A letter about mental health for my children

Dear my gorgeous boys,

When you are older I will explain to you what depression is. I will tell you how it affects me and that it is an illness. I will encourage you to show empathy, understanding and kindness to others when they need you.

What do I want you to know about depression? What do I want you to know about your mum? What do I want you to know about yourselves?

Most importantly I want you to know it’s ok to share your emotions. It’s also ok to not be ok. I want to encourage you to talk about how you feel. I want you to know I will always listen without judgement if you need to let it out.

It is important to know that mental health is important for everyone. Physical health and mental health both need consideration and looking after. I hope you live in a world that becomes kinder and fairer to those who have a mental health.

I believe that you will grow up to be people who will understand mental illness better than me. I’m hoping my openness will ensure it is something that is not kept secret but brought out in the open. I believe you will help others.

I am sorry my dear boys for all the times my depression has got in the way of our family time. I’m sorry for the times I have been so low for no reason I have gone to bed. I’m sorry when my mood has been so bad I have snapped at the slightest thing. I’m sorry I haven’t felt like doing much some days. I’m sorry some days I have been distant and vacant, physically but not mentally present.

But I hope you know mental illness doesn’t make you any less of a person. It is not something to hide. It is not something to be ashamed of. I hope you know that you can still have an amazing career and a lovely family life if you get the right support.

Boys I hope you won’t suffer like I do. I hope this illness is not something you have to learn to cope with like me. But boys if it is I’m trying to educate more people so that you may have a smoother ride. So that more people may understand. So that more people may help.

Boys if you’re lucky enough to have great mental health I will help educate you on how to support others. I hope you will be there for the ones you love, friends or colleagues. I hope you will listen.

Love your

Mummy

Depressed teacher 4 – what a week!

If there was ever a week where I felt the full range of the human emotions it was this one. From start to finish it threw challenges at me.

Logistics

My first challenge this week was sorting out lifts. Not being able to drive due to my wrist has been very difficult. It has taken away my independence and affected my mood. This week was going to be even more difficult as my husband was away on a school trip Monday to Wednesday evening.

So how do you get a 1 year old to a nanny’s house? A 4 year old to school? A mum (aka me) to work when you can’t drive? Luckily all the locations are no more than a 10 minute drive away.

Friends and family have come to my aid. I have had lifts from a range of sources! My mum has turned into my personal chauffeur many times this week.

All of this has left me feeling like a burden. I hate asking for favours. I hate having to rely on others.

Monday night just one day of these logistics after a day at work and solo parenting at home I was feeling very low. Desperate even. I went to bed at 8pm in an effort to push the depression back.

Broken arm

So on Tuesday I was hopeful my cast would come off. I had an appointment at the hospital. The doctor seemed hopeful to start with. I started talking about driving and began thinking about exercising my withered arm. Then the worst of news it was healing but needed to have the cast on for

at least 2 weeks longer.

I underestimated how this news would get to me. The thought of the complications of getting the children and me out every morning stressing me. The thought of the independence that was still out of reach making me uptight.

Lack of sleep

The thing that affects my depression most is a lack of sleep. When tired I can’t seem to handle the daily war with the illness. My boys always sense when daddy is away. Monday and Tuesday night the youngest was up for hours coughing and generally unsettled! It’s so hard to function with little sleep. Let alone when I’m struggling to manage an illness.

Work

There have been highs and lows here too this week. From positive meetings to lessons I have been disappointed in. From enjoying teaching to feeling like the worst teacher in the world. Why do I take it all to heart? Why does one bad experience knock me for 6 but a good makes no impact on my mood?

I had a meeting today at work to check all was ok. It has actually been fine. Probably better than expected especially considering the broken arm. But today I could have cried. Why? I have absolutely no idea! I just felt tired. Emotional and low. That’s the thing with mental health there is not always an answer. And no I didn’t share this in the meeting because at the moment I’m hoping it is just a blip, like the one on Monday that I survived.

Tonight

So I’m much better than earlier. Currently lounging on the sofa. Just ate pizza. Watching the new Star Trek and now designated survivor on Netflix. Unfortunately my counsellor is away this week so where it would have been good to talk i can’t today. But hopefully rest is all that is needed to survive this topsy turvy week!

8 quotes for depression.

A few months ago I started using Twitter (again). I was set on a course to help overcome the stigma of mental health. I used quotes to inspire me. Months on I wanted to write a post which picked 8 which are important for my mental health journey.

A bonus one is the one as the image of this blog post. This for me is the most important. We can’t always see what others are going through or the illnesses they have. Depression is often invisible and many of the stigmas I have struggled with are due to people’s lack of belief because they can’t see anything is wrong.

