On Mental Health and Dealing with Our Demons for the Sake of Our Kids

mental health pre kids


I’ve wanted to write this so many times, but have always been afraid to, just in case it was taken the wrong way and there was a backlash. This fear of others misconstruing my words has led to censorship, which is ridiculous. I can’t call myself a pro-blogger and allow myself to be censored at the same time, so I’ll be taking a big deep breath as I press the publish button.

I’d like to credit Alice who writes at The Filling Glass. After reading her brilliant piece The Chicken and Egg of Positive Parenting, these words started swirling around in my head. So here they are, come what may. 

A story about mental health

There is no beating around the bush here, when I left home and emerged into adulthood at 15, I was seriously fucked up. How could it have been any other way? Although I had a mother who loved me, she was very much reeling from her own miserable upbringing throughout mine, and made a whole load of terrible decisions that negatively impacted (damaged, destroyed, stole…) my childhood.

Lying to me about who my father was; moving so much I went to eight schools where I was often bullied; inviting randy teenage boys into our home who would take advantage of me… The list could go on and on, but this blog would end up being the length of a book.   

I could never have been described as fresh faced and innocent, but I definitely was naive, which led to me making more than a few bad decisions of my own. Especially after drinking, which I did regularly and heavily in those days. All the partying inevitably led to me having very little in the way of respect for myself, and this more than anything else perpetuated the cycle of bad decision making.

In the first decade of me living independently, I attempted suicide, suffered countless bouts of depression and anxiety, and had two full on mental breakdowns.

After the first breakdown I started seeing a counsellor who opened my eyes to how damaged I was. She also made me realise that it wasn’t my fault. This is the thing that us survivors of abuse usually carry with us you see, the guilt. I didn’t even realise until that point that I was as damaged as I was, or that I even felt guilty about my childhood, but believe me I was and I did.

She made me see that I needed to bury those demons of mine once and for all, if I were to move on and lead a happy life. 

In order to heal, we must face up to the past

My healing process was long and painful. It involved cutting ties with my entire family, and going through a second mental breakdown, which was triggered by hitting rock bottom and coming exceptionally close to losing everything I cared about.

Counselling was the very start for me, and although it highlighted a lot of my issues and why they existed, it still took me over four years to realise that my own self-destructive behaviour was at the centre of a lot of my current-day problems. Irrespective of why I was fucked up, the point is I was fucked up.

The only way I wasn’t going to be fucked up any more was by digging deep, and changing every aspect of my life that was causing me dramas. Nothing is as important as our mental health well being, but it can be difficult for us to appreciate this.

Taking responsibility for our lives not panning out the way we want them to can be a tough truth to accept, but it’s not about blame. It is about not allowing those demons to destroy our chances of happiness for a minute longer.

Everyone’s demons are different of course, and the changes they will have to make will depend on what is driving those demons. As for me, I quit partying, had a three month booze break, started eating well and doing more exercise. I disassociated myself from negative influences, and created lifelong good habits. During the course of six months, I worked relentlessly to turn my life around. It was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I had ever done at that point. 

You’ll never know how messed up someone is, until you try to love them

Exactly halfway between my two breakdowns, I met my husband. He has always been stable, confident in his own abilities and an all round rock solid guy. I still did my best to push him away though, and sabotage the chances of our relationship surviving. We broke up a few times in our earliest years, but ultimately he stuck by me and refused to accept that I was ‘too fucked up to be loved’.

The turning around of my life came after we had been together for almost three years. He proposed on our fourth anniversary, and six months later I fell pregnant with our eldest. To say we’ve faced lots of challenges since becoming a family, would be a huge understatement. From a horribly traumatic first birth (thankfully much nicer experiences second and third time!); to kids that don’t sleep; to having autism to contend with; and most recently, deciding to home educate. Once again the list could go on… 

How do you cope? 

In the six and a half years that we’ve been parents, we have certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, which is what inspired me to create this blog almost three years ago. I get asked on a regular basis how I cope, considering I have very little in the way of help day to day.

I truly believe the reason I’m able to cope as well as I do, on the small amount of sleep I get most nights, is because I went through the process of dealing with my demons when I did.

