Monday, 30 June 2014

A Place of Safety

It was a journey that should take two and a half hours. Even less, given that we were travelling in the early hours of the morning. Five hours in, and we were still very far from a place of safety. The three adults in that car with me were becoming increasingly hounded and verbally battered. They were effectively my hostages, while I was convinced they were my captors. My tiny newborn baby slept. He couldn't have done anything else that I needed more.

After countless stops already, I see a petrol station. "Pull over. Pull over. I need some soothers for my throat, it's red raw." It was true. It was. I did need them, but this was yet another stalling device that psychosis was cultivating to put me closer and closer to danger and trouble. 

It was at this stage that I started developing the frequent habit of threatening people with all kinds of legal action for disregard of my human rights and of treating me improperly. This petrol station was just a few miles away from my Mum's house and I was desperately trying to bargain with Hero and Shadow from the crisis team that if I could just stop off there and have a shower and some sleep, that everything would be so much better and so much more pleasant for all of us. They had kept saying that it was their duty to get me to a "place of safety" and, as far as I was concerned, places didn't come safer than my Mum's house. Even weeks into my recovery I still couldn't see why we couldn't have done that. 

The truth was that every minute that I prolonged the process of getting to a psychiatric ward I was making things much much worse for myself. This is not an illness with patience or understanding. It is rampant and destructive, flattening anything in its path, including its victim, like a bulldozer over a field of poppies. If I had gone to my Mum's I wouldn't have slept; I hadn't really slept in 11 days and being there wouldn't have changed that. I wouldn't have washed. I had had countless opportunities to do both for the last 36 hours, but couldn't do it. The Thing didn't want to just destroy my sanity and normality it wanted to degrade me and shame me, so that I would never be able to stand up to it.

It was at that petrol station in the early hours after Valentine's Day, that love saved me once again.

I'm in the back of the car with my husband in the middle seat and our son in his car seat next to him. I am getting more and more upset, angry, agitated, confused, guilty, ashamed. I'm getting louder and louder, my body is spasming and contorting, I'm feeling out of control; the car is a cage and I am a wild animal, too big for this claustrophobic and confined space. My limbs are thrashing, my hands are claw-like, I'm squawking and shaking and I lash out. I'm crying and shouting and threatening and warning my husband that I am going to hit him, punch him in the face if he doesn't get out of the car. The tears I am crying are coming deep from within. Why am I saying this to the man I love? To the man I shared vows of deep connection and joy with? The man who has been by my side through everything; the birth of our son just days ago and all of this. He is removed from the car. I see him through the glass of the petrol station. This fine, tall figure of a man looks broken. His head is no longer proudly perched on his strong shoulders: he has sunk. I continue to talk feverishly to Shadow, the woman of the team, who says little in return, while Hero goes in to see my husband. 

Little did I know that my husband was doing far more than buying me some soothers. He was fighting for my life. He was fighting to stop the police being called, to stop me being sectioned and placed in an acute psychiatric ward and more than all that he was fighting to keep me with my son. The crisis team were running out of options and one more distraction or stop from me on the journey and I would give them no choice but to call the police and have me sectioned. My condition was escalating and I was becoming a danger to myself and the people around me.

I can't remember the words my husband said to me when he got back in that car, but I remember that he whispered them straight into my heart. He said them with an intensity and love that The Thing couldn't hear, but that the Me cowering inside me absolutely did. I knew I was in a very very precarious position. I knew that I was running out of chances, and I knew that the alternatives of me walking into the 'Hackney Holiday Home' of my own free will as an informal patient looked desperately different from what I wanted. 

My husband held me and we whispered to each other for the rest of the journey. I didn't trust anyone but him right now, not even myself, but I knew that in this moment my only real place of safety was him and I was going to fight with every part of my being to keep me with my son, and to avoid the atrocities that I could see in my mind's eye if I lost this intense and terrifying battle.

We arrived at the unit in the early morning. I was escorted out of the car by three psychiatric nurses that I called my "Three Graces". They were angelic to me. I had become a small, bird-like woman. Fragile and weak, making my way into my new nest. I felt peace. I had made it. I asked if they would look after me and give me food and sleep and a bath. They spoke with a reassurance and compassion the like of which I may never know again. I knew I had walked through hell, but this was no time to take off my shoes. The Thing did not take kindly to my defiance.

Love and throat sweets,
Mutha Courage x

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pulling the Rug from Under Me

After 12 exhausting hours of trying to get out of the hospital, I knew that it was going to take a Herculean effort for me to get through those doors and into the car that was patiently waiting to take me to a place of safety. I'd renamed my destination as the "Hackney Holiday Home", so that I could tell myself it was a friendly place rather than a horrifying mental institution. Even my husband, who had seen me run the last few hundred yards of the marathon just months before, didn't think I would be leaving the hospital conscious. Such was the magnitude of what he was seeing happen to me.

