Category Archives: 4. NURTURE – gardening, home decoration, teaching others

Me and my plant pots

BURNOUT

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I posted this on my other blog The Happy Baby Project but am re-posting it here as it gives a useful update on me and link to what I’m doing next!

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So this morning, I’m in bed. reading Country Life, with the cat. Because we have moved to the country. But more on that later.

But this isn’t a smug post, it’s an honest one. I’m in bed, because I hit a wall in a massive way recently. Burn out. It wasn’t nice. But more on that later too.

For now, let me catch you up with where I am as it’s been a while. My last post was in 2017 and in November 2018, after 2 more miscarriages, I had my third child, who we’ll call The Baby. It was another dreadful birth. You may remember my first child got stuck (shoulder dystocia), my second child arrived prematurely after a massive haemorrage and after 4 painful miscarriages, but my third child was a planned c-section. Oh this will be so much more relaxed! We laughed.

On 13 November 2018, after The Baby was lifted out of my tummy, I lost 4 litres of blood in a massive obstetric haemorrage. Given you only have 5-6 litres of blood in your body, it was pretty terrifying and I thought that I would die. Of course I didn’t die, and there were amazing doctors there to pump 4 units of blood straight back into me, but at one point both me and my poor husband who had been dragged with The Baby to another room as I screamed I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to die. I make this point because it’s important to remember that this is trauma, for your body and your brain. We were told shortly after this (when I’d been handed a premature baby to hold and to feed, as I tried to piece my broken body back into life again) that we should never have children again. No chance, we thought. So the trauma – all those losses, all that pain, all those awful births – is over.

The Baby is almost 1 and life is pretty great. We left London to buy a large house in East Devon near the beach, and we plan to build a cookery school and glamping centre here. We have three healthy children, a cat, and we just bought a puppy. As we walk along the beach, looking at the kids running in the waves it all feels great.

But then there’s this thing. It’s inside me and it feels heavy. When I’m alone or when I’m exhausted, I think about what happened to me and my body, and a feeling rises up in my chest and its so heavy and overwhelming, and it makes me cry until I push it back down again. I push it down again because I have to get on with life and life is busy and I have three kids. But it’s there and it feels like I’m holding back a dam sometimes and if I let it go it would burst with such force it would wash us all away.

And recently with the stress of looking after the kids and the puppy and moving to a new house and doing up the house and starting work again after maternity leave and trying to lose a bit of weight, I hit burn out. So how does that feel? A body completely devoid of energy and a mind empty of motivation. An inability to do anything – I mean literally unable to stack a dishwashwer or get up off the sofa. A desire just to curl up and sleep, all day long. A feeling of being empty, of crying with helplessness and exhaustion. A feeling of hitting rock bottom.

Trauma 

It is, I now believe, partly down to this unresolved trauma. I  believe most of us carry some form of trauma and most of our parents carry it too – trauma from childhood, trauma from infertility or terrible births or miscarriages, trauma from health problems or parental loss.

It is possible to carry this trauma around – I have. And you can cover it for a while – denial, getting on with things, or in other less healthy ways – alcohol or striving for validation through over-achieving, over-work and people pleasing. But it has to come out at some point or it will eat you alive. Literally – insomnia and auto-immune conditions and stress-related disease.

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So how do you resolve this trauma? Well, there is CBT counselling, where you re-live the experience in the present tense (I’m lying on the bed and I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die) but you add in the things you know now – that you didn’t die, that you were safe. And I can definitely see the benefits in that, but it involves time and investment and you would have to go to a very vulnerable place for a while.

So I guess the other way you resolve it is through talking about it, writing about it, releasing that dam little by little so it doesn’t feel so heavy. Realising what your triggers are and being conscious of when you feel waves of emotion that you didn’t really understand before. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

A stressful life 

Which leads me to other stress factors as a parent generally. I seem to be having more conversations, almost daily, with mums who are at their peak stress levels and wondering why its so hard and feeling like they are failing. And sometimes we question why it’s so hard for us because didn’t our parents do all this and not complain? But I think it IS harder for us, and here’s why.

First, we put massive pressure on ourselves as parents. I’m pretty sure my folks never read a single parenting book, but that’s probably because the parenting style at the time was a lot easier – to parent based on a certain level of detachment, fear and control. Children should be seen and not heard. Eat properly at the table. Kids should entertain themselves and be bored (ever spend days on end throwing a tennis ball up and down for entertainment?). We could run fairly wild then – I remember spending hours running round parks and back gardens with my neighbours’ kids from a fairly young age. Smack them if they are naughty (I wasn’t actually ever smacked. Well, once, for drawing on a newly-decorated nursery wall).

But now we’re all about perfect parenting. We have to cook healthy organic food, read about conscious parenting styles, be constantly empathetic and patient, spend time doing educational but fun games, and make sure they are doing extra curricular activities like swimming and scuba diving and frickin nuclear fusion club, and that’s after you’ve spent time reading every night and doing extensive homework. Sometimes it’s just too much pressure.

