I’ve always been an anxious person. Not in a ‘scared to do things’ way, in fact I’ve always pushed myself to do things that I’m scared of. Anxious in a ‘everything always needs to be perfect’ way. You see, I’m a perfectionist and with that comes anxiety. With perfectionism also comes self criticism, that feeling of never being good enough, of always thinking I could do better and beating myself up if I make a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, that drive and determination to give everything 110% has served me well in certain areas of my life, from working for Fashion Designers and TV Execs to training hard at the gym. As a mother it’s not served me so well and little did I know when I had my daughter, that these personality traits would cause me to have the mother-of-all breakdowns that would effect our lives for the next four years.
Being the perfectionist I am, I had a big master plan – give up my job, take some time out, start a family and live happily ever after. The End. What actually happened was – give up my job, fall pregnant, lose the baby (under not very nice circumstances), take another 18 months to fall pregnant (during said 18 months pick myself apart for giving up job, losing the baby and for things not working out as planned), fall pregnant and suffer with severe sickness for most of my pregnancy.
With my personality traits, all the things that had happened before Neve arrived and my stressful pregnancy, I was a prime candidate for postal-natal depression. Despite all of this I couldn’t have been happier when Neve was born. Apart from a little jaundice, I had a healthy baby and I had managed to get through a tough nine months, plus the universe had been kind to me and I had a six and half hour labour with no drugs or intervention. Mentally, I felt like I could take on the world. I was in awe of Mother Nature and what my body was capable of and I felt pretty bad ass.
Physically, I felt like a shell. I had eaten so little during my pregnancy that I only gained a stone and half and I had used every last bit of energy I had bringing Neve into the world. I did my best to breastfeed, but my body didn’t have anymore to give. I have to be honest I didn’t enjoy being pregnant and now that Neve was here, | was looking forward to getting back to normal. Ironically, it was this desire to get back to “normal” which was ultimately my downfall. As a perfectionist my idea of normal takes a lot of physical and mental energy, neither of which I had many reserves of. After not eating properly for nine months I should have been nourishing my body with the right foods, but instead I lived on toast, sweet cups of tea and adrenaline. I was too busy taking care of Neve and making sure everything was perfect, to look after myself properly. At first I got away with it, but with the sleep deprivation, the demands of looking after a new baby, plus the ridiculous demands I was putting on myself, the cracks started to appear. The problem was, I choose to ignore them. Another affliction of the perfectionist, is that I’m not very good at asking for help and I did a very good job of hiding it from everyone too. To everyone else it appeared I was ok, but I felt like a swan – gliding on top of the water, but paddling away like a maniac underneath.
After seven months of running myself into the ground I finally broke down and confessed to my parents I was struggling, but holding my hands up was only the beginning of my journey back to health. What I needed to get better was rest, eat well and most importantly sleep, but with a new baby to look after that wasn’t easy (especially the sleep part). Neve wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on, but babies can feel the energy around them and she felt mine. So just when I needed sleep most, she decided to stop sleeping and the vicious circle began. Sleep deprivation and anxiety don’t make good bed fellows (excuse the pun) and each one just magnified the other. The more sleep deprived I got, the more I dwelled on the past and worried about the future and I went (for want of a better word) mad. I can even remember the day when I felt my body go ‘pop’ after getting upset about something – it just gave up.
Despite my parents moving nearby to help, I’d gone past the point where the odd nights sleep was going to make any difference. When I did get the chance to sleep, I was that exhausted I had night sweats that were so bad I would have to get up through the night to change my clothes and would sometimes have to lie on a bath towel. During the day, I had a mental fog which made me feel permanently jet-lagged. It was if there was a pane of glass between me and everyone else, like I was looking in through a window while the world around me moved at some frantic pace which I just couldn’t keep up with. I had permanent headaches and the shift in my hormones every month would make my energy levels drop even further and mean I would suffer with migraines for the first time in my life. I’d wake every morning with pains in my joints that made me feel like an old person climbing out of bed and I’d feel so exhausted I’d suffer with permanent nausea throughout the day. Yes, I’ve always suffered with anxiety so the mental stress I was feeling wasn’t unusual, but I’d always been physically strong and it was as if my body didn’t belong to me anymore.