I faced up to the past, I changed the necessary and I buried those monsters good and proper. I put coping mechanisms in place that would see me through the toughest of times, and it means I am able to focus on present-day challenges. I have essentially compartmentalised the painful elements of my past, so they can’t hurt me any more. 

When I made the decision to turn my life around back in November 2006, I didn’t have a clue that I’d be implementing changes that would directly impact my mothering abilities.

That is exactly what I was doing though. 

Untitled designSo what next?

If you’re reading this and know in your heart of hearts that you have demons stemming back to your childhood, then you must acknowledge them.

The next step is to forgive yourself and anyone else you need to for them.

Then you need to let those fuckers go. You hear me?

Work out a plan to rid yourself of them once and for all.

Believe me you will have never felt lighter in your entire life.

Do it for the sake of your kids. Whether they are already here, or they’re a mere thought at the back of your mind. 

It’s going to be hard work, make no mistake about that, but it has to be done.  

I’ll be cheering from the sidelines, and wishing you all the luck in the world on your journey!  


The Things This Sleep Deprived Mama Does to Get Through Her Day

The Things This Sleep Deprived Mama Does to Get Through Her Day“How do you function?”

This is the most common question I’m asked.

When people learn that I’ve spent the last six years plus existing on a minuscule amount of sleep, they are shocked, because I always seem so energetic apparently (they should see me at 3am!)

I used to love my sleep, and in my younger days had an uncanny ability to nod off just about anywhere – as demonstrated in the photo below.

Ren asleep at a bar

Nowadays, because I’m so very sleep deprived, there are lots of little things I do to get through my day. So here we go… in no particular order…

Coffee. I’ve come to realise that I absolutely adore the black stuff, and that it makes me very happy indeed. I only drink freshly brewed, cap it at three cups per day, and try to be done with my caffeine fest by midday. Otherwise I’ll be laying in bed wired, unable to capitalise on the few precious moments shut eye I can snatch before the kidlets start their triple team sleep thievery act.

Extra long toilet breaks. How else would I get my blog written? In fact how do you think I’m writing this post?

Making my peace with having a messy house. I’ve accepted that my house will rock the just been burgled look most days, and I don’t let it bother me. My kids can trash the place in an exceptionally short amount of time, and I’m hardly going to waste my energy picking up toys all day long am I? Oh how the standards have dropped between child #1 and #3!

Catching up with good friends. Not the school gate mums, not the play group mums, but real mates. Gals that make me belly laugh, and know me inside out. I’m very lucky that I have lots on my doorstep with children similar ages to mine, and I make a big effort to regularly see the ones who aren’t so close by. Then there’s always Skype if distance is a problem (several of my besties live in Australia).

TV babysitter. I don’t beat myself up for sticking the kids in front of iPlayer or Netflix so I can do a bit of writing, cooking, or staring into space.

Not keeping a tally. I stopped mourning the lost hours of rest a long time ago, and see no value in banging on about the obvious. I’ve politely told all my friends not to ask ‘how last night was’ because there’s a 99% chance my honest answer would be ‘horrendous’.

Eating great food. I eat a super clean diet which keeps me level and boosts my brain. This means saying a big fat no to refined carbs and sugars and eating tons of salads and good quality proteins and fats.

Funky music. There’s nothing like a bit of Uptown Funk or Shake it Off to snap me out of a foul mood.

A little tipple. If all else fails and it’s been one of those days, then I’ll have a G&T (just the one) to help me survive the witching hour.

Going to bed as early as possible. I put my phone on aeroplane mode and head upstairs somewhere between 9-9:30pm. The bliss I feel climbing into bed and under the duvet is pretty indescribable. Even though in my heart of hearts I know that I’ll be woken up roughly 15 seconds after falling asleep, I shall remain optimistic!

How do you get through your day?

This blog can also be found on the Huffington Post

It’s Official. She’s on the Spectrum. Now What?

welcome to the Polly show

welcome to the Polly show

There has been something going on with my eldest daughter Polly since she was a tiny baby. First it was reflux and eczema covering her face – related to reacting to dairy coming through my breast milk. Then came the multitude of food sensitivities which we discovered at two and a half.

