In the Mirror

I am on holiday. I needed this. My rota kindly gave me an absolutely soul-destroying, body-crippling, brain-melting week to finish on, meaning I spent the entire first 24 hours in bed, barely human. I only have two shift ahead of me for the whole rest of the school holidays, and even then September is sedate as well after I worked far over my allotted hours and they are finally paying me back. I am appreciating the break. So much…

Already I have had a very positive physio appointment, which left me literally bruised but with some appreciation of the progress I have made and my path forwards. I had another lovely meeting of book group, and a great choice of next book which I am thoroughly enjoying. I savoured a politic rally, with a chance to hear my hopes of a left-wing future offering a more equal possibility for my children. I have had a wonderful family theatre trip in the beauty of Heligan gardens and a fabulous celebration of ten years since my first shambolic, hungover and slightly awkward date with my now husband.

It was a good start. Just the start I needed.

On Sunday I got on the train with the kids, leaving my husband home alone for over a week, whilst we come and stay at my parent’s house.

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We are spending the week seeing lots of their cousins, with the older children going together to swim classes every morning. It has been great for them to spend time together, we sometimes feel so far apart so it’s good to build those family connections.

I have also managed to fit in a day of adventure with my old uni housemate and her kids. Sunshine, fresh air, miles of walking, dens to build, obstacles to climb, ice creams to eat, and tales to catch up on.

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Holiday times are strange though. A life outside of reality. Even staying in the country, with familiar people and places and homes, it still feels foreign. Too many echoes of time passed, of past selves and half forgotten histories. There is time to reflect on these too, and that reflection is not always comfortable. Thinking of who I used to be, how I thought my life, and the lives of my friends would turn out. Remembering back to my days as a new mother, with a tiny baby that felt like the most enormous responsibility and the greatest mystery.

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Today, I lost my three year old son in Sainsbury’s. One second he was there, and then he just wasn’t. And he was nowhere. I ran down every single aisle, over and over, head swivelling crazily looking for a tiny mop of white blonde curls somewhere. And they were nowhere. I was so sure he must have been taken. There was no way he could have completely vanished in what is a pretty tiny store just from wondering off. I had visions of the rest of my life wondering where he had gone, and never knowing if he was safe or if he was sad.  Above all I just missed him, was so sad of all the amazing moments of him that I would not be there for, all his laughs and jokes that I wouldn’t hear…

After ten minutes utterly frantic, there he was happy as could be, riding on the Thomas the Tank Engine ride, completely oblivious of my terror, grin plastered across his face. I promptly burst into tears whilst he kept grinning, and my daughter burst into tears too.

I have felt pretty exhausted for the rest of the day. That was all of my emotional expenditure for the year. They have had a relaxed day of classic kids films, Lego, and illicit YouTube videos about Minecraft on their older cousins phone. I have managed a few hours of focused revision, which so far is going pretty well, and feeling really productive.

I hope everyone else is enjoying this rather wet summer, and maybe managing some reflection too, even if sometimes it feels a little uncomfortable.

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Big Decisions

I have written recently about the effect that small positive choices have made on my life, and my mindset. I am eating better, being more active, doing daily exercise, taking more time for myself, and doing more of the things that I love. The more I do, and the more small successes I have, the more motivated I feel to push myself a little bit further, try something a little more challenging. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on where my life is right now, and where I eventually want to be.

All these small choices have led me to make a really big decision, or it feels pretty big to me. I wanted to share that big decision with you guys, because sometimes you just need to put it out there, so that everyone knows, and so hopefully you’ll help to remind me how much I really want to do this, even when it gets hard and even when I feel completely discouraged.

There have been several small incidents at work recently, several innocent off-hand conversations, and particularly some very kind comments from people that have really made me pause and take stock. I do think that I am a good doctor. I have a lot of practical experience, common sense and clinical acumen that mean on a day to day basis I am able to do my job competently. But is that really the same as doing my very best?

Its a very long time since I have really had to engage my brain, since I have got the text books out and studied the theory behind what I actually do on a day to day basis. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be a specialty doctor forever, and if I am, then that’s ok. It’s a job I love. But that was never my plan when I started. I always just assumed I would be a consultant one day. So, maybe I still can…

I still have potentially thirty years of my career ahead of me. My youngest child starts at preschool in a few short week’s time. I am finally starting to feel less overwhelmed and finding time to do other things. What if I spent some of that time actually using my brain, doing some study that can only help take all of those years of experience and make me an even better doctor, maybe one day that doctor that I actually wanted to be all those years ago when I first started this journey.