Apart from my husband and my immediate family no one else really understood how unwell I was. I was still very good at hiding it and even when I did try explaining to people how I was feeling, they didn’t understand and just assumed I was suffering with post-natal depression. Even until recently one close friend had no clue how unwell I had been and admitted she thought I was rude cancelling plans once, to see a friend that was visiting. I cancelled plans a lot you see, but not through choice. Who would miss out on friends hen do’s and wedding’s in Lake Garda because they were feeling a bit down? I so wanted to try and carry on like normal, but the reality was I just wasn’t well enough to go out most days. Whatever energy I had went into looking after Neve and after that, there wasn’t anything left over. While friends were off having shared experiences and making new memories together, my life had gone on hold. It’s hard to explain the fear you feel when you’ve been physically unwell for a long period of time and you can’t help but question whether you will get back to normal again.
When I admitted to another friend that the last couple of years had been the worst of my life, she looked at me shocked and said “but you’ve had Neve?!” None of what I was going through was a reflection of how I felt about Neve or being a mum. In fact, the guilt I felt at not being well during the first few years of her life was overwhelming. The experiences and memories I’ve missed out on during that time are something I can never get back. With time I’m learning to accept that dwelling on it won’t change that and beating myself up is cruel. Any first time mother will know that looking after a new baby/toddler can be challenging enough, but to have had to do that when you are also physically unwell…..I did my best in a difficult situation and in fact, I’m proud of myself for getting through it.
When you feel like no one understands what you’re going through, it disconnects you from people. I didn’t have cancer or some other long-term illness people could comprehend, so after a while people didn’t know what to say to me. It also meant that I stopped talking to them about it too, which disconnected me even further. I can now see there was no malice in it and realise that people can only understand from their level of perception. I’m learning to accept that I’m possibly the only person that will fully understand what I’ve been through. The one constant through all this was my husband and parents. My life isn’t the only one that’s been on hold and the last four years have been incredibly tough on them too. Despite that, they have done everything in their power to help me get better and they have done it with grace, dignity and without complaint. They have shown me what true love is and I couldn’t have got through it without them.
So, over the last three years with their love and support, some amazing therapists (listed below) diet, sleep and lots of reading/self reflection, I’m finally coming out the other side. There are still days or weeks when my body reminds me to slow down and I have to take time out to rest, but those spells are getting further apart and last for shorter periods of time. I’m still a perfectionist, which still causes me anxiety, but it’s something I work on every day. The fact that I’m now aware of it, is a step in the right direction. Would I want to go through it again – no, but am I glad it happened – yes. Sometimes its when we are at our most vulnerable that we find our strength and this chapter in my life has given me the courage to follow my dreams and start my business and this blog.
I’ve spent a great deal of time deciding whether to share this with everyone. TheFashionCraver is about my future not my past, but in-between lipsticks and shoes there is a thing called life and this has been mine for the last four years. Writing this blog isn’t about dwelling on the past, it’s about new beginnings and closing that chapter of my life. As a perfectionist I’ve only ever let people see the finished product, but one day at a time I’m learning to accept myself for all that I am – perfectly imperfect.
Here’s what else I’ve learned:
Without your health, you have NOTHING. We take our health (mental and physical) for granted and it’s not until something goes wrong with our mind or our bodies that we sit up and take notice. I can’t remember where I read this, but I wrote it down as a reminder to myself “Indulge yourself with the utmost respect. Give thanks to your body by treating it well. Value your mind, nurture and improve it. Love yourself” Wise words to live by, I’d say.
Sleep is EVERYTHING. In a time when the glorification of busy is seen as badge of honour, sleep is also something we take for granted. Our bodies need sleep to restore and rebuild. Go to bed early, let your body rest – it’s the only one you’ve got.
We need to talk more about MENTAL HEALTH. So many people suffer in silence. It’s doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, it’s means you are a human being with feelings. Admitting you are struggling takes courage, it doesn’t make you weak.
My daughter is my greatest TEACHER. I have learnt more about myself in the four and half years she’s been on this planet than I did in the 36 years before. She has been and always will be my greatest teacher.
Thanks for reading.