Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

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Jagged little pill: has the recovery narrative gone too far?

This is a great post and this discussion definitely needs to happen within mental health services.

purplepersuasion

I feel that in writing this post, which has been brewing for a long time, I am saying something that some might see as controversial. So let me start by making something clear. This post is not intended to criticise the work of the big charities – I am a proud member of Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and have undertaken both paid and voluntary work for both organisations. I have also volunteered for Time to Change and made a TTC pledge at last year’s Mind Media Awards. A huge amount of good work is being done on a daily basis to challenge public perceptions of mental health and to normalise discussions of the topic. Time to Change is entirely right to highlight just how peculiar it is that mental health stigma continues to loom so large given that a quarter of the population is thought experience some form of…

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Peering through the black cloud

Today is the worst day I’ve had in a long time. There’s no reason why it should be; it’s no different to yesterday or any of the days before. But for some reason today is a black day.

I woke this morning and spent 45 minutes trying to find the energy to move. I don’t just mean that I was physically tired, although I am. I just wanted to sleep, to hide under my covers and shut out the world; I couldn’t find the mental strength to force myself out of bed. Luckily my wonderful husband is more than capable of looking after the children and by the time I eventually made it out of bed DD was almost ready for school. I explained to her that I wasn’t feeling well (how else do you explain a trough like this to a 4 year old?) and she gave me lots of hugs and kisses before cheerfully heading off to school with DH.

It’s now mid-morning and I’m curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas and dressing gown. I don’t want to eat, or watch tv. I’m struggling to play with my chirpy, bouncy toddler – I just can’t muster the enthusiasm. I can do kisses and cuddles, and luckily he’s happy with those, but for all the use I am today he may as well be playing on his own.

It’s hard to explain this kind of mood to someone who’s never experienced it. I’m sure there are people who’ll read this and think I’m just being lazy or wallowing, that I just need to pull myself together and get on with things. But days like this are unbelievably hard. It’s like wading through treacle; everything just takes so much effort, I have to spend ages gathering the energy to do the slightest thing. I feel as though I’m wrapped in a black cloud, only catching the occasional glimpse of normality.

On days like this I’m incredibly grateful for my smartphone and social media. I don’t feel so disconnected when I can dip in and out of conversations on Twitter and Mumsnet, even though leaving the house and talking to people is beyond me. I can sit huddled under my blanket and chat with strangers, acquaintances and good friends I’ve never met. This connection is vital to me, keeping my mind active and penetrating the miasma of lethargy and apathy.

In the past there were occasions when I would be bedridden for days at a time by this kind of misery, the depression weighing me down. I’m fortunate that thanks to a combination of my caring and uncomplaining husband, my cheerful children, medication and online chat, this cloud should pass fairly quickly, hopefully in a day or so.

An analogy that I often use to explain my depression is that it’s like the beginning of the Wizard of Oz film; everything is drab, shades of black and white and grey. It’s only when life bursts into glorious technicolour that I realise quite how gloomy things were. Today I view the world in black and white but at least I know that the technicolour bit is ahead.

What goes up…

…must come down. Me included. Yesterday I blogged about how life seems to be on the cusp of improving, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all. That’s still true but this evening we’ve been reminded that life can still throw boulders in your path when you least expect it.

We had a visit from a TV Licence enforcement officer. Apparently we haven’t been paying for a licence since April and it seems that letters they’ve sent us have gone astray as we haven’t received them. This was a huge shock as we’ve always been diligent about paying bills like this. The reason for the lapse seems to be that a while back DH’s direct debits were stopped then restarted; apparently the TV Licence debit doesn’t automatically restart.

Now it gets scary. The enforcement officer (who was lovely, very kind and sympathetic) has recorded our explanation and it will be submitted to a magistrate. The penalty could anything from a £50 to a £1000 fine, which is a vast sum of money for us. We probably won’t hear what the decision is for 2-3 months.

In the meantime we have to pay for a full year’s licence within 20 days. That’s £145. Which is laughable when you consider that, thanks to DH finally finding work, his JSA payments have stopped so after bills we have £130 to last until the end of the month. That’s for food, petrol (including a 200 mile round trip to a family wedding next weekend), DH’s commute, nappies and any unexpected costs. We can borrow the £145, although we both hate having to stoop to that, but that’s not the point.

The point is that as far as we knew this bill was being paid. And now we may be facing a four figure fine because of our assumptions. So if you just skim your bank statement for unusual debits, as we do, instead of checking that everything’s gone out that should have – check it. Check that your bills are being paid. Right now I feel tearful, trembling and as though the sword of Damocles is hanging over us. I don’t want anyone else to be in the same position.

