Happy Days – Books, Music and Hair

This week has gone by really quickly – I cannot believe it is the weekend again already! Overall it’s been a good one. Thomas has been a much happier boy this week too, which has a knock on effect on my mood! I’m linking up with Katy and Sian again with these things which have particularly made me smile this week!

  • Thomas completing the library reading challenge. He picked some really good books and I was particularly pleased to see him enjoying some fiction as he generally much prefers to read non-fiction books. Obviously any reading is great but I’d love for him to love reading stories as much as I do!

  • Vintage Topsy and Tim – I’ve added a couple of new titles to my vintage Topsy and Tim library. An updated blog post about my childhood favourite twins hopefully coming up soon!

  • Getting my hair cut and coloured. It has taken me a long, long time to start enjoying going to the hairdressers. When I was younger it was always a stressful experience as I never knew what I wanted and often ended up feeling really intimidated for some reason! I love my current hairdresser though. I also love getting it coloured – even though salon colour is ridiculously pricey. I love the fact that it covers the grey (obviously) but I also like avoiding making a mess of my bathroom, plus it means the whole hairdresser experience is dragged out much longer so I get to enjoy a couple of hot cups of tea and a good few chapters of my book.
  • Thomas’s swimming. Thomas hated the water and swimming for such a long time. It has taken two painstaking years of really good lessons to get him confident – it took 4 terms to get him to even put his face in the water. But suddenly it has really clicked. This week he was swimming underwater between people’s legs and swimming confidently without any kind of flotation aid. It is so wonderful to see!
  • We had a lovely day out at Knole House and Park this week.

 

  • Rediscovering forgotten musical favourites. We’ve had an Amazon Echo since last Christmas and one of the things I love is the ability to play music really easily. This week I have rediscovered a whole bunch of albums from my late teens and been dancing round the living room to them!
  • Sharing my blog posts. I’ve been writing blogs on and off since 2006 and have never been very good at promoting my blog or my posts – so they usually get half a dozen or so views (if that!). But I’ve been trying to put in the effort to sharing my blog since I came back to it, and this means I’ve also discovered a few more great blogs too.
  • And finally, we’re off on holiday tomorrow – we’re heading to Dublin for a few days and I’m looking forward to time out from work and everyday life!
What Katy Said

 

I don’t have to like someone just because we have one thing in common

This is likely to be a bit of a controversial post, and one that might not win me too many fans, but it’s something I’ve felt and believed for a long time, brought to the forefront by current events. And if I’m coming back here, perhaps I ought to do it with a bang.

So here is the truth: I don’t particularly feel that it’s “great” that Theresa May has diabetes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. I mostly think it’s an irrelevant thing. I definitely think it has received a disproportionate amount of attention from some of the diabetes population. I don’t, (gasp), feel immediately drawn to her, or anyone really for that matter, simply because of our mutual diagnoses.

It’s not her (or my) defining characteristic and I cannot base my feelings about someone in such a complex position entirely on that. There’s not even a tale to tell of her having risen up the political ladder “despite” diabetes, as she was already the incumbent Home Secretary (almost inarguably one of the toughest jobs in Westminster) when she was diagnosed three and a half years ago. What I’m saying is that I can’t have an opinion on a person simply because we have the same chronic condition. And I’m completely leaving the politics aside – as are so many of the pro-she’s-a-diabetic commentators. Which is really my point. I wouldn’t suddenly feel different about any politician because of their endocrine issues, it wouldn’t matter if they were the leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party. (If you’re interested, though, I was In. A staunch Remain supporter from the outset, although more vocal over the fact that it is not a question that ever should have been put in the British public’s hands – more on that another time, perhaps. And I was also firmly in the Anyone-but-Boris camp.)

