Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Your touch leaves an imprint,
Like a brand on my skin,
The ghost of your kiss stays,
Embers burn where you've been.

You have fire that thunders
And you blaze your own path,
Once I feared that my fate led
To the white heat of wrath.

In the face of your fire,
I know now it brings life,
Warmth, light and comfort,
Sweet relief from old strife.

I stand tall in your flames, love,
Now I long to be burned,
Though this heat will not mark me,
For this fury I've yearned.

So let's dance through inferno,
Take my hand and we'll run,
Burning brighter than stars, us,
Two fires igniting as one.

For Gemma.
Original poetry by me.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Shelf Life

"Mummy, the elf has killed the cat."

I opened one eye and tried to blink enough sleep away to see my daughter's face. She was stood next to my bed, clutching the teddy she had been inseparable from since she was two, and I expected to see a smirk playing on her beautiful lips. As my eyes adjusted to the half light of my bedroom, however, I saw tears where I expected to see mischief. 

"Oh, for God's sake," I muttered, my voice still thick, and pushed the covers away. Had my husband been in the room at that point, I probably would have kicked him, but instead I pulled my bereft child into my arms and squeezed her as tightly as I could without hurting her tiny frame.

Once I felt her relax a bit into my chest, I pushed her away gently by her shoulders and looked into wide eyes that still glistened with grief. 

"Listen to me, darling. Daddy and I control the elf. We move him in the evenings to make it look like he comes alive at night. I promise you it isn't real and I'm sorry we lied. I'm really sorry that you've been frightened."

Pete had been enjoying playing the Elf on the Shelf game as much as any young dad with social media accounts, and poor Kringle  (as Meredith had christened our inanimate friend) had found himself in all sorts of compromising positions for the amusement of our social circle. However, there was one cast iron rule: always create a scene suitable for our five year old before she woke up. Last night it had been Pete's turn and he had clearly neglected to deconstruct his makeshift horror scene before leaving for work in the morning; on Christmas sodding eve of all days.

Meredith was looking at me doubtfully. 

"Kringle did it, Mummy. He told me."

I sighed and ran my hand over my puffy face. My head was pounding.

"No, darling. He didn't. You were dreaming," I said, but Meredith just shook her head and pointed into the hallway that laid dark beyond my bedroom door. As I opened my mouth to speak again, we heard a shuffling in the gloom and Meredith dove under my duvet with a small, strangled yelp.

"It's just the cat," I mumbled, trying to sound more confident than I felt as I made my way towards the sound. I had owned Sooty for almost eight years and I had never once heard him scuffle around like that; it sounded sinister, threatening even. As I reached the hall, the unmistakably tinny smell of blood filled my nostrils and I gasped. I fumbled for the light switch, filling the corridor with fluorescence and immediately wished I hadn't. 

Sooty was sprawled in a mangled heap on the carpet, his insides a vivid red against the normally light beige pile. And then I saw him, stood upright against the bannister, his blank eyed grin unchanged and yet somehow twisted into a menacing sneer. 

"K-Kringle?" I managed, feeling both terrified and ridiculous all at once. I heard Meredith yelp again at the sound of his name and turned briefly to glance at her huddled shape before returning my gaze to the scene of horror before me. In that split second, Kringle had moved. He was right in front of me and his wiry little arm was reaching out for my leg. 

As his felt hand made contact with my skin, I saw the truth about the elves and why there were sent. I saw Santa Claus, not the jolly old man from greetings cards, but a hulking mass of judgement, seething in his dank cave as he reviewed the behaviour of the human race over the course of our existence. As he toiled through years of war and pain and cruelty, he grew in size and his rage filled the cavern. I saw my own life in vivid colour: the fights, the affairs, the drinking, and I knew in that moment that it was over. Santa was not making a naughty list, he was preparing to wipe out the sinners and he had played the long game. The elves had been deployed to do his bidding, gradually infiltrating every home across the planet, and only the innocent were safe.

I thought of my baby girl, shaking with terror in my bed, and looked down at the red clad figure at my feet.

