Sunday, 29 December 2013

Giving up in 2014

I hate this time of year. The no-man's land between Christmas and New Year. It's not that I specifically hate the days. They are often lovely and full of fun and relaxation and a wonderful "nothing to do" vibe. But it also has that sense of approaching doom for me of another year beginning. Think the soundtrack of Jaws...

It has not always been this way. I am naturally a lover of all things fresh and new and full of possibility. I am a planner by nature and used to love to think about what I would be doing in the coming year. But over the last decade or so I have become jaded and frankly completely afraid of facing the new year as appears on the horizon.

You see, reflecting on the past year and planning for a new one is like cocaine for a perfectionist, planner with unrealistic expectations, such as myself. I guess for an alcoholic the New Years party creates its own share of temptation and risk. And for me, the list of resolutions has grown to become something I run from. This is where the alcoholic analogy falls over completely so please disregard any connection from here on.

Imagine loving to plan but becoming fearful that all a plan becomes is a trap to throw myself into and live in for the rest of the year. If I follow the plan I am "good", if I don't I am a failure. And the plan itself is only based on whatever felt important at the time I wrote it. Oh and it was written by a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations so it was also completely impossible and detailed and really was a set up for failure from the beginning. Add to this not just a plan, but specific goals that deal with specific things I want to do EVERY SINGLE DAY!

So in reaction to the obvious flaws in the above approach, I stopped goal setting, planning or really expecting anything. At least officially. I was and remain a very harsh critic and the expectations, whether written or not, still float around in my head as some kind of yard stick of "living well". Unfortunately this has led to me losing some of the joy I do find in looking forward to the future.

When I was a teenager and couldn't get to sleep I used to daydream until it turned into real dreams and I drifted off. My daydreams would be about actual things I was looking forward to or hopes and dreams I had about the future. I often thought about what my life would be like when I "grew up". This usually meant move out of home, go to Uni, get a job etc. This was the stuff which reminded me while I struggled through the angst of teenage-hood, that there was another age and stage around the corner where I would be able to make more choices, have more freedom and maybe the self confidence to be the someone I was sure I was, hidden under my insecurities and awkwardness.

And I have to say my 20s were a lot like that. My dreams didn't quite come true but I loved the decade as I grew into myself and made so many wonderful friends. I became more comfortable about who I was. But it still was never enough. Each New Year approached and I would try again. Often the same goals rewritten with a twist for 2002 or a focus on something which was becoming more important to me at the time. But every year I looked back and was disappointed in myself. After a while I stopped. Why do something which makes me feel so bad even if at its heart, I wanted to make my life better?

However, it seems this year that there is a change in the air. This week I have felt so exhausted as the weight of how hard the white knuckle ride of the last 6 months has been. I honestly feel that hibernating for 6 months is required for me to ever venture beyond my front door again. And so I find myself thinking that I better make a plan. This time the plan is not to improve myself, well not in the usual sense. I think this plan could be more about avoiding breakdown.

I think I need a plan to work within my capacity, to treat myself as fragile and to recognise that this body I am in and the person I am will actually fall apart both literally and figuratively if I keep living like I am. I am still allergic to the idea of goals and feel the tentacles of perfectionism beginning to tickle my ankles even as I stand paralysed this side of January 1st 2014. This plan will not be about being "better" or "improvement". It will be about weakness and vulnerablity, saying "No, I can't manage to do that". And being able to sit with my imperfection. I say I believe in a God who loves me as I am and has made me in his image. I say I believe that I am forgiven for anything and everything I could ever do or have done that would hurt myself or anyone else. I say I love others because I can see how fearfully and wonderfully we all are and how precious we are. But somehow I seem to think and behave as if none of the above applies to me. And this year I plan to give up. Give up on trying so hard to do things that don't matter and leave me in a pit of self loathing hiding under my duvet.

Hopefully the plan can remain a relief and not a noose around my neck. There is a glimmer of hope here but so many roads that still lead down the path of not-good-enough and unacceptable. I wonder if I can create a new path. I pray I can cause this one is a dead end. Pun intended.

Monday, 7 October 2013

balance is for bikes and I am not a bike

One term into working full time and juggling all the different parts of my life, there is a sort of an auto pilot going on in my head. I feel the need to cram in as many "to dos" into each day and even when I try to stop, my brain keeps on trucking. There have been so massive upsides to working and I do love it. But the downsides are pretty clear too. Hubby and I have spend the last few weeks reflecting on our choice and we are blessed to have the option of reversing our decision and me going back to my two or three days a week in the new year.

Throughout the term I have been confronted with the lack of personal time I have, the poor food choices I make when meals seem to be an extra that I just can't fit into the mix, and the other commitments I have with my local Parents Centre. Add to that the usual no-win guilt trip of not being with my kids during the day and all the household things such a meals, laundry, cleaning and the list goes on. My hubby barely gets a look in and my friends are almost strangers, since I don't get a chance to hang out much anymore. And I still wish I could do more - more work, more volunteering, more fun with the kids, more quality time with hubby, more, more, more...

A friend just sent me a link to a document which allows you to evaluate your quality of life and lists the characteristics of a balanced life. There are lots of other models or lists like this that include the various aspects of life - emotional, spiritual, mental, physical and relational. So there are many ways to cut up the pie. And the inherent view within them all is that if you make thoughtful choices and drop some things and take up others, that you will one day reach the nirvana that is BALANCE.
But you know what? If I look around me, balance is actually not that normal.

If I look for balance and examples of it in the people I know I have to say I don't know many. I definitely admire those people who take care of themselves, avoid over commitment and maintain a positive outlook on life due to making sure their needs are met. But I reject the idea that balance is the key.

If I look for balance in the natural world or in our garden, I don't really see the tidy and balanced world I would expect. For example, we are hoping for a tomato glut as summer takes hold, and we actually want one. We want to be able to have lots for pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salads etc. And if you look at our garden right now, it is pretty barren. Partly due to lack of attention but also because we chose to plant crops over winter which will renew the soil. So they have been dug back in and it is ready for planting. In the world around me I see seasons where sometimes things are busy and productive and to the untrained eye, wildly out of control. And then are other times things die back, they rest, they wait. If the garden got stuck in the productive phase for too long, the soil would become depleted and production would drop. Then a time of feeding and waiting would begin before plants could grow to their potential again.

I am wondering whether that is a reality of life that should be more acceptable and actually means that I feel that I can cope and even thrive during this wild time. I can enjoy the busyness and the feeling of being productive. But I also need to plan a season of rest and renewal.

I know that the foundations, or soil of my life are my faith, family, friends and time to do things I enjoy. I will never be able to live well for long without tending to these. But each day or week or even month will not be a neatly divided exercise. That seems to be more about rules and ticking boxes, than living with the ebbs and flows of life.

There are some regular things you need each day to keep being productive - good food, good sleep, and time to just be. I need to value myself and this season enough to make these a priority.
But I no longer want to justify my choices to myself or to those around me who greet my current commitments as fool hardy or heading for a fall. I have not walked away from what is important to me. I have not abandoned my post or let anyone down. I am learning a lot and enjoying this season. And come December, and the school holidays, a new season will begin.

Balance is for bikes. Instead I choose to live in the seasons.

Monday, 9 September 2013

More on how to deal with depression

One of my favourite depression blogs/advocates is the guy who Lilo's down the Waikato river. Here is his latest post all about the things he does to manage his depression.

What I really like about his approach is that he doesn't take his depression personally. He approached getting well in quite a practical way. He doesn't believe in endless navel gazing. Instead he does stuff that helps him feel better.

So here is his recipe for wellness.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

May! It has sure been a while...

I think about blogging almost every day. And then my day happens and at the end I can barely string together a couple of grunts in the general direction of hubby so writing something meaningful and real just doesn't happen.

But I kind of left you hanging...

So relapse has passed. The magic of another 20mg of paroxitine has done its work and my head appeared above the darkness again. And off I went.

