The Perfect Mirage

I am pleased to say that once again the black clouds have lifted. Reading back through some of my recent posts, I feel like a different person. I can’t say whether that’s down to increased medication or my CBT but I don’t suppose that really matters.

One of the questions my therapist asked me to consider is what I feel makes me “good enough”. Even though I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I still can’t put my finger on what, specifically, makes me “good enough”. But at the same time, I can’t think of anything that makes me not good enough, either. Perhaps being good enough is not something we can quantify. Like the meaning of life. It’s different to everyone and it may even change on a daily basis.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tenth point of my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:

“I will not compare my insides with everyone else’s outsides.”

The simple fact is that pictures we all post on social media are the carefully edited highlights of our daily lives. Of course they are. Not many of us will happily share photos of our children mid-meltdown and ourselves au-naturel with frizzy hair and no make-up. Yet most of us use these images as a benchmark for the so-called perfection that we feel we need to achieve. I said in my last post that I feel perfection is a bit of a myth, and a dangerous one at that. We can blame our lack of perfection as the reason we may “come-up-short” against the goals we set ourselves. If only we were cleverer/prettier/thinner/wealthier everything would be so much better.

Nobody’s life is perfect.

Even the mother who seems to have it all will be comparing herself to someone and aspiring to be better. Imagine a world where we stopped comparing and remembered that social media pictures are really just a mirage. Where we remind ourselves that perfectly-put-together mum who sometimes makes you feel like a dishevelled frump has her own issues going on. Imagine if we genuinely started to remember that we don’t need to compete with each other, and we’re all doing our best.

No-one’s life is perfect, and not every moment is photo-worthy. But if we can find a few moments a day where things are good, I genuinely think we’re winning. No-one sails through life (and especially not motherhood) without a succession of tantrums, tears, snot and stress. Stopping every so often and realising that the kids aren’t fighting and for once there aren’t crumbs under the sofa is a mini victory, some days.

Of course there are many beautiful, amazing moments but they can easily get lost in the madness and the busy if we’re not careful. I’ve been making a conscious effort to stop and take in some of the lovely moments as they happen, and to try to remember them last thing at night. This has really helped me. Rather than thinking of what I haven’t got done today or running myself down for the things that went wrong, I’m trying to give myself credit for what I did get done. I might not be giving deep, joyful sighs at the wonderful day we’ve all had, but overall, there is usually something to smile about.

So I’m going to share some pictures that I’ve taken during the Easter holidays. Lots of them have been shared on my personal Facebook page as they’re full of smiling, joyful kids and happy me. Some of them haven’t… I wonder if you can tell which are which?

Madam and Me. All made-up and profile picture-worthy.

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Madam and me. Make-up free and mid-meltdown.

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Yours, truly. Fully made-up complete with falsh lashes and pout. On my way to a wedding.

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Yours, truly. At home this morning. Keeping it real (am I SERIOUSLY sharing this picture?! Have I LOST MY MIND!?)

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Playdate for ten at my house.

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Cakes we made.

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However, Madam spent much of the baking time (in fact, too much time in general) doing this….

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Look, world. See all the fun, crafty things we do?

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My children are perfect, you know. Always so well behaved…

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Look at my perfectly adorable, smiling child. See how happy she is, all of the time?….

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… Or not, as the case may be.

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Oh look! How adorable, she painted her own toe-nails!!

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…. Oh bloody hell!!

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And did you notice my lovely, tidy house in the pictures? I didn’t include this, on Facebook though, did I?

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So here’s a snapshot of my life. Warts, spectacles, tantrums and all. And you’ll notice that I’ve still Instagramed all of the imperfect pictures. I’m not that brave!

So next time you’re comparing your life with someone else’s, even mine, remember that we’re all the same, deep down. We’re all fighting our own battles and projecting our own little mirage to the outside world. Cut yourself some slack, I’ll do the same, and let’s remember that good enough is enough, thank you very much.

PS, as always, I’d really appreciate your help sharing the Mummy Kindness via my Facebook Page, so please do like it here

What are your views on real-life versus social media perceptions? I’d love you thoughts so please do leave a comment. Thanks!

Truth

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life flow no longer in our souls.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) in her speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1890.

Truth. This word means a lot to me. I’m having to face a lot of truths at the moment. Truth can be painful. Speaking truth can leave you feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability is frightening. Truth can be terrifying.

But fearless truth telling can heal. Not only myself, but others who hear (or in this case read) it.

The truth of the matter is, my depression has been back and there has been absolutely nothing that I could do to stop it. No amount of late night over-thinking, crying, pretending, talking or remaining silent has managed to keep the Black Dog from my door.

