Facing up to the reality of stress

Months ago, I took myself to the GP and told her that I was overwhelmed and sad. She referred me to the Mental Health team who have in turn, given me the opportunity to attend some Stress Controll and Fulfilment classes.

I went to the very first session of the Stress Control Group yesterday. I was anxious about it all day, nerves writhing in my tummy. I couldn’t concentrate and got very little work done. So a stress course was essentially stressing me out, making me feel guilty for not applying myself to my paid work. Ironic isn’t it? But I walked to the venue, I walked through the door. Three people in the queue ahead of me asked to be directed to the same place, so I didn’t even need to feel daft and just walking into that room felt like such a big achievement. I was after all, there to help myself.

There were so many people in that room. It was amazing. You always think that you are the only one, when in fact, stress is as common as can be, causing so many related issues for us all, like constant physical pains. Who knew, right?

I felt quite panicky just being sat there and could feel myself losing my sense of “being in the room”, spiralling off into my own panic. I wanted to cry for all the struggling people they talked about in the case studies, I wanted to get up and run. It was hard to listen, though I laughed to myself when the course leader said exactly that – that concentration is always poor when we’re stressed and anxious. But she also kept saying that I was in the right place and it made me feel braver, safer.

I can’t pretend I listened well for the whole two hours because I know I didn’t. But some snippets really resonated with me.

We all have stress in our lives.

None of us can change what has gone before, so why waste emotional energy overthinking what you cannot change? What’s ridiculous is, I of course, know this, but hearing someone, a professional, say it out loud, the little monster that lives in my ear unclenched a little bit and stopped dead. Because it’s so true. You have to go on. And in spite of everything I have told myself I am not capable of, the one thing I know I am capable of is going on – nothing has killed me yet.

They told us that stress feeds itself on all your other stressors. So if you spend a long time feeling stressed and overwhelmed, chances are the thing that stressed you this week is not the thing that set off the stress of last week. You have to find ways of cutting the little monster off. And hopefully, that’s what these courses will enable me to do, to find happiness in the little things and to feel real pride for all my achievements.

And here’s my first one:

Our homework was to draw out our “vicious circle of stress” – all the things that stress us and how they manage to keep themselves going, so that we could try and work out ways of starving the stress. Now, I didn’t get that far, because honestly, my circle was far too busy to be a circle. A list of stressors came pouring out of me. And when I read it back, I realised that for years now, I have been dealing with a lot!

I haven’t necessarily dealt with these things well, these are things I am looking to learn, to help myself. But nevertheless, I am constantly dealing with a lot, even outside the standard “marriage, child, house” that it’s likely everyone else in that room was dealing with. I have pain, I have limitations, which in themselves need a lot of work on acceptance before the anger wins. I have uni, I have long-distance relationships to maintain and a lot of memories to process that have hindered my sense of independence and self-confidence.

And suddenly, I felt proud of myself for being able to carry on. I’m going to give myself less of a hard time. I never feel proud of myself. Me, myself & I have pretty much always struggled to get on, so honestly, this was a great start.

The mantra of the stress control course is something like “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.”

Avoidance is a huge crutch of mine and the course already recognises that avoidance does work to control stress in the shor term. But avoiding your fears just builds them up into a more deep rooted problem longer-term and to be honest, I think therein lie a lot of my problems. They’ve gone unfaced for too long and have become a horrible, stubborn part of me that I hate, but that really has quite a grip on me.

So I’m trying to take the mantra to heart already, even without realising it.

The day before the course, I walked Squidge to playgroup. She needs constant bribing to get in the pram now because she’d rather walk, but we did OK.

She was patient, she listened (she even collected the Deep Heat lotion for me that morning when I was on the floor complaining that my “neck ow!” She handed me the container saying “Mummy medicine neck ow!” I was so blummin’ touched. She went into playgroup without a backward glance when previously she’s refused to go in without clinging to me. Well done Squidge, my big, brave, grown up girl.

Enjoying her soup before Wednesday’s playdate

I pottered round town, buying all the bits we needed and then I went back for me. She wolfed down some soup and went for a nap in preparation for a park playdate we had with a friend. But she wasn’t ready for me to wake her an hour later and howled like I was beating her whenever I made moves to get her dressed. She clung to me, sobbing, only comforted when I rocked her like I did when she was newborn. I felt awful, that my baby was so upset, that I couldn’t dress her, that we’d be late, what my friend would think.

As it was, we were only ten minutes late and my friend couldn’t have been kinder – and Squidge couldn’t have been more delightful, cooing over her baby boy and guzzling her babyccino like a pro.

