Actual Blogs

#myhappyhour

Inspired by @bryonygordon wearing a ‘Running is my happy hour’ Tshirt, this morning I finally broke my months of excuses and got back out there. 

An hour before I had been moaning that I never have time / don’t feel like I can do it anymore. My husband told me ‘Just bloody go now. It doesn’t matter if you only walk!’  
So I just bloody went. Everything else waited. 

I’m so glad I did. I was rubbish, I was panting, looked awful and will no doubt have stiff legs tomorrow. But I felt amazing. 

I didn’t wear headphones I just ran and enjoyed looking at he trees and saying good morning to strangers. 

I’m posting this not to brag that I ran – finally – but to remind myself that it is important to take that hour, just for me. I’m going to use #myhappyhour as a reminder to do that. Whether it’s a run, a brew with a friend or watching a family film together. I will dedicate that time to one activity. Not multi-tasking, not thinking about a work problem or just quickly looking up that thing in the internet, just making sure a properly enjoy one thing at a time. 

#myhappyhour #headspace

Getting old is getting old

“Look at that amazing middle-aged woman. I can’t wait until I have those gorgeous expression lines on my face. That’s so sexy.” 

Said no 20-something, ever. 

I’ve been wondering why people approaching 30 seem to worry that they they are old. Old!! Women today have an average life expectancy of reaching our 80s, yet before we are out of our 20s we already think we’re past our prime, and start to wish we were (or at least could look) younger. 

What the hell are we teaching each other? 

I started thinking about it when my little boy innocently asked me “why do people always want to look younger” after watching a TV advert for women’s skin care. It was a shock because, although I know somewhere deep inside me that it’s ridiculous, it’s also so fucking normal that somewhere along the way I stopped even noticing. 

Even from a very young age I remember the phrase ‘you never ask a woman her age’, and wondering, why? My gran would sing, “Keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved”. Sigh. And we all know by now that it’s taken decades for celebrities to be allowed to get older, unless they take to the knife or needle or chemicals, to cut and stretch or fill their skin with age-reversing magic. 

When we are children we can’t wait to grow up to be old enough to do whatever our current age restricts (watch the best films, ride the best rollercoasters, drink all the booze). Then we hit about 25 and realise we’re heading towards 30… it’s all downhill from here. So there’s a period of about 5 – 7 years where we think we’re in our prime, and then what? Re start trying to stay young, to reverse ‘growing up’. 

Why do we value youth so much, when age means we continue to grow – in knowledge, experience and an understanding of what’s actually important to us?

We only seem to value people getting older when the numbers get much bigger. Then people start telling you their age all the time. “I’m 83 you know!”  They are proud, and we are impressed because they have made it to a ripe old age, and perhaps they are still showing us that they can have enormous fun. 

Let me give you an example, of dancing in public :

  • Age 5 = cute
  • 25 = sexy
  • 35 – 55 = embarrassing
  • 65 – 95 = Go Grandma!!! 

We just love seeing an obvious pensioner mixing it up with the kids at a festival or dancing in the street. They show us that pure joy is what’s important at any age. They also show us that they give no fucks what so ever. 

I’m 44 And apparently I have a life expectancy of 89. I’m not even half way! It is a fact that I am younger than the average person (just) and perhaps in the absolute peak period of my life. 

My body may not be as flexible as it was when I was an 11 year old gymnast, but I no longer care about which of my friends can do the best standing back-flip. I have other things I need my body to do. My tits may not point in the same direction as they did when I was 22, but that’s because they have been a life source for another human. They can point whichever twatting way they want to after that. 

But I tell you what, mentally I’ve never been healthier. I know what’s important to me and what’s not, and that helps me to realise that I’ll never again waste my energy worrying about how many candles there are on my cake each year, unless they start to cause a fire hazard. 

Every age I have been has been my favourite so far. We need to start talking about THAT. We need to help the teenagers, the 20-somethings and people at every number of candles understand that their age right now can be celebrated – just like the kids showing off their age on a birthday badge; just like the woman who is proud of being 83; we have made it through another year. We have learned more, experienced more, grown more as a person. 

I’m still growing, and I don’t mean my waist line (that’s a given). 

