History

Seven years go I was on maternity leave, heavily pregnant, due any day with my first baby. My life wasn’t perfect but it was ok. I had desperately wanted a baby for as long as I could remember. It had been the number one, top ambition of my entire life. More than being a doctor, more than having a husband or a house or savings in the bank or to travel the world or to save the world, I wanted to be a mother.

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Shall we just say that the entire experience has not been anything like I expected.

I don’t feel like I was overly naive about it. I had read loads. I had worked with children a lot in the past, been a nanny, worked for a year in a nursery, changed my fair share of nappies and bounced around with my share of screaming babies. I had my little nephew who I adored and spent a lot of time with. I had been to NCT classes and watched a lot of One Born Every Minute. I had decorated the nursery and bought a load of Stuff.

Strangely though it turns out that I wasn’t prepared at all. I have written before about the impact that my first child had on my life. I’ll simplify that to one sentence. It was like having every single part of my life exploded into a million unrecognisable pieces. I realise that it doesn’t feel like that for everybody, but that was definitely my experience.

Seven years and another baby later and it feels like I have managed to take all of those fragments and build them back together into a shiny new life. I feel like a completely changed person now, but I’m pretty happy with that. I have learnt sooooo much, about my children, myself, my husband, what really matters, what I really want, how I want to live my life.

I wont lie. The first six years were pretty tough. Even with an endlessly smiley second child who slotted happily into every nook of the life we had already made as a threesome, the polar opposite of my first child. But neither of them slept. I did not get a regularly good nights sleep for six entire years. I also did not have a conversation where I was not continually interrupted for that entire time either. Both of these things had a profound affect on my brain functioning.

For the first six years of parenthood this is a rough guide to my brain activity:

Thinking about sleep

Not getting any sleep

Worrying about something terrible happening to the children

Worrying about the impact that every single little parenting mistake, every raised voice, every moment of impatience would have on the eventual mental wellbeing of my child

Worrying about what values and beliefs I was passing down to my children and whether they would grow to be adults who would do good in this hard world of ours

Worrying about too much TV, too much junk food, too little time in nature

The overwhelming, terrifying, earth shattering, amount of love I had for these people

Thinking some more about how little sleep I was getting

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All of these thoughts came to me in a really disjointed, fragmentary way though. I wasn’t able to hold onto any of these thoughts for more than a moment. They would flit in and flit out with no order or control.   Anytime I did manage to hold a thought for more than a moment or two, a child would pull at me, “Mummy, Mummy”.

For four of those six years, once my maternity leave had all run out, I worked full time. When I was working I scraped every last scrap of energy and mental focus to get through my ten hour shift, often having had only an hour or twos sleep. Almost every shift felt like a battle to hold my mind together to make the important decisions I needed to make, to stay safe. And the second the last minute of my shift ticked past my mind collapsed back into jelly.

Then, after six years, they both started to sleep, not perfectly every night, but enough to make me feel human. And now they need my undivided attention every ten to twenty minutes, rather than every 10-20 seconds. My brain has started to become more coherent again finally. To be honest I still have all the same thoughts, worries and fears that I did when they were tiny, but now my functioning brain also has room to think about:

What I want to do with my life, what things I enjoy and care about, how I want my future to look

What things I want to do, just for me, just for fun

Learning new things, achieving something, pushing myself forward and challenging myself

It is nice being able to think and plan for the future again at last, being able to focus my mind on more than the next ten minutes. I have some pretty grand plans right now, most of which are probably totally unrealistic but I have no intention of letting realism stop me from pursuing them. I am again enjoying the pursuit of my goals, relishing the challenge and the growing and the learning. Don’t get me wrong I learnt more than I can begin to express becoming a parent, but this new phase is pretty wonderful.

I’m happy with the new form that mothering shaped for me. I am more grounded and settled. I understand the value of things in my life. And now I understand how I want my future to look as well.

