Death in the family

 I blogged a few weeks ago about my mother-in-law’s fall and hospitalisation. At that point I was worried about my hub having to travel overseas to help his sisters care for her, and all I could think about was how he would cope on his own far away from our family with people who loved him but didn’t know about his condition; and how I was going to cope with childcare, parent-care and work without his support.

But on Easter Saturday, we received the news that my mother-in-law had died in hospital, four weeks after she was admitted.  She was only 64. The week that followed was an absolute whirlwind.  On Good Friday, we had a house full – 30 guests and the first social occasion we have hosted since my parents moved in with us in November. On Easter Saturday afternoon, I had taken the kids to a BBQ with friends, but by Easter Sunday we had travelled through three different countries and made it back to our family on the other side of the world.

Hub, didn’t grow up with his parents, they divorced before he started school and he grew up with his paternal grandmother, while his sister stayed with his mum. His mum went on to have two more kids. Unsurprisingly, he has lots of ‘parent issues’ and has been angry with his mum and dad for a long time. But on the flip-side a lot of what he experienced as a child has made him determined to be the absolute best father and husband he can be. And he is amazing.

To be frank I was worried about how he would cope. His mental health over the last few weeks had been up and down and I was worried his mother’s death would be an understandable trigger into a major depressive episode. One of his sisters knows about his depression and anxiety but no one else in his family does.

But the reality was very different from my expectations. It was a healing, healthy, sad but joyous occasion.

My mother-in-law’s life was truly celebrated. Over 50 people visited her home every night between her death and the funeral and more than 500 attended the funeral. It allowed both hub and I to see her in a different light and to recognise that alongside the stories he had of her from his very early years, she had done so much with her life and was much loved. Spending that intense time with family was emotional, bonding and grounding.  It made me realise just how important not just the relationship I have with hub is, but the relationship we have with our extended family is. 

We decided to take all three kids with us, and with 10 first cousins all together for the first time in two years, and a new four-week-old niece in the mix we were constantly busy, not just with funeral preparations and legal stuff, but ten kids are nothing if not a good distraction from losing yourself in shock and grief.     

We all went to see Hub’s mum at the funeral home the day before the funeral. I was worried about how he would react.  His anxiety had been in over-drive since we arrived. But when he went over to see her from where we had been sitting in the very back furthest corner from the casket, he said the almost overwhelming anxiety he had been experiencing for five days disappeared, that it felt calm, he described is as feeling like a full-stop.  I’m proud of him, that even though he didn’t want to go to the viewing, even though he felt like he was going to be physically sick, that he was over wrought with panic and that everything was telling him not to go, he did it.

I organised the funeral service, the readings, the songs, the choir.  I asked hub to read, but he didn’t feel he could. He thought his anxiety would be too great. But at the crematorium after the service he spontaneously gave the best speech of anyone, and his was the only speech to be met with a round of applause. He spoke about whether he was qualified to speak given he hadn’t grown up with his mother.  But he reflected, with some passion, that his mother had been the root of all the strong women in his life: she was the maternal figure to six young brothers. My mother-in-law went on to have an eldest daughter and three younger siblings, and hub’s eldest sister went on to have an eldest daughter and four younger siblings.  All those women are strong and supportive, focused on doing what they think is best, and driven by a real belief in the importance of family.  And for hub, that was his mother’s legacy; that of a strong matriarch and a line of strong, supportive, focused and ambitious women. He said he sees all of that in our own eldest daughter with her own younger siblings. 

It made me so proud that he overcame his anxiety at the viewing, at the family gatherings every night and at the crematorium. I hope he will draw strength from the fact that he faced the things that he didn’t want to and nothing bad happened.  But most of all, so far, I am glad that this hasn’t triggered a major depressive episode, and that on the surface, for now it feels like he has some closure.   

‘Caring’ for someone you love

It’s been a tough couple of weeks to say the least.  I still feel like I am reeling. Hub’s mum passed away and we’ve been abroad at the funeral for a week, still feeling jetlagged.  I’ll write more about what’s happened, and what I’ve learned shortly. But in the meantime I’m reproducing the blog which was kindly published by the amazing mental health advocate and author Rachel Kelly last week.

http://rachel-kelly.net/caring-for-someone-with-a-mental-health-condition/

Hope you enjoy…

Just like no one grows up expecting or planning to have a mental health condition, no one grows up planning to be the carer to someone with a mental health condition.

