Confessions of a chronically ill mum #8

That chronic illness life is the gift that keeps on giving. Lots of things happening over here at DivamumHQ! Big and small changes being made and as ever, 100’s of appointments.

I started this week proud and feeling relatively ‘good’ I’ll tell you about it….

So you know I said last week that the cardiologist explained I’m showing signs of heart disease? Yeah well that’s still a thing, but I’d also had loads of blood tests taken in Jan and many of them came back abnormal. One of them, was my plasma viscosity or ‘inflammation in the blood’ I found this, like all of the others, stressful to take in. I have fibromyalgia as you know, and usually Fibro doesn’t show elevated inflammatory markers and so I couldn’t really understand what had changed. With the blood glucose also being high and everything else with my heart, it was a worry. The GP I spoke to suggested doing a repeat blood test once I’d got going with my healthy lifestyle changes. Now we all know, I don’t walk very good, and I think I’ve also mentioned I’m overweight. Well, since these findings I’ve been trying really hard to be healthier. Not so much even to lose weight, but put a little effort in to eat right (healthy), reduce portions, try and move more. Anyway I’ve managed to lose 9lbs now, and I had the repeat blood test this week and guess what my plasma viscosity is back within normal range! I’m so so so pleased, I honestly can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it is to see tangible evidence that the work I’m putting in may well really improve my health. Of course there’s lots that can’t be done and in terms of heart disease, if I have that, it can’t be reversed BUT I can still prevent serious complications by sticking with healthy choices.

I’ve also been attending a group focused on diabetes prevention. It’s a national programme run by the NHS that has an 80% success rate. I’d gotten to a point where doing it on my own was only adding to my stress and stress itself is a factor that can increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. I’ve only had two course meetings so far but already I’m starting to understand my food intake better and the things that are within my control to be able to change. If you are reading this and considering the course, I would highly recommend it.

So that was all great… yeah? Yeah…. Until…. I went to my mum’s Thursday and when I came home and sat down, I couldn’t get back up. My pelvis has gone again. The trouble with this is, I don’t know why or how, so that means I also don’t know when or if my mobility will return to as it was. I can tell you, being immobile with a crawling baby is frightening & quite dangerous to be honest. It’s upset me because during pregnancy I was told often that my mobility would be limited postnatally, but it did improve and that gave me hope.
So now it’s poor again, it’s scary!
My health is forever fluctuating, I am learning to be more accepting and appreciative of my limitations, but it’s far from easy and acceptance isn’t linear. Some days I’m able to find gratitude in the smaller things, able to accept the things I cannot change, and others, I despair.

Confession: When my pelvis went I questioned if this was it. Is this when my body gives up? Will I walk again. Will I walk with aids again, maybe forever? 

But that aside, I have had a few positive take aways from this week, and I’ve included them below in an Instagram post I wrote this weekend.

I’m only four weeks away from the group therapy I’ve been involved in coming to an end. I really can’t describe in words how educational, enlightening and empowering attending the group has been. I want to do a whole blog post on group therapy, so I’ll save the ins and outs. One of the things we have been working on though, is radical acceptance. If you’ve not heard of this check out the link, as someone who lives with both physical and psychological illnesses that are not curable, this has been a really useful tool in my arsenal.

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. 

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!

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!

Mum guilt and chocolate teapots

Mum guilt, if you’re a mum, you’ve had mum guilt at some point. You may even have it regularly – let’s be real about this, it’s a thing that has blown up in recent years because we (I, in any case) spend far too much time comparing ourselves to other mum’s on social media, at the school gates, during a PTA, at soft play or on someone’s follow Friday post.

A friend of mine called me earlier this week to say she’d been called into school about her child’s behaviour. They were acting out and she felt tremendously guilty. She felt like she’d failed as a mother. Let me be clear here, she is a bloody fantastic mother, but seriously, she tore herself a new one over this. I went away and thought about the times I’ve been criticised or not even criticised as such, but spoken to about Ciara’s tantrums and or her lack of sharing and I’ve felt like the worst person on the planet. I’ve gone on social media to make myself feel better and been faced with everyone gushing about their perfect kids or at least that’s what I’ve taken from it and ended up feeling worse. I’ve been penalised for being ‘real’ for admitting when my child acts like a knob. People have said ‘no wonder if you call your child a knob, they’ll act like one.’ FYI I don’t sit there calling my three year old a knob to her face, but sometimes people, she acts like a spawn of Satan, so she gets the finger when she’s not looking, and sometimes….. she’s cute and shit. If you complain about your child’s behaviour or chastise them, you are branded an awful mother, and if you don’t, you are still an awful mother as you must not even notice or worse, don’t care!

