Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘children’

To my children

I know that you may never see this, but I need to write it even so. Because you are my wonderful, funny, loving children and I feel that I owe you this.

At the time of writing you, DD, are just a couple of weeks away from your fifth birthday; you, DS, are two and a half. You’re both loud, boisterous, confident and happy children and I love watching you play together. Your peals of laughter and the tenderness you show each other melt my heart; so too does the way you snuggle up together with a storybook. I love you both more than I can ever say, and more than you can ever imagine (and yes DD, even further than the edge of space).

At the moment Daddy and I are having a tough time because we’re both a bit poorly. We’re both a bit grumpy at times, Daddy often can’t play with you as much as you would like and I’m not as good at funny games as I used to be. You’re both very accepting of this but I know you don’t really understand. And why should you? You know that I always have a sore back but how could you possibly understand the vagaries of mental illness?

I can’t figure out a way to explain to you what bipolar means, or that Daddy’s medicines keep changing because his psychiatrist is trying to find the right balance to bring him back to himself. I don’t want to tell you that sometimes medicines can make you feel worse and not better, and that that’s why Daddy has barely left the house for the last fortnight. You don’t yet need to know about anxiety, or panic attacks that are sometimes so bad that Daddy has to shut himself in the bedroom for a while so you don’t see him shaking and crying for no apparent reason.

If this was all that was wrong, if you had a mentally healthy mother, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so bad. But having to look after Daddy all the time as well as trying to stay bright and cheerful for you is taking its toll.  My cyclothymia, usually fairly well controlled by anti-depressants, is flaring and my moods are all over the place. I can be happy one day, one hour, one moment, and cast into the depths of despair the next. It makes taking care of two lively children very difficult at times and I hope you never realise just how much I sometimes want to scream at you to leave me alone because your questions, bickering and noisy games make me want to claw off my own skin. I’m deeply ashamed of feeling this way and I worry that occasionally you might have an inkling of what I’m thinking, that you might catch a glimpse of the distress I’m trying so hard to hide from you.

I know that I’m not a dreadful mother and that you could be in a far worse situation (and that many children are). On the whole you’re happy, bright and playful children who are capable of making me laugh until the tears roll down my face. I know you love each other (even when you’re arguing) and that you know that Daddy and I love you very much. I just can’t help wishing that things were different, and feeling guilty because they’re not.

The day’s not far off when “Daddy’s just not feeling well” and “I’m a bit poorly today” won’t be enough of an excuse. DD, already you’re questioning why Daddy is ill so often and soon I’m going to have to work out how to explain a little bit more of what’s really happening. But I want you both to stay ignorant of this reality a little while longer. I don’t want you to know that there are some things that can’t be fixed, and that having a kiss and a cuddle doesn’t always make everything better. I want to protect you from this difficult truth, because once you learn it your innocent trust and faith in the omnipotence of your parents will be forever tarnished. And I’m not ready for that just yet, so please let us carry on this deception a while longer. I love you both, always.

Mummy.

Advertisements

The fat and the furious

Trigger warning: self-harm

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’ve had problems with food since childhood.  26 years of bingeing, self-loathing & dieting have led me to the point where I am the heaviest I have ever been and so ashamed of my body that even the school run is a self-conscious gauntlet that I dread. I know that there’s more to life than just physical appearance and that my self-consciousness is probably vastly disproportionate. But what is undeniably true is that my body, already damaged thanks to degenerative disc disease, cannot withstand many more years of abuse.

I’m furious with myself for letting things get this far. For losing control so badly, for ignoring the damage I was doing and for setting such a poor example to my children. They don’t see my bingeing, nor hear my sobs afterwards as I emerge from the fog and realise that I’ve lost control yet again. But I can’t hide this from them forever – I need to stop before they’re old enough to realise what’s going on.

In a way, I’ve been here before. I used to self-harm; I used to cut myself as a way of coping with life. When my daughter was born I decided that I needed to stop because I didn’t want her to ever think that it was normal or ok. It took almost 2 years but I managed it, and haven’t cut myself since March 2011. I’m proud of that. But now I seem to have come full circle and once again I need to fight against my urge to harm myself, although this time it’s with food rather than a blade. I firmly believe that my bingeing is another means of abusing my body in order to retain control, although it’s not a conscious desire the way cutting was.

