Welcome to my nightmare…

I didn’t sleep last night (shocker, right). Actually, I did kind of sleep. I was so dog tired by 11pm that I decided to try going to bed like a normal person. I read for a bit and much to my relief, I fell asleep. For about 45mins.

I was awoken by the first nightmare around midnight. By half three and the fourth nightmare I had given up on the idea of sleeping. Nightmares are the part of PTSD that I don’t really talk much about. Maybe because they are an intermittent problem. Probably also because it’s not something that people (in my experience) take seriously. Responses to my attempts to discuss my nightmares have ranged from vaguely dismissive to full on belittlement.

I think when I say nightmares people hear bad dreams. You’re probably thinking of anxiety dreams (teeth falling out, failing exams, getting fired etc) or standard scary dreams (trapped somewhere, being chased, really bad person creeping around your house horror movie type stuff). Maybe you’re even imaging those childhood bad dreams that are terrifying in ways that are incredibly specific to you. All of which are horrid, but not at all debilitating. I suppose I do understand why folk say things like ‘well, they’re not real’ or ‘as soon as you wake up it’ll be gone’; that’s their experience. Oh, how I wish it were universally true.

Creepy face

PTSD nightmares are a whole other thing. They are related to trauma. For me, they often mirror my flashbacks. Sometimes they’ll get creative and go abstract. I’m trying to get some rest and my mind will just be replaying amplified versions of the most distressing moments of my life. My head is a terrible editor; it just rapidly cuts from one horrendous image to the next. All of which are graphic. Blood and dead babies are the common denominators. They’ll begin in a very realistic & upsetting fashion and degenerate into gruesome bloodbaths (sometimes literally).

Blood splatter

As I mentioned the nightmares are a sporadic problem. They almost always have a trigger. That can be a really tiny thing that I possibly didn’t even pay that much attention to until it starts becoming a pivotal detail in my dreams. It can also be a major life event. My nightmares are usually accompanied by & linked to flashbacks in my waking hours. They always come in clusters. I never have just one upsetting dream. They plague me every time I close my eyes. All of which adds up to a significant disturbance.

The torment doesn’t melt away when I regain consciousness. There’s always more to come and it is real. Every scene is drawn from my reality. I end up scared to sleep and just as scared to be awake. I can’t be alone in this because nightmares are close to the top of every PTSD symptoms list. Any psych evaluation or questionnaire will ask about them. Yet, I don’t see much discussion of the topic. I include myself in that. It’s an aspect of my mental health that I feel really uncomfortable being honest about. I don’t know exactly why we’re all so tight lipped, but I’d bet stigma plays a part.

Sleeping ly

It’s always the messy parts of mental illness that we shy away from. Anything that feels uncontrolled or dark or too close to crazy is glossed over. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t want to think about. Those of us who have don’t want to deal with judgement. Where the nightmares are concerned I think there’s also an element of feeling stupid. Kids get frightened of bad dreams. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that you should be able to handle it. Especially when that’s the message the world is giving you.

I’ve yet to discover anything that’ll chase the dreams away. Sleeping pills aren’t helpful because they make the nightmares more vivid. Thankfully they occur less frequently than they used to. Keeping quiet certainly isn’t helping. Perhaps if people knew what I was referring to when I say nightmares they would be less patronising. A little empathy can go a long way, but you have to understand someone’s experience before you can offer that.

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Look back in anger…

I’m angry. So angry that it’s hard to contain. The problem is there’s no specific target for my rage. It’s a generalised, tear everything down kind of fury. There’s no release. I can’t spew my anger over unsuspecting bystanders. Keeping it in doesn’t feel like a viable solution either. Where does one put all the free floating resentment that no one is actually to blame for?

Life isn’t fair. I came to terms with that fact a long time ago. I’ve accepted a lot of bullshit. Fought crazy & illness & disability & mistreatment & loss to build some sort of something. I’ve struggled, but I’ve rolled with the punches as best I could. There’s only ever been one thing that I’ve felt I couldn’t do without. One single imperative. When you’re willing to get by without so many things, it feels so desperately unfair to be denied the thing that would make it all ok.

