Helpful steps: Things I’m afraid to tell you…

Have you heard of the blogging movement called Things I’m Afraid To Tell You?  Amazingly, this movement was started by Jess from Makeunder My Life when she wrote a post called Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.  EZ of Creature Comforts took the idea to Twitter, posting about Jess’s original blog post, and thus setting the challenge for others to become involved (she also designed the image above).  The Huffington Post (US edition, written by Laura Rossi) also heard about the TIATTY movement and thought it was such a good idea they too decided to participate.  Now there are hundreds of bloggers around the world sharing their innermost thoughts in what can only be described as a “safe” community.  Yet another example of the incredible power of social media – both scary and inspirational!

The reason I feel compelled to write my own list is because of the inspiration provided by other mums suffering postnatal depression who have bravely done the same, they include:

Learned Happiness

My Postpartum Voice

Not Super… Just Mom

Mamma Wants This!

Farewell Stranger

So… With a focus on my family, here is my list:

1.  The battle I’ve had over the years reconciling how I feel about my biological father has been a great deal harder on me than anyone is actually aware.   It’s extremely difficult to say out loud, “I do not have a father.”  Yes, I have a man who is my biological father.  Yes, over the years our relationship has settled into a kind of “friendship” (and more so since the LM was born).  But a father he most definitely is not.   He left when I was 4, my older brother was 5.  He has been “present” but not wanting an emotional bond with either of us.  “We are in contact”, he once told me when I was 16, “only because we are blood-related.  Otherwise we would have nothing in common.”.  And that about sums him up.  He is indifferent, but not cold.  He is there, but doesn’t “care”.  He is blunt.  He is hurtful.  He saw us because it was expected of him.  He never wanted a girl.  In my mid-20’s, I finally decided to let go of the desperate need I had to share a “father-daughter” bond with him, and simply started to move on with my life.  It was only then he began to make any kind of effort.  Is it sad?  Yes, for both of us.  Do I feel anger towards him?  No, I don’t.  Do I feel sorry for him?  Yes, absolutely.

2.  I am more like my father than I would ever care to admit.  Given everything I’ve just said in 1. above, this reality is one that does not sit comfortably with me at all.  I am different to him in so many ways, but when it comes to my intolerance of people I feel are not worth my time and energy, we are very much the same.  My relationship with my older brother, who is similar to my father in other ways, is the perfect example of my ability to cut my losses and move on.  Am I proud of this?  No, I am not.  But what I have learned about this particular trait, for me anyway,  is that it is one focused on self preservation.  On not wanting to be hurt.

3.  I have experienced vivid dreams my entire life where my mother decides she wants nothing further to do with me.  In every dream, though the scenarios change, she looks at me and says simply, “I have nothing further to say to you.  I want nothing more to do with you.”  My reaction to her varies depending on the situation depicted, but most often it’s violent with me grabbing her, hitting her, yelling at her to “just walk away then!”.  Other times my reaction is one of acceptance, of knowing why she has come to this decision.  I cry, and turn calmly and walk away.  Every time I have this dream, regardless of the setting or reaction, I wake up feeling sick to the depths of my stomach.  I know it has to do with my inner struggle of who I am as a person, my need to embrace the bad along with the good.  But this knowledge doesn’t make the dreams any easier when they occur.  They are confronting, and they hurt in a way I could never explain in words.  I have never told my mother I have them.

4.  My family pidgeon-holes me in a role within my family I no longer wish to play.  Yes, I grew up feeling second-best to everyone else around me, particularly my siblings.  Yes, I had a MASSIVE chip on my shoulder throughout my teenage years.  But with a serious period of taking a good-hard-look-at-myself and with life experience behind me, I feel the person I am today in no way reflects the person they still (for whatever reason) need me to be.  Whilst my closest friends, work colleagues, and everyone else understands and knows me as the person I feel I am, my family continues to drag me back to a place I no longer belong.  It is a really negative place and one with which I no longer wish to be associated.  I have tried on numerous occasions to explain how I feel, by means of examples of how I’ve felt undervalued and with direct conversation, but believe my attempts are only seen as melodramatic (again, focusing on the past).  No one seems to take me seriously, to the point of then making jokes about things I’ve said or issues I’ve raised at later times.   How then can I change their perspective after all this time?  The answer, quite simply, is that I can’t.  The only thing I can do is focus on the positives I do have around me and hope that maybe one day they’ll get it… One day.

