About, Mindset, Parenting

A rainbow of mental health

As I write this, today is World Mental Health Day. This post was actually going to be called, “School Day, Short Day”, and be about how short the school day is, and how I now seem to spend all of my time clock-watching now, and the stress that ensues from that, when you are trying to get work done, or anything done for that matter. Instead, I am going to tell you about my week.

Some women will say that they don’t really get affected by the change in their hormones every month. I am not one of those women. My hormones have the ability to increase my core body temperature, undue my ability to think rationally, and they can also create torrents and torrents of tears. They also do other things too when I am particularly stressed, but you get the picture.

One of my favourite mummy friends put it perfectly last week, “It affects your ability to cope”. She couldn’t be more right. For the last week I have waded through a quagmire of worrying, tears and also a snotty nose. Anyway, yesterday it came to a head when I literally felt consumed with a familiar feeling of panic, which I haven’t felt in several months. The same old panic, which I now understand is essentially, “I won’t be able to cope if this happens” – whatever “this” it may be.

I also understand now, that panic of “I won’t be able to cope” is actually rooted to my self-esteem. I don’t believe that I will be able to cope if something beyond the normal, everyday happens, or, things might happen that are beyond my control. On a subconscious level, what I am essentially telling myself is “I am not good enough”.

So, what do you do when you feel like this? You reach out. Definitely reach out. Please, always reach out. Yesterday, I chose my dad. Over the weekend, when everything was too much, I reached out to my sister. Of course, the conversations that I had with them didn’t really alter anything physically, but in sharing how I was feeling, I could attempt to stop internalising. I was still feeling teary and anxious , but I didn’t feel so isolated by my feelings.

What I really wanted to tell you though, was this. As I was gathering in the washing after tea yesterday evening, still feeling panicky and worried, I saw a rainbow. A very clear, lovely, beautiful rainbow.

Now, when Sidney was about 2, he went through a tricky phase of crying every time he went to nursery. I used to tell him, that if he was ever worried, or sad, if he saw a rainbow in the sky it meant that everything is ok. He got that he would remember this, and if we ever saw a rainbow, we would talk about it and remind ourselves that everything is ok. When I told him this, I was thinking of the story of Noah and the rainbow, and the promise that God makes to Noah.

Now, I’m not overtly religious, and I spend my time focussing more on an attitude of gratitude and believing in the universe than going to church these days. But yesterday, God, or the universe, or someone powerful somewhere, had my back. Seeing that rainbow totally grounded me. It said, everything is ok. And I smiled. All the panic feelings, and lack of control pretty much melted away in that moment, and I went back inside the house feeling like my steadier, positive self again.

Today has been much more normal. Thank goodness. Thanks to that rainbow. All day today, I have thanked whoever sent me that beautiful, perfect, magical band of colours.

About, Mindset

The journals of my mind

Since January of this year I have been journalling every evening. I use it to channel my thoughts and engage the mindset that I want to have. At the end of 2018, I was constantly anxious and worrying about a variety of things. I was also full of self doubt and couldn’t really understand why I felt that way. I had everything to be proud of. So, as well as getting stuck into some books about mindset, I began journalling.

Let me tell you what I write. First I write something that I am thankful for from that day. Then I write my ‘perfect’ moment of the day (inspired my good friend, Ali Gill and her My Perfect Journal), and then I write 10 affirmations for myself: I am … Usually these include things like; I am successful; I am patient; I am a great mum; I am the best children’s book designer!
Finally, I write down at least one piece of evidence for that day of why I am important. Perhaps a friend got in touch with me, or I noticed something important for someone. Sometimes, it might even be that I remembered a bit of kit that the children needed for the day!

Many of the things that I write down are pretty inane and very inconsequential to anyone but myself. But to me, they are the moments that I choose to remember for that day. They are reminders of the person that I am choosing to be. They are helpful hints as to how I will conduct myself the following day. They are a guide to my dream life and goals.

It also means that I go to sleep each night remembering some lovely thoughts. It means that I often find myself thinking about what my perfect moment will be, and being really inwardly happy when a wonderful moment presents itself during the day. It also means that I end the day thinking of things to be thankful for, I am in a place of gratitude.

We do this as a family too, usually at teatime. We will take it in turns to say our favourite moment of the day. Sidney will often choose his lunch, ’nuff said there. And Harriet is just about old enough to give an answer too, she might say the name of a friend she played with at nursery, or tell me that she had ‘gardy (garlic) bread’ for her lunch, her favourite.

