Sunday, 24 June 2018

I'm ready for the good life now thanks.

I've been thinking about endings lately.

From the minor endings like the TV shows I love coming to a series finale, my favourite fragrance finishing (ooh alliteration !) and having to stop wearing Fit Flops after donkey's years because they're not suitable for work. To the biggies - going back to work and not being around all the time for my boys any more. Taking care of Neo in the full knowledge that he is old for a cat and all the pills we are giving him will only hold off the inevitable for so long.

Maybe it's the end of the long days and the slow progress towards Autumn and Winter. That inevitability of the nights getting darker a bit earlier until it's clearly a different season. I've been teaching yoga in the evenings and it's still light outside when the class finishes. That won't be the case for much longer. However it does mean I get to teach by candlelight again and that is magical.

Then I think about how I've coped with relationship endings. My first marriage ended a long time ago now and I barely recognise the woman I was then. We had been so unhappy and he kept telling me to leave him. One day it was completely clear to me that it was time to leave. It seemed so obvious that was the right thing to do. It was painful and difficult and the fallout went on for years. I had been thrown out of my family to be with him and yet they took me back when I left. I waited every day for 2 years for the pain to stop. I'm not sure when it did, but it must have because I'm here now.

In a very sad episode I lost a friend for a few years because he was in a relationship with someone who was toxic and unkind. I couldn't bear to see him being mistreated and we lost touch. I told him years later that I was always his friend, but I just couldn't be around her and he opened up that he hadn't been happy. Being a friend sometimes means having to be brutally honest and that isn't easy. I wish I had checked if he was happy instead of taking myself away to avoid her.

The finality of losing Soraya has been the most difficult ending - obviously. It has tested my mental strength and pushed me to the limits of my patience. Someone asked me how I manage to do so many things and I smiled and shrugged. The truth is I keep 'doing' because if I stop and think it just hurts too much.  If I start to cry I might never stop. There are things that help. Music, yoga, running, swimming, cuddling Neo, Hubbie, my boys, friends. I am very lucky.

Eventully I hope to think less about what is ending and instead focus on what is beginning.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Fame at last...

Well this happened. 

In January I decided I was going to cut off all my hair to raise money for Macmillan and donate it to charity. 

Macmillan contacted me and asked if I'd like to take part in a photoshoot for them and I said, "hella yeah !" 800 photos later they produced this for the new fundraising pack. It even features the hand of my wonderful hairdresser Alan. 

The hair was donated to Little Princess Trust who produce real hair wigs for children and young people with hair loss from cancer treatment. It's a wonderful charity and I'm so proud to have been able to do this. 

So the next big challenge is the Royal Parks half marathon that I'm going to run in October. It's the furthest distance I've run and it's a real effort for me to train for this. I am hoping my shorter hair will make me more aerodynamic so I don't make a complete idiot of myself ! The training plan starts next Monday and I'm hoping to add to the £1200 I've already raised for the fantastic work that Macmillan do to support people with cancer and those who care for them. 

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported my efforts so far, financially and emotionally. I'm touched by the care and kindness that so many lovely folk have shown me. It hasn't made the challenges (both people and things) easier to deal with, but it's been reassuring to have a hand to hold and a listening ear.  

You can follow my progress on Instagram and if you want to support Macmillan I have a fundraising page. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

I sound like a huskie...

This evening when I came home from work I let myself in and put my handbag by the front door. I could hear the boys outside so I went to see what they were up to. Hubbie had picked them up and brought them home early so they could play outside before going to bed. Since I've been at work they go to creche after school so I don't see them as much. I've been feeling guilty on the rare mornings Blue Bear is awake before I leave.
"Where you going Mummy ?"
"I'm going to work."
"What again ?"
"Yes Baby, every day."
"I miss you Mummy."
"I miss you too, but you'll have a lovely time at school and I'll see you later."

Brown Bear asks me if I've had a good day at work and even made me a celebration certificate. He has previous experience of me going to school, but it's all new for Blue. Since he has been with us I've been at home with him. It's been a big change for him and he's started climbing into bed around 5am to see me before I leave. It's exhausting, but very sweet. When I woke up today he was in his own bed, but I was still shattered. I've had a splitting headache all day and I'm losing my voice. Hubbie kindly picked the boys up so I didn't have to go to school and they were home already when I got back from work. I went upstairs to lie down in the dark and Brown Bear came in to give me a hug and to check if I was ok. Neo wandered in, miaowed then lay down next to me. He has a great instinct for when anyone is not well.

