Saturday, 3 September 2011

No mother is an island

Gosh it is tough being on my own. If i were a mother machine i would be fine. Calmly getting through each day, life working smoothly. Balancinug work, home and my other commitments with grace and poise. If you are one of these mothers then you must be on stronger drugs or some kind of bionic sci fi experiment. I think if i could be cloned then i could just about manage it.

Instead i have found it overwhelming. When i remind myself that we move house in two weeks, and all the things i have had to sort out for that as well as beginning studying, it isn't surprising that the wheels have fallen off somewhat.

I have been so grateful to my support crew; friends and family. Being on duty 24/7 is tough and ella has needed lots of supporting hubby away. She has wanted lots of 'mama', and the more i resisted the more she wanted. Nights were tough and even though we had got to the point where she didn't need feeding to sleep, that has all regressed. Turning her down at night just meant long battles and less sleep. I was reminded of the fact that a need met reduces in intensity. So decided to go back to mama whenever requested. The pure joy on her face and quickly she got to sleep has been all the proof i needed that it is the right move. Yes she is waking more at night but she is much happier in the day and i am sure once hubby is back and we are settled in the new house, we will be able to improve things.

In the meantime we are just surviving. It is hard for me to accept that. But it is what it is. And i am just looking forward to making our new house our home and adapting to our new normal. In the meantime i am hanging on till Thursday 7:30pm when hubby is back and the world feels right again.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Going it alone

I just finished watching shadowlands, the film about C.S lewis and the loss of his wife. The film deals with his struggle to make sense of love, loss and pain and how it can exist alongside faith in a loving God. One of my favourite lines is a"we live to know we are not alone".

Nick has been away for nearly a week. The first couple of days were physically painful as i faced the time he is away stretching out before me. But once i was able to see and talk to him via the wonders of skype, i felt so much better.

Talking to him reminded me that our love and commitment remains and that we are the same people, despite the separation. He is still my hubby, just enjoying the sights of Barcelona.
Now i miss him but i am getting on with it.

In the film, Joy, Lewis' wife, challenges him to face the fact that she is dying and not to remain in denial in an attempt to protect the love and happiness during her remission. Instead she says "the pain is part of the happiness. That's the deal".  In the past i have run away from pain.

When we lost our first baby when we were 17 weeks pregnant, i could not face my pain. I was afraid of it, of it engulfing me and drowning in it. But facing it was what would have been the only act of mothering that i could have for that child. My fear of my pain robbed me of the validation of loss that pain and grief provide. Pain and grief at love unfulfilled. In a sense i lost the joy of being a mother, even in a small by running from it.

But who could blame me? Pain and grief are experiences that our society leaves us unprepared for. 
We have very few rituals of loss which allow open expression of pain and the anger, confusion, raw pain and fear that is part of death. Funerals are well choreographed, it is not polite to lose poise, especially in pakeha culture. Add to this the taboo of children lost in pregnancy and we are all really unprepared for the reality that we all will die.

So what does this have to do with hubby enjoying flamenco and paella on the other side of the world?

Well, that i choose to acknowledge, experience and feel the pain of missing my hubby. I am not enjoying it and i have cried. But facing this small pain reminds me of the miracle of love, finding someone to share this life with, in all its technicolour triumph and tragedy. And as i learn to be in my pain in the small things i believe i will experience more of the joy and reality of this life. Who wants to live a censored existence, partially numb to all that life holds? I don't want pain but what a tragedy if the intensity of love and loss is only experienced variously through literature and film.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


In less than 48 hours hubby flies to Spain for two and a half weeks. He will be having an adventure with his best mate. They have been friends since childhood and still argue about which one of them peed in the bath. Hubby has had a travel itch for a while and i decided that before we settle down and have a mortgage, he should scratch it. Lots of people have asked him what he did to convince me to agree to him going. The conversation went something like this:
"i want to travel but traveling now with a toddler would mean spending lots of money and it would be really hard."
"i don't want to live overseas for the next few years so we can travel."
"i want to buy a house and settle down."
"okay, but could i visit Paul in Spain?"
"i think that would be really good for you. So since we are settling down can i get two kittens?"

So since i get a house and two kittens, that Spain was a good compromise. But now i am facing the next couple of weeks without him and knowing he is going to have an amazing time, i don't feel so generous. In fact i feel terrified and grief stricken.

I have relied on hubby so much over the last couple of years. Before we became parents i did too. But i hadn't experienced the desperation and loneliness of looking after a child, not feeling like i can cope or even survive. Until relatively recently i have always had in the back of my mind that he is only a phone call away and can come and save me.

But Spain is a long way away and 17 days is a long time.

Now i know there are lots of mums who have to deal with their husbands being away for longer, have more kids and a lot less support. But it is big for me.

Depression has chipped away at my resilience and belief in my ability to cope. Hubby knows the reality of the way life can feel to me and i can always count on his support. Without him i am forced to rely on myself. And i struggle to feel safe in my own hands. Mental illness means i often question my judgment and decision making. I don't fully trust my perception of things and so having someone at home to taking things through with is so important. He also knows the warning signs and can make me aware of a downhill slide before it builds any momentum.

Don't get me wrong. I have some wonderful people i can call on for help. But it is just not the same as that person who knows you so intimately that you can do life together without having to check what the next move is and can know what each other needs just through a look or tone of voice.

But on Tuesday he really is going. And the anticipation is horrible. But i think i will suprise myself with how resilient i am and how much i have learnt about doing life over the last couple of years. And i really hope that he learns too. Whatever he needs right now.

And you know what they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder and hopefully we will return to each other as more than we were before.

The courage to share your reality

A friend has just started writing a blog about her life and what she has been thinking about. She mentioned me in her first post. It is very flattering to be mentioned, let alone linked to. It is good to be reminded of the impact each of our journeys can have on the people around you, if you just have the courage to share. It can be tempting to use privacy as a way to ccontinue the illusion that "i'm great" (cue empty smile). But what is life uf not being authentic and real about life. What reward do we get for being staunch? And if te community we are part of can't deal with our reality then who really has the problem?

So thank you Sarah for taking the risk and sharing your life. I for one, am grateful.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

It is not that easy

This  is my first mobile post  so excuse te typos. Deciding to do what  is best for  me is easier  said than done. Knowing does  not make me want to make good choices. I don't seem to want to live with the reality of what i say i want to do. Very Paul. I don't  often feel biblical.:)

So will power doesn't seem to be the answer.

Maybe acceptance of my reality is a better approach. I have been managing to read my bible more but exercise seems hard to squeeze in. Excuse the pun. I hope that after we move life will have more space. Or may i will just have to accept again that after trying repeatedly, i really can't do everything.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, so whatcha going to do about it?

The last several weeks have been like I have suddenly started running, after standing still and looking around for quite a while. Buying a house has given me a sense of security and certainty that I think I have been longing for for a very long time. We haven't even moved yet but the fact that we have made decisions about what the next wee while will be like and where we will be based and that fact that finally we can feel settled is so amazing. It is as if the certainty of it has allowed me to stop wondering and has provided a firm foundation to spring board off.

I have made so many decisions and had such clarity about life and myself in the last few weeks. Following on from accepting myself and thinking about my future, I have applied to train to be a childbirth educator. It involves study by distance, part time for 2 years. It will mean I can teach antenatal classes and I am hoping it will mean I can still earn an income around family life in the future. For a long time I felt a lot of shame about being so interested in pregnancy, childbirth and women's health in general. It almost seemed obscene. I think a lot of that came from having to wait to try to start a family so not having a concrete excuse for my interest. And then I also started to think it was just because I was desperate to have children and since we had to wait and were dealing with the loss of our first baby, it seemed that it was almost a pathological symptom of obsession and grief. But it turns out it really isn't. I just am really into it all. It is fascinating and so important in a woman's life. The idea of having the privilege to help women learn about the process and support them to be empowered through it just seems such an awesome way to use my teaching skills and my enthusiasm for it. So no more shame.