Today I am already thankful that I can ride a bike with a trailer on the back. It’s been pretty rainy this week, so I thought I would end the week by using the car to drop the children off. Let me tell you – it took longer to use the car to drive around town this morning that it does for me to cycle around it – with a great big trailer on the back! I was pretty irritated, but then I realised how glad I am that I don’t do that every day. I am so thankful that I genuinely love riding a bike, and even in the rain, its more empowering than sitting still in a car.

And there you have it, through journalling I have trained my brain to a mindset of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for. And, like Pollyanna, I think the ‘glad game’ is pretty good too.

Mindset

A shift in The Force … of my mindset

This is the first blog post I have written in several weeks. A few reasons – partly my work has been so busy that I haven’t had any spare time to think about writing … Oh, and Christmas too, obvs. But largely, I had fallen into a bit of a ‘mind-funk’ that I have worked hard to pull myself out of.

Without realising it, as Christmas and the business that brings, along with more Harriet-sized viruses, and some crazy design deadlines, I have found myself withdrawing and retreating from the new parts of my work which I have been enjoying. I stopped writing posts, and stopped selling my book. I haven’t wanted to think about my book – and have quietly dismissed my authorship when people have asked about it. It has taken some serious reading and talking to try and understand why that is.

It is as though there has been a small, annoying Sith Lord poking a Light Saber of self-doubt in my tea and stirring it in. So much so, (and this will sound ridiculous) that I have felt unable to use one of my mugs for weeks. It says, “best mummy in the world” on it. For quite some time I have felt that I haven’t been a good enough mummy to deserve its use. How stupid is that? So stupid!! But, it is true.

So … What has been my problem? A few things. The dark and cold of mid-Winter doesn’t help. Nor does a toddler who doesn’t care to sleep in her own bed and is still working on building up her immune system (I have told her she will be as tough as an Avenger next year). But more its a problem I need to fix in my own mind. An inability to be proud of myself and know that I am doing a great job – whether it’s being mummy or being an author of a book.

Learning to tell myself a different story. An alternate reality from the underperforming identity that I have been giving myself is what is required. Re-writing the stories in my head. Instead of allowing The Empire of self-doubt and self-worth to prevail, I need to focus on giving myself different instructions. No Sith Lords telling me what to do.

Just me, actively telling myself that I am doing a great job. I am the best mum! I am a children’s author. I wonder why the negative thoughts are so much easier to believe? Each morning in the shower at the moment I am having an inner discussion with myself. The easy-to-believe negative stuff that I am too tired to have any patience with my children, let alone think about promoting my book that I just happened to write. The Jedi side of me is actively pushing back against these thoughts and saying, Yes. You have patience. You are a really fun mum. And, you have a beautiful book that children genuinely enjoy reading. And, you have some wonderful ideas for some more beautiful books.

I have been working on my thought processes for a couple of weeks now, and I am starting to see a shift in my patterns. I am still having these internal discussions, but I am finding it easier to see that the constant self-depreciating mode is not a good one. I am also noticing that ideas are starting to form again, and the desire to act upon them. This Young Padawan will a Jedi make yet 🙂

Mindset, Projects

Retrospectively speaking

This year I have been really lucky to have jumped back into my life as a designer, post maternity leave, and be consistently busy throughout. I have worked on projects for large publishers and self-publishing authors. I have designed a logo for a charity, and of course got my own picture book finally out of the archives and out into the public domain. (You can buy that here of course!)

I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve

As we draw near to the close of the year, many of us will be starting to think about our goals for the year ahead – I always seem to have a plan of what I will be aiming to achieve – next year it is going to be working on my book sales targets, the next step in our house-renovation, and getting Harriet out of nappies and into pants! (I have actually told her already that is her big goal for 2019 – she thought that was pretty funny).

I don’t usually look back retrospectively though. I am a person who is always very much focussed on the next step – never really reflecting on my achievements or failures – just ploughing through life like it is a great big To-Do list. Tick one thing off, then move straight onto the next thing … You can read a bit about that in my post, On a path to Happy. I do understand however, that this goal-oriented lifestyle tends to mean that I am never really satisfied. Or, more, I find it difficult to feel content.

What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

However, I am mindful that this year has been a big one. Returning to work and being busy as a graphic designer, continuing to try and be a good parent (not an easy feat), support Noel as he moves forward with his career, and my biggest personal career achievement – publish my book. We did also manage to decorate our bedroom in the summer, though its not quite finished yet …

So with all these things, not to mention the fact that I am constantly trying to keep on top of my anxiety (some days are more successful than others here), what have I learnt? What can I take from all these events and experiences and apply to my 2019 goals?