A few months previous to that she stopped sleeping (both during the day and at night) and was waking up ten times plus. Even now she hardly ever sleeps through, and she is six next month. On top of all this she never outgrew the toddler meltdowns, and her violent outbursts have been steadily getting worse over the years.

Always something

Something has felt not quite right for a very long time, and I just knew there was more to this story than everyone else allowed me to think.

“She’ll grow out of the allergies, don’t worry”

“She’ll be so tired when she starts school that she’ll start sleeping all night, don’t worry”

“It’s all normal kids stuff, mine fight like cat and dog all the time, don’t worry”

The well intentioned, yet largely unsolicited advice, has been of little comfort to me over the years.

I’m kooky when it comes to my gut instincts, but they very rarely let me down. Last summer P had a whole bunch of gastro tests done, to investigate whether there was something medical going on, but every single one came back negative. It was a huge relief, I had major stomach surgery at 5yo and would do anything for my own kids to not have to go through the same. It left us not really knowing where to turn next though. So on we plodded with the best parenting we were capable of on no sleep, and a diet so wholesome that her teachers regularly comment on how envious they are of her lunch.

Last September I wrote this over on my GAPS blog.

“I’m going to set the cat among the pigeons here. What if her problems aren’t being caused by standard allergic reactions to food, but by a toxic overload and leaky gut syndrome? What if the super clean diet of cooked from scratch organic goodness she has been eating all her life is the only thing saving her from an ASD diagnosis? It’s no secret that ASD and food sensitivities go hand in hand. I’m starting to think that my hubby and I have been tearing ourselves into pieces looking in all the wrong places.”

wpid-img_20150509_103810.jpgChristmas saw my family in absolute dire straights. Hubby and I then went on a mission to try and turn it all around, and totally eradicate our own negative behaviour. Which trust me was bloody hard, but we didn’t so much as raise a voice over the two week holiday. We saw improvements but it didn’t work the miracles we were hoping it would. By Easter her sleep had gone to pot again, and her violent outbursts were getting more frequent and intense. To the point where we couldn’t trust her to be alone with her baby brother in case she hurt him. I conceded that what we were doing wasn’t enough and that perhaps my theory about autism wasn’t so whacky after all. Then I read this post by fellow blogger Reprobate Mum and alarm bells started well and truly ringing.

Our biggest red flags
– lack of empathy
– inability to read body language or communicate non-verbally
– toddler like temper tantrums
– obsessive about her likes
– has to be in control
– incredibly poor sleep

Getting the help we desperately needed

We are lucky to have private medical insurance through work, and jumped the queue massively to see a top specialist at The Portland Hospital two months ago. Dr. K assessed Polly and asked me a million questions, all the time being privy to her full range of emotions. Dr. K told me it would be high functioning, but there was definitely something needing to be investigated. I booked a follow up (again lucky enough to queue jump) and in the mean time had to complete more questionnaires, as did P’s school and our GP. We had the appointment yesterday and went through what the sheets said, and were asked even more questions. Dr. K also got to see the way P interacts with her little brother (little sister was left with the Grandparents).

To be completely honest I think Dr. K had made up her mind about Polly last time, she is a leading expert in autism and sleep disorders after all. The questionnaires seem to be just a formality. We were asked whether we wanted to contest her diagnosis of High Functioning ASD, and see another doctor to have an independent assessment done, but we declined. She was just confirming what we had already come to terms with. Now we have a diagnosis on its way, we can start to access the support our family so desperately needs.

It’s Official. She’s on the Spectrum. Now What?

Why am I writing this and telling the world that my kid is autistic? Quite simply because there is no shame in having a child on the autistic spectrum. P’s condition hasn’t been caused by anything that anyone has done, or could have done differently. There will be no guilt, and there will be no apologising. This is the way she was born and what my husband and I now need to do is start equipping her and the rest of the family with the tools we all need to live a happier life.

Attitudes will only change once people start talking about this stuff out in the open.

I keep hearing the term early intervention over and again, and because she isn’t even six yet I am very hopeful that we will be able to get ourselves to a much happier place fairly quickly. Hubby and I will be tapping into the support networks and parenting groups that will help us do this. You can learn more through the National Autistic Society.

