Therapy

Question: What do you do when your Head-voice and your Heart-voice are at war in your head? When one is saying… ‘Do it, do it!’ and the other is saying “You stupid fuckwit of a woman – don’t even think about it!”

Answer: Get yourself a therapist

This one is hard to write. I’ve been putting it off for a while. But as I started this blog as a sort of therapy, I always promised myself that I’d write honestly about the ACTUAL therapy I’ve had this year. So here goes….

When I became unwell last year, the hardest part of the initial journey was that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Lying in an MRI scanner and listening to the mechanical beeps for an hour, I was mentally writing my will and thinking about leaving my 5 year old boy without a mum. But once diagnosed (with a Vestibular Dysfuction*) I was able to concentrate on getting physically better. Knowledge is power as they say. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I could fight it.

*Vestibular Dysfuction – when the brain can’t properly orientate and you feel constantly dizzy, sea-sick and can only move about slowly, acting as if you are seriously drunk – without actually drinking. It’s shit!

For the next six months I had a goal, a plan and a belief that I could return to ‘normal’. I made steady progress through Neuro Physio (re-training the brain to balance) and I could cope. I was absolutely determined to become me again, and be able to do everything I previously could.

Having that vision and that belief was, I’m sure, a contributor to me making such great progress.

So when I had a relapse in February and started getting worse again, I hit a new low – possibly worse than my first MRI, because I was back to having no knowledge. Now I was wondering if this was going to be an on-going cycle – did I have to accept that I may never get better? It hit me really hard. My Neuro Physio told me that I needed to come to terms with the fact that this could be it. Even with all the brain training, I may only ever be able to do 80% of what I could before. The idea of living with this illness forever was just heart breaking. The idea of not being able to do everything that I could normally do, and everything I had planned for my life, was overwhelming.

One thought kept coming back to me – Disney Land. It’s been my dream for most of my life, and I’ve promised myself that I will go as soon as my boy is tall enough to go on all the big rides.

therapy-mickey
Mickey became a symbol of everything I was losing

I couldn’t accept it. Mentally, I just couldn’t cope. Micky Mouse became a symbol of everything I was losing. The me I was losing. The me my family was losing and the limits that would put on them too. I lost my will to fight, and just became sad and angry. I didn’t know whether I needed to keep fighting to get better, or to accept defeat and make new plans – ones that wouldn’t ever involve Micky fucking Mouse. (I also started swearing a lot more, and taking my anger out on fictional mice!)

I realised that I needed help. My Neuro Physiotherapist was a wonderful woman helping me retrain my brain and make physical brain progress, but I needed help with the emotional side of my brain too. I needed to sort out how to THINK – how to DECIDE – how to KEEP GOING mentally.

So a made an appointment with a Counselling therapist, and it’s possibly the best thing I ever did. To be honest, for the first 3 sessions, I really wasn’t sure! I felt that she didn’t understand the problem. But to be fair to her, it was ME that didn’t understand my own emotions. I wasn’t giving her the right details. I was still too angry at my situation. I was linking my physical condition and my mental state too closely together, I couldn’t separate them – when I felt physically poorly I was sad, and when I felt physically OK I felt… well, OK, but overwhelmingly frustrated by my limitations.

The regular fight in my head was:

Physical Brain: I’m so tired. The more your push me, the more I need to rest. You can’t do everything you used to – accept it; do less; enjoy the quieter life. Let’s sit on the sofa and have a brew.

Emotional Brain: But that’s not who I AM! I’m missing out on LIFE. I don’t enjoy quiet, I NEED the variety, I need the party, I need to be who I WAS. 

My Emotional Brain thinks in shouty capitals a lot!

The break-through happened in my therapy session after I did the worse thing I could have possibly done as a person with balance issues – I went on a roller coaster. It was definitely an act of rebellion. I knew it was an absolutely stupid risk that could totally fuck up all the neuro-physio progress that I’d made. But I also felt that I was leading a restricted life, and it was breaking my heart. It was head versus heart, or my Physical Brain versus my Emotional Brain, and Emotional Brain was now calling the shots. It wanted to know what would happen, like a child pushing boundaries… I needed to know if the Disney dream was ever going to be achievable. 

