My sign is vital, my hands are cold…

CW: Self Harm

Lately I’ve been having regular checks for the heart rate thing. The nurse who took my blood & vitals last week was really familiar. I had that strange I’ve definitely met you feeling, but also knew I didn’t know her, know her. I couldn’t place her at all until a loud clatter startled her. Her sharp intake of breathe shot me back in time.

She was the nurse I stunned with my self destruction in this same hospital many years ago. She either didn’t recognise me or correctly judged it best not to indicate that she had. She was friendly & kind, but the sound of that inhale shook me. I was back there, covered in blood & guilt.

I can so clearly remember walking into that triage room. Concisely explaining why I was there & seeing the doubt in her eyes. I could tell she thought the large towel on my arm was overkill. I knew she was weighing up how to nicely dismiss me. I was too tired to do anything other than unwrap the makeshift dressing & expose the truth.

Foggy picture of cars outside hospital. Words ambulance only painted on ground

The inner layers were blood soaked & the final one stuck to the wound. When I yanked it off with same the lack of self care that had led me to that room, she gasped. An entirely involuntary expression of what; shock? disgust? fear? I couldn’t discern, but I knew it wasn’t good.

The speed that she whipped through the triage routine was more about her discomfort than mine. I had long lost my objectivity. I sought treatment as a means of calling a halt to that cut. I had given up seeking enough. I knew that enough was a lie. When I looked at my arm I really couldn’t tell anymore if it was any worse than anything else I had done to myself. It was just another failed attempt to carve out some peace.

Peace that I knew was never coming. I already felt stupid & ashamed & so horribly guilty. For all the usual reasons and now also because it was obvious I had ruined this women’s night. She hadn’t bargained for my level of determined self loathing; I’d upset her. I felt selfish for not being more clear. I shouldn’t have allowed anyone to be caught off guard.

I wanted to be better. Do better. I wished I could give this nurse & everyone else the explanation they needed. I yearned to be somewhere else. I didn’t even want to do this anymore. My blades had long since lost efficacy. I could never cut deep enough. Never shed enough blood. The quiet I needed was evermore elusive. I was desperate and so fucking tired. Yet, I still couldn’t stop.

As I waited for her to finish with my blood pressure I was stuck in the past. Mired in the dread. Reliving the experience of having my arm stapled shut whilst already planning the next assault. Knowing I couldn’t escape the nagging voice in my head that insisted I must cut. I must earn any rest. I had to atone for sins I wasn’t able to articulate. I had to release all the fetid emotion with my blood.

When I left I felt blessed. And cursed. Blessed that I was wrong. I did escape. I have hushed that internal need for penance. Cursed because I still haven’t silenced it. There will always be triggers pulling me back. Days when my scars itch to be opened. You can’t play with fire & not get burned. The magic is remembering I know how to make it stop. I just have to wake up every day and choose this new, better life. Easy, right?

Black and white photo oh plus size woman looking at scarred arm

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down…

Are you losing the plot yet? I fear I’m getting there. Lockdown is getting harder. If like me you already have less than perfect mental health, you may be closer to the edge than most.

I’m with you. I’m finding all this time alone is churning up lots of issues I would prefer remain undisturbed. The isolation is leaving far too much room for pondering big issues. Existential questions that I couldn’t answer before the world went mad & are even more confounding now. I swing between Groundhog Day dread and being on jangly high alert. Trying to break the monotony of another day home alone by sorting your underwear drawer is a tiny bit depressing. My already racing heart attempting to burst right out my chest every time my noisy neighbours thump really isn’t fun either.

Am I doing anything that matters? Am I running out of time & is this pandemic melting huge chunks of what is left? Can I continue to makes ends meet? Am I doing enough for those who can’t? Can I get a Tesco delivery slot or my prescription? Will I ever get rid of long covid? Will all my loved ones get through this unscathed and will we ever be permitted to be in the same room again? This shit is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are all the intrusive thoughts and fears of catastrophe.

Image of iceberg above & below waterline. The sea is vivid blue.

I say this with the knowledge that I am in a privileged position. I have security & a support system that many do not. Too many people are living in situations that are perilous in every possible way. Accessing even the most basic of assistance is getting harder. Half a carrot, a handful of tuna & frubes will not feed hungry children (if you don’t understand this ref, read this & try to control your rage). When you can’t rely on the system to ensure kids don’t starve you can bet that mental health services are in distress. A fact that has been keeping me awake at night as I worry about my own mental wellbeing.

With that in mind I wanted to share some resources. If you don’t feel you can wait to reach the top of an nhs waiting list one of these may be helpful.

