Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘social media’

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.

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Is there going to be a royal baby? I hadn’t heard…

As I write this Twitter is getting hysterical over vague rumours that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is in labour. (If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years she’s the woman married to Prince William). Now, I’m not getting into the monarchy vs republic debate. This post is about the fact that a woman is heavily pregnant with her first child and is unable to so much as twitch without a full-page tabloid spread speculating on the reason why.

I remember very clearly those days and weeks before I had my first child. It was unbearably hot, I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere and I was both impatient and terrified about labour. I knew what to expect in terms of the actual process of course, but every woman experiences labour and birth differently. Some breeze through it without any pain relief at all while others tell of agony beyond endurance; I had no idea which kind I was going to be. Neither does Kate Middleton. This should be a special time for her and her husband, their last few days and weeks as a duo rather than a family. But no.

The media and internet is rife with speculation about the baby’s sex, names, whether or not Kate will breastfeed, whether the couple will opt for cloth nappies, whether they’ll employ a nanny, whether she’ll have a waterbirth, a hypnobirth or a hanging-upside-down birth (ok, I made that one up), what kind of parenting practices they’ll follow – it’s endless. Add to that the mountains of celebratory tat merchandise and it’s far worse than any new parent’s nightmare.

In my experience most new parents want privacy, peace and quiet, and time to adapt to what just happened and work out which way up the baby goes. The first few weeks can be hard enough if you have intrusive friends and family who won’t leave you alone – imagine how stressful it will be for Kate and her husband with the majority of the world’s press breathing down their necks.

Personally I’m not interested in this baby beyond hoping that it is born safe and healthy, just as I hope for all babies and parents-to-be. But the level of obsession displayed in recent weeks is utterly absurd and to be honest I’m finding it quite disturbing. Please can we leave this couple in peace? Please can people allow this woman to labour and give birth to her child with privacy and dignity, as any woman should have the right to expect?

And please, pretty please with cherries on top, no more commemorative junk!

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.

There are people in my computer

When I was a young child I was utterly convinced that there were tiny people in the radio. I envisioned them sitting at tiny desks to read the news, playing and singing in tiny bands. Fast forward 30-odd years and we find me married, a mother of 2, struggling with problems with both my physical health and mental health.

And now it’s not my radio but my computer that seems to have people in. Some of these people I know in real life; most of them I don’t. Sometimes we have silly conversations about daft news stories and what our children have been up to or whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I’m able to help someone with a breastfeeding problem or a baking problem, and they offer advice on my health problems and child-rearing.

And sometimes I talk to the people in my computer when I can’t talk to anyone else. When the pit of my depression is so deep and the clouds of my anxiety so oppressive that I can barely speak, I type messages to the people in my computer. And there is always someone there to reply and offer a sympathetic shoulder or a kick up the bum. The people in my computer have helped me through 2 stressful pregnancies, breastfeeding, babyhood, toddlerdom, antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bankruptcy, having to move 200 miles away from my home, a worsening spinal condition, restricted mobility – you name it, they’ve helped me with it. They’ve been there, day or night.

The people in my computer probably don’t realise how amazing they are. They help me, they support me, they lift my mood. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. They remind me how fortunate I am to have a loving and supportive husband and 2 healthy children. They send me recipes for cake and soup. They encourage me to pursue the NHS about both my back and my mental health.

But most of all they guarantee that I am never alone. No matter how low I’m feeling, how much pain I’m in, whether I can speak to real-life people or not, the people in my computer are always there. They’re like stars in the sky – far too many to count, always there whether you can see them or not, making pinpoints of light in the darkness.

Thank you, people in my computer. You truly are stars.

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