Irritable or depressed?

How do you know when your bad mood, your down days, your irritable sniping narky thoughts which build into ugly explosions of rage over the people you love the most are not just normal ‘mother of three young children’ moments, but instead are the warning signs of past-natal depression and anxiety?
I read this blog post and thought ‘I don’t know either’. I would know what to do if it were… I have Sasha, my mental health nurse from the midwife team, who I could call. I have my GP, who was so helpful when I was pregnant. I could get an assessment from my local IAPT service. And I know which medications I can take whilst I’m breastfeeding.
I just don’t know if I need to. 
I did call Sasha, a month or so ago, when I noticed I was getting irritable. My husband was planning his return to work, and I had been on edge and worried and stressed to the point we had ended up arguing. That’s not like us and it felt like something was really wrong. And talking to Sasha helped me see the link between his impeding return to work and my mood. Apparently it’s normal to feel worried and stressed and irritable when your partner returns to work, whether at 2 weeks or like us at 4 months. It had been long enough that we’d found a new ‘normal’ with all 5 of us at home, and suddenly I was losing that.
So my stress and irritability wasn’t pleasant, but at least it wasn’t a sign that I was spiralling down into the depths of despair.  And now I think back, she was right. Ok, I’m still stressed, and I’m still irritable far more than I like, but if back then it had been the start of something worse, then I’d know by now, 6 weeks later on. 
In truth, I think the problem isn’t that I am at the start of a spiral into depression. It’s that every time I feel sad or angry I’m scared I am.
And that fear, if I don’t check it, can spiral me all by itself. 
I read the other day that we don’t fear in a vacuum…. Every fear we have is in relation to God. If I’m scared of going in to depression, what does that say about God? That he doesn’t love me? That he doesn’t care? That he wouldn’t be able to look after me, or my family, if I did? That me being depressed is such a huge problem that he wouldn’t be able to deal with it?
I know I don’t believe any of those things. I’ve been depressed before, and I know God has loved me, he’s cared, he’s brought me through it, and used it and changed me in it. So I will not fear depression. It’s probably not coming, and if it is, well, it will still be ok. 
And if I’m not scared of the depression then what does this bad day signify? This irritability or this worried thought?  
I think today it signifies nothing more than I could do with a nap and getting out for another run and a bit of time with my friends outside the house once in a while. Because, let’s be honest, I find life with little ones tough sometimes. And that’s ok. 

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“All will be well….

“…All will be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

 Our United Kingdom was shaken on Thursday night, and it hasn’t yet stopped shaking. We don’t know yet the long term consequences: whether Scotland obtains her independence, whether we are seeing the end of the two party political system, whether we are entering a time of deep recession or great economic opportunity. 

After deep indecision I voted ‘remain’, hoped for ‘leave’ and trusted in God that whatever happened it would be fine.

And you know what? I think it will. For regardless of what happens politically, socially and economically here (and I will hope and trust and pray for the best) my security isn’t in this Kingdom, these politicians, this economy. 

Great Britain is where I live and I love it. I’m grateful for peace and for our justice system; for our democratic system which with all its flaws is better than most of the world’s. I’m grateful for its prosperity: the poorest person in this isle is better off than the majority of the world’s population. And I’m grateful that I can state my political position and criticisms without fear of reprisal.
But it’s not my home, and what happens here won’t ultimately affect my life.

I follow Jesus, the King of a different Kingdom. His economy is based on gladly giving and not being able to out-give a generous King. His leadership is based on humbly serving others. His borders are wide open to every person who seeks to enter, and he provides for every need of the ignored, the downtrodden and the oppressed. His people are not driven by Fear or Hate but stand secure in love and peace and joy.
So this week I will respect the decision the country made in the referendum. I will watch with interest as the political parties readjust and draw new battle lines. I will pray  (and vote where I can) that the party in power when it comes to disentangling and rewriting 40 years of laws will be one who will do it with concern for the poorest in our country and abroad.  I will go to work, spend my money, and carry on with my life in all hope and optimism. 
And I will remember that however shaken things seem, greater shakings than we’ve seen this week may happen, and indeed are happening across the world every day. Nations will fall, cities disappear into dust, great politicians and events will be reduced to names and stories floating across the distance of time. But of the increase of Jesus’ government, and His peace, there shall be no end. And that’s the Kingdom I’m trusting in.


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Harden my heart


Harden my heart, so I don’t weep.
I have already wept too much this week.

A terrified man trapped in a bathroom texting his mother against the background of bullets.
Lovers who should have been wed: buried.

A pregnant woman labours aboard a sinking smugglers’ ship, delivering baby Galila hours after rescue. Safe, but unsafe still, refugee from birth.

Mum, wife, MP: murdered.

Too much news for me, for my head, for my heart this week. Too much grief.

Oh harden my heart, so I no longer weep. Let me be blind to hate, oblivious to suffering, at peace with death.

Or I shall turn off my phone, close down my ears and shut my eyes, safe in my own thoughts and my own secure life.

Don’t let me see there my furtive unaknowledged disgust at two men kissing; my passivity towards migrants resulting in inaction; my proudfully proclaimed cynicism towards politicians.

Or I shall see in me guilt.

And I would rather you harden my heart.

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Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’

Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’ ( weeping goat willow) is a very ‘in’ plant at the moment, proudly on display in every garden centre. With their beautiful architecture of the weeping willow grafted on to a stem, you can buy them a perfect size and height to fit any small garden.

