Playground Panic…

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The schoolyard (I know I know, I JUST said I wasn’t going to write about the kids and the FIRST TWO words of this next post is about school, but bear with me), as a lot of new parents know, is terrifying.

I have been a school age parent for three weeks now, and I am yet to make a friend. This is not because I’m a cool loner who stands at the age of the playground in a leather jacket, a beret and a cigarette (am I thinking of Molly Ringwold? I feel like this must be a film scene from the edge of my memory!). It’s because even though I practise saying things to people in my head “I like your shoes/aww how old is your baby/they’re always last out aren’t they”, no joke, I say these things over and over in my head, but somehow non of it has yet come out of my bloody mouth. If they’re in a group my mind tells me they don’t want a stranger butting in, if they’re alone my mind suggests maybe they prefer being on their own. I wear a lot of gaming and film t-shirts, they probably will think I’m weird. I never have make up on, they probably think I I look like a hobo. I’m currently on medication for getting rid of kidney stones, but it’s given me really bad skin (HA! As if I haven’t had bad skin since age 11..!) so that’s all anyone will notice. All of these thoughts I know are irrational. I know it’s the black dog talking, it’s coming from a place of anxiety, not logic, and not really who I am as a person. But so far its winning. Well no that’s not true. 

In the school playground it’s winning, for now. I’m not even 100% sure which parents have children in my daughters class or year group, the playground is full of people picking kids up from the entire school. It’s big, it’s daunting and I think it’s ok not to have settled in myself in three weeks, especially as I don’t do all the drop offs and pick ups. It takes time and I’m willing to give myself that time.  

My younger daughter is at nursery, students are between 2 – 4, and the total number of students any one day is about 20 max. All parents there are waiting for kids in my daughters class because they are all one class. This is more doable.

I explained last time that my anxiety and nerves had taken a nose dive after a series of sad or unlucky events within the last year. I knew relocating across the country, away from the town that for 30 years (in the main) I had called home, was going to be an adjustment. Over the Summer we were travelling round so much for work that I’m not even going to blame myself for it taking a while. We’ve lived here now for 8 months, but in truth, for myself and my husband, we only really started our settling in process mid September. 

So the small nursery is a better starting ground than the school gates really. A few days ago someone said they liked my shoes, I said thank you and then said (look at me go!) ‘I wish I’d worn sandals really as it’s been so hot today.’ My heart was POUNDING in my chest, I’d done it, I’d ‘chatted’. I only had that on hand as I had been practising ‘I like your shorts, I wish I’d worn shorts now it’s so hot today,’ and because I have a PhD, I was able to improvise with my practise material….
…shut up, small victories and all that! 

As if I was on some sort of power trip, I then had a half conversation with one of the Mums who lives on my road about toddler tantrums (my youngest was having one at the time and she said her son was also very tantrumy – thank you Holly!). I thought about walking with her and then offering her a coffee when we went passed my house. But after saying it in my head a few times, I balked and went left instead of right, telling my strongest potential for my first friend that I needed to go into town. I could hear myself screaming WIMP, at myself. In my defence I did have to go into town but I didn’t need to go right then, I just got too nervous. But I spoke to her and next week maybe I’ll walk home with her, and maybe after that I’ll invite her in. She definitely seems open to being friends, she’s also new to the area so I’m overthinking it way too much and making it way too difficult for myself! BUT, that’s two interactions, and stupidly, enough to make me feel like I’m going to get there.

A little back story – a decade ago you’d have thought I was Van Wilder (it’s an early 00’s film about a party animal called Van Wilder…it’s not really as apt if I have to explain it!), I went out at least twice a week with a big group of friends (all through uni, a surprising large percentage of us all stuck around in the area). I fancied trying netball so I set up a team, an initial team which, within a few years had four teams in a local league. 

Go back 16 years and you’d think I was a recluse. I had left school prematurely due to ill health and completed my ALevels through home learning. I didn’t sleep during the night, was pretty agoraphobic and stayed within the confines of my Dads house and mainly only left for epilepsy appointments at the hospital. 

The teenage experience was mainly because I was diagnosed with epilepsy age 14 and then went through a lengthy diagnosis process and a seemingly even longer prescribing process to get the medication right. I was too nervous to leave the house on my own in case I had a seizure. I didn’t sleep well because the medication messed up my sleeping patterns which got even worse after a bout of glandular fever.

