Got a preschooler who loves to explore? A baby under six months that is fascinated by their surroundings but still limited with movement? A tornado crawler? A toddler? If you answered yes to any of the above BWBWBWwill surpass your play expectations. Situated in East Bristol’s Longwell Green suburb, occupying an old shop space with free parking, it’s a play hub like no other.
If like me you dread soft play and get jittery just thinking about joining a baby group Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful is the perfect alternative to both. Roomy, open plan interiors and infinite open ended play resources, even an indoor sandpit, the play hub offers an ideal space for your little ones to roam free and explore safely. Possibly what’s even more special about this place is that they offer proper coffee in childsafe cups! That’s right, you can crawl about with your little ones and get your caffeine hit whilst it’s still hot. Teas and coffees are served in flasks with closed lids, making it much harder for your little one to come into contact with any hot liquid, yet miles easier for you to be able to enjoy a hot beverage. The perfect place for a Mother’s meeting too, aka a catch up with your bestie, where you can chat away freely whilst your babies safely enjoy all the hub has to offer. And there’s a lot on offer. Areas of imaginative play include a dress up station full of vintage treasures. An outside space to enjoy the summer months. A corner den lit up with twinkling fairy lights with hanging shower loofahs posing as pom poms. Giant teddy bears and a monochrome section, sure to peak your child’s imagination whatever their age.
Down the middle of the hub is a huge tube ready and waiting to have wooden cars and balls launched down its innards, enticing laughter and repetitive delight from the little people.
The hub also sports a café so you can grab a cake with your coffee, or feed your little’n lunch so they’re nice and full in time for a nap on the way home.
To access the play hub, booking is essential and can be done quickly and easily online via the website. Also on offer are classes including mother and baby fitness, and creative Little Pumpkins Play Time along with scheduled events for all of the family. The hub is run by early years specialists and all staff have the passion and knowledge required to bring out creativity, and inspire imagination in tiny brains. And if all of that isn’t enough to prompt a visit, they also have a range of items available to purchase from local small businesses. All products on offer -which include clothing, toys and child essentials- have been tried and tested by the hub’s staff.
Kaiser and I have recently purchased a membership which allows us to visit the hub for everyday play sessions as many times as we like, for just £18 a month. Usual pricing for everyday play is £4 per child and £2 per adult, so even if you only manage to go once a week, you’re still saving a tidy £6 a month with a membership.
It’s Tuesday and yesterday wasn’t a great day. I’ve been doing lots lately, socialising and catching up with friends, rearranging things that were supposed to happen around my birthday in April, but couldn’t go ahead because of sickness. Along with my mum’s sixtieth earlier this month. I’ve been out and about a lot. What should be, and is, a treat to most of us, costs me a lot physically and emotionally. That became paramount yesterday when I suffered my first panic attack in months upon waking. My thoughts were whizzing through my brain so fast I was getting snippets of memories that I couldn’t latch on to and feeling like I had zoned out. I told Shaun I was too afraid to be home with the kids on my own and that he would need to stay home too. After a short while that felt like a looooong while, I regained some composure. I acknowledged what I was feeling and thought about all of the discussions I’d had previously with the mental health team about how to rationalise my thoughts. I used distraction techniques learned in DBT too.
After that short while, I felt well enough to engage with the children and told Shaun I would be ok and for him to go to work. Then I did what I always do when I’m feeling anxious, I checked my period tracker. Now, the period tracker is doing half a job at the moment, because I’m no longer having a period in the blood shedding sense, but I am very much still suffering cyclically with PMDD. I’ve had random bleeds recently that have upset the original equilibrium of follicular and luteal. To be honest I dunno whether I’m coming or going! I blame the hormones.
But, and it’s a relevant but, I also did something brave. I reached out to The Pmdd Collective. The collective is a group of health and well-being practitioners that are PMDD informed and provide both psychotherapy and peer support to the PMDD community. Please do check out their website and Instagram page to stay up to date with all the amazing work they are doing, including offering reduced priced therapy sessions, PMDD focused poetry groups and much more.
