Monday, 31 December 2018

Farewell 2018 Holla 2019

Things I did for the first time in 2018:

Trained for and ran a half marathon - I did it in just over 3 hours.

Cut off all my hair and donated it to a cancer charity.

Had a mammogram - it was fine, just a bit daunting really to be old enough to require one !

Went back to work full time after being at home with my kids for years - that was a bit of a shock to all of us.

Challenges I faced in 2018:

Spent more time in hospital waiting rooms than I would like.

Shed more tears than I knew possible, not always at the right time or in the right place.

Apologised for my feelings and myself and for things I cannot control. Too often.

Gave my time and energy to others who needed support - it helped me avoid my own stuff.

Saying no when I needed to rest.

Wanting to do everything and to see everyone and to be everywhere.

Promises I want to keep in 2019: 

Take better care of my health.

Train for and run another half marathon (in under 3 hours if possible).

Swim regularly again.

Eat well and cook proper food.

Look after myself and get more sleep.

Prioritise myself some of the time.


Wednesday, 26 December 2018

I'm letting it all go

Wow, it's almost over. This year has been so long and so difficult and so very painful for many reasons. You will have noticed I haven't posted as much as I usually do. Partly that was due to my emotional state and partly because my MacBook came to the end of its days. I have new, shiny and absolutely beautiful kit (hence I am typing now) and it's time to deal with the other thing too. 

I started the year on a high having had a fantastic skiing holiday with the boys and an almost stress-free Christmas. I don't enjoy Christmas. I wish I did, but I just don't. If I could just not take part it would make my life so much easier. Then a few days into the new year as I was driving to Lewes to do my first radio show of the year I found out my friend was ill. I had no idea how serious it was at that point. Then she died. I didn't know what to do so I went into doing mode and have been in that ever since. 

A lot of things fell by the wayside when this happened.

I stopped teaching yoga, then I just didn't practise yoga either. I also didn't meditate. I haven't been sharing my skill and I haven't been benefiting from it myself. 

The garden hasn't seen me at all. I love my garden and I haven't set foot in it all year. 

I've gone from someone who holds it all in and puts on a brave face to giving in to all my emotions all the time. I have apologised for my feelings more than I have ever known. I've been a wreck and yet I'm the one saying sorry to others for daring to not be ok so I can protect their feelings. This self indulgence has become boring to me and - I am sure - other people. 

The realisation has hit me that I really cannot rely on anyone else to take care of me. My well being is my responsibility. More than once this year I have been promised some support or help and it just hasn't materialised or it's been taken away from me at the last minute. If I want to to get a break it's up to me - no one else. 

I've been ill over Christmas. I have had to lie down and rest. It's given me time to think about what I should do next. 

So, I'm letting it all go.

The grief

The sadness

The fear

The need to apologise for my feelings

The relentless search for reasons. 

That is enough. Time to pull up the braces and roll up my sleeves. This is done with now.

I'm putting the brave face back on - no show of weakness means no risk of being taken down. 

The only way I can get better is if I protect myself. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

What are you doing for Christmas ?

I have been asked this question literally every day this week. Mostly by well meaning individuals and colleagues. I am baffled by it though. It is one day of the year. It's one meal and yet people go on a diet for it. They go into debt and seem to go loco about it. I just don't get it. I have had a cough for over a week and a few people have said. "oh you don't want to have that for Christmas." Really ? What difference will it make ?

Ok, to be clear I am not bah humbug about Christmas and I don't have any problem with it. I just don't get why it's such a big deal. Why people eat so much food, why they spend so much money, why this one day is so significant. I get it if you have a faith and it means something to you in that regard, but if it's a celebration of food and presents then that is just beyond me. It's not cultural. I grew up in England and my parents always celebrated Christmas. It wasn't the biggest day of the year for us though. 

In some ways I do envy people who have that whole excitement about it all. The family side of things, the social side, the dressing up, the presents, I do get that. Brown Bear was only 3 months old for his first Christmas and our house was filled floor to ceiling with presents for him. He had absolutely no idea. I dressed him up as Santa and we took him to visit my parents on Christmas Eve (my Dad's birthday) and then Hubbie's parents so they all got to see the baby for his first Christmas. 