So here I am, publicly sharing my decision to start sitting my exams to one day become a Fellow of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. I’ve ordered myself a text book, I’m going to clear myself a study space, and I am totally going to do this! And if I sound like I’m giving up on myself, feel free to give me a kick up the backside!!

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Black Wednesday Cometh…

Next Wednesday, the first in August, is an important one for all doctors. It is ‘affectionately’ known as Black Wednesday, and marks the day, across the country, across the years, where all newly qualified doctors officially start their very first jobs as doctors. Not only that, but all doctors in training posts move jobs, often move hospitals, to continue onwards and upwards with their training, gaining new experiences and new responsibilities. It tends to be a little chaotic, with thousands of doctors across the country needing induction to new systems, software and most importantly, fire safety guidelines. The gaps on the ward tend to be covered by the more senior doctors or doctors like myself in non-training roles who are staying firmly put in their chosen hospitals. The sensible consultants book their summer holidays perfectly to return once some semblance of normality has returned to the hospital.

My own inaugural Black Wednesday was twelve years ago. Here is how fresh-faced I looked in the weeks leading up to this…

I have absolutely no photos from during my first year as a doctor. I think that says a lot! I can assure you I would have looked like I’d aged at least ten years.

When I started first year doctors were still called house officers. They are now F1s. I worked my house officer year in a huge tertiary hospital, full of professors and leading experts in their fields, with many consultants particular specialty being belittling house officers. It was a crazily intense year, the steepest learning curve of my life (excel for my first year of motherhood) and changed me forever. I had all the exams, all the theoretical knowledge and clinical practice that was expected of me before taking that house officer bleep, before running the patient list, but the realities of it still came as a huge shock to me. I was the doctor who would be on the ward at least half an hour before I was due, and leaving at least two hours after I was supposed to finish, and lunch breaks were an unexpected treat. I guarded my patient list with my life, I probably tended it more diligently than I have my children. As the house officer nobody knew my patients better than I did. I was there with them on the wards day in, day out. I knew their families, I listened to all their worries and celebrations, I tried to placate all their complaints. The ward nurses were essential to getting me through each day, often being the ones to actually show me what the hell I was meant to be doing.

I lived on M&S ready meals that year, I lost stones in weight, and was a size 12 for the only time in my adult life. I ran up and down more staircases than I can possibly remember, all in my kitten heels.

The most intense of all my jobs was vascular surgery. Our list was always huge, with far more patients than we could realistically be expected to ever manage. They were also incredibly sick, with failing hearts, kidneys, lungs, with flesh rotting from their bodies and blood vessels that were either closing off or bursting. They were also, as a general rule, the most stubborn, cantankerous patients I have ever met, (the consultants tended to have similar personalities) refusing to give up tueir beloved cigarettes regardless of how often they had to return to the operating theatre to have more and more pieces of their limbs cut off. In that job I routinely worked twelve hour days when I was expected to work eight, and was permanently exhausted.

It may come as no surprise to people who know me that this was my favourite job of all time. I loved my cantankerous patients. I loved looking after complex comorbidities and terrifying medical emergencies. It was a trial by fire and it forged the doctor I would become. Despite the long hours I would leave my bleep number with the registrar on call, to get me in to help out in theatre if any exciting emergencies came in. Usually house officers struggle to get to theatre, but late in the evenings and weekends I would come in my own time to assist. As a house officer my first surgical procedures were an above knee amputation and an embolectomy. Having done my best to avoid theatre as a medical student I had now truly fallen in love with surgery and had discovered the kind of doctor I wanted to be. Not the cerebral sort, sat in an office scratching my chin and postulating clever diagnoses, House-style, but instead getting stuck in, and handling emergencies.

During that job I experienced a lot of death. Unfortunately that comes alongside the very sick patients and the emergencies. It was particularly hard when these were patients I had come to know very well through all those hours on the wards. I had to come to terms with it pretty quickly. I don’t really know how that happens, how you get used to death, but it does. It has to.

I did initially go into surgical training, but life happens and it soon became clear that emergency medicine holds all the thrills and sick patients and practical skills I had loved, but also allowed me to clock off once my shift had finished, knowing that somebody else was able to look after the patients I had admitted, able to look after the new patients attending. It allowed me to do the medicine I love whilst staying vaguely sane, and not wake in the middle of the night with palpitations at all the work I had left unavoidably unfinished.

