Saturday, 6 December 2014

Adieu, Adieu, to you and you and you.

Saying goodbye to psychosis has been a very long journey for me. In so many ways I will never be able to say a final farewell, because if nothing more it will always appear as a page of my medical notes, it will always be a consideration if I have another baby and it will remain in my memory like an ex that I am strangely fond of, yet incredibly thankful I don't have to live with anymore.

I can honestly say there is a part of me that is scared that this psychotic episode was just the first of many I could have, but I also hold a lot of blind faith that this was a one-off. I have to remind myself that not knowing is an integral part of the human condition, the part that we all try to buy, work or plan ourselves out of, but coming to terms with what happened to me and what could happen in the future is about releasing the false security of knowing. Stepping into unknowing is something I continue to do all the time, as a mum, woman, artist, human and former-psychotic, so I suppose I just have to keep on keeping on, to quote my incredible 90 year old amps-in-law.

At the risk of this sounding like an award acceptance speech I'm going to do it anyway. The award for the most thankful victim of postpartum psychosis goes to...ME (the crowd goes wild (not mad) and the other nominees clap me with dead eyed stares (probably due to the quetiapine))

Jane - Your patience, commitment and peace. For listening through my            

          incessant ramblings
Lisa - Your knowledge, diagnosis, support and card that helped when I needed it          
Nanna Dee - Your generosity, open heartedness, vinyl and the little St. Patrick's     
                   day outfit for Albert
Dad - For getting us homeward bound and being there
Mum - For facing demons with me and holding me even when you couldn't
Ellie - Your bravery and strength. Laying wars to rest when the battle was done
Peter - For finding parking in the barren wasteland that is the Chatsworth Road
Gretel - My psychosister. You were the breadcrumbs
Nan & Amps - For your unflinching championing of my recovery and blog
Becky - Rose quartz in human form
Katie - For making it possible to have leave in London and visits that cheered            
          my soul
Clare - To remind me that I had a diva within that needed to hold on
You - For reading, caring and following my journey
Val - next door neighbour with love and care on our return
Maggie & Ronnie - next door neighbours with kindness and flowers on our return
Sarah - For always having encouraging words for me on Facebook when the             
           vulnerability hangover is kicking in
The Careys - I remembered my vocal training even in psychosis. That's how    
                   good it is!
Andrew - A regular Facebook liker and sharer. Thank you.
At the Norwich & Norfolk hospital - There aren't enough words.
At the Margaret Oates Mother and Baby unit - There really aren't.
Sarah W - For making the Fine City even finer and getting my talk to the               
               Lunchtime Lectures at the N&N Hospital
My NCT group - For giving me a reason (and deadline) to get back home
Ruth - For taking a punt and having me speak. You got the ball rolling
Rebecca - For writing the Independent article that gave PP just a bit more                   
Albert - Your grace, calmness and adaptability amaze me
Matt - It was on our wedding day we said our vows, it was though all this that 
         we lived them. I carry them within my heart, which is yours

So, it is adieu, adieu, to you and you and you. This blog will be carrying on, but more like the platform I thought it would be when I first set it up. It will become a "person who happens to be a parent" blog and I have no idea what it will include, but if you're only really into psychotic episodes, this may no longer be the place for you, unless you count having a meltdown over weening a baby with an unsuccessful aubergine, lentil and garamasala dish counts.

Well, here we are then. The end of this chapter. What an incredible journey. It's been awful. 

Love and keep taking the tablets,

Mutha Courage X

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye.

End. Roll credits.
Before life carries on and messes up the ending.
It's all looking complete, tied up neatly. It has closure. Narrative arc. Beauty.

Quick. Finish the story before the baby starts crying and there is the first argument about something minor and insignificant that is made huge and meaningful by its intensity. Before I have have a meltdown about my medication and my husband is hit with a tsunami of post traumatic waves of sorrow.

Turn off the cameras. The show is meant to be over. We're home. 

Over the last 7 months I have continued to recover every day. I don't take it for granted and I stay vigilant and mindful of what is happening to me, emotionally and physically. I know how brilliant it is to be well, because I know how horrifying it is to feel utterly lost to yourself. I have loved and hated this illness and will forever have the remnants of it stained on my knuckles like a survivor of its sentence of imprisonment.

I always said that psychosis picked the wrong Mutha to mess with, because I was always going to shout about it to anyone that would listen, and even people that didn't particularly want to. I have been talking to students, midwives, parents, healthcare professionals and unfortunate passers-by about postpartum psychosis and I will keep doing so to spread the word as far and wide as I can.

The bigger reason why I talk about it, apart from the occasional free lunch, is that it means I can talk about talking. I can share the vital importance of understanding and compassion, for ourselves and for others.

As my blog about psychosis comes to an end ready to be reinvented into something else, like the phoenix rising from the cyber ashes I, too, feel like I am ready to give flying a go. 

I wouldn't change what happened.
This was one of the most troubling, profound, awful, awesome, terrifying, inspiring episodes of my life.

Living with what happened and how to adapt my life accordingly is an ongoing lesson and like the best teachers, it has made a huge impact on my life. I will never be the same for having learned its teachings.

The end is in sight and yet it never is.

Love and cryptic sign offs,
Mutha Courage. X

Saturday, 22 November 2014

So long. Farewell.

The adjustment to being back at home feels clumsy and difficult, but it is a glorious discomfort. I have the building blocks around me that I can build a life out of and I know that this is the dawn of a startling new era.

I go back and forth to Hackney another couple of times and every time I go I feel more like a transient lodger than a resident. I come in with one bag. I arrive at the latest moment and leave at the earliest opportunity.

The mood in the ward has altered. New patients are arriving. I see the fear and panic of these illnesses and it touches a nerve deep within me. I sense that terror and understood it physically. My bones remember and my body will never forget. I listen to the fast ramblings of a new mother that's just arrived and at once feel heartened at my recovery and shocked to the core at the horror of it all. 

The women around me have been a family. We have laughed, cried and argued over food together. The final night at the Hackney Holiday Home contains such a mixture of emotions it is a challenge to give voice to them. I could feel my lost self move around me. I saw her desperately ill. Starving hungry, hideously exhausted. I saw her say goodbye to her husband and son every night and cry silent tears of frustration at being held captive by the Thing. I saw her opening gradually, flower-like to staff, other patients and to the treatment. I saw her fight and work and battle with this tyrannical demon that had taken root in her soul.

