Mental Health Awareness…

This is a (long!) mental health awareness post. I’m not sharing this for any kind of sympathy or kudos, only to shed some light on a misunderstood topic. Before I had experienced anxiety and depression myself I really didn’t have a clue what it was like, and if I’d known I’d have been able to help others better than I had.
So I have recently reduced my anti-depressant dosage. Because it felt like I was in a good place to give it a go and because the negative aspects of being on them were starting to outweigh the anxiety / depression risk.
In two steps I cut my dose in half. Both times I felt fine for 4-5 days then my brain took a hit and scrambled around for another 4-7 days until it found its new balance.
Those days of mental scrambling were a chilling reminder of how I felt when I was at my worst, only this time it was much more temporary,  and having quickly got back to feeling like myself again I have realised how stark the contrast between the well me and the un-well me really is. There are always days when I am grumpy, sad, tired, irritable, we all have those days of course. But that’s not what I’m talking about…
In the brain-scrambled days there was no enjoyment to be found in stuff I love, I’d watch the kids be gorgeous and not feel anything about it. And Dan bought me some flowers. They’re beautiful and today I can see that. On Friday I knew they should make me feel happy, only they didn’t. I knew they were an expression of Dan’s love & his belief that I was doing a good job, only I didn’t believe that & the flowers were a symbol of yet another bad thing about me that I’d deceived people around me into thinking I was better than I really was.

And in the brain-scrambled days my fuse was so short I don’t think I even had one. The sound of the kids first thing in the morning playing next door wasn’t only irritating, it actually felt like my inner ears were scraping against my skull, and I’d feel the anxiety rise trying to figure out how I could escape while leaving them safe. A cup of spilt water that at the best of times drives me mad, caused me to feel such anger that I had to leave the room for fear of what I would do. And then thoughts like “these kids can’t even drink without spilling something, there’s clearly something wrong with them, in fact there’s clearly something wrong with me I can’t believe I can’t even teach kids to have a drink without spilling it, this adoption isn’t working, I can’t believe I ever thought it was going to work” would run through my mind at a million miles an hour with no pause for breath.

And in these difficult days I actually didn’t function like the well me. I couldn’t remember something that happened one minute ago, I would be in a conversation vaguely aware that it involved me and that I should be saying something and yet words failed me (not a problem I normally have!).

During my most difficult periods I have sought Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which I am sure has saved my health, our family and what feels like my life actually. And in these recent brain-scrambled days I dragged up some methods I learned there and they helped. Somedays the fight is there, some days it’s not. Yes, some of it is about being positive, and celebrating the good stuff, which I’ve found it good for the soul to do even when it doesn’t actually help my brain to do so. For the kids I’m brave, and look happy, some days that helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Does the counselling help? Yes. Sometimes. Does prayer help? Yes. Sometimes. Does time out help? Yes. Sometimes, (until it’s time to come home again). Does exercise help? Yes, but only if there’s enough fight to actually get out and do it.

But the difference in my mind, in my brain from a well-me day to a sick-me day is just huge. It’s irrational, sometimes triggered by something tangible, sometimes not.

Depression is sometimes described as the black dog. It follows you round, it’s relentless, it pounces, it plays the same games over and over again, you can get rid of it only to find it’s come back again. And I’ve learned that to ignore the black dog when he comes to play isn’t actually the best method. You need to get to know him in order to master him and show him who’s boss. As Dan described when I overcame an anxiety attack at the weekend, “looks to me like you saw the black dog, gave him a cuddle and then told him to bu*@er off”! For me giving him a cuddle is having a cry, or listing all the stuff making me anxious, or just shutting the world out with silence, or mindless tv. And then the next step (how long that takes will be different each time, but is nearly always sooner than I “feel like”) for me is to either employ some CBT strategies, get out for a run, get on with doing something with the kids, pray, sing, dance.

If you’ve never met the black dog, then you are one of the lucky ones and I pray it stays that way. But please know it’s more complicated than it looks, and if it was as easy as “getting over it”, simply “being positive”, or “getting it in perspective” then we wouldn’t even need to be having this conversation!

If you’re going through it, know you’re not alone, and take a brave step to do one thing different today in your journey towards wellness. If you know someone who’s going through it, listen, be patient, don’t be offended if your help doesn’t look like it’s making a difference, because long term it will help. We know you care, we know you desperately want to help, and at times we feel bad that we’re disappointing you by not being better! But thank you – keep asking us how we’re really doing, we need you!

