For everything there is a season, and it’s time to write again…

It’s been a while since my last post. Exactly a year, in fact. This time last year, I wrote about Baby Loss Awareness Week and my teetering steps through the early stages of what was my sixth (and most certainly my last) pregnancy. So much has changed in my life since that post, those changes also underpinning the various reasons I’ve not written another blog post in the meantime….

Yes, that would be you, my darling baby boy – the angst that accompanied almost every moment of my pregnancy with you (ergo, if I wrote about it during my pregnancy, that might have tempted fate, and not in a good way); the not-a-little-dramatic nature of your arrival earth-side, which left me physically utterly wrecked for many months; the magical, precious early weeks and months of domestic life with a newborn – who gets anything practical done in that phase anyway? (hush, you lucky people who bounce back and operate normally before 6 months post-partum!); and of course your ongoing love of remaining within 2 feet of me at all times, and the consequent lack of sleep. It is a joy, really it is (yes, even the sleep deprivation). Just a pretty tiring kind of joyousness that isn’t all too conducive to crafting regular, carefully thought through blog posts.

All that said, I couldn’t let this date pass by without writing about Baby Loss Awareness Week, and how it feels one year on from those anxious days when I was, as I said in my post last year, quietly hopeful about my pregnancy. So here I’ll share a bit of a tumble of reflections about life and parenting after loss. I hope this will mark the beginning of more regular writing and blogging because, as I’ve learned over the last couple of years, writing and sharing my musings does good things for my head and soul. And when you discover those things which work some kind of funny magic, I reckon you should hold onto them, and keep doing them (more of that on another post soon, I promise). Back to my reflections, in a bulleted list, as is my way:

  • Experiencing multiple miscarriages has changed me, forever. And in really good, important nourishing ways. I have wondered recently whether the fact that my rainbow boy is here (and therefore, in some ways, my journey with the hideousness of pregnancy loss is over) would mean that BLAW2017 wouldn’t matter to me so much. But it does – because recurrent miscarriage is part of my story, I feel so strongly that the world will be just a little bit better and easier for people going through miscarriage if issues of pregnancy loss were spoken about more openly, and for those reasons I’ll probably never stop talking about it – in one way or another.
  • Navigating pregnancy after loss is tough. Pretty much every day of my pregnancy with my sweet little boy was marked by some degree of angst – sometimes in my head (note I don’t say ‘just in my head’ – the head kind of angst is as valid and important as worry based in something untoward actually happening); sometimes the angst was entirely founded in pregnancy stuff being actually awry, such as reduced foetal movement. I experienced several instances of this, including shortly before T was born. More on that in another post soon, perhaps.
  • Parenting after loss is tough too. I’ve not quite processed my thoughts on this properly yet, and when I do they may well stay off cyberspace, but what I can say now is that all we went through to have our little boy and give his wonderful big sister a sibling has left me with strength but also an awareness of the fragility of ‘how things might have been different.’ The positive, nourishing face of this fragility is – however clichéd it may sound – that I feel hugely blessed at the sweet faces of joy that greet my sleep-deprived foggy face every morning, and I take nothing for granted.
  • For all that recurrent miscarriage is part of my story, I am so so so happy to wave goodbye to all things pregnancy-related. The diary-tracking, the supplements, the concoction of meds that did weird things to me in pregnancy. Me and my body (and my family, of course) have had enough of you – be gone. Enough said.
  • Experiencing pregnancy loss taught me so much about love, and connectedness and belonging. (I know this is probably a bit cryptic for what should probably be a pithy, easy-read post. Sorry about that.) Experiencing miscarriage has helped me to know myself better, to know what I need to do to nourish body, soul, and mind. It has given me a new perspective on wellbeing and mental health, and has enabled me to have conversations with people – in real life and on t’interweb – about mental health that I think are [pretty powerful.
  • It has showed me the strength that comes from finding a community of people who can really empathise and support each other. And it has given me my sweet, joyful, kind little boy. The fourth in our quartet – as it was always supposed to be

All the love. Just that.

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My hope is a quiet hope: Pregnancy after multiple miscarriages

Today marks the final day of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016. It feels like this year, Baby Loss Awareness Week seems to have found a more prominent place in the public’s awareness, and this is very encouraging. Success in raising awareness of baby loss is thanks mainly to the tireless work of many brilliant charities, such as The Miscarriage Association and Tommy’s, and to the courage of many women – and men – who have blogged and shared their stories of baby loss and their difficult journeys to parenthood.

