You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2007.

cake32.jpgI’m slowly realising that this grief thing is still really gripping me. I keep crying for Duke. How long til it passes? I’ve spent so many years studying psychology but I’ve never done anything on grief. Anyway, I’m trying to do things to distract myself and keep me cheerful. I took an American friend for a day in the Yorkshire Dales; the forecast bad weather never materialised and we had a great day, if a little too long – 170 miles. I think I need to plan my route more carefully next time. However, we visited the Black Sheep Brewery at Masham, the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey and the Roman road at the top of Wensleydale, and it was all beautiful.

American-English clashes 1: she says yarn, I say wool; I think of yarn as cotton and she thinks wool is the raw stuff straight off the sheep. Which it is, but still… Maybe the difference is in the intonation?

American-English clashes 2: I said I’d brought a flask and she thought she was being driven round by an alcoholic. Then I offered her some and she realised it was tea. Turns out the American for ‘flask of tea’ is ‘thermos’.

Also to cheer me up: cake making. One of my oldest friends was 40 on June 16, so I made two fabulous cakes. We’ve been friends since we started high school when we were 11, and she helps with my children and never appears to go off me, so she’s something amazing. I’ve never made these cakes before, but I am a pretty confident baker, and they both looked and tasted great. They’re in the pic at the top (I haven’t yet worked out how to embed them in the text, sorry); there’s a lemon meringue cake at the back, and a chocolate cloud cake at the front. Both are Nigella Lawson recipes.

 I also thought that more healthy eating may help my hormones to regulate themselves a bit better, so made a batch of Hot Tomato Soup from the WI cookbook. I’ve made it before, it’s easy and tastes wonderful. However this time I was out of fresh chillies so I used dried, and I waaay overestimated how much I needed. So today I had to make a second, unseasoned batch in order to blend with the first batch to make it edible.

Final happy thing: took my youngest son riding on Tinker, one of my sister’s ponies. I know I’m unfit, but that little hack really brought it home. I was hanging on to the lead rein, huffing and puffing, being hauled through hedges and ditches by Tink, who is generally well behaved. Problem is she also likes to get out and about, and she hasn’t been ridden much lately, so as soon as she leaves the field she is keen to get going. My 11-year-old boy perched on top, occasionally saying ‘whoa Tinker’, but otherwise content. Despite all this, it felt good to be back in the field again.


After much thinking and discussions I came up with a plan. The solution to my research woes is to become a temporary leaver and return to my course in September. I won’t graduate with the others, but I also won’t spend the summer fretting and tearing my hair out, unable to get anything done because of mother guilt.

Tremendous relief.

I hate my research project. I hate myself for thinking I could do this, and chucking it in and graduating with a postgraduate diploma is looking ever more attractive. The latest blip is that it turns out I’ve been data collecting without ethics approval (I thought I’d got the right piece of paper signed but that was actually something else) so now I feel like the stupidest, most incompetent postgrad student that ever lived and am worrying about what else I’ve missed. I do not want to spend my whole summer feeling like this, but I have a strong hunch that if I keep on with this, that’s exactly how I will be feeling.

 I’m fed up, pig sick and unable to discuss how I’m feeling with my supervisor. She’s awe inspiring: a great teacher, publishes, has kids….. I wish I could be more like her. I can teach pretty well, and I have children, but I can’t hold things together like she can, which is probably why she’s where she is and why I’m still a student at 40. I approach things emotionally and she doesn’t. She is a very sympathetic person in so many ways. If I’m moaning at someone in the department about how I’m struggling, they ask who my supervisor is and I tell them, and they always say ‘oh, you’ll be okay with her, she’s lovely’. And she is, but when it comes to discussions about my work she makes me feel like a five-year-old who still can’t get the hang of potty training. I give myself a hard time when I make mistakes as it is; I can’t cope with anyone who makes me feel even worse.

So the answer so far seems to be: work harder, read more, then you won’t screw up. But I don’t think I can. I cannot take more attention away from my husband, children and home.

I don’t know what to do.

Oh god, this is turning into such a hormonal woman’s blog. But I found out the underlying trigger for the weeping, guilt, brain freeze and keyboard bashing – I was pre-menstrual. I shouldn’t have been for another week, but things kicked in today rather than the scheduled next Tuesday.

PMT and PMS are so variable, the more reading you do the more difficult it is to come to a firm conclusion. My hypothesis is that the hormonal changes take the brakes off, if you like. Women can be a bit (or a lot) fed up about things, but normally they’re coping and getting along in polite society, then suddenly the progesterone plummets and the barriers which hold back the fed-upness are lowered and all hell breaks loose. A very good book on this is Anne E Walker’s The Menstrual Cycle, which was published in 1997. It would be lovely to see this updated and reissued.

 Anyway, perimenopause. I’m convinced I’m in it; my sister dismisses my suggestions. I strong suspect this is because she is only three years younger than me and does not want to face the fact that I’m blazing the trail for her in terms of reproductive degeneration. I definitely need to get going with that exercise programme – did you know that regular exercise, such as a brisk walk, significantly reduces cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimers in post-menopausal women? It also helps to regulate menstrual function.

I did it, I finished the essay. All 3,051 words.

