Facing up to the reality of stress

Months ago, I took myself to the GP and told her that I was overwhelmed and sad. She referred me to the Mental Health team who have in turn, given me the opportunity to attend some Stress Controll and Fulfilment classes.

I went to the very first session of the Stress Control Group yesterday. I was anxious about it all day, nerves writhing in my tummy. I couldn’t concentrate and got very little work done. So a stress course was essentially stressing me out, making me feel guilty for not applying myself to my paid work. Ironic isn’t it? But I walked to the venue, I walked through the door. Three people in the queue ahead of me asked to be directed to the same place, so I didn’t even need to feel daft and just walking into that room felt like such a big achievement. I was after all, there to help myself.

There were so many people in that room. It was amazing. You always think that you are the only one, when in fact, stress is as common as can be, causing so many related issues for us all, like constant physical pains. Who knew, right?

I felt quite panicky just being sat there and could feel myself losing my sense of “being in the room”, spiralling off into my own panic. I wanted to cry for all the struggling people they talked about in the case studies, I wanted to get up and run. It was hard to listen, though I laughed to myself when the course leader said exactly that – that concentration is always poor when we’re stressed and anxious. But she also kept saying that I was in the right place and it made me feel braver, safer.

I can’t pretend I listened well for the whole two hours because I know I didn’t. But some snippets really resonated with me.

We all have stress in our lives.

None of us can change what has gone before, so why waste emotional energy overthinking what you cannot change? What’s ridiculous is, I of course, know this, but hearing someone, a professional, say it out loud, the little monster that lives in my ear unclenched a little bit and stopped dead. Because it’s so true. You have to go on. And in spite of everything I have told myself I am not capable of, the one thing I know I am capable of is going on – nothing has killed me yet.

They told us that stress feeds itself on all your other stressors. So if you spend a long time feeling stressed and overwhelmed, chances are the thing that stressed you this week is not the thing that set off the stress of last week. You have to find ways of cutting the little monster off. And hopefully, that’s what these courses will enable me to do, to find happiness in the little things and to feel real pride for all my achievements.

And here’s my first one:

Our homework was to draw out our “vicious circle of stress” – all the things that stress us and how they manage to keep themselves going, so that we could try and work out ways of starving the stress. Now, I didn’t get that far, because honestly, my circle was far too busy to be a circle. A list of stressors came pouring out of me. And when I read it back, I realised that for years now, I have been dealing with a lot!

I haven’t necessarily dealt with these things well, these are things I am looking to learn, to help myself. But nevertheless, I am constantly dealing with a lot, even outside the standard “marriage, child, house” that it’s likely everyone else in that room was dealing with. I have pain, I have limitations, which in themselves need a lot of work on acceptance before the anger wins. I have uni, I have long-distance relationships to maintain and a lot of memories to process that have hindered my sense of independence and self-confidence.

And suddenly, I felt proud of myself for being able to carry on. I’m going to give myself less of a hard time. I never feel proud of myself. Me, myself & I have pretty much always struggled to get on, so honestly, this was a great start.

The mantra of the stress control course is something like “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.”

Avoidance is a huge crutch of mine and the course already recognises that avoidance does work to control stress in the shor term. But avoiding your fears just builds them up into a more deep rooted problem longer-term and to be honest, I think therein lie a lot of my problems. They’ve gone unfaced for too long and have become a horrible, stubborn part of me that I hate, but that really has quite a grip on me.

So I’m trying to take the mantra to heart already, even without realising it.

The day before the course, I walked Squidge to playgroup. She needs constant bribing to get in the pram now because she’d rather walk, but we did OK.

She was patient, she listened (she even collected the Deep Heat lotion for me that morning when I was on the floor complaining that my “neck ow!” She handed me the container saying “Mummy medicine neck ow!” I was so blummin’ touched. She went into playgroup without a backward glance when previously she’s refused to go in without clinging to me. Well done Squidge, my big, brave, grown up girl.

Enjoying her soup before Wednesday’s playdate

I pottered round town, buying all the bits we needed and then I went back for me. She wolfed down some soup and went for a nap in preparation for a park playdate we had with a friend. But she wasn’t ready for me to wake her an hour later and howled like I was beating her whenever I made moves to get her dressed. She clung to me, sobbing, only comforted when I rocked her like I did when she was newborn. I felt awful, that my baby was so upset, that I couldn’t dress her, that we’d be late, what my friend would think.

