The Fire Inside Me

It’s time I confessed to something.

I started this blog so I could share my experiences of post-natal depression, for myself and potentially for others in the same situation. I was proudly outspoken against the stigma of mental illness and encouraged myself and my readers to love and accept themselves, and to speak out without shame. My writing was raw and honest, on my violently ambivalent feelings about my newborn baby to the agoraphobia that makes functioning as a parent so difficult for me. I didn’t hide anything.

But I did.

The truth is, parenthood was finally the platform I could safely speak from. Before I became a mother I was just a trainwreck adult, a waste of potential; another millennial screaming my problems into the wind. Motherhood gave me a cause, something to stand behind and shout about. And while all the experiences I wrote were completely true, I admit I relished being able to share them because, perversely, PND felt like a safer, less shameful story to tell than the one that underpinned most of my life.

My children gave me a goal and a purpose, and my depression gave me a battle to fight. I grasped it with both hands and ran with it and for a while I believed I was in control of my mental health. For the first time I had a problem I felt brave enough to declare to the world, and one I could defeat. That doesn’t mean it was easy – anyone who’s been affected by post-natal illness can testify to that – but there were success stories out there, support groups, the warmth and safety of other parents who’d been there first, and it all gave me hope.

My marriage was tested, my health was strained by too many (or just enough) medications that caused horrible side effects, I had to learn to bond with my son in a way most take for granted. But I did it. I got through it all and came out the other side a stronger, wiser parent to two wonderful boys.

But I was still agoraphobic, still a mess, so I still should have had something to shout about, a cause to get behind… I still had something to fight. Fighting felt good! It felt proactive and positive, like I was wrestling my demons and was finally strong enough to win.

Except for me, agoraphobia isn’t an illness in its own right.

It’s a symptom.

The mental illness I live with every day and carry with me like an iron weight inside my head is actually complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).

Anxiety, fear of being in certain situations, hypervigilance, low self-worth, depression, flashbacks, photographic recall, reckless behaviour, insomnia, panic attacks, avoidance,  self-harm, guilt, shame, blame.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t something I can easily write about, even when I sideline the trauma itself, but god, I am so desperately fucking tired of hiding. If I’m meant to believe I matter and that I’m not at fault, I can’t carry on pretending the illness I live with every day is something different, or isn’t there at all, or is manageable. Because it isn’t. And it isn’t my job to protect other people from having to confront the reality of my life. I find simply existing overwhelming and I work every day to make sure I’m strong enough to face the next. It isn’t just going to get better through time and willpower. It’s part of me.

My amazing children deserve to have a mummy who isn’t ashamed, who holds her head high and is proud of her achievements. Who doesn’t blame herself for not realising all her potential, for not having a great education or glittering career. Who believes she deserves respect and dignity, no matter how it was stripped from her. Who doesn’t treat her scars like swear words telling the world to fuck itself when all they really say is, “I was hurt once.”

I didn’t post here for a while in part because of all this. Writing about anxiety without the broader context felt empty and pointless, and writing about my children has started to feel more intrusive as T’s developmental delays become more clear. I have to do some unpacking and soul searching about how I’ll approach sharing his story, whether I ever will, because after all, it isn’t mine to tell. The same goes for L, who is also showing some signs of delay. But I realised I liked having a place to tell the universe that my pain mattered, however many or few people were there to read it. It was a way for me to convince myself my journey was worthy of space and a few minutes of someone’s time. For a new mother struggling with depression that was massive, and sometimes the only difference between an okay day and the worst imaginable.

I’m not a new mother anymore and I don’t have PND. I’m an experienced parent, a good mum and the best advocate for my sons. I’m also living with an acute mental illness that may never go away. But I still want my space, I still want to be heard. I’m so tired of hiding.

I’ll sign off with this, one of my favourite quotes –

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”

Thank you for reading, it really means everything.

Plant-Powered Parents

It was a trip to a farm that made us turn to veganism.

It’s a nice enough place, where the animals look happy and there’s lots for young kids to do. My two enjoyed exploring the play areas and eating chocolate in the café afterwards, and we even saw newborn piglets pressed against their mother in a warm, pink bundle. It was a perfect day out, or at least it should have been. I wanted it to be. It was Mother’s Day, after all.

But just before we left I came face to face with the absurdity of it all.

There I was in the farm shop of this lovely local attraction, having just cooed over tiny piglets and frolicking lambs. The farm shop, with its artisan breads and craft ales, handpainted teapots and homemade fudge. Chutneys and jams. Bird tables, windmills, cherry bakewells, toy animals, chocolate eggs, pork chops, smoked bacon, ribs, chicken breast, steaks, ox tongue, liver, sausages, cheeks, tails, necks – the purple flesh of the animals I’d just spent the last few hours showing to my sons.

