I Thought I Was Coping…

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Most of the time I think I manage ‘life’ pretty well; I somehow function in the outside world and do a reasonably good job at appearing like a competent parent and professional adult (although I get a big whack of that imposter syndrome in doing so – surely someone will notice that I am winging it soon and everything will come crashing down!).

Anyone who reads this blog will know that things aren’t perfect…not by a long shot…but generally the issues that I face (thinking about both physical and mental health here – i.e HEALTH) don’t completely incapacitate me on a day-to-day basis…they just tie both my legs together and blindfold me 😉

I have to pinch myself when I remember that I have come out the other side of a gruelling cancer treatment more-or-less in one piece. The heavy emotional weight I seem to carry or, as my therapist put it on Monday, am ‘tortured by’ (jeezzz tell it like it is why don’t you?!) is managed just about well enough these days, in a large part thanks to the therapy.

I know it doesn’t always look like it but know that I would be way worse of a mess if it weren’t for the therapy. I don’t really talk here about the massive mental breakdown I had in 2009 which saw me in a right state, off work for 17 months and dangerously underweight, but I know having been to in that place where things can spiral down if left unchecked. If I take my eye off the ball for too long so far as self-care goes things start to slip really quickly (and I am utterly shite at self-care!)

I’d like to say that I am past that really harrowing knock-out stuff, that I’ve moved beyond it, that I have learnt enough strategies to live well, and that the breakdown was just an unfortunate incident triggered by a terrible bereavement; but the reality is actually doing life (living) thoroughly exhausts me. It always has. I do my best but sometimes I just can’t manage as well as I might like.

For as long as I can remember I have felt like it takes a lot of effort to maintain the persona of whoever it is I am meant to be – who I am…who am I?! To a greater or lesser extent I struggle with these things:

  • I feel on guard all the time;
  • I feel like things are going to go wrong at any minute;
  • I spend time overthinking/brooding on things;
  • I worry that I am going to fall apart;
  • I find it hard to let stuff go;
  • I worry about people’s perceptions of me;
  • I have unrealistic expectations of myself;
  • I don’t like to let people down and so often take on more than I can manage. (I wouldn’t say I am especially a ‘people pleaser’ but I certainly am not very good at putting my needs before anyone else’s – or even alongside them for that matter.)
  • List goes on and on…

Annoyingly, when I am stuck in mental/emotional hell I still don’t really talk about it despite all the therapy. I think this is quite common for those of us who have had difficult childhoods, actually; we’ve learnt that our needs invariably don’t get me and so we almost learn not to have them or talk about them.

Of course, I am getting better at talking and opening up (to some people) but it’s incredibly hard to build trust and so those ‘lucky’ (ha!) few that get to see my struggles and vulnerable side can be counted one hand. My wife said last night that she feels like I keep the vulnerable parts secret and she feels pushed away. I told her I was only trying to protect her from me and that the reality of what goes on in my head is not something anyone else would want a part of.

She said all the right things but I still feel like if I really and truly showed just how broken I am she would head for the hills. After 13 years together I should know that she stays….but it’s going to take some time to be brave. When she asks how my day has been how do I reply ‘it was fine, uneventful, but part of me is struggling really hard and wants to cut myself’? I mean who needs to walk into that?

It’s just like how it is in therapy. What happens if I truly let it all out, become so vulnerable and open, and then it goes wrong? The fear of rejection and abandonment is horrendous – I think it’d annihilate me.

As a result of all this perpetual ‘keeping up appearances’ and ‘biting off more than I can chew’ (ha, that’s so funny given my anorexic history!), I quite literally feel tired all the time (physically and emotionally)… but, as I say, this is not a new thing. I wake up tired; stumble through the day (well that’s how it feels but no one would know); burn the candle at both ends but never benefit from the light – just burnout; then crash into a pit of exhaustion at night.

Every now and then, when things feel bad (like they do today), I sit and wonder if what I am experiencing at the moment is just a bout of depression that’s crept up on me and taken root without me noticing. It is Autumn after all. Maybe I am pushing myself too hard. I don’t always find it easy to say no or put my needs first. No matter what I do there never seems to be quite enough hours in the day to get done what needs to be done and still leave time for whatever it is that I need and naturally this is going to take its toll isn’t it?

