We All Bleed Red

As I write, Minneapolis is on fire. Georgia is on fire. New York is on fire. I am in Birmingham, UK. Thousands of miles away. Yet I feel like my soul is on fire.

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man was accused of writing a bad cheque at a store. Unarmed and unresisting, he was handcuffed on the ground. Officer Derek Chauvin, who we now know worked with George on security jobs in the last year, knelt on his neck. Despite George’s protests and pleas from onlookers saying clearly that he could not breathe, Derek knelt on his neck, compressing his windpipe until he fell unconscious. Floyd died. Derek was fired along with the 3 other officers who allowed this to happen. Nothing more was done until protests spread. Now Derek has been charged and is in custody. Only because the eyes of the world are watching.

Read this piece on Floyd, telling us how his family want us to remember him. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/27/us/george-floyd-trnd/index.html Let us remember him and let not his death become just another name on the long list of non-white Americans killed by the very people meant to serve and protect them.

Why do I care?

Because I am black. I have members of my family living in the US. All of them people of colour. Lots of different shades but none are pure white. All potential targets of all those who think white is supreme and that they have a war against us non-white folk.

More importantly, I care because racism and hatred transcend borders. It affects us all. The racists and those they are racist against. The anti-racists (I have just learnt this term). As a human being, I care deeply. As a mother, I care even more powerfully. That my beautiful daughter, with skin the colour of delicious smooth milk chocolate, is hated by some people. Just for being alive. That someone who does not know her might seek to do her harm. Scary thought. It makes me want to wrap her up and relocate to my dream Island paradise filled with only the people I love and trust.

Watch this little boy sing these heartfelt words. https://youtu.be/UIuSLBX74Ac What business does a 12-year-old have with such sorrow? Why must he beg to be allowed to live? We must remember that this is a boy living in America. Not Somalia, Russia, Colombia or Nigeria. America – One of the wealthiest nations in the world. Supposedly one of the most civilised and sophisticated in the world. Problem is that all I see coming out of America these days is tainted by racism. Amy Cooper last week. The almost weekly other white person using race to oppress ordinary black people going about minding their business. America, and indeed a huge swathe of the West, is showing its true colours more and more. There is hatred, racism, islamophobia, ignorance, white privilege.

But there is also love, solidarity, knowledge and people fighting for equality. I know it is there. And today, so many of those voices are speaking out publicly. Just go on any social media and white people are speaking out everywhere. Finally, it seems the tide of protest is loud enough maybe to inspire some change. The change that is needed is not small. The Police and the rest of Judiciary needs top down reconstruction. Institutional racism needs to be consigned to the bin. Discrimination needs to be stamped out. Until law enforcement and Justice is more equal across all people, there can be no real equality. We can and must be the generation that pushes for this to happen. We must keep our eyes open and keep calling out the injustice. We will not be silent any longer.

Finally, I want to leave you with Rihanna’s speech: https://youtu.be/fZiyZ2rDdv8

And the quote from the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (who died in 1797 by the way), an Irish MP:

‘The only necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing’uk is not innocent

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I wrote this piece aged 20, handwritten in a diary given to me as my 20th birthday present. I forgot that I had written it until I decided this week to start journaling and dug out my over-a-decade old notebook which is still pristine. Has my written voice changed I wonder? Reading it back, there is so much more than what we see in the world. Please share your favourite things about the world, seen or otherwise sensed in the comments

Imagine a world without light.

Just darkness; day in, day out.

People who live in places with more hours of darkness than sunlight are often depressed.

How then must a person who has lost their sight feel?

Losing your vision is more than just losing your ability to see. I got some insight from a lecture (in medical school) entitled: ‘Visual loss’.

Loss of vision means a loss of beauty.

The beautiful colours of the world we live in.

The faces of the people we love.

The written word.

Art.

Expressions that add depth to language.

I mean, how do you communicate properly without looking into someone’s eyes, or at the very least, their face?

This might be a personal thing but isn’t it difficult to form a meaningful relationship without face-to-face conversation?

Talking on the phone or by text/email/letters just isn’t the same as plain old-fashioned conversation.

My imagination is not capable of conceiving a blind world.

However, we are assured by our ‘severely visually impaired’ lecturers that being blind does have some small compensations.

You learn to use your other senses more and to appreciate ‘deeper’ things such as the sound of trees and the quality of a voice.

The leaves on a tree being ruffled by the wind.

Laughter.

The smell of dry scorched soil after (or even before) the rain arrives.

The direction of the wind as it blows across your face.

The purring of a cat.

The stirring tune from a musical instrument.

The sound of raindrops hitting the roof and windows.

The sound of the ocean.

The smell of ocean.

The saltiness of the ocean.

The feel of a soft woollen scarf tied around your neck.

The familiar weight of your wedding band on your finger.

The feel of arms hugging you.

The taste of fresh strawberries or an apple pie straight out of the oven.

Yes, there is more to beauty than light or colour.

Those of us in the seeing world just don’t realise it

Abdul-Ra’ufu Mustapha: 24.07.1954 to 08.08.2017

This is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I have been wanting to write it since I came out of the acute grief that I felt when he died. It’s hard to order my thoughts and feelings for my uncle Ra’ufu even today, 2 years and 7 months after he left us. His death has left a big hole in my life. Today, the grief is as fresh as on that sunny August day. Other days, I can rejoice in the good times we shared. First, I am grateful he died pre-Covid-19 because it would have destroyed me and his wife and kids not to be there with him in those last days. Thank God for small mercies.

