Helpful Steps: When the planets align…

Have you ever had those times, regardless of any obstacles, when things just seem to work out?  When you’re talking about someone and they call at that exact moment?  When you walk under a street light and it suddenly goes out?  When you think of something completely random and your partner says EXACTLY what you were thinking?

Is it purely coincidence, or is there more to it?

I used to be a really cynical and sarcastic person.  Cynical because I always felt second best to everyone around me, and sarcastic because it was my defense mechanism – I’d always put a barrier up first, that way (I thought) I couldn’t get hurt.  Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked really hard breaking down these chinks in my armour and feel I’ve done a pretty good job.  Books like The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (not to mention my bestfriend’s blunt honesty at times) have had a lot to do with my ability to turn my thoughts around.  Whilst there is a lot of speculation and criticism for both schools of thought, I found their basic principles extremely beneficial with respect to all walks of life.  The idea that our innate energy impacts on our surroundings, and others, makes complete sense to me.  We see examples of this positive and negative energy at play every day, in every way –  in our relationships, friendships, at work, at home – everywhere!  And doesn’t it always seem to be the most obvious when our energy is working in the negative…  When we are so down and out within ourselves, feeling terrible and against the world, the only way we can deal with it is by soaking and zapping the energy from everything and everyone around us.  If I’m completely honest with myself, my cynical self of old was definitely an example of this.  It can ultimately be such a drain on those positive people in our life that they choose to be around others less demanding of their time and energy.  It’s a vicious, revolving door and one I now try to steer as far away from as possible (very hard to do when suffering from PND).

So, the idea that there are no coincidences in life and everything is put in front of you for a reason (we just have to be conscious of it and explore what that reason may be), really resonates with me.  The cynical me of old would tell you it’s all a load of crap, however too many things have happened in my life since opening myself up to this way of thinking I simply can’t explain.  Whether it be with regard to job opportunities, relationships, or just the type of home or lifestyle I wish to have, there have been numerous times a much larger force seems to be at play in order to make things happen.  The act of visualising my wants and desires, the act of positive thinking things into fruition, has actually helped move my life forward.  I know it sounds crazy, but I believe it to be true.

Just recently, such forces of nature seem to have been at play again.  Whilst I was pregnant, and then again whilst on maternity leave, I started thinking about what my “ideal” job would look like.   The project management position I currently hold is definitely my idea of an “ideal” job.  However, being funding dependent my team are often faced with the dreaded question of “what if” our funding is discontinued?  What would we each do then?  For me, the answer has always been simple.  I need to find a job as close to the “perfect fit” and as rewarding for me as what this job has been – it is no doubt an incredibly tough ask.  Then I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and both my confidence and self-worth took a battering to the point of non-existence.  Forget about what my “perfect job” would be, as far as I was concerned I held no value for any workplace, let alone my own family.  Since starting my medication and work again, things have definitely improved.  Although I’ll always be the first to admit I still have quite a ways to go.

Through my postnatal journey, I’ve been fortunate to meet and be connected with many wonderful mothers who are struggling with the same debilitating illness.  We share our thoughts, feelings, incredible guilt, the very worst, and the very best of ourselves.  It is an amazing community and one within which I feel extremely lucky to be a part.  During a particularly dark time for me, by an amazing twist of fate, I happened upon a local news article outlining two mothers on their own unique postnatal depression journey.  Their journey has resulted in their establishing an organisation whose mission is to educate and connect with mothers suffering mental illness in a supportive, non-judgmental, community environment.  So, I “liked” their Facebook page.  From there, they in turn started supporting my blog posts by re-posting them for their Facebook friends.  We each then started commenting on various things, until ultimately it was decided we should meet and share our own experiences – both personal and business.  And wouldn’t you know it… I felt instantly connected with these women and completely at ease from the moment we sat down together over coffee.  It was like I had known them all my life.  The conversation flowed easily, I was in awe of their achievements, and I walked away feeling as though something incredible was about to happen.  The planets aligned…

I’m purposely not naming names, or organisations, as I believe there is still a lot of ground to cover.  But I will say this:  Always stay true to yourself and listen to your intuition.  The doors that open due to your willingness to connect with the things you don’t yet understand may very well pave the way to an unforseeably wonderful and rewarding future.  At this stage, I’m not quite sure where this chapter of my life will take me, but I can honestly say I am extremely excited as to what my future may hold.  I guess only time will tell, and until then I have to keep believing there is a bigger picture and what unfolds is ultimately meant to be.

