I was lost…

It’s 2.35am. I’ve been alerted via social media posts that it’s World Mental Health Day. I feel bound to write something on the topic. However, I’m a little stuck on exactly what that should be.

We’re probably all feeling stuck in one way or another. Nearly 2 years into a pandemic that has changed everything and nothing at the same time. It is surreal to learn that global crisis is status quo for the capitalist monster. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise, but somehow I thought perhaps we might find a way to rise. We haven’t. The incredibly rich continue to suck the (literal) life out of almost everyone else. Those already in the worst positions suffer the most. The rest of us get sick, grieve, sacrifice, struggle and still find ways to pay the rent. It’s A LOT. Even folk with the most robust mental health have floundered. Anyone who was shaky pre Covid probably found the rigours of a plague made them increasingly sinkable.

I’ve found myself in and out of a strange no man’s land. Not ok, but entirely unable to properly articulate the details of that not okness. I’m generally a bit lost. I feel like the world is crumbling around me. We’re witnessing tragedy after tragedy. Death & destruction abound. Our leaders seemingly with no more clue than the rest of us. Politicians still scrambling for money & power as the bodies pile up. Your boss still wants their 35hrs, tabloids still print trash & people are still sleeping on the streets. None of it makes sense.

We’ve already started packaging the accumulated trauma of Covid as ‘burn out’. People write peppy pieces on how to beat burnout with an aim of getting everyone back to bloody work. Back to the commute & the offices even though people are still dying every day. Why? Because despite working from home actually proving to be more productive the higher ups want you back where they can see you. No comfort for the workers. The Tory government continues to grind their boots on our necks too. Cut universal credit amongst Covid & Brexit insanity. Carry on fucking the NHS and refugees and hungry children. Then they film the PM doing puns of their ridiculous slogan and pretend that’s a solution. I’m surprised anyone is still sane.

It’s not over. No definite end in sight. Always another calamity over the next hill & zero provision for help. No extra money for mental health services. Accessing even the most basic support is more difficult than ever. All the people who were already living on a knife edge haven’t gone anywhere. The problem has just multiplied.

*

So, this year I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying forever. Awareness is great, but to treat mental illness we need money and a different ideology. I can’t see any change in NHS mental health funding or direction until there is a huge change in Downing St. Not merely a change of party, but a shift in the will of power. My heart sinks when I think about how long that could take.

* Buy here.

Ordinary pain…

I have shared some of my pain management techniques in the past. Recently I’ve been experimenting with some new methods and I thought I would share how I have been getting on.

First is a product I have mentioned before, but have only recently been able to properly try. Lidocaine Patches are hard to come by in the UK. They’re expensive and so can only be prescribed by the NHS for a very limited number of conditions. They’re mainly used inpatient and for short periods. I had been able to try them for an incredibly short period of time a few years ago. I found them helpful, but wasn’t able to get a longer term supply. The surge in my pain levels this year sent me into research overdrive. Time and again I read articles & personal accounts of how amazing lidocaine patches were for arthritis & fibromyalgia. I discussed it with my GP who agreed that they would be a good option for me, but she wasn’t permitted to prescribe them. After much searching I found a way to source the patches and bought them myself. They are not cheap. I had mine sent from Canada, 10 patches were approx £60. For me, they are proving worth it. The patches offer excellent relief for my joints. They don’t eliminate pain altogether, but they do vastly reduce it. Patches can be applied directly to the skin and remain on for 12hrs. They offer pain relief for that entire period (the last few hours you can feel their effect lessening). I have also found the patches ease my more extreme period cramps. My approach is to use the patches on my very worst or most active days. I wish I could afford to apply them everyday, but with head to toe pain, that’s just not possible right now. I’m not happy that NHS treats chronically ill & disabled patients this way. Tying a Dr’s hands & leaving then to prescribe treatment that they know is ineffective is utter bullshit. I am however crazy happy that I can now access the patches. I know that not everyone has the means to buy things like this themselves (I won’t always). There is much to be done in the fight for disability rights. In the meantime I am doing what I can to get by.

