Category Archives: Articles

02Sep/19

Healthy Blog roundup

Last year I became the BritMums health & fitness roundup editor and since then have published loads of healthy blog roundups, tips, recipes and more. Here’s the best for you to enjoy and be inspired from.

BritMums is a parenting website and online community to discuss all things motherhood in a supportive, non-judgemental environment. They also have some fantastic articles, some in house and some from contributors such as myself.

I’ll be updating this blog regularly when new articles and roundup posts get published on the BritMums website, and you can keep up to date with my articles yourself here.

I’ll be talking about all things health and fitness (duh) including recipes, exercise tips, mindset stuff, seasonal topics and more so make sure to check back once a month for the latest article!

Health: 10 podcasts to help you be a happy, healthy mum

 

Healthy Book Reviews: Books to help you glow this summer

 

Health: School holiday ideas to keep the family healthy

 

Health & Fitness: How to nail World Vegan Month

Healthy Christmas drinks you actually want to have at parties

How getting fit could improve your love life

How to spot an eating disorder

Mother’s Day Gift Guide: Healthy ideas for a happy mum

Stress Awareness Month: How to cope as a stressed-out Mum

5 ‘No equipment’ exercises to do in your garden this spring

Health: Healthy Ice Cream

 

11Jul/19

Me, where are you? On finding yourself after Motherhood

It was one dark cosy evening in November when I sobbed and screamed on the sofa while my husband sat there utterly bewildered. Why had this caring selfless wife and mother suddenly changed her mind? 

Let’s go back to 1997, with the body of an 18-year-old. An early developer, put me in a mini skirt, heels and low-cut top, find a random bloke to take me by the arm to walk me in, and that’s how I ended up beginning my clubbing career at 13 years old.

Over the next 10 years I would party until dawn (no my parents couldn’t stop me), I was a groupie to boybands, stalking TV studios and hotels at unearthly hours, pulled all-nighters on beaches on family holidays and fraternised with inappropriate boyfriends including having to visit one in prison 500 miles away from where I lived with no money and not telling anyone where I was going. Needless to say, I’m here to tell the tale. After being accepted to a prestigious stage school I then went on to develop a serious eating disorder and was hospitalised three times before being diagnosed as being on the Bipolar spectrum.

So when I met my future husband in a local pub and we got a house together, I was more than happy to settle down. I’ve done life. I’ve seen things. I’ve experienced and tested and tried and pushed the boundaries and now I was finally ready to make a home and be a Mummy. And I got the two beautiful little girls I’d always dreamed of.

So why was I so hysterical on this night, feeling so frustrated, so tied down, so trapped.

The time of year is not insignificant. My birthday is early December. Another year, another fine line or grey hair found. It started at 29 when at 30 I finally cut off my bum-length hair because I didn’t feel it fitted my age any more. The following year I booked a pole dancing party for my birthday with friends. This time, approaching 35 (half way to 40!) the numbers were looking scary.

And that’s not to say that the number of your age matters at all. It’s just a number, you are the age you choose to be……..they tell us. Well that’s not how I feel however hard I try and reason with myself. Because every year is another year I won’t get back, another year of achieving, what?

The kids are alive and well and happy so yay! But that’s not enough is it Mums?

Don’t get me wrong it’s not like I’ve never gone out in 10 years (my eldest turns double digits in 2019). Having my own fitness business has taken me to events, and I’ve met some cool people, and there’s even been a couple of after parties thrown in and a 2-day trip to America (one time). But that averages about twice a year over 10 years, hardly a social life.

My husband is self-employed with no set schedule or routine, and he’s often back late, either due to work of because he’s popped into a friend’s or the pub on the way home, and I have no issue with this at all, because life is for living and enjoying spontaneous moments. Except, where’s mine?

Getting a babysitter isn’t easy, I’ve never been happy leaving them with someone they don’t know well and I’m well aware being less controlling here would have given me more freedom, so even other parents seemed to stop asking me out to drinks or meals, knowing I’d probably turn it down. And should I stay up past 10pm? It’s me who has to be up the next morning either way. Oh, the days of eating cereal in bed watching the Hollyoaks omnibus until midday…….

We live in a fairly quaint but also sociable village in rural Sussex, so not exactly Soho but there’s a social life to be had if you choose to. Hubby has a handful of good mates he sees but more than that he has freedom. It’s a given that as the children’s primary carer if he wants to ‘pop out’ he just does, with no planning. I on the other in have to schedule in when to pick up milk.

He even took a 6-month trip sailing down the Mediterranean coast with a friend as the trip of a lifetime, something that shocked most other Mums. ‘How could you let him do that?’ ‘How do you cope?’. 1. It’s not a case of ‘let him’, he’s not a dog and can make his own decisions. 2. On a practical level I do everything at home anyway so I ‘cope’ better because I don’t have a third overgrown child to pick up after. 3. Travel is amazing, and I knew it would make him a bigger, better person.

Makes him sound like a selfish pig doesn’t it? That’s not what I want to imply at all. We are the centre of his world and our relationship is utterly amazing, even more so after he went away as we realised how much we needed each other, if not for practical reasons then because we’re soul mates.

But, and I repeat, where’s my time?

And so when I dared to mention he was getting bored living in this little village without the fun that places like Brighton and London (both places we’ve lived before) bring, I snapped.

HE was bored? HE felt trapped? HE doesn’t get out enough? HE has so few friends? I realised my ‘friends’ in the area hadn’t asked me out in…..I can’t remember how long. Because I will always say no. I couldn’t remember the last time I went out just for fun and not something work related. Do I even own a party dress?

But this was just compounding on an already difficult issue. My Step-Mum’s cancer diagnosis was announced terminal, and though we don’t have a time line and she could have many years left, it’s been a shocking realisation for my family that life is too short.

