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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! 

A post for mental health awareness week

There’s a wonderful spotlight being shone on mental health right now thanks to Bryony Gordon and the royals’ Heads Together charity. Having lived through the grief of losing a parent and multiple miscarriages, as well as having suffered with rampant insecurities and anxieties since I was little, here are some things I’ve learned about mental health.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, if not more so. If left untreated, it can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and anger; and physical ramifications like headaches and heart attacks, back problems and thyroid issues. You pay monthly to go to the gym so why don’t you also pay to talk to someone?

It is not weak to be vulnerable. It is not pathetic to say you’re struggling or anxious or insecure.  You don’t have to express your mental health issues in a way that makes you feel like a failure – in fact, humour and cynicism and swearing like a sailor are fantastic tools for expressing the fact that you’re having a shit time. If you think about it, the people that open up enough to admit their vulnerabilities are often the most courageous.

You are not lessened by having mental health issues. It is easy to think the confident person next door is simply better than you, because that’s just how you’re wired to think. But being old enough to have accepted myself now, I realise that being insecure or a bit angry or unable to shake off that feeling that you’re not quite good enough, does not make you worse than other people. My friends are made up of these people, most historical heroes too. Show me someone with vices like this, I’ll show you someone fascinating, who is built up of layers of intricately woven issues and ideas, who can surprise and entertain and amaze you. To love someone like this can be frustrating at times, but it can also be unbelievably rewarding, deeply passionate and interesting.

Allowing yourself to ask for help and to show your vulnerabilities is the key to being able to cope. Allow yourself to be loved.

Going through any sort of trauma allows you to empathise with others going through heartache. Your friend who went through that divorce or that cancer scare or that miscarriage will, in time, be the best most understanding listener there is. Damaged people often make the best friends.

Motherhood is not the #blessed picture many make it out to be on social media. Much of the time it’s anxiety-inducing, insecurity-building, lonely and depressing, as well as being fucking boring. It’s easy to find an Instagram-friendly photo of family life to show the world, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if we could be honest about it?

In 2013, the leading cause of death for both men and women in ages 20-34 was suicide. For men, that’s the leading cause of death in 35-49 year olds too. Doesn’t this show the importance of dealing with the disappointments and anxieties that life throws at us. If this means meeting up with someone once a month to drink a bottle of wine and talk about feelings, if only for a little bit, then it’s worth it. Crying is good. Being vulnerable is good. We are only human after all.

 

Escape To The Country?

In my twenties and early thirties, London was the love of my life.

I would think nothing of schlepping from a Neil Diamond night in a pub in Bethnal Green to a Korean restaurant in Soho followed by after-beers at the Dogstar in Brixton. I’d visit art exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and watch German arthouse films at the BFI. I went to the latest pop-up restaurants in Clerkenwell and supper clubs in Hackney. I tried Michelin-starred restaurants on my London salary, and drank champagne on rooftop bars in the City.

I shared cheap flats in Clapham and Brixton, having house parties for our closest 50 friends. I spent balmy Sunday afternoons at The Landor and The Falcon; Saturday nights trying out cocktail bars and clubs in Shoreditch, or feet sticking to the carpet at Infernos.

This blog was wonderful in making me visit parks and museums, theatres and bars. I thought nothing of journeying across London, laughing on the tube with friends all the way. The journey itself was half the fun. I had the time of my life. London filled me with energy, it nourished my soul.

But then something happened. And that something is inexpertly peeing on my carpet in an attempt to potty train right now.

Yes, London with kids is another beast entirely.

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Your horizons in London with small children narrow dramatically. Your world becomes a small quadrant between your house and a 20 minute radius; between naps and nappy changes and feeds and drop offs and pick ups.

You try to avoid the tube and the bus with their crowds and heat and the complexities of moving and folding a buggy with a sleeping child or worse, a screaming one. Queues for anything – refreshments, tickets, seats – can be a nightmare with a fidgety child. Suddenly you spy dangers in places you never saw it before – dogs off leads and drunks on benches and pollution on Putney high street.

Even your social life, once so buzzing and fun, seems hectic, and you no longer want to drag yourself across London to visit friends or places. You have little time to spend at home to chill and even if you did your home suddenly feels too small to hang around too long. The commute sucks the energy from you so all you can do when you get home is switch on the telly.

Your cosy London house suddenly seems small. With piles of plastic crap everywhere, and a garden the size of a postage stamp, you long for space – high ceilings and a spare bedroom and a utility room and a downstairs loo. You wish your child didn’t think plastic grass was the norm.

