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Being Gentle Is Paying Off

In times of hardcore, full on, screaming, thrashing tantrum (Moo, not myself), or when a poo hits the deck for the fifth day in a row, or when there’s permanent marker on the armchair (see photo evidence), it’s hard to remain calm. Deep breath (or ten), get to her level, explain that I feel sad, blah blah. Hard to do when surrounded by red mist (and a destroyed house). And we haven’t always got it right. I’ve raised my voice, snapped, used the word ‘naughty’. But I’ve really tried to be the parent I want to be.

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Gentle parenting takes a lot of patience, patience that I don’t always have. But we’ve stuck at it, day after day, knowing that it’s the way we want to bring up Moo. The results aren’t quick. You wonder if you’re getting nowhere. But you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You’re helping to shape a human being, it takes slow, steady, time.

My husband once questioned if we were using the right approach. Perhaps some punishment, harsher words, would get the desired effect of her doing what she was asked, would curb some of the inappropriate behaviours. We talked at length about this, it’s important to question and reflect on your parenting. We both came to the same conclusion. Shouting and punishments creates a child that ‘behaves’ through fear of being ‘told off’. You get quicker results. You shout, they fall in line. Tempting when you’ve dealt with the same issues over and over for weeks on end. But that’s not what we want for our child.

It’s a long hard slog being a parent, but there are moments of pure joy, flashes of the future, of the person your child is becoming. On the walk home from preschool, Moo and I talk about her morning there. I get the occasional snippet of information, but mostly conversation about dog poo, ham sandwiches and dew on the grass. But this week she said something that melted my heart:

“A wasn’t very nice today, he was snatching. Next time I’m going to tell him that I’m playing with it, but I’ll help him find something else to play with.”

This. This is why I do what I do. She didn’t suggest he sat on a naughty step alone, or that she shouted at him, or that she snatched it back. She knew that the best way to deal with the problem was with friendship and kindness. I’m not ‘too soft’, I’m not ‘letting her get away with too much’. I’m hoping that my parenting will enable her to be a caring, empathetic, sensitive, compassionate, well rounded human being.

I’m reminded of this quote, which I’ll leave you with. My mind jumps back to it when I feel like giving in and taking the ‘easy’ route.

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Normality Is Terrifying

Good grief, I can feel the anxiety rising as I write this, but I may as well put it out there with everything else. Honesty and authenticity is important to me.

As I slowly start my ascent back up from wallowing in the absolute festering pit of despair, with the tiny blink of light and hope at the surface, a new feeling descends upon me. It’s a curious mixture of relief and sheer terror.

I’m relieved that mental health professionals are taking me seriously, that they realise this isn’t a quick fix with six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, that actually, some if my issues are rooted deep into my childhood. The cynic in me still believes that they tell everyone they’ll get better and that I’ve heard it myself a hundred times before. But, if I just think about my therapists empathetic face, I have something to hold onto, a guide rope to assist me out of this hole.

When I think of my life when it was more ‘normal’ (or as normal as my life has ever been), I miss it for a moment. Chat with friends, play groups, walks, going to work. Just day to day things, the simple pleasures, lighting incense, sorting the recycling. I feel there’s a sort of nostalgia about it. It seems so long ago that I was building train track, trying to drink a coffee before it went cold.

And then, debilitating fear. Shit. I’m not going to wake up one morning with all this baggage gone. Baggage I’ve collected over 27 years, with a little extra acquired as I was dragged down into this current rut. It’s going to take work. Tears and time and open wounds and breathing techniques and mood diaries and medication changes. That’s not what I want. I don’t have that kind of energy. Where’s the exit? I should have got out of here while I had desperation and the enthusiasm for overdoses.

What happens when I’m through the other side of that (if I ever get there)? Life. Life is what happens. Day to day routine, a little high, a little low, normality. Every day. Every. Day. And there it is again, that heart constricting, suffocating feeling. This was a huge mistake. That life I was getting all sentimental about earlier? I don’t want it. The responsibility, of raising a human, running a home, going to work, it’s too much. I’m going back to option A, the pills and the bath tub. Cowardly? Yes.

