Monday, 24 July 2017

Receiver Fatigue and getting over it

I have been in bed with the flu for a week. It was not the plan. We had organised a family trip back to Auckland to see family and friends, do some maintenance at our house and generally have a holiday. But the kids both had a nasty virus in the two weeks beforehand and despite my attempts to rest and avoid it, I succumbed the day before.

So I waved off hubby and the two kids and planned to join them two days later once I was feeling better. Two days passed and I was worse rather than better. I was grateful to be able to actually rest while sick. It felt like such a treat to have the flu alone. Oh dear what an irony. 

On the third day I woke up drenched in sweat so had to change all the sheets. I ran out of tissues and was on the last roll of toilet paper and last two paracetamol. Time to call for help. 

I am so grateful to have friends to call. We have only lived in this town for three months but through church I've made some lovely friends and even though we are still in the fresh and new phase of getting to know each other, I knew I could call. So I did. And she came with toilet rolls and paracetamol, hung out my washing and did the dishes. This is despite it being school holidays and her having four kids. Mums do get it. She then came back and got my washing in, took it back to her place to finish drying and returned it folded the next day. 

Meanwhile another friend in Auckland hosted my son's 5th birthday party that he had begged to have with his big cousins. She knew it meant a lot and offered to help even with me not there. I am so grateful. 

Over the years, especially since having kids, I have had to ask for help a lot. Sometimes it's been part of really normal transitions like moving house. My sister in law helped set up my wardrobes and linen cupboard and family helped to look after our daughter while we unpacked. At other times it has been caring for my children when I am to unwell with depression and anxiety. And at other times it has been when hyperemesis (pregnancy nausea and vomiting) meant I was bed bound and needed help. About 18 months ago I was exhausted due to adrenal fatigue and needed help with childcare and house work. Over the last 8 years I've needed help with juggling childcare and work and have asked mum friends who are home full time to look after my kids or pick them up. I feel like the last 8 years has been full of asking for help and learning to receive it.

At first it was so wonderful to receive help, to know we were not alone. At times I was so ill that help was the only option. I've never been a private person so I didn't feel embarrassed overtly by needing help but over time it got harder. Desperation meant I blocked out how vulnerable I felt and the sense of failure I had. I remember needing a friend to help with childcare one day when I had to work late. I got home late and walked into the house. She was managing her own three kids, my two, cooking dinner, had cleaned up and folded laundry. I disappeared to my room and sobbed. The sense of failure and shame was just too much. So much of my sense of worth was whittled away in my need for help and dependence on others.

I am naturally quite an independent person and pride myself on being organised and having things under control. However, Ive learned that those things are a privilege of circumstance and health rather than a measure of my value or success as a person. And I have had a lot of conversations with other Mums who have struggled on alone, convinced that everyone else was coping better than they were and not asked for help or been honest about how hard life can be. People have said to me "You seem like you are always on top of things" but others have commented "You are so good at asking for help". On a bad day both comments seem problematic. When people say I seem to have it all together I want to scream and ask what they expect me to do? Kids still need to be fed and clothed and taken places. Most of the time you can't just collapse in a heap cause everything else will collapse too. But there have been time when I have collapsed and I have desperately needed help and I have asked for it. Telling me I am good at asking can feel like I am not independent or capable or that I am somehow weaker than those who just "soldier on".

Instead I believe that most of us are stronger than we often realise. At times carrying on putting one step in front of the other, getting out of bed, keeping on parenting through what feels like thick mud and a pack full of rocks is what we do. But in other situations the strongest thing we can do is ask for help. There are no medals for going it alone. Our kids do not benefit from white knuckling it until it all falls apart. Instead help can mean we recover, it can remind us that we are all connected and that none of us is truly in control of our lives. It can show our children that helping others is a privilege and receiving from others is an important skill to learn.

I'm feeling better now. The school holidays are over. Everything is on a more even keel. I hope that when things are going well I will be in a position to help others. But I don't owe anyone and I don't have to prove anything. I am stronger than I think and in each season, day, minute and breath I remember that none of us can do this alone so why should I? And why should you?

Friday, 30 June 2017

It's been a while

Gosh it does get rather tedious to write these kind of posts. I haven't blogged for 18months. My last post was about trying out not working to give myself some space to get well and find the joy in life again.

Well that didn't happen...

