I’m coming off the back a really rough couple of weeks. I say I’m coming off the back of it but truth be told I am right in the thick of it and hoping that if I say positive things and do positive things I will start coming out of it. That’s the thing with this bastard of an ‘illness’. We are all just waiting for the moment that things change. We think that if we can just get a good night sleep we’ll feel better. If we can do something that we’ve been putting off we’ll feel better. If we can go out of the house and smile we’ll feel better. If we can go a day without crying, a day without snapping at someone, a day without feeling like we’re a total jerk… we’ll feel better.
I have tried all these things. I cleaned out my wardrobe and organised my clothes that I have far too many of in the hope that it would make me feel better and might make me want to dress the way I used to instead of pulling on what I feel safe in, the same thing every day. It didn’t work.
I tried pushing myself to go out to a concert instead of going home and laying on the couch. I spent the entire night anxious, in and out of tears, and feeling horrible that I couldn’t enjoy it and appreciate what I was doing. I slept for the entire following day.
I have taken sleeping tablets and still woken up 4 times through the night, eventually getting up early because there’s no use tossing and turning.
See I don’t feel sad, angry or depressed. I actually don’t feel anything. And that is the frustrating part for me. When asked how I feel or ‘what’s wrong’… I can’t tell you. There is no word that accurately describes what I feel. It’s just ‘nothing’. I miss feeling happy, I miss feeling angry, I miss feeling sad. I miss understanding what I am going through, I long to be able to recognise my emotions and smile because I am happy, cry because I’m sad or feel my blood boil because I am angry. Instead I cry when I should be happy, because I know I am not feeling what I should. I give up when I am angry and walk away or go quiet because I can’t express what I am feeling. I can’t just yell or get mad. I don’t recognise that’s what is happening any more. I miss being able to have a really good cry because something upsets me, feeling that emotion, accepting it and being able to move on.
Every single day is the same for me. I don’t look forward to night’s out, to seeing people, to birthdays, events… anything. I don’t enjoy the sunshine, I don’t enjoy trips out of the house, I don’t enjoy conversation. I just do all of these things because they need to be done. I get them done by putting one foot in front of the other and just do what is expected. And at the end of the day I am exhausted because of the effort it has taken.
But even on the days that I choose not to do that… to stay on the couch all day, to have ‘a lost day’… I am still exhausted.
I have had it explained to me like this. With PTSD you imagine that there is a dial on your central nervous system… in normal frightening or dangerous moments that dial gets turned right up which is what makes your body go into flight or fright mode. It enables you to make decisions best for your safety, makes you reactive, helps to protect you. For me, in the moment my ‘shock’ hit, that dial never turned back down.
And here we are.
Try to picture what happens to your body and mind in those moments. Your heart races, your muscles tighten so that they react quicker, you are on edge constantly assessing every little thing around you, you are frightened. Now imagine that happening every day without respite for years. Welcome to PTSD.
Eventually it does become normal, you don’t know any other way to function and you adapt to what is happening to your body and find ways to work around it. You avoid your triggers, repress the memory of the even as much as you can. You become a different person. It’s not nice, but it is a way of life for so many.
We get used to our hearts racing at the thought of going somewhere new, of doing something we have no control over. We get used to the night sweats that come with the dreams. We get used to not feeling anything after years of pushing our feelings and memories down.
I can tell you the moment that I ‘switched’ but whether that was that moment that my PTSD hit we are unsure. In the moment I was told in front of Jack that Ruby had died, I felt my body shift. I had to protect him. I had to keep him safe. And from that point on, I just ‘got on with it’. In the years that followed I went through the breakdown of a relationship, I lost my best friend, I felt completely alone. I fell pregnant with Michael and re experienced every moment of the hell I had gone through with Ruby. I raced to the hospital every day to visit him and feed him when I couldn’t take him home. I worried about every noise he made, constantly worried he would stop breathing. I worried about not being there for Jack. Eventually I struggled to be the same mum I was to either of them. I worried about Michael, and found it hard to bond with him in the same way I did with Jack. I was protecting myself I suppose…. I pulled away from Jack, he would talk about her often and I didn’t know how to talk to him. My world was slowly but surely changing.
