Withdrawal from antidepressants: I didn’t fail

From the moment I decided to share my journey of coming off anti-depressants, it was a massive leap of faith for me. Putting something very personal out there, wondering if anyone would think any less of me for knowing I needed a drug to get me through my days. But my ultimate goal was to be honest, real and true about the entire journey and the ultimate outcome. Hoping that it might help someone, even just one person, relate to or think about their own journey and take strength from mine.

But I think this post might just be harder than the first.

Timing

I thought it was a good time to at least try and come off the Sertraline.   I mentioned in my last post I hadn’t been a mum or parented without them, how did my kids know the real me? Being off them while pregnant doesn’t really count, as we all well know pregnancy hormones create their own little party in your brain for 9 months, so trying to determine if you’re good without anti-depressants during that time is like trying to hold a tray of pina coladas steady on a bouncy castle.

“How did my kids know the real me?”

So after a year of being in Spain, learning a bit more of the lingo and finding some wonderful new friends, I thought now was as good a time as any. After all, challenges in life very rarely stay away for long. You can bet your kiwifruit that something will come up and hit you when you least expect it……and it did. More on that in a moment.

But deciding whether or not to go back on an anti-depressant brings to the front all sorts of feelings, emotions, questions, the first being, “why can’t I cope”, “did I fail?”. Easy to say because we all self deprecate in the beginning, but ultimately of course I didn’t fail, it was the best decision for me and my family.

“…of course I didn’t fail, it was the best decision for me and my family”

We have to give ourselves a break and more credit. The very moment anyone accepts and admits that they might need some additional help to get them through PTSD, anxiety, depression, grief, hormonal issues, or any other trauma, is half the battle and strength you show as an individual RIGHT THERE!!!

Let’s rewind to day 21.

Days 21-35

If you’ve been following my journey coming off the Sertraline you’ll know it’s not been plain sailing. Slap a menstrual cycle in the middle of that too, and you’d be forgiven for thinking a volcanic eruption had occurred.  I was so on edge I didn’t recognise myself. I’m pretty sure my kids thought someone had kidnapped their mum.

Jokes aside, these last two weeks led me to have a check in with my doctor on about day 28. She offered me a natural alternative of passion flower to try before thinking about going straight back on the Sertraline. I was relieved to think a) my doctor was so forward thinking and holistic minded and b) I didn’t have to think about trying to go back on the Sertraline straight away.  It seemed like a good place to start.  I’ve gone down the naturopath road many times before, had great results, but it was a good friend who reminded me, why not try the natural remedy path first? You tend to forget about these things when you’re lost in a helpless fog.

I had a terrible experience at a hospital MRI scan, where English – Spanish translation became an issue, and I found myself having a panic attack during the MRI. This was so unlike me, and thoughts and heart were racing, I had no choice but to tell myself to pull it together because I had to drive 40 minutes home alone and pick up the kids.

I tried switching my diet around. I did a lot of research on food for moods, something another good friend had suggested. I switched to decaf coffee and tea, reduced my sugar intake including wine (which is really difficult for me), and ate more good oil rich food and fruit and vegetables. I fully support diet has a lot to do with good mental health and will be trying more of this.

It was five days before I was able to get my hands on the passion flower, and those days were so turbulent, because guess what, that challenge I was talking about before, showed up.  On day 22 we were served notice to move from our house because the landlord wanted it back.  We were faced with hunting for another home, and the prospect of moving filled me with anxiety and dread. And the test of dealing with more change after just coming off anti-depressants hit me with full force.

It didn’t stop me from going into my usual project mode, spreading the word amongst friends, signing up to real estate sites and visiting agents.  But my normal consistent coping mechanisms were far from there.  I was emotional, irritable and fatigued and really had to push myself to keep going some days.  One moment I was up, the next hiding from the world and bursting into tears.  Unfortunately it all fell on a week where memories of my mum were all too fresh as the 5th anniversary of her death loomed, reliving the week before she passed.  Also Lara had her first week in her new all Spanish school, and I was clearly struggling more than her on the language front.  Trying to comprehend in Spanish what it was she needed, forms completed, finishing times which I clearly missed in translation and didn’t pick her up on time one afternoon.  I felt like I was failing on more than one level.

Day 36

I had thought about it more times a day than I care to admit, “do I need a pill to keep me level headed?”, “why can’t I cope?” or “will I ever be free of these things?”, but I had to think rationally and do what was best for me and my health.

So five weeks on from stopping, I’ve taken the leap and am back on Sertraline, I lasted a grand total of 36 days anti-depressant free. I found out what it was like to parent without them, and mostly it was a hellish experience.

More questions arise, “should I have weaned myself off for longer?”, “could I have discovered more natural remedies to try”.