I demand a KFC and I'm not leaving until I've had one. We are all exhausted and hungry and I am not taking my 7 day old son on a 3 hour car journey until I have at least had a hot meal. To my intense surprise a KFC soon arrived on the ward. It was yet another meal I would just look at and let go cold, but that wasn't the point. My husband had eaten. My mother-in-law had eaten and I could only get out if my team was strong and, to my psychosis-addled brain, KFC was the answer.

At 2am I will walk out of this hospital and you will all be with me. Do you believe I can do it? Yes. That's not strong enough, do you believe I can do it? YES. That's better. Do you believe? Do You? Do YOU? I needed their responses to fit exactly into my jigsaw. I saw their puzzled faces and demanded they try a new piece, but what I didn't realise was, I was the only one that could see the lid. My team was 5 and a tiny one strong. Two members of the crisis team (Shadow and Hero - they all had special names) my husband, my mother-in-law, my minuscule son and Me. The Me that I had unflinching belief in, the Me that had birthed my son naturally just a few days ago, the Me that ran marathons and did Edinburgh shows, the Me I was terrified I had lost forever.

I coached the team for well over an hour on the minutiae of how we would leave the hospital. It was my walk to freedom and it needed to be exactly right or The Thing would be there to trip me up. I was psyching myself up. I knew that I had something very powerful deep within that could do this and there couldn't be a scrap of doubt from anyone around me that it was absolutely possible.

When the moment came I had the wall of white light taken down from the ward and placed around me. I took pictures of the room and the clock as mementoes of when I took my first stand against this demon I was doing battle with. I had the team ready. I flung the hospital curtain open, shouted "I'm not afraid of you" at The Thing and took the first step of a much longer journey to come.

Out of my pocket blasted Imelda May's "Pulling the Rug From Under Me" and as its powerful rockabilly beats filled my heart, I marched out of that ward. My team just one step behind. This was the biggest feat of imagination over mental tyranny I'd ever attempted, as I insisted that everyone walked out behind me as if we were all in Reservoir Dogs. I even had to stop half way to let Hero know that he was walking all wrong and needed to get his groove on. Not only that, but the 2nd track on the album had started to play and as it was called  "Psycho" I thought it was best to replay the first one. It definitely did not look like a group of people that had been struggling for hours to make it out of a door. Well, in my head anyway, we looked like superheroes. 

I remember walking past a receptionist and breezily saying "We're just leaving, bye". It was such a monumental step towards safety. Hell had had locked gates up until this point, but it looked like I may have seen an opening and I was running for it. I was doing this of my own free will. The first step I took into the night air was the most exhilarating and powerful breath I have ever taken. The coldness shocked the deepest point of my lungs and I felt alive. More alive than I knew a human being could feel. As the full moon shone down on me I let out a howl of euphoria. We had done it. I had done it. The psychic energy that was now coursing through my veins meant that I had to dance, dance, dance and not stop. The charleston was my dance of choice. 

I had shut three of the four car doors with everyone going on the journey seated inside, and it only remained for me to say goodbye to my mother-in-law and get in that car. I'm crying as I write this because I can remember how that moment of saying goodbye felt to me; like all things in the history of the universe: hope and fear, love and deep gratitude, pain and loss, elation and guilt, frustration and connection. I was safe, and yet so far from safety I feared that after that goodbye I may never make it to hello again.

As my car door slammed shut with me ensconced in the car, I laughed at The Thing. I laughed that this time it had picked the wrong person to mess with. We headed out of the car park and onto the road. Unfortunately, outside the car The Thing was laughing harder. What I thought was my door shutting was actually him slamming the gates of Hell, and I was still very much inside.

Love and chicken fillet burgers,
Mutha Courage X

Monday, 16 June 2014

Darkest Before the Dawn

I sprang out of my wheelchair and bolted for the automatic doors. I was dying for fresh air. I was determined to show The Thing that I could fight him. It may have only been one breath of the cold night air, but it was my breath. My tiny victory. At the close of play each day of my psychosis The Thing had definitely won, but I was gaining territory. It was hard to see that when I was surrounded with the wounds and suffering of another defeat, but I was determined to battle to the death.

To put this micro-win into context, I had been trying to get out of the hospital for approximately 12 hours. After a massive episode that lasted nearly and hour and a half prior to this the Crisis Team had been called and it was agreed that I needed to be transferred to a psychiatric ward immediately. I only found out a couple of weeks ago that they had asked my husband if he felt he could care for me at home and he had to say one of the most difficult things he's ever had to: No.

