Are you sitting down? I’m feeling happy!!

Oh dear, I have been a moaning minnie recently. And what has it achieved? Nothing except making me miserable. Time to remind myself of that new years resolution and try especially hard to be happy.

Things are improving. This week has brought about a change and my troops are growing in number. I have company planned for my expressing breaks and I no longer feel so forgotten. I am so so grateful to colleagues for understanding my loneliness and being willing to support me in this.

In addition to this good news there has been some press coverage about tongue tie and I feel excited by the raised awareness this will bring. I am ready to get fully involved in the fight to both improve and increase support and am eager for the challenge this will bring. I am keen to throw myself at this topic will full force. (I discuss my own experience of tongue tie in my post My Breastfeeding Journey, because she’s worth it.)

It has been a week of eating cake, baking cake, giggles and smiles from my little fairy and the addition of a perfectly said “mama” to her skills.

I am going to allow myself to be happy, to recognise that happiness and celebrate it. Yay! Go me.

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Do I enjoy being miserable?

It sounds like a silly question. With an obvious answer – of course not.

But lately I have started to question myself, (and in the process others) about this.

What does my post natal depression give me?

aI once read a brilliant biography about a young girl with anorexia – as part of her treatment she was asked to write two letters, ‘To anorexia my friend’ and ‘To anorexia my enemy’ the process helped her to understand her illness better.  My reflection of late has led me to do the same.

Dear PND, My friend,

Thank you, thank you for making me special, thank you for making me stand out from the crowd. Yes, I am an attention seeker, and you help me with this. Being vulnerable makes people look after me, I get their time and their care- this is down to you.

You give me an excuse, a reason to sit and stare rather than dust and clean. You allow me to indulge in cake and chocolate. 

Most of all you protect me, you protect me from the expectation people have of me, (the expectation I have of myself), to be perfect.  The expectation that I should never make mistakes, that I should solve the world’s problems.  With you by my side this expectation is not so strong.  With you next to me I can’t possibly do this. I can’t face the list of things to do, the list of ways to better myself, not with you to care for.

You give me an identity. A purpose.

Thank you PND, Thank you- but it is time for me to move on. Time for us to part ways and start a new life alone.

xxxx

The above is hard to admit, and I deeply fear the judgment it will no doubt bring. But, there are two sides to every story, even ones of mental health…

Dear PND, My Enemy,

I really hate you. I mean really hate you. I know that’s not a particularly clever way of wording it, but it’s true.

You have taken so much from me, and tainted so much of what I have.

My memories of the first few days and hours of my daughter’s life have been stained by you. Stained with regret and stained with images of failure. Family and friends tell me the true image does not contain these things, so why do you put them there?

You give me tears, taking from me the happy, relaxed mummy that I know I should be.

You give me guilt. So much guilt. This is a gift I do not want.

You have taken my confidence, my motivation and my ability to stand up for myself.  You have left me paranoid and scared, unable to distinguish praise from mockery. You have created in me a monster who reads negativity into everything, who assumes the glance was one of hatred and the smile was one of contempt. I fear my colleagues and I don’t trust my friends- you have planted this seed in me and you continue to water it.

Enough. No more. It’s time to leave.

Get out PND, you are not welcome and I will feed you no more.

Goodbye,
Insecure Mother

It is true, I do not want to be depressed. I want to be happy. I want to enjoy my life, afterall, I have everything I have ever wanted.

So, while it is true that PND does give me something, it is something I no longer want.

Perhaps we all cling on to something, something we neither like nor want, but that a part of us seems to need or crave. Well, I am letting go of mine, I invite you to do the same.

Help me if you can I’m feeling down….

And I do appreciate you being round…

I have now been back at work for 6 weeks and have made it to the first half term break. There were times I didn’t think I would make it, and right now I really don’t know how I did.

My daughter is taking to solids slowly, so I am still needing to express at work at least twice a day to be able to keep up with the volume of milk needed for her days with Daddy, and to ensure that my supply is not compromised and I can still feed when I am with her. My pumping breaks have become my prison. I say goodbye to my husband and daughter at 7am, I then often do not speak to another adult until I return home at 4.30pm. I would love some company during these lonely times.

I feel like my PND has reached a peak. I am in danger of it beating me. I don’t have much fight left but I will fight it the best I can. I have asked for help, called on my army of supporters to help me defeat the enemy. Sadly only half of my troops have come forward.

If you have never experienced mental health problems you may not fully appreciate the challenge of asking for help. It’s hard. Really hard. Harder still when you build up your courage, ask for help, and are denied the support that you so badly need. My family has a long history of mental health concerns and we have been both supported and let down by the NHS, when desperation hits they have not always been there to support. I am still to hear from my CBT worker to rearrange the appointment that they cancelled on 16th January. I have chased this.

