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.  

There is good

At the end of every episode of the podcast deep dive into the Good Place, Marc Evan Jackson says “Go do something good.” The melliferous tones are a joy to listen to and somehow this phrase has been an ear worm for me in the last few weeks.

Whether it’s the rainbows or how everyone is considerately moving about the streets around each other, I am seeing more good in the world than ever. We have banded together in a mutual aid group in our neighbourhood although so far this has just been donating a bit of food, I feel closer to the community than I ever have since moving here four years ago. We talk to our neighbours and my son, who is very social but struggles to engage well, is having nice chats with our neighbour most days while he fixes up his car.

And in amongst this joy, sadness too of course, and fear. The emotional rollercoaster seems to be the only thing we can certain of at the moment. Coronacoaster I believe you call it. But we are handling it.

Elizabeth Gilbert was also on the Ted Talks podcast which was a brilliant salve in testing times

I sent my friends this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert because I have so much admiration for everyone’s ride on their own coaster. I look at what they are going through and marvel at how they have “handled it”.

The friend whose going back to work as a teacher, scared because its simply impossible to space out 15 kids in a small classroom. And whose job has changed over and over in the last few weeks. She may have no choice but to send her child to nursery though he is too young to stay away from others. She is battling with fear but handling it. She’s doing something good.

The friend encouraging her young child to go back to school so she doesn’t miss those final few days with her friends before the transition to high school. Her daughter is scared that it will be different and she is holding her hand through this while also working her full time job. She’s doing something good.

The friend working very hard all day but getting deep joy from popping down for a cup of tea and seeing her children more than usual. Getting through her to-do-list now she hasn’t got a long commute. She’s handling it. She’s doing something good.

Another who has to work full time with her husband out at his essential role but is keeping her kids out of school for the moment. Unsure that things are safe at school, she works with her son at her feet. She’s doing something good too.

Through all the earlier mornings, the homework fights, the million snacks, the technology battles- we have mothered on. Through all the video chats with family, baking cakes, playing outside and extra cuddles, we have mothered on.

So, if you are mothering on (or maybe muddling on,) then well done! Because you’re doing something good too.

The Swing

Feet off the ground;

Trying to snap it

I reach for my phone to record.

But you forget

Hands off the chains

The soar of fear, I shout

But you sit, still there

Feet on, feet off.

The momentous occasion

There are things that take longer for you

And I am proud,

Overinterested

Used to the gut rise

And reaching out to help.

A hummingbird buzz around you.

But this is just another play in the park,

Just a casual afternoon on the swing.

Battle on

When all else fails, battle on. A bad day? A bad month? Or all merged into a steaming heap that you cannot divide up into good or bad, just a pile that’s been dumped right on top of you. Then you battle on.

The battle pales into insignificance to other wars being fought elsewhere, I know that, but still, here in my life, this is a fight. A fight for my son and his needs to be heard. A fight too for keeping my head above water, juggling my responsibilities with the extra workload of paperwork. And of course it’s not just the actual paperwork but the emotional load of it all.

I learnt back in November when we were going through the EHCP draft stage that the emotional toll took a lot out of me. The process should be over by now but they have not listened so we are waiting to mediate. Up and down the country families are going through this stage or taking the Local Authority to court. And why? There is not enough money nor enough places to meet the needs of our children. There’s a full on #SENDcrisis. Meanwhile newspapers are reporting that schools are taking “your” children’s funding to plug the gap. This discriminatory writing where we are set up them vs. us is so toxic and the fight feels so much bigger than just our family.

All of this does not make a great creative space. Knowing how tough the end of last year was, I have been more prepared to take it easy on myself. Instead I have been escaping to baths and books. And some read some amazing writing this month.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is such a brilliant novel. Recounting the tale of the end of slavery and the pseudo-science of eugenics, the full horrors that Frannie experiences unravel through the tale she tells. We learn how she ends up in prison, her life in the hands of a system always going to beat her down. It is a compelling novel and I loved that we really get to hear her voice.

Inspired by the prison setting, I started Alias Grace this weekend. Another fascinating novel that reads too as a murder mystery.  So far I am loving it. Shame my son just took my bookmark out!

Obviously there are many ways in we can distract ourselves from our real life problems. But for me, a book will always be the best place to escape.

Finding the right way to unwind…

So this was the year I stopped drinking and forgot to tell anyone

It struck me after a supremely stressful week that quite a few people around me suggested I treat myself to a large glass of wine. Not unusual advice. How many memes, tshirts and mugs are there about mothers needing wine or gin? But what they don’t know: this was the year I stopped drinking. Well, I had two drinks in total and may have a tipple or not at Christmas…

Giving up was not a big deal for me. I am lucky that I don’t have an issue with addiction though I have been around it. Saying no up was just a case of stopping when I didn’t fancy the side effects anymore. I know it was the right thing because earlier this week I had a two day hangover from having one small drink. Somehow though kind friends, who haven’t noticed my lifestyle change, thought I had really earned a drink this weekend after a tough week. But I am happy that I decided against it though I really needed to unwind.

You see, this time last year I had a few social occassions (this is rare, I have little opportunity and very few childcare options). Being the fun mum I am I took it way too far and drank too much on those nights out. I got migraine level hangovers (bad), flushed skin like hives (awful) and a debilitating bout of anxiety (the worst.) So, with actually very little soul-searching, I decided to stop drinking.

It bothered very few people. Afterall, I don’t go out that much anyway. A few older relatives were a little put out. I can’t decide if it’s because they were hopeful I was pregnant (ha) or they just felt judged. Most friends who do know though haven’t given a hoot. Apparently I am not alone, Millenials (I’m almost that young!) are also give up drinking or “Dragged down alcohol sales” as Business Insider put it in an article earlier this year.

According to them, this is a side effect of a surveillance culture because any indiscretion is immediately online. As I say, I don’t go out enough to really humiliate myself but I still realised this year I needed a change. For me, living with the consequences of a drink has been too much. Because the “hang-xiety” isn’t the only reason it takes me to a dark place. I think we often ignore the depressant factor in alcohol in order to enjoy being less inhibited. I am writing about a protagonist at the moment who is really not good at parties. Her awkwardness like many around her is only overcome by drinking copious glasses of wine. I mean, I may have given it up but I can still imagine myself in this position. But weighing it up, I can cope better this way.

This is not to say, of course, that anyone out there who uses wine to unwind is an alcoholic nor that anyone doesn’t have a right to use whatever they like in the name of self-care. Afterall, I have the book Hurrah for Gin in my kitchen to turn to after a hard day of motherhood. However, for me, this year has been giving self-care a bit of a makeover.

It is all about finding what works for you, for me, escaping to books is great. I have on a number occassions this year camped out in my bedroom whilst my husband entertains my son. And it is an escape that sometimes you need. I have also done much more swimming. So reminding myself of this, after a stressful week, I have turned to these two things over alcohol to unwind.

All this is to say, handling anxiety is more important than if I feel awkward at parties or don’t have an easy way to unwind. So for me, I’ll pass on the continuous memes and the wine for now.