“I lasted a grand total of 36 days anti-depressant free”

I forgot about the nausea you experience in the first 2-3 days when you first start taking it, but it will pass, it will be the plaster I need to be normal and predictable for my family, stop me buying shares in Kleenex and breath again.

My tea in the morning is back with a side of Sertraline, but that’s ok.  In the next two months I’m facing a house move and extensive foot surgery with a three month recovery time, which is going to make parenting VERY interesting.  

This simply wasn’t my time, and it doesn’t mean I will have to take them for the rest of my life, but I always use the analogy that if you needed blood pressure medicine, you wouldn’t question it, or insulin for diabetes, anti-depressants are like a set of spark plugs for your brain.  

Let’s help remove the stigma surrounding anti-depressants and mental health as a whole.

 

 

 

 

20 Days without Sertraline

20 days flying solo

On one of my Instagram stories on Friday I described the way I felt as “cream crackered”. I obviously picked it up from my time in the U.K. Had I been speaking Kiwi, I may have come out with something more along the lines of knackered or last week was hard yakka.

Whatever way I choose to express the way I’m feeling about the 10 days I’ve just experienced since my last update, it all translates to exactly the same thing. Coming off antidepressants is f-ing difficult.  I could have minced my words, but it wouldn’t have come close to the real emotion of what happens to you when you are withdrawing from this stuff.

One thing I do know is that it can’t be rushed. If you think about the normal routine of life, things that make you stressed on their own, or if you’ve experienced nights of bad sleep or no sleep, and then you throw in on top of that stopping a drug that has influence on your serotonin levels, which usually provides a certain level of balance. A pill that chemically alters the way in which you react to certain scenarios, and how you feel on a daily basis.  I have a new admiration for anyone that has done this, made it and stayed off them.

Days 9-15

Last week we experienced some pretty impressive storms in Madrid, and I’m fairly sure someone told me once when I was a little girl that thunder was caused by clouds being angry at each other and banging together. Of course when I tried to tell Lara thunder was caused by lightning, a barrage of questions followed I wasn’t prepared for AT ALL. What I DID know was that some days were very much like that storm, pressured and reactions, shall we say, unpredictable.

No day has been the same, and although days 9-15 weren’t all that easy, I have to take into consideration that there were some additional factors at play.  Two little people at home 24/7, and stressful admin situations in New Zealand that required calls at unsociable hours, even for Spain, which meant disrupted sleep.

The good news is my appetite returned and I managed to pin myself to the floor long enough to do at least 15-20 minutes of pilates or at least strengthening exercises on most days.  All which helped with the mental coping mechanisms.

Days 16-20

There has definitely been an improvement this week.  Not sure if the long winding road of school holidays coming to a close has something to do with it, but if I think long and hard about it, the emotions of sending Lara off for her first day of Reception next week, could easily knock me off my tightrope.

It also occurred to me this week that I don’t know what kind of mum I am without antidepressants.  I wasn’t on them until Lara was 6 months old, then came off them while pregnant with Asher, but pregnancy hormones is no way to gauge whether you’re coping or not, and I started taking them again when Asher was 8 weeks old.  So for more time than not, I’ve always had a crutch, stabilisers to help me through motherhood.  So if anyone asked me tomorrow how I’m coping as a mother, I’d probably have a very uncertain response for them. I don’t know.

However in true me style, this week I’ve been keeping myself busy, making sure things are checked a million times for Lara’s first day at school and she has everything she needs.  I’m not sure what I’m more worried about, the fact that she’s going in to an all Spanish school, and will she understand everything, or that I won’t understand the other mums, or teachers and I’ll end up losing important things in translation. I Spanish translate most days, but Lara’s school needs (and Asher’s eventually) are important, but what better motivation to improve my Spanish vocab right?

Back to the antidepressants, I think it’s still too early to tell if I’ll stay off them.  Those moments when I’ve had wobbles in the last 20 days, it has crossed my mind, but it’s only been fleeting, and I’m not about to give up just yet.  The improvement this week is encouraging, and I can only cross my fingers and hope a life without anti-depressants is the future.

 

*Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.

 

 

 

 

My antidepressant withdrawal journey

If you’d like to know more about how this all began for me and the history behind antidepressants in my life, please feel free to read my very first blog post titled “The Mummy Shift”.

I can’t stress highly enough, before adjusting or coming off any medication such as this, please consult your doctor or medical professional for an appropriate withdrawal or reduction plan. This isn’t like giving up chocolate cold turkey (although I get withdrawals when I do that too).

Am I ready for this?? I can’t honestly say, but let’s back track to 29 July 2019, Day 1 of changing the levels of my medication to begin the withdrawal process. I’ve been on Sertraline 50mg for 18 months now, so I’m on a withdrawal plan over a 3-4 week period.