From a wider perspective than Theresa May alone, I’ve often noticed a feeling amongst the diabetes community that we’re all instant friends. And I can’t subscribe to that. That we’re all in this together I do get, to a degree. We face some of the same challenges. Only someone who has experienced the fear and confusion of a middle of the night low, the raging thirst and sickness of extreme high blood sugars or the frustrations of continually getting different results despite doing the same things can understand what those experiences are like. And our voices are stronger together in campaigning for things like better access to technology (I’m currently a trustee for a charity doing just this). It’s also true that I do have something in common with all of the millions of other type one diabetes suffers.

But in the vast majority of cases, that will be the only thing I have in common with them. It doesn’t mean that I have to feel a kinship to each and every one of them, or even to like them, nevermind liken them to me. It’s no sole basis for a friendship. Because by the same standard I have something in common with somewhere around half the world’s population in that I’m female. (I have that in common with Theresa May too and it also doesn’t mean we’re at all alike. And whilst she may only be our second female Prime Minister, and that is noteworthy in itself, it’s equally not the most important thing to focus on. After all, Andrea Leadsom is also female. [And for what it’s worth in relation to that, I think that whatever was said, however it was written and reported, what she probably wanted to say was that she could demonstrate that she doesn’t want to fuck the country up because she has a vested interest in the future of the nation by virtue of the fact that she has children who will live with the legacy of the decisions that her party, or any government for that matter, makes. In other words, she wants a secure future, even if that desire is born of the selfish motivation to support her own offspring. Whether her version of a secure future would have meshed with anyone else’s will never be known] Wow, what a digression!)

Back to the matter in hand, I have my hair colour in common with countless others. I share my birthday with millions of people and I do the same job as thousands of others. None of these things alone instantly link me to those people, and neither does my malfunctioning pancreas form the basis of an instant relationship. Making it clear that I’m still leaving Theresa May and politics aside, but as a general observation, I also don’t have to instantly like or respect another person because an – albeit unpleasant – aspect of their life is similar to mine. For let’s not forget too that we all have different experiences of diabetes. It’s a bigger part of life for some than others. Some struggle more than others and many, many thousands of people still don’t even have reliable access to insulin, nevermind worrying about complications the psychosocial side of chronic illness or advances in technology – things which, at times, could be considered the diabetic equivalent of middle class problems.

There are potential positives, of course, to a Prime Minister with diabetes. It may help keep the issue front and centre in the minds of the government, the media and the population at large. But notice that I said “may” (no pun intended). Because it is equally possible that Theresa May will go on being a private person and little will be said. It’s possible that diabetes policy will actually be pushed down the agenda either because her own experience of living with diabetes is not troubled by issues that policy can fix, or because she doesn’t want to be seen to be focusing too much on the things in which she has a vested interest. It’s also just as likely that her diabetes will not surface and this in itself will help to cement the idea to the media and general population that diabetes isn’t that much of a big deal. We’re caught constantly between wanting to prove that we can follow our dreams and achieve our aspirations despite diabetes, but wanting people to realise that it’s still a difficult and dangerous condition. But the way people could easily perceive it is that if you can be Prime Minister with diabetes, you can do anything and it isn’t necessarily more challenging than for anyone else.

That latter point is dangerous in itself. Sometimes I think there is a lot of pressure on people, particularly young people, with diabetes to “achieve despite diabetes”. To stick two fingers up and say “Look what I can still do”; Climb mountains, fly a plane, break marathon records or whatever else. Sometimes simply living a normal life, and living it well, doesn’t seem to be enough, even though that is what most of us do. Diabetes brings enough pressures without people thinking they have something to prove.

At the end of the day, we have a new Prime Minister. There remains just as much uncertainty, both in Westminster and the nation at large, as there has been since this whole mess started. And there is as much uncertainty as there always is with a change of leadership. What Theresa May can, and will, do in office remains to be seen. But her being diabetic is not a special reason to support her, or admire her or even like her. It’s just part of the package of who she is.

It may horrify you, but I don’t feel an affinity to every person with diabetes. Some of my friends happen to have diabetes, but they are friends – and people that I admire and respect hugely – for reasons other than that. People with diabetes are from the same diverse community as people without. It pays for people to be kind and tolerant and to get along – life would be so much simpler if we could all just do that. But we’re all different and we’re no more defined or bonded by that one characteristic than by anything else.