A little over a year ago a psychiatrist told me that I have binge-eating disorder (he described it as being like bulimia but without the purging, and that’s definitely how it feels to me) but he didn’t consider it a big enough problem to necessitate referring me to anyone. Since my crisis a couple of months ago I’ve been seeking help for my eating problems but without success. My GP said she couldn’t do anything but to ask the psychiatrist I was seeing after admitting to suicidal thoughts. I spoke to the psychiatrist and she said she couldn’t help but to talk to my GP. I reached out to an eating disorders charity but they too told me to speak to my GP, who is still regretfully adamant that there isn’t anything she can do (it seems there are no appropriate services in my area). So I’m on my own.

Well, not completely alone. I have a very supportive husband, family and several friends whom I can be totally honest with. But at the end of the day, this is a battle that I have to fight myself. Against myself. And just as before I have to do it slowly, one day at a time. One hour, one minute at a time if need be. Having got through one day, I tell myself that I can get through the next. And the next. And the next. And I desperately hope that this is a fight that I can win because losing is no longer an option.

Move the misery magazines

Taking my 4 year old daughter shopping has become a bit of a minefield lately. Not because she doesn’t behave; she’s always good and enjoys helping to choose what we’re going to eat that week. It’s not because she pesters for things either (although sometimes she does, of course – she’s 4!). No, it’s because of magazines like this:

image

And this:

image

Although she’s not yet 5, my daughter is an exceptionally fluent reader and these magazines are almost always placed at child height in supermarkets. Not just in the magazine section either but also at tills. Is this appropriate? No. I don’t think any reasonable person would consider that this kind of trash magazine should be placed where children can see them, yet in some shops not only are they at child height but they’re right next to the comics. Soft porn magazines like Nuts, Zoo, FHM and their ilk have been covered in shops for a while now, so why not magazines that gleefully publish misery porn?

Here are some more examples from the last couple of days:

image

image

Are these really the messages that our children should be exposed to?

“My toddler, killed as she watched Peppa Pig”
“Drowned in the bath by his killer gran”
“My brother raped me but I still love him”
“Paedo uncle abused me: little girls always lie”
“Burnt at the stake by jealous mum-in-law”
“I threw my baby out the window”
“Forced to kill my dad”
“Rapist lover snatched my sick baby”

Don’t these headlines just sicken you? It’s a constant barrage of misery and pain. Personally I find these magazines extremely distasteful and repulsive. But to a child they’re just utterly bewildering, with concepts that they’ve never heard of (“Mummy, what does rape mean?”) or shouldn’t have to consider (“Mummy, was the toddler killed because she was naughty?”). I don’t want my children to know about these things until they’re considerably older. To be completely honest, I really don’t understand why anyone would want to read these magazines. But there seem to be more and more of them these days, so presumably a large swathe of the population finds them simply delightful. Each to their own, I suppose. Whatever your opinion on these publications though, I doubt that there are many who would disagree that it’s wrong for children to be exposed to these horrific headlines.

When the UK group Child Eyes started out they were campaigning against sexualised images being displayed where children can see them (magazine covers, newspapers, billboards etc). Now however they’ve also begun to campaign for this type of magazine to be stocked out of a child’s line of sight. One British supermarket, Morrisons, has already agreed to take steps towards this; I really hope that other retailers soon follow.

Best looks

Yesterday a young woman died. Aged just 25, her death was sudden and apparently unexpected; she leaves behind a grieving family, husband and two little boys who aren’t old enough to understand why Mummy isn’t there any more. Her name was Peaches Geldof and she was known as a celebrity, both because of her famous parents and in her own right. Naturally most of the media pounced on the news of her death, interviewing anyone they could find with a vague connection to her and fuelling speculation about how and why she died. The usual ghoulish reaction to a celebrity death was certainly in evidence, with endless stories rehashing her life and career.

At the offices of Cosmopolitan magazine, however, the staff seemed to forget that Ms Geldof had a life and career. In fact they seemed to forget altogether that she was a real, flesh and blood woman with friends and family who are shocked and grieving, and decided that their “tribute” to her would be this:

image

Yes, you read that right. A woman has died tragically young, two small boys are motherless and the only thing that Cosmopolitan magazine can think of to say is “We liked her clothes”. What the hell?! In fact they don’t even acknowledge that she was a person at all, merely referring to her as a “fashion world fixture”. Now, a door handle is a fixture. A plug socket is a fixture. A woman is a human being, not a bloody fixture!