It’s funny because when I thought about this in more depth I thought about our mothers and grandmothers. There weren’t parenting books and baby led weaning, or the Ferber Method. There also weren’t tens of thousands of mums on social media talking about being one. (I’m aware I’m that person too) What I’m getting at is, they had nothing to compare it to accept real life experiences from friends and family. There was hardly even any reality TV when I was a kid. None of this teen mum stuff or one born every minute (which I love by the way) but we all sit there and have a little ‘ooh I wouldn’t of done it like that’ moment when watching. Don’t get me wrong, there are just as many mums taking a stand against mum shaming on social media as there are ‘perfect’ parents, but where does this end.

If your kid acts up these days it’s because they have something wrong with them, or there’s something wrong with you, or you’re neglecting them, smothering them, missing something, and so on!

This is a time when if you kiss your child on the lips and photograph it, you’re branded a paedophile. Has the world gone absolutely bat shit?

My mum always gave me a big smacker before bed, she wasn’t/isn’t a paedophile. The only difference is, back then she didn’t photograph it and post it on social media. We seldom take pictures of our babies cute little bums or let them waltz around starkers because let’s face it, there are some sick people in the world and we’re quite rightly protecting our kids, I wouldn’t ever condone anything that put them at risk, but come the fuck on people, can you not give your child a kiss or a cuddle in public anymore? Loving your child and showing affection in a positive way does not make you a monster.

My daughter doesn’t eat any veg, or fruit, accept in the form of juice. We have tried EVERYTHING! Her eating has gotten worse the older she’s got and it’s a real fight in our house some nights to get her to eat pizza and chips, let alone home made vegetable ragu. I can assure you, it’s not for lack of effort on our part as parents, whether you believe my assurances is another matter.

When Ciara’s tired and in an ‘I want Daddy only’ mood – I wonder to myself if this is because I’m a terrible mother. Does she hate me? What am I doing wrong?

When she forgets to use her ‘kind hands’ at preschool I wonder why it’s my child that plays up, what did I do?

I know I’ll go away after this post feeling liberated for all of five minutes for the rant I’ve allowed myself, and then I’ll get back to wondering why I can’t do better or be better. Why nobody looks at me as an idol, why I’m not up on a pedestal of perfect parenting.

BUT when I look at my daughter each day and see her happy and healthy little face, when she randomly comes and plants a kiss on my cheek or puts her little hand in mine, I’m going to try and see myself from her perspective. I’m going to try and love myself a little more how she loves me, and I’m going to give myself a pat on the back for every day we finish a meal, every time I refrain from referring to her as a little knob, and every time she’s kind. Fuck it I may even get myself a reward chart because I am a good mum. Deep down I know this because my perfect girl is so loved, and guilt, guilt is an emotion I render as useless as a chocolate teapot.

Frank Bruno

On Saturday the 2nd March I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Frank Bruno. Being an avid boxing fan I was excited to hear about his bouts against the greats, such as Mike Tyson and Bone Crusher Smith, and of course his amazing win of the title against Oliver McCall. When these fight’s originally occurred I was very young so didn’t watch them first hand, I do however remember Mike Tyson Vs Frank Bruno 2. Purely because it was strange to have this on in my nan’s house, but there she was up late in all her glory on the date of 16th March 1996 with a Tia Maria in hand, watching this brutal rematch that would see Frank defeated a second time by the animal that is ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson. Hearing Frank speak honestly about these fights often with huge respect for the other fighters was fascinating. Even after the grudge match with Lennox Lewis, Frank regarded him with respect. He also talked about current fighters such as Chris Eubank Jnr and Tyson Fury.

But for me, the most fascinating, heart wrenching and humbling part of the evening was hearing Frank talk about his battle with Mental Health and how he started the Frank Bruno Foundation, in a bid to ‘knock out’ the stigma that still surrounds mental health today. Frank spiralled into a depression after retiring from the great sport and following the break down of his marriage. He was victim to phone tapping and harassment from the media that made him feel as though he was ‘going mad.’ He was eventually sectioned for the first time in 2003. For years following this he suffered a long and debilitating battle with mental illness and described it as his ‘toughest fight.’ When asked how he overcame his demons, Frank’s reply was ‘I haven’t, but I fight very hard, I use fitness and determination to keep me going.’ I think that’s a really important message for anyone who thinks mental illness is some kind of excuse or elaboration, and believe me, sadly those people do exist. I urge those people to read Frank’s latest book Let Me Be Frank and then decide if you still feel this is some glorified publicity stunt. This is a man who has battled with some of the toughest men in history, but found battling with his mind so much tougher. You have to admire his strength and determination as well as his courage to speak out.

