Cards on the table: I have been in a seriously dark place for most of this year

I kind of broke, which sounds ridiculous, but I’m not allowed to fully break am I? Not with three kids at home. I came closer than I ever imagined I would though, and it terrified the life out of me.

Having experienced mental breakdown twice already, I’m no stranger to the dark place. I know the warning signs. Sometimes they are helpful, and other times they just make me feel worse.

A toxic, negative rut

My biggest problem was that the toxic thoughts inside my head became all consuming. I found it impossible to count my blessings and focus on the good. I was deeply engrossed in a cycle of negativity, and could only see disaster everywhere I looked.

I became bleak about the direction my family was going in, and what the future held. I was catastrophising and couldn’t snap out of it. I started fantasising about running away, and not just for a weekend.

dark placeHow did things get so bad?

Back in March, as we headed into Spring, I was full of optimistic hope. We’d decided that school wasn’t for Clara, and were happy with the idea of home educating her. It felt like we were making massive progress with Polly. Freddy was going through a particularly wonderful phase.

Then a series of unfortunate events occurred, and every time I picked my little family up, something else would happen to knock us back down.

It started with Polly smashing up her front (adult) teeth on a slide at the park, then three months followed where it was literally one thing after another. Including the shock, not to mention heartbreak, of being ghosted by a person I considered to be one of my very best friends.

I was done for

I had no motivation for anything over and above the bare essentials. Or as the infamous lyric in Amy Winehouse’s Rehab goes:

“I just think you’re depressed.”

Another couple of months passed, and I found myself drinking far too much. Reaching for the wine or gin bottle multiple times a week, to drown my sorrows. This led to comedown type hangovers, leaving me feeling totally despondent, drinking endless cups of coffee to try and perk me the next day.

I did not like what I saw in the mirror. As I’ve already said, I’ve been here before. It wasn’t pretty then, and it was even uglier this time around. For the first time since becoming a mum, I questioned whether I was capable of doing this job.

There was only one thing for it: GAPS!

Call it a detox, call it a cleanse. I like to call it the ultimate reset, and it worked a treat. Check out my other blog if you’re interested in the full details.

Suffice it to say that I’m now feeling much better, and I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to say this.

After hitting rock bottom, and turning my life around in 2006/07, I honestly thought the dark place was behind me. This year has proved that it can happen to any of us, at any point.

So for the stressed out mama’s and papa’s among us, make sure you look after you. If you sense the grey clouds looming, and the dark place coming, do anything and everything in your power to stop them in their tracks.

Take every opportunity you can grab for self care. Eat well, and nourish your body and mind. Do more of the things that make your heart sing. Feed your creative soul. Do not feel guilty about having time away from the kids. If you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, and save yourself, you don’t stand a chance of helping anyone else.

The deeper you fall, the harder it is to pull yourself out of the hole.

**Huge thanks to Unsplash for the gorgeous photots.**

Today is my 38th Birthday, so I’d like to share with you 38 things that I’ve learnt on my journey so far

1. Above all else, know yourself, and always be true to who you are at your core. Integrity is everything, and will help you sleep easy at night.

2. Honesty is the best policy, never be afraid to put your hand up and admit that you were at fault.

3. You can’t argue with, or rewrite history, but you can do everything in your power to create a brighter future. 

4. You won’t win a fight by getting angry. Calmness is key to problem solving. 

5. To prolong a suntan, moisturise twice a day. 

6. The world is a friendlier place at five or six in the morning after your first cup of coffee. 

7. Eating clean is a form of self respect, people who make fun of the term simply don’t understand it.

8. To eat clean without it bankrupting you, it is absolutely essential to find a way of making the very best quality food accessible. 

9. Cooking a meal from scratch (especially for guests) will always feel like an achievement. 

10. Growing your own food even more so, but it takes time, patience and a willingness to follow instructions (the latter is not my strongest trait).

11. It’s better to do five or ten minutes of exercise every day, than say you’ll spend hours per week at the gym, but never making it there. 

12. Running is great in perfect conditions, or with friends, or as a head clearer, but Unless you’re a natural runner, it will feel like torture. 

13. Good friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget. 

14. Unless you’ve behaved in an appalling way, and only you will know that, other people’s mean-ness is them projecting their own hurt and little or nothing to do with you.

15. Never go to sleep on a fight, it’ll give you nightmares. 

16. Wasting time on people who don’t appreciate you will make you feel like crap. Beware the fair weather friends who only chat small talk.

