Mental Health: There is nothing to be embarrassed about and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about asking for help

This blog post is a little different. Rather than writing about my thoughts or experiences, I wanted to share something my husband posted. This post is about mental health, something we’re both very passionate about.

To provide a little background, my husband is currently completing his final year of a psychology degree. He also personally suffers from depression and anxiety. This is what he had to say today:

So today I did tough mudder classic, something I’ve never done before or sure whether I would definitely do or not. For those that don’t know, it’s a 16km cross country run with 25 obstacles. It took about 4.5 hours to complete and was undoubtedly one of the hardest physical challenges I’ve ever done in my life…

Today on the run, I had a lot of time to think and am grateful for the support and encouragement of my team mates – Aaron, Kim, Zac and Sam. Thanks so much guys… This post however, while involving tough mudder, isn’t entirely about tough mudder but something much larger and more important. Mental health.

Perhaps it was ignorant luck, coincidence or serendipity, but tough mudder was sponsored by Beyond Blue; a not for profit organisation advocating for mental health awareness and education. Recently I’ve been coming across a lot of content from various esports personalities (Redeye in particular for those who know him) and friends on Facebook promoting open discussion about mental health. Today before the run began, the race start announcer said something that resonated with me more than any Facebook post, reddit discussion or TV ad advocating for the open discussion of mental health…

He said ‘there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about needing to ask for help or talk to someone when you’re having a bad time’ (with your mind).

A little under 4 years ago I had my first anxiety attack. At the time I had no idea what was happening to me though… I was at work and all of a sudden felt an absolutely all encompassing need to leave the building. I packed my stuff, told my boss I had to leave (without explanation) and headed for the lifts. By the time I was in the lift I had what felt like zero control over my breathing and by the time I made it to the (nearly) ground level and escalators, I was shaking and crying in public. I called an Uber and went home for the day…

I wasn’t happy with my life at that point and so I got in contact with the Beyondblue online support service and booked an appointment with my doctor for a referral to a psychologist…

Over the next 3 months or so, I saw her regularly to squelch my anxieties and eventually got back to normality and a feeling of capability to handle life once more. Just before I’d begun seeing her regularly, I was in the middle of university applications and intending to study education and become a high school teacher. During that time I’d made the decision to adjust my application and study psychology…

Over the last 3.5 years I’ve enjoyed my degree and learned a whole bunch. I really do love the mind and just how powerful it is. But, as one of my lecturers has frequently said, ‘knowledge isn’t sufficient’…

Over the past two months or so things have gotten bad again I’ve been dealing with fairly debilitating depression and anxiety again. So much so that some days (especially on days where I should be doing uni work or at uni itself) I would go catatonic and just lie in bed for 5+ hours and either sleep or lay and ruminate my thoughts churning over and over and OVER again. I frequently thought to myself, you’re depressed again. I knew this, because I’ve acquired the knowledge. But again ‘knowledge isn’t sufficient’ to fix the issue and make positive change…

Back to Tough Mudder and what the race announcer said today about ‘embarrassment and shame’. Over the last 3 weeks (maybe 4), on top of constantly feeling depressed and generally lacking any joy, I’ve been feeling constantly embarrassed and ashamed that I’d let myself get back to this point again. And even more so embarrassed and ashamed that I wasn’t able to ‘fix’ myself. I would say ‘I have a lot of the knowledge now right? I should be able to fix myself and pull myself out of the rut’.

Psychology and mental health is such a fascinating area of study because despite having the tools, knowledge and awareness of it all – it still got me. The chemicals still did their thing in my brain. My personality still managed to tick along and fuel the bad thoughts. Life still kept happening as usual and any little thing happening that felt remotely ‘bad’, something a mentally healthy person could move past, would absolutely floor me…

At the start of this week I got some bad news about a friend and it negatively affected me a lot more than I would have normally expected… It was the final trigger.

