Warning signs

This is the first blog that’s been sitting unpublished for a while. But I think it might be helpful to others too; I hope so.

*****

Did I see this coming?

No, not really. I was finding life hard but never expected such a sudden significant decline. Evidently, the pipe was cracked and leaking before I really noticed or had a chance to fix it but then it suddenly burst spectacularly! (No idea where this analogy just came from!)

The beginning was probably the birth of my second child 17 months ago. He was a much harder baby than my first. He couldn’t be put down day or night for long; I did not manage to lie down in bed to sleep for the first 7 weeks as, every time I tried to put him down in his crib, he would be crying again within 10 minutes. So I then learnt to co-sleep safely for my own sanity but still had very disrupted nights for a long time and various other difficulties including my chronic condition being very active; and an increasingly ‘spirited’ toddler to deal with in addition! I can barely recall the first few months; they were a dark blur of challenges.

Things eventually got better. I went back to work when he was 6 months old. And then starts the situation of ‘I’m just busy and tired, but everything’s ok.’

For reasons I am not going to elaborate on, my husband has often not been around much at weekends and in the evenings. This has meant that I have carried the lion’s share of childcare and housework on my own as well as being the main breadwinner. It has therefore felt like there has been a relentless ‘mental load’ as well as being constantly busy with actual tasks, but still never anywhere near being on top of everything. Just having the opportunity to switch off from worrying about others for 5 minutes has been rare; of course it is often joked about on parenting forums and social media e.g. not even being able to go to the toilet on your own! I am also built in a way that means I find it hard to relax if I know there are things outstanding that need doing and I tend to make sure everything is done for everybody else before myself. There never seemed to be a time when something didn’t need doing so ‘me’ got increasingly pushed out; some of the necessary tasks and certainly a chance to relax or do something I enjoy.

Going from the correct definitions of introversion/extroversion, I am most definitely an introvert i.e. somebody who recharges energy through time alone. Yet, there has hardly been any time alone or quiet; only the last couple of hours of a day which have involved doing housework in an exhausted zombie-like state.

Classical music is my big interest (I play the piano and violin at a decent amateur level – excuse the moment of blowing my own trumpet….hmm….or bowing my own strings?!) but this has far from had a look-in for many many months.

Several months ago, I knew that everything was starting to get overwhelming. I wasn’t getting things done that needed doing, nevermind any time ‘out.’ Preparation for my annual appraisal is way behind as I’ve not had time or energy to do it. More recently, I’ve had a precious Wednesday afternoon child-free three times a month for the last few months, but these 4 hour slots fly by and achieve very little in the grand scheme of things.

There were changes happening that were signs that things were starting to take their toll:

  • I stopped making proper dinners as I couldn’t be bothered. Instead, turning to grazing (far too much) on ‘comfort foods.’
  • I knew exercise would help and kept meaning to go swimming after work, but would either finish too late or was too exhausted to bother.
  • I’ve always been an optimist but I was becoming more negative.
  • I was finding relatively little things more and more frustrating and becoming less patient and tolerant (having always been very placid).
  • I became particularly intolerant of noise. Even the radio and television were irritating.
  • I could cope less and less with ‘extra’ negativity e.g. hearing/watching the news.
  • I became very easily distractible and found it hard to focus for a period of time.
  • Motivation decreased; everything just felt too overwhelming.
  • Memory declined beyond the usual double dose of ‘baby brain!’
  • I was less proactive with the children; the television ended up on more and more.
  • I was losing the ability to enjoy my children (or anything else); even previously pleasant activities just felt like an huge effort. I even started to avoid them when I could e.g. the rare occasions where I was leaving work earlier, I wouldn’t go home until I knew they would be in bed.
  • I began to resent both them and my husband for intruding into every second of my life in some way and not allowing me to have a break (obviously not their fault!).
  • I started to resent that I wasn’t able to have a life beyond this relentless continuous service to others, when others close by did.
  • My husband kept saying ‘You’re not happy.’ My mum was worried. My best friend actually voiced way back that she thought I might be a bit depressed; although she doesn’t live close by, we talk regularly on the phone and she gets the uninhibited version of how I am.
  • Physically, I was getting every minor illness that passed my way. ‘Nursery-itis,’ as my friend and colleague calls it is to be expected, but it was getting ridiculous.
  • Sleep became more erratic; I would dread waking in the night as I then wouldn’t get back to sleep as my mind would be buzzing.

Most people wouldn’t have noticed. Though not deliberately hiding it, I was the same old me in most contexts and gave all my energy when I knew I needed to; an unintentional public ‘front.’ Only when behind my own front door did I let my guard down and realise the energy was spent. Then in those last few days before I finally crashed, I couldn’t hold this external facade anymore. Now, it’s pretty much returned; back to looking like everything is fine and nobody would know anything was wrong. I am better but I still have a long way to go; a lot of the above list are still very much present. How many people are out there looking fine but with dark clouds filling their minds on the inside? One of the invisible illnesses….

I had already started to look at ways to make the situation better. I discussed with work about doing half a day less a week but, between us, decided against this for various reasons. So we then planned that I would swap work days so that there are not 2 work days together as that is one of the most draining things for me and I was starting to dread them. This is planned for February which allowed time to rearrange childcare and also do a bit more of the swimming course I do with the baby, which has been good for him and social contact for me. From then, I will end up with a whole day ‘off’ every week as I have decided to keep the boys in nursery for that day. At first, this felt self-indulgent, but I came to realise that I don’t just want this time, but need it. It will be the time for the necessary chores and CPD work but also time to find ‘me’ again; play the piano, get out in the garden, do some exercise.

At home, I looked at trying to share the load a bit more but there wasn’t any immediate way of making this happen due to established commitments.

So, I knew I was struggling and was actively trying to make changes to sort it out.

But there was no quick fix.

A few small knocks happened a few weeks ago that normally wouldn’t have been a major issue. But it seems they were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe I had just reached a point of absolute physical and mental exhaustion anyway.

Could I have prevented this? I don’t know. Sometimes life is just hard and you can’t change that as much as you want to; I understand this all too well from patients when I feel like I wish I could fix their lives but I can’t.

What about you out there reading this? Many people have said that what I am writing resonates with them. It might be wise to reflect on whether you are struggling and need to make changes before you ‘cross the line.’ There’s nothing wrong with finding life hard, admitting it (to yourself and others) and asking for help…

I left it late picking up and acting on the clues…what about you?

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