Theses organisations offer reduced cost therapy.

Arbours Association

Frontline Therapist

Problem Shared

The Guild of Psychotherapists

Dedicated to Change Project

The Spark

Sandyford Glasgow

Most universities & colleges offer counselling services. If you are student it’s worth checking out what help your institution can give. Many also offer low cost therapy with students training in psychology disciplines.

You can find online support here:

Samaritans

Mind

Calm

Age UK

Women’s Aid

Beat

The Mix

Childline

There are also local services across the UK, a bit of google research may lead you to affordable (or free) help in your area. I know that none of these options are perfect, I wish I had the answer. In the absence of a complete solution I hope these options might be helpful.

As always when discussing mental health it is important to state that I am not a professional. Please seek advice from your GP in the first instance and contact emergency services if required.

A Very Covid Christmas…

Like many others, last minute covid restrictions scuppered my Xmas. I was bummed not to be able to see my people, especially the wee ones. Ultimately though, it wasn’t so bad.

My digestive tract is still struggling with the long covid, so Christmas dinner was never going to be an option. I’m way too sore & tired to relish the idea of getting all gussied up. The wonder of video calls mean I could still watch the kids open presents & have a carry on. Thus, Xmas day on the sofa wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a magical day. I don’t fancy making a habit of it, but needs must. I still had lots of gorgeous presents & messages of love. I think more than anything what got me down was just the lack of distraction. Enjoying the kid’s exuberance takes my mind off not having made any of my own little people. This year I couldn’t help but dwell a little longer on the the Christmas traditions I’ll never be a part of.

2020 has been a wash out for most of us. I still feel I’m stumbling blind when it comes to discovering a new focus. I have actually achieved things I’m proud of this year. I’ve smashed some career boxes that I didn’t think would even get ticked. Those successes don’t fill that motherhood chasm.

My Corona Christmas has been reminiscent of the whole 2020 experience. I’ve felt a lot aimless, a little sad and entirely capable of making it through. Surviving is the only goal this year & we’ve almost reached it.

ly is wearing red glasses & leopard print. She is cheersing with a glass of bucksfizz

We’re on each other’s teams…

On Thursday my Dr confirmed that she believes I have ‘Long Covid’. It’s been two & a half months since I tested positive and symptoms persist. It’s likely they will continue you to do so for some time.

My Gp took bloods and checked my vitals. My oxygen levels are a little low, but not worryingly so. My heart rate in the other hand is way too fast. We’ll need to keep an eye on that. The Dr is trying to get me referred to a covid rehab clinic, but in the meantime, there’s very little that can be done. At all stages of this illness drs have stressed that there is still so much that no one knows. New complications are cropping up all the time. The more complicated your medical history, the more complicated covid can be. For me it’s constant breathlessness and fatigue. All my usual chronic symptoms are heightened. My pain levels are through the roof, my appetite is decimated and when I do eat my digestive tract objects.

Ly is Weston big glasses and a feminist af face mask

Long term effects of the Covid 19 are far reaching. Everything from strokes to kidney failure has been reported. This virus is dangerous. Please take it seriously. I know the safety measures we have to take are hard. I hate spending so much time at home on my own. The emotional & financial toll has been huge for many, but we can’t afford to be reckless.

If you can, stay home. Wear a mask, wash your hands and observe social distancing rules. Everyone wants to be seeing loved ones & spreading merriment at this time of year, but it just isn’t safe. It will take time to get the vaccine out. Covid doesn’t care about Xmas. There will be more opportunities to celebrate. It won’t kill us to scale back festivities. It could kill people you love not to.

A mask in blue background with  text ‘wear a mask’

Rainy days & Sundays…

Always get me down. Today is both. Although if I’m honest it doesn’t have to be either. There are days when I just wake up sad.

There’s no reason outside all the reasons that existed when I went to bed. No trigger, no resolution. Everything just feels pointless. If I burn a piece of toast I am utterly useless. If someone doesn’t call it’s because they hate me. Then I know I’m over reacting and I hate myself.

My thoughts get stuck in a loop of painful circumstances. All the things I cannot erase or redo. I inhale all the blame and forget to exhale the guilt. So, it lives somewhere inside me. Dormant, but never extinct.

Maybe tomorrow I will be ok. I’ll return to regular levels of coping and carry on. Or this woe will continue to spew. It could be weeks or months of life coated in depressive ash. I never know.

There is no cure; other than keep going. Hoping this eruption isn’t the big one. Putting faith in my ability to outrun the thought of diving right into the burning mess.

