Ethical living · mental health

The times are a-changing

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.

IMG_2284

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.

21105498_1512603125467053_5024922236369778312_n
From Mind and Soul Facebook Page

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:

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:

  1. Hit the pause button regularly throughout the day – stop, listen, look, breathe and pray
  2. Create not consume when feeling sad or stressed
  3. 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.

 

mental health

Fears and Tears

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.

SONY DSC

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.

IMG_1663

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.

 

 

mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

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.

russian-1090697

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. 

stairs-1755383

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.


There are some great resources at Mind and Soul and the Mental Health Foundation.

mental health

I don’t like musicals

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:

  • detective novels
  • walking around lakes
  • 80s pop music
  • dungarees
  • 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:

woman-1790841_1920

  • musicals
  • walking up mountains
  • rum
  • 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.

Christian · mental health

The muscle of gratitude

In a culture that actively works to provoke your dissatisfaction, developing the muscle of gratitude could be your most powerful means of freedom from perfectionism.‘ The Perfectionism Book

workout-1420741_1920

As a family, we hold hands and pray before mealtimes thanking God for the food He has provided. For a while, Small Boy would exclaim ‘Let’s eat!’ rather than ‘Amen’; the short prayer was a necessary preliminary before the important task of  enjoying eating. I’ve come to see that my attitude isn’t all that different.

Often I can feel envious of other people’s blessings; I can quickly become dissatisfied, ungrateful and yearn for ‘more’, ‘bigger’ and ‘better’.

My gratitude muscle clearly needs a work-out but how to get in shape? My exercise routine will start with:

  • Deliberately pausing before each meal to spend a moment saying ‘thank you’ regardless of how busy or hungry I am.
  • Writing in a ‘thankfulness book’ each evening at least one thing that day for which I am grateful.
  • Fostering an attitude of gratitude in all I do: from washing up to tidying away toys to going to the dentist.
  • Being thankful for who I am even though this does not come naturally.

Jennifer Kunst in her article ‘The antidote to envy‘ writes: ‘It is everyone’s challenge in life to do something with whatever they have, and the best way to do that is to see the good, be thankful for it, and do something useful with it.’

The journey out of perfectionism starts with a gentle acceptance of who I am and where I’ve been; to be at peace with my past, to come to terms with my weaknesses, and to recognise God’s fingerprints of grace in every stage and season. Thankfulness is at the heart of this self-acceptance.

A few years ago, there was a brief social media trend to establish your position in the global rich list. According to www.globalrichlist.com, I am in the top 0.42% richest people in the world by income. I have no justification to complain and every reason to be thankful – and my gratitude should lead to generosity. 

But what about when life is hard? In all honesty, it’s not that difficult for me to be grateful at the moment but I want to be someone who is marked by gratitude in every circumstance. Last week, I attended a memorial service of a 50-year-old Christian lady who had died of cancer. She’d written a letter to be read at the service in which she described some of the ‘God-incidences’ during her illness; she had learnt to look for ‘God in action’ even during times of great pain and suffering. My hope is to become someone who can see and be grateful for the ‘God-incidences’ in every stage of life, just as this inspirational lady did.

Right now, I am thankful for Lemsip, Calpol vapour plug-ins and grandparents who are willing to change plans to help.

woman-601568_1920

 

 

mental health

It’s got to be perfect

If you’re going on a journey, it helps to know where you’re starting from.

I purposefully didn’t blog last week because I deliberately wanted to fail to meet my self-imposed target of a weekly post.

Rob Waller, one of the authors of The Perfectionism Book, uses the analogy of a performer spinning plates to describe the life of a perfectionist. Over recent years, I have certainly felt like a plate-spinner, juggling roles and responsibilities, such as being a mum, a wife and friend, work, volunteering for a local charity, leading a small group at church and keeping the house clean and tidy.

I often felt I was failing and could never be satisfied with my ‘performance’ – there was always something, somewhere I could be doing better. fail-1714367_1280I now recognise this as perfectionism. The Perfectionism Book asks the reader if they can remove any plates or if this isn’t possible to ‘take some of the wobble out of the ones that remain’.

By failing to meet a target, I’m learning to keep my plates manageable – taking some of the wobble out.

