“I hate you, and wish you weren’t part of our family.”

Screamed 3yo Freddy, in another one of his rages. It was fuelled by me insisting that he went to the toilet when he got up this morning. I know, what a terrible mama right? Anyone who has lived with a threenager will know how tricky they are. Super sweet, caring and loving one minute. The next all hell has broken loose for suggesting something that should only be worthy of a nod. 

I do hope it’s just a phase, I find myself thinking multiple times every day. I can’t spend too much time contemplating the other option. That there’s a whole load of learnt behaviour going on here.   

“I hate school, why do I have to go when Polly and Freddy don’t?”

Screamed 5yo Clara on Friday night. In fairness she has point. Why does she get forced to do something that’s causing her so much anguish when I’m already home educating the rest of the family?

With each month that passes, Clara becomes more difficult. It’s hard to witness her meltdowns, which are getting more and more violent.

“You’re so stupid!”

Screamed 7yo Polly, before she threw the hairbrush directly at me. It landed on my arm and bloody hurt. The violence on display from this child frightens me. I find my mind drifting off five, ten years, and wondering what she’ll be doing by then. Polly’s challenging behaviour is here to stay, and we simply have to adapt our own accordingly. Which is easier said than done. 

we must never lose hope When you give everything you have to your kids, and they treat you as if you’re the enemy. Well, it hurts doesn’t it?

To say that April was tough going would be a monumental understatement. It can be hard holding on to hope when the chips are down, and the knocks keep coming. I tell myself that we’ve been in dark places before, and have made progress, but my positivity is waning.   

This year, I’ve had days that terrify me. The behaviour displayed by these three has upset me, worried me, shocked me and disgusted me in equal measure. Watching them treat each other like crap is beyond difficult.

The abuse hurled at me is easier to cope with, but some times the only option I have is to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes. To try and talk sense into myself. To try and quieten down my internal monologue so it doesn’t drive me insane.

Some days I’m so livid that I can’t stop myself from reacting. Even as the words are tumbling out of my mouth I know I’d be much better off keeping it closed. We’ll never be able to take these words back, I think to myself once it’s too late. When the tempers have been lost, and crisis plans have been chucked out the window.

Same old crap, different week, different month, different year. Only the kids are bigger now. They’re going to remember these days.

Most of my own childhood was so miserable I have no memories before I was eight years old. I’ve blocked them out – clearly a defense mechanism I learnt at a very young age. It kills me to think my own children will be doing the same. That their own sadness will come back to haunt them the way mine does.

I do so desperately hope not. 

They say kids are resilient, but mine aren’t.

They feel every teeny tiny knock, and take it personally. They don’t forget a single detail, and will hold you to account on everything you say. Again, this isn’t a bad thing as a parent, but it’s devastating when friends say they’ll do something and don’t. Try explaining to an autistic child that sometimes people say things they don’t mean.

“But why did they invite me for a playdate/sleepover/party when they didn’t want me to come?”

Cue meltdown central, and an hour long fallout. 

In the last two years, I’ve witnessed from near and afar, ten relationship breakdowns. Only two have survived and are coming out the other end. Mostly they’ve led to divorce – bitter, twisted, horrible divorce. Almost every story is the same. Irreconcilable differences between the grown ups, but the kids are just fine.

Those kids fly the flag for the phrase ‘children are resilient’. The fact is they enjoy the company of their parents much more now that they aren’t living under the same roof. They get better quality time, and benefit from a happier mum and dad. When my friends were ready to move on, they found new Beau’s who are nothing like their former partners. They themselves are worlds happier, and their only regret is clinging onto their dying relationships for as long as they did.

I know it’s not been easy for them. Every one has been to hell and back, but oh how I’ve envied their fresh starts.

The separation time they get from their kids helps to make them better mums. The mistakes they made with their exes has led to wonderful relationships this time around. Those who aren’t ready to settle down are having the most amount of fun.  

Living life to the max. The way I used to.

Before autism, chronic stress, sibling in-fighting and sleep deprivation so severe that my body doesn’t know what to do with itself if it gets more than five straight hours.  

