It is not all shit

I feel that it is really important to talk about our mental health. When I write I try to make sure that my posts are real and honest, because it is fucking hard. I often think that anything worth having is hard, this is definitely true with raising a family.

I aim to raise awareness of the importance of our mental health. My own mental health is more important to me than anything else in my life. If it is not good my husband suffers, my children suffer, my friends suffer, the dog definitely suffers, but most importantly I suffer. As far as my mind is concerned I need to be at the top of my game. I neglected my mental health for so many years and it destroyed me. It has taken me thirty three years to realise this and after my recent diagnosis of Autism, I feel that everything is slowly falling into place.

For me it is important to talk and reach out and normalise difficulties when it comes to coping with my mental health. If I broke my leg I would not feel ashamed to go to A&E, if I had a chest infection I would not be ashamed to visit my GP and this is how I am learning to be for my mental health too. However, dealing with any form of mental illness and anxiety may make this incredibly difficult for many people, so I talk about how hard things are because I want others to see that it is ok for stuff to be really tough sometimes. It does not mean that it is hard all the time, a lot of the time it is absolutely Bobby Dazzler, but for me it is important to acknowledge that sometimes things are tough and look for healthy ways to deal with this.

I LOVE my life, my family, my home but I want to normalise the tough times as much as the wonderful times. I want my smiling family photos to be followed by stories of sleepless crap, toddler tantrums and days where the only thing that I have consumed has been eight cans of Diet Coke and a Mars Bar.

For me life is about owning those challenges and difficult times and focusing on ways to make it better for next time. Nothing is perfect, but not everything is shit.

Here we are today after 3 coffees, 2 diet cokes, 1 brew and 2 pieces of cake 🤣

It’s hard, right?

Yes it’s hard

when it’s 3am

and you have finally settled the baby to bed

but then the toddler wakes up

and you start over again.

Yes it’s hard

when the baby is crying

but you are chasing the the toddler

because he has taken his clothes off

and you are in the museum.

Yes it’s hard

when the toddler wants toast but

he has to butter it himself

or it’s not quite right

and the baby is still crying.

Yes it’s hard

when your clothes do not fit

and your hair needs a wash

but the baby needs milk

so you just stay inside watch cartoons and eat biscuits.

Yes it is hard

when your heart breaks

because now you are less

because the toddler needs you

as much as baby does too.

Yes it’s hard

when they are forced to grow fast

even though they did not ask

for this tiny new being

to take over their bed, their routine

and their things.

Yes it’s hard

but it will be ok

because together they will grow and learn and play

and the years will pass faster than the long drawn out nights

sat lonely, wondering… am I doing this right?

Parenthood, Age and Time

I find a lot of social situations and expectations confusing or overwhelming at times, not always, just sometimes. I do not get anxious, I just sometimes feel a bit odd or uncomfortable.

Friendships can sometimes feel the same, one minute people are around and the next they are gone. I immediately think that I have done or said some horrific, offending, unforgivable thing and need to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

As I become older and encounter different groups of people and social situations I am starting to realise that most of the time it is nothing to do with me and I cannot fix things, no matter how hard I try.

I am terrible with things like this, I struggle to understand the ‘friendship game’ at the best of times, especially with girls. It is like a code to me, a club with rules and ways to behave and things that you can and cannot do. You have to remain in contact just the right amount of times, but not too much as that is just as bad as not being in touch at all.

You have to say the correct thing, in the correct order. When people ask for your opinion, they do not always necessarily want YOUR opinion they want THEIR opinion from your mouth. Honesty is not always the correct answer. It is so very confusing.

My growing interest in the behaviour of others has moved up a level over the past two years. What was a professional understanding of the behaviour and psychology of children during the early years, has expanded greatly. I have learned that my childhood and experiences have greatly impacted how I raise my children and how I behave in situations of extreme stress and exhaustion. I have also been watching others go through the same thing, and how their behaviour can suddenly change depending on the challenges that they are faced with.