I have decided a letter to him directly is the best way to do this. In between paragraphs, I will add names of songs that remind me of him or make me think of him now. He loved music so I am sure he would approve of the inclusion of music in my tribute to him. You’ll read it in the words below but I’ll say it now: I loved him so much and I miss him every day. He will live on forever in my heart and I am so thankful for the 16 years of consciously knowing and loving him. He was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he was generous in all the ways it counted and he is one of the best men I have ever known. My father in all the ways it matters.

Dear Uncle Ra’ufu,

In 2000, I had a little brown address book. In it, I wrote the landline numbers, addresses and email addresses of the people in Nigeria that I didn’t want to forget after I emigrated to England. In it, I wrote in blue ink your name, phone number and address. My Mama said to call you if I was in trouble in England before she joined my sister and me. That was the beginning of my journey of knowing you. Of course, you knew me as a baby but for me, this was my first contact with you. I remember looking at your university of Oxford address and thinking ‘wow! He must be amazing to work at Oxford uni’. I had wanted to study medicine there, so it was like a fantasy institution for me. I didn’t need to call thankfully.
‘Light Up’ by Leona Lewis

We met in December 2000. Mama, Charo and I came on the Oxford Tube to Oxford and after a bit of confusion, on a cold dark December night, we found our way to Edmund Road. My memories of that night are a jumble. The sound system and shelves of music CDs, the Christmas tree, the smell of Nigerian food, the kids. Asma’u and Seyi – they were great kids. Despite the fact we had booted Asma’u out of her room (or was it both of them in that room?), they were both so warm and welcoming. As you and aunty Kate were. In the overcrowded living room, it was evident that this was a family where love resided. For the first time since moving to England, I felt relaxed and happy. My tummy was full of Nigerian food. I could be myself.
‘One Sweet Day’ by Mariah Carey and Boys 2 Men

So many memories but the singing stands out. You’d sing Barry White in your lovely baritone and the kids would groan and be embarrassed especially when we were out. You loved Robbie Williams ‘Rock DJ’ and every time it played on the radio (it was a big hit that year so they played it A LOT), you’d sing along. You pretended he wrote the song about a northern Nigerian woman called Dije (nickname for Dijatu, particularly in Fulani parts). The kids would argue until they were blue in the face that it was about a DJ. You stood your ground and I chuckled at the family drama.
‘Over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Hand in hand with the singing was your cooking. Your cow leg pepper soup special was blow-your-head off hot with chilli, but I could never resist it. I also learnt your efficient way of chopping okro. You took me alone to a bookstore in an ancient Oxford building one day and bought me the hardcover of the complete Lord of the Rings book. It was mahoosive. I hadn’t ever heard of it and I wondered why you chose that book. I hefted it back to London with me and it was a transformative read. That was the first of many presents you generously bought me. I will treasure that book forever. And I will die a LOTR fan. What a book! You knew me so well even in those early days. Your house was full of books and my visits became defined by how many books I could read in my waking hours. I’d stay up all night finishing book after book. You and aunty Kate never got fed up of my laying about reading. I don’t think I helped around the house as I should have, so focused was I on devouring all those lovely books on your shelves and in piles all around the house. It’s not a surprise your home quickly became my 2nd home. How could I resist a home where music, books and good food were so central?
‘Hey There Delilah’ by Plain White T’s

Fast forward to 2013, I called and asked if I could bring George to meet you all. As always, there was no hesitation. He was my boyfriend, so he was welcome. You validated him. You and aunty Kate might have had reservations, but I was never made privy to them. We were in the kitchen alone one evening and you asked me if I was sure he was the man I wanted to marry. I said yes. You said ‘ok!’. That was it! Without you, I don’t know how we’d have organised the wedding. I asked you to be George’s representative when none of his family or friends would or could come to Nigeria to stand beside him. You organised the religious side of the wedding in Kaduna, bore all the costs without question. You even paid the sadaki on behalf of George. I wasn’t there so you organised for a photographer to record the day for me and delivered me a beautiful album. In March 2014, you were George’s father. You did a marvellous job and I know George will be forever thankful to have had you by his side during all that. Thank you.
‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins

As if that wasn’t enough, I asked Asma’u if she wouldn’t mind if I borrowed her father to walk me down the aisle. She said yes without hesitation. She figured that you could practice being father of the bride on me before her wedding day. Little did we know that I would be the only bride you’d walk down the aisle. I asked you if you would walk me down the aisle. Yes, you said without hesitation. You asked me what to wear and I asked for traditional Nigerian. When I saw you outside my bridal room on my wedding day, preparing to walk me down the aisle, I felt so proud. You looked so wonderful in your green outfit. You said something calming to me (it’s all a blur now) and you walked me down the stairs and then down the aisle. One of my best memories of the wedding was when you and aunty Kate broke into traditional Yoruba dance. I was so happy in that moment and so proud to have you all by my side as I started my new chapter.
‘With You’ from Ghost the Musical

Every Christmas or NYE I could, I spent in Oxford with you. You taught me about music, about politics and religion, about caring for the world around us and giving back. The trips to Bicester shopping village on Boxing day was a tradition I loved. Even if I didn’t have much money to spend and I wasn’t a big fan of shopping anyway, I loved it because we spent that day together. Getting out of the house was always a mission. We were never out at the planned hour. We’d then struggle to find parking but we would find a spot eventually. We always had to stop in the Bose shop and listen to their demo. We always stopped at Eat for lunch. We’d finally traipse back to the car laden with shopping bags, exhausted. Then spend the 27th recovering from our exertions. When I started working for the NHS, these traditions were invariably interrupted and I only partook in them partially. It was the only reason I minded working over Christmas to be honest.
‘Happy’ by Pharrell

