I am the outlier.

In research we commonly deal with outliers.

Pesky scores that vary wildly from the general sample. They don’t fit into the norm. Their very presence can compromise the dataset. In my line of work outliers generally signal one of two things; a participant with radical views, or someone taking the piss.

Best to get rid of the sucker.

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But recently I realised that I am the outlier.

I am the nuance that doctors dismiss, reject, or refer, or tell me bluntly “I don’t know what to do with you”.

I am the difficult patient who doesn’t fit into the medical framework. Who doesn’t present the way others do. Who doesn’t respond to treatment in the manner expected.

Pharmaceutical psychiatric treatment has little success with me. Antidepressants make me suicidal. Antipsychotics have never stopped the voices. Sleeping pills fail to put me to sleep.

I’m tested for epilepsy because my psychosis is ”abnormal”. I’m “high functioning” to the point of rejection from doctors and hospitals because I am not sick enough. I’m misdiagnosed. I’m turned away. I don’t fit the stereotype of ”bipolar”; whatever that may be. Then I fall down to the darkest, bleakest most dreadful depths and the doctors don’t believe I will be able to function. But I do.

I am the outlier.

I am diagnosed with a rare subform of a rare autoimmune disease that no one has ever heard of. Random allergies that make no sense. Hubster marvels how I can chow down a spicy curry no problem, but end up in hospital after a sandwich. I’m told I need medication, I’m given a poor prognosis. And now, undedicated with no treatment other than dietary changes I shouldn’t be in remission. But I am.

I am the outlier.

After years of trying to have a child, and seven or so early miscarriages under my belt I seek medical assistance. At first no one takes me seriously because I am not even thirty. Then, at 29 years old it is discovered that my reproductive years are ending. I’m to descend into premature menopause. This doesn’t run in the family.

I am the outlier.

Suddenly I’m being thrust into the world of IVF.. ‘I’m told I need to act now. I’m told I need high doses of medication. Friends my age spend their money on holidays and drinks. We spend our money on medical bills.

Then I start the process and am told my bloodwork is bad. That IVF isn’t possible. That it may never be possible for me.

I am the outlier.

And as I put my hands on my growing belly, knowing of the tiny heart beating inside, I know that you, little one, are an outlier too.

The one that arrived the very month when I was told it wasn’t possible. The one that came when I had all but given up. The one that blessed me with its presence naturally, the very cycle IVF was cancelled. The one I didn’t lose.

You are my little outlier. The most beautiful outlier there ever was. Every child is a miracle, but you are an extra special. You beat the odds.

Together we may not be representative of the population. We may have different needs to others. We may be the outliers.

But who wants to be average anyway?

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World Bipolar Day, Questions and Answers

Today is World Bipolar Day. A day to raise awareness of this illness, and reduce stigma. Well, you know me an my feelings on stigma, so when I saw that the lovely Blahpolar and Raeyn from the Scarlet B both completed this questionnaire in light of World Bipolar Day, I thought I would join in. Check out both of these awesome blogs, and feel free to complete the questionnaire yourself.

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1. What does bipolar disorder mean to you?

I always see bipolar disorder as a lack of balance. I swing one way, then overcompensate and swing the next. Living with bipolar disorder is a quest to maintain that balance.

2. What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

Turbulent. I’m lucky in that I don’t tend to rapid cycle. In fact I can go months or even years without a full-blown serious episode. This may sound positive, but it means that when the shit does hit the fan it is basically a shitplosion that takes months to clean up afterwards. In between major episodes, before diagnosis, was constantly anxious, mild to moderately depressed and sometimes self harmed. Oh and I heard voices. Every day of my damn life.

3. How old were you when you were diagnosed?

I was 26 when I was diagnosed – less than a year after the birth of my first child. I was an involuntary patient at a mother and baby unit and had been for around six weeks. My medical team suspected bipolar disorder because of the extent of my depression and psychosis. They actually thought I was having a mixed state as I was completely wired. But I didn’t talk much and they couldn’t get a full medical history out of me. Also I really didn’t know that the periods of high energy and not sleeping in my past were hypomanic/manic episodes so never thought to mention it.

