“Mum get me a sick bucket”

It’s been a peaceful few weeks in the Ballantyne house with both children going to bed beautifully. Yet as I write this my 4 year old daughter is wailing from her bed that she needs a wee (she already had one) and she needs Mummy.

I should have realised we were in for it when she chose the longest and most complex of her books for her bedtime story. The collectors edition of “Wizard of Oz” which has pop up pictures and about 14382990 pages. Thankfully she can’t yet read anything with more than  one syllable so I edited it down. A lot.

After giving me kisses and cuddles then demanding I give her kisses and cuddles then asking for me to blow her a kiss to catch, and then blowing me a kiss, and then sending me a cuddle, then demanding I cuddle myself before sensing it to her…. she said goodnight. 

Five minutes later:

“Mum I need a drink”

I sigh and get some water. Now that she mentions it I don’t know when she last had a drink and immediately feel like a crap parent. I trudge back upstairs and hand her the bottle. 

“It needs to be colder,” she says thrusting it back at me.

“No that is all that you are having”

“Is it from yesterday?”

“No its from the tap,”

“But it’s isgustin,” she protested dropping the first consonant as she tends to do with big words. “It’s making me sick,” she says and then starts pretending to vomit.

I ignore her and go downstairs.

“Mum I need a sick bucket. Get me a sick bucket,” she moans.

I continue to ignore her. So she changes the demand and yells “I need a wee”

She is still shouting……

Beating the panic

Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it.

It is July, six months since I started to feel unwell with a git of a respiratory virus, panic attacks and chronic fatigue. The good news is that today I feel 90% better and having shared my experience I am very grateful to all of the lovely people that have been in touch to tell me that they have had similar issues. Some of you have managed it into submission, others are still struggling and for those in the second category I decided to write down some of the things that I’ve done that have helped – starting with talking about it.

Don’t suffer in silence!  Almost everyone that I’ve talked to about this has felt better once they realised what it was. And to do that you have to talk about it. Panic attacks have less power once we know what they are. Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it. But unfortunately that won’t be enough in the long run. It takes a long time to undo the damage, uncoil the spring and unlearn the responses that have led to these reactions.

For me there were two things I needed to do. First was deal with the short term issues like the panic attacks. Second was the long term stuff – making sure that I made changes so that I didn’t end up back at square one as soon as I started feeling “normal” again.

Short term

BREATHING – Breathing through the panic attacks was the only way I could stop them. I think its called circular breathing. When the panic started I’d breathe in for 5, hold my breath for 5, then slowly exhale (for at least 5). Doing this for maybe 10 breaths would be enough to stop an attack. Simple but effective. The doctor said a paper bag also does the trick because you are reversing the effects of hyperventilating by inhaling the carbon dioxide. I preferred the circular breaths.

REST – I reduced my workload massively and spent A LOT of time on the sofa. I didn’t do anything physical at all. My lovely friend (you know who you are and you were brilliant) walked my dog for me and my family helped with the kids. My husband stepped up a gear admitting that he had just left me to do everything – because I never asked him to help. A partnership of one is not very effective. Only after a couple of weeks of resting properly and demanding more from my husband, did I start to feel like I could breathe normally. The boa constrictor that had wound itself around my chest had stopped squeezing. I was not going to be eaten by a snake.

NUTR20160615_122859[1]ITION – I drank lots of water and swapped the caffeine and sugar that had habitually powered me through the day (until dinner), for a diet full of meat, veg, fruit, and dairy products. I ate every couple of hours. My brother got me a brilliant recipe book “The Power of Three” by Dale Pinnock and I really recommend it. Eating like this just felt right. My body knew what it needed*.

Long term

This was more tricky. I was offered a beta blocker called propranalol to help deal with stress, but I decided not to take it. I instinctively felt that the cause of the issues was having too much on my plate. I felt like I needed to unwind myself. If I could unpick the stitches that had drawn me in too tightly then surely the pressure would ease and I would start to feel better? This turned out to be true. But one of the reasons that I could “unwind” was that I work for myself so I was able to reduce my workload and only work from home for a few weeks. I appreciate that for some people this isn’t the case and more immediate treatment such as propranalol is invaluable in order to regain normal function. Everyone is different.

