the arthwritist

arthritis

I don’t need to tell you how frustrating these words are if you’ve ever been anxious about fertility or birth, or if you’ve ever suffered a traumatic experience that you are suddenly faced with again. I get it- they’re trying to take the pain, the worry, the whatever-it-is you’re feeling, away. But it doesn’t work. You are just left feeling a little bit more misunderstood, a little bit more isolated than before. Yet here I am about to tell you all how I’ve tried to ‘relax’ my mind over the last few months, what I’ve learnt about myself (that you probably already knew) and how I’m hoping to be a ‘smug’ mum who’s gonna boss this birth in a mere few days.

The jury is still out on whether hypnobirthing will stand me in good stead for the imminent birth of my second daughter. I still worry my anxieties are too deeply embedded or maybe I haven’t practised techniques enough, I don’t know. That’ll be another blog post. But what I do know is what it has done for me and I’m already grateful to hypnobirthing for that. I’ve got out of it things I didn’t know I would, dealt with some demons and maybe, just maybe, that is the key to a more positive birth.

It’s been one of those times where everyone knows something about you that you didn’t. I didn’t know I was an anxious person until recently. This will make my nearest and dearest laugh because I think they all know and have done for some time. But honestly, I didn’t have a clue. I just thought I was constantly being dealt a bad hand in life, now I know I haven’t; it’s just how it gets dealt with that’s the problem. If you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes or so these last few months, you will have got the idea that I’ve been terrified of birthing again. To the point where it has taken over some of the enjoyment of this pregnancy which we’ve fought so hard for. I get really frustrated about that because I promised if I ever was lucky enough to get pregnant through IVF I would not complain about a single thing. I’ve been in a war with myself for feeling guilty and being ‘negative’ but not being able to help it either. I have mastered the art of conjuring up the worst possible case scenarios and replaying them over and over in my head like a box-set marathon, it really is a talent of mine.

Initially, I had convinced myself all this fear about birth is because I know ‘what’s coming’ and looked on at first-time mums in sympathy when really, they were the ones in control, they were the ones who were more prepared than me. To try and tackle these demons I attended hypnobirthing classes and hoped for a magic answer that would solve all my problems: Then I could be one of those smug mums who thought it was an ‘amazing’ experience. And maybe I still will be- I really hope so! I still have my reservations but they are nowhere near as bad as they were and I think, for me, this has been more about unearthing my anxieties and dealing with the pain of the past before I can even begin to look into the future. So even if all this hypnobirthing malarky is thrown out of the window mid labour- I will still be so grateful that it has helped me understand why I have been feeling the way I have and that I can manage that so much better now.

My daughter’s birth came less than twelve months after giving birth to my stillborn son, Archie, in 2009. As you can appreciate, I hadn’t grieved properly and dived into getting pregnant again. I was fortunate that this happened so quickly, yet I found myself back worrying every day about what was going to go wrong. It was no fun let me tell you that. As a result, I took everything day to day (literally) and someone how I ended up 39 weeks pregnant and about to be induced. I didn’t even fully understand the process of this I just nodded along and put my complete trust in what was being told to me. It sounds madness to say this out loud, but even at this point, I did not believe for one second that I was going to bring home a baby. I didn’t even want to put vests in my hospital bag for fear of bringing them home again, unused. So you can imagine how much ‘prep’ I did for birth. Zilch. Nader. None. With Archie, I was made to be as ‘comfortable’ as possible with much stronger pain relief than you would ordinarily be offered so I assumed this was the idea of labour. It was a major shock then when I had much less pain relief second time around and had no tools to help me manage or any understanding of how to help myself. I just wanted to lay on that bed and be drugged up until it was over, which is a terrible thing to say but it was how I thought it was meant to happen because I knew nothing other than my previous experience. It’s a hazy memory of me being a bit unreasonable with the doctors, dipping in and out consciousness and throwing up. At one point I even pretended to push because I was so exhausted, how did I think I was going to get away with that?! When Poppy arrived, nearly 12 hours later, of course, the game changed and it was euphoric but I remember saying to myself ‘I am never, ever doing that again.’ And I never will. Not like that, anyway. The third labour is imminent now but I refuse to experience that same experience again. This time around, I’m armed with a lot more knowledge, calming techniques and a very supportive husband so at least the odds are in my favour.

What I have learnt the most is I have been majorly influenced by my past experiences of birth and I needed to put those to bed. As I left that final hypnobirthing session, the air did feel different. I felt I had let go of something. You know when the air is just different and you know something good is about to happen? Like your first night of a brilliant holiday abroad or the aftermath of your engagement.

