World mental health day

S’mental innit, mental health. I have seen so many posts today about the topic, and know my addition is just another piece of thread out there in the tapestry of the internet, where there are thousands of more interesting people telling thousands of more interesting stories, but I have spent so much money on therapy to convince myself that I’m worth just as much as other people that it seems a shame to waste it by keeping my mouth shut today.

My mental health has – like so many people – been a little up and down. Low points include taking all the pills I could find in the house when I was 14 (though that just gave me the shits, and a lot of shame) begging someone who’d just punched me in the face to forgive me despite not knowing what I’d done so wrong, and repeatedly moving house at the drop of a hat, quitting jobs, fleeing friendships, and starting afresh as if a few hundred miles could cure all my woes, forgetting that I would be taking myself along for the ride, so was unlikely to leave behind my issues…

I don’t know when it was that I first began to accept that, actually, I’m not broken, not damaging, not impossible to love, but am just a bit dramatic and maybe need to take some medication to hush those voices, and get a bit of perspective. That perspective gave me space to work on the mistakes I kept repeating, work out what it was I was trying to run away from, and build myself some more solid foundations just in time to be the kind of mother my amazing (infuriating, challenging, delicious) kids need as I became a single parent to them.

That was my fault too – it would be so easy to blame every problem in my marriage on my ex husband, but actually, two people wholly unsuited to each other and to marriage gave it a shot, and both cocked it up. I don’t carry anger towards him for his parts, nor do I berate myself daily for my own – but I acknowledge that I wasn’t at all ready to be in that situation, and needed to work on my own issues much more before I was ready to be in a proper, grown-up relationship. It’s still a work in progress; I’m still a work in progress – but as long as I remember to take those little pills, I’m getting there.

I know that I had some significant contributing factors to my problems – the things that happened to me left me with PTSD, and that’s something I’ve worked through with a counsellor – and it took me a number of attempts to find the right counsellor, to find the right time in my life, and to be strong enough to actually face those things and work through them. I think counselling is the most magnificent thing I’ve ever done, and I’m incredibly proud of myself – and phenomenally grateful to the wonderful woman who guided me through the journey.

And it has been a journey. I have travelled a long way and now, when I look back, I recognise the girl I was, the face in the photos, the feelings in the angsty poems and strange, late night ramblings – but I don’t know how to connect with her. It’s like bumping into someone I once knew and have lost touch with; nice to catch up, but there’s no friendship there – because she’s not me. She isn’t someone I can really remember being – can really connect to – because those feelings are so far away now. The anger and fear and crippling doubt belong to someone else.

I’m still very anxious – I still throw up whenever I feel a big feeling, and I have nightmares that throw me out of my sleep and keep me awake until dawn from time to time – but they are once every few weeks now, not a few times a week – and as long as I take my citalopram, I’m able to handle it.

Anxiety is an arsehole, and it has a huge impact on physical health – people think that mental health just means it’s all in  your head and you can shake it off – but your brain controls every other part of your body, and if you can’t keep hold of your thoughts, they take over everything else. The physical impact of anxiety and stress is immense – and taking control over it means you have to battle your own body and mind every day.

Sometimes it’s easy – but usually, not so much. It’s a choice you have to make every day, and every day I toy with the idea of giving in, just for a minute, just for a little while, and letting it snow me under – but I know it’s easier to battle on than it is to dig my way back out of the hole, so I pull up my socks and get on with it. I’m lucky that, right now, I can do that – there have been so many days before when I couldn’t.

So – today is world mental health awareness day. I am aware of mental health. Of my own mental health, of the mental health of the people I love, and the impact that it has on their physical health. I am aware – and I am grateful for how far I’ve come, for the people who stayed with me through the dark days, and for the beautiful family I have around me now that I feel like I’m worth their love.

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Dream hangovers

Dreams area funny things, aren’t they?

Like films that you can’t quite remember the plot for in the aftermath, but you felt every emotion in real time, despite them flashing by in just seconds. Little brain farts, a twitch in your frontal cortex which processes your day, your feelings, your fears, and holds them all up to you like an identity parade for your own neurosis…

Why is it that the good dreams simply fade away, disappearing back into your sleeping body, and you wake without really feeling them – but the bad dreams linger?

