Wednesday, 7 March 2018

WARNING: May contain poetry!

Not a single post in the whole of February. Trust me, it's not a bad thing. For the most part, the second month of the year was a bit of a write off for me. I ended January feeling like I hadn't achieved much but on reflection and in contrast with what followed it, January was a massive win.

February was ROUGH. I mean really, really bastard hard. My mood plummeted and, as I tried to get to grips with my new job, all thoughts of walking for my wellbeing fell by the wayside. I didn't blog at all so all the crap in my brain that I usually decant on to here for the whole world to see just stayed in my head. In short, my PMA went AWOL!

I'm happy to report that just this week, I've started to claw it back. I've been for a couple of walks and I've taken control of my food. I even rejoined my beloved Wednesday morning Slimming World group in Corby this morning! 9lbs is all I have to lose but I know I can't do it alone.

Even with my positivity restored, I  myself wondering why it's so hard to establish good habits but so insanely easy to break them? I saw an amazing counsellor through the charity Cruse after I lost my dad [sidebar - I hate that expression! Lost my dad... I didn't misplace him! He's not keys or an umbrella!! I guess we just don't like talking about death and dying... Understandably so I suppose but anyway, I digress] and she told me that it takes three weeks to establish a habit and only three days to break it. True dat!

I actually wanted to blog when I got in from work last night but common sense prevailed. It may be a little after 9pm now but nine at night Kati is a very different beast from the creature that emerges after 10! Oh she's an unpredictable minx that one, quite angsty and a bit woeful. Case in point, she wrote poetry the other night. Poetry!! We haven't done that since the late 90s.

We... She... Sweet Christ, I really do sound utterly mental. Thankfully, I do not suffer from a split personality but I do recognise that there are many different versions of me and which version appears at any given time can vary wildly and change rapidly depending on the wind speed, the time of day and whether or not I have swift and immediate access to Moam Pinballs should I need them, to name but a few factors.

While we're on the subject I've been thinking a lot about my diagnosis just lately. Last night, while wandering the warehouse (and working, obvs!) I got to thinking about what it all means. Initially I was thrilled to have a diagnosis. It felt like a massive relief after years of wondering why I behaved so erratically and often, so destructively. But now the dust has settled and the feeling that's left behind is shame.

We're hearing more and more often now that "It's okay not to be okay" and I love that the message is getting out there. It's okay to struggle, ask for help, you are not alone etc. I myself have hashtagged that very phrase countless times when posting on Instagram about mental health problems but here's the thing... What if I'm not okay with not being okay? What if I'm sick of feeling this way? What if, quite frankly, I do not want a mental illness, thank you very much?!

Since I posted back in January about my assessment by the mental health team at St Mary's, I have seen the team psychiatrist and she was looking more at a diagnosis of Unstable Personality Disorder. Certainly I demonstrate many traits of BPD but there are other behaviours that, thank Christ, I do not present with. Whichever way you slice it, I'm not a mentally well woman and I wonder about the impact on my future happiness.

I've may have sworn off men and relationships this year while I try to fix myself but last night and now (as it's almost 11pm and the woe is creeping in) I see myself standing before a man, holding the broken pieces of who I am and asking him to love me anyway. Take me, all of me, and love me. I am unpredictable and disorganised. I have a temper I sometimes can't control. In many ways, I'm a bit of a nightmare but if you could just overlook all of that, that'd be grand!

Shit man.

A relationship isn't the be all and end all, I get that. I know I must learn to love myself and treat myself with kindness before I can expect anyone to do the same but there's that fear... that malicious voice whispering in my ear "No one will want you. Who would love you? You're a monster!"

I start twenty weeks of group therapy soon once the referral is sorted. I've already started new medication to work alongside my existing anti-depressants. And I must get back to walking. One step at a time, right? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and I'll get there, wherever the fuck there may be, eventually.

One more thing... I'm going to share the poem I wrote last week. I churned out quite the collection of verse back when I was at school. The majority of it was self absorbed, angsty nonsense BUT I can think of one or two that I wrote that I remain proud of to this day. Here's my first attempt at poetry in about eighteen years. It came about when I was drafting my wedding vows in my head despite not being engaged or indeed in a relationship of any sort. I mean, if that doesn't have the men queuing up at my door, I don't know what will! Jesus, I terrify myself. It doesn't have a title. (Annnnnd, it's probably terrible)

Accept that I am chaos.
Accept that I am noise.

Know that at times I will rage and scream like an angry toddler.
Frustrated, you'll exclaim "It's like having an extra child!"

