Do you mind if I go a bit off piste today and instead of talking about me and my Unbalanced life, talk about a band that I went to see this weekend? I know that’s unusual. I’m certainly no music reviewer or expert. If I tell you that this band is really rather good and you may want to have a listen, you should know that I am completely, utterly biased.
I’ll tell you why… you see that ginger guitar player on the left…? Well I’ve had him! More than once. In fact, he’s my husband and father of my ginger child.
So here’s the background story. When I met my husband I was already 32 and pretty sure of who I was and who I wanted to be with. Compromises were now unacceptable (little did I know how many compromises you actually have to make when you are married with kids – but that’s another story). I was upfront and laid down two important rules:
I will ALWAYS have a cat. I am crazy cat lady and you’ll have to live with cats forever
I am not cool when it comes to music, I’m a pop monkey, and you will have to live with that too
You see, Ste is pretty cool (by comparison). He plays guitar in a band, all his friends are in bands, or write songs, or at least love listening to ‘proper’ music. They discuss bands I’ve never heard of – how ‘dirty’ the sound of guitars are, and compare the features of hundreds of pedals and amps in depth, while I gaze on remembering how this morning I was dancing round my kitchen to Katy Perry (with my cat) and looking forward to going to see Take That in the summer.
I could pretend to like the same music, and be more cool, but I’m just not. I watch the X factor style TV programmes they slate as commercial shite, and when I sing along to Ed Sheeran on the radio, I don’t even know it’s Ed Sheeran at first, it’s just a song I like. I am the opposite of a musical snob – I actually have no idea what is cool and what is not. I just like what I like. Fuck the judgement.
Anyway, last year, Ste joined a new band with a weird name, ‘Control of the Going’, and a weird sound. They play ‘Psychedelic Rock and Roll’. I had no idea what that was, and at first when I listened to him play I quoted my grandma, and Alan Partridge, “That was just noise.”
Clearly I was not their target audience, and that’s lucky, because it turns out there are a growing crowd of people who do like Psychedelic Rock and Roll – enough for them to start getting radio plays and now a record deal. A chuffing record deal!! They have released their first single today, and start recording their album next week. I may soon be married to an actual Rock Star!
Even better than that for me – because it’s still a bit about me! – now I really like them. I promise I’m not just pretending to because they’re getting a bit of success! You can tell from what I said earlier that I am honest about these things. It turns out that I do actually like psychedelic, dirty guitars when there’s a tune I can sing along to over the top. Gary Barlow could perhaps build that idea into Take That’s next album.
So here’s the shameful plug… Do you fancy having a listen?
Visit Control of the Going on Facebook or Twitter as @COTG_
You can listen to their new single ‘She’ for free on soundcloud (just click to play) or on Spotify,or you can buy their single on vinyl – because that’s what the kids are doing again these days.
Yesterday my boy thought I was an actual Supermum. I know the truth. But I absolutely, wholeheartedly accepted the misplaced adoration.
He originally wanted to dress up as Harry Potter. We bought a suitable Hogwarts tie and round glasses and would reuse a cloak previously intended for a magician, by him drawing a Gryffindor badge and Granny working out some strange way of attaching it. I’m still not sure how that happened. Granny is much better at this sort of thing.
Anyway, at 6pm the night before, he decided he wanted to be Ron Weasley instead. We had mentioned several times that his ginger hair would make this choice more authentic, but of course he wanted to be Harry and have an eyeliner pencil scar on his head. Who wouldn’t? Until he didn’t.
The bright idea came when he remembered that Ron has a broken wand and he could stick sellotape around it, and that Ron wears a jumper with a big ‘R’ on it and perhaps he could ask Granny to sew an R on his jumper. He is well aware that Granny is better at this sort of thing too.
“Actually”, I said, “I think I could do that.”
Those were the words that did it. It was like I was as magic as Harry Potter himself. I was potentially as magic as Granny!!
Now of course I am not. I can’t sew. Don’t be ridiculous. But I do have wonder-web. And this is the genius part… I said, “You know Ron’s jumpers are home made, so I should PURPOSEFULLY make it look a bit rubbish.”
He totally fell for it. Bless him. While I was cutting up an old Tshirt (with paper scissors) he checked I wasn’t making it too straight, “it SHOULD look a bit wonky mum, because Mrs Weasley makes them herself.”
Look at the photo – I definitely achieved this wish!
He went to school bouncing, so proud of his costume, and I am still basking in the glory usually bestowed on my amazing Mum. I am enjoying it. Clearly this will not last and his illusions will be shattered when he asks for the next sewing masterpiece – one that shouldn’t look home made. I will be back to the usual ‘let’s ask Granny if she can help’.
