Sunday, 30 June 2019

Pride: in the name of love

Growing up in a house that was mostly girls I had no idea how I would cope with being a Mum to boys. I am well and truly outnumbered - even the cat is male. However, there are so many highlights (and idiosyncrasies) about my little family and I thought I'd share some of them. 

Brown Bear helps his baby brother get ready for school 

I am used to random dinosaurs supervising toothbrushing 

We spend a lot of time outdoors - a lot ! 

Some of the time we watch a movie outside - something Mummy loves too. 

We laugh a lot together 

Blue Bear loves nature and animals - he offers to help me with the gardening

I get the loveliest gifts from my boys 

At times there is no room for me in my own bed 

It's nice to get some time to myself 

The best times are with these boys  

Friday, 24 May 2019

This is my life.

In two weeks I'm going to a celebration of life for my beloved friend Soraya. It's timed around her birthday when she would have been 50. A milestone birthday. It wasn't supposed to be this way. She was supposed to be here.

I think about Soraya a lot. The other day I was driving along and I just felt a wave of grief wash over me. I wanted to shout at Soraya for not being here when I need her. In fact I did shout and cried and let the feelings overwhelm me. When I see a facebook memory that she commented on and it makes my heart stop for a moment. this is when I miss her the most. When I see her words and I can hear her voice in my head. I also think about her now because we were birthday buddies. Gemini babies, chatterboxes, loud laughers and proud older mums.

Why is it we only celebrate a person's life when they have died ? Is it only celebrities who get to have a 'this is your life' moment ? Soraya should have been here to celebrate her 50th and (selfishly) mine too. Milestones matter.

When I was celebrating my 30th I had left my first marriage, I was newly single, surrounded by friends and rocking a shorter hairstyle and a slimmer figure. It took a long time to get over that break up, but my family and friends did everything to get me back on my feet.

For my 40th I was significantly bigger as I was expecting Brown Bear. I had a party with family and friends and celebrated this much longed for pregnancy as well as my actual birthday. It was one of the happiest times of my life carrying Brown Bear.

I've talked a lot about how I will be 50 next year and how I want to do something to mark the half century. I haven't decided what that will be yet. However, I do know that for the first time in almost 15 years I will be single, with two fantastic sons and (all being well) an elderly cat. This wasn't what I expected for my next milestone birthday. However, it is where I am.

The thing is, I know is I can do this. Being single I mean.  It felt like that was my entire life until the age of 27. I didn't go out with anyone in school or university and when I was working in London for so many years I never met anyone and formed a relationship. However, in my single years I bought my own flat, made friends with some awesome people, fell in love with making radio shows, discovered a passion for live music, learned to scuba dive and ski, volunteered and worked. Oh don't get me wrong I wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted to share my life with someone I loved and who loved me. While I was looking for this I got on with making a life for me.

Now I am here again, but this time I have Brown and Blue Bear and they truly are the loves of my life (don't tell Neo !) Being their Mum makes me incredibly proud. With this awesome twosome by my side I know I can do this. My friends are reminding me on a daily basis that I can overcome anything and have the determination to achieve the impossible. So here is my own little self-indulgent "This is your life" tribute to me: 

  • I was told it was unlikely I'd be able to have a baby, but I didn't let it stop me. Brown Bear is the living proof of my belief in miracles.   
  • I grew and fed a baby from my actual body. Yes this body that I often look at with disappointment and shame. I carried this brilliant boy and nearly died giving birth to him, but we made it. 
  • The day I saw a photo of Blue Bear I knew he would be my son. It was meant to be and so it was.  My baby boy belongs in this family and the minute I saw his beautiful face there was nothing I wasn't going to do to make that happen. 
  • When Soraya died I wanted to do something big in her memory. Cutting off all my hair was something that was huge for me. Then I also trained to run a half marathon. Me, the fat kid who was always picked last. And I did it !! 
  • When someone I love was in pain I stood in the rain to talk him out of making a terrible mistake. I wanted him to pick me, but I helped him make it work in his relationship. I stand by that. I know in that moment I was putting his needs before my own and I would do it again. 
  • My lovely friend was in hospital and I went to see her with a 3 month old Brown Bear in tow to cheer her up. I took shampoo and conditioner with me to wash her hair because I know how dehumanising having greasy hair can be. It was a teeny thing, but she still reminds me how much it meant to her. 
  • My son wanted to give up on his first (and last) junior park run. Halfway round he was almost in tears and I said, "shall we hold hands and do this together ? It doesn't matter how fast - let's finish together." We did and the look of pride on his face as he ran over the finish line stays with me to this day. 
  • Blue Bear asked me the other day if I had baby photos of him. I showed him some on my phone - including his birth mum just in shot holding him. He smiled at me and asked if I would print the photos so he can put them on the wall by his bed. Yes baby boy, of course I will. 