Twelve years on and that very first day stays with me. I remember how terrified and out of my depth I felt. I remember how a snappy, humiliating comment from my infamously mean registrar reduced me to tears on my very first ward round, and I try my hardest to be supportive to the junior doctors I now support. I often feel like I haven’t managed, when the conflicting and endless demands of my role lead me to be brusque and dismissive when asked for help. I try to remember how that feels.

Twelve years on and I am still learning. Still very much learning. In fact yesterday’s shift challenged me anew, reminded me how it feels when a request for help is dismissed or misunderstood, reminded me that I can’t be complacent, that I will always be learning, to the day I blissfully retire. And that’s ok. We’re in this together, and those new doctors starting next week will have more to teach me, and hopefully I’ll be able to teach them something too. Hopefully in years to come they won’t be writing about that mean doctor who made them cry about when they first started. Its a very rare thing for me to cry on the job these days, thankfully, but I’m also thankful that after shifts like yesterday’s I have not become so used to it now that I can’t still have a cry on my walk home.

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And here I am now, after the ravages of twelve years of medicine (and the two sleep thiefs I have for children!)

School’s Out for Summer

Today was officially the first day of our summer holidays. I think last year I was really excited about this, except for the fact that I was working pretty much continuously all summer, with hardly any time to actually be at home with the children. I had this nostalgic memory of idyllic long weeks of adventure from my own childhood. Potentially memories that bear little similarity to my mother’s recollections of those same weeks.

This year I have slightly different feelings heading into it. I am now more balanced about the fact that we may well have some lovely fun times, but there may be some pretty hellish moments where I feel like disowning both children. And that these moments may actually be more like a couple of weeks…

Less than twenty four hours in and we haven’t had the smoothest of starts. Last night we celebrated the end of term by heading straight into town for dinner at a rather fabulous burger place followed by the first ever whole family cinema trip. Until now I had felt out three year old was too young for the cinema so he has always missed out, meaning that cinema trips have always been a special treat for my daughter and one parent. My son is now pretty good at paying attention through a film and knows when to be quiet, so I was hopeful that a trip to see Despicable Me 3 would be a wonderful family way to start the holidays.

It started well enough, and apart from a meltdown over a pink highlighter pen I was feeling positive. This was definitely assisted by my special treat of an aperol spritz cocktail to wash down my burger. The first fifteen minutes of the movie were great, all of us laughing along with an 80s classic soundtrack behind the chuckles. Around that point though my son decided that actually Despicable Me 3 was absolutely the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his whole life (the whole Star Wars and Harry Potter back catalogue apparently have nothing on Gru in a bubblegum mankini!)

Deapite cuddles, reassurances and boob (the great cure-all), I ended up carrying him out with at least half an hour left of the movie, worried that his wails were disturbing the rest of the audience. It was not quite how I had imagined the evening going. Add that to the epic bedtime with two very hyper children, and I felt a little broken before the holiday had even started.

This year I really have tried to lower my expectations. I have a couple of things booked in, an evening of outdoor theatre with a company I know the kids have always enjoyed in the past, a storytelling session at the incredible Minack Theatre, and a train journey to stay with my mother, their beloved Mimi, for a week in the middle. Apart from this the six weeks stretch ahead with absolutely no set plans. I am quite in favour of the idea of letting them get bored, the concept that boredom is the birth place of all great adventures and inventions. I do not mind some days where pyjamas never come off and the tv stays on all day. I have definitely felt that towards the end of this term my daughter has been very much in need of some totally unscheduled time to recover from the demands of her first properly academic year of school. However, for when TV becomes monotonous (I’m hoping that eventually it will!!) and cabin fever sets in, we have created The Bored Board for ideas of cheap, easy things we can do locally, or even without leaving the house, to all enjoy over the summer.

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We’ll see how we do this year. I’m hoping that low expectations, embracing pyjamas and tv, whilst making some time for adventure, will lead to a holiday where I survive a little better, and like my children a little more at the end of it. But who knows, a simple trip to the supermarket this morning nearly had me packing my bags and leaving already today, so wish me luck for the remaining 43 days. Good luck to all the other summer holiday parents too! Any tips gratefully received.

