Sunday, 20 May 2018

Is now a good time to talk ?

Me: Hello lovely.
Soraya: Hello you.
Me: Are you free for a chat ?
S: Yes love - you alright ?
Me: I'm ok thanks.
S: How's it going ?
Me: It's been sunny - kids have been swimming and eaten coco pops so they're insane.
S: Hahahaha. Well if you will give them chocolate for breakfast.
Me: I know - I'm sure they've got social services on speed dial next door already.
S: So are you ready for tomorrow lovely ?
Me: I think so.
S: Clothes, shoes, handbag ?
Me: Nope none decided yet, but I have a shortlist.
S: What time do you start ?
Me: 9.30, training course first day.
S: Lunch provided ?
Me: Yep.  One less thing to worry about.
S: And are you ready ?
M: As ready as I can be.
S: Good. You'll be amazing honey.
Me: I'll do my best.
S: They wouldn't have offered it to you if they didn't think you could do it.
Me: I guess not.
S: And the boys ?
Me: They're looking forward to creche and will have dinner at school.
S: Excellent. So it's all in place then ?
Me: It is.
S: So why are you talking to me about it ?
Me: Because you're not here any more and I can't call you in the morning when I am panicking about my first day.
S: You'll be fine.
Me: Who will I call when I'm on the train ?
S: Look out of the window.
Me: I'll be too nervous.
S: Listen to some music. Read a book.
Me: That's an idea. I can't remember the last time I read a book and there's some cracking music around at the moment. You'd like it.
S: I bet I would.
Me: I'll make you a mix tape.
*both laugh*
S: You can still talk to me.
Me: I will. I do.
S: I know honey.
Me: They miss you.
S: Are they ok ?
Me: They're doing their best. They feel so sad. I do go and see them.
S: Thank you.
Me: All the boys went camping last weekend. Yours know the ropes and mine just loved doing it for the first time.
S: Did you go too ?
Me: I did.
S: You're braver than me.
Me: It was a yurt. It was hardly roughing it in the great outdoors.
S: Did it rain ?
Me: Of course.
S: Well I'm glad I wasn't there.
Me: We talked about the caravan that J bought you.
S: Oh god.
Me: I told him you'd been nice about it, but it was highly unlikely you'd ever use it.
S:You didn't tell him that ?
Me: I did. He laughed.
S: Oh well that's a relief.
Me: I turn over the engine on your car to make sure it's still working.
S: Is it ?
Me: Of course. It's a workhorse your car.
S: I saw you cut your hair.
Me: I did, it's a bit strange seeing it like this.
S: Do you want one of my wigs ?
Me: Cheeky cow - it's not that bad.
S: You know I love you whatever you look like.
Me: Not helping !
S: Ok, ok.
Me: Have you met Bowie or Prince yet ?
S: Can't talk about it.
Me: Spoilsport.
S: So, are you ok ?
Me: I'm nervous.
S: You'll be great. You know what you're doing.
Me: I'm not so sure.
S: I am.
Me: How can I do this without you ?
S: You already have.
Me: I miss you so much.
S: You've got this.
Me: Don't go.
S: Love you honey.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Welcome, come on in, the kettle has just boiled.

Inside my head is a busy and often confusing place. Some days I wake up and things are fine. Things are going ok then something ever so minor will cause me to feel bad. That feeling will stay with me all day. I might not even recall what it was that caused the feeling, but it will be there.

Other times getting up will be an actual struggle. Physically I will feel heavy and immobile. My head will barely lift off the pillow and my body will shiver at the thought of moving. When I do get up I will be clumsy, uncoordinated and more than a little cranky.

The days when I bounce out of bed are almost worse. Everything will be done in record time. The house will look spotless and I will be moving constantly. By the time the boys come home I will be worn out, but I'll keep going anyway. My fitbit is pretty much overheating and I'm far too wired to sleep.

It's not always possible to know how someone will react when you open up about mental health. I was careful for over 30 years to not share with anyone in case they judged me for it. I kept up the facade of being cheery and 'normal' so that no one would know there was anything wrong with me.  The quiet challenge of keeping myself together was tough and required more strength than I thought I had a lot of the time.

