Emerging as a Butterfly

For over the past 15 years I have lived in fear and let my demons pull all my strings. What almost everyone apart from husband doesn’t know about me is that since 2004 I have suffered with PTSD, Agoraphobia, Manic Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts. This is something that I have never been proud of nor ever wanted to be known for, yet for such a long time I have let all of the symptoms thoughts and feelings control my life and the way that I have lived. However, I have always been there in the shadows slowly creeping back up that string to the light and joy of the world.

Most people live their lives going through some sort of trauma and have a very clear mindset of how they let it affect them, others have constantly experienced trauma and heartache their whole lives and are always wondering why me, why does this always happen to me? The reality is that I had been experiencing things happening to me because I was like a broken record playing the same old song over and over again.

Back in 2004 I was working in a hostile work place around a lot of unsavoury, negative and nasty people. When I was attacked at work, this in itself was not really an issue as I had been in the industry for a number of years and I had experienced numerous things happen to me before, such as chairs been thrown across the desk, verbal abuse, computers being ripped off the desk and thrown on the ground, however this time it became more personal as what I had not realised is that the people who had attacked me in the office had been waiting outside of my workplace and followed me home. They then broke into my home and continued with the attacks and the abuse. I think at this point my body’s response was to freeze and I froze that much that I completely shut down, I shut down from the physical world and also the mental. I spent the next 6 weeks to scared to leave the house, I became agoraphobic and obsessive compulsive. I would sit in my house physically incapable of being able to go out the front door and at nights I would never sleep as having PTSD every time I closed my eyes. I would dream of being attacked over and over again so I would spend my nights constantly checking the locks on the doors and the windows and cleaning my house over and over again until I was so tired I had no option but to finally lay my head down and rest.

I was sent to see a psychologist and psychiatrist who instantly put me on medication and I went to therapy sessions 2 to 3 times a week, this continued for a number of years and my symptom’s or experiences never changed, they only intensified due to the constant reliving of events. They explained to me that the only way to work through things was to go over them time and time again and relive those experiences so you no longer feel the fear or be afraid. The problem was it just never worked for me so their answer was to increase my medication until I was taken the highest possible dose available. I never returned to that line of work ever again and although I did do a few rehab work placements over the years, my symptoms and disorders would always take over. Why? because I had let my broken record become stuck for such a long time that I had no way of making it play again.

Don’t get me wrong life wasn’t always that bad, I always had my good days and my bad days and I would usually put it down to whether or not I had been able to have a good night’s sleep. For quite a few years my whole world was numb as the medication I was on made me have absolutely no feelings at all and for a better part of a number of years I actually have no memory of what I had even done during that time. I still went to therapy and would always give the new ideas that they had recommended to me a try without any success. With slow exposure to the outside would again in controlled environments I was slowly getting back into reality. I discovered my passion once again for exercise and always lived a healthy life so I continued to study more of the effects of Health and Fitness on your mental well being. Over time I reduced the medication down to nothing, I knew that the person who I was was still down in this dark hole and I knew there was a way out but I had to want it more than anything else and continue to work on it every day.

Then one magical day I met my husband and it was like a dream. (I won’t go into all the mushy details lol) He was the only person other than the specialists who I had told my story to and he didn’t run away. I am sure at times he more than likely thought about it as I know that I have not been the perfect wife or mother and he has seen me so so so many times in my darkest hours, however there are even things that he doesn’t know. Because not only are you experiencing yourself at your absolute worst, you are also fearing the judgement of what others think of you. All Mental Conditions have always been TABOO and no one wants to talk about it. He is my rock and when you are so so dark even your own thoughts scare the absolute crap out of you, you never want to hear the words out loud in fear of them coming true or worry that the person you love the most will think less of you and never love you again.

