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5 things… that may enhance your recovery and help connect with your c-section scar

A note from Anna: It has been wonderful to see people sharing more on social media about their c-section scars and recovery!  It is a privilege to invite Hannah Poulton, an experienced physiotherapist and scar specialist to share her tips on recovery. Her knowledge is fuelled by a passion that mums would be equipped and encouraged with the helpful and holistic information they need most.


Hello all. My name is Hannah Poulton and I’m a Senior Physiotherapist, Scar Specialist, Acupuncturist and Women’s Health Practitioner. I own HLP Therapy and have over 2 decades of experience within Physiotherapy. 

My passion has always been to see individuals recover well, not just from the physical effects of an accident, surgery or trauma, but to acknowledge and heal from the emotional aspects too.

That is why I built HLP Therapy. A beautiful place where I can combine a multitude of skills to listen and treat every individual in a truly holistic and tailored way. I’ve always had an interest and bias towards women’s health and especially postnatal care. I believe the postnatal care for mums in the UK is sub-standard, and more needs to be done to care for mums after they have given birth and especially if they have suffered a traumatic birth or c-section birth. After the difficult birth of my two children, (one vaginal, one c-section birth) I explored further into c-sections and c-section recovery. My professional education and personal experience, allows me to understand and empathise with postnatal mums, which only seeks to enhance the treatment I provide.

My main speciality is c section recovery and all that includes. The next few tips may enhance your recovery and help connect with your c section scar.

  1. Be gentle on yourself: After your c section you are told very little about how to recover well. You are given this 6 week “time frame” in which you should recover in. But for some this is only the start of their recovery journey. Of course, your scar will do it’s best healing within this time period, but a scar takes up to 2 years to reach maturity (which means it’s constantly changing within this time). There seems to be such pressure and a rush to heal, but my best piece of advice to start with is “be kind to yourself.” Allow yourself time to reflect on your birth, time to heal well, don’t overload yourself with “a never ending list of tasks to complete.” You have been through major abdominal surgery and this needs to be recognised and acknowledged. Give yourself permission to say “no” to other peoples demands and ideas on your recovery. This is your journey in your time and your way. Don’t compare your recovery to others. It won’t help you on a physical or emotional level.
  2. Looking after your scar: In the early stages there are some simple ways in which you can look after your scar: pat dry your scar, don’t rub with a towel after a shower. Instead, use a muslin cloth to gently dry over your scar. Allow the scar to breathe. This means wearing loose cotton fibre clothing and allowing the air to get to the scar as much as possible. This could mean laying on the bed or sofa with your baby next to you and having no clothing over your scar. 10 mins a day is all you need. Your scar may feel numb. This is because nerves have been disrupted during your c section birth. Gentle sweeping hands over your tummy in the first few weeks, pat drying your scar and looking at your scar (even if it’s in the mirror) will all start to help you “engage “with your scar. There is also no rush to do these things. If you can’t bear to touch your scar in the early stages, then this is perfectly normal. Take your time. There is no rush.
  3. Six weeks after your c section (only if you are ready) you can start self-scar massage. Have a look at my videos on Instagram and YouTube on the best ways to massage your scar. Get a good scar cream (check out my online shop for the ones i recommend). Start light. Use “feather light” sweeping motions with your hands over your tummy and scar. If you can’t touch your scar at this point, then that’s ok. Take your time. Gently work on your tummy, bringing the tissues into the middle (where your belly button is). Do this after a warm shower or warm bath, so you are relaxed and comfortable. If touching your scar and skin is something you are not comfortable with, try using either really thick cream on your fingers (to act as a barrier between your fingers and scar) or use a soft towel or cloth to sweep over your tummy and scar. Use self-scar massage for 5-10mins a day when you are relaxed. Take this time out for you.
  4. To aid in scar recovery and also your overall postnatal recovery, it’s important to feed yourself well. Now I know chocolate and coffee are important (!!), but perhaps try some of these foods too. Strawberries, oranges, nuts, pulses and seeds. Oats and yoghurt, protein shakes, oily fish and leafy greens. You will need to put back in and feed your body with the good stuff in order to accelerate your recovery. Protein is really important for healing and also keeps you filled up! So make sure you are getting plenty of this in your diet. As we are over 60% water it’s important that we replenish this daily. Make a flask of water in the morning and carry this around with you and keep sipping throughout the morning. Refill at lunchtime and repeat. Keep reminding yourself to drink and flush your body with clear water. This also aids in scar recovery as the tissues under the skin are well hydrated and heal so much quicker.
  5. When you feel ready you may want to start moving your body. You may want to join a class (always look for “postnatal trained” instructors) who really understand what postnatal c section mums need. You may want to see a specialist physiotherapist before you return to exercise. My advice is start off slowly and build up. You’ve been through pregnancy, abdominal surgery and birth and probably sleep deprived too. So start off with gentle breath work, coupled with pelvic floor work. You may also want to try some basis exercise such as: knee slides, bridge, cat and cow, childs pose, wall planks and side clams. Listen to your body: it will tell you what you can do. There is no rush and no race.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading this blog. For more information on my c section recovery kits and to see the courses I am currently running for new c-section mums and professionals in c section recovery, check out HLP Therapy and look under “Positive-C-Section. ”

Keep going mama…you’re doing a great job! ✨

5 things…about why noise in motherhood can feel stressful

A note from Anna: My friend and Ear Surgeon Joe dropped me a message one day after reading something I’d written on how the noise I’m so often surrounded by as a parent drives me a bit wild! Sometimes even the happy, playful squeals of my kids can evoke a reaction in me that feels like stress or rage! He offered to give us a bit of insight (or, earsight, chuckle), into why this happens, and what we can do to help ourselves in those moments. 

It’s a pleasure to contribute to Anna’s page. We met 10 years ago through our friend Kathryn, before Instagram was much of a thing! It’s been wonderful to see what a source of inspiration and support she has become to so many young parents and we have her books on our shelf! I am an ear & hearing specialist doctor and surgeon for adults and children, working in central London. I see a whole range of conditions, some of which need procedures and surgery but also many which benefit from parallel therapy. I’m also a Dad of (soon to be 2!) and share plenty of insights from my working and parenting life at @earsurgeonjoe


The benign sound of my kids slurping or breathing heavily makes me wince and want to leave the room. I keep being triggered by harmless pen-tapping and chewing and I don’t know why…. Should I be a better parent than this? Is there something wrong with my ears?

When a sound triggers an excessive emotional reaction, it may not be a problem with your ear or the sound itself, but rather a disordering of the way the sound processing parts of your brain are communicating with each other.

Although many people who suffer with this phenomenon subsequently develop feelings of frustration, resentment and guilt, it’s helpful for us to understand that experiencing extraordinary sensitivity to sound is part of a spectrum of legitimate recognised conditions.

Misophonia is where certain sounds trigger an emotional or physiological response that is out of keeping with what might be considered reasonable. Sounds can appear quiet to others but induce anger, rage, panic, fear or avoidance in you. Oral sounds seem to be common triggers – swallowing, chewing & breathing, as are repetitive sounds – keyboard tapping, windscreen wipers & fidgeting fingers.