After writing a message to Emily, a founding member of the collective via instagram, I realised in fact, the panic attack probably didn’t come out of nowhere. My discharge from the mental health team has been a heavy weight, mainly because of not being able to get any support whatsoever from my GP, despite my complaints and self advocacy. So I have felt a little lost and out on a limb. My hormones, of course are there, fluctuating and torturing me whilst they’re at it. My kids, are exhausting, and my body cannot often keep up with the physical demands required, to chase around a prewalker hellbent on making himself a Jason Statham stunt double. My pelvis has been agony lately, making even sitting excruciatingly painful and that’s more of an issue now that I’m back to work. It’s been a minute, and settling back in to routine whilst managing symptoms 24/7 and children and life, hasn’t been easy. Despite my employers being really supportive and attempting to make the transition smooth for me. My social life has turned up a notch and I’ve had to suffer the pain and fatigue, migraine and mouth ulcer, repercussions of having a social life as chronically hormonal and chronically sick person.
Lastly, the most notable reason for my panic yesterday was, I had a hospital appointment at 10am. A heart scan that will determine the function of my heart and either diagnose or debunk the original theory that I may have heart disease.
So I guess you could say, maybe it’s not that surprising or out of nowhere to have suffered a panic attack yesterday morning.
As always with these musings though, I like to try and think about the positives. I believe this counts as my confession, because I’m finally confessing to the belief that positivity can and does exist alongside all of the other shit! Here’s a little list of yesterdays positives for clarification.
I got through the panic attack. Without taking medication. I used skills I’ve learned and listened to voices I’ve heard before (in my head) teach me how to sit with these feelings for a while.
I got another perspective from Emily. It wasn’t about reassurance seeking, but rather a different viewpoint.
Writing it down, helped.
I danced (upper body only obvs) with the kids in the kitchen to The Specials, as a distraction technique and to boost endorphins.
I went into my hospital appointment strong. I have no control over the results so much like the breast clinic appointments I was having recently, I reminded myself not to panic about things that are out of my control.
I didn’t go crazy because of a panic attack.
My wise mind kicked in and I was able to calm myself down, something I haven’t been able to do on my own in 11 months.
The kids are both, alive, happy and loved. I’m doing a good job.
I know I’ve crammed a lot in, and much of it sounds negative, but it’s not all bad. I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to see my friends again more often recently, it’s been a wholesome experience. I just need to pace the social aspects of my life better. I’m grateful that I still have friends that want to spend time with me and invite me places. I’m grateful to have been able to go for walks with my mum and the kids, and I’m grateful to have spent some time as a family with Shaun and the kids. I’m also grateful to be shipping them (the kids) off to their other Nanny’s house on Thursday for the night because, Jesus, looking after Kaiser is like raising an unruly hyena cub, or at least what I imagine that to be like.
Life isn’t bad. Rough somedays, yes. But not bad. Ciara and I have talked a lot recently about extracting the good from the days. We’ve spent some time working through emotions and of course I have a husband who has his shit together and shares the load. Here’s where I say, probably not often enough, that I am grateful for him, too.
‘When you say you’re going to do something it takes a really long time sometimes, and sometimes you just forget all together.’
My six year old said to me tonight as we thought up new ways for her to learn her spellings. I spent ages cutting up letters so she could arrange them correctly. The traditional practising aloud was becoming tiresome for her and I could see her frustration. ‘Mummy doesn’t ever mind you getting something wrong, it’s how we learn’ I said to her, face screwed up in confusion at why she’s so upset. I want to prod but not too hard. I want to ask her why her emotional reaction is so major to something so minor. My brain working overtime, wondering whether someone has ever made her feel inferior for making a mistake, hoping that someone has never been me.
‘We still haven’t done my homework, you said we’d do it last night’
I did say that, but last night I was in bed, a migraine attack had me so sick, I couldn’t see, mid-cycle bleeding, cramps, along with feelings of anxiety and guilt all throbbing at my temples. I’d discussed with her how we were going to do her homework, we’d talked it through and even thought of different mediums to use for a collage. Then, like she said, I forgot. I had to work today, her brother up every two hours in the night, I can’t remember the last time I managed to watch a tv show all the way through with my husband without being interrupted by ‘I need a drink’ or ‘Waaah waaah waaaah, cough, cough, cough’ from the baby. The car was in for MOT today. I forgot to check out my online food shop too, and when it didn’t arrive as I expected today at 12 noon, I had a few choice words for the Asda customer service lady. That was until, I realised my error, apologised profusely and cried into a cold cup of tea.