A very powerful addition to this year’s initiatives for BLAW was efforts by several Members of Parliament to share their personal experiences of baby loss to help raise awareness and to argue for improvements in public policy. A debate in the House of Commons, led by MP Antoinette Sandbach, about these issues was moving, difficult and inspiring in equal measure. The courage shown by MPs like Vicky Ashcroft and Will Quince (to name just a couple) in sharing their experiences to help tackle the taboo surrounding baby loss, and to argue for changes in policy was incredibly moving, and I thought the leadership it demonstrated was also very inspiring. As a lovely friend put it, ‘this was the first time I had heard sense and kindness in a public debate for a very long time.’

Politicians these days don’t always inspire confidence in their willingness to use their position to tackle difficult issues, and to do so meaningfully and from the heart not just the head, but events this week were a humbling and inspiring hint towards the finest manifestation of parliamentary democracy and (hopefully, in time) improvements in public policy. The debate in Parliament, the Twitter discussions about baby loss, and the question posed to Theresa May by Will Quince during Prime Minister’s Questions (and the PM’s impressive, very human response) – they all serve to reinforce the simple yet powerful fact that this matters. Talking about it matters.

BLAW is making it ok to talk, to share stories, and to campaign for better support in the healthcare system for families who experience loss during or after pregnancy. And that’s important for many reasons, most importantly because it makes people feel less alone, helps them feel that others recognise that their losses matter, and those two factors alone can only be good for people’s physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing following baby loss.

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So after that perhaps rather meandering preface (I hope usefully so), now to the main focus of this post. I’ve been planning for a while to write something about Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it took some time for my head to percolate over what I might say. Because this year, I am in a very different place to previous years, and certainly to last year, when my fourth miscarriage had recently happened and I was in a pretty fragile way.

This year is different because I am pregnant. My pregnamy-mugncy is at a stage well beyond the usual ‘risky zone’ and certainly at the point where most people would reasonably say I should sit back and relax excitedly into the prospect of a sibling for the little lady.

It’s not quite that simple. Pregnancy after multiple miscarriages is tough…. The worry (‘if I let myself believe it’s ok it will all go awry’). The achingly slow passage of time, followed by the guilt about wanting time to pass quickly. The cocktail of medication. The first 16 weeks of this pregnancy were utterly rubbish, beyond rubbish. The reasons why – and how I got through the rubbishness – are for another post. Yes I am excited (more on this below), and yes I feel so much stronger than I did this time last year (and I am just a little proud of myself for this), yet I also feel very protective towards my earlier losses, and in a warped if understandable bit of logic, occasionally I fret that being excited about this pregnancy means I’m forgetting those earlier losses. In short, pregnancy after many losses is a complicated thing.

‘So this is your second pregnancy?’ asks a well-meaning new acquaintance. ‘Yes,’ I say, stumbling on my words a little, as I think to myself ‘No, actually, it’s my sixth. Just the second one that looks like it might work out.’ ‘You’ll soon be back to nappies and sleepless nights!’ ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘All staying well.’ ‘So I’ll go on maternity leave around XX date,’ whispers my ever organisationally-inclined internal monologue.

All staying well. Everything about pregnancy after loss feels cautious – qualified even.

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I think the internet’s depiction of pregnancy and parenthood (and life in general) has something to do with this. Our super-connectedness nowadays, and the way social media enables us to share our selves and our lives, is great in many ways. But it does have downsides (as I’ve written about before). Insta-filtered lives. No more less-than-flattering photos because they can be deleted, another one taken, and a nice filter applied. When it comes to pregnancy and parenthood, the power of social media and the internet to tell us ‘this is how it’s supposed to be’ is especially marked. All excited announcements or scan pics (sorry but I just don’t get the whole sharing these on the internet thing. Each to their own, I guess), by week X you should feel Y, baby’s first steps pics, first day at school pics. And so it goes on.

