I Think I’m Breaking Down Again

I’ve been in total denial.

The flashbacks are more frequent. More severe.

I’m anxious.

I’m panicked.

Nobody really knows what it’s like to be in my head.

So I called my Magic Brain Lady and she’s on leave again. I think this will have to be the last time I call on her. So I called my other psychologist. The one I saw the last time my Magic Brain Lady was on leave. I hesitated because last time I wasn’t ready to go where she was taking me. Though, she did encourage me to write my story as a story and that helped substantially.

Even though I decided not to see her again and to continue with the Magic Brain Lady, I’m now however weighing up not having to tell my story again. Retraumatising myself in painstaking detail while a person paid to be empathetic nods and jots dot points down on their notepad about how the client has control and trust issues and is angry and dissociating tendencies even after two years of psychological help, while they’re really thinking about what’s for dinner and whether it’s be sunny on the weekend.

I can’t even pinpoint when it started again. Or what the particular trigger was. I was feeling it a couple of months ago (I wrote about it) but now it’s bad.

I had an actual full blown flashback today where I forgot that I wasn’t back there. Where I was confused and disorientated for a moment and it scared the hell out of me.

I am not in any danger. I am safe. I am not suicidal. I am just scared.

You may have noticed that I’m getting back into my training. I’m trying to obsess over it so I don’t obsess over my brain. The Stop! technique is no longer working.

All alone
on the edge of sleep
my old familiar friend
comes and lies down next to me

Florence + The Machine

Advertisements

The Beast and his Shadow

The sudden death of a celebrity always gets people talking. Particularly when that death is linked to suicide.

Robin Williams the actor, was loved by millions, myself included. He managed to brighten up my world with his incredible talent and brand of humour. From the early days of Mork and Mindy right up until the very recent and funny The Crazy Ones and all of his critically acclaimed work in between. His charity work helped thousands of people who may not have even known he was working for them. He’s also touched me personally, by giving me the courage to finally publish this blog post that I wrote early last year.

I was in the throes of severe anxiety and depression secondary to my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My psychologist recommended I write my story from the perspective of a narrative to try and see my story from the outside in. This was to enable me to read it as though it wasn’t my story and try to think of ways to help the person who’s story it was. It helped me immensely writing this, but I didn’t feel strong enough to share it until today.

Everyone is sharing their stories. They are talking about mental illness. Personal accounts, smashing stigmas that have survived years and years. Survivors coming out of the shadows to admit to a secret that we may not have been able to admit to previously, for fear of feeling outcasted by our families and friends.

Thank you for stopping by to read my story.

__________________

The Beast. By Clair

One day out of the blue, a Beast knocked on my door. He was very persuasive and scary; I tried my best to keep him out, but eventually I had no choice to let him in.

At first he was easy to ignore. He would lurk quietly in the dark, hiding behind the furniture and under the bed, waiting for me to forget that he was there, growing stronger and stronger day by day.

He would come everywhere with me, to work, to the shops, even on holidays. Sometimes he was quiet and other times he was very loud. He would hitch a ride wherever he would fit. Some days he was happy to just ride in the car, but other days, to be on my shoulders, pushing all of his weight down onto me.

However, he was not happy to lurk forever. He wanted me to be focussed on him all of the time. So at first, I tried to keep him happy. I let him do whatever he pleased, as I was scared to try to stop him. I figured that if I kept him happy, I could get on with my life too. He was very strong and powerful. He was also very greedy and wanted more.

Sleeping was my only break from him. Then one time, he decided to visit me at night, while I was asleep. I no longer had any break from him.

He would place his hands upon me, so I could feel him.

He would make noise so I could hear him.

He would wave his arms about so I could see him.

He eventually stood in front of me all day, so all I could do was see him and nothing else. He stood between me and the people I cared about. Even closing my eyes didn’t work anymore.

I tried to carry on, but little things would remind me and he would appear.

After a while, the Beast introduced me to his Shadow. His Shadow was a terrible creature; it switched lights off. It closed the blinds. It blocked out the sun. The Beast and his Shadow were a perfect team, they worked together so well.

