Looking after me so I can be there for them

One of the things that I have realised over the last few weeks is that as much as I focus on keeping my mind healthy i’ve not been keeping my body healthy. I’ve used far too many excuses to cover the quantity of chocolate I can consume in an hour. I’ve had days of eating in secret, binging when I feel out of control and then hating the weight creeping up and the waistbands getting tighter. I knew that the only time I would ever actually make an effort to stop the bad habits was when I was ready and I wanted to do it for the right reasons.

It’s like any life change, you can only make them when you are fully in the right head space and fully motivated for the right reasons. In the last year I have seen people I have known many years, and very close to me in age, lose their battles against horrid illness. This has spurred me on to make sure that the time I have with the family is the best possible, and also to be the best mum and wife that I can be. To be this I have to take care of my body. So I have started a journey. It will not be a short one, it needs to be a life changing permanent journey.

I know from past experience that it will be a journey where I will deviate at times. I know it will be a journey where I struggle to put one foot in from of the other on some days. I know on other days I will be running down the road calling everyone to come and join me. It is a life journey. But I also know for me that this is also a faith journey. It’s me trusting God that He will be with me in the lows and celebrating in the highs.

In the last few weeks there have been some big waves rocking the boat that is “life” and instead of looking to God and my faith, I went to chocolate, slovenly behaviour and blaming others. I have to remember that there is a bigger plan and a bigger person that knows and cares and loves me. He loves me no matter what, but I know that I hold a responsibility to. And that responsibility starts with loving myself in a healthy way. I will be the best of me and my Heavenly Father is in that with me.

Asking for help is totally ok!

Yesterday evening I read the sad news that Caroline Flack, a 40 year old TV presenter has taken her own life. While she made mistakes in life, the press and society seemed to make more out of her troubles than try to help her. And how many of us read the stories or saw the pictures of her falling around drunk?

But more than this…. why as society do we make it so hard for people to ask for help? She should have had everything to live for, but she also obviously felt like it wasn’t enough. It’s so hard to hold your hands up and say you struggle. I know that from personal experience. No, today I’m not suicidal, but 24 years ago I was. I was at that lowest point. And I didn’t know that I could ask for help. Society didn’t talk about mental health. In fact I was made to feel ashamed about taking an overdose. I was made to feel like I was the problem. It took another 20 years to be cold enough to start talking about my battles with anxiety and depression.

Being there at the lowest point, feeling like you have no other option, is a dark lonely isolated place. Unless you’ve been there it is hard to understand. People look at the life you project outwardly, and assume that that is the whole picture. They love the rose tinted perspective they see. Today it’s like the social media portrayal that people put out. Only show the best and the positive or the humorous bits.

But life isn’t like that in reality. Really isn’t black and white. It’s blue, green, pink, grey, yellow and many more colours. And while for you, yellow might be positive, for the person next to you it might be negative. Rather than assuming that they see what you see, take the time to stop and to smile and to ask how they are and what they see! Those words our actions might be the thing that changes their day from a negative to a positive!

And if today you’re the person who is feeling that the world is black, hard and pointless, then please also remember you are not alone and there are people to help. Life is a hard road to travel, but there are some amazing highlights even on the darkest days.

High functioning….in control??

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A friend shared this image this week and it really resonated with me, and I found it suddenly explained why people perceive me the way they do, and how come I come away feeling so exhausted at times!

One of my biggest realisations, as i’ve shared before, was that I am an introvert and not an extrovert, but I think this chart is close in helping me understand more about how and why I function like it do.

I will admit I am a huge over thinker. I am always thinking the worst or 5 steps ahead of where I am today. I am trying to stop this as much as I can. It really challenges my faith at times, and is the one place where I do just have to take a deep breath and pass it all over to God.

People pleasing is a big thing for me. I want to keep everyone else happy, even when I end up frustrating or compromising myself in the process. I am starting to say no to people and know that that is ok, but this is all interlinked with setting boundaries. Setting boundaries in some situations is easier than others. I have started to believe more in my self worth and know, especially in relationships, that I am worth more and that I shouldn’t accept being treated as anything less than my worth. I have realised that true friends and those that really matter treat you with the value you are worth.

People seeing me as outgoing and helpful have at times abused these traits to over burden me and to keep asking for themselves and taking from me, not seeing the bigger picture. But it also means there is a protective smoke screen I hide behind.

I really identify with the fear of failure. I hate letting people down. I hate doing a project that doesn’t work out. Even when giving birth to my eldest, my final incentive was to deliver him naturally, as anything else in my head at that point was failure. (I know in reality that it wouldn’t have been, and just having my baby here would have been enough, but that is where my head was at.) Even now fear of failure runs through how I work, and how I respond to things. It’s linked to people pleasing and wanting to keep everyone happy. But to colleagues I am seen as hard working and detailed, and helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, I do pay attention to detail and I do work hard and I want to be helpful, but when my anxiety is high, or one of my triggers is hit, I almost go into these traits in overdrive.

