I look happy. but I’m really not.

riley.JPG

This is me, holding my baby boy, about five months old here, on the day of his Baptism. My hair is done (sort of…), I’ve whacked on some jewellery, a splash of make-up and, out of picture I am even wearing high heels.

I look like a woman oozing pride, love and maternal bliss. I look like a woman who has got the mothing-shiz GOING. ON.

What this picture doesn’t show is the anxiety that is belting through my veins like electricity. That the cuddles my family want to have with my son, the tickles they plant on his belly just to hear him chuckle, their sweet and innocent attempts at getting him to babble their name, or in the very least answer what does the puppy dog say? is chipping away at my “I’ve got this together” appearance, like a jack hammer.

My smile is so forced, that the muscles in my face are shaking. Shaking like the rest of my body, as I try to contain the true emotions that are zapping, and have been for the five months leading up to this photo, through every fibre of my being. I feel resentful, fragile, scared, alone, angry, confused, envious, explosive, useless, guilty and broken.

Some days, I want to hide in a cave with my son; block out the world and only emerge when I know what the hell I am doing. I want the doorbell to stop ringing. I want visitors to stop coming.

Other days, I want the world around me. I want them to love and admire my boy. I want to hear their advice. I want to brag about the milestones he is reaching.

Most days, I genuinely want my husband to quit his job. I want him to stay at home and take care of us, because I feel so fragile and, to be honest, I don’t trust myself and the intensity of the emotions that possess me.

I suspected it, but didn’t know it, that I was suffering from Post Natal Depression.

My tale of PND is fairly bland – and that’s the point. It doesn’t take much. In short, somewhere between my son not feeding well when he was born and then crying for up to nine hours at night, I started weaving the word “should” into every thought, or allowing the “shoulds” from well-meaning family, friends and health professionals sink into my consciousness like boulders.

He should be sleeping.

He should be drinking quicker.

He should not be hungry.

He should have teeth by now.

He should be sleeping for longer.

He should have a dummy.

He should be able to get to sleep on his own.

He should be having more than just catnaps.

He should self-settle.

He should fall asleep in the pram.

You should sleep when he sleeps.

You should be able to get out for a few hours.

You should put him on the bottle.

You should let him cry.

You should not rock him to sleep.

You should love being a mother.

My son was over two years old when I finally got some help. And it was a relief. The diagnosis alone lifted the weight of guilt, worry and concern that I was just bad at being a mother. My psychologist was incredibly helpful, supportive and empathetic.

Eventually only one “should” remained in my mind:

I should have sought help sooner.

This past week has been Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Awareness Week – a time dedicated to raising the profile of condition that affects around 100,000 Australian families per year.

My business was born as a result of wanting to help women, whether they are suffering from PND or not, have a physical, social and emotional outlet. Because parenting is without doubt the hardest job in the world. And it’s okay to put your hand up and say I am not oozing with love, pride and maternal bliss and I do not always have the mothering shiz going on.

If you think you could use some help, or you’re concerned about how one of your family members or friends is coping with the rocky road that is parenting, check the PANDA website for some great resources, checklists and support numbers.

Ok women, stop it.

There’s a woman sitting near you in a restaurant, on a train, in a school meeting, at your kids’ sport, on a nearby desk at work, or walking past you in the street, feeling lousy about herself.

The "business" of the business.

2 years ago today I started this “business”. Actually, let’s start that again.

2 years ago today I started this business. I have a tendency to put my business in inverted commas, because it’s small. It’s just me. It’s not 9-5. It has no staff. It doesn’t have a huge turnover (in fact, if I am honest, I don’t even know what, or if I am “turning over”. Note to self, make appointment with accountant tomorrow). It doesn’t have a huge social media following, my website is in desperate need of an overhaul and my assets include a bunch of good quality weight plates and medicine balls and a lot of odds and ends that I’ve picked up at the Aldi fitness sales.

