Oh, the dreaded PMT week has worked its way around again and I am trying to keep a lid on my symptoms, this month, rather than barking rabidly at members of my family and occasionally frothing at the mouth.
Last month’s PMT, at its peak intensity, saw me pacing up and down the driveway in the rain, inexplicably grasping a garden trowel and devising ways I could get revenge on my husband for something he had done but that I couldn’t quite remember. It could have been anything – the world is my disgruntlement oyster when I’m on the hormone highway to the Red Roof Inn.
At the moment he’s hiding from me, maybe watching Pointless, which in itself incenses me to an almost vessel-bursting degree. Because when I have PMT and I have to work I don’t like anyone to be a) having fun or b) relaxing. I prefer it if everyone sits in absolute silence, staring morosely into thin air and telepathically beaming me sympathy vibes.
Except that my three and four year-old couldn’t care less about my PMT or brain-strike (MUMMY LISTEN TO ME! MY (note: imaginary) FISH HAS A SLICE MISSING FROM HER TAIL! CALL THE DOCTOR!”
“It would be a vet,” I say, “and I don’t think vets do home visits for fish that they can’t see.”
Oh, all of my energies have to be ploughed into being civil. My head pounds, the blood races around my arms and legs and sends them at once buzzy and at the same time desperately fatigued, as though I have flu. I feel panicked, at this time of the month – out of control. It’s the same sensation I get as when I’m dreaming that I’m falling through space, free-falling, the feeling of weightlessness tainted with pure dread that happens just before I startle myself awake. I wouldn’t be great even without responsibilities, in PMT week, but now that I’m in a giant pressure cooker of continuous domestic duties and unceasing child-borne demands and –
“MUMMY! YOU HAVE TO GET THE VET FOR LAYLA THE FISH AND ALSO I NEED A POO. GET THE VET NOW, MUMMY, HERE’S YOUR PHONE.”
My nerves are jangled. My iPhone almost slips to the floor but is caught, ham-fisted, and passed to me covered in Nutella. All of my senses are heightened. I feel as though my skin has been thinned and that all of my nerve endings are more exposed. A door slam makes me jump, the sound of someone starting a hedge strimmer two fields away makes me want to pull on my wellies and march over and demand silence.
I’m surprised that the family haven’t crafted some sort of giant snake-holding stick, to keep me at arm’s length. With a loop at the end of a long pole so that that they could snare me and I could sit collared at the kitchen table, angrily sipping my camomile tea and darting my forked tongue at them.
I always thought that the standard “brain fog, excruciating 24 hour headache and water retention” variety of PMT was bad enough, but lockdown PMT is like experiencing all of the aforementioned things whilst being chased by a swarm of angry bees around a shop selling expensive crockery. Wearing an itchy woollen suit that’s too tight around the torso.
Have you experienced Lockdown PMT yet? How was that for you? I am busy sketching out an Escape Cupboard for next time, seeing as though it’s quite likely we could still be in the same socio-domestic situation. I’m going to line it with all the empty egg boxes I’ve been collecting, but not filling because my chickens have decided they don’t like laying eggs this year, so that the walls are soundproofed. And then I’m going to put in one of those shitty little mini fridges that make more noise than a Boeing 747 jet engine and fill the mini fridge with cans of Coca Cola and bars of Dairy Milk. I’m then going to steal the family iPad, download every single episode of Friends and lock myself in the cupboard for six days.
When they open the door to retrieve me I shall be a spotty mess, gurning from the sugar overloads and subsequent lows, but at least nobody will have heard me scream…
Life update? Oh, nothing much to update you on here. I wasn’t even going to bother with a life update this month, seeing as though things have been so uneventful and dull…
Sorry, was off in dreamland again. Trying to find some escape from the world crisis and the emotional pressure cooker that is my own home. Jeez Louise, what a shitty month!