2768F588-CBF2-4322-BB9F-EBB7F4B32123  Saying all that I have been interrupted continuously as I have written this so I apologise for any spelling/grammar issues. My three year old is riding his bike round and round the kitchen and has just fallen off. He is demanding on a plaster for his bike now, so I’d better get back to my real responsibilities!

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Like Spinning Plates

2018 feels pretty exciting. I have so many plans, so much to work towards, so much to look forward to. But right now I’m feeling pretty tired by it all. I have had quite an intense rota at work these last few weeks, and the shifts have been pretty crazy and relentless. I think that working so much has impacted on the kids when they never see me, and my husband has been parenting by himself a little too often. When I am at home I have been trying to study, as I now have two more exams coming up in a short six weeks. I’m also taking advantage of our wonderful new babysitter to have evenings out with my husband, plus trying to see friends and family.  On top of all that I had my first driving lesson today. Well not my very first, this is my third attempt at learning to drive (third time lucky) but the first in seven years! I have my driving theory test all booked, I obviously felt I hadn’t committed to enough exams already this year.

Right now it feels like there are just too many plates spinning. It feels like they may all come crashing down at any moment, leaving me in a broken heap amongst the shattered crockery. So I have skipped the revision for today, instead spending some time playing Room on the Broom with this little guy…


This year though I am determined not to give up.  Not on the exams, not on my driving lessons, and definitely not on my family, my husband, myself. I am trying to work on when I need to say no, when I need some rest, what things will fill me up and bring energy, motivation and joy into my life, and which things will just make me more exhausted. At the moment I am definitely struggling to work out the answer to that one but at least I am trying to work on it. And that really is my overwhelming aim for this year. To keep working on it.  This year’s word is


I will try to acknowledge when it gets too much, when I’m tired and need a chance to recharge. But above all I will keep going, however hard it gets.

Promise

Now I am no fan of January in England. I’ve yet to really meet anybody who is. The highs of Christmas and New Year are over. I’m still tired and sluggish, have remnants of colds, and currently have two blocked ears which make me feel like I am underwater. Getting out of bed in the darkness and the cold is a challenge. The rain feels continuous and my beloved garden has turned to a swamp.

But it is that swampy garden that still manages to provide the true joy that I have discovered about dismal January.

The promise of spring!

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When there is a brief pause in the rain and the sun peeks out weakly, I am heartily rewarded when I pull on my welly boots and brave the sucking, squelchy mud.

Everywhere I look there are tiny green shoots appearing.

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Even in the cold there are bursts of wondrous colour.

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Even in the bluest moment of the year we are almost within touching distance of those light, warm days.

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Even in this cold there is new life emerging everywhere.

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However dark it may feel, there is always colour awaiting us in the future, always there if we search for it.

Enough

I see a whole lot of dying and death. It is a day to day part of my job and I am very much at peace with that. If I feel that I have been able to make the experience for my patient and their family a little more bearable then that is part of my job that I really value. However, the resus room of an Emergency Department really wouldn’t be the place that anybody would really choose to say their last goodbyes.

Of all the changes I have seen in my time in Emergency Medicine, after the increase in ‘corridor medicine’, the biggest has been the age and frailty of the patients who are rushed into resus. I am sure that when I first started many of these patients would be left st home with their families to die peacefully. Now they come with flashing blue lights and have needles and wires in alien rooms with strangers.

I think that the rise in protocols and guidelines, and the growth in the treatments that we are able to offer patients has led to a total failure to decide what we really should be offering patients. I see people who are bed bound, who are unable to speak, who are unable to eat, who are seemingly unable to recognise their loved ones any longer, being put through painful and potentially distressing procedures where nobody has really stopped to ask why. I have seen people brought from their homes for investigations to find a possible problem that we would never treat even if we found it, and then get stuck in hospital against their will, sometimes for months on end.

