54 Days postpartum

23.08.21

My daughter was on her way to bed last night when out of nowhere panic hit me full force. My son, lying in the crook of my arm, suddenly started to spit milk out from the sides of his slow flow teat, and I realised, the hand that was holding his bottle was shaking. I felt hot, from the feet up, like a flush, my brain scrambling for grounding thoughts that just couldn’t make their way to the forefront of my mind. It’s coming I thought, knowingly.

My husband comes when I call, and holds me tight. Our son, bewildered at why he’s suddenly had his bottle snatched from his mouth, our daughter, obliviously cleaning her teeth in the bathroom above our heads. Breathe Shaun tells me. Why am I like this???? I sob, trying to catch my breath. You’re not like anything, Steph. It’s a panic attack and it will pass. He reassures me, never letting me go.

It’s been 54 days since I gave birth. Our son will be 8 weeks old on Thursday 26th August.

This isn’t a birth story, because my birth story is too long, the trauma that surrounds my pregnancy will not shrink into an Instagram caption or a rushed blog post. This is a progress report.

When my son Kaiser was born, and during the days preceding, I was in a constant state of panic. I would have moments of calm, but they were fleeting and hard to grab onto. I’ve plateaued at a panic attack approximately once a week now. I know that a large part of their occurrence is directly linked to hormone sensitivity, yet that gives me no control or reassurance regarding their assault on my life.

I’m currently under the care of the most amazing perinatal mental health team, they are some of the best medical professionals I have ever come across in my entire life and I’ve met a few. Sadly this support was massively lacking during my pregnancy – but that is a story I’ve semi already told and one that would take up the duration of the rest of this blog. The point, is that I have some amazing people in my life at the moment helping me heal from acute anxiety, intrusive thoughts and various states of panic. I genuinely don’t believe without their consistent support during the postpartum period, that I would have gotten these bastard attacks down to once a week on my own.

The trouble is, I’m still very much in a state of fight or flight. During the periods of calm, I am logical. In fact I am probably calmer than I’ve ever been in my life and generally laid back (a term probably not often used to describe me as a person) but I can’t stay there, because as quick as I’m calm, a storm cloud opens up the heavens on my head and I am ready to flee the country as though I’m being chased by a hungry tiger.

However, during those moments of calm I have reflected. I have corrected, and I have made changes to my mindset. Living with chronic illnesses as I do, migraine, fibromyalgia, PMDD etc it’s easy to become all consumed by pain and suffering. The shift in my mindset has been that I don’t want to be consumed by this suffering anymore. I know I am going to suffer, bad days, sometimes bad weeks and maybe even bad months, but I don’t want it to consume me. I want change.

My community nurse said to me this week you have to do different to feel different and so I’m doing different. Every day I’m fighting tiny fires of fear. For example, I’m frightened of being alone with my kids in case I have a panic attack, but I’m staying alone with them anyway, because I know if I avoid this fear it will only grow.

I was absolutely distraught about Shaun returning to work after paternity leave, but I knew if he delayed that process I would be as scared, if not more so, when he eventually did.

I’ve been avoiding books and television that might be triggering or that contain storylines of anyone with mental illness, but very slowly I’m reintroducing those things into my life.

I’ve been too afraid to walk or drive anywhere on my own because of how much pain I’m in. What if I get stuck with the kids? And then what if whilst I’m stuck, I panic?

I’ve been too scared to enjoy days out for fear of repercussions on my body, or to go places more than half an hour away from my house in case I panic and need to flee, but slowly I am doing both.

I’m making this sound easy, and yet it’s been the hardest most hellish experience ever, doing things I’m so desperate to avoid goes against the grain. But I’m using these examples to measure my progress, because it’s so easy to feel as though I’m making absolutely no progress at all when anxiety strikes.

I want change. I want my life back. And I have to do different to feel different. I have to be open to the idea there are positive outcomes in life, because if I don’t open myself up to this possibility, I will forever be living half a life.

Unhappy New Year

So I think it’s safe to assume New Years Eve is cancelled this year, at least cancelled as we know it. Unpopular opinion maybe, but I’m so glad. I don’t get excited about getting dolled up after a week of eating more cheese than all of the mice in the country combined. The thought of squeezing myself into an LSD (little sequin dress) actually gives me nightmares. I also haven’t drank any alcohol since August so the a hangover that was sure to accompany me with celebrations will now stay firmly in my past, and maybe somewhere in my future but not in 2020.

