12 years ago after the birth of my second son I had a breakdown. It was the worst experience of my life. I had severe post natal depression and peri-natal OCD. Peri-natal OCD is possibly the cruelest form of a mental health problem I’ve come across. This isn’t lining baby bottles up or being tidy. This is trying to make a bottle and convince yourself that you haven’t filled it with salt (obvs haven’t but you check, you check again, one more check, you throw away – just in case, you start again). It’s exhausting. You have this teeny human to care for and all you can think about is the harm that they could come to (obsession) and spend your life making sure that doesn’t happen (compulsions).
This is not a combination I would wish upon anyone, not my worst enemy. I couldn’t travel alone on a bus into Newcastle, couldn’t nip to the shops or take my oldest to school. On the rare occasions I did venture outside I wouldn’t/couldn’t speak to anyone. It was the darkest place I’ve ever been to. I ended up moving home with my parents, only they knew the true extent to how bad I actually was, taking sleeping tablets 6 nights a week for some respite from my inner turmoil while anti depressants settles themselves in as my new sidekicks (still with me, couldn’t live without them). I could no longer work in finance and found myself with no job for the first time in my life. I felt I was a failure and the world would be a better place without me.
If you’d said to me then Christine hang on in there. You are going to make a difference. You’ll play a part in saving lives through the charity. You’ll produce theatre shows and a film. I’d have christened you barmier than I was. But look what’s happened! Granted I still take meds – no shame in that, I practise mindfulness and really try to keep on top of my mental health.
When I talk about being driven you have no idea how much I’m driven. I see these opportunities as second chances. I see them as my way to cover up some of the cracks in my own walls. Being driven fuelled with anxiety on most days is bloody hard. I hate anxiety, sometimes I want to get the kids off to school and then hide but I don’t I sometimes need some encouragement to keep it moving and I do my absolute best.
The Life of Reilly is cathartic for me. I love writing when I get the chance. I love to share our experiences and feel I’ve evolved over the last 3 years of writing. I hadn’t a clue when I wrote my first blog that it would be viewed all over the world. I get thanks from countries I’ve never heard of because they feel like they aren’t the only ones ballsing this parenting lark. I get it wrong. We all do but I do my best.
I will do everything in my power to ensure that the stage play travels. I will work my nuts off to make this film. Wherever possible it will include autistic people. Acting, crew, runners. Everything in my power to make it happen. There are important issues to raise and millions to educate but I need your help to do it.
If you can help with any aspect of the film be it donation of time, sponsorship, product placement, locations, expertise then please shout. We have some great fundraisers coming your way including a Midsummer Nights Dream Ball!!
Moral to this one is no matter how shitty you feel there is hope on the horizon. Keep your chin up, seek help, take the meds, speak to the counsellors just do what you’ve got to do when times are blue. Never be afraid to speak up.
Before Reilly was born I was already a part of the anxiety society. That club that no one asks to join and you can’t terminate the membership, a bit like those gyms you join on January the 2nd and continue to pay for the rest of your days.
I’ve always had spells of anxiety from around 18 but it was never a constant, when I went on holiday I’d want to come home, I’d get that jelly legged feeling and feel dizzy until I was either a) drunk or b) came home, that kind of thing.
I lost my brother aged 32 in 2003 to a heart condition which devastated us as a family, it was out of the blue, sudden and excruciating. Still is.
After thing 2 was born in 2006 I suffered post natal depression (PND) of epic proportions. If there had been space I would have gone into a unit but there wasn’t so myself and Things 1 & 2 moved back to my parents house where I could start medication, take sleeping tablets and actually rest. I have no doubts without my parents and some great help from my neighbours and a couple of friends I would not have coped alone and I’m forever thankful for their help to this day. There were contributing factors to the PND. Thing 2 had a condition called pyloric stenosis which meant he was sick constantly not just baby sick but projectile sometimes 10-15 times a day. I couldn’t leave the house without numerous sets of clothing and no one was taking me seriously and I was palmed off as an overprotective mother. When he was 2 weeks old I received the news that an old friend had horrifically murdered his partner, my god-daughter, her brother and uncle. This man had been in my home, bought Christmas presents for Thing 1 and I was devastated and disgusted that he’d been near my child. This is no great secret revalation I have done newspaper articles to help others desperately looking for answers around PND in the past.
6 weeks later Thing 2 had surgery on Christmas Eve and I spent Christmas Day sat in the cafe at the RVI eating chips and gravy while wondering how close the nearest exit was, whether someone could remove the elephant crushing my chest and why me? I crashed spectacularly.
