Another New Year, Another New Me?

I know there are a lot of New Year cynics out there who like to belittle the idea of making resolutions for change, and believe you shouldn’t wait for the turn of the new year to make changes that are important to you, and in part I agree. But there’s something about approaching the end of a new year that makes you reflective, and I find myself thinking over the past 12 months and how the coming year might be different.

Every day spent on this Earth is an opportunity for growth. Things happen every minute of every day – some small enough to go unnoticed if you’re not paying attention, some big enough to change you or your life forever. Much of life is made up of the many moments somewhere in the middle; those straight bits of track on the rollercoaster that leave you guessing whether there is a rise or a fall at the end of it. And so it stands to reason that each of us will have changed in some way over the last year. Some things will have made us stronger, happier, more content or appreciative of the life we have, some will have made us question our existence.  Some things might have caused a fissure in our hearts that might make us a little more sad than we were before, and some will have broken our spirit, deeply hurt our souls, or left us alone or without loved ones. Some of us might have experienced all of those things and will be a different person to the one that started out this year.  If you believe you haven’t changed at all, then know that if nothing else, you are another year older. You have survived another year in this wonderful, confusing thing called life,  and are a step closer to the time you will say goodbye to it or someone in it. Time slips through our fingers like sand in a timer, except we have no idea how long our sand will last. So as much as I think it must be lovely to go through life without over-thinking the journey or the destination, I actually like to take the opportunity to consider what I have learned, and how I might allow that wisdom to change how I might live in the next year.  

I’m not talking about the usual stuff like stopping drinking, going on a fad diet, or pledging to join a gym (although I’d be lying if I said that choosing a healthier, fitter lifestyle wasn’t on the list somewhere). No, I’m talking about reflecting on the things that prevented me from being the person that I wanted to be, the things that happened that I had no control over, and considering how I might handle those challenges should they face me again in the year ahead.  

2018 has been a strange year for me. Strange because although I know that I had lots of good experiences and special times, one event had such a negative impact on me that it has overshadowed much of the joy of the last year. If you were to ask me what the most memorable moment of 2018 was for me, it wouldn’t be the lovely week we spent at Centerparcs with our family, or the look on my children’s faces when they arrived in Disneyland Paris. It wouldn’t be the people I’ve met ‘virtually’ and helped from afar to deal with things I’ve been through, and it wouldn’t be my eldest daughter’s face when we told her we had tickets to see her favourite band, or finally getting somewhere in understanding our son and his challenges.  It wouldn’t be the angiogram that our youngest daughter went through in the Spring and the day we heard her heart was looking good after three years of worry.  That said, I must admit to a smile as I write these things, because I had almost forgotten some of them. No, the thing I will remember 2018 for, the thing that has sadly defined the last year for me, is the end of my 20-year career with the company that I had basically grown up working for.

Redundant is an awful word. For me it says surplus to requirements, unwanted, unneeded, worthless. The dictionary definition includes words like unnecessary, superfluous, needless, dispensable, disposable.  Perhaps if my personal circumstances were different, I might have seen it as an unexpected opportunity, and I guess in some respects it may be, but what it did was shake the foundations upon which my life was built, and with me being restricted to working around my children and their not insignificant challenges, I am in a state of uncertain, unpredictable limbo as I try to work out who I am or what I will do next, because I’ve never known anything else. At 43 I know that I am unlikely to give as many years to another company again, and that makes me feel sad; that one of my proudest achievements is over and will never be replicated.  

But, I cannot control or change what has already passed, all I can do is to work out how to take control of my future. I’m not sure how to do it yet. My self worth, confidence, pride have all been diminished by the experience, and whilst I may not know exactly how to set about rebuilding those things right now, what I do know is that I resolve to rebuild them. I cannot allow it to step across the threshold of a new year and take any more from me. 

A wise friend recently said, “The redundancy has knocked you, but I think you have an amazing opportunity…Find something to engage your mind, and see where it leads you…procrastinate…try things out…dip your toe”

And those words got me thinking about the year ahead.  I guess you could call it a New Year’s Resolution – it’s a decision to take the lessons of the last year and use them to reshape me into the person I want to be going forward.  In 2019, my goal is to remind myself that thoughts are not facts, and my circumstances are not who I am.  I know I don’t have to have it all worked out today though, I just need to know what my goals are for the year ahead.  I have a few things I would like to achieve, but I’m keeping those just for me at the moment, so for now I will just say that what I am hoping to leave 2019 with is clarity, purpose and peace.

Happy New Year!

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Goodbye 2015

My New Year post is a little behind schedule this year, but it has been a busy couple of weeks, with a trip to London, Christmas, a wedding and New Year crammed into a short space of time.  And not only that, but 2015 was a pretty damned big year for me; one that required appropriate reflection.

