About, Mindset, Parenting

A rainbow of mental health

As I write this, today is World Mental Health Day. This post was actually going to be called, “School Day, Short Day”, and be about how short the school day is, and how I now seem to spend all of my time clock-watching now, and the stress that ensues from that, when you are trying to get work done, or anything done for that matter. Instead, I am going to tell you about my week.

Some women will say that they don’t really get affected by the change in their hormones every month. I am not one of those women. My hormones have the ability to increase my core body temperature, undue my ability to think rationally, and they can also create torrents and torrents of tears. They also do other things too when I am particularly stressed, but you get the picture.

One of my favourite mummy friends put it perfectly last week, “It affects your ability to cope”. She couldn’t be more right. For the last week I have waded through a quagmire of worrying, tears and also a snotty nose. Anyway, yesterday it came to a head when I literally felt consumed with a familiar feeling of panic, which I haven’t felt in several months. The same old panic, which I now understand is essentially, “I won’t be able to cope if this happens” – whatever “this” it may be.

I also understand now, that panic of “I won’t be able to cope” is actually rooted to my self-esteem. I don’t believe that I will be able to cope if something beyond the normal, everyday happens, or, things might happen that are beyond my control. On a subconscious level, what I am essentially telling myself is “I am not good enough”.

So, what do you do when you feel like this? You reach out. Definitely reach out. Please, always reach out. Yesterday, I chose my dad. Over the weekend, when everything was too much, I reached out to my sister. Of course, the conversations that I had with them didn’t really alter anything physically, but in sharing how I was feeling, I could attempt to stop internalising. I was still feeling teary and anxious , but I didn’t feel so isolated by my feelings.

What I really wanted to tell you though, was this. As I was gathering in the washing after tea yesterday evening, still feeling panicky and worried, I saw a rainbow. A very clear, lovely, beautiful rainbow.

Now, when Sidney was about 2, he went through a tricky phase of crying every time he went to nursery. I used to tell him, that if he was ever worried, or sad, if he saw a rainbow in the sky it meant that everything is ok. He got that he would remember this, and if we ever saw a rainbow, we would talk about it and remind ourselves that everything is ok. When I told him this, I was thinking of the story of Noah and the rainbow, and the promise that God makes to Noah.

Now, I’m not overtly religious, and I spend my time focussing more on an attitude of gratitude and believing in the universe than going to church these days. But yesterday, God, or the universe, or someone powerful somewhere, had my back. Seeing that rainbow totally grounded me. It said, everything is ok. And I smiled. All the panic feelings, and lack of control pretty much melted away in that moment, and I went back inside the house feeling like my steadier, positive self again.

Today has been much more normal. Thank goodness. Thanks to that rainbow. All day today, I have thanked whoever sent me that beautiful, perfect, magical band of colours.

Parenting

I hate it when they’re ill

So this week there’s been a tummy bug in our house. Harriet is going through that stage of picking up absolutely everything, and it is my personal mission to try and prevent things spreading to the rest of the family.

The whole house feels bruised and battered

Tummy bugs are my least favourite of all the illnesses, I just have to get the mess cleaned up as quickly as possible – wash and sanitise everything – and then hope like made that no one else comes down with it.

They also tend to come with a sleepless night as well – so the next day the whole house feels bruised and battered. All round no fun.

The tiredness and the worry usually bring about a spike in anxiety, and I even sometimes find myself in moments of quiet, trembling slightly from the panic. And also trembling from the relief that I am managing to look after my baby even though I am in a situation that I can’t stand. I find myself wondering if other parents feel as I do in these moments. Perhaps the trigger is something different for them.

I know that phobias are related to how we feel about ourselves

I remember being about 12 when one of my sisters was poorly with a bug once, and I was so in awe of how my parents handled the situation. I remember worrying even at 12, how I would manage to look after my children in that same situation, when all I wanted to do was hide. I probably sound very lame – there are parents that have to deal with much more tricky situations than me. But sickness is something that I particularly loathe – even have a marginal phobia of to be perfectly honest.