When I met my hub I was 17, he was 21 and we both worked as newspaper sub-editors. He designed the front page and the lead sports page, and all the other high profile stuff. I did the pages in the bowels of the paper that no one really reads in between attending university classes. I wasn’t a big fan of his to start with, in fact I was dating someone else in the newsroom, but after drinks, he ended up walking me home and we kissed outside my parent’s apartment. The rest is history. Twenty years, three kids and two grandparents living in a granny annex at the bottom of the garden later, we are still together.

I love my husband deeply and am constantly amazed by his tenacity and commitment to our family. There are days, weeks and sometimes months where his depression and anxiety mean he can barely get out of bed, that taking the bins out feels too much and the medication he is on makes him feel like a zombie. I know he’s had moments where he has felt that we would all be better off without him. On those days, I know his love for us and sense of duty is all that gets him through. I know during those times the last thing he wants to do is respond to a tantruming three-year-old who has the wrong colour bowl, deal with a father-in-law with dementia or break up a war between a feuding 8 and 10-year-old. I am so proud of him, that he remains driven and focused by our family and the kind of husband and dad he wants to be.

While I am seen, and classified, as a ‘carer’ to my husband, I don’t see myself that way. Ours is not a relationship of hierarchy or dependence, it is a mutual endeavour and I get just as much out as I put in. I’d encourage all ‘carers’ to think about why they do what they do, and what they get out of their particular set of arrangements. We aren’t knights in shining armour saving damsels in distress! If my husband wasn’t at home I wouldn’t be able to have the career that I do, nor would we have been able to give my elderly parents a home at the bottom of the garden. I care for my husband, I don’t ‘care’ for him. Most of the time the label ‘carer’ is irrelevant and I don’t use it. In fact, it is only really in the last year or so that I’ve come to accept it at all.

But this isn’t just a love-fest where I tell you how fantastic my husband is, and how we have a great and rock-solid relationship. The reality is, having a partner with a long-term mental health condition is shit and I wish he didn’t have depression and anxiety. There’s so much I still don’t get, and I often say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing, exacerbating issues and making things worse.

My husband won’t tell people about his condition, which means as his partner I am often isolated, feel alone and have to make up excuses when he doesn’t arrive at a family gathering or event with friends. Sometimes I get cross when I have to come home at the end of a long day at work and have to cook, clean, help with homework and put the kids to bed, because I get tired too!

My hub’s depression and anxiety feel like a big cloud, a dark secret and something he is ashamed of. I know it is a medical condition, and there should be no shame involved, but that’s just me and I know he is in a totally different place.

The biggest advice I have for other carers out there is that it is a tough journey and you need to move forward on the basis of unconditional love. We have grown closer through the years, but I know for others that it can really tear a relationship apart. Know that you are not alone and seek support in whatever way you can. For me, twitter and my blog have been a real lifeline enabling me to connect with other people in similar situations, and get things off my chest. Over the years, I’ve moved on from trying to fix my husband and make it better to an acceptance of his condition. Through trial and error, we’ve come to identify the practical things we both need to do when he has a major episode. Simple things like making time to be alone together, checking in on him whilst I’m at work, giving him quiet space alone by taking the kids out and taking deep breaths when I am about to explode all help. Another thing that helps is reflecting that the condition is cyclical, it has highs and lows; and when he is in a deep depression it helps me to remember that every time before he has come out the other side and he will again.

We don’t have all the answers, and life is anything but easy, but we are committed to each other and we are getting there.

Counting my blessings

My brother and his lovely girlfriend said they wanted to do something to help with caring for mum and dad and after having tried weekly visits, which don’t seem to really work for any of us, we’ve settled on them coming every six weeks or so to have a sleepover and look after mum and dad, and the three kids. This means that hub and I get some quality time, and hub in particular gets a break.  My brother and his girlfriend don’t know about hub’s condition, but they get what hard work my parents can be.

In many ways, my brother is very similar to me, enthusiastic, loving, positive, silly, fun-loving, and he amplifies all those qualities in me – I love being around him. But, in other ways, I am far more serious and rule-abiding than him, following a fairly traditional route to university, marrying my first serious boyfriend, proper jobs, kids, mortgage; whereas his life has been anything but traditional.  He errs on the scatty, hippy side and so I was surprised and really grateful when he offered this ongoing help. 

This weekend we went away for the second time this year. This time using the money I received for my carer’s respite break. Yes, I know the money was supposed to be for me; but, I would have felt weird using the money only on me, and it felt like a real treat to get a night away at a posh spa with hub.  We laughed loads, talked constantly and drank a bottle of prosecco whilst reclining in an outdoor spa pool…. Proper indulgent stuff that I usually sneer at.