‘You said we were going to put my picture in a frame’
I have no idea which out of the twenty seven pictures she’s drawn this week she’s referring to. I’ve forgotten. I love her artwork, but they’re not always memorable and some of them are awfully samey. I still love them, but not enough to frame each and every one. My hormone addled brain cannot hold on to another memory of felt tip hearts and swirls, or colouring pencil sketches of trees and mermaids.
‘You said I could have a balloon at the food festival, but we didn’t get one’
She’s right, I did say that, not wanting to get it on arrival in case she let go and the six pound foil dolphin flew up into the sky, never to be seen again. I had meant to get it for her before we left, but it was busy, the throng of bodies distracting me, exacerbating the heat from the sun. All of us tired from being amongst so many people. Her brother on his fifth suncream application. A desperate bid to get us all to the car before he woke up and terrorised us with post danger nap screams, on the ride home. I forgot. I just forgot.
And you know what? I feel bad. Of course I do. Every time I forget and she remembers, I feel terrible. But she forgets too. She’s forgotten that mummy took her to Little pink café on Saturday and the food festival Sunday. She’s forgotten that I tuck her in every single night and make sure she has clean clothes and her spellings are done, her books read, her PE kit ready, clothes for forest school too. I make sure she has money for whatever mufty day is occurring this week. That breakfast club is booked, and nanny’s picking her up. I’m also pretty good at whipping up a costume or two for the seemingly constant dress up days and Easter bonnet parades. She forgets to brush her teeth but I remind her. I clean her eyeglasses every night before she goes to sleep, and when she’s finally spent, I creep into her room and make sure she’s tucked in. I stroke her hair back from her face and tell her again (because I’ve already told her 100 times that day) how much I love her. She doesn’t know the impact of a mother’s load. To her it’s promises broken and forgotten moments.
Sometimes I forget things, but I remember a lot too. I remember without fail to remind her just how adored she and her brother are. Every day, of every week, of every year and I’ll continue to do that until it embarrasses her in front of her first crush, I’ll do it when they’re thirty and maybe have their own children to love. I’ll never stop. Because every word I say and every promise I make, is true, and yes I might forget, but when I’m reminded, I try my best to follow through. And our best is all we’ve got, right!?
If you’re a mummy that sometimes forgets and feels bad. Know this, it’s not just you. You’re not doing it wrong, it’s just hard. And if you’re worrying about being a good mum, the chances are, you already are one.
MMHAW runs from 2nd-8th May 2022. It’s purpose is to raise awareness for mental illness and mood and anxiety disorders that occur during the perinatal space. The perinatal space is considered to be from pregnancy right up until your child is a year old, but in my personal experience this fluctuates for everyone. Last year during MMHAW, I was pregnant, and in a very dark place. I opted not to get involved in much awareness raising, though it was a decision that I found difficult, because spreading awareness of topics such as this, is so important to me. However, whilst these weeks/days/months are so important, they don’t come without triggers. So I want to let you know, if you’re in the perinatal space, just out of it, or five years postpartum, if spending too much time online is proving triggering for you right now, please take a break. Not feeling able to spread awareness is ok. Joining in for one day is ok. Wanting to get involved in the whole shebang is ok. Having good intentions and then changing your mind? Also ok.
Maternal mental health/illness is complex and the effects are different for everyone. We’re often warned of postnatal depression but maternal mental health is so much bigger than depression alone and definitely doesn’t just occur postnatally. I’ve had two babies and suffered with my mental health with both, throughout pregnancy and during the perinatal space. But the effects of each illness were very different. For example with my daughter I suffered low mood (depression) as more of a prominent symptom. I would want to be away from her a lot and I struggled with bonding and finding my identity as a mother. With my son, anxiety and intrusive thoughts were the overriding emotional responses to pregnancy and for a long time postpartum. I couldn’t be alone with the children for weeks after his birth, I felt as if something bad was going to happen whilst they were in my care. I had many intrusive thoughts and my main fear was of developing psychosis. Funny really, because the fear of this very nearly tipped me onto the scale of being psychotic.
