health · Just for fun · top tips

How To Cope When Dealing With Hospital Administration Systems

Something that no-one realises about chronic illness, until they become ill themselves, is the sheer amount of extra life admin it generates. It’s simply incredible how much time can be taken up by what should be simple tasks – booking appointments, getting hold of medication, finding out test results, getting in touch with the right person if your symptoms change… It can actually become extremely stressful and difficult to cope with hospital administration systems and the issues they can create through sheer inefficiency.

I think the worst instance of hospital administration failure that I encountered was when I was telephoned by the hospital and told off for missing an MRI appointment after my first pituitary surgery. I had indeed missed the appointment, because the letter had got lost in the post. As I had been expecting a scan appointment, though, I had actually called the hospital two weeks earlier to chase up, and been put through to the MRI department, who had told me that I was not booked in for any scans. I later discovered the hospital for some mad reason has two MRI departments, so presumably my scan was with the other department, and at no point did anyone think to tell me to check with both departments. Well done, hospital. Good use of public money.

I was first diagnosed with my pituitary tumor aged 21, which means that I’ve been dealing with the hell that is hospital admin for 11 years, the vast majority of my adult life. And that means that I have a few tips to share!

I used to think that the difficulties I encountered in getting anything done was because I was dealing with the National Health Service. I’m so grateful for the NHS funding my treatment that I would just remind myself to be grateful for it, and put up with the terrible admin, endless phonecalls and feeling of being lost in the system. Then one of my friends developed a serious medical issue which they had treated privately… And they encountered the exact same problems! It seems that terrible admin may well be a universal healthcare experience. So here are my top tips for how to cope with hospital administration, without falling into a pit of total despair…

how to cope with inefficient hospital administration systems without giving in to despair

Top Tips For How To Cope With Hospital Administration Systems

1. Be Organised

You have to be organised. Just because your doctor tells you something will happen doesn’t mean it will, without your intervention. Keep a note of what appointments you’re due to have, and if you haven’t heard from the hospital or doctor’s surgery well in advance, get in touch to check what’s happening.

2. Get Ahead Of The Game

Try to get in touch with your hospital nice and early if you haven’t heard anything. It gives you the most time to get something sorted. There’s nothing more stressful than realising that, for instance, you’re going to have a gap in treatment because the hospital has forgotten to send you a prescription or order the right tests. So make sure you chase up on things sooner rather than later.

3. Remember it’s not anyone’s individual fault

When you’ve made six phone calls and still made no progress with getting an appointment sorted, it’s incredibly frustrating. Try to remember it’s not the fault of the people you’re talking to, who are mostly just human beings trying to do their jobs in an imperfect system. You’ll get better progress by trying to be friendly and build a rapport with the staff you talk to, rather than getting annoyed.

4. Think outside the box

Most hospital departments and doctors surgeries have a public number you can call, but of course when you do, you end up speaking to someone who knows nothing about you or your issue. As a result, you can find yourself explaining yourself over and over again to different people, and feeling like you’re getting nowhere.

It’s time to think outside the box! Firstly, get Googling. In hospitals, often the consultant or head of the department you’re under will have their own secretary and you may be able to find their contact details online, or even on the letters you’re sent from the department. You may have better luck contacting the secretary if you have specific issues with your treatment or new symptoms.

Over time, you may also be able to build up other contacts. Some hospital departments have specialist nurses attached to the department who run certain tests or follow-ups. If you can find the public phone number for the specialist nurses, they may be especially helpful in chasing up on things for you. I love the specialist endocrine nurses at my hospital, they’re so lovely and super helpful.

5. Take up cathartic screaming

Ultimately, despite all your best efforts, your encounters with hospital admin systems will likely still be frustrating and inefficient. At some point, it’s best to accept this and try not to let it get to you. All you can do is try your best to smooth the process, give timely reminders, and chase up on things that should have been organised for you.

Make sure you can have a good rant to a friend or family member about how frustrating it all is. If you find yourself getting too stressed out, try to take a step back and give yourself a break. You can always start making phone calls again tomorrow.

What are your worst experiences with hospital admin? Do you have any tips for how to cope with hospital administration systems? Let me me know in the comments!

baby · fatigue · health · pain · parenting · top tips

How To: Looking After A Baby When You’re Sick/Fatigued

Looking after a baby is hard work at the best of times, but when you’re sick it can be overwhelming. Whether you’re parenting with chronic illness, a bad cold or tummy bug, or fatigue (either from illness or too many sleepless nights!), it helps to have a plan for how you’re going to manage. So, based on my experience as a mama with chronic illness, I’ve pulled together my top tips on looking after a baby when you’re sick or fatigued. Read on to find out more…

looking after a baby when you suffer from chronic illness or you're sick top tips the sickly mama

Looking After A Baby When You’re Sick

Ask For Help

Whether you’re suffering from a temporary issue – a cold, a tummy bug, a flare up of your condition – or ongoing consistent symptoms from a chronic illness, ask for help. It’s okay! Even the healthiest, heartiest parents need help sometimes. It won’t do you any good to try to do everything yourself. And people love babies, so chances are you’ll have more people willing to help you out than you may imagine… But you do have to ask.

When you do ask for help, try to be specific about what you need – for instance, help around the house, fetching groceries or popping to the pharmacy, or just holding the baby. Most people will want to help if you let them know how. If people have popped over to see the baby, get them to help you out – for instance, they could hold baby for an hour so you can nap!