Another reason I’m glad is I just don’t have the stamina for long drinking sessions these days. Alcohol triggers migraines, dancing for long periods exacerbates pain and booze also has a tendency to induce hangxiety, anxiety brought on and influenced by the onset of a hangover. I hasten to add, I’m also one of those people that needs a drink on a night out, otherwise I’m just happier in my pjs, so that’s where you’ll find me on this night in.

Kissing and hugging at midnight is not allowed with social distancing measures in place and so we probably won’t do much of that either. Maybe a mulled wine and more cheese to celebrate the beginning of another undoubtedly difficult year. On New Year 2019 I was 17 days away from getting married. I was eager and keen to start the new year off with a bang but this year I don’t think I’m alone in saying, I’ll be glad to see the back of it.

I’m not one of those people that moan about everyone’s New year new me posts, because I think if setting yourself new year goals helps you reach them, then just do you. It’s nobody’s right to shit on your parade. For me personally, I find I usually set myself up to fail so that’s why I’ve kind of done away with resolutions, but I’m definitely not opposed to them. I’ve recently gone from being someone with a chronic illness to someone with a chronic illness who is clinically vulnerable to covid, so I feel like the main resolution for me needs to be to look after my health better, again let’s not apply too much pressure, somedays getting out of bed is hard enough.

It’s a weird, weird time. Phrases like ‘when this is all over’ and ‘unprecedented times’ have become so ingrained in societal vocabulary I’m struggling to not grit my teeth at the sound of them to be honest.

I wanted to include some positives in this post because there have been a few for us as a family, but I kind of got berated for talking about being happy recently, as though I was boasting and aside from the initial feeling of reprimand, I get it. For some, maybe even most, this will have been the worst year of their entire lives and I by no means think it’s been a good one, I’m just trying hard to hang on to what I’m grateful for, it’s helping me cope amidst the chaos to be honest.

I’m thankful that I got to get married. I’m thankful I got to see my little girl start school, and I’m thankful to have people to love and to have people that love me.

But – I also want to say that if all you’ve done this year is survive, if all you’ve done is put one foot in front of the other, if you’ve struggled, if you’ve broken down, however you’ve coped. I’m glad you’re still here. I hope in 2021 we can all be less judgy. We don’t know people’s individual circumstances, so before posting about people not social distancing make sure you know for a fact those people aren’t bubbled up. Before you berate someone for not wearing a mask, make sure you know they aren’t exempt for medical reasons. I’m not saying their aren’t dickheads in the world blatantly flouncing rules making things harder for all of us trying to do the right thing, of course there are, but there are sometimes just people, using methods of survival that we have absolutely no idea about.

I, like everyone else want people to follow the rules to ensure this shit show is over quickly, but I don’t believe warring with each other is the way to get there. We can blame each other until we’re blue in the face but it won’t make an unhappy year any happier. I’m trying very hard to ditch the blame next year and accept some of the things I can’t change, and learning when to challenge and when to mind my own business.

Whatever your New Year looks like, if you have a vision board bursting with ideas or you’re just winging it, I hope that 2021 is better for everyone everywhere. We all deserve that.

This blog can also be read here: House21

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

A couple of weeks ago I had some news that really turned my world upside down a bit. I haven’t talked about it much because there is so much other stuff going on, but it’s been a struggle managing my emotions. I felt myself spiralling a bit, like I do every so often, usually when I’m due on. I decided to try and get ahead of this, so I called my GP who offered to refer me for talking therapies. I’ve had talk therapy before, many times actually, sometimes it’s helped other times not so much, but I’m never opposed to it, because I believe when you’re feeling mentally unwell you need to be open to trying things that might help. So I gratefully agreed to have a telephone appointment.

The lady I spoke to ran through a standard mental health questionnaire, then at the end she said I score mildly for depression and anxiety. I told her yes, it is mild at the moment, but I’m trying to intercept it before it gets moderate-severe. Her response was that I don’t meet the criteria at this stage for ongoing therapy. I’ve had this conversation before. I’ve written posts about it before too. I feel like this is the reason we are in the crisis we are in with mental health in this country, because we are waiting for people to be in their own full blown mental health crisis before offering them any support. I know that whilst the NHS is under so much pressure their resources might need to be elsewhere, but this isn’t a new thing; even before covid people were being turned away for not being depressed enough. Because I don’t want to die I’m not in crisis, because I’m not self harming or hurting anyone else I’m not in crisis. The sad thing is… I have wanted to die. I have self harmed and I have hurt people I love in the process of all of that. This time, this time I wanted to ask for help before I spiralled, before I lost control and needed to pick up the broken pieces of my life for the hundredth time.

