I wrote a blog post for CheltenhamMaman back in September about juggling different roles in my life and I had a little read of it recently when it popped up in my newsfeed after someone commented on it and it made me feel a bit odd. The reason? Because I realised that I wasn’t in the place where I was when I wrote that. I just didn’t recognise that person at all. I am certainly not ticking a lot of those things off my list now. Maybe I wasn’t even when I wrote it – but instead hoping and praying that is what I was managing to do. Who knows?!
Slowly but surely things had started to crumble. I was getting less and less sleep, feeling more and more anxious and constantly feeling like I was on the edge (and not on the edge of something good). My mood was low and I was at the bottom of the pile of priorities. Tipping point was the day when I arrived at nursery and realised I’d forgotten that it was dressing up day and William didn’t have an outfit (nothing major you might be thinking), then Isabelle comes home from school and tells me that she hadn’t taken a book to share for world book day (whoops! That hadn’t made it onto my radar at all – but still nothing major), but the final straw was a teeny work issue that the old me would have been able to handle with ease. Instead of being able to tell one of my closest work friends (not just a colleague but a friend that I should have been able to talk to) that he had been an idiot and to sort it out, I sat in my office and cried. I cried for hours. I managed to convince myself that he wasn’t my friend (god that sounds silly!), that my colleagues will think I’m crap at my job and that I am a complete failure at everything. It was after a week of feeling horrendous about this tiny issue that I started to realise just how difficult things had become for me.
I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it sooner but I didn’t. It was only after this little irrational meltdown that it hit me. I still didn’t know what it was, how to describe it or how I would ever explain it to anyone else but I knew it wasn’t right and that I had to do something. I wasn’t really sure what though. How would I put into words how I was feeling? Who would I tell? What will they think of me for not being able to cope? How do you say to someone that walking into a meeting or lecture room at work (like I have done for the past 14 years) suddenly made me feel really anxious, or that I felt so deeply sad that I could cry at any moment. My fear of being judged and criticised was really getting triggered. When my work friend asked me why the issue had become so big the only thing I could say was that I wasn’t coping too well at the moment – I still couldn’t label it – I think I was too scared to. If what I was feeling had a name then it was real. When he later offered to chat if ever I wanted too I had to reply and say yes straight away for fear that I might never manage to share how I was feeling with anyone. It was one of the hardest things I have done but I did it. He asked me some questions which helped me to get some perspective and had some suggestions. But the main thing was that he didn’t make me feel like any of the things that I had feared. Perhaps talking wasn’t so bad at all…
I started to pay more attention to how I was feeling and things around me. I was pretty sure this wasn’t just a hormonal wobble and was something much more but I still wanted to believe I was ok and would wake up in a better place. And then I saw it. I was looking at photos of me when I was pregnant with my son 4 years ago and there it was. A happy spark in my eyes. A happy spark that was no longer present. I can‘t believe I hadn’t noticed it sooner but part of me had gone. Over the past few years I have taken on more and more and it had been squeezed out me. I no longer knew who I was. Everything that was in my life for me had gone. I had become all about my work, my children and nothing else.
Thinking about it all the signs were there. I had stopped accepting invites to social events – I could cope with being with my closest friends but going on mummy group nights out were just too much. They were all so happy and funny and everything I’m not so I just stopped replying. I figured they wouldn’t have missed me anyway – they looked so happy in the photos on Facebook. I even realised that I had been avoiding the after school pick up – seeing the other mums there was too much for me and I didn’t fancy the judgement (they are lovely btw and this is not about them at all – but the longer I went without seeing them the easier it became to not see them). I didn’t feel part of that world and so I avoided it – quite easily as my eldest often had after school clubs or my husband would be collecting. This is probably why I hadn’t really noticed that I had been doing it.
I had also stopped going to yoga classes that I really loved because I was too bloody tried to make the effort. I know that the exercise would have helped me feel better – I teach this stuff in my day job but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. I no longer had room for anything for me.
I knew these things had to change. But I was scared. I didn’t know how to be me anymore. I didn’t know how to have fun. I didn’t know what time off was. I couldn’t sit still or watch TV – I always had to be doing something “productive” (the joke there is that it was far from productive as I was so bloody tired everything took me longer and was much harder!). I didn’t even know how to have a proper conversation with my husband. I’m not sure I even knew how to be truly happy anymore.