"What about Meredith?" I asked in a low, trembling voice.

"She is good," said the elf, his painted lips not moving.

"I am not," I admitted, hot tears spilling down my cheeks as I squeezed my eyes shut. 

"No, you have been a very naughty girl," said the elf, before calling to the shape under the duvet, "say goodbye to Mummy, Meredith. Santa will see you in the morning..."

The End

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

On Reflection

Ah, the Facebook 'On This Day' app: you have to love it, right? Most days, I'm met by glorious photos of my children when they were squidgy and largely immobile or tales of bravely fought hangovers from the days before children and enormous debt, but today was different. Today I was faced with several years' worth of melancholy as I dealt with what was essentially an enormous comedown from an unexpectedly large weekend, and a house that looked a bit like Ground Zero before the clean up.

Maybe this pattern has developed in response to the close proximity of a Christmas that I can never afford, but it seems like more than coincidence that, after the always traumatic school run, I went back to bed and stayed there until lunchtime. I was not feeling today at all.

But then I got thinking about the ghost of Novembers past and the last year in general, and I realised that this year is quite different after all.

November 2016 was the worst one (and that's compared to the three Novembers that saw me unexpectedly unemployed as the sound of Christmas songs drew nearer). I had a two- and a one-year-old and I was drowning in postnatal depression and as-yet undiagnosed Primarily Obsessive OCD, and I spent every day hiding from chores that I couldn't cope with, bills that I couldn't pay and relationships that I couldn't maintain. We were facing the fact that this Christmas would be the last with my beloved father-in-law and I had taken on far more work than I could realistically deal with. I had been at home with the children all day while my husband worked late, and went to bed alone when he text me that he had been tied up due to a fault in the alarm system and would not be home for ages (he was doing nothing of the sort, as it turns out). I was at what I thought was rock bottom at the time, but I had no idea what the next twelve months were going to throw at me. 

It has, in short, been a complete fucking car crash, but I am still here. Five hundred, twenty five thousand and six hundred minutes that have brought separation, death, sexual assault, coming out, glandular fever, the consumption of more substances than necessary, my own rejection of something that made me happy because it was different and I didn't understand it, a mental health diagnosis that hit me like a bullet train, and I am still standing. 

My children are happy and healthy, and my relationship is finally blossoming in a healthy, controlled and balanced way. I have made the conscious decision to stop drinking on a regular basis, but I won't torture myself if I decide to have a couple on special occasions, and the treatment plan to beat the finally identified demon in my head is in place.

I have always thought myself weak, but the last year has shown me that I'm anything but. I am stronger than I would have ever imagined because I'm living in a head that keeps telling me I'd be better off dead and I'm defying it. I am fighting myself every single day and I'm still managing to hold down my family, my home, my job, my relationship, my degree work and my sanity. Every session with my therapist or doctor sees them ask me if I feel able to keep myself safe and the answer is always a proud yes. I can always do it, despite the fact that it sometimes feels like I'm pushing a boulder up a mountain.

I get up every single day and I manage to get through it. I get through it in a different way from other people; we don't necessarily leave the house as much as other families because sometimes getting us all out of our pyjamas is more than I can cope with, but I get through it. We get through it.

I am alive and that is enough to make me a warrior.

Because some things are worth living for

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

I'm Sorry I Was Smug

Dear Other Mums

My first baby was an easy one. He could be a little highly strung at times, but on the whole we never really had many issues to deal with during his first year and my word, wasn't I just the biggest dick about it. When I encountered those of you that were dealing with the curve-balls that I wasn't, I would often make remarks about or, worse, to you about how the situation could be improved; about what you should or shouldn't be doing to put things right, as though a baby's behaviour is somehow down to more than just plain luck (it isn't) and that I was actually in control of what was happening in my own house (I wasn't).

So, to all the mums to whom I offered unsolicited and unwanted advice and to those that I expressed my 'concerns' about to my husband (honestly, what a dick), this post is for you about the things I said/thought that deserved a punch in the face.

