Putting the ‘Resolve’ in Resolution

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Social convention plays a big part. A typical small talk topic leading up to December 31st is ‘Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions?’ 

At this point, many of us grasp at the first thing that pops into our heads that we find least desirable about ourselves and lead with that. Otherwise it’s an activity we think will be impressive if we express interest in perusing it, or, in desperation, we just vaguely mutter something about diet and exercise. 

Thus, the initial issue with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are non-committal, often vague and generic statements thrown about in the name of festive convention. We are not motivated or inspired, the intention is not there to make them thus there is no ambition to keep them and so they are unfulfilled before even being acknowledged. 

Why Does New Year Appeal for Sudden Goal Setting? 

It’s tidy. The first day of a new year sounds like it should be highly motivational, a neat new start, sweeping out the old and starting fresh.

Perhaps this Spring Cleaning tradition would work if the New Year still began in March, when the days are growing longer and the weather is improving, more of us would be able to maintain their enthusiasm and eat healthier and exercise more. 

But the middle of winter is when the majority of us are seeking for comfort from food and warm blankets. 

What Results in Repeatedly Making Resolutions We Never Keep? 

Most of us are self-aware enough to know that we have faults, accompanied by a desire to ‘fix’ them. 

This means one of two things: either we are trying to go cold turkey on undesirable aspects of our personality (my impatience for instance) and get tripped up by being disappointed in ourselves when we are not perfect and make mistakes like losing our temper over parking tickets or someone drinking out of our special mug at work; or we are trying to undertake projects that we simply do not have the time, year after year, to complete. 

Perhaps the first step with the latter would be to improve our ability at budgeting our time and learning to prioritise, and for the former, we need to learn self-love, not to never change, but to respect ourselves and trust our ability to improve overtime. 

Change is never instantaneous and to act like it is (something that is intensified at New Year) is to set ourselves up for disappointment. We should instead appreciate that change is slow, show ourselves the patience and encouragement we would give others when we experience momentary lapses to bad habits. That way, these slips would be short-lived set backs, not obstacles that holt our progress. 

Effective Change is Born of Positivity not Negativity

The core issue is our expectations; our desire to be our best selves, coming up against our idea of perfection and falling short. 

Too often we are focusing on altering rather than enhancing characteristics.  

One of my friends included among their resolutions (it was a long list) to ‘be kind’. This is, of course, coming from a kind person. People are kind, most of us just struggle to be kind to all people all of the time.

I guess we could look at the issue of this ‘be kind’ resolution as being a blanket statement – goals should have some form of measurement (otherwise you will always fall short because your moving your own finish line) and a way to hold yourself accountable, or else it is too easy to continue to perpetually put it off. 

There are also those resolutions that are driven by external rather than internal influences, mostly regarding appearance. Exercise, diet and fitness resolutions are so frequently the result of drawing comparisons, feeling judged and pressuring ourselves from perceived social expectations, rather than from our own desire to be healthier, fitter or live a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Whilst there is much to be encouraged in pursuing a healthier lifestyle, with balanced diet and regular activity, too often these resolutions stem from places of negativity which manifests as defeatist thought spirals. 

A Time for Reflection Not Resolution 

Instead, New Year should be a time of reflection, a relaxed evaluation of the year gone by, a chance to feel proud at what was accomplished and acknowledge anything that we would have liked to have done differently. (Do not dwell on the latter, acknowledgement is not the same as regret unless you give it more than the passing glance it generally requires).

Reflection is a slow methodical evaluation that enables recognition, instils self respect through acknowledgement, resulting either in acceptance and self love, or the establishment of a considered trajectory for positive change. 

So make this January a time of reflection, and your only resolution to be one of self-care, of acknowledging not regretting and of letting go of the past year to fully embrace your potential in the new one. 

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What You Need to Know About Kidney Stones in Pregnancy

It turns out I spoke too soon and ended up with another hospital trip over the weekend.
But, as promised, I’m going to put the past month and a half’s worth of hospital visits, doctor’s notes and NHS time to good use.

