Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Identity #1: No One Like Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently. The question ‘who am I?’ has come up repeatedly over the years, and every time it comes round again I find something I’ve not known before. So, in the spirit of honest blogging, I decided to write down the things I’ve been discovering about who I am and what that means. The first leg of the journey looks at opposites: reminding myself who I’m not.

People have always said to me ‘you’re so like your dad’. I’ve been hearing it for years, from the people who know my family well to those who have only seen the outer picture we present. I find this hard because Dad is an alcoholic, and has behaved very badly towards a lot of people, many many times.

I have now learnt to see that when people compared us, they probably meant ‘like’ him in a good way – my gifts have always been similar to his, even when I’ve been really poorly and unable to use them. In other people’s minds they were probably saying I was good at performing like him, or my sense of humour meant I was funny like him. I probably get my ability to speak in public from him, and I certainly can’t deny that I look like him.

But, in my screwed up little brain, I took it to mean that I was like him on a deeper level, in that secret place we all have and never let anyone see. My hidden dread was that there was some flaw in me, just like the one I saw in him, and that some day I’d lose control and all the things I hated would spew out. Somewhere, there’s a crack in my soul, just like my father, and one of these days, no matter how fast I run, it’ll catch up with me.

Listen closely now, because here’s the lesson it’s taken me fifteen odd years to learn: no one is like anyone else. None of us! When the Bible says God knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs, it’s not suggesting he used a pattern. It shows intricacy, care, a pride in His work. I have finally learnt that just because half of my DNA comes from my father, I don’t have to inherit the damage done to him. I don’t have to fear being broken just because that’s what I see in him.

And you know what? Now I’ve given up the fear of what might leak out, it turns out that I am a bit like my dad. I can see in myself some of the positive things I get from him – my passion and drive and creativity come from God, but are passed down through a generation that I’ve tried to ignore.

Here’s the other thing I’ve learnt: as much as there is no one like me, there is also no-one like him. There is no one in the world with his set of gifts and shortcomings, flair and foibles.

So here’s the message. Comparing ourselves to someone – anyone – in our lives, whether it’s someone close by or someone we admire purely by reputation, not only doesn’t get us anywhere, but also stops us becoming who we were designed to be. If God has a plan and a purpose for my life that is different from anyone else’s, it makes sense that I am uniquely the person who can fulfil that plan.

And, as much as I sometimes berate myself for who I am, and nurse disdain for my fallen ways, I can’t escape the fact that I am who I am supposed to be. I am Me.

Who are you?

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Fear of the fog

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It doesn’t take much to worry me when it comes to my mental health.

Today I feel low. I feel unmotivated, unable to concentrate, like I’ll never manage to achieve anything that’s of worth, and altogether too exhausted to go up to bed. Staying awake into the night and writing long diatribes is a key sign that Churchill’s famous black dog might be following close behind me. I find myself too scared to stop writing and go to bed, because then I might think, and that could lead anywhere. Or I might find myself completely unable to think, which is even worse.

The thing is, the fear of it can be just as bad as the actual thing. The memory of having been so ill not all that long ago (eighteen months can feel like forever or yesterday) makes me hyper alert to any possible symptom. The thought of being that unwell again induces a level of anxiety I normally only experience in an episode of depression, so I end up on a roundabout of doubt – am I anxious about becoming depressed, or anxious because I’m depressed?

As is always my key tactic, I try and work my way back to see if there is an actual cause for feeling low. I search the calendar for hormone surges or forgotten traumatic anniversaries. I look back over Facebook and Twitter to see what might have nudged me off kilter – social media can be cruel in its reminders of what I haven’t done or become. If I can find a solid reason why I might feel like mud, then there’s more of a hope that it will pass without effect, that it is just a normal bad day, like normal people have.

There’s nothing like experiencing what normal people experience to remind you that you’re not actually normal. In a bad few days a normal person can curl up, eat chocolate, and watch a movie that provides an excuse for a good cry. For me, any longer than a couple of days and I start getting antsy.

So, I start putting things in place. I stop listening to the news, and exchange sad Joni Mitchell music for something brighter. I make sure I go out, even if it’s just to the supermarket cafe, so that my four walls don’t become overbearing. I get up, I get dressed, I eat – I make myself do all the things that most days I hardly notice myself doing. I talk to friends – if my best friends don’t hear from me for a day, they come knocking.

It’s an effort trying not to get depressed when depression is one of the things you most fear.

But who knows, it might all be better tomorrow.

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Kicking denial into touch….

When I started this, I had every intention of writing blog posts daily with all sorts of witticisms related to bipolar and motherhood and Christian faith, and how these three interleave (or clash with resounding wordplay!). The reality is, of course, that things aren’t ever as smooth as you think they are going to be.

The short to medium term plan with regards to my bipolar is to stop the antidepressants I have been on for years, and replace them with a mood stabiliser, so as to prevent the episodes rather than just treat them when they arrive. It’s now fifteen years since my first antidepressant – I started on Prozac (fluoxetine) at nineteen, and have since worked my way through most of the common SSRIs and a few tricyclics for good measure. Most of them worked for a while, and without many side effects, but even when they got rid of the depression it was never permanent, and we ended up back at the beginning, trying yet another drug. I’ve since learned that this is typical for many people with bipolar, and the fact that antidepressants work temporarily is one of the reasons it can take so long to diagnose.

I’ve had a bit of a medication crisis recently. Things haven’t gone entirely as expected, which has led to lots of stress and heartache. Having never really had any side effects related to psych drugs, it would seem that I’m really quite sensitive to the sedative effect of the mood stabiliser I’m on (quetiapine, for those in the know!). Reducing down the antidepressant venlafaxine whilst increasing the quetiapine was going really well until the very last little bit, which I really didn’t expect seeing as I had been on the maximum dose for nearly a year. I get very low when I stopped taking the last half tablet, but the amount of quetiapine needed to bring me back up caused an unbearable level of drowsiness and had a whole body effect – until lunchtime I couldn’t get up the one flight of stairs in my house without my whole body aching, which isn’t ideal when sharing a house with two small children.

Eventually, I got over the withdrawal effects of the venlafaxine, and managed to bring the quetiapine back down to a manageable level, but it’s left me very fearful of the next step of the plan – reducing the second antidepressant, mirtazepine. Because of the extent of the difficulty I had when on higher doses of quetiapine, my doctor will probably have to introduce another mood stabiliser, like Lamotrigine, or my ‘scary drug’ – lithium.

I had a bit of a reality check the other night. I realised that, although the bipolar diagnosis was a relief, I’m still in denial with regards to just how serious it is. I’ve suddenly been hit by the gravity of the situation – that being bipolar is likely going to mean a lifetime of medication to stay stable, and that I will have to either learn to live with side effects on a day to day basis, or suffer the consequences of not taking the drugs I need to stabilise my mood.

So today is not about kicking bipolar into touch, but about kicking denial. It seems to be an ongoing cycle that I think I’m fine and dealing with it, something happens to knock my confidence, and I have to go over it all again, dealing with it all over again. The truth is that I have a serious mental illness, which I ignore at the risk of my own health and safety and those around me.

Today I will kick denial with what hurts it the most – truth.

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