But, I keep record of income and expenses, I make a little bit of pocket money (I’m serious. It’s pocket money), I pay my bills, I decide what to promote, when to promote and who to promote to. I invest in networking events and educational courses that I think are going to help me and/or my clients.  I don’t think I have a business plan but I seem to have a good grasp on what I want to happen with the business and how I am going to go about that (big reveal: keep it ticking along). And despite never having had a day-long round table conference about it, I seem to have a pretty rock-solid elevator pitch.

So, I guess as small fry as it is, it is a business. No inverted commas needed.

Anyway, now I’ve justified it out loud; today my business is 2.

Exactly this time two years ago (8:35am), I was in my best active wear, loading my shiny fitness equipment and my new portable stereo into my car, I had a class plan that had been put together weeks before and I was NERRR-VUS. Excited nervous (which, according to my insightful son, who was 8 years old at the time, are brown nerves. Very different to blue nerves, which apparently are “sad nerves” and purple nerves which are “sorry-nerves”.)

I drove me and my brown nerves to the Ballarat Futsal Centre, which after a bit of shopping around best suited my needs as a long-term hiree for my group fitness classes.

And I waited. In the big cold stadium for people to arrive. I waited a little longer in the big cold stadium for the people to arrive. And I waited a little longer. And gosh darn it. People arrived!

And they’ve kept arriving for 2 years. I’ve had quite a few people stick with me since day one (thank you thank you thank you). I’ve had quite a few people turn up once or twice and then never again (No judgement. I’m absolutely, entirely comfortable with not being everything to everyone).  And I have had new people arrive in the last month or two to check out if it is right for them (welcome).

I love it. I never (ok, almost, pretty-much never) loathe going to work. I love mapping out different ways for people to move. I love seeing people laugh (Renee, never stop being uncoordinated, please, and never-ever stop being able to laugh at yourself because of it), and chat while they workout. I love people groaning about being tired, but still keeping on keeping on anyway. I love seeing kids climb over their mums when they are trying to hold a plank. I love seeing mums grateful when their child needs help going to the toilet right when we’re about to start burpees (I see what you did there 😉 ). I love that when someone has an injury or a niggle, they still show up and do what they can. I love that when I try to incite competition into the sessions, it becomes clear that I’ve got such a nice bunch of ladies that no-one is out to beat no-one (and in fact if someone has picked the short straw too many times, others will come to her aid and swap. You guys.) I love that participants will often spend as much time talking after class, as the class itself.

All the feels, y’all. ALL. THE. FEELS.

The fitness industry is synonymous with “transformations”. And I have seen transformations.

I have seen women transform from dazed, confused, frustrated mothers, with no solid outlet for self-preservation to dazed, confused, less-frustrated mothers, who have had a work out, feel better about life and stand a little taller.

I have seen others transform from meek fitness class participants or personal training clients not really sure of their strengths and abilities, to people who walk out confidently knowing that they can do “stuff” that makes them feel healthier.

I have seen people with a vague interest in getting fit (“I probably should do something”) to making exercise a priority in their day to day life.

I have seen myself transform from a passionate health and fitness professional, not really sure where she sits in the fitnessy-world, to a passionate health and fitness professional who has a firm foot-hold on what health and fitness means to her and what she wants to pass onto clients.

I have seen this business transform from a “I’ll give it a go and see how it pans out”, to a brand that people recognise and ask about. I’ve seen, been part of; gosh darn it I’ve transformed this “business” to a business.

I’m looking forward to the coming years with In Your Element, indeed seeing what pans out, seeing if and how my elevator pitch changes, seeing new faces come in, seeing the kids that join their mums grow up, seeing more of the sort of transformations I like to see and, as a side note, seeing if I have made a turn over.

 

Hungry and hormanal. Get out of my way.

Once upon a time I thought that my periods didn't really affect what I ate. I cruised though my cycle (as much as one can "cruise" through the most inconvenient and uncomfortable 3-7 days of EVERY MONTH) eating pretty much the same as what I would usually eat. I didn't really subscribe to the belief that periods equalled cravings. Oh, what I ate by the way, was a diet high in sugar, saturated fat, carbs and weekend alcohol binges. No wonder I didn't crave a darn thing: I was already well in comfort-food credit.

