Grief is the price we pay for love

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Sometimes it is something so tiny that sparks a memory that almost crushes me. A photo, a song, a TV clip, an innocent comment.

Yes, the anniversaries and birthdays are hard and poignant.  Each year they get a littler easier, and harder at the same time. Easier as I’m prepared for the emotions I feel.  Harder as I realise how long we’ve been without you, how many more memories we lost out on making.

But it’s the tiny moments, the middle of random day ones, the moments that take me unaware. They grip my chest. They are the moments that make me choke. They are the moments that reduce me to tears. Grief that feels as fresh as it was in those early days.

Those moments when I’m watching TV and it transports me back to childhood, both of us climbing rocks with Dad on a beach in Mallorca, we were fearless, sun tanned limbs, adventuring, amazed at everything the world was showing us and discovering it together. Whole days spent in the pool until we had earache. Eating the fruit from sangria, collecting paper umbrellas and postcards. Dancing to Agadoo.

Those moments when I hear that song on the radio that we made Mum listen too, all in hysterics as we tried to pin her down and she tickled us until we couldn’t breathe with laughter. The ski sunday theme tune, when we used to run around the house like nutters with tea towels on our heads. The photo that pops up of the time you came to visit me at uni and we drank all night, and danced to garage and ate kebabs. You tried to hit on my friends!

While I was still an immature student, you had already seen war. You were wise beyond your years and my protective little brother.

Those moments keep coming, yet they’ve started to recur. I guess there are no new memories to top up the pot. Life gets further from the life with you in it. And that in itself sends shivers. As time goes on, it’s sometimes memories of memories. I worry I will forget you. The sound of your voice already feels distant. I can’t conjure you up in my mind as easily. And that almost feels like I’m losing you again.

Focus and flow

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This is something that has taken me a while to come to terms with. I’m someone that always has a massive to do list that I’m striving to achieve. I have priorities for the day, i.e. more than one, which definitely defeats the object. Most of the time nowadays I’m lucky if even one thing gets done. Add to that all my long term goals, and things I think I ‘should’ do, the list is ridiculous. Even when I’m feeling good it makes my mind busy, so I struggle to switch off. On my bad days, it leaves me feeling like a failure, stressed and anxious.

I’ve talked in the past about my ‘faddy’ nature. Pretty much as soon as I’ve started something new, I’m on to the next thing. I struggle to be content with continuing with things long term, day after day, even when I love them. I’m ten steps ahead, rather than finding my flow for a while.

The last couple of days I’ve been having a bit of an internal battle about my blog. It’s been a few months now and all of a sudden, my reach has just shot up. I’m really pleased that more and more people are reading it. I’m getting emails and messages on a daily basis about how much people are enjoying my writing, that it has struck a chord or that they can relate. Others telling me that I’ve inspired them to get outside or open up about their mental health battles. I feel incredibly grateful, BUT, rather than being motivated, I’ve just started worrying about what I’m writing and where it’s going, what platforms I’m using to promote it. I feel pressure to write more, schedule posts, learn from other bloggers, give advice and try to build a following. It started off as a way to get things off my chest and I promised myself that I would just write from the heart. Now I’ve got a whole load of words going around in my head and no idea where to turn and where to focus. At the start I felt I had nothing to lose, but now I’m second guessing everything, procrastinating and stalling.

So when I came across this quote, I really felt it was the right time. It is a great reminder that I can do anything I put my mind to – I firmly believe that and it has proved to be true in the past. But I can’t do everything. I can’t maintain the perfect standards I want in every area of my life. I can find time to do things that are important to me, but it’s always a choice that has to be made with that time. Now more than ever I need to make sure the things that I’m doing are making me happy (truly happy), aligning with my values, feeding my mind, body and soul.

Writing is so important to me. When I lose myself in words, when I get them out of my head and on to paper, I feel better. When I read my writing back it’s a permanent reminder to myself about the lessons learned, the traps I fall into, how far I’ve come. I’ve still got to write for myself. I need to write when the inspiration strikes, when I have something I want to say. So tonight, I’m taking a step back. I’m reminding myself of the things and people that are important to me, and I’m making a commitment to myself to honour these, focus and flow. That’s what I’m using my time for.

 

 

 

The reality behind the pose

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This photo was taken a few months before I found out I was pregnant. I’m not going to lie, at the time, I thought I looked hot. I had newly bleached hair (that I’d wanted for years), a new tight black dress and expensive makeup. I was on the way out to party at a friends wedding reception. When I made the photo my profile picture I got tons of likes and comments and that was what I thought I wanted.

But the reality was totally different. Now I look back at this photo and I can see in my eyes that I’m not truly happy. I was still in counselling, getting better but still needing it. I was struggling with low self esteem, bleaching my hair as a front. Craving attention and hating it at the same time. When this photo was taken on route to the wedding reception I’d already polished off a whole bottle of prosecco to ease my social anxiety and by the end of the night I was a mess, predictably. I’ve always been a messy drunk. At my best, sick, at my worst, aggressive, at my absolute worst, a cheat.