I picked a day when all the circumstances were right – I was feeling reasonably good, I had people with me who could look after me if I crashed into a spinning nausea, I had the next 3 days off work if I needed to recuperate. I was still scared shitless though! Physical and Emotional brains were battling in my head as I queued up:

EB: It’s the Dora the Explorer roller coaster, it’s fine for a 6 year old – how bad can it be?

PB: You absolutely crazy fuckwit of a woman – there’s a sign that says ‘Not suitable for people with motion sickness’ – that’s an understatement for what you have!

But because I’m either feistily determined or stupidly stubborn (you can decide which), I did it. And it wasn’t at all as bad as I expected. So… I went on three more, each progressively bigger and faster.

I’d love to say that was the moment when I realised I was better, but oh no, I just got the consequences later. Somehow the adrenaline must have kept me going, but later that day I was crying, and the next day I paid the price properly. I felt awful. I could hardly move off the sofa. I thought I’d broken myself and I had a new reason to be angry – at myself – for being a crazy fuckwit of a woman (PB: Well, I told you, didn’t I?!) However, by the next day I felt a lot better, and the day after that, better again (EB: Ha. I knew it -it was worth the risk)

And this is where my therapist, Jeanette, comes in. She helped me realise that instead of being a straight battle between Physical and Emotional thoughts, I’d rather cleverly brought in a third voice in my head – ‘Intellectual Brain’. IB was the one who made sure I took the risk at the right time, considered the consequences, and made sure I was ready. It sounds so simple, but she was right. She helped me to think about other times I’d used this third voice to make decisions, and that this was the voice I had learned to trust. I needed to listen to them all, but IB was like the mediator.

This was my turning point. I started to feel more positive about making decisions, taking risks, testing my physical limits in a sensible way, and keep my emotional side happy that I was making progress.

When Jeanette and I booked our last session I said that I wanted to do some drawings as a way of remembering what I’d learned, and to help me easily recall the concepts of balancing my physical, emotional and intellectual voices.

This is what I drew…

therapy-drawings

… and what it means:

1. I need to stop looking back at who I was, and understand who I am now, and what I’m capable off. Being able to do 80% of what I could before may be true, but are there new things I can do too? If I’d lost a leg, I wouldn’t try to grow it back! I’d work out how to live the best life I could with one leg.

2. My roller coaster rebellion taught me how to push my physical limits to allow me to have fun, but in a safe way.

3. I had felt restricted by my illness, like I had tethers holding me back. Jeanette helped me to see those more as a harness, which helped to keep me safe. And when I was seeking to push the boundaries I was using intellect to ‘measure’ how far I could go.

4. I finally accepted that resting is not lazy – it’s essential. I can still do almost anything I want to as long as I accept that my body will pay the consequences, and I make time before and after to give it chance to do that.

Will I get to Disney Land one day? Yes, I absolutely will. Maybe not for a while yet, but I am still a determined / stubborn bitch, and I will not give up that dream. I know that it’s possible, as long as I plan ahead, take sensible risks and make time for the consequences. 

Mickey, I’m coming to get you!

(Thank you Jeanette)

Pay it forward

A waitress in Wagamama just made me cry!
To clarify: it was in a good way with a really lovely act of kindness.

I’ve been shopping in the Trafford Centre which has one of those massive dining areas with lots of fast food options round the edge. I really didn’t fancy a McDonalds or a Spud-u-Like, or fighting for a seat, or being glared at for taking up a table for 4 when it’s just me. You get the picture. So I decided to treat myself and go to Wagamama. I love their food and their smoothies and it was relatively quiet. But usually I find eating alone takes a bit of courage, or at least a book to hide behind!

I was feeling brave enough but once seated I started to feel that self-conscious urge to get my phone out so I don’t have to look at anyone or acknowledge my lone-eater status.

Then I decided not to give in to that uncomfortable tradition. Instead to be confident and just really enjoy my food and surroundings. And I really did. It was kind of liberating to just relax and smile and think for a while, and not care about anyone else.

