The Trouble with Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a tricky one for me

It reminds me of the obvious lack of mother in my own life. It’s now been so long since I saw her face, I can’t even properly remember what it looks like. It poses a mixed bag of emotions every time a so-called special day presents itself.

Mother’s Day. Birthdays. Anniversaries. The last time I saw her. The last time we communicated.

I estranged myself from my mother several years before I started having children. I coped with a full on mental breakdown, and hit rock bottom with no family support whatsoever. I have been through so much without her by my side. I’ve essentially become a different person to the one she raised. A better person. I have taught myself how to function in the world, and how to be nice. To not immediately assume the worst in everyone, and think they’re all out to get me.

 

I grew up in a world where Jimmy Saville would fix all your problems, and Gary Glitter wanted you to be part of his gang. Where primary school kids had access to porn films and 8yo girls had their innocence stolen on a daily basis. 😔 I grew up in a world where comparison wasn’t always the thief of joy, and in fact sometimes knowing that others had it so much harder was a good thing for me. 😔 I grew up in a world where the WORST happened, and I got to the point where I could no longer forgive and forget. I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made (to date) when I was 26 years old (I’m now 38). 😔 Motherhood without a mum is more heartbreaking than I could ever articulate. On any given day I’ll flit between knowing I’ve made the right decision to desperately hoping I was wrong and wanting her to beat my door down. To say “I’m here now, and everything will be ok!” The words I know without doubt my dear grandma would have said, given half the chance. 😔 So if you’re struggling with similar issues please email me and I’ll send you a copy of Become the Best You. Had I read the book I wrote when I was on the edge, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have fallen down a deep, dark hole.

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I know her hands were tied a lot of the time. She was young and inexperienced when she brought me in the world at eighteen. She was still reeling from her own tragic childhood of loss and abuse. No-one helped her conquer her demons. She got webbed up with men who treated her terribly, and the rest is history.

There was my biological father – who had an affair with my mother while he was engaged to the woman who he calls his wife to this day. A woman who does not know I even exist (but that is a different story for another day). Then there was my step-father who was beyond messed up from his own horrific childhood. Who prided himself on never beating his woman, but failed to see the emotional torment he put her through. She was absolutely terrified of him.

The day he punched me in the face and almost broke my nose freed me from that world

It was my chance to get out, and even though I was only fifteen, I knew I had to grab it with both my bloody hands. I was literally covered in blood, looked like I had been shot.

She was in pieces. Didn’t want me to leave but knew that I had to. You see that punch in the face was the mere icing on the top of a huge, multi layered cake made exclusively of shit. The constant moving which had screwed up my education. The boys who abused me as a small child. The boy from my school who molested me at a sleepover and bragged about it to his mates (the shame of which led to an overdose). The chronically stressful life that had been put upon me by the grown ups who acted like anything but.

She knew I had to leave, but can you imagine the pain of allowing your teenage daughter to walk out the door? With no schooling behind her. With hardly any money in her pocket. Just the hope that she would be safe at your sisters house, even though her husband at the time was a predator you did not trust?

Trouble is, even after I left home I was perpetually called upon to be her saviour. When the electricity had been cut off for the umpteenth time, I would send money. When she was at her wits’ end with my half brother, I would rush back. When my half-sister was suicidal because she was bullied at school, I would be there for them all. And in the end those relationships became beyond toxic. They saw me as good old Reneé. I’d always be there for them, no matter how badly they treated me.

mother's dayI don’t hold grudges these days. I used to, but writing Become the Best You helped me let go of the last of those feelings

I don’t look back upon those days in anger, I just feel sad about them (and mostly for her). There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to not have them in my life was (and is) a good one. Now that I have challenging children of my own I have more empathy for her and those days than ever before. 

And that’s the trouble with Mother’s Day. It brings it all to the surface, like the disgusting pus filled, hormone driven spot on my chin that just won’t be popped and do one. It keeps coming back, redder, with more pus than before.

So this is for all the mums out there coping with their silent battles.

Who look at the social media version of Mother’s Day and want to cry a river, even if they manage not to.

Especially the ones who are mothering without a mama, and although they have made peace with their situation, have days when it hurts like hell. 

Present Parenting: The Inescapable Truth None of Us Want to Admit

Do you practise present parenting?