A plea to trust your gut

I’ve also written this as a little plea to parents to trust their gut instincts when it comes to your kids. If you know something is up then fight for an answer, and do not allow yourself to be rail roaded into thinking that everything is fine, when you know in your heart of hearts that it’s not.

WANTED: SLEEP! Can You Help?

I’ve really tried to be positive and keep a lid on my bubbling emotions, even make light of the situation, but if I’m being honest my mood of late has been glum. The root of all trouble for my family is a teeny tiny five letter word, and the fact that our 4yo daughter hasn’t slept through the night in almost three months. Not once. Needless to say it is taking its toll, and since starting school things have gone from bad to worse. She wakes at various times for various things, there are no patterns. Sometimes it’s simple to meet her needs – she needs a wee, a drink or just a bit of comfort. Those are the easy nights. But sometimes she has spectacular tantrums triggered off by the smallest things, and it must sound to the neighbours like we are doing her serious harm. She can be up for anything from a few minutes to a few hours, and is often up four or five times.

The worst thing is that she is so tired in the morning yet insists on getting up for the day at the crack of dawn (somewhere between 5:45-6:15am). The 2-3 hours before going to school are nothing short of a battle, and early evenings are just as fraught. She doesn’t leave her sister alone, and is forever pinching her and snatching her toys. Bath and bedtime are a nightmare. The only saving grace is that she’s in bed by 6:30pm, which means hubby and I are able to have a few hours to ourselves. This past week however, her first wake up has been somewhere between 8-9pm which cuts into this time. It also means we go to bed on what I call red alert – falling asleep knowing we’ll be woken up any minute. Recently the little 20-week bubs living in my belly has started kicking furiously when we are dragged from our bed, meaning I find it really difficult to get back to the land of nod after being interrupted. Every day is a challenge, but the two I go to work are exceptionally difficult right now as my alarm goes off at 5:30.

We are no strangers to sleep deprivation in my house, but this has gone beyond a joke. It all started a few months after her second birthday, exactly two years ago. From 9 months old until this time she was a perfect 7-7 sleeper, but since then we’ve only had the odd week where she has solidly slept through the night. Apart from a three month period earlier this year when she was sleeping through almost nightly, and we thought we had cracked it. Unsurprisingly this is when baby #3 was conceived. We would have certainly remained a four person family for the foreseeable future otherwise. As every parent knows, sleep has a huge effect on the day that follows. A bad nights sleep will more than likely lead to a difficult day afterwards. Can you imagine what it would be like if every single day started at 6am (or earlier) and was preceded by a night ranging from pretty awful to absolutely horrendous?

We’ve read helpful parenting books, and sleep books gaining insights that have lead to a mild reprieve. We have our daughter on a very strict diet so she is not eating anything she is intolerant of. We limit the amount of TV she watches, and never let her watch anything that could disturb her later. We don’t read books with monsters or witches or dragons in them. She doesn’t drink too much before bed, and has a potty in her room. Her pillow is doused in lavender essential oil and her hair gets washed in a natural lavender shampoo. We have futilely done reward charts for weeks on end, hoping that she will finally see the correlation between doing the thing we want her to do and being rewarded for it later. We got her the famous Gro-Clock that other people swear by, which she totally ignored and asked to be taken away because it was too bright. We got her a dim night light, and eventually a portable one – which she now has in her bed. We have gone round and round in circles trying desperately to find a solution, the magic cure, but so far we have failed miserably.

Although most people mean well, I’m starting to get annoyed at throw away comments others make. Often insinuating that all she needs is more fresh air and exercise to ‘knacker her out’. Trust me she gets plenty, and walks more than most adults I know as we don’t drive. Ironically on some of the really big days out when everyone else’s kids are dead weights for at least 12 hours afterwards, we fare up even worse in the sleep department. People say that kids are so tired after they start school that sleep woes magically disappear, but naivety has never got me anywhere in life. I really don’t think that crossing fingers and hoping it will sort itself out is the right approach for something that’s having such a detrimental effect on my family.

