So, this one is going to be something of a personal post. A digital heart-to-heart, if you will. I’ve been having a challenging couple of months. I say challenging, because they’ve been some of the most difficult and most magical of my life to date. And, the mix of emotions – the highs with the lows – sometimes feels too much for my brain to process all at once.
I think for a long time I thought of myself in a fairly singular way. I was Caitie; partner to Paul, dog-mama to Soda, sister and daughter. Friend. And for quite some time now, I’ve been Caitie who suffers from chronic health issues. Although getting a diagnosis (or two, or three… let’s be honest, I’m a collector of ‘niche’ health conditions these days!) was a weight off of my shoulders, in many ways, it also became weights around my ankles. Because with my diagnosis came the security of knowing why I wasn’t well, but, with it also a way of hiding from things that scare me. I think I stopped dreaming, because I was afraid I’d never achieve any of those dreams.
I started defining myself in very narrow terms. There were the things I could do, and the things I couldn’t. There were the bad days, and the good days. And, for a long time, there’s been room for little else than that. Now, the challenges that I face on a day-to-day basis are real as anything. But, I don’t think I ever fully realised or appreciated that my challenges would not be solely confined to physical limitations, but would affect my mental health and development in significant ways, as well.
Accepting a long-term diagnosis is far from easy. In many ways, it feels like a life sentence; an invisible barrier to any dream or success you may have hoped for. But, once the dust has settled, it becomes a safety. Because whilst so many things in life are horribly uncertain, for those of us with chronic health issues, feeling, for lack of a better word, CRAP, is a certainty. And with certainty comes a certain comfort.
Now, none of this is to say that I was totally despondent. In fact, in many ways, I think living with Ehlers-Danlos Symdrome and a Primary Immunodeficiency has meant that I appreciate things more than I ever knew possible. I appreciate the simple things – the act of being able to walk into town or take a day-trip into London. Being able to work, and provide even the smallest of financial support to my little (now slightly bigger!) family. I appreciate those things so much I sometimes can’t quite find the words to express myself.
And so, I existed, as a person with characteristics I was and have always been proud of, as well as with diagnoses that are, at times, heavy to carry.
And then, then came Maddie.
Little Miss Maddie (or Mad Dogs, M-Cat, Cheeky Chops, Smells as she is affectionately known) changed everything. The world that I had come to find a certain safety in was turned on its head and everything I thought I knew with it.
And, herein lies the personal part of this post. I found it really, really difficult. I found the uncertainty of my everyday life so terrifying. I found having to abandon the rigid schedule that I had created for myself scary and overwhelming. Suddenly, I was no longer the Caitlin I had known myself as. Suddenly, I was someone new. I was someone’s mum. Someone’s entire world. And that, that scared the sh*t out of me. Still does, if I’m completely honest.
I struggled with breastfeeding and eventually gave it up when it became clear that it was the best thing for both Maddie and I. Giving it up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, though, because I felt like I had completely failed Maddie. The emotional upheaval and dramatic mood swings were extremely difficult to cope with, and, in the midst of it all, I started having horrible panic attacks. I would wake up from what little sleep I was getting in the midst of a panic attack. And what made all of it worse, was the fact that I knew I was supposed to feel happy. I knew how lucky I was, and how much love I had for the tiny person that I could stare at for hours on end. But, I was scared. I was scared that she deserved better. That other people were better suited to care for her than me.
Those feelings were single-handedly the most terrifying and heart-breaking that I have ever experienced. In those early days of sleep-deprivation, excitement and complete emotional upheaval, I don’t think I knew who I was any more. I didn’t feel like me – physically or emotionally. I felt lost. Scared. And lonely.
It’s hard to say where it changed, but, slowly, day-by-day, I have started to find ‘me’, again. And, the thing is, that ‘me’, doesn’t look anything like the old me – but she is me. She is no longer a narrowly defined woman – defined only by the adjectives used to describe her. She’s an ever-changing being. She’s a mother. A sister. A wife. A daughter. A friend. A best friend. She’s someone who loves animals. She’s someone who will happily try her hand at anything creative. She carries her camera with her almost everywhere she goes, so determined is she to one day capture the world as she see’s it. She’s someone who is less afraid to push her body, whilst being eternally grateful for the good days that it gives her. She’s someone who recently bought hiking boots (those of you who know me well will know what a big deal that is…) She’s someone who is profoundly afraid of trying new things and in equal measure of not trying everything. She’s someone with regrets etched into her skin, but also with hopes and dreams etched into her heart.
Now, at this stage, I’d love to have poignant words of advice to offer you. But I fear that I am woefully under-qualified to offer those. But the truth is, friends, that although the identities we construct for ourselves are important and are reasons we succeed at things, they can also be safety-nets that stop us from opening our minds and hearts to new experiences. Because feeling like you know who you are, even if you don’t really like that person, is something every single one of us craves. But, I’m starting to learn that not knowing who that person is could be one of the most exciting adventures that I’ve ever been on. And although I’m terrified of being responsible for a teeny-tiny human on that adventure, I’ve started to realise that said teeny-tiny human is exactly the companion that I’ve always needed. Little Miss Maddie, you are the power beneath my wings. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you enough for making me your mother, and for granting me the power to accept that I’m allowed to change, and that that isn’t such a scary thing, after all.
I guess what I’m trying to say, friends, is let yourself be lost. Let yourself fall through your own universe. Let yourself flounder. Ask for support. And actually take that support. Know yourself as a collection of puzzle pieces rather than a finished picture. Know yourself as a ball of wool that you’ll spend your whole life through untangling. And know that it’s okay to feel exactly as you do. And that you’re exactly where you need to be.
I know that reaching out for support isn’t easy, but it’s so important that you do. If you’ve recently become a mother and are struggling with your emotions, please don’t be afraid to reach out to your midwife, health visitor, or GP. And please remember that asking for help is in no way indicative of your inability to be the best mother in the entire world. Asking for help is concrete evidence that you already are the very best mother in. the entire world. Remember that and pin it to your wall. You are a fucking hero (apologies, but there are times when expletives are truly necessary.) PANDAS Foundation UK is dedicated to supporting those suffering from pre and post-natal depression and their helpline is open from 9am – 8pm, 7 days a week. If you’re in the UK and are struggling and need someone to talk to, please give them a call on 0843 28 48 981. Mind UK is also dedicated to supporting those suffering from any kind of mental health issue and is contactable by phone on 0300 123 3393 or via text on 86463.
And so, I rise.
I will always rise.
Don’t you doubt that, even for a second.
I asked the beautiful Jessie over at Jessie M Design (.co.uk) to hand-letter the words ‘I rise’. As a daily reminder to me of the journey that I’ve been going through, and the journey that I am now on, with the most amazing little human by my side. Thank you, Jessie and 1770 Tattoo Brighton for etching into my skin the words I feel so deeply from the depths of my soul, to the tips of my toes. I will rise. And so, will you.
With all of the love in the world, friends,
Caitie, and, of course, Soda, and Little Miss Maddie, too xxx