This moment

I never really understood mindfulness before. I just didn’t have the patience for it and couldn’t see the benefits of just ‘being’ in the moment.

It seemed like I’d be taking myself into a vacuum (and one I didn’t particularly enjoy for that matter) to purposely separate myself from the past and the future. It was far away from the adrenaline rush I could trigger and enjoy by keeping myself in action.

But I heard it was a useful thing, something that others had got a lot out of and so I attended some mindfulness training about five  years ago. I was aware of being often overcome by anxiety and I hoped it might be the silver bullet to help me cope better, the key to finding more calm in my life.

But to be honest it just really annoyed me and I didn’t stick it out. 

The pace of it was just too…mindful. A slow wander through understanding how my body reacts to stress and learning body scanning meditations that I’d then feel bad about not completing during the week because of being too busy but, most important, not enjoying being trapped watching my worries and anxiety unfurl around me.

But recently I was given to book by a friend.

A book about the power I’ve being quiet and still and connecting to what’s going on in this very moment (it’s called ‘silence‘ if you’re interested).

And I started to see the benefit of being more present in the moment. The benefit of not getting dragged into stories that I tell myself about the past or worrying about the future. 

Perhaps it’s made bearable because I’ve changed – I’m kinder to myself, I put less pressure on myself to attain some arbitrary, inhuman standard of perfection. And perhaps it’s because all I can do is surrender to and find peace in the moment in this world full of chaos, a world where things are absolutely outside of my control.

I think, looking back, pre-covid-19, I felt like everything was in my control.

If I just tried damn hard enough pretty much anything was possible.

But living through a pandemic where lives are being lost to such a serious illness has made me aware that all we have is this moment.

It sounds trite, but it was actually a revelation to realise and to keep on discovering the solidity that comes from being aware that all I have is this moment.

And this moment here with me now.

And this moment.

And so I started to practice my own cobbled together version of mindfulness, focusing on my breath as I lie next to my son at night when he was going to sleep.

Practicing not ruminating on past events or projecting into the future but instead just breathing in and paying attention to my senses. What I could hear in the moment, what I could feel physically in this moment, what I could hear, what I could smell.

Or sometimes I imagine myself as little girl Amy, sat on the same bench as the current version of myself. Just watching the moments go by, the thought patterns circle around like waves on the shore.

Knowing that I only have this moment shores me up against the batterings of anxiety and worry. 

This afternoon, just before coming to a late work shift, I was sat in a nook I’ve created for myself at home, meditating and having a moment of peace. 

In the middle of the meditation, I found myself feeling a weight of sadness and worry. It’s not something I can attribute to a particular thing, but it is a mix of anxiety about the future we’re facing and worries that I’m not doing enough. 

I could have cried or got sucked into the story of how I wasn’t enough and my impending future of being found out to be a fraud and ruining the world with my lack of ‘correct’ and ‘perfect’ action. 

But instead, I found myself being reminded by something greater than me to ask how I was in the moment I had. And I found the weight of anxiety and sadness lift from me when I realised in that moment that I was well. 

I was in a safe space, physically well, in a moment of peace and without the burden of any responsibility on me. 

What power, what grace, to be reminded that I only have this very moment in time. 

We only have this moment. 


I’ve been toying with recording my own meditations, here is a quick 4 minute mindfulness meditation in case you’d like to give stillness a go:

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Self-care

I’m finding it really hard to write this post. I’ve written and deleted, written and deleted but still nothing seems to be coming out right.

My words seem mundane, I’m worrying about who might take my words personally and read into them more than I intended, I question whether these are words to share or if they would be an overshare.

And this all points in one direction – I haven’t been taking care of myself as I should have recently.

It’s been a mentally and physically exhausting time and the effects are taking their toll on me.

You see, the start of this year has been wonderful – celebrating my son’s first birthday, having two full weeks off work to spend with family – but it has also been trying beyond my limits with my routine out of kilter and, most distressing, Jenson not settling into nursery.

It was hell to leave him screaming with distress at our nursery ‘settling’ sessions and difficult to come to terms with the fact that our little monkey might not be ready for being separated from us. For a week Gregg and I were left in the unknown of whether we would both need to reduce our hours at work to provide full-time care for our son since he was finding the transition to nursery too distressing.

And as life as we knew it hung in the balance, it was unbearably hard.

Did we parent him in a way that made a transition to nursery more difficult for him? Would Gregg still be in support of all the parenting decisions that are so important to me – co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, sling carrying – with his desire to support Jenson to be ‘independent’? How would our lives be if we were to cope on one salary? Would this impact plans that I dream for us as a family – plans that rely on our savings.

