Wednesday 24 May 2017

Manchester bombing: the use and abuse of personal testimony?

Photo credit
The power of personal testimony was every where yesterday.

Radio 4 is effectively audio wallpaper in our house but throughout the day the voices of those who had been at the Ariana Grande concert or picking up their kids from it stopped me in my tracks.

Emotion surged through my body like an energy with no outlet for expression other than to prickle into a few hot tears.


But as is often the way with these kind of terrible events I felt hugely conflicted about the era of 24 hour news that we live in. Even the journalist on the radio sounded shell shocked yesterday morning as he said, ‘it’s hard to believe that this terrible event took place less than ten and a half hours ago.’

And here’s the thing. If it’s hard to believe for the journalists, if it’s hard to bear for those of us listening to the radio, watching the news, scrolling our twitter feeds, how much harder must it be for the people involved, the children, teenagers and families?

Is it therefore okay that almost as soon as it had happened reporters at the scene were interviewing the victims as they emerged from the arena?

Is it okay that adults and children who most definitely have not had time to process the experience are interviewed, albeit by sympathetic reporters?

News agenda

During our Journalism Masters programme at UWE we used to have weekly ‘news days’. We operated like any newsroom in the country, we came in with story ideas, the editorial meeting was held, decisions made about the days news agenda and we were each assigned roles.

On one of these occasions, two of our class were sent out to get footage for a story about a mugging that had taken place. They were encouraged to find the address of the elderly lady who had been attacked, go to her home and ‘doorstep’ her for an interview. As I remember it was known that she had said she was not interested in talking to the media, hence we couldn’t phone ahead to set up an interview.

Being good students the girls set off to do as they were told. And being good would-be journalists they got the footage. But none of us felt okay about it and over the next few days we raised our concerns (via our Media, law and ethics tutor) about the rightness of this action.

During the group meeting that was held at the end of our next news day we were encouraged to talk about how we felt. Our course tutors were both former journalists and editors who had worked for the BBC and ITV.

As good journalists they listened well. As good journalists they gently explained, ‘this is the job, whether you like it or not.’ As good human beings they shared the rationale that they had internalised over the years, no doubt as part of their own coping mechanisms. ‘The thing is,’ they explained, ‘it’s actually really helpful for people to talk, for people to tell their stories. It helps them heal.’

Storytelling as healing

I’m big on storytelling, I’m big on storytelling as part of the healing process. After the death of my dad and then years later after the death of my mum I know from personal experience that strange, pressing need to keep retelling the story. I know too how hard it can be to feel okay about the need to retell the story.

I also know that in the days immediately following the death of my father my journal falls strangely silent on the subject. There are no words to begin with.

I’m no expert on trauma and grief but I believe when those first words come out the kind of environment they emerge into is incredibly important.

Now the BBC and other news agencies may well have support teams in place to help the people they have interviewed afterwards, and I understand that Manchester as a city is doing its utmost to provide the survivors with all the help and support they possibly can.

So hopefully these children, teenagers, mums, dads, friends and family will have all the comfort and aid they need to help them in these first few days of staggering unreality.

My even bigger hope is that support remains in place in the weeks, months and years to come, long after the news agenda has moved on and the media machine has forgotten those voices. I really hope those people have someone to turn to then, someone who is still willing to listen to their story and to do so without any agenda beyond respect, care and love for the people who are talking to them.

Manchester, Ariana Grande, Manchester bombing, concert, grief, trauma, interview, #ManchesterBombing

Tuesday 23 May 2017

What is it like to be a new mum?

Me and A - 3 days old #nofilter
Nothing can prepare you for it. I remember attending the last NCT class with three of us huddled round before the start of the session saying, 'You don't have time to shower? Really? I just can't believe that'

But you don't! Or at least you do but you're very quick about it and you're dependant on a) your baby being asleep (on someone else...) and b) a partner/parent/friend/helper to keep a watchful eye on said baby and bang on the door at the first sign of her/him needing anything.

