Come on over to my place

‘My door is always open, the kettles not far from the boil.’ These are the tenets of my life and how I wanted my house to run from the point I had my own front door. But recently I realised that I was no longer true to these long held principles. People were now booked into my diary ahead. Visitors planned and scheduled, not impulsive and free. What has happened? Where did it go wrong?

When I first moved ‘down south’ I used to joke about how people didn’t just show up on your doorstep unannounced, everything had to be arranged. It felt very odd coming from Liverpool and Birmingham where people just showed up and the kettle would be on in seconds. Supermarket shopping queues were and indicator of how far south you were depending on whether you knew people’s life history by the end (Liverpool), had exchange pleasantries or joke about what was in your trolley (Birmingham) or heaven forfend you made eye contact (Deepest darkest south coast)! And yet here I am 20 yrs later and everything has to be arranged. I smile at the folk either side of me in Sainsbury’s and fear have I lost my northerness?? 

No I don’t think that’s it. The wonderful people of the south coast are not to blame for my lack of open door policy. It’s me. My judgement of myself, a 21st Century Hyacinth Bucket (for those of you old enough to remember the glorious Patricia Routledge in Keeping Up Appearances from the 1990s) too worried about how her home looks that it takes over the willingness to issue invitations. 
There is a funny family story which I am sure my Mum won’t mind me telling you where as a preschooler I toddled up to my Mum who was furiously hoovering the house and asked ‘who’s coming Mummy?’ She fell about laughing realising at 3 I had understood the fact that cleaning = visitors!

When friends come over I find the words ‘excuse the mess/chaos’ issuing forth from my mouth before they barely have a foot over the threshold. Yet when I go to others houses I care not one jot about their homes. I am there to see them. Spend precious time in their company. Enjoy a cup of tea and a natter. My eyes see nothing but them and their lovely place of living. Yet I stop and think of my house before offering a cuppa…

This madness has to stop. Life is messy. Families (especially mine) are also messy. Homes are for living in, not showing off. Paperwork and piles of mail exist. Toys on the floor and craft stuff left out demonstrate creativity. Washing up means people big and small are fed. My children’s rooms well they just reveal their gloriously different personalities! Life is for living. Cleaning happens, sometimes. 

Come on over to my place. Doors open. Kettle is not far from the boil. Take us as you find us. 

To the Mum…

To the Mum who has daily battles in getting their children to school. To the Mum who is always doubting, never sure quite how best to proceed. To the Mum who feels like everyone else seems to have their shit together… except her. To the Mum who is behind the dark glasses (and not because it is sunny). To the Mum who anxiously waits as their child diffidently walks through the school door. To the Mum who is constantly racing home from work to get to pick up late, again. To the Mum who never gets to go to the school gate, sports day, and feels like she misses out. To the Mum who wears her heart on her sleeve and then feels vulnerable. To the Mum whose shell just cannot crack in case it all falls apart. To the Mum who does it all on her own and would dearly love someone to share the burden. To the Mum who worrys silently. To the Mum who faces battles that it feels like no one else seems to face. To the Mum who finds the school gate a really uncomfortable place. To the Mum who has no answers to the problem her child has. To the Mum whose arms ache as her child moves on to the next stage of independence. To the Mum who is scared of being judged, falling short of her responsibilities, not doing this motherhood thing right, losing her temper again, not strong enough, not loving enough or too much….

Sister you are just enough. You are the jigsaw piece required in your child’s puzzle. Your love is all they need. Your ear is perfect to hear. Your heart is large enough to help heal the wounds life throws. Your wisdom will be the words they need. Trust yourself. Your instinct is true. You Mum, you are the frame to you child’s picture. You surround them. You hold them and keep them together. 

To all the Mums. Be you. 

Christmas Conundrum 

I have absolutely no recollection of Christmas last year. It is not for the reason you are thinking. I wasn’t at the bubbles so hard I was found slumped under the Christmas tree by ten o’clock in the morning, I promise. 

