Coming To Terms With Pessimism; or Making The Glass Half Full

Is the glass half full or half empty?  By Derek Jensen (Tysto) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Is the glass half full or half empty?
By Derek Jensen (Tysto) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have always been a pessimist. I was optimistic in hoping that this wasn’t true, but completing the Optimism Test by Martin Seligman, the “father of Positive Psychology” has confirmed it. According to my results, I have a pattern of believing that bad events are pervasive and universal, and good events are due to specific reasons. Basically, if something bad happens, it’s all my fault and I feel terrible about it (I’m a stupid person/forgetful/uncaring etc). If something good happens, it was a fluke, I was very lucky, someone was willing to give me a chance. Apparently I also score fairly low on “hope” which made me feel, well, hopeless for a while. But now it’s out there I want to know what to do about it.

I didn’t know I had Impostor Syndrome until I realised I was catastrophising excessively (is there such a thing?) I realised this some years ago when I received a phone call from the College of GPs. Someone rang and left a message for me to call them back. Immediately I thought of all the things that might have gone wrong. I had forgotten something. Maybe I had forgotten to pay my annual subscription. Maybe I pissed someone off. Maybe someone made a complaint about me. Maybe they were going to take away my Fellowship! With a trembling hand, I dialled the number on the message and waited to hear my fate.

The lady who answered sounded chirpy. Would I be free on such and such a date? They were organising an awards ceremony. I had received a coveted research award, to the value of $20,000. I almost fell off my chair.

I can’t say that that realisation had changed my outlook much though. Over the years, I have continued to think the worst whenever faced with a similar situation. Letters in the mail are catastrophised to mean I had forgotten to pay a bill. Emails mean I have done something wrong. Messages from the clinic are about patient complaints (they rarely are, but I still I have the fear). This is despite muddling through a Masters degree, getting an enormous grant for my research, and a prestigious scholarship from the NHMRC. Despite all this, I can be reduced to feeling stupid, unprofessional, sloppy, lazy, hopeless and worthless if something goes wrong, or even if nothing goes wrong. Any little (or big) successes I’ve had can be wiped out in my mind by the smallest of errors. I rarely excuse myself to say I’m tired, haven’t had enough sleep, have too much on my plate, etc. It’s not part of my psyche to do this – I feel as though I am excusing my innate “badness”, as though I’m trying to talk my way out of it. It feels false and wrong. Even if someone praises me in public, I get embarrassed and talk down my achievements.

And of course, this becomes even more florid as a parent. Each little bump along the journey of raising children is interpreted as my fault. Kids sick again? It’s not daycare, or the normal winter bugs. It’s because there is something I’m doing wrong, obviously – I’m feeding them too much processed food, not exposing them to enough sunshine; in other words it’s because I’m a bad mother. A very pervasive, universal thought.

Being a pessimist has its advantages. It drives me to check everything, work extremely hard, never assume I’ve done a good enough job. But usually this is done with its fair share of nervousness. I’ve made a commitment to change though. Not so much for myself, as I’ve managed quite well for the past four decades despite my hopeless outlook. But I want my children to learn to be optimistic. I can’t bear the thought of them going through what I do. Not that I don’t want them to take responsibility for themselves, but I want them to believe strongly in their successes and move on from adversity and mistakes. I want my children to grow up believing that good things happen for pervasive and universal reasons, and bad things happen for specific and changeable reasons. If I can teach myself a little of this, I can then teach them. And that is my hope. :)

The Ambivalence Of Being A Parent: or It’s All About The Tea

Number of cups of tea consumed while on writing retreat: 25. Number of cups of tea consumed when at home with my kids: 0.  Photo credit By Laurel F from Seattle, WA (Tea) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Number of cups of tea consumed while on writing retreat: 25. Number of cups of tea consumed when at home with my kids: 0.
Photo credit By Laurel F from Seattle, WA (Tea) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been twenty-nine hours since I last saw my children. I’ve left them in the capable and loving hands of my husband and mother, bless them, and am on a graduate student writing retreat in a gorgeous coastal resort. Yesterday morning was hectic before I left, with instructions to give to my mother about where the Epipen was and what snacks the kids could have, and the fridge stocked with food (I have to admit none of it was prepared by me, but at least there was food…)

