Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Not all mental patients have chainsaws. October 7, 2013

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:29 pm

This is me.

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I am a mental patient.

I take prescribed medication every single day. I have fortnightly therapy sessions, and a computerised CBT course to keep me busy in between. All to try and calm the noise inside my head. To bring me back to a place where I can function properly. Where I can be happy.

It took a long time for me to admit that there was a problem. Years. Partly because it doesn’t fit neatly with my desire for a perfect life. Partly because I always assumed I’d be able to cope by myself. And partly because it’s just something that nobody ever talks about. It’s a tricky subject to broach.

No wonder.

This morning we went to the newsagents for a loaf of bread. In between manouvering the buggy through the only-just-big-enough door, and trying to stop Elvie scootering into the cakes, I caught sight of the papers. I could just see the top of the Sun’s headline. 1200 KILLED.

I racked my brains. I lost most of my weekend to man flu, chocolate pudding and Strictly, but I’m sure I would have noticed a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. If only because someone posted about it on Facebook. In the time it took me to buy my bread I was none the wiser, so I gave in. As I got closer, I could read the full headline.

1200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS. In blood red capital letters.

Angry doesn’t quite cover it. My blood was boiling. No wonder we keep these things to ourselves. No wonder we hide away, convinced that we’re monsters. No wonder Asda find it appropriate to sell ‘mental patient’ outfits for Halloween. We’re a cheap target.

It’s always easiest to go for the quiet ones. The ones who don’t stand up for themselves. The ones who have been shamed into silence.

I am assuming that there is some truth behind their story. That over the last ten years, 1200 people have been killed by people suffering from mental illness. That is horrendous. 1200 families ripped apart. 1200 tragedies that could potentially have been avoided. I have no issue with the facts.

My issue is with the reporting. The generalising and the scaremongering. I doubt very much whether anyone has commissioned a study into how many people were killed by cancer patients in the last decade. Or asthmatics. I doubt anyone has been collating data on the crime rate among the diabetic community.

There’s just not the same market for that kind of story. ‘Mental patients’ play into the worst kind of fears. People who can’t control themselves. High on prescription drugs. Dealing with their multiple personalities or depression, all whilst living on your street. Hiding amongst the ‘normal people’. Just waiting to whip out their chainsaws at the first sight of a full moon. Mental illness just doesn’t pull in the same kind of sympathy as other diseases.

It’s true, 1200 people is an awful total. But I would be willing to bet that, over the last decade, far more than 1200 people have taken their own lives as a result of mental illness. Unable to deal with the stigma. The shame. The fear that people will find out. And judge. This idea that somehow, we’re different. Broken. Dangerous.

The truth is, we’re no more broken or dangerous than anybody else. No matter what the publishers would have you believe.

I am a mental patient. But that’s not the sum total of my life. I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I collect recipe books. I am Team Kimberley for the Great British Bake-off and Team Dave for Strictly. I sincerely believe that Barrichello rejoining Formula One would be a bad idea. I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear my boots again. I make amazing roast potatoes. I have kept every picture my daughter has ever drawn. Just the thought of Christmas makes me smile.

Nobody can be summed up in one paragraph. Certainly not in one sentence, and absolutely not in two words. ‘Mental patients’ are people too. Real people.

We’re already facing huge challenges every day. We’re already being as brave as we can be. And too many of us are disappearing out of sight, Unable to tell our friends or family. Sometimes unable to face it ourselves.

It’s time to start telling stories built on trust and hope and empathy. Rather than building on people’s fears and prejudices. Focusing on the things that bring us together. Not what makes us different. Time to celebrate people’s achievements. Not demonise their problems. That’s the only way things will get better.

It might not sell many papers. I’m ok with that. Mind you, I am mental.

 

One of them. September 4, 2013

Filed under: Adventures,Depression — hannahoakland @ 7:43 pm

Today we celebrated Joel’s first birthday. In the traditional way. Presents? Check. Cards? Check. Ice Cream? Check. First, slightly terrifying, dose of antidepressants? No? Just me then.

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These last few weeks have been really hard. The summer holidays have stolen away our carefully crafted routine. Wes has either been away or working crazy hours. And Joel has been scarily ill with what turned out to not be measles after all. It’s been a lot to deal with.

Wes was home for a few hours between jobs at the weekend and we embarked on a conversation that predictably, considering our mutual levels of exhaustion, turned into an argument. About how much work he does and how, although he always runs it by me first, I don’t feel like I have any real decision-making power. If he doesn’t work, we don’t eat. And if he does work, I can’t cope. It’s a tough call to make.

I did make a call, in the end. To the doctor. He thinks the drugs are a very good idea. I wish I could be so sure.

I know with absolute certainty that we can’t carry on as we are. Up until now, Wes has been my antidepressant. When he’s around I can keep my head above water. Things are manageable. When he’s not here, everything is too much. That’s not fair on any of us. Something needs to change. And that something is me.