I understand the reasons why I had a painful birth with Poppy now, I didn’t help myself or know how to cope; I thought it was the midwives’ job to do that for me; turns out, it isn’t. I understand that I was grieving the loss of my son and wasn’t mentally prepared to relive that whole experience in the same hospital, same ward less than a year since his birth. I was panic-stricken and uninformed which I know causes adrenaline, hindering hormones that are designed to help you.  I understand that I need to keep active and calm to help myself and not hope it will all ‘go away’. So I’m going to stop saying I had a ‘bad’ birth with Poppy and accept that there were reasons for that and it was essentially my mind that didn’t cope, not my body. No one promises you a perfect birth, but at least I can put to bed some of my past and begin to deal with the future now.

Babe- I’ve got this. Or at least I better bloody have.

Like most toxic relationships, I stayed in way longer than I should’ve. I ignored my gut instinct and began to make excuses for the way things were. ‘After this holiday, it’ll get better’. ‘New year, new start’, I’d convince myself. New year, a new excuse was the reality.

In the beginning, it was a true romance that blossomed well. I dedicated my time, fought hard for what I wanted and was emotionally invested. I got out what I put in and I was made to feel secure, valued and worthy; my ego often massaged, it had the makings for a lifetime of happiness. It was a marriage, a commitment; I relied on it and it relied on me. Because of it, I was creative and independent and it brought out the best in me. I learnt along the way, obviously, and I wasn’t perfect by any means. But for those first few blissful years, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.

But then the red flags. The flags that were ignored, the flags that I chose to see in green rather than the detrimental colours that they were. The flags that asked- ‘is this you? Is this what you really thought it was going to be?’ At first, it was easy to ignore the signs, I could say it was tiredness or we just ‘needed a break’. I’d blame myself for spending too much time together and not enough of doing my own thing. Other people didn’t help. I’d observe those who had it all together and envy their lives. Why was I finding it hard but they seemingly weren’t? Why were my weekends filled with anxiety and guilt about trying to delicately balance everything in my life with zero thanks? Goalposts began to change constantly and heads were turned at spritely new versions of me. I used to be like her, I’d think.

I kept at it but things began to take its toll. I began to lose interest but wasn’t interested in going elsewhere so my energy dipped and I lacked motivation. I didn’t get out of this what I was putting in and we just disagreed on the fundamentals. I became a drain on the whole relationship and I resented the fact that so much had changed between us without my say so. I couldn’t even choose a colour pen by myself anymore. I had lost control and found myself in a situation that I did not know how to get out of. I wasn’t happy but I didn’t know what to do about it.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Then we’d have our good days and I’d convince myself all was good again. One or two weeks break at a time and I’d feel ready to give it another go.

Looking back, it was all very textbook really. I’d bore my friends about my troubles but then never did anything about it and the next they saw me I’d be ‘fine’. But we weren’t. We were going in different directions and as much as I tried, I was losing the fight.

Of course, I’m happily married. I’m not talking about that marriage. I’m talking about the other marriage. The one I was in for ten years. My teaching career. They say us teachers are always married to our jobs. Well, sadly, we’ve parted ways and I hope that I will find happiness in something else as much as I did in those first few years. It’s a job that’s changed, for the worse in my opinion; unnecessary tasks and unrealistic goalposts that do not benefit the children merely tick boxes for government-led initiatives. I have the fond memories, the fabulous friends and the knowledge that I know I did my best for those children throughout the years. Sadly, teaching doesn’t do its best for teachers.

Dear Daughter,

Tonight I was sad as we chatted in bed,

You shared with me your fears for the future ahead.

You’re excited, you said, and your heart’s full of love,

But will I still embrace you, will you still be enough?

It has always been me and you from day one,

A bond unbroken; a song to be sung.

Our days play out one note at a time,

And so far the track plays to a beautiful chime.

Don’t worry, my darling, love for you won’t be shared,

Just more in the making, love spread and aired.

Our days in the sun will still be full of laughter,

As together we begin our brand new chapter.

Don’t worry, my darling, I’ll still wipe your tears,

Kiss you goodnight and diminish your fears.

Our family is growing with a new dimension,

But you will still have my unconditional affection.

Don’t worry, my darling, it will be a blessing all around,

When your sister arrives she’ll make you so proud.

Right here in this arm, I will hold her tight, true,

But here in this other, there will always be you.

Mummy x

My first diagnosis of arthritis really didn’t worry me. I’d had some pains in my fingers but the steroid injection had soon stopped that and it was as if nothing was wrong. Looking back over those first few years I can’t say I took it at all seriously. Major denial. I remember the doctor saying, ‘Don’t worry, with the right care you’ll still be able to lead a normal life and have a family.’ I burst out laughing- hello?! Why wouldn’t I? Drama queen.