The Boy in the Bubble

I feel a little bit like I have been living in a bubble for the past six and a half years. A bubble of sleep deprivation and interruptions and nappies and arguments about peas and Lego. I was vaguely aware that there was stuff going on outside of the bubble, but it was blurry and out of reach. I suspect this bubble exists for all women as they become mothers, but for some it seems to last those early, milky, sleepy weeks, and others it lasts for many years. I think my mother may just be escaping hers now, aged 67.

You know how some conversations stay with you forever. As a teenager who had just bought my first album by The Clash I asked my Mum about punk. I was hoping to be regaled with stories of mohicans, safety pins and spittle. Instead, quite dismissively Mum said she didn’t really know anything about punk, she had been too busy having children. I remember feeling so disappointed, and frankly quite disgusted at my mother for this response, how could she have lived through such an exciting time for our culture, and completely missed it? Now I understand.

The crazy, all consuming, overwhelming early days of motherhood seem to be finally easing for me, all these years later. I still love being with my children, I have one asleep on me right now after some poorly-boy boobing. I have no intention of stopping being a totally involved, attentive, connected Mummy. So far, I am not planning on a solo round the world trip. But seriously, if I stay in this bubble for much longer I will go crazy, and in ten years time my daughter will ask me if I have an opinion or an experience or a story about something, and I will look blank, and say I have been too busy with children to do anything else, and she will feel that same disappointment that I felt all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully expecting her to be thoroughly disappointed in me when she’s a teenager, whatever I do in the next few years, but I’m hoping that I won’t need to be disappointed in myself.

It is all about the small steps, the positive choices. I am starting to look after myself better physically, as I’ve said, so that I will hopefully still be physically capable of having experiences for many years to come. I have read three books in the past three weeks – now this is more than I have read in years. I want to start getting out to the theatre more, the cinema, discovering new writers, new music that makes my heart sing. I don’t want to keep replaying the same things that I knew as a teenager, when my life, when I, was unrecognisable from myself now. I want to start moving forwards again now, with my family there by my side, to find those things that make me feel like I am really thinking about things, questioning, learning, growing, that I am a whole person, not just a mother with a job.

So far, with a bit of proactive work on my part, we have had the first meeting of a book group, hosted at my house. It was just such a wonderful feeling experience after all these years, to have a really thoughtful discussion about a book, moving on through politics, religion, feminism… I am thoroughly excited about the next meeting, and whilst slowly making my way through this month’s book, I’m actually managing to analyse it as I read, thinking my way through what I really think of it, rather than just being proud that I’ve managed to struggle my way through it at all.

After feeling pretty proud of myself for putting myself out there, despite that real fear of nobody showing up, or feeling really awkward, having nothing to say, being a terrible host etc, I have allowed the momentum to take me and propel me onwards. I put a post on Facebook saying how much I loved going to the theatre, and how I’d love to have a theatre buddy. I have been so thrilled by the gorgeous response I got from people. In less than a week, I have been to an incredible outdoors theatre experience, and in a couple of days I’m off to the Minack Theatre with another friend, something I have always wanted to do. Not only that, but I now have a list of people who are up for future trips too.

I am trying to listen to more music, and have bought some new (to me at least) albums, though still feel entirely clueless about anything that has actually been released in the past six years. I’ll work on that one – open to any suggestions guys!

My next big aim, and one that I feel huge trepidation about, is to try and do some physical activity, with other people!! I have been doing a Pilates video at home a few times, but would really like to do some yoga or Pilates classes. That feels like a big step though as it’s something I just have no experience of. Also very tempted by the thought of adult ballet classes, for absolute beginners though obviously, as despite many years of classes as a small child I was completely useless at it, essentially a drunken giraffe trying desperately to be graceful. It feels much harder as an adult to put yourself out there to do something you know you’re no good at, but that you might really enjoy and will help me be more healthy.

My last big aim, is to maybe actually get a little involved in the local political situation. I don’t intend to run for council or anything, but having become an actual member of the Labour Party, and having felt so excited and frustrated and bewildered by the recent election, I feel maybe I should actually show up, in person, and feel able to speak up for what I believe in. That’s still an idea in progress, but hoping this momentum (no pun intended) helps to propel me on towards this as well. And maybe one day I will be able to tell my kids that yes, I showed up when I felt it mattered.

I have not found this easy, attempting to be brave, attempting to reach outwards, to people, to new experiences, new ideas. In fact it has felt pretty damn terrifying, but also exciting. And I have felt really honoured that people have shown up for me, come to the book club, invited me to the theatre, listened to my ramblings. I really appreciate it, and one small step at a time I am finding my way, gently forwards.

