Memories of another you

The other day I awoke to a Facebook memory; a picture of you from the same day a year ago.  You were 4 days old, we were home, and you were in your bouncy chair staring at me.  At first I smiled at the memory; that little face full of wonder at a new world that you could barely see through eyes so new.  But then, like a lengthening shadow, sadness crept in.

IMG_5059.JPG

Those days we had with you were so few before Kawasaki Disease pushed its way into our lives and stole you from us.  The you we knew. The you I gave birth to.  The you that wasn’t broken.  I don’t think I will ever learn how to come to terms with what this disease did to you. You were born healthy, and perfect and pure.  For 7 weeks we got to know each other at home, barely going out, because I wanted to be sure I gave myself the chance to drink you in.  We cuddled on the sofa for hours, and I fed you from my breast because I wanted you to have the best start in this world.  I know now how important those moments were, and I am thankful that I cherished you and didn’t feel any pressure to share you with the outside.  It’s like I knew.

But I didn’t know.  I had no idea that things would change for you, for us, overnight.  You were so perfect, so well.  We had no concerns at all about your development or your health.  You were nothing short of perfection, and I was smitten from the moment I looked down at you from my position on that labour bed.

I guess these memories are going to act as triggers for a while.  Seven weeks of memories of the you we had will be replaced by memories of the worst days of my life.  At least I came away from Facebook for a while just before you became sick; that I can be thankful for.  But then, I don’t need Facebook memories to remind me of those days; those days are forever etched on my mind.  I can’t accept the cruelty of it all.  To have struggled so much with the concept of finding myself pregnant again but come through it having battled some old demons and actually looking forward to this new adventure, only to see it come crashing down around my feet was cruel indeed.  We didn’t deserve this.  You didn’t.

I try to tell myself that I should be thankful you are here with us.  Things could have been very different.  In that first week in the hospital I was convinced I would be going home without you, you were so sick.  And when they told us that your little heart was damaged I prepared myself for the worst.  The psychologist told me that what I was experiencing was anticipatory grief; I had been presented with the possibility that you might be taken from us, and my mind had already begun to process that notion.  I could see a certain photograph of you on an easel at the top of a church aisle; that photograph haunts me still, and was the catalyst for my thoughts and feelings on those eyes of yours.  I told myself that if I accepted that this disease would kill you, that I might not take you for granted for the time that you are here.  I guess, even though it’s a little morbid, it’s not a bad way of thinking about it.  I mean, if the worst is that you have a life full of wonder until you are 90 then we won’t have lost anything will we? It’s a good rule to live by, and there are hundreds of cliches I could quote about living life to the full that would fit right in here. We were lucky that your heart began to show signs of improvement, and that we haven’t had to live with that feeling forever – others do.

Using the word ‘lucky’ to describe you makes me flinch, and the bully in my head says “Watch it! You’re not out of the woods yet! Don’t be counting those chickens already…!”

I hate Kawasaki Disease.  I hate it for stealing my memories and turning them into reasons to be sad and full of regret.  I hate that I can’t look at a picture of my tiny baby without feeling sorrow for the short time we had before our lives became filled with fear and drama.  I hate  that I can’t hold another baby without feeling like I’ve missed out on so much.  I held you for seven weeks, and it would be weeks before I could properly hold you again.  I could have held you, but your temperature soared relentlessly for a fortnight and I was scared that I would make you even hotter than you already were.  And I hated the tubes and the wires and the needles; the slightest movement would set the monitors off screaming and the nurses running.  I hated the look in your eyes; you were too young to be afraid.  I wish I knew how you felt when you were lying there in that cot with a vacant stare.

I hate it for making me look at the world through different eyes.  I am wary of the world now.  I know first hand that it has the power to take away everything that you love and I  approach every day with caution, even when I try to find joy.  Sometimes I think I have seen something out of the corner of my eye.  It’s like I see Death waiting in the shadows.  Kawasaki Disease sucks.

75% of children who have this disease will walk away without any heart complications.  They are the lucky ones, but that doesn’t take away the terror of the experience for the child or the parent.  But why did you have to be one of the 25%? Why couldn’t it have just left your tiny heart alone? Could it have been prevented? The doctors ruled out their suspicion that it could be KD on day 9, and yet it was lurking and continued to do it’s damage whilst their backs were turned.  4 days later it became clear that it had been Kawasaki Disease all along. I wonder how the doctors felt when the echo showed them that awful truth…

None of that matters now, I guess.  It’s done isn’t it, and there is nothing we can do to change it.  I have to learn to accept that we live in a world where uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.  Death and taxes.  This world is full of beauty, but it is also home to a lot of hurt.  And as if there wasn’t already enough sadness to deal with in this life, there are people who see fit to cause others pain.  Why do people do that? It is beyond me.