It’s annoying. Really annoying. I’ve been doing everything right. I’m talking to people. I’m writing. I’m following all my therapy, albeit a little slower than I should. I’ve read some amazing books. I’m getting out of the house.

I was brought up to believe that if you work hard, and do what you’re supposed to, things will turn out right. Not this time, they haven’t.

I don’t actually like taking medicine. I took the pill for a few months and felt as though I’d lost my mind. I have to be persuaded to take nurofen if I have a migraine. Even then I’d rather not. When Joel was born, a year ago today, I made it through to the final pushing stage on a single dose of paracetamol. And now? Now I am ‘one of them.’

One of those people who ticks the “yes, I am on other medications” box. Who turns down alcohol because it’s not a good mix. Part of the ‘Prozac Nation’ that the 90’s held so dear.

I’m scared. Scared of what the side effects might be. Scared of how you stop once you’ve started. Scared of not knowing who I really am anymore. What’s actually me, and what’s the tablets.

In all honesty, I’m also embarrassed. At being one of those people who can’t cope by themselves. ‘One of them.’ I’ve always managed anything I’ve set my hand to. As long as I really wanted to, of course. (And providing there are no over-zealous security guards with buckets of water and threats of police. Letting that one go was very much the sensible option.)

But I can’t manage this. I wasn’t sure whether to even write about it. Whether maybe it would be one confession too far.

I think it’s important. For me, and for all the others who find themselves in the same boat, drifting around with no idea which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, and your tablets, and admit that you need help. This is one of those times.

I must have looked a little shocked when the doctor agreed so wholeheartedly to my suggestion of medication. He smiled his all-knowing smile and said, “if you’d broken your arm, would you want me to put it in a cast, or leave it dangling around?” It’s a fair point. It’s just that it gets tricky when it’s an illness that nobody can see. And which often gets dismissed as one big self-indulgent grump.

It’s going to take some getting used to. I took my prescription to the biggest pharmacy I could find in an attempt to be anonymous. And as I waited, with the old ladies collecting their osteoporosis tablets, the heroin addicts taking their methodone and the sweet teenage girl who was also picking up antidepressants, I realised something. I can’t get up on my high horse if you judge me for needing pills. Up until yesterday, I would have judged me too.

I don’t know where I stand on the idea that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ But I’m a firm believer in dragging good things out of a crisis. Kicking and screaming, if needs be. Whatever happens over the next few months, or the next few years, I will never be the same. Neither will my view of the world. Or the people in it.

Because in reality, we’re all ‘one of them.’ It’s just that some of us hide it better than others.

Hiding isn’t much of an option anymore. Not now. Not for me. Who knows, this nasty, unexpected little adventure may yet be the making of me.

Let’s hope that’s not just the pills talking.

 

Hard weeks and little things. August 19, 2013

Filed under: Depression — hannahoakland @ 2:01 pm

Last week was hard.

It shouldn’t have been. We stayed with my parents while Wes was away, and got up to all kinds of fun.

Coffee shops.

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Soft play.

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Walks in the woods.

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We had visits from friends, spent hours in the library, went swimming, and ate far more cake than normal. The children had a lot of fun. But I was numb.

As the week went on, I drifted further and further into my safe little box of feelinglessness. The more early mornings I had – because of teething, or a noisy cat, or the sheer excitement of being at Grandma’s house – the grumpier and more tired I became. Some evenings I had my pyjamas on by seven o’clock. It didn’t help. Turns out you actually need to go to bed as well.

I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally. Even with my own parents around, there’s no escaping the fact that I was the only parent my children had this week. The only one getting up in the night when their teeth hurt or the duvet had rolled off their bed. The only one with a monitor in my room to hear Joel stirring at 5.30 in the morning. The only one who they wanted when the tantrums set in or the fun became a bit too much.

That’s been the pattern this summer. Over the last four weeks Wes has had 16 nights away with work. It wasn’t entirely unexpected – this is always his busy season. But it’s tipped me over the edge. Aided and abetted by my manic tendency to fill my days as soon as I feel even remotely better.

Suffice to say, this week I was not feeling better. Not even slightly. When my therapist called on Thursday she was a little surprised that my scores were worse than before. I could have told her that before she even picked up the phone. I didn’t write anything all week, determined to ‘give myself a rest.’ Ironically, it probably would have helped.

Looking back, from the safety of my own lounge, I’m mostly angry. Not with my children, or my parents. Not even with myself. But with this big stupid heavy sack that I’m carrying around. I can’t seem to let go of it as quickly as I’d like.

This week has taught me two things. Firstly, that when you have depression, you can’t just ‘snap out of it.’ I’ve known that for a while. But I tried so hard this week – to smile and enjoy things and have normal conversations with people. Safe to say, it didn’t quite work.

There is no magic fix for depression. You won’t just wake up one morning and feel better. It’s not like having a bad day, or being in a grump. You can’t just suck it up and get over it. That sounds defeatist, or pessimistic. It’s not. It’s the truth. Depression is an illness. A very real one. And it needs treating, just like any other illness would. Therapy, or medication, or self-help, or all of the above. It takes time. At the moment it feels like forever.