So I am going to share my truth here. It might be painful to read and to write, but if nobody talks openly about taboo subjects like this, more and more people will suffer in silence. If one person reads this, and in doing so feels less alone, or seeks help it will be worth the emotional effort that writing a post like this involves.

Each time it returns, my depression seems to have mutated. Like a germ that’s become immune to antibiotics. Like something from a zombie film, lurking where you least expect it.

Seven months ago my biggest problem was anxiety. Crippling, physical, exhausting anxiety. Talk-based CBT helped this, as did medication, and now it’s not such an issue. This time around the relapse has involved a lot more paranoia and the darkest of thoughts. Feelings of being worthless, a burden, a disappointment.

Depression is a very cruel illness. It robs you of the ability to take on board any rational advice or listen to logic. You just can’t believe anything good about yourself at all. You seem to feel too much of everything and at the same time, not enough. Nothing makes sense in my experience, when it comes to depression. Thoughts which to any other person are ridiculous, horrifying or absurd seem perfectly acceptable. During a conversation with a friend who was once sectioned for her own safety, for example, I felt that perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing to happen. At least there would be rest. And quiet. And help.

Last week I had a long conversation with my doctor. He increased my medication and referred me for more Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. During my assessment I answered several questions which gave a picture of where I am on a depression scale. Despite all of the feelings I’d been battling I was still crushed to hear that based on the answers I gave, I’m considered to be seriously depressed. The fact that I felt surprised by this news is ridiculous as I’ve been living with this for weeks now. But the truth is, I keep expecting someone to tell me that this has all been a mistake, I’m just a bit tired and no, I haven’t actually got a mental illness after-all.

One of the doctor’s questions covered suicidal feelings. Not a conversation I ever expected to have. But I answered truthfully. My truth is that whilst I would never, ever put my family through it, I can, at this point in my life, understand why people do choose to end their lives as a result of depression. I’m sorry if this is painful and shocking to read, but this post is about truth.

I am speaking my truth here, in the hope that saying this things aloud (or on screen, as it were) will banish them away. In my darkest moments, I truly believed that the world would be better off without me, and that my husband and children would be better off with a different wife and mother. I feel I should stress again, before anyone calls an ambulance, that at no point did I ever plan to act on these dark thoughts. There are too many people whom I love for me to ever do that. But what I am saying is when I read news stories about women who’ve ended their lives, I can understand the feelings of desperate desolation that must have driven them.

After leaving the doctor’s, feeling very fragile indeed, I messaged a good friend who has personal experience of depression herself. I explained my feelings to her. Her response contained the following wise words:

“Please try not to be heartbroken- we both know depression is always there in the background and it’s inevitable that there will be relapses throughout our lives. What’s important it how we deal with them”.

She went on to commend me for getting help. Her message was of great comfort to me at a time where I just wanted to take to my bed and howl.

But here’s the thing. Each time my depression comes under control again, I think it’s gone forever. When it returns, it comes as a massive shock to me. In writing this I realise how ridiculous this sounds, but it’s the truth. I can’t seem to accept the fact that this may in all likeliness be something that comes back again and again throughout my life. The thought terrifies me. I can’t really even bear to think about it.

As I write this, I am thinking about the people who I know, who may read this. What on earth is possessing me to write down my very darkest thoughts and share them on the internet? What will people think? Will it look as it I’m attention-seeking? But then I re-examine my reasons for this post. I am writing not only to help myself, but to try to help others. Not just those suffering from depression themselves, but those trying to support loved ones going through it.

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I “came out’ about my depression through this blog. Before doing so, only a couple of people knew about it. My closest friends weren’t even aware. They sent me incredible messages of support once they’d read my first post. But I admit, and so will they, that after that it became somewhat of an elephant in the room. No-one liked to broach the subject and I couldn’t seem to bring it up. I began to feel paranoid that I’d alienated myself from my friends, who were becoming used to reading my inner thoughts rather than hearing them in person.

I find the subject far easier to write about than to speak about and I’m very good at putting on a brave face to the outside world. But last week, on the insistence of a close friend, my friends and I finally had the conversation. I struggled not to fall to pieces in a busy restaurant whilst discussing it. They offered support and suggestions. They were relieved and so was I. I hope that next time (and I really hope there is never a next time) I’ll be able to reach out to them more and let them in.

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I sometimes wonder whether I actually feel too much. Too much of other people’s pain as well as my own. At the moment I have close friends going through horrendous divorce, serious ill-health and parental cancer. I spend so much time worrying about them whilst feeling incredible guilt for not being a supportive enough friend. Because at some point, like this past few weeks or so, I can only focus on myself and my family. I have to put our needs first but that feels so selfish. I have to concentrate on myself more and stop worrying so much about others.

