Dreams resurrected

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Yesterday I signed a form to become an employee of the NHS for the first time in 19 years. At the age of 23, my dreams were in tatters as I quit my job as a Speech & Language Therapist.  My mental health had deteriorated so badly that I had been off sick for two months and I knew I couldn’t go back.  I had only lasted nine months after qualification. All that work for my degree, all the striving towards the four A grades at A-level to get into Newcastle University – it felt utterly wasted.

During my time off sick, I took a retreat to Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales.  It was early Spring and the gentleness of nature soothed my soul.  I vented to God – this didn’t make sense.  What on earth was I going to do with my future?  I have the carefully scripted pages of my retreat journal in front of me today. It’s a plain red exercise book with lined pages faded to yellow, but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  During the retreat I kept coming back to the book With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  I began to realise that letting go of my career was an important step.  It was going to require radical trust.  I believe God spoke during that retreat and here is what I heard:

Allow me to meet your needs

Love, security, value, purpose, worth, significance, dependence

Nothing else will satisfy your longings – allow me, precious one

Allow me, dear child

snowdrop

As I drove away from the interview yesterday having been offered my bank post as a Peer Trainer, it felt like my dream of working to support people in their recovery is slowly coming back to life.  Like a snowdrop emerging from its dormancy, heralding the hope of Spring.

I didn’t know at 23 that I would go on to struggle with my mental health for another twenty years (and will probably continue to struggle).  I didn’t know that my dream of motherhood would be tested to its absolute limits through the haze of psychosis and the dark, relentless agony of depression.  I still don’t understand this path, but I know there is the capacity for immense beauty in it.  My daughters are pure joy in human form!  My husband has been utterly faithful to his vow to love me “in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health”.

I feel like I am allowed to dream again.  I am still learning to be dependent on God, but I get this feeling that he is smiling too at the beauty of a snowdrop.

A short script: The Mindfulness Meditation

Toast: Hello body, where can I feel my breath? Nostrils? Belly?

Critic: I’m sure by now you should have decided which one to focus on. You’re just playing music in your head, honestly how hard can it be to focus on your breath?

Toast: Ok try again, in… out… in… out…

Mouse: I’m not sure you should be using words… Let’s try silently

Radio: “la la la doo doo monsters all up in my head, doo bee boo dee”

Toast: Shut up radio

Critic: Seriously? Thinking and music? You’re supposed to be quietening your mind and it’s just getting noisier

Mama: Shhh darling it’s OK. The mind will wander off 100 times, just gently escort it back to the breath

Toast: Hello body. How are you? I think I’ll choose the belly today. Rise and fall, rise and fall… Rise… and fall…

Mama: You’re doing great

Mouse: I’m sure this is supposed to be making us feel peaceful. Do you feel peaceful yet? Try and remember how your therapist talked you through it, I’m not sure we’re doing it right.

Toast: Goodnight Mouse, try and get some sleep. Goodnight body…

Mama: Sleep well honey. I’ll see you in the morning.

Pacing

VERB

  • 1  Walk at a steady speed, especially without a particular destination and as an expression of anxiety or annoyance:

    ‘we paced up and down in exasperation’
    ‘she had been pacing the room’
  •  2  Move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed:
‘our fast-paced daily lives’

2.1 Lead (another runner in a race) in order to establish a competitive speed:

‘McKenna paced us for four miles’

2.2 pace oneself Do something at a slow and steady rate in order to avoid overexertion:

‘Frank was pacing himself for the long night ahead’

Origin

Middle English: from Old French pas, from Latin passus stretch (of the leg), from pandere to stretch.

Oxford Living Dictionary

Way back in 2006 when Eldest was a baby, my care coordinator’s favourite phrase was “you need to pace yourself”.  I found this intensely frustrating as the mother of a beautiful tiny human who needed me to shake off this depression and ‘get back with the program’.  I wanted to play and bond with her;  I wanted to have a tidy home; I wanted to take her out to baby groups and meet other mums.  But I was so afraid.  I was paralysed by the list of things I needed to do to feel like I was back in control of my life and functioning as I should as a new mother.