I wrote a few blogs a while back for Mrs Mummypenny's website (which I've included links to below). The skeleton ideas for these blogs were scribbled on bits of paper, at the back of a notebook in which I was meticulously tracking feeding and sleep times. They were written often in the darkest hours of a winters day that had slipped into a long winters night on the rolling circuit that was breastfeeding my baby.

A routine of napping...

It wasn't until I emerged blinking into the bright white days of January, when I'd managed (much to my own disbelief!) to settle A into a routine of napping 2 - 3 times per day (she was still NOT going to bed till 11pm mind for her night time sleep!) that I could finally dig out these worn bits of paper, decipher the words and form them into posts.

Reading back over them now, I'm glad I did because already those days have fallen away into the recesses of a nostalgic winter past; they've become golden days and nights, cosied up in our little nest, lit and warmed by the glow from the wood burner.

Though I remember the not knowing, the worry and the concern about keeping this gorgeous bundle of snuggly inquisitiveness alive, it's indistinct and I suspect that had I not scribbled those odd chaotic words down at the time I would not now be able to recall much of what I'm suggesting in these posts.

Rollercoaster ride

So what is it like to be a new mum? I think only new mums really know! You have to be on the rollercoaster ride of exquisite highs and soul searching lows to really answer that question. But here are some things I thought every new mum (and dad) should know when I was in that particular part of the funfair that is parenthood....

Happy reading, happy parenting and let me know if you find any of these useful!

7 things I wish someone had told me before giving birth

Your 8 point survival guide to breastfeeding

5 things every dad needs to know before the birth of their child

What really changes when you have a 3 month old baby

#amblogging, #amwriting, #baby #motherhood #motherhoodunplugged #newmum #advice

Sunday 7 May 2017

How being a mum takes you to the borderlands of sanity...And that's okay!

Today is the final day in the UK’s first Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which has been running all week to coincide with International Maternal Mental Health Day on 3 May.

As a new mum, maternal mental health is something that I feel pretty passionate about.

I suspect that like me you initially think 'post-natal depression' when you hear the words 'maternal mental health' and absolutely post-natal depression is an incredibly important subject and something that should be discussed and supported more widely.

But that's not what I want to talk about here.

Darker places

You see being a mum is tougher mentally in ways that fall outside of post-natal depression. My experience of being a mum, for example, has taken me to darker places mentally than I had ever expected.

It's not post-natal depression and it's not talked about.

My daughter has just turned 7 months old. She is characterful, charming, curious, engaged and engaging, thoughtful and full of smiles and laughter (mostly!). She's desperate to get moving so all her limbs are in motion pretty much all of the time. Exploring the world with her, learning her as she learns me and learns herself has so far been the most fascinating, life-altering, heart-burstingly glorious time.

I'm lucky because that has been the main part of the story I have to tell about becoming a mum. But it's not the whole story. It has been hard too.

It's harder now in fact for me, 7 months down the line, than ever it was when she was a newborn. That's been a huge surprise to me, as I was expecting to be totally rocking the 'I got this' momma attitude by now, but I don't feel like that at all.

In reality I have, to coin a phrase, 'lost my s#*!' in terms of feeling on the edge of sanity more in the last couple of weeks than at any other time in her life. And it's scary to feel like that, really scary.

At the root of it all I believe is that sleep deprivation robs me of a reasonable grip on perspective. So I should sleep more, I get that. But even mums of newborns will tell you it's hard to 'sleep when the baby sleeps'. At this stage in the game, 7 months in, it just feels a weird ass mix of slovenly and as though I have in some senses 'failed' if I do ever capitulate and crawl into bed to sleep whilst she sleeps.

There is so much else to do after all.


Here is what I believe is the second root of the problem, the 'overwhelm' of motherhood where our expectations of what we can and should be doing play out against a background of days where you are as blind as your partner and those around you to ALL the stuff you are doing. Take Wednesday for example. If you were to ask me what I did I would say I took A to get weighed at the Health Visitor clinic in the morning and then later I took myself for a doctors appointment (with A obviously!).