Then I spoke up on this blog and it felt safe to say that I'm not ok a lot of the time. It's taken far longer to realise that it doesn't make me 'mad' and that I don't have to be ashamed. I still don't talk to my family about my mental health. They have experienced me in the worst of it, but it just doesn't feel like something I can do.

This year has been exceptionally difficult in terms of my mental wellbeing. In addition to the ever present depression and anxiety I've experienced bereavement which has knocked me right off my feet. I tried to talk to real life people about what I was struggling with - some of them were there with me, in the same state of grief. In this big shared space of sadness I found others who knew what it felt like too.

When people have been kind or praised me I've dismissed it as, 'well they obviously don't really know how horrible I really am.' After all what do they know about the 'real' me ? This was reaffirmed when I opened up to someone I've known for many years. I made the difficult and terrifying decision to talk to them honestly about my mental health. It wasn't the right thing to do. All my fears of rejection and being judged and despised for not being 'normal' were proven right. It reminded my why it's not safe to tell the truth about what goes on inside my not quite right head.

Even after all these years I really don't understand why I am like this, but the people who matter accept me. They are there for the times when I'm on good form and for the times when I'm a mess and can't cope with anything. There are dark days and even darker thoughts, but I know I am not alone.

In that I am very lucky.

I don't recall ever sitting down with Hubbie and saying, "here is what's wrong with my head." One day he said something that made me realise he was on my side and he wasn't afraid. That made it possible for me to feel less afraid too. He works around whatever is going on for me and if he sees I am struggling he finds a way to tell me he has noticed. It is such a relief to have an ally who isn't judging or trying to 'fix' me. He holds me metaphorically and literally through the worst of times and is with me for the best ones.

If I could make one thing happen during mental health awareness week it would be to take away the stigma and fear. Even if I could just do that for the people I know that would be something wouldn't it ?

Mental Health Awareness Week is from 14th-20th May

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just call me Greta Garbo

We had an impromptu after school play in the park with friends today. With the sunny weather it's easier to decide on a whim to detour to the park and I get on with the mum so I have company while the kids run around and keep each other busy.

There were the inevitable tantrums when it was time to leave, but the promise of ice cream at home seemed to quel the worst of it. As we were saying bye I told my friend I'm going away for the night tomorrow. On my own. I had planned to have a night away a month ago, but it didn't happen in the end and as a result I really need the break now.

I am having a rough time with Brown Bear and we aren't getting on that well a lot of the time. I know it's a stage and will be over at some point, but I'm also not at my best so I'm not coping as well as I would like to. Having this bit of time to myself is much needed.

It's taken me a long time to allow myself time away by myself without feeling guilty. It really is the case that you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can take care of anyone else. I've let myself get tired, run down and have little patience. Just one night to myself isn't too much to ask is it ?

I go to the theatre by myself sometimes and I love it. I don't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to. I'm not worrying if the other person is having a good time. I can immerse myself in the show and at the end of it I don't have to discuss it with anyone. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the company of other people, but sometimes I just want to do my own thing in my own time and without anyone else around. It's a rare treat to have genuine 'free time' where I don't have to pick anyone up or take anyone to a party or have thought about what other people are going to eat.

This afternoon the boys had separate pick up times so I collected Blue Bear and when we got home he sat watching youtube videos of volcanoes (his current fascination is with lava and all things volcanic) while chomping on ginger nut biscuits. He asked me questions about lava and chose the next video he wanted to watch all by himself. It was fascinating to see how much he has grown up.

After picking up Brown Bear we went to the park and the boys went off with their respective friends. Blue playing with his 'girlfriend' and showing consideration and kindess as he helped her learn how to go on the big slide. It was touching and sweet to see how he took care of her. Brown Bear took it in turns to ride his friend's bicycle and kicked his football before joining us in the play park. He was climbing when another kid was behaving unsafely. I looked over and said, "Leave it, let's go now." He got down, came over to me and said, "He's being an idiot Mummy." I agreed and enveloped him in a big hug. He was hot and sweaty and didn't resist my unexplained affection. He just hugged me back and then we walked together to catch up with the others.

A lot of the time it isn't like this. Often it is difficult, tiring, unrewarding and just very, very loud. I love my children and I am so lucky I've been able to be with them so much. However, I also need to have time and space without them. I am sure that having some time away from them helps me be a better Mum.