And that’s all lovely. But it is also – well – invariably a bit filtered. And not just filtered in the photographic sense: with pregnancy and parenthood, the reality is that many women’s journeys – towards pregnancy at all let alone successful pregnancy – are anything but straightforward. But social media doesn’t really ‘do’ this muddiness – this ‘noise’ behind the hoped-for ease and perfection. For those of us who have experienced miscarriage or other difficulties in having children, a relentless stream of subtle but ever-there reminders of others’ apparently easy journeys, and perfect sequences of events panning out just as they’re supposed to, can be really tough. I’m grateful that my own journey of building resilience to reminders of my own past sadnesses has now reached almost chess grand master levels. Thanks to all I went through after my fourth miscarriage last year, I have a trusty set of self-care tools that are pretty failsafe in helping me to look after body and soul. But that doesn’t mean that navigating pregnancy after experiencing multiple miscarriages is easy – far from it.

My experience of this pregnancy is inevitably framed by the sadness I’ve experienced before. But not in a negative way, I’ve come to realise – just in a human way. In a ‘this is my journey, my family’s journey, its twists are not what we expected but we are stronger and happier for the twists, and we are hopeful’ sort of way. (Why use 5 words when you can use 20+!). Jumping up and down with whoops of joy at the sight of positive pregnancy test just wasn’t going to happen. More like rising panic at the uncertainty ahead. Likewise there’s no shouting the news from the virtual or cyberspace rooftops – or even just the old-fashioned send a text or email route.

Happily, other people’s (naïve, so it often seems to me) excitement at their own pregnancies no longer makes me feel envious (well rarely) – just tender-hearted and kind towards myself.

My excitement is a quiet one. My hope is steadfast, but it too is quiet. I hold it close to my heart. I hold it in the spaces where I’m able to acknowledge the double-edgedness (such as with the group of amazing women I met online who have also experienced many miscarriages). I’ve realised that the whole point of my version of hope and excitement in this pregnancy is precisely that they are more real for me for their double-edgedness. All the more real for their surprise moments of giddy excitement swiftly replaced with feeling utterly terrified. I’ve released myself from the pressure to have a perfect, blooming pregnancy (whatever that is anyway). Not because I’m not optimistic (I am), but because after everything that’s happened, I’m ok with the in-betweenness of it. There is no need for the metaphorical Instagram filter – this is simply my journey – my family’s journey – towards a sibling for the little lady.

All staying well.

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I must confess that sharing with cyberspace the news that I’m pregnant is pretty scary. I’ve managed to talk down the voice in my head telling me (without any basis) that by uttering the news here I’m risking everything going wrong. This is my rainbow pregnancy – it brings the full of the colour and range of emotions that experiences of multiple miscarriages inevitably imbue. It’s my rainbow baby, and it may just work out. All staying well.

When outcomes are unclear: reflections on finding contentment and hope in the midst of uncertainty

I often muse about how the 21st century seems to have led many of us – as individuals and within society – to become very attached to certainty of outcome. “So, what are our objectives for this project?” “What do we want to achieve from this initiative/meeting/policy?” Even yoga classes, personal coaching sessions, community initiatives nowadays seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the idea that an activity is largely pointless if you haven’t defined outcomes, or the key question that requires an answer, very clearly from the start. Almost as important as outcomes are questions like: “So how will we know if we’ve achieved our desired objectives?” “What will success look like?” and (sometimes the trickiest question, I think) “How will we measure success?”

(As a quick aside on the latter point, occasionally I wonder whether “Do we always necessarily need to be able to measure it?” might ultimately be the better question. Radical, I know. But that’s for another day, and another blog post.)

We have definitely come to like certainty: A clear view of the intended outcome, or if not the outcome itself, then ideally an informed guess at the possible outcomes. Incidentally, I think the ubiquity of the internet and the ever powerful behavioural effects of its ‘ask me a question, I’ll give you answers in less than a second as long as you’re on wifi/4G’ super-slickness has played a huge role in changing our mindsets to need (and usually obtain) a speedy answer to whatever question might have just popped into our heads.

Fear not – this won’t be a pitch for ridding ourselves entirely of objectives and outcomes! I am a pragmatist to the core: objectives, outcomes, a project framework that enables progress to be assessed (if not necessarily always in a quantifiable way) – of course these are very important in many contexts. And truth be told, as a civil servant and all-round geeky policy wonk, I am actually very fond of a clear outcome.

