Monday, 25 January 2016

Working Mums v Stay at Home Mums

Below is my most recent blog, written for the Huff and for here.  I haven't actually posted it to the Huff yet.  I want to find a suitable picture to go with the piece first and because I want to get on with my latest attempt at a novel I am going to wait until my computer support team (husband and eldest daughter) are home this evening.  Laziness?  Yes, perhaps.  But I am Giving Up Feeling Guilty.  In fact, that might be the title for my next blog post...  Anyway, here is this one:

Working Mums v. Stay at Home Mums

At the start of January I made a resolution to write one blog post a week – and whoops, I have blown it already.  Last week I had other priorities.  A friend popped in unexpectedly one morning for a chat.  The next day I had to take one of my daughters to the opticians.  I had a parents’ meeting and a school uniform sale to attend.  The few hours a day that I try to allocate to writing gradually became consumed by other matters.  By Friday I had stopped even trying (or pretending to try) to write and just spent the day out shopping with a friend. 

It is all too easy to become distracted when you work from home, so much so that sometimes the distractions seem to be part of the routine.  I feel privileged to be able to take my children to appointments or to pick them up from school if they are poorly.  I like to meet friends occasionally for coffee or lunch and a chat.  I do usually manage to fit in some writing during the day but it is sometimes hard to find the motivation.  By last weekend though, after a whole week of not writing, it was tempting to think that perhaps I should find a job and contribute to the family in a more measurable way – i.e. financially. 

The trouble is, I have friends who are working mums, I observe them becoming stressed with all the tasks they have to juggle and I can’t see myself existing that way.  Plus, just because I enjoy my days, doesn’t mean I have an easy ride.  I do a lot of chores; cooking, cleaning, all the things that keep a household running, and I do have a large family (a husband, four children and two dogs) to look after.  I think perhaps every family needs someone in a support role – certainly in the absence of family members to rely on.  I shouldn’t feel guilty, I tell myself.  I have plenty to keep me busy. 

I am not a helicopter parent, at least not deliberately, but I am around to help the children when they need me, and I probably have more time than most to think about what is the best way to feed them, what are the most suitable activities out of school and so on.  I am trying to raise independent, confident children, I am trying to make their lives as secure as possible so that when they grow up they won’t have the problems that I did.  It is important to me to prove that I am a good mother, a capable mother - although I know that most people don’t even consider such things in relation to themselves or anyone else. 

And that’s the other thing – because of the track my life has taken, I don’t know if anybody would employ me anyway.  Would you employ a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia?  I am not sure that even I would.

So, is it better to be a working mum or a stay at home mum?  I don't know, because I have only ever tried one of those options.  All any of us can do in life is our best, which will depend on our personal circumstances and those of our family.  I would say from personal experience, that once you have chosen a path it is probably better for your sanity not to wonder what the road not travelled might have held. 

Sometimes, blogging feels like shouting into the ether.  There are so many things on the internet and in the world at large competing for our attention, why should anybody want to read about what I think?  Last week, though, a friend phoned to say she had read my last piece about how every down in life has a corresponding up and that we should always bear this in mind when we are going through troubled times.  She said it had really helped her – and that was enough to encourage me to get back on track. 

This week, I will write more than last week (that won’t be difficult!)  I will continue to blog regularly, or try my hardest to do so.  I will keep plodding on, and one day I might even finish one of the many novels that I keep embarking on and abandoning.  Or perhaps, when the children are grown, I might go out and find a job after all.

Meanwhile, life goes on and everyone in my little home is healthy and happy, including me.  

It is all progress, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.


Monday, 11 January 2016

When Times Get Hard - Hold On!

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2016 is to write a weekly blog post on the subject of mental health, or as I prefer to term it, emotional wellbeing.  Last week I wrote about how to battle your neuroses – or to ignore them and carry on regardless - and in either case why you should do your utmost to make the most of life.

In my opinion, the reason we are here on this planet is to be happy.  I don’t know how I formed this opinion – I suppose I feel it, rather than think it.  Sometimes life gets hard and happiness seems elusive, but there are certain things we can do to help ourselves even in difficult circumstances.

There is a particular factor which I think is crucial to our happiness and our emotional wellbeing – at least, it’s something which I have learned in life and I think might be useful to others to know.  It’s about the importance of holding on.  That for every down there will be a corresponding up. 

Life does throw us a curve ball sometimes but things always improve.  How long things take to get better will depends on the nature of the event and on the individual reaction to it.  When I was young, I seemed to experience vast tracts of time during which I felt lost and lonely and I do wish I had been aware at that time of how much better, fuller and more rewarding things would become in the future.       
This seems to be to be one of the fundamental truths in life – if you only hold on, things will get better.   I get so sad when I hear of people giving in to hard times, especially if they harm themselves in any way.  I wish I could say to them – keep your body intact, look after it, because your mind will heal to match it in time. 

