Bonnie (AKA @bon_ldn) and I are both Advertising Creatives. If asked, I would describe Bonnie as A) super stylish B) lovely C) talented and most of all D) ‘really together’.
But, as I have said before, appearances can be very deceptive. You see, not that long ago Bonnie went through a Nervous Breakdown. It was trigged by the birth of her second child and resulted in her being admitted to The Priory.
This is her experience:
You won’t know you are about to have a breakdown until it’s fully upon you like a tsunami of fear.
You won’t think people like you have breakdowns as you have worked for over 12 years in one of London’s biggest Advertising Agencies, talked to boardrooms full of people and travelled the world with big brands who rely on you to deliver great advertising. You think you coped ok with the stress, how can becoming a mother of two be so difficult?
On that day 4 years ago when you are walking around Westfield you will hear thousands of babies crying but you won’t realise that the sound you think is coming from your 3-month-old and your 3-year-old is actually coming from inside your head.
You will be put on antidepressants by a GP who will say “things may get worse before they get better” How much worse? Like you want to die worse?
The anxiety you will feel like you are on a crashing plane. Imagine you really are on a plane about to crash then imagine that feeling permanently day and night, complete and utter terror. It’s like one long panic attack but without the sweaty, shaky end when the adrenaline calms down.
You will want the plane to crash. You want it all to be over.
You won’t know it but your mum will be so worried that she calls The Priory hospital.
You won’t remember how you got to the hospital but you will wonder who is looking after your children as you are shown to a tiny room that feels like a prison cell.It’s only later that you learn that your sister goes every night to feed a bottle to your baby even though she has a sick child at home with a hole in the heart to deal with.
You will be taken to the ‘Addiction’ Wing’ not because you are addicted to anything but because “We like to put a mum or two in here with them as it calms everyone down and they need some mothering from time to time” WTF!
You will scream “I HAVE TO GET HOME TO MY BABIES! THEY NEED ME! “ over and over but no one will let you leave.
You won’t leave that place for another 6 weeks. That’s 42 days without your babies. Can you imagine that? that feeling like when you go away from them for a night and you can’t stop thinking of them? well, multiply it by a thousand but with no end date for when you might actually see them again.
And so your life as a patient in a mental hospital begins. You don’t eat for the first 2 weeks, you feel physically sick… your breasts will still be leaking milk as you’d been trying to wean your baby onto bottles when the breakdown hit. You will sit on your bed leaking tears and milk spaced out on a cocktail of medication and I just keep asking for them to put you to sleep, to make it all stop, the fear, the guilt and pain of being separated from your children. Just make it STOP!
I’m not sure what you know about The Priory, maybe you think of the celebs who go there like Kate Moss or the Z-listers who go there to recover from breakdowns after their stars start to loose their shine. It may seem like a glorified Big Brother house but it is very far from it.
You will see and hear things that will haunt you forever. People who had been through so much, incest, sexual abuse, victims of war, PTSD…rape I’ve listened to every detail of their stories, I’ve held them when they sobbed and I’ve ingested all their pain and I now carry it with me forever. But you will also see people just like you, mums who just couldn’t cope.
You will see someone who has taken their own life. Nothing will EVER prepare you for that. The purple, swollen body of a young woman on a stretcher in front of you. She had been alive earlier and now she was dead.… looking at her you think it’s like looking at yourself dead. You can’t un-see something like that. You will think about that girl often in your darker times. She will become a reminder of what COULD of happened, but what didn’t.
You WILL recover.
It’s now been 4 years since i emerged from The Priory and from my breakdown. But a bit like when you break your leg, you still get twinges from time to time that remind you how fragile you are. It took me a couple of years to fully get to grips with my depression and anxiety but then it reared it’s ugly head again last year. I know it’s something that i may always have to live with.
What you will learn from having a breakdown?
That you are stronger than you ever thought possible.
That mental health is like any other part of health and wellbeing, your brain can get sick too.
That it’s ok to not be ok and to remember to talk to people once those feelings and negative thoughts start to take over.
You will connect with loads of people through social media who have had similar experiences and you will start to feel less of the shame and guilt about what you went through.
You will discover IAPT services ( Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) and that you can self-refer to a local mental health service in your area.
You will think CBT isn’t for you but once you actually try it you realise just how much it will help you.
You will recommend it to EVERYONE.
You will develop a kind of Gay-dar but for mental health problems and be able to spot the signs if someone may be suffering in silence and will approach them and ask if they are ok?
You will still need to take a tiny bit of medication from time to time but know that that’s fine as most people you know are on something and that one day you may not need it.
You will be a ‘work in progress’ and will continue to search for a way to live your life without the fear of going back to that place.
You will also accept that anxiety is a part of your life, and without it you can’t tackle that big brief and will learn to harness all that neurotic energy.
You may well tell random strangers about your breakdown, the girl who gave you a massage in that fancy spa, the Postman, the Ocado driver. You will want to share it like a dirty secret as you will want to purge it from your mind and normalise it.
