How To Find Your Happiness

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One thing I’ve learned this year is that nobody knows introspection more than a woman who has lived through post-natal depression. And I know this because now I’m almost 365 days out the other side of my experience – a year clean – I search inside for answers more than ever before. I analyse my thoughts and feelings, probably more than I should, but it’s because of this I’m able to interpret and vocalise the way I’m feeling which means I can stop any dark days before they happen. I am able to pinpoint and label feelings and emotions before I let them affect me which means I am literally my own walking self-help guru.

It’s by talking to friends about what I’ve been through that I learned how common post-natal depression actually is. As many of my friends have been through a post-natal struggle than haven’t, for crying out loud! And I’m so passionate in talking about my experiences to anyone who’ll listen because I really want everyone to learn how common it is and how temporary, too. Your life won’t be this way forever, you are not a terrible mother and you will smile again. Call it my own little public service or something.

Post-natal depression can really take it out of you. In my experience, I completely lost the will or want to take pleasure in anything in my life – nothing made me happy, not my children, my family or my friends. I was living each day minimally, not experiencing it. I was surviving and the babies were surviving but that was it. Fun was a foreign concept.

I wanted to sleep all the time and I would, struggling to get out of bed in the morning and heading right back there as soon as I was able. Work was something that had to get done, at some point, but I resented it. I didn’t care what I looked like, rarely blow dried my hair, painted my nails or wore make-up. I didn’t like myself and felt like a failure in every aspect of my life: work, parenting, being a wife.

From this time one of my over-arching memories is that I just never wanted to leave the house. Every time I went to the shop I would make sure I bought enough milk for three days, because three days seemed like an OK amount of time to spend in the house before leaving it again to buy more. I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t really make plans to, and that was because I didn’t want to. I was happy isolating myself from everything and anyone and didn’t know much different.

I developed weird anxieties; I was living alone with the kids most of the week at this point and I became obsessed with the idea I was going to get burgled. We lived in a big house with five sets of doors open to the outside world and I was terrified that we were an easy target. Before I’d go to bed every night I would set up boobie traps: a clothes airer, a pram, an ironing board… anything to make it harder for an intruder to break in. Every single tiny noise outside would jolt me awake and I could spend hours lying in bed, convinced someone was trying to get into my house.

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This is how it feels to be post-natally depressed, and you know what? It really fucking sucked (sorry mum), it did. It took a long time for me to come out the other side of this, out of the fug of hormone-induced loneliness and depression, and sometimes I can’t believe I was ever that person. But I’m not that person any more because I have learned to find my own happiness.

I have recently realised that all the way through my late teens and twenties I have been looking for my happiness in the wrong places. How annoying is it that, ten years into my adult life, I’ve only just recognised this fact? I have spent a long time staying up late in dark bars and nightclubs, acting superficial and hanging around with the in crowd and all this has taught me is: it’s exhausting.

It’s exhausting to pretend to be cool. It’s wonderful to be a member of a private club but it’s exhausting to be visibly appraised by each and every other person in a room you step in to. It’s exhausting when you feel too fat, too pale, too frizzy and it’s exhausting to wonder if the girl in the corner’s lip sneer was meant for you. It’s shallow, it’s fun on the occasions you seem to ‘fit in’ (“No lip sneer! I’ve made it!), but it’s exhausting.

Staying up all night isn’t great, it’s stupid. It makes you feel tired and all that booze makes you feel ill. Plus the loud music in nightclubs, it’s not good for your ears. If sounds were meant to be that loud then they would be, but they aren’t. Again, STUPID. 

It is always nice to have beautiful clothes but they won’t make me happy. I can have as many pairs of heels and slinky dresses as I want, but you know what’s valuable? Jeans that don’t show your arse when you bend down to say goodbye to your three year old at pre-school. Flat shoes that aren’t Converse but are still comfy. Tshirts that hide the bad bits and flatter the good. It’s ridiculous I spent so much of my twenties in pursuit of silk dresses from Reiss and vintage handbags – they don’t make me happy. 

Looking back I almost feel ashamed at how shallow my life was, I can’t believe I placed so much value on things that really don’t matter at all. If we spend all our time chasing others’ ideas of what should make us happy rather than following our hearts, how will we ever survive?

I now know that I feel happy from the simple things in life. I feel happy watching my children play, tasting the air outside, having a lovely salad for lunch. The feeling I get after exercising, an evening putting the worlds to rights with a friend, a genuine compliment from another happy person.

