I didn’t want to write this post. To be honest, it’s been sitting in my drafts folder since I started this blog in April earlier this year. During the past few weeks, however, I have had some conversations with friends that have challenged my initial thoughts of ‘not going there’ and ‘what will people think?’. I have decided I am going to go there and write it anyway – I hope the dialogue continues.
About 6 months after the twins were born, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Back then, my psychologist told me PTSD was what I had been battling with on my own during what was a complicated pregnancy and traumatic birth. My husband Bryce was bearing the brunt of it all, because to the world, I wanted to show I was ‘capable’ and ‘keeping my shit together’, despite the chaos and uncertainty of 2 premmie babies. But in reality, I was not keeping it all together. I was consumed with anger, fear, guilt and exhaustion. It happened again, when shortly after Mikey had his first seizure that changed his world as we knew it, we discovered that his twin needed open heart surgery.
Looking back, I’m not sure whatever possessed me to want to even ‘hold it all together’? It is just so exhausting! Maybe it was the ridiculous notion that anything less would be seen as weak. Maybe it was the ridiculous pressure I felt was coming at me from everywhere. Of course, it wasn’t. It was me with anxiety. It was the anxiety that was coming at me, not ‘anyone’ or ‘anything’ – it was what was deep in my stomach that made me sick with worry.
Bryce watched on and could see me slipping away. He only spoke to one person about it, someone he felt would understand completely. It was my mum. After I spoke to my mum, I decided I had to do something, I had to look after myself mentally to help my three kids – and little did I know, that our biggest battles were yet to come. I put myself on medication to help with the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that I was experiencing daily. A social worker put as forward for In-Home Care support, and I still did not tell people the real reason why we were granted it. I glossed over the “I’m falling apart” bit and made it all about the kids. Little did we know that in the first year of our twin’s lives, we would be told that one had Cerebral Palsy (the HHE Syndrome diagnosis would take another 12 months) and shortly thereafter, the other one would need open heart surgery. Much to our amazement, Jazzie breezed through open heart surgery! If anyone made open heart surgery look easy, it was our little girl! Bryce’s mum and sister lived at our house while we were in the hospital round the clock with Jaz. They looked after Mikey by having play time with him and giving him his medications, while taking Katrina to and from school and making sure she had her homework done. They ran it like clockwork. Jaz was in and out of hospital within 5 days.
After the dust had settled, our daily family life resumed. Jaz was recovering but Mikey was, unfortunately, going downhill. He was having more and more seizures. He was in and out of hospital and any virus he picked up, pretty much landed him back in hospital. Some days he would regress terribly. The emotional and physical toll these spells would take on Bryce and I were enormous. The stress of living in a pressure cooker was getting to both of us. We tried to make it work, we really did, we thought we were fooling ourselves that we had it together.
I soon after made the decision to go back on medication a second time, to help with anxiety attacks that would creep up at me from nowhere. At my desk at work, I would sweat, feel sick and had a fuzzy head. I couldn’t concentrate. I never knew or understood depression and anxiety until it happened to me. The only thing I regret was waiting until I was so exhausted to help myself again. I felt ashamed and never told anyone that I was on medication and was suffering from this. Instead, I would go home exhausted from work, or be at home, or running to and from therapy appointments. I was exactly that person ‘running on empty’.
I am no longer ashamed to admit that I need to take time out for myself because otherwise I would break. It is a constant process of learning to balance it out, and really we are all struggling with the balance. Modern life is busy and it is sad and overwhelming at times. There is no hard and fast rule of what works, because what works for one, may not work for another. It really is up to YOU or ME to help our mental health. There is absolutely no one else who can drive that for us. I have realised that, the hard way.
Earlier in the year, I made the decision for the third time, to go back on medication. The overwhelming feelings resurfaced and I know it’s still there. I have a lot to work on but starting this creative process of writing has been an avenue that has helped me greatly. The more I speak to people openly about it, the more I discover that we all have our own battles and demons to deal with – that is just the way life works. I kept to-ing and fro-ing with the medication because I believed I could ‘do it all’ which is a ridiculous notion to me because I don’t hesitate to take medication when I’m physically ill so why would I hurt myself, by not looking after my mental health the same way? There is no rhyme or reason why things happen the way they do at times, you just have to try to play the hand you are dealt with, the best way possible. There is nothing to prove by trying to hold it all together – because the only battle you have, ultimately, is with yourself. As Mikey teaches me daily, it’s just one day at a time, that’s all any of us can do.