Driving me mad – Anxiety behind the wheel

White knuckled fingers gripping, heart pounding, body braced. Death feels a hairs breadth away, a possible reality at any second.

No, this isn’t me seated on a rollercoaster, this was how I felt when behind the wheel of a car until very recently.

I can’t remember when driving became the focus of so much of my anxiety, or when the flashes of intrusive thoughts began to flicker across my mind –  ‘If I turn the wheel now, I’d cause a pileup’. I’d have shockingly clear visions of cars skidding across all three lanes, smashing into the reservation barriers and bursting into flames. I’d make any excuse not to drive, walking miles with a double buggy, turning down invitations that required a car trip, or loosing sleep visualising that the next days 2.5 hour drive to my parents would result in certain death. There were times my hands shook so much that I had to pull over to  free from from the wheel, and times where my driving was  unsafe because of the rash decisions I’d make at perceived threat.

Now? Well, now I drive every day with the kids. I’m sometimes in and out of the car more times than I can keep count of. Today alone I’ve driven on two motorways, back country roads and scaled huge multi-lane roundabouts. I’d be lying if I said that these thoughts were all a distant memory, or that I didn’t have to yoga-breathe my way past a lorry. It’s freeing and exhilarating and sometimes scary, but I’m doing it and I’m continuously proud of myself.

What changed?

Well let’s go back to the beginning first. Bear with me.

I passed my test at 19, first time after a huge number of lessons with an instructor aptly named ‘Vicky Passmore’. She used to drill into me the idea of the ‘blind spot’ telling me that most accidents were caused because of people not looking. I cannot remember shaky hands or shallow breaths, just enjoyment of the freedom I had to be able to drive the 15 miles to college in an ancient Rover instead of having to freeze at the bus stop. I rolled a car at 19 in a back country road, as my wheel caught the crumbling edge of the road concealed by inches of wet leaves. My then boyfriend took my wheel and turned it sharply, sending us up (and down) a bank. It was terrifying, but I got a new (cheaper and older) car, a black Fiat Panda with neon pink interior – my ‘skip on wheels’. We’d just got the internet and I remember googling the car to find that there was one instance in which the flat bonnet had flipped up to hit a windscreen whilst in motion. I don’t know if it was that, or my fear of ‘blind spots’ that sparked these intrusive, visual assaults on my mind, but the nerves began to kick in and I began to envision being squashed by lorries, and my bonnet flipping up. Conveniently for me, I then packed myself off to a campus University and didn’t need to drive for 4 years…before moving to London and not driving for another six. I avoided my fear (I mean, I was a terrible passenger when the opportunity arose, often grabbing the seatbelt or sharply intaking breath as we overtook traffic on busy motorways).

The longer I didn’t drive, the more fearful I became. It crept into my nightmares and I became sure that people I loved would die on the roads. Every goodbye to my family as they left our home, I was convinced would be the last. I’d wave them off with a lump in my throat, holding back tears, as was the intensity of my belief.

Avoiding your fear quickly turns it into something larger in your mind. It’s like falling off a horse or a bike and not getting back on. Your last memory is one connoting an unpleasant experience, so you’ll add power to the belief that it’s ‘bad and scary’. This is especially true after a traumatic event has occurred, and is utterly understandable.

We moved out of London and bought a car, and I decided that my fears wouldn’t rule me. Firstly I gave myself the challenge of driving every day, even though my thoughts tried to find my way out. I made journeys to the corner shop, to the gym. Yes, not the best for the environment but surely better for everyone’s safety.

The issue is that nobody can promise you 100% that everything will be fine when you drive. Nobody can say with certainty that nothing will happen. They can state facts and ratios and likelihoods, but you can’t promise against a rational fear. But the same stands with every fear. It’s an existential dilemma of knowing the risks of life whilst having to live it.

I called the AA, not for ‘hey, I’m 18 and I want to learn to drive’ but for driving lessons. I asked for someone used to and experienced in sitting with anxious drivers. I met a lovely guy who took me on and off the motorway (my worst fear). The more often we did it, the more the anxiety was slowly replaced with the mundane boredom that comes with feeling less bothered by what you are doing over and over and over again. That was the best gift I gave myself. I wasn’t fixed, I’m still not fixed….but I’m in a place where I can feel the fear, ride the waves of anxiety and do it anyway.