And the stress was too much for me.

Despite the fact that we turned a corner, he settled into nursery just in time – I’ve been left feeling broken and out of kilter.

My back was agony since I was carrying so much tension and I turned back to my old habits of eating too much.

Eating for comfort when things were too much.

Eating sweet stuff at work when this is something I’ve rarely done over the years.

Supplementing my lunch with crisps and other food that I didn’t need for hunger.

Eating more desserts than I usually would.

Eating more in social situations to squash my awkwardness or just because I was not being mindful of what I was eating.

And I’ve been worried more about what other people think of me.

I’ve clung onto the things that haven’t gone well at work and with friends and family.

I’ve pulled out all the things from my past that I didn’t do well to beat myself up with.

I’ve worried that I’m going to be ‘found out’, found wanting and that people will see me for the failure I am.

I’ve felt not enough.

I feel like my internal axis has shifted and suddenly I feel intrinsically ‘not ok’. I feel like my foundations have been shaken with the force of an earthquake and are full of cracks.

So how do I get back to where I was before all this happened?

The first thing is admitting that I’m not ok. I’ve been telling people – speaking to friends, telling my mum about how I’m feeling this weekend, sharing with my sister about what’s going on, speaking up when topics are causing my anxiety to spike to protect myself, talking to my husband about it all.

The second thing is reminding myself that food is not the issue. It’s the manifestation of what is going on underneath. And so, while I need to pay attention to the food stuff and try to not stuff myself silly, the most important thing is what’s going on underneath – not loving myself, not expressing myself, not having a release for the emotions that I am feeling, not being kind to myself while everything is a bit trickier than normal.

The third thing is remembering that this is just a moment in my life. It’s a hard moment, but just because I’ve gone a step back doesn’t mean that life will always be like this. It feels all encompassing at the moment when it’s just a short period of my life.

The fourth thing is that I need to put my self-care at the top of my priority list. I need to take a lunch break at work, find some sort of exercise (apart from running around like a headless chicken to get everything done in life!), I could benefit with doing some short meditations, writing a bit more than I have recently, painting my nails, reading a good book, cuddling up more with my husband, checking in with close friends, spending time with my son doing nothing but playing, putting down my phone more, having some ‘cave time’ cooking alone in the kitchen with a podcast on.

And finally I’ve requested some counselling through work to try to work out how I can be kinder to myself and how I can cope with my anxiety when everything feels a little bit harder than usual.

I hope this post can help you if you’re going through a hard time. I hope you can take comfort from knowing you’re not the only one who has a dysfunctional way of coping with hardship – I’m in the same boat as you!

It certainly feels better to have everything out in the open – to say I’m not ok, but that’s ok.

Life is full of ups and downs and just because this bit is down doesn’t mean that it always will be.

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Returning to work

I’ve had a few dreams recently about going back to work and they weren’t the nicest. In one, my husband, Gregg suddenly wouldn’t look after our son. I had to get a friend to look after Jenson at the last minute and spent the whole of my first day at work worried about how he was doing and not concentrating on the tasks at hand.

I’ve had another similar dream about leaving my son recently and it’s made me think about what is going on. I mean, I want to go back to work and have Gregg spend quality time looking after him.

I know a lot of it is the unknown. I’ve got no clue how Jenson will be without me there to comfort him. It’s all he’s known and it’s all I’ve known – the thought of Gregg doing this task, my task, of comforting our son, makes me feel a bit apprehensive (what if Gregg can’t calm him easily) and sad (I love bringing him comfort, will this change the bond I have with him?).

There are also questions in my mind about how I’ll be at work – I used to give my absolute all to work but with less sleep and a baby I’ll be keen to get home for every night I’m unsure about how I’ll adapt back in the workplace. I know I’ll give my all, but my all might be less than before and this makes me nervous. It’s the reason why I’ve committed to fortnightly coaching sessions as I navigate this new reality of working full time and being a devoted mother.

I know there’s also something in this anxiety about control. During these past five months I’ve taken most of the decisions about Jenson’s care and have taken what’s known as an attachment approach focused on ensuring that Jenson feels secure and safe even if this means allowing him to feed to sleep on me and not forcing him to sleep in his own bed amongst other things. But with Gregg in charge, I’ll no longer be the main decision maker. About what Jenson eats, how he sleeps, what activities he does, how his time at home is spent. I trust Gregg and, as 50% his guardian, he has the right to have an opinion about how Jenson is raised. But I like being in control and this will take that control away from me.

