Playground Panic…

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The schoolyard (I know I know, I JUST said I wasn’t going to write about the kids and the FIRST TWO words of this next post is about school, but bear with me), as a lot of new parents know, is terrifying.

I have been a school age parent for three weeks now, and I am yet to make a friend. This is not because I’m a cool loner who stands at the age of the playground in a leather jacket, a beret and a cigarette (am I thinking of Molly Ringwold? I feel like this must be a film scene from the edge of my memory!). It’s because even though I practise saying things to people in my head “I like your shoes/aww how old is your baby/they’re always last out aren’t they”, no joke, I say these things over and over in my head, but somehow non of it has yet come out of my bloody mouth. If they’re in a group my mind tells me they don’t want a stranger butting in, if they’re alone my mind suggests maybe they prefer being on their own. I wear a lot of gaming and film t-shirts, they probably will think I’m weird. I never have make up on, they probably think I I look like a hobo. I’m currently on medication for getting rid of kidney stones, but it’s given me really bad skin (HA! As if I haven’t had bad skin since age 11..!) so that’s all anyone will notice. All of these thoughts I know are irrational. I know it’s the black dog talking, it’s coming from a place of anxiety, not logic, and not really who I am as a person. But so far its winning. Well no that’s not true. 

In the school playground it’s winning, for now. I’m not even 100% sure which parents have children in my daughters class or year group, the playground is full of people picking kids up from the entire school. It’s big, it’s daunting and I think it’s ok not to have settled in myself in three weeks, especially as I don’t do all the drop offs and pick ups. It takes time and I’m willing to give myself that time.  

My younger daughter is at nursery, students are between 2 – 4, and the total number of students any one day is about 20 max. All parents there are waiting for kids in my daughters class because they are all one class. This is more doable.

I explained last time that my anxiety and nerves had taken a nose dive after a series of sad or unlucky events within the last year. I knew relocating across the country, away from the town that for 30 years (in the main) I had called home, was going to be an adjustment. Over the Summer we were travelling round so much for work that I’m not even going to blame myself for it taking a while. We’ve lived here now for 8 months, but in truth, for myself and my husband, we only really started our settling in process mid September. 

So the small nursery is a better starting ground than the school gates really. A few days ago someone said they liked my shoes, I said thank you and then said (look at me go!) ‘I wish I’d worn sandals really as it’s been so hot today.’ My heart was POUNDING in my chest, I’d done it, I’d ‘chatted’. I only had that on hand as I had been practising ‘I like your shorts, I wish I’d worn shorts now it’s so hot today,’ and because I have a PhD, I was able to improvise with my practise material….
…shut up, small victories and all that! 

As if I was on some sort of power trip, I then had a half conversation with one of the Mums who lives on my road about toddler tantrums (my youngest was having one at the time and she said her son was also very tantrumy – thank you Holly!). I thought about walking with her and then offering her a coffee when we went passed my house. But after saying it in my head a few times, I balked and went left instead of right, telling my strongest potential for my first friend that I needed to go into town. I could hear myself screaming WIMP, at myself. In my defence I did have to go into town but I didn’t need to go right then, I just got too nervous. But I spoke to her and next week maybe I’ll walk home with her, and maybe after that I’ll invite her in. She definitely seems open to being friends, she’s also new to the area so I’m overthinking it way too much and making it way too difficult for myself! BUT, that’s two interactions, and stupidly, enough to make me feel like I’m going to get there.

A little back story – a decade ago you’d have thought I was Van Wilder (it’s an early 00’s film about a party animal called Van Wilder…it’s not really as apt if I have to explain it!), I went out at least twice a week with a big group of friends (all through uni, a surprising large percentage of us all stuck around in the area). I fancied trying netball so I set up a team, an initial team which, within a few years had four teams in a local league. 

Go back 16 years and you’d think I was a recluse. I had left school prematurely due to ill health and completed my ALevels through home learning. I didn’t sleep during the night, was pretty agoraphobic and stayed within the confines of my Dads house and mainly only left for epilepsy appointments at the hospital. 

The teenage experience was mainly because I was diagnosed with epilepsy age 14 and then went through a lengthy diagnosis process and a seemingly even longer prescribing process to get the medication right. I was too nervous to leave the house on my own in case I had a seizure. I didn’t sleep well because the medication messed up my sleeping patterns which got even worse after a bout of glandular fever.

But it only took a few years for me to go from hermit to apparent party animal. So I know that although I’ve obviously been prone to slightly unstable mental health, but I’m also able to manage it when I don’t feel like my nerves are on high alert. I went through some difficult stuff as a teen, and I’ve been through some difficult stuff in the last few years. I’m certainly not saying that what I went through at either point was worse than what a lot of people endure, and God knows that in a lot of ways, I am incredibly lucky. But what I have recently accepted about myself is that sometimes in times of high stress or trauma, I need a bit of time to recover. And the consequent brain damage (if you haven’t read my last post, very mild and not a serious issue), means I have physical and mental limitations that I need to respect.