You will do a list about it to tell many more people that you made it through a breakdown In the hope that if anyone reading it and who may be suffering, may feel that its ok to not be ok, that it happens to normal people like you and me and you will survive, just like i did.
Guest Lists come to me in all sorts of ways, but this is the first time I have been recommended one by someone on behalf of their friend.
Sarah got in touch to tell me about her buddy Gemma who she described as: “having a knack for using sarcasm & honesty as a way of dealing with difficult things in life and so she talks openly about mental health, suicide & death in a funny, sometimes ‘on a knife edge’ kinda way. I love her for it & it’s certainly helped me when dealing with loss through suicide.”
Gemma sounded exactly like the kind of person I like and admire. I am honoured to share this brave piece about losing her Dad to suicide:
In the early morning of 9 June 2014, two police officers came to my flat to tell me that my father had taken his own life. This is a list highlighting my thoughts and experiences, and what I think we could all do to help our fellow human beings.
My dad was 46 years old when he died.
He had been diagnosed with depression 5 months earlier.
He had walked me down the aisle at my wedding 7 months earlier.
At my wedding, I had no idea of how he was already suffering.
His depression manifested itself in a few ways, one of them being severe hypochondria, which he also projected onto my mother. He was convinced she was going to die from sleep apnoea (she has never had sleep apnoea).
Before having depression, my dad was the kind of guy who would brush mental health off as a non-issue. Like many of us, he didn’t understand it.
He was a funny guy before he got poorly. But I suppose there were always signs that he wasn’t as laid-back as first impressions might have suggested.
I try to be funny too. In fact, I use [often inappropriate] humour as a coping mechanism. I have to work hard to rein this in and limit it to my closest friends, or I risk coming across as horribly tasteless.
My dad liked taking the piss out of his mates, having a few drinks, and going on holiday.
But when he got poorly, my mum found it difficult to encourage him to even go to the local pub.
I can’t remember the last time I saw my dad but I know it was approximately 3 months before he died (he lived in Yorkshire, me in London).
I used to call my parents every Sunday night.
My dad killed himself on a Sunday night, and I hadn’t called that evening as I was going out.
I regret that choice a lot. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a different but I’ll never know.
There is no single word to describe how I felt when the police officers told me what had happened.
Well, “numb” is as good a word as any.
I was so numb I couldn’t even tell you what the police officers looked like or even what gender they both were.
I do remember feeling relieved too – because when the police officers first started talking I assumed both my parents were dead. Why else would the police come round instead of my family calling me?
(Because my phone was off).
I now have an irrational fear of my doorbell going after a certain time of night. I know most people probably feel a worried jolt when this happens, but whenever anyone mistakenly rings the bell to our flat (a common occurrence) my heart rate takes a LONG time to go back to normal.
When my dad died, I distinctly remember not crying, or at least not properly, for a while.
I’m still not sure I’ve really truly cried properly. Even writing this, I’m not feeling emotional. It’s only when I stop to think that I will literally never see him again that I get a buzzing in my head and I have to stop thinking.
I’m not great at talking about my feelings around my dad’s suicide which is why I started my blog.
Losing my dad made me wish I wasn’t an only child.
There are considerable administrative jobs you have to do when someone dies.
When someone takes their own life, there are even more. The police will get involved as it is a death from unnatural causes. We had to wait for the police to release my dad before we could plan his funeral. There has to be an inquest before you can even get a proper death certificate.
My dad’s death certificate made it really obvious that he’d took his own life, and how he’d done it. I had to send it to so many people and companies (service providers, solicitors, etc. Even my college wanted it as I had to ask for a deadline extension). Every time I sent it I wondered if they would read the details.
If someone asks how my dad died, I tell them the truth. It took me a while to work out how best to say it. There are semantic connotations with the phrase “he committed suicide” that a lot of people have problems with, so I stick with “he took his own life”. “He killed himself” is just that little bit too abrupt.
Although, often when I tell people, they have a similar story to share.
Losing a parent is horrific. Losing a parent when they’re still young is even more so. And losing a parent to suicide is unimaginable.
No matter how much you understand that it’s an illness that has made a person choose to end their life, you will always, always question what you could have done differently.
I will always wonder if my dad knew how much I loved him, how much I doted on him. Because if he did, surely he wouldn’t have taken his own life?
(That’s a rhetorical question. I just have to hope he did know.)
My grandparents both outlived their son. My mum lost her husband of 27 years.
Since my dad died I have become a mother, and it breaks my heart that my dad will never know his grandson.
The year my dad died, he was one of 6,109 others in the UK who also took their own lives. 76% of those people were men.
Talking to others bereaved by suicide, it’s clear that it affects EVERYONE. Even if the person who died wasn’t your best friend or family member, you are left wondering how death became the only decision left to make.
I’m no expert on mental health. This is the closest experience I’ve had with it. I want to join the fight to address it but it is overwhelming thinking about what needs to be done when I couldn’t save one person who was so dear to me.
One of their partners, and one of my favourite charities, CALM, focuses specifically on preventing male suicide. They suggest that there are “social and cultural barriers that prevent men from speaking out”.
