A story of mental health #mhaw17When I found myself pregnant with Polly in 2008, the state of my mental health had never been better. At the ripe old age of 29 I’d already been on a remarkable journey.

Extraordinary even

I had survived a dysfunctional childhood, and self-destructive young adulthood. I’d dragged myself through two mental breakdowns, and experienced the highest highs and lowest lows.

I had travelled the world, and met my awesome husband along the way. I’d made the most wonderful friends a person could wish for. Which is just as well, because at 25 I estranged myself from every single member of my family. 

I’d also learnt (the hard way) that the answers to life’s problems could not be found at the bottom of a bottle.

Believe me, I’d searched every external crevice for happiness, and realised that it comes from within.

I learnt that to be happy, I would need to look in the mirror and like what I saw

I had to distinguish between my wants and my needs, and get to know who I really was. I’d need to forgive myself for the things that I wasn’t proud of. I’d need to truly let go of the past so I could make peace with it.

I was in such a good place when Polly came along. Even a traumatic birth didn’t stop me from loving her fiercely from the second she came out. To be honest I didn’t properly recognise it as traumatic until I was giving birth to Clara two and a half years later. That’s a whole blog in itself though.  

I walked everywhere that summer, staring at my beautiful baby in wonder. Had I really made her? Could I really be that lucky?

By the time I became a mum I had overcome so much, that I honestly thought the hardest bits were over.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Oh how naive I was

I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that my own children could push me to the edge of my sanity. That I would watch my mental health deteriorate and feel powerless to do anything about it.  

Friends with kids had somberly warned me about newborn sleep deprivation. They’d said to watch out for pesky teeth, and strange changes that occur when babies are going through growth spurts.

A good friend, who’d had two kids very close together, had said to expect one seriously tough day a week. A day so bad I’d be reaching for the gin before the witching hour was over. One that I’d want to completely forget about as soon as the kids were asleep.

That’s not going to happen to me, I thought, no way. I’d leave a sensible age gap between my kids, having them super close sounds like a nightmare.

My girls are 2y 7m apart, and take it from me, the age gap is the least of our troubles

At seven months pregnant with Clara I found myself sobbing to my ex boss.

“I’m so exhausted, I don’t think I can last another three weeks until my maternity leave is due to start.”

Fortunately he’s a family man himself, and one of life’s good eggs. He let me tie up my loose ends and finish that day. If only all work managers were like him.

Back then I had a toddler who would get up ten times a night as standard, have huge meltdowns at 3am, and refuse to go to her daddy. As well as that we had a very noisy neighbour on our hands, who would be up all hours. 

We managed to muddle through though, and cope. Somehow.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17When Clara was born I did everything I could to enjoy her baby days. Knowing how fast they’d go, I drunk up every delicious drop of that gorgeous girl. 

Polly was jealous of her sister, beyond what felt normal, and it was heartbreaking watching her regress. Nursery was more of a hindrance than a help, but we thought we were doing her good by letting her socialise. She was diagnosed with an allergy list as long as my arm, and so began years of exclusion diets. More frustration. More difficulty. 

Fast forward fifteen months, and a prosecco fuelled evening lead to Freddy being conceived. (Hubby has never touched the stuff since!)

By then I was back to work, and the girls were both at nursery. Clara slept through from ten weeks old, which was just as well, because Polly was still up all night. Challenging behaviour was the order of the day.

I found myself wondering on an hourly basis how I’d cope with three children when two already seemed like too many

Freddy’s pregnancy was the toughest, but with two kids to keep me busy it went fast. Two maternity leaves in three years.

Polly started school and struggled massively from day one. 

“She’s fine when she’s here.”

Oh how I loathed those words, and the patronising delivery of them. The inference being that we must be doing something wrong at home. Clearly the meltdowns and night time antics were either exaggerated or our fault.

Polly’s allergies weren’t getting better, so we had her tested for every gastrointestinal disease under the sun. Nothing. When a leading gastro paediatrician told me the tests had come back in normal range I knew what was coming next.

Autism. Diagnosed a year later

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17By then it felt like we were a broken family, and we desperately needed help being put back together. No such luck. When you live in London under the Tories, you’re on your own. 

