Life, Parenting

A Letter To My Mum

This is my last letter in 2018 to the people that helped shape me. It’s also my 40th blog post which feels a bit special. Anyway, here it is, keeping my twitter promise, a letter to my Mum.

 

Hey Mum,
There are literally not enough words to say how much you mean to me. Trying to do that would verge on the impossible. You deserve the world but I’m too poor to buy the world so you’ll have to cope with a blog-letter. Maybe also a chocolate orange.

We’ve known each other for 25 and a half years now: that’s if we don’t include pregnancy. What that means is: you’re now very old. You’re now a parent to two grown women and a Nana to a six month old baby. Hold on while I laugh about that!

On a more serious note, it’s been some ride, hasn’t it? Some people on this planet don’t have a Mum. Some don’t even have any parents. Some don’t even have any family. That makes me an exceptionally lucky human being because I’ve had you for my entire life. You’ve stuck with me: you poor, poor soul.

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away…) you used to say that me, you and my sister were a package. We came together. We were a team. We navigated the world together, riding the rollercoaster of life through some ups and some incredible downs. As a parent I now know how difficult it was for you to steer that ship, predominantly on your own most of the time.

In typical parenting fashion you also used to say “just you wait until you have kids”. I now have one. Thanks for teaching me about unconditional love so I can go on to teach my son about unconditional love. It has come full circle and I’m now steering a ship in the knowledge that I can do anything: because you sometimes achieved the impossible to keep our ship afloat.

I’m not going to linger on the bad times because most people who know us, know that we’ve had some very volatile moments in our relationship. You know… with lamps. Sorry that I’m sometimes a horrible human being: before you attempt to deny that, don’t bother. We both know that there are times when I channel my inner Evil.

Thanks for pushing me to succeed. Thanks for teaching me about anxiety and offering to listen and help. Thanks for constantly telling me that I was going to University. Thanks for cooking food for me. Thanks for breaking yourself to give us things we wanted and things we needed. Thanks for teaching us the value of family – especially when things are tough. Thanks for teaching us the value of friendship and always operating an open door policy. Thanks for sitting in hospitals with me when I had asthma attacks. Thanks for being one of my birthing partners – and thanks for sitting in the cafe worrying about whether I’d survive it all. Thanks for reading to me. Thanks for making sure I love vegetables. Thanks for being an amazing Nana to my son. Thanks for worrying about me. Thanks for babysitting. Thanks for putting our best interests first most of the time and giving us the strength to make our own decisions. Thanks for reminding me that a panic attack can’t kill me. Thanks for doing all those stomach injections for me after I had the baby – that was grim. Thanks for teaching me parenting skills: and thanks for letting us stay at your house for the first three weeks of my son’s life. Thanks for all the disgusting things you had to put up with during and after the pregnancy: that was REALLY grim, Mum.

There are millions of other things I could list. You’re awesome and I love you.

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mental health

The Survival Mode

This week I’ve reflected on how much of my mental health I’m willing to share with the world. How much I’m willing to share with my own family even, or my friends. People routinely ask me “how are you getting on?”; “how are you feeling?”; “are you managing?”. More than once I’ve turned around and said “no, I’m not managing, I’m struggling constantly”. Let’s get very real: that’s not the answer people are hoping to hear. It’s not the answer people are PREPARED to hear.

I don’t say it for the shock factor. I don’t say it because I want something from the person who has asked. I don’t say it because I want the person in front of me to jump to help me – they more than likely CAN’T help me. I say it because anything else would be a lie and if I start to say “I’m fine” when I’m not, I’ll be driving the darkness underground. That’s not an option. It’s dark enough in the light, I don’t want to imagine how dark it could be without it.

Finding the words to describe how I’m feeling on a day-to-day basis is harder than you’d think. It’s not just sadness or numbness. Having lived with anxiety for most of my life now, I’ve grown very able to describe that experience in depth. Depression is new. I don’t have all the words yet to paint that picture.

That doesn’t mean I can’t try. Some people call it “depressive episodes”: I don’t know if this is an episode, we’ve gone from talking about bad days to bad weeks and we’re potentially looking at bad months now. I’m living in what I’ve now termed The Survival Mode. All I’m capable of right now is keeping my baby happy and keeping myself alive.

Hours merge together as I battle an internal war of the mind: praying to deities I don’t even believe in that I will win. I told a friend that it’s like a magnet is holding me to my bed. No amount of willpower in the world is enough to physically move me. Autopilot takes over, a fog descends over my brain and I quite literally become unable to focus.

