Sink or Swim

You will know by now that I love an extended metaphor.  And I love water imagery.  So when a friend helped me to come up with this idea a few weeks ago it really resonated.  I have been using it every day, and it is helping.  So I thought I would share.

The phrase “sink or swim” suggests that those are the only two options we have in life, and we all know what they both feel like.  Sinking, or drowning as I think of it, is the times when it has all gone to shit.  The black dog of depression is upon me.  Or my anxiety is out of control.  Or I’m having a panic attack.  I feel like I’m drowning.  And you will know what drowning feels like for you.

Swimming is the other end of that scale.  These are the times when we are making progress.  So for me that is winning a new client, having a parenting breakthrough, doing billable hours, figuring out a new issue in therapy, clearing crap out of my house….. Again, it will look different for all of us.  But we know when we’re swimming. When we’re moving forward, making progress, feeling good.

The majority of life, though, doesn’t involve sinking or swimming.  The drowning times are hopefully few and far between.  And so are the swimming times, because we can’t be making progress all the time.  That would be crazy, and it isn’t possible, or at least it’s not sustainable.


So what do we do for the rest of the time?  The rest of the moments in our day when we’re just “being”?  The school run, the grocery shop, the precious free time before bed, the moments with our friends, all the “other stuff”?  What are we doing then?

For me I have worked out that I have two choices in all of those moments.  I can tread water…..or I can float.

Treading water used to be my default.  And again, if we stop and think then we all know when we’re doing it.  Expending lots of energy just to stay still.  Keeping moving even though we’re not going anywhere. Sometimes keeping moving in a desperate attempt to avoid drowning. Sometimes because we wish we were swimming, or we think we “should” be swimming so we keep moving, not really knowing how to stop.

It is exhausting. It depletes our energy, making it harder to then swim when we have the opportunity. And because it is exhausting it actually makes it more likely we will start to drown. It gets us nowhere. It is so very tiring.

So instead of expending all this energy treading water why don’t we just…..float?

Beach ball floating on water at beach

Floating takes no energy. Floating is calm and slow and it allows us to breathe and to think.  It builds up our reserves for the next time that we need to swim, whilst at the same time keeping us safe from drowning, almost indefinitely. It is a far more logical, a far healthier, a far more productive choice. And it feels so lovely.

A lot of people, particularly women, will struggle to float. Because in order to float we need to stop. And cessation of movement is difficult because we feel like we should be swimming ALL THE TIME, and if we stop moving we are admitting that we’re not swimming. And that that’s okay. If we are not swimming, and thankfully we are not drowning, the best course of action is to float. Give yourself permission to stop treading water. It is depleting your energy reserves, and it is getting you nowhere.

What floating actually looks like will differ from person to person. For some people it will be specific activities – they will be floating when they are doing yoga, or knitting, or walking outside, or meditating. Or spending time in an actual flotation tank. There are lots of activities which make it easier to float. For me, I am trying to make it a moment by moment thing, I am trying to float no matter what I am doing. It is a deep breathe, an acknowledgement of my surroundings, a grounding in the moment. Some people would call it mindfulness. Whatever works for you. It is an understanding that I don’t actually need to check Facebook, message my friend with my latest stream of consciousness, load the dishwasher straight away, check my emails for another task, wander from room to room looking for activity…. I am not swimming, I am not drowning. So. Just float.


I did think the other day that this would have been particularly relevant when I had newborn babies. Because parenting a baby is the ultimate in treading water. You can achieve nothing, or nothing that you recognise as an achievement at the time. You are constantly trying not to drown. So you create pointless, mindless activity because you miss swimming and you don’t know how to just stop. People told me at the time to “go with the flow” but that meant nothing to me. What I needed was to be shown how to float.

Although of course no new mother can actually take on board sensible advice at all! It’s all just too hard. But when I thought I was drowning, and I was actually just desperately missing swimming, learning to float would have helped me a lot.

So the next time you don’t message me back straight away, or “like” my Instagram post, or get my birthday card to me on time, or remember that thing I told you about a while back…..don’t worry. I am not offended. I am not worried. I will know that you have put aside pointless activity. You are floating. I am floating. And when we are ready, and rested, and re-energised, maybe we can swim together.


