Blacklisted for Having Kids.

I read an article this week written for Stylist. and it boiled my blood a little. I’m hormonal (cycle day 26) and so this may have been a slight overreaction on my part…. But let me explain.

The article which first caught my attention via a quote on instagram, was displayed with the words….

“So many times I’ve wanted to say, stop sending me unsolicited pictures of your children. I’m sick of being cancelled on at the last minute.”

@Stylistmagazine

Now we all know media pulls quotes for attention, writers – including myself – do too! The reason this got me going wasn’t because it’s written by someone who doesn’t have children and therefore they cannot comprehend the incessant need as a parent, to snap cute pictures of your kids during all stages, at all times… Instead, it was the ‘I’m sick of being cancelled at the last minute’ comment that got my knickers in a knot. This, because sure, it’s shit being cancelled on, but if the excuse is the kids, then someone whom doesn’t have children (especially small ones) can’t relate to the magnitude of their needs, and the ever present fear as a mother, that you might indeed need to cancel plans at the very last minute because your child has yet another temperature that’s just a modicum too high for your liking. A snotty nose that needs constant wiping, or God-forbid they randomly vomited up the dinner you cooked them just hours ago, before you dressed to go out.

Secondary to the above, I saw a tweet referencing parents which read….

‘Remote working = even more excuses for parents to claim ‘sick’ kids for their lack of productivity.’

Misogynistic Corporate Type – Twitter

I mean, WHAT THE ACTUAL?? Last I checked, we were about to enter 2023 but here I found myself trawling the dark ages of Twitter.

Not only does the tweet make little sense, given that remote working has proven parents in particular to have increased levels of productivity, it was written by a man whom also doesn’t have children.

The generalisation that all parents, though let’s be honest – we’re talking predominantly mothers here – use any excuse to a) bail on their friends at the last minute and 2) skive off work all day, is perhaps not surprising but alarming nonetheless. It suggests that we (mothers) are literally at the bottom of everybody’s reliability list. Which is ridiculous if you consider how committed the majority of us are when it comes to parenting our children.

What maybe bothered me the most, is the realisation that I used to be one of these presumptuous, and unashamedly judgemental, people. Eye rolling at every new upload of somebody’s kid eating their first broccoli. NGL I still eye-roll at this on occasion but in my defence, the eye-roll is inward and I’m far less frivolous with my judgement. To think I may have been somebody whom put parents in a specific and wrongly undervalued category, now makes me cringe!!

My best friend had birthed three children before I’d had any and I’m ashamed to admit that I used to be a person who assumed her absence from events was down to fabricated childhood illness. Now, as a mother of two and someone that has more health issues than Katie Hopkins has haters, I’ve had to make peace with becoming the unreliable and often-absent, friend.

However, I’d like to be clear, my excuses for bailing on my mates at the last minute, aren’t in fact excuses at all. They are instead justifiable reasons. As would be one of my child-free friends cancelling because their cat was on its’ last paws. If anything, rather than giving me an endless list of get-out-of-jail-free excuses, it was actually motherhood that opened my eyes to all possible eventualities. And it was both that and disability which provided me with the eye-opening, and painfully stark dose of reality, that life can and does change at the drop of the proverbial hat.

It would seem our unreliability as parents, through no fault of our own, has black-listed us to our own unique and increasingly lonely, club.

If your friends are sending you ‘unsolicited’ pics of their children, for fuck’s sake, have a conversation with them. I know myself, as a mother and a friend, I would hate for my pals to be in receipt of pictures from me which they felt strongly enough to complain about. Whether those pictures are of unfunny memes, plates of food I have no desire to recreate, or even cute (or not cute) kids doing boring shit. If my friend was constantly filling my WhatsApp feed with photos that left me feeling drained, or gave me the ick, I can assure you – I’d be ribbing her about it. Thankfully, I can say with confidence that the pictures I get from my mates are usually hilarious, cute or relevant. Even if they’re none of those things though, I can still appreciate the joy such a picture may have brought to the sender and go about my day without feeling personally affronted by it. Unless, for obvious reasons, it’s an unsolicited dick pic from a man… in which case… friend or no friend = B L O C K E D.

