Managing Anxiety and Depression: The Trick Is To Find Happiness In The Small Things

After the cabin fever brought on by the Armageddon of a dodgy weather cycle in Sydney over the past 24hrs – totally unrelated to climate change, according to our government – it was a relief to get out of the house this morning. 

After almost a month of holiday excess, I decided that I would make my comeback to fitness with a morning jog with the old man – although for those of you conjuring up an image of beautiful blogger with handsome, virile husband pounding the pavements, please take note that the image below is far more representative of the truth and I am not about to metamorphose into a wellness blogger. 

Our jog – (roughly) 1.2k to the north end of the beach (which feels like 7k) and then back again, which is driven solely by the thought of the steaming bowl of porridge waiting for us back at home – is a strategy to get us focused for the day ahead. But the truth is that typically HE runs back to the house while I stagger back, on all fours, like some crazy woman in search of the nearest defibrillator.

This morning, however, I couldn’t even manage a stagger back. Two weeks of partying in London have turned muscle into lard and it was as much as I could do to throw off my runners halfway around and pad back along the deep sand of the beach, the ocean swirling at my feet.

A choice for which I am eternally grateful .

The point is that my failure to complete the circuit didn’t affect anything other than my pride, and that walk back along the beach turned out to be one of those rare moments of unbridled happiness that can appear unexpectedly in a moment of defeat. Kathy Lette commented about such experiences on Twitter recently:

‘Society is so obsessed with happiness. If you were happy every day of your life you’d be a brekky telly weather presenter. The trick is to find happiness in small things.’ 

Kathy Lette, Twitter

In truth, it’s hard to visualize Kathy having bad days if you judge her from her social media pages. Vivacious, successful and always in the company of the type of celebrities that most people would die to be in the company of, the writer is usually papped with a glass of Champagne in one hand – one of the many reasons, (writing and humor aside), that she remains an icon to me, even if my own glass tends to be full of Aldi Prosecco rather than Cristal. However, the truth is that Kathy, like everyone, has faced her challenges. Raising a son with autism is not exactly a walk in the park.

Finding happiness in small things has become something of a mantra for me this year. I’m currently reading Matt Haig’s “Reasons To Stay Alive”  – who isn’t? – and the message that runs through the book, (and coincidentally, has always been the advice of my doctor), is the importance of building up reserves of mental strength through activities such as exercise or creativity, or whatever floats your boat, really. Everyone goes through stages of life that aren’t easy, but once you survive a bout of depression or learn to manage your anxiety, that resilience will better prepare you for the next time. 

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.” 
― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

I might be in a bad place physically at the moment, but I’m mentally okay – well…okay by my standards, thanks to Zoloft! – and I believe that it is my focus on those small things, such as the love of family, writing, peering up into a cloudless sky – I’m in Australia, Matt! – or enjoying the sensation of sand running through my toes on the beach are what keeps my silly brain in check.

Continuing to grow is also important.

‘Continuing to grow’ is a phrase that can reduce the old man to a quivering wreck since the time I accused him of ‘waiting to die’ in an argument. Now, every time he agrees to do something that he wouldn’t choose of his own volition, he feels obliged to remind me of how much he is ‘growing.’ I equate my request that he keep on ‘living’ to the compromise I make each week when I am his target practice on the tennis court.

At 53, I continue to learn and grow, through my writing, through my work, through friendships and relationships. I continue to be curious about the world around me and about my place in it. Don’t get me wrong, our life isn’t perfect – who’s is? – and yet, finally, I’ve come to realize that it’s how we approach our problems that truly matters.

‘It’s lucky I’m a happy person,’ my uncle said to me on holiday as he drove me to the 24hr care home to see my beloved aunt who suffered a serious stroke last year.

Honestly, I don’t know what gave this gorgeous, generous and humble man such a gift of positivity, for he hasn’t had a particularly extraordinary or successful life – depending on how you measure success, of course. Indeed, he has only ever truly cared about one thing in his seventy-odd years – the love of his wife of almost half a century.

So, is he lucky?

I don’t think so. But I do believe that he chose to live his life a certain way, and it’s the right way.

The Secret To Surviving Long-Haul Flights With Anxiety

colton-jones-561163-unsplashIt wasn’t quite the Love Actually airport moment that I had anticipated when I spotted the old man waiting for me at the wrong exit of Sydney airport after my latest grueling long-haul flight, and I wasn’t amused. 

It seems appropriate to compare the torture of such flights to being forced to a Republican Thanksgiving family gathering with an (as yet) undeclared same-sex partner and a cold sore. Jet-lag aside, perhaps the most daunting aspect of the ordeal is being forced to share one’s personal habits in a very small space with potentially four to five hundred strangers, any one of whom may:

  • Be carrying a potentially lethal virus.
  • Be a terrorist.
  • Have children.
  • Smell.

Small children are perhaps the biggest crime. I mean…WHY? Small children do not fare well when restrained for long periods of time – least of all by sleep-deprived parents that lose all lucidity and any sense of responsibility after the first eight hours – and they have a natural tendency to cry all the time when they are tired, when they can’t do or eat what they want, or when they don’t feel safe – a perhaps understandable reaction when every other passenger on the plane is eyeballing them with unsuppressed hatred.

A similar sense of helplessness is experienced by those of an anxious disposition; those who catastrophize every aspect of their life, but particularly the daunting unpredictability of being locked in an aircraft over a long period of time. It has been found that poor control in connection with the obvious threat of crashing, certain death, and becoming the main course for the posse of tiger sharks waiting in the waters beneath them is typically the trigger for such anxiety, although there are several others associated with traveling in such a non-sensical mode of transport.

