Saturday, December 12, 2015

Anxiety and being a mum.

Anxiety.  My life is full of anxiety, when I'm not on the right dose of my antidepressant medication.
 Instead of thinking that my friends are just busy, my anxiety sometimes whispers to me "everyone hates you and wishes you would never talk to them. In fact, they're all at a massive party together, talking and laughing about how much they hate you and how much fun they're having. You're never going to have enough friends. Everyone has more than you. You should just stay home and never talk to anyone, because they're only talking to you because they pity you.  You loser.  Stay at home. Eat more.  Complain on Facebook. If someone disagrees with you, it means they hate you.  You should yell at that person in the carpark.  Nobody struggles the way you do.  You're doing it all wrong.  Your children hate you.  You're a failure."

Over the past 16 months, my anxiety has increased.  I had terrible post natal depression after the birth of my son, which is good and bad.  Good, because I had lots of strategies in place.  Bad, because anything less than total crippling, disabling depression and anxiety, I viewed as just part and parcel of having kids.  I struggled a lot in the early days of having Alex, and so I just thought that it was normal to struggle having Steph, and to not really enjoy my life.  I was teary a lot, all I wanted to do was sleep, and I resented other people who either didn't have kids, or whose children were older than mine.  I thought that if she was older, then I'd feel better.  Freer.  But I had to resign myself to a grind.  It was so, so, so difficult.  I was scared of her dying. I was scared of Alex dying if I didn't say goodbye to him properly at school drop off. I was scared that I'd accidentally let go of the pram when I was pushing Stephanie. I was scared of being alone with her and scared of being by myself.

I could do it, but I was miserable a lot of the time.  But a lot of people with young kids are miserable, right?  It's ok.  I could do it, as long as I ate chocolate and stayed in the house and slept as much as possible.  I cried some more.  Stephanie wasn't sleeping through the night. In May this year, a friend's baby died and Stephanie had a cold. I became terrified that if I couldn't hear her breathe, then she would stop breathing. I started sleeping with her and I tossed and turned a fair bit. I have a chronic pain problem that my constant eating and lack of sleep was making worse. I took my painkillers, but my pain was getting worse because my stress was constant. I tried to make myself go for walks, but my weight was getting in the way. I couldn't get up from the ground without a three point turn style manoeuvre that was incredibly undignified. I felt so sorry for my husband. He didn't sign up for this sort of life, or wife.  But I was angry at him anyway. I was angry and upset a lot of the time.  Everything seemed too difficult, but a few extra challenges that we as a family have meant that health care professionals thought that it was reasonable for me to feel challenged, overwhelmed and emotional.

A little over a month ago, I went to a different GP at my medical practice, one who was well versed in mental issues and pain.  She told me that I could go up a higher level in my antidepressants, something I hadn't bothered doing because the psychiatrist that I'd seen in January had told me that I was on the highest level.  However, this GP told me that there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that going up a higher level could help.  I cried and cried in her room. I was used to that. I cried at just about every medical appointment I went to. I'd tried another antidepressant in September and it was dreadful. I felt anxious and couldn't sleep.  It was a disaster.  I felt like a zombie.

I saw the GP who told me to put the medicine up on Friday, and the next Monday I was headed for the O'Connell Family Centre with Steph to finally get to the bottom of these sleep issues.  I was skeptical about the increased medication helping, so I hadn't bothered taking an increased dose.  Last time I'd been horrifically depressed, nothing had really helped, and I just thought that coming off one antidepressant and going on another sounded horrific and something that I wasn't really up for.  I didn't have the mental resources.  My mum was coming to Shepparton to help Richard with Alex while I was away, and I mentioned to her the increased dose idea.  "Why don't you try it, Dee?" she said, and I couldn't think of a reason why not.  So I took two that morning.  Then drove to Melbourne. I was terrified. I'd spent a month in a mother and baby unit with Alex, in what had to be one of my most hellish times ever. (Even though I met two fabulous chicks there who I still dearly love today)

 I was terrified that I'd go backwards at this place, be unable to sleep and go completely crazy.  What happened, was that I faced myself.  I met women who were going through the same things that I was.  What did we have in common? A hatred of the sound of our children crying.  A fear that we were doing it wrong.  A desire to be a really good mum and a talent for being too hard on ourselves.  I cried and cried, and reached breaking point on the third day.  My phone smashed when I was trying to find something in the room....this was the last straw.  I was so angry at Stephanie, at how busy and active she is. I set off up the hill to the Telstra shop.  Stephanie was tired and grumpy and whined and I cried.  I fled back down the hill after making a fool of myself yelling at the Telstra guy.  I cried and yelled internally. I hated her.  Did I? No. I didn't.  I didn't hate her. I had a huge realisation that I didn't hate her.  I loved her. I loved her so much that it scared me. I loved her so much that I was scared it would take me over.  I loved her so much that I felt that I would never get myself back.  I cried and cried, but that was when I began to fall in love with her, and accept that I was a better mother than I thought, and that I had to stop grieving my old life.  It was gone, and I was missing my beautiful little girl.  I always knew that I had loved her, but I felt it now, purely and strongly for the first time.  I wasn't afraid.

