Saturday, 28 November 2020

6. The Myth of "Morning" Sickness



There are many secret, hidden delights to pregnancy – and by delights, I mean torture – but “morning” sickness has got to be near the top of the tree.  For me, “morning” sickness kicked in really early.  All day sickness kicked in about 2 days later.

 

It’s funny how not a single woman told you before you got pregnant that “morning” sickness is one of the greatest misappellations in the English language.  Funny too how not one of them will admit to you how long theirs lasted.   And it just makes you so glad you wore your laughter corset when you learn you can’t take Andrews or Pepto-Bismol or anything else you have relied on the rest of your adult life, because it’s not safe for the very thing that’s making you feel this ill.

 

Merde.

 

See, I understand that the sickness is caused by all the upheaval, too many hormones, the body’s shock at what is growing inside it, and the speed with which your precious invader asserts its right to a food supply (and spacious living accommodation).  What I don’t understand is how we haven’t evolved beyond this sickness stalemate.  Has Mother Nature not realised that if I don’t feel sick, I can eat, and my baby can get all the energy and nutrients it needs ?  Does she not realise that all “morning” sickness accomplishes is a pissed off mother and a baby feeding off water and chips (because this is all you can keep down) ?

 

You are, frankly, shocked at what the body will no longer tolerate: fizzy drinks, meat, chocolate, crisps, anything more substantial than a 2oz meal, in fact, just about anything you try to squeeze down your throat.


 

You know you must eat, so you try to do the decent thing, and force your way through the nausea (you have a large appetite, you have fought nausea before, and won).  Just as the last mouthful drops however, you get that bowling ball feeling in your tummy, that weighty, tingly, hot-and-clammy Oh My God feeling.  Within seconds the £4.50 it cost you for lunch is floating in the basin sticking its fingers up at you, and grinning in its triumph:  ha ha, it seems to laugh.  You, well, you just sink to the floor of the toilet cubicle and shake, too exhausted and depleted to even cry.

 

It's exhausting.  And miserable.  You know the only thing that will clear the exhaustion is food, but hahahahaha that’s not really an option, is it?

 

But hope is a cruel thing.  You really fancy a bag of beefy crisps, so you toddle out and get some.  Sharp, dramatic flavours are what you need.  You put the first one in your mouth and it sits petrified on your tongue, filling your mouth with saliva and dread.  But you wanted this 5 minutes ago!!  In the jittery, slightly hazy world of nausea, 5 minutes can seem a lifetime.

 

You have 10 more weeks of this yet.

 

You try to cut a deal with your baby – “Mummy knows you need food to grow, but if Mummy feels sick she can’t eat.   If you let me eat during the day, you’ll grow.  Can’t I just feel sick at night?”

 

Amazingly the baby responds, and sends your brain the weirdest, scariest images: I would like to eat fruit please.   I have not eaten much fresh fruit in years, not since the produce in supermarkets became harder than a porn star’s tackle, but astonishingly, my baby wants fruit.  Lots of it.  Where once I was never to be seen without crisps in my hand, now I carry round a bowl of grapes, plums and cherry tomatoes, which in itself is enough to warn everybody that knows me that Something Is Not Quite Right.

 


As the weeks progress, my perverse daughter will demand salad – this when her mother has for years famously fumed that salad is not a meal, but a garnish – jacket potatoes, tomato soup, pancakes, oats (sympathetic boyfriend remarks how at least one of us is now getting some oats), Hobnobs, and eggs.   There will be a week when I cannot get enough egg down my gullet, prompted I think by my sudden aversion to meat.  Not only does the baby know what I can keep down, she can also work out what she is not getting and manipulate me into eating it.  The weird thing about the egg episode though, is that for the last 10 years they have triggered migraines.  I can just about get away with eating them as an ingredient in cake (its tough, but I make an effort) but eggs on their own, fried or scrambled, equal the next day being spent in bed.

 

In 7 days I think I eat 35 eggs.  There is not even the hint of a suspicion of a prelude to a migraine.  And just like that, pregnancy gives you a miracle.

 

So what did I learn?  Well, morning sickness is varied, no one size fits all.  Some women barely get it, others suffer all day, every day.   Like the Duchess of Cambridge, I had hyperemesis gravidarum and ended up being signed off work for 2 months.  Amazingly, it affects 1 in 50 women – so why does no one mention it?

