Mis-sold Dreams – What does it mean to have it all and who is working hardest?

There are certain topics that spark fierce debate, the underlying fury of which seems to be the question of ‘who is working hardest?’  One such debate is that of working mums.  An article in The Times discussing the challenges of work life balance for working mums prompted a flurry of comments from readers with some women arguing that working mums deserve medals, and others arguing all mums deserve recognition whether they work or not.  The article continues to be shared and attract comments on social media. 

A significant issue perhaps is the title ‘working mum.’  What does that even mean?  Is it a loaded statement that merely serves to provoke division amongst mums as to who works the hardest when it comes to child rearing; the mums who arrange childcare so they can do a job away from their children, or the ones who don’t and take care of their children on a full time basis?  Are we implying with a label of ‘working mum’ that there are some mums that work and others who don’t?  If we are and choose to believe that then perhaps there lies the problem.

Whilst those of us who are parents may each hold the title of parent, the reality is we can’t be in two places at once.  We can argue we each hold the same responsibilities in mind when it comes to being a parent and all that encompasses that, but unless we are physically with our children, we could argue we aren’t actually doing the hands on care and all that’s required of oneself in order to do that.  That’s why we refer to people such as nursery staff and teachers as being in a position of loco parentis – in place of the parent.  Whilst we maintain the title of parent, regardless of whether we are with our children or not, if someone else is physically taking care of them, we can argue that they are doing the hands on parenting at that time.   There is a big difference between holding our children in mind and thinking of them and their needs when we are not with them, something I’m sure all parents can relate to, compared to the demands and challenges that can accompany actually being present with our children.

Woman covered with reminders for all sorts of tasks pouts.

Whether a parent or not, there are things that most people can relate to needing to do alongside paid employment.  Doing laundry, cooking, cleaning are just a few examples.  Some people, whether they have children or not, will outsource some of these ‘domestic chores’ to others and employ a cleaner, someone to do their ironing etc.  Perhaps another issue is that the label most frequently used to describe mums who remain with their children full time is that of ‘stay at home mum.’ Accompanying comments often imply they have it easier than others because of an assumption that they have more time available to them, whether it be to pursue leisure interests or to complete domestic chores, compared to people working outside the home who have to complete such tasks when they return from work.  There is an assumption that whilst a ‘stay at home mum’ is taking care of her children, she is also able to complete the domestic tasks that go with managing a home.  If that is to be believed, then perhaps again there lies the problem.

There are more classes and activities available for children aged 0-5 years than ever before, many of which are free or that charge a small fee to attend.  Parents can fill their day attending such classes if they choose to.  I know of many parents who take care of their children on a full or part time basis and who use such classes to help plan an interesting and enriching week to help foster their child’s development.  They invest time and energy into getting out and about with their young children.  They are certainly not at home doing domestic chores whilst their child takes care of themselves.Children in class playing

My referring to some parents taking care of their children on a part time basis is by no means suggesting they are part time parents.  As mentioned before, parenting involves holding our children in mind on a full time basis and ensuring their needs are provided for, whether we are physically with them and meeting their needs ourselves, or whether we facilitate others to care and provide for our children in our absence.

We could argue that anyone who works from home has increased flexibility to go to the gym for example, or to take care of some domestic task such as switching the washing machine on whilst they take a lunch break.  Most people know the reality of working from home means we are sitting at a desk working and not spending our time doing household chores.  We can save time by not commuting to work which may allow us the opportunity to finish early but the majority of the day is not spent doing housework.  In some cases, working from home means doing more, with little or no breaks, and no obvious end to the working day.  The same can be said for mums or any parent who spends their day taking care of their children.  Let’s not forget that it’s not always Mum who might choose to stay and take care of her children on a full time basis, but Dads too.

Father playing with baby and toddlerAs for parents who go out to work having the same amount of cleaning and tidying up to do after their child as a parent who is with their child full time does; unless we are able to be in two places at once, then is this really the case?  If a child is being cared for outside of the home in a nursery for example, then they are at nursery.  They are not at home playing with toys, engaging in activities, having snacks and meals, filling their nappy; they are doing that at nursery.  Whilst there may be some evidence of our child having been at home, it’s not to the same degree compared to if our child was there all day, despite how it may feel to us.

And what are we saying of the people we use to care for our children in our absence, be it a registered childminder, nanny, au pair, nursery nurse or family member.  If we’re implying that when we are engaged in employment away from our children, we’re still having to do all of the things that parents who are with their children all day do, then what value are we placing on the people who are actually with our children during the time we are away from them?  The person cooking our child’s meals, changing their nappy, engaging them in activities, taking them out, keeping them safe?  Are we suggesting they aren’t needed because we’re doing it all ourselves anyway?  Does that not devalue their role, particularly if for some, taking care of other peoples children is their paid employment?  Also, what does it matter if a parent who takes care of their child full time, does so happen to find time to complete domestic chores as part of their days work, just as someone who works from home might be able to do?  Are we implying that such tasks aren’t work and again devaluing anyone that might clean or complete laundry for others as their full time paid job? 

Much of this seems to come down to the argument of ‘who is working hardest?’  The reality is we can argue that some people have it harder or easier than others regardless of their circumstances including whether they are parents or not.  There have always been people who work and take care of domestic chores themselves and those who work and outsource this to others.  We live in a society where for most aspects of our lives, be it our pets, children, laundry, food etc, there is a service that we can employ to relieve us of the responsibility of having to do it all ourselves.  If we’re using such services then let’s be honest and not pretend that we’re not.  Let’s not pretend we’re doing it all ourselves if we aren’t.  For to do so devalues the level of support we receive from the people that are helping us with those aspects of our lives and the people that complete those tasks for themselves regardless of their circumstances.

