No Regrets

This time last year I was recently single, about to start a new job and trying to find somewhere to live. It was a challenging time, both emotionally and logistically, so it’s with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion that I find myself in the same situation once again.

It’s been three months since I posted my blog ‘Second Chances’. I re-read it today and it made me a bit sad remembering how well-meant it was, and how hopeful I’d been.

It’s hard to be honest about what’s happened because I don’t want to appear to tear someone down for the sake of a story no-one will ever know the real truth of except for us. Ultimately, I was forced to admit that we are too different to ever be happy together. Could I have realised this before we spent another 5 months trying to make it work? Maybe. But I wasn’t ready then. When it ended last year I was fragile, in love and I felt like everything had ‘happened’ to me. It wasn’t what I wanted, and I was left with a deep sense of regret for what might have been. What if I’d understood him better? What if I’d had counselling to help me be a better girlfriend? What if I’d shown more forgiveness, more compassion, more love?

Relationships are tricky little buggers without the added emotional stronghold of having a child together. A couple without a child can end a relationship, shake hands and saunter off in opposite directions without so much as a backward glance. When you have a little person to consider, the world becomes a bit cloudy, and a lot of grey areas start to appear. What may have made you turn on your child-free heel and run (‘He stood me up, therefore he is an arsehole and henceforth he is dumped!’), suddenly isn’t a deal breaker, but something very minor in comparison to having the right beaker, or making sure that their sandals don’t rub. And I’ve found that with a little effort, grey areas can be turned into fog, then into a mild haze, until they almost disappear altogether.

But within the grey areas, there are some very definitive black and white lines. Some hardcore, deeply ingrained values that are part of who we are and what we stand for. Some peoples are out there for the world to see, and there is never any doubt about what they do or don’t find acceptable. For others, they are buried under layers of fog so thick it’s easy to forget about them, but deep down they’re there. I may be a bit foggy, but I know when my black and white lines have been crossed. And so does he.

It feels different this time. Maybe it’s because I feel like I made a choice. Or because I know without a shadow of a doubt that I gave it everything I could. I took all of my ‘What if’s?’ and made it my mission to be better. If I could have held our family together with determination alone I probably would have. Like a typical Taurus, I’ve been stubbornly striving away because I desperately wanted it to work. But I know when I’ve had enough.

It’s all a bit of an anti-climax really. We were meant to ride off into the sunset together after my grand gesture of support on my blog and our lovely family holiday, and now I feel like I should be embarrassed that it didn’t work out that way. But I’m not. I think I needed to know that I didn’t give up without a fight. I follow my heart, which may mean that I end up in these types of pickles from time to time, but it’s what gives me my black and white values of always being compassionate, seeing the best in people and believing in fairytales.

In a world that sometimes feels a bit grey, I’m glad that will never change.

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Working mama drama

‘How are you?’ they ask me.

‘I’ve not seen you for a while.

I hope your little girls okay.’

They offer with a smile.

‘Much better thanks, she’s on the mend.’

‘That’s great. I’ll keep it short.

I know you’re catching up

but have you finished that report?’

Yes, everything’s completed,

I worked til half ten last night.

I may have fell asleep once

but I think it should be right.

I captured all the data

between calpols one and two

and I updated the spreadsheet

after tackling a poo.

I dialled into the conference call

while she had an early nap

and took notes on further actions

with her sprawled across my lap.

Apologies for the late replies

I’m usually much quicker.

She wouldn’t take her medicine

without a Peppa sticker.

I updated the forecasts

and calculated cost

once I’d read her favourite story

of a teddy bear that’s lost.

I saw your instant message

and heard the little beep

but I was muzzying her forehead

so that she could go to sleep.

I didn’t mean to put three kisses

in my e-mail to the team.

I’d missed breakfast, lunch and dinner

and been up since five fifteen.

I know your report was urgent

And I’ve done the best I can

but it took a while longer

as she wanted to hold hands.

I’ve prioritised my workload

and as far as I can tell

the most important item

is my daughter being well.

So thanks for asking after her

and showing your concern.

I’m off to be a mum now

I’ll reply on my return.

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Second Chances

Hello again. Sorry it’s been so long. A lot has happened since my last post and I needed to get my head around it all, otherwise I find it hard to write down. I’m always worried about how what I write will be received. Will it come across as I intended? Will I offend someone? Will you wonder why on earth I felt the need to share all this with you?

We’re the generation who open up every aspect of our lives so readily, intimate family moments, political opinions, baby’s bathtimes, and yet I’m conscious I’m over-sharing. I think it’s because no-one really talks about the deeper stuff. The problems and the grit and the ugly side don’t get posted on your timeline, but that’s what makes us who we really are. It’s what ties us together and makes us human. So here I go again with TMI about my life, which I write for you with love.

