World Mental Health Day 2018

I’ve shared this photo with friends on social media before, but today on #worldmentalhealthday2018 I want to let you in on a secret:
In this picture I am proper belly laughing, I’m surrounded by some of the most important people in my life and I’m in the arms of the man I love. That’s the obvious bit, not the secret! However, despite looking like I’m having the time of my life I will tell you that this was taken at a time when I felt so low, so alone and completely worthless. I was struggling with dealing with some challenging behaviour from the children, the rejection of plans being changed and cancelled and a whole 6 weeks of summer holidays with 3 young children, just to name a few!
I felt inadequate as a mother, friend, sister and partner. My head was full of negative talk, unfair comparisons and unkind truths. I hated the way I looked, I felt like the party bore, I felt a burden to the people around me and was terrified of any tears spilling over ‘for no reason’ like they had been doing so often in the days and weeks leading up to this event. In the car on the way to the party, my intrusive thoughts tried once again to take over, convincing me we were all going to die on the motorway, but that it would be for the best as my children deserved so much better, leaving me with heart palpations, severe nausea, a headache and those wretched tears rolling down my cheeks.

Unfortunately this was not a one off event. This is what has been my life for the last 10 years (15 if I’m really being truthful). I have become an expert at playing the part, and looking like I’m ok. I can smile and laugh even when my soul is completely crushed and I’ve hidden behind a coping mechanism of turning up and appearing I am in control because the alternative, that of falling to pieces in public, asking for help, actually voicing to someone that I am not coping seemed even more terrifying.
I am a trained teacher, I have numerous siblings, I have taken care of children for years for goodness sake. I should be able to do this, yet I felt I was failing everyday at being a mother. I was failing the children I loved more than anything in the world and burdening the family with my negativity.
The shame that still surrounds mental health issues and the feeling that I would be letting so many people down by admitting I was struggling, let alone the anxiety of future scenarios played out in my mind should I ever get help, has made me hide away and carry most of these feelings alone for so long. I hated myself. I felt I wasn’t good enough to be given help. I felt I had so many good things I’m my life that I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I felt I wasn’t worthy of taking up space in this already overpopulated world.
However, this photo also symbolises a turning point, the point where I said “I can’t do this anymore, but I’m not going to give up. This time I’m getting help.” Finally after all these years I have started some of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I’ve had to open up to people about some of the deepest secrets I’ve kept for years. I’ve talked with professionals about what I think I need and listen to what they think I need too. Not only for myself, but things I need to do as a parent, a friend, a partner. I feel all kinds of vulnerable and self conscious and exposed, but I hope that this time next year when this particular photo pops up in my memories it will be attached to positive feelings rather than that of shame and being a failure. Only time will tell I guess!

#worldmentalhealthday
#keeptheconversationgoing
#brokenandstrong

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A 3rd Year Running

To my fierce, untamable force, Norah,

Happy birthday! Today you turn 3. You have been counting down the sleeps for ages now, the last 5 being the most important because you can remember what those numbers look like on your fingers and can show us each morning how there is one less than the day before. You then hold up the all important 3 fingers and remind us that this is how many you will be on your birthday. You will be three, you will be a big girl and you will be having a dinosaur cake!
Since your second birthday you have informed me at every opportunity that when you turn three you WILL have a dinosaur cake because that is what you have at 3 (apparently)! This certainty and self confidence basically paints a picture of the strong willed little girl you are. You know exactly who you are, what you are able to do and what you need. Your fierce character, free spirit and strength of self is absolutely wonderful and I hope you carry this tenacity throughout your life.

This year you will take the next step into childhood when you start nursery. It’s not until January (& still 2 years until you start school ๐Ÿ˜ฑ) but you are so excited about going to play with new friends (the adults no doubt) and other children! You are such a lover of people and have some friends that are very special to you- Eva, Hudson, Darcie, Rey and the old man at the swimming pool! Every day you mention these select few: how you like playing with them, how funny they are, how much you like their houses and how you want to be just like them when you are their age (not sure you quite understand you are in fact older than some of your friends)! It’s not just these few either. There are your cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents that are special to you too. When trying to plan a little party for your birthday you were very clear who you “needed” to come. So much for sharing a slice of cake and a game or two in the back garden with a couple of mates. With the extensive list you gave me we are now having to plan a picnic at a national trust property just so we can include all these people that you love and want with you when we celebrate you turning 3!
I just love this about you. You do not discriminate, you are not ageist, you listen to your heart and you love deeply. What a special little girl you are. Whenever I watch a program or film with a strong, intense, spirited female or listen to a particular artist I get glimpses of the you of the future: Wonder Woman, P!NK, Nakia and Okoye from Black Panther, Ant Man’s daughter, even the BT advert of the little girl rushing home for the football! That confidence, emotional integrity, persistence, etc. They are the strengths I see in you daily and I admire greatly.

Your passion for people, babies, dancing and Dele Ali are all felt from the very depths of your soul. Every choice you make is done with full commitment and dedication. You respond to music in a way that speaks to your very core, losing yourself in the moment of movement and expression. You are so desperate to start ballet lessons I’m going to suck up all my negative thoughts and fears of being a dance mum and enrol you in classes. I’m not sure you will necessarily join in what is expected, perhaps using it instead as a 30 minute choreography session, but I know you will love it! Whenever we read ‘You Choose’, you make it very clear that when you are older you will be a ballerina, wearing football boots and doing bungee jumps in your free time! This is so you, a mixture of girly girl, a cooky hippie and adventure junkie!