I can also hear my mother shout ‘and you do too much, I do wish you’d slow down’, at this point..! And she’s right, I am prone to taking on a lot and I’m a terrible people pleaser so I find it very hard to say no, I end up stressing myself out when I can’t do things for people even though, saying no is not always a bad thing and is something I’m trying to actively teach my daughters is quite often a positive thing to do. Although she’s also a people pleaser so I blame her entirely (love you Mum 😉 )! 

Hermit and party animal are very much opposite ends of the scale. Who I really am is someone in between. I like my own company and sometimes need some alone time, especially when I’m working or learning. But I also love being around people, I love helping and supporting people, and I love to try new things. 

So at the moment I’ve slid back down towards hermit. Not in the same way as before, but the nerves, the anxiety, the twitching hands, the struggling to sleep are all familiar. I have two huge motivations for not staying inside all the time, and the girls are genuinely my driving power behind keeping going when it’s particularly tough. I’ve also been down familiar roads before so I have a few coping methods to draw on. I sign up for regular sporting events so I always have something to train for or aim towards. I eat much better with a healthy varied diet (‘diets’ are firmly banned, I’ve personally found that no good has ever come from them). I have regular baths with scented candles and genuinely find that those candles and bath bombs calm me. 

And I’m trying to take each day as it comes and I’m trying to acknowledge the small victories. Some of which include (as silly as some of them might sound);

– opening up to my parents and brother about how I was feeling after trying to hide it throughout a mental (great in many ways but very stressful) Summer schedule. Sounds like an obvious thing but was actually harder than I thought, you never want to disappoint those closest to you and I certainly didn’t want my family thinking they needed to worry about. Turns out they were already worried and my opening up was a relief. I know that I am very lucky to have my family.

– looking at my work commitments and being honest about what I could do, I had no less than seven voluntary roles for companies or organisations and I’ve now only have one, in a field I adore working with a very small team who are more like family. 

– I rounded up and donated some old clothes, some that are too big and some that were baggy shapeless clothes that is started to hide away in.

– I went to the Dr, and was honest about how I was feeling instead of my go to ‘oh I’m fine’.

– I admitted I didn’t like travelling away from home. I had an amazing opportunity to speak to some producers in LA about some writing I’d submitted, and I had an all expenses paid trip to LA to discuss and experiment with a couple of ideas. It was a fantastic experience that I know I’m incredibly lucky to have had, but I realised when I was there (and the panic attack I had on the way to the airport heavily suggested it..!) that I just did not enjoy being away from my family, not necessarily for ever, but certainly right now. Realising that and accepting that was a huge relief. For self employed people, saying no to any work is basically unthinkable and irresponsible, but actually there are times when it’s more important to say to yourself ‘this sort of thing is not for me and that’s ok’.

I’m not the housewife type, give me five minutes and I’m bored and wanting to try something new, and that’s a trait that is not likely to change! That’s not to say I don’t love looking after my girls and don’t enjoy cooking and using some of my downtime to make our house a home. (And that in itself is a full time job that I really admire other men or women for taking on full time) But it’s not really who I am, but it IS where I am at the moment while I get back on my feet, physically speaking (I have some treatments to hopefully improve the minor issues with the brain) and mentally speaking. 

So back to the playground. It’s terrifying. But you know what, I feel like in time I will get to know some parents. And then ironically, once I have a couple of friends in the local area and am a bit more settled, I won’t even notice that there are lots there I don’t know. And that’s what I’m trying to concentrate on, it will take, in reality, a small amount of progress to make a huge difference. In one week they’ll both be on half term and I cannot wait to have some quality time with them both, and school holidays, maybe I’ll even be telling my husband to keep a night free so I can go to the cinema with a friend. 

Right now everything hurts and it feels so hard and like an unclimbable mountain. But it needs time, which is easier said than done. And let’s be honest, we all know the LOGIC behind how we’re feeling, but that doesn’t help at the time. It won’t be smooth sailing either, it is soon to be the year anniversary of losing my cousin, which means a month later it’ll be the year anniversary of losing one of our best friends. And that will be tough. But life is tough and there’s never going to be a year where any of us get to the end of it saying ‘well that was a stress free easy year’! I don’t want to belittle anyone struggles though and I shouldn’t belittle my own. This year one of my New Years resolutions was to have a year free of operations having had at least one every year since 2014. Two of which were C-Sections, but the other 4 were not, my health has not been in good shape since before my first pregnancy! And somehow my husband and I decided to cram pretty much all major life decisions into the same four years as starting a family, we moved house twice, started and grew a family business, I was made redundant, and of course our two kids were born. Frankly we were sorting of asking to live life on a harder mode! 

So overall I’m optimistic. My husband and kids have settled fantastically in our new hometown, it won’t take too much longer for me too. There will be no more babies, no more moving and no more huge career changes now, so I have time to focus on healing, and getting stronger. It still doesn’t make it an easy path, it’s covered in thorny brambles which will hurt to cut through, and bits of rubbish strewn across it that I need to take the time to pick up and dispose of properly, but what I need to keep in mind is that I can SEE the path. 