And I wasn’t going to do it anymore. Waiting for the right time. Putting things off. Telling myself I’ve had my fun and it’s time to settle down now. I felt like I was being suppressed into this model Mum and wife who disapproved of sweets on weekdays and thinks a late night isn’t worth the next morning. I felt like I was going to burst and if I didn’t get some release in a controlled way it was going to happen in an uncontrolled way. As someone prone to mental health issues, that’s not a risk you take lightly but equally, why not? Why can’t I go out and have fun? Be irresponsible and flighty and careless and…….just live life for the moment?

Who says we don’t have the money to visit X or go to Y? Why can’t the kids stay at so-and-so’s for a sleepover? They’ll probably enjoy it. Something in the paper look cook? Let’s do it! Do it now, book it now, figure it out later, clean up after.

And so began a new chapter. I booked myself onto weekly pole dancing classes (something I’d wanted to do for ages, but evenings were such a nightmare getting out of the house). I spent birthday vouchers on a couple of party dresses and got my hair highlighted. I went to the pub with hubby, to a bar with friends, to a Christmas meal with my pole-classmates. Boyzone concert with my sisters? Done Magic Mike Live with my high school bestie? Done. Visiting the Lake District (something I’ve always wanted to do)? Tick. Late night? Nothing coffee, dissolvable vitamin C and a big bowl of porridge can’t at least help.

Kids are fed pizza sometimes? Fine. Bathroom didn’t get cleaned? It can wait. Because it’s not just my social life I’ve got back, I’m more relaxed about everything. My Step-Mum came to stay with us on my birthday weekend and I wanted to make sure the house was clean and tidy, especially since her immunity was low from the chemo. She said something that stick with me – ‘Remember I’m coming to see you not your house’. And how right she was. None if us will look back on life in our final days and wish the kitchen floor wasn’t so grubby. That hangover was forgotten a long time ago. The credit card was paid off eventually and the holiday was worth every penny of interest.

If I only ever wanted to achieve one thing in life it was to be a Mummy, and to ideally have a little girl, who I’d call Aurora. As Aurora approaches her 10th birthday party and is growing closer to being an independent teenager every day, and as Mum grits through another chemo session, and as I go through every November realising there’s another number coming up, I’m reminded that life is so, so short.

I love being a Mummy but I love other things too and I need me, and I want the people in my life to live each of their days to the full too. It’s too easy to get consumed by the packed lunches and reading folders and taxying to clubs and giving the cat the flea stuff and occasionally even cleaning the microwave. But there’s more to that than life, much, much more. And I’ve finally got me back at last.

28Jun/19

When Your Child is Suddenly Admitted to Hospital

It was a regular cough-cold followed by a regular tummy bug. But nothing could have prepared me as a parent for the trauma of my child being rushed to hospital with severe but undiagnosable symptoms that left her getting sicker by the minute.

I originally wrote this for parenting website The Motherload here, but it’s something I think could comfort other parents who’ve had a very poorly child, knowing there’s others who understand.

12 hours passed….it’s a tummy bug, no big deal. 24, still a bug, a nasty one. 48…doctor’s appointment booked for later that day. Two hours before the appointment I called 111, six year old Bella was in so much pain I was contemplating A&E there and then. But they reassured us we could hold on to see the GP, who that afternoon decided that even if it was just gastroenteritis, 6-year-old Bella was getting dehydrated and needed some fluids overnight. ‘Cancel your plans for tomorrow’, I told hubby. ‘We’ll be there at least until the morning’. I grabbed a phone charger and pair of clean pants on my way out the door.

But as soon as we got to the children’s ward at our local hospital, she just kept getting worse. The cramps – she was screaming that her belly button was ‘stinging’. The vomit was forest green. She was pale and clammy. They did blood tests and x-rays and scans, and it all showed crazily high levels of inflammation, but not why.

After ruling out appendicitis we were transferred by ambulance to the children’s specialist hospital in Southampton. The pain got worse. She was now screaming for 15 minutes non-stop, still couldn’t keep even a drop of water down (at least the drip was keeping her semi-hydrated now), the vomit was still coming – with no food or fluids it was pure, dark green bile. Doctors came, more tests and scans were done. Nothing was found.

She was weak, scared, delusional with malnutrition and dehydration. What’s wrong with my baby? Why can nobody help her?

Two days passed. The only thing calming my fear was the medical staff’s attention to detail and determination to keep her safe and find out what was wrong. I can’t fault them in any way. But my baby was in pain and I couldn’t help her. I slept on the camp bed next to her but when I say slept, she was up every hour in pain, vomiting, or being woken for tests.

Then the diarrhoea started and we were moved to an isolation ward until it was tested for bacterial infections. They came back normal. And when I say diarrhoea, I mean Bella had absolutely no control of her bowels, and I had to lie that the pull up nappies we put her in were grown up kids’ hospital pants, since she didn’t want to be ‘a baby’. But when I say diarrhoea, she was ejecting blood.

I wanted to scream and cry, someone do something, please somebody help my little girl, what’s wrong with her? But it wouldn’t have helped. The staff were doing everything. They had her under close watch 24/7. But until we knew what was wrong, they couldn’t stop it.

A nasal tube was inserted, but not without a fight. My normally delightful little princess was doing the 6-year-old equivalent of effing and blinding, screaming at us like she was possessed. She’s not eaten or drank for days, she was in pain, by now clinically malnourished, scared and confused.

It was like a scene from The Exorcist; ‘I hate you! Go away! Get off me! Get it [the tube] out of me! Let me go! I want to go home! I hate you all you’re the worse people in the world! This is the worst place ever and I hate you all!’.

I fought back the tears and gritted my teeth to stop myself from screaming as I pinned her arms down to stop her pulling the tube out. I tried bribing her saying she could have any toy she wanted, any family day out, anything…. if she kept the tube in. Out of exhaustion she drifted off to sleep a few times, only to remember the tube and start screaming again and I’d have to hold her down. After 30 minutes she vomited the tube right up and the staff decided not to try again.

Morphine was prescribed, the IV fluids were still going in, she was stable, but not improving in any way. And then the rash came. I spotted it while helping her onto the commode, a few red dots around her knee. Within minutes there was more on her shoulder, then ankles…..and it wasn’t fading. She had no other symptoms of meningitis but what I knew of the condition, time is off the essence and I insisted on testing for it. The nurses responded immediately to my request, but again, it came back normal.