But it only took a few years for me to go from hermit to apparent party animal. So I know that although I’ve obviously been prone to slightly unstable mental health, but I’m also able to manage it when I don’t feel like my nerves are on high alert. I went through some difficult stuff as a teen, and I’ve been through some difficult stuff in the last few years. I’m certainly not saying that what I went through at either point was worse than what a lot of people endure, and God knows that in a lot of ways, I am incredibly lucky. But what I have recently accepted about myself is that sometimes in times of high stress or trauma, I need a bit of time to recover. And the consequent brain damage (if you haven’t read my last post, very mild and not a serious issue), means I have physical and mental limitations that I need to respect.

I can also hear my mother shout ‘and you do too much, I do wish you’d slow down’, at this point..! And she’s right, I am prone to taking on a lot and I’m a terrible people pleaser so I find it very hard to say no, I end up stressing myself out when I can’t do things for people even though, saying no is not always a bad thing and is something I’m trying to actively teach my daughters is quite often a positive thing to do. Although she’s also a people pleaser so I blame her entirely (love you Mum 😉 )! 

Hermit and party animal are very much opposite ends of the scale. Who I really am is someone in between. I like my own company and sometimes need some alone time, especially when I’m working or learning. But I also love being around people, I love helping and supporting people, and I love to try new things. 

So at the moment I’ve slid back down towards hermit. Not in the same way as before, but the nerves, the anxiety, the twitching hands, the struggling to sleep are all familiar. I have two huge motivations for not staying inside all the time, and the girls are genuinely my driving power behind keeping going when it’s particularly tough. I’ve also been down familiar roads before so I have a few coping methods to draw on. I sign up for regular sporting events so I always have something to train for or aim towards. I eat much better with a healthy varied diet (‘diets’ are firmly banned, I’ve personally found that no good has ever come from them). I have regular baths with scented candles and genuinely find that those candles and bath bombs calm me. 

And I’m trying to take each day as it comes and I’m trying to acknowledge the small victories. Some of which include (as silly as some of them might sound);

– opening up to my parents and brother about how I was feeling after trying to hide it throughout a mental (great in many ways but very stressful) Summer schedule. Sounds like an obvious thing but was actually harder than I thought, you never want to disappoint those closest to you and I certainly didn’t want my family thinking they needed to worry about. Turns out they were already worried and my opening up was a relief. I know that I am very lucky to have my family.

– looking at my work commitments and being honest about what I could do, I had no less than seven voluntary roles for companies or organisations and I’ve now only have one, in a field I adore working with a very small team who are more like family. 

– I rounded up and donated some old clothes, some that are too big and some that were baggy shapeless clothes that is started to hide away in.

– I went to the Dr, and was honest about how I was feeling instead of my go to ‘oh I’m fine’.

– I admitted I didn’t like travelling away from home. I had an amazing opportunity to speak to some producers in LA about some writing I’d submitted, and I had an all expenses paid trip to LA to discuss and experiment with a couple of ideas. It was a fantastic experience that I know I’m incredibly lucky to have had, but I realised when I was there (and the panic attack I had on the way to the airport heavily suggested it..!) that I just did not enjoy being away from my family, not necessarily for ever, but certainly right now. Realising that and accepting that was a huge relief. For self employed people, saying no to any work is basically unthinkable and irresponsible, but actually there are times when it’s more important to say to yourself ‘this sort of thing is not for me and that’s ok’.

I’m not the housewife type, give me five minutes and I’m bored and wanting to try something new, and that’s a trait that is not likely to change! That’s not to say I don’t love looking after my girls and don’t enjoy cooking and using some of my downtime to make our house a home. (And that in itself is a full time job that I really admire other men or women for taking on full time) But it’s not really who I am, but it IS where I am at the moment while I get back on my feet, physically speaking (I have some treatments to hopefully improve the minor issues with the brain) and mentally speaking. 

So back to the playground. It’s terrifying. But you know what, I feel like in time I will get to know some parents. And then ironically, once I have a couple of friends in the local area and am a bit more settled, I won’t even notice that there are lots there I don’t know. And that’s what I’m trying to concentrate on, it will take, in reality, a small amount of progress to make a huge difference. In one week they’ll both be on half term and I cannot wait to have some quality time with them both, and school holidays, maybe I’ll even be telling my husband to keep a night free so I can go to the cinema with a friend. 