Day 1-5

As my dose is quite low, I am able to cut my pills in half, so that’s what I have done for these first 5 days (25mg a day).

I’ve always been very religious about taking my pills – missing doses is never good. I ran out of my prescription once a year ago and went through a weekend of total withdrawals which were awful, so I’d never attempt that again.

Side effects

Noticeably more irritable and less tolerant. Which is difficult when you have two little ones, but even they pick up on things, when you’re not quite yourself, they knew something wasn’t right.

I had tried to explain as best I could to Lara so she was a little understanding of what was making mummy feel and act different, that I had stopped taking a pill, but that these bad feelings wouldn’t last forever. Her response was “silly sausage pills” 😂

I had insomnia throughout the week and lost my appetite a little, but I didn’t give up wine. Oh no, nah ah, it was the one thing to keep me sane at the end of a day after two kids full time during summer holidays.

Timing

Why now? Ok so doing it during a summer school holiday with a vacation approaching may not have been the smartest option, but a few factors bought me to my decision. We’ve settled where we are living in Spain now, and I’m really happy here, but let’s be honest life will never be perfect and I could find multiple excuses to keep putting the withdrawal off, or delaying at least trying to come off it, but there is always something going to get in the way. I’m staring down the barrel of surgery in a couple of months again too, so I wanted to know now how good I could cope without the antidepressants.

Things that have helped:

Vitamin B supplements

Meditation, in particular deep breathing exercises and visualisation

Time with friends

Writing and blogging about the experience

Stretches and Pilates at home

Day 6-12

I am now into week two and staying on the reduced dosage of 25mg for a further week. Things have improved, sleep wise, tolerance wise, and I’ve had more good days than bad.

Day 10 I had a wobble, the day seemed nearly impossible to get through, being constantly lethargic, on edge and very emotional, but by day 11 it had passed.

My appetite has increased a little more, and I am noticing a slight change in my creative streak. I wouldn’t say it was completely numbed before, but I can feel a definite increase in my excitement for things, and ideas are flowing more.

One thing I struggle with anyway, being an EDS sufferer, is fatigue and concentration (or lack of), so it may be more difficult to gauge if these will change once I’m off the pills or not, but I’d like to think I could stay awake longer than two pages into reading a book.

Day 13-18

Feeling brave and up for the next challenge, I reduce the pills down to the lowest dose I can possibly get them. Quarters it is, without chopping my finger off. 12.5mg seems tiny really, and I wonder what effect it really is having.

Day 18 we leave for our vacations, a small 6 hour car journey, that turned into 7.5, which is not crazy. We arrived at our friends house where we were staying for the first 3 days on our vacation. It was actually a stressful journey towards the end with an inconsolable toddler, anyone NOT withdrawing from antidepressants might have had a complete meltdown. But we made it, laughed off the disagreements on direction challenges and made the most of spending time with friends and being on holiday as a family.

D-Day

Or should I say No AD-Day. Day 1 of nada, zero, zip, zilch, nowt pills whatsoever. I can’t quite tell you what bought me to this point, or if I even really thought it was a good idea. This is the part I was always scared of. Coming off the pills completely, not knowing how I would react, or if I would cope. So many scenarios were running through my head that morning.

Nonetheless, I made the leap and for the first time in 18 months I had my morning cup of tea without a side of Sertraline.

In some ways being in a different environment, with other people was probably a god send. I had a distraction, there was no ability to just hide away in a corner, but at the same time, if I did hit rock bottom, I was in a safe environment with my family and people who knew me.

Luckily, it didn’t come to that. There was no major fall out, if anything, by the time the evening came round, and we were sat round having a few drinks after an amazing BBQ, I had even forgotten that I had not taken ANY antidepressants that day.

I am taking the wins a day at a time.

Day 1-8 No Antidepressants

More ups than downs definitely. And Day 8 threw a curveball at me with a very emotional and on edge start to the day.

But I knew there may still be off days. When you come off an antidepressant, it takes time to exit your system and for your serotonin levels to return to normal.

I am also very conscious of the fact that every day factors contribute to moods and the way we are feeling anyway. Diet and exercise has a huge role to play in the way I feel, with or without mental health challenges, so now my holiday eating and drinking binge is drawing to a close, it’s time to bring back a little more self care.

Overall, I’m holding onto the positives of this journey, and almost a month in, I hold high hopes that I will be able to stay off the Sertraline. But equally, as time goes on and I continue to monitor my feelings and overall reaction to every day challenges, I will be transparent and open about any possibility that should the need arise, I shouldn’t be afraid to admit that I need to go back on them.

If you have any questions, or would just like to compare stories on your journey with antidepressants, please do send me a message. A problem shared, is a problem halved.

