Six months on – what’s changed?

I realise it’s been six months since I did my New Year’s stocktaking post, where I looked at helped – and what hindered – my attempts to sort out my PND.

A few things have changed since then. One of the most significant is stopping taking my antidepressant medication, without any apparent side effects. There was no real spur to come off them, other than as an experiment to see if I really needed them or not. I’m not ruling out taking them again in the future if things get worse, but it’s good to know that they’ve served their purpose of giving me the resilience to help me improve my mood through other methods for now.

I’ve also increased my working hours – not by much, admittedly, but enough to feel that I’m part of the working world again. I’ve had some interesting and enjoyable projects, which have given a real boost to my self esteem/ego.

One major thing that has sadly not changed is the sleeping situation. I am probably even more tired than six months ago because of the cumulative effect of the sleep deprivation. My kids wake through the night and are up and ready to start the day at 5.30. I’m hoping the early waking stuff will change as the mornings get darker, but I would welcome any advice from people who have managed to deal with non-sleeping pre-schoolers and toddlers. I suspect the only solution is for me to go to bed earlier, but that would feel like a backwards step in terms of regaining some time/head space that is not all about the children.

So, to sum it up (God, I love bullet points), what has worked in the last six months includes:

  • Doing a mindfulness course (here is the one I’m following) and trying to weave it into my daily life
  • Working more
  • Dropping the antidepressants and replacing them with decent vitamins, and even more tea and coffee
  • Accepting what I cannot change and changing what I can (stolen from the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer)
  • Being grateful for what I do have and trying not to sweat the small stuff.

And what hasn’t:

  • Any attempt on my part to change my children’s sleep patterns.

Here’s hoping something might have changed by New Year 2013…

Take notes – everything is copy

This is apparently what Nora Ephron‘s mother advised – and she clearly took it to heart  as Ephron was one of the most interesting, funny and articulate writers of the last few decades. She died last night, and will be sadly missed.

It got me thinking about the practice,  of “taking notes” – and taking the time to put together a collection of ideas, draft, redraft and then present it to your audience as as polished, worthwhile piece of writing.

A far cry from the “shoot from the hip” brain dumps that Twitter, Facebook, and to a certain extent, blogging, encourage. These days, everyone is a writer. You can publish your thoughts to a limitless audience, as soon as they’ve entered your brain. This is a great democratising influence on who “owns” knowledge and news. Today’s citizen photojournalists don’t spend years learning their craft as assistants to the greats. They download Instagram and, hey presto, they’ve got the shot.

It might be a democracy, but it means trained and experienced writers can struggle to survive in a market where words are merely seen as “content” and you are competing for jobs with people willing to charge less than the minimum wage for their words. I have now deregistered from sites such as Elance or peopleperhour, as I was getting too fed up being pipped to the post by people willing to be paid peanuts for quite specialised work. I kept being told by potential clients that my rates were too high – and yet I’ve not changed them in 10 years. It’s pretty soul destroying to be told that your skill and experience is basically worth nothing if someone else will do it cheaper.

I suspect the only answer is to specialise more than ever and help clients see that good copy will make an appreciable difference to their business; chasing the lowest rates is a false economy.

It’s also important for writers to see their craft as separate from other forms of writing. When I write this blog, I usually publish it as I’ve first written it. I don’t spend hours brainstorming ideas, asking myself questions, then doing several drafts. There’s no time, for a start, and it’s not necessary. But it is a discipline to return to these habits, and to remember how I approached a blank page before the Internet, and its facility for immediate publishing, existed.

The only way for professional writers to set themselves apart from every other “writer” on the web is to stop and think about the value of what they were trained to do. Keep the stream of consciousness for the social media, and take notes and engage the brain for work. Everything might be copy, but not all copy is equal.

Thanks to the Danes we have bacon, pastries, and can drink during pregnancy again

At last – some actual scientific research that gives women a smidge more control of their bodies during pregnancy. According to the Danish study published today, it now is ok to drink alcohol in moderation during pregnancy. Up to eight drinks a week apparently – though I suspect they don’t mean cocktails.

