Lockdown, and how it affects my mental health.

From the very beginning of the outbreak of Covid-19 here in the UK, I have felt an increasing sense of anxiety and panic. As a person that suffers with anxiety at the best of times this feeling of worry and dread has more than tripled as my emetophobia and fear of being ill decide to join the party.

Some of the biggest challenges I have faced personally have come from the daily issues my autism gives me. Especially the need for specific routine which includes multiple visits each week to my mothers house, and my best self care technique; long drives. As you can guess both of these things have become unachievable due to the quarantine measures. Losing my day to day routine has created a domino effect of heightened anxiety and panic attacks, irritability, and depression. These have then grown stronger and I have had many days which have felt impossible. My autistic stimming has increased and my vocal stimming has returned and is more noticable. Specifically my “tick” is more frequent and defined.

Another big issue is the changes to shopping. I have spent years learning how to go to the shops with my husband and how to function while shopping, something I’ve always been very proud of as I was 24 when I first went shopping without a meltdown and last year I was even able to shop solo (something which may not be hugely impressive, but trust me it was one heck of a milestone) but now I get refused entry to shops with my husband and daughter. This causes me great destress as I try to explain that I cant wait outside and I cant shop alone will all the new rules. I now have very little control over our food shopping as so much is unavailable, and I know this is the same for many people, but due to my autism and sensory processing disorder I have a very limited variety of food I can eat. Even different brands can trigger meltdowns, something I’m trying hard to avoid.

As I mentioned I have a daughter, a 2 year old little girl who had just started preschool before this whole thing started. After a few weeks of getting settled she was finally happy to go to to preschool and play with her teachers now I know in my heart she will struggle to readjust. I worry so much for her, because she is too young to understand why we can’t go to the park, or visit her grandmothers house. Some days I can distract her with some finger paints and a Disney princess movie, other days she cries for hours begging to go out and telling me she’s been good as if the only reason we are stuck in our tiny flat is because of her, and that hurts in a way I can not describe. I’ve exhausted books, board games, puzzles, den building, painting, ball games and baking. I’ve tried to give her my attention, and my creativity but now I feel empty. More than once she has seen me cry and, bless her little heart, she brings me tissues and strokes my hair telling me “it’s ok mummy”

My husband finds it hard to help me, I can tell. He would, at any other time, get us all in the car and drive. He would drive for hours, music playing, knowing that in the car as the motion of the journey took over, I could relax. I know in a heartbeat he would take us out if he was told he could, but without that sure fire technique he is as lost as I am. We sit together after little ones bedtime, the TV playing away, mostly to itself, as we both silently ache over the endless stress; “how will we afford the bills, the food shopping and everything else?” “What can we do tomorrow to keep our little family going?” The arguments have increased, the sudden close quarters have taken their toll and little things that would normally be forgotten or ignored are now sparks waiting to burst into flame. We always end up crying it out and we both know that many things are said out of a deeper hurting and fear, but still, it isn’t nice to fight with someone you love.

I also mentioned my mum earlier, I worry about her all the time. Since we lost my dad she is in their home alone. Now, I should tell you a few things about my mum; 1) She has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. 2) We are constantly telling her to be careful and not to overdo it. 3) she doesn’t listen. I check in with her daily by phone and also text her but it’s not the same as seeing her and truly knowing how she is doing. (Because that woman is an actress over the phone) It is also difficult for my daughter to talk to her, as without seeing her face she doesnt talk on the phone yet. But my mum does not have the internet or a smart phone so video calls are not an option. I have tried to be a bit creative with sending postcards and home made cards as well as a couple of visits to see mum through the window. These visits were both great and hard as my little girl didnt understand why we couldn’t go inside.

It is hard to not to be able to indulge in my self care, even my home based hobbies and self care have become less helpful and harder to engage in. Whilst I have always been on antidepressants and moved from one mental health charity and organisation to another, I’ve found getting professional help at the moment to be even more difficult than normal. I have always found it hard to reach out and say “I need help” but now I feel so much like a burden on over worked drs and nurses I dont want to be a bother. Of course I’m fully aware of how things may end up worse if I don’t seek help, but at the same time I just can’t ask for help as I really don’t know what help I need apart from the lockdown being lifted. (Which should NOT HAPPEN until it is safe to do so.)