These-a-days, with a late thirties head on my shoulders and a late thirties uterus in my abdomen, it's a different ball game.  Processed foods in my diet are limited, vegetables are unlimited, my main source of caffeine is from green tea and my water intake gets 5 gold stars.

That's all well and good for 24 out of every 28 days.

The other four days, I am seeking storming through the kitchen like a possessed woman searching for something rich, warm, comforting and generally chocolate-y (maybe I just need to have Dwayne Johnson on speed dial?).

I know it isn't just coincidence, because the days that I feel a little outta control with my eating is the same days every single cycle.  I can almost tell what is going on with my baby maker by what I am looking for in the pantry.

I wanted to get some confirmation that this indeed is a thing and not some female mind trickery. And if it is due to those bloody hormones whipping around our bodies like crazed flies at a BBQ, gain some pointers on how to tame them a little. So, I asked local naturopath Annabel Mason from Blossom Wellbeing for her take on it. This is what Annabel had to tell me.

"What you're eating throughout the entire month will potentially influence how you feel during the different phases of your cycle.

Many women experience food cravings during the different phases of their cycle, most commonly around ovulation and during the luteal (premenstrual phase) of their cycle. Cravings for sugar, chocolate or other carbohydrate rich foods are common at these times due to the declining oestrogen levels. Your blood sugar levels are more sensitive to swings at these times too.

Making sure that you include plenty of high quality protein foods, along with healthy fats (avocado is great for hormone balance. Raw, unsalted nuts and seeds are also helpful). Naturally sweet vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots or squash can provide natural sweetness (roasting vegetables also brings out their natural sweetness).

A few squares of high quality dark chocolate will provide some magnesium and chromium which also support blood sugar balance.

It is normal to experience lower energy at this time, so also check in with yourself as to whether you are wanting to eat out of true hunger or fatigue. As your hormones drop premenstrually, you may feel a little more emotionally sensitive, so also be mindful of not using food to manage this. Choose healthy, nourishing comfort foods like soups or root vegetable based stews and consider other ways non-food ways which provide you with a sense of comfort.

All throughout your cycle, aim to be minimising processed sugar and processed foods and include plenty of fibre rich wholefoods, greens (especially bitter greens such as rocket lettuce) and vegetables (especially the brassica family vegetables) will aid hormonal balance all through your cycle."

Ok, so phew. I'm not just using my cycle as an excuse. It really is a marvellous (sonnofabish) combination of hormones, blood sugar and fatigue.        

At the helm of it all is Oestrogen (who really, we should all know is a little cray-cray. Sometimes she starts with an O - which make zero sense - and sometimes she starts with an E - more sense).

Despite challenging internal circumstances, it isn’t really the ideal time to throw all the good eating habits down the drain. Plant foods can come to our rescue maybe a little more than a block of chocolate. Or Dwayne Johnson.

(PS: I recently used this recipe from my good friend Bianca at Wholefood Simply. It doesn't entirely fit into Annabel's recommendations, but it was a pretty good compromise. And the smallest amount put O-E-strogen back in her box for a while).

Pausing life for just for 20 mins. Then I'm good to go.

The crew and I were in countdown mode all weekend. This little family of four has been one man down for 2 weeks and we couldn’t wait to welcome hub-dad back into the country. There have been times over this last fortnight when dinners have been a gourmet collection of weetbix, raisin toast and rice crackers. There have been times over this last fortnight when socks have had to be pulled out of the dirty washing pile and squished bits of cupcake have had to be picked off them before being worn to school. There have been times over this past fortnight when a wee-puddle, left by the side of the toilet bowl from a half asleep son has had to wait 7 hours before being mopped up. There have been times over the last fortnight when we have screamed [me], sworn [me] and cried [also me].