These are:

Will they make their connection?

Will there be space directly above their seat for their carry-on luggage, or will they be forced to ask a stranger to lift it down for them in that panic of disembarkation when it is imperative for everyone to get off the plane immediately?

Will their cabin stewards hate them and lie about there only being the fish left when they want chicken?

Will the passenger next to them have Spanish influenza or Bird flu?

Will they talk, snore or dribble in their sleep?

Will they be able to work out the door handle to the toilet or be forced to test their bladder control in the most public of places?

Should they eat the bean and pasta starter and risk embarrassing wind issues that have nothing to do with the Gulf stream?

And if they do succumb to diarrhoea, what are their strategies for minimal embarrassment. Do they, a) push their way to the front of the toilet queue? b) Stew quietly in their own poo? or c) kill themselves?

Fortunately for you, I have survived this type of trip more times than I care to remember, and so, as the holiday season looms, I share with you my curated list of tips for getting through what can only be described as a hell greater than eating a dodgy oyster:

  1. Wet wipes – Never underestimate the multi-faceted powers of the wet wipe. If you thought their sole purpose was to wipe spag bol off the faces of kids, you’ve never been on a long-haul flight. From spilled food and make-up removal to VERY personal hygiene – are you with me, menopausal women? – these handy little towels have saved my life more times that I can remember.
  2. Jumper – Don’t make the mistake of boarding a plane in a hot country and assuming that you will stay warm. Airplanes are colder than Westeros in winter and airline blankets are thinner than the new Apple MacBook Air. Survival rule number 1: locate all air con nozzles directed at your seat and disarm immediately.
  3. Select your seat carefully – because…children and toilets. When flying solo, I like to pick an aisle seat in a three-seat row, leaving a space next to me.  If the plane is fairly empty, sniff out the terrain for rows of empty seats as soon as all passengers have embarked. But be quick, Australians are as nifty as Germans and sun beds when it comes to seat appropriation.
  4. Headphones – Forget the ones provided by the airline, which wouldn’t block out a silent fart from the pilot. Invest in a decent pair of noise cancellers so that you can hear every word of that Middle Eastern film you selected by mistake before your touch screen stopped working.
  5. Drink wine with every meal, even breakfast. A long-haul flight is an excuse to get pissed at any time of the day because no one knows what the fuck the real time is anyway.
  6. Avoid all eye contact. You do not want to make friends with anyone who is going to see the state of your sorry arse after fifteen hours of sleep deprivation and an excess of cheap Sav Blanc.
  7. Medication – take whatever works for you. Nothing so strong that it incapacitates you in an emergency – meaning that mothers and kids get off first – but strong enough to ensure it sends you to sleep singing The White Cliffs of Dover.

You’re welcome!

 

 

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.

 

I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

Living One Day At A Time And Being Content With What We Have

4939a1e96f466bb6214bb62cd62c9e12A successful designer, seemingly with the world at her feet, takes her own life. Her body is found in her New York apartment with a note that will devastate her family and change the course of her young daughter’s life forever. One thing is certain: she achieved success in the way that the west determines success, and yet, something was still missing. She didn’t ‘have it all’.

We will never know or perhaps understand the demons that led Kate Spade to make the ultimate sacrifice, but if there is one thing to take from this tragedy, it is that happiness cannot be bought, a belief shared by a young eighteen-year-old boy in another section of the news today. Jake Bailey was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eighteen – discovered in the dentist’s chair following a pain in his jaw – whereupon he was given three weeks to live, without treatment. He survived, and his experience has taught him the invaluable lesson of embracing life, each hour, each day, each tiny, magical moment.

 

To take one day at a time.

 

Meanwhile, Matt Haig, whom I’ve quoted on this blog before  – author of “Reasons To Stay Alive,” “Notes On A Nervous Planet” (out in July), and advocate for increasing mental health awareness – is considering removing his presence from Twitter due to the abuse leveled at his comments about positivity, gratitude and empathy for those struggling with mental health issues.

 

He wrote this comment on Twitter this morning, which resonated with me after reading of the tragic death of Kate Spade.

 

‘We need to radically change the idea of ‘having it all’ so that it includes contentment. Without it, ‘all’ is nothing.’

 

Most of us are guilty of jumping ahead of ourselves, planning for the future and not living in the now. The old man and I do it. We tie ourselves in knots, worrying so much about whether we’ll have the money to retire, that we forget to “live”. We wasted many years aspiring to meaningless symbols of materialism, that for the most part didn’t make us happy – (Apart from the Lexus – the Lexus made me happy!). And then, when finally we think we have it all and yet somehow still haven’t hit the sweet spot of contentment, we question why.

 

Imagine if all we had to think about was our survival? There are many examples of tribes and cultures around the globe that only have to consider living from one day to the next, that live a happy, fulfilled existence. Whereas globally, one person suicides every forty seconds, according to the World Health Organization, and the occurrence of “depression” is highest in the US – ‘the land of opportunity and dreams.’ It is lowest in Japan, a country that has adopted a simplicity in their approach to life, such as its practice of Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with gold rather than replacing it with new.

 

‘While the general Western consensus on broken objects is that they have lost their value, practitioners and admirers of Kintsugi believe that never-ending consumerism is not a spiritually rewarding experience.’ (Make)

 

Or as Val Jon Farris says in the Huffington Post:

 

‘It is the practice of focusing one’s intention on life’s hidden beauty and power.’

 

Fundamentally, is loving ourselves, valuing and being content with what we have.

