Re-Adjusting Focus

Yesterday, I wrote about meeting potential after-school carers/nannies, and throwing my worries to the wind (or putting my trust in the Lord, if we go with ma-in-law). Today, it’s back to the drawing board. So what went wrong?

Weeeeellllll…..the first candidate was OK: pleasant, educated, not the most fluent English speaker, but seemed competent. I ranked her a 15/20. The second gave me serious cause for concern. She seemed tired, confused and I had to repeat myself every second sentence. Also, she had a very wet, limp handshake. One of my pet peeves is a wet, limp handshake. Shudder. If the option was her or nothing, well, as I told husband on Skype, let’s just say I’d trust DD on her own.

Instead of this experience truly throwing me, and sending me into a panic spiral, I was just annoyed that they didn’t work out. Breton Bestie and the neighbour have reminded me they can help in a pinch. My old assistant who’s in between jobs has agreed to cover all next week, and another nanny emailed this morning, asking if I still needed help. So maybe this whole ‘worries to the wind’ thing works! I wrote about the compounded effect of a thousand small adjustments and corrections, and the power of small wins and slow gains in a PTSD-recovery post in February. Today, I feel like I’m reaping the benefits of CBT: I think I’ve finally had a ‘normal’ reaction to a setback.

Disclaimer: I still wanted to resort to baking this morning (I went up 4 sizes due to PTSD-related baking after DD was born), but I opted to make one batch of aubergine dip and one batch of chicken liver pate to nourish, rather than numb, myself. Tomorrow, I will experiment with a gooey, gluten-free chocolate something, ready for the #FoodPornThursdays link-up. 

How are you doing? Have you made any small adjustments which have resulted in huge gains? How do you get yourself out of a panic spiral?

Adjusting Focus

If you’ve been following the blog recently, you’ll be aware that I got the job! Most regular humans take to celebration when they get a job that they would LOVE to have and really, honestly, are not qualified to do. I, however, go completely, madly, utterly panic-stricken. I may be smiling and nodding at you, but inside, I’m performing my OMG-hand-flapping-90-miles-an-hour-how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-manage-what-was-I-thinking dance. Even moreso because my husband, a recognised ninja at weeding out all dodgy / skanky / untrustworthy folk, is on the OTHER SIDE of the Atlantic, and I have to interview people to care for our child after school, alone!

Thankfully, our daughter also has the ability to keep me grounded and focused on the things that truly matter. She is delighted I got the job. “Mum, it’s one of your favourite magazines, and you get to work there!” I am truly glad that she thinks this is cool, and something to aspire to, rather than the insane directorship and corner office which kept me prisoner 18 hours a day.

Yesterday was another seminal moment on my path to adjusting my sails: instead of continuing the panicked dance, because hey, I’m GREAT at it, I stepped outside my ‘comfort’ zone and zoned out. We had a picnic in our patio garden. We made a tent, and read our books in the shade when the sun got too hot. We chatted. We watched the clouds drift by. We made root beer floats. We watched TV. We read our books and went to sleep in my big white bed. I threw my concerns to the bright blue sky, and let them get burned away.

I woke up refreshed today. Genuinely refreshed, and ready to face the week. I’m still mildly stressed about the nanny interviews this afternoon, but I’m going to take a leaf out of my daughter’s book and blithely expect the best. 

Stay tuned for more adventures…

Celebrating 100 posts, 1000 likes and 1000 tweets

It has been a crazy old weekend. The Follow Friday post resulted in so much feedback into Saturday, I had a hard time keeping up on my phone. We were out in the countryside and the only way to get a proper signal was to balance on one leg and dangle my arm out the window!

Today, I’ve logged back onto my laptop and discovered (since 19 January this year) I’ve written 100 posts, received 1000 likes, and tweeted 1000 times. So today’s post is a round-up-best-of-Petal-and-Mortar bonanza.

I suppose a good place to start is with my intro to motherhood. Then read about some setbacks on the road to recovery. Read my open letter to the Duchess of Cambridge and her new daughter. Maybe bake a batch of peanut butter cookies, or tahini cookies, before you settle down to read. Enjoy some of my attempts at photography, such as BlissConnect and Oddities. If you’re looking for books to read this summer, I can highly recommend Maine and The Lemon Grove. Laugh along at my daughter’s thoughts. Get swept up in the excitement backstage. Make some carrot cake. You’ll need a sugar rush to get you through grief, rage, panic attacks and social phobia.

If you’ve enjoyed the ride so far, follow my blog for more adventures, or come say Hæ/hej/hello on Twitter (@petalandmortar). Also, check out the fellow bloggers who like and follow my posts. They’re pretty awesome, too!


Breathe deep and act normal

#panic #anxiety #depression

Possible trigger alert!

She felt hemmed in. Every second in this taxi was choking her. She could feel the sheen of sweat hovering over her skin. Her fingers tingled and twitched. She tried to breathe deeply, but the air was so thick. 

The driver was talking about the crowds, the traffic. Suggesting alternate routes. She could hear herself responding, Sure, whatever you think best. No, no rush.

Yes, there was a rush. Get me out. They passed a hospital. She looked longingly at it, picturing the cool white beds. Slightly starchy, rough sheets. Breathe in, breathe out. Flex the fingers. Wipe sweaty palms.

