One of the best quotes I have heard about recovery I read while I was ill and in hospital. It said that recovery is like a game of snakes and ladders. Sometimes you slide down the snake or fall off the ladder but you never go back to the start . And it’s right . This week , I have been reminded that as well as I am , I still suffer from anxiety when things get too much. I’ve been attempting to be superwoman in a pair of pyjamas and stilettos and have been so busy in work, I may have to wear ear muffs to catch the steam coming out of my ears . I have been saying yes to every interview that health professionals and journalist who wants to talk about mental health have asked me for and while this is wonderful, it’s exhausted me. I’ve decided that this is obviously also the time to become a school governor as well and read 678 pages of guidance on the optimum temperature in class rooms and attempting to work my 33 hours a week in work. Which I have done 42 of this week so far. It’s also the anniversary of my last pregnancy which didn’t work out a couple of years ago. It’s no surprise I’ve had a little wobble really is it ?
I’ve cried this week. I cried last night. I’ve had two panic attacks. But I’m ok. A few yrs ago I would have thought , oh god, John can’t go to work and leave me because I might have an overwhelming urge to cook 6 battered fish fillets in the oven for three hours before throwing them in the garden alongside ordering 8 juicers from the shopping channel again. What if I decide to throw myself in the middle of the road holding onto his ankles not letting him go to work because my head felt like it was being used as a drum by the mental illness drumstick. Again.
Last night , I said to John , it’s too much. I’m doing too much. My little head is telling me it’s time to slow down.and then I said, are you worried about me? And he said no, I’m not at all. Instead of staying on the train and waiting for it to crash into the wall and breaking into little pieces that will take a hell of a long time to cobble back together again , this time, you jumped off the train on to a soft landing. You have realised something isn’t right before loco kicks in. Yes, you are crying and yes , it’s not nice feeling like this but we are going to write a list of what is overwhelming you, what you can cut out and how we can make things better.
And tonight I feel more in control. My list is complete and there is a fair amount on it I need to tell to jog on . And that’s ok. The world isn’t going to stop turning because I might slip some deadlines. And that’s ok. Tonight , I’ve had a night on the sofa with my little boy and I’ve drank some Buck’s Fizz and eaten a chocolate croissant. I may have also eaten a Hershey’s chocolate bar and some skittles but that isn’t important . I’ve been on a spinach juice diet for four weeks and have lost the grand total of half a bloody stone.i should be a bleedin supermodel by now with all this green shit I’ve been drinking and literally shitting but no, I’m still folding my stomach up like a parcel. I’ve had a blocked milk duct and dug out an old electric toothbrush and have been on all fours in the doggy style position on the living room floor massaging said milk duct with my buzzing friend , resulting in my child’s train set being sprayed all over. Slightly different to last Saturday night where I think I was drinking a piña colada out of a coconut shell balanced on my bustville.
I feel a little more like eve. The last few days has made me understand that I need to keep a slightly open eye on my anxiety but in a strange way it’s also made me realise that I am ok. I have always feared feeling anxiety again as I have feared getting really ill again like I did after I had Joe. But what the last few days has made me realise is that I am ok and if I’m not , well , that can be helped and sorted like it was before. I need to do my best to ensure I stay as healthy as I can but also remember that if and when things do feel like they are a bit like a tangled up hair brush, that I seek help the unravel those hairs as soon as I can.
So tonight I feel,happy and healthy. I’m going to take some self care days off work and if I feel things creeping up on me again , I’ll take some time away to sleep and preserve my marbles.
And all this shows me how recovery is possible. I’ve said on a blog post before, I’ve totally recovered from psychosis and the catastrophic anxiety I had when I was unwell but I’ll always have a level of anxiety. But I have recovered to a point where I can lead a normal life. I am sometimes medicated but I am always mighty. I have no shame in taking meds to get me through my bad times and still being on meds doesn’t mean I’m not recovered. Meds gave me my life back and they helped me find myself again . The crazy,loud,wild girl is back and is better than ever in some ways as I truly do know my strength. I am a bloody warrior. I was incredibly ill and now I’m eve , with a light sprinkle of once yearly anxiety. I can cope with that if I deal with it right and recovery feels legit. I feel like I have combat force!
I am back at work, I go out with my mates, I bleach my hair, I shave my legs, I have no shame, I do ridiculous things and find myself in situations that no one else thinks are real until they spend some time with me. Two weeks ago I spent some time with my #pndfamily girlfriends at elaine hanzaks book launch. I hadn’t even got to the venue and I was almost knocked out cold by the taxi door. I couldn’t work out how to open it , launched myself forward and banged my enormous forehead towards it. I feel sorry for the taxi really – I have quite the forehead and it was quite the bang. I fell backwards careering towards my friend Pauline and then fell out of the cab. Not ten minutes later , I walked out of the loo with my cardigan tucked into my frilly knickers and Pauline the fairy godmother came to my rescue again and retrieved and saved my cardigan from being eaten by my arse and my dignity from being ruined in front of 200 other people. Off I toddled without a care in the world, diet coke in one hand,lipgloss in the other with Pauline laughing behind me.