Do The Absolute Minimum

Again, might sound obvious. But if you’re feeling really unwell, do the absolute minimum you need to do. Things like the washing up, hoovering, tidying, even having a shower… You don’t absolutely have to do them. You need to feed yourself and baby, change baby, and sleep. Everything else is optional! So don’t force yourself to do anything unnecessary, if you don’t have the energy for it.

This may include cancelling on some guests, especially in the early days with a new baby. If people are planning to visit and you don’t think they’ll be helpful – or perhaps you know they won’t – and you’ll end up running around after them trying to be a good host and look after baby and yourself… Cancel the visit. You need to prioritise the well-being of yourself and your baby, and that’s okay.

…Except When You’re Okay

On the days or times where you are feeling better, that’s the time to prepare for the bad days! This may seem more obvious if you have a chronic health condition where the symptoms come and go – but even if you don’t, there will be good days and bad days. You never know when you might catch a cold or flu, or have an upset stomach, and even babies who are normally good sleepers will go through bad patches. So make sure that you’re prepped for bad days.

What does being prepared look like? Here are some suggestions:

  • A stash of easy emergency meals in the freezer – things you can just pop in the oven/microwave and leave.
  • An upstairs and downstairs nappy change station with everything you need for changing, so you don’t have to carry baby too far for changes.
  • A small stockpile of key items for baby (nappies, wipes, formula etc.) that will last for at least a week, so you’re not going to run out and need to go to the shops urgently when you’re feeling sick and/or exhausted.
  • Similarly, try to ensure you have a good stock of spare clothes for your little one, so you’re not going to end up in a pickle if you can’t do laundry for a few days.
  • Talking to your partner, friends and family about how you will manage childcare on sick days, in advance. Have a back-up plan if you are just too poorly to look after the little one – and ideally have a back-up back-up plan just in case!

Practice self-care

Just scraping by will do for a few days here and there when you’re feeling especially dreadful, but it’s not sustainable for the long term. You need to take care of yourself and your mental and physical health.

So, once you’ve worked out what the absolute minimum is, have a think about the next step up – the minimum things you need in order to feel reasonably content. For instance, in my case, I absolutely hate not having a nice hot shower in the morning. Even if I feel rubbish, I know a shower always helps me feel better. So I really prioritised ensuring I got my morning shower every day, as far as reasonably possible. Little Man would be on the bathroom floor in his Moses basket when he was really small, or crawling around with a few toys and a baby sensory video once he was a bit bigger.

Work out your key self-care priorities – perhaps it’s having a shower, listening to music or watching a show, reading a book or getting outside for some fresh air once a day. And make sure you find time to do the things that help you feel okay, even if it’s at the expense of other day to day life admin.

Rest as much as possible

Before you have a baby, everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” which in my experience is much easier said than done. If you can get some sleep when baby is napping or someone else comes to help out, then obviously that’s the best thing you can do. But even if you can’t sleep, you can try to rest up. Set up a comfortable spot in the house to have as your base for the day – an armchair, sofa, bed, whatever suits you – and collect as much stuff as possible that you’ll need for looking after baby to keep nearby. Not just obvious things like nappy change supplies, but also toys, books, whatever you’ve got to keep the little one entertained. Try to sit and chill as much as you can.

And when baby goes to bed for the night – go to bed too! It’s tempting to stay up and take some time for yourself, but you’re better off going to bed and getting as much sleep as you can before your next wake up call.

Let go of the mum/dad guilt

When you’re ill, you will not be winning any parenting awards, and that is fine. You need to keep baby safe, clean and fed. If they miss out on a few sensory play sessions, or they spend a bit more time watching YouTube videos to give you a break – it really will not matter in the long run. They need a parent who takes care of him/herself, and if you don’t do that then sooner or later you will crash and end up much worse than before.

No parent is perfect, whether they suffer from chronic illness or not, so just do your best to let go of the guilt about what you can’t do because of your illness, and focus instead on all the positive things you can do, however small, to help your baby feel loved and cared for.

Your tips for looking after baby when you’re sick

Do you have any experience of looking after a baby while ill? What are your tips for others? Let me know in the comments!

looking after baby when sick parenting with chronic illness the sickly mama blog newborn
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Use Props To Create Stunning Underwater Photography (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Drawing on my experience as a professional mermaid and underwater model, I’ve been writing a series of articles with my top tips for underwater photography. These blog posts are primarily aimed at people who are new to underwater modelling, but they’ll be useful to models, photographers and anyone else aiming to create the perfect underwater photograph! In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to use props underwater for the best effect…

how to use props underwater to create stunning underwater photographs modelling top tips the sickly mama mermaid

How To Use Props In Underwater Photography:

Using fabric in underwater photography:

Loose fabric is one of the best props you can use in underwater photography, because visibly floating fabric is a simple way of enhancing the weightless sensation of being underwater. There are some simple ways to enhance the effect when selecting your fabric:

  • Pick the right fabric. Lighter fabric will float the best (and the longest) in the water, and fabric which is slightly translucent will catch the light and look most effective in your photographs. Organza, chiffon, voile, tulle etc. are all good choices.
  • Consider the background you’ll be shooting against and select a fabric that will contrast, e.g. white fabric against a black background, orange fabric against a blue background and so on. Bright block colours are usually more effective underwater than darker or heavily patterned fabrics.
  • Ensure the fabric is big enough to have an effect – if you are using loose fabric then you want at least a couple of metres of it, if it’s part of a costume (sleeves, skirts, etc) then again, bigger is better.