And then the roof started leaking. According to my Dad it was a torrential down pour onto the kitchen bench. I would describe it as more of an incessant drip. And as the drips dropped my fate was sealed. Full time work.

You see home ownership seems to have a huge power over my destiny at present and thankfully I was able to get full time work at my current school. We now have a regrouted roof, complete with waterproof coating and ceiling and underfloor insulation. It is like our home has a lovely blanket wrapped around it.

And as part of the process of full time work there has also been the arrival of the 18 year old German au pair. We are settling into a new way of being in our home. Settling probably isn't the right word. I guess squirming and wriggling around to get to a new place that feels comfortable and "normal". I love having an adult at home when I get there and the kids love her, but it is a process and I am so aware of this other person and their needs and I can no longer just assume and know how we do things around here.

I have also dived into being more involved in my local parents centre. I have been passionate about parent education for a long time, even before having kids and my involvement in the local branch came about through my interest in child birth education. It is really satisfying to be part of an organisation that is committed to providing high quality, evidence based, education to parents and it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I love to be involved in things like this and it suits my strengths. Unfortunately, time is not on my side so life is feeling very full. And it feels like some things are being accidentally dropped.

Full time work is really impacting on our family life and home. Every day is a treadmill work out, trying to run fast enough to avoid being thrown off the back of it. I am hyper aware of everyone elses needs and all my responsibilities and my needs seems to be endlessly negotiable. Down to eating and going to the toilet. Optional extras I might squeeze in on a strangely quiet day.

When I am working, I love it.
When I am at home I want to be here more.
When I am hosting antenatal classes or hosptial tours I feel fulfilled.
But my hubby gets the worst of me. When I am empty and the self neglect is taking its toll.

I have been feeling so annoyed at myself for being so jolly pollyanna about everything I ever get involved in. Everything seems a worthy cause, I am always having these great ideas and wanting to do it all.

And then I find myself grumpy and burnt out and realising as I walk around the school vege garden, that my soul is parched and I am as shrivelled up inside as a prune. Just the simple act of picking some lettuce for my sandwich has such a profound impact on me. Like an oasis in a desert. Actually make that a puddle. But if it all the water you have seen in days, it may as well be a lake.

And I just keep hoping that my strength will last, and the creeping anxiety, the procrastinating about going to bed, the heart palpitations that strike whenever I try to relax, will somehow turn into nothing. But I have been hear before and this is a familiar story and so I know where this will end up. And I cannot have another relapse.

So I am trying to simplify. Get back to the things that feed me. Like wrestling with the kids on our bed, or choosing to read a nice book instead of watch crap t.v. Or to go outside and feed the chickens instead of dashing around trying to clean.

And I am recognising that I feel quite lost. It seems that over the last few years my landscape has shifted. I am uncertain about so much. I keep doing what I think I believe in. And hoping that if I do lots then somehow I will find my way back to some peace or rest. But I haven't and I don't thing I will. At least not doing it this way.

I was reading today and the book was talking about the peace of letting go, not planning, just asking. standing still. And all of me wanted to put down my burdens, lie down, and rest.

Not sure how that can happen. But if I don't choose to, then I think I will find myself falling down and unable to get up.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Bloglovin shout out

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I've just "claimed" my blog on Bloglovin. If you hadn't heard, Google Reader is going to cease to exist so if you follow a number of Blogs this site might be just the ticket.

Be back soon with more important things...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Musings on my mental illness

Okay, so the current bout of depression has me facing some facts I would rather not face.

1. I will probably struggle with depression my whole life.
I don't want this to be true and I know that there is always a chance that the perfect pill, learning to live with myself better and a miracle are all possible and that a future without depression could happen. But the present situation provides a great deal of evidence to the contrary. And I hate that this could be true. It sucks for me and my family, especially my husband. It is knowing you will live with a person who has a chronic illness which impacts on their ability to be themselves and function and be the partner that are supposed to be. I can't speak for him. But I hate that our future could be punctuated with me disappearing under a black cloud and him having to cope with it.

2. My meds aren't working anymore.
I have increased the dose and the anxiety is gone, mostly. But the dispair has really moved in to stay, as it were. This means I will probably have to change meds. This is terrifying as the process can make you feel even worse, before you feel better, and there is no guarantee that I will only have to switch once.

3. There is no magic fix for this.
I have been through this enough times now to know that no one thing will make enough difference.

Here are the basic models of treatment and recovery from my very amateur observations and reading:
  • The JK way (John Kirwan) - he credits his recovery and wellness with active relaxation and exercise. 
  • The "Live More Awesome" way - this is the guy who set a goal to float down the Waikato river on a lilo to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation. He also recently created the longest water slide ever. He doesn't believe in therapy so much as setting big goals, the achievement of which make life exciting and worth living for.
  • The talk therapy way - there is a lot of evidence for the efficacy of various forms of therapy to help work through issues or experiences which may contribute to mental illness. However, it is quite dependent on the relationship with the therapist. I personally have found psychotherapy really helpful. The principles behind it is that the actual relationship you have with the therapist can be used to face things in a safe and empathetic way and also learn how healthy relationships can function.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy - this focusses on how the thoughts we have can help or hinder our mental health. What stories do we tell ourselves about the world around us, the people we interact with and daily events? What assumptions do we make? Is their really evidence for that? It encourages changes in thinking patterns to move away from thinking that isn't useful or helpful. 
  • Natural therapies - this may include supplements, diet changes, acupuncture etc. There is a lot of evidence to support some approaches and diddly squat for others. You also have to be very careful because often medications for mental illness have contraindications with natural medicines and herbs. There are also people making bucket loads of money off vulnerable and desperate people.
  • Healthy lifestyle - good diet and exercise all help to increase the good feelings in the body. Eating like crap and living on the couch would make anyone feel a bit gloomy. That said, if you in the throws of depression the energy required to do anything seems to require superhuman effort. I am not a great example of using this approach ;)
  • The skills approach - this aims to increase a person's resilience to the ups and downs of life by introducing skills which give a person greater control and mastery over their mental state. Psychologists often focus on this and CBT is part of this approach. This may include mindfulness techniques, meditation, strategies to use in a crisis or when a mood or action is triggered. 
  • A spiritual approach - this has overlaps with other approaches and can be as vague or as structured as the spiritual beliefs which the approach is based on. There is the very unhelpful "mental illness is demonic possession" approach. Now I am a Christian and I do believe in evil as an actual thing in the world, but it is not wise to tell someone with a mental illness that they have a demon in them. The people I know who are wise and discerning in the church understand that one prayer session may not bring the instant healing which we all would love to occur. But I do believe that a Christian faith built on the knowledge of being unconditionally loved by God, that we are all messed in some way, that we can be forgiven and healed and live a purposeful and significant life, can be a truth that helps to heal and provide the comfort in despair that  makes a difference. I personally have had times when my anxiety was crippling and prayer, with no words, just my spirit groaning, was all that brought relief. But depression is not a sign of a person's spiritual failings or lack of faith. We live in a broken world with broken people who hurt each other. And all of us suffer in some way for that. For other people Buddhism, and other spiritual practises create meaning and peace in a way that can make a significant impact on their mental well being. We are all spiritual and it is an aspect of our existence which is often the part most in pain and most seeking of hope and significance.
Probably a mixture of all of the above will work or help most people. I have done the therapy, some cbt, some mindfulness. I am definitely not an "active relaxer" like John Kirwan but it is really good for me to get engrossed in an activity such as gardening or scrapbooking( I feel no shame). Exercise and diet definitely make a difference too. But my perfectionist tendencies mean I have to be very careful about how to approach it. I am also not one for 'out there' goals. Worship in church and the singing that is part of it really can help me. But sometimes it seems that God has hit the mute button and all I have is doubt and confusion.