Instead I got given some reading material and a thank you for my time.

This is not enough. Luckily for me. I am well aware of my triggers, I’m aware of my privilege and I have a great support network in my family. There is always the option to go private, but with my physical health being as rubbish as it is I usually need to top up care with massage or B12 injections, therapy is an added expense and when you’re down to the last penny you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. The trouble is with therapy is, it’s not just a one off cost. You have to pay this every week or every month sometimes forever and my fear is I’m one of those people that will need therapy forever. The thing with physical health is it affects our mental health too and so if I sacrifice the things that make me feel physically better, I’ll also be putting myself at a higher risk of feeling mentally worse. The struggle is real.

Life is hard right now for everyone and there will be people out there in worse situations than myself, probably not getting the help they need either. Learning to live through these times has been a colossal trek and we are all still hiking up cliffs hanging on for dear life. But mental health is not a new problem, it’s not a craze or a trend, it’s a continuous battle in the modern world, a battle that if not fought early and hard, can be and too often is, deadly. It’s a life threatening problem that we as a society have still not been able to tackle.

It’s great to post about mental health and raise awareness, open up and find solace in each other online but still this isn’t enough. Saying it’s ok to not be okay is one thing, telling people to reach out is another, neither are cures for a breakdown or social anxiety and sometimes they’re not even easy to do. I may know I’ll feel better if I reach out but doing it is a different matter all together.

So what can you do if you don’t meet the criteria for intervention but are still struggling? You can prioritise self care. You can access online support. You can reach out to family members or friends if you feel able. You can make time to read, write, do a course that makes you feel better about yourself. You can practice breathing and you can call any of the below numbers for professional support. If financially able you can look into finding private therapists that are able to support you long term. What you mustn’t do, is feel like the lack of free support available means you’re not worthy. You are. Whatever your next move is, please take this reminder that your struggles are valid. Your life still matters and you are going to make it.

Acute Anxiety.

I can’t tell you why I’ve been feeling anxious lately, not really. I could guess a few contributing factors but I don’t know why it feels so bad, or why when I’m led in bed at night things I did 15 years ago pop into my head and I can’t get them out. Or the fact that I can be stood in the post office queue and have to walk out leaving my parcels on the counter because my mind is in flight mode. Or why I wake up at 4am crying. Why I feel like I can’t breathe.

I can tell you that intrusive thoughts (like those in the above pic) are fucking awful I can be there one minute planning my next holiday or working on the laptop and the next – bam ‘why did you do____ (insert all and any life mistakes here.)’

Hormones are also the devil when it comes to anxiety. People often underestimate their power to make you feel off kilter seemingly for no reason. Anxiety can manifest into physical symptoms such as stomach upset, fatigue, tension and or cluster headaches, increased flare ups in other conditions eg in my case fibromyalgia.

I’ve spent this week convincing myself why I should keep putting one foot in front of the other. (With a little help from my friends) I’m not exaggerating when I say somedays I can’t see the wood for the trees, and the urge to disappear is overwhelming. I don’t want to feel like this, but it’s exactly the out of control response that is anxiety’s sole purpose.

Fight or flight, our bodies natural response to intensely stressful situations. Some say they also freeze in these situations. When I’m anxious I find it hard to retain even simple information. I can become irritable as the panic overwhelms me and overly sensitive to noise, smells, touch. A literal sensory overload.

Here I’ve included some things that have helped me this week. They are by no means a cure or substitute for medical advice but they have helped me go from ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ to ‘let’s get through today one step at a time.’

Fresh air is free and highly underrated. My natural response is always to take to my bed when I feel depressed or anxious. To block the world out and keep myself safe in my sanctuary, but this week I’ve fought that urge, it wasn’t without difficulty and I took some convincing from my friends and mum, but I got outside. And the results were almost instantaneous. The blustery air helped calm me in a way that lying in bed shaking just wasn’t doing.

Phone a friend. This one is always really hard for me because I hate talking on the phone and the idea of speaking to people when I feel like this is all consuming. I worry what they will think of me and I know I’ll cry because crying is my autopilot response, but on Monday I dragged myself and my daughter to my friends house and for a few hours I felt completely relieved of the demons in my head. It was a great distraction. Choose friends you know will understand if you need to offload.

Crying is a completely normal reaction to an anxious situation- let the tears come they release oxytocin and the likely hood is you’ll feel a little better afterwards.

