Don’t Look Back In Anger

We seem to have made it to more than half way through 2018. I am not entirely sure how this has happened, and not entirely happy about this, but it seems like it should be a good moment to look back on the year so far, and onwards to the remainder of the year ahead of me. 

I am feeling in a massive funk right now though, which is really not helping me with any real perspective on the year. I don’t know why I am in a massive funk. Does anybody ever know why when one hits them and deprives them of all motivation, positivity, energy and perspective. But, I will try…

So honestly, I do know that this year so far has been pretty successful really. I have passed three work exams, taught on three courses, gone to two conferences, passed my driving theory test, and having not driven for almost eight years, got to the point where my instructor feels it is worth booking my practical test, my children are pretty happy, my daughter is obsessed with reading and my son is turning from utterly compliant to ‘spirited’ (I hear this is a good thing long term, though rather a ball ache short term), I am totally adoring my husband, my garden is looking pretty good and I did my first gooseberry and black currant harvest big enough to be worth freezing today, I adore my new green roof and so far my dahlias have not been decimated by slugs. This is decent progress for half a year. I know this.


But why do I feel so directionless and without purpose right now. I think deciding to postpone the next work exam, whilst entirely the right decision for both myself and my family, has thrown me into a real spin. I have become unnecessarily anxious and obsessive about irrelevant things. I have spent the last three days really worried about the fact that I don’t have a ‘skincare regime’. Seriously. I have spent all that time distracted and jittery, scared that I am hurtling towards forty and I don’t know what hyaluronic acid is, what the difference is between a BB and a CC cream, and that I don’t own a moisturiser. I have become more and mor econvinced that if I don’t spend a ridiculous amounts of money, which I don’t have, on products that will create a fresh and dewy visage, then I may as well just curl up and die right now. I have no idea why, but having gone probably five years not buying any kind of cosmetics at all, I know feel that they are the only thing that can possibly fix my life.

I have some perspective, I know this is purely me fixating on a material item to focus this free-floating anxiety I am currently feeling upon. I know that an expensive facial serum will not make me any happier, or more successful, or organised, or purposeful, or probably even make me really look any different at all to the casual observer, or probably myself or my husband if I’m being honest. I may buy some moisturiser when I have some spare cash, it’s probably not a bad idea at the arse end of my thirties, but this emotional discombulation I am feeling right now could probably be focussed on something more worthwhile.

My daughter has three weeks left at school before the summer holidays begin. My son has already started his settling in sessions for joining her at big school come September. Life as we know it is about to change dramatically, both in the short term having two children at home full time for the holidays, and in the long term of having both my babies away at school. I have ticked a lot of things off my to-do list for work, and soon I need to get my arse in gear and start working on the next to-do list. I intend to enjoy this summer first, and I intend to not feel guilty about just enjoying the last summer before full time education beckons. My only plans for the six week holidays are fun ones (apart from the pesky driving test slap bang in the middle). I have a whole two weeks annual leave booked, which is almost unheard of, and I have loads of fun things booked in. And whilst work has been pretty tough going recently I will get through our busiest period with the promise of time off with my gang. And once the new school year starts and my boy is settled, then I can get back on with that epic to-do list. That is ok. This should still end up as a pretty good year.

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Running Up That Hill

There are some notable events that come around which make you look back happily, and which make you realise just how far you have come, how much life has changed, and how many happy memories you have made.

Today was one of those events. Today we did the Highway Farm Carn Brea Trek with my son’s preschool. This was our third, and almost certainly our last trek. The first time we did the trek, up the hill to a rather amazing castle, to a medal ceremony for all the pre-school children who make it up successfully, my daughter was three and my son was two months old, and did the entire climb from the comfort of a wrap on my chest. In fact he was either sleeping or feeding most of the way.


At that point my daughter was so shy and pretty much terrified of everybody, that when it came to getting her medal she wouldn’t even look at Martin who was giving them out, and definitely wasn’t going to shake his hand!

The second year my son once again cheated by being carried the entire way, and once again having a nice nap when it all got too much.

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This time my daughter, who had been at her preschool then for more than 16 months, was brave enough to shake Martin’s hand, though she kept her eyes tightly screwed shut the entire time.


This all feels like a lifetime ago. Three years later and both my children walked every step of the climb themselves. My daughter was now brave enough to actually talk to some of the wonderful staff who marvelled at how tall she had grown. She led the way with total confidence for most of the walk.

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They were both much braver than I’d like really, clambering and jumping and running. In fact my son wiped out on the dusty ground at least eight times, but every time he jumped straight up, with a smile on his face, and got straight back on with his adventures.

He was equally brave when it came to receiving his medal!

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It is incredible looking back, to what a wonderful start Highway Farm gave my very anxious little girl, how they nurtured her when she was at her most delicate, how they worked with her to slowly give her courage. I cannot believe how much she has changed since starting school, how she has become so quick, and imaginative, and funny and engaged and so brave when life scares her. Days like this make me grateful for my amazing children (who only whinged a little bit about all the walking), who are growing up so quickly into such awesome people, makes me grateful for the incredible people who have supported us along the way, and for this beautiful part of the world we live.