Of all the things I've done in my life I can honestly say that being a mum is the one that I am most proud of. I don't always get it right - in fact I often think I'm getting everything wrong. I am, however, always trying my best for my boys. They are my world and all that matters to me. I know that when I hear them laughing and having fun my heart skips a beat.

That is what I live for.

I've got this.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Help, I need somebody.

This week I have been sharing blog posts that I have written about Mental Health Awareness Week. I had one all written for today which I was going to publish tonight. I logged in to update it and somehow it just vanished. I thought I had saved it, but nope it was gone. Those carefully crafted words that I was so pleased with and the nuggets of wisdom that I thought were so eloquent. Only this evening my heart just wasn't in it really.

Earlier this week I shared a missing person's report - something I never do usually. It was different this time, however because I knew Spencer. We first met through our shared experience of blogging. He was campaigning to persuade Amazon to stop selling a book that advocated beating your children to discipline them. I interviewed him on my radio show and a while later we met in person at a blogging event that we had taken our kids to. He was a lovely guy. We chatted about the Beatles, how we liked our tea the same colour and living and growing up in London.

We stayed in touch even after he moved up north to be with his lovely partner. They would listen to my radio show and contact me while I was on air to request songs and to tell me how much they were enjoying it. I loved knowing that they were listening. I hadn't seen Spencer since he moved to Barnsley. We stayed in touch via Twitter and I often asked how he was doing as he suffered chronic pain. He was struggling and I felt for him, but his humour was always intact in his public persona.

Then earlier this week I saw a tweet that showed his face on a missing person's report. He had distinctive blue eyes so you couldn't miss him really. I was really surprised, but I shared it on social media as he used to live in London. It was worth casting the net as wide as possible to encourage him to get in touch and say he was ok.

Today Spencer's partner K shared the tragic news that his body had been found. It was such a shock to all who knew him. It also reminded me that we had many conversations about depression and childhood spent living with an alcoholic parent. I cannot imagine how K is feeling right now, nor his beloved children. Is it any wonder that my words were lost. How do you express a loss that isn't yours, but that you feel connected with ?

The headlines I wanted to share about Mental Health Awareness Week are even more relevant in light of this. There are some recurring themes that come up whenever mental health is talked about:  

It is not shameful - and yet it is still so difficult to tell the truth about being depressed. Recently someone I trust talked about my being depressed as a justification for his own terrible behaviour. Had I been less broken he wouldn't have done what he did. So on top of my own mental health issues I now have to deal with the guilt of making life difficult for another person. As well as the judgement of those he told. They looked at me and said, "Well that makes sense now."

Be open and honest - ok so I write about it on here, but I've never spoken about it to my family. I don't want them to see me as weak or a failure. I already think that about myself why would I want other people to think it too ? Last year a friend said, "Talk to me about it. If I know I can try and understand." So I trusted him and told him about the anxiety that cripples my capacity for rational thought. I told him that my responses are impaired by my inability to tell actual threats from perceived ones. As things in my head became more complicated he eventually walked away. It was too much to expect any support. Should I just have pretended I was fine ?

Take care of yourself - when your self worth is non existent why would you think that you are worthy of self care ? Taking time for myself has always induced guilt. As if my own wellbeing is inconsequential. People can be so blasé about 'me time' and 'self care' as if it's as simple as going for a spa day. I'm finding ways to take care of myself, but they are things like going for a walk or a swim or a run. Space to just be.

So do I regret talking about mental health and letting people in ? I guess to a point it would have saved a friendship if I hadn't. It might have been less painful if I'd just carried on as if nothing was wrong. However my real friends reassure me and know that a hug is like magic when I'm struggling. They remind me that I am strong, determined and kind. When I surround myself with those who love me I feel like a warrior.

Tonight I raise a glass to Spencer and wish he had found a way that would have enabled him to still be here. I'm also thinking of K and hoping she has hugs and love to hold her through this pain.

I am so thankful for those who keep me going. You are precious and I am so lucky to have you.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

I close my eyes... and press publish.

A few weeks ago I took off my wedding ring and engagement ring and put them away. The indent in my finger took a few days to wear off - I've worn them for 12 years so I guess it does take time. I've removed my married name from social media - all of my work and social contacts are in that name, so it's not like I can just change it overnight in every walk of life. A few people have been in touch to ask if this was a significant thing and to commiserate when I have told them.