It feels like somewhere between the broken nights, food intolerances, and sibling rivalry she has become a very difficult child. The crux of it is that you cannot use the same logic and reasoning on a child that has a sleep deficit of this nature. The meltdowns come too quickly, out of no-where and aversion tactics seem pointless. The easy going, nice natured baby and toddler she once was has been replaced by a sleep deprived mess. My heart breaks for the sadness in her eyes every single day.

Although cyber-sympathy can be comforting, I honestly haven’t posted this for that reason. My husband and I are at our wits end and I am hoping that someone reading this will be able to offer some useful advice – because they’ve been exactly where we are, have survived it and come out the other end. I would love to hear from you in the comments section if you think you can help us! Thank you in advance 🙂

A challenging child

I started writing this post yesterday after a good nights sleep and very easy morning – not regular occurances in our house. As I’ve mentioned before, our 4yo has been very difficult these past 18 months. The official terms are ‘challenging’ and ‘spirited’ but lets not beat around the bush – she has been bloody hard work! She often doesn’t sleep well, and subsequently has behvioural issues. On days that follow nighttime antics she cannot behave no matter how hard she appears to be trying.

I have decided to keep a diary over the next week and write a detailed account of the morning, what happened during the day and the bedtime that followed. This should give us a bit of an insight into what’s going on and where we are failing. It would also be nice to see if any of you lovely folks have some pearls of wisdom to offer.

Towards the end of last year I was really depressed by all this, and looking back I don’t know how I held it together some days. I did what I always do in times of crisis though, and read a self help book over Christmas. Miriam Chachamu‘s How To Calm A Challenging Child was a revelation to me. A lot of it is aimed at older kids, but I found the relevant bits really useful. First of all the author writes in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty or stupid. She asks you to look at the issue from your child’s perspective. She talks about ‘The Mountain of Anger’ – brought on by their behaviour and your lack of understanding, you and your child are slowly creeping up the mountain and it can sometimes be impossible to climb back down from it. She talks about the benefits of descriptive praise and reflective listening – finding the positive in every situation. All of these tips are wonderful and really helpful, especially if everyone is running at full capacity. The challenge for us has always been the hellish sleep deprived days.

I had a fair bit of success in the early months of the year. I was getting a lot less stressed out than I was previously, and even on a bad nights sleep managed to remain calm most of the time. Unfortunately over the last six weeks or so bad habits have crept back, and things have got out of hand again. On Wednesday evening after another horrendous bedtime, hubby and I were at our wits end and each others throats. We discussed the situation at length and agreed that no matter how hard it was going to be, change had to come from us. Four year old children are just not capable of changing themselves. Unexpectedly, that night was the first time all week she completely slept through. Yesterday morning was perfect to start hammering the descriptive praise again and biting tongues to diffuse potential kick-offs. She was immaculately behaved as a result.

Although she slept through she was still up at 5:15am, then went to nursery all day. A common theme amongst even the best behaved children is once they are tired they turn into little devils. She is no exception, and as soon I walked in to the classroom to collect her I knew there was trouble ahead. Remaining calm and optimistic in the face of adversity, I was still finding good in all she did. I also had the girls home, fed and upstairs by 6pm – not late by anyone’s standards. Unfortunately she was so exhausted and beyond reason by then that she proceeded to have a 20 minute meltdown in her sisters room while I was trying to get her ready for bed.

I got the baby down for the night so I could fully concentrate on the ‘big girl’ (as she likes to call herself). It was 6:35 and she had been rolling around the floor screaming for over half an hour. Hubby came home from work then, so I did the sensible thing and swapped places. My patience was in the toilet, and it was best all round that he took over. It was more than half an hour later when he finally got her to sleep even though she could barely keep her eyes open.

At 7:10 he came downstairs a broken man. That went well I said. It was all I could do not to burst into tears. I was anticipating an horrendous night, but she slept well considering. She was up at 5:30am today, and causing mischief from the minute she opened her eyes. Hubby managed to keep a lid on it though, and only repremanded her when she was causing actual harm to her sister. Turning a blind eye to her uneaten breakfast also seems to be helping – this has always been a massive bone of contention in our house. Along with the other tips I mentioned above we’re hoping these changes will gradually sink in, and become the norm. It will be a great day when all this becomes a distant memory.

Wish us luck! I’ll post again next week and give you an update.

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