The worst question

I went to see my GP yesterday for a routine appointment on an unrelated matter of no importance to anyone but me and her. While my ‘script was printing out she scrolled back through my patient history and asked me a very simple question:

How are you?

Normally I would answer with a nice, neutral ‘Fine thanks’ but my response surprised me. I started talking and didn’t stop for several minutes. It was a stream of consciousness but the general gist was as follows:

I’ve been having some really up and down days recently. I have days where I feel on top of the world and believe that I can achieve anything. On the down days I have to really force myself to get going. I want to crawl back to bed until everything seems better. On the down days I really hate myself. I don’t feel that I deserve the amazing life I’ve been given. I feel unworthy of Dh, the girls, my job, my home, my health and my possessions. I still wait for someone to tell me there’s been a mix-up and I must now return to a different, inferior life. I’m still having really disturbing dreams that I don’t recall afterwards but always result in me waking up in a cold sweat. I’ve been on tablets for nearly three years now and I can’t see how I can come off them completely and be ‘normal’ again. I feel like a failure for even needing tablets to balance myself out. I hate getting irrationally angry about things that shouldn’t bother me. I feel like I’m medicating a problem rather than tackling it head-on.

I paused for breath and my GP (who looks about 12, bless her) seized the opportunity to jump in and ask me some more structured questions based on my outpourings. The upshot is that I’m experimenting with a higher dose of my tablets for a month and I’m also going to contact the local counselling service, which I refused to do a year ago. I don’t need to sit in a room and cry for six sessions. What I really need now are techniques to deal with the feelings of anger, inferiority and worthlessness. I have read a little bit about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and it seems to fit the bill. I can’t control the behaviour of other people but I can manage my reaction to them.

My reaction to all of this is Bah. From the outside, I have the perfect life. Paradoxically, I think that’s part of the problem. I have spent my life striving for things and now I have everything I ever dreamed of (and a whole lot more besides) I’m floundering a bit. My counsellor told me to sit back and smell the roses for a while and just enjoy life but I’m crap at relaxing. I had two days off (child free) recently and did Christmas shopping, redecorated the girls’ bedroom and made two Christmas puddings! Hardly time to sit down, let alone smell the roses!

The thing is, if this was written by someone else I would tell them to stop complaining that their diamond shoes were a tad too tight and realise how lucky they are. I KNOW I’m incredibly lucky. As I’ve learnt over the last couple of years though, the brain doesn’t work in such a rational way. Mine certainly doesn’t. I don’t like it, but that’s where I am.

The moral of the story is: for God’s sake don’t ask me how I am. You won’t necessarily like the answer!

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Predictable

As sure as eggs is eggs, it’s November 2nd and I have already had my first November Wobbler of the month. It’s not like I plan them. I don’t sit with my diary on 31st October, cackling as I fix a time and date to hurl an inanimate object at a wall, massively overreact to something relatively minor or break down in tears for no obvious reason. It’s certainly not an enjoyable time for me, or anyone that has to live with me during this ridiculous period.

I have also been waking up in cold sweats – literally – the last few nights. I jolt awake at some ungodly hour of the morning and realise that I am dripping with sweat (practically soaked through and no, we don’t have the heating on yet) and have clearly emerged from some terrible nightmare…although I cannot recall the details after. Probably for the best as the content clearly has an adverse effect on me.

It’s all very odd and there’s absolutely no reason for it. G is…[searches for polite term] challenging at the moment but she’s been the same since the day she was born and is unlikely to change any time soon. People keep telling me she’s bright, which I think is code for ‘Annoying little sod’. R is mostly delightful, apart from when she’s tired and we all have to suffer with her. Dh is lovely and sends me Emergency Jackman pictures when I’m feeling blue. Dh is a keeper and I’m punching well above my weight with him! Work is mostly good. I have a reasonably active social life and lots of lovely friends and a nice family.