So here it is, here’s my list of happiness. It is ever changing and evolving, but these are the things I want more of in my life:

- Seeing my children learn, grow and develop their little minds. Hearing them laugh.
- The sunshine, even on a freezing cold day
- Having good friends who listen to me and support me
- A really decent burger
- Eating the best food I possibly can and doing the same for my children
- Succeeding at work, which means being creative and productive
- Spending time with other people who are happy and positive, who see the good in me and themselves
- Exercising and knowing I’m in the best shape possible
- Seeing the world, even if that’s just different parts of the UK
- Knowing I get the best out of every day

I challenge you: what makes you happy, really truly happy? Think about the things that warm your heart, not the things that you think other people believe should make you happy. Tell me, and maybe that will make you feel that little bit more content.

Onwards and Upwards (or, Screw You PND)

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One of the things I’ve been most worried about through my desertion of you lovely people is the complete lack of updates I’ve given you on my PND journey. I felt like I shared so much through a time in my life that was probably the hardest for me; the realisation that something was wrong, the awful visit to the GP, the phone calls to the Health Visitor, the Prozac. Looking back on it now I can see what a fucking (sorry mum) rocky road it was. ‘Scuse the M word, but it was mental. I felt mental.

It went on and on and on. From November through to, I dunno, March? I didn’t know who I was or where I was going. I was trying to work my arse off and be a good mum but I did neither of these things well because all I ever wanted to do was go to bed and sleep until it was over. I don’t know what I was waiting for – anything? Nothing? I needed something to happen and in the meantime sleep was the only thing I wanted to do.

Then Will left and I was destroyed. I didn’t know how to carry on. I begged him to come back but he was rightly adamant that we saw out the trial separation we’d decided on.

But a week later, as if by magic, the fog lifted. I literally woke up one morning and found myself looking forward rather than looking backwards for the first day in years. I enjoyed the feeling gingerly, wondering if it was going to go away. But it stayed and I got more empowered: I took the bins out, mowed the lawn. Did DIY, booked and went on a solo holiday to New York. Somewhere above the Atlantic I became the person I was about five years ago and re-discovered that feeling of joy I’d been missing.

New York was obviously amazing and rather than feeling scared or worried about being alone in a strange city on my own I felt excited and confident. I chatted to strangers in parks, went for dinner with interesting new acquaintances, struck up conversations with people in bars. I did things I’ve never done before and I felt like I re-discovered who I was out there. I came back happy, excited for a future as a single person and above all confident that I would be able to handle anything on my own.

And that is how I’ve remained. There have been wobbles, mostly because holy moly I am not a good budgeter, but I’m doing it. The kids are so much happier because the mum they are getting is 100% engaged with life and not looking for the next opportunity to mentally check out. We do fun things each and every day:  toddler groups, trips to the park, shopping centre excursions. Daily kitchen dance parties. They get quality time with their dad too, which everyone benefits from, and I have a new found freedom that I use to spend time with friends. We’re all exceedingly content. I don’t get a lot of time for work but that’s OK, I will change the world when they’re at school and I have a bit more time on my hands.

The Prozac got left behind when I went to New York and I haven’t taken it since. I am this happy on my own, in a situation I always hoped and prayed I would never end up in. Isn’t life strange?

I’ve been dating and there has been one person who has helped me feel particularly happy lately, but I think the last few years have taught me a few harsh lessons in taking care of my own mental health. I will never ever take it for granted again and will prioritise it. If I’m not feeling good, something needs to be done. And I will never rely on anyone else for my happiness; that lies with me, and me only.

So that’s where I am. Screw you right in the face, Post-Natal Depression. You’re an arsehole.

Self-Imposed Writers Block

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The thing about writing a blog that prides itself on its honesty and ‘bare-all’ attitude is that sometimes you have to draw a line. This writing I do right here is so very important to me and has shaped me in a way I never felt possible. It’s helped me through hard times and cheered me through happy ones; blogging is a part of my life that is so important I can barely articulate what it means to me. It’s not only my job but my life, my friends, my happy place.

Because of the nature of my oversharing on my blog I am naturally going to come up against obstacles sometimes. Some things that are huge parts of my life, no matter how much I’d like to write about them, are off-limits because they also involve other people. I hate finding myself in these situations because my default coping mechanism is to write, so when that’s not possible I feel stifled and bunged up.

I’m going through one of those times now. In the last few days I’ve gone through a real spectrum of emotions: heartbreak, anger, feeling alone, sad and despondent. A peek of happiness and relief. I’ve tried to keep away from my computer because all I want to do is sit and write and get it out but I can’t.