My sense is that the argument for having it harder than others is fuelled by a bitterness or resentment over individual circumstances and, where one has children, our sense of value and recognition in relation to our contributions towards our children and family and in any work we may engage in outside of that.  I’ve heard Mums and Dads refer to feeling guilty about leaving their children whilst they go to work.  Perhaps this reflects a battle in oneself over how much we feel a good enough parent if we aren’t seen to be present and actively parenting our children all of the time.  Others argue that they don’t have a choice but to employ full time care for their children whilst they go to work, whilst parents who take care of their children full time are frequently referred to as benefit scroungers or described as being lucky and leading a life of luxury as they can obviously afford to do this.  Again, in this instance, the reference to ‘being lucky’ and ‘having it good’ implies that such a role is seen as not work, which we can argue is simply not true.  Why is it that if someone chooses to take care of their children full time and their home if they wish to, they are seen as not working, whilst people who clean for others full time or childmind other people’s children are given the title of cleaner or nanny?  Is it only seen as work or as having a job if you do it for someone else for a fee or are we devaluing roles such as cleaner and nanny, suggesting they’re not real jobs and that those who do them are not really working?

In regards to the feeling of choice one has as to whether to parent full time or not, whilst there are families that would genuinely struggle to fulfil their child’s basic needs if they didn’t have two salaries to support them, or single parents that would struggle without an income, there are many parents who choose to work as they do to maintain a lifestyle that they enjoyed pre children and who don’t want to give that up, nor risk jeopardising their careers if they took time out.  Others will openly admit that they would miss their work too much if they didn’t return to their job after having children.  Whatever one decides and how they make it work is down to them.  Problems appear to arise when others start to cast judgement on the motivation behind other people’s decisions.

On the subject of benefits, under the new government criteria, if one person in a couple earns an annual salary of 100k or more, then their child of 3 or 4 would not receive 30 hours free childcare provided by the government.  Many would argue that this is fair.  I’ve heard comments such as ‘rightly so, if someone earns 100k then they shouldn’t receive benefits.’  However if two parents with a child, each earn 99k they would receive 30 hours free childcare from the government because the criteria takes account of one person’s salary if part of a couple.  We could say this criteria reflects what the government values most in society.  That it’s better if everyone utilised childcare so they could seek employment because there’s little value in parents taking care of their children themselves.  Is it because the money the government makes in taxes, outweighs the cost of funding childcare?  If this is the case, then we could argue that the government agenda fuels part of the argument of who is working hardest.  That if you’re seen to be working to a government agenda then you’re being seen to be better than others regardless of what you might consider to be better for you or your family.

The reality is that the more we add to our lives, be it a career, mortgage, car, pet, children, the more we have that we’re responsible for and each of those things requires giving of ourselves.  We could argue that the more we add, the more we spread ourselves thinly, or feel we have less and less time to give to each aspect.  Perhaps part of the problem is what we’ve been led to believe as ‘having it all’ and what is currently in place to enable us to ‘have it all.’  As mentioned before, there is a service available to help us with every aspect of our lives.  This includes childcare for our children.  We even have dog day care facilities so our pets can be cared for in our absence!  How has this impacted the choices that we make for ourselves?  Because such support is in place, has this led us to believe that we can devote ourselves full time to a demanding career for example, and tie ourselves into a mortgage that reflects our earnings, then also have a child which won’t compromise the time we give to our job because there’s a nursery which can care for our child full time to enable us to return to work.  Is that an example of what is now seen as having it all? 

We can carry many titles if we choose to.  Nurse, partner, homeowner, parent, for example, but what about our level of engagement with each of those titles.  If the more we add impacts our engagement with each, then does that equate to having it all?  Or does having it all mean a sense of fulfilment at being able to engage ourselves fully with fewer things?  Has freedom of choice led us to choose wisely or choose everything, with little thought as to how everything will impact on one another?

When it comes to having children, has the governments agenda to promote the expansion of nurseries and free childcare fuelled a sense that in order to be successful and seen as a worthy contributor to society, one should choose both a career and children and try to fulfil both, full time at the same time?  That to choose one or the other or postpone career development to care for our children in their younger years is seen as not working hard enough?  What’s sad is that because certain options have been made available, it’s resulted in some choices being taken away from others.  There are many families who would love for a parent to be with their children full time but simply can’t afford to now that the cost of living reflects a level of income that often requires more than one salary can cover.  And why should they not be able to parent full time when, if it wasn’t a full time job in itself, there wouldn’t be provisions such as nurseries to fulfil that role when parents are absent from being able to do it themselves.  If we could do it all then we wouldn’t need nurseries or childminders!

In regards to the criticism that can come from choosing to parent full time, perhaps this reflects a change in attitude towards parenting itself.  Years ago it was the norm for a parent, usually a mother, to take time out from her career in order to raise her children, whilst men were expected to go out to work and earn the money to financially provide for the family.  There was little support in place to enable men and women to do things any differently.  Perhaps the fact we now have the option of arranging for our children to be taken care of by others, there is a sense that we should embrace this and that to choose otherwise is seen as not being as valuable anymore, particularly as childcare provision is on the increase.  Perhaps there is a suggestion that it doesn’t matter if it is the actual parent taking care of a child, as the child will get the same level of input and value from care elsewhere.  For some children this may well be the case.  A child who experiences little or no engagement from the adults at home is surely better off spending time with an emotionally available, attuned adult elsewhere. 