 

They say that if you knew what pregnancy and childbirth were like, you’d never do it, and there probably is a lot of truth in that, but there is also no helpfulness in a conspiracy of silence.  I had noooooo idea that morning sickness could be a 24/7, 5 month affair.  But at least by the time I was 6 months pregnant, I’d lost a stone and half. 

 

Since having my daughter, I’ve learnt more about what I think triggers morning sickness - and this is just my personal opinion.   Before pregnancy, if I was hungry, I would get hunger pains in my tummy; ever since I’ve had a baby, if I’m hungry, I feel sick.  There have even been times when I’ve thrown up because there has been too long a gap between meals.

 

So now, I think “morning” sickness is the body’s alarm system, actually telling us to eat, but doing it in the stupidest, most contrary way possible.  If you think about it, the reason it’s called morning sickness is that while we’ve been sleeping, the baby has been leeching our energy stores, sucking us dry, and as soon as we wake up, baby wants us to eat.  Baby’s communication skills are shit.

 

So if you’re struggling, try and eat your way through it.  Little and often.  And listen to your body.  It will tell you what it needs – like the miracle of the eggs; interestingly, my allergy ended during pregnancy.  Clever, huh.

 

By the time things level out, baby will even be telling you what her favourite foods are – she used to cartwheel in my tummy whenever I ate carrot cake – and eventually you’ll be able to eat enough for the 2 of you to survive.  Until your pelvis ruptures, that it, but that’s another story ……

 

 

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

5. For The Love of Lockdown

 


It’s been a strange year, hasn’t it?  I’ve been lucky.  I haven’t personally been struck by Covid or experienced any of the difficulties or sacrifices that other people have.  I was furloughed, and actually, that was nothing but a positive experience for me.  So why have I (someone with mental health challenges) emerged stronger, when so many others have experienced the first mental health anguish of their lives?

 

I think it starts with your normal.  I am the living definition of that meme up there.  I am solitary.  I am not naturally sociable.  Since I was a child, my favourite activities have been reading and writing, and Netflix is far more important to me than any man lol.  So, lockdown didn’t actually make much difference to me, other than having to queue to get into Aldi.

 

Furlough was different.  I was off work for 7 weeks, and initially, it was like being paid to go on holiday.  I think most of us went a little feral at first – staying up later, waking up later, bingeing on Netflix – and generally having a break from life.  Truth is, after about 2 weeks of this, my mind started craving structure, and that’s when furlough became the gift that kept on giving.

 

Emma Thompson, the actress, defined depression a few years ago in a way that has stuck with me, as it’s the most perfect way I’ve ever heard it described.   She said that she had suffered from "the sort of depression that doesn't necessarily make you want to kill yourself - you just don't want to be, you want to switch it off and stop.”

 

That, in a nutshell, is what depression is (well, one facet of it) – feeling like you’re forever one step behind the game, lagging behind in life, desperately striving to catch up.  You’re always just that little bit untogether, that little bit lacking in every way, and all you want is for the world to stop long enough so that you can get your shit together and join back in.  You literally want to put the world on pause for however long it takes for you to get back in the game.   Very simply, furlough gave me that chance to catch up with myself.

 

A depressed mind is, for me, a scattered mind.  It’s the needle skipping the grooves on a record, and it’s biggest cruelty has been depriving me of my ability to read.  Oh I can read poems, and short snappy articles, but descend, duvet-bound into the bliss of a book?  No.  That’s something I’ve been unable to do – with very very few exceptions – for about 10 years. 

 

So how to occupy a mind that can’t sit and dwell.  How to challenge yourself when you can't immerse yourself in something for hours on end?  Well, I did a variety of online courses, and I started writing again, and between them they started to bring me back to myself, a self I had lost a long time ago.

 

I’ve always been a learner.  At school I was the girly swot, the straight A student, the one who loved lessons effortlessly.  I always did more than I needed to, supplemented my studies, read VORACIOUSLY …. Yet when I started to lose myself, I had to focus on keeping me together.  That meant that all my mental energy was on holding me IN rather than GROWING.  Furlough gave me my first chance in 15 years to feed my mind, and with it my soul.