I need the therapy to fight the depression and anxiety. Once the depression and anxiety lift, I may not feel this way. But I’m too depressed and anxious to try. These circles of torment, I’m exhausted. I’m completely overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start or how to help myself. The only positive that I can draw from my present situation is that at least I have occasional moments of wanting to get better. They’re brief, but they’re there. Sometimes, instead of death, I want ‘normality’.

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Heart: 1 Brain: 0

I’ve just had a breakthrough, a glimmer of something hopeful. I need to hold onto it as tight as I can and not let go. This episode of depression is battering me like a hurricane, but I will tighten my grip and ride it out.

Moo woke from her sleep at around 10pm, obviously too hot in this muggy heat, perhaps woken by the thunder. MrTPM went to her, I didn’t even hear her until he flicked her bedroom light on. When I stepped onto the landing, she was face down in her doorway, sobbing, not wanting to be held. This is where the magic began.

Just four hours previously, we’d been to the supermarket, the three of us. Anxiety high, pins and needles in my legs, I’d hated it. Moo wouldn’t sit in the trolley properly, she was being loud, typical two year old stuff. I couldn’t deal with it. I came home and cried. I didn’t want to be a mother, having to care for this thing that wanted so much from me. It would make me the worst parent, but I was done.

But tonight, as she lay on the hard wooden floor, hair stuck to her face with sweat, my heart was drawn to her. I calmed her, picked her up, soothed her, undressed her gently. I stood holding her in the dark for a while, watching the storm clouds out of my bedroom window. I tucked her back into bed and lay with her. I told her I loved her, I kissed her. For the first time in days, I wanted to be near to her.

Every inch of my heart loves that girl. My body seems to physically ache with it at times. I may want to disappear, to change my life, to undo the last few years, but there’s no doubt that Moo means so very much to me. I just need to get my brain on board, before I fuck it all up.

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The Balance

I’m struggling, really struggling. I’m going to roll out the cliches, but I’m in this whirlpool, spiralling down, surrounded by shit. Eventually the plug will be pulled and I’ll drop out the bottom.

Many of the things I’m struggling with are pretty basic. Running a home, looking after a child, working part time. All challenging, but manageable for most.

Then there are the petty things. The pathetic tasks that I’m almost embarrassed to admit I can’t cope with. Remembering to sort prescriptions for my medication. Ordering the food shop online. Going to the post office. Driving. Opening post. Using the phone. My tax return and child tax credits paperwork was a minefield of anxiety. Every day it wasn’t done I was worrying about it, yet I had no energy to do it. I procrastinate my arse off to avoid facing up to the things that need to be done.

 

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The reasons I struggle with all these things? Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Affective Disorder Type 2. I cannot live with these things and function day to day.

Something’s got to give. I need to make a list of all the things that stress me out, then decide how I can eliminate some of those worries. The parenting can’t go, obviously. Kinda stuck with that one on my own. Some of the small crap can be better organised.

But work? Claiming benefits? It’d be a whole new world. The media is full of stories of unfair cases, complicated processes. If I can’t go anywhere new on my own or talk on the phone, how do I even make a claim? Then the stigma. Yet another person ‘pretending to be mental to sit on her arse all day’. Daily Mail fodder. And then, that’s another thing added to the whirlpool. I’m drowning.

 

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Sometimes

Sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes all the bullshit and the trauma and the crazy simply fades away and I’m left with this wonderful girl. Just me and her, on a journey together.

Sometimes we just sit, the two of us, reading or watching a film and for those few moments, I forget. I forget that there’s a monster inside of me. He’s quiet for a while, and I can just…live.

Sometimes Moo and I go on adventures. I’ll be brave and we’ll go walking or I’ll get the paints out and I don’t care if she covers herself from head to toe. Sometimes I can just ‘let go’, not care, even enjoy the chaos.

Sometimes the thought of parenting makes me feel excited. I feel like I did before she was born, before I was pregnant. I have ideas, hopes, projects for us. Even folding her clothes can make me happy.

