Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Thatcher: was The Iron Lady an inspiration to women?

Meryl Streep as Thatcher in The Iron Lady
Everyone has a view on Mrs T. Even now more than 20 years since she resigned as prime minister, the mention of her name causes fists to clench and jaws to tighten. 

Even now she's an ailing and diminished old lady but still has the power to polarise opinion. Alone an impressive achievement. 

I don't want to talk about what she did or didn't do as politician, the thought of it exhausts me. However, I read a post yesterday over at From Fun To Mum that set me thinking. 

The question was: was Thatcher a good mother? 

My answer is that it's no one else's business. And, in any case, outside the realms of proper neglect, the notion of "good" or "bad" parenting is bunk. 

When we become mothers we don't stop being all the things we were before. And they are just as important. 

We don't see screeds of pontification on the parenting abilities of Cameron, Brown, Blair or Major. I'd argue that to even debate the point about Thatcher is sexist. After all, we assume that offspring of the male prime ministers are being cared for perfectly well by their other parent while the politician is busy, don't we? 

There's a lump of opinion that howls about how "anti-feminist" Thatcher was because she didn't support the cause of feminism, that this Tory didn't do more for female solidarity. Was that really such a surprise?

Whatever way it ended up, there is no denying that Margaret Thatcher achieved an impressive amount as a woman at that time. Perhaps the problem we have now is that she proved that it could be done, and therefore what are we all waiting for now.

It was put to me recently in a mess of metaphors that she smashed the glass ceiling and then slammed it shut again behind her. Not so. 

What she did was get on with her job, achieve her ambitions and, in the main, reach her goals. That she was a woman had nothing to do with it. 

And that's the inspiring bit. Surely, if we have the ability, there is nothing to stop us being or doing what we want - regardless of gender. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

New media breakfast: breaking the rules... or not

Content is not just king, but queen, prince and the rest of the royal family. 

On Friday I went to my first Fatbuzz New Media Breakfast - entitled Breaking The Rules.

Here's what I learned: 

The internet has turned traditional ideas of telling the world what you're up to on its head. In the olden days you had to buy adverts or drinks for journalists to get some kind of exposure. Nowadays you can just tweet, blog, vlog or facebook about it. Easy peasy. (I kinda knew this anyway, but it's always good to hear it again. Eventually everyone will believe it.)

If you invest in content you will earn your space. Soundbite sensation from Fatbuzz's Gordon White. What this means is that if what you put in your social media spaces is good - interesting, funny, warm, useful and original - it will be shared, used and passed on. So in the brave new media you can't just say "I've got pots of money I'll just buy loads of time and space" like you used to, you say "I've got loads of money, I'll pay clever, creative, talented people to put stuff online for me". The real loveliness of this is that if you're already creative, clever and talented you can do it yourself!

Brand journalism is a real thing. I'd never heard of this before, but it means applying the principals of journalism to telling the world about your brand. So PR then? Not quite, but nearly. So take a journalist's skills in identifying and telling a story and use them to identify and tell a story about your product, on your communication platform. Only the journalistic principal of independence and balance might not apply. I'm really not sure how I feel about this yet.

Here's what David Meerman Scott says: "Brand journalism is the creation of videos, blog posts, photos, charts, graphs, essays, ebooks and other information that deliver value to your market place. Brand Journalism is not a product pitch. It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of gobbledygook-laden, stock-photo enhanced corporate drivel."

Advertising is the price you pay for not getting social media right. I kinda like this even if it is a bit slick and snappy

There are times it isn't rude to be looking at your phone when someone's talking. At an event with a hashtag, it isn't considered bad manners to be fiddling with your gadget. In fact speaker Michelle Rodgers (AKA @tartancat) said: "I worry if they don't tweet when I'm speaking, means it's not worth sharing."

We need some new etiquette for meeting Twitchums.Within minutes I realised that several people in the room feature prominently on my twitter stream - many I liked and had conversations with. So what to do? Firstly I don't know what they look like. Is it OK to Tweet them and see who waves? Secondly, I know who they are but do they know me. That would be embarrassing, wouldnt' it? 

There will always be a use for good writers. Occasionally in the rapidly changing world, where my portfolio career shifts shape faster than ice cream melts I wonder whether my skills will always be useful. They will.

Investment no longer wears a pin-striped suit. Michelle Rodger talked about the rise and rise of the venture catalyst. She discussed crowd-sourced funding and how the power really does lie with the people. Really, really interesting stuff.

