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

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

Nothing gold can stay…

Poetry was my first writing love. As I’ve grown old & weary my poetic juices have dried up a little. The mood does still occasionally strike. Sometimes only poetry offers the chance to sweep my feelings out.

It’s not necessarily impressive, but it is completely effective. Reading it writing; words are a beautiful thing.

The September Issue…

Autumn has always been my favourite season. The drawing in of the nights & cooling of the air used to be welcome. These days this time of year is more complicated.

All of my babies were due in August or September. As the weather changes I am beset with anniversaries and reminders. People who were pregnant with me throw birthday parties. I quietly mark dates I had hoped to celebrate.

This year my orbit is congested with pregnancy announcements creating a perfect storm of emotion. All are depressingly familiar. I’m sad and lost. I don’t know how to find a purpose big enough to fill up my life. Each time I begin to believe I’m approaching acceptance I’m overtaken with this stale grief.

It’s so heavy and I’m so tired of dragging it around. I want to be able to move past this, but there are too many ghosts. A million tiny pricks. Triggers lurk everywhere; always something to yearn for. Even in my happiest moments I’m aware of what’s missing.

I can’t comprehend ever making this ok. Yet, I don’t wan’t to be this tragic old bitch. I’d like to stick all my consolation prizes together & collage myself a happy enough ending. I’m scared I’m not sufficiently good/strong/grateful to make do & mend.

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.

I miss you like sleep…

Too much time in my head is distinctly bad for me. Not getting stuck amongst all the crap i’ve crammed up there is an ongoing project. It is not an endeavour that is aided by inaction.

Staying home alone all day, everyday is not ideal. I require distraction. I need people who make me feel swell and to do things that help me feel worthy. I like knowing that I could jump in a taxi and go anywhere. Having a sense of control is massively important.

Being entirely reliant on others for almost everything makes my insides jitter. I feel more of a burden than ever. Which activates my guilt & anxiety. I’m obviously also worried about myself or someone I love getting ill. Plus the horror of all the people who are suffering & dying every day. I’m basically a big ball of negative emotions.

I’m struggling with pain. I miss my little ones. I miss all my people. I can hardly sleep. There’s very little work. There’s too much time to think. All this on my own time thinking about what I miss inevitably highlights the major omission.

When left to its own devices my is brain predictable. It clings to trauma. If not occupied with the business of living, I regress. Slip back into dreams of the births I’ll never labour through. Flashbacks of the blood & pain I did. Haunted by the over used phrase that always signaled it was over.

There are so many what ifs. Too many of my own actions to question. Huge & tiny alterations that could have changed the outcome. Things I never said. Words others can never unsay. Blame to place. Regret to carry. Penance to complete.

I feel trapped with all I’ve lost and every little thing I can’t share. The good memories are as painful as the bad. The selfies I took when my belly began to change shape. That magical second line on the test. Marking midwife appointments on my calendar. Blood tests with the right numbers. Making lists. Checking what ridiculous object the app tells me my baby is now the size of. Plans & scans & the bam bam of heartbeats.

Rainbow reflection on pale either arm

My body remembers it all in such intricate detail. I recall the fractionally altered taste of mint tea. Sex felt different and the smell of everything intensified. I was heavy with fear. Dulled by fatigue. Yet still floating on hope and entirely delighted to experience whatever this new life threw at me.

It never goes away. I can never take my foot off the pedal. I’m always close to skidding off the road. Lockdown is like a battle not to drift to sleep at the wheel. Spending too long contemplating my past or the what might have been is dangerous. Finding ways to keep my eyes open is getting harder.

Two lines to indicate positive result on pregnancy test

It’s just the way I’m feeling…

There’s nothing like a nation wide quarantine to really hammer home the fact that you’re childless. All anyone can talks about is their kids. How the silver lining of all this chaos is extra time with their cherubs. How being stuck in the house with them is driving folk crazy or all the creative ideas for activities to keep them occupied. It’s a non stop child frenzy. Unless you’re barren.

I hate that word. It feels accusatory & cold. It is, however the descriptor that keeps pushing itself into my head. Being alone in my house for over a month has contracted my world. There’s nowhere to hide. I’m content in my own company, but I’m accustomed to regular interruptions. Being unable to see friends, family or get involved in any outside work projects is tough. Those are my escapes. Adventures with little people. Laughs with big ones. Putting my skills towards something worthwhile. When you take all that away the only bit that’s left is empty.

