An Unexpected Outcome

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how rough I was feeling. I felt embarrassed posting it and totally out of my comfort zone. Although I am quite an open person in regards to what I share, I do apply my own filter to that and don’t like sharing too much of what I perceive to be “negative” stuff. My post was met with an outpouring of love and support from a lot of people in my life. I was so incredibly grateful, overwhelmed and…yes, a little bit embarrassed! I didn’t think I should get this reaction, not when I’d only been unwell for a few months, rather than some chronic ongoing condition. But I am so thankful for my amazing friends and family for being so nice to be regardless.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase and catch you up. Over the summer I religiously took my iron pills, rested more, ate well, and…got worse. Towards the end of August, I was sleeping for 10 hours every night, doing the bare minimum in the day and feeling more and more exhausted, dizzy and confused.

Then one Saturday, I swapped cars with Dan and took his swanky car, leaving him with my 20 year old, somewhat cranky, vauxhall corsa. He phoned me at the end of the day and said ‘I think you car is making you ill!’ I laughed at him but he persisted. There had been ongoing issues with the exhaust and he theorised that my symptoms could be caused by chronic low-level exposure to carbon monoxide. A little research on Headway and the NHS websites confirmed my symptoms matched and when Monday rolled around I got a same-day appointment with my GP.

She was amazing, asked lots of questions and ordered a next day blood test to look at levels of carboxyhemoglobin in my blood. Results came back quickly and showed that levels were outside of the normal range. Not hugely but I hadn’t been driving the car for a week by that point so I assume they would have been higher if tested sooner.

The real test was in seeing how I was as time went on, now I was no longer in the car (that has now been scrapped for other reasons) and thankfully, I have seen a noticeable improvement in how I’m feeling. I’m still not firing on all cylinders but apparently it can take a while as the carbon monoxide binds to your red blood cells so oxygen can’t. Consequently you need to wait until all your red blood cells have been replaced with new ones for it to be completely gone. But I am gradually doing more and although getting tired after a few busy days in a row, tons better than I was.

It was pretty scary though, mostly because the kids must have been exposed as well. And as the summer progressed I noticed that they were more tired and irritable than normal. I chalked it up to the summer, being out of routines, hormones…etc but now of course I’m wondering if it was something more sinister. But because they were in the car less than me and because I was anaemic, I was more vulnerable which is why I think I was affected the most.

When you think of carbon monoxide poisoning you think of the acute exposure, the stories where a household of people never wake up after a boiler breaks in the night. I don’t think I’d really thought of long-term chronic exposure to low levels and if I had, certainly had no idea how awful it could make you feel. I am so grateful to Dan for putting 2+2 together and so thankful for my awesome GP and our continued access to the NHS.  So I guess it feels appropriate to end with a public service notice of sorts – make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors in your house and be aware of what else can cause the poisoning, the NHS have a whole section on what causes carbon monoxide to leak here so go and educate yourselves!

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Just Give Me a Minute

I’ve reached a wall. I am absolutely (seemingly permanently) exhausted and unable to sustain the level of activity that I was just a few months ago. Blood tests have shown I’m anaemic again and I’m duly on ridiculous amounts of daily iron but my energy levels are still firmly in my boots. Six weeks in and they seem to be making no difference so it’s back to the doctors next week. My training has been reduced from 6 days a week to barely 3 last week and none at all this week, I’ve been cancelling plans left, right and centre and having to have ‘rest breaks’ after everything I do. I’m feeling annoyed that I can’t get to the gym, guilty that I keep letting down friends and like a shitty parent that my most repeated phrase at the moment is some variation of ‘ please, just give me a minute.’ It is so frustrating!

I write this not to complain or to elicit sympathy but mostly because I just need an outlet. Me and the kids walked to town this morning (2 miles), did some shopping and walked back. And it knocked me for six. Usually, walking that distance would be completely unmentionable, a non event. But now I’m sitting in bed, writing this and feeling shattered. Luckily, the kids have been entertained with a paddling pool and up until the peace dissolved, I could hear the sounds of their shrieks of laughter through the open door. So at least they’re not being adversely affected by my pathetic-ness! I’m just hoping some rest and an early night will put me in a good place for a trip to one of our beautiful local beaches in the morning.