So is this list or chart a negative thing or a positive thing? I think for me it is positive, in that it is helping me to understand more and more about my anxiety and how it affects my life on a daily basis. My anxiety attacks are getting fewer, but there is always an underlying level of anxiety in day to day living.

But my anxiety currently isn’t always controlling me any more. I’m not always controlling it, but i’m more in control that I have been. I am high functioning within my anxiety, and I know many others with anxiety that are too, and that is also ok. But I am also trying to learn that showing the weakness is also ok.

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What is ok and what is not?

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One of the things I have found in the last few weeks and months is that my perceptions of what is ok and what isn’t are changing. Some of this is through psychotherapy, some of this is through experiences, some of this is through talking with friends.

I have seen things posted on line and shared in several places that are unhelpful and unhealthy. Images and quotes that have made me doubt myself, my opinions and my decisions. Things that have made me question those around me. There are 2 things I really need from those around me at the moment….consistency and loyalty.

When I say this, I don’t mean in a pompus, clique-y or sorority type way. But I mean in a way where I know who I can and can’t rely on. What is going to be stable in both mine and my families lives. What is going to be helping lay the foundations for who I am becoming.

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I’ve also seen things about who to rely on. And that online support is unhealthy, is unreal and is living in a fantasy world. For me, in reality, some of my friends that I know mainly in an online or digital capacity are some of my greatest support. Some of them I have met once, some of them I have met several times, and some of them I have never met, but they are their to support me, to encourage me and to help me achieve the best in who I am. They counsel me and help me process, in the same way that friends I see face to face do. In fact, some of those who are digital friends are the people I see frequently face to face. But that doesn’t mean that those who I have never met are worth any less.

With my depression and anxiety, friendships are hard to maintain. I know that they take a huge level of understanding from my friends and my support network. People need to know that I need to know who I can trust and when and where I can rely on them. If people let me down, then I will walk away as the energy that relationship takes from me needs to be invested in my family and other relationships.

What’s worse though, is that I know I am not the only person experiencing this. For many of my friends with a baby under 1, friends have become a rarity. People aren’t being bothered to take the time to invest in them now their priorities have changed.

New mums need the support the most. Whether it be a new mum for the first or the fifth time. Every new small person into a household mix takes their mum away from the “normality” that existed pre baby. But that doesn’t stop the mum from caring. It is then that she needs it more, but has it the least. So be a friend. Don’t stop caring cos one day you’ll try to care and it will be too late.

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Realising some people don’t have a clue!

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One of the things I have had to do in recent weeks and months is learn that it is ok to put up barriers and set boundaries. This is actually healthy. I’m also learning how much I need to value and respect myself and my time. This has meant I also now know that my friends should be respecting and valuing me in the same way, and they should be placing a level of value on my time.

Sadly I have also realised that some people don’t do this. I know that all people are fallible. I know that we all make mistakes. I’m certainly not saying that I don’t make mistakes or upset people. But I have realised that trust and respect come hand in hand, and both have to be earned and maintained. Once it is tossed away, the damage can be irreparable.

My priorities have to be my faith, my family and myself. My self care includes making sure I surround myself with those who are building me up and not knocking me down. This doesn’t mean only surrounding myself with people in positive happy moods – in fact, I have been able to be a support to others while working through things for myself. And knowing I can be, really does help. But what it does mean is making sure that those who are in my life add value in one way or another.

For example, I have an amazing network of support that I have talked about before, thanks to a group of mums I met online who all gave birth at the same time as me. They are there pretty much 24/7. They know me so well and can build me up on my down days, celebrate with me on the good days, and make me laugh most days! The time I invest in them is so valuable to me and I know they are there.

But I have also learnt that some physical friendships are more one sided. I have learnt that my expectations of people and their commitment to time and relationship building can be different to the other person. And because of the loyal person I am, I have ignored this, but I didn’t realise the damage that this was doing. So I am now trying to be selfish in someways and say this isn’t healthy for me.

People say “talk it through with them” or “they may not know what they are doing”, and I totally understand that this is often true, but  the place I am in at the moment means I don’t have the energy for the confrontation or the emotional space for it.

I know this post could be seen as “controversial” or stirring the pot, but as ever my blog is honest and where I am at. I won’t be answering people who ask “Is it me?” in response to this, as actually that will show how little they have taken in.

Life is a cycle of seasons. And friendships can move in those seasons, and that is 100% ok.

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End of another phase

This week marks another key point in my parenting journey. My maternity leave is coming to an end. I’m really not sure how i feel about it. Mixed emotions i think.

