Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Mental health has been in the news quite a bit recently, with the Heads Together campaign by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Price Harry.

I listened to Prince Harry’s frank conversation about his mental health with Bryony Gordon on her Mad World Podcast. It was inspirational and deeply moving. This is exactly what’s needed for the stigma of mental illness to end: people talking about it openly.

I’ve been fairly open about my own mental health issues. I suffer from PTSD, caused by childhood abuse. This causes anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I cope with this much more effectively than I used to. I spent pretty much all of my teenage years trying to hide everything I was feeling. When I realised that this coping technique wasn’t going to work long term, I had to face everything that had happened to me. I became very introverted, I spent most of my time at home alone for a couple of years. Even when I had my daughter, I’d force myself to take her to play groups only to sit in the corner and hope that nobody would try and approach me.

Moving to Cardiff was a big turning point. I tried making friends for the first time since high school. But I still needed help. I went to my GP, was prescribed anti depressants and put on a waiting list for counselling. The medication did help. The counselling was better, even if I did have to wait a whole year for it and even then only got six sessions. My counsellor suggested lots of books I could read. Books about other abuse survivors and how they cope with PTSD. I also read up on why people abuse, which was difficult but did help me realise that it was nothing to do with me and everything to do with my abuser’s issues. Late last year, I stopped taking medication (which was very difficult). These days, I still have bad days (and the odd bad week or even fortnight) but I’m better equipped to deal with it now.

Talking does help. Husband was the first person I confided in about the abuse. He was, simply put, brilliant. But talking to a professional was important too. We need to encourage people to seek help for mental health in the same way as we all would for any physical illness. With 1 in 4 adults suffering mental illness of some kind during their lives, we need to stop viewing this as a weakness or abnormality.

I’ve taken this into consideration in how I talk to my daughter and encourage her to talk to me. She knows it’s okay to say that she’s not okay. She knows that if she has any problems, little or big, she can talk to me and/or her Dad. Even if she’s done something wrong, it’s always better to talk about it than try to hide it.

As adults, we might think that children’s problems can’t be nearly as big or important as our own but we need to remember that what might look quite insignificant to us can be overwhelming for a child. We need to at least attempt to see it from their perspective.

I still struggle with how to discuss my own mental health with my daughter. She knows very little detail about my life before she was born. She asks questions that I don’t know how to answer. I want to set a good example of being open and honest about feelings but I know my issues are just far too complicated for her to understand, even aside from her being too young to be burdened with such things. It’s that tricky balancing act of protecting children while also introducing them to the real world and properly equipping them to live in it.

How have you approached the subject of mental health with your children? Have you suffered mental illness and, if so, how have you coped with it as a parent?

Let’s Talk About Religion

Another tricky subject to discuss today: religion.

I’ve had a tricky relationship with religion personally. I was raised Christian until about age 9 when my parents seemed to give up on the whole thing (I’m not sure why, they never really spoke to me about it). I was then what I’d probably describe as agnostic through my teens. In early adulthood, I briefly became religious again but then realised that hadn’t been because I really believed in it, it was because I felt isolated and depressed and wanted to belong to something (not good reasons for belonging to a religion, I now admit). These days, I’m an atheist.

From when she attended nursery at a Catholic Primary School, to going on trips to Church with her current school and being friends with children of a range of different religions and beliefs, my daughter has always been full of questions about religion. While I give her the facts where they’re available, with this subject I try to help her reach her own conclusions. We’ve always said that if she wanted to follow a religion, we’d support that but from a pretty young age, she came to the conclusion that she didn’t believe in God. She does enjoy some Bible stories (although she’s found some pretty disturbing). At her school, there are children of different religions and she’s learnt a great deal about them (something I am very much in favour of).

Recently at Easter, as well as at previous Easters, I had to answer some rather difficult questions. She wanted to know how rabbits and chocolate eggs are connected with the story of Jesus. I told her they’re not really. The way Easter is celebrated in UK is very much a mixture of different traditions, stemming from different beliefs. Celebrating new life in Spring is an extremely old concept, much older than Christianity. I also told her that while Christians are celebrating Easter, Jews are celebrating Passover. We didn’t go into much detail with that but I’ve made a little note to maybe learn more about it next year. I have noticed that while she’s learnt a lot about Christianity plus a bit about Islam and Hinduism as school, she’s learnt pretty much nothing at all about Judaism, Buddhism or Sikhism. The concept of atheism hasn’t been mentioned at all and was met with confusion from her classmates when she told them she’s an atheist.