Then you need to think about how you’re actually going to use the fabric in your pictures. Some top tips for working with fabric underwater include:

  • Move slowly and steadily through the water, to maximise your opportunity to get the shot.
  • If you’re using loose fabric, aim to keep it at chest height or above, as this will accentuate the weightless effect of the picture.
  • Think about how you’re shaping your hands as you hold onto the fabric – you don’t want beautiful flowing fabric clenched in tight little fists!
  • Aim to keep the fabric mostly behind or above you unless it’s partially translucent, as otherwise it will block you in the photo.
mermaid using fabric prop underwater the sickly mama mairead claydon blog

Using Small Props In Underwater Photography

Often small props can be a very simple way to create some extra interest in your underwater photography, or to give it a fun sense of surrealism. One of the most fun photographs of me underwater is of me dressed in a mermaid tail, reading a newspaper at the bottom of a water tank (see below, by Shamira Crivellaro). I love it because it’s such a surreal shot – the floaty hair makes it clear that the photo really was taken underwater, but the calm pose reading the paper with my glasses on is not what you expect from typical mermaid photography!

mermaid reading a newspaper underwater wearing glasses

Here’s a few top tips on getting the most from using small props underwater:

  • Make sure they’re waterproof! Okay, it sounds incredibly obvious but there’s nothing worse than having a key prop disintegrate in the middle of a shoot (and then finding yourself swimming around the tank trying to retrieve the pieces!). So make sure they’re waterproof before you start – that includes making sure they won’t leak colour, or have bits fall off, and that they sink/float as you’d expect.
  • A single prop is usually more effective than loads of them. Getting the perfect shot underwater is difficult enough without introducing too many variables! Make it something simple that’s easy to interact with.
  • Combining ‘everyday’ items with underwater photography is often very effective at achieving that surreal look. For instance, newspapers, tea cups, fans, mirrors etc.
mermaid holding a model ship underwater david ballard
Photograph by David Ballard

Using Large Props In Underwater Photography

Large props, such as furniture, can also look incredible in your underwater photography, but they bring their own challenges! Again, you need to make sure they’re waterproof, but what other considerations are there when working with large props?

  • The biggest consideration is buoyancy! If your furniture is trying to float away, it’s incredibly difficult to work with. I once did a shoot with a chair that was almost impossible, because it just was not heavy enough to stay sunk at the bottom of the pool, and we both kept drifting away together! (See the pic below… We made it work eventually!) You can always add weights to help something sink if needed.
  • Working with large items creates additional risk, particularly in terms of getting the props into/out of the water and the risk of costumes catching on the props during the shoot and restricting movement. Make sure you’ve properly risk assessed the shoot and considered how to manage these potential dangers.

The Underwater Photoshoot Series

This article is part of a series giving advice on underwater photoshoots both for photographers and underwater models, drawing on my experience as a professional mermaid. Why not check out my previous articles, including top tips for modelling underwater and this blog post helping you learn how to open your eyes underwater.

baby · health · parenting · teething · top tips

How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

It seemed like Little Man was teething for forever before his first tooth appeared! He started teething around three months, and he didn’t get his first tooth until he was gone six months old. It wasn’t until a little while after his first tooth arrived, though, that I realised… Hang on, we need to brush it! But how exactly do you brush a baby’s teeth without losing a finger? Wee Man’s first teeth are like tiny razors, and he once notoriously bit his dad so hard on the toe that he drew blood. We were not looking forward to trying to brush his teeth…

how to brush baby's teeth without losing a finger toothbrush baby the sickly mama blog parenting top tips

How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

When should you start brushing?

As soon as that first baby tooth appears, it’s time to start brushing (oops! Took us a few weeks to realise). The NHS recommends brushing twice a day, including before bed in the evening, with a smear of baby toothpaste.

What makes baby toothpaste different and do I need it?

Baby toothpaste has less fluoride in than adult toothpaste. Swallowing a lot of fluoride may upset baby’s stomach in the short term, which is why it’s recommended to use only a smear of toothpaste on the brush.

Over the longer term, swallowing large amounts of fluoride toothpaste in early childhood could cause something called dental fluorosis, which can affect the appearance and strength of teeth. However, it is rare in the UK for dental fluorosis to be anything other than very mild, appearing as some white patches on the teeth which may or may not be visible to the naked eye. It is still recommended that children and babies do brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, because it’s the best way to prevent tooth decay. Just don’t let them eat toothpaste straight out of the tube!

Baby toothpaste also often has a milder flavour which children may find easier to get used to, compared to the strong mint flavours of adult toothpaste.

How do you brush baby’s teeth?

And so, to the practicalities… How do you actually brush baby’s teeth?

Firstly, sit baby on your knee, with their head back against your chest (I got this tip from the NHS website!). We use a bamboo baby toothbrush, to try to reduce our plastic waste.

Brush baby’s teeth using circular motions, just like you would an adult’s teeth. Don’t restrict yourself to brushing the teeth they actually have, but brush their whole mouth and gums gently, to get them used to the idea.

Making tooth brushing fun for baby

Obviously tooth brushing is a bit strange for baby when you introduce it, so I think the best approach is to really try to make tooth brushing fun. We sing a little song to our baby while we brush his teeth and that seems to be a really good way to distract him! In fact, he enjoys it so much that he now looks forward to having his teeth brush and co-operates with opening his mouth, handing over his dummy etc.