Face your fears – I didn’t allow myself to cry off and let a friend down, or let myself feel terrible for doing so, like I didn’t deserve friends. I told myself (and Squidge!) that she was getting dressed because I knew we’d (both!) appreciate the experience much more when we were there.

Be more active – Two walking trips to town and back. Well done me!

Watch what you drink – I got a 12 bottle box of wine at cost price from work for Christmas, so I’m not gonna lie, I have been caning the rosé (which for a lightweight like me means 1x large glass, so only just topping my 14 units/week (maybe?) I’m probably not drinking to medical excess even now, but I know it’s still more than I really should. So yesterday, I had a small one.

See? Wins all round!

And today, I met up with another friend and her little girl at mine & Squidge’s favourite soft play and then they came up to play at the playground by our house for some outdoor time. They ran off to the basketball court together to run about and when they came back out, they were holding hands like the best of friends. My heart felt so huge with love in that second, I felt so happy.

Playing with her lovely friend on the “tee-taw” today – and absolutely not looking at Mummy’s camera!

The lovely mobile hairdresser came round too to check how I’d gotten on with the ponytail tuition and would you believe – I actually did it! Even with my weak hand, I got my hair up higher than I ever have before, so I have the skills there now. Just more practise and then I can learn a messy bun to go with my messy ponytail. (So relieved these are in fashion because these are what comes naturally to my wonky hands too!)

I am very proud of me. Because in these last 3 days, I have done a lot to benefit myself, which in the end can only mean the best of all things for Squidge. A little less avoidance from now on. Let’s see what the best of me looks like!

The Madness of Maternity Leave

My daughter is my life. My love and admiration for her is irrevocable. I look at her every day and usually find myself with tears in my eyes because I am (still) so amazed that this beautiful little girl is part of me. The best part of me.

But none of these facts take away from the fact that maternity leave is one of the strangest life periods I have ever been through. I can’t quite work out if I love it or hate it.

I went on leave at 29 weeks pregnant because I ached and I was heavy and tired. It was the right time for me and I would do it again. My maternity leave kicked in officially 3 weeks later. I spent those 3 weeks in the steady routine of daytime telly (Homes Under the Hammer, Wanted Down Under, re-runs of the Bill & Birds of a Feather on Drama) and sitting in my nursing chair listening to audios of my uni textbooks, trying to get ahead ready for Squidge’s arrival. The routine of it, given that I was too heavy to go outside safely by myself by then, was comforting.

Then, suddenly (or not so suddenly if you’ve read about the birth) she was here. So were Kev and my in-laws, our little flat bursting at the seams. I told myself that as soon as I was recovered from the pain of the c-section, I was going to be a model mum. You know, lots of (expensive!) classes for Squidge’s development, lots of making new mummy friends.

Except, I honestly didn’t manage to get out the house with her until she was 2 months old and even then I was still twinging.

It  turned out that most of the classes were 2 bus journeys away, which is a nightmare to plan when you have a pram, or even worse when you need to be at this class for 10am.

Squidge is almost 5 months old now and pretty much every weekend I have been in tears to Kev about how I am failing our girl.

I have to give myself a day off every time I’ve taken her out in the pram, because getting the damn thing down off the wall takes it out of me. And I’m rubbish at staying indoors. The Internet teaches that you need to be living an Instagrammable existence to be able to call yourself a good mum.

There’s baby massage (tried it twice, Squidge didn’t give a damn) there’s baby sensory (I took her once, her grandparents another) and it was just too hard to spend my life down on the floor. It’s no fun when you’re calculating how to safely lift her off the floor when your hips ache this much. There is library rhymetime, but there’s no hope of being ready for anywhere by 10. We took her once when Kev had the day off. It was lovely, but hectic even then. It is however, the only one so far that hasn’t wanted to charge me £8-10 a session (baby yoga anyone?) It’s free, but I’ve been aware of it since she was born and still not seen fit to wake her up early to make it on time. You never wake a sleeping baby.

But Rhymetime and maybe some local church playgroups (still a bus ride away) are all I intend to hold myself accountable for from now on. I can stay at home and hover over the poor love singing songs. None of how this time is spent makes a damn bit of difference to Squidge at this age. All the groups are actually for the mothers. Of all the reasons she’ll criticise me as her mother when she gets older I don’t think “If only you’d taken me to baby yoga!” will be one of them.