Then I left my ex. It was a night that I will never forget. After years of trying to salvage a relationship I realised that I couldn’t. I had changed too much and moved in a direction to him. It wasn’t his fault. He too had suffered from the loss of Ruby, although his suffering had been quite open and outward and I was aware of it. That night, he left the house and attempted to take his life. He called me minutes before he did it while I waited for the police to find him, and all he said was “You did this.” While I begged him not to do it. He was airlifted to hospital right across from my house.
When he got out, he was different. He was angry, violent, lost. He threatened my life over and over again. Had no regard for the way he was reacting or that he may be scaring me or the kids. Eventually after months of torment, he was out of my life.
And so began the next chapter. After years, I was on my own with my boys. I should have been able to relax, to start living life. But instead I was so wound up, so tired. I felt like a complete failure. And instead of soaring I fell deeper into something I didn’t even know was happening to me.
It is only after over a year of treatment that I now have a diagnosis and have been put on the correct path to recovery. I have been treated for anxiety and depression for over 12 months now. The correct diagnosis is PTSD with anxiety based disorders. I have months of therapy ahead of me including medication, exposure and EMDR therapy.
I am not looking forward to it, I am terrified of it. I have spent 8 years blocking out the things that have happened to me, talking about them as if they happened to someone else. And now… I need to go back and relive it, moment by moment. I need to let my body know that the moment has ended, that it’s okay to dial it back down, that I am safe.
At least now I know what I am dealing with, I can try to make sense of what has happened to me and what is still happening. I can be ok with the lost days, I can be ok with being different for now. I know it isn’t permanent, it’s not forever… It’s just right now and that won’t last – and hopefully won’t last much longer.
So I looked for a really cute and fitting quote or meme to attach to this blog and here's the thing... There were lots of strong women quotes about how hard arse we women are and how 'a strong woman will smile in the morning like she wasn't crying last night'... etc etc.. There was NO way I was posting that! Why...? Because I call bullshit.
So it's no secret between us, I have talked of my internal critic before. She's not nice. No one likes her, least of all me. Mother's day is one of the days she usually rears her head loud and proud. Mothers day is usually a day that I don't pay very much attention to, except for the two wonderful women in my life that I call my mothers.
It's never been a day that I have looked forward to as, to be honest, it's a day that I haven't ever really felt that I deserved. I don't even really remember my first Mother's Day. Actually I don't remember it at all. That's just how much of a non-event I made sure it was.
From the moment I became a mother the first time around, I was incredibly critical of myself and my ability. I saw all these women that seemed to have it together. They made motherhood look easy! They had time for their kids, time for their partner, time for themselves and some how they still had time for everyone else. That wasn't me.
I had time for Jack, no time for myself, and certainly no time for Pat. I had to call one of my mothers to come over and watch him so that I could shower. I was, in my mind... a mess. But we made do. with what we had.
Then I had Ruby. From that point on I never wanted to celebrate being a parent again. I felt that I had failed her in such a monumental way that I didn't deserve to be acknowledged for the 'wonderful job' I was doing.
I met someone yesterday, an 83 year old woman that has found a place in an incredibly large part of my heart. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. After dropping the boys off at school, I made my usual trip to the office. While checking for traffic I noticed this incredible woman walking up the street towards me, and then I saw her fall. I don't even know what I was thinking, I just reacted. I pulled the car to a stop and ran to her.
As she sat up and looked at me and the others that had run to her aide, she was determined that she didn't need any help. I insisted that she wouldn't go anywhere on her own and drove her to her doctors appointment. While in the car, I had asked her if there was anyone I could call, she'd said there wasn't. After ensuring she made it to the doctors and was safely inside, I left and kept going to the office.
She didn't leave my mind all day. I rang the doctors surgery not long after to make sure that she was ok. I also asked whether there was anyone listed as her next of kin as she'd said that there was no one I could call for her. I was told that there wasn't and that she was a veterans widow. She was on her own.
