Caring for myself

When you get diagnosed with depression, PND, anxiety or many other mental illnesses you might have heard or read the term ‘self-care’.

As a psychology graduate I was very keen on this notion and as the daughter of a dad with depression I was AMAZING (annoying) at giving out advice about how to care for yourself! However since beginning to struggle myself I have discovered just how difficult this is when in the pits or close to the pit of depression.

What does it look like? What can I do to care for myself when I can barely face the day ahead (sounds dramatic but is the truth sometimes)? For me how do I approach a day with a toddler with no energy?

Firstly, self care looks different for each INDIVIDUAL and secondly it is actually a really important part of keeping a healthy lifestyle for anyone regardless of whether you are ill or well or somewhere in between. So there are obvious ones here like:

  • Eat well (I eat chocolate in large amounts and all things bad for me when down!)
  • Try and go for a walk/run/swim
  • Phone a friend or meet up with someone

However there will also be some other things that are personal to you, ways of feeling better even if it’s just a push through the morning or to get through that meeting or that phone call.

This post has stemmed from me finally taking my own advice this morning and putting some self-care in place to help me get through a tough morning! I am really good at telling people that I know when to take care better care of myself and what tactics I have but in reality that isn’t what it looks like. I have the knowledge but I’m not good at applying it! Too often a day can become a battle and by the end of the day, I feel like I’ve lost and depression has won, stealing a day from me.

This morning started out as a battle. Tigger arrived in our room at 5:53 (in the night I refuse to think of this as morning!) so I took her back to bed but then mostly lay awake and let my thoughts begin to take over. When Tigger reappeared at 6:30 (acceptable!) I was already a little anxious and down about the day.

T is definitely feeling the transition to a family of four at the moment as everyone we meet etc asks about the baby and asks her if she can’t wait to have a baby sister etc etc (lovely but tough for a 2 year old). As a result, there is a lot of whinging and quite a few more hissy fits etc.

This is how the morning went really, tantrum, whinge, break, tantrum, whinge etc. We were picking something up at 9:30 so that would get us out but the three hours can seem like a long time when you are struggling. By about 8:30am I was in tears, carrying on but through tears. Not much fun.

Instead of spiralling though I decided that I needed to take control. For me and for today that meant reaching out, I text my mum and shared I was struggling and that I might gate crash their house later on. I also text a friend who was coming round with her 2 yr old and baby and said I didn’t feel up to it today. Then I reached for my bible (I will talk about my faith and depression in another post) for me it’s a place of truth about me and the goodness of God and meets me in both the good times and the dark time too.

After collecting the things we needed I then decided to go to a very nice park bit further away from us, up north the sun is shining and spring feels close. This led to an easy 2 hours spent just watching T on the slide, pushing swings and meeting another nice mum. I felt 100 times better than I did crying in the bathroom at 830 and now we are home and having a bit of beebies time before tea and all that jazz.

Cancelling on friends is something I absolutely hate doing but I knew if I stayed in and waited for them and we stayed in and played I’d have felt terrible by the end of the day so it needed to be done. This is one of the first times I have actively sought to care for myself and it has really worked (I know, who knew??!!).

Why not try making a list of things that help you feel better? Not just in the evening when kids are in bed but also things you can do while they are up?

The following questions helped me today:

  • Would seeing people help me feel better today or will it wear me out?
  • Is there someone I can text/phone?
  • What are the things making me worry or feel down?
  • What could I do to lift my spirit?

I hope this post doesn’t sound patronising and I hope it’s helpful. I find it so hard and this is the very beginning of me applying the theory but let’s see how it goes?! After all, I’d love my spring to come as soon as possible.

My first trip to the GP

January 2014 saw me finally sharing properly with others (just a couple to start with) that I was worried about myself. After a really tough Christmas I recognised that the crying, anxiety and lack of joy in all the things I would normally enjoy was a problem and fell apart on my husband and my parents. I was encouraged to go the GP. To begin with I said I was going to exercise, eat right and take things easy for a while and see if I improved but then under the premise that maybe there was something ‘physical’ wrong with me I went to the GP. 

