Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dear Ellen, "I'm jealous that I'm missing out on my baby's milestones."

I am a full-time working mum, 5-month-old baby is being taken care of by in-laws. My brain knows that it is good that I have people to trust (there are just so many horror stories), and that I really am grateful for their help. But my heart is so jealous that I am missing out on the milestones. Pictures from them of my baby make me so irrationally angry. I reach home at 7pm, baby sleeps at 8pm, which hardly gives me time to spend with him. Quitting my job is not an option. Talking to friends and family, including husband, does not help. They just tell me stop being silly, and be thankful. I would like to think i can compartmentalize, but unfortunately it is not looking so. Are there any coping mechanisms that you might suggest?

Sorry, I didn't see this as the form 'forgot' to email me. Hope you haven't waited too long.

Working mum guilt is incredibly common, so first off you need to know it's not just you, okay? And as loads of ladies have this, there's lots of good advice about.

First, you mention several emotions, and one in particular stood out to me: the irrational anger.

Dear Ellen, "I'm jealous that I'm missing out on my baby's milestones."
I think that that one merits being examined in-depth. You have only just given birth and so your body is still recovering from the pregnancy and birthing experience. As depression can sometimes manifest as anger, I think you need to have a talk with a mental health professional (me?) about your emotions generally, just in case you have post-natal depression.

If you do have post-natal depression, getting help for that will make a big difference. However, it may not fix the mummy guilt.  So, what else can you do?

You say your jealousy comes from fear, specifically, that you are missing out on milestones. That would be totally true if you didn't see your baby for days or weeks on end but actually, you see each other every day. And unless you work 7 days a week, there's weekends too.

My suggestion is that you re-evaluated your actual situation: do not focus on the hours you are away, focus on the hours you have.

Let's say you're away 12 hours a day, that leaves 12 to be with your baby. Plus two days over the weekend. That's 168 hours in a week and you are with your baby 108 hours. And we're not counting holidays.

For the 108 hours you have, make them count. Have special days where you sing together, play together. Lap it up. Also, that hour you have at night every day, devote it to special time. Dinner can wait while you're being happy, bonding.

Second, you need to address your belief that you're missing out on something.

There is nothing your baby will do only once and never again. Burping, laughing, crying, sleeping, eating - all those things happen throughout the day, the night, and the weekend. 

But there is no doubt that you will see less of all that because of the job. Also, later on there will be a first step, first word….  Hopefully you will see those first ones but you may see the second, third and so on. And that may bite.

You probably are way ahead of me in that but I should add in here that I think this fear comes from guilt.

If we were to dig a little, I'd bet you have some hidden belief that mums ought to be at home, not out, earning a crust.  That kind of thinking is pervasive but it's not really based on fact. Rationally, most mums have had to work (in the fields, in the house, in someone else's home) and childcare has been shared and outsourced forever, everywhere.

I think you have to accept it's a trade-off and a common one.

Tackle your fear and guilt head-on by formulating exactly why you go to work.
1.    Why are you a working mum?
2.    What does working do for you?
3.    What does working do for your baby?
Make an affirmation out of your answers and repeat it when the guilts hit you.

And finally,
#Stay away from people who get their kicks by laying guilt trips on mums. There are loads of them, laying their 'advice' on others and the last thing you need is their poison. 

#Network with fellow mummies so that you remember you're not alone. But avoid the ones who turn parenting into a competition, you don't need that kind of pressure.

#Talk to your husband, not to ask him for help but to ask him how he feels. Many men suffer from all kinds of awful fears when they become dads but they have few outlets because 'manly men don't worry; they act" rubbish. Reaching out to your partner may help both of you.  Also, he may really want in on the quality 'baby and me' time.

#Your son knows he's safe, loved all day long, and then loved all night long, too. That's an awesome gift to anyone, so breathe and enjoy that little miracle. Repeat: you are doing your best and your baby loves you.

Good luck and do write a note in the comments to share how you're doing.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Confidentiality Rules - How Secret Are Our Sessions?

Want to reach out but aren't sure how safe your secrets are? Check out the rules that govern confidentiality.

If you don't have 5 minutes to watch it, the take-away is this:

I work over Skype, with video streaming consultations. So you sit in your space, I sit in mine, and nobody knows we're talking. Ther's no waiting room, no secretary, nobody to see us. It's super secret. 

Confidentiality is absolute except for when:
  • You are in immediate danger of suicide or self harm 
  • You make a credible threat about killing or injuring someone else
  • The police come knocking on the door because you are a terrorist or other threat
These things are rare. The most common reason to break confidentiality is because you ask me to talk to someone (your teacher/doctor/employer). If that happens, you decide what may be shared and what not.

Note: This is my first ever video, and I'm still learning about presentation, lighting and editing. If you've any comments or suggestions for improvement, please do let me know.

Also, if you have questions, please leave a note in the comments or email me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How to get things done right, when the going's rough

Image courtesy of Geralt on Pixabay
Pressure and stress leads directly to muddled thinking. It doesn't matter how cool you are, or how clever. When the balloon goes up, we are all liable to react without thinking properly. And that's when we make mistakes.

