When the shoe is on the other foot

I haven’t written in a while, partly because I’ve been busy (had lovely 3 day weekend at home with son whilst the other two went away – which was good, and have been doing lots of sewing – possibly good and possibly an indicator of ignoring my problems) and partly because I haven’t known what to write.

You see there’s been a lot of anxiety and stress going on, usual kind of symptoms, mamoth task to get out of bed and face the day, hunched shoulders, haunted look, sighing.  Except this time around it’s been my husband, not me.  And this is my blog about my mental health, not about his, it’s not really any of my place to write about.  But I am part of my family and what happens to the rest of them has an effect on me, and this has had an impact. 

So, after some deliberation I’ve decided to write about the things what he describes as as “stress” have on me.  I won’t say any more about how it effects him, other than his work is certainly a big causal factor. (Yes, yes, I know I should really have discussed with him what he thought about me writing a post, but trust me that would not be an easy conversation to have right now).

My mind has been whirling with conflicting thoughts.  Unsurprisingly guilt (unsurprising as pretty much everything seems to be guilt inducing, not because it’s logical).  “Oh my god he’s caught Nut Job Flu from me”.  Clearly this is not possible.  But then again, on top of everything he has going on work wise, he has exposure to the same stresses that our as I do, plus the added extra of having to cope with me being rubbish for so long – and he has picked up a lot of the slack as well as supporting me. There is only so much one man can do.

Then there’s the (thankfully small and easily squashable voice) saying “see, this is what it’s like, this is what I’ve been going through, now do you understand?”.

Then there’s the urge to do as much as I can for him – make his lunches, buy him treats, etc. It’s heartbreaking to see someone you love feeling rubbish. You want to fix it so badly and yet you don’t have the power to change someone elses brain chemistry and reorganise their workplace. So I have to be really careful with this urge, lest it turns into smothering and fussing.  Which he hates.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about listening. And remembering how frustrating I feel it to be innudated with solutions when it’s all I can cope with to mutter something vague about not feeling right. So lots of cuddling, lots of paying attention to body language, lots of quiet hugs, non judgemental expressions of empathy at his situation. And trying to get the balance right between serious and humour, silence and questions, listening and offering ideas.  Obviously I don’t get it right all the time (having renounced my superpowers to come and live on earth) but I like to think that my experience helps me help him a little better.

And I’ve been raging at the injustice of this. I’m finally feeling better and now this, grr, it’s not fair, stamps feet.

Then there’s the gratefulness for the timing, phew, isn’t it great that I’m feeling better at the moment and can cope with this.  I’m really pleased I can help support him, take up the slack for him, it’s not all of the solution but it’s a help.

And sometimes there’s grumpiness at him. Not at his feelings, but at his inability to express them.  The experience of communication shutdown from the other side. When I’m in the right place I have sympathy and empathy with this. But when I’m running around, dealing with kids and housework and I think he’s ok and then suddenly he’s lurking pathetically in doorways and not making sense and I haven’t noticed/realised he’s feeling rubbish I just get cross – “if you’re not feeling up to doing something why don’t you just tell me clearly and then leave me space to do it, I don’t have time for this”. Then once I realise, it’s back to guilt again. 

And then there are the times I do realise but I’m so busy with the kids I can’t do what I want to to help. And trying when they’re around is counterproductive as they sense someone else getting attention and come and sabotage my efforts.  So I just have to ignore him and get on with things and hope it’s for the best.

So all in all, a bit of a rolleroaster around here, with good days and bad, times when all is fine and forgotten and times when we’re suddenly catapulted back into the midst of it again for no apparent reason and have to ride out the next wave.

All horrifingly familiar and yet totally alien at the same time.

 

Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids.

That flippant headline is a favourite quip of my big brothers. Some thoughts about my mental well being and my children and being a parent have been bouncing around in my head for a few days, despite my best efforts to ignore them and I’d like to get them straight.

This is quite hard for me. Firstly, like most people, I like to split my subjects into seperate boxes and rootle through them seperately. This is a natural human tendency, we simplify thing to make sense of them. Thinking about more than one thing at once is hard. Thinking about the links, relationships, interractions, causes and effects between two or more things is really hard, it adds several orders of complication. Now I have loopy knotted strings, like a spaghetti fight in the London Underground Map, joining up and going around and through my seperate subject boxes. Taking a step back from myself and trying to think about these things in a way approaching impartial, well lets just say it’s a worthy if impossible aim.

But those things are true to some extent about any bunch of subjects. My mental health, my children and being a parent are not any old subjects, they’re biggies.

Thinking about my mental health is difficult for me, full stop. Who am I kidding, thinking “me” and “mental health” at the same time is really is hard, let alone writing them in the same sentance. Lets just call this a work in progress.