It was a great idea but not totally financially feasible and I had a great part time job offer close to home so I decided to take it. It involved working with children and families at our church and it felt so good to feel enthusiastic and to join a lovely team. I was wary of exhausting myself and of the perils of working in a faith community but I wanted to try something new and to use my teaching skills in a new context. Over the year I gradually increased my hours from 5 hours per week up to 15. I enjoyed so much of the role but again found I felt really anxious about doing it well and performance anxiety around what other people expected.

My plans for a more healthy balance in my life didn't quite go as planned. The reasons for that are many but some is my lack of self discipline and the exhaustion of anxiety bubbling along under the surface. I also think in a role where you are wanting to make a positive impact in people's lives, the responsibility of that weighed heavily on me. I know that I haven't been good at relying on God for energy and guidance and instead just try harder and harder to do everything perfectly, which doesn't end well.

I appreciated so much about the role and learned a great deal but some of my core struggles and the questions about life and faith I have been mulling over for a while now were like a stone in my shoe, a constant uncomfortable reminder and unsettling pull on me. Being involved closely in a church was truly a blessing to me. The relationships formed and the important conversations were gifts. And looking at faith and faith formation from the perspective of a child and seeking to foster a healthy and whole relationship between children and Jesus was such a joy.

However, throughout the year my husband and I talked about how unsustainable life in Auckland with an Auckland sized mortgage was and we realised that in the not too distant future I would need to return to high school teaching, probably fulltime, in order for us to make any progress financially and not continue to jump from one home maintenance bill to another. We were realising that my belief that once our kids were at school it would be easier to juggle work and family life was instead a delusion. School hours and school teaching do not go well together when you add an Auckland commute and after school meetings. I could see nights of working till 2 am regularly in my future as I marked piles of assessments and my husband continued to commute an hour to and from work with the pressure of accounting for his time in 15 minute increments.

We know we are privileged to even own a home or have jobs. But we also need to be able to live with the circumstances of our lives and the impact it has on our health, family and quality of life. Our large vege garden, fruit trees and chickens are important to us but the only time in the week to spend enjoying it was a couple of hours on a Saturday and it felt like life was taken up with work and jobs around the house as well as the general busyness of life with kids.

So towards the end of the year we decided that we needed to get out of Auckland to have any chance of having a more peaceful and restful life. Early this year my husband got a job offer in a small town in the North Island of NZ. We knew the town a little bit but knew no-one living here. After a couple of reconnaissance trips which included amazing weather and very convincing sales pitches by locals on the advantages of a move to their friendly town, we made the call and accepted the job.

We have now been here for 3 months almost. It has been a surprisingly smooth transition. The kids love their respective school and kindy. We are renting a warm and sunny but small house close to town. My husband's commute is now a 5 minute walk and we have only filled the cars about 5 times since we moved. One of our two cars barely gets driven. I applied for a few teaching and non-teaching jobs before we moved here but wasn't successful. Instead of disappointment, I felt a growing sense of glee at the prospect of not working. And it has proved to be wonderful. For the first time in seven years there are no childcare juggles when the kids are sick, drop offs are slow and gentle, washing gets hung on the line and dried and taken in all on the same day and the house is generally pretty clean most of the time. We have found a church and been warmly welcomed. We are making friends and having meals with each other. Our kids are making friends and going to play at each other's houses. And I feel so much better! My daughter and I are having horse riding lessons together, which was a childhood passion of mine that I am so excited to be doing again.

It is a strange transition to going back to being home full time. I haven't done that since Ella was 7 months old. There have been times when my mood has been low as I renegotiate my identity and role in this new place. I carry so many unrecognised expectations of myself and it is strange to not be getting affirmation and a sense of worth from work and colleagues. But I'm not lonely and the sense of space and no anxiety is almost miraculous.

So here we are. We are exploring the next steps of putting down roots here and what our new version of "normal" could be. But for now I am enjoying this breathing space and the sunshine of our coastal new home. And on a very good day I wonder whether it really is possible to have all you have hoped for and dreamed of.

Monday, 25 January 2016

A shrivelled heart

I wrote the following at the beginning of 2015.

"Self preservation shrinks the good parts of life. Entering a new year and still struggling with feeling like life takes more energy than I have, self preservation seems the only option. 2014 seemed to consist of doing less and less, lots of visits to the dr, trying yo get my meds right and generally feeling frustrated. I watch other people who seem to be taking such delight in life and I ask myself what my problem is? Why is each day a battle? Why can't I seem to get to the end of the day and not feel on the verge of exhaustion.