Human beings are amazing and I know that parenthood has definitely changed me, we adapt to whatever is thrown at us in times of extreme exhaustion and a natural instinct protect and survive kicks in. We are doing what we can to get through the day and for some people that means shutting down and turning the world off.

I do not think that it is personal, I think sometimes people just change and move on, in an attempt to protect themselves from something that they are afraid of or cannot quite figure out. My sudden need to find out the reasons to why someone would stop talking to me comes from my insecurities. I need to learn to take a step back and see that it is not always about me. Yeah it can hurt, but sometimes you have just got to let go.

It is ok to be like that too, it does not make me weak to walk away from something that I do not necessarily understand and I do not need all the answers. Sometimes there just are no answers and people just are not meant to be in your life forever. I am learning to be grateful for the amazing people that I do have in my life and pouring my energy, time and understanding into them. Which is easy because they are all fantastic. I am also learning to be kinder to myself and not waste my energy on people who do not have time for me.

Parenthood, age and time has taught me that life can be beautiful and slow paced as well as manic and wild. It has allowed me to understand that it is important to try to see the positive in everything and to try to not always look for reasons to why things happen in situations that are out of my control.

People are complicated and although they may hurt you sometimes, it is not always personal. Everyone is still growing and although we think that it is only events from our childhood that shape who we are today, I feel that every day can change who we will be tomorrow.

I am Autistic

It is National Autism Awareness Week and last month I received my own diagnosis as a person with Autism. I have had Autism since I was born, however I only received my diagnosis at 32 years of age and as a woman I feel that it is important to share my story.

The rate of women and girls diagnosed with Autism compared to men is disproportionate. There are many theories to explain this but it is thought that Autism in women presents differently to Autism in men and the assessment system that is place is outdated and designed for men only. Many Autistic girls and women slip under the radar and never receive the diagnosis and help that they may need. However, there is currently a lot of research and changes taking place with the diagnostic procedure to allow for both men and women to be assessed and supported equally and to meet their needs.

After repeatedly being misdiagnosed with a range of different mental health difficulties I was becoming frustrated and annoyed that I did not have the answers to why I found some aspects of life so challenging. At times I felt like I was watching life from inside a goldfish bowl, I did not really quite understand how others managed to achieve what they did without the problems and disasters I often seemed to encounter.

Certain situations, heightened senses and social interactions were making me have frequent meltdowns, these manifested in many different ways, and were causing me to become more anxious, especially now I had children of my own to care for.

For years I had devised a complicated and stressful ability to camouflage and concealing my difficulties. This ranged from observing and mimicking the behaviour and language of my peers, to over working and overloading myself to breaking point, in order to complete tasks to a high enough standard that no one would ever notice my struggles. I would often camouflage for an entire day, resulting in a meltdown as soon as I had got home. I would then have to spend the whole evening in a state of anxiety and exhaustion, attempting to recharge myself for the next day.

My growing inability to change routine and my frustration at even the smallest, last minute alteration to something as insignificant as what we were having for tea, was beginning to take its toll on my husband and to be honest myself too. I felt like having Cass gave me the strength to say, ‘this is really fucking shit and I’m not willing to do this anymore.’ I needed answers in order to recognise and deal with my difficulties in a healthy way and with a bit more knowledge and understanding about myself.

Since getting my diagnosis I have been trying to unpick a web that is now 33 years old. I understand the main things that I find difficult and challenging, but I do not want to stop doing them, I just have to work out a way that works best for me and my brain. I am learning to be more forgiving of myself and not push myself to breaking point. If there is something that I feel like I cannot do today, then I will just do it the next day or find a way to do it that makes me comfortable, happy and does not result in a melt down.

I am giving myself more time to indulge in the things that I enjoy, my ‘hobbies,’ allowing myself to hyper-focus for large amounts of time on the things I love, without feeling guilty. Having more open conversations with my husband about even the smallest of things that may lead to a meltdown, instead of pushing it to the back of my mind and becoming anxious. The most important thing for me now though is having the confidence to say no to people if I know that I am going to find a situation difficult.