I saw her seeing me.

I was all set and completely ready for the off. I had collected my bag of medication and had done all my final jobs. My electrical equipment had been gathered from the drawer in the office and it was time to go.

"Oh Jess" I heard one of the staff call out from behind me as I was walking towards the communal area to say my goodbyes. "One of these is for you".I was presented with a large fluffy white teddy bear. "They were from Mother's Day and you didn't get yours". This type of cuddly toy is not my kind of thing at all, but unexpectedly I was deeply moved by it. I looked down at this soft, kind faced bear and experienced a swell in the sea of my heart. Embroidered on the foot in small letters were the words "No. 1 Mum". It didn't matter that I knew everyone had got one of these gifts, or that each teddy had heralded it's owner as number 1, because it was true. We all were. We had all done everything we could in the face of extreme internal adversity. We had all accepted help. We were all focused on recovering. We were all number one to our babies.

I stood in that dining room, holding my bear by the arm, momentarily orphaned in time. Here I stood alone. With others around me. I looked at these women, I looked at the staff. I have never known gratitude to be so huge and yet so silent. I just said thanks so much. See ya. Knowing that I probably wouldn't. 

I walked out to the car, that was waiting in the same place we had been parked on the 15th February at 7am when I finally made it there. I saw myself being helped out of the car and led inside by three nurses to a place of safety. She looked at me as I drove away.

Love and nothing witty to say,Mutha Courage X

Friday, 14 November 2014

Post. Partum.

Over the last few months I have given regular talks and interviews about postpartum psychosis as part of my mission to get the word out there about this illness. I was approached by a woman whose sister-in-law has recently been struck by it, and they are all still struggling to pick up the pieces that this explosive disease has left scattered throughout their lives.

As I listened and heard what they had been going through, and were still dealing with, I was reminded of the pain and fragility that this disease creates. One of the most fragile parts of recovery is when you are beginning to resemble yourself again, but are still feeling far from home. You are no longer inside a house that's on fire, trying to survive, you are no longer fighting the fire, trying to save what belongs to you. The fire is out, the fire engines have gone back to the station, and you are just left looking at the burnt embers that remain wondering what the hell happens next.

I can see my front door.
I am here.
I am home.

I'm desperate to get inside and don't want to go in.
I do.
Post. So much post. Of course. It's been weeks. 
It annoys me. Post didn't feature in my idealistic view of my home coming.
I feel out of control. Lost. Anxious.
I have my family.
I'm home.
I need to take this slow. 

I tell Albert we are home. His little eyes open. We place him in his rocker, in the room he was born in. He smiles. This wouldn't be as note worthy if he had smiled before, but he hadn't. This was his first smile. We burst out laughing.
We had made it. As a family.

I feel like I'm playing a role, going through the motions of normality to look like I know how it all works. I have a strong sense that I'm trying to play catch up with my self that didn't have psychosis. What would I be doing if I hadn't been psychotic? How would she behave in this situation? It was unsustainable and unnecessary. I had to just be what I was. Someone who was recovering from the equivalent of a devastating accident. There was no reason why I should be completely "better" and yet because I had no wounds I felt like a fraud. 

All of these emotions and feelings were very difficult to handle, but what they couldn't disrupt was the fact that I was home. That we had done it and no matter how uncomfortable the transition back to "reality" was I was going to keep leaning into that discomfort, and learn how to live again. 

It was rehabilitation that no-one knew was happening.
It was incredible.
It was a triumph.
It was brilliant.
It was horrible.

Love and mixed messages,
Mutha Courage X

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Homeward Bound

I'm so bored of the whole process. I'm bored of recovery. I'm bored of medication. I'm bored of being told what I can and can't do and, you've guessed it, I'm bored about what feels like the longest wait EVER to get home. While I'm at it, I'm bored of being around other ill people, I'm bored of the classes, the food, the staff and my F@#*ing shower that still doesn't work. I'm so fucked off.  Sorry, here are the @#* to put in. I can't be arsed.

I try to reassure myself that anger and resentment are part of the process. That it means I'm coming back, that I'm returning. I am beginning to feel like I don't fit in here any more, which is difficult while I am, but possibly means I'm nearly ready to get out.

The drug levels are going down, the leave times are going up and still I'm caught in psychotic purgatory where I'm not at home anywhere. I just want to be in my house, with my belongings around me, with my clothes and shoes and post and my own space and cups without my name plastered all over them.

I'm ready to go home.

I'm also not ready at all.

I'm so scared.

I've been fighting so hard to get home for the last two months that I hadn't had a chance to think about what it would actually be like to go home, back to the scene of the crime where it all started. Where the unraveling began.

This was all home represented at the moment. I had become so engulfed in the horror of what had happened that I had forgotten that we were also going back to a place of unfathomable joy, empowerment, love and strength. The place where Albert swam into our lives and I would revisit the rooms where I lost and found myself completely. 

The plans were in place. The ward round had spoken. I was going home. We were going home. 

My dad had arranged to collect us and all my stuff, which had somehow managed to accumulate. That is the only issue about having a Primark near a psychiatric ward. The lure is too great, I was repeatedly drawn in like a crazed moth to a particularly cheap flame. 

Albert had grown, I had shrunk. We were both different people to the two that came through the unit doors all those weeks ago.

There was a mixed atmosphere in the ward as I left for my first home leave; happiness that I was on the next step out of there, sadness that we wouldn't be around for much longer, envy as other mothers at different stages looked on longingly, as I had once gazed at Lucky. I was becoming increasingly absent, my presence leaving ghostly trails of the madwoman that wouldn't be confined to the attic. 

It was the night before I left for home. It was just a couple of nights leave, but it was the biggest step into the known unknown I had ever taken. I had packed everything up in anticipation of leaving. I wanted it to feel like I was going home for good with just a few more overnight stays on the ward left. This was the home straight of a long lonely marathon. I couldn't see any finishing lines, but my faithful supporters were still cheering me on. I saw their faces in the darkness as I forced myself to sleep through the turbulence of my emotions.