Right now everything hurts and it feels so hard and like an unclimbable mountain. But it needs time, which is easier said than done. And let’s be honest, we all know the LOGIC behind how we’re feeling, but that doesn’t help at the time. It won’t be smooth sailing either, it is soon to be the year anniversary of losing my cousin, which means a month later it’ll be the year anniversary of losing one of our best friends. And that will be tough. But life is tough and there’s never going to be a year where any of us get to the end of it saying ‘well that was a stress free easy year’! I don’t want to belittle anyone struggles though and I shouldn’t belittle my own. This year one of my New Years resolutions was to have a year free of operations having had at least one every year since 2014. Two of which were C-Sections, but the other 4 were not, my health has not been in good shape since before my first pregnancy! And somehow my husband and I decided to cram pretty much all major life decisions into the same four years as starting a family, we moved house twice, started and grew a family business, I was made redundant, and of course our two kids were born. Frankly we were sorting of asking to live life on a harder mode! 

So overall I’m optimistic. My husband and kids have settled fantastically in our new hometown, it won’t take too much longer for me too. There will be no more babies, no more moving and no more huge career changes now, so I have time to focus on healing, and getting stronger. It still doesn’t make it an easy path, it’s covered in thorny brambles which will hurt to cut through, and bits of rubbish strewn across it that I need to take the time to pick up and dispose of properly, but what I need to keep in mind is that I can SEE the path. 

This has somewhat turned into an essay style string of brain vomit! Things are tough right now but behind the things out of my control, the things I’m worried about are normal and natural. It will be ok, I have 100% record of getting through tough days and I aim to continue that ratio for a very long time. I don’t need to conquer the playground, I just need to see past the fears, and find my feet. I’ve been a school child parent for three weeks and will remain so for at least the next 18 years. It’s not easy right now, but everything’s going to be ok, we all are.

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Chapter 3…

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The 8th February 2018. That’s when I last wrote a blog post. And it was about a ‘temporary blip’ in my mental health, the death of my cousin, the death of a close friend of ours, a car accident and the arrival of a rat had set my nerves totally on edge and I stopped sleeping, had panic attacks and didn’t feel safe at home. Especially as a week after the first rat had been ‘sorted’, another appeared.

In the eight months since, although it’s a lot less simplistic than I’m summarising it as here, we left that house, relocated to the South East of the U.K. near to family on both sides (and although that meant living further away from some family in our old town, excitingly it included family with children around the same age as our girls. Including children soon to join us all!)
I had some brain scans on relocating when I met my new neurologist, and it showed that the epilepsy during my second pregnancy had unfortunately left a little damage. Nothing life threatening, just enough to mean a change of career paths to a slightly simpler path for at least a few years. For now, writing is to be my main work, and I’ve stepped down from a few of the various roles including voluntary roles I’ve taken up over the last few years. 

The anxiety and nerves have remained difficult, moving has definitely helped. We live by the seaside and as the UK has had such a glorious Summer, there have been many family beach days. The transition to moving work commitments from one side of the country to the other has been hard and has meant a lot of travelling, and even worse, a lot of time with my husband and I apart. But we’re starting to settle and the travelling has settled down to an extent that we now only travel for the work we’ve chosen to keep on. 

Now to the more important, how are the girls? Scarlett is now 4, and Holly is now 2. One of the reasons we relocated in March was so that the girls had a good six months settling into a new home town before starting school/nursery. It was definitely the right decision. Both are very happy at in their new environments and have made friends and I’m so proud of them. We continue to explore as a four, and although times going really fast, we could not be more proud of them both.

I’ve thought a lot about privacy in the last few months. In fact a research project on links between social media and mental health, (that I have unfortunately needed to take a break on while my own brain gets a bit more sorted) made me think about how much more difficult and stressful life can be when it’s 24/7 accessible. If I had a bad day at school, I’d go home and be ‘safe’ from it. If my parents had a bad day at work, they could come home and forget about it, knowing there was nothing they could do until the next day. These days kids can go to school and then be tormented online until they return the next day having had no reprieve. They can not be on social media of course, but 1) that further isolates them from their peers, and 2) why the hell should THEY be the ones not on social media?! And if people have a bad day at work these days, you can take it home, you can receive emails to your work or personal accounts, your colleagues can tag you on social media. And again you can disengage from all of that, but then you will, in today’s society (generally speaking) find it difficult not to fall behind on progress, or be overlooked for promotion for not going ‘the extra mile’, which these days can often mean an extra marathon. I’m not saying that the days gone by were much better or easier, I’m not saying people didn’t struggle. With the advent of the internet, people’s career paths were suddenly opened up on a potentially international scale. If your childhood friend or family members moves away now, through social media, you can stay in touch and be a part of their lives. There are some huge positives. But similarly large negatives. 

