The Fragility of an Even Keel

As you may have read in my last post, I was accidentally bitten by a dog at the weekend. Seemed like a pretty trivial if irritating thing at the time. But I thought I’d share how, five days later, I’m fighting off thoughts of not wanting to wake up tomorrow, and how fragile even the most level-looking keel can be when you battle mental health issues.

The bite was small but painful and, being on my thumb, I needed it to heal well, so went to the docs. Who prescribed a wide-range antibiotic, because dog bite apparently. The antibiotics (I think) caused cramps and a dodgy tum. I say I think, because my daughter’s been off school for two days with the same thing. It might have been the child at the docs with the sick bowl, or the pale lad slumped on the floor. Who knows? I just know that my daughter is never ill, and mine tends to be viral rather than gastric.

Regardless of the cause, the dodgy tum (or the antibiotics) has screwed up my SSRIs. I can tell because I want to break things and keep shouting and crying. Which has put the dog and kids on edge, so it’s been pacing and begging and ‘Mummy mummy mummy’ round the clock. They’ve even found me in my hiding place: the dog is outside tiptapping relentlessly under the window

There are a whole heap of other things thrown in the mix, least of which is the damn internet not working (kids can’t do homework, I can’t upload book files, hub can’t play Fortnite) but they’re every day annoyances.

Still, all in all, I’m going on holiday next week and instead of being excited I’m hiding in the spare room thinking of all those things you’re meant to think of, to stave off the ‘I can’t take this anymore’ thoughts. You know; how everyone needs you and loves you, and it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

It doesn’t help.

For a start, it’s being ‘over needed’ that tends to make me desperate in the first place. I feel pressured to be the perfect wife and mother and the guilt of failure can be unbearable. Secondly, depression isn’t actually a temporary problem, it’s a lifetime condition. I never understood it when people said that. I guess if your end-it-all thoughts are because of a broken relationship or other ‘event’ it could be considered temporary, but not depression. It’s pretty bloody perennial.

So, anyway, I’m not going to do anything desperate. My tablets are working enough that I will hide and know that, if tomorrow isn’t better, the day after might be. I love my family and know that they need me, however much that feels like a prison sentence at times. I know that even if this post upsets them (assuming I post it at all) they’ll understand and forgive me. I know I have much to be grateful for and that kids grow up and leave home eventually (and apparently I’ll miss them). I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m probably not a failure for not cooking proper meals or giving my kids and husband all my attention, or for shouting at the dog.

Some are not able to find that perspective, I’m one of the lucky ones. It can be the smallest thing that triggers a cascade. And it isn’t selfish or attention seeking or dumb. It’s an illness that can take hold like sepsis and attack the strongest people like a cancer.

It’s morning now. I slept. The world is still a fog but I plod through, waiting for my medication to wrap me up again in my safety net. I wasn’t going to post this (no internet! Ha!) but if it helps one person breathe and hang on until the morning, or one person understand why a loved one couldn’t, then that’s enough.

And I hope one day to learn that I am enough.

Autumn Already?

Smiley Son

Smiley Son

What happened to September? Someone stole it while I wasn’t paying attention. I can’t believe it’s October already (and nearly my birthday!) Despite the glorious warm and sunny days we’ve had recently, autumn is still in the air as we shiver our way to school in the morning, through rainbow coloured leaves and fallen conkers.

I love autumn, I think it’s my favourite time of year. Misty mornings, crisp afternoons, riotous colour everywhere and an excuse to wear jeans again.

My daughter has Harvest Festival today and I feel that I also want to celebrate the abundance and beauty around me. It’s been a year of ups and downs but, despite everything, we’re still muddling through, still smiling.

I’ve recently altered the time of day I take my meds and have realised just how much they give me. Returning to the twitchy, ranty insomniac for even a few days was enough to be grateful for the change. I might have become a little more dozy, a little more befuddled, since starting on SSRIs, but I’m definitely happier.

My challenge for this month is to concentrate on finding things to be happy about rather than things to worry me. Good enough parenting, good enough housework. I’m taking up piano again and knitting like a demon. I even enjoyed spending time with my son yesterday, as he took a break from being a whiny, greedy, annoying four-year-old and (briefly) became my little boy again.

October is also about getting Dragon Wraiths entered into the Times / Chicken House competition (the deadline is sneaking up fast. Thank goodness for my editor who has agreed to proofread it in a hurry). I’m almost convinced I shouldn’t waste my time and money, having had another half-dozen rejections on it in the summer. Almost, but not quite. Got to be in it to win it, isn’t that what they say? 🙂

Meanwhile, Finding Lucy is slowly taking shape and Baby Blues is doing well on the new Kindle Unlimited. I have no idea yet if that earns me any money, but it’s nice to see the numbers ticking over.