Long story short, people are saying we are in the same boat right now. But the truth is, behind closed doors, we are all fighting our own battles and going through our own individual difficulties. It can be hard to reach out, even to friends and family when they feel so much further away. A video call doesn’t always have the same warmth as a face to face chat or a hug and you can write a thousand texts and never really talk. Parents can feel at the end of their tether and still be awake a 5am and trying to fill each day with laughter when they would rather just hide under the covers until the world makes sense again. Children can be climbing the walls going crazy with too much unused energy, or sat in the same spot for hours wondering when its bed time.

We are all human. We all feel uncertain right now, wether we are key workers worrying about wether or not we are bringing something nasty home with us, or we are unable to go about our normal life and job sat on the sofa hoping our paycheck will be enough to cover the basics. None of us are going to be 100% right now and we need to remember that. “”Be kind” isn’t just pretty words, it is something that we a people need to act on. Don’t judge each other, be it in the shops or on Facebook. Lift each other up, and show respect, especially if you disagree.

Hopefully we will come out the other side of this lockdown soon and we will be able to hold those dearest to us again. In the meantime we should be proud, as we haven’t been in this situation before and we are all doing really well. I think most of us with mental health issues are struggling at least a little right now and its nothing to be ashamed of.

If you feel like you need to reach out and talk to someone, dont forget the Samaritans are still operating and their number is: 116 123.

Also Shout is a text based talking service, you can reach them by texting: 85258. Both of these services are free and confidential.

Crying in front of my daughter

When I cry, I REALLY cry. I’m not a woman who can sniffle into a handkerchief and balance tears on my cheek. No, when I let it all out I am a wreck. Red faced, sobbing, shaking, surrounded by balled up tissues and curled up in a ball. Because i often hold in my emotions, by the time they reach the surfaced they are so concentrated that any subtlety is long gone. This doesn’t really bother me and I can cry in front of my husband and my family, even my close friends have seen me in a blubbering mess. But when I found out I was expecting my daughter I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t cry in front of her.”

I should say, that my mother cried in front of me when I was a child, but very rarely. She would hold her emotions in as I do, because she didn’t want my sister and I to see her cry and get upset. I felt like I had to do the same for my daughter, I had to be strong so she wouldn’t see my sad. I would hide away or hold back my tears until she went to sleep, no matter how much I was hurting. It made me feel sick, exhausted from keeping my brave face on and eventually that took its toll on how I could interact with everyone.

I became withdrawn, because I knew that even the slightest thing would set me off and I was terrified that if I started crying i would become such a state that it would scare my daughter. All day it felt as though I was walking on eggshells trying to make sure I was being the perfect, fairy tale mother, happy, smiling and bright. I stopped being able to cry in front of anyone, it felt unnatural to let the tears flow. I would hide away in the shower to cry and lie to my husband if he asked if I had been crying. I suddenly felt very alone.

When my father was take ill I dealt with it alone, I hardly cried and when I did it was a few tears in secret. But when he died, I couldn’t hide the pain. I could no longer bottle things up until my daughter was in bed. I tried to keep it together but there was no way to be strong. In front of my toddler I broke down and she watched mummy cry. My husband held me, relieved that I was once again letting him comfort me and my little girl, her eyes calm but knowing, simply said “Mummy sad” She wasn’t afraid, she cuddled me and stroked my hair as I do for her whenever she has cried in my arms. She understood what tears were and wiped them from my face as I wondered how this little girl accepted her mother being an emotional wreck.

That’s when it hit me. CRYING IS NORMAL. It’s ok to cry in front of your children, just as it’s ok to laugh with them. It didn’t damage her to see her mother cry, yes she wanted to make me feel better, and in that moment she showed a huge amount of understanding and empathy, both traits I am hugely proud of her for having. Somehow, she knew what to do to show me love and support. She knew because I have showed her every time she has fallen over, felt poorly or needed to cry. Children are often very sensitive to emotions and all along she had been taking in the way her father and I would comfort her. She totally accepted my tears without judgement or worry because she knows what sad is. She may not have understood why mummy was sad, but she instinctively met sadness with love.