The point of this train of thought (plot twist, there is a point…!), is that I shared a lot about my two babies, my pregnancies and their first couple of years. I don’t regret this, as the two books the passages filled are a fantastic momentous of some magic moments. But they are both older now. Scarlett is becoming aware of how she looks and how she comes across, and although I have nothing negative to say about other people who continue to share their parenting journeys, I have made the decision not to continue mine. If there was a public version of my first years, I would love to read them, it’s not a time I remember and it would be amazing to have a glimpse. When I then think of the childhood I remember, there are many humiliating stories, I’m quite glad aren’t written in print! So for me. Personally, whilst I may share stories over coffee (or Gin!) with friends or family, or even in emails I send to both daughters that I set up for them when they were born (for the very reason to write to them I the future at various points, not even for them to use as they’ll be perfectly capable of picking their own!), my online record will cease to share personal details of my daughters lives.

However, I’m 33, and I am fully capable of making my own decisions about what I do and don’t share about myself. And I have decided that actually being open about my new ‘Bumpy Ride’ is right for me. So instead of the ups and downs of parenting (although I’m sure there’ll be cameos!), it will instead be the ups and downs of settling in a new town, getting on top of my nerves and anxiety, and finding a new career path and all that comes with that. 

I realise this will not interest some, and for those that have followed my parenting journey, I apologise, I am aware I am not as interesting or as adorable as my two daughters! But I’m hoping that perhaps along the way, I will find that my own journey through this new stage of my life has its comrades old and new; as always I welcome advice from others, and I look forward to what the next year or so has to bring. To what’s next, to chapter three…!

Unplanned Panic…

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There’s been a slight set back. A blip. A temporary bump in the road. A bit of back story will help make sense of how I got to watching Greys Anatomy on the iPad, still shaking, trying to get my heart rate to calm back down to pre panic attack state.

On New Years Day we were involved in a minor car accident. We were all fine, and luckily the driver who went into the back of us swerved to avoid us taking the full impact. In terms of injuries, the kids were unaffected, my husband had some soft tissue damage to his lower back and I hurt my neck and left shoulder from where I had twisted round towards the children just before we were hit. Physically, we were ok.

Cut to a week later and I’m struggling to sleep because of the back and neck pain. Which is fine, although difficult. A car then cut us up at a roundabout a couple of days later and I freaked out, with a way bigger reaction than necessary. Nightmares of a car coming towards my children were three or four times a week occurrence. I became very jumpy, and my nerves were frayed. I avoid getting in the car, I’ve become really overly protective of the girls.

After a couple of really bad nights sleep I ended up bursting into tears at the Dr’s surgery because I was so worried that the lack of sleep would lead to epilepsy problems that my stress levels were through the roof.

In the meantime, physio was arranged for both my husband and I. I had my initial assessment and it went ok, we chatted through it all and a referral was put through for both my wrists which I’d hit on impact to make sure a break from a few years ago wasn’t problematic. I was then booked in for my next session of physio the day after my birthday this week. (I’m 33 now. Yelp.)

To try and work through some particularly tender knots in my neck and shoulder the physio used an ultrasound for some deep tissue massage. I remember it hurting, and then…and then my husband was there and I was being taken home. I apparently then sat in the bath without water for a while, and I’ve been full of a headache with really tense muscles since. Something tells me the physio’s good work may well have been set back slightly.

The ripple effect from the minor prang is, I know, hugely not a big deal. But it feels devastating. I was on track, I was on the road to improving my wellbeing after a couple of turbulent health years. I was jogging, I was using mindfulness for a few leftover anxiety issues and post pregnancy stress issues.

So why am I sitting up in bed at 1am shaking and trying to get my heart rate back down with a paper bag next to me tonight? Well, the seizure was yesterday. So today I haven’t felt very well, exhausted, and in pain. And emotionally struggling as I really thought I was done with epilepsy being an active issue. This evening my husband went to Swindon for work and after the kids were in bed I sat watching TV and (ironically) reading through my mindfulness apps.