One of your favourite things at the moment is to climb trees. You have been climbing since you were about 9 months, the stairs being your first Everest and now it’s trees… Right to the top or at least as high as the branches allow you. Way higher than me, your dad, a house if you were given half the chance. The little dot you become way up in those branches has the biggest grin on her face and pure extacy coursing through her veins. And then in what can only be described as a Tarzan like manner you descend from the highest of heights swinging and scrabbling down proclaiming you are a monkey, not quite knowing how accurate this description is!! You will not be held back in your determination to live the life you like. Thats for certain and good luck to anyone that even attempts to stand in your way. Over are the days of baby swings and toddler slides in the park, preferring instead the giddy heights of the toys geared towards the older children and the gym equipment set up for teenagers. You climb, swing, hang upside down, slide and do pull ups with the strength and confidence of a body builder and when you feel you’ve pushed yourself further than you first expected, you punch the air and announce ‘ that was epic’!
I remember one of the first times you used this phrase. It was back in the winter, not long after your second birthday. We had travelled up into London with some friends to watch the Very Hungry Caterpillar (and other stories) at the theatre. Whilst avidly watching the gripping final scene of the Lonely Firefly when he sees fireworks for the first time, the actors popped a paper canon towards the audience as if a real colourful firework had indeed gone off right in front of you and you uttered this exact phrase in a loud and clear voice (in an otherwise silent theatre) that even the people on the stage laughed!

You don’t hold back. You say it exactly as it is. Exactly as you see it, think it, feel it. This can be utterly wonderful ‘oh mummy look at that beautiful dress she has on. I think she is a princess’, ‘ the sky looks like a big campfire tonight with those lovely colours’, to completely cringe worthy like the time you saw someone asking for food in the high street with a sign that said ‘im hungry’ (you asked what the numbers (you meant letters)said), whereupon you said very audibly “why is he saying he’s hungry when he’s got a big burger from the egg chip shop already”! For he was indeed chowing down on a big Mac! One day I’ll teach you the art of compassion and subtlety! But not right now and not when you are just opening your eyes to the rest of the world!
Perhaps one of the most perceptive little people I know (just like your brothers) you spot the detail in everything that would otherwise be lost on the rest of us. The signposts with your letter on, the logo of a supermarket on a piece of rubbish littered on the street, the mere suggestion of a game you have seen in a drawer in your friends brothers room whilst looking at a picture in a magazine, the colour of a flower that matches an item of clothing you probably last wore a year ago! It is all important to you. Just like when you wanted to know what everybody was called, it is now important to know where they live, what siblings they have, what car they drive, what cake they had at their last party! Its incredibly exhausting sometimes, bit there’s just something so endearing about being asked which PJ mask character you like best, when you are 33! Or if I also like dipping grapes in my yoghurt at lunchtime! If it’s important to you, it’s important to me and I’ll be sure to say Owlette at the right time and how I not only like grapes in yoghurt, but also apple and strawberries! And then you will make you big ‘wow! no way eyes’ and insist we eat that RIGHT NOW so you can see if you like those combinations too!

You will. You like everything! You think food is wonderful (me too)! You think it’s absolutely necessary that you have at least some crisps every day, “because that’s what you need at lunch”, who cares if we’re eating something hot. You just love it all. You love life and you bring that joy into the lives of others too. You smile, wave, hug and kiss with ease and happiness. Well apart from when you are giving someone your epic frowns because right then you don’t want to be all joyful and you’d rather scowl and probably call them an ‘imbecile’ or something equally blush inducing to a mother who is trying her best not to add to the ASBOs on our streets!

From the little baby slowly emerging into toddler at your last birthday, you have grown so much since then, even if it’s just in the amount of rude words you know now! Even the toddler stage is rapidly slipping away as you make your mark and grow up into your unique individual self. Gone (mostly) are the days of feeding you at bedtime and lying next to you, holding your hand, for what felt like hours. As are the hundreds of night feeds (down to 1 or 2 now), reminding you to go to the loo (you just sort yourself out these days) and helping you get dressed each morning. I’m not even allowed to choose your clothes these days, you’ve got that covered too!
We have moved house (again) since your last birthday. That’s a new house for each birthday you have had so far! *Please be aware this is not part of a normal life plan or anything to do with your gift, so don’t set your hopes too high for next year!*

We have been to new places, swum in new pools, climbed bigger trees, eaten amazing cakes, dipped all manner of things in our yoghurt and read a million more books. Your favourite colour is most definitely pink now, everything must be pink: clothes, shoes, sweets, cakes… And we have had a fair few bumps along the way too. Like when you broke your arm a couple of months back and got so poorly with Hand Foot and Mouth in the spring. It’s been tough at times trying to safely guide you in this complicated old world of ours, but we are learning each day and using our strength and resilience to grow together.