April 2019


I need to rebel

I need to rebel.

That is my conclusion from my short self-therapy session this evening.  I’m getting back into CBT practice, and I have realised: I need to rebel.

The thought I was working on this evening was “I am naughty”.  This is at the bedrock of my beliefs about myself, such a core belief that most of the time I don’t even see it.  I am naughty.  Not in a fun, sexy way (I hate the word being used about sex) but in the way you would tell it to a child.  I am a naughty girl.

What is naughty?  I had to nail that down to make any progress.  Naughty is not sticking to a plan.  Not keeping to the rules.  Their rules, your rules: if the rules have been stated you stick to them.  Naughty is being messy.  Naughty is being emotional.  Naughty is being illogical and flighty and…..human.

So what is good?  Good is sticking to the rules.  Being fit for the consumption of strangers and acquaintances.  Being someone who can be held up as an example, with no messy bits on show.  Being good is being fit to be shown in the school magazine.

Ah.  Now we were getting somewhere.  School.  Yes.  Oh dear I was naughty at school.  I was good for the entirety of my school career, baring a few pranks.  But even those were along the lines of Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers.  Then right at the end, right when I was nearly home and dry and could be confidently hailed as a model student, I got myself a girlfriend.

Mallory Towers

I was on the Head Girls’ Team at school.  For those of you who didn’t go to a fee paying school with a hockey stick wedged up its arse, this is the group of girls (all girls school.  Naturally) who support the Head Girl.  I got onto the team, and I remember standing in the head of year’s office as she scanned us all for uniform transgressions.  As she looked at me, before she could even say anything I said “I know my skirt’s too short, I’ll get a new one”.  I knew that showing off my legs (which have always been good) was no longer acceptable now I would be Representing The School.  Women are not allowed to be attractive.  Well, girls aren’t.  We weren’t actually allowed to be women at all. That was the point.  Women were messy and emotional and sexual.  None of that thank you.

And then I got a girlfriend.  And that was a crime at my school.  It wasn’t a great idea to love yourself, but to love a fellow woman was out of the question.  Absolutely not.  That was not fit for public consumption.  And the stupid thing is, we didn’t make it a public spectacle.  We never ever kissed or held hands in school uniform. We knew that would land us in the snake pit.  But in the summer term us sixth formers (yes it basically was Mallory Towers) were allowed to wear our own clothes to school.  And go into town at lunch time.  So we kissed and held hands in town in our own clothes, where no one would know we were Representing The School.

Someone reported us.  We got called in to see the Deputy Head.  And she didn’t mess around.  She went straight for the jugular.  If we didn’t stop misbehaving (showing human affection to each other) in public she would call our parents.

Now my girlfriend’s parents wouldn’t have given a shit.  But my mother would have been crucified in shame.  So that was that.  No more public displays of affection.  Because the streets had eyes.

To this day, knowing everything I know now, I regret not telling that sanctimonious bitch of a deputy head where to shove it.

But I couldn’t.  Because I have always been a follower of the rules.  And this makes one of my friends laugh, because outwardly I do things that are against what she sees as the rules.  The conventions.  I had an affair.  I got divorced.  I talk about my sex life to all and sundry.  I do all kinds of things that, for instance, a shy person wouldn’t do.

But that’s because I have been given a wide variety of rules.  And I am trying to follow them all.

  • To be a worthwhile female you have to be bold and fearless
  • To be a good person you have to care about every political and environmental issue under the sun
  • To be worthy you have to achieve things, all the time
  • To be acceptable you have to be neat and tidy, outside and in
  • To be loveable you have to cause no trouble
  • To be interesting you have to have lots of exciting experiences
  • To have something to say you have to be different
  • To fit in you have to conform

The list goes on and on.  I could fill pages with the rules I am trying to follow.  Trying to follow all of them, all at the same time.  Every day.  And obviously, inevitably, naturally “failing”.  And therefore feeling naughty.

I thought about all of these rules, and my experiences at school, and I thought about a friend who I know rebelled at school and how his response to so much of this would be “fuck that!”  He would just see it as bullshit to be rejected.  So I realised that I need to rebel.  The rebellion I never had, it needs to happen now.  A friend of mine recently told me I’m a hormonal teenager trapped in a 38 year old’s body.  She is absolutely right, and I am happy to live that truth.  And a part of that needs to be my teenage rebellion.

