Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness

Mental health and the challenges around it have always been very close to home for me. Not necessarily in a negative way, because I have learnt a lot from it, but those around me, and often those close to me, have experienced it first hand. The important thing to say early on, is there is absolutely no shame in that. Having feelings and emotions, and struggling with them is completely human, and sometimes facing those struggles is inevitable.

If I’m honest, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to write this blog for quite a while now, not because I think it is going to be controversial or problematic in any way, but because having come on quite a difficult journey and having gone through some very difficult times as a result, I like my blog to be positive and talk about the fun and happiness that is experienced through being a parent. However, although some of the context may be negative, it comes with a positive message. This is something I have only started to believe myself recently, which in a way, means I really want to pass it onto others that may need to hear it.

So what is this message? In its simplest form? You are never completely alone. To elaborate on this, it applies even on the days when all seems lost or hopeless, when you’re stuck in the darkest recesses of your mind and it feels like there is no way out. In those moments it is so so hard to see it, to believe it. I know the feeling well because I have been there, over, and over, and over. Yet it is true, you are never completely alone, not if you don’t want to be, and most people in crisis don’t want to be alone, not indefinitely. Yes we all have days where we are fed up with the world and want to be left to our own devices, and that’s fair enough. What I’m referring to is people in a personal crisis, who feel worthless, uncared for and disconnected from the world, for whatever reason they have reached that place, and probably not by choice. I’m not just talking about depression, because mental health can be affected by many different things. Anxiety, bereavement, financial difficulties, family issues, bullying, discrimination, the list goes on. All these things can put a person in a very difficult place, and can often result in depression or feelings similar to it.

To refer back to the title of this blog, and to get onto the real reason for writing this. I have through my own recent experiences, been pretty shocked by the lack of mental health awareness by certain services.

To put this in context, I haven’t been in work since the 22nd August due to a rapid and unforeseen increase in my social anxiety and decline in my mental health. There had been things here and there that now I’m more aware of how anxiety works should have been warning signs, but I just didn’t think anything of it. On my breaks at work I had been purposely seeking out places where I knew there would be no people so I could avoid any social interaction. I had been waking up hours before my alarm went off worrying about going into work and a room full of people. All these things happened very gradually over about 2 months, so I thought nothing of it. However, in the two days before the 22nd August, being at work became almost unbearable; I was counting the minutes until my next break so I could just get away from all the people, and it became exhausting. Eventually the thought of going into work terrified me and after a phone call into work, that felt incredibly challenging, I managed to explain that I wouldn’t be in work that night or the next.

After a long weekend at my Dad’s, and a very long conversation with him, it became clear I wasn’t in a good place mentally at all. This is where I knew I had to put things in place to set it right again. Unfortunately, this saw the start of a blatant failure and lack of awareness around mental health issues by my GP, and by some other services too, this ultimately lead to the continued decline in my mental health.

First thing Tuesday morning I was on the phone to the Wellbeing Service, a service put on by the NHS to assist people in dealing with their mental health. Sounds great, right? Well yes, the concept is good, but as with everything that is public sector it is vastly over-subscribed. I had quite a lengthy conversation with a psychological health advisor, and credit where it’s due, he did a very thorough and comprehensive job, and helped me feel at ease when talking things through. Sadly, that had absolutely no bearing on the outcome. This adviser agreed the best way forward was to attend a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) course, to help me learn how to manage my anxiety. The downside? There’s a waiting list of at least 12 months. At this point I felt like I had completely wasted my time, I had spoken about my feelings and emotions to someone who was no more than a stranger, and got nothing for it other than ending up feeling pretty stupid and reluctant to put the time and effort into talking to anyone again. That said, I did get offered two introductory sessions to CBT in early October. It would be a group session, in other words, a room full of strangers, no thanks. However, I said I’d go, hoping I’d feel up to it by the time October came around.

The next phone call I made was to my GP, I honestly shouldn’t have bothered. I called up asking for an urgent appointment, without being asked why or what for, I was told quite resolutely that there were “none available” for that day. The surgery had been open 20 minutes. I asked if I could see the duty nurse, it was at this stage I was asked what for. I started to say it was around anxiety, but I was quickly cut off, the response I got was “she can’t help you with that”. What a brilliant thing to say to someone who was feeling anxious enough about calling as it is, and who at this stage thought very little of themselves. I gave up at this point, told the receptionist not to worry and hung up. The next day, I did the same. I asked for an urgent appointment, without being asked why, got told there were none available. The surgery had been open 10 minutes. I was told I could have an urgent call back from a duty doctor, so I hung up the phone and waited. Around 3pm I got a call from a doctor from a different surgery that I had never heard of before, at this point I couldn’t see any reason to continue the call. Two minutes and thirty seven seconds later, I had vaguely explained what I was struggling with as best I could, and I had been booked an appointment. In 9 days time.