Autism for me is not a mental health condition, a common misunderstanding, it is a neurodevelopment condition that means my brain is wired differently and without the correct treatment and knowledge can cause poor mental health. I identify myself as having a communication, understanding and sensory disability. I believe that without my diagnosis my mental health would have suffered greatly, but this would be a product of me lacking self-knowledge and being Autistic.

This is Autism. I am still the same person I have always been, just better, because now I have more knowledge and understanding of who I am and what I can achieve.

Time to think

Over the past couple of weeks I have had quite a lot of time to think and I have had to make a few decisions about the future. The past nineteen months have been eye opening and I am slowly learning a lot about myself. At times it has been great, but being honest with yourself is sometimes really tough.

At my last midwife appointment the midwife wanted to know where I wanted to give birth, at first I thought, well obviously at home. We planned a home birth with Cass and it just seemed easier to stay at home.

After a while I started to think that maybe this was not actually the best option for me and my family. When I was pregnant with Cass I literally spent the whole nine months planning his birth. I wanted to be as prepared as possible for whatever happened.

We went to Hypnobirthing classes, opted for a home birth, hired a pool, wrote a birth plan, I thought we were going for a laid back approach. I knew I wanted to avoid unnecessary medical intervention and I did not want any medication so it just seemed easier for everyone if we just stayed at home.

Looking back now it was all quite stressful. Elvis, the dog, had to go in the kennels (I do not think he has fully forgiven us for this), we had to pump up a massive pool in our tiny kitchen and hang sheets from the windows as there are no curtains in there, what was meant to be a calm, tranquil birthing environment was more like a cave.

There were what felt like hundreds of people in our tiny home, I had lost all concept of time and space, the night became day and I did not even realise because the curtains were still closed. I felt like I was at some never ending afterparty in a strange house. It is hard to relax when there are total strangers walking round your house, I kind of felt like I should be making them a cup of tea or offering them a snack. No amount of Hypnobirthing was going to make me feel calm.

The worst thing was that the toilet was so far away, every time I needed the loo I had to try and climb the mountain face that is our stairs, and with a back to back baby this was not pleasant.

Home birth is such a wonderful experience for a lot of women and to be honest it did start off wonderful,but in the end, and in hindsight I can see it just was not for me. What I really learned is that I love natural light, routine and space. I feel like I need the routine of the hospital to keep me on track, I need to be able to just move and walk and the hospital will have a lot more space than our cosy little home. I also would like the pleasure of just coming home to a house that is not full of medical equipment or the stress of having to put away a birth pool.

It is not about me thinking my choices are the best or the right choices for everyone, it is about seeing what works well for me and choosing that. Also, learning to understand why it works for me and trying to avoid falling into trends or being easily led. This time I am not going to try micromanage the birth and everyone involved, I am just going with what feels right at the time and hopefully everything will be slightly calmer. Who knows though, I’ll probably end up having the baby in the car on the way to the hospital.

My Valentine

Sometimes we live our lives at such a fast pace that we become totally unaware of those around us. Not because we are selfish or thoughtless, just because we are trying to survive and do the best that we possibly can for our families in a hectic and busy world. I am never fully aware of what is going on around me especially when it comes to thinking about Will, I am guilty of taking him for granted and I am working on this.

These past three weeks have consisted of me not actually doing very much and Will, doing everything. I keep saying, ‘oh I’ll do that, I’ll see if I can take Cass out for an hour,’ and then not really having the energy to move or just feeling so sick I cannot face leaving the house.

It has given me time to think about how lucky I am. I am so guilty of using the line, ‘I do everything around here,’ and can often be seen piling washing into the machine in a rage. But actually, having some time at home has made me realise that it is not me that does everything, in fact I do very little and laying here feeling sorry for myself (with good reason of course) has been quite humbling.