I guess I’ve devoted a lot of words to the simple belief that Theresa May’s type one diabetes makes no difference at all to how I feel about her or her appointment to the biggest job in Britain. And no person’s diabetes makes the slightest difference to how I feel about them at first sight either.

An Unintentional Hiatus

I’m back.

I know, you probably didn’t notice that I was gone. But last week my blog temporarily vanished and I was left with only a flaky 3G signal to access the internet.

It’s a long and boring story, but to cut it as short as possible, our previous ISP was taken over by a massive corporation who put profits before people (sorry, but it’s true). We wrangled with them for a MAC code to allow us to switch, but in the end they terminated our internet connection without warning simply because we’d made steps to change the phone part of the package. Nice of them.

Because my blog is “self-hosted” in the truest sense – on our own servers – it vanished. And throwing the whole thing, large image files included, up on to someone else’s servers via a 3G service wasn’t really an option I wanted to contemplate.

So I took a break. From blogging. And from being attached to the Internet in general. It probably did me good, although the timing wasn’t great in the midst of our second IVF cycle which threw up some complicated circumstances that sent me running to Medline, and where it would have been handy had Ian been able to work from home.

But in the end it made the switchover less painful – no MAC code or active line takeover required. And it turns out to have been worth it because our new connection is staggeringly fast and confers a host a great features for my geeky husband.

So that’s the explanation for my absence. It’s made me wonder all over again just exactly what we used to do not only before the Internet, but when dial up was the only option since the data connection available to my phone inside our house is awful, and thus about equivalent! While a break may have been good for me, it’s better to be back!

One Summer Night That Proved to Me the Value of Life

I remember the feel of the air that summer day as if it were only this afternoon. Warm and humid – enough to edge the London Underground towards insufferable amongst the crowds, especially for someone with one leg in plaster. The effort of moving about on crutches was enough to make my clothes stick to me uncomfortably and my head spin ever so slightly. England were playing Portugal in the quarter finals of the World Cup and I was meeting friends to watch the game in a London pub.

I can tell you, even now, that England lost 3-1 on penalties, but I can’t recall any of the details of the match, nor of the conversations I had that evening. I know I felt unwell because I’d felt under the weather for weeks, frequently coming home from work and falling straight in to bed, sleeping right through until my alarm the next morning. Existing on a diet of cereal and painkillers for the ankle injury that had now been unresolved for 18 months. I’d really struggled to recover from surgery almost exactly a month before and a sick, dizzy feeling had become my constant companion. I’d already been readmitted to hospital once for a suspected wound infection, and had spent the month battling severe, intractable low blood sugars. Perhaps it was because I just felt too awful, but I hadn’t connected the dots together, or identified the red flags that, with hindsight, were staring me in the face. So I’d forced myself to go out that afternoon, afraid that I was becoming antisocial and missing out on seeing people who mattered to me.

As it turned out, I’m so glad that I made the effort.

It’s hard sometimes to pick out what I really remember against what people have told me. Where my true memory merges with the pieces coloured in by friends and the medical paperwork. But apparently I left early in the evening, saying I felt unwell. I declined offers to see me to the station, or even all the way home. I insisted that I was fine – just hot, uncomfortable and in need of sleep. I didn’t want to curtail anyone else’s fun.

Less than twenty minutes after leaving my friends, I was lying on a dirty London pavement in full cardiac arrest.

I was twenty-six years old.

When I think back to that evening, it’s hard to deny the existence of luck. I was in a busy place and my collapse was not only witnessed, but witnessed by people who knew what to do. I wasn’t dismissed as being drunk. I was in a public place that happened to be equipped with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) which is really the only way the restart someone’s heart when it stops beating. Despite the hoards of people out watching the football, and the consequent level of high spirits and drunken antics, a paramedic was apparently on scene incredibly quickly.