Like all trees, they need care and yesterday I finally finished pruning ours. 


I say pruning, but I discovered this actually meant removing the dead branches. As the willow grows, the trailing branches grow new spurs out towards the light which will bud and blossom, with tactile catkins and lime green leaves. The old branch dies, hidden behind the canopy. If untended the canopy gets thicker and thicker with these dead twigs until nothing can grow beneath the tree and every local cat decides it’s a great place to go to the toilet.


A few hours work and now there’s light and air beneath the green and the whole tree looks happier.




The branches are incredible, twisting in many angles to reach the light and the past years of neglect has meant ours has formed this wonderful sculpted trunk.




Getting up close and personal has also taught me how not to stake a tree… He has grown around this iron pole which must be going straight through his root ball. 




If you are considering buying one of these trees, may I offer this as an alternative way of staking a young tree? 



Here the wooden stake is facing into the prevailing wind, and the tree is attached with an adjustable rubber tree tie. 


Unlike for my magnolia above, the future for our ‘Kilmarnock’ doesn’t look bright: he isn’t very stable anymore, and between the iron spike, the cats and having outgrown his space I don’t think he will stay once we redo our front garden. Though I might consider replacing him with a new little one, straight from the garden centre….

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Wanting it all

Last week on holiday I noticed the first signs of feeling down again… Nothing to really put my finger on, just a bit more tired, a bit less patience for the girls, more grumpy mornings when I awoke.


One of my least helpful questions to ask myself when feeling like this is ‘Why do I feel like this?’ I don’t know about you but very often when I’m like this my thoughts can follow my emotions : I feel sad therefore I can think of a hundred reasons to justify my sadness (none of which would even occur to me the day before or the day after). 


A far better question to ask myself is ‘What am I doing differently?’ And it only took a couple of minutes to discern that all my hard work in maintaining pleasurable activities towards the end of the pregnancy has rather gone to pot since baby’s birth. He is still feeding for 40 mins in every three hours during the day, which unsurprisingly takes up a lot of my time.  My solutions seems obvious: it is time to fit more exercise and seeing my friends back into the diary.


Having said all that talking with Simon did reveal some unhelpful thoughts which I need to account for. These can be usefully summarised as ‘I want it all’. The baby has been born now, I feel well, we are both getting a good night’s sleep and I want it all. 


I don’t have to navel gaze very deeply to find I want to:
  • be fit and healthy, with a working pelvic floor 
  • be able to run 3 miles
  • do fun educational activities with my girls  
  • go on family days out whilst we are both on leave
  • be planning and cooking meals
  • use our new Southmead Food co-operative
  • be on top of the laundry and washing up
  • have meaningful couple time
  • have a good sex life
  • go on dates with my husband
  • apply for the next jobs in line to further my career
  • go to Keep In Touch days at work 
  • feel ready to return to work in August. 
  • breastfeed my baby 
  • go to baby massage
  • meet with God in worship
  • listen to sermons  rather than falling asleep 
  • contribute prophetically to the life of the church. 
  • be hands on in making the best garden in Southmead.


I could (unfortunately) go on…


Writing this reminds me of November’s blog – all those things I wanted then I now have, but still I want more.


Praying at church today, a friend gently told me that I can have it all… Just not all of it now. I need to elongate my desires, to give myself time to do this stage now. Baby’s only 11 weeks old, after all. And many of these things are similar in process to making our garden, or running a marathon. At each stage, you only need to do the next little bit. And slowly slowly, one plodding training run or one plant in the right place at a time, you move towards the goal. It isn’t the wanting that’s the problem at the moment, it’s merely the time frame I’m seeing it all in. 

So I’ve made my behavioural plan to help my mood, and I know what this month’s unhelpful thoughts are, so hopefully I can notice when they occur rather than letting them suck me in. 



And with God’s help I will leave the ‘wants’ in His hands and come back to the challenges and joys each day brings for itself. This evening I need to feed the baby, bathe the girls, and enjoy Chinese take away and my in-laws’ hospitality. I think I can be content with that :) 


on holiday 

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Amy and the stumpery garden

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Going out the front door

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”


I haven’t been running since my youngest daughter (then aged 2) overtook me on our weekly run last autumn.  With pregnancy a fast receding memory and gaps between feeding the baby becoming more regular running is back on the agenda.


I saw my physiotherapist Helen a couple of weeks ago. My pelvis is correctly aligned, which is good news as my ligaments start to tighten again, and my divaricated stomach muscles are coming together nicely. I need to keep stretching and doing the pilates exercises but she was pleased with my progress. ‘You’re actually pretty healthy when you’re not pregnant, aren’t you?’ she said.  When it comes to running though, she warned me to take it easy until my pelvic floor gets stronger, in order to avoid longer term problems.


This advice was echoed by my doctor at my six week check, who also advised me to up my Kegel excises to three times a day. Up till then I had been feeling proud that I was doing them once a day – obviously I’ve reacted to good advice by managing to forget to do them nearly every day since. Oops.


I was planning to start gently anyway… Back to couch to 5k for me, and before that I wanted to try walking for twenty minutes. Given that I hadn’t walked for more than five minutes during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, that seemed reasonable. 


So today, 8 weeks after birth, I dug out my trainers and rather tight running bra stepped out my front door. 


I went for an 18 minute walk on my own in the evening drizzle. My right thigh aches slightly (I came in, fed the baby and forgot to stretch) but no bottom pain so I’m counting this as a good start. 

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