Everything blurs past in the morning in a wave of busyness, appointments and checks, until the moment I am sitting in dad's truck. Ready to go. My two boys with me, just like when we made the longest journey into night. The hum of the ignition soothes us all. We've made it. We're here. It's a moment we weren't certain we'd see, that felt too far away to hope for just a couple of weeks ago. The radio blasts out and calms my fractious heart. We pull out of the hospital car park and a familiar tune begins to play. Homeward Bound.

I look out out of the window and experience the strangest mixture of safety and fear I've ever known. The soundtrack makes me feel fleetingly like I'm the off-beat lead in an indie film of my life. Although in that neatly packaged piece of storytelling this moment would probably be where the credits rolled. The end. Neat. Complete. I wish it was.

Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound,
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Love and bridges over troubled waters,
Mutha Courage X

Saturday, 25 October 2014

To Pimlico, to Pimlico, to Pimlico

I was desperate to get home. I longed for the comfort of my own surroundings and to be able to come and go as I pleased, without constant supervision, a chaperone, and time restrictions. At this stage in my recovery I wasn't sure if that was weeks or months away. I was caught in time. Frozen in my state of "unknowing". All I knew was that the next big step had arrived. I had overnight leave and I was going to make the most of it.

Just to give it some context, by making the most of it I mean enjoying a cosy night in with my family, not downing j├Ągerbombs until dawn. I wouldn't like to see what a medication and shots cocktail would look like. I'm guessing it wouldn't be pretty. One thing that my psychosis taught me, and there were a staggering amount, was to savour and value the mundane, the everyday, even the down right boring. After experiencing hyper-reality, I realised that plain old reality is a beautiful place to be. 

Coming back to Earth after visiting planet Insania is a scary trip. It requires a very slow and steady approach. I had been desperate to get overnight leave and now that I had it, it was a prospect so daunting I was almost prepared to stay on the ward so that I didn't have to face it. It was an existential lurch and it felt deeply unsafe to my fragile psyche. Each of these hurdles to the finish line of normality seemed too high to jump.  I had to coach myself over each one. I had to believe I could, take off, and hope that a lagging back foot wouldn't trip me up. 
"I just need to get to Pimlico. I have to get to Pimlico. Will they give me overnight leave, because I can only use the flat in Pimlico this week" Pimlico dominated my thoughts and feelings. It was my Mecca, my Nirvana, and my Moscow. 

We were very very lucky to have a friend who had a flat there, who said we could stay there anytime in the week, as they were away. We didn't have anywhere else to do an overnight stay in London that could fit me, my husband, my mother-in-law and our baby boy, so it was Pimlico or bust.

I fought so hard for that leave. I knew that, in order for it to be granted, I had to demonstrate that I could take care of Albert overnight, even though I would have the help of my husband on leave. So for the week leading up to ward round I pushed through my very zombie-like state; I forced myself to stand to soothe him in the early hours, even though my legs were numbed, and I prepared bottles while the dressing gown of sedation hung heavy on my shoulders.

The staff could see my struggle. But they could see the effort, the will, and the desire I had to do all of my motherly nigh-time tasks despite the huge obstacles I faced. 

I struggled when I was on leave. How could anything live up to the image I'd created in my head? It was freedom and a step closer to home. But it was a home that wasn't mine, in a bed I didn't know, surrounded by things I didn't recognise. It made me feel further from home than ever. If I found this hard, how would I ever get back to my house, with my bed and my things?

I had to pause. To re-evaluate. To congratulate myself on this monumental and minuscule step. We cooked a meal and sat together in front of the tv. There was no negotiation with other patients about what to watch and it was delightful to have a meal that wasn't cooked in a plastic bag. This was all strangely normal. Here we all were together, and there was no-one calling time on visiting hours. I didn't have to hand Albert over to anyone apart from his dad, and I could be beside my husband tonight, all night, for the first time in weeks. 

We watched Frozen. We laughed, sang and held each other on the sofa. Tears silently fell down my cheeks as Let It Go blasted out of the speakers and I knew that that was what I needed to do.

Love and lovely boring little things,Mutha Courage x

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Drug War

Every day that I was in the ward I was getting better. That meant that I was swimming closer to the surface, regaining consciousness. The better I got the harder I found recovery. I could see what had happened. The evidence was all around me. It was like being the lead detective in the murder case of myself.

I was still on a massive cocktail of drugs, but I was finding out that psychosis was not my ideal holiday destination. I started to hate and resent the medication. I resented how they made me feel, and I hated that I had to be on them. I knew they had bought me back to reality, but it was not the reality I wanted. It was a reality I had to try desperately hard not to fight.

I was in the midst of a drug war and my body was no man's land.

It's 10pm, I've just taken my medication and I can already feel the sedating effect moving down my limbs. I am holding my crying son, trying to soothe him so I know he is calm and happy before I have to leave him to go to bed. It's not going to happen. Again. Again I will have to leave him with staff, agitated and upset, reflecting my emotions as only a baby can. Again I will have to listen to him cry and not be able to go to him, and again I will wake up without him by my side.

I hate these drugs. I hate what they're doing to me and what they are turning me into. I don't care if they are what's helped me and what's helping me, they are ruining me. I can hardly speak, everything's numb and I feel like I'm locked into my body. My mind can't live here. I need them to sort out my levels. I'm not on the right levels. I can't live like this. I can't be this person. I can't be a mother. Not like this.

It would be weeks and weeks of ongoing reviews, level alterations, blood tests and ward rounds before my intake would be reduced to just one drug, rather than 3 or 4 and months of alarms going off every few hours to remind me to take them. 

I can honestly say that I've been miserable only a few times in my life, and this was the single most miserable time of them all. I felt like I was being punished for a crime that I hadn't committed. I was desperately trying to stay positive when everything around me felt soul crushingly bleak. 

I felt like I was walking a tightrope in wellies. I wasn't equipped for this. I knew I needed to get off the medication, but didn't know the full extent of what would happen to me if and when I did. I knew I had to trust the professionals around me, but I was sick of feeling like everyone else was in charge of me. I longed to be the boss of me again. I wanted to get out. Desperately. Painfully. I needed to get out, and although I didn't know it at the time, it was going to happen. Sooner that I knew.