Two days ago, once again I saw my doctor and told him I hadn’t been feeling great lately and that I’d had 3-4 breakdowns in as many weeks. My wife, Kim, had been encouraging me to see someone again for at least the last two months and I’m really glad that things are in the works again to get myself back to being mentally well and healthy…

My doctor reminded me that sometimes people just have personality traits that makes them more prone and vulnerable to mental health issues throughout their lives. Sometimes these traits, high neuroticism and conscientiousness, can push me to do great things such as high achieving grades at uni, engaged parenting and supportive husbanding (not sure if that’s a word but you get the idea)… Those same traits however, can also be the catalyst to trigger bad mental health when left unchecked…

Those traits can draw you to set your self- expectations too high and poorly influence your own judgement on performance for whatever it is your role is, or whatever else it may be that you’re working on. For me it leads to exceedingly high self-expectations and to poor judgements on performance against these expectations as a student, father and husband…

My over arching point of this (long) post is this –

Sometimes in life it may feel like you should be able to handle everything yourself, especially your own health. That’s silly. Your mind, body and personality have much greater influence than most of us give any credit. Even with knowledge It is still possible to be susceptible and fall back into old issues. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about regarding your own mental health.

The main reason I made this post is this though… Today some random guy announcing the start of a gruelling cross country race said something that resonated with me. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me. It’s likely we’ll never meet or that he’ll even see this post. I don’t want more internet points or anything like that, but to anyone that recognises the importance of mental health, please share. I might have said something, maybe, that will resonate with someone else and make them feel less embarrassed and ashamed about their own mental health issues the same way the race announcers words resonated with me. I hope this resonates so much so that they get their own help. I’m glad I am…

If you know someone this post may help, please share it. Thank you once again to Beyondblue and Tough Mudder for providing help and spreading awareness about mental health.

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Parenting: Embracing going “Full Mum Mode” this Mother’s Day

I recently took a break from social media and posting on my blog to focus on some assignments and big events. The down time gave me some space to think about where I want to take my blog. The honest truth is I still don’t know exactly, but I did decided that I enjoy blogging and sharing my experiences and I’m going to keep doing it.

During this period of reflection, I thought about the name of my blog and why I chose “full mum mode”. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, everything I did seemed to be in “mum mode”. All my behaviours and every one of my decisions was being made with my babies best interests in mind. This actually wasn’t a huge shift from my usual way of thinking. All my life I’ve aimed to be mindful of others, so what was it about my actions that made me feel like a mum?

I’ve always been geeky and nerdy so I’m fully prepared to embarrass my kids. I know I’ll be able to do this just by being myself, by going the extra mile to help with a project, make a costume or throw a party. I’ll embarrass them by being overly affectionate and demonstrating how much I love and care for them, even in public. I’m certain I’ll send them crazy trying to ensure they eat healthy, keep active and stay clean. I’ll drive them mental encouraging them when they do well, and help them when they need it, with education or anything they are passionate about.

Initially, I shied away from using the term “mum” at all. I didn’t want that label to define me or become just another mummy blogger. Almost two years into parenting and I fully understand how silly that is. Why wouldn’t I want to embrace this title? The mums I have met over these past two years are people I will cherish for the rest of my life. Each woman has taught me something, given me a piece of herself and been there for me in anyway they can. Mums are amazing! Now that I am one, I’m fortunate enough to experience a different side to this incredible role. This is not to take anything away from dad’s. They have been incredible too, but Mother’s Day is just around the corner (Sunday 12th May 2019).

With that subtle reminder inserted there, I’d like to add that this year I’ll be fully embracing and celebrating my Mother’s Day. It won’t just be a celebration of me or my amazing Mother and MIL, but a celebration of all mums. To all mums, I hope you feel like the Wonder Woman you are and be sure embrace the moments you are in “full mum mode”.

Date Nights: A Wonderful Tool for Parents to Communicate

For our anniversary this year we booked two nights away at a unit in Broadbeach. It was important we celebrated our anniversary but it was also a new milestone being my first night away from Finn. I can hardly believe where the last 21 months went and don’t know how I managed without a full night away from him.

