My Week in 5 Things

I am currently doing work experience at a local newspaper (it’s all quite exciting actually, I’ve had quite a few articles published in print and a few of them have had my name on (A byline!.. A BYLINE!). But because I am not accustomed to spending my whole day in front of a computer as opposed to running after a small child, I find myself with a different kind of exhaustion and I come home with limited energy levels, meaning very little time spent with Maia or the blog. I miss them both.

So this week I thought I’d do something a little different and simply sum up the brighter parts of my week in objects ( plus one play and a little monkey):

1.) My parents’ 26th Wedding Anniversary 

Dad came home with six small bunches of flowers (this is half the arrangement) and I actually repeated “Awhhh” about four times.

2.) My beloved embroidery threads

If I’m too tired to read or write, this is what I turn to. I’m currently working on a cushion cover but it’s slow progress so I’ll share it when it’s done, in the Spring of 2018… The ease and simplicity of hand embroidery brings me so much joy, it really requires very little cognitive function.

3.) How the Other Half Loves

It made me laugh, and even though I didn’t find it absolutely hilarious, 75% of the audience did and sitting there next to a man in hysterics just really put a smile on my face.

4.) Little acts of Kindness: Postcard from Aunty Sophie

I love this woman. She is one of my oldest friends and although I only see her a couple of times a year, when I do it’s like no time’s passed. I also love receiving postcards. A postcard is one of the sweetest, most quaint little ways to let someone know you’re thinking of them. It also takes me back to childhood as my friends and I loved sending postcards. It’s comforting to know that even though everyone emails and Facetime’s and Whatsapp’s each other now, there will always be the friends who will continue to bring joy through the letterbox.

5.) This little monkey sang me Twinkle Twinkle

I feel like I’ve barely seen her this week, but one evening as I was tucking her in, she sang me Twinkle Twinkle all the way through. I’d been so busy going to the newspaper everyday, I had no idea she even knew all the words. (Grandma had taught her) I interviewed Jimmy Osmond over the phone earlier that day and had several articles published, but nothing could really top this moment of Mummy Pride.

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The Happiness Project: The Happiness Planner


“The best investment you’ll ever make is in yourself. Never stop exploring, learning, experiencing, and becoming a better person every day”.

– Mo Seetubtim, Founder, Writer and Designer of The Happiness Planner.

One thing that really boosts my happiness is the simple joy of receiving a package in the post. It’s the element of surprise on two levels – you didn’t know it was coming and what might be inside? I’m not talking about an Amazon delivery here. You know what’s in that package. I’m talking about the old fashioned; I’ve bought my dear friend/relative a gift, and now I’m going to post it to them, because I live far away and don’t know when I’ll next see them. – It’s wonderful.

So three days after my birthday I was still suffering the post-birthday -Why-did-my-birthday-suck-again-this-year – blues when there was a knock at the door. And with that knock came a package. The stunning handwriting was unmistakable. (And I do mean stunning, the most perfect calligraphy, the woman could be a calligraphist.) Dear friend Etta (who I’ve known since I was a baby) had sent me the most perfect little parcel. – A gorgeous dress for Maia, and for me the impeccably chosen Happiness Planner. I needed this boost. I’d been experiencing a bit of a lull with The Happiness Project and this planner would help bring back some focus. I jumped up and down with delight. (Yes my feet did in fact leave the floor numerous times, I was thrilled. )

The planner itself is brilliant. You first create a “roadmap” of what you want to achieve over the 100 days, answering questions like:

-what makes you happy/unhappy

-what qualities/habits would you like to improve

-what/who are you most grateful for

-how do you see yourself in 5-10 years

Then each day, you fill in a few simple boxes: “Today I’m excited about/Main Focus/What I hope for tomorrow..”. At the end of each week there is a “weekly reflection”, which I find helps brings back my focus to what I wanted to achieve at the start. It takes only a few minutes each night and reminds me why I started this project back in January. –  It was an investment in me.

So for the next three months, instead of thinking of more resolutions, I will be using this planner (whilst also trying to keep up with the resolutions I’ve already set). But how are my current resolutions actually going? I’ll give you a quick update…

RESOLUTIONS UPDATE: 

JANUARY: Save money in any way possible, earlier wake ups, control temper, enjoy my food: Well I’m definitely saving money; I no longer buy things I don’t need, like primer for foundation or even new nail polishes. I wake up earlier and don’t lose my temper as often with Maia. As for enjoying my food, well I can safely say I have indeed been enjoying my food, each and every bite.

FEBRUARY: A healthier lifestyle: I think things are definitely improving. I’m not where I want to be yet. I still can’t quite look at a cookie without wanting five. This is okay. I’m slowly accepting I might always be this way. I’ll just have to run each and every day like a mad woman to keep up with the sugar monster within.

MARCH: Trying to meditate: Nope. I’m not even trying anymore. The closest thing I get to meditation is when I’m in bed reading and my eyes begin to close, though I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be relaxed and alert when you’re meditating. I also consider the brief moment of yoga I do after a run to be a bit like meditation. It’s something. 