Historic examples don't always work. The Darien scheme was  cited as a way that back in the 1690s crowd-sourced funding was used to pay for a big idea. The idea was to set up a Scottish colony on the Isthmus of Panama. It would position Scotland as a trading superpower. Huge amounts of money for this was raised from wealthy Scots - some reports claim it was a quarter of all funds in circulation at the time. 4,000 Scots set sail for Central America with high hopes, yet, within two years the dream was over. Scotland was left broke and many experts believe the ramifications led to the creation of the Union in 1707 out of financial necessity. 

But unexpected historic case studies aside, the New Media Breakfast was full of ideas and helpful suggestions, I'll definitely be back. 

On reflection: an excellent idea for a walk in the dark

Boy Two wears his to build a den.
It's winter in Scotland so we don't see much daylight. Weeks can go by when we scamper around with our pupils dilated like pit ponies in perpetual gloom.

So if we want some fresh air we have to put up with dark air. On several occasions we've got booted and scarfed and trotted out under the night sky for a walk.

We were out one beautiful clear evening, watching the stars "you know where the Dog Star is because it's near Orion's Belt and it's serious (Sirius)" and jumping in puddles.

Then a car came along. The Boys are fairly well trained and a yell of "car" has them leaping to the verge and standing like statues. Except at night, against a hedge they were almost invisible.

Oh yes. Those reflective cuffs and flashing armbands in the kitchen drawer. Yes, them. We should have had them on.

"Turn your faces to the car," I instructed hoping their white cheeks would at least glow a little in the headlights. But I knew that if I was the driver I'd be muttering "what the hell are they doing out there with kids at night IN DARK CLOTHES".

So a day or so later I was asked by Kids One Stop Shop to try out a B-scene jacket, I was obviously going to say "yes please". It was such a perfect solution - reflective stuff to be worn all the time, not left in the kitchen drawer.

And when Boy Two's jacket arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. I had somehow imagined sewn-on high vis stripes or somesuch. No the reflective stuff is in the fabric of a jacket that actually looks very cool... and warm at the same time.

Boy Two loved it, although he did grumble that when he wore it unzipped to play football the tiny plastic bit at the top of the zip scratched his neck. I washed it and warned him to do it up and he hasn't complained again.

The B-Scene gear - there's also a duffle coat for girls - is an excellent idea and I'd love to see more styles and more colours of fabric. Also, how about a waterproof version?

Meantime, there's a cracking offer on these coats, what

Disclosure we were sent a boys bomber jacket by Kids One Stop Shop to try out. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Readysteadyblog: gin, hearth and bees - or meaning more than we say

boy in disguise
Have you ever noticed how one little word can stand for such a big and complex feeling? Far more than it's actual meaning. 

Some words just mean what they say: spoon, photo, wedge and mascara for example. Man, woman, child and baby... all pretty straightforward. 

Try bachelor - now that's never just an unmarried man, is it? Likewise spinster. 

Here are some others:

Cake - means a gathering of women for gossip around some bakery item with icing. The gossip is always more important than the bakery item. 

Gin - means the release valve at the end of something stressful. Not just a juniper berry-based spirit. In fact, the suggestion of adding gin to the equation usual reflects on the seriousness of the aggravation currently being endured. 

Hearth - Never only the bit where the fire is. Attached to "and home", it's about a warm and comforting place to hang out. (I wrote dwell at first and thought that was a bit pretentious.)

Clutter - Unnecessary stuff somewhere it shouldn't be. Like indoor weeds? No it's far more than that. It means that defeated feeling that arrives with the understanding that however hard you try to resolve the clutter, you will fail. See also fingermarks.

Bees - not just stripey, stinging insects. No. Adaptable, honey-making bees (and we all know how magical that expensive honey is, or at least they'd have us believe) are the very symbol of all that's good and wholesome in the world. That they are at risk means, basically, we're doomed. 

Camping. Used to mean spending time living under canvas. Now it means weekends of misery, inevitable rain and a marriage-risking inability to construct the flipping thing.

Diets - notionally just a list of everything you eat, but really it's a period of madness when food becomes an obsession and things such as cauliflower mash and sugar substitutes will be considered. Fortunately the phase of serious mental impairment usually passes quite quickly and normal behaviour returns.  

Do you have any words that mean more than they say?

This post was brought to you by Ready Steady Blog. In the absence of inspiration, I asked the wise people of Twitter for some topics to write about. @Pogster said hearth, @deborahsmumnuts said diets, @h0pefulmummy said gin and @Smudgerella said bees. 

@GHmltn suggested six things that drove me to drink this week, but by the time I listed three kids and a husband, I only had to find two and that was too easy. 