A friend who travelled to Africa on a humanitarian mission a couple of years ago said that the people she met there were the happiest she had ever known.  They were just grateful every day to be here on earth, alive, despite the extreme difficulty of their everyday living conditions compared to our own.

Which is not to say that our own problems are imagined – but we would do well to remember that we too are lucky to be here.  Sometimes we over-complicate our lives by fretting over things which will not seem to matter at all a year or two hence.  Certainly, we should not fret over the presence or absence of material objects in our existences – the fact that we are here is a wonderful and precious thing, and we should remember to cherish it above all else.

We need to understand, as the Africans instinctively do, that in being here we are blessed.  You don’t need to be religious at all to think this way, but it does help to understand, or to believe, that there is something bigger than us out there in the universe.   When I was younger I didn’t allow myself the comfort of faith and the world seemed a much harder place for it. 

So to sum up: bad times, or low moods, don’t last forever.  For every down, there is a corresponding up.  It might not be a long term problem at all – simply go for a long walk and you might feel better even faster than you anticipated – if not, keep exercising, sleep well, etc…  Or if, as I once did, you have lost hope, remind yourself that you will find it again eventually.  Definitely.   

Just persevere, keep going.  Take one step at a time to improve your emotional well–being: Exercise, eat well, sleep and rise at regular hours, confide your feelings to a friend or to your diary.    Look after yourself and just keep on taking those small steps forward.  Because one day, beyond doubt, you will look back and realise that you have risen above your circumstances and that you are properly happy again, at last.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

I have decided to update this blog weekly, after neglecting it somewhat in recent months/years.  I think it is important to keep trying to spread the word about emotional distress - to avoid the disease perspective, to encourage people to believe in their chances of recovery from various symptoms, to emphasise the point that drugs are not essential to this process.  I just know I am not unique as a person who has suffered several severe breakdowns and yet gone on to live a full life.  It will never cease to bother me that more people are not aware of their potential for recovery.  Well, actually it will cease to bother me - when the situation is remedied.

Anyway, to aid my chances of success in blogging every week and to simplify matters, I am going to post the same blog here as on the Huffington Post.  I have not made the most of the opportunity I was given on that paper, just over a year ago and I have resolved to do so from now on.  Many people dream of blogging for the Huff - I was offered the chance on a plate and perhaps failed to appreciate it sufficiently.

Onwards and upwards. 

By the way, this blog wont be up on the Huff until later tonight or tomorrow, because I have to find a picture to accompany it first.  I need to get on with my latest Work in Progress now, because novels don't get on and write themselves, as I have discovered to my cost...

 So, you saw it here first...  Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

I am on a constant drive to beat my neuroses.  Sometimes it feels a bit like that game where you hit the crocodiles or frogs or whatever with a hammer – you bash one down then another pops up in a different place, seemingly faster and faster…  Funnily enough I started to write this blog one day last week and then the following day Deborah Ross, one of my favourite columnists in The Times, used the same analogy in that paper and had the correct name for the game too – Whack a Mole. 

So then I was going to edit that bit out of this column because I didn’t want anyone to think I was copying her.  Then I decided that in fact I should go ahead, because I thought of it before she wrote her column and anyway, what does it matter…  You see what I mean?  I am neurotic.  I think about and analyse far too many things, take responsibility for all of it and then anguish unnecessarily. 

Anyway, I am going to keep fighting my neuroses.  Sometimes this is best done by ignoring them (although note that this is pretty hard if, like me, you are in the habit of writing about your various issues and then publishing the said writing).  Some of my difficulties I have to face head on.  I am not sure why, I just feel compelled to.  For example, many people (women especially) have or develop a fear of driving and they, probably sensibly, just take avoidance action – after all, nobody has to get behind the wheel of a car. 

I like driving around town and am grateful to have the use of a car, but I have always been fearful of driving on motorways.  I don’t really need to do any motorway driving these days but every so often I make myself do some anyway, just to prove that I still can.  Even if I am shaking and sweating before the journey (and I always am) I find that the next time is immeasurably easier (as long as I don’t leave it too long between trips). 

I won’t list any of my other ‘problems’ just now.  I have done so elsewhere, at length.  I do want to share the good news though, for anyone who is still suffering from various worries, phobias, neuroses or however you want to term them.  As you get older, all sorts of things become easier – from socialising (you tend not to care so much about what other people think of you) to working (you tend not to care so much about what other people think of you) to battling your various fears (you tend not to care so much…etc). 

Basically as you get older, you realise that you are not the only person in the world who worries about things.  Everyone is riddled with insecurities, they just manifest them in different ways, or if they are really lucky, they have learned to overcome their difficulties (I recently re-read M Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled and it was brilliant on this subject).

So, my advice is, just get on with life.  Enjoy it.  Tackle things, or choose not to.  Live.  Don’t be shackled by fear.  In fact, feel the fear and do it anyway.  And guess what - I stole the title for this article from the book of the same name by Susan Jeffers.  But – you know – who cares?!   

Happy New Year to everyone by the way.  I hope it brings you all much success and happiness.