Towards the end of 2014 I had begun to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time, if ever before.  I had battled for the latter half of the year with a lot of negative thoughts and feelings towards an unplanned pregnancy that was going to ruin my fun, my career, my life.  But just before Christmas of that year, I had reunited with some old school friends who, coupled with some professional counselling, helped me to reach an understanding with my past, appreciate my present, and look forward to the future.  My life wasn’t over, it had just been thrown a pretty big curveball, and it was something we could learn to live with, perhaps even to enjoy.  Before my catharsis, I had believed myself an unlucky person.  Of course I realise now that it wasn’t really the truth, and that my old friend ‘Ant’ was dominant at the time and had stolen every ounce of reality I had.  She was determined to make me wallow in the darkness of this life that I hadn’t counted on, but I broke her spirit and ended 2014 triumphant.

On the 29th December 2014 I posted a blog titled ‘Metamorphosis’, which was the first blog that I publicly shared on Social Media, no longer concerned about hiding behind the mask of ‘Bluemama’;

“…2015 is a year of new beginnings for me in more ways than one.  It is the year my family will be complete, and the year that I will allow myself to feel truly complete.  No longer half a person living half a life, missing perfect moments whilst over-analysing the past.  These past few months have shown me a glimpse of the joy that can be felt through living this precious life in the present…”

I believed every word, but I wasn’t ‘cured’. Lord knows how many of my 40 years had been dedicated to the creation of a negative force in my mind that forced me into catastrophic thinking and general negheadedness (that’s my word).  Yes I felt more positive about my future, and I had come to terms with the massive change that was about to happen in my life, but I was troubled by worries about the birth, worries that were more exaggerated than the ‘normal’ pregnancy and birth concerns.  I was convinced that my baby would die, and when I was diagnosed Group B Strep positive during the latter weeks of the pregnancy, I believed I had found the killer.

I worked pretty much up to the wire, in a full time job that had only recently been created and I had a lot to do before I could walk away with comfort.  I had a team to recruit, as well as my replacement, and I had big projects that needed to be finished in my absence.  Needless to say I didn’t get much time to ‘wind down’ and as I was booked in to be induced on the due date because of maternal age, I didn’t get much of a chance to prepare for the next stage either.  My maternity leave commenced on the 5th April 2015.  I was induced on the 8th April.  And Freya Ellis Belle McBride was born happy and healthy on the 10th April.  I will never forget the joy that I felt when she finally entered this world, and stole her place in my heart.  To me her arrival was like a shining beacon in the darkness, telling me how silly I had been to fear the worst, and how many hours I had wasted on negativity and unfounded worry.  She was here, she was beautiful, and she was my reason to be positive about the future.

“…She was brought into my life to teach me some lessons, but most of all she was sent to me to show me that you really can dare to dream…” (Welcome to the World, 15th April 2015, Bluemama)

“…One of the first lessons I have learned is to embrace the gifts we are given and to dare to dream that sometimes good things do actually happen…” (No time for blogging, 20th April 2015, Bluemama)

“…Every now and again a tiny little voice starts to whisper concerns about something happening to my precious little girl, but I have some allies up there in that mind of mine swatting those thoughts away like pesky midges.  I think right now the worst that could happen…is that I could kill her with love…” (Obsession, 23rd April 2015, Bluemama)

On May 7th, I wrote a tiny blog titled ‘Cleansing the soul’.  I truly felt that the birth of Freya had healed a troubled heart and mind, and that I might look forward to a life of hope and dreams, no longer thinking the worst.  On May 20th I blogged again, sharing a poem that I had written for my son named ‘True Love’ which summed up the strength of the feelings that I had for Freya as well as it had for him.  It would be the last blog I would write for a while, and 11 days later hell opened its doors to us and stole my perfect, normal, happy life away from me.

The 31st May 2015 was when Freya’s Story ‘began’.  I shared my first blog about those missing weeks on the 19th July.  You can find those blogs if you wish to be acquainted with the full account of what took place between the 31st May and the 19th July.  For the sake of brevity here, understand that on the 31st May, at just 7 weeks old, Freya became seriously ill and was admitted to our local hospital Children’s Ward where, after going into septic shock she was treated with suspected bacterial meningitis.  After 8 days of watching our baby get more and more sick, she was transferred to a nearby specialist Children’s Hospital where after days of various tests, including MRI scans and a bone marrow aspiration under general anaesthetic, and requiring a blood transfusion, Freya was finally diagnosed with Atypical Kawasaki Disease.  On the 12th June 2015 we were told that our daughter’s heart was broken, and on the 12th June 2015 my heart broke too.

Freya recovered from the illness and was finally discharged, with a requirement to return for frequent follow up with Cardiology, Rheumatology and Gastroenterology (due to the widespread effects of Kawasaki Disease on a child’s body, a number of medical disciplines are involved).  Her heart quickly showed signs of improvement, although improvement has reached a standstill for the time-being, and we await her next cardiology follow up in the coming weeks, where we can hope for further improvement, but expect no change.  She continues to take a daily dose of aspirin to prevent her blood from clotting within the dilated arteries; medication she is likely to require for the rest of her life.