This clearly misses off the getting us both up and ready. It misses the breastfeeding and the preparation of finger foods; it misses the time spent allowing A to play with and explore breakfast ('food is fun until you're one'....), repeated again at lunch and oh yes again at tea time. It misses cleaning the bathrooms and making up the bed in the spare room for the guests we had coming that night, it misses washing, drying and folding her clothes, it misses preparing a roast dinner later on that evening and it misses, in an enormous way, that all of this was done against the backdrop of feeling and being quite ill (nb 'and then later I took myself for a doctors appointment').

But the first version is the one that I remember, the one that I repeat when my other half gets home and asks what I did today. I did two things, I say. Three if you include 'keep the baby alive', I might jokingly add (yes jokingly...).

And at my back I always hear the list of things I didn't get to. So the mismatch between what I expect to be able to do and what I can do is pretty significant.

The third root is actually there's an enormous amount of stuff going on in terms of my own identity, which has changed significantly and which continues to change as we're now figuring out return to work, childcare, being able to pay the mortgage against that balance of being paid and paying out for someone else to look after my daughter. There's my identity as person who reads and writes but who can no longer stay awake long enough when she goes to bed to do the former, nor get up early enough before my daughter wakes to the latter.

And finally there's the change to the relationship with the man I love, the father of my daughter. He experiences freedoms it's hard not to resent (he can go to the pub straight from work or plan a weekend stag do away from home without having to figure out the logistics of what do to about A) and experiences pressures it's easy for me to overlook (the responsibility of being the main breadwinner, the increased importance of doing well at work because of this, the need and desire to still be the person who can work late/go out with his mates as well as be the dad, husband, lover).

We're having to constantly redefine who we are and to do that against a backdrop of perspectiveless, sleep deprived me, whose confidence and happiness can teeter on the head of pin.

Not the only mum...

Most of the time I know I'm not the only mum whose baby isn't yet sleeping through the night. Much of the time I can even accept that this is just for now, just for such a short period of time that will pass quicker than a fleeting season. I can acknowledge and recognise that the weaning process is actually going pretty well, that health and happiness abounds and the wealth stuff will get figured out in time.

More often than not I can see that the beauty in our family life, that this extraordinary expansion of love and adventure and joy far exceeds the momentary frustrations of finding myself in an unexpectedly gendered cage or my fears of not being a good enough mum or a sane enough wife to deserve to be loved. But on those dark days, in those darker hours, when perspective is as absent as sleep, I stare down a deep dark hole, heart heavy, head hot and throbbing, throat sore from shouting or sobbing and I think this, this is not written about.

At those times I feel alone, but as my other half points out with what feels like a never-ending supply of patience, 'do you think you're the first mum to ever feel like this?'.

These are only tiny, fractional points in time. As my sister, friends, coach and wider family remind me, the answer is not to do more, but to do less, self-nourish. Self-nourishment for me is drinking tea, having a bath, reading a book. It's going for a walk in the woods with A, or planting out sunflower seedings in the finally warming up May sunshine.

I don't know if this article will get to or speak to any momma's who feel or have felt dark and  like they are only just holding on but if it does then all I would say is to pass on this nugget of kindness given me by my tribe - let other people help, they really really want to. Other people can give you the space, the time, to take a deep breath, to self-nourish, to take a second to look after yourself, so that you can get on with the big business of looking after your family. Oh and sleep, whenever, however you can!

#blog #blogger #whilemybabysleeps #amwriting #ConnectTheDots #MMH #mentalhealthawareness

Monday 25 January 2016

Would you call yourself a workaholic?

No, neither would I. Not for years and years. Not despite friends and family frequently telling me that I worked too hard, for too many hours and to the detriment of my own health and happiness.

In fact especially not then. When they told me I worked too hard, I would simply think 'Too hard? I could work much harder actually' - applying 'anorexic thinking' to their claims ('Too skinny? No way, I could be much skinnier if I really tried').


But more and more of us do have an unhealthy relationship with work. And if you're the kind of person who skips lunch breaks pretty much as standard, is routinely the last one in the office apart from the boss and who feels anxious about work several times a week, chances are you're in the nominations list for a workaholic award.