The thing is, I had a great life, an amazingly supportive and loving husband who’s my best friend and soul mate, family that are there for me no matter what, fabulous friends. I had a rewarding job, health and hobbies. But I was obsessed with what people thought. There were so many things that I wanted to change about my appearance. I exercised and counted calories but never got to where I wanted to be. I felt self-conscious unless I was made up, like in this photo. Then I just wanted attention to make me feel validated.

Now, I’m a bit of a mum cliché. Saggy bits, grey hairs, aching back. I haven’t made my appearance a priority. My wardrobe (which is mainly nursing tops and leggings) is in serious need of an overhaul. So this week I embarked on getting fit again. But, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might never fit in my cute dresses again. My body has housed and nurtured a little baby, then delivered him to the world. It’s nourished him exclusively for 6 months and continues to do so. My body is amazing. This time, I’m not getting fit to be able to wear a slinky dress again, I can do that anyway, I’m proud of my body! No, I’m getting fit so that I’m the best and healthiest version of myself. So that I’m the example that I want to be to my son. I want to be strong, confident and healthy. Motherhood has changed me like nothing else has. So although I may never look like this again, I know that now, I’m the best and happiest version of me.

 

The passage of time

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I always find the new year a tricky time. It seems to come around so suddenly, another year over so quickly. My anxiety is heightened thinking about how fast time is flying, the things that haven’t yet been achieved, how life just seems to have sped up now I’m in my thirties. This year I’ve also had a tinge of panic about how close I am to returning to work, worrying about whether I’ve made the most of our time off together.

So much is changing with my little boy right now. He’s clapping, he wrinkles his nose when he laughs, he dances in his high chair to the radio, he pulls off his socks, he pinches peas with his fingers and examines them, he looks at everything so intently with such a wise old stare. He has a super determined face when he tries to reach for something, and his little hands have a funny way of opening and closing, like a stroke and a tap at the same time, when he’s exploring something new. His eyes light up when he’s happy, which is pretty much all the time.

So much is changing that I want to capture every single moment. Time is going so fast there is an aching in my chest. A tightness that says I want to stop time and live in this moment forever.

I try to write it all down. I try to take lots of photos. But it’s just not enough.

So, this quote seemed incredibly apt. Time is going to fly and there is nothing I can do about it. All the more reason to live in the moment, slow down, drink it all in, savour. That’s the best way for these precious memories to stick.

 

 

 

We do have a choice

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It’s been a crazy few days with last minute Christmas preparations and social activities, plus some family troubles. I’ve been stressing like normal, trying to get everything done and make sure everything is perfect as we host our first Christmas. Expectations and pressure that I place on myself. Worrying about the problems that have been surfacing, doubting myself and feeling a little jaded. Because we’ve been so busy, self-care has slipped to the bottom of the to do list, and I realised this morning that it’s been three days since we got out for a proper walk, or since I just sat with my breath.

So in the middle of all the drama, chores and activities still left, we’ve been out for some fresh air today and I’ve just given myself 5 minutes to breathe and be mindful.

Now, stepping back from all the craziness, I’m reflecting over the year and realise just how lucky I am to be in this place right now. We started the year hugely excited (and scared shitless) about welcoming a new little one into the family. David was unemployed having been made redundant just before Christmas and we weren’t sure what the future held. I entered into motherhood, just as David was facing his biggest challenges as an existing father. I became a mum, at exactly the time I nearly lost mine. To describe this year as an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. It’s a bit of a cliche but it doesn’t matter about all the presents, all the food, whether the house is a state. We’ve got family around us and after this year, it’s a miracle that’s the case.

My mind was wandering to the word ‘choice’. I’m mindful of how much I’m letting life happen to me at the moment, and how I’m in danger of coasting through what I think are obligations and living a life of others. Not being true to myself.
We can’t chose the things that happen to us but we can chose how we act or react, what we prioritise, the things we tell ourself in our thoughts every day, whether to be grateful. My mum has had an awful time in terms of her health this year. And she’s been dealt some pretty tough times in her life full stop, but she’s bouncing back and getting stuck into life again. Others I know are going through really horrible times and I can give up on them because of things they’ve said and done, or I can chose to support them no matter what.

So there are new beginnings just around the corner. I’m setting my intentions now to prioritise self-care above everything else next year. To me, that means being grateful, meditating and getting outside. This is what makes me the mum, wife, step-mum, daughter and friend I want to be, in this one life that I have. Gone are the days of setting big challenges and goals. This is all I need to prioritise.

And so, with choice in mind, I’m logging off of social media and blogging for the next week. It happens to also be my birthday in the middle of Christmas and New Year, so I’m going to enjoy much needed family time, and time for lots of self-care too. Relax, regroup and replenish.

For those who are struggling right now, life might not be great, you may have suffered huge loss or be not feeling quite right even with huge abundance. Remember – this will pass. Hold on tight, don’t give up and be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, see you on the other side!!

The wonder in every day

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Who knew you could have so much fun wiping down the table after dinner? Orson thinks it is a fantastic game and can’t stop giggling as the cloth moves towards him and away again. That amazing baby giggle that can cheer up even the darkest day.