Perhaps the debate of who has it harder is fuelled by anger from those that have believed that having it all means to be seen as doing it all and will equate to being seen as working harder than others.  Perhaps once reality hits that we can’t and aren’t doing it all ourselves and aren’t necessarily working harder than others, this fuels anger and resentment towards those that have chosen differently, such as children versus career or vice versa.  For we could argue that different choices frees oneself up from the mis-sold dream that to choose it all will mean we feel we have it all.  For how we choose will surely impact our sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life in the long run.

Jayne Life

References and further thoughts:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-working-mums-are-being-sold-an-impossible-dream-about-work-life-balance-and-how-to-set-the-record-straight-8tzw0j6vl

https://www.gov.uk/help-with-childcare-costs/free-childcare-and-education-for-2-to-4-year-olds

Jay Shetty – Everyone Needs to Hear This

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7Mtv8QqfAc

 

 

 

 

The Value in Shopping Around

I have often said to people in relation to finding a counsellor or therapist that there is value in ‘shopping around.’ By that I mean there is value in them meeting with a number of different therapists for an initial meeting to see who they feel they would most like to work with. Factors to consider might include the availability of the therapist and therefore the time of day they can see them, the location of the therapist and the way in which the therapist works – the modality in which they are trained in. However, and what I consider to be most important, is who the client feels they can actually talk to and build a relationship with. Who is it they feel the most comfortable with, to sit with, on a weekly perhaps more frequent basis, and begin to open up to.

My experience of needing to ‘shop around’ happened when I encountered difficulties feeding my first child. During the initial days after birth where conversations with a health visitor were routine, despite being brief, I found myself asking the same questions. This was largely due to the fact I would see a different health visitor each time who would give me a different answer to what I’d heard previously! This left me feeling confused and dissatisfied with what I was hearing and so I continued to try and seek out some clarity to my growing list of concerns.

Two Cartoon Men Talking

I questioned what it was that I was looking for and what continued to drive me for answers. What drove me was a sense of distrust of what was being said to me. This was partly due to receiving a variety of responses to the same question and feeling dissatisfied with what I was being told. I didn’t want to be dictated to, nor did I feel my concerns warranted being told what to do. What I needed was for someone to take the time to really listen to me and work with me to help me overcome some of the difficulties that I was experiencing.

There was certainly benefit in my continuing to ‘shop around’. After ending up in hospital very ill with an infection as a result of inadequate post birth care, I finally contacted a specialist named Rosie after being advised it might prove beneficial to contact someone who was more qualified to help. On speaking to Rosie, I immediately felt at ease and confident that she could provide the support I needed. She asked me what had been happening and listened attentively to what I was telling her. I didn’t feel rushed or interrupted; instead Rosie allowed me to tell my story. I didn’t feel judged or wrong in any way over the concerns I had, nor did I feel that any question was stupid. Rosie didn’t proceed to start telling me what to do, however she did put my mind at ease on sharing her thoughts in response to what I was telling her and what she thought could be achieved long term. Getting the support I received from Rosie proved invaluable.

In regards to counselling and psychotherapy, qualities such as feeling listened to without judgement, that nothing you say is deemed wrong or stupid, where you are given space to talk with someone who will respond to what you are saying, are all important qualities in helping to build the foundations of a good, therapeutic relationship with a qualified counsellor or therapist who can work with you to help facilitate the changes in your life that you want to achieve. Many people have described a helpful therapist to me as being someone who ‘just got them.’ I felt Rosie ‘got me’ and that certainly proved helpful for me in terms of my ability to trust her and to be open to her support and guidance.

Talking heads with speech bubbles

Other than our closest relationships with friends and family, I do wonder whether we are limited in developing other intimate relationships where we have the opportunity to feel known and supported. Perhaps this is a reflection of our changing society, an example being changes in health care. From speaking to older generations of women, their experience of having children is different to women having children today. There appeared to be a greater continuity of healthcare in the past; not only did families already have a GP and by that I mean a named GP that would see members of the same family if they were unwell, but they had a named health visitor who would schedule frequent appointments before and after the birth of their child. We could argue that this type of arrangement lends itself to both the client and the practitioner forming a close relationship providing the opportunity for the client to feel known and supported.

I’m not suggesting that people don’t feel supported by GP’s and health visitors today but arrangements for such support are slightly different. Most people today do not have a named GP that they go and see but are registered at a surgery whereby they could see any one of a number of GP’s each time they make an appointment. At my previous health centre I had a named GP that I was given upon joining, I don’t at the one I’m registered at now. In regards to women having children, they are likely to see a number of different health visitors pre and post baby and appointments are less frequent than they were for example in the 1980’s. This arrangement may suit some people who value the opportunity to hear from several health visitors or doctors, as opposed to only hearing from one or two. Either way, I think it’s important to bear in mind that there are options if one wishes to ‘shop around’ for support, regardless of whatever arrangement is already in place.

Jayne Life

Further information on the support Rosie provides can be found at:

http://www.rosiehealth.com/

The Power of You and I

As a therapist and counsellor using Transactional Analysis, I am particularly attentive to the language people use. Something I come across in conversation not only in the therapy room but in everyday life, is the use of the word ‘you,’ in particular the use of ‘you’ when referring to
oneself. For example:
Person A is complaining to Person B about their boss at work. Person A ends their account with,

‘but you just have to put up with your boss talking to you like that don’t you. I mean you can’t really do anything about it.’