Breakfast Club

So if somebody could send me the rulebook on how to rebel successfully, properly and exactly to the letter I’d be really grateful.  After all, I want to be good at it.  I don’t want to be naughty.

I’m not sure

I haven’t written for a while.  I haven’t felt clear on what to write about for a while.  I have written about my little journey over the last twelve months, bits about myself and my state of mind.  That has felt very vulnerable, because I know that many of you can see right through me.  I have to remind myself that being able to see me clearly doesn’t mean you don’t love me.  Doesn’t mean you don’t accept me.  Doesn’t mean you don’t understand.  Everyone has been there.  Is there.  But being seen during times of stress and upheaval is much like being seen half dressed.  This last year, blogging for me has felt like coming down in the morning to greet house guests whilst still in my PJs.  I have not been presenting “Helen: the finished article”.

Hilarious I know.  As if any of us is ever the finished article.  But back when I was blogging about maternity and breastfeeding I felt like I was presenting fully formed thoughts to the world, I was fully dressed, I was neat and tidy and I knew what I was doing.  I had a cause, I had something to say, I had a message!  And the world was going to hear it whether it wanted to or not.

And then things changed.  I didn’t lose my belief in those causes, but I did move further away from them.  And I met people and had experiences that made me question a number of my beliefs.  And in questioning I found freedom.  We do not have to always know.  We do not have to be certain.  We can question. And consider.  And wonder.  And learn.  And question some more.

But this doesn’t lead me to write blog posts.  Because where are the big truths that I want to present to the world?  Where is the thing that I know that I want to wrap up neatly in words and present as the finished article?


Niagara Falls yesterday. Too many metaphors for one caption.  And “thought-provoking” doesn’t cover it.

I have the freedom to think this week.  I am in America, up in wintry Buffalo, indulging in a week of having nothing to do.  I imagined blissful happiness at all of the relaxation and lack of responsibilities.  And those things are wonderful.  But I had forgotten that I would also have time to think.  Beautiful and terrible.  Without the distractions of the day to day I can actually get to the end of thoughts.  It took me a couple of days to embrace that challenge.  Because not all thinking is pleasurable.  That’s why we all avoid it on a daily basis.

As is often wise in times of contemplation, I watched a couple of Brene Brown talks on YouTube.  She was talking about showing up and being in the arena, and I felt inspired but then I thought “I don’t have an arena right now”.  What is my arena these days?  And until I figure that out how can I contribute?

I am not yet ready to present a truth so I am not showing up.

What a ridiculous thought.  Show up.  Jump in.  Let’s go!  Because I will never get anywhere if I don’t connect.  And writing has always been my route to connection.

So instead of giving you my fully formed thoughts, I am going to give you my “not sures”.  Because I don’t really know anymore.  And that is probably a good thing.

Race.  I am so confused.

Feminism.  I am less confused but still confused.

There is so much anger and vitriol surrounding these topics.  Bile being spat out on Twitter every day.  It is off putting so I back away from trying to learn.

Yet not where politics is concerned.  There I feel more confident joining the anger and vitriol over Brexit and austerity and our current government.  And I thereby no doubt become off putting to others who would perhaps like to learn but find the spewing bile difficult to navigate.

And of course the topic of infant feeding is still as difficult to navigate as ever.  Even though with that one I am more confident in my certainties.

I carry around a huge cloud of shame with me the same as everyone else.  So many topics appear to require more shame of me, or to require me to shame somebody else.  This does not feel like the way.  I don’t have an answer.  I am simply not sure.

I don’t have a cause right now.  But I still have beliefs.  Ill-defined, not written down, but I have them.

I have been reading Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”.  He says “Let your principles be few and fundamental – sufficient to clear your mind and send you back into the world refreshed.”  That sounds really good.  What on earth are my principles?


These days it feels as though I have myself so much more figured out than ever before.  It is not a process that has an end point, but I have got a lot further down the road this last year.  I have got far enough that I feel ready to get stuck in again, with things that are not self preservation and the management of grief.  A friend of mine is finding the Ten Keys to Happier Living very useful right now.  They do not resonate with me so much, but one of them has stayed with me, nagging at me: Meaning.  Be part of something bigger.  Be connected to something bigger than ourselves.  I am not sure yet what that is going to be for me at this point in my life.