Secondly, we’ve lost our communities. If it once took a village to raise a child, it is now us, alone, in a crappy soft play centre in Brentford wondering what went wrong. We live far from our families, and our sisters, neighbours and friends don’t involve themselves with raising our kids anymore. It’s not their fault, we’re all just too busy. But we weren’t meant to do this alone.

Next, society adds others pressures on ourselves that we never used to, partly driven by social media. The pressure to be professionally successful and earn well, to “have it all” (ask me who the most stressed in our society is, and I will show you the part-time working mother). To entertain and have a full social life and great holidays. To have beautifully styled houses and gorgeous interiors. To look hot and slim and wrinkle-free with fabulous clothes and hair. If you are a perfectionist like me, it is impossible to keep up with it all and something has to give.

So what can you do about this? Well, this is what I’m working on and this is why I’ve written this starting blog post (which I’m writing in bed).

Ultimately, I need to lower my standards and work out what is actually important to me – so for example, I don’t need to look hot but I would like to be healthy and strong and fit for my kids. I don’t need to entertain my kids all the time, but I’d like to have special 1 on 1 time for at least 5 minutes with each of them every day.

I need to have more me-time and reconnect to who I was before I had kids – so I’m adding time each day for doing something just for me. Listening to a podcast with headphones on while the kids play or buying something frivolous and just for me like a wet suit. I’m planning days out with close girlfriends. And finding time in each month to pursue a hobby I already love – like yoga – and starting hobbies I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time – like painting and (don’t laugh) wild swimming.

Most of all, I’m realising sometimes I can’t keep face and say I can do things when I know it would lead to burn out if I pushed myself too far. And the most important thing is allowing myself to be vulnerable without being ashamed, and saying I can’t do it, and I need help.

Today is Day 1. 


As I said earlier, we have moved to East Devon and are planning to set up a cookery school/feast venue, but also one with a wellness side, hosting wellbeing events, talks and yoga. I will post details of this soon. I’m also planning (once I get my head above water!) to re-train in psychotherapy or life coaching. I’ll be documenting my journey in a separate blog and instagram page, which I will set up and also send details soon. Watch this space! 

The HPL gets her Glee on – Popchoir in Clapham / Dulwich / Croydon

Singing in a group is fun. Remember what it was like at school – those magnificent men in their flying machines, twinkle twinkle little star, morning assembly with its hyms. We forget we used to sing every day. Although opportunities to sing as an adult lessen, we love it when we do – at rugby and football matches, in church singing hymns, a late night burst on Singstar. I love nothing better than a night of karaoke. My song? Perfect by Fairground Attraction – apparently I am a wonderful singer after several vats of wine. And of course I’m a diehard Glee fan, and love musicals – particularly My Fair Lady and I was picked to be third Puerto Rican dancer on the right in our school’s version of West Side Story – but oh how I longed to be Maria, I knew every line.

So when a friend mentioned she went to a group called the Popchoir just off Clapham High Street on Tuesday nights, I wanted to try it out.   Led by the very glamorous Helen Hampton, who has an impressive CV of working in pop and musicals, in the taster class I went to (8-9.30pm) we did several songs from musicals and the world of pop. We did a Muse song with lots of fist-clenching, a mash-up of Oasis and the Carpenters (strange but worked), the Cee Lo forget you song with nice swingy dance moves, and a song from the musical “Chess” that I didn’t know before but which was beautiful. I hear they’ve even done Gaga and Britney *screams*. We were around 40 girls and 1 bloke (not one for finding a date, ladies!) and split into different groups depending on your voice range. No audition. Phew.

I was struck by how nice everyone was – chatting and laughing during the rehearsal and inviting me for beers afterwards even though it was my first time to rock up. And I really enjoyed the singing. I picked it up fairly quickly by singing along with the girls next to me, and found myself belting out the notes by the end, really enjoying the gorgeous harmonies we were making. Sadly terms ends in July so I decided not to sign up while wedding season is in full flow, but term starts again in September and I’m in for signing up for every Tuesday. The cost is £108 per term which is great considering how many sessions you can come along to, and they participate in various community concerts throughout the year. If like me, you watch Glee and think “I should do THAT!” then I’d definitely recommend it.

The HPL urban garden

So Spring is sprunging in my little London garden and it looks fantastic. The daffs and crocuses I planted a couple of years ago are, as ever, popping out all over the place, and the bulbs I bought last year from Portobello Market with mi madre have appeared, to my complete surprise as I forgot I’d even planted them. That’s the fun of gardening – some of your hard work doesn’t show until much later on and when you least expect it. Its also such a peaceful way to spend an afternoon.

So Titchmarsh style, what should one be doing in the garden now? God knows – the planting of Spring bulbs should all have been done around September so all we need to do now is enjoy it really*. And we just need a little more sun and a few more degrees and its almost BBQ and Pimms time all over again.