Friends have been amazing - they have been there in person, by phone, by message and at every turn have told me that this is not my fault. I did not make this happen by being unwell, or angry or not attractive enough. I did not drive away someone who lied, cheated and betrayed me and my family. This is squarely at their feet, not mine. It is impossible, however, to feel entirely free of responsibility. After all if I wasn't such a horrible person why would it have happened ? Did I not care enough ? Am I not kind enough ? Was I not pretty enough ? Did I not do enough ? What is enough ?

I've been scared that I'd lose friends and loved ones by being so messed up for so long. I tried to apologise and save a relationship with someone I love very much. This person has borne the brunt of my unhappiness for a long time, so I spoke from the heart and bared my soul. Nope - it cut no ice. I was unceremoniously ditched. What was I expecting ? Well, a chance to explain. To say that this isn't me. It's the situation I'm in. Still, I guess ripping off the plaster has to be the way to do it.

You know how I've been talking about anxiety and depression for so long ? How I wasn't entirely sure why I was so ungrateful as to be unhappy when I have so much to be thankful for ? Turns out that my instincts that something wasn't quite right were spot on. There was something afoot and it was not good. In fact the thing I suspected wouldn't have been nearly as bad. Then on top of my world being turned inside out I had to deal with other people's reactions. The disbelief. The horror. Then I have to comfort the person I've just told.

Sleep is a distant memory now - punctuated by failure dreams and wakefulness. Not even the useful kind where you can rage clean or write novels, but the useless self-loathing kind. Looking at the clock is self-defeating so I don't do it. The cat pins me to the bed to stop me from roaming around, which is odd considering he walks over my face to wake me up in the morning when I do finally drop off. He has never done that before so I'm not sure why he's doing it now.

Brown Bear is also having bad dreams - of our family breaking up and how sad that will be. Blue Bear is being cheerful to the point of suspicion during the day. I know this isn't entirely his real self as he's screaming in anxiety at night. Like he did when he first came to live with us. This is hurting all of us so much. Well, not all of us clearly. I mean the person whose behaviour has caused all of this seems to have little self awareness that their poor choices have had so much impact.

It wasn't like I was supposed to know. I found out and have had to deal with whatever has unravelled since then. And oh so much has come to light. Each week something new and more horrific than the last. Like a massive spike filled ball of wool slowly rolling along leaving blood and scars and pain. That's all I am right now. Pain. Anger. Confusion. Anxiety. Self-loathing. Oh and I've still been parenting and working. Mostly with a smile on my face and acting like it's all fine.

So please don't ask if I'm ok. I'm not. I will be. This is what is happening right now and it sucks, but it won't be forever.

I have other rings I can wear.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Not today

Today is not a good day

I keep thinking that years ago when that woman at work told me I'm stupid I she was right.

All those times Mum said I wasn't nice or kind it was the truth - she wasn't being cruel, she was telling me for my own sake.

That ex who told me I'm negative about everything and critical about people and always looking to find offence - he had a point. 

The feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me everything going wrong is all because of me - that's self awareness right there. 

Tears rolling down my face as I drive remind me that I wouldn't feel this way if I didn't deserve it 

Waking up at 3 am, 4am, 5am and not being able to lift my head off the pillow at 6am when the alarm goes off is happening because I am rubbish. 

Today is not a good day. 

I still have to parent my boys. 

Today is not a good day.

The things I do still have to be done.

Today is not a good day.

Being upset and sad around others isn't ok. 

Today is not a good day. 

I'm not up for polite chit chat and pleasantries.

Today is not a good day.

For now this is how it feels - I have to accept that things are not good. 

Not today. 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

This too shall pass.

At lunchtime on Thursday this week I was sitting on a bench in Soho Square. It was only when I stood up to go to my meeting that I noticed the plaque on the bench. It was the one dedicated to Kirsty MacColl. Now you probably know that I love her music so that made this significant and moving.Not least as I had just been having a telephone assessment for counselling and it was not the easiest conversation to hold in a public place. I gave the general details of what's been going on in the last year and a bit - to recap, bereavement, breast cancer (not me) and return to working full time. The most recent events have, however, pushed me over the edge. While everything else was happening to people I love I was able to keep busy by helping them. It was possible to just keep going and avoid dealing with my own stuff the whole time. This most recent thing, however. is happening to me and I can't avoid it or 'do' my way out of it.