Polly was on a clear cycle by then. Sleep and post-school meltdowns would get worse as we neared the end of term. Then we’d plough all our energy into making her happier over the holidays only to watch our hard work unravel when she went back.

My poor baby girl was severely overwhelmed by school, and they were doing precisely nothing to help her.

Home education wasn’t a last resort, but I wasn’t going to sit back and let it get that bad. Eighteen months later, and here we are.

Yes we’ve made progress, but the set backs can send us to square one in a heartbeat

We’re now the noisy neighbours. Our kids are loud. They have meltdowns and tantrums multiple times a day. Individually they’re awesome, collectively they make me want to cry.

I have good days and bad, but just lately there haven’t been many good ones. The challenges have been never ending, and keep on coming.

My previously rock solid marriage can feel as shaky as a dingy in the middle of the ocean on a stormy night. Most days I want to punch my husband in the face when he leaves the house to go to work, because he gets a break from it all.

Sleep is better than it’s ever been, but it’s still rubbish. Freddy’s in our bed every night. Polly’s often up. And although Clara sleeps, getting her to bed can be a tiresome task. She’s not getting enough Zzzzz’s and unlike her brother and sister, who are used to running on empty, she can’t handle it.

Home education often means being a prisoner in my own home. If Polly is anxious and exhausted and I can’t convince her to leave the house. Most days I have fun things planned for us to do, but usually we do none of them because we get caught up in Polly’s rage. She’s taken to using me as her punching bag. At least she isn’t being so violent with the younger two.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Eight years ago, when I was nearing the end of Polly’s pregnancy, I thought I had it all sussed out

Surely motherhood was like everything else? The harder you worked, the more rewards you would reap? I’d just work my butt off, and give my absolute all to my kids. Surely that would equate to happiness?

To be completely honest, even if it was possible to go back in time and tell my thirty year old self how it would actually be, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.

My plan was fail safe. I’d just love my kids more than everyone else loved theirs, and not make ridiculously stupid decisions that would mess them up in later life.

Once again, I’m learning the hardest way that it’s not that simple though. So here I am, eight years later, feeling more clueless now than ever before. The game is constantly changing, and I have no frigging idea what the rules are.

People warn you about maternal and post-natal depression. Nobody tells you about surviving chronic stress due to challenging children. 

The emptiness you can feel when you give everything to your kids and get treated like the enemy

The cycle of self-loathing that’s created from having toxic thoughts about the little people you created. 

The loneliness you can feel, even though you can’t take a pee in private. 

All any of us can do is try our best, and hope that when all is said and done, it was enough

**sharing for world mental health awareness week**

“I hate you, and wish you weren’t part of our family.”

Screamed 3yo Freddy, in another one of his rages. It was fuelled by me insisting that he went to the toilet when he got up this morning. I know, what a terrible mama right? Anyone who has lived with a threenager will know how tricky they are. Super sweet, caring and loving one minute. The next all hell has broken loose for suggesting something that should only be worthy of a nod. 

I do hope it’s just a phase, I find myself thinking multiple times every day. I can’t spend too much time contemplating the other option. That there’s a whole load of learnt behaviour going on here.   

“I hate school, why do I have to go when Polly and Freddy don’t?”

Screamed 5yo Clara on Friday night. In fairness she has point. Why does she get forced to do something that’s causing her so much anguish when I’m already home educating the rest of the family?

With each month that passes, Clara becomes more difficult. It’s hard to witness her meltdowns, which are getting more and more violent.

“You’re so stupid!”

Screamed 7yo Polly, before she threw the hairbrush directly at me. It landed on my arm and bloody hurt. The violence on display from this child frightens me. I find my mind drifting off five, ten years, and wondering what she’ll be doing by then. Polly’s challenging behaviour is here to stay, and we simply have to adapt our own accordingly. Which is easier said than done. 

we must never lose hope When you give everything you have to your kids, and they treat you as if you’re the enemy. Well, it hurts doesn’t it?

To say that April was tough going would be a monumental understatement. It can be hard holding on to hope when the chips are down, and the knocks keep coming. I tell myself that we’ve been in dark places before, and have made progress, but my positivity is waning.   