1.

Depression is all consuming. It can eat you a way till you feel like there is nothing of your being left. It is exhausting. It is a battle just to get out of bed. So for me this quote is so important. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to just have breathed today. That’s an achievement!

2. I often use the words fighting a battle in your own head. Trying to overcome the war. Every day is so tough.

3.

As someone who has been extremely suicidal this is so true. Suicide is so misunderstood. People think it’s the cowards way out; that people haven’t consider who is left behind. That is so far from the truth. For me the depression was so bad I felt I was a burden to everyone in my life. I thought no one needed me as I was a complete failure. Therefore winning the fight and not throwing myself off the top of a car park when everything in my whole being was screaming to do it was the bravest thing I have ever done.

4. At times I wished I could have had the right words to explain how it felt. There are at times no words that can express what is going on, especially when you don’t understand it yourself.

5.

When I was at my worst two friends kept reminding me of this. It always felt genuine coming from them. One was a fellow depression sufferer and the other had a husband who had overcome the illness. It’s the message I think everyone with depression needs to know.

6.

This is a key tip for someone trying to support someone they know with depression. Being there and listening is key! You can’t solve depression like a problem but showing you care can make so much difference.

7.

This quote relates to the one above. Being heard and understood is so important to someone with depression. When your whole being lacks self belief and confidence it is very encouraging to know that there is somebody in the world who believes you.

8.

Lastly I would never want to inflict this illness on anyone. I certainly would get rid of it in a second if I could. However, it has taught me so much about how to help others. I have learnt strategies for supporting other people with mental illness mainly because I know what has helped me. I also know what has made me worse! Therefore I do think it is those who have experienced depression or some other form of illness or difficulty that will try to help others.

Will I ever be free of depression?

Things have certainly been slowly on the up. My confidence has started to return. My love of my job apparent. My mindset less negative. However why at times does it feel like I still have a long way to go?

Last night I opened up to my counsellor. The honesty was hard to deal with. It had been bugging me though. I wanted to be free of the burden.

Why hasn’t the self harm stopped? It certainly has diminished. It certainly doesn’t rule my life like before. It certainly doesn’t happen so often. But I still feel the need to do it sometimes.

Why is it that I still think of suicide at times? Yes the planning has gone. The actual taking action towards that course disappeared. But why at times do I still feel the pull of it? Is it merely a looking back to the thoughts of the past? Or is it still as real?

Why do I feel like it will be years before anyone at work respects me again? Why do i think I am going to be judged for my illness for years to come? When will people stop thinking of me as unwell? When will they start to trust me again?

So as the depression moves out of focus and wellness returns why do I still have these thoughts? Will I ever be free of depression? Will I ever be free of the lasting effects of the journey I have been on over the last year?

With this comes a real fear. I’m so scared. Scared of going back there. Hanging onto wellness for dear life.

This time last year I thought I was well. Work was generally ok. Then in the weeks before October half term things seem to deteriorate quickly.

At the same point in the year now I’m so worried that it will happen again. I can’t go through that again the depression was so deep and painful I seemed to lose myself. I nearly lost my career as my self-belief disintegrated.

Where does this all leave me? I feel better having shared my worries with my counsellor. A burden has been lifted slightly. Her assurances that it’s a journey to recovery are helpful. She puts in all in perspective.

She tells me I should be proud and amazed at how far I have come. She tells me people around me are probably really impressed at the turn around rather than questioning my ability.

The illness still has a habit of refusing to accept even these words. The illness is my cruelest judge. The illness makes me see the worst.

My counsellor advocates “be kind to yourself”. I will try!

8 things that inspire me.

This post has once again been inspired by something I saw on another blog I recently read. On the road to recovery from depression this list is helpful to keep going in the right direction.

1. My children.

This one is pretty obvious. Each day my two boys give me energy, life and strength.

They make me laugh. Tonight it was My four year olds declaration “he doesn’t need teaching anything” when talking about learning Italian at school. His pronunciation of volcano as tolcano. Thomas’ constant mischief at the moment, dragging the plastic table and chairs in from outside because he can!

They inspire me to keep going even when I’m so low I can’t manage to do anything else. I carried them for 9 months and everyday since they have been born I have loved them with my whole soul. They are everything. They inspire me to be a better person so I can be a good example to them. They inspire me to do things out of my comfort zone because it is good for them.

2. Parents

They have given everything to me and my brothers. They are always there for us in every way. They have provided for us emotionally and financially. Even now they demonstrate such strength and

determination.

