Counselling by Catherine PANDAS

I’m on the train. It’s delayed. The rain falls relentlessly outside coating the windows in wet spidery patterns. I’m listening to a compilation of Klezmer music and feel very pessimistic about this, my first counselling session for eight years.

I’ve been sat on a waiting list with my local IAPT Service for longer than the ‘standard waiting time’ of 6-8 weeks. I took my daughter along with me to my initial session last week, needless to say it wasn’t very productive. I dropped her off with a very good friend this morning in order to attend this session on my own. I don’t really know what to expect from it as counsellors are all so different. From what I saw last week, he seemed like a nice bloke, but I have no idea if he’s capable of scooping the black treacley mess out of my brain and turning it into something I can deal with constructively. We’ll see.
****
Here I am in reception. There are two people with suits on, they look like salesmen. They made me feel really angry actually, I don’t know why. And there’s another lady in the corner. I’ve kept my headphones in because I don’t like the shite local radio. I’ve been to the loo, the Suits stared at me as I walked past them. I want to know why they’re here, what are they selling? One of them looks over-confident, the other looks nervous. I have half an hour to wait so I’m going to read my book for a little while.
****
I’m out.
image

It was good today. It’s mainly driven by myself I think, but he joins in and uses the same language as me, which is oddly comforting. We talked about past betrayals and past relationships. We talked about my current relationship and the problems I have living in Rugby. We talked about how I feel when I feel bad and how I take a lot on, probably to distract myself from my own feelings. We talked about the fact that I never talked about my own experience of postnatal depression with anyone, I never talked it through. We talked about isolation and reaching out, and talking about how I’m feeling. Like how I’m actually feeling, not just generic “sad”, “low”. It was good. I feel like I took something away from it at least.

I know it’s going to be hard, but I think I need to look back at my pregnancy and the first days of Motherhood and try to put them to rest in my head. It’s like they’re there in the background, and can be revived, but I need to soften them a little so that their revival isn’t so destructive to me emotionally.

Session booked in next week. Watch this space.

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Project Me: Part Two by Hannah Tubb

Foundations and marathons

I re read my last post. It sounds so urgent, desperate and floundering! But that’s how I was feeling – after I’d written that post my mood changed, I felt like a weight had been lifted – I had acknowledged how I was feeling and identified what I needed to do to change that!
   The next step was the list.  I have priorities and responsibilities – these are the things that I’m most likely to resist because I HAVE to do them. I very rarely let myself enjoy them and see them as chores. Work is one of these things and I’m ashamed to say that my family feels like a chore sometimes as well – writing those words down is hard because I don’t want them to be true. I want it to come easy to me like it seems to do for so many others. 
    Therefore, my first step had to be acceptance – accept the job I have and be grateful, except my role as a mother and stop beating my self up for what I’m NOT giving the girls and focus on what I AM already giving them. For my youngest, I know that her idea of a perfect afternoon is cuddling up on the sofa and watching cartoons – as much as I love this as well I can’t help but thinking that I should be doing  something else – housework, baking, craft, educational games etc. etc. So I need to let these afternoons be part of our week and treasure them – this time next year she will be at school and I’ll be wishing I’d appreciated this time more! In fact, looking back at pictures of the past seven years I realised that family days out or days in – were the best times – I found it hard to look at pictures of Isabelle’s first couple of years because I was in a bad place with postnatal depression and again whilst I was pregnant with Charlotte and Isabelle was three – my heart breaks when I look at her and know that I was nowhere near the mummy that I wanted to be at that time, suffering with antenatal depression and again when Charlotte was born! Bittersweet memories – but I know that the memories we are all making together now are precious – I remember so many of the days where these photos were taken because I remember what was behind my smile – the anxieties, self hatred, doubt – seething and churning.  I feel like I’m through those times now and I am so, so grateful for that.

So to recap and summarise . . .

1. Accept that I have to work and have responsibilities and stop fighting them!
2. Enjoy every second with my family and stop wishing that I was doing something better or different!
3. Do more creative stuff!
4. Read more
5. Work on my yoga practice
6. Run the London marathon 2016
Errrrr wait . . . What???