JetKids BedBox by Stokke

I’ve lived away from New Zealand for over 12 years now, in U.K. and now in Spain. So it’s fair to say I’ve made my fair share of long haul flights going to and from home, most without kids up until 4 years ago.

My most recent trip this year in April might just have been the toughest of them all, and hands down the most challenging.  Two children under the age of 4, long haul to New Zealand, via Doha, ON MY OWN.

I only had 10 days to plan the trip, so when I put out an SOS to one of my mummy groups asking advice on something related to the trip, one mummy kindly offered use of her Jetkids BedBox.  Empathy aside, as I think everyone thought I was just a little crazy flying solo 27 hours with two children, I was extremely grateful and now I’m a convert of children’s suitcases that make your life just that little bit easier when it comes to travelling on aeroplanes.

Overall experience

Firstly, I can’t fault its design.  We’ve got a Trunki, and it’s fun and colourful, but Jetkids Bedbox is a lot more sturdy (even if it does weigh in at 3.3kg on its own), easier to wheel around if you have to pull your child on it, and of course when you’re on the aircraft, enables your child to put their feet up, sleep, and be comfortable, instead of legs dangling or scrunched up in the seat.

It is designed for ages 3-7 years, and my eldest seemed pretty comfy on the mattress which comes rolled up inside including two arm side pieces.  The lid of the Bedbox simply and easily lifts off, you turn it over, click it into place back on the base of the suitcase, and extend the leg rest plate out.

I flew Etihad Airlines this time, who are approved for use of the BedBox, and on the jet-kids.com website you will find a complete list of those airlines officially approved.  If you don’t see the airline you’re travelling with on the list, simply make a call to the airline before you go to ensure they accept them for use.

When it came to space in the Bedbox, its brilliant design means you don’t have to open up a suitcase in the conventional way with things falling out, and you can pack a few toys and activities for the trip, along with a change of clothes.

It also doubled as a source of entertainment during times of transit.  We were delayed for 3 hours at the start of our trip which caused us to miss our connecting flight to New Zealand from Doha.  During that painful waiting period, especially when I was on my own with the two little ones, the BedBox turned into a wonder toy, and a star attraction for making friends too.  My two ended up pushing each other around on it, other kids wanted to pull it around, it ended up being the absolute saviour for my sanity.

Pros vs Cons

I had the best experience, and will be buying one for our next long haul trip, but of course like any product there are pros vs cons, so without further ado:

Cons

  • If you are booked in economy and in the bassinet aisles, this won’t work so well for you, as you can’t set it up properly as a bed with no seat in front of you, and it will roll across the aisle like a Jaffa (it’s a kiwi candy)
  • You do have to store it in overhead luggage until the seatbelt sign goes off after take off, which means you can’t set it up as soon as you get on the aircraft
  • I’m not sure if I would consider this a con, but having the mattress rolled up inside, does limit the amount of space for your child’s things, but that may not be such a bad thing, especially weight wise if you end up carrying it.
  • The suitcase by itself weighs 3.3 kg, which can be a bit much and bulky when it has things in it if you end up having to carry it.  But hopefully you won’t be on your own like I was, two pairs of hands always makes a huge difference.

Pros

  • Easy to set up, and makes an economy seat a comfy space for your little ones to relax, and ultimately sleep.  It might also relieve you of the arms, head and leg flailing that creeps into your seat space, and dare I say it, allow you to get some shut eye too
  • Stores their toys, activities and snacks for the journey in one neat place at the base of their seat, and gives you back more room in your own carry on luggage (use it wisely ;-))
  • Provides entertainment similar to a theme park bumper car in times of transit in airports
  • It spins on its wheels like a dream. Goes without saying it needs to if you’re going to be pulling your child along on it especially if you’re running for a plane (nope no idea what you mean, not me)
  • It officially survived long haul to NZ and back with two children under 4 without a scratch or anything broken, to me, that means it’s bullet proof
  • Officially approved for use on a wide selection of airlines

Cost

We aren’t talking cheap, but you get what you pay for, and that definitely is quality and you can’t put a price on sanity if you’re a regular travelling family.  On their website jet-kids.com the BedBox retails for €169.00 and the RideBox €129.00 (minus the mattress and  seat extension).

So if you are travelling a lot, and especially long haul, with one or more children, we are talking an investment in your holiday happiness.  Well done JetKids for a saviour in children’s travel experience.

My only regret is I didn’t get more photos of the BedBox in action, simply and purely because I had an 18 month old on my lap, juggling meals, nappy changes, tantrums or a runaway down the aisle.  Maybe next time.

Useful links:
Jet-kids.com
Amazon.co.uk

@jetkidscom

Not a paid partnership

*Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.