Next Sunday could bright. Or the one after that. There will be days to breeze through again. I just can’t feel it right now.

Dead roses in a vase and their shadow

Dancing in the dark…

GlasGlow is back. We have taken the boy every year of his life, so this has become our own little Halloween tradition. This year was even better than last.

Blue neon lights blurring in rain
Large moon and coloured lights.

The boy was proper excited and dancing around; utterly adorable. It wasn’t too crowded and people paid attention to social distancing. The rain even almost went stopped for us. It was lovely.

Toddler running under neon rainbow
plus size woman in tartan coat with toddler in red duffle stunting infront of twinkly light wall

It was a bit of struggle for me to get around the park. Post covid I’m even less mobile. I found some places to sit and took periodic rests whilst the little man enjoyed the lights.

Pumpkins and giant glowing crystal in dark park
Two adult smiling women and toddler surrounded by lights

Much fun was had. Now I’m in recovery mode and jammies all weekend.

Build me up…

It’s been ‘ugh’ for a while now and I’m in danger of wallowing in a big puddle of woe is me. I’m making efforts to feel better. I started by tackling my inbox and then tried to clear some light housework. Ticks on my to do list helped me feel less useless. Now seems a good time to build on that by counting my blessings.

So, today I am grateful for,

My big comfy bed (& no one snoring, farting or otherwise bothering me in it).

My fridge holds soups & fruit juice galore. My stomach only wants these & the occasional bread product.

My demanding little purr ball.

Black & white cat with his eyes closed having his ears rubbed.

Excellent new Jim jams. They have pockets and are so soft I keep stroking myself.

Ly is taking mirror selfie. Smiling & wearing pink jammies

Hot running water.

The sick & ridiculous humour of the Small Town Murder podcast.

Small Town Murder podcast logo

A plethora of supportive & loving people.

All the perfect little ones said people have made.

The writings of Sara Pascoe & Barbara Trapido

Free and accessible healthcare. Big love, NHS.

Red love heart and NHS in white letters

The freedom to drift in and out of sleep as needed.

The phone steriliser relieving covid related iPhone anxiety.

Messages of love from my big muffin.

Text message with sad alien face

Lemon & lavender scented heat pads.

A room festooned with beautiful blooms.

Various bunches on flowers in vases. Sunflowers , roses, lilies, berries, gladioli

Try not to breathe…

You’ll have to excuse my silence, I have not been feeling good. What I thought was a bad cold, progressed to maybe flu & a uti. Then my sense of smell disappeared and my tongue tasted disgusting. Fevers, unrelenting fatigue, one home test and I suspect you know where I’m at.

Corona town is no fun. I’m on day 15 and I still feel like shit. I have improved a little. I can now eat toast & drink fruit juice without my stomach violently objecting. On the other hand, my cough is getting worse again. I still ache all over and my joints are throbbing. I’m losing entire days to sleep, but remain exhausted. I have a constant low level headache that periodically ramps up to ow! I’m breathless all the damn time. And of course my usual complaints are all heightened. It feels bloody horrible.

I’m stumped on how I contracted corona. I have been careful. I hardly go out. I have seen only a small group of people since this began and always in accordance with the rules. I wear a mask. I’m hand sanitiser obsessed. No one has been in my house since March. Still I managed to catch it. This bug is not messing around.

I’m very grateful this isn’t worse. I have pre existing conditions & a pathetic immune system. I feared this virus might knock me out entirely. I’m glad to be managing at home, but trust me, you do not want this. Even the not so serious covid is plenty bad.

Please be extra careful. Take care of yourselves & everyone you may come into contact with. Normal is a long way off.

When will they stop…

I used a hand sanitiser in a train station the other day. It was one of those super strong types that you find in hospitals. As soon as it hit my skin I was whisked back in time. For a second or two I was somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t want to be.

The cold sensation drifted through my body. A zoetrope of mixed up images spun in my head. Blurry flashes conjured by the clinical scent. I felt dizzy. I sat down, took some deep breaths. It passed. I was grateful.

Blurry spinning image of trees & sky

It wasn’t entirely gone. That night the whirl of disjointed scenes dipped in & out of my dreams. Random words have jarred memories. My mind has wandered mid thought or conversation. I have felt the panic rising. Spells of forcing my head to connect with my physical reality have emerged. Struggling to focus on what I can actually see, hear, smell in this moment. Ignoring the feelings climbing my throat.

