An anxiety victory!

IMG_4520Hello everyone,

It’s been yonks since I wrote, yet again! This is partly because I have had an awful lot of freelance writing work on – which always takes it out of me more than editing – and partly because we are gearing up for our Big House Move. There has been a lot of packing happening in Casa Squidge!

The house move happens to coincide with the end of my talking therapies sessions: my last one is next Tuesday. I’ve been working on an Exposure and Response Prevention hierarchy to try and reduce my anxious responses / rituals to certain situations. My goal for the end of the sessions was to be able to clean out the chickens on my own, without my husband helping me, and without having to strip off all my clothes as ‘contaminated’ and take a shower afterwards.

To be honest, when I set that goal, I felt like it was pretty unattainable. At that point I was freaking out about salmonella on a daily basis. It was occupying a lot of my thoughts. I didn’t like Squidge or other children being out in the garden – I was worried that the chickens might somehow infect them with something. I hated going in the chicken run. I felt so dirty afterwards. I felt like the soles of my shoes and the palms of my hands were sort of glowing in my mind with all the bacteria they might have on them. It’s a weird way to describe it, I know – glowing – but it’s the best approximation of how I felt.

As I worked on my anxiety, I got a bit better with going in the run. I was able to go in and check on their food and water without getting worked up about it. In fact, somewhere around August, I was doing so well, that I figured I could just have a go at cleaning them out by myself.

This was a very bad plan.

I tried to ‘protect’ myself with a dust mask, but it didn’t fit properly and kept falling down, and also made my glasses steam up so that I couldn’t see properly. I broke a couple of eggs accidentally while I was raking out the straw, leading to a horrid sloppy yolky mess. I ended up hyperventilating, crying, shaking – oh god, it was so bad.

I went back to a lower rung on my hierarchy – letting my husband doing all the cleaning out, while I put in the clean straw afterwards.

Some time after the failed attempt, I spoke to my father-in-law about how hard I was finding looking after the chickens. He suggested that I buy myself a boiler suit that would protect my clothing, that I could just take off when I was done and chuck in the washing machine. This was a bloody brilliant suggestion. I bought one. Now I just had to summon up the courage to use it.

Well, this morning, I did it. My husband was out. Squidge was asleep. I got into my boiler suit, my gloves and my welly shoes. I let the chickens out of their pen to roam free around the garden, and I then I went into the shed and I got out my garden fork, rake and brush.

I monitored my anxiety levels the whole time. And you know what? I didn’t actually feel anxious at all. I felt a bit excited, actually. I took all of the old straw out of the hutch, and then I swept it out thoroughly. I didn’t have a scarf over my hair and I didn’t feel worried that it wasn’t protected. I put in some fresh straw, I topped up their feed, I scrubbed out their water dispenser and refreshed the water. I raked over the wood chip in their run.

Just as I’d finished, Squidge had woken up and I could hear him crying in his cot upstairs. I stepped into the laundry room, peeled off my boiler suit and put it straight in the washing machine. Then I washed my hands and went upstairs in the exact same clothes I had been wearing under the boiler suit, picked Squidge up, snuggled him, and got on with our morning together.

It’s funny. I found it so easy to clean out the chickens today that I can’t really see why I was such an anxious, hyperventilating mess just a few weeks ago. I almost feel like I can’t possibly have felt so awful – which makes me see how hard it can be for people who don’t suffer from anxiety to understand the behaviour of people that do!  But that was me. I really did feel that horrendous. And I have worked really damn hard to feel as confident and as calm as I felt this morning.

I’m not saying I’m fixed! I’m still worrying about things. But I am noticing A LOT how things that would have bothered the hell out of me before, aren’t bothering me now. Things like – the other week, I found grit in my bottled water. Previously would have immediately panicked: What if it’s poisonous? I should stop breastfeeding Squidge until I am sure I’ve not had any ill effects. What I actually did was did a quick Google to see if anyone else had experienced the same thing, then emailed the company a week later for their thoughts on what it could be (OK, still maybe a bit more of a reaction than your average person, but not unreasonable). The company said it was just mineral precipitation. Problem solved; no sleep lost.

I feel really good about myself and I feel really proud that I will be able to go to my final counselling session next week and tell my lovely counsellor that I achieved my top goal in my ERP hierarchy. Go me!