So instead I’ve been back in the garden, digging dirt and replacing with the happiness that the colour of spring flowers bring. I’ve been cooking with my beautiful little girl and scooping the crusty bits out my poorly little boy’s eyes (surprise surprise, we’re back to the doctor’s this afternoon). I’ve cried over glasses of wine with my mum and cackled over G&Ts with my friends. I’ve said this many times but it remains true: it takes a really rocky patch for you to appreciate and understand how important and wonderful your family and friends are.

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The Best Things In Life, via lovely Fritha on Etsy

So, in a nutshell: god, things get tough as a grown-up don’t they? These decisions you have to make and experiences you must go through, they can really take it out of a person. I’m consoling myself with the thought at the moment that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and as tough as I may be finding life right now it will make me a better person, one way or another.

Another huge big consolation to me was the news that this year I have been shortlisted for a BritMums Brilliance In Blogging award, in the Lifestyle category! I am completely over the moon to have been recognised and I would like to thank everyone who nominated me from the bottom of my heart. I managed to drink a whole bottle of Prosecco at the awards ceremony last year before making some very lewd comments about the Butlers In The Buff who were in attendance. If I were to make it through to that stage this year I promise you much more of the same.

If I could implore you to head this way to the voting form and select ‘More Than Toast‘ in the Lifestyle category you would make this over-sharer extremely happy indeed. You can vote in only one category if you like (though you should vote in more as there are some fantastic blogs in there!). Thank-you!

Another Post-Natal Depression Update…

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I’ll give one thing to Post-Natal Depression; it certainly hangs around a bit!

The last couple of weeks have been OK, bar a couple of beacon-like lovely days in the middle. Elfie’s back to her tricks of waking me up 2 or 3 times a night and this broken sleep affects my mood like nothing else. I’m getting pretty bored of feeling tired and wish my body responded better to caffeine. Shakes and nausea after too many espressos are Not Cool.

I have to say that I feel about a million times improved since I started on the new medication. I was pretty hesitant about going on Prozac because, well, it’s PROZAC, it’s what crazy people take, right? But at my lowest I really had nothing to lose, apart from my mind. In contrast to the initial medication my GP put me on I have had no side effects, no scary things happening. It’s given me a new lease of life and makes me feel so much more alive. And you know what? I’m totally comfortable with the fact I need to take anti-depressants now. It has made such a difference to my state of mind that I feel no shame, none at all. It has changed my life, maybe saved it, and I think that is amazing.

Earlier on this week I had my assessment appointment by a mental health nurse at the hospital. This was an interesting experience, a little harrowing to speak so deeply and for so long about the way I was feeling, a little scary to be in a locked section of the hospital. I felt very much out of my depth but my assessor was an absolute delight and had a way of making me feel totally comfortable. I think there are some people in this world who you warm to immediately and she was one of those. She was professional yet so easy to talk to, which was a good thing as she probed me for an hour and a half. Our conversation was so revealing, I didn’t realise how many of my personality ‘quirks’ are not that but are a part of my post-natal depression. It was fascinating.

The good news is that I am considerably less crazy then I was eight weeks ago. There’s a test you fill out that scores you on a scale for depression and anxiety and eight weeks ago I scored 18 for both. The highest score you can get is 21, and for a referral to the serious mental health unit of the hospital you need at least a 16. Happily, this week I scored a 7, which means I will be referred to a community team for CBT (yay!). I put this 100% down to the new medication I’ve been taking and the positive steps I’ve implemented myself and am looking forward to my therapy beginning in a couple of months.

I’m in no way fixed at the moment and I think it’s important for me to recognize that. I still have days when all I want to do is go back to bed. I still sleep a lot more than I’d like, a symptom of PND, and it’s taken me a long time to recognize just how much the children’s disturbed nights affect this. I still have bad days though these are few and far between and I hope they will get more so. I still have anxiety though haven’t had a panic attack related to this for 6 weeks (go me!).

The sun and the book and the support from my family are all helping and I’m trying to take my foot off the pedal a little with regards to work, and just enjoy writing. Motivation and a need to work to succeed seem to be a bit more ingrained than I originally thought, but I’m getting there. I’ll get there.

High Five For PND!

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I expect you have all been waiting with baited breath to find out how my week of medical professionals has gone. Yes? Yes.

It has been a tough week, I won’t lie. Very hard. There have been emotions, discussions, realisations. Man flu. Tiredness.

