Blank Space

Today I have pirates running around my garden.

This is wonderful, seeing as the smallest pirate puked all over herself last night. It’s also brilliant because vomit leads to cancelled swimming lesson which leads to blank space in the schedule.

Blank space in a schedule can be filled. Filled with chores, with errands, with small tasks that seem to build up. Or it can be left blank.

Today I chose to do nothing in our blank space. The kids asked for a DVD, which held their attention for about half an hour. But while I was doing the dishes, the noises changed. Footsteps rushed off to the bedroom, and then came back wearing costumes. So now, there’s treasure, bad guys and ‘aaarrr me hearties’.

Blank space in the schedule can be great thing for kids and adults. We can choose to fill it, or leave it blank and let the whims take us where they will.

Letting my kids choose, and choosing not to drive to the supermarket, go to the park or mow the lawn has given us a little freedom in our day. If we’d gone to town, or even if I’d planned a craft activity or story time, I wouldn’t have happy little pirates running around in the garden. Opening the space to allow creative and imaginative play for the kids, and some time to sit in the sun with a book for me, has been good all around. No cranky, no complaints, and a little relaxation. Blank space is good for the brain, for the body, and for my ability to cope with life in general.

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You’re awesome!

I bet you don’t hear that often enough. But think about it. What do you do, with your time, for others, for a job, for a hobby?

You are not an amoeba (although they are pretty cool, too). You do not exist in a vacuum. And who you are has an effect on those around you.

Do you bring baked goods to the office? That’s awesome.

Do you feed and clothe your kids with no help from anyone else? Brilliant work.

Do you love wholeheartedly? Beautiful.

Do you ask after the health of the lady at the checkout? So kind.

Do you get up every day, ready to face the world again after going through a rough patch? That’s fantastic.

However we live, and whoever we are, we have value. And in the crazy, funny, beautiful, hard, scary, sad and difficult world we live in, it’s really important to remember that.

So here’s to you. You are freaking awesome.

Perceptions – Break the Stigma

I had a conversation with another staff member at work this week. I do this often. My workplace is enjoyable and the people I work with are nice. I like my job and I like the people. But this conversation gave me more to think about than I’d expected.

A chance remark made by this person, about another we worked with made me think about the stigma of mental health.

A whispered remark about someone having had treatment for a mental health condition.

An expression on a face that spoke volumes.

A concern over fitness for working in their profession.

The biggest thing I took from this conversation was that there is still such stigma over depression and mental health issues.

I can excuse the words of another by way of their youth, and the fact that their experience of life is different than my own. But I cannot accept that people should still be judged for having sought treatment for themselves in relation to mental health.

Surely having treatment, in any form, is better than going through life at the whim of changing moods and emotions, anxieties and fears. Surely, having treatment should be praised, rather than censured.

Having had post natal depression twice, and seeking counselling for a traumatic event, I know how much bravery it took to admit that I had problem, that I needed help to deal with it. I have so much praise for others who seek help for their mental health issues. I have, more than once, suggested people seek counselling for themselves, because it was so beneficial for me.

Maybe I should have tried to challenge the perceptions of the person I was chatting with, open their eyes to something that they obviously have no experience of themselves. But I did not. I never mentioned my own experiences, or said anything to normalise the experience of the third person about whom whispers were circling.

Did I feel the stigma? Yes. Did I feel I would be judged for my experience? Maybe. Did I think it was my place to comment on someone else’s personal experience of which I knew nothing? No.

I will say, now, that perceptions of those of us who have struggled with our mental health isn’t helped by the whispered comments. No matter that we may now function normally, there is always the constant monitoring of emotions, the meditations and down time, the scheduling and planning that comes with trying to keep ones emotional balance. There will always be the quiet, behind closed doors part of me that will be ensuring I get enough sleep, that I’m eating right, that I’m getting enough exercise and sunshine. I will always be monitoring myself so that I don’t slide back into that place filled with fear and dark.