 


I started with a subject that was of personal interest – a course on depression, anxiety and CBT.  I did it partly to learn about myself, but also to try on whether this could be a new career (although I feel way too old to attempt that.)  The course, through the University of Reading, was everything I wanted it to be – and so much more.  Like a corset, it pulled me back together.  It sucked all my mental baggage in and moulded it back into a better shape – a stronger, more aware shape.

 

My biggest learning was there is no such thing as reality.  Only our perceptions of reality.  That’s why I might think the dress is blue, but you think it’s turquoise – we all process information differently.  What I hadn’t realised was how that processing could fuel and darken your mental anguish, and that I had been slowly gorging myself over the years with false perceptions, misheard tones and imagined insults.

 

From there, I cantered through a variety of courses -  I think I did about 9 in total.  A few more on mental health, and a few more that were work related (gotta “sharpen the saw”) and all of them reminded me of my joy of learning, the thrill of self-discovery and the bliss of having those moments of reflection that shape us, change us and drive us forward.

 

From there it was an easy move to start writing again.  My mind energised and whirring, the thoughts came pouring out of me, mainly in poems, a format I hadn’t used for nearly 20 years.  Then I started writing “pieces”, lists, snatches – just getting it out there, on the page, for my own benefit.  And do you know what?  A weight I never knew I carried lifted off me, and my soul started to feel lighter.

 

Like all progress, it hasn’t been linear.  Although I feel so much stronger than I did a year ago, there are still days when I am a blubbering mess, or days when I wake up with a feeling of doom I can’t shake – but there are less of those days than there have been in a looooooong time, and the gap between them is getting longer.  (Current personal record:  6 weeks between crying sessions.  Check me out haha).

 

So if you’re struggling to get through lockdown, this is what it taught me –

 

If you need to relax, chill, switch off, DO IT, and don’t feel guilty about it.  Do whatever self care you need to do.  Don’t feel you need to occupy your days with anything other than the things you want to do.

 

Do the things you don’t normally get chance to do.  Life moves way too quickly, and for most of us, a weekend isn’t enough time to tilt the scales back to balance.  For me, I cooked meals I hadn’t cooked in a long time.  For others, they became demon bakers or outrageously good home decorators.  It’s a gift – spend it wisely.

 

Don’t get sucked in to feeling you have to “succeed” at lockdown or furlough.  We are all different.  You don’t have to write a novel or record an album or even take loads of courses, but if you’re missing mental stimulation, I would recommend a project – but make it one of your choosing, and one that will delight you.  I know people who have learnt the guitar, crocheted for England, made 100s of masks – for life to be purposeful, we need to have a focus, but don’t for a second think that it has to be huge and global. 

 


And if you slob about and do nothing but “complete” your Netflix watchlist?  That’s fine, as long as you’ve had a damn good time doing it.  But if you feel, halfway through your latest binge, that you’re wasting your time, it’s your brain calling you to something more. 

 

Lockdown – it’s your time.  Treat yourself, and you’ll thank yourself later.

4. I Tried You On Like A Dress

 


I grew up with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  It ruined me for life.  They taught me that the perfect man was out there waiting for me, and one day, He Would Swoop In and All Would Be Well in my world.

 

I also grew up on rom-coms.  Happiness was inevitable.  I would meet The One and I would “know” and everything would be sunshine and daisies when I met him.  So if I met someone and there wasn’t fireworks, well, he couldn’t be The One, could he?

 

This led (shocker) to some serious issues in my view of men, dating and love lol.  I waited for fireworks, I waited for Holy Communion, and dating stopped being dating and became more of an auditioning process.  Would HE be The One?

 

I vividly remember Gary.  He ticked a LOT of boxes – tall, dark and handsome and a VERY good kisser – and dating him was like a dream where part of me was still awake.  It was like living the life, whilst at the same time being stood outside it, reviewing it, critiquing it, and trying to understand if he fit. 

 

By now I was 28 and ready for my next adventure – true love, The Wedding – and I remember introducing him to my mother as my future husband even though I had only known him 3 weeks.  3 times she ignored me, and 3 times I persisted lol.  I even overlooked the imperfect sex (Gary, an ex professional athlete was very proud of his ahem, stamina.  Not me.  I fucking hated it.  Stamina = chafing.  Not good.)