Their is a rise in ‘Treatment Escalation Plans’, ‘Living Wills’ and ‘Advanced Directives’. I am massively in favour of this. Essentially paperwork which enable patients and doctors to discuss wishes for future treatment, things they do and don’t want and their wishes for how they would chose to be allowed a natural death. I think we need to be having so many more of these conversations. I think that many people, doctors and relatives, are scared to raise the subject though. Also, despite my total love of these documents I frequently see patients who have a document saying they are not for hospital admission, that they wish to be kept at home, and yet here they are, in the Emergency Department. It’s hard not to wonder if they are worth the paper!

I think the fact that I see so much death means I’m pretty comfortable talking about it. My poor husband (who is not in any way medically trained (unless you count all the years of living with people jabbering on about medicine continuously as training)) has been given endless lists about exactly what treatment I would and wouldn’t want in a whole range of different circumstances. He has even been told my preferred choices of Emergency Doctor he should ask to see me in each of these different circumstances, depending on who is most likely to just say “Stop”. And in an awful lot of these theoretical scenarios, that is exactly what I want my doctor to say. Yes, we see miraculous successes in modern medicine, and I love my little life and want to see as much of it as humanly possible, but I want to see it being well, being active, knowing and loving and sharing it with my family. I see so much desperately sad humanity that we keep alive. More and more we are finding that life expectancy is increasing, but really our healthy life expectancy has altered very little. Is that such a good thing? Increasing our time of being dependant and frail and confused and distressed?

I have also extensively discussed my wishes for after I die. My husband knows exactly how, where, and in what, I would like to be buried. One of our first dates involved me playing him my funeral playlist (still in my mid twenties and totally healthy), which may seem a little morbid, but hey, it’s good to be prepared! I have written books of letters for both my children for when they are all grown up/when I die, whichever comes first. I want to make damn sure they know how much I love them, and all that useless advice I need to hand down.

This Christmas I have treated myself to a copy of the Natural Death Handbook.

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This is amazing book full of information about the services available to try and ensure a dignified, peaceful, family centred death, and the arrangements following that to fit with your wishes. We spend so much time planning our birthdays, our weddings, our labours and births, and yet with this other big life event we seem desperate to not even think about it, let alone ever discuss it.

I’ve talked with my mother, who again is very healthy, about her wishes should that healthiness change. It’s something that comes up from time to time and it feels totally comfortable to talk about. I know that when the time comes that it will still be utterly devastating, though I completely believe that having discussed it before will make the process easier.

I don’t know what the answer is and where the right balance should be. I know that the decision on how intensively to investigate and treat frail, elderly patients is a terribly challenging one, and I do not have the answers. But I don’t think that that should scare us off from asking the questions at least. How much is too much when it comes to medical treatment?

 

Boxing Day in the Emergency Department

Maybe it was the six lovely days off, the warm cuddles with my family, the Christmassy glow, the communal feeling of joy and goodwill to mankind. Maybe it was the couple of glasses of red wine and prosecco, and a little too much trifle on Christmas Day.

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Maybe it was my daughter waking up for several hours each night for the past week with the combination of manic excitement about Christmas, nightmares about Lego ghosts and a rather annoying cough. Maybe it was an overdose of Christmas songs and saccharine movies. Maybe that’s what made Boxing Day spent working in the Emergency Department feel so tough. Or maybe it was the fact that we had more than twenty people on trolleys in the corridor at all times through the shift, alongside the other fifty patients already in the department. The people in their nineties spending their Boxing Day in a corridor which is freezing cold at the best of times but particularly when the rain is lashing at the windows and the wind whipping up a gale. At one point there were eight people stuck in ambulances on the department forecourt who were unable to even unload into the corridor, one of whom I was trying to urgently treat with sepsis whilst he was still in the van. Maybe the people who had waited thirteen, fourteen, more hours to be found a bed inside the hospital itself, arriving in the dark of the early morning and still there by the time the dark of nighttime arrived. The indignity of trying to examine patients in corridors in front of other patients and their families. Having to apologise to every patient you meet that this just isn’t good enough but I’m afraid there is nothing else I can do. The fact that half the patients I looked after had only been discharged from hospital a few days earlier, almost certainly before they were really ready, and had inevitably bounced back in, more unwell than they had been before. Having to argue with doctors from inpatient specialties that yes, this patient really does need to be admitted. Maybe all of that was what killed off my warm Christmas buzz.