I also had a confronting conversation with a Mum I know. I was saying how hard I find it to make time and space in my life for God, prayer and reading the Bible. In a very gentle way she encouraged me to face the fact that the way life is right now is not actually temporary. It is not as if by next year or even in the next decade I am going to suddenly find it easier to have some quiet time with God. And so instead of using motherhood as an excuse, I needed to accept this reality and make time. I really needed to hear that. So after some perculation I am trying to read my bible every day, however I can manage it. So this morning it was after the first thing housework and breakfast jobs. Ella and I sat on my bed. She drew on my old Word for Today and told me she was reading her Bible and I had a chance to read mine. It was enough for me to get some truth into me and to remind me of how essential it is. When I was going to sleep last night I really felt that I am almost a Christian in history rather than now. I have been running on Sunday school, a basic faith and my own thoughts. I often prayer and I have seen God work continually in my life, but now it is time to start living the way I want to. No more excuses. Just get on with it.

I have written a lot in the past about perfectionism and what a trap it is for me. So I am well aware that I could walk into legalism and trying to do everything 'right'. I have often avoided setting any goals or expectations for myself just to avoid that trap. But it is no way to live. It is just a holding pattern. Instead of telling myself that I "should" be doing this or that, I am just going to get on with it. No expectations of the how, just do it. I know what I need to know. I just have to do it. Not forever. Just today. And then I will do it tomorrow. Depression has taught me that decisions are not made for eternity and steps are not about the marathon. Just each day. So refreshing. I don't have to have the willpower or energy or enthusiasm for the rest of my life. I don't have to learn anything new, read a book about it, ask someone's advice. I just need to do it.

And I am applying this to other areas of my life. I am a comfort eater and do not have great mental or physical resilience. If I feel low or have a hard day I find it easy to justify treating myself to whatever I feel like eating. Recently this had taken on pretty epic proportions, and not surprisingly, so have I! I had great plans to exercise and eat well when I joined the gym a few months ago, but with illness, busyness and lack of motivation, all the gym membership has done is make me feel bad for not going. Over the years I have learnt lots about exercise and eating well. We have very little unhealthy food in the house. But since having Ella I have learnt the wonders of the drive through and 3pm and 8pm are still the times when I regularly 'treat' myself. At some point treats are no longer a treat when they are a regular event. When I weighed myself on Sunday and I could see a whole new decade of numbers appearing before me I had a rude awakening to reality. This accompanied by the fact that my pants are threatening not to fit, was the shock I needed. If I am challenging myself to get on with it in other areas of my life, then why not this?

So yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. I am not going on a diet or starting some boot camp exercise programme. Instead I am just going to do what I already know. Eat lots of fresh veges and fruit, palm sized protein at each meal. Cut out the bad fats and processed flower and sugar. And get some exercise each day. Yesterday's exercise involved squats so that Ella could ride the seesaw and some vigorous walking. Hopefully today will entail another walk but with the clouds rolling in, it might be some exercises in the lounge when Ella goes to bed. I can keep telling the story that I can't fit exercise in but I know how that story ends. And instead I am going to start telling a new story.

The new story goes something like this:
I love who I am and I choose to treat myself well. I don't choose to do things which might feel good in the moment but make me feel bad in the long run. I want to live well and I deserve to enjoy my life and live it to the fullest. If I can be a good parent to Ella, then I can be good to myself. I am thirsty and greedy for life and all its potential and I want to be able to make the most of it. So I choose to do what I know I need, even if I don't feel like it. Because I am loved and precious and God delights in me. And there is so much to look forward to.

So that's the new story...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Call it like you see it

I would say I fall into the peacemaker personality type. I hate conflict and the idea of hurting people's feelings. I also hate the idea that people are thinking bad things about me. But I am slowly accepting the fact that in spite of sounding like that makes me a nice person to be around, it is not so nice to be that person. And probably isn't very good for growing relationships with integrity.

Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that I don't mind a good heated debate about an issue. It is more about the stuff that is closer to my heart and the more intimate stuff of friendship such as unmet expectations or things that bother me. Or when I disagree with a friend about something that is important to them.

Through therapy I have been examining why I am so afraid to be different than other people. For me difference feels bad, like the relationship is broken. But trying to be the same or think the same just means I mould myself around what fits with the other person. When I come away from the situation I am often really frustrated because I don't feel like the other person really knows me and I feel in conflict with myself. At its worst, I feel like I have lied and pretended to be something I am not, sometimes even feeling like I lied. Even though I my have avoided 'conflict' I have not been myself. I don't think the friendship would be that satisfying for the other person either.

Because eventually there has to be a coming out. When the person you really are will reveal itself and someone gets a shock. Whether it is me realising that I have backed myself into a corner by trying to be the perfect fit for a friend and then find I just can't be that anymore. Or when I don't meet someone's expectations because I just am not what they had begun to expect.

I am certainly not advocating saying what you think about everything and anything without consideration for the feelings of others. More that when a situation occurs why can't I have the courage to respectfully disagree or at least, choose not to just go along with it in my head, convincing myself that I think that too? And sometimes I think I should say something. I mean, if I have a certain conviction then why isn't my opinion as valid as someone else? I certainly am on the end of some pretty frank and sometimes brutal words about my life and even though it is not always appreciated, I often learn something through it. Even if it would be better to just let it slide off me.

I have started trying to accept myself more and that includes accepting that I don't necessarily feel the same as my friends about all sorts of things. That doesn't mean it has to cause friction. Hopefully we are all mature enough to deal with difference (that is actually directed at me). I am also beginning to believe that if it does cause conflict then maybe that friendship isn't one that can last. Life is complex and we all have different perspectives and experiences which lead us to hold our beliefs. If those beliefs are so different that the tension is painful then maybe it is better to just accept it and let the friendship go. Better that than to deny the conflict and one or both people play a game or put on an act to make the apparent friendship work. And don't we all want friendships when we can be our true selves and experience love and acceptance anyway?

The people I tend to struggle around seem to have particular personality types or ways of relating. It seems to catapult me backwards into really unhealthy ways of relating. I hope in time I can be self aware enough not to be affected so much. But I also think you can't be friends with everyone and you aren't supposed to. So hopefully I can be wiser in who I choose to relate to in future. Friendship is such a blessing and can be wonderful, but it can also be a stage to repeatedly play out your worst self over and over again.

Okay that was pretty honest. And you are not one of those people who spin me out. Well I can't guarantee it but if you get what I am talking about then it is pretty unlikely :)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Accepting Me

It seems like the last couple of years I have been gradually having to face up to who I really am. I feel like I have always struggled to feel that I am acceptable, lovable and okay just as me. Because of this I have continually aspired to be a different version of myself, a version that I thought would be more palatable and would fit in when I should and stand out when I wanted to. In the past I have really struggled with some aspects of my personality, my strengths and weaknesses and wished I was different. As a result I don't think I truly know who I am cause I have never let myself just be and got comfortable with that. I have always been simultaneously annoyed by and in awe of people who say things like "I hate..." or "I would never..." or "if that happened to me I would feel/do/think". That sense of self and knowledge of self is so foreign to me because I have been so quick to try to be what I think others wanted that I haven't even acknowledged my own feelings and thoughts.

During my teenage years I was just a ball of self loathing and self consciousness. My twenties was the discovery of a whole new world of confidence and wonderful friends, meeting and marrying my hubby and realising life could be more than I had ever hoped. Now in my thirties I feel like I am having to face who I truly am, whether I like it or not. The rubber is hitting the road and the stresses and choices of daily life as a mother don't allow me to entertain many fantasies about myself because I am daily faced with the reality of me, whether I like it or not. I might wish I was different but I don't have the energy or the time to be able to pretend for long, if at all. And I care a lot less about what other people might think of me, mainly cause my mind is too busy just coping with each day. Navel gazing just doesn't squeeze into my life that well anymore, compared to the almost constant internal monologing I used to do.

