For now the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in the countryside; the season of singing has come, and the cooing of turtledoves is heard in our land. (Song of Songs 2:11)
Frogspawn in our local pond; Mrs Blackbird and Mr Blackbird gathering building materials from our garden; bright splashes of celandine by the roadside; the soundtrack of birdsong as I walk to collect Small Boy from school – Spring is here.
A spring is in my step. For the first time in a while, I laugh inside and feel like a carefree girl.
Illness, an allergic reaction and stress meant our weekend didn’t go to plan. Yet, in the tiredness and tears, were some memorable moments of joy.
One of the reasons we bought our house (and not the one next door) is that the kitchen sink overlooks the garden. Washing dishes on Saturday morning, I caught sight of a blue tit splashing in our small bird bath.
We love blue tits in our house. Small Boy found me reading about birdsong and we discovered that blue tits tweet ‘see see choo choo’. We often pretend to be birds, bugs and sea creatures in our house and Small Boy enjoyed being a blue tit: ‘see see choo choo’.
(If you are interested in learning how to hide like an octopus, find food like a bee or hop like a frog, I recommend reading Howl Like a Wolf).
All four of us gathered by the windows and excitedly watched our garden guest bathe.
In the afternoon, we headed to our allotment. As we parked, we saw a small bird hopping on the grass (a red wing) and long-tailed tits were in the bare trees at the foot of our plot. Later, a robin drew near hoping for some worms (good news for us and the robin, Mr Pilgrim dug up lots!). Mr P threw one to the robin but the bird was too timid and the wise worm wriggled away. Probably for the best!
Little Miss got bored and kept declaring: ‘I want to go the library!’ Mr Pilgrim kept digging while the children enjoyed choosing books and I picked up my order of Fascism by Madeleine Allbright.
My Valentine’s present was A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – all about bumblebees. They are fascinating little creatures and it’s a delight to read Dave Goulson’s humorous yet scientific (he’s a professor of biology) prose.
Lent is approaching and I’ve bought Wild Lent (full of outside activities to help us encounter God through creation). I’m also thinking about taking up one of the Living Lent challenges, organised by the Joint Public Issues Team.
It’s only a short journey from home to work and just twice a week but it does make a difference to my mental health.
I’ve also done well at swimming once a week – aided by my new swimming costume made from recycled plastic! I’ll leave you to guess which of the colourful (garish?!) designs I chose.
The whole Pilgrim family seems to be restored by being outside and we had a fantastic Bank Holiday Weekend camping trip in ‘Trailey’ – our new-to-us trailer tent. Grandma provided the bunting and I’m trying to convince Mr P we should buy solar-powered fairy lights.
We’ve also had a surprise new addition to the family – a cat! The Furry One needed a new home and so has come to live with us. Pets are well known for helping to relieve stress and spending time stroking his soft fur is so soothing. He is adored by Little Miss and Small Boy and (somewhat surprisingly!) looked upon with a great deal of affection by Mr Pilgrim.
We are entering another busy period as a family and I know I need to look after myself and my mental health during this time. This will mean accepting that not everything is going to get done perfectly and on time. It means sometimes saying no to people’s requests and risking their rejection. It means making different decisions.
Over this last week, a number of people have expressed their concern for me. It seems that my inner angst is not as hidden as I hoped! I’m tired and tense with a spinning, aching head.
I was encouraged to think about activities which are restorative. I realised that writing this blog – focusing my mind and losing myself in a single task – is something which renews and refreshes me, and helps me to develop the resilience I need for day-to-day living.
Walking round a lake, riding my bike or going for a swim are other re-creative activities.
I am planning to start cycling to work again this week. The cold weather and a temporary office move meant I’ve not cycled to work for a while and I miss it.
Little Miss’s favourite phrase at the moment is ‘walk, please!’ and so today she and I went for a short stroll. She walks slowly delighting in everything she experiences: a worm, a tree, a flower, a puddle, a digger, a car, a man, a stone.
Walking at Little Miss’s pace changes my perspective and brings me a deep joy and peace.
I’m currently reading Free by Mark and Lisa Scandrette – the book contains lots of tasks so it’s not the usual linear read. One of the earliest exercises is a time, money and meaning self-assessment. Unsurprisingly, my strengths are ‘Work and Meaning’ and ‘Global Sustainability’ and the areas I need to grow in are ‘Time Management’ and ‘Soul Issues’ (again not a surprise!).
I have been reading and re-reading the chapter entitled ‘Value and Align Your Time’ and wondering what I can do differently.
I’m realising some of the change is attitudinal. It’s going to be a good few years until I can have a regular day off with no responsibilities but I can decide to ignore the mess and play. A few Sundays ago, Small Boy and I enjoyed making Lego vehicles together – with fire shooters!
At one point, Small Boy said to me: ‘We’re having a day off, Mummy’ and I realised how changing the pace benefits the whole family.
