Thursday, 1 September 2016

A Bolt from the Blue

I have been very quiet blogwise this year. Since becoming poorly in November a lot has happened and I didn't want to put things out on my blog that would be here forever. I have had a lot of help from unlikely sources, such as the DWP who have been nothing short of amazing, and have had high quality therapy and am feeling much stronger and ready to start moving on again.

Today I have had some information which has given me a bolt from the blue.

My mother has been painstakingly tracing our family history for many years. She is now at the stage where she knows quite a lot about her family and we are travelling to Ireland together later this month to see what more we can find.

The line we are looking at is my mother's maternal line and she has found her Great Great Grandmother Catherine Dinnen. As I was speaking to my mum this morning I wanted to find out more. And to my great surprise I found we had something in common.

Catherine was from County Cavan in Ireland, it sounds like she worked very hard from a young age. She came to New South Wales and then Tasmania as a free settler sponsored by her ex convict brother. She married and had three sons.

Very sadly she died at the age of 27 having her third son William, who died when he was 18 from meningitis.

Catherine died of convulsions. Eclamptic shock. A bolt from the blue.

This was 1871 in Tasmania, in a very rural and remote area. We don't know much about maternal care she would have received, but I doubt that there would have been a doctor present. William was baptised on the day of his birth. He must have been in very poor condition and the fact that he survived until 18 is quite something, many babies even now, do not survive a pregnancy where pre eclampsia is present.

There are three competing emotions for me right now. A feeling of solidarity, that I am not the only one in my family to have been visited by severe pre eclampsia.

The second a huge feeling of gratitude to the researchers, the doctors, the midwives, the nurses, everyone who plays a part in ensuring the safety of women in pregnancy and childbirth now. How very fortunate and blessed I was to have come through this experience physically unscathed with an extremely healthy child.

And thirdly, that feeling of obligation. In many countries in the world they haven't come as far from 1870's Tasmania as we have here. That women are still very vulnerable to pre eclampsia without access to medication, safe caesarean sections and high quality aftercare. Too many women do not have access to safe medical facilities and medical personnel.

Maternal healthcare is a huge issue and still massively important to me.

To my great great grandmother Catherine, thank you for your bravery, your tenacity and for giving me my great grandfather, and this proud Irish family that made their home in Tasmania.

Campaigning on maternal health is something that took a back seat when I was in my previous job role, but now it can be back on my agenda.

This trip to Ireland will, perhaps, be a turning point in my own recovery and an opportunity to refresh, regroup and get ready for what is ahead.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Year 2 SATS Strike

Can you believe my son is now in year 2, and about to take Year 2 SATS. It weighed heavily on my mind whether to take part in the Year 2 SATS strike today as this write up in the Independent explains.

I have deliberately not written much about Joseph since he started school. There are a couple of reasons for this, mainly that I asked him about blogging and whilst he was largely ambivalent about being the subject of blog posts he did have concerns about his digital footprint when he becomes a cardiac surgeon.

Also, Joseph had a lot of problems starting school. I am well aware this blog is a "go to" for many parents and I didn't want to make others frightened about sending their prematurely born children to school.

The debate about Year 2 SATS that's been all over the press has been very alarming. Hearing about children being stressed and upset about them is worrying.

Joseph has no idea Year 2 SATS exist. Yes he's sitting them, but he won't know the "importance" of the tests. The children have been doing preparation all academic year but the school haven't informed them of the reasons behind this increase in academic work. I totally accept and agree with the approach.

So the main reason we haven't partaken in strike action today is that Joseph is unaware SATS exist and if he didn't attend school today I would have to tell him why he is not attending.

The second reason is that Joseph loves school. He doesn't know of the controversy around curriculum, he just knows that he loves his teachers, his friends and enjoys learning. Our school are doing a fantastic job, within the restraints of this frankly ridiculous system.

I didn't want to keep Joseph off and send mixed messages to him. At the end of the day it is I who have a problem with the Year 2 SATS not him. No one is going to ask Joseph at his university interviews what his Year 2 SATS score was. It is meaningless to him, it's a judge of the school and the teaching, not his ability.