I know that I am not easy to love.

Please believe me when I say that it's when I am at my least loveable that I need you to love me most.

I do not mean to be this way.
I do not enjoy the loss of control or the temper tantrums.

My emotions are at times a beast, ferocious and wild.
I am asking you to love me when I am tooth and claw, venom and bile.

Love me then.

In return I promise to love you with all that I am. My love for you will burn as fiercely as my temper.

Accept that I am chaos and noise.
Love me as I am, as I was and as I will be.

Just love me please.

I think that's quite enough from me for now. It's late and I need sleep. I may wake up tomorrow and take this down after reading it back and realising it's dreadful or just a little bit too honest but for now, Midnight Kati says "Hit publish! What's the worst that can happen?!" Until next time...

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Adios January!

I started a blog post earlier today with the intention of reflecting on the month that had been and looking ahead at what's to come... As I'd been dancing around in my joggers to the mighty Puff Daddy/ Jimmy Page collaboration 'Come With Me' (Godzilla soundtrack, 1999. Great soundtrack, shit film. True story) only moments before sitting down to commence writing, I ended up rattling on about music instead. I guess that's the thing with writing, sometimes it takes you in an unexpected direction. I saved my update as a draft and went off to work. Now, I feel like I want to write about my original topic so you may never know what prompted me to crank up that retro tune and get as gangster as a white chick from Denton Burn possibly can at 10:15 on a Wednesday morning...

My January began with grand plans for change and progress... and it then sort of became just about surviving. I was right all along when I said January was a daft time to try and undertake big lifestyle changes! It's just such a rough month.

I've had a few appointments and assessments this month so progress has been made on Operation: Get Well Kati... Or Operation: Be Less Crackers to be slightly less PC about it! It still feels like I haven't really started yet though if I'm honest. I baked cakes today for the staff at school because Friday is my last day. I went way overboard and when Pete asked me why I said "Because I want everyone to like me!" He reminded me that it's up to me to start rallying against feelings like these but sometimes I just can't be arsed so I make enough Mars Crispy Cakes to induce a diabetic coma.

One thing I am proud of this month is how much I've walked. I didn't quite manage one purposeful walk a day which was my aim but in total I clocked up over seventy miles including one 10 miler with my amazing mate Rachael and a solo 8 miler too. I've used walking as therapy and a coping mechanism. Last Thursday being a prime example: everything got too much for me, I cried until I actually felt sick... Then I laced up my trainers and walked 5 miles. Admittedly they were slow, weepy miles but there's no denying I felt better afterwards.

I have managed to bag myself a job at last. I wrote earlier this month about crying in the car when I couldn't find the office I needed on a huge site BUT I did eventually find it and my induction is next week. This does mean however that I have to say goodbye to my little day job as a lunchtime supervisor at my children's school. When I joined the school in November 2016 I never imagined how much joy it would bring me. It's cutting up Yorkshire puddings, mopping up spillages, refereeing playground disagreements but it's somehow glorious and it makes my heart happy. Our school has some utterly wonderful, hilarious children as pupils and I have adored getting to know them. They enjoy my nonsense and my funny accent and I enjoy their bluntness and their innocence. It has been a pleasure to clean up their peas and open their yogurts. Thankfully, as I'm still a parent with children in the school and will be until 2023 (when obviously I'll be taking Hal to school by hover car or wearing matching Mummy and Son jet packs!) I will still see those gorgeous, cheeky faces on a regular basis.

On top of my walking, I've done a few exercise classes this month too. Another positive to focus on! One Clubbercise class which I loved (but haven't managed to do since due to other plans on Tuesday evenings!) and a regular Friday morning Pilates class too.

The guided meditation fell by the wayside a bit if I'm honest but once I'm more financially stable (I'm prioritising things like rent and food at the mo) I will subscribe to the Headspace app. I would also ideally like a subscription to Audible as I adore being read to and I'd also love an Odeon Limitless card too. Thank you please. None of these things are necessities but they're all things which are investments in me in a roundabout way. I so badly want to get mentally better this year and all of those things as well as the more obvious treatments like therapies and drugs, will help me achieve that.

This month I've seen four new films on the big screen and watched a few older films I'd missed at home too. Film has always been my passion and once upon a time it was the thing I knew most about. Over time, as is inevitable when you become a parent, I've visited the cinema less and swapped encyclopedic film knowledge for the names of Pokemon and Descendants characters. I'm determined to reclaim my status as a film buff among my friends and family and it feels like I got off to a good start.