I’m not even sure why I’m publishing this but I guess I have two thoughts. Firstly, so friends know why I’m being so damn flakey at the moment. I’m sorry guys, bear with me and hopefully I’ll be back to normal in no time. I’m having to prioritise work and the stuff the kids really want to do and everything else (including the gym, sob!) is having to wait for now.  If you see photos of us out and about having fun in the great outdoors, chances are that I’ll be resting for the rest of the day at the moment. Secondly, I have so much admiration for people living full time with disabilities or chronic illness. Especially those with children. I have no idea how you manage to find your balance. If I’ve ever crossed paths with you and not understood/respected your limitations, please accept my sincere apologies.

I feel so grumpy and out of sync. I never get ill and this year, I don’t seem to be able to recover every time I get a bug. But such is life I guess.

Finally, I did want to publicly thank Dan for once again, being an amazing husband and father. Despite his own health challenges, he is continuing to go above and beyond in supporting my recovery. Right now he’s whisking the kids off to the beach for a few hours so I can get some uninterrupted rest. Thanks babe, I don’t know what I’d do without you!

(P.S Apologies for the Eeyore post and the cheesy ending, I wouldn’t usually publish something like this but I figured it’s good to be transparent about the not so good as well as the good (to a certain extent). )

 

 

 

Guilt

At this very moment, I should be in the woods at Exeter Forest School, running my first ever session as a Forest School Leader. Instead, I am sat under our biggest, cosiest blanket with a large cup of tea feeling rather sorry for myself. I’ve been ill for close to two weeks now and feel like I might finally be on the tail end of it but certainly not well enough to run a session without coughing and spluttering over the unfortunate parents and children in attendance. I feel so cheesy saying this, but my proverbial village has, once again, leapt into action to assist. A dear friend (who I now owe so many childcare favours to it’s ridiculous) is having Eli at the group and for the afternoon and Dan has gone to deposit the big two with her as well so she can take them to the older group where they attend by themselves. I have a whole day to rest and hopefully finally recuperate after an incredibly busy two weeks where I have just kept going when perhaps I should have declared a few more movie (or to assuage my home ed conscience, documentaries) and sofa days for the kids.

However, my primary emotion today is guilt. Guilt that I’m letting down work by not being able to run the session. Guilt that my friend is helping out and looking after my kids again, especially when she’s not feeling 100% herself. Guilt that I’m probably not going to be particularly productive even though there are things that need to be done (work, cleaning…etc). Guilt (ridiculously) that once again this week, I won’t reach my step count for the day. When I sat down to write this I was thinking mainly about what some term ‘mother’s guilt’. The guilt that means you feel like you are constantly failing those around you. That you don’t have enough to give to your kids to fulfill what they need. That there isn’t enough of you to go around. That your house is a mess. That you can’t find the work-life-fun balance. That you have goals and projects left unfinished. That you shout, nag and lecture. That maybe your priorities aren’t where they should be. That sometimes you take more from your friends and family than you give.

But then I realised that guilt is not exclusive to motherhood. Guilt is something that lots of us are plagued with. Most of that list above could apply to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids or not. And we could add more. Guilt that we’re not doing more in the fight against climate change would be one for me. For someone else it might be guilt that they skipped the gym. Guilt that they let down a friend. Guilt that they pay someone to clean their home. Guilt that they don’t cook their meals from scratch. Guilt that they got a promotion over a colleague. Everyone feels guilty for a myriad of different reasons.

Clearly, guilt that we feel because of something we’ve actually done (deliberate or not) that we know has affected someone negatively (physically or mentally) is a different category. It’s right to feel remorse and to try and make amends. But I’m talking about the guilt that so many of us feel unnecessarily.  Guilt that we essentially make up for things that we don’t need to feel remorseful, shameful or sad about.

I’m struggling to think of anything positive that comes out of this kind of guilt. Acknowledging a fault or weakness and acting on it to promote positive change is one thing. But endlessly beating yourself up about stuff, valid or not, is useful to no-one. I know that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for a friend or family member in need. I know that I would cover sessions for a colleague if I could. But it doesn’t stop me feeling bad about being the one needing the help right now.

I don’t know what the answer is and I realise this may come across as a somewhat woe-is-me post which is not my intention. Rather, I wanted to start a conversation about unecessary guilt. About why we feel it, about why we shouldn’t let ourselves get so caught up in such a negative feeling. It’s not something we talk about a lot I think.  A quick google produces a wealth of articles from people much more equipped to talk about this than me. And a few things stood out to me particularly as helpful ways to break the cycle of self-flagellation caused by needless guilt.