It’s mental health awareness week. And from a personal point, I kind of feel like I have a duty to raise awareness of the mental health condition I suffered from, which was postpartum psychosis but also all perinatal mental health illnesses. And then all mental health conditions. I was incredibly lucky to eventually get help- I say eventually as it took two months of me being completely off the planet in my mind and us having to move 200 miles to get me into a specialised psychiatric mother and baby unit. I had been ignored by health visitors , midwives and doctors for those first eight weeks of my sons life and had spiralled into a midst of such horrific psychosis that I thought I was locked in a coffin alive . I had hallucinations that I was trapped in the world and felt terrified of being alive . The only logical way out , or so I thought, was to die. To end my life. I felt an uncontrollable fear all day every day and night for two months of living . I was afraid of being alive and being near my son and could think of no other way out.
While in this hell, a doctor asked me if I had planned my own suicide to which I said no. She then told me , after hearing how I had been dreaming of death , thinking I was in a coffin , scared of my own baby and felt like I was trapped in the world , said I was therefore low risk and sent us home. Nil points for that Dr of the year as the next day, John took me to psychiatric outpatients in Nottingham , 200 miles from where we live and refused to leave until I was assessed . One hour later I was in the mother and baby unit.
And my recovery started there. It was a psychiatric ward but I had my own room,there was a kitchen with chocolate biscuit filled cupboards, a TV room and curry menus to order dinner from. My own room sounds like a hotel away from home but for me this was terrifying. I couldn’t be on my own with my son as I was scared of him so the very idea of sharing a room on my own with him was beyond scary. So the nurses let me keep my door open . Throughout the night , a nurse would sit on a chair that held my door open and cuddled me when the panic and fear took over or when I felt my mind going into another world. This level of care ,support and love that was shown to me ,alongside a wonderful concoction of medication meant that just a week later, I felt brave enough to to close my bedroom door with Joe in there with me . Yes I shook, yes I sat on the bed terrified but I was in there on my own with him and it felt amazing. A little while later , the nurse knocked on my door and came in . She gave me an enormous tight cuddle and said well done eve , that’s bloody brilliant . I cried into her shoulder and let out a wail. I had done it. I had been on my own with Joe and it was the biggest turning point in my illness.
My recovery went on from there. I went up and down the game of snakes and ladders in my brain and have to say , I felt a little like i was constantly laddering some expensive pairs of tights. I’d carefully broach things like I was putting on a pair of thigh fat sucking tights and then when they were on , they were bloody ladder all down my leg. I would feel devastated if I had a bad day but my therapist worked very hard to show me that a bad day in recovery doesn’t mean you won’t get better. I think bad days have that weird silver lining of making you stronger. It doesn’t feel like it at the time but when i emerge from bad days, I feel that little bit more hopeful that I’ve beaten it again .
Of course I would have preferred to never have got ill but I do feel like I have gained a massive understanding of my own feelings and thoughts and this week has certainly made me realise that when the chips are down , it’s sad and a little scary at times but that it does pass and it passes pretty quickly with the right care and management. I feel blessed that I have come out of the worst time in my life but that that time has now had a profound impact on the life I lead now. I know my own capabilities but what I think I have gained is a compassion for others and understanding of people’s thoughts and feelings that I didn’t ever consider before. I want others to read my story and to think, well melt me in butter and roll me in nuts, if she managed to get better after attempting to climb out of her window, dress up as Mary poppins, bark on her in laws bed and consider ending it all for good, then maybe I can get better.
I stand up and yell my story from any roof top I can . I jump on health professionals at mental health conferences and harp on about how people in the midst of mental illness need help, compassion, a hug, someone’s shoulder to cry on , a listening ear , a lets get better plan from a doctor because I hear so many stories of them and their feelings being brushed off. I was told the most ridiculous things from doctors who clearly didn’t give a flying caboodle what was wrong with me and wanted to get me out of their room so they could go back to buying a zigzag sleeping bag of eBay and that isn’t good enough.
If you are suffering , have hope and remember it can and will get better. You may recover completely or you may recover to a manageable level and either of these are ok, I promise you. Dont feel bad about feeling bad – it’s not your fault and with the help of meds, therapy,kindness, love and support from family, friends and health professionals , you will get there.
I am terrible at board games. I never understand the rules and always end up back at the start wondering why everyone else is at the top of the board and I’m at the bottom , all sorrowful but that’s not the case in the game of recovery, which is the hardest game I have ever played. It is however , the game I have won the most.
Happy mental health awareness week. If a GP isn’t listening to you, write I don’t feel well across your face with lipstick. They won’t ignore you then. Do it with the doctors lipstick and you really will get their attention. You deserve help , you are entitled to it and you need it. And there is nothing , absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.