The next day, I saw the psychiatrist at the centre, and he was so complimentary of me, as a person and as a mother.  He told me that I'd done an amazing thing. I'd gone from addiction and dysfunction and changed into a person who was no longer a victim.  Yes, the additional circumstances of my life could be a challenge, but that I had the resources, I had the wisdom, and I had the answers within me.
I came out of that session feeling like I was seeing my life with new eyes. I had a fantastic opportunity to live my life, and live it abundantly.  I didn't have to feel afraid any more.  And I suddenly realised that for the first time in sixteen months, that I wasn't afraid any more. I wasn't wishing my life away, and I wasn't grieving.  I felt like a dark cloud had lifted off me, I felt like an internal light had been switched on.  I started to feel human and happy and lucky.  I credit in particular the wonderful staff, and two ladies who I met at O'Connell who made me feel like I was a human being, a funny human being, instead of just the mum of a baby who wouldn't sleep.

I was able to see that I wasn't able to use my anti depression strategies very well, because I had been anxious and depressed.  I'd had post natal depression.  And the increase in antidepressant was turning the lights on in me again.  I was able to see that the arguments and bitterness and mistakes I had made while I was depressed wasn't real, but a product of my illness. I started to make amends to people who I had hurt, and felt a freedom and a peace that I haven't felt in a long time.

That doesn't mean that I don't screw up.  That's part of being human.  What's different is that today I try not to focus on it, and to live in the moment.  I am starting my quest towards fitness with the help of my fitbit buddies and mucho fruit and vegetables. One of my goals is to rise from the floor without the three point turn manouvre! The sunlight shines on me again.

I urge anyone who is suffering from any of these feelings to talk to your GP, beyond blue, lifeline or PANDA.  You shouldn't have to feel like this.  You should be living in the sunshine.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I am done

I hate it when I make mistakes. I hate it when I'm not approved of.

Three and a bit years ago, I built my self esteem on the fact that I'd lost a lot of weight, and that I was a weight watchers leader.  I was in denial that I was probably really quite honestly suffering from a bit of an eating disorder. That my son was (and still is) strong willed, and that I wasn't coping well with the thought of him going to school.  That my judgement of myself and others was at an all time high.  I couldn't meet another person without assessing them and wondering if I was bigger or smaller than them, what they thought of me, what I thought of them, and so on and so on. It was exhausting.

I also had to load my car up every time I worked with Weight Watchers products.  I had a child who just wanted to be around me. I had a chronic pain problem and I regularly binged on food at night, then ate just vegetables during the day so that I'd still be at the right weight for my job.  But even at my smallest, I still wasn't the right weight for my job. We had to report our weight to area managers every month, and obtain the weights of the weighers as well.  There was a woman in her sixties who had been doing the job forever, and I had to do her the ingratitude of asking for her weight every month, and being forced by management to suggest that she wasn't following the program.

I was appointed WW Leader because there was nobody else in the Shepparton area to do this, and because I was working towards a healthy weight. I had already lost 22 kilos, but my weight was not in the healthy weight range (it was 35 kilos lighter than I am today).  I was passionate and excited about the opportunity - I contacted a local media outlet to do an interview on the new venue we were moving to, and they wanted to do a story on us.  Only problem was, that because my BMI wasn't within a healthy range, I wasn't allowed to speak on camera.  I could only identify as a member, because I wasn't successful enough for them. But I was successful enough to run a meeting.  I started to become bitter.

At the time, I was friends with some people who I'd get together with and be extremely judgemental about everyone.  We'd spend hours on Facebook making fun of people and talking about boyfriends and friends and English humour.  I was just getting my identity back after having my son, who was 3 and very strong willed.  I liked being around these people because they represented me being approved of. Me being acceptable.  If we got together and made fun of other people, at least it wasn't me that was being made fun of.  It wasn't a very nice way to behave and yet it was addictive.  A large part of my identity was caught up in hanging out with these younger people.

So when they started to withdraw their friendship, I didn't see it coming.  I was distracted and bitter and angry and I just thought that they weren't available.  I thought they were busy.  But then I started to get the horrible feeling that I was being talked about the way we used to talk about other people.  That I had gone from the judger to the judged.  And I didn't want to let that go.  So I clung on.  Too tight.  I did silly stuff like delete people from Facebook and re-add them and then agonise over that. To message and to cry and to plead.  I was putting way too much pressure on myself in the job that I was in and in my parenting.  This was one part of my life that had to go right.  I had to make it go right.

But then it all went wrong.  We definitely weren't friends any more.  But I still kept in touch with what one girl was doing by reading her blog.  And when I read that she was suffering from depression and anxiety, I thought that contacting her would be the right thing to do.  To send forth a message of hope and encouragement.  I guess I'd forgotten about the crazy way I acted and thought that she would want to know my answers.  How incredibly arrogant of me.