So whilst stripping everything back to foundations, an amazing opportunity arose – to run the London Marathon 2016 for PANDAS! I applied but didn’t tell anyone – I wanted this to be for me, not to prove something to anyone ( although of course the thoughts were there – it makes me more interesting, maybe I will finally lose weight and like the way I look etc. etc.)
It’s forced me to focus, really focus on myself- nutrition, fitness – I’m learning again and I’m a massive geek so I love having something to research!
It also symbolises how far I have come with my anxiety because a year ago I would never have even considered this an option for me!

So my list has been written – what’s on yours?

Xx

Beeping Black Dog – by Catherine PANDAS

I’m sat here working through our final wedding music choices.  WEDDING.  I am GETTING MARRIED to a MAN that I LOVE WITH ALL MY HEART, and I KNOW HE LOVES ME TOO.  I’m also currently weaning off my anti-depressants.  Now, here’s a fine example of my bittersweet companion, the old Black Dog.

stupidblackdog

So, here I am, still in pyjamas, listening to beautiful music and having a fun text exchange about the wedding with my lovely kind fiance.  On the laptop.  Where there are photographs of him and his ex-partner.  Suddenly, there I am, swooping through files, my heartbeat quickening, feeling sick, keep going, keep looking, flicking past faces I don’t know, will never know, seeing smiles that aren’t real, don’t exist anymore, keep looking, keep going, looking for proof that…… HOLD ON.  Proof of what?  Proof that he EXISTED BEFORE ME?!?!???  Really?  This is the Beeping Black Dog, and he’s here trying to spoil my positive feeling.

Now, once upon a time, I would have continued in this chaotic spiral for the rest of the day until it culminated into having a great big useless row with lovely fiance over my own anxious thoughts, but since learning about coping strategies and talking, like really learning to talk about how I’m feeling, I have been able to work out other ways of doing things.  So, instead of carrying on, I closed down the folders and made a meme:

*MEME CONTAINS FOUL LANGUAGE, PLEASE DON’T LOOK IF THERE IS A CHANCE IT WILL OFFEND YOU*

BLACKDOGFUCKYOU

I made a meme, and now I feel better.

A Recovery Story – by The Butterfly Mother

sprouting

“Postnatal Depression recovery stories.” These were the only words I typed into my browser for weeks. My anxiety was incredibly high, I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. Instead of cuddling my son or enjoying his first smiles, I was scouring the internet for undeniable proof that I wouldn’t feel this way forever.  
 
Despite what my damaged mind was telling me, things did get better. I don’t feel that way anymore. So I’m posting my own story for any other mums who might be searching for answers now. 
 
My son was born at 1am on 27 Apr 2013 after 12 hours labour, an epidural and finally an emergency section. They had given me so much anesthetic at the last moment I became “blocked,” meaning I couldn’t move or feel anything besides my head and neck. I couldn’t hold my son for several hours, and I couldn’t feel when he was feeding.  
 
Looking back, things weren’t right from that very first day. I wasn’t feeling anywhere near the post-birth euphoria I had been expecting. But it wasn’t until 8 weeks later the cracks finally began to show. 
 
My son had just begun sleeping better, only waking for one feed during the night, but while he slept soundly at last I lay wide awake. The less I was able to sleep, the more I panicked during the day. How can I take care of him when I haven’t slept? What if I drop him down the stairs because I’m so exhausted? What if I fall asleep on the sofa and suffocate him? Of course, with these anxieties running around my mind all day I was nowhere near relaxed enough to sleep when night came around, and so the vicious cycle continued. I was lying in bed for around six hours each night, my heart racing and my thoughts spinning, until my body eventually gave in and I slept fitfully for between 1-2 hours before I awoke with a jolt, feeling sick and panicked once more.  
 
After 6 days of sleeping only an hour or two a night I burst into tears during a group I was attending at my local children’s centre. The staff were incredible, they calmed me as much as possible and called my health visitor. For the next few days she came by to see how I was, she listened to my fears and heard how I still wasn’t sleeping. I took all the usual advice – bath before bed, fresh bedding, read a book etc – but this only made my sleep worse. The pressure to sleep increased my panic and continued the cycle.  
 
