I turned 35 in February and my sister text me saying “heading towards 40 now Clem!”, which I thought felt a bit harsh. I haven’t got a problem with turning 40. But I’m not keen to wish my life away. That said, I am intrigued to know what I might expect from the next chapter. Here Claire Goodall tells all:
You ache, even if you work out regularly; attend boot camp; lift weights; run; do yoga – your body aches, and you bend down to pick things up in a really odd way.
Said exercise will open you up to a great gang of people, similarly minded, and all with pelvic floor issues – which will be discussed with abandon.
Your teeth become sticky. You need a permanent hand mirror and your own set of toothpicks with you at all times. EVERY morsel sticks to your teeth.
You like subtitles, not just on your favourite Scandi drama, but on BBC, Netflix and Amazon Prime (no hearing problem here).
You love Zoflora and stock pile it, from Poundland and Savers, cleaning, air freshening and general splashing around the loo, or anyone in the way.
If you aren’t yet into gardening, this is the decade it will hit. You will be able to name plants and flowers and will say things like “we need the rain”.
You will become invisible to those under 30. You will seem insignificant … little do they know that you are more of a power house than ever before.
2 glasses of wine will have the same effects as a bottle used to and will stain those sticky teeth immediately.
You become a detective as your tv viewing is dominated by Vera, Broadchurch, Line of Duty, Hinterland and any Scandi crime which you also love because you have to stop and watch the subtitles and not scroll through social media.
If you are parenting children under 11, they will exhaust you with their need for fresh air: cycling, rugby, football, frisbee.
Once your children hit senior school you will be exhausted by having to drag them out into the fresh air so that they are not in front of screens all of the time.
Caroline Hiron becomes your all time favourite woman, ever as things happen to your skin that you have never suffered with – acne, cystic acne, rosacea etc.
You don’t pick at the children’s leftovers anymore, you save them in a bowl for lunch the next day – genuinely.
Your teen children will relentlessly take the mickey out of you about any slip of the tongue. They will also think they have created coolness until you say “we used to do that”.
Your children know that if they come to you with any ailment, you will say “have a glass of water”.
You will be a part of the ‘sandwich generation’ looking after children and parents (they don’t mix, their needs are too diverse and they can’t tolerate each other for more than an hour.)
The primary school playground holds no interest at all; however senior school seems very interesting if only they’d let you in.
Education will shock you. You will say to primary school pupils “I’m sure I didn’t learn what an adverbial phrase was until senior school”; to teens you will say “I didn’t learn that for my GCSE’s, it’s new” – truth being you never ever learnt it, even if you did A Level maths …. it’s all newly created and I don’t know by whom.
You will introduce your teens to Friends re-runs (also Gavin and Stacey, Friday Night Dinner and Fawlty Towers) they, in turn, will introduce you to Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad (genuinely).
You will tell everyone with worries about their babies (breastfeeding, dummies, potty training etc.) that no one will ever ask their precious bundle of joy about whether they were breastfed, had a dummy, when they stopped wearing nappies. You will say “just do what is best and don’t take any notice of anyone who seems critical”.
Finally, once you have teenagers, you will realise that anything that went before was a bloody breeze. Gin helps (in moderation obviously, because you can’t show a teen that alcohol is good).
It’s sounds like a massive cliche but life really is a journey. I am learning more about myself and who I am as a Mum along the way. And in turn more about what I want from blogging.
I’ve realised my main objective is to be real. So here is a list of the ways me and my life are perfectly imperfect:
I sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) forget to brush the kid’s teeth.
We change our bed linen about every three weeks.
Sometimes my eldest’s bed linen has a faint whiff of wee.
I only remember to wash the towels when they start to smell damp.
1 in 5 plants will die in my care.
I never iron.
I do occasionally use hair straighteners to sort out the worst creases.
I pass off homemade cards from the kids as a cute craft project. The reality is I forget to pick actual ones of from Paperchase. Also, four quid for a card is a piss take!
My kids often eat pesto pasta more than once a week. I change the side vegetables though. So that’s ok.
Or fish fingers. Obvs.
I own several pairs of knickers that are older than Bertie.
Truthfully my biggest granny pants are my favourite.
Until recently there was a dress at the bottom of the laundry basket that I last wore in my twenties. I will never a) get round to getting it drycleaned b) fit back into it.
I am a jealous friend. I get a pang envy when I see two mates hanging out with out me.
I aspire to buy classic high-end fashion pieces. But am still a sucker for novelty fashion bits.
I sometimes drink milk straight for the carton. It’s posh almond milk though, so….
I sometimes (always) pretend to ignore that the bin needs taking out.
I haven’t kept-up with my first born’s baby book. I didn’t even start one with my second. Documenting their entire lives on social media an excellent alternative though. They’re sure to treasure those pixelled squares in years to come
My cupboards and draws are all a mess. And not just a bit.
The wendy house has become a very small garden shed where we shameless shove random shit.
Our car. How do I even begin to explain how hideous our car is?
Most of the play dough is either mixed to a nondescript brown shade, either that or its rock hard.
Our jigsaw puzzles are in complete.
The majority of lego men are headless
The olive oil hasn’t got a lid.
The pestle has no mortar.
I only buy grated cheese because I am too lazy to grate it for the kids.
Often the garlic, onion and potatoes have sprouted.
I never clean the oven.
Can never find the sellotape.
There are 3 layers of varnish on my toes. I couldn’t find the remover.