Anxiety comes in waves. And when the wave reaches its peak, it can only subside. The thing is that in that moment, we fear that the anxiety will build and build into something utterly unbearable, but breathing myself through those waves (download the Headspace app, or learn to Yoga breathe), has been insanely helpful. Once these waves reach their peak, they begin to subside and your physiological fear response starts to lose effect….all the while you’re still exposed to your trigger. THIS moment makes the breakthrough. The more that you can ride and breathe through the waves of anxiety WHILST you’re driving, the less power those fears will begin to have. You’re literally starving the fear by doing the thing (this is relevant to other phobias too).

Here are my tips:

  • Recognise what you’re loosing to this fear: What is your fear of driving robbing from you? Seeing family and friends? Being involved in things that matter to you?Have you got a licence? If not, why not? What has been holding you hostage?
  • Have a lesson with someone used to anxiety-  This was brilliant for me. I voiced my fears and the instructor helped me face them and find that they weren’t as scary as my mind had made them to be.
  • Get some CBT – Therapy can absolutely help. Often it’s fear of possibility and power that affects us in driving fear. CBT can help you find a way to talk back to these thought patterns and find another argument that makes more sense. Speak to your GP as you may be entitled to a referral.
  • Drive with someone who can reassure you –  If you have a license, find a confident and kind driver friend and ask them to come and sit with you. Talk openly about your intrusive thoughts and your fears and let them argue back to them and support you as you are doing what makes you anxious. Hopefully you’ll be able to ride these waves with them and slowly see the anxiety drop.
  • Embody a confident person – I know a good few confident drivers, so when I’m feeling anxious, I like to ‘pretend’ to be them! It might sound silly, but it helps me. My Dad used to be in the police force so he’s used to racing a flashing car through busy streets and motorways. I try and draw from his confidence and it makes a difference.
  • Breathing – I cannot tell you how much of a difference that breathing can make to the physiological affects of anxiety. Research it and learn some techniques. I’m often doing breathing exercises so determinedly that my toddler asks what I’m doing. It calms the adrenaline and lessens the stress hormone which it turn, slows your mind.
  • Find your mantra – If you find mantras helpful, find one that helps and say it repeatedly when anxious. I do this all the time. Mine is ‘everyone wants to keep their car undented’. I know it sounds funny but it reminds me that people are out for their own safety and will generally do what they can to keep them and me safe too.
  • Drive Slowly – Stay in the slow lane until you WANT to pass, keep to the speed limit or below. It’s better to be slow and safe than people-pleasingly fast and uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I often drive at Grandad pace, annoying those around me. I also tell myself that I can drive behind a lorry on the motorway for the entire duration if I want to! I no longer care if I drive slowly or stall on a roundabout (this has happened many times). If I make someone annoyed, they will get over it. The worst I will endure is a hand gesture or knowledge that they’ve taken home some dinner-table fodder but so be it! What does that say about me? That I’m still learning at 32? Pah. Aren’t we all in some way??
  • Thoughts aren’t facts – What I think and imagine aren’t certainties. Just because I fear death in the car, doesn’t mean it will happen. I’d rather see friends and family and take the minor, minor risk, growing in confidence (and therefore taking even less risk), than be missing out on the life that happens outside a mile radius of my home. I tell myself when I’m seeing visions and going at 69mph on the motorway that these are games my mind plays.
  • The more you do it, the more you disprove your fear – and the more confident you’ll be. I’ve in no way conquered my fear. I’m in acceptance that intrusive thoughts and anxiety will be a part of my life to some degree but I refuse to let them have the power over me to stop me from doing the things I want to. The more I’ve driven, the more these voices have been shown who’s boss and have started to shrivel into nagging little troublemakers. I see them for what they are and that’s where change happens.
  • Set yourself little challenges – Find challenges to set yourself. Drive every day even if for a few minutes. Increase those challenges as time goes on and ask loved ones to support you. Get driving lessons even if you have a licence. Reach out in knowledge that this fear is SO COMMON! It doesn’t have to rule you if you don’t want it to.

You are not alone. You can do this lovely. I’m doing it with you xx

My Reframing Anxiety Course LAUNCHES!

A powerful three-week, self-guided, interactive course designed to help you reframe your anxiety. Suitable for anyone experiencing any level of anxiety.