I called the GP again the following day, asking for an urgent appointment, same answer. This time I got offered a telephone appointment that would be between 10am and 4pm. “Better than nothing”, I thought, and went with this. 4pm that afternoon I hadn’t heard anything at all, but I had a missed call from an unknown number, so I called my GP. I was told that the doctor hadn’t tried to call me yet today, but that she would call me as soon as possible. 5pm, still nothing. So Lore called the GP. She basically asked them what the hell was going on and why I hadn’t been called as promised. Apparently this doctor was on a ‘home visit’, and they didn’t know when she would be finished, but she would call me as soon as she was available. Lore challenged the receptionist on this, and made it quite clear that this wasn’t good enough. The woman on the end of the phone was completely unwilling to take any responsibility or actually do anything helpful. Lore explained that we were in town, and near to the surgery, if there was someone that could see me that afternoon (the surgery was open until 6:30pm). She was told that there was no-one that could do this, and that I wouldn’t get an appointment on Monday either. It seemed that no effort was being made to see what could be done, or even attempt to understand my circumstances. So, after being let down by yet another person, we gave up for the weekend. This left me wondering how they would ever identify someone in a mental health crisis if they never used any form of effective questioning or showed any interest in getting someone the help they need.

After this, I had no interest in speaking to my GP again, because they were pretty useless, it seems unless you’ve got a physical injury or illness that one of the receptionists can actually recognise, you’re better off talking to a brick wall. Instead, I put my own things in place, I went back to FACES, and spoke to them about the place I was in and how I was feeling. As always, they were great, incredibly supportive and understanding. Once again the level of support from them was stepped up, and they were around if either of us needed them. There was a point where I was really struggling and one of the practitioners from FACES knew this, and was texting me every day to check I was alright, and I knew that was a person I could took to if I needed to, but also a person who wouldn’t mind if I chose not to talk.

The appointment that was 9 days away eventually came around, and Lore came with me. I said as much as I felt comfortable saying, and the Doctor I spoke to was alright, but I felt like he had been told the things I was saying so many times, that it was ‘old news’ and he wasn’t really interested. Either way, I had been able to talk about things to some extent, and came away with a prescription for anti-depressants. I wasn’t against this, but apprehensive of it at first, I suppose I’ve always seen them as giving a ‘pretend happiness’, making things appear fine when they aren’t. Lore explained it to me in a different way though, that it helps level out how you feel, leaving you better equipped to start working through the difficult stuff, and I’ve seen it this way ever since. From my understanding, these sort of things need a follow up appointment, because of the medication, and because of the reason I was there, but I had no such thing arranged.

Once again, I tried relentlessly to get an appointment to see a doctor, but with no luck at all. Thankfully FACES had continued to be supportive. I was really struggling with making phone calls, into my GP, to work, even to my own family. This is what they were able to help with. I had a particularly difficult week mid-September and on one weekend found myself in what would be called a ‘crisis’. I spoke to someone at FACES the following week, and she was great, she made herself available that afternoon so I could go in and speak to her and she also made a phone call to my GP to arrange an appointment. The earliest appointment I got was still about a week away, but it was better than nothing.

I’m glad to say, that particular appointment was exactly what I needed it to be. I was able to talk honestly about how I had been feeling, how I had felt when I reached crisis point. I spoke about the effects of the medication and how it had and hadn’t helped. I came away with all the paperwork to sign me off work that I had been waiting on for almost 3 weeks, an increase in the dosage of my medication and a follow up appointment for a month’s time. I had no idea why that had been so hard to get up until this point.

I suppose what I’m trying to say, is up until the GP appointment I mentioned above, I was shocked and disappointed by the lack of awareness and understanding by the receptionists, and some of the doctors around mental health. The way I was spoken to, and the things that I had said to me, like being told ‘they can’t help you with that’, when asking to see a nurse. When Lore called the GP, she made it very clear to them how much I needed the help and to be seen, and she was in short told that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

It is very fortunate that I had the support of Lore, my family, of FACES, and of my work, who have all been amazing. It does make me worry about those who don’t have the support of other agencies, have a family that can rally round, or support from work colleagues. If someone in mental health crisis, who didn’t have any support around them, was told that they couldn’t be helped, or that there was no-one available to see them, that person could find themselves in a very negative or desperate place, much like I have done.

I work for the Police, and on many occasions I have taken calls from people in crisis, who are calling the Police as a last resort because they want to end their life. I once spent an hour on the phone to a woman who wanted to commit suicide because she had lost a court case to get a restraining order against her violent ex-husband. I stayed on the phone to her until a police officer turned up at her door to give her the support she needed. My question is why is that necessary? It seems that there is overall failure in the ‘early-help’ services, such as GP surgeries, to recognise and be aware of people struggling with their mental health. Many times over I found myself wondering if there had been any training given to these receptionists I was speaking to on how to recognise someone struggling or to question them effectively to give the support that is needed.