And as for the Plastics/Tupperware drawer. It only consists of mismatched sets and untouched pink Ikea plates, cups, bowls and cutlery which my boys CATEGORICALLY REFUSE TO USE.
I NEVER listen to my voicemails.
I recently had to remove my knickers midway through the day because they were cutting into my thigh.
I then went to dinner commando.
The boys end up in our bed every single night.
And no. The Gro Clock doesn’t work on them. Partly because I’m incapable of learning to set it even though I’ve read the instructions 67 times.
I know for a fact there’s a Christmas decoration (a large sparkly reindeer) on the shelf downstairs. It’s July. But hey we are nearer to next Christmas than last. So may as well leave him there.
There are at least 3 unsheathed tampons at the bottom of my bag.
They are frequently accompanied by a flaccid Babybel.
We still haven’t written Thank You Cards from The Boys Birthdays. In November and January.
That one genuinely makes me feel sick with shame.
Now I have started this list I don’t know if it’ll ever end.
You see there are SO many things that fall short of the ideal version of my life.
I reckon I could write it indefinitely.
But the reason I am writing them is not as some sort of list of shame.
I want to make prove to myself how minor they are.
How they aren’t worth worrying about.
I HOPE that these imperfection don’t make me rubbish or useless. They just make me really really normal.
Our house is respectable and homely.
My children are loved and healthy (although currently recovering from Chicken Pox).
My husband and I like each other the majority of the time.
We sometimes have sex.
I have a circle of incredible mates. We may not see as much as we once did. But when we do we have an excellent time.
My body isn’t as firm as it once was. My face isn’t as flawless. But it’s holding up OK.
The dog gets walked. (He only drinks from the potty once a week).
The dishwasher gets put on.
The mortgage gets paid.
We are happy. We are safe and we are trying our best.
Someone recently DM’d me with this AMAZING piece of advice.
It’s so good that it requires capital letters:
WE JUDGE THE WORST OF OURSELVES BY THE BEST OF EVERYBODY ELSE.
Take a moment to take that in.
It’s true. So so true.
Don’t believe the versions of peoples lives what you see online or even when you go round to have a glass of wine.
Everybody has crap hidden in their cupboards or stashed under the bed.
Everybody argues about the fact that men are incapable of seeing the stair pile.
Nobody has an underwear drawer of expensive, well fitting undies. Surely even the ones that do have a pair of ‘period pants’ lurking at the back?
Life is far too short to worry about immaculate bathrooms.
Truth is I’d rather my kids described to me as fun than pictured me as tidy but uptight.
I don’t expect them to be perfect. I love their flaws.
I want them to strive for happiness, not perfection.
I figure the way to do that is to lead by example.
To give ourselves a break.
To focus on feelings, not appearances.
Better a home filled with headless lego men and sticky Marmite jars, than a perfect facade with no space for soul, fun and the occasional spot of madness.
Even typing the title of this blog has made my blood run cold. A lesson to be kinder to my other half. Not putting your boxers in the wash basket is absolutely infuriating, but reading this reminded me how lucky I am to have him.
Here Helen shares her experience:
My husband Ade was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2007 at just 35 years old – Lottie my first child was just a 1year old….
Not all skin cancers are terminal obviously, but when you are told its stage 4 – that’s not good when 1 is low and 4 is high.
There is never a good time to receive this sort of information – but I had recently started a new job after my 9 months maternity leave with my 1-year-old daughter.
It was the anniversary of Ade’s death on April 8th – each year has got easier but it still hits me hard.
7 years on I am stronger, I have my gorgeous daughter Lottie – who makes me laugh like he did, I now have a lovely new partner to share things with and another daughter Anya / Sister for Lottie and a family unit again.
I wanted to share some of the things I learnt back then, struggled with & found out during the time Ade was ill & where I am now so that anyone else going through the same or knows someone who is – can hopefully be supported & see that time does heal and how resilient children can be through the whole thing.
Cancer throws you into this bubble that puts a lock down on may things in life that we / I enjoyed – career, travelling, DJing, hobbies, swimming, basically the patient & carer not being able to do many of the things they took for granted before.
Looking back you wonder how you got through it all and I know I did with the massive support of my amazing family and friends.
From diagnosis to death:
Humour gets you through everything! Ade was a very funny person and even in his last few days had us laughing around his bed in the hospice. This made the whole few years he was ill a totally different ball game than if he’d let cancer get the better of him. Although I’m not denying there were some very dark times too but they were outweighed by the good.
The care, help and support from family and friends were amazing – I really couldn’t have gone through it without that – everyone really wants to help in whatever way they can – they do not mind readers so sometimes you do need to ask for help. As a career, you also need to ask who’s supporting you?
Some workplaces will be really supportive of you / your partner’s situation – I was very lucky, my line manager & company were so compassionate during his illness. They let me take a lot of time off for tests, operations, weekly chemo, care for and to just be with Ade while he was ill. A friend whom I met at that time, who had been in exactly the same circumstances a few months earlier, wasn’t so lucky. I think she literally had a few weeks compassionate leave with her partner before he died from his cancer.
MacMillan’s are the absolute best! They not only support you & your partner through the whole time – they tell you all the things you need to know about dealing with cancer & benefits as a person dealing with cancer might need. I will never forget the love and care that we had from our MacMillan nurse – it was as if a family member was helping us through it all.