When it came time to pay my bill I got talking to my waitress about eating alone and how she also tends to hide behind a laptop or a book. I told her about this blog, where I talk about worrying less and me trying not to care what other people think so much. She was so supportive and said that she’d have a look at the blog and that she’d like to pay for my meal.

I was absolutely gobsmacked!! You hear about these lovely acts of kindness but now it’s happened to me it made me tear up.

I went back to her as I was leaving and thanked her again and she said, “no problem just pay it forward”.

So then I’ve been finishing my shopping and wondering how to do that. How could I pay that kindness forward. Eventually the answer felt obvious, to find another woman eating on her own, congratulate her for having the confidence to enjoy a meal for one, and buy her lunch for her.

So that’s what I’ve just done. And a lovely lady called Christine in Yo Sushi was kind enough to accepted my gesture. (I should add that approaching a woman on her own and offering to buy her lunch is also a tad nerve wracking!! I hope you weren’t too frightened by me Christine!)

She’s agreed that she will also pay it forward to another lone-eater. I hope she does, and I hope whoever that lady is will feel how I feel right now… That as Unbalanced as we may all be sometimes, women (and men!) are usually kind and supportive of each other. Whether it’s a random act of kindness, a compliment or just a simple smile, we can really make someone’s day.

So here’s to enjoying a meal for one. And here’s to all the wonderful people out there who’ve created a random act of kindness. I’m looking at you Liz, my lovely Wagamama waitress. Thank you!!

If you’ve been involved in a Random Act of Kindness or Pay It Forward type of thing, I’d love to hear about it. Please tell me.

UPDATE: Christine got in touch! 

” I was the lucky recipient of lunch!!!! I was so touched by the gesture – it really really made my day!! It was great to meet you and thank you once again. I paid the act of kindness forward and bought a mum and son on the next counter an afternoon tea cakey treat. They were as thrilled as I was and promised to keep the chain going.

Thanks again – you were a little ray of sunshine for me today xx “

What a lovely day.

Festival Mum

Parent Dilemma. You want to go to a music festival. Should you take your small offspring? Is it still a proper festival experience if you might not see all the bands you want to and you don’t get slowly shit-faced?

This has been a tough one since I became a mum. It sounds amazing to integrate something you love from pre-parent days into family life. But is that realistic for us?

I have heard of many parents who throw a tent and wellies in the back of the car and head off for a mud and music filled adventure. I’m guessing that they are the types of families who love camping trips anyway. We are not. Or more specifically, I am not.

Since going camping with the Guides aged 12 I learned that it only takes two days for my curly hair to turn into a Medusa-like state without the aid of a power shower. I also like my own toilet.

So for the past few years I’ve just not bothered, instead choosing to watch ‘Live music’ on the TV red button, with a brew and my slippers on.

But now my Unbalanced Man plays guitar in a band that are getting invited to play at these festivals. So I want to go even more. Would 6 year old Joe enjoy watching Daddy play? Probably, for about 20 minutes from past experience. But, if you give him a choice between time at Granny’s where he can have bacon butties and ice-cream on tap, or being taken from tent to tent watching all the weird and wonderful artists perform songs that are NOT recognisable tunes from Disney and Pixar films, there’s no contest.

So that’s the answer then. Weekend at Granny’s, and off we go.

But uh-oh, here comes Mum Guilt. I absolutely hate sodding Mum Guilt.

“Going off having fun on your own are you?
Drinking are you?
Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you were away without him last weekend,
AND working away the week before that.
Look at THOSE parents who’ve brought their children.
Look how much fun the kids are having.
Joe would LOVE jumping on hay bails with them.
They are GOOD parents who REALLY love their kids.”

I tell you what Mum Guilt, you can absolutely fuck right off. Yes, perhaps Joe would have enjoyed BITS of the weekend, but probably not the whole of it. Instead, we’ve had an amazing weekend as a couple. Joe is back, more than happy and of course, full of ice cream. Next week Ste has another gig but I’m not going, and the week after we’re setting off on a family holiday. So everyone is happy. You might even say it’s all balanced as it should be.

