2020! Happy New Year!
So 2020 has arrived. A whole new decade with all the possibilities ahead of us. As with all momentous dates, I have found myself pondering the past. I have never been a great New Year reveller. Probably due to having a rather ” glass -half full ” mentality by nature, I have always tended to look backwards at New Year and found them rather sombre occasions. An entire decade of reminiscing has certainly brought up some difficult memories. This has been an interesting 10 years, to say the least. In fact, permitting myself a little artistic licence, I have stretched back about 13 years to some very key events in my life. Many of them have been hugely challenging, but not without worth.
Arriving at the point in my life, where I am now self-employed and starting my second business, is something I could never have imagined. How did my search for a work-life balance and an overwhelming need to literally seize the day happen to someone who always dodged the limelight, toed the line and didn’t take risks? I had always imagined life as a career teacher until retirement. How did I arrive here?
My breaking point.
My official breaking point in my mental health story came at 2 am one morning in 2014. It is a key moment in my life for so many reasons. Ultimately it has led me to reassess my working life and strive to do what I love. I choose to live for now, in the moment and seek how to do that happily.
On that morning in 2014, I woke, not for the first time in the early hours of the morning with a feeling of panic, breathlessness and overwhelming fear. I was well aware of the life events that had brought me here, but helpless to stop these feelings. Waves of panic, heart palpitations, and dread had begun to suddenly swamp me. It wouldn’t happen, as you might expect, during stressful moments, but more often during quiet times, such as watching television with my family. I would feel my heart race, I couldn’t breathe, my hands would feel tingly. It was always terrifying. How did I get to this point?
When it was all so easy.
Similar to many other people, I had a stressful job. But one I loved. I had been a modern languages teacher for 20 years. I loved teaching. I believe I am good at it. Over the years the job changed, mainly due to an education policy that made everything target driven and as a result had driven the passion out of the job for me. However, this alone wasn’t my breaking point. Life had been bumpy!
In 2006 I had been living a life that made me want to pinch myself! I had found my Mr Right and we were fortunate to discover that I was expecting our first child in May 2007. I was very blessed. Happy extended family, a job I loved, nice home, a fantastic husband and a baby on the way.
In January 2007 I attended our 20-week scan. I remember wondering whether we might ask the gender of the baby. It would soon become apparent that this was not going to be my biggest concern.
The ultrasound scan was a little nerve-wracking as these things are, but I was mostly excited. As the sonographer remained very quiet and then excused herself to seek the opinion of another technician, a feeling of terror grew. The next two days included further, more detailed scans and discussions with consultants only to discover that our little boy was very unwell indeed. He had developed only one kidney and this one was very cystic and not functioning. We were invited to meetings with a renal consultant who confirmed the news was as bad as it could possibly be.
Sometimes MCDK (multicystic dysplastic kidney) will occur on both sides (1 in 10,000 live births) or will be seen on one side with no kidney on the other side. Both of these conditions are lethal. Lethal means that the baby cannot survive after birth because there is no treatment to fix the problem. One of the biggest reasons these conditions are lethal is because the urine made by the kidneys adds to the amniotic fluid. If there are no kidneys or the kidneys do not function and make amniotic fluid, the baby’s lungs will not develop. The amniotic fluid is necessary for the baby’s lungs to grow and mature. – Children’s Wisconsin
How was it possible that I had breathed a sigh of relief at 13 weeks only to face this now? Whilst my son was with me, he was fine. he grew and kicked. He was safe. Once he faced the world, he wouldn’t be able to breathe. His lungs would not function and he would die.
Our son was born asleep on 16th February 2007 at 8.46 am. He weighed 2lb 2oz and was beautiful. Of my 3 children, he was the only one to have my toes! He had dark hair and looked tiny, but perfect. The cruellest irony was that he didn’t look unwell. We named him Joseph.
Living with baby loss.
I took 4 months off work and returned to the classroom to answer questions about where my baby was. Many of the boys I taught had a vague intuition not to ask, but some did ask. “I lost the baby”, doesn’t come close to express the loss of my child, the physical ache for my baby near me, the funeral, the tiny coffin and the frozen ground at the cemetery that February morning. But, in my usual style, I cried, I dried my eyes and I got on with it.
I found much comfort in the charity Sands , who provided access to other parents experiencing similar losses to our own. I also made a life long friend, who now lives in her native New Zealand, but finding someone that totally understood our pain has been one of the most important factors in our ability to cope. She remains one of my dearest friends.
Life rolled on. That December I suffered a missed miscarriage and felt as despairing as I had until that point. This was never going to happen for us! A very kind gynaecology nurse reassured me that one day, I “would take my baby home”. She has, I am sure, forgotten her encounter with me that day, but I never will. She restored some hope.
Our wonderful second boy.
After a terrifying pregnancy and to my enormous relief and joy, our son, Ben was delivered safe and well, after a 24-hour labour and emergency C section ( just to add a bit more stress), in December 2008. He was and is a delight! In contrast, my early months of motherhood were consumed by postnatal depression and anxiety. I was afraid to be alone with Ben, in case he just died. It sounds such a dramatic way to think, but my experience of loss had set my fight or flight switch into high alert.
Just as the summer months began to creep in and the longer evenings and a clearly thriving, baby boy calmed my worries, I was dealt the most shocking of blows.
One Tuesday morning in early June 2009 I woke to the phone ringing. Those early morning calls fill anyone with dread and I knew as I lifted the phone to my ear that something was very wrong.
My dad was on the end of the line and very directly said: “Mum’s died!”. Being fortunate to still have a grandmother in her 80s, I assumed, dad meant her. ” Gannan?” I asked, using the name we had given her as children. I knew the answer before he spoke.