I adore my job. I’ve said this many times,and I’ll keep saying it. I love my job, the charity I work for, the work we do. It’s also what makes a huge difference to my mental health. But on the flip side,this means my daughter is growing older. She’s going to be going to a child minder. She’s now closer to a year than to birth. She’s been growing in the big wide world for almost as long as she was growing inside me.

I have loved my 9 months of being mummy and mum. I’ve loved watching my children grow. Watching my teenager flourish in his first year at college. Watching my toddler gain more independence. Watching my baby grow and learn.

Knowing i will not do this parenting journey again has made me even more aware of every milestone. Each new thing. Each change in appearance. Each ounce of weight gained. Every smile, every tear. I hate the thought of missing anything,but also know i need to step out of this safe bubble.

But this realisation has also been a bit overwhelming. It hit me hard, especially as it coincides with returning from a fabulous holiday this week, and a big change in weather. I’m trying to make sure I stop and refocus,but in reality at times that’s hard. So for now I’m focusing on things I can manage and control. Deep breaths and move a step forward.

Realising what is causing damage

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One of the things that I have started to realise over the last few weeks, is that there are certain things that trigger emotions and reactions within me that I don’t expect. I have realised that some people live in their own bubbles and miss what is going on in other peoples’ lives. Sometimes this is intentional, and sometimes this is completely unintentional. And this really sucks.

It makes me put up barriers in relationships as I take personally things that were never intended to be personal. That were written without any thought of me. And that is ok. That’s how it should be. But I need to find a way to cope with this and to accept that these are not aimed at me.

This has also made me more aware of what I share and how it can be perceived by others. It’s about remembering not everyone has the perfect relationship, had the perfect childhood, has the best relationship with their parents. Not everyone gets their happy ever after. Some people have to kiss a lot of frogs. Some people are having to discover who they are. I am still having to discover who I am.

At the moment the only way I can cope with this is to put barriers up and shut myself away. Cut myself off while I re-evaluate where I am at, and give myself time to recover. And I know that this then confuses people. It isn’t easy to explain to anyone, it’s just how it is at the moment. I don’t always understand it myself. I just know when it happens that I cope the best way I can at the moment.

This week I have had to deal with a middle of the night panic attack for the first time ever. It was scary. I don’t know what caused it and I didn’t know how to manage it, but I managed to get myself back under control after a couple of hours. The only way I have been able to cope since is to stay where I feel safe – my home. I have seen a couple of people, but in my space. I know I will have to face the fear of going out again soon, but that battle is for another day. The anxieties running through my head some days are crazy! They are often irrational. They are almost always unfounded.

I can’t explain the ins and outs of PND for everyone, or say how each individual will be affected. All I can say is what affects me. For me anxiety and obsessive and controlling behaviour are 2 of my big “symptoms” of the post natal depression. I don’t understand why, and i really don’t understand the nuances of it at times – why the position of a knife in the kitchen drawer will drive me crazy, but i’m ok putting away a sock without a pair for example. It’s illogical, and I know it is illogical, but it is how my body is and I am having to learn to manage it.

Writing this blog helps me express where I am at. At times I struggle to vocalise it, even to my amazing husband. But I can write it down. My only hope is that my musings and downloading of how I’m feeling helps someone else out there.

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Getting ready for the next stage

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One of the things I am really struggling with at the moment is every time someone tells me that my little girl is growing up. I know that she will be my last baby, and so in someways I want to make all of this time last as long as possible.

In 2 days time she will be 7 months old. That is more than half of her first year gone, and I feel at times like I have missed so much of the first few months. I am constantly trying to capture in my mind and my heart each moment, as I know I can never have them again. While I am celebrating her moving on in her development, part of me keeps feeling ‘Not yet’! Part of me isn’t ready yet for her to start being mobile, becoming more independent, needing me less.

And I know that some of this is a long long way off.

My toddler still needs me daily. My teenager needs me – but not as much as it feels like I need him. And my daughter needs me. I know she does. But I also know that she doesn’t always miss me like I miss her. I know that none of my children do.

My husband and I joke about my behaviour when I am apart from my teenage son for any period of time. I feel like I have lost an arm or a leg. I find it really hard. I struggle with letting go, as I can still remember holding him in my arms nearly 18 years ago, and  realising that this small person was suddenly totally dependent on me.

I struggle with how willingly my toddler runs off to his childminder – and only because she is so amazing at what she does, and he absolutely adores going. But I struggle because it is a time in his week when I am not needed.

At the moment I am struggling with the idea of returning to work. I love my job. I have really enjoyed my Keeping In Touch days. I adored the day I had back in the office a couple of weeks ago. I love my colleagues. I love what we do. But I am struggling with the idea of not being there for my daughter all day every day. It’s irrational, I know. I know she will be having an amazing time with our wonderful friend and childminder. I know I can touch base whenever I need to. But I am struggling.

