child development · parenting · sleeping

Do Toddlers Have Sleep Regressions?

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When you’re a new parent, you very quickly discover the concept of sleep regressions. This is the concept that babies go through phases where they sleep less well and wake up more often in the night, and that these phases are associated with certain developmental milestones and growth spurts; meaning that there are particular ages when most babies go through a patch of bad sleep. Sleep regression is most associated with the first year or so of a baby’s life. But my experiences with our two year old toddler got me wondering – do toddlers have sleep regressions too? In this blog post, I’ll run through the typical ages for toddler sleep regression, our experience, and how to get through it with your sanity intact!

Do Toddlers Have Sleep Regressions?

Sleep Regression Ages

I’ve written previously about the sleep regression at 8 months (spoiler alert: it’s a doozy). Sleep regressions in babies are commonly said to occur at around 4 months, 8 months and 12 months, although some sources also say they happen at 6 and 10 months as well – at which point they seem so frequent that you have to start wondering whether you’re experiencing a ‘sleep regression’ or just, you know, a baby that’s not great at sleeping.

When I first read about sleep regressions, I only focused on the first twelve months because everything beyond that just seemed so far away. Now Little Man is two-and-a-bit, though, I’ve returned to my reading and found that a lot of sources also list two toddler sleep regressions: one at 14 – 18 months, and one around two years. This definitely fits with our experience over the past year or so!

Toddler Sleep Regression: 18 Months

Around 18 months old, we found that Little Man suddenly went through a real change in how he wanted to go to sleep. Up until then, we had still rocked him to sleep in our arms before putting him in his cot. Then one day, out of the blue… He didn’t want to go to sleep in our arms any more! The slight issue was, he didn’t really know how to go to sleep in his cot either. It took a good few weeks before he consistently got the hang of it, and during that time his bedtimes took soooooo long. It was very frustrating.

According to various sources online, the 18 month toddler sleep regression can be caused by separation anxiety and often manifests as a resistance to bedtime. We didn’t really experience a resistance to bedtime, so much as a shift in Little Man’s needs in how he wanted to get to bed, which I think was to do with the fact that he’d grown bigger and so was less comfortable in our arms. I’m not sure if this is typical for this regression, because Little Man has always been quite small for his age, ever since he arrived three weeks early!

Trains are an essential component of bedtime

Toddler Sleep Regression: 2 Years

We seemed to hit the 2 year old sleep regression a bit early, around the 22 month mark – and the bad news is, it seemed to carry on for about three months or so. Ouch. According to some sources, the two year sleep regression is caused by toddlers’ developing sense of self: they start to develop an awareness that things happen when they’re not there and consequently don’t want to miss out on the fun – a.k.a. a classic case of FOMO. As a result, they start refusing naps and bedtime – and you also then ironically run the risk of them becoming overtired and more difficult to put to sleep.

Little Man has only rarely refused naps, but he had refused bedtime in a big way. When we started trying to leave the room with him in his cot before he’s asleep, we had very mixed results as often (but not always!) he seemed to be drifting off happily enough, only to wake up suddenly and completely about a minute after we left the room.

It’s interesting that the literature says this sleep regression is about fear of missing out, because I’d say in our experience it’s much more about Little Man feeling anxious about being left alone. He struggles much more at bedtime if he’s overtired or feeling a bit under the weather (or teething of course!). And reports from nursery suggest he’s just fine at naptime when there’s lots of other children napping around him (the magic of peer pressure apparently starts at an early age!). He’s usually happy enough to stop playing in the evenings and head upstairs to bed – it’s definitely the ‘being left alone’ part that seems to cause the issue.

I also think that Little Man suffers quite a bit from hypnic jerks – those twitchy muscle movements that make it feel like you’re falling when you’re going to sleep. He’s very twitchy and it would explain the times he randomly starts crying just as it seems that he’s about to really drift off.

How to handle toddler sleep regressions

The bad news is, of course, that I don’t have any magical words of wisdom for other parents going through a toddler sleep regression: all I can offer is sympathy.

All the advice online suggests having a well-established sleep routine; I definitely think that helps, but it’s hardly the solution of the century. All you can do is try to be patient, be consistent and not lose your mind on the days when it feels like you’re spending your whole evening trying to get an obviously tired child to sleep. You can try to work on the separation anxiety and FOMO feelings that might be getting in the way of your toddler settling down to sleep, but there’s not really anything you could do if they’re twitching themselves awake or ending up unsettled due to falling dreams. Even us grown ups sometimes have trouble sleeping and wake up freaked out after a bad dream – I guess it’s not exactly surprising that little ones do too.

child development · Just for fun · parenting · top tips

5 Effective Hostage Negotiation Techniques I’ve Learned As a Toddler Parent

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Toddlerhood is so much fun! No, really – despite the title of this post, and despite what I might occasionally say after a particularly tricky evening or extra-early morning start – seeing our little baby turn into an opinionated, chatty toddler with a predilection for fire engines and double decker buses, a love of playing outside and a hatred of hats, has been awesome. However, toddlerhood does of course require a new set of parenting skills, one of which is tantrum management – a.k.a. conducting hostage negotiations with a toddler. So I thought it was time to share my top five hostage negotiation techniques that I’ve learned as a toddler parent…

5 Hostage Negotiation Techniques for Toddler Parents

1. Work out what they really want

When you arrive on the scene of a hostage situation, it’s not always immediately clear what the terrorists are actually after (at least, that’s what I’ve learned from watching Die Hard). Similarly, when your toddler has a meltdown in the middle of the kitchen floor after you offered them a cup of pineapple juice, the real cause of the meltdown is not necessarily clear. Shockingly, it might not be about the pineapple juice at all – perhaps your toddler is too hot, hungry, tired, teething, or maybe their cuddly monkey toy looked at them funny.