When is rape not rape?

If she is raped by a stranger, it’s rape.

If she’s raped by someone she knows, it’s still rape.

If she’s raped by her partner, it’s still rape.

If she screams for help, it’s rape.

If she doesn’t, it’s still rape.

If her attacker has a weapon, it’s rape.

If her attacker doesn’t have a weapon, it’s still rape.

If she struggles it’s rape.

If she doesn’t struggle it’s still rape.

If she says no, it’s rape.

If she’s wearing revealing clothing, it’s still rape.

If she’s naked, it’s still rape.

If she’s had sex with her attacker before, it’s still rape.

If she’s kissed her attacker, it’s still rape.

If she’s flirted with or ‘come on to’ her attacker, it’s still rape.

If she’s drunk or intoxicated, it’s still rape.

If she’s a virgin it’s rape.

If she’s not a virgin it’s still rape.

If she’s walking alone it’s still rape.

If she doesn’t report it to the police it’s still rape.

If she doesn’t want to have sex, or is unable to consent, it’s rape. Always. No matter the circumstances.

(Throughout this I’ve used “she” and “her” to refer to the victim, purely for ease of writing. Men are raped too and of course the same statements apply).

On being fat – a revelation

I first remember being unhappy with my body when I was about 7. I remember standing in the playground at school and cinching the belt on my dress as tight as it would go so that my stomach wouldn’t look so fat. I remember spending the rest of my school years miserable that my thighs were fatter, my bum was bigger and my stomach was more wobbly than most of the other girls. I remember being at university and feeling like a balloon next to my slender friends. But the stupid thing is that looking back, seeing photos – I was never fat. Not as a child, not as a teen, not as a student. I was built differently but I wasn’t fat.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have struggled with disordered eating and weight gain for many years. My most recent post was about how much I dislike myself. But some of the responses I had to that post really made me think. I had a lot of supportive comments from followers, Mumsnetters and Twitter friends; I was linked to a couple of amazing and inspirational blogposts about being fat and the fantasy of being thin. And as a result, over the last couple of days I have had a bit of a revelation.

Firstly, how I look isn’t the most important thing about me. It doesn’t even come second or third. It baffles me that I have let this define me for so long. As Georgina (the author of the “Being Fat” blogpost I linked to) says “I have fat on my body, but I am not fat – a mere lump of the stuff”. And she’s right. I have fat. I also have muscle, skin, nerves, bones – that just tells us that I have physical form. It says nothing about me, about who I am.

Secondly, my body is pretty amazing. In my younger days before the degenerative disc disorder really kicked in, this body was very flexible and I did a lot of dancing – mostly ballet, jazz and contemporary modern. This body has done bungee jumps, white water rafting, a skydive. It has carried and borne 2 babies. This body has been solely responsible for sustaining those infants until they were ready for solid food, and then continued to supply sustenance for as long as was needed. This body is awesome, despite its structural issues. 😉

The third part of my revelation was that while my body may be fat/big/obese/however you want to put it, it is merely incidental to who I am. I need to stop saying “I am fat” and start saying “I am me”. I am Sam. I am kind, friendly, intelligent and frankly a bit daft. I am a woman; a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. I am a graduate, a stay-at-home-parent, a role model. I am so many different things that I can’t list them all – why then should I focus only on my physical appearance?

That appearance has to do with the fourth and final part of this revelation of mine. For the last 15 years I have been trying to lose weight. I have followed exercise plans and all kinds of diets. I have promised myself that I will be more confident when I am thinner, that I will be more outgoing and that I will be happy with how I look. I now realise that unless this weight loss comes with a free personality transplant these things are very unlikely to happen. I have wasted 15 years being miserable about my appearance. I don’t want to waste any more time; I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and look back on a lifetime’s misery about a few extra inches.

I need to stop wishing for a body that I am never going to have and learn to be comfortable in the body I have. I do need to eat more healthily and tackle my disordered eating, and hopefully that may have the side-effect of losing a little weight but you know what? If it doesn’t that’s ok.

I am what I am. And I am fabulous.

Not such a home sweet home

Warning: contains grumbling, whinging, moaning and not a lot else.