Thank you for being my beautiful, brilliant, crazy daughter. Have a wonderful birthday my little peanut buttercup.
Your (permanently exhausted) Mummy Xx

#BodyPositivity

As soon as the sun comes out the opinions about exposing bodily flesh start. You get the ‘hilarious’ posts about dressing for the body you have, not the body you wish you had ๐Ÿ™„ The gyms go all hunter-gatherer mode and pounce on any and every unsuspecting individual walking down the street and you will see approximately 48,000 memes about being ‘summer body ready’ or not ๐Ÿ™„ And then we wonder why mental health issues are on the increase and our children are more concerned than ever about the way they look โ˜น๏ธ
Girls (especially, but boys are certainly not immune) become the target of body shaming for daring to have a spectrum of body shapes that do not fit with the very narrow margins promoted by society and are encouraged to hide their ‘flaws’ โ˜น๏ธ

I have had a very negative self image for as long as I can remember. I have used every chance encounter with a mirror to mentally abuse myself and the way I look. And then I had children! Everything changes when you have birthed these innocent, non judgemental individuals!
Slowly, so slowly. So slow in fact that a snail being lassoed by a toddler digging their heels in (probably because they were asked to put the jelly back in a supermarket or something equally important) and expecting to be dragged along would probably overtake me, I have tried my hardest to love and accept the body I have.
So now when I look in the mirror, I try to challenge the automatic negative thoughts that immediately confront me and exchange them for truths and honesty.
“Your thighs are huge” for “Your strong legs allow you to walk wherever you need to go”
“Those stretch marks on your stomach are vile” for “Your body was able to grow and give life to 3 healthy babies”
“Your flat chest makes you look out of proportion” for “Your breasts have nourished and sustained all your children for as long as they needed them”

It is so important for me to model to my children how beautiful and amazing our bodies are, no matter what size or shape and all the incredible things they can achieve however they are perceived by others. So with this in mind I decided I would take on the biggest challenge I have set myself recently and buy a bikini! ๐Ÿ‘™๐Ÿ˜ฑ

I absolutely love being out in the sun. I love how the warmth radiates into my body and fills me with happiness and joy. I get a true sense of peace when the sun is shining and it fuels my passion for promoting good mental health and self worth. So with plans to head to a splash park for the day I picked up a new swimsuit and tried to feel confident! Well they do say “fake it till you make it”! ๐Ÿ˜‚
It was out of town, so it wasn’t like I’d see anyone I knew & it was only my family with me, who accept me for who I am! Sometimes you’ve just got to take that leap! What’s the worse that could happen? Apart from bumping into three people you know and their families ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜ฑ

I wore my bikini top, with my disproportionate chest size barely filling the cup, stomach rolls folding over my shorts, the stretch marks covering my body and my pock marked skin for all to see, because life is not about fitting in to other people’s perimeters, but finding your own place of comfort. I showed my children that (as long as you wear enough suncream) you can embrace the body you have whatever the weather. You can stay cool in the heat wearing clothes that you want to wear and you can feel good about yourself fully clothed or completely naked! To be honest I felt like a total fraud, felt people would be looking and judging, but I did it! It may take another few years before I feel brave enough to do this again, but it’s serious progress for a self hater, a personal body shamer, a body dysmorphic owner!

#LoveTheBodyYouHaveNotTheBodyYouWishYouHad
#PositiveBodyImage
#SelfLove
#ChallengeSociety
#YourBodyIsAmazing

7 Gentle Ways to Support Children When Moving House

Moving house can feel like an insurmountable task for anyone, (just today for example I suddenly had a massive panic whilst out shopping about all the things I still need to do to get our house move sorted and how we might not be able to afford forking out an extra ยฃ100 per month, despite paying ยฃ450 for the privilege of someone agreeing that what is written on Carl’s payslip is the same number we told them it would be and if we use 2/3 of his monthly income we can cover the rent), but children can often be affected at an even deeper level as the safety and security of their family home is somewhat ‘threatened’ beyond their control:

“Mummy I don’t want to go to a new house. I want my house right now,” announced my 2 year old this morning, whilst walking to school.

Even if it is an event they have experienced numerous times, for whatever reason, moving house is a big life event that takes time to come to terms with. I’m still waiting to feel excited or positive about the upcoming move, to be honest!

Anyway, having now moved 3 times as a family and currently gearing up for move number 4 (in 5 years), we have learned a fair few things about supporting children through this period of change and ways to bring about a sense of calm amid the chaos that we’d love to share with you.

1. Prepare them for the event:

We are always honest with the children about an upcoming move and try to keep them informed (at an age appropriate level) of when this will be happening, why and where we will be going next, as much as possible. To begin with we might casually drop it into a conversation about how the landlord wants to return to/ sell the house at some point so that the dialogue is open.

We often get books out of the library about moving house (especially helpful for preschoolers) so we can talk about the process (planning, viewing, packing, etc) and help them visualise what will happen. There are several great books out there, which cover the basics (Usborne First Experiences: Moving House, Topsy and Tim)- getting boxes, cleaning things, clearing out clutter, packing up a lorry, etc and some more that also include the feeling side of things (First Time Stories: We’re Moving House)- sadness at leaving friends behind, anxiety about sleeping in a new room, excitement about a bigger garden. These are a great tool for supporting the thoughts and feelings your child(ren) might go through, but don’t necessarily have the ability to express verbally. Even as adults the range of emotions creep up on you!

We also encourage role play (putting things in bags and boxes and ‘driving’ with our things to a new place), we might make/ take/ draw some pictures of houses and talk about what makes it become a home, what our ideal place would be, etc and mark the move date in the calendar when known. Although none of these seem much on an adult level, they can really help young children feel a part of the process, know it will be ok in the end and have a basic idea of what moving house looks like.

2. Take them to visit the new house:

Once you are in a position to pay a holding deposit and tenancy agreements are being written up (slightly different for buyers), try to arrange another viewing of the property for your children.

Going to look around the actual house they will be moving into is much more comforting than taking them with you on prospective viewings, even if it does seem quite exciting nosing round a load of random properties in the local area! We have found that no matter what the house looks like, the child will cling on to the hope that it will be ‘the one’, as a means of acquiring some degree of security, but can then get incredibly upset when you decide otherwise.