So here are some things I am learning about me and am in the process of accepting:

  • I am not that organised. I like to plan and write lists but I have no memory any more and am not great with details. I do most things on the fly and off the cuff. This usually works for me but if something requires more then I am not your girl.
  • I can be opinionated about issues and ideas but ask me what I want and how I feel and I will need to let you know, maybe in a few days cause I am still trying to work myself out.
  • I used to think I coped well under pressure and was quite laid back. That is something I has wished I was. I just try not to be a problem to anyone else but in reality I find lots of things stressful and often am unaware of being anxious and tense until I experience pretty severe symptoms.
  • I used to think I could cope with being really busy. I can't. I need lots of sleep and good food. I like to have things to do but I can't deal with too many things on my plate and I am not able to do all the things I would like to do. I want to be the solution to all the problems around me but a lot of the time dealing with my own problems feels like a lot. I probably give people the impression that I am very together. I am not. Its a lie and is more that I am a bit disconnected from myself and my own feelings and needs. I am working on that.
  • I always pictured myself as a stay at home Mum. That doesn't actually suit me. I continually struggle with balancing the expectations I have of what I should be able to do as a mother and the reality of working and all the other things I am interested in. I also love being away from Ella while I work. I love the adult conversation, being productive in a more measurable way and having a break from full time mothering. I feel conflicted about this but am trying to accept it. I am also trying to see how this does not mean I couldn't cope with another child, it just means I need to do it in a way that works for me, and our family. The extremes of Martha Stewart SAHM or career driven mother who farms out her children are not helpful or real. I need to develop my own working understanding of my identity as it evolves and incorporates all of the aspects of me.
  • I can be very focussed on doing things "right" but should focus more on having fun and enjoying life.
  • I am pretty pragmatic. I like to get things done. I am task orientated rather than process.
  • I hate injustice and get really upset when I see people behaving unethically or mistreating those who are vulnerable.
  • I am suspicious of those in authority and can spot a dodgy or manipulative person a mile off.
  • I enjoy meetings cause I like talking about things. But there should always be food.
  • I really enjoy public speaking.
  • I love writing. I am not a crafty person but I love to cook. 
  • As long as the house is tidy I don't mind a bit of dirt. 
  • I love reading non-fiction and if I read fiction it has to be pretty true to life. I am not that into poetry or art. But love film and music. 
  • I can't be bothered trying to be cool but I like to look nice. Shopping is awesome.
  • I am impulsive and hate decisions being unmade. I would rather make a choice and it be wrong than wait till the right decision becomes apparent.
  • I am heaps more relaxed about my daughter's development and behaviour than I thought I would be. I also find her confidence and quirkiness quite confronting at times. But it inspires me to keep on learning to accept who I am because she is so herself!

Monday, 4 July 2011

loose ends and lost in transit

You have probably caught up with the news that we have bought a house! Well we are in the process and hope to go unconditional in the next week. It has been such a relief and definitely not as stressful as the other house we put an offer on but didn't get. This house ticks all our boxes and we are so excited about it.

But we have a couple of months before we move in and in the mean time we are returning to our life, which has been left to look after itself a bit with all the house hunting that has been going on. We don't need to pack immediately but there are quite a few things I have been putting off because things have been so busy and uncertain. So I want to sort out some loose ends over the next wee while. There are dentist and optometrist appointments to have, decluttering and getting rid of things and reorganising so we don't move stuff we don't want. But there are also some quite hefty things that I have been hoping would sort themselves out, but they haven't.

Ella has just turned 2, which she proudly tells anyone who will listen. Each birthday is such a celebration of her growth and development but I also see it as a celebration of me and the effort I put into being her Mum. And 2 was the vague goal I had for how long I would like to breastfeed. I have struggled with it on and off over the last 6 months. Christmas and the depression relapse led to moving her into her own bed and trying to get her to stay in her own room for most of the night. That has had limited success. She goes to bed in her own room most nights but by midnight is usually back in with us. At times this has suited me but I can't sleep when she is feeding anymore and when she is sick or just out of sorts she can wake multiple times in the night. She has never woken less than twice a night in her whole life and twice feels like a great night's sleep. During the day she is keen to have a "little mama" any time I am sitting or whenever she is feeling a bit out of sorts. This gets pretty jading. At times it is lovely to be able to sit still and cuddle but at other times I just want to actually have cuddles rather than feel like a drive thru with a customer who is never satisfied. As we have rounded the two year corner I have found myself starting to really resent it and to feel a little desperate as my efforts to put her off with distraction, food and just saying no don't seem to be working.

I also keep wanting to say to people that this is a destination we have found ourselves at. It is not a statement about what anyone else should do and though I am pleased she has breastfed this long in some ways, in other ways it means she really understands that mamas are really quite nice and not something she wants to give up. And it is really tough saying no to your child in the middle of the night when they beg you for "just a little mama", through tears.

So I have been feeling a bit lost in transit, thinking about how we ended up here and how to meet my own needs so I can be a good mother to Ella but also to take responsibility for the choices we have made in parenting Ella which means "mamas" are still an important part of her life. It feels like a dance where every so often I found myself too close to the edge or teetering on the brink of a boundary where I have to choose again whether to compromise or whether I need to keep that boundary firm and steer Ella back to where it feels right again. And it just keeps changing as her needs change and our relationship shifts. She is a little person now who loves to say "No!" and do things herself but still wants reassurance and security.

I can say with great certainty that I do not want to breastfeed a 3 year old but it is definitely not as simple as blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Weaning is a process and as long it is heading in the right direction for me I think I can be patient with Ella's timing, which may not be totally mine.

I already chose

If you have been reading along recently you would have seen my tooing and froing about what I should be doing with my life right now. I have felt like my head is full of possibilities and possible versions of me and I have been confused about what I want and what I can actually manage. Lots of words like should and could have been flying around and deep down I have wanted to find some peace, some stillness and rest. I have wanted my mind to quiet and to no longer be wrestling with each day so much and each idea or interest.

In my life revelation seems to come upon me in glimpses of clarity, often in the car or in a random moment of unplanned reflection. I think in the car is the only time I am cornered and am still enough to really voice in my head and to God where I am at. When I was driving home from my weekly therapy appointment, having talked about how stretched in all directions I felt, I truly felt God speak to me.

I know, I know hold on a minute what am I saying there? Well I heard in my head or in my thoughts the clear sentence - "I have already chosen". I am not one to say God speaks to me. I don't really even hope for it so it is a big call to claim it has happened so don't just drop it into the "happy clappy Christian" box. At least I haven't.

Anyway the sentence was like a clear line of truth making a path through all my angst because it is so true. When I chose to become a Christian I made a choice that I would put following Jesus first. I fail over and over again, till it almost runs into itself, but I still make that choice. Then I chose to marry my husband so my commitment to him is a priority. Then we chose to have a child together so she is what I have already chosen as a priority in my life. And I have chosen to work. If we wanted to I could stop. It would be tight and we probably wouldn't be buying a house but that is a possible choice. So work is a choice and a priority. Once you add in the everyday things which have to happen in order to have a home that works for our family as well as time for family and friends, and they things I do to keep healthy, there really isn't much space for anything else. At the moment I help out with the Mum's group Space at church which aims to provide some space for God for Mums each week.

Each of these things have my heart. I mean that I feel a sense of purpose about them, even if sometimes they are hard. So even though I may have some great ideas of things I would like to do at some point, at the moment I am full up and if I take anything else on something I have already chosen to do will suffer. None of those things are things I want to give up at the moment and most are forever kind of commitments. Being a Mum to a preschooler is a pretty intense season too.

Since I had that moment of clarity I have found it so much easier to just let the ideas and possibilities go and to accept that in this season of my life I am doing all I can do at the moment and my focus should be on living well within those choices rather than squeezing in more or being continually dissatisfied with how things are.

This week I have had one of those nasty winter bugs and being really ill and dependent on others for help and support reminds me again that my faith is not in my own strength and my ability to get things done. Instead it is in the knowledge that I am not alone and that I am loved unconditionally just the way I am and the way life finds me at this moment.

Monday, 13 June 2011

A search for a home

There are many reasons for my lack of posts recently but the main one is that we have started looking for a house to buy. Suddenly, after years of being mildly bemused by our friends who were buying their own places we wanted our own patch of dirt to call home. It helps that it wasn't so much of a fantasy thanks to the saving we have been doing. And there we were, bright eyed and bushy tailed, naively extolling the joys of open homes and the excitement of finding our special place.