My dad was a tough-looking, big-muscled burly guy. And I do think he felt expectations to be a ‘manly man’ not someone who discusses their feelings or takes action to address their mental health wellbeing.
This is the attitude that needs to change. I may not be a mental health expert but the voices speaking out at the moment make it clear that more conversations need to happen to reduce the stigma around mental health wellbeing and mental health illness.
We live in a nation which has a reputation for a “stiff upper lip” and, arguably, emotional repression.
OK, so you probably shouldn’t outpour your deepest darkest emotions in your next job interview, but I cannot fathom why our mental health isn’t given the same focus as other aspects of our health.
We understand that diseases like heart disease, cancer, stomach ulcers, ruptured appendices, etc. create physical damage so why is it so hard to accept that our mental health can become damaged in a similar way?
After having my son, I did notice a focus on my mental health as a new mother – health visitors would always address my own feelings in addition to my son’s fluctuating weight. Information on warning signs of postnatal depression was readily available. Wonderful mum and dad bloggers are out there, helping you understand that your feelings are normal.
We need more of this. Conversations around mental health wellbeing – and not just aimed at people who are already experiencing mental health issues but EVERYONE. Because my dad is proof that mental illness can affect ANYONE – like cancer, it is non-discriminatory.
Charities like Heads Together, CALM, Mind, etc. are addressing the big conversations; tackling fear, prejudice and stigma.
But we can help them. Little steps can make big differences.
Something we can all do is be kinder to one another. Yeah OK, it is easier said than done, but sometimes (and I’m guilty of this too) we humans are totally unreasonable even to total strangers.
I’ll use myself as an example (and I’m by no means the worst) – I’ve been passive-aggressive and unnecessarily rude to fellow commuters, call centre staff, professionals who happen to work for a company that has wronged me in some way, etc.
What if one of these people had been feeling like my dad was towards the end of his life? A jumped-up commuter / customer/ general dick isn’t going to help the situation.
So let’s be kinder to our fellow humans. I’m not saying be a push over but since losing my dad I try thinking twice before muttering that passive-aggressive comment. And if I don’t think twice in time, I apologise.
And talk to each other. When my dad was ill, I found it so hard to talk to him because he didn’t want to talk about how he was feeling. How can we help someone get better from an illness we often can’t begin to understand?
But we can only try.
Small actions from everyone could change the world.
Continuing the the theme of ‘lists from people I went to school with’ this one is from May Lagan AKA @therellbedayslikethis.
May is Mum to four. And sister to ten. That’s right her parents had ELEVEN kids. Growing up I was SO intrigued by her family. Now, having had kids I find it mindboggling that a household could possibly function with so many people in it. Not mention the HUGE respect I have for her Mum and Dad for a) getting through it b) making humans as lovely as May.
Here, she tells us what it’s like to grow up being ‘One of Eleven Kids’:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you decide to have more than three children you are utterly insane.
After you have your first child, people ask when you would like another. After your second, people ask if you would like another. After that, people ask why the holy heck you would like another.
I’ve officially reached the number of children where people have stopped saying, “Congratulations” and switched instead to, “Good luck”.
The NHS should prescribe TV licenses as contraception given the number of people who find it hilarious to question if we have one. (Actually, our TV was broken at the time but that’s by the by, alright?)
Perhaps I am naïve but, as the third eldest of eleven children, four doesn’t really faze me. I’ve had a really good experience of growing up being surrounded by ten clothes-stealing-raucous-snitches with the same big teeth and eyebrows as me.
Yes, there are downsides. You have to sacrifice important things like space and privacy. Luckily we grew up on a farm so there were plenty of escape routes – the field, the hay barn, the aptly named isolation unit (for sick pigs and errant siblings.)
There are other sacrifices too. Take holidays for example, which were often a 2 hour car journey to Birmingham to visit our grandparents with a sibling kicking your shin whole way and never a Thomas Cook all inclusive with pool.
We were lucky to go on some good holidays to Center Parcs though. Not a cheap option for a big crowd and I therefore acquired the ability to curl into a small enough ball to slot into a car footwell alongside a four year old with a coat over us and still manage to find breathing space for us both.
‘Squeezing in’ also meant that if you drew the short straw you had to sleep on the (surprisingly comfortable) sofa.
The downside to this being that the living room is in the middle of all bedrooms so snoring and flatulence was in surround sound.
It also meant you were awake as soon as the earliest riser was.
However it did guarantee you breakfast in bed each morning. Plus you had the authority to demote your siblings off the sofa and on to the floor for the entire duration of the holiday.
We’ve had to make similar sacrifices with our children when it comes to holidays. Think less Hotel Du Vin and more Hotel Du CamperVan.
It’s not all about missing out though. Being in a big family means there’s always lots to celebrate. So much so that my 2 year old, whenever handed a phone, automatically breaks into singing ‘Happy Birthday’.
Growing up in a crowd, you develop a (life-long) complete inability to see something you would like to eat and save it for later. It won’t be there later so you must eat it now, all of it, even if it is an entire sherry trifle at 6.45am. And quickly, because if somebody catches you they will fight you for it. It’s a survival skill.