The Beast and his Shadow would talk to me, taunting me. They made me believe that I needed them both to get through the day. The Beast was telling me to ignore everyone else. I had him.

I was losing my ability to feel love. I forgot what it was like to feel happiness. I had to stop work. I couldn’t function. I struggled with the simplest of life’s chores. The Beast was smothering me with his weight and I was powerless to resist.

Being in the Shadow’s darkness all of the time, was frustrating and scary. I felt trapped. It made me so sad. The Shadow made me feel all alone in the world. The Shadow kept everything dark for so long, I had forgotten what it was like to see the light of day.

This went on for months. I had days where The Beast and his Shadow would let me see a little of the outside world. They would tease me. I would see something I liked and would remember see a hint of sunshine, but then they would take it all away again, plunging me back into the darkness that was gradually consuming everything.

Then one day came, where I reached breaking point. The Beast and his Shadow were standing before me, and I could not see anything except them. I felt angry, I’d had enough. My world was shattered and I was broken. So I screamed at them. I wasn’t going to be living under their power anymore. The Beast and his Shadow thought they had won, but I saw my chance to escape.

For this, they punished me. They closed in on me. They made me stay in bed and not talk to anyone.

I was alone in the dark all over again.

A little while later, I saw another chance to escape. This time I was stronger. I had help.

The Beast is still here with his Shadow, however he’s back to lurking in the dark, he knows that I am stronger than he is. Though he’s very persistent and he sometimes manages to get back in.

Sometimes I’m scared he’ll come back, for good, but I know that I’m now growing stronger every day he’s not hanging around like he was. I keep him away by talking. Even though I’m scared of him, I use all the courage I can muster to find a way to keep him at bay.

________________

On my welcome page, I have a list of services available to Australian residents. Please reach out and ask for help. It does take courage and it is scary. However I am here today because I did.

IMG_4029.JPG
Source

The Three Year Labour

We hear stories of childbirth all of the time. Whether it be at a family function, at the shops, at work or on the internet. Women and men alike, parents, grandparents, those without children, those who have nieces and nephews, those who work with children, those who like children and those who don’t. Opinions and thoughts shared with reckless abandon. The judgment of the ignorant and the arrogance of the informed. Sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Always delivered with the air of correct indignation. Arm chair obstetricians who studied at the University of Anecdote.

The big thing for me which still pops up, is the subject of how the child is born. For those of you who know my story, you may well remember that I actually don’t consider myself having birthed my daughter. That yes she was born, but I did not birth her. That she arrived. That she was removed.

The language I use is very carefully orchestrated by the trauma I suffered as a result of her birth. My brain creating a pathway around the proverbial roadblock that I created to avoid the ghastly reminder of circumstance.

I hear stories of women who laboured for “hours”. Where they worked and worked through every contraction to eventually reach the goal of motherhood. The baby all squirmy and screamy, appearing from her nether regions in a big push toward the light. Where she then basks in the glow of oxytocin and vernix with cameras flashing from the proud father or significant other who is also overjoyed with the arrival of their little baby. In the weeks, months and years afterward, they re-tell the story of the birth with gusto. The pain was great, epidurals and nitrous oxide. Pethidine and tens machines. Birthing pools and showers. Tearing, grazing, pooping. Stirrups, students and stitching. All of it discussed to the finest detail with no censorship. Then followed with the “but I would do it all over again”. And indeed they do, pregnant again, baby number two, baby number three. Families ‘completed’. The life cycle continues.

As we all well know, these stories are not shared by all. Emergency caesareans, stillbirth, ventouse, forceps, episiotomies, pre-eclampsia, post partum haemorrhages. Scary situations which do not always end with a joyful new family taking selfies in the delivery suite.

Parents cope the best way they know how. “The important thing is, my child is healthy” and other various statements which completely invalidate a mother or other parent who is struggling to cope in the event of a traumatic situation. As a traumatised parent myself, I learned very early on to stay quiet about what happened to me, because it wasn’t normal and I had a healthy baby.