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Positive Choices

I am noticing lots of very small changes since I have been trying to make changes in my life, all kicked off by doing the the Supercharged Mission. I have been actively trying to focus on all the choices that I have, every single day, minute by minute. The choice to have a glass of water or a cup of coffee. The choice to have toast or porridge. The choice between scrolling on my phone (still an awful lot of that happening) or read a book. And the glorious thing is that none of those choices are right or wrong, but that moment to moment I get to make them.

I am trying to focus on making positive choices, the ones that feel right at that time. So right now I am on my phone writing this blog post, with a big glass of water and a cup of coffee next to me, and when I am done I plan to spend a little time reading my book, and maybe even trying out that Pilates video I bought myself for Christmas. Rather than try to cut a whole load of crap out of my life I am trying to focus on positive things I can add into my life, doing more of all those things I love. Today I have done a lot of baking, because I love baking, and I particularly love baking things to give to others, so tonight I will take tins filled with cake to share with my colleagues working the night shift with me. I have obviously taste tested this cake, and licked the bowl after making it because surely that is one of the big joys in life, certainly my life.

After that I retired to bed to get some rest and I actually read my book, and listened to an amazing recording of a lecture by this great woman talking about learning from our failures in life, and coming back stronger. It’s put me in such an optimistic frame of mind for the rest of the day.

I don’t have life figured out, I still get it wrong, constantly, but I am noticing that those little choices, those positive actions, they are making a big change to how I feel. I am learning to recognise the things that make me happy, and just trying to do more of that. So if you get a text from me in the coming months asking you to join me in any of those things that bring me joy, please try to say yes. I’d love to say yes to any invitations from you too!

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My heart is in a field in Somerset

There are times in everyone’s lives when they feel that they are missing out on something truly magical that everyone else is doing. One of the first, and still most painful was when Kelly in my class got school shoes, with heels!!! whilst I was stuck in my ugly square orthopaedic shoes after years of seeing doctors about my deformed flat flipper-like feet. That was sorrow on a deep level and despite many high heeled shoes since, I believe it formed a big part of my psyche, of my overstretched, poorly functioning body letting me down. Then there were the years of all my friends going from boyfriend to boyfriend while I was the eternal gooseberry just wondering all the excitement that I was missing out on.

I was a teenager growing up in Somerset, where every summer solstice weekend a small group of the coolest, most deviant girls I knew would prepare themselves to climb the fence, and experience the eye-opening, other-worldly magic of the Pilton Festival (you weren’t allowed to call it Glastonbury if you were a local, it’s not even in Glastonbury for God’s sake).

So, for the first few years I wasn’t that heart broken about not being one of those girls. Aged thirteen I knew there was not a hope in hell of my mother letting me be one of them. As the years passed my love of music, my awareness of the specialness of Glastonbury, and my jealousy, all grew a little. The year I took my A levels a whole group of girls from my school went. I had already spent every penny I had paying for a holiday to Greece with my friends to celebrate the end of exams – my first proper holiday abroad, my first time ever being allowed to go away with friends. I knew I was not, and still am not the kind of person who would be willing to climb a fence to get into a festival, apart from that one time  that I did climb the fence into Reading Festival, but that was an accident and I did actually have a ticket!

From the Friday to the early hours of Monday I sat, curled up on the bean bag in the spare room, glued to every second of the TV coverage, crying, in my house just a few miles from what felt like the very centre of the entire world. I had never, ever felt such terrible longing for something I couldn’t have, for somewhere I could not be. This probably just demonstrates how utterly privileged and lucky my life had been to that point, but man did I sob my poor little teenage heart out that weekend.

I think the experience broke my poor mother’s heart too, and from that moment our relationship was forever changed. That was the moment that my mother promised to herself that next year, she would make sure that her daughter got to the festival.

The following year was a tough one for me. I decided to drop out of my planned university course as I knew that really being a doctor was the only thing I really wanted to do. I hadn’t even applied the first time around as I just hadn’t believed I could do it. I moved back home, and I worked as a volunteer at a nursery for children with special needs, whilst trying to beef up my work experience for my application. They very kindly gave me ten pounds a week to ‘cover my expenses’ but I think they just felt sorry for me. Every single one of my friends had left, for uni, or on glamorous planned gap years on foreign continents. I was stuck at home relying on my parents and working full time, in a truly amazing job that I loved to be fair, but essentially for free.