Peaches Geldof was a daughter and sister. She was married; she carried and gave birth to two babies who are still too young to understand where their mummy has gone. She had hopes, dreams, a career and aspirations. She loved and was loved in return. She laughed, she cried, she had happy days and sad days. She was like every other woman and she was worth far more than merely the fabric with which she covered her body! For Cosmopolitan to reduce her to a mere mannequin, a doll whose sole purpose is to be looked at and admired, is insulting not just to Ms Geldof but to the magazine’s readership and indeed, all women.

We live in a society where a woman’s perceived value is mostly based on her appearance. Her height, weight, hair colour, the size of her breasts and length of her legs, as well as many other physical features. You know this, I know this, Cosmopolitan magazine know this. It’s what makes them money, after all. But this shallow, pathetic, dehumanising piece about a woman who’s barely been dead for a day is a new low, and whoever is responsible for it should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

Hollow and hopeless

I admit it – I’m struggling. I’ve not written about my mental health for a while because I’ve seemed stable on the medication I take and it felt like I was coping ok. But I’m starting to realise that I’ve been fooling myself and using too many crutches to get through each day.

This last week has been an eye-opener. 2yo DS had surgery on Monday; it was only a minor operation but involved general anaesthetic and that pushed all my anxiety buttons. Then he developed a stomach bug the same night and the next 3 days were filled with more vomit than a high street on Saturday night. After a few days DH and DD got it too. Everyone’s pretty much recovered now but I’m still struggling. I feel like I’m constantly full of adrenaline, buzzing and unable to sit still, but at the same time lethargic and morose.

I hadn’t realised until recently just how much I rely on DH to take the strain when I’m having a hard time. We’ve always done equal shares when it comes to parenting and running a home (especially while he’s unemployed), but there are times when I just cannot cope and he takes over for a bit so that I can be alone or whatever it is that I need at the time. However, just before Christmas he was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and is now on new regimens of drugs and therapy while the doctors explore what works. I think this has prompted him to be far more open with me about his mental health than before and it seems that he’s been hiding a lot from me. Now that I know how he feels, how he’s been fighting his own battles, I no longer feel that I can rely on him as much as before. Not because he’s suddenly unreliable but because it seems unfair to give him sole responsibility for the children when he’s having as hard a time of it as I am. I feel guilty and selfish that I didn’t realise before.

I’ve been trying my hardest to put on a bright and smiley face for everyone, particularly the children, but the mask is cracking. I am cracking. I have a very short temper atm and the slightest thing makes me rage (internally, thankfully). The children’s chatter is like fingernails on a blackboard. Their bickering makes me want to break things. Their simplest request, for a toy or a hug or help turning on the light, is infuriating because I just want to be left alone.

I try to hide how I’m feeling and be their kind, playful, loving mother but I think I’m failing. I think they’re starting to realise that I’m hollow – fake happiness on the outside, a yawning chasm of despair inside. They don’t deserve this. They don’t deserve a mother who has to bully herself into playing with them, who counts down the hours and minutes until bedtime. They deserve better, the best.

I’m not entirely sure if there’s anything in particular that’s prompted my plummeting back into darkness but it has been a stressful time lately. If I’m completely honest there’s a part of me, a very small part, that is angry with DH for being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. How ridiculous is that? It’s hardly his fault. But in the past I’ve always been comforted by the thought that when things became too much to cope with and I eventually killed myself (I’ve come dangerously close to this several times) the children would have a strong, stable parent to take care of them. But I can’t do that to DH when he’s having his own problems. I feel as though my safety net has vanished. I’m not saying that I’m suicidal at the moment, I’m not. But it was always reassuring to know that if things ever became that bad again, I had an escape route. Now I don’t and there’s no hope of oblivion for me any more. I’m stuck in this defective body, in this tormented mind, until age, infirmity or an accident carries me off.

I really don’t know what I want this post to say, I’ve rambled a long way from my first paragraph. I’ve been far too honest and I’m not sure whether I should even publish it. But this is who I am and how I am. Bright on the outside, black as pitch on the inside and utterly without hope of escape.

The Ian Watkins case – is rape ever ok?