No Matter How Dark Our Days Get We Must Never Lose Hope There’s a romantic idea of autism that litters the internet. Of how it creates special bonds between brothers and sisters. I’m sure in some family’s this is true. Once the neuro typical siblings get their heads around the autism, and start to understand that their brother or sister is different. They can become another advocate, and help other kids understand autism too. How wonderful this dynamic would be.

Perhaps it’s simply a case of my kids being too young to understand. Or perhaps, the option I’m leaning towards, all three are on the spectrum. Another can of worms waiting to pop open.

So much time has been, and continues to be, invested in our diagnosed eldest daughter. Meanwhile the other two aren’t always getting what they need. To help them become resilient and fully functioning.

And happy.

We can only do our best, and when all is said and done, we can only hope that it was enough.

I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart to hear Freddy say that he’s sad but doesn’t know why. Or to watch Clara’s hands flare back up with stress eczema the week after the Easter holidays.

I honestly don’t know what the future holds for my little family, but I do know that I’m some times part of the problem. Happiness begins by taking control over the situation in front of me, and some days I don’t seem capable of doing that. Some days I lose hope that there are brighter days around the corner. 

When the chips are continuously down, it’s hard to imagine a happier time. Maybe I expect too much, and should just feel grateful to get through the days? Trouble is, I’m fed up with merely surviving. I want to thrive, and flourish. More importantly I want my children to.

It’s not all doom and gloom, one look at my one line a day diary confirms that. There are some wonderful memory-making moments thrown in. There just aren’t enough of them to get me through the exceptionally challenging days without feeling like an epic failure.

“I wish I never saw the sunshine, then maybe I wouldn’t mind the rain.” the fabulous Beth Orton sings in one of her many beautiful songs.

So this is for anyone else living in perpetual limbo. Not knowing how they’re going to cope with the next set back that comes their way.

What will be will be, right?

I’m sure you’re doing a marvellous job, even if you can’t see it.

Take care of you, and make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first.

Above all else, don’t lose hope. Brighter days absolutely must be around the corner.

 

#tbt to four years ago, and one of my very favorite photos of Miss. Polly. 💖 Back to a much simpler time, which I remember thinking was super hard work, but in hindsight wasn’t a patch on now. 💖 Back then I had a hunch that there was more than met the eye when it came to my strong willed challenging child. 💖 Two years, many sleepless nights and a lot of heartache later, Polly was diagnosed with high functioning #autism. 💖 Fast forward another two years, and I find myself wondering when the magic turning point will be. It felt like it was in sight a couple of months ago, but a series of unfortunate events have triggered off possibly our worst ever cycle. 💖 Violence, verbal abuse, refusal to learn, not listening to a word I say. I know she’s hurting, but my word it’s hard to rise above it some days. 💖 I’m the adult, and should have full control over my emotions. But on days like today I look in the mirror and see the person I’ve tried so desperately not to become. 💖 And it breaks my heart. Teeny tiny piece, by teeny tiny piece. Let’s just hope tomorrow is a better day.

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Bankrolled by My Husband or Working as a Team? I read a really thought provoking article the other day, written by a writer who openly states that she’s being bankrolled by her husband.

Ten years ago it was very different story while she worked multiple jobs, whilst married to an addict, and raising three kids. Back then she got precisely zero writing done. Nowadays she’s married to a wealthy man who adores her, and supports her in every way. She writes full time and banged out her last novel in an impressive eight months. She sounds like a true survivor and I was rooting for her throughout the piece.

There are obvious similarities between her situation and mine

I worked full time from the day I left home at fifteen. First came the truly awful jobs (which fortunately got better) and in the early days I often worked in the evening too. Fast forward many years and although money was super tight, I went down to two days after my first maternity leave. I knew from the outset that time with my eldest was more important than money. I worked there for five happy years and took voluntary redundancy eighteen months ago. 

On paper I’m now being bankrolled by my husband, but I don’t view this negatively. It’s hardly like I’m swanning around having long boozy lunches every day. I’m raising our three children, and home educating our autistic daughter. This is no small thing, and I’m astonished that I manage to write anything most days.

On the evenings that hubby is out training, once the kids are asleep, I’m usually good for nothing. Knowing that I’ll be woken up multiple times throughout the night, I’ve taken to going to bed shortly after they do. In an attempt to maximise my writing efforts, I’m using that teeny tiny window to read a book that will help me be a better writer. My hope is that I’ll get a big chunk of the rewrite done for my novel on our holiday in May.