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Facing a fear

IMG_4425I am afraid of going for walks in the countryside on my own.

Does that sound strange?

Here’s the thing: I like the idea of walks in the countryside, very much. In fact, I imagined I would do a lot of this on maternity leave. Me, baby, sling, trees. Muddy boots. Breastfeeding in a glade. Birdsong. Fresh air. Goodness.

What actually happened, was every time I thought about going out on my own for a walk, I also thought… But what if someone attacks me? What would happen to Squidge? And so, rather than going for a romantic walk in the woods, I would take Squidge to the boring old reservoir where there are always loads of dog walkers and I would feel safe.

Yesterday, though, I decided to face my fear.

We’re right on the cusp of autumn here at the moment, and the weather was this invigorating mix of heavy rain and sudden sunshine. As one rainstorm eased, I bundled Squidge in the car and drove him to a local nature reserve. We parked up, I wrestled Squidge into his waterproof coverall, popped him in the pushchair, and set off into the woods.

It was really beautiful.

But.

I probably spent the first ten minutes worrying about being attacked, and what I would do, and how I would protect Squidge, and wishing that he was old enough to be able to understand that he needed to run away and hide if I was attacked. Then I worried about, if he was old enough to run away and hide, how he would know that it was safe to come out, and how anybody would find him. No, I’m not even kidding. I was walking through the woods on this stunning day, with dripping leaves and starbursts of sunshine overhead, and I was running through unbelievably unlikely and distressing scenarios that couldn’t even happen right now because Squidge isn’t old enough.

Then we came upon a glade with a load of little log stepping-stones, and some rather enticing-looking sticks, and I freed Squidge from his pushchair. He ran around brandishing sticks that were bigger than his own self, and I took a few photos, and then he put one of the sticks in his mouth and I worried about that.

I worried about quite a few things in the woods, truth be told. Fungi and bacteria and ticks and strangers. BUT. Here is the key thing. I did NOT let it stop me from enjoying my time with Squidge. We jumped across the log stepping stones (well, I ‘jumped’ Squidge on his behalf). We chased each other around the glade. I pretended to be a big flapping bird to make him giggle. We crossed a little bridge and back again. Squidge spotted hawthorn berries and got terribly excited because he thought they might possibly be something good to eat, and then terribly cross because I wouldn’t let him eat them. We (OK, I) imagined ancient people walking through here with their children. I worried some of the time, yes, but I also spent a good portion of the time feeling very at peace and happy.

We actually didn’t see another person the entire time we were in the reserve. This is partly why I was nervous about it, of course, because I know it’s quite isolated (no-one can hear you scream etc. etc.) – but there was literally NOBODY else there. It was just us. Me and Squidge. Nothing to fear but fear itself.

I felt really good after that walk. I pushed Squidge in his buggy for the last 40 minutes or so, and he fell asleep to the rumbling of the wheels on the woodland path. It was great exercise for me – I got up a really good pace – a good experience for Squidge, and a much-needed break from the house for both of us.

When I got home, I switched on the radio. The news headlines were all about the jailing of the murderer of Ellen Higginbottom, an A-level student who was killed in broad daylight at a nature reserve earlier this year.

I will be honest: this brought me up short. That poor girl. I felt like it was justifying all the fears I’d had to begin with. Yes: there are bad people in this world. Yes: sometimes they prey upon defenceless women in remote places. Yes: this could happen to me.

But, I don’t know. If I lived my life according to reducing all risk, I wouldn’t ever get in a car. I wouldn’t go to London, and I wouldn’t go on the tube. I would barely leave the house. Somewhere, at some point, you’ve got to draw a line and say: OK, so this has some risk attached to it, but the risk is low. Do I want to live my life without ever having this experience, just because I am afraid that something might happen? What kind of a life is that? What kind of a life is that for Squidge?

So, at some point soon, I will be going on another walk. I will probably worry about it. But I will do it. Because I don’t want to live my life in constant fear.

Rose-tinted glasses

fullsizeoutput_32fDue to my anxiety, I spend a lot of time focusing on worst-case-scenarios. You know: cancer, car accidents. Death and disaster. What if this happens? What if that happens? How will I protect myself / my loved ones? I’m constantly engaging in theoretical crisis management. It’s exhausting. And it makes me come off like a negative person.