(Find it here)

After months of kid’s naptimes, weekends and evenings spent hunched over a laptop pouring out everything I know about a topic that sets my heart on fire. Writing down all I’ve learnt from years in lecture theatres and hundreds of hours sat with people as they tell their stories. Metaphors dreamed up in my head, spilled out with fast fingers on clicking keys…Yes, after months, the Reframing Anxiety Course is ready for launch.

Anxiety has woven through my years like a hissing snake. Sometimes a buzzing undercurrent, yet sometimes it overcame like a roaring wave, sucking air from my lungs and drowning all rational words.

Not anymore. It stole enough. I reframed it and reclaimed so much in the process. The course, the words and journalling questions…they’re a map.A signpost that there is so much more for you than this. Whether your anxiety is a distant buzz, or a deafening shout, a compulsion, an intrusive thought, or an elephant on your chest. I’ve written this for you.

So…The Reframing Anxiety Course has launched! A 3-week, self-guided, psychologically-grounded course for those experiencing any level or type of anxiety.

THANK YOU to my husband, my ultimate cheerleader. He has relentlessly facilitated giving me time to write. And stood beside me as I fumbled through the years (and recent days too) practicing all of these things for myself. This wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. THANK YOU to web/graphics extraordinaire Amber of  Ooohlala Your vision, creativity and skill are amazing. THANK YOU to buddy Coley who has lovingly edited my words. And to my Mum (a counsellor herself) and Psych friend Amy, who kindly cast professional eyes over it. And thank you, you guys, for your encouragement, content requests and supports.

So, here’s some more about the course.. (but you can also find it here)

  • 3 week self-guided course
  • Downloadable PDF
  • Covering intrusive thoughts, triggers, self-care, internal dialogue and much more
  • Packed with practical tips and light bulb moments
  • Based on grounded psychotherapeutic insight, clinical work and anecdotal experience
  • Days alternate between in-depth texts to read, and guided-journal points to engage in
  • Take breaks and complete in your own time
  • EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT offer for The Nice Girl Course

The purchase price will entitle you to a single download of the course PDF

For those experiencing financial difficulty, please click on the ‘Additional Information tab’ to read about the discount code.

What type of course is it?

This three-week, self-guided course isn’t an academic course full of references. It’s an amalgamation of my years of Psychotherapy training, personal experience with anxiety, and my client work. Within the course, you’ll discover the advice I give to my clients, alongside my own personal anecdotes. You’ll be encouraged to think, reflect and engage in a way that should start to shift your anxiety and introduce hope.

How does it work?

Each day alternates between a text to read, and some journal points to explore. The text explores a different element of anxiety (such as Intrusive thoughts, knowing your triggers, top tips), and I encourage you to scribble some notes if you wish. The journal points aren’t extensive and don’t require deep thought or essay writing. I’ve designed them to help bring the text to life for you, making it relevant and encouraging you to apply it to your particular circumstances.

The course length is for you to follow or play around with as you wish. You could take longer over the text, add extra days in between for journaling, or take breaks. There is no right or wrong way, just your way. The three weeks is just a guide, and will offer quite an intensive insight. If you need to take your time, please do so.

These concepts, tools, and insights have undoubtedly changed my life and the way that I feel on a daily basis. It’s not a quick fix. A lot of what we speak about will require on-going effort, but bit-by-bit, they will chip away at the power that anxiety has over you. I am excited for you to read the words on these pages, and for the light bulb moments you’ll experience.

Course format

  1. Get your ducks in a row
  2. Journal
  3. Why do I feel anxious? Know your triggers
  4. Journal
  5. Seeing anxiety for what it is
  6. Journal
  7. Anxiety isn’t all bad
  8. Journal
  9. Intrusive thoughts and overthinking
  10. Journal
  11. The most important conversation
  12. Journal
  13. Self-care
  14. Journal
  15. Top tips 1
  16. Journal
  17. Top tips 2
  18. Journal
  19. Slow and steady
  20. Journal
  21. Final thoughts

About Anna

Psychotherapist and passionate Psycho-educator with experience working in GP surgery, private practice and various charities. Speaking, running workshops and writing regularly on topics around maternal mental health, anxiety, depression and advising on general mental wellbeing (e.g. people pleasing, emotional resilience internal dialogue, self-care)

  • Accreditation with the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy)
  • Masters in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Certificate in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2010
  • Undergraduate Degree in Social Psychology – Loughborough University 2004-2007

The other side of tidy

IMG_2817My house is tidy. Pretty much always, generally tidy.