Maybe this is all normal. Maybe parenting and working and life is just like this. But I don't think it is. I know tiredness is part of this season but dragging myself around doesn't make sense. I talk to other mums who are enjoying this season. They delight in their kids and though housework and cooking and managing tricky stages and behavior is draining, they can get out of bed in the morning."

Well unfortunately 2015 brought more of the same. I saw a great holistic gp who did tests and diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue.  This is a debated condition and not officially recognised.  Basically the adrenal glands which produce cortisol and adrenaline get drained due to long term stress and anxiety.  High levels of cortisol and adrenaline are bad for your body in lots of ways but once your body can't maintain it your cortisol drops and you get terrible fatigue. Both stress and exhaustion lead to sugar cravings and your body gets into a terrible cycle of sugar crashes, fatigue and anxiety about feeling so awful. Plus the wonderful side effect of weight gain, particularly around the tummy.

Her recommendations included dropping sugar, gluten, taking probiotics and omega3 and 6. I also needed to some exercise so starting cycling instead of driving. By March I had lost weight and was feeling much better.

But thanks to an infected toe, antibiotics, general anesthetic and hospital food, my get well plan hit the wall.

In April i got a nasty flu like virus. In the July holidays I got another one. By the October holidays I was barely functioning dragging myself through each day. I just wanted to sleep forever.

More tests and chronic sinus headaches meant more antibiotics. Specialists revealed the problem was actually my upper back and neck. And possibly post viral fatigue. 

And in November I had the end of my toe amputated.

And there is no easy fix. Rest, changing my diet, exercise to strengthen my core muscles and reducing stress. Switching meds again to see if that helps.

So back to the shrivelled heart...

I think the most painful part of the last year has been the slow hardening and shrivelling of my heart as I have to carefully calculate the energy - physical, mental and emotional- which I can afford to expend.  Conversations I want to have will take to much and so I don't start them, time with precious people is a luxury I couldn't afford, generosity of time and affection, even to my own kids and hubby felt impossible. And each cruel and cold calculation shrivelled my heart some more. Cause I love people and doing things and making life good. And I haven't been able to do it.

So a year later I am making big changes. Thanks to hubby's new job I am able to stop working.  Leaving my dream job was a very hard decision. But it had got to the point where I couldn't get out of bed in the morning and I felt working was just becoming impossible.

This year I am determined to take back control of my health. I will have three days of 5 hours without my kids. My wonderful husband wants me to rest and slow down. I am looking forward to doing simple things like reading, going for walks and writing. I want to spend time in the vege garden and with the chickens. I want to enjoy not rushing and being able to look after my kids with out constant childcare logistics. I am even looking forward to having a cleaner house and cooking recipes from my loved but not well used, cook books.

And through this I hope my raisin-like heart will swell and be refreshed again. I want life to hold new promise and possibility and to regain some of the confidence I have lost. I want life to be more than a test of survival and a disappointing struggle.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

It's not working any more

I haven't written a lot this year. I haven't felt that I had anything much to say. At my tender age of 36 I seem to feel more uncertain as time goes by. Things I was strident about and sure of seem to have slipped through my fingers of the last decade or so thanks to the realities of real life and the awareness that there is no one size fits all list of answers and advice. As well as uncertainty over the more existential issues one wrestles with, I have also had a few years of facing my limitations mentally, physically and emotionally. Depression relapses and the vulnerability of knowing my mental health is fragile means that I have learned the hard way that great ideas my not be a great idea in reality when I have to actually deal with the pressure, anxiety, work load and lack of sleep such great ideas usually involve. Great ideas don't usually involve doing less and having less responsibility. At least not for me.

I have also learned that I don't enjoy the tension between my family life and work and all the other things I could get involved in. I find the juggle and the constant feeling that I am not doing anything well, torturous. I think it is becoming the normal state for many women. After finding life at home with pre-schoolers was driving me up the wall, work has been a blessing in so many ways. It has filled my cup and made me a better wife and Mum and person all round. But the balance tipped after having a second child, and especially since my daughter started school. The commute and the anxiety over getting to work on time and then getting back to pick up kids on time is so tough. I can't put my heart into my job in the way I would like to because I have no extra time or energy to do so. And even being so physically far away from my kids each day has it's own special almost psychic tension.