So whatever happens, remember: the target of the hostage-taker is not the hostage. The hostage is simply a bargaining chip which provides a means to an end. Similarly, the target of the toddler is not the tantrum; the tantrum is a bargaining chip…

2. Stay calm

Easier said than done. There’s nothing that has the propensity to make people quite so angry as being told to ‘stay calm’ in a stressful situation, and nothing quite so unconvincing as screaming “I AM calm!” in the middle of said situation.

Whether you’re conducting a hostage negotiation with a toddler or an armed terrorist, however, the principle is the same: stay calm, and try to avoid doing anything that could escalate the situation further. The priority of the hostage negotiator is to ensure the safety of the hostages. In the case of your toddler throwing a wobbly, weirdly, the hostage-taker is also themselves the hostage – and so the aim is to avoid them doing something daft and destructive, like throwing themselves on the floor and banging their head. In order to ensure the safety of your angry toddler, aim to remain calm and de-escalate. How, I hear you cry? Well…

3. Demonstrate tactical empathy

Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss coined the term “tactical empathy” to describe the process of trying to understand your opponent on an emotional level and using that understanding to your advantage. What does that mean when conducting hostage negotiation with a toddler? Well, no matter how ridiculous it is that they are screaming the house down because the sun is too bright today, or because you gave them a snack bar when they asked for a snack bar, you have to try to see things from their perspective. I mean, the sun can be really bright, am I right? Instead of telling them they’re wrong for how they’re feeling (“it’s silly to be so upset about some pineapple juice”), which is negative and thus only likely to escalate the situation, aim to simply acknowledge what they’re trying to communicate: that they’re upset.

Getting your toddler on-side by acknowledging their feelings with some fairly hilarious sentences “I understand you’re sad because I gave you a snack bar”, “I’m sorry you’re upset that a bird flew past”, “I can see that you don’t want to wear your shoes today” can actually help to defuse some (not all… definitely not all) tantrums in their early stages, giving you the chance to hug it out and move on to the next stage of our toddler negotiation…

4. Play for time

Trained negotiators are told never to argue with a hostage-taker and never say a straight ‘no’ to a demand. Instead, the negotiator should use delaying tactics (“I’ll look into it”, “I’ll see what I can do”) or make a counter-offer, while maintaining a positive, upbeat attitude, reassuring the hostage-taker that everything will eventually work out peacefully. This is because the longer a hostage situation lasts, the more likely it is to end peacefully.

Of course, it’s difficult to completely avoid saying no to the many demands of an unreasonable toddler, but you can think about how you’re saying it and aim to avoid escalating a tantrum with a flat ‘no’. For instance, instead of “no, you can’t go in the garden now, it’s raining”, try “we can go play in the garden when the rain stops”. Here’s a fun article with ideas on how to avoid constantly saying ‘no’ to your toddler.

5. Use distraction techniques

Distraction techniques are often key in the management of real-life hostage situations. One approach is to focus the hostage-taker on micro-management of the details of their demands (What type of helicopter do you want? What gender should the pilot be? Would you like your $30 million in fifty dollar notes or should we throw in some twenties?) to buy time for the authorities to find out more about the situation. Another approach is to aim to keep the hostage-taker distracted at the point at which the authorities are moving in to free the hostages, as used in the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980.

When conducting hostage negotiation with a toddler, a more simplistic distraction approach is generally required (and hopefully you haven’t actually had to call in a SWAT team). After a certain point, they are often just crying because they’re crying, and suddenly bursting into a cheerful rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus”, unexpectedly pulling a silly face or initiating some naughty antics by Mr BunBun can be enough to get them to forget all about whatever the problem was in the first place.

Hostage Negotiation with Toddlers: Your Tips

So there you have it… My top tips for hostage negotiation with toddlers. I’d love to hear from other mamas and papas about how you handle the magic of tantrums! Let me know in the comments. Or why not check out my blog post on free and cheap outdoor play activities with your toddler?

Just for fun · pop culture · top tips

7 Simple Ways To Avoid Having An Accidental Party At The Office

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Boris Johnson has announced we’ll all be going back to normal – and therefore back to the office – very soon. So I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s concerned about the possibility of accidentally ending up having an enormous office party, at a time when I’m actually supposed to be busy getting the year-end reporting finished off.

Not only are accidental office parties really bad for productivity, but they can also result in negative publicity if they happen in the midst of national coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Not to mention that they create a lot of extra work for housekeeping staff, who really don’t deserve to have to clean vomit off the boardroom ceiling more than once in any working week.

So in my selfless drive to help others, I’ve put together this handy guide, setting out a number of simple ways to avoid having an accidental office party. Whatever your reason for wanting to avoid a party in the workplace – social anxiety, Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, or just an uncontrollable tendency to tell colleagues you love them after half a shandy – this easy guide is the one for you.

7 Simple Ways To Avoid Having An Accidental Office Party

1. Protect Yourself Against Cake Ambush

When entering an office area, make sure to flatten yourself against the wall and, if possible, take cover behind a filing cabinet or large confidential waste bin. This will give you time to scan the immediate area for possible concealed baked goods and beat a hasty retreat if necessary.

This is doubly important if it is your birthday.

2. Buy A Dictionary

Preventing a cake ambush is one thing, but it can be really difficult to avoid having an office party if you don’t actually know what a party is. I myself once thought I was attending a workplace strategy meeting, only to discover afterwards that it had in fact been an illegal psychedelic rave. Once I familiarised myself with the definition of terms like “rave”, “party”, and “working hours”, I found it so much easier to avoid this kind of unfortunate confusion going forward.