London suddenly seems the playground of the rich. You can’t afford a decent sized family house even though your parents did. With endless trips to coffee shops and park cafes, you find you haermorrage cash and are constantly broke. All your friends talk about how broke they are, even though they have great jobs and earn pots of cash. And yet because you are surrounded by money, it is easy to be jealous – of the large houses, private schools and long haul holidays, the Farrow & Ball lifestyles that the precious few can afford.

You try to make the most of London but a trip to the South Bank on a bank holiday drives you to despair with crowded trains and groups of tourists tripping over your buggy. You can’t find a table spare at any of the chain restaurants so you jump on the train home with a hungry child crying. You drive to Richmond Park on a sunny day and marvel at the deer, but then lose it when you spend 25 minutes trying to find a parking space. You queue 15 minutes for hot food at Kew Gardens which is cold by the time you get to the counter to pay for it. You queue so long for the dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum that you have 5 minutes to enjoy it before lunchtime. You try to go to Soho for date night but end up spending 2 hours commuting there and back with works out as an extra £80 in cabs and babysitters.

Suddenly London doesn’t fill you with energy, it sucks it away, leaving you exhausted on the sofa.

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You find yourself imagining a different life.

You could sell your tiny terraced house which is pushing a million quid and buy a bloody great estate in Cornwall, or Berkshire, or Bath. You could have a stream running through it. You could have 5 bedrooms, a larder and a boot room. You could live a simple life without the weight of materialism dragging you down. You could buy chickens! Or raise rare breed goats. You could spend your days pottering in your house, or planting vegetables in your garden. You could give up your stressful job and run a book shop or re-train as a life coach.

Your children could run around the house and garden, finding endless things to do – treehouses to build, streams to dam and nooks and crannies to play hide and seek. They would grow up less sophisticated and cynical; like children should be, perhaps.

After school you could go to the beach, or watch the sun go down across the fields.Where once your soul was lifted by the party you lived, now it is lifted by the quiet and the peace and the space.


It’s a no brainer isnt it?

And yet.

I would miss you, London.

I would miss the Friday nights with girlfriends having sun downers by the Thames. I would miss playdates with mummy friends at walking distance round the corner, having cups of tea and moaning about house prices and the price of living, discussing Farrow & Ball colours and extensions. I would miss impromptu BBQs in gardens so small you have to sit inside. I would miss the opportunity to have botox, laser hair removal, a blow dry and a mani/pedi within a 5 minute walk. I would miss dressing up to head to “town”. I would miss hearing every language under the sun. I would miss that feeling when you walk into a bar or restaurant and think damn this is so cool. I would miss being able to wear anything I liked, however mad or trendy. I would miss the West end theatre, the world class restaurants and museums, even though I rarely go.

I would miss the buzz and the stress and the fun. I may have fallen out of love with London but I’m just not sure I’m ready to walk away just yet.

 


 

To Parents Of Even Smaller Children

So, I’ve had a couple of miserable days recently. And then it all gets better again and I forget how bad it was. Only I write a blog so I wanted to write about the miserable stuff too, before I forget. To share, you see. To make you feel better perhaps. Hell, to make me feel better.

First, there was the day I was cooking a fish pie, with my son bouncing in his jumperoo, nursery rhymes playing; feeling warm and cosy and thinking what domestic bliss! I am a domestic goddess earth mother type person! My baby boy had even fallen asleep on the jumperoo he was so relaxed and I popped him easily in his cot for a snooze.

Only, an hour later, I woke him up by mistake trying to get some of his dirty laundry to wash, and he screamed the house down. Nothing I could do could get him back to sleep so by the time I’d bundled him into the pram, the fish pie was burnt, the Le Creuset pie dish was smashed in my rush to tidy the kitchen, and I had to leave my cosy warm house to walk out into the rain to calm a sleeping baby back to sleep before I even had the chance to grab any lunch. Suddenly I was tired, and hungry, and cold, pounding the streets endlessly until he fell asleep. And of course then the chaos had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day, making us miss a baby class and cancel a coffee with a friend.

A few days later and unplanned Armageddon hit again. Having had an amazing week with Mr Schmoo (for that is what he is now called), where he was happy and sweet and fell asleep easily for long naps, suddenly my baby boy was changed. He was whingy and whining and kicking and arching his back, and refusing to go down for naps even though I could tell he was exhausted. But why, I cried to the heavens?! It could have been many things – teething, constipation from eating solid food, a “Wonder Week” leap of development that had sent him bananas.

