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Running For My Life

Mental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children.… Continue readingMental Health has been part of my life since I was a little girl. To be honest, probably since the day I was born. My father was an addict. Alcohol being his drug of choice, forcing my family to break up when I was only 3 years old. His love for alcohol was just too strong. It overtook the love for his wife and children. Alongside this, my Mam has suffered from a very severe level of depression for much of my life. She has only really started to come out the other side over the last 10 years, although as anyone who knows about mental ill health or who suffers themselves, it is always a burden you will carry.

My own experiences started officially after the birth of my daughter when I was 19 years old. To be fair, they probably started a lot earlier but there was no space in my head to entertain the thought and mental health was simply not discussed when I was young. My best friend didn't even know how bad my home life was. It was like you became a leper if you came from a broken home as it was, you just didn't add to these issues by admitting your parents were clearly ill. Being a victim of bullying for being poor was enough, I could not have added my family life situation to the mix.

After an initial bout of severe depression which saw me signed off and put on medication about 10 year ago, after the death of my Nana, I have been able to pretty much self manage since. Or so I thought. Back in March 2017 I realised I had hit complete rock bottom. It was a rainy day and I was coming back from taking my daughter to her Dads. The roads were slippy and I skidded on some surface water. I took my hands off the wheel, hoping I would crash. If it wasn't for me spotting a photo of my son in the corner of my windscreen and snapping to my senses, well you know what the result would have been. And I just simply did not care. That photo saved my life! First thing Monday morning I called my Doctor and I have been off work, put on medication again which I fully intend to stick to and I am seeing a counsellor.

I truly believe that if it wasn't for me losing over 2 stone in weight and discovering a true love for running and fitness in general my story could be currently very different. Running keeps me even. If I am upset, angry, frustrated or so low I cant think straight, I lace up my bright pink Nikes, stick in my ear phones, put my music on loud, and I run. I never plan a route. I never plan a particular distance. I just go, wherever my feet take me. My mind becomes deliciously blank, The white noise in my head disappears. I am free. I am not a Mam, a wife, a sufferer of depression, I am Claire. That feeling that comes when you finish is just so hard to describe. You feel alive. The sweat, your heart beating out your chest, your lungs on fire, it is just amazing. Add to this, smashing a Personal Best, well for that moment, any moments of suffering feel a million memories away!

After a year of exercising and becoming the fittest I have ever been in my life, I decided I wanted to make it count. I wanted to give back. I started by completing Run Every Day January (clue is in the name) and raised over £300 for national Mind. It gave me such a sense of achievement and purpose, that I was donating for a cause so close to my heart and raising awareness, both of the charity itself and of mental health. It is such a taboo subject, still to this day, although situations are improving. I want to be part of the driving force that makes talking about your mental issues as common as talking about the flu! From this I decided I wanted to do more, but for my local Mind - Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. Charity really does begin at home. Teesside is my adopted home, it is where I have had some of my toughest times in adult life but where I have learnt a lot and where I have met some of the most important people. With this in mind (no pun intended) I decided to sign up for my first professional race - Bamburgh 10km, in June 2017. I am so excited but nervous. I have also decided to train for the London Marathon in the hope I get a place in 2018. Fundraising again for the lovely team at Mind Middlesbrough & Stockton. As part of this training I will be completing the Bamburgh Half Marathon in October. A massive feat for someone that this time last year could only run for 20 minutes!

My next steps - to complete these running challenges and raise as much money as possible in support and awareness of mental health. To add many more to my belt over the years. To continue with my mental health and fitness blog (redballoons2017.wordpress.com) and to continue to grow, learn and become part of the amazing volunteering team at Mind. I will also be a qualified Personal Trainer come July.

With all the above in place I know my recovery is imminent. I will never be completely cured, but knowing I can give back to those suffering and in their won dark place will mean I have turned my demons into angels. It will make my own dark days have more of a rose coloured tint to them.

