#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? 

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

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.”

Is part-time work a full-time pain in the arse?

Last year I was having a really tough time with my health and knew something had to give (I wrote a blog at that time called Literally Unbalanced if you want to know why). Eventually I talked to my boss about options to either work more flexibly or reduce my hours. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it could work. People who work part time seem to be just as knackered as people who don’t. Was I pinning my hopes on a Work vs Life balance myth?

Before I started I had loads of questions – some that people were able to help me with, and some that I’ve had to learn for myself. So I’ve written about my experience to see if this helps anyone else who’s trying to make a similar decision.

I know we all have different jobs, hours and employers’ rules, so to set the scene, I do a traditional nine-to-five office type of role, for a big company, and have a fantastic boss who is open to flexible working. Yes, I know, I’m blooming lucky!!

I wanted to take Monday as a non-working day, so I trialled two different options:

  1. Full time flexible working – working longer hours Tuesday to Friday
  2. Part time – reducing my hours by 20% to four normal length days – called a ‘0.8’

Here’s what I worried about / learned…

I’ll have less money

Let’s cut to the chase – this is hard to accept. If you reduce your hours you reduce your pay – no shit Sherlock, of course you do. Of course you should. But that’s why so many of us try to flex our hours rather than cut them.

If you usually work a five day week and are considering dropping to four or three days, dropping 20% or 40% of your salary is VERY hard to swallow. And let’s just make it a bit worse… if you have a job that gets any kind of bonus, performance pay or profit share, these will also be pro-rata rates. That sucks, and you have to suck it up.

I’ll get fewer holidays

Yep. Just like pay, holidays are pro-rata. If you go part time you get a percentage of holidays cut. You may get even less than you think because you are entitled to fewer Bank Holidays too. If for example, you normally get 27 days leave and 8 days Bank holidays = 35 days total, this whole amount could reduce by 20% (or whatever cut you take).

If you choose flexible full-time pattern, and work longer days on your working days, your company will probably calculate your holidays in hours, and each working day you take as holiday is equivalent to the number of hours you would normally work that day.

Of course, you ARE getting more days off by taking a non-working day – so quit moaning! Just ask for help to calculate your allowance, so you know what you’re dealing with.

I’ll probably end up working longer hours even if I take a pay cut

This is very possible unless you are SUPER strict with your time. It’s another reason I trialled flexible working first. Unless you are clear on exactly how your workload will reduce, you will end up trying to squeeze the same work into fewer hours. And unless you are a magician, or were previously a massive slacker taking two-hour lunch breaks without anyone noticing, that’s impossible.

Consider this when looking at your workload: an hour-long meeting still last an hour, you don’t get to attend 80% of it. Same for training, appraisals and administrative tasks. All these will still need to be completed in your working hours and will take the same amount of time whether you work full time or part time. So if you are part time, the hours you have available to do your actual work is even less that you think. Discuss this with your boss and wider team.

How will my hours impact the rest of my team?

I needed to discuss that too. For example, if I need to be involved in meetings or decisions about projects I work on, does that mean that people need to wait for me to return to work? Or can someone take responsibility on my non-working day?

If someone else is going to job-share with you on some of your work, you need to build up trust with each-other and set some ground rules. Otherwise you could end up reversing decisions and pissing people off.

I’ll always need to ‘catch up’

Yep – and this is the hardest part for me. Every Tuesday I arrive to a full inbox and need at least an hour to get organised. If you miss a meeting, someone needs to update you. Even tiny, seemingly trivial adjustments can feel significant, like the fact that everyone has already discussed their weekends, and moved on. It’s not the start of the week for anyone else. They are already at full speed while I’m just getting going.

I always worried that people wouldn’t want to have to repeat conversations or ‘waste time’ helping me catch up, but actually people have been really good, and don’t seem to mind. Or perhaps they just bitch behind my back… hmmm.

Which are the best days to work / not work?

The decision for me was to do with when there’s the least impact at work. I looked at when meeting happen, when deadlines hit and who else was in or out of the office. 

Monday was the best fit for work, plus it fits well with childcare plans I can make, and (bonus) I realised later, actually works out well for my holiday entitlement – I get more options for using my bank holiday allocation rather than always having to take the set bank holidays as well as another chosen non-working day. It’s complicated, but I promise it’s true. 

I’ll need to work harder to balance the inconvenience I cause

I think this is a common worry, and most flexible workers probably do over compensate a little. The key for me was to show that it is a ‘give and take’ relationship, so if there’s an IMPORTANT meeting or training day on a Monday, I will make every effort swap my non-working day to another day that same week.

We made an agreement that it would be a full-day swap, because it is not acceptable to interrupt my non-working day to ‘just attend this one meeting’ for an hour. My non-working day is exactly that. Hands off! We also agreed that I would need at least one week’s notice to give me enough time to flex my child care arrangements, or whatever is required.

In reality, that has only happened twice and I’ve had at least three weeks notice each time. The agreement means that we only prioritised the meetings that I REALLY need to attend. The rest go ahead without me.

