Menopause. Pause.

For World Menopause Day 2019

Quite a long time ago, I was pretty unwell. Then I got my act together and for a long time I was a lot better.

Suddenly about 7 years ago, I felt as if I was going backwards. I went to the GP with inexplicable mood swings and irrational rage. She mentioned “peri menopause”, changed my coil and gave me some HRT gel.

I didn’t really take the peri-menopause thing seriously.

Then, in 2016, I started to get increasingly anxious, sad and obsessive. I decided that this was something I needed to do something about and I began some really intensive work and therapy. I wrote a book and decided to be open about my struggles.

But in spite of it all, I have had a really tough couple of years.

Here’s a few observations:

Hormones and physical changes that go with the peri menopause are bad at the best of times. If you have had previous mental illness and specifically issues with eating and body image, then I believe that the menopause can be a really difficult thing and carries a risk of relapse. But it is a risk that I think we can mitigate against, if we take time and space to reflect.
A menopause pause.

I have only twice in my life been anything but slim. The first was when I was eighteen and after I left home. I gained weight and then became anorexic.

When I had my two children I gained weight but quickly returned to slim through breast feeding.

I did not get post natal depression.

With recent years, I have gained weight and, in spite of eating healthily (and sometimes obsessively) and exercising regularly, I have not been able to control it in the way that I used to.

That has been really hard. My thoughts and feelings about my body have been immature, selfish, indulgent…and really hard to handle.

I have also had extremes of low mood and anxiety in the last couple of years that, now that I reflect on it, are not simply a result of me being incapable of true recovery but are rather a direct result of my age.

When you catch a bad cold, you feel really poorly but then you recover and you feel better again. Because you ARE better again. If you get another cold a while later, you don’t think “oh that bloody cold is back again and it must be my fault because I am so hopeless and weak”. You may feel the same way as you did with the last cold but you don’t assume that it is the same cold back again…

Why then, when we have a bout of poor mental health, do we assume that we are re-lapsing, or a failure or a life-long screw-up?

I think for me, the peri-menopause has brought a new set of mental health cold symptoms with it. But they will pass, the mental snot, fever and aches and pains will pass and I will be better again.

The mental cold cures, for me, have been the following:

Honesty

Love

My husband and children

Yoga, morning and night

Friends

Work where I feel valued

WomenEd

Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off on the TV.

These are all my menopausal honey, lemon and whisky for the soul.

If you find yourself in a similar phase, make sure you know what yours are.

Unconference

Yesterday I attended my 2nd Women Ed Unconference.

It was an incredible day. Once again, it was a chance to connect with like minded educators from across the globe and,  in addition, to share the story of our modest but important development of Women Ed in Scotland, along with the wonderful Sarah Philp. Although my friend and kindred spirit Christine Couser was not able to be with us in person yesterday, she was there in spirit and had done a huge amount to help prepare for the presentation we gave. A particular privilege was to have Hannah Wilson, one of the founders of WomenEd and an absolute inspiration in all she does, in our WomenEd Scotland session at the start of the day.

Other high points were catching up with Jo Lawrence, another source of constant inspiration to me, meeting ‘in real life’ the truly awesome Clare Erasmus and hearing the legend who is Teresa Roche deliver her entertaining and thought-provoking keynote.
The key message of the day that came through, again and again, in every session that I attended, was that we must find ways to align our work with our values, if we are to be truly fulfilled and able to be the people and educators we want to be.
There will always be an element of compromise, as no job or situation is perfect. However, if the compromise involves staying in a situation where you are having to put up with too much that goes against your core values, it may be time to think again.
Last autumn I presented at a Pedagoo event and much of what I said resonated with the discussions yesterday.

https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/goliath/

Much of it was linked to advice I had gleaned from women to whom I have become connected by women Ed such as Jill Berry, Mal Krishnasamy and Jaz Ampaw Farr.

If you are struggling, I urge you to consider your instruments of personal power.. and think about what other path there may be for you.
And above all don’t struggle alone.
Use the tremendous network of WomenEd and know that there are others out there who can help.

Thanks very much to Jules, Keziah, Vivienne, Samira, Alison and Liz for making yesterday happen.
Women Ed is life-changing and definitely an instrument of power in my life.

Far more in common.

Yesterday I attended and spoke at the third ResearchEd Scotland events.