(I am having to claw my fingers in order to stop writing ‘I’m sorry’)

Obviously there are pockets of chaos when the kids have just emptied the toys everywhere, or the husband has been at the kitchen, but generally, my house is fairly neat.

Through instagram, I’ve discovered that there’s a mixed attitude towards tidiness. Some believe that I have hours to sort and tidy (not true), other’s think that I tidy purely for Instagram photos (not true). Some think I’m just presenting the tidy corners in order to communicate the best sides of my life and home (not true). I honestly don’t care about you seeing my mess, it’s just that most of mine is in my head!

If I’m utterly honest, I’ve felt shame about my tidy home. I make myself vulnerable daily in order to present the real and rougher edges of myself in the hopes I can challenge comparison and assumptions and empower people to do the same. However, a tidy house seems to call this to question. Is she really authentic and accessible if her house is neat? That’s not real life.

Isn’t it? But, what if I am being ‘real’ in my tidiness? What if you can have a tidy house and that’s just your ‘real’? What does that say about those who fight to keep on top of the mess that kids bring? Am I saying that they are failing? What about those who are content in the chaos of a family home that looks a little less like a show home and a lot more lived in? Does that say that they are wrong for not being compelled to chase around their offspring, whizzing toys back into their places and scrabbling under the sofa for the missing shape sorter cube. I’m not setting a standard here, I’m sharing life.

I want to tell you about the other side of tidiness.

So here’s the other side of my tidy..

I moved to Loughborough University from my little family home. There had been five of us living in that beautiful three bed cottage, and then four after Emily died. Space was sparce and my room was a cosy box room with a window the entire length of my bed overlooking a green valley. There was no space for a chest of drawers but I didn’t care. My clothes were in my sibling’s room. I loved my little nook.

Anyway, I was dropped off at University with my bags and a case of cheap french sparkling wine (friendship bait). Everything was unknown. I laid out my new room with the bedding chosen during an exciting traipse around Dunelm. It was far more spacious than my childhood bedroom with much more storage in which to tuck things away. I stood back and felt a huge sense of calm at this new level of order.

Tidiness quickly became yet another outward expression of my perfectionism. It was a soothing way of controlling my environment amidst the chaos of getting to know life as a student, out in the big world. We went out, partied, studied (sometimes). Life was a chaotic haze, but my room was a sanctuary of order. I’d find myself a little edgy on the evenings my room filled with friends as they innocently (although sometimes teasingly) disturbed things from their places. I’d tell myself that once they’d gone, I could restore order and all would be well.

Neatness can be a soother to many people as it is to me. A way of soothing anxiety, stress and other uncomfortable feelings. It’s an assertion of control when control is somehow lacking in other areas of life (isn’t it always lacking somewhere?).

We moved home last year, so on one level my tidiness is due to the fact that I can just enjoy my home and relax a little more when everything is put away in it’s place. However, it’s not just about that. There’s a deeper need for order that I can identify. This Christmas we hosted 9 people in our home for three days. It was fun, but I found the chaos tough. This is such a difficult and sad tension for me, as hosting people in our home is one of those things that we just get so much joy from. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that finds the physical chaos and disruption unsettling. I tidied around people, I tidied gifts away mere moments after they’d been opened. I didn’t sit down a huge amount. I was like a buzzing bee sweeping away Christmas as it happened. I was bloody annoying.

However, there is a level of emotional chaos that often comes with lots of family in one place. My way of coping with this emotional chaos was to seek order in my physical environment. But keeping a tidy home around 9 people who are just enjoying the festive fun, was like throwing water out of a sinking boat with a thimble. I told myself that I could keep the kitchen as my ‘domain’ of tidy, and let myself tidy as freely as I wanted whilst trying hard to relax about the remainder of the house!