That was a few months ago and the thrill of the chase and hunt has definitely worn off. I know, I know everyone told me how stressful and agonising the whole process is but despite the advice we still believed it would be great. I mean, for years I have trawled real estate websites finding properties that would be wonderful for us. And just as we start looking it seems like there is nothing that would suit us. Well it seems that way. It is a bit tricky when you are looking for a place with room for the chickens, beehives and the dream vege garden!

The most intense part for us is how the whole process slams us up against our values and priorities and how easy it is to get focussed on dollars and nothing else. When life seems divided into price brackets and each photo seems to reveal an idyllic, wide angle, open plan lifestyle with character features, you can be forgiven for thinking that with a bit more cash the dream life and family could be yours.

It has really tested what we would be prepared to sacrifice. Would we sacrifice the priorities of family time, peace and people for the chance to live in that 'perfect' house? Or can we live and be content in a home which might not be picture perfect and needs some serious TLC? And it also highlights that hubby and I are different people and have very different personalities. I am all about completing the task and I never waited long enough for God to grant me patience. Hubby is phlegmatic to his core. He makes decisions with his gut but slowly and slow doesn't always work for me, or for house buying. But he is true to his values because he is prepared to wait for the dream. Where as I have quickly decided that the dream is a fantasy and we should settle for something less, actually the house we just saw. And he has to deal with me raving all the apparent positives about the place, despite the fact that he does not want to live there. And the raving goes on for quite a while, only ceasing for meal breaks. Often for days. Yes I am am sometimes that awful to live with. But to be fair he cannot give me many reasons not to buy it. It is just not right and not what we have said we want. Slowly I realise he might be right and that I will not spontaneously combust with frustration by not buying a house NOW. He is a patient man.

Today I was in such a state about it all that I asked a friend to pray for me. She said she felt God was saying that two things would be clarified by the end of the day. I thought "Ooh wouldn't that be nice" and thought it would mean what we were going to have for dinner and that I need to be patient...
Instead as I was spending some time feeding Ella and I realised that the pressure to buy a house is actually a choice. And we have a great place to live now. So I can wait. And I do want to wait for the dream. And in the mean time we can carry on with life. We don't have to suspend life while house hunting. So I feel less frustrated and feel more empowered that I can choose how to approach this. I am not a victim of circumstance. I am choosing to wait for the right place when it is right for us both. That was followed by a call from hubby who had made a major decision about work and had some major dilemmas sorted. So tonight we are celebrating clarity, times two! And who said prayer doesn't work! And to add to the joy we have another house on the radar to get all excited about. It is enough to complete exhaust a girl. So I off I go to bed to rest up for whatever is ahead.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

I am not what I do

I always want to do and be more. I have the kind of personality who always wants to achieve more and I want to be one of those people who make a difference. Throw in some perfectionism, being a dreamer and problem solver, naive optimism and a bit of arrogance and you have a recipe for completely unrealistic expectations of what one person can do. Often these expectations come with total blindness to the lack of energy and exhaustion in my actual life and the very long list of basics I am not managing to keep on top of. I have wondered for a long time why I continually have this tension between my actual life and all the things I wish I could do as well.

Here is a list of the ones flying round my head at the moment:
  • become a child birth educator
  • start selling card making equipment
  • write more blogs and find ways of making them profitable
  • set up a trust aimed at supporting teen mums getting an education
  • start sewing
  • stay home more and make house
  • do a Masters in Applied Social Work
  • start scrapbooking
  • get more involved at church
  • read more
  • stop working and go to playcentre
  • work more and do more at work
  • set up a community garden
  • have another child
  • move to the country so that I am at home and can't do all of the above and have a more simple life.
  • achieve world peace, end poverty, solve the climate change crisis...
All in a day's work?

As you can see there is a lot going on in my head and a lot of it is contradictory. I imagine there are other Mums out there who have similar battles between their reality and what they would like to do. But I wonder whether for me these ideas are partly about not dealing with my reality. If I keep coming up with new things to do I don't have to just be in my life. Instead I am always in a state of discontent thinking up the next thing I want to do, but never actually do. Or maybe it is because I haven't developed an integrated sense of who I am? But what does that mean anyway? Or is it just the fact that women today have so much apparent choice that it almost creates the sense that you should do more, choose more and be more.

Maybe that is it. Maybe the question is whether I am enough without doing more? Just the way I am now. Am I acceptable and okay as I am, without any of the above? And therefore does my identity just come from what I do? What does that say about how I view others? Am I judging others who I think "should" do more? And have I turned this on myself?

Okay enough questions. I hate blog posts that just have lists of questions but as no clarity has been forth coming I will have to leave it at that. But I really would love to hear from other women who wrestle with these questions. Have you made any peace with this?

P.S just discovered the one of our kittens peed on our bed and it has gone through our woollen duvets, sheets and into the mattress. These things put my navel gazing into perspective.

Turn around and face the future

I haven't written for a while. I have been busy. About the time I wrote my last post I made a decision to stop facing backwards with my head and heart in the past and start facing forward, taking what I have learned, scars and all, and get on with living. And since then I have been busy doing just that.

I have started exercising regularly at my local gym. I am hoping to lose a bit of weight and get fit but my main focus is on doing something for me each day and the benefit to my mental state each time I go. I am no good at long term goals, I am all about immediate gratification so it is much more motivating to focus on the benefits I get now, rather than having a weight, dress size or fitness goal. I am actually surprised that I am still going. Usually I lost my commitment almost the day after I commit!

I have also taken the risk of committing to help out with the Mum's spiritual support group at church, called Space. It has been a huge part of me getting better as each week I can spend time with other Mums, be inspired and also commiserate with the struggles of daily life and walking with God. It has given me 'space' to think about God when I was struggling to make any time or space on my own. It is scary to be involved in something at church again but also part of my decision not to focus on my weaknesses or fears but instead to use my gifts and follow my heart and hopefully God will be gracious to me and help me to do it well. It is amazing how freeing it is to stop thinking "Oh I couldn't cope with that", to thinking "I love being part of this and want to help". It is really good to challenge myself not to think I have to do things perfectly but instead to know that by getting involved I can grow and move on in my life.

We have also started house hunting. This has been a huge step as for so long I have felt that any sort of change would be too stressful and life has been in a holding pattern. Since turning in my focus and looking to the future I have had the courage to dream again and get excited about buying our own place. This has opened up my world again and I have almost felt overwhelmed by dreams and hopes and plans for the future. It is such a miracle to me to have a future to even contemplate, and to think that some of the things I used to dream about but had almost given up on, could become a reality is so amazing to me. Depression had threatened to steal all the confidence I used to have in my ability to realise my dreams and I cannot explain what a miracle it is to hope in the future again.

I am also amazed at how freeing it is to no longer be playing a victim role in my life. I used to feel at the mercy of my feelings and felt unable to choose how to deal with different situations. A simple example is food. I used to feel that if there was food out, I had no choice about eating it. Even if I really wanted to eat healthily I felt at the mercy of my desire to eat the food. But since deciding that eating lots of sugary and processed food makes me feel yuck I have been finding it so much easier to say "No thanks" to myself and stick with it. It is actually a bit embarassing to admit but that kind of self-mastery has been pretty foreign to me. And it is so empowering to know I can choose.

I truly believe that freedom is not about doing whatever you want, instead it is the ability to choose to do what is right, despite how it might feel, despite the patterns of the past and despite any fears you might have. I love this new freedom. And I have been so busy enjoying it that I haven't had time to write. But I choose to now and it reminds me how much I have missed it. So hopefully I will be back soon.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Enough of being a victim

This last week has felt like it needed a theme song, just because everything seems to pointing me forward. I have been feeling challenged about playing the victim. It is really easy to feel that I have very little choice about how I feel and I have also noticed how I often feel that I can't change situations that I am finding difficult. As I start to feel better I can see solutions or compromises which can be made and suddenly something which seemed to be "just how it is" has changed and things are better.