Solo-parenting, is parenting, amplified.

I am not unique in the going-solo sense. Mothers are doing this ALL. THE. TIME. At any given moment I could list half a dozen women that I know, who are juggling the demands of a young family while their husbands are away for work. And that doesn’t even count the single mothers, who just roll with these punches day in and day out (and probably, rightfully so, rolled their eyes and tuned out of my pity post by the second paragraph).

The biggest challenge of parenting, and more so solo-parenting, is the seemingly impossible art of living in the present. This allusive skill teaches us to appreciate what is in front of us, let go of the past and allow the future to fall into place. That’s all well and good and daisy-chains, until my son needs to get to soccer practice and my daughter needs to be at basketball, at opposite ends of the town, at the same time. Living in the present is all beer and skittles until the dog needs a walk, the kids need dinner, the washing needs to be pulled in and I have three hours’ worth of work to get through before the inevitable tiredness of the day threatens to sink its teeth into all of our emotional states.

The thing is, living in the present is a beautiful notion and an undisputable benefit to wellbeing, until life happens. It seems almost inconceivable to stop and smell the roses when you can’t stop watching the clock, checking the diary and trying desperately to somehow get ahead of the conveyor belt of the family schedule.

But if there is anything that I have learnt about myself over the last 14 days, it’s that regardless of how hard it seems, I need to find the pause button for this conveyor belt; I need to schedule in regular maintenance – whether I’m solo parenting or not.

There’s a Zen proverb that says “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the impending to-do list after my husband’s departure, I would have written these words on a post-it-note in every room of the house.

At some stage in every fast-paced block of 24 hours, I need to find at least twenty minutes of nothingness; of calm, present, non-judemental thoughts only. Because there have been times in the last fortnight that I have felt the harsh brunt of living in every moment except the current one. I felt anxious. I felt stressed. I felt irritable. I felt erratic. I felt don’t-even-look-at-me emotional. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I felt completely overwhelmed, exhausted and broken. All signs, I imagine, of present-living deficit.

With hub-dad almost touching down back on Aussie soil (ed note, I just got a text. HE HAS LANDED! WOOT!), I am looking back over these last two weeks and questioning how I behaved as a parent, how I managed my emotions and dealt with the stress and I am wondering “why was that so damn hard?” It comes back to my complete lack of presence; my inability to clear my mind of who needs to be where and what needs to be done, for just 20 minutes of each day.

Having never been great at meditation, I’m pleased to read recent insights about the practice being less sitting on a cushion repeating “om” and more just slowing down and basking your senses in your current surroundings. Meditation can be done walking or running or even, for the win, while watching a live show. Anything that allows you to shut your diary, switch off your phone, close off your mind to the things that “need” to be done and just “be” present, is going to pay back with interest – emotionally, mentally and physically.

So solo-mums, single-mums, mums with loads of support, mums with no-support, mums in general, parents in general, it is hard, so damn hard to stop thinking about what everyone is doing, where everyone needs to be, what everyone needs to eat, who needs to have what packed and what needs to be done next. But from someone who’s tiptoed on the knifes edge of spending too much time in the next moment, find the time to stop; to look, to listen, to breath. Forget the to-dos, forget the not dones and just switch off. 20 minutes in 24 hours.

Then mop up the wee.

 

Darling daughter, tell me again you don't want to be fat

Dear 7-year-old-daughter, you are full of deliciousness. You have a kind heart. You have energy in spades. You have sporting #skillz gurfriend. You have a sense of humour. You have a healthy dose of I’m-prepared-to-challenge-the-boundaries attitude. You have the most exquisite blue eyes. You have a giggle that I want to bottle up and then release into the world to make everyone smile. You have a sense of self beyond your years. Macy, put simply, I think the sun shines out of your gorgeous little bottom.

A few weeks ago my darling girl, out of the blue, you lifted your top, sucked in your tummy and said “Mum look how skinny I am!” You correctly interpreted my look of confusion panic heartbreak and quickly clarified “What?! I don’t want to be fat!”