People speak to me and I stop being able to keep up with basic conversation: quite often people think I’m being ignorant. Honestly, I’m not. I just had to smash down a part of my mind that was dragging me into an abyss.

There are so many stereotypes about depression that it becomes laughable. One thing that has surprised me is that I don’t cry. It rarely happens. There’s too much emptiness to even find the energy to cry, to be sad, or to be happy.

It sounds grim, doesn’t it? I know it does. However, all is not lost. Against some pretty extreme battles, I’m still alive and if all I can do right now is survive then that’s ok. Surviving is a valid option. I’m not going to berate myself for not managing more because enough people in the world will think it for me: a part of me will think it too. I’ll learn how to swim when I’m drowning. I’ll find the torch in the darkness.

Life, Parenting

Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy

Since day one I’ve had to repeat to people that we have an abnormally great baby. Does he sleep? Yes he does! Does he cry? Not really! Our baby couldn’t get more chill. I’m going to be totally honest because I would hate for someone to think we’ve got this all figured out: this is NOT a feat of glorious parenting mastery. It is sheer luck.

Some will probably argue that we don’t have much to complain about because our baby is great. Wrong. Let me introduce you to the world of CMPA – Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy. Our son is allergic to a protein that is found in cow’s milk and all related products. That means food is a minefield.

It started off with what we thought was “colic”: horrendous screaming after finishing a bottle. He was inconsolable. Our usually content baby would turn into The Hulk after nearly every bottle. Nothing could soothe him. We tried infacol to ensure it wasn’t wind, we tried burping after every ounce of milk, we tried changing the teats on the bottles; NOPE.

Then there was the rash. The day after he was born, I started to notice little red patches on his cheeks. From there it began to grow and look something like acne. We were told that it was a “milk rash” that babies get when their new baby skin first comes into contact with all the germs in the air.

Time passed: the skin got worse and he began taking less milk, literally spitting it out of his mouth as though it was painful to his tongue. Our baby was allergic. From that point onwards he’s been on a specialised, prescription milk that doesn’t contain cow’s milk and we have to request it every four weeks. This in itself is an absolute nightmare because NO pharmacy nearby stocks it. None of them.

We’ve also had to see a dietitian because now that we’re heading towards 6 months old, weaning has commenced! Hyper vigilance is key. He has to have ZERO milk products now until he reaches a year old so we can safely, gradually, make attempts to reintroduce milk products. You’d think this might be easy but it’s really, really not. Yoghurt is a no go, butter is a no go, milk is obviously out, but so are all products that ‘contain’ milk or ‘MAY contain milk’. He can’t even have Soya until he’s nine months according to the dietitian!

So, if you happen to come across another person’s baby and think “I’ll just give them a wee bit of what’s on my plate”: DON’T. Just DON’T. CMPA takes three days to build up in the system and then we’re left with a screaming baby: with no idea what in those three days has been the issue. Everything we give our baby has to be introduced slowly because he’s likely to have other allergies due to being classed as an “allergenic baby”.

Interestingly, our baby was more likely to have an inflammatory condition because of his genetics. I have asthma: inflammatory. Mr Robinson has eczema: inflammatory. At least we’ll be prepared for any future offspring. For now, it’s onwards with pea puree!

mental health, Parenting

Postnatal Depression

This is a big topic. A very difficult topic to write about. In keeping with how honest I like this blog to be, I’m going to attempt to write about it anyway. Some people reading this will relate, and some will never be able to relate: to those who can’t, I’m so happy that you’ve been lucky enough to avoid this. It can happen to anyone, so let’s keep that in mind.

Here’s some interesting facts about postnatal depression before I get into the heavy stuff. According to the NHS, it affects more than 1 in 10 women. It can occur any time within 1 year of giving birth. The “baby blues” shouldn’t last longer than two weeks after birth. And for those that don’t know: IT CAN AFFECT MEN TOO. Don’t believe me? Look it up!

For me, postnatal depression was something I had looked into before we even decided to have our baby. As an anxiety sufferer, I was aware that my mental health could take a dip. I discussed it with midwives, nurses, and my GP more than once during the pregnancy. I’ve also been very open with any health visitor that has asked.

What I wasn’t expecting was for PND to creep up on me like a thief in the night. It started off with “Baby Blues”: my hormones were so unbalanced in the first two weeks after giving birth that I was literally a tearful mess. Between trying to breastfeed, cope with the pain of recovery, cope with sleep deprivation, and bond with my new baby, things were difficult. It was mentioned to midwives and health visitors who assured me it was normal.