He is interested in everything. Open, curious, no expectations. He’s at the age where he can knock down a tower of building blocks a million times because the next time might be different.

He has given me a reason to notice the little things again.

– The way the dappled light falls beneath the trees
– The feeling of snow flurries on our face
– The intracacies of a zip
– The feeling of squishing raspberries between fingers
– The way the Christmas lights sparkle
– The joy to be had holding onto both feet and rolling around
– The comfort and contentment of a warm cuddle
– Pouring water
– The washing machine going around
– Everything about the cat -the way she moves, the way she feels, the way she sounds – he is fascinated

Everything he passes, he wants to reach out and touch.

There is no judgement, no control, no expectation. He is not dwelling on yesterday or worried about tomorrow. Purely living in the moment. He doesn’t know anything else.

There is a sparkle in his eyes because everything is magical.

So, just a little reminder to live like a child and see the wonder in every day.

There is no perfect in parenting

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When I was pregnant my good friend bought a pack of nappies and everyone at my baby shower wrote little notes to put inside. It was a lovely idea for me to read in those hazy early days of nappy changing in the middle of the night. One of them really struck a chord – ‘If you care, you can’t go too far wrong’.

I was entering into motherhood with a really relaxed frame of mind. I was hyper aware of how my anxiety might affect parenting for me. During pregnancy I was still in counselling. I’d worked through a lot of issues, such as my perfectionism and my need for control. They weren’t huge issues and I wasn’t in counselling because I had a major mental health issue that needed addressing. Rather, because after going through bereavement counselling I realised that there were improvements I wanted to make for myself. I wanted to be happier in myself than I was. I wanted to live life to the fullest.

I’ve got such high standards of parenting from my Mum and Dad. I’ve written about what good parents they are before in ‘The vulnerable side of creativity’, but around Christmas time I’m reminded even more of the things they did to make my childhood so happy. When I was little they used to put up all the Christmas decorations once my brother and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. We’d wake up on Christmas morning to find not only a stocking at the end of the bed, but that the whole house had been decorated by Father Christmas and his elves. It was magical. Of course we had the normal arguments and fallings out over the years but all in all, they made my childhood pretty amazing. We had plenty of time with them, always on adventures, getting outside and close to nature. As I’ve got older they’ve always been the right balance of supportive, but respecting my independence. I have a lot to live up to.

So it was such an amazing thing to work through before taking this huge journey. Counselling along with mindfulness meditation and getting outside and back to nature helped me become the best version of myself. I was entering into this new phase of my life in a really good place.

And so, I became a mum.

And reality bites. Right from the outset I struggled with breastfeeding and bought a load of books to work out how to improve. I was stubborn and preserved through pain to carry on as I knew it was best for my little boy. I felt like I’d fallen at the first hurdle. But you can’t ‘learn’ breastfeeding from books. It was tough, it needed practice, I needed to use my intuition, I needed to get to know my boy. We needed to get to know each other. We needed trust and patience and time. We needed love. I’m glad that we’ve reached 7 months and still breastfeeding, but looking back I was a bit of a martyr.

I’ve always been anxious over too much choice. In this internet age I think parenting is even more overwhelming. At the touch of a button you can get every opinion under the sun on absolutely every topic (even things you hadn’t been concerned about). You can slip into a rabbit warren of information. Breast feeding, sleeping, weaning, illnesses, milestones, routines… Every tiny little thing, every decision there is to be made, I worry whether it is the right one. Every day I go from being super relaxed and trusting my instinct, to doubting myself and wanting to make a well researched and well informed decision, armed with all the facts. In fact, this isn’t just on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hourly.

There have been times I have called my parents in tears worrying about what I’m doing wrong when the boy is just really grizzly or he won’t sleep. When he’s had a little eczema I wonder whether it is the solids, the washing powder, an allergy, just normal for his age. When he’s not sleeping I worry about whether I’ve made the wrong call feeding him to sleep, cuddling him or rocking him for all his naps.

I know this is par for the course of being a parent. You worry. About everything.

But I’ve been starting to fall back into old habits. I’ve been going a bit crazy researching everything. I’ve been reading and reading and reading some more. I end up with a ton of information, conflicting opinions, complete overwhelm and an inability to move forward. And then I cry, desperate to find the perfect solution. He’s just so perfect that I want to be the perfect parent.

A couple of days ago I think everyone had had enough of my constant worrying. David told me to get a grip and stop crying. He is incredibly patient with me when I’m really struggling with my anxiety but he also knows exactly when I’ve reached the point when I need tough love. My parents know the same. Literally an hour later my mum told me I need to stop reading so much, get rid of the books and just trust my instinct.

So, I wiped away the tears, I took a few deep breaths.

I’m putting away the parenting books. I’m giving Google a rest. I’m being more mindful of what I’m reading on social media, and the opinions I’m listening to.

Parenting is tough and wonderful in equal measure. It’s being present and shed loads of love, but there is no ‘perfect’ in parenting.

Right now, I’m remembering that quote again. If you care, you can’t go too far wrong.

And I don’t think I could care more.