The True Value of a Blogging Woman

Liz Jones may have nothing nice to say about Mummy Bloggers in her article in the FailWhale on Sunday; but I, along with many people, get so much out of blogs that I’d say they’ve been a sanity saver.

I’ve been blogging since 2006.  It all started very inauspiciously in a quiet backwater of Livejournal; when I started to jot down what I was doing, what I was observing and how things were going in my life.  I wasn’t out to set the world on fire, it was simply a way of sharing what was going on with family, friends and anyone else who wanted to read it.  That was six years ago and along the way I’ve written about having emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, struggling with being massively overweight, having depression, struggling with insomnia, low self esteem and being diagnosed and treated for sleep apnoea.

While many people would view such writing as massively self-indulgent – laying your life open so that you can reap sympathy from a sycophantic army of followers – in reality, that never happened.  Yes, of course people are going to say that they’re sorry you’re going through a tough time; but equally there were those voices saying ‘what are you going to do about this issue?’Are you looking at this problem objectively?‘ or even ‘Rachel, just pull yourself together woman, you’re being an arse.‘  I have no problem with any of that and especially the latter, because it would frequently come from a woman who I admire enormously.

Over the last six years I’ve developed as a writer and what I post these days has more to do with being an encouragement and a support to women rather than seeking help for my own issues.  I try to post more objectively and I hope that blogs like mine can be useful, even if it’s only for someone  to read what I write and say ‘I’m going through exactly the same thing.’  If I write about what I’ve been through then maybe I can help someone else to know that they’re not going through it alone or that they’re not the first person to feel like this.

For instance, I am not a ‘gushy’ Mummy.  I did not enjoy being pregnant and after I gave birth I didn’t find myself spewing adjectives to suggest that I was now complete as a woman, simply because I had done this amazing, incredible thing and produced this tiny bundle of gorgeous precious life.  Not that my daughter isn’t precious; but I am not one of those women who took to motherhood like a duck to water.  I think the phrase you’re looking for is brick to water. I struggled and I cried – a lot. I didn’t sleep, it was a slog, it was hard and there were times when I wondered whether I wasn’t deficient in vital DNA, because I simply patched my daughter’s wounds up and sent her back out to play; I didn’t insist on bandages, cotton wool and cuddles with Mummy. It was only through reaching a wider audience through my blogs that I understood that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this.  Phew, I’m not a freak!  Well, not much of one.

Equally, I’m not the kind of woman who cares a toss how many children someone has, or even if couples choose to have them at all; mainly because I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘only the one, dear?’ brigade.  Yes, we only had the one; is my lack of fertility / willingness to go through all that again, somehow a crime? I’ll let you suffer with Post-Natal Depression, an ectopic pregnancy and see how you feel about just popping another one out.

Despite Liz Jones’s derision (and let’s face it who gives a stuff what she says, she writes for the Daily FailWhale, the biggest social evil in Britain today); I think bloggers have a vital role in keeping the women of the world on an even keel.  Blogs can inform and they can reassure, they can be a place where you can seek help or give help and they can be an oasis of humour in a really bad day; the reassurance that your life is not as bad as the car crash in this blog post.

In 2001 I started a Yahoo email-based group called the League of Domestic Goddesses.  We were an international bunch of Mums (and Moms), who all found ourselves at roughly the same stage in life.  Using the system of circular emails we used to keep each other updated on how things were going and along the way share a joke or a broken heart.  I’m still in touch with many of them; although these days we all hang out on Facebook and some of our little ones are now taller than us and have finished High School.  When I started it, it was a reaction to feeling lonely and isolated in a part of the country that I’d just moved to.  I didn’t know many people and I didn’t have much confidence to make friends.  I believe that’s one of the beauties of the Internet, your friends are now totally portable.  You can live in Ampthill or Angola and Amy will still be in Minnesota, Peggy will still be in Washington and Jo will have posted another kick-ass blog and brought the house down.  It’s a busy world, we live busy lives and the Internet is just as much our support network as face-to-face friendships; only fools underestimate their importance. I have no idea what sort of person I’d be now if I hadn’t joined an online community; but I know that my life would be all the poorer for not having done it.

Liz Jones may not get us, but that matters not one jot.  The main thing is that we get each other and through the medium of blogging we support  and tow one other along in this great mad parade of life.  The BEST thing about reading blogs as opposed to newspapers, is that you can read them perpetually for free and perhaps that’s what makes the likes of Jones really angry.  There isn’t anyone who is going to stick a paywall down on Mother of Reinventions or demand that you subscribe.  This is me.  I don’t have an axe to grind, a political agenda to kowtow or a fixed number of words to stick to. I’m simply here to say I’ve been there, done that and the kid’s been sick down my t-shirt.