Oh Macy, my magical little daughter, let me tell you want you don’t want to be.

My darling girl, you don’t want to be cruel and hurtful. You don’t want to be the arrogant person that people can’t speak fondly of. You want to be kind and well respected. You want people to feel they can depend on you, trust you and enjoy being in your company.

My gorgeous daughter, you don’t want to be a victim of domestic abuse. You don’t want someone to overpower you physically, emotionally or verbally until your spirit is exhausted. You want to be vigilant against people who are hurting you or causing you harm. You want to have the confidence, self-respect and strength of character to be able to walk away and create for yourself a life of love, health, happiness and positive growth.

Macy, you don’t want to be illiterate. You don’t want to hold a book or a pen in your hand and not understand what a gift it is. You don’t want to fear words. You want to be able to sit in an arm chair and escape to untouched destinations that are only accessible through literature. Books, newspapers, magazines and articles will forever provide you with the opportunity to explore people, places, circumstances and events. And writing, oh my girl, writing, you want to be able to write. You want an ability to express yourself in a way that you may not be able to verbally. Writing will give you a superpower like no other – you can fill out forms for a passport to travel the world, a bank account to save for anything you wish or a student loan to open the door to a lifetime of education and discovery. Creatively, writing will allow you to release the amazing thoughts that whizz through your beautiful mind. Being able to write gives you the opportunity, if you want it, to impact someone so much that you change the way they think, speak or react.

Macy, my magnificent creation, you don’t want to be void of empathy. You don’t want to lack the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. You don’t want to be unfeeling to the emotions that they might experience. You want to be able to understand and appreciate people in all of their various forms – their pain, their victories, their circumstances, their fears, their worries, their views, their heartache, their joy.

Macy, you don’t want to be afraid; don’t be afraid of the unknown, to fall and get back up, to fail and try again. Whatever you dream, my darling you can become. Whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, don’t be afraid of what might happen - go seek the adventure my girl, in all its glorious mistaking making forms!

My stunning little lady, there are many things in this world that you do not want to be. Ignore whatever advertisement, whatever movie, whatever person, whatever picture made you think that you do not want to be fat and put your undeniable energy to where it counts; be a nice person, a good person, an adventurous person, a confident person, a person with heart.

That is what you want to be.

(Oh, you also don’t want to be afraid of birds. I am afraid of birds and it’s stupid and frustrating and debilitating in Spring).

 

A good way to see people, except robbers

A couple of years ago, after a bit of time under some dark greyish clouds, I visited a psychologist. I imagine (based on movies and sitcoms, because: real life) that my appointments were pretty cookie cutter discussions – mother issues, father issues, in-law issues, daughter issues, son issues, friend issues, ex-friend issues and self-issues. That’s pretty much where the buck stopped. I was feeling pretty lousy about myself and I needed to not feel lousy about myself. As an outcome of one of my appointments, I vowed to not describe people, either in my mind or in discussion with others, based on their physical attributes (I had a clever psychologist who made me come up with my own strategies. Very well played). I wasn’t “allowed” to describe the other mum at school as “the one who always looks so stylish”, or the checkout operator at the local supermarket as the “larger woman” or the sports umpire who “sort of walks funny.”  Instead, I had use things like “that mum who is really social and chats to everyone,” or “that checkout operator who is really efficient,” or “that woman who is always so enthusiastic.”

 

‘Twas challenging. Damn challenging.

Our automatic response is to go for the physical description every time, it’s not necessarily derogatory, it’s just the easiest way to differentiate one person from another.  (Thankfully I didn’t witness a crime during that period. Can you imagine me ringing crime stoppers: “The offender was mean, but I got the impression he was more sad than mean.  He was very skilful with a flick knife and his pronunciation of profanities was on point”).

Even though the challenge was huge, so too was the impact on my sorry-self.

Suddenly, unintentionally and subconsciously, I started see the non-physical characteristics in little old me.

