Friday, 18 February 2011

Giving something up isn't always a failure

It's a month since I gave up my MSc. It was a strange night. My brain felt like it had been squashed flat inside my skull and I had no idea how I was going to carry on with any part of my life. I was supposed to be revising for an exam. During a break I sat down next to my husband and complained that I didn't know any of the material for the exam. Like any supportive partner he rubbished what I was saying and told me that I could do this or anything else I put my mind to.

Still completely committed to the MSc, which is my stance on the majority of my life, I told him how bored I was with some aspects of the course. I said that I was worried about my future: "if I don't even find the course interesting how can I possibly find working in this field interesting?"

I am lucky. Incredibly lucky. I absolutely adore my job. Sometimes on a Friday night I sigh as I leave the office wondering where the week has gone and, despite enjoying my family for two days, I look forward to the following week. The people I work with are great. NHS politics is a challenge for me to get my head round, to muse over but it doesn't get me down. (As the serenity prayer goes: "...accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.")

So I concluded to my husband that I didn't know how I could give up working in an area I was so passionate about, that I was enjoying so much and that was allowing me progression and stretching me for something that would pay more money but I was beginning to think might bore me. Though I recognised we all need more money and we all need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. I was about to stand up and get back to my revision when my husband asked something I had not been expecting: "Would you like to give up your MSc?"

Now I am no quitter and I thought I was just having a bit of a moan. Sometimes a person just needs a moan to get perspective on a situation. I don't spend my whole life moaning but on occasion it can be very cathartic! The two of us had been planning for me to do this MSc, or a similar one, for a couple of years so it did not feel right to even consider stopping.

My first thought was about all the time and money I had already sunk into it. My husband's favourite quote came in handy as a counter argument, "No matter how far down the wrong road you've gone, turn back."

So what about all my plans? I had already answered my own question because I was beginning to question whether life really would be as rosy in the new career I had been planning.

But I have been wanting to complete an MSc since before I completed my PG Diploma. But that means you have three quarters of an MSc in a subject you love - so why not complete the other 25 percent instead?

And what will people think of me if I can't even complete a part time course? Well if they don't support you in your decision it's their problem. It's a part time course alongside a full time job and you'll get back the two evenings a week you've been running off to central London before you could even eat dinner.

So where will I go from here if I drop the course? When one door shuts another one opens somewhere you never even expected.

It's going to be so embarrassing to admit I failed. But if you decide not to continue you have taken control of the situation and you won't have failed. To change your mind is not to fail.

After thirty minutes of being convinced my husband was playing devil's advocate and that any minute now he was going to suggest I get back to my revision I realised he actually meant what he said. He had listened to my moaning, seen my point of view and recognised what I needed in a matter of seconds. So I turned the whole thing on its head and considered what it would be like to give up my MSc.

It felt good. All the reasons were the right reasons and the more I thought about it the less I could find a reason to continue. Since our son was born I have complained about work and coursework keeping me away from him but usually the strain was worth it. The MSc strain wasn't. And it would also free up time to spend with other people who matter to me - such as said husband!

That was a month ago, 18th January. I haven't had a single regret. Not even one. I feel a lot happier and no one has made me feel bad about my decision. Am I a failure? No. I made the wrong decision when I decided to partake in the course in the first place. Will I complete an MSc? Time will tell!




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Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Missing Child

It's been a hard few years. It shouldn't have been like this. But this is how it is when you get an idea in your head. Life doesn't always work out the way you intended. Life doesn't just happen the way you plan. The best laid plans don't always work out.

When I grew up I used to talk to my dad a lot. He told me over and over to marry someone who wanted as many children as I did - mainly because my mum wanted more than he did. I did exactly that - in fact I think he'd probably like even more children than I would!

When our son was 2 years old we decided he needed a brother or sister. Three and a half years later we are still waiting for that baby and emotionally I have moved on to the next one. In my head babies should be 2-3 years apart. I know it's not always the case - I don't have to look far to see something different - but in my head it's always been part of the plan.

It's really painful - a lot of people don't understand that. Many think those who find infertility difficult are those who never had a baby before or those who had them removed and taken into care. But it still hurts. I am so glad our son is part of my life. Without him my life would be half as rich. But there is something missing. When I was growing up I assumed I would have 3 children and since I had my son I have even wondered if I would have more than 3.

There is not a day goes when I don't think about it. I can't deny that my career has benefited from the gap in having children. My son and husband have benefited from increased money I can bring in and I have also benefited from education I have gained which, undoubtedly I couldn't have if we had been successful in having another baby. But I feel I was born to have children rather than to be a career woman. However, if I am to be unsuccessful having further children I don't want to die having not furthered my career. Who knows where I will end up, how successful I will be? I want to live my life to the full - not at the expense of having several children but not to spend my life chasing an impossible dream.




