Sanity walks

I watched Casualty on Saturday night. One of the characters was a woman who was caring for her severely autistic teenage son and not getting much in the way of breaks from the full on nature of it all. She ended up abandoning him in the city centre. He got run over and she got drunk and fell down a flight of stairs. When she arrived in A&E she claimed to be a single woman until she was found out.

I have no intention of abandoning my children and pretending they don’t exist! I have no intention of getting drunk and falling down a flight of stairs either. But what stopped me in my tracks somewhat is the feeling of total identification I found I had with this woman. I found myself finishing her sentences for her. Nodding in total empathy. So much so that One, afterwards, said in a worried voice ‘You’re not going to run away from us, are you?’

No. No, I’m not.

I’m a very introverted person, ideally needing frequent alone time to recharge my batteries. In our current situation, that is simply impossible. I don’t mind at all, it’s just the way it is, and I love work and I love being with my children, caring for their various quirks and needs. But with a complete lack of the alone time my personality craves, coupled with a long series of late nights trying to do all the essentials to run a household, and never ever catching up, I can feel myself starting to break.

Last night I dreamed that I ran completely out of cope and had a breakdown. And I woke up feeling slightly wistful. Time for some serious insanity prevention!

I’m not sure how much I can feasibly do about the late nights at the moment. There really aren’t enough hours in the day to fit everything in. When I do finally fall into bed, head busy and full of the conversations I’ve just been having, worry about children, money, home, everything, feeling stressed and annoyed with myself that I still haven’t washed up, or made the next day’s lunches, and knowing I’ll have it all to do the next morning, and the alarm is going off at 5.30 and it’s already midnight, I can’t sleep straight away and let myself drift off playing games on my phone with podcasts in my ears. It’s often well after midnight by the time I go properly to sleep. I know I’m (mal)functioning on far too little rest.

However, I’ve come up with a cunning plan for the alone time. On Sunday afternoon I was so, so stressed, shouting at everyone, almost in tears over the state of the house, which as usual was a metaphor for the state of my mind, that I took matters into my own hands, took charge of myself and sent myself out for a walk. All by myself. I walked three miles, listening to the podcasts I usually only get chance to listen to at bedtime, putting one foot in front of the other in the fresh air.

Exercise, endorphins and alone time. Talking to nobody. Walking where I wanted to walk, in control of where I wanted to take myself.

It did me so much good.

After tea tonight I went out again. This time I did a much shorter route. I was out for 20 minutes and walked just over a mile. That’s something I can make time for most evenings, I reckon. In that space of time the children barely noticed I was gone, yet I had the much needed space my mind is desperate for, as well as the exercise my body is craving (I’ve never been so inactive since I started work. I drive everywhere now, because there is never time to walk. I’m putting on weight quickly at the moment and my knees are protesting even more than usual. And my clothes don’t fit. However, I’m far more bothered about my mental health than my physical health just now – any physical benefits are just an added bonus!).

Having blogged, I now see it is 9.15pm. Now I need to wash up the tea pots, make tomorrow’s lunches, do a quick audit of what we already have in the cupboards and freezer, and complete the supermarket order online to collect it tomorrow evening while I’m out taking kids to and from youth club. I have promised someone I’ll scan in some documents and email them, so that has to be done before bed too. I will fall into bed, mind racing, and wake up with the ridiculously early alarm tomorrow morning, mind racing immediately, to start all over again.

The prospect of another 20 minutes out of the house after tea tomorrow, pounding the pavements with my trainers, listening to my own choice of podcasts in my ears, and speaking to absolutely nobody, is already filling me with a tiny bit of hope.

I hope I can make this a regular part of every day. I’ll let you know when I start feeling the benefits! Till then, I can’t quite imagine when I will next have time to blog…


Our Day Out

One and I went to Liverpool on the train this afternoon. It was a bit of an impulse trip, planned only yesterday and on condition that we were both feeling up to it. We were. Hurrah!

I seem to have got out of the habit of taking the kids out and about. Their dad does a lot of that sort of stuff when they are staying with him, and for a long time I didn’t have the money or the mental resources to somehow bring myself to plan trips. Unemployment and depression are a bugger. I’m feeling better now and have a teeny weeny bit more disposable income, but seem to be finding it really difficult to get past that mental block which has stopped me taking the children anywhere more interesting or further afield than the local park.