I was then referred to my local Perinatal Emotional Wellbeing Service (PEWS). This is a fantastic NHS service which, sadly, isn’t available in all Trusts. Fortunately for me, Essex has it and that small team of individuals probably saved my life. Or at least kept me out of hospital. 
 
After they assessed me I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. I had been desperately hoping there was another explanation but deep down I knew it wasn’t only insomnia, I wasn’t eating or able to think straight either, all triggered by horrendous anxiety. PEWS liaised with my doctor (who was fairly useless, more on that in a future post) and visited me at home twice a week. Under their guidance, I found the courage to begin taking a combination of medication (a sleeping aid, diazapam for short term anxiety relief and eventually, reluctantly, an antidepressant).  
 
The medication firstly helped to get my sleep back on track. I was terrified that the sleeping tablets wouldn’t work but 15 mins after taking my first one I succumbed to sleep on the sofa and my husband helped me to bed where I slept solidly for four hours – a vast improvement from how I was. Each night I would fear the tablet wouldn’t work and each night I slept, for an increasing length of time until my sleep patterns were fairly normal again.  
 
Despite the improvement in sleep and appetite I was still suffering from anxiety attacks almost constantly. I simply couldn’t function properly. Once the drugs took some effect PEWS sent round their Occupational Therapist who specialised in anxiety management. I still think of this amazing woman as an angel sent to save me. She gave me some basic, CBT-based tools for managing fear which, with lots of hard work and practice, began to improve my mood and functionality.
 
Eventually PEWS were able to discharge me when an appointment with an NHS therapist became available. Again, I was very lucky to see a CBT therapist who had a lot of experience with perinatal mood disorders.  
 
One of the most difficult things about this illness is the slow recovery time. In my opinion, medication goes a long way to take the edge off and kickstart your recovery but it can only do so much – therapy is a vital tool for long term recovery. Through therapy I was able to begin to reroute lots of damaging negative thought patterns.  
 
Recovery was definitely an accumulative process for me. Medication and therapy bore the brunt but there were many other aspects of “self-care” which were vital to me; good, regular sleep; a decent diet; fresh air and a walk every day if possible; supplements; support from family and friends; mindfulness; books and websites like Anxiety No More. And, critically, online support.Postpartum Progress and other blogs, and Facebook groups such as PPD Chat Support have been so valuable to me. Knowing you aren’t alone can help tremendously. 
 
Unfortunately, even with these tools, recovery takes time and patience, which is the biggest challenge of all. I remember being filled with despair when I read how long recovery can take for some people but the important thing to remember is even if full recovery takes months or longer you won’t be in that acute stage the entire time. The real hell was lessened in a matter of weeks for me. After that it becomes manageable, life becomes more bearable. You feel stronger and safer. You might not be thriving but you’re surviving. 
 
Parenting is hard and I still feel overwhelmed by it sometimes. I still wonder how I’ll cope. But then I remind myself that I’ve come through the last two years so there’s no reason I can’t keep going, keep striving, keep getting stronger. I also remind myself of all the things experiencing PND has taught me. I know how to deal with unhelpful thinking, I worry considerably less, I don’t sweat the small stuff and I have much more empathy for others. In some ways, I’m stronger. I think I’m probably a nicer, less selfish person. I’m not going to ever pretend PND is anything close to a gift, but there are certainly aspects to my personality and my life which have benefited. 
 
PND isn’t fair. It’s a cruel and terrible illness. But recovery is possible. If you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never get better try to remember that everyone who has ever recovered once thought they never would. And then they did.

To read more from The Butterfly Mother, please have a look at her blog here

Do I Love My Baby? – by The Butterfly Mother

(Original Content taken from The Butterfly Mother blog)

bonding

Yesterday we had the paddling pool out for the first time. Caterpillar had a lot of fun and then wanted to come and sit with me where I was watching from the picnic blanket. I wrapped him in a towel and we snuggled down and cuddled, looking at the sky and talking about the sun and clouds, singing songs and tickling each other. Not an unusual sight for a mother and toddler, but a moment perhaps more significant to me than it would be to someone who hasn’t suffered Postnatal Depression.