For quite a while now I’ve been focused on getting my Work/ Life balance right. In younger life we’re told to work hard, play hard. Then parenthood came along and I felt I needed to work hard, mum hard. So where does the play part go?
When I do (happily) sign up to nights out with friends, I’m subconsciously calculating the correct amount I time I need to dedicate to my kid, before or after, to balance out time away from him. These are the rules that Mother Guilt has set for parents.
It’s not actually about the night out, because of course he’s asleep for most of that – it’s the day after when I just can’t be arsed going on a day trip or getting the monopoly out. Sometimes I force myself to do stuff half-heartedly and end up grumpy and shouty which makes my hangover headache even worse, and my kid has a shit day. Nobody wins. Sometimes I think, it’s best to lay off the drink or come home early so that I can be extra special Supermum the next day. Pay the debt. Restore the Mum/ Life balance. But that’s not right either is it? Is it?
I look back on my pre-kid life where it felt normal, actually humanly natural, to balance a big Saturday night out with a restful Sunday. If I’ve thrown some big shapes at the discotheque, my body should have as little movement as possible the next day, otherwise my head may literally fall off my delicate body. Mathematically that makes sense. But of course life is not two-sided scales – life is 3D. Balance is much more complicated.
My delicate body does need that rest. My head might not actually fall off, but it won’t be at its best. So why make my kid spend time time with my broken head? Is it not better to rest up and THEN be Supermum later? Or even tomorrow?
And here’s my big revelation…. my boy doesn’t actually want to spend every minute of his weekend with me. If I offer him a morning playing board games together he’ll hesitate for a millisecond before saying ‘Erm, maybe later mum. Can I play on the Xbox first?’
I’m now seeing that Mother Guilt doesn’t exclusively visit parents. My boy also has an inner voice telling him that he SHOULD want to spend his every waking moment glued within his mother’s loving embrace. But honestly, 3 minutes is plenty. Perhaps longer if we’re snuggled together on the sofa watching a film. Otherwise, he has boy things to do. He wants to spend time with other people, he wants to spend time on his own. That’s OK. In fact that’s fucking brilliant.
So here I am, with my feet up, writing, dossing, resting. And there he is, in a different room, happily playing without me. Later we might watch a film, snuggle up on the sofa, together but still resting. This week is half term, I’ll be back in full-on mothering mode, and I will Mother the shit out of him, as my best self, rested and all the better for a night out with adult friends.
Mother Guilt ignored. Mum / Life Balanced restored.
I love Christmas songs, I really do. The carols, the pop songs, the kids songs. Pretty much all of them. So I thought I’d have some fun updating the lyrics of some classics from my Christmas playlist, so they feel more relevant to life as I know it now – as a knackered mother…
1. To the tune of ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’
You better watch out, she might start to cry Can’t believe all the shit still to buy We’re all on the Christmas count down
She’s making a list and checking it twice Goose fat and cranberry, carrots with spice We’re all on the Christmas count down
She panics when she’s sleeping She’ll soon jump wide awake That present’s not arrived yet Now she’s screaming “for fuck’s sake!”
Oh, you better watch out, get out of her way Wrapping and cleaning and swearing all day We’re all on the Christmas count down.
2. To the tune of ‘Last Christmas’
Last Christmas I sent loads of cards
But the postage I paid, just seemed such a waste This year to save me some time I’ll just post a pic on Facebook (Facebook) oh oh.
(Merry Christmas) I wrote them all and sent them With a note saying “Love from…” and I meant it But now you know, that you won’t get a card You haven’t pissed me off, I haven’t lost your address.
Last Christmas I sent loads of cards Now the postage I saved, will not go to waste This year, to charity sent So they can do something special (spe-e-cial).
3. Sing this one like Bing
(Remembering Christmases when I lived with my parents and had no real responsibilities)
I’m dreaming of a boozy Christmas Just like when I still lived at home Where my mum did the shopping, so there’d be no stopping, My after-work drinks and late night discos
I’m dreaming of a drunk Christmas Before I had kids of my own May your children sleep right through the niiiight And may all your hangovers be light.
This is a real modern day Christmas song by my favourite comedian, Tim Minchin. I listen to this every year and it gets me every time.
It’s a beautiful song about his love of Christmas because it’s when his family comes together in Australia. Please give it a play, listen to the words (and maybe grab a tissue if you’re as sentimental as me!)…
Whether you celebrate Christmas in the snow or the sun Whether you are a dad, a sister, a brother, a mum Whether you believe in Jesus or just the family traditions… I hope your Christmas is magical, fun, sentimental and filled with love.