Now, I don’t actually see myself as a negative person. I am always keen to see the good in others. I spend an awful lot of time appreciating tiny little moments – the cosy feeling you get when it’s hammering with rain outside; the sleepy sofa cuddles I have with Squidge when he’s woken at 4am and won’t go back to bed. But my husband, B, has said more than once that he thinks I’m a negative person. So obviously what I’m feeling inside isn’t shining through on the outside. I would like that to change.

Obviously, I can’t have a personality transplant – and I wouldn’t want to even if I could! My cautious personality is partly what makes me me. It’s in may nature to carefully weigh up risks. I’m never going to be the person at the front of the queue for the bungee jump! But I think that maybe, because I am naturally very good at working through all the possible negative outcomes of a situation, I need to put just as much effort into thinking about all the possible positives. You know, for balance. Because balance is good!

Here’s a scenario. My husband and I are in the process of buying a house and smallholding with my husband’s extended family. We are planning to build a small extension that will allow us to separate the house into two, so that B and Squidge and I live in one half, and the other four adults (my in-laws) will live in the other half. This is scaring the living crap out of me! My god, there are so many worst-case-scenarios to think through. The financial entanglement, the potential for disputes, the concerns I have that other people might try to parent Squidge instead of me…

I am really, really stressed about this move. Everyone else is excited though, and that’s makes the situation worse, because it makes me the party-pooper. I have some genuine concerns and I am finding it hard to raise them – one, because I am so worried about upsetting people, and two, because I am worried that I can’t distinguish between my own genuine concerns and the ones that are arising because of my anxiety. It’s a shitter, to put it bluntly.

I will be (and am in the process of) raising and talking through my concerns with the other adults involved in the move. I think that is important and necessary and my voice needs to be heard. However, what I would like to do for myself – and I’m going to do it right here, right now – is to visualise some positive scenarios, too! So here they are, the things I am looking forward to about our new living situation:

  1. Baking with Squidge and other family members in the kitchen (while we all have to share a kitchen still, that is!)
  2. Being able to take Squidge outside to look at the horses that are also moving in with us!
  3. Rambling around our land, picking blackberries in the autumn, making hedgerow jam back at the house.
  4. Making the most awesome treehouse ever for Squidge in one of the big trees in the garden.
  5. Ditto mud kitchen. (We could make one in our present house, but there will be so much more SPACE in the next house!)
  6. Being able to dump Squidge on an extended family member for ten minutes while I do an impromptu job that’s impossible to carry out with him around (i.e. unloading the dishwasher or cleaning the toilet!)
  7. HAVING A BATH. We only have a shower at the moment. I love the idea of being able to run a proper bath for Squidge. I also love the idea of being able to get in the bath myself with a book, and candles, and maybe a nice cold bottle of beer. And what will I be asking Father Christmas for this year? POSH BUBBLE BATH! Gallons of it.
  8. Having a decent guest room for people to come and stay. Currently B and I have to turf out of our room and bed down in my office. I love the idea of having a guest bedroom already made up, where all you need to do is put folded towels on the bed and fresh flowers in a vase on the bedside table! Mmm.
  9. Christmas. Christmas is going to be unbelievably good with lots of people around. B is VERY Scroogey about decorations, and doesn’t like me putting them up, but B’s family are much more into it. I’m imagining matching wreaths for our two front doors, a proper full-size Christmas tree in our lounge, homemade mince pies… and maybe even a family Christmas carol sing-song. People might feel a bit awkward about it, but if we’re going to be living like the Waltons we may as well get in character, right?!
  10. The space. B and I could never otherwise afford the amount of house-space that we are going to get with this place. Our bedroom is going to be ENORMOUS. So big that I will actually be able to put a sofa and a desk in there as well. So big that, for once, we won’t be tripping over the piles of crap we have everywhere because in our current house there is bog-all storage. I am so excited about the storage! (I must be a proper grown-up now.)

…There. I actually have wound up feeling more excited and less anxious about this move. I have donned my rose-tinted glasses, and you know what? My world looks a bit prettier in pink 🙂

Resolutions

IMG_4386I had a sort of panic attack while on the phone yesterday, while Squidge was in the room. I just lost my head for a moment, and ended up crying, while on the phone to a large organisation. I won’t go into the details because there is no need to here, but basically I wanted to know (needed to know, for my peace of mind) whether or not I had managed to successfully detach myself from my account at the organisation, and they were refusing to tell me because of ‘data protection’. And I panicked.