These classes exist to make money and to give mums an excuse to get out of the house. And I make myself feel guilty for not doing the latter because I get bored and lonely, not because it hinders my baby. She still smiles every day. She sleeps every day and she feeds well.

I’m lucky that I get to spend every day looking at her beautiful face and I shall miss it so much when I have to go back to work in August (hopefully a part-timer though!) The guilt that I have to at all is starting to eat at me the closer it gets. I look back over my 7(!) months so far of maternity leave and feel so terrible that it hasn’t been leisurely walks in the park with other mums. That’s just not realistic, I’m not even a walking kind of person!

I even get pangs of jealousy when I see dads coming in with mums and babies for their jabs, wishing Kev could be with us. But if he was, then we wouldn’t be able to afford our home, never mind our daughter, and I want her to learn the importance of working for what you have. It’s only thanks to how hard poor Kev works (and the astronomical cost of childcare) that meant the option to go part time was even viable!

I only gave myself 2 goals for maternity leave.

  1. Pass my driving test
  2. Learn to swim

Both are still works in progress, but the most important thing is I’m doing them both. I even managed to swim breast-stroke in the pool when Kev and I went on holiday. So proud of myself.

The one thing that continues to niggle, much as it did before Squidge was even a second line on a pregnancy test is my lack of sociability. I don’t want this to be true for Squidge and honestly, the rounds of daytime TV on your own do get lonely. I desperately want to meet other mums.

But groups just don’t do it for me. I love meeting babies, but honestly, I don’t actually care how you feed or how well they sleep (mainly cos I don’t want to answer, I’m that mum everyone hates with the great baby that’s been sleeping through since 11 weeks and pretty much established her own routine too – sorry!)

I want to go drink coffee and eat cake and maybe, just maybe, leave baby at home and remember what’s it like to go out past 7pm and drink a glass of wine.

And I’ve been giving myself such a hard time about all my wasted “time”, probably because I haven’t met my new best friend who completely gets how bewildered I still feel about motherhood yet. But the truth of it is, although the flurry of visitors has died away, I have a lot of friends around.

They may not be as close distance wise as I would like, but it has been so lovely to reach out to so many people and make plans, whether it’s a lunch date next week (I’ve had 2 my entire leave, don’t buy into the idea that it’ll be lunch dates every other day, you’ll be too knackered for that however nice your friends are!) or a trip to the theatre (off to see Miss Saigon with one of my best friends in December, a merely 14 years after she recommended it!)

Another of my closest friends, who I met in Cardiff is coming to mine for our mutual friend’s 30th this weekend. They’ve both since moved away, but when we’re back together, it’s like nothing has changed. (Of course it has, two of us are mums now, but we can still put the world to rights over a glass of wine!) Just because they’ve moved, they haven’t disappeared out of my life.

Today, I think I think I’ve probably had reason to text more of my friends than I have spoken to, most likely, since Squidge was born. I might have quiet days (I’m the friend that’s really rubbish at returning messages, cos I wrote my reply in my head a week ago!) but what I do have is lots of plans.

And so, I’m telling myself now – no more guilt.

It doesn’t take expensive groups to meet people. If they are your thing and you have the energy to be up at 6am to be there for 10am (yes, really!) then good for you. But it’s not for me. And truthfully, I am getting a lot more out of my time off than I credit myself for. I’m making it work for me and that’s fine. Squidge knows no better and she wakes up every day with a smile, whether I bother to get dressed or not.

Squidge saw the health visitor today and she called her the “happiest baby she’s ever seen”. So smiley and secure in her bond with me. I couldn’t care if she says that to all the mums, it meant the world to me. It showed that classes honestly made bugger all difference and that even if I did just sit at home singing songs to her in front of Coronation Street, I am still managing to raise a sociable and happy girl. So it’s OK to do things my way.

I’ve actually taken to messaging local mums from the comfort of my sofa, through sites like Mummy Social & Mush.


mummysocial logo

I can’t claim my social life has exploded, however much I wish it were true, simply because I just don’t have the energy for that and I need to be sensible and take care of myself day to day too. But it has resulted in a few coffee dates with mums and their lovely babies and that shows potential. The rest is up to me. And I’m hopeful, simply because there are ways out there to do this mummy’ing thing the way I need to do it.

So give yourselves a break mums. It might be hectic, it might be lonely, but it doesn’t last forever. So make it what you need it to be. I’m bettering myself and even if my maternity leave won’t be Instagrammable and I’ll never make it to baby yoga, it needn’t be lonely either.

Wish me luck.

I’ll let you know the second I make it to that 10am Rhymetime!