Faith, Mental Health, Parenting

When what now becomes what if

Hardships aren’t easy. (The clue is in the name). But I’ve seen great purpose come from great pain.

When I struggled with maternal mental health for a second time, and sank to such depths from which I thought my marriage and my family would never recover, I couldn’t see a way out. I remember crying out ‘what now?’ not understanding why a God I loved and served would let me suffer like this. I couldn’t understand why I was being broken all over again, even more deeply than the first time.

Sometimes it is only when we are fully broken that we can be fully rebuilt.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now I can see that God turned my ‘what now?’ into a ‘what if?’. What if I stuck my head above the sand and shared my story? What if I spoke of my struffles and helped break the stigma? What if?

It is because of some of the darkest days in my life that I began to share my experiences. This led me to blogging, setting up a moms on mental health group and more recently becoming a mental health swim host.

Since my second mental health diagnosis three years ago, God has traded my shame into sharing and exchanged my isolation for community. Rather than prevent my pain, He used it to help me direct my focus on Him so that He could help me encourage others.

If I hadn’t endured mental health battles of my own, I would never have empathised and understood those who did. I certainly wouldn’t have been so proactive in supporting them. Yet here I am doing just that and I have never felt happier.

All we need is a seed of faith to grow a tree of fruit

Please know that I am no superhero. I am no saint. I am simply someone who struggled and saw a need. Someone who was willing to put her hand up and say I am hurting, this sucks, does anyone else feel the same? One thing that I have learned since walking my mental health journey is that it is a much easier road to travel when you don’t walk alone.

Pain can produce purpose

Pain can produce purpose. Do you believe that? It’s a hard pill to swallow when you are in depths, believe me. But if you are struggling and asking the same question – ‘what now?’ can I encourage you to turn the question on its head and ask ‘what if?’

What if your health doesn’t decline? Your business doesn’t go under? Your marriage doesn’t fail? What if it does but you make it through, battered and bruised? What if our ‘what nows’ are training grounds for where God is calling us to be?

What if our ‘what nows’ are training grounds for where God is calling us to be?

It is incredibly difficult to see how hardships are anything but that – hard. If you are facing hard times today, please be encourgaed; maybe, just maybe you are in training to find a purpose of your own.

R x

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Adoption, Mental Health, Parenting

Behind The Smile

It’s not very British to air your woes, unless you are complaining about the weather of course. The ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra has continued long since the war ended and our chronic apologetic nature makes us too polite to challenge attitudes or actions we don’t like. In short, we have become very good at hiding how we really feel, and this is to our detriment.

When I was first diagnosed with post natal depression in July 2013, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Following the birth of my second son in 2013, I had felt like an utter failure. I couldn’t juggle the demands of a baby and a 3 year old and became increasingly unable to cope. I was hugely emotional and irrational and I couldn’t seem to get my words out or process simple information. My husband noticed and said that sometimes I would just walk into a room and ramble, then walk away. He felt like a light had gone out in my eyes, and I wasn’t ‘there’.

My diagnosis felt like a relief; I wasn’t going mad, I wasn’t a failure, there was something wrong with me and I needed help. I was very open with my diagnosis and would tell anyone and everyone because I felt that if they knew what was going on they would understand why I was different. Only trouble is, I had been so good at masking the depression with all except my very closest loved ones, that no one had any idea there was anything wrong. They would say things like, ‘Oh but you always look so put together, make up on, outfits carefully chosen, kids dressed and at church/playgroup…’ I had painted on a smile, presented my family and projected the fact that I had it altogether, when really I was crumbling side.

I had painted on a smile and projected the fact that I had it altogether, when really I was crumbling inside.

It makes me so sad that I did this. Not that I should have been unkempt, scruffy and miserable all the time either, but that I felt the need to tell the world ‘I am okay, I have got this.’

Friend, it’s okay to not be okay. I’ll say it again – it is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to drop the ball, let the tears fall, let your guard down and let others in. Because it is only when we reach out that we can be pulled out.