The kitchen was truly the hub of the home, with the table at any one time being resting place for any strange combination of belongings – a collection of Play Doh creatures (always brown – keeping the colours separate with so many contributors was impossible), some Food Technology GCSE coursework, Just17, the Sunday Times crossword…
I don’t remember a Sunday at home that didn’t involve a roast dinner. Dad always took pride in cooking and carving the meat, while mum nailed the roast potatoes and always had a way of making the vegetables interesting. The perfect team.
Mum was always up early and coming down for breakfast was like walking onto the factory floor at Ginsters with a production line of packed lunches on the go. There was always one of us standing over her on quality control, making dissatisfied noises over today’s sandwich filling. I remember complaining that we never got to have Um Bongo or Iced Gems like my school friend, Lorna. If only I could go back to my then self – what my mum did to keep us all fed and happy was nothing short of incredible.
Ah, my mum. People used to ask me how she did it and I would laugh it off as if that is some sort of silly question. She had us older ones to help out, of course! Only now do I realise that managing tears and tantrums from toddlers and teenagers in tandem is no mean feat, and that me occasionally cleaning a bathroom/younger sibling’s behind was merely a small drop in a very large, poo-filled ocean.
I can’t downplay my dad’s role though. I’m not sure if it was a skill he acquired through raising lots of children but he was always good at staying calm and finding a solution, on whatever scale. I remember one occasion when he was getting us ready for school as my mother was away (presumably in hospital after giving birth to one of my siblings) and the hairbrush was nowhere to be seen. He acted with determination and quick wit, selecting an appropriate Stickle Brick for the job – we were good to go.
Dad was also best at budgeting so he was often appointed the role of chief food shopper. During the BSE scare we ate like kings, dining on T-Bone steak pretty much every night! Dad also liked to stock up on box loads of crisps that none of us really liked because they lasted for ages.
History has a way of repeating itself. My husband stops at M&S on his way home from work most nights as he’s calculated the perfect time to pick up yellow stickered food. It’s reached the stage where the staff know him and point him in direction of good deals. I have to ban him sometimes while we make our way through the reduced price Dim Sum, Aberdeen Angus Beef Burgers and Harissa Peperonata Focaccia that’s jamming up the freezer. He’s got so good at it, I think he could scale up and roll it out as a business – HelloNotSoFresh.
The car was always full (somebody always needed taking somewhere and siblings would volunteer as willing passengers to escape the chaos).
As were the bathrooms (also a good place to escape the chaos).
And the washing machine.
But never the fridge. The food shopping literally got unpacked straight into our mouths.
Christmases were and are amazing – the excitement is contagious. So too, sadly, is the norovirus, which is why Christmas 2007 will not go down as the best.
When you are living with lots of people, sickness bugs can tear through you like wildfire. This is not the time you can appreciate close living quarters, sharing bathrooms (if you were lucky to get there first) or buckets. There is always one person in the household acting smug that they managed to escape the illness, only to catch it two weeks later than everyone else. This is normally my brother, Eddie, who does everything two weeks later than everyone else.
We may share the same teeth and eyebrows but there is an end to our similarities. We have all chosen different career paths. I have lucked out as among them include a midwife, a physiotherapist and a (nearly) dentist. I just need some of the younger ones to take up plumbing and beauty therapy and that is all my maintenance issues taken care of.
Keeping in touch with so many siblings can be tricky – until Whatsapp came along. Much like the kitchen table, the group messages are a strange concoction of kid’s artwork (this time belonging to the grandchildren), photos of nights out, something weird that somebody wants diagnosing, exam results and the like.
Sometimes I wonder where my day has gone then I realise I must have spent at least 2hrs replying to the 186 messages that came through in the past 24 hours.
When I say 24 hours, I mean 24 hours. The younger siblings always message late, while watching something inspiring on television or feeling ‘conversational’ after a few drinks, my mum (still incapable of switching off or lying in) normally checks in at 4am after letting the dogs out while the peak time for us older siblings is around 6.50am while spooning Rice Krispies into a toddler. Plus there is normally one of us (never me) out of the country in another time zone, smugly posting sunset selfies for the rest of us to wake up to. Git.
My parents made raising a large brood look easy. Perhaps they are the masters of deception. Perhaps I was too caught up in my own growing up haze to notice the hard work they were putting in. Perhaps it is only through becoming a parent myself that I have been able to appreciate the challenges they must have dealt with.
However my parents did it, there is no denying it is a big job. So, why have we not stopped at three?
My husband asked the other day if there is any chance I could give birth to an adult! I’m sure most nurseries employ a more favourable adult:child ratio, and we’re talking people who have qualifications in looking after children. So really, why have we not stopped at three?
Well, I don’t have any qualifications in looking after children. I’m not going to pretend I find parenting a walk in the park (although there are lots of those). I’m not making life easy for myself, but what kind of life do you end up having led if you always select the easy option?