 

This was a piece I wrote four years ago as a ResearchEd and blogging newbie:

http://www.pedagoo.org/thank-you-redscot/

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on how we support our Care Experienced Learners and you can see the slides for that here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/research-ed-scotland-2019-caring-for-our-care-experienced-children/

I also sat on the panel at the end of the day and gave my “expert” opinion on research that has influenced me, CfE and mission creep in Scottish Education.

And I heard amazing and informative presentations on education from speakers from a a range of countries, sectors and sides of the educational opinion spectrum.

What characterised the day, more than anything else, was the fact that it provided a space in which respectful debate and the expression of differing, complex and nuanced ideas could take place in a safe and yet intellectually challenging forum.

It was a day that was fun, at times uncomfortable but above all hugely educational for everyone who attended.

I was not blind to the irony of talking to the audience about the challenges of supporting some of our most vulnerable and neglected children against a backdrop where Greek-style facades framed the Saturday morning hockey players in their immaculate school colours.

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I was aware that some of those in the room may have been the critical voices about a piece I wrote in the TES earlier this summer, where I suggested that already overworked teachers could so more to provide therapeutic support for vulnerable children. I hope that none of those in the room were those who had chosen to attack me personally and make entirely inappropriate comments about my family life and personality. But within the panel discussion, Mark Healy was able to tell me that “I probably wasn’t going to agree with him” on one of his points and I was able to answer that that was fine and we went in to have a polite and respectful debate.

I was maybe being deliberately provocative by referencing Paul Dix’s book in my presentation and then tweeting Tom Bennett to tell him I glad done so (as the two giants in the world of behaviour management have not always seen eye to eye!). But Tom and I had a chat and a chuckle about it and discussed the fact that social media is both a force for great good and also a place where things can go horribly wrong.

And I was aware that many people might have questioned my involvement in a ResearchEd event at all, after reading the various threads, accusations and personal attacks on Tom Bennett and his views in recent weeks. I mentioned in the panel discussion and in front of Tom that I had considered pulling out of the event in the light of this. But I also stated that I was very glad I hadn’t.

A few weeks back I tweeted a thread on Twitter and after yesterday I am going to share it again.

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One of the things I’ve realised over recent months by engaging in @Twitter discussions and attending various events like the Scottish Learning Festival,  @EduModScotland and @researchEDScot1 is that, whether we are traditional or progressive and working in whatever sector or country, as teachers who care about the learning and development of children and young people, we are one. 

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Research Ed Scotland 2019. Caring for our Care Experienced Children.

These are my slides from my presentation today.

I have added some links to publications below some of them.

I think I may also have mentioned that I turned 50 last month. (Any excuse). If you are interested, this is my birthday playlist, which was my soundtrack as I drove to and from Dollar.

 

What a fabulous day. So many thanks to Robin, Tom and ResearchEd for inviting me.

 

 

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https://www.celcis.org/knowledge-bank/search-bank/blog/2018/09/joining-dots-why-data-analysis-vital-understanding-and-supporting-care-experienced-young-people/

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https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/insights/trauma-sensitive-practice-children-care

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The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0141978619/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_oW7JDbWEBGN59

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https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01KP8XT86&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_yNodyb2G7M8DZ&reshareId=YKBNG29SXPDWHHVGKZRV&reshareChannel=system

 

 

A quality of knowing.

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If we are really serious about assuring quality in education, it seems to me that our greatest efforts must be focused on ensuring what I have come to to call a “quality of knowing.” This means that we draw on data that is far broader and more encompassing than test results and benchmarks, although of course we must make use of those if they have valuable insight to give us.

We must make sure that the “knowing” is achieved by drawing on the input of those who are the greatest experts in the child; that is, the child themself and the adults who care for the child.

It would appear that primary education is often better at tapping into this expertise than secondary and this needs to be resolved; it is not good enough to say that adolescents are less willing to engage (as they aren’t, given the right strategies) or that parents and carers have a reduced rôle to play during adolescence (as they actually have an equal or greater rôle).

We also need to ensure that teacher judgment does not involve any sort of negative pre-judging, prejudice or unconscious bias that may prevent us from seeing the true potential in each child. As humans we make judgements; it is instinctive and part of our primitive brain functioning to do so. But we as teachers are not primitive. We are professional and well-educated and we need to understand the power of human nature and be able to mitigate against it. A pause and a breath before we make a judgement about a pupil because we “know the reputation of THAT family”. A pause and a breath before we make a judgement about a pupil because of the way she behaved yesterday. A pause and a breath before we accept without filter a judgement that a colleague has made about a “difficult” child or class. 