As it was, we were only ten minutes late and my friend couldn’t have been kinder – and Squidge couldn’t have been more delightful, cooing over her baby boy and guzzling her babyccino like a pro.

Face your fears – I didn’t allow myself to cry off and let a friend down, or let myself feel terrible for doing so, like I didn’t deserve friends. I told myself (and Squidge!) that she was getting dressed because I knew we’d (both!) appreciate the experience much more when we were there.

Be more active – Two walking trips to town and back. Well done me!

Watch what you drink – I got a 12 bottle box of wine at cost price from work for Christmas, so I’m not gonna lie, I have been caning the rosé (which for a lightweight like me means 1x large glass, so only just topping my 14 units/week (maybe?) I’m probably not drinking to medical excess even now, but I know it’s still more than I really should. So yesterday, I had a small one.

See? Wins all round!

And today, I met up with another friend and her little girl at mine & Squidge’s favourite soft play and then they came up to play at the playground by our house for some outdoor time. They ran off to the basketball court together to run about and when they came back out, they were holding hands like the best of friends. My heart felt so huge with love in that second, I felt so happy.

Playing with her lovely friend on the “tee-taw” today – and absolutely not looking at Mummy’s camera!

The lovely mobile hairdresser came round too to check how I’d gotten on with the ponytail tuition and would you believe – I actually did it! Even with my weak hand, I got my hair up higher than I ever have before, so I have the skills there now. Just more practise and then I can learn a messy bun to go with my messy ponytail. (So relieved these are in fashion because these are what comes naturally to my wonky hands too!)

I am very proud of me. Because in these last 3 days, I have done a lot to benefit myself, which in the end can only mean the best of all things for Squidge. A little less avoidance from now on. Let’s see what the best of me looks like!

Today, I am my own hero

What you probably don’t know about living with cerebral palsy is I am constantly robbed of choices. If I have to get up and go to work (the bills won’t pay themselves) on the morning when the screaming pain in my hips says I won’t walk without agony today, then I can’t see that friend I’ve missed for months. I can’t play with Immy. I can’t go buy the milk. I am constantly robbed of my hard won independence and it’s simply not fair. It’s actually damn frightening.

But today, I can say for the very first time in my life, I am my own damn hero.

I have been blessed with a kind, helpful and inquisitive daughter who never questions why it takes me more than one go to do pretty much anything. She has made everything possible for me.

Yesterday I was limping everywhere, terrified I’d have to let down my dearest friend… who incidentally understand this life more than anyone else I know. I was so angry the choice might be taken from me. But we made it.

And today, I’m home alone. It’s all on me which isn’t normally the case. I was so worried. Immy knew, so she slept in til 9:30 to make this day easier on me than yesterday.

I’ve driven to the supermarket, I’ve carried the bags in one hand and held Immy’s hand proudly in the other. I’ve cleaned, I’ve tidied, I’ve cooked… all things I have to stop and check for niggling aches or pains that say it’s too much, that I’m not capable. They haven’t come.

I bathed Immy by myself. A job I avoid because I’m terrified I’m a danger, that I can’t protect her. I washed her hair (a job I NEVER do) and then I sat on the toilet seat with her wrapped up in my lap, brushed her hair and her teeth and got her ready for bed. She read 5 story books to me and flopped her head down on me, stroking my arm and whispering “Awww Mummy” before she took herself up to bed.

Today, I have been nothing but Mummy. I haven’t had to struggle through this day like all the others.

This is the day I’ve wanted to live since the day she was born. To just be Mummy.

My Squidge, My Sunshine

So, it’s 7:38pm. Squidge took herself off to bed without a fight at 7:02pm. Winning. It’s midweek, so these are my 2 days at home with her and Kev’s working late both nights. Which means Mummy has to step up.

And honestly, Mummy’s not been doing so well recently. A very dark and heavy cloud has been taking me over. It’s so hard to explain anxiety, but it makes the smallest things the very worst things that could happen. It means you understand logic, but disregard it because the fear is all consuming.

I made the decision to take myself to the doctor and say that it was getting too much to have my head always full with worry. The doctor was very kind. She told me that I shouldn’t tear myself down because of the cerebral palsy and that, with or without it, all almost 2 year olds have the potential to be little psychopaths that put mummies on the edge. But she saw my anxiety (the anxiety that said I should just cancel the appointment because if Squidge wouldn’t put her shoes on, then I was going to be late, and what sort of mother is late? I know the answer is all of us, but I just couldn’t feel it at the time.) She is going to refer me to the Mental Health wellbeing team, which feels like a positive step. I hope I can learn to take care of me too. I don’t want to feel sad, or like my life is happening around me without me taking part.