The Invisible Truth of the Invincible Mum

I would never dream of referring to my self as invincible, but as far as Marvel characters go, I’d be keen to try out Invisible Woman or Mystique for a day.  In the real world, I’m pretty sure as mothers we are perceived to have super powers more often than not, or maybe that’s just the pressure we put ourselves under.  One thing I do know, is on more than one occasion I have simply wanted to be anything but a super hero, break down and bare all (keeping my cape on) to whomever the poor sod that happens to be standing there at the that moment in time, about the pain, the angst, the mental struggle and just down right miserable existence that can be, being a sufferer of a silent and virtually invisible illness.

This isn’t a sympathy vote, if it was I would have shouted about this bad boy all over social media a looooooong time ago. This is a recognition of those who suffer in silence and a reality or awareness check for anyone that may not know the signs or symptoms of someone with an invisible illness.

What is an invisible illness or disability?

It’s an exhaustive list, but if we were to name just a few such as chronic fatigue and chronic pain, diseases such as Crohn’s or IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, even different types of mental illness including anxiety, these are just a few that someone you know may suffer silently with on a daily basis.

The pain and the struggle is very real, and of course varies from person to person, but unfortunately it is often mistaken by some as faking it, or “you’re too young to have something like that”, or the worst, someone perhaps even being labelled hypochondriacs.

Some chronic illnesses are more private than others, and people won’t feel comfortable about exposing their issues anyway. If anything like me, I really don’t like talking about my own medical issues in too much depth in case I bore the other person to tears, or make them run for the hills. But if you were to try and look for signs of someone you know that might not appear to be quite themselves or off to yet another medical appointment, there may be something more to it. Avoiding social gatherings because of pain or other ongoing ailments. Someone making excuses for bailing on things, may just have another element to it, rather than being labelled a party pooper.

I grew up around the queen of hiding her pain, my amazing mother. As early as 31 she was diagnosed with first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. And from there on in, spent the rest of her life taking a cocktail of drugs, attending multiple physical therapy sessions, doctors appointments, even regular joint injections…. and yet I hardly ever remember her complaining. What I didn’t understand as a child was why she didn’t run around with me at the park like all the other mums, or do silly dances with me in the lounge, or do plaits in my hair. She was a humble, modest person anyway, but she never let on how much pain she really was in, and she made a house a home the best way she knew how by baking, cooking, sewing and making sure we were entertained at home.

I didn’t inherit my mother’s rheumatoid arthritis, but I did inherit a syndrome called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) from a mutated gene on my father’s side.  If you’re going to have an invisible illness, it may as well have a funky name. It’s been a formally recognised illness since the early 1900’s, but it’s awareness would still appear to be limited, more-so as to how a person is affected. It is a group of disorders that affect the body’s connective tissue, and mine in particular comes with hyper-mobility in joints as well.  You know those cool contortionists that bend in weird positions that make your stomach turn?  Yeah, well I can’t do that, but I do have a mean hitch-hiker’s thumb and a couple of other party tricks.

I first showed signs of EDS when I was 11, I had an accident playing a game on the field at school, I couldn’t move, and before I knew it 3 weeks later I was having major back surgery for a slipped vertebrae and something called spondylolisthesis (try spelling that when you’re 11).  No one picked up that I actually had EDS at that point, and recovery was frustrating and lengthy, and first weeks of my High School years were on crutches.  But the alternative to not having surgery would have been a lot worse, paralysis even.

“A woman is like a tea bag: You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt

It can also be attached to chronic fatigue, something I always just used to associate with overdoing things, I could never stand for long periods of time, I’d get tired on walks really easily, insane leg cramps that would make me cry, and bruises that would just appear from no-where. Not to mention the gnarly scars I would get from falls and surgeries, which form abnormally due to the lack of collagen.

Once I recovered from my back surgery, I lived a fairly normal, sporty and active life and all through my 20’s was a big gym addict and very keen road cyclist.

It wasn’t until 2007 when I moved to the UK, I spent 3 weeks backpacking with an insane weight of a bag on my back and returned with a really painful left knee.  When I saw various professionals, podiatrist, and physio, one in particular alerted me to the fact that my body makeup possessed some of those traits associated with someone with Marfan’s or EDS. I had actually heard of Marfan’s before, as it was what doctors suggested my father and my brother had (Marfans is also a connective tissue disorder) but it never occurred to me that I could have it too.  I was referred to Professor Rodney Graeme in London, the expert in this field, who then diagnosed me with EDS Type 3 with hyper mobility (now called hEDS).

From here on in it’s a journey of the next 12 years, which unfortunately made me very familiar with a lot of hospitals in and around London, becoming familiar with more medical terms than I ever wanted to know, and definitely enforced the decision as to why I didn’t want to be a doctor (I prefer to keep my food down).