It is actually Will who takes on all the childcare, Will who cooks all the family meals, Will who does all the food shopping and tries to keep the house clean with a pint size dictator in tow. It is Will who takes the bins out, Will who walks the dog and takes Cass to nursery and Will who does all of this whilst having a job and studying for his Masters.

I go to work and almost forget that all of this goes on, come home, do bedtime and then eat a delicious home cooked meal. Working all day is hard and it is exhausting in a different way, but that does not make what I do any more important that what anyone else does with their day, especially my husband.

I have come to realise that I had become so stressed out and consumed with myself and how I felt about working all day, that I have forgotten to appreciate how much Will is actually doing to care for us. It is only now that I have been forced to stop my weekly routine, that I can see really how lucky Cass and I are to have him.

Families are built up of so many different dynamics, with people taking on different roles. From single parent families, with very little support to those who have close family living near by to help out, but all families face challenges. Cass only has me and Will, as all our family live in other cities. Sometimes it is a struggle and sacrifices have to be made, it is hard work but it is manageable. I need to take the time to be more aware of what is going on around me and with our family, I will be working hard to keep this going and just taking sometime to look around me has helped me realise just how lucky I am.

We do not normally celebrate Valentine’s Day, not for any deep or social reason just because we are bloody lazy and by the time one of us remembers all the cards have sold out. But this year my Valentines gift to my husband is to be more thankful, considerate and present. This will probably be the year where he decides he would prefer a card instead.

Rest

So my body has finally forced me to slow down and after being admitted into the hospital yesterday afternoon, I have been diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (big bad morning sickness). I am being cared for by the absolutely amazing staff at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and hopefully I will not be here for too much longer.

I have suffered horrendously with morning sickness and nausea through out this pregnancy and it has been debilitating at times. I feel like I have had to excuse myself from so many things over the past three months without really knowing why and then feeling awful for letting others down. I just thought it was normal and just kept going despite wanting to curl up in a ball. I guess I should have listened to my body sooner and then it would not have become so bad, knowing when to stop is not one of my strong points though.

Although it is not ideal, I am so happy that they have finally found out what is wrong and has been causing all the sickness, dizziness, migraines and general feeling of ‘rubbishness’.

Keep Calm and Carry On

‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ a slogan adapted from posters distributed by the British Government in 1939 during the build up to the Second World War. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public during a time of imminent air strikes.

I feel that the damage caused by this thoughtless slogan continued long after the war had ended, with the demobilisation of thousands of men returning to Blighty. What is often portrayed as a young couple sharing a loving embrace on the platform of a station, with the imminent return to marital bliss, is now known to be far from the truth of post war life for these families.

These young men suffered horrifically from the horrors of war. Post traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, guilt, fear, anxiety, panic, how did society expect a whole generation to go through such trauma and then return to life as they previously knew it? Were these families expected to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On?’ What support was available for these people?

This attitude of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has long resided within our society here in Great Britain. People are not encouraged to talk about their ‘feelings’ but to just get on with it and to toughen up. I think that this is even more so for boys

Fears and anxieties are trivialised by parents, teachers, employers, friends. With others making comparisons of our own emotions, ‘if you think you have it bad then you should think about…’ and ‘oh it could be worse.’ It is like our emotions and thoughts have been shut down before we have even begun.

Telling people that they are alright when actually, they know that they are not, is a direct attack on their own personal judgement of their situation. People think that they are helping when in fact they are doing the opposite, causing individuals to question themselves and push problems deeper.

Mental health is something that I spend a lot of time studying and researching, it is an extremely important aspect of my job and the work that I do to support young children and their families. My own mental health is something that I care passionately about and after having Cass my need to know as much as possible order to support him, grew.

On average, around 6,000 people take their own life by suicide in the UK every year. Around three quarters of all suicide attempts in 2016, were male. Mental illness is killing our family and friends, and it is terrifying.