I am jinxed when it comes to phones. Seriously. I’ve lost more than I can even remember, and once dropped a brand new phone down the toilet two weeks into a two year contract. My latest tech failure comes in the form of a severely cracked screen on my iPhone, which is less than six months old.

It’s left me phone-less these last few days, and you know what? It’s been bloody liberating.

More than that though, my kids have articulated that they prefer their mummy phone-free. Ouch!

There I was thinking I had a grip on this. I know that I spend a LOT less time on my phone than I used to. I also know that I spend a crap tonne less time on it than almost every other blogger I know. Not that it’s a competition, but sometimes it’s good to compare and contrast.

present parentingThe truth is, not having a phone to divert my attention elsewhere is great for my present parenting abilities.

Because even with the best will in the world there will be texts to reply to. Quick chats to have with friends going through a hard time. A sneaky look at Instagram to see how well that latest post is doing. A brief look at gmail to make sure I’m not missing anything important. 

And all those five minutes, add up.

Being glued to a phone is not conducive at all to being a present parent. It’s just not. Especially with my spectrum children

I can convince myself all I like that my kids need to get better at letting me have a little bit of a life outside of them, but is that fair on them?

I used to think that their inability to see me on my phone and not try to grab my attention by kicking lumps out of each other was a fault on their behalf. I can see now though, that it’s completely unreasonable of me to expect this from them.

They didn’t ask for this life did they? They didn’t ask to be bullied and unsupported at school, and have to be home educated. As a family we go up and down and round in circles on this matter. Some days we win, and it’s amazing, but often we struggle.

Me being on my phone certainly doesn’t help. So once again I am going to own this as something I have control over, and react in a positive way.

I’m sure the world will still continue turning.

I absolutely refuse to look back on this time and feel guilty for anything. Present parenting is definitely top of my agenda this year. What’s on the top of yours?   

How to Survive A Chronically Stressful Life with Your Marbles in Tact

I’ve had a week of highs or lows, with not much in between. In all honesty, this is often the case when you live a chronically stressful life like I do.

My week started last Saturday with going to BML17 (formally Brit Mums), one of the biggest annual blogging conferences here in the UK. I only managed about four hours of the conference in 2015, and gave it a miss last year for one reason and another. When my ticket was first booked by my lovely sponsors Fantastic Services, I was super excited about the day. If nothing else, these events are always a brilliant opportunity to catch up with blogging friends.

As the day rolled around, however, I found myself wanting to find any excuse I could to cancel. Suddenly the idea of being in a room with hundreds of other bloggers (at varying levels) felt overwhelming and unappealing. Day to day I try my hardest not to compare myself with others, but kind of knew it would be inescapable at BML.

When I was at my worst about it all, I received an email asking me to be one of five keynotes speakers at the end of the conference. It was a massive honour, and huge confidence boost. I was asked to read my Open Letter to Autism Mama’s, and saw it as a chance to stand up and represent those like me, who lead chronically stressful lives.

To say I felt sick with nerves would be an understatement

I tried not to think about the task at hand too much, because every time I did it made me want to run for the hills. I started a Twitter conversation with the other keynotes speakers on the Friday, and it seemed that everyone else felt this way too. Which I admit, did make me feel a bit better.

The day itself was lovely, catching up with friends. Some I meet up with regularly, and others I’ve been chatting online to for over four (!) years without ever properly meeting in the flesh. It was fab to finally meet Tim and Julie, among others. I also attended a few of the sessions*, hosted by other bloggers. 

Unfortunately, familiar pangs of self-doubt, and inadequacy reared their ugly heads for me. So many people who set out blogging at the same time as I started this blog in 2013 now have Sunday Times bestsellers under their belts. Or uber successful YouTube channels. Or are making a small fortune from their blogs. Not usually one to fall foul of the green eyed monster, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t allow those feelings to get the better of me.

They totally did.

So much so that when it came to reading my blog post out, I wanted to do anything but. I did it though, and know I should be proud of myself for it.   

Here’s the video, just in case you’re interested.

When you don’t have a sad story, but a sad life

I’ve come to realise that most people can’t handle those who live a chronically stressful life. It’s not a tragic event to ‘get over’, or a sad story to tell. Most people just don’t have the time or inclination to fully comprehend the challenges you face, after the stress becomes chronic. Who can blame them really? 

When the stress is every day.  

Day in day out.

It gets boring doesn’t it? People need a happy ending GODDAMNIT! 