It's possible I'll do Ready Steady Blog again... feel free to have a go too.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burns Night: Scotching a few myths

Some tasteful tartan from Totally Tartan
So it's Burns Night - all day. I've often wondered how that works, but it does. 

I wasn't going to blog about the annual offal binge that marks the birthday of our National Bard, but then I spotted a post that changed my mind. 

Advocado Sweet reminded me of this piece of his poetry: 

Then catch the moments as they fly
And use them as ye aught man
Believe me, happiness is shy
And comes not aye when sought man
(A Bottle and a Friend)

It's good, innit?

That's the thing about Burns, it might be easy to pack him up in the same shortbread tin as such hokum as the Loch Ness Monster and a national stereotype that insists on eating food that has been described as "cuisine based on a dare". But you can't, his stuff is just too good. 

Another Scottish poet Hugh Macdairmid said: "Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name - than in ony's barrin liberty and Christ."

He may have had a point, but for Burns to be a superstar in his own lifetime he had to have had at the very least the X Factor. 

That he is a famous poet now may have something to do with the Scots and the way their minds work - strong, arguably sentimental, loyalty to their land wedded to world-dominating pioneering spirit. But in his day he was a huge celebrity - feted bad boy and darling of, well, everyone. And he achieved this success at a time when doing so was really something special and much of the population had much more pressing issues than listening to poetry. 

So on January 25 we celebrate his life with haggis, neeps and tatties, poetry and, usually, a bit of drink. 

While much of what this proud nation considers a delicacy is utterly vile - such as deep fried pizza - haggis is not. Far from it. It's really very good and, actually, very healthy. 

It's made from lamb, beef, oatmeal, onions, pepper and spices and that's it. The meat is offal - heart, lungs and liver - and there is usually suet involved somewhere. There are vegetarian versions that offer an equally tasty alternative. 

Some people balk at this - not even considering having a go, but I urge them to think again. I know the notion of something stored in a stomach is a bit peculiar, but originally it was just practical. And you don't eat that bit. It was about efficient use of foodstuff, making sure every part of an animal was used. Compare this with today's version of this economy - mechanically recovered meat

Whisky is traditionally served at a Burns Supper. Obviously. But some people pour it on their haggis. Don't do this, it's a waste of whisky and not a very nice thing to do with your haggis. 

Purists would say there's a right and a wrong way of hosting a Burns Supper. Things that should or shouldn't be said and done. I'd suggest that Burns, himself would laugh at that notion and say "crack on, do what makes you feel good", or words to that effect.

That's it really - both Burns and haggis are jolly good and deserve to be enjoyed more often than once a year. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Mental health carnival: Stroking the black dog...

"And I write this to encourage all of you out there who are stroking the Black Dog, who endure the gray days with a Blitz spirit, as I do." Vegimite Vix

When Carol from Dance Without Sleeping asked if I'd mind holding a mental health carnival, I agreed in an instant. 

Mental illness, of all shades, just doesn't get talked about enough. There's still a stigma, so anything that raises understanding and awareness has to be good. 

Blogging can be hugely therapeutic in matters of mental dis-ease. It really helped me when I was in the grip of depression, therefore, I was delighted to highlight bloggers who talk about their experiences of it. 

I could go on at length about the posts - how affecting, inspiring and moving they are. And they are. But I won't, you can read that for yourself. 

Vegimite Vix kicks things off by looking on the bright side in a teeth-gritted, tomorrow will be better kind of way. She describes depression as "enduring this gray feeling, this twinge of that turns every experience into a sepia coloured vignette".

I have observed, in an entirely unscientific way, that mental illness and and motherhood have a habit of coinciding. 

Birth Trauma Mummy shares her sleepless night - a symptom of her PTSD.

Dorky Mum tells of her post-natal depression and how she found relief. She says: "Confront it sooner rather than later, in whatever way works, and then move on to happier times."

Cupcake Mumma gives a heart-breaking account of how her PND. "I cried when she cried. I was scared of her cries. I felt she never slept and couldn't stand me."

The Rambling Pages tells of bonding and PND. She explains that the road out of PND can be a long one. 

As with all matters maternal, it's not just about mother. Rosie Scribble is concerned about her daughter's anxiety.

At the Communal Pantry, there's a cry from the heart about homework and a child with ADHD.

And it isn't only our kids and their heads that fill our lives. Her Absent Mind is the diary of a woman who looks after her mother who has vascular dementia. Her blog is both compelling and painful. 