However, I have learnt that although there may be failures by certain services and agencies, there is support out there, from charities such as FACES, such as Open Door, or MIND, through employers, Occupational Health and so on. There is stuff out there, and if you want, and need the support, it will be there. Unfortunately, I found that out the hard way, but the help is out there.

I am due to go back to work in just under a week, something which I have been so nervous about, but because of the brilliant support that I have received from all those mentioned above, that now feels possible again, and I’m looking forward to it. I still have counselling every week, and I still take the anti-depressants daily, and I’m not too sure how the return to work will pan out, but that doesn’t bother me, and all of that is because there is support out there. It may not come from the places it should, such as the GP that you have been told to go and see, or from the staff at A&E who I have been told over and over will help me in a crisis (don’t get me wrong, they do an amazing job dealing with hundreds of other things!). Support might not come from where you expect it to, it might be an old friend, or a meeting with a stranger, but it is there. I work with so many people that I can guarantee would talk to you for as long as it took to make you feel okay again. Not just because it is their job to, but because they understand, they get it, and want to help. If you called 999 in desperation and got me at the end of the phone, I would not end that call until I knew that you were going to be alright.

There is always help, there is always hope.

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A New Week, A New Start

A New Week, A New Start

I was hoping to write this earlier this week, but life got in the way I suppose! Anyway, better late than never.

As you may have worked out, last week was pretty challenging from a parenting point of view, Benjamin was hard work. Not badly behaved, just quite difficult. He was very reactive and sensitive to a lot of things, more so than usual, and spent good chunks of each day crying and rolling around on the floor. Looking back on it, it’s completely normal, part of his growing up and developing, but it is very hard to think like that at the time!

Along with the challenges Benjamin was presenting, my anxiety was worse than it had been for a couple of weeks, so I had pretty much restricted myself to the house for the first half of the week, which really only makes things worse. Despite having given myself all this time at home, I still didn’t feel on top of things like the cleaning, this blog and usually I would cook dinner for us as Lore had been at work, but I hadn’t really been doing that either. So I had this general feeling of being behind on everything.

As is often the way with being a parenting and having a family and a home to look after, money hadn’t exactly been flowing this month either, which adds to the worries, and it made it feel like one thing after another. This isn’t something I’ve included so far, but I’ll also be going back to work in a week after being signed off since mid-August, which is bound to feel a bit scary, and not help with the anxiety.

Lore had a challenging week too, again because of Benjamin testing us, but work was busy and she was worried about money like I was, all of which heightened her feelings of anxiety. Feelings which we both deal with in different ways, and quite often ways that aggravate each others anxiety, so things can get pretty messy. That said, we both know that, and more often than not, know how to deal with it and set things right. However, when you have Benjamin, tantrum in full swing, but also know you have lots of other things to get done and it feels like there isn’t enough time in the day to do those bits and pieces, even the smallest of things can tip things over the edge. Which is what happened last week.

If I’m honest, when I say that is what happened last week, it is what happened to me last week, I’m nowhere near as good as managing my anxiety and my emotions as Lore is, I’m still learning I suppose. Unfortunately, my ability to manage this is still pretty inconsistent and is often trial and error at the moment, which delivers mixed results…

So yes, last week was pretty tough, for all three of us (and probably the cat too), but Sunday evening into Monday morning, I told myself that this week is a new week, and I’m going to put the effort in to make it better for all of us. So I’ve got myself out the house, usually out on my bike, I’ve kept the place clean, sorting out the kitchen and tidying up during the day. I’ve planned a few blog posts, even though I’ve not written them yet! I’ve also been doing some publicity work for the cycling club I’m part of. All of these things help me feel like I’ve used my time better and been more productive. I have tried to get on with Lore better, cooking us dinner, talking to her while at work to see how her day is going, little things like that, but they make a difference.

As a result, I have felt more positive, less anxious, and I think Lore has too, we have both been more patient with Benjamin, it has been easier to get him through his grumpy moments, and we’ve worked together. I have made proper arrangements to go back to work next week and I’m actually looking forward to it, a little apprehensive still, but that’s not surprising after nearly 2 months of not being there. The outlook is generally positive.

This may sound a little philosophical, but each week, or day, is very much what you make of it, and it is possible to choose how you want things to go, just sometimes that feels more manageable, and sometimes turning a negative into a positive feels pretty much impossible. The idea of turning an awful week into a good one can feel incredibly daunting, so start small. Two months ago I was taking things an hour at a time, because my mood and how I was feeling was changing so often, and without any warning of when or how. So to think, “that hour was pretty rubbish, but I’ll find something to do to make the next one better” was far easier and better than thinking “well the last week has been awful, how am I going to make the next 7 days better?” This can be used in almost any circumstance. For example, having a nightmare day with the 2 year old? Take it an hour at a time, find an activity that will fill the hour, it doesn’t have to cost anything, or involve any great effort, it could be colouring and sticking, or going out to play in crunchy autumn leaves and collect sticks.

