Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘Twitter’

Consequences

Recently I wrote about being reported to the NSPCC and consequently Children’s Services in these two posts: The Letter and The Letter – part 2. If you don’t have time to read them, the short version is that the NSPCC received 2 anonymous reports from someone who was concerned that my and DH’s mental illnesses meant that our children were at risk. Children’s Services investigated and quickly concluded that the reports were groundless. That, I hope, is the end of the matter.

Except that it isn’t, not really. Although I choose to believe that the reports were made due to genuine (albeit misguided) concern rather than malice, knowing that someone has read my blog and my tweets and concluded that I am an unfit mother, DH an unfit father, has been profoundly distressing. For me it has caused heightened anxiety and stress-induced insomnia, DH is struggling with an abrupt plunge into low mood. I hope that in time these will pass, and of course the children are still entirely unaware of the whole situation and its effects, and will hopefully remain that way.

I have always prided myself on being open and honest about my mental health, both here and on Twitter. Stigma is increased by ignorance, and by speaking out I hoped that in a small way I could help reduce that stigma and the alienation that many people with mental illnesses suffer. But to have that honesty turned against me and wielded as a weapon has been a horrifying experience. I’ve never hidden the fact that I find blogging to be an extremely therapeutic way of dealing with my illnesses, both mental and physical. I have also found a wonderful support network on Twitter, where I can be honest and speak of my experiences to those who understand and empathise as well as to those who really have no understanding of what mental illness can be like. In return I’ve been able to offer sympathy, advice and comfort to others who struggle with their mental health. But I’m not sure that I can continue to do so.

Despite our swift and complete exoneration by Children’s Services, this experience has left its mark. I no longer feel safe blogging and tweeting honestly about how I am, how my day is going, how DH is. Even as I write this post I’m wondering whether it will be turned into a stick to beat me with, whether it will prompt yet another report to the NSPCC. I have lost my sense of safety, of refuge, and of course that means that I have lost my online support network. This is no trivial thing; in the past the support I’ve received from individuals online have literally made the difference between life and death. But now that’s gone. I feel watched, I feel harassed and I feel as though my honesty has endangered the happiness and wellbeing of my family.

I don’t know whether these feelings will fade as time passes but I certainly hope so. I will miss the catharsis that blogging can provide and I will miss being able to interact with the mental health community in a meaningful way. It’s been very important to me that I speak out about mental health issues and I hope that I will be able to again, but for now my voice has been silenced.

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?

Kindness

Some days I despair of humanity. We can seem so intolerant, so self-centred, so oblivious to the struggles of others. Today is not one of those days, however. Today is one of the days where I have been utterly overwhelmed by people’s kindness.

Earlier today my last pair of jeans (well, the last pair that fit anyway) ripped beyond repair. I tweeted my annoyance at this and almost immediately a friend replied offering to buy me a new pair. My sister contacted me from her holiday in Spain to tell me I could borrow from her if I needed to.

Tonight I was in need of a good moan, having discovered that I have 2 days worth of anti-depressants left and no money spare to pay the £7.85 for the prescription (how I miss living in Wales, land of the mountains, valleys and free prescriptions!). DH is in the middle of reapplying for Jobseekers Allowance but the rules have changed and until I find my passport to prove my identity he cannot claim, so in the meantime I have to pay for prescriptions. I can find the money by cutting back on next week’s food shopping – we have food in the freezer and I’ll have some money coming in next Friday, so it’s not as dire as it could be (I’m especially grateful that I’ve already paid for DD’s school meals for the next fortnight!).

So anyway, I had a good old whinge about this on Twitter. And then sat open-mouthed, then tearful, then properly sobbing as no fewer than 14 people contacted me and offered to send me the money for the prescription. I’ve never met a single one of these people, although I chat with most of them fairly regularly. And yet they all reached out, willing to give money to a stranger, trusting that I was genuine and not trying to con them. Of course I declined the offers; there are ways we can manage and I’m a shamefully proud person. I find it very difficult to accept help. But I was so touched that these wonderful people wanted to help.

I’m not ready sure what the point of this post is, apart from to share my wonder and joy at the kindness shown to me today. It really has lifted me up, made life seem a little brighter. But I would like to ask everyone reading this to perform an act of kindness tomorrow. It doesn’t have to involve money, just do something to make someone else’s life easier or brighter. Believe me, it can make a huge difference to someone’s day and it can really restore your faith in humanity.

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.

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!

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.

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