Then we fell pregnant with our beautiful baby girl Tarlah and to say that I wasn’t so full of joy was an understatement, but I honestly hated being pregnant. I was sick the whole time and of course off my medications so my Anxiety, Depression and Panic Attacks had intensified and once again I was more than happy to be at home in my own little world safe and sound. When it was time to have our daughter, my waters had broken and we gave my Mum a call and said its time. She was there in no time and I was experiencing contractions regularly. At 2 am, we made our way to the hospital with contractions only 5 minutes apart, when we get there they did their examinations and advised us that I had not dilated at all and to go back home, get some rest and come back the next day at lunch time if nothing else happened. We went back home and walked around and around some more and then made myself comfortable in bed to get some rest. I remember my Dad coming into the room at 8 am to give me a kiss on the head and ask if I was ok to which I said NO as the contractions had stopped and there was no longer any movement coming from my belly. At this point I knew that something was not quite right so I dragged my pregnant body out of bed and went for a walk around the football field that was across the road. We had figured our baby had gone to sleep and was so exhausted from the night before. This didn’t bring the contractions back on so we went straight back to the hospital where they induced me and OMG were those contractions intense haha. I laugh about it now, they had already strapped me to a machine to monitor our baby and were fluffing around the machine trying to get it to work and read properly with no luck. They advised us the machine was broken, so they went and got another one, this one was exactly the same, not working! I remember through the excruciating contractions the nurses quietly whispering to each other and slipping out of the room. Next thing a doctor came straight in after them to say they will be prepping me for surgery and that I was to have an emergency C section, because they could not hear our baby’s heart rate on the machines. All I was thinking was hurry up and somebody give me something to stop these ridiculous contractions as they are doing nothing but cause me so much pain. All prepped for surgery with my husband with me the whole time and one of the nurses asked if we would like photos taken during the process and of course we said yes. Our little baby girl was finally here in the world and on closer inspection she had the cord wrapped around her neck and once it was removed she screamed so loud it was incredible (she most definitely still has that scream and loves to be the loudest in the room). Our baby girl was placed on my chest for about 10 seconds and then taken away to get the full check over and for her Daddy to do his duties.

I should have been so full of pride and joy during this time but once the medication had worn off and visitors and nurses kept coming to the room to see me and our baby it all got too much for me and I instantly started to go into Post Natal Depression. Even though without a doubt in my mind and heart I knew I loved my baby girl I had no idea what I was supposed to do and felt massive waves of guilt burn through my body. I felt so judged as the nurses weighed out little girl and she was only a tiny little thing, they then asked if I smoked or took drugs during my pregnancy to which I took major offence. This amazing miracle was the most precious thing to me in the whole world, my body has always been my temple and to be able to grow something with so much passion inside of you takes so much strength. Once the task came to breastfeeding I persisted and persisted for the first month and instead of my baby gaining weight she was losing weight fast and so was I. The most I could do on a daily basis was to crawl out of bed, get something to eat and crawl right back in. Once again I was in my deep deep hole, this time thinking there was no way out and I have brought our little girl along for this horrific ride. Once again my knight in shining armour comes to the rescue and calls my Mum without me even knowing. I am sure those of you who know me, know that I am never one to ask for help especially when I need it the most.

We worked out our baby girl had severe reflux and had to go to a special formula which was great news for her and she turned into the most chubby little baby I had ever seen lol. I still remember her gorgeous rolls. Me on the other hand again had the horrible negative nasty thoughts of being unworthy, a failure and these are the nice thoughts coming through. So back to the Psych’s I went, they wanted me to go instantly go back onto medication. I refused and refused as I knew that I could rise above this and be there for my baby and be a wife for my husband. I knew we could start to be a loving family. Taking nice long walks every afternoon when my husband came home from work was a lifesaver and it did get us out of the house. I could never cope with mummy playgroups or mums and bubs exercise groups and I really envy Mums who experience this every day. It was the one thing that I would never be able to experience, that connection or bonding with other mums and their bubs growing together from such a young age.

Then I was pregnant again, we always wanted 2 kids and we wanted them as close as possible and even though I was still going through so much bullshit on a daily basis, life does go on. OMG if I thought I was sick in my first pregnancy was a total understatement, I could not even stand the smell of food and it’s like my senses had heightened as I could smell food from miles away. I still see the images in my head of our baby girl running to the front door when Daddy was coming home from work and he would ask her where is Mum. She would stand there and point her fingers in her mouth and pretend to be vomiting, I don’t think she ever understood why Mummy was so so sick. I used to think it was an absolute waste of time making me anything to eat as it would always end up spiralling down the toilet bowl, but then I thought as long as any of the nutrients is going straight to our baby then I was content. We always knew that we were having another C Section as the doctors didn’t want to risk a natural birth especially with me being sick the whole pregnancy. A little of the Anxiety had reduced because we had a date set and I felt like I had more control as everything was organised and I had my parents over to look after our beautiful girl whilst I was at my stay in hospital.