In June 2014, I remember jumping into my car and driving down to Oxford to escape the house where my in-laws were staying after the biggest fight I’d ever had with George. I was so upset. I sat at the table with you and aunty Kate trying to hold back tears. I didn’t want to share it all with you to be honest. I was always mindful of the advice not to share your husband’s worst faults with parents because they won’t forget long after you’ve forgotten. I remember you seeing my red eyes and you looked angry. Angrier than I’ve ever seen you look. You clenched your jaw and you hurriedly walked away from the table. Aunty Kate and I talked for hours. She cried with me and consoled me. You came down when she had worked her magic and I was calm again. When I left the next day, you hugged me tighter than you had ever done. It helped.
‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna

In November 2016, I came for a visit a day after my birthday. I had spent most of my birthday alone. George had gone to Abu Dhabi for the formula One. I was left with my Velcro baby, exhausted beyond belief. Tete (Lorraine) and Kudzi took her off me for 3 whole hours whilst I treated myself to a child-free meal and a whole-body massage. I came back feeling better than I had since giving birth and they surprised me with a birthday meal. It was lovely. But the next day, I wanted to be with my family so I got on the train and came to Oxford (Savannah hated being in the car so it didn’t occur to me to drive down). You were at the station to pick me up. Savannah must have had the sense that you were my people because she went to you and aunty Kate and let me rest my aching arms. I had tummy issues so couldn’t have your cow leg pepper soup. I remember your crestfallen expression when for the first time ever I turned down your offer to make pepper soup. It turns out that was the last time you’d offer it to me. I haven’t eaten it since.
‘All of Me’ by John Legend

My tummy issue turned out to be a treatable condition called microcolitis which when it was finally diagnosed was treated. I didn’t admit to you and aunty Kate that I was worried I had cancer. I had lost more than 10% of my body weight in the 6 weeks since onset of symptoms, I was exhausted and felt very unwell. I was worried about dying and leaving my infant without a mother. When aunty Kate called me 3 weeks later to discuss her concerns about your reflux, cancer was already on my mind. I remember telling myself not to be stupid even as a corner of my mind became anxious. Aunty Kate called back the next week to say you’d gone to your GP and were on anti-reflux medications only but your symptoms were worse. I remember talking to you then, urging to go back. You were reluctant as it was over Christmas with reduced GP hours. I had a bad feeling in my gut, it didn’t go away. Still there a bit now. You went back and they put you on the 2-week wait pathway, confirming my fears of cancer were reasonable. I had a heart to heart with aunty Kate and admitted to her that although other things were possible, cancer was the most likely and for her to prepare you for that possibility. Now looking back, I wonder how she bore it. She was so calm in the face of the turmoil she must have felt internally. I remember coming off the phone after one of those talks and crying. I knew then that you had cancer.
‘You Make Me Wanna’ by Usher

It was confirmed on histology weeks later but the appearance of the ulcer and description was quite conclusive and I told you both. I was devastated. I hadn’t been able to see you during this time between working and trying to get some rest with the Velcro baby. I regret not coming down anyway. I should have been there in person. For you and aunty Kate. I should have come with you to the appointments to ask all the questions I felt weren’t being answered. Relaying my questions via aunty Kate felt inadequate and cruel to be honest. I was working hard to keep your hope alive whilst I was losing all hope myself with my medical hat on. I had seen this story play out with my patients. Little did I expect to be on the other side, living the nightmare.
‘We Are Here’ by Alicia Keys

Eventually, we realised that the cancer had spread more than we first knew so it wasn’t a curable cancer. We started looking into trials for you. Things didn’t go so well clinically and chemo was recommended by your oncology team to slow down the progression. Once chemo started, you went downhill. I think I was afraid to see you in person so I put off seeing you for months. I saw you in February 2017 and the change in the 3 months was shocking. Aunty Kate had been kind in her descriptions of you. You were clearly gravely ill. The chemo rendered you ineligible for trials. Aunty Kate and I talked about trials in India but by April-May, it was clear you were too weak from the chemo. I cried and raged when I was alone. One day, it was just me and you sitting down on the dinning table and you apologised to me about not making my biological father step up and be a father to Charo and I. I was so sad at your words. I remember saying you had nothing to apologise for. He is an adult and it was his failing and not yours. You insisted that you could and should have done more. I was angry that you were taking on his failing as a father. I remember lying in bed that night angrily wishing that it was him with the cancer and not you. It is not a charitable thought I know but I still feel that in moments of anger that I feel for losing you.
‘Castles’ by Freya Ridings

At this point, you were in and out of hospital as your vomiting and poor oral intake was becoming an issue. I was at a loss for words to make it bearable so I took to sending you videos, jokes and photos of Savannah. You always replied and that reassured me that even if physically things were bad, mentally you were with us. On another visit, I sat with you and you admitted the worst thing about the chemo was your mouth soreness and how dry and tender your hands were. Asma’u gave me some Vaseline intensive lotion and you let me massage that into your hands. You smiled at me and it felt good to give you some comfort, even if temporary. In May or June, you called me out of the blue and in your weakened voice, you asked me directly if it was time to get your affairs in order. It was the first time you and I had talked about your death. I remember closing my eyes as my heart broke once more. After the longest pause, I said yes.
‘ABC’ by the Jackson 5

You stopped replying to my phone messages shortly after this conversation and couldn’t speak on the phone so most of our communication was through aunty Kate between visits. She and Asma’u told me about how hard it was for them to watch you not eating. They told me how grumpy you were about taking the medications. In July, with the agreement of the oncology team, most of your medicines were stopped and palliative care started in earnest. You enjoyed lying on the lounger in the garden, soaking in the sun. You were cold despite the heat of the summer sun. You barely spoke. Your words were few and far between. The most alive part of you were your eyes. Sunken into your face. I couldn’t look at you mostly because when I did, I had to face the reality of your impending death. Still I remained fully at work. I should have taken time off at the end of July. Why didn’t I come for your birthday? Even if it was a full house? I could have driven down for the day. I knew it would be your last with us. I didn’t come then. The next week, I woke up one morning and the feeling in my gut was stronger than ever. I called George to ask him to pick Savannah up from nursery. That I needed to see you that day. I spent the day with you and I knew your days were numbered. I tried to warn aunty Kate. I think she knew anyway. I sent George down to see you that weekend and say his goodbyes. I didn’t want him not to have the chance.
‘Alive’ by Sia