Blue Bear goes to bed first so while Hubbie was getting him ready for bed I talked to Brown Bear.
"Taylor's mummy sent a message to say she's coming back to school tomorrow and she's going to be using crutches as she's hurt her foot. Can you help her please ?"
"Ok Mummy."
"Maybe carry her bags into class."
"I can help her up the stairs. I'll put my arm around her."
"What a nice idea. I'm sure she'd like that."
"I helped Ray and Betty at school today."
"That's a kind thing to do. Well done."
"That's ok Mummy."
He gave me a hug and went back to his room.

Blue Bear was lying in bed and I went to say goodnight.
"Stroke me Mummy."
"Ok baby."
"Why you close your eyes ?"
"I'm very tired sweetheart."
I smoothed him on the back and head to help soothe him to sleep. As he seemed to be dropping off I went to leave the room.
"Where you going Mummy ?"
"I need to lie down, I don't feel well."
He reached for a Paw Patrol pillow on his bed and held it out to me.
"Put this on the floor and lie down Mummy."
"Thank you Sweetie, but I need to lie down in the dark. You don't like the dark."
"It ok Mummy you switch light off, I like the dark now."
It is no exaggeration to say he's really terrified of the dark and I was so touched.
"It's ok baby I'll stay with you."
I did. I stroked his back and smoothed his head until I heard the soft snores that indicated he'd gone to sleep.

I think we've got this.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Got my work shoes and a packed lunch all ready to go

I was queuing at the till this afternoon to pay for my shopping. I decided that as it's my first full week in my new job I was going to be well prepared so I bought all the food I needed for lunches, breakfasts and any snacks. The boys were at home lounging in the sunny garden having returned from cricket and we had all been for a fun swim earlier in the morning. In the queue I noticed a man behind me who had only two items to pay for. I asked it he wanted to go ahead of me and he looked a bit surprised, but thanked me and moved forward. The woman in front of me was frantically packing her shopping, she had already rolled her eyes and castigated her husband (who had disappeared now) and was clearly not in a good mood. The man in front of me stood next to her waiting his turn to pay and she looked at him and sharply asked him to move away so she could put in her pin number.  He was quite elderly and didn't really understand so I gently took his elbow and explained that she wanted some privacy to put in her number and he mumbled something. She swore at him and he looked baffled. It brought me up short, because I can remember days when I have been like that. I've not been patient or especially nice and it's embarassing to see in another person the rotten behaviour I've probably displayed myself. 

This was on my mind because we just had a half term holiday in Cornwall where we spent time relaxing, eating outside, being active and generally doing things as a family. I have tried to manage the worst of my moods and temper, which is much easier when it is sunny and now the boys are older they even sleep in sometimes !! I noticed Blue Bear has more energy, he asserts himself more (well he shouts a lot), he is funny and engaging and lots of fun. Brown Bear blew my mind when we all went on a long cycle ride by being brave and sensible and working as a team with me and hubbie. I have wanted to ride the Camel Trail since I first visited Cornwall about 18 years ago. Now that Brown Bear can ride a bike confidently we hired bikes - and a buggy for Blue Bear to sit in behind Daddy's bike. We took to the trail and it was just fantastic to be able to cycle as a family and to see my son pedalling away and taking the lead. Even when he came off his bike and scraped his arm - quite painfully - he got back on and kept going. I recalled how when I fell off my bike my dad would tell me off rather than comfort me. It showed me that some of my worst traits are learned behaviours and it is entirely my choice to take them on. I didn't tell him off, I reassured him that falling off is part of cycling and he had done nothing wrong to make it happen. Then we sang as we cycled along to take his mind off his injury. 

I noticed that I'm letting go more and giving the boys more space. It's been on my mind that the shift from full time parent to full time work is something I just wasn't prepared for. The boys are great, they love creche and hopefully Blue Bear will eat supper at school this week instead of expecting me to feed him when I'm home from work. Brown Bear often asks me, "How was your day Mummy ?" and made me a certificate to signify how well I'd done for going back to work. They are fine with it. Hubbie provides the encouragement and practical support to enable me to do this at all. On my first day as I was leaving for work he gave me a massive hug and whispered in my ear, "I'm so proud of you." That carried me practically all the way there. 