I watch everyone around me do the thing I cannot. Some with such ease it leaves me breathless. For others it’s a harder journey, but they reach their destination. I love those people and I love their babies, but it’s so hard to be the only one stranded.

I’m angry that I have to do this again. I’ve been tricked into hoping. Now I have to deal with the fall out. I am mad at myself for being stupid enough to believe. I resent having to submit to medical interventions. I didn’t ever want to hear someone say they can’t find a heartbeat again or look at another bloody speculum. I’m furious that I’m still bleeding and that I have to cope with all that triggers. It’s agony to be constantly reminded that my body has failed again. It’s exhausting to face the nightmares and flashbacks of all other blood. I don’t want to relive each of the worst moments of my life whilst trying to get through this one. I’m sick of blood tests and transfusions and putting on a brave face. I hate that I don’t get to opt out. I’m not strong, I just don’t have option of walking away because it’s too hard.

I don’t understand why it has to be me. Why my babies keep dying when I want them so much. Why does the universe give life to those who can’t or won’t love their children? Every time I read a horror story of abuse it feels like a personal attack. I think of all those terrified pregnant teens, the adult women who can’t feed another mouth or just never wanted to parent and I wonder why it couldn’t be me instead. I’m not angry at the individuals; everyone should have the right to choose. I’m furious at whoever or whatever makes decisions. What could I possibly have done that disqualifies me?

I see people smoking as they hold their child and I have to restrain my scream. Each impatient, inappropriate or lazy exchange between a parent & child kills me. Even the standard complaints about bring tired and tantrums make me feel like punching someone. I know I’m not being fair, but it’s like bitching about your diet to the starving. Don’t they know what a miracle they’ve created? How can they forget how much that little person needs them to do the right thing. I know it isn’t easy. Kids are exhausting and all consuming, but they’re worth it. The joy outweighs the sacrifice.

I’ve had enough therapy to know that burying your feelings is never helpful. I know I can’t dig a deep enough hole for this much emotion, but I have no idea where else to put it. I can’t lose it with every person who is rude or mildly inconveniences me. I have no desire or intention of venting on the people I love. I used to work this shit out with a scalpel. That’s no longer an option. What do I do?

Time to say goodbye…

This week I said goodbye to my Uncle Gerry. He died before his time, but faced death with courage & humour. He lived his life with warmth & generosity; never forgetting a birthday & always offering whatever he could of himself to his loved ones & community. The packed chapel at his funeral reflected how much he was appreciated.

In his honour I wanted to pause to share the beauty I am still lucky enough experience. So often I (we) get bogged down by the stresses & strains of daily life that I forget how lovely the world can be. Sometimes it takes a loss to remind us what we still have.

Fireworks, swans, GlasgowSunset paws

Blue sky, Glasgow, lilies

In the spirit of his giving nature I also wanted to share some organisations doing incredible work. I hope you will support them if you can.

Crookston Community Group aims to develop a sense of community whilst helping those in need. The fund a number of services ranging from a food bank to children’s activities and community cohesion workshops.

Street League works with unemployed youth using sport as means to provide training & gain skills needed to find employment. They have fabulous success rates in getting young people into work. They focus on areas of high youth unemployment.

Peek want to increase the opportunities for children to reach their potential. They offer free play and creative learning services that allow children to thrive. They remove barriers by offering support & education for both parents & children.

Chin Chin, Uncle Gerry. You will be greatly missed.

A time for giving…

According to Cliff Richards, king of the xmas tune, this is a time for giving. Whilst Cliff is wrong about most things, I think he’s right about this. I love Christmas. I am fortunate enough to have wonderful people to share it with. We always have more than enough food to fill our tums & plenty presents under our tree. If like me, your festive cup runeth over, please consider making a donation to one of these excellent organisations.


Simon Community helps homeless people in Scotland. They provide a number of wonderful services. From teaching life skills to providing accommodation to help people get on their feet, they support homeless people in a multitude of ways. This year they also launched a new initiative to provide both period products & education for people experiencing homelessness. You can help Simon Community by donating your time, money and a number of essentials items. You can find more information here.