When Paige’s dad Paul was Seventeen he was in a car accident which killed two of his best friends. The car crashed into a tree at 80mph and he was thrown head first through the back windshield. One of his friends was killed instantly, and another friend died in the hospital bed next to him a few hours later. Paul spent three weeks in hospital with a fractured skull, a broken leg and severe internal bleeding which resulted in them having to remove his spleen.

When he was twenty six, Paul came home to find his mum had collapsed in the bathroom after suffering a brain aneurysm. Although he tried to revive her it was too late and there was nothing he could do. A few years later, Paul’s dad Vic became seriously ill with emphysema. After a stretch of hospital stays and being cared for by Paul’s sister Leanne, he let go and went to be with their beloved mum Sandy.

Just four months after the loss of their Dad, my former colleague/Paul’s sister Leanne set us up on a blind date. We met outside Covent Garden tube station and went for dinner, and we just clicked. Within a few months of being introduced I found out I was expecting Paige. It didn’t even occur to us to be concerned by the timing. We were surprised but genuinely over the moon that we were having a baby together. Everything seemed to fall into place, the momentum of what needed to be done swept over us and we were carried into furniture shops and Mothercare, on a babymoon, into our new home and finally through the doors of Darenth Valley hospitals Delivery Suite.

We were naive to think that we could live happily ever after. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to normal people, no matter how many Disney films you’ve watched. I knew the facts about what Paul had been through, he’d talked to me about the accident and his mum and dad, but never in any depth. He always seemed so together and matter of fact when he spoke, I didn’t realise how deeply these experiences had affected him. Nor did I think for one minute that our baby would be the trigger for his breakdown.

From the moment Paige came wailing into the world, things started to change. I was thrown into the depths of motherhood, and as many of you know, the waters can be dark and murky at times, full of uncertainty and hard-hitting emotions that threaten to pull you under. And Paul began a battle that neither of us were ready for. One that our relationship didn’t have the strength or maturity to withstand.

The difference in his personality was almost immediate. A steady decline into depression fuelled by anxiety around Paige’s safety. Paul became completely irrational. He couldn’t sleep or work properly because his thoughts were constantly interrupted by fear that he would lose her. He became preoccupied, stressed and distant from me and extremely critical of how I was with Paige. He didn’t want to go anywhere unless she was with us, and he treated me like the enemy because I didn’t react with the same level of concern as he did to every little thing. I felt like a bad mum, and I became more and more hurt by the way he was towards me.

For the first nine months of Paige’s life I watched him sink into depression like quicksand. I tried to pull him out, but he just sank deeper and deeper until I couldn’t hold on anymore. After months of struggling, I had to let go.

I can’t explain the feelings I had after I made that decision, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. At the time I was trying to do what I thought was best for everyone involved. After months of neglect I honestly didn’t think Paul loved me anymore. No matter how many dinners I cooked, how much weight I lost or how well I looked after Paige I just seemed to make him worse. He couldn’t see how he was acting and I wasn’t strong enough to cope with it all, and it broke us.

Life carried on afterwards. I got a job, a place to live, I went shopping, bought Christmas presents and even brushed my hair. I told everyone that I was getting myself back on track and at times I almost believed it myself. But I could never leave the edge of that quicksand. No matter how messy it got between us, something in me would never truly let him go.

After ten months apart, with Paul needing help and refusing to see it, pushing all of his family away, making terrible decisions and causing so much heartache to himself and everyone around him, I’d almost given up hope. I started to accept that the person I fell in love with was gone. It became the norm for him to be irrational, selfish and volatile and it broke my heart because we’d been so happy just months before. But as out of the blue as the dark clouds of depression had closed in, they suddenly started to shift.

It took a good few weeks for me to even notice. Paul seemed calmer, more settled and he started to be kinder to me. I ignored it at first, I’d seen glimpses of this a few times before when he would attempt to get me back, but he could never be consistent. After a few weeks of getting on well, I asked Paul about the difference in his mood, and he told me he’d finally accepted that something was wrong and that he’d been diagnosed and treated for anxiety and depression triggered by post-traumatic stress.

I’ve been studying the surface of the quicksand, and over the last few months I’ve seen the old Paul start to emerge. He hasn’t got the hollow, troubled look in his eyes that he had during the worst of it all. He is more light-hearted and able to talk without escalating things. He’s being silly and laughing at me again. It’s like he’s remembering who he used to be.

One thing that comes out of going through a real shit-storm with someone is how well you get to know them. I’ve seen the darkest sides of him, and he’s seen mine. It’s certainly not been pretty, but it’s led to where we are now. He’s managed to pull himself out of the quicksand enough to reach me, and I love him, so I want to take his hand. I know now without a doubt that what we have is real, it always was, and to me that’s worth a whole-hearted second chance.

Sad Sunday

I’m writing this from my living room floor, sitting in front of an empty plate after consuming four slices of marmite on toast and two cups of tea. It’s made me feel better, but I’m still hungover.

I went out with a friend last night and drank too much. I very rarely drink anymore, and when I do, it’s never with the intention of getting drunk. It’s more just to have a bit of a laugh and be sociable, I always stop when I’ve had enough. Last night I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to forget everything for a while.