This year I got more involved in our church. I love church. I know that many people have some very good reasons to avoid church and all its associations. But for me the church we attend has brought hope and challenge and healing in so many good ways. Feeling part of a community who loves and cares for me is like gold. And feeling able to contribute is such a delight and privilege. For years I have felt on the outer of the churches I have attended and struggled to build close enough relationships to feel like I belong. Having that now is just amazing. But it is also something which I have to manage.

I have always been a problem solver and community builder. I can see where things could be improved or where there is a gap that could be filled. And I often have really good ideas about how to achieve those things. I can articulate myself well and as a teacher and someone who can speak confidently, I seem more than capable of getting things done. But, don't be fooled. Sometimes the ideas people are not the right people to take the lead. Feeling like I am the person with sole responsibility for something brings me out in hives. I feel the weight of it and because I want it all to be perfect I struggle with it. I have so many ideas but my resources and energy are limited and it is hard to find a balance between my perfect vision and my imperfect self. I am getting better at that but it still triggers my anxiety.

I think if I was a details perfectionist, maybe it would be different. But I am a relational perfectionist. I want everyone to be ok, to feel great about my ideas and plans, to feel valued and happy and I also care too much about what people think of me. And since I don't have the gift of mind reading, usually I am guessing based on very flimsy evidence and my current emotional state. I have no real idea what people think and I am likely to believe the worst rather than the best.

As well as the vulnerabilities of perfectionism and depression, I am a pretty low energy person. I need my eight hours a night. I need time to do the simple things and I don't do well without visual order in my home. I need my routines and space to think. So filling my days and evenings up soon leads to illness and exhaustion. All the great ideas start to look like terrible mistakes and I find myself backing out of commitments as fast as I can. But I still want to have a project and I still yearn to be involved.

And hear I find myself. My health has packed up in a big way. I have some sort of post viral fatigue and general exhaustion, my neck and back are causing terrible headaches every day. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and have missed a lot of days of work. My kids are spending a lot of time in front of screens while I lie in bed and we are eating meals given to us by lovely friends because by the end of the day, cooking dinner is beyond me.

I am gaining a new appreciation of the suffering and pain of those who deal with chronic illness. The stress of not being able to manage the essentials of being a Mum and looking after my kids and home is indescribable. I try to accept help as much as I can manage, But it slowly erodes my self confidence and feels awful in the deepest parts of me. In the last 6 years I have had to have help a lot. And I think I am becoming allergic to it. I appreciate it all so much, but I hate having to have it at all.

Becoming well is not a clear cut treatment plan. Rest doesn't seem to be making a difference but trying to do everything leaves me unable to get out of bed. So just waiting to get better probably won't work unless I do something more than lie in bed. And everything that will help is going to be pretty tough. No magic pills to fix this. Diet changes, exercise, changing how I move, giving up things I use to cope which undermine my well being. I often find myself feeling so angry. It seems that other people can drink red bull, work long hours, party hard and still come out full of beans. But really it is irrelevant what other people do. At the moment a cup of tea after dinner has me awake all night and sitting the wrong way brings on a migraine like headache. I can feel sorry for myself, but it won't change anything.

I keep trying to find the reason why this is happening. What am I supposed to be learning through this? When will I be able to move on from this season into one where I can be productive again and feel like I am capable and strong again? But I also am starting to wonder if the "successful and well" me I have in my head is ever going to be possible.

My physio who is treating my back and breathing issues said something interesting the other day. She said that possibly all the things I have done to cope and survive have worked up till this point. But now with children and a home and work and other responsibilities and then you add a virus, my coping techniques and behaviours suddenly become problems rather than a help. Neglecting my diet, not making time for exercise, using anxiety as motivation and care too much what others think have become the exact things which have left me like this. So I can probably never go back to how it was. Cause how I have been living and doing life won't work any more.

Becoming well is beginning to look like learning how to be me from scratch. Dropping the ways that don't work and learning to welcome the ways that do. And I don't think it is going to be easy. I don't think much of it will involve taking the easy path. But I hope it can be self loving and gentle. I hope I can learn to achieve wellness without perfectionism and because I am worth it, rather than because I feel that I am failing otherwise. I didn't get this way by using alcohol, drugs or any other stereotypically destructive habits. But what I have been doing hasn't been that great. So I have to find the self discipline to put down the junk food, turn off my phone, put on my yoga pants and pick up the kale. To breathe and be still.

