The Daily Grind vs Influenza

Woe is me. As I sit here and write this, my head hurts. The last few weeks have been a struggle: both mentally, physically and emotionally. Why? Because I don’t make a very good sick person.

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This year the flu hit our household pretty badly. Talking to those around me from my doctor to friends and the other mothers at my son’s playgroup, I’ve come to understand that we’re not the only sufferers. Many others have been hit by the flu bug this year and have struggled to get through it and then back to ‘normal’ health. Nonetheless, I have honestly, truly, really struggled. We all have.

My hubby, who is usually a tower of strength, was knocked for six and also found it difficult to get through the daily grind. The only silver lining here was that our 3.5 year old was struck down by a virus for only a few days and then thankfully made a quick recovery. Amongst the three of us, he is the healthiest one. The flip side of this meant that the poor little guy always wanted to go out and/or play, but mummy and daddy were feeling so poorly that we couldn’t take him out anywhere!

To add insult to injury, I didn’t just suffer the usual suspects: sore throat, tiredness, coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose, fever, and so on. With all the coughing that took place, I also managed to pull several muscles in my ribs on the right side of my body. As I sat in a chair opposite my GP regaling my sorry state, I felt silly also explaining that the simple act of coughing so much had caused me to pull muscles! My pain scale was about a 7 out of 10 when standing or sitting still but quickly escalated to 12 out of 10 when moving! Driving to and from anywhere was a one-handed affair with much grimacing. I didn’t realise how many muscles worked together from both sides of the body to perform the everyday simple tasks that keep a household running!

Dotted throughout our fluey indoor hiatus, the Perth weather was going through its transition from winter to spring. So despite the rainy weather of winter, there were some beautiful sunny days which we couldn’t take full advantage of due to our ill health. It made me feel worse. The waiting. Wanting our bodies to be rid of infection. This brief intermission from our normal daily lives was making me feel, to be honest, quite depressed.

To keep on top of my anxiety and depression, I decided to seek counselling from a clinical psychologist in order to assist with my recovery and management of my mental health. However, due to the flu, I had to reschedule my appointment. Ever since I was first diagnosed with postnatal depression, it would have assisted me greatly to seek professional help right away. But my stubbornness, or my pride, or my feelings of shame and embarrassment took over instead and I put off the inevitable. That is, until about a year and a half ago. Then I took a sabbatical of sorts because I felt ‘well’ and thought I didn’t need to see the psych anymore. However, after about a six month break, I am ‘touching base’ once more. It feels good to be able to know when I need to get a bit of a top-up in my mental health. It feels empowering that I can do something for myself.

When I finally made it to my rescheduled appointment, my psych stated that it wasn’t just going through the flu itself, but the recovery process that also takes a toll. She stated that most people after the flu were discovering that their bodies were extremely tired. I felt so validated when I heard her comment. Admittedly, I was mindful throughout my session of not wanting to complain too much. This is why keeping up with everyday life these last few weeks has sometimes felt overwhelming for me. Life, after all, hasn’t paused or stopped and waited for us to get well. It has continued to go on. So instead of whinging or complaining, I’ve been doing my best to keep pushing on to get through each day.

I hate being sick. It slows me right down and I resent that. My frustration levels were getting quite high when I couldn’t do simple tasks and/or I could feel the lethargy and tiredness taking over. Funny thing is before getting sick I was so over doing the daily grind day in and day out. I so desperately wanted a break from it. But when I was really sick and feeling down, I just wanted to return to the daily grind with my usual gusto and energy. I just wanted to get things done!

The verdict: Give me the daily grind any day…

Silver linings

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Death has perfected the art of keeping up appearances. Sometimes sweeping in unannounced. At other times imminent. Yet even when its arrival is expected, the knock on the door can still come as a bit of a shock.