17. However, it’s good to remember that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. There is a deeper meaning to everything, and everyone we cross paths with has a purpose.

18. You cannot change another persons behaviour, but you can control the way you react to it, which in turn will help control its effect over you. 

19. The only way to have a small influence over rubbish behaviour from another person is to kill it with kindness (the behaviour, not the person, obvs). 

20. Travelling while you’re young will provide memories forever. 

21. Sometimes the only option is to walk away, but good eggs will find a route back to each other. 

22. Saying no is a great skill to learn.

23. As is properly distinguishing between your wants and your needs. 

24. Buying clothes and household goods second hand is not only kind to the bank balance, but easy on the environment. 

25. To combat sleep deprivation, go to bed as early as you possibly can and take the Zzzzz’s where you can. 

26. When the chips are down, Instagram is not your friend. However, a Facebook group hug of proper old mates will do more to pull you out of a deep dark hole than a lot of other things. 

27. Don’t fall foul to FOMO, the grass is rarely greener on the other side of the fence.

28. Not doing something you love, every single day, will start to chip away at your soul.

29. Tapping into your creative side will make your heart sing.

30. It is possible to write a book amid a super hectic life, you just need to form a solid writing habit.

31. If it’s important you’ll find the time, if it’s not, you’ll find an excuse. 

32. Sometimes it’s best all round if you zip your lips and throw the key away.

33. There is no shame in taking an extra long loo break with your phone for ten or fifteen minutes whilst hiding from your children. How do you think I’m writing this?

34. No matter how much you love your kids, time out from them is the only way to recharge your batteries.

35. It will pass, no matter how raw or painful it is right now.

36. Laughter is always, always, the best medicine.

37. Some days are best written off with a large glass of vino. 

38. Other days you’ll swallow down all the unpalatable memories, put on your brave face and happy pants/knickers, and conquer the world.

 

All you need is… 😍😍😍

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“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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Clean Eating: Why Has it Become Dirty to Eat Clean?

My name is Reneé, and I’m a clean eating addict. Phew, glad that’s out of the way! But what is clean eating?

Clean eating simply means eating food that hasn’t been processed, and making your own meals and snacks from scratch. For some it equates to a raw vegan diet, and for others (like my family) it’s more aligned with a paleo diet.

For me, the most important thing is sourcing the very best quality ingredients. Our meat comes from a top butchers in the City whose animals are truly free range, and feed on pasture. I buy organic nuts and oils. Our eggs come from a farm ten miles up the road. I buy mostly organic fruit and veggies, a lot of the time from farmers markets. 

What exactly do you eat?

Our diet consists of meat, fish, veggies, eggs, nuts, fruit and raw or home fermented dairy. As a rule we don’t eat any grains. This means no bread, rice, oats or pasta, including gluten free versions. We only eat natural sugars, in the form of fruit, raw honey or maple syrup. And we avoid corn and all it’s derivatives like the plague (due to Polly’s corn allergy). A typical mid-week meal in my house would be this beef stew. 

I’ve asked myself time and again why people mock the term clean eating and have come to this conclusion. It’s easier to make fun of something you don’t understand, than try to wrap your head around it. If you know, deep down, that your diet could be a lot cleaner than it currently is, then I guess laughing at those who eat courgetti or cauliflower rice is a form of self-preservation.

If you are willing to open your mind, then grab a cuppa, and allow me to tell you my story.   

My ten year slow and steady clean eating journey

As I’ve mentioned before in this post, I started coming away from refined sugars and processed food 10 years ago. This is a long time, especially in faddy diet terms. This thing is, clean eating shouldn’t be a fad, it should be about making gradual life long changes, that lead to a healthier you.

clean eatingMy own journey began after being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in 2007. I was told I was not ovulating, and would need medical assistance to conceive. Understandably I was devastated, but never one to just accept my fate as given, I did a ton of research into my new condition. I learnt about insulin resistance, which means that my body doesn’t absorb carbohydrates (sugar) the way it should. I also discovered that lots of women with PCOS go on to develop type two diabetes later in life.

My research led me to the glycemic index (GI), which correlates to the amount of carbohydrates a food contains, and how they affect blood glucose levels. Everything we eat is considered either low, medium or high GI, and the lower GI the better for an insulin resistant body like mine. High GI foods are typically heavily processed, made from white flours and refined sugars. Medium GI foods are less refined – things like oats, other grains and some fruit and veg. Low GI foods tend to be meat, fish and other fruit and veg.