The days that followed were a confused blur, and included me discharging myself from one hospital (before walking straight in to another) when a doctor, who was lacking considerably in bedside manner, voiced a suspicion that I was abusing narcotics. The reality was that I had a prescribed – and carefully controlled – pain management schedule for my ankle, which had nothing to do with my collapse. The cause of my arrest, although rare, was subsequently identified and treated.

When I think of how differently it could all have played out, I realise how lucky I am to be alive.

It’s not something that I like to think about much, though, for obvious reasons. And in the almost eight years that have passed since then, I have never written this openly or honestly about the events of that night. My reasons for not doing so are probably mainly down to a misguided notion of self-preservation. I think I believed it would be harder, and more negative, to think about than it has been. My reasons for actually sharing it now are complicated. In part it’s because I continually feel that I need to promote the value of accessible public AEDs and training in Basic Life Support (or bystander-CPR). Because those things really and truly make a difference. I’m living proof of it.

If you wouldn’t know what to do if someone collapsed on the pavement next to you, then please, go and learn.

But what really compelled me to share this now is the fact that it has repeatedly come to mind in the last couple of weeks as I struggle to come to terms with a different reality to the one that I’ve dreamed of. And to do so has been surprisingly positive and uplifting. In the most basic terms, when I remember what I’ve come through, it puts it all in to a bit of perspective.

I’m alive. Every day is a gift.

And for now, that is more than enough.

MADness: A Post About the MAD Blog Awards

I’m surprised and delighted in equal measure to realise that I’ve been nominated in a couple of categories for the MAD Blog Awards. It’s MADness, I tell you!

It’s a surprise because I’m under no illusions about the popularity of my blog. I know that I don’t have a lot of followers. In its lifetime my blog has only ever had a few thousand page views and a few hundred comments, and I’m fine with that. I simply don’t devote the time to blogging that I know others do – or even that I would like to be able to.  And I’m not very good at self-promotion – which is one reason that this post is a bit of a challenge to write!

But I’m delighted to be  nominated because I am proud of my little corner of the Internet. I may not write as often as I’d like, but I do write with my heart and soul. This is first and foremost a personal site, written honestly and from the heart. It’s a labour of love. It’s my space to share my joys and triumphs as well as my challenges and disappointments on the rollercoatser that is parenting. I write because I want to. Because I need to. And because I love it. The fact that even one person enjoys what they see and read means an enormous amount to me.

Seeing the categories for which I’ve been nominated is also bitter-sweet. Because it turns out that I have been nominated in the “Best Pregnancy Blog” category. And, of course, I’m no longer pregnant. Which means, I’m sure, that I no longer qualify for that particular category. Sadly there is no “trying-desperately-with-all-your-might-to-conceive” category. Or even an IVF or infertility category. Perhaps because infertility blogs aren’t often also “Mum and Dad” Blogs. If I’m honest, I’d love it if the journey to pregnancy did still qualify to be considered, since it isn’t straightforward for so many people, and becomes just as important, if not more so, than those nine months themselves. But then, maybe that’s just the hormones talking.

Nominations are open for another week. So if you haven’t nominated yet, and happen to share the views of the person or persons who’ve already cast their vote for me – or simply like to support an underdog – then please consider doing so.

MAD Blog Awards
Obviously there is a lot of competition – amongst it all of my own personal favourite and “must-read” blogs. But alongside the blogs with the highest number of nominations, there is a spot in the final short list for a site chosen by the judges. Which makes the MAD Blog Awards more than simply a popularity contest.

I haven’t any expectations at all. But I do thank whoever has taken the time to nominate me. And I’ll still be here, writing away, come what may.

“Mummy’s Sad”

Heading home from work on Friday, I was exhausted from simply holding it together for the bulk of the day. The problem with working with the public is that there is simply no where to hide with your emotions.

The problem with living with a two year old, it turns out, is very similar.

Once we were home, I gave in to the inevitable tears in the place where I feel safest: Snuggled against my husband’s shoulder. Wrapped in his warm, tight, embrace.

And as I sobbed, from somewhere just beneath us came a small voice.