Five days in and I’d gone from scared to distraught to angry and back again, and was now starting to feel nothing more than hopeless and helpless as my sweet little girl who wouldn’t hurt a fly was deteriorating before my eyes. Just find out what’s wrong with her? Please? How long is this going to go on? When will my baby be ok again? Other children in the ward came and went, in for short, planned stays for a minor op or short-term problem. The staff shifts came and went, we got to know the nurses by name, we fell into a routine of medication and observational tests and me grabbing five minutes to go to the café to get myself food while Bella slept (often not until gone 2 pm, by which time I may not have washed or got dressed either) and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s funny, but if I put to you the prospect of having to stop life at a moment’s notice, cancel all plans, leave home with no possessions and rearrange, well, everything (I also have a 10 year old daughter I am the main carer of….it’s me who gets the school bag ready and takes to dance classes and makes sure teeth are brushed.). But when it happens, everything else seems unimportant. The house will be a mess, so what?

Homework might not be done on time, the washing will pile up, emails will be ignored, bills will be paid late, I’ll miss meetings and cancel social events. None of it matters and it’s all just trivia. Why does it take events like this for us to realise these things?

It was a junior doctor who brought the news that was as heart breaking as it was a relief to finally have an answer. Bella has an autoimmune condition called HSP (Henoch-Schönlein Purpura). Her body is attacking its own blood vessels hence the rash and bloody diarrhoea, and her whole intestinal lining is inflamed. Like all autoimmune conditions, there is no known cause, no cure, and treatment is keeping the person stable while you wait for the episode to be over. Best case scenario some kids are at home on the sofa for a day before going back to school. Our worst outcome? Weeks if not months in hospital, permanent kidney damage, and recurring relapses for years to come.

I should have at least been relieved to know what the diagnosis was, but I wasn’t. I pictured my bright as a button, top of the class daughter missing out on school and her social circle. Going abroad on holiday would always be a fear in case she needed medical attention. She could need round the clock care for weeks at home. What sort of life is that for a little girl? Why can’t she just be normal and be able to do all the things she wants to do, whenever she wants to? Why does life have to be so cruel?

Night times were the worst, as in the peace and darkness among the dim strip lighting and beeping of machines and hushed voices of night staff I had time to think. She lay there skinny, weak, sedated with morphine, strapped to tubes and wires and machines, punctured with dots and bruises from all the blood tests and IVs.

Do you ever wonder who’s in charge of our universe and think, whoever you are, please just tell me why? Two weeks ago she was skipping all the way to school and fighting with her sister. I wish she had the energy to fight now.

The steroids were started. Every urine collected was dip tested. A ‘picc’ line was inserted and she was fed all her daily nutrition through the drip. There was nothing we could do but wait and watch. 10 days into hospital and more than two weeks’ after she’d first been sick at home, I’d resigned myself to this new routine now. I had no idea when we’d be going home and the passive acceptance of that was strangely mellowing. We just went with it, going through the daily routines of hospital life.

The time together was special. The cuddles, the rubbing her back and feet to relax her, reading stories, and when she had more energy, doing the crafts and puzzles in the magazines she was given by friends and family. Never had I had so much uninterrupted time with Bella. It was something I decided to continue back home. Proper Mummy time. The washing can wait.

But turn around she did, and while steroids are a last resort and doctors don’t like to use them, slowly Bella started to be awake more. She started asking for food. And two weeks after we were admitted, she could go home.

I should have been elated and relieved but I was scared. This wasn’t a broken leg. What if she gets worse again? How can I keep my baby safe when I’m not medically trained? How will I know if she’s ready to go back to school? I was given information sheets, checklists, urine dipsticks, medications and prescriptions, and presumably their trust in me that I could do this. It’s the ultimate ‘am I a good enough Mum’ panic when it’s literally their life in your hands.

But West Sussex have an incredible HSP after care service and Bella has a nurse who visits every week. All the tests are done, Bella eats well, has gained weight, and at the time of writing has just started iron since she’s anaemic, so her energy levels improve each day too. Three weeks after discharge she manages a full day at school most days, and while she goes to bed early and doesn’t have as much energy as she used to yet, she’s making slow and steady progress.

While Bella will very likely make a full recovery (her kidneys have so far thankfully been fine) and she may never relapse, it’s a fear that’s not left the back of my mind. Holding your weak and thin child over a pot while she excretes bowls of blood, violently throws up everything her liver produces and screams in pain like she’s being tortured, is not something any parenting book will teach you how to deal with.

Trying to keep calm and sooth her with ‘It’s okay sweetie, Mummy’s here’, when all you want to do is scream and shout and cry at the top of your voice for someone to help your baby.

You must hold it in because letting it out doesn’t help. The medical staff are doing everything they can and me getting upset would only scare Bella more.

I’m not sure I ever really got to release all of those emotions. Nobody apart from other parents in similar situations would ever really understand. So I decided to write about it and maybe give other parents a place where they can respond and relate and know that what they’ve been through – there’s others here who have too.

Nothing in this blog is intended as medical advice or to diagnose. I’m not medically trained. But Mums know when something isn’t right. If you’re worried go to your doctor. If it’s more serious it may well be horrific for both you and your child. But they’re in good hands.

02Jun/19

10 Reasons Pole Dancing has made me feel like a woman again

Who has time to feel sexy as a Mum? Stretchmarks, cellulite, jelly belly, greasy hair (where would we be without dry shampoo?!), post-breastfeeding boobs (read; low, saggy), and little people who zap all our energy before we even put our winceyette pyjamas on the right way around.

But I hadn’t forgotten what it was like to feel young, free and frisky. Those Summer parties where balmy nights meant a skirt short enough to bother your mother and a top low enough to impress the boys (your boobs stayed up back then), and who had time for a coat? You probably had a condom in your purse though, because that was responsible.