I sought professional help with both my depressions. My GP was incredible, so compassionate and supportive. I was prescribed medication both times following diagnosis. It worked brilliantly first time and I was on SSRI’s for six months, but second time round I didn’t react well to them at all. With my post adoption depression there were different triggers and it was less of a hormonal imbalance as opposed to an emotional one, therefore I sought weekly counselling which was a lifesaver, I exercised and spent time outdoors whenever possible, preferably in the woods or at the coast, and I began to use essential oils to support my emotions.

Depression is no respecter of persons, ages or stages.

Depression can hit at any time. It is no respecter of persons, ages or stages. You can be living in an ivory tower and have depression so deep in your soul that you want to leave this world. You can have the perfect family, the perfect job and still struggle with mental health. It isn’t necessarily because of what you have or don’t have, it can be the result of emotional injuries from long ago that surface due to a circumstance, it can be due to a stressful period in life, illness, hormones, you name it. We are emotional creatures, and our feelings need to be heard, acknowledged and processed, not brushed under the carpet or put back in a box.

I have shared my story ever since to try and reduce the stigma attached to mental health and encourage others that they are not alone. I began a peer support group for moms affected by mental health back in the Midlands and am now proud to be a Mental Health Swim Host here in Port Talbot, South Wales.

If you are struggling wiht mental health or know someone who is, then please reach out to someone you trust or to a mental health organisation such as the ones below:

Mind

Ask them mental health problems, where to get help near you, treatment options and advocacy services.

Tel: 0300 123 3393
Email: info@mind.org.uk
Text: 86463

Samaritans

Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).

Tel: 116 123 (freephone)
Email: jo@samaritans.org

Sane

Offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems.

Website: sane.org.uk

Shout Crisis Line

If you’re experiencing a crisis, are unable to cope and need support, text Shout to 85258. Shout can help with urgent issues such as:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Abuse or assault
  • Self-harm
  • Bullying
  • Relationship challenges

Rethink Mental Illness

You can call the Rethink advice and information line Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm for practical advice on:

  • different types of therapy and medication
  • benefits, debt, money issues
  • police, courts, prison
  • your rights under the Mental Health Act.

Tel: 0300 5000 927 

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Faith

Running with others

“Oh, I don’t run with others.”

This was my response to friends who had done Couch to 5k and wanted to join me on some of my regular runs. It makes me cringe now, looking back but there was a reason behind it.

Running for me is more than just getting fit. It is my headspace, my self-care, my therapy. It is my place to run away from my worries, to run through my frustrations. It’s often pretty messy and it wasn’t a process that I wanted others to witness.

When you run with others, there is an assumption that you are going to talk. Talking wasn’t always something that I was comfortable with, so it was easier to put my earbuds in, get my head down and keep going. I joined a running club last January and was the slowest runner there. I hated watching others overtake me, but what I hated even more was when people hung back for me.

Crazy, right?

But the kinder and more encouraging people were to me, the angrier and more embarrassed I felt. I have been conditioned to independence. Much to my poor husband’s dismay, I am fiercely stubborn and determined to things my way, on my own, in my time. (Our eldest son has sadly inherited this same fierce independence!)

If things get tough? Its okay, I’m tough enough to cope.

If things get messy? Its okay, I’ve got it under control.

If things get sad? It’s okay, I can paint on a smile.

Just run with it. Run through it. Run from it.

This philosophy is okay for a while, but running alone gets lonely. Running uphill gets hard. Running on empty is draining.

This is why God put people in our paths, to encourage us, to equip us, to energise us, to excite us. Those people who encouraged me are now seeing me keep up with them, hold a conversation with them. Over the past 12-18 months, I have entered races, run distances I could only dream of and smashed personal bests. All because I am running with others who propel me forward, running in a club that cheers me on.

We were never designed to live alone.

