Monday, 7 July 2014

I'm almost myself, just not quite

It's been touching to have a few people check up on me as I've been absent, particularly those who don't know me from Adam in real life (thank you Rachel and The Boy and Me).

I sat down to write many times in the last seven months and each time found myself an hour later staring at a blank page. I didn't understand why. There was so much going on in my life - back to work, two children to bring laughs and experiences into my life - yet I had nothing to say. That was reflected in my personal life. I could happily talk about nothing with work colleagues and acquaintances, but conversation ran dry with old friends.

Looking back now I can see that I had simply lost myself. I could function, I looked after my children, I threw myself back into work full time. There simply was nothing else left. Looking back at my year of maternity leave I can now see that I went into full avoidance mode: I started a peer supporter course when Badger Cub was three weeks old (obviously taking him with me); I volunteered at a new mums group at a local children's centre and spent my time listening, sympathising and giving information and advice in as unbiased a fashion as I could. If I concentrated on sorting out other people's issues then I didn't have to acknowledge my own.

Thankfully this has changed.

Maybe it was the Sertraline? I have been taking it for seven months, six of those at the relatively low dose of 50mg per day. A month ago I decided (after much research) to lower my dose to 25mg. Timing it with the onset of PMT probably wasn't the best idea but we survived the emotional onslaught and I've levelled out on the other side. The "brain zaps" in the first ten days (apparently a common withdrawal symptom) were unpleasant but have passed. I'm going to leave it at least another month and then try to come off it altogether, only not coinciding with PMT this time!

Maybe it was the CBT? I certainly think it has helped the personality in me that adores process and checklists. Being able to recognise my thinking errors and core beliefs has stopped the downward trend of negative thoughts.

Maybe it was the counselling? That was eight hours of my life I'm never going to get back... Possibly the most awkward I've ever felt, but perhaps that's the point? Having a stranger sit and wait for me to talk, to spill over with emotion, to watch me not talking. If nothing else it identified that I was angry. I was angry over the way I had to fight to break NHS red tape and birth my baby the way I wanted. I was angry that NHS policy could be so blind, so fearful of litigation and blame that they'd prefer to cut him out of me. Rather than confront that anger I diverted the energy into breech support forums, into peer support work, into anything that meant I didn't have to deal with it. The anger is diffusing. Still there but fading.

Maybe it was a combination of all of these, and also the relief that I had acknowledged the problem and was doing something about it.

I'm not quite there yet, not quite found, but I'm getting there.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman /

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Finally out of quarantine!

It's been an interesting week. In the early hours of Monday I woke to the sound of Father Badger coating the bathroom in vomit, Exorcist style. Cue Badger Cub waking up, so I ended up standing outside the door nursing, while passing towels and disinfectant spray through the door to a very sorrowful husband. We went into full preventative mode - once Badger Cub was back asleep in his cot, I did a second clean of the bathroom then replaced all the towels, colour coded so no one shared. Antiseptic hand gel went out. Father Badger was put under strict instructions not to touch the children or any of their things unless absolute emergency.

We figured Baby Badger had had the bug as on Friday evening she'd been a bit sick with a high temperature, so off to nursery she went. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case and on Tuesday afternoon she decorated my parents' sofa in similar style. We went into lock down until Friday - no visitors, no trips out, no contact with anyone else.

Have you ever tried entertaining a stroppy three year old and a ten month old that chews everything without allowing them to touch any of the same objects? Challenging to say the least, but I must have managed it as neither myself nor Badger Cub suffered. I'm hoping we're clear now.

I've also been on the Sertraline for just over a week now. I'm not sure much has changed but apparently it can take a few weeks to have any effect. I have noticed that I no longer have the anxious knot in my stomach when driving in the dark, which is nice, but I was definitely on a low last night. I know why: I played at my band's Christmas concert last night, something that always signals festive spirit, but I'm just not feeling it this year at all, and it felt odd not to feel even a little bit Christmassy.

I had my first therapy session on Thursday. I don't think it's going to come naturally to me - it's all about opening up and me talking, something I'm not very good at. We did work out that I'm pretty angry at a lot of things but internalise far too much, so my homework is to spend half an hour per day writing whatever I want in my "angry book". Six more sessions booked.

Image courtesy of nuttakit /

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I read too much

I spent part of today chasing a prescription for Sertraline, and at five o'clock I finally obtained the small plainly labelled box containing 14 pills. I chased it because I wanted to make sure I could start taking them tomorrow. Father Badger has taken the day off and then he's at home as normal for the weekend, and I'd rather not be alone when I start to take these pills. I also need to start on them before I chicken out.

I made a tactical error, you see...

I read the NHS website page on the side effects of Sertraline. It made for uncomfortable reading, not because the list was long but because many of the side effects were listed as likely to affect as many as one in ten people! I see that as rather a high hit rate.

I then made a much more idiotic mistake...

I read the leaflet in the pill packet. Oh. My. Word. The NHS appear to have been sugar coating it. Here are the edited highlights (because the full details would take far too long to type):

Very common side effects (more than 1 in 10 patients): Insomnia, dizziness, sleepiness, headache, diarrhoea, feeling sick, dry mouth, fatigue

Common (1-10 out of 100 patients):

  • Sore throat, anorexia, increased appetite
  • depression, feeling strange, nightmare, anxiety, etc.
  • visual disturbance, ringing in ears
  • palpitations, hot flush
  • etc.
Uncommon (1-10 out of 1,000 patients):
  • hallucination, [insert variety of mental states]
  • convulsion, amnesia, etc.
  • osteoarthritis
  • etc.
All in, there must be upward of several hundred possible side effects listed, both physical and mental, and of varying degrees of impact to life as we know it. I particularly like "terrifying abnormal dreams".