Having the chance to view the new place before move in day gives them a sense of ownership and means nothing is a surprise or something to worry over. The empty place allows them to plan where things might go and how they will make use of the space when their own things are there.

3. Involve them in the packing:

Every child loves a box and what better time to give them some to play with, make dens with, build forts with than when moving house. It can actually make packing up quite a fun process and gets them involved in something, leaving you time to crack on with the real packing!

Another way to help children adjust to a move is getting them involved in packing up their belongings and sorting through their toys so they know where things are on the other side. They might want to help organise toys, books, teddies etc in a particular way, make labels for the packaging and help think about where they will put each item in the new place. If you are 2, you may enjoy being in charge of cutting the tape used for sticking box flaps down, because you can now use scissors independently, or that might just be my tiny one!

There is always about a week or so (if you are doing all the packing and moving yourself) when most things are packed up and unavailable for use until after the move and this is where ‘Treasure Boxes’ become a lifeline! Over the years we have crafted little treasure boxes that the children can fill with their most prized possessions. It could be their favourite book, their most cuddly teddy, some photos,etc, or things that look like absolute trash to you, but mean something to the little lost soul with nothing to play with!

When we were made homeless as children for 6 months, a small package of my favourite things (it wasn’t tied up with string though) brought such comfort to me during the upheaval of not having a permanent place to call home.

4. Show feelings:

In the weeks prior to moving house, you just have to accept that anything goes! Any feeling and emotion can and most probably will be felt at one point or another: extra tears, huge temper tantrums, hyper activity, for example and this whole range of wobbles illustrates just how unsettling and upsetting packing up a family home can be, even for us seasoned professionals!

As adults we have found feeling all the feels and then supporting others through them can be one of the biggest challenges with moving, but the simple act of labelling feelings, being open about your own struggles (“I’m feeling so sad today about leaving this house and it’s making me quite grumpy. I could do with a nice big hug!”) can help children identify why they might be struggling and how to ask for help!

Feeling new or big emotions may seem out of place or worrying for children, especially if this is their first move or they are a particularly sensitive child, but with support they can get through the emotional turmoil and be excited for the future.

5. Settle them first:

The first night in a new place always feels a bit odd, but with a few special touches the children can become more relaxed in the new environment and actually look forward to bedtime and spending time in their new house.

We always try to sort the children’s bedrooms first; get their beds up, unpack some books for them and pop the teddies back on the ends of their beds. If they are used to having pictures or posters on their walls I recommend putting these back up as soon as you can, to help make the new place feel safe, homely and relaxing for them from the outset.

We also like to give them each a little gift to help them remember the move in a positive way in the future. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or even brand new, but something meaningful to them. Last time we moved, we found some bedding sets with pictures of tv characters the boys were really in to at the time. We set their room up before they came to the house and seeing their excitement as they discovered the new duvet covers made much of the stress from the previous few weeks worth it! (Babies, however, benefit from keeping the same covers from their last place for a while, so smells and comfort remain.)

We have also given new teddies, bedtime books and breakfast crockery in the past and even decorated one bedroom with colourful fairy lights picked up for ยฃ1!

6. Treat yourself after the big day:

No-one will feel like cooking at the end of moving day. In fact you’ll be lucky if you can even stay awake long enough to eat at all! So set a new family ritual that means the first meal at your new place is pure indulgence and comfort!

We always grab a cheeky McDonald’s after moving house! For a family that only eat a Maccy D’s on Christmas Eve, it is a big treat after a day of hard work, little contact with each other and usually a few hiccups thrown in for good measure! Reconnecting around the dinner table (whatever you are eating) is such a simple, yet special way to end the day. I personally would choose something a little more exciting, but this is all about the children after all! ๐Ÿ˜‰

7. Say goodbye:

Whenever things come to an end, it’s always good to say goodbye and look to the future with a positive mindset. Once you have emptied the old house, take the children back in if you are able and say goodbye. This act of closure allows them to have one last chance to finish a chapter from their lives without the chaos of boxes and noise before they move on to their next place. If you were close to the neighbours you could knock on their door to bid your farewells too and maybe take some photos for them to look back on at a later date.

We also like to reminisce about our favourite times in that particular property or talk about events that stood out for other reasons (accidents, floods, collapsed ceilings…).

My eldest finds this last step incredibly sad and will often try to resist coming with us, but with time he always says how glad he is that he had the chance to go back in and say his goodbyes as it helped him feel ready to move on.

With just a few weeks to go until the next move we are already using some of these steps to help us prepare for the new chapter and support the children through a big change. One day I hope someone makes a list for the adults! Let me know if this is helpful and much luck and love if you are going through this too.

Turning 9!

Dear Ethan,

It’s only hours to go now until you turn 9! All those years ago, still in the midst of (an epic) labour and growing more tired by the second I felt like we’d never get to the birth let alone through all these birthdays! And yet here we are 9 years later, surviving, ready to celebrate, winning at life together!

Over the years the labour, the teething, the continuous feeding,the sleepless nights, the growing pains, have all but dwindled to a distant memory. We have left that close, fuzzy, exhausting era of development, (where we would just try to make it through each day) and are now onto excitement, planning, deep conversations and (mostly) sleeping through!! What an incredible journey! I find it amazing that we’ve got so far!