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. And running across my living room floor bed as brass was a freaking rat. Without warning my panic level went sky high. I’ve only felt that panicked once before in my life. And that was when I walked onto my holiday balcony and saw a body hanging in an apartment down from ours. Yes, it was horrendous, and likely one of the main reasons I went into a forensics/criminology career path. And I know it seems hugely dramatic to compare the two events but my nerves are currently so shot to shreds, that I went into full fight or flight. And like the Summer of 2003, my main worry was that if panic took over I would have a seizure and I was on my own and so needed to deal with this situation. When I saw the rat, my husband was about 40 mins away on his way home. It ran underneath the sofa, so I walked to the stairs so I could see both sides of the sofa. I called pest control and was told that someone would be round in about 25 mins with a terrier dog trained to track and get rid of vermin. Whilst on the phone, the rat went from under the couch into the kitchen. The sight of it again did not help my panic. I could tell I was on the verge of hyperventilating so I called my Dad (I didn’t want to call my husband and worry him while driving), to try and keep as calm as possible and so that if I did have a seizure, there would be someone on the phone who would recognise it and be able to do something. I also called my brother who came over as I’m quite nervous of dogs, and although I’m ok with most dogs these days, the idea of being on my own while a dog came in specifically to attack something while I was already in such a state, did not fill me with confidence.

My husband arrived just before pest control did. The noise of dog vs rat is not something that will leave me quickly. While the ‘eviction’ took place, I sat on the stairs trying to calm down, and made a list on my phone of all the things I needed to bleach.

I am not a nervous, panicky person. I am not frightened of spiders, or mice, or (until today) rats. I am a good person to have in an emergency. I keep calm. People call me when they’re in a panic. I am not the person who can’t sleep because she can still hear rats or because I’m panicking that both children are in some kind of danger.

We were in a minor car prang on New Years Day, and the chain reaction has me a quivering wreck, terrified to put my feet down from the bed and unable to go to sleep with an appointment with the epilepsy nurse to up my dosage. Which means I can’t look into learning to drive (one of my 2018 goals), I’ve had to stop jogging, and I’m on a waiting list for trauma related therapy. Not to mention that I’ve now become terrified about any epileptic issues when I’m with my kids. All in all, the minor prang feels rather major now.

It’s a blip, but it feels like such a massive one tonight while I try and ignore the feeling of needing the toilet because I don’t want to go anywhere else in the house. And although I thought I was on the other end of issues like this. I want to bring my girls up to know that life will throw many bumps in the road, and as important as it is to keep going, it’s also important to make sure to heal as you go. And that healing needs it’s time as much as the braving it.

My Dad and husband both said they were proud about how I dealt with it. Which seems laughable, I hyperventilated, panicked and practically pulled multiple muscles by shaking and being so tense. But, I called pest control and I kept someone on the phone with me and stayed so I could see where the rat went. And did everything I needed to without screaming and waking the kids or losing track of the rat etc etc. And I didn’t have a seizure. So it can be considered a win. But I’m still going to call the Dr tomorrow to ask if there’s anything I can maybe have to help my nerves because tonight has proved that it is most definitely out of control.

It’s a slight set back, a blip. And I’m writing a blog post and watching Greys Anatomy to keep my mind busy. I’m so upset about it all, but I’ll manage it. And I’ll show my girls that it’s ok to struggle and it’s ok to need help as long as you don’t give up on yourself.

So my healthy, active, putting the past troublesome three years behind me is not the bump free road that I was planning for. But the easy road is a boring one anyway….

Baby enforced break..

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Today, my littlest Ladey has been easing my pain. I’ve had an itchy ear for months, for the last week I’ve been feeling a bit dizzy, and last night it went from annoying to really painful, and this morning the ear started bleeding. It’s nothing serious, I got it checked out today, and I’m going back in a few days to make sure it’s cleared up or is clearing and in the meantime I’m going to just have a quiet couple of days while I get my balance back and the ear clears up! 
Scarlett isn’t with me on Tuesdays, and my husband is at work, so Holly came with me to my appointment. When we got home I ran a bath to try and relax a bit. I put our baby in her static walker with some toys next to the bath and hopped in. She wasn’t happy about it, normally she happily plays while I have a soak and chat to her but today she was really agitated. 

And so I picked her up, stripped her off and lay her on my chest in the bath. And I suddenly realised, my God I needed this. 