It is no surprise that we were never designed to live alone. We are made in God’s image, and even He doesn’t live alone. He exists as part of the Trinity; Father, Spirit, Son. The Bible is packed with men and women who needed relationship; with Jesus and with other people. God created us to live in community with others, and regardless of whether we are living the dream or lying at our lowest, we need people around us.

This week is maternal mental health awareness week. I have walked (and ran) through postnatal depression and anxiety twice in the last five years. I know first hand that despite all the treatment and all the therapy in the world, it was my community and my church that got me through. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it takes a village to raise a mother.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child,
but I believe it takes a village to raise a mother.

Wherever this finds you today, whether you are a mama who is walking a rocky road alone, or running with others, know that you are not alone. God never left you and He never will. He sent Jesus to crawl, walk and run alongside you. He sent His Holy Spirit to guide you. Even on your darkest day, He will be your brightest light.

God never left you and He never will.

When running, especially uphill, you need to keep your head up and fix your eyes on a focal point ahead. This is the best way to keep going, keep moving and get to the top. Running the race of life is no different. We need to keep our heads up, fix our eyes on Jesus and run towards Him. And He will take you through the deepest valley and over the tallest mountain out to the other side.

R x

Photo Credit: FreePik
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Parenting

Why new moms need new expectations

Expectation. What a word. To some it can bring excitement, to others it can bring exhaustion. To one, it can bring fun and to another, it can bring fear. We all have expectation in our lives, whether that is how we expect our day to pan out, or how we expect our careers to pan out, whether we expect to build a FTSE100 empire before we are 30 or build a family home.

I love having a goal, a dream, an expectation. My expectation was to get married and be a mom before I was 30. I happily achieved said expectation, but did the reality live up to the dream? Not quite. Rest assured that I am happily married and couldn’t be more grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me in the form of my three little ones. But that doesn’t make my long-awaited expectation of the motherhood experience any less challenging.

My first son was born (relatively) easily in a peaceful water birth, but he soon made his presence known by keeping his poor unsuspecting parents awake all hours for the first three months. I expected to cherish these first few weeks of his little life as I blissfully washed his bamboo nappies (yes, really), however, these were some of the hardest and saddest weeks as we desperately tried to fathom out our new family member and survive on next to no sleep. I vividly remember one night, around 2am, when Dave and I were literally on. our. knees. and I placed our son in the middle of the bed and stepped back, not knowing what the heck to do next. In our sleep deprived state, we had tried everything, except swaddling, and this turned out to be the saving grace for our sanity, as we turned a corner and saw our firstborn sleep for more than 2 consecutive hours.

Then came the second son. Another much loved, much planned for baby, albeit with a much larger gap than I would have liked. Surgery necessitated the long wait, and my health was more important than expanding our family, but when he came oh what joy I awaited.

Only the joy didn’t come.

Don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels in love with this little one who snuggled up to me so calmly, but my heart raced as I contemplated juggling two children. I expected to breeze into motherhood second time round, but as reality set in, my fears became nerves that grew into anxieties. I soon felt so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t face being a parent to anyone, much less the precious boys I have been blessed with. All this, despite a hands-on, supportive hubby and a fantastic network of family and friends.

After five months of juggling schedules and struggling to keep my head above water, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. The diagnosis came as no surprise in the end, and if anything, it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t losing the plot and that I wasn’t a bad mother. I was not alone. Accepting the diagnosis was no problem. If anything, I almost wore it as a badge of honour to explain that actually, I wasn’t failing, I was a work in progress, and within 6 months I was back to my normal self.

PND is no discriminator of people or circumstance. My baby was wanted, planned for, prayed for. Yet when he came, I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility; the sudden influx of hormones, the sudden immersion into baby world, and the sudden subjection to his every need. I was an experienced parent, who knew what to expect, and my son was a relaxed little man, yet I was so completely overcome with emotion and anxiety that I could barely think straight. I thank God for the medical professionals who helped me through this difficult time, not to mention my faithful husband and my many friends who had journeyed this path before me or with me.