Anyway, enough of this morose talk.  What ever will you think of your mother when you read this stuff?!  It’s hard though Peanut, it really is.  The emotions I have to deal with every time I look at you are a bit too big for me sometimes; sadness, regret, guilt, anger, fear…love.  I just need to get myself back on track with our plans to turn this whole sorry mess into something positive.  You’ve raised a lot of money – £7,000 in just one month of fundraising for one event!  And you’ve even appeared on ITV News (http://www.itv.com/news/calendar/2016-04-13/mothers-plea-for-early-diagnosis-of-rare-kawasaki-disease/).  We will do what we can together to raise awareness of the disease, so that the next time a child presents the symptoms, their parent might just ask the question, “You don’t think it could be Kawasaki Disease do you?”

 

Advertisements

A Recipe for Disaster

So it seems I am suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder with a nice deep filling of depression, topped with a scattering of anxiety sprinkles.  If I were a cake, I’d be a fruitcake.

I was thinking this morning, after I left my second Cognitive Behavioural Therapy session, about what mental illness looks like.  What does someone suffering with mental illness look like?   I guess they look haggard and worn, frayed around the edges.  Scruffy, definitely; they wouldn’t have washed in weeks.  Tired, with dark purple circles under those sad eyes.  Hair scraped back in a ponytail in an attempt to disguise the oil slick it has become from days of neglect.  Shoulders drooping, head hanging down, slow lumbering gait where others confidently tread.  Yes, I reckon that’s about right.  Except it’s rare that you would get a real close look at one, because they’ll be under a duvet, or rocking in a corner; the lesser spotted hermit

Sometimes, mental illness looks like this…

IMG_3441

“Nooo!” I hear you exclaim.  “She can’t be depressed! Look at her, she’s smiling.  And I know she isn’t depressed, because she lives in that nice house with those three gorgeous kids.  Anyhow, I saw her in the Wine Bar last week and she looked like she was having a great time!”

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people suffering with a mental illness who meet the description above.  I’ve been there myself, duvet pulled up over my head, praying for it to be bedtime again.  But this time, it’s not like that.  Mostly I look like the woman in the picture.  Sometimes that face has to be painted on, that smile fixed in place with staples invisible to the naked eye.  Other times it’s real, and I feel real joy.  Sometimes, behind closed doors, when nobody is watching, I lay curled up in the corner of the sofa and cry.  I could cry right up to 3pm, then paint that face on and pass pleasantries with you in the school playground at pick up time.  Being a great actress comes with the territory.

I don’t want you to think that I am fake.  I’m possibly one of the least fake people you will meet.  It might be an effort to put on that smile sometimes, but I am generally a very sociable person and if I didn’t feel like smiling before we started talking, it’s very likely that I will be genuinely smiling by the time we part company.  I’m like that; people lift me.

And suffering with depression, either long-term or temporary, doesn’t mean that I am miserable all of the time.  In some ways, whilst this illness can be debilitating, I think I am one of the lucky ones.  I am very tuned in to my thoughts and emotions.  When I suffered with post-natal depression after my first daughter was born (nearly 12 years ago now), it was different.  I was severely depressed.  I believed that my husband’s family wanted to get me sectioned so they could have my daughter all to themselves.  I considered leaving, and telling nobody where I was going; figured I’d go live in some little hut by a lake in the Outer Hebrides or somewhere.  I thought everyone would be better off without me, and I would be better off without them.  On my worst days, I did not recognise myself in photographs.   And on worse days than that, I actually contemplated how much easier life would be if my daughter could just be gone

I’ve always been a sensitive, thoughtful soul.  I guess I was predisposed to this kind of malady.  In my teens, my old bedroom at home was painted black and I wrote a lot of poetry.  I’ve never found it hard to cry.  I think I’ve cried an ocean in my years on this Earth.  I don’t believe I had ever been depressed before my experience with PND.  A bit of low self-esteem maybe, but not depressed.  But PND altered me; it’s like a part of me was broken that could never be repaired, and was the catalyst for years of on-and-off suffering with various mental health issues.  The last 12 years have been on the whole great, though peppered with periods of counselling, cognitive therapy and anti-depressants.  The last time I was prescribed anti-depressants was when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter.  The only thing that stopped me taking them was the risk of congenital heart defects for my baby; those of you that follow Freya’s Story will appreciate the irony in that.