I didn't think much of this until just recently, three years later, I saw this girl and she ignored me.  Just blanked me. Was angry that I tried to speak to her and walked away from me. And I know I'm 38 and a mother of two and all, but it still hurt to be rejected.  I don't get much rejection in my daily life.  I have rebuilt myself and realised that I had parts of me that needed fixing.  I have tried my best to make amends to those who I hurt when I was so lost.  I have sought help with my eating problems, my judgement problems, and I have tried to take my ego out of my parenting. To accept my children the way they are and love them in the way that they need, not that I want.

But my ex-friend doesn't know this.  I find this hard to realise, but it's true.  She doesn't want to speak to the angry, bitter, irrational woman that I was years ago, and on some level I understand that.  She doesn't know who I am today, and that I give my friends space and let them be who they are.  She doesn't know that I want to help her and say I'm sorry.

I suppose I will never get that chance.  Sometimes, you say sorry by leaving someone alone and letting them heal from your behaviour.  I never meant to hurt her, but I guess I did. And she doesn't want to talk to me, and I have to accept that.

I hate it when I make mistakes. I hate it when I'm not approved of.  But that is life, and I must accept it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eleven weeks

Eleven weeks.  That was always my goal.  Eleven weeks.  That was when it was diagnosed last time. When I had Alex, Eleven weeks was when everything started to go very wrong.

When Alex was born, I didn't know who I was. I had just stopped a rather nasty binge drinking habit and was two years in recovery. I loved Richard, but swapped excessive drinking for his approval. If he approved of me, then it meant that I was okay. I moved from a social city existence in Canberra to the role of a rural homemaker. People kept asking me how Richard liked his steak, his tea, his food. I was still learning. I was sure the one thing that would make me feel truly whole was having a baby. Getting married was great, and I loved Richard, but it didn't stop that feeling of creeping dread and anxiety inside of me.  I thought a baby would fix that. I focused hard on it, and when it was time to start trying, I was anxious to get this little baby as soon as possible. I went off my antidepressants to give baby the best start, and waited to feel happy.

The pregnancy hormones kicked in and I started to feel good. I went for long walks, but also had regular meltdowns about the house and having to do housework and look after myself. I guess I thought that once I was a mother I would somehow morph from my ratty selfish self into a selfless angel like my mama.  I had a support network, but apart from my mum and sister, most of my friends were Richard's mates wives.  I was trying hard to shoehorn myself into a conservative country gal, even if I had regular battles about Islam at Bible study and questioned women not being able to preach in the church.  I started wearing sensible shoes. I started dressing like a mum, instead of me.  I kinda lost me, or perhaps I didn't know who that really was.

When Alex was born, I was in shock.  I had enjoyed the world talking to me and my bump and asking questions about when it was due.  I imagined an idyllic existence of long walks, mothers group, bonding and a rosy glow around it all.  I so did not expect the horrendous pain that labour entails.  I so did not expect having my request for an epidural ignored and perhaps I didn't ask long enough. I tried too hard to be a good girl and didn't respect my body and the fact that I wasn't progressing and wasn't coping.  Twenty four hours after I had Alex, they needed my bed and I was sent to Finley hospital, an hour away by car, where they hadn't had a newborn for years and years, and Alex's cries echoed through the quiet ward.  There were no other new mums to bond with and I had no idea what to do with Alex.  After having everyone interested in how I was coping during birth, everyone disappeared and I was supposed to know how to look after this tiny little human. I felt waves of panic crash over me and the night lasted an eternity.  The responsibility started to shrink me.  I felt out of control and wanted to run away.

Taking Alex home, my milk hadn't come in. I hated the feeling of breastfeeding, hated the hurt as he latched on, or didn't....I tensed with anxiety every time I sat down to feed, he picked up on that and wouldn't latch on....he cried, I tensed, he cried, I cried, he didn't sleep, I didn't sleep.  I read books and wrote myself countless notes.  People kept telling me to follow my instincts. Those f$ckers? I'd been trying to ignore them for years. I had no idea who I was, and yet I was supposed to be a mother. I felt nothing like a mother. I felt like a fraud and a failure and the more anxious I got, the more he cried and cried and I couldn't settle him.  I stared at the clock. Time stood still.  Richard went back to work and Alex cried and I couldn't sleep.  I stared at the clock some more.  Richard left at 9 and the clock stayed still.  Years had passed with this crying baby and somehow it was only 9.05.  How was I ever going to make it through this day?  I watched the clock some more.  Alex cried some more. I walked the streets with Alex in his pram, singing "twinkle twinkle little star" and wishing I was somewhere else and someone else.