Hyperacusis is an increased sensitivity to sound and a lower tolerance for environmental noise, that results in physical discomfort. Again, these are sounds that are otherwise easily tolerated by others, and discomfort if frequent, can lead on to wincing, distortion and subsequent distress. Sounds can be perceived louder than they are to others.

Think of Misophonia as more of an emotional triggering and Hyperacusis more of a physical triggering.

Phonophobia by contrast is a greater than usual aversion to loud sounds. This can induce fear and avoidance of devices that emit loud sounds such as fire alarms, whistles and speakers. Anticipating a loud sound, such as when you see a balloon being slowly over-inflated, can induce real fight-or-flight symptoms. Headache and migraine overlay are common associations.

Take a look at this diagram of the auditory pathway. Hearing, listening and understanding are three different things that happen in different parts of our neuroanatomy. The auditory cortex (responsible for processing sound into something understandable), the brainstem (the brain’s ‘headquarters’ responsible for breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and sleep) and the limbic system (responsible for regulation of emotions) are all inter-linked, and constantly firing back and forth between each other. This complex interplay leaves many different places in the pathway for things to malfunction.

Research into the cause and treatments of misophonia and hyperacusis is still evolving, and despite our recognition of these conditions there’s still much that needs to be discovered about the neurobiological mechanisms. Until then, we need to focus on the broad principles of managing neuropsychological conditions, including breaking cycles and improving brain health.

The same advice you will usually hear about sleep, exercise and nutrition is all beneficial here. Any young parent knows those are not always simple to put into practice. Anna already has a wealth of information on managing anxiety and improving the health of your mind – all of that is relevant here and I won’t repeat the same content. But instead, I am going to highlight 5 things pertinent to my field which are helpful to know and that I often cover with people coming to see me.

 

  1. Think about your daily cognitive reserve and how to preserve it. Your brain spends all day processing the inputs of all your senses – vision, hearing, smell, taste & touch. When one of those senses is working at half-capacity, for example if you have a hearing loss or visual impairment, then your central processing has to work twice as hard to fill in the gaps whilst still filtering what’s important to you.Imagine a day without your contact lenses – you can strain for a while but you’ll soon feel knackered. The same is true of hearing and auditory processing. If you have undiagnosed hearing loss, there are things that can be done (procedures, surgery, hearing devices) to reduce your listening effort and reduce your cognitive load. Reducing background noise and enabling audiovisual cues such as lip reading (made difficult by the world of masks) and captions can have the same beneficial effect. Unfortunately there remains a societal stigma around making your hearing problems visible to the world, that doesn’t exist in the same way for people who wear glasses for their vision. Chipping away at that stigma is one of my career missions!When your cognitive reserve is low, your emotional reaction is further heightened. That emotional reaction may be anxiety, anger, rage. So what you tend to do is…avoid. Avoidance then leads to anticipatory fear, and a perpetual cycle which makes triggering sounds even more triggering. This further increases your cognitive load and down the line, you’re unable to function at the same pace you once could. Instead we need to remember that the sounds aren’t the problem. Break the cycle of sound avoidance. Shift the focus to increasing your cognitive reserve. Stop that cup from draining before the day is done. A study in 2013 in Sweden examined 140 men & 208 women and found that women with high levels of emotional exhaustion became more sensitive to sound after an acute stress task.
  1. Don’t feel shame or stay silent if you’re experiencing misophonia. Share it with a health professional or at least someone you trust that cares about you, before it ends up making you isolated. Hearing health and its emotional sequelae are just as important as any other aspect of your mental health. It deserves validation and care. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a strategy to help sufferers regain control. By examining why and how you experience symptoms opens opportunity to change that pattern and reduce impact. Counselling, sound therapy and mindfulness are all avenues to explore.
  1. If you have specifically one-sided symptoms or if you have other concurrent ear and neuro symptoms including tinnitus, hearing loss, facial weakness or numbness or the sensation of hearing footsteps or your eyes rolling – then see an otologist (an ENT doctor specialising in ears, which is where I come in). There are some things that need ruling out depending on your examination findings and hearing test. Noise-induced inner ear disease, Lyme disease, Ménière’s disease, superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome, perilymph fistula, facial nerve palsy and certain medications and psychoactive drugs can all be an underlying cause of hyperacusis.
  1. Take advice before using any device you see advertised online designed to tamper with your ears. Ear wax is a topic millions of people are fascinated with and people are out there to take advantage of this. As an ear surgeon I perform delicate procedures in the ear that involve being a millimetre away from causing permanent harm. It really alarms me how much unregulated tech is allowed to be sold online without any evidence base. A healthy ear is meant to produce wax and should self-clean without you needing to do anything. Wax isn’t dirty – it’s your ear’s way of protecting itself from infection. It only needs to be removed if there’s pain, hearing loss or a diagnosis needs to be made – otherwise you can leave it alone. DIY wax removal cameras might look appealing but aren’t good enough to safely be able to remove deeper impacted wax – the stuff that actually does need removing. Microsuction by a professional is the only safe and effective way you should have your wax removed. Oh, and ear candling is a complete social media illusion – avoid!
  1. Finally be aware that sudden hearing loss is an emergency that has a time-critical window for assessment and delivery of steroid rescue treatment if the inner ear is involved. Not everyone knows this! Many people still miss the boat for treatment, through lack of awareness or putting it down to a cold or wax, which sometimes can be quite devastating.

Joe Manjaly FRCS (ORL-HNS)
Consultant Otologist, Auditory Implant & ENT Surgeon
The Royal National ENT & University College London Hospitals

Ear & Hearing Specialist Doctor & Surgeon
One Welbeck ENT, London

@earsurgeonjoe

5 Things…to reassure new mums about difficult thoughts

Naomi Law is a Psychology researcher and mum of 2 boys. She is passionate about women knowing they are not alone, and aren’t failing, when they struggle with difficult thoughts about motherhood. After publishing peer reviewed research about negative thoughts in new mums, she wanted to share her affirming and shame-reducing insights with us!

What is ‘normal’ for new mums to think and feel?

There is a popular ideal of motherhood which appears in thousands of subtle ways in the images and advice targeted at new mums. It’s an ideal that says becoming a mother is effortlessly natural, fulfilling and joyful.

This may be your experience of motherhood, but what if it’s not? If your life doesn’t match the ideal? Are you failing?

All mothers — especially those in the early months — need regular reminders that this motherhood ideal is just that: it’s an ideal, not a reality.

Together with two co-authors, I recently published a scientific study exploring some of the realities of new motherhood.

Our research involved nearly 400 new mums, all with babies under 1 year old. By filling in questionnaires, they told us how often they had experienced negative thoughts about motherhood, as well as any feelings of guilt and shame.

Our study found that it is very common for new mothers to have negative thoughts about motherhood, including about their baby. The findings also suggested that women struggle to share these thoughts and that the more negative thoughts they experience, the more guilt and shame they feel.

The good news, though, is that understanding that these thoughts are common — and not a sign of failure — may reduce mums’ feelings of guilt and shame and improve their mental well-being.

If you’re a new mum and you’re having negative thoughts, we want you to know you’re not alone.

