Eleanor OliphantI gobbled up the first ten chapters of my latest read, the bestselling sensation Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It truly is a marvellous book in many ways, exploring society on a level that fiction rarely does. Debut author Gail Honeyman should be incredibly proud of herself for this stunning piece of writing.

It’s no exaggeration to say I struggled through the next twenty chapters. Not because the story was rubbish all of a sudden, far from it. I just couldn’t (and still can’t!) get my head around how anyone would find it funny. The word is used in four of the six quotes on the covers, and most people I know who have personally recommended the book have also said how “hilarious” it is.

So I did the only sensible thing I could think of, and stayed up well past bedtime last night to polish off the last ten chapters. Here are my thoughts, I will do my best not to spoil it for those who’ve not read it.

Eleanor Oliphant is absolutely not fine!

Eleanor Oliphant is thirty years old and has had the same low paying job in an SME since graduating university. She is very socially awkward, and often misreads (or simply doesn’t understand) what is going on around her. She lives alone, and as a rule does not speak to another human between getting home from work on Friday to returning on Monday. She is incredibly intelligent and well read, and does not wallow in self-pity. She eats the same food every day, and drinks two bottles of vodka per week.

Fairly early on we start uncovering Eleanor’s horrendous childhood, and how she partially grew up in care. The full horrors are thankfully never graphically described, and credit to Gail Honeyman, because I for one can’t stomach graphic details. You have to read the entire book to discover Eleanor’s full back story, but the snippets we are given throughout give us enough information to go on. It’s clear that Eleanor is deeply troubled, not to mention phenomenally lonely, and drinks vodka to numb her pain.

Shortly after the story begins, Eleanor strikes up an unlikely friendship, her first proper friend. Someone who isn’t going to screw her over and has her back. Their relationship is genuine and heartwarming, and proves that kindness can be found everywhere when we open our eyes to it.

Is Eleanor Oliphant a female Adrian Mole? 

Eleanor OliphantIn many ways I liken Eleanor to a female Adrian Mole, who I hero worshipped when I was a kid. He provided the backdrop to my own less than perfect childhood, and I absolutely loved all of the late Sue Townsend’s books. Part of me wants to read them again, because I’m almost convinced I will feel the same way about Adrian as I now do about Eleanor.

I see a lot of my daughter Polly’s struggles in Eleanor and am convinced she is on the spectrum. You’ll only get as far as “Is Eleanor Ol….” before Google assumes you want to know if she is autistic. I fear that many of those who are finding Eleanor funny are actually laughing at her, not with her. Perhaps this is just me being overly sensitive due to my own circumstances?

Either way, it’s the reason I struggled through half the book. Eleanor’s awkwardness is cringe worthy at points. She misinterprets many situations, and takes things literally, just like Polly does. Unlike my girl, Eleanor has no-one to bounce her ideas off, and help decode this confusing world.

Eleanor drowns her sorrows in the classic way, and drinks down her tricky feelings. I’ve known so many people over the years who will discuss the minutiae of nothing, yet are completely incapable of processing even slightly uncomfortable emotions. This is a serious problem that rarely gets discussed.

Are mental health problems inescapable when you suffered a traumatic childhood?  

I’ve never encountered a single person who had a traumatic childhood and did not encounter ill mental health at some point as an adult. Anxiety and depression are rife among my own friends, even those who have had extensive therapy and great careers. I honestly don’t know what I’d have done throughout my lowest lows had it not been for my friends. I still have moments of feeling incredibly lonely, and I am blessed with hundreds of friends all over the world. I cannot imagine a life without friendships.

It’s a heartbreaking prospect to think children who go through such trauma, then slip through the cracks in a largely uncaring society. They get no support as adults, and with government cuts getting more brutal each year, things will only get worse as time goes on. The sheer volume of vulnerable young adults who end up being groomed, or enter into violent relationships is absolutely shocking.

Does Eleanor get a happy ending?  

You’ll have to read the book yourself to discover the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you do! Tweet me @mummytries 

 

I’ve had a fair few conversations recently which have ended with me saying “…but we’re sleepwalking into oblivion, and no-one even cares!” Needless to say it makes me pretty unpopular at parties. I have only a teeny tiny amount of people in my life who are willing to openly discuss this topic. Which feels largely like preaching to the choir. So I’m being bold and sharing this piece. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on it all. 