I will make clear now that I like my daughter’s school. We researched it, it was our first choice and we were happy when she got a place. For the most part, she’s been happy there and she’s making excellent progress in her education there. I like that she’s socialising with people of various backgrounds and faiths.

However, I have an issue with how non-faith schools in the UK are required to promote Christianity. I do not agree that ‘daily collective worship’ of a ‘broadly Christian character’ should be a part of the school day. I am uncomfortable with my child, either in school or on trips to churches, being told about Christian beliefs as fact. It is my opinion that education in school should be secular in nature. This isn’t just because I do not share these beliefs. This is because I feel children are not mature enough to think critically and form their own opinions, especially when their teachers (who they should be able to trust to give them facts) are actively promoting religious beliefs. From my experience as a parent, my child has regularly felt isolated and uncomfortable when told to take part in Christian worship in school. I did not ask her if she felt this way, she volunteered the information when I asked her why she was upset on coming home from school on several occasions. Logically, I can only think that she won’t be the only one.

Learning about religion is important. It helps us to understand and respect other people. It gives us a wider perspective of the world and helps us to see things from different points of view.

Celebrating traditional British holidays is also important, as well as enjoyable. As with Easter, people have been celebrating the Winter Solstice for far longer than Christianity has been around and a lot of the celebration of Christmas in UK reflects that. We’re not Christian but we celebrate Christmas, as do many other atheists and non-Christians. It’s a part of our national culture. Nativity plays are a great way of teaching children a key part of Christian belief. It’s also a story that children enjoy. Therefore, I see no problem with it. Certainly in my daughter’s school, they also put on celebrations for other religious holidays, such as Divali and Eid. I see that as a fun way to learn and again, see no problem with it.

If you want your child to have religious worship be a part of their school day, there are plenty of faith schools, covering different denominations of Christianity, as well as Islam and Judaism. You have that option. I, on the other hand, have no option at all to send my child to school where religious worship does not feature. I have friends who have given this as one of their reasons for home schooling their child. I considered it myself, although we instead decided on sending her to school but making sure she can form her own opinions and think critically about what she’s told – an important skill in all aspects of education.

I end this post by making something very clear. I have no issue with other people having religious beliefs. If a parent wishes to have their child follow a religion, that’s their choice and I respect that. However, I should have the choice to send my child to a genuinely non-religious school. While it’s a requirement for UK schools to have collective daily worship, that is not a choice I have.

Top 5 Ways to be Healthier as a Busy Parent

Type ‘weight loss’, ‘diet’ or ‘healthy lifestyle’ into a search engine and you’re going to get a lot of Bloggers, Vloggers and Instagrammers promoting their own ideas of how to be healthier. I have read abIMG_1486out countless different eating and exercise plans. Aside from some of them being actually very unhealthy (Paleo diet, I’m looking at you), they all seem to share one pretty big flaw.

They’re almost impossible to follow if you’re a busy parent.

I’m using the term ‘busy parent’ because I want to encompass a range of people in that. I, for example, have one child plus I have two jobs, one a part time retail job and the other my self employed work. I would say that I am, a lot of the time, busy. But I’m well aware that there are parents with multiple children and full time jobs who are even busier than me.

I would say that I am currently leading a pretty healthy lifestyle and losing weight at what is considered a healthy rate (about 2lb per week). So I thought I’d come up with some healthy living tips of my own that are actually achievable:

1. Make healthy choices. You don’t need to change absolutely everything you eat. You also don’t need to buy expensive trendy ingredients. I have personally never eaten a chia seed, nor do I envision doing so anytime soon. You also don’t need to faff about with separating eggs – just eat the whole damn thing, it’s all good for you! The only reason you should be separating eggs is if you’re making a bloody meringue! Instead, just tweak things a bit. Go for lower fat options (be careful though, the fat might have been replaced with sugar!). If you order a pizza, choose a small thin crust with lots of veggies on top. I know a lot of people cut down on the sugar in tea or coffee but I have found that impossible (I have a serious sweet tooth) so instead I massively cut down on how much tea I drink.

2. Portion control. As someone who cooks for myself and two other people every night, it would take up an awful lot of my time if I prepared separate meals for myself. Instead, I cook ordinary family dinners then give myself a mini portion. For example, if I cook a cottage pie (a favourite in my house) then I’ll still have a small amount of it, probably with a big portion of veggies or salad on the side.