Here are 5 reassuring tips from our research:

  1. It’s very common for new mums to have negative thoughts about motherhoodAs much as anything is ‘normal’ about having a new baby, we can say that having difficult thoughts about motherhood is ‘normal’, because it is so common.These are just some of the thoughts we asked about in our study:
  • The majority (about 60%) of the mums taking part said they thought being with their baby was boring, at least sometimes.
  • Over one-third said that they sometimes thought they were trapped or that there was something wrong with them.
  • Nearly two-thirds said they thought they were a ‘bad mother’ at least some of the time
  • One in five mothers reported thinking they shouldn’t have considered having a baby.Overall, more than 90% of the mums in the study said they experienced negative thoughts about motherhood at least some of the time.
  1. Other new mothers may be having similar negative thoughts as you, even if they don’t say it out loudIt can be hard to share negative thoughts about motherhood.We gave the mothers in our study a list of negative thoughts and asked them how easy they would find it to share each one. Many said it would be ‘difficult’ or ‘extremely difficult’ to tell someone else.It may feel hard to say when you’re having negative thoughts about becoming a mother because everyone else looks like they’re ‘fine’ or ‘coping’. But given that we know negative thoughts are extremely common, what may actually be happening is that someone who seems to be ‘fine’ on the outside is experiencing their difficult thoughts in silence.If you are having distressing thoughts about motherhood, you are not the only one.It may help to share some of these thoughts with someone you trust. Sharing difficult thoughts can ‘normalise’ them and it may help them lose some of their power.
  2. Having negative thoughts does not mean that there is something wrong with youBecause we tend to talk about early motherhood as a time of joy and fulfilment, it can feel like you’re ‘getting it wrong’ if you don’t always feel joyful.One of my co-authors for this study, Dr Pauline Hall, is a clinical psychologist working with new mums. She regularly sees how women can become caught in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts.When an intrusive thought about motherhood appears, the temptation can be to interpret it negatively (e.g. “there must be something wrong with me for having that thought”). This can make you feel distressed, guilty or ashamed, which leads to more negative thoughts, and the whole cycle begins again.Pauline’s reminder is that “A thought is just a thought”. Instead of engaging with it, or ruminating on it, you can try to ‘let the thought go’. You will likely find it becomes less powerful.

  1. New mums can have upsetting or distressing thoughts even when they’re not depressed

    In our society, there’s a tendency to approach new mums as if their mental wellbeing falls into two camps: some mothers are diagnosed with depression, anxiety or another mental illness (which hopefully helps them access the support they need), whilst everyone else is considered to be ‘fine’. Our study helps to show that the reality is more complex than this simple division.The mums in our study were not, to the best of our knowledge, experiencing postnatal depression, but negative thoughts about being a mother were still common. The more negative thoughts mothers reported, the higher their levels of distress, guilt and shame.As a new parent, your thoughts and emotions may be complex, and you may need reassurance, regardless of whether or not you are experiencing mental illness.
  1. But…if you are finding your negative thoughts are distressing, there are people who can help

    Having said that it is very common to have negative thoughts about motherhood, we also know that having repeated, uncontrollable, negative thoughts is one of the symptoms of depression.Whilst having some negative thoughts is absolutely normal, these thoughts lie on a spectrum, with some new mums experiencing more than others.If you find that your negative thoughts are distressing, are interfering with your ability to function or happen over a prolonged period of time, then we would encourage you to talk to someone who can help.Approximately 10 percent of mothers experience postnatal depression, and this figure may be even higher since the start of the COVID pandemic.You don’t need to continue to suffer from the impact of negative thoughts. Many effective treatments are available, which don’t necessarily include medication.There are suggestions below of where to find help.

Sources of support for negative or distressing thoughts about motherhood:

  • Talk to someone you know and trust
  • Contact a professional such as your GP or health visitor
  • The Maternal Mental Health Alliance has a list of charities and support organisations, including helplines https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/resources/mums-and-families/
  • The book ‘Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts’ by Karen Kleiman is full of reassuring words, guidance and simple exercises to help you feel less alone.

If you’re interested, you can read the full report of our research here: rdcu.be/cl9nh


We are holding a free webinar supporting new mums with negative thoughts. The session will include open, reassuring discussion and practical tips about handling difficult thoughts when they arise. There will also be a chance to discuss what could be done better to support new parents with negative thoughts. If you’d like to join the seminar, there are details here. Hope to see you there!

Date: Wednesday 24th November, 10am.

BOOK HERE

 

Calming the Mother Rage

Calming the Mother Rage

It was 5pm, in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon. I emitted a roar so thunderous that my toddler wailed and my sons abandoned the television’s glare to investigate. Next appeared my husband, clutching an open laptop whilst swiftly cutting off a colleague mid-sentence.

Eyes watched in confusion as I visibly shook next to a mound of pesto pasta that seconds before I’d envisioned hurling against the wall. I’d decided against it. The clear up wouldn’t justify the release. Heart galloping and adrenaline searing through my veins, I left the room and sank into the sofa crying shoulder-shuddering tears of failure.

I like to think of myself as a rational and nurturing individual. Yet this last year I’ve encountered rage like never before. It’s visceral, gaining momentum emotionally and physically until I am out of energy to tether it. If I’m not able to diffuse it, it erupts, leaving collateral debris of tears and shame in its wake.

I am not alone. ‘I have never had as short a fuse as in this past year’ shares a social media follower wishing to remain anonymous. The internet is awash with humorous motherhood memes about losing our rag, our minds and our willpower ‘not to drink tonight because I just can’t parent’. Whilst we laugh because it resonates, are we choosing to normalise rage and overwhelm because even in this age of ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ talking about the stark, messy reality of it feels too taboo? Perhaps, the true veil isn’t humour, but bitter shame and heavy guilt.

I’m lifting the veil, because what we don’t need more of as mothers is shame and guilt. And in a recent social media poll of 700 respondents, 93% mothers said they’d felt more rage and irritability in the last year than pre-pandemic. So, for the sake of our mental health, it’s time to start taking rage seriously and arming ourselves with tools to diffuse rather than repress it.

Rage as a symptom of burnout

There are many types of rage. Rage may be violent, destructive, compassionate, or motivating. There’s the rage against injustice that rises up when watching the news. Should my children witness an outburst, it provides a moment to educate, imparting something valuable. How disruptive or damaging rage can be rests on both the context and the safety in its delivery. The type of rage I am focussing on, is the rage that comes with the depletion of burnout.  One mother shared with me the physical nature of her rage: ‘I feel the irritability and rage coming up my throat and if I don’t compose myself, it floods out like fire’

We are a burnt-out nation of mothers who praise one another for being strong yet sit behind the closed doors of our ‘game faces’ feeling anything but. Burnout develops when we are forced to (or choose to) chronically deny our human-ness. We demote our own needs and overlook feelings in order to reserve what energy we can to keep calm and carry on for those depending on us to function. And us mothers, we tend to be skilled at looking like ‘we’ve got this’ as a member of my community admitted –  ‘I do such a good job of looking like I’ve got it together, that nobody asks if I’m okay’.

