Getting there, slowly

It’s taken me a while to get in the Christmas spirit this year. 500+ days in limbo as a non-British EEA citizen. The orange guy. It’s just been hard to feel sparkly. But of course, sparkly or not, DD has a long schedule of events where she’s performing, and last night was one of them. 

In true DD style, she announces a few short hours before the event that it would be nice if I was there. So there I was. Watching her sing and read a poem in a church which has stood since 1445 was something else. Dear reader, you will be so proud to note I did not cry, as is my tradition.

JoyI just sat, and listened, as she read Mick Gowar’s Christmas Thank-Yous to laughter and applause. (Google it: English humour at its best.) I felt like a ‘normal’ parent. No overwhelming rush of desperate gratitude that she’s alive, functioning, talking. Just a normal amount of pride and affection. It’s the best gift ever. To finally have the stone of guilt and relief lifted off my chest. 

It’s taken almost 12 years, and I’m sure I’ll have small moments of back-sliding when she gets ill, but for now, I’m all about the joy!



All the depressing news recently has made me more tetchy, more on edge, and honestly, just fed up with the state of the world. I. Can’t. Even.

Yesterday, I had an embarrassing triggering episode IN PUBLIC. WALKING WITH MY DAUGHTER. An ambulance sped by, as it does in every major city at least ten times a day. What was so special about this one? Well, it was a Children’s Acute Transport. The same kind which took my one-day-old baby away from me ten years ago. Cue instant tears and hyperventilation. On a busy road. In rush hour. Awesome. I tried focusing my attention on the beautiful, whole child next to me, but all the memories came rushing back in. For some inexplicable reason, I feel like I have to know what that journey was like for her. What they did with her? Did they have to resuscitate her again? I can start the process by writing and asking for her file(s). This irritates Husband as he feels like we should leave well enough alone and focus on fabulous DD. I wish I could. I’ve tried. But it’s like a horrible fungal infection that goes away, only to return a few months later. Memories are crap like that. Unshakeable. Or are they?

This morning’s journey in to work was strangely slow and delayed, and the city seemed muted. After last night’s episode, and this morning’s horse-strength antihistamines, I was too foggy to put two and two together and get my usual five. It was only when I got to work and stared at my phone that I realised today was 7/7. The eleventh anniversary of the London bombs. The day I nearly lost my fiance. The day I lost a friend. But you know what? Instead of the usual sadness, today, I had managed to forget. And it was nice. Nice not to be sad, to miss, to hurt, to cry. Reassured to know that it’s OK to forget for a moment.

IMAG0711_BURST002_1So maybe next year, I’ll pass a CATS transport and I won’t cry. I’ll wish the wee bairn inside well. I’ll wish the doctors and nurses strength and knowledge to perform their jobs. And I’ll come home, and hug my perfect DD, and be grateful, instead of sad.

Maybe the world will be a slightly better place in a year. Who knows?

I am felled…

sadness-451917_640I am exhausted with a lack of sleep and a surfeit of worry.

Four weeks ago, DD got norovirus. It was disgusting, noisy, and plain debilitating. She just about got over that, when two weeks ago, she got croup. Croup! At the age of nearly-ten. We soldiered on through that and the bone-chilling barking cough which accompanies it. She mustered on.

Two nights ago, she complained her throat was sore. I thought it was the usual mid-term slump kicking in and put her to sleep. She came to our bed in the middle of the night, begging for cuddles. She was absolutely burning up and within a few minutes of holding her, both of us were sweaty and gross. Down the hall I stumbled in search of paracetamol and ibuprofen. You think I’d learn to keep them in my night-stand by now!

She’s been in agony for two days, fighting the fever and not being able to swallow properly without severe pain. I know she’s just got to ride it out but it’s hard to tell her that. I’m her mother and I’m supposed to have magic skills which makes the pain go away, only I don’t, and I can’t. I’m struggling with my fallibility as much as I’m struggling with her pain.

This month has triggered memories of her early months, where we possibly spent more time in hospital than we did at home. When we functioned on adrenalin. When I squashed every emotion, every thought, every fear into a Pandora’s box. I’m ten years older, and hopefully a little wiser now, and I know the repercussions of those actions, but my instinct is to not voice my fear, in the hope that by not naming it, it will not escalate, and it will go away. Far, far away.

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart.

One Week On…

It’s been a week since Friday 13 November. What a day, what a week. I have taken the last week off from most social media and news updates, and even took a break from reading blog posts from friends.

I just needed to re-group, pull myself together, and not fall down the spiral of thinking the world is a pretty horrific place. Yes, as humans, we do some pretty darn awful things to each other. But I have seen enough examples of goodness, kindness and humanity to resist tarring everyone with the same brush, and for my own sanity, needed to avoid seeing anything to the contrary. 

