Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘family’

So what do you do?

I really hate this question. At social gatherings, in the school playground, chatting to people at the park, occasionally even when I’m doing the shopping – it keeps popping up like a particularly persistent meerkat. And I never know how to answer it. “I’m unemployed” or “I’m a stay-at-home mum” are both true statements but they only cover part of what I do. The same goes for “I do volunteer work” and “I write”. The trouble is that people usually only ask this question as a way of politely extending a conversation or so they can mentally file you in the appropriate box. They want a brief, concise answer and I don’t have one.

So what do I do? Well, the main thing I don’t do is have a paid job. I haven’t since the birth of my daughter in 2009, when I had such severe PND that I was unable to return to work at the end of maternity leave and eventually lost my beloved job as a result. Since then my mental health has never been good enough for me to return to formal employment. Many (including myself in harsher moments) would label me a benefits scrounger, someone spongeing off the state and hard-working taxpayers.

And yet I work hard. I work hard to support and care for my husband as he struggles with bipolar disorder and what can sometimes be crippling anxiety. I work hard to look after our two children, ensuring that they are healthy and happy. I make sure our meagre income covers the bills as well as paying for healthy food and adequate clothing for a pair of ravenous, growing youngsters. I keep our home clean and relatively tidy. I do voluntary work a couple of mornings a week, I write, I take the children to playgroups, parties, parks, the beach, days out. And I do all of this while dealing with my own mental illnesses (and hiding that fact from the children), and suffering from chronic back pain. Of course DH does these things too when he can but there are often times when, through no fault of his own, he can’t.

It’s hard. It’s really bloody hard. I’m lucky to have supportive family close by who help out when I need them. I have supportive friends at the end of the phone or online, and a brilliant GP who always makes time to see me if I need her. But I don’t fit into the neat little box that society would like me to. And I still don’t know how to answer the question.

Gratitudes

Life is difficult at the moment, for a number of reasons. DH is still struggling with his bipolar disorder; his psychiatrist is great but he hasn’t found the right balance of medication yet. So I never know who I’m going to wake up with – my husband, or a man who’s as excited as a small child at Christmas, or  a man so depressed and morose that he can barely move let alone speak. Two of these three options are exhausting to live with and look after.

My mental health, never great at the best of times, is suffering because I’m focusing on DH and the children. I know the aeroplane oxygen analogy; you take care of yourself before others, because you’re not use to anyone if you can’t breathe. But I am the only one holding things together right now and I’m damned if I’m going to let DH suffocate in his illness. Nor am I going to neglect the children purely to look after myself. I’m managing. My back is as problematic as ever, particularly when I forget my walking stick. Money is ridiculously tight. My bingeing is out of control.

But I have so much to be grateful for. Yes, life is stressful and tiring right now but I’m alive. The children are alive and DH is alive. We’re relatively healthy and have access to understanding and helpful doctors. My parents and sister are wonderfully supportive and helpful, as are DH’s family. I have a couple of fantastic friends, and loads of good friends on Twitter.

I have 2 wonderful, funny, kind, sweet and healthy children (even if their bickering does drive me crazy sometimes!). We have a roof over our heads and food to eat; we live in a nice area with easy access to the sea and the Downs. The weather is temperate, the people are friendly and DD’s school is amazing.

I have so much to be thankful for that I should really focus on the positive aspects of life, instead of the negative. I am lucky to have all the things that I do when so many in the world have to manage without.

Changing minds

This post is one I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but I’ve finally got round to it today after seeing the #ChangingMinds tag on Twitter. The question posed was what do you wish more people understood about mental illness – so here’s what I wish more of my friends and family understood.

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Some of us just aren’t as healthy as others.

1 in 4 people will have a mental illness during their lifetime. It’s that common.

If you ask how I am and I say I’m fine, I’m probably lying. But don’t push it because if I really want you to know I will tell you.

Just because you know someone else with the same diagnosis as me doesn’t mean that I’m capable of the same things. Your friend with anxiety and depression can go to social gatherings; I struggle to.

No, cyclothymia isn’t “pretend bipolar”.

Most people with a mental illness look and act just like everyone else.

