Christmas cheer?

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Christmas-time with postnatal depression.

Christmas for me marks my postnatal depression journey quite clearly. I am such a fan of the festive season, yet for the past 7 years have been battling with postnatal depression (which I am now recovered) and also with anxiety. (And still struggle with)

I really love Christmas and the planning and preparation. I love the traditions that I have kept from childhood and created with my family too. Stockings for everyone. Hubby is now on board with this and usually does quite well. Choosing our real Christmas tree, Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for Christmas Day breakfast, Elves visiting and causing mischief and encouraging kindness during December and visiting Santa of course. I love getting the house all cosy and festive. I admit I will always love it to look like the features in the John Lewis adverts or Country Living magazine but hey I can keep it real and know that it’s not about the matching crockery and perfection on the table. It’s not Christmas if there isn’t mismatched China on the table and the tallest guest sat on the smallest stool!.

Having a 7 yr old and a 5 year old girl, this Christmas I will have learnt that I can only give my best. I shouldn’t use up all my energy in the build up to Christmas Day leaving me exhausted on the one day that should be lovely. Should it really be that though? That this one day that should be lovely? I pose that question to my own statement and wonder if even by saying that I’m putting that pressure on myself subconsciously.

All too often we know the increased pressure and how it builds up. You over hear conversations as you pass people in the street or coffee shop: “….all set for Christmas?” You can’t escape the marketing ploys of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, 50% Sale etc almost panicking you into buying something you don’t want or don’t need only to feel guilty of you do or feel guilty of you don’t. It sucks you in. And makes me anxious. I feel it bubbling up inside, questioning; have I bought everything, it’s not enough, I should buy more etc etc.

The over jolly Christmas music blaring out of the shops music systems, on the radio, on the TV adverts. It’s Christmas and there is now escape from it. I love Christmas and all that it brings but I would rather do it at my own pace, there is always going to be the presents for our children they know Santa has a lot of presents to give to all the other children and so far during the last few years of requests they have been fairly modest gifts. A singing Santa Claus from the local Hardware shop went down a treat and has been the best present and the one always remembered too.

For me I have to curb my train of thought as I can go overboard in my planning. Feel guilty for not providing or doing what is expected of me when it is only me that expects it and no one else. This is where I have to stop and get back to the basics. Family, laughter and love are what I want on Christmas Day. Wherever we are and what ever we do that is the most important.

I certainly know that I’ve learnt this the hard way; that last year I spent most of Christmas Day in tears. I had done all the build up, got more and more manic about providing all I could for everyone despite me crunching that credit card and hoping that in January it wouldn’t be noticed by my husband. I Volunteered at every school fundraiser and got more and more and more Christmassy to the detriment of my mental health, I was exhausted. The final straw that broke me was that on Christmas morning the children woke up excited to see what Santa had left them….and my daughter having asked for the impossible “Elsa powers” i.e the ability to freeze people like the character in the Disney Frozen film. This was one present Santa couldn’t deliver, and yet hearing my daughter genuinely gutted that Santa hadn’t left her Elsa powers totally floored me. The tears couldn’t be held back, I felt a total failure. I wanted to curl up in bed and practically did that leaving my husband to have breakfast with the children and watch Christmas films with them. I remember skyping my mum so that she could watch her grandchildren open their presents and really not wanting to be in the same room, trying to hide the fact that I had tears running down my face. I forced myself to go to a family festive dinner but before I did I decided to make the best decision for me and that was to go back on my antidepressants. Popping that little pill on Christmas Day after being off them for a year was such a huge step but one I knew was the best one. That action alone made me feel like I was taking ownership of this awful awful feeling.

So this year, I’m determined for it to be different. Christmas Day is just another day. We will eat whatever we want, and not feel pressured to do anything. These are the things I want to remember and remind myself;

You are not the sole provider of Christmas cheer
You do not have to make everyone happy
You do not have to buy everything and be everywhere to have an enjoyable Christmas
You deserve to be happy.

And most of all the best present your children can have is you.

