Mental Health and the Autism Mama

9th March 2015. A Monday. A stuffy office in the paediatric department of the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Six adults all agreeing that a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder was appropriate for my almost three year old, blonde haired, blue eyed son. I remember so much about that meeting. The room was so hot. I felt so sick. If I’d had to picture the setting my world would fall from under me in, this small grey room with uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t have been it. It would have been exotic, dramatic, or at least better looking. But here we were.

In those first few moments I was given a plethora of leaflets about support for Oscar. This agency would help with this, this one with that. It was mind boggling, and most of it went straight in the bin. It was too much to take in at that moment. But the one question I did ask was which one of these leaflets was for the agency that was going to support me? Which one was going to give me the help I was going to need now my parenting journey had been screwed up and chucked over the doctor’s shoulder. I remember saying “That’s great, thank you. And what support do I get?”. The paediatrician laughed in my face. Literally. “There isn’t any!” she told me. Any that was that.

I remember going to the doctors several months later to apply for a one off Carer’s prescription grant, as suggested by our Early Years case worker. The doctor asked why I wanted the grant and I started to explain how hard looking after Oscar was and how desperately sad the diagnosis had left me. She looked on awkwardly while I started to cry and ask again, where was the support for me? Was there nothing for post diagnosis depression similar to post partum depression. She scolded me and told me that was something very different and to come back if things got much worse. I left with the feeling I’d wasted someone’s time and that I should be coping better. I never went back.

But things didn’t get “better”. It just got ‘different’. And still no agency was interested in how I was coping. Several people suggested peer support, but I’m not good at leaning on friends. I tried to find a SEN support network online, but struggled taking on everyone else’s sadness as well as mine. It could have been extremely helpful, but I just felt like I wasn’t giving as much as I felt I was taking. Or as though everyone was doing SEN parenting better than me. Even down to the amount they worried. It felt I wasn’t worrying enough. So I had to step back.

And all the while what I was really feeling was akin to grief. A grief for the child I thought I had. A grief for the parenting journey I thought I was on. A grief for the kind of relationship I would never have with my son. For the mother I would never get to be. All while coping with child who needs me in a way I’m still figuring out on a daily basis. And mentally berating myself for not doing, or coping, or being better. Because I should be grateful I had a child at all.

Eventually I knew something needed to change. My heart felt like it was breaking all the time and I hadn’t experienced anxiety this bad since I was a teenager. I also realised no one was going to formally offer to help me. I was so disillusioned with the support (or lack of it) I’d been offered by the NHS, that I didn’t even bother going to them. I found a private therapist. And it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I struck lucky and found someone I felt comfortable talking to immediately (having seen counsellors in the past I know this is not always the case). And things I’ve never said to anyone have now been said. Burdens have been laid down for a while.

I’m not saying everything’s fine and hunky dory now. It’s not. I’m still coming to terms with plenty of stuff, stuff I sometimes think I might never find peace with. But I keep trying. Because for all the support Oscar gets as someone with ASD, none of it as important as the support he gets from his parents. From me. And if I don’t get the support I need to give him the best of me then none of the other services are worth jack.

I still think it’s a joke that parents going through such a traumatic event in their lives are just expected to get on with it without support. I hate that I was made to feel stupid for asking for help. And I’m so heartbreakingly sad that there probably other parents out there right now whose lives are being blown apart by a diagnosis they never wanted and with no idea how they will ever put their lives back together again.

So on this #worldmentalhealthday, I just wanted to fly the flag for SEN parents. The overworked, over looked, under supported. Your mental health is worth everything. You deserve support, as much as anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Ignore those who laugh in your face, or tell you you’re are not as in need as new parents. You are. Because supporting your mental health is really supporting your child.

And isn’t that the most important thing?

Being a Blogger is…..

I’ve been tagged, by the beautiful Gym Bunny Mummy (seriously if you haven’t checked out her blog yet do. It’s just so gorgeous! I have serious WordPress theme and photo envy every time I visit her blog!) to complete a post about about what blogging means to me. Its called

Being a Blogger is….

It’s not something I’ve really considered before, but once I started, I knew this was a post I’ve needed to write for a while. So here we go.

Being a Blogger is….baffling. I never intended for anyone to read my ramblings much less follow them and actually be interested in what I have to say. And despite doing this for two years now I still don’t really think of myself as a “blogger”. I’m just that girl who publishes stuff online and hopes people might like it. Maybe I need to start thinking of my blogging status differently. After all thousands of people a month seem to think I’m a blogger (gawd love ’em), so why don’t I?

Being a Blogger is….a massive confidence boost. When I first started writing, my confidence was at an all time low after becoming a new mother, giving up my job and (I felt at the time) my identity. Writing gave me something I could really be proud of and when people started to respond with wonderful and thoughtful comments, particuarly about my weight loss or to tell me something I’d written had made them think or cry, I wont deny it lifted me up and made me happier and more confident than I’d been in a long, long time.

Being a Blogger is….therapy. This is particularly true in terms of my weight loss posts but also with Oscar’s diagnosis of Autism. When I was finally able to get it out on my blog I felt 100% better about the whole process. Took me a while to get there mind you!

Being a Blogger is….creative. I’d kind of given up on being creative. I used to be and always wanted to be, but somehow never really found my outlet in admin! My writing has allowed me to wake up that long dormant creative streak, which I can see developing as my posts progress, but also in the rest of my life, with the things I do and wear and try. It’s my inspiration.

Being a Blogger is….being part of a community. I love my mummy friends to bits, don’t get me wrong, but I have found some amazing souls through being a blogger and my use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. People who have helped me, supported me, made me feel valued and given me confidence in who I am. And yet I’ve met so few of them in real life. They’re such an eclectic bunch and I’ve ‘met’ people I would never have done otherwise. I’m proud to be getting my name known around the community, because it’s such a valuable thing to be a part of.

Being a Blogger is….my thing. I never really had many interests before I started writing. If people met me for the first time I always talked about what I did for a living. God how boring was I that I had nothing else to define me than my job, which for many years I hated. Now I have something I have created and am immensely proud of to talk about (if people really want to hear about it. I am acutely aware of becoming a blogging bore!)

Being a Blogger is …. space. Space to say and do and be who and what I want. I like to think I’m not controversial as such, but if I need to ask a question, even if I don’t have the answer (particularly if I don’t have the answer) then my blog is my space to do it. Sometimes I even get an answer back. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I write, blimey it’d make for a dull world if they did, but it’s my space to write what I want.

Being a Blogger is….. so much fun. From the events I’ve attended, to the holidays I’ve been on, from the conversations I’ve had to the sentences I’ve written that have made me laugh, I’ve had so much fun because of my blog. Bringing up Oscar is my life’s work, but what with one thing and another it’s not always the most fun. I’m so grateful for the fun my blog brings into my life.

But really

Being a Blogger is…. just the beginning ?

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My office

I would like to tag these superb bloggers to tell me what Being a Blogger means to them: