Reasons to be greatful #8 – autumn sunshine

It’s been a bit quiet over here recently. I’ve been trying to manage some pretty rubbish fatigue, which I think may be linked to my on going efforts to try to balance out my hormones and manage my PCOS through changes to my diet and exercise. At the moment it feels a bit like trying to deal with infertility strips out many of life’s pleasures. At least the kind of pleasures that you put in your mouth. I’ve almost stopped boozing completely (and I was a very British drinker), coffee is on its way out and cakes and chocolate have to go too.

But there is an upside. Autumn is here, bringing with it some light, crisp days that make everything beautiful.

This is also the season of rich red colours. Turning leaves and ripening berries abound. And delicate mushrooms too.

Last weekend I was in the Cotswolds with my parents and my fiance. We were able to get out into the woods for the afternoon, to stumble through the leaves and catch a few hours of that delicate warm sunshine.

Some people I know find autumn and winter a depressing time. The light is fading. The leaves fall and begin to decay. Personally I love autumn and winter. Creatively, I find much more to be inspired by in autumn, than I do in the heavy hot days of summer. I feel it is a time of creative and natural renewal. The falling leaves create a thick and rich mulch in preparation for next year’s green shoots. I am greatful for the fresh cool air and crisp bright sunshine of autumn in the British country side.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Things to do when you are busy not having a baby

One of the things that my partner and I discussed early on in the process of having fertility treatment was how not to let the ‘trying to have a baby’ stuff consume all the energy we may have to do the ‘make life fun’ stuff. This sounds great in principle but isn’t  particularly easy in practice. A lot of the advice early on is to carry on ‘life as usual’. It is also to lose weight, do moderate exercise, but not too much, eat more of fruit and vegetables, less cake, and restrict your alcohol intake. And dont forget to ‘just relax’. So if your ‘usual’ doesn’t involve many of these things, ‘carry on as usual’ could translate to ‘undergo a radical lifestyle change’, which isn’t a very relaxing thing to think about.

While my partner and I did pretty well on the exercise and veggies, the beginnings of our relationship did involve the ‘British method’ of dating. For the uninitiated, I’m afraid to say that this involves some (by which I mean lots) public drunkenness, and other socialising involving at least a drink or two. So there was lifestyle change of a sort needed, which has been more successful at some times than others. Not drinking has been one of the things I have been doing while busy not quite having a baby, which really means less socialising too. In the UK there is an absurd cultural pressure to drink when socialising, and it’s kind of wierd to have to explain to people that you’re not drinking because you aren’t pregnant. It’s not like not drinking because you got knocked up (hurrah! Hopefully). It tends to prompt conversations about how you should have a drink and ‘just relax’, as if you just aren’t quite doing sex right. Which isn’t relaxing at all.

So not socialising becomes one of the things you do when you are busy not having a baby. Personally I feel better for not spending as much time socialising. I want to spend my spare time swimming and doing arty things. I think my introverted parts have become more dominant as I’ve got older and I don’t have the energy for it any more. But I can see how this in itself could be very isolating for someone more extroverted. I have noticed may self that my social circle has narrowed somewhat, and now includes several ladies who are also busy avoiding conversations that unintentionally suggest that they don’t quite know how sex works. While it’s kind of nice to hang out in that boat with them, all extraordinary individuals, the conversations can be sad. For several of us, things are not working. Counterintuitively, my social circle has expanded to include several friends who have just had babies (I can hang out with babies and not really get too sad – I think I am lucky here), so they can’t drink much, and don’t want to talk much about how sex works just right now, thanks. They also had some success at actually getting pregnant, and who knows, that magic could be catching.

So far it feels like what one does when busy trying to have a baby is actively try not to do things. Which is kind of hard on the mental health, and opens the door to an unhealthy level of guilt about ‘not doing things right’. Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I breathing too much polluted London air? One of my lovely, clever friends, Julia, who has had two gorgeous babies now, gave me some kind advice recently. She said that if I just make it as inconvenient as possible to have a baby right now, it will happen. Book that expensive wine tour in central France. Plan to train for a marathon. Go for that tricky promotion. So next weekend I’ll be swimming a 5K race in the lake district, and today will be spent working on my film and checking out an open air swimming pool I’ve not been to before. Go after the juicy difficult rewarding other things in life, she said. And I shall.

