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Posts Tagged ‘being a grown up’

I’ve learned, after 10+ years of dealing with depression, that preventative measures can make a huge difference when it comes to mental health. This is generally called self-care, and I have certain self-care measures I start pulling out whenever I feel my mood is fragile, like now. Self-care can sometimes mean maintaining rather than declining, I’ve found. I want to go into detail on more of these in future posts, but here’s just one or two to start with.

Maintaining a routine. This one is so important for me, or I drift. I am more than capable of doing nothing for days on end while the chores pile up around me and I get nothing done. My mood can spiral because of the sheer nothingness of my days. With kids, maintaining a routine happens without a lot of effort from me – my days are defined by meals and naps anyway, so I put the effort in to keeping up regular activities like play dates, grocery shopping and outings. I try to keep active when the kids are sleeping and I’m not having a sleep myself.

Keep order in my environment. For me, this involves running the dishwasher once a day, trying to vacuum at least once a week, staying on top of the laundry. A cluttered environment clouds my mind, and it’s hard to stay positive and active when I’m feeling overwhelmed by mess. I’ve taken this a step further, and recently cleared the clutter out of our bedroom and set up a little dressing area for myself, with my jewellery and hair stuff organised next to the mirror. It’s a small space of calm that I focus on keeping tidy, so my bedroom feels like a positive space rather than just one more room that’s stressful for me to be in. No kids’ stuff allowed. 

My little corner of neatness.


Create small goals. Making small, attainable goals can be incredibly helpful for me. Rather than a big, looming five-year-plan type deal that seems both far away and unreachable, I like to create small tasks for myself, or break bigger projects down into smaller tasks. For example, I’ve been sewing a lined swaddling pouch for the baby – this is a project that doesn’t take forever, I enjoy and can work on in small bursts. Tidying all the clutter out of the bedroom was a goal I banged out in an evening, and part of our larger project of getting the house organised. I century organised all my sewing and craft gear, which I’ve been meaning to do forever. Small goals don’t overwhelm, and yet give a sense of pride and satisfaction when they’re completed, which is helpful to my mental health.

 

This isn’t prescriptive by any means, just some things I’ve found have worked to keep my mental health on an even keel. Sometimes depression happens no matter what, but sometimes I can hold it off by being careful, sticking to habits that I know keep me focused and calm. It’s when I start to drift into overwhelming stress and anxiety that my mood spirals very fast. Right now, because I’m aware that I’ve been feeling down and that can easily lead to depression, I’m pulling out all the self-care stops. 

What are your techniques for self-care?

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I have been finding it very hard to write as I am feeling very dark. I would not call it Post Natal Depression as yet… More that I have felt the edges of things I cannot control crowding into me. Maybe I can control them, and simply feel I cannot.

I feel immense responsibility towards my family – the end of my paid maternity leave looms and that means finding a replacement income. I don’t want to go into part time work just yet, it would mean childcare for two children, which is hardly feasible, and most likely the end of breastfeeding Morgan. I hate expressing milk, it’s time consuming and painful and anyway, what job would be flexible enough to allow me an hour or so each day to pump? I want to be home, with the kids. I need to consider my skills, the possibility of selling my writing and the likelihood I would regularly have the time to write.

I feel angry at a society that sets mothers up to fail – for some like me it is needing income yet finding returning to would come with too many financial penalties. For others it is the necessity of returning to work when they would rather stay home. There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about careers and choice, and I think choice in the workforce is a luxury. I am angry that I spent so many years sick, and thus my capacity to earn is greatly reduced because of interrupted employment and education. I am frustrated that the things I truly want to do don’t result in a paying career.

I am angry that society doesn’t value what I do as a mother, staying home with my two boys. Angry that I sit here, feeling both trapped and worried, doing mental sums in my head but mostly thinking about how I would love to work a day for two, probably, but realistically it needs to be all or nothing, full time work or staying home. For years, possibly.

