Mental Health is the New Kale

Before I even start this piece, I want to say that this post is not intended to demean anyone with mental health issues.  At all.  My target rather is the politicians and celebrities who are rather cynically in my opinion ‘raising awareness’ for their own causes.  If you have to deal with your mental health in any way, I wish you love and cuddles.  Or at the very least, a smiley wave from across the room if you don’t want people in your personal space.

I suppose I have rather given the game away with that above caveat, haven’t I?  But in the interests of my own mental health, I shall continue post haste to the meat of the issue.

It had been an aggressive morning.  The persistent rain had me shirty before I even left the house, a shirtiness taken to boss level by the white van parked across the pavement but 20 yards from my house, blocking the path, forcing me to deviate from my predestined path and shove the pram (yes I was with son) across the road.  I shouted and tutted at the workmen who looked on openmouthed, so stunned by my vitriol  as to be rendered immobile, unable to apologise, fall to their knees with shame or even move the goddamn van.

I had made an impression. I waited on the other side of the road to see if they were going to move the van in a rush of guilt and responsibility, but HID the fact that I was checking on them by looking at my phone; a classic mum – spy technique (and not at all suggestive that I could perhaps do with a chat about my own mental health).

Most of the time I wish I didn’t have a phone, especially one with such an eager to please commitment to current affairs.  My phone is always sharing headlines with me, like a cat, dragging bird entrails into my mind-porch.  Harmph.  I hate the news, too.

But the headline of choice this morning sent me beyond boss level shirtiness.  It was this:

‘Theresa May Vows to transform Mental Health Support’ (The Mirror)

Two things – and I will deal with the lesser one first.  If a politician ‘vows to’ do anything, in my considered opinion and experience, it don’t mean shit.  If you vow, pledge or promise, it means that you haven’t done anything to this date.  It’s an acknowledgment of failure in political circles.  Show me your progress, not your process, Theresa.  (Note:  since I was first angered by this article, Mental Health Professionals have come forward to say that such a ‘vow’ means nothing unless backed up by funding.)

Secondly, why Mental Health?  Why not? She added, lazily.   My beef here is that the broad term ‘Mental Health’ is veering dangerously close to buzzword territory and is in danger of losing its impact as a social condition affecting millions of people.  Carrie Fisher spoke about her mental health with humour, with gravity and from diverse experience – and as such came closer to resolving the stigma around the subject than anyone ‘vowing’ to ‘tackle’ Depression for example as if it were a boil to be lanced.  Mental Health is the new Kale – its worthy to talk about and people like to hear about it, but few who are talking about it know what to do with it.

But hey, its not Brexit, is it, hey Theresa?  Must give you a bit of a break, just to emptily vow something.  I have an image of the PM slowly drowning in a lake of Headlines, bravely waving a sprig of kale overhead.

 

 

 

Write

Write, it tells me in the top corner.  So I write.  What has happened to me recently?  I stayed in Britain’s most haunted hotel for two nights  – and if that doesn’t sound like a Woman’s Own (or maybe Chat) headline, what does?  I did what I do everywhere to find comfort – I channel surfed, looking for episodes of Law and Order broadcast between the hours of 11.30pm – 3.30, when I relented and settled on Suits and Dance Moms.  I may get myself a t-shirt emblazoned with the single descriptor: ‘Survivor’.

 

I found some terrific recipes and a new old favourite chef; Marcella Hazan.  I learnt to eat more consciously.  I did very little exercise and thought about food, good food.  I enjoyed the flesh roll gathering at the top of all trousers purchased before October 2014.  I thought about Carrie Fisher, even going as far as to read one of her books (really!) and it gave me courage just to write and see what happens.

 

I had some time, less time than I thought, but some time, time which I maximised by de-prioritising work and focusing on fun, creative fun that my dutiful mind had reframed as flippant or arduous in turn, anything to stop me from engaging.

 

I looked at my son; furious, defiant, learning, gorgeous.

 

I could have looked at skies and clouds but I don’t feel bad for not doing so.  I did enough.

Sleep fighting, or I how I learned to stop moaning about tiredness and use it as a source of delirious creativity

Last night was not a vintage night in my household.  We were very much awake for most of it, so much so that I just had a mid morning nap, brief and blissfull, on the playstation console.  My son is also feeling the burn, pressing his forehead and eyes into any available solid object like coasters and baby wipe packets, while hankering after any unavailable solid object (I saw the way he looked at my slipper).  But it is his damn fault that we are tired, with his constant flailing and griping – when will he learn?!! By 8 months, they should have this down, shouldn’t they?  But no – if my son were a Viking, he would go by the name of ‘Theodore, the Sleepfighter’.  So, yes, we are really tired.

