on earth to be honest, I became obsessed with my sugar levels and racked with anxiety and panic. My blood glucose result is high again and I read it and cried, my father has type two diabetes and because of having gestational diabetes I am high risk already. I believed immediately I had type2 and would need insulin again. It turns out after reading the results properly, I’m in pre-diabetes or borderline diabetic. Which means: I need a lifestyle overhaul immediately.
It’s safe to say despite not yet being diabetic I am still devastated by these findings. On top of, FibromyalgiaPMDDMigraineSPD and Post Herpetic Neuralgia (reoccurring shingles pain) and catching covid at Christmas and currently being screened for heart and breast problems, I’m already in a pretty bad way. If we add in the mental health stuff too, Panic disorder and Perinatal Anxiety you might be starting to understand, as to why this has devastated me so much. Or you might be thinking I’m a hypochondriac, I wish I was. But sadly, all of this is very real.
At the moment, I feel shrouded in guilt and shame around having so many health problems at 33 years old.
That might sound crazy, because I didn’t ask for any of this, but I haven’t always followed advice either. I haven’t always done the right thing when it comes to self care & I’m struggling with that, because now I’m having to live with real life consequences.
I’m struggling with it because I have two kids & I feel like they deserve better than what I’ve been able to give them. I can’t even get decent life insurance with a premium that I can afford because my health is in such a poor state.
I feel guilty when I can’t get to Kaiser fast enough because my body isn’t playing ball or when I can’t rock him to sleep or carry him upstairs. When Ciara sees me in bed for the 1000th time on a weekend (the only time I can get a break when my husband is home) and asks me when I’m going to feel better, it makes me feel like shit.
I mentioned last week that I’ve let myself go, particularly in reference to my weight and I know some people reading this will think, just lose weight then! But it IS hard when your body punishes you every time you exercise and your mobility is extremely limited. It IS hard when you’ve given up lots of the things you used to enjoy, and now your main thing to look forward to is what you’re eating. It’s hard when your hormones upturn your life every two weeks and your hunger is cloaked in rage and desperation. It’s hard when you have no energy to prepare food, and you can’t open the lid on a jar, or lift a pan without help. It’s embarrassing. I am embarrassed. I’m ashamed to admit these things, they are the things I keep hidden or try to do independently and pay for afterwards. I’m telling you now, because it’s the truth. And because I know I have to take some accountability for the state my health is in.
Confession: These are excuses, but (hear me out) in some cases they’re valid excuses, because they do affect my ability to live a healthy lifestyle. And on top of those excuses I have been making positive changes. I’ve made so many I can’t even tell you, especially in direct relation to my mental health. However, physically it’s not enough, there is no alternative. I have to start somewhere, I have to lose weight, I have to try and build on my fitness somehow, and I have to start now.
I’m not wallowing in this latest health hit. I refuse to do that. I cannot be overcome with additional anxiety about my health. I cannot change these things overnight, but I may be able to limit some of the risks if I start now. So here I am, baring it all. Starting where I am and working with what I have, now, today. (Well actually I started yesterday, as soon as I read the letter.) It’s not going to be easy, but I can’t waste anymore time on excuses. I can’t just wait and see. I have to take drastic action.
I have to take action, for my family.
If you or someone you know lives with any of the health conditions mentioned you can access information about where to get support via the hyperlinks.
This week in our house everyone seems to be fully over the ‘Rona, except me, of course not me. My symptoms are lingering and have worsened whilst I’ve been in the luteal phase of my cycle. This isn’t unusual, I often get flare ups in all symptoms around this time of the month, and particularly symptoms stemming from viruses that weaken your immune system. I’ve had recurring shingles for a few years now and every single month without fail, despite being on antivirals indefinitely, I get a flare up in nerve pain at the outbreak site.
Having said that, this past week I’ve been busy! So busy, that I’ve had to be organised. I notice this organisation has had a positive impact on my mood despite being in luteal. It’s classic distraction I guess. Also my husband and I have a weekend away booked as it was our wedding anniversary this week and just knowing that I have three nights of child free sleep to look forward to, is undeniably liberating.
