The Mum / Life Balance

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. 

Unbalanced and proud!

It seems we all get reflective at the end of the year. I’ve been re-reading old blogs and seeing how much life has changed.

When I started this page in March I didn’t tell anyone it was me. I felt like Batman, with a secret identity!

Until then I was pretending I had my shit together. No-one needed to know that my house was a bomb site, or that I didn’t play constant board games with my family.

No one needed to know that I was having counselling because I wasn’t coping with my vestibular illness. I could say on here things that I wouldn’t admit to anyone outside my family. It was like extra therapy.

But then lovely people started to Like some of the posts and send me messages saying that there are lots of us feeling unbalanced, but pretending we’re not.

Some people shared that they have the same vestibular illness as me. But most just recognise that constant juggle of a too-busy life, keeping all our plates spinning. It’s been great to share a laugh or a rude word when we let one of our plates spectacularly smash on the floor (and quickly try to sweep it up while no-one’s looking).

So I got the confidence to take my Bat-mask off.

Ironically it’s made me feel much LESS Unbalanced. It’s made me *genuinely* celebrate my unbalanced life and count my lucky stars that I have so much going on, that I just can’t fit it all in. It’s helped me accept that some things just won’t get done.

img_2594So now I’m standing tall, if a little wobbly sometimes. I’m proud to say out loud…
My name is Julie, and I’m Unbalanced.
Sometimes literally, sometimes mentally, but nearly always with a smile.

And a foul mouth. Let’s not fucking forget that.

Thank you to everyone who has liked this page, or sent me a message, or shared a story of your unbalanced lives. It’s amazing to know that you lot are Unbalanced too (please take that as a compliment!).

Here’s to a Happily Unbalanced 2017 for us all.

Xxx

I’m a Tapas Mum

Since going to see the film ‘Bad Moms’ I’ve been thinking about which stereotype of the mums I most relate to. Stay at Home Mum; Working Mum; Single Mum; Yummy Mummy etc etc. I’ve decided none of them sound quite right for me. So how about a new one… The Tapas Mum.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve never ‘wanted it all’ as the phrase goes to describe those who want a perfect family, great career and to be a permanent Goddess in the bedroom and the kitchen. I’ve never quite believed in that!

I do like the idea of having just a taste of each though. A little bit of everything. Like choosing a few small Tapas plates, instead of a massive portion of one meal.

For example:

  • I don’t need to be a high-flying, top of my organisation, cracking-through-the-glass-ceiling, role model career woman.
    But I do want a job that I enjoy and that I feel I’m pretty good at. 
  • I don’t need to be perfectly turned out in full make-up and 4 inch heels whenever I leave the house.
    But I do want to feel good when I go out to nice places. 
  • I don’t need a perfectly presented show home and a manicured lawn.
    But I do like to be able to relax in the evenings without spearing my bum on a pile of toys or yogurt-smeared cushions.
  • I don’t expect to have weekly meet ups with my girls for cocktails, dinner and dancing.
    But I do enjoy the occasional chance to get together with a friend or two for a brew or a shit-load of wine. 
  • I don’t need a pre-planned date night and a massive bunch of flowers delivered on a whim.
    But I do appreciate the times we get to go out and be a couple in a kid-free / no judgement, adult environment. 
  • I don’t expect my kid to be an Olympic-level athlete, mastermind of science or musical prodigy.
    But I do want him to have nice manners, have enough confidence to have a go at stuff and laugh a lot. 
  • I am never EVER going to be Nigella Lawson, in cooking skills or body confidence.
    But I will occasionally make a nice family meal that tastes half decent and give my husband a snog by the sink. Sexy! 
  • I most certainly don’t bake delicious pastries for the school summer fayre.
    But I do show up, donate a load of supermarket-bought chocolate for the tombola, and happily hand over every coin in my purse for the lucky dip. I even buy and eat the cakes that other people have made (that’s really not a chore, I really love the school fayre!)

Being a Tapas Mum is pretty great. So what do you say… can we create a new stereotype?


(This post was also shared on SelfishMother.com)

Just a man

This week the Official White House photographer Pete Souza revealed his favourite photos of Obama

Looking at these photos I found myself singing that Flash Gordon song – not the noisy ‘Flash, Ah Ah. Saviour of the universe” part, but the slower bit of ‘Just a man, with a man’s courage”.

I think these photos show why Obama has been so popular (whatever your own politics). Because whatever tough job he’s had to do, he’s shown us that he’s also ‘just a man’ – a human that we can relate to.

He’s not an unreachable, perfect, presidential superhero. He’s shown all sides of himself: a person who can be joyful, fearful, compromised and totally fucked off – even this week, shaking hands with a man he clearly thinks is a total cockwomble!!

obama-2

Just a man: a husband, a father, a team member, a friend.

All of those things are just as important as ‘a President’.

To me that’s inspirational.