Who is person A actually talking about with their use of ‘you?’ If I were listening to Person A’s account in the therapy room, I might well ask,

‘are you talking about me or you here?’

YOU, written on pebbles

In my work as a counsellor and therapist, I have often found that the use of the word ‘you’ to refer to oneself is a reflection of both verbal and none verbal messages a person has received from another, regarding how one should behave. To explicitly ask a person who they are actually referring to when they use the word ‘you’ when recounting a story about oneself, invites the person to consider where the message of how they perceive they can respond in the situation, actually comes from. To encourage them to use ‘I’ and similarly ‘me’ instead of ‘you,’ when speaking about oneself can be powerful.

Consider how different person A’s account sounds when they replace ‘you’ with ‘I’

‘but I just have to put up with my boss talking to me like that don’t I. I mean I can’t really do anything about it.’

On hearing this, I’d be keen to inquire as to where their thinking comes from; why do they have to put up with their boss speaking to them in a way they don’t like and why do they feel they can’t do anything about it? To reflect on the origins of our thinking in such a way can help us to elicit the source of our thoughts and determine our genuine thoughts based on how we feel we can respond as an adult in the here and now and, what we might refer to in Transactional Analysis, our ‘contaminated thoughts,’ which is those thoughts that we believe to be our own but, if analysed closely, are actually an internalised thought of a parent, or other authoritative figure from when we were a child.

So why do people speak in such a way and why is it so common? To think about it from a Transactional Analysis perspective; we could say the use of ‘you’ when referring to oneself is an indication of somebody else’s voice, likely an older persons voice. As children, we grow up exposed to powerful messages from the adults in our lives such as parents and teachers. Such messages can be verbal and nonverbal and are often based on what the adult feels is acceptable or unacceptable ways of behaving and how they would like us as children to behave. Examples include ‘you shouldn’t cry in public,’ ‘you get what you’re given,’ ‘just do as you are told.’ As children we learn how to navigate these messages in order to feel accepted and ok. For example, we learn that if we don’t complain about anything then Mummy and Daddy will be pleased with us and we avoid getting into trouble.

We can take these messages with us into adult life and live our life by them; even repeating the same messages we were told as children with our own children. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we simply leave behind the messages we have learnt to live by as children. Such messages can be reflected in our behaviour and in our conversations with others.

I also think the use of the word ‘you’ when speaking about oneself can be an attempt to believe we speak for the majority; that there is a commonality to what we are saying, therefore to use the word ‘you’ feels appropriate as there is a sense that everyone else shares our thinking about whatever it is we are talking about, and feels the same way as we do. To think that everyone else shares in our thoughts and feelings I believe can feel comforting for an individual, and create a sense they aren’t the only ones who feel they can’t challenge an unreasonable boss for example; that we all have to just put up with things we don’t like.

The Letter I

Linked to this, in everyday conversation, how many of us would actually challenge the use of the word ‘you’ from someone giving us an account of something that’s happened to them? Therefore, does our lack of challenge inexplicitly say to the other that we share in what they are saying, that yes, you can’t challenge an unreasonable boss?

Perhaps an alternative challenge is to individually be mindful of using ‘you’ when actually speaking about ‘I’ in conversation with others, particularly when recounting what feels like a dilemma. Rather than challenging the other person’s dialogue, perhaps challenge one’s own as a way of beginning to explore the origins of one’s own thinking. To do so, could be enlightening and prove to be rather powerful.

Jayne Life

Manchester Steiner School Project

Steiner School Painting

My first experience of Steiner education was when I visited a Steiner School in Edinburgh. I was visiting friends whose child, aged three, attended kindergarten several times a week at the local Steiner School. My friend informed me of some of the school policies which included no branded clothing or items with logos to be worn on site.

The environment felt incredibly warm and welcoming. My friends child attended a group in one of the small wooden cabins that made up the Steiner School. There were no plastic toys or fancy gadgets on show; all the items the children were exposed to were made from natural materials. For their morning snack, the children sat and ate bread and jam they had made themselves. The parents of the children joined them for snack and stayed to participate in a session of sing and dance outside. Outside, there was an expansive area of green space in which the children could play freely.

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner was born in Austria in 1861. He was a pioneering academic whose ideas formed the basis of a philosophy known as Anthroposophy. He died in 1925. Anthroposophy is not a belief system but an approach which considers each individuals body, soul and spirit.

In Steiner education the approach of teachers takes account of the entire needs of each individual child; their academic, physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Holding hands around the fire painting

The priority is to provide a relaxed, creative learning environment where children can experience joy in learning and the richness of being a child, as opposed to feeling hurried to perform academically. The curriculum in Steiner schools reflects the needs of the whole child and is designed to work in harmony with the child as they move through the different stages of child development.