In my 20s – I had a ball, drinking and dancing in noisy, smelly, disgusting clubs, making new friends, shopping for shoes and  flirting with boys. (Maybe more than flirting sometimes)

In my 30s – I had a ball, going to pubs where I could get a nicer glass of wine, a seat and good conversation. There was theatre, gigs, and cinema with a solid group of friends and I ‘settled down’, got married and became a mum’. Life was even better. 

In my 40s – I’m having a ball, going to great restaurants, festivals, museums, holidays with my family, afternoon tea with my friends. Life is even better. 

I look back in younger days with massively fond memories, but do I want to go back to smelly clubs with sticky floors, shit wine and questionable men? No, I don’t. Except, if I do want to go, I will go.  I will be one of those ‘old women’ that my 20-something self would have sneered at because they were embarrassing themselves, drinking too much and taking over the dancefloor, and turning ‘our club’ into a grab a granny night’. How dare they?! 

I’ll tell you how dare they…. because I’m learning it now – middle-aged women have learned the best life lesson there is – they have learned about what’s import to worry about and what’s not. That’s what age is wonderful at giving us – a depleting number of fucks to give. It’s really quite liberating!

If we want to go out and get shitfaced on a better class of cocktail, we will. If we want to wear a more sensible heel, we will. And if we want to stay at home watching a box set, and only drinking tea, we fucking well will and we don’t care if that’s boring. We earned the right to do whatever we want by drinking a decades-worth of cheap, warm cider and alco-pops then staggering home on blister-bleeding feet. 

So I’m not scared of getting older, because experience tells me that life only gets better. And if that experience shows as lines on my face then that’s just fucking dandy. (Marketing people take note – I’ll still buy face cream, but to make my skin feel nice.)

Let it be known that I am 44, and 44 is brilliant. If you’re not there yet, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Honestly. And if you’re older, please tell me what else I can look forward to. 

Or have I already lost the plot because I’m so old and passed it? 

Multi-tasking

I’ve been talking to friends about multi-tasking. Those of us who have days when we can work at home are absolutely nailing it. 

Here’s our Top 10 list of…Multi-tasking Activities To Do While On A Work Conference Call 

(half-listening-while-doing-other-work doesn’t count.)

Mute buttons at the ready…. which ones have you done? 

1. Made a brew

2. Cooked a meal

3. Done the ironing

4. Cleaned your windows

5. Been for a wee

6. Walked the dog

7. Answered a personal call (holding a phone to both ears)

8. Given yourself a manicure / pedicure

9. Painted a wall

10. Had a poo (and definitely washed your hands)

Some of these I will admit to. Others I have been told of by friends – you know who you are!!! 
What have we missed? Add ideas in the comments. We can all learn to multitask more. 

Getting Organised?

This time last year I was super organised for once in my life and bought photo Fathers’ Day cards well in advance. I put them somewhere safe – so safe I completely lost them, and in doing so also completely lost my shit!

Six months later, I had a Tidy Freak day. The kind of tidying that only happens when levels of untidy get SO bad that you feel you may lose an actually family member in the mess. And guess what turned up?

I found the place I had classed as ‘safe’ – a box with a lid, that I bought to store (hide) the pile-of-crap-I-keep-for-some-reason, like stuff your kids make but you don’t want to put on the walls because essentially it’s just a scribble on a piece of paper, but you can’t throw it in the bin… just yet. It usually forms an ever-growing pile on our table, but instead I was going to remove it to a less visible location, upstairs, and in a box. Hence making me more Tidy and Organised. Yay me.

Rewind to last June… I had brought the box home and placed the box at the bottom of the stairs while I sorted out other shopping, intending to take it up on my next trip. I then added other stuff-to-put-away-when-I-go-upstairs items, for ease of carrying.

But I assume that instead of taking it up on my next trip and immediately tidying the various items, I probably left it a while, and just walked passed it a few times, but kept adding more items, making the box a transportation device, departing for the Land of Upstairs – a destination that’s only 13 steps away, but apparently a journey worth putting off a while.

I also assume that I eventually forgot that it contained many items of stuff-to-put-away-when-I-go-upstairs, thought it just contained the pile-of-crap-I-keep-for-some-reason an smugly tidied the whole box into a cupboard, hence achieving my original Tidy and Organised goal.