5.  For all of the above reasons, and more, I never wanted to have a girl.  When we were told at our 19 week scan we were going to have a boy I cannot explain the sense of relief I felt.  It was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  My whole life, all I heard was how much easier my older brother was to care for as a baby, how I was so difficult in temperament and so much “hard work”.  I needed to be rocked to feed, to sleep, not to mention the tantrums, the “princess” moments.  These references continued throughout my teenage years and when the time finally came for me to think about having my own family I knew there was no way I could have a girl.  I was by this time so conditioned to the terribleness a girl would bring to my life – the drama, the problems, the hard work!  Whilst I know this issue is ridiculous, and perhaps if we had a little girl my whole perspective on this would be changed by the intense joy and love I would feel for her, the fact of the matter remains… I am so relieved we had a boy.

And that’s all I can write for now… (big deep breath)…  This has been a HUGE offloading of feelings and in some ways I believe it’s for the better, in others perhaps not so much.  Such intense honesty rarely sits comfortably with people.  I now have so much more respect (if that’s even possible) for all the amazing mums who have blogged about TIATTY topics before me…  So, so incredibly brave!

Thanks so much as always for sharing this part of my journey, and look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM xx

Postnatal Depression: My steps to healing… How can I return to work?

I didn’t think it would take me this long to post my next question…  Unfortunately, the LM seems intent on picking up every virus he can from childcare at the moment.   Our poor little babe hasn’t had too much relief of late, so we are hoping the next couple of weeks are easier on him.  Fingers crossed!

So to continue where I left off, the following question is one I thought would be easily answered when I first became pregnant and looked into my (very bright and happy?) future.  It’s funny how things change, isn’t it?  Little was I to know, not only would my confidence and motivation take a severe battering over the next 12 months, but so too would my priority list for life.  Looking back, my naivety makes me sad for the excited mum-to-be I was at that time.  I wish I could have told her what I know now, give her a nice, warm hug, and  maybe this journey would have been just that little bit easier for her… Maybe.

How can I return to work?

This was a question I asked myself daily when in the darkest pit of my depression, before my diagnosis.  How could I possibly return to the “adult” world of work when day-to-day functioning had become so difficult?  What do I have to contribute to my team at work when my best is only 50% (if that!) of what I’d considered “mildly satisfactory” before I left?  Better yet, forget about work.  How can I believe for one second my mothering skills are even remotely good enough if I am questioning these types of things at all?  And so the negative thoughts would go on… and on… and on.

After my diagnosis, in the months leading up to my return to work, both Dr J and Mrs D’s only focus was getting my mental (and physical) health back on track for my transition back into the workforce.  Neither of them were convinced I should be returning when I’d planned (I had taken 12 months of leave), and felt another month (even two) would do me the world of good before having to face the added pressure of again managing my team.  Their concern was that my PND had only been diagnosed when the LM was 8 months old.  We were still experimenting with medication, I was still undertaking regular therapy… Was I really prepared for what returning to work might do to the progress I’d made?  Deep down though, I was convinced returning to work might help my situation.  For all the fear and anxiety the thought of returning to work brought forth in my everyday thinking, there was definitely a part of me (buried deep, deep down) that believed the re-installation of a work/life balance might actually be a good thing.  So, hanging on to this very fine thread of hope, I surged forward with my plan to return to work at the time I’d originally intended.  I asked Dr J and Mrs D to please support me in this decision, help me find the resources/tools I’d need, and assist me in any way they could to ensure I made it there in one piece.  Fortunately for me, they agreed.