*this is based on no knoweldge whatsover. We should probably be pruning and like weeding and stuff as well.

London garden – Autumn

Can’t believe how red the leaves are – ridiculously pretty. And can someone tell me why I’ve got mushrooms growing?! Only experience of field mushrooms is, ahem, picking season of the magic variety at Uni. Any info gratefully received.

London garden update and Croxted Road garden centre, Herne Hill

The nurture side of the HPL rules has been lacking – my little Brixton garden was looking shockingly bare and weedy, I’ve had several plant fatalities (turns out basil isn’t quite as hardy as I previously thought) and I’ve not put enough time and effort into looking after it all. But a visit from mi madre, some time taken out of busy London life, and I’ve managed to make the garden look lovely in the space of one weekend AND got a suntan in the process. Here’s how:

1. Go to a good local garden centre where there are people on hand to tell you which plants are hardy, can live in crap soil in the shade without regular watering, etc, and who can help lug your compost and plants to your car. We went to Croxted Road garden centre in Herne Hill on Sunday afternoon and were really pleased with it – loads of choice, cheap and healthy plants, lovely people working there who can answer all your questions, and easy parking.

2. Pick a mix of different plants for your garden/windowbox. My choices were based on (i) things that don’t die easily (budlea, hydrangea and mint which apparently grow like weeds, perfect) (ii) things I like cooking with (mint and parsley) and (iii) a mix of colours, textures, ferns and flowers to make things interesting.

What I bought sitting in my garden ready to plant: mint, parsley, lavender, a ferny tree thing, budlea, hydrangea, a green plant thing and a red fern thing

3. Get a glass of wine/beer, roll up your sleeves, work out where you’re going to put things, plant them and water them. Then sit back and admire your fabulous handiwork and enjoy your lovely garden! You should probably water at least once a week and add fertiliser every few months.

London garden – Spring has sprung

A wee update from the garden.  This is what I love about gardening – the hard work you put in takes a while to take effect, but when it does you feel excited and proud, which is why it forms one of my happiness rules.

As you may remember, I did some tidying work after winter – clipping off dead bits to make the plants healthier.  At the moment, life appears to be coming back (phew – thought I’d killed off the climbing clematis from over-pruning) and the garden looks very pretty, all new shoots, new life, emerging flowers.  Here’s the results from the work I did last month:

1. The hydrangea

Before

Clipping off dead bits

Now

2.  Climbing clematis

Before – ressembles my hair in the morning

After tidying – follwed by panic that I’d managed to kill it

Now – not dead thank god

3.  Other signs of life

Nurture – Gardening London Style

As you may know, one of the HPL Rules is to plant something and nurture it – which has been proved by happiness experts to increase happiness.  Inspired by Penny Golightly’s windowsill gardening, I decided to do some gardening this weekend. I’m in my early thirties thank you very much, but I really enjoy gardening – it takes your mind off absolutely everything else and is very rewarding – whatever you put in you get back out.  I know very little so what I do is based entirely on trial and error and tips from my mother.

At this time of year, gardening is more manual labour and maintenance – cutting out dead bits of plants and preparing the ground for the wonder and growth of Spring.  Here’s how I got on:

1. House plants (status – pretty much dead)

I wouldn’t call these an unmitigated success, but I have managed to keep these two plants living (a peace lily and bamboo).  Ideally I want the peace lily to flower, but it hasn’t done so for 2 years now.  Anyway, I put in some plant food and water, talked nicely to them, and cut off any brown leaves.  Grow my pretties!

Rather less successful:

Yes these are almost dead.  The first was a gorgeous pinkie green fern which didn’t survive winter, and the second was a peace lily.  Both I cut all the dead bits stuff off and added some Miracle Gro (“miracle” being what is needed) and have hoped for the best.  By the end of the week if not growing, I’ll have to say goodbye.

2. The garden (status – spring has almost sprung, heavy cutting back needed)

Good news is that the daffodils and crocuses that I planted rather haphazardly 2 years ago are popping up yet again (plant bulbs in September and wait for spring, no other maintenance needed really) .  Can’t wait til they all come out.

Also good news is that you pretty much cannot kill rosemary.  It is the only herb apart from chives that I planted that survived winter (bye bye mint, basil and lemon thyme – sorry my flat isn’t big enough to take you indoors over winter).

I then did some maintenance on my hydrangea which is incredibly hardy and re-grows beautiful blue/pinkie flowers once I cut the dead ends off.  See before and after:

Before

 After

I then totally cut back my clematis which I failed to maintain much last year but which grows green and healthy over my side wall, and produces these these pretty little white flowers in summer. 

Before (yes I also removed the light stick, leftover from the last party we had)

 

 

After – cut right back

I found this very therapeutic to do, and I’m proud of the results.  I’m hoping it will grow back strong and healthy and I’ll then intertwine it more in the lattice.

Photos to come throughout the year on how it develops!