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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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Alone on the Island with Thousands of Others

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

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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