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Monday, 27 September 2010

Equality in the home

When I was little my dad used to help my mum round the house. My dad worked full time and my mum dabbled in a few things but was essentially a full time house wife. I assumed that was how things were in everyone's house. I took for granted that my dad got involved with the cooking and that he would clean the fridge out now and again. He washed the car and mowed the lawn until I was big enough to help with it. We children took on age appropriate chores without question - even if we needed a bit of nagging to get on and do it!

My house isn't like that. I work full time. My husband works too. I can't stand mess and clutter but I have had to learn to live with it in times of stress and pressure. I hate crumbs and dirt. I am able to go to bed knowing there are dirty dishes in the sink but I know I'll cringe next time I walk into the kitchen. The main issue is that, without fail, I will crack before my husband when the housework needs doing. He doesn't notice or always has something of a higher priority to do. This has led to a complete imbalance of housework in our home.

When I left home for college in 1998 I decided I would not let my new flatmates take me for granted and that I would do my share of housework but no more. Largely I was successful in this. Until 2004. When I moved into the same house as my husband I knew he was self-sufficient (something I had had grave concerns about with a previous boyfriend) so I assumed he would do his share of the housework. We didn't discuss it or make any verbal agreements.

Over the past few years it has been a source of great tension. I did more when I was on maternity leave because I felt I ought to since I wasn't tired from work. During a few weeks off for illness I also expected to do more. When my husband has had periods off work he makes more mess because he's at home to make mess but he doesn't do much to sort it out. It feels like I go to work and then come home to a heap more work.

We had a cleaner for a couple of years - this was a double-edged sword: on the one hand it was lovely to come home to a sparkling house knowing I hadn't spent a minute on it. On the other hand I felt like my husband didn't care at all about supporting me with the housework because he still made no effort with it. He felt no need to lift a finger because it could all be left to the cleaner. He didn't notice how much work I was still doing on the days the cleaner wasn't there.

Sometimes I have just got on with it all, after all it is impossible to live in conflict with someone all the time. We all need a break from it now and again. I have left sticky notes all over the place, sent reminders texts and e-mails. This works some of the time. We've had so many conversations about it that I think I have finally got to the bottom of why I am doing the majority of our housework. My husband is not a lazy person but he doesn't feel the housework is as important as any of the other things he does. When I am not under pressure to clean the house in record time I can find housework therapeutic, my husband doesn't get any satisfaction from it at all. He doesn't get irritated by untidiness or uncleanliness as quickly as I do. I have tried leaving bits of the house in a state for ages - occasionally it has become too much for him and he has given in and sorted it (or, in his words, something among that mess became a high priority). I can rationalise until the cows come home - the work still needs to be done!

Have I created a rod for my own back? By having high standards and refusing to leave stuff building up for other people to complete I think people around me have become complacent. When I find it too much noone steps in to breach the gap I leave. By spending only my time on our housework I am freeing up other people's. I don't notice anyone else in our house worrying that they won't have time to clear up before the weekend's over or that they're out too many nights a week to complete the basics.

My housemates know I am a mother and I feel like they presume I will clear up after them. Prior to moving into our current house I was not a mother so I think people's perception of me was not the same.

My son is getting old enough to do some jobs around the house so I do ask him to do things and make sure he is involved with the routines we have. I also talk with him about respecting other people, acknowledging their feelings and treating people in the way you would like to be treated. I hope he will respect people he lives with in future but also that he manages to find a happy balance with housework in his subsequent households.




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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sometimes it's all just too much!

I have a headache from sinusitis. I've had it all week. I can't sleep because I can't breathe. It eases when I take the medication but it wears off before the next dose is due. I have just had enough.

I'm supposed to be really excited. I have a new job which I have been looking forward to, potentially, all summer and now it's finally here - I've had the interview that nearly didn't happen and succeeded - I am shattered beyond all belief. I would love to curl up in bed for a week.

We have the builders in. The landlord is making extensive changes to the house. As builders go they're doing an excellent and speedy job and they're not making too much mess, considering. But then you would expect a lot of mess when a builders come into your house and add an extra staircase above your current one. The bathroom, toilet, hall, landing, stairs, kitchen - just thick with a layer of dust. Not even worth starting cleaning because the following day it'll be back and I don't even know where to start!

My husband's ill at the moment, he is really struggling so I can't really lean on him. I've been supporting him a lot emotionally the past few weeks which is another reason I am exhausted. He's recognised I'm struggling to give him support the way I have been and he's being lovely about it. We both know the other one needs more support and we both know we're unable to give it. Even with all that understanding it's a real shame we're both so worn down simultaneously.

My son has just started Year 1 at school. It's his first proper year. He's getting homework and needs help with his reading. School's being amazing with me because they can see I'm not managing things the way I usually do. They know it's not for the want of trying. It is so hard not to feel like a failure.