Then one day in hospital I woke up and wouldn’t shut the hell up. Seriously. Unsuspecting trainee nurses would be lured into listening to me rabbit on about completely random nonsense before they could say “It’s a trap!”. I proclaimed  that I was cured and felt so good. Then things started to get weird… I started going on about how I had superhuman powers because I didn’t need to sleep (oh. if only), and that my dreams could predict conflict in South Korea. Round about the point where I told Hubster I wanted to dance around outside naked my doctors slammed their clipboards shut. “Gotcha! Bipolar Disorder! Kaboom.”

Good job team! It only took 10 years to get a diagnosis 😉

4. How do you manage your symptoms?

Day to day, week to week, sometimes hour to hour. I take medication. I see my doctor regularly. I try to limit stress. I watch my diet. I write. Hands down best treatment I have had was ECT. It may have its controversies, but I now no longer hear voices every day. Which gives me so much more time to ponder world peace and what to watch on Netfix.

5. What is life like for you now?

Interesting. I’m not sure really. I’m recovering from pretty much the worst episode of my life, so I’m a bit anxious about my mood. I analyse every up and down and if I have a bad day it’s all “HOLY CRAP IT’S COMING BACK!”. I’m like a mood meerkat. Since ECT my psychosis has gone which is awesome. But I still have to work really hard to keep my mood stable.

6. Has having bipolar disorder affected your friendships, personal life, or professional life?

Undoubtedly. Friendships – not so much. The people in my life who choose to have a problem with an illness I do not choose to have are no longer in my life.

Personal life – yes. I would agree that being separated from my family for months while being in hospital had a distinct negative effect on my personal life.

Professional life – yes. It took me years longer to finish high school and university due to episodes. I had to suspend my PhD months after starting, and I had to cancel a presentation I was due to present at a conference because I was in hospital.

7. How do you think society treats people with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder?

Not great to be honest. I think society has more understanding than say, the 1950’s, where we all got locked up in an asylum. But there is a lot to improve on. I would like mental illness to be treated with the same respect as physical illness. It frustrates me that I knew nothing about World Bipolar Day until I came on WordPress. Nothing in the news. Nothing on Facebook. Nothing on the radio. But when it is, say, a day to recognise Diabetes, it is so widely promoted and respected. Mental illness kills too! (Also, I’m not dissing Diabetes. It is a serious illness – and I, myself, have a physical illness too. This is just one example of how mental disorders are looked past within the general community).

8. Have you ever felt discriminated against or looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder?

Yes I have felt discriminated. While I was in hospital I was denied treatment by dieticians because I was in the psychiatric ward. But apparently I could access this treatment if I were on a medical ward. Yeah. Doesn’t make sense to me either.

I was also left for 8 FRIGGING HOURS in severe pain on a psychiatric ward, with the nurses calling every half hour for a doctor to assess me. When he finally came it was evident that I was ACTUALLY really sick (and not just making it up), and suddenly everyone was rushing around and I was having an emergency CT scan. I get that hospitals are busy places. But you don’t leave someone in severe abdominal pain, without assessment, for 8 HOURS, when even the nurses are extremely concerned. I wouldn’t have been left that long if I presented to the ED. And when I have been on medical wards and in severe pain I have been seen to very quickly. Good job I wasn’t having a heart attack, because I would have been dead by the time I got any help.

And yes I have felt that I have been looked poorly on because of bipolar disorder. I think a lot of it comes from a lack of understanding. But it still hurts.

9. Do you have any words of advice for people in the world suffering with bipolar disorder, or other mental illness?

Seek help when you need it. Don’t do what I did and struggle on until you are hiding in bushes and convinced the police are after you. Don’t be the bush girl!

Reach out. To anyone you can – friends, family, doctors, hospitals, help lines, bloggers, anyone. You are important. And you are not alone.

Easter Time Sadness

There’s something about the sudden change in the air. We don’t have seasons here, we are propelled from Summer to Winter within the space of a week, with little time to adjust. But there’s something about that drop in temperature. That earlier sunset. That cloudy sky. The smell of flora finally allowed to flourish now that the heat has subsided. Rain! What is this rain? We celebrate those fat drops of water. Our grass starts to green again after months of dehydration and water restrictions.