The time came and everything went smoothly as I knew exactly what to expect this time and our spunky little man arrived safe and sound, no dramas and we all enjoyed our loves and cuddles. Visiting hours came and went and my Husband always hid and remained as late as possible every time I was in hospital or at least until he was caught by a nurse. This night was no different until I finally mentioned we were all exhausted, just go home and I will see you tomorrow, everything is all good here, we will all get a great night’s sleep. What I had failed to mention though however is that I had been feeling strange sensations rushing up through my stomach on my right side for a little while. I just assumed it had something to do with the surgery and everything I had been through that day as the nurses were still coming in and checking on me to make sure everything was ok. On this particular night they were also very short staffed with a new trainee nurse who was checking me and when I finally accepted that there was something wrong and reached down to touch my bandages from my incision instantly I knew there was something horribly wrong.

My bandages were like a massive balloon getting bigger and bigger and as I called the nurse to come in and check she freaked out, instantly calling for the other nurse. This is where my night literally turns into a horror show. I had internal haemorrhaging as a complication from my surgery, after the nurse had finished yelling at the trainee nurse for not constantly checking the wound site, the bandages had been pushed to their limits and the blood burst through splashing all over the nurses, the walls and the floor. I kept saying to myself this is just a dream and I am asleep, I need to WAKE UP. Unfortunately, this was not the case and if things could not get any worse one of the nurse’s faints. I screamed at them to get me a phone as I was calling my husband to come up to the hospital immediately as I needed him with me. It was 2 am at this point, I rang him and said you need to get up to the hospital right now and of cause he wants an explanation as to what was happening. All I could say was just get here NOW. I can still see his face turn instantly pale as he walks into the room and sees all the blood on the floors and walls and a nurse standing over me with gauzes and her hand inside my wound trying to find the haemorrhage. Trying desperately to soak up the bloody mess, she then screams at Shayne to starting handing over more gauze as the other nurse was still unwell and hadn’t quite come back to herself. This goes on for what feels like hours whilst the other nurses are calling around for a doctor to come in and take me back into surgery.

Thoughts raced back and forth in my head that I was going to die that morning and my husband was going to be left alone to raise our beautiful girl and our spunky little man will never ever meet his mother. Lying there in that hospital room was just like watching a movie and I had no control of anything. There was absolutely nothing I could do but to rely on others. Hours seem to just fly by and the doctor finally arrived, he stuck his hand inside my wound, found the haemorrhage and showed the nurse how to hold it until he could prep for surgery. The pressure had been lifted slightly as I was in and out of consciousness due to loss of blood. When it finally came around for them to wheel me back into the surgical theatre I look over to my husband who was holding our baby and I declared to myself I would never give up and I am going to push through and fight as I want to be there for our babies and to watch them grow up and be a loving family with my husband. The next thing I remember is being wheeled back into my room, on the way through a massive hall I see a mirror on the wall and I look up to see someone who did not even resemble me, I was so pale I could not even recognise myself and I was instantly scared all over again as the fight was not won yet. I had lost so much blood that they told me I needed to have a blood transfusion. As I have a rare blood type this never ended up happening as the hospital did not have any in stock. I was so weak, tired and exhausted at this point, so wired, anxious and on edge I was not able to sleep. All I wanted to do was hold our baby. What I did next will break my heart and haunt me forever, my Mum rang to say they were coming up to see us and I begged her to not bring Tarlah into my room as I could not scare her with the fact of seeing her mother practically half dead lying in the hospital bed. It was an image I could see so clearly on her face, the horror of not being recognised would have torn me to pieces even though my Mum didn’t understand why, she accepted my request and didn’t let her come into the hospital. At this point I was still unsure of exactly whether or not I was going to make it. It was a longer recovery than we anticipated with more trauma than the first labour, however I pushed through and became well enough and strong enough to be able to walk out of that Hospital. The Nurses joked with me on the way out saying that they never wanted to see me back again.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, we went about with our routine of what we called life. We slowly got back into going for our afternoon walks which we always enjoyed, as when Shayne was at work I once again locked myself and our children inside our house and played and slept and ate and we only ever ventured out when he was home. I think I can practically count on one hand how many times I actually left the house without him and I never went far to start with. Slowly I exposed myself to the outside world and explored a little further every time. Months turned into years and it was now Tarlah’s turn to start at Kindy, she is always such a loving cuddly little thing and never had a problem making friends with anyone. Kids or adults always adored her and who wouldn’t, she sparkles and lights up everyone’s life. Social situations were always awkward for me after everything that I had been through and I learnt really quickly how to put on a Mask and pretend that everything was fantastic whilst I was actually dying inside fighting battles going on inside my head. I became so good at hiding how I was truly feeling, sometimes I actually felt proud which made me sick as there really is nothing to be proud of. Things did get a little easier for a little while until Faelan had to go to day care, his separation anxiety would have me hiding in my car crying after every drop off crying and deflated. After a long adjustment period we had decided to take the leap and purchase a business, I was totally out of my comfort zone, the war inside my head was always raging, between letting go and moving on and not living a life of anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I have always known there is more to life and for quite a number of years I was determined this was how my life was going to be, full of good days and bad days and constant sleepless nights full of nightmares. Only this time I wasn’t the only one being attacked it was now my whole family.