At the annual ‘what shall we do for Christmas Day’ consultation with hubby I asked him what we did last year. It wasn’t momentary forgetfulness, I honestly couldn’t conjure up a single memory.
Looking at me slightly incredulous he said, ‘Everyone came here. You cooked. Don’t you remember?’ I thought for a moment, trying to remember crackers, games, opening of presents etc. Nope, nothing. No memories were jogged. To be honest it is like (I would imagine) what having amnesia must feel like. It is scary. 
I know now that I wasn’t well, emotionally detaching to cling on to staying in some sort of mental control meant I had no memories. Going through the motions, devoid of spiritual engagement. The epitome of coping on the outside and yet within I was a mess. The whirlwind of planning and preparing took over and swept me up. 

I see it happening around me this year. The ramping up of expectations all around us. TV and social media putting out images of Christmas perfection. The tree must be perfect. Decorations beautifully adorning every surface. Presents thought, bought, wrapped and given. Menus planned, activities booked and paid for.  Lights seem to have official switch on’s in every village and high street these days. Father Christmas meetings for kids to be mildly scared by the big man and then brilliantly hilarious pics taken of a smiley Santa and children’s faces either smiling or deeply suspicious – which lets face it is probably wise. All with the tills rolling ting, bing and beep. I am determined not to be swept up this year. 

Nowadays people don’t buy what they think people might like, it all has to be from wishlists. Subtlety Christmas has come to mean perfection, fulfilling wants rather than choosing with love and knowledge of the person in mind. We don’t have time for that and yet isn’t that the point of present giving? 

 When you stand back and look at it all it starts to become farcical and a little obscene. What is Christmas all about?
Please don’t think I am a Christmas Scrooge. I love it as much as the next person. But it is becoming a bit of a monster on the calendar. Another thing to be ‘done’. 

So I am trying to enjoy the Peace bit. The stilling of a burning candle. The small quiet entry into the world of a baby in the humblest of beginnings. 

The Goodwill bit. Enjoying time with family, friends without having to feel the need to turn out perfect meals with every conceivable trimming. It is the spending time, not serving up, that truly matters. 

The Joy bit. Appreciating the faces blessed with dreams fulfilled. Gratitude for thought put into gifts. Games played and laughter bonding the players. 

The Love bit. Blessing those I love and feeling love from others. 
If we manage that I am sure there will be plenty of Christmas memories that are perfect, lasting and certainly the price tag or level of perfection won’t matter. 

Happy Christmas. 

The perspective of rings

The gentle smile of an older person, the knowing look of a mother of older children to a new Mum, the understanding hug or kind actions of those who have lost to someone recently bereaved. I have watched all of these things recently and been amazed by the human spirit. 

I love people watching. I could happily while away hours, even days, weeks and months studying other people. The capacity for compassion is a truly wonderful human trait. But it has got me thinking, why is it that, the more one has to weather, the better we seem to survive? Teenagers can make the smallest crisis into the largest drama and yet the wonderful elderly folk can put off very necessary medical attention because they ‘don’t want to cause a fuss’. 

I wonder if it is the perspective of rings. 


A baby is born, fragile and in need of tender, loving and persistent attention. Toddlers believe that the whole world spins on their orbit. Yet as we age we realise more and more that we can look back on our time with perspective. That can be dangerous in the teenager who truly believes they are invincible, all knowing, as they are no longer a child and thus are mature…

and yet the older we get the more we realise how much we truly have to learn and that is the key to true maturity. 

This is why I’m so many cultures the elderly are revered. African tribes have ‘elders’. People who have weathered the storm on many occasions. They have the rings of experience, like a tree, running through their core. These are the people who can give great advice, listen well and give perspective. 