A blog by Michelle Gerdes, titled “Returning to Work After Postpartum Depression”, summed it up perfectly for me.  I’ll leave it for you to read (and be sure to read the comments also), but believe Michelle’s struggle is one faced by many working mothers with Postnatal Depression.  I certainly found the issue of who to tell at work (and who not to) a very difficult decision.  With Mrs D’s help, I worked through my reasons for wanting (needing?) to tell anyone about my PND and decided I most definitely wanted some form of support within the office, someone I could turn to if things became too difficult.  Luckily for me, one colleague with whom I work closely is a mother of two children and very well educated on all things “depression”.  After speaking with her about my situation, she provided me an open door of support whenever it was needed.  If my day-to-day cracks came with me to work, at least I would have someone to help me pick up the pieces.  Whilst this was indeed a relief, my confidence was still at an all time low.  Because of this, I certainly didn’t want my boss to know about what I’d been going through.  The last thing I needed was to feel like my every move was being watched – would he think I just couldn’t do my job at all now?  That kind of pressure I felt I could live without.

So, this was the point my thinking had gotten to the day I walked back into my office for the first time.  Progress had definitely been made, however the feeling of certain things being “too much pressure” remained.  What I came to quickly realise was I enjoyed being back in an “adult” world.  I am sure many mums may scold me for feeling this way, but I honestly felt like a part of me had been revived.  Arriving at work those three mornings a week, I could make myself a cup of coffee (at my own pace), sit at my computer, read through my emails, and take the time to plan my day.  Completely selfish, I know, but this time to myself truly felt like a gift.  Better still, I found myself looking forward to picking the LM up after my day at the office.  Instead of waiting for my HF to come home so I could hand the LM over and have 5 minutes to myself with a cup of tea, I found it an absolute pleasure to spend time with the LM after picking him up – real quality time.  The two days each week I spend at home with him are now a gift in their own right.  This time with him I had completely taken for granted when I was home with him every day.  Again, I understand my feelings on this subject may be rejected by many stay-at-home mums, but I have to be honest with you.  My transition back into the workforce could not, for me personally, have come at a better time.

I do find some days are more difficult than others.  Those mornings getting ready for work are sometimes hellish and extremely difficult for me to handle, but I am managing.  And with each passing week, I feel the whole process getting just that little bit easier.  Throw a spanner in the works with the LM doing Number 2’s all over me and himself right before we are about to walk out the door and I may tell you otherwise!  But generally, I believe things have improved considerably.  My ability to handle the pressures of work has surprised me.  I’ll admit there are those occasions where the conversation and workload start to feel overwhelming, however my saviour is the fact I now have the time to breathe.  By taking a deep breath and reminding myself of why I am here, why I have been welcomed back as a key member of our team, and why my contribution is worthwhile, I am able to bring my anxiety back to a manageable level and move on.  It does help though, to have two wonderful colleagues who notice these “moments” of mine and take the time to whisper quietly, “Are you okay?”.

The “returning to work” issue for mums with PND is one I am very interested in, so would love to know your thoughts.  Do you have any strategies that worked for you that might help other mums with their transition?  If so, it would be great if you could share them.  I found it such a lonely thing to go through on my own so even to help one mum not have to deal with that would be wonderful.

Thanks so much as always for reading.  I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM xx

Postnatal Depression: My steps to healing… (Part 2)

Thanks for coming along to share Part 2 of my questions list… This part of my journey centers more around the issues I found with the social impact of having Postnatal Depression.  Even though I work in this very health area, I still found it extremely difficult to come to terms with the stigma and perceived judgement I felt I would receive about my diagnosis if those around me knew.  It’s silly, isn’t it?  I speak to new mums all the time about PND and how it has become a very real health condition and how they should not feel any shame at all in getting the support they need from those around them – was it time to practice what I preach?  One very important lesson I’ve learned is until you’ve been through a similar experience yourself, you can NEVER completely understand Postnatal Depression and the complexities it brings for those who are effected.

Which therapist?

In the lead up to my diagnosis, I had searched for (and fortunately found) a great women’s health therapist who I had visited on and off for counseling sessions before Christmas.  When I found Mrs D, my intention was to sort through my feelings about the LM’s birth and the trauma I’d felt in the months following his birth.  I also wanted to speak with her about some of the “big” decisions I had made with regard to my family over the previous couple of years – namely, my parents, step-father, brothers, and sister-in-law.  Mrs D proved to be a great therapist for my personality, so when my PND diagnosis was made I felt more than comfortable going to her to further explore the events that had led me to this point.