'Big deal', you think, inhaling the heady smoke of burn out, 'I love my job'. Or even, 'I hate my job but times are tough and work isn't that easy to come by'. 'Get real', you may be shouting, 'this is the 21st century, we have to be 'on' 24/7 or we're not in the game'.

But, at the same time, I'm prepared to bet that there's a small voice, a tiny whisper at the back of your mind, a gorgeous, lovely little soulful thing that longs for work/life balance, that really would like to have more energy and to feel more joy.

To that voice I say a big 'Hell yes, there is another way'. And I say it as a recovering workaholic, one for whom that first missed lunch break is the equivalent of falling off the teetotal wagon and landing in a whole mess of alcoholic disfunctionalism and spiralling misery.


I used to work for an international corporate. I was promoted quickly early on and then at frequent intervals, much to my surprise. Some of my bad working habits are doubtless rooted in the sense of trying to prove that I really was capable of the next level up, that I was worth the pay rise. 

But as with any addiction I also got a real kick out of working myself into a state that I would call feeling 'stoned with tiredness'. It was then I got 'the click' (as Brick in Cat on a hot tin roof would've called it) in my brain. The moment when I was free, when I could allow myself (and this is the really scary bit) to do the things I really wanted to do without feeling guilty or anxious.

Terrifying isn't it? 

I left the corporate world, eventually. I had a sense that just changing the world around me wasn't going to be enough to stop me but I had to start somewhere. From that place I've found the working on the following questions enormously helpful, and you might too....

1) Assess your current situation
- Have family and friends made comments about you working too hard in the past few months?
- Do you feel stressed and tired regularly during your working week?
- Is it normal for you to skip lunch breaks and/or work late/at home/out of hours
- Would you like a different, healthier relationship with work?
If you answered yes to some or all of the questions then it's definitely worth rethinking how you work. If you're not sure this applies to you chat to family and friends to get their perspective on how you work.

2) Do some digging
It's worth spending some time figuring out why you've adopted these behaviours at work. And the answers aren't always obvious. A part of my weird mental package is that I'm an introvert who grew up in an extrovert household. Working hard and late (on homework originally...) was a really good 'legitimate' way to be allowed to spend quiet time by myself.

3) Who do you know who does work-life balance well?
Finding a role model is really important. Who do you know who has a really good sense of balance? What do they do that you feel envious of? Listen especially closely to the things that your internal voice says you couldn't possibly imitate: chances are even a pinch of whatever that is could be really really good for you. If you can't find real life role models there are a ton of books out there that can help - I found Arianna Huffington's Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life incredibly helpful.

4) Figure out what you're not doing (because of all the extra time you're spending at work/worrying about work) that you really want to do
This is a useful way of developing some positive motivation for change. I bet there's tons of stuff that you're interested in and you only have this one wild and precious life in which to get curious. Figure out what intrigues and interests you (again I recommend listening to the 'I couldn't possibly voice'. I joined a local drama group and acted in a couple of plays on one of my forays down a 'I couldn't possibly' path. It was awesome!)

5) Write a list of your values
This is an exercise I just did recently - thanks to reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong, another book I'd totally recommend. Writing down your values can help with #2 on this list and #4. I'd be surprised if working yourself into an early and lonely grave features on your list... It's worth thinking about whether you're really living and practising your values and where they fit in relation to the way you work. 

6) Write a list of your boundaries (and maybe pin them up somewhere where you can see them easily and check in with them!)
If your workaholism is anything like mine then I bet you don't have boundaries so much as 'flexibilities'. Now that's nice, but it's not healthy! I've always struggled with the idea of boundary setting but Brene Brown simplifies the idea as writing a list of 'What's okay' and 'What's not okay'. So a list of work boundaries might include: It's not okay to work extra hours as standard; it's not okay to skip lunch breaks; it's not okay to feel so stressed about work you want to cry: It is okay to say 'no' to additional work; it is okay to say 'let me get back to you' if you're asked to fit something (good for those of us who automatically say yes!); it is okay to ask for help etc.