Today I have a list longer than both my arms put together of things that I need to achieve. I have completed some tasks, been reasonably productive in fact, but am nowhere near where I need to be and time is ticking away. I just looked at the clock and realised I have less than an hour before I need to collect the children from school and then it’s all go until 8pm when I get home from tutoring.

What have I done for myself today?

Nothing.

Not even had breakfast, lunch, a drink….and that’s not me bigging myself up on some eating disordered headspace thing. Really don’t need to be heading into that area again.

I just haven’t stopped again.

Time goes so quickly.

You might be wondering, then, what on earth I am doing here?! Well, knowing there is absolutely no chance of finishing what I need to do I have stopped and downed tools, briefly. I’ve made a coffee and wanted to write something. I keep telling myself I need to make time for this. Writing has always proved a really useful outlet and so writing here, as I have said before, is a bit of a lifeline at times. Putting the scary stuff out into the world knowing that there are merry bunch of mental health bloggers out there cheerleading me on is really really helpful to me…. ESPECIALLY when I am on a therapy break!

Ugh!

Yes…that horror has begun now! How long til 29thOctober????????????????????????????

There is so much bubbling inside that I want to say, that I need to process, that I want to document and if I don’t make time for it and let it out then it’ll just keep causing me trouble. I have run out of time for today and have not mentioned anything about what has actually been going on either inside or outside therapy! Awesome post!

I just needed to get it out there:

I am stuggling… and the coping is not going especially well.

It’s taking a great deal of effort to hold all my pieces together right now so any contributions of rubber bands and chewing gum will be gladly received!

Just Say ‘No’…

I feel like I am drowning in my life right now. I am actually fine-ish so as mental health goes…well, I’m probably in a slightly manic phase but actually it’s because my life is absolutely manic right now. I don’t stop in the week…I mean, I literally do not stop from the moment I wake up at 5:30am until I go to bed at 10:30pm (used to be 9pm but I currently have so much to do I can’t even manage my regular bedtime) unless I am in therapy and that’s not exactly ‘relaxing’ is it?

If I am lucky I sometimes grab ten minutes here and there, generally to check in with friends on WhatsApp: ‘Hi! Really busy. Hope you are ok? Will check in later xxx’ and sometimes make a cup of tea that then gets left to go cold on the side (!) but even that is a push.

It’s been relentless this last week and I realise I need to try and make some changes before I hit burnout. It’s time to have another go at implementing those self-care strategies methinks. I am so rubbish at self-care. The moment things get hectic it’s the first thing that falls away when really it’s the thing I should cling to like a life-raft in a choppy sea. I don’t know how to become more mindful about this. Maybe I need to set a reminder on my phone: ‘5 minutes deep breathing’ or something.

I dunno.

Something has to give because a couple of days towards the end of this week it got to five o’ clock and I couldn’t work out why I was 1) Exhausted, 2) Grumpy, 3) Starving hungry… and then of course I realised I had not paused all day. I had been running about like a headless chicken trying to complete a list of tasks that never ever gets any smaller and realised that I hadn’t sat down all day: I hadn’t eaten or even had anything to drink (not intentionally – just no time!). I was completely and utterly shattered by Thursday and kept saying things like ‘Why isn’t it Friday yet? How can there be another day to get through? I can’t see how I am going to manage to teach tomorrow.’ 

The young parts were starting to come online in a big way on Thursday – they were upset (I’d been neglecting them) and I could feel them heading towards complete meltdown (tantrum!). Does that happen to any of you when you’re tired? It feels like when I get very very tired I feel like a toddler or 4 year old who needs to be cuddled, tucked up in bed, and have a story read to me. Sometimes I can do this for myself but at 5pm it’s not even a remote possibility: I have (actual) children to feed, bath, and get to bed, and then the moment that is completed at 6pm I head out the door to go and tutor on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. So not only do I need to keep my adult online for the day but just as things start to feel really precarious internally I have to summon up the teacher until 8pm. I manage it. Of course I do. But it is really draining.