Often, I ask my Psychotherapy clients one deceptively simple question: ‘what do you need?’. After a moment’s thought, and commonly tears, the needs that arise are along the lines of ‘space, support and rest’. With those three things hard to come by, especially during the past year, burnout isn’t failure, it’s a human response to the circumstances. And it’s those very three things that will provide the antidote.

Much like a filling bladder or an old student loan, needs and feelings do not dissipate when ignored, they grow in size and urgency ‘I ignored my grief this past year, there just wasn’t time to cry. I ended up with this heaviness in my chest that felt suffocating. I broke and spent three days in bed unable to function’ – anonymous. Feelings and needs are energy in motion, they rise up like waves, and when we shove them deftly aside, they do not slink into nothingness.

Consider how physically you experience different emotions and needs, you may feel butterflies in your stomach, a need for connection as longing your heart, anxiety in your chests. So, when these physical forms of energy are chronically pushed down and repressed, the pressure builds and builds mounting, when unaddressed, to an explosive release.

The curse of the mother caricature

Rage is often portrayed in films as a masculine emotion. Whereas, the caricature of a mother is of the loving, kind, patient nurturer. She may be reduced to sobbing, but rarely do we witness red-raw rage. This depiction dangerously overlooks the complexity of human guilt and shame. And what do we often do in response? We pledge to try harder at being better, further shunting aside our needs, our feelings and, well, ourselves.

I am noticing, both in myself and other mothers, the strong drive to caveat anger and difficult emotions. An admission of rage, or finding something excruciatingly challenging is swiftly followed by a cascade of proclamations of love and gratitude for children. ‘It’s overwhelming, but I wouldn’t change it for the world/but I love them/but it’s good too’.

There is fear that the presence of anger drags love into immediate question. Thus a need to reassure whoever listening that we love our children. Love and anger can co-exist. So many times have I spoken to women who’ve concealed the truth of their post-partum anxiety, the extent of their low moods, and the reality of their intrusive thoughts out of fear that their ability to love and mother would be questioned, that their child might be removed from their care. One mother disclosed ‘I was sleep deprived and fantasised about being hospitalised just so I could sleep. I didn’t tell anyone as I was terrified, they’d think I didn’t love my kids’. So much of what we feel is a human response to the circumstances we are in, and in no way a reflection of how strongly our heart beats in love to our child.

I wonder perhaps, though we are long past the days of overtly emotional women being branded clinically ‘hysterical’, there is a deeply running unease in communicating the messier emotions of womanhood and motherhood out of fear of being gaslit by the very people we turn to for support. As these emotions are swept under the metaphorical rug, they build, they get lumpy and then one day, we trip over them, in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon. We have surely come along way, but we have a long old way to go.

Know your flags

With practice and reprioritising, it’s possible to avoid burnout before you find yourself sliding down the fridge, ending up on the cold tiles wondering how things got so bad.

Consider your red flags. One member of my community recognised ‘My burnout flag is that I just can’t be bothered to eat proper food. I snack all day on sugar, which doesn’t help’. It may be apathy, exhaustion or irritability. Perhaps it’s in the moments you proclaim ‘I can’t do this’ and then continue to do it anyway. You might struggle to make simple decisions or rationalise thoughts. Motivation slips away, taking with it the sparkle in your eye and the ease of your laughter. Perhaps they are a lack of desire to run a route you love, resentment for a family member who rests with ease, or feeling frozen as you open the laptop for work. Perhaps your flag is those nights adrenaline chases sleep out of reach, or a hypersensitivity to the normal sounds of your home.

To ignore burnout, is to fuel the very issue itself. Unmet needs do not slink away when ignored, they become more pressing. Rage is an adrenaline filled, reactive state in which rationality is hard to grasp. Whilst the other symptoms of burnout silently chip away at the sense of self, rage conflicts with how we see ourselves.

Your emotional and physical resources are a currency that you spend on your family for the benefit of their collective wellbeing. I am coming to realise that, for my own sanity’s sake, the replenishing of that very currency in order to spend it on them again, needs to be a collective family aim! Plan, strategies and diarise periods of space, rest and refuelling, whatever that may look like for you. Use what resources and support you have available to facilitate these things. And remember, small things, whilst they may never feel ‘enough’, are always better than nothing. They might enable you to find the strength to breathe your way through the next tantrum or curveball.

Dealing with the moment of rage and the collateral damage

If you feel the rage building, urgently prioritise calming your mind and body. Use a simple breathing exercise, step out of the room if appropriate. Switch on the TV for the children or hand out iPads like frisbees, delay dinner. Scroll, call, text, read, stretch, pummel a pillow, walk; do whatever you need to in order to calm your nervous system so that you can re-access your rational brain again.

If rage has erupted, take a moment to recalibrate whilst offering yourself words of gentleness. When rage is followed with self-criticism and shame, you are less likely to attend to the overlooked needs that led to it. Claim responsibility and talk the episode through with your family or child in a way that allays any resulting fear or confusion.

I recently apologised to my four-year-old for rage fuelled snapping. ‘It’s okay’ said his little voice in reassurance. ‘Being tired and grumpy is okay’ I said. ‘But shouting at you like that isn’t okay. I am very tired and I am going to find a way to help me try and be patient next time’. We can affirm the validity of feelings whilst acknowledging that how you communicated it wasn’t helpful. Just as I would let him know that the jealousy he feels at his brother having a toy he wants is acceptable, but hitting him isn’t a good way to outwork that feeling and perhaps next time he might stomp his feet instead.

Playing the long game

Acknowledging your needs isn’t guilt-worthy indulgence, instead it forms the foundations upon everything you love and enjoy can stand firm. Taking what you need to fend off burnout is not ‘me first’ it’s ‘me too’. Rest and seeking space often trigger feelings of guilt and inefficiency, yet it is the antidote to burnout and a building block to good mental health.

Prioritise these things as if your mental health depends on it, and as if your family depend on your mental health. Because, both are true.

Welcome the small things. One fellow mother shared ‘I need to see my mum. We speak online, it’s not the same but It gives me something’. Whilst you may fantasise about a week on a sandy beach devoid of all responsibility, an evening out might not cut the mustard, but it’s something. And when it comes to staving off burnout, something is always better than nothing. Cut corners, delegate, make space and lessen perfectionist standards where possible. Take your foot off the gas in whichever way possible and acknowledge that just like fuelling the car the more asking of yourself, the more you need to input.

Seek friendship and support. Whilst someone may not be able to relieve you of stress, they can validate your feelings and offer vital compassion, lessening burnout-fuelling feelings of self-sufficiency. If you recognise that you spend life firmly sat on a seat of the burnout rollercoaster, seek professional support, because where there is help, there is hope.

Compassion ends the cycle

Just as those you care for; you are equally deserving of a life well lived.

Us mothers need mothering, and where we cannot be mothered we must learn to mother ourselves. We must coax ourselves to bed at a good time, encourage ourselves to pick up the phone to a listening ear, to walk, to breathe deeply. We must offer ourselves compassion for the moments we fall apart, gentleness as we brush our knees down and guidance as we seek ways to grow.