Anti-depressants aren’t a bad thing. They can be life-savers, literally. They’re not a magic cure though and it can take time to find the right ones.

The same is true for any kind of psychiatric drug.

Also exercise. Although it can be helpful to some people, it can be detrimental or just unhelpful to others.

People with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators.

It can be frightening, fighting for control of your own mind every day.

If I drop off the radar for a while, it’s almost certainly because I’m having a hard time and nothing to do with you.

The same is true if I cancel plans to meet at the last minute.

Some people recover from mental illness. For many it’s a lifelong condition.

Not recovering from a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re not fighting it hard enough, or that you’re wallowing in it. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak either.

Feeling suicidal isn’t weak or selfish. Killing yourself isn’t weak or selfish.

Self-harming, in whatever form it takes, isn’t weak or selfish. It’s a coping mechanism when nothing else can help.

Talking about mental illness and sharing experiences can be really interesting.

If you’re sympathetic to someone with a physical illness, you should be sympathetic to someone with a mental illness. It’s just as painful, often more so.

Some days just getting out of bed or leaving the house is a struggle. That’s not the same as being lazy.

Mental health services are having their funding cut across the board. It’s never been easy to access help, in some cases it’s now nearly impossible.

If you don’t understand something, it’s better to ask than to make assumptions.

I could write many more of these but I won’t – please feel free to add your own though, and please do look at #ChangingMinds. I’d like to leave you with this:

image

(From/by Boggle the Owl).

My net

Trigger warning: suicide.

For ages now I’ve been pottering along, coping ok with the usual day-to-day stuff and seemingly well thanks to my anti-depressants. Until a few weeks ago, that is. For no discernible reason my mood took a nosedive and I began to have suicidal thoughts for the first time in almost 3 years. I’m not saying that I wanted to kill myself, I didn’t. But thoughts of suicide were continually popping into my head and I found myself dreamily considering ways of ending my life. Needless to say, this terrified me. Which, in a way, was a good sign – when I’ve been truly suicidal these kind of thoughts have been welcome, even comforting. But this time they were intrusive and frightening.

I’m lucky to have a great GP, who managed to squeeze me in at short notice. She listened sympathetically, checking that I felt able to keep myself safe and that I had people I could turn to if that changed. She increased the dosage of my anti-depressants and fired off an urgent referral to the community mental health team (CMHT). Much to my surprise they called me later the same day and offered me an appointment with a mental health nurse the following morning. The appointment went well and the nurse was reassuring. She agreed that I seemed able to keep myself safe despite the suicidal thoughts, and gave me the details of the CMHT helpline in case I started to have difficulties with that. She also referred me back to a psychiatrist for mid-April, just to be on the safe side.

Gradually my mood began to improve, and I went from barely being able to move off the sofa to throwing myself into the housework with an enthusiasm that’s most unlike me! I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts for days now. I’ve seen my GP again and she’s happy that I’m safe and managing far better. For now I’ll continue on the higher dosage of anti-depressants, but if I start to get too high or notice an increase in hypomanic episodes we’ll try lowering it again.

I consider myself to be very lucky. I have nothing but praise for the NHS, my GP and the CMHT, who saw me so swiftly. DH is my rock, and my wonderful sister and parents are supportive. My dear friend Sutton is a treasure beyond compare and I also have some amazing friends on Twitter who, although we’ve never met, are kind and caring and incredibly supportive (you know who you are!). I am so grateful to all these people; for listening and reassuring, and for being the safety net that stopped my headlong plunge into darkness. I really don’t have the words to express how thankful and humbled I am by their love and support, so I’ll just say this, from the bottom of my heart:

Thank you.

Back to life, back to reality

Before I start please let me apologise for that earworm; if you’re anything like me you’ll now be humming Soul II Soul all evening. 😉

Anyway. Today is the last day of our week-long visit to my in-laws. I’m very fortunate to have married into such a great family – they’re all lovely people and when we come to stay we’re thoroughly spoilt. The food is amazing, the company is excellent, the house and garden are spotless and spacious and the children get to spend proper quality time with family members that we don’t see as often as we’d like to.