3. The ratio of laptops to bottles of wine should be at least 1:1

Self-explanatory, really. It can’t be a party if there’s a laptop nearby.

This guy’s getting it right

4. Don’t Accidentally Bring Your Entire Family To Work

As the old saying goes: if you’ve completed the mandatory recruitment e-training module, you can choose your colleagues, but you can’t choose your family. I discovered recently that traditionally in Western office culture, you don’t bring your family to work with you. Apparently doing this can risk blurring the lines between ‘work time’, ‘family party’ and ‘drunken brawl about what Uncle Pete said about Auntie Suzie’s shoes ten years ago’.

Apparently, this applies even if your Auntie Marie is really good with Excel and wears a pantsuit, so I’ve now taken to checking the boot of my car in the mornings before setting off to work, just in case one of my extended family has squirrelled themselves away in there. Again.

5. Avoid Putting Up Party Decorations

If you’re not supposed to be having a party, try to avoid putting up enormous party decorations outside the front of your office, as this may inadvertently give the wrong impression.

No Christmas parties here

6. Get the Neighbours On Side

Remember that if anyone is likely to report an accidental party to the police – or take incriminating photos of an informal garden-based work meeting with wine and a cheeseboard and then leak the photos to the tabloids – it’s likely to be your neighbors. If you think there is any risk whosoever that your quarterly leadership team briefing might turn into a drunken bunfight, it may be best to invite your neighbours along to the meeting, just in case.

And make sure the cheeseboard is good.

7. Just Believe

Last but not least: if the worst happens and you find yourself caught in the middle of an unexpected party at the office, don’t worry – it’s not too late. Just ignore what your eyes, ears, and possibly nose are telling you, because if you truly believe that you’re at a work meeting, then no amount of prosecco, cheeseboards, feather boas, buffet catering, or drunken fumbling in the stationary cupboard can prove you otherwise.

If for some bizarre reason other people suggest that your work meeting looks a lot like a party, just insist it’s a free-form, deep-dive brainstorming session to pivot the organisational approach to holistically promoting synergy in the customer journey.

As long as no one understands what you’re saying, it’s very difficult for them to prove you wrong.

Your top tips to avoid office parties:

After the embarrassment of Partygate, it’s not just politicians and senior civil servants who are keen to avoid accidental workplace parties. If you have any tips of your own, please add them in the comments! Or alternatively if you love this kind of highly nonsensical political commentary, why not check out my blog post on why Boris Johnson and Joe Exotic from Tiger King are basically the same person?

health · mental health · top tips

How To Manage Blood Test Anxiety

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I’ve never been a massive fan of blood tests, and my opinion of them hasn’t exactly improved with much closer acquaintance. And trust me, diagnosing a TSH-secreting pituitary adenoma involves a very close acquaintance with the phlebotomists (a.k.a. vampires, a.k.a. people who draw blood for testing) of your local hospital. People are weird, so there’s probably at least a couple of oddballs out there who positively enjoy having their blood drawn, but I am not one of them. In fact, needle phobia is really common – affecting perhaps one in ten people. So how do you manage blood test anxiety if you have a condition that requires lots of blood tests?

How To Manage Blood Test Anxiety

Try to understand your anxiety and symptoms

It may be helpful to consider if there is any particular source of your blood test anxiety or needle phobia – for instance, an upsetting experience as a child, or a fear of fainting, feeling sick, or the pain of the needle. Or it could be associated with the sight of blood, which many people can find to be a trigger for anxiety, a more general fear of medical procedures or hospitals – or even having a parent or caregiver as a child who exhibited anxiety about any of these things. Understanding the triggers for your anxiety doesn’t necessarily solve anything, but it can help you work out what parts of the blood test situation are a problem for you.

In terms of symptoms, anxiety tends to be linked to one of two things:

  • Often needle phobia or anxiety around blood tests is linked to feeling faint, or a fear of feeling faint. Fainting can occur as a result of a drop in blood pressure.
  • Otherwise, it may be linked to physical symptoms of stress or panic, such as a racing heart, sweating and/or feeling nauseous.

Understand what to expect

It’s helpful to understand what to expect in your blood test appointment, and prepare yourself for it. The unknown is always scary. Probably the most important thing to keep reminding yourself is that blood tests usually don’t take more than a couple of minutes! So hopefully you shouldn’t have to manage your blood test anxiety for too long.

Usually, at the start of your appointment you will be asked to confirm some details about yourself. Then the phlebotomist will disinfect the skin where the needle will go (you usually get to pick which arm they’ll target!) and wrap a tourniquet around your upper arm, to make the veins stand out more. They may ask you to make a fist or pump your hand – again, to make the veins stand out. Then they’ll put the needle in – usually they’ll warn you just before it happens, and ideally you want to keep your arm relaxed. They may need to keep the needle in while swapping over blood collection tubes, if they need to do a number of tests.

When your phlebotomist removes the needle, they may ask you to press on the vein, to reduce bleeding, and they’ll probably offer a plaster or cotton wool and tape to cover the cut.

Follow some key steps before your appointment

Eat and drink beforehand (if allowed)

Some blood tests require fasting, so if that’s the case, make sure you follow the rules – but fast for the minimum time allowed. It’s really important to stay hydrated, because dehydration lowers your blood pressure, which makes drawing blood more difficult and makes it more likely that you may feel faint after your blood test.

If, like me, you’re also a bit inclined to end up with low blood sugar, then making sure you’ve had enough to eat or a sugary drink beforehand (if allowed) may also help, as low blood sugar can also make you feel faint.