Another reason I haven't participated is that no one else is at our school. For collective action to be anywhere near effective it has to be collective, it needs to have impact. This government's track record on being held accountable to strike action is clear. If junior doctors withdrawal of labour for 48 hours doesn't force the government to change what is a few kids missing Year 2 going to do. Yep. Nothing.

The decision to take part in the strike was mine to make and I disagree with children being used to back up their parent's ideology. If Joseph new about the SATS and was concerned about them, my decision may well have been different. If he was older and able to way up the pros and cons of strike action I would have presented him a choice.

Joseph is a very sensitive bright child, with an excellent knowledge of sciences, beautiful reasoning ability and fantastic at playing complex games on the iPad. He is not a natural at maths and his handwriting has been on a long journey, although it's getting there now.

I don't care what the SATS say. However, hand on heart I do believe SATS play a part in ensuring standardisation for schools. I think they are an evil we are stuck with. I do believe Nicky Morgan and the Conservative government need to take a long hard look at their policies and make some serious changes for the sake of our children.

However I do not believe for one moment that today's Year 2 SATS strike will achieve that at all.

I sent Joseph off with the rest of his peers with a smile and a kiss and look forward to not hearing about his day later!

"How was school today Joseph?"

"Fine" he will reply

"What did you today Joseph?"

"Nothing", if he replies at all.

Familiar anyone?

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Walk in Her Shoes

Many of you know that I have been working on my fitness for the past year. A large part of my routine is my steps, I aim for at least 10 000 a day. Walking has become my therapy, a time for reflection, music, sometimes even tears.

When I heard about Walk in Her Shoes for Care International UK I immediately signed up. They are inviting people to walk 10 000 steps every day between 21-27 March to raise at least £100 to help communities around the world.

It's not too late to sign up to join in! Signing up is easy! Alternatively you can sponsor me here, every little does help, and even £1 will be a huge help to get me to my £100 target.

As well as my trusty fitbit, I have this dedicated pedometer ready. I aim to do my normal 10 000 steps but my 10 000 Walk in Her Shoes steps will be additional to this! I will post my totals on my Instagram account every day so you can follow my progress.
My trusty trainers will be put to one side. To truly walk in her shoes I will be doing my 10 000 steps in sandals or flip flops every day, in solidarity with the women who walk kilometres a day to collect water for their families. My own sponsor child Shwe Yi does this in Myanmar, collecting the family water from a communal artesian well. When I found this out my heart went out to her. I can't imagine how living without running water must be like.

I hope you enjoy following my challenge and again if you can spare a pound or two please sponsor me

Friday, 12 February 2016

Lent - Giving up Not Blogging

Oh my blog how I have missed you.

I've been going through a tough time since about September. I started to sense my citalopram had stopped working, I took time off work and begged for help from my GP who had just joined the practice and didn't know me. Sadly it took a hospital admission to get any form of help. They immediately took me off the citalopram that I had been on for two years which sent me into a bit of a tailspin.

A second admission has given me a bit more insight into what the hell is going on, but I am not totally well yet.

So it appears the PTSD has been resolved, that is the active part - the flashbacks and the nightmares. However many of the patterns remain, those that have built up since childhood. They are not calling it PTSD now. No one seems to know what it is, or if it is a "thing" or if it is just me. Personality disorders have been ruled out but traits seems to remain. Who knows.

What is clear is that I have periods of emotional distress. When I am very distressed I dissociate, no one has called it a disorder as yet, it's coping mechanism I learnt as a very young child. When very frightened I can choose to go outside my body. It's very odd to explain but I guess in a way it's what we are taught to do in meditation, to dissociate from the pain to be "with it" rather than "in it" I can just do it in a very fast and extreme way, but the real issue is it takes ages to get back "in" my body again, and that's when problems occur, I become visibly distressed and on this occasion, end up in a secure unit. Twice.