Thanks to some heavy-handed scaremongering, a lot of women have been totally abstemious without need, all because the government was trying to legislate for the minority of hard drinkers who would probably continue on their merry way regardless of official guidelines.

The researchers looked at the behaviour of five year olds whose mothers had drank in moderation during their pregnancy, and found no difference in behaviour or their general health than in mothers who had abstained completely. For me this represents a victory for women, not just for the right to have a glass of wine, but to be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.

Being pregnant is a pretty objectifying experience, however you look at it. You are weighed, measured, prodded and poked and given long lists of do’s and don’ts. And that’s just by the medical establishment. Everyone has an opinion – complete strangers feel happy to comment on your size, or what you might be doing. You become public property, and not in a Hollywood starlet kind of way.

Of course some people will prefer to err on the side of caution and refrain from drinking completely when pregnant – good for them. I found that having a drink was one of the things that made me feel more like myself, and less like some wayward child being told they couldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions. I’m not planning on getting pregnant again, but I hope this study succeeds in making women pregnant now or in the future feel a little less guilty about indulging in something enjoyable once in a while. There are so many restrictions to your life once you become pregnant and then have children, that harmless pleasures should be taken wherever and whenever you get the opportunity…

Nice little grounding exercise

Just a quick post tonight, but thought I’d share an exercise from my mindfulness course that I’ve found to be pretty effective.

Basically, you try and concentrate on your breathing for five minutes. Of course, most people immediately daydream or start worrying about something or imagining what they’re having for dinner. And forget about focusing on how the breath feels going in and out of the body.

So every time you lose focus on the breath and start thinking of something, just make a note of whether the thought belongs to the past, present or future. So if you’re thinking about a fight you had this morning, just say “past” to yourself and try and come back to your breath. If you start thinking about the fight again, just repeat “past”, and refocus on the breath. Same as if you are being distracted by feeling cold, think “present”. You get the idea.

It’s really simple, but a helpful way of staying in the present, but just for a limited time so the thought doesn’t feel too daunting. I also find it helps me get back to sleep after one of the kids has woken me up and my adrenaline is on overdrive.

Worth a try if you tend to live in your head.

iparenting – a 21st century affliction?

So…I caved in (to myself) and bought an iPhone today. Nothing major in that, you might think – just another shilling in the coffers of Apple who already bought my soul several years ago with their beautiful laptops and music machines. But, while I am like a child on Christmas Day, browsing the app store for free goodies, I also feel a sense of unease at the way this will (probably inevitably) further affect my parenting.

My son already makes a face when I open the laptop. It’s not as if I’m constantly on it either, or totally leaving him to be brought up by CBeebies (early mornings and illness notwithstanding). My brain already feels split several ways, my concentration span down to seconds instead of minutes, and I worry that the convenience of the iPhone (and its insistent buzz when a new email comes in) may tip me over the edge.

It doesn’t help that I’m self-employed, and need to respond to emails as they might bring with them the promise of riches (or at least some work – I’m not in the right business for riches, sadly). But it’s more than just that. Checking Facebook, Twitter, emails, texts… I consider myself a pretty moderate user of social media, but I don’t think my kids will see it that way. (“Don’t give me that look! Don’t you know that most people check their phones, like, waaay more often than me”. Yup social media takes years off you. In maturity, sadly, not crows feet or stretch marks).

I know I’m not the only mother of young children who is connected to the internet via a number of devices. (phones, laptops, I mean. Not a robotic arm). And I wonder how this new generation whose parents are ever-distracted, twitching when they hear the beep of an incoming message during a debrief about their day at preschool, or taking phone calls during bath time “because it could be important”, will develop.

Parenting experts have long told us that the most important thing we can give a child is attention. Bad behaviour, for example, is simply a ploy to make us spend more time with them. Flexible working means that many parents can work from home or manage their days around the school run or other childcare commitments. But when they are there in body, are they really there in spirit? I know I am guilty of “just checking my emails” while the kids are otherwise engaged. And I think that’s ok. But I can see that the lines between work (in my case) and time with the kids will become increasingly blurred. I may be multitasking pretty damn efficiently, and the emails will get answered promptly. But at what cost to my family life?

