Dear Friend

The other evening I happened to catch an episode of the show ‘The Davina Hour’ on television, it was such an honest and thought provoking episode all centred on friendship. It really got me thinking about friends, especially navigating the world of friendships in your 30s, after having children and whilst struggling with mental health issues.

I’ve thought a lot about this post and agonised over whether to share my thoughts and feelings on the topic. It’s such a personal subject but I know that a lot of people I speak to also struggle with maintaining, creating and outgrowing relationships after having children. I can only speak for myself, but after having Lil I sometimes barely felt like I knew myself anymore, so it’s no wonder my friends felt distant. It’s taken until she is 2 to feel like I am returning to my ‘old self’. Post natal depression and anxiety have an overwhelming affect on every area of your life, and in my experience, often make it hard to be a very good friend or feel like you are worthwhile being around.

I can’t even recall how many times in the past couple of years I have ducked out of seeing friends by using ‘I’m not much fun to be around at the moment’. Now I’m able to look back more rationally, I can see that my friends didn’t care if I was going to be fun or the life and soul of every get together – they just wanted to see me and reconnect.

Back in July, I embarked upon a 6 week mission with the amazing Mary Meadows and Emma Fullwood from Supercharged Club. (I am going to write a full blog post about this, it definitely deserves it – it’s AMAZING). A large part of the mission is to look at your goals, values and serious life-editing. It really forced me to look at my life, the people in it and how I communicate. This kind of self discovery is so liberating and really freed me of some of the anxiety surrounding my friendships and the people in my life. It made me realise that rather than feeling guilty about being a ‘bad friend’ whilst going through tough times, I should actually bring the people who did stick around closer to me and let the people who didn’t (or couldn’t) go on their own path without me.

I had a really interesting conversation with a pal recently about learning how to be a better friend to each other in our 30s. In your teens and 20s a lot of friendships, most of mine included, revolved predominantly around going out, being sociable and having loads of shared interests. Now at 35, our lives have all gone off in different directions and our only form of communication is a snatched WhatsApp message or quick cuppa around children’s nap times and the demands of trying to be Mum, hold down a job and keeping a marriage on track. Something that we spoke about was a general agreement that we should just cut each other a bit of slack. Giving our friends the benefit of the doubt once in a while. If a friend cancels plans, take a step back and don’t let the immediate response be that of annoyance or anger. Take a moment to wonder if that person is OK, is there a reason they aren’t able to make it? Are they going through something you could help with in other ways? Assume the best of people rather than the worst.

The reason I titled this post ‘Dear Friend’ is because I have been thinking a lot about how I wish I had been able to tell people how I felt every time I cancelled a plan, or avoided their call or told them I was fine. I wasn’t fine and I wish I’d had more courage to speak up.

Dear Friend, 

I am sorry I am not there today. I am sorry that I didn’t return your 5 phone calls, talking on the phone makes me anxious and the thought of coming today is too overwhelming. I’m sorry I can’t explain why. I know it seems crazy, maybe I’m crazy.

I am sorry I haven’t been there for you enough recently, believe me when I say the guilt is eating me up. I wish I was able to be a better friend to you, but at the moment just getting through the day is taking all my energy. Putting on a show for everyone is draining me of everything I have. I’m sorry that of all the balls I am juggling, the ball I keep dropping is you.

I am sorry that you feel rejected and ignored, I promise that one day I will be back and I will do everything I can to make you feel special and loved.

I am sorry that you might not be able to stick this out. I am sorry that you don’t feel able to think the best of me and realise that the person you feel so distant from right now isn’t really me. 

I am sorry that you stopped trying. I am sorry that when I am better I will never be able to forget that you gave up so quickly.

I am sorry.

Feeling free of guilt around friendships is liberating, but the critical voice in my head will always try and tell me that the sometimes inevitable fizzle of friendships is my solely fault. I aim to keep showing kindness to myself and cutting myself some slack. Friendship as a 35 year old is different, it needs a whole new approach and it’s one I’m still working on. I’m going to keep trying to be the friend I would want to have, forget the judgement when someone falls a bit short and try to give my friends the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are fighting a battle they’ve not felt able to tell you about yet. If you punish them now, they likely never will.

Being Mum….Being a ‘Sharent’?

You may be wondering what the heck the title of this post means. The word ‘sharent’ is pretty new to me too, having heard it for the first time only recently on a BBC News piece by the wonderful Mother Pukka. I think most times this word is used in a somewhat derogatory way…conjuring up visions of those people on your Facebook feed who post endless self-congratulatory status updates and photos of their over achieving, over everything offspring.

To me, though, being a ‘sharent’ is more than how many likes you can get on Instagram or likes on Facebook. Being a ‘sharent’ is about having a wider community to pass ideas on to, celebrate with in amazing times and commiserate with on the tough days. Sharing is something I have always done, almost to the point of being a bit TOO open (sorry, Stranger, I really didn’t mean to tell you about my daughter’s nappy contents or the TV show I saw last night). I am a compulsive over-sharer, much to my own annoyance and embarrassment at times. I have no filter and find censoring myself really tough. I always remember my Mum telling me when I was growing up that I needed to ‘engage brain before opening mouth’. At 35, I often still need to heed this advice.