 

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finding life’s treasures

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Am learning a lot recently about embracing the moment.

About taking where I am right now and celebrating all the much goodness I find there.

About not always rushing through the hard times but searching within them for the treasures.

About the truth that my life has purpose. In every season. In every hour and minute there is purpose.

The 7 weeks of the school holidays long lurked in the distance like a black cloud and slowly came closer. For me, 7 weeks with routine out of the window, with 3 kids home full time when 2 of them are still only 6 months old to me despite being born nearly 2 years ago, was a disaster waiting to happen.

Or so I thought. As it turns out, “summer” (I use the term loosely!) is yet another aspect to this lesson I’m learning.

When there is no routine you can take time to say “yes”. Yes to pulling up at the building site to watch the diggers. Yes to stopping and figuring out what they’re growing in that field. Yes to letting him taking forever over choosing which yoghurts we’re going to buy. Yes to playing tickle chase with him. Yet to yet another round of “The wheels on the bus”. Yes to letting her sit and stroke your face and hair for what feels like an awkwardly long time, and yet she’s just catching up on all that getting to know you. Yes to breathing in the sunshine. Yes to jumping in puddles. Yes to making strange concoctions with mud and petals. Yes. Yes. Yes.

When all 3 kids are together for more than a few days for the first time ever they learn each other. They learn what makes each other giggle. They learn how to wind each other up. They learn how to relate to each other. They learn how they all fit together. They learn to entertain each other and leave me with some moments of rest. They learn to love each other.

When there is less stuff put on for us to go to we spend less time hiding in the busyness and get on with the business of family, of building our relationships, of letting ourselves be knitted together in a way that I think we’d have taken for granted if all our children were grown in my own womb.

The grace of it all is that we’re ready for this now. If the long 7 weeks had come a couple of months ago I think it would have been a different story. We’re ready to be thrown together, to become a little tribe in a way we’ve not been able to so far.

But then isn’t that always the way? That we have whatever we need to handle whatever comes our way. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, sometimes we have to dig pretty deep, we have to call on our closest people to hold up our arms when they’re failing, to cheer us on. But there is always a way through. And these ways through so often lead us to the treasures that are seemingly hidden:

The people who you didn’t know cared so much.

The things about yourself you didn’t know about, the good stuff you can celebrate and be thankful for, and the baggage you’ve carried around for years that you can finally be free of.

The precious jewels that are formed under only the most intense pressure in a marriage, in a family.

When every new life is born it comes with its very own treasure chest and a treasure trail ahead. No matter what we experience in life, no matter what comes our way there are more than enough treasures to fill it up. I am sure I have missed many so far, but I’m determined to find as many as I can today, tomorrow and the next day.

Because it’s these that make my life rich.

That make your life rich

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grateful for the small things of mummying

With my first child who was born of me I took so much for granted. Things that I hadn’t had to work so hard for, things that just happened as I loved him since the day he was born. But this time round, with my adopted children, these things are taking longer to come, and I’m realising quite how special they are. I don’t ever want to take them for granted,  because they make me enjoy parenting more – they allow me to experience more joy because I’m noticing the little things more.

I’m not writing this list to make you feel sorry for me that it’s taken a while to get to this point, but because I want to urge you too if you’re a parent to take a moment to realise quite how much of a privilege it is to get to love a child and to watch them develop.

So…

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter smiles at you when you get her out of the cot in the morning – It means she’s happy you’re her mummy.

Don’t take it for granted when your son comes to you in tears because he’s fallen and hurt himself – It means he knows you’ll take care of him.

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter lets you know she’s cross with you – It means she knows she’s safe to express something negative without you rejecting her.

Don’t take it for granted when your son wants to play with his big brother – It means he’s accepted him.

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter starts to babble – it means her brain is relaxed enough to do it’s job.

Don’t take it for granted when your son is happy to eat in his high chair – It means he’s relaxed enough for you to be in control.

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter greets someone who comes through the door – it means she trusts you when you bring someone new into the home.

Don’t take it for granted when you can make your son laugh – it means he likes you.

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter gives you a squeeze – it means she likes having you around.

Don’t take it for granted when your son is happy to come back home after a trip – it means he likes living there.

Don’t take it for granted when your daughter runs to her daddy when he gets home – it means she’s not confused about why he’s sometimes here and sometimes not.