"You need to take some time out for yourself." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. It was easy for me to achieve me-time when Blake was small simply because he let me. I could go out and enjoy myself, safe in the knowledge that he would sleep soundly through the night, unaware that I was even gone. It turns out that there is an entire flip side to the scenario in which any alone time is spent feeling anxious and on-edge because you just know that your baby is refusing to settle/feed/chill the fuck out for whichever poor sod you've left in charge. I get it now.

"If they're hungry enough, they'll take a bottle." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. Blake took to the bottle no questions asked. I would provide him with self-righteously expressed breastmilk whenever I had to leave him in the care of others and I knew that he would be happy and satisfied when I returned. I have since discovered that there is a breed of baby for whom starvation is apparently preferable to taking milk from a bottle. I get it now.

"You should try formula to get them through the night." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I was a particularly enormous dick over this one because I didn't even do it. Blake slept through from early on so I sort of assumed that my milk was somehow superior and far more nourishing than anyone else's. Admittedly, on the odd occasion that she has allowed me to give her formula, Merryn has slept a lot better despite the fact that she is receiving the exact same 'superior' breastmilk as Blake had, but it turns out that actually she doesn't give a shit about any of that. I get it now.

"You should try controlled crying." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I thought that crying at night meant a bit of angry whingeing and occasional shouting that eventually tailed off into blissful and complete slumber. I didn't know that there was a very real level of distress that existed in the wee small hours in which your baby sobs breathlessly and inconsolably until you pick them up. I get it now.

"You shouldn't let them dictate when the day starts." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I simply could not get my head around parents that got up with their children at five o'clock in the morning. To me, that was still the middle of the night and, on the slim chance that Blake woke, I would always settle him back down in bed and go back to sleep. Yet there are babies who will thrash, shout, sing, flip over and crawl across your head until you get up with them at four thirty and play with Megablocks on the front room floor, watching the scene unfold through a veil of your own tired tears. I get it now.

"You're making a rod for your own back by co-sleeping." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. Blake would come into bed with us at about seven in the morning for his morning feed, after which we would both doze happily until we were ready to get up. Shortly after his first birthday, he dropped that feed completely and now we can't bribe him to get into bed with us for cuddles. And that was okay; it was good and proper and he didn't form bad habits. I had no idea about the dark, early hours of the morning when all you can do is submit to your exhausted baby's need to be close to you in order to sleep - in order for any of you to sleep. I get it now.

To all of you, I extend my sincerest apologies. I honestly just didn't know.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

When Baby Won't Sleep...

This morning I typed the words 'Can I die of exhaustion?' into Google. In the interests of honesty, I'm not entirely sure which outcome I would have been most satisfied by. As it happens, Google's answer was basically 'We don't really know, but probably' and I think that actually provided me with some comfort.

My son was a great sleeper. He woke twice a night at most from day one and slept through most nights from about three months and boy, was I smug about it? I waxed lyrical about my superior sleep training and highly adaptable baby and felt little sympathy for those at the other end of the sleep scale. The parents who found themselves with a child that wouldn't rest had somehow brought it on themselves, I thought, and weren't trying hard enough to put things right. 

What. A. Dick.

I have done nothing differently with my second baby, yet she wakes almost hourly, screaming to be nursed and refusing to let me put her into her own bed. She then tosses and turns during her brief catnaps, kicking, hitting and scratching us to ensure that we get as little real sleep as possible. I have come to realise that my son's good sleeping habits had absolutely nothing to do with me and that karma can be a bloody cruel mistress.

Currently, my already poor sleeper is going through what I can only assume is her eight month sleep regression as she learns to crawl and I'm about a week deep in almost no sleep at all. Napping when she naps is out of the question when you have a two year old running about the place, trying to stick his fingers in plug sockets and other delights, and he dropped his daytime naps a long time ago, so I get by on a heady diet of caffeine and broken promises of early nights.