I have spent the last few days worrying about the dizziness and ear pain without mentioning it, and I’ve been stressing out without even knowing why I had a knot in my stomach or that anxious feeling in my chest. But then with my baby suddenly quiet and still lying with me, I felt the pent up emotions dissolve into quiet tears. 

Why so stressed about ear pain? I’m not really, it was a focus point. As soon as I exhaled and let go of the tension I realised; I’m nervous about my new job and hope all my preparatory work is ok, I’m anxious about doing all I can to make sure Scarlett has the best support at home alongside the nursery. I’m worried about ensuring I have calculated enough in these last couple of months of retained leave to make sure we’re ok financially. I’m conscious of keeping on top of everything and not letting anything fall through the gaps, and I’m not getting enough sleep, to name a few! 

None of these are unusual, we all have a thousand and one worries in our heads at any given time. We all try and catch it all like balloon strings to make sure nothing slips out of our grasp. And we all work as hard as we can to support ourselves and our loved ones while trying to ensure we do the things that are important and that we’re passionate about. 

And SOMETIMES, we have to let go of at least some of the strings and trust that there’s a ceiling there that is within our reach so we don’t go mad, or pass a few of them onto a comrade that has a hand free!

My husband text me today when I updated him to tell me that tonight I was not to do ANYTHING but relax, and let him take care of some things that needed doing. He’s amazing and I will no doubt have another good cry on his shoulder later tonight! And it’s a huge relief to know my teammate is there, on side, ready to pick up any balls I need to drop.

But for now I feel a bit like I have the best form of therapy, or the most powerful healing pill. As I type, I am breathing slowly in time with my beautiful (now sleeping) baby girl with the bath water surrounding us and her little arms wrapped round my neck like she knew. She knew Mummy needed a quiet cuddle to cry and let all the stresses of a fast paced, busy schedule go.

By the end of today I will feel much better and I will be ready to face tomorrow with a renewed vigour. Because nothing is really ‘wrong’, I’m not feeling my best, and life gets on top of us all sometimes. 

And I know a lot of us are too hard on ourselves. We work day in day out to keep up with this 24/7 lifestyle that’s needed to keep afloat and succeed these days! We’re checking emails and replying straight away, but not being too stuck to our computers. We’re eating kale because it’s good for the heart, but we’re saying yes to a brownie because life’s too short. We’re getting plenty of sleep but getting up an hour earlier to fit in yoga and staying up later to make sure everything’s done. Everyone is doing their best! But sometimes, sometimes we need to run a bath, have a cuddle, have a cry, tell yourself everything’s going to be ok, acknowledge that you’re doing your best and that’s all that can be expected of you. Give yourself a break, exhale. 

And everyone needs good teammates around them, people who will hold the strings, pick up the balls, support you as you support them. And sometimes we need to make sure we’re asking for help! It’s often much easier to deal with someone else’s problem than it is to deal with your own, swapping can often make a huge difference, or at least gain a perspective from someone who has your best interest at heart and won’t judge you as harshly as you judge yourself! 

My bath time cuddle came at a perfect time, and it reminded me that I needed to stop and break a little bit. My to do list hasn’t disappeared, the stresses won’t indefinitely stay away, but I really needed this perfect moment, and it feels like my seven month old choreographed it for me! 

If anyone else is feeling the stress or struggling under your life load, PLEASE give yourself a break. Stop for at least twenty minutes and let yourself off all the hooks your hanging yourself from. Everything’s going to be ok. 

Anxious Action…

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I wrote the below a couple of nights ago in the early hours, then debated whether to post it. But the blog is for my daughters in the future, and on the offchance they have similar fears or problems, I’m sticking to my ‘keep it all’ policy! 

