Category Archives: Husband

Depression Toolkit #17: Unplanned lunch date

My husband is working from home this week while he recovers from a cold. The children are both out. So we went out for lunch. Ok, just for all-you-can-eat pizza (which was very much my choice and not his), but it definitely beats sorting out the guinea pig mites or moping about reaching the end of Frasier series eleven. I was able to face away from all the people and stuff my face with happy food.


Even better, we chatted about and planned outstanding details for various upcoming trips and events which had been causing me some anxiety, so this has brought me huge relief on a few areas. I was also able to do some important admin with him at home and fill him in on today’s doctor’s appointment. The doctor has told me I should not commit to anything that needs my responsibility for the rest of this year. To be fair, I am not surprised actually. Even short meetings with good friends are causing major anxiety for me. I will have to review very carefully what I should and should not get involved with, and to what degree.

I am forever grateful to God for people who know how to cheer me up spontaneously and help me get important things done. Even more so for my husband and his patience and care. There is a time for happy food – and a time to work on getting out of the hole.

A remarkable video – and more so if you have never seen the tags ‘cute’ and ‘sewage’ used together before.

Anxiety weighs down the heart,
    but a kind word cheers it up.

Proverbs 12:25

Depression Toolkit #8: Honesty

honesty-smallJust had a rough morning falling apart inside while trying to explain myself and my situation to a lady at the local NHS wellbeing service, in person this time. Their initial phone assessment left all of us confused and had me labelled in every category from post-natal depression to anxiety. Apparently this won’t do and they can’t help you if they can’t categorise you, so I had to go in and meet them. Now I am just a perfectionist with low self-esteem (i.e. I won’t tell you if you spell something wrong). I don’t think they liked the fact that I don’t fit their boxes that neatly. I am not convinced that they officially ruled the other categories out either.

In any case, because I cannot meet in groups they can’t really offer group therapy, and you need to pass that level to access CBT. I would know if I could meet in groups because I miss my friends, but am terrified of meeting up with anyone more than one at a time. To be fair, I’m not even great one at a time at present, including with the children. This may be in part due to the medication still kicking in at the higher level.

And I have a bit of an idea about CBT from skills my youth leader taught me as a teenager; since then can recognise my thoughts heading into negative territory and have a range of practised strategies for diverting them. Yesterday I caught myself wondering if the guinea pigs were sulking, and before taking that thought further changed the subject in my head and parked the idea for humour value. The self-discipline is a habit which takes years, but mindfulness and self-evaluation are already very much part of my life. I am utterly grateful to him for his time and tenacity in helping me when I was at my previous low ebb. We all need heroes at times to open up to and places where we can be honest and let the truth set us free.

The more I read, the more I think that rather than one cause for my current ill health, there was a drip-drip effect from a large number of directions over a substantial period of time. Everything from the past 18 years got bottled and I ran out of bottle.

I am so grateful for two very useful conversations yesterday. Without them I would have bought a whole lot more comfort food on the way home. The first was an honest chat with dad, who remembers what I was like before and for both of us to recognise how far I have come. The second was with a remarkable friend from church who is like a mentor – she is in the pastoral care team and is wonderful at listening and speaking truth. From her I realised that I have various options going forward, and am hoping to ask for counselling with a Christian group, who can understand better the way I can address my insatiable protestant work ethic mentality which cannot be lived up to. Or at least, how to cut myself some slack.

There is another reason I find it more helpful to chat with Christians about tough times. When I am at my lowest, I still have the capacity to experience joy and hope. It’s like being in a desert and finding shade. My mentor reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit which would explain this. I remember visiting Death Valley with my husband nine years ago. It was 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. Even jumping out of the car to take a photo meant running through achingly hot air and trying not to touch metal in order to get back inside to the air conditioning.