This approach has got me through the slowest, exhausting and most challenging days, and I know that is has worked for Lore too, and something we still do together quite often. It has flipped the difficulties of last week on it’s head and made this week a good one, and it’s not over yet!

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Boundaries

Boundaries

Life is full of rules and guidelines on what we should and shouldn’t do, but I find that the boundaries we set ourselves are more important, and particularly when it comes to parenting, the boundaries that we set for our children. I am very much a strong believer in children being given the opportunity to explore and learn by doing and experimenting. Getting grass stained clothes and grazed knees, covered in paint or eating playdough, just letting kids be kids, certainly when they’re little. Let them figure stuff out, because that’s what growing up is about!

However, there probably should be a limit, or a boundary somewhere. A certain line that it isn’t wrong to cross, because a toddler isn’t going to understand that concept, but where there is a gentle reminder that there are things that we can’t do, or should think about before we do them. It’s a very complex thing and a 2 year old (like Benjamin) just wouldn’t understand, so when do you start educating kids about what should and shouldn’t be done? I purposely use the words ‘should/shouldn’t’, as there are very few things that we have an obligation to do/not do, and saying ‘you can do this’ or ‘you can’t do that’ seems quite limiting to me, but then sometimes that is appropriate. Like I say, it’s a very complex idea, that a child wouldn’t necessarily even start to understand until the age of 5, if not older, but do you introduce the concept of boundaries in its most simple form at a young age? Hoping then that it will give them a better understanding of this idea as they get older? Who knows?

Even if you manage to figure that out, there’s still the question of where do you draw the line? How far out do you set those boundaries? I’m definitely still trying to work this one out. My thoughts are, if it’s going to cause harm to someone, another child, or Mummy, or me, or anyone else for that matter, it shouldn’t be done. So hitting, kicking, biting, chucking things at people (the last two Benjamin has got quite good at, unfortunately), the obvious stuff I suppose. Benjamin went through a stage of throwing toy cars at me, which unsurprisingly, could be quite a painful experience, so that was one of those things that we explained to him he shouldn’t do. He’s also developed this habit of biting, sometimes playfully, but sometimes when he’s cross too, and that is something he now understands that he shouldn’t do, because it can hurt people.

Again, in my opinion, a toddler should be given the opportunity to experience emotions, anger, sadness, frustration, and so on, because it’s normal to, it’s human to feel these things. Benjamin is 2 in December, and is at that iconic stage where the emotions mentioned above are felt very strongly, and come out in floods of tears, or shouting and screaming and charging around the place, or throwing his toys across the room. Yes, as a parent, that’s difficult to witness and listen to, and sometimes I don’t deal with it as well as I’d like, and I’m sure we could all say the same. The thing is, and I tell myself this all the time, it’s normal, imagine if you were experiencing anger, or frustration for the first time ever, and hadn’t learnt how to control those feelings yet. We’d all probably be running around screaming too!

When you have a snotty, dribbly, teary-eyed toddler kicking and screaming and rolling around on the floor, it can feel like it has been going on for an age, and then some, but those moments don’t last forever, and there will be something that works, that brings them out of it. Distraction is the key, with so many things Benjamin does if one of us manages to find a reasonable distraction, whatever started the toddler meltdown is forgotten about in seconds. For example, not so long ago Benjamin was having a most spectacular tantrum, to the point where he was rolling across the floor and out of his room, leaving a trail of snot patches on the carpet as he went, and nothing we tried would bring him out of it. Apart from toast, of course! I had him upstairs and through the tears I could just hear him saying “toast” repeatedly, so I asked “would you like some toast?” and suddenly the crying seized and in a cheery little voice he replied “yes! Toast” and that was that, 5 minutes later he was sat on the sofa eating toast without a care in the world.

So yes, the tantrums can be difficult when they’re happening, and we all have our own ways of dealing with them, but they don’t last forever, and 2 year olds are generally still easy to please, so if you find that magical thing that snaps them out of meltdown mode (like toast), that may be the answer! Either way, distraction goes a long way in these situations, definitely a tried and tested technique for us.

As for the boundaries conundrum, well every child is different, every home is different, I suppose some children will need those limitations more than others, I don’t think there’s a universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, if I find out there is, I’ll probably write a book on it, make lots of money and take Benjamin and Lore to Disney World or something!

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I’m still writing…

LittleChampionLogoI’ve managed to get another blog written this morning, while the cat snores and the washing machine hums, I’ve been typing away! Of course I’m not going to post the blog now, I mean, most of you are probably at work, cleaning, or caught up in the daily demands of parenting, and I wouldn’t want to distract you all from such things…but the latest post will be here soon(ish) for you all to read, so watch this space I suppose!