Over the course of four months my anxiety continued to get worse and worse and worse. I was aware of it but as panic attacks are normally my gauge for whether I’m in control, I thought I was doing ok. Who isn’t anxious about raising another human being?!

Realising this wasn’t an ideal situation, I mentioned it to my health visitor who pulled out a questionnaire. I’d later complete this another three times on separate occasions. It asked me a series of questions in an attempt to work out if I was suffering from PND. Literally a tick box exercise. Funnily enough, my results showed I had increased anxiety… but not depression.

Friends and family queried if I might have postnatal depression. Things were not good. Unlike all the stories propagated in the media, I loved spending time with my baby and I’ve never failed to meet his needs. The problem lay in meeting MY needs. Quite frankly, I wasn’t even trying to take care of myself.

Some days I would forget to eat, I wouldn’t realise I hadn’t drank anything until Mr Robinson asked when he got home from work. Sleeping was a problem. The thought of having to get myself and a baby out of the house made me feel physically sick. Hours would be spent staring into space while the baby napped. Friends and family would speak to me and I’d be so zoned out I couldn’t even hear them, let alone answer anything they were asking. I was navigating in a fog of forgetfulness.

However, when I mentioned to people that I felt my brain wasn’t working, I was often told “it’s baby brain, it never really goes back to normal”. The surveys I’d been given by the Health Visitor said I was fine, if anxious – but I’m always anxious. I didn’t have a problem bonding with my baby. In fact, one night I stood on my front doorstep, staring into the darkness, and considered leaving and never coming back. I went back inside, looked at my son, and knew I could never do that. Leaving him is not an option.

My husband, quite rightly, was horrified when I told him about this the next day. By the time I dragged myself the GP, I was having thoughts of self-harm and openly telling people that I no longer wished to exist. Not that I wanted to physically go through death. Just that I wanted to cease being. I’m making that clarification because even with the depression, I know suicide will never happen.

I’m lucky that I have an exceptionally kind GP who has only just recently had a baby of her own. She listened to me, gave me tissues, and has set me up with a plan. It’s going to take time and I don’t have it all figured out but there’s light somewhere at the end of the tunnel.

Life

A Letter To My Husband

As mentioned a while ago, I made a slight twitter promise that I’d write out some messages to the people that helped me get to where I am today. This one is for Mr Robinson – so if you’re opposed to hideously cheesy messages filled with sop, you might want to turn back now and come back another day.

To my long suffering husband,
This year we are celebrating eight years together which means I have literally spent my entire adult life with you. Honestly, I can’t imagine NOT having a life with you so I suppose it’s just as well that we got married. I’m not a massive believer in soul mates but I knew as soon as I saw you that we’d be together from that point onward. Yes, that is sickening, but it’s also true.

Putting the cute stuff to one side, the reality is that most of our friends and family never thought we’d get to this point together. There’s about 250/300 miles between Glasgow and Hull: most people won’t sign up to a relationship that has to navigate that level of distance. I’m not sure WE were even that sure that we could pull it off. After all, it won’t surprise anyone to know that we have very little in common: I don’t understand poker, and you’ve never read Harry Potter, though we do find some mutual ground when it comes to cake and sleeping all day on a Sunday.

Despite all that, we’ve made it work and you’ve always been supportive. You’ve never, ever, held me back. Even when it meant increasing that distance by another 150 miles so I could go to University. Even when it meant hardly seeing each other because I was working every hour under the sun. Someone told me when we first got together that we were like magnets, always gravitating towards each other: I still feel that. You’re like my shadow.

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So, thanks for being the better half of me – the patient half; the laid back half; the half that can do Maths. Thanks for doing the night feeds when you’ve got work the next day. Thanks for sending me cute messages when I can’t get out of bed in the morning. Thanks for providing your services as a human-hot-water-bottle in the middle of the night. Thanks for putting up with my nagging, and my weirdness. Thanks for marrying me. Oh, and thanks for making the cutest baby in the world with me: you’re an amazing Dad and without you I wouldn’t be a Mum.

You should probably know by now that I love you for you but I also love you for a million other reasons. I tell you them quite frequently. Here are a few other reasons why I love you, to add to the ever-growing list. Firstly, I love that you are strong where I’m weak – you are my rock through the worst times we’ve had together. Second, I love that you try to understand me, even when you’re scared and have no idea where to start. Thirdly, and most importantly, I love that you remind me every day that we are a team and that we are unbreakable. Every day I recommit myself to the team we’ve built together.

