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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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.

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?

pap.jpeg

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!

 

Panic, in the most logical of ways.

Today was a rather mundane way, in that delicious “everything is ok” kind of way.

I woke just before the alarm, and enjoyed the few minutes of space to think over my plans for the day.

I fed the kids breakfast, got them into the right pieces of School uniform, drank a coffee I forgot to add sugar to and didn’t really enjoy, and dropped them at school.

I ran some errands, picked up a few Christmas gifts, some fancy toilet roll I’ve fallen in love with from M&S because it smells of cinnamon (not even just in my mind, where scents often get muddled with the way things look, but for real) and then answered some work emails and calls and did some writing.

I wrapped the presents, put away the giant Christmas tesco delivery, collected the boys, fed them, had an evening of games and silliness (I am the reigning household twister champion!) and then had dinner with my late-home-very-important boyfriend before tucking the kids into bed, and knitting quietly on the sofa in front of the tv.

It was a lovely, ordinary, mundane Monday. It was blissful.

But from the instant I woke, I have been battling panic. Proper, heart pounding, joints weak, muscles burning, chest tightening “I can’t breathe and think I’m going to faint” panic.

Logically, I know that this is because the injections I was given to help with my endometriosis are wearing off (praise all that is good in the world for that, they have been hell, absolute hell, and if anyone ever offers them to you do NOT try them, I will elaborate in more detail in another post, just don’t do it!)

I know that as a result, my hormones are frantically rushing around my body trying to make sense of a nonsensical situation. They have been stopped, started, rebooted, frozen and juggled for months.

So logically, I know that’s what this is. I know that I am ok. That my life is ok. That my babies are ok.

As I am telling myself that I’m ok I walk up and down the stairs three times, counting the steps, so that I can keep my bearings in a fire.

I am using sat nav to navigate short journeys I know by heart, because I need to see the journey passing so I don’t faint.

I am counting the tiles in the kitchen. I am counting the light bulbs in the house. I am counting junctions, the number of ticks my indicators are allowed, the swipes of the windscreen wipers, the blinks in an advert break, the syllables in a chapter.

I am counting anything that distracts me from counting the beats of my heart that I can feel in my throat, because as soon as I start counting them, I remember they are counting down, and could stop at any moment, and I wouldn’t be here.

I am counting because once I am thinking about that countdown it scares me so much I wonder if it might be easier to fast forward, and take the pressure off.

I’m aware that these thoughts come from those hormones, dashing around in places they aren’t needed, and that the medicine is meant to help but hasn’t, and that there will be an alternative which doesn’t do this to my body, and that this will pass.

I have had a lovely, ordinary, beautifully mundane day made of all the simple things which make life so lovely.

And for every single second of it, I have battled my own body, battled panic and terror, and battled the urge to lie down and close my eyes and wish it all away.

Because that feeling isn’t me, it isn’t my life, and it isn’t allowed to win.

It’s a funny old day

It really is a funny old day. It’s a Tuesday – I usually spend a large proportion of a Tuesday napping, since I started a course of hormone treatments that have given me “the menopause” at (just) 34. 

It’s a day I left a bag of medication I keep quiet in another home too far away to pop and pick them up, because I am in a strange halfway state between house moves across many, many miles. 

It’s a day that Facebook memories is reminding me of jobs I had to leave, jobs I adored and which would have taken me to fantastic places, and of people I had to leave behind with them.

It’s a day that I cried in Boots and some lovely people chatted to me about cooking birthday cakes for small dogs as they popped pills into a bottle so I wasn’t overly upset by the blister packs not being symmetrical. 

It’s a day that people I adore are hurting over losses I can’t even comprehend, and all I have is platitudes. 

A day in which a friend I want to wrap my arms around is too far away and all I can give her is black comedy in a message to put a smile on her face when she’s struggling too. 

A day when my eldest child – the one with aspergers who, according to all definition, is supposed to struggle to factor in the feelings and needs of others – asked his Cubs cooking group to leave the Kiwi fruit out of the kebabs they made so he could share his with me, because I’m allergic but he thought I’d like to share. 

It’s a day when I am in the first place I’ve  ever lived that has felt like a true, safe, wonderful home – but it has become a suffocating box, and all I want is to move into my new home in my new location to embrace my new life.

A day when I’ve worked on a business plan, written content for clients, acted like a competent and successful business woman, and worn a fluffy poncho and comfy pants to do it. 

Another day when my kids made me laugh until I cried, and I’ve cried until I laugh at myself. 

It’s a funny old day. 

And now I think I’ll end it with some sleep. 

Grief is weird

Grief.

It’s not just a weird experience, it’s a weird word. Grief. It rhymes with ‘brief’, but it isn’t. It can follow ‘good’ but it isn’t that either. It is too many things, and – for the terribly British among us – more than a little uncomfortable to feel in a way that people can see.

I lost someone very important. It brought closer the losses of other very important people, and kicked the foundations out of my world a little. Grandparents who were so important, who took us in when we were young, who homed me when I was lost, who guided me and raised me and taught me and loved me. Who held me, and who offered the same to so many other people.

And my grief feels…raw. Lonely. Vast.

I haven’t just lost a Grandfather – I’ve lost a parent, a role model, a guiding star and a friend. I’ve lost a possibility of redemption, for the many times I should have called and didn’t, the visits I should have made and never made time for. I’ve lost the chance to fix all the ways I should have been better to him, and let him down.

I’ve lost hearing more stories of his time in the forces, his many and varied business investments, and the way he once helped an Escort to reclaim the cost of her stockings on a tax return as a business expense.

I distanced myself from him at a time I should have been by his side, giving support in the way he’d given so very much to me, because I was afraid.

I lost my Grampa, and feel anew the loss of two magnificent Grandmothers, and fear for what losses may come.

I lost someone who was so much more to the world than he was to just me – he was more than Grampa, he was adventures, tall tales, grand gestures, sound advice, hilarious anecdotes, witty responses and culinary genius (aside from the boil in the bag rice phase we should probably gloss over).

He spent the last days of his life eating only sweets and dessert – because, as he said, “I’m dying anyway, what the fuck does it matter?”

He loved beauty and grace, he married the most powerful feminist I’ve ever met in person, he fathered four children and they had dozens more. He headed an empire, and guided us all. He was hilarious, serious, incredibly bright and totally oblivious.

He was my Grampa. And he was a whole lot more.

And now I am supposed to say goodbye – and I don’t know how.

So instead, I am telling my very young children stories of him so they remember they knew him too, I am re-framing a beloved photograph, I am speaking more with my family, and I am eating a slice of battenberg because it was one of his favourites.