I’m late to the simple concept of squared breathing. In all the therapy, meditation, pain management sessions etc I have done it’s strange that I didn’t learn about before. I’ve tried umpteen breathing exercises. All touted as a wonder cure, none ever succeeded in doing anything but annoy me. Imagine my surprise when the simple act of breathing in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four and repeat actually worked. Squared breathing doesn’t reduce pain, it reduces the panic I feel when my pain starts climbing out of control. Holding off that panic is game changer. All the tension that comes with freaking out increases pain. The whirring fear severely impacts my ability to make clear decisions. In short, the panic makes a horrible situation worse. Carving myself a little bit of time to think with this exercise actually makes a big difference in those unbearable moments.

Diagram explaining squared breathing

Finally, we have CBD. Not a new or unknown thing. This is another one I tried before, but only recently perfected. In the past I tried cbd gummies & oil. I didn’t have much success with either. I found the huge array of products overwhelming. I couldn’t quite work out what strength & how much I needed to find relief from my symptoms. The gummies had no impact. The oil was a little better, but the taste made me gag (& sometimes throw up). The after taste contaminated my mouth the whole day. Every site I looked at seemed to offer different advice. I became confused and favs up. A couple of months ago I tried some disposable CBD vapes. A very knowledgable member of staff in a local shop helped me. In no time at all I had finally worked out the right strength for me. I have now invested in a refillable vape & stocked up on oil. I’m using 10% organic vision cbd oil with a minty fresh flavour, which is very palatable. It’s helping with headaches, muscle pain & stiffness.

Multi coloured vape pen on wooden background

As always, I want to remind everyone that I am not a medical professional. I am only describing what has worked for me. Please consult your Dr before making changes.

A big black hole…

Do you have a voice in your head? Your own personal narrator. Don’t forget your purse, ooh that’s a nice skirt, my head hurts, what should I make for dinner, did I answer that email? I’ll sit down at that next bench…

A running commentary guiding you. Questions, ideas, reminders. Busy, busy always going. An echo of you, so constant that you often aren’t even fully aware of it. Still there when you need it, though. Working through options when you’re not sure which is right. Slowing your tongue before it spits out something stupid. It searches through your memory catalogue and sounds an alarm when you might be missing the danger. It’s useful. A comfortable, familiar accompaniment to life.

Sometimes that voice goes rogue. It’ll bark at the slightest disturbance. You drop a cup & you’re a dickhead. It starts warning off attacks that aren’t coming. Tells you everything you’re doing is wrong. Maybe sometimes you are able to make peace. You both pause, think again and agree that perhaps that assessment was too harsh. Deep breaths or a task accomplished might win the other you over. On other occasions the voice knows its right. All aspects of your life are disastrous and you are entirely to blame. The inner critic skewers you; drives a fresh hole through all your crap.

Black Smokey hold on white background

It takes training to win a battle with yourself. You must master tricky moves to quiet the bitch in your head. There must be people who manage it. I’ve yet to completely get the knack. My internal voice is spiky. She (I) love to find myself at fault. Guilt comes easy and in no proportion to the perceived sin. My head is well versed in all the hurtful language I rail against. Dismissing your own internalised ableism, fat phobia, capitalist propaganda is tougher than talking down some third party arsehole. Anyway, to a certain extent I have accepted that my silent commentary will always do this. I’ve learned to challenge the initial thought. Wrestle it into logical submission. Sometimes I win , sometimes I lose, but I expect the onslaught.

Which brings me to why I’m engaging in this session of blog therapy. Lately, the voice in my head has developed new habits. She has us on perpetual clueless alert. My warning siren is stuck on active. I can’t calm down. However, when I question the need for this hyper vigilance the know it all in my head has zero answers. In fact, I can’t find answers for much at the moment. When I request help my internal dialogue tells me it doesn’t know.

What am I scared of? I don’t know.

What do I need today? I don’t know.

What should I eat? I don’t know.

Who will I pitch this to? I don’t know.

Should I take more painkillers? I don’t know.

Is this good enough? I don’t know.

What do I want? I don’t know.

Did I say the right thing? I don’t know.

Am I ok? I don’t know.

I’ve been anxious & uncertain before. Decision making has always given me trouble. I’ve just never had such a blank in my head. There’s always been a conversation. Typically I’d scroll through all the things in my life that could be a concern. I see it through to the worst possible outcome & decide how I could manage that. Once I’ve tackled that I can be less consumed by the worry. It’s not a perfect solution, but I have some success with it.

