Canberra Day Ten

There’s something about “having” to get going in the morning to take hubby to work that really keeps me going and it’s working well. Actually, until his new workplace provide him with an ID and access to the change rooms (I mean its only been 7 workdays!), he’s been given authority to charge a cab to and from work. But I asked if I could still take him in of a morning, because it’s really working for me. And why tamper with a willing system?

I took my bike AGAIN today, two days in a row, and did the same combination of central loop/eastern loop of the Lake Burley Griffin bike path. I love that lake every time I see it: it’s so scenic, and rich with birds, and history. Not to be caught out with my camera twice, I slung it over my shoulder and headed off. Not the best set up but it worked well enough. It was pretty chilly but I had my camera and my bike and I was excited! Anticipation is so powerful. I guess it’s like hope, in a way. And hope is probably the most powerful counter balance to mental illness.

I got my photos of the NINE ducklings. YAY! Hope fulfilled. Plus unexpectedly another family of ELEVEN ducklings!! And TWO Masked Lapwing (previously Plover) chicks!!! And a baby rabbit! And a baby Golden Whistler that was playfully flitting around the tree above my head. This paragraph hardly does justice to the joy, the bliss, and excitement, and happiness that all of this brings to me! It was a beautiful morning. Not only that but I recorded MORE species of birds this morning; FORTY FOUR up from THIRTY EIGHT yesterday, including a Double Barred Finch which was a LIFER for me; a bird that I’ve never come across before. That’s because it doesn’t occur naturally in Victoria – truly a bird for above the border.

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I had another fun jaunt at Floriade checking out the shopping stalls, trying one some clothes, tasting the honey donuts which were a terrific recommendation from a friend, and checking out the flowers. I can already see some tulips starting to fall apart, and others popping up and starting to unfold. I can see how a week can make for a total change in the gardens. I still haven’t tried the ferris wheel, but I will.

You must check out my website for Spring Babies!

And for some photos of the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin check out Bike Ride and Baby Shower and Morning Lake Burley Griffin Drive.

R U OK?

Today is R U OK? day. It’s an annual day nominated by the R U OK? suicide prevention charity to think about the people in our lives and consider if they are okay. More than that, it’s a day to take ourselves in hand, try to be brave and open a conversation if we think someone we know is struggling. Of course this is something that should happen every day. But today is a day to revive our intentions to be a good mate to our family, friends, colleagues, anyone we bump up against in our daily lives. It’s a day to understand a bit more about what drives people to consider suicide, and to learn ways that we can safely help them.

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I’d love each one of you my readers to check out the R U OK? website. Just pick one topic and give 5 minutes of your time to taking on some new knowledge, or understanding, or strategy. It really can change and even save a life. It’s that important.

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Some of the topics I think are great are Mates, resources for every day, news stories and information, but I’m sure you’ll find the topic that makes most sense, or means the most to you.

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I’ve been a mental health advocate (at least I think I have been) for a lot longer than I’ve been ill with mental illness. By that I mean that I’ve considered mentally ill people the same as myself just with a condition requiring treatment, and tried to show to others that they don’t need to be feared. As a child I was used to being around mentally unwell patients. One family friend had schizophrenia and another had bipolar disorder. We saw them regularly, saw them better and worse, visited them in hospital and knew they were just people like the rest of us. And they were just the people who had known, obvious, must-be-treated illnesses. Who knows how many people in my acquaintance had depression or anxiety that was more or less invisible. I wouldn’t know. It was never talked about. If they were there, I never knew. Which is a terrible shame.

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So today is about conversations. I want people to have conversations. But first of all I want to tell you why R U OK? as a charity and a question is so important to me.

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When I was depressed or anxious, I felt awful. I was barely dragging myself around, limping from bed to work and from work to bed. My brain was either whizzing or sluggish; it wasn’t very useful. I felt like all of this must be pasted across my face, and that surely someone would notice today that I was struggling and ask me about it. It had to be written on my forehead, I thought, why can no one see it, why is no one wondering what’s wrong with me? I was just dying for someone to see it and come to my aid.