Blood tests also showed that I had severely low Vitamin D.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up but a lot of people with very low levels of Vitamin D feel a lot better when they take supplements. I am giving you a big dose,” said the doctor.

“So what you are really saying is that I need to go abroad and lie in the sun for a month,” I said. “Can you give me a prescription for that?”

“Sunshine would certainly help,” she said.

I became more organised. Living in a state of chaos makes all of this worse. We (instead of I) write meal plans, create lists of things that we need for the week, we plan ahead. Lots of people do this already but for me it is new ground.

I stopped running. Because I was doing it to go faster, and further and to push myself and because the dog needed walking so I was multi-tasking. But I wasn’t getting any better at it, which is not surprising really. I had nothing to put into it. I was quite literally running on empty. So I’ve started trying to build myself up slowly. At first, after about two months of doing absolutely nothing, I went to pilates and walked a bit. The first time I went to a class all my muscles were shaking and I couldn’t do it all. A year ago I had found it too easy and decided that it was boring. Now I appreciate that it is building my strength up slowly from the inside out. I am grateful that I can do it. I go once a week. Then I started doing a few weights, once or twice a week. And more recently I’ve reintroduced a bit or run/walking, but only when it is sunny and I feel full of energy.

Low vitamin D? Get out into the sun. I look like a vampire.
I nap. I work from home so I am lucky enough that if I am struggling then I can take an hour and sleep. It helps a lot.

And finally I was advised by the doctor to spend time doing things that I enjoy. Oddly this one has been perhaps the most difficult to achieve. The past 7 years have mainly been about obligation and necessity. Looking after the kids and working took up all of my time. Like many (most?) parents I had forgotten what I enjoy. My hobby was facilitating the hobbies of my family. And even the rare social events that I was invited to felt like another stressful obligation. I’m still working on this one but I started small – picking TV box sets that I liked and books that I enjoyed. This week I’m trying out a new martial arts class which was a hobby I enjoyed 10 years ago and tonight we are going to a party.

Thanks to all of this I feel sure that the last 10% recovery will, eventually come. After a few good days I feel 95% better but after a few days of overdoing it I can quickly slide back to 50%. The moral of this story is that if you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after those that you love. And those that you love should look after you too. So look at your routines. Do you really need to do everything? Put down the washing, stop thinking about work, tell the kids that the word “Mum” is banned for half an hour, and do something less boring instead. And finally don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your friends and family. It makes it better.

*My body will always need cake too. I would never advocate giving that up. Life is too short.




Brexit, the environment and Game of Thrones

But this Thursday the battle isn’t Dothrakki versus slave masters, Stark versus Lannister or the Wildlings versus the Crows, it is Leave versus Remain and for many reasons, not just environmental ones, I will be voting to stay.

“What’s the EU?” asked my 7 year old last night. His eyes were on the football (England v Slovakia) and he was barely listening to the reply. But I tried anyway.

“It’s a group of countries that work together to make trading easier, make products safer, and promote peace,” I said, desperately hoping that I was telling him the right things. He wasn’t listening anyway because one of the Slovakia players had just got a massive nosebleed which was “awesome” and the fish and chip van had just pulled up outside.

But he will (hopefully) care it in about 10 years when he may or may not be getting a job, going travelling, applying to go to University or playing professional football (his current plan). He will care if he has a family and wants them to breathe clean air. The environmental aspects of this are really important to me and haven’t been talked about much. A few weeks ago I listened to energy experts giving evidence to the government on the implications of the EU referendum on energy and climate change. They expressed their concern that leaving means losing the drive for renewable energy that comes from the EU. The fact that the UK government this year cut the incentives for solar and onshore wind energy shows me the direction of travel should we leave. Under the Renewable Energy Directive the EU has set targets for 20% of all power generation to come from renewable sources by 2020. Under this directive the target for the UK is 15% but we are not going to meet it. A leaked letter from the energy secretary Amber Rudd to some of her Cabinet colleagues late last year said that the UK was headed for a shortfall and we will only have 11.5% by 2020.