So onto baby number 3. She was no less planned for, prayed for, and prepared for than her brothers, if not she was more so. The nursery was decorated, the work schedules were created, the books were read and the home was ready, yet when she came I felt the old anxieties creep into my mind as my expectation stood at odds with my reality. There I was, with this sweet little one who fell into our arms with a smile and fell into a routine without batting an eye lid, yet I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed by the now enormous task in front of me. How was I ever going to juggle three children along with a writing career, keeping my home (and me) in a half reasonable style and state of cleanliness, oh and build a blog and write a book….. and manage more than 5 hours sleep in the process.

To raise another is the greatest privilege. As a mom of three, I can safely say this is the greatest, most rewarding role I have ever had, however, coupled with my expectations, it has caused the most pain, upset, anxiety, and, at times, even depression. A classic ‘achiever’, my character is such that I want to do everything to the best of my ability. This means holding it all together, at all times, having the tidy house, the contented babies, and the completed deadlines. My ambitious striving, of course, can be a strength, but for those, like me, who place too great an expectation on themselves, it can be a curse.

When it comes to motherhood, the thing I have craved, dreamed of and desired, I expect to succeed, I expect to flourish. I expect to sail through because I am a ‘do-er’, and ‘achiever’. I constantly measure myself against impossible standards, then wonder why I fall short. The advice I dish out to others I can barely swallow myself. The prayers I pray for friends are barely audible for myself.

Why? Because I expect too much of myself.

It is OK for a friend to fall apart, but I cannot. It is OK for a family member to need counselling but not me. It’s OK for a loved one to ask for help but I must march on. How ridiculous.

I recently read this quote from the inimitable William Shakespeare;

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises or in modern day language; Expectation is the root of all heartache. 

I put too much expectation on myself, and the resulting wave of heartache that accompanies feelings of disappointment when I don’t ‘make the grade’ hurts like heck.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, with wanting to achieve, with having a dream. New mom’s do not need to cast off all their ambitions and put their lives on hold in order to raise their baby, but friends, we need to stop putting too great expectations of ourselves. Stop trying to have the Pinterest worthy house, the picture perfect family, the insta-flawless selfie. We need to embrace our flaws, our failings, and our frustrations because this is what makes us human. And I am speaking to myself before anyone else.

So next time I feel overwhelmed, fall down or mess up, rather than just painting on my face and marching on I might just let someone in. If someone texts to check in on me or taps me on the shoulder at the school gates, I might just let them know how I am really doing. I might just say, “Do you know what? Motherhood is a gift, but man is it hard work!” I might just accept the offer of a hug, a prayer, a cuppa or a meal.

Fellow parents, let’s stop being proud and start being real, and today, this starts with me.

Just sayin’.

R xx

 

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Faith, Parenting

Mental health matters

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If I had a pound for every time someone said to me ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me, don’t make a fuss or I don’t want to be a burden’ I would be a rich woman. In our modern day society that screams ‘I can do it all, all alone’, it is deemed weak or bothersome to require help, support or assistance. We are all supposed to be able to live blissful independent lives, juggle the demands of work/family/life, breeze through deadlines and ill-health and laugh in the face of adversity. Why? Because isn’t that what everybody else does?

Mental health affects one in three people in the UK each and every year, and perhaps because it is an ‘unseen’ affliction that is rarely talked about, it can cause the sufferer to feel even more isolated and misunderstood. To avoid being judged (or avoided) individuals often learn pretty quickly to stand on their own two feet, smiling wide in a defiant display of positivity and independence that belies the turmoil rising underneath their cool calm exterior.

I have always been fiercely independent, to a fault at times, and the first time that I truly realised I could not cope without help was after the birth of my second son. I am not talking about practical help, although this is beyond valuable to new parents who are wading through sleepless nights, sore nipples and soiled nappies, I am talking about mental, emotional support from others. Five weeks in to motherhood for the second time and I found myself sitting on my bed at my mother in laws sobbing as I stared at my new baby. I knew within a matter of days after having him that something wasn’t quite right with me, but I simply kept putting it down to long days with two boys and even longer nights with a newborn.