Of course, the NHS and medical professionals are not the only soldiers in your army. Friends, family and workmates all play an essential part in the battle. So, I have asked for help. My family remain amazing, understanding and supporting without judgement.  My friends have, in the most part, been amazing.

Sadly however I have once again found myself defending my decision to breastfeed. This is even more the case now my daughter has passed the six month mark. Adverts for follow on milk, (a substance invented purely to allow the manufacturers to get around the ban on advertising first milk formula) suggest that when baby hits 6 months it is time to “move on from breastfeeding”. This is not what is suggested by the World Health Organisation, who encourage and advise extended feeding to two years. I hope to eventually reach a stage where I no longer need to express at work, where I feed my daughter in the morning and the evening, but, as with the way I have approached all aspects of parenting so far, I will let my daughter guide me.  I will not dictate the speed at which this happens, I will allow her to go at her own pace. For now, I need to be expressing at work. Sadly, this seems to mean choosing between company and my daughter. As lonely as I may feel, this is an easy choice. She is, and always will be, my priority. She’s worth it.

Meanwhile, the troops I have been able to gather are fully behind me. I know that they understand, they support and they will help me keep going.  Thank you. Thank you for being the listening ear, the voice of reason, the shoulder to cry on, the wisdom of experience and above all, thank you for understanding me.  I will not, (and should not have to) choose anything above my daughter.  Company at break times will come again in time, my daughter will only need me this much for a short time.

This too will pass.

Oh crap! I’m a Mummy bore.

There are some things which you can read and hear about forever and always be interested in. There are other things which you tire of quickly.

Amongst these things, in fact, top of the list, you will find the topic of Other people’s children.

We all know the drill, friends have babies, suddenly poo becomes and acceptable topic of conversation, even at the dinner table. Anything and everything that can be related back to the tiny new being, will be. Discussions about stitches and labor are common place and boobs feature heavily.

This does not change as baby grows. Facebook is still treated to daily pictures and updates, just in case we miss the new outfit, or new skill.

This drives me mad.

And then…

I looked at myself today, while out for lunch with friends, (one couple the parents of a gorgeous newborn, the other couple, having just moved in together are not at this stage), I caught a glimpse of myself and the realisation hit.

I am that mummy bore.

I am that woman for whom everything is about my child. I am the annoying parent who offers unsolicited advice to new parents.

You see, the thing is, the thing noone tells you until you have a baby of your own, the thing is my baby is different. My baby is perfect, she is so clever and so beautiful that I can’t understand anyone not wanting to hear about her 24/7. 

Then I see those faces, the polite nods and discreet change of subject, and I remember, she is the centre of my world, not theirs.
So here is my plea, I know I have become that breed of crazy that only parenthood makes, I am sorry. Please forgive me, please like my pictures and continue to nod politely, please understand, that to me, my daughter is the only one that matters. And in turn, I’ll do my best to remember, that your children, (current or future) well, they are the centre of your world too. And should you choose not to have children, I will respect that too, I will show interest in whatever it is that is important to you.

We know we do it, we can’t help it. The love and pride is overwhelming and has to come out somewhere.

I must have done something right.

I think it’s time I gave myself a bit of a break. I’m my own biggest critic and constantly punishing myself for not being who or what I think I should be.

I don’t have a strict routine for my daughter, we muddle through life in our own special way. I don’t teach her with a stern “No”, and I indulge her by picking her up and comforting her when she cries.

But she remains the single thing in my life that I am proud of beyond all measure.

I must have done something right.
While friends read book after book about “sleep training” and “contented babies”, the few books I have bought, (usually because it seemed like something I should buy), remain unread. Flicked through at best.

I parent by instinct. Using my experience in various pastoral leadership roles at school to help me trust myself.  It’s never easy, but my maternal instincts are the strongest I have ever experienced, I’d have to be a fool to fight them, and a strong fool at that.

I beat myself up every day that our six month old has no fixed bed time, let alone a bed time routine. She sleeps when she is tired. I have written previously about our bed sharing in my post While you were sleeping.

Well, I must have done something right. As I write, my darling girl is fast asleep in her own bed in her own room. It is night 6. 4 of the 5 nights so far she has settled happily in her cot, not fed to sleep, and the biggest shock of all, not woken every 2 to 3 hours. In fact, on the first and second night she woke twice, the third she woke once and the fourth she didn’t wake at all. On the fifth night she was unhappy alone and so slept with us in our bed. I did not leave her to cry, I did not stress about routine, I let her guide me, and it seems the time was right. She was ready. Just as my instincts had told me.