I had two hours of adult conversation in the car, then a civilised unpacking of clothes, a writing sprint session, followed by a leisurely dinner at 7pm, which is the time I have usually fed and bathed the kids and gotten the first one to bed. Not having to drive, cajole, bribe and threaten my way through the dinner, bath, pyjama and toothbrushing routine was simply an astonishingly wonderful experience. At 6:30pm I was reading an ebook on the couch instead of wrestling a 19 month old into pyjamas (what is with children not wanting to wear clothes?!) while listening to the repetitive adventures of Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy. Ironically, the book I am reading at the moment is All Joy No Fun, which explores “the paradox of modern parenthood”.

It’s actually a very fitting book for this experience. I’ve had the opportunity to experience what life used to be like – the predictable, steady, quiet kind of life that allows for long periods of sustained concentration, uninterrupted conversations with adults, and multiple cups of tea (I think I am developing a bit of a tea addiction!) Evenings are not spent in nervous anticipation of the uphill battle to bedtime. Routines are flexible, and life does not stop at 5pm for “peak hour”. Evenings are actually spent taking time over food; food does not end up on the floor. Mornings are equally relaxed; I wandered out of bed at 7:45am today (surely that would have been considered terribly early in my pre-children life) and made myself a coffee, and drank it without a wriggly toddler sitting on my lap. Then I did three solid hours of writing.

All Joy No Fun analyses the reasons why raising small children is “no fun”. It’s unpredictable, messy, physically exhausting, and seemingly endless. There is little respite apart from when children sleep. Small children cannot get themselves to bed; an adult must help. Small children also frustratingly live in the moment, which can be infuriating when one is in a hurry. An one always seems to be in a hurry with children to care for. There is so. Much. To. Get. Done.

But I’m now reading the chapter on “all joy” and reflecting on what I love about having children, and what keeps me from going completely and utterly insane. What is it? It’s partly the physical affection they lavish on me. It’s also the way I am their entire world (almost) and all they need is me. At times of course this is overwhelming, but surely it is a bit of a headspin to be loved this much. Last night when I Facetimed my children (is that a verb?!?) they were both chanting “Mummy Mummy Mummy!” as though I was a celebrity. It’s the way my toddler runs away from me and giggles hysterically in the kitchen, the way my daughter reaches over to me when I come to bed (she’s been in my room an awful lot) and says sleepily “Mama…” and rolls over and goes to sleep. And then when I look at her tiny and perfect face, with eyes closed, slumbering peacefully, I feel a double disbelief at the fact that I produced and am raising this utterly perfect child and also at the fact that she is SLEEPING. (I still feel astounded when I see her asleep, as she was such an awful sleeper as an infant). It’s the way my toddler sometimes performs the simplest acts of affection, like laying his plump cheek on my hand, and clutching my other hand with his chubby little fingers; a rare moment of peaceful tenderness that I will remember as long as I live.

I’m also reflecting on my needs. I needed this so much, to get away. I can almost reach out and touch the serenity, and I am so grateful to be here. The grass is very very green on this side for sure. But I will soon return to my own side of the fence, with its chaos, its unpredictability, and its utter joy. I will look back at this peaceful afternoon, sitting on the balcony with my umpteenth cup of tea, anticipating a 7pm dinner. I love, and need, this kind of effortless peace and sequestered time to think, write, plan and create. And I also love being with my children, though I do find that a lot harder. And it’s okay to feel ambivalent about being with my children. I no longer feel guilty about that. It is what it is – an experience peppered with brief, fleeting moments of joy, plenty of hard work, and yes, it can be boring.(I often describe a day with my kids as “herding cats all day”).