I know I should feel like it will be a wonderful journey, but at this point I still feel like crawling back into bed for an indefinite period. I think getting well will be hard work and confronting. No excuses or putting it off. Why does looking after myself seem so much harder that helping other people?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Don't be amazing

So much of the advice for living well and being successful at life uses adjectives like "amazing", "unique", "authentic" etc. And 2 minutes on pintrest is full of lists of steps, commands and changes which will give you and "amazing" life. When you add the highlight reel of facebook profiles and magazine articles about people who achieved the extraordinary, it can create an expectation that if it's not amazing then your life is a failure.

And I just want to call bulls$#/@ on that, for myself, as much as anyone else.

It is not that I think there is anything wrong with adventures and proving you life satisfaction. I think achieving wonderful things and setting goals to work towards are fantastic. My problem is with the expectations it sets up and the pressure it creates to have an amazing life.

I think the word "amazing" needs some interrogation.  Does it mean a perfect life of only mountain-top moments and pinable pics? Is it a life curated and constructed for an audience? Or is amazing all about achievement? Do you need to run a marathon, lose your own body weight, publish a novel, make a million bucks to have an amazing life? And what about those amazing experiences? Travelling to your dream destinations, riding the adrenaline rush of jumping from a plane, hosting a party people will talk about for years...

To be honest in my rather fragile state it all seems rather exhausting and completely out of my reach.

None of the above are bad and all are amazing, but maybe that's not what life needs to be about.

If amazing is the qualifying criteria for a good life then I guess most of us won't get that. And a lot of people may feel like their lives are spent as spectators of other people's "amazing". There are a lot of things which can get in the way of amazing; illness, responsibilities for others, financial realities, time and energy.

But I think everyone can have a life they love and are content with. And a life where they choose a good and whole and peaceful way to be. Where you use you talents and enthusiasm for things which matter to you and where you sleep a deep and restful sleep at the end of each day.

Where did this expectation of "amazing" come from? My parents didn't expect it. Their parents lived through two world wars and a depression. Surviving was pretty amazing. There was so much less to compare your own life with. Other people's homes, clothes, money and families were restricted to the people you knew in real life. Celebrities were far away characters on a screen you paid to see. Celebrations were simple and over the rhythms and moments that mark most people's lives. And you couldn't design your moments based on millions of people's moments. The suggestions came from the pages of a women's mag and included a recipe or two. Travel was slow and expensive. Leaving town was pretty amazing.

But now anything and everything is on offer. And the normal and everyday can seem a bland and boring life.

As I contemplate having barely enough energy to get out of bed, I can't be bothered with an amazing life. I think it is a carrot on a stick used to make people buy stuff and experiences and to drive economic growth.

Instead I want to be happy and free to do all the simple and humdrum things which life is really made up of. Meals, housework, playing at the park, a hot cup of tea and a nap. Loving my little family well. I want to do all of this and be satisfied and content. I don't want to dismiss this life as not enough cause it doesn't look "amazing".

And for two thirds of the world my life looks pretty, darn amazing. Yes, go after your dreams, have adventures, go for impossible goals. But don't do it so you have an amazing life.  Don't do it to prove anything or for some audience judging the worth if your existence.  Do it cause you want to and it is part of who you are. And at the end of each day you can be at peace with yourself.

I hope you can take the pressure off and just be you doing your life. And im pretty sure that's what us truly amazing in this crazy time we are living in.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Let it go

Oh the joys of Disney and the power of animated princesses. That little phrase will never be the same again. It was a hit at our house too. Ella loved the princesses and the music. George loved the snow but wasn't  too keen on the snow monster. I liked Olaf and his dreams of summer. His blissful ignorance that the season he wished for would lead to his demise had something tragically poetic about it.

But that song. Despite how annoying it became (Ella actually screams with pain if I sing it near her. Five year old girls love to be dramatic), there are sentiments I like.

Spoiler alert - if you have not seen Frozen then maybe save this post for another day...

Anyway, I like the words of the song as princess Elsa sings about the struggle to be good and acceptable and keep her ability to freeze things around her, under control. When she runs away she sings about being able to finally be free and let go. To be who she is and no longer locked away and afraid. Of course it is not that simple. But the freedom of being herself and expressing herself is clear. As I pondered why I found it so profound, I was struck by how easy it is to suppress my passion, enthusiasm, gifts or interests due to the fear that somehow that might not be acceptable to other people. Or that if I truly revealed who I am, and stopped trying to be what I think other people want, that I would be rejected and abandoned.