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But nothing happened. I didn’t want to be attention seeking and bring it up myself, I wasn’t one of those people who was always making a fuss. But I was in pain here, it must be obvious. I thought of a hundred ways to bring it up, but I just couldn’t. It was too obvious a way to start a conversation, there was no easy lead in.

“So you’re having tuna for lunch, that’s interesting, did you know that I’m depressed?”

So I dragged myself around, wondering and waiting and hoping that someone would do the hard part for me and bring up so I could let it all pour out. And do you know the funny thing? Having felt so isolated, like no one could see the real me inside, like I was alone in this experience and so on, once I was officially sick and had told people about it, I had several comments along the lines “oh I thought so” and “I figured something was wrong” and “I knew something wasn’t right” and “you didn’t seem like your usual self”. If just one, only one person had actually said that out loud, it would have been such a relief, a balm, a comfort! It probably would have meant that I got help sooner. It could’ve shorten the process, and I would have been so thankful. It would’ve meant such a lot.

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Speak up. If you can see a change, say something. If things seem different, say so. The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong, and they are just having a bad day or week, or are preoccupied. But how can it hurt? At the least, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your concern, the effort that you’ve gone to, your care. It would be a rare person who would take exception to your kind heart.

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The second part is knowing what to say. The reason for this charity’s name is that R U OK? is a powerful question. It might not seem like it, or seem much different to our usual greetings, but it works. We say hello, hi, howdy, how are you going? what’s up? how’s it going? how’s things? alright? and a hundred similar things so many times a day. And we’re programmed to response almost rote: good thanks, hey there, great, how about you? not much, well, yep and so on. So much so that if someone says something different to these, we can accidentally get caught saying good thanks before we’ve even registered that they’ve asked us what’s up?!

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But R U OK? hits a different nerve. It makes us really think about how we are, and it elicits an honest answer.

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So here’s what I want to do. I want you, one day over the next day or two, to count how many greeting encounters you have in one day. I consider one encounter to be one person say hello and/or how are you and the other person responding. Now I know for myself, home most days, there aren’t very many encounters. But for people working in retail there might be many, maybe more than what I’ve allowed for. I really want to know what your number is! Please get involved and let’s see how many times we bump up against each other each day.

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I’ll post the results as early as possible once you’ve had a chance to respond with data from your working life today and tomorrow. If you don’t read this until the weekend, give me your weekend numbers too.

My aim for this poll is to think about how many times we have a typical hi/how are you conversation. The next step after this is to consider what might happen if we changed ONE of these rote conventional habits into an R U OK? conversation. What could U achieve, how could U have an impact on someone else’s life? You already read my tales of mental illness, so you already have a kind heart and I daresay you want to help others too. This is the perfect chance, and I hope to take the baton and run with it.

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Finding the light

Hello friends,

I’m back. Sorry about missing the blog last week! I tried. I came up with one draft, then discovered it was totally over-dramatic and not what I wanted to say. I did another one, but when I read it back over it just didn’t really seem like much of anything! So, here I am with two discarded drafts, no post for last week, overdue for this week and next week is coming around fast! A bit frustrated!

Why am I so stuck? Why am I spinning my wheels? I want to write about suicide, but this time it’s real, somebody that I used to know. And despite however much distance you’d think “used to know” would put between me and this event, it has gotten under my skin.

For people who suffer with mental illness, hearing about another person’s experiences can be a trigger for a worsening of your own condition. We’re so susceptible to worsening when we’re unwell. It’s different when we’re doing well; we’re resilient and strong. This is especially true abut suicide. Talking about suicide, hearing about suicide, reading about suicide can be a trigger for someone who is unwell to start thinking in circles, over and over about suicide. That’s not to say that someone can cause another person’s suicide. But to a person on the edge metaphorically, it only takes a tiny bump to over-balance.

I’m not suicidal. I’ll clear that up now, and relieve any worried minds. I’m actually doing quite well, but this event has given me pause to think about not being well. It’s quite a long time since I have been suicidal. I have been very fortunate that suicidal thoughts have only been a small part of what I’ve experienced over the last 3 years. I tend towards grey days, nothing dramatic. But still, hearing about someone I’ve known, someone who was one of my first childhood friends, someone who I grew up with ending their life creates a moment of questioning of the situation and myself.