A few more things happened and one of them was, I saw a new GP. A big deal for me. I’ve had the same GP since before my Fibro diagnosis six years ago, and she’s been amazing. The idea of seeing a new one whilst she is on maternity leave has filled me with dread for months. But today I did it. It was ok. I went in with a list and ticked off all of this in 10 minutes….
Fasting bloods booked
Referral to rapid cardiac clinic
Breast clinic follow up appointment booked
Chased up Lipid clinic referral
Discussed further gynae/endocrinology input re PMDD
Post covid obs done
Face to face appointment for Kaiser booked for post covid obs.
Why am I telling you all of this in a blog post?
Well there is a reason, and it’s this weeks confession. I have always been a person that actively advocates for myself and my health. After all if I don’t, who else is going to do it for me? I research everything, I connect dots and I track my symptoms. But for months now, I have been slacking. It took me two months to drum up the courage to get a referral to the breast clinic, even though I had a very visible lump in my left breast. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be bothered to argue the toss with the drs receptionist about why I needed a face to face appointment, and every time I spoke to a healthcare professional that wasn’t part of my mental health team, I cried.
When you have chronic and mental illness you get used to being dismissed by doctors.
Can’t breathe, crushing chest pain? Probably just a Fibro flare up, I’m sure that’s a symptom! Or actually maybe it’s anxiety, have you been stressed lately?
Skull smashed open and brain hanging out? Sounds like a panic attack.
Gone blind? Sounds like a migraine.
And so on. I know I’m being glib, and I’m sorry if this exaggeration offends anyone, but seriously, sometimes visiting the doctor is like pulling fucking teeth. The issue with that is, the doctor’s the only person who can help you get the treatment you need, for the answers you had to figure out yourself.
And when you have kids it’s not even a case of whether or not you can cope with your symptoms. You don’t get a choice. I know it’s easy for me to say, and many people reading this may well think, well if it was that bad you wouldn’t be able to just cope. The truth is though, parents with their own health issues do just cope. Even the ones diagnosed with life threatening cancers still do the school run between scans and treatments. I personally have friends who have had to do this so I know that it’s true for some.
Big thing number 2.
Group therapy. I started it today. I want to write a whole blog post on the pros and cons once I’ve had a few more sessions so for now I’ll keep it brief. The session was two hours long. Two hours spent with a group in person might have felt quite nice, a chance to learn some new mindfulness skills and have a chat with others in a similar boat to myself, but two hours online was painstakingly long. Kaiser napped for just 15 minutes of it and trying to listen to other women speak over the top of crying baby heads felt strained. There were a few rules too, like we had to keep our camera on at all times so I couldn’t roll my eyes or go for a wee without having to let everyone know my reasons. I want to benefit from the group and I’m sure in time I’ll get used to it and maybe even bring some of my own value to it, but today I found it just made a stressful day with a baby, more stressful. The whole idea of this group is to be able to learn to regulate my emotions better, to deal with stress in a more productive way, and to feel more in control. So I’m going to stick it out, even if the first session did feel like it was an intrusion on my time. Therapy, I’ve learned is not supposed to be comfortable and it requires commitment so I feel I owe to myself to see this through.
Full time job
It has felt lately as though looking after my health and trying to juggle appointments and treatment is a full time job. Having a baby is also a full time job, both without annual leave or pay. I’m due back to work soon and no idea what I’m going to do about childcare or how to manage two full time jobs on top of a part time paid job. I want to be well in order to participate in my children’s lives, but I also need to earn money to be able to give them a decent life. The system is still fucked. It still penalises mothers who work or have partners. Childcare is still extortion, and I know I’m not alone in this plight. I just wish it was one of the ones I didn’t have to think about right now, but I know I do, as with the cost of living rising and wages becoming stagnant, it’s a very real threat to our livelihood and I guess lifestyle too.
Finally I’ve become more aware this week just how much I’ve let myself go, and I’ve set myself tiny goals of putting my makeup on more often and making sure I’m grooming myself! So far it’s going ok, but they do say it takes at least 3 weeks to form a habit so I’ll catch you up then.
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 ISlife 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.
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.