3. Count calories. I know it’s boring but its an effective way of making sure you’re not eating too much (or too little!). It can also be made really easy by using an app like MyFitnessPal, which is free in it’s simplest form. I use it fullsizeoutput_383and I’ve never found a need to upgrade to the premium account. You can use it to easily keep track of your calories, nutrients and macros as well as your weight loss, if that’s your goal. It’s database has information on loads of different products from all the major supermarkets and brands. You can also store recipes on it so you can quickly and easily add in dishes that you eat regularly. If you don’t like this app, there are plenty of others available to try out.

4. Find an exercise that can be done at home in 30 minutes or less. Finding time to hit the gym or even go for a run can be difficult when you’ve got a busy schedule or little people to take care of. For me, using online exercise videos has really helped. There are tons available and most of them are less than 30 mins long. This means that I can fit them in even when I haven’t got lots of time. However, I would say that a daily workout is not really necessary – the NHS recommends 150 minutes of aerobic and two strength training sessions per week. Also remember that a walk in the park with the kids counts as aerobic exercise!

IMG_15135. Prepare food in advance. I’ve only just started doing this and I’m already seeing the benefits. I’m much more likely to pick a healthy snack if it’s readily available. Also, cooking a larger batch of food takes not much longer than a single portion. Currently, I’ve got two servings of black bean chilli in the fridge and I love knowing that my lunch is sorted for the next two days!

 

 

 

I hope you find my tips helpful. Do share any of your own ways to stay healthy as a busy parent!

Thanks for reading!

Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all good…

The title of this post might seem odd to a lot of people. There’s a lot of anxiety in Britain right now after the EU referendum and with the political parties picking new leaders. I was getting pretty stressed over this stuff so I’m writing this post to focus on the good things that are happening in my life right now…

After six years of study, I have finally been awarded my degree! 

It’s not something I really thought I’d manage, after dropping out of sixth form and having to support myself living alone at a fairly young age. But with lots of encouragement and support from my Husband (thank you!) and some very useful funding, I’ve done it! I really feel proud of myself, which is quite a rare thing for me. I feel like I’ve overcome the difficulties I had from my tricky childhood and I guess this is a real sign of how far I’ve come.

 

I had a night out with my Husband! 

This may sounds very mundane but fellow parents will know how rare this is. Even if we hire a babysitter, we can’t really relax. But this time, my lovely brother-in-law came to visit and looked after Pip while we went out. We had such a great time and it really reminded me of how we were before becoming parents. Of course I was suffering a bit the next day but it was worth it!

 

I’m actually managing to successfully diet! 

I have started diets too many times to count and they never go very well or last very long. But with my weight hitting an all time high, I’ve been really determined to do something about it. I’m now in my fifth week and I’ve lost just over a stone, just through eating healthily and exercising, mainly videos from Blogilates , a site full of free pilates and cardio videos, plus lots of healthy recipes and other tips. I’m starting to feel and see the difference in my body. I feel so much healthier and stronger than I did five weeks ago.

 

My work life is improving! 

Firstly, I’ve been moved departments at work. This wasn’t exactly my choice but it’s meant I have more working hours and therefore a bit more of a wage, which is always nice. Plus, being trained at something new is always good. I’m also looking for full time work and I’ve had a couple of interviews recently which I’m really hopeful will lead somewhere good.

 

It’s nearly the summer holidays! 

I’m lucky enough to have some time off with Pip and even a little bit with Husband too. I’m busy planning tons of fun stuff to do. It’s going to be an awesome six weeks!

 

So there! Plenty of great things are happening right now. I think it’s really important to remember that when things get tough.

What good things are happening in your life right now?

Easter Holiday Plans

I have been a little absent from blogging lately. This is mostly due to being employed now! Yes, after a long 7 month search, I finally found some part time work and, even if it is just at the local supermarket, it’s having a really positive impact for me. Plus, I managed to get hours that mean I can still take Pip to and from school. I miss a few hours of family time at the weekend but Pip and Husband seem to be really enjoying having some time on their own – something they’ve never regularly had. On top of work, there’s been studying and housework and childcare to fit in so while I’ve been getting used to this new routine, writing has taken a back seat. However, I am determined to start making time for it again. My general aim is to post once a week but sometimes it might be more or less, especially as I have a uni exam coming up in June.

