Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Dark Days of Post Natal Depression

Can't you just smile and put your worries to the back of your mind?  
Or maybe you should just drag yourself out of bed and you will feel better?  
Or just pray more.  That should do the trick.  
Haven't you got enough faith?  
It's a choice, surely?  

Mental illness is still so misunderstood and such a taboo so I have decided to write about my experiences and even include some telling photographs.  Pictures explain more than words ever could.  My memories are raw but I want people to know that this is real.  We can't shut it away.  There are women in our communities suffering right now.    

Almost 14 years ago, my beautiful boy was born after a traumatic emergency caesarean and my first words on seeing him were 'is that mine?'  This baby was like an alien to me and I was a disappointment.

No amount of antenatal classes or well meaning advice could have prepared me for the weeks and months of darkness that followed.  Post natal depression took over as irrational and scarily angry thoughts swirled through my mind.  I resented the intrusion of this screaming baby who never slept.  I cared for his daily needs but I didn't feel this mythical surge of love for him I was meant to feel.  I watched other new mums cooing over their babies and felt jealous.  Instead of nursery rhymes, I sung songs of destruction over him and thought about how to escape.  

Some days I raged and cried.  Some days I numbly got on with the tasks in hand.  I knew I had already failed and he was only months old.  I was never going to be the mum he needed, so what was the point in trying?  Actually, he would be better off without me.

Support came from my health visitor and a few friends, but no amount of cups of tea and putting on brave smiles ever removed the emptiness, anger, guilt and sense of failure I felt.  

It was only after a dramatic sleepless night where my anger spilled over to my precious baby that my kind and patient husband marched me to the GP who prescribed anti depressants and counselling.  By that point I was so numb and so desperate that I followed like a sheep.  

And slowly, slowly, over time, the days began to be less dark.  I discovered I could find joy in small things again.  I could sing songs of hope and faith over him.  I began to fall in love with my little boy.  And, instead of finding me rocking in a dark corner after his return from work, my faithful husband would see I had made the tea or hung the washing out.

I began to heal.

Post natal depression is an illness.  
It is not a choice. 
It is not simply tiredness (although sleep deprivation certainly doesn't help).  
It is not difficulty adjusting.  
It is not a lack of faith.  
It is not laziness.  
It is not failure.  

And there is hope.  

My boy, almost 14, stands taller than me.  His grin makes my heart melt inside.  He sleeps.  He makes me laugh.  He makes me so proud I want to shout to the world about him.  He hugs me with his long gangly arms at just the right moments.  Despite my failings and my illness, he has exceeded all my expectations.  

And that surge of love isn't mythical anymore.  It happens every day.

If you are suffering post natal depression, get some help from your GP.  Take someone else with you to the appointment so they can help you to explain what is happening.  You are not a failure.  Hold on tight.  It's not going to last forever, I promise.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Setting Sail

Our holiday this year was eventful.  Camping in Dorset on the site with the UK's most unhygienic toilets (I will not go into detail, suffice to say we nicknamed them the '$#€¥holes'.). We experienced beauty, hot sunshine, relaxing beaches, drenching rain and the occasional breathtaking sunset.

Without a doubt, my favourite excursion was to visit a lighthouse on Portland.  Jutting out on a cliff edge, this lighthouse is still in use and we (much to the boys delight - 'this is boring mum, why can't we just explore it ourselves?') took a guided tour to the very giddy top. The view was extravagant.  Open, glittering seas.  Bright blue skies.  Endless possibilities.

As we made our way round, singing a well know Rend Collective song just to embarrass our teenage son, we found this poster.

This tickled all my bones of adventure so I immediately snapped a photograph and lodged the quote at the back of my mind to ponder.

Speaking a few days later to some friends who have spent years working on boats across the world, I discovered an interesting fact:

If a boat is moored in the harbour for too long, it rots away.  Not only is a boat not built for staying safe at the shore, if it hangs around longer than necessary it is detrimental to the very workings of the boat. My learned friends went even further and explained to me that the Captains they knew would choose to 'island hop' with their boat rather than keep it in one place for too long because of the negative effects to both the boat and the crew.


I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

As followers of Jesus and as a church, we are not called to stay safe in the harbour.  We are called to go.  Our lives are not supposed to be 'safe' but we have the opportunity to partner with a God who takes us on the most thrilling adventure we could ever go on.  

I know that, for me, when I stay still for too long I begin to rot.  I become introspective.  I find myself becoming anxious about circumstances beyond my control.  I trip up over small obstacles.  I begin to think rotten thoughts which in turn start coming out of my mouth.  I feel dragged down by an anchor that holds me back rather than being set free by the wind in my sails.

But when I look out to sea from the heights of the lighthouse, I see adventure waiting.  I see the unknown beckoning it's finger to me and calling me to set sail.  I see the potential for storms and for calm waters.  

see a whole, broken, bleeding world and I know that I cannot stay safe in the harbour anymore.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Million Years

I thought I had it cracked.  

When they were younger, I had a million years before they were going to grow up so encouraging independence and letting go felt easy.