It should be blessed relief. The sun doesn’t beat down with such a vengeance, burning the roads, the houses, the children in their 50SPF sun cream. The mercury doesn’t relentlessly soar past forty degrees (104F). We don’t have constantly choose between the extortionate expense of running the air conditioner, or lying in bed covered in wet flannels. I start to venture outside again. Walk again. I savor the air around me. I can breathe. I sit at the beach and laugh at the cool breeze that tickles my face. March and April in Western Australia is the feeling you get when you dive into a pool on a stinking hot day. Relief. I love this time of year. I love it.

But, oh, how I hate it too.

Every single time I have been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons it has been during March/April. I have eaten my Easter eggs, alone, in a psychiatric ward multiple times. Nearly all of my severe episodes (depression and manic) have started around this time of year. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I can do to stop it.

So here I am, late March, and I feel that pull of sadness upon me. Smell is so evocative. I smell the changes in the air, and feel the temperature drop and immediately experience flashbacks. Admission to hospital. Pills. Sickness. Doctors. Nurses. IV’s. Catheters. Surgery. Suddenly I’m locked in a bathroom trying to strangle myself. Then I’m being given a bite block for ECT. I’m being held down by staff and injected. I’m crying. I’ve lost it all. I can’t go through this again. Please don’t let me go through it again.

I shy away from the Easter eggs in the shops, as if by merely seeing them I will plunge into darkness once more. Superstitiously, I donate the clothes that I wore around this time last year, and buy new things, as if that is enough to hang on to my mood. I refuse to think about anything upsetting. I throw myself into work, into cooking, into TV shows. Anything to keep the darkness at bay.

But I’m not sleeping.

It’s then I realize that my journey isn’t over. I survived last year. My autoimmune disease is in remission and my bipolar is stable. But it’s never over. There is no cure. I’ve been so confident. So happy. So sure that the hell I have been through is enough. Enough pain. Enough expense. Enough trouble. I never really considered the possibility of it coming back, despite warnings from my medical team.

But here I am. Considering that possibility. I’m so tired of constantly having to fight for what other people seem to achieve quite naturally.

Stability.

But weary though I am, I pick myself up and breathe in the fragrant air. I feel the wind in my hair. I accept the beauty of this season. Then I go home and take my medication. Put on my pyjamas. Cook something I love. I wrap my arms around my knees and look after myself, a little more than I do normally. I tell myself that I’m ok. That the change in season doesn’t necessitate a change in stability.

I tell myself that this Easter is different. Because of course it is the first in over a decade where I haven’t heard voices. Imagine that? I tell myself that I’m ok. Because I am. Truly.

This is a time of reflection and healing. It’s a time of learning and change. And as the anniversary of my hospital admission looms, I realize that it’s a time to recognize just how far I have come.
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He Loves Me

He loves me.

He loves me even though I have a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder.

Even though I’m not great with the whole “mushy” thing, and generally show my affection through sarcasm and teasing.

Even when he found me on the bathroom floor covered in blood.

He loves me even though I mock his beard and continually enquire as to when he is going to enter Whisker Wars.

And even though I changed my ringtone for him to “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO. And when he complained, changed it to the Star Wars “Imperial March”

He loves me when I’m manic. And I call him up at some ungodly hour from the hospital. To inform him that I am going to bake a cake.

Even when I was psychotic and began to believe that he may actually be a criminal mastermind.

He loves me when I have to cancel the “date night” we rarely are able to have because I have had an allergic reaction to something.

He even waits outside the toilet with a glass of water.

He loves me even though I fall asleep during every damn movie we watch. Then he patiently restarts it the next night and asks me “what is the last thing you remember.” To which I reply; “I don’t know. I was asleep!”

He loves me even though I have scars, and stretch marks, and a post childbirth body. He says he loves me even more.

He loved me on the days I couldn’t get out of bed. The days I told him I couldn’t keep on living.

He saved my life. More than once. And he didn’t stop loving me.

He loves me even though I sing “The Thong Song” every time he mentions his Cisco qualifications.

He loves me even when I ask him inane questions. Like “If you had to sleep with either Susan Boyle or The Queen who would be the lucky lady?” And he will be all “neither.” And I will say “You have to choose. Or the world will DIE.” And this happens most days.