Well, these things actually:

Good time management requires focus and a lot of concentration
 I definitely find it difficult to maintain focus sometimes. Wondering whether there are any social media notifications is a killer to my focus. This is an area I need to work on for sure – some tasks are easy to become absorbed in and others require much more effort. If I want to continue to grow my business, I need to become better at maintaining my focus. … I will do some investigating and let you know how I get on!

My work to grow my business is as important as my paid design work
When I came up with the idea for Designer Mum in June, I finally realised how I could develop myself in terms of a brand. Until that point, I believed that I would only get work if people offered me work. Developing Designer Mum has shown me that I can actually create my own work. Creating content for this site has become something I genuinely enjoy, and I understand its importance for business growth. Yes it is important that I do not let my paying clients down, but I also have to grow my own career alongside it. And by nurturing the things that I am passionate about, I become master of my career – which is something I don’t think I ever believed I could do before now.

Social media holds so much scope to market your business
I never really got on much with Twitter in the past, and lost interest in Instagram quite regularly too, but I am learning how they can be used to build brand awareness, and your brand profile, which if used correctly can start to build up a following. All the main platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on have their individual niches and purposes. I don’t pretend to understand how they can all be used to their best yet, but I am starting to understand how to get good responses with each. As with time management, I definitely need to build some structure into this area. It requires my time, but it is worth it, if used well and brings in traffic to my site, and ultimately book sales.

Worrying does not help me
I have known that worrying doesn’t help since I was a little girl, but its a hard habit to break. When I have anxious moments, and my mind is focussed on all the things that I am worrying about, I can get very lost in all the things I think I am not very good at.
… Breathing does help. My very first post Remembering to breathe got some fantastic responses and I genuinely underestimated how many people did the same things that I did. Talking too, does help. Writing my thoughts down and sharing them with you does help. And if it helps you too, then I am really pleased. It’s so important to normalise how we talk about our mental health – I definitely want Designer Mum to almost be a safe space for people to feel reassured that how they feel is normal. And that it’s ok.

Sometimes reaching out can hurt a bit
Anyone who has worked in the publishing industry knows that self-published titles are often quickly slighted by traditional publishers and book sellers. Honestly, I agree that the quality of many self-published books can be poorer than their traditional counterparts. However, I also see traditionally published titles that do things I consider, not up to scratch too.
In the pursuit of raising awareness for my book I have reached out many times and been knocked back more than once. Sometimes my pride is quick to bounce back, but sometimes it takes a little longer. At the moment, I am nursing a wound that seems to have left a little scar. This particular rejection has hit a nerve more deeply. So what can I do to heel it? Well, with any rejection I try to understand why I was rejected, so that I can learn from it. In this particular instance I do understand the reasoning, however much I don’t like it, and I do have a plan in mind of how to move beyond the setback. (This particular plan will likely take me 10 years to achieve, but I am confident that I have the drive to get me there).
In reaching out we are bravely putting ourselves in the hands of others. Like any rejection, it can hurt our pride and make us want to hide away to prevent further injury, but I am a believer in following dreams and passions. If you want something enough, you will always find a way to make it happen. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Wow. That was a long post. You get my total gratitude and admiration if you made it to the end! Thank you for bearing with 🙂
In summery, there is much to take from the endeavours of the year. I hope that you find some of my thoughts useful and that they may help you reflect on your own adventures. I really enjoy this process of writing down my thoughts. They help me find clarity in the way that I think about things. Looking back is a great foundation for moving forwards – there is much to learn from – and much to make me a stronger me in 2019.

Mindset

The joy of normal

Or, “Can you ever just be whelmed?” (as taken from one of my favourite 90s movies)

It’s been rather hectic in our house for a while. I have been busy sorting out the release of my first picture book, Reynard the Fox and getting it set to launch – its now fully released and on sale – huzzahhhhh! And you can buy it here by the way 🙂

I have also been catching up on some design deadlines, which were already tight, and then not helped by a month of various viruses that Harriet has had to endure. Also, Noel has just been offered a new job – which is great news for him and indeed all of us – he works very hard and deserves this new opportunity. I’m really proud of him, though now we have to ride the next wave of change that comes with starting a new job.

As each new year has come about, we have said, “Ok, this is the last big thing, and then that’s it!