Growing up in a large family has set me up well for parenthood. It’s given me this ability to zone out in chaos – the mayhem, madness, melee – it often just washes over me. And re that quick eating practise, it’s useful when I only have 5 minutes in between picking Babybel skin out of the carpet and racing out for the school run. Plus the lack of privacy I have become accustomed to means I’m not bothered when my 4 year old wants to tattoo my leg in biro while I’m on the toilet. Welcome one and all.
I haven’t yet found another use for my ability to curl into a footwell sized ball, but I am sure it will come in handy again one day.
Being one of eleven has also given me an irrational fear of being lonely. I’ve learnt to enjoy the chaos of a busy household so much so that, on the rare occasion I am home alone, I feel uneasy. My siblings have provided a constant source of company, and now my children do too. I seem to have this urge to fill my life with people who mean something to me. Having kids seems a fun way to do that.
Love is a funny thing, you would think it had a limit, that you would somehow have to divide it around, but it doesn’t work like that. The more you give, the more you get back, then the more there is to divvy out. It’s kind of addictive – I think that’s my problem! If only I could say the same for time.
That newborn head smell is pretty addictive too.
The idea of a large family might seem nuts, but it’s my normal. Through it, I’ve learnt there is no such thing as a perfect family – no perfect age to start having children, even if you decide never to, no perfect number of children, no perfect age gap between children. If there is love there you can build something special, whether there are two of you or twenty.
We recently got back from a brilliant holiday in Portugal. I know Portugal well; I have been going to Portugal since I was 8 and My Mum, Step-Dad and sister moved out there permanent 9 years ago too so I know part of it very well. But I have always wanted to explore it more, get under the skin of it a bit, so when the Martinhal offered us a road trip, I jumped at the chance. Or at least I replied swiftly with an email.
Here’s what we learned ‘Road-tripping with Kids’:
We travelled to 5 different places in 13 days.
The downside of that is it involved a lot of packing and unpacking.
This might not bother anyone else but I am the sort of anal person who totally un-pack as soon as they arrive anywhere.
And, because of the repeated packing and unpacking, we did lose a few items along the way. I left an overpriced razor in one location and Ben left a 6 pack of beer in the fridge at the other. He was devastated.
Now that’s where the negative points start and end. Apart from the packing, our road trip was brilliant.
It felt like a proper adventure.
I love that feeling of arriving somewhere new and exploring.
I love waking up to different views each morning too. And eating in different restaurants.
But before you embark on a multi-trip holiday spend a long time figuring out logistics. We went back and forth countless times on the route to minimise drive time.
4 hours in a car in one day is pretty much our limit. So we put our biggest drive from Cascais to Quinta bang smack in the middle of the trip that way it didn’t encroach too much on the rest of the holiday.
Try to spend at least two nights in each location. Three would be even better.
A two week break is the ideal. I’ve said it before but it REALLY does make all the difference. A chance to properly unwind, forget about work and reconnect as a family.
It usually takes the best part of a week to sleep properly, stop dreaming about work and (unrelated but also a problem) for my metabolism to sort itself out.
Yes, that’s right. I spend the first few days of any holiday unable to shit. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient, especially when you have to gad about in swimwear.
What other vitals for life on the road? Snacks and milk. Always stock up on both when you can. The words “We’ll grab some somewhere else” can come back to haunt you.
And downloads. How the hell did our parents manage without a screen? We try not to resort to the digital nanny too often. But when you’ve all been stuck in a vehicle for too long, back to back PJ Masks is the only answer….
And baby wipes. Still a travel essential, no matter how old your kids are.
Have beach stuff to hand. Letting off steam in the sea and sand makes a welcome break from a long stretch behind the wheel.
What else? I couldn’t talk about out trip and not mention The Martinhal Group, which is where we were staying.
Though we were ‘travelling’ we were still staying in REALLY nice places.
I guess you could call it ‘flash-packing’, I’ve never considered that an option before. I think it could be a game changer.
The chance to explore somewhere without having to the hostel it up.
And believe me, I am not a snob. I once stayed in a room which was described as a ‘dog kennel’ in Ios whilst island hopping. Or the room in Mexico that resembled a prison cell and not in a hipster way.
Anyway life has moved on and though I still love a bit of camping (ok glamping), I am also VERY fond of a nice hotel.
Martinhal is not only luxe it has got the kiddie stuff down:
A baby concierge service. They will loan you any baby equipment you need to save you schlepping it onto the plane: sterilisers, buggy, travel cot, you name it they’ve got it.
The interiors are designed with no sharp corners anywhere.
Supervised play areas in every restaurant. Love a meal out with boy but, best case scenario, they’ll sit for 40 minutes. This meant they could colour and we could have another glass of wine, pudding and even attempt a bit of conversation.
Small toilets. So cute and super handy if you have a weak pelvic floor and struggle when having to let your little person piss first.
Washing machines in the rooms. VITAL for us, my two are messy. And by ‘my two’ I mean Woody my 2.5-year-old and Ben my 35-year-old.
Of course a brilliant Kids Club. “Oh, You are back already”, muttered Bertie with an air of disappointment when we came to pick him up.
G&T’s the size of the fishbowl. Yes actually.