The indulgence doesn’t align well with my values; but, I was grateful every second I was there and I need to remember my own advice… Which is, that I must invest in my marriage, take opportunities to laugh and recharge my batteries whenever I can.  I definitely won’t be going to a place like that any time soon again and it was lovely to have such a wonderful time.

Our garden has also just been finished.  It is now no longer a boggy, wet, clay mess; but a beautiful lawn with a lovely path and patio.  And with that, all the money I received when I was made redundant is gone! I’m proud of the fact that we managed to make the money last and we used it to build a home for my parents to live in, hopefully for the rest of their days. That money could have so easily evaporated with nothing to show for it, so I’m happy to see their little house at the bottom of the garden every morning when I wake up.

So here comes the dramatic part of this week’s instalment…

Like I posted the last few times, it really does feel like every time things calm down something else comes from leftfield to test us.

Whilst we were away, mum and dad came up to our house for dinner with my brother, his girlfriend and the kids.  Eventually they all curled up watching TV, and my mum (who is usually in bed asleep by 8.30pm) was fast asleep on the sofa.  Dad woke her up at 10pm to say the kids had gone to bed and they ought to be getting back to the annex.  But dad, with his dementia surprise, surprise, couldn’t find his slippers, mum got annoyed at having to wait for him and stormed off to the garden as she didn’t want to wait.

She went outside, looked up and was mesmerised by the moon… I kid you not.  Up until today, three days later, she still accepts no personal responsibility for what happened, it was the fault of the crescent moon for shining so brightly, nothing to do with not looking where she was going.  Anyway, she came out the door, looked up in the sky, missed the step down to the beautiful new Indian Sandstone path and fell flat on her back, cracking her head on the concrete, getting a 2 inch gash in the back of her head and a concussion. She has been traversing shaky, mismatched, uneven, wooden pallets and bog since February, but the first night she walked on the expensive, and supposedly safe new path this happens.  Thankfully she is fine apart from the gash, and I am grateful especially when you hear about other 80-year-olds taking a fall where the outcome can sometimes be catastrophic. 

This is the part that I am particularly counting my blessings about this week.  Not just that mum is ok, but about how my brother reacted.  If you had explained the situation which was about to happen and asked me to predict my brother’s response beforehand I would have said he would have called us at the spa and asked us to come home. He didn’t do that.

He called the ambulance, spent the night in A&E with my mum; his girlfriend looked after the kids, and dad who arrived in our house very confused at 4am when he rolled over to see that mum wasn’t in the annex.  No one called us, or even texted us.  We got up in the morning, slightly bleary eyed after too many drinks, and decided to go back for a swim. We didn’t get home til lunchtime. 

And this is what I am counting my blessings for this week.  Not that I’m having to cook extra meals for mum and dad, and check in on them every couple hours, and not just that mum was relatively unharmed, but I am counting my blessings that by me stepping away it gave my brother the opportunity to step up and to show me that all along he had that ability to do things I didn’t give him credit for. 

If we’d both been there I would have flown into ‘fix it mode’, and tried to control the situation. My brother did amazingly, so did his girlfriend.  Everyone was fine, and we still managed the break which meant we were so much better prepared, rested and able to cope when we got back. Another life lesson learned this week.  Sometimes I need to step back so that others can step up and I’m not the only one who can fix things. Thanks little bro.     

Top ten tips for being a resilient carer

The sun has been shining for the last four days, which for England, in late March, is fairly unheard of. Maybe that’s what has me in a particularly resilient and positive frame of mind.  A few things have happened over the last couple weeks that could have set me off course, but they’ve been coupled with good things too and generally I am feeling strong.

I wrote last time about my mother-in-law’s major injury and that my hub was likely to have to travel overseas to be with her. At that point I was feeling overwhelmed, like I just couldn’t catch my breath.  This weekend, on Mother’s Day morning at about 9am my parents arrived at our house, having traversed the muddy garden from the new granny annex to say that in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason, the brand-new plumbing system in the annex had backed-up and the bathroom had flooded.  They’d both been up all night, were exhausted and dad was particularly confused and agitated.  My immediate thought was that this was the last thing I wanted on Mother’s Day, that we currently have zero savings and there is no way I’d be able to afford to fix anything.

Hub and I went over and hub quickly worked out that someone, probably dad with his dementia, had turned off the electricity supply to the plumbing system.  We fixed it easily, a flick of a switch (coupled with post-it notes in bright colours all around the switch for future reference warning ‘Do not ever touch this button!’), I spent a couple hours cleaning up and we carried on and had a lovely day.  But the events of the last couple weeks have got me thinking about how I react to things.  Sometimes I can take things in my stride, and other times as a carer for my hub, my three kids and my parents I feel at breaking point unable to cope and pretty overwhelmed.