It's taken what seems like forever, but now I am here and I have put things in place to help me feel calmer. I disclosed to work that I experience anxiety and stress. This is the first time I've ever done that. I decided it was best to just be open and I'm glad I did. They need to know that if I am being asked to stay late and it means I can't pick up my kids that is going to cause me anxiety. Being late for my children makes me stressed. Over the years I realise that people have thought I'm being unreasonable or picky when actually I'm anxious. It's not logical or directed at anyone in particular and to a certain extent it is out of my control. If I am on a train that is delayed I will be getting anxious - even though there's nothing I can do about it. If I have an hour for lunch and the food is late I will be anxious. I'd rather just leave it, but I don't want to be rude. 

So when I saw the woman today I kind of sympathised with her. I have no idea why her day was going that way or why she was upset with her husband or why him changing the orangeade for lemonade caused her to react as she did. I have no clue why the man standing close to her caused her to get so upset. In fact, I blamed myself for letting him in front of me and putting him in that situation. Still, I hope she felt better later. 

I came home and put out four outfits for this week. I organised the things I need to take to work and put the food in the fridge that I am going to eat tomorrow. I am managing my potential anxiety in the only way I know how - by organising the hell out of it. Now I'm going to bed so that I at least have a fighting chance of getting enough sleep. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

A tiara would have been nice, but the unicorn was pretty cool too.

I looked at my boys at one point today and just stopped.

It was after Blue Bear had been for a walk with Daddy and come back with a caterpillar toy from the shop. After Brown Bear had left the cottage and gone for a wander without telling anyone where he was going. After Blue Bear had yelled blue murder - we thought he had lost a limb at the very least - because his shoe had come off. It was also after Brown Bear had kicked a football into the tree outside and very nearly decapitated the son of our holiday hosts with a gigantic frisbee in an effort to retrieve the ball.

I had been afforded a lie in and some quiet time for myself - I spent it conked out instead of running as I had optimistically intended to do. Following a week when I started a new job this break has been much needed, but the early start and long drive did take their toll on the drivers. It was also the day after my lovely friend said goodbye to her beloved cat Tom. I had known him all his life and he was an adorable lad. We played tricks on her like ringing the doorbell and running away - well I ran away, he sat there and freaked her out. Oh how we laughed.

Half term is always a bit of a sharp handbrake turn in the school year. The kids are desperately ready for it and we don't usually plan to go away for this one and it's so busy. This year we decided to book to go away in a return to our 'pre-children reverie.' We went on a road trip to California one year and another we had a special weekend in Brighton to celebrate my 40th birthday.

As the sun shone today it truly felt like a holiday. As Blue Bear swaggered around with sunglasses on demanding Daddy pull the sleigh he was sitting on. As the boys and their friends ran with the bubble wands we had bought for them making trails of rainbow filled bubbles. As we sat in the sunshine and I blew out the candles on a unicorn cake (don't ask !) and the kids scoffed Peppa Pig cupcakes in record time.

Of course as soon as the sugar hit their insides they were chaos unconfined and thankfully there was plenty of space outdoors for them to run off the energy and insanity. It was lovely to see them playing outside and to be able to let them roam freely and not worry about them being within our sight the whole time. It reminded me of my own school holidays when we would go outside to play and my Mum didn't stand over us commentating on every little thing we did.

Recently I've been taking my hands off the reins and letting my boys take risks and be out of my sight more. It is terrifying. It is also quite exhilirating when I hear a glowing report about their behaviour in my absence. From the text message I got about Blue Bear on Monday asking if they could keep him as he had been so adorable on the play date and had at one point looked out at an amazing view and declared, "I can see forever." To the lovely comments from our host today saying Brown Bear has been nothing but polite and friendly to her - he was pretty rotten to his brother, but you know, small steps.

And then earlier I was sitting on the sofa and the boys were sitting side by side next to me. They were staring at a screen and looked tired. Their faces were completely relaxed and had that slight sheen from playing outside and catching the sun. As I looked at my boys I just felt overwhelmed with love and appreciation.

Yes they annoy the hell out of me and each other, but they are silly, funny, brave and gorgeous. When I recall my birthdays this one will be up there as special because I noticed. I stopped and gave myself a break. I let go and let them be free. I remembered that these boys (and the bigger one and the furry one) are just about the best thing in my life. I mean let's not be too hasty, there's still chocolate and shoes up there too.

Oh and did I mention I once met Clare Grogan as she was leaving the toilets in the theatre ?

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