This time around I am not going to use therapy - as I read recently on the Live More Awesome facebook page "shit in a food processor still comes out as shit". For me I think I need to let go of all the stuff I could use to explain my depression. I just don't want to be depressed anymore. I have talked a lot. Now I just want to get on with life.
Meds will continue to be part of my life and actually I really need this to work so that I can do anything else that could help.
Healthy living is definitely a priority - sleep being the major one and some regular exercise. I reserve the right to eat junk cause at 3pm in the afternoon with two preschoolers it can be the life raft.
I think I want to focus more on how my faith could counteract some of the intrusive and negative thinking that plagues me. Maybe I will find someone who I can talk to who has expertise in that.

If you get a chance to listen you should check out the interview with Mike King on Radio NZ. He runs the Nutters Club on ZB which encourages people to phone in a talk about their struggles with mental illness. He is making it not taboo and speaking to groups about how we can all support those with mental illness. He is honest about his own journey and I found what he said really refreshing.

The thing I guess that I wish people realised is that depression is deadly. It kills so many people each year in NZ. It makes people feel there is no hope, no escape and that taking your own life is a reasonable choice to make. A lot of people express anger if someone chooses to end their life. Their actions appear selfish and self indulgent, leaving so much pain and grief, questions and guilt. But if you can just imagine how awful someone would have to feel to make that choice, then hopefully you can remember that when someone says they are stuggling with depression. Because no matter how much they tell you about how hard life is for them, they will never tell you how truly torturous it is.

So tomorrow I will have my appointment with the adult mental health team. I will become an official mental health "consumer" again. And I really hope that somehow, someone whose mind is working well for them, can help me through this time. I am fresh out of brilliant ideas.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Fake it till you make it

My current mental state is driving me crazy. Haha...
 I wake up in the morning with the feeling of lead in my feet and cotton wool for brains. I get up and get started on feeding kids, getting dressed, showered and pop my three magic pills. After about an hour I feel overcome with the deep desire to go back to bed and hide under the covers. At the weekend, with hubby around, I could have actually done that. On Saturday I did. The sleep was awesome. But when I woke I just wanted more. With the bedroom door closed and my mind switched off in slumber, things felt safe.

But on Sunday morning I made a different choice. I could feel the panic and lethargy coming on. But I knew that it would totally suck for hubby to be left on his own with the kids again and that when I emerged from hiding later in the day, everything would be the same. So I did the opposite. I stayed up. And I took Ella out. We had breakfast at a cafe, played at the park and did the supermarket shopping. And it was better. I did what I would have wanted to do if I were well. Faking it till I make it.

This has been one of the most useful strategies I have learned in the journey with depression. I did a course through Auckland Adult Mental Health service for people struggling with acute depression. Basically it looked at dealing with the acute mental distress which people can suffer. That horrible feeling that has me wanting to run and hide and never get out of bed again. Or the anxiety which feels like I am about to sit my School Certificate exams or have just been attacked. That level of distress means you can't think and often the strategies you use to cope, actually make the distress worse. It is that state of either total terror or complete despair where you brain just won't work to help you and your body is paralysed by it.

The key to coming out of that state is to do the opposite or something completely different from what you would naturally do. So instead of going to bed and hiding, I went out. By doing that it is possible to short circuit the usual pattern of spiralling into deeper distress. And it worked enough to keep me going throughout Sunday.

But now on Friday, after a busy and long week where I still can't get to sleep until at least midnight, and things are still grey, I wish for some reprieve. Just a little while with my mind at peace and my body relaxed. I think that is why when feeling distressed it really is so easy to eat the chocolate, play the mindless game on my cell phone or any number of things which don't help in the long run but just give you a little break.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Irony is evil

So about two days after my last post where I so happily posted my intention to wean down my dose of antidepressants, I started feeling the gloom. I guess I had been ignoring the signs. I didn't want it to be true and I was doing my best to believe the story that with my last child born and this year just ticking over, that my hope would be fulfilled and that I could pretend that I could just get on with living.

But no. The gloom has not lifted. My anxiety is back. I am feeling under an overwhelming, thick blanket of self loathing and sadness. I am trying, I really am. To kick that damn blanket off. But it keeps creeping back. I hear myself speaking negatively, I have those unbidden, horrible thoughts about myself and that I just can't do it. That it is all too much and that I am the broken bit of the puzzle which is stopping the picture being beautiful.

Today I cried with my hubby. It felt good to cry and be angry that we are back here again. And to talk about "living with depression" in a very long term sense. No magic wand.

So the blanket has lifted a little. I feel okay tonight. I hope for deep and refreshing sleep. And on Monday I will go to the doctor and say "You know that plan to cut back..." And I will choose more consciously to do what I know I need to do to head once again towards wellness. But I am angry and sad and angry, that as a few things have happened, and I have had some stress, and I have eaten crap food, and not exercised enough, and not been more mindful, that my mind has once again slipped down the rabbit hole. And I will have to scrabble back out again.

There is so much shame in that. Cause unlike a broken leg, where I could point to a cast and show you the xray and point and say "See, here. It's broken"... instead it is me who is broken and faulty.

Depression is shit.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Great Expectations

As I drove home from work on Thursday I was really aware of all the traffic heading away on holiday and I started thinking about the fact that it really hadn't dawned on me that it was the beginning of a holiday weekend. I guess it's cause we hadn't planned to go away. We were planning an at home weekend with the sole goal being to get the vege garden ready for winter. I was excited about hubby being around for four days in a row, the first time since Christmas. But I had to do a bit of positive self talk as I drovem towards the beginning of the Easter weekend, to make sure I had realistic expectations.

It has taken the last three years for me to fully understand and accept that once you have kids a holiday weekend or any holiday for that matter, is not a holiday. At least not by traditional definitions. It has taken a while to change from thinking that I will be able to sleep in, read books, have some me time, go out when I like, go away camping/road tripping just cause it is a long weekend. I mean there are some very practical reasons why holidays are different now, but I have had quite a few where I have had this sense of frustration and disappointment since becoming parents.

I get crabby and short tempered. I try to give myself a break from housework but then end up feeling depressed by the mess. Ella gets bored and we all start getting at each other cause somehow we are trying to still have a DINKY (double income no kids) holiday when there is nothing DINKY about our lives. All because my expectations don't match my reality.

But not this time. As I drove home I told myself that this weekend would be great. But it would still involve the housework, cooking, caring for both kids and all the other normal, hum drum stuff. But it would be different cause hubby would be home and we could do some different things, and I could have some naps, and we might catch up with some friends, or cook some yummy meals. But I would not spend four days doing whatever I felt like. Cause holidays are different now.

I was talking to a friend who has gone away with her extended family to a bach. I think there will be three generations and a total of about 5 kids of various ages. I made a hesitant "oh" as she told me. She assured me that it would be fun, but it wasn't going to be a rest and she would be busy. She inspired me by showing me that by having realistic expectations I wouldn't be feeling a tension between my hopes and my reality. Instead I could enjoy it for what it is.

And I am. What a quiet but lovely time I am having. I have had a nap, done about 5 loads of washing, been out for icecream with Ella and now will go tidy up and do the dishes. A lovely long weekend where my expectations are met and I am satisfied. How unusual!

Weaning Mummy

For the first time in three and a half years, I am considering weaning myself off antidepressants. It is a pretty remarkable place to be in, to be actually feeling well enough that I would see a future where popping my two miracle pills each morning wouldn't be the pillar on which my life is held together.

I have been on paroxitine since about 3 weeks after Ella was born. It was like suddenly a light went on and I could see why other people seemed so excited about life and enjoyed things. Up until that point I honestly hadn't been able to see what the fuss was all about, most of the time, even before Ella. I tried citalapram before we tried to conceive another baby but my anxiety wasn't managed well on that so I switched back. Switching back triggered a relapse and I had to increase my dose to the maximum for a while. That is why the idea of weaning is a bit scary. But the confidence, self awareness and skills I have learned through therapy, pregnancy with George and since George's birth has shown me that I am strong and that I know how to look after myself. I don't need to fear a stressful day or event and feel that antidepressants are essential to my wellbeing. Well, I am hoping that is what I am going to discover through the weaning process.