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That said, my experience of a rollercoaster year in 2015 when most things didn’t go to plan led me to discover a new appreciation for – and techniques for finding optimism within – situations where the outcome is uncertain, perhaps even completely unknown, or where we may feel we have little influence or agency over the outcome. Those situations can often be pretty testing and sometimes quite scary, when structure – all that one held to be just so, the way things are ­­– becomes tossed out and turned upside down.

I’ve written previously about the various ways I made sense of things not going to plan in 2015, and how I developed new habits – and cultivated long buried habits (such as a love for writing) – to look after myself, my wellbeing, my heart, my soul after my experiences of multiple miscarriages. I am pleased to say that those positive habits are now pretty well (re)established.

Nonetheless, like many of us I still find myself in situations of very real angst and uncertainty, when suddenly I hear my heart telling me to ‘tune up’ what I think of as my ‘go-back-to-basics’ antennae, or my ‘inner paperweight’ (more of the paperweight later).

The result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is the outcomes 2most recent (and probably the most heart-wrenching) such situation I have found myself in. I am not going to write in depth about my feelings on the referendum result itself – partly because (a) the result has made me very, very sad; and whilst my reflections in the couple of days since the result became known are what has prompted me to write this post, I want to focus on the ways I am trying to create a psychological space to feel optimistic and well and hopeful in the midst of the current gloom. This seems more nourishing of self, soul, family, and perhaps others around me too, than dwelling on the whys and what next of Brexit; and secondly (b) generally I steer clear of making public comment about political issues, because of my job.

Here is what my ‘back-to-basics’ antennae have started to remind me of in recent days.

  1. Most importantly, I try to look to the constants – the positive, soul-enhancing, life-enhancing and community-enhancing things (my non-technical catch all term for stuff like values and beliefs) which I hold most dear. *For me, these constants (alongside family and friends, which obviously are givens) are: laughter, singing, gentleness, openness, humility (especially in respect of any assumptions I might make unconsciously about other people’s perspectives), hospitality, creativity, curiosity, optimism, and kindness. And (humbly) also the idea of abundance – that all these things can be generated and passed on through each other – through connectedness, through respectful relationships, through community.
  1. Do all I can to live out these things every day – in every encounter, from the mundane minutiae of everyday (e.g. a sudden tetchy ‘we’re standing in each other’s way’ moment during the London commute) to the more serious comings-and-goings of my professional life, or groups of which I am a part.
  1. See the joy in doing simple things well. I think it can be easy to encounter an apparently well-trodden path and overlook its potential to bear nourishment for the soul. I was reminded of this at choir recently, when we stood to sing a well-known piece (Ave Verum Corpus, by Edward Elgar, for any choral geeks reading this). It can be easy to think ‘Oh we know this inside out, couldn’t we sing something just a bit more interesting/challenging.’ I confess I did think this, rather arrogantly I suppose, for a nano-second. But it’s an oft sung piece of music precisely because it is beautiful and, as it turned out, our rendition of Elgar’s gem was quite magical (in my humble, non-qualified opinion). We sang and stood as one, responsive to each other, finding new corners of the music and text which I, for one, had not noticed before. And it was utterly heart-warming…salve for the soul.
  1. Know and find the place that nourishes me and makes me feel safe, and rest there. But always keep the door ajar – to strangers, to different views, to the possibility of new experiences, to the uncertainty perhaps not being as scary as it currently feels.
  1. And always, know what prompts will reliably bring me back to a positive headspace when I’m wavering. A mental image – mine is that of a paperweight. Yes, I do actually visualise it, at a not-too-exact point between my heart and my tummy, and when I imagine it I feel centred and calm pretty quickly. Another way I’ve found very effective to return myself to the point of calm, ‘all will be well’ focus is through words. Not my own! But rather those favourite snippets of prose or (usually) poetry which instantly speak to my heart and make me smile. They return me to where I feel my ‘emotional core’ is. These will differ from person to person of course. (I am compiling a few my favourite poems or excerpts which I call on when things seem awry and will shortly post them on separate post.)

*I am mindful that the list at number 1 above probably reads as either a bit obvious or a bit trite (or both). Of course these things are rather ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but I think their importance can sometimes get a bit lost when things around us are testing us.

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I would love to hear about any readers’ tips for finding contentment when things go awry. Do comment below or follow me on Twitter.