The best thing about all of the above is that enabled us to have a holiday that felt like a holiday.
And because we were road tripping it felt a bit like the more ‘adventurous’ holidays we use to enjoy pre-kids.
Multiple locations enabled us to learn a bit about the country we were visiting too.
And, as often happens when you get away, I learned a bit about my family and myself too. Holidays are a great time for reflection too aren’t they?
I learned that Bertie LOVES fashion, like a lot. He took such pleasure in dressing up for the disco every evening it made my heart burst with joy.
He is also a man of routine. He had the same thing from the amazing buffet breakfast each day.
Where as Woody becomes bamboozled by buffet breakfast. Too many choices, not enough time to try it all.
BUT gets a weird thrill out of nearly drowning. He kept putting himself under water. We’d drag him to the surface in a panic. He’d be grinning ear to ear.
Ben loves the attention driving a VW Camper Van gets you. He also has a weird obsession with digging holes. I have often said is spirit animal is a Labrador. This proves it.
And we still get on as a couple. Which is always a relief.
I learned something unexpected: that I am happiest being scruffy. I took bags of makeup and different outfits with me. I wore hardly any of them. I adore getting dressed up. But I am truly content with a bare face, sun-kissed skin, a beach dress and a pair of flip-flops.
And that although I love events and work and hanging out with mates travelling the world with my crew is my greatest joy. Those precious days are the ones that make my heart sing; ‘THIS, this is what life is all about’.
Apart from queues at airport security and passport control. Those send me to a very very dark place.
Belle and I were at Secondary School together. She was in the ‘cool girl gang’, the sort I hung out with a bit but was also in awe of. My overriding memory of her was doing an amazing performance of the Fugees cover of ‘Killing Me Softly’ in the school talent contest. Funny the things that stay in your mind all these years?
Life has changed a lot since leaving school in 2000. Particularly for Belle who now finds herself in a wheelchair. This time I’m in awe of her for how she’s dealt with this challenging journey and proud to be able share her list ‘Living Life on Wheels’:
I went from being a fully able-bodied, fully functioning, sporty, independent woman, to a blind and wheelchair-bound woman overnight in 2007, being struck down by a rare illness called Neuro Myelitis Optica. My life changed dramatically and I physically changed dramatically, but mentally I am still the same person who wants to take on the world, now it is in a slightly different way:
Each day has to be taken as it comes. I try not to let things stress me, as that is when everything starts to go wrong. I will have bad transfers, my pain will increase, and I will become tired more quickly. I try to start each day with meditation and positive thoughts (even when I want to tell the world to do one).
I work on a food plan for each week, being overweight and on wheels is hard. When I initially fell ill and was on a load of steroids and went up to 18stone life was extremely difficult, transfers were more difficult, getting up and dressed seemed to take hours and with help from other. Now a good 7+ stone lighter, I am able to be up and out of the house in 30minutes, that’s even with a hair wash. The food we eat is so important and weight management is key to ensure making life on wheels a lighter and better place to be.
Everything in moderation. If I want cake I eat cake, but I now try to make my own in a healthier way than buying something processed and full of additives. I try to be mindful of what I am putting into my body.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do something or do something like you used to. Take a step back from the situation and look at how you can do it, just differently.
Tasks in life might take longer and have to be done in a different way, but they can be done.
Exercise is important but so are rest days. I try to work out about 5 times a week, boxing, using resistance bands, weights and good old pushing around taking the dog for a wheel in the countryside to get the heart pumping.
Research and more research, the doctors are only so knowledgeable, and my favourite saying from them and the nurses is ‘everyone with spinal cord injury is different’. This is true, just a much-overused phrase. It is good to build up your own toolbox of knowledge about your injury and what can help support
the best you, you can be through foods, alternative medicines and therapies, sports you enjoy and anything else you find fulfilling in life. Don’t stop the things that you used to do, just look at how they can be done on wheels.
Mind those knees!! If you do not have any or limited feeling in your legs, you have to be so careful of your knees. It is so easy to be putting the washing onto a radiator with your knees up against it, as you don’t feel anything, you won’t feel them slowly burning. This is the same with the oven, if the oven is at leg level and your hob is on top, then you will need to be mindful of where your legs are. Hot things burn and can cause serious damage.
If you feel tired sleep, if you need to rest, rest, if you need to eat, eat, your body is a marvellous thing start to listen to it and it will make life so much easier.
Pressure relief is soooo important. Your Therapists at the Hospital should show you how to do this, but the aim is to get off the pressure points in your bum each hour for 2 minutes each side by leaning GET OFF THOSE CHEEKS!
The lovely thing with spinal cord injury is how much I get to speak about my toilet habits! Seriously everyone (nurses, doctors, specialists etc) all want to know about this exciting part of life. I find its best to be open, understand how my body feels when I start to get a urine infection or when I start to feel like I am getting constipated. It is vital for us wheelies to understand these bodily functions to minimise discomfort, pain and most importantly infection.