All I knew was my perfect routine was now shattered. But on this morning, I also woke up shattered. I had a cold, a sniffy, achey, knackered cold which meant all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa, put the fire on, and watch Ray Donovan on repeat. Add to this it was cold and pouring outside and I envisaged a lazy day of playing and snoozing.

Sadly Schmoo had other ideas. He was up at 5am and didn’t fancy going back to sleep again. Then he ate a bit too much acidic fruit for breakfast and spent the entire day straining in a constipated fug that might almost have been funny if it hadn’t looked so painful. Add to this crazy teething that made him bite anything in sight (including my face). Any attempts to make him nap when he looked exhausted ended up with him SCREAMING blue bloody murder, arching his back and kicking around, so all I could do was rock him and walk and eventually reach for the Calpol. He didn’t nap AT ALL. And so, I ended up, of course, pounding the streets again with the wee man in the pram. With pouring rain soaking me, a passing car chucking a puddle onto me for good measure. Not one walk but THREE walks. All lasting exactly the length of time that he slept, round in circles sometimes, perhaps stopping for a coffee and maybe a sit down…..NO he’s woken up, up you get and keep walking…

Hungry, cold, tired, ill. But luckily The Chef did bedtime and got him to bed, only the wee man was so tired he didn’t drink enough milk, so we was up at 3am, and again at 4am….

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Several of my mummy friends on Facebook posted this article by Steve Wiens in the Huffington PostTo Parents Of Small Children – which talks about how exhausting and relentless caring for little ones can be, and how, although wonderful at times, kids can make you frustrated and so bone-tired, you almost can’t imagine making it til bedtime.

When I first read it, I’d had a lovely day with Schmoo and couldn’t really empathise. But now I think about it all the time.

When I’m walking in the rain pushing a crying baby I also think – how on earth will I make it to bedtime?

I think of the relentlessness of it all, the fact that I never really stop being responsible, never really get more than a few snatched hours as a break.

And that even if I could have longer I don’t actually want to or feel I should, and I need to go through the arduous process of finding a good childminder and then paying them money I should be saving.

I think of the “breaks” that I do have that are filled with pureeing, and sterilizing, and washing, and cleaning, and doing admin, and replying to emails. And never seem to be filled with nice things like doing my nails or having a bath or reading a book.

I think of my friend who didn’t even have time to change her Tampax when her baby was screaming, until she finally ended up screaming herself.

I think of my friend who is now up every two hours at night, after months of sleeping through.

I think of my friend who’s son pulls out great tufts of her hair every day.

(It’s not the same friend, by the way, that would be really shit).

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But then the next day, today, Schmoo is back on great form. And one big, gummy smile, and I’m delirious again. And I’m tickling his tummy listening to him laugh, and in awe of him rolling not once but twice. I’m bouncing him on my knee singing Grand Old Duke Of York, and giving him huge cuddles and kisses. I’m pushing him in his pram, this time singing, and I’m laughing and smiling at him, thinking how wonderful and amazing he is and how much I love him.

And it’s OK now, it’s really OK.

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So what have I learned from the shit days?

  • The Wonder Weeks app is a fairly good indicator of whether you will be living with a saint or a monster
  • A night out with friends can restore your sanity – and all it costs is the price of a bottle or wine, and a hangover
  • A few hours’ break courtesy of a partner or friend can make a huge difference. Go shopping! Have a bath! Sit in your pants and look at Facebook!
  • Babies have rubbish memories so they won’t remember the crying and the screaming, once they feel better they won’t recall any of the bad stuff
  • But WE do remember and it does affect us – it’s OK to walk away sometimes and let someone else take over
  • They only last a few days, weeks at most…

….Everyone goes through it and it will pass.

It does pass, really.

The Happy Baby Project

I’ve been quiet over the last few weeks because life has changed somewhat, and it has something to do with the little wriggly person that’s been growing inside me. Yes, the HPL is having a baby!

And while I’m wildly happy about it now, there were times in first 12 weeks when I really struggled to remind myself of all I’ve learnt about being positive. Of course I appreciate how lucky I am, and what an exciting thing is about to happen to us, but my body’s reaction to the news wasn’t exactly pleasant. And it took this wonderful blog post by Caroline No to give me the strength to say IT’S BEEN BLOODY SHIT! I’ve been a bit rubbish at this pregnancy stuff! And finally – who cares!

