Christmas overwhelm!

Christmas overwhelm!

I have a confession to make, I am really struggling with Christmas. I know for some people it is the most exciting time of the year, but for others like myself it is a time where I feel totally out of my depth, physically and emotionally.

The increased pressures of getting things arranged, organised, gifts to buy, events to attend, preparing for guests, and family occasions… I worry about what to buy for people, what to cook, what to wear. The expectations feel so high and I never feel that I can achieve this perfect family Christmas that I believed exists, I dreamed of but have not yet experienced.

I sit and ask myself; ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I immerse myself fully in the Christmas cheer?’ Along with the feeling of overwhelm I also carry the guilt of feeling down as I ‘should’ be filled up with more joy. With the pressure I put on myself to create a magical Christmas I’ve ended up dragging myself about with no energy to enjoy the season or I’m ill with a virus, all of this not helping with my recovery journey from Chronic Fatigue. 

Of course there are still moments at Christmas where my heart is filled with love and joy of the season of good will. My children’s excitement and joy of Santa’s visit, the amazing experience of my son in his first nativity play, and my daughter reading the words and singing christmas carols for her first Christmas carol performance. These of course are undeniably fantastic Christmas moments that I will treasure, but unfortunately these moments are often overridden by the onslaught of preparations.

This is the first time I’ve reflected on my personal feelings and experiences around Christmas and truly acknowledged them. I felt that perhaps writing about my struggles with the season would help me to unravel the issues I have that are connected to Christmas time.

This overwhelm isn’t something new; I have felt it for many years. When my husband and I first got together we realised we couldn’t deal with the family politics of who to spend Christmas with, so we managed to deal with this by taking ourselves away from everything and heading up to Scotland, the beautiful coastal area of Dumfries and Galloway. It was very romantic, pure escapism from the chaos of London life. We would hire a little one-bedroom cottage with an open log fire and spend time reconnecting with each other and with ourselves. It was something I looked forward to each year as there was no real pressure. Of course with having two children our lives have drastically changed in the last five years, but I will always treasure those times.

Growing up as an only child with West Indian immigrant parents, we didn’t have the traditional English family Christmases my husband and many of my friends had. My early memories are of spending the morning time with my parents opening my many, many gifts, and feeling very spoilt and special.

I don’t have a memory of sitting round the table with a turkey dinner, although I’m sure we might have done, however it didn’t leave a lasting impression. My Christmas memories are of myself my Mum and Dad spending time at my parents friends houses where we were welcomed into their homes as extended family. I remember their friends houses being filled with love, laughter and warm spicy Caribbean food filled with soul. The benefit of going to other peoples houses was that I got to be part of a large family and play with other children. The downside being that I left with a feeling of being on the outside of a ‘real’ family looking in. Perhaps this is because of my parents fractured relationship, we always did things with other families never just the three of us. From a young age I would be sent on holidays to visit my grandparents in the Caribbean, or go alone with family friends and their children, or I’d go on outings separately with either parent, but never both.

Like many people who have lost loved ones, Christmas time can bring about a huge sense of loss. My big realisation this year is that the sprit of Christmas holidays was never the same again since my father died from a brain tumour when I was thirteen years old. As I mentioned, from early childhood I already felt slightly detached from Christmas, but after his death I was left with a deep void that my mother would never be able to fill. My Dad was the magic of Christmas, the one that knew my wishes and dreams, my Father Christmas. Since his death I felt even more disconnected from the feeling of being in a family, we still visited the same people but my Mum and I were just guests interrupting someone else’s Christmas Day.

Since having children I’ve been learning to rewrite our my Christmas experiences. It is a journey and slowly I am recognising how to create new experiences and memories.

Last week I wrote about my holiday values manifesto. This has been a very helpful exercise to put in place and I have managed to keep things very simple.

I now want to create new Christmas traditions and so this year along with the Christmas Manifesto I have started to write down what we would like to describe as our Christmas holiday traditions – these are in line with our Christmas Values.

I do feel that next year I will be more mindful of my emotions at this time and the feeling I have of being overwhelmed and wanting to run away and escape might not disappear, but in accepting it I can learn more about ways to deal with this time.

Learning to love myself enough – the journey from Chronic Fatigue

I was feeling sorry for myself over the last week. I came down with a cough virus which I’d caught from one of the children. It’s winter and kids do love to share their germs.

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Feeling very rough I managed to cope for a few days with our usual daily routine. But in the end my body felt as if I was being held hostage by the virus and it rendered me incapable of doing anything. I had to take to my bed for a few days.

I felt pure frustration at my incapacity, having to be bedridden, leaving my husband (who by the way is very kind and supportive) in charge of the kids and the home.  But with a fever and blinding headache all I could do was impatiently surrender. It was so difficult to lie there waiting to recover. Annoyingly, instead of thinking of getting myself well, all I felt was a huge pile of guilt: the piles of laundry; empty fridge and fruit bowl; the fluff and crumbs on the carpet and washing up stacked by the sink; the children’s TV channel on all afternoon; beans on toast for kids tea. It all symbolised to me my failings of not doing my job as a ‘homemaker’.

Mainly I was annoyed and disappointed that I’d got ill in the first place. This is the judgmental part of me, telling me it’s my fault, to get over it and not to moan. That mostly I deserve it, especially as I hadn’t kept up my health regime that I started as a New Year resolution in January after being very unwell around the same time last year.

Lying in bed, my mind couldn’t rest, my ‘gremlin’ inside saying:

’You didn’t look after yourself’

‘Did you take your vitamins? ‘No’ Well then what do you expect!’

