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Mental Health and Us

This week is Mental Health Awareness week, it’s important to me and so many people I know. So I have collated a group of mental health stories for you to read through. I am honestly blown away by what has been so corrageously shared. I know they can help us all to see that no one is alone in this battle with poor mental health.
Thank you so much to all of you that have contributed. Hats off to you all. We are all in this together and we are all bloody awesome!  
My Story

 

After having my eldest daughter I felt completely out of control. I was now a mother, I was now living with my boyfriend, I now lived away from home and I now no longer am carefree. I struggled and I felt awful for struggling. I had suffered from depression on and off in the past and it was clear to everyone else that I had postnatal depression but what I wanted to focus on now is what this episode in my mental health story did to the way I view my body.
I had always been bigger than others, not “fat” but bigger. When I went to university I over drank and ate rubbish and definitely was overweight. When I was pregnant I made the most of ‘eating for two’ and the pounds piled on. This should have been fine but I have always had an issue with the way I look. Having been called “Fat” “Chubby” “Chunky” a huge amount through my adolescence it’s always hard to shake it off.
So that’s how I took control of my new life with a child. I stopped eating. I would go a day with a spoonful of granola, no lunch and then a tiny dinner (which I got away with because I said I ate a huge lunch). At my lowest weight I was 7 and a half stone and I am 5’7″, I felt okay but I really did want to lose more weight. I started throwing up my meals and I spent days feeling dizzy.
I am not sure what changed it but eventually I went to the doctors, I didn’t weight little enough for them to count it as a “proper” eating disorder (yep!!), but I was sent to a psychiatrist because of my post natal depression. I got some help there and the psychiatrist said that scales do not dictate what is an eating disorder, so along with PND he treated my eating disorder too.
Now I don’t think you ever get over an eating disorder, I think you just manage it. I see myself as looking different to what others see and I genuinely feel shocked when clothes fit me because when I look at them on a hanger I am certain I am double the size. I work hard to keep my mind balanced with all of this, I exercise but I have limits (I once had a relapse when I became addicted to exercise), I also have to sometimes set out meal plans so I eat three meals a day. It’s tough and I have struggled but I feel proud of myself to get to where I am now. Taking each day as it comes.

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Craigs Story

“I have a fairly long history with mental health but I’ve only come to realise this recently at the age of 35, amazing really how long we can go and then realise we had the problem for such a long time.
Things stem from my youth and various relationships I have had.  Things got bad recently around Christmas, Christmas is a particularly bad time of year for me as I lost my nanna (who I was very close to) around that time, my mum and dad split up when I was a kid so Christmas always becomes a bit of a tug of war and I’ve had very depressing times that can be accentuated around Christmas.
Last year 2018, was bad, I didn’t have a regular income, didn’t have a great relationship with my wife and I wasn’t being a great guy.
It got so bad that at times I had been known to smash my head against a wall because I’ve found everything too hard, this was due to lack of sleep and my brain not switching off, I just could not sleep. All parents know what lack of sleep does to them but when you can not even sleep when you are allowed to your brain starts to do very scary things.
I’ve just recognised this recently and have managed to take some steps to sort it, I’ve joined a gym (lifting weights really helps) and I have started therapy which has helped so far.
I am definitely on the mend and feeling better but know I will have bad days but I can manage them.”

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Amie’s Story

“I’ve had depression and anxiety since I can remember, but I didn’t know what it was.  As a child I was nervous around people I didn’t know, I didn’t feel good enough, clever enough (didn’t know I was dyslexic at the time so I was just treated as stupid) I wasn’t pretty enough or slim enough, looking back on it now it’s sad how at such a young age I felt so unworthy, and I wasn’t even big!  

I always felt like the fun fat friend at school, and while I actually wasn’t fat, being made to feel that way by everyone, including my own mother I comfort ate…. And surprised I ended up fulfilling what I was being told. I wouldn’t go out without make up, and I developed acrophobia, when shopping in busy places I had to have headphones pumping music in my ears to keep me calm, I didn’t go to concerts and events of any kinds really made me feel uncomfortable as I thought people where laughing at me, and how I look.  When I reached my teens and I started clubbing with friends I would get very drunk to keep these feelings at bay, when drunk I felt fabulous, a feel that would last until I saw a photo of myself. I got male attention and that made me feel good about myself.

At 17 I met my now husband and we would end up in huge fights due to drink, so when I went to university I slowed my drinking down and by the time I left I didn’t drink any more. I went to New Zealand for a few months and lost a lot of weight, not on purpose but I dropped from a 14/16 to a size 10, and I felt great. Since joining the film industry in London and working long hours I’ve put more and more weight on, having children also hasn’t helped with that and I don’t like the person I see in the mirror.  