At the moment, there is no discussion to be had. This is free floating anxiety ALL THE TIME. I wake up jittery. I lie in bed nervously trying sleep and I am on edge every minute in between. Identifying real worries has no impact. At the end of that process the voice in my head is still shouting panic! I’m not a stranger to unresolved aniexty. I have PTSD, it comes with this territory. I’ve dealt with episodes of hyper vigilance. I do react to triggering stimuli. I’ve been in the depths of unknowable depression. This just feels very different.

The barbed inner voice can usually be relied upon to give me something to work with. Even if my instincts are brutal, I have a jumping off point. Now everything is so vague. I’m stumbling around in a room full of nothing. This isn’t a period of great change. I am not attempting to make life changing decisions. I have no idea what is going on & neither does my brain.

Black & white image of ly looking out over a beach. Taken from behind.

Be running up that hill…

Chronic illness is great at kicking you when you’re down. Lamentably, it also likes to give you a dunt when you’re flying too. It would be taxing to say which is worst, but falling from a height certainly hurts.

That was me last week. I was on a lovely break in the cutest cottage by sea. Soaking up the calming sea side views and thoroughly enjoying time with my nephew. The sun was out, we headed to an incredibly beautiful beach. I watched the boy run around having the time of his life. I paddled in the refreshingly cold sea. Took deep breaths, listened to the lapping waves & felt happy.

Tide coming in on st Cyrus beach

As it edged towards late afternoon people started to leave. I began to worry about the hill I’d have to climb to leave the beach. As we packed up I saw people stroll up. I knew it was going to be a problem.

And I was correct. That little sand dune fucked me up. I started trying to ascend it alone, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen. It’s hard to get your footing on slopping sand. Even harder to get purchase in moving ground with a walking stick. With every step the sand slid down the hill pushing me back. It was all working against me.

Foot with black painted tie nails on the sand with wave approaching

My sister saved the day. She let me lean on her, literally & half dragged me up that hill. Every step was excruciating. My knees felt like the where going to explode. My back, wrists, elbows & shoulders were all screaming. I couldn’t catch a breath, my lungs felt as though they were filling with the sand I was slipping on.

That little sand dune appeared to go on forever. The bench at top a promised land I’d never reach. Listen, the pain was bad, it wasn’t the culprit of tears at the summit. As my sister helped me struggle I saw my 3yr old nephew gamble up the slope. An old couple comfortably passed us. A nice man with a very concerned look stopped to ask if he could help. I focused on breathing whilst my little sister pepped talked me up that hill. I repeated ‘you’re nearly there’ in my head and tried my upmost to hold back the tears.

When I finally had my bum on that bench my nephew ran to give me a cuddle. The tears started streaming. I looked at the beautiful view as I silently cried. I didn’t want to make eye contact with my loved ones. I didn’t want my little rascal to see me in this state. I recognised the concern in my sister’s voice & the love in the silent shoulder my Mum offered to hold me upright. As much as I loved them for it, I hated that I have to be this way.

View from hill over a beach.grass & wildflowers with sand past leading down to the blue sea

It was another one of those ‘how did I get here’ moments that chronic illness brings. I never imagined it’d take a support team to get me up a hill at 40 years old. I’m not a person who likes to be publicly vulnerable, yet here I am. Regularly fragile & exposed as I try to scratch out something close to a normal life. I felt guilty and embarrassed and pathetic and grateful and burdensome and scared and loved. All crashing over me with more force than the waves below could ever muster.

I concentrated on the nature around me as fought to compose myself. I attempted to ignore the curious looks from strangers & the pain coursing through my body. I listened to the the waves and birds. I let the blue horizon pull me through all the heavy implications placed on the people I love. I dried my eyes. I got back on my feet.

The day continued. Me, making my way slowly behind the others. Stopping to rest. Taking pain relief. Zoning out when we got back in the car. It was all so much bigger than that stupid hill. I was hoping I hadn’t distressed the others. Dreading the pain that I knew was still to come. Feeling sad at the thought that I probably wouldn’t ever return to that blissful beach.