Priorities

In medicine we are all taught the same structure of how to assess and manage a really sick patient. It is literally as easy as ABC, airway, breathing and circulation. We all know it, and when things get tough you can always fall back on it to guide how you prioritise your patient’s care. Now I realise it isn’t always that easy, not by any stretch, and there are always hard decisions, but still it’s nice to know that structure is there.

Can somebody come up with an ABC for life please, as I am definitely struggling to prioritise right now.

I guess it’s probably a really good sign. I sign that actually things are going pretty well in my life, that there is no disaster that I am forced to deal with immediately, that there are lots of possibilities available to me, that there is so much that I want to do, want to learn, want to achieve, that I have opportunities.

So firstly, and I guess deep down I know they really are always firstly, is my children. I want to know that they are happy and healthy, that they know how completely loved they are every second, that they see me and spend time with me, and that they know that I am involved in their lives.

But a very close second is my husband and our relationship. I don’t want to always leave him in charge of the children with no break, I want him to have time and space for himself and to recover from the demands of two young children (who are very demanding). I also want to spend time with him myself, focusing on us, and making sure we still like each other.

Then there is work. I want to be a good doctor. In fact I want to be the very best doctor that I can be. I want to learn more. I want to practice more. I want to push the limitations of what I can do, what I think is possible, for my own work, for our department, our hospital, our specialty. I want to not be so scared to put myself forward. I want to be able to speak up. I want to show that a mother can still be a good doctor, and be respected for that. And I really want to make consultant one day…

I want to be in my garden. I want to be weeding and digging and just sitting and appreciating the beauty of it all. I want to feel my body move and feel the sun on my skin. I want to have the most beautiful garden I can fit into my rather small piece of ground.

I want to go out. I want to go to the theatre, and to restaurants and concerts and see people, and chat and laugh and be easy. I want to visit beautiful places and see incredible things.

I want to have money in the bank. I want savings and to feel like we are financially sound and not living from paycheque to paycheque. I want to be generous. I want to not worry about money, because I have earnt it and been responsible with it.

I want to rest. I want long lie-ins and early nights. I want to lie on the sofa and watch films, I want to soak in the bath and listen to the radio till the water gets cold. I want to sit with my diary and reflect on my life and get my brain in order. I want to read a whole book just for fun. I want to just do absolutely nothing.

And to some extent I am managing all these things. And I know that I am incredibly lucky. I do feel lucky and appreciate how lucky I am. But I spend a lot of time now feeling guilty. I’ve written before about not really feeling guilty, and I think that’s when I was in my surviving stage of life. I didn’t feel guilty about leaving my children to go to work, because it was very clear to me that I was going to work to earn the money to pay for the mortgage and food and to come straight home to them. I wasn’t particularly enjoying work, I was forcing my brain to function for those ten hours and then I was back home, with crying babies and sleeplessness and breastfeeding and carrying and tantrums. There was lots else too, love and wonder and smiles and laughter and cuddles, but it was still often a struggle. 

The struggle has eased, but now every time I choose to go on a course, to be teaching, to attend a conference, go in for a meeting, to sit and revise, I know that I am actively choosing this rather than choosing my children. A lot of the things I am doing now are extra, usually in my own time, unpaid, and often actually costing me quite considerable sums of money. They are necessary if I ever want to be a consultant, but I would be able to financially support my family perfectly well without being a consultant. Am I putting my own vanity ahead of what my children and husband need for me. I write this blog right now, in bed, by myself, away from my family, after attending another conference, and in the last fortnight I have been at home less than four whole days. Can I justify that? And then surely when I get home I should spend all my time with them, I shouldn’t be going out tomorrow night and leaving them with a babysitter. I shouldn’t be out working in the garden whilst they play indoors. I shouldn’t be off having driving lessons and leaving my husband with another school pick-up. Should I?

I have found though that sometimes a decision not to do something is as important, and as positive, as always saying yes. I had been planning to sit the next in my long line of exams in September. I have made the decision not to do that. I have made the decision to not waste this summer sat in my study alone. I have made the decision to use the two weeks annual leave I have booked, in this the very last summer before my son starts in full time school, being with my family, to relax, to have fun, to make memories, and not be revising.


I have decided to be there for my Son’s first day at school, and not to be on yet another train, bound for London for my exam. I have decided to put it off, till the next sitting which is likely to another six months. 

And I feel guilty. Guilty for not pushing myself harder. For letting people down. For not being as committed to my exams as I should be. For not being as good as those doctors who don’t have children, or the men who can act like they don’t. 

And even when those priorities are sometimes different to get lined up in order, I know that really I have made the right decision. I will just have to park the bloody guilt!

The green, green roof of home

Sorry for being a bit quiet recently, after all the frenzy of blog a day May. It’s because I have been really, crazy busy. We have had half term holidays away, conference attended, course taught on, concert enjoyed, work shifts endured (that’s a little unfair, I was knackered, but they were actually pretty fun shifts with some of my absolute favourite people), and lots of gardening done too.

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I thought I would come and talk a little about my latest big garden project, for the past year now we have been having a shed specially built to fit into our rather awkward available space, with the specification of toping it all off with a green roof.