“Mummy’s sad” it said.

Thomas turned away, back to his drawing, his hand moving in rhythmic, colourful circles across the page. I was touched by his empathy and understanding, which obviously did nothing to quell my emotions.

“Yes, Mummy is sad” Ian replied, in the exhalation of a sigh.

Thomas looked back up at me with an earnest, slightly quizzical expression. As he turned away again, I heard him ask “Is it Thomas’s fault?”

Even as I was reassuring him, through yet more tears, that no, of course it wasn’t Thomas’s fault, all I could hear was an ear splintering crash. The sound of my already broken heart shattering in to further, possibly irreparable, pieces.

That my two year old understands the concept of “fault” is both amazing and perhaps slightly worrying. But how could I have lead him to feel responsible for my emotions? In that moment I felt like the worst parent in the world. Here I am, so wrapped up in my desire to bring him a sibling, that I’m having a detrimental effect on the child I already have, right here. The child who needs me.

In the last few days Thomas has been a massive source of comfort. I’ve savoured his hugs, and taken pleasure in his silly, toddler antics. But I can’t lie. It’s also been tough having to continue to put his needs first, and see that he isn’t affected but what I’m going through.

It turns out that I haven’t done quite such a good job as I’d hoped.

Burning Question

I learned a few tips at Britmums Live. Things that weren’t necessarily rocket science, but which hadn’t really occurred to me. But I have to admit that before I went, I had just one burning question about blogging. And now the weekend is over, the question, to a degree, still remains.

How do you get people to read your blog in the first place?

You see, all the tips about how to find your voice, be funny or take better photographs are meaningless if no one is looking at my posts anyway. And a quick glance at my stats tells me it isn’t that people are coming and not liking what they see, they’re simply not coming at all.

I’m a bit baffled by newly started blogs that seem to have reams of comments almost from day one, and I have to wonder what they do that I don’t. (I know comments aren’t everything, but they are the only clue I have to the number of visitors to blogs which aren’t my own.)

When I started my very first blog, back in 2005, it seemed easier. I blogged then in a smaller niche, and the market was less crowded anyway. I joined relevant blog carnivals, got listed in an aggregator for my niche and then simply left lots and lots of comments on other relevant blogs. At least 75% of those comments in which I left a link led to a visit back from that blogger and my relationships flourished. Even though that blog is long dead, lots of those relationships aren’t.

Some people would argue that leaving a comment purely for the backlink isn’t “ethical”, (so I’m at pains to point out that these were always actual comments on the topic of the post and not left only for the link) but perhaps this is why the same technique no longer seems to work. A few months ago I was leaving multiple comments each day on blogs that I liked, but just a handful of those links have ever given me any traffic. It confuses me too, because pure curiosity leads me to visit, at some point, the blog of every person who does leave a comment on mine. (But then, we know I’m nosy!)

I know that blogging has moved beyond simply the blog since I first began. Now social media is an important extension to any blog. So perhaps the key is being more confident on Twitter (I still feel like I’m in a crowded room with conversations being shouted through me, and find it enormously difficult to connect without “butting in”) understanding how Pinterest works (I still don’t!) and using Instagram (I’ve never really got around to it). I currently have such a small following on Twitter that even if I tweet my blog posts, I get at most one visit as a result.

I also know that there are some SEO tips that I don’t employ, including not titling my photos or adding the alt text (I guess I’m lazy), plus my tagging is sporadic at best. But ironically, that is exactly where my traffic does come from – Google searches and image searches.

I’d hoped, although I wasn’t that expectant, that Britmums might give me some pointers on how best to find and build my blogging community, but instead I very much felt there was an assumption that we were all already immersed in one since we were at the event.

The funny thing is, I don’t mind if people don’t like what they read on my blog, or don’t want to return, but I’d like them to look and see, and then make that decision. So my burning question is, how to get people here?

Of course, the fact that you aren’t here means you won’t be able to answer this question, but if you do happen to drop by, please leave me your tips and tell me what I’m doing wrong!