I know that phobias are related to how we feel about ourselves. They are irrational – something in the way we feel about ourselves manifesting itself in something external. As I write this, I can feel my head trying to analyse what it is that I fear about myself. I suspect it is to do with my on-going worry that I won’t be able to cope in a situation. The big, “but what if …”.

Of course, if the big “what if” ever happens, I know that Noel and I will deal with it. Because that’s what you do when you are a parent. Your daily goal is to take whatever happens and survive to the end of the day. And then hope that the next day will be a bit more normal. I love normal … Who knew that normal could be so glorious! Something to aspire to, even.

Normal is having a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep

During my 20s I would have been so disappointed to ever think of normal as something to aspire to! Now, normal is great. Normal is when you can anticipate the mood swings and the tantrums. Normal is when you can guess at how someone is going to react to a situation, and normal is having a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep. (Undisturbed being the holy grail – literally can’t remember the last time I had one of those!)

Anyway, I’m sleepily wondering where I’m headed with this post. I think part of it is me needing to extract some anxious feelings, in the hope that it will be a cathartic experience … It definitely does help to write things down.
The other part of me wants to reach out to other parents, and indeed anyone who feels a bit lame for feeling scared sometimes. I always think I should be braver at this sort of thing, but I’m not. Its a few days of me feeling extra worried, and maybe a few ill people. And then, as things start settling back to normal (gosh, I really do love normal), the anxiety starts to subside again.

Oh, anxiety. My arch nemesis. So what will I do now? Take a few deep breaths, do some work, and get myself to bed early. Anxiety not really conquered today, but maybe I’ll do better tomorrow.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the bad stuff

… I wrote the above a few days ago now, when I was still feeling incredibly anxious. Thankfully, the feelings did of course subside as I believed they would. Getting out of the house when Harriet had passed her 48hr probation period helped – especially as it coincided with us spending time with some lovely mums and tiddlies at Toddler Group. That really helped. Some serious chatting was done, not just about the silly stuff, but some of the serious stuff too … A reminder that its always good to talk. Please don’t be afraid to talk about the bad stuff – most of us have a bit of bad stuff we sometimes need to talk about.

xx

Parenting

“And how are you in yourself?”

“And how are you in yourself?”. I have come to loathe this loaded question. I don’t think anyone asked me this until I became a mum. I don’t dislike it because I am afraid that it will make me break down in floods of tears. I loathe it because whenever it is asked, at the time I am usually just fine! You know; alright, things are all normal just now. My children might be a bit tired, but they’re fine too. We’re all bumbling along as happy as we can be at this moment!

In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line!

Then … It happens. “And how are you in yourself?”. This question is usually posed by a health professional. In this instance it was a Health Visitor – one whom I hadn’t met before – and it was actually Harriet’s 12month progress check so I wasn’t really prepared to be questioned about myself. In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line! … My right arm was wrapped in a tubular wrist-support bandage (to support a healing fracture) and to really glamour it all up, on the same hand was a very gross blister that had appeared out of nowhere after a tiny patch of eczema had flared up! … Oh, and I suppose we all looked a bit clammy after me cycling us there straight from the nursery pickup. Despite all that though, no one was crying (not even me) and we were all there on time. Go us!

But there it was. The seed was planted. Harriet’s progress check was all fine. She’s a bum-shuffler, who’s also quite happy cruising around – great – and she’s following her little weight chart perfectly – fab. And as a delightful added bonus I even managed to persuade Sidney to let the health visitor weigh him too, so we can move everyone up a carseat size. All is going well.

Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

However, someone has now asked me, ‘how I am in myself’, which automatically means that for the next 24 hours I am questioning whether or not I am ok. Do I not look ok? Did I seem like I might cry? Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

There is something in that particular phrasing that gets under my skin every time. Someone could just as easily ask, “How are things?”, or, “How are you, mum?” and I would understand that they are asking me if I’m ok. But by using the words you in yourself suggests something deeper. Like I might not be myself, or I might be feeling so overcome with my lot in life that I have something that needs looking into, deeply.