There is now a project to open a Steiner School and Kindergarten in Manchester. More information can be found on their Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Manchester-Steiner-School-Project

Further information about Steiner Education including a list of providers, and Anthroposophy can be found using the links below:

http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/

http://www.anthroposophy.org.uk/

http://www.waldorfanswers.org/index.htm

Health Benefits of Having a Dog

Dog's faceIf only I was aware of the health benefits of having a dog, I may have embarked on the experience a lot sooner. Having recently acquired my very own canine friend, I am beginning to understand how dog owners far and wide come to see their pet as their most trusted and loyal companion and source of comfort. Whilst raising a puppy has its challenges such as house training a puppy to go to the toilet outside as opposed to indoors! For me the pleasures certainly outweigh the trials. I love that each time I get home she is there to greet me and does so with such love and enthusiasm. That I need never be on my own if I don’t want to and that caring for a dog is an entirely new experience for me; from vet appointments to buying food and home supplies, but one which I am enjoying learning about.

lady sitting with dog in the parkResearch investigating the therapeutic benefits of having a dog has described touch as being one of the most basic human desires a dog can fulfil. Petting and cuddling a dog can help a person to remain calm and is particularly soothing if one is feeling stressed. Having a dog for companionship can ease feelings of loneliness whilst also providing stimulation to exercise. This can result in a person feeling fitter and of better mental health.

Man running on beach with dog on a lead
Exercise helps to release ‘feel good’ endorphins helping to ward off feelings of sadness and depression. Whilst I might have been able to put off going to the gym several times a week particularly in winter; knowing I have a dog that is dependent on me for its exercise means I at least go for a thirty minute walk every day even if that’s the extent of my daily exercise.

Dog on lead running with womanWhen walking my dog I have experienced an increase in the number of people who say hello. From fellow dog owners to people who simply want to stop and take a moment to pet her. For anyone who is perhaps feeling lonely and living on their own, having a dog can introduce new opportunities to socialise and interact with others therefore helping to reduce feelings of depression and loneliness. Having something else to focus on can provide a person with a welcome distraction from personal problems. Caring for a dog provides such a distraction and if cared for properly will reward their owner with unconditional love and affection as I have discovered.

Old man with dog in front of a snow covered treeDepending on the breed of dog, some dogs make great therapy dogs. Cavaliers are one such breed and were originally bred to provide comfort and companionship to many kinds of people including the sick and the elderly. Throughout America in particular, using dogs in therapy for children with Autism is becoming increasingly popular. Studies have shown that dogs can have a calming effect on children with Autism improving a child’s ability to communicate and bond.

Boy with dog man in wheelchair with dog on lead

It is important to remember however that having a dog requires considerable commitment and dedication to ensure it is well cared for. I waited a long time to get a dog until I was able to work flexible hours to ensure I would be able to manage the demands. Such demands include feeding a puppy four times a day initially. Of course for anyone considering getting a dog there is help and support available from dog day care services to training classes and there is the option of getting an older dog that is already house trained if having a puppy feels too daunting.

Useful links:

http://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/the-therapeutic-benefits-of-owning-a-dog.html

http://www.livescience.com/35463-seven-surprising-health-benefits-dog-ownership-110209.html

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/the-health-benefits-of-pets.htm

http://paws.dogsforthedisabled.org/research-project/research-on-dogs-and-children-with-asd/

http://www.petpals.com/

‘The Happy Puppy Handbook’ by Pippa Mattinson

Jayne Life

Losing Sight of Life

Clock Hand

Recently I heard from someone who had planned a short trip away with friends. Despite the trip being planned months in advance and holiday notice to respective work places given; one friend failed to make it. The reason being was because they had to work. Two days pre-booked holiday from work was not acceptable given the task that needed completing. To complete the task required working long hours from early in the morning throughout the night until the end of the following day with no break to recuperate.

man sleeping at desk

I frequently hear of similar stories. Lauren Connelly, a twenty three year old Junior Doctor, died after what her Father believes was the result of her driving home with accumulated fatigue following working ten days in a row on beginning work as a Junior Doctor, and having just completed another twelve day run of shifts totalling in excess of one hundred and seven hours. One might argue that in the case of doctors, they are potentially dealing with life and death situations and that the nature of their job means that to leave a patient mid-treatment would be highly unethical as well as being detrimental to the patient. However, I would like to think that if a doctor works in excess of the time they are rostered to do as part of their shift that they are given the equivalent in time to rest and recuperate. I’m confident the reality is that they are not and instead have to continue to work their remaining shifts before they can take any substantial break. This might help explain how we end up with stories like Lauren’s.

I know there are many of us that can relate to working long hours and feeling sleep deprived. I can recall times, particularly in teaching, where I have worked in excess of twelve hours days. During periods of increased work writing lengthy reports as part of annual reviews in addition to my daily duties as a teacher, I can remember having one hours sleep before a forty five minute drive to school. I kept the windows of my car down in the middle of winter to allow the fresh air to help keep me awake at the wheel. On reflection it seems barbaric to think I did that. I wasn’t the only teacher to experience fatigue and many of us joked of keeping our eyes open with matchsticks. I question how valuable I was as a classroom teacher on such days. Yes I managed and got through the day. Would I have been seen as the all singing and dancing teacher complete with bells and whistles and completed tick boxes that an Ofsted Inspector would like to see; perhaps not, but that’s another article.

So, what of our friend who missed their mini break? One might wonder what type of job this person has. Are they involved in life and death situations so is another person’s life dependent on them sacrificing their holiday? The short answer is no. The reason for the loss of holiday is the potential loss of business. To object to sacrificing holiday means business might be taken elsewhere, money might be lost and reputation potentially tarred. We could think of this as being that unless sleep, health, time with family and friends is sacrificed then people will be seen as a failure and not worthy of their role. I would argue that quality of work surely counts for something and that mistakes can easily happen if people are deprived of basic needs such as food, water and sleep, however I do wonder whether within some organisations, to make such sacrifices is also seen as being part of providing a quality service. I have often asked what would happen if people turned around and said that they needed more time to complete a task and the answer I am frequently told is that there are other people that will be happy to do the work instead. My interpretation of this is that in other words; other people will be willing to make sacrifices to their general wellbeing; health, time with children and loved ones, so the people who object to doing so will be disposed of.