Sometimes I wonder if the raging mother-me who fantasises about throwing the pasta against the wall, is simply the acting out of my inner child, who is angered and hurt at the injustice of being so chronically overlooked.

5 tips to take you from exhausted to energised

By Wilma Macdonald @_maverickmotherhood.

“You’re a mum now, that’s just the way it is. We’re all tired.”

A note from Anna: I kind of knew it before, cognitively, but this past year it has truly sunk in that I need energy for far more than running after the kids. I need energy to laugh, to rationalise anxious thoughts, to think straight, to enjoy life. This is why I’m so excited to share Wilma’s words with you. Wilma is a nutritionist passionate about equipping fellow mothers with the energy needed to thrive in motherhood, rather than just dragging ourselves through in survival. She shares her five top tips to take you from exhausted to energised.

How many times have you heard that phrase when you’ve shared the fact that you’re so tired you can’t feel your face anymore.

Pre-pandemic, a lot of us were coasting close to our life limits. Now over, what feels like, 3000 lockdown days later, you’re feeling flat, lethargic and rundown, you’re last on the priority list (below the laundry basket) and feel like you’re holding on by your chipped fingernails most of the time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, I promise.

I know — from real won-in-the-trenches experience — that when you feel frazzled and exhausted, the joy of motherhood is harder to find.

And you deserve joy.

I’m going to share 5 tips that’ll help take you from exhausted to energised that include pleasure and don’t eliminate fun and joy

  1. Get your iron levels tested.

1.2 billion non pregnant women, 1.5 billion pregnant women. That’s how many, worldwide, the World Health Organisation say are affected by iron deficiency.

Studies have also shown that low iron levels may be one of the key contributing factors in fatigue in women. 1, 2

Your body stores iron but growing a human, birthing them, bleeding for 6 weeks afterwards and monthly menstruation depletes them. If you’re not filling these stores back up, your body will start giving you feedback.

If you’re knackered, cold all the time, struggling to concentrate and your hair is looking frazzled, ask your GP to check your iron levels – they won’t dismiss you or think you’re over reacting.

Food sources of iron to add to your plate are red meat, chicken, spinach, tofu, seeds. Vitamin C helps absorption while dairy and tannins inhibit it, so best have some red pepper instead of a cup of milky tea with your steak.

Always get professional advice on supplements as some have a tendency to bung you up. You don’t want to have to make a choice between being tired or being constipated.

  1. Now’s the time for nourishment not deprivation

If your car runs out of fuel, you take it to the petrol station and fill its tank up because it can’t run on fumes. Neither can you, no matter how hard you try.

One of the only ways to get more energy is through the calories you eat. Not just any calories, these are keeping you fuller for longer, nutrient dense, va va voom inducing calories.

Carbohydrates are usually the first to go, they’re the tantruming toddlers of the food world – misunderstood. They are your body’s and brain’s preferred energy source.

Refined carbs – white bread, pasta, croissants — are considered a dieting disaster as they release glucose (aka sugar) quickly, whereas unrefined carbs – sweet potato, apples, bananas, lentils — release the sugar slowly.

The carb encrusted key to your energy upgrade is to include a variety of carbs eaten alongside protein and fat. This is what’ll keep you off the energy rollercoaster that crashes mid-afternoon.

  1. Get to know the 3P’s of your bodily fluids

Did you keep a pee and poop diary for your tiny ones? It’s time to do the same for yourself.

The fluids that come out of your body are a detox pathway that give you a lot of information about your health.

They can tell you if you’re dehydrated, not eaten enough, if you’re ovulating, if oestrogen levels are low, if you’re not moving enough, if you need to chew your food more, if you’re nervous/excited, if you need help breaking down fats, if you’ve had enough fibre, if you’re stressed out…

The list goes on.

The 3P’s and what to look for are:

  • Poop – Shape, consistency, frequency
  • Pee – Colour, smell, frequency
  • Period Blood – Colour, consistency, clots

The key thing is to know what’s normal for you. Get comfy checking, track them and look for patterns – for example, if you’re stressed out do you get bunged up quicker or if you eat avocadoes do things move a bit faster.

  1. Focus on quality of sleep instead of quantity

“If I go to sleep in the next 5 mins and he doesn’t wake up, then I’ll get 6 hours, 15 mins and 12 seconds sleep”.  Anyone else do that? Instead of going to sleep, we get deep into an insta scroll comparing pink tiled utility rooms and wondering if everyone is doing a garden makeover apart from you.

Sleep training it is. For you, not for tiny human.

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night, think 1030pm not midnight
  • Tryptophan converts to melatonin, your sleep hormone. Oats, nuts, seeds, milk all contain tryptophan, have a snack or milk with these if hungry before bed
  • No devices an hour before bed
  • Brain dump into a journal
  • Clear clutter from bedroom
  • No caffeine after midday
  • Have an orgasm

For tonight, let’s start with one thing, put your phone far enough away that if you wake up in the night and stretch your arms out, you can’t reach it.

  1. Keep it simple

30 different vegetables a week
An hour of exercise every day
10 minutes of mediation at 530am
2 litres of water a day
9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night
Split your macros, count your peas, weigh your butter, lose the will

I could go on. It’s A LOT. Add some tiny humans into the mix and it’s no wonder you don’t know where to start or have the energy to find out.

Strip it back, way back……. further than that. Make it so small that you wonder if you’ve done anything.

Eat an extra portion of green vegetables
Meditate for 2 minutes
Drink one extra glass of water
Chase your toddler down the street
Go to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight
Read a page of your bonk buster before bed

Choose one of these and do it over and over again until it becomes a habit. It’s the small things we do repeatedly that build up to make a big difference

These 5 tips aren’t about supporting your health so that you can push yourself to your limits or be even more productive.

It’s about, giving yourself the same love, care and attention that you’re giving everyone else.

There’s never been a time when YOUR health needs the most love, care and attention than now.

Wilma is a nutritional therapist, mother, eBay enthusiast and founder of Maverick Motherhood where she’s on a mission to help exhausted mum’s upgrade their energy and inject vibrancy and va va voom into their lives. You can find her at maverickmotherhood.co and @_maverickmotherhood.


References:

  1. Krayenbuehl PA, Battegay E, Breymann C, Furrer J, Schulthess G, Intravenous iron for the treatment of fatigue in nonanemic, premenopausal women with low serum ferritin concentration, Blood (2011) 118 (12): 3222–3227.
  2. F Verdon, B Burnand, C-L Fallab Stubi, C Bonard, M Graff, A Michaud, T Bischoff, M de Vevey, J-P Studer, L Herzig, C Chapuis, J Tissot, A Pécoud, B Favrat Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind randomised placebo controlled trial 2003 May 24; 326(7399)

5 things about Pelvic Health

By Clare Bourne @clarebournephysio

A note from Anna: Never had I met someone so passionate about pelvic health that they carry a model pelvis in their handbag at all times. When I first met Clare, I thought ‘wow, if she is so evangelical about the pelvic floor, perhaps I need to listen up!’ Looking after your pelvic floor doesn’t stop at squeezing whilst you brush your teeth, here she is to tell you all you need to know.