I love em, but years? Years as a stay at home mother? Alex and I talk about our goal, which is f or both of us to work part time. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Isn’t that the dream, though? To do something you love, just enough so that it doesn’t bore you to tears?

Sometimes I feel like family is pressure, to do better, be better, succeed more, and I must have spent all that time leading up to children just faffing around and time wasting (which isn’t true), and not nearly enough time focusing on my writing (probably true), and now I feel a suffocating need to succeed at something, anything, to earn something for my words (or what else have I spent all these years working towards?) and then of course comes the crippling anxiety…

I look into my boys’ faces and feel I am failing them as a mother.

Which is normal, I guess. 

 

 

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Balancing act

Family


Of course, because I blogged last week about getting the hang of things, life had to tear me down. Last Wednesday I got very, very ill, and by Thursday I felt incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed and yearning for death. Conveniently it was a public holiday, so Alex was home and able to look after me/the kids. On Friday I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tonsillitis and laryngitis and given some rather impressive antibiotics.

I was feeling better over the weekend when Morgan came down with a head cold. Sick newborn babies are the worst – you can’t explain anything, or give them pain relief, or tell them they’ll feel better soon if only they can deal with you spraying saline solution up their nose at uncomfortably regular intervals.

Sebastian went with his dad to see family on Sunday and got worn out, probably quite over-tired, and so for the last few days has been very cranky – not sick, although his nose has been runny, but just run-down and irritable, as though he was fighting off the sickness that Morgan and I had come down with. And today, while I am mostly better, Morgan remains sniffly and Alex came down with a head cold. Sebastian was cheerful all day, thankfully. 

I had energy for once, and so I cleaned – tidying away toys, doing mountains of laundry and putting even more away, vacuuming, doing dishes, cooking a casserole for dinner, sweeping the kitchen and doing groceries. I so rarely feel rested and energised to really get to much housework, so it was wonderful to get a lot done one hit. Of course, it was followed by the guilt for all the other things I wasn’t doing – not blogging, not crafting, not writing or researching. Not doing a hundred things in the limited timeframe on one day where I happen to have some energy.

I keep thinking about motherhood as a balancing act, but really it’s not me that’s balancing – it’s all the things in my life that I need to do or achieve to keep me, my little family and my aspirations running. It’s spinning plates – frantically running from one to another to give it another whirl, to keep it spinning in the air; all the while conscious that while I spin one, another is slowing down and starting to wobble. At any moment it feels like all my plates could crash to the ground.

Today I kept a few plates going a little longer by doing enough chores to keep me sane and to keep the house running smoothly. Right now I’m spinning another plate by writing this blog entry. But while I do this, I’m aware of others starting to slow down – plates about craft projects and gardening, researching and writing articles, photography or writing fiction. They’re starting to wobble because I only have so much time, energy and opportunity and I have to choose where I invest it.

The trick is not to let those plates fall completely. Keep spinning. Keep running from one to the other and hope for the best.

 

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On the 86 tram in Northcote, I remember I used to live just near here. A few streets away in a little semi-detached unit with a friend. That supermarket was my supermarket. I worked on a theatre show right nearby. Used to go for drinks with friends at that pub. One time this whole street was closed for a festival and people wandered across the tram tracks, now where the cars are, and I was buffeted by the crowd and saw a friend, or a friend of a friend, some guy I used to play cards with.

Going farther back, I used to take the 86 tram to work. I lived a few suburbs back in a tiny one bedroom flat that I loved to pieces. In the hot weather I would sleep all day and stay up all night, chain smoking and writing and feeling so grown up (all of nineteen years old) and so cynical, like life had already rolled me over and pushed me aside. I was so very, very young then.

Now I take the 86 tram with my mother, toddler and infant son. The toddler has never been on a tram before and it’s a special treat, rather than the way I get places. How long since I have been in Northcote? How many years since that was my supermarket? In a way this is my life all the time now – walking streets and places I used to know, remembering how my life used to be and realising how quickly it changes. How different I feel now.