This is my tenth Christmas as a specialty doctor in Emergency Medicine, and over those years I have worked my fair share of Christmas Eves, Days, Boxing Days, New Years Eves and Days. In a funny way I often look forward to them. They tend to come with their fair share of tragedies, patients and families and stories that will stay with you forever. The cases where you go home and cuddle your own family a little tighter and count your Christmas blessings. But they also tend to come with some real Christmas spirit, colleagues in silly hats, songs sung in waiting rooms, donated presents given to the children, a staff room full of food, and an awful lot of Merry Christmas wishes. Some of that has been there this year (there was some phenomenal beard glitter on show!) but it felt a little hollow whilst working in the conditions we faced.

As long as I have worked in Emergency Medicine it has been a challenging job, not for the faint hearted. We have always felt stretched and under staffed at times. The last couple of years have been different though.

The corridor is now a legitimate patient area of our department, often with more patients than any other area, staffed with it’s very own team of nurses and health cares. It’s not a sign of a bad shift if there are patients there, but the sign of a miraculously good one if there aren’t. It’s now normal for patients to wait more than four hours for a bed and scarily common to wait more than four hours to even speak to a doctor for the first time. I keep seeing new firsts, the first evening handover where there are still patients from the night shift, the first time I have to run a trauma call in the decontamination room as it’s the only place we can fit an extra patient, the first time I have to try and treat a patient still in the back of the ambulance. And then those new lows become common place as well. We keep shifting our goal posts of what is normal and expected and acceptable. We keep upping our game and keep adapting as the next new challenge is thrown at us, and keep trying to deliver the very best care we can when it gets more tough than we could have imagined.

I do wonder though where the line will be drawn. When will it finally become too much. Because these conditions are not acceptable for the staff leaving their families at Christmas to care for others, and they absolutely, categorically are not acceptable for our patients.

One patient’s son was saying how unacceptable the situation was and I wholeheartedly agreed with him. He told me I should write to my MP. I smiled politely but didn’t want to say that if my MP was unaware of the crisis that our Emergency Departments are in then they should be sacked, and that it is the MPs who hold such a huge responsibility for having created this situation in the first place.

I am writing this now, tucked up in bed, failing to rest in preparation for the four hard night shifts that I begin tonight. I know that I go into those nights with the hospital in the highest state of alert in terms of overcrowding. I finish my run with New Years Eve, traditionally one of our busiest but one of my favourite nights of the year. I usually volunteer for it whether I’m due to be working or not.

We usually start the night with a quiet department, everyone avoiding us if at all possible. We might get a chance to all toast midnight with some booze free bubbles and a little song. Within half an hour of the new year starting we tend to see then rolling in, those who have celebrated a little too hard. And in they pour through the rest of the night. The night tends to bring its share of vomit bowls, swear words and bashed heads, but also lots of laughs and drunken song and that spirit which was definitely missing this Boxing Day. I am not facing it this year with my usual positivity. I fear the department will already be full and spirit long gone before the clock strikes twelve, so I worry how we will then manage the onslaught the new year always brings.

But I will live in hope. As an emergency doctor I think that’s what we have to do, I think that’s what must bring us back shift after shift. I will hope for a midnight toast and a hug from my colleagues, and a real change ahead of us in 2018. I hope that somehow somebody will come up with a way to make things better, and that line will be drawn at last. Lastly I hope you have all had a merry Christmas add that 2018 has lots of wonderful surprises in store for you!