I was really proud of myself when, at ten years old, Toby could do his own laundry.

What was all the fuss about?  Surely our whole role as parents was to encourage our children to take steps further away from us?

But as we make more memories and they begin to turn into young men who are good company, hugging me when they think I need a hug and laughing at the same things as me, I have found myself clinging on ever more tightly.

It's not a million years away anymore.  I feel like I'm standing on a train track with a high speed train rushing towards me.

And tonight as Toby goes to his middle school leavers prom, shocking me with his deep voice and tall, muscular body dressed handsomely in a suit,  I find myself desperately holding on to this young man who seems so familiar and yet so alien to me.

Why was I so foolish to think this 'letting go' thing was so easy?  Why didn't anyone tell me that each time they take a tiptoe away from me my heart would be ripped up just a little bit more?  How could I have wasted their years of holding my hand as we walked along the road and playing pirates by pushing them into independence?

And so I realise all over again that I didn't ever have this thing cracked.  My boy who towers over me, helps me lift heavy things and tells me to 'stop fussing' brings me so much joy mixed with so much pain that he will never know about.

I never, ever realised the million years would go quite so quickly and would be quite so much fun.

I'm not sure I want to let go anymore.  I'm beginning to quite like them now.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What a difference two weeks makes....

Two weeks ago we moved house.

It's been a cardboard-box-filling-and-emptying, new-job-starting, house-moving, husband-away-for-ten-days, cleaning-everything kind of two weeks.

I don't like being over busy, and this has certainly been way too much for me.  Right now though, with blocked toilets and jumanji-like gardens filling my head, I look back over the last few weeks in awe of our friends and family. 

We have a community around us like none we have ever experienced before and we are overwhelming grateful for their support and practical help. 

Over the last few weeks I have kept a list of all the ways people have helped us...

Cooked meals
Had boys for the day so we could pack
Fixed grouting
Fixed hole in ceiling
Cleaned through old house on moving day
Put up beds
Looked after cat
Collected Jonah from school and delivered to new house
Lent car for the day
Lent microwave for a few months
Sewed button on trousers
Unloaded outdoor equipment into shed
Fixed sinks
Plumbed in washing machine
Taken apart wardrobe, carried it into different room, put it back together again
Brought cakes
Fixed washing machine
Sealed up bathroom
Checked broken oven
Made beautiful box
Made beautiful sign for the front door
Brought chocolate
Cleared a path to washing line in garden
Unblocked toilet
Offered a shoulder to cry on
Sent encouraging texts
Made us laugh

So, you see, we are surrounded by this incredible bunch of people who have walked this journey with us so far. 

Thank you.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

How I'm learning to celebrate my 'different' child...

Last week I was surprised to be asked about advice for raising a child who is 'different'.  The last 11 years of parenting have taken me on quite a learning curve as I have battled with questions, fear of being judged by others and anxiety over the future of my boy who does not always meet the expectations of society.

As he left the house this morning with bright green sunglasses (despite the rain) to comments from his friends ('Max, you don't need sunglasses today.' 'I don't care, I like them'.) I smiled to myself and thought it might be helpful to write down some of the things I have learnt.  I know I'm not alone in this and I there are many parents who know far more than me and who inspire me with the way they celebrate their child.

My boy does not have a diagnosis of adhd, autism, aspergers or anything else.  I have questioned this so many times (especially after watching programmes about other children who seem to be so similar), and have even asked friends and teachers for their honest opinions countless times.  I am more than happy for him to be diagnosed if it was necessary and he needed any extra support.  But I have come to realise that Max is Max.  He is not a label or a diagnosis.  He is just different.  And different is good.

So, in celebrating his uniqueness, these are some of the things I have had to embrace:

1.  Being different is fabulous.  How boring would it be if everyone saw the world from the same perspective?  I notice the things that make Max different and (try to) find the positives.  There are often lots.

2. Choose battles wisely.  We often deal with Max in a way that other parents may not choose.  This has meant that I have had to battle through my fears of other people's opinions of me as a mother.  Some parents might not, for example, encourage their children to climb very high in trees or other equipment but I know that for Max this is the place he feels the safest.  He needs to climb and he needs high spots to sit - they help him to be calm. 

3. Teachers need educating.  We have had some amazing, inspirational teachers and some who expect every child to fit inside their box.  When you happen to have a child who doesn't even touch the box let alone sit inside it, you have some battles on your hands.  Nobody else is going to fight for your child except you and sometimes schools need some coaching on how to handle children who can't sit at their desks writing and listening.  I have had to overcome my fear of teachers (yes, honestly, I was!) and speak up for my boy.  And mostly it has worked.

4.  Allow off-the-scale creativity.  I consider myself a pretty creative person but for every idea I generate, Max has one I had never even thought about.  When he was little I encouraged him to play with toys by imagining different purposes for them.  This meant a messy house and garden but oh so much fun.  These days he often has unique solutions or insight into fixing problems.