Weaning off antidepressants is not something to do without a very well thought out plan and a bit of reading so you know what to expect. Most SSRIs have quite a long half life, which means they stick around in your system for a while so withdrawal doesn't kick in for a few days if you suddenly drop your dose. But paroxitine (aropax, paxil) has a very short half life and you have to take it within the same couple of hours each day or you start to feel funny. It also has some side effects that aren't too pleasant. It makes me feel really tired about an hour after taking it, you can get what feels like electric shocks in your brain that are painless but very wierd. It also limits (over sharing warning!) sexual satisfaction. After three and a half years, I am ready to see what it feels like to be me without the chemical assistance.

Often people try to reduce their dosage during holidays or at a time when they have lots of support. I have learnt the hard way that I need to be living my normal routine and not do it when I have lots of important events or possibly stressful situations, such as Christmas, or major changes in my life. So now is actually a great time. Life is in a pretty straight forward pattern right now and I am feeling no sense of pressure to do this in a certain time frame.

So I have done some reading and am planning a very slow withdrawal process by only reducing my dose by a quarter tablet, two weeks at a time. Hopefully that way I can avoid some of the awful side effects paroxitine withdrawal can have. And I will be able to keep a close eye on my state of mind so if things start to slip I can stop and let things stabilise. If I find myself feeling down or anxious I will just stop. In the big picture, needing to take a pill or two each day is a small price to pay for wellness and joy in my life.

It is pretty confronting to think about the fact that I am physically dependent on medication to avoid going potty. It can feel very shameful and I have moments where I feel like I am flawed and pathetic. But then I remember that choosing to be well and live well is actually empowering, and if that means taking antidepressants, then that is a positive choice. Everyone has their battles and health issues. Some people take blood pressure meds, others need insulin for diabetes. It is better than using other substances such as alcohol or illegal drugs to self medicate. I still reserve the right to use food sometimes!

So after Easter the process begins. Wish me luck and hopefully there will be no going down the rabbit hole.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Awhi Mama

I am really excited about a new blog I have started. . I have wanted to do something more to support teen mums, like those I teach. So the blog Awhi Mama is one way to do that. Please check it out if you want to know more about teen mums in New Zealand and the challenges they face. I hope the blog informs and gets more people passionate about the "issue" of teenage parents. We have the highest rate of birth to teenagers of anywhere in the developed world so we ignore it at our peril.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Be where you are

This year i have been enjoying being where i am. Or at least learning to. We moved to our own home in a new suburb about 18 months ago now. We are quite far from where i have lived most of my life. We love it. It feels like a small town.
This year i am aiming to live local. So we go to a local mainly music class, ella starts dance classes this week and we have started going to a local church which is walking distance from home. Each week we walk up to the village shops to go to the library and have a picnic in the park. It is really helping me to feel settled here.
Another way of "being where i am" is surrendering to the season of my life and the circumstances i am in and not fighting them. Life feels very busy and it seems there is no end to laundry and housework. I have been wrestling with this. But this week something clicked.
Suddenly i could feel myself surrendering to it and pressing into it. No Facebook has helped cause i am no longer distracted by what other people are doing. Also, because daycare is more expensive this year, i can't do extra days at work. This is hard to accept cause i love helping out when things are pressured (the extra time was voluntary), and need to fit work into the evenings after kids are in bed and housework done. I have also dropped all the groups i was involved with last year and before George was born. That has been hard and there has been some grieving, but life is more simple and i am enjoying more time at home. Now with two littlies, pottering at home is so lovely and as long as we get out once a day, i avoid cabin fever.
Since becoming a mum i have also struggled with how to do my Christian faith in a way which isn't just desperate prayers when i am losing it. I think i have read my bible a total of less than 10 times in the last 3 and a half years. It is pretty hard to stay in church for the sermon with managing kids who don't like going to Sunday school on their own. Oh that's if we ever get to church. I have felt guilty and lost. All the advice seemed to be "try harder" or set up a conflict between my kids and time for spirituality.  But yesterday i suddenly realised that this is where god has put me right now. This is where i am. He knows my circumstances and it has to be possible to have an authentic and rich relationship with managing Jesus while being in this season and without escaping it. So listening to worship music in the car and at home, praying and praising while i hang out the washing and delighting in ella and George are how it is right now. And i am even managing to give up tv time at nights to spend some time reading the bible.
By being where i am and accepting both the limitations but also the joys i feel so much more at peace and can really get into the moment.
I don't know what the future holds for all the ideas and dreams i have but right now i am being right here and it is good.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

No more "please rescue me"

The reality of life with two kids has well and truly dawned on me. I am back at work two days a week and with a baby still waking and the other normal stuff like laundry, cooking, more laundry, keeping everyone happy and healthy etc. things are feeling pretty overwhelming. Today I remembered the overwhelming sense of responsibility for Ella that I felt when we first brought her home. And I realised that a lot of my depression at that time was due to feeling that I just couldn't do it. I couldn't be everything she needed and do everything that needed doing. And so I thought she would be better off without me.

And so now I find myself feeling the same at times. Not so much that they would be better off without me. but that there is only one Mum and its me and even when I would love someone to come and rescue me from the sense of responsibility and burden I feel at times, it ain't going to happen.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my kids. But being a Mum is tough. And I am not going to lie about that just because you somehow aren't supposed to say that it isn't much fun at times. But if I am honest, what makes it tough, apart from all the usual realities like lack of sleep, loss of time for me and hubby, kids being sick or issues with behaviour. Oh the list could go on and on...
is having unrealistic expectations of myself and my underlying fear that somehow I am going to hurt my kids  in some awful way.

And so I keep thinking I need rescuing because the pressure I put on myself is so huge. And when I am able to step back and get some perspective, I realise I am doing a pretty good job. But it is so easy when I wake up feeling bleary and tired from an interrupted night, to feel incapable of looking after my kids. And not just surviving through the day, but giving them childhoods which build them up and prepare them for life.

I hope that this is just a part of growing up. You know, putting your money where your mouth is, as it were. I chose to have kids, I love them. Now this is the time where the rubber meets the road. I have to get on and do it. Not worry about doing it "wrong" or over analyse it all. Just do it.

I keep repeating to myself "I am the Mummy and I decide how we are doing it" when I have those times of doubt and confusion and just don't know what to do or keep second guessing myself. Often I am having to filter what I have read, or heard, or the way people I know approach a parenting issue. We are all bombarded with so much advice and research and dire warnings about what we should and shouldn't do as parents, and I think especially as mothers.

I have always been so influenced by others and struggle to accept that there is not one right way to live and do things. Blame my perfectionist tendencies and Christian upbringing maybe. Ironically there is actually very little in the Bible about the details of raising kids. That explains why "Christian" parenting reflects exactly the same continuum as we see generally in Western society.

Having two kids to juggle and their needs as well as my hubby's and my own, has really solidified the fact that I need to stop considering anyone else except those who live under our roof, and that compromise is a given. Things can't stay the way they were with once child and I can't do things the same way. I thought I had made all my parenting decisions up to the age of three. Turns out I haven't. George is so different from Ella, our lives are different and we are different. So I have to choose again. And no one is turning up at the door to tell me what to do and give me a gold star for doing it "right". So that is up to me, both the decisions and the gold star.

I know deep down that this is something I have needed to truly learn for years and this may be the way I learn it. But it is hard and painful and quite scary. And at about 3pm when I am hanging on for hubby to walk in the door and rescue me, I am learning that it doesn't actually work that way. I am still Mum and I am still in charge and if I don't cook dinner, or do the dishes or whatever really needs doing, then it probably won't happen. Until tomorrow, when I still have to do it. And if hubby and I don't decide to deal with Ella taking over an hour to get to sleep each night, then no-one else is going to.

So I am hardening up I guess, in a growing up kind of way. Hopefully love and grace can be the path I follow as I build up my Mum muscles.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

I lost George today

Now that title is attention grabbing! And before you panic, I found him a few seconds later.