It is painful to accept one’s limitations. I find it incredibly hard to let more & more go. I hate that I’m always the one who has a problem with the plans. I despise that my difficulties are so visible. Gasping for air at checkouts that take a fraction too long. Sitting on floors when there’s no seats available. Calling in advance to check if my malfunctioning body can be accommodated. I don’t like being on display, don’t want to answer questions about my stick, shake off the exasperated sighs or smile at pitying strangers. No matter how kindly meant, I’d rather be suffering in private. I’m exhausted by the knowledge that I’ll pay for every slice of fun. Even more so by the battle with myself to keep reaching for those good times anyway. Most of all I’ll forever regret how much this impacts all the wonderful people in my life. I wish I could stop being a hindrance. I never want them to have to worry. I appreciate every tiny thing they do for me, but I still wish they didn’t have to.

This is chronic life. It’s not just the pain & illness. It is all encompassing. Lots of the time the only way to deal with that is to push it to the very back of your mind. These moments of brutal clarity never stop taking me by surprise.

Is it really ok?

‘It’s ok not to be ok’. I can’t remember when it started, but it certainly picked up steam. It’s now the standard social media friendly, I support mental health awareness tag line. I know it is well intentioned, but increasingly, it doesn’t ring true.

Of course, in theory, it is true. It is normal to experience mental health issues. It’s fine to admit that you struggle. It is important to normalise mental illness. If you say it out loud, I am not ok, what happens next? If you’re lucky someone listens; someone cares. Maybe they ask what you need. Perhaps you get that help. The first time. Maybe.

It’s ok not to be ok in orange text with green quotation marks

What happens when the person you tell has no idea how to respond. What if you spill your guts to a doctor who doesn’t take you seriously. Or who does want to help you, but only has waiting lists to offer. Around 70% of those referred for mental health assessment in Scotland wait at least 18 weeks*. That’s a very long time to feel helpless, especially when there is no guarantee of treatment. What do you when the not ok doesn’t go away? Or if it keeps coming back? You try really fucking hard to be ok. You do the therapy and the meds and the hard work. It takes a long time. It’s gruelling and painful. All the time you know lots of people aren’t getting any treatment. You feel guilty that your receiving assistance that others aren’t. Even more so when the help hasn’t helped. You’re aware that the people who love you are scared. Your hurt hurts them. They want ‘ok’ as much as you do.

And you want it for them. When it slips from your grasp it’s harder to say it again. People have their own lives. Sometimes they might be struggling. Or they may be fabulous; enjoying some well deserved happiness. Everyone has stresses and responsibilities. Our lives keep us busy with the good and bad. Everyone must earn a living, manage their relationships, have fun. Who wants to be the person who complicates that? Not me.

When you’ve already done everything you’re supposed to do it’s hard to know how to banish the cloud. If the expert advice doesn’t do the trick how can well meaning friends help? Even when you really want to reach out there’s always an impediment. You don’t want to add extra strain when they’re in trouble. Nor do you don’t want to darken joyous life events. Sharing begins to feel less a problem halved & more a problem spread.

Very few mental health problems are a simple fix. None of the big issues in life are that black & white. When you fall back into the grey it’s terrifying. Especially when you know you’ve already had your shot. Ask anyone who has tried to access mental health services after discharge. It’s almost impossible. Drs will say you aren’t sick enough for referral. The NHS lacks the resources for early intervention. Access to talk therapy is limited. Almost 40% of those who received treatment reported that they did not have sufficient sessions**. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is by far the most frequently offered intervention. Not because it is the most suitable, but because it is the cheapest & easiest to administer. Recovery is hard enough with appropriate support. When treatment is bungled it can do more harm than good. As already stated, re referral is doubly hard.

While you wait or fight for professional help (that may never come) your life is disintegrating. Friends who were initially supportive fade away when you never quite get all the way better. Employers sprint. They’ll talk a good game; train a mental health first aider or make a donation. Test their commitment with sick time or requesting accommodations & watch them run. You are left with the people who care enough to stay. Your predicament remains. You don’t want to worry them. You don’t want to ruin anything or be the thing that tips their bad news scale. It’s never the right time. We all want to believe that catch phrases are enough, but buzzwords will never cut it. What happens after I say I’m not ok?

The truth is, more often than not, nothing. The pandemic has only increased strain on an already buckling system. I don’t have all the answers. I do know that a cute Instagram post during an awareness month isn’t it. We need huge institutional shifts. More money, more training, more oversight. Our political representatives need to know that we want action. 1 in 4 adults will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Telling them that’s ok isn’t enough. We have to be advocates.