Trigger warning: child abuse, rape, sexual assault.

Today the former rock star Ian Watkins was sentenced to 29 years in prison for sexual offences against children, including the attempted rape of a 10 month old baby (news article here). He must serve a minimum of two thirds of his sentence before being considered for parole. His two co-defendants, mothers of children that Watkins abused, were sentenced to 14 years and 17 years. They cannot be named for legal reasons; to do so would be to identify their children who, as victims if sexual crimes, have their identities protected by law.

The public has understandably been filled with horror and anger towards Watkins. This is particularly evident on social media sites and discussion forums. But some take that anger a step further, a step too far. They exult that Watkins is likely to be attacked in prison, and gleefully hope that he will be raped. This is not ok. In fact this is very far from ok.

Rape is never acceptable, no matter the circumstances.

When I worked as a forensic scientist I spent a lot of my time working in the digital forensics section, extracting data from electronic devices seized from suspects and/or victims in criminal cases. This data included images and videos and it was part of my job to examine and watch every media file that was extracted. This meant that I often had to watch videos of rapes, sexual assaults and child abuse. It was, to say the least, deeply unpleasant. I understand the disgust and almost indescribable revulsion that seeing such abuse evokes and it makes me angry as hell.

But you cannot on one hand say that rape is abhorrent, vile, a despicable act, and on the other hand wish it on someone else. “Rape is never ok – oh, unless it’s someone I don’t like who’s being raped. Then it’s fine”. It just doesn’t make sense. And in the same way that no law-abiding man, woman or child deserves to be raped, no alleged or convicted criminal does either.

No-one ever deserves to be raped.

When I was a student I occasionally moved in the same circles as Watkins, going to the same parties and clubs. I was one of the early fans of his band, Lostprophets and he always seemed to be a decent man, a normal man. But he clearly isn’t and today I feel the same fury, horror and disgust towards him as anyone else. I understand the urge to hurt him as he has hurt others but I don’t feel it.

These pro-rape sentiments contribute to the normalisation of what is a revolting act, designed to degrade, humiliate and control. After all, if it’s ok to rape a child-abuser is it ok to rape a murderer? A burglar? Someone who’s annoyed you? No. Rape is never an excusable act and there is never a justifiable reason for it.

So if you’re one of those who think that Watkins and his ilk deserve to be raped, stop and think for a moment. You may be part of the problem, not the solution.

Share this?

A friend commented recently on the fact that DH and I have hardly any photos of the children on Facebook, and those that we do share either don’t show their faces or only part of their face so they’re not readily identifiable. This seems quite unusual in this age of social media and my friend was understandably curious.

It’s not just us who are reluctant to share pictures of our children. Some people who refuse to share do so out of fear of paedophiles, concerned that posting an image of their child online will put that child at risk of sexual abuse. Some people have very serious reasons for withholding images of their children – perhaps a violent partner or abuser is looking for them, or a child has been removed from their biological family and is being fostered or adopted

Our reason is far more mundane, however – privacy.

My children aren’t yet old enough to decide whether they want to have photos of themselves floating around the internet. For DH and me to make that decision for them would, we feel, be a breach of their right to privacy. In years to come, when they’re applying to colleges, universities or jobs, it may well be commonplace to do online searches to see what applicants are like (this is already starting to happen) and anything that pops up should be something that the children have consented to being shared. (Not that I imagine any future employer would be interested in baby photos but hopefully you understand what I mean!).

In the earlier days of Facebook we used to post pictures of the children quite often as it was an easy way to share photos with our family and friends (most of whom don’t live locally to us) knowing that only they could see them. But then the site changed, so that if you commented on a photo your friends could see it too. Very quickly a lot of strangers were able to see your image, something that was brought home to us when one of DH’s friends discovered that some of his Facebook photos were being used in an advertising campaign! At that point we removed our shared pictures and videos and haven’t posted any since.

We still send photos to interested friends and family but now it’s by email, and we’ve asked family not to post pictures of them online. I never put photos of the children on my blog and rarely tweet even back-of-the-head shots. I have no objection to others sharing photos and videos of their children online and I do enjoy seeing them. But DH and I would feel uncomfortable putting our own children in the public domain until they are mature enough to make the decision for themselves.

What do you think? Is this something you’ve thought about or is it a non-issue as far as you’re concerned?

Tag Cloud