I’m not suggesting that you can sit on the sofa on a Friday night and sob about your week over a bottle of wine with your toddler, but crying in front of your children is not something to be ashamed of or worried about. If you cry in front of your children, you are allowing them to expand their understanding of emotions and breaking down boundaries that may prevent them from expressing their own emotions. I know the amount of pressure there is on parents to be strong for their children, but being strong doesn’t mean being silent. I feel so silly now for not allowing myself to be sad in front of my daughter, because now I see that it is ok to be human. I feel like my relationship with my little girl has been strengthened, and since that day I have cried in front of her more than once. Each time she has met my tears with compassion and hug that makes me feel so loved I can not put it into words.

I feel stronger as a mother since I stopped trying to be strong and I hope one day, if my daughter becomes a mother, she will remember that her parents cried with her and not feel the same pressure I did to put on that brave face. I want her to know that all emotions are acceptable and I want to help her learn how to express them in a healthy way, so I have to show her, even if that means her seeing me doing my ugly cry.

Grief; The loss of a parent

My dad wanted sons. He was an old fashioned man who spent his days working, his evenings watching sports on the TV and his weekends fishing, tackling a DIY project or working on cars. So of course when it came time to become a father he was hoping for boys. But fate gave him me and my younger sister instead.

Me and my Dad

Growing up I was a tomboy, I preferred being out in the mud to playing with dolls. I think that helped because I was happy to go fishing and get my hands dirty. I have many memories of me and my dad fishing as he taught me how to do things on my own, his watchful eye on me and his helping hand never too far away.

My teenage years were hell for my family, I can see that looking back. I was a stubborn, not yet diagnosed autistic girl with strong emotions, a lack of social skills and a big mouth. My dad was working long hours in a physically demanding job. My sister was a typically younger sibling with a busy after school schedule and my mums was working and trying to keep us all together. As you can imagine it was a recipe for tension. My dad and I butted head frequently, with my mum stepping in as a referee. Our relationship was strained as each argument took its toll. We seemed to set each other off, tiny things became great triggers as we screamed at each other, each of us refusing to admit defeat or responsibility.

When I was 17 I moved out of my parents house, this was the start of improving our relationship. Not seeing each other everyday and annoying each other with our habits our conversations became more friendly and our arguments grew less frequent. By the time I was 21 our relationship was stronger and healthy than it had been for a long time. We would joke, laugh, share stories and enjoy each other company.

When I introduced my dad to the man that would become my husband, my dad welcomed him with open arms. They shared an interest in football and cars and DIY and my dad said he had gotten a son after all. At the age of 26 I fell pregnant with my daughter, and my dad was over the moon. He drove us to every appointment (despite his fear of hospitals), he bragged to his fishing friends, he couldn’t wait to meet his first granddaughter.

The moment my daughter was born, my dad became her best friend. The man that was no good with babies sat by the hospital bed and held her close when she was hours old. He didn’t stop smiling. Telling her all the trouble they would get into together and all the things he was going to teach her. Their bond was instant and unbreakable.

When I got married, my dad drove me to the wedding. He put bows on his car and took my hand as a climbed out. As he took my arm and the first notes of an acoustic cover of guns and roses “sweet child of mine” played he whispered to me “Are you ok?” But truthfully he was a scared as I was. He walked me down the aisle, both of us shaking with nerves, he kissed my cheek, shook my husbands hand and proudly gave me away in front of our family and friends.

I watched as he played with my daughter, making her laugh and introducing her to the world around her. He made her first Christmas magical and spoilt her on her first birthday. We made plans for the following years, had ideas about holidays and days out. But none of us knew we wouldn’t get to make them a reality.

My dad, shaking my husbands hand at our wedding.