Becoming a Mum was a strange time for me, my life turned upside down while friends and family’s carried on as normal. Sharing my experiences on social media became more than just an exercise in self-promotion or validation, it became a way of telling the world what I was up to, what I was proud of and having pleasant exchanges with old friends and even strangers was comforting and uplifting. Even starting this blog is basically an extension of my need to tell people how I feel ALL THE TIME!

I have learnt to love my over-sharing ways. When I was struggling with post-natal depression and anxiety, I credit my fairly smooth and swift ‘recovery’ to being able to share how I was feeling. I’ve always been quite good at verbalising my feelings and this skill was invaluable at such a difficult time. Something that I had always hated about myself had finally become something that helped me beyond measure. I was able to tell my husband, family and health professionals how I felt and this enabled me to access the support I needed.

So, when I’m teaching my daughter to share her toys – I’m going to also teach her that sharing is a good thing in all its different meanings. Sometimes keeping things to yourself and hiding how you feel is counter productive and, in my own experience, telling the world you’re not OK is, in fact, very OK. Even when it is talking about ‘eye bogies’ with your (now) husband on your second date.

Looking back

Timehop is sometimes a wonderful thing. It often gets my a bit teary eyed with it’s reminders of cute Lil-related snaps and videos, or howling with laughter at some memories of fun nights out that have been captured and shared on social media over the years. 2017 marks a pretty huge (well, sort of!) milestone for most of us of a certain age. 10 years since the mass joining of Facebook. Which in itself is pretty bonkers, it means that now along with the year or two old photos of family life, we also have 10 year old images of ourselves staring back at us from our phone screens. Most weren’t taken on a phone, but on clunky digital cameras and uploaded with a CABLE onto Facebook (I’m sure if we explained the process to a teen now they would think we were practically dinosaurs).

This week I had my first real 10 year old photo appear on my daily ‘look-back’ at this day in my social media history. The photo stopped me in my tracks. Not just because of the frankly outrageous shade of orange I was, or even the radioactive bleach blonde hair I seem to be enjoying. I just didn’t recognise that girl at all. I feel so far removed from her now that it was like looking at a stranger.

At 25 I owned my own flat, had a good job and excellent friends and family – but I was lost. I didn’t have a clue who I was or what I wanted. My life was FUN, but when the fun faded away I went back to an empty flat on my own. My own head became my worst enemy, my inner voice really found her loud speaker and beliefs I gained about myself in my 20s stay with me today. For this reason, I often wish I could go back in time and have a little chat with myself, I’d do it in a list because 25 year old me and 35 year old me both love a list!

BREATHE – Just this. Allow yourself time to breathe, take in whats happening around you and don’t wish your life away. Give yourself room to grow and change and don’t be afraid to step outside the box you have built for yourself.

IT’S OK TO BE YOU – I know you want everyone to like you, they don’t and that’s OK. No matter how nice you are to them, how much you do for them and how many jokes you crack you can’t be everyone’s favourite person. As much as you want to be.

ANSWER THE PHONE – That thing in your hand 24/7 will sometimes start making a ringing noise…people will want to speak to you and they will call you on it. Just pick up the phone! You will lose cherished friendships over the years by isolating yourself when you feel low. Some will stick around through the bad patches but others will give up on you or worse still, think that they didn’t matter to you all along (I think 35 year old me needs to listen to this piece of advice too).

IF HE DOESN’T TEXT BACK, HE’S NOT INTO YOU – Urghhhh. Don’t stress, stop looking at your phone and if he isn’t battering your door down to see you again MOVE THE HECK ON. Don’t second guess him, take him at face value and if he doesn’t make it blindingly obvious that he likes you, he probably doesn’t.

DIETS DON’T WORK – Step away from the scales 25 year old me! Now! Your years of yo-yo diets won’t do you any good and will give that pesky inner voice another reason to give you a hard time. Stop eating Coco Pops for dinner and educate yourself. Walk more, swim more but don’t diet, I promise it won’t end well.

YOU’LL MEET HIM WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT TO – I know you hate hearing this, but it’s true. Stop looking and he will find you.

ASK FOR HELP – I know you hate this, but you’ll need to and that’s OK.

STOP DOING SILLY THINGS TO YOUR HAIR – You’ll have a passport photo taken in a couple of years where you could legitimately pass for Rod Stewart. You’ll have to show your future husband this photo and he will laugh. A LOT. Let’s just save ourselves that embarrassment and sort it out.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF – Give yourself a break, you’re not perfect and you’ll make a lot of mistakes. But remember to challenge that inner voice and speak kindly to yourself, you’re OK.

False starts…and fresh starts

As you can see from the date of my first entry, I first decided to start this blog back in March. We’re now in July (and the end of July at that!). I think this kind of sums up my life for the past few months…hit a bit of a road block for one reason and another. “Life gets in the way” is one of my most used phrases, and it’s one I am trying to stop using.