Pocket-sized Progress

Pocket-sized Progress

Everything Benjamin does these days is progress, so often I see him do something different, or say a new word, or show understanding on a new level. If you sit back and watch him, it is like you can physically see his brain working away to figure something out, and when he does, it really is quite something.

His words and his speech is where there have been the biggest changes recently, as I said in my last post, only a few weeks ago the words he could say were limited and I could quite easily list them all. Now there are loads, and it is starting to feel like you can actually have conversations with him, and even when he can’t reply, you know he understands. The most noticeable thing over the last couple of weeks is how he can put two words, sometimes three together. For example “cheese toast”, being cheese on toast (I know that’s pretty easy to figure out!), there is also “big bed”, and things like “arm in” when putting a coat or jacket on where he knows he has to put his arms in the holes. Quite recently he has started to learn his own name, so now he will go “Mummy, Daddy, Benji!”, which is always adorable, even if I am pretty biased…Benjamin’s most impressive thing which he says is “helmet, bike, nursery, Amy”. As not only can he say the words, but it shows a pretty good understanding too. He know’s he has to get his helmet on to go on Mummy’s bike, he knows when he goes on Mummy’s bike it is because he is going to nursery, and he knows that Amy is at the nursery (she works there), and he will see here when he gets there. Which I think for a small person who hasn’t seen much of the world, is pretty good going, like the title says, pocket-sized progress!

Stacking BlocksHis hand-eye co-ordination skills and cognitive ability have come a long way too (the stuff that is written on every kids toy, that will apparently improve if you spend an obscene amount of money on this plastic thing), is it just me that’s noticed that? That said, he recently got a new (wooden, thankfully) shape sorter, and he’s already mastered it, to the point where he has near enough committed to memory where each shape needs to go on which side of the cube. Granted, he does still need a bit of direction on the putting the shape in the right way round, but that’s just minor detail of course!

We very rarely use the pushchair these days, unless we are going for a whole day outing. Benjamin is generally very confident when out and about and

loves to explore, so he will be perfectly happy walking along on his reins, occasionally being carried for a bit of a rest, before being ready to set off again, he doesn’t stop for long! He does love being active and out in the real world, which I am so glad for, and it is far easier getting out without having to drag the pushchair around with us, although it means we have to carry anything we buy, we can’t use that handy storage space that we all rely on for so long anymore.

 

 

Benjamin’s new level of understanding has meant he can get involved in things like IMG-20181002-WA0010cooking and baking, which Lore loves. Not so long ago they made pizzas together for tea, and then baked brownies on another day, and he was great. He put the cheese on the pizzas himself, and ate any that missed, he put sprinkles on the brownies and helped spread the chocolate icing on top, and he was pretty good at eating them too, no surprise there!

He is so independent and confident, which makes me happy, because going back a while he did have separation anxiety and was losing his confidence as a result, which of course is worrying as a parent. I do worry that he will lose his confidence and his ability to make people smile as he grows up, but who knows. I suppose I’ll just add that one to the long list of worries that parenting brings…

The last thing I want to do is come across as if I’m trying to paint this perfect image of my child who is flawless in every way never pushes the boundaries, because he does exactly that. Only the other day he had a screaming tantrum over being given pasta for lunch, and I mean rolling around on the floor kicking, blowing snot bubbles, and breaking the sound barrier type tantrum. Twenty minutes later he had eaten the whole bowl of the VERY SAME PASTA. Why do they do that? He has also done the same thing over Mini Cheddars. During the bedtime hour on Cbeebies the other night, we were sat down nice and calmly, snuggled up with teddies. Then, for someone reason, seeing the tombliboo ball on In The Night Garden meant Benjamin decided that the best thing to do would be to get off the sofa and throw plastic food and Daddy’s face. Thankfully, relatively painless, but not how I planned on starting my Sunday evening.

An irritating, yet vaguely amusing, thing that he does at the moment, is repeatedly ask for a banana, and I mean continuously, until you go get one, peel it and give it to him. He will then take it, roll it round in his hands a bit until it is mushy and isn’t really recognisable anymore, say “no” and give it back, then refusing to eat it. I have no idea why that has started, he used to absolutely love bananas.

So yes, he is developing brilliantly at the moment, and that is reassuring and puts a smile on my face, because it feels like he is learning the right things at the right time, which naturally puts every parent at ease. However he is still a toddler, and is nearly two, which means he still does those unimaginable toddler things. No matter how saint-like and perfect a child may look to the outside world, they are still a child, and should be given the opportunity to discover the world as a child!

Well It’s Been A While…

Well It’s Been A While…

May 28th was the last time I wrote here. I don’t really know why I’ve left it so long, there wasn’t a particular point where I thought “I’m going to stop doing this now”, it just, stopped. I suppose the fact that the last post was about managing the work life balance explains it and speaks for itself.

The reason I’ve come back to it is completely down to a chance encounter by a family member where my blog was recommended to a friend. Hopefully you’re both reading this, if you are, thank you!