I am absolutely mortified that a) I sobbed down the phone to a stranger, and b) I did that in front of Squidge. I am working so hard on getting the anxiety under control, but I need to do more, do better. I don’t want Squidge to ever see me like that again. He is my little boy and he needs to feel safe and secure, and seeing his mummy losing the plot – even if only for a couple of minutes – is not going to achieve that.

So I have a few resolutions for myself.

  1. Do not show my anxiety in front of Squidge. No matter how bad things seem to me at the time, the MOST important thing is that Squidge continues to feel safe and happy.
  2. In times of crisis, stay calm and cool. Getting hysterical is never going to help. Especially not with large organisations!
  3. Meditate with Headspace once a day. Fit it in at the first possible moment – like, if I drive to the supermarket and Squidge falls asleep in the back of the car, then when I park up, I can easily do a ten-minute meditation AND give Squidge an extra ten-minute nap. Win-win.
  4. Exercise three times a week as a minimum. Two gym sessions and one ‘bonus’ session – could be swimming, could be going for a long walk with Squidge in the backpack, could be a bit of YouTube pilates. Ideally I would exercise more than that, but three times a week is a good aim for now.
  5. Show more affection to my husband. He finds my anxiety really, really hard to deal with. Often that means I feel that he’s not giving me what *I* need, either. But maybe if I give him what he needs first (ask how his day was, give him a kiss and a cuddle, make him a cup of tea) then he will feel more able to support me in turn.

I could list a million more resolutions, but Squidge has just woken up – I can hear him murmuring on the monitor. And anyway, five resolutions is more than enough for now. They’re tough resolutions for me, too – especially the first two. I’m asking a lot of myself. So let’s see how we go.

PS The image in this post is Squidge’s first painting. Isn’t it cute?!

I’m getting organised, mofos

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It’s been a while since I touched base here. I’ve been busy, yep – the freelance work has been flooding in over the summer, and it’s all I’ve been able to do to keep on top of my deadlines. And every time I sat down to blog, I kept thinking, ‘No, I’m too tired; the words won’t come out right. I’ll do it tomorrow, when I’m feeling sharper.’ And then tomorrow, something else would take priority. And once again, I put off blogging.

So I’ve been thinking about this, and I think I’ve been agonising too much about writing this blog perfectly. That’s totally not what blogging is about. Blogging shouldn’t be about crafting the perfect post, as if you were writing copy for some shiny shiny magazine. It’s should be more… I don’t know… Like a chat. Like I am sitting in an armchair with my legs tucked up and a mug of peppermint tea in my hand, and I’m just having a chat with a friend who’s right across the coffee table from me.

I suppose that also, I was mostly blogging about the anxiety I was experiencing, and that has now (thankfully) lessened to a large extent. I am still a little anxious, but nothing like I was a few months ago. I’ve been working with a therapist on CBT techniques and I feel like I’ve been getting it under control. I went to see the GP the other day about a breast lump, and she couldn’t believe how calm I was, compared to when I found a breast lump a year ago, right after giving birth. ‘You’re like a different woman,’ she said.

And you know what? She’s right. I feel like a different woman, too. I don’t know if it’s just that being a mum to R has made me grow up a bit, or if it’s that I’ve been working really hard on my anxiety management, or if it’s that I’m spending my life in a way that makes me much happier than I was a year or two ago. Maybe it’s a combination of all of it. I don’t know, but I like it, and I want to keep changing. Keep growing. Keep getting a step closer to being the person I want to be.

Speaking of that person I want to be… She’s organised. I have been mulling over how to get myself more organised for a while now. I toyed with a bullet journal for a while last year, and it certainly helped me get on top of my life to some extent, but making it pretty was just one more task that kept getting shoved to the bottom of the endless list, so my interest dwindled and I stopped using it. At the moment I’m using a combination of Wunderlist, Google Calendar (shared with my husband so we can keep track of one another’s appointments), a paper list pad, two paper diaries, and the backs of many envelopes. If you add to this the fact that I am also trying to keep on top of R’s baby book, our family photo album/scrapbook, and my line-a-day 5 year journal, you might start to get the picture of someone whose organisation is getting out of hand…

I really like this post by Cerries Mooney on her use of a Leuchtterm1917 Weekly Planner and Notebook and I kind of think that might be where I’m heading next in my quest to organise my life. I like the idea of being able to make short notes on each day, but also to have a list running alongside it for the week – my back-of-the-envelope lists tend to run for about a week before they get such a mess that I have to transfer the outstanding items to a new list. I also like how easily she pretties it up with a bit of washi tape and a couple of stamps and stickers. No intricate drawing and colouring. Quick and dirty is definitely where I’m at at the the moment, particularly with a busy toddler running around my feet much of the day.