Tidiness is a relentless, perfectionist pursuit in a house where people, ya know… live. I cannot flop into bed after a dinner party until it looks like it never happened at all. It’s second nature, I barely even realise I’m doing it. Perfectionism can be seen as a blessing but really, it’s mostly a curse. It’s a driver and a motivator for excellence, but the goal of perfect will simply never be met and to continue working to meet such standard is utterly exhausting, like chasing a mirage of water in a hot desert. It doesn’t exist and it never satisfies. No matter how tidy my home is, it will never bring total order to the chaos of my mind.

So, yes, I’m tidy. Maybe you are too. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Maybe you skid up and down the tidy spectrum dependent on energy and time and how much you actually care on any one day! That’s fine with me.

We can so quickly demonise or idealise qualities about each other that make us question our own lives or ways of being. Weight is another one I see often that gets both idealised and demonised in the same sentence. It can be as if someone who is slim and fit is quietly deemed self-obsessed or actually not that accepting of their own physical body, thus striving to change it. They can’t be ‘real’ because they are inhabiting someone else’s ideal and perhaps unintentionally body shaming others as a result. But if I feel those things about a beautiful girl in a bikini on my feed, that’s my response, my projection, my thinking, my insecurity, not her intention. It says more about me and where I’m at, than it does about her life choices and inner world.

Because when we single out and idealise a single quality in another person, we miss the whole of who they are. We miss the stories, the neuroses, the pasts, the reasons, the personality type, the dreams and drives. Those are what make the bigger picture. And in light of the bigger picture, that desirable quality becomes real and less idealised, and it keeps people accessible. 

Maybe we should challenge ourselves to accept that other people’s seemingly desirable qualities may be because their priorities are in different places to ours, or because their genetic makeup and personality are different. Maybe they have more time or energy, or it’s just the way they are wired. Maybe it’s the flipside of a character trait, or a symptom of a struggle for them, maybe it’s a coping mechanism. 

Whatever we see of people in Insta squares or in black and white on blogs, when we idealise certain qualities, we just turn them into a ruler to measure ourselves up against to tell us what we’re worth, or how we’re doing at being us. We’re all more beautifully complex than that which can be measured against someone else’s singled-out qualities. And the full stories, which we may never have the honour of hearing, would explain it all.

Note…

Neatness can extend into compulsive disorders, and OCD. If you are finding your need to be neat comes with an urgency in order to abate fear, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone further about this. 

Contemplating pregnancy after PND

I have recently announced my third pregnancy! I am due in the middle of February next year. From the outside, it looks like we’re just completing our little family, but those who’ve followed my Instagram account and blog, will know that the decision to try for a third child, wouldn’t have been an easy one to make.

Since my announcement, I have had many a request for a blog post on pregnancy after PND. So here’s a blog article for those who’ve experienced post natal depression, and whilst their heart would like another, their head is filled with anxiety about feeling like ‘that’ again. It’s a long one, but it’s jam-packed with tips and insights.

 

My experience

When I first became pregnant, I had a history of depression, and a number of years of therapy and Psychotherapy training under my belt. I guess my medical records were a reflag for risk of postnatal depression as I was automatically allocated a Mental Health Midwife. She was sweet, but pregnancy and the early hazy months passed with little more than a hint of the baby blues and some overtired meltdowns. I coped, I socialised, I drank coffee at softplay and chatted sleep issues with buddies. ‘I’ve got this’, I thought. ‘I was made for this’. I was quickly discharged from the mental health oversight team.

I was pregnant by Oscar’s first birthday. I had an inkling as he blew his candles out on his homemade (slightly wonky) monkey cake, that next year he might be celebrating with a younger sibling. I was right.

My second pregnancy was different, not that it contributed to PND, but it wasn’t an easy start. Acute morning sickness made parenting hard as I warmed retch-inducing wheatabix for Oscar between rushing to the loo to be sick. I also had appendicitis which required emergency surgery and a truck load of drugs into my incubating body (cue the maternal guilt already kicking in).

Charlie came into the world in the very same pool as Oscar. Another long labour with a short and sharp ending. Textbook.

In a nutshell, we experienced undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue tie (twice…it can regrow, who knew?!), chronic sleep deprivation, horrendous feeding issues that I stubbornly battled through despite family begging me to stop (I felt it was the only single thing I could do for Charlie and I couldn’t bear to let it go). Meanwhile we were enduring a long-drawn out house move that wasn’t happening, a smashed up car, and other things I like to forget! All these things formed a perfect foundation upon which PND could thrive.