Who would have thought my postnatal depression diagnosis would lead me to where I am today?  Not me, that’s for sure.

And just in case your “cynical” side is doubting my current outlook on life… Here’s some more proof!  After writing my post this afternoon I put off publishing it as like to leave a little time to read over it again.  Unbeknownst to me, my HF then decided to surprise me with a lovely Thai take-away dinner and a DVD movie.  The movie he chose for us was  “The Lucky One” (with Zac Effron).   The opening quote at the start of the movie was this:

“You know, the smallest thing can change your life.  In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance when you least expect it and puts you onto a course you never planned, into a future you never imagined.  Where will it take you?  That’s the journey of our lives, our search for the light.  But sometimes, finding the light means you have to pass through the deepest darkness.  At least, that’s how it was for me.”  – Logan (Zac Effron)

A coincidence given what I had written this afternoon?  I think not.

I’m curious to know if you’ve ever encountered these types of “twilight zone” moments in your life?  Please be sure to share with me if you have, I would love to hear from you.   Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM  xx

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Postnatal Depression: Couples therapy feedback… Is this good or bad?

Two weeks ago, my HF and I went to our first couples therapy session.  Both of us thought the experience went well and we are eager to continue as we think it will do our relationship the world of good.  During that first session with Mrs O, both of us were asked to  fill in two questionnaires (in the waiting room whilst the other spoke with Mrs O on their own).  The first questionnaire was about our relationship, basically were we happy in our relationship, was it rewarding, or not.  The second was to assess our current levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.  We filled them in willingly, and I know for myself I didn’t really think about the results again.

When we walked into our next session with Mrs O, she calmly asked us to take a seat and said, “Okay, so I have your scores for the questionnaires you filled in for me last week and…”   What came next was confronting, but not shocking, and I walked out of her office that afternoon feeling raw, extremely vulnerable, and just a little bit sick in my stomach.  I mean, I know the last month has been a struggle, but are things really that bad?  This is what transpired:

“… HF let’s start with you.  You scored within the normal range for stress, normal for anxiety, and normal for depression.  And the good news is, both of you scored around a 7 on the relationship scale, so it means you’re both relatively happy and on the same page in that respect.  Now, TSM, for your results.  You scored within the normal range for stress, within the severe range for anxiety, and the extremely severe range for depression.  This is something we need to tackle head on, straight away.”

Okay, so things are obviously THAT bad!  I initially felt a little numb when Mrs O said what my results indicated.  It’s been 8 months since my diagnosis, surely things were getting better by now?  Then she asked if these results were a surprise to me and I replied that honestly no, they were not.  How could they be a surprise when I’d been feeling so crappy over the past month and at a loss to explain why?  I looked over to where my HF was sitting and he was looking at me with a really sad expression on his face.  It wasn’t that he was feeling sorry for me, I know that.  I just think he feels so incredibly helpless to assist me in getting things back on track.  And I continue to feel incredibly guilty for all the damage I’m causing our family and for not providing him with the life I know (well, I think) he desperately wants.  These such feelings are the reasons why I think Mrs O’s results, at this particular time, have provided both a good and bad outcome for me.

The good outcome is that my moods now make sense (all over again).  I’ve not been feeling so bad because that’s just the person I am, how I’m meant to be.  I’ve been feeling bad because my depression still isn’t in check and I need to find new and different ways to deal with the dark moods when they occur.  I need to work more on what my triggers are and how to recognise them.  Whilst I’d felt things were improving for a good 6 months or more, something has caused a shift over recent months and it’s most definitely in my best interest to get to the bottom of what that may be.  So how do I get to the bottom of it?  The answer is simple… more therapy.  With Mrs O’s help, the goal is to focus on my depression and anxiety over the coming months in individual therapy sessions.  Mrs O firmly believes my HF and my relationship, generally speaking, is not in trouble at all.  In fact, the issues we highlight as “challenging” are what every couple deals with from time to time.  What’s making it more difficult for us to get over, is the influence my depressive moods are having on our ability to communicate with one another on an even playing field.  Until that can happen, until the darkness can be taken out of the equation, our relationship will continue to be “hard work”.  Neither my HF or I want that (obviously), so again the outcome has been good in helping us (namely, me) recognise where the initial issues lay and how best to deal with them.