On the 7th of August, I came down again, without Savannah as I wanted my focus to be you and you alone. You were bedbound by then. I sat downstairs chatting with aunty Kate and Asma’u about the funeral and where you were to be buried and how to navigate the conversations with your family in a culturally sensitive way. We all knew that the end was nigh. Seyi left us to it. I guess he wasn’t ready to talk about it. Selfishly, I argued for you to be buried in Oxford so I could keep you close. I had to concede your preference was probably Ilorin even if you left the final decision to aunty Kate. Aunty Kate was due at the Nigerian High Commission the next day to apply for her emergency visa so she could come with you on your final journey home. I went up finally, alone, to sit with you. That morning, my intention was to thank you for being my father and to reiterate that you weren’t to carry the guilt of my father’s failings. I even practised what I would say to you on the drive down. When I sat next to you, you roused yourself to answer my formal greetings in Hausa. You were breathless and so weak. I couldn’t say my practised words to you as it would mean admitting to you and me that I was saying goodbye. Instead, I held your thin hand in mine and told you about Savannah. When you started to drift off to sleep, I whispered thank you and I love you. I stood in the doorway composing myself and watching you snooze.
‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran and Beyonce

I planned to be back on Thursday with Savannah. As I left the house, I didn’t think that would be the last time I saw you or touched you or spoke to you. The next day, I got a message from Idris asking me to confirm the news. It was then I realised you had left us. I text aunty Kate: ‘is it true?’. She text back ‘yes’. You had left us. The rest as they say was history. I came on Thursday with George. We helped aunty Kate prepare to take you home. We talked. We cried. We listened to Josh Groban’s Take me home as per aunty Kate’s request before they got in the car without me and accompanied you on your final journey. I was on-call that weekend and the NHS doesn’t give leave for non-immediate family member. Aunty Kate hugged me tight before she got in the car and said, ‘I will look after your father for you’. I should have told the NHS that you were my father. I didn’t. I should have gone to Ilorin with you. I will regret that forever.
‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child

I hope you knew how much you meant to me. How much I love you. How much I valued your love and all the time you spent with me. I hope you know how much you have helped shape me. How I am planning my hospital because you inspired me with the philanthropic work you did. I don’t know if a part of you is here. I hope it is. I feel you here. Whenever I see okro or cow leg, whenever I hear a deep belly laugh like yours or hear someone speak with your accent. I feel you whenever I see the Bose logo, when I hear 70s and 80s music you introduced me to. You will be part of me forever. You will never die fully as I hold a piece of you in me and it will live on as long as I live. When I show her a photo of you (which I do often), I asked Savannah ‘who is that?’. She always answers ‘Uncle Ra’ufu, your father’. Right out of the mouth of my baby. Rest well my father.
‘Missing you’ by Puff Daddy

Your daughter.

Introvert or Extrovert: Do I have to commit to one?

There are so many different definitions of introversion and extroversion. Here is a few:
Ex.tro.vert
n.
(Psychology) a person concerned more with external reality than inner feeling
n.

An outgoing person: a person concerned primarily with the physical and social environment rather than with the self.
adjective
Sociable, social, lively, outgoing, hearty, exuberant, amiable, gregarious
In·tro·vert
To turn or direct inward.
Psychology To concentrate (one’s interests) upon oneself.
n.

A shy person; a person concerned primarily with inner thoughts and feelings rather than with the physical or social environment.
adjective
Shy, not out-going, withdrawn, self-contained, introspective, introverted, inward-looking

Interestingly, looking at the dictionaries (I used the definitions from the Free Dictionary online), I had to cobble together the adjective definition of introvert. The experts seem at a loss for the right words to describe being an introvert. Each definition I looked at included words like introspective and introverted which is not a definition at all. Many of the definitions suggest synonyms like individual, mortal, person, somebody, someone, soul which begs the question: aren’t extroverts seen as individual, mortal, somebody, ‘soul’?

My Mama tells me that as an infant, I was shy, self-contained, only prepared to play with or be looked after by a select few. Clearly an introvert then. Then when I started talking at 18m, I became more sociable and friendly and by the age of 2, I would bend the ear of anyone who would listen. Extrovert phase it appears. I started school at 2 and 2 months. I loved it. Played with everyone. Was always in the thick of things. A bit of a leader as we adventured in the small space that was Nadi (nursery) school. Still an extrovert.

By the time I was in primary school, my love of books and learning started to battle with my love of being outdoors. I’d spend hours playing outside with my sister and our best friend Ai, climbing trees, walls or roof tops, playing stone and sand games, racing, ‘walle’ (clapping games), hopscotch (‘tin tin rabas’ we called it growing up). At the same time, I loved being in the classroom and at home, I would spend hours writing on the blackboard and teaching my teddies and dolls their numbers and alphabets. Half intro- and half extro-vert during this phase I believe.

In my adolescence, I turned more inward. I would choose to read a book over visiting friends. I still loved being outdoors. My grandad’s farm was a favourite place and I also loved sneaking off with Ai (my bestie) to Yola market and buying the contraband cooked foods from the traders there. We also spent a fair bit of time on guava trees or running around in search of the best mango trees we could access from the outside of homes. We spent more time indoors than outdoors during this phase. We did a lot of role-playing and helped elderly ladies living alone to sort out their homes on occasion. We watched Disney videos in my grandma’s living room and started learning how to cook by experimenting. We told each other stories we knew and sang songs. We played indoor games like ayo and whot (the card game).

