Tag Archives: Depression

My dark thoughts look for my most vulnerable spot – and now that’s my amazing and exhausting little boy (some thoughts on parenting and mental health).

I’m writing this to make sense of how I felt yesterday. I’m sharing it because I’m sure I’m not alone. Parenting is really hard and parenting with mental health problems can sometimes be a real struggle.

Like many of us, I’ve managed mental health problems most of my life. Mainly eating problems, anxiety and depression.

Resiliance and vulnerability

I became a mum in October 2017. In some ways, it’s made me more resilient. But those dark and anxious thoughts have always found my most vulnerable spot to poke away at – and now that’s my gorgeous, loveable, wakeful, clingy, frustrating, exhausting, friendly, kind, smiley little boy.

Uncertainty, blame, guilt and comparison

When I’m really struggling with my mental health, all those normal parenting concerns are magnified. I lose all perspective. I question everything. I blame myself for his tears and worries.  I get frustrated that he rarely wants to get down from my arms and play, when there’s so much I want to explore with him. Then I feel so guilty for wanting him to be even the tiniest bit different. He’ll have enough of that in his lifetime without me doing it too.

I compare myself to others and find myself wanting. I overthink his naps, the amount he breastfeeds, the time he sleeps, the little he eats. I wish I could have his Dad’s strength and calm.

I struggle to find the energy to bounce him through the day. On the very worst days, I hold him with tears in my eyes, unable to see my way through the next ten minutes of parenting tasks, let alone the hours until bedtime. And then I feel pathetic – and guilty that he saw me cry.

My heart feels raw when I think of him. I hurt for the pain he’s bound to feel, for the upsets and the bullies and the difficulties I can’t protect him from.  And when my defences are low, I get horrible intrusive images of him falling, or drowning, or burning.  Images that send my adrenalin soaring and leave me shaky and tight chested.

Fundamental emotions, twisted and distorted

It doesn’t get to this point too often, thank goodness. Usually, I have more perspective. I’m more resilient, patient and practical. But when I do spiral down, it’s faster and harder than before.

Those fundamental mum emotions of intense love, protectiveness and wanting the best for him get twisted and distorted into guilt, sadness, fear and negativity about myself and my ability to cope.  And these emotions are so strong, so deeply fundamental, that their distortions are powerful and destructive too.

Strength and love

The love I feel for Oaklan is incredible. When I’m not with him, I feel as if I’m slightly holding my breath until we are back together (even if I’m also desperate for a break!). These feelings will never fade. I never want them too. Perhaps part of being a parent is accepting that I’ll always be dealing with deeper and stronger emotions than ever before. But I hope that by starting to recognise how they interact with my mental health, I can stop letting the worries and fears take over too easily.

We’re never alone

Almost as soon as I posted on Twitter I got this response from another mum. I knew it wasn’t just me but sometimes it feels very lonely in my head. It’s good to be reminded that we’re not alone.

18 years ago I was prescribed antidepressants as if they were painkillers. Now I think I’m stuck on them for life.

18 years ago a doctor prescribed me antidepressants as if they were painkillers. I’ve tried to reduce my dose or come off them many times since. Now I think I’m stuck on them for life.

Usually I’m OK with this. But sometimes it feels quite scary. Yesterday I heard a radio report about a new Lancet article recommending that we should taper withdrawal over months or even years (current (unrealistic) NICE guidelines suggest tapering over weeks). Aspects of the interviewees’ experiences were so similar to mine that I had to pull over and take some deep breaths.

But this is nothing new. Reports in 2018 said existing guidance leads to misdiagnosis and harmful long-term prescribing. Thousands of people have reported huge difficulties coming off antidepressants. The longer you’ve been on them, the harder it seems to be to come off. Yet many healthcare professionals take a pretty casual approach to these brain altering chemicals.


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Published in The Recovery Letters

Last year, James Withney of The Recovery Letters emailed to see if I would be interested in contributing a letter to the published anthology. The Recovery Letters are addressed to people experiencing depression. They share experiences and give friendship and hope for recovery.

