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Ten New Years resolutions that will help your mental health

2018-background-celebration-714703It’s New Year’s Day and I am hungover. Not the best start to the year but my mind seems to be in a good place and I am determined to start this year as I mean to go on. My mental heath is a priority to me, and in my opinion it should be everyone’s priority. Some of us may assume that our mental health is always going to be good but why take it for granted.

I have made ten resolutions that I think will help you stay mentally healthy…

1. Get more exercise

I try to run three times a week, I plan on continuing this and also would like to add some strength exercises because I am not getting any younger and my arm skin is starting to flap. The benefits of exercise are multiple, not only does it help you stay in shape but for me it’s a mental exercise, a time to reflect and also gives me the best sense of achievement. Get yourself moving!!

2. Get more sleep

I am a terrible sleeper, I regularly wake at 2.30am and stay awake for hours. So this year sleep is going to be my priority. I am going to ensure I relax in the evening, read instead of being on my phone and get to bed early. I have said it time and time again but lack of sleep is my number one trigger for my mental health to slip, so it makes sense that it is my priority.

3. Get off your phone

The new iphone updates remind me of the amount of screen time I have had. Its shocking and I am pretty sure I am not alone. The problem with our phones and social media is that its a constant comparison competition and thats not healthy. We rarely post a pic of a really average fairly lousy day but we do post the happy moments. Even though we are aware that this isnt a true reflection of peoples lives we still compare ourselves. So for me, the phone is going down more and I am going to enjoy my life and those around me.

4. Learn something new

For christmas I got roller skates and I am determined to become good at it (i will be cursing myself when I am sat in a&e next week with a broken wrist). Its about doing something for yourself and having a sense of achievement. I also want to make some crochet goods (a crochetting roller skater I hear you say). Pick something that you have always wanted to do and go for it (it can be big or small).

5. Plan your life

I love lists and I love a calendar but I still forget things. When I forget something I feel bad in myself. So lets plan more. I like to have a full page diary so I can list what I need to do each day. I also have a calendar for the whole family to use. A sense of being organised is incredibly calming for your mind.

6. Learn to meditate

At Christmas I was discussing this with my brother and we both want to work on taking my mind to a place of calm, to clarify our thoughts and have more peace. I have an app on my phone but eventually I want to be able to just do it myself, anywhere. By giving yourself a couple fo minutes everyday will give you so many benefits and massively reduce your stress levels.beach-calm-dawn-267967.jpg

7. Keep a diary

Whether its a blog or an actual diary its very cathartic to write down your thoughts. Its sometimes easier to read your thoughts once written down, plus I dont think we write enough nowadays. I plan on having a physical diary and from that I will use my thoughts to write blogs, or not… its just about releasing some of your feelings, worries and stresses.

8. Be kinder to yourself

Self belief is not something that comes naturally to me and I am very critical of myself. So this year I want to work on the words that I tell myself become kinder. I want to cut myself some slack and look at the positive things that I do. Self affirmations are a great way to start, write a list of what you want to hear about yourself and what you want to achieve in your day “I will be great today” “I will be kind today” “I am a strong person”.

9. Help others 

By helping others you are able to leave your own troubles and focus on someone else. It also allows you to connect with other people. I am not saying that you have to go out and volunteer all of your time but just the odd job here and there. Help a friend with the school run? Help an elderly relative take their shopping in? It doesnt matter what it is but I always thing that these good deeds will be payed back to you when you need help.

10. Be Thankful

Stop and think about all the wonderful aspects of your life (list them if need be). I soend so much time worrying about things and focusing on things that I cannot control I have prone to forgetting what I have. Take being thankful into your everyday and your outlook of life will become far more positive.advertisement-advertising-font-519

So I hope these 10 resolutions will help you, I have also written a few more personal ones for myself but I think these are pretty good all rounders.

Happy New Year to you all, since writing this my hangover has lessened slightly and i feel inspired to get my arse into gear and get dressed. Heres to a brilliant 2019.

xxx

 

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Childhood Mental Wellbeing

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World Mental Health Day is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. 

 

Well that sounds like a pretty important day to mark if you ask me. I spend a lot of my time on social media talking about my own experiences when it comes to my mental health. I do this to try and normalise mental health and do my little bit in reducing the stigma attached to it.