As a first child, your birthdays always evoke such cherished memories, for it was you my son that started my life as a Mummy. You were the one to teach me how to love with the deepest parts of my heart and soul. You were the one that taught me patience and hope. You gave me strength when I thought I had none left. Your siblings are incredibly lucky to have you be the eldest. You have paved the way for them both and taught all of us how each age works, how to listen to our instincts and how to hold on when the road is bumpy. It has been an incredible lesson being your Mummy.

As (an almost) nine year old you have really grown up this year. You stand so close to the independent young man you will become, but still hold on to the innocence of your younger years. I love that you can still lose yourself in play: in Lego, role play, adventures, etc yet still role your eyes at your siblings when they do something ‘childish’. I love that you dance with abandon and laugh along with us when we are being crazy, even when I’m being “so embarrassing”! I love that you still want me to play with you, scoot outdoors, race you around the garden, etc- a little key into your world and the way you work. You are a very deep soul.

You are still one of the kindest, most generous hearted people I know and even in the midst of growing up and pushing the boundaries I see how caring you are with your sister, how you notice those being left out and include them, how you stand up for your brother when it counts and how thoughtful you can be in your words and actions. You put so much effort into the things you do and really try hard when meeting an obstacle (after some encouragement). You have so many wonderful layers to your spirit and I feel very blessed to witness them all as you grow.

This year you have accomplished so much yet again. Not just through your hobbies- sailing through the swimming awards, becoming a seconder at Cubs, completing most of the children’s section at the local libraries (I think they will run out soon ๐Ÿ˜‚), but within your self too. After another move you were able to settle much quicker than before. You adjusted to a new school year with confidence and are beginning to trust that whatever life throws at you, you are able to get through it. I think you even surprised yourself at how brave you are (when you needed 6 stitches after falling out a tree) this year and how much you can achieve when you set your mind to it. I’m so proud of you.

I do hope you know how precious you are to this family. I know as the eldest you are often required to do more than the others, have more expected of you or get more of my negativity as we navigate this whole parenting journey. It can feel unfair and biased and I really wish it didn’t. I wish I could already have the answers and know how to deal with certain situations so that you too got the ‘best bits’, but as we learn together I hope you will always feel loved and cared for (even when I get it wrong) for my heart was designed to love you and you will always be incredibly precious to me.

I am really looking forward to your birthday tomorrow and spending more time celebrating you! I look forward to the year ahead and all the adventures we will share together. I hope you enjoy all we have planned for your special day and the sweetie cake you asked for!

All my love, my biggest one,

Mummy Xx

Seven Years Old

Dear Lucas,

Oh my sweet, (mostly) calm, contemplative one! How are you going to be 7 already?! Time seems to speed up without me realising until another year has gone past and we are getting ready to celebrate your birthday once again! And this time you’re 7!

There’s something very special about being 7. Whether it’s the theory that the whole body has gone through a process of regeneration, or the idea that your conscience is finally waking or just that at 7 you are capable of so much more than those younger years; I’m not sure, but it is a super age. And you, my lovely one are a truly super little boy!

This year has brought more change and challenge- another move, a new teacher, sporting accomplishments, academic awards, to name just a few. But I love the way you face everything head on and work doggedly to reach your goals. You embrace new experiences and will help others adapt to changes too. You are always looking for new opportunities and ways to learn, picking up crossword and sudoku since last year to add to the growing list of games you enjoy, reading a mountain of books each week (The Person Controller and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series being your favourite at the moment after exhausting the David Walliams titles) and asking so many questions I’m running out of answers! Knowledge is important to you. It helps you feel safe and able to thrive when faced with something new. It settles you after a busy day and it gears you up for what is to come.

I have always been completely blown away by the way you work-your intellect and analytical thinking. You surprise me daily with your attentive perceptions of the world and the detail you retain. It fascinates me how you can remember and recall so many specifics, even things no one else would consider meaningful, like which hand each child in your class uses to write, what someone’s eye colour is or what their favourite book was as a baby. You take time to learn about others and what makes them unique, because then you feel you really understand them. You take in everything that is going on, even when you appear to not be taking part. You absorb the world around at a very deep and personal level: listening, questioning, reading, seeking, wondering. Like the daffodils at Spring, you wait patiently until you are ready to bloom; observing before you participate, making sure it is worth your time and that your energy will be well spent! It is such a wonderful way to be and I think you are awesome. We could all learn a lot from your personality!

Even though you are so independent and want to be a big boy you still need lots of cuddles and that’s a bit I enjoy sharing most with you! You enjoy the safety of home and family, the slow days and relaxed schedules. You like being able to have time together before you start the day and take part in the simple things that don’t require rushing! You like playing with select friends (though you are growing in confidence with your peers) and listening to stories. You also love to take care of your little sister and include her in games, activities and decisions!

This year has also seen physical changes in you. Not only have you grown taller and stronger, but you’ve grown new teeth and lost a few too! You’ve tried out shorter hair styles than before and longer ones! Your face has changed and matured and your tastes have developed. You have become so sure in your own choices, even going against the grain and supporting Tottenham in a family of Arsenal supporters! I love that you have such strong beliefs and preferences and can stand firm even when it’s alone. What a quality to have!

I’ve so enjoyed watching you grow up this year and look forward to another great year ahead. I hope we get more time together to play, laugh and learn…and cuddle!

I love you to the moon and back and then at least twice round the world!

Mummy Xx

Looking Ahead (International Women’s Day 2018)

For my Daughter (and Sons),

I am writing to you on International Women’s Day 2018; a list of the hopes I have for you as you grow up in this world. By the time you are able to read this, it is my dream that you have lived with this message in your heart for years.