My own money

I earn a very modest amount of money through blogging, and although I could put myself out there more and take on extra work, I don’t want to. I like that I’m not attached to social media 24/7 chasing potential opportunities, and that I can fully switch off from blog land. I came to the conclusion over a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to successfully home educate and write prolifically. 

I’ve had plenty of time to make my peace with that.

So I don’t beat myself up over it. I’m in the very fortunate position, for the first time ever, for someone else to take care of the finances.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it

The additional pressure to earn more on top of all the other pressures I’m under would surely tip me over the edge. Hats off to anyone who is winning whilst doing everything work wise and everything kid wise. (If anyone reading now is in this position high five!) Raising children, and home educating, is bloody hard going. It’s all-consuming and life affirming at once. It will destroy your mental health if you’re not in a good place, and make you realise how strong you are during happier days.

The way I see it is that it’s a team effort. Just so happens to be my husband who is working full time and earning the roof-over-our-heads-food-in-our-bellies money. For the moment at least. I have absolutely no qualms with being bankrolled by him at this stage in our lives. We both have equally tough jobs, and we both respect what the other is doing.

Maybe one day when the children are older I’ll get some proper writing done, and become a bestselling author. Then he can take a break from the work place, and we can swap roles.

After all, none of us has a crystal ball. Who knows what the future holds?

Our Kids Need and Deserve Good Role Models Role models were in short supply when I was growing up. In fact, by the age of eleven, my only good role model was dead.

My childhood was full of women who were deeply unsatisfied with their lot. Almost every one I encountered before leaving home at 15 had a story of heartbreak to tell. Mostly due to settling down with (settling for) awful men who treated them like crap.

They got beaten, raped, cheated on, emotionally tormented

This makes incredibly sad to think about, but there’s no way to dress it up. Keeping afloat was the best they could manage, being role models wasn’t on their radar.

Unsurprisingly these women were consumed by life’s challenges, desperately wanting a brighter tomorrow with no idea how to create it. They didn’t live, they existed. They survived. Just about. They were stuck in the past, marred by the deep dark secrets that ate away at their souls.

From as young as eight or nine, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to end up like them

Every one of them were vocal about their kids not going through what they had been through. But their words and crossed fingers were not enough to prevent the inevitable from happening.

That’s the thing about not letting history repeat itself. It doesn’t just happen organically, we have to actively make sure it doesn’t happen. If we want to break the mould we have to work damn hard to smash it to pieces.

For people like me, who didn’t come from a privileged background, it can be a constant battle just to keep our heads above water. Especially when life keeps dealing out the shitty cards, but no-one becomes an inspirational poster girl by having an easy ride.

If we decide to become parents, not continuing the cycle of dysfunction is paramount. Everything we do has an impact on our children. Every action has the ability to shape them, for better or worse. Which is why dealing with the demons of the past is so important. So we can let go of our hurt and move forward. So we can get to live the lives we deserve, and become great role models for our kids.

Self-respect (or lack of it) is contagious

It’s a tall order to expect a young woman, or man for that matter, to emerge into adulthood with self-respect if they didn’t witness it growing up. If the people who were supposed to be their role models were anything but. Good role models exude true confidence, which comes from respecting ourselves and knowing our worth.

role models It’s impossible to teach confidence, we can only learn it through behaviour. Which is why it’s so important for our children to observe us respecting ourselves and each other. How are they supposed to know how to behave appropriately if they aren’t shown?

I don’t believe in ‘faking it until you make it’

I think our energy is better spent living as authentically as we possibly can. By getting to properly know ourselves, and what we want out of this life. By learning to not care what others think about us. Not being afraid to go against the grain, and stand up for our beliefs.  

Surrounding ourselves with awesome people who lift us up is a great place to start. When we have genuine friendships we have no need or desire to second guess their motives. We know they have our back, and we could turn up on their doorstep in the middle of the night if we were in trouble. They wouldn’t ask questions, they’d simply listen to our woes and dry our tears.