Then there is what my husband termed “Mother Guilt”. I’m sure it’s not exclusive to mothers, but in my experience they seem to be it’s natural breeding ground. It has many manisfestations, some more subtle than others, and many sources, internal,peers, professionals, media, but it boils down to a feeling that you’re not doing it good enough,that you should do better, that you’re letting the children down.

I’m not saying I condone it, I’m all for “Good Enough” parenting, but it is endemic in the atmosphere and for now I’m just acknowledging that it’s there and it makes thinking about this topic harder.

So, with all those problems in mind, what do I think about my mental state and my children? Firstly, I’m very lucky, I did not have Post Natal Depression with either of my two. I found having a baby relatively easy, if with all the expected drawbacks of lack of sleep etc. It came with basic instructions, if it cried you changed what you were doing until stopped. And I’m lucky enough to live in a society where I was allowed, expected and encouraged to focus on doing just that, keeping the baby happy.

Two very small children is harder than one, but doable, although my job plus two children under 3 quickly failed the cost benefit analysis, but enough of that for now.

I guess what I’m skirting around / building up to is how much does my relationship with my children effect my mental health and visa versa.

A few weeks ago This is How it Feels by the Inspiral Carpets came on the radio. I guess I was familiar with the song, a blast from the past, but had never really thought about the lyrics. The tune is even quite upbeat. But as I heard the opening lines “Husband don’t know what he’s done. Kids don’t know what’s wrong with mum. She can’t say, they can’t see,” I burst into tears. I don’t know what they’re intended to mean, but they summed up me on a bad day.

I don’t want to contemplate what my kids percieve about my mental health though. Oh the worrying implications and Mother Guilt there. Nope, not ready for that. Hmm, this post is turning into a list of things I’m not even going to think about, let alone write about, at the moment.

I think that I am ready to admit that sometimes it feels like my kids drive me crazy. I don’t know how much their behavoir triggers mine (she types bravely resisting the Guilt at the implication her children may in some way be partly responsible for her problems) and how much my mental state impairs my ability to cope with their behavoir. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

I was wittering on before about babies being relatively easy. It’s not that infant school kids are any easier or harder necerssarrily (different granted), but expectations change. Others expectations change for a start. It is generally expected that babies are tiring and hard work and people ask how you are, offer sympathy and unsolicited advice and if you’re lucky bring you a meal or some chocolate. By the time they’re at school it’s generally expected that you should be able to cope with them. After all you’ve had several years experience. Sure you get asked about how they’re coping with school etc and are expected to moan about a few things, but it’s no longer expected to be an exhausting potentially ovetwhelming task. And now, if they have undesirable behavoir such as sleep issues, there’s a bit less sympathy and acceptence that that is the bad hand fate has given you and a bit more of a feeling that it’s your own fault for not dealing with it properly, for letting it happen. The honeymoon period is over, the novelty has worn off, the sympathy has run out.

Your own expectations change too. I think most people realise when their baby is due that things will be different, that it will take over their life. But slowly you aquire a small personn with growing independence and you start to want some payback for all your hardwork. Once someone can get themselves dressed you expect them too. Unfortunately small children have a different agenda and being reasonable isn’t on it. It’s so much more frustrating doing things for someone who could do it themselves but chooses not to than for someone who can’t.

And then their expectations develope and change and get expressed better and louder.

I realise I’ve gone all third personey and vague. Back to my house. One of my main problems is listening. Our family is bad at it. People walk off as you’re talking to them. They don’t answer. They mumble and when asked to repeat themselves they shout angrily. They interrupt you mid sentance, regardless of if you’re talking to them or someone else. They answer for someone else. And it all drives me to distraction.

I have figured out some of the reason why. I am trying to project manage and team manage and yet I’m not allowed to communicate effectively. Maybe that sounds a bit grand. But enter our house after breakfast on a school day. I have to get 3 people out of the house on time. First I have to remember what tasks this involves. Most of it is rather basic, each of us need to clean our teeth and put our shoes and coats on etc. Then there’s the extras like remembering child A needs to take a packed lunch and child B needs to take their library book. Ok, so far so good. But I have to tell them what they need to do. In theory they should know most of it but in practise they are very far from reliable. So, I have 3 seperate task lists in my head, I have to jiggle the orders round (so 2 people aren’t trying to go to the toilet at the same time, but I’m there to supervise teeth brushing etc), and give them their orders one at a time (as they can’t reliably remember more than that), keep track of whose supposed to be doing what, check they haven’t got distracted, remind them if they have and do what I’m suppose to be doing at the same time. Is it starting to sound more complicated yet? I can’t do this sequentially, it has to be in parallel as a), we simply wouldn’t have time and b), they don’t sit still and do nothing whilst you’re dealing with a different one. So, as I’m trying to do this everytime I need to tell them what to do next or check they’re doing it I have to repeat myself several times, get interrupted and struggle to get answers. It really hampers me. I lose my place in my complicated to do list. I lose my ability to think straight. And unlike a stressful job I don’t get to go home after a shift, this is home. After a while it builds up and underminds my ability to cope (or maybe my unability to cope lets it build up?).