The stupid thing about it is that, despite knowing it’s just a dream, and it isn’t real, a dream – a nightmare – can make you experience all kinds of emotions, and even though you’re responding to something in a dream, the emotions are still real – so when you wake after nightmares, you’re still left with all those tumbling feelings, spinning through your head.

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Photo by Ivan Obolensky on Pexels.com

I’ve always lived with nightmares – I’ve had enough bad experiences in my life that, often, they are more memories and flashbacks than dreams – and even at times where my life is lovely, and things are going well, where my real day to day stresses are pretty insignificant and I’m aware that I’m very lucky – the nightmares can sneak up on me.

I get them a lot when I have my period – another perk of hormonal imbalances I guess – and because I have endometriosis I have my period A LOT OF THE TIME (24th this year I think?) and I’m also full of cold at the moment, so not sleeping well – and not sleeping well = bad dreams. Bad dreams = dreading sleep, = not sleeping well = more bad dreams.

And those bad dreams leave me with a weird kind of hangover, a feeling that I’m not quite sure this world is real, that I’m real, and feelings of hurt, anger, fear, left with me from whatever has happened in the dream.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s one in particular, a recurring nightmare, one I’ve had with very few changes since I was a child – there’s a man in the dream who is someone from my real life, but bigger, more frightening, darker, and the dream hangovers mean I sometimes feel like I catch a glimpse of him just in the corner of my vision, the corner of the room, waiting for me. He’s a malevolent cloud which follows me into waking and never quite washes away again, hanging around for days, making me feel fractious and anxious.

I know dreams aren’t real – but dream hangovers very much are.

Be more Kate.

It’s been a week since the world lost someone vibrant, bright, bold and brilliant. A week since a sudden, shocking illness saw us lose Kate Sutton – known to so many as Wit Wit Woo from her very popular blog.

Kate was my friend. Not just ‘an internet friend’ – something I don’t really think I believe is different to ‘proper’ friends anyway – but someone I regularly turned to on hard days, who I supported when she had her own. We shared some experiences – not nice ones – and both survived them and came out of them bigger and better and braver. But we were both able to talk to each other about the ways we didn’t feel brave at all.

Losing Kate – someone who was known for always bouncing back, for being impossible to knock down for long – so suddenly has been a terrible shock. It has been so powerful to see the enormous, overwhelming outpouring of love in response to the news – the hundreds and hundreds of people donating to help her two sons – the boys she was endlessly, unabashedly, unrelentingly proud of, every moment of every day – to give her the best send off they can, but also to just survive for a while as their world shifts.

To see thousands of #bemorewitwitwoo posts on Twitter, to see so many gorgeous smiling women braving their bikinis for swim suit selfies in Kate’s honour – because, oh, did she love to be proud and encourage that pride, no matter who you are, what your size, to celebrate beauty in all forms – she was so encouraging, so supportive, and had already had an impact on my self-view, on stopping me from hiding myself away just because I’d gained weight.

Kate has set off a positivity cannon. Losing her could suck a vast, sparking, rainbow (and, let’s be honest, leopard print) hole into the world – she was too full of life to simply be gone. But people aren’t letting her loss break them down – instead, we are celebrating her. We are honouring her.

I am so proud that I knew her, that I got to call her my friend, that I got to tell her that I love her, before she was so suddenly lost. I am so grateful that I had the chance to laugh and cry and laugh some more with her, and to share some experiences that bonded us.

I am all the more proud that I have seen so much love pouring from so many people, that so many have come together to support her beautiful boys, that they get to see the enormous, world shifting impact their wonderful mother had, simply by being herself.

Kate – I love you. The world without you is never going to be the same – but you haven’t truly gone, because you live in the hearts, the smiles, the positivity and the outpouring support that so many people are offering to each other in your honour.

Thank you for being my friend.

Pochemuchka

I learned a new word today – it’s a Russian word, Pochemuchka, which translates as “a person (usually child) who asks too many questions” (or “person who talks too much”, according to Writers Magazine, but I think they’re less correct!)

 

This is ABSOLUTELY a word that would have been applied to me – with either definition – as a child, and one which could be applied to both of my sons, with their always busy minds and their never still lips.