Kev leaves late because he’s away late, and when we go to get Squidge from her cot and ask her if she would like a banana and yoghurt for breakfast she responds enthusiastically: “Ite! Ite!” Ice maybe? I ask her if she’ll sit on my lap to bum shuffle downstairs or if she’ll walk down on her own. Confidently, she says “Own” and counts to 10 flawlessly as she comes down. Yes, shameless mummy bragging, Kev couldn’t believe what he was hearing! When I put on nursery rhyme Youtube videos for her and listen to her sing along, I realise “Ite” “Ite” was in fact “I like to ite ite ite iples and baneyeneyes!” from Apples & Bananas. Quickly run upstairs and declare our child is a genius before returning to parenting for the day.

But, in the vein of taking care of myself, we’ve agreed that Squidge should join the local playgroup for a couple of hours on one of my days off, so that I get the chance to rest. (And, the way my back is feeling after today, get more regular massages?!) felt like such a failure when I talked it through with Kev, but he didn’t bat an eye, said it was a good idea. And I know it is. She’ll get to spend time with local kids as well as her day nursery. But my God, Mum Guilt really does seep into every pore.

I took her for the visit today. We were ridiculously early, so we say on the pavement outside, me in a dress that thanks to Storm Ali was allowing the whole damn town to see my underwear at the same time! It’s funny the things you learn not to care about. We played peekaboo and Squidge laughed her wonderful laugh. It’s addictive.

We went in and she was shy to begin with, knackering me out by wanting to be lifted and carried to be close to me (awww, but – my back!) But 10 minutes in, she was scoffing rice krispies from the sensory tray and trying on glasses in the play-pretend opticians, telling me that they go on your “iiiiiiii’s!” and that she looked like a “little baby duuuude!” (I take a lot of pleasure in teaching her daft phrases!)

I know she’s going to be fine.

We shared a shortbread from Greggs as a treat and I walked it off by going to collect my parcel from the post office. (Christmas shopping is nearly done people!)

Mum Guilt snuck into my ear again when I realised I hadn’t taken her to the playground like I promised. Made a mental note to take her after her nap to the one across the road. Make an appointment at the hairdressers for fringe trim (I will never ever ever touch Squidge’s hair myself… CP means shaky hands!) Make it late in the hope that the Little Miss will nap.

Take her home and she makes a happy mess of some chunky soup and after a onesie pitstop goes for her nap bang on schedule. Don’t know what this kid’s on, but it’s working. She’s been so good, lieing back across my lap to help me change her nappies, pushing her arms and legs skillfully into her clothes to help me dress her. She’s been playing peekaboo, singing out her nursery rhymes, offering me cuddles and kisses and lovingly calling: “Daddy, wherearrrooo?” before answering herself with “Daddy vork!” (See, genius!)

It’s tipping it down by the time she wakes up from her nap (still bang on time!) and she screams at me when I try and put the rain cover on, much like she did when I tried to put her shoes on. So there will be no trip to the park today. Mum guilt reminds me that the park is always first to go and I feel guilty about never doing anything with her. I have picked up a leaflet from the library though and she’ll soon be old enough for the next phase of classes, so I have some ideas.

She’s a drowned rat by the time I get her to the hairdressers in her socks and no raincover. I passed a lady on the street with a look in her eye that I was so ready for if she dared say anything. I never do say anything. I know I should, because no-one know your struggles unless you say. But she never said anything, thank goodness and Squidge was free to end up with a Mummy-esque sloping fringe because she kept batting the poor hairdresser away. Never mind, at least she can see again!

Curse myself when I realise I forgot to buy any veg and tell myself the corner shop will have it. What is it with corner shops having impossibly high steps and ridiculously heavy doors? I struggle on my own for a good 3 minutes before a lovely lady offers to hold the door. I do wonder about people sometimes, it’s not like no-one else could see me. It’s also a horribly inaccessible shop to boot, I’ll make sure I have my Iceland list next time, I’m normally so diligent about these things.

They have no veg that Squidge’ll eat. “Oh no…. what shall we eat?”