In many ways deciding that the transfer to the Mother and Baby Unit should happen was the easy bit. In my lucid moments I would clearly and desperately state that I knew I was ill and wanted to get better, that I would accept any help that was offered to me, and that I surrendered. Unfortunately, as soon as my mania and paranoia was in full flow I didn't trust anything that was being said to me and I was actively hostile to the help being given. I made severe threats if it ever looked like I wouldn't get what I wanted: even when what I wanted was a cheese sandwich. I couldn't bear not having strict control over every single person in my presence.

I had never felt so powerful and so weak in all my life. I could make demands that were acted on in a moment and yet I couldn't speak a full sentence without having my voice box hijacked by this destructive demon. Everything. Everything had to be on my terms. Well, on the terms of my psychosis. For 4 hours we stood by the door of the hospital with me desperately trying and hideously fearful of leaving.

My husband look terrified. This proud new father had lost his glow, dread filled his eyes and his mouth was tense with anxiety. He took me aside, out of earshot  of the nursing staff, the moonlight put him in the spotlight, and what he said pierced through the hard exterior of the disease and whispered to the me that was drowning deep inside.

"If you don't do this, they will take the decision away from you"

Take the decision away from me. Take the decision away? Take the decision away! Take my son away. Drug me. Put me on an acute ward. Stop me seeing them. 

The threat of being sectioned hung over me like a dangling highwayman. The vision of what could be if I didn't get into the Mother and Baby unit as an informal patient was shockingly real and truly painfully possible. Throughout this whole ordeal my son sits stoically in his little bear snowsuit that swamps his minute frame. Due to my sickness he is losing weight rapidly and needs food and care. All the time I soothe him and tell him not to take any notice of Mummy's silly voices, while I sob within. Desperate to protect and nurture this new human being that needs me. I fight every second to keep us together. To keep my son.

Love and cheese sandwiches,
Mutha Courage x

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Thing

Come in quickly. Shut the curtain. Don't let it in. The Thing is out there. It wants to get me. I know it does. What's your name? Who are you? I have to write it down. NO. Wait. Let me write it down before you say anything. I don't want to ffffforget your nnnname.

What was happening to me? Is this what being a new mum does to you? Why am I being like this? Why is my speech starting to stutter? I know something is up, something is not right, this just isn't me, but it must be, I'm saying and doing these things. It must be my fault.

The terrifying idea that there was some "Thing" being the master puppeteer of my mind, body and mouth was almost more unbearable than just thinking I'd become a bit more of a 'handful'. The "Thing" had other ideas and wanted me to know, on no uncertain terms, who the boss of this new relationship was. He knew it was only a matter of time before I was his, and he was enjoying every moment of my downfall. 

I was becoming unhinged. I had no idea at this point that within the next few days, never mind a hinge, there would be no door left. As my illness worsened, it wasn't only my speech that was becoming problematic, my written communications were becoming terribly (and hilariously) error ridden. In one message to friends, asking them to spread the word about Mutha Courage, I said:

"There are going to be some exciting podcasts coming" (Normal so far...)
"so you not my fault your prestressing my lovely home you don't need to look like that I'm a you're the one doing where he is egalitarian is booked a really inoffensive these days I think we're getting the hang of it is not sickie so far and milk sin mixing now my mobile music by ion. Watch this space I'd love to build as big a following as I can"

Well, with a pitch like that, who could resist!?

My occasional frenzied writing had escalated to virtually constant note taking. I demanded to know and write in my notebook the name of every single person I came into contact with, even the poor bloke who bought my hospital food in. The fear that such information would be lost and that I wouldn't have a grasp on reality was so excruciating to me that I needed to secure myself in these details and control my manic world with facts.

The small hospital room on the children's ward where my son was healing was the same room where I, his mother, was disintegrating. That room was simultaneously my safe haven and my prison. When I recall this time in my mind's eye I imagine that I was in several, very different, rooms. Depending on what brain chemical cocktail I had sipped on I was either in a place of loving embrace or trapped within a living hell. All the while the "Thing" lurked outside for me waiting to do his worst.

Get away from me. Get away from me. I don't want you anywhere near me. Get out. GET out. GET OUT! I'm in a bath having a severe panic attack bought on by I don't know what. I scream. I'm screaming. I can't stop screaming. I feel like I'm in Psycho and how little did I realise then just how true that was. After this exhausting and cripplingly scary episode I managed to make it to the hospital canteen for some chips. This was continually how it went; from extreme terror to fleeting normality. No sooner had I got the chips on my plate and a smile on my face, when I feel another wave of anger, pain and frustration. WHY DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND ME? WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING? WHY WON'T YOU SMILE AT ME!? My husband tries desperately to put a smile on his ashen face. He is exhausted, confused and extremely anxious. He and the staff had been trying to support and help me through these tyrannical episodes for days and the constant attacks were seriously taking their toll. 