I will remember that it is impossible to know the silence without the noise, or be full without first having been empty. And I am ready to go home an empty vessel ready to be filled with joy (and hopefully some tea). For the most part. It’s not all joy and there isn’t much tea to be drunk. But that’s okay too. :)

Drinking In Joy: Or How It Feels To Be Running Again

It felt a touch surreal, much like the fanfare of a wedding does after all the months of preparation and anxious anticipation. And at the same time there was a tentativeness, an uncertainty, as though I was seeing a lover again after a prolonged separation. What would it feel like? Would my hip be ok? Would I be unfit?

As it turned out, my first run after eight weeks felt wonderful. It was only on the treadmill, at one minute easy jog intervals. I did another treadmill run after two days, then my first outdoor run, on my usual route, yesterday afternoon.

I didn’t expect to feel quite so stupidly excited, but as I rifled through drawers looking for my neglected armband and cap, I kept shouting “I’m going for a run! I’m going for a run!” And as I headed outside, strapping my iPhone to my arm, I felt a familiar feeling well up deep inside me, bubbling like a spring, and then it gushed out as I put one foot in front of the other and started…running. It was joy. Pure joy.

The first thing I noticed was how fast I was. I wasn’t even trying to run fast, because these are little test runs, going a bit further each day, always checking to see how the hip pulls up. But Runkeeper kept telling me I was running way faster than my previous race pace at most intervals, and my overall pace, even with stopping to walk every 90 seconds, was the same as before I stopped running eight weeks ago. All that crosstraining on the bike had paid off. I also barely broke a sweat, and again I sent a silent thank you to my faithful friend the spin bike for helping me maintain my fitness over the eight long lonely weeks in the gym.

The second thing I noticed was how great it felt to be outdoors. Those first two runs on the treadmill were ok, but oh what a difference being outside ! I noticed the crisp breeze on my cheeks, the branches of the trees silhoutted against the fading blue sky, the birds calling as they flew home to nest. I breathed in the softness of the Spring air. And my ears drank in that gravel-crunching sound, the sound of my sneakers on the track, that tells me I’ve come home.

So I ran, all of 4.3km, stopping every minute and a half for a brief walk. My hips felt great. They still feel great this morning. My brain was bathed in the familiar cocktail of endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Happy juice. At times I felt tempted to pick up the pace and keep running. But something told me not to be too cocky, and to risk undoing all the patient and good work I had done.

I changed my registration for the Melbourne Marathon from a half marathon to a 10K. I have five weeks. Ample time for a 10K. I have a tiny hope that I might be able to train for a half marathon in five weeks given my fitness has stayed the course and my pace has improved. But we’ll see. In the meantime I’ll be out there, three days a week. Crunching gravel, listening to the birds, and drinking in joy. And feeling grateful, so grateful for every single opportunity to do what I was born to to. Run.

Can't wipe the post-run smile off my face :)

Can’t wipe the post-run smile off my face :)

 

Why Parenting Is Harder Than An Office Job

I started writing this and could keep going forever. Note the caveat of “office job” that is, as opposed to working in an Emergency Department, customer retail, or any environment that involves unpredictability and the likelihood of having to deal with cranky, irrational people.