Ideally if both me and my husband are free, one of us brushes his teeth, and the other one dances Little Man’s hands around to the song, as otherwise he tries to grab the brush. We sing the following song, to the tune of ‘Row Your Boat’:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them nice and clean
Scrubbly-bubbly, bubbly-scrubbly
Brush them nice and clean

We actually got the idea from the Peppa Pig handwashing advert from the World Health Organisation, if you’ve seen it! We sing through the song three times and the last time we slow it right down so he knows we’re nearly done. After a couple of months of this routine, brushing Little Man’s teeth is not just easy, it’s actually quite a fun thing we do as a family.

I let Little Man take over the toothbrush after I’m done brushing, and he enjoys chewing on it. Then when it’s time to finish, I distract him with a dummy while I take the brush away, and we both watch as I clean the brush under the taps.

So for us, this approach seems to work pretty well. Little Man likes to feel involved and he seems to enjoy the flavour of the toothpaste and chewing on the brush is nice when he’s teething. He does often bite down on the toothbrush while I’m trying to move it, and he also often tries to grab the brush from me, which can be tricky! But in general, starting to brush his teeth has not been as horrendously difficult as I expected!

Your Top Tips For Brushing Baby’s Teeth

Do you have any great tips for persuading a reluctant baby to let you brush their teeth? Let me know in the comments!

how to brush baby's teeth without losing a finger toothbrush baby the sickly mama blog parenting top tips
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Use Your Natural Buoyancy For Underwater Photography (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Controlling your buoyancy is key to successful underwater modelling. Ideally, you want to be able to sink when you want to sink and float when you want to float. Everyone has a different level of natural buoyancy, so you will need to learn what works for you! I’ve collected together my top tips from my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model, to help you work on controlling and using your natural buoyancy for underwater photography.

Understanding Your Natural Buoyancy

On average, the human body has a density of 0.98 compared to water (according to Wikipedia!). That means that most people’s bodies are inclined to float, rather than sink.

Your body composition plays a large part in determining whether you’re more sink-y or float-y; muscle and bone are more dense than water and sink, whereas fat will float. Women naturally have a higher body fat percentage than men and so are more likely to be inclined to float – great in a shipwreck situation, but potentially more of a challenge when modelling underwater.

When it comes to learning how to control your buoyancy for underwater photography, you could work on changing your body composition, but that tends to be quite a long-term fix! In the short term, buoyancy control is mainly about controlling the amount of air inside your lungs, which effectively act as a floatation aid when full of air.

It’s also worth remembering that the salinity of the water will make a difference: if you’re swimming in salt water, you’ll always be more floaty than you are in a pool.

buoyancy for underwater photography two girls floating gregory brown the sickly mama blog modelling professional mermaid
Photograph by Gregory Brown

If You’re Floating Too Much

If you find that you’re constantly floating to the surface when modelling underwater, the first thing to think about is your breathing. Our natural instinct is to take as deep a breath as possible before submerging, in order to be able to last as long as possible underwater; however, having lungs full of air is likely to make it difficult for you to pose in place for long.

As you’re about to dive, take a deep breath and then puff out a little air before going underwater; you’ll need to experiment with this to find the exact amounts of air you need to breathe out in order to be able to float neutrally in the water or sink to the bottom and stay there.

If you’re a very competent swimmer and this is something you’re struggling with, you can also think about incorporating diving weights into your costume. Scuba divers use these to compensate for the buoyancy of their equipment. You can purchase small amounts of lead shot ballast online in pouches which can be hidden or incorporated in weight belts or costumes. However, being weighted down always has the potential to be dangerous – your weights should be quick release, and you should be careful not to weight yourself down too much. It’s always good practice to have an agreed hand-sign so that your photographer and/or assistants know if you’re in difficulty and can come to assist.

johannes hjorth monochrome bride floating water roses buoyancy the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

If You’re Sinking Too Much

If on the other hand, you find that you’re sinking too much and you’re not able to simply float in place underwater, firstly make sure you’re taking a good deep breath before submerging. You may find that it’s your natural instinct to breathe out as you’re diving down in the water, thus making it easier to dive down quickly, but if you tend to have negative buoyancy (i.e. you sink!), you need to hold on to that breath of air while diving.

If that still doesn’t make a difference and you find you tend to sink straight to the bottom, this is probably a natural effect of your body composition. You’ll need to try to get good photographs on your way to the bottom, while swimming, or after pushing off from the bottom of the tank or pool for an underwater jump.

mermaid floating holly meadows photography the sickly mama blog buoyancy underwater modelling
Photograph by Holly Meadows

Playing With Buoyancy For Underwater Modelling

Finally, it’s worth thinking about how you can capture great shots underwater while working within the limitations of you/your models’ natural  buoyancy.

If you constantly float and can’t stay in one place for long, you’ll need to go for shots with more movement; try diving down to the bottom of the pool or tank and then allowing yourself to naturally float up through the water (remember: if your lungs are full of air it will mean that your torso floats up first, so you will pretty much always maintain a vertical body position if you do this).

