It’s been such a long time since I last posted. I keep trying to start a post, get distracted, or lose my way, and it ends up in drafts (and then subsequently deleted). I keep meaning to start posting more regularly, but life just gets away from me – which I guess is only a good thing that I don’t feel the need to offload.
Lots of things have been happening, some good but also some bad. Let me try to explain where I am now in my life (bear with me, this is possibly going to be a long one).
Following on from my last post when I touched on my anxiety, this has become a big theme in my life. I last posted when I was 33 weeks pregnant. Fast forward to 38 weeks, and my beautiful second daughter Lillian was born, very quickly, naturally, but induced. She had some issues after the birth, which meant that 3 days after birth she was transferred to the NICU. I’m not particularly ready to discuss that in depth right now, maybe I will at a later date, but suffice to say it was possibly the worst 2 weeks of my life, and that really is saying something, given the path my life has taken. Whilst going through this experience as a family, I was referred to the mental health team at the hospital at my request, due to strong feelings of wanting to harm myself coming to the surface once again. Knowing the reason why (a coping response to trauma and stress coupled with no sleep and not eating) didn’t help the fact that I was scared the feelings were too strong, but thankfully talking to the mental health team did help, and I managed to stop myself from acting on those feelings in the moment.
Nonetheless, after coming home from the hospital with a beautiful, healthy baby, I realised that the insurance had affected me deeply, and that I needed to get some help with how I was feeling. I did have an existing referral from during my pregnancy for a CBT course of 12 sessions, and thankfully shortly after her birth they got in contact with me to book them in.
Strangely enough, the sessions were not what I was expecting. We didn’t really do any CBT, but they were helpful in that I turned up, and talked about how I was feeling. She strongly suspected I was suffering some form of post natal anxiety, or possibly PTSD from the experience. I was having flashbacks of the sounds and smells of the NICU (not helped by the fact that my husband works in the unit and comes home smelling of it) and even small things like discovering the hospital blanket she came home with sent me into a tailspin.
Talking did help, but at the end of the sessions I still found myself profoundly affected by the experience. I wondered if time would be a healer, alongside the DBT skill radical acceptance of what had happened. I tried telling myself that I should be grateful because many people don’t get to take their babies home from the NICU, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself about the terrible experience I had encountered – not only because of being in the NICU, but having her taken away from me shortly after birth so not having the initial moments I dreamed of (I didn’t even hold her before she went for 2 hours) and also being separated from my 22 month old daughter for over 2 weeks, for the first time ever, and the effect it had on her and our relationship and attachment.
When those sessions ended, the lady asked me if I would like to be referred on to a group. I did ask if I could go into DBT, but sadly (as normal) it wasn’t offered on the NHS. (No change there then). The only option available was a group for new mothers with depression and anxiety. I have never actually done any group therapy before, but decided that something was better than nothing.
It was a course of 12 weeks, once per week, with 5 other people and one “therapist” who doesn’t actually do any therapy, more guides the group on topics to talk about. My experience of it – funnily enough it worked, although I’m still not sure how. Perhaps having somewhere which was a “safe space” to talk about how I was feeling with zero judgement and even some agreement and validation was the thing that was helpful to me.
Anyway, when I got the end of the group I realised that having the group was helping me, but now it had ended, I felt almost like I was back to square one. My anxiety was peaking, and becoming intolerable. It had somehow been translated from the angst and anxiety I felt about the experience of the NICU and birth to anxiety about the safety of my children, an issue that I suffered with during pregnancy.
I was starting to affect my parenting, in that I wouldn’t allow my oldest to do things she wanted to do (that were normal) for fear of her getting hurt, and I didn’t want her to pick up on my anxiety and start suffering herself. Also, I was starting to suffer every evening with the physical feelings of anxiety – heart racing, stomach churning, feeling sick, and strangely enough, I started plucking excessively – something I know come to know as “trichotillomania”. Honestly, it sounds strange, but I was plucking for around 3 hours per night – my eyebrows and chin (I get facial hair from poly cystic ovaries) and it was completely obsessive.
For these two reasons, I decided I needed to take action, and sadly although I have been medication free since 2014, I decided to visit the GP and request to go back on to medication. I had a lot of guilt surrounding this situation, given that I was still breastfeeding my (now almost 1 year old!) youngest daughter. I did a lot of research into the safety of taking medication whilst breastfeeding (the irony of feeling anxious about taking medication for anxiety!) and alongside the doctors advice chose Sertraline at 50mg (the lowest dose).
I have now been on this medication for around 4 months, and I have seen a huge improvement in the anxiety levels – both in anxious obsessive thoughts and the physical anxiety.
I don’t feel guilty any longer but I understand that I need to be the best parent I can be to my girls, and if medication helps me to do that, then so be it. I do see this as a long term solution rather than a short term one, but will also look at some more therapy in due course to explore any underlying issues of why I am feeling this way.
I still have the occasional bout of physical anxiety, and I still worry about lots of things to do with the safety of my children (mainly car seat safety, choking, health issues like rashes etc) but it is much more manageable now and I don’t lose control with thinking about it 24/7. For example, we have just booked a holiday, and the thought of taking them in transport has caused me a lot of anxiety. So far, I have paid an extra £218 for an airline seat for my 1 year old so I can take a car seat in the cabin of the plane (yes, I know it won’t help if it drops out the sky, but it’s safer in the case of turbulence) and I’ve researched the type of plane we are going in, the layout of the plane, what seats are suitable and fit, the best way to make sure there won’t be any problems. Next on my list will be how to transport them safety on the coach transfer and whether I will need to take a separate taxi transfer. I know these things might be irrational but they are things that are part of my anxiety – so I need to work on them.
So – this is where I’m pretty much at, at the moment. I’m a little sad that I’ve had to go back down the medication route, however, I think it was important for me to not be too “proud” about things – and accept that help was needed before it went any further.
Anyway, thanks for reading and hopefully I can post again soon with a more positive update!