And also when I strap a garden gnome in his car, or tuck it into his side of the bed, or sit it on the toilet, and then upon discovery gleefully tell him that “he has been Gnomed!”

Even when I have been frogmarched by security guards.

Even when I forgot pretty much everything after ECT.

He loves me even though I veto his music choices on car journeys.

He lets me put on my playlist.

And doesn’t complain.

Much.

In the ten years we have been together I have spent a total of eight months in hospital, had at least 3 manic episodes, a handful of mixed episodes and countless depressions. He knows Bipolar disorder is episodic. That it may happen again. He still loves me.

He tells me every day he loves me. And every night before we go to sleep.

He loves me.

Me.

And I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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The “Diet” that Changed My Life

Today I’m going to tell you about the “diet” that changed my life.

Before I started my “diet” I was incredibly ill. I have an autoimmune condition which basically results in my immune system going nuts and having allergic reactions to a number of foods. I also suffered extreme gastrointestinal pain, frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea, constant fevers, bone and joint pain, headaches and excessive fatigue. Even after I was discharged from hospital I felt like crap. It was like having the flu every day of my life. And that was a distinct improvement. I was on SEVENTEEN medications. My white blood count was terrible. My mental health was affected, because feeling like absolute crap every day of your life and being unable to function does that to you.

There was no relief. Nothing I did helped. I was popping pain killers like tic tacs. My immunologist was starting to talk about putting me back on steroids (which, last time made me rampantly psychotic), or – worse – hardcore immunosuppresants that are traditionally used for cancer patients, and would leave me even more vulnerable to illness and infection than I already was. Something had to change.

So I started a diet.

I say “diet” because it isn’t really a “diet”. To me, “dieting” conjures images of cabbage soup, unrelenting hunger, and feeling deeply miserable. I’ve been on diets before. This wasn’t like that.

My aim wasn’t to lose weight. Don’t’ get me wrong – the weight I have lost in the last few months has been a welcome side effect. But I made the change to better my health, and to better my health alone.

I researched a number of different “diets’; Paleo, LCHF, GAPS, Raw, all that kind of stuff. But there were restrictions, and aspects of the diets that I didn’t like. So I made my own rules.

I used my common sense. I figured that if it grows on trees, you can dig it out of the ground, or comes from an animal it’s probably good for you. If it comes in brightly coloured packaging and the second ingredient is “sugar”, probably not so much. So, after many hours of research on nutrition, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the supermarket, no doubt pissing everyone off, while I examined ingredient lists, I completely changed my way of eating.

Here’s what I did.

– Obviously I started by cutting out all foods I knew I had allergic reactions/ intolerances to. I’d have to be pretty stupid not to.

– I decided that consuming excessive refined sugar was not going to help my physical or mental health. There are many links between sugar and physical and mental illness. So I reduced it. I didn’t “quit” sugar – as so many people proclaim, because I eat various forms of unrefined sugar – for example the fructose in fruit (personally I feel that the fibre content and nutritional value of fruit far out weighs the supposed badassness of fructose). But I swapped cane sugar for coconut palm/stevia/honey in cooking. I stopped eating so much crap. I drunk water instead of juice. But on the other hand I didn’t deprive myself either. If I go out for dinner and there is the possibility of ice cream afterwards. You bet, I’m ordering it. And I feel no guilt. This is a long term project, and I don’t believe it is sustainable without the odd treat. To me, the occasional special treat is very different to the mindless eating of junk that I was doing regularly.

– I stopped buying processed food and made it myself. When I began looking closely at supermarket products, I was absolutely horrified at how much sugar/additives/preservatives are added to foods. Most things I make nowadays are from scratch – stocks, dressings, yogurt, muesli bars, sauces etc. But again, if I’m busy and don’t have the time to culture a yogurt I buy some, I just make sure it is good quality. The aim is to improve my health, not make it worse through stress.

– I cut down on some forms of dairy ( I can tolerate cheese and yogurt better than milk). I’ve always been sensitive to dairy, so this was nothing new. I started making my own nut rice milks to cut down on the expense.

– I don’t buy “low fat”, or “diet” anything. Low fat foods are higher in sugar, and diet foods/drinks are high in chemicals. Despite the hype, your body does need (good) fat to survive. I’m full fat all the way

– I very rarely, if ever, eat fast food/convenience food. This is especially easy for me as I am actually allergic/intolerant of most fast foods.