It has always baffled me how you can let your thoughts get the better of you and your imagination really has a mind of its own and it can spiral out of control sometimes whether you like it or not. The struggle with making sure I didn’t put my own insecurities and anxieties onto our kids was my next battle and just as hard as any of the others I had fought before. As a strong willed woman the one thing which is always clear to me is the love that I have for our children and even though I have been afraid to love myself for such a long time I never ever wanted my kids to experience any of the things that I have had to go through nor put my problems onto them. I also am never going to wrap them up in cotton wool and not let them experience the wonderful wide world outside. The routine of waking up early and getting the kids ready for kindy and school had always been a battle ground in our house and I know quite often I really resented the fact that it was always left up to me. The new battle had begun in so many other ways and I was being torn from one way to the other, most days for me were down in my hole and I only came out when I had my mask on. Some days only for the least amount of time possible. So many days I could have just stayed in bed and never leave my room, I had become accustomed to a new routine, a new struggle, a new broken record playing over in my head. This time our kids were also experiencing their own anxieties about the world and their new environments they were in and sometimes letting me know I was forcing them to do things that they didn’t like which once again tore at my heart as all I wanted to do was for them to experience the joys of the world and have fun learning along the way.

Once the morning battled had finished and they were in their classrooms sometimes being dragged screaming and crying by their teachers I wiped away my tears put on another mask and constantly pretended that everything was ok, you see I had been doing this for such a long time it was just another part of the routine and when you do things over and over again you become so good at it you don’t even realise you are doing it. It’s just like actors and actresses playing a role in a movie they do such a fantastic job you think it is real. I continued to do what I had enjoyed which was to train and teach others a healthy way of living and watch them achieve their goals on a daily basis. What I have also learned though is that no matter how much you put yourself out there and help others people will always suck your energy like a vampire. They take what they need from you until they no longer want what you have to offer and throw you away like you are nothing but mud stuck on their shoe. The pain and hurt you allow yourself to suffer from others is utter poison slowly eating away at you like a virus each and every day I would pick myself up, be the better person and continue with my life how I knew best. I look back now and feel disgusted at how I let the judgement and harsh words of others drive me to the brink of no return.

Just when I thought this was my new routine of life, I suffer a life changing neck injury and end up in hospital to have Spinal surgery. The pain and stress associated with this was crippling. A head clash during a sports game which started as nothing turned into one of the scariest experiences of my life. I had woken up with pain in my neck and left arm shooting all the way through to my fingers. Over the next couple of days the pain became so excruciating that I asked my husband to take me to the hospital. There they did what they could, they gave me the highest dose of pain killers and anti inflammatories available and told me to see a spinal surgeon as soon as possible. Even with the medication, the pain was even worse and becoming unbelievably unbearable to the point that I was screaming in agony and scaring the absolute crap out of my husband and children who were 4 and 5 at the time. Instead of ringing to get an appointment as we did not get any sleep I begged my husband to drive me to Auckland 1 hour and a half away and take me to a surgeon who had been recommended and pray that he would see me. The surgeon examined me and said we needed to operate straight away as my C6 disk had been squashed and compressed and was pushing on my nerves which was why I was in so much pain and they needed to operate before there would be permanent damage. I could have forever been in this pain and lose all the feeling and strength in my left arm and hand. He could not fit me into surgery until the Thursday and sent me home with stronger pain killers and to continue with the other pain medication already given to me the day before. Whilst sitting in that waiting room I called my parents and asked them to urgently fly to NZ from Australia to help look after our kids and they were on the next flight out of Western Australia. When they arrived in NZ I had since been admitted back into North Shore hospital because on the drive home on the Monday even with everything the doctors had given me I have never been in so much pain in my life. It felt like the whole left side of my body from my neck through to my shoulders, arm and fingers were being forced into a roaring fire and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. I always believe in telling my kids the full truth in any situation as I feel it is easier for them to ask questions and try and understand. The kids were so scared they were going to lose their mum and I could not even hold them or give them a kiss as the pain had taken control of my entire body. We had to tell the kids that Mummy was being admitted to hospital as the doctors needed to cut open my neck and remove the disc that was causing the pain and replace it with a new one by putting in a metal plate and screws to hold it all together.