Love and Lithium,

Mutha Courage X

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Temporary Release

I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being held captive, that I was a prisoner on the ward and that I couldn't be the mother I wanted to be while I had all these wardens watching my every move. In actuality I was there completely of my own free will and I was a patient. The staff were doing everything they could to help me learn how to nurture and care for my son in the midst of this shocking disease. Its amazing what time can do to shift you perspective, but at that time I was imprisoned and I had been granted a whole, glorious days release. 

The reason I had negotiated this days leave was because my son was within one day of missing his birth registration and, as his parents, we could face prosecution for failing to register him on time. I was totally oblivious to all of this, which is another indicator of how unwell I had become, because anyone that knows me knows that lists, organisation and deadlines are completely my thing!

Because we were in Hackney he could be registered in London and as my husband was staying with our urban mum in Brixton then Lambeth Town Hall it was. What was beautiful about this chance detail was that it was where my husband and I had registered our marriage just 3 years before. Psychosis had done it again, or we had, it all seemed to make some weird, twisted, crooked sense. 

We sat in the waiting room with all the other babies that were brand new and held our son in his special St. Patricks Day romper suit that was yet another act of generosity for his urban nanna. It was official. He existed. He was named. He was registered.

We took him to all our old haunts, independent coffee shops and markets. It was such normality, so ordinary. I looked like everyone else. No-one knew what was going on in my mind, just like I didn't know what was going on in theirs. We were a family. 

This was a taste of the freedom I was so scared of and yet longed for.

We walked through the park. I really saw my son, for one of the first times in weeks. Outside of the ward, where I was just getting through the day, there was time to look, really look at what was going on around me.

To see him see trees for the first time was incredible. Even his face displayed wonder. He's actually still besotted with trees 7 months on.

Having that day with my family really helped me to get some perspective on my situation. My mindset changed almost in an instant. I was free. I have always been free. Feeling like I'm being held hostage is the illness not the hospital. I was fighting it. Not only that, but was winning.

That feeling lasted until I pressed the security button on the ward doors, to pass security and went back into my home, my cell.

Love and wise old oaks,
Mutha Courage X

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mad Muthas

One of the best things about being mad in a psychiatric ward is that you are not alone. One of the better things about being mad in a mother and baby unit is that, funnily enough, there are mothers and babies there.

All of us had different illnesses and all of us were at different stages of recovery, but what we all shared was that they had all struck post-natally and so, luckily for us, we could have our babies with us.

It only struck me a few weeks after I had arrived that the pain for some women was that the baby they had with them was not their only child like mine was. I shared many painful moments with other women who cried over the separation from their other children. Families sometimes miles from the unit. They were there because there was a bed, not because it was convenient.

The ladies I spent two months with were my joy and my frustration. The way we loved and supported each other was staggering, but regardless of my love for them they were also a perpetual reminder that I was there. Trapped. Unwell.

During the group therapy sessions we would talk, share, draw, occasionally be tossed around on a blue sheet (the drama student in me was loving it!) and I was honoured to be a part of the healing process of others. The emotion was so raw, the memories so distressing, the future so often overwhelming. We became each others' "can-do sisters" and reminded each other when we were at our lowest ebbs that we could do it, we were doing it, and we would get home. 

It was always a sensitive navigation with the other women. When I was first admitted I was oblivious to the needs of others, but slowly, as I began to function as part of the group, I gradually became self-aware again. Wow. Self-aware. That meant that I had a self to be aware of again. This was a monumental step for me. 

Tuesdays were always an interesting dance of joy, disappointment and caution. After ward round everyone would be checking in with each other to see what had been said, what had happened to medication levels, what had been said about your progress and the most important question of all, how much leave did you get? In hospital terms "leave" was the litmus test, the progress report made physical. 

I learnt very quickly in the unit who to share my joys and successes with and who to play it down to, who to laugh with and who to lend a shoulder to. We all needed such different things at each stage of our time in there. One lady called Lucky got increasing amounts of leave until I hardly saw her and I always thought she had exactly the right name.

No matter what we were going through we ate together. I never could have predicted, just months before, that I would be here, in a psychiatric hospital, sitting around the table with my new family.

Love and dramatic blue sheets,
Mutha Courage X

Sunday, 21 September 2014

It's all Kosher

Despite the care I was receiving from all the staff around me, I couldn't escape the feeling that I was being imprisoned. In many ways, the more I recovered the more frustrated I became. I had a limited sentence, but my release date was unknown. It could be weeks, it could be months.

I was getting better, and yet I was sick of having to ask for my phone charger, my razor, having to go to the hatch for medicine, visit the medical room for observations, label all my food, drink, plates, and mugs. 

However, I am nothing if not adaptable, and I knew that if I had to live in this hospital I would have to do it with as much enthusiasm as I could generate. So I started to work the system. I begun to learn how to make the most of my stay.

I used to ask staff that I had good rapport with for towels so that I could get sometimes 5 or 6 stockpiled in my bottom drawer, thus reducing the number of times I needed to ask. Believe me, this was a vital step for maintaining high self esteem. Asking too regularly for essential items made me feel subservient and small, which in turn makes you start to question your capability in other areas of your life. It's these tiny choices that I made on a daily basis that added to my strength; that showed me I still had fight and enough cheekiness to know I was getting better.

One of my happiest discoveries was sent from God. No, I wasn't hearing voices. I discovered the Kosher menu. Oh my goodness. Who knew that by choosing the Kosher meals you could have steamed salmon, beautiful new potatoes and fresh vegetables, albeit still microwaved in a plastic bag. It was mana from Heaven. It was less stodgy, more tasty and far healthier than all the other hospital food. It didn't take long for other mothers to catch on too, and before long more staff were eating from the Kosher list as well. We were all at it, we had converted for lunchtime.

There was so much Jewish food being ordered on the mother and baby unit that a Rabbi was seen walking around, as he was under the understandable impression that his fellow believers were in the ward. I think I potentially cost the NHS thousands of pounds over my two month stay because I heard that the reason the Kosher menu wasn't promoted was because the meals cost a lot more. Whoops. 