My wonderful, hilarious, glamorous, loving mum had passed away in her sleep. Undiagnosed heart arrhythmia. Nothing anyone could have done. She was 63. She had been desperate to be a grandmother and now she was gone. My children would never know her. I was 35 and there were so many years ahead without her. How could it be done?
Life goes on …
Once again, I coped. Focussed on the practical things that needed to happen and the busy life of a working mum and kept moving forward. Another miscarriage a month after my mum’s funeral went almost unnoticed. Despite being in a French hospital in Bayeux on the second day of a family camping holiday, I barely batted an eyelid! I explained the situation to the doctor, using vocabulary I had never expected to need during my time as a French teacher. The doctor helped me, sent me away with instructions to return if anything worsened and I returned to the campsite and demanded a large glass of red wine. Coping with such upsetting experiences was becoming too normal.
The next year settled back into a level of near normality. Outwardly I was still the same as ever. I went to work, looked after my son and battled to remind myself that I could do all this. All the while, I knew I was just holding on.
Our little dynamo arrives.
In December 2011 we were unbelievably blessed to welcome a daughter. Annie bore the closest resemblance to her big brother Joseph at birth. They shared the same face shape and chin. She was strong and resilient and feisty from the moment she eyeballed the midwife on the second day of life. I had done it. We were in the clear. I never had to experience a stressful pregnancy again!
I imagined that I was now going to settle to a calmer life and everything would now be fine. Little did I know how deeply the scars of these experiences ran. My children grew happy and strong. Work was busy and stressful, but I juggled it all. However, I was about to hit my mental health wall.
I busied myself with being a mum and a teacher. The entire time, I had a sensation of underlying dread. I was waiting for the next disaster to happen. Life’s experiences had done what they were supposed to. They had taught me to be wary. The level of stress manifested itself in episodes of palpitations, cold sweats, feelings of dizziness, and genuine fear.
If the children had a cold, in my head it was meningitis. If we were flying on a plane, we were going to crash. At any moment, everything I loved was going to be taken from me. Life had taught me that bad things can happen and keep on happening. My fight or flight had flipped its lid.
This is how I arrived at the level of anxiety that wakened me at 2 am that morning in 2014. The adrenalin required to live like this was more than I could cope with. In the darkness of our bedroom, I googled ” counsellor” and made an appointment.
Jo Moores was that counsellor who set me back on the road to happiness. To hear her say ” It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by this ” and ” You can’t fix this on your own!” were the most powerful words. So much so, I remember them 6 years later. Over a number of months, from the first winter evening, where I poured my soul out and cried for an hour, to the summer where, we decided that I would go it alone now, with the knowledge that I could always come back, I grew to understand myself in a whole new way.
The experiences of the previous 7 years had left me permanently changed, but the effects had become debilitating. The biggest revelation to me was my stubborn determination to keep going, not complain or ask for help, get on with it was rooted way back in childhood and had only served to store up the anxiety to near breaking point.
Jo helped me revisit some of the most difficult experiences, face them and put them away properly. I had dealt with them superficially, but the trauma had been bubbling away throughout. I recognised that I had actually suffered PTSD following the birth of our first son. I needed to be much kinder to myself.
The biggest change came in my desire to lead a life that fitted better around my children, that was personally rewarding and allowed for a much-improved work-life balance. A radical decision for some. To leave a well-paid job, which I managed to fit around my children for absolute uncertainty. I was never more sure of anything.
Feel the fear and do it anyway! Carpe Diem!
In 2016, I left secondary teaching after 20 years and set up my own language business for toddlers and primary aged children, Lingotot West Manchester. It has certainly been a struggle financially along the way, but the change of pace, control over my own business and reduction in stress has been literally life-changing.
The creation of my own business led me to blogging, web design and social media marketing. It also proved to me that I have some entrepreneurial ability. I can relate well to people and I have some marketing skill. Quite unexpectedly, I discovered a genuine passion for web design. It is incredible to be fascinated by a new career path. I started my own web design business in January 2019 my goal is to end 2020 with a flourishing new business, helping other small businesses grow. I am so excited by the possibilities of this new decade.
So why did I choose to bare my soul in this way? There are a few reasons.
I am by nature an open book and, despite my concerns about sharing too much, or not appearing “business-like” enough, I decided that my customers buy from me, a human being. My life’s path is entirely responsible for me arriving at this point. I am hugely passionate about my business and I fully embrace my route here. I hope this blog expresses that I care deeply about what I do, I am relatable and am able to completely understand others who choose to go it alone!
There are several personal events of my last decade which I hope will resonate with readers. When we lost our son, it was difficult to discuss, because there was so little awareness of the subject. Understandably, people do not know how to approach such a sensitive issue. Fortunately, through groups like Sands and locally Beyond Bea Charity couples facing similar sadness to ours have more support and through social media campaigns, the issue of baby loss is becoming more openly discussed. This article is my own small effort to promote that.
Mental health awareness is thankfully also becoming more commonly discussed and I will never be ashamed to say that I have struggled. Sometimes, life is just too difficult. Those challenges are different for each person and the ability to say “I am not coping” without fear, is so important
I am almost 46 and excited by the opportunity to develop a new business. I am of course eager to succeed and desperate for things to move along faster, but I am not afraid. I love my web design business. It is only in its infancy, but I know that I can do this. Someone said last week, if something scares you, you need to decide whether it scares you more than you want it. And I want this!
So here we are! Is this decade going to be my “Roaring 20s”? Absolutely!
If you are a new business owner and would like a website designed by someone who completely understands your entrepreneurial passion and who won’t charge you the earth, contact me. I would love to help!