Many questions enter my mind when I hear of such demands being placed on people. One being why do people set deadlines for completion of work that requires people to work such long hours and make sacrifices to their health and wellbeing? I think I know the answer to this which is that it is driven by money. And what does money equal? Power? Freedom? Power perhaps to the people setting the deadlines for completion of work; less so for the people completing it. And what type of scenario would need to happen for any allowances to be made to a person being asked to work such long hours; the death of a loved one, the birth of a child? If it’s acceptable to turn around to someone and tell them they can’t take a short, pre-planned holiday with their partner and young family, when is it not acceptable? And finally, what is it all for? Are we losing sight of life?
Hand reaching for sky with words life with purpose and the magic of why we are here

Who knows if our friend who sacrificed joining their friends on a mini break will get the opportunity to enjoy a holiday with them again. As parents age who knows how many opportunities there will be for a son or daughter to enjoy a round of golf with their parent or to reminisce over fishing trips gone by. How many more moments of our children discovering something new are we prepared to miss because we’re staring down at our iphone responding to a work e-mail on a Saturday. I question whether all the loss of time spent actually living is worth it. I’ve met people who have been in receipt of large pay cheques and sizable bonuses yet have aged beyond their years with the long hours they’ve worked and have spent little time in their grand apartment overlooking the River Thames or enjoying their hard earned cash because they’ve had no time to. Their time has been spent working to earn the money to pay for a lifestyle that they have no time to actually live.

 picture of john lennon.

So what’s the answer. I can relate to the saying ‘needs must,’ so in order to survive we need to work as it is work that provides us with money to live. Therefore, to look for alternative work in addition to what is already a long working day simply adds to the existing workload resulting in increased stress and leading to many of us remaining in positions until we risk reaching burn out and are forced to look for something less demanding. Or, we remain in positions hoping that the sacrifices we make to our life now will result in early retirement and a substantial amount of money to enjoy a life free from work. This might be the case however it might well lead to an early retirement without memories of families and holidays with friends closely followed by an early death. I feel that the solution lies with all of us. That unless we all change it will be hard for individuals to change. Unless all employers value the health and wellbeing of staff as opposed to seeing them as money making machines then it is hard for employees to object to making sacrifices to their personal life for fear this may mean they are sacrificing their work and are therefore disposable.

beach with umbrella and G.K Chesterton quote. There are two ways to get enough. One is to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

I have been sent various videos and articles, the aim of which is to invite viewers to reflect on the purpose of life. I have included some of the links below as well as the link to Lauren Connelly. The messages contained are all well and good and many of us are aware of what is frequently referred to as ‘work life balance.’ However, I would argue that we all need to be aware of how we can benefit from making changes such as looking up from our iphones and working less, and that collectively we need to change or else however are we to achieve a quality of life that reflects the purpose of life?

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

‘Look Up’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/health/hospital-working-hours-cut-after-death-of-junior-doctor.24527129

http://oem.bmj.com/content/58/1/68.full

http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/pubs/summary.php?id=errs16

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3c26b148-ae9c-11e3-aaa6-00144feab7de.html#axzz3934LzIBM

Jayne Life

Didsbury Open Gardens

Didsbury Open Gardens logoOn Sunday 8th June, I was fortunate enough to wander the streets of Didsbury venturing into people’s gardens as part of Didsbury Open Gardens 2014. Residents of Didsbury open up their gardens to the public for them to enjoy some exquisite designs and breathtaking blooms. From water features to elaborate trellis with climbing fragrant roses, some of the gardens are truly beautiful and captivating.

Back garden and door

Didsbury’s first Charitable Open Gardens Event took place on Sunday 8th June 2008. What I love about the event is the sense of community amongst people. Owners are more than happy to welcome visitors of all ages to their garden and share the history of their home and garden with guests. Many owners serve a variety of delicious cakes and beverages inviting people to relax and enjoy their garden to their hearts content. I looked around one garden at the array of people sitting together and chatting, enjoying tea and cake. It was like looking at a public park as opposed to someone’s back garden.

People looking around the gardens

Whilst perusing the gardens there was a sense of tranquillity. Many children were quietly engaged in observing flowers and bees as well as pond life, and it was lovely to hear parents talking to their children about the different plants and flowers.

Each garden usually attracts around 200 visitors, with local residents of all ages making their way around on foot or by bike to the 30 gardens available to view. All the money generated from ticket sales and donations for refreshments goes to charity. Usually money raised is within the region of £7000 which is shared between various charities. Note saying "Plants Suggested Donation 30p-80p."
This year, the main charity for which money was being raised was St. Ann’s Hospice. As well as private gardens there were also guided tours around Bradley Fold Allotments as well as a BBQ and live band at Nazarene College. For people who fancied a more unique food tasting experience, there was a free Pop Up ‘Pestaurant’ at Broomcroft Hall which featured a variety of deep fried insects and insects dipped in chocolate!

View of garden through treesAs a society I think we can get criticised for being detached from our neighbours and local community. In our modern world many of us can become consumed by various gadgets and devices such as iphones and mobile phones, opting to connect to the internet as opposed to another person; a sign of a loss of ‘human connection’ on a broader level perhaps. Experiences such as Didsbury Open Gardens reminds me that good ‘neighbouring’ and connecting with others in our local community has not disappeared. I certainly feel a sense of attachment to Didsbury as a place and as a member of its community. For me, my experience of events such as open gardens helps to create this.