5.  Change expectations.  For me, having an oldest son who ticks every conventional box possible, I found my expectations being challenged with Max.  He's disorganised (although trying to improve on that one - this morning he even closed the front door behind him when he left for school), messy, loud, funny and extremely passionate.  I had to wipe the expectation whiteboard clean and create new ones with Max.  And, unsurprisingly, he exceeds them constantly. 

6.  Laugh with him.  Oh how this boy makes us laugh!  Sometimes his humour makes me cry too.  And sometimes I have to tell him to stop joking.  But we love laughing with him as he mimics Jim Carey or pulls a crazy face at just the right moment. 

7.  Affirm him.  Being unconventional in a world where every child is expected to conform is not easy.  One of the things we have had to learn to do is give Max courage to be himself.  He has so much to offer the world around him but it's easy for him to be dragged down by the expectations of others.  So we hug him lots, feed him lots (food is his love language) and tell him how fab we think he is.

8.  Teach him that when he has to conform, he has to conform.  There are some things in life that he just has to do.  He has to wear a tie to school.  He had to do sats.  He has to help around the house.  It's all very well allowing a child to be free, but they also need to learn obedience and respect for others.  Some things have to be taught, and this is one of them.

9.  Validate his passions.  My Max is one passionate boy.  It might be about the green olives he is about to consume or it might be about the kid who was being beaten up on the way home from school.  Whatever is floating his boat at the time, rather than rail against it we have learnt to validate it.  We let him be passionate and we teach him how to handle his very extreme emotions.

I know from talking to other parents how hard some of this is.  I know that I haven't got it all sorted yet either.  I fail as a mother all the time.  But one thing I want to do is celebrate each child as a unique person.  I want them to be the young men they were created to be and my role as a Mum is to encourage this at every turn.  I will not squash my Max into a tight, harsh fitting box and expect him to squeeze in and be quiet.  As his mum, I take the box from him and give him the freedom to be himself.  It's my way of loving him.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Conferences - Why Bother?

I'm not a conference junkie.

I'm not a big fan of camping, either.

There is a British cynic inside me who struggles with the big 'celebrities' on the stage and the lights and loud music.  I look around the thousands with their hands in the air and wonder what's going on in their hearts.

The effort to squeeze the whole house into the car, set up a tent (in the rain) and live under canvas for a few days with the mud, the wee bucket being missed in the middle of the night and the cold that seeps into my bones at 4am makes me question whether it's worth it.

And then I remember.

I remember my childhood of 'Downs Bible week' and in my mind's eye I see pictures of my friends and I, face down, worshipping our God.  I remember having my first word of knowledge during a kid's meeting and someone was healed.  I remember the gunge and the leaders who (sacrificially, although I didn't think of this at the time) so inspired me.  I remember Katy Caterpillar the puppet who brought bible stories to life. 

I remember my teenage years at 'Stoneleigh Bible week'.  I remember racing to be the first in the queue outside the 'cowshed' and running in with a horde of teens to get the best spot on the floor.  I remember feeling like I had a part to play in bringing God's kingdom to our world.  I remember very late nights, star gazing with boys.  I remember seeing hundreds of people healed.  I remember the cool kids, worshipping God as though He was the only important One.  I remember lying, prostrate on the ground, as God broke my heart for the nations.  I remember holy moments where I felt like I had to take off my shoes.  I remember listening to inspirational people who had been there and done that.  I remember unspeakable joy.  I remember watching thousands of teenagers yielding their hearts to their God.

I remember the last two years of the Catalyst Festival.  So different as a parent.  So much harder in so many ways.  And yet I remember Max being healed of tonsillitis and of a stomach condition.  I remember Jonah beaming as he danced his heart out.  I remember standing together as a family as people we had never met before prophesied over us about loving the broken, adding people to our family and going on an adventure.  I remember surrendering my everything all over again, but this time including my own precious boys.  I remember a lady I didn't know telling me God was going to use me to restore broken women.  I remember Toby, inspired to start a youth alpha at school.  I remember weeping from the very depths of my soul as God gave me permission to be myself again after long years of trying to be someone different.  I remember watching as my friend was healed of deep-rooted OCD.  I remember feeling like God was breathing life over me again.

And so how can I even question whether this is worth it? 
How can I deprive my family of all that I was given as a child and young person? 
How can I stay away when I know God is going to be there, doing his cool stuff?

The changes that these precious times have brought to my life outweigh the mud, the cold and the effort every single time. 

I can't wait.  I wonder what God has up his magnificent sleeves for us this year.

N.B - That last phrase was stolen from someone else, but it's so good that I can't replace it with anything else!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Being A Voice

The results of this landmark election have led me back to Isaiah 58.  

‘Shout it aloud, do not hold back.  Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. 

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  

They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. “Why have we fasted,” they say,“and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves,and you have not noticed?”

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungryand satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness,and your night will become like the noonday. 

The Lord will guide you always;he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruinsand will raise up the age-old foundations;you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbathand from doing as you please on my holy day,if you call the Sabbath a delightand the Lord’s holy day honourable,and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the landand to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

I am praying for our nation. And I am preparing to raise my voice even louder.