I’ve made no secret of the fact that this year has been brutally hard. Some weeks tougher than others, of course. This has been one of those weeks. Anyone who saw my Instagram post on Tuesday will know that it was especially troublesome. Clara’s hand got trapped in the door, and I thought at first that she had broken her fingers. Fortunately they were just badly bruised, but it shook me up beyond belief.  

I don’t have the capacity for another one of those weeks. They are breaking me, and destroying my soul. 

Thankfully though, mostly through blogging, I’m lucky to know many other people who are also in my position. Who live chronically stressful lives, and are dealing with seriously challenging children. They have empathy, they are supportive, they don’t leave me feeling empty after being in their company.    

 

TRIBE ALERT! ♥️ I am very lucky to have the support of several wonderful groups of blogging friends. This particular gaggle photographed here are from a foodie collective, and we understand each other on a totally different level. ♥️ We get what it’s like to parent exceptionally challenging children. We know how it feels to exist on four broken hours sleep a night (for years and years). We support each other’s blogs, champion each other and pick each other up when we’re crumpled in a heap for whatever reason. ♥️ Yesterday some of us spent the day on an MSC Cruise ship, being shown around and learning about what a cruise holiday would entail if we were to come onboard. During the Q&A with the senior management team we were the ones with the awkward questions. ♥️ “Are your kids club teams epi pen trained?” “What’s your policy on dealing with diabetic hypos?” “What provisions do you have for autistic children?” “Do you have options for those on strict exclusion diets?” ♥️ We are the mums who’ll always have the awkward questions. Being those mums can feel isolating more than words could articulate, but knowing that these wonderful ladies have each other’s backs certainly takes the edge off. ♥️ Big thanks to Sally and Co, and the team at MSC for organising such a fab day!

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I guess my main thoughts from this strange week, are things I’ve known for a long time

    • don’t add to your plate when you don’t have the capacity to handle it
    • which means not being afraid to say no from time to time   
    • take comfort from your smallest of wins 
    • don’t compare yourself to others, no matter how tempting it might be 
    • know when to step back from social media for the purposes of self-preservation 
    • always be true to yourself, and never compromise your integrity  
    • work out early doors who your real friends are 
    • take my own advice and read Become the Best You when needs be  
    • know when to admit defeat, call it a day and have a gin
    • give less fucks, as advocated by Louise and Emma in their fab (and funny) YouTube session* at BML

What are your tips for winning in the face of a chronically stressful life? Get in touch @mummytries

I’ve Been in a Dark Place, but the Fog is Finally Clearing  

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.**

When You Are Close to Breaking Point

What is breaking point?

In a nutshell, we all have a certain level of stress that tips us over the edge. It differs from person to person, and we’re the only one who will know what that level is for ourselves. When I was working, my boss used to ask if I had capacity to take on more work. Invariably, I’d do everything in my power to say yes, after all that was what I was being paid for. There were a few occasions though, particularly towards the end, when I had to say no. In those cases he’d ask someone else to do the work.

With parenting it’s kind of the same, but oh so different. Unless you have other people you can pass the baton to, you don’t get to say no. You don’t get to reach capacity, and even if you have reached capacity you have to find reserves from somewhere, somehow.

While parenting autistic children (and home educating them in my case), it can feel like we’re constantly at full capacity. The extras fast tip us over the edge. Sickness bugs, accidents, sleep deprivation, long term illness. It all adds up, and means we are unable to do much more than the basics. It means that anything else is likely to push us to breaking point.

Saying no to the things that aren’t important in the grand scheme of life

breaking pointLearning what to say no to is a great tool to have in your box. For me, it’s been a gradual skill that I’ve been developing over the last ten years.

It started by saying no to social occasions, which had always been a weakness. Prior to that I’d run myself into the ground, burning the candle at both ends. Then I started saying no to certain people at work, which was an absolute revelation. The trouble with being a yes (wo)man is that people take advantage. 

Nowadays, I have to say to no to a lot of blog related things. Events I can’t go to because they aren’t child friendly. Sponsored posts and reviews that are time consuming and low paid. If it will yield little long term value, then I say no.  

I don’t fill our days going to home ed meet ups that I know will end in disaster. We only spend our time with people who bring us joy. I try not to put my kids into awkward situations that will lead to meltdowns. I’m well aware that they will need to navigate these situations for themselves one day, but right now, while they are so young, it’s not a priority.

