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Always on the outer.

As an adult, I have always had this firm feeling of being on the periphery. It doesn’t matter where I go, I always feel like I’m a bit on the outer. 

Some of this is to do with the fact that I’m gay. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Some of it is the fact that I moved schools many times as a kid. I went to two primary schools and four different high schools – which may not seem all that many, but it was enough to make me unsettled. 

When I was 14, my parents moved us from Brisbane to Bundaberg, and then back to Brisbane the year after high school. It was a disruptive move, one that was definitely not made better by the fact that I hadn’t lived there my entire life. 

I felt like a Dorito in a plain packet of chips, which is less fun than it sounds…… 

2004

Have you ever been in a place so small that everyone knows one another, but big enough that the connections between them form knotted threads that pull together so tightly that you’re always a secret away from tying yourself in a trap you can’t get out of? It is a weird purgatory of populace. People always muse about this odd familiarity with small-ish places, they talk about it romantically as if having the whole town’s social network connected by the milkman is a good thing. I am certain that realtors capitalise on such a thing for mid-life crisis folks seeking the simple life, I am certain of it. I can always visualise it in my mind:

“Oh, YES, Susan! With a population of 45,000 spread out over a large expanse away from the hustle and bustle, you can be certain that you’ll find a place in THIS community…”

Personally, I find myself amazed at the power people have to find things out. They create twisted narratives that traverse the town quicker than a greased marble rolling down a trap, playing to an audience too afraid to question them. I realised early on that it was advisable to remain enigmatic if you were to keep your soul in a tight postcode. The only problem I keep running into is that everyone thinks I’m an impersonal city slicker and I never fit in. But – I figure I’m not going to anyway, what did it matter? I keep a tight persona.

Whirrrrrrrrr.

“Mornin’!”

My usual barista flashes me a grin as a steady plume of steam emanates from the coffee machine, but she knows my usual isn’t a hot drink – it is an iced coffee with cream, sprinkles, and most importantly, marshmallows. Hopefully, no less than three and all white ones. There was no point looking at a menu when I knew damn well that I was going to drink the same old thing every time.

“Just the usual, luv?” her chipper face reaches me eye to eye as she places her hands on the counter, ready to make my drink. Her sweaty, blonde hair was off her fifty-in-the-shade face and the whole shop smells pleasantly of coffee beans and chocolate sprinkles. Delicious.

“Yup.” I reply, looking forward to the sugar hit. She turns to the ice blender and pours cold drips of coffee into it, whistling merrily as she works on the drink at hand.

There were upsides to life in this small-ish, back-to-front place. All the shop assistants know my orders and living in a house that was walking distance to a beach had its perks, but you could never avoid people. These ones talk to any old stranger in the street, and because I’m not one for unsolicited conversation, everyone here thinks I’m anti-social. Perhaps I would be more social if I was enjoying myself. You can’t even loiter here to deal with the intense boredom, all the shops close at midday on a Saturday and they don’t open on a Sunday.

The guts of this city are held together by a messy, yet weirdly specific six degrees of separation. The connections are tight and they run deep. Two girls I go to school with have fathers who have worked together in the sugar cane farming industry since the edge of the 1990s, before the Macarena came out as an A-side cassette, and they were born in the same hospital, on the same day.

Before the womb, baby.

All these kids play for the same hockey team and have the same collection of friends, most of whom have lived in Bundaberg for their entire lives. Their lives are playing out in old Queenslander houses with slightly-peeling-paint, all round the corner from each other. My grade at school is filled with people just like this. Not only are they all best friends, but their younger siblings are similar ages, so they hang out like one big family, calling each other’s parents ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle.’ It’s a perfect upbringing and in many ways I find myself jealous of it. Their entrenched, though artificial siblinghood was something I would never have because I just couldn’t stay fixed in a place without messing it all up.

I am an outsider.

Imagine trying to keep a secret in this tightly-woven net of association, or trying to penetrate a crowd that had known each other so well, for so long. Although the people of Bundaberg found all of this endearing and grounding, I knew that these links and ties were enough to hang me in the knot of my biggest secret – the fact that I am a big, fat lesbian.

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How does one work, study, and parent?

As you may recall, I went back to work last year – starting off with some relief teaching days and moving up to a term-long contract. This year, I’ll be doing two days per week.

On top of that, I also study a masters degree part time by distance and I parent.

People are shocked when I tell them, they hold this up as if it’s the high watermark of all achievement.

It really is not.