My Health Visitor came to see me on Monday and she could not have been more supportive. She listened to me and asked all the right questions to get me talking. She was at our house for over an hour and had a chat with Will, too. I felt like she heard what I was saying and made all the right noises, offering me different kinds of help.

She had me do a test which apparently I scored highly on for both Depression and Anxiety (the first test I have not felt proud for getting a high score on).This was a bit of a revelation to me as I really didn’t think the anxious thoughts I had been having were anything out of the ordinary. For example, I fear a lot for mine and my family’s personal safety when we’re out and about and until Monday I really thought this was quite normal. Apparently not!

The Health Visitor wanted to refer me immediately back to the GP to discuss medication. I didn’t want to return to my old GP and the old medication (Citalopram) as it gave me so many side effects before – most notably leaving me exhausted – but she was the first GP available. She tried to prescribe me Citalopram over the phone but I refused. And so I visited my doctor’s surgery on Wednesday with a list of medications (mostly suggested by you helpful lot and then researched by me – thank-you!) and came out clutching a prescription for Fluexotine (Prozac). My Health Visitor really gave me the confidence to stand up for what I thought I needed, as did everyone who commented here.

I’ve also had an urgent referral to a local department called the Access and Short Term Intervention team who should be calling me in to see them for an assessment in the next few days.

On top of this all Will, Hux and I woke up with a stinking cold on Tuesday: poor H isn’t sleeping much and sounds very Darth Vader-esque, my throat and sinuses are torturing me and I have a bright red nose that’s been rubbed raw by tissues. I’m an all-round mental sexy snot bag at the moment, but despite that I feel so much better already. I managed to drag myself out the house last night for a long-awaited double date with some good friends for Steak and BJ day and it felt so good to not think about how I am feeling for a while, to just laugh and enjoy the company of other people. I’m on my third day of medication and so far there have been none of the nasty side effects that Citalopram gave me (insomnia, shakes, jaw clenching, exhaustion).

Admittedly I have been left feeling quite bonkers this week. The urgency with which the Health Visitor treated my case, the referral to ASTI (it has the word ‘intervention’ in the title therefore it sounds serious) and the Prozac.  I kind of feel like maybe I should be expected to run round the village screaming ‘faeces’ with my pants on my head or something. But you know what? That is fine with me. I have finally realised that the way I feel is a product of experiences I have gone through: two pregnancies in two years, two young children. Breastfeeding, a complete upheaval of our lives.

I am not ashamed any more of the way I feel  - I have Post-Natal Depression and Anxiety and it’s OK. High five for mental health!

Happy Mother’s Day

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Oh yes, there was an Elfie/Mummy/kitchen scissors haircutting incident. Ahem. More on that soon.

As usual, writing about the way I was feeling yesterday was more therapeutic for me than anything. Getting it all off my chest, hearing I’m not alone and knowing that actually this isn’t all in my head was such a huge boost. To everyone who responded and emailed: thank-you, I totally ran out of puff when it came to responding last night so I will be digesting your words further and writing later.

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Though I have my very very bad days for the majority of the time I am trying my best to be happy, and sometimes when I try hard enough it feels like I’m the old me again. I want you to know that’s who I am here. I never want you to think that I’m putting it on, or forcing some sort of personality that isn’t there. What you see here is who I am and if I’m feeling too crappy to write then I simply won’t. That’s usually when I go a bit quiet!

 

 

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Today, on the day we celebrate mothers (and now I am one that means I get to celebrate myself…) I made the vow to forget everything and just try to enjoy my children. The day didn’t start too well, Elfie was up a lot in the night with a high temperature and an unspecified “I don’t feel very well mummy”. She came into our bed at 5 and there she stayed. Though we are big advocates of the kids sleeping in their own beds (she’s only slept in our bed once since she moved to her own room) it was actually perfect to wake up next to her.

I had a little lie-in, a card and some gorgeous Oliver Bonas scented candles before a family breakfast. Then I went for a run and a blissful bath that lasted ten minutes before it was ambushed by Elfie. My parents came over to watch the rugby and play with the kids and I now write this on the sofa in front of Come Dine With Me while Will feeds the kids and does unspeakably lovely things to a chicken (it involves garlic, Malden salt and olive oil). The day has been quiet, low-key and just what I needed.

 

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All in all a lovely Sunday. Again this weekend has whizzed past.

Tomorrow will come too soon for a few reasons, back to the monotony of facing real life, but it will be OK. Starting tomorrow I am going to make it OK. Those two lovely faces will make it so.