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I thought I would do a step by step of how we’ve made it, because I absolutely bloomin’ love it and I thought others might be interested in how to do it.

First step is make sure your roof is suitable. We deliberately made our roof fairly flat, the ideal is between a 5 and 15 degree slope, enough to encourage drainage, but not so much that all your soil just slides off the front! It needs to be strong enough to take the weight of everything you putting on top, so make sure it has robust struts holding it up. You need a lip of around five inches all around to hold everything in place. You then need a suitably sized butyl pond liner, glued into place across the roof and including the lip as well.  This stops the underlying roof from rotting. Over the butyl lining you need a layer of fleecy blankets, or old towels, to act as a store of water, to try and stop your plants drying out completely.

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Now you need to sort out the drainage. The key is a balance between good drainage, but not so dry that all the plants die instantly. We made four drainage holes with a pipe connecting them to funnel away any excess water. To stop the drainage holes blocking immediately with soil we added some little wire cages filled with rocks, which we can easily take out and clean if they get all blocked. A layer of hardcore across the entire roof keeps the soil draining easily (we were lucky that my cousin happened to be destroying her old fireplace at just the right moment for us to get some free hardcore). Across the bottom edge of the roof we put a thick layer of rocks to try and stop the soil blocking up the drainage.

Now for the soil. We went for approximately 40/60 mix of perlite and topsoil. The perlite is brilliant because it’s really light, which reduces the weight on my poor roof, and also great for drainage. You want a layer that’s around 2 inches thick covering the hardcore.

Then it’s my favourite part, the plants! I kept it pretty simple, and cheap, by buying sedums, sempervivums, and saxifrage, which are all really easy to divide up and turn 20 plants into more like 80.

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Every tiny part, even little broken pieces, were included, put into the roof, and even the tiniest bits are now growing away happily, turning into all new plants.

I also took little cuttings from sedums in Mum’s garden and just shoved them in the soil. These should all grow away happily until the entire roof is totally covered in green. I also bought some alpine poppies and sea thrift which I’m hoping will self seed and spread too. Once everything was planted we topped it all off with a thin layer of pea gravel (we got ours really cheap by buying broken bags from The Range). This helps stop the soil drying out too much, whilst preventing the leaves from sitting on wet soil.

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These will make bee friendly flowers for most of the summer, and I’ve already seen the bees checking it out, a new food source for them. All the plants are really well suited to a sunny roof, which shouldn’t need any watering once they’re established there.

It makes me so happy seeing what was a very grey little corner of our garden, essentially our driveway, now have some really useful garden storage and a whole new patch of flowers for us to enjoy.

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The organising has been the hardest bit.  Once we got the main structure done the rest of it has been really easy, and now it’s planted it shouldn’t really need much in the way of maintenance at all as all these plants are so tough and will look after themselves. I’ll update you at the end of summer, here’s hoping it will be really thriving by then!

The Babysitter’s club

Welcome everyone to my first post after recovering from #blogadaymay. I’ve strangely found it a little intimidating coming back without my daily brief of what I’m supposed to write about. I am definitely a woman who works well with a project, set goals, timetables and deadlines. Now I am back to writing whatever I want and it feels a little scary. Thank you for all of you who are still here and still reading!

Today I want to write about something which is a tiny bit taboo on this blog. My marriage!!
Usually this is not for social media, and it probably shouldn’t be tonight, but I want to start by talking about my lovely babysitter. She lives locally, is a third year medical student, is utterly beloved by my children, incredibly sensible, unfazeable, and you get the impression that any disaster could befall her and she’d roll up her sleeves and just get on with it. (Hmm, maybe I should suggest a career in emergency medicine, she sounds perfect for it!). I definitely feel confident that my children are in safe hands whilst we’re away.

We went six and a half years of parenthood with no babysitters. When my first child was six weeks old me and my husband left her with my mum whilst we went to the theatre to watch King Lear. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I booked the tickets, but I think it says a lot about my pre-baby naïveté about the realities of parenting a small person. I worried the entire way through the play and my husband slept the entire time. We didn’t try leaving the baby again for approximately two years after that! We had very occasional favours from family, maybe once or twice a year, and as none of them live close by it was very much at their convenience.

Our incredible babysitter put a note through our door last September, advertising her services, and we seriously have not looked back. She came around one afternoon to meet the kids, she started chatting Lego with them, and they have loved her ever since. We did a trial run for a drink at the pub down the road, and the kids have been totally happy with her looking after them (not an easy feat with my kids). One night my son woke upset, and was pretty sad when we weren’t there. He was still awake, and still sad when we got home. After that he told me he never wanted the babysitter back. The next time she came he looked upset for approximately thirty seconds, I turned my back and he was chatting away to her, happy as Larry.

Me and my husband have been to the theatre, to watch bands, comedians, to the cinema, out for meals, and it has generally been a very lovely thing. It is just great to have a moment to ourselves without the children. My son is at preschool two days a week now too, so depending on my rota we sometimes get that time together too. Not long till they’re both at school full time, and we won’t know ourselves.