An example of this is wrestling with night weaning and needing more sleep and space. In the last fortnight Ella has moved into her own bed in what is now her room. Daddy is helping her get to sleep and soothing her back to sleep when she wakes in the night. This had seemed so impossible before but the combination of being honest with myself about what I needed and also Ella being ready means I have the amazing joy of evenings without what had turned into a marathon of feeding her to sleep. It feels wonderful to know that we are still being sensitive to Ella's needs but I am also being realistic about my own.

This experience has given me a chance to look at the rest of my life and start to take responsibility for the things I wish were different. If I look back over most of my life, I have never felt that I was an active participant in how things turned out for me. That is probably where a lot of my perfectionist and controlling tendencies come from; a sense that I actually have no control. I have always been really sensitive and my emotions have often felt outside of my control. Once I "felt" a certain way that seemed to be reality, rather than something I could think about and check. And often I have believed that some emotions such as anger were not acceptable.

This creates a constant sense of internal conflict where I am at the mercy of my emotions but these emotions are not always "good" or "right". So then guilt and shame are pulled into the mix and life becomes a roller coaster where everything feels unpredictable and nothing seems to be in my control. Hence I act like a victim.

Depression works to make you a victim, even if you have never been before. You lose motivation and energy and everything seems overwhelming. As I feel better and better I can see what a deception it is. If you do nothing and just keep asking "why me?" you feel worse and you get no answers.

Instead I can now see how I can choose to be honest with myself about how I feel, no matter whether it is "good" or not. And then I can do something about it. Doing something might mean just accepting that "this is the way it is". Or it might mean doing something about it such as changing how Ella gets to sleep and where she sleeps.

The reality is that this is the only life I have. And I can spend my time feeling crap about how things are or have been and all the things I have no control over, or I can get involved and live my life. Be an active part of it, question my knee jerk reactions and live what I believe, even if sometimes it is a struggle.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Easter with Ella

This Easter is Ella's second but the first where she will be help to understand some of why we are remembering Jesus and what he did. My hubby thinks it is silly that we celebrate it in autumn instead of spring just because the church apparently co-opted a pagan festival. The new life of the resurrection would make so much more sense to Ella if the world outside was living proof of the concept. Since we have little control over when our country recognises Easter, we are stuck with it for now. I have been thinking about the ways we could make it meaningful for us and for her and the rituals and traditions we want to use.

I am a big fan of traditions. They are the things which create meaning and stability for me and also repetition is so useful for allowing me to approach things from different angles but also with reminders that the essential truths remain. The Easter traditions which I grew up with were attending church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Mum creating an Easter garden including a stone and a cave, little trees and sand. We always had an Easter hunt, which was quite interesting when we were away on the boat and they had to be hidden around the confined space of a yacht. We also tended to visit different churches at Easter because we were often on holiday. Coromandel Anglican church was a real favourite. The vicar was a woman, which always seemed to bode well, and she wore a gorgeous brightly coloured robe on Easter Sunday. There was always a great children's talk and the service was never too long (got to love the Anglican 15 minute sermon). We could always follow along in the prayer book and there was morning tea - especially important with three young children. Oh and when we went up for communion she blessed all the children. Talk about a way to make kids feel special.

So now that it is my turn to set the traditions and also to think about what is appropriate for an almost two year old, it seems very important business. Hubby and I have already adopted the Easter Egg hunt and have even done ones with only adults involved and some very cryptic clues. We want to make our own hot crossed buns this year as food seems to always be popular around here. Some other lovely suggestions I heard at my church Mum's group this week were decorating egg shells, creating an egg tree out of an old branch, reading children's versions of the Easter story and baking easter treats. A great product I was recommended is a plastic egg carton with 12 plastics eggs. Each egg has a tiny object inside which is a symbol representing a step in the Easter story. I think that would be wonderful for next year so that we can tell the story and she can learn by touching and playing with each object. Maybe we could even make our own.

One of the most profound things I have done at Easter is to take communion. It is so poignant to break bread and drink wine at Easter because it is so raw, the pain, the tragedy but also the hope and the freedom. Ultimate sacrifice.

Another event which has made Easter real to me again has been attending a Stations of the Cross art exhibition. Meditating on the art and they interpretations of the steps Jesus took to the cross have moved me and helped me to recommit myself to Him.

This year in the neverending thing that is life and parenthood I need to make some space and time for Easter to be real to me again, otherwise what do I have to share with Ella, except an empty story and some cliched traditions.

How to help

With all my posts recently revealing the reality of depression as I experience it, I have had a few people ask me how they can help. And some people have commented on how they read my posts and then see me and I appear all chirpy. I think that these comments show why depression can be so difficult for those who care for someone who is depressed. And can make it very difficult to identify depression if the person doesn't want others to know.

To be honest, I don't go out if I can't be cheery, even if inside I am anxious and struggling. I am also an extrovert and so being around people is energising and often stops the circular and negative thoughts that can be so difficult to shake.

The things I have found helpful have been people keeping in touch, even if it is just a text to let me know they are thinking of me or just keeping me posted on their lives. When I see people I appreciate people treating me like normal or a listening ear. My hubby takes the brunt of it so I really appreciate people caring for him and supporting him by just keeping in touch and hanging out. When thing are really hard, meals have been a life saver and another couple have looked after Ella so I can attend therapy regularly. That help has been invaluable and helps me to do what I need to do to get well.

But in the end my mental health is my responsibility. No matter how much people may pray or offer help, it is all really going on in my head. And that is really hard to tell people. It is really hard for people to know that I can't cope not because of any physical reason that you can see. Instead it is a combination of brain chemistry, personality, life experience and patterns that have developed over my life. And it seems that the stress and tiredness of becoming a parent has brought it all to a head.

But I guess what I wish for is that you keep an eye out for the people around you. That you are aware of those who may be struggling and that you reach out to them. Mental illness is so lonely and knowing someone has noticed and cares can give me the courage to keep battling this and to feel that I am worth it.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

I think I love my cleaner

This week was the first week of having a cleaner. She is going to come once a fortnight for 2 hours and do all the basics. On the morning of her first visit I had wrestled about how much I should tidy up before she arrived. I made sure the floor was clear and there were no health department issues, but beyond that I just left it. It was challenging to have someone come into our home and see the proof of the fact that we have been just surviving. There is something about being a mother and the home as a reflection of your competence which makes me feel very vulnerable. I feel like the general mess and grime of our house was a visual representation of how I have been feeling inside. She could see my depression in all its pain and inability to manage.

Thankfully she is a very gentle and caring woman who was honest with me about her life and how she wants to work. And I was so proud of myself for being honest with her. And instead of escaping while she cleaned I just carried on doing things with Ella until it suited us to leave. As I watched her cleaning so carefully I wasn't filled with embarrassment or shame. Instead I felt such a joy and relief that it was something I wasn't going to have to worry about but not do anymore.

But this has led to me really questioning where all this baggage about cleaning and keeping house all comes from. Of course the image of the 1950s housewife with the perfect house, perfect child, meal on the table, kiss for the husband and perfectly groomed, is alive and well in our society. But there is a reason that "mothers little helpers" became so popular at that time. You can't exist as a person while trying to fulfill that stereotype. You can't be tired, or sick, or struggling or normal to be that mother. And I don't want to be, even if I could.

Instead I want to be able to enjoy time with Ella and Nick and not be thinking that all of our weekends and evenings and my days should be an endless list of chores to be done. And I want to be able to cook nice meals, but once I had done the bare minimum around the house, takeaways seemed like the only option for tea. And to be honest, I just want to enjoy my life. Survival is not enough for me. And I have enough to do with caring for Ella, working, trying to be a good partner to my husband and good to myself that paying someone to do the cleaning makes a lot of sense.

So here endeth justifying myself. And if you read this and find yourself judging me for not cleaning my own house then know that I couldn't give a hoot what you think cause I am too busy getting on with enjoying my life again. And what does it say about our society that women are responsible for the cleanliness of the house? I have always been a bit scathing about men driving cars as an extension of their own masculinity, but using the house as an extension of my competence as a mother, wife or woman is pretty sad too.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Turning a corner

At the weekend I had a wake up call. Somehow reality dawned in the lonely world of depressive self involvement and I realised that it was time to start acting like a grown up again. And I actually knew I could.