Wrap up warm

It’s helpful to make sure you stay warm. When your body is cold, it causes the veins near the surface of your skin to shrink down, making it harder to draw your blood.

Plan something nice for afterwards

Try to give yourself something to look forward to after your appointment; something that you can focus on as a pleasant experience. It can be something small, like a nice coffee from the hospital canteen, or something bigger like a trip out or exciting dinner plans. Try to focus on this as something positive to look forward to, rather than focusing on the blood test appointment.

Key steps to manage blood test anxiety during your appointment

Talk to your phlebotomist about your blood test anxiety

Make sure you tell whoever’s taking your blood that you’re anxious about blood tests. There’s no need to be embarrassed; they will have seen hundreds of people with needle phobia before. They can help ensure that you feel as comfortable as possible, and distract you from what’s going on. They may also be able to make other accommodations, such as allowing you to lie down if you’re concerned about fainting, or allowing you to bring a friend or family member with you for moral support.

Similarly, if you have veins that are difficult to find, make sure you warn your phlebotomist.

Remember to breathe

So far, so obvious. If you’re anxious, you may find yourself unintentionally holding your breath while you wait for the needle to pinch you. But that won’t help – in fact, holding your breath interrupts the oxygenation of your blood and may make you more likely to faint.

Instead, try using relaxation breathing techniques to help you get through your blood test appointment. Slow, controlled breathing has been proven to affect the nervous system and brain activity, and to increase sensations of comfort and relaxation. So it’s definitely worth a try!

The NHS provides basic online guidance on breathing techniques for stress that are simple and easy to do. You can also easily find guidance and videos online via a quick search. Breathing exercises usually involve counting patterns of breath, which also works to distract your brain from what’s going on.

Don’t look!

Try not to look at the needle. These days, I’ve had so many blood tests that they don’t really bother me any more, but when I did find them more stressful, I always found that it was best not to look at my arm or what the phlebotomist was doing. In fact, the sight of the needle or of blood may actually set off the anxiety reaction (vasovagal syncope) that can cause you to faint – so it’s best avoided.

Instead, I would pick something else to look at – there are often posters or notices on hospital walls, so pick one and focus on that instead.

Distract yourself

Anxiety can increase when you focus on the source of your anxiety, so distracting yourself is a helpful way to manage blood test anxiety. You can try counting in your head, trying to remember or run through song lyrics, or chatting with the person who’s drawing your blood. You could even watch a video or listen to music on your phone during the blood test, to keep your mind off what’s going on.

Use the Applied Tension technique

If you tend to faint during blood tests, you can use something called the ‘Applied Tension Technique’ to help. This aims to help maintain blood pressure and prevent the sudden drop in blood pressure that can lead to fainting (or just feeling faint), through undertaking some physical exercises. It’s a straightforward technique, which simply involves tensing the muscles in your body to increase your blood pressure. You can read more about this technique and how to use it here.

Consider professional help

If your blood test anxiety or needle phobia is very severe, it can interfere with your medical treatment if it results in you avoiding blood tests. If the steps outlined above don’t help you manage your blood test anxiety, consider whether it could be helpful to seek professional help. You should be able to find a therapist who can help you address your anxiety over time.

Your suggestions to manage blood test anxiety

Have you suffered from needle phobia or blood test anxiety? How did you learn to manage your fears and get through blood tests? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments!

child development · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · play

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

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I’ve previously written about Little Man’s first discoveries of the great outdoors as a newly-walking toddler. I thought it would be fun to follow up with some ideas for fun ways to play and explore the great outdoors when you have a young toddler – in the one year old to eighteen months sort of timeframe. I’m focusing on cheap and easy activities that involve household items you probably already have, or at least that don’t require purchasing anything worth more than about £1… Because fun shouldn’t be mega expensive!

Free & Cheap Ideas For Fun Outdoors With A 12 – 18 Month Old Toddler

Pebbles in a Pot

This idea came from my own lovely mum! When I was a kid we had a gravel area outside our kitchen door, and mum said I used to spend ages sat on the step happily putting little pebbles from the gravel into empty milk bottles.

We have a small amount of gravel in our back garden, so I thought I would try the same with Little Man, showing him how to put pebbles into an empty plastic bottle… And he loves it! (To be fair, it could be genetic – so I guess there’s no guarantee your kids will like it, buuut let’s just skate past that). He needs reasonably close supervision to ensure he doesn’t try to eat any of the pebbles, but as time has gone by, the frequency of attempted pebble-munching has greatly diminished.

Pebbles in a pot!

The pebbles in a pot game is great for fine motor skills as well as concepts like big and small, empty and full. And honestly, it requires so little parental input that it’s perfect for those mornings when you find yourself in your back garden with an energetic toddler much, much earlier than planned…

Interactive Plants

Okay, bear with me, because I didn’t really have a title for this one! While on our way to nursery one morning a couple of months ago, I introduced Little Man to the concept of dandelion clocks. He loved watching me blow away the seeds and having a try himself (mainly just aggressively blowing raspberries in the complete wrong direction, but he had a go!). Now he loves dandelions and asks for them whenever we go out – he calls them “bubbles” which actually kind of makes sense when you think about it.

But dandelions aren’t the only interactive plant out there! We’ve played with snapdragons (antirrhinums), squeezing the sides of the flower to make them snap, and Little Man really likes picking daisies and singing the Upsy Daisy song from In The Night Garden – and watching mama make daisy chains. There’s such fun to be had in simply exploring new flowers and plant textures like tulips, daffodils, poppies and strands of grass.