My mother-in-law has been keeping death at arms length for a period of time now. At first the diagnosis of breast cancer and the treatments that came with it. Then, many years on after the breast cancer left her body, leukaemia weaved its way into her bones. During this personal battle with leukaemia she had no support to rally round her. No solace in the form of hugs or a listening ear or two. However, this was brought about by her choice of excommunicating with her immediate family – her two sons and daughter-in-laws. She had recently separated from my father-in-law as well. She chose solitude and decided to suffer without us knowing.

It was in our silent exile that we tried on various occasions to make contact with her. Wanting to make sure she was okay. Trying to stay in touch, despite her hurtful dislodgement of us from her life. To this day we do not know what made her choose to take such a path. We have tried to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of possible reasons, some of the answers we decided for ourselves included: the state of her mental wellbeing needed medical attention, with one son believing that there was an undiagnosed mental health condition and that it had been present for many years; she was always self-medicating and going from doctor to doctor if they did not provide her with the medications she felt she needed; the disarray of her early life growing up as a young woman at the tender age of 12, having to almost take on the ‘mother’ role of her four younger siblings; her pigheadedness and dismissiveness of anyone who told her otherwise. These various jigsaw pieces were not meant to belittle, disrespect or denigrate her, but simply to address the facts we knew as they were, including personal dealings with those around her.

After the birth of our son, we had sent her a card in the post. Hoping that by announcing the arrival of her first grandchild, she might pick up the phone and become involved in our lives once more. Perhaps even take up the role that now eagerly awaited her – becoming a grandparent. However she did not respond immediately. Another twelve months or so went by before a short message was left on our answer machine, heralding the arrival of a new relationship with her. Her acceptance of her new role. Our exile had been broken by her, on her terms, in her good time; she being seemingly unaware of the impact and consequences of her silent treatment of us.

Our son is almost three and a half years old. My brother-in-law and his wife have been trying to conceive for some years now. As they ride the wave of IVF, and the hope of a new life being created, we are trying our best as first-time parents to shape our son and the beginning of his life. And in all of this, she has been through her own upheavals – moving out of her independent living unit into a hospital bed for almost six months, upon finding out that the leukaemia had returned after a much-welcomed absence; finding a nursing home to move into and call ‘home’; working through a couple of new cancer drug treatments. This time she has had support. She recognises that without her family she would not have been able to do it alone.

My husband and I are grateful for small blessings. There are so many that come to mind. The obvious one being his mother reconnecting with us and becoming a part of our lives once more. She has happily fulfilled her role as a doting grandparent, although very limited by her health. We see the silver linings here. The main one being how we hoped our son would get to know his grandmother.

Earlier this week she sat down with my husband in front of a specialist, whose eyes had filled momentarily with tears at having to give such grave news, and was advised that her cancer count was higher than it had ever been. There was nothing more that could be done for her. Sadly, death had been waiting in the wings.

There were no tears. It seemed, at first, almost no show of emotion. But knowing how her anxiety had worsened over the years, no doubt her mind was mulling over things. As I had not been present in the specialist rooms when she was given her final prognosis, she enlightened me in the hospital foyer. She was seated in her wheelchair. I looked down at her slightly shaking hands, her very thin frame. This was not the mother-in-law I remembered. The deterioration of her health was very much physically present.

We were waiting for my husband and son to walk back to our car, parked a short distance from the hospital entrance, then drive into the pick up bay out the front. I asked her if she perhaps wanted a cup of tea and to be seated somewhere to gather her thoughts. Maybe even watch her grandson run around and play. But she had refused. Her only thought on getting back to the nursing home on time to ring the bell for the nurse to bring her a nausea tablet.

Upon settling her back into the safety of her bed in the nursing home, the nurse having administered the nausea tablet shortly after her return from the hospital, we were saying our goodbyes. Our toddler was overtired and hunger would be settling in shortly. Dinner and toddler bath and bedtime was on our minds. After our hugs and kisses, I half-closed the door to her room, according to her wishes. Her parting words to me ringing in my ears well after we had walked away down the corridor and into the lift, driving back home: “Don’t forget about me…”.