So, when someone asked me why I don’t talk about it often, I truly didn’t know the answer. In the beginning, I didn’t look like I had a ‘disease’. I partied a lot and worked just the same as anyone else. I was in pain at times, especially having to mark copious amounts of school work, but I hid it well I thought. I remember being told my own handwriting wasn’t very neat when marking books and I was fuming. I wanted to scream ‘I have ARTHRITIS!’ but I didn’t say a word. Anyway, they already knew this and obviously hadn’t factored that in. Didn’t they believe me? I was, obviously, mortified. A year or so after, nattering with the cleaner at work, we were discussing general aches and pains. She was clearly struggling herself. ‘I have arthritis too,’ I said, in a bid to be empathetic. She looked at me like I’d spat on her kids. ‘Give over; you know nothing about pain young lass.’ I didn’t mean to offend her. Maybe she was right. I could still do everything everyone else my age was doing so maybe I just needed to stop moaning. Others ‘empathised’ with me. ‘I once had it in my little toe, so I know exactly how you feel.’ My blank stare at them said it all. I couldn’t relate to the crippled cleaner lady and no one could relate to me. It was just easier to not talk about it. So, over time, I mentioned it less and less and even when it came up I said it with much less conviction than before. If I didn’t believe it myself, why did I expect anyone else to? And there was always that chance that it would just disappear, right? Except, it wasn’t disappearing it was progressing. To everyone else, though, it seemed my life carried on pretty much as normal and I was generally a happy bubbly girl about town. The exception to this was during my Rheumatology appointments. I could literally go singing into that hospital without a care in the world. Then, as I sat in Waiting Room 3, I had to face the reality of this disease. These nurses knew how much it crippled me, and I would begin to feel really vulnerable. They know how it affects your everything; your well-being, your energy, your ability to function and I felt very transparent. When they asked me how I was, they weren’t expecting an ‘I’m fine’ response which had become my party line, they really wanted to know. This meant going places in my head I’d been working so hard to block out. As I waited for my name to be called I’d feel the tears bubbling up and the sense of reality kick in. I think those ten minutes in that waiting room every 3 months gave a truer reflection of my reality than any other time. I didn’t like it one bloody bit and would shoot out of there as quickly as I could. Back to my safe pretend land.

It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed and it’s only now I’m ready to face up to it. Those appointments are not as scary anymore. Waiting Room 3 is just a familiar place I have learnt to embrace. I even donate my old O.K! magazines to the waiting room to update it a bit (no one really wants to read those arthritis leaflets, do they?) It can still be emotional because my feelings seem to come to the forefront but what I’ve realised is I also take away a lot from those appointments, I leave feeling calmer like I have lifted a weight off my shoulders. This arthritis won’t go away and the nurse was right, I can live a ‘normal’ life- how lucky am I?

So you want to be a writer? Well, yeah, I do. What experience do you have? Er, little to none. But you’re gonna do it anyway? Yeah. 

Following the advice of every meme and #wordlover quote, I’m just going to ‘start’.

For me, writing has always been something I have wanted to do and, ashamedly, never seriously pursued. I could list my excuses but you’ve heard them all before. So as I enter this new chapter in my life, I can honestly say I don’t know how this is going to pan out. And if that sounds interwoven with self-doubt and low self-confidence, it’s because it is. I don’t know this is going to work for me, I don’t even know if I can do it, but I’m sure as hell going to try to learn along the way. All I know for now is; waking up at 4.00AM, tapping your restless feet until it is time to get up and write is not normal. Or maybe for me, it IS the new normal.

But then I had to write about something. ‘Don’t be just another mummy blog,’ was the eye-roll advice from one friend and it was all I could hear ringing in my head. ‘Lots start but then quit,’ was the tone of another (that’ll be me, actually). So I listed what I couldn’t really write about. I say list, they were just thoughts in my head, but by the end, the imagery was a waste-paper bin full of scrunched up ideas.  My lists of ‘can’t do well’ read as the quality traits of an all-time loser. Fashion? Nah. I can’t keep up. Health and nutrition? I would really have to follow my own advice. Raising kids? I don’t think I’d be telling you anything you don’t already know and usually, my advice is; it’ll be reet. Teaching? Well having done it for ten years, my angle would be: don’t do it. Ever. End of blog. I can’t design homes, draw or any of that. So in the end, I scrapped trying to force something and just thought about me. Something, I discovered, I don’t do very often and it got me thinking about all things I don’t share with people. I mostly wear my heart on my sleeve and can be very open to sharing aspects of my life that would make some people cringe at the thought of sharing. The real woes, however, the bits I can’t make fun about or make jokes of, are the parts I should be sharing the most. My illness, my everyday struggle that I try to hide as best I can. It’s time to uncover, own up and be honest about this disease. Rheumatoid arthritis. Through my journey, I will be sharing what life is like for the average girl, woman, trying to live her life, build a future and not be defeated by this chronic pain.