OK, I’m not a moron. I know I can turn the bloody thing off, and commit to only checking it every hour or so when I’m with the kids. I will probably end up doing something along those lines. But all of this takes up a lot of space in my head. Planning, negotiating with myself. Like an alcoholic who thinks he has his drinking under control, but spends every minute counting down until the next glass, so my brain, which could be much more productively employed, will be making deals with myself about using my phone. Not so much that I’m ignoring the kids. Enough to do my job and make it worth having bought it in the first place.

If anyone has any suggestions as to how to manage living with technology in the 21st century and being a good parent, please let me know in the comment box below. Or you can email me. Or Facebook me. Or send me a tweet…

Exercise “no help to depression”

So…it appears that there’s no evidence that physical exercise makes any difference to depression whatsoever. This goes against the current clinical guidance that patients exercise three times a week in addition to other treatment they’re receiving.

One of the researchers of the study is quoted as saying,

“Many patients suffering from depression would prefer not to have to take traditional anti-depressant medication, preferring instead to consider alternative non-drug based forms of therapy.

“Exercise and activity appeared to offer promise as one such treatment, but this carefully designed research study has shown that exercise does not appear to be effective in treating depression.”

I find this really interesting as there’s such a consensus that exercise releases endorphins and improves mood that no one ever questions the advice. The scientists go on to say that this doesn’t mean exercise doesn’t have plenty of health benefits, but simply that in treating pretty severe depression it’s pretty ineffective as a therapy.

If you are otherwise pretty healthy and sane, then exercise will help improve your mood. If you’re overweight and feeling low as a result, then getting fitter through exercise will help you slim down and also probably improve your general outlook. But I think this is actually pretty good news for depressives. It’s infuriating that the exercise gurus imply that, if only you trained for a marathon, all your depressive episodes and anxieties would fade away. Just because something makes you feel temporarily better (as I have banged on about here with my Bikram yoga chat), it doesn’t mean you’re “cured”.

Admittedly I probably fall into the “mild to moderate” category of depressives, and this study was geared towards those who suffer very seriously. But, to use some annoying press-releasy corporate speak, I “welcome” this research as it highlights the fact that depression is a serious illness, and a few Zumba sessions a week is not a legitimate treatment.

Are goals the enemy of romance?

I’m not talking football pitches here, where some of the most romantic moments ever have taken place.

No, this is about goals as in aims and intentions. The kind of thing you need to at least have an answer for at a job interview when you’re asked “where do you see yourself in five years time”?

This is something of an addendum to my last post, and the result of a rather heated discussion about goal-setting, writing down lists and being happy. I realise other people are having arguments about Melanie Sykes and her TMI tweeting, but this particular conversation was more prosaic (if not equally trivial).

I have always written things down in order to work out what I think about a particular subject. Before social media existed, my brain vomit flowed into spiral bound notebooks where I could be found writing down the pros and cons of using Sun-In hair lightener (there is never a “pro” about using Sun-In unless you’re trying to really nail that Wurzel Gummidge look)  or editing my list of “the most important qualities of my ideal boyfriend”. If it’s not glaringly obvious, both of these examples date from the age of about 14, but more recent entries will have included sketching out ideal jobs or life situations. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I’ve rediscovered an old “ideal scenario” list and discovered that I was actually living those circumstances pretty much to the letter, without having made any particular efforts towards that goal.

Is this too utilitarian an approach to life, though? Is is suitable for work, for example, but not for relationships or family life? Can you reduce happiness to a series of bullet points?

I find myself surrounded by people who fall into the “goals for every area of life” camp, and those for whom that represents the most soul-destroying and pernicious elements of the self-help movement. Where do you sit on this one? In making long-term, detailed goals are you missing out on the unpredictable, beautiful randomness of life?