To my friends, the parents and the pet parents and the single, and the child-free, you’re good! Keep uploading those pics of your cute kids and your dinner to Instagram. I promise the ones I’m uninterested in I’ll just mind my business and scroll past. And whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for needing to rearrange your working day because one of your kids is sick. Being a working parent is stressful enough without adding in an extra dose of guilt. Your kids may not yet appreciate your sacrifice, but believe once they enter adulthood themselves they’ll be grateful for the days you changed sick bowls and soiled sheets instead of answering phone calls.

Confessions Of A Chronically Ill Mum #21

Yesterday was a bit of a pity party – sometimes we’re allowed to have those. As long as you don’t outstay your welcome at the party, you know, make sure you leave before the sun comes up. It’s totally justified to indulge in self pity once in a while, when life feels too much and you’re overwhelmed, and everything’s going wrong or you’re unwell. The idea of being positive all the time really can feel quite toxic. I’ve been feeling lonely, as though my circle has shrunk to such a minutiae and I’m struggling to find anyone to reach out to that I haven’t bored to tears with my problems a million times already.

I love a bandwagon – Spirit Costume

In the space between my last update and now, so much has happened. Too much. I will never have the short hand speed or memory to recite it all. Today though, I ‘dusted myself off’ it’s been a week in the making, because for the last 5 days I have slobbed about half naked, nursing a sick baby and struggling to get on top of my own ailments.

I guess the most notable thing to happen and served to also be most terrifying, is my son’s recent contraction of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. A ‘mild’ childhood illness that’s extremely contagious and turned out not to be very mild at all. Don’t get me wrong, he’s recovering well, but the symptoms were savage. He had a high fever for days, constant vomiting and was writhing in agony from the blistering rash that covered most of his body not just his hands, feet and mouth. It was awful to watch. It took us two days to be seen by a doctor and over a week for his symptoms to dissipate.

Secondly, and more life changing…. I handed in my notice at work. For years now I have been trying to hold down a job that requires me to be present during the core hours of 9-5. As a sick person who is also a parent, I have found this almost impossible. Since having Kaiser and the landslide both my mental and physical health took, it became really impossible. Because, not only am I shit out of luck with childcare, I’m always ill. Meaning, somedays I’m not able to function prior to 11am and other days it’s 8pm before my brain has travelled through and out the other side of its’ fog.

It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I mean who in their right mind would quit their job during an economic crisis, right? But I really did feel I had no choice in the end. Despite my employer really trying to support me, my own sickness absence, on top of dependants leave to compensate nursery closures and childhood illnesses, remained high. Since starting HRT my memory has been awful, my mental health is fragile at best, and physically I still cannot sit or stand for any duration without being in real pain. I didn’t want to leave my job, but something had to give and I’m not well. I haven’t been well for years. I’ve pushed through until now, for the bare minimum and it has had a detrimental effect on my whole life.

Silly really, but I sat with my hand hovering over the keyboard for ages before taking the plunge to post this. There are so many parts of me that feel as though I’ve failed. As a wife, and as a mother. Some moments I think the guilt will swallow me whole. I’ve agonised over what people will think and indeed whether or not I’ll be able to feed my children without a stable income.

That said, I made this decision with the help of my family because we believe it is the right one for us. I’ve realised it’s not that I can’t work at all, it’s that I need to be able to work around my health and my parental responsibilities. Unfortunately life doesn’t offer many opportunities for disabled parents to be able to do that. However, I’ve recently put my heart and soul into the charity work I’ve been doing for PMDD and I plan to continue to do this, while also trying, once again, to make my writing work for me. So if you’re after some copy, a CV, or are interested in having me write an article for you, please get in touch!

Confessions Of A Chronically ill Mum #20

It’s 2am on Saturday morning, or Friday night- whatever….and I’m wide awake. I have been to sleep but I’m having awful trouble staying there. I had a significant psychological wobble earlier this evening.
After the hype around my debut newspaper article earlier in the week, followed by genuine relief at another good day in the bag for my son (who is really struggling with separation anxiety currently) at
the childminders. This wobble knocked me for six. It shouldn’t have really, because I’m at the end of my cycle, and I know what that means….