Last night I found myself desperate for a pre-nine pm bedtime, and actually Merryn did go down pretty well. Unfortunately, Blake decided that he did not want to go to bed and proceeded to scream so loudly that he woke her up, ensuring that she was overtired, ratty and one hundred per cent certain to not go back to sleep. I don't think I've ever felt anger at my son like it; I actually had to get in the car and drive away, leaving my poor husband juggling two screaming children and the vague feeling that his wife wasn't coming back. I did, of course, but I wished that I hadn't when three am rolled around and I found myself being used as a very pissed off dummy.

My alarm went off this morning to signal the start of the work day and I did a little bit of a cry, because I knew that yet another day laid ahead of juggling work, sleep deprivation and a baby that won't take a bottle (or a dummy now, apparently) and I just long for a day where I can catch up on a little R and R. Instead, I will have to tear from work to home to nurse her, negotiating inconvenient traffic lights and a lunchtime in which I barely get time to eat or drink anything myself.

I keep telling myself it's all temporary, which has long been my parenting mantra when things get tough, but I'm struggling to get the message through at the moment. Of course, I'm struggling to remember my own name right now too. I can't even really recall what the point of this post was. Sympathy, probably, but karma says that I don't even deserve that.

Bloody hell, I'm tired.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

When Motherhood and Mental Health Collide

** Trigger warning: self harm and anxiety **

"But you're better now, right? Happy now? Grown up?"

I nod. I smile. I lie.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. I was in the grip of my long-held demons and I thought that maybe writing down the truth about my mental health would be cathartic; that it would help me to drag myself out the other side. As it happens, writing about those feelings while I had them was therapeutic in its way, but did nothing to portray the cold, hard truth about living with mental health problems as a mother. Instead, it came out too raw, too heartfelt and too much like a cry for help. I don't want help - I've had plenty in my lifetime and know where to turn when I want more - I just don't want to keep nodding, smiling and lying. So, here's the truth. I'm just sorry that it won't necessarily be what everyone wants to hear.

Hi. I'm Dani and I'm a self harmer. 

The scars on my arms and legs are not products of a misspent youth, leftover relics of past issues or any of the other bollocks I spout whenever I'm questioned about them. They are an enormous part of who I still am; testament to a demon that I carry around with me every day, sometimes only just managing to keep a lid on its hellbent anger. I am still a self harmer - I will always be a self harmer - I'm just resisting.

Of course there have been long periods when the urge to hurt myself has been dormant - when I've been settled and in control in almost every other aspect of my life and haven't felt the need to claw some back at the expense of my skin - but then I became a parent and suddenly I wasn't in control of very much any more. Then I had a second baby and I was no longer in control of anything. Here's the ironic thing: I crave control and order, but I get so overwhelmed by life's little (and sometimes quite big) curveballs that I can never seem to get a grip on any of that stuff. I'm shit with money so I don't open my post. I struggle to keep on top of the housework so I close the door on the worst of it and pretend it doesn't exist. I worry that I'm not doing enough to make my children happy so I let them watch TV while I cry in the kitchen.

These problems sound so trivial, but they add up to a tangle of anxiety that feels like white noise in my head and holy shit I miss having a coping mechanism for that. I don't give in to the temptation to cut myself because I don't want to let my children or my family down, and because I know it's dangerous at its worst, but I miss it so fucking much. I've never admitted this to anyone before but sometimes I even dream about it and I'm not talking cold-sweat nightmares; these are dreams filled with longing.

I'm sorry to everyone that thought I was better. Take comfort from the fact that I will go on resisting for the sake of my children; self harm is so insular that I can't afford to get back into my own head like that. The thought of how much of my babies' childhoods I might miss should I give into this demon keeps me out of its embrace.

So I will just go on missing it, because that's the lesser of my two evils.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Six Ways Parenthood is Like Driving

Obvious differences aside - you don't have to pass a test before becoming a parent, for example (sadly) - it has occurred to me that being a parent is a lot like being a driver. Confused? Let me explain...

6. It Costs a Lot

Bit of a no-brainer really, but learning to drive and owning a car is one hell of a money pit. First you have to pay for a bunch of lessons with a driving instructor (if you value personal relationships with friends/family eligible to teach you), then the test, license and eventually a car. The car will then do its best to empty your bank account at every available opportunity with insurance, tax, breakdown cover, MOTs, fuel, tyres, services and shagged cambelts at the worst possible moments. It's an expensive business.