IMAG0337_2Naive? Perhaps. But it’s worked. I’m still a bit jumpy about leaving the house and acknowledging the possibility that London may be next, but on the whole, I’m OK. 

I’m facing forward to Thanksgiving/husband’s birthday and the start of Yuletide (which means baking goodies like these edible ornaments). And catching up on all the posts I’ve missed. Expect some seriously delayed comments!

Flashbacks & clarity

#morale #quoteI’ve been feeling really blocked lately. Stuck in molasses. Lost for words. Tired and grumpy. Missing gluten. Craving coffee. I felt completely out of the loop. Thank heavens for Twitter: I discovered this post about ‘getting my write back‘. And then I read Suzie’s post and realised that maybe I do have something to say, after all.

So here are some discoveries I’ve tripped over in my recent self-involved phase…

  1. I am fallible. Cue shocked sounds. I am not Superwoman. I am ageing gently and I need rest, a good diet, supplements (preferably prescription strength) and help with chores. I try to hold everything together and all I manage to do is slide into panic, with a tinge of chaos and a side of exhaustion. Charming company, I’m not. Ignoring my body is just detrimental to my sanity. I am far less emotionally resilient when I’m physically exhausted, and feeling like I want to curl in a ball and sleep for another six months just sucks. I want to be excited about my holiday so here’s hoping the new Vit D supplements kick in by next week!
  2. Doing everything right doesn’t mean everything is going to turn out right. I had a lightbulb moment talking to a friend last weekend. My refrain when talking about my traumatic childbirth experience has always been, “But I did everything right during my pregnancy!” As though all the healthy eating, yoga, Pilates and hypnobirthing exercises somehow insulated me, protected me & my baby. Yes, we are miles away from the births our grandmothers and great-grandmothers experienced, but it doesn’t mean that sh*t can’t happen. I don’t know why this was such a seismic shift, but it was. I think I have finally accepted that I didn’t ‘break’ my baby. Perhaps I can start applying this to other situations in my life, too.
  3. All these realisations and epiphanies don’t immunise me from the bad flashbacks. I watched Madam Secretary the other night. We’re a little behind in the UK, so we’re up to the episode where she gets attacked in Iran (S1 E16), and then suffers the flashbacks and trauma when she gets home. I cried, folks, I cried like a baby. Just watching her lose it, go through the panic attack, thinking it was a heart attack, reminded me how much I NEVER want to feel like that again. Remember this post? Yep, took me right back. What a wringer! But what a blessing to realise how long I’ve been panic-attack free. Weeks instead of days. I’m aiming for months instead of weeks now.

And now I kinda feel all written out in a good way.

How are you feeling? What do you do to get your writing groove back? Where do you find inspiration?

In Memoriam

(Post written on 07 July 2015, published after much dithering on 08 July 2015)

Just when I think I’ve got a grip (finally!) on my anxiety, and I’m around nice, normal-ish people who talk about nice, normal-ish things, and the most stressful part of my day is logging onto our temperamental server, reality smacks me upside the head like a wet fish.

Today was the tenth anniversary of the London bombings. Ten years to the day danger and terror irrevocably brushed my life. It was a very surreal and anxiety-ratcheting experience passing two of the bombed stations on my commute this morning. There was a minute of silence at 08:50, and there were an equal number of people observing the silence as not. London’s population is constantly in flux, and there are people living here today who weren’t here ten years ago, who have no memories of how the streets of the capital fell silent, who have no memory of calling friends and family in a blind panic, trying to make sure loved ones were OK.

My first memory of the day was a ‘power surge’ in the tunnel, being stuck in the dark for ages, and then being evacuated off the train at the next station with no information forthcoming. It was hot and sticky and I had to schlep myself to work along with hundreds of other commuters, shoving on the pavement for some space. I remember walking into the office and a colleague asking me where my fiancé was. Schvitzing and grumpy, I didn’t know why she was so persistent, until she pointed me to the BBC news, and I realised his station was bombed. I couldn’t reach him, and called every other number in his office till I found someone who was fairly confident they had seen him that morning. We were four weeks off our wedding, and in a vanity dash, instead of taking the Tube, he walked to work that morning to shift some weight, and was thus safe. What are the odds?

I remember walking two hours to get home that afternoon, surrounded by thousands of other people doing the same. No one was talking. We had no mobile service, so no one touched their phones. There was an unreality about the whole day, almost as though we would wake up the next day and realise we had all shared a dystopian experience of epic proportions. That the pictures we had seen were just a drill. A Met Police exercise. Anything BUT what it was.