Each week when I got my ten pounds I would go straight to the newsagent next to the school and buy that week’s copy of Melody Maker and NME. I would then walk straight to the bank, and with my little paying-in book would deposit every single penny of the change into my savings account. I would then spend the weekend devouring every word of those magazines, reading every review, planning which new albums I should try to rent from the library and copy on to tape, to familiarise myself with before I might see them at next summers festival.

All my friends had gone and it was a pretty lonely year, so my 48 year old mother decided that she would come with me to the festival. We spent evenings sat down in her bedroom, while I played her the music I loved, and tested her on all the different bands. She had a whole new musical education and we both got to know each other as people, properly, for the first time ever. It has been the most fundamental step in our relationship as adults, and was life changing for us both.

As the time approached I had saved enough money for two tickets, a tent, and some very basic supplies. My whole world had come perfectly to this point, as I entered the festival that I had been dreaming about every day for a whole year.

It was an amazing weekend, not perfect, but completely seminal in my life. My best friend ended up showing up at the last minute, jumping that fence and joining me and my mother, just in time, in front of the pyramid stage, to watch The Chemical Brothers. I will never forget my friend, totally off her tits in every single drug she could acquire on her way from the fence to us, and my middle aged mother, both dancing like lions with their hands in the air to the beat of Hey Boy, Hey Girl as the strobe lighting showed me their flashing grins. Nothing has ever really been the same since.

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I have been to Glastonbury many times since then, in the baking years, the mudpit years, years with and without the superfence. I have seen it change and grow. I have seen hundreds of bands I would never have seen otherwise, spent days wandering the green fields and had experiences I would never have come across elsewhere, and eaten some of the best veggie food ever. The festival was instrumental in me meeting my husband over mud and a Brother’s cider, and the last time I went was on my honeymoon, having just discovered I was pregnant with my daughter days earlier. And yes, my amazing Mum came along that year too!

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There were a couple of years the festival wasn’t on, so those times me and Mum went to other festivals, but none of them had that same magic. There were other years that we couldn’t get tickets, or I was out of the country, so on those years we held our own, the legendary Spaxtonbury Festival, the second greatest Somerset music festival.

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For now, life has changed in other ways, and I have not returned since those early days of pregnancy. I very much hope to go back one day, maybe with my children if they want to go one day, and they’re not ashamed to be seen with me. For today I will sit here and feel that fear of missing out all those years ago, but cherish all those incredible memories I have of that magical place and all it taught me, and the bond it brought me with my mother, and with my husband. Tonight I will watch one of my all time favourite bands on the TV, and imagine myself back in that field, in front of that pyramid, when I was there myself seeing Radiohead at their most incredible, and the magic will be within me forever.

 

 

The Mission

I wrote a blog post before about how I was joining a program to try and look after my body a little better. Time has absolutely flown and I am now at the end of my six week Supercharged Club Mission and I am just so pleased I decided to do it.

Before signing up I worried if now was really a good time to sign up for something like this. I didn’t feel like I had a single spare second to add anything extra into my life. I felt pretty overwhelmed just by the day to day stuff I was already trying to do. And these last six weeks have been pretty full on anyway. I’ve had two courses, one a grand adventure to London by myself, a week’s camping in a field with a big group of family, a poorly weeekend spent in bed feeling sorry for myself, and a really busy work schedule, with some seriously tough shifts.

But you know what, being on the Mission at the same time as all that  has actually made my life easier rather than harder. It has helped me gain some very important perspective, helped me to prioritise what is really important, feel confident to ditch some of the stuff I was wasting my time with that really didn’t make life any better for any of us. It has made me confident to take that time to look after myself more, so that I can carry on looking after others. It has helped me to take time out, reflect, realise all the great things I have to be thankful for, and some of the reasons why life has felt pretty out of control for me ever since having children.

Now so far none of this is sounding much like a diet. And really it hasn’t felt much like a diet. There has been lots of discussions about food. There has been some online sharing of lovely photos of our supercharged meals.

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But the food food discussion has mainly been about ways you can get more nutritious foods into your daily meals. How you can feel full all the time, and not find yourself craving stuff all the time. It’s been about thinking about the foods that you eat, how they make you feel, why you make those choices, and how you feel about those choices. It’s about making sure you really notice and enjoy the food that you are eating. When you eat that piece of cake, make sure it’s really great cake and that you take the time to sit and really enjoy every bite without ever feeling guilty about it.