I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed the last few weeks. Like most of us, I seem to rush through my days at the speed of light from one obligation to another without having the opportunity to enjoy any of it. I talked about it with my counsellor and she suggested that perhaps I could make less plans some days to give myself room to breathe. It made perfect sense, but at the same time the idea of having time on my hands made me extremely anxious, and I didn’t know why.

Usually on a Sunday when I don’t have Paige I get up early, go to the gym, meet some friends for lunch, do a big shop and pop to see my mum and dad before Paige comes home. I literally go from one thing to the next with no gaps, or ‘dead time’ in between. To put the advice I was given into practise, I planned to be planless for this entire Sunday. I imagined I would sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and maybe laze around and watch some episodes of Catastrophe. I thought I might have a nice bath, and it would be a lovely, rejuvenating day.

But I’m just sitting here, with all this time to think. And I realise how much I miss my baby when she’s not with me. I crave her so badly that I can’t concentrate on anything else. I’ve done my washing up. I’ve opened her curtains where I closed them for her last night, even though she wasn’t here. I’ve folded her blankets and I’ve put her clothes away. I know she’s coming back to me soon, but the fact that she cant be with me and all I want to do is spend my time with her is something I can’t get used to. I don’t know if I ever will.

I feel like it is the harshest punishment, and I did nothing wrong. I’m innocent. I don’t deserve to be punished. I know that every one of you will have felt this way at some point in your lives, because life isn’t always fair, and we have to learn to deal with whatever is thrown our way. So I make plans upon plans upon plans so that I don’t ever have to sit here like this, alone and vulnerable, with an aching heart.

My dream was to spend Sundays as a family. That’s what I wanted, but I can’t have it and I need to accept it. I haven’t really allowed myself enough time to delve into the pain of what I’ve lost, such is the pressure to stitch your wounds up and soldier on. There’s an appropriate timeframe for getting over something, or someone, and once it elapses you have to do the rest of your grieving in private. So to avoid the awkward moments when I feel an overspill of emotion surging forward, I’ve attempted to squash it down by making my life so busy that I dont have any time to feel.

I’m starting to realise, here on my living room rug, that maybe this technique I’ve unknowingly invented isn’t helping me. All I’m doing is running myself into the ground, and to tell you the truth, I’m shattered. I’ve exhausted myself trying to block out how I’m still feeling because surely I should be all better by now? I want to be. I’m doing everything in my power to force myself to be. And one day I’ll get there, I know I will. But today, it still hurts. And I miss my little girl.

I know I wrote about being grateful, and I truly believe it’s the best way to live. To be positive, and realise that we are fortunate to even be alive today. I will bounce back from this lonely living room floor moment and change my mindset, because I don’t want to spend my life dwelling on things I can’t change. But I think that every now and then we need to press pause, and allow ourselves to feel what we feel deep down. You need to be in touch with what’s really going on inside, otherwise you become completely disconnected from yourself. Instead of admitting that my heart is still a bit broken, I’ve become anxious and tearful about every other little thing without knowing why I feel this way.

Yes, it’s now over the allocated timeframe for being sad about something that happened last year. Yes, I should probably be over it by now. Yes, I do know that I have a lot to be thankful for and yes, I know that nobody likes a Debbie Downer. But maybe it’s ok that I’m not all better yet.

Getting drunk, making far too many plans and ignoring myself is never going to get me where I want to be. I need to man up and face my feelings head on, and if that means I have the occasional ‘Sad Sunday’ where I have three sugars in my tea and a bit of a cry in the bath then so be it.

I feel better already 🙂

Love is a Battlefield

It was Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, the day of hearts, flowers and the Big L….Loneliness. I’m kidding! Love people, Love.

We are split into two definitive camps on Valentine’s Day. Those who are in a relationship, and those who aren’t. The occupants of these two camps co-exist fairly peacefully throughout the rest of the year, the singles commenting joyfully on the couples engagement announcements, and the couples liking all the singles gym selfies. It’s ever so pleasant and harmonious and we manage to tick along nicely together.

Then, like an air raid of rose petals, Valentine’s Day hits. All of a sudden, for one 24 hour period only, we are at War. Friends who’ve known each other for years suddenly feel like strangers if they’re based in opposite camps. The usual boundaries of banter are blurred, and all ties are severed. For Valentine’s Day only, we are enemies.

Facebook is flooded with an enslaught from each camp in a vicious turf war. The couples fiercely stamp their mark on the newsfeed early on, tagging their significant other in their cutest kissing photo and displaying newly acquired armour in the form of bracelets and watches. The singles sneak in with killer memes, poking fun at their own single status and slicing through the saccharine with sarcasm.