So despite being party to the legally binding obligations of the EU, the UK is not investing enough in clean energy. I dread to think where we would be if we left. And what is more a lot of investors in energy are – wait for it – European. The European Investment Bank loaned the UK 9bn Euros for energy projects over the past couple of years. We won’t get that if we leave. Other investors too are uneasy about the prospect of withdrawing. To be honest they were pretty uneasy anyway as the current government energy policy is not working very well. This is evidenced by the fact that we haven’t built any of the new gas fired generation projects that are supposed to replace coal, or started building any new nuclear power stations. As a result the UK’s reserve margin (difference between generating capacity and electricity demand) has been falling. One of the plans that government has to fill the looming power supply gap is more interconnection (9GW to be exact) with guess who? Europe! It doesn’t seem like a good time to be leaving the EU to me.

Another thing that worries me about leaving the EU is that we won’t be subject to other laws that will safeguard the environment like the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and its successor the Industrial Emissions Directive which has already led to the closure of 12,400 MW (Mega Watts) of coal and oil fire power stations because they can’t comply with the stricter limits on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust. Between them these chemicals create ozone (hello climate change) and affect our health (wheesy, chesty, cough?). Being part of Europe means that large companies can’t poison us with their toxic fumes. I don’t trust the current government to put our health above the potential for more profit for large companies.

But to be honest I am finding it hard to think about any of this after watching Game of Thrones last night. After the first ten minutes I thought it was the best thing I had ever seen, starting with Daenery’s outsmarting the slave masters who thought that they were about to take the City of Mereen. “We are here to discuss your surrender, not mine,” Daenerys told them as the Dothrakki charged onto the screen with their arakhs flying to slaughter the Sons of the Harpy (who is the Harpy? Does anyone know?).


And then it happened. The moment we had all been waiting for since she rose from the funeral pyre of Khal Drogo with the baby dragons in 2011. She led all three dragons to burn her enemies. “Dracarys” she said and Drogon roared out his fire. And the crowd (sitting on sofas in homes around the world) went wild.


And then, just when my heart rate was recovering, it got even better.  John Snow may still know nothing (about his heritage) but he knows how to fight for the North. The poetic justice in Ramsay Bolton being savaged by his own dogs as Sansa watched was absolutely perfect. Let’s just hope she isn’t in need of any of Queen Margaery’s moon tea.

So what would Daenerys do about the EU referendum? I think we all know the answer to that. She’d take over and reform it. “I don’t want to stop the wheel,” she said. “I want to break the wheel.”

But this Thursday the battle isn’t Dothrakki versus slave masters, Stark versus Lannister or the Wildlings versus the Crows, it is Leave versus Remain and for many reasons, not just environmental ones, I will be voting to stay.



Panic attacks: what the doctor said

“When you are stressed you start to breathe using shallow breaths and this leads to hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate your blood chemistry changes significantly and that has all sorts of effects,” said the GP

The Scream, by Edvard Munch  is understood to depict the Norwegian artist’s own panic attacks (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

After the trip to A&E I went to see a GP that my brother (who is a mental health nurse) told me was good at dealing with stress related issues. He diagnosed me immediately. “These were classic panic attacks, brought on by hyperventilation, brought on by stress. You can’t get over a simple virus because you are too run down. You need to make some changes.”

Excellent. Whilst there can be no doubt that I was delighted to hear that I didn’t have a heart condition, pulmonary embolisms or some kind of persistent lung infection,  the news that it was something associated with stress and mental health was hard to hear. It wasn’t medicine that I needed, it was to make some lifestyle changes.

Continue reading “Panic attacks: what the doctor said”

Trying not to die on the way to football

I am sharing my experience because a lot of people suffer from physical manifestations of stress and anxiety and until it happened to me I didn’t think it was real. Now I know better.