  1. You face incredible resistance towards getting the simplest things done at home. For example, the very basic activities of daily living, such as dressing and feeding your small children. Your agenda: to nourish and clothe your child. Their agenda: to experiment with how far they can fling the lovingly-prepared and nutritionally-balanced meal you prepared, and how long they can spend running away from you before you yell at them to “Come here and get dressed!!” And whether said high-fibre low-fat mostly-plant-based meal can be replaced by Cheerios, M&Ms or a stick of processed cheese.
  2. Nobody at work minds if you want to go to the toilet on your own. In fact, it’s encouraged.
  3. Nobody at work minds if you sometimes move away from them or extricate them from your lap so you can make a cup of tea, do the dishes, or answer the doorbell. They generally don’t start screeching every time you leave the room – they know you are coming back. And you can do your work without your colleagues clinging to your legs and crying.
  4. If people at work have tantrums, the kind where they lie on the floor, kick their legs and belt out a thousand decibels, they are generally led away quietly after the tantrum has abated and either fired or encouraged to take some sick leave until their personal problems are sorted.
  5. People at work generally don’t stand next to you and ask you “Why” questions all day long. If they want to ask questions, they usually send you an email or call a meeting. They don’t ask you why you are wearing blue today, or why you are sitting down, or why you are standing up, or why you chose to eat a salad, or why don’t dogs fly.
  6. People at work have to undergo OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) training. They understand that it’s not safe to climb the shelves or jump off the kitchen table. It’s all in the manual. And they will be reported to the OHS committee and the “incident” will be documented, and nobody wants that kind of thing happening. It’s just too much paperwork and bother.
  7. If you go to the toilet, your colleagues don’t yell out “WHERE ARE YOU!!!!” from the office.
  8. If you have a disagreement with someone at work, they usually don’t start yelling “Well then I am NOT YOUR FRIEND any more!!” and walk away in a huff. Usually.
  9. You get paid to go to work.
  10. You get holidays from your office job.
  11. People at work value silence. At the most you will have to put up with mindless gossip or the Top 40 radio station. People at work don’t bang the stapler on their desk repeatedly because it sounds fun, or shriek loudly, or have noisy fights over whose turn it is to use the photocopier. If they do, perhaps you should get a new job.
Please add to the list! :)

More Confessions Of A Recovering Runaholic

The human body is an amazing thing. We’re really just a pile of bones held together by muscles and ligaments. Our heads are attached to our bodies only by the action of muscles. Likewise, our arms and legs do not sprout out of our trunks like branches out of a tree. Our limbs are created from a complex and elegant interplay of muscles, which attach via tendons to different bones, and connect the peripheral parts of our bodies to our core. Our muscles contract this way and that, each having its own role in extension, flexion, rotation or what have you. I find it fascinating that our bones are basically floating about in our bodies, only anchored by the action of our muscles. I think of how floppy my babies were when they were born, and how they could barely move intentionally, and how they then gradually learned to lift their heads, then their upper bodies, then they crawled, and then the extensors of the legs were strong enough for that first little push to standing. Absolutely fascinating. 

I’m learning lessons about the impact of this on my own body, which is many decades past being a floppy newborn. About how my gluteus maximus muscle (the big one in my butt) is weak on the left side, and fails to extend the hip. (The classic line from Sir Mix-a-Lot comes into mind right now…) About how my core muscles (transverse abdomens especially) have been obliterated by carrying two babies to term, and how this affects pelvic (and hip) stability. About how those dang pelvic floor muscles are about as strong as a newborn kitten. It always comes back down (pardon the pun) to the pelvic floor. I should know better, as I counsel my patients daily about doing their pelvic floor exercises after noting prolapse after prolapse while doing Pap smears. Those sneaky pelvic floor muscles are to blame for so many of the aftermaths of having children. And now they are partly to blame for the fact that I have not been allowed to run for the past eight weeks. 
I’m definitely on the road to recovery. The exercises I have been doing diligently every day (well, most days – there are regular days every week when I fall asleep once the kids go to bed and no pelvic floor exercises are done) have resulted in a much more stable hip joint. For the first time in four years I can walk normally – without feeling like my left hip is stiffening up. And my physiotherapist has stopped grimacing when I ask him about when I can start running again. The last time I asked him, he gave a little smile that I couldn’t interpret. Was he waiting for me to ask? Was I being too predictable? Was I being too type A? Who cares. He plainly said that next week I can start running again. Short intervals, and monitor my pain levels. Increase slowly. He also said that a half-marathon in October did not seem feasible, but a 10K race did.
So it looks like my little affair with the spin bike might be coming to an end soon. I still can’t believe I’ll be back on the track next week; I’ll celebrate when it happens. Until then, I’ll be doing my pelvic floor exercises. Every day. Ok, most days. Forever. Because you never know what else they are going to affect.