And that fear is not without reason. I imagine many of us have experienced times when others have rejected us because we have turned out to not fulfil their expectations of who we should be. Or someone has discovered that we are not the person they thought we were and they find it difficult to accept this new facet of our identity. It doesn't have to be something major. Maybe you became friends with someone through a mutual interest and all was great until you broadened the friendship. And suddenly it wasn't so easy. Maybe you have divergent views or ideas. Maybe you just don't understand each other. Or perhaps in a work situation you took a different view than a colleague you usually see eye to eye with. It can be so hard to let each other go. To let each other be who we are and not hurt each other in the process. Because none of us fit together comfortably all the time. There is always friction and discomfort because we are separate people, each working out our lives in different ways.

I am often hyper aware of the underlying expectations others may have of me and the narrow view they may have of my identity. Sometimes I cultivate that. I don't think it is deliberately deceptive. I think most of the time we want to find common ground with others and we emphasise what we have in common. And after a while it can be hard to bring attention to the parts of ourselves that don't fit the relationship so neatly. It is like when someone calls you by the wrong name and you don't correct them and after a while it is just too awkward to say anything. The same can be true when I realise that the box I have thrown myself into for the benefit of connection with someone, has become a bit of a cage.

And then I have a choice. Do I keep sitting in the box or do I risk stepping out and possibly breaking the relationship. You might think this is a bit dramatic. But have you got friends who you always expect to respond in a certain way to you? Do you have people who you expect to always understand why you are late cause they struggle with lateness too? What if they suddenly said when you turned up late to meet them for coffee "Hey, I am getting really frustrated that you are always late. I know I said I was also someone who struggled to be on time, but 45 minutes waiting for you is just too much". It is highly likely that you would feel hurt but also betrayed. You were buddies who were late together and she was supposed to get it. And she doesn't any more. Another example might be someone you met through a baby group but as your children get older you realise your parenting approaches are getting further and further apart and it is getting harder to spend time together cause at some point the differences will become so awkward that hanging out is not fun at all.

These boxes we find ourselves in are no-one's fault and often if you take the risk of stepping out of the box, your friendships and relationships will actually deepen as you get to know each other better. Suddenly the 2D cut out becomes 3D and that growing knowledge of each other can fill in so many of the gaps and make it so much more joyful to share life together.

But if you are people pleaser or someone who fears abandonment (both my hands are raised) it can be very hard to let go of the impression I have created and projected and allow myself to be seen as I really am.

At the same time it can be very painful when someone I know steps out of the box in front of me. Suddenly they aren't playing the game by the rules I expected. Suddenly I am not sure who they are anymore. My expectations are not being met and I .might be disappointed, or outright angry.

However, the only choice which will allow the relationship to remain intact, is to let it go. (Thanks Elsa). I need to let go of the need to control the opinions of other people about me. If I step out of the box and get rejected well it is probably for the best. I only want to be close to people who love me and accept me in all my mess and complexities. And others have the same rights too.

And who am I to know what anyone else thinks of me anyway? What a lot of wasted energy trying to manage other people's opinions. Instead I could be just getting on with living.

I remember a colleague talking to me about being in her 30s. I was bright eyed and angsting through my 20s. She said that the best thing about being almost 40 was that she just didn't care what anyone thought about her anymore. She was too busy getting on with living. I hope I can get busier living and let the opinions of other people go. They are just people anyway, and with just as many flaws and weaknesses as me. Well maybe not that many ...

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


The summer holidays are always a surprise to me. With working part time as a secondary teacher and the pressure to complete all assessments, reports and end of year prize givings, plus now all the end of year events for my school age daughter, it seems I just stagger over the finish line as school ends. As I lie their gasping for breath, Christmas looms. I deliberately do no preparations for Christmas before about the 12th of December. Some may think I am unwise, but actually I think I am a genius. Having so little time to do anything before the big day means there can be no overly ambitious handmade, pintrist inspired, creativity. There are definitely no Christmas cards or family letters to post and even if I had the cash for lavish presents, I certainly don't have the time to buy them. This year I had a total of 3 hours to do all my Christmas shopping. George was at daycare and Ella was still at school. That meant I visited two shops and was done.