I could quite easily write war and peace here about where things are at now and what has changed since May. However, the last 24 hours gives a very accurate representation of where Lore, Benjamin (who is now nearly two) and I have got to, from a parenting perspective anyway!

So the 24 hours started at approximately half past 5 yesterday afternoon, I was at home at this point, and Lore was picking Benjamin up from nursery after work. Now to put things in context, for Benjamin to tolerate the journey to and from nursery, we do have to rely on a variety of snacks, fig rolls, rusks and so on…well yesterday afternoon the snack of choice was Mini Cheddars, which if you ask me, is pretty good going! Not for Benjamin, he made it very clear that as he had not been given Pombears he was going to have a complete toddler meltdown for the whole trip home. So if you were in Bedford between half 5 and 6pm yesterday afternoon and were confused why you could hear what sounded like sirens, but couldn’t see them, that was probably just my son, sorry about that.

As I say, I was at home at this point, and I could hear Benjamin long before I could see him, thankfully, this meant I was pre-warned for what was about to come through the door. As expected, I was met with a red faced, snotty, teary eyed mess, clutching a packet of opened, but untouched Mini Cheddars. Lore stepped through the door and I hugged her, knowing the journey home had been a challenging one to say the least. I then turned my attention to Benjamin, who by this point was stood in the middle of the living room, tantrum in full swing. The coat, shoes, and socks (that’s a whole other story) came off and within a couple of minutes he had calmed down, and was happily munching Mini Cheddars like nothing had happened. We weren’t quite done though, oh no, he then without warning, just picked up his tantrum where he left off, as if he just thought, “you know what, I reckon I’ll carry on crying now”, and that’s exactly what he did.

I had now decided it was bathtime, in an attempt to calm things down, so upstairs we went, got undressed and filled up the bath. It was going well, until Benjamin decided he wanted his Mini Cheddars in the bath – yes, the same Mini Cheddars he was adamant he didn’t want only half an hour ago – I gave him one to hold, but he then wanted another, and another, and another, up to the point where the packet was empty, and he was holding no less than seven crisps. All it took was a brief moment of distraction and his hand dropped into the bath, now he was holding no less than seven soggy, mushy crisps. Catastrophically, I had to take them off him before they turned to cheesy cement, and now we were back into meltdown mode. I quickly did the hair washing and got him out the bath, trying not to prolong the situation any longer. Lore helped get him dressed and the decision was made to read some stories and go straight to bed. Thankfully, he snuggled up with Mummy on the chair and read some books, before having a bit of milk and climbing into bed, at last, we thought. That felt like a very long hour! I had to go back to him a couple of times to put him back into bed, as he doesn’t have a side on his cot anymore, but that’s fairly standard these days. That was it for the evening and we were able to settle down in front of the TV after that.

What about the rest though? Well, this morning was, interesting…

It started with a 5:30am wake up after Benjamin clearly had a nightmare of some sort. Lore went to him first and calmed him down and came back to bed, however she was fairly sure he wouldn’t go back to sleep, she was right! He starting crying again about 10 to 6, so I went to him, and brought him into our bed, or “big bed” as Benjamin calls it, I was hoping he would settle here and go back to sleep, he didn’t! He was fidgety and wriggly and kept losing his dummy and teddies in the bed, sitting up to hunt for them every now and then, accompanied with saying “book” repeatedly as usually we read stories in bed in the morning. He then tried to stand up, fell over and headbutted Mummy by accident, causing him to cry and probably giving Mummy a headache, if she didn’t have one already!

‘Big bed’ stopped being fun after a while, so the best thing to do was to tear around upstairs and play with the wardrobe of course, I mean, what else would you do at quarter past 6 in the morning? By this point we both committed ourselves to getting up and out of bed and starting the day, the small, toddler shaped alarm clock had worked that’s for sure.

Despite the chaos this morning, he had a good day at nursery and ate lots of food, which is always good! However this evening Benjamin had a tantrum over bread sticks. I think this is a sign of what’s to come…

That said though, he is a lovely and caring little chap, who radiates happiness and spreads it wherever he goes (particularly on the bus). He has a funny obsession with toast and his favourite thing to do is clean and tidy up, he loves Waffle the Wonder Dog, or “woof woof” as he calls it, he ‘jumps’ without his feet leaving the floor, he has become famous at nursery for being the best at the baby shark dance, and he could eat fig rolls until the cows come home. I wouldn’t change him for the world though and I love him to bits, he has developed massively recently, only three weeks ago I could count the words he said on one hand, now he knows too many to be able to keep track of. He still is, always has been, and always will be our little champion!

 

Work versus Life

Work versus Life

I’ve been finding the work/life balance quite difficult recently, Benjamin has reached another stage in his development, which is brilliant, and wonderful to see, but it does mean he can’t be quite demanding some days, meanwhile work is very busy, there is a high level of demand at the moment and it’s just a bit relentless for everyone.