A lot like having children really. You might go to specialist antenatal classes and prenatal yoga, before going home and browsing Mothercare for the perfect (and alarmingly overpriced) crib and travel system. You will buy every single piece of kit that the Internet tells you that you need and, most of the time, you'll use approximately none of it. Then the baby comes along and you're committed to spending every spare penny you get on the little bugger until they're eighteen (and beyond, usually).

5. It's Confusing at First and Second Nature Once You Get It

Everyone who has learned to drive will remember that moment when they 'got it'. Shortly before your test (if you're lucky), the infinitely confusing combination of movements and manoeuvres will suddenly all just click into place and you will just get driving. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at it, but at least changing gears will make some sort of sense. The result is that you will be able to concentrate on the road while muscle memory takes care of the bits inside the car.

Having a newborn is fucking terrifying. Everything about it seems unnatural, from the way you have to bend their flimsy little arms into their clothes to the fact they don't even breathe in a regular pattern, and don't even get me started on their inability to hold up their heads. It's just so scary. Not to mention exhausting; having to think every single second of the day about what you need to do and when is tiring on a level you will not have experienced before. Then, one day, you wake up and it all sort of makes a bit more sense. Your routine will be like a well oiled machine on good days, and even on bad days you'll at least know how to change a nappy without gagging.

4. No Amount of Theory or Practice Will Prepare You

There is a saying that you don't learn to drive until after you pass your test and hardly a truer word has ever been uttered. The first time you take your car out on your own, without your instructor beside you with his extra set of brakes for emergencies, it's one hell of a bloody culture shock; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. The first time I drove after passing my test, I went about two miles down the road and was so tense the entire time that I had to come home and take a nap.

If you think driving alone is frightening, try taking a helpless newborn home from hospital and being left to keep them alive; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. Even now, I'm sometimes a bit alarmed that I've been entrusted with such an earth shattering responsibility. 

3. You Think It's Going to Make You Feel Grown Up - It Doesn't

I used to fantasise about pulling up to important job interviews in my super grown up turquoise coupe, wearing power suits and talking about super important things on my top of the range mobile phone. What actually happened was that I put fluffy dice on the rear view mirror and spent any time in the car wailing along to musical soundtracks. The only thing that has changed is the type of car (red five-door hatchback) and the CD (CBeebies - I still sing along). Oh, and I much prefer to text.

I was going to be a parent. Is there anything more grown up? I didn't think so. I thought that my transition into adulthood would finally be complete once I had children of my own. This evening, after putting the small people to bed, I ate Pop Tarts and drank Bitter Shandy out of a can.

2. You Think You Do it Better Than Everyone Else

Everyone thinks they're a better driver than everyone else. You criticise other people on the road from the safety of your own car, even if their behaviour affects you in absolutely no way whatsoever. If you're in a car and someone else is driving, you press your imaginary brake and draw a sharp breath when they get too close to bushes or parked cars, safe in the belief that literally no one can drive better than you.

Parenting works on basically the same principle: you do you and, as far as you're concerned, that's the correct way to do it. You sit at home with your partner and question other people's parenting techniques with raised eyebrows and wry smiles (don't lie, we all do it), certain that you are doing a better job than every other parent on the planet.

1. But Sometimes You Just Can't Do It At All

You know the days: nothing you do inside the car has any flow, you miss your opportunities at junctions and run out of fingers to count the pissed off glares from other drivers. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw but, more often than not, it's because you're tired, stressed or hungover. But you keep going because the journey has started and you have to finish.

Some days you just can't parent - usually when you're tired, stressed or hungover. Some days everything goes wrong, everyone cries and you question every single decision that led to this point. Some days you will feel like you're the worst person in the world for this job and that your actions are going to lead to a lifetime of therapy for your angry and poorly behaved children. In fact, some days you just want to jump into that car and drive the fuck away. But you keep going because, well, the journey has started... and you have to finish.

My face when I'm driving. And occasionally when I'm parenting.