There were no trees in sight, and hardly any vegetation. Depression feels like that, but the deeper I go in my journey with God, the more I am able to find oases of joy, hope and calm. Going to the NHS today did not deliver, and I didn’t feel truly listened to or able to connect, but talking and praying with Christians means my honesty counts for something and is part of the healing. God’s presence is very real to me, and I find myself aching for Him as much as I am aching for healing. When I am through this valley there will be such a celebration of renewal and I know that I am on the journey there. I want to be able to talk over the hurts and come out the other side stronger and wiser.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me

Psalm 23:4


“…the truth will set you free…”

John 8:32

On the guilt edge

I am not too happy about being depressed.

I took advantage of the glorious weather on Friday to attend a huge teddy bears’ picnic in the park (the event was huge; the teddies were generally teddy-sized). Many people who were there were known to me, including Lily’s class and friends from a number of circles. It felt good to be among people and to chat.

And then, wow.

It knocked me out emotionally all of the rest of Friday, Saturday, Sunday and half of Monday.

What was confusing was that I could function generally pretty well in my usual way. I just needed an inordinate amount of time and space to recover. Mostly I have been watching Frasier, season 5. Just the thing for knocking the edge off the blues. Eric Morecambe did the same for me when I was depressed at age 18. Annoyingly, I have already reached the point of finding the humour more irritating than funny. I may need to search online for the funniest episodes: Frasier is the only programme I own the entire output for and I know there is some genius writing in there.

When I was 18 I learnt to offset my self-centred depressiveness by serving and caring for others. By finding new purpose and God’s grace in being able to see him at work beyond my normal sphere. I had three amazing weeks in Bosnia and Croatia that summer and came back ready to move forward. This time around things have to be different; I’m not an ambitious teenager with high hopes and no one else to worry about. Ironically I have more plans to visit the Balkans this summer (Albania), but this time with my husband and children. I have also been learning that with God at the centre of all I do, my husband my next priority and my children after that, I cannot do any more or spread myself any thinner until I am recovered.

I am a Doer, so learning to just Be is a hard lesson for me – I know, I spent a lot of 2012 wondering what that may mean, but not achieving it. This season will be a lesson for me in Being, and in also learning not to feel utterly guilty about all those things I might have Done should I not have had to pause.

Do be patient with me. I care enormously – part of the reason I am where I am. But I cannot always help or serve others beyond the four of us just yet. I need more of God working in my life and healing and restoring me. I am determined to recover and I don’t know how long the journey will be. I will not be doing this in my own strength however; I need to get closer to God and listen to what is on his heart. And I might need some help along the way tuning in to what he’s saying on some days.

Until then, I don’t know what to do with these tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

Not so many words

Months pass me by in a muddle of motherhood. I may be introverted, but I never intend to ignore any of my interests and constantly consider that perhaps I care too much. Or alliterate too literally.

Either way I overthink and undersay.

I have a feeling our family has a maximum quota of words as a unit, and with Lily becoming ever more literate and fluent and Joseph finally buying into this English speaking thing my own words are dripping out of the equation. Having a forgettory helps too. Thankfully at least my husband generally manages without using too many words. That is, unless you get him on a subject he needs to be excited about. And when I get on a topic I care about I use up way too many of my day’s words quickly and then have to retreat and be away from everything and from everyone for as long as I can.

This leads to frequent recharging in my daily and weekly routine. In order to cope with teatime with the children most days I have to have half an hour to myself before their bath and bedtime. In order to cope with running a noisy and busy toddler group once a week I have to set time aside for myself the day before, the afternoon after and if possible as much of the following day as well. To cope with any social activity I have to see it coming, plan around it and pace all other social activity that week. It has only become apparent to me fairly recently that I may actually also be suffering from depression.

But I don’t want to suffer, so I am resisting it the best I can.

Some days I will not have many words.

Some days I will need extra recharging. Unlike Katharine Welby I have found the church to be remarkably accommodating when I have needed space, and in allowing me to continue to run toddlers and have purpose in that.

Some days I want to explain it all. But today I can’t.

Some days I just need to find people like me. Or a little like me. Because then, despite the depression and the activity to hide it and the words outside, I need to find the words inside and others who get it can say it even when I cannot.