7) Be SUPER KIND to yourself!!!
If you try to change your behaviours I can guarantee you one thing: along the way you WILL fail. But I have to say I've been failing differently and succeeding unexpectedly along the route of my recovery for the past five years. And I wouldn't trade places with the way I worked then to how I live now for anything in the world. 

The point is that embarking on this journey is the best thing that you can do if you truly want to live a more healthy, happy and fulfilled life...

SO, are you a workaholic? What's your story? If you were and you're not anymore what changed? What would be the one tip out of everything you've learned that you'd like to share with others? Write it below or mail me, I'd love to hear from you! xxx

#NewYearNewYou #workaholic #workaholicinrecovery #worklifebalance #whatsyourstory 

Monday 11 January 2016

Yoga wobbles, or 7 things I learned on the mat yesterday

How I definitely DIDN'T look yesterday
Credit: Take Back Your Health Conference
My first yoga class of the year happened yesterday. It was different because it was a new class, in a building I've not been to previously and, whilst the teacher is a friend of mine, she’s never taught me yoga before.

I'm sure your Facebook and Instagram feeds are probably as clogged as mine with the beautiful and the graceful sharing words of yogic wisdom as they manage somehow to take a selfie whilst also doing a headstand or wrapping their ankles round their wrists as they bend over backwards.

Now, if you're the person posting these pictures, all I can say is, bloody well done! In all seriousness I am properly impressed with you're flexibility - hurrah for you! 

If however you're like me, more of a 'wobbler', on the 'you-want-me-to-put-my-leg-where?!?' path to spiritual enlightenment, then this post is for you. Because yesterday I discovered it is possible to learn any number of mighty lessons (useful both on and off the mat) without being the slightest bit graceful or beautiful....and here they are, #nofilter #obvs:

1) When I do something for the first time I apparently totally forget to breath. Thankfully the yoga teacher is able to remind me from time to time...

2) When I go at pace of the expert in the room (which I am not) I fall over

3) When I focus on wanting to ‘get it right’ I go too fast. And then I fall over

4) When I think too much about being balanced….guess what? I fall over

5) When I close my eyes, I stop being so self-conscious. Like a small child, because I can't see the other people anymore they effectively no longer exist. And then the magic happens and I start feeling my way through the pose.

6) Feeling my way through a pose or movement is such a nice experience! It’s slow. It makes sense (even though it's far from perfect). And I don’t fall over.

7) It turns out nothing bad actually happens when I fall over (in a yoga class at any rate). So that's one less thing to worry about...(see how yoga can help reduce stress in your life?)

In short I learned....I need to remember to breath as a priority at all times, to go at my own pace, not to think too much about the thing I'm doing, to close my eyes and feel my way through awkward situations and to never, ever worry about falling over. It's a (short) form of flying after all....

So, forget about your wobbles, or at least don't let them stop you from 'going yoga'.

#yoga #NewYearNewYou #yogaeverydamnday

Saturday 31 October 2015

Halloween special: My biggest zombies

I kid you not. My fear of zombies is so great we’ve had to stop watching ‘The Walking Dead’ in our household.

I am that scared.

It’s not even especially because of what happens in the shows, though the ‘he’s behind you’ adrenaline buzz does tend to last a fair while after the credits roll.

It’s the really bad dreams I have.

In these dreams I am the only one in the house who has any comprehension of the danger we’re in.

The other people laugh and chat. They mosey, even.

I alone hear the moan of the approaching hoard.

Rigor mortis

One is in the house already. I hide and try not to breathe in the foul, sickly-sweet stench of its rotting flesh. It moves away and I relax and begin to move, a moment too soon. Spotted I run. Upstairs. It stumbleruns behind me, determined. I grab the ladder to the loft crying and am almost up when its hand, cold, reptilian-ridged, grips my ankle. Rigor mortis.

I wake up. But actually that’s little comfort. In the darkness I am confident there’s a zombie in the house.