Distraction is a great therapy tool and never underestimate its power. Some people say you need to face the problem head on and I’m sure in certain circumstances that’s true but to get through an acute phase of anxiety I find it particularly helpful. I do a lot of reading so choose the kind of things you read based on how you’re feeling. If you’re anxious a chic lit book maybe more suitable than a psychological thriller.

Finally my last and favourite – Swear!! No I’m not joking. Science somewhere proves that swearing aloud can’t reduce stress levels. So chuck it in the fuck it bucket and call it a prick for good luck. You can read this blog over on House21 also!

Save me

I started writing this last week and it’s taken me ages to finish because I have so much to say but also it could probably be more condensed. Bear with….

To anyone feeling like they’re making a mess of their life and unsure which way is up. I have some advice, it may not be the best but it comes from a place of empathy and sadly experience.

Have you ever heard the expression

‘Some people can’t be saved’

Whilst thinking about this I came to the realisation that they can, but they can only really ever save themselves.

I always say that my daughter saved me. Saved me from a depression so deep rooted, so old, it was painted shut, that it’s presence under the surface of my life was always there. If I’m being wholly honest it’s still there sometimes, but it’s not painted shut anymore, it’s not glossed over like a sash window that no longer opens. It breathes. I talk about it, honestly, and the window opens a little more each time.

Shaun helped save me too, save me from another bad decision or a kick off I couldn’t take back. But in the end it was me that picked up the broken pieces and got them ready for gluing back together.

I believe you have to hit rock bottom in order to resurface your new self. Half hearted attempts don’t work. YOU have to work for it. You have to meet your worst case scenario and move up from there, you have to feel like you have no other way to go, and I’ve been there.

I’ve lost friends, loads of them. I’ve lost a job or two inadvertently, because I couldn’t commit. But most of all I’ve felt like I had nothing left to fight for, all the anger and fear I had used previously to power me through another drama was gone. There was no risk of people I loved giving up on me because they already had.

There was no risk of being called names and gossiped about because the worst things had already been said. I had accepted I wasn’t popular because of my behaviour and so came the time I wanted to prove them all wrong. You have to want saving. You have to want to save yourself.

It’s not easy to rebuild your life when you’ve spent so long bulldozing through your happiness. When you’ve been so insecure you’ve picked apart everyone who provided reassurance. I found substance abuse is usually something that fits comfortably along side being depressed, that false sense of ‘everything will be alright tomorrow, after just one more hit’ it won’t. In fact, it’ll probably look much, much worse and you won’t remember what it is you did or said. You won’t remember who you hurt & if you do remember you’ll justify it by convincing yourself they deserved it. They may well have deserved it, but it’s YOUR mental health that will suffer because of your actions, more so than anyone else’s. It’s you that will have to pick up the pieces of your broken life and convince the auctioneer they’re worth something. You better polish them up good, so they’re shining brightly for the highest bidder because if you let them go for less than their value, they’ll be smashed to smithereens again in no time.

I don’t qualify as a mental health expert and I always feel like I’m being really patronising when I try and give advice because I remember so vividly how fucking infuriating it was when all these lovely people with lovely lives tried to help me.

In the end it was the tough love that really did the trick. It was the realisation that I was losing people I loved from my life because I didn’t know how to behave. Some relationships are still beyond repair and that’s something you have to live with when you make mistakes. Now I won’t pretend that a reputation can be erased or easily saved. It my experience, it cant. There are some people who genuinely want to see you fail and some people you might hurt too deeply to expect their forgiveness so if you’re after a quick fix to sort your life out, you won’t find it in redemption. Redemption is life long. Recovery is life long. Looking after your mental health is a commitment you have to make more eternally than any other vow. You have to pick yourself up from the gutter and swallow any pride you ever possessed. Pride is useless it doesn’t salvage anything. It wont protect you, and it definitely can’t fix you. Swallow it, even if it chokes you. Admit defeat even when you feel you were coerced into behaving like a total cunt, just admit that you fucked up. Say sorry, mean it and move on because waiting for an apology from someone who hurt you can easily end up with a life wasted on bitterness and the hope of revenge. Tell the truth even when it’s painful, because people need all the facts before they hand out forgiveness like sweets on Halloween.

So if you’re reading this and wondering if you can be saved. The answer is you CAN but the only person who can save you is you, and it’ll be so worth it.

How’s this below pic for a comparison and a bit of Monday motivation? 9 years later and with a few less bad habits life looks better, but I’m under no illusions that I’m still digging myself up from the hole I dug myself into and probably always will be. The difference is now I want to get out!

Do you know Carol?

