Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘fear’

When anxiety attacks

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m pottering about at home with DH and DS, doing odd jobs and housework. DD is out with my parents. This is proving to be a bit of a problem and I’m watching the clock until they get back. Don’t get me wrong, I trust my parents to look after her and I know she’s just as safe with them as she is with me or DH. But I can’t help it.

My head is filled with unpleasant images. I can be reading a story to DS but in my mind I can see DD’s lifeless body lying on a roadside somewhere. I may be sorting the washing but I can see DD trapped injured inside a crumpled car after a high-speed crash. I’m cleaning the bathroom but I’m also seeing DD hurt and terrified.

This is my anxiety. My head is constantly filled with images of my husband and children either seriously ill, hurt, dying or dead. It’s like a film reel constantly playing in the back of my mind. It’s not just when we’re apart either; one of my big problems is with parks, I can see the children falling off something high like a slide, or getting a serious head injury from a flying swing. Yesterday we went to the beach and although I had fun my mind was constantly bombarding me with images of the children drowning in the shallows. I see these vivid and unpleasant images when we go for a walk, cross a road, see dogs – anywhere.

I hate it. I get no respite from it, even when the children are asleep. The spectre of SIDS, of them dying inexplicably in their sleep, haunts me. On social media I have to mute any mention of SIDS or children dying – I have learned that even a mention of the subject results in sleepless nights as I lie awake listening to the children breathe. The same is true for DH; I can still see his lifeless body in my mind and I have to check on him multiple times during the night.

This is torture. This is my anxiety.

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Friendship – offline vs online

“Friend” is a word with so many nuances. A friend can be someone you meet for coffee occasionally or someone you’ve known for years; someone you chat to about anything except the important things or someone who knows your deepest darkest secrets. I used to have many friends but these days I have only a few, despite having many acquaintances. My mental health problems seem to get in the way. I struggle with meeting new people, I struggle to meet the people I already know. Even worse my illness surreptitiously destroys friendships like a tree that rots from the inside out; I only see the decay as it collapses and dies.

Over the last decade in addition to my amazing husband I have had 4 wonderfully supportive, close friends with whom I could be utterly honest and lean on when I was struggling. Now I have 2. The others abandoned me, telling me that my mental illness was too much for them to cope with. One told me that she was fed up with giving me advice that I didn’t follow and that she felt I wasn’t trying to fight the depression. She had her own problems and in a way she was right – at that time I was fighting as hard as I could but I was still drowning, still wishing for death every day.

That kind of thing must be hard to deal with. I don’t blame them for leaving me but it does make me sad that I am so difficult to be friends with. And it makes me reluctant to be honest about how I really feel. How can I trust anyone? Why be truthful if it just drives people away?

Ironically some of my best support these days comes from virtual strangers online. These people have never met me, they don’t know my real name and in most cases I don’t know theirs. But they are kind, supportive and non-judgmental, and they have held my hand through some dark times. When I was suicidal with PND and the first friend abandoned me it was posters on Mumsnet who supported me, talked with me and helped me see that there were other choices. It’s no exaggeration to say that they saved my life.

These days most of my social interaction is on Twitter, where there is another amazing community of people who are kind and supportive. There are many that I would call friends despite having never met them. I turn to them when I am struggling and don’t want to burden my husband or family; they have never let me down. And I am so grateful for them.

Here’s to you, online friends. You know who you are and you are amazing. You, DH and my 2 trusted friends are the reason that I’m still here and still fighting.

Thank you.

Can I look after my children?

This week is going to be hard; DH is on a course at the jobcentre from nine to five all week. This is a good thing as it will give him a new qualification to put on his CV, but it means that I will be alone with the children for the entire week, bar breakfast and bedtimes.

I can hear my internal critics scoffing. That’s nothing! That’s what a stay-at-home parent does! You used to do it with DD all the time, many parents have far longer periods of sole responsibility and far more children. What’s the big deal? You’re so pathetic… The fact is, I can’t remember the last time I was alone with both children for more than a couple of hours. I’m used to DH being around, he’s my buffer when things get too much. His presence means I get some alone time each day, even if it’s just a trip to the supermarket. That alone time, even just knowing that it’s an option when I’m struggling, helps me to cope. This week I won’t have that.