When I did find my voice, I was still invalidated by those around me. The old “healthy baby” line got rolled out, like carefully rehearsed dialogue. I felt isolated and ostracised because I couldn’t relate to the other mothers who did not have the same experience and then the same understanding. Or I was invalidated by other mothers who said just to “get over it” implying that it had happened to them too, but they got over it like a ‘normal’ person. I was left confused by my experience, why I struggled when they seemed to have it all so well together. However then the truth started to come out.

“No, that didn’t happen to me”

The pivotal statement that brought me undone. The months of pushing the terrible memories to the back of my brain, closing the curtains but not the windows. The validation I was so desperately needing to step forward and say that I wasn’t okay. That my “healthy baby” was not all that mattered.

So I started searching for validation. Other parents who were struggling and suffering. I was met with wall after wall of silence. Nobody speaks about such unpleasantries. The dreams. The distortion of reality, knowing that I wasn’t in the hospital, but unable to stop the endless motion picture running before my eyes. The hyper vigilance of being on guard to protect myself. Reliving the birth over and over. Perpetually labouring the baby. The process never ending. Until now.

I’m not sure why things are different now, but they are and that’s good. I finally feel as though I am no longer enduring the birth. That the process is over. I’m not completely healed, but I am well.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

The Fifth Stage of Grief

I saw my psychologist yesterday and she’s super impressed with how I’m going. We talked about how I’m using the Stop! technique and also about how I looked after real live patients on Sunday (including a pregnant woman). We talked about how I managed my colleague telling me to “just think positively” etc etc because you know, “you have a healthy baby” etc.

20140122-153012.jpg
Source

Smile! You have a healthy baby!

Basically she’s really happy with how I’m traveling. So much so, that I canceled my appointment in two weeks and booked it for four weeks instead.

One thing that I have noticed is how I’m able to separate myself from work. It’s not withdrawing from my friends or family or anything bad, it’s a coping mechanism that all people working in emergency or care services such as nurses, doctors, police officers, ambulance officers and firefighters develop as a defence mechanism so they can finish work, go home and sleep at night. If we didn’t separate ourselves from the often tragic and distressed stories of our patients/clients, then we’d simply be unable to function ourselves.

Certainly some people touch us. I can still see the face of the man that I spent 35 minutes doing fruitless defibrillation and then CPR on, whose wife and children arrived shortly after we’d declared him deceased. I cried about him afterward. I grieved the life that he lost because I was unable to send him home to his family.

My grief response to him though, was very different to my grief response to what happened to me. Ultimately I was able to move on because I could rationalise his medical history. I was able to immediately process that even though he died, I and my colleagues did everything we could to fight it and it wasn’t enough. I could separate myself by recognising that his death was sad, but that people do die young and that’s just the way life is.

With my own trauma, I wasn’t able to process that immediately. I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it. No colleagues in the tea room to have a cuppa with and go over the events. No ability to rationalise with facts and knowledge.

20140122-151617.jpg
Source

I recall being in my hospital bed in the night when my daughter was a day or two old and I was on my mobile phone writing out my birth story to post on a popular Australian parenting website. The stories I had read on that website went into detail how the children were born. As I was typing the letters into words, I found myself starting to breathe quickly, my mouth going dry. I couldn’t say the words because they were just too hard to get out. If I wrote them or said them, then what I was writing, really happened. Surely something that bad didn’t happen! No, it must not have, because I’m ok, my baby is ok. We’re healthy. Surely if that had happened, both of us. One of us. We’d be sick! But we’re not and I’m grateful to have a baby who is ok. She’s healthy any that’s all that matters.

So my sanitised version went online. The responses I got were wonderful. So many people from the community of parents I had been apart of during my pregnancy were genuinely happy that my girl was finally born and that we had picked a beautiful name and that we were both healthy.

20140122-151839.jpg
Source

Maybe if I had recognised the problem then and dealt with it immediately, I would not have had the grief that I’ve had?

Obviously I can’t change the past. I can’t go back to that week and deal with it, I can only acknowledge and accept that it happened and then move on. It’s taken me two years and nearly seven months, but I have accepted that it happened.

I’m so ready to move on. I’m so ready to have it all be gone.