As I continued to recover, more and more of my personality started to come back. My contributions to ward round became increasingly cheeky and I began to question what I was being told again, rather than being utterly confused or aggressive. Like Chekov's Three Sisters, I was desperately looking forward to leave; to getting away from the tedium and routine to somewhere exciting. To Westfield! Then in ward rounds it was suggested in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't go anywhere too stimulating on my leave, and particularly not Westfield, as I was still getting better and still had a way to go. I remember leaving the meeting absolutely livid but still determined to get there. Unfortunately my still not-quite-quiet mind wasn't quite clever enough when I tried to slip in through the back door. Turning to my husband and mother-in-law, I said "Well, after that we all need some breakfast, and I think we can all agree that the best place to get that, is Westfield!" They didn't take me.

Luckily we didn't go. Even though I was annoyed and reactionary about being told what was best for me, they were absolutely right. The week after, I explained that I had been relieved I hadn't gone to Westfield, to which everyone agreed that it was a sign of my increasing sanity that an outing to that shopping centre seemed mad.

This place was starting to look friendlier. I was starting to connect to the world again. I could see the kindness on the faces that surrounded me. I still loved and hated my situation in equal measure, but there were signs beginning to appear and they said one word. Home.

Love and menorahs,
Mutha Courage x

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Leave me alone

This week has been manic. I mean that in a metaphorical sense, not in a relapse kind of way. One of the ideas that psychosis gave me was stand-up comedy with my baby on board. This week that idea, borne from madness, was delivered.  Bring A Bottle, my comedy show for "people who happen to be parents", was born. It wasn't long before the local news and TV were interested, so Albert and I went from interview to interview, whilst trying to rehearse and fine tune the performance.

I watch the appearances. I see myself laughing and chatting with my little son attached to me by a sling carrier. I recognise that me. I am confident and self-possessed. It is very difficult to see myself like this and not remember a time, just a few months ago where I couldn't manage an hour from the safety of the ward. I had been given leave, but didn't know if I could.

Albert is attached to me by a carrier sling. The air hits my face, followed by the noise of all the traffic, followed by the movement of all the people walking by. I am scared by the faces I see coming towards me and that pass me. I am desperately trying to process everything. It feels like there is too much space around me. I have longed for this freedom and now I feel intoxicated by its size. I feel small, tiny. I don't feel brave enough to exist in this huge world. I want home and I don't even know what home is. I don't want to be on the ward, but the streets are too busy and I am intimidated by their pace. 

We find a cafe. It is friendly and small. It is a den. I can rest here for a while from the mayhem outside. I don't really remember how to do this. What are the rules? How do we order? How do I choose? I don't want to interact, but I know I need to. They all know. They all know I'm from the ward. They know.

We take more of a walk when we've had our drinks. There's a small market selling local foods and products. The panic is rising in me. The people, the smells, the sounds, the chatter, the ground, the sky, everything is closing around me and I feel a powerful sense of danger that isn't really there. I need to get away. Get out. Get in. I don't know, just get away. How will I ever be normal again?

This isn't me. I can't stay like this. I can't be like this. Who am I now? What has this illness left me with?

I pull my son closer to my chest. He is sleeping soundly. Knowing that he is safe, and protected. I long to feel that. I hold my husband's hand so tight. I need him to lead me back to the ward. I need to be surrounded by familiarity. I need the doors locked. 

I realise how agonisingly slow this recovery will be for me. I know I will have to work hard every time I go on leave, so that I can rebuild the broken city of myself. 

But that evening, I just want everyone to leave me alone.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Independent Mutha

We have been waiting for the article to come out for the last couple of months. I kept telling myself it would come out at the right time. 

It did.

It came out when I needed strength the most. I was back at the scene of the crime last week. I was back on the Children's ward where The Thing took hold. I was back in the corridors where my mind unraveled. I was re-walking the path of hell.

I was at the hospital for routine check-ups for the little man, who was yet again proving to be a complete source of bravery and joy, whilst having several different canulas inserted in various areas of his chubby anatomy. We were waiting for his dose of radioactive fluid to work its way through his body for a kidney scan and we found ourselves with an hour to kill.

Right, well...we'd better go and get a copy of the paper we're in. Obviously by a copy, I mean five. I've been wanting to go and thank the nurses on the Buxton Ward for some time, but have resisted because of not knowing what to do or say and being unsure how revisiting that place would affect me. Somehow I felt a box of Green & Blacks didn't convey the deepest gratitude a human heart can bestow on the compassion and unflinching kindness of strangers. I also wasn't sure what to say: "Hi, remember me? I was the one that screamed in your face while I was sitting in a bath covered in wet towels". I felt that taking a copy of the article would be an easier way to reintroduce myself. Introduce Me. The Me they had never met.

I sensed my breath deepening, my heart becoming more like a restless animal in a cage, it wanted to escape out of my chest. I stalked the corridor leading up to the children's ward with a strange sense of familiarity and fear, I felt I had never been there and yet I had. My body remembered.  My muscles started becoming twitchy underneath my clothes; they knew I had been in danger here. The adrenalin was pumping, supplying my limbs with fuel to run. I prepare to walk through the double doors. I don't know what or who I will recognise, I don't know who will recognise me.

The biggest shock that smacks me straight away is how small and safe the ward looks. It chokes me and sends a shockwave all the way through my body. Psychosis had created a labyrinth, where I now saw a corridor. The Thing had made the walls terrifyingly big and the layout fitfully confusing. I was so lost here. I was so scared. Now I saw its simplicity, the playful cartoon characters that line the walls, the friendly faces, the fish tank.

Then I see it. 
My cell. My prison. My torture site. My hotel room. My holiday stay. My interrogation room.

Now I see it for what it is. A small hospital room. A light, safe room, with fish stickers decorating the windows. Were there windows!? That room was transformed by my mind on an hourly basis. I swung from being prisoner to captor repeatedly. 

Going back there was cathartic and heart-breaking. No-one was working there that knew me that day. I left a paper for those that would remember. My psychosis stutter threatened to surface, but I breathed through it and mastered my recent panic. I was reminded in that moment how far I had come and that recovery was still an ongoing process. 