It is at this point when I would like to acknowledge that I was hugely blessed that the GP that I’d never seen before at my surgery was absolutely flipping wonderful. I walked in with my psychology degree head on, basically don’t tell me I’m depressed. Now looking back I can’t understand what else it could have been but at the time I was convinced it wasn’t depression. I went in through the door and started crying but tried to pull myself together. Dr L then said “it’s going to be ok, I’m here to help you”. Wow, what calming words at that time for me to hear. She also said “Don’t worry about crying, just be honest”. She listened to what I said and asked me to fill out the questionnaire for her about how I was feeling. I was talking a lot about blood tests to check my levels of things were ok and she listened and said that she would arrange ‘tired all the time’ bloods (yes that’s a thing ha). She also shared that her husband, a surgeon, had suffered with depression for sometime before they had noticed but also that he improved and recovered. I will be forever grateful for her being vulnerable enough to share that with me, giving me so much hope, it made me see her as real and I also saw that she didn’t think any worse of me for acknowledging this. 

We then talked about anti-depressants, I eventually agreed to take a prescription and get some if I felt I needed them before we next met. 2 days later I went into a pharmacy, got the tablets and started taking them. This was the next huge step as even though I have spent lots of time telling others they should take them if they need them, I found it difficult that I needed them. A few days later, Dr L rang to say that my iron and vitamin D levels were very low and she had left another prescription for me at the reception. So not only was I struggling with PND but I also needed some additional help to get these levels back to normal. 

It was a huge relief that day to have voiced my concerns and felt heard but it was probably one of my scariest moments too as after recognising it for what it was, I realised just how much I was struggling and finally admitted that unless I got help I couldn’t go on living the way I was. It was just too hard. 

I will be forever grateful for the honesty and compassion shown by my GP that day and also by my family as they supported me through that darkness. The NHS is a marvellous place struggling with budget cuts, huge lists of people needing to be seen and much more however in it there are complete gems doing their upmost to do all they can to help those they see, one person at a time.

If you are worried about yourself or another, do talk to someone and if you don’t feel the GP you are seeing understands where you are up to, maybe seek out another GP within the surgery and also seek other support. Try the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401. Keep going, because one day spring will appear. 

Why am I not better?

It’s been just over a year since I was properly diagnosed with PND so naturally I’ve reflected a little on the past year recently. In this year, I’ve realised a lot. I’ve realised that my PND started probably 3-4 months after Tigger was born or perhaps even earlier,  I’ve realised that depression is so hard to live with for me and those around me, I’ve realised that as a naturally smiley, positive person i look like I’m coping even when I’m struggling. I’ve also realised there is no quick fix in this situation, probably the hardest realisation.

When I have a cold or a sickness bug, there is an assumption that after a few days of feeling rough each day will be better and eventually I will wake up snot or nausea free and continue as the same person I was before the cold or sickness set in. With PND it’s different, it’s not a steady incline to the top again, it’s an unpredictable, bumpy ride of ups and downs and I won’t necessarily ever be the same person I was before I got ill which is a bizarre thought. 

I think as someone who likes to be doing ok, likes to be moving forward, doing new things and perhaps likes to be in control (haha) I find the unpredictability one of the toughest things to face. I like to make and keep to plans and I love seeing people, helping out where I can and being there for others. Depression makes this much harder. I don’t want to be someone who uses it as an excuse but my capacity right now is nowhere near what it was before tigger came along and I’m slowly having to adjust to this being the case. 

I also would love to know when I will be better. When will I no longer wake up some days feeling like the simplest things are hard work? When will I not have huge anxieties over whether I’m good enough or not? When will I be able to drop down on my medication and stay there? 

These are questions that no one can answer because every case and situation is different. Most of the time I’m ok with not knowing the answers but sometimes it is overwhelming to think how long this may be with me for but I also know that I am doing alright and I hold tight to the hope that one day I will be depression free and in the meantime my aim is be honest with others about where I’m up to and keep on going one day at a time.