I’ll admit that festival-ing as a mum wasn’t the same as pre-parent days. This time around we managed to stay up till the early hours on the first night, but didn’t get anywhere near shit faced, and on the second night we came home early and were in bed way before midnight.

So I’ll accept that I’m not a full-on Rock and Roll Mum, but I had a wonderful time. And, I’ll tell you a secret… I slept with* that guitar player!!

*Literally. We were knackered. 

Literally Unbalanced

Hypothetical question: Due to illness you are told that you need to do less and rest more, you can probably only manage 80% of what you did before the illness. Would you:

  • A. Cut down your work hours, and therefore your salary
  • B. Spend the weekend resting at the expense of family time
  • C. Make like an ostrich, stick your head in the sand and pretend you can still be Wonder Woman (until you collapse).

This is the question I’m currently battling with, and the reason I started writing as Unbalanced Woman. It’s become a sort of therapy – a way to get thoughts out of my head and make sense of them. A way to accept that I’m not Wonder Woman and stop (try to stop) feeling guilty about it.

(If you’re interested in what’s wrong with me you can read What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway? below – but I’m giving you the option to skip the moaning parts and get straight to the point)

Here’s the point… Illness or not, do lots of women battle with this conundrum? I know I did before I was poorly. I can name so many Wonder Women in my life who struggle to manage everything they want to do, think they have to do, feel they don’t have choices. Is this part of the female make up?

This is probably illustrating that I have so far been attempting Option C – refusing to admit that I am not Wonder Woman. Of course I covet her figure, her graceful running ability and her sparkly knickers. Who doesn’t? But Wonder Woman is also a Super Hero. She can sort out the world, do the right thing, make everything better, and of course with glossy hair and full make-up every minute of every day. She’s like a modern day Facebook thread. You’d never see her posting photos of her losing the battle with the bad guys because she’s got a phone in one hand, a child on her hip and wearing old, elasticated-waist pants because her lycra body suit is still in the wash.

Well this Wonder Woman is admitting defeat. I’ve tried. God I’ve really tried. But I’m knackered. I’m fucked. I’m crying. Is this the point where something has to give? But again…. what?

I still can’t shake the feeling that being poorly is an ‘excuse’. That I need to get over it. People talk about ‘invisible illness’ being so hard to explain to others, but actually it’s so hard to explain to myself. I have got into a habit of saying “Last year I got dizzy. I still get a bit tired some days” – soft, non-threatening words to gloss over a problem and move on.

My Neuro Physiotherapist (who knew they even exist?) is a wonderful lady with a heart of gold, a wicked sense of humour and some hard truths. Her tough love is just what I’ve needed. She says the only way I will face up to what’s really happening is if I start being honest about it. She has urged me to start to tell people that I’ve had, and I quote, “a horrendous brain dysfunction” and actually also makes me say “not had, but have” – present tense, because – and this is the hard bit – I’m not better. I’m significantly better than I was a year ago, but I’m not fully ‘recovered’. I might never be.

That shit is hard to say because it’s hard to accept. If I say it, it means I believe it. It means it’s true.

I’m trying it out, I’ve said it to a few people but it’s so dramatic and it turns into a longer, more invasive talk. Whilst I’m a confident person, this type of attention actually makes me squirm and I just want to go back to being a Wonder Woman impersonator, using my metalic wristbands to deflect any uncomfortable sympathy.

But again it makes me think… we all do it. All the time. A woman who feels like she should have cartoon-style match sticks holding her eye lids open will typically say “Yes, I’m fine. Just a bit tired. Anyway how are you, you look amazing!” and then order a triple shot coffee and anything with sugar in it.

Deflect. Cope. Crack on. (Crack up?)

Can I change? I think I have to. I’m told by everyone that my health comes first. Perhaps I need to listen. But why didn’t I listen before I became ill? Why don’t any of us?

I’m really trying to lift my head out of the sand. Perhaps I can do it bit by bit – be an ostrich but wearing sparkly knickers and shiny wristbands.

