Being Mum

Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…

The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.

The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.

Photo by Pixabay on : Learning Education Law now as well as Child Development, apparently.

This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.

Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?

  • Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
  • Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
  • Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
  • Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.

This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.

Swimming: which lane do you swim in?

I have always enjoyed swimming and then a few years ago I got an injury that ruled out running so it had to become my main form of exercise. Add to that my current gym has a spa pool, I am motivated to go for a swim most weeks. Because I am lucky enough to go in the week when the pool is quieter, I can find I am all alone; I consider it my pool to be honest. Which means when I find others in the pool I become very wary of the right etiquette and rules to suddenly share my space.

Much like with walking, I find swimming laps inspires my brain to clear and I work through problems in whatever I am working on. There is one disadvantage of course, no pen. The other day though instead of trying to memorise a bright idea for a new scene, I was thinking about how my swimming is so much like my writing life.

Firstly, inspiration strikes but it is not the right time or place and you can’t write it down immediately. This is true as I swim under water as sitting at my desk trying to grasp and idea or being on the edge of a dream. The problem I find in the water is that I really want to count lengths, but I get distracted and lose count. Please tell me I am not the only one who likes to leave the water after an even number, preferably in the tens. It disturbs my balance the rest of the day if I stop at 28 lengths as much as it disturbs me if I have an idea but didn’t write it down. Like a buzz that irritates your ear that you can’t place.

In the water I am constantly assessing the other swimmers, not so much to see if I am in competition but to check I am in the right lane. It feels risky to go into the slow lane because I am a medium person and I may get stuck behind someone using a float or feel like I am holding someone else up. I think that this is how I often feel following the #writingcommunity. You see, really in my writing I am just plodding on at a gentle speed. I only discovered recently I may be considered a turtle writer. I find people are talking about their finishing their drafts or making their edits and I thought we were swimming at the same pace.

I often lose direction when I am swimming, whether because I am quite distracted by an idea whirring through my head or just because I am not a great swimmer; it’s hard to tell. I love the sensation of swimming underwater which makes me a liability if the pool is busier. This strikes me as like my butterfly approach to writing. I have to make myself sit to one thing but often my mind has floated off to other thoughts and I have snippets and snatches of ideas on my phone, in my files and in my journal. I don’t think my brain was made to swim in a straight line.

What I need more than anything from swimming is time to relax. It may sound like an expensive luxury to use a gym with a spa attached but it has become an essential indulgence for me that I justify. Well making time to write has been something I know now I need as much as anything else I do for myself. Bubble baths are all very well, but expressing in my inner creativity is the best self-care there is.

So, yes the swimming metaphor is spent now but I think it reminds me that I spend a little too much time comparing my writing to others and I just need to focus instead on where I want to go.

The danger of civility

Who else was brought up to always be civil?

Politeness is a premium for a lot of people. That means that if you don’t agree, you find a way to navigate the conversation by agreeing to things you don’t agree with or by maybe making a tactful counterpoint. To make any argument you are expected to keep your voice calm, demonstrate control over your body and finish off conversations with polite enquiries. I heard myself thank her though I was I left angry by a call.

But what if there are many things in your life that make you angry, make you want to rage. I have been exploring these thoughts in my writing. Mainly it seems through pathetic fallacy where storms rage around a character as the anger bursts out. But when anger burst out in real life, I am not sure that it does feel like a massive storm.

Pain, the place from where your anger spurts forth, is interior. I studied the excellent The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry many years ago and I think about how it reduces the body to a mind without language. It is possible this is true for psychological pain as much as for a body harmed. Pain, anger, both of these things are all-absorbing. The world outside us swallowed up and if we truly give in to this pain, any wail comes from gut-deep. It bursts from inside, Alien-style, truly gut-wrenching anger is barely a metaphor for what happens inside.

Feeling out of control, at the mercy of outside forces, that is like the storm metaphor that comes up over again in my work. The world seems chaotic. No one can agree. The politics that I can’t bear to mention that seems to be ripping us apart in this country, well that should cause us pain. There are problems that are not being solved because we are so focused on Europe right now and we do have a right to be angry about that.

And isn’t that the real problem of learning civility at your mother’s knee? Born into people-pleaser people, let’s not make a fuss. Keep quiet about your anger or if you are seeing things going wrong: don’t make a scene. Does that ring true for anyone else? Because at times I wonder that we are not all more angry.

I write under the influence of my own anger. Right now, this week, I am trying to tackle the system. The one that is supposed to offer the right support for my son. And it makes me angry. Our needs, his needs being ignored are hard to stomach. Negotiating a complex system is hard enough but it comes with a side of this anger at a broken system. Because when people say the right thing but do not do the right thing, they are playing the civility game too. Built into our bureaucracy. When I deal with people, whether they are being helpful or not, I have to be polite. It is supposed to be collaborative you see.

And so when I write about anger I know I may never get down on paper how this feels. I hear instead the charge in my head of another’s more powerful words, “RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light…”

And then sit down politely at the meeting, smile, wish you good afternoon because we were all raised to be civil, weren’t we?

Stress and the city

The tang of metal is on my tongue, back in town from a few days away I notice the pollution more, is it a wonder with the assault on the senses that I get stressed out in the city.

Breathing. After a cold a few years ago, I developed asthma again though mild it’s worrying that the last time I had this problem was when I was at school and the playing fields were next to the M6 motorway. Breathing in all this pollution I worry for what it will do for my health long term, and I only live on the outskirts of London.