Mental illness covers a whole spectrum of serious disorders in a person’s behaviour or thinking, with over 200 different conditions to choose from. Now, that was a bad choice of words; this isn’t something anyone chooses.  But you get my drift.  And although many people will suffer, with or without a diagnosis, with the same conditions all over the globe, the degree to which they suffer will vary with every individual. What I am going through this time is very different to anything I have suffered with before.  Firstly, the post-traumatic element is new; I hadn’t faced any real trauma before my daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness last year, so that’s a first for me.  The treatment I am receiving is specifically designed to expel the flashbacks and help my brain to process the memories that have got a little lodged on their way to my long-term memory.  The depression isn’t new, however it has been nicely disguised, hiding in the shadows of the PTSD, waiting for the right moment to strike.  It felt now was a good time.  And then there’s the anxiety, and oh boy ain’t that a treasure!

So, just how much fun is it to live with me these days?  I guess you could ask my husband or my kids, but like I said, I’m pretty in tune with my thoughts, emotions and behaviour to give you a pretty honest view of that.

I’ve talked about PTSD before.  I’ve shared some of the flashbacks and intrusive memories that I have suffered since my daughter was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease last June.  I’ve told you that sometimes, when I look at Freya for long enough, her face morphs into the sad, scared, sick little baby that pleaded with me with her eyes from a hospital cot.  I was embarrassed by the diagnosis.  You associate it with war veterans.  But, it does happen to people who have suffered a critical illness, or in my case watched a child suffer.  There’s a big difference between a flashback and a bad memory.  We all have bad memories from time to time; a smell that reminds us of our first love, a song that can recall memories of a lost loved one, events that remind you of the time you were badly beaten up at school by that one girl in your GCSE year (https://bluemama.co.uk/2014/12/01/one-girl-one-day/).  Bad memories I can deal with.  They are long-term memories, and as such when recalled the emotion doesn’t hit you with the same intensity that it did at the time.

A flashback puts you right back in the original situation, and all the components of that memory – the emotions, the sounds, the smells, the physical surroundings – are replicated with all the intensity of the event itself.  Apparently when these happen, I have to tell my inner child, the victim, that it is ok for them to remember, but that I will help them through it.  I know, right?!  But joking aside, the tips I have been given have worked, and I haven’t had what I would call a ‘real’ flashback for a little while now.  Removing the spare cot from our room was a stellar move and my brain no longer keeps me up until the wee hours to avoid going to bed.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that specifically focusses on trauma, exercises ‘mindfulness’ to overcome that trauma by training your brain to accept the thought, but to prevent it from lingering by focussing your attention on how the thoughts made you feel, rather than the memory itself.  I’m sure I’ve just understated the treatment completely, but that’s it in layman’s terms.  And it actually seems to be working.  We haven’t yet worked through the key reason for my condition (Freya’s illness), instead we are working through three other life events which evoke a particularly poignant memory (good or bad).  The idea being that you practice the techniques on some more dormant memories, so that by the time you reach the biggie, you’re ready for a fight.  Today we practised the technique on the memory of the death of my grandfather.  I’ve been told not to reflect on that outside of the sessions, so I shall leave that there.

The depression is different again, and kind of fills in the spaces between the PTSD symptoms.  It’s a general feeling of low mood, varying in intensity depending on the day, the hour, the situation.  I can’t describe it any better than it being like a dark cloud permanently looming above my head, casting a shadow over me.  The good thing about clouds, is that sometimes they shift a little in the breeze.  A strong wind can brush them off completely for a time.  And the sun sometimes manages to break through and cast a beacon of light upon my path.  In some ways, I have learned to control the weather.  In the PND years, I couldn’t have done that.  But as I have said, I am more self-aware now.  I know that even if all I want to do it bury my head under that duvet, I have to choose another way.  Having kids kind of forces my hand.  With my firstborn, I didn’t have to be anywhere, so it was far too easy to stay in my pyjamas all day and wallow in sorrow.  I know some victims of mental illness find themselves in that place, regardless of their personal circumstances.  Luckily, this hasn’t taken all of me, and I do function on a pretty normal level most of the time.