 

 

Car Insurance, Teens, And Just How Far Parental Responsibility Extends

key-791390_960_720Insurance is one of those dirty words that you only have to deal with once you grow up – kind of like calories and tax – and as a serial procrastinator, I always found that it was best left well alone until I needed it. But from my perspective as a parent, it is an issue that gets entangled in the question of how much we continue to support our kids once they become adults – and a tricky one. For as much as we want to support their growing independence, in certain areas such as car and health insurance, the penalties for youth are unfavorably high and that decision may not necessarily be the right one, for any of the parties involved. 

Married to an accountant, I’ve never been given a free hand with the administration of our personal finances, (nor have I ever had very much money to spend), but we have taken a stereotypically gender-based view of who deals with which insurance. I tend to sort out the house stuff because I know exactly how much our eighteen-year-old Ikea furniture is worth (sobs), while he has adopted car and health insurance.

Insurance becomes super-complicated once your kids pass their driving test, as anyone with young adult drivers in the house will testify. Super-complicated, as in super-fucking-stupid-expensive, and while on the one side, you want to encourage their independence, (in the vain hope that they’ll move out quicker), on the other, you’re not sure why you have to remortgage the house for them to trash your car. 

If you looked too closely at the statistics of accidents caused by young, inexperienced drivers, you’d never let them get behind the wheel of a car (and certainly not your own). And while the statistics for young adults are terrifying, the statistics for young adults with ADHD are Roseanne Barr-on-Ambien-terrifying, hence the reason we refused to get in the car with Kurt for a very long time, in spite of him being a naturally fast adept driver as a result of his online twelve-year apprenticeship with Top Gear.

We have regretted that decision many times over the past year as each corner of the old man’s car has been reshaped, (although neither sibling has taken responsibility as of yet), and Kurt has accumulated more parking and speeding fines than earnings.  But fortunately, Australia is a nanny state that doesn’t take kindly to free spirits – quite rightly in this instance – and as such, it is unlikely that Kurt will remain in the driver seat for much longer. A fact that didn’t stop him this weekend from going out with a bang. Literally. A minor one, fortunately, thanks to the robustness of the undercarriage of the old man’s car and the softness of the terrain of the roundabout he chose to bypass on his midnight hunt for Coco Pops. However, one that will seriously dent the wallet with an excess on our insurance policy that equates to the cost of Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, meaning anniversary plans may have to be scrapped, and the old man has yet to utter a sentence without a liberal sprinkling of the F word.

Kurt will pay for the damage, over time – no doubt via interest-free installments over the next decade to the bank of mum and dad – and I know I should be grateful that he (or no one else) was hurt, but it has taken all of my strength this week not to call those parents in the US who sued their son to get him out of their home, for a lesson in just how far parenting responsibility extends.

The Awkward-Scale For Teenage Boys When Shopping With Mom

I went shopping with my teenage son yesterday, whereupon he bestowed upon me one of the greatest honors of my parenting life when he told me that I was (and I quote) ‘a nightmare to be seen in public with.’

 

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‘Oh, and these ten packs of condoms and tube of lube for my son over there, please.’

 

Job well done, I say; if not for the niggling suspicion that the nightmarish aspects of my company had rather more to do with my senility than my embarrassing-mom qualities.

 

Although many men people would have us believe that men and women are very different, in my opinion, the only time there is a palpable difference between the genders is when it comes to clothes shopping. Now, before all you male fashionistas jump down my throat, let me explain. I have based this opinion on the two socially-anxious males in my house, for whom malls are almost as terrifying as attending a feminist rally in a Trump tee-shirt – something I blame on my mother-in-law, who used to chain-smoke her way around shopping malls just to get through the torture. Oh, how she would have loved online shopping – although I suspect that she understood even less about technology than the dangers of passive smoking.

 

Anyway, as such, clothes shopping with my son is, shall we say politely, is something that I avoid at all costs.

 

Perhaps a little more elaboration is required here. For not only does Kurt have a deep-seated hatred for crowds, bright lights, the smell of German bread (!) and the overwhelming choices that shopping throws up as a result of his ADHD, he is also incredibly fussy about what he puts on his body from a sensory processing perspective and his side order of OCD.  His wardrobe is lean, and any clothing lucky to make the cut into its minimally perfect world has a very limited shelf life. In general terms, that generally means he has a single outfit on the go at any time, and he washes it daily.

 

However, recently re-employed, (thank you, God), yesterday he was forced to beg the Bank Of Mom to tide him over with some new work clothes, and while I worked out the interest rate on my loan, he got to grips with the idea of a mall trip with mum, her symptoms of early-onset dementia, lack of filter, embarrassing approaches to every female she thinks is potential daughter-in-law material, zero sense of direction (particularly in car parks) and her middle-aged intolerance to just about everything – but particularly poor service. In other words, the afternoon did not bode well.

 

Rest assured, we lived to tell the tale and for your entertainment, the following are invaluable lessons that I learned, based on an innovative scientific scale – the awkward-scale or AS – that I have invented for this exact purpose:

 

DO NOT go into a pharmacy with your teenage boy because (apparently) any hot shop assistant will think you’re buying him condoms – AS 8

 

DO NOT drag your son to the till to pay for his new undies, because there is some awkward (perhaps sexual – Ewww) connotation in that as well – AS 9

 

DO NOT complain about anything, ask for a different size or ask for assistance in any shape or form – AS 7

 

DO NOT attempt to accompany him into the changing room, even if he walks around naked at home – AS 9

 

DO NOT express your disgust loudly at your usual Mexican lunch outlet and then try flirting with the hot, young assistant (your son’s age) when he tells you that they have started charging $2 for the avocado topping – AS 10

 

Learn how to use the self-service checkout – AS 8

 

Never discuss any medical/biological/sexual topic over coffee, especially when you know your voice has the phonic capability of reaching the Northern Hemisphere when you get over-excited. NEVER use the word moist – AS 10

 

NEVER feel the end of your son’s new shoes to check for growing room, especially when the girl serving him is future daughter-in-law material – AS 210

 

But the crime of the century should probably go to either, a) my appalling parking skill in public, in front of hundreds of shoppers/witnesses, because it is difficult to maneuver a family-sized vehicle around a column with Kendrick blasting in one ear and your son screaming in the other, ‘learn to drive, will you!’ Or, b) losing the parking ticket and having a very loud conversation with the man in the machine at the barrier, while everyone queued behind us.