Since my return to work last year I’ve adjusted to spending time away from Finn. Knowing he’s always well cared for and enjoys his time whether it be at daycare, with dad or other family and friends helps enormously. I increased to full time work after Finn’s first birthday which took some additional adjustments (for myself) to being away five consecutive weekdays. We’ve been on date nights or out having fun with friends while someone babysits him at home. No matter the situation, I’ve always come home and been there when he woke up. Reflecting on this, we decided it was well past time to have a night away and stopped putting it off.

Before we fell pregnant, Nick and I had a relationship that was incredibly strong. We felt that nothing could ever shake us. From the moment we met we were honest with each other and were effective communicators. Being with each other was easy. When faced with challenges, we always had each other to pull through and came out stronger than ever.

Once Finn arrived, something critical changed between Nick and I. Becoming parents shifted our focus and our priorities. The majority of our discussions were related to parenting. Most of the time this was essential, we were learning so much and needed to bounce ideas and thoughts off one another constantly. While navigating this new role and managing sleep deprivation, there was little time left for Nick and I to talk about anything else.

We are now both a lot more confident with being Finn’s parents and want to reinvest some time back into our relationship as a couple. As with most other aspects of our parenting journey, we’re finding this becomes easier over time. Finn is a lot more independent, communicates well and his sleep has improved a lot. This has given us much needed time to spend with each other.

We do our best to ensure we have regular date nights now. It helps us support each other better, reconnect and as a result we are better parents. Our date nights don’t have to be fancy or expensive. We’re all about that frugal life. We may go out for dinner, a movie or even just find somewhere to have a drink together. One of our favourite date nights was playing a board game at home once Finn was fast asleep. Anything outside the normal routine.

For a relationship, the benefits of spending quality time together are well know and wide spread. However, it can be challenging to achieve this with a little person in the mix. Considering this, I’m always looking for ideas for date nights. If you’ve had a wonderful date night experience, please share it. We all need a little bit of grown up time, so book in your next date night and communicate with your loved one.

Thank you to the Meriton @ Broadbeach for having us. We will be back!

Family Holiday: Camping

On the weekend we stayed at Numinbah Valley Adventure Trails Camp Grounds. Only an hour drive south of Brisbane in the beautiful Gold Coast Hinterland.

These camping grounds are wonderful for campers of all different experience levels. We stayed in our tent but there were others with camper vans and trailers on the site.

At the flying fox site, chemical toilets and a cold shower we’re provided which was perfect in the warm weather.

The flowing river was just a short walk from our campsite and was a great way to entertain ourselves and cool off.

This was only our second time camping as a family but we are all hooked. Watching our toddler explore nature and spending quality time together can’t be beat.

I highly recommend this spot for families and we will absolutely be back soon.

New year, new me? A guide to goal setting, planning and monitoring.

Who else started 2019 strong? With new goals, genuine intentions and renewed passion to succeed? Now that we are a month into the new year, How are you tracking with your goals? It’s time to check in on your own goals, track your progress and plan ahead to keep making progress so you don’t fall short by the end of the year.

When Finn was born in June 2017, I didn’t really plan to achieve anything other than survival. With six months of parenting under my belt I was ready to set some goals for 2018. I set goals that didn’t feel like too much of a stretch, goals that I thought were fairly specific and achievable. However, I made a couple of critical errors. I needed to invest more time into setting action items to help me achieve my goals, check-in regularly to track my progress.

I’m proud of all I achieved in 2018, yet imagine how I might feel today if I’d been able to confidently tick off all my goals. These two errors showed me how I can improve to ensure 2019 will be even better. Mistakes are wonderful lessons, as long as we learn from them. So, what am i doing differently to achieve my goals this year?

Firstly, I’ve set clear goals and established action items to help me achieve them. I’ve written them down in my organiser, to provide a place of perfect recall, what my goals are and what I need to be doing. For example, I have a fitness goal for the year. For me this is not a number on the scale or a dress size but a healthy and active lifestyle goal, I’ve signed up for Tough Mudder as a way to track how I’m doing. The tasks I have in place are; to complete four weights sessions a week and two cardio sessions. This is not always going to be possible so I’ve decided to have a mindset that will allow for and assist with flexibility.