Have you ever considered the language used in relation to maternal mental illness?
The reason I ask this, is because I have realised as a sufferer and survivor that we are still relatively behind in how we refer to maternal mental illness. Many people still only resonate with the term postnatal depression except we know that postnatal is just one period within the perinatal space. We know that depression is just one of the many perinatal mental illnesses that affect women during this time period.
Other types of maternal mental illness include
Peri and postpartum psychosis
Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder
Development of menstrual disorders postnatally
Organisations such as PANDAS often now refer to mental illness that occurs during the perinatal space PMADS which stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Others refer to postnatal depression as PND or PPD and some like myself who suffered both depression and anxiety refer to it as PNDA. Perinatal depression and Anxiety. The terminology might not seem overly important, but what is important is the level of understanding and knowledge, that maternal mental illness is not just one symptom, it can often include all of the above at the same time.
I’ve just finished ten months of medical and therapeutic intervention since giving birth to my son in July 2021. I am also medicated for both anxiety and PMDD. Having my children crippled me physically, it shattered my mental health and any equilibrium in my life disappeared. I love my kids, that’s not in question. Though I found growing, birthing, and caring for both of them during the perinatal period, traumatic in the extreme.
What really saddens me when I look back now is that I cried out for help, particularly in my second pregnancy. From just seven weeks pregnant I asked for mental health support. I was told I wasn’t anxious or depressed enough at that time. There was no preventative intervention, nobody to guide me. Particularly as I carried my son during the height of the 2020 pandemic. By the time I was admitted to hospital on the verge of psychosis, the damage had been done. Not only did I need to recover from the trauma of a debilitating pregnancy, I had to do so whilst mentally very unwell and with two children to look after. I still believe that if I had been referred to the perinatal mental health service earlier in my pregnancy my experience would have been very different. You can read more about my experience during my second pregnancy here. Pregnant and chronically ill.
I haven’t shared Kaiser’s birth story, because still to this day, ten months on, after much therapy and support, I find it a harrowing and destabilising time to reflect on. I can talk about it in conversations but I struggle when recalling the details and writing it all down. It causes me pain. And whilst I’ve worked through a whole heap of trauma and accepted my illness, delving into and sharing the true extent of my thoughts is not something I’m completely comfortable with yet.
What I am willing to do is share a quote from the day he was born. A quote that I wrote in the notes on my phone during our first night with Kaiser.
I feel scared of my baby, scared of what the responsibility of being his mum means. I’m missing my other baby, I can’t cope with this one too. Am I a bad mum? I don’t want to be here, in this room with the yellow light and the sound of feet moving and trollies rolling outside of its door. I don’t want to go home either. I just don’t want to be HERE at all.
There is a lot of work being done by charitable organisations such as PANDAS as well as The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to find out what’s causing huge hold ups for people waiting for mental health care during the perinatal period. NHS England are also working on extending the time you can be supported when suffering perinatal mental illness. It’s currently until your child is a year old, however many women find symptoms of mental illness might occur later in the perinatal period and need further or ongoing support.
If you are struggling with your mental health at all please reach out to your GP or one of the organisations listed below. You’re not alone. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your GP ask to see someone else. If you or someone you know is suicidal please visit your nearest A&E department or call your maternity unit immediately. Mental health care is for women during the perinatal period is as essential as physical healthcare.
Three months I’ve been writing these, and they are basically just a way for me to brain dump, to offload and overshare. However, when I look back to number one, I can also see personal growth. Those confessions I wrote in the first few chapters of COACIM were so much bigger than the ones I’m bringing to you now, and that’s because things have changed.
So what’s been happening? A lot actually. But before I get into it, I have to admit that having Shaun off over Easter for a week was undeniably helpful. This week, I am feeling done in. My joints hurt, I have brain fog, migraine symptoms and generally feel under par. It’s only two weeks since I last felt like this which is proper shit as it means this menstrual cycle, PMDD and Fibro symptoms are massively overlapping, and ergo exacerbated. The last week of the Easter hols was just me and the kids, and surviving that after a week away and all of us contracting norovirus, along with my normal and new symptoms, was pretty tough going.