The second thing I’ve learnt is this: I need to look after myself. Not just my children. Not just Wes. Myself as well. I’ve done alright at looking after everyone else through my depression. This time round, anway. There has always been food for everyone to eat, and clothes for everyone to wear. Clean dishes and fun activities. It hasn’t always been service with a smile, but it has at least been service.

Last week even that was too hard. I couldn’t find any motivation, or any willpower. No matter how hard I tried. Every little task felt like too much effort. Every conversation felt as though people were criticising my children or my parenting. Every morning felt too early. Every bedtime too late.

Part of me knows that, if I looked after myself better, I’d stand a chance of avoiding these extreme weeks. Or limiting them, anyway. If I slept more, allowed myself the occasional little treat, fought harder for time by myself. Asked for help when I needed it, instead of expecting everyone to be telepathic. Simple things. Little things. But it’s always the little things that make the difference.

Wes is home now. Things feel brighter already. I breathe a bit easier just knowing hes around. Today he’s taken the children to his mum’s, so I’m enjoying the most peace and quiet I’ve had for months. I’ve picked blackberries from the front garden. And drunk a whole cup of tea. Next I’m off to make a fish finger sandwich and watch Masterchef. Simple things. Little things. But they’re making a difference already.

 

Not-So-Great Expectations August 1, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:21 pm

Expectations are tricky old beasts. Unfortunately, mine tend to be rather high. It’s my imagination that’s the problem. Wes has learnt the hard way not to promise me a surprise. Even five minutes warning is more than enough for my brain to skip twelve miles ahead and plan a candlelit picnic with wine and roses and an amazing gift that I once admired in passing. When in reality, he’s bought me a copy of Time Out from his day in London. Which is lovely. Or it would have been if my expectations weren’t in overdrive. Poor man.

He’s learning to play me at my own game. On my twenty-ninth birthday he convinced me that he’d barely remembered I existed. And then whisked me off to The Fat Duck for lunch. Serious brownie points! Or rather, ‘jam tarts hidden inside chocolate playing cards’ points. Unbelievable.

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At the moment I feel like I’m fighting my expectations every day. And so are the rest of my poor long-suffering family. I’ve been a mummy for almost three years now, but there’s a huge part of me that expects my life to be the same as it was in ‘the old days’. I get frustrated every time I get woken up early. Or when I don’t get time to myself. Or when tiny people demand my attention on a constant basis.

I am usually ‘blessed’ with the ability to forget. If a shopfront changes, I can’t tell you what it used to be. I’m the embodiment of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ One day I came home to find Wes looking very pleased with himself. After a while the look was wearing thin. Eventually he cracked; “Have you really not noticed?” Turns out he’d taken a door out of the lounge. An actual door. I hadn’t noticed at all. It wasn’t there anymore, so as far as I was concerned, it may as well have never existed.

And yet somehow, I’ve not managed to forget my ‘previous life’. Not even slightly. It sounds like a small thing. In reality, it affects my expectations of every single day. And means that I get incredibly frustrated.

So I’m trying. Last week, while Wes was away, Joel was in a bad sleeping pattern. Waking up at five every morning, thanks to a combination of the heat, early sunrise and the disorientation of our weekend away. I knew that it would drive me mad. Unless I adjusted my expectations. So I did. I went to bed every night, expecting to be woken up at five. I went to bed early so that I got enough sleep. And when he was up at five in the morning, it didn’t come as a surprise. When he slept until quarter to six, I felt like I’d had a lie-in. And the time they both slept until seven? It may as well have been my birthday.

It worked. So I’m adopting a new policy. I’ve used all my creative brilliance to call it ‘Low Expections.’ Of me, of Wes and of the children. Not because I think badly of any of us. Because I need to hold on to my sanity. I know that my house is going to be messy. I know that I won’t be cooking gourmet meals for a few years. I know that my children are tiny, and they’re not always going to listen. If I stop expecting all these things to happen, a huge weight will be taken off my shoulders. Goodness knows they could do with a lift.

The fun part is that when your expectations are low, it’s much easier for them to be surpassed. As I’ve discovered today.

Sometimes they’re surpassed in a good way. Friends dropping in for dinner. Elvie sitting on my lap for half an hour putting all the stickers from her CBeebies magazine exactly where they’re supposed to go. Joel going to sleep so easily that I had to check on him to make sure he was alright.

And sometimes it’s the opposite. Joel displaying his incredible wilfulness when I take away the toys he’s trying to eat. Elvie sticking gaffer tape to my forehead when I doze off on the sofa – and then ripping it off to wake me up. Cleaning up the mess after she’s taken off her pull-ups to wee on her pillow at bedtime. It’s possible that the definition of a mother is someone who can say “Thank goodness it was just a wee on the pillow.”. With no sarcasm at all.