The whole weight loss thing was a bit of a disaster with me ending January as heavy as I was at the start of the month, if not a few pounds heavier. I've been quite open both here on the blog and on my Instagram account about my emotional eating. Many times I have climbed inside a gigantic bag of sweets and challenged myself to eat my way to freedom. Sweet stuff is my comfort, my distraction from my pain and feelings of hopelessness. It is a safer crutch than a bottle of vodka or a crack pipe but it is still a crutch that I need to learn to cope without. I am hoping (nay, praying) that the routine of my new job and the fact that I can't just nip off to Morrisons to buy and annihilate eight (FUCKING EIGHT, MAN!) Malteaser Reindeers in the middle of the day will help with the awful cycle I find myself trapped in. I'm not trapped of course. It is 100% within my power to break free, I just need to be ready to do it. And yes, I did really eat eight chocolate reindeer yesterday. They were my main course after a starter of a whole pack (that's five just FYI) of mini banana Soreen loaves. Christ on a bike...

Tomorrow marks the beginning at a new month and we're all saying "So long!" to the utter crap fest that is January. I'm adding a "Don't let the door hit you on the arse on the way out!" to mine too. Sod that actually! Let's try "Screw you January, I hope the door knocks you on your arse as you leave!" I'm planning to embrace the cliche and go for a fresh start from February 1st... For now there's a cup of decaf and a Mars Crispy Cake with my name on it!

Thanks for reading my blog this month. I hope you'll stick with me for many more months to come.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Eating my Emotions... with a side order of shame!

Despite posting back in Autumn about January being a horrible time to make changes (everyone is a bit fat, a bit skint and it's really fookin cold!) I was adamant that I was up to the challenge of overhauling my eating and exercise habits this month. No hanging about, I was ready.

It's worth mentioning (if you don't know already) that I've been a Slimming World member on/ off since 2010 and a Slimming World consultant since 2014. I know how to eat well and I actually enjoy eating the Slimming World way. I like vegetables (though this miracle only occurred in my thirties) and fruit, I enjoy cooking from scratch. It works for me! I don't actually crave bad food all that often. I prefer eating well.

If all of this sounds horribly smug or like an ad for SW, stay with me... Coz here's the thing. I am an emotional eater. I got to my target weight with a 2 stone weight loss within six months of giving birth to Hal and I maintained it easily (smug smug smugetty smug!) for over two years. And then I lost my dad.

Enter the emotional eating monster.

When I get sad or stressed or I'm flapping about because I have to be somewhere and I haven't left yet and "Where the shitting hell are my keys?" etc etc (this happens A LOT) all I want is sugar. Sweet stuff. Anything. And I want it NOW. Chewing is optional to be completely honest, I just inhale it.

I've often referred to the door pocket of my car as the Door Pocket of Shame because of all the wrappers that dwell there. If I was in my car, in my head, no one could see me and I could eat what I wanted. Often I didn't even want what I was eating, I just wanted the hit of sugar to distract me from whatever negative emotion was trying to swallow me at the time.

So I rejoined SW as a new member (again) on January 5th this year and a week later I weighed in with a 3lb weight loss. The following Friday I didn't go because I threw myself off the wagon and ran to the shop to buy sweets.

I mentioned the dynamite combo of Shreddies and a Krispy Kreme for dinner, yes? Dear me.

Here's the thing... I don't actually give a stuff what I weigh. I used to. I spent all of last year driving myself bananas trying to get under 10 stone (9st 13.5lbs would do!) until I realised that I actually didn't give a shit about the number on the scale. What I do give a shit about is how I feel and how my clothes fit.

Joe Wicks (The Body Coach) was on The Chris Moyles Show on Radio X a few weeks back and he was telling Chris off for weighing himself all the time. According to Joe, the best way to monitor progress is through pictures. Beginning and end of the month, take a full length pic and then compare the two. Despite agreeing with this wholeheartedly and despite discouraging my members from constantly weighing at home, I got on our scales last night. Bad idea. Ludicrous in fact as I'd been eating all day. All actual fucking day, I shit you not. Not even hungry for half of it, just ramming food in to my face. *sigh* So the numbers I saw were pretty horrific.

To look at me maybe you'd think I look okay. Maybe you'd think I was just allowing myself to be sucked in by media images of perfect women. It's not that. It's this... None of my clothes fit. Nowt. "Buy new clothes, you say?" Erm no. I don't really have a job at the mo and I have perfectly good clothes in my wardrobe. They just don't fucking fit!!

