Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘pain’

My pain

Today I am angry, I am heartbroken and I am self-pitying. Why? Because after almost a year of bearable pain, the last couple of days have seen me once again reduced to sitting or lying very carefully, walking very slowly while leaning heavily on my stick and trying not to sneeze, cough, laugh or do anything else that will send lightning bolts of pain through my body.

The reason for this sudden degeneration is very simple; on Saturday I bathed the children. That’s it. Usually DH does bathtime because I struggle to but on Saturday I decided that for once I was going to have the fun of doing it. And now I’m paying for it.

This makes me so, so angry. After 18 years of gradually increasing back pain you’d think I’d be resigned to this but no. I want to play with my children properly, getting down on the floor to build farms and railway tracks and roll around with them. I want to be able to sweep them up into my arms without having to steel myself against the pain, I want to run around with them playing football and chase, I want to take them for rambles across the countryside. I want to do normal mum things, I want to live my life without the constantly nagging companion that is pain.

It’s not fair. I know I sound childish and petulant but I don’t care. I don’t want this any more. I have spent more than half my life in constant pain; I had been in pain for 8 years before I had my first MRI scan, it was another 9 before I had a proper diagnosis. I’ve tried osteopathy, acupuncture, all kinds of physiotherapy, pain management clinics, cranio-sacral therapy, experimental therapies, you name it I’ve tried it. Painkillers are either ineffectual or so strong that they make me vomit constantly. My husband and children have never seen me without the spectre of pain and I doubt they ever will.

I know that I am far more fortunate than many, that have much to be thankful for and I am, believe me. But right now none of that matters because I am in pain, emotional as well as the gut-wrenchingly physical. This pain has been wearing me down a little more every day for 18 years and I don’t want it any more.  I don’t want my husband to have to help me dress and get to the bathroom on days where I can barely move, I don’t want my children to have to be careful around me in case they hurt me. I don’t want it and right now I am so furious that I could just scream all this pain and heartache at the universe. Instead I’m typing these words through angry, frustrated tears because I know that there’s nothing I can do to change this. There are no practical treatment options at this time.

And I can’t even have a proper tantrum about it because stamping my foot would hurt too much.

Suicide isn’t selfish

Trigger warning: suicide

Last week this image caused a bit of upset on Twitter:


It’s from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a non-profit organisation that seeks to understand and prevent suicide through research, education and advocacy. They also aim to help those affected by suicide. It seems to be a good organisation with good intentions, but out of context their image (originally posted in 2012) raised some hackles in the British mental health community. Why? Because it removes the focus from the suicidal person and it seems to feed into the “suicide is selfish” idea. This belief is unfortunately common. Killing yourself is often seen as selfish, cowardly and weak. It’s yet another part of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

I recently shared this image (from Boggle the Owl)  on my blog:


The response was overwhelming. So many people contacted me to say that it had made them consider suicide and/or mental illness in a different light. I’m so glad, because it did the same for me when I first saw it. Despite having been mentally ill since my early teens I too had bought into the “suicide is selfish” rhetoric, and realising that my suicidal urges didn’t make me selfish was a huge step. It lightened the load. Because in my experience, that’s what suicidal urges are, an enormously heavy burden that weighs you down. And it’s one that is incredibly difficult to he honest about; during my most recent crisis, in February/March this year, I hid my increasingly suicidal thoughts and feelings from almost everyone. The previous times I had felt suicidal, and the one time I seriously attempted to kill myself, absolutely no-one knew.

There’s a lot of ignorance about suicide. Firstly there’s the idea that people who talk about killing themselves will never do it, when in fact most people who kill themselves have told at least one person that they want to do so. Then there’s the suggestion that telling someone you’re suicidal is just attention-seeking. Can you imagine that? Your world has shrunk to the confines of your own mental torment, your existence is so unbearable that you’re considering ending it, you pluck up the courage to tell someone how you’re feeling because you know you need help, you’re drowning in pain and BAM! You’re dismissed as attention-seeking.