I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a colleague and an Unbalanced Woman who spouts out a load of crap in my blog. I’m far from perfect at any of them.

I’m not a superhero with one super power. I’m an Unbalanced Woman who does a million things as best she can. Like everyone does.

That’s what these photos show me.


“Just a man, with a man’s courage

He knows nothing but a man
But he can never fail.

No one but the pure of heart
may find the golden grail
Oh oh oh oh”

(Queen)

Full set of photos here:http://9gag.com/gag/ajqEV90

Therapy

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.

therapy-mickey
Mickey became a symbol of everything I was losing

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…

therapy-drawings

… 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. 

Mickey, I’m coming to get you!

(Thank you Jeanette)

Windows to the soul

“Eyes are the window of the soul”
My soul must be frigging knackered.

So why doesn’t this soul get some more sleep?
Because it owns an Unbalanced brain that won’t shut the fuck up about all the things it really needs to do today.

Brain: You’ve not read all those papers for that meeting tomorrow…
You really need to sort out selling your car before the MOT runs out…
Those pictures you bought 3 weeks ago are still leaning against the window…
Actually this whole house is a shit hole…
And you’ve not done any washing…
Do you realise you’ve not hit your 10,000 steps or 5 a day once this week. You’d better get outside at some point…
And buy fruit…
And you’d better do something nice with your child today because you’re going to London for 2 days and won’t see him….
And the cats need fleaing…

Soul: Fuck off brain. Give me a break. Can’t you see how busy I am carrying these bags under my eyes?

Brain: Oh yes I most certainly can. You’d better go shopping and buy some Touche Eclat. You can’t go to London looking like THAT.

Soul: f$•% *@wg~s

(My soul also has a foul mouth.)

Unbalanced Equality

This weekend Tim Lovejoy was interviewing Kelis on Sunday Brunch and said,

“I’m a dad. I look after my kids 50% of the time but no-one ever asks me, ‘How do you juggle career and children?’. But… How do you juggle career and children!!”

Yes Tim! Spot on.

Why do interviewers (or the people who write the questions for them) think that when interviewing a woman who has a job and small children, then this is an essential question? And yet when interviewing a man in the same situation, they don’t.

This is a question that I’ve pondered for a while, and I have become quite frustrated that it appears to still be considered a ‘Women’s issue’. It really pisses me off.

But I also want to add another point …. It’s not just parents, and it’s not just workers that need to juggle or balance their lives.

There seems to be a magic equation of :

Woman + Kids + Job = “How do you find a balance?”

I started my Unbalanced Woman blog a while back because I was having to make some changes to get my balance right. And it struck me that all types of people feel they are trying to juggle or balance lots of different things in their lives. Not just when they have kids. People feel ‘Unbalanced’ for many different reasons. In my blog I consciously talk about some elements of being a mum, some of having a job, and some about totally different things. That’s MY life equation and my (happily) busy and Unbalanced life.

I know plenty of people with different life equations who are equally busy and therefore may sometimes feel ‘Unbalanced’:

  • Man + Job + Parents needing care = Juggler
  • Woman + Kid + Another Kid = Juggler
  • Woman + Illness + Part-Time Job = Juggler
  • Woman + Retired + Grandparent child care + Social commitments = Juggler

Many of these things are wonderful aspects of our lives, but they still need juggling. And when we can’t find a balance we ask for help, or we strap on our boots and crack on as best we can, accepting that sometimes we drop a ball or occasionally we totally fuck everything up.

So I’m with Tim – if we think it’s important to ask working mums how they balance their lives, let’s give equal interest to working dads, non working parents and non-parenting adults.

Or just join me in accepting that ‘Unbalanced’ is a way of life, for all types of people, and it’s to be celebrated.

#UnbalancedSolidarity

Organised, disorganised or unbalanced

Celebrations like Fathers Day, offer a fantastic insight as to whether you are a naturally an ‘Organised person’ or a ‘Disorganised person’. Or it could be an opportunity to prove just how Unbalanced you are and have a total melt down.

My mum commented that she is fascinated that there were people in the supermarket in the afternoon of Fathers’ Day, flicking through whatever cards are still available on the shelves, even though they have known this celebratory day has been in the calendar all year. Clearly her disbelief proves that she is an organised person. Organised people don’t understand Disorganised people.

Organised people plan ahead for these days. They carefully choose just the right card, with an appropriate picture and oh-so-personal words that will evoke exactly the right sentiment, humour or abuse appropriate for their loved ones.

Organised people set aside time to consider a choice of gifts, and perhaps even compare prices while wandering round the shops on a day of shopping that has most certainly required A List.  Organised people always have A List. Or perhaps, the modern version of organised, where they peruse multiple websites, allowing plenty of time for their gift to be despatched and delivered ahead of the calendar-marked day.

Organised people will already have a choice of wrapping papers, cello-tape (in a handy dispenser), and if required, a packet of stamps in their purse or wallet.

Organised people are brilliant. I want to be one.