The anxiety grew and grew like some sort of monster in my head and chest, until the day when even if Alex was sleeping, I couldn't.  My stomach clenched in knots.  I had my six week check and my results were off the charts for anxiety.  I argued that I was just an anxious person and I refused help, thinking that I had to do this, that I had to clench my teeth and fight this monster and stop it  stop it stop it.  One morning, when Alex was eleven weeks old, I hadn't slept all night.  My stomach was churning and I thought I had gastro.  I took Alex and myself over to the doctor in Cobram and trembled with fear as I struggled with the Valco pram.  I sweated as I pulled tiny Alex out of the car, struggling with his carseat and hurriedly placing him in the pram. I was sure that everyone was watching me and thinking me a total failure as a mother.  I looked around at the other people and wished I was one of them. I wished I could run away. I wished I was a proper mother for this baby, who I could see was beautiful and wonderful, but who I couldn't seem to parent.

The doctor diagnosed me with Post Natal Depression, told me to put Alex on a bottle and go on antidepressants immediately.  I was free from the battle and agony of breastfeeding.  I was relieved.  I rang mum to get her to help me wean Alex.  I thought the tablets would fix the gaping hole in my soul.  They didn't.  My anxiety was too far gone, my depression too entrenched.  The antidepressants seemed to make me worse, as I battled with the darkness and the terrible fear.  It grew and grew until it became a six month battle that saw me spend much of Alex's first nine months in hospital, with suicidal thoughts for the first eighteen months of his life.  It blew my family apart, I blew my family apart and I made my family suffer. I hated myself for what I had done to them and felt constantly guilty for not being a mother to my beautiful boy.

When Alex was nearly two, I started seeing a psychiatrist who was incredibly tough but who gave me a diagnosis for the hole in my soul.  I started to recover and fill the hole with figuring out who I was not, so I could figure out who I was. I stopped trying to be who I thought you wanted me to be, and started to be truly me.  I was terrified of ever having another child and losing myself again for so long. I hated the thought of letting my family down and for hurting them again.

Last year, just when I was at a place where I had really started to enjoy the love affair of self acceptance, I decided to take another child off the table for ever.  I wanted to have my tubes tied so I could finally close that door.  I had been open to it as part of my healing, but it hadn't happened.  That was when I fell pregnant with Stephanie.  I had never been more scared, or excited.  I had to laugh.  Nice one, God, I thought, as I stared at the positive pregnancy test.

I am forever grateful to those who have worked with my during my pregnancy and beyond to ensure that I am well. My amazing mother, husband, sisters and friends, plus those care professionals who encouraged me to stay on antidepressants through my pregnancy and to see a psychiatrist regularly.  Part of my fear was for pain that would not end again in my labour.  So, I was able to choose an induction under full epidural cover at the Mercy Hospital.  I was still afraid, but the night before I was to give birth, a beautiful midwife told me her story of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a horrendous labour experience, and gave me the truth that "it needn't be a disastrous labour to be traumatising for you, especially if you feel like you weren't listened to..", and "a positive labour experience this time around will wipe away and heal all the struggles of the past".

It did.  My labour was peaceful and pain free.  My baby was born and put on my chest and I looked at her and worried that I wouldn't love her, but I gave myself the freedom to feel how I felt. I talked to people and I told them my anxieties and my thoughts.  And because of that, they flew away.  The burden of fear released.  Stephanie has been a balm to my soul, a healing, and part of that for me was to bottle feed from birth.  I hated the sensation and I knew that not breastfeeding would make me feel more sane and less responsible for her.  I needed to feel like this was a joint venture and not a test I had to pass.  Choosing what was right for me meant that my confidence grew.  I followed the kernels of love I had for her.  I carefully explored my feelings and was relieved to find tiredness, worry and doubt, but in expressing those, an overwhelming love for my little girl and my beautiful boy.  It has been bittersweet to have such a positive experience, because it highlighted how terribly sad and bad my experience was the first time around.

My mum brought Alex up and we went off for walks around the Mercy Hospital, forming the first born club and cementing our relationship.  I began to be free of the guilt that I had always carried around not being there for Alex, and began to see that I didn't have to live out a punishment for that.  I began to see that the important thing was that I was here for him now, and had been for the past six years.  I began to see that I had changed my parenting to support him and that my patience had grown.  I trusted myself in the good parenting decisions that I'd made and forgave myself for the shouty mistakes when I was low on sleep.

Stephanie has healed a part of myself that I thought was forever broken after my PND experience.  My guilt is gone and in its place, pure love.  I didn't lose myself, because this time around I knew who I was.  The most amazing people have been put in my path and I have learnt to trust myself. Part of that is a relationship with a higher power, who I choose to call God, and who is also my inner truth. I am sometimes searingly honest about myself, and that is a scary place to be, but it is also fantastic, because it frees others to be honest about themselves, and brings my sort of people closer to me.  Life with a newborn isn't easy, and every day is different, juggling two kids can be exhausting.  But, I know when to ask for help, I try to accept it and I celebrate and forgive myself.  I'm still always gonna be a little highly strung....but that's me. As Popeye said, "I yam who I yam".