The other thing people do is ask how I do it?

I wish I had great advice, but all I can offer is that no matter which way you pitch it, it’s going to be hard. That is my best stroke of wisdom. Other than that, I only have a few other gems that have gotten me this far.

Just do it. 

I was weeks from falling pregnant when I started this degree, my wedding was coming up, I was working full-time and I was still writing my book. Adding one more thing to my plate seemed to be the most fool-hardy, daunting thing ever – and yet, I knew that my 40-year-old self would thank me for starting when I did.

There is never a ‘right time.’ Life is always busy, chaotic, and full.

If you want it, just go for it.

Don’t sacrifice baby-time for study time. 

I rarely study when he’s awake, unless we’ve spent a lot of time together and he’s entertaining himself for 20 minutes. I like to be present with him in the moment, playing, commentating, reading story books, singing… the study can wait until nap-time, bed-time, or before he wakes up in the morning. It’s all in fits and starts, but that brings me to my next point…

Just do a little every day. 

Just a little.

If you have a 3000 word essay due in 30 days, you only need to be writing 100 words a day to make it happen. Don’t procrastinate. A little here and a little there all adds up.

Take the textbook everywhere with you. 

You never know when you’ll get 5 minutes to squeeze in the next few pages. When Soren was really little, I used to read the textbooks to him at the coffee shop. It would put him to sleep. He’s old enough to be bored to tears now, though, so I don’t do that anymore!

Surround yourself with encouragers or other Mums who study – or connect with other Mums who have walked your path and made it to the end

They can be hard to find, but they are out there.

Of all the ways I have made this work for me, this last point has to be the most important…

Study something you love. 

Completing study when you have a baby is already going to be hard. Don’t make it harder by studying something out of obligation, or studying something you’re only half-interested in. I definitely owe a lot of my success so far to the fact that I’m studying something I absolutely live for, which will give me the opportunity to do a job I enjoy in the future.

Then, it isn’t a chore to read page after page after page after page after page (yes… there is a lot of reading at masters level..)

I know my ‘wisdom’ isn’t much, but I hope it offers some encouragement.

You can do the thing!

woman sitting on bed with flying books

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All I want for Christmas is ewe!

It’s very interesting how people predict what your life will be like after having children.

The hypotheses start when you tell people you want a baby.

Smugly, they’ll say, “No more sleep ins for you!” This one never bothered me because I seem to be incapable of sleeping past 5:30am at the absolute latest – which frustrates me, but it is what it is.

Or – “Do you really think you’ll be able to study/work/exercise with a baby?” as well as my all-time favourite, “Kiss the travel life goodbye.” 

Now, to be fair, my lone travel-style pre-Boy was particularly feral. I would plan it all on the fly, trudge 5km from train station to Air BnB carrying broken luggage in a non-English-speaking country, roll the dice on $7 a night accommodation in New Delhi, do 32 hour Greyhound bus trips from one American state to the next, eating nothing but service station food for days on end….

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I get that it will not be like that again. That’s probably for the best. 

But this travel life with a baby in tow, is a new challenge in itself.

When we boarded the plane to our first tame destination – Queenstown, New Zealand, it was all seeming to go fine. He boarded the plane without much more than a grizzle, ate a yoghurt, drank a bottle, and then passed out to sleep.

Sweet.

Then, 30 minutes later, the air crew made an announcement that was LOUD AF.

Toddler awake, let the adventure wriggling begin!

We tried all the usual tricks – singing, playing, cuddles, seeing if he would listen to music on the entertainment system….

Then the lady in front of us, who looked oddly like Tove Lo, started rolling her eyes…

So we sang a little louder.

Then we arrived!

Carrying a 13kg toddler through the airport was hard, but we eventually picked up the pram and made our way to the vehicle pick up.

Except, there were no vehicles. Just a phone on the wall.

“Oh, it’s always one of these!” my wife said sarcastically, and she’s right.

In my quest to get the best bang for my buck as our ‘family organiser’, I usually choose services that occasionally inconvenience us in some small way. Still, they provided a little mini bus for us that took us to pick our car up…..

It wasn’t all bad.

During our holiday, we met real New Zealand sheep, drank in an ice bar, walked a LOT, did Park Run in Queenstown, went on a gondola, did a 4 hour round trip to Te Anau to ride swan boats, ate a cheese board in a cheesery (didn’t know this was a word?)……

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We had the time of our lives.