BOOM! BOOM!  and BOOM!

My confidence went up. I stopped moping about the way my stomach rolls when I sit. I stopped wishing I would “catch” a wee-little dose of anorexia. I stopped seeing the bits of me that I hated and started considering the possibility that people saw more to me than the size of my arse.

It was a real revelation and (sadly) I got to ditch my psychologist appointments pretty quick (I really liked her).

Here’s the thing: If we look at people physically, very few people fit the mould of “beautiful”. But if we look at people characteristically, very few people fit the mould of ugly.

It’s a pretty good practice, except maybe in the case of a bank robbery, to bypass the lazy old habit of describing people physically and instead try to describe them by their nature, their skills, their aura or their vibe. Just not their appearance.

And it’s darn healthy to do the same for yourself too.

Is fat a dirty word?

I have embraced. Locally, I promoted and hosted Taryn Brumfitt’s documentary last year. I wholeheartedly support the #bodyimagemovement. On the socials I like, comment, support, applaud, share and encourage women of all sorts that are joining the body positive chanting. This embrace-thy-body mindset is undoubtedly overdue. Women (in particular) are constantly hammering their confidence into the ground one blow at a time; often to a point where their self-hate can make leaving the house feel like a confronting task.

It absolutely should not be like that.

But despite all of the roar-roar-roaring and hashtagging in the right direction, I, ah, um, well…

I feel fat.

I feel fat and I am on a mission (a gentle mission) to lose some weight.

Is that me un-embracing? Have I just said a dirty word? Will I be cast out from this beautiful, jelly-belly loving tribe?

This is the first time that I’ve felt not-so-happy with my bod since the #bodyimagemovement turned from a ripple in the ocean to a brilliant tsunami. Prior to that, it was pretty much a daily (wait, maybe hourly?) occurrence. The difference now, is that me and my extra k.gees are totes calm about it all. I can look back over the year and see that some injuries sidelined me from a lot of my favourite physical activities. I can see that along with embracing my child-beared body, I also embraced a fair few “clean” and not so clean treats. (My husband and I found a local supermarket that stocks Cadbury pineapple chocolate ALL. THE. TIME. Friday night ritual: on point).

Me feeling fat right now, isn’t body shaming myself. I feel fat, because I am carrying more fat than I have in a long time. There are a lot of lovely, logical events that landed me with this extra layer, but I’ve reached a point where it’s just not comfortable for me. It’s kind of like buying a beautiful pair of shoes and finding out that, despite dogmatic persistence, they rub your heels raw. I don’t hate my current body, I just can’t wear it for long.

Not limited edition. ALL THE TIME PEOPLE.

For the first time since Mark Zuckerberg became an answer to a trivial pursuit question (un-researched, but confident that it’s fact), my fat-feels are not because of women I see on Instagram flashing their impossible abs at me (which for the record, I have a well-programmed reflex to do the insta-equivalent of swiping left on, because of the super power they have of sending me down a hate-myself-hell-hole).

In fact, probably not since I put a Dolly (R.I.P) issue Alison Brahe poster on my bedroom wall and longed to be just like her (blond, tiny framed and dating Cameron Daddo…I achieved none of the three) has my desire to lose a bit of weight been so intrinsic.

This overweightness that I feel right now isn’t because someone or something made me feel this way. My motivation is not because of @sixpacksusie (not a real account. Yet.) or the adorable Alison Brahe (I bet she is still adorable) (wait, I just googled her. She is). It’s all me. I’ve embraced myself at this size and all the glorious pineapple chocolate that it took to get here. But it doesn’t feel quite right and I’ll just change a little bit here and a little bit there, until I feel comfortable again. Whatever that may be.

With a healthy, level-headed, gentle approach, I’ve come to the conclusion that “fat” isn’t a dirty word. You can embrace yourself and change yourself at the same time. I still have my arms lovingly wrapped around my additional lumpy bits, and I’m hopeful that even as I try to lose a little weight, I won’t be voted off the body lovin’ island.