I have just finished reading Glennon Doyle’s “Love Warrior”.  Boy does that resonate.  I see Glennon, I see Brene, I see the people they point me towards and the other amazing people with whom they are connected.  But I do not want to dive back in to the liberal bubble.  I know too many good people who are outside of it.  It feels right for me to be out here a little bit, in no man’s land.  I would love to have a tribe.  But I don’t want to be tribal.  So I’m just not sure.


Taken from Glennon Doyle’s Instagram – originally from @melodyehsani NYC store.

As I wrote the notes for this blog, as they came pouring out of me and I realised they would be a blog, I found myself writing this:

  • Speak truthfully
  • Be vulnerable
  • Face uncertainty
  • Keep showing up
  • Ask questions
  • Think clearly
  • Love imperfection
  • Own your self worth
  • Own your mistakes
  • Keep going, keep trying
  • Don’t give up

Well what do you know?  In writing my uncertainty I think I have found my principles.  Alright then.  Let’s start there.

A Very Merry Christmas – and a Happy New Year!

This year has been huge for me. The earthquake that shakes the foundations. The volcanic eruption that renews the soil. The forest fire that sweeps the ground clean. There has been unbearable pain, heartbreak, grief. I lost my beautiful lover, and I ended my marriage to a good and kind man. There has been despair.

But then there has been growth. Learning and changing and finding new strength. Seeing my son through his third open heart surgery, finding I enjoy parenting alone and living alone, finding I can manage my emotions without a life partner, finding I can cope.

And after the growth, the adventures. Travel, new experiences, new sports, new friends, new lovers. A new job, new clients, learning new skills. And making my home my own, a place that I love, my sanctuary.

My parents have been amazing. My therapist and GP have been so helpful. My children have humbled me with their maturity and understanding. And they have driven me crazy as only a 7 and 5 year old can and should.


But the bedrock of this year has been my friends. I knew they were incredible people. But with all of my writing skill I genuinely cannot articulate just how fortunate I am to have these men and women in my life. They have never once made me feel they are tired of my bullshit, or unwilling to listen to yet more of my heartbreak. Not once, not one single time, have I felt alone. Those of you reading this who know who you are, thank you. From the bottom of my heart. They say you find your tribe. Well my god my tribe could take over the world.

So I find myself at the end of this year in a much better place from where I started it.  A fledgling business, a new man in my life, lots of exciting plans for the future and a feeling of contentment.  I hope that the end of this year finds you all in a good place as well.  Please take excellent care of yourselves.

To 2019! May we continue to rise.


Dark Nights, Shining Lights

When the fifth person told me today that they are feeling really down at the moment and are finding everything more difficult than usual I knew it was time to write this blog.  The nights drawing in – it’s a pisser isn’t it?  Suddenly things are harder, motivation is lacking and moods are dropping.  We had such an amazing summer and now it is well and truly over.  A few warm days have remained but it’s getting dark early and it will soon be Halloween.

I wrote this piece a while ago about what the seasonal festivities mean to me, and so much of this time of year is about chasing away with winter gremlins and brain weasels.  We will be fine again this year, we always are, but we need to remember what works.  Because the sun on our face, the wind in our hair, the music on loud as we lay in the park…..those are for summer joy.  Now we need to remember what makes us feel safe in the darkness, and all cuddle up together, cosy and warm.


The first thing we need is: LIGHT!  Be it candles, lamps, stronger light-bulbs or a SAD light, this is the main thing that chases away the winter blues and brightens up our mood.  It is no coincidence that lights play such a huge part in our winter celebrations.  Put the fairy lights up early if you want to – we need that twinkling warmth to see us through.


WARMTH!  That’s another one.  Cosy hoodies, fluffy slippers, warm blankets – all the extras that make us feel safe are a must in the winter.  Thick socks, duvet days, an extra layer against the chill – don’t let the wind get through, stay warm and your mood will be so much better.  Plus tensing up against the cold is awful for our muscles.  If you can run to it, a hot stones massage would be just the trick for the coming weeks.