I hope that you know you have strength. It is your amazing body and the way it drives you onward. It is your determined mind and how you thrive when learning something new. Your strength allows you to be brave and courageous when facing a challenge. It gives you joy and pleasure as you seek adventure. Your strength is dignified during conflict and proud amid achievement. It is how your heart beats fiercely at injustice and your hands work hard to comfort. Your strength shows kindness to others and lifts up those who struggle alone. It is your willful search for independence and empowerment when reaching a goal. It is your spontaneous soul and your free spirit. Your strength is your impulsive actions and your primal connection with nature. It is the comfort you bring others and the joy you exude when you are your true self. I hope that you know you have strength.

I hope that you know your voice is powerful. It can show your true self. It can teach others. The power of your voice can be added to the cries of a crowd or whispered into the ears of close friends. It can bring people together and be raised in song. Your voice can show emotion. It can be used in happiness or to show your anger. It can shout an exuberant “Yes” or be used to scream a clear “No”. It can be used to build others up or tear them down. It can portray positivity or fuel negativity. Your voice can be different from others. It can stand alone and still be just as forceful. It can portray your determination. Your voice can ask for equality and recognition. It can offer comfort and protection. Your voice is important and worthy. It can be bold and fearless. It can tell stories and recall facts. The power of your voice can command attention and represent your values. I hope that you know your voice is powerful.

I hope that you know to always keep your eyes open. To see the things others will miss. To watch beautiful sunsets and night skies. To see happiness and joy in the faces of others. When you keep your eyes open you will see the sunshine after months of rain and witness the pleasure in the changing of seasons. Your eyes will allow you to notice natural beauty and caring actions. You will see the good in the world and the peace in creation. You will recognise kindness and capability. You will see the Aunt who is studying at university, whilst single-handedly tending to her young children. You will observe the perseverance of the Godmother as she battles to find a cure for her daughter’s disability, even when exhausted with a new baby. You will notice how the Grandmother, despite the adversity she faces, works tirelessly to provide a safe and healthy environment for her teenage daughters. You will behold true happiness and jubilation of friends and loved ones. Keep your eyes open and you can gaze at the simple pleasures and marvel at the ordinary. You do not need to look far. I hope that you know to always keep your eyes open.

I hope that you know your family is a refuge. It is a place of safety and nourishment. It is a unit of strength and security. It is protective and encouraging and is a place to ask for help. Your family will always love you and treat you as an equal. Your family will appreciate your uniqueness and challenge your views. It will compliment your spirit and support you when you fail. Your family will be a place of openness and acceptance. It will seek your opinion and nurture your courage. Your family will be grounding and restorative. It will roar at your pain and defend your honour. It will fuel your enthusiasm and actively listen. Your family will stand beside you and guide your growth. It will lift you up. I hope that you know your family is a refuge.

I hope that you know love is always good. It is kind and forgiving. It is strengthening and empowering. Love builds you up and gives you hope. Love never asks you to give anything more than yourself. It will fill you with trust and bring you joy. Love deepens over time and is gracious in the face of conflict. Love comes in many forms; Family, Friends, Work mates, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, Neighbours, Husbands, Wives. It is respectful and comfortable. It is there with help and support. It can challenge you and expand your thinking. Love listens and opens its arms to you. Love is the feeling of safety and comfort. It is the light through the darkness and the hope in despair. Love is yours. It is a feeling that can change your life. I hope that you know love is always good.

With all my love,

From Your Mummy Xx

I’m Not Drowning

I’ve always thought of Depression being similar to one of those huge waves that catch you unawares at the beach; Whilst swimming in the calm waters, you suddenly feel that small, seemingly playful tug at your feet, before the huge swell of water pulls you clean under without time to even snatch a breath. There she holds you down, pounding you with force, dragging you further out, swallowing your screams so you are completely at the mercy of her power. Then just as abrupty the surge will pass and you will resurface to complete calm and stillness, slightly winded, but with the eerie impression that you just imagined the whole change in atmosphere. However, like the tumultuous power of the wave, Depression will decrease it’s intensity from time to time, in which you can refocus and continue on your journey. A time to redefine your priorities and step forward from its hold. It has been during such moments and even whilst feeling at the complete mercy of my symptoms that I have in fact been provided with some very valuable gifts and deeper understanding of myself that have kept me from drowning.

The 5 gifts Depression has given me:

Gift #1: To Slow Down and embrace Simplicity

I know I say this a lot, but I will say it again: Before I had children I was the perfect parent! I was able to soothe children when they were upset. I knew how to put a baby down to sleep for the night. I was well versed in sibling rivalry and I totally got how relationships worked once a new life event had taken place. Oh, and keeping on top of the cleaning, cooking and general day to day activities-nailed that too, obviously! But then I had real, actual, human, intense children (rather than the hypothetical robots I could manage) with individual needs and demands. I had an actual real emotional attachment to them and a relationship with a proper person (not just a narrative from a fairy tale) and a genuine change in circumstances that my prissy narrow minded pre children mind could never actually know how to cope with until it in fact really truly happened! Don’t you just hate parenting advice from non parents?!

In a nutshell I struggled! Big time! Alone, isolated, in the darkest of ways. I tried and tried to be that Mother I thought I would be. I set up all the activities that would stimulate my baby. I let them cry it out (ok just the once until it actually broke me and I still carry the guilt and shame of it to this day). I cleaned the flat every day so it resembled a show home. I made every meal from scratch in time for my partners return from work. I did all the night feeds (how can you not when you breast feed). I made sure I looked the part. ..And then I broke! Quite simply I could not do it! Just looking at the pile of dirty dishes made me cry. Just catching a glimpse of my son made me angry. I hated my partner for his ability to always see others positively. I felt suffocated in my flat and I properly resented my friends for genuinely enjoying Motherhood when I simply hated it!