After the show on Saturday we had a photo opportunity with Frank so you can imagine my excitement. I patiently awaited my turn, thinking in my head of something to say, it was probably going to be the one and only time I got to speak to him so I wanted to say something memorable. Frank talked during the evening about his battle with antidepressant medication and how he was now 4 years medication free, I wanted to tell him about my own battle trying to withdraw from the same type of drugs, but there wasn’t enough time. All I was able to stutter when my turn came around was ‘Frank, I’m so excited, shit, everything you do for mental health is amazing’ and I truly meant it. For someone in his stature use his voice to promote health and well being for people who suffer mental illness is truly commendable. We all battle demons from time to time but we tend to put celebrities on pedestals or misunderstand their motives. Frank now has his own charity in The Frank Bruno Foundation and that charity works hard to really help sufferers. He makes no excuses for his illness, blames nobody for his failings and refers to his dad as his ‘hero’ it was a truly inspirational evening and I felt privileged to have been there, obviously I paid a premium for that privilege but it was worth it. It’s a night I will probably remember for the rest of my life. I think I may have found a new hero myself.

His parting line after being asked ‘ Who hit you the hardest Frank?’ Was ‘The Taxman.’ What a legend.

10 things people without children should never say to Mothers.

10 things people without kids say to Mum’s that they need to STOP!

1: When I have children I’ll _______ The likelihood is that whatever _______ is, you wont.

2: I’d never co sleep.

When you’ve been up for 15 hours straight with a colicky baby, you’ll do almost anything to make them sleep so you can close your eyes too.

3: I know having kids is hard but everyone does it.

You haven’t done it yet Julie, so why not pipe down.

4: I would never let my kid do that! If we’re talking about eating a happy meal or an ice cream before dinner or even staying up past their bedtime, sometimes Diane, you will.

5: If my kid doesn’t eat their dinner they won’t get offered anything else.

I didn’t believe in giving your kids coco pops for tea or letting them eat off of the floor either, but when they’ve turned their nose up at 5 different meals and found a wotsit behind the sofa that they actually WANT to eat, trust me Wendy, you’ll believe in the power of orange corn puffs.

6: I’m going to establish a routine from day one. NEWS FLASH babies are human beings, that means they have their own brain, and do pretty much what the hell they like. But good luck with setting those ground rules by day 3 Keisha.

7: My kid would never get away with that!!

Ok darling. Keep me posted when they draw all over the walls in pen, punch another child for no reason or eat a tampon, feel free to give your advice on a suitable punishment.

8: All kids are the same.

NO, No they’re not.

9: I wouldn’t do that if I was you. Great thanks for that Rebecca.

Please feel free NOT to give me advice on what you wouldn’t do.

10: You look tired. YES, Yes Stacey, I am so fucking tired, my tired is tired, thanks for pointing that out.

Motherhood is hard. Mums are tired, and hormonal, and sensitive and everything in between. Please be mindful of this when giving out unwanted and it most cases unnecessary, advice.

Try saying ‘How are you feeling?’ in place of you look tired.

Or ‘Can I do anything to help?’ In place of I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

Lastly, you could just keep quiet and provide an ear to listen.

Time To Talk

Every year on Time To Talk Day, I write a post about mental health. Every year it gets lots of likes, and people reach out with their own stories. But year after year, mental health post, after mental health post, people still shy away from talking about mental health, or more often people shy away from listening to people talk about their mental health!

I still get ridiculed for posting about my mental health. I still get judged for being ‘mental’ or ‘dramatic’ or an ‘oversharer’ (self confessed by the way, no fucks)

Why is it that we still can’t accept people speaking out?

Obviously it must surely mean they’re attention seeking if they post how upset they are on Facebook or instagram right?

They only post for the likes. They’re not depressed, they bring it on themselves, blah blah blah, yada, yada, yada!

Year after year, people are still committing suicide because they were too afraid to speak out about their mental health problems, or they did try and speak out and were shunned or called one of the names of mentioned, or worse.

Social media is great for spreading awareness, but what about real people who reach out and are made to feel stupid, or are judged? Those people are where we should be directing our listening resources. You can repost anxiety references or share mental health charities all over your page, but if you’re ignoring your depressed or anxious friend when she puts up yet another cry for help, you could be missing the opportunity to support someone in need. Donating £5 is fab, but did you text your sister back after she poured her heart out because her boyfriend is a bastard. Or your friend who’s recently postnatal and desperate for 5 minute to have the shower she’s avoided for 4 days. Or your friend who cancels every 5 minutes because her anxiety prevents her from leaving the house? Or the one you rescheduled 5 times because you didn’t want to listen to them go on about their problems?

Of course some people will post for attention, it would be ridiculous to assume otherwise, we all post on social media to ‘share’ and for the ‘likes.’

So what though, if she’s posted something that’s a bit cringe, she’s your mate and she’s asking you to listen.

She’s reaching out.

Nobody expects you to sacrifice your own mental health to save someone else’s, and triggers are very real, but sometimes all it takes is a text to say you’re thinking of that friend in need. Don’t just scroll on by or avoid answering. It could change someone’s whole day and sometimes even their life. Make Time to Talk day a reminder to make not only Time to Talk, but Time to Listen. ❤️