I do feel like I’m missing out on home life, I leave for work before anyone in the house is awake, get back more often than not after Benjamin has gone to bed, I have about an hour where Lore and I have dinner and then I go to bed for another early start the next morning, so I don’t see much of her either, which can be pretty rubbish if I’m honest. Depending on how my shifts work out, I can go near enough four days without seeing Benjamin at all, and see Lore very little. I am still very lucky in the sense that I work relatively close to home, and do have four days off after my shifts, which is luxury compared to what some people have to contend with. However the days I am at work can be tough, and in the duration of a 12 hour shift, anything can happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the people I work with, but I end up feeling quite distant and out of touch with what is going on at home during my shifts. I’ve worked out that across the four days/nights I am working, I am out the house for approximately 60 hours, which is quite a lot really.

Sometimes it is possible to make up for this, as my days off can fall on the days that Lore and Benjamin are at home from work/nursery, but sometimes I am working on the days they are at home, and then off work on the days they are out the house, so don’t really see them at all, which is tough I won’t lie, and I do feel guilty for not being around much. I certainly try my absolute best to make the most of my days at home, whether Lore and Benjamin are there or not, but it’s quite a challenge when you feel constantly tired! How I managed work when Benjamin was newborn I honestly have no idea…

I don’t know how other parents out there balance life and work and how you manage the distance that can appear when you’re not around much. I’d be interested to hear how other families make it work, I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere, right?

Benjamin, isn’t it time for…

Benjamin, isn’t it time for…

…Duggee! Well no, not quite, but it is time for Nursery, which is the same thing, except the one Benjamin goes to isn’t run by an oversized dog with less vocabulary than the children! As soon as he clocks on that it’s time to go to Nursery, he’s toddling off to get his shoes and bike helmet so he’s all set to go. Moments like this is what this blog is about, Benjamin has developed massively in the last few weeks, but what never seizes to amaze me is his understanding of the way the world works and how well he can communicate despite only being able to say a few words.

Bath time for example, he knows that once he is out the bath, all dry and in his PJs, it is time for him to get out his little stool to reach the sink to clean his teeth, followed by rinsing off the toothbrush and tapping (or bashing if you’re Benjamin) it on the side of the sink, before then putting the stool away and waiting a the top of the stairs to go down for Cbeebies bedtime hour. He doesn’t stop there though! Once he’s ready for bed, he will wave bye-bye to the TV, hand his cuddly and his dummy to either me or Mummy, and wait at the bottom of the stairs for us to follow him up, and more often than not, he’ll go down to sleep with no issues at all. I’ll be honest I didn’t expect this from a 17 month old!

Benjamin has really improved around mealtimes too; there is generally very little fuss now. He used to really scream if he was given something he didn’t want, and this would often end in all the food being thrown on the floor. He has now learnt that is wrong, and when he doesn’t want something or has finished eating, he will put the food back on his plate and push it away.  There are so many ways in which he makes his intentions/needs clear, and this makes it all a lot easier on a day to day basis. I used to struggle early on when it was nothing more than an educated guess on what he needed, but more often than not it’s pretty straight forward now.

He has grown into such a confident and happy little chap, he can now walk pretty much effortlessly, we still get the odd wobble here and there, but he is so good at it and we try to encourage him to walk as often as we can. There are a few words he can say, Banana (nana), apple, of course Mummy and Daddy, and he can make lion, monkey and duck sounds (thank you Sarah & Duck for that last one!), and can show us where his head is when we ask.  I don’t know what the “official recommendation” is on how many words they should say at his age, but admittedly I don’t really care, his Mummy and Daddy are proud and that’s all that matters!

It isn’t all plain sailing though, his level of confidence his excellent, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it has certainly brought with it the “tantrum phase”. Even the slightest of things, like a nappy change, can cause an absolute meltdown, leaving you with a pooey pink thing rolling around with snot and tears streaming out the top end while you desperately catch what you can with baby wipes, we’ve all been there!

I’ve found the tantrums quite difficult to get used to, I see it as a bit of a grey area, because you’re meant to ignore it initially so you don’t encourage the reaction, but then you’re supposed to distract them and settle them after a while, but how long? Sometimes Benjamin will hit and bite during a tantrum, which we make clear is wrong, but then he will just carry on his tantrum until we sort him out again and show him it’s okay, so does that not just give mixed messages? Benjamin does have a pretty good grasp on what goes on around him, but that’s a lot of emotions and reactions in one go, I don’t know what some of you other parents do?

Despite the tantrums (which honestly make you think the world is ending), he is really well behaved, we get very good feedback from nursery, and with a recent move up to a room with kids a bit older, he has started eating better, which is a relief. He spreads smiles and happiness everywhere he goes, and the days where I get to come home from work and snuggle up on the sofa with him and Mummy before he goes to bed, well it’s everything I live for.