Some couples refuse to enlist for battle, their profiles devoid of the outpouring of romance expected by their followers. By choosing to keep their celebrations private, they allow smug singles to spread rumours of dissension in the ranks, ‘Did you hear Pat and Mick have split up? Checked their profiles this morning and nothing. Not a sausage. I bet he’s shagging that Maureen from Asda, he’s always liking her photos’. These ‘private’ couples are nothing but a hinderance in the Valentine’s Day stakes, the equivalent of a flat-footed soldier. If you’re not going to even attempt to cobble together an instacollage you may as well split up and join the opposition like the traitors that you are.

Always the underdogs on Valentine’s Day, the singles need each others support more than ever, and yet there are noticeable gaps in the front line. Fearful of being seen as desperate or bitter, some of the newer recruits hold fire with their banter. They stay hunched down in the trenches with their fingers in their ears whilst the rest of the army surge forth, hurling grenades into the love bubble by applying several flattering filters to their ‘Single and Fabulous!’ uploads.

The war rages on and the pressure to keep up the pace takes its toll. Those who started the battle with a bold post of adoration for their partners are never seen again. A true relationship warrior shows stamina, they update diligently throughout the day, incorporating all Social Media platforms in order to cover every angle of attack. Those who post an obligatory one liner of love and then abandon their comrades are looked upon with utter disgust. You may well have a life to lead Graham, but today you need to love your girlfriend, every hour on the hour. We can’t let those sad, lonely bastards get the better of us. Now get back to your post!

Meanwhile, the singles begin to lose focus halfway through the day. Lustful posts about Tom Hardy start to creep into the newsfeed and distract them from the job in hand, which is to convince everyone how over the moon they are to be single.

‘Love love love being single!!! No presents to buy, no need to shave my legs, no prancing about in underwear he bought me which is itchy and too tight! Hallelujah!’

The singles fight hard to reinforce this propaganda, but their grip on the newsfeed is threatened by the lure of Christian Grey. Their heads are turned, and the struggle to stick to their guns and concentrate is almost impossTom Hardy.

The bloodbath continues, and the walking wounded stagger unsteadily into the fray. Confused and shellshocked, their contribution does more harm than good. Singles indulge in too many Spritzers and let their guard down, posting Bridget Jones style snapchats singing Sinead O’Connor through a mist of tears. Couples thank their partners through gritted teeth for one wilted rose from an Esso garage and a bag of chocolate coins left over from Christmas. It’s clear that both sides are running out of steam.

Darkness closes in and the battle is almost over. The couples defenses are fully depleted, their posts have dried up and their appetite for warfare has been satiated by Prosecco, Ferroro Rocher and Candy Bras. Completely spent after a full day of publicly loving each other (ahem), they have nothing left to give. Without a peep from the singles for some time, they wearily retreat.

As the couples head back to their trenches hand in hand for Indian takeaways and candlelit baths, the singles lie patiently in wait. With no dinner plans, nothing on the telly and not much in the fridge, they bide their time. And just as the dust is about to settle, they charge heartily onto the battleground once more. In an almighty explosion of memes, snapchats, comments, quotes, stories, tweets and videos, the singles late night ambush secures their hold over the internet. The couples can do no more than look on in awe as the bombs go off around them. As they snuggle in matching onesies, they are grateful for the fireworks provided.

As the clock struck midnight, the conflict finally came to an end and order has since been restored. Friends have reunited, wounds have healed and soldiers from both camps play football together on the battleground, where one day soon, roses will grow.

Until next year…

Gratitude

There was a time not too long ago when I’d spend hours in the bath every night once I’d put Paige to bed. I’ve always done two things when I’m overwhelmed, one is sleep, the other is get in the bath. I think it’s because it’s the only place where no-one can ask anything of me, and I have a chance to think. I would watch countless self help videos, searching for ways to cope with the loss I felt when my relationship ended.

Looking back on the last year, I’ve realised I spent most of it in a daze. I don’t think I functioned properly for months. I watched some old videos I took of Paige and saw such a difference in myself, a clear before and after version of me. In the videos before, I noticed how carefree I sound, being silly with Paige and exclaiming loudly at the smallest achievements. She was always giggling and babbling away, she was such a happy baby.

I tried so hard to fake it afterwards. I went through the motions like I was dragging myself through quick sand. I tried to smile for her, to embrace the moments that made my heart beat, but it was so hard. I continued to take videos, and when I watch them now it feels raw. I can see the anxiety in my face, I seem distracted and over protective of her. I’d get through the day on auto-pilot, struggling not to break down in front of my baby. Sometimes I didn’t manage, and she would see me cry. I was letting her down, and that pain was worse than the heartbreak itself.

I just wanted to be the good mum I’d always been and I knew that I was failing. So every night I would give her a bottle, rock her and put her down to sleep. Then I’d spend the rest of the night searching for ways to fix my head and my heart, steps to take to help myself so I wouldn’t be broken anymore.