Of course there’re so many questions that come with any death by suicide. Thankfully in this case some of those were answered before the last day. The family were well aware of the mental illness and very supportive of their son, including providing a flexible workplace. Relationships were good, things had seemed to be going well. But there was no questioning why he died because the answer was clear: mental illness. Of course there was the question of could we have done more? But the answer is no: medications, counselling, support all given in full. Just an overwhelming sense of wishing it hadn’t ended this way this soon, but feeling that maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Could something have stopped it happening that day? Yes. Would that have stopped it ever happening? No. Could we the long lost friends have done more, kept in touch? Yes. Would it have changed anything? No. Because it’s not about us, the friends and family. It’s about the mental illness battle ground in a person’s head. However much we love someone and want to help them, we can’t climb inside their head and fight the fight for them. We can only do what we can do from the outside.

Someone with mental illness has different questions that are all for themselves. This person had depression, I have depression; he ended his life, so where does that leave me? If it took xyz for my friend to take his life, what would it take for me to get to that point? They took their life this way, could I do that; if not, what would I do? It’s like being inactively suicidal and contemplating ideas and theoretical points of view, but you have no plan to carry them out; no active suicidality (the medical term for being suicidal). It’s like ruminating on whether I’ll get to go on holidays this year, and if I do where will I go, and what luggage will I need to pack? When patients are actively suicidal they will often have their will written, letters completed to their family, plans for handing over the business and literally will have signed themselves out of their life having hoarded enough poison, collected enough rope, built up the nerve to jump in front of the train etc. Then again sometimes it’s pure impulse on a background of ongoing suicidal thoughts that are just eating away at your will to live. A tipping point is reached, and that’s that.

So I’ve had a period of questioning myself: how am I? Am I doing okay? Are things still under control like they were before I heard the news? I run through my “on the edge” symptom check but there are no tell tales signs; maybe I’m a bit more shaky in my left hand, maybe I’m a touch more anxious, a bit more fixated on anything changing. But after giving myself a few days to take the impact of the news, attend the funeral and debrief, things are okay. I’ve gotten through a potential trigger okay.

Which is bully for me! For the family, the friends grieving now and for a good while to come, where is the light? Where are they to look to find something good out of this? One place that I’ve found comfort is to see the men and boys in my old friends life passing the okay sign around on Facebook in a campaign to vow to listen to each other, to talk about mental illness and suicide, and to try to prevent this from happening again. This has to be one of the best ways to commemorate a death by suicide; a pledge to fight it’s influence and talk about it openly.

I know that its difficult for people to talk about this awful thing that’s happening in their heads. And it’s hard for others to hear what they have to say about it! But we have to be brave; be strong and talk about it. Bringing it out into the daylight is the only way to make it less scary, and to take away its power over us. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And remember the souls who couldn’t fight it’s power anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean it or even want it, but they were overpowered. Remember that. They were fighting the battle and lost, through no fault of their own. Remember them. Talk about them. Share their story. There is someone out there that you can help if you talk about suicide.

Check out Conversations Matter for videos, fact sheets and resources for talking about suicide.

Use one of the umpteen helpline services that are available in this country. You don’t have to have a mental illness to call. You can call to talk about a friend, someone you knew who died, or just to learn more about mental health. So many people are reluctant to call, so go ahead and buck the trend! Call! Ask questions, learn things, talk to someone on the end of the line anonymously before you talk to a friend. Whatever you do, do something to improve awareness of suicide and prevent it occurring again.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

Lifeline 13 11 14 (crisis support and suicide prevention service)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide)

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (5 to 25 years old)

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

Qlife 1800 184 527 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities)

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

Many more helpful phone numbers and web sites can be found at Mental Health Commission’s Get help page

No reason why

This conversation happened more than a year ago now and I’ve just remembered it this week. Something prompted me I guess; I’m not sure. I was just sitting eating my tangelo outside in the weather on my tea break and it popped into my head.