If someone in your life is suffering without help you can contact your Mp & express your concern.

Find out how long waiting lists are in your area & ask you Mp what they’re doing about that.

Stop voting for people who are actively defunding our health service.

Be proactive. Ask loved ones what specific help you can provide.

Use your social media to contact politicians directly. Ask questions publicly. Embarrass those whose voting records go against their constituents interests.

Accompany a friend to appointments if they require support. Insist that interactions are recorded in medical records.

We have to demand more of ourselves and of those with the power to make changes. Truthfully, it doesn’t feel ok, not to be ok.

Open shouting mouth with the text your voice has power

* Information Services Scotland ** SAMH

Independent love song…

I love supporting small business & independent makers. When I went on a little treat splurge last week I hit up some vendors I’ve been admiring on Instagram & I thought I’d share my treasures.

I’ve tried various symptom trackers and all have fallen short. Be they apps or physical products they never seem to grasp what I need. So, discovering a collection of trackers/planners designed by a person who is chronically ill themselves was a relief. These products give me the space to personalise & encompass all my varied symptoms. They also understand the kind of things I want to keep track of. Impractically Imperfect know all of that. Plus they get that I need it to be easy.

Weekly planner & symptom tracker with floral border
Impractically Imperfect

My little purple laptop has been needing a makeover for a while. I started with a couple of stickers I received as gifts with orders, but got waylayed. When I realised that one of my favourite pin makers was also doing stickers I got right on it.

Purple laptop with bright coloured stickers
Stickers – Hand Over Your Fairy Cakes
Tories lie sticker – grlclb
Friends Stickers – Gift

My last treat is one of those practical things that is also beautiful. I am sick of digging around on my bag for my mask when I need to put it in. This colourful chain will put an end to that problem. Even better I can also stick it on my sunglasses to stop me losing them too. Does this mean I am an old lady? Probably, at least I’m ageing with style.

Rainbow  mask chain on purple background
Mask Chain – Loop and Boogie

There’s gold in them hills…

I’m having a rough time. Everything is a bit of a struggle at the moment, so I’m going to do a wanky, hippie dippy post. Feel free to clock out because I’m about to deep dive into gratitude.

All the Basics

I have a safe, stable home. Food in the cupboards. Running water, central heating. Access to healthcare. A comfortable bed & wardrobe full of clothes. My basic necessities are taken care of and that’s more than a lot of people can say.

FaceTime

And WhatsApp, messenger, zoom & all the other clever doo dahs that allow me to keep in touch with folk. A friendly face or some carry on helps brighten my day.

Pillow Slides

Bought on a whim. Incredibly ugly, but oh so kind to my joints.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is a genius plant. First & foremost it’s hard to kill. If you don’t have plant mum skills aloe is for you. It looks good, it adds oxygen to your room & it’s even easy to grow more from cuttings etc. Added bonus, our bodies love aloe. Need a moisturise, got sunburn, heat rash, a blister? Cut open a leaf and whap it straight on. Upset tummy, mouth ulcers, bad breath, ibs? Add a teaspoon to a glass of water. Wonder plant*

Temporary Solutions

I have a lot of issues with no permanent cure. Hence I have grown to appreciate a temporary solution. Diazepam is certainly not for long term use, but it bloody works for a day or two when your brain thinks the world is attacking you. Jane Austen will not fix my life, but she will soothe things for an hour or two. Whilst mint tea can’t cure my stomach disease, it can soothe the spasms attempting to eat lunch caused. They will return, but the minty goodness will buy me enough time to get home. Temporary solutions are various & abundant. Hugs, hot baths, sex, lidocaine patches, a big glass of wine… Moments of respite are better than none at all.

The Sea

Everything about the sea is soothing. The never ending expanse of it, the smell, the sound of the waves lapping. I always feel calmer by the shore. I can breathe deeper and see more clearly. Pretty lucky that I live on an island. The dazzling deep blue is never too far away.

Bronan

My lovely big loyal boy. Always gentle. My own living hot water bottle. An adorable wee tyrant who has me wrapped around his paw. Who doesn’t want to be awoken by a meowing creature in their face at the crack of dawn every morning?