Long Live Women Bloggers!

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New Home for the Mother of Reinventions

I’ve gone over to WordPress.org, so ammend the link in your browsers to

http://www.motherofreinventions.com

 

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That ‘Good Morning!’ Feeling

I read so much. Yesterday I came across a little article that annoyingly I can’t find now to quote properly; but I think it was in one of the last three editions of Psychologies magazine – my new favourite publication – and said something along the lines of, if you are feeling down and there’s no specific cause, try looking around at how your friends are feeling – both online and around you in real life.  Moods are infectious apparently and if someone around you is feeling particularly sad, you can pick up on it and it can affect you.

I am by nature a natural optimist and I absolutely love mornings.  I love the freshness of the day and the blank canvas of it stretching off into the distance.  The day has so much potential at that point and you’ve not had time to muck it up.  I like to be happy, I’ve spent too much time in the pit of depression to want to go back to that again.  Life is to be enjoyed, life is to be celebrated and life is to be lived!

The article said that posting something positive or negative in your status updates on social network sites can be infectious.  That if you’re regularly posting ‘woe is me’ status updates, you’re going to bring everyone around you down.  If you are posting happy and positive updates, then you are going to make those who read them feel happier too.  I like that idea!  I can have a positive impact on people by just posting something happy on Facebook?  Yay!  more excuse for social networking (not that I need any more of an excuse).

I can’t help being a morning person.  Given free reign, I’d be even more of a morning person, getting up at around 4.30am and retiring around 9pm.  Sadly, this doesn’t mesh with my life, as I regularly have meetings or groups until 10pm or beyond. However, I do what I can and I’m rarely languishing in bed much after 5.30am.  It absolutely is the best time of the day.  It’s quiet, it’s invariably gorgeous outside and there’s the aforementioned mental ‘blank canvas’ thing.  I’d possibly go so far as to say I’m addicted to the ‘good morning’ feeling.  If for some reason I don’t get my early start I feel like I’m rushing to catch up on the rest of the day and it can make me irritated.  I’d rather an early morning than a late night anyday.

My love of early mornings does have an impact on what I post on Facebook or Twitter.  I am at my happiest at this point in the day and it will spill over into my social network posts.  Some people have commented to me that they like it, although as my friend numbers are dropping, I can tell I’m not to everyone’s taste. However, if the first thing anyone sees on Facebook is an early morning post from me bidding them good morning and it has a positive effect on them, then what’s the harm in being a bit ultra cheery at stupid o’clock in the morning?  None!  If this article is right and moods are infectious, a dose of happy cheery Rachel first thing is going to be good for you.

You see – this is why you should keep me as one of your friends! And on that note I’ll disappear and go and be stupidly happy some other place.

Have a great day!

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I am not a failure anymore

I could start this post in one of two ways, but I’ve decided to go with the strange and unfamiliar way of doing it – at least to my mind, anyway.

I’m a success.

That’s the truth and those are three little words that have just drop-kicked the internal voice of perpetual failure out of the ball park.  When it comes back (as it will), to undermine my self-esteem, I now have a ‘tangible example of where Rachel succeeded’ to hit it over the head with.

I started something, I saw it through to the end and I finished in style.  Well, I haven’t quite finished yet, but we’re getting there.  I’m through the marker tape so let’s call this my lap of honour.

Success came at 5.05am on Wednesday 6th July, in my kitchen.  I stood on the scales and the number said something quite wonderful. There was no one else up to see it, so I took a picture on my phone and posted it to Facebook and Twitter.  They shall be my witnesses.

Success hasn’t been a notable feature of my life, hence the way I’m treating it much as you would by finding a jellyfish on a British beach. Yes, that’s right, get a big stick and poke it.  See what it does, see if it moves.  See if it turns around and bites you.  Right now, all its succeeded in doing is putting a smile on my face and a dose of confidence within.  It’s not even made a squeak; although there was a random outbreak of twirling around to a Stevie Nicks song in celebration – although that could just have been me.