You know what though, I’m proud of me. I’ve been relentless with this PMD Awareness month stuff, now having raised over £500. I’ve had so much support, mostly from strangers online as per, and those IRL proper mates that show up for you whatever shit you’re spouting about on the gram. I also participated in two instagram lives, one with IAPMD and one with The PMDD Collective; you can check them out below.
I’ve finally got childcare sorted for going back to work. Kaiser has had his settling in sessions, he did really well, especially as it’s at two different settings. We’ve been together for such a long while now that I imagined him to be clingier, turns out if you have snacks and give him lots of attention, he’s anyones’
I have a few things going on health wise. Mentally, I’m trying to prepare for being discharged from the perinatal service, and it’ll come as no surprise that one of my confessions is that, I’m terrified. I’m worried of how I will measure up without a team of people supporting me and fighting my corner. Physically I’m still waiting on test results for a second diabetes check, and appointments for my heart issues as well as physio.
I’m due to return to my job in less than a week, so I’ll have to adjust to life back on the 9-5 for those two days. I’ll confess that I’m not looking forward to it. To say that I am would be a lie. In all honesty, it’s nothing to do with work, they’ve been great and supportive. It’s all to do with me! The reality is I don’t know how I’m going to fair as an increasingly disabled person, and mother of two other persons, back in the working world. With our financial situation as it is at the moment though, there is no other viable option and this makes me very stressed indeed. I feel like I am only just coming through my recovery journey of perinatal mental illness and regaining my mobility, whilst still managing an ever increasing list of health problems, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think work was going to upset the equilibrium I’ve finally established in my everyday life.
I’ve realised since being involved with IAPMD this month how much I love my advocacy work and I’d really love to be able to keep giving back, writing and making a difference but again, I don’t know how achievable that will be once I’m back doing what I have to, to put food on the table. That said I still really want to expand my blog, upload the fiction I’ve been working on and share that with you all. I also have a new interactive feature coming soon!
Dear Steph is a new agony aunt style feature where I’ll be answering your questions about almost anything! Just for fun. My friend Amy keeps on telling me how wise I am, and during my collaborative work with House21 I was often told I should cameo on their Dear Donna feature! So I thought fuck it, and decided to go for it.
I hope you’ll send in your problems or confessions for me to comment on to firstname.lastname@example.org adding Dear Steph in the subject line. It can be 100% anonymous if you so wish. Serious and funny/questions/problems welcome.
There are a few restrictions, mainly because I need to protect myself and make sure I’m offering support to anyone who writes in. (Knowing my luck nobody will -LOL)
Important to note, I’m not a professional so if your topic includes any of the following please seek professional support.
Health issues that require a medical opinion or further investigation.
I will happily give my advice, personal opinions and share my experience on mental health and or chronic illness, but if you require specific medical advice please seek support from a qualified practitioner.
I want to hear your most embarrassing moments and comment on them (no judgement here) I want to hear about your relationships, struggles, motherhood woes and workplace dramas. Is your mother in law driving you up the wall? Have you fallen out with your best friend? Maybe your partner is giving you the ick? Or are your kids’ as feral as mine and you need some reassurance that it gets easier? Basically I’m trying to fulfil one of my younger selfs’ dreams of having my own agony aunt column in the back of That’s Life magazine. So do me a solid and send in your woes and faux! Dear Steph will start as soon as your emails come in, and I’ll respond to one a week, once a week, on a Thursday.
On 3rd April we hired Brett to take some photographs at our daughter’s sixth birthday party. During my time blogging I’ve met some great photographers and all of them offer a different and individual vision. We hadn’t used Brett before. We’d never hired a professional to photograph a kid’s party before either. It’s safe to say though, we were more than a little thrilled with the final pics.
Those of you that have been reading my blogs for a while will know, I don’t often review products or services. But I felt it important to write a full review of Brett’s services and tell you why I think you should hire him for your next event.