Since 2009 I’ve had a series of 5 surgical procedures, 2 hip arthroscopies, 2 spinal procedures for swollen facet joints and 3 years ago, a total left hip replacement.  I’ve made friends with a few physiotherapists, a chiropractor a Pilates instructor and unfortunately tried one too many forms of pain medication until the right one worked for me. Some of them way too trippy for me to handle as well.

Some of the best pain (and mental) relief I found was alternative, via homeopathy and anti-inflammatory diets. Taking supplements like turmeric or curcumin, quercitin and bromelain just to name a few, and staying away from inflammatory foods, which is easier said than done if you like your wine and chocolate like me. Also meditation is a great practice for anyone, not just chronic illness sufferers, and I admit it’s hard to find a quiet five minutes, but the outcome is a calmer, happier me.

However, the best time for natural pain relief was during my two pregnancies. A hormone that I wish you could bottle, that relieved pain almost completely until after my babies were born. My specialist joked with me one day that if the hormone was a free for all, he’d be out of a job.

What does it mean to live with a silent illness?

Well, I will admit that I’m useless at slowing down, and it is necessary to maintain muscle strength with specific exercises to properly support joints.  But like any normal busy mum, I get distracted, run out of time, make excuses and get absolutely knackered.  But I manage to stay on the move a lot, and maintain 10,000 or more steps a day, and throw 15 minutes of muscle building stuff in there if I can work it with or around the kids.

For others though with more serious forms of EDS or other chronic, disabling illnesses, it’s a lot tougher.

Mentally, it’s challenging, not just on me, but the closest around me.  I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing husband who has not only stuck through every single time I’ve been through surgery, but also put up with my rollercoaster moods through pain and inability to do certain things.  And some days are a slippery slope, when it’s painful to walk first thing in the morning, but you have babies that need feeding and and a school run to do. But who else is going to do it? Especially when you live in a foreign country with no family.

More often than not, it’s a case of forcing yourself to just get out, get showered, do the nursery run, smile at that mother you hardly know, and wonder if she’s having similar issues as you. Go to that birthday gathering, or put something nice on to make yourself feel good. Or even just put something on that’s not your PJs in case someone comes to the door.

That’s not to say that self care shouldn’t come first, which I often preach, but it’s about getting the right balance and making sure you don’t push yourself to burnout, which is harder to come back from.

What help is there for anyone with EDS?

There are support groups, and for those in the U.K. there is EDS Support UK.

Useful information about chronic body pain can be found by clicking here.

There are also a few Facebook pages and groups that can provide a place to connect with likeminded people and help point you in the right direction for help should you need it.

 

*Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.

Parenting without the village

No one said this parenting gig was going to be easy, but neither did anyone tell me how difficult it was going to be with no family support near by.

As a single person and then as a couple, I accepted the fact that it was my choice to live abroad and that whatever came my way the only family support I would get was via telephone, video or email.

And then we started a family.  With our immediate families in New Zealand and in Pakistan we weren’t of the mindset to move back to either of our home cities, so it was just a case of get on with the show.

We did have some extended family in and around London and UK, but nothing closer than 45 minutes from where we lived, so we never picked up the phone in the middle of the night if we were desperate for help, or one of us was sick (or even both) and we needed some help with the baby.  So we muddled through, like zombies some days, but we got through.

Now, where we live just out of Madrid, I have grandparent envy almost on a daily basis. The one thing that is glaringly obvious is how many grandparents I see pushing prams. I’ve never seen so many, and when I speak to friends here, they say it is very normal for grandparents to look after the children, a lot of the time because mothers in Spain only get 16 weeks maternity leave.

Babies and children being lovingly cared for by family on a daily basis while parents are either working or attending to other children, but this scenario is something we personally will never be lucky enough to experience.

And that’s ok, if you have it, then you and your children are so so fortunate.

Worst case scenarios

Well in our case there’s been quite a few, and of course it’s 99% of the time something completely unpredictable that will catch us off guard (and sometimes in the middle of the night).  Yes most of those times have inevitably involved a hospital or doctors visit, a couple of times even an ambulance. And then there was a planned, but absolutely necessary operation for me which meant I would be out of action for 6-8 weeks with a 10 month old baby.

When we had Asher, he arrived 3 weeks early, I was having a planned c-section at 39 weeks, but he had other ideas one Friday night when my waters broke at home, Lara in bed asleep, who do you call?? Fortunately we had some amazing friends, who we completely interrupted their precious time out from their kids at a nearby pub. We scooped Lara out of bed, packed a few things for her and basically passed her over to our friends, who kept her for the whole weekend once her brother had arrived the early hours of Saturday morning via emergency c-section. We would have been lost without them.