I feel the main problem with our society is that “we” largely place too much value on the wrong things. The way we look, how popular we are and how much money we have are drummed into to us as important – from the youngest of ages – and go to the top of our priority list. The world that our kids are growing up in can feel like a harsh one, and with the added filter of social media distorting reality, is it any wonder? It’s not just the kids who are suffering either. Almost everyone I know is consumed with the pressures of life.  

sleepwalking into oblivionBut is this added layer of pressure all down to the consequences of our own choices?

There seems to be such a lot of pressure these days to do and be so much more. Coupled with the notion that women can (apparently) have it all. Motherhood is deemed by many to be a tiresome and unattractive chore. It blows my mind away how such an un-newsworthy debate as breast vs bottle it still dividing the sides.

From where I’m standing, the sisterhood only seems to exist when we’re nodding along in complete agreement to what is being said. The minute we challenge someone’s stance on a controversial topic, well we’re deemed as being unsupportive. We’ll get blocked from their social media and bitched about in closed Facebook groups. It makes me sad beyond belief. 

Trouble is, in the process of trying to be and do so much, we are selling ourselves short. Are today’s actions going to cause long term damage? Not that raising a generation of mentally healthy children who grow up to be mentally healthy adults appears to be on the government’s agenda. Judging by their year on year shocking cuts that fund children’s services across the board, they appear out of touch and unsympathetic to how so many are forced to live. 

I didn’t have it easy, but I turned out okay

I’ve heard this tired mantra all my life – “I didn’t have this or that when I was growing up… I had it harder in my day than the kids have it today… blah blah blah.”

For those unfamiliar with my story, I had a severely dysfunctional upbringing, and left home at 15. I then drank and partied my troubles away for a whole decade. Along my treacherous journey I suffered countless bouts of depression and anxiety, had two full mental breakdowns, declared bankruptcy and cut ties with my entire family. These are not experiences I would wish upon anyone else.

Through therapy and a whole load of self-reflection, I came to realise that everything I went through as a young adult was directly linked to the way I raised. Fortunately for me, I met my amazing husband and some rock solid friends who became my family. Without their unfaltering support I dare say I wouldn’t even be here writing this article.

sleepwalking into oblivionIf society is sleepwalking into oblivion, how can we chose not to? 

In the school of life for the Davis kids this week (or home education as most would call it) we’ve been talking a lot about cause and effect. How every single decision that we make effects everything else that happens next. This is a bit of a mind blowing concept for my almost nine year old autistic daughter, but she’s getting there. We all need to fully understand this, because it’s one of the most valuable things we will ever learn.  

In all areas of our lives, if we are to have a decent shot at long term happiness, we have to be making decisions that we are truly comfortable with. We can’t be afraid of putting our hands up when we’re wrong, changing tact and finding another way of doing the things that aren’t working out. We can’t allow the fear of doing or saying something that might offend someone else stop us from making good choices. We mustn’t let our wants blind us to our needs. Check out my autobiographical self-help book Become the Best You if you’d like to go one step further than a blog post. It’s a short book, and quite a few people have told me that it’s changed their lives.  

If we are making well thought out good decisions, then we won’t have to live with negative consequences for years afterwards. It’s a simple equation, but it’s not sexy or interesting. It doesn’t sell stuff, and how boring would it be to have a happy society? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know this. Until we start putting down our devices, taking a step back and properly thinking about the effect our decisions are going to have on our future selves, then I truly fear that society will end up sleepwalking into oblivion.

Do you need a plan of action? Here’s a simple one to get started

Get happy: This might sound like the most basic thing in the entire world, but if you aren’t happy you will find it exceptionally difficult to make good decisions. By doing everything you can to smile more than you frown, you are instantly inviting positive opportunities to present themselves. Check out this little video clip I made for tips.

Switch off: Tune out from mass media by only consuming information that will enhance your life. Ditch the tabloids, the whingey websites, the trashy magazines and reality TV. While you’re at it, have a social media detox. How much time do you waste on Facebook even though it bores and depresses the hell out of you? I had got myself into a great place with Instagram, but this past week or so I’ve been spending way too much time on there so shall be taking another break over the weekend. Switching my phone off for hours at a time is like medicine for me. Why not give it a go?