The National Health Service does an amazing job and there were some lovely people involved in the journey we had – The company I was woking for gave us Bupa care to its employees. However, it was more the speed in getting surgery that Bupa was any better in, not the care or amazing staff that both sides of Ade’s care had.
There are loads of great charities out there that offer help to you and your children – I was very proactive with this as I wanted to make sure I did what was best for Lottie. Winston’s Wish was recommended by another friend in a similar situation and was invaluable in knowing how to explain to Lottie, a then 2 – 3-year-old, what was happening to her Daddy. We now donate profits from one of the Disko Kids T-shirts to this amazing charity.
I have listed a number of UK charities below.
Brain surgery is the easiest surgery to recover from – Apart from swelling like Ade had been in a fight with Tyson 10 times in one night for a day – it was totally back to normal & he could come home. The kidney tumour was a tad worse, to say the least! although we did manage to get married a few weeks after.
Make a will – it made everything a lot easier afterwards.
Take loads of photos and videos – & then take more! I went over and above on this but have so many memories to show Lottie & now she is 10 and she is wanting to know more about him.
It was really hard but I tried to get Ade to write/talk on video as much about his life as he could. He wrote 2 birthday cards for her for me to give her in years to come ( that’s as many as I could get him to do.) One for under 10 the there for when she is older.
Having a memory box was also a great bit of advice that we were given from Winstons Wish. At Ade’s funeral, we asked everyone to write down some memories they had of him so that Lottie could look back & piece together what an amazing person he was.
There’s no denying there will be some dark days, weeks months after the funeral – the reality hits, people drift away after being there for you any time of day.
I still never can find the right words to say my partner died … I ‘lost’ my husband is one I seemed to use a lot – Like I went somewhere and just couldn’t find him again!
There are certain things that only your partner would have the answer to. Things that happened during childbirth for example – I haven’t got a fucking clue how long I was in full on contractions for but Ade would know – but probably best forgotten anyway!
Online food ordering became a necessity. I hate going to supermarkets to shop now, whereas I used to love pushing a trolley round the aisles – doing it with a 3-year-old who’s having a tantrum while you try and find a ripe pear was testing.
Dealing with technology & computer problems is so much harder on your own. I now have a bit of a phobia of learning new programs/technology – so much so that it sometimes makes me cry – I think it’s more the reminder of being alone and being in that ‘feeling helpless’ situation.
I was scammed by someone calling up one day shortly after Ade died – they told me I would loose all my photos & videos if I didn’t upload this program onto my computer – I did it then realised it was a scam. I went into an utter meltdown as those photos/videos were my record of Lottie’s Dad and were irreplaceable – luckily I had some brilliant friends on hand who spent the day helping me fix it & making sure everything was safe.
Coming back from a holiday with a full car ( camping with our 8 man tent was my first experience of this) and then having to unpack it all on your own at 9 pm at night is basically shit. Nothing else to say here apart from even shitter if it’s raining.
Don’t underestimate how much people want to help – My best friend would always say – you would do this for me if it was me wouldn’t you!? Would you come up from Kent and help me unpack the car after camping in the rain, please? no I didn’t ask that but she & lots of my friends would have done it for me then I know that.
People can’t read your mind, know how you are feeling so you have to tell them.
It’s good to cry.It’s good to talk.
Not only do you become a widow but you’re also thrown into ‘single Mum’ life also – there is another list on Clemmie’s blog which someone covers very well! Once you’ve been a single Mum you get it.
Be prepared to compare everything to do with your child’s development/persona/confidence on them losing their Daddy.
I went to the Dr’s to get referred to see a counsellor for Lottie even at that young age – They were able to advise on so many things like advising that Lottie could go to the funeral if she wanted to – Children don’t want to feel excluded from things.
Just ask your GP about counselling – if not go to one of the bereavement charities. Lottie is having counselling again now with ‘On the Horizon’ as I want her to be equipped to deal with all the emotions that might hit her as she approaches her teenage years.
Talk about / look at photos of your child’s father as much as you can with them – it keeps their memory alive.
Some people will avoid eye contact with you in the corridors at work – but now I realise they just didn’t know how to be with me. They hopefully won’t know how that feels.
The years after:
I always remember my counsellor saying relationships with certain friends will change. I found it very comforting spending time with Ade’s friends who were my friends too, however, some partners made this more difficult than it could have been through a time when I needed male company most.
I craved just chatting to / being with men shortly after Ade died – not in a flirty way, just having a laugh. I wanted Lottie to have men around her too – as suddenly she didn’t have the parent who does the silly stuff, put her on your shoulders stuff, the taking the mickey stuff, the tickle torture stuff which Lottie suddenly didn’t have anymore.
Keep busy – arrange to see friends/family. But also allow yourself to grieve.
Evenings were lonely – Music played a big part in my grieving – finding new music, rediscovering old. I’d virtually given up DJing when Ade was ill – I’ll never forget the time a friend gave me the opportunity to DJ on his boat party a few years after Ade had died – it was totally the right time and I now know what the saying ‘getting your Mojo back’ really means.
Kids are so resilient – but can also be super sensitive – be open with them about everything but don’t treat them differently.
Thrown into the life of not only a widow but also being a single Mum – always remember to stock up on milk and wine – you can’t just nip out at 9 o’clock to pick up a bottle!
Certain situations – when you least expect them to will throw you and knock you like number 50 bus hitting you. Music often does this with me.
Keep the memories alive – Lottie has a stone which she paints every Fathers day / Ade’s Birthday.