Why Won’t Our Kids Let Us Mold Them Into Who We Want Them To Be?

 

phoenix-2733938_1920

“You will find as your children grow up that as a rule, your children are a bitter disappointment – their greatest object being to do precisely what their parents do not wish and have anxiously tried to prevent.”

 

“Often when children have been less watched and less taken care of – the better they turn out! This is inexplicable and very annoying!”

 

(The words of Queen Victoria, taken from History Extra – author Denys Blakeway)

 

Queen Victoria was a lucky woman, for, in spite of having nine kids, she only saw them when she felt like it or had to as a PR exercise. I’ve been glued to series 2 of the same name over the past week because the queen’s fetish for getting pregnant is all the more impressive when you find out how little maternal instinct she possessed. She also had a son like Kurt – Bertie – who ended up being a decent King, which means there is hope.

 

If indeed, it was easy-peasy to raise children, child psychologists and writers of those lying, fucking parenting bibles, would be out of a job. And if Queen Victoria can have one of those kids, what hope is there really for the rest of us? While the old man and I plod along (what should be) the home stretch of parenting, astoundingly we are still confronted by those occasions when like Queen Vic, I would prefer not to do this job at all, and the other night was one of those.

 

Some of you might have picked up my leaning towards being a bit of a control freak, worry-guts and helicopter parent, and that night was one of those that I’m sure will resonate with most parents of teenagers. Tossing and turning in bed, praying that my son would return home safely; promising God a lifetime of attendance at church if only he took care of him; and then as soon as I heard his key turn in the door, I was down the stairs like a crazy woman, berating him for his selfishness.

 

Such nights are less common now that NC has abandoned us and Kurt has survived his teens. Either the sleep medication really does work, or somewhere in my sub-conscience, I have accepted that my children may be adults and let go…a little. It’s sexist I know, but you don’t worry as much about boys, especially when they are of the puppy dog variety like my son, who would rather eat their own shit than throw a punch.

 

That night’s insomnia, however, had less to do with a fear for his safety and much more to do with the visceral disappointment and bruising realization that our son was going to let us down again. Parents of children such as our son will understand this feeling, although I imagine that parents of normal children will secretly condemn me for my honesty. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t got the tee-shirt…

 

It confirmed that I will never be able to mold my son into the adult I expected him to be. I adore him and I know he loves me, but he adamantly refuses to let me turn him into an upstanding citizen of society with the moral compass that we had at his age. He is fundamentally a good person, but convention, abiding by laws and keeping promises are just not his bag, and no matter how many sleepless nights I have, or how many times I try to clip his wings or lock his shackles, he breaks free of them, usually with greater aplomb.

 

When we plan our children, we have all these loopy ideas about how they will turn out while secretly praying that they will inherit the good bits from each of us. The reality is, we consider all the physical stuff at length, then glaze over the personality stuff and make assumptions. I remember that my hope was that our kids would inherit the old man’s brain and my skin and the old man hoped that they got his brain and his motor skills with a remote control and any type of ball. Genes, however, can have a distorted sense of humor and ignore those best-laid plans, claw back into the murky depths of the family tree and fuck you up with a child that resembles great-great uncle fuckwit who lit the Great Fire of London and bred those rats in his home-made lab.

 

Like their mother, neither of our kids can catch a ball.

 

How your children turn out is a lottery. I’m not saying that nurture and education are ineffective, but in some cases, the genes are simply too powerful.

 

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how my son tested the last vestiges of my endurance the other night, or as is his want, made the bloody deadline by the skin of his teeth in spite of it. Just not in the way I would have approached it. There was no planning, no sense of responsibility or urgency, no anxiety or anal preparations; he had about two hours sleep the night before and on the day, instead of the loving support of a family who would have willingly packed him off with his lunchbox and a pat on the shoulder, he got the cold shoulder.

 

I don’t know why he makes life so hard for us on himself. Perhaps the frontal cortex of his brain should shoulder some responsibility; perhaps he is simply a pig-headed idiot with some growing up to do who will always do things his way and worry about the consequences afterward. All I know is that he does things differently to us and when I moaned the next morning about how he had kept me up all night, he told me that was my problem.

 

And perhaps he has a point.

 

All I can hope is that one day he proves us wrong and out of the ashes will appear a phoenix, a rehabilitated version like Russell Brand, and I will have to eat my words as I proudly tell my friend’s, ‘that’s my son.’

 

 

How To Dress The Christmas Tree Without Losing Your Sanity First

One piece of advice I will be eternally grateful to my mother for is ‘don’t take life too seriously,’ and I have been forced to live by this approach each year as I dress the Christmas Tree. 23915791_1546298868783446_2538083681710659730_n

 

Because…kids.

 

And it has very nearly killed me.

 

Every year I think that this will be the year we grow up as a family and I will be allowed to create those trees you see in home magazines, where they don’t have kids or animals and they do have loads of money,  and every year it’s the same. Either: a) I’m disappointed with the result, because it looks boring rather than sophisticated and so and I start to slap all the crappy ornaments and tinsel back onto it, or b) Kurt redesigns he thinks I’m not looking.