It seems slightly petty to follow the usual trajectory of my life updates, which tend to start with something ridiculous and then move onto all of the things about parenthood that seem to constantly take me by surprise. I could tell you about how my youngest (three years and two months old) has started to say his little sentences with comically clear and crisp pronunciation – “Mummy, no T-reeees in the Ocean?” – and I could bang on for hours about Miss Clever-Clogs (five in June) and the way she’s suddenly got the hang of reading. The b-u-g was under the r-u-g.
But I have an overwhelming sense of feeling a little bit removed from reality at the moment. As a family we’re stuck in our own little bubble, here, more than ever before (I mean the combination of having young kids and moving out to the sticks is always going to isolate you whether you like it or not!) and it’s difficult to know what to write about. Are we all experiencing the same lockdown, wherever we are in the country or the world, or are we each having entirely different times?
Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last three-ish weeks (we’re on day 19 of our family self-isolation now): I’ve been a teacher, a mediator and a comforter, I’ve played shopkeeper, I’ve played cinema owner, I’ve invented eight different trampolining competitions and created numerous obstacle courses around the garden. I’ve watched Mulan, Toy Story 4 and Lady and the Tramp (Disney+, what a lifesaver!) and I’ve sat through hours of CBeebies. I’ve made a dragon out of a toilet roll holder, I’ve planted apple pips that will likely never grow, I’ve been inventive with food ingredients and then had to give the rejected meals to the chickens and I’ve had to give myself an emergency crash course in “having patience”.
Because it’s all just wearing a little bit thin, isn’t it? Being in such close proximity to others, even though they are (hopefully) the people you love the most. If you have small beings around then I won’t need to tell you that the work involved is constant and relentless; although I have to say I’m starting to get into the swing of it a little bit now. I just have to accept that I can’t really get much work done – even if I have the pocket of time freed up to work, I don’t have the all-important transitional period that you need to switch from mum-mode to work-mode.
So I’ll keep this update relatively brief – I’m not sure I have anything particularly novel to add, other than that I almost set fire to my foot with one of those electric pedicure things. You know the ones with the sandpaper that spins round? I was a bit over-zealous with it and now I have a slight dent in the ball of my foot and the bathroom smells of burning flesh.
Oh, it is grim this Covid situation, but I’m trying to retain a sense of humour. So many lives lost, so many jobs lost, so many lives changed forever – and nobody was expecting it at all. I think that’s the biggest shock. And I feel so all at sea with it, as though my little family unit is just bobbing along in this massive ocean where there’s no land in sight and no way of really knowing what’s going on…does everyone feel this way?
It’s hard to know whether any of the people in charge are doing the right thing, or doing certain things for political gain, or making colossal mistakes – I’d rather like for there to be a huge loud voice in the sky that would suddenly boom out, as though over a giant tannoy, and say
“hello world! This is your captain speaking!”
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
“Hello, Ladies and Gentleman. This is your captain speaking. My apologies for that rather bumpy takeoff – you’ll have noticed that I didn’t make any announcements; the crew and I had your safety as our primary concern and so we decided to concentrate on the control panel rather than lose all of your fucking lives in one colossal go! Anyway, we’re now cruising along at a steady RO of 0.9, having flattened the curve, and so long as you all stay with your proverbial seatbelts on then I have every confidence that we’ll have a successful landing in a new, very changed but very pleasant land.”
I just want someone to be in charge. I’d even turn religious if it meant that some Godlike figure would take control and pop his/her head out of the clouds to make wise decisions!
I must go. I’ve done my knee in on the trampoline and it’s the same side as the foot fire incident, so I’m off for a soak. May you and all of your loved ones be safe and healthy – if you feel the need to see my reassuring face (ha!) on a regular basis then you can find me most often on Instagram @modelrecommends.
I don’t think I’ve ever properly suffered with anxiety – stress is more my thing, though I’m sure the two are somehow linked – but the current coronavirus situation is enough to make anyone as tense and panic-ridden as a hedgehog on a highway.