I know now that my depression and anxiety is caused by a few things, how I feel about myself being a main one, sleep being another main one and mum guilt being the third. After baby number 2 I want to work on all of these things for me! That’s the important part, I feel better when I am slimmer and I feel like I look good, for me not for other people, and now I’m a mum I care less what they think of me, but I want to be healthy for me, to make sure I’m here for my children, I want to run around with them and not need to sit down after a few minutes.  I want to get the sleep I need, that my body and mind needs, it makes me a nicer person to be around and makes me able to situations better without spinning.

I’d like to add that while I have both depression and anxiety I am also happy, I don’t use the term suffer and I don’t let it define me! I may have family members who have lost their battles against this disease (that isn’t taken as seriously as it should be!!!) including my Grandmother and younger brother, I will not let it beat me, we’ve come close but I am a survivor, and now I have children I will fight harder.   

I will always be there to help others, and would say to check in with others as sometimes it’s the happiest people who have the lowest times.”

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ANONYMOUS

 

“I have always suffered with depression in one form or another. I can remember the time it started; I was 10 years old and my Mum told me she was expecting my baby brother. I was so paranoid that harm would come to her or the baby, I’d spend 10 minutes before I went to bed checking that all plugs were out of sockets and switched off and that there were no obstacles in the way, so my Mum wouldn’t fall over.

 When my brother was born, I continuously washed my hands as to not give him germs. I’d then wash the taps because I touched them and then wash my hands again. It got so bad, they used to bleed. I also remember making my friends wash their hands before they walked in my house! Although I grew out of the cycle of hand-washing, I then became a worrier. About literally everything.

I became increasingly anxious and after being bullied at school, it quickly spiralled into depression. My history teacher told my parents he was concerned as I was often hunched over in his class. However, my love of performing arts helped and singing always made me feel better.

 

When I was about 18, I started to get a desolate feeling…like I was missing something and absolutely hated being alone. I would have panic and anxiety attacks often and found the smallest task, like turning a key in a door difficult. I started on a course of anti-depressants and things got a little better, until I went to Drama school, I came off them and had a year of hell and would often break down and cry on my again. I spiralled further and looking back now, I was close to suicidal. My parents would often call my boyfriend (now husband) to check on me as they were worried I’d ‘do something silly’. I went back on another lot of ADs and things got better. That was until I came off them to have my baby.

I had a tough pregnancy and although my beautiful baby girl was the most amazing thing to ever happen to me, I felt awful. I couldn’t breastfeed and the lack of sleep made me feel like I was down a pit that I couldn’t get out of. I felt that because I wasn’t breastfeeding, I wasn’t really her Mum, after all, anyone can feed a baby with a bottle.

 

The anxiety became worse and I’d even worry that changing my perfume meant she’d not know I was her mum. Back on the pills I went. 5 years on and things are a lot better. I have accepted the fact that I will be on ADs probably for the rest of my life. I’m lacking serotonin – I have a chemical imbalance. If I had diabetes, I’d need insulin, it’s just one of those things. I’ve also learnt to be more accepting of myself, I’m not perfect and nobody is. The best I can do is live life the best I can and show my daughter positivity.

 

You are not alone x

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Louisa’s Story

 

“This is my third time living with anxiety & panic attacks and I’m not embarrassed posting about it and neither should anyone else. Yes it’s exhausting battling with your own mind. Just because it’s not a broken arm or leg doesn’t mean the person isn’t broken inside (although so many still struggle to see this!).

 I’ve suffered with panic disorder for over 7 years! I avoid going places such as shops, the park and restaurants because I fear I’ll have a panic attack in public! I get sad because I feel that I can’t enjoy the normal things or day to day life, everything I do feels like such an effort!

 

Mental illness does not mean that the person is mental!

They are not weak, in fact they are the strongest people you’ll know. It’s the hardest,most  challenging thing to battle with your own mind. Nobody knows what that person is going through unless they’ve been through it themselves and even then we are all different.

 

Don’t isolate people just because they’re different inside, people with depression deal with things in different ways.

 

So keep inviting these people out, keep asking these people if they want to do things and keep asking these people if they’re OK!! Just because they say no does not mean they don’t want to, it’s their inner voice from stopping them doing the things they want to do.

So bloody hats off to everyone dealing with this because you are certainly not alone!!”