Firstly, as I mentioned above, engage in a spot of role reversal. Imagine what you’d say or do to a friend or family member saying what you’re feeling. Chances are you’d reassure them that their guilt isn’t based in anything real and advise that they need to be kinder to themselves. Which leads nicely to the second point which is to make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and actually look at what you do. Look to see if there is any evidence to back up your guilt, I bet there isn’t! Practice a little bit of self-gratitude. Make a list if you need to of all the things you accomplish. But acknowledge what you do and try and be at peace that this is enough.

Finally, practice some self-care. I know this is a bit of a buzz topic at the moment but there’s a reason for that. You can’t give from an empty glass and we live in a world where we try to do much more than is practically possible for any one person. Our villages are  broken and dispersed and people often don’t have the support they need. I’m going to drag out a parenting phrase that I have quoted many times before, bestowed on me from a very wise friend ‘your child is your mirror’. If you are overworked, stressed and brimming with negative emotions, your child(ren) will feed off this and reflect it back to you. If you take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, just for you, you will be calmer and happier and your children will absorb this positive energy and that makes for a more peaceful household all round (if only in attitude and emotion rather than actual volume. Even when happy, my kids are loud.)

Funnily enough, as I came to the conlusion of this post, a message pinged up from the friend who has my kids today saying simply (in response to my apologies and thanks)

Don’t feel guilty! It’s lovely having a village”

And whilst I know not everyone out there is lucky enough to have a village in place like I do, I think the take home is the same. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t need to haul any extra baggage around with us if it’s not needed. And if you don’t have a village, why not try and make one? Social media is great at connecting people, find some other folk who are village-less and start building a group based on friendship, support and community. And when you’ve got it, accept offers of help when you’re struggling, gratefully and guiltlessly.

 

 

Stepping Away From The Tech

For the last two years, I’ve been working for The Outdoors Group, an amazing company the delivers outdoor education across five sites around Devon from toddler groups and home education sessions to specialist 1:1 intervention for those struggling to thrive in mainstream and adult training to send more Forest School Leaders into the world. We also host birthday parties and team building events. And excitingly, this year we are opening The Outdoors School, an independent special one-of-it’s-kind outdoor school, especially for ASD and SEHM learners.  I work in an administrative capacity, sat behind my laptop or on the phone, either at home or in our cosy office at West Town Farm. I never thought I’d enjoy doing admin so much but I think it’s a combination of loving being organised and being passionate about the business that means that I really do love my job and mostly find it a pleasure, rather than a chore. I like problem solving and I like helping people, both important parts of the role.

However, I’ve always said to folk when talking about what I do that I’d love to do the Forest School Leader training itself one day. ‘One Day’ was a vague concept, some magical time in the future when it would be appropriate and I’d found the courage. But excitingly/nervewrackingly, ‘one day’ has come sooner than I anticipated. At the end of February I’ll be joining a bunch of other aspiring Forest School leaders at our site just outside Exmouth for a week’s practical course to kick off the year of training required for this qualification. I am equal parts thrilled and terrified. I love learning and I love being outside but….after many years of living in houses with stoves and open fireplaces and having attended Forest School with the kids for the last 6 years, I still can’t reliably light a fire! Hopefully this week will solve that…

I’m also feeling rather nervous about the concept of actually running sessions. Sure I run activities at our Home Education group nearly every week but I’m not technically in charge there. I can corral a group of rowdy children aged 2-11 and get them involved in a structured activity but that is indoors, without the added factors of everything that the outdoors brings, including the health and safety element of it. Folk aren’t paying to be at the Home Ed group and if I muck it up, it matters not one jot!

It’s a bit of a moot point though at the moment as I’m not actually going to be in the woods doing delivery for the forseeable future I think but I like to think ahead to when that day comes. I know really, that the whole point of doing the training is to equip the learners with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to successfully plan and deliver sessions but still, eep!

Turning off the laptop, putting on my boots and waterproof trousers and stepping outside feels like a bold move. But one that I’m looking forward to. And even if I don’t use the training in the woods for a while, I’m hoping that it will better inform me for my role within the metaphorical ‘office’. However, even in order to make the week’s training happen has been a bit of an undertaking in terms of childcare and I owe a huge thank you to one particularly special friend and my Mum and Dad for helping Dan keep the kids occupied that week whilst he’s working from home. It really does take a village and I’m so grateful for my little one.  So here’s to stepping out of my comfort zone of inboxes and spreadsheets and entering a whole new world of outdoor learning and adventure…I’ll keep you updated as to how I get on!

