Thank You!

A huge thank you to everyone who has continued to engage with my blog this year! It means so much to me and I really enjoy hearing from you. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences with me.

Many have begun to engage with me via Facebook and so, as it is a time for trying new things after all, I thought I would share Dreaming of the Temple’s page here so you can find it more easily.

Here everything is a little less formal, more relaxed and hopefully a great space to engage with me and one another.

It features links and alerts to the latest content, is more personal and shares topical snippets relating to my passions; mental health and motherhood.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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Announcing Your Pregnancy

Today, my husband and I announced my pregnancy. As is usual for us we are being unconventional and have not waited until the end of the first trimester to make this announcement.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. The tradition of waiting until your first scan is because this is considered concrete confirmation of the pregnancy. It is well established that the first few weeks is the time of highest risk of loss. However, any loss before the 20 week mark is classified medically as miscarriage and waiting until 3 months is sadly not a guarantee.

2. Pregnancy announcements are personal. There should not be rules about when and what time is the most suitable to share your excitement with others. You may choose to announce it as we did, in person to family, close friends and work managers and then on a social media platform to more distant friends and acquaintances.

You may feel that it is easier and more equal to tell everyone you know at the same time via a public announcement. This way no one feels that they were the first or last to find out or that another friend was favoured.

There are also those who choose to keep their pregnancy completely private and this is a fine choice too.

3. The physical effects of pregnancy will already be apparent to the expectant mother and her close family. This is a planned pregnancy and as you may imagine of someone who is extremely anxious, I had been researching since we got married various stages of pregnancy and parenting. But even what accumulates to 2 years worth of reading and listening to other women’s stories in no way prepared me for the effects of early pregnancy.

Although there are no outward signs and I have been extremely fortunate to (so far) escape morning sickness; the exhaustion, nausea and digestive occurrences, are more than I ever anticipated. I also did not expect the cramping!

As a result of all of this, and the work that I currently do which involves performance storytelling and entertaining, I wanted my managers and colleagues to be aware that there were occasions that I was suffering intense discomfort and I wanted them to know why. It was also important for me to have my place of work informed of the pregnancy in case there were complications or loss.

As I do not sit at a desk were I could discreetly relieve myself if I developed intense morning sickness (or any of the other delightful digestive effects) I needed them to be aware that this wasn’t a 24 hour sickness bug but something that would go on for months. For this same reason, in the dreadful instance of pregnancy loss I would not be able to put on a smile and entertain and this would impact my work more extensively than in other lines of work.

This may come across as unattached or overly focused on negative outcomes, but rather than seem disengaged, the intention is to demonstrate how your circumstances will inform your personal choices throughout pregnancy, including the announcement.

4. Whilst I completely understand and respect that this is a very private matter, as a blogger intent on exploring her personal mental health and wellbeing more generally, I would always be inclined to be open about any loss during this pregnancy. Of course I hope to goodness that this will not be the case, and we would both be devastated if it did occur. But I advocate being open about all things and miscarriage is still widely treated as a taboo subject. Great headway is being made in conversing about other forms of emotion, grief and mental health, but for something as frequently occurring as pregnancy loss there is still alarming silence.

5. It is common to announce pregnancy on special occasions, public holidays or anniversaries. Whilst any day of the year is a fine time to announce such wonderful and well-received news, such occasions can add an additional sense of celebration and provide more ideas for a fun public announcement.

For instance, in our case, our first midwife appointment fell two weeks after we learnt that we were expecting and just before Easter.

As a religious family, Easter is an important time for us. It is the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection after His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Because of the atonement (remembered on Good Friday) we are able to repent and be forgiven. This is a celebration of second chances and new life. It’s one of the reasons for chicks and eggs being motifs of Easter.

Hares, which have become rabbits in modern Easter marketing, are associated with the ancient fertility goddess, Astarte or Ishtar. Again we are looking at representations of new life. New life coupled with fertility symbols made an irresistible possibility for a pregnancy announcement.

6. So don’t hesitate to announce your pregnancy at a time and in a way that suits you because of conventions and traditions. Each individual, pregnancy and family is different and that should be reflected in the way that you choose share your joy with others. There are so many contradictory opinions being continually expressed about the right way to be pregnant and to parent that the sooner you start establishing the best way for you, the better.

Silent Scream

Silent Scream

Mouth a vacuum
Dead space.
Words suffocate,
Settling on a graveyard tongue.

Lips sealed.
Speaking would crack
Ceramic composure;
Plaster masks damaged walls.

Eyes,
Frosted windows,
With unseen pain behind.
Only hands show hurt

Hurling words at innocent
White pages;
But no one sees the blackness
For the ink.