Sometimes I’m just…me. Like right now, while I’m typing this. I can hear her playing with her doll house, the conversations between the sylvanian figures, her chatter. I can hear her feet pattering about. She’s giggling, lost in her world of imagination. It fills me with nostalgia, I once experienced the same, with that very doll house. Sometimes I can look back and feel warmth. Warmth that isn’t anger.

If this ‘sometimes’ could become ‘most of the time’, then I think I could do it. I think I’d be ok.

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Blissful Bathing

Enveloped in deep, steaming water. Luxurious silky bubbles. The fragrance of lillies and almond oil. The soft, calming tones of Enya. Restful, rejuvenating, pores open, hair swirling like a mermaid…

Then, the sound of doom: footsteps. Stomping, rushing, size 7 bare feet. The door crashes open, extinguishing the Yankee candle, the CD skips. There she is, all ninety centimetres of her. Sticky fingers, painted face and matted hair. Before you can protest, call upon back up in the form of your husband, she’s joined you in the tub.

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Naturally, I’m at the plug end, cold taps pressed into my back. We’re also joined by the frogs in various sizes, the duck that squirts and the plastic jug, perfect for saturating the bath mat. The bubbles disintegrate around us as the bar of soap is chased from one end to the other. Teeth must be brushed, unruly hair scrubbed and tamed, the white flannel now a dodgy shade of grey. When at last the toddler is sufficiently cleaned and ready for pajamas, the water is tepid and most likely diluting urine. Grateful there’s not a floater, I shave my legs in record time and call it a day.

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There are many ways in which my bathroom could be perfect. An antique roll top bath, with one of those fancy things across for my handmade soap, embroidered flannel and loofa. An economical toilet with a flush on a chain. A shower with a head big enough you’d feel as though you were standing under a waterfall.

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But the things that would make a bathroom perfect for me? A toilet that flushed right first time, one without a plastic seat on the top of it. Maybe it could even clean itself? Shower glass that never collected limescale. Perhaps a bath with a plug that didn’t have a raised knob as pointed as a knitting needle. One that filled itself, to the perfect temperature. One that never went cold, even if you had to put your child back into bed twenty times over. The entire room could be encased in a sound proof box. There’s nothing more irritating than hearing a child throwing a hissy fit when you’re trying to look at all the design ideas you wish you’d thought of in Country Living magazine.

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In reality, my bathroom is pretty perfect already. It may have a dated cream suite and grubby grout. It’s kind of a garish turquoise and is always littered with wet towels and discarded socks. There are magazines by the toilet circa 2009. But it does what it needs to do. We’ve had some fun times in the bathroom. The bubbles have been so high the child couldn’t be located. Two pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test in that room. We splash and play boats and draw on the tiles. It’s everything a bathroom should be, just how I like it.

Although a poo in peace would be nice.

 

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Testing The Bipolar Waters

It’s kind of a big deal writing this, and I guess that’s our good old friend ‘stigma’ meddling with things. But, it’s better for me to put it out there, I’m a firm believer in honesty being the best policy.

So, my psychiatrist is considering the possibility that I have Bipolar II Disorder, formerly known as manic depression. I have periods of ‘highs’, in which I’m busy, excitable, I take too much on, have a million ideas. And then come the more drawn out ‘lows’. I’m suddenly overwhelmed by all the plans I made, I become stressed and anxious, wanting the world to go away, even wanting to kill myself.

A trial of Lithium has been suggested, a word that immediately brings Nirvana and Evanescence to mind. Nice dark, moody music. Pretty fitting. I’m beginning the process of blood tests and ECGs, to make sure I’m fit enough to even try the stuff. Testing of this kind isn’t stressful for me, but coordinating doctors visits and work and childcare is. I’m not sure how I’ll manage the anxiety.

How do I feel about a mood stabiliser? What if I become void of emotion completely? Sometimes the hypomania is productive, I tidy the house, I’m brave enough to go out. I just wish I could balance it better. Maybe that’s what the Lithium will do. Would I trade those highs to avoid the desperate lows? Hell yes.

What will a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder mean for me? More stigma? A simpler way to explain my mental health issues? Employment difficulties? My abilities as a parent questioned? I guess we’ll see.