While that goes on what I also feel incredibly passionate about is childhood and adolescent wellbeing. Depression, anxiety and many other mental health battles are becoming more and more common amongst young people. 1 in 10 young people will be affected by mental health problems but unfortunately 70% of these won’t get the appropriate interventions. 

It’s become clear that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health. Just last night I went to a talk about teenage anxiety and it was filled with great and simple advice to help our children. 

  • healthy eating 
  • Exercise
  • Good sleep
  • Less social media 
  • Less screen time
  • Turn off phone at night 
  • Keep hydrated 
  • Talk 

This all being said the government have promised changes and to increase the budget given to childhood mental health services because at the moment needs are not being met due to huge shortfalls in the system. The NHS is stretched and waiting times for initial interaction after a mental health referral from your GP is 18 weeks and even after that your child/ the child may not meet the criteria as only the most critical cases can be seen. This means we as adults whether it’s parents, friends, teachers, grandparents, family members etc, we need to help this younger generation. There are a huge number of websites out there which have great references.

Here are some great sources of support

  • Great site for young people and parents. It even has a parent hotline.

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https://youngminds.org.uk/ here

  • A brilliant page for young people to feel safe and can speak about their problems

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https://kooth.com/ here

  • Get some ideas and downloads for ways to cope. We have to help ourselves.

https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk// here

  • A fantastic site for parenting advice. They also run handon workshops! We all need help and advice when it comes to parenting.

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http://www.theministryofparenting.com/ here

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My Daughters Hip Dysplasia

 

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Some of you will have heard of hip dysplasia and some of you will not have. I am sure you remember at the hospital when they check your babies hips at birth, part of what they were checking is for hip dysplasia. When babies have it there are many different treatments. Some are placed in a spica cast which immobilises the movement in the hips, so allowing them to heal or form properly and others have operations early on. It must be hard for mums and dads to have to see this but from the numerous groups I am now a member of many of these babies go on to be absolutely fine and have no future problems. Having said this there are babies and children who aren’t as lucky and end up having to have quite a few procedures throughout their early years. With my daughter it was a very different case, as with her there was no indication when she was very little.

 

5 years ago Anya started complaining about pain in her hip, she was 7 years old. It wasn’t constant nor was it so painful that I initially felt there was anything to worry about, I thought it was growing pains or something like that. After a few episodes when I could see she was uncomfortable and then her teacher mentioning it at the end of school I took her to the doctor. We were sent to hospital for an X ray but came back with nothing to show on it. This went on for another 2 and a half years, trips to A&E and being told there is nothing wrong. Then one day a few months after an x-ray was taken I got a call from my GP saying that it had been reviewed and that they thuoght Anya had Perthes disease. This is when blood doesn’t reach the bone and so eventually the bone will deteriorate. Obviously I was very worried and we were referred to an paediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Addenbrookes Hospital.

 

It was at this appointment that we were told that it definitely wasn’t Perthes disease (huge relief) but it was hip dysplasia (worry again). It was clear from the X rays what the problem was and before I could catch my breath the surgeon was talking of which surgery would solve the problem. Anya’s hip didn’t sit correctly in her hip joint, it was as simple as that and surgery was the only option, if we wanted her to be pain free. It was also explained that if we didn’t operate, early arthritis and a new hip would be likely.

 

Over the next 6 months we had a few meetings with the surgeon. It was decided that she would have a femoral osteotomy on the right leg which would change the direction the hip sat in the socket. It was major surgery and as I had never seen any of my babies put under anaesthetic before, let alone cut open, bones broken and pinned together, the whole thing was hard to take in. The waiting time was lengthy with the NHS but eventually in November last year (Anya was 11), we went in to have the surgery.

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Anya was so brave. She had had a small procedure in the summer to put dye in the joint, so she was aware of what the going to sleep process would entail. She didn’t like it much last time so they gave her a pre-med which made her cry with laughter by the time time she got to theatre mearly from being pushed down the halls and waving at strangers. We left her for nearly 5 hours in theatre, I know this is Anya’s story, but for me those hours were the strangest and hardest of my life. I had complete faith in the team but still there were always risks. It was a struggle seeing her in recovery too as she would not come around and hours later she was still sedated (I think she just liked the sleep). She had also lost a huge amount of blood in surgery and was lucky to not need a transfusion, which will obviously lead to a slower recovery.