Audrey Birt was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Her post discusses how depression can manifest after a cancer diagnosis. "There is a paradox that as you start to look back on a diagnosis you also then can hit your darkest point."

Michelle White says "the London riots were a catalyst for my own personal storm". She talks about how she got over her resistance to antidepressants and joined the gang as a citalopram sister.

Confessions of a SAHM opens her post "When I was 17 I was diagnosed as a manic depressive. I self-harmed and was put on at risk of suicide register with my local mental health team". But now she's in her late twenties and vows "depression's a bitch and I refuse to be its friend".

At Tee's Blog the American in Belfast talks candidly about anxiety disorder, borderline agoraphobia and depression.

So how do you know when it's depression and you're not just a bit cheesed off? The answer from anyone who has walked the Black Dog is, you know. 

Susan K Mann has the January Blues, but as someone who has suffered from PND, she knows it's important to acknowledge how she's feeling.

Carol at Dance Without Sleeping spells out the difference between depression and being depressed. She describes the real deal as "a thick fog that pushes me down and I can't get out of it".

Self Help And Recovery  in a post called Life's A Bitch And Then You Die" has a look at what exactly depression is and how many people suffer from it. She surmises that a staggering 20 per cent of us suffer from a form of depression at any one time. 

At Least Daddy Can Cook  says no to wine (or any other booze for that matter) and feels much better. She reveals that even moderate alcohol consumption can knock mental health for six.

Mammy Dalby at Kids, Crafts and Chaos says volunteering for the Girl Guides beat her depression one badge at a time. "Girl Guiding didn't ask for much from me - I simply had to promise that I would do my best. Maybe, just maybe, it did save my life."

Caron Lindsay at Caron's Musings talks about how talking therapy gave her the tools to avoid the bottom of the pit and how the Government's funding for treatment is to be cheered.

And being prepared and lending a hand isn't enough, Baby Budgeting reminds us of the value of a smile. "A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give."

Carol at Dance Without Sleeping is organising a mental health carnival every month and she's looking for bloggers who'd like to host one. Drop her a line if you can help out. 

Guest post: on depression and talking therapies

Caron Lindsay who blogs at Caron's Musings responds to news that Nick Clegg has ring fenced £400million to help people with depression and anxiety with a touching personal story.

Imagine you're trapped at the bottom of a seemingly endless mine shaft. There is no light, and the walls are like glass and you can't get out. You exhaust yourself trying, but it feels like there's no hope and your efforts are and always will be worthless.

That's how I've felt, on several occasions, through my life. There have been three main occasions. The first was much of my childhood. It wasn't always as acute as that, but looking back on it, depression and anxiety were a major part of my life from as far back as I can remember.

By the time I was 12, it felt insurmountable. I guess that weight didn't make me particularly likeable and I ended up being bullied quite mercilessly for the next three years which didn't do a lot for my mental health. I wrote about that experience a few months ago here. I know that my teachers were aware of some of the demons I was fighting - there were references to emotional problems on my school report when I was eight years old, but nothing was done - I don't know what was available in those days, but I didn't get anything. I am fairly confident that if I'd had the sort of intervention that Nick Clegg talked about today, that my 12 year old self would have been stronger and less suicidal. There were some days when it was literally a struggle to stay alive. To this day I'm not entirely sure what stopped me ending my life, but I came very close. And nobody knew about it. The rising rates of suicide amongst young people show that too many aren't as lucky as I was.

After I was 15 or so, the acute depression lifted. One thing I have learned over the years is that it always does eventually, but unless you have some decent therapy, it still hangs around, like an oppressive and unwelcome cloak. And then something else will happen and you hurtle back to the bottom of the pit again. That happened for me in the mid 90s. I am bad enough at the best of times, but this time the anxiety was crippling. There were times when I couldn't even go out. One year I had been perfectly happy to go off to New York, the next year I couldn't even go to my local shop.  Luckily I had a GP who preferred the counselling approach rather than drugs, something which chimed with my own instincts. I understand that others might think differently, but for me drugs would mean ceding all sort of control over my own mind which in many ways would have been worse for me.

I had a long series of counselling sessions which I found enormously helpful. The outcome of that was that for the first time in my life I had energy to use on developing as a person, to expanding my skill sets (although I still haven't learned how to design literature), to enjoy a contentment and stability that I'd never really known before, where curiosity replaced fear.

Fast forward a few years to round about 2003 when I had to deal with a demanding and stressful situation over a period of more than a year. I buckled again, went straight to the bottom of the pit without passing go.  I was lucky again at the new practice. Still no drugs and I didn't even have to go to hospital. I didn't even have to wait that long for treatment. This time I had the help of an absolutely fabulous Community Psychiatric Nurse who helped me recover and develop some techniques to avoid slipping again.