I’m not surprised that I had a proper meltdown on Friday night. The attachment stuff that I feel about my therapist had been there all week (it’s always there!) but that ache and need escalated into something else that night…those young feelings generated full-scale flashbacks of my childhood and being five years old and being left by my mum. It was fucking agony. I reached total overwhelm. My body was in pain and I felt crushed. Oh man. It wasn’t good. I think being so completely exhausted meant that my filter/protective armour was completely gone and all the memories of being little and alone (but needing someone) came flooding in. I know this is where we have been heading in my therapy but made it felt like I had been wiped out.

Monday’s session was actually really good, I think (I can’t really remember – feels ages ago now!). I did something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, but you know me, everything is slow paced with doing new things in my sessions! I took a fleecy blanket with me and wrapped myself up in it. No big deal right? Exactly…but it felt like it was!

I think that the fact that I took a blanket to my session in itself indicates how precarious things have been feeling. I just thought ‘I’m gonna fall apart if I don’t feel soothed – I have to take the blanket’ and so packed it in my bag! I have never taken anything into a session other than pages and pages of writing. I really wanted to take a teddy (that’s how unsettled the young parts are right now) but I wasn’t feeling that brave.  I have to say it made a huge difference to how safe and contained I felt and so I will be making that a regular thing from now on….who knows might even build up to taking the bear in as well….in another 6 years?! haha.

Anyway, it was a good session in person and then I had the week of being uber adult and so when it came to my Skype session on Friday I got locked into that. I couldn’t come out of the coping, busy, ‘stressed but just about hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ adult. The Skype didn’t work properly either -FFS- and so I couldn’t see my T on the screen. I don’t think that helped me connect. Bloody technology! Grrr!

I spent the entire session talking about work. To be fair work is a challenge. One of the kids I see for home-schooling is a nightmare. I don’t say that lightly. Over the years I have taught some really challenging children but this one takes the cake. All the other children I see in the week I go and just teach and leave it behind when I go home, but this particular child is really difficult with severe emotional and behavioural issues- I don’t seem to teach him- I feel like a parent, counsellor, disciplinarian, coach…but not really a teacher and it’s really really draining. Six hours a week 1:1 with this kind of student is hard work.

I really want to help him but I am fast realising that even with all my years of experience I can’t be what he needs. I have my own children to take care or and my own mental health, too, for that matter and I simply cannot invest any more energy in it or absorb what is being thrown at me (and literally sometimes that is actually having things thrown at me!). I find it hard to switch off from it…and so spent the session talking about that. Which is fine but I could, (and did!), sound off about it to a friend about it. In talking only about the work stuff I neglected the struggling young parts again and so it’s little wonder that Friday night was sooooooo awful.

So what am I going to do/change?

I think one of the key things I need to get better at is saying ‘NO’. Ok, perhaps not shouting it! But just being realistic about what I can and can’t do. I’m generally someone who says ‘yes’ to things even when my head is screaming ‘no’. It’s a hard worn pathway in my brain to try and do meet other people’s needs, often at the expense of taking care of my own. I wonder where that’s come from?! ha!

There are somethings that I absolutely cannot change: my kids are an absolute priority;  work is necessary (to pay for all the therapy I need – lol!) but even that needs some firmer boundaries putting in place around it; the house, of course needs to be kept on top of and we need to eat but there are some things in my life that are a serious drain on my resources (time/energy) that I derive no pleasure from and leave me, if anything, feeling largely pissed off.

For example, last week I lost three hours of my week to doing observations in a pre-school that my children used to attend and a further hour in a meeting with the link school’s headteacher about the next academic year. I am on the committee for that and as a teacher take work closely with the staff and school. I can do it. But. It is unpaid and sometimes I simply don’t have the energy to give anything more of myself. I have another observation booked in next week and then will be interviewing for a staff member in the next couple of weeks. When I wasn’t working it was doable…but fitting it in around my now, too busy life, is too much. After this immediate stuff I will ensure I do less and plan to leave that post in September.

I know this is starting to sound like an enormous moan – that’s how it’s felt this week ‘woe is me’. I know I need to find a way of making some changes because if I don’t remove some of the pressures that are on me it won’t be long before the mental health button triggers and I end up being unable to do anything…and that can’t happen.

I cannot afford to end up in a place where my external world is so chaotic and busy that I start trying to cling onto any sense of control I can muster…which generally means not eating. I can’t go there. I don’t want to go there…but I can hear that voice of the inner critic starting to get louder and so somehow I need to combat that with some serious self-compassion and nurturing – I just need to find some time!