Merry Christmas everyone

Charlotte x
If you do feel the need to talk to someone this Christmas please call the Samaritans
116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI) or if you are in the USA 1 (800)273 TALK
Australia 135 247

An open letter to Adele

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Hello Adele

I’m writing to you because you’ve stepped into the light. I don’t mean the celebrity spotlight or the here’s my new album media limelight. But the light at the end of the tunnel of postnatal depression. You’ve taken that huge decision in your recovery journey to be open about how becoming a mum made you feel.

I remember the first time I told my close friends, I couldn’t even tell them face to face, I did it by email. I can remember the feeling I felt after writing it all down. “This is why I’ve been avoiding you lately… I’ve been to see the doctor and I have postnatal depression.” Their responses were amazing, and I feel totally blessed to have such a fantastic network of supporters and friends and family.

Once I told people I saw on a regular basis I felt instant relief. I felt I could be honest and be myself. I also would not feel I had to explain myself either. Having postnatal depression is not all about sitting in a corner feeling down, it can be just getting through your day, sometimes with a smile on your face sometimes not. If you do smile and seem outwardly happy then that’s ok too. Pnd can be different things to different people, there are good days and awful days. There are moments when you feel great and Instagram that cute picture of your baby sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine and the next minute feeling like you’ve jumped from a skyscraper and are lying splat on the floor. That was my feelings anyway.

Admitting to yourself that you don’t feel how you think you should do after having a baby is the first step in your recovery, the next is telling someone else, seeing your health care professional and finding outside support, talking to others and sharing your story. Finally being open and honest and passing on the kindness you have received from others to new mamas going through the same thing you did is a huge step in becoming a well mummy.

Using your fame as a platform for this is immense. I’m not sure you even realise how much it has meant to other mums to hear and read about your motherhood journey. Yesterday my social media news feed was pinging with retweets, shares, bloggers and perinatal mental health campaigners and friends all sharing your words and theirs telling other mummies that it’s important to talk. And it really is.

My #pndfamily is so important to me. They are speaking up about the importance of perinatal mental health because they know what it is like to experience that awful feeling of knowing we should be enjoying being a mummy but aren’t. As a result of this they have been inspired to set up their own support groups, Twitter chats, campaigns, local charities and generally being amazing advocates. It’s is finally getting talked about more openly yet many mamas and dads too don’t feel confident to speak up about their own struggles through parenthood.

So thank you Adele. Thank you for being so honest and telling the world.

You can read the full article here.

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/10/adele-cover-story

 

Look to your heart

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My public and private mummy face is totally different. I’m sure yours is too. I often find I parent better when I am in front of friends. Somehow I emit this calm persona when I’m with others, to the point that they even comment that I’m so calm. Even though I might be fighting those feelings of frustration or trying not to listen to the “you’re such a bad mum, everyone is looking at you and humming that too” script that goes round in my head.

When I was on maternity leave (7yrs ago) and at home more, we had a neighbour who had 3 young children, I saw her to say hello to but generally only ever saw her coming in or out of her house to get the children in or out of the car. A lot of the time she would be shouting at one or all three of the children. I nicknamed her “shouty mum”. I couldn’t understand why as soon as she was in public that she would be raising her tone of voice and crating such a negative atmosphere……

However since having children I can totally relate to how my neighbour was reacting. I have often found myself getting out of the house still cross at the girls and the getting ready for school routine. Then I feel terribly guilty for my reaction and hate the fact that I am sending the girls off to school upset because I’ve shouted at them.

I came across this short article by Dirt and Boogers

How to Stop Yelling At Your Kids – One Simple Tip

One, she admits that she yells at her kids, for which I admire that admission greatly and two, she had found a way that enables her to take a breath in that moment of pre-shouting that means she can take stock and focus on calming herself down. Leaving hearts all over the house means she can see them, stop reacting and breath.