– I eat “real” fresh looking foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Grains I can tolerate – such as quinoa. Good quality cuts of meat.

My favourite salad - Broccoli, carrot, red onion, apple, yogurt and lemon juice.

My favourite salad – Broccoli, carrot, red onion, apple, yogurt and lemon juice.

– I use Olive Oil and Coconut Oil for cooking instead of vegetable oil.

Bacon and homemade hash brown cooked in coconut oil.

Bacon and homemade hash brown cooked in coconut oil.

– I give myself treats. But I make them myself, and I try to make them as healthy as possible. For example .. raw desserts. Some may say that they are are calorific, or contain a lot of oils. I say they are made from whole foods, contain no refined sugar or preservatives. They fill you up and satisfy your sweet craving. All in moderation, obviously, but if you are going to have something sweet – it’s probably better than eating your weight in Reeces Pieces.

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Mango coconut “cheesecake”

– I don’t let myself go hungry. Unlike the starvation diets of my former years, if I am hungry I eat. I have three meals and several snacks a day, and I never feel deprived.

– I cut out caffeine, and alcohol (apart from on special occasions).

So I did all this – and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was hoping to improve my fatigue. I certainly didn’t expect the major impact that simply eating good quality food has had on my health.

– I no longer have gut pain. Any. At all. (Well, unless I eat something on my allergy list). This is HUGE for me, as I have lived with chronic pain for a long time.

– I can keep my food down…and up. Hells to the yeah!

– I have come off FIFTEEN of my medications. And I am currently cutting out another.

– I no longer have fevers, joint or bone pain. I don’t catch every cold that goes around.

– My headaches have disappeared.

– A plantar wart I had on my foot completely disappeared. I had had this wart for 10 years and tried every treatment you can imagine. It was like a goddamn miracle.

– My hair is lovely and shiny and I’ve stopped bruising so easily

– I have energy. I wake up early, sleep well, and never feel tired during the day.

– My concentration is now awesome.

– All my food cravings have gone.

-I am no longer having panic attacks. I don’t feel remotely depressed. I have no psychosis. I’m generally cheerful and look forward to the future. I have been able to come off a lot of my psychiatric medication.

– I lost 9kgs (about 20lbs) fairly rapidly. Without restricting. Without really trying.

So, for me, this “diet” was the best thing I have ever done. I’m certainly not cured by any means. But I can manage my conditions, and I now have control over something that controlled me, put me in hospital, and very nearly broke me. This knowledge, in itself, is so important for my mental health. Next week I see my immunologist. At my last appointment, a few months ago, I cried and told him that I couldn’t keep going like this. This time, I can go back and say “no” to the steroids and immunosuppresants.

I got this. 🙂

The Inappropriate Giggle

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I have a confession…I have a terrible affliction.

The Inappropriate Giggle.

Oh, God. It’s a bad case. My family will back me up. If there is ever a time in my life where IT WOULD BE REALLY INAPPROPRIATE TO LAUGH. I laugh.

I even hear this voice in my head (just to clarify this isn’t one of my “voices”, it is way too sensible for that) that says “Rachael. The worst possible thing you could do right now is laugh. For the love of God. Do. Not. Laugh.” And then I do. And then I want to smack myself. But I don’t because I’m already being inappropriate enough.

To give you an idea of the calibre of situations I laugh in: I laughed when my cat got his tail run over and the Vet told us it may need amputation. I laughed when my Mum’s dog died. I laughed when my Mum’s living dog decided to get into an altercation with a potentially deadly snake and almost died. I laugh when people yell at me. I laugh when I yell at people. I laugh when I get told bad news. I laugh in solemn occasions – particularly religious ceremonies. I laugh during exams. In elevators. When something really crappy happens. You name it, if it is inappropriate. I laugh. In fact, I laughed while writing this paragraph just thinking of the inappropriate times I have laughed. As you can see. IT IS AN ISSUE.

And obviously, you know, I don’t REALLY think any of this kind of stuff is funny. Bipolar I may be, but pathological sociopath I am not. But it’s like a reflex reaction that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I promise you I am not really the cold/heartless/incredibly annoying person that this giggle makes me out to be. I’m just really bad at controlling my emotions.