How does depression affect me?  Well, I go a bit into myself sometimes.  I think a lot.  I cry a lot, not always for any reason.  I question my capabilities as a mother, as a wife, as a person generally.  I lose sight of my self-worth.  I retreat from people when I feel hard done to, and the depression makes sure that the further I retreat, the higher the wall becomes.  I have automatic negative thoughts (‘Ant’ – you might have met her in previous blogs.  She looks a little bit like me, but a lot like that girl that beat me up in my GCSE year.  Pretty girl, likes to stick the boot in now and again).  My thoughts tend towards the catastrophic.  And I get a bit hung up on signs.  Numbers, magpies, white feathers, a necklace breaking; all signs of impending doom for me or my relationships.  On a good day, it doesn’t affect me at all.  No more than a grey cloud hovering above, threatening rain, but not quite managing to defeat the sunshine.  I’m stronger than I think I am.

For a more insightful description of how depression feels, I don’t think there is anyone that has done it better than The Black Dog Institute when they put out this video on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGY).

And lastly there’s that little treasure, anxiety.  That’s a whole new ball game.  Aside from the nasty flashbacks, I have found the anxiety the most debilitating and damaging of all.  The Mind website provides a pretty comprehensive list of the symptoms of anxiety, so I thought sharing that was as good as any list I could provide (http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/anxiety-symptoms/#.VsTInsexrjI)

Physical sensations: Psychological sensations:
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • tense muscles and headaches
  • pins and needles
  • feeling light headed or dizzy
  • faster breathing
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heart beat
  • raised blood pressure
  • difficulty sleeping
  • needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently
  • churning in the pit of your stomach
  • experiencing panic attacks
  • feeling tense, nervous and on edge
  • having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
  • feeling your mind is really busy with thoughts
  • dwelling on negative experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again (this is called rumination)
  • feeling restless and not being able to concentrate
  • feeling numb

That’s how I feel a lot of the time.  Add to that the fact that I have developed a hypersensitivity to certain sounds, which make me want to explode (want to? You do Jo!) and I’m pretty much a coiled spring of anxious tension from dawn ’til dusk.  You can imagine how fun it must be for my husband these days!

But.  And it’s a big but. It’s not all bad.  I am that girl in the photograph.  I do smile, and quite often that smile manages to reach all the way up to my eyes.  I want to do things, see people, have fun.  I like to escape the confines of my daily life sometimes.  I want to be happy.  I don’t want to cry, or shout, or feel inadequate.    I want my family to love me, not to worry about me or look at me with judgement when I fly off the handle for what seems like no reason at all to them.  I have things I want to achieve, places I want to go.  For now, I am giving the counselling route a try.  If things don’t get any easier anytime soon, I will consider medication.

No journey with mental illness is easy.  Some might be easier than others, and I am open to treatment and very self-aware.  I know that right now I have feelings that could result in life-altering decisions.  I also know that those feelings might not be real, and until the fog lifts I will hold those thoughts.  Thoughts are not facts.

To anyone who has ever suffered, or is suffering still, I hope you find your own way to mend.  There is help, but it can often be hard to ask for it, sometimes even harder to find.  I talk candidly about myself and my experiences now.  I haven’t always.  When I started this blog I was too afraid to make it public for fear of judgement.  But this last year has taught me some lessons about not holding back, so now my heart is firmly on my sleeve for all to see.  Judge, don’t judge.  It’s not important to me anymore.  And if I ever offend with a too glib portrayal of mental illness, please know that a) I only describe what mental illness means to me, how it has affected me, and b) that humour has often been my way of handling the most negative of situations.

One in four people will suffer with a form of mental illness in any given year.  Take a look round you, at your family, your friends.  If it’s not you, it could be one of them.  Be kind, always, because you never know what personal struggles other people may be facing, even when they seem to be wearing a smile.

image1

Follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bluemamablog and if you are interested in learning more about Freya’s Story and Kawasaki Disease, you can visit www.facebook.com/freyasstory 🙂

 

 

An Exercise in Mindfulness

mindfulness
ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/
noun
  1.  the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

(Source:Google)

The thing is with this kind of stuff is that it all sounds a bit new age, off in a forest finding yourself whilst hugging a tree, doesn’t it?  Well it does to me anyway.  But I was given my homework at the last session (my first session) so I thought I should play along if I really wanted to beat this thing.  The counsellor gave me a pile of papers last week, and had ticked a number of the exercises that she wanted me to practice.  I am undergoing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to deal with trauma; I apparently have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I say apparently, because to be honest I’m pretty embarrassed with the diagnosis.  I mean, you hear the word PTSD and are immediately met with images of soldiers on the frontline in Afghanistan, or firefighters coming out of the Twin Towers.  I have never once in my life imagined a normal mum, with a normal life, who can’t shake off the events of the last year when her daughter was diagnosed with a serious illness.   And that is who I am (except maybe less stress on the ‘normal’).