My skin decided it didn’t like the preggie hormone or the preggie hormone didn’t like certain foods anymore and broke out in giant red itchy spots all over my chest, neck and face, which might or might not have been hives. I got teenage acne. I developed an agonising pain in my right buttock which turned out to be my pelvic girdle pinging out of place, making walking nigh on impossible. I found myself sobbing like a heartbroken teenager for hours on end, once hysterically laughing and sobbing at once, not knowing why. I felt nauseous and fat and bloated and frumpy, unable to squeeze into my old clothes but not big enough for maternity gear. I ate three burgers in a week. I missed wine and hangovers, still do. And don’t get me started on itchy boobs and cracked nipples and giant wire-less maternity bras which make cycling to work an interesting exercise in pot-hole avoidance and agonising bouncing droopy pendulous bosoms….

A cumulative force of utter exhaustion, the need to cry repeatedly and teenage acne-like skin meant I lived as a hermit for weeks – not even wanting to go for a walk and covering my face when I saw anyone including a man reading our meter: “Don’t Look at Meeeee!”.

There were sudden periods of anger, an unbearable urge to snap. The Poor Chef got the brunt of it, being the only person in my vicinity for much of the time. You put a wine glass in the dishwasher the wrong way – YOU IDIOT!!! You didn’t put the plant pot in the right place – YOU RUINED MY BIRTHDAY!!! And how could he understand the raging hormones that were filling my body with negativity and fury and sadness, when he was just really really happy?

But on the cusp of 12 weeks things got better. I got my energy back, which built up to something like hysteria when I realised I could finally socialise and actually see my friends again (lunches and walks along the Thames best – drunken dinners not to the most fun when you’re sipping on Schloer all night and wondering why everyone’s laughing at an unfunny joke). My skin cleared up and my hair went from greasy to full. I contacted friends, I felt positive, I started thinking about the future. And The Poor Chef came out of hiding.

And then this week we had the scan. I was a bag of nerves, wondering if it was there at all, or alive or deformed, or multiple. But then we saw him (for we call him “he” after the scan but we don’t know if he is a she yet of course). What a gorgeous wee wriggler. He was tiny, of course. But with a round little belly and a lovely face with big lips. And beautiful frogs legs and two feet, which he kicked in the air before turning his little bottom towards us. I can’t feel him yet but my tummy is getting more solid and I love the little reminder that he’s there, wriggling and waiting.

So now it’s different. I’ve told people which really helps. I’ve bought a few bigger clothes and am enjoying better skin and shaking off the indignity of the last few weeks. I’m loving my new body – the round curves, the bigger breasts, the hardening belly. I’m so proud of my body, so impressed at its strength and the way it seems to know exactly what to do. I can see why women who’ve given birth often want to do marathons  afterwards – and I feel the same – because I love my body in a way I never have before and I’m amazed at what it is capable of and I want to get fit, not just work out at the gym to lose weight, but get stronger and faster and show myself what my body can actually do. I feel womanly and dare I say a bit beautiful.

I am already aware of competitive mum syndrome and what lies ahead. There are the I’m-still-a-party-girl mums (I stayed up til 2am and wasn’t tired at all! Yes the baby is two weeks old lets book that girls’ holiday to Ibiza!). There are the body-beautiful mums (I’ve not put on ANY weight! In fact I’ve LOST weight! Who’s the first for botox?!). There are the capitalist mums (I’ve just bought the most fabulous baby papoose to match my bugaboo pram travel system in a neutral colour to match my tastefully decorated nursery!). And there are the this-is-totally-natural-to-me mums (vitamins? I didn’t bother with those. Epidurals? I’m just going to power breathe with my doula).

So what sort of mum will I be? Well who knows. But I’m not pining my party days any more. In fact I’m loving getting to bed at 10pm and being cosy under a woollen blanket on the sofa. My favourite recent purchase is a great pair of sheepskin slippers.  I’m looking forward to my body getting big and round because I have a feeling it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be doing and I really want to take care of it from now on. And I believe what my child really needs is our unconditional love, and a favourite cuddly toy which is soft and old and worn, and being read to all the time, and its grannies and granddads and aunty and uncle teaching it about life and the world and where it came from.

I know one thing for sure. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and its one that I’m finally ready for. And sometimes it will take all I’ve learned about happiness and positivity to keep me going when times are tough, but the joy this little thing will bring will teach me more about life and love than I ever imagined possible.

So wriggle away wee man, we love you very much, and we can’t wait to meet you in March!