I’ve got another week of half term left, perhaps I should try this idea……

Free Me Time

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Here in the UK we have just gained an hour. A whole hour of time, but what does that really mean? Well the children still get up at the same time their body clock always tells them to except it’s an hour earlier. We have a whole extra hour in which to entertain the children, joy! The evenings get darker earlier, and when I mean earlier I mean from 2pm in the afternoon on a dull grey day can seem like dusk. And in the height of winter in December it’s dark by 3.30pm. That’s a whole 4 hours to kill in the dark with children whilst waiting for bedtime. Because if you fool them into think it’s bedtime and go to bed early then you’re guaranteed that they will wake all the more earlier and defeat the object of them having an early night as it always equals an early morning!

I don’t think I get seasonal affective disorder, but I am certainly affected by the clock change and the early dark nights. I think it didn’t exactly make my journey into motherhood easy as I had my daughter in the October so really felt those darker afternoons. I remember thinking what to do at those times of the afternoon, I would head to the shopping mall or a local 24/7 supermarket which had a cafe and while away the time in a lit busy environment. I didn’t learn from this, as I then, two years later had my second daughter at the same time of year. This time I didn’t go out as much, as logistically I found it too difficult.

So today I got to thinking, if someone gave you a child free hour what would you do with it?
Would you run round the house tidying up? Would you run yourself a bath? Have a manicure? sort out that cupboard? Sleep? Read? Have a hot cup of tea? Go food shopping? Go clothes shopping… For yourself?! I’ve had those rare occasions when I’ve been given that time from my husband, or a friend who has said go and do something for yourself. The elation I felt was totally joyful, wow I’m on my own without the children what should I do? Then confusion, what can I fit into that time? I’m thinking about it too much I’m wasting time. Quick do something! I found that I couldn’t think what to do and wanting to make the most of that time wanted to cram everything in from the above list into that 60minutes. Therefore feeling guilty that I didn’t make the most of that hour.

I have so much that I want to do for myself, tidy up areas of my house which make me feel unhappy and guilty I’ve not done it sooner; the toy cupboard, the wardrobe etc. I want that pamper time for me to indulge myself; manicure, washing and drying my hair. Sleep is a definite priority and depending on my mood or sleep deprivation or stress levels that often comes first.

I have that time , now that the children are growing up and at school, I have a precious 5 hours between drop off and pick up to do things for myself. That includes working and being me. And yet still I try and cram it full and feel guilty I’ve not ticked everything off my imaginary list. It has to be imaginary because if it was actually real and taped to my fridge then that would be even worse that it being in my head. Technically it’s still the same though, sitting there calling to me, telling me I’ve not done enough. Sometimes my logical mind will tell me that “I am enough, I have done one of those things therefore I have done enough”. Other times it will make me feel that I am inadequate and totally lower my mood.

It is not new to me or my personality or character that I am like this, my postnatal depression and anxiety haven’t made me like this. I have always been like this. I have always done too much, filled my diary and life with lots of things, never seeming to have enough time to just sit and do nothing. I have never known what it is like to not have anything to do. When I was younger I couldn’t fathom how people could not have the focus I had. But thinking about it was I filling my time and head with things to do so I didn’t give myself the time to think, otherwise I might have dwelled on experiences I would rather have not thought about.

The only thing pnd and anxiety have done is to highlight my own feelings of inadequacy more and make me feel unnecessary guilt. In time I know that I will overcome those feelings and embrace that “me time” more.

So, what did I do with my free hour of time this morning… I played solitaire on my iPad, in bed, because I could!

Happy Birthday dear Mummy

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It’s not my actual birthday but in a way I think it is exactly how the title of this blog says “Happy Birthday Mummy”. It is exactly seven years since I became a mummy and seven years since me and my husband became parents for the first time. I often reflect on my time as a mummy and find it particularly poignant at this time of year as this is birthday week for both my children. Yes we had them within 2 years and a week apart. This despite the jokes of “only doing it once every two years” to fall pregnant at the same time of year! Having them close in age and birthdays at the same time of year has had its positives as well as its hindrances. Yay for the double party, over in one sitting, boo for the stress that it brings. I like to do things big and see nothing of organising a joint party for 40 children. Not unlike the one we are having this weekend. I vow every year that I’m not going to do it, and then find myself booking a hall in July!