Don’t live in an echo chamber: there has been much said over the last couple of years about the pitfalls of living in echo chambers. Whilst I wholeheartedly advocate surrounding ourselves with positive and inspirational people, we do also need to ensure that we have good enough friends in our lives to challenge us when we’re factually wrong or being an idiot. 

Don’t compare: Stop comparing yourself to others because it’s a pointless exercise. Instead feel safe in the knowledge that no-one has the ‘perfect life’, we are all flawed in some way or another and everybody has problems. While you are lusting after another person’s life, there will more than likely be someone out there lusting after yours.

One shot: We get one shot at this life people, lets make it count! If my own experiences have taught me anything, it’s that a good life doesn’t just happen. We need to make it happen and constantly strive for it. Often against the odds, and in the face of extreme adversity.

I certainly won’t be sleepwalking into oblivion, how about you?

**many thanks to Unsplash for the gorgeous photos used in this piece. Credit to Though Catalog and Clem Onojeghuo**

Do you know how to help yourself when the going gets tough?

I don’t hide the fact that I’m having a hard time while I’m having it. Sharing my downs (as well as my ups) helps me get through them. I also get the odd piece of stellar advice that I might not have come across otherwise, because chances are I’m not the first or only person to be experiencing whatever it is that is causing me problems.

A very lovely lady commented on my Instagram recently that she found my openness really inspiring, because generally people are only comfortable with being so vulnerable after the hard time has passed. During the event we’re usually consumed by the trauma itself, along with the added complexity of wearing a mask so we can pretend that we’re okay. It adds up to overwhelm and burn out pretty damn quickly.

Just in case you need to hear these words today, here are some very effective ways to help yourself through life’s obstacle course…

Can we talk about the R word please? No not respite, although my fabulous husband took all three kids out today, so I did get some of that. The other r… Resilience! ♥️ People like to bandy the term around like it’s a good thing. Ooooh look at her they say, she’s so strong! So resilient! Always got a smile no matter what. I listened to a brilliant Ted talk the other day, about how putting on a brave face can actually do us more harm than good. I’m all for looking for the silver linings and being grateful but in the midst of a truly hard time it can be exceptionally difficult. ♥️ When life is relentlessly piling more shit on to your plate of steaming hot shit, the last thing you need is to be made to feel bad for not being as resilient as you once were. ♥️ The notion that anything can be solved by thinking positively and pretending we’re ok (when the opposite is true) is toxic and needs to change. If someone has honoured you with the title friend, earn it. Listen to them when they’re down. Offer your ear in an unconditional, unjudgemental way. Just be there, because it could make all the difference to them. ♥️ I’ve just spent the afternoon with one of my oldest friends. We ate delicious food, had a glass of vino and a damn good catch up. She said she didn’t know what to say to me, but the fact that she was there and she was listening says it all!

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on In the wise words of Oscar Wilde: “be yourself, everyone else is taken”

I made the decision long ago not to wear a mask. I am unapologetically me, and I absolutely refuse to be anyone else for anyone else. It means I’m 100% authentic, 100% of the time, which in theory is a great thing. It does have its downside though, and at points can feel like I’m a lone voice swimming against the tide. On my winning days, when I’ve had at least four hours sleep and am firing on all cylinders, I’m awesome at putting minor issues into perspective and not taking the knocks too personally. Dramas and drama llamas are water off this ducks back, and there is little that can beat me down.

On my darker days, where I feel lonely in a crowded room, it takes every ounce of my strength not to end up in the depths of despair. I start stewing on past failures and disagreements, and my thoughts can spiral downwards scarily fast. During these moments, alcohol and social media are not my friends. Both have the capacity to make my mood a hundred times worse, and I’ve learnt that it’s best to avoid them as much as I can. Yoga (if possible), deep breathing (if not) and video calls with a loved one are my medicine. Writing has also helped me massively. Getting raw emotions on paper/screen is a wonderful way of channeling the feelings and turning negatives into positives.

how to help yourselfKnow who your true friends are and do not doubt them. Ever.

They say that good friends are hard to find, tough to leave and impossible to forget. I feel beyond blessed to have had so many utterly incredible humans cross my path over the years. These days, with the children to consider, I’m exceptionally fussy about the people I allow into our lives. It would be madness to be estranged from my entire family yet fill our days with toxic influences. As blood isn’t always thicker than water, I consider my good friends to be my family. It pains me when I see my people in pain – I feel it deeply on their behalf. I might not be in a position to loan money, or look after more children (it’s good to acknowledge when our own hands are already full) but I can most definitely lend my ear.