As I sat at my desk and cried for her, I promised myself and silently to her, that I would be there for her.
I visited her last night. I wanted to make sure she was ok. I was incredibly surprised to find that she had a daughter there with her. All be it pleasantly. I had written a card for this dear woman that had my phone number inside it and told both her and her daughter that if they ever needed anything, they only had to call me. I did not expect to ever hear from them again, and I went home feeling better knowing that beautiful Eileen had someone looking after her.
Here's where the story kicks in. Eileen called me this morning, she invited me to afternoon tea at her house so that I could meet her family. I accepted straight away, I had made a promise to be there for her, but I would be lying if I said I felt entirely comfortable about it.
This afternoon came around quickly and before I knew it, I was pulling up outside of her house. Last night the street was empty, as was her driveway. Today I struggled to park the car. I got out of the car, looked around and saw three other car loads of people walking towards Eileen's house. What I walked into was nothing short of incredible.
Th e woman I had met yesterday and felt an instant connection towards was not alone at all. She had a family the size of small country school. Eileen has 9 children, 25 Great Grandchildren and soon to be 5 great grandchildren. I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched her family spill into her house, accepting me, a complete stranger into their presence.
Once I calmed my nerves and managed to find 5 minutes to breathe, I watched Eileen. She was busy cooking and ensuring that her family had enough of her famous sausage rolls and scones to eat. She busied herself in the kitchen, with flour on her face and a smile on her mouth. Knees still bandaged she had only one goal today. To make her family smile.
I didn't stay long, although I wanted to. This family was remarkable. I have fond memories of my own family gatherings as young child, when we would all gather around at my grandparents house with my great grandmother present. Being in Eileen's house took me right back there. But I felt like an intruder, and decided to leave.
As I left, I choked back tears. Eileen is a woman many aspire to be. I instantly began thinking of my own failings as a mother, matriarch, family member. I couldn't tell you the last time all of my family were together. I felt so sad, leaving her house. In all honesty, I was jealous of what I had witnessed. It was beautiful, a family so full of love, laughter, and support.
Then I began to think more about what it is that makes us good mothers...
Why is that we feel that our only sense of worth as a mother, partner, friend or person can come from the comparison we make to others and the perceived superiority we have to them? Does it really matter? We could teach our children how to count much better than the mother next door. But do we tell our children we love them as much as she does? We can buy our children all the latest clothes and toys, but do we get dirty with our kids? Laugh with them? Cry with them?
As I thought more about my own situation; my mothers situation, my step mother's situation, Eileen's situation, I came to this conclusion.
The real measure of your worth as a mother, is the feeling your children have towards you, and you to them. There is NO 'perfect family'. I am lucky enough to have two mothers, each of which have taught me very different things.
My step-mother, didn't have her mum growing up, but she inherited a family that she called her own through her father's new partner. Through her I learnt that family is all important and that family is not just blood. It is the people you love and treasure. Through her, I learnt what it is to sacrifice for those you love. I learnt unconditional love.
My mother, has had more than her fair share of challenges. Including with her own mother. Through her I have learnt what it is to stare a challenge in the face and accept all it brings and rise above it. I have learnt the importance of truthful, open communication. I have learnt the value of having a meaningful bond with your parents.
Then there is Eileen, as I watched her family today the one overwhelming thing I noticed was their smiles. They were all happy, every single one of them. They talked of things that they had been through, were going through, yet the smiled and laughed together. And they talked fondly of Eileen. Of her strength, resilience and compassion.
Three incredibly different women, all three of which occupied my thoughts today. Yet they have one thing in common. None of them are perfect.
Eileen is stubborn and refuses to accept that may need some help now,
My step mother never wants to show weakness and busies her self with helping others so that no one will notice that maybe she needs help,
My mother is so critical of herself and her own ability as a mother that some days it cripples her.
Here's another thing they have in common, the unconditional love of their children. I love my mothers more than anything in the world and I would go to the end of the universe for each of them.
