Christmas in the (Brain) Fog

I am looking forward to the Christmas holidays and working out how to see through the fog

I can feel the pressure of making Christmas magic rising as I write. As a parent, I have a strong desire to make the young ones’ Christmas a special, sparkly time but what do you do when your brain is not at it’s shiniest best. Last year we couldn’t even see our families, so now we hopefully can socialise there is an expectation that this will be the best year. But amongst all that pressure I am trying to manage the planning and preparation with brain fog and fatigue. Here is what I have worked out may work for us this year.

A foggy winter ahead, photo in the public domain

Reduce your workload: We have planned to go to my mother-in-law so I do know already that I don’t need to cook, a lot of labour is saved and I think that having the main work on the big day taken from me will be a massive help, as well as being extra delicious that we can actually be together this year. In addition the familiar surroundings help me and my son and for that part of Christmas we will stay at home though go over on several days. This is really helpful to keep parts of the routine which keeps my soon’s energy a bit more regulated which helps us all feel a bit calmer.

Pace yourself: I know now that I need to pace myself, leaving a few days between each social gathering and taking it much more slowly on those days. I am so thankful to be back together with people this year but that doesn’t mean I can throw my pacing plans out of the window. January is depressing enough without having a massive crash. When I do socialise, I know already I might need to leave earlier than I might like to or take a little break part way through so that I can join in. It’s tradition to fall asleep after the turkey anyway, so won’t be too much of a surprise if I insist on a rest this year. I may also have some tougher days afterwards but I know if I do things that lift me, like being around people that I love, this will be worth it for me if I don’t go too far.

Buy online: When it comes to planning presents, I am doing tiny chunks and using a lot of lists on my phone so hopefully I don’t forget things. I have to say that I have seen statistics like 42% of people will buy their presents off Amazon this year and though I don’t like it, that will most likely be me. I know already that going to shops involves so many elements that are tiring, this time I need those items to come on delivery. I have been also trying to support a few friends with their Etsy crafts that I love but when it come to the plastic tat my son demands, it’s back to the five minutes ordering on my phone and along comes my friendly delivery lady the next day (who I am quite chummy with now.) Let’s hope that by next Christmas, I can be well enough to face the shops (and they are still there) but for now I have to be realistic about what I can do for us all.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com – probably less baking this year

Ask for help: Learning to ask for help has been a massive learning curve with managing fatigue. I have worked out what is more tiring now by listening to my body carefully and I have tried to ask for help in these areas. A friend came over this week to get the decorations out of our loft for us, she was lovely about it and though it seems a bit silly with my breathing issues and fatigue it is a massive load off me and I will be very slowly starting to decorate. In addition to asking for physical help, I have set my Mum the mission to find the impossible toy that my son has asked for. I was going round in circles online to try and find this “must have” and in the end I realised the brain strain is too much.

Keep it simple: The final thing is to avoid too much online content that drives me to want to make the magic so much. It is possible that I did “do a Pinterest” in previous year and make cards, bake mince pines with my son and make a Nutella Christmas tree for breakfast on Christmas morning. But it might be that this year is not that year. The Christmas tree may end up less trimmed – though it is one of my favourite things so I may choose to spend my energy on it – But really, what my fatigue is telling me right now, is that these things that seem so important are an image we get sold about what a perfect life can look like.

But if a chronic condition can teach us anything, there is no need for perfect, in fact pushing yourself is the worst thing you could do. After the year we have had personally and the pandemic era we have all gone through, I can only say that what is most important is to savour the time to rest and have fun together.  

Find someone to inspire you

Comparison online can be quite demoralizing, but it can also be a great place to find your mentors.

With Instagram accounts and other creators online, you can often find a tribe of people with similar tastes without even trying. By the time you have clicked on a few accounts that have insterested you, watched a reel or tiktok for a short time or followed certain youtubers the imperfect but still pretty savvy algorithm finds you a load of people to follow or see in discovery or FYP (for you page) and before you know it you are embroiled in a community you didn’t know that you needed to find.

I have seen this in action because I have a personal account as well as my account attached to this blog. The MumWriteNow instagram links me up to lovely bookstagram accounts, gothic images, nature imagery and other people interested in folklore. It’s a serene and beautiful place though I admit I only play at photography, looking for bright spots that inspire me, as I have shared before. Meanwhile my personal account is a messy place full of Real Housewives content. There is nothing wrong with either, we are all multitudes, but it is interesting how in modern life you can curate yourself into certain communities.

A random sample of my more aesthetic Instagram feed

In discovering these different areas, I have also noticed there are some accounts who are inspiring for me. Whether it is interiors and décor on my own account or book ideas or information about folklore, it is apsirational and inspiring if you are careful to follow those that give you what you are asking for. As long as we remember that this is a higlight reel, I find this open access to other creative people as well as other people with the same interests as me can act almost like a mentor even if you do not know that person.