 

I know that Christmas is about bringing joy to the family and it’s probably about time that I accepted that my family likes a bit of kitsch at Christmas, but…

 

This year I decided to grasp my first opportunity to decorate the tree myself – although the kids don’t know that yet. I’d meticulously planned the day for a while – it’s called taking advantage while the kids are out earning money (not for rent, I hasten to add, but for their weekly supply of avocado on toast and party drugs). ‘It just happened that way,’ I’m going to say when their disappointed faces walk through the door later this evening and they realize that they can’t destroy my Christmas tree, nay my Christmas, for the first time in, like, forever.

 

And I have made some style improvements this year. I have decided that as the kids still live at home on the basis of our goodwill, I get to say what goes on MY fucking tree. Which means I’ve erased all memory of those dreadful kindy homemade decorations which for the past fifteen years I’ve stuck around the back of the tree and the minute I turn my back, Kurt replaces at the front; and I’ve also attempted a color theme, so any ornament that hasn’t met the stringent demands of my design brief has copped it.

 

In light of my new experience today, here are my tips for a perfect tree:

 

Do not let the children anywhere near it.

A bottle of festive wine will be required before attempting to unravel the lights/tinsel/fake snowballs on a string because some selfish fucker just shoved them in the box last year. This is a mindfuck of a test in the early stages of the process that (if you’re not careful/drunk enough) can completely ruin your festive cheer before you’ve really started.

Use a dodgy adapter for the lights so that any children that do touch the tree will be shocked into not touching it again.

Lather the branches in as much tinsel as they will hold for superior kitschiness.

The more naff animal ornaments, the naffer your tree will be.

Destroy any baubles that do not tie in with your color theme – don’t get all emotional about the fugly bauble that your grandmother left you – your creativity is under public scrutiny here, and the glass ball wrapped in a doily could fuck that up. It is with sadness that I must report that the pink bauble that NC made in her first year at school (barf!) didn’t coordinate with the organic effect that I hoped to achieve with my white/red/aqua/tropical/Hamptons/beach themed tree – as such, it has been laid to rest this year.

Theming is difficult with OCD. Try to remind yourself that the tree is a natural thing (mine happens to be artificially natural) and therefore not perfect. If that doesn’t work, take everything off and start again.

Book cats into the cattery for the duration of the holidays or use as an alternative to turkey for Christmas lunch.

 

The Lost Opportunities Caused By ADHD

Sadly, the main take-home from the ADHD conference I attended last week was the pervading sadness in the room at the mention of “lost opportunities”.

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Unlike other neurological conditions, ADHD appears to leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, and as such, the condition attracts unfair criticism. There is some truth in the criticism that certain sufferers of ADHD make it difficult to help them – in part due to mood and conduct disorders, which can make them oppositional, angry and self-defensive. But that reaction can be just as easily blamed on self-defensiveness, borne of a lack of support from a society that stigmatizes or completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of the condition.

A personal reason for my attendance at the conference for adults with the condition was the sneaking suspicion that I sit somewhere on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. Other reasons were my ongoing research for my manuscript – the main protagonist being an adolescent with ADHD – and my hope of gleaning some new advice in relation to my continued support of my son, Kurt.

There are certain givens when you put two hundred people with ADHD in a room together:

  • The event has zero chance of running to time.
  • It will be noisy.
  • Questions are never left to the end, even if the speaker requests this.
  • There will be a continuous background noise of bodies shifting in seats,  fiddling and whispering – in other words, a plethora of distractions to distract the easily-distracted.
  • The cakes disappear very quickly.
  • The queue for the smoking area will be longer than the queue for the toilets.

This annual conference, run by the “ADDults With ADHD” group, is a lifesaver for Australians who suffer from the condition and who qualify for little support from the government. This, in spite of the inclusion of ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Many of the adults will have been diagnosed on the back of their children’s diagnosis. Research has shown that there is a genetic link, and between 40-50% of children who have parents with ADHD will inherit the condition. Which means that a lot of people will have gone through life feeling “different” and facing the unending criticism and trials that are pertinent to the condition.

And yet, there is a wonderful sense of community, relief, and support when you put a band of these people in a room together, each seeking answers, the latest advice, and dare I say it, validation. 

ADHD and its co-morbidities represent one of the “invisible” mental illnesses that for a long time have been unrecognized, even though the neurological condition has been chartered since the 1800s. As such, it currently sits where depression and anxiety sat until a few years ago – condemning its sufferers to a life of shame, failure, and regret, as a result of the missed opportunities caused by that small difference in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain.

As millions of high school kids begin their HSC exams today, it is worth remembering that there will be children who miss the milestone because of their. Some will have dropped out of school due to anxiety, depression or bullying; others will be excluded due to truancy, non-completion of course requirements or other behavior-related issues.

Whilst every speaker highlighted the good that comes from the condition – the ability to hyperfocus, (when employed in the right way), the big hearts, intuition and sensitivity (that make them great carers and teachers), and the ADHDer’s leaning towards creativity – inevitably, mention had to be made of the negatives linked to the diagnosis, as well.

For every ten comments a child with ADHD receives each day, nine will be negative. So, it’s little surprise that the condition wreaks havoc with the mental health and expectations of a child.

The minute the term “lost opportunities” left the mouth of one speaker, an audible sigh went around the room from the audience. In the same way that parents grieve for the missed opportunities of their child, the newly-diagnosed adult with ADHD grieves the loss of their own.