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Donna’s Story

“Growing up I never felt like I fitted in, we would move around a lot which meant always being the new kid with no friends,  I was bullied for being too tall or for my big feet or something else to do with the way I looked or acted . It really affected my confidence with over time affected my body image.
I was never one of those children who looked at my body and hated it. I was ok with how I looked but the comments and abuse over the years from my step mum and step brother just chipped away at me bit by bit.
I think my body image was majorly affected when I became ill with an eating disorder in 2006 . And a big part of an eating disorder is the way in which one views themself. I would spend ages looking in the mirror and pulling at all this fat I saw that cycle continued for years on and off and most recently two years ago I relapsed pretty bad with the anorexia and self harm etc and tried to take my life twice which led to a mental health unit.
I really do think body image plays a huge part in what holds me and many others back from recovery.
This person I see in the mirror looking at me, she has no future, she is ugly and she is fat but logically that’s just the body dysmorphia speaking but it’s very real to me .
I think in this culture today so many people blame poor body image on the media with models and celebs and all these fad diets, that we must look a certain way, or eat certain way. Personally for me my body image and eating disorder etc were not in anyway affected by all of that. It’s almost quite a selfish illness in the sense I feel I am the only one struggling and I only see myself as fat and a problem . I don’t look at a celebs and envy them but I know many people do. I feel we need to be more kind to ourselves and treat ourselves as we would somebody we love like I would never tell my friend she was fat or ugly or deserves to die or starve or whatever the issue maybe .
At this current moment I’m stuck at a point where I’m not ill enough for help which is stupid! But I’m too unwell to go to work and a job I like to do is now at risk unless in the next 4-6weeks I make changes in regards to my food intake and other factors – self harm, laxatives abuse etc .
I want to be able to speak up about my health and my issues and not feel embarrassed I work in a job where my arms are on show and I have a lot of recent scars and people do ask what it is and I want to be able to share my story because if it helps just one person that is enough.
Mental health matters and we all need to get alongside others even if it is just a text or a coffee .
I know what it’s like to hit rock bottom and I’m in no way recovered I struggle daily. I live day to day and that works for me”.

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Jamies Story

“I always thought my issues with my mental health started in my early-20s when I suffered with severe depression which resulted in a suicide attempt.

I’d come out of a toxic relationship and I thought I had no one to turn to. This was the early-noughties when mental health, especially for men, was still a taboo subject. My mates were very ‘laddish’ and seemingly unapproachable, whilst my parents had split and we barely spoke as a family. I was embarrassed and unable to cope. Life went on like this for most of my 20s, hiding my problems behind a mask of booze and late nights.

I relocated to London when I was 28 and perhaps it was the new lease of life, the culture, social acceptance or just escaping my old haunts, but I felt good, and after meeting my now wife, it was the happiest I’d been in years. Then in my mid-30s my depression struck again after a case of bullying. But thankfully, with mental health now widely talked about, it felt easier to express my feelings. So much so, I launched my podcast, Man Talk, to share mine and other men’s experiences to try and help others who might be suffering.

Last year I sought a private therapist and with her help, began to put the pieces of my life puzzle together, to understand why I react like I do to trauma. As I said, I always thought my mental heath issues began in my 20s, but after my therapy sessions it became obvious that my teenage years actually shaped me more than I thought. I was the classic anxious teenage boy; confused by puberty, sex, emotions, hormones, girls, and stressed with school, peer pressure and young life in general. I was also bullied at school. I bottled everything up and just got through those years. And that’s the issue, as it is with so many young men; unable to talk, unable to express troubles and emotions.

Thankfully things are changing, but more needs to be done to ensure young men are able to seek help, and not sink as dangerously low as I did.”

