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Day 20: 100,000 Starfish (or: Don't give up when overwhelmed!)

Today is all about the feeling of total overwhelm. Since I started writing this blog I'm amazed by the things I've learned, and by my changing reaction to feeling overwhelmed a gazillion times a day. Yes, that's a lot of being overwhelmed, but let's face it, all parents are overwhelmed at some point, and especially SEN parents. (If you are never overwhelmed, please stop reading and immediately donate yourself to Medical Science. No, I'm sure it won't be painful. Or not too much. At least you won't be overwhelmed by it.)

The first lesson learned is the fact that the world doesn't end if I occasionally carve out an hour to type a few thoughts. No child has suffered in the creation of this blog. In fact, they have benefited from having a calmer Mummy, who doesn't shake with suppressed (if they are lucky) rage when they say they've lost the second football sock that I handed them ten minutes ago and that they NEEEEED it RIGHT NOWWWWW.

Secondly, and this is a shocker, I actually feel better when I don't drink. I am gobsmacked. My only other extended periods of non-drinking were during pregnancy or months of breastfeeding, and I felt so sick and/or exhausted that the benefits of abstinence were measured in terms of the children's health rather than any effect on me. But now I am sleeping better (for the parts of the night when children have yet to climb on top of me) and I am definitely fresher in the mornings. I mentioned my 90 day challenge to my GP yesterday, and she told me that alcohol, even in smallish quantities, is a major cause of anxiety. Apparently we're all drinking it to relax when stressed, and yes, that works, and pretty darned well in my case. However, the next day, when we don't imagine there's any after-effect from our usual glass or two in the evening, it's there in our bodies making us anxious. Bummer of all bummers. I bet I'd been told that unfortunate fact before, but hadn't bothered to listen. I hate it when boring stuff is true and the grown-ups are right. But I don't hate feeling better.

Thirdly, herbal tea is awesome. I am keeping Pukka in business. It is cruel, though, that they make so many flavours and each has a different and equally beautiful box. I am suppressing my urge to collect, but instead am drinking Pukka teas by the gallon, in order to use up the current stocks and justify further purchases. Drinking herbal tea in the evening, at the point where I would normally pour a glass of wine, has been a great way to tweak a deeply ingrained habit. I still get to drink something, I still have something in my hands, and I still relax as a result. The added bonus at this time of year is that herbal tea keeps your hands warm.

Finally, I am blown away by the number of people who feel the way I do about life, and have generously shared with me the ways they have learned to deal with stress and, particularly among the Mums, with that sense of not living up to their own expectations. (These are all Mums who seem to me to be awesome, which confirms once and for all that expectations are evil and that we should each write down our daft ideas about 'getting it right', chuck them on a bonfire and watch the embers float away on the breeze. Or, for those in England, watch the embers get beaten into muddy oblivion by the torrential autumn rains.) What's fascinating is the way in which some ideas really stick with you and all of a sudden you can't imagine how you lived without them. A week or so ago, a highly inspirational friend told me the story of 100,000 starfish. I'm quite a visual person -- I remember things better if I can fix an image in my mind -- and her starfish are now with me forever.

So, with my friend's permission, I'm sharing the story here, just on the off-chance that you too will be able to go forth and starfish your way through life. Imagine, then, that you are walking along a beach. (Feel free to visualise fully, if that's your thing: sun on your skin, sand under your feet, salt on the breeze, etc.) Suddenly you see some starfish washed up on the beach. Not just one or two, but thousands. Not just a couple of thousand, but one hundred thousand. Yes, 100,000. Ten times ten thousand. 90,000 + 10,000 more. They are dying and need to get back to water. But there are so very many; there is no way you can save them all. Do you give up in advance, and walk away? I have some days where I would run and pretend I hadn't seen a thing. But wouldn't it be better to make a start, and save even a few? Just start, throw them back one at a time, and see how far you get? It might even be the case that after a few, you find your rhythm and get faster. But even if that doesn't happen, the first starfish is worth saving. It is worth saving not just for its own sake, but also for the sake of how you will feel about yourself for taking - or not taking - action. When overwhelmed with jobs or worries or mess, then, just the single act can make a difference. My friend told me that she wore a starfish necklace, and every time she felt overwhelmed she would reach for it and think, 'Starfish'. Since she told me this, I've found myself reaching for my own neck, and chanting 'starfish starfish starfish' until I'm able to quiet my jangling brain and begin with just one act. (I'm working on chanting silently rather than out loud in public places. Although I don't really care what people think, at least one of my children is highly sensitive to stares and has entered the Mums-are-Inherently-Embarrassing stage. I probably shouldn't give him further reason to pretend he's not mine.)

Although I'm trying very hard to avoid signing up to further challenges during my 90 days, I committed to myself a few months ago to get rid of one item a day from the house. I will do this for a year, and then see if it has made a difference. Some days it's a whole bag of outgrown kids' clothes, but some days (like yesterday) it's a random stairgate attachment that has mysteriously fallen out of The Cupboard of Doom. (Surely everybody's understairs cupboard has a name?) When, like yesterday, it's one small item that doesn't actually take up any significant space, I start to feel it's been a pointless exercise and I should have tried harder. I'm now using 'starfish starfish starfish' to remind myself that it's a year-long process, and as long as I don't run back down the beach, it is worth my effort. In terms of the way I feel about myself, it can even become an act of self-care.

So thank you, everyone who has shared ideas with me, and especially Starfish Friend. Let's help each other to keep on keeping on. I love that the new verb, 'to starfish', has entered my life, and wonder what will come next.

To contribute to The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust:


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