In the past few weeks I've been in super sabotage mode, gaining weight on purpose just to prove how much I suck at weight loss/ self care/ eating well. I told myself I had more important stuff to concentrate on. I told myself I couldn't keep going to SW as a member because I couldn't spare the £4.95. In truth, I'm ashamed. I do this for a living (not currently admittedly but..) and I know how to eat well. How frustrating to find yourself in a cycle of self destruction! How annoying to know exactly what you need to do to lose weight but to just not be able to get in the right head space to do it.

Today my food has been good and I walked five miles. Go me! I'm not asleep yet so there's still time for a chocolate binge but I'm feeling fairly confident that it won't happen. Tomorrow I aim to get up and do it again. If it falls apart, so be it. I can but try!

Size 10 jeans you WILL fit again... without leaving flesh wounds!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

... On the plus side, I'm not addicted to crack!

I'm sat at my desk in my office, laptop open, cuppa to my right. It's a little after 9pm on a Wednesday and eight days have passed since my last post. After discussing my blog with a friend she suggested I post more frequently to keep people interested and coming back for more! I honestly don't believe I have folks waiting to hear the latest outpourings from my brain but I do love writing/ blogging and the catharsis I feel when I do it is amazing.

I just had dinner (faux Shreddies with sultanas) and dessert (a Krispy Kreme Nutella doughnut) and now I'm ready to write... Before I crack on, let's just take a moment to deal with the fact that my dinner was cereal and a doughnut. Yes, at 36 I have reverted back to eating like a student. Right now my brain is so overloaded (more on that later) that I can't even face assembling the most basic of meals. For the record, my breakfast and lunch were smashing but then I had popcorn at the cinema, a whole bar of chocolate as I drove home from Aldi and it was downhill from there really. When it comes to me and my eating habits at the mo, I do the best I can but when it goes to shit (as it does most days) I try not to stress. As the title of this post points out, things could be worse. At least I find comfort in Dairy Milk and not a crack den. 

Today I returned to my little day job as a lunchtime supervisor at the school my children attend. My GP signed me off on January 2nd so even though the new term is well under way, this was my first day back after the Christmas break. It was wonderful to see all the children again as we really do have the most adorable bunch of smashers at our school. My joy at being back was tinged with sadness however as my last day in that role will be on February 2nd. I registered with an agency onsite at a massive local warehouse and I will be starting work there once I'm finished at school. I'm absolutely gutted that I have to give up this gig that I started back in November 2016. I remember Pete saying it was too much for me on top of my Slimming World groups and he was absolutely right (which, infuriatingly he often is) but I was determined to prove him wrong. And prove him wrong I did! I juggled two groups with my school job for seven months and then I did another seven months of both jobs with the added stress of a third SW group. Alas, all good things must come to an end and it's time to move on... I got teary thinking about it today so Lord only knows what fucking state I'll be in on my last day. 

In all honesty, the warehouse job nearly didn't happen after I lost my shit completely trying to find the right fucking building yesterday. I said earlier that the warehouse is massive? Doesn't really cover it. It's vast and the site doesn't have very clear sign posting. I arrived, parked and walked to a gate with an intercom. Buzzed it and was told I'm in the wrong place. Fine! Where do I need to go? The far end, the voice tells me. I get back in to my car and try a different entrance only to find myself at a barrier with a gigantic lorry behind me waiting to come in. If I was in the wrong place before, then where I am now is even wrongerer! I had to get out, ask the lorry to back up so I could reverse and drive off. It's not the end of the world, indeed some people may even have found it funny. Not I. I cried. Hot, angry tears making my make up run. I sat in my car and wept because I just felt so useless and stupid. I feel that way a lot and thanks to my assessment last week, I am beginning to understand why. 

Once I'd got a fucking grip, I found the right building and all was well. I passed the numeracy and literacy tests (thank the Lord, my brain still works!) and am good to go from early February. It's shift work: 6am until 2pm or 2pm until 10pm. I am terrified and oddly excited in equal measure. After so many years of feeling like I should be someone, that I was destined for stardom and greatness, I'm actually excited by the prospect of a job that I can walk away from at the end of each shift and not think about until the next time I clock in. As long as the folk I'm working with are okay and I settle in, I think I should be fine. I bloody hope so... 

So... In my last post I mentioned that I was due to meet with my local Community Mental Health Team to be assessed. After the absolutely hellish roller coaster of emotions that unfolded in the wake of my decision to perhaps NOT be an SW consultant anymore, I went to my GP and begged for help. It's not that I haven't had support where my mental health is concerned from my doctors in the past but I've never had an official diagnosis. It might seem odd that I was pursuing a label when many people hate the idea of being pigeon holed but I just wanted to know if there was something more wrong with me than depression. I wouldn't dream of saying 'just' depression as I know how debilitating that can be but I felt like there was a bit more to what I was going through. Turns out I was right! Who'd have thunk it?!