I want to understand, in a very practical way, how I can increase my stores of personal resilience, and how I can keep them strong.  There were some positive things that happened since I’ve last written which have really helped me to take a glass-half full approach and I am using this post to work out how to maximise these sorts of things happening in the future. I know I need to identify the things that make me feel strong and resilient as a carer and a person. I need to foster those things and create the conditions which help them to grow.

This post is about distilling those things so I can come back to them later, when inevitably I start to wobble. Caveat alert! This is unashamedly a list of things that help me feel strong, it isn’t a drag and drop list for everyone, but hopefully some of the things on here might resonate with others too.

So, without further ado, here are ten things that have helped me feel resilient in my caring roles in the face of set-backs …

  1. The weather: Well definitely, the weather helps, but there is not a lot I can do to control that. I suppose I just need to remain cognisant of the fact that my mood, and my resilience, almost 20 years after migrating to this country, are still affected by sunshine!
  2. Realising care is a mutual endeavour: While it’s important for me to recognise that I am a ‘carer’, equally I need to lose the label most of the time. I care for my husband, I don’t ‘care’ for my husband.  They are two different things.  This isn’t a relationship of dependence or hierarchy.  We are an equal partnership and he does as much which keeps me strong and helps me achieve all that I want to at work and at home as I do for him.  I don’t know many husbands that would say yes to staying at home to look after the kids, whilst living with parents-in-law (who they don’t really get on with).  I get a lot out of my parents being here; and my kids do too.  I need to recognise, value and not take for granted all the things I get out of my particular set of arrangements – caring is a mutual endeavour.
  3. Taking a break: I received a call from my GP last week saying they had recommended me for a carer’s respite break. Taking a break from caring helps whether it’s a night away or a cuppa (or more likely a glass of wine) with friends or a daytime nap. It gives me a chance to breath and means that I can cope better when things are tough. I remember back in the early days of parenting I could cope so much better with a crying baby when I had managed just three hours of unbroken sleep.  I suppose this tip is about recognising it is important for me to recharge my batteries.
  4. Positive feedback: But the carer’s respite break is doing more than just giving me the opportunity to take a breath. It’s also been important because someone ‘professional’ recognises I am doing a good job and told me. Saying that I need positive feedback, kind of makes me feel a bit weak.  I think I shouldn’t need others telling me I am doing well, I should be able to give myself all the affirmations I need to keep going. But I guess it is the equivalent of me telling people I work with, or the kids or hub that they’re doing well and I’m proud of them. I need to be cool with the fact that positive feedback matters and I need to seek it out because it makes me stronger.  Cynically I know why the GP surgery did it. If I can care for my family it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the state having to bear the costs of caring for a 75-year-old with dementia, diabetes and heart problems, an 80-year-old with glaucoma and diabetes, and a 41-year-old with chronic anxiety and depression. So, shelling out a couple hundred quid for me to have a break is a good investment for them. But nonetheless when they called me up ,and someone, a real person, said on the phone I was doing a good job, I smiled all afternoon.
  5. Goals that stretch me: The weekend before last, I ran my first half marathon. I started training in November when I could only run about 2 miles and at that time a half marathon felt like a totally unrealistic goal. And 4.5 months later cheered on by my family I managed to run just over 13 miles in two hours and 12 minutes.  Hub cried as I crossed the finish line (he will deny he did this, but I have witnesses!), he was super proud; the kids were proud, mum was proud, and so was I.  The thing about achieving what seems like an unrealistic or overambitious goal is that it gives me the strength to do similarly ambitious things in the future.  Being told it is impossible or really difficult to do something and then committing to doing it in itself is a real driver for me.  I totally appreciate this flies in the face of quite a lot of advice about setting realistic goals, taking one day at a time and baby steps, but for me something big and ambitious really helps.  It was the same with setting up my business, and building the granny annex.  I was told it would be tough, which made me even more determined to make it happen.  I haven’t got any big goals at the moment, and I know pretty soon I’m going to feel compelled to develop some.
  6. Being silly: I wrote previously about the importance of being silly and laughing, particularly when life and caring responsibilities feel so serious. I need to remember to make time to do things, and be with people, that make me forget for a moment all the other stuff and make me laugh. My friends, my kids, my hub, music and dancing all help!
  7. Controlling my reactions: CBT: I’ve also written previously about my experience of online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It’s been useful for me to realise I need to practice at taking a step back from things, and not to immediately react. I need to make sure I think about whether a different reaction might be better and calm a situation down.  I have to say I’ve not been consciously practicing this as much as I’d like, but on some subconscious level I must be doing something as I think I’m getting better!  Take the annex flooding for example.  Before CBT, I would have been flustered and angry when my parents came to deliver the news; but, on Sunday I was calm, I didn’t get angry, I didn’t blame anyone, because, in reality, what is the point of blame and accusations?  And as a result of me being in control of my reaction we managed to clean up and move on quickly not turning it into a major incident.
  8. Being inspired: I know I can get myself out of a funk by seeking out inspirational people.   This isn’t about reading the biography of Nelson Mandela, but about connecting with real people who inspire me through twitter and events.  I’ve been surprised and encouraged that when I approach people they’ve generally been really responsive and positive; and that’s upped my personal resilience stocks and sense of self-belief.  The work of the Aspire Foundation, led by the totally inspirational Dr Sam Collins, and their amazing events and the work of the Edge, and the School for Change Agents, led by the equally fantastic Helen Bevan the Chief Innovation Officer for the NHS have both been particularly useful in connecting me with inspirational people who are fairly far removed from my work and social networks.
  9. Taking a reality check: Linked with the theme of inspiration, sometimes it really helps when I am feeling overwhelmed to take a bit of a reality check. My @hubbydepressed twitter feed and the connections I have made through twitter and blogging are great at giving me the reality check I sometimes need.  There are so many amazing people out there dealing day in day out with challenges much tougher than I’ll ever face.
  10. Sharing/reaching out: This blog and twitter have been incredibly cathartic for me. They’ve given me an opportunity to offload and get things off my chest. It’s helped me to be able to let it all out and move on.  This has been particularly important as very few people know about my hub’s mental health condition.  The blog and twitter account have also enabled me to connect with people in similar situations whether as a sandwich generation carer, or as someone whose partner has mental health issues.  They’ve helped me feel less alone and that’s helped my resilience.