Things I Can And Can’t Blame My Children For

It’s Monday evening 9:30pm and I’ve just come back from the gym and had a shower. My day has felt full, very full, satisfying full but also exhaustingly so. I’ve fed my children, dressed them, kissed them goodbye, tackled a full day of data analysis, gone home to cook dinner, fed the… Oh, you all know what happens in a house with small children during our daily “peak hour”. After my four-year-old finally went to bed after insisting she needed another snack, another story, another snuggle, I dragged myself to the gym for a half-hour on the spin bike. On my way out, I started to feel that familiar sense of pity. “It’s so hard fitting everything in when you’re a working mother,” I said to myself, sounding very trite. “I just can’t do everything in one day. I can’t have it all”. And so on and so on until I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I was doing it again. I was blaming my children. For things. Things that may or may not be due to me being a mother. Some are and some aren’t. Some shouldn’t be blamed on parenthood at all, and some are definitely due to being a parent.

You see, as a GP I get the opportunity to talk to people from all stages of their life. Something that strikes me is the same conversation I keep having over and over again. It goes something like this

“Do you do any exercise?”

“No,” (sheepish look from patient). “I just can’t seem to fit it in.”

And you guessed it – it doesn’t matter if the patient has children or not. In fact, sometimes parents seem to take more action in terms of their physical health. People, not parents, struggle to find the time and energy to do the things they know they should. Anyhow, it struck me that there are some things I can (and will!) blame my children for, cheerfully, and some things that I resolve I will not blame them for. I want them to know I can prioritise what’s important for my own wellbeing, so that they can learn from me. Because my daughter said a very important thing to me today – “I’ll do what you do, Mummy”, meaning when she is an adult and has her own babies. And that only makes me want to manage my own health and happiness well so that she’ll have the tools to do the same when her own children come along, or better still, get into a good routine of self-care before she becomes a mother.

So here are the things I will and will not blame my children for. At least, on a good day. When I’ve had enough sleep. And chocolate. And coffee.

Things I can blame my children for

  1. Grey hairs
  2. Forgetting things (aka “Mummy Brain”)
  3. An obsession with sleep
  4. My “scary mummy” voice
  5. Inability to stop doing laundry
  6. Recurrent nightmares of being stuck on a ten-hour plane flight with a toddler
  7. Raucous behaviour when on a “night out” without the kids (okay, maybe I can’t blame them for this…)
  8. Having the theme song to “Octonauts” play over and over again in my head, or suddenly bursting out a ditty that goes “Book-aboo!! A story a day or I just can’t play!!”
  9. Sand all over my floor. (What is with that?!)

Things I will not blame my children for

  1. Being physically inactive.
  2. Poor food choices.
  3. Neglecting my relationship with my partner.
  4. Drinking too much alcohol.
  5. Staying up too late after the children have gone to bed and missing out on sleep.
  6. Being too hard on myself.
  7. Not following my dreams.
  8. Feeling negative.
  9. Not having fun.

What are some of the things you won’t be blaming your children for? What’s important to you that you will fight to preserve, in amongst the chaos and the time pressures? x

 

 

Some thoughts on hand-held devices for children

By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent article on HuffPo slammed the use of hand-held devices for kids and called for a complete ban. The article was sensationalist, and has been called out by a number of other authors, including in this very balanced reply. Here are my thoughts, as a mother, re the debate about “whether iPads are evil”.