Website: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/CLAIRE-COULTHARD2?utm_id=121

Unapolagetically Me

For a good few months now I've been feeling really low about myself, which is not like me. I was such a confident person and was so happy within myself, and I guess as I've grown up and matured a bit more and life has changed so much that I'm having to almost find myself again. When I say feeling down about myself I don't… Continue readingFor a good few months now I've been feeling really low about myself, which is not like me. I was such a confident person and was so happy within myself, and I guess as I've grown up and matured a bit more and life has changed so much that I'm having to almost find myself again. When I say feeling down about myself I don't just mean the odd huff here and there because I've put on a bit of weight or I don't like my hair, I've been overthinking things I didn't used to. It all sparked because I gained a few pounds but then it kind of tumble weeded and I started to think about what other people thought of me.

What if people think I'm mean for saying that? What if people think I'm stupid because I've forgotten something? What if they're looking at me thinking 'she's put on weight'? What if they don't like me?

I guess I let one insecurity spark some more, which I shouldn't have done. Something that only my closest friends and boyfriend know is that I suffer with Anxiety. I haven't been properly diagnosed but I know I have it, I've suffered with panic attacks since I was in secondary school and my mind is pretty much always in over drive overthinking the smallest of things. However, I've realised that I just need to get back to my roots. Life got so hectic with work, Uni and family life that I forgot to take time out for me (and my little blog) so I've decided it's time to work on myself. By that I mean get healthier, lose the weight I put on, work on something that I love doing, create things and start to really enjoy life again.

My weight does not define me. I can be forgetful. Sometimes I get annoyed a little too easily. I can let stressful situations get me down. You work to live, you don't live to work. I achieve something every day as my blog views go up. I'm funny. I have amazing people around me. I'm kind. I'd prefer to wear a baggy jumper and joggers over a dress any day. I'm pretty, even without make up. I need to work on my time keeping skills. I got a 1st in a Uni assignment with the rest pretty much all 2:1s, when an A was never in sight at school or college. I'm creative. I'm motivated. I'm talented. I'm me.

These are some of the things that make up who I am, some good, some bad. It's hard to beat insecurities and learn to love yourself but every now and then it's good to sit down and remind yourself that you're actually doing ok.

Website: http://justlucyslife.blogspot.co.uk/

Stigma in the workplace

One of the most prevalent topics in the mental health community seems to be stigma around mental health in the workplace. I’ve heard stories of people being told to deal with it; that they need to grow up; that their panic attacks wouldn’t happen to normal people; that they need to get a grip, and many, many other stories… Continue readingOne of the most prevalent topics in the mental health community seems to be stigma around mental health in the workplace. I’ve heard stories of people being told to deal with it; that they need to grow up; that their panic attacks wouldn’t happen to normal people; that they need to get a grip, and many, many other stories that show just how little people know or care about mental illnesses.

A few weeks ago I attended an interview for a waitressing position. Despite my bad anxiety and depression, I was determined to make it work because, let’s face it, the economy is shit, and I need a job. The interview, a 1-1 with a lovely woman, went brilliantly, and I was invited back for a work trial during their evening dinner rush with two others trying out for similar roles. Each of us was shadowed by a supervisor, and the restaurant manager watched us throughout the trial. At the end he took each of us aside one by one to give us feedback before sending us home. I was called in last, and these were his exact words: “I was really concerned about you. You were terrified, it was making the customers tense”.

I was shocked. Yes, I had been absolutely terrified of the work trial, but I managed to speak; I took orders; I did everything I was asked with a smile on my face. I knew my anxiety was visible, but I hadn’t realised just how much. To say that the customers were on edge because of how I was feeling was a kick to the stomach. One of the few reassurances throughout my struggles with anxiety, was that it wasn’t easily noticeable by the average person. People are so distracted by their own lives, they wouldn’t notice that you’re feeling particularly anxious about something. But they did notice. I, obviously, didn’t get the job.

Many other people I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences: Bosses, managers, supervisors, and co-workers who don’t understand mental illness, don’t understand how it manifests, and treat the sufferer, quite frankly, like they’re overreacting and not capable of doing the job. This is why I suggested, in a twitter chat several weeks ago, that workplaces should be much more accepting of mental illness. Just as they include a disclaimer in an application- stating that they don’t discriminate based on age, gender, and so forth- they should include some form of reassurance about their treatment of those with mental illnesses.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are jobs out there that some of us can’t do, due to our illnesses. But for many of us, it is the treatment from co-workers, rather than the work itself, that stops us. I recently began volunteering with my local branch of Mind, and one of the things that keeps cropping up is the idea of a mental health supporter within workplaces. Just as every workplace needs a first-aid qualified staff member on duty at all times, they should also have somebody who has been trained in how to deal with mental illness. This would be a lifeline for those who are prone to, for example, panic attacks halfway through a shift.