Learning point: I have great tidy intentions, but poor organisational execution. Must work on that.

Anyway I had the cards in my hands again, and decided that I could :

  1. Use them now (November) and laugh heartily with my dad and husband about how daft I’d been. “Better late that never… ha ha ha!” *sigh*
  2. Bin them, in shame of how fucking daft I’d been
  3. Make a second attempt to keep them in a safe place until Fathers’ Day 2017. I’m Unbalanced, but I’m also optimistic.

I chose 3, and this time, I only sodding managed it! I cleared out a whole draw and dedicated it to cards, wrapping paper and gift tags. And that’s where the cards have lived until this morning.

Shit. I think I am officially an Organised Person. Seriously, someone needs to give me a sticker.

Here’s the blog I wrote on the day I lost them – Ah such a happy memory!!: https://unbalanced-woman.com/2016/12/30/organised-disorganised-or-unbalanced/

Dizziversary

This week is two years since I began feeling dizzy – later diagnosed as the early symptoms of a Vestibular Dysfunction.

“A vestibule what??”

Exactly! Not many people know about this condition, but actually it’s not that rare. I started writing about my experiences and soon connected with many others who have had some sort of Vestibular problem.

So here’s my dizzy story, and at the end of the blog, details of where to find more info and help, if you or someone you know experience something similar.


In the beginning

I first remember getting a dizzy feeling while in the shower one morning. I had to hold the walls to finish rinsing my hair. It was a really weird sensation. But then it faded and I carried on. This happened a few more times over a couple of weeks, at work or at home, making me feel like I needed to sit quietly until the dizzy spell passed.

But one day at work it hit much harder. I was in a meeting and I just couldn’t concentrate on what was being said. The room stared spinning, but neither sitting or laying down made the symptoms ease.

About 15 years earlier I’d had Labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection that impacts the way your normal balance system works, using your ears. Labyrinthitis feels like you’re in a washing machine – and I remembered, this felt similar.

I went to doctor, who suspected it was the same issue, even though I didn’t have a visible ear infection this time. But two weeks of tablets later, the symptoms were getting worse not better.

Symptoms

Some people say it feels like being on a boat, or like being permanently drunk. I would wake up feeling like I’d had about three glasses of wine – a bit floaty and not too confident in myself. I’d be able to walk, but not too quickly, and perhaps have my hands ready to stop myself from falling to one side. As the day went on, it was like adding several shots of tequila. The more I did, the worse I would feel.

Lots of people joke that feeling permanently drunk must be fantastic – but much less enjoyable if you’re having the hangover at the same time. At its worst, it’s like being in a washing machine or on the Waltzers. I’d feel nauseous in my head and stick to my stomach, and even when lying down with my eyes shut, it’s impossible to get off the ride.

I developed back and neck problems from walking badly and being constantly tense. It’s a massive mental challenge too. I couldn’t work or go to many social occasions – and I hated it. It can make you very anxious and scared to go out. I’ve heard of others becoming quite reclusive because they are scared in case they fall and hurt themselves, or worried that people will judge them for ‘drunken behaviour’. It’s also very difficult to explain to people that you have an illness that they just don’t understand.  You either have to go into great detail or just belittle it by saying “I get a bit dizzy”, and quickly move on.

Cause and effect

Vestibular issues can happen on their own or as a result of something else. I have met with people who have had a brain tumour; brain haemorrhage; a stoke; Menniere’s desease and Vestibular Migraine. All of these can lead to similar dizzy symptoms at some stage, but of course have other causes and very different treatment!!

My physio explained the impacts on my brain in a way that helped me understand why certain things triggered my symptoms more than others. Where our brains normally scan our surroundings and ‘orientate’ to judge space and distance, my brain will respond to movement differently, and become disorientated – whether that is me moving around, or things moving around me. So if I were to sit still, in a room where nothing else was moving, my brain would know that I am safe and I could feel fine. But if I move my head, walk, spend time in a busy place or even watch ‘action’ on TV, my brain would get disoriented and confused, and panic, causing the dizziness.