Equally as bad is “You owe it to your family/friends/hamster to stay alive” and “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. I’ve had mental illnesses since my early teens – what’s temporary about that? While for some people depression and suicidal thoughts may be relatively fleeting, for many they are a recurring or constant problem. Imagine 2, 5, 10, 20 or more years battling your own mind, your mental pain, every single day. Or maybe it’s physical pain and illness that you’re fighting against. While holding down a job, bringing up children, maintaining a facade of normality for the outside world. It’s exhausting. And being told that you “owe it” to other people to keep yourself alive? No. Just no. That’s implying that they are more important than you, that their feelings trump yours and that your anguish doesn’t matter. All that matters is how your death will make others feel.

Lastly there’s the nasty sentiment that people who jump in front of trains or off motorway bridges are just a selfish inconvenience to others. Let’s think about that. Another human being, someone who loves and is loved just like you, has found their life to be so unbearable that they saw no alternative to ending it. Their pain was so immense that it blocked out all other thoughts. And you’re complaining because your journey has been delayed?! That’s the true act of selfishness, to me. Seeing someone else’s pain, suffering and death only in the context of how it affects you.

So no. Suicide isn’t a selfish act. It may be a desperate one but it is not selfish.

For further understanding please read these incredible posts from BipolarBlogger: Count no blessings: How a suicidal mind works and Ten things not to say to a suicidal person.

If you are suicidal or know someone who is and you need support, please check out the “Want to talk to someone?” bar at the top of the page.

Birth isn’t always painful

I have 2 children; DD was born in summer 2009 and DS was born in December 2011. Because of my spinal problems both were hospital births but my labours were very different from each other.

When I went into labour with DD we were 8 days past her estimated due date (EDD). I spent the afternoon and evening writing down the time of every contraction, and worrying about how I would manage. After about 12 hours at home I felt that the contractions were getting beyond what I could handle, even with paracetamol and a maternity TENS machine, so we went to the hospital. I was examined and told that far from being in the latter stages of my labour as I thought I was barely 3cm dilated. I was given a gas and air canister and left to get on with things for a few hours (it was the middle of the night and DH was with me).

At around 0630 I became unable to cope with the contractions any more; by now they were every 4 minutes or so and each one sent my back into agonising spasms. The midwives and I decided that it was time for me to have a remifentamil drip (an opiate, offered to me as my spine meant that an epidural wasn’t an option). After much coming and going from a surly anaesthetist I finally received my pain relief at 0745. My waters broke at 1002 and DD was born on the second push at 1006. She came out with such speed that had the midwife not caught her one-handed (she had only had time to don one glove) she would have bungeed off the end of the bed!

Second time around I was rather nervous about the pain, remembering how bad it had been (especially as the opiate drip wasn’t an available option where we now lived). I knew that I could cope with labour though so I was much more relaxed about the whole thing. DS turned out to be just as tardy as his sister and I woke with contractions in the early hours, 9 days after the EDD. Unfortunately this was Christmas Day. DD was 2 and a half and it was the first Christmas that she was properly interested in. I was absolutely determined to see her open her stocking and at least some presents, so I just lay in bed and read until about 0630. DD opened her stocking and the presents we’d bought her, then my parents arrived to look after her.

DH and I got to the hospital at about 0830. We went to maternity triage where I was examined and told that I was already 6cm dilated so would be admitted to the delivery suites. At this point my waters broke. The midwife popped out of the room to get a wheelchair but I already needed to push, just once. She came back in with the chair, DH told her the baby was crowning and she caught him as he too made a rather speedy entrance into the world. He was born at 0840, only 10 minutes after we’d arrived at the hospital (he and I were celebrities on the maternity ward – all the staff wanted to see the Christmas Day baby born in triage!). It only dawned on me some time later that I hadn’t needed any pain relief.