It’s been such a slow process. I’ve been frustrated with myself at times for not having more will power, or for letting things get to me when I shouldn’t. But I persevered, and recently I’ve started to feel like my old self again, which is what I’ve been striving for. And then there are these rare, sparkly moments where I feel like my old self, but better. This is so new that I hardly dare talk about it in case it goes away, or I lose it somehow, but every now and then I get a glimpse of who I am becoming.

This version of me is a brand new and improved model. I’m still very emotional, my heart feels too big for my body and is easily impacted by the world around me, but I’m strong. I’ve never felt strong before in my life. The new, shiny me appreciates everything that she has been given. She worries less about the future, and has moved away from what happened in the past. She lives in the moment, and because of that, she is free.

It may not seem like much, but it’s such a huge step in the right direction that I can’t help but feel proud. I had been treading water for so long, but I’ve found that being grateful every day has kept us afloat. Instead of dwelling on things that seem unfair, or focussing on the challenges I’m faced with, I try to acknowledge all the positives around me. I’ve realised how much there is for me to be thankful for. From the big things, such as my family for every reason you can possibly imagine, to the small, like having time on my commute to sit down, close my eyes and listen to Ed.

I write them down, these things I’m grateful for, just a few every day, and I can see how blessed I am. Life can be tough at times and every single one of us has a story. Concentrating on the areas of my life where I’m so incredibly fortunate has helped me to be more at peace with mine. I couldn’t stand being riddled with anxiety, so to feel calm again, even when things are as stressful as ever, has been life changing. Not only for  me, but for my little girl.

I’ve been taken aside a few times since Paige started nursery 7 months ago. They were concerned that she wouldn’t participate, she played alone and was easily upset by those around her. I know deep down that my stress affected her. I still feel indescribable guilt because of it. But the last few weeks they’ve noticed a change in her. They told me they’ve never heard her laugh so much. She’s gaining confidence and is starting to interact more with the other children. She has started to talk more, and she dances. I love that she dances.

Hearing how she is blossoming has made me realise the connection we have to each other. The change in her seems to have coincided with me finally managing to move forward and stop letting the bad stuff crowd my brain and bring me down. Maybe it’s coincidence, but if I’ve had even a tiny part to play in Paige’s happiness, I’ll work on myself forever to bring her more.

For every storm you face, I know that being grateful can help you gain some perspective, as it has done for me. It will wrap a silver lining around the clouds that you are under, until the day finally comes when the clouds disperse, and you can see the sun.

On the Catwalk

A few years ago I was asked to be a model in a fashion show held at the Sugar Hut in Brentwood (shu’up!). When I got the message from Lindsey, the lovely organiser of the event, I wondered if she’d meant for me to ask my 5 foot 9 sister who has twice been scouted by modelling agencies, so beautiful and symmetrical is she. But no, apparently Lindsey did mean me (in your face Claire) and I was super chuffed.

The only tiny hiccup was the fact that I wasn’t sure Lindsey knew about my quaver spine. She probably assumed a petite pole dancer would be fairly easy to dress, which as I’ve mentioned before is not the case. Positive head on, I decided I’d keep that little secret to myself and seized the opportunity, as I’ve always been obsessed with Americas Next Top Model and I was pretty sure this was the closest I was ever going to get.

Rehearsal day dawned and I made my way to the Sugar Hut to meet Lindsey and the other models. At 5 foot 2 I’m often the shortest adult in the room, but this was like wandering into some kind of sexy, contoured giraffe enclosure. I consoled myself by remembering that this must be how Kate Moss has felt for most of her life, got into the queue of beauties and awaited further instructions.

Any hard core fan of ANTM can easily recite Miss J’s golden rules of runway, and I’m no exception. I’d laid out dressing gown ties on the floor at home to create a makeshift catwalk and practised everything I knew, smising and popping my hips, neck long, arms loose, I worked my mums front room carpet like a 9 to 5. So when Lindsey asked us to take turns walking the catwalk, mama was ready.

The only trouble was we had to walk to music, and it was rather fast. When it came to my turn, I tried to strut like the prize pony I know I can be, but I found myself struggling to keep up with the pace because my legs were too short and I had to rush to keep the spacing. I was worried Lindsey would tell me to immediately return to my apartment here in Brentwood, pack my belongings and leave. Thankfully she didn’t, and I got to stay and try on all the clothes. Yay! Or so I thought…

One of the designers had a collection of gorgeous, hand-sewn bikinis encrusted with jewels (natch), and I was asked to try on one of the bikini tops. Bugger. I’d been able to hide my wonkiness up until this point, but the jig was now definitely up. I didn’t want to be a pain, so with a sweaty upper lip, I went and got changed. I came out and clocked myself in the mirror, I was bright red and stiff as a board. I felt absolutely mortified that my entire ‘problem area’ was on show.

I stood in front of everyone frozen, more of a mannequin than a model (before it was cool). The designers flocked over to me and, seemingly oblivious to my discomfort, started to decorate me like a christmas tree. A handbag was looped over my elbow, someone hung a really long, beaded necklace around my neck, I had a sarong draped loosely round my hips and, last but not least, an enormous feather headdress was placed on my head, like the cherry on top of a bemused, half naked cake.