Anyway, I shared an image on my social media pages that I created last week (my brain), designed to illustrate what goes on in the mind when it’s owner has a bit of a tough time handling a traumatic event.  Although I don’t think I am worthy of the PTSD diagnosis, I do understand what is going on up there at the minute and it helped me to show it in a diagram.  The long and short of it (no pun intended) is that the events of last year have become too big for my brain to process.  Those short-term memories should have made their way down into the long-term memory by now, but they’ve got themselves stuck.  And because they are stuck in my short-term memory, they are there, all the time; a constant reminder of those dark, dark days.  Sometimes they are that there, that it feels like they are here.   Now let me tell you there is a massive difference between recalling a painful memory, and intrusive memories and flashbacks.  I was ‘blessed’ with a pretty remarkable memory, particularly for words.  I can recite poetry that I’ve not read in years, I can recall the exact way I felt when I was thirteen years old and my Grandad passed away, and yes dear Husband, I can remember what was said in that argument in 1998.  I don’t seem to be able to let go of things that have evoked a strong emotional response.  Not a bad thing, unless you feel most things with the intensity of a Tsunami, in which case you find yourself with a hell of a lot of stuff up there.  But I digress slightly.

I’d say the main difference between a memory and a flashback is the intensity of the emotional response.  Of course we all feel a little sad when we recall a loss, or a particularly difficult time in our lives.  But when those events have been properly processed, they evoke just a small amount of the emotion originally felt.  When those events haven’t been correctly processed because the brain just couldn’t manage the overwhelming task, they are recalled with all the strength of emotion that was felt the moment that it happened.  I think it might help (me more than anyone, perhaps) if I tell you what kind of intrusive thoughts and/or flashbacks I am talking about.

Intrusive Thoughts

These vary from images that flash in front of my eyes when I am least expecting it (though not to be confused with a ‘flashback’ – you’ll see why later), to a little Voice of Doom in my head that likes to play Devil’s advocate with the ever-so-slightly-smaller Voice of Hope.  You might have heard me talk about ‘Ant‘ before (Automatic Negative Thoughts)?  Well she’s a whole other kettle of fish!  I don’t seem to hear much from her these days, but I often wonder if she is pulling the strings of the Voice of Doom.  Ok, so now I sound like I have multiple personality disorder, and whilst I do not profess to be particularly knowledgeable on that subject, I can confidently say that I do not! These parts of the brain exist in all of us, I just like to give them a name as we are so well acquainted.

So, let me give you a few examples.  

If you are old enough (that is, as old as me) then you might remember that 1980’s toy, the ViewMaster?  Hang on, I’ll find you a pic…Unknown.jpg…There you go.  When I close my eyes, it’s like an automatic ViewMaster, presenting snapshot after snapshot of memories.  Bad memories.  Mostly it’s Freya; lying in her hospital cot pleading at me with her eyes, gasping for breath, disappearing into the MRI tunnel or her eyes rolling into the back of her head as she was forced into sleep on an operating table.  The worst snapshot is the one of her lifeless, limp little body at the moment that I realised this was going to be bad.

Sometimes, it’s not Freya, but me that I see.  Like watching my own life through some kind of out of body experience.  That’s what happened when I went to bed last night.  Image after image of all the moments when I felt most frightened and most vulnerable during my 6-week incarceration courtesy of 3 of Yorkshire’s finest hospitals.  The moment the Cardiologist took me to a room and told me she couldn’t do anything to save Freya from the worst of risks.  The moment I tried to go back to the HDU, to my little girl, and slid down the wall because I couldn’t bear to take one more look at her if I was going to have to lose her.  The times when visiting hours were over and my lonely evenings began.  The long walk down those LGI corridors at 3am when my body betrayed my resolve to stay awake by Freya’s bedside all night (they wouldn’t let me sleep on the ward for that period).  And standing in the hospital Chapel doors, not really knowing why, but writing a prayer all-the-same; “Dear God, prove them wrong.”

Those are some of the things that I see when I close my eyes.  So I don’t.  I stay awake for as long as I can possibly keep my eyes open.  Partly because that means there are less hours for Freya to sleep ‘unsupervised’, partly because of what lies behind closed lids.