Tonight was an important night. I haven’t spoken much about it and I didn’t talk to anyone but my husband about it, however dear friends; tonight I went out on my own. 
A year ago I was three months pregnant with Holly, and my health began to deteriorate, my kidneys got to a pretty dire state, and my epilepsy reached an all time high (in the worst sense of the word). So at around that time, I was advised to have someone with me I knew whenever I went anywhere. And we realised, that it wouldn’t be difficult because since being pregnant with Scarlett, I hadn’t been anywhere on my own. This at first sounds a bit mental, but I don’t drive, and so I used to get picked up by colleagues for work, and my husband and I go out together an awful lot, and since Scarlett, we’d had a lot of family and friends around in that first year. Without noticing, I’d started a nervous pattern of not going on my own places. The epilepsy had returned in my first pregnancy but not in a severe way, but it had been enough to mean I ensured I was always with somebody I knew.
However, the second pregnancy kicked off a whole new level of anxiety. By the time January came around, my Dad had moved in with us and my husband put almost all of the work he had on, on hold for three months so not only did I not go out on my own, I wasn’t on my own at home. As my seizures got so frequent, I had a few worrying falls, and I would have someone i with me almost all of the time. I remember very little of those last few months, it was very confusing at the time and I frequently didn’t remember what was going on. Post it’s adorned our bedroom, and my phone notes became my go to. I even had an album of people I saw regularly with descriptions of who they were that I would refer to if I found myself in a conversation with someone who was in my lounge but suddenly unfamiliar. This inevitably brought some humorous times as well as frightening. On one occasion, I read in my notes, “we’re having a Thai takeaway tonight and will order from…” etc, and by the time my husband got home from work at 10pm, despite having had dinner, there was not one, but two Thai takeaways that my bewildered Dad had had to answer the door to. An occasion that I’m often reminded of, and one I barely remember happening!!

Anyway, back to the point. Through this, I developed a rather severe case of social anxiety. I’d want people to come visit, but I’d panic that I’d have a seizure, or forget who they were and freak out. I’m ashamed to admit it but I can be a very proud person in the negative sense of the word. I don’t like being out of control of myself, and the thought that I might upset someone or embarrass myself was very upsetting. There were several social occasions I had to ‘get through’, concentrating so hard on not losing the conversation thread or not appearing vacant, that I’d be absolutely exhausted afterwards. The most heartbreaking was Scarlett, I never didn’t know who she was, and seeing her always made my face light up and made me happy even if I got a bit confused. But I wasn’t allowed to carry her, or be with her on my own, for her and my safety and THAT was the hardest part of it all. How to explain to a one year old that Mummy couldn’t be with her again. I look back now, and I realise that what everyone said at the time about her forgetting that stage and not being affected is absolutely true. We have an incredible bond and I love having time with my mini pea, and she knows she can come to Mummy and climb all over me whenever she wants (being gentle if I’m holding Holly of course!). But at the time, I thought she’d eventually hate me, not want to come near me, be scared of me etc etc, the list of paranoid worries goes on!!

Once Holly was born, the seizures almost immediately ceased. I still get a bit confused at times and have to just go over in my head or with my husband what’s going on; in Malta on holiday one morning when I’d had no sleep at all, my poor long suffering partner had to gently go through where we were and what was happening before I sorted it out in my head and could continue. So at my six week check and an additional 12 week check, I was told that the restrictions that were on while pregnant could be lifted. And I HUGELY enjoyed spending time with my two little girls on my own. Because all of a sudden I wasn’t a ‘danger’ to the three most important people to me, I could be ‘allowed’ to be with them by myself. After some time, I even took a huge (for me) step and took them both out on my own, and it was AWESOME! 

However, they were now a bit of a safety blanket. A few months down the line and I realised that although I do spend a lot of time with the girls by myself, even a day in London with them, going on a boat trip, attending an interview, regular jet setter(..!), I still hadn’t been out by myself by myself (if that makes sense?!). Clearly I wasn’t overly worried about epilepsy, or else I would feel comfortable out and about with the girls. So I knew from quite early on I’d been left with some residual psychosomatic anxiety. 

I’d been thinking (borderline obsessing!) about this for about 12 weeks. I kept finding opportunities to take a little trip out alone, and then changing it, or inviting someone to ‘meet me at mine’ instead or just cancelling for what I felt at the time were decent reasons but was actually, looking back, just an excuse because I wasn’t quite ready.

But tonight. Tonight I was going to see a friend in an event at a local literature festival, it was 15 minutes walk from home and lasted one hour. My husband and I are so busy in the next week or so that we were at the end of babysitting favours, and as he has a writing deadline coming up, it was decided that I should go and he’d take care of the kids. ‘No worries’ I thought, I’ll go with a mutual friend…who was busy. I text a few other people, but to cut a long story short (which I haven’t really done so far, sorry comrades!), I found myself at 5.30pm today, due to leave in just over an hour and sweating profusely. This was it, this was leaving the house totally on my own on my own. No husband by my side to squeeze my hand if we went through a busy crowd of people, no daughters to occupy me (and hide behind!), if I was going, I was going alone. To a place with a location I wasn’t 100% sure of.