Not just one week: my 5 prompts for making mental health matter throughout the year

It’s been a few weeks since my last post. I am choosing not to berate myself for temporarily slipping out of the happy routine of regular writing, whilst attributing all blame for the pause very firmly at the door of the dusty chaos that is our current domestic situation. (We are in the midst of building work.) Dusty chaos really doesn’t suit my uber-fondness (ahem, intense need) for order and “just so-ness.”

What has spurred me into settling down to write now – even whilst covered in dust – was the slight time-sensitive element to this post. The ideas had been percolating in my head over several days, and finally last Sunday (22nd May) whilst I was singing at choir, they came to a point of “making sense” (to me at least) and, at last, formed the kernels of a blog post. Ideally I would have written this post sooner, but I didn’t and that’s ok, because here it is now.

Preface over (I do love a good preface).

Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 ran from May 16th to 22nd. This is an annual week of events, campaigning and awareness-raising about the importance of talking about, supporting, and enabling positive mental health, and continuing the amazing progress already starting to happen in ending the stigma associated with mental health issues. The theme of this year’s MHAW was relationships, because lots of evidence shows that strong, good quality relationships – at work, at home, with family, friends, within our communities – are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. (For more about why the Mental Health Foundation is campaigning for a greater recognition of the importance of relationships for good mental health, have a look here.)

Thanks to the brilliant energy and momentum which have come to surround MHAW, between May 16th and May 22nd my Twitter feed was buzzing about all sorts of events, workplace initiatives, and many inspiring stories about mental health – why it’s important we talk about it and, even more importantly, do something about it. That buzz felt really pretty powerful, and I encountered it in ‘real life’ too. Various conversations I was part of or heard about during MHAW were very exciting – in their openness, optimism, and their potential for connecting people and ideas on all things wellbeing.

This all got me thinking – “So one week is great. It’s really important. But ultimately the point is that we all do more of this kind of thing more often and, well, ideally most of the time. Recognising the importance of mental health – and cultivating a society where that’s possible – needs to become ‘the way we do things: the way we are.

So I set myself a little challenge, to choose five ‘moments’ (or even just fairly banal things that happened in the humdrum of my daily routine) during MHAW 2016 which were powerful in reminding me of why nourishing our mental health is so important. The idea is that I’ll use these 5 moments as little prompts throughout the year, long after MHAW has finished, as reminders of the importance of looking after my own and others’ wellbeing. Here are my five moments:

  • I was thrilled to IMG_6202be invited to speak at a MHAW event at my workplace about wellbeing and mental health. I talked about my experiences of multiple miscarriages, and how they affected me physically and psychologically. I also talked about how being open about what I’ve gone through – and feeling supported to do this at work – has been a huge part of my recovery. I was honoured to speak alongside my lovely friend, Eve Canavan, who told her amazing story about experiencing post-partum psychosis, her recovery, and how she’s now using her experiences to campaign for better support for perinatal mental health. You can read Eve’s wonderful blog here.Talking about my miscarriages (especially to a large group at work) isn’t always easy, but I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do, for me anyway. As I’ve written about before, my experiences of miscarriage – of loss and grief and finding hope and optimism after what I’ve gone through – are a huge part of my ‘story’. The reason I wanted to speak at the MHAW event at work was precisely because being open about my experiences is fundamental to my wellbeing (it’s why I started a blog), and being well means I’m happy and productive at work. Simple, see?! I realise that not everyone wants or needs to be so open about pretty personal stuff. But for those of us who do want to be open, I think it’s important that our workplaces make this possible, and I’m so grateful that mine does. Being able to bring our whole selves to work, and all the possibilities and skills and talent we bring with us, is so important. For more on this theme, I highly recommend this fab blog post by Clare Moriarty, a senior UK civil servant, about showing vulnerability as a leader.

 

  • On the Thursday of MHAW, I went on a magical train journey with my 3-year-old side-kick. ‘What’s so special about a train journey?’ I hear you say. Well, leaving aside the fact that I actually love trains, there was something about this train journey that was different to usual: I chose to take the slow train. Yes, as in I decided that getting to our destination by the fastest possible route wasn’t a priority. We took the slow road. We travelled from Redhill to Guildford on the stopping service, through some of the loveliest, leafiest parts of Surrey. And it was blissful – green, lush, rolling hills, sleepy stations, yielding an utterly enthralled 3 year-old. So lovely was it that, after our catch-up with some very dear friends in Guildford, we chose to get the slow train on the return leg too. Don’t get me wrong – I was also thrilled to arrive home to busy, noisy, London (I love London). But that train journey was a lovely reminder of the power of being in the moment, of watching my sidekick marvelling with wonder as she took in the beautiful greenery of spring whilst humming along to the sound of the train running along the tracks, and of giving myself permission to opt out of the fast route every now and then.