 

Resolutions

2017 has been a pretty incredible year for me, despite the fact I had very low expectations going into it. 2016 felt like a fairly horrific year for the world, what with the results of the Brexit vote, and the prospect of Obama being replaced by Donald Trump (to be fair 2017 hasn’t been much cheerier, with Brexit grinding on depressingly, Trump being inaugurated and living up to all the worst we had feared of him, and the terrifying rise in British terror attacks). I was deep in the mire of the winter blues by December, totally stressed out by the thought of Christmas, and with absolutely no enthusiasm at all at the thought of a new year ahead.

2017 has, so far, totally exceeded every expectation I could possibly have had for it. I have found a new sense of purpose and enthusiasm which I can’t quite believe. I have somehow managed to improve pretty much every area of my life, at least a little for the better, and in some areas I have made huge leaps forward to avenues I never expected to take. I’m sure this is at least partly down to finally getting some bloody sleep after so many years with my sleep dodging children!

I don’t really believe in New Years Resolutions. The only one I have ever kept was in 2001, when I vowed to never leave the house without full eyeliner!

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2012 I did pretty well with my decision to only eat meat once a week, until my daughter decided that it wasn’t a proper meal unless a sausage was involved. Every single other resolution ever I have forgotten about by the middle of January.

The problem is that we feel we should make resolutions, and we have this arbitrary deadline, this new year, and we feel it is expected, that we should eat healthier, join a gym, take up a new hobby, stop arguing with our partners, or our children.

These resolutions are often doomed to fail. They’re usually made at the last minute as the clock ticks towards midnight, with very little real thought put in as to whether you really want to do this,   or whether you just feel society expects you to want it, why you actually want to do it, and how the hell you are practically going to go about it.

I haven’t made any New Years resolutions for a while now, and this year will be no exception. However I have been totally converted this year by the power of having goals. I had written goals before, again always last minute, because I had to, for some work-based hoop jumping. This year I have realised how useful goals can be for your actual real life. Firstly goals that really mean something to you, something that deep in your soul you really want for your life, not because anybody expects it from you and not because you think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. Once you’ve worked out what that thing is, you need to work out why you want it so much, what does it mean to you, how will it impact and benefit on every aspect of your life. Then you need to break the big goal down into tiny achievable steps, at least the first steps even if you have no idea yet what the later steps will involve. Writing all of that down so it becomes real is so important. Vague dreams floating around your head are so much harder to make reality! That’s why I’m starting now so I have plenty of time to mull it over and get those plans down on paper before the new year arrives.

Who knows if I will manage to achieve any of my goals for 2018? Some of them I have already started on. Some of them are so far out of my comfort zone that they feel completely impossible. But, come December 2018 I’ll let you know how I’m getting on!

Good luck to all of you for 2018, for achieving those little hopes and those enormous impossible dreams!

 

Keep it Simple

I have written a few posts recently about all the amazing things I have been doing recently, my achievements and challenges and ambitions. That’s great, and I have really felt like I’m on a roll, and trying to make the most of my current enthusiasm. 

A big part of that though is also about choosing things NOT to do. I am aware that I cannot do everything. I am trying not to get too far ahead of myself and crash in a heap. I am trying to keep life simple.

What that essentially means for the next ten days is I will go to work, cuddle my children, and revise. I may manage the occasional cup of coffee and bite to eat, but not planning on attempting much else.

After my exam I will be crashing straight into full-steam Christmas, and I feel really aware that I want to try a very different approach to the festive season this year.

When I think of how I want this Christmas to be, the words that spring to mind are relaxed, restful, easy, fun.  This may be a result of working like a demon for the past four months and being so ready for a break. It may be a result of previous stressful, disappointing Christmases. It may just be what I need this year and next December I will be back with all my festive guns blazing, but this year I am trying something new.