I swore I’d never be a parent who said “just because” or “because I said so” – that I would give my children my attention, my time, my focus, every time they requested it, so their questions were never left unanswered – and that, when I was baffled, I’d find the answer for them, with them – and I try, truly I do, but I think the greatest gift I was ever given was a CD of Encarta ’95 – and as time has moved on, I have gifted my sons the magic of “this is how to Google that…”

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It backfires at times when my 9yo, the walking embodiment of World’s Biggest Ego, tells me I’m wrong about something, then backs himself up with facts and evidence (so frustrating…) but the world is so crammed with knowledge, and their minds are sponges, so ready to soak it all in.

This week, I learned a new word – and tomorrow, when they wake up, I’ll teach it to my sons – probably call them it affectionately (in place of “stinky butt”, their current shared moniker) and in return, they will babble their new knowledge at me, forgetting that I’ve been their age and discovered all these things already – and I will have to remind myself that they haven’t and so have the benefit of magic, the world being full of new things, excitement, and wonder.

This week my eldest, at 9, has discovered that he rather likes football, that you can enjoy a thing even when you aren’t personally very good at it, and that the camaraderie of shared happiness can lift the whole country. He has also discovered The Hobbit, and that being on stage fills him with happiness, and he might like to do more drama.

My youngest, at 7, has FINALLY discovered the mind-blowing magic of Tooth Fairies, of celebrating someone else’s moment in the spotlight, and that he, in fact, does not much care for football, but rather likes the fast cars.

And I have discovered a new word which has reconnected me to my childhood self, and to the innocent marvel my babies feel for learning new things, and made me think that I need to take the occasional moment to just listen to them, hear them, and remember that this is their first time here, and the world is a wonderful place.

Anxiety is exhausting.

I’ve had this post as a draft for months. Held back hitting publish because even I think I’m ridiculous, and dramatic.

One of the things that has been said to me many times is “but your life is lovely, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” and I know. I know things are lovely. I know there’s nothing real to worry about.

But try telling that to the seventy three personalities living inside my mind, who all have an opinion, and all think they need to be heard.

The thing with anxiety is that it isn’t logical. Or useful. Or in any way something you can just opt out of having. Anxiety isn’t something I have because it fills the time. It isn’t just that I worry a bit, and should calm down. It’s nothing to do with how well my life is going (and if anything, things being nice in my life is far more frightening than things falling apart, because there’s more to lose from here and I’m BOUND to cock it all up!)

Anxiety just IS. It has a life apart from mine, it is a monster that lives in my body, that whispers in my mind, telling me all the ways the people I love are either in danger or don’t want me around. It tells me that there is danger everywhere, meaning I am always flooded with adrenaline. It makes my heart race, my hands sweat, my chest tighten and my body throw food back out violently when even the smallest thing happens.

My logical mind knows that there’s nothing terrifying happening. My logical mind knows that going to a networking event for work is not only not in the least bit frightening, it’s actually really good fun, and I like the people I see there. But my body is still unsure, and so I have to throw up before I go into the room – and because I’ve lived with this kind of anxiety for so many years, that is just something I factor into my timekeeping, and I tend to arrive first to any business meeting (even friendly coffee meetings with people I adore, actually!) because I’ll probably go and be sick in the bathroom and get a drink before anyone else arrives.

This has the added bonus of making me look like someone who is efficient and good at timekeeping – never a bad reputation to build as a freelancer!

The worst thing about anxiety is that it gets in the way of doing things – and often, I’m anxious because I need to do things – but then so frozen by the anxiety that I can’t do things, and then I’m even more anxious, because I’ve not done the things that needed to be done, and then it builds and builds.

I am then so anxious that I can’t sleep, instead lying awake thinking about a thousand scenarios that aren’t even going to happen, but which I can’t stop picturing – and then I’m exhausted, and that makes me even more anxious.

All through this process, there’s a very sensible voice inside my head (which, incidentally and not at all incidentally, sounds exactly like my Grandmother) saying “but what’s the worst that can actually happen?” and “But you know this is nonsense, and you’re spiralling” and – peak Nanny voice – “stop catastrophising, Child!”

