Skip to main content

First World Challenges

So, here's the bit where I admit that I kind of hate myself for setting up this 'challenge'. After all, I'm setting out to avoid something, rather than actually doing anything. No marathon, no panda suit, no Himalayas. And the thing I'm avoiding - a quiet glass in the garden or a big night out with friends - is at best a luxury and at worst detrimental to my own health. In a world of genocide, jihad, civil war and seemingly endless unspeakable acts, not to mention Trump, my choice of beverage seems somewhat irrelevant. I just hope nobody from WaterAid ever stumbles across '90 Days Dry'.

Sitting here in my mid-forties, I can reel off lists of terrible experiences that even my thoroughly First World friends or family have endured, where simply getting up ever again was - and still is - an incredible act of courage and resilience, not just some novelty 'challenge'. Losing a child, a parent, a sibling. Dealing with a loved one's dementia or suicide or deep depression, and having to accept that they no longer feel or believe in your protection and care. Cancer. Hearing loss. Macular degeneration. Infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth. (That last word stops my breath and always will. A little boy, a little girl, two sets of grieving parents. It's different when a concept has faces and names.) What else can I list without thinking too hard? Deception. Financial disaster. Domestic violence, culminating in murder. And here I am, saying that 'not drinking something fun/bad for me' for a mere 90 days constitutes a worthy endeavour, and that I need your support.

But here's the thing: I have three (occasionally) beautiful boys with a list of diagnosed 'challenges' as long as your arm. These include Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Sensory Processing Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Aspergers and probably a few other conditions I've forgotten by now. And while we are the lucky ones -- diagnosed, no wheelchairs, no feeding tubes, no life-limiting conditions -- life for my boys can be confusing and overwhelming, and the responsibility for their happiness, mental health and long-term development falls to me. Okay, I guess it's me, my husband, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a family support worker, a member of the local challenging behaviour support service (PALMS), a family therapist, two counsellors, an occupational therapist, a SenCo or two and an endless roster of teachers and teaching assistants. But at the centre of this hub, returning the calls, chasing the reports and refereeing the kids, it's me. Mum. (I ceased to have any other name about eleven years ago, like every other parent.) You know when Special Needs (SEN/SEND) kids have those gigantic noisy tantrums that look like the result of terrible parenting and a lack of boundaries? Well, they are meltdowns, and they can be seen as an expression of panic or fear, when a child no longer feels safe or secure or in control of their body or emotions and needs to shut down and block all further input. So my job as Mum is to live with my children's fear, day in, day out. While I can try to teach them coping strategies, I can't just love the autism out of them. It's hard. If I think for too long it breaks my heart.

And yet I love my life. My kids are not like anyone else and I find them fascinating and brilliant, although they're also inflexible and combative. Our life has a greater than average share of surreal moments and I laugh every single day. Every night I bury my face in my boys' hair and breathe them in and forgive them whatever horrors they have wrought over the previous few hours and feel lucky to have them. (Disclaimer: this wears off if they refuse to sleep.) I plant flowers and enjoy the smell of washing fresh from the line. The kids are fed and put to bed and read to and we turn up to things more or less on time, and I have the enormous advantage of no longer sweating the small stuff AT ALL. And one day my slapdash housekeeping will result in all of us having truly awesome immune systems. But I am so far from having my non-Mummy sh*t together, after dealing with the kids' many needs and conflicts, that I often forget to feed myself meals and instead eat biscuits at midnight, and every now and then I just cut knots out of my hair instead of trying to brush it. But I am learning the hard way that I need to fight to be whole, or at least whole enough to keep supporting the kids and to be of use to the friends who are dealing with some of the most soul-destroying 'real' challenges that life could throw at them.

To be honest, I always found the 'self-care movement' a rather indulgent and selfish idea (I blame religion and the Brownies for that reaction), but now I look at myself and my future and see that Something Must be Done. Although part of me can see this and dares to type it, it doesn't yet feel natural or reasonable to do something that will benefit me, unless it can also benefit others. So I've made myself accountable and my ridiculous and self-indulgent (or worthy and necessary) challenge has become a fundraiser for the charity that has kept me afloat for several years. It has also become a confession: I don't have my act together, I need to do this, and right now it's as big a challenge as I can consider. World Peace will have to wait.


  1. I love your blog already, Lizzie and I whole-heartedly support your endeavours, even if it does mean no bloody gin nights in London! It's no consolation I am sure, but I couldn't even make head-space to look after myself with ONE small girl child until she went to school... almost nine months in, and progress is there - slow but sure. Go you, darl. May your cup runneth over with self-careness very soon! x

  2. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Keep on writing Liz and count down the days xx


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Day 71: ‘Tis the season...

Let me list a few things that disturb The Cat:

A long build-up to an exciting eventSchool being ‘different’Being asked to singSurprises (e.g. presents)Large family gatherings Music that he hasn’t pre-approvedMummy singing along to anything at all, or even hummingCandlesUnfamiliar smells, like, say, a tree indoorsCooking smellsAny strong smell (with the bizarre exception of the little boy wee smell that he leaves on bathroom floors and walls)Changes in routineSitting at a table for more than ten minutesNoisy chatter or laughterLoud bangs (from, say, a cracker)Seeing girls (e.g. his kind, beautiful, little girl cousin)Food other than pizza, salmon or sausages Going places he has to wear clothesCake that isn't chocolateTalking to anyone other than Mummy, The Dog or The FriendMummy talking to anyone other than himThinking about anything other than Pokemon, Greek mythology or Minecraft And a few of The Dog’s dislikes: Weeks where his sports are cancelled Getting wet/cold socks on the tra…

New Year, New Blog

And so, having been swallowed by Christmas and poorly kids for a couple of weeks, I find myself at the end of 2017. With that must come the end of this blog, as it has already lasted a month longer than planned.

A few final thoughts, however - because I’m not actually capable of shutting up. Ever.

Firstly, please consider ‘giving back’ in 2018. It makes you feel good, or in Big Words: the positive effects on your mental health are well documented. If you get involved with a charity that has touched your life in some way, you are likely to find a tribe of people Just Like You, whether that’s SEN parents, cancer survivors, anti-suicide campaigners or whatever else is relevant to you or your family and friends. And if this blog has shown you anything, it should show you that you can be sponsored to take on any crazy challenge you can think up. Think of something your friends wouldn’t expect you to do, then do it. Or call your favoured charity and ask if you can help in some practical way…

Day, erm, Almost-the-End: ADD-vance and Not Blaming the Parent

I've just realised how close I am to the end of my 90-day challenge, and would like to write my last few blog posts about the ways that The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust -- the beneficiary of the sponsorship for my challenge -- offers support to families like mine. Because when I first encountered ADD-vance, the idea of self-care was laughable. Did these people not understand that I spent part of my days restraining a violent child and much of the rest of it dealing with wounds or wreckage or the anxieties of two other children? Had they no concept of how hard it is just to get three SEN kids into clothes every morning when two are dyspraxic and one spends the larger part of his life upside-down or in mid-air? Did they not know that I had zero seconds to myself, and that even when the kids were in class, I was in meetings at school or on the phone trying to persuade local services to offer us some 'service'?

Turns out they did get all that. That they had all gone through…