Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What I do

I realised the other day when I was talking to someone, that I haven't blogged much about my job. At the moment my job is my saviour. Each week I work two days, I feel normal and useful and get such satisfaction. It keeps me hopeful that I can contribute despite feeling pretty messed up a lot of the time.

It is a tricky question "What do you do?", especially when asking women who have kids. Some will say "I am a home manager" in a rather indignant fashion, implying that women who stay home with the kids are not given the respect they deserve. Another may say "I work", as if that is all you need to know because possibly you may think there are only two options - work or stay home. And others may pause and begin "well...". Because life is not simple and we are not what we do, even if it feels like it.

 But I digress. If you asked me that question I would be in the "well..." category. Two days a week I work as a highschool teacher. I have taught for the last 8 years - except for the year or so I had off when pregnant and until Ella was about 7 months old. My current job is as the English teacher in a teen parent unit, attached to a highschool. There are a number of teen parent units in New Zealand and there are four in Auckland. They are funded by the government and set up to provide the opportunity for young parents, both Mums and Dads, to complete their secondary education and gain qualifications. There is usually a childcare facility attached so that parents can study.

At the school I work at the TPU is on the grounds of the school and the students do a mixture of subjects with us in the TPU and in the main school. The students are picked up in the morning and dropped at school. Some of the children who are over 6 months go to the childcare centre across the road and the babies who are younger and still being breastfed stay with their Mum in the TPU. Each parent (we only have Mums at the moment) is on an individual programme working towards completing their qualifications. We help guide the girls to plan for their future careers and for further education. We have a kitchen and most of the students study food technology. We also have a cooked lunch together each day. This is one of my favourite parts of the job! Not just cause the food is delicious, but because it helps the culture of the place develop and it feels like we are a family.

When I talk to people about what I do I often hear comments and questions about whether TPUs glorify teen parents and make it seem glamourous. To be honest, there is nothing glamourous about being a young parent and they would tell you that. Just as they are growing up and struggling with all the fears and issues of being a teenager, they have been thrust into parenthood. They are kids raising kids and they have to learn fast how to be an adult and take responsibility for their life and their child's future. It is tough for them. They are often picked up from home at 7:30am and don't get home till 4:30pm. They work hard all day on their learning while also juggling the needs of their babies. In winter they have to miss school a lot because they or their baby are ill and they also have to struggle often with major issues in their families or with their baby's father.

One of the awesome parts of my job is helping to maintain a vege garden. We use the veges in our cooking and show the students how it is possible to feed your family well and save money too. Another joy is to see each student achieve and their confidence grow. Many have had really negative experiences at school in the past and it is healing for them to succeed and to have positive relationships with their teachers.

The job can be heart wrenching though. Part of the policy for students enrolling is that they have responsible adult with them who commits to supporting them in their education and will be the contact person for the school. Often this is a parent but sometimes an aunt or uncle or another adult will take on the role. Unfortunately, some of these adults let our students down by either not helping them when things are tough or by actually enabling the young parent to avoid school and to continue destructive behaviour. It is easy to think that these young parents need to take responsibility for themselves but you have to remember that they are kids and also that many come from very dysfunctional backgrounds so don't have the lifeskills and knowledge about how to make good choices.

I would say the greatest need is for role models and mentors so that these young women can learn and follow in the footsteps of people who will support them, encourage them and challenge them to strive for a better future for themselves and their children. Many need the opportunity to move into a safe residential environment where they can get their lives on track, learn to care for their children and learn lifeskills such as how to run a home, follow a budget and move towards living independently. However there are very few places which offer that much support over the timeframe it requires. In fact I know of no such place in Auckland.

I think a lot of people think teen parents are a lost cause but I disagree. Teen parents and their children present an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty and dysfunction. These parents want the best for their children and with the right support and committed people, they can have a future full of promise. I feel privileged to be involved in the process. I wish more people and resources were available for these precious teenagers and their children.

When it gets a bit much

It is getting a bit exhausting, the whole 'recovering from depression' thing. Between trying to eat healthy, exercise (still at the visualising stage), taking supplements, therapy and the upheaval that brings, as well as the depressive thoughts and feelings I still struggle with, life feels a bit too much like hard work at the moment.

One thing which helps is reading other womens' stories. I read a great post about this on this blog - beyond postpartum. It made me think about what I love to do which gives my mind a rest from all the self analysis and 'doing'.

So here's the list:
  • play with Ella - but not think about the other things I could be doing.
  • cook
  • garden
  • watch a film
  • watch good t.v
At the moment the new seasons of my favourite shows are starting and new shows are onto their second episodes. In the last week I have discovered some gems. Since I used to be a media studies teacher here is my round up of generally feel good (good for those with depressive tendencies) t.v at the moment.