Given that I now have even less time with Pip, it feels more important than ever to make the most of school holidays. I have 6 full days just me and her over the next two weeks and I have lots of plans for us! We’re going to be planting some seeds, doing some Easter and Spring themed crafts and, of course, playing lots of games.

I’m not a religious person so for me this time of year is all about Spring time, new life, growing plants and, lets be honest, the chocolate eggs and other Easter treats. We’ll be making some yummy stuff later this week, which I will be blogging about of course! It’s important for Pip to learn about other cultures and religions so we will also be looking at various Easter traditions from around the world.

Last week was Pip’s school parents’ evening. Her teacher gave a great report and I’m really pleased and proud of how well she’s doing at school. Of course, we’re very aware of how her learning is going anyway but having her progress confirmed by the teacher is still nice and it’s good to keep communication open so that we know what’s going on at school and vice versa. She gave me a few pointers on things we could do at home to help her learning. To that end, we’ll be doing some storytelling activities over the holidays as well, partly as a way to practice writing in full sentences independently and partly to help her focus her amazing imagination into an actual narrative. Pip comes up with some brilliant ideas and it would be great for her to start recording them on her own.

What are your plans for the Easter Holidays?

Being a Parent is Awesome

I’m going to start this post with a mini rant. Since before I even became pregnant, I’ve been endlessly hearing how rubbish life is once you’re a parent. No more fun, endless mess to clear up and having to be responsible and serious at all times. Mostly this has come from people who don’t have kids. But I’ve also seen a number of parents in blogs and social media talking about all of the things they miss now that they’re parents.

So I thought I’d do the opposite. This is a blog post about how absolutely awesome it is to be a parent.

First of all, children know nothing. Now that sounded mean but it’s true. It means that they are amazed at everything new they learn. I remember the look of complete awe on Pip’s face when I explained to her that the sun isn’t moving up and down, it’s the Earth spinning. Watching someone discover every little thing about the world around them and be totally fascinated by it is just wonderful.

Secondly, being a parent gives you complete license to occasionally act like a child. Yes, obviously it’s important to make sure the child is safe, properly fed, healthy and you’re doing everything possible to give them the happiest life possible. Do you know what makes children really happy? Playing! I spend large amounts of my time building things out of LEGO, giving voice to inanimate objects and pretending that Pip is no longer Pip but is actually whichever character she’s decided to be on that given day.

That last point brings me to the next awesome thing about having a child. Their imagination is limitless. Pip makes up the best stories and characters. She’ll put on a costume and suddenly be someone completely different. She’ll make up a whole life for that character. They’ll go on adventures to places that she’s invented or from other stories or films that she knows. Doctor Who has come to rescue Rapunzel from Daleks before!

Children are completely honest. I do get a bit tired of people being polite and not saying what they really mean. I actually want to know if my new hair colour suits me or if the cake I made tasted disgusting. If you don’t tell me the truth, I can’t change these things. I will continue to obliviously have horrible hair and serve horrible cake. It’s great to have a child that will tell you the absolute truth. She has no concept of saying things to be polite or to spare someone’s feelings. Of course, one has to be careful because children also have no concept of what is socially acceptable. If I dressed up as a Disney Princess to pop to the supermarket, Pip would probably tell me that I look brilliant.

Children also have no shame. Pip will burst into song in any public place. Ok, so this usually earns her cheers and claps, rather than the laughter of mockery that I’d get for doing the same thing but still, it’s great that she can do that without feeling any embarrassment. She’ll also strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone. She says ‘Hello’ to everyone she passes (Oh, while I’m making that point, can I just say that if you ignore a five year old who has just cheerily said Good Morning to you, you are a complete misery and are making the world a more miserable place to be).

Having a child has reminded how happy little things can make someone. A single hug can change her mood from grumpy to elated. A hot chocolate completely makes up for getting soaked in the rain. An email from her Uncle will make her whole day better. It doesn’t matter to her what she’s doing as long as she’s doing it with people she loves.

Having a child, alongside being married, has been the best, most amazing and exciting experience of my life. We have fun every day. I love her so much and even when she’s at her naughtiest, I’ve never for a second thought that my life would be better without her. Yes, occasionally I think it might be nice to go out for an evening slightly more often but I wouldn’t trade being able to do that for being a parent. Plus, I know that one day, Pip will be grown up and I’ll be able to go out as often as I want and I’ll probably miss these days of her being small.

What are your favourite things about being a parent?