And perhaps Unbalanced for all the good reasons!
Merry Christmas xxx
Link to White Wine in the Sun on YouTube: https://youtu.be/fCNvZqpa-7Q
Question: What do you do when your Head-voice and your Heart-voice are at war in your head? When one is saying… ‘Do it, do it!’ and the other is saying “You stupid fuckwit of a woman – don’t even think about it!”
Answer: Get yourself a therapist
This one is hard to write. I’ve been putting it off for a while. But as I started this blog as a sort of therapy, I always promised myself that I’d write honestly about the ACTUAL therapy I’ve had this year. So here goes….
When I became unwell last year, the hardest part of the initial journey was that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Lying in an MRI scanner and listening to the mechanical beeps for an hour, I was mentally writing my will and thinking about leaving my 5 year old boy without a mum. But once diagnosed (with a Vestibular Dysfuction*) I was able to concentrate on getting physically better. Knowledge is power as they say. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I could fight it.
*Vestibular Dysfuction – when the brain can’t properly orientate and you feel constantly dizzy, sea-sick and can only move about slowly, acting as if you are seriously drunk – without actually drinking. It’s shit!
For the next six months I had a goal, a plan and a belief that I could return to ‘normal’. I made steady progress through Neuro Physio (re-training the brain to balance) and I could cope. I was absolutely determined to become me again, and be able to do everything I previously could.
Having that vision and that belief was, I’m sure, a contributor to me making such great progress.
So when I had a relapse in February and started getting worse again, I hit a new low – possibly worse than my first MRI, because I was back to having no knowledge. Now I was wondering if this was going to be an on-going cycle – did I have to accept that I may never get better? It hit me really hard. My Neuro Physio told me that I needed to come to terms with the fact that this could be it. Even with all the brain training, I may only ever be able to do 80% of what I could before. The idea of living with this illness forever was just heart breaking. The idea of not being able to do everything that I could normally do, and everything I had planned for my life, was overwhelming.
One thought kept coming back to me – Disney Land. It’s been my dream for most of my life, and I’ve promised myself that I will go as soon as my boy is tall enough to go on all the big rides.
I couldn’t accept it. Mentally, I just couldn’t cope. Micky Mouse became a symbol of everything I was losing. The me I was losing. The me my family was losing and the limits that would put on them too. I lost my will to fight, and just became sad and angry. I didn’t know whether I needed to keep fighting to get better, or to accept defeat and make new plans – ones that wouldn’t ever involve Micky fucking Mouse. (I also started swearing a lot more, and taking my anger out on fictional mice!)
I realised that I needed help. My Neuro Physiotherapist was a wonderful woman helping me retrain my brain and make physical brain progress, but I needed help with the emotional side of my brain too. I needed to sort out how to THINK – how to DECIDE – how to KEEP GOING mentally.
So a made an appointment with a Counselling therapist, and it’s possibly the best thing I ever did. To be honest, for the first 3 sessions, I really wasn’t sure! I felt that she didn’t understand the problem. But to be fair to her, it was ME that didn’t understand my own emotions. I wasn’t giving her the right details. I was still too angry at my situation. I was linking my physical condition and my mental state too closely together, I couldn’t separate them – when I felt physically poorly I was sad, and when I felt physically OK I felt… well, OK, but overwhelmingly frustrated by my limitations.
The regular fight in my head was:
Physical Brain: I’m so tired. The more your push me, the more I need to rest. You can’t do everything you used to – accept it; do less; enjoy the quieter life. Let’s sit on the sofa and have a brew.
Emotional Brain: But that’s not who I AM! I’m missing out on LIFE. I don’t enjoy quiet, I NEED the variety, I need the party, I need to be who I WAS.
My Emotional Brain thinks in shouty capitals a lot!
The break-through happened in my therapy session after I did the worse thing I could have possibly done as a person with balance issues – I went on a roller coaster. It was definitely an act of rebellion. I knew it was an absolutely stupid risk that could totally fuck up all the neuro-physio progress that I’d made. But I also felt that I was leading a restricted life, and it was breaking my heart. It was head versus heart, or my Physical Brain versus my Emotional Brain, and Emotional Brain was now calling the shots. It wanted to know what would happen, like a child pushing boundaries… I needed to know if the Disney dream was ever going to be achievable.
I picked a day when all the circumstances were right – I was feeling reasonably good, I had people with me who could look after me if I crashed into a spinning nausea, I had the next 3 days off work if I needed to recuperate. I was still scared shitless though! Physical and Emotional brains were battling in my head as I queued up:
EB: It’s the Dora the Explorer roller coaster, it’s fine for a 6 year old – how bad can it be?