That’s the short version. Not surprising I’ve struggled I’ve had my share of shitty cards dealt but I’ll not bore you with the rest. There’s other things but these are the contributing factors as far as I am concerned. I’ve managed to handle my depression and anxiety pretty well in recent years. For a long time it ruled me, I wouldn’t use public transport alone, go anywhere with friends and gave up my job but a chance meeting with an old school friend who later became my husband in 2009 was my turning point. He has had tragedy in his life too but that’s for him to talk about.
We supported each other , we got each other. I remember being terrified on my wedding day that I’d have a massive panic attack saying my vows and ruin the whole day. I didn’t though it was perfect. I’m still prone to catastrophising for example book a holiday see flashes of plane crashes, lose Reilly for 3 seconds = he’s been abducted then I ruminate about it and end up in a right tizzy, building a cycle of fear and anxiety.
Reilly came along in 2011, 7lb 7.5 oz of gorgeousness and it was Love at first sight. I was terrified right through my pregnancy of PND returning. It didn’t, don’t get me wrong the anxiety was still there but I think that’s my life long buddy and he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere so I crack on and deal best I can. Autism came along though quite unexpectantly, it wasn’t anything I had given any consideration and I wasn’t prepared for its effects.
I suppose the point to this post is that the ‘system’ the parents and children have to go through to have their child diagnosed and get them the right help is nothing short of appalling, I cannot speak for all but I speak for many. I was already capable of slipping into dark places I didn’t need a push in that direction. I have never experienced lows like the ones we faced. It can cause problems with your marriage, work, friends and family. My beautiful Thing 2 did not want to sleep at home as Reilly was so wild during the night and could scream none stop for 4 hours which was causing him anxiety at just 8 years old. Our family unit was slipping apart and it’s still not fully fixed, it’s better but it’s still got cracks.
Being part of the anxiety society I knew I had to become incredibly strong, official meetings sometimes alone and making decisions were something I cried away from but now it was impossible. I still to this day clock the exits and windows in case I need to get out, fleeing that hot, dizzy unstable feeling that comes with a panic attack. I’ve never had to leave meeting but the fear that I will is always there.
During our experience in finding Reilly a school I don’t know how many occasions we were told ‘you must play the game’ to get the help needed. A game where only the loudest, assertive parents get anywhere quickly. I dread to think how many mild-mannered people are being palmed off to this day. Children not in the right learning environments because there’s no provision available resulting in more meltdowns, more stress at home and more families struggling. I already felt like I was failing Reilly unable to calm his meltdowns, get him to sleep etc without now failing his future and a right to an education that is right for him. We fought, we read guides on the special needs education system and became armed with knowledge. Having a child with any disability is stressful enough without trying to navigate a minefield of sometimes a load misinformation. Too many tears have been spilled over ‘the system’ not just by us, by many.
I still take antidepressants I think I always will, I can’t polish a turd here; it’s not the best but I attend anxiety workshops when I can and I practice mindfulness. I run an extremely successful charity North East Hearts with Goals with my sister in law set up in memory of my brother. Our charity has impacted on 2 gentleman’s lives being saved which is an amazing achievement and an incredible legacy. I’ve given tv and radio interviews and a presentation in front of hundreds. I never dreamed any of this would be possible. I’ve learned to handle it better, it’s never gone away but I can’t sit back and wait for it to disappear because chances are it won’t.
I still check in at my anxiety society every single day, it’s like a second home! Typical day consists of :
Will things 2 resent thing 3 for taking so much of my time away?
Who will look after them if we are in an accident?
Is his transport driver an (insert horror thought here)
Will he speak?
Will he live on his own?
Why won’t he eat anything but chicken nuggets and ice cream?
And so on ….
To negotiate the special needs maze positivity is crucial, I hate negativity and there’s no place for it in my life. Don’t get me wrong we’re still lost but I think we’re headed in the right direction. My kids are amazing and all 3 of them and I’m sure will achieve whatever it is they desire and we will endeavor to help every step of the way. I would love to see more help and a fairer, faster system for these families from identification and diagnosis right through to living as independent adults.
Autism acceptance is key. It’s here, it’s not going anywhere it’s just a different way of thinking. Remember when you see that frazzled parent sobbing with a child starfished probably with no pants on that chances are they’ve not slept for a year and are under extreme pressure in every aspect of their life.