It didn’t repulse me and I didn’t rush home to cleanse myself of the blood of the innocent. I just felt sort of… uncomfortable. The whole thing seemed off.

On the journey home we talked about the weird feeling we had. We’d had plenty of conversations about giving up meat before and how it was something we knew we should embrace, but our resolve had always guiltily fizzled out, and truthfully I thought it would then too. Except something pushed me further that day. For the first time ever I didn’t fight the tide and instead allowed it all in. I watched documentaries, I read article after article and let the guilt swamp me. It was all part of the process of opening myself up and witnessing the hypocrisy, deception and cruelty inherent in the nameless system I’d grown up accepting as normal.

And so it grew. We started off committing to giving up meat, but within two days of vegetarianism we realised we couldn’t justify the consumption of eggs or dairy either. And since then we haven’t eaten a single animal-derived ingredient.

I could go into details about the treatment of farmed animals and the brutality of the dairy industry, but this isn’t a post intended to convert anyone to veganism. It’s not about what happened or how we came to change how we eat or live; it’s about the change that followed, the one that came from within us and spilled out into our everyday lives.

Because it turns out eschewing all animal products and living as gently as we can in a modern world designed to commodify everything in it can bring contentment, joy and happiness in a way I didn’t expect. I thought I was signing up to a life of sacrifice and compromise, but I ended up gaining an inner tranquility I didn’t know I was lacking.

It’s not some transcendental BS. I don’t start my mornings singing to the wildlife with a perfect plump bluebird on my shoulder like a Disney princess, but it’s unfair to the change I’ve made to deny that I am happier and more fulfilled for making compassion part of the food I eat, the clothes I wear and the cosmetics I use. My heart is lighter and I’m more freely able to enjoy the natural world and the animals with whom we share the planet. I’ve rediscovered my passion for cooking and creating, which has helped my fragile-at-best self-esteem. I’m healthier! And most unexpectedly, I feel closer to my husband than ever before; we’ve held each other up when it’s felt easier to throw in the towel, reminded each other why we’re doing this, shared passion, pain and anger at what we see as the injustice around us, and we understand the other’s guilt at having been a part of it for so long.

I’m not vegan for my health. I care about animals and the environment, but that’s not my true motivator either. I’m vegan because I want to teach my children that compassion doesn’t end where convenience begins. I want to show them a world where fairness is extended to all living beings. I want them to understand that all life matters and that kindness feeds the soul more than any meal in our privileged bubble ever could. I want to teach them humility and the preciousness of our time on this earth. I want them to learn that the smallest changes can make the greatest difference, to their lives and their fellow earthlings’.

And I want them to know – in the future, when plant-based lifestyles are necessary for the survival of the planet – that their parents were on the right side of history. Their side. Because it’s their world that we’re trying to save.



Much of my life I dreamed of meeting ‘my’ child,
gazing into a tiny face and seeing a version of myself made new,
mistakes undone, innocence restored.
But a life isn’t a second chance
and it’s only a blank canvas for an artist not yet bloomed.
It’s a fallacy that the children we raise are ‘ours’;
They belong to us no more than the stars in the sky,
and like stars we can love and cherish them
– we can even cry for them –
but to think we can own them is to think
a grain of sand can own the earth.
Perhaps it is the other way round and
we are beholden to the stars,
and what we mask with ownership
is in fact gratitude that they shine on us,
and fear because we so rarely
feel worthy of them.

Life has been ticking by nicely for us. The days get easier as both boys grow, and I frequently feel guilty for that, as though I’m inadvertently wishing the time away just by appreciating the changes. Guilt is my biggest struggle, I think.

When Tristan was the same age as Leo, I wondered whether I’d allowed his babyhood to pass me by while I fretted about developmental milestones and parenting by the book (whatever book that was). It all happened so fast that I didn’t have time to take in every scent of it. I promised myself it’d be different the second time round, and with no post-natal depression I initially thought I was in with a good chance.
But the first time wasn’t a fluke. It really does disappear that quickly, and now that I know for sure, I feel more at peace with it. And perhaps that’s why I’m content to stop at two children. The baby months still flew out of my fingers like confetti but I know I lived them and enjoyed them with every part of me.
And at least this confetti will stay on the wind for as long as I remember it.

Where I am now is in between my life with babies and my life with two little boys who will become two young men. With me is my best friend and husband, and we’re changing together too. I hardly recognise us from even just a year ago, and it’s a wonderful change.

And I’m different too. I can feel it deep down, a stoicism and determination to get started on the next chapter. I think that’s why I haven’t written much; I don’t know where I’m going! I’ve had my children, the only goal I’ve ever really had – maybe it’s time to ask myself where my next step will be.

Too Fast

Last month we celebrated Leo’s first birthday, and for the first time since I’ve been writing this blog I didn’t post here to mark it.