In films, this is when the girl is made to look silly, but somehow still manages to pull it off. This didn’t happen to me. I looked and felt like an idiot. I didn’t even say anything, I just stood there and let it happen. Like when you dress a baby up purely for your own entertainment and they just lay there helpless, with an oven glove on their head. All the other girls were watching and I tried to smile and be professional but I just wanted to take it all off and put my jumper back on.

Once the crowd had disbursed I went to find Lindsey to ask if she actually wanted me to wear this creation. Praise sweet baby Jesus, she told me I only had to wear what I felt comfortable in. I was so relieved, but it made me massively worried about what I’d be asked to wear on the day.

I went home that night feeling deflated. I’d been so excited to be in the show, but I was unbelievably self-conscious about my body. I left there feeling like none of the clothes looked good on me, and no-one would want me to model for them. I felt like the joke after I’d been loaded up like a glitzy buckaroo, and I actually started to wish I hadn’t said yes in the first place.

Still, I invited my family and some friends to come for moral support, and by the time the event came around I had bounced back from the rehearsal and was full of beans again. You just can’t keep a good show pony down.

I was surprised to be given 4 outfits to wear that day. One of which was a backless evening gown. This delicious garment had been tried on by most of the girls, and I’d been one of the last to attempt to walk in it. Even though I knew it was too long for me and my back would be showing, it was so gorgeous I couldn’t resist. I didn’t for a minute expect to wear it on the day, I was genuinely shocked to see my name on the hanger. I had a flicker of doubt when I considered my scars being out, but then I thought sod it, I’m going for it.

I later found out the designer had chosen me because of how I’d bounced down the catwalk in rehearsal, beaming and giving it everything I’ve got. I was also asked to open and close the show which I was thrilled to do. It goes to show that people’s perception of you isn’t always what you expect. I was so focussed on all my ‘negatives’, I struggled to understand how anyone would see past them.

Life is full of little lessons, and this is one that I’ve come back to many times. Take the chance to do things that make you happy, even if you doubt yourself. There will always be reasons why you shouldn’t, but you can’t let anything hold you back. When you have an opportunity to walk a new exciting path in life, you better werk.

Congratulations. You’re still in the running towards becoming Americas Next Top Model.

Undateables on the Beach

I’m a fan of reality TV. Not a huge fan mind, I don’t watch it religiously (in a nuns outfit) but there are a couple of shows I like to watch with my evening tea and custard creams.

Two of my favourites are MTV’s Ex On the Beach (EOTB) and Undateables. For those of you intellectual types who are above it all and would never stoop any lower than Made In Chelsea, here is a quick synopsis:

Undateables follows a handful of people looking for love. They’re matched by a dating agency and you watch their dates and relationships unfold. The show is unique because the daters have challenging conditions, such as Tourettes, Down Syndrome or Autism, which makes it difficult for them to meet people, and Undateables helps them out.

EOTB is comprised of a load of young, beautiful people, housed together somewhere idyllic and given copious amounts of alcohol so they can have a frolicsome time. The twist is that at any given moment, a dreaded Ex of one of the beautiful people will traipse out of the sea in an elaborate swimsuit and spoil all the frolicking.

In EOTB the reason they choose to hook up with someone appears to be based on one of two things; either they think that person is a ‘weapon’ or they’re using them to make someone else jealous. You can tell that there is no real connection between any of them. It feels completely hollow, like getting a compliment from someone when they aren’t looking at you. A compliment like ‘I’d like to massage your passage with my sausage’. They seem happy enough though, merrily flitting from one person to the next and selecting their prey based on who is showing the most bum cheek that day.

In complete contrast, the Undateables are looking for true love. Their goal is to meet someone they can share their lives with, someone they can give all their love to and feel loved in return. It doesn’t always work out for them, their mutual awkwardness can prevent romance from blossoming (especially because they spend 90% of their dates thinking of something to say which is a bit of a mood killer), but you can tell that they work really hard to find commonalities between them that they can build on. Once they’ve established a bond and they decide they like each other, you should see them go. They are like loved up little rockets, soaring at warp speed towards the future they’ve always dreamed of.

I adore the simplicity of it. The purity and innocence that we never get to witness anymore. In a world of snapchat filters and tinder, the Undateables takes me back to an era when people wrote love poems, held hands and took their time getting to know one another. If they don’t click, they move on without bitterness or resentment, and if they do, they fall for each other fearlessly, without a dick pic in sight.

In EOTB one of the girls ex boyfriends took another girl on a date. The girl left behind was not best pleased, but she announced with total confidence that the other girl was ‘rank’ and therefore wouldn’t stand a chance. You could see in her eyes that she wasn’t threatened. They live in a world where they believe with absolute certainty that being prettier is all that matters. You could be the loveliest person on the planet but if you had bad teeth or cellulite you’d be straight in the reject bin. It makes me wonder if the old saying ‘It’s what’s inside that counts’ is no longer doing the rounds. Maybe there’s no hashtag for it.