So that’s it. My ten tips for resilient carers… hope they’ve been useful.  I know I’ll come back to them.

Relative Calm… yeah right!

I have a mentor buddy. We meet up every six months or so. It works really well for me (and I hope them too!). Instead of a traditional mentor/mentee relationship it is more about reciprocity and mutual support.  We set some goals, we talk about how stuff is going, we review where we got to on our last set of goals. We cover both work and family stuff. 

We met last week and at that point things felt great.  I felt like I was riding a wave.  Like I had been struggling to get up on a surf board for ages, but now that I had, I could see the whole beach and was riding in to shore. 

It was a good opportunity to reflect on just how much had happened in the last six months.  When I last met with my buddy in November I wasn’t even sure that we would get planning permission to build the granny annex. I thought we might have to sell up and move somewhere bigger and cheaper. I wasn’t sure our marriage would cope with the stress of three generations in one home; and I had just started out on my new business with only one client and a big gaping hole and a lot of uncertainty about how I was going to pay the bills.

Fast forward to last week. Now mum and dad are settling in to their annex and starting to be more independent. Preparation for my big run – my first half marathon-is going well back in November I hadn’t even started training. Hub is back on his medication and seeing a therapist and is incredibly supportive of the fact that work is super busy with around 7 different clients.

And all of that is still in place…

But we have had a hell of a start to the week this week and it’s only Wednesday.  Part of me wonders if I am living in some weird version of the Truman Show (for those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a Jim Carrey movie where he thinks he is living a normal life, but actually he is the star of a reality TV show he’s been in since birth.  Anyway, feels like just as we manage to cope with everything and life calms down, it becomes ‘boring TV’ and the producers of the TV reality show that is our life start heading more crap our way. 

My mum, who has a far stronger faith than I do, always says that ‘God never sends you more than you can handle’, and no doubt that is true and we will be fine, but I do kinda wish I just had a little time to catch my breath. 

In fact, it is interesting that at my mentor buddy session I didn’t make any big commitments, which is totally unlike me.  My plan for the next six months was to 1. Run the half marathon without stopping 2. Be ok with no major goals, just enjoy the relative calm, settle and try and consolidate 3. Explore a new business idea I have but don’t put any pressure on and 4. Put more time in at home with hub and get a better work-life balance. 

And I will do all those things.