We have probably all heard about our pelvic floor at some point, but was it just a leaflet handed to us with the advice to do some squeezes? For many you may not have given it another thought, but others of you might feel plagued by symptoms or changes in your body that you have never felt confident to talk about. So much of pelvic health is still taboo: incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, periods….do any of us find these things easy to open up about? I am sure the answer from most would be no.

Let’s dive into 5 things about our pelvic health to help open up this conversation and ensure those that need it get support.

1) Pelvic floor dysfunction is common in postnatal women but does not have to be forever

    • Incontinence, prolapse, painful sex…..just a few of the symptoms mums can experience and right off as, ‘well I’ve just had a baby’….often not helped when they try to reach out and are told ‘this is just what happens’ or ‘well at least you have a healthy baby.’ I want you to hear that there is help and treatment for all of the symptoms above, that doesn’t require surgery, and you CAN struggle with how your body has changed, new symptoms AND be grateful for your baby..
    • You are not alone if this is you, these symptoms are more common that you think:
    • 1 in 3 will suffer with incontinence
    • 1 in 12 with prolapse
    • 83% of women have reported to experience painful sex after birth.

2) Pelvic floor dysfunction is associated with depression 

    • As you can imagine all of the above symptoms mentioned can impact our mental health, which has been proven in research, and often these symptoms limit the exercise we feel we can do, and we know that exercise is good for our mental health. So it can really knock us from both angles, along with the loneliness and isolation that can occur as none of these topics are easy to open up about. Opening up is definitely the first step, start with a friend, your GP or find a pelvic health physiotherapist. Pelvic floor symptoms don’t need to stop you exercising, we might need to modify for a while but exercise and movement is good for our pelvic health, and we want to get you back to what you love.

3) How to approach your postnatal recovery 

A lot of women feel that the care and support they receive during pregnancy and birth is amazing, and yet as they transition into the postnatal period they feel alone and unsupported. Often this is the time when you navigate a lot of changes in your body and you move from pregnancy, where most are amazed by what their body can do, feeling empowered by it’s ability to grow your baby, to then shocked at how your body feels, it’s struggle to function as it did before and unsure of exactly how to care for it. My top advice is to take the first 6 or so weeks slow, you don’t have anything to prove. Focus on caring for yourself, rest, good nutrition, water, fresh air and sharing how you feel. Please remember caring for yourself IS caring of your baby. It is natural for us to want to be active, but slow and steady really does win the race. In the early weeks focus on pelvic floor exercises and deep breathing and know that you are building the foundations for future activity and exercise.

4) How do you do pelvic floor exercises?

I know, I know…they are boring and dull…and yet so essential! We’ve probably all heard of them, but how do we actually do them? Just squeeze and hope for the best, imagine a lift going up and down to multiple floors…. actually for most of us it is as simple as thinking about holding in wind (and let’s be honest we’ve all done that before!!) It is often more gentle and subtle that you think, so try it now, think about holding wind and letting go. You shouldn’t be using your bottom muscles or leg muscles, but just feel a tightening around the back passage and vagina that no one else can see. They are a totally stealth exercise…which makes them brilliant and yet so easy to forget. Make sure you fully let go between each squeeze but try building a few into your day. Like so many things in life they are just an investment in our health, even if they are not that fun.   

5) How to access support and help if you are struggling

Some of you might have really tried to do pelvic floor exercises and just feel you are not getting anywhere. This could be for a number of reasons but we think around 50% of women are doing them wrong, and this is where a pelvic health physiotherapist comes in. It is our job to help you to learn how to do your pelvic floor exercises correctly and support you with your symptoms. You can get referred on the NHS via your GP for symptoms of incontinence, prolapse, painful sex, diastasis recti or pelvic pain, or you can find one privately via www.thepogp.co.uk or www.squeezyapp.com.

Clare Bourne is a pelvic health physiotherapist based in London and a Mum of 2. Her passion is to openly talk about taboo topics and help to make women feel less alone on their pelvic health journey. She is soon to launch her new ‘All About Mum’ Cards which provide all essential information for a new Mum and her postnatal recovery. You can find Clare @clarebournephysio or clare-bourne.com

Ruby in the Rubble – We shouldn’t judge what we are not, but we do.

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Lauren Kaighan

A note from Anna: Pleasing others and ensuring they think I’m a good person has been a driver for so much in my life, and also the reason I’ve held back. Address this (I’ve written a course called The People Pleasing Course to help guide you in doing so too), continues to change my life in the most healthy and freeing way! I loved reading Lauren’s reflections and realisations as she comes to terms with the fact that her needs and feelings are just as valid and valuable as those of others.

We shouldn’t judge what we are not. But we do. It’s so difficult, it’s a natural reaction to form an unconscious bias, at least. So even when we try not to judge, I’m certain that most people will do it, even if it is unconsciously and as much as we try not to. What really irks me though is when people think it’s appropriate to portray that judgement though it was fact. Or use it to try and pull down another person. Or to shame another person.

But, we do all do it, judge things that we are not, I suppose it’s a natural reaction.

‘Her house is so clean’, ‘Her house is so messy’. ‘He eats too much’, ‘He doesn’t eat enough’. ‘Did you see what so and so did/said’…

Her house might be clean because it helps with her anxiety. He might not eat enough because he has an eating disorder. There is so much judgement, more so right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was so guilty of it. ‘They aren’t from the same household’, ‘They shouldn’t have travelled that far’ and then one day I realised that actually they were from the same household, they just went to and from their other parents’ house (which was within the rules) and actually travelling to the countryside for a walk wasn’t a terrible breach of the rules either and something that later saved my mental health. And I also realised then, we shouldn’t judge what we are not, particularly when we don’t know the circumstances. These judgements, I realised, came from a place of fear.

I think that’s important to acknowledge that judgement does often come from a place of fear, the unknown or jealousy. In my experience anyway.

I had a baby during the pandemic, the week before the U.K. went into what we now know as ‘Lockdown 1.0’. I was petrified. For my family, the world, but most importantly my newborn baby. I spent weeks inside the house, scared to go outside, making excuses to not go for our daily walk. When I finally agreed to be dragged out for a walk, I was navigating my baby in her pram away from lampposts, cars and walls. I was that scared of touching anything around me in case I caught the virus, forgetting that actually, I could quite easily have gotten run over by a car when I was avoiding people by walking in the middle of the road. I was so focused on not getting the virus, I wasn’t enjoying my newborn baby. One night, mid breakdown, I knew I had to get better, to be better. I focused on my daily routine and the things we could do and enjoy as a family. Most importantly I stopped judging other people and what they were doing. I stopped worrying about whether people around me were following or not following the rules, that didn’t need my headspace. I needed to focus on my mental health and my family. I prioritised the things I enjoyed and switched off from the noise of the media and looked only at the facts. I also realised you have to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t and that until you know someone’s individual circumstances, have walked in their shoes, you cannot judge someone else and what they do.