Something I’ve learnt on my own rocky journey, is that it’s impossible to properly screw up when we have great friends.  

In our always on, selfie-mad, celebrity obsessed world, the best thing we can do is set a good example for our children. We need to show them love and kindness through our actions. We have to let them see via us how important it is to have great friends around. 

I don’t claim or aim to be perfect. Far far from it. But I do know that I have to be happy and positive if I expect my kids to be. It’s not easy, but I’ll never stop trying.

A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeDear Andy, Polly, Clara & Freddy,

My family, it should go without saying that I love you all to the moon and back, but there’s no denying that we’re experiencing a really difficult phase. 

I’ve ummed and ahhed over whether or not to press publish, and have decided that this needs to be said. Out loud. On the record. So here goes.
For Andy

There’s no way to dress it up, these last few months have been exceptionally tough. Your new job has taken up a lot of your time and attention. Ditto going back to off-site training. We’re either ships passing in the night, or bickering on an epic scale.

It can feel to me that you’re being distant, moody and uninterested in what’s going on in my life. It’s not a good way for a wife to feel about her husband, but in fairness you probably think the same about me. Let’s face it, I’ve always been terrible for feeding off your negative vibes. It’s really getting me down though, my love. Riding the storm has become par for the course.

We go through a monumental amount of stress on a daily basis, and are still as sleep deprived as most brand new parents. It’s not going to be easy is it? It’s been horrendous watching friends separate, divorce and suffer mental breakdown over the last couple of years. We joke about the mid-life crisis, but it’s not funny. No-one is immune. As our anniversary approaches, I’ve been thinking of past celebrations. The ridiculous amounts of fun we’ve had, and the adventures we’ve been on. Last year’s weekend away replenished us, and I can’t wait for our weekend away next month. I’m certain it’ll do the same.
For Polly

A Letter to My Family at this Super Difficult TimeMy darling girl, you have the ability to make the entire family smile and laugh their socks off. You’re also able to bring us collectively to our knees, with exasperation. Seeing how amazingly well you took to GAPS at the start of the year made me so proud. You aced it during those first couple of weeks, but it didn’t last. You quickly got back into the sugar cycle, and your body just can’t handle it. Even though you only eat natural sugars, they still make a difference to your mood and ability to control your emotions. It’s awful watching you become so angry and irate over things that were passing you by.  

So we’ve gone back to being strict again, and although it’s only been three days, I can already see improvements. The bottom line is that no behaviour intervention we’ve tried works as well as clean eating does. I am more confident that ever that this is what we need to do. The best thing is that now you’ve had a taste of how wonderful life can be, you’re fully on board with GAPS. You haven’t been pestering me for treats and lashings of honey on pancakes in the morning. You’re happy to eat the kind of breakfast I do, and are back to eating with gusto again. We’re going to own GAPS this time my girl, and we’re going to get you on track for good.   

For Clara

It’s been a tough few months for you my sweet little girl, hasn’t it? Watching how much of a negative effect school has had on you has been absolutely soul destroying for me. Six months ago I was certain that you needed to go to school for your independence, now I’m almost certain that I was wrong. It’s beyond heartbreaking watching you become so nervous and anxious.

However, in the face of all this, I still see glimpses of the happy go lucky gorgeous girl you are deep down. You and Polly are getting on better, which is wonderful to see. I’m so pleased that you can finally play together for longer than five minutes without it turning into a fight. It’s lovely when you sit at the table and create masterpieces of artwork together. You girls could be the best friends if you showed each other a little bit more love. 

For Freddy

Even though at three you are still a complete sleep thief, you are also a little ray of sunshine. It sounds silly to say please don’t change, and totally futile, but I can’t help myself. You’re the most sweet natured, loving little boy I know, and I’d like to keep you this way forever. I try not to let my mind race when you jump up and down, and cry your eyes out over the smallest things. What will be will be, there’s not much more to be said on the matter. 

For all of my family 

They say the days are long but the years are short, and I’m feeling this sentiment a lot right now. The days are so very long, and so very challenging. Outings to the local park have descended into meltdown recently. Restaurant lunches have caused more problems than they’re worth. Plans have been cancelled this half term, or altered to make them super easy for us.