Now there’s a picture I like. Can someone draw that for me? I think that would help!

x

What’s wrong with the miserable bitch anyway?…..
I year ago I started feeling dizzy. Just for a few minutes here and there. I remember the first instance was in the shower and I had to hold the walls to finish getting washed. It was a really weird sensation.

As the days and weeks went on it happened more and more often so I went to the doctor. Assured that dizziness was almost always an ear infection or low blood pressure I continued putting up with it. But when I got worse and worse and it became clear that it was neither. A couple of MRI scans and visits to a Neuro Consultant, I was diagnosed with a ‘Vestibular Dysfunction’ which means that my brain had forgotten how to balance properly and had to work much harder to keep me upright.

It’s relatively new in terms of understanding it, which is why it’s hard to explain what’s wrong and when I need help. But I’ll try.

Where our brains normally scan our surroundings and ‘orientate’ to judge space and distance, my brain will respond to all movements by becoming disorientated – whether that is me moving, or things moving around me. So I could sit still, in an room where nothing else was moving and feel fine. But if I walk, go to a busy place or even watch ‘action’ on TV, my brain gets confused.

The same for ‘scanning’ with my eyes. So reading and shopping (looking around for things) can completely throw me. Even now.

In the past I have described my symptoms as like being permanently drunk. At my worst I would wake up feeling like I’d had about three glasses of wine – a bit floaty and not too confident in myself. I’d be able to walk, but not too quickly, and certainly not drive. As the day went on, it was like adding several shots of tequila – feeling like I should sit down and be looked after until someone could take me home and put me to bed. At worst, it’s like being in a washing machine or on the waltzers and even when lying down with my eyes shut, I can’t get off the ride.

Lots of people said that feeling permanently drunk must feel fantastic – cheap date etc, but it’s also like having a hangover at the same time. And sometimes I will look like I’ve been drinking – I’ll walk unsteadily, needing to hold on to things. I’ve heard of others becoming quite reclusive because they are scared to be in pubic in case they fall or people judge them for daytime drunken behaviour.

I considered wearing a T-shirt saying “I’m not a drunk, I’ve got a vestibular dysfunction”, but no one knows what that means anyway.

I’ve been very lucky to be referred to an expert Consultant and Neurological Physio who have helped me to retrain my brain, eyes and vestibular system to balance me again. I have great understanding of my triggers which means I can avoid certain activities and I know when I need to rest.

As I say, I’m not recovered, but I’m doing really well and I’m incredibly grateful for the progress I’ve made. I know there are many, many others who have not had the same support and have to cope with life on long term medication just to manage the nausea.

TV Voiceover… If you have been affected by any of the issues covered is this blog, you may find this website useful:
http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder

Binge Friend-ing

Just like drinking, these days I don’t see my friends as often as I used to, but when I do, I do it ‘properly’.

Like many women of a certain age, I felt like I grew up with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. The Sex and the City ladies were a bit older than me and so watching them, I was guided into a lovely security that my own circle of friends would easily be able to stay close, meeting for dinner or drinks or even a posh breakfast at least once a week. Forever.

As the series and their lives progressed that never waivered. They welcomed their kids into the four-some’s social engagements, but that never distracted from the conversation about relationships, sex (once sensitively renamed ‘colouring’) and other intimate details of their glamorous existences. They even strolled down streets together afterwards, in their posh shoes, to complete any unfinished conversations. Such, I assumed, would be the reality of my long standing friendships with MY girls in my thirties and forties.

Let’s re-examine that… Getting my group of girls together in the same place, at the same time, ideally without children, is like trying to reunite the actual cast and crew of SATC.

There are text messages spanning about two weeks as we first try to find a Saturday night when everyone is free. When we’ve moved three months through our diaries we typically declare it a ridiculous state of affairs and try for a Friday (less ideal due to the number of Saturday morning clubs that require an early morning chauffeur).

Recently, we moved through Saturdays, Fridays and Thursdays, Sunday lunches and Saturday brunches, before finally landing on a Wednesday for a curry, in six weeks time.