And then there are the thoughts.  The what ifs, buts and maybes.  I’ll be brushing Freya’s hair, and wonder whether she will have her brother’s curls…“What if you never see it?”  I’ll be listening to her gurgle and babble away in that special little language of hers and think about how I can’t wait to be able to chat with her…“As long as nothing bad happens before then.”  I swat those thoughts away like pesky flies, but the sneering tone lingers.  Every thought I have about the future is met with a voice warning me not to tempt fate.

Flashbacks

These are less common.  It’s hard to tell the difference between a flashback and an intrusive thought/memory sometimes.  I have mini ‘flashphoto’ moments at times.  I don’t know if you have ever seen that movie with Brad Pitt, Se7en?  <<Spoiler Alert>> There’s a scene right near the end when he opens the box and just for a split second you see an image of his wife’s head in the box.  It’s that quick, you don’t even know if you really saw it, and it’s only when you’ve seen it a few times that you start to expect it.  Well that happens to me with images of Freya, except sometimes the image sharpens until it has altered reality.  Just yesterday, I looked down at her little post-bath face framed by a fluffy white towel and was immediately taken back to the moment I first held her in my arms, wrapped in a hospital issue blanket.  Without any warning, a rush of sadness overwhelmed me and the tears that are always there at the brink started to fall.

I think for me, the differentiation between the intrusions and a flashback, is in both the intensity and their ability to alter reality.  The intrusive images are played to me one by one, like you would see with every click of that little red ViewMaster.  They are disturbing, upsetting and unnerving.  But I can shake my head and try to make them go away.  The flashbacks are different.  Whether it be seeing Freya’s face change right in front of my eyes to the point that I am again holding my sick child in my arms, to reliving a particular event, they steal into my life without warning and manage to transport me back in time to when it was all very real and very raw.  When the ‘real’ flashbacks happen, I am cold, rooted to the spot, I tremble, I sweat, my chest tightens and I can’t breathe.  And I cry, I cry a lot.

There have been a number of triggers for the ‘real’ flashbacks.  Mainly smells and sounds that take me right back to those weeks in the hospital.  The phone rings at the wrong time and it’s the monitors beeping incessantly to tell the nurses the IV has stopped running, again.  Freya’s bedtime toy starts to play it’s little tune in the middle of the night, and we’re right back there, in that cubicle, her eyes staring blankly at the glowing seahorse that soothes her to sleep.  I can’t sing a certain song, or hear certain pieces of music without being stopped in my tracks as my surroundings and environment change around me.  Having Freya’s old cot by the side of my bed is a major trigger.  The silhouette of the bars in the dim light of our bedroom at night; I find myself constantly checking the baby that isn’t there (she is in her own room now).

I feel like I am constantly being hijacked by my fears and my memories.  They don’t want to let me go, they don’t want me to let go of them.  And as warped as it might sound, I’m not sure if I want to let go of them… 

Letting Go

What does that actually mean?  You know what I am most scared of?  I’m scared of beating this, and forgetting.  Scared I’ll stop appreciating what we all went through and begin to take life for granted.  Scared that if I forget how it felt, I won’t fight to make sure Freya has the best life she can possibly have; that we all will.  And because I feel like my whole self has been defined by the events of the last year, I am scared that if I let it go completely I will not know who I am, and I will be lost.

But I do know that I have to let this go.  I have to open my mind to the treatment I am being offered.  I have to shift these things from my short-term memory down into the long, where they will never be forgotten, but where they will cease to have control over my life.

Treatment

Today I started the treatment in earnest.  During the session, I had to undertake a Mindfulness of Emotions exercise.  I was already crying before we started; I had been asked to think of 5 events in my life that had had either a positive or negative emotional effect upon me.  Always the over-thinker, I struggled to think of them and my mind went blank.  I thought of a couple of things – Grandad dying (bad), Eliza’s birth (bad), Finlay’s birth (good)… Nothing else would come, absolute blank.  Obviously the situation with Freya goes in there at number 5, but we had to agree to leave number 4 for next time.  I think the plan is that you practice the techniques whilst processing some old memories/events so that by the time you reach the biggie you are an expert in handling thoughts and emotions.  Something like that.