The bad outcome is, as I mentioned earlier, I had thought I was past all this individual therapy business and to a point I could cope with more on my own.  Whilst in my rational mind it makes perfect sense this is not the case, I still feel like I’ve failed on some level.  I know, I know… this is my irrational mind, the depression talking.  That evil monster getting into my thoughts again making me feel hopeless and worthless, as though I can’t do anything right.  And even though I know individual therapy is going to help me with this monster, there still remains a part of me that desperately wants to be capable again.  Wants to wake of a morning knowing that today is going to be a great day.  Wants to hold my HF’s hand and smile up at him because he is my world and I can’t live without him.  Such thoughts still feel so far away, so I guess the answer for me is to get back to the basics of what my PND has taught me so far.  I need to take each day as it comes and allow myself the freedom of giving myself a break from all of the expectations I pile upon myself (a common thread here?).  I need to break my day down into the smallest, most manageable pieces I can in order to deal with whatever is happening – be that by the hour, the minute, the second, the milli-second.  I need to understand that whatever my thoughts are in this moment can be changed and I have the power to do that within myself.  But mostly, I need to give myself time… After all, time heals all wounds, right?

So, walking out of Mrs O’s office with my HF I felt vulnerable and raw and knew that I couldn’t talk about what was happening within me right then.  I explained this to my HF and he, as usual, didn’t press me further.  We’ve spoken more about things since and our date nights are set to become a regular occurrence (twice monthly) in our schedule.  It’s important we keep talking about how my depression is effecting us, and our date nights allow us to do that as adults and in a way that makes us mean something special to one another again.   I know I will make the effort to learn new strategies in order to overcome this depression because I not only owe it to myself to be the very best person I can possibly be, but I also owe it to my family.  I owe it to them more than anything else in the world.

Thanks as always, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM  xx

Postnatal Depression: My shower, my sanctuary…

“Young woman taking a shower” (Kazuya Akimoto)

So late yesterday afternoon I found myself in the shower, standing under the hot, steaming water, willing the darkness away… begging it to go away.   It had engulfed me from the moment I had awoken and its ugly weight had been bearing down on me all day.  I was tired, but mostly I was angry.  So incredibly angry.  Little things were driving me unnecessarily crazy.  What the hell was going on?  By the time my HF arrived home from work, I was ready to lose it… really lose it.   So in my mind, the only option I had was to escape.   “I’m having a shower,” I grumbled as I pushed passed him on my way to our ensuite.  “Sure, babe.  Whatever you have to do,” came his reply.  Even his understanding made me angry!

When I’m feeling this far under the cloud of my postnatal depression, the only option I have is to place myself in “timeout”.  I can’t be around people, I can no longer pretend to be okay with the world when I am so clearly not.  And most of all, I can’t stand myself when I’m feeling and acting this way.  I can’t look at myself in the mirror without feeling disgusted by what I see, who I’ve turned into.  I can’t budge the ever-present guilt of the damage such moods cause my family.   So, with all that being said, I’ve had to find a sanctuary within our home I can escape to during such times of need.  And that sanctuary for me is the shower.  It is the one place I can truly be on my own, in my own space, alone with my own thoughts… uninterrupted.  A place I feel safe.

Today I came across a post by Jenny from Tranquilamama, entitled “Split personality” (appearing as a guest blogger at PPD to Joy).  I was obviously meant to come across this post for a reason.  The rage described in Jenny’s post is exactly the rage I find brewing within myself during these dark times.  Her physical symptoms leading up to these moments, whilst different to mine in many ways, are also very similar.  That feeling, that innate NEED, to simply run away from wherever you are to ANYWHERE else is the one symptom I find I absolutely share with Jenny.  It is one of the definite triggers I have to warn me of upcoming and pending disaster if I don’t act NOW (a whole other blog post in itself).   It is sometimes very difficult to get a handle on what’s happening in time to avoid my meltdowns, but I’m finding my ability to do this is getting better as time goes on (and, just quietly, I think my HF is better at identifying them too).  Hence, my need for a sanctuary, somewhere I can run to avoid turning into the dreaded Ms Hyde Jenny describes so well.