Unfortunately, that one voice has very little chance of being heard and agreed with, because drowning it our are all the others, telling me what a failure I am, that I’m cocking everything up, that I’m crap at all the things I want to do anyway, that I’m going to fail so there’s no point in even trying, that I’m unlovable, unlikeable and unworthy, that I’m just a blob of negative energy making life harder for the people around me, that I’m just a selfish little vampire who doesn’t deserve to be happy, that nobody wants to be around me, including myself, and that I should just leave already and let them get on with life without me spoiling things.

And to each and every one of those voices I have a small voice of my own saying “this is just the anxiety speaking” and a Nanny voice who says “don’t be ridiculous” to each of those statements – but there are more of them than there are of us, and it is EXHAUSTING having to give myself that pep talk every moment of every day.

Every decision is a battle, every step is a war, every time I leave the house I have to bully myself into it, every time I see someone roll their eyes because I am being ridiculous and I KNOW I AM BEING RIDICULOUS but I can’t help it, I feel just that little bit more broken and things get just that little bit more difficult, and I can’t follow a conversation because I’m distracted by twenty others that are happening in my head all at once.

One is about that time I dropped ten pounds when I was 14 and a boy shouted “stupid skinhead bitch” after me as he scooped it up, laughing, and I told my Mum I’d spent it because I was too ashamed to say I was too frightened to ask for it back, but I couldn’t tell her what I’d spent it on, so got grounded.

One is the things I wish I’d said in defence of myself, at a time when I was afraid and instead I said nothing at all.

One is a conversation I think is coming, which I dread, for which I have no indication or evidence, because it’s a scenario that will never come about, with a person I’ve not had contact with for over a decade, but who still has a loud enough voice in my mind to matter.

One is the list of things I should have done, and haven’t, which repeats on a loop, berating me for failing, even though many of the things on the list are things I couldn’t do or which aren’t my responsibility anyway.

Another is the voice who laughs at me when I want to call my friends, because I don’t have friends, these people tolerate me, but don’t want to carry the burden of my angst.

All of these, and more from my youth, my imagined future, and the mess I think I’m making of right now, are always happening. Add to them that every time I drop my babies at school I spend the day imagining the flames that burn it to the ground with them inside, and I’m not there to save them. Or someone walks in, pretends to know them, and steals them before I go to wait in the playground to pick them up at half past three. And every time I get in the car, I feel the crunch of metal against metal as I crash and die. I hear the words of the doctors telling my partner that I didn’t make it. I see the children growing up without me, because I took my eyes off the road just for a second and a second was all it took. When I walk down any pavement I see myself trip, and fall into the path of a lorry, which hasn’t got time to brake, instead crushing me beneath its wheels. I cook knowing that I will somehow set the house on fire. I wash dishes knowing that I will fumble a knife and slash my wrist, bleeding out before help can come. Each time I go up or down the stairs, I know I’ll slip and fall and break my neck, because Laura Ashley tripped at home on just three steps, and died.

I check my children each night before I go to bed, to be sure that they are sleeping and breathing, and through the night I often check again, just to be sure.

I lock the front door and check it again, and just once more, to be sure I didn’t make a mistake.

I answer each call knowing that the phone is ringing with the news that someone I love has died. I answer the doorbell knowing it is the police telling me I’ve broken a law and am being taken away.

I concentrate on what is being said to me by anyone having a conversation, but have to concentrate harder and harder to follow it because I’m distracted by the voices telling me this person wishes they were talking to anyone but me.

I work, knowing that I’m terrible at what I do, and will doubtlessly lose every client after this job, because they think the same.

I jump inside at every sound, knowing it is some approaching danger. My heart is pounding, my vision is blurred, my hands clammy, my hearing alert but also muffled, and I remind myself to breathe because I’m dizzy with the fear of it all, when there is nothing here to fear.

I am suffocating, in this wonderful life, happy with my family and friends, building a successful world, and terrified, every moment of every day, of my own happiness.

That is anxiety. Not a little worry. Not a choice. Not silly. Exhausting. Always. Relentlessly.

 

You thought your smear test was bad?

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Being the feminist, strong-independent-woman type of lady that I am (because, obviously) I’ve been paying attention to the loud and proud ‘smear for smear’ campaign running riot on social media.