Bumps in the Marital Road

Last Saturday was my first Saturday off in six months. With my husband working 9 to 5 or sometimes longer on his PhD project at the university and the emphasis placed to spend Sundays at church and religious activities, when I work weekends it really limits the quality time we get to spend together.

It has been showing.

We got married when we were both students and our schedules were all over the place for the first year of our life together. We agreed that, as it was Samuel’s Masters year and because he worked seasonally at the supermarket which would have meant missing our first Christmas as a married couple, he would stop working. I continued to work as I had been at my storytelling job for 4 years already, it was relevant to my degree and it gave me continuity and routine which helped the with severe mental illness I was experiencing at the time. Before the harassment started, my place of work was were I went for grounding. The office is underground so there was no signal and it gave me an excuse not to be contactable. To not respond when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t cope. My place of work means an unusual amount to me.

Summer 2017 was a very intense time for our marriage. We’d been married for a year and were in a good place but we were done living in a one bedroom flat in the middle of the city. It was advertised as one bed, but really should have been one person, as we couldn’t both be in the kitchen at the same time if we wanted to have a bin as well. So we started looking at houses. We didn’t imagine that we would actually be able to buy, it’s famed that no one our age can. But we wanted to daydream at the very least.

We got lucky.

But we were £3,000 short of the deposit. So I started working 3 jobs. It was crazy. One of them was my long term storytelling job, one was at a concert hall and the other was in a museum. It was meant to be a straightforward visitor service job, but morphed into tour guiding and helping arrange a summer activities program which provided really great unexpected work experience. So it was a really beneficial, as well as crazy, time. I decided/insisted that as I was working so much (most of it very relevant to what I was hoping to do following graduation) and Samuel was likely to be starting a PhD three months later, that he shouldn’t work. He needed a break, someone needed to keep on top of the housework, and if we throw a fourth schedule into the mix, we just wouldn’t have seen each other. As it was we saw each other first thing in the morning and for about half an hour before we went to sleep.

We made it.

We bought a house. Now the situation is reversed. I am on reduced hours, just ticking over at my storytelling job, which I still love but is no longer my safe place. As a physicist, Samuel’s PhD is funded, so whilst he is technically studying, it is fundamentally a job. He works very hard and is extremely good at what he does. Our subject areas compliment each other very well. I find it highly appropriate that both our birthdays are in January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was depicted with two heads, because he looked forward and backwards. As an archaeologist I look back to the very beginnings of humans as a species and Samuel, being an experimental physicist working on technology, is looking forward. It also gives me confidence about at least one aspect of us potentially becoming parents – we have homework covered. Our other running joke is that Samuel does the numbers and I deal with words. Sorted.

Our issue is that because of all the studying, the crazy summer jobs and the recent house move, we have never really got into an established routine. We are beginning to get there now but we still haven’t quite found our rhythm. As we are approaching our second anniversary, and with the addition of our dear dog, this is starting to apply a little bit of friction. As far as I am aware this is healthy and usual in all relationships let alone marriage. We are definitely benefiting from no longer being in that one bedroom flat, as we can now be more than 5 meters apart and means I can be less distracting whilst Samuel is working and I can read my book quietly whilst Samuel watches television (Samuel is severely dyslexic so you wont find us reading together).

As a result of not having a stable, consistent rhythm to our daily routines, we have become very snappy. We haven’t fought or had slanging matches but as I say there has been some friction. I think that’s the right term. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and get irritated from time to time. One of my biggest flaws is my temper, so I definitely get irritated more than is reasonable. I am very grateful not only for my husband’s patience and ability to forgive when I fly off the handle but for our ability to communicate with each other. As we got married so quickly, I don’t think that we would have managed if we weren’t able to talk about anything and everything. As I always say, we don’t necessarily recommend getting married three months after meeting, but it is working for us. We are truly very happy together. The importance of communication is made evident in every sit-com, film production and in most real life scenarios. Whole plots of plays, books, tragedies and comedies begin with a miscommunication, failure to communicate or a double meaning.

Having last Saturday off was amazing for us. Even though I was unwell with the flu, headlining fever, dizziness and nausea (how have I managed to come down with this twice this year? There have only been two months thus far?!) so we didn’t go anywhere or do very much, yet still it gave us some space to just be us. I was actually supposed to be off volunteering in central Scotland so being ill was perhaps a blessing in disguise? I described our morning in yesterday’s post. It was bliss. What really made the difference was that we didn’t have to be anywhere. We had to take our dog for a walk but other than that we had the day to ourselves. Usually one or other of us is rushing around in the morning and heading out to work. On Saturday, we could just be together and enjoy each others company.