 

The next day the realisation of the extent of what had been done hit home. Firstly Anya was very sick from all the drugs and in huge amounts of pain, the morphine button was being pressed constantly and she went days eventually without eating. The hardest thing to see was that though they assured us the operation was a success she really couldn’t move at all. Though I think part of it was her fear, for the next 48 hours they spent managing her pain and eventually she sat up. The 3 days expected in hospital became a week, but in that time Anya became able to walk with her crutches and was taught to get up the stairs safely.

 

I am now going to jump to where we are 5 months later. It’s been a long 5 months with the logistics of getting Anya to and from school and catching up on school work. Then there were the few falls that she had (one of which was me throwing her out of her wheelchair – worst mum ever), these falls resulted in a pin that was keeping the plate on her bone in place moving. Her bone growth was also slower than it should have been but we are where we are.

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So now, we still have weekly trips to Addenbrookes for physio and just last week we faced our next huge hurdle to overcome. Anya’s legs are now different lengths, to such an extent that more surgery will be needed. I have to say I am pretty devastated but at the age of 12 being told by orthotics you will need to have “special shoes” made for life, I know it is something we will have to do.

In fact Anya will need another 3 operations, 2 (at least) to correct the leg length and one to remove the pins and plate and shave some of the hip bone away at this operation as her physical shape has changed. It is now wonky (her words are “I am like KIm K but only on one side). We knew it may show but not to this extent. There is an element of vanity here but I don’t believe that a girl her age should live with this if there is another option and they will be doing an operation anyway to remove the pins and plate when they shave the bone.

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Anya has shown the most amazing amount to courage to get through all this, the time in hospital, missing her friends, the endless appointments, the pain, the scar, having to walk with a crutch still. I don’t think many 12 years olds would cope so well.

 

We are not at the end of Anya’s hip dysplasia story and so I hope soon to write another blog about a child who can run again. I know that what we have had to do is so that Anya is pain free but I would be lying if I didn’t feel so much guilt about so many aspects of it all. If only I had spotted the issues earlier, if only I had pushed when we had the endless trips to A&E, if only I could be the one going through all this instead of her.

I know that it could be a great deal worse for Anya, and I am well aware that there are a huge number of children (and adults) coping with much more but as a mother I have found this extremely challenging. We are lucky to be where we are, and have the NHS, but I just wish this chapter of our lives will be over soon.

 

I have asked Anya to write her feelings and outlook about what is most definitely her journey

 

“When I was told I had hip dysplasia I was quite shocked and scared. When the surgeon showed me (on an x ray) what was wrong it seemed really obvious. In some ways I felt relieved because I finally had some sort of resolution to the problem. It was overwhelming, because they immediately started talking about operations, but I felt like I was in good hands.

 

Now I have had the operation the pain that I had in my hip has gone but I have pain elsewhere because of having the surgery and my (now) uneven legs make my back hurt. I am not nervous about having to have the upcoming  operations but I know that the results are not guaranteed so that scares me a little. I think the biggest issue is that it’s been so frustrating, I can’t do things I want to do, or see people I want to see but I know I am so lucky to have the care I have from the hospital and my family.”

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Separated parents, parenting together

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We live in the modern world and a considerable percentage of us are not with the mother/father of our child. This is the case with me, but I have 2 ex’s and 3 children. My eldest two from my first marriage, and my youngest from a relationship after that. Having to deal with ex partners/husbands/ wives can be a nightmare, especially at the beginning, but what I have learnt along the way and what I am still learning is that having a “bad” relationship is unhealthy and destructive to your child, but also for your own well being.

When I was going through my divorce I never thought my ex husband and I would ever be friendly again, we couldn’t talk to each other and used (very expensive) lawyers as go between, by the end of the divorce and child residency I alone wracked up a bill of £30,000. It is such a ludicrous amount of money, but when I look back at it now do I regret that cost? no I don’t, because through it all, through all the courses and meetings, mediation and solicitors letter, I learnt a great deal and I am proud of my relationships that I have with my daughters fathers. I learnt from my first break up how to deal with the second and a lot of it is quite simple.