This afternoon I got it right. It felt lovely and relaxed and fun to be with the boys and their friends. I am sure that knowing I will be away from them tomorrow evening was a big part of that.

Friday, 4 May 2018

On being invisible

We took the boys to watch Coco last week. I had heard good things about it and that it is a tear jerker of a movie. What I hadn't expected was the thread about a person disappearing because they are no longer remembered by anyone in the land of the living. This concept of invisibility even in death really struck a chord with me.

I've often heard women say that getting older makes them feel they become invisible. Once you are past the being wolf whistled at' or 'flirting to get your own way' stage you are are firmly in the 'far too sensible for all that nonsense' stage. I have to admit I have pretty much always felt invisible. I wasn't a remarkable child and if anyone noticed or stared at me I found it unsettling. At university I preferred not to draw attention to myself, but expressed myself in the student paper as arts editor or on the radio station.

As a parent I have ceased to exist in my own right. From the moment I became 'Brown Bear's mummy' to now when the kids just choose to ignore me. I know this is a universal experience, but it is still galling to be tuned out by my children. Until they want something that is. Then it's all "Mummeeeeee, why aren't you listening to me ?" whine whine whinge whinge.

Friendship is the big shift for me in terms of invisibility. I lost a great friend this year and I notice her absence from my life every day. When I think about things that I would have asked her or jokes I'd have shared with her or news items that we would have been outraged by together. Without her here I feel invisible and ineffective.

Sadly as well as losing a friend against my will I have had to let go of others. I realised that I didn't have the capacity to maintain the friendship and they were unwilling to meet me in the middle. To be honest it was my 'enabling' that made it possible for them to be so high maintenance. I've always made the effort and gone out of my way because I valued their friendship enough to put myself out and to offer. Then I realised that I wasn't as important to them and not worth making an effort for in their busy schedule. If someone has so little respect for me then maybe it is best to be invisible.

One of them probably won't even notice - I am that irrelevant in their life. The other berated me for expecting too much. Yep - I am a loyal and devoted friend and I love and care about my friends. If that isn't mutual then maybe it's not a friendship at all. Losing friends is sad, but in this instance I choose to be invisible.

Instead I have reconnected with a friend who I've known for a long time and who has come back to me at a difficult time. She has been so supportive and positive and I regret that we lost touch for so long. We have been there for each other at dark times in our lives and are painfully honest with each other. It is difficult to be invisible when someone knows you as well as we know each other.

And now I can't even hide behind my hair any more - the security blanket that protected me from prying eyes and judgemental looks. I am literally visible and I feel exposed and vulnerable. It is unsettling being seen. I think I may invest in a pair of large sunglasses to hide behind.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Hair today, gone tomorrow (sorry, I'll get me coat)

Last Friday I went for my swim after the school run as usual and came home to have something to eat before I went to visit my friend at the Marsden in Chelsea. I sent her a message just to check it was still ok to visit in case she was having a bad day. Her husband contacted me to say if I had already left to not worry, but to be prepared to see her very, very ill. I spoke to him for a little while and reassured him that it was not a problem and I'd leave it for another day when she felt up to having a visit. He told me he's been there every day and it's been really difficult seeing her so unwell. It's hardly surprising considering she's had so many vital organs removed and is on many drugs to keep her alive right now. I told him if he needed anything - a cup of tea, a chat or a hug we are here for him. 

It was then I realised the true importance of a charity like Macmillan as it isn't just J who is dealing with cancer it's her husband too. He's a bit of a joker and doesn't let on when he's worried, but I've known J for a few years and she told me that he panics and just isn't able to deal with the stress of his wife being ill. I don't know when I'll get to see her, but the last thing I want to do is add to his concerns. 

Today I went to see Soraya's partner as we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks and I wanted to check how he's doing. It was difficult and sad and emotional. I left feeling that I should have been able to do more. I'm not sure what I thought that would be or what form it would take. I told him that tomorrow I'm cutting off my hair to donate to Little Princess Trust and to raise funds for Macmillan in Soraya's name. He thanked me and offered to give me her wigs. I declined. I'm not sure I can rock a syrup to be honest and I owe it to all those who sponsored me to display the shorn look. 

