Hodor against intrusive thoughts..

There has been some talk of late around intrusive thoughts and their impact on wellbeing and mental health and it was a topic I wanted to pick up on. An early disclaimer, the title of this blog is in reference to a scene from “Game of Thrones”. If you are a fan then you will hopefully know which scene I am referring to, but if you aren’t then head to you tube and search for “Hodor death scene”. It gives a good visual representation of how I was feeling at the time and hopefully some context to the rest of this blog.
For anyone not aware, an intrusive thought is defined as : unwanted thoughts or images that you find distressing and/or disturbing. Intrusive thoughts can also result in compulsions, which are the things you do to help you cope with the unwanted thoughts. You may believe that they mean something bad about you as a person. ( https://moodsmith.com/intrusive-thoughts/)
The conversations I have seen around intrusive thoughts have focussed mainly on thoughts about bad things happening (your family dying) or doing something bad yourself (crashing your car in to someone). I have had and still have these kinds of thoughts but if I’m honest they don’t really bother me. I recognise them for what they are and don’t give them much more consideration. However, following on from these conversations it got me thinking about whether some of the thoughts and behaviours I had, particularly when I was at the peak of stress and anxiety, were actually intrusive thoughts in disguise.
You see, when I was at the peak of my difficulties I felt like I was going to explode. I was being pushed and pulled in all directions, I didn’t know if I was coming or going and there just wasn’t enough time to get everything done. Mornings were fraught, with constant rushing around and the inevitable shouting when children weren’t moving quickly enough or doing what they had been asked!! Something I should confess to now is that I am very time orientated. I was fixated on getting out of the house at a particular time and would get very stressed if that wasn’t happening. I knew how long it took to drive to different places and what time I wanted to arrive in the office. I wasn’t prepared to be flexible on this regardless of the fact that I had flexi time at work and therefore no set time to arrive. The thing is my life was balancing act, and everything had a set space and time it must fit in to in order for everything to flow.
I am sure in reality this is no different to the majority of people’s lives, so what makes me think I am different I’m sure you are asking and more importantly what the hell has this got to do with intrusive thoughts?!?!?!
I’ll explain… so I’ve set the scene – a mad house of a morning with lots of rushing, shouting and stress (sounds delightful doesn’t it). Now you may think that the things that I was cramming in to this very definite inflexible allocation of time would be essential things only – teeth brushing, dressing, breakfast, lunch making etc etc etc. A “normal” person might have identified the priority tasks and just focussed on achieving them before we left the house. But the mistake you could be making is assuming that I was a normal person at that time (or now for that matter!).
Oh no!!! So aside from trying to get a 3 year old and a 6 year old to conform to my military timings when really they had their own “essential task list” of a morning (usually comprising of finding an obscure toy, having a 6th bowl of cereal or writing a list of family members to name but a few), I also insisted that all beds had to be made, dishes had to be neatly stacked ready for washing, all breakfast items had to be put away, all rooms had to be tidy, cushions had to be fluffed and in place and the bathroom had to be clean. That on top of getting 3 people dressed, 4 people breakfasted, 3 lunches made and 2 bags to be ready for school/nursery all before 7.50am when we had to leave.
In my head this all made perfect sense because there was always a chance that the window cleaner might pop by unannounced – even though he always text the day before to say he was coming and invariably I forgot to unlock the back gate so he could never do most of the windows anyway!! Or (and this is a genuine thought pattern of mine) what if the queen was coming past and looked in my windows. I mean surely she has better things to do with her time than drive up and down residential streets of villages in rural Warwickshire looking in windows and casting judgment? But nevertheless this thought pattern was what drove me to run around every morning like a crazed woman tidying, cleaning and organising whilst barking instructions to small children about getting their shoes on and waiting by the front door!!

Looking back now I am veering between laughing at the ridiculousness of it and cringing from embarrassment. But if we go back to the aforementioned definition of intrusive thoughts – Intrusive thoughts can also result in compulsions, which are the things you do to help you cope with the unwanted thoughts – and as sad and pathetic as it may sound, I genuinely had intrusive thoughts about people (not just the queen) looking in my windows, seeing a mess and making a judgment about me as a person and as a mother.

See I had this obsession with looking like I had it all together, looking like the perfect working mum with the husband with the stressful job and the house that resembled something from an interiors magazine. I wanted people to be in awe of me and to be asking “how does she do it?”. I wanted to portray an image that was the complete antithesis of how I felt, because in all honesty I was drowning.