It is a true blessing to watch how older people handle life. They have a handle on what is really important. Wisdom on where to place focus and attention. Experience of handling difficult times and coming out the other side. Resilience of spirit. They can, with a smile, attention and understanding, help us through because they have the perspective of rings. They have seen it, lived through it, experienced it or know someone who has. Their years of experience like the rings of the tree encircle those who are still on the journey of the road they have travelled. That is why they should be respected, not because they demand it but because they have something we can’t have yet. 

We can also be that person of experience and understanding to those who are walking the path we have already travelled. What a privilege it is to help someone else on their journey. Showing compassion, understanding, and encircle them with love. 

What I have learnt. 

This week I will rub the title, date and work off the classroom whiteboard, switch off the overhead projector and close the classroom door behind me for the last time. It is hard not to feel nostalgic when you are saying goodbye to a profession that has been your life’s work so far. However, i don’t believe in getting all sad. It has been a pleasure to teach young people. Every day is different. You never know what might walk in through the classroom door next. Some of my best laughs have been provided by kids either knowingly or unknowingly!

I believe that the day you stop learning is the day you die. So here is what I have learnt as a teacher, as the best lessons have been provided by the lovely (and not so lovely) kids who have sat on those chairs, elbows on desks and pens, hopefully, in hand for the last 18yrs. Here goes:

A friendly hello gets you everywhere. Kindness is generally  not thrown back in your face and if it is there is a reason and it generally isn’t your fault. Enquire if everything is ok and you have a window to relationship. Simples. 

Every young person wakes up to a different experience to the next young person, everyday. If you can understand that not everyone has the same experiences you tend to be way more understanding, loving and caring and far less judgemental. 

Everyone flourishes as a result of good food, drink and kind words and praise. Plants, animals and humans young and old. We all like to feel loved, respected and valued. One of the largest challenges to a teacher is giving as many young people that experience of praise and value in each lesson five or six times a day. 

Happy kids mean happy classes. But that doesn’t come at the price of being a push over. Kids need boundaries, yes they kick against them but the need them none-the-less. Moving boundaries confuses teenagers. If you can justify why the boundaries are there they are generally good boundaries, if you can’t then maybe they need to be assessed. 

Communication is the key to happy relationships. As my Mum has always said ‘Keep the channels of communication open.’ This leads to trust and respect. Sulking and shutting down doesn’t. 

We all have ups and downs. That is ok. No one is perfect and the pursuit of perfection leads to unhappiness. Your best is good enough. The only person you really have to worry about pleasing is yourself. Working out what is good enough is between yourself and … Well yourself. Working to please others is an exhausting game. (See To please or not to please.)

Resilience is the key to success. The kids who do best, make most progress and achieve well are resilient. This is more important than intelligence. Being able to listen, follow instructions and stick at it is a sadly dwindling ability in this age of Googling it and instant gratification. 

A sense of humour is an important quality. 

Authority is important. It needs to be respected by those in authority, power must never be abused. Similarly those who haven’t held a particular position in authority can never understand the burden that it carries. 

I could go on (endlessly some would say!!) I may do one day. I am sad to being leaving a profession that I believe to be so important to the future of our country. I hope that one day it will be better supported, respected and honoured by those in government and those whom it serves. I can hand on heart say that the young people I have had the pleasure of working with have been a joy. I’ve loved teaching and hope they have enjoyed it as much as I have. 

Hats off to all those who face the whiteboard once again in September. You will have my full support. 

Riding the Waves: A Carers Guide 

I quickly realised that one of the reasons there is little guidance out there for supporters of people suffering from Stress, Anxiety, Depression is that each and every one of those difficulties are incredibly individual. Someone who is suffering depression can experience it in vastly different ways to another person. Thus there can be no definitive guide in how to help and support. You are dealing with a human being, you as a supporter are also a human being too with thoughts, feelings, fears and responses to situations that it is not always easy to control.