Life doesn’t get in the way, life is the stuff I have been putting off, avoiding, hiding from and ignoring for the past few months. I will make no more excuses for myself, I am back and raring to go.

My first post didn’t really give much in the way of an introduction either. I always feel a bit cringe about these types of introductions, but here I go anyway.

I’m Ellie (35 – yikes), my little curly girl is Lily (although I’ll probably only refer to her as Lil). I’m married to Tom who is my exact opposite and my missing piece. He is the calm in my storm and can wrestle a giggle out of me even when I’m trying REALLY hard not to. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful family and friends who I have known since we all started high school together over 20 years ago. They’ve seen me at my best and my worst and although our lives sometimes go off in different directions, we always seem to gravitate back towards one another.

I’m hoping to fill these pages (pages? Do blogs have pages?) with my thoughts and ramblings. When I became a Mum I couldn’t find a voice that resonated with me. Everything I read just didn’t quite fit for me. I wasn’t trendy enough to be an Insta-Mum, not funny enough to be a Scummy-Mum and not perfect enough to be a How To-Mum. So here I am just putting my voice out there in the hope that it strikes a chord with other Mums.

Until next time!

…and so, it begins

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I think the scariest part of becoming a parent is the moment you bring the baby home and shut the front door. The bustle of hospital keeps you swept along in a wave of midwives and questions, tests and excitement. Nothing prepares you for the moment you are there, in your house with this tiny little creature who depends on you entirely for life. Their survival hinges on your ability to care for them.

Bizarrely, I hadn’t really thought this through during pregnancy. I’d pondered for hours over colours of the nursery, which baby grow would we bring her home in, studied the instruction manuals of the car seat and painstakingly folded every piece of her brand new clothing. Through all of these months of preparation, however, I failed to prepare myself mentally for what was about to happen.

Probably naively, I used to listen to other parents I knew talk about their lives, the joys of mother/fatherhood and inwardly (and prematurely) congratulate myself for how perfect my life as a mother was going to be. I may as well have called myself Judy for all the Judging I used to do. A dummy? NO WAY! Bottle feeding…? NOPE, NOT ME! I was going to glide around with my perfect baby, calm and serene in a bubble of giggles and cuddles.

So I didn’t have the perfect hypno birth I’d planned…OK, I could put up with that. Despite being 50-something hours long and ending with emergency caesarean, my birth experience was actually ‘OK’. I don’t have the pangs of guilt and pain that other mums do that have similar experiences (or do I? Maybe I DO still need that extra therapy session?!), breast feeding didn’t happen for me (I’ll probably end up talking about that at some point, let’s save that joyous story for another day) and Lil didn’t really sleep much for the first few days. BUT WAIT! AHA! A week in, she’s sleeping, she’s super cute and she seems to like me! I’m WINNING AT MUMMING! Smug me was back with a vengeance. My c-section recovery was nothing short of miraculous, me and hubby were merrily sipping cold pints of shandy in a pub garden while little, perfect Lil slept without a murmur in her pram. I was on a hig002h, what should have been the first few difficult weeks were utopia – we seemed to fall into parenting like a dream. People would visit and wonder what was going on, the house was clean(ish – this is still my house we’re talking about), we were relaxed and loving every second. I was firmly on the upward trajectory of what was about to become the most bonkers rollercoaster.

 We hit the 6 week mark, Lil was gaining weight like a pro and I was probably still around a 6/10 on the Smug Scale. I can’t remember the exact moment I realised things were all going a bit south. Lil started rejecting her feeds. Not just a ‘nah, I’m OK Mum, not very peckish right now’ – this was full on screaming, thrashing and back arching fear of being within 3 feet of a bottle of milk. Just the sight of a teat coming towards the poor little mite would leave her in a state of carnage. We tried trying to slip it in while she was sleeping (this sounds WAY creepier than it was), doing the old ‘dummy trick’ (anyone who has had a baby with a feeding aversion will know exactly what I’m talking about), syringing milk into her mouth and even investigating cup-feeding which is usually reserved for very premature babies or babies born with cleft lip and palette. Nothing would work and even when she did manage to drink a decent amount of milk, it would usually erupt back out the way it came with so much force that we used to call her The Fountain.

 My core was shaken. What kind of mother was I? My child wouldn’t drink milk, the very thing that should provide comfort, nourishment and give her energy. On a bad day, she was having about a third of a ‘normal’ baby of her age should have. My life became a constant cycle of trying to feed her, then comforting her, trying to get her to sleep and then trying to feed her all over again. Throw in the addition of ALL THE VOMIT and you’re somewhere close to what it was like. Don’t get me wrong, she was still amazing, gorgeous and the generally happiest baby you’ll ever meet (unless you thrust a bottle in her face). I quickly stopped going out, the pressure of trying to feed her became too much and I would just stay in my comfort zone at home, logging all the ounces in my notebook and during the times she slept, frantically googling what could be wrong with her.

 A chance encounter with a very lovely Health Visitor completely saved us. Back then I had not one clue about the structure of milk. Why would I? I thought lactose was the bit that people were allergic to, not the protein. That pesky protein! Little did we know…