I’ve always believed in letters and writing as a way through difficult times. In 2012 I wrote about the benefits of public and private writing, on and offline. In 2013 I wrote about creative letter writing for self-guidance and managing mental health and in my post ‘Understanding mental trickery, notes from depression island‘ I used islands as a metaphor for the concept of depression being such that it’s often hard to remember you’ve ever felt happy or imagine you’ll ever feel better. And when you’re not experiencing it, it’s hard to understand or even remember how it feels.  I introduced the idea of finding and making connections between a happier mind and a depressed one. These messages don’t always have to be words. But it’s this idea that forms the basis of my recovery letter.

The book is published next week. I got my copy yesterday. There are some wonderful messages from people prepared to open up and be vulnerable, to share their experience to help others.

And I’m also chuffed to report that mine is the very first letter in the book – and that is has been selected as one of 12 letters that will be on display at the 2017 Mental Wealth Festival.

Mental health in early pregnancy – the first trimester

Disrupting the balance

Little Foster-Pickup waves hello

I’m pretty good at managing my mental health. I know what helps, what doesn’t and how to recognise when I need to take better care of myself or ask for extra support.

But early pregnancy disrupted this balance. I’m nearly 17 weeks now and finally ready to write about the first trimester.

Awareness of perinatal mental health is increasing. Most people know about postnatal depression but I’ve seen more conversations about antenatal depressionperinatal anxiety and postpartum psychosis too. I’ve heard less about how to prepare for the way dramatic physical and psychological changes can interact with existing problems.

Taking antidepressants, managing eating problems and dealing with depression and anxiety

It turns out I’ve got a lot to say so I have separated them into three blogs.

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Depression and anxiety in the first trimester

A toxic mix

I had some very low periods and dark thoughts during the first trimester of pregnancy. The myth of pregnancy as a calm, exciting and enjoyable time is still pervasive – but there were times when I felt unable to take pleasure in anything, distant from Al and scared I wouldn’t be able to feel anything for the baby either.

  • Nausea and exhaustion were draining and left me more vulnerable.
  • Pregnancy was constantly pushing all my eating and weight ‘triggers’ and making that much harder to manage.
  • I couldn’t do almost anything I used to enjoy or that helped me manage my mental health – challenging myself with long runs, tiring myself out with speedy bike rides in the hills, skiing with friends, winning races, revelling in that gorgeous post-exercise feeling – even drinking tea and having a long steaming hot bath.
  • Nowhere felt like home – my supercharged sense of smell means that the smell of the house made me sick. It’s exhausting to have nowhere comforting to retreat to.

All of these are manageable individually but they made a toxic mix when combined with existing mental health problems.

One big anxious thought

I have a diagnosis of clinical depression and anxiety – but it’s tended to be anxiety I’ve struggled with over the last couple of years. Anxiety get’s its claws into whatever is going on and warps it out of all proportion. In the first trimester, there is a LOT for it to hook onto. Al always tells me to try not to think ‘big thoughts’ when I’m anxious but for a lot of those first 14 weeks or so I just felt like one big anxious thought.

But I also felt that dark, flat, stifling darkness of depression again. It was actually pretty scary at times – mainly at night when things often feel the most overwhelming. I’m certainly glad I kept up the Sertraline.

Referrals and support

I’m feeling a lot better now. I have a referral to the obstetrician who specialises in mental health – but my appointment isn’t until June. In the meantime, I spoke to an amazing midwife who really seemed to understand and agreed that 27 weeks was very late for starting any additional perinatal mental health support. She referred me to see a psychologist a little earlier. I’m not sure how (or if) these appointments will help but I’m keeping an open mind and making sure I have as much support in place as possible in case things get harder again.

Read my other blogs about the first trimester:

Signs of change and coping with cheese – how my eating disorder recovery looks now

vd9j4ghMental health problems have a way of taking over. I’m lucky enough never to have been hospitalised or signed off work. Life has always stumbled on. But moods and behaviours creep in and twist their tendrils around daily life. They trick you into thinking they’re normal, into nourishing them. It’s not until they start to suffocate and strangle even the simplest of things that you recognise their power. And then it’s too late for an easy fix.

This year I’ve started the long process of hacking away at the thicket and pulling up roots that go incredibly deep. It hasn’t been easy. But now I’ve made some space it’s much easier to see what a tangle I was in.