I mean, to coin a regularly used phrase, for fucks sake. A frigging Wednesday! But that, it seems, is the life of Unbalanced Women who may work late, who have Unbalanced Men who work late or who have children who have clubs and commitments that turn us into their P.A., chauffeur and late night chef.

Of course I see some friends one at a time for a quick brew or even one of those coveted posh breakfasts (they’re actually my favourite). Even better than that is seeing friends who live far away, and you travel to get together for 24 hours or more. Now that is a full-on friendship binge.

In preparation for such an indulgent appointment I find myself making a mental agenda of things I need to ask them about. Who am I kidding? I sometimes write an actual agenda of topics. I never wear Carrie-style posh heels, but I do add a bit of lippy because it feels like a special ‘date’.

Time always flies as I try to tick off my agenda as we tangent off to a million topics eventually returning to the original thread after musing “…why are we talking about fridges anyway?”. And we’re usually both clock-watching to make sure we’re not getting dangerously close to missing our next allotted commitment, which we can of course still get to on time if the waiter brings the bill and the card machine RIGHT NOW.

But seeing my Girl Gang is important to me, and that’s why I Binge Friend when we eventually meet. I want to drink in as much as I can and soak up their stories and the wonderful flow of easy conversation, jokey insults and safe judgement of others.

And the added beauty of Binge Friending is that, just like binge drinking, there are usually lots more messages the morning after, to thank everyone for a lovely evening and to comment on our favourite memories and funny stories. But there’s never anyone saying ‘never again’. Unless of course that Clare was in charge of pouring the wine!

Precious moments on a ticking clock

“Make time for fun and silliness”. I must have read that about 20 times. Apparently a necessity if you aspire to be a successful parent, partner, team leader and probably circus clown.

So today that cliché rang in my ears when faced with a particular unbalanced-life experience.

Our morning routine requires precision timing. No matter how organised I try to be there are just so many activities to cram into a short space of time. And our differing personality types add to the challenge: I take some time to warm up in the morning, like an old car in winter, you need to let me tick over for a while before I can even leave first gear. My little boy however wakes up ready to run down the nearest motorway. No car required. As soon as he opens his eyes his brain must say, no actually sing, “It’s morning… Woohoo!”

Fun and silliness are always on his agenda. Of course they are. But my morning routine is ruled by the large ticking clock on our kitchen wall. If we don’t get to school on time the car park will be full. And if the car park is full I will have to park round the corner. And if I have to park round the corner it takes longer to walk back to it (in heels) so I won’t catch my ‘only-make-it-if-I-leg-it-down-the-platform’ train to work.

He was in full-on Woohoo-mode when we went downstairs to make breakfast, yabbering on about something or other. I knew I should be listening, but I needed to make breakfast and…. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

To get his attention, I picked him up sat him on the kitchen worktop. “I have a question for you…” Now this works. He’s at eye level and he loves to be asked a question. And he half knows that the question will be, ‘what shall we have for breakfast?’. It’s a regular morning question because another aspirational quote locked somewhere in my memory, is to offer children choices so they learn independent thinking. Blah blah blah.

But instead, my inner silliness crept in. “Do you looove me?” I sang to him. I’ve recently watched Dirty Dancing and it popped into my head. Big grin from the boy and my silliness took over.

“I can mash potato…” I proved it.
“Do the twist….” Hell yeah.
“Tell me baby…” He loved it.

The clock was silenced. I was Supermum. We danced together. He looked me right in the eye and did that beautiful giggle that kids do when they are truly happy. I felt amazing and we had a precious moment – one of those that makes your heart burst, where you know there is true love in the room. The cliché was right, I SHOULD make time for silliness.

Time. Make time. Tick Tock….. “Oh my god, look at the time!” And there it was, ruined.

“Quickly… Just eat it… Are you finished?… Well where did you leave it?… Come on!… They are not MY shoes, they are your responsibility… For goodness sake, just get in the car… Now!”

Next time I decide to make time for fun and silliness I will schedule it with precision timing.