This year, I’ve had days that terrify me. The behaviour displayed by these three has upset me, worried me, shocked me and disgusted me in equal measure. Watching them treat each other like crap is beyond difficult.

The abuse hurled at me is easier to cope with, but some times the only option I have is to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes. To try and talk sense into myself. To try and quieten down my internal monologue so it doesn’t drive me insane.

Some days I’m so livid that I can’t stop myself from reacting. Even as the words are tumbling out of my mouth I know I’d be much better off keeping it closed. We’ll never be able to take these words back, I think to myself once it’s too late. When the tempers have been lost, and crisis plans have been chucked out the window.

Same old crap, different week, different month, different year. Only the kids are bigger now. They’re going to remember these days.

Most of my own childhood was so miserable I have no memories before I was eight years old. I’ve blocked them out – clearly a defense mechanism I learnt at a very young age. It kills me to think my own children will be doing the same. That their own sadness will come back to haunt them the way mine does.

I do so desperately hope not. 

They say kids are resilient, but mine aren’t.

They feel every teeny tiny knock, and take it personally. They don’t forget a single detail, and will hold you to account on everything you say. Again, this isn’t a bad thing as a parent, but it’s devastating when friends say they’ll do something and don’t. Try explaining to an autistic child that sometimes people say things they don’t mean.

“But why did they invite me for a playdate/sleepover/party when they didn’t want me to come?”

Cue meltdown central, and an hour long fallout. 

In the last two years, I’ve witnessed from near and afar, ten relationship breakdowns. Only two have survived and are coming out the other end. Mostly they’ve led to divorce – bitter, twisted, horrible divorce. Almost every story is the same. Irreconcilable differences between the grown ups, but the kids are just fine.

Those kids fly the flag for the phrase ‘children are resilient’. The fact is they enjoy the company of their parents much more now that they aren’t living under the same roof. They get better quality time, and benefit from a happier mum and dad. When my friends were ready to move on, they found new Beau’s who are nothing like their former partners. They themselves are worlds happier, and their only regret is clinging onto their dying relationships for as long as they did.

I know it’s not been easy for them. Every one has been to hell and back, but oh how I’ve envied their fresh starts.

The separation time they get from their kids helps to make them better mums. The mistakes they made with their exes has led to wonderful relationships this time around. Those who aren’t ready to settle down are having the most amount of fun.  

Living life to the max. The way I used to.

Before autism, chronic stress, sibling in-fighting and sleep deprivation so severe that my body doesn’t know what to do with itself if it gets more than five straight hours.  

No Matter How Dark Our Days Get We Must Never Lose Hope There’s a romantic idea of autism that litters the internet. Of how it creates special bonds between brothers and sisters. I’m sure in some family’s this is true. Once the neuro typical siblings get their heads around the autism, and start to understand that their brother or sister is different. They can become another advocate, and help other kids understand autism too. How wonderful this dynamic would be.

Perhaps it’s simply a case of my kids being too young to understand. Or perhaps, the option I’m leaning towards, all three are on the spectrum. Another can of worms waiting to pop open.

So much time has been, and continues to be, invested in our diagnosed eldest daughter. Meanwhile the other two aren’t always getting what they need. To help them become resilient and fully functioning.

And happy.

We can only do our best, and when all is said and done, we can only hope that it was enough.

I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart to hear Freddy say that he’s sad but doesn’t know why. Or to watch Clara’s hands flare back up with stress eczema the week after the Easter holidays.

I honestly don’t know what the future holds for my little family, but I do know that I’m some times part of the problem. Happiness begins by taking control over the situation in front of me, and some days I don’t seem capable of doing that. Some days I lose hope that there are brighter days around the corner. 

When the chips are continuously down, it’s hard to imagine a happier time. Maybe I expect too much, and should just feel grateful to get through the days? Trouble is, I’m fed up with merely surviving. I want to thrive, and flourish. More importantly I want my children to.

It’s not all doom and gloom, one look at my one line a day diary confirms that. There are some wonderful memory-making moments thrown in. There just aren’t enough of them to get me through the exceptionally challenging days without feeling like an epic failure.