The wierd thing with depression is that when it is really bad I really can't do much for myself or anyone else. When I am in deep distress the advice is to take care of you, any way you can. That might mean taking a long shower, getting more sleep, getting help with doing the basics. Then as I emerge from the dark and the medication starts working I am able to try to do more to increase my enjoyment of life, so giving myself a few treats. Recently that has included time with friends, a sleep in once a week, and a few more boundaries on what I aim to achieve in a week. But it has also included some impressive retail 'therapy' and emotional eating. Plus just a whole lot of saying to myself "It is so hard. oh I can't do this. I can't cope". And at some point you have to acknowledge that despite the feelings, the facts are the facts. The bank balance is scary and the jeans don't fit. It doesn't matter how I feel about it, that is just the way it is. And that is just what I needed.

Suddenly I realised that more is actually expected of me. I am not a teenager who can curl up in bed, eat junk and buy expensive shoes without worrying about the consequences. Being reminded that I am an adult and I have choices and that short term pleasure has long term pain is actually really encouraging. Depression deceives you into believing that you can't choose. It is like you start believing you have been hijacked and the flight path and destination is out of your hands. But actually I can. I can do things to help myself feel better and more in control of my life by making wise choices and thinking about others. The relief of not being so self-involved is wonderful, as it must be for my hubby!

And so I have turned a corner and I am really hoping I can make choices and changes that mean that depression can get less fingerholds in my mind.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

And on it goes

I haven't written in a long time. I think the best way to describe it is that I have been under a rock, which was under water, some seriously dirty and deep water. The meds stopped working and we had to call in the crisis team again. I never thought it would happen again. I never thought I would go there again.

For my husband and I the last month or so has been really hard. For my husband it has been traumatic and exhausting to see me spiral down and to have the fear of that and the enormity of that. The sheer practical burden on him has been immense. As well as effectively losing the support of me. Because depression is the ultimate in self involvement and I haven't been able to be there for him. We both feel like we have been surviving through this.

There have been good things, like finally being referred back to the mental health service, seeing a psychiatrist and getting support through a short course on coping with distress. But we are bruised. Is this our life now? Managing my illness, holding on, juggling work and childcare and all the other things that just keep moving on and happening despite our world feeling like it is falling apart.

And in the middle is me. I wish and wish that I was different. That I was not this mess. That I could remember when I was me and things were better. But it has been grey for a long time this time and the pills are not doing their magic like they used to.

I say to myself that the changes and the lessons will be longterm, that it will be deeper and that I will be stronger and wiser. When my therapist tells me that I will learn to fly I hold on to that like oxygen. When I have to sit in the office at work cause I am shaking with anxiety and the place I felt strong disappears, I say that many people fight this fight. And when I see disasters and tragedy spread across the news I wish I had the energy to care. But instead I turn it off and think we have enough on our hearts and minds within these four walls. Someone else will have to care.

Don't get my wrong. I am getting there. I don't know where exactly but somewhere. Everyone has lots of ideas of what I could do to help myself. Now I am trying to do what is possible, what is manageable, what works for my actual life. Because in the end no-one else can do it. That is the thing about healing. It has to happen in me, and I have to make choices, and sometimes I have to do things I don't want to do. My therapist has encouraged me to ask myself two questions:
What do I want to do?
What is best for me?
They are tricky questions. And I wish I was better at knowing the answers.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What I do

I realised the other day when I was talking to someone, that I haven't blogged much about my job. At the moment my job is my saviour. Each week I work two days, I feel normal and useful and get such satisfaction. It keeps me hopeful that I can contribute despite feeling pretty messed up a lot of the time.

It is a tricky question "What do you do?", especially when asking women who have kids. Some will say "I am a home manager" in a rather indignant fashion, implying that women who stay home with the kids are not given the respect they deserve. Another may say "I work", as if that is all you need to know because possibly you may think there are only two options - work or stay home. And others may pause and begin "well...". Because life is not simple and we are not what we do, even if it feels like it.

 But I digress. If you asked me that question I would be in the "well..." category. Two days a week I work as a highschool teacher. I have taught for the last 8 years - except for the year or so I had off when pregnant and until Ella was about 7 months old. My current job is as the English teacher in a teen parent unit, attached to a highschool. There are a number of teen parent units in New Zealand and there are four in Auckland. They are funded by the government and set up to provide the opportunity for young parents, both Mums and Dads, to complete their secondary education and gain qualifications. There is usually a childcare facility attached so that parents can study.

At the school I work at the TPU is on the grounds of the school and the students do a mixture of subjects with us in the TPU and in the main school. The students are picked up in the morning and dropped at school. Some of the children who are over 6 months go to the childcare centre across the road and the babies who are younger and still being breastfed stay with their Mum in the TPU. Each parent (we only have Mums at the moment) is on an individual programme working towards completing their qualifications. We help guide the girls to plan for their future careers and for further education. We have a kitchen and most of the students study food technology. We also have a cooked lunch together each day. This is one of my favourite parts of the job! Not just cause the food is delicious, but because it helps the culture of the place develop and it feels like we are a family.

When I talk to people about what I do I often hear comments and questions about whether TPUs glorify teen parents and make it seem glamourous. To be honest, there is nothing glamourous about being a young parent and they would tell you that. Just as they are growing up and struggling with all the fears and issues of being a teenager, they have been thrust into parenthood. They are kids raising kids and they have to learn fast how to be an adult and take responsibility for their life and their child's future. It is tough for them. They are often picked up from home at 7:30am and don't get home till 4:30pm. They work hard all day on their learning while also juggling the needs of their babies. In winter they have to miss school a lot because they or their baby are ill and they also have to struggle often with major issues in their families or with their baby's father.

One of the awesome parts of my job is helping to maintain a vege garden. We use the veges in our cooking and show the students how it is possible to feed your family well and save money too. Another joy is to see each student achieve and their confidence grow. Many have had really negative experiences at school in the past and it is healing for them to succeed and to have positive relationships with their teachers.

The job can be heart wrenching though. Part of the policy for students enrolling is that they have responsible adult with them who commits to supporting them in their education and will be the contact person for the school. Often this is a parent but sometimes an aunt or uncle or another adult will take on the role. Unfortunately, some of these adults let our students down by either not helping them when things are tough or by actually enabling the young parent to avoid school and to continue destructive behaviour. It is easy to think that these young parents need to take responsibility for themselves but you have to remember that they are kids and also that many come from very dysfunctional backgrounds so don't have the lifeskills and knowledge about how to make good choices.

I would say the greatest need is for role models and mentors so that these young women can learn and follow in the footsteps of people who will support them, encourage them and challenge them to strive for a better future for themselves and their children. Many need the opportunity to move into a safe residential environment where they can get their lives on track, learn to care for their children and learn lifeskills such as how to run a home, follow a budget and move towards living independently. However there are very few places which offer that much support over the timeframe it requires. In fact I know of no such place in Auckland.

I think a lot of people think teen parents are a lost cause but I disagree. Teen parents and their children present an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty and dysfunction. These parents want the best for their children and with the right support and committed people, they can have a future full of promise. I feel privileged to be involved in the process. I wish more people and resources were available for these precious teenagers and their children.

When it gets a bit much

It is getting a bit exhausting, the whole 'recovering from depression' thing. Between trying to eat healthy, exercise (still at the visualising stage), taking supplements, therapy and the upheaval that brings, as well as the depressive thoughts and feelings I still struggle with, life feels a bit too much like hard work at the moment.

One thing which helps is reading other womens' stories. I read a great post about this on this blog - beyond postpartum. It made me think about what I love to do which gives my mind a rest from all the self analysis and 'doing'.

So here's the list:
  • play with Ella - but not think about the other things I could be doing.
  • cook
  • garden
  • watch a film
  • watch good t.v
At the moment the new seasons of my favourite shows are starting and new shows are onto their second episodes. In the last week I have discovered some gems. Since I used to be a media studies teacher here is my round up of generally feel good (good for those with depressive tendencies) t.v at the moment.