 

Fact 1 – no one is surprised when, as a new parent, you say you are tired.  Fact 2 – gatherings of new parents will try and out tired each other with anecdotes of extreme acts  committed while tired (you were so tired that you put your car keys in the fridge? I was so tired that I voted for UKIP!)  Fact 3 – it is an entirely boring conversation to have, up there with routes taken to destinations and one’s health.

 

I am going to own the tiredness.

 

So my son is a little peaky today – teething undoubtedly, grouchy, pissed off.  He’s okay though, in fact he is now asleep in his chair, beaten but unbowed.  Instead of trying to sleep (what a loser would do) or cry about being tired (same), I will use my delirium to think about all the ways T would have been treated through history for his current, slightly ‘off’ condition.  Bearing in mind that I have no sense of history, or geography, which is akin to having no sense of time or space, which is akin to being accurate, this should be a short and highly speculative (i.e historically false) list.  Here we go:

 

Viking era – T would have been offered to the Gods.  His moods would be used to discern the weather.  I think he would be a talisman.

Middle Ages – T would have been diagnosed by a monk with having too much bile and would have been covered in leeches.  If this didn’t work, he may have been declared a devil child.

Victorian Era – he would have been diagnosed with something, anything, in front of a paying audience.

Early 1900s – He would have been diagnosed as hysteric and sent for dream analysis and then a cure in Switzerland.

1920s – given rum

1950s – given some of those new fangled wonder drugs that everyone is talking about

1970s – bathed in breastmilk and forced into tree pose while someone cleansed his aura with a mung bean

1980s – sterilised and placed in a hyperbaric chamber

2010s – analysed via online forum by various warring factions  who weigh in on the best possible way to treat him based on what they had read online.  This in itself would then become an online story on a clickbait website.

 

As it is, I will watch him for a bit and then give thanks for the fact that he is asleep and then quietly retreat to somewhere comfortable … like a playstation, for example.

 

Night night.

 

 

 

 

Facing the awkward, or how I use the word ‘dick’ repeatedly to describe my past behaviour but not directly apologise for anything.

I’m going to be completely honest – I have, in the past, been a bit of a dick (in the past?).  Who hasn’t? I respond in my head, somewhat defensively.  Well, yes, of course, we have all been dicks whether we admit it or not.  I am still in two minds as to whether I would rather have a palimpsest memory which would erase all dickish, awkward, embarrassing vignettes from my past life or if I would rather hold on to them, in the vague hope that one day I would ‘use them’ to become a ‘better person’.  Instead, these dickish memories just resurface at inopportune moments and often in such acute detail that I have to sing whatever other words I can think of out loud to drown out the image.

 

I am not going to share what these dickish memories are – I am not ready for such bald, invasive therapy (my sphincter just puckered like a flautist’s lips at the very thought of it!)  But today, I decided to confront the awkward – and try to work out why these moments are so awkward.  I’d read a little bit about emotional agility here, and I liked the idea of dealing with an inner critic as a source of possible information about ourselves, rather than a voice to be ignored and ultimately controlled.  Could I do the same with dickish memories?

 

Most of my awkward memories revolve around people I am no longer in touch with – I judge myself unfairly against other people and their reactions; to the extent that I often see colleagues and friends as an extension of myself and my somewhat harsh self image.  I am far more likely to dwell on a friend that I have lost than a friend that I enjoy spending time with – and over the years I have lost a fair few friends, either through my own volition (although I find it hard to even admit that) or because they just stopped calling. For example, I am not in touch with anyone from university – why is that?  So, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I am contacting  former acquaintances again – in some cases 19 years after we first met.   I’m focusing on the ones where I think my essential 21year old dickishness may have been the decisive factor in our parting ways.  This is telling – I don’t recall the other party being dicks at all – which means possibly I am viewing all this through a pair of shit coloured spectacles and actually, me not being in touch with them has nothing to do with my behaviour and everything to do with the fact that you can’t stay in touch with everyone.  In which case, by dusting off the hotmail contact list I am essentially opening myself up to a whole host of awkward moments anew.  What larks!

 

Of course, my other natural state is envy – so if anyone that I haven’t heard from in over 10 years is doing particularly well, there is a great chance that I won’t reply to them.  Kidding!  Again, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I will greet everyone with a generosity of heart that I am working on devotedly like a Shaolin monk at his calligraphy.  Naturally, through my shit coloured spectacles, I have to consider the grave possibility of the worst possible response: Nefny Who?  But at least that would mean that if I failed to make an impact for my dickishness on said person, then I can probably safely delete that awkward memory from my guilt-drive.

 

What do I want from this?  To be in touch with people whom I once liked?  To see if I can be forgiven? To exorcise my dickheadedness? To prove that I am a different person? Who knows?  Perhaps the challenge lies in facing one’s own awkward past lives rather than the abundance of renewed friendships that may (or may not) ensue.