I don’t want to let go of my expectations completely. I will always want the best for my children and my family, and I will always expect the best from them. I’ll always want to push myself as far as I can. For now, I need to dial it down. Set my expectations to ‘low’. I’m hoping that this way, occasionally, there might be a few surprises. Good ones.

 

Guilt and muddling through. July 30, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:09 pm

Today has been tricky. Elvie has had ‘one-of-those-days,’ where she doesn’t listen to anything and ends up in a screaming heap on the floor. I feel guilty for over-reacting and making it all worse. Even though I promised I wouldn’t. Joel kept me awake for hours last night with his teething fever, and I’m shattered. I wasn’t even with him – Wes slept in the nursery, but there are no walls thick enough to stop the sound of those lungs. I feel guilty that Wes had a terrible night. And I feel guilty for being short-tempered with Joel, when it’s not his fault that he’s in pain. It’s not my fault either, but that’s another story.

I feel guilty a lot at the moment. It’s a vicious circle. The more exhausted I am, the more stressed out I get. The more stressed out I get, the more I react badly. And then the guilt. Which leads to more stress, more bad reactions, and more guilt. Like I said, I feel guilty a lot. I’m in the middle of my second course of CBT, so I’m familiar with the idea of breaking cycles. Doesn’t make it any easier.

Mostly because, in order to break my particular cycle, I need more energy. Which is hard when a) you’re depressed and b) you have small children. You see my problem.

Instead, I’m dealing with the guilt. I’ve been trying to recognise it. To notice the triggers, in the hope of understanding it a bit better. All too often I find myself muddling through, or going with the flow. Then before I know it, my emotions are out of hand, and so are my children.

This evening I reached the conclusion that all the muddling through is at the root of my problem. I make impulsive decisions and then I have to deal with the consequences. Much to the frustration of my research-heavy husband. I’m very easily influenced. If a friend gives up the internet, I immediately feel convicted to do the same. If I’ve been watching Masterchef, then I’m convinced that my future is in the culinary arts. I’ve never had a job that lasted longer than a year. Unless you count parenting.

I am much flakier than I thought.

There are moments when I have sat down, carefully considered my life, and made decisions based on what was absolutely the best thing for me to do. I can count them on one hand.

Refusing to be another statistic for my all-girls grammar school, and choosing unpaid kids work in Manchester over a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

Going against all the academic advice I’d ever been given and applying to drama school. Getting in.

Heading off for a month in the depths of the jungle with a spanish-speaking tribe for a second-year outreach project.

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Getting married.

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Choosing to have my babies baptised rather than dedicated.

I don’t feel guilty about any of that.

For the vast majority of the time I’m swayed by other people’s opinions, the urge to keep everybody happy, or whatever will be least hassle right now. It does save time, and occasionally energy. It certainly saves brainpower. But it means that I don’t stop to think. The job may have just fallen into my lap, but is it actually the right one? Everyone else is signing themselves up for the toddler group trip, but do I actually want to go? That article said that there is only one way to raise your child, but do I actually agree? Reading parenting strategies on the internet without ever sitting down to consider your own position will always make you feel guilty.

It’s possible that my guilt is not irrational. It’s possible that actually, I genuinely do feel guilty. But not for the reasons that I suspected. It’s possible that I feel guilty because I’m neglecting myself, and my ideas and my beliefs. Everything that makes me who I am. That I’m not actually investing in anything anymore. I’m not trying. It’s possible that I’ve done this for so long that I’m not sure what has been my own choice and what I’ve just fallen into.

Confidence has never been my strong point. Not for the last twenty-five years at least. But I’m so fed up of this guilt and this shouting. I need to get some confidence in my own opinions. Whatever they may be. I need to make decisions – good ones – to be honest, any at all.  To stop drifting along down the river of ‘oh well, let’s just.’ I’m pretty sure it’s a dead end.

There will, undoubtedly, be some bad decisions. Maybe even some spectacularly bad ones. And there will be events that I have no decision in. I certainly can’t stop a baby from teething. But at least I will have considered things. I will have thought. I may even make a plan. And I will have tried. It’s hard to feel guilty about that.

 

If you go down to the woods today… July 25, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:57 pm

You’d better go in disguise!

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Oh yes, today was the Teddy Bears Picnic. One of the many events that the wonderful people of Reading are putting on for the children over the summer. Say what you like about Reading Council (and believe me, I will) but they do like to keep everyone busy. Which is fine by me.

There was mask making…

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soft play…

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obstacle courses…

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and even the chance to help tidy up.

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Not bad for 50p.

It was a lovely morning, and the children had an absolute riot. We had been looking forward to it all week and, for them at least, it was everything they had hoped. For me, it was a real test of my confidence.

Yesterday we had friends round for the day, and spent hours in the garden chatting. As we talked, the issue of confidence came up. Specifically how becoming a Mummy can strip it away. Before the babies arrived I was fairly confident in myself – I may not have been particularly successful but I knew I was fun to be around. I certainly didn’t second guess the way that I looked after myself or how I ran my life.