Secondly, I have adopted the ‘No Zero Days’ approach for my Fitness, blogging and study goals. This means, if I am unable to accomplish what I have planned that I will do something towards these goals to make it a ‘No Zero Day’. For a fitness goal this could be something as simple as a brisk walk or a couple sets of body weight exercises like push ups. For my blogging, I will write at least one sentence everyday and before you know it I will have another post to share.

Finally, I’m keeping my goals in sight and at the front of my mind. I have a note in my phone and they are clearly written in my organiser for me to see daily. I’ve set periodic reminders to check on my progress and make any necessary adjustments throughout the year. Using these reminders I’m able to see what I have already achieved, chart my achievements against my initial goals and plan new tasks to achieve before my next check in.

Another tip for goal setting is to ensure you’re not over committing yourself. In my case, I’ve always loved exercising and being active. However, with a toddler to care for it is unrealistic for me to complete 4 to 5 one hour long gym sessions each week as a fitness goal. I have found the “no zero days” approach helpful in maintaining a positive mindset.

I’m definitely not perfect when it comes to goal setting and management. Towards the end of January, I’ve felt some of these good behaviours slipping. This is where checking in helps reset your mindset and adapt your approach. I hope my tips for goal setting are helpful to you. I would love to hear what goals you have set for yourself and how you’re progressing. Sharing these can assist with accountability and are a great way to check in. I wish you every success and I am always hear to listen.

I’m happy with how I look in both of these photos and I love that this shows how much work I’ve been putting in.

Mastitis, the ugly truth: My experience, managing symptoms, prevention and finding support

Mastitis is an issue I have been wanting to write about since I first started blogging. I’ve wanted to share the information I gathered through my experience, to hopefully assist others who may be affected by it. Although not currently relevant to my situation I can recall the details of my experience with almost perfect clarity. I’ve delayed writing this post due to concern that I would not be able to clearly articulate the severity of Mastitis, or achieve the exposure it deserves. I’m ready to share what I have learned through my own experiences.

I heard the term Mastitis long before I fell pregnant and never gave it much thought. As my pregnancy progressed, I heard about it more frequently and began to take notice of how often it appeared as a topic related to having a baby. During the later stages of my pregnancy, a good friend summarised her experience with Mastitis. This provided me with some clarification on the subject yet raised further questions. After listening to her story, I was terrified of it happening to me.

In a google of Mastitis, I found a description of the condition as ‘occurring when breast tissue gets inflamed and is a common problem during breastfeeding’ (healthdirect.gov.au). You can look after mastitis yourself, but you may need antibiotics if the tissue becomes infected. Although symptoms will vary from mild to severe and from person to person it is important to know what to be on the look out for.

Breastfeeding is a challenging task, in my early days of breastfeeding I managed these challenges to the best of my ability. Everything went pretty smoothly for almost 3 weeks. Without any obvious warning signs, I woke with a painful headache in the night and took two paracetamol before attempting to go back to sleep. Later the same morning, Nick and I took Finn to a child health nurse for his two week post hospital check-up. She routinely questioned us about Finn, including his feeding habits but did not provide any further information on my condition. I was feeling increasingly unwell as the appointment progressed and mentioned this to the health nurse. We were advised to attempt management from home and if we suspected Mastitis to consult our GP if there was no improvement.

After Finn’s appointment, Nick stopped at Bunnings and I waited in the car with Finn. In the short time he was away I deteriorated even further. I consulted with a trusted mum friend and decided to book in to see my GP. When I arrived at the practice an hour later, he took one look at me and said ‘you’ve got Mastitis’. A quick examination confirmed his initial statement. He sent me straight to the hospital with a recommendation of treatment letter to receive antibiotics via IV.

The usual physical signs of my Mastitis were so mild that the doctors in emergency were not convinced it was the cause of my illness.

They wanted to be certain and proceeded to conduct additional testing. This included a blood test followed by a nasal swab, which was very unpleasant. Once the initial tests had been taken, I was placed on IV antibiotics for treatment then transferred from emergency to a room for a stay in hospital overnight.

