mental health

Back on the Bike

Last month, I wrote about needing to find restorative activities and I thought a follow-up would be apt since this week is actually Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.

I’ve got back on my bike!

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Still not a photo of my bike!

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. woman-underwater-842135_1920

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.

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This is Trailey!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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. 

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Christian

Waiting for the baby

Earlier this year towards the end of my pregnancy, a friend sent me this meme causing me to laugh wryly:

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The last trimester can feel like it lasts forever but I knew it wouldn’t be long until the wait (and the physical discomfort) would be over and I could look at my baby’s face and hold her in my arms.

How did Mary, the girl chosen to be the mother of the God-baby, feel as her time to give birth drew near?

Giving birth to Small Boy just before Christmas gave me a fresh appreciation of Mary’s courage and obedience. In the final months of pregnancy I felt HUGE (this is because I was), struggled to sleep and suffered from dyspepsia (yep – the nausea and vomiting wasn’t just first trimester). I waddled rather than walked and stayed close to home and the hospital. You wouldn’t have found me making a five-day journey sitting on a donkey.

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Mary wasn’t the only one waiting for her baby to arrive – this was the moment the Jewish people had been longing for: the arrival of the Messiah, the one who will rescue God’s people.

A friend recently asked me if I had a favourite Christmas carol. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I replied immediately.

This is my favourite section:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

These lyrics come from the ancient prophecy of Malachi and look forward to the Lord’s coming:

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, New Living Translation)

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These words speak to me of emotional healing and freedom. Christmas can be such a difficult time emotionally: we can feel sorrow or regret as we remember absent loved ones and we can get stressed if high expectations aren’t met. Spending time with family can mean we revert to playing the roles we had in childhood. Even in precious seasons, there can be challenges – a friend of a friend has written some great advice about Christmas with a baby. If you think this Christmas is going to be a tough time for you emotionally, then please be kind to yourself and maybe talk things through with someone. (In the UK, the Samaritans can be called for free at any time.)

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament:

It would be four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew. History didn’t stop. Kings and kingdoms came and went. But God’s redemptive plan stayed on schedule. When the time was right, Jesus would bring salvation to both Jews and the Gentiles. God’s kingdom arrived in the person of his Son.‘ (They Spoke from God: A survey of the Old Testament, p. 836)

Advent is a season of waiting. Waiting is so much harder when I don’t know how long I have to wait. If I’m waiting for a bus and I know one is coming in a hour, I am content and productive. But if I’m waiting and I don’t know when (or even if) a bus is coming, the time passes slowly and I’m on edge. Would I have waited differently if I’d known at age 18 that it would only be 12 years until I met Mr Pilgrim? 

I love these words from Shane Claiborne about how to wait: ‘And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.

On Christmas Day, we celebrate the birth of the God-baby and ‘Hail the Sun of Righteousness’. The wait is over. If you’re currently waiting for something, then wait with God. His timing is perfect.

Merry Christmas! Have a good one.

Dido x