Forgive me, please. It’s December 20th, 5 more sleeps until the ‘big day’ and I really don’t feel festive. I have 2
exhausted excited children, presents stuffed in every available space, a tree decorated in the garden and have baked until Sainsburys started to think about refusing to let me buy any more butter.
At the end of November I wrote about why I wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas. I wrote it in the midst of a change of anti-depressant medication when my ‘plasma levels’ were readjusting themselves in a bid to not have me sitting at my desk, trying my hardest not to cry. The dark times were back – and although I could identify them I had no reserves left to pull myself out of them. I would say the trigger this time was the battle with the NHS to get the Cheetah Keeper’s medication – although looking back over the summer, I suspect it had been brewing for some time – my lapses in concentration and somewhat frenetic pace through the school holidays were warning signs that I had failed to recognise.
At the moment, the idea of living in my office (ideally snuggled under my desk next to the heater) seems quite attractive – avoiding the sugar coated Christmas cheer. Which leads me to question what exactly makes me feel Christmassy and therefore why I am not feeling ‘it’.
I have lovely memories of waking up ridiculously early to look for my ‘stocking’ (pillowcase) from Father Christmas outside my bedroom door. Apparently from an early age I had been adamant that I was not having a strange man come into my room. Christmas day walks around the lake with whatever new toy had arrived (be it dolls pushchair, roller-skates, bike) then big family lunch with extended family.
I suspect that depression was becoming part of my life by the time I was 14 – my knees had ‘gone’ and I’d had what was to become the first of many operations. I was an easy target for the bullies, seriously into my piano playing and had a healthy dose of hormones. As my knees got back to a functional level (I was 15 or so by then) my elbows started to suffer (poor posture) and therefore essentially I was diagnosed as attention seeking. I passed out on the desk when the local anaesthetic from a cortisone injection got into my blood stream, my broken knee-cap was dismissed as me making a fuss (for 5 months) and I was forced to watch my peers do PE lessons (that I wasn’t well enough to take part in) rather than practise my beloved piano. I remember telling my inspirational music teacher that I had thought of taking all the painkillers by my bedside because I didn’t want to hurt any more. I didn’t.
By the time I was 16 I was undergoing more surgery and spent my formative underage drinking time at home – unable to learn to drive, go out with friends, get hideously drunk or do any of the ‘normal’ things – my mother referred to me as ‘the prototype’. I remember her saying to my surgeon “she’s ever so depressed” – as if I wasn’t there. There are whole sections of my 6th form career that are missing from my memory – but I spent my entire time (I think) trying to prove I could still do ‘everything’ – I was training to be a Guide Leader, playing for the County Brass Band, local youth orchestra, jazz band and doing about 3 hours piano/trumpet practise per day (alongside 3 A-Levels). Being ‘ill’ was a battle against the system – it makes me physically sick thinking about it now.
Onwards through University – 13 weeks at home having more major surgery in my first year, (passing out on the desk in lectures when I was there), 2 slipping discs in my second and growing benign tumours (that had to be removed) in my third. I was volunteering like a lunatic and somehow (much to the surprise of my tutors) got through my degree.
Mental health issues have plagued me on and off since then. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and depression are a very, very common combination. I’ve learnt in the last month that people with the syndrome may be 16x more likely to suffer from anxiety/depression – it’s still being researched and I suspect it’s to do with the way our bodies process serotonin and other hormones. As with so many other things, messages don’t travel properly through our ‘faulty’ connective tissues and therefore things are harder to manage. Add that to long term pain, long term disbelief in your condition, a cocktail of other drugs and the ‘normal’ everyday ups and downs get completely overwhelming.
There are sections of my life missing, I have fallen asleep in the GP’s waiting room and cried when he’s woken me up, I’ve struggled to hold down jobs, I’ve struggled to look after my children. After having my daughter I ended up under the care of the PND Psychiatrist who concluded I had PTSD and that, I quote “was too hard on myself” whilst offering me no coping strategies. It was only having the Cheetah Keeper at a hospital where counselling was offered routinely to all mothers as part of the ante and post-natal care that I faced some of my demons regarding his sister’s arrival. They still haunt me – badly, 6 and a half years on and they destroy my sleeping and ability to deal with the outside world – not all the time, but triggered by all sorts of unexpected and expected cues.
The experience that time brings though is my ability to recognise what’s going on and to take myself to the GP before I am completely crippled. Medication keeps me going – at the moment I parent, work and keep things down, essentially to a dull roar. I bake when I’m stressed, I’m hopeless at accepting praise or compliments and I worry too much – whilst, in the eyes of some, not caring about other things enough. When I realise that I am operating as a ‘glittering image’ I generally know things are not well. Having a façade of efficiency, happiness, practicality and common sense is all well and good, but if you’re churning yourself to pieces inside it’s unhealthy – and it needs to be dismantled and the true person underneath allowed out – and, thanks to my GP, I am better at doing so. Sometimes though the glittering image sneaks back and the process has to start again.
20 odd years on, in the place I am now, I can’t remember what feeling Christmassy consists of. It feels like a logistics exercise – one in which everyone has to be kept ‘happy’ and all boxes need to be ticked. I’ve enjoyed doing craft stuff with the children – but whether it’s festive or not doesn’t bother me at the moment. I like taking the children to see the lights in town but do they give me a warm glow – no, not yet. I’m not missing carolling with the brass band, the nativities at school were lovely but I wasn’t the over-emotional mum, the Christmas fair was hell on earth and the pantomime was fun – but the lady questioning why we were using the disabled toilet (so the Cheetah Keeper didn’t have to negotiate a huge flight of stairs) riled me so much that I could have said something very rude (I didn’t).
I’m hoping that my festive ooomph will appear in the next couple of days – if not, I’ll enjoy taking photos of the children enjoying themselves. I’ll enjoy every single snuggle I get with them as we don’t have to get up for school and keep going with my attempt to look for something beautiful in every day. That’ll do me for now – it’s a step towards getting to a better place.
I’ve written this post having read the posts that the wonderfully gorgeous Mammasaurus wrote last week about her mental health issues and in support of the amazing Black Dog Tribe. On of the things I love most about this blogging community is that mental health issues are so openly discussed and supported – and although I appreciate that this isn’t everyone’s choice of reading material, I hope it might reach someone else who may then realise that other people suffer to – and that writing/talking about it often helps.