And, it’s my fault the zombie is in the house, because I’m the one imagining it in the house.

"I’m scared I’m not good enough or about to fail in a massive and tragically impactful way"

You see the really big trouble is I have this childish belief that I can imagine Things into Being. Scary stuff.

I have normal fears too. You know the run of the mill ones. The ones where I’m confident that I’m going to let people I care about down; where I’m scared I’m not good enough or about to fail in a massive and tragically impactful way (maybe by not alerting you all to the zombie apocalypse in time….).

Big Magic

But, as Elizabeth Gilbert points out in her new book BigMagic, Fear is really really BORING.

Everyone has Fear and it has one job, which is to shout STOP STOP STOP really loud, until you realise the danger you’re in and, well, do as you’re bid and STOP whatever crazy, creative, or even just plain normal activity you are about to embark on.

"I can kind of spot that it’s Maureen from my internal Anxiety Department..."

The trouble is, when that Fear pops up, say at work, I can kind of spot that it’s Maureen from my internal Anxiety Department and that’s she’s dropped her Catastrophising Files all over my desk again.

And I know that Maureen is very lovely and works very hard but has absolutely no perspective whatsoever and that this isn’t really the calamity that she’s claiming it to be.

However I still have to clean up the mess that Maureen’s created. And that’s exasperating.

Sensible, fully-functioning adult 

And because I’m a sensible and fully-functioning adult I have to excuse her and demonstrate to those around me that really ‘I get it, she’s just being silly and of course I know it’s all going to be all right really.’

But here’s what I’m starting to think the lovely Maureen does. Sick to the back of her neat white teeth (brushed for exactly the right amount of time each morning and evening) of always being ignored or told that’s she silly, Maureen bides her time.

"...she’s letting me use the Really Sharp Kitchen Knives without even a mutter of caution.."

At home, probably whilst I’m happily chopping vegetables and listening to the radio, Maureen is pacing the depths of my internal Anxiety Department. She’s abandoned the filing (in fact, given that she’s letting me use the Really Sharp Kitchen Knives without even a mutter of caution, it looks like the kid has gone off duty for the day to all intents and purposes).

Terrifying costume

But far from it. Maureen is in fact rooting out the most terrifying costume she can muster. Gone are the 1950s librarian glasses. Gone the neatly coiffured hair, tied back in a powder blue bow. Gone the beige silk blouse, pencil skirt and sensible shoes.

In the passing of a simple evening, Maureen has transformed herself into the most gruesome and believable zombie ever and is currently making her way towards the Dream Department.

So, it is in fact her grim determination I can feel gripping my ankle as I fail to ascend the loft in my dream. And here is the answer as to how I can have a raft of zombie dreams despite the absence of all scary TV input!

Firm but fair

Now I’ve never done this before to be honest with you. Stood far enough, and playfully enough, back from fears to give them a personality, until today.

But back to Big Magic - Gilbert is very clear on the importance of seeing your fear as a real person. Moreover, she recommends having a full on conversation with your fear. Firm but fair is her approach.

She says, absolutely invite Fear along on the road trip of life, but be clear that Fear must sit in the backseat, and she must not at any point take the steering wheel, set the direction of travel or even change radio stations.

Because your fear will always be there. She has a really important job to do – namely to ensure that you survive. That, in fact, you have survived this far along the evolutionary trail is thanks in part at least to your fear (thanks Maureen!).

Now, I don’t know if taking this personal approach to my fears will really help (though in fact I can already hear Maureen twittering away about the ridiculousness of it all which has to be a good sign).

I do know though that just telling myself my fears are ‘just silly’ and that I am silly for having them hasn’t previously been an effective way of managing them. 

And besides, I’m almost looking forward to my next zombie dream when, Scooby-doo style, I can unmask my zombie attacker for who she really is and have Maureen say “Darn, and I’d've gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you pesky kids!”

Almost looking forward to it….Happy Halloween y’all!

#bigmagic #halloween #fear #anxiety #zombies #thewalkingdead