Fortunately for me, a well-timed shower late yesterday afternoon provided the tension relief I desperately needed and I was able to get through our evening without further problems.  I was still tired, but the anger had subsided to a lesser degree of agitation and my HF was extremely considerate in not encroaching too much on the space I still craved.  It’s an awful and upsetting situation to find yourself in…  Standing under the shower, water beating down on you, begging for the heat and steam to ease the anger and tension you feel within yourself.  All of this, just so you can walk out and face your family again – without the fear of losing control, or worse, having a complete emotional meltdown.

The hardest thing to admit about yesterday’s cloud though, is that yesterday was probably a better day in many ways than other days have been.   I went shopping with the LM, we bought some great winter clothes specials and did the grocery shop.  I enjoyed a latte and scones at a nice cafe while he ate his morning tea, we laughed and had (it seemed) a great time.  To anyone else looking at us we would have been the perfect picture of a wonderful “mother-son outing”.   Yet I felt the full force of my PND symptoms the whole time.  My mask was firmly in place all day yesterday, and by the time I returned home it was suffocating me beyond belief.  How truly horrifying is that… I can only hope my LM’s recollection of such times with me are not tainted in the same way.  Please, let this be the case.

Thanks so much as always for sharing your time with me.  This was one post I definitely needed to get off my chest, and very much thank Jenny for helping me do that.

Until next time, take care.

TSM  xx

Postnatal Depression: A man’s perspective on couples therapy…

As you know, my HF and I have decided to undertake couples therapy as a means to get our relationship (namely, our communication) back on track.  This is by no means a negative thing for us, we are most certainly NOT on the edge of a separation (which most people seem to think when you mention”therapy”).  What this means for us is a chance to arm ourselves with the best tools possible in an effort to provide the ongoing maintenance required for our postnatal depression journey – and for the life we will share beyond.

We feel really good about our decision, so in a brave move my HF agreed to write down his thoughts on the whole thing.  His initial reaction when I asked if he would consider writing something about our experience was, “But what am I going to say?  You write well, I don’t.  I can’t put it into words.”  I assured him honesty was the key and beyond that it didn’t really matter.  I’m not saying he liked doing it, but he was willing to do it for me… for us.

So, here is his perspective on our first session with the couples therapist… Thank-you so much for doing this, babe.  I love you.

Our life was turned upside down when we added the LM to our life.  All for the better.  But with all the things we were thrown to do with our LM, it made life a very uneasy one for all of us.  But more so for my lovely fiance.  Things were difficult.  I tried to keep things calm and rational but it was not possible a lot of the time.  We didn’t know what was going on.  I had no idea it was postnatal depression.  My listening skills aren’t great at the best of times and this was a constant struggle for us during this time.  But it was my lovely fiancé not being able to cope with, or be rational about, every day things and situations that was the hardest for me to deal with.  It was not like her at all and I couldn’t fix it no matter how much I wanted to.

When my lovely fiancé came home after seeing the doctor and told me about the postnatal depression, I felt relieved we finally had an answer and some understanding for what was going on.  Since then, I have been able to manage more of her meltdowns with a better idea of what she is going through.  I know now all I need to do is give my lovely fiancé the space she needs to deal with things when they happen and reassure her we’ll get through this and that I’m not going anywhere.

When we talked about going to couples therapy I thought this would be a great idea to help us deal with both our issues.  Both for our personal issues and those to do with the postnatal depression.  I knew I wanted this for us, but I was anxious about our first session.  During the first session, I had the chance to talk to the therapist about how I was going and how I was dealing with things.  My physical reaction gave away my anxiousness because my mouth became really dry and I struggled to keep on track with what we were talking about.  In the end though , it felt good to finally be able to get things off my chest.

I’m hoping by seeing this therapist our lives will certainly improve.  The therapist spoke about ways I can help.  One way was by planning nights out for myself and my lovely fiancé.  We need to enjoy time by ourselves and get used to communicating and being together as a couple again.  I probably didn’t really understand that by me planning and organising these sorts of things, that would actually mean more to my lovely fiancé than me helping her around the house.  I want us to eventually get back the love and affection we first had when we met.  Tonight we are going out and it’s the first time I’ve organised it without her help  She was very surprised when I told her!  I’m really looking forward to it.