The lack of affirmation was the hardest thing about not writing last week. Simon Sinek says: ‘Engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text, it feels good. That’s why we count the likes, because you know when you get it, you get a hit of dopamine which feels good.

‘Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, in other words it’s highly, highly addictive.

Facebook likes and the blog stats feed my need for praise but I don’t want to be addicted to social media dopamine hits.

like-1748813_1280

Graham Taylor, ex-football manager of Watford FC, my local club, passed away recently. I love this quote of his, included in an obituary:

In this job you get nice things said about you and bad things said about you. The trick is not to spend any longer thinking about one than the other. In the end they are both bollocks.

I don’t want my self-esteem to be based on others’ opinions, Facebook likes or even my own achievements and successes.

Seeing how ingrained my perfectionism is made me feel downhearted and despondent. Not only do I have high expectations of myself but I also think others – family members, friends, colleagues, strangers (what will people think if I…) – have similar expectations of me. My internal monologue says: ‘I need to be perfect in order to be loved‘. This is the key lie I have been believing. I must be perfect, not making any mistakes – not even a minuscule error, mustn’t say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing or reveal my weaknesses – because then there will be no appreciation, affirmation or love. Without perfection, I am worthless.

This monologue needs rewriting.

There’s a long way to go but I am taking steps forward.

girl-925635_1920

 

 

mental health

Present tense

I had intended this week to focus on a social justice issue: the importance of credit unions. But the words weren’t flowing. And after writing about my hope to become less of a perfectionist, I’ve been struggling with perfectionism this week. I realised it would be more authentic (though requiring vulnerability) to focus on how I feel at present. The process of writing this reflection has actually been helpful in clarifying my thinking.

The Perfectionism Book says the opposite of perfectionism is not imperfection but flexibility. Flexibility isn’t a word which resonates with me. Words such as control, routine, predictability, plan, task, structure and organise suit me better.

download-1

My self-esteem is rooted in my achievements. I wish it wasn’t but there’s no point in pretending otherwise. My accomplishments don’t have to be spectacular or noteworthy; I love setting myself tasks and then completing them. At the beginning of this week, I was on edge, downhearted and short-tempered as it seemed that the goals I had set would not be achieved. Remember the definition of perfectionism from The Perfectionism Book?

  1. Setting impossibly tough goals or high standards that can never practically be achieved.
  2. Continuing to pursue these goals despite evidence of harm, usually to our own emotional health.
  3. Basing our self-esteem partly or completely on whether we have met these goals.

This has been me over the last few days. To make it worse, I also set goals for family members and then feel frustrated when they don’t do what I want them to do when I want them to do it! Thankfully Mr Pilgrim is an exceptionally patient and kind man.

to-do-734587_1920

Writing about the present is harder than writing about the past. It’s easier to tell my stories of mistakes, triumphs and growth from the vantage point of the conclusion, when the problem or difficult situation is over. In the midst of a storm (when I’m feeling anxious, fearful or panicky, my thinking is negative, my self-esteem is low or there’s a dark cloud over me), I hide away and isolate myself. I’m too raw, messy and embarrassed to tell people what’s really going on. I don’t want to be defined or stereotyped by my struggles and I don’t want to hurt or burden people.

Yet, I am beginning to see there is such power in being honest about my present circumstances. The process of being authentic and vulnerable helps me to find healing and hope.

So this year hasn’t started as I would have wanted but hopefully I have made a little bit of progress in being less of a perfectionist.

Christian · mental health

Past Perfect

As we begin a new calendar year, diaries and journals have pristine pages. Potential awaits. I used to love the excitement of a new exercise book at school with its blank leaves. I’d endeavour to keep it ‘perfect’ but I’d make mistakes and soon – in my eyes – the book would be ruined. Yet, the mistakes were part of my learning. I still feel the thrill of a new notebook with its empty pages and potential. A friend has been given this beautiful daily journal for Christmas.

dsc01191_1024x1024

It’s so stunning I’d be afraid to use it for fear of spoiling it but its purpose is to be written in, with words spelt incorrectly, sentences crossed out and tear-stained pages. It’s a tool to help us grow and it doesn’t have to look perfect. 