So, I sat in my chair opposite the therapist, and she handed me some paper towels to wipe my eyes (I have no idea why they don’t realise they might need tissues for these things!).  She told me to close my eyes, lay my feet flat on the floor and sit straight with my hands on my lap.  All I had to do was to sit still, feel my body in the chair, and when a thought came along I was to accept the emotion that it brought with it, and dismiss the thought. What actually happened was a full blown panic attack.  I felt the anxiety building as I sat there facing the counsellor with my eyes shut (did she not hear that I have an issue with that?!)  I was conscious that my feet wouldn’t stay still, and I was wringing the tissue in my hands.  Every inch of me wanted to get up and run, and it was one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever done.  When I stopped breathing, and then started gasping for breath (I know! Idiot!!) I had to open my eyes.  The counsellor had a chat with me about what had happened, and she said that I was trying to run from what I might see with my eyes closed, and we should start again.  This time I would face the window, so I might feel under less scrutiny.

The remaining 15 minutes of the exercise were tougher than I imagined.  But in that state of quiet awareness, I could actually see the thoughts arriving and feel the physical effects that those thoughts were having on my whole body.  It was intense, and surprising.  Sitting there in that state, I was acutely aware of how my body reacted to the thoughts as they intruded.  My toes were actually curling, my whole body squirmed, and my breathing became more rapid.  And then, of course there were the tears, but I never had that much of an issue producing those.  Sitting there allowing myself to feel the emotions whilst trying really hard to tell the thoughts to bugger off, I felt like one of those shove ha’penny machines at the amusement park.  A mind full of thoughts spilling over into my consciousness, causing the emotions to come rushing out in waves.  Towards the end I felt bruised.  But I did notice that within the last few minutes I began to notice the sounds around me, and no longer noticed the thoughts.  Cars going by the window, the scrape of a chair from the floor above, the buzzing of the PC on the desktop.  And as I noticed those noises, and the noises in my head began to quiet themselves, I felt my shoulders drop and I was still.

My homework is to practice that every day for at least 15 minutes.  As I am not sleeping, and am delaying bedtime, the counsellor suggested that I do the exercise in bed.  It’s like training your brain to accept thoughts without entertaining them, to feel the emotion that those thoughts evoke, but to focus on something else so that those emotions can be let go.  Right now, my thoughts are being overindulged.  They need putting on the naughty step, and I need to stop allowing them to dictate how I am going to live my life.

 

Wish me luck.

Freya’s Story (18)

I’ve just been sat posting pictures on http://www.facebook.com/freyasstory of our afternoon at Clumber Park with Freya.  I called the album ‘Happy Days’ with a tagline of ‘Making Memories’.  We look like any other family having fun times with a picnic and a selfie stick, and we were just that.  So why is it that I feel a huge sense of sadness looking back over our day?  And if I am truthful, even during the afternoon when we walked smiling through the grounds, I couldn’t help but be aware of the small dark cloud following us.  It seems that even good days are tinged with sorrow.  I wonder if we will ever feel completely normal?

Generally things are good.  I’ve told you that we’ve become accustomed to our new ‘normal’, and that actually we are just getting on with life as we would have done before all of this happened.  Well almost.  We would have been to more places, seen more sights, we would have definitely been abroad for a lovely holiday in the sunshine.  We would have made plans without limitations, had things to look forward to.

The thing with Kawasaki Disease is that it is a silent, deadly disease, often pretending to be something it is not.  It hides just beneath the surface, choosing to send symptoms to the fore one by one, just to keep the Doctors guessing.  Sometimes it chooses for a symptom not to materialise at all, throwing it in for good measure when it’s too late to make a difference.  You can think it is gone, and a after a couple of days of relief that the KD journey might be over you start to see the symptoms creeping back; a rash, a fever, something else.  And so you are always on high alert, watching closely to make sure Kawasaki has had it’s day.

I wonder though if I will ever just change Freya’s nappy, without checking over her body for any sign of a rash developing.  Whether I will stop feeling my heart jump into my throat when I see a spot that could be the start of something.  I wonder if I will always have to will myself not to fetch the thermometer every time her little cheeks flush.  I wonder if I will always catch my breath when she suddenly cries out, concerned she may be ailing for something that I cannot see.  I wonder if I will ever be able to quiet the voice that tells me to be cautious about loving her too much.  And I wonder if I will ever be able to watch her sleeping without the thought creeping into my head that she looks as peaceful as she would if she were dead.