Luisa Omielan is my favourite stand up comedian. Her material is not only hilarious, but covers incredibly important issues. She talks about mental illness, body positivity & female empowerment in her hysterical routines. This year she lost her Mum suddenly & horribly to cancer. She has now not only incorporated the difficult topics of palliative care, NHS under funding & death into her routines, but has also started a foundation, in her mum’s name, to raise money to provide comfort items to hospices. My own family was also touched by cancer this year & I became aware of just how important good hospice care is. Until now I was not aware that hospices are charities that do not receive government funding. People at the end of their lives, often suffering, should have access to the best possible care. Luisa is trying to make that happen. Please give whatever you can to Helena’s Hospice Foundation.

Save the Children work around world with children in desperate need. Their mission is to keep children safe and healthy, whether that means battling poverty or exploitation. They fight to create and enforce legal rights for children as well as providing food, clothing and other essentials for those in need. There are too many frightened children in too many places tonight. If you can help give them a better tomorrow, please do.

Tribe is a Scottish animal sanctuary providing a loving home for animals who have been victims of abuse, neglect or who have been saved from slaughter. Their aim is to keep animals safe, but also to encourage compassion for animals not normally considered pets. The sanctuary was founded by John and Morag, animal advocates who wanted to truly live their beliefs. They currently house cats, dogs, cows and chickens. You can get to know their growing family & find out how to donate here.

Please dig as deep as you can and have a very Merry Christmas and a fun filled Hogmanay.

You can’t change the way she feels, but you could put your arms around her…

I dreamt about an old friend last night. A friend who is no longer living. It was a lovely dream that I was sad to wake from. As I tried to commit the dream to memory I realised that whilst I thought of her often, I hadn’t spoken out loud about my dear friend in a long time. Too long a time, which is something I need to rectify. I need to talk about her. Tell her story. Share how she changed me. And that is exactly what I am going to do.

Let’s start by saying I met J because we were both ill. I was in my early twenties & struggling to deal with undiagnosed PTSD. I was trying to hold together a life that was increasingly unsatisfying with a self harm habit that was spiralling out control. J was dealing with similarly unhappy circumstances and a self harm problem that becoming, frankly terrifying. We both found some comfort in a community of sick people who didn’t know where else to turn. We were people who couldn’t ask for help or had asked without receiving the sort of assistance the we needed. No one talked about self harm then. Except maybe in the odd film where it was usually portrayed as something a trouble teen might do or a suicide attempt. Even the mental health professionals treated us like shit (sadly, some still so). If our attempts to hide the problem had failed, our families & friends were frightened ( & in some cases cruel). We were dealing with real problems; rape, abusive relationships, miscarriage, escaping from cults, drug dealing parents & a multitude of other big, scary problems. We were of course also living with mental illness. Some of us had a laundry list of labels and others had not a single clue what the fuck was wrong. But there was absolutely something going very wrong for all of us. This is where I met J. Amongst this this group of desperate people I also found a salvation of sorts. These broken people offered each other a kind of support that we couldn’t find anywhere else. We dragged each other through the kind of darkness that most will never understand. And J was kind of our leader.
J was living with pain beyond what would be considered durable. Her mental anguish was compounded by the physical horror she was compelled to inflict upon herself. J was not ok. Every solitary moment of life was a battle hard fought. And, yet, she always had time for us. She had love and support and encouragement for her damaged flock. J lived in a different time zone, but she still called day & night to remind me to keep breathing. She wrote letters and sent care parcels. She compiled lists of all the things that just might offer one us a couple minutes respite from our own fucked up heads. She replied to every ‘ I can’t do this anymore’ with such kind & convincing entreaties to keep trying, that we did. Her words worked because we knew, that she knew. We were all able to help each other because we shared a world that most people didn’t know existed. For me, j was the ultimate inspiration. If she could do this with such grace, I owed it to her and all the others who loved me to at least not give up.