Just taking one child is a good way back in, I’m finding. This afternoon was an absolute pleasure. We more or less ran to the station in order to catch the 11.57, which turned out to be firstly hugely delayed once we got there, and then simply cancelled by the time we’d bought the tickets! Ended up sitting on the platform for 40 minutes catching our breath…

Once in Liverpool we found Pizza Hut and indulged in their weekday buffet lunch. Again, far more affordable for only two of us than it would have been with four. Eldest daughter is tremendous company and we laughed our way through the meal, which was delicious and filling!

We headed to the Walker Art Gallery by mutual consent and had a good time looking at the pictures (and making up silly captions for some of them); particularly enjoying the special exhibitions and more modern art. Having been starting to draw during this past week, mostly through the marvellous medium of Zentangle, I looked at the pictures with a slightly different eye than previously. Bought myself a cheap sketchbook in the shop and have already started using it. Not sure what has set off this sudden craze for drawing, but I’m loving it. I feel like I’m moving in new directions with my creativity for the first time in years, and it’s really exciting. Is it an allegory for my life moving in new directions, due to starting work this year? Who knows? I’ll just go with the flow!

On the train journey home there was a lady with her almost 2 year old daughter in our bit of the carriage. They were delightful. The little girl was so enthusiastic about absolutely everything, and so very, very, TWO. A TWOness I remember well from my own children back in the day. The mum was very hands on, playing with her, chatting to her, interacting with the rest of us too; it really brightened up our journey.

It gave me pause for thought about how things have changed for us since One was that age (at which point I had a teeny baby Two as well!) I had almost forgotten what it was like to spend my days with such a small person; the total full on hands on parenting that has to be done; the exhausting, relentless, delightful chatter; the handing over of the bunch of keys, the remote control, the empty crackly bag, whatever will divert and amuse the child for the next one and a half minutes before the next excitement needs to be produced.

My youngest is almost nine now, and the oldest is getting on for fifteen. It’s a very different experience these days. Travelling today with One was just the same as it would be travelling with another adult. The pleasure of her company was totally equal to the delight the lady in our carriage was showing in her own daughter, but it was expressed in a totally different way. I could read my Kindle all the way to Liverpool and all the way back. I didn’t have to cope with a pushchair, a changing bag, several snacks to be brought out at predetermined times (though we did have to use the lift in the art gallery due to One’s dodgy ankle and she was lamenting the lack of a wheelchair to push her around in!)

My friend Serendipturas posted on a similar theme to this the other day and I feel as though I’m copying – but it really was the small child and her mum on the train, as I was travelling with my much bigger child, that sparked off this reminiscence – maybe N’s post was in the back of my mind already.

I loved being a mum to littlies. I love being a mum to these much larger people now too. It’s a very different experience. I’m not needed any less, but I’m needed in a different way and there are times when I can actually do my own thing (like reading a trashy chick-lit novel on my Kindle instead of providing constant exciting entertainment on the train!).

It’s been a good day. Fun, with excellent company (love that eldest daughter of mine  and our identical warped sense of humour!). Exciting with the different view this sudden drawing bug has given me. And thought provoking about the way my life as a mother has gradually changed in the past fourteen years.

Still not sure I’m feeling ready to take all three of them on an expedition at the same time yet, but this was a good start. 🙂

Hello poor neglected blog!

Um… Happy New Year to anyone who is still hanging around wondering if I’m ever going to post anything ever again!

I appear to have been all consumed with Life, The Universe and Everything – which can mostly be summed up by Three Children and New Job.

I’ve now completed my first week of the new term, doing my role ‘properly’ now the chaos of Christmas in school is over. It was incredibly exhausting. I loved it but there is so much to do, so much to remember and working with a child with ASD is an extremely unpredictable science!

I have spent quite a bit of time sitting on the floor chatting with him to calm him down; some time having insults hurled at me (I don’t take any of them even slightly personally and they whoosh over my head!) and some time actually getting some work done with him. And a lot of time having the most delightful conversations and laughter – he is fab. School is a very difficult place for him and I am still learning how to best help him.