Even to this day I know my parents came and visited me in that hospital as soon as they had arrived but I have absolutely no memory of being there. All I remember is lying on a bed until the Thursday not being able to move and doctors coming and going every couple of hours to give me even more medication to just take the edge off. After the surgery the surgeon told me it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen and he had been involved with spinal surgery for over twenty years and he couldn’t guarantee after the surgery that all the work he had done would completely solve the problem. This brought on even more challenges of depression for the thought of not being able to do the things I used to be able to do physically crippled me as this was my lifesaver in my mental health. The struggle to not be able to exercise had huge effects on my health and pushed me back down into that hole and there are plenty of times where I thought what is the actual point if I could never experience the joys and laughter of the world. Once again I used knowledge to learn more about health and nutrition to modify my exercises and accept the reality that I would never again be able to do certain things physically and allow my body to slowly recover.

Despite everything that has happened to me over the last 15 years, I now know that there is a way out of that hole and the only way is by you believing in yourself. You can once again live a life full of love and joy and for me even the days when I actually can sit back, relax and laugh with my kids without that mask brings me to tears. My battle has been real, it is still real and will continue to be real. I will be the best version of who I am meant to be and continue to grow and learn every day for I have never regretted being the person that I am. People will judge no matter what you do in your life and they can judge away as I am true to me. I definitely would not say I have taken the easy road and still have lots of hills to climb along the way but being consistent, true to myself and taking the approach of being holistic and healthy, keeping up with my fitness and nutrition still helps me daily deal with the now reduced battles inside of me.

I now have a new storm raging up inside to make up for all the time that I have lost being unhappy, angry and living in fear. You see no matter how much you go through in your life you can always pick yourself up and be exactly who you are meant to be, You are your own creator, the creator of your dreams, your passions and your desires. For way to long I remained the victim and allowed myself to be attacked over and over again as this was the script I had written for myself due to all the unfortunate events that have occurred in my life. Not once did I say why does this always happen to me? I have always known there was a way to break free and I just had to find it. I had discovered no amount of therapy was going to work for me, I needed to not only speak the words of positive affirmations, I had to train my brain to feel them as my body had forgotten over time exactly what it was meant to feel like. You can tell yourself positive things every day, but if you don’t truly believe the words to be real you may as well continue to feed the negative ones. It’s crazy how our minds and bodies instantly believe the negative thoughts so quickly but struggle with the positive. Our bodies and minds behave in such a way that we really do have the power to lead our lives exactly how we want them to be. Someone once asked me am I going to continue to carry all that SHIT around with me for the rest of my life and be a victim or am going to stand up and throw it away to truly start being me? I never wanted to be a victim, nor receive other people’s sympathies for what I have endured nor do I ever want to be Proud to have the labels of PTSD, Manic Depression, Agoraphobia, Anxiety, OCD, Panic Attacks or Suicidal thoughts. I am destined for greatness, my own kind of greatness that works for me. As I have said before Judge, Judge away as there are so many people in this world who do suffer from a number of conditions and they have to find the way that works for them. For me it was constant learning and knowledge, knowledge of how the mind and body works. Of how, if these are not on the same wave length, things can go straight off the train tracks and down a deep dark cliff.

Most people will be thinking why don’t you reach out, why don’t you just tell me what’s going on? What most people don’t understand is that the FEAR is so real in your own mind and depending on how long you have been deep down in that hole, you are always gasping for air, struggling to reach as you are constantly being pulled back in. You come to fear the judgement of others, fear the negative and nasty people in the world, fear the embarrassment of what you are going through, fear the resentment, fear of not being loved, fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of being misunderstood, fear that you are crazy, fear your own thoughts and everything you fear is feeding the beasts inside your head.

YOU can make the decision in your life to stay on the broken record with the same old song playing over and over again and slightly slipping sometimes along the way. You can also play the victim that this is now your life or you can join me to want more of what this wonderful world has to offer and help change it for the better as a small pebble in a creek turns into massive ripples in a lake. The greatest of journeys starts with one step and the best version of yourself in only one choice away from being a reality, no matter how long you have lived in that cocoon of darkness in your own world you can always start to slowly emerge into a beautiful butterfly clinging to a branch letting the sun soak into your wings and dry all the negativity away so you are able to fly away and be FREE.

Natasha Smith


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