I have not bought my daughter the best toys money will buy. She does not have designer clothes. She wears hand me down outfits from friends and family. (She does of course have lovely gifts and we are blessed to have such kind friends.) I have bought from nearly new sales without prejudice and I openly clothe my darling in supermarket nappies. But she is happy, she is mobile and she explores the world. She sees every new object as a toy and has not once shown that she is upset by having a cheaper version of the “best”.

I have not been fortunate enough to take the suggested year off work with my baby. I have had to return and leave my darling with her daddy. And yet my daughter has strong and secure attachments. Separation anxiety does not yet appear to have hit, (although we know of course that it will rear it’s head at some point) and although she can show concern when we leave the room she is easily comforted by friends and family with whom she is familiar. She is excited to see her grandparents, she adores her aunt and loves her wonderful guide parents. And although it is clear, that as her mummy, I am uniquely special to her, she is also clearly loving the special time she is spending with her daddy.

We must be doing something right.

My daughter is happy, she is healthy, she plays and she laughs.  She seems to have a thirst for learning and explores the world without fear.

We must be doing something right.

My own mother is wonderful, and frequently reminds me that my daughter is the way she is because of my husband and I.

So, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I must be doing something right as a parent.

I apologise for my moment of pride and assure you that the normal service of insecurities and anxiety will return at next posting.

The use of Rewards and Sanctions – to cure depression?

Ok, so my CBT, (which incidently is not going well due to NO contact from the therapist, who was supposed to call me fortnightly, since I started it on 2nd Jan- being let down by mental health support makes me cross and is a post waiting to happen) has instructed me to reward good moods and punish low moods.

Now, the reward thing I can get behind. Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat cake? But punish low moods? I do that already, I hate myself for feeling sad, jealous, angry, guilty and the other unhelpful emotions I fight daily. I punish myself through self hatred and this technique has not helped me beat my anxiety and depression so far!

I am a teacher, and as such I feel perfectly at home using rewards and sanctions. Good work and behavior is reinforced with.praise and merits, the opposite is discouraged using whatever punishment may be suitable. It works, its consistent and it produces happy and calm young people who know whatbtk expect. But in the case of mood, I am not convinced by this strategy. 

If a student comes to me feeling sad, wanting to talk to me about things, (which happens frequently enough as I am actually quite a nice teacher) I would never  consider solving their problem with a detention and promising them some merit points when they cheer themselves up. I’d listen, I’d offer advice and ultimately I would do what I could to help them feel happy again.

(While I appreciate that in many respects our happiness is our own responsibility I also firmly believe that we have a responsibility to others too. If we can help, we should. – and I do mean should.- anothe future blog post.)

So, in order to help myself out of my depression I should reward myself when I am happy, (and therefore reinforce the good mood) and punish myself when I am sad. This is supposed to deter me from bad moods in the future.

I don’t know about you, but I think this has the potential to spiral dangerously out of control.  I feel sad, now I must punish myself. This all just sounds like salt in a very raw wound. A ladder further down that damp dark hole.

Perhaps I misunderstood. This is possible. No, in fact this is likely, I misunderstand frequently, particularly when I have a bee in my bonnet about something. Perhaps this is telling me not to indulge, not to wallow in low moods. That makes more sense. That I can get behind.  It is certainly true that I feel worse when I allow myself to dwell on the events, people or feelings that have caused the current dip. I dislike the phrase snap out of it, frequently used by those who have no understanding or experience of mental health problems, but, in some respects, I guess this is what I must encourage myself to do.

I can try.

And I am totally up for the reward aspect!

I have discussed the reward side of this with my ever patient husband. I have demanded a star chart. I want to earn stars through being happy, then cash in my stars for dinner out, or a film of my choice, or a massage.  This star chart does not yet exist, but I have already collected 3 stars to be added when it does.

So I suppose it must be working…

Should

I should really go to the gym

I should really go out tonight

I should really invite Mr and Mrs Smith round for dinner

I should really watch less TV

How often do you use the word should?  And do we really mean should?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, should is “used to ask what is the correct or best thing to do.”

I find myself guilty of using should to make myself do things I do not want to. For example, I do not enjoy going out and drinking/curbing. But if friends are going I have in the past felt like I too should go. I should enjoy the film everyone else is talking about, I should make sure that I blah blah blah.

Do I really mean should? Do I mean that it is the “correct or best thing to do”? Or do I in fact mean that I feel pressure to do something that I will not enjoy and will have no positive affect on my life.

I’ve made the effort, in more recent times, to do things because I want to, or need to (need- now there’s a word we really misuse!) and not because I feel like others say I should.

The only things that really are the “correct and best things to do” are the ones that make us happy. (and pay the bills!)