When our trip finally came to a close, our flight was changed so we had to do Queenstown-Auckland, Auckland-Brisbane. It was a long day but he slept on some of the flight back. I tried to watch a documentary and contended with little fat fingers that kept trying to pull my earphones out of the socket…..

Well, I guess you can’t have it all. 

We landed in Brisbane, completely satisfied but tired from the travel time. As we passed through customs, I declared the food items I wanted to bring home (such as a wheel of Brie cheese).

It was then I realised that I’d left a day-old lunch inside my Bento box. 

Needless to say, the customs worker (who looked oddly like Cher), was not at all impressed.

What can I say? I believe in love after love…. and travel after babies!

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First year, done.

Just like that – the first year of our little man’s life is now water under the bridge.

Everyone says it goes so fast, and it’s such a cliche, but it is true.

We have learned so much in the first year of our son’s life, and I would love to share this, if only to keep a record.

1. I need to use my time wisely. 

Back in the day, I used to get to work at 7am every morning. I would buy a coffee on the way in, get some solid planning or paperwork done, stuff around in the staffroom, and then start my teaching day. After work, I would go for a run and ponder about things, like what I might cook for dinner….

I had oodles and oodles of time, and yet, I got nothing done. Well, nothing life changing, anyway.

Now? It’s absolutely nothing like that. 

I have very little spare time, but I try to make it all count. I started my masters 6 weeks before falling pregnant, and I released my book on the day I had my IVF transfer. I wish I had a ‘secret’, but all I can say is that I don’t stuff around anymore. I get up early if I need to, I study in waiting rooms, when Soren is sleeping, on my lunch break, at night, or in the car – I set up Siri on my phone so I can record ideas for my essays on the drive to work. My only rule is that I don’t study around Soren, although I did read some of my semester one textbook to him before I made this rule.

I’m not super-Mum, I’m just super organised…. mostly (except for right now – I’m actually meant to be studying).

2. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

Before I had my son, I had this plan of staying home full time for at least 3 years, then including some relief teaching work down the track. About 6 months in, I was losing my head, to the point where I ended up taking on some relief, then a full-time contract for a short while. I felt immense guilt for not being the stay-at-home Pinterest Mum, but with time, I realised that finding the right balance was what was required – not for me to fit myself into someone else’s truth.

For me, that means part-time work and part-time Mum. And that’s okay.

3. I needed to have a few test-runs of the first birthday cake, and then forgive myself for over-catering on the day. 

I really wanted his first birthday to be amazing, so I did practice runs of his first cake. It’s fortunate that I did, because the first one fell to pieces when I took it out of the oven. My best advice is to find yourself a cake-making friend, if you can, and pick their brain (but not to pieces).

I realised, too, that I bought way WAY too much food. I may have gotten a bit ambitious with Instagram and their targeted birthday food ads….

But it’s all good. We made it, with cake in tow. 

Our first overseas trip together is the next adventure on the horizon…. more blogs to come – after all, I can’t procrastinate without an audience.

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Attachment theory and attachment parenting are not the same thing.

I have received many comments as a new parent, so sometimes it is useful to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When I was in the midst of sleep regression, Soren had stopped sleeping through the day. I felt like a failure as a parent because the only way I could get him to sleep was by feeding him on the breast. When I’d gently place him in his cot, he would scream. Pat-shush didn’t work, we weren’t interested in co-sleeping, and lullabies were not helping us.

A few people blamed breastfeeding – apparently, he was using me as a dummy. The child health nurse suggested that ‘if feed to sleep works, keep going with it.’ So I would feed him to sleep, then be planted on the couch or the floor for an hour.

Another person suggested that I had cuddled my child too much and too often, causing him to lose his daytime sleep independence.

“That’s all that modern attachment parenting.” 

Except – it wasn’t.

woman carrying baby

At the time, I was knee-deep in a subject of my masters degree that focussed on attachment theory in the context of healthy relationships, child abuse and neglect, and protective education.

Attachment parenting and attachment theory are two different things.

In attachment parenting, you are encouraged to co-sleep, do skin-on-skin, breastfeed for an extended time, and wear your baby.

I was never an attachment parent.

With that being said, I pat him to comfort him, I did 9 months of breastfeeding (until my hair fell out), and I cuddle him within his comfort levels. When he cries during play time, I pick him up – when he wriggles, I put him down.

These are natural behaviours. Soothing a child’s heightened emotional state and sharing in their happy state helps them to feel loved, safe, and secure. This is supported by attachment theory, long-term studies, and natural science.