Living so far away from parents also presents challenges, especially when the tables turn, and the need for you to look after them is a necessity. My last two trips back to New Zealand have been for the sole purpose of attending to my father’s needs, moving him in a retirement village, and more recently into more intensive care. The first time I went was for 10 days without Lara, which was heart wrenching as she was only 16 months old.  Hubby had to hold down the fort, combined with some temporary nanny help and nursery.

Just recently I needed to do it again when my father fell ill and we had to move him again. Because I didn’t have much time to plan or think about the various different scenarios, I decided that taking two small children on a 24 hour journey, ON MY OWN, was a challenge I hadn’t accepted yet (or other’s would just say it was downright crazy).  There’s a completely whole new blog post right there on travelling long haul, solo with children.

Coping mechanisms

Well, sometimes it’s all about flying by the seat of your pants, going along for the ride, in the hope that you’ll come out the other end without any scratches. As parents with no family around, there is a tonne of winging it, team high fives, and wine involved. Plus there are a few things I have to constantly remind myself of.

Ask for help

I might be stating the obvious here, but a lot of us have that “I can do it on my own” trait, or “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone”, or “I’ll be ok this time” attitude.  NEVER be afraid to ask friends for help. This is no time to be proud in parenting. Wherever I’ve gone I’ve made the effort to make mummy friends, who are obviously more sympathetic to your cause, and know how hard it is to juggle full time parenting, never mind not having any support nearby to lean on.  You need someone, even if it is just to lean on over a coffee.

Speaking of mummy friends, where are they?  I spoke of this in my previous blog post about the daunting task that is making new friends as a mum, you know, speed friends dating for mums??  But in short, join groups, fish out groups on Facebook of mums in the same area as you, go to baby / child classes near you.  Put yourself out there, even if you’re not that social, at least try once or twice. Even if you never need to lean on the friends you make, it will make you feel more human and keep your ability to speak adult language going.

Any groups you do find, see if there’s a WhatsApp chat already going, if not make one yourself.  Those groups can be full on and heavy on the messages, which you may not always have time to read, but stay in touch from time to time, you may find it more helpful than you realise.

Start up a babysitting club.  Don’t overcommit yourself of course to having 20 kids in your house one evening, but if you live in an area close to other mummy friends, this is a great way to share the love.

Get to know your neighbours

This is completely dependant on where you live of course.  Having lived in a few different places now, we haven’t always been lucky on this front, but when we have, it has been amazing.  You do quite often have to make the first move, but it may be completely worth it.

We had been in Spain 5 months when Asher had a really bad fall.  I always liked to think I was a calm, level headed kind of person, but all of a sudden this rush of adrenaline hit, I didn’t speak fluent Spanish, we hadn’t used the hospital system yet, and we didn’t have a car, what the hell was I meant to do.  I literally ran screaming next door, thankfully we had got to know these particular neighbours, they spoke English, and they dropped everything to drive us half an hour away to the local hospital, and my hubby met us there.  I got to know a couple of other neighbours that night too who had seen me running hysterically out of our house, however I wouldn’t totally recommend this kind of friend making engagement.

Nursery or school 

If you’re at this stage with your kids, this is a perfect way to engage and get to know more people, especially when your children hit it off with other kids.  Playdates, swimming clubs, parks and outdoor activities.  Hosting playdates gives you some street cred and ability to claim back some time later when you want to ask for it.

If you stay in one place for long enough, some of these very early friendships can be life long friendships.  Some of my oldest mummy friends now, are those back in NZ and Australia from when we were 5 years old.

Church or local community groups

Obviously this is a very personal choice, but it’s not even about attending church every week to build yourself a support network.  Local churches quite often hold playgroups, or coffee mornings.  And local community groups, especially if you’re in a foreign country where you might be able to do language exchanges or volunteer if you want to give something back, even better if it’s something you can take the kids with you.

Professional childcare, babysitters or nannies

We have had to do this in absolutely desperate times, when there simply is no other option, and you need to leave the kids with someone.  Of course there’s a cost involved, which makes nights out or last minute plans a little expensive, and again, this completely depends on your personal circumstances.  But it’s always good to have as backup.  Dip into those WhatsApp groups, ask other mummies if they have any good childminding contacts, referred ones are always the best ones, and it’s also a cheaper way than using an agency to find a nanny when you need one.

And when all else fails…..

As cliche as it sounds, you have each other. Parenting puts a whole new level of strain on your relationship, but when you’re a family without family around, YOU’RE IT, and somehow, you all have to keep it together.  I don’t have the magic formula, but as well as making the effort to spend time together as a family, make time for yourselves, utilise those friends, even just for a couple of hours to go for a drive without the kids, or a drink locally.