Then there are Disorganised people. I know quite a few of these, and I have to say as a sweeping generalisation, that many of them are men. Disorganised people don’t understand Organised people. They don’t see the point.

Disorganised people embrace, and often celebrate that cards and gifts are purchased at the last possible minute. An absolute maximum of celebration minus 48 hours, (more likely minus 2 hours).

Disorganised people buy a card and gift that is ‘exactly’ what the recipient wants. Even if in reality their choice of gift is something the recipient has vmnwver before clasped eyes on, or even knew existed, the Disorganised person will have convinced themselves at the point of purchase, that the fact the items are are a) in front of them, b) within an acceptable price bracket and c) gender appropriate or neutral, means they have chosen wisely and can move on with their day.

Disorganised people will usually remember to buy wrapping paper too. Even if they have 15 other half used rolls and sheets at home, it’s best to get some more.

Disorganised people are brilliant and worry free. I want to be one..

And then there are Unbalanced people. Me, of course.

It’s fair to say that I fluctuate between the organised and disorganised camps. I have a very strong desire to be organised. I even sometimes write A List. I rarely complete many of the activities on it, but I’m fine with that.

And I’m not unthoughtful. I THINK about the presents I want to buy for even longer than organised people spend shopping. I just might not make that essential purchase until the last minute.

My Fathers Day experience this year…
My mum’s birthday is two weeks before Fathers’ Day, so in a fit of ‘watch how organised I can be!’ I ordered personalised Funky Pigeon cards for my husband and my dad, 3 weeks in advance. Yep, 3 whole weeks. Someone should have given me a Well Done sticker. 

Suitably proud of myself I set about the long-term present choosing thought process. I even somehow managed to make a decision, go to the right shops and have gifts in my hands with 72 hours to spare.

I didn’t seek out wrapping paper because I remembered that only a few weeks before I had bought suitable paper and there was enough left over for the size of presents just bought.

Smug smile, I am (for once) Little Miss Organised. Seriously, why do people not make stickers for that?

Until the day comes to go visit my Dad. Now, where did I put those cards? Seriously, where the fuck did I put those cards?

You know when perspective goes out of the window? That happened. I had a total melt down. I turned the house upside down. I looked in the same places at least 20 times. I made my husband and child look in all those places, while I followed them round watching them do it. No amount of my husband saying ‘just get another one’ would stop me. In my head this was a symbol of everything that is wrong with my Unbalanced life. I just HAD to find them.

And the end of the story is that I didn’t find them. I still have absolutely no idea where they are. So I had to join the Disorganised people in Tesco, to panic-buy any card on the way to visit my Dad. But I took with me an utter frustration and self-loathing that I had qualified for the Organised person Olympics, in the run up to the race, and then fell flat on my face just before the finish line.

So there we have it. Whether you are an Organised or Disorganised person, this Unbalanced person is jealous of you. Because whether you bought a card two weeks or two hours in advance, you know where your fucking card is.

Today I’m going to get it right

I’ve decided to make a big change – to have a ‘Positive Mindset’ as the books say. I will visualise ‘the me I want to be’. 

Hell, I can have it all, I can find that work / life balance, and I can be That Woman.

My new Balanced Woman Resolutions…

  1. I will work my designated hours, nothing more, and I will mentally switch off and stop thinking about work in the evenings and weekends 
  2. I will spend more time phoning or making plans to see my family and friends and less time making hilarious quips on Facebook to people I hardly know
  3. I will keep a tidy house, and I will complete DIY tasks the same week as I start them rather than a year later 
  4. I will eat only healthy food, be ‘drink aware’ and take up yoga, so I can show off my new body balancing skills as well as my happily balanced life skills. I will not quit after 3 classes. 
  5. I will go to a personal shopper in an expensive department store and ask them to find my true, inner style-goddess who has been hiding under ‘jeans and a top’ for the best part of a decade
  6. I will make myself presentable by actually washing/ styling my hair and putting make-up on before the school run instead of praying for rain so that I put my hood up and my head down and not scare anyone with my tangled, Medusa style mop
  7. I will be socially organised and remember significant dates for the people I love. I will even buy birthday cards and presents way in advance instead of running to Tesco two hours before a party to see which box of chocolates / kids toy looks least like it came from a supermarket
  8. AND I will recycle everything, actually use that compost bin, be a good neighbour, join the PTA and perhaps volunteer to organise a community event, and.. and… and spend quality time with our cats.

April fool!!

FUCK THAT unachievable dream. I’ll be the same unbalanced mess I always am, winging it everyday and enjoying the chaos. On the rare occasions I get any one of those things ‘right’ I will celebrate those moments as exactly that – a lovely moment. But a woman (or man) that’s perfect all the time is only found in Disney films.

Viva la Unbalanced Life!
(Ooh I really must learn to speak another language too)

April1.jpg

#UnbalancedLife #Worklifebalance #Aprilfool