Tell me I’ve won the lottery and I’ll be all “Uh. Ok. Well that’s nice. Thanks.” Tell me the world is about to, I don’t know, DIE, and I’ll probably laugh. Laughing is my default reaction when I feel anxious, afraid, awkward, or pretty much any negative emotion. The stronger the emotion, the greater urge I have to laugh. Why, yes. I do annoy myself.

But you know, I guess it’s a part of me. And something, obviously, I need to work on before I raise another generation of Inappropriate Gigglers. So I had a think, and in the interest of saving time if I ever desire a career change, I compiled a list of occupations that I simply cannot do as a result of my Inappropriate Giggle.

– Medical doctor
– Lawyer
– Spy
– Funeral Director
– Personal Trainer, particularly if it was on The Biggest Loser
– Anything involving live TV.
– Badass criminal
– Bra fitter
– Anyone who repeatedly needs to sack people
– Teacher (ironically my first serious career choice. It all went wrong from the moment I unwittingly selected the book describing how babies are made to read to my five year olds  at story time. Of course I didn’t laugh. I’m totally mature.)
– Politician
– News reader/Journalist
– Telemarketer, army officer, or pretty much anything that has a likelihood of me being yelled at.

Now that list depressed me. I mean, dude. My desire for the gangsta life is officially off limits. Back to the drawing board. So I decided to put a positive spin on things and create a list of future occupations that I COULD partake in. The fact that I have neither the qualifications or attributes to do any of these jobs is irrelevant. The important thing is that I won’t offend the masses by laughing at inopportune moments.

– Dog Trainer
– Farmer
– Chef
– IT (or perhaps not….)
– Athlete
– Librarian
– Janitor
– Eccentric artist
– Rock star who can do whatever the hell she wants
– Comedian
– Plumber/Electrician/Builder
– Graphic Designer
– Pretty much anything similar to my current role which involves sitting at a desk all day, communicating mainly by email and composing myself for the occasional meeting.

So there you have it. My little not so secret secret. The Inappropriate Giggle is not a laughing matter. Except when it is.

Are there any of you out there with this terrible affliction? Or am I laughing (in a rather awkward manner) alone?

A Great Love


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Sometimes I feel like Master D and I have a special bond. Everything I have been through, he has been through too.

I had a tumultuous pregnancy, with a number of physical and emotional stressors. For the first 12 weeks I was at risk of miscarriage (most likely) due to low progesterone levels. At about the seven week mark I arrived at the hospital, soaked in blood, sure that this time I had lost my baby.

We waited for a few hours to be seen, enough time to see women with enormous babies arriving, excited and anxious, for their scheduled c-section, and families with “It’s a Boy!” balloons racing up to meet the new arrival.

When it was my turn to have an ultrasound I braced myself for the seemingly inevitable “I’m sorry…” but it never came. Amazingly my little bean was still there with a strong heartbeat. The technician gave us some pictures and I stared at them in wonder on the car ride home.

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And so he continued to thrive. And he still does. I watch him in wonder each day, amazed at the things he learns.  I can’t believe we made him!

He’s seen me at my worst, my most darkest worst. And he’s seen me at my highest of high. And he still calls me Mummy with pride. He cuddles me when my hair is a mess, and he say’s “pretty” when I put on a jewelery. It’s unconditional, for both of us.

And this is nothing out of the ordinary. The great love between mother and child has always been documented. This is no surprise to anyone.

Except perhaps me. I didn’t realise how much I could truly love someone until I became a mum. I didn’t know until I burst into uncontrollable sobs of joy as soon as I heard his first cry. I didn’t know.

I feel a kind of solidarity with Master D. Between us we managed to sustain the pregnancy, despite the problems. We went into hospital together, we bonded despite the bipolar and the depression and the psychosis. We got each other through it all, despite the circumstances.

And as much as he can get into mischief. As much as sometimes I lose my temper. As much as makes a mess and disrupts my plans. I wouldn’t change it for the world. He has taught me more about life than anyone else could.

But more than that he’s given me inspiration to keep going. Something to live for. Someone to make proud.

So thank you Master D, for choosing me as your Mummy.