Cool thinking under pressure is very, very difficult. One thing that helps is that if you go through the same trouble over and over again, you get better at dealing with it.

Sounds totally sucky, right? But this is why training for doctors, emergency services, police, military and other people who work in hugely stressful situations consists of endless drilling. 

Drilling exercises are designed to help people react automatically in ways that are most likely to produce good results no matter what is going on. So a fireman who sees a fire won't be brave and rush right in, but she will check her gear, and go in only when she's fully prepared.

If you don't happen to be rushing into flame and gunfire but feel as if your office or home is running along the same lines, here are some coping tips.

  1. Accept and embrace the pressure. It's a sign of being alive.
  2. Are you being accused of something? Breathe. Then reflect honestly and see where you are accountable.
  3.  Don't let pressure and other people yapping distract you from your goals. Figure out what matters, what needs to be done, and do it.
  4.  Learn to fight your inner personal demon giving you the negative self-talk.
  5. Feeling is great but logic brings balance and thoughtful, effective solutions.
  6. Consult with those who have faced and dealt with similar problems successfully.
  7. No pain, no gain. Remember, you're learning.
  8. If a certain 'fix' makes you feel dirty, it's the wrong solution.

 And, you can always consult with me. ♥♡♥(ꈍᴗꈍ)ε`*)♥♡♥

Thursday, October 11, 2018

I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.

Two days ago I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.

I don’t usually talk about family because I am quite a private person. However, I had a long conversation with Tom, my husband, last night and we think sharing my experience may be helpful.

A bit of background: my father walked out many years ago. He came back into my life just over a year ago because he had cancer.

It was not a Disney moment.  An attempt to reconnect failed.

This week I got a call from a doctor who informed me that matters are now coming to a close, and could I come for a discussion.

The other thing you should know about me is that back in the late 1990s, I helped my mother nurse a dear friend of ours, Christine, who had cancer. Back then, medicine wasn’t as good as it is now, and her doctors were callous.

Christine died in a lot of pain; so much pain, that her screams still haunt my mother and me today.

So, when my father reappeared to say he was sick, we wanted to be sure he had end of life care. That means palliative care and painkillers.

Luckily, Malaysians are compassionate people. There is a culture here of alleviating pain.

And this is what brings me to the message I want to share:

In modern life, we become insulated from many of the harsher elements of life. Sometimes, we don’t truly understand how much suffering a person can go through. As a result, when it comes to end of life care, we tie ourselves up in knots, wondering if we’re ‘interfering with fate’ or worse ‘killing’.

When I signed the DNR paperwork and then more papers to allow strong painkillers, I did so with gratitude. I felt grateful because I know how ugly passing from cancer can be. Making sure my father will not suffer an agonizing death is my gift to him.

I’m sharing my thoughts because I want to say that if you have to face a similar situation, please do not feel guilty. There is no benefit whatsoever in having someone suffer.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Six questions to ask your doctor about medication for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues

Going to take meds for depression and stress? Here's what to ask. Photo: jnittymaa0.

It's impossible to make an informed decision about your health choices when you're processed in a system that just shuttles you from A to B without explanation. Sadly, many hospitals are faced with too few staff and too many patients and there is just no time to talk.

On paper, it looks efficient to batch process  people but it hides all kinds of problems. For example, there's a letter in The Star today that says some people avoid X-rays and CAT scans because they believe in viral rubbish scare stories and doctors simply don't have to the time to debunk the myths. Read the whole things here.

From what I hear, too many of us are seeing doctors about depression and stress, only to come away with pills but very little else.

I am not a doctor and I can't fix the system to magically give everyone more time. But what I can do for my clients is to help them make the most of their visit. I tend to talk about this in short consultations but I thought it would be useful to write it up here.

First, should you be seeing a medical doctor for stress and depression? I'd say a trip to your family doctor for a general checkup is always a good first step. See why here.

Second, if you are depressed or stressed, should you go and look for pills or talk therapy first? My thoughts on how to make a decision that suits you are here.

So, suppose you decide to see a psychiatrist, a specialist medical doctor about your mental health issue. Here are my top tips for making sure you ask questions that will help you make the most of your time.

First, if you can, take a trusted friend with you. Most of us are nervous when seeing a doctor, and so we forget to ask stuff or forget to listen. Having a friend to listen with you can be a big help.

If you're too shy for company, take a notebook with your questions listed and a pen to make notes of the replies so you don't forget what you're told.

Questions to ask your psychiatrist about medicine:
1. What will this drug do for me? (IE, why am I taking it?)
2. How do I take this drug? (IE every day at the same time? Only when XYZ happens?)
3. How long before we know if the drug is working? (Because some drugs like antidepressants can take weeks to kick in)
4. Drugs can have bad effects, too. When do I know something is very wrong and I should come right back to you?
5. Is this drug addictive?
6. If I take this drug, and I change my mind later on, can I just stop taking it? (Because with some drugs, it can be very dangerous to just stop taking them; you need to be weaned off them slowly, with the help of a doctor.)