George has started commando crawling like a pro. He inch worms around the place and has discovered the house is bigger than his small, regular spot on the lounge floor. I was doing idshes in the kitchen and things had gone a bit quiet. That is never a good sign. I walked back into the lounge and George had disappeared. I called him and went into a total state of panic. How can an 8 month old just up and vanish? Calling to him was pretty silly since he doesn't talk. I started looking under furniture and then went into the bathroom. There he was on the floor beside the bath looking so proud and happy.

The bathroom is his favourite place in the house. Bath time is his favourite time of day and he goes almost apoplectic when he hears the shower or bath start running. He cried at the bathroom door yesterday while I was in the shower because I had the nerve to enjoy a shower without him.

It is amazing to me to realise he is already 8 months old and he is off and away. He is growing up so fast. His clothes don't fit almost as soon as he is in them and we have had to move up to 'toddler' sized nappies. This weekend we are doing a major baby proofing effort around the house.

There is sadness for me as I say goodbye to his baby baby stage. There will be no more babies in our house, at least not mine! And it is sad to say goodbye to that season in a way. But at the same time I am so excited to see George grow and change, and to be honest, life is hard yacka with an under one year old so I am looking forward to the less intense times to come.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Footloose and facebook free?

So it has been about a month with no facebook. My feelings about it and the experience are mixed. The first week was full of the self righteous glee of self denial. Before my decision to give up FB for lent, I had caught myself thinking in status updates and instead of thinking about how I felt about something, wondering how I could post it for my FB audience. This seemed to fall in the not-too-healthy box of ways of thinking. It took a while for that to fade but it seems now that my thoughts are for an audience of me and me alone. Oh and you...

Another aspect I am loving is not having this constant distraction and checking FB every time there is a second of down time. It used to feel like I was always multi-tasking between FB and my actual life. Our computer is in the lounge and I hated the tension I created between attention on FB and attention needed for my kids and my home and for me and the other things of life. Life has felt more peaceful. A phrase I really like is "do one thing". I learned it on a course I did to help when distress and depression are becoming overwhelming. It really makes a difference to my sense of peace and well being to just 'do one thing' at a time. To not have my attention and mind constantly divided and interrupted.

Another benefit is no longer watching other people's lives unfold before me and being impacted by that. Don't get me wrong. I love FB updates from my friends about their lives and photos of what they have been up to. But it is easy to start comparing my life with others and think something is wrong with mine. Sometimes it also hurts to see how other people are living and brings out the worst in me. I am really not missing that.

One of the most wonderful bits of being facebook free is the page updates from some of the pages I have liked in the past. My newsfeed would be a great way to document the changes in my life over the last wee while. I used to have heaps of parenting page updates which all featured things I was really interested in; breastfeeding, birth, attachment parenting, healthy living etc. But since George arrived I actually find most of the posts pretty disturbing or downright upsetting. I have gradually either unliked the pages or blocked them from my newsfeed but there were still a few I liked to read once in a while. But having none of the parenting "shoulds" confronting me each day has been amazing. I feel so much more in touch with myself as a parent and so much more aware of my own parenting boundaries and values. It is not that I disagree with the sentiments of the pages I was reading, but that sometimes they were a confusing distraction. Instead of parenting with my heart and head, I was trying to parent in a way that some FB page would find acceptable. For a perfectionist like me with authority issues, that is a terrible idea.

But its not all roses. I do really miss the contact with my friends and family. I am an extrovert and it provided me with the people contact I crave when life at home with the kids can feel really isolated. And at a time in life when most of the people I know are really busy and we all live further and further away from each other, I love the chance to keep in touch. I also love the little unexpected gifts of someone's words or insights or their comments. Those little suprises are really so precious on days which feel a bit dreary or tough.

So I am FB free till Easter. Not sure what I will do from then on. I think I will be back on but with some more boundaries and hopefully with it in its rightful place in my life. I guess one of the most useful parts of all of this is that I have been able to do it. That I have the self control and commitment to actually give something up and stick with it. And that is not something I have ever been good at in the past. So that in it itself is good for me. It is growing my character I guess.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

You have got to be kidding

A quick note to say that after 10 days of suffering and isolation with viral tonsilitis, I now have a gastro bug. I have no words...

Monday, 25 February 2013

The grass is always greener. Always...

So we are at the end of "the weekend of tonsillitis". It was a weekend of paracetamol, throat lozenges, tissues and tag team parenting. George and Ella had a cold at the beginning of last week. Ella shook it but George's developed into tonsillitis with a dose of ear infection thrown in. Poor baby. Blocked and running nose, watering eyes, sore throat and fever. I succumbed on Friday and on Saturday I had a headache that threatened to push my brain out my cranial orifices ( hyperbole is totally allowed when ill). Hubby succumbed on Saturday and was in the thick of it by Sunday. Thankfully it was the weekend, and our suffering was staggered so that one of us could be horizontal while the other maintained feeding and watering children, laundry, dishes and comforting of very unhappy wee man.

It is at times like this weekend that I think "Why on earth did we have children?!"
I mean, when you feel sick it is not unreasonable to feel a little regret that the days of feeling sick and being able to stay in bed and get better are over, at least for the forseeable future. My perspective fails to acknowledge there is a horizon or that kids grow up when I am feeling this way. By Sunday I was feeling more chipper and while hanging out the 5th load of laundry for the day, I realised that wishing I was at another stage of my life really has nothing to do with the specific situation I faced this weekend, it is more of a habit and fact of how I think.

I always think the grass is greener in someone else's life. Our neighbours are an excellent example or this and a constant reminder of how it could be or will be. We love our neighbours on both sides. On one side we have a couple in their 40s with late teen kids. They are doing some home improvements at the moment. New kitchen and solar hot water heating. When I hear the Mum yelling at her kids it is usually about midday and she wants the lawns mowed. She has trouble waking her kids. I have trouble getting mine to sleep.

On the other side are a younger married couple who bought the house soon after we bought ours. They both have good jobs and have a couple of flat mates to help pay the mortgage. They all are a busy, going to the beach, going camping, going mountain biking, to music festivals and having parties. They leave the house when they want, sleep in at the weekends and generally burn the candle at both ends. We often share meals with them and I don't think we give the best impression of life with preschoolers. One commented on the amount of laundry on our line, another on the fact she got home late from a party and heard hubby asking Ella rather the forcefully to please "Do a wee, just do a wee" at about two in the morning. They told a story about going to a one year old's party for a friend's child who has had the first baby in their social circle. "There were babies every where! They were all over the place!" Oh the shock, oh the horror. But as I heard them heading off to Laneway the other weekend, I admit, I was jealous.

But my lovely neighbours haven't caused these moments (or days) of wistfulness about the past or the future. I have become a professional admirer of other people's life stages and situations. Before we had kids I was just desperate to become a Mum and have our own. It got to the stage where I was certifiably obsessed. I mean, it was understandable. We had talked about kids and having a family for years before we got married and then finances dictated waiting a while longer so that my biological clock had moved from clanging to some kind of earthquake. That kind of wanting and waiting is really not healthy. And for those people who have to continue to wait and want, I have absolute admiration that they can keep on or the ability to have some balance and joy in life. I definitely was quite unbalanced. The lost and grief of losing our baby was piled on top of that.

Now I find myself with everything I ever hoped and dreamed of. A genuinely fantastic hubby who I joke about cloning and selling online because he is such a great model. I could make a fortune. A lovely home which we hope will be our forever home and a wonderful suburb which gives us a quality of life we can't really believe. And to complete the perfect picture, two beautiful kids who are a delight to watch grow and get to know.

But despite this it is still possible to look at the people around me and wish my life were different. While Ella and I were shopping yesterday I saw a dreadlocked guy sitting in STA travel. I imagined he was booking some exciting trip to an exotic destination and continuing his journey to see more amazing places and to discover more about himself. I started quickly calculating the cost of four round the world tickets and talking to Ella about visiting her godfather Paul, in Spain. But of course we couldn't do that. Young kids, mortgage, no money yada yada yada. Later on we saw the same guy. Except this time he was accompanied by his wife and toddler. Mmmmm maybe if you want to do something you should just do it Marion instead of assuming your life is so different from the guy with dreadlocks.