I am also learning to recognise what I am not responsible for and accepting I can be involved in a project without it all being dependent upon me. I was becoming tired and drained just by worrying and thinking unnecessarily.
It’s not just my attitude, I am learning to say ‘no’; I can’t say yes to every invitation and opportunity. Shauna Niequist writing in her book Present Over Perfect challenged me to not to compare my capacity to other people’s: I know what I can manage and it doesn’t matter if others can do more or less.
As Stephen Covey wrote: ‘You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.‘
Every day, week or month seems to be associated with a cause: this week we’ve had World Homeless Day, World Mental Health Day and International Day of the Girl. Three issues I care deeply about and would have liked to have written about here. I just haven’t had time.
We gave our Little Miss the complete set of Little Miss books for her first birthday last month (a charity shop purchase from earlier this year) and I discovered a kindred spirit in Little Miss Busy. Little Miss Busy is only happy when she is occupied on some task and finds it very difficult to rest!
Last month in The times are a-changing, I wrote about the challenge of managing my time and responsibilities wisely. This hasn’t been easy and I’m still struggling to find a sustainable and sensible solution.
As well as tracking my spending for October, I am trying to be accountable with my diary. What am I saying yes to? Is it because I want to be needed or am I genuinely required? Am I saying yes because I am scared of letting people down and I don’t want people to think badly of me? How can I prioritise the people who mean the most to me and often seem to get the worst of me?
I’ve been reading Consumer Detox (purchased for 50p from a charity shop!) which underlines the importance of relationship, rest and rhythm. I’m a long way from where I’d like to be.
I downloaded the Headspace app last night to help learn to meditate and to be mindful. It’s only ten minutes a day but it’s a start!
I once heard someone say that the only people who like change are wet babies but I’m not sure this is true. Little Miss certainly doesn’t enjoy having her nappy changed. She wriggles, rolls over and speedily crawls away.
I have a similar approach to change. I like it but only when I am in control. When I’m not, then I too, twist and turn and try to make my escape!
I’m using reusable nappies more and more now. I tried the ones my friend gave me and grew in confidence. I then discovered my local council (Hertfordshire) run a scheme where they give parents FREE reusable nappies – I love our Totsbots ‘bumbrella’ nappy.
I was shocked to discover that 4% of UK landfill is nappies and so I’m keen to reduce our use of disposables, and the ones we do have are Naty – an ‘eco nappy’. We’re also using Naty wipes and biodegradable nappy bags.
I much prefer Cheeky Wipes reusable wipes which are not only kinder to our beautiful world but they are more efficient!
September is a month of change for Family Pilgrim as new routines, relationships and responsibilities begin. For all four of us, there will be change to our days. My year of maternity leave ends and I am returning to my paid employment with a mixture of emotions: excitement, apprehension, guilt and sadness. Small Boy starts nursery at our local primary school and both Small Boy and Little Miss will be looked after by a childminder for some of the week.
I hope I am returning to work with increased skills, wisdom and maturity and I am confident that Small Boy and Little Miss will thrive in their childcare settings but I know there are going to be challenges along the way for all of us. For me, I need to manage my different responsibilities and time wisely.
I found this image on the Mind and Soul Facebook page this week with the heading ‘Getting ready to go back to school? What are your best MH (mental health) tips for the new term?‘ It’s good advice for us as a family as we navigate the newness of the month – rest, exercise, good food and fun activities will help us adjust well.
One of the things I have discovered in the past 12 months is the power of small changes. Last September started with one big change as Little Miss joined Family Pilgrim but as we have sought to live more justly, we have made many small changes, including:
Buying vegetables and meat from a local farm
Asking ‘who made our clothes?’ when shopping
Stopped buying items from Amazon
Taking reusable cups with us to church
Buying Method laundry detergent and cleaning products
The small changes I have made give me hope and confidence that I can continue to adapt and grow. Things don’t have to be the same!
So – because I like lists and actions – here are three mini challenges for the autumn:
Hit the pause button regularly throughout the day – stop, listen, look, breathe and pray
Create not consume when feeling sad or stressed
Love: the apostle Paul wrote: ‘If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’ If I buy fair trade, avoid single-use plastics, lobby my MP, eat organic meat but do not have love, I gain nothing.
And what is love? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I’ve chosen An Area in which to be creative (as I mentioned in my last post) and I’ve been finding it frustrating, demoralising and an assault on my self-esteem. It’s tough being a (recovering!) perfectionist.
I have to frequently remind myself that developing a new skill is not about achieving; it’s about exploration, experimentation, education and expansion.
On my recent holiday, I had two sailing lessons – one in a traditional boat and one in a modern dingy. For many years, I have wanted to learn but have been too scared. I used to live near a beautiful urban reservoir and as I strolled around it on summer evenings I’d watch the white sails and wish I were brave enough to learn.