The tools my dear psychologists have taught me, are absolutely invaluable. I asked my Magic Brain Lady yesterday about my fear. I’m feeling so good, but I’m constantly scared, terrified even. I’m so worried that this spell might break and I’ll end up right down at the very rock bottom again. I feel like I’m at about ninety percent well. I’m so conditioned to think that the ten percent of me that’s not well, will ruin me. Surely that life playing a cruel prank on me, because I’m one big shit magnet who doesn’t get ahead ever.

20140122-150109.jpg
Source

Basically the outcome of that conversation is that now I can see the warning signs. I have the tools to cope with the shit or at least delegate the coping out to someone who can help. My defence mechanism means that I won’t let myself get that bad ever again because I can remember how bad it really was.

I did do something major today. I went back to the hospital. Yep the hospital. I vowed never to return after collecting my medical records, but life works in mysterious ways and I ended up needing to be there for a non-urgent matter. I did avoid people. I recognised faces, they probably hate me for it, but I ducked into corridors to avoid the inevitable “how have you been?”

I sat outside under the awning at the cafe, listening to the rain drizzle softly from the sky, while I watched people walk by with IV pumps and wheelchairs. Pregnant women. People with flowers. Elderly couples with rollator frames. Men in surgical scrubs. Nurse managers with pagers and clipboards. Doctors with stethoscopes and hot coffee in cardboard cups. Life was continuing on without a worry in the world. Even in this situation, I could still appreciate the world around me.

My husband, who I don’t blog about too often because I’m not sure how he feels about being the subject of my internet discussions, said something to me the other night. An off the cuff comment that I’m sure he’s forgotten about, but it has stayed with me. He said “Don’t be bitter because those people deserve good healthcare”. I was having one of my countless moments where I found myself spiraling down into despair. We were stopped at the traffic lights outside that hospital and I felt so immediately sad and said “I wish it would fall down”. It angers me that it’s me who went there to have a baby and left with the added bonus of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. I’m bitter that people I know and care for have walked away with nothing but a clean bill of health and good memories of kind nurses and doctors.

20140122-150530.jpg
Source

His words. They’re true. I say that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, yet in a way, I wish it hadn’t happened to me. That it was someone else. I’ve spent the last two years (at least) directing so much anger and hatred into my circumstance that I clouded my vision completely. This isn’t me being a martyr by any means, but this happening to me, means that two friends who have also had babies safely there, came home ok. It means that another friend who has had major surgery there, came home ok. It means that my own husband who has also been a patient there, came home ok. I would be horrified if any of my loved ones had this happen to them.

So I accept that by happening to me, it hasn’t happened to the people I love. I accept that doctors and nurses do stuff up. I’m not the first patient and I won’t be the last. I accept that it happened because I do not have a time machine to go back and change the past. I’m not at the stage of forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there. One shift at work for them, has essentially put my life and my families’ life on hold for two years.

20140122-145727.jpg
Source

I feel weightless. PTSD happened to me. PTSD does not define me.

20140122-152611.jpg
Source

My goodness, I had no idea I had all of this in me today. If you’re still here, thanks. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts, I hope you’re well.

Xx Clair

Facebook Twitter

Personal Best

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog in the last couple of weeks, nothing really to say, so rather than blog about nothing, I chose not to blog.

On Sunday, I participated in another fun run, Run Sydney 2013. This one was a 10km (6.3mi) course at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. A flat course, no amazing scenery (such as the Harbour or Bondi Beach) however I did finish the run by running across the finish line in the main football stadium that’s there.

I felt like a real athlete! And as a friend said “you ARE a real athlete”. So yeah, I don’t have the physical attributes of someone who has been in peak physical fitness for years and I’ll never be an Olympian, but here I am, running fun runs like an athlete, because I am one.

20131029-081111.jpg

Over the last few weeks, there have been bushfires burning in the greater west of Sydney and the Blue Mountains and the smoke has made it particularly difficult to spend any time outside. So I stupidly did no training for this run. I could have gotten onto my treadmill, but honestly the machine that faces the window which overlooks a fence in suburbia, is the most boring thing to look at for a 5km training session. I did manage however, to set two new PB times! Breathing was very difficult, I felt like I was smoking cigarettes, when I got back in the car to drive home, I was coughing so much, but in the end it was worth it to push through.