You see, these first seven years as parents have been pretty intense. We started our married life with me pregnant, and so we never really got a chance to be newlyweds, to settle into life just us, husband and wife. We have managed to get through seven years of demanding children, sleepless nights, full time hands on childcare, breastfeeding, cosleeping, nappy washing and shift work remarkably amiably. There have been moments where neither of us have been able to take another second of our children, and there have definitely been some short tempers and minor disagreements about exactly how we should be parenting. There have also been lots of chats about cricket and politics, and crosswords, and Radio 4, and cups of coffee and watching iPlayer once the children are eventually asleep. And that has been enough to get us through those seven years, still as friends, still happy to spend time together, still able to make each other laugh.

Now though, now we have occasional child free days, and a babysitter. Now, we managed a day trip to St Ives, and a walk around the Tate having actual conversations about art, and pasties for lunch, and still got back for the school run.

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Now we can go to the dark of the cinema and hold hands at the tense bits. And things are starting to change. I find myself looking at him in a new way. Well in fact in a very, very old way. In the way I used to ten years ago. And sometimes I see him looking at me in that very old way too. And it is rather wonderful. And I am very happy. And I realise it is possible. It is possible to make it through those crazy times of early children together, with no support except each other. And to make it out the other side, to all those wonderful things that made you fall in love with him, plus all the new things you have learnt, the fact that he isn’t as patient as you thought, that he is very organised when it comes to washing, that he is the fun parent who is always able to come up with a new game to make the children roar with laughter, that he always gets the kids to school early, with everything they need and every form signed, even when our daughter wants him to plait her hair, that you can always rely on him to have an evening meal planned. As we roll around to another wedding anniversary, I have learnt a lot about that man I married, and I look forward to what more I have to learn.

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Blog a Day May

May is over, and I have to say that I am relieved to be done with it. It was really hard work trying to write a post for every day, as I finished each one the only thought was ‘what do I write for the next one?’ I am very glad that I chose to do it, very glad I stuck with it, and insanely proud that I managed to last the whole month. I am also insanely proud that you guys stuck with me, that you kept reading, kept leaving very kind comments, and didn’t just tell me to shut the hell up.

A lot of interesting conversations came up as a result of the month, real life and virtual conversations. Conversations about honesty and bravery. Conversations about vulnerability. Conversations about how much it is acceptable to say on a public forum which anybody could read, how much you can and should ‘put your life out there.’

I don’t have the answers. I know that I enjoy writing here and I know that I get a real kick from knowing that you guys read. I’m also strangely quite pleased that not TOO many people read, maybe that’s what makes it feel ok to be pretty open and honest, knowing it’s unlikely for me to get any crazy trolls picking a fight with me for the fun of it.

I think something that has come out of this month’s writing is that I feel ok about me. That I feel like I know who I am, who I want to be and who I am supposed to be. That I know my own opinions, I know what matters to me, what I belive, but I’m also ok to admit that sometimes I just don’t know. Believe me I have a lot of insecurities, lots of ways that I would like to be better, but I’m starting to feel ok about that. I’m starting to feel genuinely that all of us want to be better in some way and that that is part of being human. It’s ok to be content with myself most of the time whilst still occasionally having a little cry about the way I look in a dress.

A wonderful friend shared this link with me after reading one of my posts. It is Brené Brown, who is a researcher and writer who writes about the human experience, and simplistically writes self help books about her research. In this video she talks about vulnerability and how it is the key to feeling love and belonging. It’s a great talk and she is a wonderful speaker. In a twenty minute talk she made me laugh, and cry and really reflect on my life. I would totally recommend giving it a watch.

I think I try to feel comfortable with vulnerability, comfortable with saying that sometimes I don’t know the answer (often in fact), that I sometimes feel like I’m not good enough, that I’m scared. I’m ok with telling my truth, about the way I choose to parent, the way I live my life, even if it doesn’t seem to be the way that the majority choose. Heck that’s the very reason that I decided to start this blog. I didn’t feel like I saw other people talking about these things, I didn’t hear people talking about really struggling with their beloved new baby, talking about cosleeping, talking about breastfeeding an older child. I thought maybe if I wrote about it somebody else might stumble across it and realise that someone else felt that way too, was doing it that way too. With no judgement that that is the right way, the only way, the way you should do it, but just that for me that was the way that felt right. And those are absolutely always the comments that absolutely make my day, make my heart sing, make me cry. The comments that say “I do that too. I thought I was the only person. I dont talk about it because I didn’t think anybody else felt like that.” That is why I wrote the very first word of my very post. For that comment.

I guess it feels easier being brave, being vulnerable on a blog. I can’t say I find it so easy in real life. I can’t say I find it easy to be vulnerable to ask that person that I really like, have liked for years, “hey would you like to go out for a drink sometime? Maybe bring your kid over and they could play. I’ll bake cake?” I’m not so good at fears of real life rejection. Maybe after all this virtual bravery I might start trying to be braver in real life too?