And this was just the pause I needed. It didn’t happen overnight and I can assure you I am not anywhere near where I would like to be, but I was given this moment to stop, reassess and find a new path. So rather than putting the focus on ‘more’ and ‘busy’ and ‘fulfilled’, I shifted my attention to ‘slow’ and ‘simple’.ย  I began to cut back on all the activities I took the children to. I got rid of all the stimulating toys. I scheduled one cleaning job per day, rather than the whole house and I stocked up on convenience food for those evenings when cooking a wholesome meal was just not worth the emotional overload. And I felt like I was finally emerging as the person that was most true to myself. Still a long way off, but making tracks none the less!

Through putting the focus on a slower pace of life and accepting the parts I do differently, I now have a healthier frame of mind that allows me to function in the busy, competitive world we inhabit.

Gift #2:ย  The ability to be Patient

When you get ill, it often only takes the smallest of interventions (a dose of medicine, extra rest and a bit of day time tv) before you are back on your feet and feeling back to yourself once again. Even with a broken bone, operation, small procedure, etc, there is a straight forward linear process that gets you back to full health quickly enough. However, Depression and in fact perhaps all other Mental Health Illnesses, does not follow this pattern we are so used to with ill health. There is no specific time frame of improvement. The journey one person has with it may look completely different to the next. The intervention that works well with one person, may in fact not help improve your struggle at all. Depression has the ability to ebb and flow, like the tide, so that one moment you feel like you are on the way to recovery, even through it, whilst the next moment you feel completely swallowed by it again. And this undulating effect has taught me to be patient. Not just with my health, but towards others too.

I still have very high expectations of myself, but I am now more equipped at taking the fall when things don’t quite go to plan. In fact I have learnt to put healthy interventions in place that will ease the times when I am struggling rather than punishing myself for failing at something else. When riding high on the emotional wave I will cook extra, for example, so that there is a meal in the freezer, ready for the time I can’t cook. I will try to pencil in time to myself before I feel pulled under rather than feel guilty for needing a break. I use music and mindfullness to stay connected over the day and be more present for my family, especially when they are experiencing their own battles. I can guide my children through their emotions patiently, without judgement, knowing that when the storm has passed, we will all see things a little clearer. This has brought a sense of calm even in the most testing times.

I’m still very much working on my patience when encountering people that just do NOT get Mental Health Illness at all. Those that say the most insensitive things without even realising how triggering their opinions are or those who suggest treatments you should be taking having no idea what you are already doing to manage your symptoms! I will be a good person one day and not feel like punching them in the face forever!!

Gift #3: The art of Compassion for Self and Others

It is often during the lowest of times that we are able to see most clearly. The things that are important will make their selves known and the quiet gives way to greater understanding.ย In giving time over to my healing I was finally able to ditch the ‘perfect parent’ routine and adjust to a more authentic, truthful version of myself. I basically had to accept I was just human! Not that I previously thought I was a supermum, but merely embracing a shared reality of humaness, shortcomings and all! I was now ready to stop apologising for who I was and accept my limits with compassion.

This has probably had the biggest impact on my health as in my parenting I now use connection to deal with practically everything relating to my children rather than shaming them/myself into action: throwingย  a tantrum…connect with them and then work through it. Fussing over food…connect at their level and find a solution. Refusal to get ready…connect and prioritise. When you go through something like Depression, you simply CAN NOT keep applying the strict authoritative approach to parenting any more. You can NOT keep treating yourself as insignificant or punishing wrong choices/actions. In order to make any sort of progress in your healing you have to learn to be compassionate and accept things as they are. It is not taking an easy way out, but building a respectful dialogue that encourages openness and communication to learn how best to take care of oneself and others in each individual moment so that the unexpected power of the wave doesn’t drag you completely under each time it surges.

Gift #4: Gratitude

It’s very hard to feel grateful for your life or count your numerous blessings whilst under the weight of a seismic tide. With every moment spent fighting just to survive, resurface and function at a socially acceptable level, it can seem as though there is nothing to be thankful for even when you have the sweetest baby looking right into your eyes, or a partner who is working their hardest so you don’t have to.

I genuinely think manners say a lot about a person and acknowledging acts of giving is a healthy way to express how we do actually need each other, but I definitely found this hard when I was at my lowest; to say ‘thank you’ made me feel like I had failed on some level. As though being grateful for external help, meant I couldn’t have managed alone. That is until I was able to redefine my understanding of gratitude in a way that it has now become synonymous with the word ‘connection’ for me. Because I am more connected to the wiser and kinder side of my self, thanks to pausing in those darkest hours I now feel grateful for the interdependence I have with my partner and children, rather than being indebted by it. I also feel more of an equal with my friends as I can finally acknowledge that my vulnerability and imperfections are a human experience, rather than my defining characteristics. Thus I feel more connected to them and can be grateful for their help and support, rather than feel intimidated by it. If I am totally honest I would probably have preferred to have learnt true gratitude without having to experience low self worth, suicidal ideation or severe anxiety, etc, but life doesn’t always reveal her secrets in simple ways!