Workplaces and business, in general, should follow strict guidelines that, when followed and/or completed, give them accreditation as being somewhere safe for mental health sufferers to work. This doesn’t seem, to me, to be a big ask, but considering the stories I’ve heard from those who have discovered how little their managers care about their well-being, I’m not holding my breath that any big changes will be take place soon.

Website: https://thenorthernwriter.com/2017/05/06/stigma-in-the-workplace/

Postnatal depression – my story

This week is Maternal Mental Health Week. So it seemed as good a time as any to write this blog, because it has been rattling around in my head for a while.

I’m pretty nervous about it, because some people in my life don’t know about my past mental health issues, and others know a bit but probably not any kind of… Continue readingThis week is Maternal Mental Health Week. So it seemed as good a time as any to write this blog, because it has been rattling around in my head for a while.

I’m pretty nervous about it, because some people in my life don’t know about my past mental health issues, and others know a bit but probably not any kind of detail. But I wanted to write this because of anybody out there who might feel ashamed or worried about how they feel about having a baby. When I first became a mother ten years ago the ‘Unmumsy Mum’ and ‘Hurrah for Gin’ social media frenzy wasn’t around. There wasn’t a lot of people openly talking about their struggles to cope with motherhood, so now I kind of think, the more of us talking about it, the better for everyone.

This might go on a bit, so apologies if you get bored half way through. It has a happy ending though! If you’re pregnant for the first time, take this as a warning, it contains details of how things can go wrong during child birth!

I was desperate to become a Mum. As a teenager I used to tell my teachers my ambition is life was to be a Mum. Looking back, this seemed a bit silly. I was always very driven and ambitious. But I wanted to be a good Mum. I wanted to do well at it. Anyone who knows me will know that being good at stuff is important to me. I wanted to do good at being a Mum.

So when I fell pregnant with Hannah I was happy. I was in love with Hannah’s dad. We were due to get married. Actually we planned the wedding then found out I was pregnant. I was due to get married about seven weeks after my due date. I thought this would be fine. I was going to have give birth and then bounce back into shape, have a wedding and life with my new baby and my new husband would be perfect.

I read everything there was to read about preparing for a baby. I watched documentaries about giving birth. I was determined to breastfeed my baby and in my head my life would pretty much be the same, except it would have a baby in it! I was also determined not be one of those neurotic Mums who worried about everything. I was going to be a cool, chilled out Mum. I had it all planned out.

Pregnancy was good to me. I wasn’t sick or unwell, I ate well. I didn’t put on loads of weight. I loved being pregnant. I felt special and happy. When I went into labour everything went well. Eventually Hannah was born via ventouse delivery after I had been in labour for about 16 hours. She was perfect, and even though labour is horrible (it really flipping hurts!) everything was good. I spent twenty minutes bonding with her and breastfeeding her. Then everything went a bit wrong. They couldn’t get my placenta to come out and I was bleeding. After a while they started to panic and took me down to theatre.

In theatre things took another turn for the worse. I was losing blood and the big African doctor spent a fair while trying to manoeuvre my placenta out of my body manually. Everyone panicked some more. There was lots of calls for more blood, and I was starting to lose consciousness. The nurses told me I was going to be put to sleep. I’d seen this on a documentary, I knew that if they couldn’t stop me bleeding they would take my womb out completely. They put me to sleep as I was begging them not to take out my womb, I already knew I wanted more than one baby.