Well done and a big thank you to all who participated in Didsbury Open Gardens this year.

Bee on flowers

For further information about Didsbury Open Gardens and other local events see the following links:

http://www.didsburyopengardens.org/

http://www.didsburylife.com

http://didsburycivicsociety.org.uk/

http://didsburyfestival.webs.com/

http://www.friendsofdidsburypark.co.uk/index.php

Jayne Life

Google+

The Importance of Pointing

A child pointing
Who would have thought pointing can be so important to a Childs development? I have often overheard parents say to their child ‘don’t point its rude’ however in one of his most recent articles, Michael Jones talks about how pointing can play a vital role in helping children progress to using their first words.

In his article ‘The Power of Pointing’ Michael describes the function of a young child pointing to something they want as ‘proto-imperative pointing’ – pointing to show what he or she wants instead of using words. Michael provides the reader with examples of a child named Ibrahim, aged nine months old, using proto-imperative pointing. Later, the article describes Ibrahim progressing to ‘proto-declarative pointing’ where pointing is used instead of words for the purpose of showing someone what he is interested in and the desire to share that interest with someone else. If such pointing is responded to appropriately by an adult then it can assist a child in progressing to using their first words in communication with others.

Child with mother pointing into the air

Young girl points finger

Having spent a vast amount of time supporting young children up to three years of age, I found reading about the important role pointing can play rather insightful. It highlights how important our responses to young children can be for their development of language and communication skills. A role that many of us participate in perhaps without knowing how significant our interactions can be in the development of a Childs first words.

The article also contains guidance on supporting children where there is a delay in speech and language development including if Autism is suspected.

To read the full article by Michael Jones, see the link below:

http://www.talk4meaning.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Early-Years-Educator-Pointing-March-2014-PDF.pdf

To download articles and view Michael’s blog go to:

http://www.talk4meaning.co.uk/publications/

http://www.talk4meaning.co.uk/category/blog

Jayne Life

Sensory Issues in Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Many of us have a preference when it comes to smell, sound, texture and light. Some people can tolerate loud music for longer than others; some people experience sensitivity to light and are quick to reach for their sunglasses on a bright day. For some people, the idea of finger nails running down a blackboard sends chills down their spine whilst others are less affected.

Many young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions and those with ADHD can experience differences in sensory perception to those of their ‘neurotypical’ peers. I use neurotypical carefully as I consider all of us to have a preference for things such as food and sound which can often be influenced by factors such as texture and pitch. I certainly don’t think such preferences apply only to people who have a diagnosis of Autism or ADHD.

Girl covering ears

Sensory difficulties have long been associated with Autistic Spectrum Conditions and can be experienced by people with ADHD. Leo Kanner who first identified Autism in 1943 and Hans Asperger who first described Asperger Syndrome in 1944, both reported on the auditory and visual difficulties young people with Autism appear to encounter. Many of the young people I have worked with who have Autism and those with ADHD, have indicated very clearly the difficulties they can experience when it comes to particular sensory input. Such difficulties have been primarily in relation to auditory, gustatory-olfactory (taste and smell) and visual input. These difficulties can be described as a hyper (over) or hypo (under) responsiveness to certain stimuli resulting in failure of that person to adapt their response accordingly. It can have a significant impact on everyday functioning for example hindering ability to enter a supermarket or shopping mall where several sounds can be heard at once, inability to discriminate food from inedible items, intolerance to areas such as kitchens and eateries as a result of smells, and difficulty processing visual input.

Such difficulty in everyday functioning can present itself through a variety of behaviours. For some people with Autism and ADHD, to be presented with a variety of stimulus at any one time can feel very overwhelming; a ‘sensory overload’ resulting in certain behaviours that are performed in an attempt to try and ‘block out’ or replace uncomfortable stimuli with something that feels more bearable. Such behaviour might include repetitive spinning or hand movements to try and ‘screen out’ unpleasant stimuli or holding hands to ears to block out sound. Another way of thinking about such behaviours is that the function enables a person to experience some control over what can feel like an over stimulating environment.

The way the human nervous system receives messages from the senses and transforms them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses is known as sensory processing or ‘sensory integration.’ Our ability to respond appropriately to different stimuli such as the ability to put on gloves if our hands are exposed to freezing weather, requires effective processing sensation, otherwise referred to as sensory integration. Similarly, sensory modulation is the brains ability to respond appropriately to the environment we are in and respond at a level of arousal and alertness that is appropriate to the situation.

Experiencing difficulty in responding appropriately to sensory stimulation is known as Sensory Processing Disorder or ‘Sensory Integration Dysfunction.’ The parts of the brain that are required to help a person respond appropriately when a specific sense is stimulated, for example cold weather stimulating bare skin on a cold day, simply don’t get activated. It’s like there is a barrier preventing certain parts of the brain from receiving sensory input which results in an inability to interpret sensory information correctly and respond appropriately. For other people, Sensory Integration Dysfunction can be experienced as a person not being able to get enough stimulation and appear to actively seek out sensation. A common expression can be that the person ‘just can’t sit still.’

Many people with Autism and ADHD can experience difficulties in processing sensory input. I have seen young people with Autism venture outside on a winter’s day in a t-shirt seeming to be numb to the feeling of cold weather on their skin. In such situations it is important to ensure the person is educated about appropriate clothing for such weather conditions. This can be done through modelling what items of clothing need to be worn as well as using strategies such as a visual schedule to remind the person what items of clothing they need to put on before going outside.