This mama is exhausted by life, and is going to be taking the path of least resistance for the foreseeable. It’s time to concentrate all our energies on coming together as a family. No more complicated days out, and expensive activities that seem like a good idea at the time. I’m going to embrace a smaller life, and you know what? I think it’s exactly what we need.

Much love to you all. Always ❤

 

Today’s been super hard. I started my day on a sleep deficit, after being up for hours in the middle of the night with F. The girls have been cranky to put it mildly. All three have spent the day on a knife edge, kicking off at the slightest thing. Tears on the way to the park, more tears on the way home. It’s been exhausting, and my head is pounding. 💖 I used to pride myself on my together-ness, but days like today push me to my limits limits. My mind starts drifting off into a bleak future, and I think f***, if I can’t cope now what will it be like in a few years time? I start worrying that the foundations of my marriage aren’t strong enough to take the strain of this pressure cooker environment we call life. 💖 Then I remember to breathe. And I remember that the days are long but the years are short. I count my blessings, and think of the empty armed mama’s I know, who’d sacrifice a limb for what I have. And I remember that I’m made of tough stuff, but I’m not a robot. 💖 Is parenting the toughest gig of all? I’m starting to think that yes indeed it is. We can only do our best, and hopefully our best will be good enough.

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Why My Autistic Daughter and I Are on the GAPS DietIn Spring 2014, shortly after my third child was born, I read a book which changed my life. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, written by doctor and mother Natasha Campbell McBride, details how central our gut bacteria is to our overall health, and outlines a gut healing diet. 

For more information on gut health check out this fascinating lecture by Professor Simon Carding at UEA’s Medical School.

The book touched on much of my own medical history, and the premise of gut and psychology syndrome (also known as GAPS) made complete sense to me. I knew instantly that I wanted to try the diet. 

Dr. Campbell McBride claims that you can reverse autism by following the GAPS diet, because an unhealthy gut can be a factor. I am hugely sceptical about this, and personally feel that it’s a fools errand to try and ‘cure’ autism. I do however, strongly believe, that eating the right foods can help alleviate symptoms that present challenging behaviour. Not just in an autistic child, but in any child.   

What is the GAPS Diet?

Eating the GAPS way means removing all processed food, starches, refined sugar, grains (not just gluten) and commercial dairy. There is plenty you can eat, provided that you make it yourself. 

The GAPS Diet has two parts. First comes a six stage introduction plan which sees you stripping away all food, then slowly, and systematically, reintroducing it. How long it takes to work through the six stages completely depends on individual symptoms. 

GAPS-bookAfter working through all six stages, you transition over to what is known as the Full GAPS Diet. This comprises of a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.  

My main motivation for trying GAPS in 2014 was food intolerance which wasn’t getting better through standard exclusion diets. I was also perpetually exhausted, but put that down to having three kids, one with a sleep problem.

When I went onto GAPS first time around, I had already been mostly refined sugar free for seven years, and Paleo for two. I say mostly, because none of us are saints are we? Trying to eat ‘perfectly’ 24/7/365 will probably do you more harm than good, as it would be so stressful.

Although GAPS was a massive challenge initially, I adapted quickly to my new way of life and was astounded by the results. After just a few weeks on GAPS, I was full of energy and felt properly clear headed for the first time in years. Gone was the brain fog, and wading through treacle. To top it off, my usually problematic skin was beautifully radiant. I looked and felt amazing! 

I documented the entire journey from the first day, to a one year update on this blog: Mummy Tries GAPS.

GAPS worked for me, but I didn’t stick to it for long enough. 

I tried to, of course I did, but life got in the way. 2015 was a ridiculously stressful year what with going back to work, and dealing with awful childcare challenges. Worse still, Polly was floundering at school, and absolutely miserable at home. This is where we faced up to the writing on the wall, and were led to her high functioning autism diagnosis

My redundancy was fortuitously timed, although career suicide in terms of going back to the City. At the end of the summer holidays I sent Polly into year two with a very heavy heart. By the October half term we had made the decision to home educate her.

This all took its toll on my well-being. Although I was still adhering mostly to a Full GAPS Diet, I was drinking far too much alcohol. This carried on into 2016, and I spent large chunks of it feeling depressed and incapable of meeting the varying needs of my children. Home education was a roller coaster I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and remains the steepest learning curve of my entire life.