What I have realised is that I am human, I am normal. I am not superwoman. I am allowed to feel like this. Loving my children is the hardest but the easiest thing to do, and each stage require me to let go a little bit more.

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A fine line….

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I’m discovering how there is a really fine line between me feeling up and me feeling down. I often don’t know when I am close to teetering over the line. I am starting to recognise the triggers though. As I posted a few days ago, I have had a really positive few days. But I also knew that this didn’t mean I was permanently back on the up.

This afternoon I have felt myself sliding back down. Parenting three children (and yes my teenager is still my child) is a juggling act. As I have said before, all 3 have different needs and demands on my time. This week I have been having to manage a toddler who has had an allergic reaction to another food. As a result, he has been crabby, clingy and just not himself. Juggling that with a 6 month old who is trying to reach further, move more, do more, but constantly toppling, and also needing greater input and awake for longer, has been exhausting. The break in the madness was then going out for half an hour to pick up the teenager! But all of this, combined with an early start, and a full on, but highly enjoyable day before, has dragged me back down.

I am still having to learn where to draw a line and give myself a break. When I topple over the line, I find myself getting into bad, negative cycles. I start to compare myself, my life, my children with those of others. I compare with friends, with relatives, with strangers who post in random places on social media. I get myself down because I feel I am failing my child(ren) because they are not achieving their maximum potential.

I struggle because my baby isn’t keen on eating, when my friend’s child who is younger will chomp through 3 meals. I struggle because my toddler isn’t as eloquent as other children his age. I struggle because I can’t do with my children everything I feel I should. I struggle because I don’t want to leave the safety of my house. I want to stay in my safety blanket. I know I need to find space to stop and take a break when this happens, but it is finding the safest way to do that.

I know I made a mistake when I got to a similar point when my toddler was younger. I cut myself off from people completely, and nearly lost completely some very valuable friendships. This time I am trying to get the balance right. To be able to take a step back without cutting everything off. I’m still not always getting it right, but I am trying, and I am learning.

I hate the struggles that PND gives me. I hate the impact it has on my life at the flick of a switch. But I am learning that I there is a trigger, and I am trying to stop the switch being flicked.

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6 months in and I’m starting to feel a bit more normal!

Newcastle Family Life_ What it was like suffering from PND

This week saw the 6 month mark since I gave birth. In the last month we’ve started to have some big changes…..she’s moved out of our bedroom,she’s starting trying food, she’s sitting up unaided. But for me the biggest change has been one that I’ve felt in me. In the last couple of weeks it’s started to feel like the horrid fog that is brought down by the postnatal depression is lifting a bit.

I’ve actually started to feel real joy in things again, rather than the forced feelings that weren’t genuine but were what I knew I should be feeling. I’m actually finding that spending time with my children is becoming an enjoyment again and not a chore. That might sound awful, but that is the reality for so many parents. Enjoying time with my toddler, my teenager, my baby, is something that had become a distant memory, and is  now something that I am starting to enjoy again.

This doesn’t mean that everything has suddenly got easier. It really hasn’t. Going out can still be my biggest cause of anxiety, and the easiest thing to find an excuse for. Finding the energy to do much else is still a struggle. Feeling like all I can do is sleep some days is still very common. But it’s small steps.

Over the weekend I have deliberately used my energy to do some small “jobs” that needed completing at home. I have realised over the last couple of months, that there are certain areas in the house that it helps me if they are ordered and tidy. I hate not having the energy to keep on top of it all. Unfortunately, this can trigger my OCD and my anxieties. Knowing things aren’t away in their place, where I have created a process and a plan causes me more stress. However, rather than tackling this when it is small, I can let it become a bigger problem. For me, recently, my bedroom has been this area. The pile of clothes and bits at the end of the bed has got bigger and bigger, and the stress in my head about it has got bigger and bigger. So I have tackled it, but know that now I can relax more. But I also know I will now want to make sure everything is in the right drawer etc, and will struggle when things are out of place.

Frustratingly it really is a catch 22. And I know it’s something that people don’t understand. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is that….it’s a disorder. There is no explaining why I need things to be in a certain place in a drawer, and why I find it so stressful when they aren’t. It isn’t logical. Boy do I wish it was! I hate it. I hate that I can’t escape it or explain it.

The other thing I am realising, and having to come to terms with, is that this is going to be a new “normal”. Normal won’t be going back to how I used to be, but it is about mean learning to live with who I am now, and that this version of me is likely to be around for a long time. Until I have accepted this version as the here and now, and stop trying to mask it, I can’t expect others to accept it. They will keep thinking the performance is the reality.

So I will keep going with this new normal.

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