Advice2

My village, my valium.

I’ve been a tiny bit absent lately, if you haven’t noticed. I have had a lot to say, but finding the time to express it is a whole different matter. But seeing as it’s Mental Health Week and all, now’s the time to pop out of my anxiety closet and give y’all a few updates.

I have good news. For anyone who has felt plagued by anxiety their entire lives, my news will hopefully lift your spirits. Here it is. Things have gotten better.

Oddly, I feel as though I’ve dropped a few balls for the first time in my life and yet I’ve never felt lighter or more relieved. It’s as though I’ve dived beneath the froth and foam of the endless chatter in my mind, and found a stillness beneath the waves. I can still see the madness above, but I’m ever-so-slightly removed from it for the first time in a long old while.

I have found some perspective.

So, what’s changed since this time last year? Let me share.

 (1) I have found myself a cracking spiritual healer.
OK, OK, so she’s technically a clinical psychologist, but she is healing my soul while she’s treating my condition. I’ve seen a few psychologists over the years, but this one….well…this one gets it. She’s articulate, funny, insightful, and sage.  She is my lightbulb lady. You know the sort of person I mean; you have conversations that switch imaginary flicks in your brain. Conversations that remove the blanket of monotony that envelops your usual thought processes.

(2) I’ve started medication
This was a bigee for me. I used to think “I take medication” translated directly into “I’m a big fat failure”, and whilst I would never think that about someone else who decided to go on meds, I felt that it made me weak. I’m only about a month into my medication now, and I am finding the little things easier. Like what, you ask? Well….

  • Driving
  • Handling my daughter’s epic meltdowns
  • Having visitors
  • Making phone calls
  • Coping with a crying baby in public

Some of these things might seem like such tiny little issues for most people. For me, they’re monumental…cataclysmic…huge. I still have lots of hang-ups and bang-ups – don’t get me wrong – but I’m functioning better.

(3) I made a village 
I have felt largely alone since returning to Australia and having children. Never has this been felt as acutely as last week when I had the flu. I felt vile, as you do, but had to plod along and take care of my sick baby and my rambunctious four year old. I wanted to die; I truly believed death would be preferable to the illness that had consumed me. My husband needed to work, my mother was away, and to top it all off I was contagious so I couldn’t see any of my friends. I also wasn’t allowed to “give” my kids to anyone so that I could rest, given the likelihood that they too were brewing this nasty virus.

So how did I cope?

In a very authentically-Australian way. I had neighbours.

I live in a townhouse complex with a few other stay at home mums, and a bunch of little kids. In the year that I’ve been living here I’ve come to know and adore these children, and to rely on their mothers. In this instance, my next-door-neighbour (and co-founder of my latest project Booksy and Novella…PLUG) brought me painkillers and food.  In previous instances,  I’ve had champagne and dinner for the kids dropped off at my house after I ran the half-marathon and was too exhausted to move. I’ve had my children babysat so that I can get some peace/rest/sanity. I’ve had coffees brought to my doorstop after rough nights up with the baby. I’ve had my floors swept for me, and dishes put away, because my house was a mess and I’ve been upset by the state of it.

#booksyandnovella
#booksyandnovella

In short, I’ve found a support system. I hope I am helping these wonder woman as much as they’re helping me. This system is what I’ve been missing since I had kids; people I can turn to at the drop of a hat and say “HELP”. The help is practical – like minding the kids so I can pop to the doctors on my own for a quiet conversation – but it’s also spiritual. I feel connected. I feel supported. I feel like I can make it through.

My posts have been getting less frequent, but that’s a good thing. I’m starting to work my way out of the madness. I know that anxiety doesn’t just go away. Mine certainly hasn’t vanished despite all my hopes when I started taking pills and seeing a shrink! But it  can ease, and it can be managed, and it can weigh less heavy on your heart.

 

My best friend’s baby

There are days, like today, when I think I deserve a medal. I often joke to my husband that there are moments when we earn our parenting stripes, and with two sick kids stuck at home, I feel like I’ve earned my fair share this week.

But while I’ve been here playing on the world’s smallest violin, my best friend had her first baby.

A precious baby girl with strawberry blonde hair and a perfect button nose, chubby little arms and those unmistakably long  newborn fingernails.

This delicious package did not arrive into this world easily. She followed a 22hour labour which ended in an emergency c-section. Her arrival shattered long-held dreams about a natural birth, and triggered a serious physical recovery for her doting mother. (Side note: Anyone who thinks a C-section is the ‘easy way out’ needs to be taken somewhere quiet and bitch-slapped.)

The Emergency C-section; an unexpected and unwanted birthing experience.
The Emergency C-section; an unexpected and unwanted birthing experience.

This baby’s arrival threw me straight back to the time of my own daughter’s birth in an almost identical scenario (but, lucky for me, I only had to endure 14hrs of labour before my operation was demanded).

If we’re going to talk about earning our parenting stripes, then let’s talk about the day our children enter this world. They rarely enter it in the way we hope for (ie. A birth with no drugs, no stitches, no tearing, no emergency c-sections….). Emotionally we’re smashed against walls sideways. At times, we are so fuelled with love that we’re riding high on the hospital room’s ceiling. The next minute we’re crashing onto the floor with a thud as we learn that establishing breastfeeding sucks (pardon the pun!) and hurts like hell.