Vincent D’Onforio

I like how brooding he is and that head moving to maintain eye contact thing he does on Law & Order. He seems like he’d be clumsily kind if you were feeling bad. He’s always despicable when he plays a baddy, which I like, no half measures. I get completely absorbed in the character when I watch him. I always believe it. Also, good name.

Summer Rain Showers

I like the ones that come on heavy, but run out of juice quickly. Summer rain smells good, it freshens everything up and gives me a good excuse not to hang the washing out.

Diet Coke

It is really bad for me, but it tastes soooo good. Big icy cold gulps. I don’t know how to quit you, Diet Coke.

Specs Appeal

Statement specs bring me joy. If I have to wear glasses every day they are going to be splendiferous. Big, colourful, can’t be missed face furniture is the only kind I will consider.

Ian Hislop

It’s very sexy when a person is that good at anything. He exudes the confidence of knowing he’s top of his game. He can slag off the bad guys with impunity because he leads a pretty decent life. He is cute and funny and incredibly smart. I’ve always been fairly sure that he has a huge, beautiful dick too.

Love

This might be where my sincerity gets too much for you. I care not. Life really wouldn’t be worth much without love. Giving or receiving, it’s wonderful. All those little thoughtful things a person does because they love you. Tiny gifts, texts, snapping a pic of something you’ll like. It all feels good. The warmth of knowing I’ve made someone smile or that they wanted to make me smile. Being able to comfort with your words or a cuddle. Sharing milestones & cups of tea. Love is the point, right? How can we not feel grateful if we have it.

Period Pants

A new thing for me and I like them. Wearing a pair to bed is so much better than using a tampon & worrying you might sleep too long. Likewise, so much better for those last days when you’re not quite sure if your period is actually finished or not. I can’t stand the feel of sanitary towels. Nor do I relish the sensation (or risk) of pulling dry cotton from my body. Period pants are a comfy godsend.

Choice

I’m so happy to live in a time (& place) of choice. So many aspects of my life offers abundant options. I can access almost any song in the world from my phone. Look up current affairs, trivia, what time the chemist closes by pressing a few buttons. I have films, shows, games, podcasts, strangers & friends at my finger tips. Whatever food I fancy can be delivered to my door. In theory I can pursue any career I’d like. I can vote how I choose. Do as I please with my body. Get married or not. Sleep with who I want. Wear what I like & go wherever I want (pandemic aside). Choice is not to be sniffed at.

Gardeners

Hallelujah for folk who will sort the garden in exchange for money. I am physically & constitutionally unsuited to maintaining outside spaces. I do however enjoy utilising them. I also like not stressing about ever encroaching weeds. I will never underestimate the peace securing a good gardener brings.

Little People

I have seven perfect niblings. My oldest niece is the smartest, coolest, kindest 11yr old you will ever meet. She will always be my little muffin, but she has grown into a person who makes me so proud. Then there are my brother’s boys who are his complete mini mes. His oldest is so patient & protective with his little brother. It is gorgeous to watch. My sister’s boy is half rascal pirate, half total love bug. He is a joy to be with. My bestie’s big girl is so cute & sassy. She may only be three, but that girl knows what she wants. Then there are her brand new little brother & sister. Newborn twins are a hand full but man alive are they adorable. I am so lucky to be part of their lives. Helping them become the people they want to be is an honour.

Disabled Ammenities

Parking spaces, toilets, seats right by the door on trains. I love them all. Anything that takes into account that every step hurts is a life saver. Extra space, bars to hold onto, not having to wait, all make my life immeasurably easier. Disability can rob you of dignity in so many ways. Things that allow me to navigate public spaces without being humbled are magnificent.

Sister Tik Toks

I love it when my sister and I send each other tik toks. I feel very seen when she sends me clips that make me laugh out loud or that relate to some shared experience. Having a sister is a lovely thing. Having a sister who gets you is even better.

Life has turned out to be harder than I had imagined. Amongst the struggle it helps me to acknowledge all the little & enormous things that make it worthwhile. I know it’s cheesy, but give it a whirl.

*Not a cure or medicine. Speak to your dr about any health concerns.

Watching through my fingers…

I’ve been fairly quiet on the blog front. Clearly we’re all under some pressure, but I’ve also been dealing with some bonus pain. I’ve had episodes of awful symptoms which signal that my pancreas may be acting up again. It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with pancreatitis and I am scared of a comeback.