There was a stage where, during our court process, the only words that were passed between my daughters’ father and I were via a ‘communications book’, now thinking of it it seems awful but actually it was a very sensible way to ensure that no bad words were ever passed in front of the children, also this communication book could be called into court at any time so it made us be think before we wrote (this was a valuable lesson). It is something that both the court and CAFCASS would recommend if needed. In fact the suggestion of a communication book came about because we were both sent on a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) course by the judge. You go separately but I wasn’t sure about it but knew I had to, and I am so pleased I did. We were shown a heartbreaking film which demonstrated the impact that poor communication between separated parents has on children. As a group and with the teachers we discussed the film, one point that was reiterated and is very common in the modern age were messages sent via texts and other apps, due to not having to face the person, nor hear the voice it is easy to let the situation become angry and words can get typed that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face (obviously this is the most common way to communicate, but while things are fraught its most likely the worst approach). If an argument happens in this way, the parent who has the child in their care will be affected by it and that will impact the child, it made me realise how destructive it was. Sometimes now, when I am in a conversation with either Dad and I can feel it veering towards bad vibes the conversation stops for another day. 9 times out of 10 nothing more needs to get talked about, it was all in that moment and could have easily escalated.

Whether it’s in the early stages, or further along (when new partners are involved, or house moves happen), it is sometimes very hard to come to an understanding of what is going to happen with decisions to do the children, it is easy to always find fault in the other parent’s suggestions due to anger you may feel. What was reiterated by SPIPs was the fact you cannot control the other parent (whether straight after the separation or 5 years down the line) and you can only be responsible for yourself. What I also found very true was that up until recently you had been in a relationship with this person, you had loved them at one point (most probably) and you had chosen to have a child with them. So to then change your tune after breaking up and conclude that the other parent is incapable or has faults will not only seem insincere but also will be projected onto your child/children as perhaps a feeling they did not come from a loving relationship. Your job as a parent is to be the adult, and the best thing for your child is to support the other parent.

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After our course we came up with a child residency order which was agreed on but then was altered a few years later. During the second round of the court process we were sent to CAFCASS and we had meetings with a team who spoke with great insight into co parenting and the benefits for children. We covered many topics and made ‘contracts’ about the upbringing of the girls, they helped us open up communications and taught us that it was imperative for our kids to make decisions together. I am not saying it was all easy, but due to the fact we were not in the midst of our own break up, it allowed us to be productive rather than blaming each other. Some relationships, even years later constantly blame and have a power struggle, but I will talk about that next). The point that was very evident was that we were not in a relationship anymore  and so though we could make it hard for the other person and throw words at each other, the only person it will ever hurt is the child.

When my next break up happened, things could have been very difficult and I think that our relationship and break up could have ended in a high conflict situation, but I am really proud at the decision from both of us to to have a unity for our daughter. We knew she was and is the only thing that matters and once you come to terms with the fact you are not together there is no need for anything other that parental duties.

High conflict parents will be the first to tell you that it’s not their fault, I have met many people like this, and it is not a criticism (I absolutely understand how it feels, its where i was many moons ago), but it is hindering themselves and their children. They will always blame the other parent and I can clearly remember a judge in court one day telling me that once you get in to a situation where you are constantly arguing it is only with mediation that you will have some calm. To quote The Happy Family Lawyer “They will be so far involved in their own conflict that they won’t be able to see the ‘wood for the trees’. Only with specialised professional assistance can these parents improve their parenting techniques.”. It is also key to remember that it doesn’t matter who started or didn’t start an argument, you are not in control of anyone else but yourself, it takes two to tango and I am sure when these explosions occur between two ex’s the starting discussion is a distant memory.

So to conclude on my journey, most of the time I have a calm and steady “friendship” with the Dads of my daughters, I have learnt that they will ALWAYS be in my life, so why would I waste my energy feeling any anger for them (not that I do), but when something annoys me, I don’t rise to it, as long as my children are safe and well that’s all that matters. I also always try to be respectful, so always including them in decisions about the girls, for example which school they go to or whether to have certain immunisations. No matter who the children reside with the majority of the time, it doesn’t give you the right to be sole decision maker. (That being said it is not the resident parents job to inform the other of when events are happening or school choices are being made, both sign up to school emails and both keep upto date with the milestones of your children).

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I have summarised a few important factors that I learnt so far on my journey and I am always interested in hearing feedback from my blogs, or just any other information anyone has about successful co parenting.