It was this particular lightbulb moment for me that made me sit back and realise all of the things I’d not done for fear of judgement. The things I’d not said in case it was misconstrued or somebody didn’t agree. For some reason, I have an opinion that when I meet people that they won’t like me, and that I have to work for their approval. It’s a basic setting for me and I don’t know why. That probably will take a whole lot more than just writing to understand. But what I’ve realised is I now ask myself; ‘do I care?’ and ‘of what consequence is it?’. Am I so worried to be judged that I won’t do or say something that I want to? So, in the same way that unconsciously we may judge other people, we’ve got to accept that people may also judge us. But does it matter?

We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know. But we do. Why do we judge people on how they raise their children? Unless there is harm coming to that child, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people on what they do for a living? If it’s not stopping our bills getting paid, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people that either wear too much make up or not enough? If you were truly happy in your own skin would it bother you as much?  Why do we judge those that breastfeed, as well as those that don’t or can’t? A baby needs to be fed, no matter how you choose or need to do it. True, we all have our own opinions, and that is fine. But the minute you project that opinion to become a judgement onto a person or the minute you cast doubt over someone’s integrity with your judgement, it becomes unfair.

As I’ve said, of course, it’s natural to judge, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have those thoughts and opinions (obviously!) but it’s just being mindful about what you put out into the world. Especially right now. It’s all such a learning curve and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there, I’ve done it. And I still do it. But now I’m a lot more mindful and do you know what? I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. Why should I be worrying about what other people are doing if I feel like I’m doing enough?

I’m hopeful that this realisation is helping me on my way to not caring as much as what people think about me, to an extent. I’ll always care about some things and that can be a good thing too. I guess this realisation started for me when I finally started writing my blog (thirtyandfabulous.blog) I’d wanted to do it for so long and I put it off because I worried about what people would think or say. But so what. I enjoy writing and it’s like a version of therapy for me. This realisation has evolved so much over the last year, since having a baby, your priorities change, and through lockdown I realised going forward my energy needs to only go on things that I want to do. I’ve been so focused on what other people were doing and how they were living their lives, I forgot to enjoy my own (I say enjoy lightly there – we were/are in the middle of a pandemic after all!).

I’m working on letting go of things that no longer serve me and focus on the things you can control, and that certainly isn’t how other people will judge you.

5 Things To… Improve Communication With Your Partner

 

By Catherine Topham Sly @insightandconnection

A note from Anna: Amidst the challenges of the last year, investing in our relationships with our partners may have slid down the list of priorities. In our household, we often have to remind ourselves that we are on the same team as we find ourselves bickering or feeling misunderstood. Catherine gives us some golden tips on how we can best approach these moments of tension and frustration.

We all know that communication is one of the secrets to a happy relationship. But it can be hard to know how to do it well. This is especially true when we didn’t grow up around great communicators (so that’s most of us, including me).

When you can’t get through to your partner it’s frustrating, stressful, and ultimately, miserable.

Most of the time, better communication means being a touch braver. We have to trust our partners – and ourselves – enough to take a risk and let them see a little bit more of us.

In my experience working with couples, our partners know way less about how we feel about things than we think. And stuff said in arguments usually doesn’t go in properly, because we can’t think straight when we’re angry. So if you haven’t talked about it calmly, you haven’t talked about it.

It can be scary to say how you feel, what’s worrying you, or what you need. It’s worth it though, to break those frustrating patterns of misunderstandings that only leave you feeling further apart.

1. Say how you feel (not what your partner’s doing wrong!)

Most of us here in the West were not brought up to pay much attention to our emotions. And everyone wants a partner who’s easy-going, right?

So what we tend to do is put up with things, often not fully aware we’re getting annoyed or upset. We often do this until something tips us over the edge and we blow. Sound familiar?

Then our perfectly valid complaints come out critical or blaming. And the trouble with this is that criticism just invites defensiveness.

Want to break that frustrating pattern of criticism-defence? This is how: notice and talk more about how you feel. Take the focus off what your partner has (or hasn’t) done. State the facts of the situation, as blandly as possible. Then tell them how you feel about it – using emotion words.

So instead of saying, “You never listen to me!” try, “When I’m saying something and you look at your phone, I feel rejected”.

Think they already know how you feel? Don’t be so sure. Humans are not as see-through as we think we are.

2. Share what you imagine

One of the most powerful changes you can make in your relationship is to get into the habit of saying the things you’re imagining.

Most of us do something like this. But a lot of the time they come out as accusations. So when you’re frustrated, you might say something like, “You don’t care about me at all!”

Where does this get us? More defensiveness. (Ugh.)

See if you can be brave enough to share your fears from a softer place. Try something like, “When you looked away, I imagined you weren’t interested in what I had to say… or even in me.”

Find the courage to let your partner hear about your worries. When they see your vulnerable side, they’ll feel more empathy and softness towards you. This will make them feel closer to you, and more willing to help.

3. Ask for what you need

How do you know you need to address something? An emotion tells you, whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness, or even excitement.

That’s how it works: feelings are messengers about needs.

Ask yourself, “What do I need?” whenever you feel a wave of emotion. (This will change not just your relationship with your partner but your life.)

We can’t always get all our needs met, at least at the same time. But until we acknowledge and discuss them, we’re missing opportunities to find solutions.

“I need you to give me your undivided attention for a few minutes” is a great start. “Because I need to feel like I’m important to you and you want to understand me” is even better.

It helps to follow up needs with specific requests, like “Would you be willing to…?”

If your partner isn’t used to talking like this, they might not respond how you want at first. Stay with it – a request is just the starting point of a negotiation.

4. Say ‘and’ not ‘but’

The simple habit of saying and instead of but can transform your communication. This might sound like verbal trickery. But it can actually create a genuine shift in how you and your partner look at things.

The trouble with the word but is that it often dismisses whatever came before it. And, on the other hand, is expansive.

If my partner says, “I’m exhausted” and I say, “But I need you to do this”, how will he feel? Like I completely invalidated his exhaustion.

If I say, “I know you’re exhausted, and we need to do get this done”, he’ll at least feel seen and understood.

That’s the point of a partnership, by the way: to make your partner feel loved, appreciated, understood, accepted, important, and close to you. The rest is just details.

5. Know when it’s better not to talk

You might think that a relationship therapist would recommend always talking about everything. Nope!

There are plenty of times when it’s better not to talk. If either of you is angry, hungry, exhausted, drunk, in a bad mood, or feeling insecure, or if the kids are in the room, wait.

Take a break whenever either of you feels overwhelmed by a conversation. If you keep getting wound up every time you come back to a topic, it can help to write to each other instead.

The thing about communication is that often less is more. If you bang on about things, your partner will stop listening. See if you can make your point in just a few sentences, and then leave it. Resist the urge to say it again a different way. Let it sink in.

Research has found that happy couples say five positive things to each other for every one negative. Try keeping track of your ratio. Increase the number of compliments and thanks your partner hears. See what changes.

Want to know the great thing about improving communication? Small changes can have a massive impact. Vulnerability is strength – watch what happens when you lean into yours.

I want to shout less. I want to drink less.

‘I shouted at Charlie. Like, really shouted at him. He cried. I cried, and now I feel bad’

Oh Anna, we all do that.
Don’t worry about it.
It’s tough.
Everyone loses it sometimes.
It’s not like it’s all the time.