Before I carry on, let me express to you how ridiculous this will seem to people who know me. My entire life I have been fiercely independent, ready for adventure, and due to my often crazy schedule, happy to go alone anywhere, my old housemates used to think I was a bit mad going to the cinema alone but I loved it! I’ve travelled alone, I’ve lived alone, alone have never been something that’s worried me before. Sorry…back to the narrative…

In my head I flip flopped between not going and going 700 times. I thought about various things; ‘my throats quite sore at the moment’ (but I’m definitely not under the weather enough not to go), ‘there’s that email I haven’t replied to’ (but I’m not expected to till Monday, the list went on. For someone who has supposed to have their crap together, I really am a mess!

Now I can’t do a dramatic reveal as in my first sentence I gave out an important spoiler, but after much psyching myself up and talking to myself in the mirror, ‘you have a PhD for christs sake, pull yourself together woman’! I went out. I arrived after a fifteen minute journey of jumping a couple of times because of a car horn or something stupid. I arrived and didn’t know where to go within the venue which threw me momentarily. But I did it. 

And I had a really nice evening, and then on the way home I remembered how much I used to enjoy solitary walks to clear my head (I still jumped when a motorbike revved ahead of me but baby steps and all that..!). I was SO excited to get home to my husband and tell him I’d done it, and I arrived back to a stiff drink, and the PS4 controller being handed to me to play Resident Evil (which likely sounds very strange but was a big treat!). And now I know I can do it. I won’t promise that if I’m going somewhere alone, I won’t falter a bit, or make an excuse to get out of something when I suddenly realise I’m going it totally alone, but that’s ok. I know I can do it, and I know it all fine, but on the occasions where I’m not quite there, I’m not going to let it set me back.

The lingering effects of traumatic events or difficult periods of our lives are often long lasting and silent. Long past the time when those around you actively thinks of it as a problem, which is understandable; we all have busy lives, and we simply don’t have time to remember each and every little thing that might effect everyone around us based o past events. We all get on with it as best we can. Which often means that leftover issues don’t necessarily get dealt with, which is how we all become so uniquely messed up in our own way!! Which I say with love because none of us get out of life alive, and we all have various scars and bumps and bruises along the way, they’re just all very different jumps, bruises and scars! So although some people’s fears seem strange to us, it’s not our right to decide they shouldn’t feel that way, we have no idea what journey they’d been on to feel like that. We should help each other, and be kind to each other, but always remember that we all have at least a few things that most people would probably deem ridiculous. And then there’s the common fears that we all understand like ‘my God what if Trump becomes president.’

Anyway, multiple tangents aside, tonight I conquered a nervous fear. I say conquered, I mean challenged. I won, but that’s not to say I’m totally victorious in general! But that’s OK. I’m happy with that. As pathetic as it may seem, I’m proud of that. In the future I’ll do more and more on my own. The girl who went to America alone, regularly joined OAP’s at the cinema on a Tuesday afternoon is a slightly different person now. Now I genuinely prefer doing things with my husband or my daughters with me, I find experiences more fun with them there and when they’re not I find myself wishing they could be there to enjoy those experiences with me. That said, the girl I am now was being held prisoner by herself. And I have started the rescuing process! 

It’s not an easy thing to do, breaking a habit that’s formed. Especially a habit that’s formed under traumatic circumstances. Mine is really not bad compared to the struggles a lot of people go through and a lot of the trauma that other people survive. But it’s all relative, and we’re all entitled to go through these things. For those that have gone through and totally beaten their anxieties and fears, I salute you! It’s not easy and it takes incredible inner strength just to acknowledge those things are there, let alone vanquish them. To those of you that are still fighting, keep going, you’re doing great. And for those of you that feel like you’ll never be able to face it, please know that you can, when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. Give yourself a break and face it when you’re ready. And talk to those close to you, I tried to sort it all in my own head, as soon as I opened up to my husband it seemed like half the problem it had felt before! Greet the demons in your cupboard with a friendly grin, you know exactly where they are, you’re familiar with their form, in a lot of cases, you helped create them in your own design! Then when you want to, open the cupboard with a shotgun in hand (METAPHORICAL SHOTGUN! PLEASE don’t think I mean literally..!) and do those demons some damage!