If anyone’s ever referred to you as a nutter, a drama queen or an attention seeker because you opened up about your mental health, then you may have some things in common with Carol. There’s a fine line between getting a pat on the back for opening up and being called an attention seeker for airing your dirty laundry online, in public, to too many people.

Example – Carol writes a status about how she’s been battling depression for years and she wants help.

Queue 100 comments of support ‘always here for you babe’ and other such pleasantries that flurry in.

One month later after getting approximately 2 people reach out ‘in real life’ since her last status. Carol writes another one about how down she’s feeling, and how her life is becoming unmanageable.

This post only acquires 3 comments, all from acquaintances, 2 of concern, one attempting banter, by telling her to stop moaning! None of her close friends comment support.

That could well be because they have messaged her privately, and that’s the most hopeful outcome. But it could also be because they’re bored. Bored of hearing again, about how depressed she is. They aren’t sure she’s genuine, their opinion is she’s putting too much on her facebook. It’s past her depression expiry date. She’s been like this for ages now.

Your time’s up on the depression clock Carol, get better or keep quiet.

3 months later and Carol is dead by suicide. Thousands of tributes pour in, with memories of times long passed, lovely well wishes to her family and such.

Is it not the typically British view when it comes to talking about our mental health, to reach out and then be shunned for reaching out. Keep it to yourself Carol, the world doesn’t need to know. DESPITE the fact we’re still banging on about how ok it is to not be ok. It isn’t though is it?

To publicly share that you aren’t ok, is deemed unnecessary, attention seeking, desperate, and yet to publicly share pics of almost anything else, including, your dinner, dead birds, neck nominations, and those kind of ridiculous trends, to rant about anything else on your status is ok (I’m using these as a vague comparison)

The point I’m trying to make is, people aren’t always ok. Sure there is always somebody worse off but how much worse than Carol can you get? Just because one person hurts differently shouldn’t devalue the feelings of others. Just because we don’t deem Carol’s depression relevant, doesn’t mean it isn’t. None of us have the monopoly on who feels worse.

A lot of us have grown up during a time where talking about your feelings was deemed over the top, or melodramatic and yet here we are now countering it, telling our kids to open up, then vilifying someone else’s for doing just that. Eye rolling with the inconvenience of having to read someone else ‘drama’ on social media. Cheer up Carol for fucks sake!

But Carol didn’t cheer up.

I’ve been both the oversharer (no shit) and the person who moans profusely about people sharing their life stories (the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me)

In recent years I’ve tried to give myself a reprimand when it comes to being judgemental, however of course I still judge people. I just do it a lot more silently and with more compassion. We’re only human, nobody expects us not to have an opinion, but it’s important for me to try and reflect on how damaging our opinions can be when outwardly shared.

I came off Facebook for a long time, leaving only my blog open, because I battled internally about what was too much to share on my personal page when I felt at my weakest. I also took the lack of comments from people close to me as personal slights. Nobody cares about me. I’ve talked before about my insecurities so that won’t come as a shock.

Most of the time when we feel like opening up, or at least in my experience with it, we may just need to sound off and maybe it’s a cry for help, but predominantly it’s more about finding someone who gets ‘it’ rather than it being about seeking the attention of strangers in a bid to win the ‘who’s more depressed competition’

If you struggle to open up, when you finally do find the courage, hearing comments like ‘oh bore off’ ‘she/he’s such an attention seeker’ ‘drama queen’ and so on can be really damaging.

Of course we could all work harder to remain positive, to accept that life could be much worse and to moan less about trivial things, but we would also do well to listen more. To care more. To find a bit more compassion, and remember that mental illness whatever it stems from, whether it be trauma, a chemical imbalance, addiction, as a reaction to a personal circumstances, injury, WHATEVER it is still just that, an illness. Desperate people do desperate things, waiting until someone’s dead by suicide to give them the shout out you feel is obligatory on Facebook, is categorically too late. If they’re reaching out now, assume it’s genuine.

I’m also in no way implying we’re complicit in someone’s depression or suicide by not responding to their statuses or stories on social media. I simply mean – if you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing. And if you care about someone, let them know.

That was a rather long winded attempt at explaining the above 2 lines, but I hope it sinks in. Stop telling Carols everywhere to open up, then shaming them when they do.

And finally, if you are worrying about what you should be saying or doing. Don’t! People will judge you whatever your choices and actions, even the good ones, so just be yourself and keep talking about how you feel, because it’s your truth, and I’m almost certain, there’s someone out there who needs to hear it. ❤️

You say too much online

You say too much! You post too much! You’re inviting trolls! Nobody cares!