Yesterday my friend’s one year old daughter broke her ankle for no apparent reason. The photo of her in her cast was enough to have me feeling low for an entire morning today. Other people would of course worry about a baby in distress. But for me, it seems to consume me. I internalise it and find it hard to switch off the worry. I suppose this is something for me to address once the therapy resumes again.

I’m really struggling with whether or not to publish this post. It still feels to raw and I’m worried about upsetting my family and friends. I’m also worried about what acquaintances will think.

So I’ll share this quote, to give myself a bit more courage:
“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”
Bernard Baruch (Often incorrectly attributed to Dr. Seuss, apparently).

So, if you’re a friend or acquaintance of mine and you’re reading this, don’t feel awkward when you see me next. I’m determined to get through this again and raising awareness is part of the process for me, it seems. In writing this I can feel a few subtle sparks of positivity somewhere deep inside, some flickering enthusiasm building slowly. It will be OK again. I will get through this again, bit by bit with the support of my loved ones. I have asked for help, and of that I am proud.

Before I hit publish, I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself once again of my reasons for sharing this. To help myself to heal, and to help heal others.

If you’re reading this and you’re suffering, please do get help. Speak to someone. If you’re worried about someone, please offer support. Only by being supportive to one another can we break the stigma and help one another. And that’s the Truth.

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All pictures credited to the Brave Girls Club

Easier Said Than Done.

I feel the need to write this down so that hopefully I’ll feel better afterwards. I have a knot of emotion in my chest and I need it to go away. Whilst it doesn’t feel as if the Black Dog is looming, I do feel as if I good cry is on the horizon.

The past month has been very tough. My PND relapse episode lasted a full fortnight and immediately afterwards followed two weeks of the usual childhood illnesses that come with winter time. I don’t recall my last good night’s sleep.

Now, even in writing this, I feel the need to apologise to the millions of other parents out there who have children who don’t sleep. It comes with the territory, I know. But it feels like I’m the only one staring at a computer screen on the verge of tears.

But then I remember that others don’t have the monopoly on exhaustion. I am entitled to feel how I do. I’m not alone in feeling this way. It’s OK not to feel OK sometimes, remember?

Sleep deprivation does magnify things, and when I’m feeling a bit emotionally fragile, this is even more apparent.

You see, Monkey has been behaving like a cross between a surly teenager and a Tasmanian devil for the past couple of weeks. It has been meltdown central in our house and I have heard lots of “I don’t like you, mummy. I don’t want you. Go away from me”. I do know these are not his true feelings. He is three and a half. I’m the one he runs to when he is sick or hurt and I know he loves me. But still, words like this cut like a knife to my heart.

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I know that Monkey feeds off my energy and I’m pretty sure my energy has been off-kilter during the past month. What this boils down to is I feel his behaviour is my fault. But if my energy causes his meltdowns and his tantrums cause me to feel even worse, how will this stop? It’s a vicious cycle, surely?

There are lots of strategies I employ to cope with meltdowns. I like to lead by example by not shouting over him when he is losing it, as I don’t think that teaches anything. In fact I prefer to drop my voice very low when he is screaming and shouting. I try to head the tantrums off-at-the-pass if I can and will intervene if I see one coming. This often works. I also like to use humour to distract him from a diva strop, and I’ve been known to return from the shops on a make-believe broomstick to prevent an outburst. But sometimes nothing works. I guess sometimes he just behaves like a normal three and a half year old boy, who is recovering from a nasty virus and several nights of broken sleep.

Even in telling you these tricks and strategies I realise that I am trying to prove something. I am trying to show you, dear readers, and remind myself, that I am a conscientious parent. I’m demonstrating that I am not a bad mum. That I’m not modelling aggressive behaviour and in doing so creating a future menace to society.

I’m trying to tell myself that my own struggles are not damaging my child.

I don’t think there is a parent in the world who has not had to deal with a meltdown from their child. I know that it is normal, developmental behaviour. I also know lots of parents of children with special needs who cope with far more difficult situations and make it look easy.

I suppose what I really need to do is read back through my previous posts, have a word with myself, take some of my own advice and practice what I preach. So here goes…

“I will be true and authentic and not pretend all is perfect at all times”. Check.

“I will always remember that I’m the best mum for my children, that I know them better than anyone else. I will discount any thoughts that suggest otherwise”. Hmmm. Perhaps I need to read this one a few more times.

“I will remember that it’s OK not to be OK sometimes”. Yes.

“I will be kind to myself.” Easier said than done, though, isn’t it?

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