Brett arrived early, managing to capture some fantastic, intimate, family photos before the carnage of 30 six year olds ensued.
Brett’s presence was non invasive. You can imagine lots of kids don’t want to be lined up for a hundred photographs when they could be partying, and Brett made sure that wasn’t necessary, whilst still managing to capture some perfect shots.
He has a very arty flair when it comes to captures, and he managed to make the otherwise plain background of the hall fit perfectly into each photograph.
He listened to what we asked for and delivered.
His efficacy of getting the finished edit to us was stellar.
Brett is Wiltshire based but also covers surrounding areas, he is available for family shoots, weddings, landscapes and a variety of other photography services.
What I really liked about having Brett at our daughter’s party, was his patience. When you’re surrounded by children moving at speeds, for hours, it can be hard to capture the perfect shot, but that wasn’t an issue for Brett. He was dedicated to the cause and managed to capture our daughter, and us as a family, beautifully.
So why would you hire Salako Photography for your event? Well, if you’re after a patient, punctual and interested photographer, who listens to your ideas and is speedy with his edits. I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t want to hire Brett. His prices are competitive, he really cares about your vision and will work with you to achieve it whilst adding his own artistic flair. We now have a whole album of our daughter’s special day that we’ll be able to cherish forever. Her first birthday as a big sister, and her first surrounded by friends post covid-19.
I highly recommend Brett, he’s not just a great photographer, but a genuine and friendly guy, too!
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.
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.
The difference two weeks make when you’re living your life around hormones, pain, kids and food…
Ok so some context, last week I was so irrational and some days inconsolable. I cried relentlessly and burst into a tearful rage when my husband told me roofers were coming to do some work on our roof.
I’ll go as far as confessing my embarrassment when I attended group therapy Friday and had to partake in an exercise. It went like this..
Group facilitator: Name a situation this week whereby you haven’t been able to contain your emotions.
Me: My husband told me the roofers were coming and I don’t want them there, making noise, antagonising the dog, leaving their shit all over my driveway, waking the baby up with their clanking, etc etc etc.
Group facilitator: Ok now strip away your interpretation and just give us the facts. What was the situation?
Me: My husband told me the roofers were coming.
I can laugh about it now, because I realise how pathetic it is to get so emotional and behave so irrationally over something rather minor. However, to me and my perception, all I could think of was them invading my safe space and my peace, and my feelings felt really valid at the time. I know my hormones and the way I am living my life around them at the moment isn’t sustainable. My daily tracker consists of days feeling angry/anxious/flat/tearful to severe itchy skin/insomnia/nightsweats/cramps/bloating and more. But even with these hellish symptoms, likely as a result of taking progesterone, I’ll still take them over feeling suicidal every month and having migraine attacks that last a week at a time. Weighing it up with pros and cons isn’t the right thing for me to do, because in all honesty I have to accept that I will live with moderate to severe symptoms probably indefinitely, whilst praying that their severity is less.
In the last two weeks Ciara has been poorly, emotional and generally not herself. In the last few days she has perked up again and this brings me joy, I really struggle to regulate my own emotions when the kids are ill and I know they need me to master this better. For some reason I just seem to retain so much anxiety when one of them is not their usual selves. Kaiser has started flying around on his knees faster than our old Seat Leon, and climbing the walls quite literally, but still rarely sleeping. I’ve also spent a night alone in the house with Kaiser that I was petrified of doing, eradicated lots of foods from my diet and lost 6lbs despite the cravings those hazardous hormones bring! So it’s not been all bad.
It’s also noteworthy that whilst some symptoms have been tolerable, fibro fatigue and brain fog has been much worse, though physical pain in the more manageable stakes. We’ve gotten out and seen friends we’ve not seen for ages. I’ve all but organised everything for Ciara’s birthday party, and…life goes on. It’s up and down and yoyo’s persistently but some of it, is ‘just life’ I guess, and not everything is a catastrophe, as much as my brain would like to convince me otherwise!