I have been talking it through with my husband and trying to really focus clearly on the things we love most about Christmas. The things that bring more joy than stress. The things that the kids buy into without having to force them. I think I am unusual in having the only children in the world who hate leaving the house. The absolute pinnacle of their life is having a Pyjama Day when they don’t have to get dressed and they can just play in the house for the entire day. It drives me crazy as so often I have all these things I want to do, but the children resist it so vehemently that in the end it’s just miserable and I wish I hadn’t bothered. 

So this year there will be no visits to beautifully decorated National Trust properties. There will be no going to meet Father Christmas. There will be no trips to the pantomime or to see the Mousehole Christmas lights. We will not be getting up and driving to watch the solstice sunrise from a cliff top somewhere. We will not be handmaking wrapping paper, cards and decorations (my children are also very resistance to craft activities, well when I am trying it with them at least). We will not go and queue for hours in the dark to watch the amazing illuminations at the Eden project. I will not spend weeks organising complex food that my children will refuse to eat.

The things that have made the final cut are these:

I will battle my children to go to see Rogue Theatre at the Winter Wood. I adore everything that Rogue Theatre do and it has become a vital part of Christmas to me, and however much my children may complain, they will end up enjoying some of it at least. Rogue Theatre remind me of the magic of the season like nothing else. And who knows I may have some perfect moments which will stay with me forever, like this…


If you live in Cornwall and have never been I thoroughly recommend you make this the year! 

I have already made my own mincemeat because I think it is so much nicer than anything you can buy, and the smell while it is cooking makes all the effort entirely worth it! I also plan to bake a Dundee cake, because me and my husband love it, and really don’t like normal Christmas cake. We only make it at this time of year, and it feels like a huge treat to have an amazing fruit cake waiting in the tin, for a cheeky slice whenever you fancy.

Winter solstice does feel special to me, and I don’t feel I can neglect it entirely.  So keeping it simple I plan to drink my morning cuppa in the garden, bundled up well in many layers, and watch as the first cracks of light appear.  If nobody wants to join me I’m ok with that.  Our tickets for Winter Woods are for that day so we will all get some of the fresh solstice air as we traipse through the woods in our wellies. That evening we will eat our dinner by candle light, even if it’s fish fingers and chips we will sit in that darkest evening of the year, and I at least will think forwards to the brighter days to come, and all that I have to look forward to.

I have already done most of my Christmas shopping, gradually over the last few months, and I have written my cards too.  I personally love getting a real life Christmas card that somebody has gone to the trouble of writing, so I felt like I couldn’t abandons those despite my year of simplicity. 

The big day will be all about the presents for my children at least. My previous rigorous rules about keeping it minimal are out of the window and they have got what they asked for, things I know they will love (plus the books that I couldn’t resist buying!!) Previously there have been rules about eating a special breakfast together before having presents but this year I just can’t find a reason to make life more difficult when obviously all they want is to attack that wrapping paper. I will try to just embrace it and share in their joy of material goods. 

Christmas dinner will be a simple roast, probably a nice piece of beef and a minimal selection of veggies, followed by old school trifle. Hopefully we can all eat it without resorting to any kind of stand off, food refusing argument. I have no plans to spend the entire day cooking, or for Jon to do so either. We will make the time for a champagne cocktail or two though, because that is always worth it! (The kids will have juice in champagne glasses and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the littlest manages not to bite a chunk out of his glass this year!)


I am not buying Christmas pyjamas or jumpers. They can try to squeeze into last years, and if they can’t, well it’s not the end of the world. I will not be dressing up in anything uncomfortable or attempt to make my daughter wear a pretty dress. I will generally try to chill out and go with the flow, put the cheesy Christmas songs on loud and just enjoy the moment. I will worry less about having photos worthy of Instagram and more about enjoying some Christmas telly. 

I’ll let you know how it goes. Next year I may well be back to attempting every Christmas activity I can squeeze into one short month. Right now though I’m really looking forward to NOT doing so much this year. 

