Going on a diet from Coke

There’s been a little bit of a blog hiatus this week as we’ve been moving house and only just got the internet back. I hadn’t thought I was all that stressed about it, but I feel so much calmer now that I must have been unconsciously storing it up. They say that moving is one of the most traumatic life events, and I genuinely hadn’t experienced it as such. Just busy, which was strangely enjoyable. But it’s good to settle somewhere and lose the ‘where are we going to live?’ question that’s been hanging over me for the last two years.

I also suspect the lack of internet may also have contributed to feeling more relaxed. Much as I am loathe to admit it, I realise that I am much more focused and able to give people my attention than when my laptop is nowhere nearby. I am quite good at multitasking, but I’m not sure it’s doing that much good. So I’m toying with the idea of limiting my time online to specific times of the day, enabling me to keep connected with the outside world but also connect with the ‘real’ people around me.

Something else I’m considering (but am hugely resistant to) is giving up aspartame, in the form of Diet Coke and chewing gum. Everything I’ve ever read about it says that aspartame is the devil’s work, and one of the most toxic legal substances you can imbibe. It’s also highly addictive, and I’ve managed to reduce my consumption to one can every couple of days, but I suspect I need to cut it right out. I’m going to try it for a month and see if I notice any difference. It’ll be the longest I’ve not had any since I was a teenager!

I’ll get through the day…maybe

The day started irritatingly early. The baby, for once, did not wake during the night, but decided to get up for the day at 5.30. Which, since I’d not got to sleep until midnight, was not ideal. I know there are plenty of mothers who survive on much less (broken) sleep per night – and I’m as guilty of the sleep-deprivation one-upmanship game as the next person – but on top of some really crappy nights, it felt like too much.

Our toddler is a very light sleeper, and as I fed the baby, I began my usual mantra of, “I hope he gets back to sleep, I hope he doesn’t wake his brother”, and listened acutely for any sounds coming from the adjoining bedroom. For some reason, I remembered something I’d read in one of the million self-help books I’ve amassed over the years (see previous posts on that topic). It was an exercise from Susan Jeffers’ book, Embracing Uncertainty. She’s best known for Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, but I found the lesser-known one to be more relevant to my own circumstances.

Anyway, the bit I remembered in my sleep-addled haze was the suggestion that if you really, really hope something will happen, it can be helpful to remove the word “hope” from your thought and replace it with “maybe”. So, in my case, it would be, “Maybe he’ll get back to sleep, maybe he’ll not wake his brother. But maybe he won’t”. For some people this might sound daft, as if it could change anything about the situation. The point is, it won’t, but it does alter your emotional attachment to it. So when he didn’t get back to sleep and indeed did wake his brother <sigh>, I was less distraught that my plea hadn’t worked. I’d already prepared myself for the possibility that what I really wanted might not come to pass.

It didn’t stop me feeling any less tired, but I was less irritable with the children, and more able to clear my mind and deal with the situation as it was, rather than coping with disappointment.

Not revolutionary, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.

You can whistle for it

Last week I decided to increase my dose of ADs (with GP’s consent) as I had been feeling low for a while. I’m moving house at the moment, so any extra chemical help I can get will always go down well.

So, there I am on 100mg of Sertraline, and I start yawning more than usual (one of the first side effects of the drug for me) but feel better after a couple of days. All fine and dandy.

However, there has been a side effect I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve turned into a whistler.

For some people, whistling represents all that is happy and joyous and carefree in life. I absolutely loathe it. It grates on me in the same way than someone dragging their nails down a blackboard does. But worse. Never have I felt more homicidal than some years ago, when I lived next to a whistler who would start trilling at 8am in his garden on a Saturday. Which, pre-children, was totally unacceptable.

But now? For some reason I just can’t stop whistling, mainly nursery rhymes and CBeebies programme theme tunes. I catch myself doing it every 10 minutes or so. I hate, hate, hate it. And yet I can’t seem to stop it. It’s not one of the listed side effects on that piece of paper no one reads inside the pill packet. And yet it’s the only parallel I can draw. Since increasing the dose, the whistling has started. And now I am filled with a new strand to my self-hatred. A shame, as self-hatred is one of the things ADs are supposed to help…


Woman’s Hour discussion on PND

I listened to this discussion on Woman’s Hour yesterday – the bit about PND is just after the Cliff Richard interview (which sets the scene nicely for talking about low moods ;-)). The guests included Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Tessa Baradon, from the parent/infant programme at The Anna Freud Centre, London, as well as someone from charity 4children, which published Suffering in Silence (see previous post).

All very sensible (and obvious) – Dr Gerada recommended that talking therapies be more widely used, and described her own experience of feeling low after having a baby, but where her situation was improved by the health visitor telling her it was completely normal to feel that way.

Luckily Tessa Baradon made the point that for many women, being told what they’re feeling is normal will not sustain them day to day, or, as she perceptively put it, from morning to evening (which is how I often see my life). They need more meaningful intervention, and a pep talk from a person unqualified in counselling or psychology simply won’t cut it.

She was asked about the impact of PND on the baby, how he/she will adapt, and often become a very ‘good’ baby (sleeping lots, being placid, etc), in order to cope with the lack of responsiveness from the mother. My children have not responded in this way (being screamers) but I would have liked to hear more on the subject, even though it would probably have made uncomfortable listening. I hate thinking about how my struggle to bond with my children in the early months may have affected them, but hope I am able to compensate now I am in a better place mentally.

I would have liked to hear more from Tessa Baradon, as I think the mainstream press likes to focus on the medicalisation of PND without acknowledging the many psychological factors that lie behind it.

Don’t give me closure!