The same goes for ‘scanning’ with my eyes. So reading or shopping (looking around for things) can completely throw me. Even now. I hate spending time in enclosed spaces, long corridors or low ceilings. I’ve learned that when moving through a crowd or in a vehicle, I need to keep my head up and eyes looking around, so that my brain can ‘see’ and take in as much information as possible, even though the dizziness makes me want to close my eyes or look at the floor. Now I naturally, almost unconsciously, look for the exits and move towards windows.

Diagnosis

It took three GP appointments to get a referral for relevant tests. I later learned that these conditions are still not widely understood or easy to diagnose.

I was sent for an MRI brain scan to check for signs of a tumour, haermorage, stroke, MS and god know what else. An MRI takes about 40 minutes and you need to be perfectly still. Plenty of time to start thinking ‘what if’ and start mentally writing your will and funeral plans!

Luckily my consultant was able to rule out all of those possibilities, which is actually a very nice health check to have had. He then referred me to a Neuro Physiotherapist (who knew they existed?) and an Ear Specialist who later discovered that my earlier episode of Labyrinthitis was probably the cause of this later vestibular illness.

Damage from all those years ago caused my brain to try to work around the problem, so I learned to balance without using my ears, becoming more dependent on my eyes and incorrect body movement. But as time went on this work-around no longer worke, and my brain went into melt down and became totally disorientated, sending panic signals that I wasn’t ‘safe’.

Getting treatment

At first I was given tablets to help with the nausea but I actually felt worse. Having read about other people’s negative experiences with various long term medication I’m incredibly grateful that my treatment was physio based.

Much like other types of physio, this treatment helps you to retrain your body and brain to work properly together. I’ve had exercises to train effective eye movement, muscle flexibility and balancing, often with my eyes closed to make my brain less dependent on them.

The main benefit for me was education – I now understand how my Vestibular system works and why mine stopped working. I understand what’s likely to be a trigger, which means I can avoid certain activities and I know when I need to rest and let my brain catch up.

Living with long term symptoms

It’s now two years on, and one year since I started to feel ‘better’. And although better is correct description, it’s not cured. I will probably always have symptoms. I feel them coming about 3 or 4 times a week and that’s a warning to look after myself. If I don’t, I end up back on the Walzers.

But amazingly, I have been able to do most things I would have done before, including go on roller coasters! At first I didn’t even dare to dream that I’d be able to do that ever again.

My motto is “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.”

  • I can go to a concert with a big crowd – but I’ll need space and quiet time before and after to rest
  • I can drink alcohol – but not much! It’s like everything I drink is double strength
  • I can work hard, go to meetings and work at a screen – but I need very regular breaks
  • I can go shopping – but in small doses, and I avoid card shops and places like WHSmiths where the aisles are high and the lighting is just ‘wrong’. Hard to define, I’ve just learned from experience!

As long as I’m sensible and know my limits it appears that I’m living a totally normal life.

Mentally, it’s been a tougher ride. I had to accept the advice that “you may only ever get to 80% of what you could do before”. For a long time that made me incredibly sad, very angry and confused. How exactly do you cut down everything you once did by 20%?! I work, I have a family, I had a very full life – what do you give up?

Ultimately that’s what I’ve had to work out over time. I’ve cut down my working hours (that was a massive decision) and generally had to prioritise what I do, and just let some things go.

That’s why I started writing Unbalanced Woman blogs – a sort of therapy for me to work through how difficult it was to find a work / life / family balance. And then people started to tell me that they feel the same no matter what their situation.

So the real learn for me, is that even before I was poorly, I was always Unbalanced – just not literally! Many people feel they could do with better Life Balance. My illness just forced me to look at mine differently. And I’m glad I did. I’m proud of myself for managing to find a way back to a ‘full life’ – I just have a different definition of ‘full’ now!


More information and help

[TV Voiceover…] If you have been affected by any of the issues covered is this blog, you may find this website useful:

http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder

I’m definitely not qualified to give any medical advice, so everything in here is just my own experience!

If you are regularly feeling dizzy over a long period, I recommend asking for help from a GP. Remember that these dysfunctions are difficult to diagnose, so don’t give up. Keep pushing for help, and don’t just rely on taking a medication that may only mask the symptoms.

