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Mental Health

The mind is an incredibly wonderful and beautiful thing and yet so fragile.

Look at what happened to Zak – 11 minutes of no oxygen means neurons in his brain died and they will never repair or regrow, that leaves him with permanent brain damage meaning we spend the next 2 years on tenterhooks waiting to see if and how it will affect him. The mind controls every part of our body and watching Zak grow and learn reminds me how incredible it is – as he learns to walk and talk it’s a daily reminder of how it is a marvel. But there is a darker side to the mind and it can be our greatest weapon and our biggest enemy all in the same moment. Paranoia, depression and anxiety are just some of the things that can take over the mind.

My sister has daily battles and challenges and she’d be the first to say I have never understood her and it has taken me to my late 20’s to acknowledge I will never understand her. I often say the wrong thing and put my foot in it – I’m a straight talker and don’t hold back the punches and that can seem insensitive. Its not intentional and it’s hard to accept that the only person that understands what they are going through is the person going through it!

I hate to think of people suffering in silence, lost in their own thoughts, fighting a battle none of us can see. If I have learned anything its to be kinder, everyone is fighting their own battles. It’s something we don’t talk about often enough and probably because we are still learning about it and trying to understand. I appreciate this is a sensitive subject and there is not a one size fits all, but I wanted to give my point of view. Mental health destroyed my husband and consequently my marriage. It’s like a cancer the way it creeps in and takes hold and the person you love slowly starts to disappear from you. There’s nothing you can do but watch as they withdraw from everything and you watch helplessly without any power to stop it. The only person who can fix it is the person suffering. They have to want to face the problem and make a change and regain some control and you can’t force them into it.

I have recently decided to go for some counselling myself as the last 6 months have been pretty tough with Zak’s arrival and then Tom leaving. I am choosing to be proactive and not reactive because most of the time I feel ok but I know I have been tested a fair bit and I don’t want it to catch me up further down the line. It wasn’t really until I started talking to my counsellor that I realised the little things I had been battling like the fact I am not sleeping well, I am not able to relax and watch a tv program from start to finish or concentrate on a book, I have a panic attack everytime I see an ambulance as it takes me right back to the day Zak was born and perhaps most concerningly I wake up every morning in a sweat thinking Zak has died in his sleep. All of which are totally understandable because of what I have been through, because I am a first-time mum and because I am a single parent. In the counsellor’s words ‘it’s not about looking for a label necessarily but if we were to label it we would say PTSD and heightened anxiety’ I think this surprised me a little because 95% of the time I’m ‘fine’. But what is fine? So to break it down further the element of PTSD I seem to have is obviously from Zak’s birth and for me comes in the form of avoidance. I avoid looking at pictures of him in hospital, I avoid thinking about that period of time whenever I can, I have milk panic attacks when I am reminded about that time such as seeing an ambulance or when letters come from the hospital etc. I choose to focus on how he is now the happy chatty little boy I adore. But there is clearly some things I haven’t addressed and my memory is like a fog I can’t remember so much of our time in hospital, it’s like I have blocked it out and I just feel numb. Then there is my heightened anxiety and this apparently comes from Tom leaving. Tom was my sounding board someone who stopped me worrying and calmed me down and helped me keep things in perspective and now he’s gone I’ve lost that part of me. I have so much responsibility I am constantly thinking about money, jobs that need to be done, what I need to do at work, if Zak is ok, what plans I have coming up etc. It’s a lot for one person and without blowing my own trumpet I am smashing it. But at what cost? When do I take time to reflect and emotionally repair? The truth is I don’t. My counsellor has described me a survivor, someone who just gets on with it and I persevere no matter the odds and when she asked me what I wanted to get out of the appointment I was stumped. Why was I there?

The last thing I want is this post to be a pity post because I am ok! I’m slowly taking care of me piece by piece and I will come out stronger. But I hope that being by open about not just my challenges but the challenges that resulted in the end of my marriage and life as I knew it, it encourages us all to be more open. Men seem to see talking about how we feel as having this stigma attached to it and it makes them weak. I hate that. Suicide is the number one killer in young men in the UK. Why are we still letting this happen? There is nothing more attractive than a man that has got his shit together and can speak up. We need to support our men and spot the signs early enough and make them feel comfortable enough to open up. But at the same time men need to bloody help themselves! Put that ego aside, grow a pair of balls and sit down and face those tough conversations.

I will be doing my utmost to make sure my son is not only in touch with his emotions but encourage him to communicate however and whenever he feels comfortable. Isn’t that our job as parents – to raise them to be loved and supported no matter what, holding their hands through the scary stuff and being the reassuring ear?

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