Group…seriously??

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Here goes…. I’m not a massive fan of toddler groups. I know it’s a shocking revelation for a mum who is mainly at home with her babies but please read on. I should be a tot group loving, cake baking domestic goddess right? WRONG! I’m an individual (ie I will do this my way) and I sometimes bake and occasionally its successful, would rather do other things than clean and can’t wait to leave tots groups… but hear me out.

Me and a friend used to joke about ‘the pit’ at one of our groups where the chairs were round the outside and the children were in ‘the pit’ in the middle going nuts! I have always gone to these groups though as they are something of a lifeline as a break out of the house, potential for a not quite cold brew whilst having a few half conversations with adults and maybe even a biscuit or crumpet! When I’m struggling, the noise and chaos can be hard for my brain to process but I know that getting out of the house and wearing the kiddies out is good! I often feel like Mrs Fotheringill (Ben and Holly) when I leave hence the pic!

One day a while after I became ok with sharing my diagnosis of PND someone suggested I found a support group for mums in a similar position. WHAT?!? Essentially a tots group but with a group of mums who are depressed… Woop woop that sounds like a hoot. Anyone else share my feelings or am I the only one? HOWEVER this idea stuck with me and eventually I did the sensible thing and googled it! PANDAS came up and I found a local group meeting in a cafe near me, tea and beautiful cake sounded like a bonus and after a little chat with the group leader of Facebook messenger I was lured in!

Well it turns out that this sort of group is not such a bad idea after all even for someone who is not a huge fan of tots groups! The first day I went it was a bit terrifying and I wasn’t sure how I would feel but actually the overwhelming feeling was relief. I know that everyone in this room knows a little or a lot of what I have been feeling. I’m not on my own, a lie that depression loves to tell you. I’m not the only one who has had overwhelming anxiety about their babies, been unable to function because of the brain fog or felt like this will never go away. WOW. Also as you begin to talk with others your experience adds to the conversation and you begin to see that you being in this group could actually now and again help or provide some insight to someone else. For me this was a big help as it gave some purpose to the pain. I continued to go to this group and found some wonderful mums who’d I’d now definitely call friends. Over time it became my favourite thing in the week. It became somewhere to offload a bit and somewhere I felt I could completely be myself and gave me more courage to share my story not just in the group but also elsewhere. It reduced the stigma for me as I realised this could happen to anyone and does happen to lots. The physical space and the Facebook group became one of my safe places.

For me this has gone one step further too. I was travelling a little way to this group so have now set up a group in my local area which will be affiliated with PANDAS soon. I love meeting the new mums and giving them a safe space too. I guess this is a post to encourage anyone who thinks a group like this isn’t for them to give it a try.  Don’t get me wrong, the first time is still a bit scary but it could potentially become a really positive, safe space and a extra tool to help you towards recovery.
If you are in Stockport or South Manchester, click here for the group I’ve set up (don’t worry other people do the baking for our group!) and if you are anywhere else in the country check out the PANDAS website for groups local to you.

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The dark before the dawn. 

This last couple of weeks has been wobbly to say the least. Some days have felt so hard and then I have a day being ok and then I do too much and feel like crap again the next day!!! One day I will learn what pace is good for me!!!

I have started this post so many times and feel it’s really difficult to write mainly because I like to have everything tied up in a pretty box with a bow on top before I talk about them but this isn’t like that and I really wanted to write something about what it’s like to be in the darkness holding a light but didn’t want people to read it and feel sorry for me or for people I know to worry too much. However I’ve decided that this is what I am currently facing, I want others to know it’s ok to not have it all packaged nicely and over with before we share and also my days are like this sometimes and that’s just that. So if you are a friend or family member, don’t let this post worry you, currently this can be my norm and I’m ok with that.

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I had no idea what to say….. 