As time passes – It feels wrong to want to meet someone new but Ade always said I must move on and carry on with my life after he was gone.
When you do – you’ll probably feel judged for doing so – no one can tell you when you are ready for this – you will know & if you’re not you’ll know too!! I had a long time to grieve while Ade was ill. I had prepared myself for what was going to happen so my grieving was probably less than losing someone quite suddenly to cancer.
Don’t underestimate how difficult it might be for the new partner in your life. New relationships take the time to evolve between everyone in the family unit. Don’t push things to let them happen naturally.
7 years on life is good I’m with a new partner Chris. We’re engaged and have a 2-year-old who Lottie adores.
Chris & I have our own business together – I see Ade’s family regularly – I’ve got a very supportive family and great friends. I’m so proud & so would Ade be of what a lovely girl Lottie has grown into.
Memories are everything – make the most of every day – take lots of photos – they enhance those memories & I will never forget all the people who made ‘the bubble’ a lot more bearable.
Growing up having 3 kids was very much the norm. In fact, round me, there were several families who had four plus kids (including us), but these days is less common. Perhaps because we started having kids older? or the cost of bigger houses. That doesn’t mean 3 is off the cards, just that it something that takes a bit of thinking about.
Love this one from Gemma Capocci AKA @coffeekidsicecream who weighs up the pro’s and con’s of ‘going again’:
Deciding whether to have a baby is a big decision for anyone – whether it’s your first, second or fifth. There is the change of lifestyle to consider, finances, the size of your car, house and of course whether you’re willing to give up dancing to R Kelly’s Ignition with your work mates in the local cheesy boozer for a few months years.
However, the biggest decision for me would have to be whether to jump from the relative calm of two kids (ha!), to the outright chaos of three. After a little consideration, the other half and I decided to dive straight in and are expecting our third bundle this October. But for anyone who wants to take a more thoughtful (and frankly sane) approach, these are my arguments for and against baby number 3.
YOU’RE OUTNUMBERED – there are two parents, and you only have two hands, which means if you have three children you’re basically outnumbered at all times. I appreciate there must be magical ways to do the followingbecause as far as I’m aware, three kids or more doesn’t result in you being totally housebound, but how do you do simple things like get three mini beasts across the road safely? Go supermarket shopping or, in fact, go anywhere at all? I imagine organisation is key, which is worrying for someone who can rarely locate her car keys. But if all else fails, I guess you just fall back on the holy grail of parenting advice…just wing it, right?
SLEEP – Boy, I love a good kip. And as is generally known, it’s not something us parents get in abundance. The thought of wrestling with a small creature in the wee hours as I delicately try to place her in the bed nest beside me, only for her tiny eyes to shot wide open and for her piercing scream to wake the whole household, actually fills my throat with bile. But you never know, maybe the next one will sleep? Ha! Dream on!
SUPER SIZED – For us, baby number 3 will mean a bigger house (thank fudge for bunk beds in the meantime), a larger car and more expensive holidays. There is all the extra baby gear, particularly if you haven’t been sensible enough to save the last lot ( whoops). The bigger food bill, potential school fees, the list goes on. In short a lot of dollar and a serious dent in your finances. Be prepared!
YOUR BODY – Or more importantly, your pelvic floor. Can that underdeveloped muscle in your nether region, remembered only in the odd Pilates class, really withstand the pressure of another childbearing down against it? In my case, it appears not, as I have pissed my pants from every sneeze and cough from roughly week five onwards. Fun in hay fever season! And don’t forget the general stretching, loosening and vagina tearing. They say it takes 9 months to grow a baby, and 9 months to recover. For my body and baby 3, I’m guessing it might be more like 9 years… #myvaginawillneverbethesame
HAVE A LINE READY – All women who have been through a pregnancy will know that when you’re building a baby your body and all topics of conversation around said baby become free game for discussion. But baby number 3 brings on a whole new line of questioning,
“Are you mad””
“Was it planned?”
I could go on…
So have a line ready to pull out in such circumstances. Mine goes something along the lines of, “Yes I must be mad! Nope, not a practical decision… yep, always wanted a big family” and so forth. Also, for some reason, your decision to extend your family will always makethose who have decided to stick at two explain their own choices as if you’re somehow judging them for not joining you in bashing out baby 3. A word to the wise, practice your best smile and nod game in preparation
THE NOISE – I currently spend 95% of my time screaming, “BE QUUUIEET!” at my children whilst wishing I could obtain a small, non-serious injury that would require an overnight hospital stay, just to get some bloody P&Q. Chuck another kid in, this can only get worse…much worse…
BECAUSE I WANT ONE – There isn’t much rationale here. Like I said, the other half and I dove straight in because we knew we always wanted three – we both have two siblings and for us, that just feels the norm. When I was pregnant with my second, I knew I wasn’t done, and despite all practicalities and sensible thinking, our little (or big) family just wouldn’t be complete without adding baby 3 to the brood. It’s as simple as that
JUGGLING – The ultimate counter-argument to the outnumbered case above, but I personally found the jump from one to two children super difficult. You go from being able to shower all your love and attention on your first baby, to suddenly having to share it with another equally precious bundle. Impossible! But once you have got a grip on that (aka you’ve learned to shout, “JUST WAAAAIT!” at the top of your lungs), throwing in an extra kid isn’t going to be much harder, right? RIGHT?