As I tucked my boys into bed tonight, I was struck by the same realization about myself. Michael did not let go of my neck until I promised to cover his face in one thousand kisses. He didn't care about how messy his bedroom was or how many books we'd read that night. He just wanted a cuddle, a kiss and my love. Jack was much the same, as I bent down to kiss his forehead goodnight he snuggled in against my arm, sighed and told me he loved me.
For all my self criticism as a parent, these two little boys still smiled as they closed their eyes and told me that they loved me.
My wish for all mothers tomorrow, stop comparing yourself to others. Take joy in your children's cuddles and their unconditional love of all that you do for them. No matter how inferior it may seem to you, it means the world to them because there is no one else that will do it for them or teach them the things that you do. You are the best that you can be, and your children expect nothing more. All they expect is your love and a mother's love goes without saying, regardless of her actions, her words or her gifts.
Happy Mothers day everyone, you are all incredible. xxxx
So here's the thing, I'm a fairly average parent. And I am totally okay with that. I sent my kids to school dressed as a Pokemon and a Ninja for Japanese appreciation day. Let;s not get stuck on whether that's potentially inappropriate or not - it was all we had.
Unfortunately for them, it was the wrong day and they were the only ones dressed up. Only made worse by the fact it was the same day Jack was to be presented with an award in front of the entire school. Safe to say he refused to get up on stage. Once I stopped laughing I did feel bad, but Jack's response was priceless... "It's ok mum, you didn't mean it and it just means it's another day I don't have to wear uniform". He knows I tried. And that's enough for him.
When I was little girl I thought that when you grew up you knew everything and you became this perfect version of yourself. I idolized women in my family, thought they were perfect, that they never made mistakes. In fact I felt that way about a lot of the adults in my life. To me they were bigger and better than everything else and one day I wanted to be just like them.
As the years got on, I continued to make mistakes and beat myself up irrationally each and every time I did. Because I was supposed to be perfect. If I did't say the right thing, do the right thing, or be the person people thought I should be I felt like a failure and that was all that I could focus on.
My internal critic became my best friend and worst enemy all it once. It drove me to work harder, be stronger, be better. But it was a harsh and nasty voice when I made a mistake. Mistakes weren't allowed. To that critic, sending your kids to school dressed as fictional characters on a day they were to receive an award meant you were the worst parent in the world. And that you were failing in 'adulting'.
What I am slowly realising is that the nasty little voice that sits in the back of my mind constantly and some times comes from those around me... needs to back off. I make mistakes because I am still trying. I am trying to be better and to be something more.
No one knows how to be a parent straight away, and every knows the first kid is the one you make mistakes on. Happened to me and I've done it to Jack. It's how we learn, it's how we grow.
No one knows how to deal with a difficult situation until they're in it. They won't know the right things to do or say they'll just have to wing it. If they get it wrong or think later on they could have done it better... then next time they will. They have learnt something, they're growing.
I couldn't count on both hand and feet the amount of things I have royally messed up lately and some of them have been BIG. At the time it feels like it's beyond repair, that there is no coming back from it. And then you flip it on it's head and look at it from another angle.
I have learnt to not only learn from my mistakes so that I do not repeat them, but I also look at the way others react around me.
I recently made a massive mistake at work. I felt sick. My boss was not happy and rightly so.
I could not make sense of why it had happened, or how I had managed to do what I had done. That's just how silly this mistake was. I knew I had to try to fix it, to make it right but I had no idea where to start. I knew I had to own this.
I had a colleague on the phone to me all night talking me through different solutions, he knew I had messed up but he was supporting me through my efforts to try and fix it. He understood that it was just a mistake and that I would learn from it.
Once I saw my boss after the weekend. I was expecting rockets to go off. He wasn't happy about it, I had cost him a lot of money. Here's the part where I really started learning though... I felt so sick about what had happened and he could genuinely see that I was trying to make amends and that I would learn from it. He too, stood by me and said "WE will fix it".
In that moment I was able to see that not only were they both able to see that I had made the mistake because I was trying in the first place (most likely trying to do too much) but they could also see that I was still trying.