I don’t know why I did everything or how the hell I managed to do it for so long. I crammed so much in to such a small amount of time and the reality was I wasn’t doing anything to the best of my ability. I was doing whatever it took to scrape by without alerting anyone to what was really going on. And do you know what, in a perverse way I look back and I am kind of proud of what I managed to do and how I managed to hold it all together – and if the thing at work hadn’t happened I would probably be still doing it now and probably still getting away with it.
Sometimes I feel angry, really fudgin’ angry, that one person took all of that away from me. But then if you look at it from an independent, rational outsider’s perspective actually that person probably did me a favour (although I’m not ready to let go of the anger completely) because I was an accident waiting to happen. It wasn’t an if, it was definitely a when situation.
Believe me though, I have battled with this. I can’t go back to doing all that again, my body (or mind more accurately) physically won’t allow me to do it. I tried to gain back some of the extra-curricular non-work stuff that I did whilst I was off work, but I couldn’t do it. There was some kind of invisible barrier that I ran in to every time I tried. I’m sure it must be a protective thing that my mind has put up so that I can’t end up as I was, but it does make me cross sometime. Who does my mind think it is trying to protect me all the time?
As I have said before, I have changed as a person and I have struggled so much with that change. I hate that I don’t have the control over my mind anymore. I am a control freak – I’ll admit it – its possibly a contributory factor in how I have ended up like this so sometimes I cannot cope with how things are, and how I have changed.
But on a good day I can see how these changes have been a positive thing. I have managed to gain some control in areas that I didn’t previously. The majority of the time I don’t worry about the queen becoming a peeping tom and looking at my unmade beds on a work morning. My morning routine has relaxed a bit, not completely but then I would challenge anyone to hold their sh*t together when they have asked 12 times for a child to come and brush their teeth and instead they are bandaging a dolls arm because that doll NEEDS it to be done now!! I still have some way to go and I still need to work on achieving acceptance of my situation, but it is most important that I recognise the positives. It is the only way to come to terms with it all.
Intrusive thoughts can come in any shape and form, they can be deeply unpleasant or truly weird but if they are impacting on your life and your behaviours then it really is something you need to seek help for. Don’t be scared or ashamed, I’m sure that mental health professionals all over the world have heard it all before and some. Some things are worth losing control over even the queen!!

A letter to my daughter…

As we lie here on your bed with your back turned to me because I have upset you, please know that I am here and I will always be here for you. Even when you do things that I don’t like and you behave in ways I wish you didn’t, I love you with every inch of my being and I will love you until I am no more.
You and your brother are all I have ever wanted for my life. My dream has always been to be a mother and nothing made me happier than when I had my first (and then subsequent second) positive pregnancy test. I couldn’t have wanted you both more. But my goodness, nobody can ever really prepare you for the job of motherhood. It is by far the most challenging thing I have ever done. The most rewarding also but by far the most difficult.
Like so many, I had expectations for what parenting would be like and what my children would grow to become. But like so many other areas of my life, the expectations were far too high and my critical side has always been quick to attack my parenting style. I feel I am not and never will be good enough. I often feel you deserve better but please know that I do my best each and every day.
Please also know that I am working very hard at addressing my insecurities and learning to love myself more. We both deserve that, we both deserve better. You (and your brother) have been my driving force to heal and become a better version of myself. My wish for you is that you become a strong, confident, kind, honourable, loving, young lady with bags of self esteem and a large heart. I must show you how to be all of those things therefore I must be all of those things. That is my obligation and my promise to you. As many will attest, I do not give up on a challenge and I see things through to the end. I have now made that promise in writing so there is no going back.
We haven’t always had the easiest of times, you have been by my side throughout numerous battles with mental health issues, both my own and those of our loved ones. I have tried to shield you from as much as possible but it is inevitable that you have been exposed to some of the stresses and strains that have come with dealing with mental illness. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have been the case and you would have been beautifully protected in a bubble but alas life is not like that. Instead we must take our experiences and turn them in to something positive. Given that I am an adult and you are still a child, I will burden that responsibility until you are old enough for me to share my learning.
But in return I hope that you can take all that I am able to give you and all that you are and combine the two to become one truly awesome amazing and empowering woman. You don’t realise it yet but you have so much potential – you could literally be anything you want (except maybe queen but that’s not a definite no no). It is my hope that we can guide you in whatever direction you want to take and support you to become the best you can be. I hope that you will not struggle in the same way that I have, with feelings of inferiority, crushing self doubt, very little confidence and next to no self-esteem. I will do all that I can to stop that from happening.
But don’t ever underestimate the power you have. Take it and turn it in to something powerful and strong. Don’t ever use it to belittle or undermine someone else. It may not feel like it, but you could have the power to knock someone down to a place from which they will not rise. To use a quote which has been circulating social media of late – if you can be anything in this world just be kind.
I do not know what our future will hold, I do not know what the path looks like but I know that I will be with you every step of the way. I will guide you down the path and try to share my knowledge with you. We will battle the lows and rejoice in the highs. I will be the beacon of light that you need to keep you moving forward. That is quite the job role so I had best start working on my necessary skill set! But before I do I just want to say that as long as we are true to ourselves and have love by our side we can overcome anything together. That is my promise to you xx

Maternal mental health matters – it does what it says on the tin!!