That said it has taken me a while to not have my blips of postnatal depression and since I’ve recovered from my pnd I have had small blips of depression around this time of year. Particularly when, with my first daughter, it brings back memories of her induced birth and subsequent operation she had to mend a blockage in her small intestine at 36 hrs old. This is something that I haven’t even found the strength or the right words to blog about yet. But as you can imagine a very traumatic time for all of us as a new family.

Although I think about my journey through postnatal depression as having really started when my babies were 2 months old. I think with hindsight the signs began to creep in as the nights drew in and got darker earlier. It is understandable that when it came to my daughters first birthday that I was in the full throes of postnatal depression, having only acknowledged it by the time she was 4 months old. I was also having triggered memories of the traumatic experience we had. The fact that I spent most of the time wandering to neonatal and the maternity ward and not spending the time holding my baby girl. Or sitting by her bedside whilst she was wired up to machines and tubes for the first 6 days of her life. Seeing her smiling, laughing, crawling and walking and hitting all her milestones within the year I always saw as bitter sweet. I found it hard to relate to others who hadn’t experienced the worry we had been through whilst feeling guilty that I wouldn’t want to wish that experience on anyone.

Fast forward and I had my second daughter one week before my first daughters second birthday. Again feelings of guilt. I got to hold her without her being whisked away. I got to stay in the ward and have the official photographs which I didn’t get with my first. I got to change her first nappy. I got to establish breast feeding without it being sucked out of the nasal gastric tube to check how much she had taken. I got to go home and be there to receive the flowers, gifts and cards which arrived daily through our letterbox. All those things came with that bitter sweet guilt of not having that the first time around. My first daughter got to celebrate her second birthday with her new baby sister.

Fast forward again and this year they are celebrating their 5th and 7th birthdays! It seems cliche to say “where did that time go?” But seriously although it feels like a lifetime ago I really do feel that I am stepping forth blinking into the light.

I have overdone it again with the party planning this year but think that I always will do, despite me telling my friends to remind me of all the stress I out myself under with the organising. I see it as a celebration of heir birthdays as well as me becoming a mummy.

On that note I will raise a glass of bubbly and bask in the glow that I’m celebrating 7 years of parenting.

Right now I’m off to pack 40 party bags……

Listening

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I had been dressing after having a shower, when my daughter came in. She noticed that I had red insect bite type marks on my body. However they’re not insect bites but heat lump type stress hives. I know this from doctor Google of course. But having eliminated a change in washing powder, deodorant, insects and food allergies. Plus given the fact that we are in birthday month for my girls along with an increase in my paid work and busy homelife. My husband tends to have his conference season start in September and October so he is also away a lot. This unexplained rash/ itchy lumps can only be put down to stress. Already I know it but it’s on that roller coaster of craziness which is all of my own doing. I say it every year that I won’t do it to myself. And every year I find myself thinking about their birthday party in June, booking a hall and then the roller coaster wheels slowly work into action. Usually culminating in me being an emotional wreck usually the end of the month of October.

So the bathroom conversation with my 6 year old went like this;

Mummy do you still have your soreness?

Yes I think it’s because mummy is doing too much

I think you should have a long break but not too long

What should I do on my break?

Sleep
Yes that sounds good, what else?
Eat dinner in bed, and lunch and breakfast
That sounds good too what else which doesn’t involve bed or eating in bed?

Go outside but not for work
And play games

I think I should start listening to body and my daughter more, and do all of the above.

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Walk the walk

I’ve been a bit quiet recently and here’s why;

The reason I’m walking….

I’ve signed myself up to a 25km charity walk! In truth I signed up months ago. My day of reckoning is in 6days time. My training kicked in when I panicked at 22 days to go!!!!
So far I have clocked up 86km over the last 2 weeks. Pretty impressive considering I haven’t done any proper walking since the girls were babies in the push chair. Disneyland last October doesn’t count even though we were walking 15,000 steps a day and me and my youngest daughter wore actual holes in our trainers!