APRIL: *Focus on Previous resolutions* (above)

MAY: Make more time for reading: This one has sort of been overshadowed by June’s resolution to be more creative, but I did finish a few books in July and a play the other day.

JUNE: Spend more time being creative: I’m quite proud recently I’ve spent a little time nearly everyday hand quilting and any time there’s a picture/page in a magazine I like, I’ve kept it for scrap-booking purposes (which I’ve been assured is not in fact sad or futile).

JULY: Nagging Tasks Tackled: De-cluttering *check*, so 1 out of 8 so far.

So what will August entail? Well I’ve got myself some work experience at a local newspaper. I’m a little terrified but I’m sure I can string a few readable sentences together in the required tone. It won’t be easy going from the chatty vibe of this blog to a much more serious, factual manner, but I’m sure I’ll cope.  This is my first real glimpse into the world of journalism and I’m eager to see how it all works. *Serious work face*.

Other than this, August will be all of the above. – More squeezing in moments to read and be creative, more allowing the time to be present with Maia, and of course all usual mummy duties.

Lastly, thank you dear Etta for the wonderful Happiness Planner. You couldn’t have chosen a more suitable gift, and what a delightful way to have the sweet little package arrive at my front door. You’re the best.

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change”.

– Jim Rohn

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The Happiness Project: The Little Things

It’s been an interesting month. Hence why I haven’t posted in so long. (And I don’t like leaving the blog unattended for weeks on end, it’s a horrible feeling, comparable to leaving a small plant to die, un-cared for…only this blog is well and truly alive). Absence has most certainly made the heart grow fonder and it feels so good to finally sit down and write this. I feel as though I’m wading through the cobwebs that have accumulated the last few weeks and finally I know where I am. The Happiness Project. I started it in January and although I’ve been a little distracted and haven’t always stuck to resolutions, I still believe it’s worth continuing.

Nothing really sprung to mind when I was thinking what to have for July and August’s resolutions. Then I remembered Gretchen Rubin’s resolution to “tackle a nagging task” and I thought well this would make me feel good. Sometimes you just need that feeling of GETTING THINGS DONE.

So I made a list. All the little nagging tasks I wanted to get done this Summer:

1. DE-CLUTTER 

This is a big one. Maia’s room still isn’t finished and part of the problem is I’m clinging on to clothes I know she won’t wear and toys she’s barely touched in months. I’ve allowed myself one trunk of “special” baby clothes; the gifts, the Mini-Boden dungarees, teeny little bodysuits and the first outfit we took her home from the hospital in. But things like leggings and T-shirts I’ve bought in Sainsbury’s that no longer fit – well I have no huge urge to cling onto these. De-cluttering is a proven happiness booster so this is top of my list.

2. FINALLY REPLACE MAIA’S CURTAINS

Maia currently has some quite adorable curtains. They’re the very curtains I had in my bedroom when I was a baby. So at 23 years old, they’ve seen better days. I’ve been meaning to replace them for months and doing so would really freshen up her room a little. When I was about seven months pregnant I found some beautiful fabric in IKEA, and purchased it thinking it would look great in her room when she was a little older. Well that time has come.

3. FINISH DECORATING MAIA’S ROOM

Many months ago I bought seven or eight teeny weeny tester pots of paint in several shades of pink, lilac and blue. I was very excited to paint a little design, or pattern or something somewhere in Maia’s room (it’s a funny shape, so there are lots of random bits of wall that could do with brightening up). – I don’t know what and I don’t know where exactly but I’m determined that by the end of the Summer those little nagging pots will be empty.

4. DEVELOP PHOTOS
I have a lot of albums. A ridiculous number. Photos – particularly of Maia growing up- are very important to me. They’re my most special possessions. Storing them on a laptop or hard-drive isn’t entirely reliable -technology breaks – so I try and develop them as often as I can. Nothing really beats a physical photograph you can hold in your hand. This one is a nagging task, because as much as I love looking at pictures of Maia and friends and family; going through hundreds of them and having to select the best for development can get a little tedious. “Well here she’s smiling so yep we’ll develop this one, oh smiling again in a different direction so yep, here she’s frowning but Grandad looks happy so yep, *still the same shot* oh this one she’s laughing but it’s blurry so maybe no, oh this one’s clear but she’s not looking.. *the same day but a different outfit* well here she’s wearing a pretty dress so yep…”. I end up with the same moment and 15 different facial expressions.- Of course this is all a result of having an iPhone and taking about twenty shots for every one shot you’d take on an old camera with film. Even with the tedious selection process, this is still a huge happiness boost. I adore my albums.