20131029-081509.jpg

20131029-081520.jpg
They’re mediocre times when you consider the woman who won, did 10km in 33 minutes, however, I’m looking at the bigger picture and seeing my achievements personally

Those of you who have been regular readers of this blog will know that the reason I started running, was because I got diagnosed with PTSD and PND in October 2012. A good friend of mine who is also very familiar (unfortunately) with The Black Dog also started running in an attempt to combat depression. I have used her as my constant inspiration and example. I look to her now and see an incredible woman who has overcome so much and is now loving life. Setting goals to achieve, smashing her own personal records and most importantly, keeping that Black Dog away. So even though I still have bad days (particularly from the PTSD) I know that getting outside (often the hardest thing to do when all I want to do is go to bed and cry) will help, even a little.

20131029-082218.jpg
At this stage my right hip was screaming at me, I was really struggling, but I still had 1km to go, so I had to keep pushing through.

I’m still sore today, but nowhere near as sore as yesterday. So today I’m going to get outside with Missy in her pram & go for a walk. I have another fun run in two weeks, so I need to train for it. Hopefully the fires will burn out and the smoke will clear and I can get back to evening runs.

I hope you’re having a great day and that if you’re reading this because you typed ‘depression’ into the search bar, you take away that it’s not going to be bad forever, you can be happy again. It’s not an immediate recovery, but it is possible xx

20131029-082927.jpg

You can follow me on Facebook

Afterglow

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a real love for music. I can usually relate a situation to a song or an album, kind of like a soundtrack to a movie, but in this instance, my life. My pregnancy was heavily influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors. A holiday to Byron Bay in 2004 was peppered by Powderfinger’s Vulture Street. My New Zealand honeymoon in 2008 is fondly recalled through Vampire Weekend’s self-titled masterpiece.

So it’s really no surprise that I’ve been to so many concerts in my time, I can’t keep track of them all. I’ve also got so many records, CDs and cassettes, a conservative estimate would be around 500. A mix of heavy metal (Rammstein, anyone?) to classical (Split Enz and the NZ symphony orchestra). I love it all.

Not being musically talented myself (I did learn the recorder as a 4th grader and spent the next few years torturing my parents and the neighbours), I can however hold a tune, I just lack the esteem or desire to do it publicly, I have spent a lifetime appreciating the craft of many talented musicians.

My favourite being New Zealand’s own (and Australia’s very much adopted) Neil Finn.

I’ve been to a Neil Finn concert (whether it be solo, or in a band) no fewer than seven times (it’s more than likely more than that) and every single time I walk away more in love with the music than before. I’ve also met the great man himself, getting my laser etched limited edition copy of True Colours autographed by the line up of Split Enz who recorded the album way back in 1979.

This week’s concert has been no different.

Regular readers will know that I haven’t had the best time of it lately. Also as any new parent would know, getting away from the baby to go to a concert isn’t always achievable either. I did manage to see Elton John in November 2012, but I did miss out on Stevie Nicks at the end of 2011 and I’m pretty sure there was someone else tucked away in there, but I’m not talking about the bands I haven’t seen in this post!

Back to Neil.

Holy moley, what an artist.

Monday night really did mean so much. I was out in the city with a dear friend. One, who our love of Crowded House actually forged our friendship as teenagers, outcasted by our school friends because Crowded House were ‘daggy’. We have both had babies in the last two years and haven’t seen much of each other. Lamenting that the last time we did see one another was in June 2012. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom to sit by the water at Sydney Harbour, sipping wine under the setting sun, just chatting like the old days. Excitedly awaiting the concert to start.

Image

When the time finally came for us to go into the Sydney Opera House, we were so excited, like giddy school girls. Then the lights went down and he started singing Four Seasons In One Day and I bawled my eyes out. Strange reaction maybe, considering it’s usually Message To My Girl and Distant Sun which are my tear jerkers, however here I was blubbering like a little baby hearing the words through my soul as he sang with such passion and conviction. I closed my eyes and for the first time saw black. Not surgical equipment.

Even when you’re feeling warm

The temperature could drop away

Like four seasons in one day

Seriously.