Next week I have my first appointment with the diabetes team postpartum, and also an appointment with cardiology. Alongside these I have to collect my new laptop for my imminent return to work and arrange for Kaiser to meet his childminder. It’s all go for sure, but it’s not all bad. Shaun and I have a night off this weekend, his parents are having both children so we can lie in bed all day and binge watch all the TV we started the last time we didn’t have the kids home which was January!
Life is good and then it isn’t, it’s awful followed by magnificent, excruciating and liberating all at once. So far this week, I’m grateful for small wins, play dates, family and friendship.
It’s all been going on! Since last week’s news about my health, I’ve been determined to go full steam ahead with the diet change. For us, living on takeaways we can’t afford and binging on food instead of our pre kid vices like booze and fags, has been the norm for so, so long. Shaun set us a goal of no takeaways in February and I know we’re only 2 weeks in but for a couple who ate pizza and mail order brownies several times a week, we’re smashing it. I’ve signed up to do a diabetes prevention course which I’m keen, but also stressed about getting started on. Keen because I want to make the best changes possible, but stressed because it’s another thing to try and squeeze in to my ever full appointments calendar.
Kaiser has started crawling! At seven months old, Ciara was crawling at six months plus two weeks, so this didn’t come as a huge surprise. But how annoying are kids that move so soon?
Confession - This week Kaiser had to see a paediatrician. I won’t go into detail here but, we need to get a urine sample from him. Note I say need and not needed because after two hours of trying to catch his piss in a plastic tub, inside a waiting room on the children’s ward, I gave up. I also, and shoot me for being a terrible mother, wished they would just do a bastard heel prick blood test and let him scream! After failing in my attempts and wrestling him into a position that wasn’t comfortable for either of us, I left the appointment sweating profusely in unbearable pain and doing a lot of cussing. Nobody wants to see their baby in pain, but dear god I would of preferred the blood spot over that pantomime. Worse still I am going to have to endure the debacle all over again in my second attempt. Have googled whether it’s ok to wring out a nappy, but have been sadly informed it is not! Fucking Kids!! To top that, Ciara had an appointment at Bristol Eye Hospital and fainted! My second confession is that I was glad it was Shaun that was with her and not me. I know that sounds awful but I also know I would have panicked so badly I wouldn’t of been able to cope. Or maybe I would, maybe I’d have dealt with it on autopilot. Right now though, I’m just glad she’s safe and seems to be otherwise fine. She’s so desperate to go to school tomorrow for her non uniform day in aid of Childrens Mental Health Week that I’m letting her sleep with me tonight so I can monitor how she’s doing.
I’ve been struggling immensely with TMD and went to the dentist on Monday only for them to shave off half of one of my wisdom teeth and then tell me that probably won’t work. PSA, it didn’t! Unfortunately, hormones (those bastards) really flare up all of my pain and it’s not unusual for me to experience horrific TMD during ovulation and through luteal.
Speaking of hormones, I’ve been taking progesterone for around 4 months now, and whilst I am seeing some relief from the mental health symptoms, physically things are no better. In fact I may even go as far as to say they are a little worse. It’s hard because I have to weigh up what is worse, and realistically I know it’s the crippling anxiety and thoughts of suicide, along with inexplicable rage. But knowing this still doesn’t make the physical symptoms any easier to manage.
What I will say though, is that I am managing the mental symptoms I am experiencing, much, much better. And I think I have therapy to thank for that. It’s a slow burn, therapy! It makes you feel vulnerable with each session, but the more vulnerable you can allow yourself to be, the less that vulnerability is able to take hold. Then suddenly, seven months later, you realise you are doing better! You don’t always feel it, but you know it’s true. The feeling of drowning in quicksand every time you have a bad day gets less, and it starts to feel more as though you’ve just been inconveniently splashed by a car driving through a muddy puddle.
I’m not saying I’m cured, or that I will never have episodes of dread and impending doom again. But I feel right now, that if I do experience that again, I have more tools in my arsenal to help me fight it. I’ve another eight weeks of group therapy to get through before I can be discharged from the perinatal service. Discharge looms, like a black cloud really, because I’ve been helped in so many amazing ways by the team that I’d like to be able to talk to them about my trauma forever. At some point in the not so distant future, I’m going to have to hold my own hand.
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.
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. ❤️🎄
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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