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I am definitely not eating any less food now. In fact I’m probably eating more food now, and definitely more often. I am eating every food group, and there is absolutely nothing that isn’t allowed. I have eaten cake and ice-cream, and thoroughly enjoyed the sausage roll tasting at our work bake-off last week (sadly my entry didn’t win). I have also spent a lot more time wondering if the food I am choosing to eat right now is the food I want, that my body needs, that is going to nourish me, keep me full and give me energy.

Its amazing the amount my tastes have changed. I am feeling thirsty and actually wanting to drink water for the first time ever. I haven’t had a cup of proper tea in a month, and that is purely because I haven’t fancied one. In the past I had absolutely no will power. If I opened the snack cupboard I would always want to eat the biscuits, and so I would. For the past few weeks I still open the cupboard, but I don’t want anything in it. It’s not because I am denying and depriving myself of those treats, I literally haven’t wanted to eat them.

One of my big worries, and a massive part of deciding to join the mission, was a number of concerns about my pelvic health. Generally post children this has become a bit of a disaster zone. I have seen physios and gynaecologists, but generally find the whole thing a little mortifying. I have been given exercises to do, and just never done them. Since starting the mission I have actually managed to start, and carry on, a daily exercise program, focusing on improving my core strength. I feel really proud of myself for managing this, I still find the exercises seriously hard, and there have been days where I wonder why I’m bothering, but I am still going, and that is what is the crucial step for me right now.

But more importantly than having a set of ascribed exercises I must do every day, I have learnt so much about ways to move to really help my core muscles work together in a way that strengthens them rather than weakens, how our posture and our breathing affects our pelvic floor, how daily functional movements can be as important as going to the gym. Don’t worry, I’ve still never set foot in a gym and I don’t really intend to change that anytime soon. So now when I stand from the chair, I try to remember to really engage my glutes and my core, and stand up with my muscles rather than hauling myself up like an old lady. When I pick up my enormous three year old I now try to squat, engage my core, breath out as I lift him. I am not getting it right all the time and I am constantly finding myself slouching with my bottom tucked in, but at least now I am noticing and trying to correct it. I’m hopeful that eventually it will become second nature.

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At the end of six weeks I have actually lost half a stone, and I would still like to lose more weight too, but as the weeks have passed the idea of weight loss has become less and less important. So as well as losing a little weight I have gained lots of other things. I have gained more awareness of my body and how to move it in a way that makes me stronger.  I have spent a lot of time just really breathing, I never realised it was such a bloomin’ complicated process, and that’s coming from a doctor! I have gained an ability to own the choices I make over what food I eat, and wanting to nourish myself. I have gained a whole raft of things that I can do instead of eat a bowl of ice-cream when I feel sad or stressed or lonely or bored. Instead I eat the ice-cream when I want it, with enjoyment rather than guilt. I have gained some really useful tips on dealing with my constant feeling nightshifts in a really positive way, which has totally taken away that hangover feeling I used to get for days afterwards. I have gained the confidence to book another appointment with that physio, knowing that I now have the determination to actually do the exercises she advises me to do. Gained the confidence to wear floaty, cropped trousers in this stifling heat wave we are having right now (I have bought some shorts but I haven’t quite worked myself up to that yet).

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Gained the ability to actually notice when somebody pays me a compliment and really accept it (yesterday I had compliments from two of my most grumpy colleagues, and I totally let them sink in, made me smile for hours). I have gained some real insight into the things that I value, that make me feel good about myself, and has inspired me to make plans for lovely nights out with friends, and hopefully get a book group going so that I can actually start reading again. I have already nearly finished our first chosen book, and have totally loved it, and the experience of actually reading again.

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I have also also gained the support and encouragement of a really lovely group of ladies online, who have really spurred me on on those tough days, and celebrated with me on the good days.

This blog post isn’t an advertisement. I don’t expect you all to go and sign up for the July Mission but if you felt like you wanted to after reading this I would tell you that it will help you in all kinds of way. It is not a magic answer, and above all, you have to do the work, but it has certainly be one of the most positive things I have done in a very long time!

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VOTE

I don’t tend to discuss politics much on here. At home is a different matter, and tomorrow’s general election has been one of the main subjects for weeks now. Having a politics graduate in the house helps to add some solid knowledge and history into my tendency to make all political decisions straight from the heart, and definitely helps to fuel the debate.