I just want to say something about talking therapies. Some people might think that's a soft option, you know, everyone sitting around in cosy armchairs talking about their feelings. I do know that it's viewed as something comic, indulgent, even, by some. Well, you just imagine finding, retrieving and opening every can of worms you've repressed and hidden away in your mind because they're too awful to deal with. Reliving those experiences, and rewriting the way your mind responds to certain situations, changing your reactions and your behaviour. That is Bloody Hard Work. I'd come out of sessions feeling like I'd gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, totally drained and exhausted and bruised. The CPN assured me that this was a) completely normal and b) a good sign. You really have to invest everything you have in the process, but, boy, it's worth it in the end.

Now, I've been in stressful and demanding situations since then but have been able to use the techniques I learnt to dig myself in somewhere close to the top of the mine shaft, and ultimately drag myself out. I think it was a testament to the success of the therapy (as well as the support and love of my friends) which stopped me sinking into Depression when I was ill for so long after glandular fever.

I don't know if I will ever fall to the bottom again. I do know that I've had more peace and stability in my life in the 15 years since I first started receiving proper treatment than in the whole of the 28 years before.

My experience is comparatively mild compared to others, and I've been very lucky in that when I've been most in need, I've had medical people around who have been able to recognise that drugs alone, or at all, weren't the answer. More high quality therapy for a million more people as announced today is such a good thing. It probably isn't enough, but it's a really good start.

I know from today's announcement that more will be done to identify and treat depressed and anxious young kids so that they are able to overcome it so much earlier, so they can concentrate their energies on building successful lives for themselves.

There have been many years when I've been working, but I've not ever really had a proper career which I think is in large part down to the effect that untreated depression from a very young age had on me. That's why I cried this morning when I heard Nick Clegg talk about how this Government is going to start to tackle that. It makes me incredibly happy to think that children will not have to go through what I went through and won't be held back.

Mental health has been very much the poor relation in health service provision. There is still a whole load of baggage and stigma round this issue. Nick Clegg has cut through all of that and done something positive. It's a liberal approach that will literally set people free from horrible illnesses. It will save lives. "

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Guest post: On depression and cancer...

Audrey Birt, Director for Scotland of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, was herself recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She has written this piece to join in the mental heath carnival.

In my own blog I describe how I have now been diagnosed with early breast cancer twice in my life. The experience I have described as an ebb and flow. Not always predictable or easy to put into words. But maybe one of the paradoxes is both times just as I have felt I was coming to the end of the process or indeed safely out the other end... I have felt at my worst emotionally.

I considered calling one blog "Permission to Feel Pissed Off" but didn't because it wasn't as simple as that. And, believe me, telling someone how brave they are can sometimes be seriously annoying. Is it only ever OK to be the brave cancer patient? Show me the person who is always brave... I would love to meet them and shake their hand. Because for most of us it needs to be OK to be scared or fed up or angry or, dare I say it, depressed.

Depression is common during or after a cancer diagnosis. Studies quote between 15 per cent and 40 per cent of people will report a depression... and I suspect a significant group in addition who don't seek treatment too. Perhaps it's not surprising at the time of diagnosis, throwing your life in turmoil and so on, that the black dog comes barking at the door. But that doesn't mean it will happen to everyone and therefore doesn't need or benefit from treatment.

With this side effect of a diagnosis so common, let's open up that conversation with those we care for and give them the opportunity to say how they are really. It may save them from the pain and isolation that depression can bring.

One of the things I feared when I was diagnosed last year was the effect on my mood. I remembered how hellish it was to feel low for months, complicated by fatigue of a bone-aching variety. It passed but I didn't want to go back there. Ever. I turned down one of the treatments which I believed contributed to that feeling. And yes that decision effects my recurrence risk but I want quality of life as well as quantity. And it's a risk I have analysed and decided to take.

There is a paradox that as you start to look back on a diagnosis you also then can hit your darkest point. And oh the guilt of that. After all, you have survived, haven't you? You faced a cancer diagnosis and lived. Be grateful. And of course for me I am, in so many ways, but I have also needed to accept that again it's had an impact and not surprisingly some of that has not been good.