‘I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink. Just one the evening, but I need to have more booze free days’

Don’t worry about that.

Everyone is doing it.
It’s necessary, it’s needed.
You deserve it. What else do you have to look forward to?
It’s not like it’s a bottle.

I’ve uttered both of these things over the last few months, many times in varying ways. To friends on walks, on the phone.

Both are normalised, the shouting, the losing your rag. Oh those days when I gaze at the small, sleeping form of my child, stroke a cheek and promise to do better the next day. To be more present. Oh the days I climb into bed, my body softened by wine, promising to replace the next day’s pouring of a glass with the rolling out of a yoga mat.

But it’s all hard. Because it’s hard. And whilst my heart knows what I need, my mind and body are challenged by the upheaval of time, support, friendship, change in context, and adventures beyond my postcode.

So I swallow down emotions. I ignore a need for space because it’s not easy to find it, practically, logistically. I hold it all in, my edges taught and stretched like an overstuffed bin-bag. But sometimes it all comes pouring out, a broken damn, spilling everywhere, causing flood damage in its wake.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I continue. I fill up, I spill out.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

I flop onto the sofa. Knowing I need to talk, to be heard, to process. Knowing I need to rest, not scroll, talk not stare at yet another episode of a programme who’s plotline I have long lost. I need to wind down, to slow down, to calm my wired mind.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I pour a glass, I sigh, my shoulders drop.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

But in reaching out to friends, I get support. It all gets normalised. I am not alone, we are not alone. In the shouting, in the pouring of a glass. In all of the things.

Yet the guilt never softened with the utterances of ‘we’re all doing it’.

Because, underneath, whilst I know I am not alone, I also know we need to be gentle on ourselves, I am stepping beyond my own sense of what is okay for me. I do not want to let loose on my kids, I do not want to join them in their tantrums. I do not want to be reaching for daily wine as a means to a chaotic end.

In the normalising of things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, I’m not falling to meet an unreachable bar, I’m lowering a valid one.

Sometimes, our minds want to hear ‘It’s fine’ whilst our hearts are whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better?’.

When we are full, and tired, and stretched and wired, it’s easier to spill out and fall into our own cracks.

I spoke to my husband about my overstuffed bin-bag. And we planned and we juggled, and I battled with the guilt that rose when he pledged to take the toddler for a daily walk so we could focus on home learning. I coach myself to accept the offer of an extra ten minutes in bed, or head up for an early night even though we’re half way through an episode.

And I fight the guilt, and do it anyway, because half an hour’s reading in bed can be the difference between having a messy meltdown, and the ability to breathe through the stress instead.

And as for the daily wine, I found a couple of friends who said ‘me too’, who echoed my ‘it’s understandable but it’s not what I want either’. And we’ve been doing a month of consistent booze free weekdays and it feels good.

But it’s a dance, a dalliance between what I want and what I need. Where compassion and care collide with, zig zag and cross over ease and gentleness. But it’s a dance I’m glad I’m dancing, all the same.

If the relief of normalising no longer hits the sweet spot that silences guilt, then perhaps your heart is whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better for myself?’.

Sometimes our yearning for ‘better’ isn’t driven by perfectionism.

It’s driven by a deep desire for freedom from the things that keep the flames of guilt alight
And for someone to stand beside you as you reach for it.

Ruby in the Rubble – How do you eat an elephant?

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Laura Castree

How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

A note from Anna: Perfectionism can find us inactive, halting moving forward because the cost of getting it (whatever it may be) wrong in some way, is high!  For many who struggle with procrastination, the issue is less often laziness and more often the fear of failure. A task can feel so insurmountable when the desire to do it perfectly is strong. I absolutely love Laura’s story of how a simple question has become a weapon with which she repeatedly breaks through this barrier of stifling perfectionism.

From a young age I have been aware of two warring factions within myself, which so often are forced into uncomfortable co-existence in those they afflict: ambition and perfectionism. I never wondered how exactly I inherited this particular mixture of blessing and curse; I grew up in a home which was the product and reward of my father’s incredible ambition, which was anchored by my mother’s loving perfectionism. Seeing what these two traits had done for my parents and for me meant that I never once considered that they would be difficult to manage when combined within one individual.

In reality, it has taken years for me to harness and manage these impulses. School days are, of course, the best of our lives, but for me they often proved overwhelming. I adored writing, but a word limit often stretched out before me as a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I spent evenings crafting vivid and wonderful futures for myself, and found myself horrified at the thought of the impossible feats required to achieve them. This ebb and flow of ambition, so often stalled and defeated by perfectionist anxiety, became more of a burden than a blessing.

In the height of one such episode, I remember being stopped in my tracks when some unfortunate unpaid therapist of mine posed the question that would change my life: “Look. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.” I wish I could say that I remember the date, particular meltdown and wonderful individual who gave me this gift, but unfortunately it is only the memory of this phrase which has endured. The first remarkable impact it had was to force me to pause, frown, and then laugh. I am now a teacher of secondary school children and this is still a moment I truly adore. I have deployed this phrase to pupils gulping down sobs after friendship breakdowns, hyperventilating before exams, and proclaiming that they are simply unable to process German grammar. The first gift offered by this phrase is that it forces the recipient to stop, think, and breathe, like the moment’s respite you experience when passing under a bridge in the pouring rain.

The second miracle in this simple phrase, is that it begins to transform a perilous mountain pass into a series of familiar stepping stones, and to transform our journey into a sequence of one foot after the other. I have personally never endeavoured to eat an elephant, but I am generally proficient in the use of a knife and fork, and as such already possess the tools to contemplate such a mammoth task (pun intended). When we think of overwhelming tasks we tend to envisage them in their towering, terrifying entirety, like the notion of eating an elephant in one mouthful. In reality they are so often comprised of a sequence of smaller bites which may take time and grit, but are certainly within our grasp. At one point several years ago I found myself in a position where I was simultaneously applying for teacher training programmes, selling my first home and buying another, studying an advanced French course in the evening and working full-time during the day. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody, it was made possible by my miraculous elephant mantra; if I had taken a step back to look upon the situation I would most likely have failed, but instead I planned and lived in week-sized portions and somehow emerged victorious.

For me, the elephant has taken different forms over time. My inherited blend of ambition and perfectionism often produces elephants of my own making, as above, but it also makes our current, inescapable situation very uncomfortable. The indefinite expanse of time spent in lockdown stretching out before us is an elephant in itself; a parallel universe where ambitions are simply on pause and perfectionism is often beyond our grasp. I have friends who are home-schooling whilst breastfeeding for whom the routine of every day is an elephant, and I have family in the process of grieving who cannot even envisage the size and scope of theirs.

Whilst we are all experiencing our collective trauma very differently, what we all have in common is our knife and fork. Some days we pick them up with relish, and others with a sigh, but we pick them up nonetheless. The final gift of my lifesaving phrase is the promise it makes that you can, and will, eat your elephant. It might take months, or years, and you might throw down your knife and fork one day only to retrieve them the next, but one day you will accomplish the feat which once seemed simply too gargantuan and absurd to contemplate. How do you eat an elephant? With a knife and fork.

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