Kelvingrove park

It’s such a cliché, but this goodness expanded beyond our group. She was studying to be a nurse because she wanted to help people. Everyone in her life adored her. J was that person who offered succour, but she wasn’t a martyr or a goody goody. She was fun. Her sense of humour could be wicked. Most of all she was strong. J fought to live. She engaged with mental health services that let her down over and over and over. She was still working and studying at the peak of her illness. She endured the brutality of her self harm and the callousness of those supposed to treat them. She did it all with dignity. Life beat J black and blue. This world committed an almost constant vicious assault on her. She fought back hard. She battled with and blood and heart and care and tears and wonder. She did not win.
J succeeded in taking her own life in a sad and awful way that left no doubt that she meant it. I wish with everything in my being that I could have changed how her story ended. Both the circumstances & the prematurity of her passing, but I don’t blame her. I understand that life was no longer a viable prospect for J. I hate that, but I do not begrudge her some peace. I am still angry at the professionals who failed her and the people who’s actions caused her so much pain. I will never be angry at J. She gave life her very best shot. Her suicide was neither selfish nor weak. It was just the only option she had left. It kills me that someone so beautiful was left with a choice so ugly. I understand it, though. Whilst I know it may be an unpopular opinion I can accept it. I can respect that it was her decision to make.


So, why I am writing this? What am I left with? Actually what remains is so much more positive than I could have ever imagined. Losing J was soul destroying, but life does go on. I go on and so do those other sad people that she cared for. I don’t want to disrespect those wonderful people by not acknowledging that they too saved me. We all helped save each other. In hundreds of big and small ways. After J’s death we continued to care for each other. We laughed and cried and screamed and swore together. We stayed up nights and called ambulances. We sent Xmas cards and made hospital visits.
From that group I maintain friendships with some incredible people. Some of us are entirely recovered, some still walk the tight rope; we are all still alive. We have partners, careers, babies, hobbies & passions. We all do our bit for mental health awareness. Whether that’s through writing, organising, working in the field, donating to MH charities or just supporting loved ones with their difficulties. I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to prevent others falling through the cracks. I will fight for everyone to have more choices than J. I know I am not alone. That is her legacy. She lives on through the people she touched. We endured. We succeeded. We survived.
WE LIVE

1 in 4 adult in UK will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. It is incredibly likely that you or someone you love will have to fight this battle. You can help improve the lives of suffering in a number of ways. Please do what you can to make sure more people survive.

Add mental health education to the national curriculum

Donate to Samaritans

Donate to SAMH

You an also make a massive difference by writing to your elected representatives an telling them mental health is major issue for you. Let them know that how they vote on mental health related issues matters to you. You can find your representatives here.
Find my MP
Find my MSP

 

Go gentle…

This year World Mental Health Day has intersected with Baby Loss Awareness week resulting in lots of media/online talk about both subjects. Obviously, this presses pretty much all of my buttons as my mental health has historically (& currently) been so interconnected with my losses.

I believe society’s discomfort of miscarriage increases the distress experienced by those who live it. Feeling that I could not talk about my loss certainly compounded the trauma of my first miscarriage. There is a massive crossover between mental illness & baby loss, I believe part of that is how we treat people who have to deal with either issue. I also believe that making really simple changes in attitudes would allieviate so much pain. Miscarriage & infant loss will always be horrific, but if we allow people to openly explore & process those losses long term mental illness can be avoided. Or at the very least recognised & treated. 


Miscarriage  & other types of baby loss affect many people. We can all help make their lives easier by following these straight forward suggestions.

1. Acknowledge the loss.

Many people feel so uncomfortable about this kind of loss that they simply don’t acknowledge it. I know that this often comes from a good place, one might fear upsetting a grieving parent or intruding on their privacy.  I get that, but trust me, the silence is worse. If you know that someone has miscarried a simple ‘I am sorry for your loss’ goes a long way. Having people recognise that you have suffered a loss is massive. Too often those of us who have experienced miscarriage are  left feeling that our child only existed for us. Having people in your life affirm that the life you carried was real & had worth is extremely valuable. 