And then motherhood and homes and bins and washing and cooking and separating squabbles happened. And sexy died.

I met Karen at a networking meeting and even I, with my hedonistic teenage years ticked off raised my eyebrows when she said she ran a pole dancing school. This was a few years ago and pole-fitness was only just kicking off. Was pole dancing actually a sport? Apparently so. It sounded fun.

I booked a pole-birthday party with a few friends a couple of years later and even though some of my pals aren’t quite as ‘adventurous’ as me, we all had a hilarious time and agreed it was so much fun, and way more physically trying than we’d envisaged. But even so, with small children at home and very little childcare I didn’t even consider the possibility of attending regular classes.

Then last year that changed, I made a commitment (and made my husband promise he’d be home in time, not as hard as I’d thought once I showed him what I’d be able to do  ), and now I’m kicking myself with stripper heels I didn’t start years ago. Because what do Mum’s miss most about their ‘old’ life? ‘Me’ time, to be not just a wife, mother, bum wiper, packed lunch maker, but a woman, a real, sexy woman.

Here’s 10 reasons pole dancing is so brilliant for Mums:

  1. It’s brilliant for body confidence.

There is literally no ‘ideal’ pole dancer body, despite what you may have seen in ads for strip clubs. People of all shapes and sizes and ages have attended the classes I go to, from teenagers to women in their 70’s, skinny to much bigger. And what people look like is absolutely no indication of their strength or ability on the pole. You don’t have to look a certain way to be able to do pole dancing and that makes it an incredibly accepting community. Being physically strong is also incredibly empowering. There seems to be this mind-muscle connection where, if you are physically stronger, you are stronger in other emotional ways and feel more able to deal with what life throws at you.

  1. It opens your mind.

Is pole dancing for tarts and strippers? Is wanting to look sexy demeaning and undermining other female values like intelligence? Is performing less important than, say, more conventional sports competitions? Not in the pole world. What we do, what we wear and how we dance has absolutely no reflection on other parts of ourselves. Some people who pole dance have high powered jobs, follow current affairs like politics and climate change, are caring responsible mothers, do charity work, are highly religious or compete in other sports. It’s the most non-judgemental group of people I’ve ever met.

  1. It’s a close friendship community.

And because not everyone understands point 2. and being comfortable with your body (1.) are very ‘heart on your sleeve’ declarations, the people you meet in class you’ll likely bond with and be able to open up to. It’s a fantastic grounding for a good friendship based on trust and honesty.

  1. Pole is fantastic for post-baby non-core strength.

Pole requires you to use your entire core, top to bottom, front to back and round the sides. Every single muscle is needed, making it way more effective than endless sit ups and crunches.

  1. Tone up, get strong, improve your lung & heart fitness, lose weight….all in one class

Pole dancing is a mix of strength and cardio, so you use all our muscles at one point or other depending on the move (including your back – a strong back = way less back ache), and you’ll need stamina and a strong heart and lungs to keep going; you can’t just drop off the pole when you get tired or you could crack your head or land on your neck the wrong way! That being said, you can start at all levels and fitness abilities – even if you turn up completely out of shape, weak, and hot having a clue, by the end of your first class you’ll have learnt something and progressed a little.

  1. You’re forced to focus – mentally and physically.

On note 5, if you don’t concentrate you could slip up. Teachers are there to keep you safe and make sure you only do things when you’re ready to, and there are mats while you’re learning something new, but ultimately messing around is dangerous pole needs to be taken seriously. For that reason it’s great for making you put more effort in when you feel lazy, and for forgetting all the stresses of home while you concentrate on the task at hand.

  1. It’s not always sexy.

Trust me when I say learning a move for the first time is clumsier and more awkward than graceful and sexy! And if you want to just use it as a physical fitness class, feel free to leave all sass behind and just get a good workout in. There are all sorts of competitions for all levels in the pole world, and even a finished routine can have any type of theme such as poetic or arty, not just a ‘classic’ sexy one.

  1. But it can be sexy if you want it to be.

Because sick and sore nipples and fish fingers and tummy holding pants are not sexy. Yet we are sexy (were?), so how did life become so very unsexy?! Well, here’s your chance for a recap. You probably do know how to look, feel and move in a sexy way, you’ve just forgotten, and the last time you pulled out your sass was at a 21st birthday party and you were rather drunk. Pole dancing can bring that goddess back out and trust me you’ll welcome her with open arms. You sex life may well improve and not because you know how to please your partner better, but because you feel more comfortable in your own body, which is a seriously underrated necessity in the bedroom.

  1. Pole dancing is excellent for flexibility and co-ordination.

Struggling in your yoga class or rival ‘Dad-dancing’ in the embarrassing stakes? No one ever said you had to bee good at these things. But if you want to, pole dancing will really help to improve both.

  1. Pole dancing is emotionally healing.

The number of stories I’ve read of women starting pole dancing during a difficult time in their lives is astonishing. Whether it’s their one night out a week, or because they needed to start looking after themselves physically as being healthy makes other areas of life more manageable, or because they were feeling lost and needed to discover who they were as a woman without anyone judging them, everyone I’ve met has a story. And each and every one has felt stronger emotionally by taking this one hour a week to do this for themselves. Sometimes there’s anger, frustration, tears and hugs. Sometimes there’s giggles from start to finish. It all comes out. My own pole journey started at a time when big life decisions (moving home), very sick family members, and my own personal mental health struggles were fighting for first place. Pole dancing gives me a bit of strength to stay standing through it all.

And that’s what it really comes down to as a mother isn’t it? We put so much time, effort, mental and emotional energy into everyone else, we forget that we need these things too. Pole dancing is my time, when I’m not a wife, or a mother, or a homemaker or business owner, I’m just me.

26Nov/18

New BritMums Health & Fitness Roundup Editor

I’m very excited to be the new BritMums Health & Fitness Round-up Editor!

BritMums is a community website for Mums to chat, read, learn, find out what’s going on in the world or parenting and find like minded parents in the same stage of life.