And I think that is what it comes down to. Whether by choice or chance, I am where I am. And I do love my life. There are always tough things about life. Some times are tougher than others. But at the moment anything I have to complain about is small and fleeting and kind of symptomatic of my age and stage. Nothing is massive or disastrous. Admittedly, some things are painful, especially the growing up and facing facts kinds of things. But I think most of us have those experiences.

Before I go and knock on every wooden surface in my home (paranoia anyone?), I am trying to focus being content and to appreciate my life as it is right now. It is hard when I am tired and sick and George is waking hourly at night cause he is still sick. But wishing I were 24 again or wanting to fast-forward to world trip in our twilight years has some pretty obvious draw backs. So focusing on my own green grass and being grateful. Cause I love my life and if I keep looking over the fence I might miss it.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A crying shame

Today I got a call from George's daycare to say he had a temperature and could I pick him up. I headed across the road and picked both George and Ella up. A lovely friend looked after Ella while I took George to the doctor. He has had a cold for a few days plus is teething and with a stuffy nose, he has had trouble feeding. While we waited he felt hot and between grinning at everyone in the waiting room, he grizzled and his face had the look of a kid whose head is stuffy, with big bags under his eyes.

The doctor has a look at him as I explained his symptoms. He had a few spots on his hands and dermatitis from the constant chewing on his fingers to relieve his sore gums. I said that we had been in earlier in the week to get them checked as some kids at his daycare have been sent home with chicken pox and scabies. I hadn't wanted to send him along with spots without knowing he was fine. The doctor said hand foot and mouth virus had been going through the local daycare.

He proceded to check George's temperature, his ears, throat and his chest. He diagnosed viral tonsilitis with a possible ear infection and said that it was possible it could turn into bronchiolitis. I nodded.
"Do you know what that is?"
"Yes, I've seen it at work."
"Where do you work?"
"A teen parent unit in Otara".
The doctor gave me a wry smile and nodded.

Thankfully the appointment was free, since George is an infant. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up some more paracetamol. While I waited I also got some baby balsam to help ease his congestion and a "snot sucker" to help clear his nose so he can have his bottle. When I went to pay it came to $37. The paracetamol free because of the government subsidy but the rest was pretty pricey.

When I got home it really started to hit me. George goes to the same daycare. He is exposed to the same germs as all the other babies, many of whom are the babies of the mothers I teach. They love their kids just like I do. Today, when we had the doctor at school, we had four Mums who wanted the doctor to see their baby. Most of them had already seen a doctor in the last few days about the same issue they were concerned about. They really care about the well being of their kids. Some are formula fed and some are breastfed. It doesn't seem to make much difference to how often their kids are sick. It hasn't made any difference so far to George. This this first time he has been sick since he was born and he is formula fed.

What seems to make the difference is money. George lives in a dry house with only three other people. It is a cold house in winter but we can afford to have a fire and a heater in every room that needs to be warm. It is expensive to keep the house warm but we can afford it (just).

Another thing that makes a difference is control. There are only 4 people in our house and hubby and I call the shots. We don't smoke and we don't have to deal with anyone who might want to smoke inside our house. The women I teach are often living in houses with their parents, aunties and uncles, older siblings, and or older adults, who may smoke and have more control of what happens in the house. It is pretty hard to stop bugs spreading when there are four people to a room, no heating and the house has no insulation. Expecially if the heating is an LPG gas heater which fills the room with condensation, and in many situations, carbon monoxide.

Oh and getting their own place is not an option. A Mum on her own on the DPB will get a maximum of about $380 per week, including the accommodation supplement, which is a maximum of $165/week. With rent for a damp and cold 2 bedroom unit in a dodgy area starting at about $280/week, you can see that it would be financially impossible to live independently with your child. If you have a partner you get a benefit based on being in that relationship but you then have two adults to feed, clothe and transport and it will be less than the DPB plus his benefit. If your partner works you probably won't qualify for anything. Hmm, benefit fraud doesn't seem so shocking anymore and more like the action of a mother who can do maths.

If you are under 19 you get less and  if you are under 16 you get nothing and have to depend on your parents to either pass on a portion of the benefit they get for you to pay for nappies etc. or to support you and baby with no extra assistance). So overcrowding is really pretty predictable and as well as being the only option when living with multiple generations is the cultural norm, it is also an unavoidable reality of affording a roof over your head. Things are pretty tight when the offer of a corrugated iron garage with a cold concrete floor seems like a blessing.

It is also pretty hard to afford to buy healthy, fresh food when you are living on so little money. It is even harder to prepare that food when every adult in the house is working shift work and no-one knows when anyone else will be home. You may also live in a house where only Grandma knows how to cook. But she has had a stroke and so can't cook. And Mum can't work cause she's looking after Grandma cause they don't believe in rest homes and couldn't afford it even if they wanted to ship her out for a stranger to shower her and change her and feed her.

So things are a bit different for the Mums I work with and their babies. I drove George straight to the doctor cause I have a car. To have a car you have be able to afford to buy it, put petrol in it, register it. Insurance is a bit of a bonus. If you don't have a car you have to take your sick kid on the bus or walk to the doctor. And you probably can't afford a pram that lies flat for a really young baby. So you have to carry them. Oh and if your baby gets really sick and you have to go to hospital you could call an ambulance. But when you get discharged with a still-sick-but-not-in-danger baby, you still won't have a car and will have to catch the bus (if you have any money left after having to buy your meals cause no-one brings you food when no-one else has a car or money) or walk.

If you check out the Ministry of the Health website, scabies, bronchiolitis and other illnesses are common when you combine the trifecta of overcrowding, poor housing and poor diet. Add smoking and you have an almost certain recipe for preventable, communicable illness.

So this is the crying shame, that my beautiful boy who I love, just by the accident of being born as my son, is probably going to be fine. But another child, just as loved and beautiful and with just as much miraculous potential, won't. Because the love of a mother, her whanau, her community, just isn't enough. Because poverty does exist in New Zealand.

People look at me funny some times when I say my kids go to daycare in Otara. They also say my job must be pretty hard working with teenage Mums. But you know what makes it hard? Not the mums, not their babies. Instead it is the injustice that tonight while my son sleeps fitfully and needs cuddles and more cuddles, another Mum is worrying about her baby as he gets sicker. And there is nothing she can do about it.

It's a crying shame...

Monday, 18 February 2013

The joy of 'selling out'

I have been mulling over this post for months. It seems that the dust is settling since George's arrival and life is seeming 'normal' as a family of four. Something I have given a lot of thought to is how the ideals I may have had before Ella arrived and again before George arrived have had to be dropped or let go of over the last few months. And 'selling out' on some of my ideals has been fantastic!

With Ella a big ideal I had was not too much or no t.v. That quickly went out the window and we joke that t.v is one of our most useful parenting tools. Being too sick to move during most of my pregnancy with George made me a great fan of Kidzone. That experience really taught me that it is not all or nothing. Sometimes t.v helps us get through the day. Ella rarely is left in front of the t.v alone and we had lots of lovely naps and cuddles on the couch as my tummy got bigger. Since George was born Ella often watches t.v while I am getting George to sleep. He finds his big sister way too entertaining to be able to sleep with her around. Since he has arrived I have tried to reduce how much we watch but some days it is on more than others.

I also told myself I wouldn't use food rewards. Well when it came to toilet training and specifically Ella and number twos, icecreams were magical. And at the moment they are also helping us get Ella used to going to sleep without her Daddy or me lying beside her. Maybe she will reward herself with food when she's older, but hopefully not. 

