So this morning, I’m in bed. reading Country Life, with the cat. Because we have moved to the country. But more on that later.
But this isn’t a smug post, it’s an honest one. I’m in bed, because I hit a wall in a massive way recently. Burn out. It wasn’t nice. But more on that later too.
For now, let me catch you up with where I am as it’s been a while. My last post was in 2017 and in November 2018, after 2 more miscarriages, I had my third child, who we’ll call The Baby. It was another dreadful birth. You may remember my first child got stuck (shoulder dystocia), my second child arrived prematurely after a massive haemorrage and after 4 painful miscarriages, but my third child was a planned c-section. Oh this will be so much more relaxed! We laughed.
On 13 November 2018, after The Baby was lifted out of my tummy, I lost 4 litres of blood in a massive obstetric haemorrage. Given you only have 5-6 litres of blood in your body, it was pretty terrifying and I thought that I would die. Of course I didn’t die, and there were amazing doctors there to pump 4 units of blood straight back into me, but at one point both me and my poor husband who had been dragged with The Baby to another room as I screamed I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to die. I make this point because it’s important to remember that this is trauma, for your body and your brain. We were told shortly after this (when I’d been handed a premature baby to hold and to feed, as I tried to piece my broken body back into life again) that we should never have children again. No chance, we thought. So the trauma – all those losses, all that pain, all those awful births – is over.
The Baby is almost 1 and life is pretty great. We left London to buy a large house in East Devon near the beach, and we plan to build a cookery school and glamping centre here. We have three healthy children, a cat, and we just bought a puppy. As we walk along the beach, looking at the kids running in the waves it all feels great.
But then there’s this thing. It’s inside me and it feels heavy. When I’m alone or when I’m exhausted, I think about what happened to me and my body, and a feeling rises up in my chest and its so heavy and overwhelming, and it makes me cry until I push it back down again. I push it down again because I have to get on with life and life is busy and I have three kids. But it’s there and it feels like I’m holding back a dam sometimes and if I let it go it would burst with such force it would wash us all away.
And recently with the stress of looking after the kids and the puppy and moving to a new house and doing up the house and starting work again after maternity leave and trying to lose a bit of weight, I hit burn out. So how does that feel? A body completely devoid of energy and a mind empty of motivation. An inability to do anything – I mean literally unable to stack a dishwashwer or get up off the sofa. A desire just to curl up and sleep, all day long. A feeling of being empty, of crying with helplessness and exhaustion. A feeling of hitting rock bottom.
It is, I now believe, partly down to this unresolved trauma. I believe most of us carry some form of trauma and most of our parents carry it too – trauma from childhood, trauma from infertility or terrible births or miscarriages, trauma from health problems or parental loss.
It is possible to carry this trauma around – I have. And you can cover it for a while – denial, getting on with things, or in other less healthy ways – alcohol or striving for validation through over-achieving, over-work and people pleasing. But it has to come out at some point or it will eat you alive. Literally – insomnia and auto-immune conditions and stress-related disease.
So how do you resolve this trauma? Well, there is CBT counselling, where you re-live the experience in the present tense (I’m lying on the bed and I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die) but you add in the things you know now – that you didn’t die, that you were safe. And I can definitely see the benefits in that, but it involves time and investment and you would have to go to a very vulnerable place for a while.
So I guess the other way you resolve it is through talking about it, writing about it, releasing that dam little by little so it doesn’t feel so heavy. Realising what your triggers are and being conscious of when you feel waves of emotion that you didn’t really understand before. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
A stressful life
Which leads me to other stress factors as a parent generally. I seem to be having more conversations, almost daily, with mums who are at their peak stress levels and wondering why its so hard and feeling like they are failing. And sometimes we question why it’s so hard for us because didn’t our parents do all this and not complain? But I think it IS harder for us, and here’s why.
First, we put massive pressure on ourselves as parents. I’m pretty sure my folks never read a single parenting book, but that’s probably because the parenting style at the time was a lot easier – to parent based on a certain level of detachment, fear and control. Children should be seen and not heard. Eat properly at the table. Kids should entertain themselves and be bored (ever spend days on end throwing a tennis ball up and down for entertainment?). We could run fairly wild then – I remember spending hours running round parks and back gardens with my neighbours’ kids from a fairly young age. Smack them if they are naughty (I wasn’t actually ever smacked. Well, once, for drawing on a newly-decorated nursery wall).
But now we’re all about perfect parenting. We have to cook healthy organic food, read about conscious parenting styles, be constantly empathetic and patient, spend time doing educational but fun games, and make sure they are doing extra curricular activities like swimming and scuba diving and frickin nuclear fusion club, and that’s after you’ve spent time reading every night and doing extensive homework. Sometimes it’s just too much pressure.
Secondly, we’ve lost our communities. If it once took a village to raise a child, it is now us, alone, in a crappy soft play centre in Brentford wondering what went wrong. We live far from our families, and our sisters, neighbours and friends don’t involve themselves with raising our kids anymore. It’s not their fault, we’re all just too busy. But we weren’t meant to do this alone.
Next, society adds others pressures on ourselves that we never used to, partly driven by social media. The pressure to be professionally successful and earn well, to “have it all” (ask me who the most stressed in our society is, and I will show you the part-time working mother). To entertain and have a full social life and great holidays. To have beautifully styled houses and gorgeous interiors. To look hot and slim and wrinkle-free with fabulous clothes and hair. If you are a perfectionist like me, it is impossible to keep up with it all and something has to give.
So what can you do about this? Well, this is what I’m working on and this is why I’ve written this starting blog post (which I’m writing in bed).
Ultimately, I need to lower my standards and work out what is actually important to me – so for example, I don’t need to look hot but I would like to be healthy and strong and fit for my kids. I don’t need to entertain my kids all the time, but I’d like to have special 1 on 1 time for at least 5 minutes with each of them every day.
I need to have more me-time and reconnect to who I was before I had kids – so I’m adding time each day for doing something just for me. Listening to a podcast with headphones on while the kids play or buying something frivolous and just for me like a wet suit. I’m planning days out with close girlfriends. And finding time in each month to pursue a hobby I already love – like yoga – and starting hobbies I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time – like painting and (don’t laugh) wild swimming.
Most of all, I’m realising sometimes I can’t keep face and say I can do things when I know it would lead to burn out if I pushed myself too far. And the most important thing is allowing myself to be vulnerable without being ashamed, and saying I can’t do it, and I need help.
Today is Day 1.
As I said earlier, we have moved to East Devon and are planning to set up a cookery school/feast venue, but also one with a wellness side, hosting wellbeing events, talks and yoga. I will post details of this soon. I’m also planning (once I get my head above water!) to re-train in psychotherapy or life coaching. I’ll be documenting my journey in a separate blog and instagram page, which I will set up and also send details soon. Watch this space!