Look after each other and look out for each other.

 

*Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.

 

Mum life will never be dull

When my children are older I want to look back at my life and think ‘that was definitely not boring’.  To be honest I can say that now, I’ve never done boring, even when I was enjoying the single life, there’s always been something spontaneous, or planned happening in my life that tells a story about how I got to where I am now. Whether it be bad or good, if it was part of my path on the journey to now, I’ve learnt from it all and figure it was meant to be that way.

I have always been on the move, exploring new places, meeting new people, driving or travelling to random places, I remember one night my best friend and I went for a drive through a pretty dangerous stretch of unsealed road in NZ at some crazy hour of the night just for something to do, or drove 7 hours to Auckland from Wellington overnight.  We are still best friends, and if we had half the chance would probably go back and do it all over again.

So now I am all grown up (almost) and have two little people to raise, act responsibly around and set a good example for, but that doesn’t mean life has to be boring, for me as an individual or as a parent right?  If anything, being a parent opens up all sorts of new doors, and challenges, that we can walk through and share together.  It certainly isn’t a walk in the park, but when you are a parent lets face it, time barely stands still.

Moving countries: single vs with kids

For a start, there really is no comparison, when I moved from New Zealand to the UK in 2007 I had been single for a while, comfortable with my own company and probably too independent for my own good, maybe determined and strong willed are better terms.  Either way, I had only myself to worry about, don’t get me wrong it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, having a set amount of savings to last me until I found work, setting up accounts, National Insurance, job hunting, flat hunting etc, and navigating my way round a totally new city with a London A-Z.  I was fortunate to be able to stay with family just out of London who were amazing to me, considering they only knew of their kiwi cousin by letters and photos during my time growing up.  But I did it, found temping work almost straight away and then a full time job after my first interview, all of which meant I didn’t have to go home in a hurry.

Fast forward to January 2018, married 6 years, two beautiful children, Asher was only 2 months old at the time.  Ali comes home from a Madrid trip, which he’d been doing regularly for about the last year, dropping hints about living in Spain. I don’t really think he even actually asked the question, “would you like to move to Spain?”,  he didn’t really have to, I could see how much he was enjoying his work in Madrid, but I know from experience it’s not easy to function at 100% when you’re in between cities.  He would always come home with excitement about the city, the people and how much he loved his time there.  So we started exploring the real possibility of moving there.

I swear I had said a few years prior, no way would I move countries again, possibly back to NZ, but certainly no where new, or where English wasn’t a first language.  Was I crazy?  Most likely, but everyone that knows me well enough, knows I like a bit of a challenge from time to time.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying I get bored easily, because we all know there’s no chance of that with two kids, but sometimes certain events in your life make you re-evaluate and ready to take a leap of faith.

The kids were young enough to adapt easily, and what an amazing opportunity for us all.  What’s the worst that could happen?  We hate the Spanish weather?  The tapas, wine and warm culture of the Spanish people are really not our scene?  [just a hint of sarcasm].  We have a house, friends and family to go back to in the UK if the going gets tough.  But I’ve always been a firm believer that these opportunities may only present themselves once, and you might just kick yourself if you don’t dip your toe in the water and explore the possibilities and have an adventure.

Of course there’s many more logistics to consider when you have a house load and a family to move, but we worked really well together as a team, Ali took care of all the Spanish plans, including renting a house that I didn’t even see or suburb I had no idea what it was like (I know what some of you are thinking right now, I trust my husband to choose the area AND the house….what can I say, he knows me well).  I took care of the UK plans, getting work done on the house, rental arrangements, movers, changing address details in a million places, I even managed to sneak in a few Spanish lessons.  And after 4 months we were done and on our way.  An 18 wheeler truck and trailer packed up with everything we owned, including our car, and the four of us on a flight to Madrid to our new life.

Adjusting to Spanish life

The best and only way I’ve found so far is just to jump right in.  No, my Spanish is far from perfect, I’ll probably take forever to perfect rolling my r’s, because I come from a far away land with a very different twang.  But I’m determined to become fluent so as to integrate and really enjoy my life in Spain.

Although it is tough on some days, I’ve forced myself into the local town, got talking to some locals who I just smile at and say “si si si”.  The children are a golden gateway into relationships, and meeting people we never would have dreamt of meeting had we stayed in the UK.  The cultures that live here are so diverse, we have Spanish, American, South American, other Europeans, Asian, African, Jamaican and Australian friends.

Our children will grow up bilingual if not trilingual, and have the most amazing experiences living in this beautiful country.  For me, this has been an incredible move, and I really didn’t have any expectations, but Madrid has surpassed my wildest dreams and for now I never want to leave.

 

*Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are entirely of my own and in no way represent the opinions of any entity or other individuals.