Eating new food

I recently turned 33 and enjoyed a breakfast made for me by Alex without having to purge it through exercise.The day before my birthday last year I was panicking over choosing something nice (and therefore different) for my birthday breakfast. I cried outside the bread shop. I ended up with toast and even then it was a tricky day.

Letting go of control in the kitchen

I no longer have to have control in the kitchen. I’ll eat something made for me by someone else – even if I didn’t see whether they used butter or check how much oil they added.

Reaquainting myself with cheese

I had cheese on toast for the first time in two years last week (cheese has been a scary food for years).
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Avoiding an unwanted pregnancy far outweighs any side effects of contraception? How dare you say it’s that simple!

Women on hormonal contraception are more likely to be treated for depression

fullsizerender-1Recent research has shown that women taking hormonal contraception are more likely to be treated for depression. And we already know that those with pre-existing depression may have their symptoms worsened by the pill.

Tell us something we don’t know.

I’ve avoided hormonal contraception completely since a devastating experience in my teens. Mood changes are the top reason why people discontinue using the pill.

But some of the responses to this research have made me pretty angry. I’ve been trying to make sense of why for the last couple of days. Maybe this is really obvious stuff. But maybe it needs to be said again and again until people start to listen.

Avoiding an unwanted pregnancy far outweighs ALL side effects?

The worst comment I‘ve seen is “avoiding an unwanted pregnancy far outweighs all the other side effects that could occur from a contraceptive”. That’s the sort of thing someone who hasn’t experienced depression might say. I wonder if an equally debilitating (and potentially life threatening) physical health problem would be treated so casually.

I was prescribed the combined pill in my teens with no guidance, no discussion of side effects and without being offered alternative options (I wrote about it in an old blog post here).

The causes of mental health problems are complex and under-researched – but I’ve always felt that the six months of desperation, confusion and trauma I suffered before realising the pill was to blame was the start of long term problems with depression and anxiety. I still occasionally have nightmares where I’m trapped in that time and those feelings.

I had an abortion in my twenties. Unwanted pregnancy can be awful (and can be associated with an increased risk of mental health problems too). But the mental health consequences of getting medication like hormonal contraception wrong can also be devastating – and can last a very long time.

When I posted these thoughts online, others immediately agreed – “Yes, yes, yes! I’ve had both an unwanted pregnancy and a termination and long-term mental health problems aggravated/caused by the pill. And it wasn’t the first one that was more traumatic and terrifying”.

I feel the need to clarify that I’m not suggesting people have terminations instead of taking the pill – but that I need to do this at all just shows how reductive the discourse on this topic tends to be.
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What I’d tell my 2015 self about dieting, body positivity and accepting medication

One year on...

One year on…

Yesterday we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Our wedding was a magical day but, in the two years since we got engaged, life has taken some unexpected turns.

My mental and physical health has taken quite a bashing.  I’m not fully recovered – and I’m working hard to challenge and change thought patterns and reactions that have been deeply ingrained for many years. But I’m gaining more perspective with each month that takes me further from the trickiest of times.

So what would I tell the Clare who said ‘yes’ under that tree on Hampstead Heath in 2015.

You can’t control a wedding diet – change the dress, not yourself

I thought I would be able to diet just enough to feel comfortable in a gently corseted dress – and then stop afterwards. But my disordered eating lurked much closer below the surface than I realised. It wasn’t long before my eating, exercise and emotions got horribly tangled. I thought I would never go back there but I slid into militant calorie counting, restriction and purging through exercise with the excuse that it was ‘just for the wedding’. The dress was too big, I spent our honeymoon struggling to find a manageable balance and it took my periods stopping to shock me into making a change.

You need medication – and that’s fine

“You were so proud of yourself,” my mother in law said. And I was. I had been fighting my medication for years, trying to cut down and come off. Stopping was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

And when I finally fought through the initial withdrawal symptoms I thought things would get easier. Instead they got harder. More chest pain. More tears, panic and anger. Suicidal thoughts. More running. More fighting my body. It took three months to realise I couldn’t do it. That nothing was worth the destruction those months had wreaked on my body, our health and our relationship.
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We need to talk about mental health and trying to conceive #takeoffthetape

Find out more about Mind's campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Find out more about Mind’s campaign here: http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/take-off-the-tape/

Mind has been asking people to #TakeOffTheTape and share something that makes them anxious. Something they haven’t spoken about before.