If you ever wonder whether I appreciate you, have a look back at this, and then remind me to appreciate you a little bit more. Here’s to another eight years of knocking it out the park together. Most of my adult achievements are owed in part to you. All of who I am, has been created with you; you always have my back and I will always have yours.

Love,
Your long suffering wife.

mental health

Talking Self-Harm

When I was a teenager I knew people who cut themselves. As an adult, I know people who have hurt themselves in the past or who are doing so in their present. This is a topic that I’ve really been hesitant to talk about but I’m doing so because I have a platform to do it. I’m also going to write about it because if I decide for myself that it’s a taboo topic, it gives it more power than it should have. However, I am going to warn now: if this is not something you feel comfortable reading about, stop reading RIGHT NOW. I won’t mind. Seriously. There WILL be information in here that is uncomfortable to read so please keep that in mind.

Let’s go back for a trip down memory lane and visit teenage me. If you’d spoken to that person, she wouldn’t have understood self-harm in the slightest. Mental health issues: yes! Depression: yes! Anxiety: 100%! Self-harm: may as well be a foreign language. I couldn’t comprehend it. There will be people reading this who can’t comprehend it. Ten years ago I’d have said “HOW can you do that?! WHAT are you possibly getting out of it?! It’s not healthy, you shouldn’t do that, you could really hurt yourself, let’s talk it out instead”.

Fast forward to Wednesday 31st October 2018. Halloween. The date that will now go down in my personal history as the day I first harmed myself.

It’s not something many people in my life know about. It wasn’t because I wanted to die. The most accurate reason I can give is this: I wanted to feel something physically to distract from the mental torment. Anxiety was consuming my entire body, I could barely move, and I needed an “off” switch. Something to snap my brain out of itself.

On the self-harm scale, there are people out there and people who will read this who have done far more harm than what I did. Does that make it insignificant? I don’t really know. It’s probably never insignificant when a person chooses to do physical damage, deliberately, to their own bodies.

Since that moment I’ve seriously analysed my own motivations based on all the information I’ve ever acquired about self harm. The thing that sticks out most is that before that moment, I knew literally nothing about it. Not a single thing. That’s a horrific realisation because what it says is that until you’ve done that act, you will never understand how that person’s mind is working and so how does a person that has never felt that, help a person who is doing that?

I’ve done a run through of all the strange things people say about self-harm and come to the following conclusions:

1. It’s so far from attention seeking it’s unreal: for me it was something done in private, spoken about to very few people. I’ve never had this opinion of self-harm but I know many do.
2. “It’s a cry for help”: I don’t think this is the case. I knew I needed help, I’ve already sought out the help, I’m very vocal about where I am with my mental health. This was a personal act. For me and nobody else.
3. “It’s selfish”: It is, yes. It is the choice of one person to do something to their own body. That really has nothing to do with any other person. I have to say, if you’re reading this and you are the person thinking “they are so selfish”, then I have to ask why you think you are justified in thinking it should be about anyone else other than the person it is happening to.

Most imporantly, I think it’s worth thinking about how outdated our idea of self-harm really is. Yes, it’s cutting yourself, or burning yourself, or whatever. It’s also starving yourself. It’s also eating so much you vomit. It’s also exercising so much every day that you keep going even when you’re in horrendous agony. It’s also regularly drinking yourself to a point of blacking out. It can be anything so long as you’re doing it as a means to escape what’s going on in your own mind, as a coping mechanism, or as a way to stop thinking for a little while.

However, hope is not lost. If you’re over on twitter then it’s worth looking up the MH Crisis Angels who can offer some peer support when you need someone to talk to, it’s free and they are lovely. Alternatively, Samaritans can offer plenty of support: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us . They can give you advice if you’re worried about someone else, too. The more information we have, the better.

Life, Parenting

Hello, 5 months!

November marks five months since I gave birth. Let that sink in. Five complete months of keeping another human being alive. We are now masters of the nappy change, certified in the making of bottles, and have perfected the fine art of putting clothes on a person while they try to dive in all directions.

As we enter this new phase, our baby is finally beginning to look like a little person instead of a newborn. Our baby is also strong. He’s sitting up with a little bit of help and we can definitely see crawling on the horizon. Grasping things is an amazing new skill: until he tries to rip Mummy’s hair out or steal Daddy’s glasses. You win some, you lose some.

I finally got to fulfil the desire I’ve had since pregnancy to dress up our baby like a pumpkin:

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And we got the go ahead to start weaning – I’ll write more about that later in the week but for now look at this gorgeous face:

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