I mentally paced the floor, worrying about how my poor mental health was going to have a disastrous impact on her development.  I wept and wept at the psychologist’s office.  All I could say was “I’m so sorry”.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’m in my psychotherapist’s sitting room, looking out over the garden.  I’m using photographs to talk about Little One.  I’m in her trusting gaze, transported right back to the moment that I lay with her on the floor as she clutched her brightly coloured mermaid toy.  All I can say is “I’m so sorry darling”.

Now I’m really learning the hard lessons of pacing myself.  I’m regularly fine-tuning that delicate balance between motherhood and occupation.  I am learning to lay things down, to journal about my future aspirations but to caution myself not to run before I can walk.  I’m learning to be aware of the clamour of thoughts and ideas within me and to spend time over a cup of tea without multi-tasking.  My race pacers come in many forms, from the CPN to the employment support worker; from friends to mindfulness posts on Facebook.  I am learning not to feel so guilty, and to say “I’m so sorry” to myself when I push life too hard.  This is the work of Recovery.

January sings the blues

This is a song for anyone with a broken heart
This is a song for anyone who can’t get out of bed
Or do anything to be happy
Oh, ’cause blue skies are coming
But I know that it’s hard

Noah and the Whale

Last January I wondered if I would ever feel able to get out of bed and face the real world. This January possibility lies ahead of me.  Blue skies did return.  I have so many ideas and things to enjoy that I can easily fill life until it’s bursting at the seams.  In the stillness I find myself aware though that the time may come again when it feels like I can’t do anything to be happy.

Music and song lyrics often rise up to speak to me about my recovery.  I have this idea for a Spotify playlist that I can create now with a relapse in mind.  Songs about how it’s worth it to hold on, about the tenacity of love, about loss.  Here’s one of my current favourites –

Life can weigh you down like a stone.
It can bend you, break you,
Leave you skin and bones.
It’s a long winding road,
You don’t have to walk it alone.

Baby, hold on to me,
Tighter than your sweetest memory, of you and me.
When you’re looking for an open door,
But it seems so out of reach.
Baby, hold on to me, on to me.

Connie Britton, Nashville Cast

I’d love to hear fellow travellers’ songs for the journey, post them in the comments below and I’ll let you know how my playlist goes.

Gap year reloaded

As we draw near to the end of 2016 I have some time to reflect on lessons learned from my year off being a job seeker.  I guess the first thing is that since seeing bipolar disorder written down about myself for the first time, I need to acknowledge that a relapse can hit at any time. September 2015 hit me hard with a huge change of role for me as Little One started school. I missed the company, missed the routine of being a stay at home mum with groups to go to and friends to meet up with.  I had to build a new structure into my life and that took a number of iterations to get right.

The Occupational Therapy service in hospital was a godsend for me back in May.  Using OT components of self-care, leisure and work helped me to plan my days more effectively.  I realised how important work-related activities are for me in having a sense of self worth.  I started to develop a broader definition of ‘work’ to include volunteering, blogging and journalling about my future aspirations for paid employment.  In November the next part of the jigsaw slotted in to place as I began being supported by Workways.  Meeting regularly with an employment specialist has been a huge boost to my confidence, and has helped me to identify where I want to be in the future.

When 2017 gets underway, I will be spending 4 hours a week working as a support assistant for a dear friend who lives with M.E. – one pleasure of this role for me is that it will involve fortnightly meal planning and preparing healthy, nutritious food.  I get to putsky around in the kitchen and make lots of soup (I think I just made that word up but it kind of means experimental pottering!)

In March 2017 I have been invited to be a co-facilitator on a mums mental health course at Devon Recovery College. I am hoping this will be just the beginning of part time work as a trainer with this fantastic learning community.  At the end of January I will finish an online Level 2 course in Supporting People with Mental Health Needs.

What about the other aspects of occupation?  Self-care is something that I realise has been seriously neglected in my previous life.  The trendy concept of Hygge has been really useful to me in creating physical space for self-care in our home.  As I type I have my bare feet on a sheepskin which used to line Little One’s buggy and am siting in my hyggekrok (cosy corner) with a soft red blanket.  I really should light the candles and then I could be Danish!  Both of the kids have embraced hygge and we have recently spent more time playing board games and watching slow movies like All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

My self-care aspirations for 2017 are to read more, reinstate my practice of mindfulness meditation and book in treatments at the beauty salon more regularly.

