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

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

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 …

Parenting

“And how are you in yourself?”

“And how are you in yourself?”. I have come to loathe this loaded question. I don’t think anyone asked me this until I became a mum. I don’t dislike it because I am afraid that it will make me break down in floods of tears. I loathe it because whenever it is asked, at the time I am usually just fine! You know; alright, things are all normal just now. My children might be a bit tired, but they’re fine too. We’re all bumbling along as happy as we can be at this moment!

In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line!

Then … It happens. “And how are you in yourself?”. This question is usually posed by a health professional. In this instance it was a Health Visitor – one whom I hadn’t met before – and it was actually Harriet’s 12month progress check so I wasn’t really prepared to be questioned about myself. In hindsight I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be in the firing line! … My right arm was wrapped in a tubular wrist-support bandage (to support a healing fracture) and to really glamour it all up, on the same hand was a very gross blister that had appeared out of nowhere after a tiny patch of eczema had flared up! … Oh, and I suppose we all looked a bit clammy after me cycling us there straight from the nursery pickup. Despite all that though, no one was crying (not even me) and we were all there on time. Go us!

But there it was. The seed was planted. Harriet’s progress check was all fine. She’s a bum-shuffler, who’s also quite happy cruising around – great – and she’s following her little weight chart perfectly – fab. And as a delightful added bonus I even managed to persuade Sidney to let the health visitor weigh him too, so we can move everyone up a carseat size. All is going well.

Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

However, someone has now asked me, ‘how I am in myself’, which automatically means that for the next 24 hours I am questioning whether or not I am ok. Do I not look ok? Did I seem like I might cry? Did the lines around my eyes look more terrible than all the other mums she’s seen today?

There is something in that particular phrasing that gets under my skin every time. Someone could just as easily ask, “How are things?”, or, “How are you, mum?” and I would understand that they are asking me if I’m ok. But by using the words you in yourself suggests something deeper. Like I might not be myself, or I might be feeling so overcome with my lot in life that I have something that needs looking into, deeply.

Let’s be honest. There are moments when any parent feels a bit overcome with being so on demand all of the time, but mostly its cool. Once you get used to being so important to miniature versions of yourselves, it can be pretty special at times! But that’s just part of the rollercoaster of having children I think.

This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’

Nevertheless, that turn of phrase is something I genuinely wish people wouldn’t use. It makes people feel like there is something wrong with them, when there isn’t. We’re just navigating the overcrowded-supermarket of everyday like everybody else. Sometimes we don’t have disgusting blisters and clammy children, and sometimes we do. This summer our family’s general look is, ‘a bit clammy’ – but at least that means we’re drinking enough, right?

Finally, I guess a caveat here could be that I am one of those ‘hypersensitive’ people you read personality descriptions about, which is why I react so badly to questions that are unnecessarily probing. However, even if I am a bit on the hypersensitive side, if me and my two children managed to get ourselves somewhere on time – and none of us is crying – we are all in ourselves, just fine.

 

Projects

Believing in your own story

Sometimes I wonder if it is pride mixed with a little (or maybe even a lot of) vanity that makes me so determined to publish my own book.

I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good.

I have been turned down by several traditional publishers with a picture book, and now my best option is to publish myself.  But if I’ve been rejected by traditional publishers so many times, perhaps I should accept that maybe my book is just not that good? Perhaps it isn’t, and maybe I should listen?

However, I am determined. I am passionate about my book, and I believe that it is good. I believe that children and their grown-ups will enjoy reading it, looking at the pictures, and mimicking the funny words that are housed within it. I understand that it is a little niche, and unusual, but at the heart is a rhyming story and some very colourful pictures.

What’s got me thinking is why I am so determined to publish this book? This is a book that I began at art college, and have revisited many times – 12 years altogether! If I just started working on a new book, I could easily address some of the points that hold this one back. I have ideas for three more picture books that I want to do. Maybe I should just apply myself to those?

But I’m not. And here’s the for why. It is nearly ready. It will take me a very long time to get a whole new book designed, written and illustrated, even if I know what it will be. Also … And here’s the big one. My husband and I both work as hard as we can. We regularly have to dip into my tax pot to make it to the end of the month or pay the childcare fees, or make the next purchase to continue doing our house up. So essentially an extra revenue stream, however meagre would be handy!

I am determined to make this book work for me.

And I would of course be lying if I pretended that I’m not hoping it magically becomes a bestseller – we’re all allowed our dreams, right?!

I suppose the point is, that I am determined to make this book work for me. I don’t need to publish it for my own vanity, I want to publish it because I want to earn some money from it. I could here compare myself to the BrontĂ« sisters, or Jane Austen, or Beatrix Potter, or J.K Rowling, or indeed any ambitious entrepreneur. Indeed, what do all these people have in common (besides all having written some of my favourite prose)? They were all determined to make their creativity work for them.

Sometimes I think it is crass for a Creative to say that they wish to earn money from being creative. Surely all us Creatives just do it for the love? Well – Spoiler alert! – No, actually. We creative bods also need to pay the food shop, or the childcare fees, or need to knock down the dining room wall.

So, I am choosing to believe that my book is good enough to pay it’s way. I am choosing to believe in my story, so that we can maybe get the Industrial-Rustic kitchen-diner of our dreams a little quicker! And that is definitely a story worth believing in.