LOVE – at the risk of making you barf up your breakfast, or whatever meal you last consumed, how can you resist the thought of another gorgeous child to love? My kids are beyond excited at the prospect of their baby sister arriving, and seeing how their relationship has grown in closeness (when they’re not dobbing each other in of course) makes my heart swell immeasurably with love. And worse case, the more kids we have, the more likely it is someone one of them will be willing to wipe our arses when we’re old and decrepit … please?
Bonnie (AKA @bon_ldn) and I are both Advertising Creatives. If asked, I would describe Bonnie as A) super stylish B) lovely C) talented and most of all D) ‘really together’.
But, as I have said before, appearances can be very deceptive. You see, not that long ago Bonnie went through a Nervous Breakdown. It was trigged by the birth of her second child and resulted in her being admitted to The Priory.
This is her experience:
You won’t know you are about to have a breakdown until it’s fully upon you like a tsunami of fear.
You won’t think people like you have breakdowns as you have worked for over 12 years in one of London’s biggest Advertising Agencies, talked to boardrooms full of people and travelled the world with big brands who rely on you to deliver great advertising. You think you coped ok with the stress, how can becoming a mother of two be so difficult?
On that day 4 years ago when you are walking around Westfield you will hear thousands of babies crying but you won’t realise that the sound you think is coming from your 3-month-old and your 3-year-old is actually coming from inside your head.
You will be put on antidepressants by a GP who will say “things may get worse before they get better” How much worse? Like you want to die worse?
The anxiety you will feel like you are on a crashing plane. Imagine you really are on a plane about to crash then imagine that feeling permanently day and night, complete and utter terror. It’s like one long panic attack but without the sweaty, shaky end when the adrenaline calms down.
You will want the plane to crash. You want it all to be over.
You won’t know it but your mum will be so worried that she calls The Priory hospital.
You won’t remember how you got to the hospital but you will wonder who is looking after your children as you are shown to a tiny room that feels like a prison cell.It’s only later that you learn that your sister goes every night to feed a bottle to your baby even though she has a sick child at home with a hole in the heart to deal with.
You will be taken to the ‘Addiction’ Wing’ not because you are addicted to anything but because “We like to put a mum or two in here with them as it calms everyone down and they need some mothering from time to time” WTF!
You will scream “I HAVE TO GET HOME TO MY BABIES! THEY NEED ME! “ over and over but no one will let you leave.
You won’t leave that place for another 6 weeks. That’s 42 days without your babies. Can you imagine that? that feeling like when you go away from them for a night and you can’t stop thinking of them? well, multiply it by a thousand but with no end date for when you might actually see them again.
And so your life as a patient in a mental hospital begins. You don’t eat for the first 2 weeks, you feel physically sick… your breasts will still be leaking milk as you’d been trying to wean your baby onto bottles when the breakdown hit. You will sit on your bed leaking tears and milk spaced out on a cocktail of medication and I just keep asking for them to put you to sleep, to make it all stop, the fear, the guilt and pain of being separated from your children. Just make it STOP!
I’m not sure what you know about The Priory, maybe you think of the celebs who go there like Kate Moss or the Z-listers who go there to recover from breakdowns after their stars start to loose their shine. It may seem like a glorified Big Brother house but it is very far from it.
You will see and hear things that will haunt you forever. People who had been through so much, incest, sexual abuse, victims of war, PTSD…rape I’ve listened to every detail of their stories, I’ve held them when they sobbed and I’ve ingested all their pain and I now carry it with me forever. But you will also see people just like you, mums who just couldn’t cope.
You will see someone who has taken their own life. Nothing will EVER prepare you for that. The purple, swollen body of a young woman on a stretcher in front of you. She had been alive earlier and now she was dead.… looking at her you think it’s like looking at yourself dead. You can’t un-see something like that. You will think about that girl often in your darker times. She will become a reminder of what COULD of happened, but what didn’t.
You WILL recover.
It’s now been 4 years since i emerged from The Priory and from my breakdown. But a bit like when you break your leg, you still get twinges from time to time that remind you how fragile you are. It took me a couple of years to fully get to grips with my depression and anxiety but then it reared it’s ugly head again last year. I know it’s something that i may always have to live with.
What you will learn from having a breakdown?
That you are stronger than you ever thought possible.
That mental health is like any other part of health and wellbeing, your brain can get sick too.
That it’s ok to not be ok and to remember to talk to people once those feelings and negative thoughts start to take over.
You will connect with loads of people through social media who have had similar experiences and you will start to feel less of the shame and guilt about what you went through.
You will discover IAPT services ( Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) and that you can self-refer to a local mental health service in your area.
You will think CBT isn’t for you but once you actually try it you realise just how much it will help you.
You will recommend it to EVERYONE.
You will develop a kind of Gay-dar but for mental health problems and be able to spot the signs if someone may be suffering in silence and will approach them and ask if they are ok?
You will still need to take a tiny bit of medication from time to time but know that that’s fine as most people you know are on something and that one day you may not need it.
You will be a ‘work in progress’ and will continue to search for a way to live your life without the fear of going back to that place.
You will also accept that anxiety is a part of your life, and without it you can’t tackle that big brief and will learn to harness all that neurotic energy.
You may well tell random strangers about your breakdown, the girl who gave you a massage in that fancy spa, the Postman, the Ocado driver. You will want to share it like a dirty secret as you will want to purge it from your mind and normalise it.
You will do a list about it to tell many more people that you made it through a breakdown In the hope that if anyone reading it and who may be suffering, may feel that its ok to not be ok, that it happens to normal people like you and me and you will survive, just like i did.