2. Really listen. 

Asking someone how they are, sending love etc is a good gesture, but if you really want help, listen to their response. When I lost my first baby what I really needed was to talk about it. I desperately needed to express how I felt & what I was struggling with, but never felt it was ok to do so. Burying those emotions compounded my trauma & led to a complete breakdown. If someone needs to talk about their experiences, please let them. 

3. Respect the grief.

When you have a miscarriage you grieve. Your grief is not only for the baby you have lost, but also for the life you have been planning. Grief is a very personal thing, everyone does it in their own way & on their own timetable. Wether that involves a memorial service, commemorating an anniversary, a tattoo or even never speaking of it again, please respect that. Don’t judge or rush.  Be supportive of whatever your grieving friend needs . There are no right or wrong ways to heal, even if you feel uncomfortable with someone’s chosen expression of grief. Just be kind & remember it is not your journey.


4. Don’t hide baby news.

I understand the urge to shield loved ones from pain. Certainly be sensitive, but share & celebrate your baby news. I can guarantee that although it may sometimes be painful I never want to dampen anyone’s joy. Losing a baby is hard, but it does not prevent me from being thrilled for other people. Any tears I have to shed will be done in private & are only my concern. I want all good things for everyone that I love. I absolutely adore the beautiful little people my siblings & have friends have been blessed with. I have never met a person who had suffered a loss who felt any differently. 

There you have it. Four straightforward pieces of advice that may lighten the load of someone who is suffering. All you have to do is swallow your discomfort, listen & be respectful. Surely, that’s not too much to ask? 

Listen…

I want to talk to you about something that isn’t often discussed. In a world where almost nothing is taboo miscarriage remains an uncomfortable topic. I know from personal experience that friends and family are often unsure how to approach such a loss. A misplaced belief that a mother’s (&her partner’s) privacy must be maintained or worry that bringing up the subject will cause distress can leave a grieving parent feeling isolated. I’d like to open up the subject, share my experience & hopefully change your thoughts on how best to support a friend who has suffered a miscarriage.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to acknowledge a person’s loss. Miscarriage feels like a death, you have lost a life that you created & have already given your heart to. Let your loved one feel that pain out in the open. Treat this grief as you would any other. Send flowers, a sympathy card, be available to listen. Acknowledge that the child who hasn’t made it into our world is real. To feel that those around you care for not only you, but your unborn child is a crucial part of the healing process.

There is no rule book for recovering from miscarriage. Some people need to throw themselves into work or a busy social schedule. Others may require time alone to process what has happened. There is no right way, listen to what your friend tells you they want & support them. Whether that is getting raucously drunk or cuddling them whilst they cry. There are so many complicated emotions attached to losing a child. I felt a crippling guilt. I know others who have felt rage & some people who accepted the loss as part of their path or an act of god. There is no correct way to feel. As irrational as these responses may seem to you, let your friend feel what they feel. Listen, reassure, but never judge. Each person knows what is appropriate for them, respect that.

Miscarriage is a life changing event. Conceiving again does not wipe out the loss. Your unborn baby can’t be replaced. For me a permanent memorial was necessary. Many people need to commemorate their baby. Be it tattoos, planting a tree or a gathering do not shy away from involvment in these acts of love. Allow you friend to carry their child with them.

Don’t assume that miscarriage is best kept secret. In the immediate aftermath & in the years that have followed, I have wanted to talk about my experiences with miscarriage. Sadly, I haven’t always felt that I was allowed to do so. My loss was treated as something that must remain private. Whilst I am sure this attitude was well meaning, it left me unable to express emotions that I felt suffocated by. If your friend, family member, colleague or even a stranger on a bus wants to talk about their miscarriage, please let them. You cannot imagine how freeing it is to let out the tumult of thoughts in your head. 

Miscarriage is not a rare occurrence. Many women will have to find their route through its consequences. This post is based on my personal experience & the consensus of the many women I have known who have had the misfortune to share that experience. Of course there will be parents who have differing views. I can’t speak for everyone. Ultimately you must trust that each indivdual knows what they need & follow their lead. However, I do hope that some what I have written has given you pause for thought. Moreover it’s my wish that my suggestions will ease this painful journey for others.