But on Monday lots of things happened.  My sister in law (my hub’s sister) had a beautiful, healthy baby; my mum’s brother died (he had been sick for a while so we had been expecting it); and hub’s mum had a major fall, shattered her pelvis. She is now unlikely to walk again as they cannot give her the surgery she needs due to all the other health complications she has. She will be in hospital for 6-8 weeks.  Hub is shaken; and I’ve not really been able to support him at all this week as have been all over the country with work.  I think the right thing will be for him to go to be with his mother and help out his sisters overseas especially as one has her hands full with a three-day-old; but, equally I am thinking about how we then juggle work, and care in our home if he is gone.

In the end all we have is family and that has got to come first; and certainly before my client commitments.  Not sure what will happen next, but certainly doesn’t feel like the ‘relative calm’ six months I was imagining last week.   

And exhale…

I’ve been super busy, with half term, work, life, and I just quickly had a look at my last post and it made me realise just how far things have moved on in the last two weeks and that I needed to blog. In part this blog has been about connecting with others, but it has also been about enabling me to track progress and see how far we have come.

Just over two weeks ago, my parents moved into the annex at the bottom of our garden. After three months of all living together I can’t tell you how much of a relief it has been to everyone. My dad almost immediately and instantly changed.  He still has dementia, he is still sleeping, but not for the whole day every day. And when the kids go out to visit him, he isn’t swearing at them and telling them to F* off.  It’s amazing what I now count as a good outcome… my father not swearing and scaring my kids!  I guess it is all relative.

There is still quite a bit of work to do; finishing the tiling, putting up guttering and not least sorting out the path so that I don’t have a 75 year old and 80 year old traversing a higgledy-piggledy line of pallets to their door over a boggy, clay mess. But despite that there are still things to do, on balance things are feeling so much better. Our house feels physically happier.

Over the last two weeks hub and I have also had some fairly major conversations- some have gone well, others have been horrendous, really really tough.

Hub stopped his medication about two months ago, his therapy finished and he has lost his way with his CBT plan.  He is overwhelmed and on some days struggles with the smallest things – making lunch, getting the kids to school. I know he feels incredibly guilty about it all.

As someone who loves someone with anxiety and depression – both major lifelong illnesses – I can’t understand why he can’t reach out for help the way I want him to.  But equally being on twitter and connecting with people who have similar illnesses, and connecting with those supporting others with mental illness  has given me a different perspective and made me realise just how hard every day is for him, and how much worse it could be.

We had another night away, courtesy Groupon, last Friday. My brother and his lovely girlfriend came to look after the kids and the grandparents so we got a bit of a break.  We really needed it. 

When we came home hub went straight out to a football match with one of his ex-colleagues, a doctor, who it turns out had suffered from a major period of depression himself.  And by the end of the weekend hub had decided he needed to go back to the GP and that he was going to start exercising more (one of the biggest bits of advice from his friend).

So last week, we went to the GP together. We now have a plan in place for the next month with regard to drugs, he’s referred himself for talking therapy and I think (as I type) he is at bootcamp!! I know he feels bleak, and lacks the confidence that any of this will help; but I can’t tell you how proud I am of him!

Final take on online CBT

I wrote this post a week or so ago, the day after I finished by online CBT class… Here it is.

I’ve finished my four sessions of online CBT. Looking back through the transcripts what have I learned? 

I’ve learned that I have a lot on my plate, and it’s ok to feel frustrated, angry and overwhelmed.  I’ve learned that my reactions are normal and understandable. But also, that I don’t need to immediately react in a frustrated, overwhelmed and angry way. I’ve learned when I do react in this way it affects my mood, makes me feel guilty and then impacts everyone else in the house.

I’ve learned through my sessions that if I can give myself space before I react; and if I use this space to reflect and consider my response before I make it, I’ve got a much better chance of ensuring things don’t escalate.  I’m coming across like someone with anger management issues… I’m not! Honest!

I’ve also learned that this is much easier said than done!  I’ll need to keep practicing and practicing until it becomes automatic, just like driving a car.

So all in all I think that’s quite a lot to have learned in the space of 2 hours (4 x 30 min online sessions). Go me!

Over the last few weeks I do feel like I’m coping better with all the utter ridiculousness headed my way.  Our builder messed up the plastering and doors in the granny annex and then walked out, our neighbour complained about the pipes we’ve laid, building control have said they aren’t happy, hub is overwhelmed, confused and struggling as he’s having to cope with his depression, anxiety, three kids, and managing a pretty major building project along with my parents as I’ve been out at work every day. All of this has pushed the move-in date for my parents back which is adding to the tension in the house.  It’s cold and dark. My mother is regretting moving and then confronted me about hub saying she thinks he is unwell. Well duh, yes I know that, but obviously I can’t talk with her about it, which seems ridiculous as it is so obvious how unwell he is.  But even with all this I’m feeling surprisingly resilient and optimistic. 