The Great Leap Forwards

I am feeling back on track. Definitely feel like the SAD lamp, maybe in combination with some supplements I have been trying out, have helped me get back into a better frame of mind. My enthusiasm and motivation have returned anew, and I’m feeling pretty good.

The revision, which had recently felt like a slog, is back to being fun. I feel like I’ve made a bit of a break through with it and finding myself understanding it more. I’m hoping that all these months of really hard work will take me past rote learning of useless facts, to really understanding some key scientific concepts that I never quite got to grips with at medical school. And that has to be a positive thing! Yesterday somebody asked me how it was going, and I replied that I was really enjoying it. She said that that was because I was really ready for this now. Her words really struck a chord with me. I really do feel ready for this, like this is something that I really have to do right in this moment in time. After all I’ve spent the last nine years avoiding anything like this, and suddenly I just desperately want to throw myself in.

Its not just the revision, I’m so full of plans to develop and challenge and further myself at work. It’s almost hard to keep reigning myself in so that I don’t fling myself into so many projects that I just cannot keep up. I’m trying to stay grounded whilst still riding those waves of inspiration as they hit me. A difficult balance to achieve.

I’m even finding my actual shop floor work pretty enjoyable right now. Even amongst the mayhem of winter pressures I am really relishing the camaraderie of the team. Some rather wonderful people I work with are really going above and beyond trying to help improve the morale within the department, and it is really feeling different to me recently. Of course we all love a moan but it feels like generally people are getting the fun back in what can be such a tough job at times.

Part of that morale boosting was the monthly ED bake-off competition. My rather fabulous chocolate and orange cake, courtesy of Nigella’s recipe, won amongst 14 entries. This time there was an actual prize, and me and my husband had a rather wonderful, child-free meal out at a lovely hotel, for free!

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With all this activity I am still finding the time to relax, to do the things I love, the things that renew me. I have given myself some mornings off, having a lie-in, watching easy TV (just binge watched through Cold Feet). I have combined that with a bit of early Christmas prep. The kids presents are all bought (the postman has been very busy delivering all the online shopping), and the cards are written and ready to post when an acceptable time arrives. I had a wonderful morning off listening to my favourite music and making mincemeat, one of my absolute favourite ‘jobs’ on the Christmas to do list. I’m hoping that getting stuff done early will take that last minute pressure off.

In the next week I have a family day at my Son’s lovely preschool, book group and a trip out with my husband for some serious theatre.

Somehow it feels like the balance is right, and that may not last, but I am hopeful!

On the Shelf

I absolutely love books. I very much come from a family of book lovers. One of the strongest of all my childhood memories was of sitting on the floor, looking up at our bookcases crammed with books whilst my Mum and Brother talked about them. It was the room we called the reading room but it was really just a narrow corridor between two other rooms, with the whole length of one wall covered with tall bookcases, filled to bursting with my Mum’s collection of science fiction and fantasy books. I got so many hours of pleasure sitting with her, just looking at all the beautiful spines as she animatedly told me about this one and that one, so animatedly sharing her joy and passion for these whole other worlds that her books took her to. Often I would just sit there by myself, just gazing up at the wall of books, and all the possibility they held.

It’s not just my family’s bookcases that I vividly remember. I also spent far too much time studying the bookcases at my friend’s houses too. I particularly loved the apparent total randomness of some, with the Reader’s Digest Guide to Woodwork nestled alongside a thriller, next to a heavy tome on fine art, and then occasionally, with a naughty little thrill, a copy of The Joy of Sex. I love the idea that a bookcase contains signposts to all the disparate elements that make up the history of a family, the holidays, the long forgotten hobbies, the dreams and escapist fantasies alongside the well-used Delia Smith cookbook.

I always enjoyed reading as a child, though I never found the love of science fiction and fantasy that my Mum and Brother shared. Many of the childhood classics played a massive part in my view on the world, from Roald Dahl to C.S. Lewis, Enid Blyton to Dick King-Smith. I was a teenager though before I branched away from the influences of my family and through some very generous advice from a couple of very special teachers, I would find the kind of books that still make my heart soar.