I am ashamed to admit that my first response to having hubby at home was not a positive one. You see I was so scared. I was scared that being together 24/7 may have been the final straw to a stressed and stretched relationship. The fact that it occurred at the start of a long 6 week summer holiday with not only me, but the children around too, was something I wasn’t sure I could handle. I even suggested that he might like some time away… that was purely because I was petrified of being together and making it all worse. Happily, though, we did see it through and with the benefit of amazing support from the GP, family, therapy and a LOT of talking by the end of the six weeks we were all much happier and could see light at the end of the tunnel. So the first lesson I learnt was to ride the wave. Yes sometime it felt like we were sailing along on the crest, only to come crashing down the next hour, or day. But that the water would bring us back up once more. Take one day at a time, try not to think too far into the future and allow events to take their course. Control is one thing you can’t exercise in this sort of situation. (Something that doesn’t come naturally I am prepared to admit!!)

Stress and worry are a big part of being a carer for someone who is having these difficulties. You spend a lot of time worrying about the person, thinking about them, their illness and how it is impacting life. It can affect sleep, eating, mood and if it continues can end up affecting your own mental health. You look at others with a ‘normal’ life and wonder why yours is not like that. You can find yourself withdrawing from social events as it is easier to be at home rather than pretend all is ok, or fall apart in an embarrassing way. You withdraw from social events to protect your loved one too. It doesn’t feel worth the risk of putting them through it.

As a result of the fear of social stigma ‘they need to pull themselves together’, ‘everyone has problems’, that mental health issues bring you can end up hiding yourself away. I am so so lucky that my amazing husband, rather than hide away, was very happy to admit, talk and explain what he was struggling with. That gave me permission to talk to those I felt safe to talk to. We had wonderful support from family and close friends but he did experience friends really not knowing what to say, fearing that they might make it worse, they stayed away. These friends were not to blame at all, we understood their difficulty. But there were others who were able to go to the pub and chat, talk to him about how he was doing and show real care and compassion and I know he was really grateful for that.

The other problem of riding the wave is that it doesn’t feel like it is going to stop. When you are on the exhilarating ride on a roller coaster you don’t want it to stop, you joyously go through the station for the second go around and then feel disappointed when it comes to an end. However, imagine a rollercoaster you can never get off, station after station and the train won’t stop. The trouble with this beast is you can’t get off, you never know when or why a dip or crash is coming. You have to manage the panic of the start of a dip. I found myself on constant red alert for signs. Indicators that things were not good would lead to a fight/flight response in myself and ultimately this led to my burn out at a later date.

So how do carers look after themselves? There are things that I experienced that I would try to handle differently next time. It is so important that carers look after themselves, they are so important in the long term recovery of their loved one. Here are some top tips:

  1. Communication – this is so important, when things are hard it is tempting to stop talking. This can lead to incorrect second-guessing and mis-understanding. Talk about how both of you are feeling, what helps, what support you both might need.
  2. Stay healthy – eat well, sleep well, keep active – All these things are crucial to the physical strain you may be under.
  3. Find a good confidant – someone close, who understands, listens and is trustworthy. This person is pure gold and will help you relieve the pressure. Some may even find it helpful to have a counsellor. You are doing some major supporting work – think of it as the scaffolding to help hold you up too.
  4. Take a break – this may be a bath, or shower, a night out, or even a day or two away. This is really intense time and so you may need some help to get some down time.
  5. Learn a relaxation technique – for me prayer and meditation really helped. Yoga or mindfulness helps that racing brain calm and settle for a while. It helps sleep and rest which are vital to maintaining your own health, physically and mentally.
  6. Do things for yourself – you are important too. Make yourself a priority.
  7. Be realistic about what you can achieve, don’t put unrealistic goals on yourself. This is a temporary time of stress so try to limit expectations.
  8. Be organised and write lists – it helps the feeling of being in control and manage the stress and anxiety – I really wish I had done this more!
  9. Invest in your relationship with the person you are caring about – do lovely things, go for walks, find positive things to do together.
  10. Encourage the other person to get help outside your relationship. We can’t be the answer and it will empower them to feel that they are taking steps for themselves.