The guest post aspect of blogadayMay has been particularly amazing. Amazing that it gave me a few days off having to actually write a post myself!!! But amazing in lots of other ways too. It felt good to push myself to actually ask people to write something for me. To ask someone for a favour for absolutely no benefit to themselves at all. And it felt ridiculously incredible that not only one person agreed, but in the end seven people took time out of their lives to write something for me and that kind of blows my mind. And I have loved every single one and I am intensely grateful for them all. And I am  also really grateful to everyone who was interested in writing something, but May wasn’t the right time for you to write. I am looking forward to posting more over the coming months when people find the right time. If my purpose in the blog is to get real experiences out there then having a whole range of different experiences, different voices is even better, even more likely to reach that one person who needs it and make them feel less alone for that moment. So thank you to all my guests for your fabulous posts and anybody who fancies it in the future please get in touch anytime. It has been a stretch to have to hassle a little, remind people they said they’d write something, remind them that their slot is coming up. I felt pretty horrible at times, nagging people to do something for me, really does not come naturally to me at all. I’m even more grateful that there was really very little nagging to be done as you were all so incredibly helpful and went out of your way for me and my little blog. Thank you.

The guest posts have all been really well read, which I’m so pleased about. After all their work I’m glad you guys took the time to read their incredible posts. From my own posts it is interesting that so far the most read have been LoveJealousy, and Loneliness. It probably doesn’t mean anything, but it kind of feels like that says something profound about us as humans.

So, with May over you’ll probably be pleased to hear that I’m going to be doing a little less blogging from now on. I’ll still be here, still sharing my life, my vulnerabilities, my successes and my struggles, just not every day. Thank you for every read, every like, every time you have taken the time to write a comment. I appreciate every one. I’ll be back in a bit, when I’ve recovered from May!

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Happiness

Happiness is another big old subject, but also one of my favourite subjects. We are conditioned to think of it as the ultimate achievement, something that we should aim to be at all times. We should strive for it, just as we strive for those other longed for states, for balance, and for success. I’m not so sure about this, and I am working on also redefining my concept of happiness.

Happiness is one emotion in a whole range of others. We need them all. The whole range of emotions is what enables us to define and recognise each one of them. We are able to know happiness by also knowing what sadness is. We know happiness by also knowing discontent, frustration, loneliness, fear, struggle and anger. Those other emotions can be pretty useful too. They help us to push ourselves forward to new challenges, they stretch us and make us stronger, they let us grow and learn and become better people. If we were all blissfully happy all the time, where would the impetus be to ever try anything new??

In my early twenties I made some very important discoveries about happiness. I leant them at the same time as my mother, who was in her early fifties. I’m very grateful to have had an extra thirty years of this knowledge in my life. Happiness doesn’t need to be in the big things. It doesn’t need to be in the expensive holidays or the fancy things. It doesn’t need perfection to thrive. I discovered that happiness is most easily found in the very small things in life.

I also learnt to recognise happiness. To notice when it was happening. To know that right now, at this very moment, now I am happy. To not put it off, not to wait for something that I need to make me happy. To not get so caught up in the anticipation, the excitement of something amazing that is coming, that I cannot actually enjoy it as it happens, to feel that awful sense of anticlimax as nothing turns out quite as expected.

So now I notice the small happinesses. I find happiness in the process of life and not just the products. I try not to be waiting for the next big thing but appreciate this thing, right in front of me. I also notice the contented, the comfortable, the settled, the calm and realise that they are part of happiness even if they’re not exciting.

I have so much in my life that makes me happy now, doing the crossword, when my child says please without prompting, when I make my husband laugh, when I drink a cup of tea in a mug that feels just right in my hand.

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When I see a new flower blooming, when I feel earth beneath my feet, when I have dirt under my nails.

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When I walk into work and a colleague looks up to see me and genuinely smiles, when a patient says thank you, when I can reassure someone, when I tell somebody the worst news and I’m there to help them through it.

When I have perfect silence, when I play my favourite songs, when I  hear the sound of the waves, the song of the birds, the buzz of the bees.

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When my children ask for a hug, when they share their toys, when they get excited about a book, when they act out their favourite shows, when they play beautifully with their cousins.

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There is happiness all around me, and most of the time now I can notice it. I’m sure there is still so much that passes me by, but I am working on it, and I am so grateful for learning this now and not in my fifties. I do not expect my life to be perfect, to be super successful, to find that perfect balance, to always be happy. But I’m realising that there is a lot more happiness to go around than I ever realised.

Guest Blog 6 – This is Me

Here is my final guest post for May. A massive thank you to Jenny for a fabulous post on encouraging diversity in medicine, and how important it is for doctors to be supported with their mental health, just like we should be supporting our patients. Over to Jenny:

This is me. Celebrating diversity and staying alive.

“Hello, my name is Jenny and I’m your doctor”. This is the standard line I use as I walk in to the cubicle in the emergency department (or, depending on how busy things are, stand by the side of a trolley in the corridor) and meet my patient for the first time. I make eye contact, smile to try and take away some of the fear, impatience or frustration the patient and their relatives may be feeling. During those few seconds of introduction, as is human, assumptions and conclusions will be reached about me based purely on my outward appearance.

