Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sometimes it's all just too much!

I have a headache from sinusitis. I've had it all week. I can't sleep because I can't breathe. It eases when I take the medication but it wears off before the next dose is due. I have just had enough.

I'm supposed to be really excited. I have a new job which I have been looking forward to, potentially, all summer and now it's finally here - I've had the interview that nearly didn't happen and succeeded - I am shattered beyond all belief. I would love to curl up in bed for a week.

We have the builders in. The landlord is making extensive changes to the house. As builders go they're doing an excellent and speedy job and they're not making too much mess, considering. But then you would expect a lot of mess when a builders come into your house and add an extra staircase above your current one. The bathroom, toilet, hall, landing, stairs, kitchen - just thick with a layer of dust. Not even worth starting cleaning because the following day it'll be back and I don't even know where to start!

My husband's ill at the moment, he is really struggling so I can't really lean on him. I've been supporting him a lot emotionally the past few weeks which is another reason I am exhausted. He's recognised I'm struggling to give him support the way I have been and he's being lovely about it. We both know the other one needs more support and we both know we're unable to give it. Even with all that understanding it's a real shame we're both so worn down simultaneously.

My son has just started Year 1 at school. It's his first proper year. He's getting homework and needs help with his reading. School's being amazing with me because they can see I'm not managing things the way I usually do. They know it's not for the want of trying. It is so hard not to feel like a failure.

But I have been here before: A few years ago I had a community staff nurse job but felt I wasn't far off doing the job the specialist community practitioners were doing. Why be away from your child on less pay when you're pretty much doing the job the next level up? The only way to get the next job up, and there were vacancies, was to go back to university to do a year long course. As a determined individual I was quite sure this was what I wanted to do. My family supported me. My husband was keen for me to make a career for myself. My mother-in-law made it possible by having my son to stay at all sorts of strange times of day depending on my course requirements. My ambitious streak coupled with my inability to accept that I was finding life challenging pushed me into depression. I started my course in September. By January I was taking antidepressants and had lost 4kg I could ill-afford to lose. By August I had failed 2 out of 6 modules and been signed off work on long-term sick.

So how do I know 4 years on that I will not go down the same road? I have very similar symptoms to those I had in September 2006 right now. How can I have the confidence to know I will be okay? There has been a lot of water under the bridge since my illness. During my sick leave from August 2007 to December 2007 I was given some counselling which helped me see that my priorities were wrong. It was impossible to keep my private life at work private any more and when I came back to work I would talk to people when things became too heavy. When the workload was too much and I couldn't see how to get all the work done I would speak to my manager. When people tried to offload work on me I would only say "yes" if I knew I had the capacity. I stopped trying to undertake everything in my in-tray and began to delegate sensible tasks to healthcare assistants. I liaised with my employer and with the university about how to complete my studies in a manageable way - work were only too pleased to support me because they had sunk a lot of money into my studies already and they had no intention of letting me drop out unless I felt unable to complete. I started to confront my husband when I felt pressure to do too much. I am the type of person who takes on too much. My husband is proud of my achievements but a little overzealous about me achieving even greater things. He knows I only tell him it's all too much when it is. He no longer pushes me when I say "no" to plans beyond my ability. I am happy to dream and to make those dreams a reality but I am now capable of listening to my body and stopping when it gets too much.

With all that learning I did when I was ill comes great responsibility. I will always push myself to succeed. I love a challenge. I feel a great sense of achievement when I complete something I really struggled with. But I have my health and a family to consider. Never again do I want to be so underweight I can feel my body using up reserves while I am eating a meal. Never again do I want to only have the energy to achieve taking my child to school and collecting him in the whole day (the rest of the day spent with my coat still on, sitting on the sofa staring out of the window). Never again do I want to drive to work only to feel physically sick when I see the office building. But since I am not content to be a only a housewife or only a person with a job and I will insist on taking on too much I must find some coping strategies within me:

  • Acknowledge those first symptoms of depression (sleepless nights, not eating properly, worrying rather than wondering how on earth I'm going to fit those little jobs into the week, always feeling something's been left off the to-do list and worrying when it's going to come back to get me, feeling out of control beyond my capability).
  • Talking to colleagues sooner rather than later about clashes, seeking support as required (and recognising when I am fine that I have capacity to take on extra from colleagues so that they don't feel hard done by when I need their support).
  • Accepting that I can't do everything and saying "no" when required.
  • Being open and honest with my family (both mine and my husband's) because other people really will support me as long as I am genuine and don't take the mick.
  • Talking to a few really close friends and seeking some wider support from people who have similar personal problems to me.
  • Not being too hard on myself - why shouldn't I want to achieve in life? That is healthy. Taking on too much is the unhealthy part.
  • Recognising that I am not a failure. Okay, the going gets tough at times, but I have come so far already by succeeding. I don't always succeed first time round but I do get there in the end with patience and determination.
  • Recognising that drugs are not going to work for me - my depression is due to my social situation, the pressure I put myself under. The only way to help it is to reduce the pressure. No amount of drugs are going to help me.
  • Sharing my experiences with others - because they will open up about their own coping strategies and I will learn a lot from them.
  • Some things don't matter. If my son goes to school with a blob of bolognese from the night before on his T-shirt, if the dishes didn't get washed for 2 days last week, if I was 5 minutes late picking my husband up from the station, if I have a hole in my sock but I am wearing boots, if the lawn hasn't been mown this particular summer - no one else cares (and if they do they have too much time on their hands).
  • Some things really do matter. I show my son and husband I love them, I visit my family in the north now and again, I attend weddings, funerals and other celebrations that I'll regret missing in the long run, I e-mail friends or send letters or phone, I get my son to school on time and read him a bed time story.

Depression and coping with it is a very personal challenge. It's important to listen to other people's advice but only to take on what I feel comfortable with. It is important for me to discover what works for me and what doesn't. That discovery will continue throughout my adult life. Though I imagine the steepest part of the learning curve has already been undertaken, I must remain open to new ideas. You never know - one day I may become symptom-free!

Roll on half term when I will have a week off (though I doubt I'll get that chance to curl up and sleep...)




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