Like what you see? I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Patience and watching my garden grow

I started writing this a few weeks ago, but I’ve been kind of working through a sticky depressive brain fog since then and I feel so slow at the moment (and I already picked the slow road so you know, snail pace slow right now) so apologies for the relative radio silence. I also wanted to think a bit about pressing the ‘publish’ button in this, as it’s a bit more personal than the posts I normally go with. But I’ve decided it’s ok. I hope you think it’s ok too.

A few weeks ago I planted out some plants into the garden we had raised inside from seed. Anyone living in the UK at the moment will know that we’ve had some unpredictable weather recently and so we kept these little plants inside a bit longer than was really good for them because of some very late snow and ice. A week ago in the heatwave I caught myself going out into the garden every few hours when I was home, inpatiently tracking the growth of my plants (and monitoring which ones were being eaten by the snails, but that’s another story).

I’ve been thinking about this a bit this week as I surprised myself a bit. In my work life patience is one of the ruling principles of doing the work I do. I work in mental health research – rush tends to lead to ruin here. At home I have picked the kind of art forms that are slow. The finished thing reveals itself over a period of weeks, months or years. While I have often felt frustrated with myself, I have mostly made peace with picking such slow hobbies.

In the last few weeks, pacing around the garden I have questioned a little my full capacity for patience. One of the big things in my life, that had been silent in my writing here so far, is that my partner and I have been trying to have a baby, for quite some time. There have been some tests, some medication, some more tests, and now some more medication. Yesterday I started injecting myself with hormones, and this will be a daily deal for a while. There has been healthy living and less alcohol and talk about reducing stress. Thus far things have not worked. I am aware of the importance of patience here too. I have very little control, apart from the obvious (wink wink), over making a baby happen.

Some times I think that I need more than patience. Patience isn’t enough. I need a better strategy or plan for managing the weird emotional fall out from this situation. Holding my friend’s gorgeous 2 month old baby is a joy as it should be. But there is sadness on the train ride home. Some days I actually don’t feel at all bad about where we are – we are lucky, I can access good medical care on the nhs, and have a great doctor helping me. Some days I talk to my friend who is devastated after her multiple attempts at ivf have failed and think, that could be me in a year. Right now I still have hope, and have been building on my mental stamina. But I’ve not been building a plan. I’m not sure what that would look like. Outside the peas in my garden are just beginning to flower.

On building a complicated relationship with gratitude

I wanted to write a quick post about something that has been troubling me for a few days. I was watching a YouTube video the other day that I thought was on personal finance but turned out to be on ‘manifesting wealth’ using the law of attraction philosophy popularised by the book The Secret (have not read it, and I don’t plan to). In this video, (which I cannot find the link to and don’t want to promote anyway) a very attractive wealthy looking woman explained that you needed to behave gratefully and respectfully towards the universe if you wanted to be successful in life. The Universe is basically an authoritarian Victorian patriarch handing out sweeties to the most pious and well behaved among us. Apparently.

For some reason this just really annoyed me. Most of the people I know who are successful have got there through differing combinations of luck, various forms of privilege, and hard graft. Many of them (but not all!) are very grateful for their success, but it was, for most of them, the work that got them there. I think the universe, in it’s infinite beauty and chaos, (and working on the unlikely assumption that it has some form of unifying consciousness) has better things to do that to check in which my savings rate and make adjustments according to my gratitude. I just don’t think it cares. It has better things to do. Like build planets and ignite stars. To scatter about the raw materials of life itself.

Having worked in both psychology and mental health I have also been aware for some time of positive psychology idea that keeping track of the things you are grateful for may help ameliorate symptoms of anxiety and depression. This was also something I was uncomfortable with because when you have anxiety or depression that is disruptive of your ability to do or enjoy things, I think you legitimately have a something to be really pissed off about. Telling people in that situation to sit and count their blessings feels patronising and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation.

That said, since the beginning of January I have actually been making more of an effort to take stock of the things I am grateful for. Things like having a boyfriend who cooks me lovely vegan food when I am sick, or being able to swim outside in the silvery UK sea. I can afford to reduce my hours at work in order to indulge my creative parts, when most people cannot. I have been having fertility treatment for about 5 months now (which is kind of rough) and I have just found out that I have access to more options than I expected on the NHS, and I am grateful for that too. And you know, I have been feeling kind of better lately….