This week (w/c 30.04.18) is maternal mental health matters awareness week. It is a week designed to put a greater emphasis on the importance of supporting mothers and promoting awareness of the various networks available to anyone who feels they may be struggling.
Motherhood can be a very lonely place and not just in the early days. This combined with the considerable stigma attached to maternal mental health can leave many mothers feeling ashamed of feeling anything less than grateful and ecstatic at all times. Some may feel that they will be judged or worse that they will be punished for admitting that they are finding things difficult. All around them are people who seem like they are doing a better job or those who look like they have their sh*t together and it can lead a mother to feel that she is failing in some way. But instead of reaching out, they will carry on as best they can and suppress their true feelings. To the outside world they will look like they are coping and like they are doing a fantastic job (which most probably they are) but inside they are being eaten away by feelings of inferiority, loneliness, anxiety and stress to name but a few.
I am writing this from experience, I have felt and sometimes still do feel many of these things. Initially I thought that my journey may be quite different from others but in actual fact it probably isn’t so I want to share it to help those who may be in a similar position.
My baby, like so many, was very much wanted. Being a mother was the ONLY thing I ever knew I really wanted and I absolutely couldn’t wait to get started on my journey. The birth of my daughter marked the start of the greatest job I will ever have, but like so many of the things in my life I had placed certain expectations on how it would feel and what it would be like. I’ll be honest, many of those expectations were influenced by the media. In actual fact it wasn’t at all, there was no glamour, not too much in the way of excitement and often a fair bit of loneliness. But I was lucky in that I didn’t suffer too much from poor mental health as result of becoming a mother.
However, at about the 5 month point I ended up caught in the middle of a very difficult family situation which had a very negative impact on my mental wellbeing. I see that as the starting point for the position I have found myself in now. Since that point there has been a variety of difficulties that have chipped away at my resolve.
Now don’t get me wrong, in that time there has also been a lot of wonderful times including the birth of my second child. However, I don’t feel that I have ever had the time to rebuild my resilience and consequently each time I encountered something difficult, my mental wellbeing was knocked down further. Then instead of taking time to address and deal with my response to this, I metaphorically filed it away in what a lovely friend referred to as my “wardrobe” and closed the door. Each time something happened it would go in to the wardrobe and I would continue as normal. As a strategy it seemed to be a good one and I genuinely felt like I was coping, it was a struggle at times but overall had someone asked me how I was I would have said that I was doing well. Except it turns out I wasn’t, and one day I encountered a difficult situation at work, I tried to put it in the wardrobe and the doors burst off spilling the contents everywhere. It was mess!!! A great big, ginormous, humongous mess all over the place taking on the form of anxiety and panic attacks. My resilience was no longer, it had been chipped away to nothing and it is from that point that I have had to rebuild.
And that is where I am now, at the point of rebuilding. I have made some major life changes including giving up my career and finally being brave enough to go for counselling. I am not certain what stage I am in my rebuild, mainly because I don’t know what recovery looks like. I struggle with not knowing if this is what I am going to be like from now on or if I am still healing. It is something I have to deal with and come to terms with.
Becoming a mother didn’t cause my mental health difficulties but being a mother has been a big influencer in my mental health journey. Being a parent is very difficult and does come with a great deal of responsibility which in turn causes a great deal of pressure. But I am certain that had I not been a mother when I found myself in this position then my struggle would have been harder. Those two beautiful, innocent, dependant and amazing human beings have always been my purpose and they were my incentive to keep going and to start the path towards healing. I had to get up and function every day for them. I had to drag myself out of the mire. I had to learn strategies to control the panic when I was around them.
This kind of responsibility and pressure is not always helpful for others and I can fully understand the struggle that some people will face with the fact that they have to be a parent when all they want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. But for me they gave me the incentive and the safety net that I needed. I will be eternally grateful to them for all that they have inadvertently given me during this time.
I had an unpleasant meeting with an occupational health nurse (another story for another day) who suggested that I couldn’t possibly be as ill as I was suggesting because I could still function on a day to day basis and look after my children. Little did she know that I had to battle gigantic demons to get out of the door just to do the school run. But I did it because I had to and if I had to go anywhere else I would take a child with me as my safety net. That was what worked for me, but it may not be for everyone. Having a child with me meant that I had someone else to focus on, I had a job and something to do in situations where I would normally feel exposed and vulnerable. It also gave me a reason to escape if I needed to “im sorry but we need to get home for teatime, bedtime etc” “sorry we just need to pop to the loo” etc etc. I had to function for my children but I needed my children in order to function.
So occupational health nurse I would suggest that you need to do some more research in to mental health because there is no set way to act and behave when you are struggling with a mental health issue. And much like in parenting, you often do whatever you need to do to make it through and that’s ok. It worries me that there are perceptions like these floating around amongst health professionals but again that is for another day.
My experience with maternal mental health may be different to the norm but what it maternal mental health matters means to me is exactly that – maternal mental health does matter and whatever shape or form your mental health takes and whatever path you found yourself it is all valid and important. The purpose of this week is to highlight the importance and prevalence of mental health issues amongst mothers so that we can all support one another. Remember just because someone looks like they have their sh*t together doesn’t mean they do. Don’t be disheartened if you think others around you are doing a better job, chances are they are or will be fighting their own battle at some point. Equally just because someone looks ok doesn’t mean that they are and actually they could just be waiting to for someone to ask them if they are ok so they can finally unburden themselves. So if you feel you have the capacity (and its ok if you don’t) to support someone who may be struggling then why not be the person to ask if someone is ok, you could make a world of difference to them.