And so on that note I will get off here and go and make a coffee. I like blogging though, and am frustrated that I can’t even find adequate time to write and even more importantly read and keep up to date with everyone else’s posts.

This is my mantra for the week ahead!!

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One Year In Blogland.

I’m a bit behind time with this post because, actually, the one year blogiversary or whatever you might call it was 21st August and ummm I think it might, actually, be September tomorrow. Ha! Thank goodness I am a little better at acknowledging real life anniversaries and birthdays.

So, Rubber Bands and Chewing Gum just turned one. She’s growing up. Sort of. But she’s still very obviously in the diaper wearing, food flinging, and tantrum throwing stage of development. There’s still lots of emotional turbulence to chronicle.

When I started writing, this time last year, I wanted an outlet to process (dump!) some of the therapy stuff that was coming up for me that I didn’t feel able to talk about with people in my day-to-day life. I also wanted to keep a record of where I was at, a kind of ‘therapy’ journal I suppose. And I wanted, hopefully, to create a space that people could come to read an experience of what is can sometimes be like in therapy and perhaps make people feel a little less alone in some what they might be experiencing in their own therapeutic relationships.

I’d recently stumbled across a blog that had pretty much changed my life. You know what it’s like, summer therapy break is in full swing, the wheels are falling off, you turn to Google to search ‘I miss my therapist’ or ‘I love my therapist’ or ‘I keep dreaming of my therapist’ or ‘my therapist doesn’t care about me’ and a string of mental health forum threads come up as well as a series of blog suggestions. You click into a blog, start reading, and there you are immersed in someone else’s experience that resonates with your own. You suddenly feel like maybe there are other people just like you out there, struggling with similar issues. For me, that was a massive leap forward.

Before long I found this, what is it?- merry (ha!) band of mental health bloggers and started to follow some people and saw that, indeed, there’s a whole load of us working through very similar issues #motherwound…of course everyone is different but when you boil it down there’s a group of people that really ‘get it’, they know what it’s like to sometimes feel worthless and unlovable. They know what it is to feel up and down and slightly ‘mental’ (!).  They know shame. They battle valiantly with the inner critic, with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders – but they also have good days, good therapy sessions, experience balance and importantly they GROW – and that is so valuable to see.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that after about a month of reading and commenting on other people’s posts I finally got my head round WordPress templates and had a go at writing myself and this is what materialised – 74 posts! When I started I had no idea I’d be sitting here now with so many people choosing to read what I churn out!

I don’t want to be all gushing and OTT here but so much good has come from this blog.

There are times (pretty much all the time!!) when I have been in a pit of attachment pain hell, depression, or caught up in the throes of the eating disorder and I can’t tell you how much a validating and understanding comment can make a difference. So thank you for those.

I didn’t expect this to happen but I have made some wonderful friends here and some that have translated beyond blogland and into Brexit Britain! Ugh!

What else?

Well, I love it when people reach out and get in touch to tell me that what I have written has made them feel less alone. I’m not convinced that this place/experience (get ready for a mixed metaphor) is a boat anyone wants to be in, but if we are in it together then maybe we’ll steer our way to shore eventually bailing the water out with our hands and that has to be better than feeling like a solo sailor on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean.

Ok, that was way worse on the screen than in my head!

The last few months has seen me having to adjust my expectations for this blog again and again. When I first started writing I had a lot more time on my hands than I do now. At times I was posting three times a week, then it dropped to twice a week, and more recently I’ve just about been getting a post written once a week….but not this last week, it’s gone a bit over. I think once the kids are back to school I’ll be able to find more time to write. I hope so, because I still really enjoy writing.

Next week sees a significant change in my therapy: (like there’s actually going to be some bloody therapy after 5 weeks!) I am going from one session a week to two. I am cautiously optimistic for what that will mean going forward. Clearly my bank balance is going to suffer but I really hope that some more concrete sense of containment starts to bed in and I can get past this horrible feeling of being abandoned the moment I leave my therapist.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I know there’s still a lot of therapy to be done so here’s to another year in blogland too!

Thanks for coming along for the ride….and don’t worry normal service will resume next post!

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