Having a model with negative buoyancy who sinks straight to the bottom can be great for setting up more complicated poses or scenarios, or working with props.​

Having two models with different natural buoyancy affords a lot of possibilities for underwater photography; having one model with negative buoyancy who is able to remain at the bottom of the pool means they can act as an ‘anchor’, who can hold the more floaty model in place. This makes it much easier to catch the perfect shot of more than one model, while keeping the underwater ‘feel’ in the photograph.

buoyancy on a chair sickly mama blog gregory brown underwater modelling mermaid professional
Photograph by Gregory Brown

More tips for underwater modelling

This blog post is part of a series of articles on underwater modelling and photography, based on my experience as a professional mermaid and underwater model. You can read more top tips for underwater models here, or learn how to open your eyes underwater here.

baby · parenting · top tips

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Little Man has lots of lovely toys, but in the interests of trying to avoid our house becoming little more than extended toy storage for the wee fellow, we also try to ensure we supply him with common household objects to play with. Some household items make great free toys for baby, and not only do they save on storage space, but buying fewer toys is better for the planet too! So here’s my list of the top household items that will keep your baby entranced for hours…

common household objects that make great free toys for baby the sickly mama blog

Common Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

A Wooden Spoon

“Oh, that’s where it was,” said my husband in an accusatory voice, as I picked up a wooden spoon from the playmat in the kitchen and handed it to Little Man. “I was searching for that for ages while I was cooking.”

Reader, we own a grand total of five wooden spoons (I counted for this article), but as it turns out, I had inadvertently selected my husband’s favourite spoon to give to baby as a fun new toy. Little Man loved it, and now the spoon has visible little gnaw marks on it from his two front teeth. Oops. So, although a wooden spoon is a great idea for an easy toy for baby, in the interests of marital harmony you should probably check with your partner before handing one over…

Egg Boxes

Every once in a while, our Sainsbury’s delivery will randomly substitute our chosen cardboard box of eggs for a plastic box instead. But not only are they less good for the environment, they’re also 100% less useful for their secondary purpose: entertainment for Little Man.

Just think about it. They’re made of cardboard, eminently chewable, not too heavy, an interesting shape and with a hinge that opens and closes. The perfect toy for a baby who’s interested in everything!

baby playing with a cardboard egg box the sickly mama blog household items toys
A twelve-egger in action

Packaging

One of Little Man’s favourite toys is known in our house as The Gold Floofer. It has been a favourite since he was a couple of months old. It’s actually made out of a shiny gold plastic envelope lined with bubble wrap, that contained a delivery for me. We’ve long since forgotten what was actually contained in the envelope, but I cut out a large strip from the envelope for Little Man, because I thought he’d like the bright shiny colour and texture. I was not wrong, and he’s been playing with it ever since.

Fruit and vegetables

Over the autumn/Halloween season, Little Man had great fun playing with a miniature pumpkin I used to create a seasonal display in the lounge. He’s enjoyed chewing on it and bowling it across the floor so much that we actually just started calling it his pumpkin!

Now he’s a bit bigger and stronger, I only let him play with tougher fruit and veg like pumpkin, that has a thick rind that he can’t do much damage to! But when he was younger, most fruits and vegetables made great play things, and he loved exploring the textures of different grocery items. The perfect eco-friendly, 100% biodegradable (and delicious) playthings.

baby on a mat surrounded by yummy fruit toys the sickly mama blog
Fun with fruit and vegetables!

Shakeable items

I’ve also had great success in making various shakers for Little Man (fancier parents than I will call them ‘sensory bottles‘). One favourite was a bottle part-filled with coloured water and dried lentils, which he loved shaking and rolling across the floor. My husband went to empty it out though when it was getting a bit old, and he reported that it smelled “like mouldy farts” by that point, so maybe don’t leave it too long before cleaning and changing the water!

Another great success has been the Shake Shake Box, an empty ice cream tub with some dried seeds and pasta in it so that it makes a satisfying rattling sound when you shake it, and the sides of the tub are clear so you can see it all shaking around in there. It’s been going for about six months now and still remains a favourite.

Cardboard Boxes

Okay, this one was so obvious that I almost forgot it! What child doesn’t love a cardboard box?

Your Ideas For Household Objects That Make Great Free Toys For Baby

Do you have any suggestions for other household items that make great free toys for little ones? Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my blog post with top-tips for keeping the weaning process eco-friendly?

baby eating a banana common household objects that make great toys the sickly mama blog
health · top tips

How To Cope With Having A Mystery / Undiagnosed Medical Condition

I’ve previously written about how it feels to have a mystery or undiagnosed health condition. This post follows on from that, and looks at tips and strategies for how to cope with undiagnosed illness or while managing an unknown medical condition.

tips for how to cope with undiagnosed illness the sickly mama blog

Tips For How To Cope With Undiagnosed Illness

1. Acknowledge and talk about your feelings

Having a mystery health condition is really hard and stressful. It’s completely natural and normal to feel sad, frustrated, angry, stressed out and more. Trying to keep your emotions pent up isn’t healthy. It won’t help you cope with undiagnosed illness, and it won’t help you feel better in the long run. Give yourself a chance to feel those emotions, and accept the way you’re feeling.

Ideally, talk to someone – a friend, family member or partner – about how you’re feeling. Not only will it help you deal with your emotions, but it will also help them to understand what you’re going through.

2. Communicate your needs

One of the most common complaints from people with chronic illness is that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. It can be especially upsetting and frustrating when it seems that the people closest to you don’t understand – or worse, that they’re not even trying to understand how you’re feeling. You can end up getting that your needs are sidelined or ignored, or that no-one is prepared to help.

Remember that the only way that people will understand is if you tell them. Try to be proactive about communicating and give people a chance to listen to how you’re feeling and what you need from them. I remember a few weeks after my first brain surgery, I had to travel across London. I was very wobbly and it was my first time out on my own, but outwardly I looked like a normal 21 year old.