My dad has Alzheimer’s which has completely changed their lives. For my mum she has taken on everything at home. She is his carer. From being in control of all the money and bills to having to sort everything practical round the house, life has changed. Emotionally it is tough seeing the man you love fade before your eyes.

My dad despite his illness shows a determination to keep going. With my two boys you see the spark which made him the best dad and his grandchildren adore him.

3. Grandparents

My dad’s mum and dad are 96. They have been married 76 years! They have lost a son and a grandson. They married in World War Two. My grandad fought in WWII and my Nan gave birth to two children and was evacuated in the middle of the war. Today they are happy, determined and

stubborn!

My grandad is the cat with nine lives. He has dialysis for kidney failure which should have kept him going for five years (he is still here 11 years later). He is blind in one eye. He has cancer. He has had a heart attack. Recently pneumonia. Every time this is the end and then before you know it he recovers again.

My nan is as sharp as they come. She knows everything that is happening in the world. She loves her sport.

4. Husband

My rock. He inspires me to be a better person. I owe it to him to be the best I can be because he does so much for me. He works so hard for our family so we can have things we love. Or as Jacob says when you ask him why does daddy work…for trains and centre parcs.

5. Walking in nature

I get so much rest and recharge from this. It can inspire my creativity at times. Others it inspires my mind to rest or calm.

6. Music

So I grew up surrounded by music. My dad collected records and friends would constantly ask him questions about music. He knew everything and was definitely the person you wanted on your music quiz team. Sadly his illness has meant much of that is gone but it is still in me. I’m the opposite to him in the sense I have no idea who sings a certain song or what is the title but I do find music helps me. Motivation. Guidance. Support.

7. Children I teach

They inspire me in two ways. A) to be a better teacher so I can help them learn b) be a better person so I can show them the way we should treat others.

8. Sunshine

Just a bright sunny day. Whether in the crisp chill of winter, the green of spring, the warmth of summer, or the crunch of leaves in autumn. Sun makes such a difference to my mood. It gives me life. It gives me energy.

Maybe have a think about what inspires you. What gives you energy and life? What makes you strive to be a better person? It might help you look for the positives.

First ever day at school.

So what I’ve been building up to for the last few months finally arrived today. My eldest son’s first day at school.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Mainly due to my son being the youngest in the year, his birthday being the 31st august. Partly due to his sensitivity to new things. Partly due to the ever present campaign in some parts arguing summer born children should be able to start reception aged 5.

So he has just turned 4. He looks about 6 as he is so tall! He is very young in every way. What makes it all worse is the fact given the option by the consultant four years ago I choose to be induced on 30th August when I could have chosen the 2nd September. It’s my fault he can’t spend another year at home with his mummy.

So the day came. I certainly woke up with butterflies in my stomach this morning. My husband too was anxious, pacing the house. My son seemed oblivious. He got on with the morning like any other. Thankfully his uniform is yellow (his favourite colour).

I was expecting tears. He has always cried at firsts before. He had kept saying he was scared and don’t leave me alone. But when it came to it he made me so proud.

He strolled in with his friend. He was welcomed at the door by his teachers and assistants who all knew his name. He put his stuff up and found his friend playing with the trains.

He beamed as he found a “streamline” Thomas the tank and we took the opportunity to leave. Not a tear in sight. (From mummy or son). No looking back.

I couldn’t stop thinking about him all day. I showed his picture to anyone who would give me the chance. I felt a little crazy to be so obsessed by it. But as my husband and counsellor had stressed it is a big day. The start of the school adventure.

My mum went to pick him up this afternoon. Apparently he came out smiling. He loved it. He told her all the things he did.

When I got back from work he was playing on the trampoline in our garden with his younger brother. He was happy with school. He was pleased with himself. Talking about it he said “I love school but I still love you mummy”.

At bedtime he said “can I go to school now?” I was like what??? He must have enjoyed it. I replied “no not now but tomorrow”. That seemed to appease him. Tomorrow seemed to be ok.

Let’s hope the smiles last. I’m sure we’re in for some ups and downs. I’m sure when the reality of five days kicks in we might have a bit of a struggle. I’m sure the tiredness will make him grouchy. But I’m hopeful after a good start we will ride the roughs with the smooth. Let’s hope he ends up loving school as much as I did.

The effect of a difficult birth story.

I recently read a post sharing the belief that a difficult or traumatic birth experience can actually have long term effects on the mother. It left me thinking. Both of my births were difficult for different reasons. I often think about them. Perhaps they have had more of an impact on me than I acknowledged.