I was very fortunate that my mum was able to stay the first night in hospital with me, I was too ill to get out of bed or tend to Finn in any way. I spent the night in a semi lucid state which exhausted me completely. My temperature would spike to 39.6 and uncontrollable shivers would course through my body. As treatment, I was routinely given paracetamol to bring my temperature back to a normal range and calm my body’s trembling. In the brief hours of reprieve from the tremors I would attempt to sleep, although when breastfeeding 3 week old Finn every few hours it was far from peaceful. In addition to the fever I suffered from extreme headaches, nausea and muscle aches throughout my entire body.

After 24 hours my condition had not improved, my treating doctors commenced a stronger course of antibiotics and proceeded with further tests. I was sent for a chest and sinus X-ray, several blood tests and then finally a lumbar puncture. Once commencing the new antibiotics I began feeling better, however there had been some concern that I may have had bacterial meningitis which the lumbar puncture eventually ruled out. As a result of the lumbar puncture procedure, I experienced a most severe headache (which can be a common side affect) and could no longer sit upright or get out of bed. I underwent a blood patch procedure to assist in rectifying the problem and within a few hours my headache finally started to fade.

5 days of staying in hospital was required for my condition to improve enough to return home. Even after all the testing and observations they were still unconvinced it had been a case of Mastitis that had caused my illness, yet they did not have any further answers for me. I continued with my prescription of oral antibiotics from the comfort of home and with Nick’s support made a complete recovery after another week.

It was only 3 weeks before I got sick the second time, I noticed the symptoms almost immediately & acted swiftly booking into see my GP within an hour. He wasted no time at all prescribing me the antibiotics, then sent me with a referral letter to the hospital to have a dose of antibiotics administered via IV. Fortunately, Nick was available to mind Finn while I spent a couple of hours in hospital receiving treatment. I’m grateful that the prompt treatment prevented me from being as unwell as my first case but I still suffered with fevers, muscle aches, headaches and sore breasts.

Two sessions of IV antibiotics and week of tablets cleared me up again, only three weeks later I felt my third case of Mastitis developing. I once again saw my GP and picked up the script for my antibiotics right away. This avoided a need to go to the hospital, although I was incredibly sick and bed ridden for the best part of a week. Finn was around 10 weeks old at this stage and I was facing a dilemma, continue breastfeeding my son and possibly deal with a case of Mastitis every 3 weeks, or give up on breastfeeding and hope he took well to formula.

I decided to explore one final option in the hopes of continuing breastfeeding. I had followed all the advice from various lactation consultants, child health nurses and medical professionals. I had used heat packs, massaged and drained my breasts, took lecithin and breastfeeding probiotics, yet Mastitis persisted. The final option was to have ultrasound therapy. The ultrasound machine could assist with breaking down the material that was causing my repeated blockage and hopefully bring an end to the recurring Mastitis. So, I arranged for three sessions of ultrasound therapy with a physiotherapist.

The first ultrasound session was extremely promising, I felt a relief from some of the pressure I had come to accept as normal. Following the second and third sessions, there was a noticeable change to the way my breast felt. The treatment had worked, the offending blockage was cleared and I could continue feeding without getting sick every three weeks. Thanks to this treatment and continued support I made it past 9 months of breastfeeding. I overcame 3 further cases of Mastitis, repeatedly telling myself that enough was enough each time I became sick. Yet, I pushed through and allowed my breastfeeding journey to come to a natural stopping point, complementing the timing of my return to work.

There are many problems with managing Mastitis, symptoms that appear and escalate so quickly leaving you unable to function for a week. Constant drs visits, antibiotics, probiotics, vitamins and ultrasound therapy with a physiotherapist to manage we’re all part of recurring Mastitis for me. In addition, I lived with constant fear that it would happen again. These fears plagued my thoughts even when I was well, any slight discomfort would trigger severe anxiety.

Although Mastitis is common and individual experiences vary, this is something I never expected nor did I know it would impact me so servely. If you have ever experienced this before or are a new or expectant parent and have further questions I would love for you to reach out to me. I struggled with this a lot, and from my experiences there is limited information available.