Getting sick. If I go into London, a few days later I will have a cold. You must get immune to if you are always going in. I have become religious about hand-sanitizer. I didn’t know that I am unusual in feeling a sensation on my hands if I haven’t cleaned them for a while. I get this cloyiness on my palms, and it won’t leave until a wash my hands. The fact that my skin breaks out or I have a virus within days of any trip on the tube seems proof enough that the City is not good for my mild anxiety-led germophobia. Squashed with too many people, holding on to the handrails like you’re supposed to on the escalator, these are all hard for me.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

Sensory overwhelm. It took having a child with Sensory Processing Disorder to understand the world differently. His overwhelm at noises, his reaction of running from busy crowded places has opened my eyes. The world is often too noisy, too busy, too bright, too loud. And though my I can regulate my reaction to the barrage of too much information, I also hate it at times. I may not respond so much but it builds up inside me that tiny irritations build up so that often I reach a point where I need a sensory break too. My go to move is to put my headphones in and looking around, a lot of other people cope this way too.

Too loud. Except not everyone uses headphones. Music out loud on buses is a pet peeve. I have asked many a (usually young man) to put in headphones. I saw a man blasting his music from a player on his shoulder the other day. On reflection, he was probably promoting his own music but I stood nervously to see if he was getting on my bus. Would I have to confront him? Would the bus driver say anything? I want to be polite even if you show no-one else courtesy. But he stayed at the bus stop. The whole imaginary argument had been in my head but left me frazzled. Calming myself with the mantra, nothing happened, and “use this” irritation.

The Big Smoke. I hate the smell of smoke and particularly weed which permeates everywhere. I took precautions to hide it when I smoked in my twenties so no-one found me but now it’s ubiquitous. I will never know if then, in my reckless moments, I was in fact bothering a Mum with a young child who asked her “What’s that funny smell?” Just like my son has asked me.

Photo by Zachary DeBottis on

His palate is more sensitive and no doubt some of my anger at near neighbours for smoking is because I worry for him. I want to make life as easy for him as I can. But this like my other concerns seems like a characteristic of the urban experience, to me. It represents people doing what they want, where they want without considering others. An individualist way of living.

I have been writing a short story about a woman driven mad trying to catch fly-tippers. This pre-occupation with her surroundings, well let’s just say I can relate. But where my concerns really come from are this desire to make the world a better place for my son. To think about how we can be more considerate to other people and to our planet.

If you’re interested in what it can be like for a person on the Autistic Spectrum with associated sensory difficulties, I recommend this campaign called “Too Much Information” from the National Autistic Society.

What Holds You Back?

Everything in moderation, right? Some of our habits can become so important to us that they hold us back in our life and in our creativity.

Week ten of The Artist’s Way programme is about recovering your sense of self-protection. Julia Cameron uses examples in her essay of how we abuse things in our life to numb us from our experiences, that may be drugs, food or even workaholism.  It was a difficult week because she asks you to dig into what you use to stop you working.  This level of vulnerability in your pages, though just for your own eyes, can bring up some strong emotions. It asked you to analyse these deadlies -: drugs, food, sex, work, money, alcohol and family/friends – and see how they have held you back.

Even those that don’t seem relevant in your life you had to think about your resistance to that category, it is an interesting exercise of analysis. You may find you have deep-seated beliefs about why you are not safe around certain substances, for example. I think it is quite a difficult task to do and again I wonder whether the emotional toll of thinking about these difficult topics is a good thing to do alone. Issues around food, family these are really big topics and I can’t be the only one who found these exercises emotionally taxing. What is the point of facing the truth of what holds you back? To ask yourself: do your nurture your inner creativity?

If you are not nurturing your creativity, you may be stifling it. Other areas that she identifies as stifling it are the pursuit of fame and competition. The synchronicity bells were ringing again, I entered a writing competition, scrabbling around to rewrite the start of my novel to get it in for the deadline. I got nowhere with the competition. As a result, I am lurking on the edge of a writers’ forum, uncertain if I want to participate because I didn’t win. This petulance is a good marker that my ego was a little bruised by the whole process, and she sees that competition can also be harmful to our process.

“Instead of saying ‘that proves it can be done’ your fear will say ‘ He will achieve instead of me.”

Julie Cameron

If nothing else, her understanding of competition was salve for my ego. There are some benefits of course to get your fledgling writing assessed, but you also have to be careful how far you let it fly, lest it gets its wings clipped by the critique.

With the information you gather from assessing what is holding you back, she suggests you start to identify boundaries or “bottom lines.” So that you can carve out the space for work. This will also help you recognise when you are using something like food (or the deadly trash tv for me) to zone out rather than be there for your creativity. So, you set new rules about your work. I think not having the right boundaries can really stop you from working towards your dreams.

I do think there are some helpful activities in this week’s process. Seeing what is holding you back can help you take what you are doing creatively seriously, re-organising your priorities to push it to the front. But I also think it is really important to balance out uncovering what habits hold you back, with what nurtures you.

Think about all the things that can nurture the senses of your inner creative child and build these into your life. For me these were: grapefruit scent, gnarled tree bark, the sound of uplifting music, warm blankets and cushions. And though there are difficult things that do you hold you back, the one thing that combat all these difficult emotions is the sense of gratitude that there are so many simple things that can make us happy.

You can read more about my journey through the programme here:

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