Eleven weeks.  I made it. I'm free.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The last minute baby

I keep singing that silly song from Lazytown, even though we named our beautiful baby girl after the spunky main female character in "Short Circuit".  We're going to enjoy saying "beautiful Stephanie" and "no disassemble, Stephanie" in a Number 5 voice for the rest of her life! hehe

So, as most of you know, I had horrendous Post Natal Depression after the birth of my son Alex.  This was not a little bit of feeling sad.  This was whack you over the head, take your personality and life away, death would be a blessing kind of a feeling. I suffered for a year with suicidal thoughts and feeling not like me.  It took me until Alex was 2 or 3 to start to feel like myself again, and to feel like I had hope and a future.  I read a lot about what happened to me and I realised that I had a total nervous breakdown.  It's not a fun place to be.

I had pretty much resigned myself to never having any more children, and I was pleased about that.  I thought about having another child with the horror that most people would reserve for having the bubonic plague.  I didn't like babies much, they scared me.  I preferred them once they hit about six months, and I didn't like the fact that just because I possessed a pair of ovaries, people would give their babies to me for a hold, like my femaleness made me instantly clucky.  I wasn't.  I frequently posted memes that said I would never have another baby.  I had trouble taking hormone based contraception, it basically made me into a mad woman, and even though we weren't using anything, it had been five years, and no babies were coming.  I imagined that God and I had made some sort of deal, where he just didn't want me to be pregnant.  I frequently told those who enquired about Alex getting a sibling that "I think the factory is closed".  I thought I was inching towards menopause.

I decided that even though I was probably infertile and menopausal (my brain spins a lot of fiction, and tends to go to extremes!), I would get off the rollercoaster that happened in my brain whenever my period was late, which it was, frequently. I'd done a couple of pregnancy tests a year when my ovaries were misbehaving and they were all negative.  Booking in to have my tubes tied seemed like the best idea, so I could stop my errant brain going down that crazy path. I booked in for January to end the madness!!

However, my body had other ideas.  My period was due in early December, and I was chatting to a friend of mine online when I joked that "wouldn't it be hilarious if I got pregnant, because this is the last possible moment!!"
I couldn't get the idea out of my head, and even though I was only just due, I decided to go and buy a test.  Knowing that it was probably negative. I was so sure that it was negative, I didn't even tell Richard, who had long since tired of my obsessive brain.....once I got the idea of a pregnancy in my head, it was stuck on a loop until my period arrived or the pregnancy test was negative.  Every time I went to the bathroom, I thought about it.  It didn't worry me any more, cause I'd come to accept that I am just one of those people who thinks too much and it's much easier to accept yourself than to wish you were something else.  I'd love to be one of those people who can put things out of their mind for ten days while they get on with life.  It just doesn't work that way in my neural pathways. So be it.

So, I glanced at the test indicator strip.  Yep, negative.  No....hang on.....two lines were forming.  Holy crap.  I rang Richard and told him in a high pitched voice that I was pregnant.  He was out fixing headers and I am very grateful that he didn't drop a piece of machinery on his head.  We're talking 5 x 365 days of coming to terms with the fact that even without using contraception, we didn't seem to be getting pregnant.  And now, at the last moment, this!

I struggled with the news early on.  I'd just come to terms with leaving a job that I loved and committing to being a full time mother, as after school care didn't seem to suit Alex. I laughed when I saw the test results, and said "nice one, God!".  I did a lot of work through the pregnancy and worked through my fears of losing myself and my identity when I had this baby and I must admit that I wished her away on more than one occasion.  Through no fault of my own, however, she grew healthily and even though I struggled with crippling morning sickness and back pain, each one of her scans was excellent and she was a very active baby in utero.

I realised that a lot of my fears were ill-founded.  I realised that God had given me the gift of this baby and that he didn't bring me this far to suffer more.  I realised that I had done a lot of work on myself, and on knowing me. I knew who I was and had certain caveats that would support me.  First of all, I wanted an epidural, as I didn't get one with Alex's labour and I felt certain that I had a little dash of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder added to my depression.  I know every woman struggles with the pain of labour, but for me, it was horrendous and never ending and the people who were supposed to help me seemed to keep leaving the room and telling me I could do it without pain relief.  I felt let down and angry for a long time until I learned that I had a part in that. I didn't persist with letting them know that I was in pain. I wanted to be a "good girl" and get through my labour doing what they said. I didn't listen to my body and fought it and wanted to leave it.  I resented the midwives for a long time and could hardly even drive past the GV Hospital without feeling venom.  I worked through my fears and anger with my sponsor and came to see that they had done the best they could for me, that everyone who is in labour is in pain, and that I need to be my own advocate when I am uncomfortable or not coping.