Now I am a parent I do like to make a fuss of the boys and to get into the whole spirit of the thing. We go to see Santa, we have a roast dinner at home, we have presents. However, we don't fill the house with tangerines, bowls full of nuts or masses of sweets. I will confess I have three fruit cakes bought at the school Christmas fair, but that is because the TA who made them has form and her cakes are absolutely amazeballs. 

Don't get me wrong there is no deep-seated trauma or childhood memory behind my lack of enthusiasm for end of year festivities. It is all tied in with anxiety and depression that always reaches a peak around this time of year. I know I'm not alone in that. The enforced socialising and jollity is just too much to take for some of us. I'm not saying anyone else shouldn't have a good time. Just don't expect me to be as enthused. I can't do it. 

It is this expectation of plenty that makes me uncomfortable. This year we have donated toys, food, clothes and I also gave a bag filled with make up from my days as an Avon lady to a refuge that requested gift items for the women. People donate to the children in refuges, but seem to overlook the women. At a time when it seems that we are being pushed into spending money and eating too much I am painfully aware that there are people who are struggling to manage to basics. 

We have enough and for that I am so very grateful. I have made it to the end of this year a significantly different woman from who I was this time last year. So much has altered in my life and for people I care about. It isn't a time of celebration for me. It is a time of gratitude. I am thankful.   

I have friends who will be experiencing their first Christmas without a partner, a parent and in the case of my brother in law his first without either of his parents. In my family we will spend time together knowing that we are so very lucky to have each other. My gorgeous baby niece will have her first  Christmas and Blue Bear and Brown Bear will fuss over and spoil her rotten.

The other day I found a post I had written in December 2009 when we were childless and desperate to be parents. It was titled, "Christmas is for kids." I had no idea how prophetic that would prove to be. Less than a month later I found out I was pregnant and the following Christmas we had our much longed for baby son. The point is nothing is forever. It's just a moment in time and that will pass. I won't stop having anxiety or depression, but I won't feel this way forever either. 

If you struggle with Christmas please don't suffer alone. Here are some organisations that will be open to help if you need it: 

Monday, 17 December 2018

When enough is still not enough

The belief that we are enough is one I think a lot of us struggle with. I have a lovely bracelet engraved with the word 'enough' on it that is to remind me that however badly I think I'm doing it's ok. I don't feel that way though. It's been a struggle to get through this year and I previously wrote about how it felt like I was on a relentless upward ride that I was not in control of. If I'm honest it now feels as if I've hit the buffers. I kept going and going in the hope that this would not reach me, but it found me.

In the last year I have been running regularly - training for a half marathon - and this was helping to stave off the feelings of sadness. In the last two weeks I have been too unwell to run so my moods have been unpredictable and unstable. I'm not at my best when this happens. My emotions are all over the place and I get all sorts of weird physical symptoms that make no sense, but add up to anxiety. Then I have the outbursts brought on by self-loathing. Pushing people away so that they don't have to deal with my unreasonable needy self. The worst thing is I can't control who this happens with and often it's the wrong people who see this 'faulty' version of me. The ones who have little empathy or who like to say, "I care about you," so long as it doesn't involve actually doing anything. I care about people in a practical way - you know hugs, cups of tea, silly little gifts,  sending them a song to make them smile or an invitation to do something to cheer them up. Not just saying the words and getting on with my day.

At the moment I am not doing well at parenting. Since I returned to work the boys have had a change of routine that seems to have unsettled them (and us to be honest). It isn't as simple as saying if I was at home things would be better. After all we did that for years. I was fortunate enough to be around for the early days when they needed a lot of care and attention. Of course they still need that, but they are also independent, confident and at school all day so I decided I was ready to do something else. Now I have that dual guilt that comes from thinking about home when I'm at work and vice versa. I get the calls from school to tell me Blue Bear has bumped his head, but he's ok or Brown Bear has been in trouble during football club. The frequency of these calls has a direct impact on my ability to concentrate on my work. I realise I should be able to 'compartmentalise' these different areas, but for me it's all interconnected.

