What about me you ask? What has been going on in my life? Well, sit back, relax and let me tell you a story. The last year of my life has been such a journey. Sadly it’s not really been one of those inspirational journeys where everyone ends up enlightened and better people as the result of their inner growth. Our big decision to buy our new/old house before selling our old/old house was a tough one. It really threw me for a loop and looking back the combination of the stress of the financial risk and the exhaustion of just trying to do all the things all of the time meant that I went into a bit of an adrenal overload. I was constantly alert and in a state of panic, ready to rush into action at a moment’s notice, to prepare the house for a viewing or to cope with some new twist in the tale of the new/old house. The longer the process went on for, the more intense my state of mind started to feel.
I began to have minor panic attacks where I struggled to catch my breath, my heart would race, my palms would sweat and I would be consumed by an overwhelming feeling of dread. The slightest deviation in the plan could send me into a spiral of nervous anticipation, fear and worry. I was struggling to stay calm and focused as we started Amy at school, trying hard to be present for her and coping with her anxiety and over stimulation. I was sleep deprived trying to deal with the later and later bedtimes as Amy was struggling to unwind after school and needed a lot of calm and patient attention at night to ease her into sleep. Stella was struggling with her speech delay and having tantrums where she just needed to be held and calmed and all the while I was trying to keep my tiny house looking like a show home so we could let potential buyers through at the shortest notice in order to be as easy going and open minded as we could be, desperate for buyers. I needed Ron to run the numbers constantly, updating me on every scenario, my normal personality traits of wanting to be in control and aware of every pitfall meant I was always thinking about the worse case scenario which lead to some horrible sleepless nights and desperate self-doubt.
All the while Ron was his ever present, calm and focused self, convinced we would sell in time, for the best price and everything would fall into place. I had no self-confidence, cried frequently and for no good reason and I had lost my appetite entirely. Eventually I talked to my Dr who prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication and suggested liquid protein shakes in an attempt to get some kind of nutrition into me. Between January and April 2012 I lost nearly 6kgs which was amazing on many levels because I had been working hard to increase my fitness and lose some weight the year before, but this was positively unhealthy. I felt like my whole life had shrunk down into a tiny box where I was living from moment to moment, phone call to phone call. Occasionally I would allow myself to imagine it all working out, mostly though I was swept away by the panic and spent many nights lying awake with my heart racing and my mind completely unable to stop running the scenarios, over and over. I withdrew from my friends and became sick of the same old story coming out of my mouth, no news, no buyer, worried, anxious. I let my photography business drop off completely, between January and September 2012 I only did two professional photoshoots and the occasional shoot for friends.
But things did slowly improve and then finally we had the news we were holding out for, we had a buyer and the timings fell into place and we sold and we bought and we exchanged and then we tried to move and then the electrics needed replacing and then it started to rain and then the house flooded and then we had to postpone our moving date and then we moved and then we had to move our stuff from storage and then we had poo in our garden and we had to replace the sewer and then we pulled the back of the house off and it wasn’t waterproofed and then things cost more than we thought and then we all got sick and somehow I ended up being a different person to who I had always thought I was. In my life before I would have described myself as resilient, realistic, generous and caring. Somehow I had become anxious, nervous, fearful and irritable. I didn’t know who I was anymore and my relationship with food had changed and I started to run further and further in the mornings as though I was running away from something instead of running towards a goal. All the while we were trying to manage a massive renovation, living out of our family room, no kitchen for nearly six weeks, children surviving on two minute noodles as I struggled to control my post traumatic stress. At night I would lie awake listening to the house moving around me, convinced there were structural problems with the extension, worried there were holes in the roof. The slightest decision would send me into a spiral of self-doubt and I honestly didn’t know who I was anymore. All the pleasure in the progress of the renovations was wiped out when something minor would go wrong. The back room flooded again and quotes to damp proof were astronomical. Ron saw potential and the realisation of his dream, I saw ongoing stress and costs blowing out.
Then I hurt my back. Bootcamp and running had been my escape and suddenly one afternoon after a great morning boxing session, I couldn’t move. My lower back muscles seized and went into spasm and the pain was unreal. Over the next two months I hurt my back another three times, each time worse than before, once while out running as I turned to look behind me when I crossed the road, another time when I picked up Stella to take her to her room during a tantrum and then again when I went back to bootcamp. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t run. It was a horrible time. In the midst of this Ron and I went to South Africa for a week without the girls to be there for my sister on her wedding day. We came home revitalised and I felt ready to draw a line under the year right then and there in the middle of August. The renovation was complete, the new kitchen incredible, the deck and garden a beautiful oasis in the middle of suburbia. But still, the self-doubt and fear. All I wanted was to feel like myself again, confident and content, happy in my own skin, present in my family.
