Clueless for a title

So this blog has probably been a long time coming and if I`m honest it`s been the one I`ve least looked forward to writing, actually started writing this at the beginning of the week (very unlike me) but have struggled to know how to word it so cue Friday morning! I don`t even know what to title is as `my mental health` or `anxiety` sounds really dramatic. As usual I`m going to go backwards to go forwards (told you you`d get used to it ;) ) Please note this is my personal experience and opinions and some of you will disagree with, I`m not judging anyone who may have done differently

In my early 20’s for reasons I don’t think I still understand I suffered significantly with low mood. I had a number of months off work, isolated myself from everyone, didn`t look after myself and struggled with everyday tasks. It took me quite a long time to ask for help, I worked in mental health so obviously I thought I shouldn`t need to access support…….officially my most irrational thought ever (and one I still have on and off). It took a long time with the support of some good friends who didn`t give up on me, an amazing psychiatrist (I refused any other support), a great boss and some of my determination. I can`t really say what helped but I definitely remember the turning point. I had been on Sertraline for a few months and wasn`t feeling much benefit, I`d previously tried Citalopram with zero affect too. At a review with my psychiatrist he talked about some research he`d read about augmenting an anti-depressant with a mood stabiliser, in particular Lithium. I have to honestly say I have never been more terrified, to me Lithium meant constant blood tests, risk of Lithium levels being wrong and having to be really careful about getting your tablets right. But more importantly my brain translated it to `mental illness`. Despite having suffered with low mood and having been diagnosed with depression I had until that point considered it as fairly low level and still some of the time believed I was making a fuss about nothing. As I walked away from the appointment to think about the options I`d been given I felt as if someone had given my brain a tiny bit of a kick start, I didn`t want to go down a route of medication- wow this was the first decision I`d managed to make in a long time (getting dressed used to take ages!). So I was off to a start but was unsure where to go next; cue the 3 years of training I`d done to become an Occupational Therapist. I needed to find purpose and meaningfulness in my day again, to do this I needed to create routine and structure by setting goals. Starting small and building them up, concentrating on the positives in the day no matter how tiny they were. Slowly but surely things improved, yes some days were harder then others, but the hard days became less frequent. I went back to work etc and filled my life with stuff!

And so my love for routine and structure was further cemented. Anyone who knows me knows that I never sit still, there is always something to do. Much of this is born from a fear that if I stop I`ll grind to a complete halt again and negative thoughts and feelings will take over- my solution- keep busy. I was terrible at taking annual leave from work unless I was going away, I didn`t do `duvet days` and generally always volunteered for something. Reflecting back I can now see that although this kept me `well` it probably wasn’t the healthiest way to manage my mental health.

Luckily my husband also shares a love of being busy so when we first met it was ideal. We enjoyed keeping busy and even our down time was often busy J I think one of the reasons I have always shied away from the idea of a family is the lack of routine that babies bring, along with general worries that I`m too selfish to give my life over to someone else. However seeing Jeremy with his son changed my thinking and I felt for the first time that I was in a relationship that a child would enhance as we were a real partnership.

When we first fell pregnant I genuinely didn`t give much consideration to whether it would be a successful pregnancy or not, we were too caught up in how exciting it was. When I miscarried at just a few weeks all the thoughts and feelings I had thought were `normal`; feelings of guilt, did I do something wrong? I also month on month became anxious, as we didn`t fall pregnant, that maybe I miscarried because there was a problem? When I fell pregnant with Jude I was naturally anxious, I didn`t want to get my hopes up just in case I lost him, but equally I didn`t want to spend my time constantly anxious- that can`t be good for a baby either surely? I`m sure you can all the see the pickle I was beginning to get myself in. Now let’s add HG and a bleed at 7 weeks. Arghhh keeping to a routine, making sure I had good sleep, feeling useful was all slowly going out of the window. Coupled with lots of feelings of guilt that I was letting Jeremy down but always being too ill/tired to do anything and my anxiety just rocketed. I tried to juggle work for a long time as I felt that if I stopped work I`d be giving in to the HG and that it would also tip my mental health over the edge. I went round in circles of guilt, letting work colleagues down because I`d call in too sick to work, cancelling plans with people because I had no energy and finding it generally difficult to engage in anything that required energy. I`m so lucky, I have an amazing boss who worked with me to make as many adjustments as I could to work before finally having a conversation that started with `I don`t think I can keep this up`, I can remember her exact words but they were along the lines of `thank God`! She had been patiently waiting for me to reach the decision myself as she knew if I was told it by someone else I would fight it.