For those of you that know about my health already, I won’t need to say much – other than PMDD got it’s claws stuck into my psyche.

I’m a paranoid, angry (fuming actually – but don’t ask me why) tearful, mess of a woman, whom also told the car insurance telephone handler earlier in the day to get a new job because he had the intelligence of a
gnat. Who even am I?

I have felt physically terrified for no
reason. I wanted to lash out at other parents for breathing next to me at the harvest festival. The sound of my kids’ talking and playing made my skin hurt. Don’t even get me started on what Kaiser’s screaming is doing to my blood pressure. I have a mouth full of ulcers, limbs made of lead, period pain that feels like labour, and can’t stop itching – oh and eating!!! And all of that is ‘just’ menstrual – not to mention sitting or standing for more than 5 minutes at a time leaves me in agony, getting in and out of the car and lifting my son makes me want to cry. To add insult to injury, everything I do to relax fails, every book I attempt to read feels like
the words are sliding off the pages and flying the fuck away from me. I just can’t process life at all!

“Stop the waltzers! I prefer the certainty of a prize that comes with hook a duck”

There are so many points I want to make with this blog post. The main one is, these things, this trauma and constant carousel of feelings that come with chronic illness, don’t ever really go away. No matter how long you’ve lived with something, no matter how great the good days are, there’s a lingering trepidation of when the lights might go out again and how long it will take until, or even whether or not they’ll eventually come back on. Of course the evidence suggests they will [the lights] come back on, but it’s hard to believe when you’re run down and in pain.

It’s Saturday lunchtime now and I’m waiting patiently to be seen in rheumatology again. The combination of the constant diarising of appointments, childcare and HRT, is making me forgetful. I’m struggling to keep up with my physical therapy exercises, which I know is only going to exacerbate my pain in the long run, but that’s really the point I’m trying to make in response to all the ableist propaganda circulating at the moment – having a chronic illness is a full time job and when all of your time isn’t being taken up trying to feel better, you’re planning damage limitation for the next time you might feel shit. All of this of course on top of parenting, being a wife, friend, working part time in a regular job and so on. It’s not easy, it’s definitely not fun.

It’s Monday and Kaiser has had another awful day at the childminder’s house resulting in me in tears the same time as he was, with less than a mile in distance between. Shaun had to leave work to collect him in the end. It’s unfortunate that this coincides with the week I’d usually be on my period – which means the rage and anxiety and general feelings of overwhelm are taking hold. I’m again anticipating what the fuck I’m going to do if I have to seek alternative care for a baby that is already so anxious in the face of change. Or god forbid I have to leave my job to care for him full time when I’m barely surviving caring for myself.

Bedtime now and yet nobody sleeps. Shaun tiptoes around the house on his size tens and Ciara is up and down like a yo-yo with various complaints of insomnia. Kaiser will be awake in a minute, desperate for a cuddle.

I love being a mum but I struggle with it so much. Every month I wonder how I’ll survive and what the future looks like if and when I eventually lose my shit all together. Somehow we make it though, we adapt and make allowances and exceptions.

People say I don’t know how you do it and my reply is always I don’t have a choice. But that’s not the only suitable response: another appropriate one would be I don’t do it, we do it. Together! Because without them, there’d be no me. Forever grateful to be lucky enough to have created this wonderful family even with all of our flaws, challenges and trials combined.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #19

Hi. It’s been longer than my usual long while since I posted COACIM. In fact, I haven’t been writing anything much and definitely nothing so personal. I’ve had neither the inclination or the ability, and I’ve barely been keeping up with my medication not least my mothering responsibilities. It’s all felt like such a lot lately.

Not sure if I mentioned here before, but back in March I saw a consultant about my cholesterol. It was ridiculously high, putting me at serious risk for heart and cardiovascular diseases. I resisted starting medication because I’d not long commenced HRT. I’m already quite heavily medicated for my anxiety, fibromyalgia and migraine, and statins have a bit of a bad rep for side effects. Anyway, last month the consultant called me and said I had no good cholesterol in my body and without medication ‘it’s not a case of if you’ll have a heart attack or stroke it’s a case of when’ adding firmly at the end ‘you’re a ticking time bomb.