Guest Lists come to me in all sorts of ways, but this is the first time I have been recommended one by someone on behalf of their friend.
Sarah got in touch to tell me about her buddy Gemma who she described as: “having a knack for using sarcasm & honesty as a way of dealing with difficult things in life and so she talks openly about mental health, suicide & death in a funny, sometimes ‘on a knife edge’ kinda way. I love her for it & it’s certainly helped me when dealing with loss through suicide.”
Gemma sounded exactly like the kind of person I like and admire. I am honoured to share this brave piece about losing her Dad to suicide:
In the early morning of 9 June 2014, two police officers came to my flat to tell me that my father had taken his own life. This is a list highlighting my thoughts and experiences, and what I think we could all do to help our fellow human beings.
My dad was 46 years old when he died.
He had been diagnosed with depression 5 months earlier.
He had walked me down the aisle at my wedding 7 months earlier.
At my wedding, I had no idea of how he was already suffering.
His depression manifested itself in a few ways, one of them being severe hypochondria, which he also projected onto my mother. He was convinced she was going to die from sleep apnoea (she has never had sleep apnoea).
Before having depression, my dad was the kind of guy who would brush mental health off as a non-issue. Like many of us, he didn’t understand it.
He was a funny guy before he got poorly. But I suppose there were always signs that he wasn’t as laid-back as first impressions might have suggested.
I try to be funny too. In fact, I use [often inappropriate] humour as a coping mechanism. I have to work hard to rein this in and limit it to my closest friends, or I risk coming across as horribly tasteless.
My dad liked taking the piss out of his mates, having a few drinks, and going on holiday.
But when he got poorly, my mum found it difficult to encourage him to even go to the local pub.
I can’t remember the last time I saw my dad but I know it was approximately 3 months before he died (he lived in Yorkshire, me in London).
I used to call my parents every Sunday night.
My dad killed himself on a Sunday night, and I hadn’t called that evening as I was going out.
I regret that choice a lot. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a different but I’ll never know.
There is no single word to describe how I felt when the police officers told me what had happened.
Well, “numb” is as good a word as any.
I was so numb I couldn’t even tell you what the police officers looked like or even what gender they both were.
I do remember feeling relieved too – because when the police officers first started talking I assumed both my parents were dead. Why else would the police come round instead of my family calling me?
(Because my phone was off).
I now have an irrational fear of my doorbell going after a certain time of night. I know most people probably feel a worried jolt when this happens, but whenever anyone mistakenly rings the bell to our flat (a common occurrence) my heart rate takes a LONG time to go back to normal.
When my dad died, I distinctly remember not crying, or at least not properly, for a while.
I’m still not sure I’ve really truly cried properly. Even writing this, I’m not feeling emotional. It’s only when I stop to think that I will literally never see him again that I get a buzzing in my head and I have to stop thinking.
I’m not great at talking about my feelings around my dad’s suicide which is why I started my blog.
Losing my dad made me wish I wasn’t an only child.
There are considerable administrative jobs you have to do when someone dies.
When someone takes their own life, there are even more. The police will get involved as it is a death from unnatural causes. We had to wait for the police to release my dad before we could plan his funeral. There has to be an inquest before you can even get a proper death certificate.
My dad’s death certificate made it really obvious that he’d took his own life, and how he’d done it. I had to send it to so many people and companies (service providers, solicitors, etc. Even my college wanted it as I had to ask for a deadline extension). Every time I sent it I wondered if they would read the details.
If someone asks how my dad died, I tell them the truth. It took me a while to work out how best to say it. There are semantic connotations with the phrase “he committed suicide” that a lot of people have problems with, so I stick with “he took his own life”. “He killed himself” is just that little bit too abrupt.
Although, often when I tell people, they have a similar story to share.
Losing a parent is horrific. Losing a parent when they’re still young is even more so. And losing a parent to suicide is unimaginable.
No matter how much you understand that it’s an illness that has made a person choose to end their life, you will always, always question what you could have done differently.
I will always wonder if my dad knew how much I loved him, how much I doted on him. Because if he did, surely he wouldn’t have taken his own life?
(That’s a rhetorical question. I just have to hope he did know.)
My grandparents both outlived their son. My mum lost her husband of 27 years.
Since my dad died I have become a mother, and it breaks my heart that my dad will never know his grandson.
The year my dad died, he was one of 6,109 others in the UK who also took their own lives. 76% of those people were men.
Talking to others bereaved by suicide, it’s clear that it affects EVERYONE. Even if the person who died wasn’t your best friend or family member, you are left wondering how death became the only decision left to make.
I’m no expert on mental health. This is the closest experience I’ve had with it. I want to join the fight to address it but it is overwhelming thinking about what needs to be done when I couldn’t save one person who was so dear to me.
One of their partners, and one of my favourite charities, CALM, focuses specifically on preventing male suicide. They suggest that there are “social and cultural barriers that prevent men from speaking out”.
My dad was a tough-looking, big-muscled burly guy. And I do think he felt expectations to be a ‘manly man’ not someone who discusses their feelings or takes action to address their mental health wellbeing.
This is the attitude that needs to change. I may not be a mental health expert but the voices speaking out at the moment make it clear that more conversations need to happen to reduce the stigma around mental health wellbeing and mental health illness.
We live in a nation which has a reputation for a “stiff upper lip” and, arguably, emotional repression.