This person was very well meaning. I’ve stripped back the conversation to those parts that are relevant to the point I want to make, which is that there is a difference between being sad, and having a disease called depression. This person offered several lovely and kind offers of sympathy and best wishes, and in the end we understood each other perfectly well, which is a satisfying and lovely point to come to between two people.

I don’t bear them any ill will, either now or at the time. I just understood then and now that when they said these things, they were meaning well and just didn’t understand what depression was and how it worked. So I explained my point of view, they understood that and asked several questions to help them get the facts straight, and we parted better friends. I’ve given the pertinent parts of the conversation below. At no time do I intend to reveal the identity of my friend. Honestly, the reason this conversation stands out to me is less because of who it was that said it, than that it wasn’t the first or last time I’ve been asked about sadness, or the cause of my depression, or had interesting versions of depression presented to me.

This post is to add clarity to what is depression, what is sadness or grieving or emotion, and why the difference is of any interest to you and me.

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Person, via text: “Danika, why are you so sad? Are you ok?”

Me: Yes I’m okay. I’m not sad, I have anxiety disorder and manic depression, or bipolar disorder.

Person: “You have everything a girl could wish for! A job. A loving husband. A place of work. A faith and I’m sure you have friendships and family. You have more than most. You have more than me. I don’t quite understand the reason for your depression”.

Me: There is no reason!

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This post is about you. And me. And everyone we know. It’s about how we think about mental illness. I’m not going to even go into the issues of stigma, discrimination, fear etc. There are many places where you can read about that. I just want to talk about how you, and I, and the next person think about, and talk about mental illness. I’ll narrow it down even further to my area of “expertise” which is depression, and manic depression or bipolar.

No one has more right or claim than anyone else to suffer from the medical condition that is depression. Depression just occurs. Like coeliac disease, or asthma, or cancer. There are people that are predisposed by genes or environment but at the end of the day, stuff just happens! We all know this about medical disorders but we tend to think differently about mental illness.

The opposite is true also. No one has less claim than anyone else when it comes to what diseases they get lumped with; their environment may be better but maybe their genes are worse or there may be life events that induce so much stress that the disease pathway is triggered. We don’t have to and don’t want to be competing for who should and shouldn’t have depression. Let’s just take it at face value and focus our efforts on supporting and caring for our friends who have depression.

Depression is not choosing to be sad. Depression is not a choice, just like grief and sorrow are not choices. Depression is feeling sad, mostly without a cause, and being bewildered by how extremely awful you feel in a situation where 5 minutes ago you were fine.

Bad things, very bad things happen in people’s lives. And the badness that they bring causes great sadness, grief, stress, sorrow, pain, hurt. When the badness can’t be removed or goes on for a long time or is so very hurtful that a person is under constant stress, mental illness can follow including post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. I don’t dismiss or belittle any of the emotions caused by bad events. Like I don’t belittle mental illness. People suffering from either need our kindness and sympathy.

But I do believe they are two different things. And I do believe that knowing they are separate things, and talking about them in different ways will help the people suffering to know that you are trying to understand, and help them. And this is an extremely valuable thing when you are suffering; knowing you have people on your side who are trying to help as much as they can.

As far as I can see, there’s a) direct pain and suffering from specific situations, then there’s b) random pain and suffering from mental illness. I seem to suffer from random pain, for whatever the “reason”; but of course randomness doesn’t have a reason, it’s random!

At all times I have been very well aware of how blessed I am in life. That makes suffering depression worse in my view. Not easier.

I used to run this checklist over and over to find a source of why I felt so awful and like life was unbearable: a fabulous supportive amazing husband, a really nice house that we used to live in and now rent out, a satisfying career that pays well, a rented apartment in a great part of the city much closer to our families. Our lives looked picture perfect from the outside.

But looks can deceiving. Many people didn’t know then that I was depressed, my husband included to an extent. I don’t know what your life is like right now. I can look and see, but what does that really tell me? You’re smiling, wearing nice clothes, visiting your folks for the weekend and playing happy families.

I know that I don’t know you, or what’s going on with you unless I ask. Unless we have a chat, a bit of a delve into the goings on in each others lives.