I hope that this might be useful for someone close to someone who is struggling. Being there for someone else is such a gift to them, you are an angel treading on the earth. Just make sure that you are looking after yourself too.

MIT-Rogue-Waves_0

Standing on the Sidelines

When last year my husband was signed off with ‘Stress’ a multitude of feeling flooded me. The first was relief. You see the point where someone is signed off and the GPs have recognised there is a problem (a BIG problem) is the end of months and probably years of difficulty, surviving, getting by. To many friends this can come as a shock, they had no idea what was going on and how bad things were. But to the one standing on the sidelines you have been waiting for it to happen. Not wishing for it; because being signed off is not a solution but a temporary relief in which the space is given to decide on a course of action. With being signed off comes uncertainty and the Unknown. But standing on the sidelines the first feeling is of relief. 

Second in comes panic. What is going to happen next? How are we going to cope with this change. And, yes, if we are going to be honest – can I cope with this person, in this state, around me 24/7. Will we survive this?
Then came failure. To someone like me the feeling of failure was one of the hardest feelings to deal with – I really wanted to be enough, to help, to have done enough to solve the problems my dear beloved was wrestling with. To have tried and yet not been able to help did feel like a failure. 

BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT A FAILURE. 

The first lesson of being the Sideline supporter is that you can be there, do everything in your capacity, listen, hug, distract, love, change the subject, listen and listen again… But you are not the solution. You are the gateway to finding one. 

I did what I do best, research! Off I went to Mr Google to find books, blogs and info on what to do to support people through this sort of thing. There must be a ten point plan we can follow, I thought to myself. But there is precious little out there for those in the supporting role. Hence why I am writing this, if nothing else it is an aide memoir to myself but if it helps others, then marvellous!
So the next few blog posts are going to be dedicated to what I learnt as the one on the sidelines. The reason there are few things out in Interweb land to help those who are a supporter is that every person is different. So what one person struggling with stress, depression, anxiety needs, the next one might not. They need different help, some need space and a lot of it. Some need sleep and a lot of it. Some need company, all the time maybe. 

So I am not going to talk about how to help the person you care about. I am going to talk about how to help yourself or someone you know who is on the sidelines.  They need support, as they are doing a grand job of holding it all together as best they can. 
The first thing you can do if you are standing on the sidelines is to stop blaming yourself. If you know someone who is supporting someone else, encourage them not to blame themselves. Give them time to off load and allow them to be honest about how thing are. Ask them how they are doing. 

In the time I was being the supporter I was mostly asked how my partner was. It felt like I no longer mattered. It got to the point where I was waiting for the question. Of course I didn’t mind because it was lovely that people were so concerned. Yet us folk on the sidelines are often desperately holding things together, keeping things normal and probably having little help as the ill person is …. ill. 
So please ask them how they are? Do they need anything? Coffee? Night out? Kids to be taken off their hands for an hour or two to get some space. 
Whatever you do don’t avoid them or the subject. It isn’t catching and  kind gentle questions with the best of intentions are far more supportive than ignoring the elephant in the room. 
The most helpful thing I found was validation. People recognising that this was a tough time and that , if needs be, they were on hand was invaluable. The friend at the school gate who saw the emotion behind the eyes and offered a hug and a chat on the way home did more than they will ever know. 
Allow plans to be flexible with no questions asked. The nature of these sorts of beasts are one day is not like the next. If the sufferer or their supporter let you down it will not be personal, but it will be impossible for them to keep that date/plan. So if you can put a caveat in everything, get out clauses really help. If you are on the sidelines, find ways to make everything flexible. Friends who can’t do that aren’t what you need at that time, try quietly explaining why and most will understand. 

But do make plans. Things to do with others helps end the feelings of isolation. 

So to recap:

  1. No blame
  2. Offer what supporters need
  3. Allow arrangements to be flexible 
  4. Make dates to do thing anyway

Next blog will be on Riding the Waves

Published with my husbands permission. We just hope it might help someone.