Lovely Alan has offered to donate the cost of the haircut to my fundraising total and Macmillan are coming along to photograph and film the whole thing. I promise I will share it when I have it. 

Thank you everyone who has been so incredibly generous and supported me in this crazy endeavour.  I just looked at the total on my fundraising page for Macmillan and it's well over £1,000 !!!  

Right, I'm off to bed now - see you on the other side. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

It's a maternity ward, not the red carpet

A woman had a baby this week, her third. It made the news because he is fifth in line to the throne of England and as with her first two she was outside the hospital showing her child to the world's press within hours of giving birth. In response (or possibly in support) women have been sharing photos of themselves immediately after they had a baby. The photos range from a woman applying make up and doing her hair to the scraped back pony tail and sweat top look.

My own first photo was taken by our midwife in the operating theatre after our son was taken out via the sunroof. It had all been so dramatic that I'm not sure I was even thinking about photos so I'm grateful that she had the foresight to do it for us. I was all trussed up in a gown and wearing a green cap when they brought him over to me. He was held close to my face so I could look at him, I closed my eyes to breathe him in and gave a prayer of thanks that he was safe. He was taken away while I was sewn up and there are photos of my puffy red-faced little boy and a wonderful photo of Daddy holding and looking at him with pure love and gratitude.

I don't recall looking in a mirror at all for the first few days - I had no reason to. I was in hospital and had limited range of movement due to the surgery. That didn't matter so much as I just wanted to stay in bed with him in my arms. At night I would lie with him on my chest just looking at his tiny little body and holding him close. The midwives would tell me to put him in the cot to get some sleep, but I didn't want to be without him for even a moment. We had come so close to not being there and he was far too precious to me to put him down.

He was tiny when he was born - I had expected him to be bigger due to my enormous size at the end - which we now realise was due to the pre-eclampsia. When he came out so small I had to admit my size was probably down to the chips and chocolate I'd indulged in after years of dieting rather than baby and placenta.

As Brown Bear was the first grandchild and first nephew in our family the list of visitors who were desperate to see him was long. He was delivered by emergency caesarean so we weren't allowed to see anyone the first day. Then we invited immediate family and my two closest friends to come and see us. I think I asked Hubbie to help me shower and wash my hair before they arrived and wheeled the cot into the bathroom with me as I didn't want to leave the baby alone.

When they did arrive I was still in nightwear and stayed in bed pretty much the entire time they were there. My Dad was the first in and couldn't wait to hold the baby. He didn't want to leave. My friend S-J was so terrified of holding him - he really was so very tiny he looked like a doll - so I put a cushion on her lap to prop him on. I don't recall anyone commenting on my hair or lack of make up. If they did after they left I have no idea.

The very idea of showing off my baby to the world and being judged for how I looked would have been more than I could have coped with. In those first few hours I just wanted to be with my baby.

And to sleep.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Remember when swipe left was how you turned the page on a kindle ?

You will be relieved to hear that I'm aware that my recent posts have been all 'me, me, me,' and frankly even I've had enough of that. So, in reponse to absolutely no public demand here is a welcome break from the pity party.

A friend of mine separated from her partner last year and is keen to meet someone new, so she's been internet dating. It's been 15 years since I did the same and the world of dating has changed a phenomenal amount since then. In the early days you never admitted to meeting anyone through the internet. I told only a few friends and my housemates were on hand to call me to give me a get out if things were going wrong. If anyone asked how you'd met you would be prepared with stories about shared interests or meeting at work. In actual fact the serious relationships in my life did come about through work and shared interests so maybe there's something in that ?

Anyway, this is my advice for you Britney* based on what I learned and I hope it's helpful. Feel free to disregard it all and throw caution to the wind though love. If you meet the man of your dreams in a wine bar in Beckenham and he's a keeper, what do I know ?

The experience of internet dating was a salutory lesson in what I didn't want. It helped me narrow down the qualities I was looking for and the 'non-negotiables.' At this point you want to meet some guys, have a drink, dinner, whatever. A profile won't tell you anything that matters, but it will give you the headlines. I can guarantee you that men always overrate how attractive they are. That's not to say they're trolls, but they will say they're an 8 when they're probably a 6 on a good day. When you've shown me photos I've noticed there are fewer passport shots now and more 'hey look at me on the beach, walking the Great Wall,' etc. type photos. That shows effort, or a good grasp of photoshop.