Let's be honest none of its been good. Not what I planned or wanted. And as the winter set in I could feel a sinking of my mood that scared me. I admit to midwinter never being my favourite time but this was different. I have felt anxious about small things, fretted over nothing and get the wellies out if there is something sad on TV. Sleep was a variable feast and I was starting the week feeling overwhelmed and concerned about having the energy to finish it. All at the same time that everyone assumes that it's all behind you and everything is fixed.

Happily my festive break pulled me through and the benefit of rest and good times a timely reminder to ensure more of that in the months to come. Especially with more surgery to face. Importantly I have also found it helpful to view my low points as an important part of the process. So not to feel guilty, not to feel a sense of failure but to be honest about it and to ask for help too.

What has also helped is my Zumba class. I always leave it smiling. I won't mention the limp! Walking as I did today through the Botanic Gardens in the sun, spotting the snowdrops feeds my soul. And most importantly of all time with people I love. I know making time for all these things help.

In my blog I always have a reasons to be cheerful section. This has helped me seek out and value the good things and I feel better once I have articulated them. That is hard to do from the depth of a depression but finding a positive even in the worst gloom is an important step back to health. And do remember if you are struggling, ask for help, don't struggle alone, depression is treatable and there will be better times again.

And finally my blog has been a huge reason for me to be cheerful. Just the process of writing down my thoughts and fears has unburdened me. It's also engaged me with a wonderful network of people. I recommend it.

Guest post: It was the summer of 2011 and the city streets were burning.

Michelle White has sent this piece in to join in the mental health carnival.

It was the summer of 2011 and the city streets were burning. People called it a perfect storm, recession, poverty, racial tensions and balmy nights. I watched in horror as places of my childhood were destroyed. It felt as though England was unravelling. I stopped eating, couldn't sleep and my mind raced around in spirals. I couldn't see a future for my children, like the country  I was breaking . The riots become a catalyst for my own personal storm, after a life time of anxiety I decided to seek help.

In our family we do not take anti depressants. My grandmother was addicted to Valium and Librium and despite inheriting her anxiety disorder, we resisted following in her pharmaceutical footsteps.

Taking tablets was a seen as a sign of weakness, even when our anxiety destroyed our state of mind, self esteem and personal relationships (keeping anxiety at bay makes you incredibly crabby).

During August last year it became too much to bear. The riots were the final element in the perfect storm created by several years of financial difficulty, negative equity, a sick baby, failed emigration plans and bereavement. I held it together to do the things I desperately needed to do, but you cannot fight yourself forever.

The first doctor I saw looked sheepishly at his keypad as I sobbed, he prescribed the drugs and I went on my way, unaware that I was to experience the darkest few days of my life. The anti-depressants caused an anxiety attack that hurtled me into a breakdown, the initial dose was too high. I vomited, ate nothing for three days, could not sleep and could only sit in the same spot for more than five minutes.

It was like being on a high dose of speed and I was climbing the walls.

The drugs eventually levelled out and with the support of my amazing family I am fully recovered. The turning point came when my mother presented me with a prawn mayo sandwich and I wolfed it down. I knew it would be OK when I noticed how beautiful the sun looked as it shone through the trees but I didn't want to get too cocky.

I was shaky but I made it to my son's 5th birthday, I couldn't bear the thought of letting him down. The people that love me saved my life, they have seen me at my lowest, smoking a roll-up in my mother's pyjamas with my hair looking wild. They still love me and my anxiety is a mere shadow of its former self. I'm still in debt but what I can't change I no longer waste time ruminating about.

The riots did stop, people go about their business in the usual way. The calm came after the storm. Surviving a breakdown is like emerging from a perpetual night. Tentatively at first until the light stops hurting your eyes, until you feel confident enough to smile. At times things still overwhelm me with their complexity and beautiful simplicity. I have been broken and rebuilt, it was incredibly humbling.

I'm supposed to be embarrassed or ashamed but I'm not. I pop a pill, so what? I'm proud to be a citalapram sister. I took anxiety by the horns. My only regret is the fact that I took so long to deal with it and that the flat stomach developed during the breakdown didn't last.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Be adventurous with your child's name - it'll make all the difference

Do you imagine great things for your children? Of course you do. Your little darling is going to make history, be famous and probably save the planet.

How about if they were brave and heroic adventurers? Marvellous. But unless you have given them the right name, you've blown it already. 

You see, this week I was working on a story about Birdie Bowers - the fifth member of Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition. Birdie was born in Greenock and it's almost exactly 100 years since the Terra Nova expedition shuddered to an icy conclusion.

But reading about Bowers and his colleagues I was struck by something significant. The names. OK, Birdie isn't the most heroic of monikers, but then he wasn't the leader or the inspiration behind the venture. 