Enjoy the ride, man

There a few things for which I stop and congratulate myself; to be honest it is not, on reflection, because I do little to be proud of , because I am more often involved in pulling baby porridge from my hair (am I alone in enjoying the sensation?)  But here is one thing; since my son started crawling and rolling or both at once – crolling? I have raised nappy changing to performance art.  I would happily charge someone to come in and watch me change a nappy – stick some ‘Tubular Bells’ behind it and I could sell it to Cirque du Soleil.  After extensive reviews and rehearsal,and an out of town run, my son and I have decided that nappy changing should be a) done in total silence (effort grunts are acceptable) b) he should be allowed to coat his own hand in sudocrem and c) at least one limb should moving contrary to the rest of the limbs at all times (my own or his).

 

I am also proud of my ability to use my son as an excuse for all manner of slovenly behaviour.  Grocery delivery man arrives and STILL in pyjamas? I have a 6 month old baby, so …… you know (raise eyebrows and nod to self as if this is more than sufficient justification).  Floor of kitchen resembles that of a lowdown tapas bar on the outskirts of Malaga?  Well, you know, with a 6 month old baby, it is just so hard to keep it clean and etc etc.  My son is now 8 month olds – I am not neglectful , this just demonstrates for how long I have used these particular line of thought.  Again – practice has raised it to an art form!

 

But I have been thinking about the end of Maternity Leave and the big return to work.  All around me I am seeing mothers lose their shit at the thought of going back, mothers for whom Maternity Leave and childcare has been not so much a roller coast ride as a log flume.  There’s been lots of water and the trajectory has been pretty much downwards for the duration.  I am sure there are private moments of intense joy and calm – I know there are!  But the public aspect of early motherhood is characterised by fraught interactions and the idea that martyrdom is good.  This seems pretty universal across the forums of motherhood – from the coffee morning meet up, to the WhatsApp group, to the mothership (no pun in- well maybe pun intended) – the online discussion.  Intra-mum exchanges, in my experience are 75% of the time on the subject of their child’s health and development and usually conclude with a plea for reassurance or consolation.  I know that from time immemorial, mothers have come together to discuss their children and find solace in the tough times, but add to this the layer of singular angst surrounding return to work and the tension reaches panic room level.

I am on a life raft – a unique life raft which offers baby yoga and sensory sessions, but a life raft nonetheless, floating along, evaluating my own and my son’s life  and finding them pretty pleasing thank you very much.  Gradually I notice women disappearing – I don’t see them do it at first – suddenly they’re not there anymore.  And I notice women around me noticing this – and I start to hear a low pitch whining noise, and then I realise it is coming from the woman next to me.  And then I see her do it – she leans back and throws herself over and I never see her again.  And the mood on the boat, which had been so pleasant up to now, starts to change – it gets rockier, the women start to cry and the waves get rougher, because we’re lighter in number and I have to prepare myself for leaping over the side.  I want to spend as much time as possible just staring at my baby because I WON’T EVER SEE HIM AGAIN but I also want to enjoy my last moments of freedom as a person who has hobbies and a social life, so I divide my time between speed-reading books described as ‘life-changing’ on the sleeve and cuddling my baby – and feeling guilty about not doing the other all the time.

 

And then, I hope, I’ll get pulled over the side.  And it, like most things, will probably be fine.  Okay, I may not always have porridge in my hair to look forward to.  But I will probably even enjoy being a worker and contributing to society, not just feathering my own nest. I may even enjoy wearing clothes again.  Who knows?  All I can do at the moment is try to reason with myself and my frankly hysterical response to returning to work.  Did I mention that I have two months left before i go back?  Yep.  Ages.  But it is the Crucible effect, infectious.  Once one person starts frothing at the mouth about visiting nurseries and arranging pick up times, we all do it.  But I am determined to enjoy the ride for a s long as possible, dammit – a concerted fightback, if you will.  Here are a few things that I will try out to keep myself in check:

 

Make a list of things that are good about work.

But some new clothes for work

Give the hysteria I feel about end of Mat Leave a name and face, a character.  Mine has cats, flyaway hair and writes afternoon dramas starring Jason Priestley for Channel 5 (none of which are green-lit)

Sit still for a bit every day and be calm.

Plan in a few trips.

Wear pyjamas and don’t stress about the food on your floor.  Or your face.  Or in your hair.