Don’t take it for granted when your son chats to himself in the morning – it means he’s not frightened of where he is.

Don’t take it for granted when your kids look at you with that look that makes you feel like you’re the best person in the world – it means you’re their parent, it means they’re your child.

I’m told by my friends with older kids that these memories fade, as our kids grow and change and our relationships adapt, we might hark back to these days as the good old days. As the time when they looked to us for everything, when we were their heroes. It’s hard to imagine that sometimes when we’re having rough days, when we’re desperate for things to get easier. But I am determined to treasure these moments, so I will name and be thankful for each of these times when I know I’m winning – when I know I’m being the kind of mummy my kids want and need.

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loving anyway

What does it mean to love someone? To love my children, my husband, what does that mean? What I thought I knew about love has been stretched. Well at least some days it feels like stretching. Some days it feels more like breaking.

Bringing two children into your home when they’re 16 months old is different in so many ways to birthing one and bringing him home the next day.

You’re supposed to love your children. It’s a given. This life you’ve been entrusted with, this precious bundle of emotions, needs, personality, wants, they look to you for their needs. You meet those needs. They need you more. You give them more. And that give and take gives way to learning each other, knowing each other. 5 years go by and you’ve got feelings you never thought were quite possible. When did it happen? How did it happen? And is that love? That’s what I’ve named it anyway.

But what happens when on that day you bring them home they don’t look to you for their needs? What if they’ve already had a year and a half of life with someone else, having their needs met by that someone? What if they don’t know you’re their mummy? What if you don’t know them at all, all their year and a half developed personalities, likes, dislikes. How do you learn that? How do they learn you? How do you prove you love them, without actually having those feelings that took 5 years to grow last time?

What even is love in that situation?

It has to be more than feelings. It has to be more than these unpredictable, unreliable, fragile moments of hormones flowing through my brain, through my gut that I can actually recognise as “LOVE”.

Because if it’s just that, then that is not enough.

So it has to be more. It is more. It is choosing to love when I don’t feel like it. Not just choosing to say it, although that too. Not choosing to pretend the feelings are there when they’re not. But loving anyway.  Loving in spite of the lack of warm and fuzzy. Loving through the hard times.

It’s about being there. It’s about saying “Yes. I. Am. Here” when you wish you weren’t.

It’s about getting them dressed. It’s about feeding them. It’s about reading. It’s about listening. It’s about cleaning up the mess. It’s about playing. It’s about teaching. It’s about saying sorry. It’s about forgiving. It’s about moving on from the bad moments. It’s about celebrating the good ones. It’s about saying “well done”. It’s about saying “never mind”. It’s about cuddling. It’s about kissing. It’s about “there there’s”. It’s about saying “come on, you can do it”.

That is love. Love is messy. Love gets its hands dirty. Love isn’t afraid to fail.

The feelings of love are gorgeous. They make life easier. They make it flow. But they come and go. What I want to give my kids is something more consistent, something less reliant on how I feel on any given day, because that is not enough right now, and it may never be enough.

So I’m choosing to just do it.

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life’s a beach

One of the big attractions of our recent holiday destination was being near the sea. I love the sea. The massiveness of it, the perfectly straight horizon, the predictability of the tides, the colour, the wind, the smell. We’d been there for 24 hours and not yet reached the sea, I hadn’t got my toes wet. So we took a trip to the beach. But the expanse of sand was so huge we never made it to the sea. The same the next day, and the next. We were aiming for the sea but kept getting stuck on the beach

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But these were not wasted trips. We had fun, ran races, chased balls, dug holes, sat and watched, dreamed.

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We caught glimpses of the sea in the distance, watched as swimmers made the long walk back to the car, and played in the streams that steadily flowed the distance to the ocean.

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It makes me wonder what happens in life when I’m aiming for the sea but get stuck on the beach. Do I strive for the ocean, for the final destination without enjoying the wonder of the sand dunes, of where I am now?

We’re big on aims, of setting out our goals with the 3 step plan of how we’ll get there. Most of the time I think this is a good thing. There’s the old school of thought that there’s no such thing as standing still; if you’re not moving forwards you’re in fact moving backwards.

But there are so many treasures to be found on the beach, we shouldn’t move so fast towards our goals that we miss them. And for those goals that are harder to reach, with so many variables out of your control. For the sake of your sanity and ability to actually enjoy life, you need to enjoy the journey not just the destination.