Other strategies that can help address sensory difficulties include items such as ear defenders to help block out certain distressing sounds and enable a person to tolerate places where noise can be an issue. Using visual schedules and limiting language to key words can help a person with Autism and children with ADHD to process information more easily.

Boy wearing headphonesVisual schedule for children with ADHD or Autism

An Occupational Therapist can often be a key professional in helping to assess a person’s level of response to different stimuli. If a person is identified as having difficulties with sensory processing, then a treatment plan can be devised to help encourage appropriate responses to different sensory input. This can be done in a creative, fun and meaningful way, particularly if being used with young children.

Patricia Wilbarger, an Occupational Therapist and Sensory Processing Disorder research pioneer, developed what is known as a ‘Sensory Diet.’ A sensory diet consists of a series of activities to help calm and focus a child’s behaviour. The aim is that through incorporating the diet into everyday life, a child can learn to achieve everyday tasks and modulate their response to sensory stimulation. Examples include adapted seating and items to ‘fiddle’ with during periods of work to help relieve feelings of restlessness in children with ADHD, or reducing visual input for children with Autism by using plain furnishings as opposed to patterned where having several visual inputs at once has been found to be over stimulating.

Boy with head in hands doing homework

Toy to squeeze

There is a vast array of information available on sensory difficulties and effective strategies. Below are links to just a few:

http://www.starpacks.co.uk

http://www.spdfoundation.net/index.html

http://sensorysmarts.com/sensory_diet_activities.html

http://nspt4kids.com/parenting/sensory-strategies-for-kids-with-adhd/

http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/950553/sensory-processing-disorder-help-what-is-a-sensory-diet

http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/9777.html

Jayne Life

‘I pull my hair out.’ An interview about Trichotillomania

Lady playing with hair I recently listened to Rebecca Brown give an account of her experience living with Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is the name given to describe an overwhelming urge in a person to pull their own hair out. This can range from a desire to pull the hair on their head, to eyelashes, eyebrows and other types of body hair.

During the interview Rebecca speaks of feeling the urge to pull her hair out whenever she felt stressed or upset. This behaviour began at a young age and escalated to her pulling large clumps of hair out in her teenage years, resulting in patches of baldness on her head. Chartered Psychologist Jane McCartney explained how pulling strands of hair out releases endorphins into the body, the sensation of which can feel very satisfying for the person with this condition.
Lady with bald patch from TrichotillomaniaSo what triggers Trichotillomania? Trichotillomania is largely recognised as an anxiety related condition. The release of endorphins brought about by pulling strands of hair out can momentarily relieve a person from feelings of stress and anxiety. At the same time however, developing a condition such as Trichotillomania can often fuel and increase feelings of anxiety and associated feelings of shame and guilt as the person recognises the effects of hair pulling on their appearance but still finds it difficult to stop. The person can feel trapped and isolated in a vicious circle.

Anxiety is a feeling that is likely to have been experienced by all of us at one time or another. Most of us can identify with feeling nervous and anxious before an exam or driving test, or even before a rollercoaster ride at a theme park. The degree and severity of anxiety experienced by a person is the difference between what can feel reasonable for the situation compared to an overwhelming sense of anxiety which can feel all consuming and debilitating; a barrier to getting on with our everyday lives. It is this type of anxiety that can lead a person to seek professional help and support in the form of psychotherapy and counselling, and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Dealing with anxiety is often not about trying to get rid of the feelings of anxiety all together but learning how to manage anxiety so that is doesn’t become life altering and debilitating. Of course with any form of counselling or therapeutic support there will be some exploration of what is triggering the anxiety. In my experience, through discussing the thinking behind the anxiety and challenging problematic thought patterns, many people comment on feeling less anxious as they develop alternative ways of thinking.

Managing anxiety can incorporate finding alternative ways of behaving; replacing unhelpful activities one might do when they feel anxious as an attempt to relieve the feeling, with something that will prove helpful in relieving the anxiety but that won’t be harmful to the person. An example would be helping a person to find an alternative activity to cutting themselves when they feel anxious.

For Rebecca Brown, she finds that having a ‘tangle toy’ provides her with a distraction to pulling her hair.  Jane McCartney comments on the benefits of having something like a tangle toy as being that it occupies the hands meaning that the hands aren’t needing to be occupied by pulling hair. Hand with tangle toy As an adult, Rebecca also has items of jewellery with similar properties to that of a tangle toy.  One of the benefits is that such items look discreet and age appropriate.

Finding alternative activities that will help to release endorphins into the body is a helpful alternative to an activity that involves harming oneself. Activities such as exercise, particularly more vigorous forms of exercise such as punching a punch bag or kickboxing, all release endorphins into the body and can help to relieve symptoms of anxiety such as stress and muscle tension.

To listen to Rebecca’s interview go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciEo8zC6B6A

To follow Rebecca’s in-depth journey with Trichotillomania then take a look at her TrichJournal at:
http://trichjournal.tumblr.com/

Beckie looking in mirror, in the mirror she appears to have full head of hair

Further information about Trichotillomania can be found at:

http://cognitive-behavior-therapy.com/trichotillomania/

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/trichotillomania/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.trich.org/treatment/resources-articles.html#success

Mind and Soul provides further information about mental health including details about self harming behaviour. For details go to:

http://www.mindandsoul.info/Articles/279837/Mind_and_Soul/Resources/Articles/Self_Harm_Roots.aspx

Jayne Life