I wont be telling you who I think you should vote for, but I will be walking straight from my night shift in a busy Emergency Department to my local polling station and I will be voting Labour.

I know that the Labour Party has its issues. I know that many people believe Jeremy Corbyn is not a natural leader. I know that some people think the Labour Party will ruin our economy and give all our hard earned taxes to benefit scroungers. After a half term away with certain members of my family I have had that conversation over and over again.

Working in the NHS I see so close-up the changes that have happened over the past few years. I have seen the elderly patients sat in a cold corridor, on a narrow, hard trolley for sometimes over twelve hours. I have seen the increase in our workload as the provision of social care has collapsed and failed, the difficulties getting patients into community hospitals as more and more beds are closed. I have seen the pressure build to unsustainable levels for the paramedics and ambulance service. I have seen the shortage of doctors and the rotas desperately being plugged by doctors who are already overworked and overstressed. I have seen colleagues burn out and have known doctors who have left the country, left the health service, and very sadly some who it all became just too much. I have seen our dedicated nursing team get smaller and smaller as they decide that emergency medicine is not a sustainable career and understandably leave for easier roles. Their  places being taken up by unskilled junior nurses who leave within a year or two, and increasingly by highly paid, temporary, agency staff, who are now a permanent fixture in our department. They plug the gaps at great expense rather than putting that money into developing and training our own permanent staff. All this while Jeremy Hunt has battled with and demoralised our junior doctors, belittled their hard work and tried to demonise them to the public. His obvious plan to privatise as much of the NHS as possible is going great so far, as I see more and more of our hospital services being sold off to private companies, who I am sure will be putting a healthy profit ahead of what is best for the patients we are meant to serve.

Every single person I work with believe passionately in the principle of healthcare for everyone, free at the point of access. Tomorrow I will be voting to try and defend that principle for myself, my colleagues and all my friends and family who will need to access that healthcare now and in the future. What we are offering right now just is not good enough, and it will only get worse with five more years of Tory austerity.

There has been lots of discussion about tactical voting where I live. I have been told repeatedly to vote for the Lib Dems in order to keep the Conservatives out. Right now in my constituency that seems like old news as the Labour candidate has been making huge grounds, so Labour looks like it is becoming the tactical vote right now. Regardless of that I will be voting with my heart, with all my personal experience, and with all that Politics graduate knowledge in my ear for the party that I believe in, for the Labour Party. There is enough tactics and general skullduggery in politics these days, surely we should make a stand and vote for the party that we truly believe in, and for a more honest and hopeful future.

I found this website really useful to clarify which party’s manifesto really represented my views, and also a great way to really get me thinking about what issues matter to me. I want to save our NHS, I want my children, and every other child in this country, to have free access to great education, to know that there is a safety net to protect them if unforeseen circumstances mean they have to rely on social care, hospitals, benefits. And I am very proud to be able to pay my taxes to support those services now and for the future of my children.

So whatever matters to you, please vote tomorrow! I’ll leave you with this from my hero Hollie McNish.

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A year with the bees

It is just over a year since I started making my bee garden, after deciding to turn our small corner of lawn in the front garden into an amazing garden full of flowers to encourage the bees, and glorious sights, smells and sounds to bring joy to our senses.

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Here it is when we first moved into our house nearly five years ago.

You may rember it was a slightly spur of the moment decision. I may have roped a friend into helping me start lifting the turf whilst my husband was on the school run! Once started though we all got stuck in to create the garden of my dreams. A year ago this week I planted the first plants in the ground.

One year later and it had brought me more joy than I can begin to express. It has been my calm centre when everything is crazy, my chance for my body to stretch and lift, my time to let my brain go quiet. It is my meditation, mindfulness and exercise all in one.

The joy of hearing the bees happily bumbling from flower to flower covered in yellow pollen. Seeing the leaves emerge in the spring. Seeing the flower buds burst into colour.

Watching as neighbours walk past with their children and stop to point out their favourite flower. Seeing my own children leap from stepping stone to stone, smelling the flowers and crushing the chamomile and thyme under foot, releasing clouds of gorgeous scent.

It has filled me with such pride watching it grow, and motivated me to get busy and active when otherwise I’d be overwhelmed with exhaustion.

And the very best thing is that it is still so very young and has so much more joy still to bring me. The sheer number of plants covered in buds about to bloom is testament to all the excitement still to come as spring turns to summer.