The big cheese of the expedition was Robert Falcon Scott. I'll bet he wouldn't have got past Southampton, let alone the South Pole, if he was Robert Sparrow Scott. He was joined by Lawrence - I'm Going Outside I Might Be Some Time - Oates, who was known as Titus. Another in the support team was Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Names to follow into the unknown. 

And casting around at others embued with a spirit of derring do. Bear Grylls wouldn't be a compelling leader if he was called Nigel or Barry. Ranulph Twisledon-Wykeham-Fiennes might not have climbed so many mountains with the name Roger stuck to his crampons. Ray Mears cuts it as survival expert because the whole thing works together - Raymears. You wouldn't catch Ronald Mears drinking the still-warm blood of a dead thing. Ok John isn't a good start for Blashford-Snell, but Blashers, as he's known, works a treat.

As an aside, Mr Grylls clearly knows the power of a name -  his children are called Jessie, Marmaduke and Huckleberry. 

Then take to the seas and meet Chay Blyth, Thor Heyerdahl, and, of course, Dame Ellen MacArthur. It's all in the name, you see. 

This is all very well if are considering the name of your offspring - I'm looking at you Super Sister - but what if you've already got little Amys, Johns, Sophies and Jacks?

And what about you? Is something holding you back? It's clearly your name -  ditch Susan, Sarah and Samantha for something much more swashbuckling. And do it soon. Dave, Derek and Daniel, you need something much more fearsome and eyebrow raising. 

Let me know what you call your pioneer persona. 

Meantime, the video is my youngest son Velociraptor showing his potential.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Facebook folly: I like them on my chest and lump-free

It's come round again. That time of year when women post silly suggestive things as their Facebook status apparently to bewilder poor men and raise awareness of breast cancer.

I did take part the first time round, when you were revealed the colour of your bra (gray, but in a good way), then the second, where you said where your bag was (flung on the kitchen floor and kicked by children). 

But now I've stopped to have a think and I won't be doing it again. 

Firstly, ladies, how would we feel if men started posting things like "firm and wobbly" or "just slap her if she won't shut up"? I'll bet the funny side wouldn't be so obvious. 

So shutting the chaps out so we can laugh at them isn't very nice... in fact, it might even be sexist. Certainly the assumption that we can laugh at men because they won't understand the joke is. 

Why shouldn't they be in on it - they can get breast cancer too. And, in any case, they have womenfolk with breasts, don't they? 

It doesn't compare to the Movember campaign about prostate and other men's cancers which is just as much about letting women know that their people with balls should be checking them and their other bits regularly. 

And in any case, what's the message with the Facebook thing? Most people are aware of breast cancer - so what? We have to check our breasts. Yes, of course. But wouldn't it be better to be reminded of that explicitly and more frequently. How about ads on tampon packets? On bras? At the supermarket? On Google - "it's the first of the month, check your tits day"? The internet and social media could have a powerful effect in reminding people, but a daft sniggery joke isn't helping at all. A trick is being missed.

And while we we're on the subject. Facebook statuses that say "If you are affected by depression/cancer/MS/autism/miscarriage/ingrowing toenails post this and, well, think you've done something to help when you haven't really..." are just as pointless. 

The internet in its various forms gives people a chance to say real and personal things on any topic they like. This is very powerful and effective. Just copying what someone else said isn't.

Maybe there should be a fine or donation tariff - every time someone posts, clicks or otherwise participates in a spurious awareness raising initiative without engaging their brains should be fined and the proceeds given to the appropriate charities. 

OK, as you were. I've got that off my chest now and I feel better. 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Scotland: My creeping unease in the country I call home

Earlier this week I read a post at Is There A Plan B. it was called this time it's personal and talked about her feelings about the independence referendum.

Written by another Englishwoman living in Scotland, she is wondering if she's entitled have a say and if the nub of the issue isn't a blanket rejection of England and the English... And therefore her too.

What she wrote rang a bell so emphatically I couldn't hear anything else for a while. I commented that I had felt a creeping unease about the whole thing for some time. It's a feeling I've been ignoring for a while.

But now this isn't going away any time soon, I need to work out how I feel about it. And why.

Scotland I love, I was at school and university here and never really left. But it wasn't apathy, I went away and chose to come back again, more than once. And even the other place I would think of as home is only the nearest county over the Border.

I have always felt at home here, well, almost always. There were the times when someone would say "oh, you're English" with that combination of disdain and pity.

And the time that a class of six year olds - my son among them - yelled "and sent them homeward tae think again" complete with aggressive fists raised. Young warriors ready for the fight.