When I was initially diagnosed with kidney trouble: renal colic and potential kidney stones on 1st June, I did what many of us with internet access do and started to research online the condition, medication and potential impact on my pregnancy. Whilst NHS Choices (UK) and the National Kidney Foundation (USA) provide detailed explanations of what kidney stones are, how they form, treatment options and comprehensive lists of symptoms, they have little relating specifically to pregnancy.

The reason it is so hard to find out about kidney stones in pregnancy is because they don’t occur frequently enough to be classified as part of a ‘normal‘ pregnancy (which, by the way, does not exist). Most online information revolves around prevention, which is great, as the famous Benjamin Franklin quote says: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. But we pregnant women already pile huge amounts of blame and pressure on ourselves regarding what we are doing and experiencing throughout gestation and reading that drinking more water might have prevented this current agony does not help. Besides, in pregnancy, kidney stones are about more than mere hydration.

My online research wasn’t giving me much so I wanted to convert the oral information given to me at the numerous appointments with obstetricians, general practitioners and urologists into a post for the benefit of others.

Why Does Pregnancy Make You More Susceptible to Kidney Stones?

Hydration is of course important at all times and during pregnancy a woman’s body does require more fluid for the changes and creations that are occurring. These changes result in the body working harder, including the kidneys.

1. Increased blood volume during pregnancy means increased filtration for your kidneys as they work to remove waste and return nutrients. With increased water consumption the kidneys ideally have enough fluid to filter effectively and prevent the crystallisation of minerals within the organ which can develop into kidney stones. Yet increased blood volume equates to more work and there are more minerals to filter.

2. There are several different types of kidney stone, the most common being composed of crystallised calcium. In addition to increased blood volume during pregnancy, there is also more calcium in your blood because of the developing fetus. Not only is your body absorbing more calcium during pregnancy, but your kidneys are also extracting more, potentially leading to an increased build up of this mineral either as crystals or, eventually, as stones.

3. In addition to your kidneys working harder for you with increased blood volume and calcium extraction, they are also working for your baby. Although the major organs are formed early on in gestation, the fetus still has no kidney function of its own until 10 weeks. At this time your baby begins to drink from the amniotic fluid surrounding it, produce urine and replenish the amniotic sac.

4. However, despite babies having their own kidneys from 10 weeks onwards, you body is still doing a lot of the work until the very last stages of pregnancy. Although the fetus is producing urine, there is still plenty of waste, excess water and other substances transferred between mum and baby via the umbilical cord. It is mum’s kidneys that are then filtering and extracting these extra materials prolonging their increased workload.

5. As with many medical conditions kidney stones have a tendency to reoccur. If you have had kidney stones in the past you have an increased chance of developing them again, especially during the extra strain of pregnancy.

Should You Worry?

I experienced a brief lull and calm after receiving a diagnosis. However, it didn’t last long as although I now had some comfort from what was causing the extreme pain I was experiencing, my thoughts turned immediately to what this might mean for my unborn child.

This was what fuelled my initial online search for information about kidney stones. Typing kidney stones and pregnancy into a search engine can result in some pretty concerning, yet entirely unrelated, findings. Predominately, the results generated will be to do with kidney infections, kidney failure or urinary tract infections. In comparison, kidney stones are not something to fret about. They can be incredibly painful, but it is mainly an issue that affects mum as opposed to baby. The main problems from kidney stones result from pregnancy rather than the other way around.

1. As I have detailed in another post dedicated to medication, there are very few pain management options available during pregnancy. It is usually this, rather than the condition, that results in the increased rates of hospitalisation for pregnant women with kidney stones, not the stones themselves.

2. Usually, kidney stones are left largely to their own devices. This should immediately reduce the rate of alarm because if there were risks to the fetus you can guarantee that there would be very swift action taken (as there would be in the case of infection). Whilst it is far from a pleasant experience, most stones are small enough to pass on their own.