Catheters will become a daily part of life. There are 3 main ways of having/using a catheter. These are Indwelling (a surgical procedure to have a catheter come out of your bladder), Urethra (goes in near your bits, I like these on a weekend so I can go out as I please without worrying about where a loo might be), and intermittent (these are used by people without the other 2 kinds of catheters into use after going to the loo to ensure your bladder is empty). Make sure you make your own choices on how you want to use catheters and don’t be forced into something you are not comfortable with, make sure you speak to people and do research to make the appropriate decision for you.
Understand benefits and what you are entitled too, speak to your support worker and reach out to the local council to discuss.
Minimising stress levels is key and so important for people with spinal cord injury; I have tried all sorts of alternative therapies, some which have worked well such as meditation, reiki, reflexology, massage. Some that have not worked so well, a lady standing over me and banging a drum while chanting for an hour was not my idea of calm!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t be forced to accept help if you can do it.
I am lucky enough to have a fantastic family and great friends around me, but I know that others with spinal cord injury can get lonely. Make sure you reach out to your local council for help and support, speak to the Occupational Therapists, they can help find local groups to get involved with and support with transport to get you there. You are never alone.
Get on social media, this way you can find groups of like-minded people, have discussions about coping, issues and generally living life. Facebook is great for this.
Wheels don’t stop you from doing things; they just mean things are done in a slightly different way.
Take the Dis out of Disability and you have the ability!
My amazing hen-do. Where I suffered an epic panic attack.
I published a version of this list some time ago. For the last couple of years, I’ve largely had my anxiety under control. Or rather it hasn’t managed to control me. But this week it came back with a vengeance. Probably something to do with a national paper slagging off the way I bring up my children. Here’s the thing, logically I wasn’t offended or concerned about the Daily Mail’s opinion of me. I am a confident parent. But mental health doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t adhere to logic.
Here’s everything I have learned about anxiety:
Anxiety is a very broad term.
For me, it comes in a few guises:
Spiralling negative thought processes,
A general feeling of being removed and unable to connect.
An overriding feeling of doom deep in the pit of stomach belly.
All of which leads to broken sleep.
Oh and panic attacks.
I have suffered from anxiety for a most of my life. I vividly remember having a panic attack in my early teens. I was sitting on my bedroom flow, doing my homework whilst listening to the charts when the world began to warp.
I was ok in my twenties, which is surprising given how much I partied.
But my lowest point was 7 years ago. Suddenly from nowhere getting on the tube became a challenge. 2 minutes stuck at a signal and I was a quivering mess.
Then trains begun to make me a bit wobbly. Oh and planes obviously… because they are basically trains, suspended thousands of feet up in the air.
Soon I was so obsessed with how I would get to/from somewhere that it dominated the experience of actually being there.
Why? Why was I feel this way? Very good question.
I can’t be certain, these things are often irrational. Though I suspect it was something to do with being stuck and feeling out of control.
Which sounds bonkers.
But I now know, via lots of research (AKA talking about Anxiety to anyone who’ll listen) that feeling anxious or depressed does not make you weird.
It is SO much more common than you think.
And the people that suffer from anxiety are often the people you’d least expect.
They are the ones putting on a great front of appearing confident and having their shit together.
You see anxiety doesn’t make you a scaredy cat.
Just the opposite.
In my case, I’d done tonnes of ‘brave’ stuff. Thrown myself down black runs Given big-presentations. GIVEN BIRTH. These are not things that wimps do.
It also doesn’t mean you are loony. It means you need help.
Don’t fight it. Anxiety can spiral if you start being anxious about the fact that you are anxious (SIDE NOTE: THIS TOTALLY HAPPENED TO ME THIS WEEK, I WAS CONVINCED I WAS HEADED BACK TO THE DARK PLACE I WAS IN THE YEAR AFTER OUR MARRIAGE).
Think how you’d treat it if it were a physical illness rather than a mental one. If you had a grazed knee, doesn’t mean you need your leg amputated. Experiencing a phase of anxiety doesn’t mean youarea loon.
Also a bit of anxiety is OK.
Sometimes it’s excitement: ‘school disco nerves’, before a night out.
Sometimes it’s actual nerves. Don’t take every raised heartbeat as something to freak out about.
Remember when the adrenaline begins to course around the vein it’s your body preparing you to do something epic and bring your A-game. Which is great if, for example, you about a speech or meet a room full of new people.
My go-to self-medications is Rescue Remedy. That stuff is the bomb. Obviously, I swig it straight from the bottle. Fuck the pipet.
Run. Run. Run. Not away from your problems. That’d be terrible advice. But exercise. Running is free (apart from trainers and a reinforced sports bra). A hit of endorphins is a great step towards keeping you sane.
Go to the quack. Don’t be embarrassed. GP will probably already dealt with a mental health issue that day. Plus its better than having to stick their fingers up someone’s bum.
Be kind to yourself. Being a grown-up is a tough gig. It’s why you spend 21 years (nearer 32) practising before you actually become an adult.
Get some kip. Not easy with kids. Go to bed earlier. Get off your phone. Tag-team with your partners in the mornings. Or do as I do and leave any event at 10.30.