So there are a few things that I’ve started doing, almost religiously, to safeguard my mental health and attempt to get a good, solid night’s sleep. Good quality sleep is said to be absolutely vital for your overall wellbeing and I must say that I feel much more invigorated since I started going to bed at what would normally be my dinner time.
Yes, it makes me feel as though I’ve suddenly aged by thirty years in the space of a fortnight, especially as I go to bed with a hot water bottle strapped to my chest to “ward off any chills”, but the payoff is that I wake up at 6.30am feeling moderately okay rather than how I usually wake up, which is moody and pessimistic and feeling as though someone has used my head as a gong.
(I don’t actually wake up at six thirty – my youngest does. He’s three and still has no sense of what’s polite when it comes to wakeup times. He’s like a bloody rooster. Except he crows “it’s morning? It’s morning?” rather than “cockadoodledoo”.)
OK, my tips for feeling altogether calmer and less panicked during the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to stretch on for a good while yet. Realistically. I’m no expert, but all the signs are pointing towards this being a longterm event rather than a short and sharp shock and so I feel it’s perhaps sensible to adopt some semi-permanent lifestyle changes rather than reactionary quick fixes.
My first change is not reading the news all day. It’s tempting to. I go to open my news apps every time I pick up my phone, so I’m also trying not to pick up my phone as much. Difficult, considering my job, but I try. One thing I definitely don’t do is read the news just before bed. Good grief. Recipe for disaster, that is.
Another offshoot change is to only read news from one source, eg the BBC, and a source that doesn’t heavily promote a comments section. If the comments section is something that pops up at the end of the piece, you can’t help but click on it, and the last thing you need at the moment is to fill your head with the thoughts and opinions of a thousand armchair experts. Some of the commenters may well be experts, but wait for them to get themselves quoted in an article and listen to them then. Perhaps.
So, no news before bed and only one slot a day reserved for reading the news at all – I do 5.30pm, when the PM addresses the nation. Which sometimes feels as though I’ve tuned into CBeebies by mistake, but such is the political state of the country/world we live in.
I’ve started reading before I go to sleep – currently on the new Hilary Mantel*, so my mind is filled with Tudor politics and beheadings and frail children all night, but it still counts as escapism.
And then before bed, I do my Epsom Salts trick, which isn’t a trick at all, but feels magical all the same. The important thing to note about this tip is that – unless you’re a billionaire – you need to get yourself a load of no-frills cheap-ass salts. I buy them in huge 10kg tubs from Amazon (see here* and here*) and so my highly effective slumber-bath treatments cost me around 20-50p per soak – if I used the equivalent amount of luxury salts, each bath would cost me about thirty to forty quid.
Because the key is quantity, here; you need a good two cupfuls of salts to really see a difference and knock yourself into a relaxation coma. If you use the pricey salts, in those little pots, you’d be throwing in a whole pot at a time. Crazy times. Buy the big tubs, save yourself a fortune, have the best night’s sleep of your life.
(Disclaimer: can’t guarantee the best night’s sleep, I’m sure that these salts work differently on everyone. I mean, I can take Benilyn Original cough mixture and it’s as though someone has given me four valium, so I’m probably susceptible.)
I also add a few drops of Frankincense essential oil (Aromatherapy Associates do a nice one*, but it’s quite widely available) to de-stress and ground myself. Bloody love a bit of frankincense, me – I’m like one of the three kings, the amount I use.
I did a video on all of these tips – you’re welcome! – and now that most of us are working from home, you have no excuse not to watch it. Ramp that volume up and let yourselves be soothes with my dulcet tones.
I’m back in the room! It’s not really as though I can go anywhere else, to be fair. Sorry for the slightly prolonged absence; I’ve been trying to get my head around the new working day, which consists of twelve hours of shared cat-herding (childcare) with Mr AMR followed by two hours of frantically trying to get admin done and, if there’s any time left over, work.
And I decided to distance myself a bit from social media for a while, mainly because I didn’t want to come on here and pour out my feelings and potentially add to your anxieties or feelings of doom and gloom. I wasn’t really in great shape the week before last.