Why am I sharing this? It is not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me – it couldn’t be further from the truth. I am sharing because there might be someone else out there struggling to cope and wanting to hide away and it is important to know you are not alone. I am sharing because I know it is ok to not be ok. I tell women this ALL the time. I can hear myself saying in my head what I regularly tell others. Now I just need to believe it for myself. I tell women to talk about their emotions, how they are coping and to ask for help. I tell them that they are important. Now it has become my turn to do this – and this is so hard for me. I know that I have a ton of amazing people around me who I never let get quite close enough to help me because I think I should be able to cope on my own/I am scared what they will think/worried about looking like a failure/don’t want to be judged/don’t want to make a fuss etc etc. I haven’t had a night out with Matt in 7 years or a night away with just the two of us in 9 (crazy huh!) because I worry about all of this even though I know it is crazy. I have since shared some of how I have been feeling with my closest two girlfriends and that was a huge deal for me so I am making progress.
It is baby steps but I am on the right path and hopefully most of the steps will be in the right direction. I know different people will deal with this differently and this is the way I am going to try first – it may not be everyone’s approach to deal with these feelings. I chose not to be signed off work or take medication. My first step was to ask my wonderful friend Nicky at Nurture 4 Life whether she would be able to help with reflexology – I have seen her a few times for it and I know it can do amazing things. I also trust her completely and so when she recommended acupuncture instead there was no question about whether I’d give it a try! I have now had 7 weeks of acupuncture and it has really helped. It is actually amazing and I can’t rave enough about it. I am seeing the most wonderful therapist, Kelly, who I look forward to seeing each week. Next was restarting my yoga classes at Quay Yoga Studio – I love my Sunday evening twilight relaxation class so much and it feels so great to be back. I know I need to increase the frequency and intensity of my exercise but while I’m getting myself sorted this is just perfect for me. The space for me to breathe and just be me is incredible and just what I need. Then there is nutrition. I have been attending the Women’s Wellbeing Club with Jen Mcdiarmid from Pillar of Heath Nutrition since February and it is so informative and helpful. I know there is a hormonal element to how I am feeling (the lack of sleep alone has had such a detrimental effect on my endocrine system) and I know that nutrition can help massively with this, as well as helping with stress and mood. Jen is helping to guide me on this. She is incredible – understanding, knowledgeable, lovely and also knows just how to make her point clearly without adding to the guilt or giving me more ammo to beat myself up with!
I am also working with a women’s business coach. This was originally to help me with my little business (which incidentally remains completely unaffected by all this as I completely love it and get to work with the most wonderful clients), but I’d literally just paid my first payment when this all came to a head. I was worried at first that this wasn’t a good time but actually having Caroline in my life has also been an amazing help with prioritising, focusing and finding myself. Completely worth the investment – and that is without the benefit my business has already seen (but that is another blog in itself!).
I have learnt the hard way that not looking after myself emotionally, physically and mentally is a dangerous game to play, especially with a family, a stressful job, a PhD in progress and my own business. It isn’t good or fair on me or my family. I can’t be the mum, wife or friend I want to be without taking care of myself. This isn’t going to be a quick fix. This is going to take time, patience and effort on my part and understanding from the people around me. But I will get there. I will believe in my heart that I am worth the effort and I will find myself again. In fact I think I might have just caught a glimpse of me again.
A Guest Blog from Yvonne Hopkinson
Yvonne moved to Gloucestershire from Somerset in 2012 and immediately felt at home. Her Gloucestershire connection is a little older than this having moved to Cheltenham in 2000 to study for her degree. After graduation she was employed as a lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire and while she moved back to her home town of Taunton in 2003 to get married and eventually have her first child, she commuted to glorious Gloucestershire every day for years!
When Yvonne isn’t at the university she can be found teaching antenatal and hypnobirthing workshops for her business Relaxed Birthing or as part of the Nurture 4 Life team in Cheltenham. She is also ploughing her way through a PhD on the topic of exercise during pregnancy and so is keen to hear about any Mamans experiences! You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/relaxedbirthing, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a follow on Instagram .