In the world of the Undateables, you are accepted in whatever form you come in. You may be called a ‘c*nt’ during an accidental tick, but no-one would look around to see who’d heard it. They see each other for who they are, and it feels fairer to me, because that’s the way we should be reviewed when we are looking to make a connection. Anybody can dress up, fake tan, clip in some extensions and present a pretty version of themselves, but when it comes down to it, once the cameras are switched off and the lighting fades, what’s left? Fab eyebrows won’t keep you warm at night. The Undateables know this.

As much as it’s less glossy, and the way they go about things may seem outdated, I feel like the Undateables have got it figured out. Most areas of our lives are improved by the continuous ramp up in technology, but romance isn’t one of them, in fact it’s completely killing it. And for an old romantic like me, the Undateables serve as a much needed reminder that romance might be dying, but it’s not dead yet.

Things I don’t do

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Like millions of women before me, I somehow managed to create a delectable little human in my belly, and after nine months of careful cooking, she sprang rather painfully into my life.

I’ve always been fascinated by the miracle of a baby being conceived. The tiny heart taking its first ever beat, the formation of cells which we have very little control over. It just happens within us, and all we can do is marvel at the unlikelihood of it all.

With something so precious and delicate unfolding in my stomach, I was slightly nervous about how well equipped I was for motherhood. Paige was the product of a whirlwind romance, adored from the moment we knew she was making her way into the world. She was the best surprise I’ve ever had.

I took my pregnancy one step at a time (the hormones had an amazing calming effect on my mind, which I’m glad to say has never fully left me. Or perhaps my heart has never relinquished the joy my baby has brought me). I cried as I wrote that. Anyone else cry because you literally cannot cope with the love you feel for your babies? I know I’m not alone, it’s a beautiful thing.

As I was saying before I got totes emosh, I decided to start by doing the best I could to grow a healthy human.

This part of ‘parenting’ is definitely the easy bit by way of being ‘textbook’ or following the rules. You pretty much get told the do’s and dont’s, they apply to everyone and thou shalt not deviate. So I took my Pregnacare, didn’t drink alcohol, avoided hot baths, reduced my intake of shark and rested when I needed to.

I’ll talk more about my pregnancy and birth in another blog, and give you the lowdown on how my Scoliosis became a challenge that I had to fight to overcome. And overcome it I did, because on September 11th 2015 at 1.18pm my daughter Paige came naturally and perfectly into the world. And this is where things started to get complicated.

My daughter is an ‘orchid’ so I’m told, which means she is very sensitive. I spent the first six months of her life protecting her little ears from dogs barking, people sneezing and phones ringing, so ferocious were the meltdowns that would ensue. When she showed signs of wanting to walk, I considered putting lead weights in her nappy. It was a trying time. ‘Oops! All fall down!’, cue fifteen minutes of silent, open-mouthed, no inhalation type crying.

So, I devised a cunning plan to avoid having to watch her suffer, which was to follow her everywhere and not let her fall. I have been known to abruptly leave a conversation, dive across the table and hurl myself into a ball pit at the merest hint of a wobble. She is a confident walker now, so I have been able to stop taking the Valium. But to this day, I still don’t let her fall if I can help it. I just can’t do it captain!

The next thing I don’t do is heed the boy scout mantra ‘always be prepared’. I am not the mum whose nappy bag you can merrily delve into, helping yourself to snacks and wipes, safe in the knowledge that there’ll be plenty more where that came from. If you take Paige’s snack, she will starve. I’m afraid I did not anticipate the needs of your child, I would have thought you’d have that covered.

Another thing I don’t do is track what some mums feel is crucial information about my daughter. I am unable to tell you how much she weighs, how many teeth she has, where that bruise came from and when she last poohed. It doesn’t mean I love her any less than someone who can tell you the exact timing of their babies last fart, it just isn’t top of my list of priorities.

Now, this is going to sound bad, but I’m putting it out there. I don’t read to her.

I tried, I really did! The little blighter has no interest in whether or not it’s her kitten. She is only content if she is allowed to turn the pages at lightening speed, ripping flaps off of pop up books, and telling me every animal is a duck. So instead of reading the book, we point out the animals, and I try to teach her their names and the sound they make. Until she invariably wriggles from my grasp to go and feed one of her dollies.

The final item on todays list of things I don’t do, is give her structured TV exposure. Apparently, some mums have a schedule for television watching, and their babies have a specific amount of viewing time, usually of a programme designed to make their brains bigger. Paige and I are out all the time visiting friends and having adventures, we are very rarely at home, but when we are I like to use the TV as bribery.

She calls Baby TV ‘BeeTee’ and often this is the only way I can get her to sit and take her asthma pumps/have her nappy changed/put her coat on/eat her bloody dinner. We don’t limit it to BeeTee though, oh no, she also enjoys the music on Countdown, gets excited by the audience on the Ellen show, and looks at me in a very unsettled way when I pop and lock to the music channels. Is it wrong? Who knows. But it’s how we roll.