This weekend was a big lesson for me in the importance of making time for each other. Compromise and communication are as important as everyone says they are in marriage or any other relationship. Let’s face it they are important principles in friendship as well. But the concept of date night is something that I will certainly be paying more attention to from here on.

Thought Spirals

One of the most predictable triggers for my depression is my period. Typically it showed up in time for Valentine’s Day and I spent most of the morning on an emotional rollercoaster. I woke up feeling lethargic but was perked up by breakfast. Then I did the washing up and sat down to do some writing and lost all momentum again. I had to leave for a meeting in town in the mid-afternoon which was adding a layer of anxiety on top of my low, hormone-laden spirits.

I walked the dog which again elevated my mood and tried to focus on the smaller things, that the sun was shining, that the crocuses had started to bloom heralding the next phase in Spring’s arrival. I take great solace from my dog enjoying her walks, running around the park or local woods, chasing her ball, her tail flying high. This high can be infectious, as long as I keep focusing on the dog and the small details of my surroundings.

I returned home more motivated and ready to start all sorts of home renovation projects but my mood kept dipping. My thoughts wouldn’t focus on the task in hand and instead entered into the downward spirals that sufferers of mental illness are all too familiar with.

For instance, when I was assessing which tasks I had checked off my daily list and which I should do next, my initial thought was ‘Great, I’ve done the dishes, walked the dog and cleaned the bathroom, on to the next household chore!’ But my mind focused in minutely on the dishes, pointing out that yes I had done the dishes, but there was still a huge pile of laundry waiting upstairs.

My brain started to get anxious.

Was there enough space to hang up the next load of washing?

Was the last load dry enough to be put away to make space?

Did it even matter anyway as the laundry upstairs would take at least three loads to clear as there were whites, darks and lots of bulky items like bedclothes and towels?

How had the laundry caught up with us so quickly?

I must have failed to keep up with the laundry.

As I was clearly such a failure at a simple task such as laundry how could I ever hope to do anything more complex?

If I can’t complete simple tasks then I must be useless.

If I am useless then what is the point of my existence, I’m just taking up valuable room that could be being used by someone else far more effectively.

Maybe everyone would be better off without me…

This is a very typical spiral for me, and from my experience volunteering with mental health and wellbeing organisations, for many others as well. I also know from people around me, that these thought spirals that can start to interfere with daily tasks, personal hygiene and physical health, are one of the hardest aspects of mental illness to understand.

When I started blogging a month ago, I was aware of the benefits that it could hold for me, but not those that it could provide for those closest to me. Of course that this personal writing project has instilled a renewed sense of purpose, is something that I enjoy doing and has elevated my emotional baseline to somewhere nearer to where it was before two years ago, is a great relief to my husband and family. But I have learnt that my posts can also assist those who are trying to better understand mental illness.

About a week ago my mother asked if she could read my blog. It’s on the internet so of course doesn’t contain anything that I have concerns about sharing, but my family are no well adapted to sharing feelings. I have never even hugged my grandmother, so it was daunting to consciously expose my mother to the more intimate aspects of my mental illness. In honest truth we have had very few productive conversations about it in the past. There was also a lot about what happened two years ago that I hadn’t made her fully aware of, the events were in the past, there was nothing to be done about it, and until very recently I have not been inclined to open up about them. The #metoo campaign gave me the nudge I needed to express what had happened to me personally and feel that it was ok to talk about it, even though there are others who have endured more traumatic and dangerous experiences. For me it was a lesson in being able to own my story, rather than giving the memories of the event itself the power and control over me.

Blogging has helped me own my story, gain back the control I lost though someone else’s brutal actions, and at the same time, share those experiences. I mentioned before about hoping to create an atmosphere of empathy and solidarity and in the case of my mother that has led to her beginning to share some of her own experiences as well as gain a better understanding of mine and the ways it affected me personally. I have fortunately always been very close with my mum, but our relationship was put under strain when I slid into severe depression two years ago. For the first time I went for weeks without calling to her, I started lying to her and I didn’t even tell her I had met Samuel. My blog has reopened the channels of communication for us and in the words of my mother: ‘reading and digesting [the blog posts]… means I can quietly contemplate what you have experienced and what you feel now… without feeling I need to support with wisdom I don’t have’. I wasn’t sure exactly what my aim was when I started blogging, but I don’t think I could have hoped for a better outcome.