At King’s Cross station, it was very busy but thankfully I got lucky and found a seat while waiting for my train. Everyone else with a seat in that area was middle aged or older. An elderly woman walked up and stood nearby, and started giving me angry looks and clearing her throat. Clearly she expected me to give up my seat for her, as the youngest person there. But she never actually asked for it.

If she had asked, I would have explained that I really needed the seat, and probably someone else nearby who wasn’t in such need would have offered her their seat. But she never actually asked, so I never explained, so she never got to sit down. No doubt she thought I was incredibly rude, but she didn’t communicate her need, so no-one accommodated it. This really drove home to me the importance of asking for what you need. You might not get exactly what you’re going for… But if you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing at all.

Be specific if you can – for instance, rather than saying “I get very tired and need to rest”, you’ll get better results from saying “I get very tired and can’t be on my feet more than about ten minutes at a time. Then I will need to sit down for half an hour”. You may think that your emotions and needs should be blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain… But it’s not always the case.

3. Be kind to yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself. When you’re frustrated and stressed and finding it hard to get things done, it’s easy to push yourself too hard and forget to give yourself a break. But it’s important to look after yourself and your mental health. Don’t spend all of your available energy doing life admin – make sure you occasionally have time to have a bath, read a book, chat to a friend, or whatever it is that you enjoy.

But being kind to yourself isn’t just about having a spa day. It’s also about listening to your body and believing in yourself. When you’re experiencing medically unexplained symptoms, it can be easy to start worrying that they’re all in your head. When there is no label that explains the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may feel that people don’t take your illness seriously – or that you shouldn’t be severely affected by it. Try to remember that a diagnosis is not a permit to be ill. You don’t need permission to be sick. Your experiences – your pain, fatigue, whatever other weird and wonderful symptoms you’re experiencing – are real. And you need to listen to your body and its needs, and take care of yourself.

4. Be your own best advocate

It’s a hard truth that when you have a chronic illness, the one who cares most about finding a diagnosis and a treatment is YOU. Yes, it’s your doctor’s job to work out what’s going on, but no matter how committed your healthcare providers are, at the end of the day it’s just that – a job to them. Whereas to you, it’s your life.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. That is likely to mean different things to different people. It might mean chasing up those appointments that are slow to arrive, or those test results that no-one seems to want to discuss. Or, it might mean having the persistence to keep going back with the same symptoms that no-one seems to want to investigate, or pushing for a second opinion . It might mean using these techniques to get your doctor to listen to you. Whatever you need to do to push your best interests.

5. Seek out support to help you cope with undiagnosed illness

You don’t need to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for support. It can be difficult to find external support networks, because most charities and support groups focus on specific illnesses… Which is difficult if you don’t know what illness you have. But support is out there for the undiagnosed.

You can join Facebook support groups such as Undiagnosed Illness Support Group or Undiagnosed Chronic Illnesses… And many more. Equally, you may wish to look online for ways to connect with people who experience similar symptoms to you, even if you don’t have a diagnosis yet.

Do you have any tips on living with an undiagnosed medical condition or mysterious unexplained symptoms? What are your recommendations for how to cope with undiagnosed illness? Let me know in the comments!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Relax Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Feeling calm and being able to relax underwater is a big part of being a good underwater model or performer, and that’s my background and where thus blog post comes from. But if you suffer from fear of the water, or enjoy freediving and want to improve your breath hold and confidence in the water, these tips should also be useful to you.

This is part of my blog series A Professional Mermaid’s Guide to Underwater Modelling – check out the other posts for more top tips on looking incredible underwater.

how to relax underwater sickly mama real mermaid blog

How To Relax Underwater

Why is it important to relax underwater?

Staying calm and relaxed in the water is likely to help you hold your breath for longer, enable you to keep going for longer – and ensure that you actually enjoy yourself. If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you feel panicked or you need to make a lot of adjustments to your pose, hair or costume, you’ll burn through your oxygen much more quickly and find that you can’t hold your breath as long.

Practise makes perfect

The number one way to ensure you feel relaxed underwater is just practice. It’s not the advice anyone wants, but it’s true! The best thing you can do is spend lots of time in the water, diving and holding your breath, until it doesn’t feel strange or unusual or even particularly exciting. Once being underwater feels kind of standard, you know you’re relaxed! Of course it’s important to always practice in the water safely, with a dive buddy (see more on this below).

Underwater photoshoots in particular can be stressful environments; there’s a lot of pressure to get the right shots within a set time frame. If you’re not comfortable in the water, this will only exacerbate the stress and pressure. Making sure you’ve spent a lot of time in the water in a non-pressured environment will help you to have the confidence you need to relax underwater.

mermaid with sunglasses underwater how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Mark Jones

Minimise the pressure

In order to feel relaxed, you need to think about your environment both before and during your time in the water. Think about how you can create a calm environment that will help you feel relaxed. Music can be really helpful for this – a few times I’ve done photoshoots in a tank which had a sound system, which was awesome but obviously is not always available!

Be organised and ensure you’re not rushing around before you get in the water. If you’re feeling stressed out before you even begin, you’ll find it difficult to relax once you start swimming.

Breathing exercises

Ideally, take time to do some breathing exercises before getting in the water. This will help you to hold your breath longer, but will also help you to feel relaxed and calm. Focus on your breathing, your inhalations and exhalations, and try some specific exercises such as this breathing technique recommended by the NHS for anxiety and stress.

mermaid diving underwater light and dark how to relax underwater modelling the sickly mama blog
Photograph by Vanessa Mills

Be safe and manage risk

It sounds obvious, but ensure that you are swimming or diving in a safe environment. This is especially important if you are undertaking an underwater photoshoot or performance, or swimming in open water. Making sure you’ve undertaken a risk assessment beforehand will help you relax when it’s time to get in the water.