Some times you’ll be in the mood for getting stuck in to life – get your bucket and spade out and build something.

Some days you’ll just feel like you’re chasing the same balls over and over – if that’s good enough for my dog it’s good enough for me!

Some days it’ll be all you can do to sit with your arms wrapped around your knees staring out at where you want to go, watching others have all the fun. And that’s ok too – just be careful you don’t get stuck there for too long, nobody likes a numb bum!

I’m happy to say we did eventually make it to the sea on our last day, and how sweet it was to enjoy it with friends.

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Some of life’s beaches are long and hard, some of them feel more like a desert. But like it says in Lamentations 3:21-28,

“…There’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear”

Some days God’s mercies and faithfulness look like that day when you achieve a goal, when a dream is realised. And some days it looks like an empty beach with a lifetime of possibilities to enjoy before you get there.

 

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spinning plates

Plate spinning. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve got a to do list as long as your arm and need to be in 3 places with 3 different people all at the same time.

You don’t know what to prioritise because they all deserve your best, so you feel like they’re all getting your worst.

You’re just about holding it all together but you’re living as if any moment it’s all going to come crashing down.

There are a few things about plate spinning that have helped me (after a lot of fighting it) through a recent (read current) manic season of my life.

  1. By nature the plates are spinning on top of the little pole; they need to spin quite fast in order to keep them there. So we needn’t be afraid of it. Sometimes life is just harder to keep going smoothly sometimes & that’s ok. It can feel like it’s all a bit out of control but actually it’s pretty sturdy up there.
  2. In a circus act each plate that’s added to the spinner’s display looks like it’s going to be one too many, but every time he takes it on, gets it going and goes on to add more. The world record incidentally is 108! Often something new can come into our life and we think, “uh oh, this is the one that’s going to break me”, but when it comes to it, we take it on and we cope; we can often spin more at once than we think.
  3. Professional plate spinners (do they even exist?!) almost always have an assistant. It’s not a game they can play on their own, needing someone to pass the plates. And life? Life is not a game we can play on our own. We might manage up to a certain point but sooner or later we’re not going to have any free hands to pick up any extras, or we’re just going to give up because we haven’t got the confidence to keep going. So find yourself a willing assistant. And when they offer to help, whatever you do, don’t say no. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work! Not only will they share the load and help you pick them up if they crash to the floor, but they’ll encourage you to believe that you can succeed with all you’ve got going on.
  4. In China they turn plate spinning into an acrobatic performance whereas western plate spinning performers usually present it as a comedy act. Whichever way you lean, whether towards drama and a show of immense skill, or more of a slapstick calamity show, have fun with it. Life is full of serious stuff that we can’t get away from, but we can enjoy the ride. Have a go with some tricks, making each thing you take on more beautiful than it was before; or take on some extra fun ones when you’re tempted to keep things simple by just doing the necessary basics.

And if they all come crashing down like you’re worried they might, so be it. Get your pal to help you pick up the pieces, and give it another go. Often we put so much pressure on ourselves to get everything completely perfect, whereas actually giving life our best shot is enough. And fear of this can freeze us in our tracks instead of having the confidence that we can not only spin the plates we’ve got, but also take on some more and throw in the odd trick to make us and those around us smile.

In the words of my favourite bear’s friend Christopher Robin,

“you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”.

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baby steps

Some days are for dreaming. Some days are for looking to the future. Some days are for thinking big. Some days you’re at the bottom of the mountain looking up excited for the challenge with camera in hand to capture the moment.

But then there are the other days. These are the days you just have to take.one.hour.at.a.time. These are the days for thinking small.

Some days that’s all you can do.

Looking any further lets the fear in you work so hard to keep away. Taking in the scale of the mountain is too overwhelming so you just need to focus on the next step.

It’s ok that we have these days. Life is real – not a movie – and we can’t expect every day to be one that’ll make the highlights reel.

And taking the mountain climb one step at a time doesn’t mean you don’t make it to the top. It might take longer. Some steps will be backwards. You might have less laughs along the way. But the victory might just taste sweeter after all it takes to get there.

So if you need to take some days one hour at a time, go for it. Maybe the next day you can dare yourself to look a bit further.

And whatever you do don’t leave your camera behind. Capture these moments and document the progress, as small as it may seem. Journal it, blog it, tell someone, pray about it. Because these small victories give us hope, they make us brave.

Baby steps they may be, but add them all together and they can get you up a mountain.

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