I had been slightly breathless all morning but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. The mild respiratory virus that had been bothering me for a few weeks was refusing to shift but there wasn’t much I could do about that. Life sped on. I needed to file an article that I’d finished the night before; my 7yr old son needed to be ready for his football tournament which was starting at 9am (where were his socks – arrrggghhh); my 3yr old daughter needed getting ready for nursery (“I not going to nursery today,” she yelled) and I had planned to throw some food in the slow cooker before we left (it wasn’t going to happen).

But by the time we were on our way to the football, 20 minutes later than planned and struggling to find the ground, the breathlessness demanded my attention.  Every inhalation felt inadequate. There just wasn’t enough air getting into my lungs. My chest was tight and sore in a burning, itchy kind of way. I put my head back and inhaled harder. Only when my lungs were fully inflated did it feel OK. I did it again and again. But the dizziness and disorientation were getting worse. There were pains in my chest, high up near my left breast.  I opened the car window and the cold air flooded in. It felt better, a bit. “Mum it’s cold,” shouted a voice from the back. I ignored it.

I was so dizzy that I thought I was going to faint. I gripped my car seat and looked straight ahead hoping that I wouldn’t pass out. We were running late as it was. My son did not need to see his Mum fainting. My husband stoically kept driving. I don’t know what he was thinking.

A few minutes later we arrived at our destination. I couldn’t get out of the car because I couldn’t stand up on my own. I was too weak and I was shaking too much. “What the fuck was happening?” Surely a virus couldn’t cause a heart attack? Was I going to die? I didn’t know what to do. I used the car door to pull myself up. My husband took my arm and helped me out. My son ran ahead oblivious, excited about his match – I was glad that he hadn’t really noticed. We walked over to the pitch slowly and I leaned on my husband like I’d lost a leg. “Phone the doctor,” he said.

The duty GP at the surgery told me to go to the nearest A&E. “I had a chest X ray last week because of a respiratory virus and it was clear.” I said not wanting to waste anyone’s time. “Things can change in a week,” said the GP.  “It is not worth taking any risks.”

Luckily the grandparents had come to watch the football too, so we were able to get me to hospital without ruining the day for my son. By the time we walked into A&E it was all starting again. As I struggled to breathe, the dark patches in front of my eyes got bigger and I had to cling to the wall to stay upright. I was helped into a wheelchair and I wasn’t even embarrassed about it. I knew I couldn’t stand up. Then the shaking started. The only time I had ever had the shakes was when my body reacted badly to all the drugs I’d had when I was having my first baby. But it was happening again.

A nurse took me into the triage room and started to monitor me and ask questions. They did an ECG. My heart was galloping and I had an arrhythmia “But that can be normal,” she said gently.

They would take blood and monitor me for a couple of hours they said. I was put on a bed. I felt bad that I got a bed when there were some very frail and poorly people in that waiting area. “I am healthy. I am only 38. It was my birthday last week. I go running.” I said more to myself than anyone else. And to be honest I hadn’t run for weeks now.

Norm being his usual sympathetic self

Next to me a lady was crying as she sat in her wheelchair. Blood from her hand was slowly dripping onto the floor. The man next to me was vomiting sporadically into a bag, you could hear that his stomach was empty from the empty wretching sounds. A drip was attached to replenish him. The girl opposite looked like she had been beaten up, her face was swollen and she was crying. Two police officers sat with her, two more were by the doors. In the corner a man sat coughing, hacking up flem into a cup every ten minutes or so. The woman next to him yelled “for God’s sake” every time he did it and sat with her back turned to him in disgust. An elderly man nearby was yellow and quiet, he told the doctor that he had the runs. They told him that his kidneys were struggling, he was very poorly and he needed to be admitted.

There is no such thing as privacy in A&E.

“Hello Sweetie,” said a gentle voice, so kindly it brings a lump to my throat to remember it. “I’m going to put this cannula in so that we can take some blood,” she said. Her name was Maria and despite the full waiting room, the police, the hacking, the bleeding, the crying and the relentless pressure that she was undoubtedly under, Maria still cared enough to make eye contact with me and be kind.

After 4 hours of tests and waiting the results were normal. I was not having a heart attack, there was no fluid in my lungs. But the score for a protein related to blood clots (D Dimer) was on the high side so they decided to do a CT scan to check for pulmonary embolisms. That too was clear. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t dying. I should go home. But what was going on?