But I have been here before: A few years ago I had a community staff nurse job but felt I wasn't far off doing the job the specialist community practitioners were doing. Why be away from your child on less pay when you're pretty much doing the job the next level up? The only way to get the next job up, and there were vacancies, was to go back to university to do a year long course. As a determined individual I was quite sure this was what I wanted to do. My family supported me. My husband was keen for me to make a career for myself. My mother-in-law made it possible by having my son to stay at all sorts of strange times of day depending on my course requirements. My ambitious streak coupled with my inability to accept that I was finding life challenging pushed me into depression. I started my course in September. By January I was taking antidepressants and had lost 4kg I could ill-afford to lose. By August I had failed 2 out of 6 modules and been signed off work on long-term sick.

So how do I know 4 years on that I will not go down the same road? I have very similar symptoms to those I had in September 2006 right now. How can I have the confidence to know I will be okay? There has been a lot of water under the bridge since my illness. During my sick leave from August 2007 to December 2007 I was given some counselling which helped me see that my priorities were wrong. It was impossible to keep my private life at work private any more and when I came back to work I would talk to people when things became too heavy. When the workload was too much and I couldn't see how to get all the work done I would speak to my manager. When people tried to offload work on me I would only say "yes" if I knew I had the capacity. I stopped trying to undertake everything in my in-tray and began to delegate sensible tasks to healthcare assistants. I liaised with my employer and with the university about how to complete my studies in a manageable way - work were only too pleased to support me because they had sunk a lot of money into my studies already and they had no intention of letting me drop out unless I felt unable to complete. I started to confront my husband when I felt pressure to do too much. I am the type of person who takes on too much. My husband is proud of my achievements but a little overzealous about me achieving even greater things. He knows I only tell him it's all too much when it is. He no longer pushes me when I say "no" to plans beyond my ability. I am happy to dream and to make those dreams a reality but I am now capable of listening to my body and stopping when it gets too much.

With all that learning I did when I was ill comes great responsibility. I will always push myself to succeed. I love a challenge. I feel a great sense of achievement when I complete something I really struggled with. But I have my health and a family to consider. Never again do I want to be so underweight I can feel my body using up reserves while I am eating a meal. Never again do I want to only have the energy to achieve taking my child to school and collecting him in the whole day (the rest of the day spent with my coat still on, sitting on the sofa staring out of the window). Never again do I want to drive to work only to feel physically sick when I see the office building. But since I am not content to be a only a housewife or only a person with a job and I will insist on taking on too much I must find some coping strategies within me:

  • Acknowledge those first symptoms of depression (sleepless nights, not eating properly, worrying rather than wondering how on earth I'm going to fit those little jobs into the week, always feeling something's been left off the to-do list and worrying when it's going to come back to get me, feeling out of control beyond my capability).
  • Talking to colleagues sooner rather than later about clashes, seeking support as required (and recognising when I am fine that I have capacity to take on extra from colleagues so that they don't feel hard done by when I need their support).
  • Accepting that I can't do everything and saying "no" when required.
  • Being open and honest with my family (both mine and my husband's) because other people really will support me as long as I am genuine and don't take the mick.
  • Talking to a few really close friends and seeking some wider support from people who have similar personal problems to me.
  • Not being too hard on myself - why shouldn't I want to achieve in life? That is healthy. Taking on too much is the unhealthy part.
  • Recognising that I am not a failure. Okay, the going gets tough at times, but I have come so far already by succeeding. I don't always succeed first time round but I do get there in the end with patience and determination.
  • Recognising that drugs are not going to work for me - my depression is due to my social situation, the pressure I put myself under. The only way to help it is to reduce the pressure. No amount of drugs are going to help me.
  • Sharing my experiences with others - because they will open up about their own coping strategies and I will learn a lot from them.
  • Some things don't matter. If my son goes to school with a blob of bolognese from the night before on his T-shirt, if the dishes didn't get washed for 2 days last week, if I was 5 minutes late picking my husband up from the station, if I have a hole in my sock but I am wearing boots, if the lawn hasn't been mown this particular summer - no one else cares (and if they do they have too much time on their hands).
  • Some things really do matter. I show my son and husband I love them, I visit my family in the north now and again, I attend weddings, funerals and other celebrations that I'll regret missing in the long run, I e-mail friends or send letters or phone, I get my son to school on time and read him a bed time story.

Depression and coping with it is a very personal challenge. It's important to listen to other people's advice but only to take on what I feel comfortable with. It is important for me to discover what works for me and what doesn't. That discovery will continue throughout my adult life. Though I imagine the steepest part of the learning curve has already been undertaken, I must remain open to new ideas. You never know - one day I may become symptom-free!

Roll on half term when I will have a week off (though I doubt I'll get that chance to curl up and sleep...)




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