Everything that happens, throughout each day, I scribble down on post it notes and then write it all up in an exercise book. It’s a useful record of learning and behaviour, and a good reflection for me; often as I’m writing I can look at the day more objectively.

I am absolutely loving the challenge. But all last week I was so completely consumed by the newness of it all that I couldn’t quite cope with the rest of life when I got home, and just wanted to sleep! I had a permanent headache. I know that it will get easier.

Today ‘my’ child, X, was not in school, so I had an unexpected day of planning and making resources; extremely helpful as usually my working hours are so taken up with supporting X that I don’t have time to get ahead of myself; I’m constantly thinking on my feet and running to catch up.

As for home, I’m trying and mostly failing to keep on top of tidying and laundry, trying and entirely failing to speak to the person I need to speak to at school about the child who is unable to attend school at the moment due to severe depression, making a slightly better stab at filling in bits of essential paperwork, at least some of the time, and being slightly unable to process the fact that Three is going off for her first school residential, for 2 nights, on Wednesday!

Since going back to school I feel rather as though I’m floundering in deeper water than I’m used to; not doing anything as clever as swimming – but at least not entirely drowning either. I am confident it will all get easier. And I’m saying that, feeling that confidence, on a continued halved dose of antidepressants. Hurrah! I’m starting to look forward to a time when I am doing without them altogether. 🙂

Getting up at 6am on weekdays is becoming second nature now. It makes the lie ins at the weekends feel even more decadent than ever before!

Today it rained at home but snowed at work. They get real snow in the next county to ours! It was like a winter wonderland! Coming out of school I drove past a fabulous snowman outside a house just down the road. I wanted to stop and take a photo but it is a narrow road and there was someone driving towards me.

I want to post more often. I’m missing blogging.

A bit of good news in time for Christmas

Yet again I don’t seem to have blogged for about a million years. It’s been a bit chaotic here. The usual ups and downs, but with some actual preparation for the festive season in between – believe it or not I am just about organised for Christmas for the first time in many years.

A couple of weeks ago I saw my GP for a medication review and we decided between us that it was time to cut down my antidepressants, having been on them for a year and feeling so very much better. I was a bit nervous about doing so at this time of year but it felt like the right thing to do. And… so far, so good. I’ve halved my dose for the past week and a half, and still seem to be coping just as well with the stresses and strains of everyday life (and believe me there have been some stresses and strains this week including ill children, an A&E visit and an incredibly late night).

On top of all the lack of sleep and the stress, I had a job interview yesterday at a primary school 17 miles away. There were three posts available, and it was an all day process, like no teaching assistant interview I have had up to now. I had a tour of the school by four delightful School Council members, then had to deliver a circle time activity to five gorgeous year 3 children, whilst being observed by a T.A. and the Deputy Head/SENCO, frantically scribbling notes on my performance in the background. I then had an informal chat/interview with the head teacher. Nine of us went through this process throughout the morning, and then they narrowed it down to four people to be kept on for formal interviews in the afternoon.

I was one of the four! We had a very poshly catered buffet lunch along with the interviewers and also the teachers of the classes the successful candidates would be working in (1:1 with specific statemented children). Then we all four sat in the staffroom chatting together and were picked off one by one for our formal interviews. I was the last one to go in, so spent the whole afternoon in the staffroom soaking up the atmosphere, listening to staff chatting, talking with them and enjoying the sounds of the Christmas play practice in the hall outside the door!

My overwhelming impression was that it is a lovely, friendly, warm school with staff who really care about one another and the children. I really, really wanted to work there.

The formal interview was nerve wracking with lots of questions, but by the time I’d spent all day at the school and chatted informally with all of the interviewers over lunch, I felt far more relaxed and comfortable with them than I would have done had I just gone in cold for the interview, as I have at a number of other schools. I was also very pleased that I’d been observed with a group of children too, as that’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to show the staff at a school what my actual practical capabilities are in the classroom and how I relate to real children rather than hypothetical ones in an interview situation!

I started allowing myself to hope when the headteacher said at the end of the interview ‘I am very much hoping you are still a firm candidate?’ (I answered very firmly in the affirmative!).

I got the phone call just as I was turning left into our road on the way home. I pulled over quickly 100 yards from the house and answered.

I was offered the position! They said I was a very strong candidate. They said they were very excited. (Not as excited as me, I’m guessing!)