The upshot is, I have temporarily seemed to have lost my coping mechanisms and I am very emotional, which isn't like me. Normally I can choose when to express my emotions but at the moment I can't at all. Because I have discovered this dissociative disorder, I now no longer trust myself and my ability to cope appropriately.

It's not pleasant. So I am no longer working and am now on Employment Support Allowance whilst I try and get this sorted and back into employment again.

I have thought long and hard about whether blogging is "appropriate". Blogging has helped me in the past and it will help me now and if a future employer has an issue with the fact I have talked about my mental health online, I need to find another one. I am me, I am part and parcel of the things that have happened to me. I am strong, resilient and kind, and self kindness is where we start.

I need to blog to keep myself together so here I am!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

A Blessed Christmas

Christmas morning commenced with an excited 6 year old creeping down the stairs and 5 am. I was already up as I get really excited at Christmas. He wanted to open his presents and I reached a compromise agreement that he could open his stocking presents but the rest had to wait until dad awoke.

After present opening I walked to church and attended morning service. On the way I saw two women and a white dog acting suspiciously near a wheelie bin. I called out "are you ok?" They shouted back "we are homeless". So I went and said hello. One lady had been homeless but had a flat, the other sofa surfed.

What happened next chilled me to my bone "we are climbing in bins looking for toys for children. The children of crack addicts get forgotten as their parents won't access to the free schemes". These women had got up to search for toys. One of the women had a tyrannosaurus rex in her pocket. Turns out the scary white dog had no teeth.

After church I returned home. My husband requested prawn cocktail. I kind of knew the sauce recipe but tweeted on the #joinin hashtag for ideas. I got it made with some sririchacha sauce for extra zing.

I prepared the rest of the meal and tidied up a bit. As I was busy in the kitchen I heard a sound. I turned around and was immediately terrified as to what I saw.
I immediately Instragrammed it as I wasn't sure what or who it was. It transpires it was Kylo Ren from something called "The Force Awakens" I have lived to tell the tale.
In order to give thanks for my lucky escape from the clutches of Kylo Ren I attended Evensong. I was the only person there! Apart from the priest, so we did it together. It was incredibly moving.

On the way home I saw a family in the rain adjusting the cover on their pushchair. I spoke to them. It turns out they are Syrian refugees. I smiled and welcomed them to the UK. I explained I was from Australia and I had moved to escape bad memories back home. He said "You are refugee just like me."

I asked him if they were Muslim. (only because if we become friends and I cook for them I need to know to cook fish or buy halal meat), he said "we are Muslim but not Isis".

I felt sick. This family have been walking around thinking we all think Syrians are Isis. My dear God.
I said emphatically "You can't be ISIS and Muslim it's impossible. You believe the ten commandments just as we do. Murder is forbidden in both our religions, which have so much in common".

We exchanged pleasantries and they said "Merry Christmas".

I walked home. I started to hear footsteps. They were walking my way.

I insisted they come and see where I live.

I opened the door and said to my husband "look what followed me home". I had previously rung him to tell him what had happened. He welcomed this family, who had to go home or we would have invited them in. Joseph was upset as he was dying to play with the little boy and teach him about Kylo Ren.

I will help this family to have their first English friends. I will help them assimilate.

I am so blessed to have found this country and I have the best life ever.

Bring on the New Year!!!!! Bring it on I say!!!! 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

How to Survive Christmas

I have lost a considerable amount of weight this year, and have just sorted yet another bag of clothes for the charity shop! That's my sixth bin bag of clothes this year.

I set a specific goal to be in a size 16 dress for Christmas. I was wearing a size 22-24 at the beginning of the year!  My wardrobe now contains all size 16 and size 18 dresses, with the odd size 14 top starting to sneak in there too. And I've done it without counting a single calorie, point or syn, I haven't joined a gym, and I have had fun and made new friends in the process!

I know many of you have tried slimpods now, and some of you have had success perhaps for some of you it hasn't "clicked" yet.