Health & Fitness Roundup blogs will be published monthly.

My first roundup was for World Vegan Month and can be found here.

The second post, Healthy Christmas Drinks, is here.

All future and past posts can be found on my author page here.

16May/18

10 absolute must-do’s for staying mentally well and happy

My medical notes are piled high on the consultant’s desk. Complex, is a very mild way of putting my mental health history. In fact I was even used as a ‘demonstration’ at Southampton University, giving talks to psychology students about my experiences, to help them with their studies.

I shouldn’t really be here at all, if my prognosis is anything to go by. Once you go above a certain threshold; a number of relapses, numerous and mixed conditions, unresponsive to therapies and medications, you get put into the ‘chronic’ category where one is destined to be in and out of hospitals and treatments before dying prematurely either through physical complications like heart failure (from eating disorders) or suicide.

This blog was originally published on Mumspiration, click here to read it there.

But despite the serious nature of mental health illnesses and the degree to which I struggled, I’m here to tell the tale, stronger than ever, and hopefully by sharing my story I can inspire and give hope to others suffering behind an ‘invisible’ illness that has no proven cure.

I didn’t see the eating disorders team for the first time until I was 18, but the first time I made myself sick I was only 12. I was diagnosed with depression alongside anorexia, but I’m pretty sure the recurring headaches and sick bugs I got as a child were my way of expressing this. Children aren’t able to make clear how they feel mentally, so often childhood mental illnesses manifest in physical ways. The blood tests when I was 8 showed up nothing, so the doctor said it was for attention. He was probably right, in a round about way; after all my parents had got divorced and remarried recently, all big changes for a young child.

I did my best to control my own discontent, dabbling in everything from painkiller abuse to self-harm and had borderline OCD. I was sectioned and have resided in no less than 4 different psychiatric hospitals, often for months at a time. I attempted suicide twice.

Then one day, a sunny spring afternoon when I was recently out of hospital and having a diet coke with a couple of friends in the local pub garden, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. One of my friends told us she was pregnant, the other that she was now engaged to be married. It was a tuning point; I was being left behind in this thing called ‘life’ and one thought remained…that I wanted to have a little baby girl of my own one day.

The journey upwards was tough, really tough, and I have so much respect for anyone who has overcome mental difficulties as I know how hard it is. But this time I really wanted it, and now I stay pretty well, and medication free, with a strict regime of my own medicine, as I’ll describe below. I even managed to get married and have not one but two miracle little girls of my own.

At first they’ll look too simple. Normal, everyday things that are good for everyone surely?

Well yes, but for me they are a must. The following list is my daily medication and I absolutely must do them to stay well. I will take my own snacks on outings, be late for social events if I needed a few minutes ‘me time’ before going out, and make my kids walk, moaning, in the rain if I have to.

Being selfish and putting my mental health first is the only way I stay well, and if that means being a bit stubborn so that ultimately I can be a better Mum, wife, daughter, sister and person in general, then so be it.

Here are my 10 absolute must-do’s for staying mentally well and happy:
1. Sunlight
Sunlight boosts serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. It also boosts vitamin D, which in turn boosts energy and mood.

2. Fresh air
This goes hand in hand with sunlight, but is a separate mood booster in itself. As my Mum says, let’s go and ‘blow away the cobwebs’. I’m more of a fan of warm and dry than windy, personally, but I agree with windy days being invigorating when you’re stuck in a warm stuffy house in Winter.

3. Walking
If you’re going to get fresh air and sunlight you may as well walk at the same time and get some exercise benefits too. The rhythmic nature of walking is thought to be why it’s an active form of meditation. Bonus points for walking in nature like parks and woodland; greenery is highly beneficial to your mood. We walk to school in all but the most dire of weather, and enjoy a little chat on the way too. It’s lovely time between the girls and I when at home there’s always chores to distract me.

4. Exercise
In addition to walking, formal, intense exercise is my daily therapy. I use workouts like some use a literal punch bag; pounding and pushing the stress away. It’s also highly effective in short bursts when you’re feeling wound up – a few jump squats can be as good as counting to 10 when kids wind you up!

5. Good food
I learned the hard way, though being very ill with anorexia, how lack of nourishment will ruin not just your body but your brain too. Food isn’t the enemy; it’s life giving when you eat well. A happy brain needs nourishments and nutrients. Positive eating yields positive mental energy. Don’t make it complicated; less junk, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, minimally processed food, good fats and plenty of protein.

6. Sleep
Less than 8 hours and I can already feel the effects. Less than 6? I’m a nightmare. Yes we’re all busy. But trust me on this one you won’t be losing time if you prioritise sleep, because you’ll be that much more effective in getting things done when you’re awake. I’m in bed reading by 9pm if I can help it.

7. Meditation
Like sleep, condensed, meditation is a way of calming your body and mind and is proven in scientific studies to be highly restorative for both body and mind. If like me you’re hopeless and quieting your monkey-mind, use an app like Headspace which guides you though the process. Just 10 minutes daily is beneficial.

8. Fun
As a working Mum I don’t get much time for socialising, so I make sure to prioritise the things I really want to do and people I really want to see. That means saying no to endless coffee mornings and drinks at the pub, but I’m fully there and 100% happy when it matters, whether that’s giggling over some trashy TV with my husband a couple of nights a week, or drinking tea and chatting to my Mum on a Sunday afternoon.

9. Hugs
Hugs instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Air kisses don’t count; when I need a hug I’ll turn to my husband and kids, and we all feel better immediately.

10. Priorities
I’m a perfectionist and driven, and typically want to do everything, now! But that only leads to overwhelm. Some things just don’t need doing (ironing?!) and others can wait because today is full enough. Not rushing to cram as much as possible into each day, and instead taking time to think and reflect and just be in the moment, was one of the biggest and most profound mindset changes I made last year. I’ve never felt more at peace without the feeling there’s always the next opportunity to chase.

Have you overcome or are struggling with mental health problems? Come and join in the conversation and get support in my Free Facebook Group Here.