My second caveat was that I was not going to breastfeed.  Having learnt a lot about Aspergers and sensory issues, I became aware that I really really hated breastfeeding.  I hated the feeling of it, I hated my breasts being constantly on call for Alex, I hated the soreness, the running milk and the feeling that I alone was solely responsible for nourishing Alex and feeding him.  The clock became my enemy, as I didn't produce enough milk and he would sometimes feed for an hour and a half and then still scream, as he wasn't getting enough food.  I look at pictures of him and he looks so sad.  Poor little monkey.  But, how was I to know that I wouldn't enjoy breastfeeding or have enough milk until I tried?  By the time I stopped, the damage was done. I was so anxious about feeding him that every time I sat down to feed, I would be full of fear and resentment.  I passed those feelings on to Alex, and he cried and cried and cried.  The more he cried, the more anxious I felt, and so on and so on it went, until the madness set in and I totally lost myself in a nervous breakdown.  This time around, I was going to solely bottle feed.  Again, I was going to be my advocate and stand up for what was right for my body and my sanity.

Stay tuned for part 2 - the labour, early days and recovery.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mama's got a job to do

Ah, yes. Work. The job we do. At the moment, my job is a domestic engineer and grower of a small human.

But I have a not so well kept secret. I miss my job. I miss getting dressed up and being a working woman. I miss coworkers, I miss my awesome boss Sarah, I miss the sense of a job well done and getting to complete tasks, not like the laundry pile or the dishes, jobs which are only noticed when they are not done.  I miss a disposable income, I miss contributing, I miss being able to drop a casual twenty or fifty bucks on something cute in Sportsgirl.

It's always been a bit of a struggle getting me to work. Since Alex was born, and Richard went back to work, he's been my responsibility. Richard has a full time job that he can earn lots more than I ever could.  Plus, we have a conservative type of relationship, where the woman stays at home and the man goes to work.   Early on, I was so consumed by my Post Natal Depression and the challenges of being a mother, that I didn't try to work.  I left my job as a hotel receptionist in Barooga, and by the time I looked around and thought I might want to work, we were living in Shepparton.

So I dipped my toe back into the workforce.  I started doing temp work for two of the agencies around town, but there was always a problem.  Alex gets asthma when it's cold, he gets sick easily and has always seemed to pick up whatever's going in the daycare room.  Plus, he had terrible, terrible separation anxiety.  I hated the way that the carers had to peel him off me with him yelling "NO MUM, I WANT YOU!!"  I hated driving to a job, crying, imagining him sad and lonely, wanting his mum.  I was the mum who rang up to find out if he was ok, and was always assured with "yes, he settled down right away, he's playing happily now.".  I wanted to work, but most of the part time jobs were taken, and so I had two choices....temp work, or full time work.  Temp work was fantastic, and I really enjoyed going into different organisations, meeting new people and completing the tasks that they'd set.  But, Alex kept getting sick, and he never wanted to go to daycare.   I hated the constant guilt surrounding dropping him off for care.  I hated seeing kids during the day and thinking about him and missing him.  But I wanted to work, I wanted to be in the workforce.  So I pressed on.

I had a couple of terrible goes at working full time.  Either Alex got sick, or I did.  I ended up with pneumonia and Alex kept getting colds, chest infections, ear infections, school sores, conjunctivitis, scarlet fever, you name it, he got it.  Plus, the never ending fight to get him to daycare or over to a friend's place whilst I worked.  He never wanted to go, and as I'm a sensitive soul, I found that difficult.  It stressed me out, and I brought a lot of that stress into workplaces.  I felt constantly fearful that I'd get in trouble for having a child and wanting to look after him, even though most of the workplaces were child friendly and I'm sure they understood.  I remember a crazy, crazy, Saturday morning at Weight Watchers when Richard had to work and I took Alex along.  I brought enough entertainment paraphernalia to sink a battleship, but he was three and didn't like Mum paying attention to strange ladies and not listening to him.  He coloured briefly, he looked at his movie a bit, but mostly he made farty noises, whined and distracted me from my job.  I was almost apoplectic with rage afterwards and looking back, I see that I expected way too much from him and myself.  I wanted to work though, I wanted to show up and do a perfect job, but I also wanted to be the perfect mother. That's a lot of perfection, and of course, as often happens in my life, the resentment and fear combined until I had a spectacular meltdown and lost not only my job, but two very dear friends as well.

I did bits and pieces in Alex's first year of school, a friend put in a good word for me in a servo fast food place, and that went well until Alex got sick again and I became unable to balance the demands of working and his first year of school.  He went on the waiting list for a tonsillectomy and grommets, when it became clear that his illnesses were slightly beyond regular kids.  He missed 51 days of school that first year due to coughs, colds and infection.  I had a long break from work, until I thought I'd found the answer.....catalogue delivery! I only lasted a month, the process of folding and delivering was long and arduous, and it became easier to quit when I totaled my time spent, divided it by my paycheque, and realised that I was making about 50 cents an hour.