How often do we feel like this? How often do we worry about saying the wrong thing so just don’t say anything? There are some great blogs written about what not to say to new mums and particularly those with PND. These are often hilarious and brilliantly put together so rather than duplicate those I thought I’d write about what is good to say. Through my own experience I have learnt that words are so powerful and when you feel so unsure as many mums do about your ability in a new role, words hold even more power.

Often the phrase if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all is thrown around but we all know nice is a word that means very little. I think this should be if you don’t have anything kind, real and thought through to say don’t say anything, instead LISTEN! Leave room for them to speak and if they can’t speak then sit with them. Be with them in their pain. This sounds quite scary but for me the times when people have done this with me have been some of the most comforting and precious times.

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The Jolt

Good days, that wonderful feeling of good days, when your head feels clear, you can process information, you don’t feel like you might cry if someone brushes past you or is too nice, you feel pro-active and ready for the world. These days are amazing, for some people reading these, days like this will be few and far between, don’t panic you will get better.

I am always grateful for these days but what about that first bad day after a few (or even just one) of these good days? I’m going to call it ‘The Jolt’ day. The day after a few good days, weeks or however long when you wake up and feel like crap. When your head is fuzzy, you feel like you can’t face the day and you are reminded that in fact that depression has not fully gone. You are jolted back to the reality that your mental health is not as good as it could be. The jolt that reminds you that you are still on the journey to recovery.

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Formula feeding saved my sanity

Before you read this, this is my disclaimer. I am pro happy mums and happy babies. I am pro breast feeding and formula feeding and this post is in no way an anti breast feeding rant. It is hopefully a post to give others encouragement if they are struggling with breast feeding or switching to formula from the perspective of someone who also found it tough. 

This is a post I never wanted to write. I wanted to breast feed both of my girls because I had not avoided the ‘breast is best’ message (how could you?!) and I felt it would help me to bond with my children etc. Let me ask you this, has there ever been another time when you have wanted the best for someone else more than you do for your own children? I would love to give Tigger and the newbie the very very best of everything in their lives and that wasn’t any different when it came to breast feeding. However things changed when I had my first. After 5 weeks of exclusively breast feeding, I felt I could do nothing right. Tigger wasn’t receiving what she needed from me mainly because I was completely exhausted, run down and overcome by anxieties about whether I was a good mum or not. I was ill. I didn’t know it at the time but I had started my journey with post natal depression. 

The night I first gave Tigger a bottle, I cried so hard my husband called for back up in the shape of my mum! I struggled so much with the decision. It got easier don’t get me wrong but I still found it tough when I saw mums who were breast feeding. I felt like I had failed her. Why couldn’t I give her what she needed? Why was I struggling so much? 

I had a lot of guilt around changing her feeds to formula. This wasn’t helped by the fact that everywhere you go people ask ‘Are you feeding her?’ This question is my pet hate as the answer is of course I’m feeding her otherwise she would be screaming right now, am I giving her a bottle or my breast is a different question and in my humble opinion is none of your business! Of course at the time this was not my answer, my answer was usually something along the lines of ‘No she was breast fed for 5 weeks at the beginning but it was really tough so now she’s having a bottle’. Why the justification? Why the need to share that she was breast fed to begin with? Guilt. Is there any other decision you make for your children which comes under such scrutiny? Not in my opinion. 

Here’s the thing though stopping feeding was absolutely the best thing for me at that point. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating and I was struggling to just do the normal things in a day. Bottle feeding meant that on the worst days someone else could help me out. I also didn’t feel a huge pressure that it was only me who could provide leading me to feeling trapped on days I was struggling. 

It was by no means the only aspect of being a new mum I struggled with and by no means the only thing that helped me feel better but it was one of them. That was my experience and here is my encouragement to you if you are struggling with breast feeding your baby, you feel like it may be contributing to you feeling unwell and the main reason you are not giving up is guilt related then please don’t be scared. It is important for you and your baby that you are well, formula is safe to give your baby and feeding your baby can still be a precious bonding time. Do not struggle in silence, speak to someone you know and remember spring is coming. 

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.