Angela’s story – Part 2July 20, 2019
Lucas was born on the 6th October 2013, on a beautifully sunny Autumn day. The name Lucas means ‘bringer of light’ and I remember looking up at the sky through the window from my hospital bed that afternoon, with Lucas in my arms, thinking how appropriate the name was, as the sky shone bright blue.
Keith had once said (quite seriously) to my sister, who already had two children, that we wouldn’t let having children change how we live our lives. She *may* have laughed in his face at the time, but still we thought, how much of change can it really mean?
Oh…..how we now laugh at our blissful, unaware, innocent selves when we think back to that time!
It is safe to say that in the five and a half years since our little boy arrived, we have experienced more love, more fear, more joy, more uncertainty and more meaning than the entire rest of our lives put together. I don’t think it is uncommon for the emotional floodgates to be irreversibly opened after the birth of a child. Add to that over a thousand consecutive sleep disturbed nights, while trying to build a new business and put on a presentable face to the world and it becomes quite a potent and confusing mix.
I have always worn my heart on my sleeve; I cry easily, and care deeply. Alongside this I have always prided myself on my ability to fix problems, to organise, and to get things done. When it comes to my own life I have a tendency to worry first, and have fun later – to consider the negatives before I get to the positives. But for most of my years I have managed to get by ok and work with my strengths.
Becoming a Mum to Lucas completely pulled the rug from under me.
On the one hand, here was this cheeky, cheerful little boy, lighting up our days with his laughter and infectious zest for life. On the other, there was the night after night of little to no sleep as we grappled with becoming parents and then the severe head to toe eczema and the relentless itchiness that meant we couldn’t leave him alone for even a minute in case he scratched his skin raw. He was diagnosed with a severe allergy to eggs, milk and nuts, and reacted to almost everything that came into contact with his skin.
As the months passed, and the sleep deprivation and the toll of caring for Lucas’ eczema and allergies set in, I started to feel less connected to the world around me. All I could see through the years ahead were more sleepless nights, and a feeling of utter despair and helplessness that I couldn’t fix Lucas’ health problems, despite so much effort. I spent most of my waking hours searching for natural remedies and obsessing over finding an answer to the relentless and heartbreaking itch. It was a lonely time, where I shut out all but my closest family and friends, as the effort to keep up appearances became ever harder.
I didn’t realise the extent of it at the time, but as I pushed back against the nagging feeling that I wasn’t coping, anxiety was starting to take a hold. The more I tried to swallow my fears, and ignore my feelings, the worse it got. I started to occasionally suffer panic attacks where my heart raced, I felt dizzy and breathless, and an intense fear that I just couldn’t cope and couldn’t escape would set in. But with Lucas to look after and the business to run I still didn’t make time to face it, and carried on, hoping things would eventually work out sometime in the future when Lucas slept more and wasn’t so poorly.
Looking back I am not at all sure how I found my first clients and set up my very first Pilates classes in our home studio, that we had designed and built in our back garden during Lucas’ first year. Lucas had just turned one, and the three of us had arrived back in Chelmsford having spent three months in America, where Keith worked at a summer camp in Maine, and baby Lucas and I had carried on with the task of getting through each day and night, many miles from home.
When we got back from that summer, somehow I managed to use starting the business as a handhold onto my ‘other’ world, in which I was still just Angela, rather than Lucas’ mum, a Pilates teacher, a person who liked to help other people feel better and stand taller. Through word of mouth and local advertising I found some lovely clients – clients who even waited patiently for me to teach again even after I broke my foot falling down the stairs after a night at A&E with Lucas, just a short while after I had started my classes.
I loved carrying on my Pilates learning by going back into London every few months to Body Control Pilates HQ. With Keith’s help I was able to keep using our vision of a different life, where we set our own working hours and chose our own life priorities, as motivation to get my Pilates classes off the ground. And little by little the business grew, I found my feet, and became more confident that I was doing something that really helped people.
What didn’t get better however, was the intensity of my anxiety. For a time the attacks became less frequent as I started to understand what triggered them. But in the quiet moments, in the calm spells between the storms, fear would set in again. I couldn’t predict when we would face the next A&E visit with Lucas, or the next night where we would wake up to him struggling to take a breath, or the next allergic reaction, and my already depleted reserves would be tested by another attack of breathlessness and a thumping heart.
Anxiety, quite frankly, sucks. It literally sucks the breath from your lungs. It sucks the potential joy out of every situation. And like an invisible rip tide, it threatens to suck you away from all the things that are good in life.
It was at this point, some years down the line of being Mum and running the business, that I realised I needed to finally tackle how I was feeling head on, to make my own mental and physical health a priority, so that I could be the best Mum I could be to Lucas, and start to live life again, rather than just survive.
I started to sit and face my anxious feelings, rather than fighting or ignoring them, and worked out exactly what I needed to get by. This involved prioritising sleep whenever I could, spending time on my own to rest, eating well, moving more – all things I would absolutely recommend to my clients, but that I had been unable to sort out for myself.
I started trusting my intuition, saying yes to invitations that felt good, and saying no to ones that didn’t (for a recovering people pleaser this was hard to put into practice). I turned off negative news and the noise of social media more often, and switched to engaging podcasts and inspiring books.
Spending more time with the close circle of people whose company lifts me up, and who take me as I am, and more time in my happy places (our garden, anywhere with trees, the Suffolk coast) have played a huge part in reminding me that joy can still be found in the simplest of places, and in helping me build a life around what matters most – even in the midst of still managing Lucas’ ailments.
I also took the time to seek out someone who is trained to help with anxiety and understands the demands of being a Mum and running a business, which has been life altering. I will be forever grateful to Steph, who is an incredible local business coach and therapist, for unblocking my path by helping me to realise anxiety is just one part of me at this moment in time, that I am in control of the story I tell myself each day, and that being vulnerable and working through our fears is the key to living a life filled with purpose, and passion, and resilience.
For anyone who is struggling, I can’t recommend enough finding that person who will hold space for you while you work things through.
To this day, I don’t have all the answers by any means and I am still a work in progress – but that’s ok. Life will continue to throw curveballs and challenges my way. After all, that is surely what life is about. But by allowing myself to feel my way through life, without judging how I am doing at any given moment, I can more easily recognise the good when it is there, and try to make a point every day of noticing the many things to be grateful for.
I have learnt that it is really important to not worry about what other people *might* think. Although this is still difficult! That it is ok to be honest and let others know that you are struggling, and that having feelings and acknowledging them is a strength and not a weakness.
I know when to take a break, to say no, and to go easy on myself, and I am learning how to have fun and live without so much fear again. Lucas is living up to his name, and brings light into our world each and every day. And I have him to thank for helping teach me that I can in fact face the toughest of challenges, and come out the other side a little bit stronger.
My goals right now are very simple – continue to help people feel better through teaching Pilates, spend more time with people I love, and more time in the places that bring me joy.
I hope my two posts are of some use. Putting all this down in writing was quite a challenge, and slightly nerve wracking to say the least, but I am hopeful that my story can reassure any of you who are going through challenges of your own, that you are not alone. Reach out, trust your gut, step out of your comfort zone if it takes you closer to where you want to be, and see what happens.
As with my last piece, I will leave you with the words of another person – this time the wonderful Beau Taplin – who just says it better than I could….
In this quiet moment I give myself permission to acknowledge my progress; to focus less on the distance I’ve still left to go, and more on the mighty distance I’ve come.