I don’t judge, and I always try as best I can to remain open minded with what I’m being told. Practically I probably can’t do much more than pop over with a nice treat or be on the end of the phone, but I take pride in always being emotionally available for the people I love. Once I consider a person to be a good friend, they have to do something pretty awful for me to change my mind about them.

When the chips are properly down, it can be so tempting to completely shut the world out, but it’s rarely the right thing to do. (We all know what happened to Elsa when she followed this path.) Life is full of bumps and no-one ‘s journey is smooth running. It’s good to remember this.

It’s also vital to allow your friends to help you if they are in a position to do so. Last year, one of my neighbours knocked and said she’d been reading my blog and was concerned about me. She asked if she could take Polly with her on her school run once a week to give me a few hours breathing space. It might not seem like much, but it meant an awful lot and I hope to be able to return the favour to her in some way one day.

Steer as clear as you possibly can from other people’s squabbles  

Social media can be a wonderful tool. On a personal level it’s great for keeping in touch with faraway friends and family. On a business level it’s wonderful for spreading the word about worthy causes, fantastic products and fab services. On the not so bright side it can be a hot bed for petty arguments and vocalising ignorant opinions that folk might have just kept to themselves before the invention of Twitter.

It can be really easy to forget that everything on the internet is traceable and there forever. I am blown away by some of the dumb ass things people say, and share, and honestly don’t think they would be so free and easy with these beliefs if they were sitting in the pub having a chat with a group of mates. It feels like our world is becoming polarized, and how can it not when we live so much of our lives in online echo chambers? If there is something truly worth speaking up against then do it, otherwise help yourself by steering clear. You’ll thank yourself for it in the years to come.

Eat well, it really does make a difference  

I have been a huge advocate for eating to enhance wellness for over a decade now. My real food journey began with a PCOS diagnosis along with the news that I was (apparently) infertile. Eighteen months after coming away from refined sugars and processed carbs, and my eldest daughter was conceived by accident, then two more pregnancies within four years. I’m not a doctor or scientist, but I do believe that eating the right food has changed my life. I would urge anyone who is struggling to take a look at their diet to see where it can be cleaned up.

I’m a heart on sleeve wearing open book

That much is obvious from the candidness of this here blog. As well as my first book, which people have claimed was the catalyst for them changing their life. Minor thing right? Wrong! It’s a bloody big deal. 

The people who know things (?) say we shouldn’t expect other people to behave the way that we do. That we need to get to grips with the fact that we can’t control the way other’s think or their actions towards us. In fact fully grasping this was a big turning point for my mental health after my second breakdown in 2006. However, I’ve been truly shocked by other people’s behaviour this past year, utterly lost for words many times (as a writer that is saying something).

So I feel it’s appropriate to share this piece right now. Because if you want to cross the line into my real world, or are already a part of it, there are a few basic rules I’d like you to adhere to. 

Basic rules of life 

heart on sleeve wearing open bookPlease do not smile sweetly to my face, then bitch about me behind my back. As far as I’m concerned, integrity is everything, so if you have a problem with me, or my kids, let’s talk about it. I don’t think it’s expecting too much for you to come to me with your grievances, so we can discuss them like adults. At thirty eight and a half I am an adult, and everyone I interact with is also an adult. Act like one.  

I don’t ask for help lightly, if I do it’s because I am desperate. I had two mental breakdowns in my twenties, and have had numerous cycles of depression throughout my life. I can sense the black clouds when they are looming. I try exceptionally hard to stay positive, but with my days being as chronically stressful as they are, this is a monumental task. 

When a person has estranged themselves from their entire family, it means they have had to make unimaginably difficult decisions. Don’t judge me for them, have compassion and try to understand what would drive a person to do that in the first place. 

While we’re on the subject of judgement, until you’ve truly walked in my shoes, your unsolicited opinion is rarely welcome. Genuinely helpful advice, yes please. Constructive criticism which will enable me to become a better person, hell yeah. Anything else? Zip your lips and throw away the key. 