At the end of that year, a friend of a friend recommended me for a part time admin job.  The boss was awesome, the work challenging and varied, and the only fly in the ointment was that Alex had to go to after school care three days a week.  I didn't really see a problem, he'd been asking to go along and it was only three days a week.  The other two, I was free to pick him up.  I didn't start til midday, so I could do a little bit of housework and then go to work. I could do it all.  And it worked for a little while, until he started to get coughs and colds again.  He was having some attentional and learning problems that had started in Prep, so I was investigating those with the help of his amazing teacher, Rita S, and our paediatrician.  He was having sleep problems and was generally a bit of worrier.  Can't think where he gets it from!

My boss was amazing, and we arranged to each work a week of the school holidays.  That seemed like a good idea, but in reality, sucked hard, as Alex just wanted to chill out, relax and spend time at home. He'd had enough of other kids during the 9-5.30pm days he was doing, three days a week during school time.  He didn't want to go along and colour in, have a BBQ at Emerald Bank, dress up as a footy player.  We had a lot of tantrums in the carpark, and I had a lot of tears.  I was resentful and angry that I couldn't go to work as I wanted to.  I wished that I could just fly away, I wished that we had family closer, I wished that I could just leave the house like Richard did in the mornings.

Alex has a bit of a delicate constitution, and eventually became so run down by the long days in after school care, that he started getting sick every school holidays, for at least a week.  He hated after school care in the end and used to beg me not to have to go there, even though he had fun when he went.  My boss told me that they really needed someone full time and that the job was being retitled as full time.  I knew I couldn't do it, part time was enough of a struggle, and Richard had come to the party by taking a day off here and there to look after Alex...but his job was a full time job and it really wasn't feasible long term.

So, grudgingly, I made my decision to resign.  I just couldn't do full time and Alex needed me more than part time hours, so I didn't want to look for another job.  I resigned myself to my fate of housewife-hood, and started to plan some volunteer work or being the world's best stay at home mum.  And then, in December last year, I discovered that I was pregnant, and most of my plans went out the window.  This was so not part of my plan.  I started to see my career slipping further and further away from me, and most days, I'm ok with that.  I don't miss the guilt and the struggle and having five million things to do... I don't miss being torn in two different directions and being unable to be there for my son, or have to let my workplace down.  But I miss my working life.  I miss my profession.  It did feel strange when I went to work and left Richard at home with Alex.  I kept wanting to ring them up and make sure that he was ok.  I wondered if Richard felt the guilt and the struggle the way I did, but he didn't seem to.  He just did his thing with Alex, and then went to work the next day.

So, this is my fate.  A domestic engineer.  And most of me wants it that way, I love my boy so so so so much, and I want to be with him and be there for him.... but I miss having an identity outside of Alex's mum and Richard's wife.  Yes, I know that I am Deborah Hay, that I don't have to be defined by external means, and that I'm lucky to have the option to stay at home, when there are many many women and men struggling with the role of being sole providers, or having no choice but to work to meet financial demands.  I know I'm lucky, and most days I feel it.  But some days, I miss my job.  I grieve over being a stay at home mum.  I miss my cute outfits.  But happiness is about acceptance and just for today, I try to accept, and find the joy in the job I have now. I get to go to all of Alex's school things, I get to hear about his day and help him with his schooling journey.  I am lucky.  I am blessed. Mama's got a job to do.

Monday, January 20, 2014

There's a hole in the budget, dear Liza...

So, I imagine that most of us are in a similar position this time of year.  Christmas has been and gone, the Boxing Day sales, and now...the wasteland that is January.  The rates are due, the car rego is due, and I could easily spend stacks of money keeping Alex and myself amused during the holidays.

Finances are often a source of consternation in our household, with me sure that I am not contributing to our rapidly dwindling resources.  I am sure that I live frugally. I am sure that I live to a budget, even if it's not written down.  I am a frugal gal.  Ahh, who am I kidding.  Actually ,my attitude towards money is kinda like my attitude to cake.  I think that I'm impervious to cake, that I should be able to eat whatever I like, whenever I like...and that there should be no consequences.  I'm always flabbergasted when I put on weight.....there is actual incredulity when I step onto the scales and they've moved upwards.  Like, what? I should be able to eat whatever I like and never put on weight.

Well, this is similar.  I think I should be able to spend whatever I like and the finances should still be the same.  There should be an endless supply of money that I should be able to fling about with wild abandon, and still have plenty of money to pay the bills.  After all, I'm a princess. Rules don't apply to me. I am a special snowflake.  I shouldn't get sick, and if I do, I feel worse than anyone has ever felt in the entire history of illness (you may recall hearing about my morning sickness recently?)

Anyhoo, we rejigged our finances recently, and I cut up my card to the joint account and allowed myself a small allowance fortnightly.  Heaps of money.  Should be able to live on it easily.  So, it's kinda shocking and appalling to realise that I can't throw a Kinder Surprise Egg and a Bottle of water in every time I fill up with petrol.  I'm not entitled to a new shirt from the Op Shop every time I have a shitty day. Alex doesn't always need to be compensated for making it through the school day with a little treat.  I may feel that a Diet Coke or a piping hot cappuccino from Degani should be my right, any morning that I choose.  A pretty nail polish or a magazine should be mine whenever I feel the urge.  After all, I get through the day, don't I?  Yes, like every other human being on the planet.  But, somehow, due to my belief that I'm secretly an enchanted princess......when I do it, there should be either a parade, flowers, applause, or appropriate financial compensation.