Feeding George has been the biggest challenge to my ideals. Letting go of breastfeeding and then slowly realising that it wasn't the end of the world, has been an eye opening journey. It has forced me to question a lot of the rhetoric used to 'encourage' (guilt trip) mothers about breast feeding. I am still a hand on heart breast feeding advocate, but not because of the evils of formula. (If you want to read more about this check out The Fearless Formula link in sites I like). Accepting formula and bottles helped me to stop stressing and focus on bonding with George and having time for Ella again after being so absent while I was sick and pregnant. It has been really tricky to navigate the new world of formula types, bottle feeding and all the pro breastfeeding but actually anti formula stuff I have had in my head which I have needed to work through. But it has also been so freeing to realise that so little about being a Mum and the relationship I have with George is about boobs or no boobs. Feeding him is just as special as it was with Ella. I had also these ideas about how not breastfeeding would change how I parented. But it hasn't. I find myself still cosleeping and feeding him to sleep. I have dabbled in changing that due to burps waking him but have come back round to the fact that he likes to go to sleep that way.

Doing things differently this time has freed me up to let go of some other ideals - like cloth nappies. Mine are currently listed on trade me. It is tough enough to get the washing done and hung out. So I am letting that one go. George loves his food. Ella wouldn't let a spoon near her mouth so she never had baby food. But with George I just couldn't face the pureeing so he is on commercial baby food and finger food from our meals. And it is great. I think I felt bad about it for a day. Then I just decided it worked best for us and moved on.

I think changing ideals is a normal part of parenting and so many things I thought I would 'never' do or 'should' do, I have either changed my mind about, couldn't actually manage or have decided were basically stupid. And instead I have tried to focus on being the parent I want to be rather than 'doing the right things". My kids want me, not a mother who does the 'right' things. Enjoying our life together is more important than meeting some expectations I used to have or thought meant I was a good Mum.

I guess I have said goodbye to ideals and got back to my values. What is really important to me and to our family? I guess some 'doing' things do matter - like eating food we have grown, spending time together, keeping things simple. But there is no prescription for how that looks in practise and no rules about how family should be. Kids want their parents to be present, to be loved, warm and fed. That's it. That is why kids who grow up in all sorts of families all turn out ok. And kids who don't know they are loved, all suffer for it. So it isn't about how you do being a parent. I'ts that you love your kids and they know it.

Letting go of ideals is another step in my quest to banish perfectionism from my life and on the other side of idealism there is a much more peaceful and joyful reality. As I drove along the motorway today I thought "I am truly happy and relaxed" and George has a cold, and I am tired and I have work tomorrow. So I think that is worth celebrating. No more ideals. A bit more real.

Friday, 8 February 2013

It's not ok, but it's normal

You know those days, when you wake up full of the flu, or gastro, which means you are empty. Or you have had about one hour sleep total cause someone can't or won't sleep or is sick etc, etc, etc. You know, those mornings. On those mornings I usually think "This is not ok". I never feel like I can get through the day and on those horrible ones that don't fall on a weekend, I feel like it is a disaster.

This is what usually happens in my head ..."How will I cope being sick/exhausted/sick and exhausted all day? How can I look after two kids when I am not even fit to look after myself? I want to sleep all day but I can't. Its not fair! Ok I have to get a plan. What can I do?"

In the past the plan usually involved either seeing if hubby could stay home or seeing if someone could look after a not sick kid. If it was a sick kid - and I was ok - no problem. If it was sick me and sick kid, not so much. It felt like I was going to have to climb Mt Everest. Actually it still does. But you know what? I think as my confidence has grown as a Mum and don't always jump to thinking it is a disaster. I am starting to think it is normal.

A few weeks ago I was up literally all night cause I was sick. I was telling my sister in law a few days later that I had just thought "This is not normal. A person with zero sleep should not be looking after kids". She quickly replied that it is actually totally normal. And it is. All over the world, every day, are parents looking after kids when really they shouldn't even be operating a kettle. Cause that's what I am, a parent. And there are no days, hours or minutes off. No-one else can step in. I mean, if I had lost a leg, or as in the past, was losing my mind, then family and friends come to rescue. But for the more mundane and every day shocker of a day, it is just me. And I am learning that I can cope.

I think when Ella first arrived I went through the normal shock of all first time parents. The realisation that this completely dependent human was totally dependent on me. And in my case was totally dependent on someone who was on morphine and recovering from major abdominal surgery and by 3 weeks in, was also losing the plot. In any normal circumstances, that would require care and protection notification to CYFS. But oh yeah, that is pretty much normal for new parents. So no child protection officials. Just getting through the new landscape, full of sleep deprivation, complete confusion and the delight of this little person, who keeps you going, despite it all.

And when I was sick or had a terrible night, it was just us. Me and her. It was still tough but I just had to manage the two of us. Now there are three and when I wake up from another night of hardly any sleep I really do wonder how I am going to manage. And there have been many days where the plan has involved Ella going to someone's house or me getting help and I think that is definitely the way to go if you can. But I think I am starting to accept that it is normal. That it will keep happening. And I am less freaked out.

I think the main pressure I feel on a day like that is my own expectations. I don't want things to slip. I feel really bad about having a day in front of the t.v. There has been a lot of that over the last year and I hate it. Don't get me wrong, T.V is a frequently used parenting tool at our place. But I feel bad when I can't manage. I think I feel like I am doing a crap job as a Mum.

And I think that is the clincher. It's not a job. You can't call in sick or get a replacement so you can't have the expectation that as a Mum, you can "work" at it each day. You have to just be as you are sometimes. The kids are fed and warm and dry and that is all that is possible that day, or week. And I am learning to accept that. And hopefully in learning that crap days are normal, maybe my kids will be better than me at dealing with the crap days they face and see them as just a normal part of life that we all have to face and it doesn't have to be a disaster, or mean there is something wrong with you. They just are.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Freedom of Speech?

My lack of blogging in general is almost a feature of this blog. There are lots of reasons for this, you know, life getting in the way. But also I find myself thinking of something I want to write about and then analysing all the people who might disagree, judge me, be offended or hurt, by what I have to say. And so I don't write anything.

Now I actually think that is a good thing in a way. I don't want to write things that have a negative impact on the people who read them. I definitely don't want to stridently communicate my opinions as right and everyone should agree with them. I guess over the years I have become acutely aware of the fact that everyone is fighting their own battles and we are all travelling our own paths. Each of us are impacted by life's twists and turns and strident opinion and being certain of myself seems less and less wise and more and more tricky.

I apologised to a friend recently about pressing a fresh metaphorical bruise she is dealing with. You know, those experiences in life which wound and when a certain word or idea or opinion or assumption is made you feel the pain of it. At first it feels as if everything pushes it but slowly less does. Or the pain is less fresh and raw. We all have bruises. And it is impossible to avoid having them pressed or pressing someone elses. Bruises happen, shit happens. It seems to be the stuff of life.

But I don't want to press bruises. And at the extreme end of trying to avoid it, you just say and do nothing and hide away. And for me at the moment I feel like anything I write threatens to hurt. Probably if I am honest I am not so worried about hurting as the idea that someone might not like me or be angry at me for something I say or in the blogosphere, write. Now I know all the stuff about not being responsible for someone else's reactions or feelings. But I think that can often be used as a way of avoiding the complexity of life and as an excuse to rant about whatever you want without thought for the feelings of others. I don't roll that way. I want to love others as I have been loved. I want to tread gently and compassionately and be wise because I have only been on this ball of matter flying through space for a short while and with each turn on its axis, anything could happen. I have not seen much or felt much and my perspective and thoughts now are just that. Now. Temporary and always retractable or incomplete.

As I have thought about all of this I have realised that I have lots of bruises. Some are so faded that I often forget they are there, while others are still painful and blue. And I guess when I find them pressed, usually unintentionally, I have to choose what to do. It is good to say it hurts. It is good to acknowledge the wound. But then I have to work out whether to hide away to avoid the pain or to take another risk.

For some bruises I have had to protect myself because there is a certain inevitability with some situations or people where I know it will hurt a lot and often and there is no benefit to it. For others it is good to face the pain and let it just become part of the background. Somehow the pain gets integrated and becomes a scar which I own as part of my identity and that is ok. And for others it is a mixture.