 

  • One of the most positive consequences of having multiple miscarriages (and there was more than one positive, believe it or not!) was discovering the therapeutic power of connecting to others with similar experiences. I have written before about my ‘RMC ladies’ – a group of women I met online who have all experienced recurrent miscarriage. They have been a constant presence and amazing source of support over the last few months (all the more amazing given I’ve not actually met them, so I’m cheating slightly to call this one of my ‘five moments’). What justifies the mention here is that during MHAW I confirmed plans to actually meet up with some of my RMC ladies. In real life! I am very excited about this. As a former super-sceptic about meeting people through social media, I feel very lucky to have met and befriended a bunch of amazingly strong, positive, wise and supportive women, and I’m excited to get to know them in person. All hail t’internet!

 

  • I suspect I’m rather late to the party in discovering the gem that is Elizabeth Gilbert, and her lovely book ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ Somehow, and with not-a-little serendipity, it was during MHAW that I encountered her work at last. I can’t profess to be an expert on it yet, but I was stopped in my tracks and filled with joyful resolve when I listened to her TED talk on creativity, success and failure. As someone who has long had a tendency towards setting myself ridiculous standards, this talk really resonated with me. By my reading, Elizabeth’s thesis is that to release ourselves from the shackles of judging ourselves relentlessly on our relative success or failure, we need to find and remain connected to the one thing that most ignites our heart (this is my paraphrase of her wise words!). To quote just some of her brilliant words from the TED talk: “Find your way back home again… (Find) the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house on top of it…. Diligence and devotion and respect and reverence. Whatever the task is that love is calling from you next.” The talk was very powerful in reminding me that life can actually be quite simple (notwithstanding all its busyness) – if we know what matters most in our hearts, and if through the busyness, we find enough space for what matters to us most.

 

  • Lastly and probably most frivolously, during MHAW I realised anew that I love colourful things and I will seek them out wherever they are to be found, because they make me smile. Admittedly, in this I am influenced quite a lot by my 3 year-old sidekick, amongst whose favourite things are: her pink sandals, her favourite fruity ice-lolly, her yellow lemon top, purple jelly for breakfast (why not, just occasionally), her box of colouring pencils, and (my own favourite) convincing her father to buy Mummy beautiful flowers ‘just because Mummy loves flowers.’ Simple.

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Those are my ‘five moments‘. If the ‘five moments’ idea resonates with you, I’d love to hear what yours would be. Get in touch 0 either comment below or email me lkosullivan [at] googlemail.com

For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week, the work of the Mental Health Foundation, and ways to look after your mental health, take a look here

Life beyond the browser: 5 reasons to spend less time on the internet

One of the things I love about reaching my ‘late 30s’, and the perspective this phase brings, is what I’ve come to think of “being ok with grey stuff.” I don’t just mean grey hairs. I’m much more comfortable now with things not having straightforward, black-and-white answers, and the fact that my opinions can have shades of grey: nuance, qualification, curious questioning – whatever you want to call it.

Exhibit A: My musings about technology and social media. In the past I’ve been pretty strenuous in my resistance to and suspicion of the ubiquity of social media, and Facebook in particular. At one point – STOP PRESS – I even deactivated my Facebook account for several months. In my armchair opining about social media, I would rant ad lib – usually to myself if not to whichever poor soul happened to find themselves beside me – about the various ways in which social media was most definitely a bad thing. To mention just a few of my reasons for suspicion:

  • The wasted time people (ahem, including me) spend idly scrolling through their FB and Twitter feeds. ‘Think of all the other, actually useful, things they could be doing!’
  • The oddity of ‘self-publishing’ or what I clumsily described in my rants as ‘identity creation’ on social media (the subtle impression-management, ‘what version of myself will I present today?’ dimension to one’s FB presence).
  • And probably my favourite, the idea that a moment doesn’t really exist until you post it online – what’s the point in taking photos unless you can choose the best one and show the world what you’re doing/who you’re with/how amazing your holiday is??!