5. EMAIL ISA
Isa -Isabel- is my wonderful Spanish Exchange. I was sixteen when I went to stay at her house (I think fourteen when she came to stay with me) and she was brilliant. So kind and welcoming and incredibly intelligent. (A chemical engineer Post-Grad). She wrote to me a few months ago, a lovely email in English. The idea was I helped her with her English – not that she needs it, she’s nearly perfect – and she helped me with my Spanish.. (I need it.) Isa helped me with my Spanish homework when I was having tuition with a fantastic Argentinian lady last year. Although we’ve spoken on Whatsapp in English, I still haven’t replied to her email. (Because it’s to be written in Spanish, and I barely remember my uno dos tres let alone grammar and verb conjugations). Nevertheless,  no matter how poor the Spanish, I owe it to the wonderful Isa to reply.

5. FINISH THE CONSCIOUS PARENT

I can’t pretend I love reading parenting books. They’re not my favourite genre. Although this one is very different to most in its category, it’s still essentially a book about how to be a better parent and person. And sometimes, at the end of the day, during the 2-4 hours I get to myself, the last thing I want to think about is self-improvement. I just want to congratulate myself for getting to 8pm. At this time of day I don’t feel the need to be better. However, with a spontaneous surge of motivation I woke up extra early the other morning just to read a few pages before Maia woke up. I guess I’ll just keep doing that.

I know, I probably won’t make it through this list. Maia comes before developing photos and she certainly comes before making curtains. But I’ll do my best. I’ll do them for the satisfaction. I’ll do them along with the household chores, trying to get out of the house as much as possible and occupying a very lively almost three year old.

The Happiness Project is life long. It never ends. And I’ll never stop doing the little things.

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The Colourful Times: A brief encounter with Nursing

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“You’re studying Nursing?”

“Yep!”

“Wow…good for you”

*Is it?! I don’t know! Have I fucked up? HELP ME!* 

The thought of this particular period of anxiety still sends a shiver down my spine. It was by far the darkest, scariest and most panic inducing time. – The time I moved to London to studying Nursing. – Harmless right?

At seventeen – when I made the mistake of applying – I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I was scared to leave school with no plan. I couldn’t bear the uncertainty. I panicked. I was too anxious to plan any travels or time volunteering abroad. I did consider applying to do an Art Foundation (I’d loved Art so much at A-Level) but the thought of being stuck for inspiration was too unsettling. I didn’t want to stay at home and work whilst all my friends went off to University. I didn’t want to be left behind. – In hindsight this would have been ideal for me; working, volunteering, giving myself some breathing space to figure out what I really wanted to do. – Ah the precious gift of retrospection.

I had so many fears and they all led me to apply to study Nursing. – A course that led straight into a job. A certainty. A plan. Instead of following my creative instincts and pursuing art or drama or writing I went for the option with some job security. I rushed into it because I was fed up with the uncertainty of life, and the anxiety it had caused me. I know the irony of this is ridiculous. (I’m still learning to accept and embrace uncertainty as something scary but amazing).

Everyone reacted very positively and being someone that fed off others’ reactions, I thought well maybe this will work out. I knew I loved helping people, I knew I’d enjoyed Biology and Psychology and I knew I wanted to be in London. “I’ll be a Nurse in London!” I think the only thing I really knew was that I wanted to be in London. I really hadn’t thought through the Nursing part, my fear of needles or the fact I suffered from stress and anxiety, I just revelled in the excitement of moving out and to this big city. A wondrous dream turned nightmare.

I’d been so nervous in the weeks prior to moving; I should have really seen the warning signs as they arose. I couldn’t sleep, and mistook this insomnia for excitement when really I was petrified. I refused to acknowledge my fears (that I’d chosen the wrong course, that I wouldn’t cope living in London) and thought that once I’d got there and was all settled in it would all be fine. It wouldn’t. I was in denial.

I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. – The feeling of being out of control, almost manic. I tried to stay positive. I’d put up photos and posters in my room, joined the gym and made lots of friends. But it was as if the more I tried to pretend as if I was okay, the more I knew I really wasn’t. I wasn’t home sick; I didn’t miss my Mummy and Daddy. I got on well with the people in my flat and they included me in all their outings and night time antics (the two occasions I actually agreed to go out with them). I had two main problems:

1.) I wasn’t well. I rarely felt hungry, couldn’t sleep or concentrate, and had constant negative thoughts. (To name a handful of my symptoms).

2.) I didn’t want to be a nurse. – I came to this conclusion not long after sitting through a lecture on back problems. The statistics were not pleasant, something like 70% of nurses suffer back problems at least once in their career. I already had a bad back from all the anxiety and tension, I soon realised it was only going to get worse. After the seminar on lifting patients with a hoist, I was pretty much done. This decision was re-affirmed when I went to get my vaccinations -ready for working on the ward- I started crying and panicking when she got the needle out, I just said “sorry I’m a little anxious” (not that she needed to be told), her words were something like “Are you sure you’ve picked the right career?!”  *NO WHY DO YOU THINK I’M CRYING?! I’M GETTING VACCINATED FOR NO REASON, I KNOW I WONT BE HERE LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE IT TO THE F****** WARD!!!”*

I just kept going, day after day, thinking if I could just get a good night’s sleep, everything would get better. Some days I couldn’t even decide what to wear – not in the fun sense- it was more: “I literally cannot decide what to put on my body. This is ridiculous. Can someone please help me choose which bit of fabric to put on. I know it doesn’t matter, but this is torture and now I have a headache.” 