Think about things like: is there a lifeguard? Are you diving or swimming with a buddy? Are there any obstructions or hazards in the water? If you’re wearing a costume with a lot of fabric, or something like a mermaid tail that might be quite restrictive, aim to practice being in the water in your costume to ensure you feel comfortable and safe.

You should also consider the way your tank or diving area is set up. When you surface for a breath after diving, will you have something to hold onto, to give yourself a break for a moment if you need it? This could be the side of the pool, a float, a rock, whatever – but it’s good to know you can take a pause if and when you need it.

Linked to the above, think about the length of time you’ll be diving for. For modelling or performing, ten to twenty minute sessions with decent length breaks in-between is sensible, to ensure you don’t get too exhausted or too cold, and have a chance to recharge your batteries.

Don’t push yourself too hard

If you’re modelling or performing underwater and you try to hold your breath as long as you possibly can on every dive, you will very quickly run out of energy and start to find the rest of your time in the water much more difficult. As with something like running, it’s important to pace yourself. It’s better to maintain medium length breath holds consistently over a twenty minute shoot, rather than exhaust yourself with a couple of really long breath holds right at the start and then not be able to maintain it. Running out of air will stress you out, so make sure you take the next breath before you absolutely have to.

Similarly, if you’re trying to get over anxiety about being in the water, don’t force yourself to stay in the water for a really long time at first.

Learn More About Underwater Modelling

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! Why not check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater, this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater, or the series page to see everything I’ve published so far.

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Do Incredible Make-Up For Underwater Photography – Tips From A Professional Mermaid

Chances are, if you’re looking for advice on make-up for underwater modelling and photography, you’ve found a lot of information on waterproof make up. Unfortunately, waterproof is definitely not the same as underwater-proof. A lot of time spent performing underwater as a professional mermaid and underwater model means I’ve learned plenty of tips and tricks that will help you get the best out of your underwater makeup up.

But before we even start to talk about brands and application, there are a few key pointers to be aware of…

makeup make-up for underwater photography from a professional mermaid how to top tips the sickly mama blog

Make-Up For Underwater Photography

Underwater Make Up Needs Drama

Make-up generally needs to be more dramatic in order to make an impact underwater; the water washes out the picture. It’s not dissimilar to the effect of stage lighting; you need to ensure make-up is more vivid than you would make it for an above-the-water shoot.

The clarity of the water and the distance between you and the photographer will also make an impact; the further away your photographer is, the more ‘washed out’ the image will be before post-processing.

Once You’re In The Water

Secondly: no matter your make up, don’t touch your face once you’re in the water. Don’t do it. When you surface out of the water and your nose is full of water and your hair is in your eyes, don’t touch your face. Your make up will smudge, and the only way you can fix it is by getting out of the water, drying your face off (probably removing more make-up!) and patching it up.

It’s also worth being aware that the water you’re swimming in will make a difference, and chlorinated water tends to be much harsher on your make up than unchlorinated water.

Photograph by Jules Abensour

Types of Make Up For Underwater Photography

Different types of cosmetics perform differently underwater. Oil-based, alcohol-based, and silicone-based products are all more resilient. Grease paints, such as those used for theatrical and film productions are oil-based and shouldn’t wash off in water; well-known brands such as Kryolan are widely available online. However, I’ve focused this section on easy underwater make-up solutions from personal cosmetic products, rather than high-grade film and theatre products, as it’s more likely to be useful for those planning their first underwater shoot.

Foundation and contouring

Look for liquid foundation that’s advertised as being super long-lasting. Obviously powdered products do not hold up in water BUT a number of companies make cosmetic products you can use to transform powder-based makeup into a gel or paint-like consistency, which allows it to set in place and makes it more resilient. This is great for using your normal pressed powder bronzer, highlighter etc. I use Face Atelier’s transforming gel, which I’ve found very useful.

Underwater Eyelashes

Don’t be tempted by false eyelashes. It’s not worth it. Unless you’re planning to shoot for all of three minutes, the glue will give way and you’ll end up with eyelashes hanging off your face – or worse, floating around in the water ruining the shot until you can catch hold of them (yes, this has happened at a shoot I was at… Although not with my eyelashes, fortunately!).

Getting your eyelashes permanently tinted, or having proper semi-permanent false eyelash extensions from a reputable salon are both viable, but more expensive alternatives. Or, just go with a really good waterproof mascara: I use Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof which lasts well even in quite strongly chlorinated water.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

Eye Shadow and Eyeliner

My favourite brand of eyeshadow is Inglot. They do a great range of colourful eyeshadows, which I’ve found the be incredibly resilient underwater without the need to use a transforming gel – and the eyeshadows still look pretty good even after repeated dunkings in an aquarium with no chance to top-up.

With regards to eyeliner, there are a lot of good waterproof eyeliners on the market which I’ve found to generally hold up well underwater. Barry M’s waterproof eyeliner is perfectly good and reasonably priced!

Underwater Lips

Lipstick can hold up underwater, but don’t bother with lipgloss. I find MAC lipsticks to be about the best, but even with MAC if you’re spending a lot of time in a chlorinated pool, it will fade noticeably and you’ll need to top up. The best tip I can give you to help with that is just: try not to touch your mouth when you’re surfacing from the water, and it’ll last longer.

Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

Lip liner is a good idea to prevent it running; lip seal products are also available, but I’ve never found that they make much of a difference if chlorine is involved, unfortunately.

It’s worth noting that underwater photography tends to emphasise the blues in a shot and suck out the colour red, so choosing a more vivid shade than usual is advised.

Learn more about underwater modelling…

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! If you’re interested, you can check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater or this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater… or see all my articles on my Guide To Underwater Modelling page.

baby · health · hypermobility · pain · parenting · top tips

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

As a mama with hypermobility spectrum disorder, I have rubbish joints! How rubbish they are tends to vary from day to day and even hour to hour. Some days I don’t notice any problems – other days when my hands are very stiff and sore, I struggle to open jars; or I’ll find that my hip or shoulder keeps popping out of the socket, or everything will just be very achey and stiff. But how do my rubbish joints affect looking after a baby? I’ve written a little about being a hypermobile mama previously, but it seems time to do something a bit more comprehensive on parenting with a joint condition…

And so, here are my top tips, focused around looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, from the newborn stage through to when they start toddling. Hopefully this guide will be useful to other parents with hypermobility spectrum disorder, EDS, arthritis and other joint conditions. If you have any tips you think I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

Looking After A Baby When You Have A Joint Condition

Feeding your baby comfortably

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, especially during the newborn days you tend to spend an awful lot of time feeding and burping baby. Spending a lot of time in the same position is often uncomfortable if you have dodgy joints, and the limited range of feeding positions – and the fact that you don’t want to disturb a baby who’s happily feeding, by having to move them – can also be an issue.

Tips: Have a comfortable chair or spot in your house for feeding, which is set up just for you. I had a cosy armchair with a couple of cushions for back support, a footrest for my feet, and a spare cushion nearby which I could put under my arm or under Little Man to get us both comfortable. Having my arms supported definitely helped me. If you’re breastfeeding, there are different positions you can try to see what’s easiest for you. If you’re bottle feeding and struggling with holding a bottle, there are devices you can use for hands-free bottle feeding which clip on to a car seat or bouncer.

Poppers or buttons on baby clothes

Okay if you have terrible hands, these are THE WORST. I know lots of people hate poppers, and I know I’ve written about how I hate buttons on baby clothes previously; but as I love to labour a point and we have moved into the colder weather – which always makes my joints get even more stiff and achey – I just have to say it again. THEY SUCK. It’s hard enough to get my wiggly Little Man to stay still long enough for a nappy change, let alone while mama struggles to undo and then do up 5,000 poppers on the legs of his suit. Poppers/buttons are no good if you’re parenting with a joint condition!

Tips: All baby clothes should be mandatorily done up with zippers or, at a push, velcro. Obviously, I have yet to succeed in getting this written into UK law. And unfortunately it turns out that for some reason baby clothes with zippers are both hard to find and often really expensive. So my tip is: before the baby arrives, tell everyone who might buy you a gift that you want ZIPPERS damnit, and let them pay for it!

Alternative tip: Ask your husband/wife/partner/friend nicely if they can help with the damn poppers.

Hanging out on the floor all day

Turns out, having a baby means a lot of time spent hanging out on the floor. For me personally, getting onto the floor is fine, but it tends to be when I try to get up that I suddenly discover that I’ve been sitting with my joints in odd positions without realising it, and everything hurts. Oops. And the older Little Man has grown, the more time we’ve ended up spending crawling around together on the floor.

Tips: There’s not really much to be done about this one, unless you can persuade your baby to learn to fly! I tried bringing a cushion on to the floor with me, but once Little Man started crawling it was too much bother to keep moving the cushion around with both of us. My best advice is to think about specific activities that can be done away from the floor. For instance, a tabletop changing table might help for nappy changes, or bathing baby in the sink rather than in a tub on the floor. You can also look at getting a raised Moses basket and/or cot, so that you’re not having to stoop to and from the floor at nap time or when baby is very small and spends most of his/her time dozing.

Lifting and moving baby

I’m fortunate that although my joints are often painful and stiff, I tend to be okay with lifting and moving Little Man, but of course there are lots of joint conditions that could make it much more difficult to lift and move your baby around the house.

Tips: Using a sling or baby carrier is great, especially for the newborn phase, as you can take baby with you around the house without having to do lots of lifting, and spreading the weight evenly across your shoulders and back. Be careful though with using these aids if your joint condition makes you more likely to trip or fall – if that is the case, it may be safer to avoid using carriers. Make sure you follow good lifting technique to support your joints and minimise the risk to you and baby.

Related tip: Have a couple of stashes of key items around the house e.g. a couple of stations with nappies, wipes, a change of clothes etc. That way you’re not constantly having to carry baby up or downstairs or around the house if you need to change his nappy, clothes etc.

Taking ages with tasks….

One of the issues when your hands are stiff and uncooperative is just that things can take a long time, which is difficult for things like nappy changes when baby may just try to wiggle away.

Tips: My top tip is baby sensory videos to distract your little one! If you go on YouTube and search “baby sensory videos”, you’ll find loads of free videos that feature simple images and jolly music which will help distract baby while you get stuff done. Little Man loves the fruit and vegetable videos!

Your tips for looking after a baby when you have a joint condition

If you have experience of looking after a baby when you have a joint condition, I’d love to hear your tips. Let me know in the comments!

I also love this article about parenting with arthritis, which has lots of great advice that is transferable to other joint conditions as well.