  •  Martin Clune's Horsepower - TV One Sunday 7:30pm who wouldn't love a doco about horses?
  • Offspring - TV One Sunday 8:30pm drama comedy about obstetrician with anxiety disorder and dysfunctional but likeable family. Lots of voice over narration and quirky animation, fantasy sequences. So good I even stay up late for it!
  • Packed to the Rafters - TV One Wednesday 8:30pm definitely my favourite show on TV.
  • Go Girls - TV Two Thursday 8:30pm. Hilarious and really likeable characters.
  • Super City - TV Three 10:30pm so late it is silly but so funny and thoughtful. Madeline Sami plays 6 different characters from a Iranian taxi driver to a fitness instructor in denial about her sexuality. Great story lines and an amazing performance.
Let me know if I have missed any treasures.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

I'm back!

After a really rough weekend I started feeling more like myself yesterday and woke up smiling this morning. I has been about 10 days since a started transitioning back to my original SSRI and I had forgotten how much better they make me feel. It really shows me that the ones I tried just weren't working well enough for me to enjoy life and cope with pressure.

I think antidepressants can get a really bad rap due to fears they are overprescribed and the views of people such a Tom Cruise (come on, do we really take advice from celebrities about living well?) who believe you should use other methods to get well. Unfortunately the reality for many people is they are unable to help themselves when suffering from depression and so medication can lift the cloud so that you can take the steps to help yourself. For some people in the long term they no longer need medication as their self care steps mean they are able to stave off the depression. However, for me I can see they may be part of my future for the longterm.

But I am grateful that this recent scare has awoken me from my complacency and I am committed to continuing to take steps to be well. I am trying to eat better, get some exercise, see a therapist and make sure I get enough sleep. I am also trying to make time for me each day.

Two particular things have been helpful this week. One is a book my beauty therapist lent me - see I am taking care of me! I am reading John Kirwan's book All Blacks Don't Cry. It tells the story of his decent into depression and his road to recovery. If you can get past the constant rugby analogies, the book is full of insights into one person's journey but also some really useful ideas for getting well.

Kirwan is well known for his television advertisements which help to destigmatise depression. He has also been a key figure in the development of an online programme aimed at helping people who struggle with depression to take steps to get better. It is in the form of a journal and you complete it lesson by lesson. There are tasks set and you can elect to receive texts messages to remind you to complete the tasks. The first lesson focusses on the importance of excercise and doing things you enjoy. My tasks were to go for a walk and to a movie. I managed the walk but the movie will have to wait till funds become available. I have only just started but I think it would be a really good start for someone who suspects they have depression and wants to do something to take back control of how they are feeling.

Another great source of information and support is Postpartum Progress. It is a blog written by a Mum who has lived through postnatal depression and anxiety. It is full of research, stories and advice a place where recovery is a reality. Being so stuck inside my own head when I feel down can be very isolating and terrifying. Reading this blog is like someone can see inside my own craziness and gets it and suddenly I don't feel so crazy.

When I first got sick I just needed to take the drugs and survive so I could care for Ella. 19 months I have the space to do something more than cope.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I am truly blessed

When I started blogging years ago it was really just for me. Over the years I have been very inconsistent with my writing but since I became a Mum, blogging has become a way for me to process my experiences and clarify my thoughts. I often think about what I want to write about and get frustrated when I forget an idea or don't have time or energy to write. As I have begun to share more and more of my personal and sometimes private journey it has felt really risky but also very freeing.

Since my recent posts about my continuing battle with depression and how to take care of myself, I have been overwhelmed by love, support and care from so many people. I have received messages from so many friends from all over the country and the world. I have had messages of support, empathy and some really amazing advice. I feel surrounded by such a generous community of people who take time out of their busy days to read and to respond.

I truly believe it is not a coincidence that at a time when I should feel isolated and alone in my crazy head, I actually feel like I am part of a web of support. It is also really encouraging to have so much positive feedback about my writing. For someone who thrives on affirmation and struggles with insecurity about my abilities you do not know the immense value of your comments and compliments.

I think it is common for people to believe that blogging is self indulgent and pretty much a waste of time. But for me it is the most profound therapy and a joy to me. And it seems that others are benefiting from me sharing my story, even though I have no idea where the plot is going. It really brings new meaning to the phrase " lost the plot". (That really is unforgivable ;))

Boundaries are a compromise

So last night we tried to start the night weaning process. The plan was for me to go out for a walk while hubby helped Ella get to sleep without me feeding her to sleep. Well and hour and a half later we concluded that this was a very silly idea. I had a lovely walk and after hubby being locked in the room for a very long time with a very upset child who had no interest in sleeping without Mama. And within five minutes of me feeding her she was blissfully asleep.

So boundaries require some compromise and no matter what grand plans I have for putting limits on what I will give to Ella, she is the child and I am the adult and I am the one who can shift. In this case she is not ready for things to change.

So the compromise is that I will still go for a walk and hubby will read stories and have some one on one time with Ella. And when I get back I will feed her to sleep. I get some space and some exercise and Ella gets time with Daddy and what she needs at the moment to get to sleep.

This may not work for long and we may need to rethink things again. But nothing is forever and I guess the only certainty is that by 16 years old Ella will not be being breastfed to sleep :)

Monday, 31 January 2011

How to have boundaries but not feel like a bad Mum

During the last week I have been feeling pretty awful and part of that is this awful exhaustion and lethargy and a feeling that I just can't keep up with Ella. I know, that is just motherhood. But this is an almost numbing feeiling and I get really anxious cause I feel unable to look after Ella at all. It sets off a spiral downward where I feel like a terrible mother for feeling this way. It becomes a vortex into darkness. The depression means at times I am unable to think rationally about it and give myself a break.

Part of the steps I am taking to help me recover is to work on my boundaries with other people. That is challenging for me but what is harder is learning to have boundaries as Ella's mother. I guess I used to thinking of her needs as immediate and my job is to meet them. But as she gets older she has more wants rather than needs and I am having to put some of my needs first so that I can still be a good mother to her. It is such a hard line to draw and especially difficult at a time when my judgment and perception of things not that clear.

I guess all mothers have to work out where meeting their child's needs first has to end so that they can take care of themselves and have enough energy and generosity to keep giving to their children. For me this is going to start with night weaning. At Ella's age most people I know have stopped breastfeeding altogether. I had been aiming for breastfeeding on demand until 2 years old. This does not mean I think anyone else should have to, it was just what I had been planning on. But plans have to change. One of the principles La Leche League espouses is that for breastfeeding to work well both child and mother have to be happy with how it is going. And for me I think I have reached the end of my ability to breastfeed as I was.

I need space. Both physical and emotional. I need some time to just be me. And I would love more than 4 hours sleep in  row! What is so concerning to me is how difficult it is to give myself permission to have some boundaries and to say what I need. I have created this picture in my head of what I should be prepared to do as a mother. And the reality is that my expectation are unrealistic and I have come to the end of myself. It is not good to feel resentful and anxious about anything to do with being Ella's mum. And for me to be able to celebrate her and enjoy her as she grows I have to stop being a victim of the stereotype of a mother that I am beating myself over the head with. And instead be the mother that I am. Maybe then I will show Ella how to be herself too.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Time to face the facts

I have depression. I have not recovered. I cannot leave the horror of the months after Ella was born behind because the blackness is still there. I wish I could, I wish I could tell the story of my recovery. I have been trying to tell it for over a year now. But it is not true, no matter how many people I tell or how much I try to ignore the reality.

Don't get me wrong. I have been better, the drugs have made life so good, almost too good. Because I have let myself believe I am fine and I have not taken responsibility for my own mental health. I have popped my pills and carried on doing all the things which create the stress which has led to me feeling this way again. It is not my fault but the facts are the facts whether I want to accept them or not and I feel that I have no choice but to accept them. And accepting I have depression, have had it for a long time before Ella arrived and will probably need to manage it for the rest of my life, is a harder pill to swallow than a couple of SSRIs.

I have got to this point because my attempt to change medication didn't work. The new meds didn't suit me and over the summer I have slowly spiraled down. Growing anxiety, the typical stress of the Christmas season, starting back at work and putting Ella back into daycare have stretched me and the drugs just didn't cut it. So now I am transitioning back to my old meds and through the haze of that change the blackness and horrible thoughts have come back. And so I have to acknowledge that it is still there. Changing meds can make you feel awful and a lot more unwell than you really are. But it has also highlighted that I need to take better care of myself.