Tonight in the shower I couldn’t shake the feeling that the hot water streaming down my legs was blood. I couldn’t wipe the hospital aroma from my nostrils. Nor soothe the ache that spread from my back to my thighs. The hand sanitiser has triggered a reaction. My body is recalling the trauma stored deep within. It’s a phenomenon associated with PTSD known as body memories.

I haven’t experienced this symptom in quite some time. It lies dormant; rising unpredictably. Sometimes reacting to obvious & painful stimuli. Or, like this week, triggered by a tiny insignificant detail. My olfactory senses seem particularly attuned to old wounds.

New born baby feet with words birth trauma Association

This time it’s the initial loss. I feel my body failing. I know it isn’t happening. I have learned how to pull myself back to the here & now. Still, those moments when I’m dragged to the past feel completely real. I am not just thinking about unpleasant events. I am feeling them. My flesh & nerves & senses are reacting to something that happened 20 years ago.

Body memories are excruciating. It becomes a battle between what you know & what you feel. Fighting strong emotions is a challenge. When you add physical sensations grounding yourself is an onerous task. I have experienced these episodes replicating the sensations I felt during miscarriages & pregnancy. At times these physical memories are accompanied by flashbacks & other PTSD symptoms. Other times they occur in isolation. They mirror my actual experience so completely that I’ve found myself taking multiple pregnancy tests when I knew it was almost impossible for me to have conceived.

Sands logo

It’s another aspect of PTSD that I rarely see discussed in the mainstream. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only (or even mainly) associated with combat trauma. Yet, it’s the link most people draw. The violent outbursts in media portrayals of the illness are not accurate. New studies are highlighting how prevalent PTSD is in women who have experienced baby loss & birth trauma. For most of us, managing PTSD is an internal process. Distress may leak out, but the grind is with yourself. Accessing the right help, surviving that help (trauma therapy can be brutal), learning to manage symptoms, accepting the parts you can never fix & the impact they will have on your life.

It’s painful & exhausting & many of us never completely recover. To stand any chance of healing specialised therapy is essential. There are so many barriers to reaching that help. It can take years to obtain any psychological intervention without the resources to pay privately. Even longer to receive the specialised therapy that can actually help. So many people can’t afford to wait.

This month I’m supporting The Birth Trauma Association and Sands. Both organisations support families who have experienced trauma surrounding baby loss & birth. Please join me if you can.

Will you feel better…

My recent flare up has been tenacious. Stronger pain killers aren’t a practical long term option. As a result I’ve been trying other pain relief methods to back up my existing medication. Thankfully I have had some success, which I’m happy to share.

I’ll kick off with the simplest & easiest to access tool; the foam roller. I saw some insta posts about their usefulness with muscle pain. I had previously associated them with sports injuries & hadn’t realised it might be worth trying one myself. Over to eBay I go & purchase myself this neon friend. Including postage it cost around a tenner. They’re available in various sizes to suit different body parts. I opted for a bigger version to use on my lower back. It couldn’t be easier to use, simply amply a little pressure & roll the problem area. I’ve found it to be helpful for brief periods. I use it whilst sitting at my desk to reduce pain & stiffness. I also use it before bed so that I’m getting into bed in less pain. I’d definitely recommend giving this a try.

Orange & pink neon foam roller

Lidocaine patches are less accessible, but more effective. They deliver topical pain relief directly to a painful area. NHS guidelines on prescribing this treatment have recently changed due to cost. Meaning it is very hit & miss on which GP’s are permitted to prescribe them. The patches are only licensed (& mostly marketed) for treatment of shingles pain. However, this is only because shingles patients were used in the testing of the product. Pain specialists are increasingly prescribing this product for ‘off label’ uses. I found the 5% patches really effective at reducing pain in my arthritic knee & also fibro pain in the other areas. They don’t remove the pain, but I found a significant improvement. Unfortunately I’m not sure if I will be able to continue using them due the new restrictions. I will absolutely be pushing for them. I’d certainly suggest asking your Dr about them.

My latest discovery is Capsaicin cream. It’s derived from chilli peppers. It’s a topical cream that works by interfering with pain signal to the brain by reducing the level of a chemical (substance P) that binds with pain receptors. Studies are showing good results with Arthritis patients. I have been pleased with the relief it provides on my knee & other joints. My Gp suggested this cream & is happy to prescribe it. You can buy it over the counter (but it’s seems is not widely available yet). If you’re dealing with fibro, arthritis or similar conditions this is something to jump on.

Blue body with spine lit up orange & red

For reference I use regular pain medications along side these treatments. I’m not a medical professional, I share my experiences in the hope of helping others. If in doubt, always seek professional advice.