Then I started to chill out a bit. I re-activated my FB profile and even set up a Twitter profile (I am now a massive fan of Twitter – the reasons why are for another post). My softening towards the idea of an ‘online presence’ is down to a few factors, but in large part because of what I’ve experienced over the last year as I recovered from my fourth miscarriage: I have found huge comfort, therapy and hope in the connections I’ve made online and in creating this blog, which has reminded me of the power of social media and technology to support, empower, and influence individuals (and maybe occasionally even the wider world) for positive ends.

lu blog pic iphoneSo where I am going with this? Well, the other week as I was typing something mundane into Google on my iPhone, I misspelled a word, and I found myself thinking ‘there’s no point in bothering to correct it. Google’s clever predictive search thingy will guess what I’m after.’ And it duly did. Result.

Then suddenly I heard my inner spelling pedant telling me off for my slipping standards, and for the laziness that had me relying on the internet to tell me the answer in the first place, when I could have discovered whatever it was by wondering, or having a conversation with someone, or – whisper it – just living without knowing at all (it really wasn’t anything important).

Picking up a trusty smartphone or tablet has become a conditioned – almost automatic – response when we want to know the answer to something (or are just a bit bored); Checking for updates on a busy screen has become as habitual as unzipping a wallet or zapping an Oyster card. So as I pondered how powerful and ubiquitous the online world has become, I had a ‘moment.’ It occurred to me that whilst my 37-year-old self has most definitely embraced anew the joys of social media, I don’t think my younger self was necessarily talking nonsense: I still think that the way technology and social media pervade our lives and increasingly our relationships (at home, at work, with friends) does have some downsides. And making the most of all the possibilities of rapid technological change doesn’t mean there isn’t also some value in considering some of the downsides for wellbeing, for how we value our time, for our relationships, for our children growing up likely to use an iPad before they can write their own name – of living in such a super-connected 21st century worldwide village.

Obviously I’m not about to ditch my smartphone and excavate my beloved 2-ton Nokia 5110. In the spirit of embracing the greyness, I can see that social media and our online connectedness have many positives and I’m certainly not going to set up life on a remote island with no wifi. (Shudders at the thought). But I’ve decided I’m going to challenge myself to resort to t’interweb for answers/company/entertainment just a little bit less.

lu blog post pic1Fancy joining me? If you need convincing, or even just some food for thought, here are five reasons why I reckon spending a bit less time on the internet could be a good thing:

  1. It means spending more time having conversations, with friends and strangers; discussion and debate bring the possibility of considering different perspectives and learning something new. It’s good to talk.
  2. If I ditch the Satnav in favour of figuring out the route the old fashioned way, well what a voyage of discovery that could be. Who knows what new places or people I could discover. Or I might approach places I already know from a new direction, and see them differently. And if I get lost and need to consult Google Maps, I’ll probably have discovered a new gem (coffee shop/park…) along the way. Embrace the unknown.
  3. In the blissful absence of information overload, I’ll be more likely to trust my instinct. I think the constant stream of information available at our fingertips brings a risk that we start to doubt ourselves, to lose confidence in our ‘gut.’ Spending less time on t’interweb means I’m more likely to ask, ‘So all other things being equal, and without over-analysing and bombarding myself with unnecessarily complicating  information, in my heart what feels right?’
  4. I’ll operate a policy of what I call mindful commuting – instead of spending my journey in a fairly aimless cycle of checking my FB or Twitter newsfeed, BBC news website, Irish Times and Guardian websites (and repeat), I’ll look up, look around, look out the window, smile at a stranger. Better headspace for the day ahead. 
  5. I’ll remind myself that sometimes a moment can be special simply because of the memories created by the people who shared it. Photos are lovely of course, but I think they don’t need always to go online immediately (or at all). Print them, frame them, put them on the wall. The preciousness of special moments – the simplicity of them – could be all the more precious for their rarity and privacy. Be in the moment.

And if at all goes wrong, and I am really lost/bored/need an answer urgently, t’interweb and all its clever predictive search ‘guessing what I’m interested in’ wizardry will still be there. And probably even more clever than it was before.