Last Tuesday afternoon I sat in a room at a local hospital with a member of the UCAT (Urgent Care Assessment Team) and I talked. A lot. Nothing unusual there, I've never been one to keep my gob shut. She asked me questions and I answered them honestly. I certainly wasn't trying to lead her in any specific direction and I'm sure she's experienced enough to know when a patient is trying to do that. I admitted to certain things I've done over the years that I'm not proud of but I wanted her to have as complete a picture as possible. 

After well over an hour of talking from me and furious typing from her she asked me if I wanted a diagnosis. Some patients don't apparently want one, preferring just to look at treatment and how to move forward. I wanted an answer. I've had more than twenty bastard years of acting in ways that make no sense to me, decades of destroying my own chances at happiness and of feeling pointless and unworthy of love... To just not understand why you do the things you do or why you say certain things is a pretty crappy way to live. How about loathing your own company, believing wholeheartedly that everyone would be better off in you weren't around? Yeah, that's no fun either and no, I'm not suicidal and thankfully I never have been but the desire to just pack a bag and go somewhere so as not to inflict myself on the people I love any more? I fight that urge almost every single day. Why? Why am I like this? What's fucking wrong with me...? 

Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. 

The NHS website describes it thus... 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others. It's the most commonly recognised personality disorder.
In general, someone with a personality disorder will differ significantly from an average person in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others.

And just like that, I feel better. After spending the best part of my life thinking I was a bit of a knob, I can now actually say that there is something wrong with me. I am officially mentally unwell and I'm fucking delighted about it! Is that wrong? Am I supposed to be sad? Well I'm not. If I had tonsillitis, they'd give me antibiotics and okay, I'd imagine a poorly personality is not quite so easily treated but it CAN be treated. Different medication, therapies, group support... whatever. Bring it the fuck on because I am ready. Do I think I can be cured? Probably not. Will I always suffer certain symptoms? Almost definitely... However, it can't control me in the way that it once did because I know about it now. I can read up (reputable sources only, obviously!) and learn and understand my illness and as a result of that, understand myself better too. 

Pressing publish on this post scares the shit out of me. I've been telling friends over the past week what the outcome of my assessment was. In true Kati style, I may have described myself as being "officially crackers" which I know I shouldn't but I've used humour as a defence mechanism since I could speak and I don't imagine that's going to change any time soon. In all honesty, I'm not sure I'd want it to. That said, throwing something out in to the world, confirming I have a mental illness is a pretty big deal... But do you know what? It's okay not to be okay. That's a hashtag so it must be true! I might not be okay now. I may not have been okay for large chunks of my life so far but I can get better. I will get better. Just you watch me...

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Honesty in the Best Policy

It's been a while since I posted and I'm realising that I'm perhaps not the most prolific blogger. No matter, best to wait until I have something interesting to say.

Of course I considered posting on New Year's Eve (or Old Year's Night as my mam calls it) reflecting on the year that's been and looking forward to the year ahead but as I spent NYE alone (with my babies sleeping upstairs) I was a little concerned it would just be a barrage of woe and self-pity.

I can't promise this will be a joy-fest but as the title suggests, I believe in honesty so hopefully it will be open and real but without descending in to a tirade of misery.

Straight from the school run today I went to Morrisions to get a few bits. I actually quite enjoy food shopping and will smile and chat to other shoppers. Today however, I was in shut down mode. The longer I wandered round the sadder I felt, even choosing a self serve checkout so I didn't have to exchange pleasantries with the cashier. This isn't like me at all. I usually love any opportunity to chat to ... well, anyone! I am a deeply sociable creature.

While I was shopping I saw an ex-colleague from when I worked as a doctor's receptionist, a lovely nurse called Alison. I deliberately avoided her. I just didn't have the energy to chat and put on a brave face.

Over the last few weeks I've been wrestling with how honest I should be when someone asks how I am. When people ask that question, do they really want the answer? Over time "You alright?" has become a standard greeting but are we really enquiring about that person's health and well-being or is it just a conversational habit that we can't break? How often have you dashed past a friend or acquaintance and had the following exchange...

Them: "Hiya!"
You: "Oh hello, you alright?"
Them: "Yeah, you?"
You: "Yeah! Bye!"
Them: "Bye!"