At nearly 11, I narrowly escaped being burnt alive. My sister and I were spending the end of the summer holidays with my uncle Ali and his lovely wife Fareeda. I had a toombe of a book I was reading. I was so absorbed in the story that I couldn’t stand to put it down for anything inessential to living. My aunty Fareeda was 8 months pregnant and wanted to go pick up the curtains for the nursery. It was the last thing to complete the beautiful ‘Barney and friends’ nursery she’d decorated for her expected son. I begged and pleaded to be left at home alone so that I could carry on reading my book. I suggested that they locked me in so that they were sure I was safe. To my intense irritation, my aunty uncharacteristically put her foot down and made me go. We came back 2 hours later to crowds of people dousing the burning house on fire. My reading spot was the epicentre of the fire. Thank you Fareeda for forcing me out!

In Queens College, I was again the in-betweener. I was friends with a group of reserved and studious girls (still friends with those girls: Diana, Hauwa, Hadiza, Binta, Blessing and Amna). We had little picnics together in quiet secret spots we found in the boarding house grounds. We went to the tuckshops for lunch break together. We revised for exams together. We hung out in class or in the dorms together. We prayed together in front of the library and sat together during Ramadan early morning breakfasts. We visited each other during half-term. An introverted bunch. We had oodles of fun together. On the other hands, I was friends with girls like Amaka Achebe (my twinee) and her pals. They were the ‘bubblers’ of our class. They were the very definition of extroverts. Loud, gregarious, sociable, happy, out-going, ultra-confident. They organised the dance groups for interclass competitions. I got on very well with some of that group. This is when I became what I am now. An introvert with one group and an extrovert with another and quite comfortable in both groups (although my friendship with the introverts is what has lasted with hindsight). It is not surprising that I ended up being an organiser of class events like end of term awards and the class party that last term before I emigrated to the UK at the end of SS1.

I have been the same since my QC days. I drew on my extrovert side when I moved to London and was the new girl in class. It helped me make friends (again predominantly an introverted bunch with a couple of extroverts thrown in). I ended up becoming one of the head prefects and partly organising events like parents evening hosting, our yearbook in year 11 and the end of year assembly. In medical school, I was similar again.

My sister often marvels at this two-sidedness of my personality and how different I am with different people. I am the most extroverted with her and my mother (natural I guess) and also extroverted at work. My husband teases me for talking to anyone and everyone randomly, particularly children. However, there are people with whom I am definitely introverted. Mainly older relatives but also friends of my sister’s or husband. There are days I am definitely extroverted and days that I am definitely introverted. I could go 48 hours without any human contact happily but after that I crave conversation and the human touch. I could converse with anyone when I am in the mood but on my introvert days, it’s too much for me to make small talk and I will duck out of social interaction if I can. It must make me kind of difficult to live with. Poor husband and child.

Jung (a Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology) and the developers of the Myers-Briggs Type indicator (probably the most recognised psychometric tool to assess personality type) suggest that each person has both an introverted and an extroverted side but one side is more dominant than the other. I have weighed it up and I believe that I don’t have a dominant side. Maybe I can’t see it because I am a bit blind to self as most of us normal folk are. I wonder if my family and friends would be split right down the middle if I carried out a poll? I suspect the result would be close to 50:50 if I asked everyone that knows me better than a casual acquaintance.

I would like to coin a new term: for being both in equal measure. I can’t think of an appropriate word. Centrovert? Equivert? Can you think of a good word? Please leave a suggestion x

What Women Want: Easy as 1,2,3

Okay! Okay! Maybe I should title it: what Deejoda wants. I am well aware that there are 3.8 billion women in the world and with all the other factors that go into shaping a person, having an XX chromosome doesn’t make us all the same. This is what women I know want. These women are my friends and work colleagues so share something in common with me. We are all 30-50-year-old women, mostly working mothers living in the UK (and a few in Nigeria, the US and India). We women talk about relationships a lot. The below is what I have concluded having listened to all the discussions and pondered the matter over the last 6 years of my marriage

  • Be Decent
    Treat your woman as you would want to be treated. I refer not just to the big things like not sleeping with another woman or spending your joint money on booze or a lads’ night out when the mortgage and fuel for the car isn’t taken care of. It is the little things.
    For example, your woman comes back from work and cooks you a hot meal, perfectly timed so she is dishing up as you walk in. There is no reason decide to make a call that can wait whilst the food goes cold. Nor is it vital that you say aloud that you were actually in the mood for chicken and not beef tonight.
    If your woman tells you about a funny encounter at work in the spirit of sharing, please don’t grill her about the one man that might appear in this funny story. No, his name is not important, neither is his age, how handsome he is or whether he is married. If this story is what your woman chose to tell you about, it is because she found the situation interesting and not because she has a crush on someone at work.
    Listen when she says she is struggling with X and if it is within your power, offer her help. She might just need someone to listen. It might help here if you put your phone down, look at her and actively listen. Then maybe give her a hug or say something witty to lift her mood.
    If you have done something to upset her, intentionally or unintentionally, and your woman reflects calmly that what you did upset her, the best response is not to react with anger. Either you apologise (gold standard) or at least you acknowledge that you can see what she means and that her feelings are valid even if the hurt was not intended.
    In most relationships, it is considered common courtesy to tell the woman you live with roughly what the structure of your day is. So, she knows whether you are having dinner together or when to send out a search party. Unless in exceptional circumstances, call or text her if you are stuck at work for hours longer than usual. It is also common courtesy to let her know if a friend or relative has called unexpectedly to ask you for help and you’ve said yes. Or even if you bump an old friend you haven’t seen in years and decide to go for a catch-up coffee.
    Remember back when you started dating, how much effort did you put into making her laugh or make her feel special? I bet you bought her little gifts like flowers or a book or surprised her with a thoughtful outing to the cinema for a special showing of her favourite childhood movie. Just because you have been together 2 or even 20 years doesn’t mean that she isn’t worth all that effort occasionally. Of course, it’s not sustainable to do it as often as in the beginning but make the conscious effort to do something nice for her once a week or even once a month.
    Reading back, I guess most of it focuses on communication. Perfect! According to relationship experts, communication is the key to a good partnership.