If your doctor is too rushed, unapproachable or you don't understand her, my best advice is to have a chat with the hospital pharmacist. Pharmacists are good at answering them and they often enjoy being consulted, so be prepared for loooooong educational lectures.

Also, go back and see your family doctor.

Should you ask a psychologist, therapist or counsellor about your medicine? No, we cannot give advice about drugs. You need a medical doctor for that.

But there is another question to ask: if you see a psychiatrist and take meds, should you also seek talk therapy? I'd say you should think it over because:

1. Pills can't fix your life. If you are on medication, and your stress and depression are not from a purely physical issue, it can be a good idea to add in talk therapy.

2. Also, pills for depression can take weeks to kick in, so a bit of talk therapy at the start can help you manage symptoms while you wait.

3. If you are stopping medication, and you need support for managing the psychological effects of withdrawal, talk therapy is also useful.

Now, psychiatrists can offer talk therapy too but in some countries there are so few of them that they don't run that kind of practice. If you also want to combine meds and talk therapy, ask when you visit. If they say no, you can always 'add on' someone like me. 

As for getting more info about drugs, should you Google? Honestly, I am on the fence with this. There is so much utter trash out there, that part of me says it's best to just stay away. But there's also some good stuff and if you're lucky enough to find it, then it may be useful. I like WebMD as it's written by doctors and Quackwatch which specialises in debunking popular health myths.

However, I know I don't have the basic knowledge to make really good informed decisions (do you? check this for my take on how to find out) and so when I rick my back, have a fever or some other issue, I go to the pharmacist. If they say I need to move up a stage, I see my family doctor. If she says it's beyond her, I see a specialist.

Basically, I see people I trust and I do what they say. It's a system that suits me.

I hope you found this interesting and that it helps you in some way. The main thing is this: don't be shy, reach out and get the support you need.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dear Ellen, "There are times when I'm touchy, feeling empty and unfeeling."

And another entry on the anonymous form (closed). THANK YOU!
Thank you, Comfreak!
Hey Ellen, your content is so helpful so thank you for the time to offer such valuable advice to all of us. My question is: I get bouts of what feels like depression periodically, possibly due to hormones (I'm self diagnosing here). There are times when I'm touchy, feeling empty and unfeeling. I won't feel like doing anything, not even things I liked. This can last for a few days and can affect my relationship with others. Do you have any tips or advice on how to survive the grey cloud that feels like it could never go away? Thank you!

And thank you, too. I’m so glad you’re finding this useful.

It sucks when your body is messing up your mind - and your relationships!- but you have two great things going for you. Not only do you recognise you have an issue but you think you know what is going on. It means you’re not wandering in the dark and that’s awesome.

Now, you say it lasts just a few days, so I’m guessing it’s a menstrual cycle issue?

My advice would be to gather data. Basically, you need to track the days and times when your body is interfering with your mood.

Note that this may be retroactive because on Monday you might hit the ceiling over nothing and it’s only on Wednesday that you realise why.

I suggest you use your phone calendar and use a simple hash tag, like #Mood if you’re feeling gentle with yourself or #EvilWitch if you’re feeling sarcastic.

Track yourself and hopefully, you will see a pattern emerging.

Once you know what’s going on, you plan for managing these difficult times. It’s a two step process: anticipate when it may happen, and have a plan for changing your behaviour.

For example, suppose your bad spots fall on the first Monday and Tuesday of every month, and you notice your temper rises in the afternoons and you get the blahs at night.

First mark your calendar with pink to hint which days might be ‘temperamental’.

Second, on those days, you go into the world with the knowledge that you are not your usual self. So, on those days you do several things:
1.      If possible, restrict yourself from potentially difficult situations on those days. Avoid meeting with toxic people, taking big decisions and so on.
2.      You know you are touchy so when you feel your temper rise, you pinch yourself and say out loud that it may or may not be warranted. Make a conscious effort to step away.
3.      You know you will feel blah at night, so you can either give yourself permission to hang out and do nothing OR you can schedule specific things that you know will give you a boost. There’s no right or wrong: do what works best for you.

Apart from understanding your own body and mind, if you’re worried about how those #Mood #EvilWitch moments affect your relationships, you can have a conversation with the people most likely to be affected.  “I know I blew up at you last Tuesday over nothing. I’m sorry, it’s pesky hormones. I’m trying to manage it better.” And you can choose how much to share from that point on.

I’m not saying you’re going to get a free ticket on your bad days, that would be a bit much, but understanding and the effort to manage should get you some Brownie points.

Finally, if you find your hormones are really causing you issues, it is worth seeing someone. If it’s mildly annoying and you just need some hand holding while you figure stuff out, try a therapist.

If it’s more serious, then maybe your family doctor can help but I would be heading to my gynaecologist, preferably one who is very good with things like post natal depression because it means she is used to dealing with hormonal and mood issues.

I do hope that helps!  And feel free to use the anonymous form again.