Are you both alright? We're so British that even if we ill/ grieving/ depressed/ injured we always say "Yeah, fine!" because does that person actually want the real answer?

Don't misunderstand me, sometimes when we say we're fine it's because we are! But right now (and for the past few months) I am far from fine. My mental health is in tatters, so much so that I am on a three month sabbatical from my main job (as a Slimming World consultant) and I am also signed off sick from my daytime school job.

But do I say that when people ask how I am...? Well, in all honesty, I have been answering the "How are you?" question either with "Physically? Fine. Mentally? Not so much..." or I just make an odd noise that says "Yeah, not great to be honest." I don't know if this is right or wrong. I don't know if I'm making people uncomfortable... Certainly that's not my intention but I just think it's best to be honest.

I've said before that I am very passionate about "starting a conversation" about Mental Health. It's so very important to me that it is spoken about freely and that the taboo surrounding the subject is destroyed. So many people suffer in silence because they're too afraid or ashamed to admit that actually they are a million miles away from "fine".

My willingness to share musings like this, to post on social media about my own struggles with my mental well-being is something my (now ex) partner just can't fathom. He just can't see why I do it other than to get attention. I'd be lying if I said I don't like an audience, since childhood I've looked for attention anywhere I could get it and sometimes it has back-fired horribly. I truly believe though, that this blog and some of my other public posting is more about helping others to feel less alone. The "Oh thank God, it's not just me!" feeling I get when I read other blogs and statuses that articulate my own feelings... Well, if even one person reads my ramblings and feels that way, I see that as a win.

In the end, Alison ended up opposite me at the self checkout. We spoke, exchanged pleasantries and walked out in to the car park together. I admitted to not being in a great place mentally or indeed financially at the mo (due to the not working) and she asked if I had time for a cuppa. We both loaded our shopping in to our cars and headed back to the cafe for a chat over coffee. I didn't spend the whole time whingeing, it was nice to listen to Ali talk about what her family are up to but she did also listen as I filled her in on my current situation. I'm so glad she managed to catch my eye. It was great to catch up and it seemed so silly that I'd tried to hide from her but my mood as I shopped had shut down the social side of me.

At 3pm today I have an appointment with our local Mental Health team to be assessed. I don't really know what to expect in all honesty. I am hoping that the outcome will be an offer of professional help to break some of the behaviours that drag me down and damage my relationships. I've had counselling on and off since I was 14 years old but what I want isn't just someone to listen to me! I need real practical coping strategies and ways of dealing with my highs and lows.

My mission for 2018 is to get well: mentally, physically... the whole shebang. When someone asks me how I am in future I want to answer "I'm great, thanks. Really well!" and for it to be true.

If you're reading this and you're feeling more than just the standard January Blues, please make sure you talk to someone about it. It is absolutely "okay not to be okay" but make sure you don't suffer alone.

Friday, 13 October 2017

1 in 4

It's Baby Loss Awareness week. Facebook is full of pink and blue ribbons as women open up about their experiences. It's yet another example of a formerly taboo subject that is slowly being normalised. Of course it's devastating that so many women (and indeed men) have stories to tell but it's a huge step forward that they now feel able to do so. World Mental Health Day was also this week and again, it filled me with a mixture of emotions seeing so many people on social media posting about it. At least we are moving towards a time when people CAN and DO speak out about their own mental health problems or their experiences with infant loss.

Me? I tick both boxes. I have suffered problems with my mental health since my early teens and yes, I am 1 in 4 women who has suffered the loss of a baby. Oddly, I don't see myself as being in that same category as women who have endured multiple miscarriages, the unspeakable trauma of a stillbirth or the loss of an infant minutes, hours or days after they entered the world.

Having said that, it happened and all of the posting about it has got me thinking about my own experience. I'll tell my story and put it out in to the blogosphere on the off-chance that reading it will help someone else.

My first pregnancy, though very unexpected and at times emotional, was pretty textbook. The labour went well until Eva got herself stuck trying to be born sideways (insert eye roll emoji here) and I ended up having an emergency C-section. All in all, it was a fairly straightforward business: fell pregnant, carried baby to term, went in to labour, went to hospital, came home three days later with 8lbs 4.5oz of healthy baby girl.

Fast forward to early 2011 and a decision was made that perhaps it might be time to think about giving Eva a sibling. In my head, she'd never been an only child because, much as my sister drove me bananas in childhood, I can't imagine life without her. I came off the Pill, had one cycle and fell pregnant.