 

Looking back, I was so lost in a dream, a fantasy.  I was desperate for it to come true and whisk me away to a happier world.  Every moment I was with him was an audition for a future that was never going to happen.  I willed him to be the missing jigsaw piece, without realising that the missing piece of the puzzle was me.

 

Anyway, a few months ago, I wrote a poem about it.  I thought I’d share it as something different.  The life lesson here is Just Be.  Don’t force things.  Don’t have pre-conceptions.  Just let life unfold and judge it for what it is, not what some demented Disney princesses have told you it should be.

 


 

And I realise now

All I was doing was trying you on like a dress

I was desperate to wear but

That didn’t really suit me.

 

Oh honey, you were completely the wrong

Fit.  You didn’t suit

My style, my colour, my shape, but

Stubbornly I tried to fit into you anyway.

 

I wriggled into you, squirming, and

Smoothed you down.  Turned

This way and that, checking you out

From every angle.

 

Even the reflection looked wrong.

I looked wrong.

But I really really liked the dress.  I’d

Always wanted it, envied

Others who could wear it, NEEDED

To know how it felt being inside it …..

 

Inside you.  With you.  Entwined

With you.  Wrong.  Tight.  Scratchy.

Squirmy.  Wrong.  Uncomfortable.

Itchy. Not right.  Wrong.

How could something so perfect make me feel

So ugly?

How could I be so out of place within this image of myself,

So wrong about how the dress would feel?

 

Because the dress was a fairytale and that’s what I believed in back then.

I was bulimic for them, nourished and poisoned by them.

To wear a dress like you would make ME fit in.

Would centre me in my life, rescue me from my catwalk of chaos.

It was never about you, it was always about me.

 

Even when they told me the dress was a bad fit, I didn’t care.

Even when I knew the dress made me feel ugly, I wanted to wear it anyway.

Even when you began to rip at the seams …. when the buttons fell off … owning that dress meant everything to me.

 

I realise now being The Girl With The Dress was more important to me than being The Girl.

I thought I needed the dress to sparkle and dazzle and shine and to prove that I existed.

I thought I needed YOU to prove what I was worth.

It was years and years and many, many dresses later that I worked out that it’s not The Girl who needs the dress, it’s the dress that needs The Girl.

After all, without her, it’s just a dress.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

3. Today I Am 1 Day Older Than You

 



My mother died – suddenly – when I was 29 years old.  We’d had a very close relationship – possibly too close – and her death left an absence inside me which has been impossible to fill.

 

Over the years, she didn’t get to come to my wedding, help me through pregnancy, hold her granddaughter for the first time, attend Beth’s christening and birthdays, enjoy family Christmasses or bury her own mother.  More importantly, she didn’t see me decay from the inside and wither away from the twin acids of divorce and self-diminishment.

 

The dead get frozen in time.  They forever exist in a sealed capsule, untouchable, unreachable, unhuggable.  The Crown is about to start this weekend, and it hits me every time I see photos of Charles and Diana: she is frozen, but look how young he was!  For him, life has continued, whilst she is pinned to the moment of her last existence, radiant, young, undiminished.

 

My mother remains frozen to me.  She is 49, radiant, laughing, hugging me, and cooing how much she likes the boy (my future husband).  Our last summer is a kaleidoscope of bright and noisy memories: inviting her to my flat in Leeds, getting absolutely deluged by Yorkshire rain, enjoying great food, loving Phantom (again), and even having our own theme tune which made us smile every time we heard it on the radio.

 

And since then: silence. 

 

My mother was always the greater portion of my parenting team and loved me unconditionally.  Without her, I became untethered, leaning into the wind, and begging life to take me.  Anywhere.  Anywhere.  Anywhere but here where the loss is so bright it burns my eyes. 

 

And so I drifted into marriage, and motherhood and allowed the sparkle to fade from my eyes.  I traded my greatest champion for a man who didn’t know how to support me psychically or how to feed my soul, and who day by day allowed me to shrink before his eyes, powerless to notice, too ignorant to help.


I drifted through jobs, blogging, obsessions, depression, another bad relationship and fell completely out of love with myself.  It’s as if at the moment of her death, my soul dived off a cliff into an everlasting freefall which is only now beginning to end..

 

Thud.  When you hit the ground, it hurts.  There’s a certain exhilaration in the falling, the self-destructiveness, the knowing it’s unstoppable.  You scream, silently, and no one hears you.  But when you land, shattered and broken into infinitesimal pieces, well, it just hurts.