Particularly large stones can cause blockages and then interventions will be investigated. Treatment of kidney stones is complicated by pregnancy as the most accurate method of detecting them is x-ray, which of course will not be used on an expectant mother. Some doctors believe that the risks are negligible but this is a conversation that you would need to have with the consultant or urologist. Ultrasound is the alternative and is still very accurate for detecting large stones, or their presence if the kidney is swollen or puffy.

In the case of blockage or infection (as with urinary tract infections which can be delightfully frequent in pregnancy) there can be a risk to your baby if your temperature rises or a fever develops for a prolonged period. It is always advised that you contact your health professional in the case of developing a temperature, whatever the cause.

Treatment

In these cases treatment appears to be the same for both pregnant and non-pregnant patients. Ultrasound waves may be used to break down the stone (given the much more alarming treatment term of extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy – eek!) or surgery. Today, it is rare for open surgery to be performed with a ureteroscopy being the more likely.

Antibiotics will be used to treat infection, opening up an entirely different set of decisions for pregnant women and their healthcare providers. As with pain management the options are limited and it may be decided to administer them in hospital rather than with a take home prescription.

As usual, this post carries the disclaimer that I have no medical training and that any symptoms that are causing concern should be discussed with a health professional and not self-diagnosed on the internet. This post is intended to compile information and highlight options, not to advise.

The Importance of Taking Time

It has been a long time. A very long time.
Since I wrote anything.
A blog post, a short story, a poem.

Over the years, I have found that I have to be in certain moods to write effectively. Throughout a swing of emotions, or in the moment of extreme feeling, positive or negative. I have written before that creative writing is, for me, a means of expressing, processing and coping with my mental health. As a teenager it helped me channel the pain and confusion I felt about my father’s illness and eventual passing and to navigate the new emotions and hormones I was experiencing.

Creative Writing enabled me to transform negative thoughts and feelings into productivity that felt positive (even though the poetry seldom was).

Since I started blogging, my writing is no longer purely stemming from emotional extremes. But at the heart of blogging are topics that the writer feels strongly about, moved by and it is still (for me) an emotional and personal writing experience.

Hiatus: A Break From Blogging?

A lot has been happening recently. It has been a really positive and exciting month.

So why am I not feeling it?

In my last post, before this unplanned hiatus, I detailed some of the challenges I felt I have experienced as I began to use blogging as part of my recovery.

For me personally, the most persistent is pressure; the meeting of self-set or recommending posting deadlines, and frequently the stress that is self-imposed. I don’t think anyone other than myself is really keeping track of how frequently I am posting or whether I am posting at the same time of day, on the same day of the week and the same amount each month.

To be honest, this month I thought about giving up, packing in blogging. But when I began to give it serious thought, I knew I would be losing something that I enjoy, that builds my confidence and motivates me to be creative.

I am not stopping blogging. But I am stopping putting pressure on myself to fit into a self-created blogging timescale. If I feel like writing, I will. If I don’t, then I am not going to turn it into another thing to stress and be anxious about.

Instead, I am starting to take time.

Time and Creativity

At present, my creativity is appearing in short, sporadic bursts. I am having ideas but not the energy to fully pursue and sustain them. I am lacking consistency (even more than usual) and although things are beginning to move forward (at last), I still feel as if I am going around in circles.

I did manage to write my first poem for about two months however. It’s very simple but satisfyingly sums up for me this particular moment of creative stagnation:

Why do ideas never emerge at sensible times?
When you have a notepad, envelope or pen/pencil
Why do you get them, when these are not at hand
When you are trying to sleep
Are in the shower or on the toilet?

Why can your brain seem so dusty and empty,
Deserted by all and any reasonable ideas
Then awash with a tidal wave you can’t keep up with
Trying to grab at shavings to keep the idea afloat.
Is it just a distraction from that big meeting tomorrow?

I did indeed have what felt like a huge meeting the next day. I was presenting a new research proposal to the company that I work for and I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received. Of course, accompanying this concern were all the usual niggling doubts: would I remember my points, would I be sick, would I make my point persuasively?