‘Don’t tell your employer you’ve got ADHD,’ was the damning advice of one psychologist – an appalling admission in this age of so-called equality. For the same reasons that it is inadvisable to acknowledge depression, HIV, or your sexual preferences in the workplace, it is still safer to keep schtum about your ADHD.

The condition, (we don’t like the word “disorder”), continues to be stigmatized by the media as either an invention by pharmaceutical companies to make money, or by bad parents to excuse poor parenting – this, in spite of the medical evidence and the statistics that indicate that up to 50% of the male prison population have the condition. And with suicide on the increase, it is hard not to make a connection with ADHD, when anxiety and depression are known comorbidities.

Conferences such as these are a promising start to support people with ADHD – to peel back the layers of negativity that surround the condition and to rebrand it. In the same way that disability is recognized among the physically sick, it is time to change the rhetoric around invisible disabilities like ADHD.  Let’s remove the stigma that clouds our judgment when it comes to invisible conditions and provide the equal opportunities and recognition of the struggles that its sufferers deserve.

Cleaning Out Your Closet And Saying ‘NO!’

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We’re living amongst the debris of our latest house move. Boxes line every wall of the house, there is not enough crockery left to fill the dishwasher and I can’t find any matching lids for the Tupperware. Everything superfluous to our lives – photos, artworks, kitchenware (that only comes out for entertaining) and sports equipment has been packed away and the stuff we really need for the last few days of survival is hanging on for dear life. I did try to get the old man into a box, but unfortunately, he was having none of it.

 

I know I’ve said this during each one of our twenty-eight moves over the past five years, but this stage of cleaning out your closet does make you realize how very few material (and indeed personal) possessions you actually need.

 

I’ve just started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck by Sarah Knight,  based on the Japanese book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It is about ‘discarding items that no longer hold joy and organizing the ones you have left.’ That doesn’t only apply to material things, it applies to friends and toxic relationships, and interests that no longer stimulate etc.

 

The book is about mental decluttering.

 

You don’t need my excuse of a house-move to declutter. You can do it anytime, but I believe that middle age is an optimum stage in our lives to give it a go. More confident and mentally stronger than ever before, we have the wisdom to know what we want, perhaps a little more financial security, and the balls to finally action those changes without remorse.  9781478964360

 

There are obviously right ways and wrong ways to go about effecting such changes, so you do need to be a little careful. I’m lucky, I could throw away our wedding video and the old man would say ‘Good job, Lou,’ but you can’t charge like a bull in a china shop and tell people to fuck off out of your life – as appealing as that may sound. You can prune the tree in a way that is inoffensive – not returning calls is one way, removing friends from social media also works – muahahaha – simply saying ‘no’ is the goal. The premise of the idea is that unnecessary belongings, commitments, and toxic friendships become clutter and need to go. There’s enough to worry about.

 

Giving too many fucks is exhausting and adds undue stress to what is already a pressure cooker of a society.  

 

Unknowingly, I’ve been cleaning out my closet towards a simpler existence for a while now. I realized some time ago that my over-commitment problem sucked the joy from the simple pleasures in my life and was adding extra pressure to an already frazzled brain. It was like working part-time and not being able to do either job particularly well, and it bred resentment and anger.

 

So in the same way that Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes every day, I am trying to tailor our lifestyle to make it simpler.

 

He says, “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community”- replace “this community” with “myself”. (Business Insider)

There is a new lightness, I can tell you. Less guilt, less shame, more time.

 

In terms of practical, day-to-day living, this means: saying ‘no’ and not meeting up with that friend that you dread seeing; planning meals, so that ton of unwanted food in the fridge doesn’t remind you about the starving in Africa each time you open the door; limiting your wardrobe –  I buy four key colours so that everything coordinates which ensures less of those “I haven’t got any clothes” moments – I’m also working on a general colour scheme and theme throughout the house; being more picky about who you choose to spend time with and how many activities you participate in, even if that means more time on the sofa in your yoga pants questioning if you have any friends.

 

In summation, it means saying ‘no’… a lot.

 

 

And On The Topic Of Self-love And Acceptance…

And while I’m on the topic of self-love and acceptance…

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Cue kaftan, joss sticks and Hare Krishna chanting…

 

That trip to the movies symbolized the start of a new chapter for me this week – a chapter I like to call “thinking about myself for a fucking change” – not to be confused with the old man’s version when he leaves the toilet seat up or only makes a coffee for himself. No, this chapter is about self-love. “Loving yourself” is something many of us lose sight of when things don’t turn out as planned or as we get sucked into the vortex of responsibilities that go with parenting or the demands of life and its disappointments.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the ways to initiate self-love is to get back to the stuff you used to enjoy and made time for, before you became an obsessive worry wort that forgot how to compartmentalize problems. And there are lots of ways to do that. As you are probably aware, I’m not hugely spiritual, so the whole happy place/yoga/taking up religion isn’t really my thang, but going to the movies – albeit by myself – was one step, “painting” will be another and “reading” is a huge priority.

 

I read my first book this week. Baby steps, I thought, so I chose something really light to break myself in gently – a book about the dangers of taking responsibility for the challenging behaviors of our children!  This, as you know, is a topic close to my heart and a conduct I have been guilty of for some time but never found the clarity needed to put it right. You see, I confused the responsibilities of being a mother and its requirement of unconditional love and sacrificed my own happiness for that of my child’s – which is no good for either of us.

 

It’s time to stop punishing myself.

 

(However, a return to self-love doesn’t have to emanate from parenting issues, it can come from any adversity that has knocked you sideways and tested your priorities and purpose, not just the stress that comes with the territory of raising challenging kids or kids with addictions).