This conversation took its toll on me mentally, as you might imagine it would. Especially because since the appointment in March I’d been working really hard on looking after my health and essentially this consultant was telling me it wasn’t good enough. I felt at this point as though I had little choice, so I ignored my reservations and started the statins.

Long story short, so far the side effects are indeed awful and I have been really unwell. The worst flare up in my fibromyalgia symptoms I’ve seen for some time. I have been wading through treacle each day, or at least that’s how it’s felt with the level of fatigue I’m suffering. Brain fog and my memory, which had worsened significantly since starting HRT anyway, is now shot to bits. I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory and taking in information but for the last two weeks I have barely remembered what day it is, and that’s not an exaggeration. I’ve led in bed on days I’m supposed to work and been confused at why my alarm is going off and Kaiser’s dressed for the childminder. I’ve not been able to write because I can’t remember what it is I’m trying to say. It sucks, and this post itself has taken me a week to finish.

As you may know fibromyalgia causes widespread pain and profound fatigue. Since starting statins this has worsened and I have severe muscle pain, while also feeling as though I have the flu, all the time. I’m napping during the day when Kaiser naps and having to throw water on my face to stay awake during a work meeting. I can’t lift my son because my body feels too weak.

Parenting is kicking my proverbial. Day and night, night and day. Even after having a break last weekend to sleep and recharge whilst the kids were with my mother in law – it doesn’t feel like enough. I need a break after 10 hours. Shaun and I are drifting with no real idea where the fuck we’re going because we’re too exhausted to hold a conversation. He is knackered from picking up all the slack and it’s pretty shit because I don’t know what my alternatives to these tablets are. The consultant made it sound as though their wasn’t one. Kaiser has started walking and yes…he’s a total babe, but he’s also hands down the most exhausting human I’ve ever come across. I find being his mum a privilege and sometimes, like now when I’m not feeling my best and being brutally honest… a chore.

I have a feeling Ciara might be going through some developmental changes, because her emotions are all over the place and it can be hard work trying to prize out of her what’s going on. She is a tiny perfectionist whom hates doing badly at anything and it’s become more pronounced this term. I don’t know why or how this has become such a big deal to her because we rarely ever tell her off and absolutely never for getting something wrong or making a mistake. It’s gut wrenching to see your child grapple with their emotions. She also has the hearing of an elephant and questions everything you say, remembers it, then recites it back to you… so there’s no hiding in this house and sometimes let’s be honest, mums want to hide (well I do anyway)

Finally, I wanted to add that I’ve been feeling quite sentimental and at times, extremely lonely. Your world can become horribly small when you’re unwell and people do drift. I’m not blaming those people because I know it’s nobodies fault – when someone (me) is constantly cancelling plans and letting people down, often last minute, you lose your place as first on the list as an invitee…. I just think Covid and everything else that’s going on in the world right now has highlighted to me how insular I’ve become. It’s a bit of a dichotomy for me to be honest, because part of me loves being in a familial bubble and not having to explain myself to people or show up for small talk, but the other part of me is in need of genuine social and human connection. What I do know is I don’t really have a lot to say about much other than my health and the kids, and I’d like that to change soon, adding a bit of me back into the bargain.

Overall, and in spite of what you’ve just read, I’m happy. I’m trying and sometimes even succeeding to not letting myself be sucked down into my usual negative cycle of mum guilt and self loathing. And I feel immense gratitude to be embarking on new journeys and to have had some really amazing and exciting opportunities come up for me recently. I will elaborate at some point but ultimately what I’m trying to say is, I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom, because my life isn’t all bad in fact it’s mostly good but it’s still hard to live with poor health when parenting small and impressionable children.

I do also have a HRT update for you but for now I can’t even begin to concentrate enough to fill you in on that, too. It’ll come soon if I can manage it! 💙

Sometimes mummy forgets.