CT scanner: the drugs that show up any clots make you feel like you have wet yourself – odd

“These were classic panic attacks, brought on by hyperventilation, brought on by stress,” said the GP that I visited a few days later to try and make sense of what had happened. “You can’t get over a simple virus because you are too run down. You need to make some changes.” he said*.

*He said a lot more than that and I’ll give more information in a future post

**I am sharing my experience because a lot of people suffer from physical manifestations of stress and anxiety and until it happened to me I didn’t think it was  real. Now I know better.



Bank holiday morning so far

6:40am “Mummy I got a bogie” yells 3yr old from her bed.

6:30am – husband’s alarm goes off and wakes me up despite the fact that neither of us are working today
6:35am – youngest starts singing/yelling “let it go, let it go….”
6:40 – “Mummy I got a bogie” yells 3yr old who has generally had a face full of snot since spring sprung (hayfever)
6:45 – Go and see 3yr old to wipe her nose. “Listen Mummy. I play my music but not loud,” she says having learned where the volume switch is on the keyboard that she starts pounding at.
6:50 – I climb into her bed hoping to lull her back for half an hour of snoozing. She ignores me and starts bashing a balloon against the wall. “Don’t let it go on floor Mummy”
7:00 – what the hell is that beeping? 7yr old’s digital watch alarm is beeping. And beeping. And beeping.
7:05 – I get up to try and find the sodding watch. 7yr old stays asleep.
7:15 – dog hears all the fun so jumps over baby gate that is supposed to keep him downstairs. He scuttles into my room and gets into my bed. In my spot, which is not even cold yet. Husband hugs dog tenderly, perhaps aware that wife will not be giving tender hugs this morning as she asked him to “turn that bloody alarm off so we don’t all wake up at dawn” yesterday.
7:30 –  7yr old is up. “Stop shouting Georgie I want to go back to sleep” he yells as he makes his way to the bathroom.
7:40 – I look at the dog in my bed. My husband snoozing. 3yr old laughing. 7yr old on the toilet. And I feel pretty lucky really.
7:45 – Coffee time. Except we have run out. Arrrrgggghhhh

Beatrice and Clancy: the letters: volume 1

For some reason my good friend Andrew and I began writing to each other in the style of maidens from the early 1800s. This made us laugh so much that we just kept going until he hotfooted it across the globe and I started having babies. However in a recent shed clearance exercise I found the letters, which I had printed out and lovingly preserved. Some are mouldy – so I’ve had to retype them.

Please find below the first communications between sisters Beatrice Montgomery-Smythe (Andrew) and Clancy Cuntingly-Hoare (Bernadette).

The racy and controversial content of the letters called for a cunning disguise:

Good Day Sister
My fair temperament is being truly tested with the promise of the coming reunion this weekend. I am trying not to show my excitement for it is not correct that a lady allows herself to lose control of her feelings. I am in a calm state of optimism. I am sure that we will have a pleasant afternoon. Perhaps we will even go into town for afternoon tea? I shall ask my Master if I may take charge of his coach and horses. Mother is stitching me a new hood for the occasion. It is of finest brown silk and will go quite well with my red bustle. Oh I must stop with this vanity at once. I apologise for I am getting quite carried away. Have a safe journey dear sister and pack lots of sugar for the horses.
Yours in anticipation


Prithee Young Maiden
I shall arrive in the first tier of the new marvel that is the steam engine. I remain in awe of this scientific breakthrough. I fear that man seems to have no boundaries and that God will soon know his place. Although blasphemous it is preferable to the two day wagon journey. However is it really necessary to transport the lower classes to the same engine in steerage? I hear that consumption is still rife among the poor.
Until Saturday

Oh Dear Beatrice
Exercise good care if you really are to embark upon such a perilous voyage. Those Stevensons will surely burn in Hell for their denouncement of the Good Lord. What next? Will man be taking flight and visiting the heavens?
I am quite mortified. Mother has taken to wearing stockings and the whole house knows. She has been flaunting herself in front of the good doctor again and he will no longer visit the house.
Please tell the drivers to keep you far away from the working classes. I dread to think of the ailments that may be passed on.
I too have been drawing in my hooks…..there is a gentleman that I am trying to impress.
Until the weeks end – unless my mortal sinful soul has burned in Hell.