So I try not to judge from the outside; easier said than done! It’s just impossible to know what’s under the skin of a person. You can try to figure it out, but there’s only one tried and tested method. Just ask.

So why am I sad? Or why was I seen to be sad at that time?

No reason. Absolutely no reason.

No fight, no situation, no happening.

I was happy, contented in my married life, satisfied with my new job, safely housed, no stress, no worry, no issues.

Believe me I have scoured my life for something to show me why.

I had the lovely-turned-awful awful ex job, the horrid horrid ex-commute of my husband’s and his very unsatisfying ex job, and the commute of mine turned solo for the part year plus not seeing each other apart from after 8pm at night. Those had brought a lot of strain over a year couple of years, but we’d fixed it, it was better now!

We both changed jobs, we both moved closer to work and to family support, we were getting on famously and then this! Just out of the semi-blue and into my head.

Crying, anxious, panic attacks, tired, exhausted, famished. .. Just spent! Barely surviving, hardly keeping on going, struggling!

And why?

There is no why.

This is my favorite saying about depression. There is no why!

I was and am well aware that apart from my mental health, I lead a charmed life. I consider myself very lucky, very blessed.

But that don’t stop those tears a falling!!! Doesn’t stop the hurt, the pain, the anguish, the struggle with to-live-or-not-to-live. Although of course it’s not really living to live with full blown depression.

It’s like this: you’ve gone to the seaside for a weekend getaway. You look at the sea. You know logically from experience, from knowledge, by other ways that the sea is beautiful. You love the sea. It’s your favorite place to be.

But. You. Can’t. Feel. It!

You can’t feel it. You stare and look and look again. You touch it, you taste it, you smell it. Everything you do increases your certainty that you should love it, you should be happy here, you should enjoy this moment.

But you can’t.

You try to put yourself through the motions. You walk barefoot on the sand like you used to love to. You let the waves wash over your feet. You breathe deeply and take in the salty, seaweedy smell. Something inside of you should be rejoicing at this moment; thrilling, embracing it, loving it, loving life.

But it isn’t.

Why?

Because. There is no why. That’s depression, that mental illness.

Just like you can’t change your thyroid function, your heart beat or the pain in your toe by wishing it, you can’t will your mind to work differently. It will happen eventually. Medications, counselling, mindfulness, GP consultations, psychiatrist consultations in my case, and simply time.

But it can’t be rushed, it won’t be hastened, and then one day you will feel something more, a bit of excitement, some happiness, some joy and it will be amazing, and you will know you’re starting up the path to regular emotions and a regular life. What a moment!!

I should explain one more thing. Depression is a lack of feeling, feeling awful, pain and hurt. But not every minute of the day. Sometimes in a bad day there are still moments that remind you of your previous life, that just work, and feel good. These can help to disguise and abate some of the depression. But going back to depression feels a little worse after that.

I think this is what throws people off, including me at the start. Did you know that the night before I went to the emergency department because I thought I might die, I went with my husband to our good friends house for dinner and we laughed for 3 hours straight until my belly ached, my face muscles went into spasms and I was completely exhausted? In hindsight it is possible that I was on a high that night, but it’s still a point worth making, that depression doesn’t take up every minute of every day, but when you’re in it, it certainly feels that way because you can’t remember happiness or the good times. So if you can, remember the good times. Write them down on your wall, set up reminders in your phone; anything to remind you that it’s not all bad, and maybe that will help you get through to the day when some of your feeling comes back, and you can see the light!

Pregnancy

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!, gorilla, grass

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!

This popped up in my Facebook feed the other day from Brindabella and I actually laughed out loud! The expression ‘lol’ is so overused online that it has lost all meaning, but this is one situation where it was actually appropriate.

I laughed because over a few months I gradually increased in weight  until suddenly one day I looked in the mirror and realised I looked like this! Not a fun realisation! I mentioned it to my hubby and he agreed that he’d thought for a while now that I looked pregnant! Always helpful but he was kind about it. But its the truth so what can you do.

I should clarify here that I’m not pregnant; the weight is due to indulgence, medication side effects and the symptoms of mental illness. Just to be clear.