Pregnancy number 1 back in 2013 was difficult from the start. The morning sickness was hard and lasted from wk 5-20. It was quickly followed by a gestational diabetes diagnosis which produced its own challenges.

The hypnobirth in a pool which I imagined was never an option now. Consultant led induction on my due date. Everything medical about a labour that I wanted to avoid. Pessary and then oxytocin drip to begin the labour. The oxytocin increased to the maximum level.

Hours later the consultant believing the midwifes had hiked it too high to quick. No wonder I couldn’t handle the pain. An epidural that didn’t work. The pain still unbearable. Topped up and the pain still crippling me. The baby pressing on the sciatic nerve apparently, an epidural won’t work. Eventually an anaesthetist who managed to take the pain away. In my delirious state I called him God!

Over 24 hours later the baby was in distress. Rushed to theatre. Spinal block. Baby pulled out with forceps. Was he ok? Daddy got the first cuddle, I was too busy being sick all over the anaesthetist as I could only move my head to the side! Afterwards a worrying time as I was poorly, a temperature that wouldn’t go down. The next day the catheter finally came out but my beautiful baby boy would not feed from me.

A week of persevering and he wouldn’t even suck a drop from me. He just fell asleep whenever he came close! Feeling like a failure. Bottle feeding it was then. Sitting on a cushion for months. 3 months later after infections. Episiotomy not healing. Cauterisation.

Birth number 2, 2015.I had lost weight I was determined not to have gestational diabetes again. Determined not to be induced. A natural birth for me. But no you had it last time we treat you as if you have it again! What!!! But I’ve tried so hard! A battle from the start with the sickness worse than before.

Finally I proved it to them. I passed the test at 24 weeks, I didn’t have it! I could be signed off consultant care. I could have a intervention free birth.

Or so I thought. In labour I go to the hospital and they want to test my blood glucose every hour, they don’t want to let me in the pool. You have gestational diabetes! What? Have you read my notes? Well it’s hospital policy to treat you as if you have if you had it first time. Having to argue in between contractions that no the consultant said I didn’t have to be treated as it anymore. Bank holiday Monday over Christmas of course they couldn’t check! Luckily my stubbornness allowed me to get in the pool.

All was going well. A back to back labour apparently. Then getting out to be checked the pain ramped up so quickly. Pethidine please. Oh wait we have lost the keys to the pain cupboard! 45 minutes later screaming and swearing. My husband crying because he didn’t recognise his wife.

The baby is distressed. Coming out at a funny angle. Theatre? Forceps? Not again! Thankfully he came too quick. He was out! My amazing boy. A cuddle for mummy. Bliss.

Out of hospital in 3 hours. Perfection. Both my boys together. But dizziness that lasted two weeks. A husband with post natal depression. Struggling with what he had witnessed. He was majorly obsessive with cleaning. He was extremely snappy. Where was my husband?

Once again a baby not feeding from me. A similar story sleep too important for him. Numerous midwifes and others trying to help. All of them after trying everything they know telling me to give up. A failure again.

4 months later and finally things start to level out with my husband. But at the same time hit with needing a new roof on the house. Money problems! My dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

So when the depression hit 9 months after my second boys birth. Maybe the birth had something to do with it. My husband was back to himself but I was starting to feel the effects of all the trauma. Mentally drained. Mentally exhausted. Mentally overwhelmed.

So I think there is something in the article I read. It is important to remember for many women the difficulties of birth can live with them. It can effect them. Change them. We should let them talk. We need to encourage more support for mum’s and dads.

Depression is fickle.

Monday was amazing. Work was so positive. I picked my husband up at home when he had a bad day at work. I felt happy. Proud of myself. So what happened? Why by Tuesday afternoon was I starting to feel the effects of depression? Absolutely nothing! That is the fickle nature of

depression.

I truly am afraid of my own mind. It is so scary how it can turn so quickly. Not only the speed but the lack of reason for the switch is devastating. It leaves me questioning my sanity. It leaves me wondering if I will ever be fully well again.

So what do you do when your mind is a pathological liar? What do you do when there is no apparent reason for your depression? What do you do when your mind twists everything that’s real?

Accept it. Try not to fight against it. The harder you fight it seems the opposition just gets bigger. As all the counsellors I have ever seen have said, don’t force a recovery and certainly don’t rush it.

My mind’s tricks exhaust me. I can’t continue this path. This war. The unpredictably. The fickleness. It’s like living with your worst critic.

So tonight I’m tired, which never helps! I spent last night worrying about our trampoline flying away in the wind! Irrational worries are also a regular occurrence. Who knows I may wake up tomorrow and all will be well again. I may wake up tomorrow and it is the same or even worse.