I’ve heard those lyrics a thousand times. Yet never really listened to them.

The rest of the concert continued on and was over far too quickly (even though Finn and Paul Kelly played for almost three hours). I sat in stunned silence at the beauty of Fall At Your Feet and clapped and cheered like in a mosh pit crowd at the conclusion of I Got You. My iPhone battery was flat and the memory full well before the end of the concert as I had been taking so many photos, trying to savour absolutely every moment possible.

Image

I went to bed that night for the first time in the longest time, actually happy. My soul felt alive and nothing could have brought me down from that high.

As I sit here today typing this out, reminiscing on the night that was, tears are welling up in my eyes again. Not for happiness, but sadness. PND and PTSD robbed me of seeing beauty in the world for the longest time. My sight was clouded by the visions of the past. Hearing the melodies again, reminded me of the Clair that once was. The one who lived for live music. The one who would get lost in an album and not resurface for weeks. The one who could see the beauty in life. Not just the bad things that happen.

I’m back to the psychologist tomorrow. A new one, not my Sarah. Fingers crossed I don’t need many more visits, however I will gladly go if they think it’s necessary. They’re the brain experts, not me. Some days I definitely feel stronger than others. My diet and exercise programme is doing really well as well, which I know is helping. It’s weigh in day today and I’m down to 73.5kg (162lbs) which I haven’t been in the longest time. I started in January at 81.8kg (180lbs). It was well before I fell pregnant even, the last time I was this light. I stared at the scales in disbelief this morning as I saw those digits pop up on the screen. I’m definitely on track to being 69kg (152lbs) by my sister in law’s wedding on 4 May. I now have to be careful not to lose too much before the wedding as my dress can only be taken two sizes in!

I hope you are having a wonderful day. I want to share some beauty with you now, thanks to YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37V8aheCofk

From the 2009 Sound Relief concert in Melbourne. Feel free to swoon. I just about die of love every time I hear this beautiful melody.

xx

Alone on the Island with Thousands of Others

**Contains details of my birth which may cause triggers for birth trauma**

___________________________________

Today I read a very honest blog from another mama who is hurting.

She then was getting absolutely crucified by another bunch of mothers on the internet because they disagreed with her feelings and thoughts.

For me, my blog is about me and nobody else. I post in the hope that another mother (or father) who is hurting, may feel they relate to me and know they’re not alone. This is why I also post links to organisations that can help in the recovery and healing from PND/PPD, AND and PTSD relating to birth trauma.

Please don’t isolate parents (or anyone) for experiencing trauma. A person who is in a plane crash or sees war, would never be told to snap out of it. ‘Snapping out of it’ is absolutely no where near as easy as one may think.

Distress is distress, no matter the cause.

I feel I need to make clear that I don’t blame my obstetrician. I know that in my case, I’m one of the small percentage of women who have a spinal anaesthesia that doesn’t work properly or as effectively as it may work on another person.

Just because I can’t blame him and I don’t want to blame him, doesn’t mean I’m not angry or traumatised that it happened. He doesn’t know that I could also see my surgery. Some may say I should have spoken up. In that situation on that day, I couldn’t speak. I was in shock and in silence. I’m pretty sure he’d be horrified if he knew, because he’s a decent and wonderful man.

It had been ten years since I as a student nurse had witnessed a Caesarean section, so I’m not remembering that ladies surgery when I think of mine. I’m remembering in vivid colour seeing my legs splayed and seeing my insides. I’m remembering with vivid detail, the catheter being inserted and the vivid sensation of the betadine being rubbed on my belly. The fear I felt when isolated after the baby was born and taken away, while everyone was celebrating, I was left alone to watch my surgery, strapped to the operating table. Not even the theatre nurse was there to talk to.

My blog is my voice. Just like another persons blog is theirs.

You may disagree, but please have the decency to understand. Please have the empathy to know that even though you don’t think it’s a traumatising event, that person is very obviously traumatised by what happened, no matter the event.

I’m still not on Facebook (except for my page for this blog). Having a hiatus away from the birth notices and the countdowns to delivery, is just what I needed to keep The Beast at bay.

Until next time xx