 

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 1

I thought about starting a blog for a very long time. I had lots of thoughts buzzing about in my head and I wanted to write them down. But I already have lots of notebooks full of scribbles and ‘notes to self’ and I either never look at them again or I look back and can never quite remember the whole idea behind the quick bullet point. A blog seemed more meaningful. It also seemed more mindful. Rather than a diary that for me at least would be a continual out-pouring of emotion, without reflection or any consideration as to what happened, why and the outcome; blogposts are usually things you edit, an act which, by its very nature, is reflective. You pour out all the things you feel and ideas you have on a topic and then stop, maybe even walk away for a time, look over what you have written and delete the elements that are too personal, sometimes too painful, to post on the internet. A finished post is essentially composed of the highlights, is a synopsis, of the thought process inspired by a particular thought, event or feeling.

I guess, on some level, this blog is to provide myself with closure. Everyone has difficult times in their lives and the last two years were immense for me. I was assaulted, raped, harassed, diagnosed with anxiety and then depression. I contemplated suicide. Then I got married to a man who I am confident will help ensure that I never go back to the same depths of darkness as I did in April 2016. I used to be a mental health listening support volunteer at university and have always been very passionate about mental health, but now I am much more conscious of my own mental wellbeing. As I mentioned in the post Reflection, I had heard that blogging was a useful tool for those exploring their mental health. I mentioned that I could feel an early benefit of blogging because it made me reflect. Because it got everything out. It doesn’t matter that the final post doesn’t contain everything. That what feel like the most powerful, painful, perhaps even traumatic aspects were typed and deleted. The important thing was that they were written. That they were typed out and effectively looked straight in the eye. They don’t have any control anymore.

Blogging is very cathartic. And I also feel that I am telling my story. We all have a story, whether it is about mental health or mistreatment, or anything else, we all have things happen to us, things that are different and that we react to differently. No two stories are the same, which is all the more reason why they should all be told. So we can all strengthen and empathise with each other. So no one feels alone with what or how they are feeling. That no one feels embarrassed, or isolated or singled-out. That we all know a story from which we can draw hope.

I hope on Monday to be able to find a designated quiet time to finish addressing the darkest part of my story. For my benefit if no one else’s.

Communication

For me, the first indication that I am experiencing a dip or decline in my mental health is that I stop communicating effectively. It’s usually regarding friends and family but appears to now extend to blogging too.

A voice in my head was telling me to give up, to stop posting, that I had nothing ‘interesting’ to say. But then I reminded myself that  this isn’t about having ‘something to say’ or even about adding to the broadening discussion and increasing openness about mental health (which is really positive and important). This is personal. It’s about being honest with myself.

This is one of the most persistent aspects of my anxiety, and one of  the earliest I can remember. It isn’t so much a preoccupation with what people think about me, rather that I have already decided what they think for them.

With friends, people who I have a connection with (frequently longstanding), this involves becoming overwhelmed when texts, emails or other messages come through. I end up leaving them, unread so that they remain highlighted and I wont forget to come back to them later, but then I start to worry that too much time has past. Then they get left for longer, and longer, until I start berating myself that it’s too late to contact them, that I am a terrible friend and convincing myself that no one likes me.

It has taken me an entire year to finally meet up with some friends. I saw one friend when I was back in England who I hadn’t seen and barely spoken to for 5 years. But to me, that is the reminder that I experience true friendship, with the ability to be apart and barely in touch for years, and then just pick up exactly where we left off. But I’ll admit there were many times during that 5 year period that I blamed myself for our lack of contact; for not being at home when she came back to visit from the Philippines and feared that the friendship was dead. That we would never get back what we had at school where we sat next to each other in English class and she drew all over me (and often my assignment).

During university, I worked a lot. I often signed up for extra shifts and frequently missed out on social events as a result. I had acquaintances at work, but few true friendships. During my last relationship I began to become even more distant from my university friends. I was rarely in the flat as I stayed over with my boyfriend as he lived nearer the university. Then we moved in together at the same time many of my closest friends went on years abroad. As my mental health began to decline I contacted these friends less and less. I was also spending more and more time with people who I know realise were very judgemental and competitive, and whilst they were good company, they were not good for me.

Throughout the past two years especially, I have felt that I  had done irreversible damage to the friendships I had at school and during the first two years at university. However, writing this post has once again enabled me to revisit past friendships and experiences and to see not only that a number of those individuals who were negatively impacting my confidence and sense of self-worth are no longer part of my life, but also to remind myself that I do have strong friendships.

These friends know everything about me and travelled from Scotland to a small village in the South of England for my wedding reception. They have hosted me in their home countries and let me stay with them when I walked out on my partner and our abusive relationship. I hope that they feel similarly supported by me and I certainly go forward from today with an ever increased appreciation for the friendship they have borne me.