Received wisdom

You know that feeling when that person you most hoped would give you something really, really wonderful as a gift turns around and gives you…

…food from the tree in the middle of the garden,


…frankincense (duty-free),


…festive socks that play jingle bells?

And all you can do is be polite and just bite it, because you are either (a) happy not to question someone else’s mistake, or (b) under two years old, or (c) a dog?

So you take it and eat it. And everyone else tries to stop you and the whole thing gets a little messy, especially as It Wasn’t Really Meant For You In The First Place. We all know there are gifts you should not just take and eat. And there are others that are designed to make up for that. Take and Eat Jesus says at the last supper. Quite right. Take. Eat. Receive. Heal. Restore.

Which means that you can’t assume it is OK just to refuse gifts. Especially in the season of accepting God’s most precious gift to mankind. Refusing gifts is actually very rude. A relative once told us not to send presents to them at all, and I felt hurt that it was not an option. Gift-giving all around the world, is a sign of respect, honour and strengthening relationship. I imagine William, Kate and the baby will be inundated with gifts appropriate, inappropriate and almost certainly superfluous for the coming year or more and must weather it all with good grace and British cheer. And hopefully donate every excess item to baby clothing exchanges up and down the country (*ahem* Rainbow Toddlers *ahem*).

[I personally am hoping it is twins born at precisely the same moment by caesarian section, called William Alfred Leo Edward Spencer, Alfie for short and Diana Isabella Anne Naomi Alexandra, Bella for short.]


But I digress.

Gifts, and the unfortunate receiving and eating thereof. My husband and I have asked our immediate family to consider not buying the two of us physical presents which need to be found a home, used, eaten or carefully and quietly passed to a more appropriate recipient. We have more than we need and no desires for Things at this point in time. In fact, we are desperately trying to declutter and simplify the stuff that has accumulated in our lives. The children (5 and 2) only really warrant a tiny actual present, so that they have something to unwrap and to help them realise that Christmas is not about Bigger and Better and stuffstuffstuff. We value time together and happy memories, kind words, hugs and humour. Thoughtful gifts are always genuinely appreciated, but gifts for gifts’ sake are uncomfortable and unnecessary. Less is more when it comes to Christmas presents these days for us. Last year we tried not get each other a gift at all (I was in Canada: the only thing I opened there from home was a DVD from my husband that he thought I wanted…) Instead we decorated our bedroom from the January sales and it was a far better decision.

Gifts, and that awkward zero-sum moment. You don’t want others to think you have forgotten them or spent less on them than they did, or that they might feel bad for spending less than you did, or that the number of items was not equal across the family. Was it OK to settle for something that can only be classed as ‘gift’ when what might have been far more suited was a nice cuppa and a chat?

Gifts, and the other love languages, and knowing that to love everyone means to love in diverse ways, and sometimes that means receiving too. Or saying the words that need to be heard. Or giving a hug that is so, so needed. Or spending time washing up, together. Or just being, without complaining, and without thinking what you might otherwise have been doing.

Gifts, and the complications of thank you letters, at least in my own family. Because we all want to love in the way we feel the others ought to receive our love best.

Receiving is so, so hard.

I am not going to complain if you give me a gift.

I am not going to complain if you give me a gift I really didn’t want, couldn’t eat, couldn’t use or don’t fit.

I am even going to try very hard not to be bitter, flippant or confused should that happen.


A King is Born! And what do they give him?


Seriously, Frankincense?


Presence of Mind

I had a big long blog entry prepared for the beginning of Advent, but instead, I suggest you watch this:



More to follow on how we intend to forego Presents (at least for my husband and myself) this year, in favour of Presence. And if you are interested in a digital Advent Calendar with a thought for each day, take a look here, which is the original site for the video.


‘Just give me a moment’ is a phrase you may often hear me saying at home to the children/husband/guinea pigs. That is, if you are an obsessed stalker with remarkably good technology and no one more interesting to check on.