I rebuffed all offers for help and support, of cooked meals and the opportunity to nap. I’M FINE. I felt like a failure, and people offering innocent help gave me the incorrect impression that they too, thought I was failing. I felt my baby hated me, I hated me. I didn’t deserve him, or anything else good. I could barely string a sentence together, I stopped being able to hide my sore, red-eyes, and the terrified, weeping phone calls to my husband at work became a common occurrence. I went from thinking I could cope, to pretending I could cope, to believing I never could (here’s an article I wrote in my dark days)

On my 31st Birthday, I threw my hands up in surrender. You know what? I haven’t ‘got this’ at all. I went to my GP and wept as he asked about my bond with my baby.

I don’t need to go into vast detail of my post natal depression as this blog article is more about helping the future look a little more hopeful and less about the suffocating debilitation that post natal depression can grip you with. If you’re reading this article, it’s oh so likely you know that feeling, and for that, I give you the warmest and most compassionate hug. You made it. You might have dragged yourself through with faltering steps, but you made it mama.

In time, things changed. The sun slowly came through.

 

What helped me

There were three predominant factors to my recovery from PND:

1 – I forced myself to be open to a select few (namely a couple of close friends, my husband, my mum, my health visitor and my GP) about how I was feeling. ‘Forced’ seems like a strong word. But I really did have to battle against the fibres of my being, in order to open up. I knew something had to change. I was scared. Most of them, who’d seen me slowly unravel, weren’t at all surprised. In fact they seemed more relieved that the dropping of my weak façade meant that they would finally be able to step in, instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines. It wasn’t easy, but once I started talking, the words tumbled out in relief and slowly the shame ebbed away.

2- I started to accept that I am simply not created to do motherhood myself. Nobody is. Nor are you. I seemed to think I was an exception to the rule. I began to believe that seeking and accepting support of any form (be it practical, emotional, mental, physical) was not personal failure, but was in fact VITAL to good mental health. Letting friends be friends and family be family. Letting those who love me, love me in the way that I love them. Taking steps to learn to say ‘yes please’ instead of ‘I’m fine thanks’.

3 – I worked relentlessly at my cruel, bullying internal voice that was keeping me in that dark place like a millstone settling in the bottom of a lake. The voice that told me I was useless, hopeless, worthless. I did what I train others to do as a day-job! I started to challenge this voice with kinder and compassionate words that felt like lies at first, but slowly began to gain volume and power. These words are now stronger for me than my inner critic, and that, well that has changed everything. That has changed my life.

We moved house, Charlie’s reflux was medicated and improving, sleep was more plentiful, life became more do-able. I was in the swing of parenting two and working part-time in a job that I adore. So what next?

 

The ‘Shall we have another?’ question

As time went on, and as Charlie’s first birthday rolled around, the topic of trying for a third child kept cropping up. We’d always dreamed of having three kids. Tarun was one of three, I was one of three. Despite losing my sister to cancer before her seventh birthday, despite the fact I’ve lived through more of my life without her than with her, I still feel like one of three.

But this topic was loaded with abject fear. How would I ever cope? What if we had another reflux baby? What if the baby blues weren’t a fleeting tear filled couple of days, but months of deep dark blackness? I was scared of tipping my very new life balance that was filling me with purpose and contentment. For a long while, both my husband and I agreed that I was still healing from the trauma of that long, dark year, and that I needed more time.

I can’t say I ever got to a point where I proclaimed ‘Right. I’m READYYY. Let’s do this!’. And neither may you.

Charlie was nearing his second birthday, when I realised that the ground I’d covered had changed me. I was much better at seeking and accepting support, stronger at saying ‘yes please’ and ‘no thank you’ without fearing what people thought. I had become more naturally open, and my friendships more two-way streets (rather than me gladly offering support but refusing theirs). I had grown used to the concept of childcare and comfortable with utilising nursery. I realised that self-care habits had become an ingrained part of my life instead of a vicious internal battle. Little realisations like this, that the things I’d tried so hard to instil, had become a comfortable new normal for me, reassured me that whatever might lie ahead, I was more equipped with support than ever before.

So now, I’m pregnant. Nervousness and trepidation are woven through my excitement, but that is okay. That is to be expected.