You don’t know how good you had it, I want to say to nineteen year old me, who stays up all night writing.

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

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1.- You’re not fucking fat.
In fact, you’re young and reasonably attractive with the natural curves of any woman that doesn’t have the metabolism of a mouse. You are years away from getting pregnant, ballooning up with pregnancy weight and an over-sized fetus accompanied by extra amniotic fluid; years away from your breastfeeding size G-cup breasts that naturally deflate a little when the milk goes dry after a year of nursing; years away from your stretch marks and birth scars. Because all of those things will make you review your body image and come to terms with how your body changes over time, and you gain some sort of equanimity for your weight and shape and look because nobody is a supermodel except supermodels. You’re 20 and you look great and your attractiveness really has nothing to do with weight.

2.- Stop dating jerks.
Your first true love at 18 was wonderful and heartbreaking, and you’ve spent two years dating guys who are bad for you and will for several years to come. They don’t make you feel good about yourself, but you keep trying because you figure that if you make them feel good about themselves then they’ll return the favour. They won’t.

3.-Your friends are the people who show up when you say you’re feeling crap.
And it takes you years to learn this lesson – that when you phone a friend or two and say, ‘I’m having a really hard time right now’, it’s the people that truly give a damn that take time out of their day to listen to you or visit you or show you their support – and the people who make excuses, or don’t have five minutes, or are really busy right now can-I-call-you-back-never? They’re the ones who will always take when they need help, and never give it back when you do.

4.- Your family matter more than you realise. Because at 20 you’re still hung up on teenage resentments and trying to figure out how to be an adult and independent and still ask for help when you need it, but the truth is that you take that support for granted when it’s always been there unconditionally. Be patient, and kind, and give love and recognise when it’s given in return. And not just your parents and your brother – remember you have a whole crowd of grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts who have always been around and interested. Because you know what? People get cancer and die and you can’t get them back again. Appreciate that the people who care about you stand back when you need it, and step in when you need it too.

5.- You don’t need to grow up so fast. You’re 20, and one day when you’re older with a family and a job and responsibility you’re going to nostalgically look back and realise you spent so much time fighting to be grown up and strong and independent that you forgot, for a while, how to be young. And it’s ironic that at 28 with a family and a job and responsibility you will feel like you enjoy life much more than you did as a young and free 20-year-old.

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I have never met a bad Centrelink employee. I think it is just bad policy that exists. I have met tired, impatient, bored Centrelink employees, but ultimately they are just doing their jobs. I have also met incredibly kind, helpful and concerned Centrelink employees, either over the phone or in person.

Because I earned enough money at age 18, I was declared financially emancipated from my parents – this allowed me to receive benefits when studying and living in shared housing or by myself. It also assured my benefits at times when I was sick or injured. But having a legal right to benefits doesn’t make them easy to get.

For years, I had to justify my illness to a governmental body that does not particularly like it when you present a medical certificate for a problem that isn’t visible, like a broken leg. At least when I broke my spine and was unable to work, I could show up wearing my back brace and walking with a cane. My injury was pretty obvious, even if the crushed vertebrae in my spine was not.

Explaining why your invisible illness, mental or physical, cripples you to the point of being unable to study or work to a stranger at Centrelink is uniquely humiliating. Only the kindness of those employees makes it bearable. I once had a meeting with a social worker to explain that, while my back was relatively healed, the inactivity of my recuperation had caused a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome relapse, and I’d had to leave my job as a roulette dealer with the casino. I could not work, I could not study – I lived in a share house with a lovely friend who didn’t mind that I mostly sat around all day. The point of this meeting was to decide if I was eligible for temporary disability benefits for another 12 months while I tried to get my life back together.