I’ve been really good recently at keeping on top of my work deadlines and also my house chores. Okay, so the bathroom is never actually as sparkly clean as I would ideally like it to be (there are almost always toothpaste stains in the sink, and my goodness, slate tiles really show up the dust), and the kitchen kind of goes through tidal highs and lows of mess and cleanliness, but generally everything is clean enough for R to run around freely. (I don’t let him in the bathroom unaccompanied though. That boy has an unhealthy obsession with the toilet brush.) I sweep most days, I hoover pretty much twice a week, I clean out the fridge once a week, I try and have a clutter-sweep every few days… Things are definitely less oppressive.

And yet. And yet I am still squandering my evening time on Netflix. (Homeland is my current drug of choice… Nicholas Brody, I’m kind of in love with you.) I still haven’t finished that shawl I started knitting last year. The patchwork quilt I pieced together the year before that. I’m still 35,000 words into a novel. I have eleventy billion ideas of ways to create things and to make money, but I’m not putting any of them into action because it’s never *quite* the right time.

So I’ve got to take a new approach. I’m not entirely sure what that will be. Gretchen Rubin’s ‘do it now’ comes to mind, for sure – but that works better for the little things (picking up the toy mess, washing up the porridge pan) than it does for the bigger tasks in life. The ones that you will definitely do… tomorrow.

I am almost tempted to timetable my week out and see how that goes, as an experiment. Kind of like the timetable/ homework planner I had in secondary school. (I would like to think that if I had such a planner now, I wouldn’t allow it to get quite so dog-eared or stained with horrendous brown patches of spilt fruit juice.) I’m thinking highlighters. Check boxes. Rulers. I’m thinking injecting a bit of discipline into my day would be interesting. Would I get more done if I segmented my day into hourly chunks? I reckon I would. And then I might actually fit in the mindfulness / pilates / journalling that I want to do daily, too.

…Okay, so just after I wrote that last paragraph I did a quick Google for a printable weekly timetable and found this baby. It’s pretty utilitarian and ugly as hell, but that is what my packet of different coloured highlighters is for, am I right? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE. This mama is going to get organised.

The weekly experiment starts… Tomorrow. (Hey, I have to use tonight to fill the timetable out, all right?)

Baby anxiety diaries: If only glass were magnetic!

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Small, sharp stuff is a recurring theme in my worries about Squidge. Especially small, sharp, swallowable stuff. Which is why I am currently kicking myself a million times over for failing to foresee this one coming.

When we bought our house three years ago, there was a broken double glazing pane in the window of what would become Squidge’s nursery. As the room was at that time the junk room, and as we had far more pressing renovation issues to contend with (wet rot, anyone?), and as it was only the outer pane that was broken, we somehow didn’t get round to it.

Fast-forward to this spring, and with Squidge installed in his nursery and our house about to go on the market, we decided that we really ought to replace that pane. So we got it measured up and ordered a replacement, and the guys came round today to fix it.

And I was really stupid. Because I didn’t really think about the fact that replacing the pane would mean that they would have to bring the damaged pane into Squidge’s nursery after they had removed it from the window. And I didn’t prepare for this. I didn’t put a dust sheet over his cot, I didn’t remove his toys from the room. All I did was toss all the toys into their storage box so that the glaziers didn’t trip over them.

Now, the pane itself we think was damaged by a pellet gun – there was a very small hole in the bottom of the pane, with a small amount of cracking and splintering around it. The glass it had knocked out had fallen into the space between the two panes, trapped within the double glazing unit. But when the glazier lifted the unit out, I suddenly thought, ‘Oh God, what if some of the glass gets out through the hole? Or what if the damaged part of the pane sheds more fragments of glass as they move it?’