So this summer I finally had a go – two goes, in fact – as I booked a second lesson. I was afraid but I loved it (well, I loved the traditional ‘Swallows and Amazons’ boat – not too keen on the modern one!). I’m looking forward to having another go in the future and maybe a sailing holiday in the Norfolk Broads one day! Thank you to the Glenridding Sailing Centre for two fantastic, gentle and encouraging teachers.
As well as the sailing, I also had a morning of mountain biking coaching alongside Mr Pilgrim which I simultaneously loved and hated. There was nausea, tears and bruises (all me, I hasten to add).
I had to win a mammoth mental battle with myself in order to overcome the inner voice which screams: ‘You can’t do that. You’ll never be able to do that. Don’t even try.’
There is a short video of me mastering pedaling and braking (it’s harder than it sounds!). I did keep trying and I did do it. This Girl Can.
Huge thanks to Rich at Cyclewise at Whinlatter for his patience and tremendous coaching skills.
‘Most of us are deeply disturbed at the prospect of being horrible at something, even temporarily. When you try something new, you’re usually very bad, and you know it. The easiest way to eliminate that feeling of angst is to quit practicing and go do something else, so that’s what most of us do.‘ Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast
I’m not the only one who struggles to learn new skills. Josh Kaufman’s words encourage me to keep going at my new activities, even when I’m not doing very well and my self-esteem takes a knocking.
Small Boy and Little Miss, who have both developed some pretty impressive skills over the last three and a half years, also spur me on with their personal determination and self-delight as they grow and see their worlds expand.
I dare to hope one day they will be inspired by their mama’s perseverance and achievements.
This week (8-14 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. I’ve been wondering all week whether to write something. A longish car journey has provided the opportunity at the end of an exceptionally busy week.
It would be easier to blog about reusable sandwich bags, supply chains and why chickens are best kept in orchards – but that will all have to wait until another time.
If you’ve been reading my reflections regularly, you’ll know about my experience of antenatal anxiety and my struggles with perfectionism. But the reality is I’ve had mental health difficulties the majority of my life, including periods of anxiety and times of deep depression. I’ve benefited from medication and talking therapies.
I’m now at a place where I can be more open yet I’m not prepared to share my story in its entirety to that many people. So I’m being vulnerable and honest but this isn’t full disclosure!
For many years I have felt unable to talk about my anxiety and depression. I was scared of being labelled, judged or feared. I was frightened I would not be respected or trusted, particularly at work and at church.
I’m learning that I have ‘health’. Physically, I know I have to strengthen my stomach muscles to prevent a re-occurrence of lower back pain and stiffness, to warm up well before playing sport to avoid injury and not to consume too much caffeine. Similarly, I know I can look after my mental health by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthily and spending time on my own. These are like the four legs of a table – if one is neglected I can get a bit wobbly!
I’m discovering I can learn to think in ways which are more productive, resilient and kinder to myself. The futile spiral of negative thinking can be broken.
As others (friends, colleagues, and people with public platforms, such as Prince Harry) have been open about their own experiences of mental health, I have gained courage to accept my own brokenness and to embrace all who I am.
Yet, I know that this is not where I want to stay. Instead, I will continue to walk (or maybe limp) towards greater freedom, peace and wholeness.
Practising self-compassion (as opposed to perfectionism) is an act of courage. It is a decision to be authentically “you” in the light of great pressure to perform or conform. The Perfectionism Book
On seeing the romantic comedy Runaway Bride as a student, one of my friends gently remarked on a similarity between the main character, Maggie (played by Julia Roberts), and me. Maggie, the ‘runaway bride’, would morph into an extension of whichever man was her current fiance, even eating eggs the exact same way.
For a long time I didn’t really know who ‘I’ was. It was hard to be me when I didn’t have a firm sense of self or even know what I liked and what I didn’t. I was sometimes too scared to say what I thought or what I liked in case I was rejected.
So – just for fun, here are some things I like:
walking around lakes
80s pop music
personalised items e.g. my mug with my name on it
looking forward to events, such as holidays
And some things I don’t like:
walking up mountains
mint chocolate ice cream
mixing different pasta shapes
very hot weather
It might seem strange to write how it once took courage for me to say what I liked and what I didn’t especially when it’s so easy now to state my preferences. I am secure and loved enough to be authentic about my likes and dislikes.
However, I did struggle when Small Boy was a baby with contradictory parenting books. In the end I decided that I couldn’t perform to the standards in the books, especially when they had opposing views! I gave up reading them, decided Small Boy was not Text-Book Baby, and realised that although I wasn’t a parenting expert, I was the expert on my child and his needs.
I am getting better at being authentic about my emotions. I recently shared in a baby massage group my experience of anxiety when pregnant (you can read about that time in Not drowning, but swimming). I explained how I was in a midwifery team set up for women who needed support with their mental health and how beneficial this was. I felt stronger not weaker for sharing my story and my struggle.
I’d rather live my life as an open flawed person than pretending to be perfect.