Time drags slowly for me these days and minutes can feel like hours. An entire day of having to be focused and alert, calm and reasonable may well seem like years. I can already feel the tension in my body, I can feel the anxiety building. Looking ahead to this week is incredibly daunting; it’s like a sheer cliff blocking my path. I’m drowning in what-ifs. What if I lose my temper? What if I can’t cope with them both? What if I have a panic attack? What if I lose control and break down in front of them? What if I’m only an ok mother when DH is around to pick up the slack?

My other big concern is that without DH around this week I will resort to binging as a coping method. Those who read my blog regularly will know that I have been told I have binge eating disorder. A week without DH around makes it ridiculously easy to binge and extremely hard to resist that whispering voice urging me on. Right now I feel fairly strong – I haven’t binged today, I’ve stocked up on mints as a distraction aid and hopefully I won’t forget them when the urge appears. But tomorrow could be very different.

I’ve been honest with a few people about the panic I’m feeling; DH, my parents, sister, a close friend. It sounds so ridiculous when I say it out loud – I’m afraid of being alone with my children all day. But right now I would rather step into a cage full of ravenous tigers than spend so much time alone with my loving, sweet, clever and funny children. What kind of mother thinks like that?

I think I shall be clutching my smartphone even more than usual tomorrow. Twitter is a source of kindness, friendship, distraction and companionship and I think I’m going to need all the help I can get this week.

An open letter to my friends

There are few questions that make me quake as much as a simple “How are you?”. My automatic response is to say that I’m fine, I’m ok, I’m doing well, whether I am or not. It’s like a Pavlovian response and it’s the same no matter who’s asking. I consider myself to be a fairly articulate woman; I have 2 degrees, worked as a forensic scientist and as an analyst for part of the Foreign Office. My blog posts seem to be quite well-received. And yet there are days when I really struggle to communicate with people on even the most basic level.

A dear friend may send me a lovely chatty message via Facebook and I want to reply – but can’t summon the mental energy. The words won’t come out. Another friend may call for a chat and I find myself racking my brains for something to say. Face-to-face encounters can be awkward as I try to maintain a semblance of normality but can constantly feel the panic rising in the back of my mind.

Social media has been a godsend. Facebook helps me keep in touch with friends who live far away, while Twitter and Mumsnet both have very supportive communities. Weirdly I can spend ages on Twitter or Mumsnet, talking with virtual strangers and dipping in and out of conversations. Facebook is a bit trickier as it houses people who know the real me instead of my more confident online persona. Sometimes I can chat to friends for ages on Facebook but sometimes I freeze up for days at a time.

The other question that strikes fear into my heart is “Do you want to meet up?”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a pretty sociable person and I’m fortunate to have some wonderful friends. But no matter how optimistic I am when arranging a social visit, the closer it gets the more nervous I become. Some days I can force myself to just get on with it and go, and I’ll generally have a good time. But some days I just cannot make myself go. It’s so stupid. I can chat superficially with the other preschool parents while we wait to collect our children, but I struggle to meet a friend for coffee.

I need to get this under control so here’s my plan. There are a few playgroups in the area that I can take DS to, it’ll be good for him to socialise with children his own age. Even though the thought of it makes me about as comfortable as jabbing pins in my eyes, I need to screw up my courage and do it. So that’s next week’s task. This week’s is to take DD to a friend’s house after preschool on Friday. She really wants to go and her friend’s mum is a good friend of mine. Yet already I can feel the unease roaming about in the back of my mind, no matter how much I try to squash it.

If you’re a friend who gets exasperated with the constant stalling and excuses as to why I can’t meet up, I’m sorry. I will try harder. But please understand how hard it is for me at the moment; the medication is controlling my cyclothymia but as yet my anxiety remains untreated and at times it is overwhelming. So don’t take it personally if I drop off the radar for a while or cancel on you. As the saying goes: it’s not you it’s me.

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.

Valentine’s Day could be interesting this year

DH and I don’t really do Valentine’s Day. We’re both quite soppy romantic but share a strong dislike of being told when that romanticism should manifest, so we tend to ignore all the hype and hooha. Which is just as well really, as February 14th is when I will be seen by a psychiatrist for the first time in my life.

I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me feels quite positive – I know that this is a step forward, and that this is the first step towards a diagnosis and/or treatment. But part of me feels nervous, apprehensive, exposed. I will have to be completely honest with a total stranger about my worst moments and thoughts. What if he thinks it’s something really scary? What if he thinks it’s nothing and sends me away? I honestly don’t know which would be worse.

So there we have it – in just over a fortnight I will know one way or the other, I will know which path my life is going to take.

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