The traffic thins out, as the pain radiates from the epicentre of her chest. Can you crack ribs from this pain, like a stress fracture, she wondered? The feeling that she is about to tip over the edge dances on the fringes of her vision. 

Yes, thanks, up ahead on the left is fine, thanks. She falls out of the taxi like a limp noodle. Her throat hurts. Her teeth hurt. Has she been clenching her jaw again? Walk. Walk. Move forward. Say hello to the neighbour. Yes, lovely weather, isn’t it? 

Unlock door. Put bag & shoes away. Wash hands. Sip some stale water. Curl up in ball on the floor, and let the silent tears out. Home.

Shy or Socially Phobic?

What would you say to someone who told you they hated talking on the phone? They screen every call before they answer, already irritable because the sound of the phone has made them jump. What about avoiding invitations to parties and get-togethers? Or going and then hoping to blend into the scenery, reluctant to chat or make eye-contact. Would you tell them they were just shy, to get over, get out there, meet some people? Or would you stop & consider they might be socially phobic?

It’s taken my husband 11 years to concede that I could be socially phobic. I think the millionth, “Why are you calling? Why can’t you text, for the love of all that’s holy?” finally got to him. He’s slowly comprehending how much my anxiety takes out of me, and the cost of ‘functioning as normal’. He’s your textbook good guy, a decent human being that would never want to see his loved ones in pain, but if it’s taken him long to ‘get’ this, how much do others suffer?

My social anxiety manifests itself in interesting ways. I don’t struggle with shopping, mostly because I do it online. I’ve been known to mutter frequently, “I hate people”. I have worked from home for 5 years now, because I am safe in my own space, behind my wall of screens, connected by the internet. On the rare occasions I have to do face time with clients, I psych myself up, practice everything I need to say, plan everything down to the last detail, and lay off the caffeine. But if there is any deviation from plan A, I have plans B, C & D. Is this time-consuming and exhausting? You betcha. But it’s the only way I know how to cope, and a darn sight better than the overwhelming sense of apprehension, nausea, clammy hands and gut-churning panic attacks that I used to have. What a rush, said no sufferer, EVER.

I’m the chica in the corner, on the fringe, at the edge. I’ll never be the person with my back to the door, or sitting in the middle of a restaurant. My anxiety gives me the strength to ask for a corner spot! Or it is my hyper-vigilance? I don’t discriminate in my anxiety; my husband has been on the tail end of my temper if he stands behind me for longer than 1.6 seconds. I’ve never been in active combat, so I don’t know why I am this way.


Me watching the London Marathon last year, with a safety zone of at least 3 metres one way and a concrete plinth to stand on so no one could sneak up behind me.

Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe, as with many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the exact nature of the relationship between genetics and learned behaviour is uncertain. The parenting you experience may influence whether you will develop social anxiety disorder. If you have worried or anxious parents, it can often affect your ability to cope with anxiety during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

People with social anxiety disorder often describe their parents as:

  • overprotective
  • not affectionate enough
  • constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
  • overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
  • exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers

Biologically, social anxiety disorder is currently thought to be related to abnormal functioning of brain circuits that regulate emotion and the “fight or flight” response centre. There is no cure for SAD. There is medication, which I don’t enjoy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which seems to be working slowly. I’m working on identifying unrealistic beliefs & behavioural patterns. I want to de-sensitise myself to certain triggers, and question certain gut-reactions.

I want to be the person that can just say YES to adventure, to sit in the middle of a cafe and look strangers in the eye. Most of all, I want to stop planning and start living.

Wish me luck!!

Rage is my Superpower

Rage can work in a vicious cycle, destroying you & wearing you down, or you can turn its strength inwards, creating a virtuous cycle. Allow me to explain….

My rage is a supernova, an illogical, overwhelming roar of emotion that burns outwards, searing anything logical or calm in its path. Fighting and scratching from my emotional corner, I feel like I have little control over it.


This then sucks itself inwards into a fiery ball of heat, to burn itself out gently.


However, understanding my triggers, and turning my ‘ball of fire’ into productive energy has a two-fold effect: getting a LOT of work done, and distracting me from the initial reaction, which calms me down. The more time I spend in the blogosphere, the more I realise how many of us are battling similar demons. Waking up & showing up every day IS an actual achievement. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that doing a root-cause analysis on the cause of my rage can (& does) send me into paroxysms of panic & anxiety, with a full-blown case of hives. I just don’t want to go there. The analysis will probably be best explored in stages, at some later date, because there’s no real reason to hyperventilate noxious fumes of rage because my hand baggage which should have been waiting at the foot of the gangway is now going round on a carousel in the terminal, potentially adding another five minutes to my journey time and throwing my careful plan to exit the airport in one piece to the winds, right? Doing my Rumpelstiltskin-after-the-queen-guesses-his-name dance was all part of the routine, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Or I could just accept I have chronic anxiety. I am hyper-aware of the environment I’m in at any given point, treating every situation like a potentially hostile encounter. My husband once asked me what it was like to live without a filter, to feel, see & hear everything, to notice every detail. It is sensory overload. It is absolutely exhausting. It’s why something small can completely tip the fragile balance I establish every day.

But I still say I’m lucky & blessed. I have a husband and child who try to understand, and accept my fragility. Who respect my triggers. Who give me space when I need it. They let me cry. Storm around a bit doing the Rumpelstiltskin dance. And then gently remind me, in order of priority, it’s just a bag. And we have insurance.

Great balls of fire, baby!