I initially felt such a sense of relief, I didn`t have to keep trying to juggle everything whilst barely eating or drinking. This was promptly followed by what I can only describe as panic……..what was I going to do for 20 weeks!! How was I going to stop myself spiralling into an anxious wreck when I was limited in what of my usual strategies I could use? I was able to access some telephone counselling through work which was amazing. It was a lot of talking and reflecting, reframing how my thoughts were making me feel, turning vicious cycles into virtuous cycles etc I wanted to be in the best place possible mentally before Jude arrived so I could be the best mum I could. Towards the end of my pregnancy I was mentally (not physically as really struggled with an active baby and the impact that had on my nausea) feeling good.

Jude arrived, we had to stay in for 3 days and after that home. I remember putting him in his car seat on the sofa and wondering `what now`? I finally was eating and drinking like normal after 9 months of very little, but I couldn`t just get back into everything because I had a tiny bundle who needed me. The idea of `sleep when baby sleeps` seemed alien to me, surely that’s the time to get everything done? Jeremy was amazing, he always has been, he has to put up with me going and going until I crash, but he`s always there to pick up the pieces. It must be like watching a car crash about to happen, you can see where it`s going to end but feel powerless to do anything about it (generally if he tried to suggest to me what to do when I`m not in a great place he gets a sharp tongued reply L). We initially started breastfeeding but it was tough, we just couldn`t seem to get it right. Jude latched perfectly when in front of a midwife but when left to our own devices we struggled, and he was a hungry baby. So in the middle of the night around day 12 he had formula, the weight of my mind of not having a hungry baby was immense…………for about 30 seconds and then I gave myself the hardest time ever for not breastfeeding him. We have an amazing support group local to me and one of the peer supporting was brilliant, on the end of messenger for me for several days. Even though we then decided to bottle feed I went along to the support group. I can still remember it like it was yesterday; I sat on a table by myself and Jude started to cry. He was hungry. The sense of dread I got was huge, I`d come to a breastfeeding support group and I was going to have to bottle feed my son. I felt so ashamed, I sat silently crying whilst he had his bottle feeling as if I had already failed him at 3 weeks old. I want to point out here that this was entirely my own thoughts making me feel like this; never once did anyone in that group do anything to make me feel this way and we continued to attend that group until I went back to work because the people there were just lovely.

I think this was probably the start of my feelings of being a `bad` mum. However it spiralled from there, was I feeding him too much/not enough? Was he hot/was he cold? Do I leave him to cry? Will that mean he thinks I don`t care? Do I do enough with him? Should he be exposed to x/y/z? What if I don’t do something? I didn`t have time to clean/tidy, what if Jeremy got annoyed with me? What if people came round and thought we lived in mess? And so it went on, it was exhausting. One of my biggest weaknesses (I was looking for a different word but can`t think of one) is not asking for help when I need it. I was going to weekly weigh-ins and got some reassurance there but that would only last a few hours if that. I took Jude for his 12 week injections on my own, how bad could it be? The poor nurse asked how I was, normal small talk, and I just burst in to tears. All my worries came pouring out and I left promising to call to make a GP appointment. I made an appointment the following day. I also rang my health visitor who had a call from the nurse letting her know what happened. It was a bit like turning on a tap, once I`d asked for help it all came pouring out. I was crying a lot because it felt like the only way to release some of the pressure. The impact on Jeremy was huge, he needed to give me lots of emotional and practical support which meant taking time away from the business. Something else I then worried about as being self-employed and a sole business owner meant an impact on there. My GP was just brilliant, I didn`t feel judged, I was given time and I walked away feeling as if I had finally taken a bit of control of things- something I`ve come to learn is really important for me, if I feel like I have even the smallest bit of control over things then it helps to keep me grounded.

This was 18 months ago now. I`ve been on medication since that time and whilst I hate taking it (and feeling as if I rely on it) it has helped to bring my anxiety down to a level that is more manageable. I absolutely still have times when things are difficult, there are still situations with Jude that I avoid and I definitely pick and choose what I do to minimise my anxiety but on the whole things are better. I take each day at a time, surround myself with supportive people and work really hard at not constantly questioning myself. On the days that are more difficult I try to reach out for help; Jeremy still often knows before I`ve acknowledged it myself when I`m having a tough day and I don`t always ask for his support on the most constructive way but isn`t that what partnership is all about.

So my challenge isn`t just about running, it`s about supporting each other to get through the miles; admittedly physically it`ll be a walk in the park for Jeremy! It`s about raising the profile not just of what HG is but the impact it can have on someone, during pregnancy and after, the impact it has on the wider network and sometimes the impact it can have on a mum’s relationship with their child. Any mum can go through this, parts of this, or worse than this, it`s all relative. But each and every one of you can smash it one day at a time.

Karen Lodge