But the nightmare stretched into days and weeks for a few of us trying to track down loved ones and friends. I lost a friend & colleague that day, but we didn’t have it confirmed until days and a DNA test later. 

I didn’t want to get back on the Tube the next day, but I did. In the aftermath, I toyed around with postponing the wedding, but we didn’t. We told our friends there would be no hard feelings if they re-thought travel plans. They didn’t; everyone invited showed up four weeks later, to celebrate with us. Every little bit of normality felt like an act of defiance, a spitting in the eye of the four madmen and their groomers.

Ten years later, I’m still uncomfortable taking public transport. My natural anxious state means I am always hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware every time I board a train, especially if I have my daughter with me. I text my husband and the babysitter every time I leave work, so someone knows where I am and which route I’m taking. As one person said at the memorial service today, we’re not wondering if another attack will happen, but when, because that’s the world we live in. The autopsies of the Sousse slain are still being conducted two roads down from my house, the wreaths from their caskets on the pavement. That’s our reality.

However, none of this tarnishes my love for my adopted hometown. London has a gritty survival instinct under its polished veneer, and I am madly proud to be a Londoner again. London survived the Blitz, the IRA bombs, 7/7 and probably anything else most fanatic lunatics would throw at it. The words of William Ernest Henley capture this spirit best:

In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

On Purpose

The end of Joey’s post stated: Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to share the purpose of your own life and what you’ll take home with you when you leave. ALL OF YOU ARE NOMINATED.

I accept the mission.

I’m starting a job tomorrow which everyone seems to think is ‘made for me’, but which is a total tectonic shift from my very corporate life of the last, well, for ever. Sure, I’ve worked in a few industries, most consistently finance, but this role feels like a step off a cliff. And there may or may not be a safety harness tethered to my ankle. That’s not strictly true, of course. I’m married to my bestie, and as much as he drives me crazy, he’s got my back. My daughter, my beautiful daughter, she’s got my back.

We’ve had a girly week together, because the husband is away on work. My entire universe has been brought down to her level. My life took on a new rhythm. Sleeping earlier, waking rested, giggling, laughing, going tech-free, talking about books, taking mad selfies, making root beer floats, dancing out to Stromae… and it made me wonder why we don’t do this more? I’ve been relaxed, and happy, and my husband has noticed this growing trend over the last few weeks. I’m coming to terms with the restrictions coeliac disease imposes on me, and trying to have some fun with it. So maybe I’m excavating my mission slowly. My aim for the next six months is to contribute and support this family without sacrificing my sanity (or morals).

No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities.

Long term, I’d like to be whole. Being healthy, or having some hold on it, makes me happy. Living a smaller life in terms of my footprint. Living a larger life in terms of moments and memories. Being able to help people when I can.

If you’re reading this, what’s your purpose, your mission? Will you share it?

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?

Caffeine-free Coffeeshare #2

If we were having coffee, well, you’d be drinking coffee and I’d be drinking some delicious, fragrant Kusmi tea that the Breton Bestie brought me back from Paris. Two years in London and she still doesn’t trust the tea here. I’m delighted by her thoughtful gift, because as a newly-minted coeliac disease sufferer, I’m trying to be as kind as I can to my digestive self. Atoning for my previous gastronomic sins includes avoiding caffeinated drinks. It’s a small price to pay (or so I tell myself).

I’d tell you the other amusing conclusion from the labs done the other week is a shocking Vitamin D deficiency. As in, soft bones and teeth. Finally!! A sensible explanation for the creaking joints and cracked teeth (I’m sure grinding my teeth with stress didn’t help). So I am on mega-doses of Vitamin D to redress the imbalance. And I have to go sun myself for at least 10 minutes a day WITHOUT SUNSCREEN. Talk about living on the wild side! I intend to fully embrace this, once the English weather cooperates. Seriously though, when is this weather going to let up? Can we shunt some of this rain to California?

Speaking of California, David Anderson, a neurobiologist at CalTech, is attempting to create more specific treatments for psychiatric illnesses. How amazing would it be to walk through the rain with an umbrella, instead of feeling like you were stumbling through, slightly blind and bewildered, with a tarpaulin thrown over your head? Am I the only one who feels like this on meds? I can’t be! David’s research greatly excites me, for all the possibilities it opens up. Watch his TEDx talk here: 

I still have no clearer view on Bloglovin’ – check out all the comments on my last post and feel free to add your two cents/pence/pesos. I might just sign myself up and see if I can create a simple user guide, and work out the pros & cons. Anyone else want to join in?

What are your plans for the weekend? How are you feeling this week? Is it nearly summer or winter where you are?

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!