Because of all the times I haven’t made it through the finishing line on anything, I’ve previously labelled myself as one of life’s failures.  Failure to finish what I started, is, when you look back at my life, quite a notable feature.  I can’t really explain what happens, it’s nothing external, but that failure mentality has been reinforced over and over and over again so it became my default.  And then the really bad bit starts up; because then you start looking at everything through the eyes of knowing you’ll never finish it.  And there’s more, the final stage is where you don’t start anything new because you know what the outcome will be…  That’s a sad place and one that I let myself stay in for far too long.

But what changed? Again, I can’t really tell you what exactly happened, but an internet-based writing competition seemed to unlock something within me.

Last October, I decided that I would give the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) a go, which takes place each November. Perhaps for no other reason than for the fun of it. The general aim is that over the course of 30 days, participants will generate a 50,000 word story.  At the end of the process, you upload it to their site and if you’ve made it through the 50,000 word threshold, you get to print off a winner’s certificate.  NaNoWriMo isn’t about getting the best, most perfect story completed in that time, it’s about getting 50,000 words of any story down onto a screen or onto paper, however you’re choosing to do it.  Quality is not important at NaNoWriMo, word count is.  Taking the quality control element away is a very liberating state of affairs and enables you to write without stressing over what’s coming out.  You’re free to concentrate on the goal.

I spent most of October thinking about what my story would be, planning it out and drawing up my characters.  All this is legal for the process, the only stipulation is that you don’t start writing your story until November 1st.  I even took an opportunity when I went back to see my parents, to go up onto the West Pennine Moors and look at the ruins of one of the houses that I would be writing about.  If you want to imagine some Wuthering Heights-ish remote farmhouse, by all means do; it was exactly like that – although in a pile of rubble.

November came and I started writing… and kept writing.  November progressed and still I kept on writing – at the detriment of everything else around me – but still the passion burned within and on and on it went.  And then suddenly, towards the end of the month and well before the deadline, I was done!  More to the point I was done and through the barrier by some margin – by over 5,000 words.  I uploaded it to their website and got to print off my winner’s certificate, something I had not received in an awful long time.

I laminated it and stuck it on my noticeboard.  Well, these things are rarer than rocking horse droppings, so I need to preserve them for posterity. It’s probably nothing of concern to the people who run NaNoWriMo – it’s just a jokey thing they give to the winners; but that A4 piece of laminated paper meant the world to me.  It spoke directly to the upset seven-year old inside, sat on her own repeating her Friday maths test week in, week out while the rest of the class went off to do fun things, (which is where all this started).  It told me that I could succeed, I wasn’t the abject failure my teacher told me I was because I could never get the pass mark for the test.  Ok, so maths was always going to be a bit of a struggle, but the certificate’s for English.  So she was wrong, I wasn’t bad at everything, just rubbish at maths.

I didn’t fail in everything in life, but when I did, those formative experiences were there to reinforce the failure I felt.  Many years went by, confidence got eroded, my emotional state got more and more battered and I put on a whole load of weight.  It wasn’t until I was much older and started working through the stuff inside to finally deal with it, that I realised that the classroom experience had been the catalyst.  That was the point where I could start to identify failure.   Leave it unchecked for thirty years and you get the mess I was in.

I’m not saying the winner’s certificate was the key, it wasn’t, it was actually a series of incidences during a period of six weeks that really galvanised things for me.  It was seeing a friends weight-loss success. It was being fed up with having to sleep using a CPAP and actually being quite desperate to lose weight myself and it was the sheer pleasure of writing that lifted me out of pit of despair and into the realm of feeling good about myself.  The winner’s certificate was exactly what this fragile ego needed. Tangible success.

I approached my weight loss plan over a few weeks and although I took enormous inspiration from my friend’s success, I knew, deep down that I couldn’t get where she was, because I failed at everything, right? But as November went on and as the writing gave me confidence and I could see I was getting there, something clicked.  I’d set myself a clearly defined goal:

It doesn’t matter how you do this Rachel, just get to the 50,000 words tape.

When I finally made the decision to start on the Cambridge Weight Plan I was ready.  I had my clearly defined goal.  This was absolutely nothing about vanity, this was going to be entirely about getting rid of having to use my CPAP.  Where I was succeeding at writing, I could succeed at losing weight, because this time it had absolutely nothing to do with looking gorgeous in a bikini on a beach.  Not that my weight loss attempts ever had been about that, but it’s the sort of trite piffle that gets hawked about as reasons to diet in women’s magazines.  No.  If there is anything I’ve learned from just having shed 7st 4lbs (100lbs) in weight since last November it’s three things:

1) You do it for yourself -AND NO ONE ELSE
2) You do it for your health – AND NOTHING ELSE. Emotional health is an entirely valid reason, weight gain doesn’t just affect your body it affects your mind too.
3) If you want to lose weight you need to adopt a bit of a thick skin to the people and the environment around you and you need to acquire a bit of the old selfish bitch/bastard mentality.