Depression is impossible to predict. You cannot plan it. There is no forecast for how you will feel the next hour, day or week. You can develop strategies to maintain the level but there are times it overcomes you so much even these are powerless to its effects.

So fingers crossed tomorrow is a better day. Let’s hope tomorrow I wake to the depression in control.

Depressed teacher 3 – I love my job!

Yes you read it right! Yes the woman filled with self doubt and lacking any self-belief is actually enjoying teaching.

So I’ve questioned my job so many times over the past year. It is true it has caused me stress. It has made me cross, frustrated and anxious. I even applied for and got offered three other jobs whilst off ill. But I think I’m coming to terms with it more and more… I was ill.

Yes the job perhaps triggered the depression. Maybe better put it took the depression I live with out of my control. It was one out of several factors that made me spiral into self harm, deep depression and suicidal thoughts.

Today I remembered when I’m well I love my job. Yes it’s tiring. Relentless. The job list is never ending. But it’s also the best job in the world.

Why? It’s so hard to put it into words. I get a buzz from being in a class. I love watching the faces of the children as they learn something new. I like to believe I’m making a difference. I try to help these young people be better prepared for the world we live in. I want to share with them my belief that every single one of them is important, valued and special. I like to push them to reach their goals.

And do you know what I like to learn from them! Yes you got it. They teach me everyday. They show me what it means to be human. What it means to be alive. They give me an energy and a life.

Despite this I’m still don’t feel like I’m fully recovered from the latest episode of depression. I’m just bobbing, keeping my head above the waves so that I don’t sink into it again. I feel as fragile as a china cup that I could be broken at anytime. I know that in this state I could go either way. The road to recovery is a difficult and long one. It’s so hard not to rush it.

So I’m going to take my own advice. When a colleague told me with surprise that he had actually had a good day and enjoyed himself today. I told him to hold onto it. So today I love my job and I’m going to hold onto that, for however long it lasts.

The Power of Counselling.

So I currently have regular counselling every Friday evening. I’m not ashamed of this. There is nothing to hide about it. It helps me, I do it. I’ve been extremely ill, lucky to be alive. I need it.

Sadly people do feel a need to keep the fact they are having counselling a secret. They are worried about what people think. They think it is something to be looked down on.

In the last few months a couple of people have shared with me that they are having counselling when they have been too scared to tell anyone else. Although I am very happy they feel they could do this. Im sad that society would judge somebody for getting the help they need to be well.

Why is something that can help so many people a taboo? Is it the British stiff upper lip? Is it the fact our culture makes it an alien concept to share our emotions? Why when we value chatting with mates do we see it as weird to chat to a counsellor?

Why do people (including myself) think they are going to be judged for seeing a counsellor? It doesn’t make me less of a person. It doesn’t make me a failure! It makes me brave. My whole life I have never been encouraged to share how I feel so to do it is the scariest thing there is.

So how does it help? Yes talking is medicine for my sick mind. It is a tablet to help me get over my illness. My depression ensures my mind plays tricks on me. It is like living with your worst enemy in your own head. It constantly questions me. It constantly puts me down.

Counselling helps me with that battle. Sometimes I get too tired and overwhelmed to fight that voice in my head. I begin to believe it. I’m blind to reality. Counselling let’s me share how I feel and what I’m thinking. Where normally I’m useless at opening up. I am encouraged and supported to.

Inside my head just becomes more and more worked up. Imagine a bottle of coke that has been shook over and over. Counselling helps me release it slowly so it doesn’t explode everywhere. It helps process the muddle that is in my head. It is like the peacemaker finding a truce in the war.

Last night I went feeling very topsy turvy. My broken wrist was sore and annoying me but i had enjoyed a good day at work.

The last few weeks and months my depression has been plagued by my overthinking mind. The anxiety can be uncontrollable and very irrational. Talking about this opened up a whole new perspective. It made something that has been plaguing me for years become a little clearer. It certainly hasn’t solved the problem but drawing it into focus is a step in the right direction.

I have an awful long way to go and have been told it would be best to have regular counselling for even a couple of years. So I will. I will also not hide it. I am not ashamed of something that helps me.

So please if your reading this and you have counselling well done for being brave and doing something for yourself. If your reading this and someone tells you they are having counselling don’t laugh, scoff or make them feel ridiculous. Be proud of them. And finally if your a counsellor thank you. It may be just a job but everyday you help people. Help people, be happy, be content, be themselves and stay alive.

I currently access counselling via The counselling foundation.