I will attach links to a few websites that I found very helpful, especially the programme booklet for the SPIP course I went on.

  • Respect that your children may have different feelings to your own
  • Do not use your child as a messenger
  • DON’T make it a power struggle
  • Think about what you can do, not what your ex partner should/ shouldn’t be doing
  • Make small steps towards the end goal
  • Look after yourself and be the best you can for your children
  • Have faith in the other parent, no matter how they treat you don’t fight fire with fire.

CAFCASS

SPIPS

THE HAPPY LAWYER

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And Then There Were None

Is your child starting school in September? Are there nerves on your part? Here I discuss my feelings and how they are not as straight forward as just seeing my baby taking the next step.

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In 6 months time my youngest baby will be starting school and I am not entirely sure how I feel about it. Having been through this process twice before I know what to do and I know the process involved, the dilemma of whether its too early to get the uniform in July (they may grow a whole metre over the summer holidays!!!), the mad trip to Clarkes to get a generic pair of shoes that you have to prize from your child’s feet so the patent stays intact come their first day and the dreaded visit from their teacher to your home where all of sudden you come over all Kirsty Allsopp, baking bread, buying soft furnishing and lighting candles (and then blowing them out pronto as you don’t want said to teacher to think you would ever have a flame within a 100 yards of your precious 4 years old, bad mummy).

No, I am okay with the starting school prep and so I was unsure what this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach was all about.

Frankie is definitely ready for school (and that’s not always the case, especially as she is a June baby, but with 2 older sisters she wants to move upwards). I have no doubt she will be a child that clings to me at the door but eventually it will get easier, she is definitely my cheekiest child, partly due to encouragement from her siblings but her preschool tell me she is one of the quieter ones so hopefully school will bring the balance of cheeky and quiet to a level. She is ready learn, she wants to write and read but with all the kids it’s hard to give her enough time but she copies her sisters and knows letters and small sums (I think this is genius but I am sure its not!!), she has also taught herself to get dressed in preparation for PE (its bloody handy for me too in the mornings!). I mean this all screams of a child counting down the days to September, yet I am not counting them down, I am wanting them to slow right down so I can savour having a little person at home a bit longer.

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I know now that there is a double edge to this sword that is reception class. Not only am I going to be passing my final child over to the institution that is education (which is not a negative, just that it’s hard to swallow that she is no longer “mine”) but, and this is not as easy to admit, I also have to work out what the hell I am doing?

Up until now I am a full time mum, I have 3 daughters, 4 step children, 2 dogs and a husband… but in september though I will still have those things, I will also have 6 hours free (apart from a house to clean, washing of the masses, cooking, shopping, dogs etc), but to the outside world those hours are free (Monday to Friday). So basically if we cut  the crap here, I need a job, I need to do something, I need an income. Of course with that will bring the changes to our household, potential breakfast and after school clubs (bloody expensive), the fact the housework, cooking, cleaning the toilets etc will have to be split between myself and my husband (will it work?) and that I may not be there for the school runs nor have as much time with the girls full stop. It’s impossible (almost) to find a job that fits in with school hours, but, the positives would be that I am contributing financially and feel equal in the household which is not something I have felt, well I did when I was a single mum (and I am sure many of you understand where I am coming from with this). What fills me with dread is that I don’t know what I can do, nor who the hell would want me! I have been a mum for so long I feel useless as a fully fledged adult, I will have to get used to being Jo and not Mum (how very odd).

So with this I realise that while my 3 year old (4 in June) is making all the necessary and natural changes and progression into school life, I need to take note of her actions and apply myself too, I have 6 months to sort this shit out. It’s an exciting stage for our family and I need to grow some balls and get on with it, if Frankie can do it, I can do it too.

The next journey for Frankie and myself is a positive one, and though daunting on a maternal and personal level, there are so many joys to come. In myself it’s the start of letting myself grow and the restraints of small children becoming looser, and for Frankie the joys of the first nativity, learning to read and I can’t even imagine her little twig legs at sports day (but if she is like me then competitiveness will be ugly). I know lots of you out there will be feeling something similar (or at least I hope you do) and whether it’s your first, second or fifth child to have their very first day in september, good luck and take your tissues.

I will write a follow up blog to this with the outcome, it may not be pretty or it may be bloody glorious, who knows???

Thanks for reading

Jo

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