The response to the article has been wonderful. So many people are saying that the illness needs more visibility. It does. That we need to talk about mental illness more. We do. And that we need people to share their stories of Postpartum psychosis. I will. But right now what I want to say is Thank You. This time, it's not to everyone that helped me, which is a vast and powerful list of incredible people, but this time I want to say Thank You to my psychosis.

Thank You that you picked me, so that I can speak out and share my experiences.

Thank You for showing me the depth of strength I have as a woman and as a Mother.

Thank You for everything I have learnt about gratitude, presence, connection, honesty, talking and accepting help.

Thank You for giving me my family back in a very real way.

Thank you for that time you made me feel like the Buddha. That was awesome.

Love and big bellies,
Mutha Courage X

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Puzzle

Several large pieces of the jigsaw of my life.
If found please return.
Many Thanks.

Each week I think about what to talk about next. I've been very lucky that each week I've had something to write about other than this. This may be what still haunts me the most. The lost month. Nothing would please me more than to move onto the subjects of leave, recovery, and the beauty that can emerge from horror, but in order for me to do that I feel the need to address the psychotic elephant in the room. It's not what is there that hurts the most. It's what isn't.

There is a chunk of my existence that is lost. Lost to me at least. It's like I've been given the puzzle, but the picture on the box has been severely scratched and no matter how hard I try to put the pieces all together there are huge patches that can't be filled. No matter where I look I can't find the missing bits. Fragments remain. My memories pad around in slippers and dressing gown through the stark corridors of my mind.

I was mad.

Maybe it's better that there are only suggestions, emotional shadows and strange imprints on my mind. Maybe my brain is helping to keep me safe. Maybe I would be even more horrified if I remembered that time clearly. Maybe all this is what I tell myself to help the healing process.

My medical notes go some way to filling in what happened, but they are not my reality. They are an outside impression. They are cultural judgements and medicalisation and clinical observations. They are not "truth". In some ways I think that what is so disturbing about being psychotic is that you have access to true reality. What I mean by that is, you realise that it doesn't actually exist. All there is is THIS reality versus THAT reality. Some of you will say, "Well, I think we could agree that you were mad, and that was the reality." But was I mad? What and who is anyone to say what 'mad' is? In some cultures I would have been revered as a wise and holy medicine woman that has access to other worlds. Someone that can offer huge healing and understanding to her tribe and community. Here, I was contained, drugged and left feeling utterly ashamed. I may have missed my true calling! 

Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted I was drugged. I'm very happy I was contained, and the shame has helped me speak out about my experience, but when you have a reality altering experience like that, it makes you question everything you thought you knew about the world and the people in it. 

I'm beginning to realise now that I have in front of me the pieces from many puzzles. There is so much in life we don't understand; perhaps we never will. There are so many pieces that I realise that trying to make sense of it all is futile. 

There is a peace in that. 

Having it all worked out and finishing the puzzle is not really the best bit. Trying to put the pieces together is why we keep doing jigsaws. Our search is never finished. Our quest to understand is never complete, but still we try to put the pieces together, knowing we never will.

Love and shaman blessings,
Mutha Courage X

Saturday, 16 August 2014

See You Next Tuesday

Being a resident of the "Hackney Holiday Home" was a massive privilege for me. I will never forget the overwhelming sensation of safety and peace I felt when I arrived there in the early hours of the morning on February 15th. It was a balm to my sore soul and gave me hope during that terribly frightening episode in my life.

I remember the sheer joy I felt at seeing an A4 sheet of paper attached to the back of my door with a timetable of activities that were on offer during the week. Yoga, baby massage, cookery, weaving, dance & movement therapy, relaxation and art classes. I seriously thought I'd won the psychosis lottery. Who knew there were this many perks? This wasn't a psychiatric ward, this was a holistic commune! Not only because of all of these brilliant workshops that would give me a reason to get up in the morning, but because I was NOT in Chelmsford. Phew.

To begin with I was utterly bewildered by life in the Mother & Baby unit. I had no idea how things worked and was intensely upset and distressed about the seeming complexity of its daily rhythms. Time there was divided into two main categories: medical and psychiatric, and the more holistic, alternative therapies. For some reason completely unknown to me, I was very suspicious and resistant to the medical treatment, but was much more happy to comply with talking, drawing and movement therapy. Having been a self-help junkie for over a decade I was completely into all of the classes. I can't think of many more things I'd like to do of an afternoon than being held in a giant blue cloth and given permission to be completely in touch with my feelings. For people walking in on a class like that it would probably look like I was in the throws of yet another manic episode, but let's be's a thin line, people.

It took a while for me to even have the foggiest clue what was going on in my new clinically enhanced home. I had so much to learn. There were so many timings to remember and rules to follow. All of my cups and plates had my name on them. Believe me when I say that giving me a labelling machine when I was psychotic was a brave decision on the part of the nurses. You had to order your food at certain times; eat at certain times and in certain places. Visitors were not allowed in the kitchen, which sucked big style because no-one could ever make me a cup of tea AND I had to wash up! I was told recently that I used to insist visitors brought me tea from Costa when they came, so I didn't have to clean up after anyone, including myself. I wish I could be as demanding in normal life. Babies weren't allowed in the Kitchen or Milk Kitchen either, which made carrying your child in a sling pretty tricky. It becomes a real palaver if you realise you've forgotten to butter your toast or milk your bran flakes, which is easier than you might think when you're on a massive cocktail of anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers. You only hope that you don't come out of the kitchen one day with a baby covered in butter and a sling full of bran flakes.

At one point I had so many alarms on my phone I no longer had a clue what they were reminding me of. Wake up, meds, food, class, visiting times, baby feed, meds, food, medical observation, baby feed, class, meeting with psychiatrist, meds, food, visitor leaving time, meds. This was my new reality, my new life.

Part of this new life was a weekly visit to "Ward Round". This happened every week, in my case, every Tuesday. It was one of strangest, most surreal and intimidating experience I may ever have. During that first ward round I was heavily medicated, still extremely ill, paranoid, emotionally volatile and couldn't retain or process information. I think we can all agree, not the best set-up for a meeting about the intricacies of your own mental health.

In some ways I'd love to be able to tell you what happened in my first ward round. I can't. My mind was not functioning in any linear or rational way. nothing was being processed how I would normally. I was in utter chaos. It wouldn't be until my 6th or 7th ward round that I would begin to understand what had happened to me, was happening to me and what would happen to me. What I do have are several very powerful sense memories, of how I felt and what it was like from where I was standing.