Saw this interesting column by Oliver Burkeman in Saturday’s Guardian. It’s about whether the concept of “closure” is actually a positive thing for the person experiencing the difficulty/pain/loss. He argues that, rather than helping the victim, it is a tool to help the aggressor move on, and that it is often used for political ends (such as the disputed American presidential election in 2000).

Self-help books come in the firing line for their tendency to provide tidy solutions to problems with no room for ambivalence, messiness or continued suffering. As a long-term collector and reader of self-help tomes, I can see why they are written in this way. When I’m suffering from a problem, I turn to books for advice (as I already mentioned in my post on parenting manuals). Of course, they also need to be marketed and sold, so the publishers are much more keen to write “101 ways to save your marriage” on the cover, than “Well, it’s quite complicated because people are, but here are some tips that have helped some people over the years”.

Because everything is packaged as a “solution” these days, it can be tempting to see complex psychological processes such as grief neatly boxed into 250 slickly written pages, crammed with bullet points.

I may be guilty of hypocrisy here, as I co-authored a self-help book about infertility called Fertile Thinking. But we endeavored to write something that allowed for difficult feelings and didn’t provide guarantees or solutions, just some practical tips that could help people going through the same thing.

I am definitely not rubbishing all practical psychology books – just as you get bad and good novels, you will find the same in the self-help genre. I have also found good tips in bad books. I think it’s about sifting through the fillers and finding the gems that resonate with you. I have found lots of useful tips in self-help books over the years, just not found them all in one place. Maybe that’s for my next project…

I’m glad she hasn’t done it

So – Sarah Palin won’t be running for president. Shame <deeply sarcastic emoticon>. It’s not just that I think her politics stink to high heaven, but I just know that if she did get selected as the Republican candidate we’d not stop hearing about what a wonderful mother she is, how she’s managed to raise five children and still govern a state. And look like she’s going to win ‘best groomed’ in the superwoman competition. She must have had some help along the line, but still – she is what you might understatedly call a high achiever.

It’s for the same reason that I have no intention of seeing Sarah Jessica Parker pretending to struggle with juggling work and family life in “I don’t know how she does it”. For someone who has often struggled to brush her teeth of a morning, seeing working motherhood glamorised is just too much.

I’m not speaking for all women who have PND, but women who achieve a lot, seeming to sail through the baby years, deal with sleep deprivation (or not suffer it at all), go back to their flexible jobs with good quality childcare in placeĀ  – well, to say they make me feel inadequate is not strong enough. I know there are degrees of everything in life, and we must all fall somewhere on the spectrum. Just as I envy women who seem to find motherhood relatively straightforward, there are probably some women who look at my life and wish they could cope as well. I find that hard to believe, and yet it’s probably true.

A documentary-style film about the realities of those suffering from PND, without demonising the mother and painting her as a child-hater, or having an unlikely, Hollywood style rags-to-riches ending. Now that would be something worth watching.

Expensive vitamin supplements boost overdraft not energy

Well – in my case, that is. In a moment of madness I spent an absurd amount of money on Pharmaton supplements, which claim to be ‘clinically proven to relieve periods of exhaustion’ and ‘improve alertness’. They’re basically multivitamin pills with added ginseng and other extracts. Unfortunately, they’ve made no difference to my energy levels whatsoever. Vitamin supplements have long been the subject of mixed option (and yes, I have read Bad Science). And yet I am still influenced by people who recommend I take xyz supplement as it really worked for them.

I should know better, though. The kind of people who take expensive supplements usually look after themselves pretty well anyway. So who can say whether it was the moderate/non existant alcohol consumption, the caffeine rejection, the regular exercise, the time to themselves?

I am trying to make small changes to my lifestyle, but they have to be barely noticeable for me to stick to them. I’m just not going to give up chocolate or coffee or alcohol. I may cut down a little, but not cut them out. I am no puritan – I believe food is there to be enjoyed, and life is too short to integrate flaxseed oil into my diet. If I buy it, I’ll just not take it, and that’ll be a huge waste of money.

Which is why I had hoped the Pharmaton would work, as I can just about get my head round taking a daily pill. I know things like drinking more water are supposed to help, but every time I try that I end up needing to wee about a million times a day, and when you’re out with a baby and toddler, it’s not always that easy.

I’d love to hear about other people’s energy boosting tips – especially ones that don’t take too much effort!

Health visitors performing CBT? Please no…

I’ve had a read of the recommendations that the charity 4Children makes to improve prevention, diagnosis of and treatment of ante and postnatal depression. They identify roles of health visitors in providing practical support before the birth – something I wholeheartedly support, but also recommend training health visitors in CBT, which I think needs a lot more consideration. Health visitors are not trained therapists, and a short CBT course could, potentially, do more harm than good if they suddenly became the ‘experts’ in PND.

The charity is also calling for talking therapies to be better funded and more widely available. Realistically, a lot of women with new babies simply don’t have the time, and can’t access the childcare required to attend regular counselling sessions. The only way I can see this working is by providing some sort of helper or creche facility, which would immediately increase costs. I would also hope that antidepressants aren’t demonised too much. The report notes, in a somewhat horrified tone, that 70% of mothers with PND are taking medication. For me, no amount of talking therapy would have taken the place of my ADs, and in fact only when they started to kick in was I in a calm enough place to examine my thoughts, or speak the truth about my feelings.

I support the idea of a national campaign to raise awareness, and remove some of the stigma associated with the condition. Much as I loathe the deification of celebrities in general, I do think it would be helpful for some well-known women who have suffered from PND to acknowledge their situation. Motherhood is so exalted within the media, that I doubt any celebrity struggling to cope, not bonding with her child, feeling lost and tearful etc, would be keen to admit to it. That, in turn, would require a shift in society in recognising that bringing up babies is tough, and not every woman is a natural. And that we need support – social, emotional, and financial.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the factors that have contributed to your PND