The plumbing work should be finished by Sunday, as should the kitchen so my parents should be out the house and in their own space with their own things by next week.  I taught my parents how to catch the bus so hopefully mum can start to feel a little less cooped up and more independent. I managed an 8.5 mile run on Tuesday. 

I am massively worried about hub at the moment, but I’m learning to recognise the things that I can help him with and the things I can’t. I’m starting to think more consciously about when it is useful to go into ‘fix it’ mode, and when it isn’t. And this is a big one for me, I am realising that sometimes my trying to ‘fix’ things makes them worse.

Ultimately I’m feeling good because I know things will be ok, and that taking a deep breath, or five!, before I react really does help.  

‘Incident’ on a train

I’m on the train on the way to one of my clients.  Ordinarily I quite like this commute. It 90 mins long, but the trains are quiet, I have time to think, read, tweet and blog. Today it’s been different.

About 20 minutes into the train journey we had an accident.  Turns out the train hit a person at a level crossing, not sure of the outcome for the person, but the emergency crew just walking through the carriage says it isn’t good. 

I’ve been quite frustrated by the guard on our train.  There’s lots in the news and from the train unions about how important guards are, but to be honest ours hasn’t been great. From the time we first stopped he’s been talking about an incident and an accident.  Why can’t he say someone has been hit?  On the official twitter handle for the train company they have said someone was hit, why the dehumanising language for the passengers on the train involved?  As far as the passengers on the train are concerned we could have hit a low hanging branch not another human. 

Whilst I’ve been typing someone just tweeted me pointing out that the guard was probably concentrating on supporting the traumatised driver. Fair point, now I feel bad for thinking badly of him, but I do think language is important. Why say someone’s death is an ‘incident’?

For the last 90-minutes I’ve been in a carriage with no lights, no heat, 0 degrees outside and about 50 hysterical private secondary school students on their journey to school. Not an ideal start to the day, but I’ve been messaging my husband and it’s been making me think.  How would someone with anxiety cope in this situation? Stuck, noisy and with no control or idea what is going on or when it will end.  Hoping there are no anxiety sufferers on board today because our guard surely isn’t helping!

It’s also got me thinking about depression and suicide.  Sending them and their family so much love. Can’t imagine how it must feel to be in a situation where your life feels so overwhelming that death is the only option. Makes me so grateful for all I have.  That man’s poor family was probably thinking it was a normal day, and now it is totally devastating. 

It also got me thinking about why some people choose such public ways to take their own lives.  Not got any clever thoughts or neat resolutions on these big issues, but sometimes it’s just good to reflect, look at your glass, realise it isn’t full, but it’s certainly more than half full and be grateful for all that you have.  And though I am cold, and the teens are still braying I’m grateful.  

 

Online CBT and me

Last week I posted my somewhat mammoth to-do list for the first three months of 2017… So far I’ve failed at least two of my commitments…

I ran only twice last week instead of the three times in my training schedule; but, to be honest I’m not too bothered about that because I still managed to run seven miles without stopping on Sunday – the longest I’ve ever run in my life and I feel well on the way to being able to run a half marathon in March… Go me!

However, the second failure I’m a bit more worried about. I’ve taken on more work, which I said I wouldn’t do until my parents were all moved in to the annex. I committed to do this to help take some of the pressure off hub. But now I’ve accepted work which means for the next month I’ll be working every single day.  Why didn’t I just say no to the new work? I can’t back out now, but I’m worried about the impact it will have on hub and the kids. Arggh.

But the point of this post isn’t to beat myself up, so I’ll stop doing that.  The point of this post is to reflect on my first online CBT session ahead of my second one today. 

My hub did a  face-to-face CBT as part of his depression and anxiety treatment about a year ago. At the time, it really seemed to help, although a year down the track most of the positive impact has now disappeared.  There’s lots of evidence which shows that some mental health issues are very well treated by CBT and other sorts of talking therapies, and while I don’t have a mental health condition when my GP suggested I might want to consider CBT  I jumped at the chance.

In part I jumped because it fit well with my ambitions for self-care this year, in part to see if I could pick up any hints to help re-ignite my hub with the positive impact it had on him last year and also just out of plain curiosity, particularly given my CBT is online… Would I be able to connect with someone who was just words on a screen rather than a voice, or a person whose body language I could read… and more importantly would I be able to type fast enough?

So I shared my mega list of commitments with the therapist. The therapist was polite, but also pretty clear that I needed to focus on one or two things that I could achieve that week that would stop me feeling overwhelmed.  And in part I acknowledge that by setting myself too big a to-do list I am setting myself up to fail.