I reckon the clock change is the root of it. Like most people, I absolutely HATE going to and from work in the dark in the Winter. I haven’t ever experienced jet lag, but I just want to hunker down indoors, wear pyjamas, eat lots of food and watch The Only Way is Essex (don’t judge me) at the moment.

I’m doing my classic thing of taking on lots of extra tasks, like making the invitations for the girls’ birthday party (final count = 21 hand-made unique invites), joining a professional development group and becoming Secretary at the first meeting I attended and finally committing my long-overdue romance novel to screen as part of NaNoWriMo.

Lest anyone think I’m neglecting my children (heaven forbid!) I am squeezing these extra-curricular hours into the evenings, when R and G are tucked up in bed asleep. Dh works in the evening every other week and I don’t want to sit in front of the television every night watching TOWIE on catch-up and eating chocolate, so I like doing creative stuff. It’s cheap therapy, basically.

I did something today that I would never normally do. I reached out and took help from a friend. I have become really good friends with one of the the girls’ friends’ Mum (tortured grammar there, but you see what I’m getting it) as she and I are really similar. We’re both perfectionists and over-achievers and regard even the merest slip in our impossibly high standards as a massive failure and fall apart. The girls and I went to their house for Sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago and during a post-lunch walk on the Common, I poured my heart out to her. Normally I ignore the ‘If you ever need anything…’ platitudes from friends but she has been checking in with me regularly ever since to make sure that I’m ok. When I reached meltdown this morning I sent her a text and couple of minutes later my phone rang. I sobbed at her for a few minutes while she made soothing noises (she was on the bus at the time – it must have sounded like she was making a booty call). She couldn’t do anything practical to help, but she listened and didn’t offer spurious advice or ‘You’re brilliant and you’ll be fine’ cliches. By the end of the call I felt much better, although I started fretting that I had become a leech and was taking too much of her valuable time – she assures me that I haven’t.

This is a real change for me. I absolutely loathe taking help from anyone and regard it as a failure on my part if I have to do so. However, I keep being told that I don’t need to bear this alone so I’m making a real effort to accept help and not feel like I’m being a terrible burden to anyone. I spent several months shouldering this – anxiety? –  on my own when the girls were small and it did me no good at all. Along with the self-management plan I devised last year, I need to learn to reach out for assistance when I need it.

Hopefully normal service will resume soon.

Interview with dh – coping

I struggled for a while [with anxiety and mild depression] before going on anti-depressants when the girls were 15 months old. What was that period like for you?

I don’t think I saw it really. I knew you found it hard but I didn’t really realise what was going on. It’s hard to explain isn’t it?

I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to let you down. Everyone kept saying how well we were doing and how well we coped and I knew that I wasn’t coping. It created an expectation and I had to keep pretending. I couldn’t tell anyone.

I found it really difficult to imagine, to understand. The harder you found it, the more stuff I did, but I think that made it worse. I thought I was helping you out but that made you feel less and less helpful yourself. I wanted to give you a rest.

It was self-perpetuating because the worse I felt the more you did and I felt that you weren’t letting me do anything because I couldn’t cope.

I should’ve just left you alone! I still went to work and left you with them. I didn’t think you couldn’t do it, I just wanted to help as much as I could. You never gave up – you always carried on.

What’s been the hardest time for you?

The first bit. The not sleeping. The first six months. Once you can get a proper night’s sleep you can cope.

My perception is –correct me if I’m wrong –that you went through a hard time about six months ago

They’re more frustrating now. They’re a lot cleverer and answer back now. I couldn’t go back to not sleeping…to sleeping in two hour segments every night. They’re a lot easier now, relatively…they can be exhausting, but they can be quite fun as well.

When do I need to buy you a shed to escape from all these mad, hormonal women?

They’ll just follow me into the shed!

Having escapes is a good piece of advice. That’s something we got from another dad of twins – plan your escapes.