There is a certain value in understanding what you admire in another person. They could tell you what you want to be doing, Though I do not pretend to have some of the time and patience of bookstagram accounts who feature décor and books placed beautifully, but I love it. I find the reverence for books, the atmosphere it creates is alluring. For me, taking time to appreciate the beauty in the art is important.

In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron shares that “Jealousy is a Map”. And I think that these things we are attracted to act in a similar way. Often what attracts us are things we have within ourselves and they can guide us to find more of that in our life. My experience of the Artist’s Way programme was that jealousy was pushing me to explore more in different types of writing, reminding me of my interest in drama as well as novels. I went away and wrote the first scenes of a play that has been whirling around my mind for a while.

In reviewing what inspires me in these accounts, I thought of a real life mentor that I met in my younger years. She was always so careful in the way she would lay out even the simplest thing like a snack, using beautiful crockery. She would have flowers arranged on a tray, her house had an artistic flare that stretched into the garden. When I browse through these curated images now online, it reminds me of that same attention for detail. I was told that she worked really hard at making everything so lovely and you could tell. I know just how much time to it takes to make things clean and tidy, let alone allow your artistic side spill into your everyday living. I can admire this aethetic lifestyle even more as an adult.

When we find these people, a community who cares more about aesthetics and beauty they can be so aspirational but we can also allow them to direct us to what is truly important to us. Making more of an effort, having attention to detail is hard but the rewards reach so much wider than we realise. Sadly the woman who inspired me passed away, but the strong and lasting impression she has left on me will stay with me always.

Weird Wellness Trends That Might Work

In the pursuit of increased energy I have tried out a few trends and I think they actually work

In addition to being a regular but fidgety meditator, I have been trying out anything that might help my fatigue. Whether they claim to help with energy production or stress relief, I have given a number of weird wellness treatments a go. Although I must stress I have no medical qualification, I have a list now of great things that seem to do some good. Or make me feel better anyway. Here’s the things I recommend trying:

GREEN JUICE: I have been drinking spinach and other veggies blitzed together for a while. By upping vitamins, particularly eating raw with all the fibre included it feels like having juice several times a week has got to help with your health.

Does anyone else’s green juice look a bit brown?!

Unsubstantiated claim: drinking juice is easier to digest so takes less energy. I am not sure whether this is true but sometimes had juice midday when I am drooping. It takes less energy to make than a meal and I will have it before a rest.

VERDICT: As I see it a veggie rich juice is ultimately just like having soup cold so it does give you something healthy to have quickly. I also drink loads of water with the juice so the fibre doesn’t (um) overload the system. I can’t confirm that this actually provides more energy but I can at least say it suits my lifestyle at the moment and more vitamins is never a bad thing.

COLD SHOWERS: I now blast cold water at the end of every shower or will go to the gym to use the steam room and choose to blast the cold shower.

Unsubstantiated claims: Along with the Wim Hof breathing system, immersing yourself in cold water helps your cells repair and gives you more energy.

VERDICT: While I am not sure if the practice helps at a cellular level, I know that I do feel very energised by the experience. Particularly that contrast from hot to cold. Because I use the breathing techniques to I think this is helping me recover as I do have to work on breathing exercises anyway to help my lung health. This is one that is simple to do but feels like it pays me off, even if it just givea me a little jolt.

FACE ROLLING: This is another case of the internet made me do it. I have been using a face roller for a few months. My under-eye bags seem even darker than usual so using the jade roller on my face along with the various serums, oils and eye cream seems like a good act of self-care if nothing else

Unsubstantiated claim: The roller is supposed to reduce puffiness and improve skin tone. A lot of people find it very relaxing

VERDICT: While I remain dubious that my eye bags have improved, this is one certainly find relaxing. Hitting my later thirties, my skincare routine has developed into a multi-step act of desperation against ageing and I have doubts if any of it does work. However spending time and effort on my skin each day has become an important act of self-care which is why I recommend the roller despite my scepticism.

MAGNESIUM SALTS: A bath can be great for body aches. Relaxing back, particularly if you are finally getting time alone has often been my cure-all but magnesium salts have been an essential addition this year.

Unsubstantiated claims: A short bath in Magnesium Salts (about 20 minutes) allows the magnesium to enter your body and increased magnesium can really help your energy levels. A hair test showed my magnesium levels were low and I already add in foods to help with this.

VERDICT: One reason that the magnesium baths have been so important for me this year is that the suggested benefits come from having quite short baths. As a lot of people with fatigue know, bathing or showering is suprisingly tiring. By keeping a time limit to taking bath it is relaxing but not over-taxing most of the time. In addition to all the usual benefits of relaxing by having a bath, sometimes it will be a way of taking a break without actually napping in the day and seems to help in that way with my sleep.