Where you meet matters. I was lucky that when I was dating I lived and worked in London so I didn't go to the same place twice. If I was really unsure about a potential date I'd meet them at the wine bar down the road from my house so I didn't have to give up my entire evening if it wasn't going well. Ok, so you have the added wrinkle of arranging childcare, but if you meet for lunch that solves that one and you have an automatic out if he's not your type.

Talking of type I've categorised them for you to save you the heartache and drama - I mean, we have kids, that's enough drama isn't it ? 

The Marrying Kind: 

This guy is ready to settle down. He's going to marry the next woman who meets his criteria. All his mates are settled and he was in a serious relationship, but that ended and now he's running out of time. If you want to get married go for this guy, but if not be prepared for him to move on pretty quickly so he can get to Mrs Right. 

The Cryer:

Emotions are good and all that, but this chap emotes all over the shop. And the cafe and the car park if it gets that far. He had a pretty crappy break up with his last girlfriend and while he's not bitter he is feeling every last bit of it. Still. So you will hear about it and how he thought they were going to settle down and have kids and that he misses the dog. He still goes to see her parents and plays Fifa with her brother, but he's over it. Honest. 

The lad:

The love of this guy's life is his group of mates. They have names like, "Banjo, Big D, G-Man and Tash." He won't explain any of them, "you had to be there." These friends have known each other since they were kids and they will have known every girl he's ever dated. It won't matter to him if you aren't his type, he's doing you a favour letting you into his 'gang' anyway.  

Heff wannabe:

He's fit and he knows it. Acts like a playboy, but never talks about what he does for a living. That exclusive club in town ? Yep he can get you in and he drops names that mean nothing to you. He gives the impression he doesn't have to work and can afford a lavish lifestyle. It's more likely he lives with his parents and drives their car. He's got all the moves and it's flattering that he wants to even be seen in your company, but you know he's always looking over your shoulder for a better option. Enjoy it while it lasts - you're just a pit stop. 

The Player: 

He's all about sharing himself around and will probably call you by the wrong name. Actually he will call you babe or darling or precious so as not to have to even learn your name. He won't pretend to be looking for anything serious so you'll have a laugh and go out on some dates with a bloke who claims to like women - so much he can't choose just one. He knows what to say and how to treat you like a lady - or a bad, bad girl if you prefer - and gets plenty of practice. If you don't mind not being his one and only this is your guy, well not yours exclusively, but you know what I mean. 

The Bad Boy:

Oh this one is so appealing and so very hard to give up. He won't make a firm arrangement with you so you never know where you stand. If he does show up he's sufficiently sexy to make you forget his misdemeanors. He's pretty unreliable (think John Hamm's character in Bridesmaids) but has you wrapped around his little finger. Thinking about him will make your heart flutter, but you know that he's also going to break your heart. Totally worth it ! 

Could go either way: 

Potentially a good guy, possibly a stalker. Too soon to say. He will be attentive, kind, romantic, thoughtful and there. Man will he be there. If he hasn't already cooked for you he's planning on it. He sent you flowers after the first date and calls when he says he will. Nothing bad about any of that but if he's not your type he's not going to give you up easily. It make take a while to shake this one off. Still it's nice to be wanted isn't it ? 

The jackpot:

If he's seen you at your worst, if he's around when you're being a total arsehole - hey let's get down to brass tacks, if he's held back your hair when you've overdone it at that Prosecco bar you both thought was a great idea - he's a keeper. He's not perfect - hell neither are you ! - but he's also realistic and knows that it's not always posh dinners and hot sex. He's around for the fun stuff and will still be there when things are a bit crap. You have a laugh and you can be yourself without fear that he's not up to it. For my money this one is the one to hold out for.

Of course the profile on your phone won't tell you any of this so you're going to have to snog a few frogs. In the meantime enjoy the drinks, the dinners and whatever else you fancy.

Good luck precious xx

* Britney is not her name, I'm being discreet.