That’s life in the Martin household at the moment. What does autumn mean to you?

Medicate Me: Day 22

Outdoor painting

Outdoor painting

I don’t really want to write this, after my positivity a week ago, but arrgghh. That’s all I can say. As I approach my monthly cycle the drugs are no longer controlling my mood swings. I’m irritable and sad and low. The kids are grating on me as if my skin has been scraped off by a potato peeler.

The side effects of the medication are starting to drive me potty. The yawning fits that go on for twenty minutes until my lungs and jaw ache. The fidgeting and nervous energy in my limbs that makes me unable to sit or lie still. The dry mouth, blurred vision and now floaters which dart across my sight and haunt me like flies round cattle. (The optician says they’re not because of the meds but old age which, at 37, increases my depression. I do wonder if the meds have made me more aware of them, though.)

And, without wanting to give too much information, the sweating. Yuk. It’s still spring and it’s awful, what will it be like in summer? I have mini anxiety attacks and palpitations. And did I mention the floaters? Imagine having several black flies constantly moving across your line of sight. I want to claw my eyes out. All in all I feel trapped in myself and trapped by the meds, knowing I’m on them for six months. Jittery, lethargic and snappish is not an improvement on exhaustion and rage. I’m as unhappy in my body now as I was in my mind before, and the attraction of ending the misery is almost as compelling.

I’m booked in to see the doctor next week. This no longer feels like I’ve been thrown a lifeline. More that I’ve been dragged into a different but equally cold and choppy ocean. I’m just as close to drowning, I just seem to care less. Sigh. I suppose nothing worthwhile is ever easy and life is just hard. I must not give in to those thoughts though as they fuel my belief that there’s not much to live for. Time to just keep swimming.

Medicate Me: Day Fifteen

Sleeping Family

Sleeping Family

Day fifteen on my antidepressants and I have found a love for life. I laugh more. I am more gentle on myself. I take time to read my book with a cup of tea, or cook dinner while watching Homes Under the Hammer on the iPad, instead of trying to blog, fold laundry and iron at the same time, doing all four things badly.

I leave early for the school run and read my book in the car, arriving at the school gate with a smile on my face. I walk the dog mid-morning rather than running around ten minutes before I need to collect the children. I sleep when I need to, preferably in a sunbeam in the playroom.

I haven’t bellowed at the children or sworn at them in a fortnight.

I’m still not sleeping. I still feel anxious about lots of things (schools, food, teeth!) My writing and particularly the blog have taken a back seat. I miss it. I miss logging on in the morning and seeing blog post likes and new comments. I worry I’ll lose everything I fought so hard to build up last year. But not having to come up with a new topic to discuss everyday is giving me time to breathe. Not having to make time to take pictures to go with my posts is increasing my reading time.

I'm awake!

I’m awake!

It isn’t all a result of the medication. Reading The Five Love Languages brought smiles and understanding back to my marriage and increased my ability to see when the children need my time or a cuddle. The longer days, the sunshine and warmer weather are all mood enhancers, especially for me.

But most of all I have given myself permission to heal. I’ve accepted I don’t have to do everything all the time. I don’t have to fill every minute with sixty seconds run. I accept I am the luckiest woman in the world to be able to cook dinner calmly at 11am while watching TV, or to be able to read my book.

But also I acknowledge that I get up at 5am to wipe bums, crawl out of warm covers at 2am to replace blankets that have fallen off chilly children, and fold laundry at midnight when hubbie is already asleep.

Mine is the responsibility to cook, clean, empty the bins, iron and shop. Mine is the juggling routine of remembering when to collect the children and when to make them packed lunches or sign forms.

I realise I’ve been competing mentally against working mums, needing to prove I work just as hard as they do. Why? What does it matter if I don’t? We made choices for me to be at home. We go without meals out, babysitters, expensive holidays. Surely a happy mummy is an important part of that?

It reminds me of the poem I read at my Mum’s wedding; the Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence … Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

Words to live by.

Medicate Me: Day Three

Having a cuddle

Having a cuddle

Day three since starting on anti-depressants:

My inner thoughts are scattered and harder to get hold of, like troublesome toddlers or helium balloons bobbing just out of reach. Normally while walking the dog I have several conversations running in my mind at once. Today it was just broken and random words.