When I woke up I was in intensive care and a machine was breathing for me. When you see people immediately panic and try and pull the tube out of their throat on the telly programmes, it’s real. I tried to rip out the tube down my throat but they wouldn’t let me. I could only use my left hand as there were all sorts of tubes and wires coming out of me. My family came in to see me. I couldn’t talk but I could write, so I asked where Hannah was. She was being looked after by nurses. I asked how she was being fed. I was supposed to be breast feeding her. It was the next day, I didn’t want them to feed her with a bottle. I was reassured that she was being fed with a cup, so she didn’t get confused when I tried to feed her. After an hour or two the nurses took me off the ventilator and I could breathe on my own. I’d had nine units of blood transfused, which I think is pretty much all of it. I’d been in theatre for over four hours. Apparently my family had been told to phone every hour to see if I was still alive. They managed to stop me bleeding without taking my womb out, which was a massive relief for me.

So the next day, or later that day (I’ve never been sure how long anything took) I was moved to my own room, and a nurse wheeled a baby in next to me. The first thing I thought was “I don’t know whose baby that is, that could be anybody’s baby” I didn’t recognise her. We’d been apart for over 24 hours. I was too unwell to look after her. I remember having the worst headache ever and not wanting to keep my eyes open. Everybody else in the room was cuddling Hannah, and cooing. I could barely hold my head up. when she cried the nurses came and took her away so I could rest. They were feeding her with a bottle, but I didn’t realise this at the time.

I was in hospital for a week I think, with Hannah, recovering and trying to breast feed her. I couldn’t move my legs for a few days, which was challenging when trying to look after a new born. Then the maternity ward moved and they forgot to take me with them, that day they didn’t bring me any food! Hannah lost lots of weight and would scream every time she wasn’t latched on. I had no milk, and it never turned up. I think my body had been through so much, it wasn’t really in the mood to start producing milk as well as trying to mend me! I was also on loads of painkillers, blood thinners and other drugs. Its no wonder I had no milk to feed her with. But at the time I didn’t know. When we took her home she kept losing weight. So we fed her milk with a little cup, which meant we could sleep. Then I sent Dad out to buy some bottles. I was devastated that I couldn’t feed her. The health visitor told me the only way to get my milk production up was to basically spend 24 hours with her latched onto me and hope that my body got the message and kicked in its milk production. I couldn’t face the idea of this, at the time I just wanted her to sleep.

I dreaded her waking up, because I didn’t want to have to feed her with a bottle. I felt like a failure and that everyone was judging me. I didn’t really understand what had happened to me or my life. I wanted to give her back. I already felt like I’d failed her somehow, and I just wasn’t good enough. And everybody seemed so attached to her. I remember asking my Mum why everyone seemed to love her more than I did. She told me to stop being silly because of course I loved her. And I did, but at the time I didn’t feel like I did.

So I got married, and on the surface everything was fine. But on the inside things were not fine. I struggled with looking after Hannah. I constantly felt like she was someone else’s baby and at some point someone would come and end my shift and return her to her real Mum. Mostly I felt like I was babysitting her for someone else. In public I felt self conscious and like everyone was judging me. I hated taking her to get weighed because I was sure everyone was watching me and thinking I was getting it wrong. I used to feel panic when she woke up, because I knew she would need something from me ad I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to get it right. I didn’t ever feel good enough for her.

At the time I just battled through. I had good days and bad days, and tried to stay positive and busy. I went back to work and life kept moving. But I hadn’t really dealt with the trauma of giving birth. I was expecting to give birth and fall in love with my baby, and look at her and know she was the most precious thing in the world to me, but I didn’t get to experience that. And actually have since realised that this is not uncommon. Quite a lot of Mums don’t immediately feel that attachment to their babies. But I am the kind of person who likes to get things right, I wanted things to be the way I thought they were supposed to be. And it went so horribly wrong that I didn’t really come to terms with it.

So I felt the best thing to do was to . . . . .do it all again. So I got pregnant with Emily. There was going to be an eighteen month gap between them. I desperately wanted to have a normal birth and get to take home my baby. Instead Emily was born eight weeks early and wasn’t breathing for herself. And my placenta got stuck inside me again. Thankfully this time they had blood ready to pump into me and they got it out in theatre without all the drama, so it wasn’t so bad. Emily was in the neonatal unit for three and half weeks. I tried my hardest to bond with her as much as possible, which is tricky when she was in an incubator and poorly. I was so determined to breast feed this baby that I pumped milk manually around the clock so that they could feed it to her down her tube when she was tiny. And I did manage to breast feed her for a few weeks when she came home. Thankfully she was discharged as a healthy happy (but tiny!) baby.