Why the difference between the labours? It may be because it was the second time or it may have been chance. However I firmly believe that it’s because I was relaxed the second time and not panicky. The first time all I could think about was all the horror stories that I’d heard, I had no idea what the pain would be like and whether I would be able to cope with it. I was tense and nervous. This produces adrenaline which is known to suppress the body’s production of oxytocin, slowing labour. Being tense also meant that my muscles were tighter, making the contractions more painful than they perhaps would otherwise have been. The second time I was calm and relaxed, breathing properly (this can make a big difference!) and the contractions were no worse than period pains.

Why am I writing about this? Because I hate that women are constantly told how awful labour is, how painful. Programmes like One Born Every Minute rarely show calm, unmedicated homebirths because they’re not dramatic. Instead we are shown the labours where women are screaming in pain, where intervention is required, and this type of birth has become normalised in a lot of Western societies. Yes, some births are like this. And I am grateful to live in a country where experienced medical staff can intervene where necessary to relieve pain or save the life of the woman and child. But it is my firm belief, having spoken to other women who have had similar experiences to mine, that in a many cases birth doesn’t have to be like this. A lot of us are sabotaging our own labours through fear.

(A great website to look at if you’re worried about childbirth or just want to read positive stories is Tell Me A Good Birth Story. They put nervous and frightened women in touch with those who have given birth and who can reassure them that it isn’t always awful. They match women as closely as they can so that the circumstances and worries are similar, and the experienced mother’s story is relevant).

When misery is selfish

A while ago I wrote this post about how I would dearly love to have more children but am unable to, mostly due to issues with my mental and physical health. I thought that I was gradually adjusting to the knowledge that DS is my last baby, that the large family DH and I yearn for will never exist. But this afternoon I was sorting through my maternity clothes and some baby clothes that DS has outgrown and I found myself sobbing quietly into a sleepsuit.

My last pregnancy wasn’t great, I suffered from AND (antenatal depression) and my mobility became so poor that I was housebound for the last month or so. But I would do it again in a heartbeat and the pain of knowing that I will never again know the thrill of having a small life growing inside me hurts me almost more than I can bear.

However I’ve been told on many occasions (mostly via social media but occasionally in person) that I shouldn’t feel like this, let alone admit it publicly. Apparently it is selfish and inconsiderate to those who are unable to have any children. I should count my blessings and stop feeling sorry for myself. Now, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who wants children and cannot have them; I remember how desperate I was before DD was conceived and I can’t imagine the misery of knowing that you will never have a child. But I have come to realise that that doesn’t make my pain at not being able to have more children any less real, any less valid, any less painful.

As friends have pointed out to me, my having children doesn’t mean there are fewer children left for others – there isn’t a finite number to be shared out. Equally my pain should have no bearing on whether friends and acquaintances have more children; their reproductive decisions should be based on what is best for their family, not whether or not it will twist the knife a little deeper for me.

Conception isn’t the only topic where I have encountered this attitude; I have also been criticised when discussing poverty and finances. I have made no secret of the fact that DH and I are both out of work, that we have very little money, that every penny is stretched as far as it can go. But again I have been accused of selfishness if I admit that constantly counting the pennies and going without is stressful and makes me deeply unhappy. Yes, there are people who are worse off than I am, people whose children have no shelter, no doctors, no food. And of course I know this and I am grateful to live in my circumstances and not theirs. But knowing that there are many people worse off doesn’t make my money go any further. Knowing that there are families who are homeless doesn’t make me any happier about having to ask my mum to buy the children new shoes because we can’t afford to.

It can be helpful to remember that there are those less fortunate than ourselves. But there’s a difference between “Hey, it could be worse” and “You have no right to feel that way because of X”. Lecturing and berating someone for how they feel will not make them any less unhappy. It will change how they view you and whether they’re honest with you in the future. It may also change whether they’re honest with anyone else about how they feel or whether they merely bottle up the misery with an added dose of shame and guilt for feeling as they do.

Tag Cloud