This has somewhat turned into an essay style string of brain vomit! Things are tough right now but behind the things out of my control, the things I’m worried about are normal and natural. It will be ok, I have 100% record of getting through tough days and I aim to continue that ratio for a very long time. I don’t need to conquer the playground, I just need to see past the fears, and find my feet. I’ve been a school child parent for three weeks and will remain so for at least the next 18 years. It’s not easy right now, but everything’s going to be ok, we all are.

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Chapter 3…

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The 8th February 2018. That’s when I last wrote a blog post. And it was about a ‘temporary blip’ in my mental health, the death of my cousin, the death of a close friend of ours, a car accident and the arrival of a rat had set my nerves totally on edge and I stopped sleeping, had panic attacks and didn’t feel safe at home. Especially as a week after the first rat had been ‘sorted’, another appeared.

In the eight months since, although it’s a lot less simplistic than I’m summarising it as here, we left that house, relocated to the South East of the U.K. near to family on both sides (and although that meant living further away from some family in our old town, excitingly it included family with children around the same age as our girls. Including children soon to join us all!)
I had some brain scans on relocating when I met my new neurologist, and it showed that the epilepsy during my second pregnancy had unfortunately left a little damage. Nothing life threatening, just enough to mean a change of career paths to a slightly simpler path for at least a few years. For now, writing is to be my main work, and I’ve stepped down from a few of the various roles including voluntary roles I’ve taken up over the last few years. 

The anxiety and nerves have remained difficult, moving has definitely helped. We live by the seaside and as the UK has had such a glorious Summer, there have been many family beach days. The transition to moving work commitments from one side of the country to the other has been hard and has meant a lot of travelling, and even worse, a lot of time with my husband and I apart. But we’re starting to settle and the travelling has settled down to an extent that we now only travel for the work we’ve chosen to keep on. 

Now to the more important, how are the girls? Scarlett is now 4, and Holly is now 2. One of the reasons we relocated in March was so that the girls had a good six months settling into a new home town before starting school/nursery. It was definitely the right decision. Both are very happy at in their new environments and have made friends and I’m so proud of them. We continue to explore as a four, and although times going really fast, we could not be more proud of them both.

I’ve thought a lot about privacy in the last few months. In fact a research project on links between social media and mental health, (that I have unfortunately needed to take a break on while my own brain gets a bit more sorted) made me think about how much more difficult and stressful life can be when it’s 24/7 accessible. If I had a bad day at school, I’d go home and be ‘safe’ from it. If my parents had a bad day at work, they could come home and forget about it, knowing there was nothing they could do until the next day. These days kids can go to school and then be tormented online until they return the next day having had no reprieve. They can not be on social media of course, but 1) that further isolates them from their peers, and 2) why the hell should THEY be the ones not on social media?! And if people have a bad day at work these days, you can take it home, you can receive emails to your work or personal accounts, your colleagues can tag you on social media. And again you can disengage from all of that, but then you will, in today’s society (generally speaking) find it difficult not to fall behind on progress, or be overlooked for promotion for not going ‘the extra mile’, which these days can often mean an extra marathon. I’m not saying that the days gone by were much better or easier, I’m not saying people didn’t struggle. With the advent of the internet, people’s career paths were suddenly opened up on a potentially international scale. If your childhood friend or family members moves away now, through social media, you can stay in touch and be a part of their lives. There are some huge positives. But similarly large negatives. 

The point of this train of thought (plot twist, there is a point…!), is that I shared a lot about my two babies, my pregnancies and their first couple of years. I don’t regret this, as the two books the passages filled are a fantastic momentous of some magic moments. But they are both older now. Scarlett is becoming aware of how she looks and how she comes across, and although I have nothing negative to say about other people who continue to share their parenting journeys, I have made the decision not to continue mine. If there was a public version of my first years, I would love to read them, it’s not a time I remember and it would be amazing to have a glimpse. When I then think of the childhood I remember, there are many humiliating stories, I’m quite glad aren’t written in print! So for me. Personally, whilst I may share stories over coffee (or Gin!) with friends or family, or even in emails I send to both daughters that I set up for them when they were born (for the very reason to write to them I the future at various points, not even for them to use as they’ll be perfectly capable of picking their own!), my online record will cease to share personal details of my daughters lives.

However, I’m 33, and I am fully capable of making my own decisions about what I do and don’t share about myself. And I have decided that actually being open about my new ‘Bumpy Ride’ is right for me. So instead of the ups and downs of parenting (although I’m sure there’ll be cameos!), it will instead be the ups and downs of settling in a new town, getting on top of my nerves and anxiety, and finding a new career path and all that comes with that. 

I realise this will not interest some, and for those that have followed my parenting journey, I apologise, I am aware I am not as interesting or as adorable as my two daughters! But I’m hoping that perhaps along the way, I will find that my own journey through this new stage of my life has its comrades old and new; as always I welcome advice from others, and I look forward to what the next year or so has to bring. To what’s next, to chapter three…!