On Saturday, I went to the PANDAS annual conference. I’ve been volunteering for PANDAS since February (ish) and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for me, if I’m honest. Here’s what happened.
In my old life (pre kids) I used to love a good conference. Training? Yes please. Meeting new people? Hell yes! Let me take notes, let me nerd out, let me be the first person with my hand up for questions. I loved it, I loved being involved. I loved overachieving.
Then babies, and anxiety, and post natal PTSD. Being ignored by people, losing friends and confidence and self worth. Massive weight gain, health problems from the birth and then to top it all off, a Pulmonary Embolism. Arguments and heartache and a lot of being ignored.
It’s easy to give up. I almost did. And then suddenly my eldest son was nearly 2, my youngest was nearly 1, and I felt so much better. I wanted to do something – really do something, not change shitty nappies or give out bottles or, you know, raise a human being. I wanted to prove I was still capable of grown up things.
So, I signed up to volunteer for PANDAS. And after a convoluted and confusing period of ‘let me help!’-ing at anyone who would listen, I wound up volunteering on the Support Group Admin, the Twitter page, the Online Community, and helping with the Helpline admin. So a little bit more than I had expected!
When the PANDAS conference came up I had a million different reasons not to go. It’s pointless, I thought. No one wants me to go, no one is bothered if I turn up. It won’t make a difference, I won’t be missed. I love the people I work with, but I always imagined myself to be the sad one – hanging on the outskirts of the group, hoping to belong. What a sad image I have of myself! But that’s how I view things. As someone who has been Mean Girls-ed out of a large number of groups, I thought there wasn’t a place for me.
I’ve signed up for a 10k in July, for PANDAS (of course). Feel free to donate HERE! On one of our Facebook pages, I casually mentioned that I was having trouble getting donations as I don’t have a large circle of friends to call on (I think I put it as ‘I have no friends’, which is far more honest but slightly more blunt!).
Within minutes, Rachael (co-founder of PANDAS) had shared it on her wall, calling me a friend. Donations swiftly followed. I sat, had a little cry, felt a little silly – and decided to go to the conference.
I didn’t walk in very smoothly. I didn’t do anything smoothly! Arriving early, spending 10 minutes outside trying not to have a panic attack. I got lost. I forgot to introduce myself to Suzi, who was handing out ID badges. I almost walked into Rachael. I ate my salad with my hands (sandwiches and salad was too confusing for my poor, addled brain). I babbled nervously about my stupid accent. I gushed over Olivia Seigl (off The Baby Bible, which is awesome, and I’m actually very proud of the selfie I got with her). I wrote illegible notes and cried quite a bit. I jabbered on about my post natal PTSD, my PE, and even my difficulty finding a house. I smiled too much and tried too hard. I shamefully disclosed my enormous notebook of PANDAS stuff, and ate an embarrassing amount of free cookies. I tried to thank Rachael and probably sounded like a maniac. I tried to tell everyone how awesome they were, repeatedly, and probably came across like a serial killer.
LBut I loved it. It was me at my awkward, uncomfortable best. I felt weird, I felt odd, and I felt welcomed. I didn’t feel mocked, I didn’t feel left out, I didn’t feel like I should go home. The day started with me sweaty and terrified and wishing that I could take it all back. By the end, sat with so many amazing, inspiring, wonderful women, I felt like I could be like them someday.
I’m Amy. I’m 25, I’m a Mum of two. I’m a very strange person, I don’t usually fit in, and I’m a volunteer for PANDAS. And I love it.