It is possible I am just buying into wellness trends. However of all the things I have tried, these ideas are relatively inexpensive and achieveable. Often the boost comes from feeling like I am doing something to help myself. Which I think probably is the most important point of all. When our bodies go into fatigue or burnout, it does feel we are out of control. Using these props, whether they are proven to help or not, has given me practical steps to take care of myself more.

What wellness practices have helped you feel better? Anything I should try?

Scary Reads for Spooky Season

Halloween has inevitably drawn me to some really scary novels, here are reads I would definitely recommend

I make no secret that I love gothic fiction and as Halloween hits I thought I should share the scary reads I have devoured this month

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell The novel opens in an asylum (never not creepy) as the good doctor tries to coach the silent Elsie to tell her story. We unravel the mysteries of her past through her recollections. Full of some great elements of gothic fiction: a haunted house, the manorial pile left by her late husband, his mysterious death and spooky “companions” (wooden paintings) that seem to have a life of their own. As she writes her tale we learn about Elsie’s dark past as well as the disturbing history of the manor house. This book kept me gripped and I enjoyed how the histories were woven together in her narrative. This novel would be great for fans of Alias Grace. Though not based on real life like Margaret Attwood’s work, Purcell has a keen delight in historical detail which is satisfying in the same way.

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond I listened to this novel this month and it was a shocking and at times harrowing read. Currently available on Audible Plus I was intrigued by the mystery of the Pact. Jake and Alice have only recently married and have received a strange gift: an opportunity to join The Pact, a secretive organisation that will help them uphold the sanctity of their marriage. Although I did have some reservations about the premise, not least that Alice is a lawyer but seems to sign up to the organisation without much forethought, I was left pretty shocked by the unfolding action. Their perfect life gradually unravels and leaves them very much in danger within the organisation, much more dangerous than it sounds. This will be a great read if you have been as obsessed learning about the NXIVM cult. I recommend Escaping NXIVM podcast too if you haven’t yet come across this real life horror story.

The Binding by Bridget Collins I am part way through this novel. Emmett has been weakened by a period of madness and is sent away from his family farm,  called upon instead by the mysterious binder to come and learn her trade. We know very little about the importance of binding books only that there is something dark and secretive about owing books in the world Collins has created. The magic the binder appears to perform has angered local residents and as I continue this book, it seems there may be a witch hunt coming. The dark fantasy and power of books reninded me of Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver and will be another great read for fellow gothic fiction fans.

What scary reads have you read this month?

How to Change Your Life

The plan changed so I had to change the plan

If you have read my blog this year, you will know I have had fatigue since January and it has taken a while for me to establish a reasonable baseline of energy management so that I can do a bit more each week and gradually get back to my creative practices. But what I am really having to do is change my life and not necessarily by choice.

Listen to Your Body

The first way I have had to change is by listening to my body more. This used to mean realising I am stressed out because the world irritates me, getting angry, getting a migraine or both were a sign to do less. These things might hold me back but I would try and use this stress. And adrenaline would keep me going.

I know now I have been living on the edge of burnout . Before this year though, my body never fully told me to stop.Now, when my body tells me it’s too much I really have no choice but to listen. It aches like I have been in a car crash and leaves me so tired I can do very little. Without a choice, it has made me reflect on just how often I pushed through on little sleep and frazzled nerves.

Put systems in place

I have always tried routines and to do lists to keep on track of my life. It’s not something that comes easily to me. But this year my mind, like my body, has insisted I pay more attention. It is essential for me to work to systems to get anything done now. With brain fog I have to use the systems and more importantly I have no choice but to write it down.

Keep your Boundaries

This one I am only managing to change with the help of a therapist. Sometimes it is the boundary that my body or mind insists on. But sometimes it’s the really difficult one for many of us, saying no to people. It might also include the no to something you want to do. I am learning to sometimes say the hard no but also say I may not have that energy, explain the boundaries relate to the condition.

Quit Your Day Job

I suppose all artists, writers and creatives have toyed with the idea of quitting their job to follow their passion, pursue their bliss and other dream-life rhetoric. Sadly, the reasons I have for quitting are little more prosaic. In addition to work, I have caring responsibilities and my fatigue condition has become more difficult to manage. I have been trying to decide whether I can continue working but my temporary reduction of hours hasn’t quite been enough to get me back on my feet. I didn’t quite mean to join the great resignation but I know also that I am making the biggest step now.

This year has taught me a lot, not least that a lot has to change.

Feel Hopeful for the Future

Although managing fatigue is a tough task for me, it’s made easier by having the right mindset. Whilst that might sound like I could think my way out of fatigue, that isn’t really what I mean. What you can do is pay attention. By listening to my body I know even on a tough day or week, that I have had better days and they will come another day.

Have you had to change your life before? Have you realised you should have done it a long time ago?

Watch this space for more updates about all the changes I am making in the next months!