  •  Martin Clune's Horsepower - TV One Sunday 7:30pm who wouldn't love a doco about horses?
  • Offspring - TV One Sunday 8:30pm drama comedy about obstetrician with anxiety disorder and dysfunctional but likeable family. Lots of voice over narration and quirky animation, fantasy sequences. So good I even stay up late for it!
  • Packed to the Rafters - TV One Wednesday 8:30pm definitely my favourite show on TV.
  • Go Girls - TV Two Thursday 8:30pm. Hilarious and really likeable characters.
  • Super City - TV Three 10:30pm so late it is silly but so funny and thoughtful. Madeline Sami plays 6 different characters from a Iranian taxi driver to a fitness instructor in denial about her sexuality. Great story lines and an amazing performance.
Let me know if I have missed any treasures.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

I'm back!

After a really rough weekend I started feeling more like myself yesterday and woke up smiling this morning. I has been about 10 days since a started transitioning back to my original SSRI and I had forgotten how much better they make me feel. It really shows me that the ones I tried just weren't working well enough for me to enjoy life and cope with pressure.

I think antidepressants can get a really bad rap due to fears they are overprescribed and the views of people such a Tom Cruise (come on, do we really take advice from celebrities about living well?) who believe you should use other methods to get well. Unfortunately the reality for many people is they are unable to help themselves when suffering from depression and so medication can lift the cloud so that you can take the steps to help yourself. For some people in the long term they no longer need medication as their self care steps mean they are able to stave off the depression. However, for me I can see they may be part of my future for the longterm.

But I am grateful that this recent scare has awoken me from my complacency and I am committed to continuing to take steps to be well. I am trying to eat better, get some exercise, see a therapist and make sure I get enough sleep. I am also trying to make time for me each day.

Two particular things have been helpful this week. One is a book my beauty therapist lent me - see I am taking care of me! I am reading John Kirwan's book All Blacks Don't Cry. It tells the story of his decent into depression and his road to recovery. If you can get past the constant rugby analogies, the book is full of insights into one person's journey but also some really useful ideas for getting well.

Kirwan is well known for his television advertisements which help to destigmatise depression. He has also been a key figure in the development of an online programme aimed at helping people who struggle with depression to take steps to get better. It is in the form of a journal and you complete it lesson by lesson. There are tasks set and you can elect to receive texts messages to remind you to complete the tasks. The first lesson focusses on the importance of excercise and doing things you enjoy. My tasks were to go for a walk and to a movie. I managed the walk but the movie will have to wait till funds become available. I have only just started but I think it would be a really good start for someone who suspects they have depression and wants to do something to take back control of how they are feeling.

Another great source of information and support is Postpartum Progress. It is a blog written by a Mum who has lived through postnatal depression and anxiety. It is full of research, stories and advice a place where recovery is a reality. Being so stuck inside my own head when I feel down can be very isolating and terrifying. Reading this blog is like someone can see inside my own craziness and gets it and suddenly I don't feel so crazy.

When I first got sick I just needed to take the drugs and survive so I could care for Ella. 19 months I have the space to do something more than cope.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I am truly blessed

When I started blogging years ago it was really just for me. Over the years I have been very inconsistent with my writing but since I became a Mum, blogging has become a way for me to process my experiences and clarify my thoughts. I often think about what I want to write about and get frustrated when I forget an idea or don't have time or energy to write. As I have begun to share more and more of my personal and sometimes private journey it has felt really risky but also very freeing.

Since my recent posts about my continuing battle with depression and how to take care of myself, I have been overwhelmed by love, support and care from so many people. I have received messages from so many friends from all over the country and the world. I have had messages of support, empathy and some really amazing advice. I feel surrounded by such a generous community of people who take time out of their busy days to read and to respond.

I truly believe it is not a coincidence that at a time when I should feel isolated and alone in my crazy head, I actually feel like I am part of a web of support. It is also really encouraging to have so much positive feedback about my writing. For someone who thrives on affirmation and struggles with insecurity about my abilities you do not know the immense value of your comments and compliments.

I think it is common for people to believe that blogging is self indulgent and pretty much a waste of time. But for me it is the most profound therapy and a joy to me. And it seems that others are benefiting from me sharing my story, even though I have no idea where the plot is going. It really brings new meaning to the phrase " lost the plot". (That really is unforgivable ;))

Boundaries are a compromise

So last night we tried to start the night weaning process. The plan was for me to go out for a walk while hubby helped Ella get to sleep without me feeding her to sleep. Well and hour and a half later we concluded that this was a very silly idea. I had a lovely walk and after hubby being locked in the room for a very long time with a very upset child who had no interest in sleeping without Mama. And within five minutes of me feeding her she was blissfully asleep.

So boundaries require some compromise and no matter what grand plans I have for putting limits on what I will give to Ella, she is the child and I am the adult and I am the one who can shift. In this case she is not ready for things to change.

So the compromise is that I will still go for a walk and hubby will read stories and have some one on one time with Ella. And when I get back I will feed her to sleep. I get some space and some exercise and Ella gets time with Daddy and what she needs at the moment to get to sleep.

This may not work for long and we may need to rethink things again. But nothing is forever and I guess the only certainty is that by 16 years old Ella will not be being breastfed to sleep :)