And like a total fool, I said… Nothing. I just watched as they moved the pane out of the window and rested it flat (good side down, fortunately) on the top of Squidge’s open toy box.

I stood there and I could feel myself getting more and more stressed about the glass that might be falling on Squidge’s toys. In the end, I said aloud, ‘I wonder if I can see the pellet in the unit now it’s out?’ and then I went over to the unit under the pretence of looking for the pellet. Really I was checking that the underside of the pane had no loose fragments of glass that might brush off on Squidge’s teddies. Crap, I was thinking. I already knew this was going to be a problem for me.

The glaziers did a great job fixing in the new unit, they took the old unit away, and then I hoovered like mad in Squidge’s room and all through upstairs just in case a little bit of glass might have fallen from the pane and might have been tracked through the house.

I checked a couple of Squidge’s toys on top of the box – they looked fine, and I tried to make myself leave it at that. Only the good side of the window went down on the box, I reminded myself. The broken side was upturned.

Fast-forward again to this evening, and Squidge’s bedtime. I am feeding him on our bed and I suddenly get clutched by this absolute paranoia that there might be glass in his cot. Maybe also on his two teddies that live in the cot (that weren’t in the box) and that he sucks for comfort in the night. Trapped under my feeding baby, I called my husband up to check.

Understandably, he was rattled with me for not having had the sense to cover up Squidge’s cot and toys. ‘You worry about ridiculous things, and then you let something genuinely dangerous happen,’ he said. ‘Sometimes I think you have no brain!’

Yep, sometimes I think that, too.

So I listened to him swiping down the cot sheet and I called out, ‘Remember to check the teddies!’

‘I have checked them,’ he said.

‘But have you checked them really, really carefully? For the smallest possible bits of glass? And have you checked extra carefully on all his favourite bits of the teddy to suck?’

He sighs. ‘I have checked, but I’ll check again.’

Of course, that wasn’t enough for me, and when I took Squidge through to his nursery, I also had to check the teddies for glass. A couple of times. While fighting back the urge to cry and hyperventilate.

What if there is glass?

What if he swallows it?

What if it pierces his intestines and he gets internal bleeding?

What if he dies in the night and it’s all my fault and I could have prevented it?

These are the thoughts that were going round and round my head. (Still are, to be honest, as I type this post.)

I tried asking myself the two questions that I came up with in my last post: Could I have foreseen this? What can I do to avoid something like this happening in future?

So: could I have foreseen it? The answer is surely yes. Why the hell I didn’t think about the fact that broken glass would be coming through the nursery, I cannot tell you. And why I didn’t speak up when the glaziers started their work and say, Hang on, guys! Let me just get some sheets to cover up my baby’s stuff! I also cannot say. I only got four and a half hours’ sleep last night (Squidge had a fever) so I’m not running at my best, which may be part of the reason for my mistake, but honestly I don’t know if I would have thought about it even if I had got a full night’s sleep.

I’m angry at myself for that.

But it’s too late now; it happened, and I have to move on from it. Which brings me to my second question:

What can I do to avoid something like this happening in the future?

Well, I need to think through events ahead of time a little better. More planning, more common sense. I’ve always been a bit scant in the common sense department, and situations like this really highlight that. Rather than seeing the dangers after they’ve happened, I need to try to spot them before they happen, so that I can avoid having to worry about them altogether. That’s not necessarily going to work all the time, and I’m bound to get caught out on occasion, but it could save me a lot of stress and heartache even if it just worked part of the time.

In the meantime, I’m left with a box of toys that I’m going to have to confiscate from Squidge until I’ve had the time on my own (precious time on my own, I might add, which I could be putting to other, more productive stuff) to take each toy out and individually inspect it for glass. And then wash out the box. And then hoover the room again just in case I missed a bit of glass. (I’ve caught myself thinking a couple of times today that it would be REALLY great if glass were magnetic and I could just run a magnet over all the toys and be sure they were clean.)

It’s situations like this where I end up comparing myself unfavourably to ‘normal’ parents. As in, would a normal parent worry about this? Would a normal parent go to these lengths to check for glass, or would they just give each toy a brief glance and shake it off outside? Would a normal parent have thought to cover the bloody toys in the first place?