On the surface that was me but underneath I was still unable to look myself in the eye. I didn’t know what to do, when I tried to explain how I felt to Ron, I just sounded slightly mad, worried, stressed, anxious, but outwardly I didn’t have anything to be stressed about. The financial stress was over and we had managed to complete the reno within budget. I threw myself back into meal planning, cooking and using my beautiful new dream kitchen that I strangely felt like I didn’t really deserve. On reflection it’s quite clear to me now what was happening, my anxiety was slowly spiralling into depression, my self-doubt was slowly being replaced by self-loathing. Luckily we had a wonderful holiday to look forward to, five weeks in South Africa, safe in the arms of my family, the comforts of home, Ron and the girls and I set off on our adventure and from the very beginning it felt like I was a changed woman. Away from the house I stopped worrying about the big tree falling over, the drains blocking up, the walls and roof leaking. Out of sight, out of mind and for the first time in months I felt as though I could breathe again. I had finished an eight week course of intense physical back rehab, learning to move again, teaching my core muscles to take on the role of supporting my spine rather than using the large muscles around my lower back to support my body. I felt strong, healthy, happy. We welcomed the New Year surrounded by my loving family, my girls were in heaven, Dad on tap, Mum with a smile and a laugh, grandparents present and adoring. I felt energised and determined to meet the new year head on, like I used to, confident, brave and focused.
Of course all good things come to an end and we landed back in Sydney with a large, hideous jolt of reality. Jet lag was severe and felt never ending, Amy struggled to adjust both to the time difference and the difference in her parents, she missed my Mum and Dad with an intensity I hadn’t anticipated and somehow seemed to blame me for bringing her home. The house had been well cared for by our house sitters but suddenly bills needed to be paid and I was on call again for meals, snacks, laundry and the new school year. Within days all the goodness of the holiday had evaporated and Ron and I were dealing with Amy out of control, exhausted, wide awake and emotional. Tantrums, hysteria, mania, refusal to listen, eat, sleep. She seemed to settle back into school again with no struggle but at home it was a different story. She was belligerent, disobedient and unhappy and everything was a struggle. I was consumed with jetlag and exhaustion and up three or four times a night trying to get someone settled back to sleep and then unable to sleep myself, my heart racing again, that feeling of dread slowly creeping over me and seeping into my waking hours as well. I tried to talk to Ron about it but he was seeing solutions not problems and it just wasn’t that simple, my go-to methods weren’t working anymore, I couldn’t concentrate on reading and within a few days of getting back into the daily grind I had hurt my back again and suddenly I couldn’t cope. Ron and I sat up late one night in crisis, questioning our parenting, our relationship, our coping mechanisms and we agreed we needed help, we agreed I needed help.
Since that crisis point things have slowly been improving. Ron and I are working together as a team to address the issues that the last year of our lives have thrown up. Parenting Amy can still be a daily struggle but she is so much happier now than she was a few months ago. We switched round some things and changed our mindsets, did a lot of reading and asked for lots of help and we are taking each day at a time, trying to find ways to be there for her without feeling like she is running our lives. Stella is growing and adapting to the changes in her life, we are back at speech therapy to help her catch up again to her peers, she actively communicates with everyone in her life but sometimes needs a little extra help expressing herself. Ron is busy with work and constantly working on our house and garden and I am slowly but surely finding a way back to myself. I have lots of help and support and am starting to feel more comfortable talking about what I have been going through. Despite being an extrovert who loves to communicate, talking about what I have been experiencing has felt like admitting failure on some level and it’s been hard for me to open up and be honest about what I have been feeling. On so many levels I feel like such a cliché, the stay-at-home-mum who suddenly finds herself wanting more, the out-of-work mum who’s skills have stayed at the level I left them at nearly seven years ago when I went on maternity leave. The non-Australian in a workforce rammed full of Mums like me, looking for part time work. Sometimes it feels as if there was a crack somewhere, I would just slip right through it. Validated only by the presence of my husband and children and my friends. My team of professionals includes my wonderful GP and a lovely psychologist who is helping me learn to validate how I feel and change my behaviour patterns. Slowly the panic attacks are lessening and I feel as though my ability to cope is increasing. I have given myself permission to not be the best I can be at all times.
There are many occasions where I have to remind myself that what is most important is that I am well enough to do my job, to be there for my children, to be present for my husband and so I am forcing myself to stop withdrawing, to reach out more and to talk more. Its not easy but then nothing tough ever is. And that is where the story finds me now, poised on the edge of change and coping with it.