You want to do this, right?  This is important to you, yes?  So why are you letting yourself get distracted by insignificant stuff like cake and Kettle Chips and whether or not someone thinks you’re a bit of a freak, because you sat at the dining table on Christmas Day with your Cambridge Weight Pan Choc Mint Bar and didn’t feel the need to tuck into the Christmas pudding?  Yes, I did that and THE WORLD DID NOT END.  “Oh I couldn’t possibly miss Christmas lunch, it would feel wrong.”  Yeah?  Well I did miss Christmas lunch and it was still Christmas. There was still rubbish on TV, Jesus still turned up and come January when everyone was moaning about how much weight they’d put on, I was living in Smugbitchfordshire.

Maybe when you’ve failed for so long and you finally succeed you are inclined to swing too far the other way and turn into a bit of a Hitler.  Food has held sway in my life for too long for me to give in to a tube of Pringles now.  Too many times I’ve allowed myself to be swayed by the cajoling of others, without checking with myself to find out what it is I actually want.  I succeeded this time because I set a goal and ran like hell for it.  Nothing was getting in the way of me getting free of my CPAP.  Life was too unbearable with it and I made a promise to myself that I would do what it took to get rid of it.

Yes, that meant taking up an ‘extreme’ diet (to some).  Yes that meant going without meals in restaurants for a time, but it didn’t mean not going to the restaurant.  You can still have a good time with your friends and not need to eat food – this I know.  Yes it meant going without the trappings of Christmas, but that’s all they are, trappings.

The other thing I’ve found, at the other end of this process, now that 100lbs of excess fat have been burned from my body, is that people have opinions about you.  I’ve lost count of the times that over the last couple of months where people have passed comment along the lines of ‘you’re stopping now, right?’ ‘Don’t lose anymore weight you’re fine as you are’, even right down to the straight out with it ‘you’re too thin.’

Now once I would have gone home and taken all this to heart and most likely opened a can of Pringles to console myself; but the fact is, is that it’s just other people’s opinions and I’m a sensible person, I have planned this out, I have made a decision where to stop and my Doctor was happy with that.  You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not required to take it on board if it contradicts with something my Doctor and I are happy with.  I know where I want to be weight-wise and it was chosen carefully to be slap bang in the middle of the ‘healthy weight for my height’ zone on the BMI chart.  Ok, there might be adjustment needed in the long-term as I work out how you manage a body this size and what works best for me in the future.  But those are the key terms aren’t they?  For me.  What works best for me as opposed to what someone else thinks.

Sorry, done far too much of what someone else thinks and you know what?  It got me nowhere.  So I think I’ll have a go at what works for me.

Seems to be working out so far. Got rid of the CPAP, got to my goal and my Doctor, bless her just sat there shaking her head in disbelief.  How many years have I fed her the sob story, told her how desperate I was to lose weight?  How many times has she told me I needed to lose weight (and I ignored her). And then, I turn up one day having done it.  She’s entitled to sit there and shake her head, even I can’t quite believe it some days.

Sorry if that sounds like I pitched up in Smugbitchfordshire again, but after forty years of failure, you may need to forgive me if the heady taste of success goes to my head a little.  If success yields a certificate and a body that doesn’t need to sleep with a CPAP anymore, then who knows what I can achieve in the future given a nice clear goal…

… and a laminated winner’s certificate at the end of it.

Posted in Emotions, Health, Self-Esteem, Weight Issues | 9 Comments

Pitching up on Planet Shop

Having lost seven stone (100lbs) in weight, I’m faced with a difficult task ahead of me: I have to go out and re-stock my entire wardrobe.  Me and clothes have a difficult relationship in the past and to be honest I’d rather have a root canal at the dentist than clothes shop. Still, I can’t schlep about in two pairs of jeans for the rest of my life, I’ve got to bite the bullet and buy something else.

So, can I learn to like shopping?   Let’s find out…

Centre: MK, Milton Keynes, 16th June 2011

Rachel, this is a clothes shop.  Clothes shop, this is Rachel; she’s scared of you.