Sleep deprivation is a killer, and it killed every rational thought available to me. I wasn’t me. I couldn’t think clearly, I couldn’t hear the voice of reason or see what was really going on. My reality was black and white, all or nothing. To me, if I left, I’d be going home to a whole pile of nothingness and uncertainty and fear and everything I wanted to get away from. I had no plan. Leaving wasn’t an option. I’d have to stick it out, hope the beta-blockers the doctor prescribed would work and in three short years become a nurse. (They didn’t, they helped me to relax but I was still a constant weeping willow.) Somewhere in the realms of my messy-fearful-sweaty-confused head I knew I wouldn’t last much longer, the battery would run out eventually.

I knew I had to leave before I was asked to leave. We’d had a couple of assessments during the first few weeks and one of them – a CPR training session- my little anxious sleep deprived brain simply could not cope with. I couldn’t retain any information so when it came to performing CPR on a dummy, I was dumbfounded. I felt like such an idiot. A monkey could perform this exercise. I just sort of looked at the teacher and apologised. (I did a lot of apologising for myself during this period). I literally couldn’t remember even a short sequence. It was excruciating.

I wanted desperately to stay there. I’d made some great friends and loved the idea of being in London. – I was at Kings College; I could see The Shard being built from my bedroom window. But the reality was a world away from what I’d imagined months before. I was having daily panic attacks. Some days I just found myself on the train home without really realising how I got there. I would run away thinking it would make me feel better but it didn’t. I couldn’t run away from myself. London was no place for an anxious insomniac. – Not that there is an ideal place, but it certainly wasn’t London with its go-go-go craziness. Those four weeks really took the life out of me. I was being suffocated.

I felt like a fraud. How could I walk into those seminars on topics like taking care of others, stress and well-being knowing full well I was the one in need of help?! The final straw came one afternoon in a lecture theatre in St Thomas’ Hospital. I was sat restlessly trying to listen to a lecture on the heart. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding. The thoughts of panic became unbearable. I couldn’t stay in the room any longer. Feeling like a mad woman, I told my friends I didn’t feel well and I’d see them back at the flat. (Already planning which train home I was going to get, I knew that no, I would not see them back at the flat. What I didn’t know at this point was that this was the last lecture I would attend as a Nursing student).

I rang my Mum in tears and a nurse found me – mid panic attack – sat me down and gave me a drink of water.

“Do you want me to walk you out?”

“Er, okay..”.

I was quite literally shown the door. I made my way home with a sense of relief mixed with dread. What exactly was I going to do now? Go home and party? I sensed things would get harder before they got any easier. I was not wrong.

______

What happened after I finally came to my senses and returned home is another mountain of sentences altogether.

Long dark days, mainly spent in pyjamas, it took months for me to accept what had happened, for me to comprehend that I was not in fact a giant failure. Those months were the darkest I have ever experienced. – An endless anguish.

But the anguish did end. And I know I came out of it a different person.

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The Happiness Project: Freedom, Expression and Colour

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

I’ve always loved to paint. I’d paint all day long if I could. I love getting lost in watercolours and experimenting with acrylics. So for June my Happiness Project Resolution was to spend a little more time being creative, nurturing any shred of  artistic ability I may still have. (The last art class I took was a good five years ago..five but it may as well be fifty, I’m that rusty).

Being creative is very much a luxury for me. These luxuries mainly include painting, sewing, and scrap-booking and they come very far down on my list of priorities after “scrub bathroom floor”, “tidy Maia’s room”, “hoover EVERYWHERE”. A sense of guilt arises as it occurs to me that I should be doing something more productive with my precious evening hours than sloshing a paintbrush around. – Like finally having that “stocks and shares” lesson with my Dad or re-arranging that kitchen cupboard. (He enjoys teaching me about Finance, and occasionally I get these bursts of enthusiasm where I want to learn all about Investments and the stock market and what dividends are..I know this might actually be of use one day). But then I think no this can wait, and maybe clearing out the kitchen cupboards can wait too. Maybe I should allow myself this time. Maybe this flower needs to be painted…

I adore that moment when I sit down to a blank page. The endless possibility. It’s like when I open a new word document, it’s the freedom to say whatever I want -be it in brush strokes or words- knowing it’s not going to be assessed or graded by anyone.
My painting doesn’t really have a focus. I haven’t developed a particular style yet. Technique is clearly lacking but it doesn’t take away from my sense of achievement when I finish something. I still find it hugely satisfying. No one’s judging so I can just do it for me.

Sewing is another little love. I make various unnecessary things for Maia like cushions and random bits of fabric with her name quilted on that I really must attach to something. Fabrics bring me a lot of joy. Fabrics, buttons and quilting threads. I am Angie, I am twenty-three and I am an old lady. At least I know I won’t be idle post retirement.