‘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.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum 13 – I’m back

COACIM had a bit of a hiatus. This was unintentional but life has been both busy and really quite difficult in recent weeks. I’ve not been as active on socials as I usually would. My youngest child Kaiser, has been quite poorly. This has coincided with both my return to work and my discharge from perinatal mental health services. You can probably imagine what I am likely to say next… Yes, I’ve had a flare up. An exacerbation of my symptoms is common with life’s stresses and I’ve been feeling pretty rubbish in general. Mentally, I am still coping. My discharge from PNMH definitely rocked the foundations I’ve built though, and it’s been a weird and destabilising week.

Migraine attacks have plagued me, I had been back to work just days when I had to leave early to collect Kaiser from childcare because he was so unwell. It was also my mum’s 60th birthday. We’d had a weekend away planned that my sister and I had bought her as a present, I wasn’t sure Kaiser was well enough for me to leave at home, and I wasn’t sure I’d be well enough to attend myself. As it turns out, I did manage to spend a few days away with my mum.

It was lovely, not just to chill out with my mum but because one of my great friends came up from Devon and stayed with us also. I don’t get to see her very often and always miss her dearly, so to spend a few days in her company, alongside celebrating my lovely mum’s coming of age, was amazing. Amazing doesn’t mean perfect though, unfortunately after a walk Saturday I spent all day Sunday in bed unable to get up and move my body freely without crying out in pain. Several times my mum had to come into my room and help my up out of bed and onto the toilet. My life’s reality is hard to accept always, but particularly when I’m supposed to be celebrating and bringing the fun with me. I didn’t drink any alcohol so there was no trigger warning, just a body that doesn’t function well at times, and those times are usually times I am trying to live. Somedays I thrive but most days I just survive.

Kaiser is recovering well but the four top teeth that all cut at once in his tiny little chops, are still giving us hell, as is his endless cough!

I’ll confess, I felt a whole heap of ‘mum guilt’ about leaving him with my husband. When my babies’ are unwell I want to be with them, comforting them. I also wanted to be there for my mum to celebrate her sixtieth. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain this, but I did ensure Kaiser’s symptoms were well managed before leaving him to recover with his dad and without mummy cuddles.  

What’s also been really arduous has been talking myself down when feeling anxious, without the support of the community perinatal team helping to keep me in check. My discharge with them was emotional. I have been supported by them for a year and that’s a long time when you’re spending it living day by day, often hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. I’ve had a few wobbles already and I was only discharged Wednesday, when thinking about moving forward and how I navigate this brave new world on my own I often overthink and find myself panicking. I made great connections with my key-workers’ and whilst there were always clear professional boundaries, it’s not easy letting go of relationships that have served you so well. I felt really truly supported for the first time in my life by professionals, and I’m worried I’ll have to go back to fighting for basic support and healthcare. I write this knowing it could be worse, but always wishing the system was better.

An Instagram post I wrote just a couple of days before discharge

For now I need to get back into the habit of better self care. In recent weeks I’ve resorted back to eating crap, the fact I’m not able to move much again doesn’t help, but it stops now. I’m restarting getting my diabetes coursework back out, along with my DBT handbook and I’m taking action before things spiral again.

I know what I need to do I just need to learn to maintain healthy habits and ditch the many unhealthy ones I seem to find so easy to stick to!

In other news – you may have seen on my ‘News’ page that I’ve been nominated for two awards in the Mental Health Bloggers Awards this year, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a few minutes out of your day to give me a vote. Your support continues to mean so much to me. Vote 🗳

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #10

Can’t believe it’s been ten weeks since I started these musings. It’s amazing for me to look back and see the peaks and troughs, highs and lows. I’m very aware that I started writing #ConfessionsOfAChronicallyIllMum quite soon into starting intense Dialectal Behavioural Therapy

For me, I can really see how therapy has helped me come to terms with a lot, and also manage life with chronic pain, physical illness, flare ups of all conditions, as well as PMDD. I would be lying if I said that my hormones are no longer upturning my life every few weeks, because the shift into luteal is still very prominent, despite being on birth control that claims to reduce the frequency/stop ovulation, I am definitely still ovulating. The good news though, is that knowledge and coping skills really are power when dealing with any kind of life trauma, even if that trauma occurs repeatedly.