On the outside I was my normal, bubbly self. I got up, got dressed, put on my make up and went out to face the world with a smile on your face. But on the inside I was dying, confused that I wasn’t enjoying these precious first weeks and terrified as to why. I kept going to toddler groups with my then 3 and a half year old son, nodding and smiling in all the right places as friends cooed over my newborn, when all I wanted to do was to grab someone – anyone – by the shoulders and say can you help me? can you take my boys for an hour so I can get some sleep? can you explain why I just want to run away?

It wasn’t until five months in that I was diagnosed with post natal depression. The overwhelming relief I felt at the doctors words were overshadowed by the shame and stigma that I felt at being labelled as having a mental health issue. I mean, how would I tell other people? What would my family and friends think of me, bubbly, outgoing Rachel who had been going about her normal life without so much as a word of the struggles she was facing, suddenly announcing a mental health condition? So all of a sudden I had gone from capable mom to mentally ill mess that needed medication and support? Moreover, what did I say about my faith in Jesus Christ, that I could have my world rocked so completely whilst claiming to be clinging to the rock of my salvation?

Some of these days were my darkest, yet God never left my side once. As soon as I had been diagnosed He gave me peace about taking medication to rebalance my topsy turvy hormone levels, He showed me that my mastitis and subsequent failure to produce breast milk was necessary in order for me to take the medication that would help me rekindle that spark in my soul again. And rekindle it did. But God needed something else from me, He needed me to share my struggle. He told me right from the start that I need to tell everyone who would listen about my PND, in order to raise the awareness of depression and lift the taboo of talking about it.

Over 2 years on, I am completely depression free and passionate about talking about mental health issues, especially PND. I will happily recount my tales to new and expectant moms, not to frighten them but simply to help them know that PND is not a weakness, it does not make you a bad mom, it is no respecter of age or circumstance, and it can affect ANYONE. My boys were both planned and wanted, born into a loving family with everything they could ever need. I was a positive, outgoing Christian woman, supported by an amazing husband, my family and a network of beautiful friends at my church Renewal, yet I still suffered with it.

Why would God make me go through this you may ask? I have pondered the same thing over the last two years, and then I started to notice that God was bringing many people into my life who had suffered with or were still battling a mental disorder of their own. I don’t write this to glorify me in any way, or suggest that I had any expertise in the diagnosis or treatment of mental health, but what I did have to offer those who crossed my path was empathy. What I could do was understand to some small degree how hard and how lonely it can be fighting a battle in your mind, how embarrassed and ashamed you can feel when labelled with a mental illness and how draining it can be to endure the rollercoaster ride of emotions and feelings each and every day.

I don’t pretend to have any answers. I don’t claim to have the solution to your specific problems, but what I can offer is a welcoming embrace and a friendly face. Seeking professional help is essential, but I would also urge you to seek God. He created you. He knows your innermost being and this situation you find yourself in is no surprise to Him. Just as you would consult the Haynes manual for your car, we need to consult the human handbook, the Bible. You can find peace in God’s promises in the Bible. This book has the power to transform your life and is truly the Haynes manual for every human on the planet.

You are unique, exquisite and valuable. God has a purpose and a plan for your life and He can and will work any circumstance out for good. He can make beauty out of ashes, He can give you peace in your prison and He can give you freedom in your frustration.

For I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV

The battle for your mind is a real one, and so we need to make sure that we fill it with God’s word, His truth and His promises.  Paul said in Philippians;

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8-9 The Message

If you are battling depression or any mental illness, or know someone who is, then fear not my friend. God is with you, He has gone before you and He will bring you out of whatever situation you are facing today. Get into His word today and allow Him to shape your tomorrow.

R

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