I don't want to be perfect. I want to keep making mistakes, I want to keep learning, I want to keep growing. It is through my mistakes that I have learnt my greatest lessons and grown the most.
Looking back, the adults I looked up to so much weren't perfect either. I just didn't see their mistakes as mistakes. I saw them through children's eyes - they were trying, they were working hard, they never gave up. They loved, they learned and they lived.
Sometimes I forget that it has taken me 8 long years to get to the point that I am at now. It has been a torturous road to get to a point where I no longer care about the opinions of others when I talk about my loss or stillbirth in general. And at times I admit that I forget that others aren't always on the same page as me and that it may take them time to get there too. Forgive me, it's part of being the fiery hot-headed Libran that I am. When I'm in, I'm all in.
You guessed it, this is going to be one of those self serving, annoying, you need to love yourself blog posts... but before you switch it off and get turned off by the overly cheesy photo and far too blatant title, hear me out.
I have been called lots of things over the years from fragile and meek, to angry and controlling. Recently I have been called two things that I struggle with - Brave and Strong....
It makes me think about what it is to be Brave... what it is to be Strong?
For many many years I always thought I was being brave and being strong by shouldering my problems and getting on with life. Not letting life get on top of me. But throughout those years I never felt strong. I appeared it outwardly but not once felt it.
I feel differently now. I don't know whether that is strength that I feel but for the first time in a very long time I have purpose. I am working towards something, I have goals, I have standards, I have a voice. I am finally starting to worry about myself.
Is it brave to admit that you have a problem and that you need some help? Why is that considered bravery? Is it not just being human to acknowledge that something isn't ok and that you need to change things... Are we not just looking out for ourselves when we speak our minds, voice our concerns and reach out to others?
At my lowest, I felt incredibly weak. Getting out of bed was an effort, dressing, showering, talking, eating... do anything felt like it was too much. On one particular night I drank so much to try and numb pain that I felt sick. Only to realise that it didn't stop the hurt. I got in the car. I was going to end my life. I planned to drive in front of a truck. I hit the freeway, with tears in my eyes waiting for a truck to drive towards me. No truck came. I drove to my doctor instead.
As I sat in her office I cried and couldn't talk. I told her just how bad everything had gotten. She begged me to seek some help and to use antidepressants to cut this vicious cycle of self loathing I had gotten in to. When I left I had promised her I would get help.
I didn't; not for at least six months after. I spent the next six months in a fog. I was operating in auto pilot. I shut myself off from everyone telling myself that it was a failure to admit that I couldn't cope. That I wasn't strong if I needed medication to get by. My kids suffered, Blair suffered. Everyone around me felt the affects of my 'strength' and not in a positive way.
To those outside of my inner circle I appeared to have it all together. I was a high functioning, successful, bubbly person. It was exhausting! Inside I was breaking down. I had no reserves left and it was only a matter of time before I found myself having a complete breakdown.
Eventually I gave in, I went against the voices inside me that told me I was weak and I asked for help. I went on daily medication for my depression and anxiety. I saw a counsellor once a week. I still do.
Initially I hated it. I felt like I should have been able to 'suck it up' and move on.
However, after a few weeks I noticed I was able to laugh without pretending. I was a more present mother, a more patient partner and more driven and focused at work.
Am I strong for doing that? I don't think so. I think there is an element of selfishness and self-love in that. I put myself first because I knew I couldn't be anything to anyone if I had nothing left to give due to the sheer amount of effort it took me to get through an 8 hour day. Am I brave for admitting this? No, I am honest.
I have received messages from people telling me that they find what I am doing in Ruby's name, strong and brave. I thank you, that is an amazing compliment.
What I ask is this... Please don't think of my actions as anything special. I am having an open honest conversation with you all. That's all, nothing more and nothing less. No change can come until we can all do that. There is nothing different about me to anyone else. I am a mother that struggles sometimes to be patient. I'm a partner that struggles sometimes to be affectionate. I'm a friend that struggles sometimes to be present. I'm a mother that loves her children dearly. I am a daughter, partner, friend that would do anything for anyone. I am a career woman.