It does not make a child ‘clingy.’

In fact, being securely attached to a parent is one of the most protective factors a child can have in developing resilience, independence, and positive long-term outcomes.

However, like anything, there are lots of ways you can achieve a secure attachment, and it doesn’t need to involve attachment parenting.

9 months on, I still respond to my baby’s cues and comfort levels in a way that makes him feel safe and he reacts positively to new situations, people, and settings, which suggests that he is securely attached. He has a safe base that he can return to in the face of threat or discomfort.

While some people may label this as ‘modern’ parenting, it is highly supported by science. Read more here

Interestingly, a securely attached infant is less likely to experience avoidant, insecure, anxious, or ambivalent behaviours when separated from their caregivers, which flies in the face of the assumption that responding to an infant’s natural needs will make them clingy.

The flip side, of course, is that I want my child to have power over who touches his body. At 9 months, it is just a matter of me reading his cues and body language, but in the future, I intend to teach him about consent – another way he can feel safe and secure.

Protective education (making a child the boss of their body) is the first way you can make your child a hard target for predators who are looking for easy targets who won’t tell on them.

It’s all a balance with the same end goal – making your child feel safe.

So what’s the difference?

Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that encourages maximum contact, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing in the hopes of nurturing the parent-child relationship.

Attachment theory is the scientifically supported study of early relationships between children and their primary caregivers that focuses on a child’s innate need to have emotional states soothed, to be close to their caregiver, and to feel secure. It supports two-way interactions, appropriate responses, and the dynamics of early relationships that lead to a child feeling secure. Avoiding a child’s early attachment needs by ignoring them or only responding sometimes can cause a child to feel anxious upon separation, clingy, ambivalent towards their caregiver, and in the long term, poor at interpersonal relationships.

 

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No prizes for first place? Hogwash.

I was reading this article about schools going ‘reward free’ in the name of tackling a ‘lack of resilience’ in the up and coming generations.

As a teacher, parent, current over-achiever, and former under-achiever, I must respectfully disagree.

Let me tell you my story. When I was at my first primary school – a Catholic affair – I was labelled ‘the naughty kid’ from the very start. In grade 1, I started having horrific religious dreams about Jesus crucifying me, nailing me to the carpet, or calling me an evil child. My grade 1 teacher used to smack me and put me in the back room to get rid of me. By grade 3, my teacher made me complete my school work in the office and I had to stay back after school.

This was not violent behaviour on my part, mind you. Just impulsive silliness. Flushing apple cores down toilets, staying out in the rain, occasional backchat. Still, my education did not start off on the right foot. What I really needed was a firm teacher who could build a relationship and get inside my head.

Once I changed schools, I experienced that. When I did the wrong thing, I was reprimanded; but when I did the right thing, I was praised. My teacher believed in me and I improved out of sight.

A few years later, I still had behavioural problems but I had started to develop a talent for academia and sports. I played soccer and touch football skilfully, and competed in athletics and distance running, often making it to district and regional trials. I also achieved in the top percentiles for English and writing competitions.

Fancy that – a naughty child who is also academically skilled!?

Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t – but it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day, I was only racing against myself.

When I did win, I would get the chance to receive a medal or ribbon on assembly. For me, the naughty kid, it helped my teachers and peers to see another, more positive side of me.

In some schools I’ve taught in, there have been rewards days for behaviour, attendance, and effort. These are areas that anyone can achieve highly in.

I have absolutely no issue with seeing children rewarded for hard work.

For some of the children we teach, this may be one of the few things they can feel good about.

No-one is suggesting we should give out medals for last place – but a little bit of encouragement goes a long way in motivating some children. There are certainly some children who may only get their time to shine on the sporting field or in the world of academics, so it makes no sense to take that away from them.

When did we become such a nation of scrooges?

As a child, I received ribbons for places and medals when I won. As an adult, I still race against myself, I set the bar high, and I still have the box full of trophies and medals I received in some of my brightest days. I certainly don’t lack resilience.

Let the children celebrate their wins and support them through their disappointments.

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I just want my finishing medal and my beer, damnit!

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The best parenting advice.

When I first fell pregnant, I received so much well-meaning advice. Some people couldn’t seem to accept that when I said a particular idea wasn’t really for us, it didn’t mean it was a bad idea.

Take attachment parenting, for instance. Some families love bed-sharing, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing. For me, the idea of having my child attached to me day and night makes me anxious. Therefore, we’ve never used any of these strategies.