And then there’s the noise. If you know Dr Seuess’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish you may remember “I do not like this one so well, all he does is yell yell yell. I do not like this one about. When he comes in I put him out.

Yell Yell Yell by Dr Seuess

Well, that’s my son. Wherever he is and whatever he is doing I can hear him. Shouting, stamping, banging, yeodelling, asking questions, screaming, tapping, etc.  He’s less, “I think therefore I am” more “I am heard therefore I am”. And it takes up all the space in my head for thinking and I struggle to hold my 3 task lists in my head, let alone to try the difficult job of communicating.

So, that is me on a bad day. But also, my kids keep me sane, they really do. Because as well as all the soppy reasons about how much they mean to me and how I enjoy their company, when I am stressed and anxious and avoiding things that all melts away when I’m with them. Because they live in the moment I can too. And I can cope with the moment. My dread is the future and what might be and dealing with adults and phone calls and emails and they don’t expect me to do that. I can help with lego and do up buttons and read stories just fine, I’m quite good at that sort of thing.

One thing I have realised recently is that in the past, i.e. before kids, I had a tendency to impulsively get away from it all from time to time. Whether it be hoping on a train to stay with a friend for the weekend after a quick phone call (in my pre husband days), or going for a walk at 9.30pm, I could “run away” when I felt like it (within reason and job/money constraints etc). I’m not aware that I was running away from issues as such, but looking back I think I used it as a safety valve to stop things getting to much. And of course with two small ones it is very hard to find some time for myself, let alone spontaneous crazy running away time for myself. There are too many constraints of school pick ups and bed times and not leaving them alone and all the other things.

I’m not sure this post has a conclusion. I don’t think I’m even trying to look for answers. I’m more trying to understand and accept how things are. I think that is enough for now.

Ugh

One step forward, one step back.

This week I finally listened to and deleted all the answerphone messages (which had been full for a month) and gone swimming, which gave me loads of energy.

And earlier tonight I decided to sort out a box of paperwork.

But now I’m comfort eating icecream, avoiding opening 2 emails (one for the 2nd day), starting to freeze up (not feeling eloquent enough to describe it better than that right now) and starting to feel bad & beat myself up about the lack of anything useful done in the hour since the kids were in bed.

I probably need a rocket / some oomph / a big bouncy dance around blast of music or summat but I don’t actually want one because I just feel like hiding away and wallowing.  Not quite at communication shut down yet but heading in that direction.

 

 

Post posting doodle to illustrate my mood

Post posting doodle to illustrate my mood

Still learning

I had a few enforced days out earlier this week, not the day trip to a stately home kind of day out, rather an out of my usual routine kind of day. Due to having a child off school. That’s all ok now and I need to get back into being aware of my stress levels rather than pretending there’s never a problem. Which I’m in slight danger of doing because I’ve been busy with sewing projects. The good side is that I enjoy sewing and finishing things makes me happy. But I need to be wary of running away into my sewing and neglecting other things and also making myself down by biting off more than I can chew.*

So, before my little interlude, I half drafted a blog on Sunday. You see Saturday was not so good, not terrible, but a bit on the rubbish side. I started the day feeling grumpy and grouchy, distracted myself in the afternoon, and ended up feeling not so great. It shook me a bit because there was no obvious reason why I should feel like this and I’d been doing so much better.

I think I’m starting to improve how I handle things though, which is a plus. I managed a modicum of communication with my long suffering husband on how I was feeling. And in the evening I decided to cut my loses and go to bed early which was a wise move.

Sunday was a lot better. Until I stayed up to late.

So I better not do that again now!

*I blog about my sewing seperately here if you’re interested.

Vacation to Birthday Land

I had a few days off from dealing with anxiety, busying myself preparing for a birthday, a couple of days of last minute shopping, wrapping, baking, icing. Things I enjoy, can do and for a birthday could immerse myself in without guilt.  Then a lovely long day being together as a family, living in the moment, watching presents being unwrapped, cards opened, rds, new toys played with, making and eating a special breakfast, having lunch out, popping into the museum, bumping into friends, a party in the woods, grubby children in bubbly baths. And then a day chilling at home, recovering and checking out all the new stuff.

Now to work out how to bring all that relaxed, stress free family time into everyday life..

Not doing too bad so far.  This week is pretty hectic, lots of different things happening nearly every day, but I’ve been getting sleep, remembering to breathe, trying to prioritise and dealing with stuff.  Yesterday was a 3/10 anxious day , but I did some stuff.  And today is 2/10 on my new anxiety scale, plus I did all but one thing on my to do list, read emails and answered the phone twice.  Yay progress. And we had a family discussion about the next couple of days and have agreed to have a games night on Friday to make up for all the hecticness this week and a swim on Saturday morning.