So, you can see, there’s been a lot going on. You would think from reading the above, that Noel and I would be the sort of go-getting people who embrace change with happy, eager, waving, open arms. Actually, we aren’t at all! For quite some time now, as each new year has come about, we have said, “Ok, this is the last big thing, and then that’s it!” … We have been steadily trying to get to a point where we can feel settled, and not needing to change anything significant for about the last 5 years. Each new year has come, and there has been something big to achieve for that year. Sometimes it has been work or a new job, twice it has been growing a baby in my belly, and a couple of times it has been moving house … It’s safe to say that we have been busy.

So now, as we head to the close of 2018, I find myself as I often do, feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the next set of tasks I have to do, but also overwhelmed by our achievements. Now I have finally released my book, I have to learn how to actually sell it. I also have to find the time to be proud of what I have achieved, and not frightened by it … Or let myself get wound up in Imposter Syndrome (that was actually going to be the theme of this Mindset post).

Just the four of us, getting on with things, all feeling quite safe in our routines

I have mentioned it before, but I often find myself craving normal (sorry if I sound like a broken record here!) In my mind, normal, is I suppose, the default setting that I want to feel that my family are in. Nothing major going on, just the four of us, getting on with things, all feeling quite safe in our routines. Feeling like we know where we are, what our daily purpose is, and not feeling overwhelmed by something big we are navigating. In short, I would like us to feel perfectly whelmed.

When I think about it, can ‘whelmed’ even really exist? Much as I would like it to, I know that my hope for a normal, slightly passive 2019 is already a non-starter. We are set to have some building work done to our house in April, which will mean a few months of upheaval. And Sidney will be starting school in September – he has shown himself to be pretty anti-change too – so I am anticipating an emotional autumn for next year. There will be cause for much joy though too. The building work will give us the super-dooper kitchen-diner of my interior dreams – and Sidney loves learning stuff – so once he gets sorted I know he’s going to really enjoy school.

Change is the necessary force for moving forwards. I know I should probably conclude here that life is about the journey – not the destination – but sometimes it would be really nice to just feel a bit whelmed for just a short while. Feel like we are in a nice little humdrum of normal. I feel quite normal today actually – best hold onto the feeling for a while. And it’s certainly not going to feel like that next year … Maybe 2020 will instead.

 

Mindset

The measure of success

As I come to the final, crucial stages of my first indie-publishing adventure, I find myself struggling to switch off from thinking about work.

At the moment I am nervously awaiting my proof from the printer; hoping madly that I won’t spot any terrible errors; that the PDF settings were ok; the fonts were embedded properly; and all the images were bleeding correctly!

So far most choices and decisions have all been made from the safety of my desk

Then, once I have my proof, I will be taking it nervously to some lovely local book shops to see if one of them would be happy for me to do a book launch with them. Suddenly, this step feels the most scary to me. I think it is because so far, most choices and decisions have all been made from the safety of my desk – no one able to judge me or my work to my face. Now I have to go out into the world, with my book and see what actual, real people think.

Again, this is silly, and I know it is. I have been professionally designing books, magazines and educational content for children for nearly twelve years now. I wouldn’t be publishing Reynard the Fox if I didn’t believe it was any good. Feedback I have had from publishers and creative directors has always been positive – the ‘negative’ I have had received a couple of times is that isn’t very ‘mass market’. Even that comment in itself is nothing bad – it just means that it is an unusual, niche product.

So what am I worried about?

I am a little frightened that people will buy my book and be disappointed and not like it. Then I might feel that I had let them down somehow. But I am not going to force anyone to buy it, so that is not really a problem. Am I worried that no one will buy it? Weirdly no! That eventuality doesn’t really bother me at all.

My nervousness is more to do with the book’s success. My success. I have never actually sat down and thought how I might measure the success of this book that is so precious to me. With most of my work, I consider it successful not if I am pleased with the final product, but instead if my client wants to work with me again. If my client wants to work with me again, it means that they deemed the product a success, and the partnership a success, and they valued the work that I did.

Here, how will I measure my success? Will I be satisfied if I have a successful book launch and sell 30 copies? Will I feel successful if I sell the initial print-run of 150 copies in 6 months and have to order more? I believe the answer to both of these questions is no. As with how I view my client-work, I believe that I will view my beloved Reynard in the same way. If he leads me onto more books of my own, then I believe that I will consider him and me a successful team.