I get quite a lot of time on my own during the day. I often have rest days when you’re at work and the girls are at nursery. I’m lucky that a lot of my friends live and/or work in London so I can meet up with them.

I remember sending you out once to have some ‘you’ time on a particularly fraught day and you went for a drive and came back with a bag of potatoes! You could’ve gone for a coffee, a drink but you did something useful!

We needed potatoes! I felt I should do something useful.

You don’t have to. Sitting in Starbucks with a coffee and F1 Racing for an hour is perfectly fine.

It’s just not being with the kids for a bit.

Do you think life was nicer before twins or after twins?

Before was easier! A couple of people have asked me if I can recommend having kids and I reply ‘I wouldn’t recommend having two at once!’.

Finding my balance

have a policy of being honest on HoT, even though it sometimes gets me into trouble. I think people worry that I’m exposing parts of myself that should stay hidden for my self-preservation. My view has always been that there is no point in sugar-coating things and living a lie. People should know that being a working mum of twins isn’t always roses and kittens.

In that vein, I need to report that I’m back on the Anti-Depressants again. They have been prescribed to help me deal with my extreme anxiety which leads to mild depression. I’m not a complete basket case – yet.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not happy about it and I feel like an abject failure.

Things were going really well with the withdrawal. I was down to 5mg a day (basically, using it as a placebo) and managed to successfully wean myself off them completely in early November. I felt really good about it….and then I crashed spectacularly at the end of that month. I started having difficulty sleeping and I lost count of the number of times I lay awake in the wee small hours as I worried about a million and one tiny, insignificant things and ended up feeling like an elephant was lying on my chest. I started throwing inanimate objects in sheer frustration. I went into hyper over-analysis mode. It’s a vicious circle: I’m naturally anxious and that makes my irrationally angry so I throw something and then I’m angry with myself for losing control and then I worry that I’m not coping and it just gets worse and worse.

The really bloody annoying thing is that I have nothing to be overly anxious about. The girls are doing brilliantly and I’m enjoying them so much. My job is now more stable than it’s been for years and it’s really fulfilling. Dh is just great. I have a lovely family and a really good circle of friends.

The problem is me. I just keep sweating the really small, insignificant things. Here’s an example. I have a friend who ‘Likes’ a lot of my photo albums on Facebook. Recently she stopped doing it. One night I lay awake wondering why we weren’t friends any more, why she didn’t just block or de-friend me and what had I done to upset her, etc. In the cold light of day I knew this was utterly ridiculous, irrational, narcissistic behaviour. Multiply stuff like this by ten or twenty different worries every day and it becomes a problem.

I went to see my GP and explained things. She said I had relapsed and advised me to go back onto the anti-d’s at a higher dose but not at the whoo-whoo level I was at in 2009, this time for at least a year. I went back for a one month review today and was able to report that I felt much more ‘balanced’ and that the tablets were having a positive effect. I haven’t thrown anything for at least a month. I’m still irrational but aren’t we all? I’m also sleeping better.

I have also been offered counselling but I’m hesitant to pursue it because the system has changed in the last eighteen months and I won’t get to see the nice lady I had six sessions with before. Also, in the ‘Big Society’ in concerned that I might get a well-meaning volunteer that will listen to my worries and tell me to stop being a middle-class whinger and to have a bath and eat some chocolate. In all seriousness, I don’t think I need counselling. The sessions I had before were enlightening and I know what the problems (with me) are. I really need some self-management techniques.

I don’t like being a medicated mother. It sits very uncomfortably with me. However, I also believe that if you have a problem you need to face up to it and seek help. There’s no point trying to be British about it doing the classic pull yourself together thing. There’s so much stigma around anti-depressants and I don’t really know why. It’s not like you choose to be anxious and depressed. You just are. If medication can help you to function normally, why not take it?

In the battlefield of life this is a minor skirmish. A tiny surface graze on my temple. I’ve dealt with far worse. If this is how I keep my mind balanced, I’ll do it.