Forums and support groups: (These are private groups you can ask to join. I can’t provide links, so just search the names on Facebook)

 

#LiterallyUnbalanced. #Vestibular

Unbalanced life lessons

Eight lessons I’ve learned since I became an Unbalanced Woman. 

  1. There’s always more to do – my To Do list will never ever end. So it’s not the end of the world if I let some items stay on that list a while. I really will vaccuum my filthy car ‘one day’. No need to be more specific than that. 
  2. Everyone’s priorities and standards are different – There’s no point judging myself against someone else. I admire the gorgeous mums in the school playground, immaculately dressed and in perfect make-up. I wish I looked like that at 8.30. But I wake up   looking like Medusa with very grumpy curly-snake-hair. So my beauty priority is simply to tame my wild frizz, just enough to avoid scaring young children. Everything else can wait. 
  3. To achieve one thing, you often have to give up something else – for example, for my health needs I have prioritised more rest time, but sacrificed running. Getting back to running is still lounging on my To Do list, diarised that famous ‘One Day’. For now I do it occasionally. VERY occasionally. 
  4. It’s OK to ask for help…  Of course we all know that, but I often feel it’s easier to just do it myself. They might not do it right. Also true. But what if…. they learn and (shock horror) might do it better? 
  5. …It’s even better to give yourself permission to not even do some stuff at all! Yes it would only take a couple of hours to nip to B&Q and buy a new piece of wood to fix that skirting board. But neither I, nor anyone else in this house jumps out of bed on a Saturday shouting “Woohoo, odd jobs day!” And so far there have been no giant mice sneaking in through the hole for a Mouse Party (or if they do they are great at tidying up after themselves, so they are welcome).
  6. If something makes you happy, make time for it – be selfish and let some other shit go. Occasionally having my nails done feels like a treat. Yes I could spend that time cleaning my car or going for a run. But…. I DON’T WANT TO!! 
  7. This is it. This is my life. As the famous phrase goes, no-one lies on their death bed thinking “I wish I’d spent more time at work”. And I know I certainly won’t lie there thinking “I wish my cupboards had been tidier”.
  8. And finally, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that having an Unbalanced Life where I complain that I can’t fit everything in, is actually a wonderful existence, because it means my life is full of things that are important to me – family and friends to love; a job that funds my life and challenges my mind; a house and garden that create great (messy) memories; a million things to do, people to see and choices to be made. 

I may be busy, I may be dizzy, but fuck me, I’m one lucky Unbalanced Woman. 

#HappilyUnbalanced

Guilty of doing nothing

Imagine standing in a courtroom and hearing that you’ve been charged and found GUILTY of doing nothing. Clearly that’s ridiculous. So why is it that when I find myself doing ‘nothing’ (like say binging a TV box set or reading a magazine with a brew), I suddenly feel a tremendous guilt? 

I think about little jobs I can complete so that when my husband comes home and says “what have you done today?”, I can justify my time well spent. I think about returning to work tomorrow, and what I’ll say if I’m asked what I did yesterday. I conclude that, “put a wash on, and… well…., you know…., sat on my arse most of the day”, probably doesn’t make me sound like the windswept and interesting kind of girl I want to be. 

To be clear, my husband doesn’t give two shits if I’ve sat about on my day off, because he would do exactly the same. My colleagues would probably say, “That sounds like heaven. Good for you.” The problem is totally in my head. The guilt comes from me, and my absolute phobia of being…. lazy *shudders*, like that’s the worse thing to be accused of. 

I spend the working week looking at the many jobs that need doing and think ‘I’ll do that at the weekend’. Then at the weekend I think, “Why should I spend my weekend doing chores? Weekends are for family time and seeing friends, or just chilling out. I know – I’ll do that on my day off.”

Today is my day off. Between school runs I have just over five hours. Five precious hours to catch up on everything that I’ve put off. I’ve almost done the second coat of paint on the shed. I’ve almost tidied the shithole of our office / dumping ground. I’ve almost been for a run. I even thought about going to IKEA while it’s quiet. But I haven’t actually done any of those things. 

“Unbalanced Woman you are accused of doing NOTHING, how do you plead?”

“Guilty as fuck, your Honour.”