I might as well have pitched up on another planet. Looking at some of the stuff on the rails (Cuffed jeans, gold buttons on navy blue blazers, leggings, diamante, flounces, frills and a t-shirt bearing the image of Madonna, circa 1984), I think I have may have accidentally pitched up in the late 1980’s; because it all looks horribly reminiscent of the last time I could fit into a pair of size 12s. I checked the date on my watch; no it’s 2011 and yes, fashion really is this bad.

Let me explain what the problem is.  For most of the last twenty years, my basic wardrobe has consisted of elasticated waist skirts, jogging bottoms or other similar trousers, plus lots of baggy T-shirts. My idea of clothes shopping was getting something that fitted and that covered me up, not getting something I really liked and feeling good in it.  I would buy clothes when I had to and only then if I could get in and out of Evans in under ten minutes.  Clothes shopping has always been a hideous, upsetting experience that endlessly rubbed salt into the wounds of my self-esteem. A visible reminder that I was fat, unattractive and didn’t deserve nice clothes.  I restricted myself to one shop and if I couldn’t find anything in there, I certainly wasn’t going traipsing around the Centre:MK in an effort to find other places that stocked a size 24.  That would mean entering the hallowed domains of the slim and beautiful people.

So here I am then, a newly-minted size 12; the Centre:MK is my oyster and I feel like a rabbit in the headlights.  I have absolutely no clue where to start, there’s too much choice! I’ve no idea what’s in fashion, what colours suit me, what styles suit me and where the best places are for a fortysomething to shop who doesn’t have a bottomless purse.  I’ve been out of the shopping game for twenty years and I’m hideously out of practice.

For a start I’ve bought my usual handbag, which weighs a flipping tonne.  I’ve also come in my walking boots, which are great for pounding the imitation marble floors in the shopping centre, but require serious unlacing each time you want to quickly try something on in a changing room.  A trip back to the car and dumping half the contents of my bag into the boot remedied the first thing, the boots I’d have to cope with.

I went everywhere, from Accessorize to Zara, from Punkyfish to Karen Millen, H&M, Next, Wallis, Monsoon, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and even Miss Selfridge.  The only places I missed out were GAP (because I forgot it was there) and Hollister, (because I’d forgotten my torch). With hindsight it possibly wasn’t a great way to do it as by the end of the afternoon I was a bit punch drunk from over-attentive assistants pouncing on me and being faced with more clothes than I could possibly cope with.  Had I thought about it a little more I should have worked two or three shops completely and just taken up residence in their changing rooms for the day.

Possibly from a feeling of familiarity and also because they had the best changing room attendants EVER, it was Marks and Spencer who succeeded in prising the card from my purse to buy something.  I pulled out a great handful of their stuff, pitched up in their changing room and, while I was there, posted onto twitter:

Believe me, at that moment I thought I was living someone else’s life. The enormity of what I’d achieved hit home a little as I tried on tiny garment after tiny garment (well, compared to a 24), and each one fitted and suited me.  Ok, so we’re hardly shaking the foundations of fashion here, but don’t forget where I’ve come from. I’ve come from a place where clothing is a functional necessity, not something to showcase the best of yourself in.

I’ve made a start and I’ve got an idea of which shops stock clothing which is more ‘me’ and which ones I probably won’t bother much with in future.  I will have to be very selective with what I buy as I’m on a budget, but I do want to put in place a stock of ‘basics’ that I can add to as the seasons and styles progress.  It wasn’t about getting an instant wardrobe today, I’m going to have to work at this and learn how to dress my newly re-shaped body. Other women my age have had decades of practise at this and I’m only just starting out.

I have restrictions, too. Losing seven stone does not give you the body of a supermodel. If we’re being brutally honest, it’s very similar to a week-old deflated ballon; therefore certain things are going to be absolute no-no’s; sleeveless anything for a kick-off, unless it’s under another top.  As such I am already learning the value of the small cardigan!

I will go back in a few weeks time for a bit more.  This time I will focus on one or two shops and not try to do everything at once.   I need to give myself time to get to know my new body and we have the not-so-small matter of toning the deflated balloon up, so there might be a bit of movement to be had in clothing sizes as I settle into things.

One thing that I did appreciate was having the time to spend just looking and trying clothes on, without feeling the need to have to buy anything.  It made the experience a pleasure and is certainly something I will bear in mind for the future.

Hang on, did I just say the experience was a pleasure?

…perhaps I do like shopping after all.

Posted in Emotions, Fashion, Self-Esteem, Weight Issues | 2 Comments