 

Time is a healer, they say (I don’t know that I agree; maybe we don’t heal.  Maybe we just make peace with ourselves), and slowly I have started to piece myself together.  And in the piecing, I have realised something.  Did I become stuck in time with you?  Did I become frozen too?  Has this 20 year freefall been what it’s taken to shatter the ice and emerge, finally, on my own 2 feet?

 

I feel I froze too when you died.  I stopped growing.  I stopped LIVING.  I settled … ugh what an ugly word.  I abandoned myself to a life that didn’t thrill me, ignite me or empower me.   It’s like part of me died with you, and only now is it coming back.

 

You see today, I am one day older than you were when you died.  How does that make any sense?   How can I be as old as you – exactly – when you are forever frozen 20 years older than me, mothering me?  And how on earth do I walk a path you never got to tread.  How do I do this without you?

 

It’s been a headfuck, I’ll grant you that.  It’s been a day I have dreaded for years and a day I wasn’t sure I would see.  I can’t tell you what an achievement it feels to be here, and in some ways to feel …. free.

 

I feel now that I walk alone without you.  I walk into the unknown, but on my terms.  It’s MY unknown, my blank canvas, and I can make it what I want it to be.  I finally am starting to feel strong enough to create the life that I want, rather than the life I have allowed.

 

And I think that has been my true lesson through all of this.  I need to walk alone.  Not with ghosts, not with toxic men.  Alone.  I am me when I am me.  The worst experiences of my life have been when I have traded my independence for somebody else.  When I have been a (bad) wife, a misused girlfriend, a piece of flotsam on the stream, ebbing and flowing and getting nowhere.

 

And now is my time.  Now is MY future.  There is nobody else.  Just me.

 

Today I am one day older than you, and that’s ok. 


Sunday, 8 November 2020

2. Getting Pregnant



So, you’re pregnant.

 

A lifetime of movies, sitcoms, soaps and friends has taught you what to expect.

 

You float serenely with a neat bump in the barest chiffon.  You glow.  You make plans for the birth, for the nursery, for the effortless return to slimness.  You do not envisage any problems, any frustrations, any glitches.  After all, you have all these friends who have had children, and they didn’t have the merest negative experience.

 

Well guess what.  These friends ?  These members of the sisterhood ?  These fellow women who swore pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to them, and how “it” was all worth while ?  They lied.  And they never once had the decency to explain exactly what “it” means.

 

The decision to have a baby is one of the most exciting things I think I ever did.  It seems thrilling, illicit, downright sexy to make love with absolutely no barrier between you.  Intimacy – nothing comes close until you embrace the man you love with all of your body, all of your hopes, and all of your self.

 

Well, let me rephrase.  It’s the most exciting part till you realise that despite 4 consecutive days of sex, you should probably do it for another 5 days “just to make sure”.  Not so exciting now.  Duty, effort, function.  Of course it remains enjoyable darling, of course it was great, but you both feel so obligated to your future child to give him or her every chance to come into being that sex becomes ever so slightly mechanical.

 

Gradually, you notice that your husband looks really tired.

 

Typically, you had to trick him into trying for a baby.  It’s one of the greatest truisms of life that There Is NO Right Time to Have A Baby.  When your mum died, 2 years earlier, you realised your father was likely to will himself to death (somehow, 20 years later, he’s still here) and that you didn’t want to live your old age as an only child.  The need to create one of your own took you by surprise, and now, you were just about the right side of bored to make that happen.

 

Let me explain – by bored I mean I was ready.  There was nothing else going on.  I was a superstar in my job, the house was as pretty as it would ever be and well …. I was ready for my next adventure.   The boyfriend, not quite so ready.  As ever, he struggled to commit to something so I took control in the kick ass way that was my only mode of living back then and told him it was absolutely fiiiiiine darling if he wasn’t ready, but I was no longer taking contraception, so if he really didn’t want a baby, he would have to put a condom on it.

 

This was probably the only masterstroke I ever pulled in our relationship.  He hated condoms with a passion, so I knew there was no chance of him doing it lol, and true to form, at the key moment, he sighed, said “Fuck it”, and ta-daaaaaah, we were trying for a baby.