When Elvie arrived, all that changed. The desperation to do the right thing by my daughter mingled with all the conflicting advice that I was given, and I doubted myself continually. Would people look down on me if I tried to give her a bottle? Would I spoil her forever if I let her sleep in my bed? How many layers of clothing should she be wearing? Etc etc etc

As time has passed, I’ve grown to trust my instincts. She’s nearly three now and is amazing. I’ve clearly done something right. Joel is only 10 months old and he’s walking and chatting – it would seem that he’s not stunted either. Yet all too often, my confidence takes a massive knock as a result of something so tiny that it seems ridiculous.

I had a schedule for this morning. We would go to the Teddy Bears Picnic, then on to the market and home for lunch. I’d packed some snacks for the children to eat, and it was a perfectly solid plan. Until five minutes after we arrived. When we bumped into a couple of friends from our old side of town.

These friends are the definition of yummy mummys. Driving Audis and wearing Tiffany bracelets, with perfectly dressed children, and actual hairstyles. There’s a reason I never really fitted in. They both have daughters slightly younger than Elvie, and sons slightly younger than Joel. We should be a great fit. We’re not.

I was genuinely happy to see them, for about three minutes. Right up until one of them asked “so, did you move house then?” Umm…yes. Six months ago. To the other side of town. Nice to know we’ve been missed. Then the other said, ” I was showing my daughter her birthday party pictures the other day – she didn’t remember who Elvie was.” Oh. Not only have we not been missed, we’ve been completely forgotten. I wonder what happened to “So nice to see you, it’s been ages.”

We didn’t have much else to talk about. But we stood next to each other for a while, which gave me time to notice that, despite their babies being younger than mine, their bellies were flat. Mine is definitely not. I decided that they would probably go home and tell everyone that I’m pregnant again. If they even remembered that they’d seen us.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I wandered off to help Elvie along a balance beam, and came back to find my friends sitting on a picnic blanket, with a picnic. A real one. Not rusks and breadsticks stuck in the side of the buggy. They had sandwiches and fruit and everything. In that moment, I forgot that my plan for the morning didn’t involve eating lunch at the park. It didn’t matter that my children were having a great time. It didn’t matter that I’d done six days by myself without Wes and that I’m exhausted. I just knew that didn’t match up to these other women, and that I was failing.

I almost left for the market right then. We’d only been there half an hour. Thankfully Elvie chose that moment to pull me over to the mask making. We didn’t go back to see my friends. We didn’t say goodbye to them. We sat behind the buggy to eat our snacks, so that nobody would see how badly prepared I had been. I’d even forgotten their drinks.

The irony is, the children weren’t bothered at all. I doubt my friends meant any harm. They certainly didn’t bring a picnic just to spite me. It was all in my mind.

My mind plays a lot of tricks on me. I’m slowly getting better at noticing – that’s the only reason we stayed. I know that I shouldn’t let my parenting confidence be determined by a chance remark from someone I’ve not seen for six months. That I shouldn’t be so worried if my plan is different to everyone else’s. I love that about my family. I love that my children are not the ones who sit quietly on a mat for hours. I love that they’d rather climb into the Play Rangers van or roll around on the floor of the bandstand. I love that they wear their bear masks upside down. I love that often, we do things just a little bit differently. I need to remember that. Especially when I’m bulldozed by ‘perfect.’

It’s all about confidence. I’m getting there.

 

Why I’m scared of the summer holidays. July 19, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:28 pm

And so begins my first ever school summer holiday with two babies. School summer holidays shouldn’t make a difference when your eldest child is only two. They do. School summer holidays mean that all the toddler groups shut down. Except for the Children’s Centre, which opens for two sessions a week. Except when it’s closed. Like next week. When Wes is away.

Last year’s ‘summer holiday’ wasn’t too bad. I was 8 months pregnant and, although Wes was away a lot, he was also terrified that I would go into labour without him, so I had a lot of company. Thank goodness for sisters-in-law. And the Olympics. And the Paralympics. We watched a lot of telly last summer. I decided that was fine – I was watching history being made. I learnt a lot of new sports. I was there for all the ‘where were you when…’ moments. And Elvie? She learnt the national anthem, and how to dive headfirst off the sofa a la Tom Daley. A summer well spent.

This year won’t be so straightforward. First off, there’s no Olympics. Secondly, I now have two children, and Joel doesn’t sit still for more than 3 minutes. Even in this heat. I’m facing the prospect of 7 empty weeks. Which is scary. I’m taking the children to my parents for one week, and I’ve scoured every website and local paper for activities in a bid to fill the rest. Teddy Bears Picnic in the park? We’ll be there. Very Hungry Caterpillar painting at the museum? Just try and stop me.

I’m filling the calendar as best I can, but there are still a lot of gaps. I’ve been stressing out. One of the main triggers of my depression last time was not getting out enough. Spending too much time by myself with a small baby. Letting my fears and worry build up where nobody could see them. I’ve been terrified that the potential cabin fever of this summer will make everything worse. That the disruption of my carefully constructed routines and rhythms will also disrupt my mind. That entertaining two inquisitive, forward, spirited little ones non-stop for so long will take more energy and headspace than I have.