 

What I loved about this idea is how the author rams home the importance of reaching an acceptance of who your child is, and ultimately the need, (as a parent), to put away the picture we expected of them when we saw that thin blue line.  We don’t all get the happy, smiling baby on the front of the parenting manuals and that’s okay because it takes all sorts of people to create a society.  

 

In the same way that our children have the right to live their own lives, so do we. Wallowing in anger, disappointment, and guilt means we miss out on living, and that ultimately helps no-one, least of all the child who senses that negativity.  Self-love is just as important as the support we continue to offer our offspring.

 

It is also important to remember two things: 1) we don’t know how much time we have in this world and 2)  in most cases, “change” only comes from people when they are ready to commit to that change – and it’s generally not something we can coerce them to do successfully. While in the author’s opinion, it is fine to remain in a consultant capacity to these children, we do need to step back at some point and take back our own lives.

 

I also have to stop punishing my son for how he has chosen to live his life. The book is about recognizing mental illness and addiction as a sickness rather than a weakness or a faulty gene and treating that person with the same respect you would treat someone with a physical illness. Which is fucking hard, to be honest, and for a while now my halo has been slipping as the lines of unconditional love began to blur.

 

We are human, after all.

 

Everyone deserves to be loved and second and third chances, no matter where their journey leads them. From the kid that can’t walk a straight line and the toothless, homeless man on the street, to the lottery winner who wastes all his winnings on drugs or the sex offender who was abused as a child, acceptance, love, and forgiveness are the sign of true strength.

 

Now I just have to practise what I preach.

Ever Feel You’ve Lost Your Way?

I posted this meme on my Instagram page this week and it obviously resonated with my followers, so I thought I’d share it with you.

 

I have a morbid addiction to allowing those “bad chapters” in my life cloud the good ones, and sometimes the clouds get really dark and fluffy, and no matter how many “gratitude” posts I read or how many  memes about happiness I am inspired by, I can’t seem to clear them and retrieve the happiness from my soul.

 

You know that I am generally a glass half-full gal, (full to the brim if I can get away with it), who is only too aware of each person’s responsibility for their own happiness and the importance of living life to the full. And in general, I am quite proactive when it comes to soul-searching and finding impulsive short-term solutions to my problems.

 

But this time, I have struggled to find my way out of the maze.

 

I gave up one of the best jobs I’ve had a few months ago because mentally I wasn’t coping with its demands alongside the impact of other forces in my life, and I needed to take some time out to mend my broken wings. The loss of my salary – as pitiful as it is – means that we are cutting our cloth accordingly, (although not as short as the old man would like), hence the fourteenth house move.

 

The idea was to try “something else”, which was to be “writing”, you might remember, and the dream started off well. In the first month of my “sabbatical”, I returned to my manuscript, signed up for some courses, got my blog into better shape than it had been for a while and I felt excited. I was ready.

 

Not even the first rejections that began to dribble into my mailbox put me off and I managed to brush their implication aside. I know the story of JK Rowling’s difficult road to publication by heart and as I am obviously the next JK, I was mentally prepared for those evil little reality checks. What I was less prepared for was the outcome of my other dead cert plan during my time out – to get my son’s life on track while I was at home. Stupidly, I believed that under my supervision, his life would fall directly into place and when it didn’t – hasn’t – my confidence began to flounder. I questioned my purpose.

 

As a creative, you can guarantee that as soon as you start to question your purpose, your ideas dry up and all productivity comes to a grinding halt. And again, even though the advice to writers is to keep writing through a “block” – even if the only words you get onto the page are a load of old bollocks – my focus had disappeared along with my confidence and the coordination required to juggle so many different balls and I went into self-protection mode. I began to avoid the blank screen that symbolised my failure completely.

 

I lost my way – perhaps because I’m better when I’m chasing my tail with no time to over-think. They do say that retirement is dangerous and although I am not in that position, I can see where the life of the wannabe “writer” – in particular, the lack of social interaction and abundance of focus for just about anything other than putting words on a page – can be dangerous.

 

It’s time to stop watching what time the neighbors leave the house to go to work; it is time to stop checking Aldi’s Wednesday and Saturday “specials” online; it’s time to stop looking up recipes on Taste.com that I will never cook. It is time to put those bad chapters behind the Great Wall where they belong, pull up my big girl panties again and find my way back. Which is why, my friends, I am gifting you this generous page of complete bollocks.

 

 

 

I Can’t Do It All

shouting-1719492_1920It was with a heavy heart that I closed the final chapter on my day job today, in pursuit of fulfilling some dreams and kicking some goals before it’s too late.

 

I’ve loved my job and at the end of my last ever face-to-face meeting with a client today, for a brief moment “doubt” stepped in. I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people in my role that helped me evolve into the open-minded/hearted woman that I’m proud to have turned into over the past few years. It also opened my eyes even wider to what the world can possibly think it is going to achieve by closing its doors to immigrants and denying all of us those precious opportunities to embrace, share and learn from different cultures.

 

I told my employer I was off to chase some dreams when I resigned because there is some truth to that story. But I’m also aware of how unprofessional it would sound if I admitted to her that in reality the balance between my work and home life has become too tricky to navigate, and something has to give. So I’ll admit it to you, my readers. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve sought medication and therapy to control my stress levels and calm the internal storms that keep raging, but they haven’t worked, so changes need to be made – for the sake of just about everyone who knows me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t do what we women are meant to strive for; I can’t do it all.

 

I’ll say it again, I can’t do it all, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that. It won’t be me who changes the world, and that’s ok. More specifically, I can’t support my son and his needs and loss of direction and hold down a demanding job at the same time.

 

I’m not superwoman or Gwyneth.