There has been a lot to be thankful for since the horror of the Summer.  Freya is a remarkable little girl.  She complains about very little, cutting teeth without so much as a whimper.  She is happy and content, inquisitive and cheeky all in one.  She is just like any other baby on the outside, and whilst we know that she has a broken heart on the inside, you wouldn’t know it and it has (so far) had no impact on her little life.  I started ‘Freya’s Story’ as part of my blog and set up a page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/freyasstory) so that I could raise awareness, share information and Freya’s progress, as well as supporting other parents who might be going through the same thing with their child.  Ok, so it hardly went viral, but I have just under 700 followers, and that is 700 more people than might have previously heard of Kawasaki Disease, and the feedback I have received from parents all over the world has been humbling.

This year has taught me many things.  I gave Freya life, and she taught me the meaning of it.  My belief system has been annihilated and I fear death around every corner.  Kawasaki Disease showed up and slapped me right round my smug new mummy face.  Of course I knew that none of us is bullet-proof, but the realisation of just how precious this life is was one that has been hard to come to terms with.  You always think this kind of stuff happens to other people, don’t you.  Every day in this life is bitter-sweet.  Joy is guarded by sorrow, love over-shadowed by fear. You know those moments when you think about the future, small insignificant things that pop into your mind every now and again, like “I wonder whether her hair will be straight or curly..?”, or “I can’t wait to see her running around…” Imagine if every time you looked to the future you had something digging you in the ribs to remind you that you don’t know what that future holds, warning you not to become too complacent or to tempt fate.  That is what this life is like.  I don’t know what is around the corner for Freya, and no matter how hard I try to be positive and weigh up the probability of anything going wrong at all, the sun is never quite strong enough to break through the little cloud of sorrow that lingers.  But maybe that cloud is a good thing?  A reminder not to take anything for granted. None of us is promised a tomorrow, so if there’s something we want to say or do, we should do it now – you will only ever regret those things you don’t do.

Needless to say, this Christmas was an important one for us as a family, perhaps me more than the rest of us.  Freya’s first Christmas was one way of making wonderful memories that would absolutely ensure that 2015 was ended on a positive note.  And New Year’s Eve was my opportunity to stick two fingers up at Kawasaki Disease, turn my back on 2015 and take a step into a new year and a new chapter in our lives.

I have learned who really matters to me through this last year, and I will make sure that I continue to appreciate those people for years to come.  I have met people that I would never have come across had it not been for Freya’s illness, and have opened my heart to strangers who have quite literally saved my life (you know who you are, Kawasister).  I have won some small battles with medical professionals, and secured some contacts that resulted in a Virgin Fundraising link being set up to gather funds for Kawasaki Disease research through the links between Imperial College London and Rady’s Children’s Hospital, California.  I have many ideas and hopes for 2016, centred around giving back and turning the experiences of last year into something good, but I am not going to share those until they are more concrete and I can ensure that I will not dismiss the ideas on a whim; I don’t want to disappoint anyone by making promises I may not keep, most of all I don’t want to disappoint myself.

…….

Freya just woke up, she is still awake.  This is an unusual situation for us as she is usually fast asleep by 6pm and we don’t hear a peep from her until the morning.  Holding her in my arms just a moment ago reinforced for me the feeling of living in this moment.  I couldn’t feel angry or annoyed at her for waking, I don’t think I could feel angry or annoyed at her for anything!  I hope that one day I can tell her that I love her without tears being hot on the heels of those three little words.  And I hope that I never forget that whilst tomorrow might be stolen from any one of us, nothing can take away yesterday, or this moment.  

…….

My hopes for 2016 are that we get closure on some of the outstanding issues with Freya’s health.  I would like to obtain clarity around the issue of routine immunisations, and hopefully get caught up with those that she missed (all of them!).  I would specifically like to protect Freya from chicken pox so that I might be less concerned about her mixing with other children socially.  I do so wish to see her interact with her peers like a normal baby should.

I want to exorcise the Kawademons that still haunt me with flashbacks and intrusive memories, and eagerly await the start of treatment for that in the coming months.

I want to fulfil my promise to donate blood to give back for the blood and blood products that Freya received, ultimately saving her life.  And I want to give back in other ways too, but I’m going to keep quiet about those for a little while 😉

I want to continue to make memories with those special people in my life. I would particularly like to be able to take a family holiday this year, as we weren’t able to go last year, and the immunisation issue has prevented us from flying.  I want normal for me and my family.

This year has to be better than the last.  It has to be.  I mean, 2015 wasn’t all bad; it brought us Freya.  But let’s face it, it was shitter than shit for the most part.  Let life throw at us what it will, I no longer heed that threatening cloud. It can hover above my head and threaten rain wherever it chooses, but I am no fair-weather girl, and a bit of rain never stopped me from smiling.  What’s that saying I keep seeing on Facebook? “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”   

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