When I get stressed, I want to plan for everything and have every moment accounted for. I need to know that we have the right amount of food and baby wipes to get us through the week. I even count bananas to make sure we won’t run out. Because buying another one would be impossible. Obviously. I worry about everything – what if Joel misses his nap and his sleep patterns are ruined forever? How will he cope if we run out of rice cakes? Why didn’t Elvie eat enough at dinner time? What if they’re sick and we get stuck at home for the entire week? On and on and on.

I read an article on Wednesday evening. It goes some way towards explaining why I’m not sobbing in the corner, despite the arrival of the holidays and Wes leaving tomorrow for a week in Birmingham. If you’re offended by bad language look away now, otherwise here’s the link.  (There’s an article underneath the picture, and it’s worth a read!) It’s basically revolutionised my tiny tired mind. For those of you who chose not to read it – the gist is this. Calm down. Just calm down. That’s all.

I’ve been practicing. Yesterday my parents had an open house for everyone to meet my sister’s new husband. We went along, and spent 8 glorious hours in their garden. It was a lovely, lovely day. And I didn’t get stressed. The conversation in my brain went something like this…

She’s eating way too many sweets and cakes and lollipops…calm down.

She’s taken all her clothes off…calm down.

He’s been crawling around for 8 hours without a nap…calm down.

He’s eating everyone’s food from the floor…calm down.

She hasn’t had any suncream for at least twenty minutes…calm down.

They’ve hardly eaten any dinner…calm down.

It’s way past their bedtime…calm down.

She’s just emptied her potty into the water jug…ah.

I stressed out about 85% less than normal. And guess what. I had a great day. The children had the best day ever. Sweets and friends and sand and water and bubbles and lemonade and cats and storybooks and sunshine and a late night. Child heaven.  And the really funny thing? Everyone commented on how friendly, and well behaved, and generally wonderful they are. Presumably they didn’t see the potty incident.

Wes has a theory that when I’m stressed, the children get stressed. Don’t tell him, but I think he’s right. I need to calm down. That’s easier said than done. I figure small steps are the easiest. Seven whole weeks of emptiness would be too much for me to cope with. Even without the depression. I won’t be giving up all the activities I’ve searched so hard for. But neither will I run around like a crazy woman trying to fill all the gaps. A couple of empty days a week feels almost manageable. They just need a bit of reframing. So that it doesn’t seem like desperate, empty time.

I’m trying to see it as a chance to know my babies better. Elvie has amazed me in the last few days with her sensitivity and her vulnerability. I’m determined not to throw that back in her face. I want to be gentle and have fun. Not stressed out and grumpy. We went to town this morning. On the way home there was a brass band playing in the street. We had a bus to catch and a heavy shopping bag, but we stopped. And stayed for a few songs. Elvie danced, and rolled on the floor. Joel clapped and squealed and tried to crawl into the band. He’s just like his sister.

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It was only five minutes. But it was five minutes that we wouldn’t have had if I’d been stressing. If I’d been worrying that the bags were heavy, or that we’d miss the bus. And it was the best five minutes of my day. Five solid minutes of smiles. All three of us.

That’s what I want from this summer. Smiles. To see my children smile, and smile with them. To sit and watch them discover the woodlice in the garden. To ice gingerbread men with them and not fret that they’ve eaten a few too many sprinkles. To play in the park and feed the ducks. To listen to the bands in the street. To have muddy clothes and messed up hair and ice-cream stained fingers. To let them be little children in the summertime. Without an agenda. Without always having to rush to the next group or appointment. The idea of so much free time still scares me, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t have back-up plans. We’ll still be at the Teddy Bears Picnic and the Hungry Caterpillar painting session. But hopefully, we’ll be smiling.

 

He loves me. July 15, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:35 pm

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So we’re back from our weekend in the forest. Four generations in two log cabins. The children have been in absolute heaven – water pistols, candy floss, parks, soft play, cake, frogs, swimming, running and, in a departure from our standard holiday procedure, glorious sunshine! Very nice it was too.

But for me, there was at least one cloud in the sky this weekend. The knowledge that my first therapy session was scheduled for our return. So this afternoon I found myself sitting in a waiting room, looking round to judge my level of crazy against the others. It’s a fun game, until you realise that some people are just there for blood tests. Joke’s on me.

I’ve been worried about therapy for some time. Worried about having to go over the same old ground again. Worried that I don’t have the energy to put in to recovering. Worried that they’ll judge me for not being able to ‘stay better’ after beating it once. Worried that just having a therapist makes me sound like a self-obsessed New Yorker.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought. When will I learn? She was very sweet, listened well and, if she did judge me, she hid it brilliantly. She even told me that people who’ve suffered from PND before are more likely to get it again. Which was kind. During the conversation she asked me about my triggers – what sets off all the gloomy fireworks in my brain. There was no hesitation – my main problem at the moment is Wes going away, or getting unexpected work that I’ve not had time to plan for.