16May/18

Daft Things We Do as First Time Parents (that never made life easier)

Having a baby is a massive decision for anyone, but for first time parents? THE biggest overhaul life will ever take.

 

With constant pressure to keep up with those parents who are breezing through it getting everything perfectly right, combined with Mother Nature’s blessing in disguise that makes us mothers settle for no less than perfect, and the standards are set high.

 

Now throw in the fact that, for baby #1 at least, we don’t have a fricken’ clue what we’re doing, inevitably we’re going to end up in a whirl of combined panic, anxiety and over protection, not to mention overspending, while trying to produce the next ‘happiest, healthiest, smartest child ever’.

 

I’m the eldest of eight kids (yes, 8), the youngest being 16 years my junior, so I KNOW what babies involve. On a knowledge level, I was fully equipped to keep a baby alive, so if I fell prey to this new Mum neuroticism then I can only begin to imagine what less experienced parents must feel.

 

One day someone WILL write that elusive handbook on how to be a parent (in the real-world sense). Until then, here’s some of the daft things I did as a first-time parent that, in hindsight, didn’t make life any easier whatsoever.

 

  1. Listened to Classical music while pregnant.

Apparently this develops baby’s brain, improving chances of emotional wellbeing and high intelligence. My Eminem DVD’s were banned. No swear words in the house from now on.

 

  1. Went to pregnancy Pilates and swimming lessons.

Because we will be a healthier, calmer mother to be and have short, easy, pain-free labours. Oh, the naivety.

 

  1. Worried that every niggle, twinge and unfamiliar sensation was a medical emergency.

By #2 we’re just so grateful if we got through a day without vomiting.

 

  1. Bought a top and tail bowl.

I still don’t know what this is for?

 

  1. Bought hundreds of pounds worth of baby phonics DVD’s, books and matching word cards set.

These never saw the light of day with #2 (because I would just put on whatever kept #1, now a toddler, happy, for some peace). For the record, child #2 is the best reader in her class. #1 is on the ‘extra help’ list.

 

  1. We kept charts of every feed.

Which boob, how long, what time (start and end), or ml of bottle milk. But we panicked because every time they threw up (which was often), we couldn’t measure it, so lost track of exactly what they’ve ingested.

 

  1. At the other end (sorry), poo is no longer a taboo subject, but an important health marker.

How many times today? Too hard or soft? Colour?

 

  1. Sleep monitoring.

Theirs not ours (nothing to monitor for us, no sleep here…). How long? What time? Nap duration? How quickly did they fall asleep? When should they stop napping? Why didn’t they nap today? Oh God I need a nap!

 

  1. Measuring growth.

The red book has spoken. Your child is not growing ‘averagely’. They are far too big/small/fat/thin/tall/have big feet / hands are too small in relation to their forearms…..

 

  1. Sterilise everything.

The conflict between strong enough anti-bacterials and minimal chemicals is real. And once crawling starts, we wipe the floor with anti-bacterial wipes when in public spaces, just in case.

 

  1. Anything non-organic is now poison.

Never mind we haven’t really bought organic food in the past. From now on it’s organic even if we have to re-mortgage the house.

 

What daft things did you do with your first born?! Do let me know in the comments!
31Mar/18

Why Do We Have To Make Lists For Daddy?

Every time I go out for longer than half a day, child-free, I have to make a list as long and comprehensive as the NHS budget report just to make sure the  day runs smoothly.

Read This where it was originally published on The Motherload website here

Your first thought; “You went out for the day?!”

No, not very often (I run my business from home during school hours), but very occasionally I’ll have a work-related trip to London which entails a 6:34am train to Waterloo, leaving Daddy in charge.

Now I don’t know about your significant other, but mine seems to think being ‘the parent’ is easy; they are old enough (5 and 8) to dress themselves and even get basic non-heated, no-knife foodstuffs, but on a typical school day there are just a few more details in between.

And we’re not talking days like ‘Bella – ballet day’.

Oh no, that particular scenario would require:

1. Start prepping tea early so that they can eat right after ballet.

2. Snack after school – oat biscuits are in the red tin by the cereal.

3. Ballet bag is ready for you on the sofa – she needs to be dressed by 4:45.

4. She wears coat too, it’s cold by the time she comes out.

5. 4:50 set off – lots of traffic so need extra time.

6. Buy Aurora hot chocolate while Bella is in ballet. NO sweets.

7. Tea as soon as home, they’ll be starving.

You get the idea.

A whole day out? The list gets pretty long.

It’s not the big stuff he’ll forget. It’s the details. Vests when it’s cold. Sun cream in summer. And no, 8 hair clips randomly placed does not counter not brushing hair.

What’s Dad’s usual response?

Well, six times out of ten I’ll get a call mid-morning from school asking if the kids are sick, since they’re not there. My reply is ‘Daddy is in charge today while I’m away’. They understand.

If they do go to school, he won’t need to cook, because he’ll meet up with a single Dad friend and they’ll all go for pizza. The kids will stay out too late and then go to bed in their uniform. We’ll locate the book bags when I’m back the next day, and explain again to the very understanding teachers that ‘Daddy was in charge’.

Aforementioned ballet will probably be skipped, though this week I (smugly, I’ll admit) threw him because I have a sensible arrangement with a fellow Mum where one takes Aurora and her friend to tap dancing, the other collects, so he couldn’t get out of it. I did giggle to myself over that one.

For all the ‘why are you so tired, you don’t do anything’ comments I get during a typical week, you can guarantee Daddy has fallen into bed (also fully clothed) by the time I arrive home that evening.

I’m used to it and I don’t even resent it, but a day out is more than a military operation, and the one time I went away for 4 days (! – to America, including 2 days travelling) I actually got my mother-in-Law to stay. Four days would have finished him off.

The Aftermath

As I’m driving back from the station I’ll be anticipating the state of the kids, and the house. I’ll go through each step of the day and assess how it went like any real business-woman (or Army Sergeant) would.