I am a woman with purpose.
Love to you all, stay safe over Easter xxx
There is something that happens to a woman (I can't speak for the men) when they lose a child. Whether that be at term, half way though, early on or they lost the thought of a child...
After losing Ruby it took me an incredibly long time to realise what I had done to myself. When I lost her, I lost a huge part of myself as well. I shut down emotionally in order to protect myself from the pain I was feeling over losing her. But what I wasn't aware of then was that I was also withdrawing from the world and those around me.... including my kids. I was modelling for them the traits that I have always discouraged. I was teaching my boys that the best way to cope was to soldier on. That crying was a weakness and that talking about your problems did no good.
I experienced so much pain when Ruby died. I often compare it to the immense flooding sensations of love you have for your new child when it is born. Flip that completely on it's head and turn it into pain by the same strength... that's almost comparable to what I felt and do still feel some days.
Somehow though, I had to find a way to survive it. The only way I was able to cope was to shut it out and stay busy. For a very long time (8 years!) that worked. Well, worked is probably not the right word... it sufficed. I managed to wake up every morning and function to some degree.
I kept myself busy with work, the kids, the house, being a social butterfly. I couldn't stand silence and being alone. It left me with far too much time with my thoughts. And that scared me. Eventually the thought of having to deal with what I had locked away inside for so long terrified me so much that I refused to talk about any of it. Not just Ruby though, everything.
I lost the ability to voice my feelings and frustrations. I became completely dysfunctional in relationships I had had my entire life. Suddenly conversations with Family and Friends were strained because I didn't have the effort to make conversation, the effort to smile, the effort to pretend I was ok. I had become used to my solitude and fast paced manic lifestyle.
What resulted was my fall into a chronic depression. I began to experience things I never had before. Panic attacks, cold sweats, fits of rage and anger, crying for no reason at all, an inability to get out of bed or get motivated, the inability to connect with life and loved ones... Eventually I started to believe that the only way I would be rid of the prison I'd built for myself was to die and go and be with Ruby again. The only thing that stopped me each time was my boys.
I remember looking at Jack one day late last year and realising that he wasn't talking to me anymore. He wasn't as affectionate as he used to be. I felt like I was losing him.
It was then that I realised he was learning all the things I had been doing. That was the way he thought I expected him to cope.
The old "do as I say and not as I do" adage parents whip out every now and then does not work.... ever.
My gorgeous son was withdrawing from me and it killed me. I beat myself up for all the times I had snapped at him or Michael when they mentioned Ruby's name. I told myself I was a horrible mother for all the times I had given them an ipad to play with while we lay in bed because I couldn't bring myself to get out from under the covers. I told myself everything was my fault.
And then I realised... how, I still don't know, that I could change this.
I had to put in the hard work and get better. I couldn't be a good mum until I was ok within myself. So started my road to recovery which is a weekly battle still. At least not after six months though I can say that it is a weekly battle and not daily.
I began to talk, to a counselor. Not someone that knew me, that had expectations of me, or that I felt I would disappoint. Initially we talked about very little. I told her on the first session that there were places I was not prepared to go, she promised to hold my hand while we got to those places.
She explained to me that dealing with my grief was going to be like opening the lid of a coke bottle. I have shaken it up and kept the lid on tight for so long that if I ripped the lid of straight away I was going to explode... instead, we slowly twist the lid together, let a little air out at a time and then put the lid back on.
That is how I learnt to talk again, to cry again. I am not healed, I wouldn't even say that I am ok. Not yet. But I am trying, and I'll continue to try. Jack needs me too. My friends and family need me to. And I need to, I want to be happy again. I want all that hot fizzy air out of the coke bottle and to be able to enjoy my drink.
I want Jack to know that just because some things look hard or look as though they might be ruined, doesn't mean that they won't be amazing and worthwhile with some patience and persistence....
Jess Castree is a mother to two little boys and one angel little girl. She is the General Manager of a Plumbing Company in Melbourne. All round workaholic, perfectionist, over anxious, slightly neurotic woman trying to make it in the big bad world we live in today.