Another creative endeavour I could pursue for hours is scrap-booking. (I’m an old lady but I’m also seven apparently). I have several scrapbooks. There’s the kind for photos/postcards/tickets, little bits and pieces from travels. Then I’ve got articles I don’t want to forget and little words of wisdom collected from magazines. (I like to document clever people saying clever things..) And lastly- an idea from Anna Spiro’s book “Absolutely Beautiful Things” (below) I have Interior and Style Ideas, which is sort of a 3D Pinterest Board, a mood board of room/furniture/fabric ideas. Images are collected from Elle Decoration, Vogue and -because I can’t really afford to buy The World of InteriorsThe Times Magazine Style Section. This is the sort of thing I’m going for (below). 

Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiro

I know to many this will seem a little pointless, sad even. – The idea of a someone sitting alone at night tearing pages out of magazines, cutting and sticking like a small child. But it’s these seemingly meaningless activities that are actually not meaningless at all. They have a purpose. They take me out of myself. -Get me out of my head. They don’t require too much thought and often the less thought the better. A sort of meditation. A flow. I’m transported to my happy place, a state of bliss, where it’s all freedom expression and colour. Those few hours spent being creative are some of the most enriching and gratifying hours of my week. (But it doesn’t quite come close to the “I wuv you Mummy” I received yesterday.) Twenty-three or eighty-three, as long as I can still hold a paintbrush I will always hold onto my little joys. They are far too wonderful to ever let go of.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

 

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Reasons To Stay Alive

May’s resolution was to make more time for reading. – And that I did. Reasons to Stay Alive is truly brilliant. A book about depression, written as a memoir/self-help book, I found Haig’s writing hugely inspiring. He left no stone unturned on the topic of depression and described it in one of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever read “Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on.” 

An empowering read, full of empathy, wit and humour, it was comforting reading his story. It was all so real, so honest and raw. He spoke to the teenager in me and helped me accept my experiences as part of being human, not crazy. I didn’t think I’d find a book about depression so liberating. It was very much “YES yes I know how that feels! I’ve lived that EXACT moment before!”. I knew I wasn’t the only one to have ever had a panic attack or a day of complete numbness, but reading such a truthful account really drums in the point that you are not the only one, you are not alone in what you’re going through/have been through. 

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It’s not only a lesson about depression, it’s a huge eye opener on the world we live in and how our brains often struggle to keep up. A wonderful and necessary read.

“Life is hard. It may be beautiful and wonderful but it is also hard. The way people seem to cope is by not thinking about it too much. But some people are not going to be able to do that. And besides, it is the human condition. We think therefore we are. We know we are going to grow old, get ill and die. We know that is going to happen to everyone we know, everyone we love. But also, we have to remember, the only reason we have love in the first place is because of this. Humans might well be the only species to feel depression as we do, but that is simply because we are a remarkable species, one that has created remarkable things – civilisation, language, stories, love songs…

…Emily Dickinson, eternally great poet and occasionally anxious agoraphobe, said: ‘That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.’ ”  – Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig. 

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Confessions of a Single Mother: Not Just Another Day


Last week I celebrated my 23rd birthday. And when I say celebrated I mean I had one night out, one meal out, one pancake breakfast, three different versions of chocolate cake – two home made and one shop bought- and one serving of sugar/dairy/gluten free banana bread. – All to celebrate, well my existence. I was spoilt.

So why is it, that as a child I loved my birthday – counted down the days, had that fluttery feeling in my stomach the night before- and now as I get older, I seem to wake up on the day feeling like shit? I don’t mean to. I don’t decide the night before I’m going to feel crap. Something happens in my brain on the day that says “Nope, today is NOT a good day. Shut up, eat your cake and pretend it’s just another day”. 

But it’s not just another day. I mean obviously it is, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the day you got here, the day you changed someone’s life, the day you made two people feel more needed and necessary than ever. I mean it’s a big day. Your existence is a big deal. But sadly somewhere along the way, we’ve learnt that getting older is a bad thing. – That there’s something negative about another year of growth, experience and LIFE. I’ve somehow subconsciously picked up the message that you’re not supposed to enjoy your birthday, because getting older is meant to suck and we’re to hide our age and not celebrate it.

But see I don’t agree with this. This idea that birthdays are only for children. (Many people actually think that adults should not celebrate their birthdays, that if anything we should hide under a large rock on our special day).  

I had to remind myself that not everyone makes it to their twenty-third birthday (or their thirty-third or seventy-third..). As morbid as that sounds, I knew I really should feel grateful to be alive and healthy. So why did I feel so pissed off??

I – and a couple of my friends- have come to the conclusion it’s the expectation. The expectation that something wonderful, magical even is going to happen on the day. And when it doesn’t, you go to bed thinking well the cards were nice, and the cake tasted pretty good, but where was the magic? Where were the butterflies I got when I was ten?