So who am I waking for?

Well 2 years ago along with another local mum, we set up a postnatal depression support group in our area. I had suffered with Pnd and Anxiety with both daughters, far worse with my second which I have touch on further on in my blog. There was very little support locally and I accessed support from across the county border which I found invaluable. Without that support I wouldn’t have got through my Pnd and be able now to share my story. Those mums and the support I received from Hertfordshire Postnatal Illness was amazing. And we’re quite literal at times, my life line. It still left no local support to me though and therefore for other mums experiencing these same feelings too.

Our support group is accessed by mums who have heard about us either online, through Facebook or from GP’s health visitors and other perinatal health care professionals. Our net is cast relatively small as we are limited in our time and resources to promote it further. However in saying that we have had over 25 mums come through our doors and receive the support they have so desperately needed. Many more we have supported online, via email or telephone.
We fundraised earlier on in our set up and now, since we have become an independent volunteer led support group we are changing our name and need promotional materials so more mums can know that we are here. They don’t have to go through their journey of motherhood and Pnd alone.

Why walk?
Well I don’t do running for a start! I’d have to buy a bike as I haven’t got one of those, a swimming pool is a drive away and to be honest I quite like walking. Lucky for me I live in a hilly town so the gradients of my walks can vary which add to the training.
Walking is also particularly significant to me and my postnatal illness. I often described the feeling I had when I was ill as “like walking through a muddy bog on the fog”. It really was. Everything happened in slow motion and walking or just getting from A to B was such an effort. If that meant I was meeting people too and being sociable then it’s was even more of an effort to put on that “happy mask” and try and be normal.
When inside I felt far from it.

So given that I’ve done a lot of thinking whilst I’ve been walking I can see that the actual physical act of walking as I feel now is that sense of feeling free. I feel free from my Pnd. And although I’m not quite as free from my anxiety it certainly feels like it’s more in control or should I say I’m more in control of it.

So as I rest my weary legs after my 7km walk today I’m looking forward to next week when I’m walking alongside others raising money for their charities and in the company of a good friend to chat with along the way. I’m also looking forward to the Sunday when I can feel very proud of myself and show my children my medal and know I walked it for them, my family and friends who have supported me through my ups and downs and my recent training. And above all for the mums who have yet to walk through our door and know that they are not alone.

Fast forward 6 days and I’ve done it!!
I. Walked.twenty-five.kilometres!!!!!!
I can’t really believe it. It certainly wasn’t a walk in the park but I can tell you it was easier than I had thought. My worries about my back going into spasm or my ankle, which I went over on only 5 days earlier were completely fine. My right knee, which I have always had trouble with since a teenager wasn’t and became very painful at about Wandsworth bridge about 9km into the trek challenge. And the blister crept in shortly afterwards but they were more manageable. The distance between the bridges was fairly short. What I hadn’t envisaged was that there were stairs up and down to get to the bridges and that bridges are always positioned on a slight incline!

The hardest part of the walk was that I had imagined myself at the finish under the towers of Tower Bridge with my medal but in truth the finishing line was another 1.6kms away! That was the longest and most painful part of the walk.

Those unexpected hurdles are pretty much like life and motherhood in general. Some things you can imagine and others creep up on you unexpectedly. Pretty much like postnatal depression does and did with me. The long ending of the walk was even more poignant as I didn’t know where or when it would finish I just knew we were almost there.
Other walkers passed us wearing their medals having completed it and gave us words of encouragement. “It’s just around the corner” or “you’re almost there”. But still we couldn’t see it. It was total relief and elation when we did see the finishing line.

That in essence describes how postnatal depression feels from the inside. You can have words of encouragement and support telling you that you are getting better or that there is hope around the corner. You have to trust people that it is and you will get to the finish and beat it.

And just like I finished the 25km walk a little bruised and battered and the blister plasters and muscle aches are still with me a few days later. I am still here. I am still me. And I have achieved something I thought I would never get through.