Did they eat breakfast? Doesn’t look like it judging by the bowls of uneaten, soggy Weetabix still on the kitchen side, dried a little only because the cat has been helping herself (cat alive? Win).

The dishwasher is still full of clean plates, the wet washing is going rancid in the machine, the toothbrushes are dry and I’ve no idea where aforementioned ‘ballet bag’ is. They seem to have tried on every outfit they own at some point in the day, dirtied it, and left it on the floor. Perhaps this is a positive sign they were always clean and presentable?

It sounds like I have the worst husband ever that’s useless in every way right? Actually no, as my best friend and soul mate, there’s no one I’d rather spend my life with. He’s just good at other stuff.

And that’s fine with me, because after dealing with the possibility of not being able to have children, and yearning to be a Mummy, I’ll put up with anything knowing that I’ve got the most wonderful kids and a lovely home. Even if they are for the most part totally my responsibility. And so long as they’re alive and well, Daddy will do things his way.

As any Mum will know, a 14 hour day, child free, to be an adult and be able to switch off from having to make Weetabix correctly and remember the book bag, is the parental equivalent of a week at a spa in Bali.

I’m writing this on the train, by myself, hot cup of tea next to me, on my way back to the hurricane that will be my home in about an hour, refreshed and spirited after a day of metal rejuvenation. And I’ve blocked out tomorrow to clean the house.

Image credit: Mug by Lavender and Wolf

19Nov/17

The Truth About Being Pretty: Why Being Attractive Shouldn’t be so Attractive

A departure from my usual blog topics? Yes, but I felt it was something I needed to get off my chest, so wrote this post from the heart for Mum’s website The Motherload.

 

For what is a fairly controversial and potentially segregating subject, I hope that I’ve opened some eyes and dismissed the misunderstanding that to be traditionally good looking is always a positive. I’d love to hear your feedback after you’ve read it.

 

It was around my early teens that I noticed I was getting attention from men. Not just boys in my year at secondary school but in older years, and even adult males who didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps mind that I was in my school uniform as they’d chat me up in town after school, or on the beach on weekends where I’d hang out with my friends.

 

Far from being bothered, this was the self-esteem boost I’d needed after recently moving to the area and having to adjust and make new friends.

And what teenage girl doesn’t want to be made to feel attractive?

I learned as I grew up that leaning in at a bar (necessary due to my 5’3 stature) would get instant service, a smile could get the best table in a restaurant, free entry to a club, backstage entrance to a gig. I could get the attention of the most attractive man at a party, from models to celebrities. Yes, I exploited it and had fun. Heck, I was 18, and I was going to make the most of the party years. Some minor modelling work came along at various points over the years (I’m too short to take it seriously), so I even made money from how I looked.

It’s funny how the world has become so image obsessed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t part of that, but there’s a fine line between vanity and insecurity, and while I didn’t realise it at the time, my insecurities were brewing into a host of mental health problems that were to surface later on.

When asked if I’d rather be slim and pretty, or fat and ugly, the answer isn’t simple. The question itself is flawed. I’d rather be happy. If being attractive makes you happy then sure, take that. Unfortunately if it was that easy where to find best place for cosmetic surgery would be the answer. It’s never that easy, and while many people think I’m lucky, or have life easy, or am #blessed with wonderful genes, I’d like to shed light on a life that so many are craving.

There are two sides to every coin, including this one.

1. You will be seen first and foremost for your appearance

It’s not just blondes who are stereotyped. People think it’s not possible to have brains and looks. Okay, I may have fluttered my eyelashes to get out of a speeding fine once, but I’m not proud of it, and it says as much about the shallow policeman who let me go. Perhaps the reaction was encouraged by the fact I was wearing my beauty therapist uniform, another career choice put into the ‘all looks and no brains’ category.

Looking good becomes your identity. I’ve done a bit of modelling so it’s even on my CV. But that means people expect you to look good. Not in the way that it’s on their mind but if I turn up somewhere looking tired, with greasy hair, no make-up and premenstrual spots, it doesn’t go unnoticed. For many years I couldn’t let this go and would make the effort to live up to these expectations, which I think in hindsight were my own as well as others’. Thankfully age and confidence have both risen simultaneously, and I happily don’t give a damn if people start wondering if I actually own a shower. I’m pleased I’ve made this turn. Self-esteem built on looks is doomed. Even the most beautiful woman in the world will lose her looks eventually.

2. I’m young and inexperienced (except I’m not)

I remember when I was handed a leaflet in the street about a support group for young (aka teenage) mothers, as I waddled along 8 months pregnant with my first child. I had to hold my tongue not to go into a hormonal rage and wave the ring on my finger in the well-meaning social worker’s face. This isn’t to dismiss teenage or unmarried mothers at all – in fact my own sister is a fantastic young mum, but some people do have preconceived ideas about unplanned teen pregnancies, and I guess it said something about my own insecurities that it bothered me others may also have these judgemental ideas about me.

Now that Aurora is eight, nothing has changed. I ‘must have been a teen mum’ given I’m not old enough to have an eight year old. If I had been, it wouldn’t make a difference to what kind of mother I had become, but why is it that people feel it’s appropriate to make a point of it? You wouldn’t say to an older looking mother, ‘oh, they must have been an IVF baby, you’re too old to be a Mum’. And yes, it is the same thing

3. I have to work hard to be taken seriously

When people presume you are young and dumb, try walking into a business meeting and being taken seriously as a mature and level-headed business woman. I can hold my own very well on the phone but the looks on the bank manager or company owner or potential joint venture’s face doesn’t evade me; ‘she’s not a business woman, she’s just a girl’. It takes a while before they realise what comes out of my mouth isn’t all fluff, after all.

4. I’ve never had male friends

I’m actually quite a tomboy at heart, and with three brothers I understand the other kind quite well. But somewhere along the line a great budding friendship has always turned awkward when they try and make a move, or admit they’d like to be ‘more than friends’. Was it my fault? Was my friendliness giving the wrong impression? I don’t know. I thought being friendly was a good thing. I didn’t know it could so easily be misinterpreted.