All comments I’ve received in the previous month or so some from friends and family, from a place of love I’m sure, and some from friends of friends, strangers and random ‘trolls’.

The problem I have with these comments is they’re incorrect. I do post a lot of my feelings online, and there are many reasons for this. The first and most important one is, it helps me! I feel better when I’ve projected my thoughts rather than kept them in my head. The second is I guess…. validation. Validation from other mums I’m not alone when my kid is behaving like the devil spawn, from other chronic illness sufferers when I feel useless or people with similar ‘problems.’ Not everything I post is problematic though. I try and post the good too, if you only look at my feed and see attention seeking, negativity then you aren’t seeing me at all.

I do post a lot, but I also don’t post a lot. For example:

I haven’t posted what I ate for dinner this evening.

I haven’t posted that I have serious FOMO from Glastonbury and that the reason I’ve never been is because I’m so desperately anxious in huge crowds, and I’m worried my drink will get spiked or my stuff nicked.

I haven’t posted that Shaun and I had a row Saturday night and have spoken only very forced words to each other since. I haven’t told you who’s fault it was or why and that’s not because it’s another fuck up from me (FYI) it’s just not something I feel is necessary to share.

I haven’t posted that I got a new job and after countless failed interviews and childcare dramas, I’m ecstatic, but too scared to share with the world in case my new employer makes a last minute change of decision.

I haven’t posted that my insecurities are worse than they’ve ever been. That my self doubt gets so bad that some days if I text a friend and they don’t reply I can’t sleep for worrying about what I might of done to upset them, and spend all night listing all the reasons why they probably don’t want to be friends with me. Or that if I’m not invited somewhere I feel like it’s because people don’t like me rather than it being a genuine oversight.

I haven’t posted that I’m trying yet again to go on another diet because I’m still so desperately unhappy with my weight but also desperately love chips. That every time I look in the mirror lately I can’t see a face, just 3 chins. That I’m paranoid to stand at the school gates next to more attractive mums or that I’m constantly comparing myself to how I think I should look. That I’m mourning the confidence I used to possess.

I haven’t posted that Ciara wet the bed last night and I was up cradling her, whilst Shaun, (who I’m still not speaking to) changed the bed.

I haven’t posted my opinion on Love Island and yes I do have one, I am addicted to it, even though I think it gives an unrealistic representation of love and body image. Contradictory I’m aware, and I should probably boycott it, but I won’t.

Yes I am aware there’s a huge irony to me telling you all of this whilst saying I don’t post everything, but it was more for the purpose of proving my point, rather than for a reaction to the above points made.

It may come as a shock to you that I post selfies when I say I don’t like what I look like, but that’s because when I do like it, I want to share it. Maybe that’s for the validation, or maybe it’s just because I like it and we all share pics of things we like. Maybe it’s both. Who knows. More importantly who cares? According to the trolls, nobody, so no bother.

And the reason I don’t comment my opinion about Love Island online, is because I absolutely don’t feel remotely within any right to comment on a strangers behaviour publicly when I am not in their situation. Some people who know me may think that’s rich, coming from someone who’s never been able to keep her opinion to herself, but guess what? I’ve changed.

I no longer feel the need to impose my views on everyone. I no longer feel the need to put others down to prove a point or to make myself feel better (appalled to admit I used to have this mentality) but the message is the same.

We learn as we get older, and I’ve learned that it’s a much nicer feeling being remembered for being kind than it is for being the girl who has too much to say. That said, I do still have an opinion and I will always be a person who stands by my beliefs. But I want to be a person who’s also able to see things from different angles. That’s hard for someone with severe anxiety. We tend to have a one track mind and we see everything as a threat to our happiness, our safety, our loved ones and or our possessions. That’s where the comparison comes from, that’s why we spend our lives wanting what other people have, because we’re sure we’ll feel better when we get it. It’s why we try so hard to fit in with certain cliques but never really do. It’s why we’re hard to love, because we don’t admit aloud that we feel this way and people have no fucking idea why we’re acting so ‘weird’ or ‘neurotic’.

Of course I have a theory where my own anxiety stems from, but it’s not just one place. It’s a combination of factors that are unchangeable, and therefore irrelevant. All I can do now is try and rationalise better, try and be honest, even when it gets me labelled an attention seeker or a crazy bitch.