When we go out, Little Man also enjoys looking for daisies, dandelions, leaves and sticks, and later on in the summer I can’t wait to go foraging for blackberries and other fruit, and playing with popping the seedpods of bizzy lizzies (impatiens). There’s really so many fun and interesting plants that little ones can explore, it’s probably worth a blog post on its own!

Upsy Daisy, here I come!

Treasure Hunt

I thought this would be a bit too complicated for Little Man at just 14 months old, but actually thanks to Easter I discovered that you really can do a fun treasure hunt in the garden, even for really young toddlers.

First, pick something they’ll be really interested in finding (like, say, shiny chocolate eggs… Or toys wrapped in silver foil). Let them watch you “hide” them (pretty much in plain sight), and then set them loose! With a fair bit of help and prompting, it’s a really fun way to spend some time together. Little Man though did not trust us to look after the eggs he had found while he looked for others, which created a slight issue when he ran out of hands…

Easter Egg Hunt Champion 2021

Fun with Water

You don’t need to buy a paddling pool to have fun in the sunshine (when the sunshine actually turns up, of course). We have now invested in a pool, but before we did, we had loads of fun with a washing up bowl and a bucket of water in the garden! Little Man actually still managed to fit in a normal kitchen bucket at almost 18 months old, and really enjoyed watching the water spilling over the rim as he sat down, and stood up… And sat down, and stood up… Safe to say, the lawn got a good watering.

Setting up a few buckets of water and some cups and things to play with is super easy and a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Just make sure you don’t forget the sun cream!

Making Marks With Chalk

This is my last suggestion and unless you live near some natural chalk hills and can collect a pocketful of rock chalk while out for a walk, you’ll need to buy some chalks – I got a big packet for £1 from our local cheap and cheerful store (it’s not technically a pound shop so I don’t know what else to call it…)

Chalk is great because of course it washes away in the rain, so you can make a huge mess of a driveway, path, fence, some rocks or a wheelie bin… And not worry too much about the cleanup (if you live in the UK, anyway). Little Man is loving playing with chalk at the moment and it’s great for starting to learn the alphabet and numbers as well.

Your top tips for free and cheap outdoor play ideas

What are your top tips and ideas for fun outdoors with a toddler? I’d love to get more ideas and tips for me and Little Man this summer!

health · pituitary · top tips

Top Tips For Having Transsphenoidal Pituitary Surgery

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Now, I fully recognise that this is a bit of a niche blog post, one which is principally going to be of interest to anyone about to have pituitary surgery. But hey! Pituitary tumors are actually surprisingly common, so there’s a lot of people out there who might be awaiting surgery. Maybe one of them is your, dear reader.

And before going into hospital for your transsphenoidal pituitary surgery, you will be anxious. You will have questions. However, I should note that many of your questions will already have been answered on legitimate medical sites elsewhere on the internet. So instead of regurgitating the same old advice (“Don’t sneeze after surgery or your brain will shoot out of your nose”, “Warning: after they’ve drilled through your head, it may be a little sore”), I have decided I will go down a different route, and write down the more obscure things that I wish I’d known before heading into hospital for transsphenoidal pituitary surgery…

Top Tips For Having Pituitary Surgery

Let me present my top tips for people about to have pituitary surgery:

1. Shave your inside elbows.

“She’s gone mad,” I hear you cry. “She’s raving. It was probably the brain surgery that did it.” In fact, this is an entirely logical step, because of all the blood tests you’ll undergo after your pituitary surgery; you’re basically going to be a human pincushion for a couple of days as the doctors seek to keep a very close watch on various hormone levels. And I mean VERY ClOSE. Both times I’ve had pituitary surgery, I’ve had blood tests every two hours for the first twelve hours after waking up, and then they gradually reduce in frequency… But not fast enough. You will literally be woken up through the night for blood tests in hospital.

This means that the post-blood-test strip of tape and cotton wool that the phlebotomist sticks over your inside elbow is going to get ripped off repeatedly, and then stuck back on. And then ripped off again, along with much of your arm hair. After the sixth time this happens in one day, you’ll be wishing you had taken my advice and shaved your inside elbows. I did this for my second surgery (having learned this lesson the hard way after my first pituitary surgery) and it made all those bloody blood tests just a little bit easier.

2. Drink enough.

If this seems obvious to you, then presumably you’re a normal person who gets thirsty when you haven’t drunk sufficient amounts of water to keep yourself hydrated. However, I am an odd sort of person and I only really notice I’m thirsty when it’s hot or I’ve done exercise (or, for some reason, when I’m pregnant!). Otherwise, I can go for hours and hours without drinking and not even notice; even back when I was a teeny child, my mum would tell me off for not drinking enough.

This was slightly problematic in hospital. Because of the risk of surgery damaging your pituitary gland and causing a condition called diabetes insipidus, your fluid balance is monitored carefully. If they believe you’re becoming dehydrated, they will put you on a drip. This is rubbish. Therefore, drink lots of water. And if you don’t like water, keep a supply of tastier drinks at hand. And by “tastier drinks”, I mean Ribena.

3. Always eat the custard first.

Hospital food gets a bad rep. The food at my hospital was pretty tasty really, and there was a good selection. But for some obscure reason, the dessert was often served before the main. If you waited for your main meal to rock up before eating dessert (like any normal person would), your custard would congeal disconcertingly by the time you got to it.
So remember: you’ve just had brain surgery. Screw societal norms regarding the “correct” order in which to eat sweet or savory comestibles. Don’t let that custard go to waste!