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Anonymous
“I am mum of two young boys, run my own marketing business and have been married for 9 years. We moved as a family to Essex 4 years ago for my husband’s job and knew from time to time he would need to travel for work, but never in our wildest dreams believed he would be away for over a quarter of 2018.
In July 2018 my husband headed off to the illuminated skies of Tokyo for a 4week stint working on jets. I was nervous, I was excited, giddy for him, but I was sad for us being left behind. My heart was beaming with pride, but my head was angry, upset and a feeling of missing out being trapped with my boys, cooped up and alone.
My friends were all aware of me being a solo mum and shortly rallied round to find a mothers help for tea and bedtime sanity relief.  I would have offers of midweek playdates, lunches at weekends and offers to stay away with friends. The intention for company was there, but stark reality is I was just too tired to commit. The continual hamster wheel of parenting; cooking, washing, doing homework, stopping tantrums and fights plus being self-employed was just too great.
My husband started to see a change in me, I could no longer keep in the angry thoughts in, the jealously of his time away; be it working or free time.
In January 2019 that our world crumbled, my husband had been away in November for a month then back at Christmas and then away again. I thought I was ok, I thought I could handle it – I couldn’t. My mother kept calling me to say ‘don’t facetime him, don’t tell him how you feel. He can’t do anything to help, he’s 6,000 miles away!’ I couldn’t contain it, I facetimed telling him exactly how I felt, shouting, completely out of control and finally hanging up to only run, sob and curl up in a ball hoping and praying the children didn’t find me.
I didn’t want him to think I was fine, I wanted him to feel my pain.
I realised that my behaviour was out of control. I decided after this moment that I needed help. I was a danger to myself and my family. So I went to my doctor, she was amazing. I told her everything and she couldn’t believe how much pressure I had put myself under. She confirmed I had anxiety and depression promptly prescribed anxiety meds and started to already feel the benefit within a week. The medication had given me the chance to step back and see the bigger picture.
The bigger picture was yes my husband is working away, but he too is feeling all the same feels as me. He too feels trapped, trapped in work and not able to stay with me and the boys.
I was and am to this day extremely sad that our relationship had to go so dark and murky to get us back on track. We have been together for 16 years, lived through 2 redundancies, 2 miscarriages, had 2 children, moved 3 times and still this was the biggest and scariest time we have experienced. I had contemplated leaving him, was self-harming and even uttered the words of suicide. This was not a passing phase, this was real.
Thankfully the meds were working, my anger had depleted, my aggression to normal situations had subsided and I was able to see things for what they really were. I am by no means fixed, but I am acutely aware of the stress my husbands trips put on me and our marriage.  He has insisted no long trips until June which is a welcome break.
I will forever be ‘brothers in arms’ with anyone who has to endure long periods of time without their partners, who are single parents and suffer mental health issues. It’s the hardest, loneliest and most selfless duty a parent can do and so very few understand it.

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Helens Story

My anxiety started about 9 years ago after a traumatic year that involved finding out my unborn baby was disabled and my 2 year old being incredibly poorly.
My anxiety relates to the health of myself and my family. As soon as I feel a twinge or a little bit off colour I immediately think the worst. The kids can develop a sniffle of a temp and I immediately think the worst.
My mind goes into overdrive, thinking of all the worst scenarios, and how we would cope if the worst was to happen. The anxiety can creep up on me out of nowhere. My heart starts beating a little faster, my mind starts racing and I begin to panic. My mind is going at 100 miles per hour, imagining the worst possible outcome to the situation. I skip straight past the rational conclusion and go straight to panic stations.
I have to concentrate on my breathing to ground myself and have a conversation in my own mind, telling me it will be ok, making sense of my irrational thoughts. I don’t have a day go by where I don’t have a moment of anxiousness but I have learned to control it better now.
If you suffer with any form of anxiety you are not alone, don’t be afraid to talk about it, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. You will be surprised by the amount of people who struggle with this.

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Thank you so much for reading and I hope these stories have helped. Lots of love and as always I am always here xxx

 

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Separated parents, parenting together

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We live in the modern world and a considerable percentage of us are not with the mother/father of our child. This is the case with me, but I have 2 ex’s and 3 children. My eldest two from my first marriage, and my youngest from a relationship after that. Having to deal with ex partners/husbands/ wives can be a nightmare, especially at the beginning, but what I have learnt along the way and what I am still learning is that having a “bad” relationship is unhealthy and destructive to your child, but also for your own well being.

When I was going through my divorce I never thought my ex husband and I would ever be friendly again, we couldn’t talk to each other and used (very expensive) lawyers as go between, by the end of the divorce and child residency I alone wracked up a bill of £30,000. It is such a ludicrous amount of money, but when I look back at it now do I regret that cost? no I don’t, because through it all, through all the courses and meetings, mediation and solicitors letter, I learnt a great deal and I am proud of my relationships that I have with my daughters fathers. I learnt from my first break up how to deal with the second and a lot of it is quite simple.