I was at a marketing event recently and a lovely guy kept coming over to chat. About halfway through the second day he asked if I was single and I showed him my left hand and said actually I had two children too! He walked off and never spoke to me again. Shame, he was really sweet.

5. I have to be so careful of what my girls pick up

Any mum of girls knows it’s pretty much built into them from an early age, this instinct of wanting to look ‘pretty’ to attract a mate (though that last part thankfully hasn’t clicked in our house yet!). Whether it’s insisting on wearing a princess dress to the supermarket or plastering pink glitter on their eyelids, being pretty matters.

They are pretty girls, but that’s not what I want them to be valued for, and even more what they value themselves for. When friends and relatives call them pretty it angers me, and maybe this is an overreaction, but I wish they were called kind, or thoughtful, or generous, or someone said that they worked really hard at their painting. I don’t call my girls pretty. We must look presentable to go to a party, yes, and dresses and bows and shiny shoes are part of that for my girls (I never pushed this stereotype on them, I battle every winter for them to wear jeans outside when it’s cold; pink dresses always win). But that’s because self-pride is important. Making an effort for others is important. It’s a sign of respect to yourself and to your hosts. You don’t have to be conventionally ‘pretty’ to do that.

6. Male attention can turn bad

While a wolf whistle is nice on occasion, I noticed something as I was growing up that was different about the way these men behaved towards me compared to my friends. I was curvy as a teen – I had boobs worthy of page 3 (breastfeeding sadly said goodbye to those), and somehow wearing a fitted top (as you do, in your late teens) meant men felt they had license to pass all boundaries. It’s one thing getting a ‘hey chick’ across the street, quite another to be cornered, pushed up against a wall, boobs grabbed, and having to resort to kneeing them between the legs to escape.

7. Looks don’t make you happy

While most people think they know this, to really see how true this is you only need to look at my mental health history. I have recently been diagnosed with cyclothymia (a form of bipolar), was hospitalised three times with anorexia, complete with drug-resistant depression and organs that were failing. I’ve overdosed on legal drugs, self-harmed, and have to put my mental health first just to stay functioning on a daily basis. As a personal trainer who’s in okay shape, I frequently hear ‘it’s okay for you and your lack of wobbly bits’. No, it’s not ok for me. I wish it was, but it’s not. Exercise is my therapy, not beauty treatment.

Do I resent looking a certain way?

Absolutely not, I resent and regret nothing in life; I’ve always seen both as a little pointless. And I don’t blame or resent anyone who’s judged me on my looks, from the builder who pinned me up against a wall to the businessman who looked down at me to the dance teacher who casually stamped on my dreams saying I probably wasn’t good enough to get tonnes of work, but why not try modelling? Oddly enough, that was not why I’d spent nine hours a week training for the last six years. This was the same dance school where I’d been praised for being the only one who’d not gained weight over Christmas; I’d been vomiting and taking laxatives.

I hear some women say their looks have alienated them from making friends with other women who feel threatened and jealous. Thankfully that’s never been the case for me and I have some wonderful female friends, maybe even because I don’t want to rely on looks to get things and attract people; I’ll always be as good a person as I can be first and foremost.

In Dr Nancy Etcoff’s “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty”, she believes that appreciating beauty is not learned, but rather it is a biological adaptation. Research on infants’ perception shows that children as young as three months are staring at attractive faces longer than at unattractive ones. Uneven skin and lacklustre hair are a sign of sickness, which to the ancient instinctive human in us means less fertile, which means less attractive. Humans were designed to survive. Touch Up Laser company can help make the skin and hair looks amazing.

Some things just are as they are. There are plus sides, there are downsides, but isn’t that the same with everything in life? At nearly 34 and having found my first two grey hairs already, I’m finally feeling comfortable with who I am as a person, and if I lose my looks completely, that’s okay with me.

10Sep/17

24 Tips to get the most out of your relaxing holiday

Holidays are supposed to be a time for relaxation as well as fun, so how do you enjoy your holiday so that you come back restored and not more frazzled than when you left home?

 

When you’ve been working hard or running around after kids at home the last thing you want is for your well earned break to be equally stressful, so travel consultants Hayes & Javis have come up with some ways to get the most out of your holiday.

 

They’ve gathered tips from 24 well-being professionals to compile a downloadable guide so that you can learn and implement some key tricks to make you really chill out and enjoy your holiday, and come back restored and rejuvenated in the way that you hoped.

 

Up to 65% of people report feeling even more stressed while on holiday according to one survey, so don’t let yourself be one of them!

 

Their essential Four Pillars to Holiday Relaxation are:

 

Physical

Looking after your body means you’ll have more energy to do all the things you want to do on holiday. You know that, so how’s best to get physically prepped for you hols? This pillar covers all that.

 

Mental

Happiness and relaxation starts before you even leave home, as you’ll know if you’ve ever run around at the last minute trying to find a lost passport! Chilling out will help you think clearer and leave all your worries behind back home.

 

Communication

Spending days living closely with others from one small hotel room, apartment or villa with less time alone than back home means talking, communicating, and diffusing tension and disagreements is especially important. Nobody wants a fallout while you’re supposed to be enjoying yourselves.

 

Nutritional

How to use and enjoy food so that you feel good inside and out while still enjoying local culinary specialities.

 

In this final section I give you some tips on which foods and nutrients actually work in your body to reduce stress:

“Cooking is a relaxing and creative way to wind down and fresh food will get you feeling and looking good for your holiday. Some foods actually have stress busting properties themselves. Vitamins B and C get depleted under stress, so top them up with meat, wholegrains, red peppers and citrus fruits. Magnesium helps with relaxation and can be found in nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. Omega 3 oils are fantastic for all areas of brain health including stress management, so make some tasty salmon or mackerel dishes to top up your stores.”

 

And yes they got a bit muddled when calling me a health & beauty therapist – I actually am a fully qualified beauty & holistic therapist but haven’t worked as one for some years! (but if you ever need help choosing skincare, you know who to call….;) )

You can download if directly here.