One minute, we are staring at our precious babies in their hospital bassinets, refusing to give our body the sleep it craves because we’re literally addicted to this incredible thing. The next minute, our necks are pressed against our chests as we’re hunched over sobbing, wondering why our baby is crying non-stop and why it has to be that everything hurts so damn much. 

So if we’re going to talk about our parenting stripes, let’s forget about sick kids,  or kids who don’t sleep through the night, or toddler tantrums, or nappy nightmares. Let’s remember the biggest stripe of all… the one we earn the day we become parents. When we learn our biggest lessons, often through a period of immense pain. When we take on immense responsibility while we are weighed down by uncontrollable hormones. When our capacity for loving enters a new dimension, but we’re so fogged up from the birthing experience we aren’t aware that we even stepped through the door into a new world.

To my beautiful best friend, a sister to me, a woman I couldn’t be more proud of…. You have yourself a wonderful gift, and you’ve given all of us a new person to love beyond reason. Well done, you are my hero. You’ve entered the parenting army, and you’ve definitely earned your stripes.

You are already doing an incredible job. Keep going.

XXX

As easy 1.2.3 cake

How to survive your baby’s first birthday party

My nerves have never survived a party.

Birthdays, babyshowers, farewells…. whatever the occasion, I find myself wound up tighter than a two dollar watch.

My parents, bless them, are great entertainers and have covered the vast majority of my birthday milestones with aplomb. But when I ventured forth into the big bad world of adulthood I realised something was wrong with the “hostess with the mostess” scenario inflicted upon me. It left little room for failure in my anxious mind.

I used to have one fail-safe way to survive my own parties. I would drink my way through them.

But that tactic doesn’t really work when it comes to your children’s birthday parties, now does it? 

I used to think baby parties would be a piece of cake (pun intended) compared to adult ones. But when I actually started attending these parties I realised I was a whole bucketload of wrong. I was way, way out of my league.

My daughter’s second birthday was a stand out, Oscar-worthy “worst party experience of the year” moment for me.  I ruined two batches of cake before I finally gave in and bought packet mix, furiously trying to finish off the cake ahead of the guests’ arrival. If my neighbour had not literally rescued me at the 11th hour, I’d have been a crying mess on the floor, covered in flour and threatening to slit my wrists with the nozzle of a piping bag. (I don’t know if I ever truly thanked you for saving my life, Gemma?). 

2nd birthday party for my daughter. My neighbour saved the cake!
2nd birthday party for my daughter. My neighbour saved the cake!

I was a wreck when my guests left that day and vowed “never again”… Only to have another party for her 3rd birthday, this time with a six week old baby in tow.

(Yes, at this point you can officially call me an idiot.)

Maybe all you awesome mums out there can do the cooking, baking, cleaning, gift wrapping, music sorting, and game inventing for your children’s birthday parties with no sweat, one hand behind your back, and the other wrapped around a margharita. Or maybe you just have more help on hand than I do. Alls I know is that I throw a lousy party, and I think this – along with driving and making phone calls – must be one of my biggest anxiety inducing events.

So, having just thrown the first successful birthday party of my life for my son, I have learned a few tips that some other anxious mothers out there may find useful.

HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR BABY’S FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY 
1) Don’t throw  a party. This year, I had the best non-party party ever. I “surprised” my neighbours on the day of his birthday, inviting them to the local park with their kiddies for cake that afternoon. That’s it. There were no invitations, just a chat across the driveways. We supplied cake, one balloon, and free entertainment (my energetic 4 year old). Maybe you think that’s tight of us?  I think it’s perfect. A run outdoors for the kids, a bit of a sugar-fix, then home in time for tea. Winner.

IMG_3304

2) If there must be cake, make peace with packet mix. There are two rules to cake. First, make it the day before. Second, use packet mix. Freeze it. The Australian Womens’ Weekly birthday cakebook, ahem, BIBLE, says it’s OK to use packet mix. It actually says that. So no guilt required!

As easy 1.2.3 cake
As easy 1.2.3 cake

3) Get out of the house – Host your party anywhere except your house. Even your local prison yard’s exercise park is probably going to be less trying on your nerves than hosting it at home… Forget cleaning to the point of madness, and go out and soak up the fresh air. Ain’t no one going to judge you if there’s a spot of dirt on a playground picnic table!

4) Buy your kid a gift. One gift. When my daughter was born, we weren’t in a great financial situation. I looked at beautiful toys (and pined for those soft, flat koalas you see in every inner city Sydney suburban home) and knew I couldn’t buy them for her. I was very grateful for the generosity of the gifts she received from others, but was truly unable to buy a “wow” present from myself. It’s only in hindsight that I realise it doesn’t matter. It does not mean you love your child any less. They’ll never remember anyway. So this year I gave my son a letter. I posted it to him, and it will remain sealed for decades to come until I finally decide for him to have it. The card, and postage, cost me a whopping $6.50 and I am sure he’ll cherish it when he’s old enough to appreciate it.

5) Avoid Instagram like the plague. Pinterest too. These sites will only have you obsessing over the exact shade of bunting to coordinate with your cake-pop icing and sooner or later you’ll collapse with exhaustion. Or…. if you’re like me, these sites will just make you feel like a complete and utter party-cripple.

Follow my steps above and you’ll have a ball!

I didn’t even NEED alcohol to cope!!