  • Be Reliable
    Your words should be your bond. When you say something, your woman should be able to trust it will happen.
    When you say you’ll fix the broken window latch, do it the next spare time you have. If you are forgetful (let’s face it a lot of us forget), pop a reminder on your phone for the weekend when you know you’ll have an hour to work on it.
    When you promise to organise your child’s birthday cake, please do it without prompting from your woman. To avoid forgetting, refer to the previous point. If you do forget, run out of the house at the earliest opportunity and buy one without grumbling.
    When you have a party or appointment to attend together as a couple and you have agreed to go, it is your job to turn up when your woman expects you to. Sometimes delays are unavoidable. In this case, inform her what’s happened then call whoever is expecting you and apologise if appropriate or reschedule.
    In short, anything you say you will do, endeavour to do it. If you are not sure you can deliver, keep your plans to yourself so you don’t disappoint her. If her expectations are low (or even non-existent), her disappointment will be kept to a minimum and she’ll be happier for it. In general, we will make do with what we have for the man we love unless we are promised more.

  • Share the Mental Load
    To be an equal (or equal-ish) partner, you must take on some of the thinking and planning that goes into running your lives. It is hard work for a woman to organise her own life, juggling work, childcare, friendships, voluntary work, family etc. It is even harder to have to organise another (adult) man’s life plus all the children’s lives and coordinate it all so that it works seamlessly.
    The least you can do if she has gone to all that trouble is to pay attention if she shares the planning with you and help her come up with practical solutions. Keep an eye on the shared family planner or wherever the plans are written. Set reminders on your phone if you must so you can turn up where you are needed or buy gifts for the people you know better than she does. If you can see your (joint) child is due to go for a dental appointment on a day she is working, say to her ‘honey, I’m taking Jack to the dentist’. Don’t wait for her to ask you and make her feel like she is being a pain by asking you to do your share of childcare. You made the child together. It is your joint responsibility.
    If you get a joint letter about sorting out life insurance or renewing the mortgage, instead of adding it to her pile of life admin, how about you sort it and then tick it off on the list? If there is no list, just send her a text to say its sorted. No drama. Don’t expect an ode of gratitude either. A simple thanks will suffice. Let’s face it, do you always remember to say thank you for all the little jobs she does every day? Offer to organise your child’s first school trip abroad or to take them to the open day for the college they want to apply for. Then do it without being prompted. Ask if you need advice though. She wont mind. Infact, it might reassure her to know that you’re thinking about it and planning it all in advance.

This third point is by far the most important thing to get right. If the mental load becomes too much to carry on her shoulders, she will lose her cool. She will not be full of sunshine. She won’t feel as warm and loving towards you. She’ll be too tired for niceties and her appreciation of you will diminish. Your relationship will suffer. It is a biggie.

That’s it. 3 big things to work on. None of it is complicated. It is about treating your woman as you would treat your best friend. With love and kindness, generosity and appreciation. Remember, happy woman = happy home. Also, happy woman = happy child(ren). Happy woman + happy child(ren) = happy man. So, you’re not doing this only for your woman. You are doing it for you. Step up to the plate. Be what your woman needs.This article on mental load is worth reading: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic

Toilet Paper Gate: Here is Why You Have Never Needed Toilet Paper.

Anyone in the UK (and it seems across the Western World) will remember when the Covid-19 news hit and caused widespread panic across our nations. The most obvious result in the panic buying was the dearth of toilet roll. Photos of supermarkets up and down the nation were shared in social media with no loo rolls in sight. Whole aisles of emptiness. Memes and videos abounded. I doubt that we’ve ever collectively talked about toilet roll as much in all human history. Some of the jokes were class. There were tales of toilets being blocked as people used and flushed strips of clothe down their toilets. Of people using newspapers (Daily Fail was particularly useful I hear) and possibly small furry animals.In Muslim households (and certain cultures) across the world, we watched with amusement. This is because in the Muslim world, we rely on water to get our butts clean. It is a requirement if you are a practising Muslim as you cannot perform adequate ablution to pray your 5 daily prayers without washing your bums. So, I introduce to the non-Muslims the normal toilet hygiene we adhere to.Commonest and cheapest way of achieving this is by using a buta (in Hausa/northern Nigeria). Also known as a lotta in Pakistani households and many other names across the Muslim communities I am sure. It is basically a kettle/teapot as my 4-year-old describes it. The spout makes it easier to use as you can aim the stream of water at the right place with one hand whilst the other hand washes off the soilage. Usually, we use a small amount of toilet paper first to clean off the worst of the brown stuff then wash with water then a small amount of paper to dry. Followed by handwashing. So again, we practising Muslims were winning in the Covid race as we have to wash our hands regularly post toileting. You can’t avoid it because you’d literally stink if you didn’t so in general, hygiene standards are high when it comes to personal care.Bidets would also do the job as do those fancy all-talking, dancing Japanese toilets. In Muslim countries though, we are now incorporating hardware into our bathrooms to help with this. I introduce you to the bum washer a.k.a bum shower. It is basically a small shower head plumbed into your water supply with a simple press on and off button installed right next to your toilet so you don’t have to pause by the sink to fill up your buta before you sit on the throne. Fancier people even have this bum washer hooked up to hot water. This makes the experience a luxury. You will find these bum washers in public toilets in places like Dubai and the Maldives.On a personal note, when I married my non-Muslim husband, he judged my buta. He’d give me side glances in the early days when he saw me use my buta. He once tried to hide my buta when his English friends were coming to stay in our house! I flipped when I discovered this. Told him in no uncertain terms that if his friends judged me and my Muslim ways, they were not welcome in my home. He apologised and never tried it again. But it stings even now when I remember despite the fact that I have forgiven him. Ironically, he can’t poo without having a shower straight afterwards as he feels unclean despite using way too much toilet paper (drives me mad as it is so environmentally terrible!). For some reason, last year, after 7 years of living together, he realised that the buta was the solution to his post-poo woes. He came to me a few months ago to confess how brilliant the buta is. I know! Islam has done a lot of good despite the minority (male) fundamentalists and extremists giving us all a bad name. Islam rocks!!!