Now from that extremely utilitarian description of my lead up to one of the most significant days in the year, it would be understandable to conclude that I am not a person who enjoys the season and that gift giving and the traditions of advent don't really interest me. But that assumption could not be further from the truth. I love traditions and building them into our life as a family. I love buying presents for people and try to think about who they are as a person as I pick them. I also really enjoy baking and putting together food as a gift. I especially enjoy trying to make it a special day for my children. But over the last few years I have learned to set my expectations at the same level as my energy, and our finances. The result is that I have learned to accept what I am able to do, and though I look forward to a time when I can do more of what I love, I can let that go for now. I had moments this year of wishing we had all decorated the Christmas tree together (hubby took the kids and did it with them), or that I had made more handmade gifts, or that I made sure I had the Kings College Choir Christmas album to listen to as I wrapped presents (a tradition from my own childhood) or that I could buy more presents for more people and not worry so much about how to afford it. But it was still good. Perfect is not possible and isn't worth trying to achieve because it doesn't actually exist. The meaning of Christmas remains a constant no matter how much or little I do in preparation. An authentic Christmas means coming to that special day as I am.

And this year I was in bed with vertigo. Horrible spinning every time I moved my head. In days before Christmas I was so exhausted that getting up to prepare breakfast for the kids took superhuman effort. Every cell in my body yearned to sleep. I would have volunteered for a human version of hibernation if it had been offered to me. On Christmas morning I had hoped that rest and doing basically nothing for a week would mean I was fighting fit. But I wasn't. I managed that excitement of stocking opening and pancakes for breakfast but then had to crawl back to bed while hubby took the kids to church by himself. Then afternoon was thankfully spent with family and not at our house and I was so grateful that I didn't have to contribute much and could just sit still. It was a good reminder that there is no controlling this thing called life. Poor health and a mystery virus can strike at any time and is no respecter of circled days on the calendar.

The summer holidays have felt like extended convalescence and recuperation. Every day I napped and when I could I lay down. Hubby did most of the housework and keeping the kids entertained. I was really only useful to change the odd nappy and have cuddles on the couch. I have read about 5 novels. Probably 4 more books than I read all of last year. The heat has meant that lethargy is an acceptable way to be. And I have embraced it. Only two weeks ago did feel close to normal and back to myself. And finally this week I can imagine returning to work and not keeling over on the first day in exhaustion and shock. I am grateful beyond measure for my job which blesses me each year with so many holidays. This extended break over summer is a life saver.

I have also used the time to really focus on changing my diet. (I will write more about this later) I have also stopped having coffee, milk and gluten. This was all on the advice of a dr. I have been teetering all year on the brink of deep depression and increasing my medication regularly in the hope that finally I will reach that magic dose where the clouds lift but the side effects don't disrupt my life to much. So far no magic and so I am also beginning the process of weaning down. Too many side effects including this chronic fatigue that plagues me. And who knows what has made the difference and has me feeling well enough to actually write tonight. Maybe it is just having some Vitamin D, maybe it is getting more rest and not having stress or pressure. It could be the many supplements I am now taking or that somehow my diet is helping my body to function properly again. Who knows? All I know is that in December I was asking myself how I could actually do my life with so little energy and wondering whether other people had some sort of super power secret I wasn't privy to. Now I think I am accepting that I was physically burned out and that my stamina for busyness and stress is low. That's just how I am.

So 2014 was my year of No. I said "No" to a lot of ideas and opportunities. I said yes to one thing - planning and organising our church preschool programme. It has stretched me in some ways but in many ways it has refreshed me by reminding me of the core beliefs I have despite my times of struggle and questioning. And in the end any positive growth in me this year stems from the renewal of that foundation which I base my life upon.

2015 seems to be rolling along at a frightening pace already but I have been so grateful for the easing into it which I have been able to do. I have been considering what the focus for this year might be. I am thinking about choosing my attitude and actions rather than letting thoughts and emotions drive me and feeling powerless to their influence. I don't believe in denying how I feel but I do believe that once acknowledged, I can then choose my response in the light of wisdom and in the knowledge that my perception is often clouded. A blog I read a lot uses the phrase "we can do hard things". This is my hard thing. To establish some self control over my mind and heart and choose the right thing, even when it will challenge me. I am not thinking of any massive situations. I am thinking of those days when I wish I didn't have to go to work. Instead of frantically searching for a way to quit, I want to remind myself that my job is a blessing and that today is just a hard day. This will save me the exhausting tension of rethinking everything all the time just cause it feels hard. So I am welcoming 2015 knowing that I am going to need to build some muscles and do some practice but I "can do hard things".