 

But there’s a difference between trying and actually being.  We’ve all been there.  That sickening moment when we take the plunge and pee on the stick, praying loudly and fervently for the little square to stay blank.  We have peed with fear, with a feeling of sick anxiety, of ambitions not yet realised.  Never before have we peed with hope – dizzy, giddy, Christmas Day hope.

 

So you put the toilet lid down and you wait.  You try not to look at the stick for 2 minutes, the way you try not to notice the dessert trolley in the restaurant, but still, it keeps winking at you, flashing its power: Maybe.  Maybe not.

 

You remember the previous month when you were convinced you were pregnant, when you had already had nausea and tiredness, when chicken began to make you feel sick, and the shock of blood on toilet paper all but took your breath away.  As much as you are scared to get pregnant and change your life forever, you are more scared of not getting pregnant and being the current you forever.

 

So you take a deep breath and you grab the stick, and turn it over, look at it.  You open your eyes to see better.  You haven’t noticed that you have stopped breathing.  And then you …. Well, I laughed.  Spluttered, really.  Shook my head in disbelief.  A planned pregnancy that ironically, was unplanned (we were convinced we had had sex on the wrong days that month; I only did the test cos I get impatient).  And a boyfriend who was 3000 miles away at that moment, working for a month in Qatar.

 

Pregnancy, so romantic.  Really, it should have been a sign.

 


You break the news to your partner – ideally not in a trans-continental phone call, but I never have been able to keep a secret – and you tell your best friend because you know that you are impatient, impulsive and often downright reckless and it could be a good idea to have someone around to rein you in and be on standby in case tragedy strikes you early.

 

Its amazing people don’t notice.  You wear your pregnancy like a secret.  I swear any “glow” you get is the smug satisfied smile of the cat who knows she just ate all the cream, but wants to stay and watch what happens when the other cats find out.

 

It’s amazing people don’t notice.  You pee.  Frequently.

 

It’s amazing people don’t notice.  You puke.  A lot.  Really, I should have just put my office in the toilets, cos I really wasn’t consuming enough calories to keep running back and forth.  You hide mouthwash in your locker.  You start to leave work earlier because at 4pm each day you feel as if you have fallen into a narcotic stupor.

 

It’s all perfectly natural you tell yourself.  The books you have bought explain how this is the baby’s greatest period of growth.  Well no wonder I feel knackered – my body is in shock.  You tell yourself this, and you believe it.  It won’t last long.  Really, you should know better.

 

You vow to keep it a secret until you’re safely past 12 weeks – after all, mustn’t tempt fate.  But you are also aware of how everybody at work must be wondering why you are obsessed with a certain toilet cubicle, why your bladder seems to have the cubic capacity of a gnat’s stomach, and why you have been off ill a couple of times with “a bug”.

 

So you come clean at work, even though you feel a bit of a prat making the announcement.  But then once you’ve told work you realise you should have perhaps told your family first.  Everybody is thrilled for you, everybody is excited.

 

Everybody except you.

 

You, well you just feel sick.  Not just mildly sick, but all day nausea, puking, inability to swallow even water kind of sick.  Whoever called it morning sickness was a damned liar.  Mine lasted almost all of the day, every day.

 

But look, the sisters crowd round to give you comfort.  Don’t worry, they coo.  It will pass.  It gets better at 12 weeks (later they will reassure you it gets better at 16, 20 and any other nice number weeks; rather like the dream of the never-ending race, the finishing tape of sickness is always just around the corner).  Have you tried ginger ?  Have you tried crackers in the morning ?

 

No, but I tried celibacy once and it never made me feel like this.

 

It will be several weeks yet before you realise they have lied.  How they have listened, nodded, empathised and then reassured you that you only have a couple of weeks left to endure, that this is the worst moment.

 

It will not get better, but you don’t know that yet, so you use your formidable talent for positive thinking to convince yourself that soon you will feel better, soon you will glow.  Meanwhile you are signed off work for 2 months with extreme nausea and exhaustion, 15 years before Kate Middleton made it a well known thing.

 


So what did I learn?  Well, when you want something, you have to grab it.  If you’re ready, Go and Get It, don’t wait.  In life, if you can make it happen, you should, simple as.