So, there was a hole in the budget, dear Liza.  I'm a dirty rotten spender and I spend every cent in my possession.  I was wrong, Richard dearest, it was me.  The hole in the budget is me!!  And you want to know the really shocking thing? When I told Richard of my findings, he was completely unsurprised.  Seems he may have known all along that I am a Spendy McSpendpants.  The only one in denial was me!!

Thankfully, there are lots of things that come for free.  Smiles.  Love. Contentment.  The groceries are done and none of us are going without.  And I might slip back into denial again, but just for today, I see my part.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gossip makes me a bitch

Gosh, I love a good gossip, a good salacious slander of someone else.  But it's terribly terribly toxic for me and it's something that I just can't indulge in today.

Thing is, I have way more to lose these days. I have self respect, I like who I am, I'm in a good relationship. I have a son and an unborn child on the way. My family and friends have been gracious enough to let me attempt to repair the damage that my years of oblivion have done.  I have a purpose today that is directed by God.

But what trap have I fallen into more often than not in my recovery? Gossip. And it's so bloody addictive, and it's so so so so bad for me.  The more I judge you, the more I judge me, the more uncomfortable I am in my life and the more I reach out for answers that seek to numb that judgement.  I gossip enough, and I find that I don't want to have conscious contact with a Higher Power, I don't want to do the right thing. I want to lay in my bed, sending gossipy texts about how I hate everyone,and "did you see what she was wearing!?!" surrounded by copious amounts of drugs, food, magazines and alcohol and numb the heck out of myself.  That's where my disease takes me... sometimes my emotions are too much for me to handle and I fall back into old ways of self medicating.

I always feel like crap, though, and it's funny how my friendships with those I gossip with tend to end badly.  I made friends with a pair of besties a couple of years ago,and I was thrilled to be invited into their funny, fashionable, bitchy, gossipy circle.  They were both younger than me, and we would complain about other people, and how mundane and crap they were, how wonderful we were and how they should just get it/stop using incorrect grammar/stop wearing bad fashion/stop being a bitch.  We loved sending little pithy text messages and emails with new and interesting ways to insult the idiots who dared to be less fabulous than us.  It was horrendous, but it was wonderful.  I was in a lonely place in my life, where the fog of Post Natal Depression had lifted, and I felt better, but I'd yet to find myself a new place in the town where I was living. So I let myself be defined as fabulous by the company I kept. They are both very talented people, and I felt kinda important by association.

Can you guess what happened? I couldn't have predicted it, but I fell out of favour. I started not getting the invites to the after parties.  I started to be too needy in pursuing their friendship and started meeting a brick wall in response.  I felt a sense of slowly mounting fear, because I knew what would happen to those who weren't invited to the post-event McDonald's sessions. They'd be seriously torn to shreds by witty gossip.  I knew that was going to be happening to me.  I felt afraid and cast adrift, and in that madness, I clung onto my friends.  It ended badly.  I cried and begged in a way that no self-respecting thirty-something woman should do. But, it ended.  I had to respect their silence and that my repeated attempts to contact them were just digging my own grave of loser-dom.

You know what, though? I ran into one of them the other day.  It had been years since I saw her, and three years ago, we were closer than close. It was nothing for us to text each other several times a day. She made me a series of mix tapes when she moved away for uni.... but running into her in the shopping centre, it couldn't be more clear that she found me repulsive.  I was surprised to see her and said "Hey!!"  She didn't even glance up from her phone, and uttered a disgusted "hey".  I was shocked and surprised and struggled for words.  "how are you?", I trembled out..... Her phone received another few scrolls, and then she deigned to answer me with a muttered "good".  I stood stock still, not sure what to do, then I realised that the best thing to do was to walk on.  It really was over. I couldn't win her back with a funny aside or a bitchy comment.  The casket of our friendship had slammed shut while I was still trying to ressuciate it.  Time to let it go.

Do you know the funny thing, though? I still miss them. I still miss their amazingly witty sense of humour, I miss the warm glow of their talent, I miss their fashion and style.  But, I don't miss the gossip. Much as I want to run after them and assure them that I'm still cool, I know it's healthier for me to pursue friendships where I don't talk about others.  Sometimes it's quiet and lonely when I don't talk about other people...and I've realised that is what gossip gives us...a sense of belonging...a sense that other people don't belong and don't get it, but we do.  It's a false belonging, though.  Our belonging rests on others not belonging, and that is no belonging at all.  Today, I belong in that I am true to myself.  I belong in that I try to be the best me that I can, and support and applaud you for being the best me that you can.  :)