Hannah-Bio-Pic

Cutting bits of string, I’ve got that. Fire lighting, watch this space…

 

Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

Going Dry

This week’s column has the potential to be mildly controversial but what’s the point in sharing my thoughts with the world (or readers of the Express and Echo at least!) if I’m not brutally honest? Despite my tendency to waffle, I’ve no interest in merely filling space or offering empty platitudes. So without further ado, let’s dive in and hopefully you’ll find my thoughts at least vaguely interesting!

I started this year with the pledge of partaking in “Dry January”. I wasn’t doing it to raise money or even really making it widely known that I was taking part. However, a mere 6 days in, after a week of tending for my flu-ridden family I, without thinking, decided to withdraw from the challenge and share a bottle of wine and a whiskey nightcap with Dan.

I slipped quickly back into our normal drinking habits; admittedly they are fairly modest and we just tend to share a bottle of wine 2 or 3 times a week, but still, not quite the dry month I had planned. It was only when Dan asked what had happened to my pledge today that I started thinking (again) about my relationship with alcohol. Over the last few years, I have swung from long periods of being sober, most noticeably when I abstained for over 7 weeks in the lead up to my first big run, to drinking definitely more than I should be.

Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about whether I should just go totally sober. I really like wine but sometimes I wonder if it’s a healthy relationship. Since upping my exercise recently, I’ve found that even after just 2 or 3 glasses of wine, I feel awful in the morning, my tolerance is lower and I feel drunk and not in control more quickly. I’m also quick to associate having a drink with relaxing and I’d rather turn to healthier ways of dealing with stress. Ultimately, I think I find drinking in moderation challenging and rather than constantly battle with knowing when to stop, maybe I just shouldn’t start?

During my periods of being ‘dry’ over the last few years, despite initially missing the booze and wanting to indulge in a glass (particularly after a rough day with the kids), I’ve quickly found myself feeling healthier, making more progress with my fitness and generally not missing it at all!

I’ve set myself the challenge of a baby-ultra marathon this May and so in order to maximise my chances of successfully completing this, alongside my flirtation with sobriety, I’ve decided to stop drinking until after the race. My thoughts are that I can use this as a ‘test’ period to see how I find life without the bottle! I was reading about someone who disagreed with the trend of ‘dry’ fundraising months and claimed they were faddy and ineffective. I would disagree; although I didn’t complete Dryanuary, it has been useful in helping me assess my relationship with alcohol and deciding whether it’s one that should continue or not. So wish me luck as I embark on 16 weeks of sobriety, I’ll let you know how I get on!

Germ Central

In my BC life (Before Children), I rarely got ill. I seemed to avoid most bugs and viruses and when I did catch them, it was a mild bone of contention with Dan that I was only ever ill for 24 hours before bouncing back to normal. I was proud of what seemed like a particularly hardy constitution and took for granted my good state of health.

Fast forward almost eight years and oh, how things have changed. The addition of children to my life has brought it with an unwelcome consequence, that of an unending steam of germs and the consequent illnesses they incur. Anyone that knows me will attest to the fact that unfortunately, I am not a particularly gracious patient. I cannot stand being poorly and am prone to letting that known to anyone in the vicinity. I think it’s just that I find it frustrating to have to cancel plans and for tasks to build up as I take a temporary leave of absence. I do realise that this is an area of my personality that could do with some improvement though and I am doing my best to rectify it. I would hope that Dan would say that I have got a little better over the last year or two.

As you have probably guessed, this weekend I was struck down with a 24 hour tummy bug, kindly given to me by my eldest daughter. Our plans to go shopping and then the local fireworks had to be cancelled and I spent all of yesterday languishing in bed and on the sofa, feeling sorry for myself. True to form I am basically fully recovered today and a plan has been hatched to watch fireworks from Woodbury Common tonight (I thought it was best to stay away from crowds for fear of infecting folk) so all is well. It has left me though thinking about people with ongoing illnesses and poor health.

I have many friends with chronic illnesses or health conditions (as well as a husband!) and I can honestly say that all of them are incredibly stoic at weathering what their bodies throw at them and just getting on with it. It makes me a bit ashamed of my moaning about a mere tummy bug to be honest. I can’t begin to fathom what life must be like when you face illness and all the challenges it brings, be that physical or mental, on a daily basis. I have so much respect for these friends and family of mine.

I’m afraid there’s no big takeaway from this column or funny anecdote to conclude things, just a bit of a rambling reflection about how we shouldn’t take our health for granted, about how we should actively make sure we look after our bodies, both mentally and physically. And finally, a reminder to be aware of friends who are not so fortunate, to go out of our way to help them and show them that we’re thinking of them. Bake them a cake, offer to go shopping or walk their dog, see if there is anything in particular they need help with.