At one point my son gave me what we call a “hands kiss” (a kiss on the lips while putting his little hands on your cheeks) and I almost wanted to scream with the love I felt. Screaming may seem a little extreme but that’s how it feels to me – whenever I have a wonderful moment with my son – like I’m consumed by joy and relief. Because, for a long time, it was nothing like that.

As a pregnant woman you hear much about the magical and instant bond you will feel with your baby. It’s a given that you will feel a love for them that is beyond any other emotional connection you have ever experienced. The love you feel for your partner or parents will simply pale in comparison. You’re told that yes, parenting is hard work but the love and happiness you get from your baby will make everything worth it.

I couldn’t help but be excited about experiencing this completely new kind of love. I already felt very bonded to my bump and loved the magic of feeling my baby move inside me, I couldn’t wait until the moment I saw him for the first time and felt that lightening bolt strike me.

The reality was a little different.

Caterpillar was born by emergency section when his heartbeat dropped dangerously low after 12 hours of labour. When he was born they had to whip him off to suction mucus out of his throat. I was unable to feel or move any part of my body besides my head. Twenty minutes later I laid eyes on him for the first time. He was a metre or so away, and pretty blurry as I’d had to remove my contact lenses before the surgery, and I couldn’t hold him as I was unable to feel my arms.

He was so cute, wide-eyed with beautiful skin, and undoubtedly mine as he shared so many of my family’s features. I was so relieved to see he was okay after spending the last few hours convinced he was dying. There was relief and familiarity…but no lightening bolt. No overwhelming protective instinct. No “instant bond.” No euphoria. I just felt tired and nauseas.

For the next eight hours I drifted in and out of sleep, vomited several times, and waited for my body to come back to life. I was vaguely aware of Hubs holding a small bundle in his arms next to me. The next morning when I was finally able to hold Caterpillar I sobbed and told the nurse I felt I was seeing him for the first time.

Whilst in hospital I mainly felt anxious and useless. I assumed motherhood would come naturally but it didn’t. My milk didn’t come in and I couldn’t get him to sleep much at all. Aren’t new mums supposed to want to hold their baby constantly, and never want them to leave their sight?  But when the nurses offered to take him for a couple of hours to allow me to rest I felt only relief.

Back home we began to find our groove but my emotions were all over the place. I would cry every night around bedtime as I knew we’d be up every three hours, if we could get him to sleep in the first place. None of this is unusual, this is how life is during the first couple of weeks with any newborn but in addition to the usual sleep deprivation and steep learning curve I was dealing with a terrifying internal struggle: do I love my baby?

That awful, paralysing, guilt-laden thought kept whispering across my brain with increasing frequency until it got so loud it was all I could hear. I don’t think I’m enjoying this. What’s to enjoy? I’m just tired and drained. I thought these were meant to be the happiest days of my life. He’s so adorable, cuddles are nice but is this really my life now, forever? Oh my God, why am I thinking like this? Do I not love him? Is there something wrong with me, I should be happy to take care of him, shouldn’t I?

I cared about him a great deal, I found him beautiful, and I felt duty-bound to protect him – but that was the thing, it felt like duty, not overwhelming, uncontrollable love.

I believe it was these few thoughts about how I felt about my son and my new life as a mother than sparked the anxiety attacks which led to my PND diagnosis. I wish so deeply that I had known then what I know now.

That not everyone feels an instant, overwhelming bond with their baby. That the first few months of your child’s life may not be the best time of your life. That newborns don’t give much back, but they sure take a lot. That just because your bond isn’t instant it doesn’t mean you won’t have an amazing relationship in the future. That different people are suited to different ages and areas of parenting.

I wish I had known that I didn’t have to worry, that I would fall in love with Caterpillar. That as he grew, and as I got my anxiety under control, I would grow to love and enjoy so many things about him. That slowly, eventually, I would begin to feel overwhelmed by that love. That the love you feel for a child is unique but maybe not in the way you imagine; it’s complicated and conflicted and huge, sometimes so big you think you might explode with it.

I wish I had known that one day, two years later, I would lay with him on a blanket in the sunshine and want to scream with how much I loved him.