You should see the post I wrote on Monday 16th, when we took the kids out of school early! It was a full four days before they officially closed and I just felt so weird and alone and had no idea, at that point, whether we were doing the right thing.
So the diary entry I wrote (and decided not to publish) was absolutely bonkers – more the sort of thing someone would write on the battlefield, knowing that they were living their last moments, than the diary entry of a woman faced with the prospect of home-schooling…
“Into the fray I go, not knowing what awaits us. I am locking down my family and battening the hatches and I feel as though we are preparing for the end of the world.”
Needless to say I’ve managed to gain some perspective in the eleven days we’ve been in isolation; not only do I feel incredibly lucky to have a healthy family, a relatively flexible job and a solid roof over our heads, I’ve managed to eke out some positives from the sudden, unexpected plunge into round-the-clock childcare.
I just need some time to think them up.
Haha. Only joking. It is a privilege to see your kids grow up and so a bit of extra time together should be seen as a blessing and not a curse – I think it’s the intensity with which we have all been thrown together, isn’t it? The sensation of not being able to escape or have a moment’s peace.
I feel as though I’d just got into a place where I could have a bit of my own life back when the kids went off to school and pre-school – I was even managing to work some “me time” (UGH) into the schedule – and now those windows of opportunity have been completely removed, so we’re all basically in a relationship pressure cooker.
But I shan’t moan – I’m reserving that particular click and collect slot for those that need it. NHS workers and people who have lost their jobs and those who are vulnerable and worried for their lives. Bit of home-schooling is a cinch by comparison.
Not that we’re doing any home-schooling – I mean, the phrase itself brings me out in hives. It’s my worst nightmare. I have no patience with even the most mundane daily tasks when it comes to the kids, so trying to get them to sit in one place and read sends me over the edge. Today I tried to keep things “exciting” and made “nature crowns” with them, which basically involved me burning myself multiple times with the glue gun, sticking my fingernail to the table and getting dried leaves and dead twigs all over the kitchen floor.
Did they love their nature crowns? No they did not. They think that their nature crowns are shite and they would rather be watching Mia and Me (don’t ask) on Netflix. I mean I don’t blame them, because if someone gave me the choice between making an origami dinosaur at the kitchen table or kicking back on the sofa watching Tiger King then I know what I’d choose.
On the subject of Tiger King: please discuss. If you haven’t yet seen this bizarre documentary about bat-shit crazy exotic cat owners then do add it to your busy social diaries. I know it’s difficult to fit in Netflix at the moment, what with all the garden parties and drink soirées and so on, but if you do find yourself stuck in the house and at a loose end then it’s one to have a bash at.
I’ve honestly been transfixed. But also dismayed. There are some bad, bad people out there aren’t there? It’s worrying. You can lull yourself into a false sense of security that the world is lovely and blah blah blah, and then you watch Tiger King and it’s like walking into a Thieves n’ Liars conventional. Leave your morals at the door!
I’d love to do a proper review of the series but everyone on the documentary is quite nifty on social media and I’d be genuinely worried that they would hunt me down, shoot me with a Lion-tranquillising gun and put my body through the meat grinder.
On that note, I’m off for a four-way.
Not that kind!
Social distancing has ruled out that particular pastime (LOL! Joke!) and so I’m having a Whatsapp video call with three of my friends. (I’m writing this on Saturday night.) We have a monthly (ish) dinner together and tonight was penned in as the latest date, but as we can’t see each other in person we’ve decided to be all modern and woke.
There will be wine, but I’m limiting myself to two glasses because the idea of a hangover when there is no recovery day in sight for at least two weeks is just to grim to contemplate. I’ll let you know how it goes…
Hello, dearest readers. I’ve been at a loss to know what to say to you this week; my usual humour seems to have deserted me and I’m struggling to find the right words. I’m sure that most of you feel the same way as me – overwhelmed and displaced – and so I don’t want to add to your anxieties or write something that doesn’t do justice to the enormity of the situation.