Let’s be honest. There are moments when any parent feels a bit overcome with being so on demand all of the time, but mostly its cool. Once you get used to being so important to miniature versions of yourselves, it can be pretty special at times! But that’s just part of the rollercoaster of having children I think.

This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’

Nevertheless, that turn of phrase is something I genuinely wish people wouldn’t use. It makes people feel like there is something wrong with them, when there isn’t. We’re just navigating the overcrowded-supermarket of everyday like everybody else. Sometimes we don’t have disgusting blisters and clammy children, and sometimes we do. This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’ – but at least that means we’re drinking enough, right?

Finally, I guess a caveat here could be that I am one of those ‘hypersensitive’ people you read personality descriptions about, which is why I react so badly to questions that are unnecessarily probing. However, even if I am a bit on the hypersensitive side, if me and my two children managed to get ourselves somewhere on time – and none of us is crying – we are all in ourselves, just fine.

 

Mindset

Remembering to breathe

What a thing to say! Who needs reminding that they need to breathe?
Well, I do. Yes, I know you’re inwardly thinking, ‘Weirdo!’ – but just bear with for a moment.

A really lovely nurse once told me that you need anxious people – they’re the people that usually get things done.

Remembering that I have to tell myself to breathe sometimes, well at the moment, that’s quite often actually, comes from observing a little mindfulness. I have always been an anxious person. A really lovely nurse once told me that you need anxious people – they’re the people that usually get things done. I think she’s right. However, an anxious person stops getting things done when the anxiousness gets too much.

Before I became a mum, cycling and yoga, and before that, wine, vodka and dancing, used to keep my anxieties as bay. But when that first 24/7 bundle of sleep-depriving snuggliness arrived, things changed, lets say, rather a lot. As any mum knows – or parent for that matter – once baby arrives your time is no-longer your own. Your needs suddenly sit at the bottom of the washing basket along with all the ironing and the bits of tissue that snuck into the washing machine and got all over the dark wash (never the white wash).

I found myself in mummy-land really struggling with anxiety, worrying all the time that something bad was going to happen, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope when it did.

Anyway. I found myself in mummy-land really struggling with anxiety, worrying all the time that something bad was going to happen, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope when it did. So much was my worrying, that after a couple of months of constant crying, citalopram helpfully sorted me out. This was ok, but I knew that it was only treating the condition, not actually helping me sort out the problem I have with anxiety. When we had bundle of sleep-deprivation no2, I had taken myself off the citalopram and been cycling and active as much as I could.

What then ensued was me always waiting for the next calamity/wee/breast-feed/etc/etc to happen – and so I was always holding my breath!

However, two small children meant double the craziness and double the constantly being needed! Eek!! We even potty-trained Sidney when Harriet was a few weeks old – just to add to the fun – he was totally ready and had it nailed in 5 days. On the flip side, what then ensued was me always waiting for the next calamity/wee/breast-feed/etc/etc to happen – and so I was always holding my breath!

I finally noticed that I was doing this and realised that this was probably making me feel anxious all the time. So, I had no choice, but to tell myself to breathe… Just breathe Sarah. Take a few long breaths. Breathe out slowly. And it worked. The anxious tummy cramps I give myself when I hold my breath all the time slowly stopped, and I felt in so much more control. And if the Harriet had to wait for her feed, or Sidney needed a wee while I was washing up – it’s fine. Its ok.

I feel proud of myself when I feel myself taking long, deep breaths

Recently the tummy cramps have been back, and I have caught myself holding my breath again, a lot. Even when I’m pouring a cup of tea. So I am literally telling myself to breathe. Anxiety is a thing that I manage. I have to manage it otherwise I will go bananas, and I don’t want that. I feel proud of myself when I feel myself taking long, deep breaths, telling myself that its ok if I’m writing this, and not working on a deadline that is due. This is important too. I can take a deep breath and its ok if both my children are wanting things but I am going to finish the washing-up anyway. Them waiting for me helps them learn that they can’t have what they want as soon as they want it.

Breathing. Thats the most important thing I can do right now.