“I wish I never saw the sunshine, then maybe I wouldn’t mind the rain.” the fabulous Beth Orton sings in one of her many beautiful songs.

So this is for anyone else living in perpetual limbo. Not knowing how they’re going to cope with the next set back that comes their way.

What will be will be, right?

I’m sure you’re doing a marvellous job, even if you can’t see it.

Take care of you, and make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first.

Above all else, don’t lose hope. Brighter days absolutely must be around the corner.

 

#tbt to four years ago, and one of my very favorite photos of Miss. Polly. 💖 Back to a much simpler time, which I remember thinking was super hard work, but in hindsight wasn’t a patch on now. 💖 Back then I had a hunch that there was more than met the eye when it came to my strong willed challenging child. 💖 Two years, many sleepless nights and a lot of heartache later, Polly was diagnosed with high functioning #autism. 💖 Fast forward another two years, and I find myself wondering when the magic turning point will be. It felt like it was in sight a couple of months ago, but a series of unfortunate events have triggered off possibly our worst ever cycle. 💖 Violence, verbal abuse, refusal to learn, not listening to a word I say. I know she’s hurting, but my word it’s hard to rise above it some days. 💖 I’m the adult, and should have full control over my emotions. But on days like today I look in the mirror and see the person I’ve tried so desperately not to become. 💖 And it breaks my heart. Teeny tiny piece, by teeny tiny piece. Let’s just hope tomorrow is a better day.

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Bankrolled by My Husband or Working as a Team? I read a really thought provoking article the other day, written by a writer who openly states that she’s being bankrolled by her husband.

Ten years ago it was very different story while she worked multiple jobs, whilst married to an addict, and raising three kids. Back then she got precisely zero writing done. Nowadays she’s married to a wealthy man who adores her, and supports her in every way. She writes full time and banged out her last novel in an impressive eight months. She sounds like a true survivor and I was rooting for her throughout the piece.

There are obvious similarities between her situation and mine

I worked full time from the day I left home at fifteen. First came the truly awful jobs (which fortunately got better) and in the early days I often worked in the evening too. Fast forward many years and although money was super tight, I went down to two days after my first maternity leave. I knew from the outset that time with my eldest was more important than money. I worked there for five happy years and took voluntary redundancy eighteen months ago. 

On paper I’m now being bankrolled by my husband, but I don’t view this negatively. It’s hardly like I’m swanning around having long boozy lunches every day. I’m raising our three children, and home educating our autistic daughter. This is no small thing, and I’m astonished that I manage to write anything most days.

On the evenings that hubby is out training, once the kids are asleep, I’m usually good for nothing. Knowing that I’ll be woken up multiple times throughout the night, I’ve taken to going to bed shortly after they do. In an attempt to maximise my writing efforts, I’m using that teeny tiny window to read a book that will help me be a better writer. My hope is that I’ll get a big chunk of the rewrite done for my novel on our holiday in May.

My own money

I earn a very modest amount of money through blogging, and although I could put myself out there more and take on extra work, I don’t want to. I like that I’m not attached to social media 24/7 chasing potential opportunities, and that I can fully switch off from blog land. I came to the conclusion over a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to successfully home educate and write prolifically. 

I’ve had plenty of time to make my peace with that.

So I don’t beat myself up over it. I’m in the very fortunate position, for the first time ever, for someone else to take care of the finances.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it

The additional pressure to earn more on top of all the other pressures I’m under would surely tip me over the edge. Hats off to anyone who is winning whilst doing everything work wise and everything kid wise. (If anyone reading now is in this position high five!) Raising children, and home educating, is bloody hard going. It’s all-consuming and life affirming at once. It will destroy your mental health if you’re not in a good place, and make you realise how strong you are during happier days.

The way I see it is that it’s a team effort. Just so happens to be my husband who is working full time and earning the roof-over-our-heads-food-in-our-bellies money. For the moment at least. I have absolutely no qualms with being bankrolled by him at this stage in our lives. We both have equally tough jobs, and we both respect what the other is doing.