These new digital tools are simply that – a tool. They encourage sedentary behaviour, yes. Does this lead to obesity? In some cases, yes, but in most cases, I believe they don’t encourage obesity inasmuch as reading books does or drawing does. If a child sits and draws or colours or does homework for hours, everyone praises her and says “What a good child!” but if that child is seen to be using a digital device, it’s automatically branded as a terrible thing.

One caveat here – I believe that developing motor skills is essential, and touchscreen use needs to be balanced with developing pencil skills, learning to throw a ball, generally running and climbing etc. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mummy doctor brain I remember reading or hearing something about how these skills enhance literacy. So, limiting motor skills to wiggling your index finger around a touchscreen is not a great thing.

But, as the reply I have posted points out, the majority of families use iPads wisely, and children don’t spend all day with them. Children still enjoy using crayons, running around a playground, and reading physical books.

Technology bring a wide variety of positive experiences to families, including playing interactive games (such as the fantastic ones by Toca Boca like Toca Tea Party), learning the alphabet, learning how to read, laughing over YouTube videos of cats on Roombas together (something my four-year-old and I really enjoy doing). We also use technology as a learning tool. If our preschooler suddenly shows an interest in the solar system, for example, we’ll talk about the planets, find amazing websites for children that explain the solar system, and watch the YouTube video of the Solar System song. To facilitate this experience without technology, we would have to remember that she is interested in the solar system, make a trip to the library, and take home a few books about the planets which are probably out of date. Which of course is a very fine thing, and we still do visit libraries regularly, but my point is that learning can be enhanced with technology if used in the right ways.

Digital tools and technology are here to stay. Adults are at a disadvantage currently if they are not tech-literate, in terms of employment options. Learning how to navigate the new digital world and use the tools that technology provides is essential for children. We aren’t going back to the days of horse and cart and homing pigeons, ever. It’s a fact. But when I go to playgrounds, I still see loads of children running around, and parents enjoying the sunshine. All is not lost. Let’s use our own judgement here, and use our tools wisely.

Addendum. The author discloses no financial interests in Apple or any tech companies. Her children have inherited their “own” iPad, but this often sees weeks of disuse, although she admits to resorting to the use of Toca Band during long plane flights and tetchy moments in restaurants when the four-year-old is eating painfully slowly and the toddler wants to throw all the crockery on the floor. 

Pimp My Workstation – or How Not To Have A Pain In The Neck From Work

Do you have a sedentary, desk-based job like I do? Do you suffer from neck pain and stiffness? Chances are you’re like me – always battling neck tension and its inevitable consequences. My recent adventures in physiotherapy, as a result of my hip, have led to some very positive outcomes, including redesigning my workstation. My physiotherapist worked out, very cleverly, that part of my hip problem was from stiffness around the gluteal region which was indirectly related to my stiff neck. When she treated my neck with gentle manipulation, my hip was more flexible. The next step was to correct the postural problems that were affecting my neck for the 35 hours a week that I spent at the desk.

The Problem
I work from a laptop, which is apparently one of the worst things to do. The screen is far too low, causing the neck to bend forward, which results in neck strain even after a short period of time (e.g. half an hour). Any forward-bending work like reading a book will also result in the same problem. Hunching over the iPhone while on public transport exacerbates the problem. Have you ever noticed the posture of everyone on a tram or bus? Of course, we can’t simply blame our digital life for this, because reading a paper book or newspaper will essentially cause the same posture.

The Solution

I had to raise my laptop screen to eye level, so I investigated laptop stands and bought this awesome brushed stainless steel foldable stand from JAS PRO. To kit out my workstation properly, I also needed an external keyboard and a mouse. Here’s my new workstation now:

photo-2I’ve noticed a huge difference with raising the laptop screen, and am trying to minimise use of my iPhone at other times. Taking regular breaks from sedentary work is also helping, and whenever I can I look upwards to stretch my neck – at the ceiling or at the sky, depending on where I am. I’ve also attempted to reposition my chair so that my elbows, hips and knees are all at 90 degree angles. Here’s a useful article on office ergonomics, which can help guide you as to how to pimp your workstation.