COMPANY!  Don’t be alone this winter.  Face to face or online, we all need people, even the most introverted of us need company sometimes.  Loneliness can be particularly brutal in the run up to Christmas so reach out to each other, and put some fun plans in the diary.  Time spent with friends doesn’t always have to be drinking / socialising / a special activity – although I loved my session at the climbing centre with my pal the other day.  Just doing things in each other’s company can lift your mood so much.  A friend and I today brought out all of our household paperwork and each of our shredders and tackled our filing and shredding together on her living room floor over coffee and a bagel.  A far better way to do a necessary but boring task!

Last Kingdom

ESCAPISM!  As always, I am not a huge fan of this “reality” business.  It’s overrated.  A good book, a good film, a good TV show – close the curtains and take yourself to another place.  I have just finished two seasons of The Last Kingdom which I really enjoyed.  There is something about the cold autumn nights that makes huge overenthusiastic Vikings even more appealing!  Last night I started Twin Peaks, which I have never watched before but which so far, three episodes in, is enthralling television and the characters so well realised.

mulled wine.jpg

I was delighted to find that the mulled wine has already hit the shops.  It is such a seasonal favourite of mine.  I don’t do anything fancy, just put the readymade stuff in a mug and microwave it.  An instant warm treat.  Hot chocolate, warm soup, herbal tea….anything you can hug in a mug whilst indoors out of the rain.  And make sure you eat enough too.  A good hearty breakfast and sensible snacks will keep out the cold, we all need a bit of stodge.  And cake.  Obviously.

There is so much to look forward to about autumn, winter, Christmas and the seasonal fun and games.  We will enjoy ourselves immensely once again.  We just need to remember how to do it, now that the blazing summer sun has left us for another year.  I think the best way to tackle the winter is together.


October 2018.

A Time for Adventure

Hello!  How are you doing?  Welcome to autumn and the time of the year when I always feel the most motivated.  September is the real New Year to me, when the academic year starts and it feels like the time to buckle down and get shit done.

I haven’t read back over my last few blog posts, but if you do you will see that I went through a period of emotional spiralling after the momentous events of springtime.  Inevitably I crashed, and needed some medical assistance to get through a few weeks of the summer.  Heartbreak and change and dealing with the aftermath of having a child in hospital are all a process, and you can’t cheat the process.  Like they say in Going on a Bear Hunt, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it….

And I’m not saying I’m through it.  Not after only 5 months.  But I’m a lot further along the path than I was.  The dark forest of despair and denial, the twisting roads of bargaining and the bubbling pools of anger are behind me.  And the view ahead is glorious.  So much freedom.  So much sunshine.  So much choice.


This year’s turning point for me was my trip to The Azores with a very good friend who has been through some comparable experiences.  We spent 5 nights on the island of Sao Miguel and it was so beautiful.  Relaxing, interesting, good weather, good food, good wine, good company.  I returned feeling thoroughly refreshed and ready to embark on the next chapter.


When I was in the depths of misery I couldn’t tell what the next chapter would be, even though I could feel it simmering on the horizon.  It turns out that the theme of the next few months will be adventures!  Of all different kinds.


I am trying new activities and saying yes to things I would have previously refused.  I tried Stand Up Paddle Boarding the other week with three friends.  Fell in twice, but absolutely loved it.  Very tempted to get myself a wetsuit, as I will certainly be going down to the water park to do that again.  I also have a climbing session booked in so I can start using the climbing walls.  And I have a list of other activities to try – new ideas plus things I have always wanted to do but haven’t got around to.

Then there is the minor detail of me needing to get myself a job, and I have made some inroads on that now that my youngest has started school full time.  I am brushing up on my social media jargon via an online course.  Mainly just checking that I know how to explain and describe things I have already done via my various voluntary roles over the last 7 years.  In addition to Facebook and Twitter, I’m now on Instagram and LinkedIn.  All for social media practice of course, and not at all just to add further screen-time distractions to my day…..

The final piece of the jigsaw is adventures with friends, old and new.  I have trips and days out planned for the next five months or so and I am so excited to see new places, catch up with friends, and show old places to new people.  New friends mean new music, new conversations, new points of view and new journeys.  So many of my favourite things.