If you’re experiencing mum/parent guilt you are not alone…

This year I returned to work after taking 10 months of maternity leave with Finn, I’ve really enjoyed getting a bit of my old self back. I’m sure my time away from Finn has only strengthened and increased his independence. Although it’s been mostly positive emotions I can’t shake the Mum Guilt I feel especially as things change. I’ve been asking myself why do we experience mum/parent guilt and why does it have to be so strong?

It’s obvious my return to work would bring this to the front of my mind yet I’ve thought about the other times I’ve had the same feeling and have started reflecting on the circumstances when it is most intense.

I think the first time was the day I found out I was pregnant. I remember thinking about how much I’d had to drink the night before (the answer is too much) and what damage that may have done. Although there was no way I could have known I was already pregnant it didn’t stop that guilt from rearing it’s ugly head. Thankfully my GP was very supportive and comforting when I expressed my concerns.

The following episodes were also during pregnancy, I really wanted to eat healthy and eliminate coffee from my diet the moment I knew I was growing my child. Instead my morning sickness and fatigue had me craving mostly heavy carbohydrates like pizza, chips and pasta. I found the fatigue made it necessary to keep coffee in my diet, although I would never have more than two in a day.

Skip ahead and I’m reminded of the day Finn was born. I had no intention of giving birth without an epidural but I had hoped to be able to give birth naturally. Having a c-section is not a failure by any means but I won’t lie that there was a little part of me that felt guilty I wasn’t able to birth him naturally.

Following the surgery I needed additional help from my husband, both for myself and to take care of Finn. This resulted in feelings of guilt for not being able to attend to my newborn baby without assistance from someone. As a new mum faced with the challenges of breastfeeding, I was also navigating the obstacles of settling my little one with very limited movement. On occasion I would long to just cuddle or rock my baby to sleep, then he would smell my milk and all hopes of cuddles without feeding would fade. I remember this being an extremely difficult time, post baby hormones were raging and the wave of failure was overwhelming. The thoughts in my head would repeat ‘Why cant you settle your own baby?’.

I received a gift voucher from a beautiful friend to have a massage post baby. It was an incredible idea, she even offered to take care of Finn while I went for my 1 hour appointment. I couldn’t stop thinking about him the whole time I was there. “I hope he’s not crying too much” that little voice would say as I felt myself beginning to relax. In retrospect, it was incredibly enjoyable and those thoughts were not too persistent, it was a most welcome and thoughtful gift.

I could go on all day about the things I’ve felt guilty over. To save time, here is a list of other things I have felt guilty over:

• Not getting the house cleaned

• Getting the house cleaned when I should be with my baby

• Cuddling him too much

• Not cuddling him enough

• Not doing enough to help his development

• Overstimulating him

• Trying to let him cry a little more (during the separation anxiety phase)

• Having a shower

• Washing my hair

• Taking the time to blow dry and straighten my hair (this was the driver for the mum lob)

• Taking too many photos

• Not taking enough photos

• Wanting some time to myself

• Having some time to myself

• Every time he gets hurt

• Every time he gets sick

• Picking him up too often

• Not picking him up when he’s throwing a tantrum

• Trying to get his nutrition perfect and failing

• Sending him to day care

• Increasing from part time to full time work

I’ll leave the list there, otherwise this post may never end. It’s ridiculous at some of the thoughts that cross our minds. Writing some of these down highlights to me that feeling guilty is both unavoidable and inescapable. It’s ludicrous that feelings of guilt can be caused by two conflicting ideas yet very possible.

It’s important to note that when experiencing parent guilt, it’s not about being able to stop these thoughts but how you manage them. My approach is to take a moment to acknowledge the thought then focus on any reasons to challenge it. Once you’ve been successful the first time it becomes easier to repeat this behaviour each subsequent time.

The reality is my son is a healthy, happy and very loved little boy and we are doing a great job raising him. Parents need to stop being so harsh on themselves. I know that every person reading this is doing the best they can, I want you to know that it’s more than enough. With parents supporting one another we can overcome the worst of the guilt. Reach out if you need help.