I’ll have to be more efficient

Yes, and actually that’s a good thing. I am more efficient. Most of the time. The ticking clock makes me prioritise. I reckon at least three weeks out of every four, I think, “This week I’ll have to do a bit of work on my day off or I’ll never catch up”, but then I remember that I created that non-working (non-paid) time for a reason. And I owe it to myself to stick to it. Prioritise til it hurts!

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! You probably wont even be thinking about making a change unless you have something that’s really important to you. For me that was my health, for others it’s family. Whatever your reason, you have to make sure you stick to the plan that you make, and reap the benefits.

Monday is my rest day, it’s when I let the world slow down. It was so tempting to fill it with my to do list, or shopping, or chores or DIY. But I don’t – I rest. Because that’s what I need. That’s why I did it.

For others it’s time with their children, so they have to make sure they spend time with their children, and don’t fall into ‘I’ll just check my emails’. Unless it’s part of your agreement that you’ll be available, PUT THE WORK PHONE DOWN!

(..except for checking to see if you’ve won the work-team lottery, and if you don’t need to go into work at all tomorrow.)

So… are you wondering which option I chose?

Flexible working was great, but for me the longer days were just too exhausting. I needed to do less, not just squeeze more at other times. So it’s a pay cut, but better health – and I honestly couldn’t be happier. My boss and colleagues are superstars and I am so grateful and even more dedicated to my job. There are days when it’s hard to keep up, but every Sunday night, when I see the usual Facebook memes about Monday mornings, I have a little smile to myself and think “That’s not me, anymore”.

What a smug bitch I am! Poorer, but smug.

(P.S. I’m still Unbalanced though – aren’t we all?)

————————————————————————

Have you made the decision to flex or go part time? Or are you undecided? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Also check out Mother Pukka on Facebook and Instagram, who is leading a fantastic #FlexAppeal campaign to encourage more businesses to offer flexible working opportunities. She has some fantastic advice on how to broach the subject with your boss.

#worklifebalance #flexappeal #unbalanced #literallyunbalanced

I didn’t know (poem)

I didn’t know when I was a child,

what it meant to be a mum.
I didn’t count how many times
you wiped my shitty bum.

I never asked just how it felt
to be deprived of sleep.
I didn’t think my hungry cries
would make your nipples weep.

I didn’t know hard it was
to feed me through the night,
And never get a moments peace
to even have a shite.

I didn’t realise when I learned
to crawl and walk and speak,
That your knees and back and patience
would soon be up shit creek.

I didn’t know the sacrifices
a mum makes for their child
I didn’t see the work it takes
to stop us going wild.

I didn’t know the heights of stress
kids put their mothers through.
I never checked the effect
my selfish actions had on you.

I didn’t know my happiness
was always your priority.
I didn’t know how much kids take
their toll on mum’s sobriety.

It took a while for me to see
that you were more than ‘Mum’,
My feisty female role model,
like I hoped I could become.

Now that I’m a mother
in a family of my own.
I feel the power of loving your kid
with every frigging bone.

And some days it’s ok to think
your kid’s a little shit,
I’m sure you had those thoughts of me,
when I look back on it.

Now I can appreciate
the crap I put you through.
I can marvel at the lengths you went
to make my dreams come true.

Now I know just how much help
my Granny must have been.
Now I’m a mum, I need you
as the Granny on my team.

Now it’s my turn to sing your songs
to a gorgeous child that’s mine
But you should know
‘You are (and always will be) my sunshine’.

i didnt know 2

#mothersday #poemsformums

H.I.I.T. 2

I discovered another H.I.I.T. workout today. 

This one is when a friend calls on Sunday afternoon saying that they are near your house and, if you’re in, how about they pop round for a brew – they will bring cake. 

We’re still in our PJ’s, and I might have gone to bed without taking my make up off (not pretty), we’ve just cooked a sort of brunch involving every dish in the house so there are dirty pots covering every kitchen surface and the house stinks of eggs, there’s underwear drying on the radiators, I have no idea what state the bathroom looks like… but a bit of cake would be nice actually. 

Option 1: Say, “Of course, that would be lovely. You have to take us as you find us – but of course you’re welcome anytime!! 

Option 2: Lie! Pretend we’re not home and to prove it, have my husband hold his nose and make some sort of tannoy announcement to pretend we’re at a train station returning from a weekend away. Spend the rest of the afternoon avoiding any movement near the front windows. 

Option 3: Say, “Of course, that would be lovely, but you have to take us as you find us – the house is a bit messy… (nervous laugh / give special glare to husband to assume the position on your tidiness HIIT session starting blocks),… but of course you’re welcome anytime….. how long will you be do you think?… in exact minutes please?!!”

On your marks, get set, GO…..! 

Who needs Joe Wicks?

#HIIT #reallifehiit #reallifeshit

*updated* I’ve just been reminded that this can be described as Scurry Funge: the act of running around cleaning when company is on the way.

Love it! #ScurryFunge