 

However, pregnancy is the great conspiracy of silence.  Sure, some women sail through it effortlessly, and you will come to hate these women with every cell of your being, but so many others just aren’t honest about the horrendous moments.  For me, the 2nd part of my pregnancy would be even worse than the first, and I never stopped being shocked by the number of women who would say to me, “I know, the same thing happened to me, but I didn’t want to tell you.”

 

So the real lesson is for the women out there.  Be honest.  Decades ago, we possibly kept the misery of pregnancy secret because it wasn’t a polite conversation to have.  These days, thankfully, we don’t have that excuse, which is why it’s so great to see Chrissy Teigen sharing the agony of losing her baby.  Pregnancy is an experience that bonds us – the sisterhood is unlike anything I have ever experienced, but we have to be honest.

 

I wish women had prepared me more for how awful pregnancy can be.  Would it have stopped me?  Absolutely not, but it would have PREPARED me, and maybe killed off my fantasy of the yoga-chiffon-pregnancy lol.   I hated pretty much every moment of being pregnant, and I only worked for 2 months in that entire time.  Misery doesn’t even come close to describing it, and despite every intention of agreeing with the fortune teller and having 3 children, it’s the main reason I stopped at 1. 

 

I just couldn’t put my body through it again.

1. Don't Yearn for Depression (Depression post 1 of 6,294)

 

 Hi


And yes, seriously.

 

Depression has been a big part of my life for more than half my time on this earth.  It's been more loyal to me than any man I've ever known, and is probably the longest relationship of my life.  It's taught me the darker colours of the rainbow, the sound of silent tears, and made me feel the absence of my very soul.  But guess what, I think I asked for it.

 

Being a teenager is a very confusing time.  Too many hormones, too much parenting, not enough freedom .. blah blah blah.  It's also a time when you're very much the star of your own movie .... and I was (and remain) the star of a tragi-comedy.  Back then, I hadn't learnt to embrace the comedy so all I was was .... tragic.

 

An only child, I became a very lonely and alone (and they are different things) teenager.  I longed to be an adult and hated every bit of myself and my life and my circumstances.  I wanted to be the centre of my own universe, and I wasn't.  I was alone at home, had few friends at school, was very shy ... and I so badly wanted to be seen and to belong.

 

I was a book worm, and I can't now remember what books I lived in as a teenager.  I know they were books written for adults, but I don't even remember what influenced me (and crucially, whether it was the 2 key texts of my life, Wuthering Heights and The Bell Jar).   What I DO know is that I had cultivated this image from somewhere of The Girl Who Was Waiting To Bloom, who just needs the right man to see her and free her from herself.

 

I think teenage hormones and PMS at some point encouraged me to take it too far.  I wanted people to "love" me, and thought if I was dark and silent, people would be concerned, interested in me and would be drawn to me.  We are all stupid when we are young.

 

I thought having depression made you interesting, and I so badly wanted to be interesting.  To take all the uncool parts of me and channel them instead into something rare and to be admired.  I felt that letting the darkness in would fill my empty shell and make me sparkle like coal dust.  It didn't.

 

I think it's Elizabeth Wurtzel who wrote that whilst madness is dramatic and exciting (I'm paraphrasing), depression is just .. dull.   It's boring.  It is pure absence, packaged in darkness, and stupidly I wanted it.  I wanted people to know that about me, to label me with it and instantly make me more glamorous and appealing.  I wanted to be the tragic heroine of my own empty love story.  I wanted attention.

 

I remember a couple of occasions where I deliberately cultivated my depression, or the perception that I had depression.  One was in a theatre-type classroom, and the other was on a rambling day on a geography trip.  On both occasions, I sat myself as far apart from my friends as I could and interacted with no one.  I thought they would care enough to run over to talk to me, to find out what was "wrong" with me, and to remind me why my existence mattered.  They didn't of course, which allowed my performed depression to start to take root within me, and which gave me plenty of self-hatred and pity with which to water it.

 


Depression is a like a plant, well, a weed, choking all life and hope away.  But like a plant, it needs to be watered to that it can spread and stifle you.  The teenage mandatory emotions of self-hatred and bitterness are perfect weed-fuel, and before you know it, the cultivated air of depression is giving way to something else, something deeper, and something you can't control.