4. Make your visitors play musical chairs.

Again, this may initially seem nonsensical. But I was fortunate enough to have a fair few visitors in hospital after each pituitary surgery (thank you guys!), which was lovely. However, for the most part they sat in the same chair on the left-hand side of my bed. Consequently, by the end of my stay in hospital I had done my neck in, from continually turning my head to the left. It was pretty painful and entirely my own fault. Make them alternate sides. I did for my second surgery and it was much easier on the neck.

5. Get wheeled out in a wheelchair.

Because a) you’ll be feeling rubbish and won’t want to walk, and b) it’s fun!

6. Steroids + morphine = surprisingly fun.

After waking up from my first surgery, initially I felt rubbish. It was very, very painful. Fortunately, the nurse at hand quickly gave me some morphine. By the time I was properly awake, I was pain-free, wired, and weirdly delighted that the nurse had the same first name as my mum. They took me out of the post-surgical care room and up to the main neurosurgical ward, and about half an hour after I woke up I was already texting various members of my friends and family and talking nineteen to the dozen about how unusually chirpy I felt.

7. Play your “brain surgery” card.

I regret not doing this more, in retrospect. When you’ve had brain surgery, you should be able to really milk that fact for all it’s worth. I have no doubt that there are hours of fun to be had in pretending not to recognise household objects, friends, family, political systems and/or branches of philosophy.

I remember speaking to one friend a few weeks after my first brain surgery, and I mentioned that I was always forgetting where I’d left my books. She gave me a sorrowful look and whispered, “Is that because of the surgery?”It was disappointing to have to confess to her that no, I have in fact always been that stupid.

8. Get a free pill slicer. They are awesome.

After pituitary surgery, you’ll be put on steroid replacement medication in case the neurosurgeon accidentally removed your body’s ability to make its own steroid hormone when required. Said pills can be broken into different-sized chunks so you can take, for example, a whole dose in the morning, half a pill at lunch, and the other half in the early afternoon. When I left hospital, I obviously looked too pathetic even to break a tiny pill in two, because they provided me with a pill slicer. You put the pill in, shut the lid, and SHAZAM! A razorblade hidden inside will slice that bad boy in twain.

I managed to lose my pill slicer after a couple of months, and I was pretty cut up about it. …Geddit? Cut up?

Your top tips for having pituitary surgery

Have you had transsphenoidal pituitary surgery? Do you have any top tips you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

health · pain · top tips

Best Ways To Relax And Enjoy Life When You’re In Pain

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I’ve written previously about alternative ways to cope with pain when you can’t (or don’t want) to use painkillers. I thought it was time to follow that up with a post about ways to relax, and even try to enjoy your time, when you’re in pain.

I’m writing mainly from my perspective as someone who’s had chronic pain from my hypermobility spectrum disorder throughout my life. My joint pain tends to come and go – sometimes it’s really bad, sometimes it’s just an annoying backnote. This post is focused around things you can do to relax and distract yourself from pain – perhaps when you’re waiting for pain relief to kick in, or if your normal treatment hasn’t got rid of the pain entirely. There is a strong connection between mental health and pain; stress exacerbates pain, so by using these ideas to help relax, it may also help to reduce your perception of the pain. You might find it useful if you suffer from chronic pain, or you have a current injury that’s bothering you…

Best Ways To Relax And Enjoy Life When You’re In Pain

1. Take a bath

Heat can be a great way to treat pain, so a warm bath is a great way to treat pain but also to distract yourself from it and have an enjoyable time. I always love having a bath with nicely scented bath products – there are plenty of bath soaks on the market which are specifically targeted at soothing sore muscles or relaxing you. You can take a cup of herbal tea and a book, or play some relaxing music, and just chill in relative comfort. There’s also the benefit that the water takes some of the weight off your muscles and joints.

2. Yummy smells

I guess technically the word I’m looking for is ‘aromatherapy’, but that sounds very formal for the kind of thing I’m talking about. When you’re in physical pain, it can be difficult to focus on anything other than the pain, but strong comforting scents can be a really good, pleasant distraction – especially if they come with comforting memories or associations attached. You can try using an oil burner, reed diffuser or wax melts that scent your whole house; scented massage oils or moisturisers; or you can use essential oils on a handkerchief or on your pillow at night.

3. Gentle Exercise

It depends on the cause of your pain as to whether this one is likely to help – obviously if you have a sports injury that needs resting up, or a condition that means your pain worsens with exertion, then this is not the suggestion for you! But gentle exercise can really help with some joint and muscle pain, which can actually be exacerbated if you stay still for too long.

I love taking a walk when my joints are painful, because not only does the exercise help to reduce stiffness and ease the pain, but also just being outside is a lovely distraction for my mind, and it gives me something else to focus on. Since having Little Man, I’ve actually discovered that walking with a pram is especially nice if my hips and leg joints are playing up, for some reason.

Alternatively, light stretching, yoga or tai chi can be really good for pain as well. Yoga With Adriene has free online videos including this yoga routine for chronic pain, and other yoga flows aimed at targeting different types of pain including migraine, sciatica, back pain and more.

4. Mindfulness and Meditation

Mmm it’s time to get hippy dippy! Meditation has also been shown to be effective in reducing pain, and it’s believed this is because it reduces the stress response in the body. I find it’s especially helpful at bedtime if you’re trying to go to sleep while you’re in pain. Personally, I enjoy guided meditations where you visualise peaceful locations like a beach or a forest, but there are lots of different styles of meditation around, so keep looking until you find one that works for you. There’s loads of free guided meditations online – try experimenting to find a meditation style you enjoy.

5. Get Closer to Nature

Spending time in nature is inherently relaxing. Walking, gardening, or going foraging are all great ways to relax and gently distract yourself; but even if you’re not up to doing anything too physical, just taking some time in the great outdoors is a great way to feel better. On a sunny day, a spot of sunbathing can boost your mood (obviously use sunscreen and limit your time in the sun!) but as long as you wrap up, even on colder days the sight and sounds of nature are really soothing.