 

 

A Letter To My Daughter About Her Future As A Woman And As A Mother

https://www.flickr.com/photos/molly_darling/3248813105/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/molly_darling/3248813105/

My dearest little girl

You are only four years old but already you’re thinking about the future. Sometimes you say you’ll be a ballerina when you grow up; sometimes a doctor, like mummy. The thing is, you can do anything you want to . You’re lucky, like me, to be born in a country with excellent living standards and educational opportunities. So you’ll go on to kindergarten and school, and after school, wherever your heart and mind take you. Maybe you’ll go to University, maybe you’ll learn a trade, maybe you won’t do any further study at all but start a thriving business selling soy candles, maybe you will be a ballerina or some kind of artist after all. Who knows. You really could do anything.

I know you’ll grow up feeling like there are no limits, no question about your abilities, and definitely no question because you’re a girl. I know you’ll believe you’re a strong, independent girl or young woman, who will be financially independent, and intellectually equal if not superior to males her age. I know you’ll feel confident and have a badass swagger about you. I know because this was the way I felt as I grew up. Your grandparents never put limits on me and always believed that I could do anything I put my mind to.

So you’ll feel this way until the day you see those two pink lines, and go on to feel the nausea, then the first tentative kick. You’ll rub your belly fondly while you work or study. You’ll pick out a cot, a pram, blankets, and tiny baby clothes. And the day your baby is born, or well before, you’ll face the decision that all working mothers have to make: do I stay or do I go? (I hope you will have a choice. Some women don’t).

At this point, I hope your confidence stays, and does not crumble. I hope that you’ll know that you’ve suddenly earned a new role, and one of your most important ones, one that will last your entire lifetime, but one that might not define your entire being. Unless you want it to be that way. You may decide that you want to stay, forever. And this is a very wonderful thing, and one option that my supervisor offered me when I took a break from my research to have you. “If you decide to stay at home and not come back, that is absolutely fine,” she said. I’ll never forget her generosity of spirit. If this is what you want to do, then I hope your circumstances will allow you to follow your heart. 

If you feel you have some work you need to do outside of the home, I hope you find the courage to find your way back. You see, raising children is not just about physically being at home with them. I stayed home for seven months with you and your brother and I worked part-time until you were almost four. We had lots of wonderful times together, you and me, and then with your baby brother. Really magical, tender times. But I knew when the time came to return to the other part of my life’s work. So I went. But my heart always stayed with you, and I was there every morning and every evening, and for many months I was there all day for some days of the week too. I knew that we were doing ok because you were both happy with your carers at daycare. You would snuggle up to me at night and say “You are the sweetest mummy. I really love you”. I felt fulfilled by my days spent doing research, and when I came home I really relished being with you and your brother. I felt like we really connected on a deep emotional level. So I want you to remember that being a mother comes down to this. You love your children, and you demonstrate this to them, unequivocally. You teach them. You comfort them. And then you let them go. Quality, not quantity. Don’t let anyone tell you that the only place mothers should be is at home with their children, that you shouldn’t work when your children are not yet in school. Sometimes another mother will make a comment like “You’ll never get this time back again”. Sometimes there’ll be messages from the media. If you don’t wish to stay full-time, let these messages wash over you and disappear. Be strong. Many years ago, women were told they couldn’t vote, and couldn’t attend University, because their place was in the kitchen. Women have since made incredible contributions outside of the home. Scientists, astronauts, CEOs, Secretaries of the State. We’ve come far since then, so don’t let these messages take you back to the 19th century.

The important lesson is, you must align your work with a higher purpose. You must feel as though you’re adding value to other people’s lives. You don’t have to be a HIV scientist. You simply have to dedicate that part of your life to bringing happiness and ease to others. It musn’t be about your ego, or personal ambition, although I have to add that there is nothing wrong in finding immense satisfaction in what you do. You are entitled to feel fulfilled outside of the domestic sphere; you must never, ever feel guilty about this. You must love what you do or you will not be happy, at home or while you are working. But if you are focussed only on inflating your own ego, you will come to grief.