All suggestions gratefully received!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smothering Smunday

So this is my first Mother’s Day as a mother and my first wish (which was granted) was for my husband to take my son downstairs and let me lay in bed, like Barbara Cartland, and listen to The Archers, toute seule.  This flags up a few issues; firstly, on writing this last sentence I realise how, like any true addiction, my need for the Archers has crept up on me unawares, until now.  It is a true habit, part of Sunday morning, rather than a luxurious novelty.  Secondly I am surprised by the ability of a show, set in rural Aga-shire to have settled in my consciousness and, dare I say it, my heart.  I have moved beyond gentle amusement at the Producer’s economy with storylines (the saga around the dairy’s steam clean was meted out over a series of weeks), the token efforts of the Agricultural Editor, who gets star billing at the end of each episode for advising on the smallest of farm issues (when do ferrets get their claws clipped?  How would David Archer pronounce fettle?).  Now I shout at Rob and cringe at Lillian and fret and vex about Helen as much as any retiree.  Which brings me to a third point, one which I am less willing to dwell on – when did I get so old?

 

So, moving back into safer territory (unlike the Archers, which has covered/is covering gay marriage, domestic abuse and adultery), here I am lying in bed, getting my fix, eating breakfast and drinking tea.  How long before self-recrimination sets in?  The current average is 24 minutes, but this morning, I have made it all the way to 57 minutes.  I reflect on my one true wish on my first Mothering Sunday as a mother, a day of appreciation for the maternal experience and the special bond between Mother and Child.  My one true wish on this day of all days was that my son could be safely in another room , away from me, for a little bit.

Notice how I qualify even this statement? ‘Safely’? ‘Little bit’?  Like I have to justify this decision even on a blog page, which if I am lucky, will be read by ooh, let’s say, over ten people?  But the portion of guilt which is handed out free to every mother as they leave the maternity bay has remarkable staying power.  And this is why, on this Mothering Sunday , my intention is to get rid of this guilt (much as we wish Helen would get rid of Rob Titchener)  .  I interact with a lot of different mums and dads over the course of a week as I work my way through my son’s social calendar; from anti-vaccine, to anti-formula, to pro breast (there is a difference between the last two categories), to attachment, to working, to sleep deprived, to competitive, to Mumsnet, to no-screen time, to insecure, to Facebook obsessed, to pro baby led, to no-cry, to cry it out, to routine, to let it all happen as it will (aka chaotic aka me) parents.  What we all have in common is that we belong to more than one group at once, or a variety of groups in short succession as we try out different parenting route maps in search of the one that most resembles the parents in the advert.  This may mean that we contradict ourselves or that we don’t know what we are doing.  We don’t.  That’s okay.  And that’s the second thing that we have in common and the hardest part of being a parent; not feeling guilty about not doing it right.  Not feeling guilty about changing our minds.  And not feeling guilty about lying in bed listening to Eddie Grundy on this day of all days.  Happy Mothers Day!

 

 

Alright

I never do anything fully, so I never do anything at all.  This phrase popped up in my journal this morning.  It’s a restless day, a day for the stay at home mums (as if any mum is genuinely a ‘stay at home’ mum now – we’re all too busy attending sensory/swimming/playdates).  But it is stay at home today, because of an unexpected and very beautiful snow fall which is now into its fourth hour.  Plus my son (I have a son now, eight months) is asleep in his chair and the house is more or less tidy and yes I’ve changed the TV License so well done me.

 

Stay at home – what sort of image do these phrases conjure up?  Home …comfort, home …safe, home ….sweet home.  Stay ….put, stay …still, stay ….calm.  All lovely and soothing if taken in isolation but far from accurate depictions of my experience.  When I genuinely am a stay at home mum (i.e today), these connotations are kind of soporific; I totally understand how people become sofa-locked when they are ‘stay at home’.. We become children – we work on a task and reward basis and if I ‘stay at home’ too long, the task reward ratio becomes ever slighter.  Day 1: I tidy out the drawers, freeze several meals and sort out life insurance, therefore, I shall meditate for half an hour and make a pot of tea.  Day five: I haven’t watched television for an hour, therefore I shall watch television for an hour.  You see? Who is the bigger baby here? When my son is awake, he is active, engrossed.  Sometimes I lose half a day being ‘stay at home’, dreaming of the things I’ll do when I’m not stay at home in the same way that, out and about, I dream of the things I’ll do when I’m ‘stay at home’ again.  Plus ca change.

This is not self-criticism, but written more in the spirit of acceptance.  The day is busy, but busy in a way that I never thought I would find busy – with dishes and nappies and stacking cups.  Being temporarily sofa-locked, I am going to wildly paraphrase here, but I’m thinking of the section in The Golden notebook when Doris Lessing writes about a change in her heroine’s character, when she moved from appreciating a certain hour as when day turns into night to seeing it as the ‘time to put the vegetables on’.  The day can be meted out thus; but it is no bad thing, it is how things are, for now. Continue reading