In August 2019 my mum came home to find my dad unconscious in his chair, what followed was a mad rush between hospitals so that he could undergo emergency brain surgery to save his life. My dad had suffered a brain aneurysm. There was no warning, no headaches no sign that something was wrong, it just happened. For several weeks he was in the neurological ICU where he remained in a coma as he had further surgery to stop a second bleed on the brain. After successful surgery and wonderful care from the nurses and doctors, my dad woke up. Despite it all he was moving independently, trying to talk and to my relief he knew who we all were.

He made amazing progress, they took his breathing tube out and he was functioning completely by himself, even being allowed to sit up in a chair and look out of the window. My dad, the man with the fear of hospitals had beaten the odds.

The following week the specialist told us that he would be moved to a smaller hospital to start physiotherapy and we could all breathe a little better. He was now closer to home and Seemed to be on the road to recovery. None of us could have guessed that we were so close to tragedy,

Saturday 21st September 2019. My mother and sister went to the hospital to visit my dad and when they got there things seemed normal, they even went down to the coffee shop for a bite to eat. Then the consultant called my mum, that phone call changed our world forever. My dad had contracted hospital pneumonia and he wasn’t responding the treatment. I rushed to the hospital to be by his side as we made the decision to let him go. Nearly 3 hours i sat on his bed, held his hand and told him how loved he is. I held him close to me as his fingers turned cold and he drew his final rattled breath. I held my mum, I held my sister and my Aunt. I felt the room go cold and empty as my dad left us and I will never forget that feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I don’t remember the rest of that night, or the days that followed. I know people hugged me, said that they were sorry and i just thought “for what?” you didn’t kill him. I remember meetings, appointments a whirlwind of condolences. We went to see my dad in the funeral home. He looked so small and frail. My 6ft tall, strong as an ox dad, pale and still, trapped in a box. I tucked one of the toys he had bought for my daughter by his side and as I left that room it hit me. He’s not coming home.

I spoke at his funeral, telling the many people that came about my wedding day and how my dad held my arm. I cried, then I cried again.

Grief is evil. I wanted a hug, I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to cry and tears wouldn’t come. I wanted to hold it together and I sobbed. I pushed through the pain, determined to be strong for my daughter, my mum and my sister. People commented on how well I was coping when the truth was inside I was empty.

December came around, Christmas lights and excited children. I held my head up high and did everything in my power to make it special. But it hurt, it still hurts. Every day I wake up to the memory of that final moment of my dads life. It wakes me in the night in a cold sweat. At the smallest things I lose control of my tears, and I wish daily that he was here with us.

My daughter looks for him, my mum longs for him, i hate myself for wasting precious time with him. But his chair stays empty. His laughter and terrible jokes aren’t coming back. I’ve lost loved ones in the past and of course there has been pain and sorrow, but this is on another level. I can’t explain how it feel to lose a parent, even now I can’t find words that accurately describe the layers of emotions that weigh you down.

I have now finally admitted I need help. I realised that it’s OK to feel so lost with how I feel and that i don’t have to do it on my own. I reached out to Cruse bereavement care and I spoke to someone. They made me realise that I have to take care of myself, and let me start to accept that its OK not to be OK. I know it’s going to be a long road and that I will never be OK with losing my dad. I’m learning to accept that all of my feelings are allowed and that they all serve a purpose as part of my healing.

It’s taken time to realise that asking for help isn’t weakness or attention seeking. It’s the opposite. It takes strength to hold your hand up and say, “I want to make it through this but I need support” In my past I have turned to drink to bury my emotions instead of dealing with them. Not this time. Because whether he is by my side or in my heart I still have a dad to make proud.

My dad as I will always remember him, watching football, in his chair, with the dog.

Toddler tantrum VS Sensory processing disorder

Hi everyone, today I wanted to tell you about something that happened to me today. But first of all I want to take a second to explain to you about Sensory processing disorder.

For those of you that haven’t heard of this before the definition of Sensory processing disorder is;

“a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.”

It’s not something that is particularly fun, for me personally it affects all of my senses, let me give you some examples.