‘I don’t think they’ve noticed, Bob’

What is a moment? A moment is all it takes me to do any one of the jobs I may feel the need to do around the home. Preferably two in fact. Time in my eyes runs differently from time as I perceive others to perceive it. You need to change into school clothes? Great. I will help you with that, while also putting away breakfast, cleaning three sets of teeth, ensuring our family additions have adequate vitamin C to stave off death for the coming 6 hours and checking that the world is still functioning without my close attention by reading facebook updates.

I am getting rather good at multi-tasking now that I am a proper mum of a ‘schooler’. Tomorrow is Lily’s first full day at school. She then has one more half day on Monday before the 2470 or so remaining school days kick in. Lovely. She has taken to school well, and already pointed out the square-based pyramids on the way home which I had not noticed. On the road. At the crossing. How does she know what a square-based pyramid is, when she has done fewer than 16 hours at school? I am genuinely impressed. (Unless I find someone has been secretly tutoring her to make me laugh. I have my suspicions. And then there is always my forgettery.)

Lily’s latest obsession is ‘Old Things’ as in ‘when was this built mummy?’ ‘was this music when you were little mummy?’ and ‘I like oldendays things and nowendays things too’. She is good at telling it like it is. ‘I want to move house because I don’t like living in an oldenhouse mummy’. Yesterday, after telling her I loved her sooo much, I got the honest response, ‘I love you too mummy, when you are happy’.


When I am happy.

Presumably not when I am busy, (can’t spare a moment, (just want to get this finished,) distracted,) normal mummy. Oh dear.

I could learn to be happier in my tasks. Is this what she means?

Honestly though, I have to admit this is something of a Martha moment for me. A little revelation. Lily is busy being herself, making me smile, growing and learning. I am busy being busy, and not attending to those fleeting and beautiful moments enough to cherish her and be happy with her. I am constantly needing a moment. And then we looked at Martha and Mary in our home group this morning. Yep. Guilt with a serving of guilt. All prepared lovingly by me, without much help.

Yes. That delicate balance of parenting and being. Of not attempting to fit in extra tasks when I should be revelling in the moment. Of choosing what is better. Of stopping trying to be a Human Doing. Of actually slowing down sometimes.

Not here.

This may be a lesson I really need to absorb right now. Mathematically, I am confident in the proportion of time we have already spent with each of our children living at home before they get packed off to University and/or Real Life as an Adult. I can tackle being a mum mostly without emotion: just getting on with it all. The merry backlog of jobs to do in the home will not unhide itself like a one-child den made out of a bath-towel.

Are all my moments already taken? Is time so profoundly unimportant to me?

I guess it depends on what matters. It matters that Lily qualifies her love and appears to not be impressed by her distracted mummy. That what she craves (her love language, in fact), is Time. That I am spending her moments on anything but her. It is also how she perceives this, importantly. So now we begin the phase of carefully planned Quality Time. Not as a reward, or as something jammed in amongst all the other moments in my day, but because I love her when she is having a good moment, a funny moment, a thoughtful moment or even a really bad dream moment. And I am grateful that I have this time, utterly grateful for the gifts of Lily and of Joe, and grateful that you cannot count the moments. You can just make sure the moments actually count.

Joining the Dotties

Today was a training day. Daddy was away training at a very clever IT company which manages to electronically lock guests into the lobby when they attempt to leave the building. Aggressive head-hunting techniques? And Lily, Joe and I took a train. By ourselves. Without a pram.

This is my survival stream of dots. I reasoned all I had to do was join them up. I had not reasoned I would be doing so much bribery.

Get up late. Take time doing everything. Pro-pre-post-and-pie-crastinate. Allow children autonomy over eating breakfast to make spurious scientific tests on how long it would really take on a school day if they had their way. Allow self not to worry about the shocking findings (Lily had double usual breakfast, Joe ate his 2 hours late).

Late in the morning, having somehow done all the usual Wednesday mummy housework – but not necessarily in the right order – realise there may be some mileage in a trip out. Pack absolute minimum – bribe son to take his own spare nappies and wipes in his new backpack, also carry some cash and a shopping bag. Drive to station. Importantly, do not induce worry by checking any real train times.