I was more prepared to not enjoy baby Emily, I had lower expectations, and so found it all a bit less traumatic than Hannah. She was more attached to me as a baby, she seemed to need me more, and I was better at it the second time round. But by this point I had lost all sense of who I was. I had become anxious and depressed, and I wasn’t even aware of it. By the time Emily was eighteen months old I was a bit disconnected from the world. On bad days it felt like I was watching myself from a metre back, like I was watching a film. I couldn’t get to the front of my own life anymore, I was on autopilot. I couldn’t stay in the moment long enough to enjoy anything, and there seemed to be no end. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy anything anymore. Nothing seemed to bring me any joy. From the outside most people didn’t know how I was feeling. The people closest to me tell me now that they were worried about me, but I’m not sure by this point there was anything anyone could have done. I hadn’t realised how much I’d changed. I was so focused on getting through the day and ticking everything off my list of things I needed to get through, that I hadn’t noticed how depressed I was.

Ultimately the pressure of trying to cope and not really understanding what the problem was, contributed to the end of my marriage. It’s not the only factor, there were many factors, but it’s hard to know how things might have turned out if I had got help sooner. Hannah and Emily’s Dad was always so good at the parenting thing. He was the most chilled out, capable Dad, he still is, and he seemed to enjoyed it so much. In fact everyone around me seemed to be doing a much better job at parenting my babies than I was. When I left them (and I walked out on all three of them) I was convinced that they would be better off without me. At that point I was in such a bad place I didn’t think the girls would notice, and I thought I could happily live without them.

It makes me really really sad to write that, because of course it isn’t true. I didn’t go a day without seeing them and they really needed me. Bit by bit I rebuilt my life and my relationship with them both. They were still babies, Hannah was three, Emily was just coming up two, we sorted out shared-care, so that they spent equal amounts of time with me and their Dad.

Actually, left to my own devices without fear of judgement, comparison or anyone watching me, I realised I was dong a decent job. I started to enjoy being their Mum. I started to care less what people thought. I stopped feeling like their babysitting big sister and stopped worrying so much. This was helped by a course of anti-depressants, which I took for nine months and they really made a difference. Then the girls got older and this helped too. It turns out I’m not a baby person. I’m awesome once they turn about four.

I now work for a mental health charity and looking back, it seems obvious that I needed some more support to deal with the trauma and shock of being so poorly after Hannah was born, and the postnatal depression that followed. I was probably also suffering with post traumatic stress disorder. By the time I realised I was broken, it was too late. I hadn’t realised how lost I was.

There is so much pressure on new Mums, and so much stigma and judgement about how to do it right. If you’re like me and you like to do things right, this can be really difficult to cope with. Most of what I wanted to ‘get right’ was completely out of my control.

Now, ten years later, I’m in really good therapy which is helping with my anxiety. It turns out I was probably always struggling with anxiety, and this was definitely exacerbated when I became a Mum. There is so much to be anxious about with a new baby!

I suppose I’m writing this because it feels important to me, and because I want to add something to the conversation about motherhood and postnatal depression and stigma. I’m not looking for sympathy or understanding (or judgement!) I just want anyone out there who might relate to anything I have written to know they are not alone. I don’t know if it will upset some people close to me, because some of it is hard to write, let alone read. But it is the truth about the way I felt at the time. And if you’re Hannah or Emily reading this, please know I love you, and I have always done my best, even if sometimes I didn’t think my best was good enough.

I feel lucky now that I have such an amazing relationship with Hannah and Emily, and I feel grateful everyday that I get to be their Mum. Some days I still feel like I’m just not good enough for them, but I have new coping strategies to deal with these days.

There is help out there, professional help and support groups and help lines. There are some links at the bottom of this page. If you have thought for even a second ‘maybe I should talk to someone about how I feel’ then the chances are you would benefit from help, and the sooner you can get to sit in front of someone and talk about how you feel, the easier it gets.

We spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like we fall short. Any Mum that tells you they have it sussed is lying, we are all just winging it, and we need to be there to support each other.

Website: https://titanmum.wordpress.com/

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