I’m posting this because I want you to understand, but if you don’t, that’s ok too. We can’t understand things we don’t seek to learn about or haven’t been through. Some people will never understand why addicts turn to their drug of choice. We will never fully understand why people act the way they do sometimes, but the reason I post so much about it is because, whilst I’m still learning, I might be helping someone else make sense of themselves. Maybe not, maybe I’m just spouting bollocks, but that’s your perception of what I post, not my intent. Whether I justify my actions won’t necessarily change your opinion, but it helps me understand myself better and that’s what this blog and my social platforms are about, ME.

The truth behind living life to it’s fullest – By Sandra Skelton.

I am a huge believer in the idea that you only get one chance at life and that it is not a dress rehearsal. To ignore that will only bring you regret of a life wasted. It took me a very long time to learn the truth behind those statements and with that knowledge I share my journey with you and the reason why I love my life today!

The last year of my life has been a difficult one in so many ways. Waking up and not knowing where you are or how you got there puts a totally new prospective on your life. Just over six months ago I fell and fractured my skull which led to a bleed on my brain. I now live every day grateful that I am still here, I so very nearly wasn’t. That however, brings many thoughts and feelings to the forefront of my mind the major one being my life as a parent. Those who know me really well will know I wasn’t always a great mum. I am however blessed with the knowledge that my two girls probably won’t agree with this statement! My eldest daughter suffered the most (now your Diva mum) and grew up with 666 tattooed on the back of her neck. It took me far too long to realise the importance of good parenting and because of that my girls suffered, but I am blessed with the knowledge that it is never too late to make amends.

It’s ok to tell it how it is and share it with the world. My girls have proven to me time and time again that it makes you a better parent to speak out about your struggles and always try to find the positivity in every situation that life throws at you. There is nothing better than being a mother or grandmother but you don’t have to have gained an A star in either, in order to be loved!! We live and we learn, just keep going, you will get there.

Believe me! I did and I was crap!!!

Diva mum’s rule.. be one, love one and learn from one. It is what life is all about 😘

Sandra Skelton – AKA Divanan

5 things not to say to someone with mental health problems.

1) But why are you depressed? What have you got to be depressed about.

Maybe nothing. Why have you got a cold when it’s warm outside? Getting the message? Things that seem trivial to some are huge for others and maybe there’s not a specific reason. Remember it’s a chemical imbalance, an illness like any other.

2) It could be worse, you need to think yourself lucky.

And you Karen, need to shut the fuck up. We know it could be worse. It could always be worse. But honestly, that’s irrelevant and unhelpful.

3) You just need to ______ (insert unsolicited advice here) go to the gym, eat better, go out more, lighten up. Etc etc.

Again, unhelpful and bordering on offensive. A) We may have already tried what you mention or B) We may not feel able or ready to tackle these ‘small’ things yet.

4) Chin up, cheer up, smile…

Suck a dick, eat shit…. see where I’m going with this?

5) At least you haven’t got____ or you’re lucky to have_____

Don’t state the obvious. This is the reason many people feel unable to speak out, in fear of being ridiculed or not taken seriously.

These things may seem obvious, they may seem a bit pedantic but to be frank, they could save someone’s life. In my experience someone who is really suffering mentally needs the opposite of what these words convey. They need a listening ear and empathy, not an I told you, you should… or a chin up! The age old saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, doesn’t apply to people with depression. All it takes is a little bit of rephrasing on your part. Nobody expects you to walk on egg shells but try to put yourself in that persons shoes and ask yourself if you would find the above 5 things helpful to hear in your time of need. If the answer’s no, stop saying them!

Anxiety Behind The Screen!

My experience with anxiety is, or at least has, been a parody of Prozac Nation. Have you ever watched it? It’s a film with Christina Ricci, I recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re going insane. I’ve learned over the years to control it better. I function these days for the most part, and it’s rarely all consuming as it was during my first panic attack.

I remember that day like it was yesterday, I was 14 years old, and maybe unsurprisingly, it came on after I’d been hacking a bong full of hash. But it wasn’t the stoned feeling that was scaring me and making me panic. It was every wrong thing I’d ever done in my life come back to haunt me in those moments. It was all the things that I couldn’t undo, couldn’t unsay. Teenagers do a lot of questionable things during adolescence and I was no exception. Those things now enveloped me and choked me as though I was dying. I was so swamped by thoughts of my failings I couldn’t breathe. I was physically trembling and my heart was beating so fast it’s a wonder it didn’t pop out of my chest.