As a young girl, I read and re-read many of the boarding school classics: Malory Towers, St Clare’s and the Chalet Girls. These schools had prefects – an unfamiliar word which I misread for a while as ‘perfects’. I wanted to be ‘a perfect’. I still want to be ‘perfect’.

I’ve been reading The Perfectionism Book by Will van der Hart and Rob Waller. They describe perfectionism as:

  1. Setting impossibly tough goals or high standards that can never practically be achieved.
  2. Continuing to pursue these goals despite evidence of harm, usually to our own emotional health.
  3. Basing our self-esteem partly or completely on whether we have met these goals.

This sounds a lot like me. I often feel under pressure to be a perfect parent with perfect children, to not make any mistakes at work, and to have a flawless house. But nothing and nobody is ever perfect – and I’m slowly learning that’s okay!! I experienced a small moment of liberation recently when I read in the New Baby Survival Guide: ‘We’re all just sinners raising sinners’ or to put it another way ‘I’m not perfect and I’m raising children who aren’t perfect either‘. 

My friend who blogs here writes: ‘People now think that if we verbally share our intentions to change – this makes us more likely to succeed and if we change with someone else this makes success even more likely‘.

So here are my intentions to change – guidelines (not rules!) I’m going to try and follow this year:

  • Pray I will understand God’s grace more deeply – his love for me doesn’t depend on my performance or achievements
  • Try new things I won’t be very good at (I’m planning to do Go Ape and go canoeing when on holiday)
  • Give myself permission to make mistakes
  • Aim to receive criticism without being defensive, maybe even ask for feedback
  • Continue to bat back the negative thoughts saying ‘I am a rubbish parent’ when I do make a mistake or am having a bad day
  • Be vulnerable – I love this quote from Brene Brown which I read in The Perfectionism Book:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.’

I’m hoping these reflections will be a tool to help me become less perfectionistic and more free to be the person God created me to be.

wisdom-92901

mental health

Not drowning, but swimming

As a young teenager, I got caught in a large Atlantic wave while swimming on holiday in France. Turned upside down and surrounded by water, I didn’t know which way was up. 

This is how I feel when caught in the throes of anxiety: It feels like I’m moments from drowning, I don’t know how to get to the air I need to survive, I’m alone, afraid and can’t escape the powerful forces pressing down on every side. 

ocean-918999_1920

Sometimes it feels like a radio is playing and I can’t turn it off. The negative thoughts just keep playing in my head: ‘you’re the world’s worse mum’, ‘you’re such a rubbish wife’, ‘your friends don’t really like you’, ‘you’re no good at your job’, ‘the good times won’t last’. For much of this year, the soundtrack in my head has been constant anxious thoughts about the health and well-being of my baby: ‘is the baby moving?’, ‘is the baby going to have a safe and healthy delivery?’, ‘why did I think I could have two children? I can’t even cope with one’. It was a struggle rather than a joy to tell people I was expecting. Sometimes I wished I could hide the obvious physical signs.

I couldn’t swim to the surface. I couldn’t turn off the radio. All I could do was cling to a promise from God: he said to look at Small Boy as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Just as he had brought my son into the world safely, so he would this baby.

While in labour I started feeling a failure for having a epidural. I remembered a counselling idea I’d heard about. I think it’s called ‘sympathetic’ or ‘compassionate friend’. I imagined asking some of my close friends if I should feel guilty for my decision. I couldn’t visualise any of them saying yes. I then thought how I would respond if a friend came to me and said she chose to have an epidural but felt a failure. I knew I’d confidently tell her she’d made the best and right decision; giving birth is not a competition. Sometimes it’s easier to show more compassion to others than ourselves! As I rejected the guilt, I drew closer to the water’s surface. 

Somehow in the process of giving birth, the fear dissipated and my strength returned. I have decided that the only mum I can be now is a Dido Pilgrim Mum. This will look different to how others parent. As I make mistakes and muddle along in this motherhood adventure, I’m determined to say no to guilt and fear.

This is not to say that I’ve been totally free from anxiety, panic, guilt and fear since the birth of Little Miss but it seems that something has shifted. I’ve reached the sea’s surface and am swimming.