I had already started trying to do that but it was all external - trying to do more exercise, eat better, see an osteopath for my back. But for me that has just created stress and pressure through appointments I have to get to and the challenge of finding time to exercise. It wasn't about caring for me it was about doing what I 'should' and achievement. Now I am trying to go deeper. I must do less and say no. I am learning to be honest with myself about what I really want to do rather than what I think I 'should' do. For me that is so hard. I always want to do everything and even that is not enough. I am starting therapy. I had avoided it cause I just wanted to take a pill and forget about it. I didn't want to have to go any deeper. But now I need to and want to. I am sick of not feeling in touch with myself, not knowing my own mind and feeling lost in what I think others want or expect of me. I want to face up to the things which scare me.

Today I am at home resting. And it is hard. I have tidied the house, picked tomatoes, put the washing on. I feel that I 'should' be resting. I don't know what I want to do. Where did I lose me? I want someone to tell me what to do. To tell me how to get better in three easy steps. But instead I have to be with myself and work it out myself. I know that will be the hardest thing but is the only way to have some peace back in my life.

I want to go to bed and read and sleep but here I am writing. It is good to get it out but it is not resting and I want to rest. So here I go...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

To be honest...

When someone says "to be honest...", you know something you don't want to hear is about to be spoken. At the moment I am feeling very challenged to be honest with myself about who I really am rather what I think or hoped I would be. It is upsetting to realise that I had such a strong idea of what I was going to be like when I became Ella's Mum but to discover I am not like that at all.

I spent quite a few years thinking about what kind of mother I would be. I was going to be a mother who stayed at home, made all the meals from scratch, was full of energy and creative ideas for playing, would be always patient and would pop out hoards of children one after another. I had even got my head around the idea of owning a people mover (loser cruiser as my hubby affectionately calls them). But I am not that mother.

It was easy to imagine myself in a future which didn't yet exist without the realities of daily life. It is funny really to think about how many facts about myself and real life I was able to ignore in my day dreams of motherhood. Like sleep deprivation, boredom, frustration, mess, mess and more mess. Self doubt, and the unexpected all ruin the pretty picture I had in my head.

And now I find myself saying "to be honest" because I am trying to be courageous enough to own up to the fact that I am not the woman I imagined. I never was and never will be. And that is scary because I have ideals and if I can't live up to them, then what? Do I like the person and mother that I am? Can I let the ideals go and realise that being me and being good enough is enough? Can I silence the perfectionist and not grieve a person and future which never existed. Or will I let it steal my joy.

So to be honest, toddlers are so full on and after three days at home with Ella I look forward to going to work. Being at home is not enough and is too tough for me. I miss her but I love the company of other adults, the joy of making a difference and the creative challenge of teaching. And when I come home I am so much more present in the moments with Ella rather than wishing them away because I am tired, or overwhelmed. I have this deep sense of unease with myself over this but it is the truth. I have to be honest.

So to be honest I am not sure I would cope with more children. Maybe one, or maybe I will get a burst of energy and confidence and want more. But at the moment I stand in awe and a little shock at those Mums around me who are embarking on number two. It feels like that makes me less able as a mother but I also feel strong for knowing what is best for me and not being pressured by other's choices.

So to be honest sometimes being a mother is downright monotonous and boring. And I have to give myself a mental slap and say "pay attention" so that I can really notice Ella and who she is becoming. Because part of me wants to do something else and be somewhere else. I feel guilty admitting this but it is the truth.

So I am trying to look at my reflection in the mirror and really see who I am. Not what I wish I was, or who I think I should be. But who I am. If I can love and accept that then I feel like I spend my energy on getting on with living instead of spending it being in conflict with myself and eaten up with disappointment in who I am turning out to be. Life must be lived as I am, not as an unfufilled fantasy.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A diet of hat

I think eating hats would be considered a little too much fibre for a healthy diet but it seems that since Ella was born I have eaten many.
I spent quite a few years before we had Ella thinking about becoming a parent, spending time with friends and family who had young kids and reading lots of books. I felt quite embarassed about being so obsessed but now I also think it set me up well for the journey of becoming a parent.

However, like so many things in life, the reality is very different from the fantasy. I spent a lot of time observing others and saying to myself "I would never do that", or "they should do this", or "my child will never be like that". God has a great sense of humour because almost every day I have to admit that I was wrong and that I didn't know anything. The harshest voice of judgment is often your own and it is even harsher when you know you have judged others for doing what you are doing. The difference now though is that I get why.

It is a wonderful lesson to learn that observation is a precious thing and I am so grateful for all the time I had to learn from other parents and from the books I read. But judging others and their children just becomes a bitter weapon you use upon yourself and your child. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and strips the joy out of life.

I am a harsh critic, mainly of myself. But parenting is a rolling and ever moving feast. You cannot plan for every eventuality and each child is their own person doing their own thing. I am enjoying the freedom of realising you never know what is round the corner or what challenges may present themselves but intentions don't have to be a decision and you can be free to choose again and again how you will respond to your child or a situation. The toughest part is letting myself and not reproaching myself about it.

Parenting and perfectionism are not happy bedfellows. A friend said to me when I was pregnant that her favourite phrase as a Mum is " Never say never". I should have that tatooed somewhere!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Learning to stay home

While I was really depressed one of the ways I coped was to have something planned each day and to get out of the house. Over the holidays I have decided that I can't be that busy anymore and that I have been running away from being at home in fear of feeling down or feeling like I can't cope with caring for Ella. By the end of last year I felt like someone else was running my life rather than me choosing what I wanted to do. The someone else was fear and exhaustion. I had this idea that going to things and visiting people would mean I didn't feel so tired. But the result was me feeling anxious and more and more tired because I wasn't choosing my life, just reacting.

So today was the day hubby went back to work and my first day of doing less. It was still pretty busy but I didn't have anything planned and did what felt right for today. It was tough to not get on the phone and organise things. I had to consciously decide not to fill my diary. It helps that I am working Thursday and Friday this year so I can keep the first half of the week as my own and the clear delineation helps me to see how I can manage my commitments better.

What I ultimately want is to build my confidence to be alone with Ella and to embrace life as a part time SAHM. I love people and company but don't want to be afraid of myself.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Creeping insecurity

Over the holiday season we have spent time with lots of friends and family and have had a wonderful time. We have also been to lots of places and tried new things with Ella. It has been such a blast but I have developed a case of creeping insecurity.

I think it is a common condition to afflict parents when you are around other people, in close proximity and people see your child and the way you parent up close and personal. We have also been observing other families and the similarities and apparent differences between our kids and family lives.

I knew Ella was pretty energetic and busy but now I am really recognising what a ball of energy she is. And it is easy to fall into the trap of negatively describing her because she is so full on and does not just fit conveniently along side or into the background of activities. She knows her own mind and is happy to communicate it. Fighting against it is futile and usually a waste of time.

So here is my internal dialogue when out in public or with other people:
"They must think we have no control and are those permissive parents who are afraid to give their child boundaries."
"I think they think Ella is a wild beast!"
"Their child eats meals. Mmm Ella doesn't. Is that my fault? Should she be eating meals? Have I done something wrong?"
"Here she goes asking for Mama and beating her chest. Will these people think I am a wierdo hippy if I breastfeed her? Maybe I can distract her. Hmmm no luck there." Then make some self conscious and self deprecating joke.

I know I am not alone in this very unhelpful habit. And recently I have been letting it get to me so much I have been pushing Ella to be more "acceptable" and "normal". It is just so sad and awful that I can let my guessing of what other people might or might not be thinking determine what she needs and how I parent. But I think all parents want to know they are doing a good job and in our culture a quiet child who fits in and behaves in a predictable manner is seen  as a 'success'. But we are all unique and different and somehow I need to celebrate Ella's uniqueness. In her freedom to be herself she encourages me to be free to be my own person and not to let 'normal' be my guide. She as the confidence to walk out into the world and throw caution to the wind. If an 18 month old can, surely I can give it a go.