The reality of life with a working-away husband is tough. Especially if they’re self employed and the working-away has no pattern. It’s confusing for the children; they’re too young to understand dates and days and times so, much as I try to explain it, all they know is that sometimes Daddy is here and sometimes he’s not. It’s confusing for me too – I get into a rhythm of having Wes around and having an extra pair of hands, and suddenly he’s gone. Then I get into a rhythm of doing everything by myself and suddenly he’s back. There’s no consistency, and that’s hard. I end up resentful and irritable that he’s coming and going as he pleases, disrupting our routines and leaving me on my own with the babies. Which is something that he will never understand. Obviously.

This afternoon I heard myself say that “it just makes me feel like I’m not important.” Which surprised me. I’d always thought it was the lack of control that bothered me. Turns out it’s not. It’s that all this leaving makes me feel as though I’m not worth hanging around for. Like he has better things to do or more exciting places to be. Like he’s ready to drop everything for work, but not for me. And then my stomach gets heavy and all my energy falls out of my feet like a balloon that’s been popped.

I know from the bottom of my heart that none of it is true. I know that he works because he has to, because he wants to make our lives better and keep a roof over our head, and that he misses us horribly while he’s away. I know that there have been times that he has called off work to get me through a really dark day. It’s not that I’m worried about him being unfaithful – although I could do without all the naked French models, damn you Paris Fashion Week! It’s just that there’s something deep inside me that takes all this leaving as a personal insult.

It’s ludicrous to take everything so personally. I know that. But I still do it. Even with the children – if Joel is whinging in his highchair it’s because he wants to stop me enjoying my dinner, if Elvie decides she needs the toilet while Joel has just fallen asleep in my arms it’s all a ploy to attack me for daring to have another child, and if either of them wakes up in the night it’s a calculated attempt to stop me sleeping. Not just that they’re small children. Don’t be ridiculous. Even the helicopter that’s circling at the moment has come deliberately to annoy me by waking up my too-hot, fretful baby. It’s such nonsense.

I’ve decided to tackle that nonsense head on. I don’t really have much choice – he goes away again on Saturday. For a week. So I need something that works. Other than hiding under the duvet and not getting up until he’s home. Tempting though that is. I’ve decided I need a new mantra. To go against the voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough or I’m too dull or he’s going away to escape. And this is it. “He loves me.” Simple as that. Because he does. That’s the truth of it.

Every time he goes away, or takes on more work, or stays on later than planned, I’m going to make a conscious effort that my first thought is “he loves me.” Even if I don’t feel like it. Especially then. I suspect that starting from there will make it harder for all the nonsense to sneak in. It won’t solve everything, but it’s worth a shot. At least I’ll have something to tell the therapist.

 

Being brave. July 11, 2013

Filed under: Depression — hannahoakland @ 8:27 pm

I’ve never been good at showing emotion. Especially not at crying. I’ve always used humour to deflect the situation. (The really smart ones amongst you may have noticed that already.) My parents always told me to be brave and strong and never let people know that they’d hurt me. Perhaps that’s good advice – I just took it much too far.

Throughout my teens and my twenties I took a quiet pride in the fact that I was ‘hardcore’. I was infamous amongst my friends for the fact that I never cried at anything. I said ‘hardcore’, they said ‘heart of stone’. Mostly in jest. The problem with all this restraint was that it looked like I didn’t care. After a while I was mostly just scared that if I ever started crying, I’d never stop.

Realistically, I can’t function like that. At my core, I am actually over-sensitive. I need a good cry every so often. Sometimes very often. When I met Wes  I let my guard down, and started to learn that it’s ok to have emotions. He was determined that he wanted to know the real me – despite the fact that even I didn’t know what that was. There’s a reason so many people have told him he’s a ‘brave brave man.’

Slowly, slowly, I’m learning to be more honest emotionally. Depression doesn’t help – but the hormones of pregnancy and motherhood certainly do. When I was pregnant with Elvie I cried watching the X Factor Final, before the opening credits had finished, because somebody’s life was about to change forever. Now I cry at home improvement shows, John Lewis christmas adverts and, more importantly, real life events. Tears of both sadness and joy come a lot more naturally now. I’ve discovered that I physically need to cry – that it’s the best way to get rid of frustration and anger and sadness. Otherwise everything goes round and round in my head, and my stomach.

I’ve definitely not cracked it. My depression makes stress worse. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference to the stress, but it affects the way I deal with it. The last few days have been busy. I’ve done a lot, probably too much. And I’m worn out. My brain is tired too. And it’s whirling around in circles. Running over all the stresses that would otherwise be sitting at the back of my mind. Money, work, planning for our weekend away, Wes’ impending week-long work trip, how I’ll manage the toddler-group-free summer holidays. All those stresses, going round and round and round. This morning we had an argument about disciplining the children. And it all builds up in my head until it gets unbearable. All I want to do is curl up in a dark room and sleep. Preferably for a while, until it all goes away.