Caffeine is vital. But handle with caution. I’ve recently swapped coffee for tea. It’s not as fun or satisfying, but my mind is calmer.
Find the release. Children compromise your ability to blow off steam or build in self-care But these things are not a luxury. A night gossiping with the girls over a bottle of bubbles is SO good for the soul.
CBT is a game changer. It gave me so many strategies to control my thought processes. Actual therapy is great too. It’s less a means of finding a coping strategy, more as means to understand yourself a bit better.
But talking to anyone is good. It doesn’t always come easily to us Brits. But if you can try and let those around you know that you are struggling it will help.
A beautiful lunch accompanied by horrible sense of dread in the pit of my stomach.
I love a motivational quote too. These are my fave:
“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Yes, Leonard Cohen! Being flawed is not a bad thing. It makes us human and makes us have great empathy for other humans.
“No rain, no flowers.” When you are in the middle of a shitty anxious patch it can feel like things are such a struggle, but instead, see it as a chance try and embrace the good days as a thing of joy. Much like the feeling on the first day of spring.
“Everything is going to be ok.” The wisest of words from @theyesmummum. She’s right you know. It really will.
You WILL get back to being you. You won’t even realise when it happens. But one day you’ll find yourself worrying about the ‘why the hell there are socks everywhere apart from the sock draw’. Rather than worrying about worrying.
You won’t be cured. That’s not a thing. But you’ll know that you’ve made peace with the fact that anxiety is part of your life, but that doesn’t mean it needs to define you or even limit you. And what hasn’t sent you potty has made you stronger than you thought possible.
Yesmum Cards come in a variety of ranges including Mum, Fertility & Mini. They are brilliant and available to buy here.
There is no easy way to intro this, other than to say how unbelievably grateful I am to the woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) who felt brave enough to share this list about her recovery from rape. 1 in 5 women have been a victim of Sexual Assault, which means this horrendous experience is something more people go through than we perhaps realise.
Two years ago, in the weeks just before Christmas and months before my wedding, I was raped. It is still odd to say or write that. But it is a fact and I live with it everyday. I was not attacked as I walked down a dark alley by a menacing stranger, I was drunk and was raped by a colleague.
I developed PTSD and was robbed of the joy you are meant to feel planning your wedding (a concurrent police investigation is a wedmin mood killer). I lost my career and many friendships. I have only stepped foot in a bar again twice – once on my hen and once for my celebratory pushing-out-a-baby NCT night. I was only able to do that because I felt pretty safe both times. On one I was flanked by 10 women, including my 80 year old nan, wielding penis straws and on the other I was spurting milk at anyone in a five foot radius.
Every hour approximately 11 people are raped in the UK, it is far more common than we realise. Here are some things I have learnt about myself and recovering from rape. I hope they give some comfort to anyone affected by this or help anyone supporting someone going through it.
In the early days and weeks….
You will not be able to comprehend anything that has happened to you. It will all feel like an outer-body experience to a nightmare you cannot wake from.
You will be sure no one, not even your closest friends and family, will believe you.
You will read the legal definition of rape countless times and convince yourself you got it wrong, that it didn’t really count as rape. But you didn’t get it wrong and it was rape.
You will feel utterly terrified. All. The. Time. This is why rape and sexual violence is so destructive, it makes both your outside and inner worlds terrifying. You will be convinced if you report it they will ‘get you’ for ruining their life. You will be convinced that you will end up in prison for defamation. But put yourself in the environment you feel most safe and remember they ruined their own lives.
You will be unable to carry out simple day to day tasks. I remember one night I couldn’t cook a jacket potato as there were some crisps in the bowl I wanted to use. Despite owning over 30 different potential potato/crisp storing containers, I genuinely couldn’t work out how to get the crisps out of the bowl and put the potato in it. So I ate the crisps for dinner, and for the three months that followed too. But eventually, your appetite and ability to microwave potatoes will return.
How you cope will be entirely individual and unique to you. You may not want to tell anyone, I wanted to tell everyone. I needed to see their shock so I could make sense of why I felt so awful. I also needed to have sex. I wanted to take control back of my own body. There is no right way to react, just do what you need to survive the days and take each day one at a time.
In the months and years…
You will find support where you never knew you had it. I received some incredible support and solace from complete strangers – my friend’s mum, my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, the receptionist at my GP practice. Three strong and inspiring women who saw me struggling and stopped to help me.
Your favourite pastimes will be ruined. Some because of the crippling depression that will set in but some because you will suddenly realise how prevalent sexual violence is in the everyday media we consume. To this day I still cannot watch Eastenders or House of Cards. And now Broadchurch too. A travesty, I bloody love David Tennant.
Talk. Get in touch with Rape Crisis or your local women’s support group. Meeting people that have been through the same thing, and are also unable to microwave potatoes, will help.
There is no real justice after rape. I didn’t get to send my rapist to prison, but I have realised that criminal justice doesn’t matter. The closest you will come to getting justice is becoming strong enough to move on with your life and reclaim what someone took from you. I’m still working on this one.
You will feel human again.
If you have been affected by this list then please contact Rape Crisis, they are here to help.