It all seemed pretty straightforward, and gave me a natural alternative to what the doctors were saying. I could potentially prevent a lot of heartache later on if I simply cleaned up my eating. So that’s exactly what I did.

Baby steps

My first steps were cooking even more from scratch than I already was. I swapped out white flours for wholemeal and started using sugar alternatives. I took my own food into work, and stopped snacking on chocolate bars. I had given up fast food chains in 2003, but was still rather partial to take away back then. I remember being amazed at how much extra cash we had after stopping our weekly Chinese delivery, and late night pizzas. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to recreate our favourite dishes, in a much healthier way though.

Once I’d established good habits in the kitchen, it became easier and easier. Being organised was essential, and making sure we never ran out of key ingredients meant I could whip up delicious treats when we were in the mood for something sweet. Nowadays, this mindset comes without the slightest effort.

After gradually eating less flour based food, we went one step further in 2012 by going paleo. We cut out all grains, and noticed an immediate difference in our energy levels. I have never regretted this decision, and it’s only elevated my abilities in the kitchen. These days I make cakes from nuts, pureed veggies and dried fruit. Our food sustains us, and the word treat genuinely means treat. Check out this post I wrote which contains easy wins for becoming healthier. 

A pleasant surprise

clean eatingBack to the late naughties. Within two years of my PCOS diagnosis, and having dramatically changed my diet, I found myself pregnant with Polly. I do not think, for a single second, that this was a coincidence. The internet is full of testimonials from people who have reversed health conditions by changing the way they eat.

It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t have any trouble conceiving second or third time around either. Now that I’m finished having babies, and my periods have returned, they’ve never been easier or more regular. Gone are the 50 day cycles. Gone is the week long PMS misery. I still get one day a month where I’m on edge, but it’s not a fraction as bad as it used to be.  

Why I don’t use stevia, and other alternative sugars, to sweeten my treats

Ten years into my clean eating journey, and I can honestly take or leave sweet food. I can walk past even the most artisan bakery without salivating. I was at a blogging event recently, where stunning donuts were on offer, but I don’t even look at them as food anymore. I see past the beautiful icing, and the joy on everyone else’s faces while they’re being devoured.

I see excess sugar. I see type two diabetes. I see a bunch of ingredients that would have me needing a nap after three bites. This isn’t food for me. Food should lift us up, leaving us revived. It shouldn’t zap our energy leaving us feeling rubbish.

Remember when we were told fat free was the way forward? Or that agave was diabetic friendly? Or that margarine was better for our health than butter? We have been duped time and again, so I’d prefer to rely on my instincts when it comes to food. I truly believe that the only way to cut down on sugar is to have less of it.

Which is why I don’t use too good to be true alternative sweeteners. As the saying goes, if something appears to be too good to be true, it almost always is!

I only use raw organic honey or organic dried fruit in my baking. Over time I’ve created some fabulous recipes with very little natural sugar in them. Check out the video below for my paleo brownies, which contain just 1.5tbsp honey in a batch of 8.

The clean eating trade off

As I agonised over the perfect shot of my free-from-everything-but-flavour cupcakes at the weekend, I had an epiphany. My food will never look as good as it tastes, and I’m comfortable with that.

Get real, you’re a blogger, I hear you cry. People taste with their eyes. No-one cares about the story behind the bake, they just want it to look fab.

Ahhhhh, well, as long as it looks fab that’s all that matters right?

Wrong!

clean eatingThe taste should be the most important thing. Also, as a blogger, I think I have a social responsibility to be honest. It would be ridiculous to post incredible photos of my recipes, if the food didn’t actually look that way in real life. It would only lead to massive disappointment when my readers try and recreate my food. I figure it’s best to do what I can with the tools I have available.

My food might not look amazing, but I (and anyone else who eats it) know how good it tastes. This might not lead to mega viral recipe blogs, but you won’t see me compromise my integrity for the perfect photo.

If you want true food inspiration, created by a person whose been eating this way for a whole decade, you’ve come to the right place.

If you want to see super low sugar treats, then yay. If you want to see family friendly recipes that won’t mean you spend all day in the kitchen, woohoo. If you want to see natural food, that is grain free, not just gluten free, then I’m here to assist.

If you want to change your lifestyle, and become healthier, it starts with food.

I can help you. As long as you’re willing to get comfortable with my refusal to portray insta-perfection.

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.