OK, so you probably shouldn’t outpour your deepest darkest emotions in your next job interview, but I cannot fathom why our mental health isn’t given the same focus as other aspects of our health.
We understand that diseases like heart disease, cancer, stomach ulcers, ruptured appendices, etc. create physical damage so why is it so hard to accept that our mental health can become damaged in a similar way?
After having my son, I did notice a focus on my mental health as a new mother – health visitors would always address my own feelings in addition to my son’s fluctuating weight. Information on warning signs of postnatal depression was readily available. Wonderful mum and dad bloggers are out there, helping you understand that your feelings are normal.
We need more of this. Conversations around mental health wellbeing – and not just aimed at people who are already experiencing mental health issues but EVERYONE. Because my dad is proof that mental illness can affect ANYONE – like cancer, it is non-discriminatory.
Charities like Heads Together, CALM, Mind, etc. are addressing the big conversations; tackling fear, prejudice and stigma.
But we can help them. Little steps can make big differences.
Something we can all do is be kinder to one another. Yeah OK, it is easier said than done, but sometimes (and I’m guilty of this too) we humans are totally unreasonable even to total strangers.
I’ll use myself as an example (and I’m by no means the worst) – I’ve been passive-aggressive and unnecessarily rude to fellow commuters, call centre staff, professionals who happen to work for a company that has wronged me in some way, etc.
What if one of these people had been feeling like my dad was towards the end of his life? A jumped-up commuter / customer/ general dick isn’t going to help the situation.
So let’s be kinder to our fellow humans. I’m not saying be a push over but since losing my dad I try thinking twice before muttering that passive-aggressive comment. And if I don’t think twice in time, I apologise.
And talk to each other. When my dad was ill, I found it so hard to talk to him because he didn’t want to talk about how he was feeling. How can we help someone get better from an illness we often can’t begin to understand?
But we can only try.
Small actions from everyone could change the world.
Continuing the the theme of ‘lists from people I went to school with’ this one is from May Lagan AKA @therellbedayslikethis.
May is Mum to four. And sister to ten. That’s right her parents had ELEVEN kids. Growing up I was SO intrigued by her family. Now, having had kids I find it mindboggling that a household could possibly function with so many people in it. Not mention the HUGE respect I have for her Mum and Dad for a) getting through it b) making humans as lovely as May.
Here, she tells us what it’s like to grow up being ‘One of Eleven Kids’:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you decide to have more than three children you are utterly insane.
After you have your first child, people ask when you would like another. After your second, people ask if you would like another. After that, people ask why the holy heck you would like another.
I’ve officially reached the number of children where people have stopped saying, “Congratulations” and switched instead to, “Good luck”.
The NHS should prescribe TV licenses as contraception given the number of people who find it hilarious to question if we have one. (Actually, our TV was broken at the time but that’s by the by, alright?)
Perhaps I am naïve but, as the third eldest of eleven children, four doesn’t really faze me. I’ve had a really good experience of growing up being surrounded by ten clothes-stealing-raucous-snitches with the same big teeth and eyebrows as me.
Yes, there are downsides. You have to sacrifice important things like space and privacy. Luckily we grew up on a farm so there were plenty of escape routes – the field, the hay barn, the aptly named isolation unit (for sick pigs and errant siblings.)
There are other sacrifices too. Take holidays for example, which were often a 2 hour car journey to Birmingham to visit our grandparents with a sibling kicking your shin whole way and never a Thomas Cook all inclusive with pool.
We were lucky to go on some good holidays to Center Parcs though. Not a cheap option for a big crowd and I therefore acquired the ability to curl into a small enough ball to slot into a car footwell alongside a four year old with a coat over us and still manage to find breathing space for us both.
‘Squeezing in’ also meant that if you drew the short straw you had to sleep on the (surprisingly comfortable) sofa.
The downside to this being that the living room is in the middle of all bedrooms so snoring and flatulence was in surround sound.
It also meant you were awake as soon as the earliest riser was.
However it did guarantee you breakfast in bed each morning. Plus you had the authority to demote your siblings off the sofa and on to the floor for the entire duration of the holiday.
We’ve had to make similar sacrifices with our children when it comes to holidays. Think less Hotel Du Vin and more Hotel Du CamperVan.
It’s not all about missing out though. Being in a big family means there’s always lots to celebrate. So much so that my 2 year old, whenever handed a phone, automatically breaks into singing ‘Happy Birthday’.
Growing up in a crowd, you develop a (life-long) complete inability to see something you would like to eat and save it for later. It won’t be there later so you must eat it now, all of it, even if it is an entire sherry trifle at 6.45am. And quickly, because if somebody catches you they will fight you for it. It’s a survival skill.
The kitchen was truly the hub of the home, with the table at any one time being resting place for any strange combination of belongings – a collection of Play Doh creatures (always brown – keeping the colours separate with so many contributors was impossible), some Food Technology GCSE coursework, Just17, the Sunday Times crossword…
I don’t remember a Sunday at home that didn’t involve a roast dinner. Dad always took pride in cooking and carving the meat, while mum nailed the roast potatoes and always had a way of making the vegetables interesting. The perfect team.
Mum was always up early and coming down for breakfast was like walking onto the factory floor at Ginsters with a production line of packed lunches on the go. There was always one of us standing over her on quality control, making dissatisfied noises over today’s sandwich filling. I remember complaining that we never got to have Um Bongo or Iced Gems like my school friend, Lorna. If only I could go back to my then self – what my mum did to keep us all fed and happy was nothing short of incredible.