Which is why I’ve called in the expert to say something useful rather than blather away aimlessly at you. I asked psychotherapist Marianne Johnson about how we could stay calm and less anxious in these rapidly changing times – her answer below will be a useful read for so many people. Please do share it, pass on the link, post on Facebook. I’ll be back – no doubt to blather away aimlessly at you – in the next few days.
Coronavirus and Coping with Anxiety.
We are all reeling from the coronavirus outbreak. Each day the world looks a little less recognisable and a little less safe as the numbers of people infected tick up and the isolation measures take hold. In my job as a psychotherapist I am increasingly finding that the focus of my work is now around the anxiety that clients are bringing and how that is impacting their lives.
Fear and panic can build up easily with our non-stop media consumption so it’s vital that we take some control of our own mental health and put things in place to protect and care for ourselves.
I’m finding that anxiety about coronovirus takes on different shapes for different people. Some experience profound existential fear about what might escalate globally in the long term, others are deeply concerned about how people can protect their livelihood and loved ones. And I am also hearing plenty of hope. Many people are expressing a desire for a profound shift in ideology as communities come together and the focus moves from a consumerist stance to a more nurturing one. I hear people longing for better, deeper connections to the people close to them, and also to a deeper sense of themselves.
So what practical measures can we put in place to help ourselves? Firstly, it’s helpful to acknowledge that some worry is inevitable. These are uncertain times. We have to give ourselves a chance to think feel and talk to others about our concerns.
Our brains are wired to avoid uncertainty and this is where anxiety can become problematic. If left unchecked, understandable worries and stress can become converted to overwhelming and unmanageable feeling of panic and dread. It can he helpful to imagine what is happening inside the brain to create this response.
Fear is a primitive and essential emotion. It keeps us safe from harm as we manage immediate threats and react accordingly. Our early ancestors needed this mechanism to escape the dangers in their environment. As our brains became more complex we became able to think ahead and creatively predict what might happen in the future, based on past experience.
Faced with a lack of certainty this more advanced function of our brain presents different versions of what could unfold, which we then process and rationalise. This can run into overdrive when we consume a vast range of speculation in the media. With so much opinion at our disposal we are able to stew in a pot of collective panic and then become compelled to search out more and more information pushing that button of dread.
Here are some suggestions
1) Be aware of how your thoughts are affecting how you feel. You have a choice about which thoughts to hold onto, and which to let go of. We can find ourselves unhappily attached to the negative thinking, feeling as as if the more we think, the more it will help us escape the uncertainty. Keep bringing yourself back to what we do know and try not to catastrophize and ruminate about what might happen.
2) Focus on bringing yourself back to the present, which for some might be meditation and others finding a project that they can immerse themselves in. Purpose is better than distraction. If you can find something really absorbing it will be more helpful to ground you.
2) If you are worried about how much time you are spending on news channels, choose one daily news outlet that you trust and have a dedicated slot that you use to check for updates. Some people may choose to avoid all media for a period of time.
3) Think about human contact and the different ways you can connect to others. It is going to be really important to carve out ways to get support. This might require taking a risk and saying to people ‘i’m here’ but it will be worth it. You can return the favour.
4) Practice a really simple but effective breathing exercise (they really do work). The nervous system can be calmed by just a minute of mindful breathing. I like the 4-7-8 method. You exhale through your mouth completely, then breath in quietly through your nose to a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale competes through your mouth (making a whooshing sound if you like) for a count of 8. Repeat this at least 4 times but as many as you like. This also really helps insomnia.
5) Be gentle with yourself and make time for things which soothe you. It can take a really concerted effort to do this. It’s so much easier to dive into our laptops or phones. Put on some music, watch a film, plant some seeds, bake a cake, do something creative, do whatever it is that can take you into a happier frame of mind.
Marianne Johnson AdvDip MA UKCP