In retrospect, I realise the magic was there, it was just a little clouded in the mist of adult life. The magic is in the people. It’s knowing someone was thinking of you when they wrote you that card, sent you that Happy Birthday greeting or baked you that cake. Those people are grateful for your existence, that you are you. If someone is willing to celebrate you, it’s because you’re worth celebrating. Take the freakin’ day. You only get it once a year. It’s yours.

I know, nobody wants to get older. So what we get to twenty-one then just dread every Birthday after that? How pathetic. Maybe I’m too young to understand why people are so sensitive about their age. But to me, with age comes personal growth, wisdom and experience. (And maybe a few wrinkles but I can handle a wrinkle, it’s the menopause I fear). I don’t see how growth and experience are something to dread. I firmly believe we should celebrate getting through another year, because life is hard, it can be amazing, but it can also be a s***-storm and we should celebrate our strength.

So for my next birthday, instead of going over all the things a twenty-three year old is supposed to have done with their life, I’m going to have a whole day of gratitude. A day to focus on counting my blessings. A day to celebrate being alive, being healthy and having wonderful people in my life to celebrate with. Because whether you are twenty-three or eighty-three, there is always something to celebrate, there is always magic to be found.

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Confessions of a Single Mother: Containing My Joy

GETTING MY BOOB BACK

Maia is now just over two and a half. I cannot believe THREE is fast approaching. Three seems so much older than two, three is not a baby anymore. Baby or not I am still breastfeeding the little madam. (From one boob, it’s all very lopsided and wonderful). We share a brief moment each day where I gaze into her big blue-green eyes and I’m taken back to when she was newborn and it seemed like I spent my entire existence with her at my nipple. I keep meaning to wean her but she seems to love it so. The health visitor said to do it when I was ready. And I have to say, I thought I was ready, but now I’m not so sure. It’s not easy. I am aware I’ll have to stop eventually. I don’t want to be the mother that breastfed her daughter till she was seven. People do that. And that’s great for them.- Whatever works. I have nothing against it, unlike a lot of people, I don’t think it’s weird. But at some point this year, I want my boob back for good…More on this later.

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Here we are doing our thing…

LITTLE OLD LADIES

Going out and about with Maia gets more and more interesting the older she gets. We get a lot of little old ladies approaching us in supermarkets. I love it. It goes a little like this:

“How old is she?”

“Two” *proud smiles*

“And what’s her name?”

“Maia” *more proud smiles*

“Ah what a lovely name, isn’t she beautiful! Hello Maia!”

Maia: “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” *expression of pure outrage, looks away* 

“Oh.. right then…*some polite remark from the old lady about her innocence and right to protest*” 

*old lady walks away*

“Oh Maia, she was only trying to say hello..”

“NO Mummy! NO hello!” 

This happens a lot. Sometimes she says hello back and even offers a sweet smile, other times she just looks at me in pure disgust. I get it. Humans can be irritating. Especially when you’re just walking around, minding your own business and suddenly you’re approached by a very amiable little old lady, telling you how beautiful you are. – How awful…

HOW MUCH PEE 

“Yes yes yes!! Well done you clever girl! I am so proud of you! High Five Mummy!!!” – My words of delight as Maia used her potty for the first time last night. There was a genuine sense of excitement; I couldn’t wait to see how much she’d peed. Overcome with pride; I felt like messaging all my nearest and dearest with photographic evidence of the pee itself, all within the parameters of the potty, she’s got good aim. – But I thought perhaps this was too far, better to keep my daughter’s triumph in my head and not on other people’s camera roll. I contained my joy.


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The Colourful Times: The Bitch

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If depression is a bitch, anxiety is that bitch’s not so little side kick. They’re best friends, spend a lot of time together and you don’t really get one without aspects of the other.

I suffered from anxiety on and off between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, so pretty much half my entire adolescence. It came in phases. I’d be fine for months (my normal seemingly outgoing and confident self) then anxious again, (retreating back into my shell of misery) for what felt like years but only really a few months, then back to myself again. –But even when I was okay, I was still fearful of the next time I would become anxious. – It felt like a dark shadow following me around, as if to say “you may be okay now, and for the next few months, but I’m not quite done with you YET, that wasn’t the last time”. I actually described it to one counsellor like I’d been “taken over” by someone that just wasn’t me. The thoughts, behaviours, everything about the person I was when I was anxious just WAS NOT ME. I was a different person, like an evil spirit had somehow embodied me. I felt cursed. – Which of course added to the feeling of crazy.

And I did indeed feel like I was going crazy. I often felt scared because I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I didn’t understand what was going on in my head, why I couldn’t stop thinking. I didn’t know at the time what anxiety even was, I’d never heard of the term. And because I’d never heard of anxiety, I was baffled by its many symptoms: Fear of leaving the house, constant feeling of unease, panic attacks, hypervigilance, muscle tension, churning stomach, negative thoughts, lack of concentration, inability to make decisions, constant feeling of thirst, and my personal favourite: insomnia.