Ah, my mum. People used to ask me how she did it and I would laugh it off as if that is some sort of silly question. She had us older ones to help out, of course! Only now do I realise that managing tears and tantrums from toddlers and teenagers in tandem is no mean feat, and that me occasionally cleaning a bathroom/younger sibling’s behind was merely a small drop in a very large, poo-filled ocean.
I can’t downplay my dad’s role though. I’m not sure if it was a skill he acquired through raising lots of children but he was always good at staying calm and finding a solution, on whatever scale. I remember one occasion when he was getting us ready for school as my mother was away (presumably in hospital after giving birth to one of my siblings) and the hairbrush was nowhere to be seen. He acted with determination and quick wit, selecting an appropriate Stickle Brick for the job – we were good to go.
Dad was also best at budgeting so he was often appointed the role of chief food shopper. During the BSE scare we ate like kings, dining on T-Bone steak pretty much every night! Dad also liked to stock up on box loads of crisps that none of us really liked because they lasted for ages.
History has a way of repeating itself. My husband stops at M&S on his way home from work most nights as he’s calculated the perfect time to pick up yellow stickered food. It’s reached the stage where the staff know him and point him in direction of good deals. I have to ban him sometimes while we make our way through the reduced price Dim Sum, Aberdeen Angus Beef Burgers and Harissa Peperonata Focaccia that’s jamming up the freezer. He’s got so good at it, I think he could scale up and roll it out as a business – HelloNotSoFresh.
The car was always full (somebody always needed taking somewhere and siblings would volunteer as willing passengers to escape the chaos).
As were the bathrooms (also a good place to escape the chaos).
And the washing machine.
But never the fridge. The food shopping literally got unpacked straight into our mouths.
Christmases were and are amazing – the excitement is contagious. So too, sadly, is the norovirus, which is why Christmas 2007 will not go down as the best.
When you are living with lots of people, sickness bugs can tear through you like wildfire. This is not the time you can appreciate close living quarters, sharing bathrooms (if you were lucky to get there first) or buckets. There is always one person in the household acting smug that they managed to escape the illness, only to catch it two weeks later than everyone else. This is normally my brother, Eddie, who does everything two weeks later than everyone else.
We may share the same teeth and eyebrows but there is an end to our similarities. We have all chosen different career paths. I have lucked out as among them include a midwife, a physiotherapist and a (nearly) dentist. I just need some of the younger ones to take up plumbing and beauty therapy and that is all my maintenance issues taken care of.
Keeping in touch with so many siblings can be tricky – until Whatsapp came along. Much like the kitchen table, the group messages are a strange concoction of kid’s artwork (this time belonging to the grandchildren), photos of nights out, something weird that somebody wants diagnosing, exam results and the like.
Sometimes I wonder where my day has gone then I realise I must have spent at least 2hrs replying to the 186 messages that came through in the past 24 hours.
When I say 24 hours, I mean 24 hours. The younger siblings always message late, while watching something inspiring on television or feeling ‘conversational’ after a few drinks, my mum (still incapable of switching off or lying in) normally checks in at 4am after letting the dogs out while the peak time for us older siblings is around 6.50am while spooning Rice Krispies into a toddler. Plus there is normally one of us (never me) out of the country in another time zone, smugly posting sunset selfies for the rest of us to wake up to. Git.
My parents made raising a large brood look easy. Perhaps they are the masters of deception. Perhaps I was too caught up in my own growing up haze to notice the hard work they were putting in. Perhaps it is only through becoming a parent myself that I have been able to appreciate the challenges they must have dealt with.
However my parents did it, there is no denying it is a big job. So, why have we not stopped at three?
My husband asked the other day if there is any chance I could give birth to an adult! I’m sure most nurseries employ a more favourable adult:child ratio, and we’re talking people who have qualifications in looking after children. So really, why have we not stopped at three?
Well, I don’t have any qualifications in looking after children. I’m not going to pretend I find parenting a walk in the park (although there are lots of those). I’m not making life easy for myself, but what kind of life do you end up having led if you always select the easy option?
Growing up in a large family has set me up well for parenthood. It’s given me this ability to zone out in chaos – the mayhem, madness, melee – it often just washes over me. And re that quick eating practise, it’s useful when I only have 5 minutes in between picking Babybel skin out of the carpet and racing out for the school run. Plus the lack of privacy I have become accustomed to means I’m not bothered when my 4 year old wants to tattoo my leg in biro while I’m on the toilet. Welcome one and all.
I haven’t yet found another use for my ability to curl into a footwell sized ball, but I am sure it will come in handy again one day.
Being one of eleven has also given me an irrational fear of being lonely. I’ve learnt to enjoy the chaos of a busy household so much so that, on the rare occasion I am home alone, I feel uneasy. My siblings have provided a constant source of company, and now my children do too. I seem to have this urge to fill my life with people who mean something to me. Having kids seems a fun way to do that.
Love is a funny thing, you would think it had a limit, that you would somehow have to divide it around, but it doesn’t work like that. The more you give, the more you get back, then the more there is to divvy out. It’s kind of addictive – I think that’s my problem! If only I could say the same for time.
That newborn head smell is pretty addictive too.
The idea of a large family might seem nuts, but it’s my normal. Through it, I’ve learnt there is no such thing as a perfect family – no perfect age to start having children, even if you decide never to, no perfect number of children, no perfect age gap between children. If there is love there you can build something special, whether there are two of you or twenty.