Walk children to station from distant car park, bribing them with stories of Real Trains and Track to encourage continued stationward movement. Discourage walking on the kerb with cautionary stories of Real Strawberry Jam. Discourage sanding of hands/walls with purity laws and family ethics. Cross the road to at least provide parental variety in cautions.

Use skills acquired mostly during University years in finding, reading and assessing departures board, drawing heavily on skills acquired mostly during the mummy years in cutting losses realistically to choose a suitable place to head to (departing within the quarter hour). Buy ticket by bribing children to look out of the window at passing trains.

Bribe children away from window with Real Ticket and their own chance to travel. Keep bribing until successful.

Bribe older child to stay within reach by trying to find the correct platform by herself as a treasure hunt. Keep hold of younger child and watch for all locomotion within 2-year-old male peripheral vision to keep him, as it were, on track. Allow him to determine the excitement levels at discovering, at the correct platform, a train we are actually going to get on.

Bribe children to sit at a table away from other tables with children (who have a higher child:grandparent ratio in the main, but a lower child:comic ratio). Allow son to stand on chair iff there is no one with a uniform on in the carriage and he has taken boots off first. Distract daughter from same behaviour by plugging her into something needing reading on arrival in her seat. Distract son from daughter’s comic by ensuring he has the better one. She is locked immediately into reading stupor and doesn’t need any form of distracting for duration of journey. Allow self not to worry about this. There is a time for amusing children and a time for them to amuse themselves.

I could go on. Bribing from Ipswich to Woodbridge, then around the town – for a child-friendly cafe, for eating food (surprise tank engine hidden in bag helped here), for stopping throwing feathers upwind into the fountain (valuable lessons for me on optimism). Bribery to find new clothes at good prices, to take turns holding the pink plastic bag I didn’t need or want (because I refused a second one), to look in book shops, to get out of book shops, to return to the station at the time intended plus generous slack (necessary, owing to Woodbridge station’s ridiculous bridge set-up and proximity of ice-creams). Bribing to sit still, to notice the outdoors, to move along, to wait in the waiting room for all the other (many) passengers from Woodbridge to exit at Ipswich so that the opportunity to see just a few more trains might not be missed, and then the walk back to the car.

Which was everything I thought it would be.


Slightly more out-of-pocket than I had hoped, but overall a far more relaxed and successful trip than I could have imagined. Perhaps a slow morning helped. Perhaps doing one dot at a time and not needing to prove anything to myself or anyone else. Perhaps the weather turning out better than we’d imagined. But I was sufficiently relaxed after all that to allow them to help make dinner too. Which they ate. Mostly.

And now I just have to find a suitable way to bribe Lily to fall asleep at any point before 10pm. I should have worn her out more in the morning I fear. Or stopped bribing and just switched the light off, as I have been warning for some months. Will school exhaust her, or will I learn the hard way? I expect it is time I stopped taking the path of least resistance, however clever that may seem at times, and do the right thing. Otherwise it will be a lot more late nights and late mornings.


Those precious evenings

It is a dark and stormy rainy night. I can breathe a sigh of clichéd relief. The dropping temperature and lack of ultra-violet soaking through the curtains and washing the children with evening energy means that finally both have stopped bothering me and, for the rest of my small evening, there is time to myself. At least until the husband returns [husband returns mid-sentence]. So.

There was a time when I did not realise how precious evenings were. I took them for granted. I assumed that when you were a grown-up and were actually allowed to stay up, that you would want to. Perhaps we grown-ups have it all wrong. Perhaps evening is where children belong. Perhaps our model of society is madly off-centre. But if my children had their way, their dad would be called ‘Big’ (a Josephism) and I would be ‘Emily’ (thanks to Lily, who has realised she may not call me Lucy). They would own any number of animals, eat at fast-food outlets every day and choose their own clothes. I err – they already choose their own clothes. This means I get off the hook for outfit combinations which could not proudly be displayed in any decade in British history, while refusing to buy new clothes to match existing items just because they keep growing. Thankfully, as pre-schoolers, they are yet to feel the shame of mismatch and What Others Think of What You Wear.