So then on top of feeling anxious about Squidge and the glass, I also end up feeling inadequate, because I’ve fallen short of behaving like I imagine a ‘capable’ parent would. And guilty, because I might have done something to endanger Squidge. And because I am being anxious around Squidge, and I am conscious that he might pick up on my anxiety and grow up to be anxious himself.

Argh. Today was a bit difficult.

 

Baby anxiety diaries: rice cakes

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I have thought really, really hard about the food that I give Squidge.

My mum died of cancer, and in the last couple of years of her life she did a LOT of research into the harm we cause ourselves inadvertently through the food we consume. Some of the articles she read were maybe a bit hokey, but lots of them were very much grounded in scientific research. She changed her diet because of them. She felt that if she’d known all these things earlier, maybe she wouldn’t have developed cancer in the first place.

Now, I’m not a scientist and I don’t have anywhere near enough knowledge to know whether or not she was right in thinking this. But I do know that she has left me a legacy of questioning the food I put into my body, and for this I am grateful. I make conscious choices about the food I buy and consume: I always check food labels; I research things I’m unsure about; and I am sure that my diet is healthier for it.

I’ve been doing the same with Squidge’s food. His paternal grandad has coeliac disease, which is caused by a reaction to gluten. I have therefore followed advice to keep Squidge’s diet gluten-free until he is at least a year old, to reduce the chances of him developing the same problem. Being gluten-free means that Squidge consumes quite a lot of rice products as a substitute for wheat – gluten-free pasta, for example, usually contains rice flour. I’ve also been giving him miniature rice cakes as snacks on a daily basis for the past few weeks, in a bid to increase his independence with finger foods.

So you can imagine my absolute horror at reading this article in the Guardian last night. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have found that more than 50% of baby rice products contain levels of arsenic above the legal EU limit, with some brands of baby rice cakes (unhelpfully unnamed) among the key culprits.

As a mum, this was pretty hard to read. As a mum with anxiety, it was bloody hard to read. My thoughts went a bit like this:

  • Oh my god, I’ve given Squidge loads of rice cakes.
  • Oh my god, Squidge has had WAY more rice products than a typical baby because of his gluten-free diet.
  • Oh my god, Squidge has eaten rice or rice products pretty much twice a day for the last four months.
  • Shit shit shit, what if this gives Squidge cancer?
  • Oh god, I wish I hadn’t done the gluten-free thing. I wish I had just given him wheat like every other baby. Shit shit shit, what if my choices have increased Squidge’s risk of cancer?

But although I had all those thoughts, interestingly, I didn’t get the full-on physical symptoms of panic that I usually would. My heart wasn’t racing. I didn’t feel (very) sick. And once my thoughts had calmed down a bit, I wondered why that was.

Why, when I couldn’t think straight for fear of the very unlikely scenario of Squidge being brain-damaged by the solvents in the superglue I’d used for five seconds while he was nowhere near me (see this post), was I not having a complete meltdown about this very real risk of arsenic exposure?

The conclusions I reached were that I wasn’t panicking so much because:

a) I couldn’t have foreseen this news article happening. Yes, it was my choice to put Squidge on a gluten-free diet, but I did that out of full consideration of his health and his best interests. I didn’t intentionally expose him to arsenic. It wasn’t lax parenting on my part. Crucially, it wasn’t my fault.

b) It has already happened. Squidge has already eaten a lot of rice and I can’t take that back. I have no control over the past. I can’t time travel back and take those rice products out of my shopping trolley, or remove the spoon from Squidge’s mouth. He’s eaten them, and all I can hope is that there won’t be adverse consequences. I will be careful in future to limit his intake of rice, and that is all I can do.

I think this was a valuable lesson for me in accepting that, despite my very best efforts, Squidge is going to be exposed to risk. I can’t protect him from absolutely everything bad in this world (although I would like to!). He will eat things he shouldn’t, scrape his knees, get his feelings hurt, and although even the thought of him coming to harm makes my stomach squeeze up, I know it’s not realistic to expect him to sail through life untouched.

I am wondering whether, the next time I have an anxiety episode about something to do with Squidge, I will be able to refer myself back to this incident. I will ask myself:

Could I have foreseen this?

and:

What can I do to avoid something like this happening in future?

I hope that in this way, I will be less likely to give myself a hard time about mistakes I have made, and will instead be able to view them as a learning experience – part of my apprenticeship as a parent.

We’ll see 🙂