A few years ago, when my dad was in the throes of dementia and had moved in to a nursing home, I created a “This is me” photo album for him. This was, in part, for me to go through with him and try to keep his memories alive, but more so that the care home staff (who, I must say, were amazing with him) would see him not as the dementia-struck old man, but the man I knew; the climber, the father, the son, the brother, the boat-builder, the planning engineer, the fisherman, the sailor, the skier. I wanted to show the depths of him, not just what was seen on the outside.

At times I wish that I had a book like that for me, that people could see all of me and not just that which is visible at that moment. Being a doctor, as in many professions, people make judgements based on my job, such as what my educational and family background is, that is, once they’ve accepted that I’m the doctor and not the nurse.

A few months ago an email was sent to all the junior doctors, and their responsible consultants, in the hospital that I work bemoaning the state of dress of junior doctors. It was remarked, after detailing how a doctor had been dressed, that “For all I know he may be the finest, hardest-working Dr in the hospital but that’s not my point.” But that is precisely the point. We should be judged on our work, not on how we dress or look. There are some patients who feel that women shouldn’t be doctors, who would look down on me for being gay, for the scars on my arms, and for my love of cats. At a previous hospital where I trained there were patients who were vocal about not wanting to be treated by a non-British doctor. We should be gently challenging such prejudices from our patients by celebrating our diversity.

I completely agree that we should be smart and act professionally, but there needs to be an acceptance that the modern-day intake of doctors comes from a wide range of backgrounds which may well be reflected in our appearance.

The judgements also come from those we work with. If a doctor is appraising their colleagues for their clothing, their tattoos or their hair colour, then what does that say about how they are critiquing their patients and their own prejudices? We live in an increasingly diverse society and in an age where medicine is becoming more patient-focused. Surely it will only benefit the development of the patient-doctor relationship (and thus engage patients more in protecting their own health) if we reflect that diversity within our workforce?

I think all health care professionals should reflect the diversity of their patients and be allowed to display their own individuality. Throughout medical school and my early years as a doctor I dramatically changed my physical appearance due to pressure, expectations and dress codes. In doing that I felt that I lost a part of me. Whilst brightly coloured hair and clothing may seem a small thing, those outside characteristics reflected the culture that had been such a strong part of my life for so many years and were a part of me. Going to medical school and becoming a doctor, whilst an incredible privilege, also felt like a betrayal in some ways as I had to compromise some of my beliefs and not speak out/act when I would have done previously. I also missed “me”.

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The original email about dress codes, and my reply, tried to stay light-hearted, but there is a serious side too to these expectations. We all need to accept that doctors come from diverse backgrounds, and we need to also acknowledge and accept that doctors too are human: we laugh, cry, get angry, say inappropriate things at times, make mistakes, make great cakes, we have hobbies and a life outside of medicine and, like one in four of our patients, we suffer from mental health problems. There is so much silence about this among doctors and there is still a huge amount of stigma and discrimination, from both patients and colleagues which has led to a high rate of depression and suicide among doctors (I’m not going to launch in to a rant here about the pressures that doctors are under due to the underfunded NHS, but, you know, we are…)

I’ve been battling my demons for much of my life and I don’t have the choice to hide my mental health issues from my colleagues or my patients. I have scars on my arms that due to the “bare below the elbow” policy at work are on show every day. When I was teaching first aid to children and women’s groups in Kenya, I covered them up – not wanting to detract from the lessons we were teaching. One day when I went to the shops I forgot to wear a long sleeved top and Caroline, the shopkeeper, asked me if they were tribal marks. I kind of shrugged it off, but later on I realised that what she had said was right, in a way. They are the marks of my life, of my story, of what has happened to me and, most importantly, of what I have survived.

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But doctors are dying. In my first two years as a doctor I personally know of six others in my region who died by suicide. We are dying from a lack of empathy, from stigma, from discrimination and from secrecy. We are dying because we are scared of speaking out and asking for help for fear of the impact that this will have on our careers and of how we will be judged. When I started at medical school I had an occupational health meeting where the nurse, when asking about my scars said outright that people who self-harmed were more likely to hurt their patients (there is no evidence, anecdotal or real to back up her statement). This created an expectation in me that if I sought help when things were bad, that I would be kicked out of medical school, or, once I qualified, I would be struck off, at times this stopped me seeking support which would have made life more bearable. Thankfully, aside from a few ridiculous and ignorant exceptions, most of the reaction when I’ve not been doing well and have asked for help, has been very supportive, for which I am grateful. Other friends and colleagues have not had such a positive experience; it should be the norm, rather than the exception.

Which brings me to the phrase (or similar ones) that you can’t love others until you love yourself, implying that only someone with perfect mental health can do good in the world. Whilst I’m sure this is said with the greatest of intentions – giving the person permission to not be ok, or trying to motivate them to “get well”, it is actually incredibly disempowering and quite frankly rubbish (feel free to insert other phrase here that I’m too polite to write). I’m not proud of having mental health issues by any stretch of the imagination. But, I’m not ashamed of them either, in the same way I’m not ashamed by my physical health problems although both frustrate me. What I am proud of is that I’ve survived my mental health problems, I’ve been so low it felt like I couldn’t go on and I’ve hit rock bottom. But I dragged myself up, with the support of amazing friends, family members, the NHS and various charities. I’ve integrated my problems in to my life. Whilst falling apart and hating myself to the extreme at times, I have achieved so many amazing things – from helping to set up a charity in Palestine, to teaching first aid there and in Africa, to getting through medical school and foundation training and being an awesome aunty to three beautiful children. I am more than just the scars on my arms and the demons in my head.