But and it’s a big but…. No matter how many tools are in your arsenal for the bad days, no matter if you have lots of support or none, there will be days that completely derail you. I know, because I’ve had several myself this week. A visit to the hospital to talk through the treatment options and risk factors for my cardio vascular health, the penultimate therapy session for said DBT group, meaning discharge from the perinatal service is imminent, and being a few days post ovulation, these factors sent me into a spiral. I was wracked with anxiety, up all night, ruminating, latching onto intrusive thoughts, and getting angry and paranoid. I know one hundred percent that I am due on. I know this is premenstrual, and on its own it’s bad enough. Having these additional life factors occur during the luteal phase has highlighted to me, that my coping skills are not absolute.

Kaiser is still teething, he’s been teething since the day he was born, I swear! And he still never sleeps at night. I thought Ciara was a needy baby, and she was, in lots of ways, but this kid is next level. He’s also (dunno if I’m allowed to say this) a typical boy! He’s into absolutely everything. Spending all day oscillating around the furniture, then throws himself off of it 4 or 5 times for good measure. You cannot take your eyes off him for a second and it’s hard. I’m exhausted. I’m also always keyed up and on edge trying to keep him safe.

Despite knowing these things are par for the course of being a woman with a Premenstrual disorder and many chronic health problems, and despite knowing this with Kaiser is all part of #mumlife it’s still not remotely easy! Because for me, it’s not just #mumlife it’s #Sickmumlife. Every hour of every day is spent chasing this kid around and I don’t have the energy for it. I also suffer dearly for the privilege of being parent to two beautiful kids. I have to pay for my time with them, in energy depletion and excruciating pain. I am robbed of time with them because of PMDD and the crippling anxiety it brings with it. I lose weekends with them to migraine and fatigue, and I struggle to provide for them because I can’t turn up often enough to do my job! Also… getting any government help for people who need it is like pulling fucking teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a second that I have it worse than most, I know that’s not true. I’d also never say that I am unlucky, because that’s also not true. I just want to sometimes be able to say it’s hard and for someone not to try and offer me green tea suppositories, or a commentary on why their life is harder.

I’d like for people to stop dropping in those two little words at least. Eg: At least one of them’s at school. At least you’re not really disabled. I am! For fuck’s sake, I am!!

Having to prove or feeling like I have to prove the status of my health & illnesses is draining. When at the hospital Thursday, as I hobbled in to the consulting room the nurse asked me what I’d done to myself?! I was so fed up by her question that I literally just said ‘I’m disabled’ because it wasn’t enough that I was wearing a sunflower lanyard stating that I have hidden disabilities, whilst walking like John Wayne after four days of bareback. She still felt it appropriate to ask the question. It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t feel up to offering an explanation. This proved to me that we’re still a long, long way off from wholly accepting that if you don’t look a type of way, you must not feel as you profess to either.

Confession this week is this: Despite doing a lot of work on myself and learning to let go of lots that isn’t within the realms of my control, I still sometimes feel bitter. Radical acceptance has helped me a lot, but there are days, like those mentioned above that I’m still so angry at how my health seeps into every single aspect of my life. I confess that I am terrified about returning to work because I don’t know if I am going to be reliable enough to hold down a job, even a part time one. I confess that even though I’m getting better at understanding my limitations I am still sometimes furious about them. 

Ciara had a birthday party yesterday and it took every ounce of energy I possessed to turn up. To greet the other children and their parents and act like I wanted to be there. She had the best day, and I felt a lot of guilt around how I felt towards the party. But, it worked out in the end and we made it! Sometimes it’s having no choice that actually pulls you from the darkness. Sometimes, choice or not, that isn’t attainable. I’m glad I made it happen yesterday.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #5

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.

Ps. The roofers haven’t even turned up yet!

Confessions of a chronically ill mum. #4

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.

Kids

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. 

Hormones

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.

Breakthroughs

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.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #3

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, Fibromyalgia PMDD Migraine SPD 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. 