Dearest Clancy
I am most disturbed to hear that your Mater is gripped by a wild fever that is causing her to flaunt her womanhood. I suggest that Batley, your footman, de-louse the man servants that Giles brought home from the colonies. Lady Agatha experienced a similar gripe after Charles returned from his expeditions in india. Although procuring the finest silks beknownst to man, Charles found Agatha quite incorrigible – she even dared show her petticoat! He has temporarily solved the issue by having her commited. I therefore understand your unease and have this taken it upon myself to contact the local apothecary. Although much to her chagrin the apothecary has suggested a liberal covering of her person in the bathhouse with leeches. Quite revolutionary my dear!
As for man taking flight to the heavens???? Popycock my dear (excuse my loose tongue). Next you will be suggesting a trip beyind the moon when cows stop profucing cheese. Can you imagine? You really must keep such sentiments to oneself as such drivel could ensure a public lashing.
I try my best to keep away from the lower classes to counteract vile illness. My snuff box contains arsenic dust, which numbs one’s nostrils to their odour. You really must try it my dear.
Prithee tell me of your suitor. I hear that Master Huntingly has come of age?
With fondest regards,



When the travelling bear came to stay (the grown up version)

Jim spent the afternoon hitting on Elsa who was having none of it.

Jim the travelling bear came home from nursery this week and immediately started to bully the other toys. He picked on the biggest soft toy first to establish dominance knocking rabbit out cold with a headbutt. With rabbit out of the way Jim told Lucy the dog that she had to carry him around “I don’t do walking,” he said. “Now take me downstairs you bitch,” and Lucy did as she was told – because she is voice activated.


“What the fuck is this?” Jim moaned as G tried to give him some smoked salmon. “Put some lemon on it for God’s sake,” he said shaking his head in disbelief before running off to the bathroom for his morning poo.


He spent the afternoon hitting on Elsa who was having none of it. “If you touch me again  I’ll freeze your furry little heart and nail it to the wall,” she hissed. “I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”

“I’ll have sex with you,” Anna whispered into his ear. She quite liked his macho ways but little did she realise that nosy Peppa Pig had overheard and immediately grassed her up to her big sister. “Stop being such a slag Anna. I can’t protect you forever,” Elsa shouted and then zapped Jim straight in the balls with frozen magic.


Jim was out cold for the rest of the day. His temporary owners kindly placed him in front of the radiator to defrost.

Later that day Jim took himself away to the tree house to reflect on what had happened. He decided that he didn’t want to be a bully any more so he wrote the toys a letter.


*Jim has now been returned to nursery where we gave them a more child friendly account of his adventures. To those who have yet to experience the travelling bear have fun – and keep a close eye on him

Life Love and Dirty Dishes


Centre Parcs: a weekend in Woburn


It was my idea to spend £1200 between six adults and three children for a 4 bedroom lodge at Centre Parcs in Woburn for a weekend during half term in February. So I was feeling the pressure. What if it was shit? What if everyone hated it and I’d made them spend £400 each?  As I was responsible for herding my family off to Woburn Forest I was desperately hoping that it would be worth every penny and impress us with its fabulousness. But did it?

Continue reading “Centre Parcs: a weekend in Woburn”

Sod’s Law: the Mum version

I spent ages on this cake so therefore it went badly wrong "Mum's Law". It was supposed to be a hedgehog but became known as the birthday rat.
I spent ages on this cake so therefore it went badly wrong “Mum’s Law”. It was supposed to be a hedgehog but became known as the birthday rat.

Some people call it Sod’s Law, others Murphy’s Law, whichever one you use it generally means something really crap is happening when you really don’t want it to. And the more that you don’t want it to…the worse it will be. There should be a version of this for Mums called Mum’s Law so I’ve written a blog about it on HuffPost. Have a read and tell me if any of these sound familiar……!


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