For about two years following that first panic attack I was quite severely mentally ill. I had nightmares, I had obtrusive thoughts and my poor mum couldn’t leave the house without me phoning her every twenty minutes. Every time she did go out, I had convinced myself she was going to die and the fear of that was beyond what my young mind was able to rationalise. I was out of my depth, popping antidepressants like sweets and using everything in my power to numb the constant noise inside my head. I often wondered then if I was some kind of monster. If I had a kink in my armour that made me mental. If I deserved to feel so helpless and desperate every moment I was awake. I lost friends, my relationships with my family suffered and I feared everything.

Now I’m in my thirties plodding along with a bit more self control and the strength to be open (at least on paper) about how I’m feeling. That doesn’t mean I feel any less though. For example I have a hormone imbalance and when I’m feeling a dip, like now, I get a bit introvert. I actively avoid people and places. I don’t have any patience for small talk and I get irritated easily. Sounds like a bit of PMT eh? But it’s not just a bit of PMT it’s my life. The school run for instance is a nightmare for me this week. I’m really struggling with it. I don’t have a good network of school mum friends as yet and I feel like I have to keep part of myself, this part, hidden. For fear of judgement. So I avoid talking to people. I know you may think that’s silly but whether you believe it or not, there is still a stigma around mental health, especially mum’s with mental health problems. I’m trying hard not to take medication at the moment for other reasons, but yesterday morning, given my hormonally anxious state, I took a Valium to enable me to get through a meeting. I was sat in Pret A Manger drinking decaf coffee with sweaty palms and a knee twitch that I couldn’t stop. It worked (The Valium) and I did some self care by way of talking myself round. I don’t sit there chanting to myself or anything, I just try and focus on something else and remind myself there’s no reason to panic.

Some days it isn’t as easy as that to shake off those feelings of impending doom, even with the aid of a tranquilliser. The mind is a scary place, followed by you’re body’s reactive physical symptoms, you really do feel like you’re dying sometimes. I’ve had days where I’ve felt so out of control I’ve wanted to run away. Before I became a mum it was easier to hide. We all know the mental health service is practically non existent, extremely under funded and under resourced. You only have to try and get an appointment with a counsellor to realise how unlikely it is you’ll ever receive said appointment. All the more reason for us to be more mindful of each other, to look after ourselves. To learn new techniques to manage our symptoms. Of course intervention will in some cases, always be necessary, but there’s a lot we can do to help each other and ourselves too.

    Listen – Ask someone how they are and actually listen to the answer. Check in with your friend who’s gone a bit introvert. He/she might not reply straight away but they’ll know you care, and in times of anxiety that can be a real comfort.
    Practise Self Care – It sounds so cheesy doesn’t it? Self care! Breathing exercises and all that bollocks, but for some people these are a ritual that does the job and kicks a panic attack where it hurts before it’s taken hold. Cut yourself some slack too, rest when you’re stressed and do some feel good things, even when you don’t feel like doing them!
    Ask for help – I know I’ve given the psych services a bit of a bashing, but you don’t necessarily need a qualified professional to help you through a period of high anxiety. You might just need a friend. Tell someone. I am guilty of not doing this because it’s something I feel stupid for feeling, so although I’m able to write about it now, actually talking aloud is still a struggle.
    Don’t play it down– In doing so you’re lying to yourself too. You deserve to feel safe and if you don’t it’s ok to say you don’t.
    Think rationally– I know you must be reading this last one thinking, if it was that fucking easy I wouldn’t be panicking. But I don’t mean during an attack (well, then too if you can) but I mean the rest of the time. Tell yourself over and over again when you’re not in the midst of an attack why you don’t need to worry and why you’re not going to have another one. Psychosomatic!

I’m not an expert and everyone’s symptoms of anxiety will be different. I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying it, mental health doesn’t discriminate. There are hundred of different types of mental illness but they will all meet over lapping symptoms. We are each at risk of having some period of depression or high anxiety during our time on this earth, so we need to work together to educate people and ourselves. We need to mean it when we go around saying it’s ok to not be ok.

When you see this pic of me, perfect make up, fresh hair….. What do you see?

Do you see a happy girl?

A girl with her shit together?

Confidence?

If you answered yes to any of the above you’d be wrong. I got up this morning and it took me an age to feel like I looked ‘ok’ I’m not feeling my best at the moment.

I have no job so deffo don’t fall into the ‘shit together’ category, and my confidence is under par. My anxiety is bad, I’ve had about 4 hours of broken sleep and I’m tired. So fucking tired.

Moral of this post: Don’t assume. All is never as it seems. Looks are deceptive. You never really know what’s going on behind the screens.