I know I promised to share the tips and tricks I am trying to get Oscar to eat good food but he is very sick this week so all bets are off in that department. Usually when he gets sick its nil by mouth except maybe milk, ice cream and yoghurt. So, until he is recovered I thought today would be a good day to revisit my 'R U OK' blog from last year.
Those of you who followed my blog a year ago may have read my story about Post Traumatic Stress and I have had several people tell me that this helped them to identify their own need for some help with recovering from a stressful event or situation in their lives. I always intended to follow up that story with some tips on things that helped me recover from the stress we went through with Oscar's treatment but never got around to it (due, in a large part, to the fact that I was busy figuring out how to recover myself and complicated by the fact that Pete fell through a ceiling).(Pete is ok now, by the way).
So, deep breath, here I will try to articulate how I have managed to improve my mental health even if I may not have totally chased down the shadow that sometimes haunts me. That shadow is really just an anxiety that is brought on by the fact that I know only too well that life can change in an instant and that the ground we stand on is not as solid as we think. That being said, there are many great opportunities provided by the shifting sand that it turns out we are all travelling upon.
Its tricky for me to unpack this as its still very much a process but here are some things that I know for sure did help me:
1. A good GP who can guide you in the right direction (big thanks to my cousin for referral here). Keep an open mind about perhaps needing some medication to help you along if your GP suggests it and make sure you trust their expertise.
2. A good psychologist if your GP recommends it and you feel that talking will help. It certainly helped me realise that I was suffering from PTSD and gave me some simple strategies for coping with it, which in turn made me be a little less hard on myself about the overwhelming emotions that I was experiencing. It helps to have an understanding of the physical facts - like how your limbic system is all fired up from the stress and how you need to try to rewire your neural pathways. There is a real science that can give you real words for the very overwhelming responses you find yourself making to every day normal situations.
3. Exercise - this was the single biggest factor for my improvement. It was something I had control over (after having had no control over my situation or the situation of my loved ones for too long) and it was a concrete practical thing I could do. If you put the work into exercise you get the results back (unlike anything to do with the cancer journey where you do everything the Dr's tell you and they still can't tell you anything concrete about your chances of recovery). Also, it helped me build up some confidence in myself. All that time in hospital focused on Oscar's needs and then Auden's needs and absolutely forgetting myself completely had an impact on my confidence to even think of myself as a separate person with any needs. Exercise taught me I could commit to something for myself, that I valued myself and that I could get out some of my more challenging emotional energies such as frustration and anger by exhausting myself. Finally, and probably most importantly, there is again real science indicating that exercise improves the biological and hormonal factors that contribute to anxiety and depression.
4. Good friends who treat you the same and support you unconditionally. (no need to explain this one)
5. Creating new memories - I have written a blog about this before so I'll just say embracing good health and happiness by sharing precious time together with your family and friends creating new memories really helps the brain to calm down and learn to trust again.
This is just the tip of a very large individual ice burg and no doubt there are many other ways of recovering from PTSD. Yoga and meditation are also very helpful - I have been doing yoga for 13 years though and for the first time ever I couldn't do it for a while after Oscar's treatment finished. I was too fired up and the adrenalin charging around my body could not sit still with a yoga class without bringing on a panic attack. So, very strangely for me, I found myself at the gym working out and pushing myself very hard with weights and cardio just to get that excess energy out of my body. Either way, the most important thing is to keep trying new things to find what works for you. I had to discard who I was (or who I thought I was perhaps) to find what worked for this new me and it took time. Ultimately, time is probably the greatest healer of them all.
I hope you are OK today, wherever you are and whatever limitations you may be experiencing. Thanks for checking in on us and I am sending light and love to you and all your families. Be kind to yourself. Go gently. Much love, Cindy x
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Friday, September 6, 2013
For those of you who have followed this journey, you will know that Oscar has a difficult relationship with food and I am endlessly trying new ways to get him to eat (preferably something healthy). As I move on to a new strategy each time I think there is no way I can come up with another way to entice, encourage, trick or bribe Oscar into at least trying new foods...but then, I find another way. He still goes through phases of only wanting a bottle and refusing all food, usually when he is tired or sick, and then we are right back at square one - again - and yet, we find ways. So I thought I might share some of those ways that we have found that work (sometimes) and that might help some of you out there reading this who have children who associate food somehow with trauma/pain or who have had children who have had a nasal feeding tube and other medical/psychological fears regarding food. Also, it might help some mums out there with just plain fussy eaters.
Before I do so, I just want to share a little conversation I had with another mum whose child is currently going through chemotherapy treatment. What was amazing to me was her description of her child's reaction to the meals she presents. It sounded so similar to Oscar that there must be something in it. I just finished a parenting course that focuses on emotional coaching and that linked in with the literature the hospital recommended to me for helping build resilience and emotional intelligence in children. This is particularly helpful for children who have been through some emotionally challenging life circumstances but really applies to any child because we all have emotions, we all have trouble understanding them and we all need to learn ways of managing them appropriately. Anyway, this mum described exactly what Oscar does when I present a new meal to him - it is an extreme, screaming, shaking terror that gives you the impression that the food is somehow going to hurt him. This makes sense in that Oscar had mucositis during his chemo and the ulcers throughout his digestive system and mouth genuinely hurt him and also, after that, I suppose there is the fact that chemo makes everything taste awful, like metal. And if you add to that the fact that Oscar was having treatment from ages 18 months to 3 (years that are important for experimenting and trying new foods) then I guess that is why the emotional reaction to food is so fear based - and so challenging to manage.
Anyway, this mum described to me her child's reaction to food and as it was so similar to Oscar's it made me wonder how common this is among children who have had similar medical intervention in their early life and why no one really can assist you with this in any real practical way. The hospital dietician will tell you what they need to be eating but there isn't a lot anyone can do unless they come home with you, observe the child and offer some practical tips to change the behaviour.
So, its back to trial and error, like everything in motherhood, and maybe if I share some of the things we do to address this issue it might help some other mums out there. So I will post a different strategy I have tried, what worked and what didn't, over the next month or so.
I'll start with breakfast. This is Oscar's least favorite meal. He could just as easily skip it, or would prefer to have a bottle and laze around with it. He's like Pete, not a morning person, and likes to ease into the day. Currently, the strategy that is working is to make it exciting for him. So most mornings we are having 'Aliens' for breakfast - this consists of an egg as the eye of the alien and two pieces of bacon as the mouth. Auden has a goggle eyed alien as he likes his egg in an egg cup and his alien also has hair (toast cut into small pieces). This works a treat so far and is making my mornings significantly easier. Here are some photo's:
We eat them together at the table where there are no distractions and the boys get a sticker once they have finished everything on the plate. Rewards don't always have much of an impact on Oscar (mostly, he couldn't care less) but Auden loves them which creates a bit of competition (something Oscar loves).
Good luck to all you mums out there trying to get good food into your kids and get them dressed and out the door in time for school/preschool. It can be a test on one's sanity.
Thanks for checking in on us. I have been unwell for some time (just the usual winter lurgy's not wanting to leave) but the boys are well and Pete is working too hard but doing very well too.
I am sending all my love out to you and your families and hope you are doing well and having as many moments of domestic peace as possible. Much love, Cindy x
Posted by Cindy at 3:23 PM