 

Depression, Anxiety & I walk into a bar…

For as long as I can remember my anxiety has always been around. It has always held my hand (and heart) in its grasp and successfully snaked a pathway through my life. It has entered many a life decision, both major and minor, and has held an invisible place in my relationships with family, friends and loves. Anxiety invited itself along to any social setting I found myself in and happily littered my mind with unhelpful and negative thoughts.

It has only been in the past 10 years that I’ve made a conscious effort to try and rein it in. This has included speaking to my doctor about it and finding out more information to try and understand it and the possible triggers for experiencing anxiety in my everyday life. My doctor referred me to a psychologist so that I could try addressing an anxiety management plan. That’s when I realised that I wasn’t just dealing with anxiety on its own. Both anxiety and depression are mental health conditions which often accompany one another.

Although reluctant at first, I agreed to taking an anti-depressant. Initially the path to taking the medication was a long one. I hummed and harred about it for some time. I had mixed feelings about it and I was worried about how long I would be on them. Months? Years? My reluctance being borne out of my own stigma against mental health. I’ll be honest, I had my head buried in the sand for a long time on mental health and didn’t even know it until faced with my own struggles and the mental breakdown of a family member (which I’ll write about in a future post).

So when hubby and I discussed having our first child, I spoke to my doctor about stopping my meds. I was also in a ‘good’ place and felt as if my life was on track. My doctor agreed to it and we discussed a plan to safely reduce my intake. I did not feel comfortable about being on the meds at the same time as trying to conceive. However, my doctor did advise that the particular meds I had been on would not be harmful to the unborn child. One thing she reiterated with me on several occasions was this: the mental health of the mother is important. After all, how can the child be nurtured and cared for by a mother who is not mentally healthy?

Fast forward to my pregnancy. Despite suffering nausea throughout the entirety of my pregnancy, I had nothing to complain about. I felt the healthiest I had ever been in my entire life! I was eating a well balanced diet and was looking after myself. It was as if my anxiety and depression were from another lifetime. Both conditions hardly got a look-in and I felt mentally and emotionally well. Life was great! After all, we were awaiting the arrival of our little one – what wasn’t there to be happy about?!

Unfortunately though, postnatal depression arrived promptly after the birth of my son. It synchronised its arrival with my emergency C-section and coursed its way through my veins at the same time as I could feel myself coming out of the epidural and anesthetic. I remember how sick I felt and looking at the tiny baby placed in my arms and thinking “What the…?”. Couldn’t they see how crook I was? For no reason I felt angry and resentful. I wasn’t feeling crash hot and I remember saying out loud to no-one in particular, “I really don’t feel so good. Can you take the baby please?”. I remember repeating it several times to no avail.

Now I wish that I could write here that I was able to address it right away. That I recognised it and called it for what it was. After all, I’m qualified in both depression and anxiety right? Unfortunately, I ignored it; kept my head down and tried to keep going. I didn’t even know that postnatal depression existed. That there was a name for what I was feeling at the time. The alarm bells were going off in my head, yet I chose the path of selective hearing and continued to stick my head in the sand.

I felt confused and ashamed and a whole myriad of other feelings all at once in those first few hours, days, weeks and months after giving birth. I felt so many things: inadequate, like a failure, guilt, irritated, resentful. I was often close to tears, felt low, lost interest in activities that I usually enjoyed (I love reading but I couldn’t bring myself to even consider it), unable to cope with everyday life. I withdrew into myself and wanted to get away/escape from everything. It was a terrible experience not just for myself, but also my hubby.

Why on earth was I feeling like this? What was wrong with me? Fear weighed heavily on my mind and I labelled myself a bad mother in the first couple of weeks. I should have been happy and overwhelmed with love for the tiny human which hubby and I had created. Instead, I felt a war raging within me. It was a very lonely and confusing time. Postnatal depression had snuck up on me and then decided to hang around uninvited.

 

 

Birthing the Unknown

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Wild. Free. Young.

Truth be told – I thought giving birth was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life to date. I was told pre-birth that I would pretty much lose my dignity because… well…your nether regions get a viewing by all of the participants in the birthing process. Yup. It’s true and I cannot deny that I was warned well in advance on this one. This includes the doctor/obstetrician, anaesthetist, nurses, orderlies, and anyone else who happens to join in on the cacophony of medical speak going on around you when it’s discovered that all is not going to plan.

So forget that you’ve parked yourself in a hospital room about to give birth and have happily made yourself available to the resources on offer – gas, quiet music or whatever takes your mind off the pain – it’s just that when the plan (not that I ever had a birthing plan to begin with) doesn’t go well you have no choice but to go along with the flow. So there I was waiting for someone to do something, to do anything to get out of that scenario! I was posed at the ready on all fours in a public hospital bed, connected to a beeping machine monitoring my unborn childs’ heart. In medically-trained strangers we trust. Apologies for sounding a tad sarky here.

Now I’m not the first to have had a difficult birth and/or an emergency caesarean, but it sucks when it happens. Even if it’s only once. Don’t get me wrong it’s all in perspective for me now. It’s just that something like that stays with you, even if the minuscule details start to fade with time.

I recall one week prior to the arrival of my son the nurse asking me how things were going. I had answered in the positive. However, I also advised her of how my burgeoning stomach looked very different. Almost as if the baby had changed position. We joked about the baby being in breech but the nurse confidently stated how she would know, as she had assisted many mothers-to-be in her career to date. I wasn’t so sure about her dismissal of my concerns, but then…what did I know? I was just a vessel (and understandably a very anxious one) carrying a child – with no medical knowledge whatsoever. Carrying my first child.

First time I’m doing this. I know there are first times for everything. To be honest, it did not occur to me at the time to own up to a lifetime of anxiety suffering. Hindsight tells me that if I had perhaps thought to illuminate the nurse in the pre-birthing stages then maybe they would have sat up a little straighter and paid more attention and humoured me – even if to prove that I was silly for being anxious. Or maybe me proving them wrong and avoiding a traumatic birth. But those are all ‘what-if’ thoughts now. It no longer matters.

So there I was in the formally unrecognised county, commonly referred to by most as ‘Lah-Lah Land’, as I had thankfully been given an epidural when I had requested it. Hence, that slightly floaty feeling had entered my head space when the machine in the room started beeping and concerned looking nurses were trying to determine whether or not to panic. Ahhhhh…the serenity of childbirth…

Surprise, surprise. My son was born breech. Unfortunately, his planned arrival also heralded the unplanned and unforeseen touchdown of postnatal depression. Sigh… But that’s another story for another time.

Reminiscing about my birthing experience is not something I do. After all, my days are spent very much in the here and now where time is short. Unfortunately, I am not always practicing mindfulness and simply being ‘in-the-present-moment’ (which is what I am aiming for). Instead, I mostly find myself in a ‘let’s-just-get-through-this-moment’ before anything hits the proverbial fan so-to-speak. Sometimes that can mean a mild metaphorical ‘boom’ or ‘bang’ that only my ears and senses are graced with in the household during the day.

My toddler has just reached another milestone at the end of April – age 3 – and so sometimes morphs into a teenager (well, to be honest, he did slam shut his bedroom door in my face the other day very teenage-esque style). Yes, apparently the terrible age of 2 is not really terrible. It’s the magic number of turning 3 (can you sense my jaw clenching? my teeth grinding? me talking through gritted teeth?). So now giving birth has been overtaken by the next hardest thing I am having to grapple with – a threenager. You know the type – a 3 year old advocating some serious attitude around the household.

Enter a parenting program called ‘Triple P’. Those of you who live in Perth, Western Australia may have heard of it. Triple P is a Positive Parenting Program. I am halfway through it. What I love about it is the fact that it’s a hands-on course whereby you’re given a workbook with exercises to firstly monitor your childs behaviours. So there aren’t any parental moves on changing any undesirable behaviours in the first three weeks. It’s not until you later implement the strategies in your household.