Maybe one day when the children are older I’ll get some proper writing done, and become a bestselling author. Then he can take a break from the work place, and we can swap roles.

After all, none of us has a crystal ball. Who knows what the future holds?

Our Kids Need and Deserve Good Role Models Role models were in short supply when I was growing up. In fact, by the age of eleven, my only good role model was dead.

My childhood was full of women who were deeply unsatisfied with their lot. Almost every one I encountered before leaving home at 15 had a story of heartbreak to tell. Mostly due to settling down with (settling for) awful men who treated them like crap.

They got beaten, raped, cheated on, emotionally tormented

This makes incredibly sad to think about, but there’s no way to dress it up. Keeping afloat was the best they could manage, being role models wasn’t on their radar.

Unsurprisingly these women were consumed by life’s challenges, desperately wanting a brighter tomorrow with no idea how to create it. They didn’t live, they existed. They survived. Just about. They were stuck in the past, marred by the deep dark secrets that ate away at their souls.

From as young as eight or nine, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to end up like them

Every one of them were vocal about their kids not going through what they had been through. But their words and crossed fingers were not enough to prevent the inevitable from happening.

That’s the thing about not letting history repeat itself. It doesn’t just happen organically, we have to actively make sure it doesn’t happen. If we want to break the mould we have to work damn hard to smash it to pieces.

For people like me, who didn’t come from a privileged background, it can be a constant battle just to keep our heads above water. Especially when life keeps dealing out the shitty cards, but no-one becomes an inspirational poster girl by having an easy ride.

If we decide to become parents, not continuing the cycle of dysfunction is paramount. Everything we do has an impact on our children. Every action has the ability to shape them, for better or worse. Which is why dealing with the demons of the past is so important. So we can let go of our hurt and move forward. So we can get to live the lives we deserve, and become great role models for our kids.

Self-respect (or lack of it) is contagious

It’s a tall order to expect a young woman, or man for that matter, to emerge into adulthood with self-respect if they didn’t witness it growing up. If the people who were supposed to be their role models were anything but. Good role models exude true confidence, which comes from respecting ourselves and knowing our worth.

role models It’s impossible to teach confidence, we can only learn it through behaviour. Which is why it’s so important for our children to observe us respecting ourselves and each other. How are they supposed to know how to behave appropriately if they aren’t shown?

I don’t believe in ‘faking it until you make it’

I think our energy is better spent living as authentically as we possibly can. By getting to properly know ourselves, and what we want out of this life. By learning to not care what others think about us. Not being afraid to go against the grain, and stand up for our beliefs.  

Surrounding ourselves with awesome people who lift us up is a great place to start. When we have genuine friendships we have no need or desire to second guess their motives. We know they have our back, and we could turn up on their doorstep in the middle of the night if we were in trouble. They wouldn’t ask questions, they’d simply listen to our woes and dry our tears.

Something I’ve learnt on my own rocky journey, is that it’s impossible to properly screw up when we have great friends.  

In our always on, selfie-mad, celebrity obsessed world, the best thing we can do is set a good example for our children. We need to show them love and kindness through our actions. We have to let them see via us how important it is to have great friends around. 

I don’t claim or aim to be perfect. Far far from it. But I do know that I have to be happy and positive if I expect my kids to be. It’s not easy, but I’ll never stop trying.

A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeDear Andy, Polly, Clara & Freddy,

My family, it should go without saying that I love you all to the moon and back, but there’s no denying that we’re experiencing a really difficult phase. 

I’ve ummed and ahhed over whether or not to press publish, and have decided that this needs to be said. Out loud. On the record. So here goes.
For Andy

There’s no way to dress it up, these last few months have been exceptionally tough. Your new job has taken up a lot of your time and attention. Ditto going back to off-site training. We’re either ships passing in the night, or bickering on an epic scale.

It can feel to me that you’re being distant, moody and uninterested in what’s going on in my life. It’s not a good way for a wife to feel about her husband, but in fairness you probably think the same about me. Let’s face it, I’ve always been terrible for feeding off your negative vibes. It’s really getting me down though, my love. Riding the storm has become par for the course.