Being who I am I also, of course, couldn’t just post a quick boomerang of me smudging my lipstick all over my cheeks (in part because I’m an enormous lipcote fan and my bright red lip isn’t budging, babe) and have turned instead to writing – that being the way I peel open my skin and show you all my insides.

Now; to protect the innocent (and I mean you, not the characters involved) I will be naming no names in the following stories. The first tale is one my Grandmother – the incomparable Nanny B – told me when I was invited to my first smear test and called her to panic on the phone about the process.

Nanny B is a famous face in many of my stories; she was a powerful phenomenon – and her friends were cut from the same cloth.

Now; picture this. You are going for your own smear. It’s awkward. Nobody likes it. Not one of us want to be there, showing our muff to a stranger. Nobody wants to have their private places cranked open and discussed, and poked around. We KNOW we don’t like it. We know, ladies. But seriously – it could be so much worse…

FON (Friend Of Nanny) got The Letter. You know the one. THAT one. “Come and let a nice friendly young thing crank open your hoo-hoo and scrape things out of it. Wear fresh pants.”

And, because she was a responsible-lady-of-a-certain-age, she booked the appointment and went.

When she arrived at the surgery she had a call of nature and – as is so often the case (and, knowing what we do about NHS budgets, we can’t get mad) there was no toilet roll – so (again, being a responsible-lady-of-a-certain-age) she dug around in her handbag for a tissue to take care of business.

Mission accomplished, with an only-slightly-used kleenex from the depths of her handbag, she tootled back to the waiting room and listened for her name being called. When the call came, she was politely asked if she would mind (there being some history that made her interesting) if some student nurses were to witness proceedings, and she said she was absolutely fine with that.

Minutes later, she was lying on her back under a tissue-thin blanket, knickers removed and legs akimbo (we’ve all been there) and the doctor swept into the room with a gaggle of terribly young things (as FON called them) and someone off to the side ran the metal crank (I know, speculum, but crank is funnier) under a hot tap so she wasn’t uncomfortable (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!) and he asked a few questions, discussed the procedure, then lifted the tissue-thin-blanket.

There was a brief pause, a cough and a cleared throat, then things proceeded as expected – nice doctor talked the terribly young things through what he was doing, FON endured with as little discomfort as these things allow, and all in all it was rather brief and uneventful.

Until.

UNTIL.

As he folded the tissue-thin-blanket back over FON’s knees the nice Doctor met the eye of the supervising nurse, and, clearing his throat again, said “could you…” and, giant plastic tweasers in hand, supervising nurse stepped forward and dipped below the tissue-thin-blanket.

FON was a little confused, and felt a gentle tugging down below, then supervising nurse, pink in the face, appeared and thrust her giant tweasers at FON, saying quietly “will you be wanting this?”

Attached to the tweasers?

A second class stamp.

Clearly, the rummage through the handbag for a kleenex when the NHS failed to provide loo roll had some side effects!

 

I made a life

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This poetry writing thing has taken me quite by surprise – I appear to be writing a few a day, at a rate I haven’t since I was an angsty, angry teenager. (The type to write about feeling forlorn, perhaps?)

Some of them I’ve decided not to publish, hence not sharing one yesterday, but I’m aware that this is my own little tiny piece of the internet, and there aren’t many of you waiting on the edge of your seats to see more posts from me!

As I mentioned previously, I’ve got myself a subscription to Writers’ Forum magazine, and I’m still coming back to the prompts I saw in there earlier this week; the next prompt I’m sharing was ‘a first or last breath’.

I made a life.

I discovered another person, inside me
hearts in time and a tiny dance
that swam like our magic, secret world, I held this knowledge tight
until the day my body reached a limit
and an instinct to tear our one to two
that, spoken by the universe, we could not halt
took over
and the world that he inhabited
suddenly
and glacier slow
became a whole new world
apart
from me.

A push, a pull, and life was there
atop of me where once within
and fury filled a face unhappy with this change
of situation
life, but not yet living,
yet
until
a heave of bird like, butterfly chest
breath
creating life so true.

My heart broke
rebuilt
soared
all
in one moment
made anew.

A silver line that binds
my soul to his
stretched ever thinner as he learns to fly
from my soft, love feathered nest
my pride outshining sorrow
as he climbs towards a full grown self
no longer part of me
this journey we’re both on
takes separate paths
as it should be.

 

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