 

Looking back, all I was was sad.  But (and this is key) the seeds of self-destructive self-talk were carefully being sown.  I was rewriting my narrative as The Girl No One Loves, the Girl Who Isn’t Attractive, and the Girl Who Will Never Be Happy, rather than rejoicing in the things that made me unique.

 

Depression is particularly good at that, rewiring you so that you only believe the bad things about yourself.  So that you only tell yourself things that hurt like acid, and burn yourself with a “truth” that condemns you to only feel the way you’re feeling – sad.


I remember thinking about killing myself – but I see it now as very abstract thoughts.  It wasn’t about ending things, it was absolutely a cry for help, the cry to be seen.  I would imagine timing it to perfection so that I would be discovered by one of my parents.  It was the anguished wringing of hands I wanted, not death.  The endless devotion, the being coddled like a precious, fragile wonder, and the certain knowledge I was the centre of somebody’s – ANYBODY’S – universe.  

 

The irony here is that I was very loved as a child.  Almost smothered in fact, so there was no NEED for them to prove their love, I felt it every day.  I could not have wanted a more loving parent than my mother, and my father was practical if cold, due to his upbringing (and it’s interesting my suicidal fantasies were of my FATHER finding me, as if to shock him into an emotional existence, or to spare my mother the pain.)

 

So did I make it up?  Honestly?  I really don’t know.  I know the phrase “don’t draw down the lighting”, and I think I did do that, but I also don’t think the lightning would have been drawn to ME if there wasn’t some darkness in me, ready to be ignited.  It clearly scorched the earth for a path that would only become more well-worn with time.

 

I think my biggest crime (other than a need for drama) was naivety, imagining that depression could be shrugged on and off like a cardigan, when I wanted to.  I stroked the cardigan, coveted it, snuggled with it, but like the oh too warm-blooded person I am, what I really wanted was for someone (a boy) to rip it away from me and tell me that I didn’t need it.  That I was perfect without it.

 


There is no time in your life as alien or as intense as when you’re a teenager.  It is literally mind-blowing experiencing all those emotions for the first time, and it’s no surprise that in some of us there’s a short circuit.  I remember being utterly miserable, feeling alone, misunderstood, like I would NEVER be understood …. But that’s not quite how depression feels to me these days.

 

I remember my parents telling me to snap out of it (owch, never a good tactic, that one), my friends telling me to stop being so miserable and bringing them down (harsh, but with hindsight, very true lol) and me finding solace in researching the tragedies of Marilyn Monroe and Sylvia Plath.


And yet through it, I had very few of the classic signs of depression.  Yes I was moody and miserable, but I still read 3 books a week, I was still a straight A student, I had a Saturday job at which I excelled, I didn’t lose my appetite (although I did gain a hatred for the way I looked), and I still did all the hobbies I had done before AND sang into my hairbrush lol.   There was no self-harm (mainly because, I now think, I was completely unaware of its existence), there was no need for medication (perhaps because my parents refused to acknowledge what I was feeling as a real thing; who knows, they may have been right), and there wasn’t the stifling feeling of the black cloud, magnetically clinging to you and suffocating you, although I did spend a lot of my time in bed.  

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I firmly believe the seed was there, just waiting to be watered.  You can’t just INVENT depression, but I do think I was guilty of looking it in the eye and daring it to take me, at a time in my life when we were way too young to embark on a relationship.   I desperately wanted to be “fixed” and “looked after” and depression was my calling card, my way to attract that into my life (interestingly, that salvation NEVER arrived, and it would take me 30 long years to realise that you have to fix yourself).

 

Too much of my teenage years and my twenties would be spent waiting for life to swoop in and wave a magic wand at me, wasting my best years longing for something better, rather than going out and making it happen.  It’s a mindset that feels like it belongs to another person now, but it’s also the mindset of the depressed, when taking agency for yourself can be more exhausting than you can bear.

 

So what would I tell myself if I could go back in time?  To focus on what makes you happy.  Life will happen soon enough, but until then, don’t waste even a second wishing for a better one – either go out and grab it, or learn to be happy with what you’ve got.

 

Cinderella has got a lot to answer for.  There is no fucking fairy godmother.  There is no winning the lottery, or learning you’ve been adopted and your real parents are millionaires or movie stars.  There is only you, and there is only now, and if there is any type of key to life, it’s learning to make those 2 things the only things that matter.

 

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