Leisure was a tricky one for me initially.  I really felt that I was wasting time if I wasn’t doing something that had an immediate sense of productivity.  I didn’t like trying to do leisure on my own.  However, in balance with the right amount of work related activity and self-care, I’m beginning to get the hang of leisure now.  Metafit HIIT workouts in the local village hall have made a huge difference.  30 minutes of intense exercise at the start of the day gives me much more energy and creativity, and also fulfils that need for human contact!  I was given a beautiful daily sketch journal by a friend for my birthday, and my aspiration is to treat myself to some nice H and B pencils for sketching.  Blogging counts as leisure too, right?

Some of my ambitions for the gap year were unfulfilled, like redecorating the girls’ bedrooms.  However the last year has taught me that this can happen in stages as energy and finance permits.  Just yesterday we collected a lovely pine dressing table for Eldest, an absolute bargain at £5 from a Facebook selling board.  Slowing down has given me the time to watch out for second hand things, and to look on Pinterest for decorating on a budget.

Looking in to my baby’s eyes

Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul

James, 1993

Sun faded photograph

Can’t hide the depth, the knowing of your inky blue eyes

Your focus is unwavering

You know our hearts are eternally intertwined

You know I am your shelter

But did you sense my sorrow?

Did you feel my heart ache to be the mother you needed?

I look deeper into your eyes

Tell you I’m sorry, tell you you’re beautiful

Tell you I’m here, tell you thank you for being the Reason

Your gaze fixes on me from the photograph

Whispers to me “everything’s going to be OK”

 

 

The first day

The first day you curled your fingers around mine

I knew I would go to the ends of the earth for you

Instead I glimpsed heaven

Before descending to the bottom of the sea

The dark salty water pressed in, shipwrecks beckoned

But your fingers still curled around mine

Your blue eyes told me that the sky was above

I saw a flash of mermaid’s tail

Kicked the tangled seaweed from my feet

And swam with all my strength towards the sun

We stood together on the shore

You curled your fingers around mine and took your first step

 

A Last Hoorah!

I can finally let the cat out of the bag!  For a few weeks now, I’ve known that the charity I’m a trustee of – Action on Postpartum Psychosis – are one of 7 finalists in the National Lottery Awards.  Voting officially opened today!

For me personally, the timing is just amazing.  My gap year officially begins in September and with a heavy heart I had decided that I would step down for a year as trustee.  It feels wonderful to have a month now of public voting where I can put my heart and soul into supporting this wonderful charity – and maybe, just maybe, see public awareness of Postpartum Psychosis go through the roof if we win.

Before Eldest was born, I had no idea that Postpartum Psychosis existed.  No baby books covered it, it wasn’t mentioned in antenatal classes and even when I began to have symptoms it was difficult to get health professionals to listen to what was going on.  Ten years on and the women I meet through Action on Postpartum Psychosis have exactly the same experiences. Something needs to change.  The National Lottery Awards offer a prime time slot on BBC1 if we win, and an unprecedented opportunity to tell people about what this illness really is, how devastating it can be – but so importantly that with the right support, families can and do recover.

Today I’m asking you if you would share this blog as widely across the world as you can – and most importantly, PLEASE VOTE FOR US HERE

The power of company

Things have been a bit Bad Brain recently… I’m going to chat through some medication options including going back to a previous mood stabiliser (better the devil you know) with my GP hopefully on Monday. There’s mood stabilisation and then there’s being zonked until you feel as flat as a pancake that’s been driven over by a steamroller!

So it was a bit touch and go whether we would get away to South Devon this weekend to visit friends. I’m really glad that I’m beginning to learn from previous Bad Brain periods that avoiding social contact can feel comfy but is really detrimental.  The weekend was brilliant, just what we all needed.  A glass or two of a zingy Marlborough, and friends who we could be really honest with.  Four fantastic girls for our two to play with, a garden stacked with a trampoline, flying fox, rope swings and a bonfire.  A couple of miles run in the morning in a wooded glade.  Eldest had a swim in the sea in her new wetsuit, and we picnicked on a shingle beach – who cares if it’s grey and windy!  There is power in company, the beauty of nature and life spent outdoors.