 

Postnatal Depression: When your own expectations are letting you down…

So, as I alluded to in my previous post, I’ve lately been feeling as though my medication has simply stopped working.  My mood seems intensely darkened again, my HF and I are fighting about every little thing, my ability to cope seems to have shortened significantly.  Hence, in a gallant effort to bring my PND-M (Postnatal Depression Monster) down to his knees, I made yet another appointment with the wonderful Dr J to discuss what is happening.  And this is what she said…

“Cut yourself some slack.  You can’t do everything.”

Okay, so maybe the LM has been sick for the better part of 3 months (with only a few days relief here and there in between).  Maybe I have returned to work and, despite this being a positive thing in my mind, it does impact my weekly routine in a way it wasn’t impacted whilst I was on leave.  Maybe I did have the worst case of tonsillitis I’ve had in a number of years and didn’t take any significant time to adequately recuperate.  Maybe, just maybe I think I can do more than I actually can – ?

“Lower the expectations you have for yourself.  Taking the postnatal depression out of it, even then what’s going on for you would cause anyone to experience a “down” time in their life.  The down times still happen.”

From Dr J’s perspective, it makes sense.  When there are a number of significant pressures on you, when things are compounding and your general health starts being effected, of course your mood and general ability to cope is compromised.  Depression, or no depression, this is perfectly normal.  What I understand now is, my feeling that my medication was no longer working comes from a much deeper fear… The fear I have of going back to “that place”.   Whenever I wake up feeling less than able to deal with the day ahead of me, I begin to question my PND status and fear sliding back down that slippery slope of helplessness.  Pair together a number of weeks waking up feeling this way and as you can imagine my fear and anxiety were out of control!  I DON’T WANT TO GO BACK THERE!!!!  I think my making the appointment with Dr J helped put things back into a realistic perspective.  She explained things to me in a very black and white manner.   She gave me an open invitation to make another appointment if I felt things were getting worse.  She wants me to make another appointment in 2 weeks time regardless, just to “check-in” .  Dr J has given me the confidence I needed to tackle my anxiety, and the safety net I was looking for just in case that nasty monster was in fact rearing his ugly head yet again.  Fear of relapse – yet another obstacle we must face during our postnatal depression recovery.

“Let go of your expectations.  Trust your medication is working for you.  But most importantly, trust in yourself.”

Remember Dr J’s original “broken arm” analogy (“Postnatal Depression:  A not-so-surprising diagnosis…”)?  Well, that’s exactly what her advice centred around this time also.  I simply can’t expect to do everything as I normally would BD (Before Diagnosis).  I have to let go of this overwhelming need I have to prove to myself, and everyone else around me, that I still have what it takes to cope with any and all obstacles thrown in my path.  Sure, once upon a time I may have been able to deal with everything all at once.  The simple reality for me now is… I can’t.  Get over it.  Build a bridge.  Move on!  Of course it’s much easier said than done, particularly when you’re a self-confessed perfectionist used to being in control.  It’s something I guess I’m coming to terms with (albeit slowly) and certainly something I need to work very hard on letting go… My expectations.

The whole topic of expectations reminds me of an article I once read by Dr Brenda Shoshanna,  “Building Bridges” .  Her article provides a viewpoint on expectations I often refer back to when dealing with relationships in an effort to keep things in perspective (obviously I need to refer to it more often!).  She speaks of our need to let go of any negativity and see every meeting (or situation) for what it is at that time, a bridge to the next experience.  I like her reference to the need for each of us to take ownership of our “part in the dance” and accept that people (and I guess, situations) can only offer what they are capable of offering at that particular time in their life.   It is only our expectations of ourselves and others that is letting us down, nothing more.  So incredibly true!  Now that I think about it, I can use this article when thinking about (and fearing) the return of my PND-M.  In an effort to lower my expectations, it would make sense to work on forgiving myself, and thus make peace with the pain I’ve suffered, allowing resentment and judgement (of myself) to subside.   In other words, maybe I need to make friends with my PND-M – ???  When next he knocks, perhaps I need to invite him in for a coffee and embrace what it is he has to teach me at this moment in my life.   It’s an interesting perspective and one I hadn’t really thought of until now.

Well, tonight I am off on a date-night with my HF which I’m hoping will be a lovely evening for us both.  It’s certainly been needed for a long time and is something we hope to do more regularly.  Thank you as always for reading my post and please be sure to share any thoughts you may have on your own ability to deal with expectations.  I would love to hear from you!

Take care until next time,

TSM  xx