‘Have you been eating those green drinks and veggie smoothies everyone raves about? ‘No’ Well then!’

‘In the evening have you had one glass of red too many? ‘Yes,’ There you go!’

I’ve had a low immune system since falling ill with M.E in 2006. I was in the process of building my coaching and training business which I had set up in 2004. It was a time I felt that there was so much potential. I was happily married and flying high with my new found career and success.

The chronic fatigue illness crept up on me; I didn’t realise how bad it would get. It started with me feeling exhausted after I’d do a corporate training session or see a coaching client. Soon I found it hard to multitask; I became overwhelmed with even the simplest of tasks. I would wake up from ten hours sleep exhausted and it felt like I was walking around with a mind fog that wouldn’t clear, my concentration was reduced, my muscles constantly ached, and my glands were swollen.

I struggled for about a year, reducing my workload and taking up studying to ease my stress, until one month I got a flu virus that I couldn’t recover from. At that point I was seriously unwell, and in the end I was mostly bed/sofa ridden for many months. My life as I knew it was taken away; I had to give up my work, my hobbies, and my social life. Everything got put on hold as I struggled day to day with even the simplest of tasks that we take for granted; from walking up the stairs, washing my hair, to getting up and making myself something to eat.

Finally I got diagnosed with M.E in 2008. With no understanding from my GP I managed through sheer determination to significantly recover from this chronic illness. With the support of private M.E specialists I tackled my body with nutrition, reflexology, yoga and other alternative treatments, and for my Mind I had therapy. In the end after using what energy I had to work on myself, I had a strong belief that I could learn from this life-changing experience and come through the other side with a greater knowledge of my life-purpose. By the middle of 2009, although I am still living with the condition, I was fortunate enough to have recovered to a point that I could start a family.

But knowing this doesn’t help. Living with the knowledge I could relapse should make me more disciplined, more careful with my nutrition, but instead I feel that when I am well I forget and I let all my rules lapse, knowing I am heading for a disaster. But also I say to myself, ‘just have fun, love life, live for now’.

These regrets are like a hangover; ‘Never again!’ I send myself into my personal ‘health rehab’, getting out my list of vitamins and supplements and reviewing my program for maintaining strong health. The idea of putting myself on this regime felt restricting and brought back a feeling of being an unwell person, someone with a disability, part of me still in denial and unwilling to change. In fact writing this has been hard, I realised I have blocked out so much of that painful time in my life.

Starting this blog is giving me insight, and my power back. It is time I stopped attacking myself and treat my body with the care and respect it deserves.

The ‘airplane procedure parent’ puts on their own oxygen mask first so that they can care for their children. I need to take this on-board. I need to look after my health as a priority; not beat myself up, but love myself enough.

I want to live wholeheartedly. To do this I have to:

  • Learn to surrender
  • Be vulnerable
  • Stop holding onto control
  • Let go of scarcity and fear
  • When I am overwhelmed I will breathe, and breathe again.

School morning marathon

IMG_3963I’ve just got home from the school/nursery run. I never questioned prior to now why it was called the ‘school run’ but today as I flopped on the sofa, with my boots still on I feel that I’ve literally run a marathon.

After Izzy’s first exhausting and stressful year at school; my vision during the summer holidays had been to do a bedside yoga session in the morning. I also thought, like my Mum used to do I could start to get everything ready, arranged, and in place the night before … including breakfast. I imagined it would be possible for us to have a calm and enjoyable morning routine this term. These intentions are great, but in reality I just need those extra few minutes to sleep! When will I be able to live this mindful / zen life that I imagined could be possible?  All I really want to do after the school run is switch off and de-stress from this intense workout by switching on the TV to some mind numbing reality show, or girly drama.

I have to change this way of being – this is only the beginning of the second school year! I still have many, many more years of this. I can’t believe am so exhausted by 9am. The rush of adrenaline starts to stream through my body from the moment my alarm wakes me at 6.45. I hear myself shouting instructions, nagging, coaxing them as I try and get my five year old Izzy and three year old Jake up, ready, fed and out of the door. I pile them both into the car, feeling guilty as we could be, should be, walking.

At nursery today Jake runs off, I catch him, take him into his class, where his teachers and I encourage him to let go of my leg. I am impatient, watching the clock, but also not wanting to leave him; he usually bounces in happily. The Nursery teacher reassures me he will be fine once I leave, so with a quick kiss I grab Izzy’s hand, head for the exit, bumping into other stressed mums on their way to work. I’m now thinking; ‘How easy I have it’, and there goes that guilt feeling again. Now Izzy and I need to make it to school before the bell. We speed walk round the corner where we battle the opposite flow of mum’s, buggies, and toddlers leaving the school from their earlier drop off.  I arrive outside Izzy’s classroom handing over her backpack and with a peck on the cheek I watch proudly as she walks in calmly with confidence to her class. Standing there sweating and out of breath, I let out a big sigh, my body relaxes with ‘job done’ as Izzy’s teacher looks at me with compassion. Yes she has seen this all before, and she will again.

I started with such good intentions this morning. I woke up feeling positive and listened to my mindfulness app Stop, Breathe & Think. The three words, resonate as a mantra to life. I’m not sure why, but my life as it is now seems to be running full steam ahead and leaving me behind exhausted.

How can it be this hard to incorporate the mindful practices that I truly need and believe in? Today, the last day of term, I vow that this has to change. There has to be a better way.