I thought I would use the opportunity to write about something that’s hardly spoken about at all.

I’m finding it incredibly hard to balance trying to conceive with managing my mental health.

We don’t talk about this. We don’t even talk about the first twelve weeks of pregnancy much (as I’m well aware from my work with the Miscarriage Association). Trying to conceive often happens in almost complete secrecy. I didn’t realise how it would interact with my fluctuating mental health and I wasn’t prepared.

It’s taken a while to get to this stage. The doctor who removed my coil last year strongly implied that it would be best to continue with my efforts to come off my Citalopram. She moved me to Sertraline (it’s considered safer in pregnancy) and told me to try and reduce my dose completely over the next month.

Coming off medication

In fact it took me three more months. I’ve been trying to come off anti depressants for a while anyway (after a muddled fifteen year relationship with them) and trying to conceive gave me the strength to make it through a hideous withdrawal period. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Alex didn’t have much fun either. I’ve written about it here.

I’m more vulnerable to hormonal changes now. I still have very dark times when everything seems hopeless and I can’t see a way through the next ten minutes let alone the rest of my life. Difficult images and ideas jostle with an endless repetition of fears and doubts. Sometimes the same phrase over and over again. They whisper just below the surface of my consciousness. They’re loud enough to wear me down and shrink my focus to a single point of constant worry – but not quite conscious enough for me to recognise what’s happening in a way that helps me stop.

One these days I’m separated from the world by thick glass that bounces every negative thought straight back at me, infinitely magnified. My attention is forced inwards but my mind is everywhere but present, infecting all it can with worst case scenarios. I can’t look up and out, can’t see the variety of the world and my place in it, can’t take a long deep breath. My chest physically hurts and I feel constantly sick with the fight or flight chemicals flooding my poisoned body as it tries to deal with the powerful threat of my mind.

The inevitable uncertainty and lack of control

These times are getting further apart and each one adds detail to our understanding of the best way to manage them. But trying to conceive has made my anxiety worse. It’s given it another peg to hang its hat on. Issues with eating and body image are often about control (with an emphasis on control over your body) – and anxiety hates uncertainty. But trying to conceive is a very uncertain time. What my body does – and doesn’t do – isn’t completely under my control.

I was managing my mental health to the extent I felt I was in a position to come off medication – in order to do something that has made the problem worse again. The irony isn’t lost on me – although on bad days it just makes me  want to cry.
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Standing up to stigma – why I blog about work, projects & my mental health in one place

Pressing pause

Linked in

Should my LinkedIn link to my blogs too?

Every time I go to press ‘publish’ on a tricky post exploring my mental health I pause for a moment. The way my blog has developed means that my personal struggles and successes sit alongside blogs about my work and details of my skills, training and experience.

Should I keep them separate? Will employers reject me if they read that I took Citalopram for 15 years or that I use exercise to manage my anxiety?

I know stigma and discrimination around mental health in the workplace exists. I spent 2014 time to changeproviding evidence based reports on mental health policies and support in a number of organisations across a range of sectors for the Time To Change Organisational Healthcheck programme. Tom Oxley writes a good piece about how the programme worked on pages 10 and 11 of this newsletter.

I spoke to people in every workplace who said that they wouldn’t tell their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem. Many said they would lie about taking time off.

”I’d probably say I had a migraine or something”

Those who had been honest about taking time off for a mental health problem said they felt that now they had more to prove.

Unfortunately in some cases I could understand why. Some managers said they felt people with mental health problems couldn’t ‘cope’. Others saw investment in employees’ mental and physical health as a burden rather than something that makes moral and business sense.

”You’ve got to be careful or people will just take advantage, start using ‘depression’ as an excuse.”

”We need people on top form to do this job – if you’re depressed you just won’t be able to cope.”

1 in 6 employees are currently dealing with a mental health problem. Like colds, flu, delayed trains, bereavement and accidents it’s always going to be part of a workforce. It’s how employers deal with it that counts.

My mental health is part of what makes me. It’s part of what makes a life – and in many cases it’s part of what makes me good at the work I do.

Pressing publish – every time

In the run up to Time To Change’s Time To Talk Day on Thursday I thought I’d share some of the reasons why I press publish on those tricky posts every time.

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