Covid-19: The Fallen NHS Heroes

You may have seen on the news that the first 4 doctors to die on the NHS frontline are all male, African and 3 out of 4 of Arabic (Sudanese) origin. We, in the medical family, have understandably been analysing this news with super-critical microscopic gazes. I will take you through the most prevalent theories and one of my own at the end.

  1. Genes: maybe something in the African DNA makes the coronavirus more dangerous to us. In the early days of Covid-19, there were a lot of false theories about the virus not liking the heat and that this was why it didn’t strike in Africa for so long and is still relatively contained. Possible I guess but as it is an RNA virus and viruses like to attack DNA, it is more likely that it’s more to do with DNA than environmental factors such as temperature and weather. Perhaps we have particular DNA sequences unique to Africans of that region (Sudan and northern Nigeria) that means the virus is more likely to successfully infiltrate our cells to replicate and overwhelm our defences. Maybe Africans are not getting infected as often as non-Africans but those that do, get a more severe disease?

Advice: don’t be foolhardy fellow Africans. As we can’t alter our DNA (yet), we need to follow the shielding/self-isolating/hand washing rules very strictly. No visiting family guys. This is serious now.

  1. Vitamin D deficiency: it is a known fact that in the UK, a large proportion of non-white people have either insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels. Many of us don’t know this unless we go to our doctor with generalised symptoms such as tiredness or non-specific widespread aches and pains and we have a blood test. Or if you’re a woman when you see someone for pregnancy or menopause related appointments. When I was in medical school, the importance of vitamin D was just starting to emerge outside of bone health. I remember an Ophthalmology consultant telling me to look up vitamin D in cancer and that if I was to learn anything from him, it was that I should take vitamin D supplements every winter for the rest of my life. Anyway, it turns out that vitamin D is central to many of our metabolic processes – in other words all those things your body is doing at cell level to keep you alive and functioning. It has something to do with Cancer, all autoimmune diseases, brain function, eye disease, mental health. You name it, vitamin D probably has a role. Therefore, it is a solid theory that these 4 doctors could have had that in common.

Advice: probably worth being on vitamin D if you live anywhere like the UK where the sun don’t shine most of the days. Or relocate back to the Homeland (lol)

  1. ACE inhibitors: there has been a link proposed that people being on these anti-hypertensive (BP) drugs having worse outcomes from Covid-19. In simple terms, those on these drugs (common ones Elanapril, Ramipril, Captopril) are more likely to die if they get sick from coronavirus. African have the highest incidence of hypertension in the UK so it makes sense that these 4 men might all be on an ACE inhibitor.

Advice: do not stop your anti-hypertensives without seeking advice from your GP. Even if this theory proves right, if you practice shielding/self-isolation and good regular handwashing, your relative risks will remain very low. You are at risk of complications of high BP too (heart attacks and strokes) and it is a balancing act.

  1. Inadequate PPE: this is likely to be a huge contributing factor. I think this is most likely the issue. Despite Bojo and his Government officials making grand announcements about PPE availability for NHS staff, it is not so in reality. Doctors across England are reporting a lack of PPE and feeling forced to see patients regardless. As a group, medics are prone to putting themselves second to the needs of patients and whilst that is admirable, it is also unwise. Up to 25% of healthcare workers will be infected with Covid-19 according to statisticians. This number should be much less. Of those 25% it is estimated looking at global data (particularly China, Italy and Spain) that between 5 and 10% will die. Maybe more as data is incomplete. If you look at the number of NHS staff, those numbers are huge! We medics are not indispensable. We are a limited resource and no, despite Jeremy Hunt’s claims of yesteryears, no one can magic up 1000s of doctors in the next few months. Not even if you paid them double of what you’re paying them (remember the junior doctor contract bullshit everyone?). No amount of money is worth dying for. Especially if you’re a locum and your family don’t even get a death in service pay out to compensate them in a little way for your loss.

Advice: if you are a healthcare worker, do not go within 2m of a probable Covid patient without an FFP3 mask and full gown as per WHO guidance. Help them from a distance if you must. If you are put under pressure to go closer, walk out. What are they going to do? Fire us all? A sick or dead doctor won’t do the patients any good. Trust me.