The more exhausted I became from the lack of sleep, the more agonising going to school became. I just felt so low, all the time. I didn’t want to be around other people, I didn’t want my friends to see me in such a state. When people asked what was wrong, I’d tell them the truth that I wasn’t sleeping well. I’d get messages when I got home from well-meaning friends telling me to stop worrying and get some rest. They didn’t understand it didn’t quite work that way.  If I could have turned the thoughts off and gone to sleep, I would have. I couldn’t stop worrying just like that in an instant, because it wasn’t a particular set of worries, it was a state of mind. Everything made me anxious. – Even deciding how to wear my hair or what lunch to bring.

School became seven hours of hell. I couldn’t keep up in lessons; I had zero concentration. This was one of the most frustrating things because I wanted more than anything to do well. My mind was filled with worries about the work, the upcoming exams and what other people were thinking of me. I’d somehow convinced myself that people must have thought I was crazy, a freak, just because I was a bit quieter than usual or I wasn’t contributing at all. I knew it was all in my head, but it didn’t feel that way. From the outside I probably looked a little glum but I tried every day not to, I tried to appear as if I felt normal. – I was usually such a positive person. – I didn’t want people to know how much I was struggling. I often wonder now why I cared so much what other people thought, but that’s what anxiety is, it makes you think things you wouldn’t normally and care too much about the unimportant.

I can’t pin point exactly what triggered each period of anxiety. When I was younger (thirteen/fourteen) it was a lot to do with not really knowing who my real friends were. I didn’t have a best friend at that point and I often felt misplaced. As I got older exam stress became a big factor. I couldn’t bear the thought of not doing well. I was a perfectionist. And the more pressure I put on myself, the more anxious I became, the less I could concentrate. One term I piled so much on my plate; I broke. The school play, a piano exam, the Spanish exchange, out of school drama productions, together with course work and mock exam preparation. – I was burnt out and instead of resting; I just worked myself up about the next exam and didn’t sleep, night after night after night.

Any one that’s ever suffered from insomnia will know how horrible it is. But when you’re anxious or depressed it becomes a vicious cycle. Bed time became something to fear because my bed became a place of torment. It was where I went over and over everything that had happened that day, everything I’d done or said wrong. “Oh I shouldn’t have said that..I should have done that better..Why did she look at me like that?” (An anxious person is a paranoid person).  I’d worry about yesterday, tomorrow, next week. I’d worry about the effects of not sleeping. I’d torture myself with every possible outcome if I never recovered from my anxiety. Would I end up in a hospital? Would I have to take drugs? Would the lack of sleep make me go insane? I’d dread everyone else in the house going to bed because this meant I was really alone with my thoughts. And that was one of my biggest fears, being left alone with my thoughts. It’s true that when you’re anxious or depressed, you are your own worst enemy. I felt awful about the worry I was causing my parents, especially my mother as she’d already been through it with my Dad. I wanted more than anything to just snap out of it and get up the next morning feeling fine. I felt trapped in a prison of my own making. I’d put myself in, and only I could let myself out. I was absolutely petrified.

One of my therapists, Rosie, mentioned my Dad’s depression was the root cause of my anxiety. – Which at fifteen made me start to really hate my Dad. “HE WAS THE CAUSE?! He was the reason I was such a mess?” I couldn’t concentrate on my school work, I couldn’t get the top grades I’d worked so hard in previous years for, I couldn’t go out with my friends and enjoy myself and I put all this frustration on him. The words would ring in my head: “ROOT CAUSE”. I wished she’d never said such a thing. I looked at him and saw everything I was failing at, all the pain he’d put us through when I was growing up, everything that made me miserable. My anxiety turned into anger. It took years for me to really accept that mental illness was no one’s fault. No one was to blame. My anxiety had a host of triggers, his depression was one but it was not the sole cause. – My conscientious nature and perfectionism played a huge part in causing and maintaining it.

So what exactly do I hope to achieve by writing about my experience of mental illness? It may sound strange but I don’t want what I went through to be for nothing. I can’t just gloss over it and pretend it didn’t happen. Some good has to come of it. Yes I learnt a lot and I’ve gained a new level of understanding and compassion for others who suffer from mental illness. – But this can’t be all.  All the insomnia, tears and panic attacks, surely something positive can come from all this crap. This crap is avoidable.

I hope that something I say resonates with someone. If my experiences, what I’ve learnt, can help someone somehow; it will help me feel that all the crap was a little bit worth it.
So here I am adding to the pile. – Those who have suffered from mental illness, written about it, and have somehow touched another with their words. The more it’s talked about, written about, read about, the more people will understand and the less people will feel ashamed to ask for help. – Because there really is nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness can affect anyone, at any point in their lives. It’s not black and white, it ranges from the mild to the severe and many people don’t even know they’re suffering from it. I didn’t.

Anxiety can be defined by the as: “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”

I would describe it as: “F****** Shit, utterly f****** shit. You are not yourself, you are not anyone else, but you are not yourself.”

But it does get better, the bitch does go away, and the dark shadow does disappear, leaving you to be you. – A wiser, tougher, more resilient you.