I spent the first week in shock and unable to speak to anyone without crying. It made talking to anyone very difficult. In conversation with friends I found myself saying, "I'm so, so sorry it's just one thing after another with me isn't it ?" It was like I was cashing in all my friendship chips in one big hit. Thankfully they didn't respond with, "Well it is a bit much actually and it's about time you just pulled yourself together." Instead I had the reassurance and kindness of those I love and who love me in return. However, I am the one who has to make decisions about my life and my kids. It's down to me to be the adult for all of us. No amount of advice from others can make that any easier, but it does help to have someone listen and sympathise. 

A counsellor doesn't sympathise, but the person doing the initial assessment can.
"It does sound like a very difficult time. I can hear in your voice that it's a struggle." 
A murmur of agreement.
"Now I have to ask this question."
"Have you considered harming yourself."
"I know it's not an easy question to answer."
Not recently. 
"What makes you stop yourself."
I wouldn't do that to my children. Or my family. I don't want to hurt anyone else.
"Do you know what to do if you have those thoughts or you feel you are at risk of harming yourself ?"
Yes I think so.
"What would you do ?"
I'd call Samaritans. 
"That's good. You can also call your GP for an urgent appointment or you can present yourself to A&E." 
There's a bit more explanation of what happens next then she asks me,
"What are you doing for the rest of the day ?"
I'm going to meet a friend for coffee and a catch up. Then I'm picking up my boys and spending the evening with them.
"That sounds nice."

I walk to where I'm meeting my friend. We sit with her holding my hands for support. The tears start and just don't stop. I notice all the people around us. She looks me straight in the eye as I dart my eyes around to see who's looking at me. "Keep talking" she says, so I do. Everything. How I feel unloved, ugly, unwanted. The fear of getting things wrong for my kids. The inability to think straight or to make a single decision. "You are going to feel like this, but let me tell you that voice in your head is wrong." I need to keep reminding myself that the voice telling me I am rubbish, I am negative, I am a bad person and all manner of other stuff is a symptom of this. 

And this will pass. 

Sunday, 7 April 2019

All you need is love

Are you a touchy feely person ? Does it make you feel a bit creeped out if someone you barely know touches you ? Are you someone who will immediately kiss a person you've just met in a friendly manner ? Is it normal for you to touch the person you're talking to - on the elbow or something, nothing rude obvs ! I only ask because the issue of inappropriate touch has been in the news again and it's made me think about what touch means to different people.

I've lived in London most of my life so being in close proximity to other people is a way of life. However, there are boundaries. It is perfectly possible to have the merest sliver of space between yourself and another commuter on the tube, but if your hands touch it's terribly awkward and apologies ensue. To be frank if personal space is an issue for you I'd avoid the underground altogether as it really will mess with your head. I steer clear of it at all costs and will go on foot if I have time or by bus. If I'm running very late and absolutely have to use the underground I will, but I really don't enjoy it.

Touch has to be consensual doesn't it ? In recent years parents have been more aware of the need to respect a child's wishes not to kiss Aunty Maureen if they don't want to. Growing up we all had to hug aunties didn't we ? I had uncles and aunties who would pinch my cheeks and while I hated it I couldn't refuse - it was rude. When people talk about children having the right to say no I fully support it. It's also an acknowledgment that some children really don't respond well to physical interactions. When Blue Bear first came to live with us he was used to being picked up and held but he wasn't keen on being hugged by people he didn't know. Even now he can be reticent with people he knows really well if he's just not in the mood for being hugged. It took me a long time to go from hugging him to it being a two way thing. He doesn't always want to be touched even now. When I go to kiss him goodnight he will say, "kiss me on my head," instead of his face. I respect his wishes. Brown Bear is used to being smothered with hugs and kisses by aunties and grandparents and responds as any 8 (going on 18) boy would. He is patient with us, but makes it clear he is only doing this out of the goodness of his heart and it could all end any time.

Hugs are really important to me. When I meet up with a friend or family member I always go in for a big hug with them. It's a greeting, but also a way of showing that I've missed them. It's also - for me - a way of destressing. When I'm having a difficult time or a bad day I find a hug makes things so much more bearable. The people who love me know this and make time to see me just to give me a hug and make things better. I do the same for the people I love. Let's be clear that these are not necessarily the same people. the Venn diagram of people who I am nice to and who are also nice to me has an overlap, but it's a small one. I remember talking to a friend who couldn't understand why his partner was so upset with him for giving her money as a present. I explained that she wanted to spend time with him so giving her the money to spend on a 'nice day out with someone' was not the same thing. He couldn't see it. Closeness isn't for everyone - I get that.

Touch is shorthand for "I am here for you," "I've got you," "It's going to be ok," "Don't worry, we've got this." When my kids are sleeping I go in and touch their faces or kiss them on the head. I know they are aware of it when I see the faint smile in response.

Yes, hugs mean love. And love is all you need.