With slimpods I think the main key is consistency. You need to listen every day. I know the team recommend evenings, but I've been known to use them in the morning before my feet touch the floor to set me up for the day.

Whenever I feel a "wobble" I listen to a slimpod. I intend to do the same thing over Christmas.

I am delighted that I can give you a free slimpod to help you over Christmas. It doesn't matter if you haven't used them before. I have started listening to this already and with just over two weeks to go until Christmas I am confident my good works will continue even in this season of excess.

Christmas, of course, shouldn't be about food and drink exclusively although it is part of it. Christmas is so much bigger and brighter than that!

I do hope you will take the opportunity to try your obligation free slimpod free of charge, and see how it works for you!

Remember a slimpod is for life, not just for Christmas!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Locked Ward and NICU

I became poorly a few weeks ago. It's anxiety and I can't go into great details about the causation suffice to say I have had anxiety issues throughout my life however I have never experienced anything as intense as this. A psychiatrist at the hospital felt an inpatient stay would be appropriate so I was admitted.

Ten reasons why a locked psychiatric ward is like NICU

1. You have no idea how long you will be there.

Just like when your baby is admitted it's only best guess how long your stay will be. For procedures like hips, knees, even heart surgery there are TLOS (target length of stay) guidelines and generally you can plot how long your stay will be. For NICU babies and psychiatric inpatients the guidelines are much broader and more variable.

2.  You cannot go outside

When Joseph was on the ward what I wanted more than anything was to take him for a walk in a pram. It was impossible So to with my stay on the ward. I was admitted on a Friday and grand round wasn't until Tuesday and until then I was not permitted to leave the ward (although I was there as an informal patient not sectioned).

3. You discover the NHS is not a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day service.

I hate admitting that Jeremy Hunt is right. Although doctors and nurses work every hour, many services do not exist at weekends, things like Occupational Therapy do not happen at weekends. Medication reviews can't really happen at weekends. If anything goes wrong staff need to be brought in. Weekends feel unsafe, both in NICU and psychiatric care.

4. Lack of budgets affect care

I was often told that things on NICU couldn't happen due to budgets, such as access to donated breast milk, even access for kangaroo care. It was the same on the unit. Our psychiatric unit had a well equipped gym, but no staff to supervise it so it was locked and unable to be used. We had a great OT room equipped with crafts only open 90 minutes a day due to staffing. And that was weekdays.

5. Support comes from your peers

On NICU I found a great camaraderie in the trenches. We all supported one another, the same is true of psychiatric care. I arrived late one Friday night, there was no food, all the patients rallied around to ensure I had food, they brought me books and hugs. On the Sunday when I was desperate for an apple and there were none to be found, a patient brought me two of his.

6. Discharge is swift

On Tuesday we had the grand round, I was expecting to get my leave plan allowing me time off the ward, instead I was told abruptly I was going home. The same happened with Joseph, discharged, on a Tuesday, after 10 and a half weeks, 3 less than we were expecting.

7. Community services suck

We had a lovely nurse when Joseph was discharged but once he reached his due date that was it. I was discharged to the home treatment team. I wasn't seen until the Sunday and they saw me and then discharged me from home treatment immediately. I had gone from being poorly enough to a section being suggested to being well enough to have no ongoing treatment. It brought back memories of being mum to baby only just 5lb, with a long NICU history, with very little support.

8. The memories remain

Like my NICU stay, often memories pop up in my day to day life and in my dreams. I am scared of my experiences and also intrigued by them. Fortunately my stay this time was 4 days not 76 so hopefully the processing won't take long.

9. It felt like home really quickly

Initially when I first saw the NICU I thought "I can't do this, not weeks and weeks of it" but quickly fell into a routine and when I left felt a bit bereft. The psychiatric unit was the same, I went from "No I can't stay here" to "yep this works for me" within a day.

10. The staff are amazing

I met the best staff during my stay, people who do this job because they are passionate about mental well being, just as neonatal staff are passionate about baby well being and families.

And a bonus 11th reason

I have no desire to return as a patient to either setting!