There was a stage where, during our court process, the only words that were passed between my daughters’ father and I were via a ‘communications book’, now thinking of it it seems awful but actually it was a very sensible way to ensure that no bad words were ever passed in front of the children, also this communication book could be called into court at any time so it made us be think before we wrote (this was a valuable lesson). It is something that both the court and CAFCASS would recommend if needed. In fact the suggestion of a communication book came about because we were both sent on a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) course by the judge. You go separately but I wasn’t sure about it but knew I had to, and I am so pleased I did. We were shown a heartbreaking film which demonstrated the impact that poor communication between separated parents has on children. As a group and with the teachers we discussed the film, one point that was reiterated and is very common in the modern age were messages sent via texts and other apps, due to not having to face the person, nor hear the voice it is easy to let the situation become angry and words can get typed that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face (obviously this is the most common way to communicate, but while things are fraught its most likely the worst approach). If an argument happens in this way, the parent who has the child in their care will be affected by it and that will impact the child, it made me realise how destructive it was. Sometimes now, when I am in a conversation with either Dad and I can feel it veering towards bad vibes the conversation stops for another day. 9 times out of 10 nothing more needs to get talked about, it was all in that moment and could have easily escalated.

Whether it’s in the early stages, or further along (when new partners are involved, or house moves happen), it is sometimes very hard to come to an understanding of what is going to happen with decisions to do the children, it is easy to always find fault in the other parent’s suggestions due to anger you may feel. What was reiterated by SPIPs was the fact you cannot control the other parent (whether straight after the separation or 5 years down the line) and you can only be responsible for yourself. What I also found very true was that up until recently you had been in a relationship with this person, you had loved them at one point (most probably) and you had chosen to have a child with them. So to then change your tune after breaking up and conclude that the other parent is incapable or has faults will not only seem insincere but also will be projected onto your child/children as perhaps a feeling they did not come from a loving relationship. Your job as a parent is to be the adult, and the best thing for your child is to support the other parent.

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After our course we came up with a child residency order which was agreed on but then was altered a few years later. During the second round of the court process we were sent to CAFCASS and we had meetings with a team who spoke with great insight into co parenting and the benefits for children. We covered many topics and made ‘contracts’ about the upbringing of the girls, they helped us open up communications and taught us that it was imperative for our kids to make decisions together. I am not saying it was all easy, but due to the fact we were not in the midst of our own break up, it allowed us to be productive rather than blaming each other. Some relationships, even years later constantly blame and have a power struggle, but I will talk about that next). The point that was very evident was that we were not in a relationship anymore  and so though we could make it hard for the other person and throw words at each other, the only person it will ever hurt is the child.

When my next break up happened, things could have been very difficult and I think that our relationship and break up could have ended in a high conflict situation, but I am really proud at the decision from both of us to to have a unity for our daughter. We knew she was and is the only thing that matters and once you come to terms with the fact you are not together there is no need for anything other that parental duties.

High conflict parents will be the first to tell you that it’s not their fault, I have met many people like this, and it is not a criticism (I absolutely understand how it feels, its where i was many moons ago), but it is hindering themselves and their children. They will always blame the other parent and I can clearly remember a judge in court one day telling me that once you get in to a situation where you are constantly arguing it is only with mediation that you will have some calm. To quote The Happy Family Lawyer “They will be so far involved in their own conflict that they won’t be able to see the ‘wood for the trees’. Only with specialised professional assistance can these parents improve their parenting techniques.”. It is also key to remember that it doesn’t matter who started or didn’t start an argument, you are not in control of anyone else but yourself, it takes two to tango and I am sure when these explosions occur between two ex’s the starting discussion is a distant memory.

So to conclude on my journey, most of the time I have a calm and steady “friendship” with the Dads of my daughters, I have learnt that they will ALWAYS be in my life, so why would I waste my energy feeling any anger for them (not that I do), but when something annoys me, I don’t rise to it, as long as my children are safe and well that’s all that matters. I also always try to be respectful, so always including them in decisions about the girls, for example which school they go to or whether to have certain immunisations. No matter who the children reside with the majority of the time, it doesn’t give you the right to be sole decision maker. (That being said it is not the resident parents job to inform the other of when events are happening or school choices are being made, both sign up to school emails and both keep upto date with the milestones of your children).

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I have summarised a few important factors that I learnt so far on my journey and I am always interested in hearing feedback from my blogs, or just any other information anyone has about successful co parenting.

I will attach links to a few websites that I found very helpful, especially the programme booklet for the SPIP course I went on.

  • Respect that your children may have different feelings to your own
  • Do not use your child as a messenger
  • DON’T make it a power struggle
  • Think about what you can do, not what your ex partner should/ shouldn’t be doing
  • Make small steps towards the end goal
  • Look after yourself and be the best you can for your children
  • Have faith in the other parent, no matter how they treat you don’t fight fire with fire.

CAFCASS

SPIPS

THE HAPPY LAWYER