 

Open Door

Open Door

Open Door is a charity that offers free counselling for young people aged 13-25, and I have been working with them for a few months now. I first started up with them in mid-October 2017 and have been seeing them every week/fortnight depending on working hours. Like FACES who I mentioned in an earlier post, they have been a massive help for me.

The particular Counsellor I have been working with has been brilliant. I first went there after a review meeting with Social Services, and despite having just met, I was able to tell her absolutely everything, beginning to end, without feeling ashamed, or judged, or disapproved of in anyway. From day one I have felt as if I can talk about anything, which from past experience isn’t always the case!

I’ll be honest it was something I was very anxious about at first, having had bad experiences of counselling in the past, but any concern was non-existent by the end of the first hour long session. Undoubtedly, there have been things that haven’t been the easiest to talk about, and I have had to come to terms with some matters I have been keeping to myself, but to be able to do that has felt like a huge weight lifted.

Open Door has given me the opportunity to process the entire situation, from the day it started up until now, to talk things through from my perspective, and for the first time, have that properly listened to. I have voiced some things from my childhood as well that also caused endless disruption, and collectively all of this has resulted in far more positive situation at home, and a better perspective on life.

There was a day where I turned up at Open Door in a position of crisis, convinced that life wasn’t worth living anymore. I spoke to my counsellor, she showed genuine concern and put things back in perspective, and let me stay there until I was ready to go back out into the world again, despite all her other commitments that day.

Being able to talk through everything in a way that I never had before has made the biggest difference. There were a lot of things that I had kept to myself over the last year, throughout my teenage years, and then during my childhood. Going through these things help me understand how really, it was all linked, one thing lead to another, and defined who I am today. It helped me learn how I could manage that person I had become and begin to alter the parts that were causing the problems at home.

There was one particular session more recently where there was no talking about any negatives, and bad experiences, just all the positive things from the last few months. Covering how things had improved, the happy things that had happened despite all the challenges. Open Door have helped me to have a more positive perspective on life, and how to manage when things go wrong, and that is just the start of it.

So, as with FACES, a massive thank you to Open Door, and my counsellor in particular for all the support and help that she has given. The difference between when I first went back in October and now is far greater than I expected.

Once again, I would definitely recommend them to anyone who meets the criteria for their support, honestly. For a charity and largely volunteer run network, they are outstanding, and their commitment to offering help to young people goes above and beyond. I have been made to feel welcome there, and it has been proven that the volunteers of Open Door have a lot of experience and that really shows.

Follow the link below to their website:

http://www.bedfordopendoor.org.uk/

FACES

FACES

Having come through the worst of things now, I would like to take the opportunity to offer FACES some recognition for all their work and support.

FACES stands for Family and Child Early-help Services. They are a charity that specialises in offering support to families facing a variety of struggles and challenges. It is made up of a few paid staff members, who are each experienced in certain areas, and then there a larger number of volunteers who do home visits and are usually assigned to one or two families specifically.

For us, FACES were involved from February 2017 when Lore was referred to them by the Health Visitor.

Ever since then they have worked very hard and consistently offered us their support. How they have helped Lore has been absolutely amazing, and they have brought her through the hardest of times when I couldn’t. Without them this would have all fallen through a long time ago and life would be very different.

In more recent months the support they have given me has also been second to none. A lot of time I felt like no-one was really on my side or supporting me. However they have proven this to not be the case, and when under scrutiny by Social Services and my work, FACES have been the ones who saw through that and who offered impartial and genuine support. No judgements, no criticism, just legitimately wanting to get our family back on the right track. That is a quality that is very hard to find.

I don’t feel it would be appropriate to go into names of people we have worked with from FACES, due to the public nature of this post. However, the practitioner we have dealt with has been outstanding. She has often engaged with the whole family, just checking that we’re doing okay, but has also been there through the worst, and has always been at the end of the phone and willing to talk when things have gone wrong. I know I’ve made a few calls myself when I didn’t know what to do, and Lore has also. If you ever end up reading this, you will know it’s you, and honestly, thank you for everything.

The volunteer we have had has also been equally as amazing. With regular visits to the home to check up on Lore and Benjamin, lifts out to do the food shop, or simply just to get them out the house, all these things have made a massive difference. She would often come around just to talk things through, see how we were getting on and it never felt like we were “working through things” in a formal manner, but just talking about where we had got to. This was a relief, with so many other formal bodies looking into things; it was nice to have someone who would just come over for a chat. She has definitely become a friend of the family, again, another person who we couldn’t have managed with out.

Overall, the support FACES have given us is far beyond what I would have expected, and their commitment to helping us and making this good again has been extraordinary.

So, for anyone who does live in the area they cover, I would seriously recommend them if you ever have any family related challenges. It is very hard to explain how much they have helped, but I can say for certain that they have kept our family together against all odds.

Follow the link to their website below:

https://www.facesbedford.org/