In the interest of giving an even perspective, I’d like to leave you with something I actually do! Something I’ve always done which has never steered me wrong.

I listen to her.

She told me when she was just a few days old that she loved to hear me sing. It would settle her and send her into a trance long enough for me to do my hair and make up from start to finish. She told me after she had been ill and would only eat satsumas that she didn’t like them anymore. She told me she loves cats, so we visit our friends with animals as often as we can. She told me she wants her feet out on car journeys so she can tickle her toes with her muzzy.

She told me I am doing a good job, even though I went my own way and make it up as I go along. And for all the things I don’t do, I know that what I do is give her everything I know how to, in a constant effort to make sure that she feels my love.

The Shape Of You

Ahhh, Ed Sheeran. He melts my heart with his beautiful lyrics and lush melodies. The fact that he reminds me of my brother makes me love him even more. I heard his two long-awaited new songs for the first time this week and immediately fell head over heels, as I do with all of his music.

His new release ‘Shape Of You’ is a catchy little number. One of the lyrics repeated in the song is ‘I’m in love with the shape of you’, and I found myself wondering, could you love a zigzag Ed? Because that’s what shape I am.

If you google ‘female body types’ you’ll find several standard descriptions, such as ‘apple’, ‘hourglass’ or ‘pear’. There are literally hundreds of sites advising which styles to avoid, the outfits that will flatter you most, and which items you need to remove from your wardrobe and burn.

These sites cover do’s and dont’s for conventional body types, but they haven’t quite ventured into the tricky realms of dressing a physical deformity. So, helpful as Helpy Helperton, the worlds most helpful Norwegian, I decided to do a spot of research on t’internet to locate some fashion guidelines for the zigzag body shape.

Here are some of the golden nuggets that I unearthed on a website for scoliosis patients:

Dress comfortably

Now, any self-respecting female knows that this is terrible advice. If you go out for dinner in a dress that you cannot eat in, and also makes you struggle for breath, the chances are you look fabulous. Most zigzags spend our teenage years strapped into some kind of back brace, or encased in a plaster cast prison. We laugh in the face of a binding frock. Dressing comfortably is for pansies.

Avoid heels

If I was sceptical before, I’m now positively perturbed. They want us in baggy clothes AND flats? What’s next, a make up ban?

I can feel a bit frumpy at the best of times with my thick waist and short torso. Lengthening my legs with some killer heels is the only fun I get. I don’t know much about fashion, but I do know that a life in flats will make you vair vair sad. Put some nice heels on and cheer yourself up.

Pair a tunic with leggings

Well…I don’t even know where to start with this. A tunic? Aren’t they from the olden days? The website states that ‘a long, loose tunic over stretchy pants provides the ultimate comfort for scoliosis patients.’ This may be true, but never has a sentence been less glamourous. Must the tunic be long and loose? I can give it a try but I’m pretty sure I’ll look like a sack of potatoes.

Accessorise

Now we’re talking! I can definitely get excited about accessorising. Maybe they’ve suggested a lovely big pair of hoops to draw attention to your face. Or a chunky necklace that really brings out your cleavage.

Alas, no. They’ve let us down again. Apparently ‘carrying a large bag can help balance out your hips, and a scarf can assist with masking uneven shoulders.’ So now I need to carry a bloody great big bag around with me? The only large bag I have in the house is a bag for life, so that’ll have to do.

As for the scarf, I generally only wear them outside, in winter, like the rest of the population. If I’m going to disguise my wonky shoulders I’ll need to adapt to wearing a scarf indoors, which will be a bit inconvenient, but then I’ll save on my heating bill, so swings and roundabouts.

Layering

They start out well here. Jackets and blazers are mentioned which is a fashion tip I think works well for the zigzag body type. Unfortunately, they let themselves down immediately after with the baffling suggestion, ‘For hot days, try a lightweight vest over a tank top.’

I’m sorry, is this 1970? I’m genuinely perplexed, not only by the mention of a tank top, but that a vest should go over it. How would that work exactly? I’m pretty sure my family would consider this some kind of retro cry for help and put me in a home.

It would appear that relatable fashion tips for my body shape are few and far between. I’m sure they mean well, but it actually made me sad that some of the advice given to people with scoliosis is to ‘disguise’ or ‘mask’ our bodies, as if we should be ashamed of them. There are young people out there who are vulnerable and already feel like they don’t fit in. Telling them to hide themselves is the last thing we should be doing. You’re all perfect to me my little zigzags, don’t you dare be ashamed. Embrace the way you look and wear whatever makes you happy.

In your honour, I’ve decided to take all the flat shoes, baggy clothes, tunics and tank tops I can lay my hands on and have myself a nice, unfashionable bonfire. And I’m going to dance around it for you (in heels).