Who am I?

The last few months have given me a lot of time to think. As external influences from our weekly routines and interactions with the people we see disappeared, I found myself thinking a lot about identity and sense of self. This has been spurred on by the fact that the lockdown also coincided with the start of a cognitive behavioural therapy course that I’d been referred to back in January. Although no formal diagnosis, I scored highly for anxiety and moderately for depression on the tests and this was my lovely GP’s suggestion to try and get my head in a better place. And a lot of the work involves really examining yourself and your thought processes to try and change the way you think and consequently, act and feel.

Through my adolescent and adult life I have variously tried to identify and label myself as an activist, a musician, a sailor, a mother, a knitter, a doula, a writer, a runner, a weight lifter, a forest school leader, an employee… I’ve never felt I belonged in any of these categories, I didn’t feel I was accomplished enough, experienced enough, committed enough. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. During my CBT course, this theme kept emerging. Not being enough. Which has been traced back to having a really crappy sense of self esteem. I don’t know where this has come from,  I’ve been blessed (lucky?) enough to not experience any real trauma in my life and have got a blooming’ amazing support network of family and friends. 

During lockdown, I’ve particularly felt I’m failing as a mother. Work has been incredibly busy and I really felt for a while that I was living and breathing it, that I was constantly telling the kids I had an email to send, a phone call to make, a meeting to attend. My work-life balance felt totally out of sync. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks. However, one of the exercises on the CBT course made me take stock and actually reflect on what we’ve done over the last few months, not just take my perception of it for granted. And I realised that we’d not done too badly. We completed our WWII project, completed a science climate-change project, started a new history project and the kids have worked on their music practice and maths and English regularly. We’ve also taken a lot of day trips; to the woods, to the moors, to the beach and I’ve done a ton of running. So I guess I haven’t done as badly as I thought. 

I have realised two things though. Firstly that the why doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just one of those things I guess. What does matter is what I do about it now and how I build my sense of self to be more positive (or at least, more realistic!) The second thing is that I need to care a hell of a lot less about what other people think of me and a lot more about what I think of me (and preferably, it’d be good if I liked, or at least accepted, myself a bit more!) This also means that actually, I don’t need a label. I am not just one thing. I am multi-faceted and it doesn’t matter if I don’t fit into a box. 

I hesitated to write this blog. I don’t want to elicit any sympathy. In fact, I struggle to accept it anyway and find it incredibly embarrassing. Which is all part and parcel of the thing I’m working on I think; in lieu of being relaxed enough to really live in the moment, I want to be liked, to make people laugh, to want people to want to be with me. In fact, the realisation that I don’t laugh as much as I’d like to has been a real turning point to me and my self development. I love to laugh, those endorphins are addictive! But I’m too wrapped up in my own head and constant mental to-do list to really be present and relax. The favourite people in my life are the ones that make me fully embrace the moment and that I laugh with. 

Rather, I wrote this because I truly believe it’s important to be honest about mental health and if it helps someone else to be brave enough to reach out for help if they need it, it’s worth the vulnerability. I’ve put off getting help for many years, probably since Eli was born. I was embarrassed about it. On paper, my life is pretty damn good and I didn’t think I had any right to need help. I thought I just needed to get over it, to figure out my own way to worry less and be happier but turns out, I couldn’t do it alone. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few people in my sphere open up about their mental health and it both surprised and encouraged me. People who I thought totally had it together apparently, did not. And I realised that means that they might have needed support but same as me, not reached out for it. How can we be good friends and look after those in our ‘virtual village’ if we don’t know when people need support?

So yes, at the beginning of the year I was having a bloody hard time. On more than one occasion, I sat in my car after a run or a visit to a friend not wanting to go home. And not because anything terrible was happening at home. Just because life felt too much. I wanted to get on the road and just keep driving. I wanted to lose myself. But in the months that followed, I’ve actually found myself. Irritating at times but passionate about what I believe and care about, not hugely accomplished at any one thing but happy with doing the many things I like at an amateur level, good at getting physically lost but always happy to take the risk anyway (just last week my patient family experienced this again, proving that even a coast path walk doesn’t always go to plan), flawed but ultimately, not too bad. This doesn’t mean I’m ‘fixed’. Just the last few weeks I’ve felt everything getting too much again. But I know now that I don’t have to run away or hide, that I have the tools and support to get through this rough patch, just like I did before. 

And if you’re struggling as well, I’d encourage you to reach out and ask for help. From your friends and family, from your doctor. If you’re in Devon, you can self refer to TalkWorks, a depression and anxiety service funded by the NHS. It might not be enough for you, but it’s a start. 

And a massive thanks to a few people in particular that have endured listening to me waffle on over the last few months and supported me through it all, you know who you are and I love you guys.

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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!

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

 

Tongue Tie Release at 13 months

In all my life I never went to hospital except to give birth but since having kids I swear it’s becoming a regular occurrence! We’ve been to A+E four times with Sophia (bumped head, drank guitar cleaner, broke finger, possible concussion), one of which resulted in minor day surgery (the finger!) and had an ambulance called for Isaac after the out of hours doctor was concerned by a very high temperature and slight issues with breathing (he didn’t have to go in and was fine).

But today as I type I’m sat waiting to be called to recovery as Isaac is having a tongue tie release which has to be done under general anaesthetic due to his age. I know he’ll be fine but I can’t help feeling nervous and having…
**later**
…I got called to recovery in the middle of typing! I was feeling nervous as holding your child whilst someone uses gas to put them to sleep is pretty unpleasant. I got a bit teary but am told this is normal!

Anyway, he was fine, it all went well and he seems delighted with the new movement of his tongue, has been waggling it all over the place. In fact, the worst bit was the fast before-he was fitful and crying from 2am until 7am as he wasn’t allowed breast milk-not fun!!

I’d like to say I have some deeper insight in relation to this morning but unfortunately I don’t, I was just blogging to relieve anxiety. The only comment I really have is that I wish it had been caught sooner.

I’m a breastfeeding peer supporter so feel quite embarrassed that I didn’t realise until he was 9 months old but really I think I was too proud and dismissive of the problems we did have.

I had an attitude of ‘there’s no normal feeding pattern’ and ‘every baby is different’ and whilst that may be true to a certain extent, I definitely should have had a slice of humble pie and gone to see someone much earlier when he continued his excessively frequent feeds, slipping off the breast, dissatisfied crying in the evenings and refusal of my inverted side.

So my only take home advice is that if you have even an inkling that there may be something not quite right or if feeding isn’t comfortable for you or your baby, even if it’s your 7th baby, suck it up and go find some support!!

I found this article just the kick I needed to go and see a doctor about it (his weight gain was so good I didn’t think it could be tongue tie at first) so would recommend reading it if at all concerned.

The look on his face when he had some food afterwards and realised he could manipulate it in his mouth in a way he never could before was just priceless, what a smile!

And just a quick aside to end, staff at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital (Brighton) were amazing, as always. Props to them and thanks!

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Exploring before his trip to theatre

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Sleeping soundly afterwards