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The Colourful Times: A Shit Summer 

I wondered where to begin on a subject like this. This is a subject so close to my heart that I wondered whether to write about it so publicly. I thought it best kept away in thoughts, memories, journals and conversations with my mother. Then I thought there will be children out there, children, teenagers and people who might be going through what I went through. I remembered that talking about it is exactly what needs to be done. The subject I am referring to is Mental Illness. – The nightmare that is having a parent with a mental illness.

I wanted to write something about my experience of mental illness as a teenager, my anxiety and depression. – But for it all to make sense, and for me to really understand my anxiety, I have to go back to the beginning, where it all started and that would be with my father.

My Dad was an adolescent when he was first put on medication for his depression. A child. He wasn’t coping with life at boarding school and from what I gather was given drugs to help him cope with the pressures. He was a scholar. Back in the 50’s there were no such thing as “talking therapies”, no CBT, no mindfulness, treatments were very different.
Whilst studying Engineering at Cambridge (no pressure Dad..) he had a rather manic term and suffered a breakdown. He was hospitalised for a while and talks very openly about his experience there, how he was visited regularly by one of his tutors and how talking to him helped. I often think whether things would have turned out differently had he had better treatment as an adolescent, had he been offered the chance to come home instead of staying at boarding school. But that’s just not how things were done back then. Dad was never taught how to manage his depression -he wasn’t taught the skills and techniques (mindfulness, CBT, meditation etc) therapists teach today – and this meant medication would always be necessary for him to get better.

I vividly remember visiting my very poorly Dad in a clinic one Summer. We drove there every Friday night after school. I was nine. We had the same CD on replay all summer, NOW 51, CD 2. I say this because now anytime any one of those songs comes on, it reminds me of that summer, all the people I met, the long car journeys, and my Dad’s face every time we waved goodbye.

First Mum told me Dad had a hernia and that’s why he couldn’t come on holiday with us. I knew it was more than that. And she knew I knew.

I’ll never forget one night at the clinic, (which was sort of more like a country hotel, Dad had good health insurance..) we got into the car to go home and Dad just stood there, by Mum’s window staring, putting his hand up to the window, tears in his eyes, he didn’t want us to go. Mum then started crying and a nurse had to come out to bring him inside. It was horrible. I think I held back my tears because Mum was already crying and I vaguely remember saying something like “He’ll be okay Mum”. He looked so frail, and thin and shaky. I hated seeing him like that, so helpless. All he wanted was so come home with us.

Although it wasn’t an easy trip to have to make, I actually made friends with a few of the patients. They liked having this bright, smiling, happy little girl entering their distorted world. I never saw another child there, apart from one nurse’s daughter.

One evening I’d just finished a game of ping-pong with Eddie (the most lovely guy, you’d never know he was clinically depressed) when I left to go and find my parents, who’d gone off for a chat. I couldn’t find them anywhere, not inside, not in the garden, I started to cry – Eddie giving me a hug, assuring me we’d find them and using his shirt to wipe my tears – then I began to panic “What if something’s happened to Dad?!” “What if Mum said something to upset him and he did something stupid to Mum?!” “OH MY GOD HE’S KILLED MY MUM!!!” “WHERE IS SHE?!” I started shouting “Mummy!!!” (Even at that age my imagination and over-thinking began making me crazy..) They appeared moments later. Fine, obviously.
But that night scared me. How could I think my own Dad would do something like that?! He’s my Daddy! I felt awful. But at the time I knew he wasn’t himself, I knew how much medication he was on. (I’d seen the impressive pill box). I knew he was seeing a psychiatrist. I also knew what a psychiatrist was and how to spell psychiatrist. I knew a lot. I knew that when people are mentally unwell, they don’t behave normally and often do things they wouldn’t normally do. So really, the idea of him harming my mother was not such a crazy thought after all.

It was a shit Summer. And it didn’t get much better after he came home. But if I took anything from that experience (and there were many more after that), it was my mother’s strength. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to have had to bring me with her, to that strange place. She always tried to make it fun, buying me sweets at the same petrol station on the way home and encouraging me to make friends with the nurse’s daughter. She always kept me involved and told me what was going on. She didn’t hide her tears either, she let me know it was okay to cry, that it wasn’t weakness, and that it was normal to be sad. I know now as a mother, she did what she had to do, she held it together, and held our family together, just.
I remember wondering how long it would take for him to get better, but somewhere inside I knew it would be months and months before he’d be back to his usual self. I missed him.

Dad didn’t ruin what was meant to be our holiday, Depression did. It was cruel, and merciless and must have made my Mum feel like she was driving to hell and back every Friday night. She is the strongest person I’ve ever known.

This is the first time I’ve written anything about my experience of my Dad’s illness on this blog. I thought it would bring it all back and I’d struggle to put one word after the next, but this has been one of the quickest posts I’ve ever written. I’ve barely stopped to think. I asked my Dad earlier today if he was okay with me writing about his depression so publicly, he looked up at me, smiled and said yes, as long as I was okay with him writing about me in his book. – Which I’m sure will be one impressive read.

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