Confessions Of A Chronically Ill Mum #2

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….

  • ECG Booked
  • 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

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.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum.

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 IS life 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.

Is Elf On The Shelf making you feel like a crap mother?

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.

Oh wait, for the most part is IS up to 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.

We’re all human, trying our best, wanting the best for our kids, and it’s hard enough to avoid the never ending guilt that is placed on us as mothers, without turning on each other for moving around a felt elf, two weeks a year.

Just do you. XOXO

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

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.

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

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:

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

104 days postpartum

It’s funny how days are marked by our worst memories and our great ones, are often lost in mind with no clearly accessible date and time attached to them.

At 5am on the 11th October I woke up, eyes barely even open before I was thrust deep into a panic attack. My body wracked by the sensations, my mind reeling from the racing thoughts. To say I was devastated is an understatement, this is the first acute anxiety attack I’ve had in just under three weeks. Three weeks isn’t very long to most people, but it felt joyous to be able to think clearly for a while without the feeling of dread hanging over me. Without ruminating and catastrophizing. Without the pain in my teeth from my clenched jaw. Without the fatigue that hits you after yet another night of insomnia. Sleep when the baby sleeps… haha, if only.

What I’ve noticed though, in the fifty something days since I last updated my postpartum progress, is how hard I’ve tried to implement grounding techniques. How dedicated I have been to my recovery. I started a new contraception eight weeks ago to try and eliminate my periods, ergo reducing symptoms of PMDD. I’ve been on similar contraceptives in the past for the same reason. In this instance I have bled non stop for eight weeks. I am so run down I have ulcers in my mouth and reoccurring shingles pain, requiring more medication to combat. Around the same time I started the new contraception, I also switched my migraine medication for a slow release version and this has helped immensely with preventing attacks.

My son is now fifteen weeks old, he can hold a toy in his hand, chatter and laugh. but he rarely sleeps. His charming little face is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, that is when it’s not screwed up like a tomato that’s past it’s safe to eat stage, wrinkly in places and as red as hell.

In the last one hundred and four days I have felt every emotion to ever exist. My days are now spent trying to wrestle a screaming baby into a car seat I’m unable to lift, and reading books about Biff and Chip with the big kid. I don’t get any opportunity to rest, which is hard when you have an illness that requires it. I’m mortified to admit some weeks it takes me three attempts before I manage a shower, and even then it’s hurried.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I find it much easier to remember all of the hard bits, the downs, the panic and the tears and I’m very good at choosing to ignore the successes. Deeming them unworthy in their minutiae. Such as; getting the baby down for a nap on the first attempt. Watching his sister cuddle up to him or gently bounce him in his bouncer with her foot, whilst idly watching yet another episode of Bluey. The beauty in the pumpkin patch photoshoot we’d had recently, a windy autumn day surrounded by orange and forest green, the memory of the rain pelting down on our clothes afterwards, and rushing home to drink hot chocolate.

Watching my son grow, though hard, has not been wholly clouded by my poor health. It’s been beautiful in so many ways, and I’ve enjoyed very much time spent with him. I can feel my confidence as a mother returning somewhat. I have my first night out coming up and I’m anxious. When my daughter was a baby I couldn’t wait to get out, feeling more than ever that I needed to let off steam. Now the only steam I’m interested in, is the steam coming from a freshly boiled kettle and the piping hot tea that comes after the boil.

My pelvis hasn’t healed, I am still struggling with walking as with any physical activity. Unfortunately, it does seem this is likely to be yet another long term problem, but we knew that was a possibility.

I use the word progress to explain how far I’ve come and it’s the reason I’m utterly disappointed when I come up against relapses like that earlier panic attack. Im devastated when Im unable to rationalise my intrusive thoughts. Yet in spite of relapses, hard days, long nights and tragically cold cups of PG tips, I’m grateful. Grateful for the support I’ve received from an amazing perinatal mental health team, from my family, and from those few close friends who selflessly and with conviction, care enough to remind me I’m doing ok.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and there are many people whom have contributed to my progress. Thank you. And here’s hoping for another 100 days of progress to follow.