The man was very nice. We sat in a tiny office at Centrelink in Preston. I had to explain my life to him – the physical pain that was at times unbearable, the numbing exhaustion, the relentless insomnia and the depression that resulted of all of this. I had to go into great detail about the medical treatment I was seeking – both what I tried before, and found did not work so would not pursue again, and the new theories on treatment I had heard about but could not afford. I explained that I needed to be classed as disabled (temporarily), because the only thing that could heal me was time. Time to eat well and try to sleep and gradually increase my strength, time to try new medications for depression and pain, time to organise my life and try to feel useful again. I confessed to him that I often felt despair, and although the medication I took for depression and illness didn’t work particularly well, I was scared of changing the drugs because the period of wash out between an old drug and a new one had, in the past, led to suicide attempts.

The drugs do not work, I told him, but I do not work right without the drugs. There is something wrong with me. Without medication I try to hurt myself. I don’t want to die. I don’t know what to do.

I think I cried, in that room, with that strange man who told me I was brave when I felt weak. He signed off on a certificate of temporary disability. This meant that I did not have to keep presenting medical certificates to Centrelink; they would just pay me each fortnight without me needing to contact them. That certificate was for twelve months. It was supposed to provide security of some kind.

In that time, Centrelink cut off my payments around three times, for what essentially came down to computer error. Getting those payments reinstated was exhausting.

I don’t know how Centrelink works internally – I have an idea of the processes, but I’ve never worked there myself. But the impression I get is that the computers run on a set of rules and regulations, and anything even slightly outside the norm can create a tumble of paperwork and error that, in immediate response, cuts off your payment until the problem is resolved. This has been my experience, anyway. The Centrelink employees I speak to regarding these problems are almost universally bewildered by how such errors occur in the first place, and frustrated that it is so difficult to fix. They do not run the system with computers. The computers run the system using humans as conduits.

Now I receive fortnightly payments as part of the Family Assistance program. This is because we have a small child and the government likes to help. They say. However, I’ve had a lot of problems with these payments – when I was pregnant I was receiving Newstart (the job hunting payment), with a medical certificate to say I did not have to look for work because my problematic pregnancy crippled me. However, I somehow incurred a $500 debt for being paid money in July of 2010 without reporting what activity I had done to find work. It took almost a year to retrieve that money (which Centrelink automatically garnished from my parenting payments).

The reason I didn’t hunt for a job that week, or report my lack of activity, was because I was in hospital giving birth.

Some glitch had happened, and the computer had decided they shouldn’t have paid me as though I were medically unfit (when I was in the damned hospital bleeding on the operating table and full of drugs and stitches), and the computer took that money back. The Centrelink employees I spoke to about this were damn near helpless to reverse that situation. Eventually, I found out I could reverse the debt by handing in some obscure paperwork that outlined my activity and lack of job hunting for that period. I think I wrote ‘GIVING BIRTH TO MY CHILD, COULDN’T ACCESS JOB SEEKING WEBSITES’ angrily. But finally, I got the money back.

Recently I’ve been furious all over again because a minor mistake was made with Sebastian’s immunisation records, and our child care benefit was cut off, and it looked like I might have to pay his daycare $850 for the care already given (almost all of that should have been covered by Centrelink). If the problem wasn’t fixed that sum wouldn’t go down. If the sum didn’t go down then I could no longer put Sebastian in daycare, which would mean I couldn’t work, which would mean I wouldn’t have the money to pay the daycare. A horrible cycle of crap. It took three weeks just to find out what the problem was and get it fixed, including phone call after phone call to Centrelink and Medicare.

I get angry at Centrelink because I try so hard to do the right thing so these payments will run smoothly, and in return some computer blinks a few times and I’m told I owe them money, or they will not pay me, or pay daycare. I am angry that I have to talk endlessly to strangers about the minute details of my daily life. I am angry that this is a system designed to catch fraud, not help people. I am angry that I cried in front of that strange man in that tiny room because I had an illness that was invisible. I am angry that my financial stability depends on a system that fails at every turn.

I wish I could blame Centrelink employees. But they’re just people. It’s the machines that make the mistakes. I like to imagine their central database is called Skynet.

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