I’ve needed to cry for the last three days. But I’ve tried to be brave. To be strong. To hold it all together. Determined not to ‘give in’. It backfired – as it always does. Heather turned up this morning with chocolates and kindness and it was all too much. There were lots of very embarrassing tears. So many that Wes abandoned his plan for a much needed nap to be on hand and help out with the children. It ended well. And the chocolates are delicious!

The children don’t have these problems – they’re so free with their tears and their anger and their screams.

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Honestly, it scares me. I don’t know how to handle all that raw emotion. I hear myself saying “stop crying” all the time, and getting annoyed when they hurt themselves and scream, rather than caring for them like I should. I find it really hard to handle. I know that I need to learn, otherwise they’ll end up just like me. I don’t want to teach them that ‘being brave’ means sitting on your emotions and never letting them out.

Because I’m beginning to think it’s the opposite.

 

Running away with the Circus. July 9, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:21 pm

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Several of my friends have recently had babies. This is great news for me – I can play with them, cuddle them and still sleep through the night. Occasionally they’re sick in my hair, but I can deal with that. This morning I was talking to a friend with a two year old son and a beautiful five week old daughter. She’s a real cutie. At one point in the conversation I asked her, “so, how’s it going with two of them?” and a look crossed her face. A mixture of sheer exhaustion, overwhelm and fear that it would always be this hard. I had some powerful words of support and encouragement ready and waiting, but her son chose that moment to escape out of the door, so our chat was over.

I know that look so well. That combination of exhaustion, overwhelm and fear has been my companion on many occasions since I became a mother. So many many times it has made me want to run away and start over somewhere else. Usually without the children. Somewhere it would be easier. I would be happier. Everything would be less daunting. I still battle with it. I’ve committed myself to my family and I won’t be running off without them, but the daydreams continue.

Lately I’ve realised this has always been my default setting. As a child and teenager I used to talk about running away with the circus, and spent several years wishing that I was a gypsy. Long before ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ made it cool. Every time I felt stressed or under pressure, I would imagine myself leaving it all behind and running away.

I loved the idea of freedom. Not having any responsibilities, living your life the way you wanted. Travelling around the country and the world, going where the wind takes you. Last year a friend gave me a copy of ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morganstern. I am officially in love. It is exactly the circus of my childhood-running-away dreams. A wild, immersive, romantic, magical world where everything is up for grabs and anything can happen. It is perfect.

In real life I’ve only been to the circus once. Years ago, Wes booked us tickets as a romantic treat. We got there in a filthy mood, after a huge fight, so late that we missed the first half. To be honest, the acts we did see were disappointing. There wasn’t even an elephant. Afterwards, Wes was mortified to discover that I’d never been to an actual circus before – I talked about them so much he assumed I’d been to loads. Regardless, the spell was broken.

The problem is, that’s what reality does. All my dreams of a runaway, magical life were just that – dreams. And although I know that, I’m still a sucker for them. The dreams look different now I’m a responsible grown-up. I don’t spend my time imagining a life with the circus or mentally designing the interior of my gypsy caravan. But I still play the game – ‘when the kids are grown up I’ll…’, or ‘when I get a job I’ll…’ or ‘when we have money I’ll…’ I’ve spent our percentage of my grandparents imaginary lottery win several times over.

I’m coming to the conclusion that this a bad idea. That it robs me of enjoying my life – in fact it robs me twice. Now, while I’m fixated on the future rather than focussing on today. But also when the future actually arrives – when the kids are grown up, or when I do get a job – and I’ve spent so much time imagining how glorious it will be that the reality inevitably fails to reach my expectations. Years ago my dreams were ‘when I’m married I’ll…’ or ‘when I have kids I’ll…’ I’m living those dreams now, and yet I’m unable to focus on my real life, with all its lumps and bumps, because I’m already reaching for a new set of perfect futures.

Many years ago a wise woman prayed over me and told me that I needed to concentrate on living in the moment. I smiled politely, knowing that, whilst it was a nice idea, it didn’t apply to me. On reflection, it’s possible that she was right. Sorry Susie. I need to try and enjoy where I am, while I’m there. Without wishing myself somewhere else. It was easy this afternoon – sitting in the sunshine, in the garden that I still can’t quite believe is ours, watching my two little naked babies playing in the paddling pool. It was idyllic and wonderful and there was nothing wrong with the world. It’s fun to be present in those moments.

It’s the day to day grind that wears me down. The monotony and the routine that small children require. As a creative, I find that really hard. My imagination is wild, and every part of me desperately craves magical things and beautiful moments. I’m trying to find them where I can – in my boy’s first steps, or watching Elvie swordfighting in a donkey costume. I have a feeling that this is a battle I’m never really going to win. At least not while my life-stage demands pattern and repetition and predictability. I’m not sure what to do about it. I know that there is so much joy to be had right in the middle of mundane. But I’d really love some elephants.