Horses for courses.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” was another gem that also made no sense to me.

So – will the baby study when I study, or work while I work? How do I find time to do my tasks if I’m sleeping every time I catch 40 minutes?

I do want to share the best advice I was given, though, in the hope that someone else can use it.

Save up nappies/wipes and other consumables in the year before you have a baby.

8 months in and we still haven’t used all of our packets of wipes and we only ran out of nappies after a couple of months.

 Save up your baby’s 1st birthday items in the months before their birthday.

This saved us going out and buying packs of Batman plates, cups, and accessories all at once. Very useful.

Buy an umbrella stroller for overseas trips.

Enough said. 

Use Gumtree/Ebay/Buy swap sell for baby brand name clothes.

You spend so little and get so much!

Take time out for yourself.

Whatever that looks like –  it’s absolutely essential.

Most of the advice is chump change in the grand scheme of things, but these were my three most valuable pieces.

What were yours?

 

 

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That’s now how it was supposed to be – my experience of birth trauma

Before my birthing experience, my midwives asked me to draft a ‘birth plan.’ I thought the idea of planning something so unpredictable was completely absurd, so my plan was to take nothing off the table. In my head, I secretly wanted to give birth in a warm bath with nothing but a bra on, but this wasn’t to be.

On the twelfth day of December 2018, I decided I had been pregnant long enough. I was four days past my due date and becoming increasingly anxious about what was to come. The very next day, I went to the hospital. They felt my belly and told me the baby’s head was in an odd position, so an induction would be required straight away.

I hadn’t even brought my hospital bag.

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Nevertheless, they took us upstairs to the ward and inserted a balloon catheter, while I waited for labour to start. Many hours later, it had not commenced. My waters were broken under laughing gas – which was definitely the high point of my birthing experience. After, a hormone drip was injected and my contractions started.

I laboured peacefully for a few hours and dilated on schedule. After awhile, I requested an epidural to numb the intense contractions brought on by the artificial hormones. I drifted in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours, until the epidural wore off. That was when things started to get tricky.

The nurse observed that my dilation had regressed from 8cm to 7cm, his head was still displaced, and I was running a fever of 40 degrees. It turns out I had an infection.

At this point, the doctors called time on my “natural” birth and I hastily signed the consent forms for a c-section. The hormone drip was then removed. As they wheeled me to theatre, I screamed as I experienced a half hour contraction.

When I was on the surgical table, the spinal block would not go in. They explained the need for a general anaesthetic and before they injected the cannula, I yelled, ‘Don’t let my wife find out the sex of the baby until I’m awake!’ Then, it was lights out.

During the surgery, I lost 2.5 litres of blood and needed to be stabilised with tubes down my throat. Fortunately, he was completely fine throughout.

I woke some hours later, with a baby on my chest.

‘He’s perfect!’ I remember saying, as I blacked out again.

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When I woke the next time, his nappy was being pulled down in my face – the closest I came to the ‘it’s a boy’ moment.

In the days following the birth, I couldn’t get out of bed nor care for my baby as I would have liked. I needed a lot of assistance from nurses as I was on an anti-biotic drip and couldn’t get out of bed unassisted. It was awful to feel so helpless.

Being trapped in the house for six weeks also made my life difficult. In the early days, I caught a bus to rhyme time but felt so overwhelmed by the amount of people in the library that I sat outside in the park and sobbed.

Over time, I experienced quite a lot of distress over how it all went down. At first, I felt like less of a woman because people would say to me, ‘Well, I knew someone who laboured for 36 hours with their first baby.’ Or they would talk about how few interventions they’d had with their own births, like all of this is the high watermark of womanhood.

I grieved everything I missed; the ‘it’s a boy’ moment, the cord being cut, seeing the placenta, hearing him cry, and experiencing the first breastfeed. Any time I hear about someone else’s “natural” birth, I get triggered, knowing I will never experience this for myself.

I struggled through the first few weeks of breastfeeding, desperate to hold onto the last lingering shred of connection I had to a natural birth of my son.

It sucked. Knowing I would never give birth again also didn’t help.

But in the months following, I have reflected, contemplated, and grown through all of this. I realise that births happen in many different ways and what was completely unorthodox was still beautiful, in that it brought life into this world.

I am no less a woman because I was induced, used an epidural, or because I had an unconscious c-section birth. Although I am grateful, my birthing experience was devastating, scarring, and isolating. Being able to make sense of it takes away some of its darkness.