At night I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. I feel the tiredness but am wide awake as if I have jetlag. This is new. My previous experience of SSRIs is one of endless sleep.

I found it harder to read to my son earlier but that could be the sleep deprivation slurring my words. The dizziness and sickness from day one and two is subsiding slightly but I do seem prone to hot flushes. My brain itches, just beneath the skin. I imagine it’s as frustrating to wear a plaster cast though I have no direct experience. Hubbie – who has history with this drug and is merrily nodding at each new symptom – says the brain itching is new to him. Nice to have something original.

I don’t feel like crying; scrap that, I don’t feel capable of crying. I take this as a good thing although the remoteness of emotions is what has held me off from taking the drugs for so long. All I remember from my last time on anti-depressants was the feeling of living in a bubble, with the world just pretty pictures moving around me. This time I feel rather like I’m underwater, in a cloudy sea with limited visibility. I have to remind myself this is temporary.

I’m still getting cross and frustrated easily with the children but haven’t yelled at them once. That might be because I’m still not working as such – no writing in two weeks and precious little housework. The quietening of the voices in my head makes me worry that I might not be able to write at all, once the drugs have fully taken hold. I have to remember hubbie’s dose is much higher and he’s written two books in recent years.

I do feel anxious and have had the odd palpitation. I seem to be taking it in my stride, largely thanks to hubbie’s support and the fact that I’ve stopped working for a bit. I am strangely reassured by these things as they confirm to me that I wasn’t ready to go through this two years ago. Not with this little impact certainly.

All in all, Day Three and all is well. I’ll keep you posted.

Depression is an Illness Not a State of Mind

Sometimes sleep isn't enough

Sometimes sleep isn’t enough

I finally had my doctor’s appointment today to talk about getting some chemical support to help me climb out of the pit of despair I have tumbled into over the last two or three years. I nearly didn’t go. The sun is shining, I had a day off this week (to be ill, but a day off is a day off), the school run went well, I felt in control. I felt great.

I’m not depressed, I decided. Why do I need to go to the doctor, I’m just wasting their time. Then I checked my blog. My low periods have been coming every two to four weeks since I last went to see a GP at the beginning of September last year (when the woman told me to get more sleep ‘for the sake of my family’ grrr) and they’re always followed by a period of revelation when I decide I’m better and as long as I read a certain book, implement a change, recite a mantra every day, I’ll be fine. Hmmm.

So I went.

And as the lovely lady (an understanding GP I saw two years ago, not the one from September) asked me about my life, my routine, why I found the school run so stressful, why I couldn’t just re-organise things, get some help, put my kids in after school club, ignore the dishes, I thought here we go again. And as she picked through all my weaknesses and stress points the carefully constructed bubble I’d put around myself burst and the blackness flowed back in.

I sobbed.

I felt so inadequate giving her all the answers I’ve given myself, as I’ve called myself a failure: I shouldn’t need help; my husband does what he can but he works hard too; my mother has earned her stripes and deserves her retirement; I don’t want a cleaner they create mores stress; I gave up work to do the school run, not to pay someone else to do it.

I cried because nothing was going to change. I was still a failure, and there was no help coming. I would still get angry and yell at the kids, I would still neglect my husband and ignore the dog. I would still feel that I prioritise my writing over being a good parent. My mess was all my fault. My chest tightened, the tears fell and the darkness closed around me.

Flowers from my daughter

Flowers from my daughter

Then the GP said, “I agree, you do need medication,” and everything changed. A light shone bright at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t just me. I’m not a failure just because I can’t manage to look after two small children, even with them in childcare or school half the week. I might actually be ill, not crap. And then she talked about different medication options, including the one she prescribed two years ago (I should have taken it then! Ah hindsight, you bitch) and I felt she might actually be able to help.

I was talking last night about the first GP that diagnosed me with depression, fourteen years ago. The man – and I don’t even remember his name – saved my life. He might not have realised it, I certainly didn’t, but that’s what he did. He didn’t suggest I just needed to get a different job or organise my time better or get more sleep. He sat and drew a diagram of the brain on a scrap of paper, he explained about chemical imbalance and the importance of serotonin. He treated me as ill rather than inadequate, poorly not pathetic. He gave me half an hour of his time and my life back.

I accept that depression is hard to diagnose, and that the world is over medicated. I accept that therapy is brilliant and necessary for some people, just as some diabetes can be managed through diet rather than drugs. But Doctors who suggest a few nights sleeping at your mum’s house might fix everything could be doing untold harm.