We were so excited to have actually planned a baby that we were itching to tell people. As I'd had one healthy pregnancy I arrogantly assumed that this time around it would be the same. Around my seventh week, Pete and I were having a pub lunch with my mam, my step-dad and his folks. Four of the new baby's six grandparents were in one place and it seemed silly not to share our lovely news in person. We told them, they were thrilled and then I nipped out to call my dad as it seemed only fair that he knew too.

The night before my twelve week scan, I was at work. Back then, I was a receptionist in a busy GP surgery. My time there had really opened my eyes to how common miscarriages are but I still didn't think it would happen to me. A wonderful, kind creature I worked with named Mary (a mother of three and a grandmother of many) asked me if I was excited about my scan. I surprised myself by answering "No". I realised in that moment that I was worried. I had no reason to believe anything was wrong. I didn't have morning sickness but I hadn't had it with Eva either so I didn't need it to reassure me that I was definitely pregnant. I'd had no bleeding or even spotting but I just felt 'off'. Mary reassured me that all would be well but that it was natural to be apprehensive. I tried to shake off the feeling but it lingered.

The following morning, a beautiful, sunny Thursday in July, we headed to Kettering General Hospital for our scan. I still felt out of sorts but I tried to push the feeling aside. Our turn came and in we went.

From the second our baby appeared on the screen I knew that it was gone. It was so small and just looked, for want of a better word, wrong. With Eva, I'd been surprised by how much she looked like a baby at the twelve week stage and even uttered, Del Boy style, "It's a little baby!" The sonographer was calm and professional but when she said "I'm just struggling to find a heartbeat." I wanted to cry out "Because there isn't one!" Another staff member came in to confirm that yes, we had suffered what is known as a silent or missed miscarriage. Our baby had simply stopped living at 9 weeks and 1 day.

The next few days were a bit of a blur. The person we needed to discuss our options with wasn't at the hospital on that particular Thursday so we were asked to come back the following day. It was my little sister, Laura who went with me on the Friday as Pete had to go in to work.

I had three options: wait for nature to take its course, use a pessary to start the process off or have an ERPC (Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception) under general anesthetic. For whatever reason, as soon as I found out that the baby was no more, I wanted it out. Rightly or wrongly, the idea of carrying it round repulsed me. I opted for the ERPC but couldn't undergo the procedure until the following Monday. All weekend long I was terrified that I'd experience a spontaneous miscarriage which I'd been told was a possibility. It didn't happen. There was never a single spot of blood or any indication that the pregnancy was over.

On the Monday morning I found myself in a bed on Maple Ward. Again, it was Laura who was by my side. Pete didn't have the most understanding boss at the time (understatement, he was an ogre) but I also think he needed to return to normal as soon as possible. A lady in the bed opposite was awaiting a hysterectomy. She overheard Laura and I talking and offered her sympathies. She told me how it had happened to her too and about how she'd planted a tree in her garden in memory of her lost little one. I made excuses about how I didn't anticipate us staying in our current home forever so I wouldn't want to do that but in truth, I didn't want to do it anyway. I didn't and still don't feel compelled to have a lasting reminder of the baby that wasn't meant to be. I know people will plant flowers and trees or release balloons on what would've been the baby's birthday... It pains and confuses me to admit that I think this way but I promised myself I'd be honest in the recounting of my story. The only thing I do have is a handmade sympathy card from a lovely lady called Alex. She'd pressed a flower and stuck the flower to a plain card. I put the card in a frame and I still have it to this day.

The procedure went well and by the afternoon, I was home again. I'll always remember my dear friend Amy leaving me an M&S 2 dine in for £10 dinner on my doorstep along with flowers and fancy M&S biscuits. It's one of many reasons I chose her to be one of Hal's godmothers. 

In the days and weeks that followed, I swung wildly between being absolutely fine with what had happened, accepting that it's nature and it happens all the time... To feeling absolutely crushed. I drank a fair bit, ate like a pig and cried a lot. Having been so sure all would be well, I'd told quite a few friends that I was expecting Baby Number 2 so I then had to deal with running in to them and saying "Oh... no. Not anymore. Not meant to be." Thank God I had Eva. Thank God I had proof that my body could carry a baby to term. How women cope when it's their first pregnancy and are then brave enough to try again and again... It astounds me.

Summer and Autumn 2011 passed in a bit of a blur. I gained weight as I was eating with my emotions and trying to fill the hole I felt I had inside me. I was planning to return to Slimming World in the January to take back some control over my body and my eating. 