The door shuts behind me. Bang. Silence. Eyes looking at me. Not one pair, not two, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. All these people staring at me. I take a seat. I am at the head of this table. I am off my head at the top of this table. The formality. Why are they speaking to me like this? They introduce themselves and their role. Why? I know who they are...Dr M, Ed the Head, Helen of Troy, Mother Mary...I don't understand the words that are being said. I don't know the names of these drugs. Write them down, write them all down, I must write them or all will be lost. Everything will be lost. You haven't been responding to...change of It. Means. You. Will. No. Longer. Be. Able. To. Breastfeed your son. 

I cry for 11 seconds. Fully. Powerfully. Then turned to my husband and said "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't"

To give that phrase some context. My husband and I use this mantra in our life whenever anything happens that we could see as "good" or "bad". When something we perceive as "bad" happens we say "maybe it is, maybe it isn't". This allows you to remove the judgement from it. We never know what will come of what we experience. We can't foresee how we will use what happens to us in our lives. It helped me so much to remove resistance and judgement from what was happening to me, not by forcing it out or blocking it, but by allowing it to be what it was. Whenever I resisted my situation I felt deep pain and sadness, whenever I allowed it to be what it was it gave me a sense of calm. We just don't know where life will lead us, but even in my darkest times I remembered "maybe it is, maybe it isn't".

After you have discussed your prognosis, medication, thoughts, feelings and recovery with these professionals, made up of consultant psychiatrists, psychiatric doctors, psychiatric nurses, nursery nurses, psychologists, student nurses and social workers, it was time to return to the ward and resume your day. But not before I had left with the last word. From that very first, massively scary and hugely intimidating ward round, to the penultimate one before I was discharged I would always take in each person around that table, just before I left the room and say with a cheeky smile "See You Next Tuesday"

Love and buttered babies,
Mutha Courage X

Friday, 8 August 2014

Mirror Mirror

One of the strangest things about being on a psychiatric ward and gradually recovering is that as the mist begins to disperse you start to understand where you are and what's happening. It's at that time you wonder if you might actually rather continue living in crazy ignorance. I remember the first time I realised that staff were observing other patients and that, therefore, staff were observing me. I felt uncomfortable and agitated by the idea, like I was in a strange surveillance prison where everything I said and did was being charted and recorded. It didn't feel like it was to help me at that time: it felt like it was to catch me out and get me into trouble.

I dreaded to think how long I would have to live here. Whenever there was talk of timescales I would panic and become distressed. My resistance made my experience so much more painful. I knew I needed to surrender and concentrate on getting better for my family and for me. I would work hard every day to confront this illness head on and I would not give in. The not knowing was terrifyingly troubling, but I calmed myself with the thought that all any of us have is now. We can't predict what is coming or what will be. All that we know is it will be. What it will be.

Whenever I felt my speech becoming more pressured, my thoughts racing, or my Tourettes bursting out I would lean into that discomfort. I would know that my illness hated me getting better and would attack me more when it saw that I was.

During my psychosis I had to write down every single person's name I came into contact with. Missing one was not an option. Neither was not remembering who someone was. To make this process easier I gave everyone code names. There was Helen of Troy, Happy Hat, Shadow, Star, Ed the Head and Mirror to name just a few. There is a story behind each person's nickname and why it was chosen for them, but the one that had a massive impact on me was Mirror. She gave me the biggest problem of all and consequently helped me the most.

Having been a self-help junkie for years, I was no stranger to the idea that what we dislike or find problematic in other people is often what we struggle with or fear in ourselves. For some reason, as soon as I met Mirror there was a clash. All of my symptoms got worse when I was in her presence. We had big arguments. Well, I would shout at her and she would tell me it was unacceptable.

She was clear. I was unraveled.
She was calm. I was frenetic.
She was precise. I was a mess.

She pissed me right off. I knew I needed to spend as much time as I could with her. She was vital to my recovery.

I told her that she was the mirror in which I saw myself reflected. What made me angry in her company was the fact that she had the qualities I had loved in my old self but feared I had completely lost. I knew The Thing didn't want me to make progress, so it took my disorder up a level whenever she was near.

No matter how hard it was, or how exhausted I was after our interactions, I knew that I would only see myself again if I kept looking in the Mirror. When there was psycho backlash I knew I was on the right path. I knew that the more I looked at myself, and the harder I gazed into the reflection of who I had become, the weaker The Thing became and the closer I came to recognising my own reflection again.

Love and (hopefully not) 7 years bad luck,
Mutha Courage X

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Observed

16 Feb 2014, 00.53

Patient "J" arrived on the unit at around 07:00 as an informal patient, escorted by the Crisis Team. She is 10 days postpartum. I approached her to introduce myself with another member of staff. She presented as very labile in her mood, at times becoming irritable and tearful. Despite various attempts to discuss her care and inform her of her informal rights, staff were unable to interrupt her conversation due to the extent of her pressured speech and her refusal to allow staff to speak. She repetitively stated that staff were not listening to her, when staff had been reduced to silence. She became increasingly distressed when staff attempted to answer her questions, making it impossible to have any meaningful conversations with her. She would at times say she was in her "safe place" and that she "loved staff", but this would change quickly when again staff made attempts to engage with her.

Patient J was seen by Duty Drs. During this time she became increasingly hostile and aggressively asked them to leave the ward. She followed the Drs. out of the room and appeared to make an attempt to grab them, but staff intervened and were able to prevent this happening without the use of any form of restraint techniques. She then became tearful stating that the Drs. had spoken about medication and the need to sleep while they were both sat on her bed. She felt they were preventing her from sleep and she felt as though they were trying to enforce medication on her. I remained with Patient J for 3 hours following this and made various attempts to disengage due to the repetitiveness of the conversation and the continued unwillingness to listen to me or other staff when attempting to speak with her. She then went on to say she had not been given food as promised and hadn't been offered a shower/bath. I attempted to explain that I had made various attempts to go and get her food/fluid and towels to have a bath, but that she would not allow me to leave the room to complete these tasks. She repetitively spoke about a "spasm" that we would cause her if she was interrupted and if we left the room without her "permission", which was granted in the form of a finger being placed on our mouths. I stated that I had to leave the room to speak with another service user as there were both staff nurses within her bedroom and I needed to complete other tasks. She became increasing hostile and aggressive towards myself, stating our "trust" had gone and that she did not wish to speak with me again today, subsequently slamming her bedroom door.