But best of all is the relaxed atmosphere. While we’re here we don’t have to worry about bills or shopping, we don’t need to fret about how we’ll manage to give the children healthy food this week. I don’t have to aggravate my back by doing too much housework. I don’t have to look around our small, cramped, cluttered flat and despair of ever getting it presentable enough to have visitors.

In short, staying with the in-laws means abdicating most of our responsibilities. Obviously we look after the children but even that’s better here – I can be Fun Mummy instead of Stressed And Constantly Needing To Do Something Else Mummy. But tomorrow it comes to an end and we’ll go home.

You know how it feels when you’ve been swimming and buoyed up by the water? And as you walk out of the water you suddenly feel heavy and can feel gravity dragging you down? That’s how I feel at the moment. It’ll be good to see my family and I expect we’ll do some fun things this week while DD is still on holiday from preschool. But I can already feel the stress returning, I can feel my mood being dragged down by our imminent return to reality and responsibility.

I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here in this wonderful cocoon where I’m cushioned and protected from life’s stresses and strains and worries. I wonder if my in-laws would mind some lodgers…

When does worry become a mental health issue?

When I was 19 my fiancé died very suddenly. We hadn’t been together long but had discussed marriage and children and all the things that you begin to talk about when a relationship turns serious. We had lots of plans for our future together – and then suddenly that future wasn’t there any more. He was gone and his loss nearly destroyed me.

Of course, I eventually met DH and we married and have children. And while part of me still grieves for my fiancé I realise that I am fortunate to have the life I do, and in a way that stems from his death. However losing him has had a profound effect on my mental health and this manifests as constant anxiety. I worry about something happening to those I love. This is most pronounced with DH and the children of course. Having lost a partner once I know that I could not cope if anything happened to DH; the unimaginable pain of losing a child terrifies me even more.

When DH and I first got together we were students. One night he’d been out and hadn’t let me know he’d got home safely – I was convinced that he was lying dead somewhere. After several panic attacks about this I eventually phoned his (extremely lovely and understanding) housemate who went and checked on him for me and confirmed that he was fine. This was just the first incident of many over the years though, and just the tip of the anxiety iceberg.

When DD and I cross the road I get visions of a car running into her; I see her being thrown into the air by the impact. When she’s playing in the park I see her falling off equipment. When we’re at the beach I see her running into the sea and drowning. When I go in to check on her at night I am always terrified that she’s died in her sleep. I wake at least once an hour to check on DS, who is only 13 months and squarely within the SIDS window; I check on DH too, just in case.

The other night I read about a little boy close to DS’ age who had died in his sleep. His mother had posted a photo on her blog of her cradling his lifeless body in her arms – I sobbed for almost an hour. I barely slept that night for fear of what might happen to the children and I still cannot get the image of that poor woman and her son out of my head.

I’m pretty sure that this level of worry isn’t normal. But at some point it must have been – I mean, it’s natural to worry about those you love isn’t it? But at what point does it stop being a natural concern and start being something that affects your life? I never prevent my children from doing things, I refuse to let my anxiety affect them. But I spend a lot of my time fretting, worrying, panicking and always anticipating the absolute worst. That can’t be normal. And I guess it’s something else that needs to be mentioned to the psychiatrist when I have my assessment on Thursday.

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands

It’s been a funny couple of days. DD has chickenpox and DS has a cold. My back is playing up even worse than usual. But several times over the last 2 days I’ve caught myself smiling contentedly and feeling happy.

Because DD is poorly we haven’t needed to get everyone ready to take her to preschool in the mornings, we have no deadlines to adhere to and (best of all for my antisocial tendencies) no-one to meet. The children both spent the whole of today in pyjamas and loved it. DD and I baked chocolate orange brownies this afternoon, she’s had long baths, she’s done painting, I’ve spent far more time than usual cwtched up on the sofa reading to one or both children.

It’s like we’re cocooned inside a little family bubble and I’m loving it. On the whole I’m still feeling quite ‘up’ at the moment – I sometimes get jittery and there have been occasions when the children’s shrieking has gone through me like a knife, but for the most part I’m quite chirpy and feeling fairly positive about things.

So sing along with me: if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands… 😉

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