Having priorities in the right places

I think that’s what it all boils down to: having our priorities in the right places. Hubby and I made the decision to home educate. Although with our local school, we weren’t given much choice in the matter, no-one put a gun to our heads and forced us. Which means I can’t really allow myself to get to breaking point.

I have to put measures in place, to ensure that I always have a teeny bit of capacity left for a disaster. As hard as it’s been, I’ve had to properly come to terms with the fact that I shouldn’t expect to rely on anyone else. I saw a meme the other day which went something like:

In the end, everyone is just trying to save themselves.

It says it all really. People often want to help, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t in a position to. So I’ve been spending less time on social media, and more time focusing on these measures. I thought I’d share them, just in case they can help you.    

It’s often the smallest things that make us the most happy

Eating well: I’ll bang on and on about this until I’m blue in the face, because it’s so important. It helps that I’m a lover of real food, and am used to cooking from scratch. Eating sugar free, low carb, paleo/keto doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Eating well makes me feel well, and these days I don’t even get tempted to veer off track, because I know it leaves me feeling dreadful. If you’re mood needs improving, the first place to look is your diet.    

breaking pointExercise: Back in the day I would get up at the crack of dawn, and go to a 7am spin class before work. Then I got into hot yoga and loved it. When I was pregnant with Polly I did loads of pregnancy yoga. Then I had two more babies in three years, and boom. My love of exercise went out the window. You won’t see me getting out of bed at the crack of dawn now, unless it’s to pee and go back to bed.

I did my first spin class in about fifteen years a few weeks ago, and it nearly killed me! BUT, there is always room for something. So I’m establishing a good habit of doing planks, which are great for core strength and toning, among other things. I’ve started gentle, and am currently do five planks before getting in the shower each day. I hold the position for 45 seconds and rest for 15. It’s a tiny habit that can be built upon, because doing a tiny something is always better than doing a big fat nothing.

Creative outlet: I didn’t work on my novel for months, because I’d lost confidence in my writing abilities. I had convinced myself it was a steaming pile of poo and that it was unpublishable. I was afraid to reread the manuscript in case I hated it. But I did read it, and you know what? It’s not a pile of poo at all, far far from it. 

So I’ve been working on it again, and I cannot tell you how good it’s making me feel. I’m proud of this book, and I will ensure it gets published. I’m enjoying the editing process, and I’m looking forward to seeing where I can take it. Watch this space.    

Kindness: Kindness to others is a given, but boy am I hard on myself. I always have been, probably because when I was younger I knew no-one else would be pushing me to succeed. I had to learn to be my own cheerleader long ago. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll already know that I’m no stranger to the darker side of life, and I’ve come to conclusion recently that I need to stop fighting it.

No-one escapes a past like mine unscathed, that’s a fact. And no-one escapes the reality of super challenging children without having days that make you want to leave the house and never come home again. Call me an over-sharer, call me a tortured soul, call me a mess. I have my demons, I have my dirty little secrets. I still drink too much sometimes, because I’m still bloody useless at knowing my limits and always think I’m more sober than I actually am.

With the darkness comes the flip side

I have a hunger for learning, and growing.

I’m never afraid to look in the mirror and take responsibility.

I can bring words to life.

I have magic hands when it comes to food.

I am the best friend you will ever have, because I’m loyal and honest and always there.

As much as I think I’m at breaking point some days, deep down I know that I’m okay.

The kids are okay.

The husband is okay.

And things are going to work out just fine.

 

Ahhhhh life, it really is the simplest things that bring us the most joy. A shared punnet of British strawberries while we wait for the train to take us to the splash park = a trio of happy kiddos. 💖 Post-holiday blues, more teeth drama, witching hours that would send the sanest of us crazy, and as always a lack of Zzzz’s, have meant the last couple of weeks have been phenomenally hard. 💖 So I’ve taken solace in my little loves. Been creating like mad in the kitchen. I’ve forced myself to exercise, even did a spin class at the weekend, for the first time in about 15 years. But perhaps the biggest thing for me, is that I’m cracking on with the novel. After being afraid to even look at it for months because I’d convinced myself it was a pile of crap. 💖 You know what? I’m starting to feel much better. We really do have to do anything and everything in our power to make ourselves happy. Because if we aren’t smiling, the whole world falls apart. 💖 Have a great day folks 😘

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