PB: You absolutely crazy fuckwit of a woman – there’s a sign that says ‘Not suitable for people with motion sickness’ – that’s an understatement for what you have!
But because I’m either feistily determined or stupidly stubborn (you can decide which), I did it. And it wasn’t at all as bad as I expected. So… I went on three more, each progressively bigger and faster.
I’d love to say that was the moment when I realised I was better, but oh no, I just got the consequences later. Somehow the adrenaline must have kept me going, but later that day I was crying, and the next day I paid the price properly. I felt awful. I could hardly move off the sofa. I thought I’d broken myself and I had a new reason to be angry – at myself – for being a crazy fuckwit of a woman (PB: Well, I told you, didn’t I?!) However, by the next day I felt a lot better, and the day after that, better again (EB: Ha. I knew it -it was worth the risk)
And this is where my therapist, Jeanette, comes in. She helped me realise that instead of being a straight battle between Physical and Emotional thoughts, I’d rather cleverly brought in a third voice in my head – ‘Intellectual Brain’. IB was the one who made sure I took the risk at the right time, considered the consequences, and made sure I was ready. It sounds so simple, but she was right. She helped me to think about other times I’d used this third voice to make decisions, and that this was the voice I had learned to trust. I needed to listen to them all, but IB was like the mediator.
This was my turning point. I started to feel more positive about making decisions, taking risks, testing my physical limits in a sensible way, and keep my emotional side happy that I was making progress.
When Jeanette and I booked our last session I said that I wanted to do some drawings as a way of remembering what I’d learned, and to help me easily recall the concepts of balancing my physical, emotional and intellectual voices.
This is what I drew…
… and what it means:
1. I need to stop looking back at who I was, and understand who I am now, and what I’m capable off. Being able to do 80% of what I could before may be true, but are there new things I can do too? If I’d lost a leg, I wouldn’t try to grow it back! I’d work out how to live the best life I could with one leg.
2. My roller coaster rebellion taught me how to push my physical limits to allow me to have fun, but in a safe way.
3. I had felt restricted by my illness, like I had tethers holding me back. Jeanette helped me to see those more as a harness, which helped to keep me safe. And when I was seeking to push the boundaries I was using intellect to ‘measure’ how far I could go.
4. I finally accepted that resting is not lazy – it’s essential. I can still do almost anything I want to as long as I accept that my body will pay the consequences, and I make time before and after to give it chance to do that.
Will I get to Disney Land one day? Yes, I absolutely will. Maybe not for a while yet, but I am still a determined / stubborn bitch, and I will not give up that dream. I know that it’s possible, as long as I plan ahead, take sensible risks and make time for the consequences.
Packing for a holiday: Women vs men (or just me vs my husband..?)
One week before holiday
Start mentally packing, putting things to one side in my wardrobe
3 days to go
Start wearing old crap underwear so I can save my least grey stuff for packing (not sure why I need to to only take my best knickers away).
Become laundry obsessed. Even more than usual. Everything must be washed NOW in case I decide to pack it.
Pack my toiletries bag.
2 days to go
Freak out because I’m going to a party tonight and nothing in the ‘won’t be taking these away’ section of my wardrobe seems acceptable. Try on everything in the hope that it has suddenly become suitable.
Go shopping and get over excited by ‘Travel Sized’ bottles of everything. Spend 10 minutes deliberating if it’s OK to buy 50ml versions for £1 when 200ml is £1.50. Find empty travel bottles in the next aisle. They are also £1.50. Kick myself for being so indecisive. Return to mini bottles and and buy mini everything.
Buy a new pair of shoes I don’t really need.
Day before holiday
Choose the clothes I definitely want to take, attempting to achieve the coveted ‘capsule’ set where everything goes with everything (who am I kidding?).
Limit myself to 3 pairs of shoes, including the new ones.
Try on every outfit to make sure it goes with one of the 3 pairs of shoes.
Decide on my travelling outfit and hang it on my wardrobe door.
Pat myself on the back for being decisive and limiting myself. I have NOT overpacked.
Morning of holiday
Spot things in the ironing pile that I could probably squeeze in. That top is a bit nicer than the one I packed. It’s only one top. Oh but if I take that I’ll need to pink shoes. That’s just one more pair of shoes.
Repeat two more times
Mentally shout at myself for over packing.
Accept it and move on. I am the boss of me.
Morning of holiday
Put on some clothes.
Pack whatever else is in his wardrobe that he fancies taking.