When I say Mrs D was great for my personality, what I mean is:  She has a very black-and-white approach to therapy, very blunt and to the point.  This approach works extremely well for me as personally I am, and always have been, very much like that.  I don’t tolerate fools easily, and certainly find it difficult to wrap things in cotton wool when I feel a more direct approach is required.  They always say your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness, and I feel this particular trait of mine highlights the point perfectly!  So, when Mrs D explained her counseling approach to me I thought, “Finally!  Someone who is just going to tell me like it is!”.  I remember feeling both relieved and petrified.

Needless to say, there were many tears, many confronting moments (some of which I will post about another time), and many realisations about myself, and my life, that have helped me enormously.  I believe the key to a good therapist, is finding one who relates well to your personality.  If you need the blunt approach as I did, ensure you find someone who is willing to speak with you about things this way.  If you need the “softly, softly” approach, then be sure you can connect with your therapist in this way before committing to further sessions.  Trust is the vital ingredient to the Therapy Cake and if you don’t have it, nothing will bind and you’ll be left feeling unfulfilled and very dissatisfied.  Neither of these feelings bode well for a mum experiencing PND as quite often just the courage it takes to attend a therapy session is overwhelming, let alone then having to leave feeling as though nothing was achieved.  Please keep searching for the right therapist, one you can trust and connect with.  Even if this requires a few false starts and takes you a little while,  I promise it will be well worth your effort.

Who will I tell?

Please let me start by saying that my choice to NOT tell many people about my PND diagnosis did not centre entirely around the stigma or judgement I felt I would receive.  This was certainly a part of it, but a part I felt I could overcome – as I said above, I needed to start practicing what I preached and I felt relatively comfortable with that.  What I did find more difficult however, was the pressure I felt such a confession would place on me personally.  A pressure I felt I simply couldn’t handle.  One thing I have come to terms with over the past 12 months are my limitations and when to push that comfort zone, and when not to.  As it was (and still is), I struggle daily with the pressure my depression weighs on my mind, and to have others know feels like it would be adding to that pressure, not helping it go away.  Please remember though, this is my personal experience.  I’m not saying my choice has been right or wrong, but what I do know is that it’s been the right choice for me.  For others, I’m sure having many more people within their support network is the best option.  It really is a personal decision and one I feel you must be truly comfortable with before making.  Only we know our strengths and limitations, and some mothers may not even be aware of theirs which only proves to make their journey all that more difficult.

My choice, therefore, was to confide in very few people.  Other than telling my HF (of course!), my mother was the first person I told after my visit to Dr J that morning.  I couldn’t speak without crying and I knew she felt every bit of my pain.  In many ways, I feel like my diagnosis and subsequent vulnerability has brought us closer together in our understanding of life and the way in which these things work.  Without her support, I honestly don’t know where I’d be.  The only other people I immediately confided in were my two closest girlfriends (each of whom have babes 2 months older than the LM).  I couldn’t speak after my conversation with mum, so decided to email them both about what the past couple of months had been for me.  Their replies, and our following conversations, were filled with understanding and compassion.  One of them, who I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, had tried to bring up the subject of PND with me a couple of months previously.  Whilst I hadn’t rejected her comments at the time, I had convinced her (and myself) that the period of negative thoughts I was experiencing would pass and things would be okay again.  Needless to say, she was most relieved to know I’d finally sort the help I needed.  To this day, both girl’s support has been unwavering.  Not overbearing, or underwhelming… But just right!   I consider myself truly lucky to have these women (and my HF) in my life and know this journey would not be the same without them.

Oh, dear… I just noticed the word count!  I was going to continue with my thoughts about returning to work and what the future now looks like but fear my word count is already horrendously high.  So instead, I will add a Part 3 to this little series of questions and not ramble on too  much longer.   I’m not sure if the information above helps in clarifying the thought process behind these steps in my PND journey so far, so please do share your own questions or thoughts about your experience.  I’d really love to hear from you.

Thanks so much as always, and I look forward to sharing the final questions over the coming week.  Take care.

TSM  xx