This time my determination is more ‘I’m ready to do what I need to do to make it through’. Not in terms of expending every single ounce of my waning energy to battle through alone, but to call in the reinforcements, to go out and find the support I need, and to accept the support I have. It takes a village, and I am not a village no matter how capable I feel after a large coffee and a good night’s sleep.

 

My advice to you

So, here is my advice to you as you read these words with your own journey sitting heavily on your chest:

1 – Think about how you are now. How are you coping? How do you feel? Do you have residual or active depression that has not been properly addressed? Perhaps you need to invest in some personal therapy via your GP, or via the Find a Therapist page of the Counselling Directory. If you’re often feeling low, you deserve to address this sooner rather than later. And if you’ve experienced any level of trauma whatsoever, from what you’ve been through, please seek therapy in order to safely address this and enable you some freedom.

2 – Ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s likely that this has been a challenge for you. It is a challenge to any mum who’s focus is on the needs and feelings of their children, but if you’re going to be attending more closely to your emotional, practical, mental and physical needs, you need to ask yourself what they are. Get familiar with your needs, wants and feelings so that you can begin to act on them.

3 – Practice asking for and accepting help. Be it the offer of childcare for an hour so you can get some jobs done, or asking for a glass of water at your friend’s house when she’s forgotten to offer. Grow confident in stepping out to get your needs met. This is a hugely vital tool in the armour to fight PND. It’s not a comfortable task, but as your confidence increases and your needs are more likely met, you’ll find it easier I promise. This is so important.

4 – Carefully review your support network. Who’s there on standby, who’s standing in the wings? Who are the friends or family members that offer support? Does your hospital have a mental health midwifery service you can access? What did you struggle most with in your postnatal phase? What support might you have benefitted from had you been in a place to ask for and accept it? Have you found good online support? Is there a nice friendly network of baby groups and classes locally? What is around you already and what might you have to seek out?

5 – Take steps to speak with close friends or family members who you trust (if you aren’t already). Start letting them know how you feel in the little, day-to-day ways. The ups, the downs, the frustrations. If your usual response is to ‘keep calm and carry on’, this isn’t going to serve you well, just as it didn’t last time. Vulnerability is uncomfortable at first but entirely necessary for good mental health. Entirely necessary. Those first faltering words I spoke to a close friend, felt like shards in my throat, but now I speak more freely about my feelings. It gets easier as you get the kind and compassionate response that you’ve been denying yourself.

6 – Address your internal dialogue. If your internal voice is critical and strict, you need to really start trying to introduce a more compassionate dialogue over time. That critical and strict voice is the kind of cruel that will hit a girl when she’s down, and you certainly don’t need that. No matter what you think you deserve, you don’t deserve a little bully on your shoulder berating you and throwing petrol on the embers of mum guilt. You have to speak back to this voice. It might feel like a relentless argument at first, but imagine you were speaking those critical words to someone you loved. They need to be challenged because they are damaging. Retorting with a kind response (in the way you would to someone you love), feels unnatural and a little ridiculous, but never underestimate the power of doing this. In time, with work, the critical voice will be chipped away at and will slowly lose power. You need self-compassion. It’s a very powerful tool in the battle against PND.

7 – Consider practicalities and timing. There is rarely a ‘right time’, to try for another child but there can be ‘better times’. For example, Charlie has just turned two and is going to be starting our local nursery with Oscar next month. Therefore, I will be able to climb back into bed with the baby after doing the nursery drop off. I will be able to get cosy in my dressing gown and put on a box set, and recoup some energy. Last time I had a busy 19 month old and never once got to luxuriate on the sofa, but was instead rushing out to playgroups and feeding on plastic chairs in cold halls. What timing might be kind for your family and enable you best to get snippets of rest?

8 – Be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off. If the conversation of having another child fills you with fear, make a decision to leave that conversation on standby for a few months (we left it for six months), and instead, focus on implementing some of these points instead. Regardless of what decision you make and when, you’ll benefit from investing in these things.

8 – Talk this through with your partner. You need to be in this together. You need to be able to lean on them a little, and get used to leaning. Ideally your partner would form part of this support network, and keeping them in the loop about your true feelings and thoughts around another baby, better enables them to do this. 

Final words

I hope this helps you. There is still so much more I could say. I feel a podcast coming on (I’ve never done one before so you’d have to bare with).