It takes bravery to own your past, good, bad and indifferent. It takes bravery to own that you’ve needed help. It takes bravery to crawl out of the hole and find the help. Knowing that I’ve faced those things with courage, maybe next time the topic comes up, I’ll own with courage the fact that many people have needed help, and I am one of them. Maybe next time I’ll be brave enough to help break the stigma.

Six different kinds….

It’s complicated. I don’t want to discuss it. I’d rather everyone didn’t know. It’s not something I like to bring up. Just don’t talk about it.

Life is a complex bowl of muesli. It’s got some good bits, the bits you like and are happy to eat. Then it’s also got the unpleasant bits, the bits that get stuck in your teeth, the bits you’d rather spit out. But it’s impolite to spit out your food, so we swallow it, good and bad, because you don’t always control what goes into the big ol’ cereal bowl of life.

And sometimes, just like muesli, life can be six different kinds of f****d up.

So what do you do? That’s the big question isn’t it? That’s the question for which, if we knew the answer, we’d be rolling in puppies (or money, your choice).

In my experience of the ‘six different kinds…’ the getting through it is all a variation on the theme ‘suck it up, princess’. Sounds harsh, I know. And some of the stuff that we go through, to suck it up and soldier on is not the easy answer some people seem to think it is.

It might be ‘suck it up, going to the shrink is not going to kill you’, or ‘suck it up, someone has to feed and clothe these kids’, or even ‘suck it up, go to the authorities’.

Sounds simple? It really isn’t. Anyone who has dealt with mental illness, divorce, widowhood, the death of a child, family violence, terminal illness or any other traumatic experience is changed by it. And the change can be fundamental, not only in the way we view the world, but in the way we view ourselves.

It’s an old adage, but it’s true, you don’t know how strong you are until you have no other choice. I know because I’ve been through some ‘six different kinds…’ moments that completely changed how I interact with the world around me.

I’ve become more sensitive to mental illness because I’ve suffered from post natal depression.

I’ve become more accepting of difference because I love a kid who lives on the spectrum.

I’ve become more solid because I am the stable place my children need to feel safe.

I’ve become more open because I refuse to be closed off by anyone again.

I’ve become more giving because I’ve had so much taken from me.

I’ve become stronger from having had to walk through fire to do what’s right.

So when some ignorant tool belt tells you to ‘get over it’ or someone who just doesn’t understand tells you ‘at least you’ve got your health’, you can tell them to get lost (even if only in your head).

But when someone tells you to ‘suck it up, princess’, you can choose to take it in a manner they probably didn’t intend. Choose to overcome, choose to ask for help (or beg if you have to), choose to be open about your losses, choose to be the bigger person, choose to do what’s right. Sometimes there’s really no choice at all. Life throws, and sometimes you’re catching the shit end of the stick.

But sometimes something that starts out ‘six different kinds of f****d up’ can eventually be something that helps to create something beautiful.

 

Natural Chilblain Remedy

Autumn has not started, so under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be thinking about chilblains. But my current job means that no matter the weather outside, inside is always colder. And spending my days playing in liquid nitrogen means that my hands get pretty darn cold.

Thankfully after some research last winter, I found something that made a big difference to my feet and fingers. Lanolin.

Lanolin is just the grease that comes from sheeps wool. It is a natural waterproofing and insulating agent that is used in many commercial products. I have no idea why it works, but it was a saviour for me. It meant I could wear my winter boots rather than sneakers, which also meant warmer, less soggy feet.

I still had a tube of Lansinoh from when I was breastfeeding and would massage it into my feet and hands before going to bed (wear socks or you end up with slimy sheets). After a few weeks my feet didn’t hurt anymore, and I still have half a tube to get me through the coming winter. Now that I know what helps, I won’t have to suffer through painful winter feet anymore. And for that I thank sheep farmers, and nature for being so clever.