But anyway, somehow being that shape and seeing this gorilla translates to funny in my brain…not sure why, but I guess it’s amusing to see yourself mirrored in another species, and to see a big round belly, flabby arms and a double chin on a cute-ish animal looking equally unhappy about the situation!

The weird thing is, I know I’m overweight to the point of exploding over the obese line. But somehow my brain hasn’t caught up. Maybe because it happened so fast and unexpectedly, maybe because I’m in denial a bit…not sure why. I kind of knew already that my brain was lagging behind, but it became most apparent when I was in Thailand recently. Sitting on the boat in just my bathers, swimming in the pool, jumping off the boat into the water carefree and happy in front of everyone else, walking around at lunchtime feeling completely comfortable with my body the whole time. Which was a really nice feeling instead of hating it and wanting it to be different.

Until…I looked back and saw the photos! My big round tummy, double chin, fat cheeks and eyes deep in puffy sockets…ergh! Then I was not happy! Then I was not comfortable with my figure! Photos are kind of the cold hard truth that shoot you down out of your dreamy sky and bring you down with a big hard bang to reality!

I can kind of understand the idea behind body dysmorphic disorder now. I don’t have it and I’m not suggesting I do…but the brain is powerful and can really twist reality sometimes. To be one way, and consider yourself to be another way is…well in this case it’s kind to me to a point, but I guess when it comes to addiction or something like that it is very unhelpful, because you think you’re okay when really you are not. It can be unhelpful to me too I suppose, because when I’m looking at a block of chocolate I think it’ll be okay instead of considering my obesity and how chocolate is really not okay!

Here’s the other thing. When I was first really unwell, the psychologist and the doctor and all the self help websites told me to do nice things to and for myself to help me feel just a bit better. Have a bath, eat your favourite food, watch your favourite show, go to your favourite place either physically or shut your eyes and imagine you are there. So chocolate, a hot chocolate, a bowl of yoghurt…whatever you love, was okay to eat anytime and all the time to help get you through the difficult days.

Except there was no limit put on that habit…so I just kept going and going. A limit would have been good, but realistically I was unwell for months while we tried fluoxetine, venlafaxine, sertraline, sertraline plus mirtazepine, sertraline plus quetiapine, desvenlafaxine plus quetiapine, reboxetine plus quetiapine and full circle to venlafaxine plus quetiapine and finally venlafaxine plus quetiapine plus lithium, the best yet! All of those antidepressants working a bit or not much, until finally the correct diagnosis of bipolar and the life-changing prescription of lithium.

And still the end date for self indulgence hasn’t been set.

I’m better; I’m not back to where I’d like to be. I have more energy; but still need my daily naps. I have more resilience; but some days I just need something external to make me feel better. I’m trying to cut down on my treats and snacks; but it’s hard!

And here’s my shortlist of how fatness that looks like pregnancy is different to pregnancy:

1) In pregnancy, you know what to expect and you prepare your body. You moisturise and Bio-oil your belly to prevent stretch marks. In fatness, stretch marks pop up out of the blue completely unexpected and you have no warning to prepare for that.

2) In pregnancy you get the baby most times, not always. In fatness you just have the rumours, the questions, the look without the baby at the end. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I think this is a bad thing or a good thing….I’ll get back to you.

3) In pregnancy you deliver the baby and the belly size reduces a bit, then gradually reduces slowly back to somewhere near where you started. In fatness, these is no initial tummy reduction; you just start from wherever you are and gradually reduce it hopefully also to somewhere near where you started. So actually, the two conditions can be pretty similar in this regard.

Well that’s about all I have to say about fatness and pregnancy at this point in time.

I started and stopped the gym, I did a few food coaching sessions, I returned to pilates for a bit, I go on and off calorie restriction, we’re trying to do daily walks, I’m trying to get back on my bike on the trainer in the shed, I’m trying to walk past my favourite snacks.

It’s a work in progress; I’ll get there one day. And for now, my attempt is to be kind to myself and remember why I came to be where I am, and whenever I can, to do bits and pieces to help me along the way to getting where I want to go.