I’m sorry if that sounds morbid, and if it’s not the kind of thing that you want to hear, but it is the reality and I promised myself and my followers (those few!) that I would always be candid. It’s how I feel today, and it is just one of the dips on the rollercoaster that is life with Kawasaki Disease.  You try to be positive, and focus on all the great things and reasons to be cheerful:

  1. The inflammation was stopped in its tracks and has not returned
  2. There have been no return of the most obvious symptoms
  3. Freya is a happy, contended baby who is thriving; feeding well, sleeping well – all signs of a healthy baby
  4. The coronary complications are improving at a surprisingly fast rate – right coronary artery has normalised, and the aneurysm in the left coronary artety has reduced from over 5mm during the acute stage to around 3mm at the last echo (1-2mm is the normal range)

You see, I’m not just being a ‘neghead’.  I am fully aware of all the things we should be grateful for, and we have much to cling onto that suggests that Freya will recover from this.  But (and it’s a big but) as much as the Kawasaki Support Groups on Social Media sites are generally helpful, every day I see posts from parents asking whether anyone has noticed this symptom or that, whether years after KD anyone’s child has had trouble with joint pain, behavioural problems, skin issues.  And every post sees replies from tons of other parents saying yes! yes they have seen those symptoms, and what’s more they’ve also seen rashes and temperatures and all manner of other symptoms since their child suffered with KD.  Most of the time it is useful to read, and it is a community from which I draw a huge amount of support.  I mean, no one can truly understand how this feels unless they’ve been through it.  But these kinds of posts are the ones that affect my positivity the most.  I try to be logical about it.  Mostly I think that we cannot ever know what future symptoms are related to Freya’s battle with KD or just symptoms that she might have had anyway.  My other children sometimes get ill, they get rashes, temperatures, aches and pains, eczema; neither has ever had KD.  So it stands to reason that at some point in Freya’s life she will get ill, but it is more than likely going to be unrelated to her condition now.  I remember one of the consultants making a similar case when we were re-admitted after Freya started bleeding.  He said that because of the rarity of Kawasaki Disease, the medical staff were on high alert for weird and wonderful things that could affect Freya, and that whilst they were making the assumption that all of her symptoms were connected to the disease, they were forgetting that she was a tiny baby going through many developmental changes.  Perhaps the gastrointestinal bleeding really was just a cow’s milk allergy and nothing else.  But even if I wanted to dismiss all of those comments and posts as illogical or poor assumptions, it doesn’t take away the fact that when you have been through this you will always be afraid.  The parents posting those statuses are crying out for help; for someone to tell them that they can stop worrying about KD making a reappearance.  I don’t think we ever will though.  Because we don’t ever want to experience the hell that is Kawasaki Disease again.

When I look back over the last few months, I still can’t quite believe how poorly Freya was.  It’s surreal.  Perhaps it was denial, a kind of self-defence mechanism?  Maybe its just because she is doing so well that it doesn’t seem real looking back now.  I look at the photograph of her when she was unrecognisable to me, she was so unwell, and I still can’t believe that it was her.  I remember the day the Doctor told us she was a 10 out of 10 on a scale of how critical her condition was.  I will never forget watching my baby girl go through test after test; daily blood samples, x-rays, lumbar punctures, ultrasounds, echocardiograms, bone marrow aspiration, MRI, a blood transfusion, a cocktail of drugs and blood products.  I just can’t comprehend it.  It was not supposed to happen to us, and although I know I should be thankful for where we are now I cannot be at peace with a disease that has stolen so much of my precious time with my daughter.  I am fundamentally altered.   I think I will be forever changed.

IMG_5353

Writing 201: Poetry Day 4

Today’s challenge: concrete poem, enjambement, animal.

If I had the time my plan was to write this using the image/shape of an ant. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my story or the content of my blog, ‘Ant’ is my unwanted BFF automatic negative thoughts. She’s an old friend that I don’t really want in my life, but who seems intent on sticking around.

Apologies for not meeting the ‘concrete’ brief, but if you knew the night I’d had I think you’d let me off, just this once.

ANT

Almost invisible to the human eye, but ever there. Ever busy. Annoying little ANT.
You think I can’t see you, but I’m not stupid. My thoughts of you are lucid as the words I speak.
You think me too weak to deal with your ever-present shadow.
What I do know is that you can’t beat me, even now. Not when I frown, not when I’m down.
Try as you might to spite me, I’m fighting. Busy, annoying, little ANT.

She’s Back

She’s back.
She’s here to try and knock me off my track;
She’s nervous now, she thinks I might be close to solid ground
No longer watching life slip through fingers like tiny grains of sand.
 
I want her gone.
She makes it hard for me to carry on;
She’s clever, knows it won’t take much to knock me down
And back to watching tiny grains of sand slip through fragile fingers.