I could explain it away by saying we’ve been busy (true), happy (very true) and that I’ve been focusing on being present with my family instead of letting my brain go on holiday to creative, rewarding but very distant places. (Creativity is a wonderful thing, but too much and I start to drift and find myself daydreaming about amigurumi I don’t have time for, poetry I won’t write, and chord changes I’ll never play, and forgetting there’s a world outside our four walls.)

But the truth is I haven’t been able to confront my youngest son’s departure from babyhood. Writing about it would mean facing it and I haven’t been brave enough to do that.

Because we won’t be having any more children.

(That’s the first time I’ve committed it to writing.)

Leo’s birthday wasn’t just the anniversary of his arrival, it was a door we walked through, with our past making squishy babies on one side, and our future raising two strong, kind boys on the other. No more morning sickness, no more scans, no more lists of potential names. No more tiny newborn clothes. No more first cries, first cuddles, first baths. No more sons; never a daughter. No more tiny wrinkly fists wrapped round my finger.

It’s the right thing. It is.

Only I never fully realised how quickly the time would pass, and how short the baby years truly are. I dreamed of parenthood every day up until I held my firstborn in my arms, and that dream consisted mainly of the babies I’d press to my chest and soothe, of breathing in their milky newness. I only ever wanted to be a mother, to feel that moment of overwhelming love and know I’d give anything for the tiny person I’d created. Now all that I dreamed of for 28 years is over, and it didn’t last long enough. I never knew.

But of course it isn’t really over. I wake up every day and I’m still a mother, and I still spend my days kissing, soothing, feeding, loving. I just understand better how fast the rest will disappear too. And it’s absolutely terrifying.

Terrifying and exciting, and so very very precious. I have so much to look forward to, and a greater appreciation for it because I know that sooner than I can imagine I’ll be older, greyer, and a proud mum to two beautiful young men.

I’ll be overjoyed to meet them – but I can definitely wait, as long as I can make it last.

Meanwhile, to my youngest son, my little lion –

The first year of your life was one of the hardest of mine, but also the most rewarding and bright. You make everything around you shine. I see so much of myself in you but also a fire and mischief of your own. I’m your favourite person in the world, and I promise never to take that wonderful gift for granted as long as I have it. Thank you for making my heart whole and completing our family, and bringing so much laughter to our home. I love you more than you could ever know – it’s not your job to, you just carry on being you. Keep smiling and keep shining (but try not to pull your brother’s hair). Here’s to another year of you, beautiful boy. ❤

The Hardest Thing

I was lost for a while.

I didn’t realise it at first, through every nappy change, every bowl of pasta tipped on the floor, every reading of Tabby McTat. Every chunk of hair yanked out by chubby fingers. And the scarier stuff, like all the early mornings soothing my tired and anxious husband as he wrestled with fears bigger than himself, all the late nights talking about our relationship, picking us up and hoping he didn’t drop us again. Toddler tantrums, baby grumbles, mummy meltdowns. Daddy on the other side of the universe (or so it felt).

Pick up, dust off, get on.

I got lost under the waves that were rocking my family. I tried to hold us together, and I’m proud to say that I did. But it came at a cost. And that cost was me.

Not even my self worth, or my free time; just me, the grasp I had on who I was without the other people around me. Like looking in the mirror and seeing their faces but never mine.

I don’t regret a thing. I carried us all and we made it through.

But I stopped being a person in my own right. I was only mother, wife, counsellor, mediator, therapist, personal shopper, accountant, chef, life coach, cleaner, nurse, teacher. It’s sometimes hard when you’re buried underneath so much responsibility to even notice that you’re struggling to breathe.

So I started to break a little. Bit by bit the burdens grew heavier and I was less able to hold them. My self esteem plummeted with every new ‘failure’. I apologised when I was ill, when dinner was late, when I slept in. Guilt was my shadow. I criticised myself for wanting time alone or checking my phone when I should’ve been playing with my kids. I tortured myself for causing my son’s speech delay. I went from solving our problems to blaming myself for them.

I realised it had gone too far when I spent the days before Christmas focusing on everything I’d done “wrong” and apologising to my family for not being good enough for them. I was too busy hating myself for not being the wife and mother I should be to actually enjoy my beautiful boys. Christmas, a time I look forward to all year and always fills me with magic and warmth, was lost to me. I was lost to me.

So I began the new year with a resolve to find myself again. So far that looks like apologising less, keeping a happiness journal, watching movies alone, listening to music that made me feel alive when I was a moody teenager in bad eyeliner and baggy jeans, crocheting more, sometimes saying no and often saying yes. And it’s working, albeit slowly. I can feel the change in how much enjoyment I’m taking from my sons and how much clarity I feel with my husband. I’m getting there.

When I was pregnant with Tristan someone warned me that the hardest thing I’d have to do as a parent is put myself last, but they were wrong; far harder is having the strength to stand tall and put myself first.