Amidst all these thoughts and doubts, a blog post suddenly presented itself. It was almost a completely formed entity, but I always struggle with endings. That is were the post remains, a neat demonstration of my point – of not being able to sustain momentum for an idea.

I have been experiencing the same feelings with blogging as well; should I keep it up, will it ever be more than a hobby, can I continue to be creative enough to make it worth pursuing? I listed the pressures and challenges I have encountered throughout my brief time as a blogger in my latest post.

A great many of the people I talk to compare how they feel day-to-day with the familiar metaphor of being a hamster on a wheel. It’s not even to do with the notion of seeing the same four walls everyday, or the same sawdust and plastic beneath your feet. It is that we are continually moving from one project to another, sometimes almost simultaneously, never pausing to absorb or reflect or even fully enjoy what we are experiencing. We all have so much going on, at the same time, that we feel we are constantly moving at top speed, flat out, and wondering all the while how long we can sustain that pace.

Taking time is becoming increasingly challenging.

I know that I am not the only one who looks forward to a day, an evening, or elusive weekend off at a time that coincides with my husband, consisting of long dog walks through the woods or along the beach, to suddenly find that I have agreed to additional shifts, volunteered for activities at church or youth groups and suddenly that precious time is gone.

These are, of course, worthwhile and enjoyable activities, but with the ever-increasing pace of the world around us, it is becoming more important to take time to relax, replenish, refresh. To take the time for our friends, our families, our loved ones.

Technology, Work and Time

Technology is a wonderful, marvellous thing. It holds so much potential for connections, old and new, for information and knowledge, but it also has the ability to eat time. We have all seen the statistics for how much time we spend on our phones, on social media, and we have all experienced how technology makes us available all the time. We can constantly be contacted, connected with, and it has become expected that when we are contacted that we respond within a smaller and smaller window of time.

This is overwhelming at the best of times, but especially if you are already feeling overwhelmed by mental illness. Recovery takes time. From physical and mental illness and injury alike. It can be even more challenging to take the time required for healing mentally, because the injury is not visible. If you have a broken or sprained limb you will have a bandage or a cast, from an operation you will have a scar. Even if you have a virus your body presents observable symptoms.

With mental illness the changes in personality, in posture, in expression, can be so subtle that even those who know us well can miss them. Often we even miss them ourselves. We continually try to push on and through the mental strains and obstacles, which can result in denial and further injury. We can end up exhausting the resolve and energy that we had left to keep pushing through the illness.

Which is why this post is all about taking time. Taking the time to check in with ourselves and see how we are feeling. Taking the time to rest, physically and mentally, during and between projects. Taking the time to spend time with others, to observe them; how they are feeling, how they are acting, so we don’t miss the onset of severe mental strain in ourselves or those closest to us.

Taking the time for ourselves and for others.

Self-worth and Pregnancy

I recently found out that I am expecting. The pregnancy is planned and we are delighted. I am not very far along but I have already noticed a positive change in myself.

Last night I was at a work meeting and I found myself to be more comfortable in my own skin and joining in discussion.

I am not shy about sharing my thoughts but usually I agonise over it; analysing every word and response, dissecting the details of tone, body language and expression.

It wasn’t until I was on the train home that I realised that I had an increased certainty about my ideas and more contentment in my existence. I no longer felt like an impostor, like I was taking up someone else’s space.

Usually, I am sitting intimidated by the knowledge and experience of my colleagues. Last night, although I was impressed and filled with respect for the things that they knew and I did not, I was aware that I too had knowledge.

The only thing that has changed is that four days ago I learned that I am expecting. I don’t know where this confidence has come from, I don’t know if it will last, but for an individual who has spent a large portion of her preconception preparation aware of her mental health and concerned of the possibility of developing ante- or postnatal depression because of my medical history, I am intrigued to see how I emotionally develop as my child develops inside me.