I haven’t completely turned my back on the old, although I can feel myself travelling further away from the breastfeeding and maternity campaigns as my children get older and my experiences broaden.  But it was wonderful to see that Dr Victoria Thomas mentioned my hospital breastfeeding campaign at the La Leche League GB conference today.  Even though I haven’t done anything on that campaign for a couple of months I know that so many fantastic paediatricians and paediatric nurses are picking up the baton, and change will come eventually.

Speaking of my children, my two boys are still utterly amazing and I am proud of them every single day.  David has fully recovered from his surgery, and has even more energy than before (which I didn’t think possible).  He rides his bike to school and actually runs around now, instead of just the fast walk he had perfected.  He is starting to be able to spell, learning his letters and numbers… always such a time of wonderment, watching them absorb knowledge like the little sponges they are at that age.


And Edward can now operate a kettle.  He has made both of my coffees today.  So I feel as though I have reached the pinnacle of parenting.  Quite frankly my work here is done!

So it really is time for new adventures.


September 2018

Much of Life Still Gleaming

What a difference a week makes.

This week I have actually felt happy. Sure, I’ve been down in the hole again too. Being unable to stop crying while at soft play for breakfast with the kids was a high point….. But on more than one occasion this week I have actually felt joy. It was amazing.

So how have I done for indulging my passions this week?


Three Lions.jpg

I have the football World Cup to thank for part of my joy. Something I never thought I’d say, as I’m not a football follower – Wimbledon is more my thing. But I do like a good tune, and Baddiel & Skinner’s “Three Lions” is fantastic. Such an uplifting and happy song. I played it on my way home from the school run mid week, and actually danced down the road, for the first time in months. It feels like Helen is nearly back!


The 4th of July raised emotions as it inevitably reminded me of my American adventures and had a certain “this time last year….” sadness. But the date is all about freedom, and my goodness I’ve been enjoying that this week. IKEA furniture may not be everyone’s first choice of a symbol of freedom, but this week I bought a new bed. And gorgeous new bedding. My bestie and I put it up on Saturday and it is glorious. A symbol of luxurious freedom, and also a place of safety. I love it!


After reading my last blog post, a friend shared her Kitchen Dancing playlist with me, and the first song was “Start Wearing Purple” by Gogol Bordello. Reminded me of my belly dancing days – shook and shimmied to that one a few times with Michelle Pender and co!

Plenty of my favourite songs are still out of bounds, but I have been able to listen to a fair few this week without trouble. And of course now and again a good cry is essential. At those times I have one or two songs which provide instant tears – sometimes a useful and healthy thing.


This is all excellent timing, as I have a 3 hour drive down to Bedford for the River Festival this weekend, and I will need some good tunes to keep me company. As Shell Hadley tweeted:



I think by now I’m one of the few British people not thoroughly fed up with the heatwave. I know that I have friends and family members for whom this weather is actually detrimental to their health, and for their sake I hope it rains soon. But I can’t deny it, this weather is just such a bonus for my health and mood. Still grateful for the sunshine!


It has been entertaining to see all the attention that Gareth Southgate has received, with his waistcoat and emotional maturity. We women are simple creatures really! Having watched all the “Suits” there is until 18 July, I have been really enjoying “White Collar”. The elegant and handsome Matt Bomer in beautiful clothes, flanked by Tim DeKay and Sharif Atkins? Funny lines and fast paced stories? Another easy to watch sexy show that is keeping me happy. And helping me to escape when I’m not feeling all that safe.

Matt Bomer

It’s hard to feel safe on a hot day – the cuddly hoodie, fluffy slippers and hiding under the duvet aren’t really an option! But Netflix keeping me company is, and like I say my new bed is a haven. I am learning new tricks all the time for maintaining my emotional safety, and as ever the support and guidance of my friends is a constant in that. Having them all there in my phone whenever I need them is so comforting.

From this weekend though I will be able to see more of them in person, as I embark on the first of my summer weekend trips around the UK to see people I haven’t seen in some time. Sometimes passionate, sometimes terrified, sometimes even stable, whatever my emotional state look out Britain, Helen is going to be on tour!


July 2018.