2 years ago we moved into our flat. It’s quite small and has a damp problem but it came with a large communal garden that the children could play in. At the time our options were extremely limited and we were grateful to find somewhere to live. The children love playing in the garden – they build snowmen in the winter and have picnics in the summer. They’re always with an adult as the garden has an exit onto the road and they’re rarely out there for more than 20 minutes or so as we know that not everyone likes the sound of children playing (although the flats are less than 20m from a primary school!). This is the garden:

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A few weeks ago one of our elderly neighbours approached me and told me that he and two others own the garden and the children were not allowed in it. I queried this with the landlady who confirmed that she had no claim on any part of the garden and we had been misinformed by the letting agent. We had previously been friendly with the neighbour in question so were rather bemused as to why, after 2 years, he suddenly objected to the children occasionally playing in the garden. As he had been unusually unpleasant when we spoke I wrote him a letter asking (politely of course) why he had changed his mind and pleading with him to permit the children access. He didn’t respond. So yesterday I wrote him another letter, suggesting that as neither of the other owners had objected we would allow the children into the garden but keep them away from his part.

This morning he and another neighbour, again someone we had been friendly with, came to the door. They were very firm that the children were not to be permitted in the garden any more. When I asked why this was suddenly an issue the elderly neighbour complained that he had seen DH lying on the grass reading stories to DD, and the other neighbour said that she hadn’t been aware we used the garden until now. So now I have a very distraught 4 year old and a confused 18 month old, who no longer have a garden to play in.

There is a small patch of front garden attached to our flat and the neighbours suggested the children play out there. There’s no comparison really though – as you can see from the photos the garden at the back is large and spacious, while the patch attached to our flat at the front is small and next to the road. Cars often park on the pavement and frequently end up parked partly on the grass of the garden. This is it:

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I would love to move as a result of this, and find somewhere that does have a garden. But at the moment we’re on housing benefit – I’m not fit to work and DH is still hunting desperately for a job. There are no other rental properties in the village that our housing benefit will cover; there are in the adjacent town but then we would be out of the catchment for the fantastic primary school DD is due to start at in September. In addition to this we’re locked into our rental agreement until November so wouldn’t be able to move until then at the earliest.

I am so furious. I’m angry at the letting agent for leading us to believe that we had a right to use the garden. I’m angry at the neighbours for allowing the children to play in the garden for over 2 years and then suddenly ruling it off-limits. I’m angry that I’ve let my children down, that I couldn’t argue eloquently enough to persuade the neighbours to change their minds. I’m angry that we’re trapped here now, unable to move unless we win the lottery (which is unlikely as we don’t have the money to buy tickets!). I feel shut in, confined and crushed.

I know it’s a small problem in the scheme of things. There’s a playing field a few minutes walk away that we can take the children to, although of course they can’t have paddling pools and water fights there. Playing somewhere so public fires up my anxiety but the children do still have access to outdoor space so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

But I’m still angry.

Night terrors

Sleep, to me, is both a friend and a foe. A friend because at the end of each day I am exhausted and desperate for rest; a foe because it is rare that my sleep is actually restful.

The last time I had an unbroken night’s sleep was April 2009. Neither of my children slept through the night early: DD didn’t until after her second birthday and DS still wakes multiple times a night at 18 months. I don’t mind this. DH and I don’t believe in ‘sleep training’ and I know that he will sleep through when he’s ready and able to, just as DD did.

Add to this the fact that I have recurrent insomnia. It seems to make little difference how tired I am when I go to bed, I often lie awake for hours with my mind racing. I’ve tried many different techniques to calm my brain and relax my body but nothing seems to work reliably.

I can cope with the broken sleep, I’m used to it. And the insomnia is irritating but bearable. The real reason that sleep and I are not friends is the nightmares.

I have always had vivid dreams. I always remember my dreams and, unfortunately, my nightmares. There have been occasions when these have bled into reality – one of the most memorable occasions was when I awoke from a nightmare hysterical and absolutely convinced, certain beyond all doubt, that red demons were hiding under the bed. It took DH almost an hour to calm me down.

It’s unusual for that to happen and I can only remember a handful of times that it has. What I have to deal with on a regular basis is extremely vivid nightmares which affect me to the extent that I have flashbacks to them all day. Sometimes these nightmares are linked to my anxiety and involve the death or serious injury of DH or the children or someone close to me. Sometimes they’re quite like science fiction, sometimes action films, sometimes thrillers or horror.

I have nightmares like this several times a week, on average. I wake from them with my heart pounding, often in tears. I struggle to fall asleep again and even if I do, when I eventually wake I have flashbacks to the nightmare all day. I might be playing with the children and suddenly ‘remember’ fighting for my life. Or I may be cooking when I ‘remember’ cradling the lifeless body of my child. And so it goes on, and on, and on…

I’m tired. But what will I dream of tonight?

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