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Being A Mother Is Shit

Play dates and arts and crafts and bed time stories and dancing in the sunshine. Bollocks. I call bullshit. Whoever told you it’s like that is lying to you. It’s about 5% that. The other 95% is just sheer hard work. Some days the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that children die if you don’t look after them.

You don’t even get piss breaks. They’ll whine and throw themselves onto the floor until you give in and take them with you, just to make the noise stop. You’ll never keep an outfit clean all day again. Your favourite things will probably be the ones that get stains on. You may as well never buy anything new again. Fuck it, just wear pajamas.

If you thought you were tired after a long day at work, think again. You have no concept of the meaning of the word tired until you have kids. Exhausted, drained, fatigued, call it what you will, it will make you want to curl up in a ball and cry. Going to work is the only escape from the actual work. No paid job can be this tough, it’d be inhumane.

All those happy memes spouting tripe about it ‘totally being worth it’, ‘the most precious gift’ and children being ‘my reason for living’ make me queasy. It’s relentless nagging and overwhelming responsibility. I just need to find the perfect photo to fit the caption.

Children drain your bank balance, your health, your mental state. They ruin your home, your sanity, your dignity. My advice? Don’t bother.

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I Choose Recovery

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A little update about my mental health progress for those following my journey…

I had a long talk with my CPN today (who is so wonderful that I’m almost embarrassed to tell her how ill I am) and it looks like my medication may increase when I visit the GP on Monday, from 20mg of Citalopram to either 30 or 40mg.

We discussed my ‘manic’ episodes, which she thinks may be being caused by me taking the Citalopram too late in the day. I often forget in the mornings so take it late in the afternoon, and sometimes before bed with the Mirtazapine. I’m going to order one of those fabulously chic pill organisers in the hopes that it’ll keep me on track, meds wise.

My referral for Talking Therapies won’t go through until I’m feeling more stable. I’m due to discuss my birth notes further with the psychiatric doctor in early May, although if I don’t find this helpful then I can be referred elsewhere. My wellness plan is almost complete, so that family, friends and professionals know the warning signs of me becoming ill and can support me best.

My CPN was concerned about my diet. I’m not really eating much and am developing anxieties around eating full meals. She also suggested some exercise might be helpful. I know that there are lots of things I need to do to help myself, but it’s often so exhausting just doing the day to day things that it doesn’t leave much mental or physical energy for anything else. I’m hoping the increase in meds might give me the strength to fight a bit harder.

I’ve been doing little things to help myself. Charting my moods so I can see improvement, listening to music, lighting candles and incense and reading a book to try to relax. I also need to make sure I don’t commit to too much when I’m feeling a little ‘high’ and then struggle to cope in fulfilling it all.

Yesterday I was frightened and agitated, but today I feel more focused on recovery. The way I see it, there are three options. The first is to stay as I am, wallowing in misery, vacantly parenting. The second is to kill myself, and not be here at all. The third is to do whatever it takes to beat this. I need to choose the third path, not for me, but for my Moo.

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The School Holidays Are Shit

Here’s why:

There are no groups running. I usually attend two or three of these ‘mother and toddler’ things a week. Mostly for the tepid coffee and occasional home made carrot cake. Moo mingles (I say ‘mingles’, I mean claws and scratches other children out of the way for the best toys) and I get to talk to a human being that can annunciate. During the breaks, I get none of this. Not a slab of sugary goodness in sight.

If you do decide to venture out, there are children everywhere. Public places are riddled with them. The pavement becomes an obstacle course of cape wearing speed demons on scooters and tweens looking at their shoes with iPods blaring. Soft play is a jungle and the queue for the swings is 100 yards long.

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An alternative is to stay in, and do the all round entertainer mummy thing. So much pressure. Pinterest provides a smorgasbord of arts and crafts and baking activities, all of which are entirely unachievable. The disappointment on your child’s face when their cake pops resemble turds will live with you forever.

I’m sure there are many mothers that relish the chance to spend a week or two with their darlings. Me? I’m filled with anxiety about the whole thing. I’ll do what I can to amuse Moo and make some happy memories, but the change in routine is an unavoidable mental health nightmare.

Bah, humbug.