The divide between my girls got bigger, to the point where they could hardly stand being in the same room together. Freddy’s sleep went from bad to horrendous. My husband and I were bickering far more than what I consider to be normal. The going got tough, so I took solace in my friends, which almost always involved excessive drinking. It was lots of fun at the time, but would come with a hefty price afterwards.

By the end of last year, I was at tipping point and knew that things needed to change. 

GAPS dietI was playing a dangerous game, which is ironic given the book I wrote a couple of years ago. Just goes to show that none of us are exempt from the dark clouds. What is more ironic, is that GAPS is wholeheartedly recommended for those who are suffering from depression. The last thing you want to hear when you’re feeling low is that your lifestyle is contributing to your mental health issues, but it’s often true. 

GAPS worked for me last time, and I am desperate to feel that good again. Yes it’s boring, in comparison to going out and getting smashed. Yes it’s hard work, in comparison to buying food ready to eat. There is no doubt that the first few weeks are super hard going, but starting anything is always hard. 

I wrote a post a few months back, about how sad Polly often is. How tough it is to watch her be so miserable. How helpless I’ve felt, when she’s taking her frustrations out on Clara and Freddy. It went way past standard sibling in-fighting long ago, and morphed into full-on bullying.

But I am done feeling helpless, because we always have options. We sometimes just need to open our eyes, take a big deep breath and put a little faith in ourselves and our abilities.

My view is this. If you and your children are healthy, don’t catch every bug going and are generally happy, then chances are all is hunky dory with your gut. You would never need to even entertain the idea of doing GAPS, or anything similar. Due to being in such optimum health, I’d hazard a guess that you’re also able to exercise the everything in moderation rule.

If you aren’t blessed with a spick and span immune system, because of whatever reason, you need to think outside the box a little.

Which is why myself and Polly are currently working our way through the GAPS Intro Diet.

GAPS diet - cashew and courgette pancakes

our breakfast this morning, delicious pancakes

I talked about GAPS a lot in the run up to new year, and Polly was adamant that she wouldn’t be joining me (even though I hoped she would). Then the day before I was due to begin, she told me she wanted to do it as well.

“I want to give it a go mama. Maybe it will stop me from being so mean to Clara and Freddy.”

I was seriously taken aback by her maturity, and have continued to be every single day. Polly is learning to listen to how food makes her feel, both physically and emotionally, which is the first step to self-regulation, and a lesson we could all use. She’s also eating tons of new food that she was previously refusing. 

Today was day ten, and the improvements in my girl so far have been immense. She is consistently calmer, kinder and happier than I’ve seen her since she was a toddler. We’ve had one full on difficult day, compared with one decent day out of ten, which had become our norm. I’m incredibly proud of how well she’s doing.

As for me, I’m getting back to myself again. I’m no longer engulfed with negative thoughts, and am not filled with doom about the future. I feel in control of what’s going on, and am not in a state of despair. No longer am I feeling the need to reach for the bottle in the evening, to ‘treat myself’ after yet another hard day. For the first time in over a year I feel like I can kick life’s butt, instead of it constantly kicking mine!

A few friends have voiced their concerns

They are worried that GAPS is too restrictive, and that it’s too much extra work for me. These comments come from a kind hearted place, but ultimately these people are looking at my situation through their own eyes. They know that GAPS would push them over the edge, and be a major cause of stress, so it’s not an option for their family.

I look at it completely differently though. I adore being in the kitchen, inventing recipes and making awesome food out of unlikely ingredients. It’s been my forte for a decade, and I don’t see it as a chore. It doesn’t cause me stress at all, but watching my kids tear each other apart, and all of us being miserable day in day out, most certainly does.

As for GAPS being too restrictive, no-one would bat an eyelid if we were following a strict exclusion diet because of allergies, or decided to become vegetarians would they? Cutting out the crap and eating natural food is never going to be a bad thing for any of us. 

We aren’t doing GAPS because we’re hoping it’ll ‘cure’ Polly’s autism. We’re doing it so she has a better chance to be a happy, healthy little girl. Surely that’s all any parent wants for their kids?