I went back to work full time this year which has meant the whole family has a new routine and new challenges. It is tiring. I leave the house before my kids wake up and some days I don't see Blue Bear at all if I'm out after work as well. It's not what I wanted for them and it is costing me in my relationship with them. I feel so disconnected from my sons sometimes that I really want to spend more time doing the mundane things like dropping them off to school. Not just the frantic pick up in the dark just before the cut-off time for late charges. I know they are in safe hands and they love being in after school clubs, but sometimes I would like to be there a bit more. I know they put up with the absence because they have to, not because it's what they want.

It feels like I am losing my grasp of the 'brave face,' I have been putting on for so long. If anyone asks how I am I barely hold it together to answer them. The banks burst open and I break down in tears and then I feel really embarrassed. I can't really justify being upset about the thing that has made me cry, but I find myself apologising and trying to find explanations to assure the person that it's ok and they didn't do anything wrong. They feel better and I'm still in bits and now I'm too ashamed to talk to them because I made a fool of myself.

The safest thing to do is to retreat into a space that is not filled with judgement or the potential to hurt anyone else. If I just keep myself on safe ground - silly jokes, amusing gifs and familiar memes I can turn their gaze away from how out of control it all feels. I can go through the motions of doing all the things you're supposed to and make small talk. I can't have any deep and meaningful discussions until this passes. I don't know when that will be.

For now I just want to get through one day without crying.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Christmas fun for the family - part one

There are so many wonderful things to look forward to at Christmas. The food, the parties, avoiding Last Christmas so you are still in Whamageddon (I'm out as of last Friday thanks to Chris Evans !) and of course all the fantastic seasonal shows. My favourite thing has to be taking my family to watch a show that is fun, silly, entertaining and really puts everyone in the mood for Christmas. From all those years ago when I took my younger sisters to watch Christmas Cat and the Pudding Pirates - written and starring Christopher Lillicrap - at the Warwick Arts Centre I knew this was something special. The smile on my Mum's face as she clapped along with the songs and cheered at the good guys and booed at the baddies just made me light up inside. 

We have been fortunate to been to so many great shows over the years and the Snowman is a classic that I'm surprised not to have seen before. I'm pretty sure that Brown Bear saw it with the school when he was 4, but he was kind enough to come along again with his brother. We were invited to watch this production in its 21st year at the beautiful Peacock Theatre just off Kingsway in London. You will know the story of the Snowman I'm sure. The Raymond Briggs story has a timeless appeal and when it was on this afternoon I still burst into tears at the end - as I always do. 

The Snowman features all the familiar music and is a gentle and loving story for the youngest of children to the most jaded of adults (yes I am looking at you Hubbie). It would take the hardest of hearts to be unmoved by the scene where we see the snowman and boy fly together over the stage and when snow falls onto the audience there is an audible gasp. My children absolutely loved this show and I did too. It captures innocent childlike wonder and joy in the simplicity of a short lived friendship. Oh and there is a very special character you will know who they see at the North Pole too. 

If your children are a bit young for pantomime this will appeal as it's just the right length of show with an interval for ice cream (or comfort breaks) and there isn't dialogue to follow or jokes to understand. All in all the magic of Christmas is captured perfectly in The Snowman. 

Pantomime is a specifically English phenomenon - so much so my son's Irish teacher had never seen one until last year and I was shocked. I love the silliness, the camp and the overall sauciness of pantomime and love to take my kids to see it. Last week I went to watch Cinderella at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. The good fairy is played by Lesley Joseph and I was so looking forward to seeing her as I last watched her as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein and she was fabulous in it. Joseph has comedy chops and as the 'name' in this show she proves she's more than capable of leading a whole show while also being happy to partake in the slapstick side of things. The ugly sisters are wonderful with their over the top outfits and end of the pier humour. Any fan of Strictly will be taken with Claudia and Tess - even though there is a scene that left me shaking with fear so I can't imagine how the younger audience members must have fared ! 