 

What I am, though, is bloody lucky, because I’m fortunate to have choices as a woman – they call it “privilege” these days – and I am aware that my choices are ones that many women will never have. The shame attached to that admission kept me at work for longer than I should have stayed, to the detriment of both my son and my health. But as they tell you at the gym – apparently – you need to listen to your body and your heart, so that is what I’m doing. The final justification I needed to make this momentous leap into the scary vortex of the unknown came from the old man when we were on holiday and I admitted to not coping – like he didn’t know – and he reminded me as I sat in the corner of the room rocking, that we only have one life, and that we are in the fortunate position to have choices.

 

I know. I bagged a good’un. 

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do: for the remainder of this year I’m going to get my son back on track, in a consultant capacity only, (as per my therapist’s recommendations), and as opposed to the way I used to try to help him as a meddling, helicopter parent. In the two weeks since my workload has lightened up a little, I’ve already seen the difference some quality time with him has made. For the past year, I have allowed his age and social presumptions dictate my own expectations for him, and I forgot that he is Kurt and he is his own person, and it has never been a good idea to compare him to his peers. His stepping stones to adulthood will happen when he’s ready, and they won’t be defined because someone has written in some parenting manual that he should be doing things at the same time as other kids his age. That never happened during his education, so it’s unlikely to happen now.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the time to talk to him and more importantly, to listen to him. We’ve laughed together again, I’ve taken him to the doctors and for coffee and driving, and amazingly he passed his test first time – a massive boost to his confidence. And that success has infected all the complex facets of his personality and where he sees his place in the world in the best way, and on a practical level, it has meant that finally, he has some means of independence from us – a freedom he has yearned for but not quite been able to reach by himself.

 

He is already talking about travel and going back into education – without pressure from us. (Honest). More importantly, he is talking to me again, probably because I’m not barking or sniping at him at the same time as writing my endless “to-do lists” and deciding which parts of my life to prioritize.

 

So I will be here for him for a while longer, and in between the challenge of getting my son back into the realms of loving life again, (and I will join him in that challenge), I’ll also submit my book for publication and see if there’s any damned way to make the paltry sum of money I need to keep the old man off my back, from writing.

 

Concessions will need to be made, of course, so that I can chase my writing/perfect mother dreams – financial mainly, much to the old man’s delight. Because unless I sell my book (and the following twenty with film rights), we will continue to have the ugliest house in the street. The big car is already up for sale and I will have to return to the role of “house bitch” for a while as the old man works extra hours to formulate a plan of how to bridge the shortfall in our earnings. But as long as he doesn’t cut my weekly wine allowance, I will be stoic.

 

And every cloud has a silver lining – at least there will be food in the fridge again.

 

 

I Blame Trump For My Anxiety

It’s not cold here in Sydney today, thankfully, because up until the last week or so it felt like it had been thirty-fucking seven degrees since 2016. But metaphorically it feels cold, that is since Trump entered the building, threw his toys out of the pram and began to shake up the foundations of diplomacy and world politics like a small earthquake. His presence in power has created a similar feeling to that frisson you get when something doesn’t feel quite right. blizzard-1245929_1920

 

I know his type, and I truly believe he thinks his policies are for the good of the people who voted for him. But he is a Narcissist whose self-importance has blinded him to all consequences of damaging or hurting his followers during his trophy hunt.

 

It’s hard not to feel anxious when our leading politicians – the people who make those big, crazy decisions about our survival and who have their sticky fingers so temptingly close to the buttons – can’t conceal even their own personal, little boy frustrations. We’re all hugging our babies closer – Gwyneth would approve.

 

The world media has gone into free fall since Trump was elected; jubilant initially at the gift of so much fodder, and now panic stricken that he might actually shut them down. I can’t decide whether they’re loving the shit storm they’ve created or if they’re secretly thinking that this could be their last work.

 

But for us pawns of the general public, it is an anxious time when we don’t know what to believe, or where to turn to. We don’t know who we are anymore. Are we racists? Should we be scared? Should we allow that Mosque to be built? What if we can’t get Baklava anymore? Some days it feels as though there’s no positive news at all and everywhere you look Trump’s name dominates the headlines. “Breaking news” these days is always about what’s going wrong in the world, and is usually linked to analysis of his latest verbal comeback on Twitter. The Oscars fuck-up made a welcome change, but when sacred shit like that hits the fan, it’s time to take a step back and reflect. Thankfully, Ryan Gosling’s sister’s breasts distracted the media for at least 48hours afterwards.

 

Our own Prime Minister, normally a reserved, quietly confident kind of man, has looked like he wants to throw the towel in and go walkabout with his ancestors for a while now, and equally, many want to throw the towel right back at him, hard, for not standing up to the bully in the playground.

 

So how are we, the minions of society – those who never usually step out of line, don’t squeak too much, pay our taxes dutifully, put our bins out on the right bin night, and adhere to most of its demands peacefully in return for safety and security – how are we meant to cope exactly with this impending doom?

 

This week they discovered a fossil on Mars that suggests that there is other life – FFS! – in preparation for which I increased the strength of my anti-depressants.

 

It feels cold outside.

 

Not as cold as it is for those at the real coalface of inequality, racism and persecution, of course. Not as freezing as it is for those in direct risk of losing their lives, families, livelihoods and self-respect, because someone with power, (who likes to wield it a lot), likes to also talk out of context and invoke fear.

 

No, this is a first world “cold” for most of us and needs some perspective.

 

Let’s get real here: for the majority of us, it is an unsettling breeze on a mild day where you wish you’d brought your jumper. We can still watch Netflix, we can drink wine, our families are tucked up nicely in bed at night.

 

For others, the real victims, a severe weather pattern is forming.