In the past few months I’ve returned more to who I am. I have blue in my hair, I’m dressing more like “me”, and I’m speaking out more; and you know something, I’m still a good doctor. When I see my blue hair in the mirror, it makes me smile, not because I’m rebelling, but because, instead of feeling that I should hide parts of me, I’m proudly being myself and celebrating diversity.

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This is me: I am your blue-haired, gay, tattooed, unicorn-sock-wearing, free-soloing, pole-dancing, cat-loving, fire-breathing, cake-baking and scarred doctor.

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Money

I buy a lottery ticket every week. I started doing this when I was least able to afford to buy a lottery ticket, when I was on maternity leave second time around, me and my husband were both at home, we were funding our family of four entirely from my maternity pay, and then every single penny of our savings, and finally with a loan. It’s often the way that when you have the least, that’s when the thought of somebody handing you an enormous cheque and taking away all your money worries becomes intoxicating. We were lucky. That tight period was very much finite and I knew I would be going back to a well paid job. I realise that is not the case for a lot of people.

I still have a standing order for a ticket every week, and in those four years of weekly tickets I have never won a single penny. But it’s still nice to dream isn’t it? At the moment our finances are looking pretty scrappy again as I fork out for exam fees, and conference fees, and course fees, and train tickets to them and hotel rooms. That’s not to mention the cost of driving lessons. It turns out that trying to become a better person is seriously expensive. So I find myself dreaming just a little more about the possibility of that big lottery cheque.

I love those “what would you do if you won the lottery?” conversations. Would you quit your job, move to Monaco and blow it all on champagne, fast cars and roulette? Would you put it all in safe, high return investments, work full time, live in your two up-two down house, and leave it all in your will to the local cats home?

I like to think I would keep working. My job is who I am and I can’t quite imagine not having that. It would be rather lovely to be part time though! I like where I live, and most things about my life if I’m honest. I don’t think I would send my kids off to the local private school or go on fancy foreign holidays, maybe a bit of glamming in Devon! I would probably frequent Waitrose more regularly, and own more than two pairs of jeans, but I wouldn’t say my plans were overly extravagant.

One thing I do fantasise about though, is building a house. I am a long term fan of Grand Designs, and I often think about how I would build my dream home. When I say build, I don’t mean with my own bare hands like some of the amazingly skilled people who you see on the show. I mean employ an architect and a project manager and a load of people who know what they’re doing. Now even with my big lottery win I wouldn’t be building a super glamorous extravaganza of a house with our own swimming pool and nightclub and fifteen bedrooms. I like the Grand Designs which are beautiful, modest homes, with strong ecological principles, loads of natural materials which fade into the surrounding landscape and provide an amazing shared family space.

I have already considered my spot.

Every day on my walk to work I go through the garden of an abandoned house. It was probably a farmhouse back in the day, and the city has slowly creeped up on it.

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It is now surrounded by housing estates on both sides, and it has been adopted as a convenient cut through for a stream of people walking to the hospital. People like me. The house itself isn’t anything grand, but there is a lot of land surrounding it, and a host of old, falling down barns.

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I presume the land has probably been bought by a development company already and before I know it there will be hundreds of houses built there to fill in the gaps between the new build estates. For now though, I can still dream that I could buy this glorious chunk of land and build my own little dream.

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The grand plan would be to build several homes, one for us, but also a few others for several members of the wider family if they wanted them. I like the idea of communal living, and would love it if my cousins and their little families were all right next to us. That our parents and our siblings would have a place they could come and stay whenever they wished, in their own separate house. Then thee would be a beautiful communal area where we could come together for meals and many cups of tea. There would be a vegetable patch and an orchard where we could grow as much of our own food as possible, and maybe increase our chicken flock! There would be solar panels and maybe a windmill, I do love a windmill!

The land around this boarded up house is beautiful, surrounded by trees which are full of bird song, and the rustle of the breeze.

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You can see it was once a beautiful garden, and you see the plants which were obviously once tended with love, now choked in brambles. I love the romantic idea of rediscovering the garden, in a Secret Garden style, and finding all these hidden treasures.

I would keep as much of this as possible, and make a little wild family idyll for us all, within the city and minutes from my work.

How would you spend your big lottery win?