Your tips for relaxing and enjoying life when you’re in pain:

Do you have experience of managing a chronic pain condition, or pain from an injury or illness? What are the ways you try to relax and chill out even when you’re in pain? Let me know your tips in the comments!

health · Just for fun · top tips

How To Cope When Dealing With Hospital Administration Systems

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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…

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!

Just for fun · mermaiding

Things No One Tells You About Being An Underwater Model

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Underwater modelling looks super cool, but I can tell you from experience that it has it’s downsides. So today, I present my list of the things no-one tells you about being an underwater model…

Things No One Tells You About Being An Underwater Model

1. You might look amazing but you will feel GROSS

Underwater modelling (and underwater performance more generally) may look incredibly glamorous, but the truth is… It’s not! If you’re shooting (or performing) in chlorinated water, by the end of the shoot your eyes will be bright red like some kind of mermaid vampire, and your nose will be running like mad. If you’re working in seawater or fresh water, your eyes probably won’t be as sore, but you’ll still have a gross runny nose and… You might smell pretty bad too. Ever seen a mermaid performing in an aquarium, looking magical alongside the fish and sharks? Yeah, when she gets out the tank backstage, she will stink of seaweed and shark poop. And she’ll still smell pretty bad even after her third hot shower that evening.

2. It takes FOREVER

That gorgeous shot of the underwater model hovering in the water, wrapped in elegant folds of transparent fabric that float around her in perfect symmetry? Yeah, the photographer will have about 500 versions of that photo that didn’t work out.

Getting the perfect underwater photo takes patience and persistence, sometimes to a quite ridiculous extent. So many things have to come together for the shot to work. The model has to be floating just right; so does her costume and hair. There can’t be any bubbles or floating debris obscuring the picture. If the model is moving in the water (and let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to stay still in water!), the photographer has to press the shutter button at the exact right moment, not too early or too late. Plus, all of the normal considerations that need to come together to create a great photo – the lighting, the model’s expression and open eyes, the make-up, the props… The list goes on.

So if you have a specific shot you’re trying to create, be prepared to try for the shot over… and over… and over… and then maybe just a few more times…

3. Being an underwater model is super cold!

So this one sounds obvious, but modelling underwater gets really cold. I presume that professional mermaids and underwater models who live in lovely hot countries don’t have this issue to quite the same degree, but if you’re in the UK it’s going to be an issue. Make sure you plan how you’re going to warm up once you’re out of the water – hot towels, warm drinks, a space heater or hot shower are all good ideas to have on standby. You also need to ensure that you’re not in the water for too long at one time – 15 minutes is the absolute max in cold water before you should have a break.

One of my coldest mermaid performance experiences was at an aquarium in Scotland where the water for their main sand tiger shark tank was fed directly from the Firth of Forth. After each stint swimming in the freezing water, we climbed straight into a large sink filled with warm water… It was heavenly!

Photograph by Mark Jones

4. Risk assessments are really important

Risk assessments for underwater models:

Modelling and performing underwater is inherently dangerous. You’re trying to hold your breath for long periods of time, often in cold water, often while wearing impractical costumes or working with props that could impede your ability to swim to the surface if you needed to. If you’re modelling or performing in open water, there are even more dangers – waves, tides, entanglement hazards from fishing gear, and so on. With all these dangers, it’s important to manage the risk to yourself and others.

I actually ended up with a concussion after one underwater photoshoot – we were shooting at night against a black background with a single beam of light, so it was pretty dark, and I surfaced straight into a metal ladder that had been placed across the pool as part of the lighting rig. Talking to my doctor the next day about how I sustained the injury required a LOT of explaining… And my GP always remembered me as the professional mermaid after that. So, proper risk assessment for underwater photography is really important.

How to do a risk assessment for an underwater photoshoot:

Essentially, the process involves identifying possible risks or hazards that could arise as part of the photoshoot, and taking action to eliminate or reduce the risk, as well as planning for what you’ll do if the risk materialises.

So for instance, linking back to aprevious section in this article, with an underwater photoshoot a risk could be that the model ends up with hypothermia; and you could plan to mitigate this by controlling the amount of time spend in the water, the temperature of the water (if possible), providing a heated area where they can warm up afterwards, having towels and warm drinks on hand, etc. etc. Or another risk could be the model getting into difficulties in the water; so think about having a safety diver or divers in the water, and/or a lifeguard on hand in shallower water, and agreeing a hand signal that the model can use to signal that they need help. Think about whether the model’s costume(s) could impede any rescue efforts, and how you can manage that.

By working your way through the possible dangers, and planning for how to keep the models and photographer safe, you can ensure you have a fun and low-risk shoot.

Other risks to consider in your assessment:

You should also think about other types of risk, such as whether you have the right insurance, and whether your photoshoot will be in line with the law. For instance, if you or your photographer is diving using SCUBA gear in the UK, you will be subject to the Diving At Work Regulations (1997). Make sure you do your research and know the relevant laws in advance of your photoshoot.

I’ll write more about risk assessing underwater photoshoots in a future post, so watch this space.

5. Being an underwater model is incredibly tiring

Underwater modelling is exhausting. Repeatedly diving and posing while holding your breath is very strenuous work, and it’s another reason why it’s important to schedule short diving windows – even if the water is warm. It’s really easy to underestimate just how tiring it can be! I recommend restricting photoshoot timings to a maximum of 20 minutes at a time before the model gets a break. If you have multiple models at a shoot, it’s best to rotate them; often the photographer will be able to keep going longer if they’re shooting from outside of the water or are using SCUBA gear, so it’s the best way to make use of the time.