Attempts made to engage with her husband independently to inform him of the importance of medication and the possibility of being placed on a Section if she continued to refuse her oral medication. Patient J became distressed when she was not with her husband, making it impossible to have a 1-1 with him.

T/C (Telephone Call) with Dr. around 15:00. He was informed of Patient J's refusal of her medication and her unwillingness to consider medication.

T/C from Dr. at 18:15. Informed of continual refusal of medication and chaotic presentation. She has agreed to place Patient J on a Section 5(2) and has completed a capacity and consent to treatment form, highlighting that she is unable to retain information, unable to understand information and unable to weigh information as part of the decision process.

16 Feb 2014, 01:08

New Admission.

Entered room, patient is operating a system of sign language and is very particular about "her safe place", people speaking when permitted and listening to her. She uses the sign language she has come up with to show this.

She was using her husband to speak for her, as she could only whisper.

Feels she has postpartum psychosis. Doesn't know how long she has been in, but feels scared, smelly and degraded. Embarrassed. Stated she was initially happy to take advice and try "whatever medications as you are the experts."

Vey labile in mood, tearful, aggressive and very irritable at times, calm at others, pleasant, joking. First became irritable when we suggested she should "calm down" then later if we could discuss medication. "I don't want any medication from you"

"I am a lioness protecting my husband and cubs"

Would not let us leave the room without her permission, kept on wanting to tell us the rules but never got round to them.  
"If you don't calm me down I will have a spasm in 10 seconds"
"All I need is sleep and food, no one has bought me food. You must be thick if you think I need medication before these things"

Suggested medication could help her sleep "Shut the f-up"

Appearance and behaviour: casually dressed, tired looking, calm at times, joking, then irritable and both verbally and physically aggressive. Overfamiliar. Overstaring wide eye contact, made physical contact and squeezed both Drs. hands when upset. Wanted full control of the interview.

Mood: Subj: "exhausted, tired, scared, degraded" Obj: irritable, labile.

Speech: Pressured, formal thought disorder, flight of ideas. Whispering at first, then shouting when irritated.

Thought: Not able to assess as wouldn't let us talk.

Perception: Not able to assess as wouldn't let us talk.

Imp - postpartum psychosis, manic episode.

16 Feb 2014, 15:27

To be put on 1:1 observation today

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Lost Plot

I normally have quite a clear idea of what to write next. I can see where I am in the story of my experience and I know what follows in the sequence of events. But here is where the narrative fails. The plot is lost and I am free-falling with no idea which way is up, or if I will ever feel my feet on the ground.

Between medical notes and what my family tell me I can piece something together, but most of what they tell me may as well be about another wife, daughter or friend. I can't knit together a comfort blanket from the tattered remnants that are handed to me. My mum told me recently that at this point she feared she'd never see me again; that I was lost. All I could really tell you is that at this point she was right. Everyone could see my body and hear my voice, but I was not there with them.

It would be easier to talk about what everyone has told me happened in these lost days, but it fundamentally avoids one of the biggest traumas of this illness. There are horrible things I said and did that I don't have a clear picture of. These episodes haunt my memory and float in and out of focus, elusive ghosts using my mind as their repossessed stately home. Many of my recollections have strong feeling attached to them, but not the details. I couldn't tell you the sequence of anything that happened. From this point my life becomes a sketch, and I am reduced to a line drawing of my former self.

One of the most devastating blows in the early stages of my treatment was being told that they had to put me on anti-psychotic medication that would mean I could no longer breastfeed my son. This was such a severe knock to my self-esteem. I wasn't fit to feed my own baby. I had failed him and now anyone with a bottle in hand could be his mum. In those terrifying days, feeding him and knowing I was the person he needed was the only thing that truly made me feel like I mattered. Now this was being taken away too. I only found out recently that during my psychosis he lost 40% of his body weight and was now weighing just a few pounds. He was a tiny bird-like creature. He needed sustenance and I couldn't give it to him. My illness meant I was in survival mode, and the stress meant there was nothing in my milk to help him. My body knew it was him or me.

Everything overwhelmed, overstimulated and overpowered me. I couldn't write emails or text messages, I couldn't speak on the phone and could only just deal with seeing people face to face. I think that psychosis can often feel even more distressing as the recovery process begins. When I was so ill, I was just existing, surviving moment to moment, but looking back is to see a reflection of yourself that sends shock waves through your once certain sense of self. The face staring back is unrecognisable.

My days now consisted of visits to the medicine room, having blood tests and observations of my heart rate, temperature and weight. Punctuated by hospital meals for lunch and dinner. As well as these regular commitments, there were frequent visits from, and talks to, health visitors, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. This was not what I would have said I'd imagined for my first couple of weeks as a mum, but here it was. This was my world.

Even thinking back to those days now exhausts and distresses me. I've always been someone who has prided themselves on an ability to organise my life efficiently, communicate clearly and make new friends easily, but here I was completely debilitated by this shocking disease that had been rotting me from the core. I scuttled around the ward avoiding people one moment and shouting my thoughts and feelings the next. Loudly. Very loudly.

I clung desperately to every self-help mantra that I'd ever practised, if there was a time when my self needed help the most, it was now.

All this shall pass.

It is what it is.

Say yes to your universe.

I knew one thing. I couldn't change what had happened to me and I certainly couldn't control what was going to happen, but I was going to fight. Not with anger and frustration and pain, which although I felt in abundance, I knew weren't my best weapons. No, I would use presence, love and positivity. I was going to say yes to what was happening to me and, no matter what, I would find the lining of this cloud, whatever colour it was. Somewhere very deep within, I believed in myself, my family, love and joy and I wasn't going to let psychosis rob me of what I had worked so hard to obtain; a love of life. The Thing's days were numbered, I was ready for this war.

Love and positive affirmations,
Mutha Courage X