Lilac & pink sunset over houses

There’s too much opportunity to be in my head. I’m not sleeping well, which facilitates bonus peak anxiety hours. Plus all this stress & uncertainty has opened the door to nightmares. Mostly relating to being pregnant & threatened by various dangers. With little snippets of real flashbacks thrown in for extra distress. When I’m not feeling powerless, I have a sense of being robbed. This strange, crazy time has necessitated hunkering down in family units. I don’t have one.

I have plenty of amazing people. I’m grateful, believe me. Lockdown has reinforced my belief that a husband is so not for me. With a little help from folks who are allowed outside I can manage my life just fine. If anything, it’s people to care for I want. I can’t stop myself from thinking how old my children would be now. I unintentionally look out for age appropriate lockdown activities. I imagine baking my Gran’s fruit loaf with tiny helpers. I caught myself constructing a home school lesson plan in my head. Fantasising about passing on one’s insights of the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon is a lonely pursuit.

I have this sensation that I spend my life trying to squash. Hollow and raw. It’s as though someone scraped out all the essential parts of me with a dirty, jagged instrument. I occupy my time trying to keep the chasm sufficiently full. Packing in as many beautiful moments as I can find to prevent an inward collapse. Now my world is on hold, that void is ever present.

I know I am fortunate in many ways. I am able to stay safely at home. My housing is secure. I can video call the people I love. I will have access to healthcare if I need it. Life will resume. I do know that. I’m just struggling with the realisation that I’ll never fully heal this. Every time I think I have accepted my situation the wound is reopened & it feels fresh all over again.

Silouhette of toddler on sunny day

All that fear and all that pressure…

I’m thinking we probably have some newcomers to the world of overwhelming anxiety. Panic is a no win kind of game, but there a few cheat codes. Since I’m an old pro and a real darling, I’m going to clue you in.

Full disclosure, none of these are a cure. Anxiety is a fucker and you should definitely seek professional advice if you are worried about your mental health. However, none of these calming hacks will do you any harm & so you can totally give them a bash. They might buy you a little temporary peace or even just knock the steam off your panic attack.

Gratitude Lists

I know that sounds wanky, but bear with me. Sometimes when I’m dealing with that grinding, slow burn type of anxiety this can be helpful. I go through things I’m grateful for in my head. It can be anything. Often I’ll do the simple I have a warm house, comfy bed, not being pursued by the mob type of thanks giving. Other times I’ll get specific about factors that mitigate whatever I’m worrying about. Either way it switches my head away from catastrophising for a minute & lets me catch a breath.

Slow Sips

If you’re wholesale panicking, slowly taking small sips from a bottle can help. It forces you to regulate your breathing, which can ease the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Thus giving you an opportunity to stave off a really bad episode.

Waves of Sound

Get yourself a sound machine app. Lying awake all night feeling scared is awful. Waves, thunder storms, pouring rain are all rather soothing. This can also be helpful via earphones if you’re feeling freaked out in a public space.

Waves on Scottish beach

Play it Out

On a similar note I like to prepare playlists of songs that I know will be good for certain situations. For instance I have calming bedtime tunes, waiting somewhere stressful songs, help me do these things that need to be done lists and so on.

Child’s Pose

I know yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it does work for me. Child’s pose in particular is very helpful for chilling my body out and making my brain stop for a minute. You can access loads of good yoga vids on YouTube. It’s worth a try to see if anything helps you feel more ok.

Repeat Yourself

This probably sounds a little dumb, but it can be surprisingly effective. In moments of panic/fear simply repeating a reassuring phrase can help. I usually go for ‘you’re ok’. The repetition and saying the words out loud has an impact.

Text ‘you’re ok’ repeated on pink & green swirly background

Hide

This probably sounds even more daft. Again, it can work. Taking yourself to a small, safe space can reduce your body’s desire to flip out. I’ve taken myself into my tiny home office & given myself a minute many a time. Being somewhere that I know no one can see me or even know I am there is great for combatting rising panic.

Dark & Loud

When the world is really too much, blocking it out us the way to go. Find yourself a dark room, get comfortable and turn some beloved music up really loud. Assaulting the senses like this aids a positive disconnect from whatever is distressing you.

Write

This one obviously works for me. Getting the terror out of your head and onto the paper/screen is a lifesaver. Something about making those words concrete rather ever growing worries is hugely cathartic. Give it a try.