Guest Blog 5 – Read it and s(weep)

Today is another guest blog post, and a first for Inner Grace, a MAN!!!! In fact today I have the joy of introducing my husband, who obviously wants a slice of this amazing blogging action, or maybe has just taken pity on me for constantly complaining about #blogadaymay and having yet another post I need to write. So here he is, having a little moan about something, which has become a large part of his life (for which I am eternally grateful):

Having thought about which area of my life, if any, would be of any interest to anyone, and after a little bit of discussion with Rachel, I have decided to talk about the joys of cleaning. Not the most obviously enlightening topic perhaps, but something I spend a fair chunk of my time thinking about, if a much smaller amount actually doing.
One of the challenges I have felt as a stay-at-home dad has been shifting my own expectations. I’ve been doing this for 6 years now (!) and generally enjoy it, although I would qualify that by stressing that a lot of the time I experience an ongoing sense of frustration. I definitely went into this thinking that I would have more free time than I have ended up having, or at least feeling like I have had. I have taken on the bulk of the domestic duties, which I am very comfortable with. But there is always something that needs doing, and it is not unknown for me to feel a bit overwhelmed by my growing to-do list, and not knowing where to start with things. So sometimes I just don’t start. This is particularly the case when it comes to cleaning the house.

It’s fair to say that we didn’t really appreciate how much difference having children would make to the overall tidiness of the house. Many is the day when I have felt the house is looking pretty clear, only for items to appear gradually throughout the day, and end up spread around in random places. This leads to a feeling of swimming against the tide, that however quickly I can put things away, more things will keep appearing in places I don’t want them in, which in turn leads me to feeling there are more pressing concerns on which to focus. Cleaning the house is definitely a task that sometimes has to reach a tipping point before I accept that action is needed.

I don’t think I’m overly fussy when it comes to neatness, but when the house starts feeling too cluttered for my liking then I definitely notice a negative effect. There normally comes a point where the sleeves need rolling up and I just have to crack on with the cleaning. The truth is that I actually enjoy cleaning the house, although I have to be in the mood to do so. No task is too grim when I’m in the right frame of mind, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when everything is done. The biggest challenge is trying to clean the whole house when the children are around, as inevitably I get distracted by some urgent need of theirs (usually involving Lego). What works best is when Rachel is able to take the children away for a while, and I can just press on. Sometimes they go away for a few days to stay with relatives, and I have the house to myself. I feel absolutely no shame in the extent to which I look forward to these times, as I can be at my productive best, ending up with a beautifully clean house!

Sadly, the positive glow I get from having a clean house doesn’t last. There is a scene in The Simpsons where Marge has corralled the others into cleaning their house, only for it to revert back to its pretty horrendous state of slovenliness in the time it takes for a door to swing back and forth. This is something I am familiar with. It is now a family tradition for me to say, tongue in cheek, ‘Well, I see no reason why we can’t keep it like this,’ when the house has been cleaned, as we all know it won’t be long until the oppressive sense of mess takes over again and the process starts anew. This goes back to that feeling of frustration I mentioned before, as it seems like it should be possible to keep the house vaguely tidy, but it just never seems to happen. I have realised that it doesn’t take much for clutter to build up, and we are all guilty of it. The odd newspaper of mine that I don’t get round to reading, or something the children desperately want to play with but then quickly lose interest in, these things in themselves don’t seem like too much of a problem, but from little acorns of mess…


Living in a (relatively) new-build house means that the rooms are on the small side, which I definitely appreciate when a good clean is called for. The downside to this is the lack of storage space, which means we have to be creative when decluttering. Certain things sometimes end up just placed somewhere in a corner, not hidden away, but not particularly in the way either. This lack of space has definitely given me an awareness of how much stuff we possess, and every so often I do feel a strong impulse to chuck out a load of things that seem unnecessary. But part of me hesitates – the finality of getting rid of stuff can come back to haunt. On more than one occasion I’ve tried to dig out an old item that I’ve not seen for ages, only to realise that it was ditched some time before.

I may have given the impression that we fluctuate between spotless and cluttered to extreme hoarder levels, with but of course there is a general level of tidying and cleaning that goes on day-to-day, it’s not just a case of me doing a massive house-clean once in a blue moon. This is probably where the biggest struggle lies, the relentless tide of spillages, crumbs, cobwebs, mud from the garden and, believe it or not, Lego, which all need dealing with, seemingly all the time. Encouraging the children to help (i.e. clean up after themselves) can be painstaking, part of the ongoing dance of teaching them responsibility without all losing our minds. But as with most of these things, we persevere, hoping that one day it won’t be an argument, but will in fact be a demonstration of mutual respect and care towards each other’s needs. Or something like that…

In the past I’ve worked with women who bemoaned their partners’ complete unwillingness or inability to take on any responsibility for doing the housework, and I just can’t imagine being like that. It’s a bit like reading about high-flying ‘Captains of Industry’ who don’t know how to make so much as a cup of tea. I’m pretty happy with my position as chief cleaner in our house, even though it can be a frustrating experience. Without a career as such, I try to gain the positives from the sort of work I do, and it feels thoroughly satisfying to see the end result of a stint of cleaning. In fact, whilst writing this I broke off to clean some of our windows inside, encouraged by my son who wanted to see how our fancy steam-mop squeegee attachment worked. If nothing else, I’ll be setting an example to him that it’s perfectly normal for a man to take responsibility for housework. He even tidied up some Lego today without too much arguing, so there is hope. And I’m seriously looking forward to my next full clean of the house, due imminently. It’s been too long (hopefully unlike this post)…