Whilst I feel a little anxious about experiencing PND again, I know that having learnt to be more open, both about how I’m feeling, and in accepting support, my next postnatal stage simply cannot be the same as my last one, and that I am confident of.

You’re worth investing in these things. Regardless of whether you believe that to be true.

Anna xx

Ps – Feel free to drop me a line to book a coaching session where we can chat about this in further depth. Or, you might benefit from my Nice Girls course where many of these qualities are worked upon.

 

 

Take your space – A poem

A string of ‘sorry’ falling from my lips,
An unconsidered reflex,
For brushing your leg with my bag as I walked by.
A single seat left on the tube,
Tired legs and pregnant bump ignored,
By myself but not by others,
Standing resolute,
A teen with a confident swagger collapses into space I didn’t claim.
She knew she was worth it.

Imposter syndrome.
You’ll discover I’m not worthy of your cost,
Of time and energy,
So I’ll not rudely shatter your momentary illusions,
I’ll just sit quietly.
You’ll find your own way to my conclusion soon enough.

Swallowed words,
Too many spoken over,
Mown down by a barrage of other people’s noise,
Misunderstood,
Leaving me with echoes of my own dialogue in my mind.
Louder voices drowning out stuttered attempts to verbalise.
Step back and shut down.
It’s so much easier to be less,
Than to relentlessly fight for space amongst the more.

Silenced needs,
I’ll meet them myself,
Why burden another with my words and wants,
When I can silently scrape together my own resources?
Furious self-sufficiency,
Maketh man a lonely island.

Words of others like sticky post-it-notes,
Assumed as truths and ruminated over,
Until they became tattooed onto a heart that couldn’t fight them as false.
Surely the minority,
Uttering spiky words or causing unintentional pain,
Are better placed to tell me who I am,
To see the bad in my good.
Hey,
I’ll let you assign my price.

Accepting gifts with an awkward shuffle and blushing cheeks,
Compliments ricocheting off the heart like pebbles skimmed off a taut sea,
Bending a burdened back backwards,
Spewing saccharine sentences I don’t even believe,
So that you like me.
You could write poetry about your like for me,
It won’t be enough for me to believe that that’s your truth.

You wish you were older,
A little bit taller,
Somewhat quieter,
A lot more wiser,
Much more patient,
Less outrageous,
Lower maintenance,
More contagious.

I need to be more.
I need to be less.

STOP.

No more envying those walking,
Taking space and talking sentences without apology,
Claiming seats without a sorry,
Requesting quenching water without a tensing of the shoulders.

No more swallowing words out of fear,
As to whether they will be mistaken or misunderstood,
Which they may,
In fact they will,
But that is not a reflection of the value of them being heard.

You’re a messy complexity of humanity,
With needs and wants and sometimes profanity,
Of ugliness and sweat and space and pride and love and need,
And that’s okay.

Flex the muscle of your voice,
Throw out your arms and claim your space that was yours all along,
Stop ending sentences with questions and prefixing with ‘just’,

Because
You
Are
Never
‘JUST’
Anything

Exercise the sinews of your voicebox,
No speaking in whispers and avoiding confrontation,
Don’t devalue your innate worth with apologies and intonations.

Learn to grow to love your powerful voice,
As a lioness recognises the authority of her roar.
The thoughts and feelings of others about you are neither facts nor your business,
Just seen through their scratched grey lenses of experiences,
The one you see them through too mind you,
We all do.

Unshrug those shoulders you don’t need,
To shrink into yourself anymore,
Stop chipping away at a body that takes up precious inches,
Because you are of more value than all the space you could ever inhabit,
Laugh freely regardless of snorts and tears,
Your joy is worth experiencing,
And each peal of laughter will become easier,
Even if it’s only you who understands the joke.

Walk stronger,
Hold your head higher,
Line lips in crimson red and wear colour,
Or don’t.
But if you don’t,
Don’t because you don’t want to,
Not because you want to but fear being seen.
Your purpose might feel entangled and confused,
But you have purpose all the same,
That’s a promise.

You don’t need to be less,
You don’t need to be more.
Take your space.

Take your space without apology,
Without bended knee or slipping into the comfort of the background,
Grow slowly but surely in to yourself.

You
Are
Never
‘JUST’

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