If your workplace does not support what you need to be a working parent, I want you to fight for what you want. Create change. Create a new workplace culture. Do it for your daughters (and sons).

You have so many wonderful choices ahead of you. Don’t ever feel as though there is only one choice.

Love

Mummy xo

Confessions of a Recovering Runaholic: Reinhabiting a New Body, and Letting Go

I’m still officially in rehab, but in a much better place. Two weeks in Bali is the ideal way to kick the running habit. I did look longingly at the treadmill in the gym while I was using the elliptical, but the change of scenery certainly helped me refocus. I have returned a slightly different person, one who has embraced a life without running (for now). Which is a very good thing as my physio made it quite clear this week that I am still in rehab, and running plans are for the distant, not near future. But I’m ok with that.

(I wrote previously about how and why I was told to stop running and how I initially felt about it).

I discovered the meaning of the word “rehabilitation” this week. It means to relive, or reinhabit, your body. I want to reinhabit a new, transformed body – one without the aches and pains and asymmetry that I had been ignoring. And I’ve learned three very important lessons about health.

Lesson Number One. Respect your body.
It is not cool to push your body through its imperfections. I was all gung-ho with long distance running and bodyweight HIIT. It was all those endorphins. I felt great, overall. But deep down I knew I had been physically “unbalanced” for a long time. Being pregnant twice has exacerbated those little imbalances. My physio has managed to drill it down into individual muscles – gluteus maximus, deep rotators, multifidus. I have new exercises to do to train the weaker muscles and have come to the realisation that I pushed my body too far with the training I was doing. Most likely, I’ve overdeveloped the stronger muscles in order to compensate for the weaker sides. Time to even things out now. I’m fully committed to my “rehab”. As my physio bluntly put it, it may seem like I’m doing “two-fifths of bugger all” but it’s the most important work of all. I simply can’t go back to running until I fix what went wrong. I spend almost half an hour on my rehab every night and consider this my main form of training for now.

Lesson Number Two. I am resilient. I am flexible.
I’ve found a new strength in letting go. Before I stopped running, I was a bit more Type A than I am now. I hung on to running with a death-like grip, telling myself I wouldn’t cope if I had to stop. I allowed being a runner to dominate my identity. Now, I am a much more flexible person. I’ll find a way to keep fit. It doesn’t have to be running. It just needs to be something that gets my heart rate up for an extended period of time. I’m actually feeling a little bit relieved, as my running schedule was getting a bit exhausting. And with that relief comes a new openness, a new sense of calm. I’m feeling liberated by letting go of my fixed ideas of myself, and excited by the possibilities as I reinvent myself.

Lesson Number Three. Everything is connected. So fix everything.
My holiday melted away the chronic neck pain I had been suffering from, and on my return I’ve been in the process of “pimping my workstation” to make it more ergonomic. This is worthy of a blog post on its own so stay tuned, but it’s made an enormous difference to my neck. When you spend hours at a desk (and using a laptop) every day like I do, neck pain is pretty much inevitable – unless you pay attention to ergonomics. I’ve also stopped stooping over my iPhone all the time – have you ever noticed how everyone using public transport is hunched over a phone?

Every day I try to do something aerobic – at the moment using the spin bike and walking is all I am managing. The bike is becoming more tolerable with loading up a video or talk to watch – the time flies by! And this week, amazingly, my hip is improving. I don’t have pain, I have more movement, and I can feel my left glute getting stronger. I see my physio again in two weeks and we’ll progressively work on more stabilisers – including the transverse abdominus, which is probably very weak after two pregnancies. I’m looking forward to inhabiting a better, stronger body than ever before. And I have no doubt that this will make me a better runner.