So I guess I don't really believe in freedom of speech. At least not thoughtless speech. Sometimes we need to hear painful things and sometimes no one can prevent it hurting. But sometimes it is worth it to realise that no matter what I think about something, it is not simple and my opinion and thoughts aren't going to help. So it is best not to say or write anything. And maybe after a few more turns of the axis things may seem clearer and it might be a better time. Or not.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Are pink princesses the new devil?

I have been aware of the concern expressed by parenting experts, psychologists, friends and in the media, that the princess fetish that products for girls seem to promote are terrible for little girls growing up. And I can see their point. I certainly don't want my daughter thinking her life consists of pretty dresses and waiting for a prince to rescue her. And the rainbow consists of more colours than pink.

But I am also aware that becoming comfortable with myself as a woman involved getting in touch with a bit more princessness. I grew up in a family sans Barbie and princesses. Anne of Green Gables was more my style and I used to pretend I was a farmer milking my cows in the backyard. By the time I was a teenager I also felt quite uncomfortable in my own body and puberty was not kind. I was a geeky girl who was a curvy girl and to be honest, I just didn't know what to do with them. They didn't seem to reflect who I was because the picture I had of my identity was not at all about the feminine. And coming from a Christian background, I wanted to be modest and felt like my body was betraying that. (Yes, that is a whole other issue).

When I hit my 20s and University I was blessed to become friends with some women who helped me to feel more comfortable in the body I have been given by just spending time with them. I could see that enjoying femininity and looking good doesn't undermine my strength and belief in all the other parts of me.

So back to princesses. Ella told me yesterday that she wants to be Sleeping Beauty. "Shock, horror" I thought. I don't want my strong and sparky girl to have that as her ultimate goal. But then I remembered that she says "Mummy, do you know what I want to be?" almost every day. And each time it is different. The list has included doctor, nurse, teacher, mummy, fire'man', farmer, vet and the list continues to grow. And I like that. At the tender age of 3 she feels she can dream of being anything she likes, including, God forbid, a princess.

I never thought I was pretty enough or that it was okay to dream of even being pretty, and forget any delusions of being a princess. I now think a healthy sense of the feminine is part of developing a total sense of self. Feminine doesn't mean skinny or blonde or any of the other stereotypes society and the media provide. Hopefully Ella grows up feeling great about all the parts of herself and no one model or ideal will be the example she follows cause she will be her unique self and no part of her will seem out of place. Maybe I am extremely naive but since she gets a big variety of toys, activities and is surrounded by awesome women, I think she has a good chance of not being swamped by being over sexualised.

And to be honest if I am a role model then is absolutely no chance that she will think she has to primp and preen to be acceptable. Heck, I don't even brush my hair most days!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Got the Bad Mummy Blues

I think all parents would agree that we want the best for our kids. We want them to be healthy and happy. When they are sick or sad we want to relieve their pain, to provide them with comfort and security, and if at all possible, fix it.

Today I had one of those days when I stood back and felt like I had done a crap job. And I am singing the bad mummy blues.

Ella has eczema. She has had it for a long time. It has never been terrible but it bothers her at times. The chronic patch behind her knee gets pretty raw and has spread. I have not been good at managing it and she is scared to have cream put on it cause it stings. It got infected over Christmas and it has been a struggle to get her to take the antibiotics and I keep forgetting. She has also had chronic constipation and has been having treatment for this but it seems to be getting worse again.

George has been really unsettled and has developed eczema all over his wee body. He hasn't been feeding well, and he never really has. He is always windy and is waking lots in the night. This coincided with starting solids and me using bought stuff. He is also really constipated and just not his usual settled self. Went to the doctor today and she suspects the problem is a dairy intolerance or allergy. It does run in the family. So now we are trying soy formula for a week to see if it makes a difference. I am lathering him with cream and it is improving.

So that's the outside stuff. What is happening inside my head goes something like this:

Have I been ignoring a possible dairy intolerance in Ella? Am I letting her eczema get out of control and now she is waking in the night? Is her constipation related? Did I ignore this because I just couldn't deal with it? What on earth will she eat since she lives on milk, weetbix and yoghurt and not much else. Is it my fault she does eat well?

If George is dairy intolerant maybe he would have been fine if I had kept pumping breastmilk? If I had introduced one food at a time and used home made maybe I would know what caused the eczema? Now he is on Soy Milk which I really don't feel comfortable with but am I prepared to not use it even if it means he is not in pain and eating properly?

And is it totally selfish to make this all about me and how I feel as a Mum?
And this is really stressful and I can feel my anxiety coming back and I don't want to get depressed again but does that make me a useless Mum if I can't just focus on my kids and what they need without losing the plot?

Don't you love those bad mummy blues.


 I know these thoughts are just thoughts. They take me no where. And they are my feelings rather than reality. They are the harsh and critical voice of self blame that tries to gain control by accepting blame about something which has no culprit or "baddy". Shit happens and life is what it is. What matters now is how I respond to both the practical situation and to the feelings I have.

So though I may have sung a few verses of the bad mummy blues today it is just cause I love my kids and sometimes I wish I had super powers so that I wouldn't make the very human mistakes I do and that life was simpler and easier than it is.

So tomorrow when I have to try to get Ella to take her medicine and watch hopefully as George changes to soy, I will remember that I love my kids, I do my best and they do feel loved and safe. And I might need some cuddles myself as I navigate another bump in the road.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A year I am proud of but never to be repeated

The last few weeks have been in stark contrast to this time last year and with the new year it is not surprising that I have found myself reflecting on 2012 and its impact on me. I have to say I am really proud of myself. It was a year full of challenge but also of me consciously taking on those challenges and coming out stronger with a new faith in my ability to deal with life and not succumb to the temptation of that dark pit that is depression. I definitely don't want to leave the impression that sheer will has led to this. Instead a combination of therapy, an awesome husband, family support and an amazing midwife, along with the decision to keep taking antidepressants, have all made this possible.
But in the end I chose to do these things. I chose wellness and to never go back to the horror of depression and stuck to it. I have had to make some really hard decisions to get here but I regret none of them.

Over the last year I have been in hospital three times, been really ill for the whole pregnancy with George, faced the terror of the prospect of a relapse of depression, planned to birth at home despite most people thinking I was "mental" and struggled with feeding George, eventually letting go of breastfeeding. And put my hubby and daughter through all of this too.

But I am so proud of me. I am proud of the tough decisions I have made but I have no regrets. I made decisions that were right for me and my family despite what others may think or what I may have wished for. I have had the courage to face my reality, to be honest about my fears and feelings and to stay present to what is happening right now in my life. I have had to face up to all my faults and weaknesses, many of which are still things I have to deal with every day. But through it all I really believed it could all be okay. I believed it without putting my head in the sand or leaving my life in the hands of others. I took responsibility for me and my baby and I am so proud of me.

The real test for me was the completely unexpected and very difficult time we have had with feeding George. I have had to accept that there is no "right" way and that the "best" thing to do is different in different situations. I have to look myself in the mirror and say I chose not to provide my son with breastmilk because the toll it would have taken was too high a price to pay for myself and my family and ultimately George.

Because in the end kids need parents who are ok, who are well enough to be able to loved and laugh and be present in their lives. And I am. I am well. I don't fear depression. I feel empowered to recognise the signs, to take the steps to be well and enjoy my life.

So 2013 is looking bright. I am enjoying each day as it comes. I don't have big plans this year. Just living life. Enjoying now. Cause I feel like I am living my dream. I have dreamed for so long of enjoying family life but ever since we lost our first baby that dream just seemed distant or even impossible. I thought I was faulty as a Mum and would never truly enjoy having kids. I would just learn to "cope" to "survive". Yes, I have had to learn to have more realistic expectations of myself and do less. But instead of feeling disappointed by that, I feel free. I can live how I choose without perfectionism being the monkey on my back.

So hear's to enjoying life and living. Being present in my life right now and celebrating all the simple everyday joys I appreciate so much, as I could have lost them all. And that is truly a miracle. Under all of this is God's constant faithfulness. I hope I can truly reflect the love I have been shown in my life and actions this year.

Bless you in 2013.