It was December 23rd when I suspected I might be pregnant and I confirmed it on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day I gave Pete the positive pregnancy test in an envelope. We were happy but also understandably apprehensive. This time we told no-one but it was obvious so early on that I was carrying. I had a bump by January and it wasn't all mince pies and Roses from Christmas!! My colleagues at the surgery, all mums and nans themselves, knew full well that I was pregnant again but they respected and understood my desire to wait until after the scan to announce it. For weeks at work, I was the elephant in the room!

The due date for our not-meant-to-be baby was early February 2012. I think if I hadn't been pregnant by then it would have been harder to deal with but I focused on the baby now growing inside me.

Hal Glyndwr arrived eleven days early on August 19, 2012. It was about a billion degrees that day. Cheers son! I would find out years later that the term for a baby born after a miscarriage is a rainbow baby. So Hal is my rainbow. I feel like Hal is the child I was meant to have and if I'd carried the baby I lost to term it would be impossible for me to have him. I cannot comprehend my life or our family without Hal in it so it certainly eases the pain.

I realise that I've contradicted myself somewhat, first saying I didn't feel strongly enough about what happened to commemorate it but then, in the same post, making reference to my pain. It did hurt then and it still hurts now but I have two healthy, funny children and for that, I am forever grateful.

To anyone reading this who has experienced similar or far worse, I feel your pain. Please, please, if you haven't already, speak out about it. Don't suffer alone. It happens so often but because we don't talk about it enough you can end up feeling like there's something wrong with you or that you're the only one going through it.

Start a conversation. Whether it's about mental health or anxiety or infant loss or anything else that's troubling you and making you feel isolated... Speak up. As the saying goes, it's okay not to be okay.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Time Is Now

Two whole months since my last post. Numerous times through July and August I had ideas and musings rattling round my brain but nothing ever evolved into a fully fledged post.

So why now? Why tonight have I decided to put pen to paper... or fingers to keyboard? Well because I had a bit of an epiphany on Sunday and it evolved while I was at work last night. Allow me to elaborate...

I spent a few hours on Sunday leafleting in the sunshine. It's a key promotional time for Slimming World as we try and coax members away from barbecues and beer gardens and get them back to group. I have to get 6000 leaflets out at four key times throughout the year. Thankfully, I have wonderful members who help me with my campaign but I still have plenty to deliver myself. So there I was, wandering the streets of a new-ish estate in Burton Latimer. It was a beautiful day and I was enjoying the time to just think and to just... be. I don't usually enjoy time alone but I felt both productive and peaceful.

I was thinking about the thought process that a person goes through before joining Slimming World or embarking on any sort of weight loss programme or fitness regime. Quite often we're waiting for the perfect time... Or rather we talk ourselves out of doing it because of X, Y and Z reason. "I've got that hen weekend... Then it's the Bank Holiday... And then mum's birthday... So, I'll wait..." We wait. Postpone. Fresh starts always happen on Monday mornings and are often abandoned on Monday afternoons.

Following on from this thinking I'd done, I said in group last night that September seems to be a much better time than January to make resolutions. January is quite frankly an appalling time to make changes. It's dark and cold, Christmas is over, everyone is skint and most of us have a few pounds to lose. Deciding to overhaul your whole life under those circumstances is frankly a bit daft. And highly unlikely to stick! Bravo to those who make it past January 5th with any resolutions still in place.

September gives me that fresh start feeling. I graduated from university in 2003 and yet I still get an overwhelming urge to buy new stationery at this time of year. I can still picture the inside of the old WH Smiths in Eldon Square, back home in Newcastle. Pencil cases, cartridges pens, eraser pens, ring binders and pads of thick file paper. Joy! Oh it was like crack to a little stationery nut like me. I loved the newness of it all and the clean slate nature of a new note book. I always pledged to do my best handwriting in my new school books... It never lasted long!

My point in all of this is that there's no perfect time to do anything. You'll always talk yourself out of it, given enough time or you'll convince yourself that there'll be a better time to do whatever it is you're contemplating. In my experience (almost 36 years on the planet) there won't be the sign you're waiting for. Whatever it is, just do it now.

I'm the world's worst for this. I always put too much emphasis on a certain time to do something. Or I think that this new book or piece of stationery is exactly what I need to change my life! No book or note pad is powerful enough to turn me from a disorganised bundle of chaos and occasional fuckwittery in to a super organised bad ass... It just up to me to do it.

So I'm making some resolutions for the latter part of 2017. I have things in my life that need changing and all I can do is tackle them one at a time. But first to buy a shiny new notebook to write them all down in...