I know that my finally being able to invest in this story is a massive achievement on its own

I will admit that my standards are high. You may well be thinking that as you read this. But I will also say that if I don’t sell many copies, I at no stage will consider the book a failure. I know that my finally being able to invest in this story is a massive achievement on its own. I have been etching away at Reynard the Fox for so long, that to reach its conclusion is a great success, and for that I am truly proud.

Successfulness though, that is something different entirely. To feel successful. Do many people genuinely feel successful? My guess is probably not. Many of us are always looking to the next step, we have been trained to do this from very young ages. So here, I need to think about what success for Reynard and myself really look like. Success targets I can quantify. Publishing it is the first step. And the next step? Not sure yet, but whatever it is I will aim high and work hard.

As I read these words back I am mindful that many of us may operate in this way. We are often goal/target orientated, and so miss out on the feelings of success that we should feel, as we are too busy pushing for the next step. Perhaps then, let us think about it another way. The success is not in the quantifiable data we can measure, but in the effort and the passion that drives us forward. To be sure, that is a great success indeed.

 

Mindset

On a path to Happy.

I am reading a book called Happy by Derren Brown at the moment. I’ve actually been reading it for the past two years as I only read about two paragraphs a night before conking out … I do not find babies and small children are especially conducive to reading grown-up books.

Anyway, in Happy Derren Brown investigates the reasons why we can all feel a little overwhelmed by life. He does it in a gentle and intelligent way – looking at the theory of Stoicism as a method for improving the way in which we can all live our lives. I don’t want to try and squeeze his book into one or two paragraphs, because there’s no way I will get it right. But what I will say is that if you are a person who is interested in helping themselves, by understanding themselves and others better, it is a good one.

Indeed, Brown’s calm approach to educating the reader to a more settled and less-irritated life has certainly helped me engage with my mindset and think more carefully about the way in which I react to things. If you have ever tried CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) there are similar ideas here. And indeed, if you haven’t tried CBT, Happy is a good way to learn some of CBT’s building blocks.

Do we remain the same person our entire lives?

One idea that Brown looks at in one of the latter chapters has especially got me thinking. It is a question about whether or not we remain the same person that we are born as. Do we remain the same person our entire lives? Or, do we change? Well, essentially our DNA is the same. But what about how external influences; people, events, culture, how these things affect us? I guess we could think about Gwyneth Paltrow’s 90’s movie, Sliding Doors, or even Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. In Sliding Doors, we see Gwynnie’s character play out two alternate stories that were triggered by the seemingly mundane event of catching or missing her tube train. In Groundhog Day, Bill’s obnoxious, selfish character is forced to relive the same day over and over until he learns that he has been obnoxious and selfish.

I have started to think about how I may have evolved to become different people. A couple of ways definitely spring to mind.

For myself, I have started to think about how I may have evolved to become different people. A couple of ways definitely spring to mind. Becoming a mum – even though you want to be your same self – you fundamentally adapt to become a new, much less selfish, more efficient, version of yourself. You learn how to put others first, your wardrobe potentially changes… For me it went from dresses and skinny jeans, to baggy jeans and trainers!

Another instance where I can see that I have become a new version of myself, was in meeting Noel. In becoming part of a pair, you find new ways of doing things, new interests (one of mine was learning how to play darts!), eat new food, etc. I suppose the fundamental change here would be that you learn to think in terms of a two, not just a one, and your life is no-longer you at the centre.

How exciting that we can live our lives and evolve as we go, depending on the people and things around us.

I used to be very against the idea that my self could change. But actually, changing your self and evolving the person that you are is amazing. How exciting that we can live our lives and evolve as we go, depending on the people and things around us. Quite often I equate my daily identity by the clothes that I choose to wear. When I’m in mummy mode, I need to feel relaxed, hard-wearing and cool (ie. not too hot for when bodies are climbing on me!). I will probably also try and have a slightly messy, art-studio look about me – so that the mums at Toddler Group can see I’m not just a mum.

When I’m in work-mode, or going to a client meeting, I like to feel smart. I might wear a dress, some smart shoes or boots, then I know I’m in business mode and I’m a professional creative. I like to visualise the different people that I am.

I guess what I am saying is, I think its great that we can become different people throughout our lives as we learn and grow. And we can especially apply the same logic to our thought patterns and mindsets. In adapting our mindsets, evolving our inner selves, we can create new versions of our outer selves. For me, setting my mindset onto a path that creates a more fulfilled and happier life, instead of one constantly pestered by self-doubt and anxiety? Yes please, Derren Brown! I’ll just grab my walking boots …