But I know it’s right – I know we’ve done the right thing for our family by sharing the leave. So even if I’m anxious, I’ll continue to remind myself that this is an active choice we’ve made.

  • A choice that is right for me as I love my job and don’t want to slow down my development as I enter motherhood
  • A choice that is right for my husband so he can form a strong bond with our son
  • A choice that is right for Jenson so he learns that both males and females can be carers
  • A choice that is right for our society to normalise dad’s taking a more active role in the family care.

So even though I feel anxious subconsciously and may continue to have these dreams until my return to work, I know I’m doing the right thing.

Feeling

I’m feeling so many things at the moment as my life prepares to shift dramatically again.

I’ve only got 2 weeks left of my maternity leave in Brighton before I go off on an adventure of a lifetime to Asia with my husband and my baby boy. And then after that I’m going to be returning to work full-time and my husband is going to take over the full-time care of my son.

I know these things are right for me – going abroad in search of new experiences as a family is sure to strengthen my family and it fills me with such excitement.

And going back to work and giving my husband time to bond with our son – time I’ve already had – is also so important and right for us as a family.

But I’m still feeling all shook up as the end (or the start of a new beginning) is upon us.

And it would be so easy to push down all the negative feelings with food in this moment, as I have so many times before. The anxiety, the fear, the feeling of wanting to freeze time, the frustration.

But I know that this doesn’t serve me at all.

It just buried the pain deep inside me. A pain I’ll have to feel at one time or another.

So I’m choosing to feel how I feel at 4am as my son plays next to me.

Sadness that our precious time together is coming to an end and that I’ll miss so many ‘firsts’ as I’m back in the office.

Frustration that so much of the next 2 weeks is jam-packed with plans when I just want to be in my baby cocoon and just be with my son.

Anxiety about the unknown – how we’ll cope with a jet-lagged baby (by taking things easy I suppose), whether my husband will cope with the constant haggling we’ll need to do abroad, how our time in Vietnam will work out.

These feelings are sad ones, hard ones, feelings that are due to projecting into the future and thinking ‘what if’ ‘what if’ ‘what if’. So they’re not feelings I can deal with by being proactive.

There are some things I can do –

Reduce the plans in my diary over the next 2 weeks.

Feel the anxiety, frustration and fear – these feelings sit in my stomach and on my chest like a weight.

Acknowledge that this is how I feel. Just getting it out there by sharing what’s going on with you, dear friend, is enough to reduce some of the urge to push down my feelings with food.

So I’ll keep feeling what I’m feeling. It’s the only way of being which doesn’t end with self-destruction.

The start of the start

I went into work yesterday to take part in my team’s away day. Before I went back over to my place of work, I have to admit, I was in a bit of a rotten mood. I realised that this was down to nerves and anxiety that I was experiencing in contemplating my return to the workplace. There were so many things going through my mind.

  • How Gregg, my husband, would find the day with Jenson
  • Whether my team would be accepting of me feeding Jenson during the day (and subsequently whether expressing milk at work is going to be problematic for my workload when I return to work or stifling for my career if I’m unable to attend certain meetings in order to express at the right time).
  • How my team would be with me – would they would prefer my amazing maternity cover to stay and be reluctant to have me back in the office
  • Would I be happy going back or would I realise that only taking 6 months of maternity leave (and my husband taking the remaining 6 months) was a big mistake

It’s not surprising to feel all these things – I’ve been away from the office for 4 months, my world has completely changed and things at the office have also moved on. At the start of the day, going back into work felt like the beginning of the end of my time with Jenson and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

But then we arrived in Worthing, where my work is based, and I felt like I was coming back home to something. I was reminded that the feelings I associate with work are really positive ones – feeling free to forge on ahead with my work without having to jump through loads of bureaucratic hoops, having the respect of those around me, the fun I’ve had whilst getting a load of work done in the office, my colleagues who supported me throughout the lead-up to my maternity leave, the happy anticipation I felt on the last day of work that I would be back in 6 months and able to pick up the work that I know is so vital – both to my organisation and to me.

I thrive at work. It’s a hugely important part of my life.

And so I realised that it wasn’t the beginning of the end, but the beginning of a new start. A start which I will have to navigate differently now that I have a baby and more responsibilities at home, where I will need to establish some boundaries about what I need as a mother returning to work. But a good start where I can continue to forge ahead with my work and my career.

And it feels good. I can’t wait to get back.

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