I start on Monday. Yes, this Monday coming up. Eek! I will be working in year four, one to one with a boy with ASD. This is totally my dream job, and is working in a wonderful, ASD friendly school where I can tell the staff are very valued and well trained. One of them remarked in the staffroom in the afternoon that ‘people come here to work and then they never leave because we love it here so much.’

It’s still sinking in that I’m actually going to be paid to do something I love so much – to spend every day in a primary school. This has been my dream for such a long time; something that a few years ago was a secret dream I hardly dared share with anyone in case talking about it would mean it never came true! I have gone from there to volunteering at school, doing two courses, gaining confidence slowly and now finally I have a real, actual job.I know it’s going to be hard work and I know it won’t be plain sailing and it will be an enormous learning curve, especially at first. But I also know that I have wanted this so badly for so long, that I’m finally getting the chance to prove to myself I can really do this, in a proper professional capacity, and I. Am. Going. To. LOVE IT!

I’m sure it will take a while to settle in to new routines at home; Three will have to go to Before School Club which she has been desperate to do for ages, and One and Two will have to get themselves to school in the morning as I will need to be 17 miles away by 8.45am every day! Sorting out home and family around the job is going to be a steep learning curve too, but it will be so so worth it to be doing something I love so much, and getting off the Jobseekers Allowance hamster wheel at long, long last.

What a huge boost to my self esteem. Somebody actually wants to employ me; has seen me with the children and based on that, thinks I can do a good job. After volunteering in the same school for five years and getting no indication whatsoever that there was any chance of a paid position at any point now or in the future, this is such a big boost to my self confidence.

I’m really nervous about Monday. But I’m hugely excited too. I have a job! Me! I’m a Teaching Assistant (well, a Learning Support Practitioner is the official title!) I’ve done it – achieved the goal I’ve been working towards since December 2009.

What a fantastic Christmas present.

140 characters

– Busy week. Tough in places. Fabulous in other places. Blog suffering. Facebook suffering. Twitter not suffering as 140 characters achievable

– Have felt like a terrible parent and a wonderful parent at times this week in approx. equal measure. Shouting and hugging have both featured

– Went to GCSE ‘Raising Aspirations’ evening at high school. Motivational speaker superb but maybe not best for child already ill with anxiety

– Fell fast asleep on sofa by accident on Tuesday and Two cooked and served up the entirety of our evening meal for us all. What a total star.

– Tuesday & Wednesday volunteering in year 2 and year 5 were excellent & a great boost to my self esteem. I needed that this week! Want a JOB!

– Went to bed last night knowing I was knackered but not expecting to end up staying in bed till 10 to 2 this afternoon. Must have needed that

– Put a loaf of bread in the freezer & sliced my middle finger on a packet of frozen beef mince, making it bleed (the finger, not the mince).

– Life is so much calmer than this time last year. Doesn’t say much for this time last year! Situation’s not changed much but my attitude has.

– Blogging alongside all my parenting roles seems impossible at the moment. Follow me on Twitter for life’s minutiae 140 characters at a time!

What to say when…

Blogging from my phone, in bed, because I was thinking, and the thoughts became a blog post which needed writing immediately.

Hints and tips for the friends and acquaintances of those who find themselves in the hypothetical (ahem) situation of having a child with severe depression and anxiety.

What NOT to say:

– Why? Do you have any idea of the root cause of it?

– Oh my goodness, that must be AWFUL! I don’t know how I’d react if that was one of my kids.

– Have you tried….?

– Sounds like a teenage phase to me.

– Is anything being done about it at all?

– You must be absolutely beside yourself with worry.

What to ACTUALLY say:

– That must be tough. You are doing an amazing job. Here is a cup of tea. And a listening ear if you ever need it. I have no well meaning advice for you. Let us chat about the weather.

A week of refreshment, relaxation and 7,000 other people!

Yesterday the four of us arrived home from a week spent at Newark Showground, living in our tent. It was the annual New Wine North & East Summer Conference, and this was our third one. And without a doubt this was my favourite one so far.