We go through a monumental amount of stress on a daily basis, and are still as sleep deprived as most brand new parents. It’s not going to be easy is it? It’s been horrendous watching friends separate, divorce and suffer mental breakdown over the last couple of years. We joke about the mid-life crisis, but it’s not funny. No-one is immune. As our anniversary approaches, I’ve been thinking of past celebrations. The ridiculous amounts of fun we’ve had, and the adventures we’ve been on. Last year’s weekend away replenished us, and I can’t wait for our weekend away next month. I’m certain it’ll do the same.
For Polly

A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeMy darling girl, you have the ability to make the entire family smile and laugh their socks off. You’re also able to bring us collectively to our knees, with exasperation. Seeing how amazingly well you took to GAPS at the start of the year made me so proud. You aced it during those first couple of weeks, but it didn’t last. You quickly got back into the sugar cycle, and your body just can’t handle it. Even though you only eat natural sugars, they still make a difference to your mood and ability to control your emotions. It’s awful watching you become so angry and irate over things that were passing you by.  

So we’ve gone back to being strict again, and although it’s only been three days, I can already see improvements. The bottom line is that no behaviour intervention we’ve tried works as well as clean eating does. I am more confident that ever that this is what we need to do. The best thing is that now you’ve had a taste of how wonderful life can be, you’re fully on board with GAPS. You haven’t been pestering me for treats and lashings of honey on pancakes in the morning. You’re happy to eat the kind of breakfast I do, and are back to eating with gusto again. We’re going to own GAPS this time my girl, and we’re going to get you on track for good.   

For Clara

It’s been a tough few months for you my sweet little girl, hasn’t it? Watching how much of a negative effect school has had on you has been absolutely soul destroying for me. Six months ago I was certain that you needed to go to school for your independence, now I’m almost certain that I was wrong. It’s beyond heartbreaking watching you become so nervous and anxious.

However, in the face of all this, I still see glimpses of the happy go lucky gorgeous girl you are deep down. You and Polly are getting on better, which is wonderful to see. I’m so pleased that you can finally play together for longer than five minutes without it turning into a fight. It’s lovely when you sit at the table and create masterpieces of artwork together. You girls could be the best friends if you showed each other a little bit more love. 

For Freddy

Even though at three you are still a complete sleep thief, you are also a little ray of sunshine. It sounds silly to say please don’t change, and totally futile, but I can’t help myself. You’re the most sweet natured, loving little boy I know, and I’d like to keep you this way forever. I try not to let my mind race when you jump up and down, and cry your eyes out over the smallest things. What will be will be, there’s not much more to be said on the matter. 

For all of my family 

They say the days are long but the years are short, and I’m feeling this sentiment a lot right now. The days are so very long, and so very challenging. Outings to the local park have descended into meltdown recently. Restaurant lunches have caused more problems than they’re worth. Plans have been cancelled this half term, or altered to make them super easy for us.

This mama is exhausted by life, and is going to be taking the path of least resistance for the foreseeable. It’s time to concentrate all our energies on coming together as a family. No more complicated days out, and expensive activities that seem like a good idea at the time. I’m going to embrace a smaller life, and you know what? I think it’s exactly what we need.

Much love to you all. Always ❤

 

Today’s been super hard. I started my day on a sleep deficit, after being up for hours in the middle of the night with F. The girls have been cranky to put it mildly. All three have spent the day on a knife edge, kicking off at the slightest thing. Tears on the way to the park, more tears on the way home. It’s been exhausting, and my head is pounding. 💖 I used to pride myself on my together-ness, but days like today push me to my limits limits. My mind starts drifting off into a bleak future, and I think f***, if I can’t cope now what will it be like in a few years time? I start worrying that the foundations of my marriage aren’t strong enough to take the strain of this pressure cooker environment we call life. 💖 Then I remember to breathe. And I remember that the days are long but the years are short. I count my blessings, and think of the empty armed mama’s I know, who’d sacrifice a limb for what I have. And I remember that I’m made of tough stuff, but I’m not a robot. 💖 Is parenting the toughest gig of all? I’m starting to think that yes indeed it is. We can only do our best, and hopefully our best will be good enough.

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