My emotional block finally cleared around Sunday lunchtime. Don’t know if it was blogging about it, or the trip my husband made to the shops so I could have a luscious sugar cone with Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream. Whatever. It’s done.

Now I have to wait and see if the unauthorised extension to the authorised extension gets the nod. Otherwise I will lose so many marks that I might have well have handed in two pages of tear stained rubbish on the due date.

I have an essay to write, and I’m blocked. It’s a month overdue (I did have an extension but that ended on Wednesday) and I need to get it out of the way so I can get on with my research project, but I’m still blocked.

When I’m walking round, or reading research papers, answers come to me but the minute I sit down in front of the keyboard my brain turns to mush. If I spend a long time by the keyboard, tapping in the odd dribble of inspiration, I start to cry. I have discovered I do a little better if I go into the university library or computer clusters, rather than trying to work at home, but still the tears flow if I push it too far.

I think I’m suffering from a mixture of grief, guilt and pressure – grief for Duke the Dales pony, guilt about my family and pressure from myself. I had put off doing stuff with Duke for so long, telling myself that we would have all the time in world once I had finished studying, but now he’s dead so that’s not going to happen. Next the guilt kicks in: I’m doing all this studying and taking time away from my children which I will never get back. This week was half term and I have been telling them to keep quiet, keep out of my way, offloading them onto my friend and my mother so I can try and clear a bit of head space to think and write. My youngest son goes to high school in September; this was probably my last half term with him for having fun. Soon he will be at the point, like his brothers, where time spent with mum is boring and to be avoided at all costs.

And then there’s the pressure. I don’t do well with pressure and expectations. Anyone close (especially family) who imposes any expectations on me more or less sets me up to fail, as I get into such a panic about letting them down that I don’t get the task done. Now, to be fair, doing this MSc was my idea. My dad offered to pay once I had decided to do it, and I am eternally grateful to him. I have learnt so much, especially on Rebecca Lawton’s Risk, Health and Medicine module which has been fab. Even the systematic research review, which had me tearing my hair out in frustration, taught me lots of stuff which I enjoyed learning (at the same time as the hair tearing, somehow).  I’m doing okay, and my grade average is a high merit. But now I’m so tired, and so stalled, I am totally out of inspiration and drive. A voice in my head keeps saying that I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be spending time with my family and the horses. But I want this MSc. I want to do well. I want to prove to myself that I can do it; that all those so-so grades in school were because I didn’t do any revision and not because I’m not quite as intelligent as I would like to think.

I score highly on intelligence tests, so why can’t I get my act together and come up with the academic proof? I just want to put my head down on my keyboard and cry.

I stood in front of my dressing table this morning and realised that I put five separate moisturisers on my face. This seems a tad over enthusiastic, but when it came down to it I can’t decide what, if any, I could give up.

 First layer: Eucerin face cream. I occasionally get small patches of eczema under my eyes and none of my normal medications are allowed on faces. So I tried this, after my husband bought some for his mother when she had a really bad rash on face and neck, and it calms things down amazingly. So, that one is staying.

Second layer: Eye cream. L’Oreal. I’ve tried more expensive stuff but L’Oreal lotions and me get along fabulously well. I have eyes which tend to puff and dark circles, and I can see the difference when I’m on with my L’Oreal. So that stays too.

Third layer: Dove neck and chest stuff (serum, possibly?). This is the latest addition to my dresser top as I keep looking at the line around my 40-year-old neck and biting back the sighs. I like the Dove ads with the real women, and I’m desperate to do something about the neckline. My face is holding up okay, I have next to no eye wrinkles, but I’m vexed about the neck. The Dove stays, or at least until I’ve finished the canister and evaluated the results.

Fourth layer: L’Oreal day cream. The Eucerin is good but doesn’t feel quite thick enough for my ageing skin; I need a top up. Again, L’Oreal suits me. I’ve tried others, my skin gets noticeably drier and more haggard looking (well, I can tell, anyway). It stays.

Fifth layer: Tinted moisturiser. I’m not fussy, I’ve tried many brands and it’s often a case of I buy whatever is on offer then mix it with the L’Oreal. I’m such a pale-faced Englishwoman that the tint is vital for looking alive, but if I put on the tint without the blending I look like I’m wearing a cosmetic mask. This, I think, is the one I could most likely give up but I’d rather not, especially if I’m venturing out into civilised society. I don’t think the horses notice, but people will. It’s staying.

Oh, and then there’s a sixth. The Aveeno body moisturiser which does an amazing job of keeping my eczema patches at bay. I’m not seriously bad, like those unfortunate people who have all-over itchy skin, but when those little patches crop up and start to itch they drive me demented. My GP gave me E45 and aqueous cream but they just sting. The Aveeno stays. Wonderful stuff.

What did women – or indeed, anyone – with tight, dry, prone-to-itchy skin do before modern cosmetics? My husband and I love the idea of getting our lifestyle to be more self-contained – woodburning stove, wind generator on the roof, recycling water, that kind of thing – and cutting out the extras you end up spending money on out of habit, but how on earth could I manage without the miracle moisturisers created in the modern age? I could have a porridge bath to calm the itchy, but if I did it every morning the drains would be clogged.

Answers on a (recycled) postcard please…