But all will change very soon.

In only 49 days, Lily will Actually Start School. And not a day too soon – she’s been asking to go since 2010. I have it on record. This is a very exciting venture in many respects. She has met her teacher, and seen her classroom. She can’t wait to meet her again. She knows a few of the children in her class from nursery, and is excited about another neighbour who will also be joining them in the same class. She is planning on buying her first school shoes. She is worried about catching ‘nips’ from other children, but probably only the boys, as ‘girls don’t get nips mummy’. Will she talk of her parents, the eponymous Big and Emily, to an assembled group sat around her in the playground in the authoritative tones she has so carefully been working on? Will she actually realise that the combination of clothes she can choose from each morning can only match, being taken from a subtle palette of navy, grey, white and light blue? Will she admit defeat in her quest to chart every type of food in every possible eating place and its current status [pasta: Grandma’s house: allowed if normal, bananas: home: not allowed until 5th birthday, milk: nursery: not allowed if it has full-fat ‘bits in’]? Will she wear herself out before she wears us out each so-called evening and thus be ready to get out of bed every morning in time to skip to lessons?

I was given some good advice this week on settling children who won’t settle by my physio. I have a physiotherapist as I tore some ligaments in my lower back two weeks ago and have had to rethink my posture and lifting processes and learn lots of new words concerning anatomy. I have genuinely discovered and started to use some muscles that were apparently part of me all this time, in order to prevent having to spend the best part of another fortnight horizontally challenged any time in the future. Lying on your back in bed is quite an eye-opener, even at night-time. I have new appreciation for those who have even less choice over this, and when I am somewhat fitter, intend to do more for the people I know who are bed-bound. But back to the physio’s advice. I am giving this to you free, so take note. Apparently the trick is to film the child in the morning after a bad evening, and show it to them to make the point, when you are trying to settle them. I would do this soon, but I fear finding the camera will involve too much bending, and there is never enough time in the evenings to have a proper conversation with the husband about Improving Our Parenting and delegating bending jobs. The poor man has had so much delegated to him this month. And in any case, the practice of catching a child doing something we don’t like must be so carefully matched with finding and praising them doing what we do like, to keep respect and get a result. But once I do find the camera, and charge it, and sort out a Plan with Lily’s dad, perhaps we will film her in the mornings and show her how crucial it is to get to sleep at a sensible time.

But of course, by the time we do that, I expect she’ll have started school and already be in the new routine.

Or the days will shorten.

Or our expectations to have productive evenings with a young family at home will start re-aligning to something resembling common sense, and we will laugh at ourselves, have an early night and let the kids put themselves to bed.

Do you know what this is?


I hope so, as its presence will enhance your life immeasurably. Say, by as much as 5%, depending on how easily you are pleased.

Sadly I cannot prove this.

I own a number of them. Every member of the family has an idea of what they are for.

See if you can identify the correct person with the correct solution. There are four people (the husband, the daughter, the son and myself). There are four possible meanings to this item.

As you may or may not know, the inner part comes free and can be readily taken around kitchen room it is found in, for imaginative new identities:

If you do not include secret-crisp-eating-so-children-do-not-hear in your personal meaning to these plastic items, I respect you, and if you managed to assign society’s stereotypes to the options, you are to be applauded in your correct guesses. I am not actually a massive fan of crisps, but have been trying to find items to eat at lunchtime that are incredibly quick (such that a morning activity out of the house can be combined with getting Lily to pre-school for 12:30) and also create little washing up. I know my body is telling me to eat more healthily, so I am trialling a pack from Graze this week, and giving up all hope with it of not being utterly middle-class. Laugh at me if you like. But if, like me, you find the need to snack all day, perhaps a free box may be something to kick-start a healthier habit.

Mmmm. I’m looking forward to it already. Might have to hide it in a cupboard with a soft-closer so no one else knows.