They may as well have just put in large red type: this will probably screw you up in some way.

I need to find a way of blanking this out of my mind before tomorrow morning.

Image courtesy of vorakorn /

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Reasons To Be Cheerful: first steps, confessions and knitting

Truth be told, I'm a day early for Reasons To Be Cheerful, but I need to say this tonight.

Reason 1: The first real steps have been taken towards dealing with my depression.

Last Friday I had my initial telephone assessment with Talking Space, the local NHS mental health service. They decided I have "mild-to-moderate" depression, and offered me some group CBT sessions starting on 22nd January. That worried me - I can't imagine returning to work from a year's maternity leave to immediately ask for time off for medical treatment for a condition I don't want to share with my boss, regardless of whether I'm entitled to do so. I also really need to know I've made progress with this condition before returning to work - the idea of still feeling like this as well as working full time really panics me. I explained this as calmly as I could and was told they'd see what they could do.

I had a feeling that NHS treatment was not going to be immediate so I had already got a referral from my GP to BUPA - I'm lucky enough to be covered by my employer. I saw a counsellor today, where we talked through how I was feeling, what I thought might be the cause, and some more general questions. She came to the same conclusion as I had: the last trimester of my pregnancy was very stressful and I have had a high dependency baby (a "velcro baby" that needed to be in close contact with me 24/7 for almost nine months).

I also talked to my La Leche League leader yesterday about the Sertraline the GP wanted to prescribe me. I knew it was considered to be the safest antidepressant I could take whilst breastfeeding but I lost faith in the GP's knowledge of medications in milk when she talked about pumping and dumping after taking the medication - I knew that was rubbish! I feel much more reassured that Badger Cub will not be affected so I'm going to give it a go.

The next steps are also in place: I've been referred to another therapist through BUPA to talk more about the cause of my stress, and today's therapist has booked to see me in January to update on progress. Talking Space also called back and have booked me a one on one CBT session over the phone on 23rd December. I'm up for throwing everything I can get at this.

Reason 2: I told my parents.

As I mentioned before, my family don't really talk about this sort of stuff and that has really affected my ability to talk about it. They were looking after Badger Cub while I attended today's counselling session and I realised that they were worried that there was something wrong that I wasn't telling them about. It wasn't fair to let them assume something far worse than reality so I 'fessed up, and I managed to do it without crying - go me... They were great. Relief on my part.

Reason 3: knitting.

Baby Badger requested a pink and purple scarf. Everything has to be pink and/or purple at the moment. She spotted the work in progress and got very excited that I was making a blanket for Bunny. I laughed and said that it wasn't a blanket, but I could do that next. I told her to imagine it longer and around her neck - first guess was a necklace, but then her eyes widened in wonder and pure delight and she squealed "scarf!". All through dinner she sneaked peeks at the knitting and grinned. Moments like that make everything worthwhile.

This month R2BC is being hosted by Ojo's World while Michelle takes a break.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy with a Heart

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Black Dog On My Shoulder

I've been feeling this way for quite some time: lacking energy and drive; regretting not putting more effort into friendships, new and old, but not able to do anything about it; crying; non-existent libido (why does that feel like the hardest one to admit?); angry; generally not enjoying maternity leave anything like as much as last time. I talked to Father Badger about it a few times, but we agreed that it must be down to the pitiful amount of sleep I was getting - Badger Cub has always woken multiple times a night, and at eight months I could count on my fingers the times I'd had a block of four hours sleep. The FBI would probably stop short of this level of sleep deprivation.

Then three weeks ago a switch flipped and Badger Cub started sleeping. Not reliably all night, but most nights (with a few notable exceptions) he has slept eight or nine hours with one waking, and a couple of times with none. The problem is that I didn't start feeling any better. In fact I probably felt worse as I had the mental capacity to start thinking about the emotions.

I met up with a friend and her six month old baby for lunch and coffee. We chatted about many things, mostly baby related, and then she told me about her postnatal depression and how the antidepressants and counselling were helping her. I didn't realise it, but she had obviously spotted something she could identify with in the way I was talking. By the end of the afternoon I had opened up to her, shed a few tears and agreed that I probably ought to find some help rather than continue to try and deal with it myself.

I know there is no shame in depression. When my friend opened up my immediate thought was her strength in telling me. I still struggled to accept it as my situation though - I've always been the strong one, thick skinned, bulletproof. I must remind myself that I don't have to be strong; that my children deserve to have the whole of me.

It took another week for me to gather courage to talk to Father Badger and use the label - postnatal depression - so difficult. He agreed, was amazingly supportive and the following day I went to my GP. To be honest it's been a bit of an anticlimax. I told the GP that I wasn't comfortable with taking antidepressants and she referred me to Talking Space, the Oxfordshire NHS mental health service. I've been booked onto an initial telephone assessment next Friday - TEN DAYS after calling them. The average wait time for the first talking therapy session is four weeks. That takes me to the start of January, just one week before I return to work, full time.

It took a lot for me to go to my GP. A lot. I laid myself bare. I feel as though the NHS has calmly nodded, confirmed that I'm not about to top myself or put my children in danger, then cast me to the bottom of the pile.

I would rant, but I've run out of words and energy.

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc /
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