I love the story of Cinderella - it's my favourite fairytale. I mean what's not to like, pretty frocks, a search for love and shoes are the star of the night. Not for nothing was the Slipper and the Rose my favourite movie as a young girl. I wish I had taken Brown Bear to see this - I didn't as it was on a school night - as he would have loved all the songs from the Greatest Showman and it finished at a respectable time too. Often pantomime runs on quite late and it's difficult to get any sense out of a tired child the next morning. Mine have been going to theatre since they were very young and adore it. The spectacle, the humour and of course the treats in the interval all add to the appeal of a night out. 

Often pantomime relies on big names stars to carry it off and to bring audiences in. I can honestly say that the cast of this show all are fantastic and while Lesley Joseph is the 'star' this is a genuine ensemble piece. The laughs are shared and there isn't a duff moment in the show. I would recommend this one for a family trip and I fully intend to take both my boys to see this as I could watch it again and I just know they will adore it. 

Disclosure: Thank you to the Peacock Theatre and Churchill Theatre for inviting us to press nights. All reviews are genuine and my own opinion. 

Monday, 3 December 2018

When the end is also the beginning...

This evening I went for a swim and rushed back to see Brown Bear before he went to bed. I asked him to help me move the things from our old car to the new one. He put on some shoes and came outside - a bit reluctantly admittedly - and then helped lug car seats and random water bottles and leads from one car to the other. As we worked together I explained that it was the end of an era and this was the car he had come home in as a baby. He smiled at me and we carried on. When we had emptied the car, remembering to take out the eighties CD which has some songs he and Blue Bear like on it, I asked him to get the booster seat from the new car. He asked why and I said, "put the booster on the passenger seat and get in. We're going for one last drive."

We found some rock and roll on the radio and I put my foot down. We drove down the hill (a bit too fast if I'm honest) and went round the car park of the golf club. "Do you remember when Blue came to live with us and he cried so much ? I drove round here a lot that night." "To make him go to sleep ?" "Well to help calm him down, but it didn't really work. He missed Auntie so much." We talked a bit more about his brother then I told him how magical it was to bring him home for the first time as a newborn baby. One day I will tell him about how desperately we wanted him. How we cried and wished and prayed for him and when we knew he was real it was the happiest day of my life. That I talked to him every day in my tummy and sang him songs. When Neo miaowed at 4 in the morning the baby kicked me from inside and I knew they would be a force to be reckoned with.

It's not just the car that is old now. Neo is frail and ill. He can't sit comfortably as he is stiff in his back legs. He sleeps on our bed all night and can't bear to be left alone. His kidneys are failing and it's breaking my heart to think he's not the lively boy who came home with us over ten years ago from Battersea Cats and Dogs home. Brown Bear loves him very much and it makes me sad to think how much he will miss him when he's gone. Recently Neo has started to sleep on Blue Bear's bed. He is an excellent babysitter and will stay until his charge is sleeping, then he comes downstairs and miaows at us to tell us the boys are asleep in bed.

Things that I've taken for granted are coming to an end right now. The car we brought our baby boy home in is being replaced. The cat who made our first house a home is growing older and weaker. The year is coming to an end and it's taken all of my energy and strength to make it to this point. I don't want to remember the lowest points, but I have to in order to get past them. This time last year my beloved friend Soraya was in hospital with kidney failure. She downplayed it on the phone, but it was as serious as it sounds. I didn't see her as she didn't want visitors in hospital. I was preparing for our first skiing holiday in France. We were really excited and hadn't told the boys yet. I was waiting for Blue Bear's birthday party to be over before I made it all about Christmas in the snow. Soraya was so pleased for us and I promised we'd speak when we got home. I think we did only once more before she died.

Saying goodbye is difficult. Not least when you don't expect to have to do it. I've told my boy that this car was special to me because of what it meant in relation to him and his brother. It's now time to make some new memories for all of us.