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I’m going back to work.

Before Master S came along, I stuck it out in an environment that diminished all of the self-confidence I had built up over the years of coming out and living as a gay woman.

“Happiness doesn’t pay the bills,” was my mantra as I worked to burnout, from the discomfort of the closet I’d worked so hard to come out of years earlier.

I saved almost every cent, desperate for the privilege afforded to few in this modern world, the opportunity to be a full-time stay-at-home Mum.

I eventually moved on, with the view to achieving a better work-life balance as I approached parenthood. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and I started to really enjoy my career.

After S was born, I was so excited to do Baby Rhyme Time, playgroup, and trips to the park.

It wasn’t until about five months in that I started to feel an intense boredom, restlessness, and loneliness that I couldn’t seem to fix.

Playgroups I tried in my local area seemed to be populated by nannies and hired help, or Mums who wanted to complain about their husbands in a communal echo-chamber.

Holy shit, it was depressing. And after awhile, something had to give.

So I went back to work.

Just two days a week, and only on a casual basis. The first day I dropped him off, I couldn’t believe how free I felt. I also noticed how much more effective I was in the classroom with organising instructional time and managing difficult behaviour.

When you’ve left your baby in daycare to work, you really do mean business when you get into your flow state.

When I picked him up after a day in the classroom, I had missed him, but I could see how much he was getting out of the extra socialisation and time out of the house. I was actually benefiting from the insignificant things I had taken for granted, like lunchtime banter with other adults.

I felt like a human again.

I refuse to buy into the outdated notion that a child needs their Mum home 100% of the time in order to grow up healthy and well-adjusted. It suits some people and benefits some families, but it’s not for everyone.

To the contrary, I think a little bit of space in the early years can deliver amazing benefits for a developing child, if it means the Mum is happier.

Not every mother is cut out for the full-time, stay-at-home Mum life, and that’s okay. 

It’s high time we stopped assuming that what suits one family or individual is automatically going to suit another. It takes all sorts to make up this weird and wonderful world we live in.

 

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Not everyone you meet is a narcissist.

Whenever there is a mental health awareness initiative, it is all about informing people that many people have struggles with depression and anxiety.

This awareness is a good thing. It is working to end the stigma around mental illness.

However, this should extend to helping people become more educated on the workings of the mind. Too many people are quick to self-diagnose, or suggest diagnoses to others.

Similarly, the way people use diagnosable conditions as adjectives doesn’t help.

Think….. ‘That’s so OCD/ASD/you’re narcissistic/you’re delusional/you’re so bipolar!’

At times, I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve thrown the word ‘sociopath’ around a few times, but now that I know better, I can do better.

The truth is, we can all be self-centred. Many people like their living space to be ordered. We all have social struggles. These traits can exist in healthy individuals as quirks, or they can exist in a collection with other traits that form a diagnosis.

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However, these traits in isolation do not make a mental health condition.

Narcissism in particular is one that gets thrown around an awful lot. I’ve noticed it on Pinterest and in a number of Facebook communities, where people describe their ex, their mother, their siblings, their dog, as a narcissist. There is coaching on how to deal with such people.

All without any formal diagnosis, mind you.

Narcissistic personality disorder affects only a very, very small sample of the population. It is very resistant to treatment and can be devastating for the person who has the disorder.

Throwing the term around to describe every person who has taken a selfie, behaved selfishly, or been unfaithful in a relationship does not help the people who struggle with a very real, very misunderstood mental condition.

From what I understand, the diagnostic criteria is actually quite stringent, as such that your average self-interested type generally falls short.

We are talking about less than 5% of the general population.

Conversely, certain traits are common across disorders. So, just because someone has cognitive empathy, lacks affective empathy, and falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum, does not mean they are also a psychopath and a narcissist.

I guess it’s all about understanding nuance, which humans struggle with.

You can be socially awkward, but not ASD. You can be detached and limited to cognitive empathy, but not have a personality disorder. You can be nervous, without having clinical anxiety.

That is not to minimise people’s experiences, but not everything needs to be pathologised. Self-diagnosing and the diagnosing of others using speculation and Doctor Google only begets fear, ignorance, and the prevention of recovery.

The person you are struggling to deal with (including yourself), probably isn’t as disordered as you think they are – and if they are, it’s best to get some formal clarity from a psychiatrist or someone equipped to make a judgment.    

That is the only way to work towards a better understanding.

person submerged on body of water holding sparkler