Me talking openly about my struggles is not attention seeking. In fact I often end up in floods of tears when people tell me how inspirational I am for doing so. Give me a compliment about my hair being swishy then I’ll smile politely and say thank you. Tell me that you think I’m amazing for daring to openly go where most others can’t/won’t, then I will cry. But let me be explicit here: when you spend as much time feeling as broken as I do, you don’t feel very inspirational. Quite the opposite. 

But above all else… 

Don’t be a disappointment. Don’t tell me you’re a friend but find any excuse you can to not spend time with me. Don’t disappear for months then come back and give me some flimsy reason as to why you couldn’t return my text messages. 

Life is hard, that much is clear. But when are surrounded by awesome people, it gets so much easier. I don’t allow everyone I meet into my world, far from it. I’m selective, I like to feel that my friendships are genuine and a two way street. If it all starts feeling a bit too one-sided, then I’m going to take it personally. Ten years ago, fresh out the other side of mental breakdown and true rock bottom, I thought I had all this sussed out. However, as I said at the start, this past year has properly opened my eyes.

They say that in the end everyone is just trying to save themselves, but I think this mindset is making us selfish. At what point should we put what we want to one side and just be there for the ones we supposedly love most in our lives? I don’t have all the answers, but I do hope this piece starts a conversation.

 

My mental health has taken a battering in the last six months or so. I used to be great at plastering on a fake smile and pretending I was ok, but now, not so much. In the same way that my daughter gets emotionally burnt out from masking her autism, I think I too have become emotionally burnt out. I’m also concerned that I might have PTSD brewing. The warning signs are there, plain as day. ♥️ As I mentioned in my previous post, our January has been all kinds of horrendous: Sickness ✅ Meltdowns every day ✅ Sleep thievery a newborn baby would be proud of ✅ Crippling overwhelm ✅ Feeling like I’m failing in every aspect of my life ✅ The list could go on, but you get the picture? ♥️ Half the people I know tell me I should be demanding help from those in a position to give it. The other half clearly think I’ve done too much moaning already and need to (wo)man up. The edges are getting blurry, that much is obvious, but I do know this. Others find my candidness comforting, and that counts for a lot in this over-filtered often fake world we live in. ♥️ I had numerous messages after posting a me too last year, from women thanking me for being their voice. Women who were traumatised by the abuse they’ve suffered silently, because coming out would destroy their families. People have said that my self-help book/memoir gave them the impetus to change their lives for the better. That my blog posts touch them in a way other words simply don’t. This is why I will continue to talk openly about my struggles for as long as I’m on social media. There’s only so long that you can pretend you’re ok (when you’re not) before the wheels start falling off. ♥️ So it was rather apt that the PR team for #GetTheInsideOut asked me to spread the word about their brilliant campaign aimed to get people talking about their mental health. A problem shared is a problem halved after all. Check out the hashtag for more details…

A post shared by Reneé Davis (@mummytries) on

Would you like a FREE copy of my memoir/self-help book Become the Best You for #WMHD17?

I often question my motivation for writing, and frequently ask myself what the point of all the sharing is. I have wondered many times whether it actually makes a difference.

The short answer is yes it does.

I might not have a million plus followers, but people regularly get in touch to tell me that I’ve helped improve their well being. They say that my words have made them feel validated and heard. That I’ve brought a smile to their face, even if it’s sometimes through tears. Just take a look at the heartfelt comments on this post if you need proof. 

So I’d like to give you a gift today, for world mental health day. I wrote Become the Best You mostly for my own catharsis, but also to help others who are going through a rough time.

Become the Best You details the rocky road I travelled before settling down, getting married and having children

#WMHD17For those who are new to my story, I had a severely dysfunctional childhood, and troubled leap into adulthood at just fifteen. In the book I talk candidly about the decision to cut ties with my family.

As well as going through two mental breakdowns in my twenties, and hitting rock bottom. I talk about every thing I did during that time, to turn my life around.

I truly believe that going through this process before having kids is the only reason I am able to now cope with my chronically stressful life.

The book has 40 mostly five star reviews on Amazon, and is now available to buy directly right here. Check out this article to learn more. 

“It’s not just a self-help book, it’s a manual for life!” – Michelle Reeves

What you need to do to claim your e-book version of Become the Best You

  • subscribe to my mailing list
  • if you are already a subscriber, send me a quick email to mummytries@gmail.com