I always knew that books would continue to play a big part of my grown-up life as well. My collection was carefully guarded as it grew. By the time I hit my early twenties, despite not having a boyfriend or any prospect of starting a family of my own, I started collecting children’s picture books, so that one day I could read them with my own children.

Now that I can essentially class myself as a proper adult with a house and a family we do have a reading room, stacked tall with bookcases.

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Then there are further collections of books in pretty much every room. It’s rare that we don’t have books in the bathrooms, in the car, on the kitchen table and sat on the stairs. Finally now my brain is working well enough to actually read for fun again (in between the studying) and I am enjoying it more than I can say.

And now, now my children love books too. Not necessarily the books I would choose, we have far more books on Lego Ninjago than I would have planned, and my gorgeous and educational book on the seasons of the year has only ever been looked at by me, however often I nonchalantly leave it lying around for them to read.

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My obsession with children’s books just seems to be growing though, and despite my desperate instinct not to spoil them with material possessions I just can’t resist buying them books. Today I sorted through the pile of hidden things that I have bought and squirrelled away for their Christmas presents, and found 22 books!! Thats not including all the ones I keep buying which are obviously too old for them yet but I can’t resist buying for the future when they will hopefully love them as much as so did as a child. I have now given them their own bookcase in the reading room (alongside all the piles scattered around the house) and love finding them sat on the floor exploring them like I remember doing myself.

Not that I need any encouragement but I would love to hear any recommendations you have for books that you think are absolutely essential for all children, of any age. I have a feeling we might need more bookcases.

S A D

Once again the autumn blues seem to have clobbered me hard! Last year I had a wonderfully positive spring and summer, then the second that autumn hit all my motivation vanished, and I spent the next six months barely able to drag myself out of bed. I had absolutely no energy, no motivation, and everything felt like too much effort.

This year I have made huge progress, feeling like I had made real changes to my mentality, feeling productive, passionate and determined. I have signed myself up to all kinds of projects, and was enjoying them all so much. I did worry about taking too much on and falling flat on my face in a big pile of overwhelm, but that just didn’t happen.

Until September arrived. The first waft of an autumn breeze, the hint of darkening of the evening skies, the leaves losing their green around the edges, and I felt like I’d crashed into a wall. Once again I had no desire to do anything. My exciting projects felt like a massive responsibility and all motivation had left me.

I have heard about SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder many times before, but never really paid any attention to it. The last two years the autumn has brought such an abrupt change to be that I felt I couldn’t afford to just accept it this year. I was enjoying feeling so energetic and motivated, I really didn’t want to lose that feeling.

So this year I am refusing to take it lying down. After all my earlier talk about owning my choices, this year I choose to enjoy all the seasons, to make the most of them regardless of the weather, and to make positive steps to improve my energy levels and to keep the momentum going when it comes to creating the life that I really want.

I have taken several small steps, using crystals with positive sparkly energies, diffusing essential oils which give me a bit of an energy boost, trying to get lots of fresh vegetables into my daily diet and drink more water. I have bought a SAD lamp to have on my desk for revising in the mornings, it’s early days but I’ll let you know if I notice a difference.

I’m trying to get outside at the slightest hint of sunshine, going for walks and feeling the wind in my face. Cornwall in the autumn can be truly beautiful now that most of the tourists have gone home.

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I’m not sure if any of this really makes a difference and it still feels like more of an uphill climb than the easy soaring of the summer months. I feel better to be making positive choices though, rather than to curl up and accept six months of hibernation. I can’t afford it anyway with another course to study for in two weeks and my big exam hurtling towards me in just over four. I am hoping to go straight into studying for the next exam at the beginning of March (praying that I pass this one first) so keep your fingers crossed for me that my Autumn Appreciation Strategy keeps me going through into the depths of winter!