And then more recently this creeping unease. What's that coming from?

Am I simply unsettled by change, by the unknown? Ordinary human people like us, apparently, like the status quo and get all restless and ratty when it's at risk. So maybe.

Am I so wedded to the United Kingdom that the thought of its fracture is heartbreaking? No, I've prodded that notion and I'm certain there's no particular sentiment here, no tribal loyalty.

Do I think that Scotland can't cut it on its own? Excellent question. Other similar countries survive, don't they? OK it'll need to be very different and the road from here to there will be extraordinarily steep and twisted. Perhaps not a journey to relish.

Something else? There has been a huge amount of talk of what England is doing, what they want. As if the English want to tell the Scots what to do in a high-handed, arrogant way. Speaking as one of the English, it's not the case. But the feeling that I somehow must defend my other home nation is growing, but I won't, why should I?

Change is coming. inevitably. Even if the SNP lose, the landscape will be scarred by the fight. The sides are mustering for a terrific battle and there will be casualties. My hope - or one of them - is that there will be kindness and understanding amid the mayhem. Once it's over, whatever happens we will have to live side by side and get on with it.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Review: Hotter boots and fringe benefits

"Would you like to try a pair of our boots?" Erm. Let me think about it... Yes. 

My answer is quite likely to include bears and popes because I like a boot under most circumstances. In fact, the Panther of News thinks I own an extravagance of footwear, but then he had led a very sheltered life in some respects. 

So when the nice people at Hotter asked if I'd like to try their Charisma sheepskin boots it was what young folk call a no-brainer. 

Now this is probably a good point to mention my Ugg aversion. I have never liked the ubiquitous feet-made-from-dough boots that seem to be at the end of every second pair of legs on the high street - and everywhere else. It's not just that wearing them is just so samey, there's something about the shape of the toes that is so, well, beurgh. 

So at very first glance, I was dismayed to notice that the Charisma looks a bit Ugg-esque. But on second glance, they don't. They have a lovely double fringe around the top and are, somehow, a different shape. They also have a more solid sole and heel piece. 

I was delighted when they arrived - complete with a free can of waterproofy treatment spray - they looked fab and even less Ugg-y than in the picture. I slipped my bare feet into them and, oh! The fleece against my feet felt divine. And warm. 

I work from home most of the time and the central heating goes off as the school bus leaves our road. After an hour or so it starts to get a bit parky - I wrap my hands around a hot coffee, I put on a huge fleece and, eventually, I give in and put the heating back on (only don't tell the Panther). So a pair of boots that take cosy to a new level might just make working in an unheated house a more comfortable affair. 

So, in conclusion I love my new Hotter boots, they are comfy, warm and I think they look pretty cool (but in a hot way). 

Charisma is available from Hotter.com.

Disclosure: I was sent a pair of boots to review. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

How Hairy McLary came to the rescue in a bad case of transitionitis

Each time my big boys come back from seeing their dad there is tension, in fact that's something of an understatement - there is shouty, grumpy, tearful out-of-sortsy tension.

It's not that anyone does anything wrong or that there is any animosity. In fact it all goes fairly well, as far as these things go.

But the boys, particularly the nine year old, needs considerable decompression before normal service is restored. My friend Fionaoutdoors calls it transitionitis

This time he and I were snappish in the extreme. He was answering back and I was telling him off - ill temper taken as an art form. If there was an olympic mother and son event we would be where the smart money would go.

Add to that a single-minded and contrary toddler with ambitions far above his station and things were getting noisy. 

Finally in an attempt to break the funk and, even, get him to talk to me about, we set to tidying his room. The bedroom of a nine-year-old boy is a mysterious and scary place. The casual violence of a shoebox armoury - spud fun, water pistol, catapult and light sabre - cuddled up beside playdoh sculptures and furry things with eyes.

Then under the stuff were books, Top Gear and Blue Peter annuals with Pokemon classification tables and some from earlier. We were book-shelf archeologists. 

"I loved this. You used to read it all the time," he exclaimed clutching a dog-eared copy of Hairy Mclary from Donaldson's Dairy. "I'm going to read it to C....."

And before I knew it he was wedged into an armchair with his little brother and a book.

Schnitzel von Krumm
with a very low tum,
Bitzer Maloney
all skinny and bony,
Muffin McClay
like a bundle of hay,
Bottomley Potts
covered in spots,
Hercules Morse
as big as a horse
and Hairy Maclary
from Donaldson's Dairy

Now every evening we get demands to meet Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town, but I don't really mind.

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