Hearing: This is my biggest difficulty. I find most noises too intrusive. Traffic noise, loud music, too many people talking at once, traffic lights beeping, announcements over speakers, dogs barking and any sudden noises are horrific for me. It feels like the sounds are actually inside my skull and it gives me incredible headaches. Equally persistent softer sounds like whispering or the wind outside feel like static in my head and become really annoying (imagine nails on a chalkboard). To combat the difficulties with sound I have, my audiologist has recently given me a pair of sound generators, they fit like hearing aids and also have the microphone function of standard hearing aids but with the added function of producing white noise, red noise and pink noise (red and pink noise being white noise without the higher pitched tones) and honestly they are such a game changer! they help muffled loud and uncomfortable noises and at the same time make the quieter sounds louder so they are less distracting and upsetting. They have helped me so much I honestly can not praise them enough.

Eyesight: Ok, so I wear glasses for poor vision anyway. But with sensory processing disorder its not just being long or short sighted. I can not stand bright white lights for a start, they make me feel really disorientated. Also flashing lights are a huge trigger, and looking out the window of a moving car or at something that’s moving too fast. i often wear tinted glasses or sunglasses when i’m out as shop lights are always so bright and you can bet there is always at least one light bulb that is on the fritz.

Touch: When I say I CAN NOT BE TOUCHED I am not joking. i can tolerate holding my husbands had for a short time and cuddles from my daughter and husband when I am not otherwise overloaded, but a stranger… NOPE. Seriously, if a stranger was to hug me it would go through the roof. The compression and the body heat makes my skin crawl and I feel sick. Even if they shake my hand or pat me on the back its such a heavy sensation I feel crushed. It can feel very painful for me if someone makes contact with me and i’m not ready, Because I suffer from a severe social anxiety as well its a double whammy, the physical overload and the anxiety induced panic attack. Not a pretty sight, and people have this wonderful way of seeing that i’m panicking and deciding to hug my to make me feel better. (which, for the record, works about as well as helping a choking person by setting them on fire)

Smell: I know a lot of people can get overwhelmed by a nasty niff, but for me it’s also typically nice smells. Perfumes, scented soaps, air fresheners, scented candles all designed to smell nice can be triggers for me. That’s not to say I don’t like the fragrance, I just have to be so careful to use a tiny amount of scent or else it aggravates and distracts me. For example, sometimes my husband will wear a dash of after shave and I think “hey get a whiff of this guy smelling all sophisticated” but a drop too much and its a very different reaction “OK, why the hell did you bathe in that stuff? i can literally taste you and it makes me want to punch you in the throat. for your own safety, get back in the shower.”

Taste: Similar to smell, if something tastes too strong I can feel it choking me. Too spicy, going to throw up. Too seasoned, vomit is happening. Too cheesy, here comes the chunks. you get the picture. I have a sweet spot with food where it’s not bland but it’s also not going to come with a second act. The sad thing is, that sweet spot changes. I could eat the same food daily and still misjudge it every time. Consistency is another fun thing. I can’t eat food that is too mushy, or too tough, or to crunchy, or too liquidy (not a real word I know, but you know what I mean) And just to top it off, for some random reason my brain likes to play a game with me. It likes to make me judge food based on its colour and convince me i cant eat it. For example; Red food = Spicy. Green food = mushy. Yellow food = cheesy. Pink food = under cooked and may kill you.) It can be quite fun trying to get my daughter to eat new food when I myself can’t touch it.

All in all sensory processing disorder is a nightmare but, for the most part, i have developed ways to cope with it. However, no matter how well prepared or practised I am with it there still comes times that really take it out of me. Today was one of those times. Let me explain;

Today was shopping day. So, armed with all my coping mechanisms, my husband and my daughter went and got the shopping we needed. It was fairly uneventful, the standard social anxiety but it wasn’t too busy. None of the shops had done that ridiculous thing where they just shuffle the whole flipping shop around just to make things difficult for people with anxiety. Feeling pretty good we headed into the local cafe to grab a bit of lunch. We order, i’m hungry, husband is hungry, we’ve ordered daughter her favourite food, should be a breeze right?