Participants have access to a facilitator who guides the group through the program. We meet up in a group on a weekly basis at a designated location, sometimes sharing our own personal parenting experiences, and go through the parenting workbook together. It is interactive and visual (each week there is a DVD to watch that supports the workbook and facilitated discussions). Further to meeting up in person, there is a period of several weeks where the group does not convene. Instead, each week at a designated time, the facilitator will contact each individual parent  attending the program and touch base on how the week has eventuated  regarding the problem behaviour they are experiencing with their child or children.

There are four more weeks to go before I ‘graduate’ from the parenting program. There are no medals provided. Although a certificate will be provided if you want one. I’ve already decided on accepting a certificate as a sign that I’m working at this parenting gig. A visual reminder that I can do this.

Despite my birthing memory and the shaky start to becoming a mother for the first time, I am trying to embrace parenting by being open to assistance such as the aforementioned parenting program. Understandably, being a parent is a lifelong journey and I get that it’s a work-in-progress. Having my son turn three is also a milestone for me in many ways, too numerous to mention here in this individual blog post. I can share one thing though and that is it has taught me that I am a resilient woman who rises to the occasion – especially after chocolate and a caffeinated beverage have been consumed. Though not necessarily in that order… 😂

Forecast: Little tsunami…

Every two years or so my husband would turn to me and say “So…when are we going to have kids?”. And I would come back with: “How about in another two years?”. Now the problem with me saying that was we started to run out of time. Both of us weren’t getting any younger. Admittedly, I had always been the type of girl who had made that seemingly glib comment, “I’m never having children”. However, it wasn’t until a work colleague fell pregnant, at my then place of work, and I started to feel pangs of…I wasn’t quite sure. Loss? How can you feel as if you’ve lost something when you’ve never really had or experienced it in the first place?  Jealousy? No. It wasn’t jealously either. This was a different feeling, as if my life suddenly felt…empty. I felt as though I was missing something. I felt as if something was awry and off kilter with my world and I could start to see a gaping void staring me in the face. Being me though, I tried to shake the feeling off.

Fast forward almost four years later and hubby and I were on a much-needed holiday at the Karajini Eco Retreat located in the Karajini National Park. Dusk was almost upon us as we sat on our camping chairs on the back verandah of our eco accommodation. Each of us with a beer in hand was happily contemplating the days activities and what lay ahead for the rest of our trip. Sipping quite contentedly on my beer, whilst swatting away some flies, I heard my hubby say to me, “So do you think you might be pregnant then?”. I think I might have spluttered mid-gulp on my beer. “What!?” I was incredulous. I had missed my period before, so I was stubbornly sticking to the belief that this time was really no different. Even though we were trying to start a family, I still didn’t quite feel ‘ready’. Whatever that was supposed to mean. I still felt mixed feelings about starting out on the road to parenthood. Was I really a capable candidate? I knew hubby would make a fantastic father, but I wasn’t so convinced of my skills that would be needed to make this formula work. As it turns out, this time I was pregnant. How did I know? Well, my hubby knew before I did. Maybe it was because of the fact that I threw up on the side of a red dirt track as we left Karajini behind us for our next destination or the fact that the thought of eating was contributing to the churning in my stomach. I was definitely and undeniably in denial.

Upon driving into Tom Price, we hurriedly purchased a pregnancy kit from the chemist. So it was in an automated public toilet in the shopping centre car park that I found out I was pregnant. The line on the second test disputing my stubborn belief that I could not possibly be with child. But despite my protests, the pregnancy test did not lie (and it was proven so by a blood test upon our return to Perth). And so began the journey into the unknown. Holding onto my stomach and its contents as we drove over corrugated dirt tracks became my daily reality for the remainder of our holiday. Knowing that I was going to be a mother was something I struggled with. I couldn’t quite get my head around it, even though we had eagerly discussed becoming parents. Becoming a mother scared me silly, but at the same time I marvelled at the idea that a little person had started to grow inside of me. With this new information, out went the alcohol consumption, the smoked salmon and all things not to be consumed when pregnant. This was the beginning of our next chapter in life. We were looking forward to it. However, little did we realise that our world was about to be turned upside down by a little tsunami…