I guess lots of you know what CBT is all about, but I’ve only just understood that it isn’t about fixing all the things that are overwhelming me at the moment… being the sole breadwinner, my worries about my hub and his mental health, the fact my mum knows exactly how to push all my buttons, my dad’s dementia, accompanying mood swings and the impact it is all having on the kids. And I guess I need to be upfront that I’ll probably struggle with the fact that CBT isn’t about fixing.  I am a fixer, so the fact that CBT is not about fixing anything or looking at root causes is probably going to grate for me.  But I’m going to keep going and see where I get to.

I poured my heart out about how upset I get when my dad calls my kids f**king idiots, or when I find my hub head in hands. I realise that all too often I jump in and tell my dad that his behaviour is unacceptable. The reality is that he can’t control his behaviour, he then gets in even more of a strop when I confront him, which makes me feel even more angry and overwhelmed that he won’t take responsibility…. Yes, I realise that expecting someone with a severe cognitive impairment to take responsibility for their actions is totally unrealistic… but it doesn’t stop me from doing it.

This week, as a result of the first CBT session, I’ve focused on three interrelated things – Being more in control of my response when mum, dad or hub does something that winds me up.  The therapist advised that when something like this happened I need to remove myself from the situation either physically or emotionally by taking 5 deep breaths.

I’ve tried her approach this week, at least 30 times, which probably demonstrates just how many times a week I feel frustrated or overwhelmed.  Perhaps the most difficult incident was when my dad decided to lift one of the kids (which he obviously couldn’t do), then they both came crashing to the floor, leaving dad with a black eye and middle child squashed by granddad.  I gave cuddles, took deep breaths and didn’t get angry at anyone.  And actually I felt a lot better as a result.

Can’t say I’m really connecting with an online entity typing to me, but the advice seems to be working, and I’ve learned I’m a much faster typist than I gave myself credit for!

 

Inability to focus or just a good list maker?

I started an online cognitive behaviour therapy last week on advice from my GP.  I popped in to talk about birth control and burst into tears about all the caring I’ve got going on.  GP was lovely.

I’m just about to have my first proper session and the therapist asked me to think setting a small number of tangible goals… I’ve just drafted a message to her and it has about 30 different commitments.  Not sure if this demonstrates that I’m very good at list making and goal setting; or if I have a total inability to focus.

Either way, in the spirit of accountability (and I know once you write things down you are much more likely to achieve them) here are my goals for the first quarter of 2017.

My work

Continue working on the contracts I have already lined up. 
Don’t go seeking any more work
Work as few hours as possible away from home until mum and dad are settled in the granny annex
O
nly attend work meetings and networking events if they are absolutely critical.

My husband
Make space for hubby and I time on our own at least once a week. This might be going for a coffee, watching some TV on our own or just having a chat.
Talk to him every day to ask him how he is feeling.
Try and keep my parents away from hub, especially until they have their own space (not quite sure how I am going to do this when I’m not home).
By the end of March I’d like to have helped hub work out what he wants to do outside of looking after the kids.  I’m not sure how to do this either. Welcome your thoughts.

My parents
I will use my online CBT to help me come up with some tactics to help me cope when my parents are upsetting me, or if they are upsetting my husband or my children. This will be tricky.
I’ll make sure my home time isn’t monopolised by my parents, but equally that they are getting the attention/support they need.  The move has been difficult for them too.  This will be tricky too!
By the end of March with my hub and my parents together we will come to a decision about whether the annex and all living together is working.

My friends
I will make time to see my friends once a fortnight at a time when it doesn’t impact on my family (so as far as possible not in the evening or weekends unless it is a whole family social occasion).
I will keep attending my bookclub and whatsapping my friend groups and talking with my sister and sister in law about how things are going.

My kids
I will not have my phone whilst I am with the kids and will ensure the little time I have with them is concentrated on what they want/need. Whether that is listening to music practice, watching TV, or playing cars. This will be one of my hardest objectives to hit. I am addicted to my phone.

Me time
  I will keep blogging and tweeting to make connections with other people in a similar situation and to let it all out.
I will be honest in my online CBT about how things are going.
I will run the half marathon on March 19 and stick to the 3 run a week plan I have in the diary.

My home
I will stop obsessing about getting an extension done. I won’t even get quotes.

I will get our finances back under control by having a better handle on what is going in and out.

I will let mum do whatever she wants in terms of constantly cleaning and reorganising everything, it doesn’t matter! (this will be tricky too).