NO. Not at all. Out of nowhere, my little 2 year old poppet goes off the rails. Full blown toddler tantrum. (We believe over the colour of her highchair, but it was really hard to make out any actual words) So now all eyes are on us as this tiny human continues to emit this ear shattering shriek i can only describe as a cross between a banshee and wild animal being given a bath. It was the highest pitched noise I’ve ever heard in my life. Local dogs must have been howling it was that high. Every scream just went on for ages, in hindsight it was incredible. People are staring, tutting, shaking their heads and my husband and I try desperately to calm her or at least find a mute button. Nothing we do is working. We try to distract her, we try offering her juice like we are appeasing and ancient god. I try a firm voiced warning and a promise of a time out but even I couldn’t hear it over the noise. Inside i’m praying to every deity I can think of for them to open the earths very crust and swallow me out of sight. But they must have all been busy, because i’m still sat in this cafe, child is still screaming like something out of a horror movie. I’m beginning to shake as the panic attack creeps in and I know I have to do something fast.

Remembering I have already introduced the time out as a response to this unholy tantrum I dart out of my seat, pluck the fighting, hissing demon from the highchair and carry her outside. The cold air hits me, I find my breath. Turning to my red faces daughter I tell her to stop the noise and apologise for shrieking. Before I can finish speaking she is totally calm and giggling at the leaf on her shoe. Just like that its over.

Times like this can be challenging for any parent, kids can be ruthless. For parents with autism, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, social anxiety or other mental health difficulties these moments feel like they are draining your very soul. I can say from experience that there are moments where you don’t feel like you can carry on, but you do. I did today and I made it through the eye of the storm.

So as for Toddler Tantrum VS sensory processing disorder, it was a very close game but I think I won.

Let me introduce myself

Mother, Wife and Myself

Hi, I’m Meg. Its great to meet you, mostly because I am doing so from the comfort of my own sofa without any need to for human interaction. (Yaay technology!) I should start ny telling you a bit about myself, so here goes;

As the title of this blog so subtly suggests, I am a mother. I am blessed to have a gorgeous daughter who is currently 2 years old. Proud mum alert! She is a funny, quirky little madam who can switch from angel to devil in the blink of an eye. She is way to clever and learns so quickly (so my sailors vocabulary is under lock and key at home… mostly)

I am also a wife. I got married nearly two years ago to my best friend (a cliche I know) but he truly was my best friend, and I suppose he still is. I never really saw myself being married i have to say, but here we are! I managed to drag myself out of my jeans and jumpers and wiggle into a wedding dress and it was wonderful.

I’m sure I will talk about my husband and my daughter a lot, because they are my world. It’s a small world but its all I can manage.

All my life I have struggled with Mental health issues, but as a child I was just labelled “shy” or on many occasions “does not play well with others”. It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that a doctor actually saw me. They diagnosed me with social anxiety as I could not cope in mainstream school, and depression as I was grieving the loss of my grandmother.

As the years went on they passed me from doctor, to therapist, to counsellor and back again. All the while my diagnosis changed but was never finalised. Depression, anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, emotionally unstable personality disorder, bi-polar… I heard them all but no one would sit me down and tell me what was wrong with me. I saw everyone they sent me to, took all the pills they shoved down my throat but nothing helped. I was still a stranger in my own body.

Everything piled up and at 17 I began self harming, I was drinking, and taking drugs when I could get them. I hated myself and I truly didn’t want to be here.

But I fought through the bad days, and there were lots of them. I realised that the doctors and professionals weren’t really committed to helping me so I decided to do my best on my own. I developed coping mechanisms to take over from the drinking and self harming and I pushed on alone.

It wasn’t until 2018, when I finally saw a doctor who looked at me and said “you are autistic.” it sounds silly but the relief that someone had found an answer was huge. Finally I had a word, a word that had some weight to it. People started treating me differently. They gave me time and space and I was allowed for the first time ever to begin finding my own feet.

So now, here I am, learning every day. Learning to be a Mum, learning to be a wife and learning to be myself.

Welcome to my world

Word of warning: I have no filter, I apologise in advance if anything I say is considered rude or inappropriate. I will write from the heart and everything I say is my own personal opinion. I am not, by any means, a professional at anything. I’m just a slightly weird (ok, very weird), cat loving, cake baking (and eating) woman.

Anyway! Glad to have you along for the ride.

Meg x