So as my little boy is growing up I will encourage him to, STOP, talk to someone, work it through, get help, get answers, make a plan, don’t just fucking ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ We should all take time to listen and support each other, give our family, friends, partners, children, students time to speak to find someone that they can trust and someone that cares about what makes them scared, and really make a difference.

It is ok to not be ok.

Finding time to talk

I was talking to a friend last week about how we don’t find time to process difficult or even joyful emotions. How life just seems to sweep you by, things happen one moment and the next you have to just pick yourself up and keep moving. People around you probably think that you are strong and resilient for doing so, but how does this behaviour affect our mental health? Should our experiences and emotions not be confronted head on and processed over time? 

When I was pregnant I felt like I was in a little glowing bubble of joy. I was untouchable, nothing fazed me, I did not feel stressed or pressured. I just felt so happy knowing that I had this tiny human being growing inside of me. All of my anxieties and worries were gone, nothing could bring me down because all that mattered was our future as a family. 

I did not believe for a second that it was all going to be sweetness and light, of course it was going to be hard work. I had seen my sister bring up two children and she is a pro, I knew what was involved. It was that feeling of knowing that my baby was growing inside me, it blew my mind. It was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life.

After Cass was born my emotions were obviously all over the place, like any new parent. We were tired, a bit out of sorts, unsure of what was actually going on but I was still so happy. We had a beautiful baby boy.

When you are pregnant, especially for the first time there is a lot of focus on you as the mother, how you are feeling, how you are coping. Constantly being checked at the doctors, fighting for what kind of birth you want, making decisions. It is a lot to take on, stressful and overwhelming at times. A lot of focus is put on the pregnancy, no one really tells you what is coming. No one really prepares you for what happens after labour, all the focus is on what drugs you want when you are in labour, where you want to give birth and if your baby does not arrive in a specific time scale, what medical procedure will be thrown at you to make sure it does.

When Cass was around three months old I remember feeling very overwhelmed by everything. Due to Will’s work and not having any family close by, I was spending a lot of evenings alone and bedtimes were an absolute killer. Feeding all day and all night and trying to survive on a couple of hours sleep, it was too much. I felt totally isolated. I called the health visitor who came round and just talked, her support was amazing. She reassured me and it gave me the strength I needed to keep going. 

A few months ago I was returning to work, still getting zero sleep, really struggling with night feeds and the rest. I felt like a shell, but I just kept going. One day everything just crashed down around me, I couldn’t cope anymore. I had totally lost myself and shut down. Luckily for me I had some fantastic women around me, the support of my family to help me get back on track and an amazing doctor. 

Talking about what was happening and how I was feeling was not something that came easily, I had to swallow an absolute fuck-tonne of pride and face some mammoth demons. I realised at this moment I had to start taking better care of myself and making positive decisions about how I was going to look after my mental health.

Different people react in different ways to situations and mental health is very unique to each individual. For me, I do not take time, I rush through things and become engrossed in the next project or exciting life event and forget about how I am feeling at that exact moment. I am forever looking to the future and not taking time to enjoy ‘now.’ Sometimes I don’t want to enjoy ‘now,’ I want to forget about it, it is hardwork, crap, upsetting or stressful. 

In the past 14 months I have learned so much about my own mental health and emotions, I am working through, and confronting things that existed before Cass was born, which is a bit shit to be honest. I wish I would have just dealt with them at the time, but this is helping me learn and grow NOW so I do not make the same mistakes in the future. I am learning to deal with things and not bury them. I am taking time, albeit very small amounts of time to talk about how I feel, with friends and my husband. I am taking time to talk about both positive and negative emotions, learning from the good and the bad. I am being honest with myself and stepping out of my comfort zone. 

I cannot emphasise how much talking helps, find someone who will listen, anyone! A friend, family, the samaritans, your doctor no one should ever feel alone. Take strength from small achievements and always remember that you are enough. Fill your cup and take time, even if it’s just a minute to text a friend or hanging out at soft play with some other parents. Everyone has shit but we should never be alone.