Quick as a flash (she must have seen them on the shelf somewhere!) “Beans!”

“Oh you clever girl, of course!”

She helps me make a cup of tea for us both (hers is of course, decaf!) while our dinner cooks and she dries off in her new onesie. It’s miles too big and she keeps asking me to roll it up love her, but she looks so cute!)

Now that Squidge can feed herself, mealtimes are enjoyable, because I can sit and eat with her and it’s a social occassion. She asks for “help” as soon as she needs it and always tells me when she’s getting up.

We play on the floor together. She’s upturned her alphabet bricks so we see what each of them is when we put them back in their tray. She’s so funny, not grasping that they’re all jumbled and she keeps telling me what the next letter should be. Clever girl.

We run her bath and she washes all the body parts she’s learnt from Head Shoulders Knees and Toes (and more besides) with her big sponge while we sing the Bath song (to the tune of Baby Shark, because what else is there for parents?)

I know Squidge is done when she decides to start putting the sponge and her ducks away and my God, on her tiptopes she can reach the shelf they belong on from the bath. She’s definitely going to be tall like her daddy.

We spend time saying “Bye-bye bubbles!” because it’s only proper and we put her nappy and onesie on to a Youtube video of lullabies in the clouds that she slept so soundly to as a newborn. Squidge is not the least bit impressed when I tell her this, and keeps shouting in the direction of the Google Home “OK Guggle!” because no doubt she wants to watch Baby Shark one more time to round it up to an even million for the day. But thankfully, we don’t have a Guggle Home so Mummy’s safe.

She climbs the stairs to bed without complaint and switches on her lullaby night light herself. She only cries (and what a cry!) when she realises Freddie Fox is not waiting for her in his rightful place in the cot. Freddie came in Squidge’s first ever parcel the week she was born from my best friend. I love that my best friend introduced Squidge her best friend. It’s quite beautiful.

I planned to fold mountains of washing before Kev gets home, but considering how low I’ve felt this week, really beginning to doubt myself in all areas of my life, I thought it really important to come say that

Today has been a good day.

#inthisforme

#inthisforme is my little mantra. My reminder of the fact that whilst everything I try to do is to show Squidge that she can do anything, it is important that I know it of myself too. It is something I have really struggled with all my life, but thankfully has never been something Kev has been willing to accept as part of me.

And in July, I had two epic wins, all for me!

1) A distinction

I’ve just finished my 3rd year of my Open University degree. I’m doing it part time to fit around work and the baby, so I’m actually only halfway through. But this year is the first year that has counted towards the eventual degree classification I will receive in 2021. And I’ve worked hard, pushed myself and really enjoyed the year. The subject was Childhood and I just find kids in general fascinating, so I got stuck in, tucking myself away in coffee shops and doing my best to learn from the feedback I got through the year. I wrestled with my first 3,000 word essay for months or so it felt – but it paid off – 83% and a distinction overall.

Really looking forward to next year!

2) My driving licence

This one has been a longer time coming than even my part time degree will stack up to.

A whole seven years after finally agreeing to get my provisional licence at 22 and some very on and off tuition, I passed my driving test in July! It was my 4th attempt since November 2017 (though we’re counting it as 3rd in my house because the 1st one was the old style test now!) and I finally passed… with only 3 minors as well.

I could already hear the examiner telling me “I’m sorry to tell you….” so when I actually heard “I’m pleased to tell you you’ve passed!” I barely believed him! I couldn’t have ever got there without Kev coaxing and encouraging me to get out in our car. It is a very big responsibility, especially now that I’ll be able to put Squidge in the car, but it’s so exciting that I’ll be able to get out there – all by myself. Going to build myself up to that though…. don’t want nerves getting the better of me like they did for all those tests.

I went for the automatic licence in the end – so much less stress on my weaker left side.

We went out and bought my very first car – so exciting. We’ve worked out that fatigue limits my driving to about 45 minutes a time and that’s fine, I only ever want to get to work and Squidge’s nursery 20 minutes away, or maybe zip up the M5 to see my family. That amount of freedom alone is priceless. I drove Kev & Squidge out for dinner 10 minutes down the road last night…. Kev was so excted to not be the designated driver for the first time ever. And tomorrow, Kev will jump in the back and I’ll drive to work and nursery for the first time.

Honestly, if I can do it after all this time, I promise anybody can.

Be #inthisforme