That is not to say that we ignore what has gone before. If a child has behaved in an unregulated way the previous day, we need to be alert to this and know it, without expecting or pre-judging that it will happen again but being aware that it could.

Risk management is all about acting to mitigate against harmful or risky situations when there is likelihood that they could occur; it is based on facts, evidence and knowledge of context, rather than over-dramatic speculation or wild supposition. Accurate data about what has happened and why is a crucial part of risk management.

Part of knowing a child well is knowing when they have been unable to self-regulate, working out what has caused the behaviour and helping the child to manage the distress behind the behaviour. If we know a child well, we will be able to see behaviour for what it is, without resorting to labels such as “naughty”, “dangerous” or even “criminal” to describe the behaviour or even the child.

Knowing each child and young person within our care, resisting labels and using history to inform positively rather than label negatively; these must at the heart of what do in schools. This way, we will get the true measure of each child and be able to walk beside them as they develop their sense of self, their potential and their individuality.

Gert Biesta quoted from:

Biesta, G. (2008) Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Published online: 2 December 2008 © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

August. Over but not out.

Today is the last day of the month in which I turned fifty.

Edna O’ Brien wrote that August is a Wicked Month; for me, it has always been a reflective month. This year was all the more so. A big birthday comes with big expectations, some pressures and big hopes. Of course, in reality, it is just another day… and any day, any event and any action is given meaning only by the labels and importance that our collective or individual consciousness assigns to it.

But to me 50 is important.

There is something that gives me an inordinate and almost childish sense of pride in declaring that I have reached this age.

Three years ago I wrote a book that showed that reaching fifty hadn’t always been on the cards for me.

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01KP8XT86&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_yNodyb2G7M8DZ&reshareId=GJXJTKAV4Z65KKH5PWG5&reshareChannel=system

Writing that book was the start of an intensive phase of trying to shake off some of the unhelpful habits that I had developed over many years; habits which had, in many senses, helped me to survive and succeed but which were no longer needed and had, in fact, become harmful.

Writing that book was very helpful to me and, by all accounts, has helped others who have read it. On several occasions I have also hugely regretted writing it and putting so much of myself out there, particularly when others have used the vulnerability in it as a reason to judge me and even attack me.

On balance, though, I am very proud of what I did.

But that book was not the end of my story or indeed the beginning of some new, completely balanced and content me.

Without doubt it contains insights and wisdom by which I need to live my life…But since writing it, I have learnt that wisdom and insight don’t solve things on their own.

Sometimes the things that help us most are not rational and cerebral but rather physical and emotional.

So, here, some additional insights at the advanced age of 50.

Keeping going doesn’t get rid of painful feelings. If we want to really free ourselves of emotional pain, we need to stop and face it full on. For me, talking did not achieve this. Connecting physically with the memories (through EMDR) and with my physical self (though yoga) has helped. It hasn’t been easy and at times I have wanted to give up and revert to the frantic habitual activity that has enabled me to cope for so long. But frantic activity is a substitute for real life.

You will never be enough for everyone else but you can learn to be enough for yourself. 50 is a good age at which to decide whose opinions matter and whose don’t. It is worth writing a list. And checking it twice. Or a million times.

Hormones have a lot to answer for. When you think you have relapsed into mental ill-health, it is probably the menopause.

The internet is an astonishing force for good and an astonishing force for bad.

Everything you are going though has somewhere been felt by someone else and expressed in a song or book. Never stop listening and never stop reading.

Love is the answer. Love for your self and love for others and the planet.

If someone thinks you are a weirdo then that is more to do with their fears and insecurities than it is about you.

You are enough, more than enough, right here and right now. I am too, even though there are many days when I don’t feel it.

I’ve made it to fifty. So there.

Poem

50 years alive.

The 13th of August 2019.

Unlucky 13 for some.

And sometimes has been for me.

The 13th birthday when I trapped my finger in a supermarket door

and lost the nail.

That 13th of August when my fantastic A level results made me cry because

they weren’t enough.

But superstition is a cunning strategy of the mind that helps us to find patterns and answers

when maybe there are none.

More lucky than unlucky without doubt.

Lucky particularly to be here after some other strategies of the mind that weren’t as cunning.

50 not out.

But remind me again of the rules of cricket….

Who’s winning?

I am, for sure.