Gift #5: Understanding True Love

Having a partner or being in a relationship whilst under a wave of negative emotions is by no means a cure for any Mental Health Illness (and in fact it can be one of the hardest parts to hold on to when feeling so overwhelmed), but having an anchor in the midst of a tsunami can certainly support the return to shore. The ripples of peace that are experienced through holding on together and having the confidence to express love despite the imperfections have helped me to relax in otherwise very intense moments. I have been shown how ‘true love’ can be as unique as the people involved. How real, deep and meaningful devotion is felt by the longevity of the feeling, rather than the individual acts of affection. How embracing the ordinary moments and the simple events can bring openness and connection, a tiny light that breaks through to the surface of the ocean.

 

For me it has been Carl’s humour and uncanny ability to turn everything into a joke that has freed me from the grip of my emotions and opened my eyes to the love he has for me, despite my illness.ย  When your mind is treating you to unimaginable self loathing and you are beginning to lose sight of reality, the tiniest flash of hope, of fun, of laughter can be the exact source of joy and freedom you need to gain courage to continue your swim to the sunlight; Despite being bound in chains, I can find my freedom.

 

 

 

If you were my friend…

If you were my friend I would ask how you were feeling, rather than slam you with insults about your lack of coping.

If you were my friend I would offer a hug or some company, not remind you over and over how worthless you are.

If you were my friend I would bring you flowers, a magazine or a bar of chocolate to pick you up, not stare at the needy person in the mirror making judgments.

If you were my friend I would text you a positive message to say I had your back, not trawl through social media comparing your life to those ‘doing better’.

If you were my friend I would check in on you to see how you were at that moment, if you needed some help with your housework, your washing or fancied a meal being cooked for you. I wouldn’t insist you weren’t doing enough and shouldn’t be so lazy.

If you were my friend I would make sure you knew you were supported, whatever hour of the day, not isolate you further and tell you not to harass others.

If you were my friend I would remind you how beautiful you were, whenever you doubted it, not pick out more imperfections.

If you were my friend I would smile at you, cry with you, share a joke with you. I wouldn’t fill your head with unkind thoughts or hurt you whenever I caught sight of you.

If you were my friend I would remind you that it’s ok to not feel ok, not keep telling you how you are always failing yourself and your family.

If you were my friend I would encourage you to talk, to seek help, to get space. I wouldn’t insist you bottle things up so you ‘appeared’ to have it all together.

If you were my friend I would say ‘get a takeaway if cooking feels too much today’. I wouldn’t remind you of how bad you looked already and that those extra calories will do nothing for your already overweight body.

If you were my friend I would always say look after yourself, because you are important too.

Baby Girl

To the lovely Miss Norah Rae, my fierce little nudest! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Happy birthday little one! Tomorrow you will be 2! Actually 2, not ‘nearly two’ (like you’ve been telling everyone for months) anymore!!

It’s been such an amazing two years and I couldn’t be more grateful that you chose to join our family! I spent years hoping and praying for another child to love, but as time slowly passed, I convinced myself you would never come. But then you did! You planted yourself well and truly in the depths of my heart and as you steadily grew you filled me with hope and confidence. I finally felt that I could get things right and be the best Mummy to 3 wonderful children.

Now two whole years have passed since we started that journey together and I can barely put into words all the things you have taught us in this time: How much joy you have brought to our home, how many old wounds you have helped start to heal. How your sunny personality has helped each of us strive to be the best parent/ sibling we can be for you and each other. You are the most beautiful little girl I know, because you are fearless, confident, bold, strong, willful and wild! You have redefined beauty as we used to know it and let everyone you meet know how unique you are.

We’ve just spent a long summer with your brother’s whilst they are off school and I’ve loved seeing you asserting yourself to be an equal member of the sibling tribe. You have carved yourself a special place in our lives and will let anyone and everyone know of your presence! No one takes you prisoner!

When the boys are at school it’s just the two of us. It’s such a precious time for me as I get to learn all about you and watch you grow. I see what brings you happiness and what makes you sad or frustrated. I witness the hilarity of your personality and the fierce independence you have. I love our little chats and how every minute of the day is full of conversation and questions as you eagaly learn how this strange old world works. I love hearing your voice and the way it forms new words and recalls phrases. Just the other day, for example,when I asked you to get in the bath just as you had put on the marigolds to ‘help’ wash up and you said “you kidding me?” I couldn’t help but laugh! When you suddenly stop feeding at night so you can put your hands together and say “hubba hubba” (thanks Cheaper by the Dozen) or when I think you are fast asleep, but then you peek through the bars on your bed and say “yoohoo” whilst waving your tiny finger I can’t help but smile! What a funny girl you are!

Having older brothers you have always looked up to them with a desire to do the same as they are doing! You were walking before your first birthday, you were climbing even earlier! You try to play in the same way, throw and catch a ball just like they do, attempt to ride a 2 wheeled bike even if you can’t reach the pedals! You want to swim in the same way they can, jump into water without help and climb trees right up to the top! And there’s no getting in the way of that confidence and that fiery determination! You know exactly what you are capable of and your fierce spirit will often get you there too! What amazing character traits to have ๐Ÿ˜€

You are a big lover of people and social places (despite both your parents struggling in these situations)! You adore babies and taking care of others. You try so hard to look after those around you and include others in your world. Your kindness humbles me.

There are so many memories we have created together over the last 2 years and even the most trying times have been a blessing in this journey as your Mummy. I look forward to all the new ones we will make this year and being there everyday to watch what you get up to and conquer next!

Thank you so much for being you, for bringing all your love and happiness to our little home and making each day a true blessing.

All my love for always,

Mummy Xx