I nearly don't make it back to the room as I'm convinced I don't want to be anywhere near him, despite being desperately lonely and more frightened than I've ever been. Even now, I'm confused about what the sequence of these events was, who was in the room when we got back from me talking over yet another uneaten meal, but I do remember with crystal clarity the next sentence my husband uttered. It would be one that I would hold onto for the days, weeks and months to come.

"My sister has done some research and thinks you may have Postpartum Psychosis"

A wave of relief flowed over me, the like of which I have never experienced. It's not me. I am ill. This paved the way for a mantra that I would repeat thousands of times on the painful road to recovery.

"I am Jessica. I have Postpartum Psychosis. It is not my fault"

Love and cold chips,
Mutha Courage X 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Twinkle Twinkle Yellow Star

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but thank goodness my son had jaundice. Ordinarily that may sound like a slightly cruel thing to say about your week old offspring, but the fact that he was in hospital meant that I was, which consequently meant professionals could see that something was wrong. Very wrong indeed.

As much as possible, my husband and I took Albert's admission in our stride, reminded ourselves that there was no way our lives "should" look, and that we could just embrace what was happening, be strong for each other and for our son and keep positive. Albert continued to be calm, resilient and patient; all qualities that would characterise him throughout the whole experience. He was sporting a new orange perspex visor to shield his eyes from the UV lamps that he ended being under for 3 or 4 days and was very good natured as me and his father proceeded to sing Kylie Minogue's "I Just Can't Get You Out of My Head" track at him repeatedly. 

I knew two things: I loved my husband, I loved my son, and I would do anything to make sure they were safe, well, fed, and rested. Unfortunately for me the third thing that I didn't know was that while I was feeding my son on one side, psychosis was latching on to the other and was going to drain me of everything I had and held dear.

The journey from our house to the hospital one was a crazy one. I had had to focus all my energy to set foot outside the front door and into the taxi. The poor taxi driver didn't know what he'd let himself in for, nor did my best friend who had just arrived and was promptly thrust in the taxi with us for our big yellow adventure. She already knew from what I'd told her that I was going through something very very intense, but we're both actors and thought that maybe this was just what it was like after you'd given birth when you were experiencing it fully. I remember saying to her "WE. ARE. WOMEN. WOMEN. Do you know how POWERFUL we are?!" Again, it's hard to tell sometimes with me what "normal" looks like.  Anyway, there we were in the taxi with me insisting that the taxi driver "breathed with me" before we set off. 

I couldn't stop writing, tweeting and texting on the journey. I was in overdrive. I was becoming manic. The pressure of the changing environments was panicking me, I was getting increasingly unstable. I was snapping and I didn't know how to stop myself. 

After the initial assessments we were told Albert would need to be under the lamps for six hours, then overnight, then one night became two, then 3. All of this time I hardly slept, keeping vigil over my boys. I took lots of photos of Matt and Albert sleeping at this time, at a time when I should have been sleeping too.

"I see you what you are. We're all just babies really. You. Me. Everyone" I clasped my friend's head in my hands and gazed into the heart of her being. I saw, I understood. I had insight into the soul of humanity. Wow. This is incredible. I've never felt more in my power, more alive, more insightful. I must tweet it. I've got to tweet it now. I'll forget it. I'll save it in drafts. These insights felt electrifying, all-consuming, inspiring, but they came at the cost of another meal going cold and uneaten, and another sleep being avoided.

Days and nights took on a strangely uncanny feeling; a bewildering sense of being misplaced, out of time, out of sync, euphoric and rattled. The nights were painted in the surreal light of the blue UV rays and the days were whitewashed with the strange filter of exhaustion and relief. I was on a strict feeding schedule with my son meaning only 10 minutes feeding at a time, followed by a maximum of 5 minutes burping and back under the lamps. I was desperate to hold him, to comfort him, for him to comfort me, but every minute that I kept him from under those healing rays the worse things would be for him.

As the psychosis began to develop I started to feel less and less capable and confident as a mother. I knew I was being pulled under by a very strong force and I was desperate to cling to anything to keep me connected with my reality. The me I was sure I was. The me I believed in. I asked the nurses to write down  how they saw me looking after my son, how they saw me love and care for him, how they saw that I loved my husband and that he loved me. I knew that my perceptions were becoming unreliable and I knew I would need breadcrumbs to lead me out of this foreboding forest. I begged them to leave these notes for me at the end of their shifts, just in case I lost myself entirely.

Love & hospital grub,

Mutha Courage X