Make sure you’ve properly considered how tired you will be after any extended session as an underwater model, and how you will manage that. It may be sensible to ensure that you’re not going to have to drive yourself home after the photoshoot – especially combined with the risk of things such as getting sore, dry eyes from the chlorine.

Photograph by Johannes Hjorth

6. You can’t communicate with your photographer

Again, this sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. Underwater, the photographer cannot direct the model while actually taking pictures. In order to discuss how the shoot is going, you’ll both need to surface to talk to one another. That takes time and can be a real pain, especially if the photographer is using SCUBA gear, or if you’re shooting in a tank when it can be difficult for the model to hear anything that’s being said outside the tank itself.

So for a successful underwater photoshoot, make sure you have a thorough discussion with your photographer before getting into the water. Agree the type of shots you’re aiming for, the poses, location in the water, and any hand signals you’ll use to communicate with one another. That way, you’ll get the most of your time shooting together.

More tips and tricks for underwater models

This article is part of a series I’m writing called The Professional Mermaid’s Guide to Underwater Modelling! Why not check out the series page to see all the articles I’ve written about underwater modelling and photography? The series includes top tips on everything from learning how to open your eyes underwater, to styling hair and using wigs in the water, underwater makeup tips, and more!

Are you an underwater model or photographer? Do you have any tips that you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

environment · food · food storage · lifestyle

Easy Kitchen Eco Swaps

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I’ve written before about how we’ve been working to reduce plastic waste around the house through swapping the everyday products we buy for alternatives that are plastic-free and more eco-friendly – eco swaps, if you will! I thought it was time for another update, this time focusing on easy kitchen eco swaps. A lot of plastic waste that we generate comes from the kitchen, so it seems like a logical place to look for opportunities to make life more sustainable…

Easy Kitchen Eco Swaps

Milk Delivery

One of the best swaps we’ve made recently is moving towards a traditional milk delivery by a real, live milkman! When I was a kid we used to have a milkman, but I’ve not had one for years – then, in the autumn we had a knock on the door from a new local milk delivery service, and I thought we’d give it a go. It’s super convenient, and much more eco-friendly – the switch to reusable glass bottles means it completely does away with the need for plastic bottles. Plus, our milk service also has the option to deliver other local produce like eggs, jam and more.

Plastic saving: We used to get through about 6 – 8 pints of milk a week, usually in 2 – 3 bottles. I’d estimate that by switching to a milk delivery, we’ve saved 130 plastic bottles per year – or 2,600 bottles over 20 years… wow!

Refill Shop

When a refill shop opened up in our town, I was super excited, but it was kind of a new concept to me! What is a refill shop? Well, it pretty much does what it says on the tin: it’s a shop where you bring your own containers to buy products which are free of packaging. Every store is different, but often they offer dry foods such as rice and pasta, and liquids such as cooking oils, cleaning products and more. The idea is to make shopping more sustainable by cutting down on plastic packaging, and often by offering fresh local produce as well, to reduce food miles. In general they’re a great option for making your shop more eco-friendly (although I recommend checking out this article by Wired where they look at some of the potential pitfalls of refill shops, as well).

We’ve tried to move to using the refill shop as much as possible for the products that are available, and that has meant that we’ve completely cut out plastic packaging for some products that we use every week – particularly rice and granola. We now also get to mix the perfect granola every morning: combining plain granola and a sprinkling of dried tropical mix, which solves the problem that you get with bags of granola where all the good stuff ends up at the top of the bag, and the last few bowlfuls are rubbish.

Plastic saving: I’ll write about plastic savings on refill toiletries in another article, so focusing just on the rice and granola that we buy regularly, I would estimate that we save a minimum of 68 items of plastic packaging a year – that’s 1,360 items over 20 years.

Eco Friendly Dish Sponges & Scourers

Up to now, we have always used washing up sponges and dish brushes from the supermarket, but these are all plastic, so I started looking into sustainable alternatives. I’ve not bought a new dish brush yet, as our old one still has plenty of use in it, but we’ve swapped to using eco sponges and scourers. They’re great, and there’s plenty of different options out there, made from sustainable materials like plant cellulose, hemp, coconut fibres and more. The only thing to be aware of is that normal plastic-based dish sponges often include ingredients to kill bacteria, whereas sustainable scourers won’t be, so it’s important to keep them dry.

For hard-to-shift, dried-on food, I also found a coconut husk dish scraper which is great for cleaning pots and pans.

Plastic saving: We probably would get through around 6 sponges a year, so that’s 120 plastic sponges saved over 20 years.

Sustainable Washing Up Liquid

Linked to the above, I realised we were getting through a lot of washing up liquid bottles. I’ve tried a solid washing up bar – lemongrass dish soap by LoofCo – but while I loved the smell, and found it cut through grease surprisingly well, I still found liquid washing up soap easier to work with. So currently we’re using our local refill store to top up on washing up liquid, and reusing an old Fairy Liquid bottle to store it.

Plastic saving: I’d guess we save on about four bottles of washing up liquid per year, so that’s 80 bottles over 20 years.

More Eco Friendly Ideas

If you have any ideas for further kitchen eco swaps that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments! I’m always interested to hear about new green products and sustainable alternatives.

And if you’ve enjoyed this article, why not check out my previous blog post on eco swaps to reduce plastic waste or this post on keeping the weaning process more eco-friendly? Or I love this post by Gypsy Soul on eco-friendly lifestyle swaps you can make for free, and this post from Emma Reed about ingredients you need to make your own eco-friendly cleaning products at home!