So I’m glad I went today, I’m grateful for the advice on the blog two weeks ago, encouraging me to go. I might get to the end of six months and nothing will have changed. I’ll still be overwhelmed, angry, a horrible parent teaching my children that shouting is the only form of conflict resolution. I hope not.

As with everything, I’ll keep you posted!

Medicate Me?

Looking for Life's Rainbow

Looking for Life’s Rainbow

I’m back in the eternal dilemma I’ve struggled with since having my second child. I know I’m (probably) depressed, but I don’t want to go back on anti-depressants. I’ve been on them once in my life, when I had a breakdown after three years in my first grown-up job. I needed them, as I wasn’t sleeping and could barely function. But they put me in a glorious bubble where the world couldn’t touch me. I left my job, my home, my friends, my guide unit, my family, and I barely felt it. No joy, no grief. And, when I came off them, I was introduced to the world of anxiety and panic attacks as an unexpected (as unknown at the time I guess) side effect. Since then I’ve been prescribed the same drug three times and each time I’ve carried the pack of pills home as a lifeline and refused to take them.

But now I’m spending more and more time in the dark place, where I am worthless, where I am a terrible mother who is damaging her children beyond redemption, where it makes perfect sense that they might be better off without me. Where I cry and cry and it never gets better. Or the rage builds, inflating like a balloon in my chest with every petty annoying thing the children do – every time they whine, or refuse to eat, or don’t listen, or ask and ask and ask, until I pop and the shouting starts.

The I Wasn’t a Good Mom letter that I included in The Parent I am and The One I Aspire To Be post has a whole heap of supportive comments underneath. But the one that stood out, when I re-read them this week, was the one which said your poor daughter, you need medication, she will remember these days and be scared for life by them. And it raised the endless debate that wars away in my brain.

Should I medicate?

Will it take away the extremes of temper and grief? Will I lose me or find me? What if the shouty ranting person is me? Or what if I realise I’m a hundred times better on medication, and I’ve been battling all these years – making the children’s life, hubbie’s life, my life awful – for nothing?

Happy Food my Son Refuses to Eat

Happy Food my Son Refuses to Eat

The bit that’s stopped me in the past is the part in the information leaflet that tells you it gets worse before it gets better. I’m not sure there’s any capacity for worse.

I remember, also, that last time I slept and slept. I don’t have that luxury now, who would run the house? Who would take the children to school and pick them up? What would I miss?

And then I realise there are whole chunks of the kids’ lives I don’t remember because of the sleep deprivation (did you know you only write the events of the day to your long term memory if you reach second-stage sleep? Like that ever happens in this house). So what difference would it make?

The biggest challenge is finding someone to talk it through with who understands. The last time I saw my GP she blamed everything tangible, refusing to accept that I might be depressed. She even suggested I send my husband in to ‘fix’ his snoring because clearly that was the cause of everything. A factor, occasionally, possibly, but hardly a major one. Might as well tell me to give up being a wife and mother completely, because husbands and kids cause sleep deprivation and therefore mood swings. That makes about as much sense as my sister’s doctor prescribing her prozac for PMT. my psychiatrist said it sounded like I was overwhelmed, rather than depressed, and I just needed to take more time for me. (I take half the week to do my writing, how much more would it take?)

It’s true that it’s got a lot worse since my daughter started school and I lost both my long nursery days – which gave me time to reset – and my freedom to manage our week as required. Quiet days at home to nurture, days out to recharge. Which terrifies me. I always thought it would get better, as the kids slept better, as my time became my own. The opposite is true: my time is so much more squeezed, my chores have increased, with extra ironing, packed lunches, assemblies, home work, and my self-doubt increases with every day nearer to adulthood my children get.

How many mothers need medication to survive the school run? It makes me feel selfish and pathetic. But every time my daughter sobs hysterically for no reason, I take the blame that she’s learning it from me, and it eats away at me. I remember my own mother battling with depression as I grew up. I read somewhere that children who grow up taking care of their parents end up missing out on their childhood and spend their grown life adrift and unable to connect. I could relate to it and it hurts me each time my son pats my shoulder and asks “Are you okay, Mummy?” as I sit sobbing. He’s three. It should be me comforting him, not the other way around.

Sigh. I wish life, or at least parenting came with an instruction manual. Or a crystal ball. Something, anything, to give you a hint about the right path to take. Until I find one, I guess I’ll muddle on through, getting it right and wrong and never knowing which is which.