The pain triggered some really desperate memories. It also gave me lots of time to ruminate on how PTSD never stops giving me unpleasant surprises. The nature, frequency & severity of my reaction to trauma stimuli is forever changing. In my (also unending) quest to de stigmatise mental illness I thought some recent triggers might be worth sharing.

Waking up in the middle of the night to pee is not a thing that I do except during pregnancy. I’m a hold ‘til morning girl. The frustrating sensation of leaving a comfy bed & stumbling to the toilet in the dark is one I associate with pregnancy. Sitting on the toilet half awake looking at my painted toes I had the trauma version of de javu. My body remembers this. The exact emotion. The precise thoughts. I’m ok, but I know I won’t be getting anymore sleep. I’ll be distracting my head from going back there. Lying still in the dark would be asking to feel things I don’t want to feel.

Sometimes to occupy my mind through those sleepless hours I watch crap tv. Ideally something I don’t have to concentrate on. Mildly entertaining 90’s sitcoms work a treat. That is until the wife in King of Queens is unexpectedly pregnant & then just as they’re getting happy about it, not pregnant anymore. Numb viewing to uncontrollable sobbing in 20mins or less.

A fun park adventure with the rascal is momentarily derailed when someone calls me his Mummy. I smile, correct them & return to my role of bad octopus pirate. I feel the impact, but I look steady. Until much later when the memory of all the babies who’ll never call me Mummy knocks me flat.

I wake up bloody because my period has started in the night. I’m not inconvenienced I’m terrified. Those cramps ripping through my pelvic region signal disaster. It takes a bit of time to centre myself in the now. Repeat, ‘I’m ok’ over and over as I drag myself through a shower. Tampon, comfy clothes, paracetamol. I’m almost calm by the time I return to tackle the bedding. I’m genuinely shocked when the sight of blood on sheets sets me trembling. I was devoting all my attention to not getting sucked into one trauma hole that I forgot about another. I have to sit on the floor but I’m still watching an old iteration of myself. Younger, sicker me is ripping bloody sheets from an entirely different bed. More than the sheets are stained. My body is raw & dripping. I feel as exhausted now, in my healed, safe body as I did then in that recklessly butchered one.

My stupid period tracker with its stupid unwanted alerts. High chance of pregnancy. Such a simple sentence triggers such complex crazy. The stress and hope of trying. The heartbreak of failing. The unwanted reminder of how few of these high chance days may be left. Fleeting recollections of disappointing perfunctory sex and an even more disappointing man. Wearily buying tests. Angrily buying tampons. Wanting the monthly reminder to be over and fearing that end. Wrap it all up in a hollow ache in my middle that never leaves, but echoes as I read those words and you have my condition.

My ridiculous cat managed to injure his paw and now I must try to keep dressings on until it is healed. If you know anything about cats, you’ll know what a challenge this is. I have experimented with various ideas none of which preserved his dressings for long. I started thinking he needs a sock & then remembered I had some baby socks. They must have belonged to one of my nieces or nephews. Baby bits and pieces will end up in your hand bag/pocket after a day of auntying. I seized upon the long lost sock as the solution. I didn’t feel sad or even link the tiny item to anything painful until I started trying to put it on my cat. Then from nowhere I was flooded with too many feelings. I love my boy, he’s wonderful. Still, I couldn’t avoid the fact that he’s the sole recipient of my mothering.

A character in the book I’m reading is trying, with difficulty, to explain why she feels guilty for various past events. I feel as though I have taken a deep breath & inhaled fictional strife. My own twisted guilt is equally hard to comprehend. For me, self reproach is as essential as oxygen. The chord of perplexing guilt could catapult me into a multitude of memories. This time I land flailing in the aftermath of standing up for myself. I can feel the certainty that so recently fizzed go flat. That overwhelming sense of this must somehow be my fault returns. I feel angry about all the shit I put up with, but I still can’t fully convince myself I’m not to blame. Now I’m full of guilt for events long passed. Today is ruined as I attempt to untangle things that never made sense to begin with.

Triggers lurk. Sometimes entirely unexpected things stir up pain. It can be fleeting or set off a chain reaction. I have adapted to a life with booby traps. I often appear untouched, but only because I work so incredibly hard at hiding the mess.