A brief history of the last four summers:

August 2009. Greenbelt festival with Two and Three while One was at Scout camp, camping with a few friends. Newly separated, trying to get to grips with being a single parent, totally stressed, I was an utter basket case for the majority of the weekend. I had so many stamping feet tantrums that weekend I’m surprised I didn’t leave my trainers in the mud. It is fair to say that I didn’t enjoy Greenbelt much, but I think that had more to do with my state of mind and attitude at the time than the festival itself.

August 2010. New Wine with all 3 children, and some church friends. Though a year had passed, I still struggled with holidaying as a single parent, and also struggled with being fully sociable with our friends. During the week I realised just how much I was still struggling with everything, and drew an accidental picture depicting how awful I was feeling; lonely, rejected, useless, with cripplingly low self esteem. When I looked at the picture I was shocked and upset. I spent a fair proportion of the week in floods of tears, though I did enjoy it and the children said it was the best holiday they had ever had. 🙂

I started some counselling in the September, and took the picture along as a starting point, saying ‘this is where I am starting from’, basically.

August 2011. New Wine with all the children and the same group of friends. I could really tell I was in a better place this year. We all enjoyed it, I cried a lot less, still found some of it difficult but relaxed a lot more than the year before. One memorable moment was the phonecall from the Child Protection Officer to ask to meet me for a chat after Two had told his group leaders he wanted to die. Quite a tricky conversation to have, to let them know that he says it quite often, it is more of a reflex reaction and not to be taken particularly seriously, without sounding blase and as though I don’t care! The other memorable moment was managing to lock my keys and my mobile phone in my car by accident at about eleven o’clock on the last  night when all of our friends had already gone home. That took a lot of sorting out along with a very kind and helpful steward and eventually a breakdown lorry driving onto the site after midnight… oops! (It took me a whole year to confess to our friends that this had happened…)

August 2012. New Wine with 3 children plus 2 of our usual party and their respective daughters. This was without a doubt the most relaxing holiday with children I have had, possibly ever, and certainly since becoming a single parent. Here are some reasons why:

– Having recently finished 2 years of counselling and also having treatment for depression I am in a hugely better place myself. I’m learning to chill out and relax like never before.

– The children are all a year older and it is a year that has made a huge difference. One has moved up to the 14-18 activities and has really enjoyed the extra freedom and maturity levels of that. Two has moved up to the 12-13 activities which meant he could stay in bed a bit longer in the mornings and got free toast during the interactive breakfast cafe! Three being 8 now is allowed to leave her venue by herself instead of being collected by an adult, and she along with my friends’ daughters had a LOT more freedom this year to go where she wished when she wished. This meant I could attend seminars at any time of day I felt like it instead of being tied to the morning ones only.

– I filled in a form stating that Two is on the autistic spectrum and detailed his propensity for talking about death so I didn’t get phoned up by concerned people this year. This set into motion a whole process of special needs provision for him and he loved it. He now wants his own pair of ear defenders, and spent a lot of time during his group activities in the ‘Our Place’ section (for special needs) blowing bubbles and playing air hockey with another boy with Aspergers Syndrome. This all suited him far better and he can’t wait to go back to ‘Our Place’ next year; the team were fabulous with him and I really felt I could relax about him this year!

– We catered for ourselves this year instead of as part of a group. This meant I could shop as cheaply as possible and also gave us freedom about mealtimes which was more difficult when part of a cooking and washing up rota. It made an enormous difference to my relaxation levels.

– Instead of choosing as many seminars as I could fit in, this year I picked the few that really interested me and had a lot more time just chilling in the tent. I was so tired at the beginning of the week that I kept dozing off during morning and evening worship (yes listening to a sermon with your eyes shut is TOTALLY normal…) and a few afternoon naps really helped.

I got a lot out of the talks I heard, particularly ‘Raising Strong Daughters’, ‘Good Enough Parenting’ and ‘A Beginner’s Guide to the Bible’ (I’m not exactly a beginner to the Bible but I haven’t actually read it at all for a year so thought I’d like to start from scratch!). I really enjoyed spending family time with the children when we ate together, and loved the fact that their activities kept them busy so I could relax and do my own thing too.

I’ve come home feeling refreshed, revitalised and feeling very good about my ability to take my children on holiday by myself – I never felt at all confident about that until now! My friends kept teasing me for being ‘too calm and organised’ – those are NOT qualities I have ever demonstrated in their presence before!

It was all fab and I can’t wait for next year!