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
Apparently, according to the world of social media, the answer for some is yes. But I’m gonna call bullshit on this one and say it’s likely not the elf but the comparison to other mums that’s making you feel inadequate.
Let me explain…. As someone who uses Instagram to share family life, and who chooses to celebrate and share both successes and failures, I am very aware of how seeing things online can impact your mental health.
There are a whole host of topics that could or should be banned from social media. Topics that in my opinion elicit trauma, and if it was up to me I would choose not to read or see the things that trigger me.
I am able to mute, unfollow, ask not to see this again, in order to clean up my news feed.
Hence why I find it just a little bit unnecessary when someone has a rant about how Elf on the Shelf is making mothers (them) feel inadequate.
People who have tidy houses, are hugely successful and look like supermodels make me feel inadequate, but it would take me one hundred years, most likely bitter years, to successfully call out all of these people on their pretentiousness, but why would I want to?
Don’t get me wrong, as a disabled mother on a low income, I know what it’s like to be hard up. I’ve experienced trauma and I know what it’s like to struggle with your mental health. We all have triggers. All of us. But we also need to take stock and stop blaming others for triggering us.
The mum posting her child’s toy elf prancing around on a plastic dinosaur is not doing so to make you feel inadequate.
Realistically, she is probably doing it to make herself feel better, a silent high five to having remembered that Fergus-Frosty-Pants the elf needed to move his matchstick body, to another part of the house after her kids were tucked up in bed.
Similarly, the mum who takes pride in her home and posts pictures of it, is not doing so to make you feel inadequate. She’s sharing something she’s proud of.
I’m not a big fan of sharing hauls, or how many presents my kids get, mainly because I’ve always been brought up not to place too much value on material things, but you know what? If I could afford to do all the things with my kids that I’d like, if I could afford to shower them with gifts that fill rooms, I probably would. Of course we need to educate our children not to place value on how much they receive, I had a conversation just yesterday with my daughter about being grateful for all that she has as opposed to being sad about the things she doesn’t. It started when she sulked walking back from the shop because they didn’t have the Christmas tree biscuits we usually buy to decorate this time of year. We had a good chat about all the lovely things we’ve done and the crafts we’ve made in the run up to Christmas and that sulking about not being able to decorate some chewy gingerbread, kind of pales into insignificance if we compare. We talked about how there will inevitably always be things we want that we can’t have. Things others have that may make us jealous or resentful, but this is part of life. It’s literally something we all, even us as adults (clearly) will experience often. Comparison is the thief of joy and if we focus on what everyone else is doing and allow it to make us feel shit about ourselves, we lose sight of all the great things we have and if I’ve learned anything in the last year (and I like to think I’ve learned a whole lot) it’s that gratitude is not only a healthier way to eradicate the feelings of inadequacy that comes with comparison, it also helps us to feel better about what we have.
I see posts all the time saying ‘it’s ok if you don’t have XYZ this Christmas’ and of course it is, but I’m nonplussed as to when anybody suggested it wasn’t.
I myself am guilty of previously following trends, especially with the kids. Always wanting to make sure my daughter has a birthday party as great those of her peers. Don’t forget the photo ops, balloon arches and all that. However, I’ve learned that actually she’s happy if there is food and dancing, and she doesn’t really give a shit if she has 100 balloons positioned into a giant rainbow at five years old. I’ll add as well that all of these things are available in DIY and don’t cost the earth if you’re prepared to graft yourself.
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. ❤️🎄
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.
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, under psychiatric care, my labour was induced and 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, I’d 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, I was sure I would start to hear voices telling me to kill or harm my children. This made me feel disassociated often. Despite not actually hearing voices I was convinced they were coming and I would be sat in my bedroom listening for them. I later googled intrusive thoughts which convinced me I was suffering from severe OCD, despite not having any compulsions. Another common thought for me was passive suicidality, such as thinking I could just walk out in front of a lorry. Or consume all of the insulin in my possession.
When I discussed this with Neo my fear of OCD 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.
If you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period I would urge you to talk to your doctor. I know it’s hard, you may be feeling judged and terrified, but I promise you the road to recovery starts when you learn that you are not alone with these thoughts.
Other organisations that can provide help during the perinatal period are:
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