  1. African Bravery: I really don’t mean this to sound like I am victim blaming or being flippant, but this is my take on it. These 4 men probably had risk factors that meant they should not be frontline. Be it due to age or comorbidities (existing illnesses as per Government guidelines like Asthma/COPD, chronic heart disease, autoimmune disease, on cancer treatment). But they decided to be brave and put the need of their patients first. If they are like the African men I know (I come from Northern Nigeria like Dr Alfa Saadu), they would have prayed (all Muslim too) for protection and gone to serve with inadequate, despite knowing the risks. Whilst I admire that bravery, I really do think it needs to be discouraged at times like these. We cannot afford to lose medics who are essential in combating this pandemic. We need the Government to step up to the plate and provide correct PPE for all frontline staff. All of them. The Government/NHS says full PPE only for those performing aerosol generating procedures. I put it to you all that one of the commonest symptoms of Covid-19 is a cough. That is an aerosol generating procedure. As you cannot predict when a patient will cough, you should always be in full PPE. Simples. Only patients who are ventilated are not at risk of coughing on you if you go in close.

Advice: don’t be a martyr. You are more useful to the NHS alive and well. Demand full PPE or work from a safe distance from all possible cases of COvid-19. Walk away if you must. Go and work at another hospital that will provide you with the right PPE.I quit the NHS and clinical medicine 2 years ago in March 2018. I had many reasons but basically, although I loved my paediatric patients and a lot of my peers and the paediatric nurses, I felt that the NHS was a poor employer and didn’t care about the individual. I couldn’t see me working for 30 years as a consultant in the NHS. Couple that with Jeremy Cunt and the junior doctor contract debacle which forced me to see that the public we serve generally has no appreciation for the sacrifices we make as doctors in the NHS and think that it has to do with pay. My health and wellbeing was beginning to suffer and I had a baby to put first. So, I quit and moved onto a non-clinical medical role. I took a pay cut to do it (it really isn’t about the money folks) and lost the security of my NHS pension and sick pay. Despite all that, in my new job, I am treated with respect and feel appreciated. My mental health is much better. I am in a better place career-wiseThen bam! Covid-19. I am one of those doctors whose licences have been restored by the GMC. I have agreed to return to serve the NHS through this time. In February, I was very ill. With hindsight, I think I have had and recovered from Covid-19 (which would be great as that’ll mean I am immune going back into the viral soup that is the NHS). But my recent illness and exacerbation of asthma puts me in the higher risk group. I am also an African Muslim which is beginning to look like a risk factor. I am on vitamin D supplements and not on ACEi.Whilst I am happy to sacrifice and serve, I will not be going to the frontline without adequate PPE. I intend to stay safe and alive. My daughter will have her mother for many years to come if it is in my power to insure that. That is my promise to myself and my worried friends and family. I aint going nowhere without a fight!Stay safe folks. Peace and love

First Came Jollof Rice

The Great Jollof Rice debate rages on amongst the people of West Africa. Whose is the original? Whose is the best? Is the original the best? Does it matter? There was a social media story last year about a pair of west African students (I believe one Nigerian and one Ghanian) in London who ended up in a brawl over an argument over jollof rice. Clearly, this is an emotive subject for my people :D.

Jollof rice is a one-pot dish, principally with a base of tomatoes, onion and red peppers with fluffy rice packed with umami flavours. That is the basic recipe but there are probably hundreds of variations of that. The word jollof originates from Senegalese language Wolof meaning ‘one pot’. Most believe it originate from either Senegal or the Gambia but its popularity spread across west Africa and probably inspired the Cajun Jambalaya too. Nigerians and Ghanians arguably cook it the most. Being Nigerian, of course I think the Nigerian jollof rice is best.

In Nigeria, Jollof rice is a national dish eaten by every tribe. It is the most popular party/celebration dish. In the southwest, it tends to be cooked in a very spicy tomato base and served with sides of fried/grilled meat, chicken or fish, moin-moin, plantain and some vegetables. In the north, it tends to have vegetable in it and usually some dried fish cooked in too.

I think one of the reasons the husband loves me so is my cooking and jollof rice is one of the dishes he loves. It is one of my favourites and my little girl loves it too so it is a regular on our dinner menu at home. It has always been well received when I have served it to our non-Nigerian guests and I have had a few recipe requests lately. When you google jollof, over 100,000 hits come up so there is no shortage of recipes. Jamie Oliver even dabbled with cooking jollof (probably best not to appropriate such an iconic African dish Jamie!). There is no right or wrong way to cook jollof  as long as you stick to the basics and I enjoy the many variations of it. It is the food of (African) gods. Mine is based on my mama’s recipe which always had lots of veggies and on special occasions coconut milk added in. Not heavy on chilli. I love healthy eating so I like to add in beans too. Here is my recipe which serves 4. Hope some of you try it and give me feedback on how it went.

 

Ingredients

  1. 1 standard mug of rice (Basmati best but long grain rice easiest for novice cooks)
  2. 2 standard mugs of hot water
  3. 175g tomato passata (or tinned chopped tomatoes)
  4. 1 medium-large onion finely chopped
  5. ¾ sweet-pointed red pepper finely chopped
  6. 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  7. 3-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped or crushed
  8. Scotch bonnet pepper
  9. 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil
  10. 1 tablespoon of palm oil (you can do it without but more authentic with. Found in African/Carribean food aisle or shops)
  11. 1cm slice of fresh ginger (or half teaspoon of ground ginger)
  12. 1 stock cube
  13. 1 teaspoon curry powder (African/Carribean food aisle)
  14. ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  15. 1 tin of precooked mixed beans or ½ mug black eyed beans (if fresh, soak in hot water a few hours before needed then boil for 20-30 minutes in lightly salted water)
  16. 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  17. ½ mug of peas
  18. Large handful of green (runner) beans chopped
  19. ½ mug of Sweetcorn
  20. Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

  • Measure out the rice into a sieve and rinse in cool water and leave to drain on the side.
  • Put the oil in a medium pot with a lid on medium heat. Add the onions and fry until starting to soften. Add in the chopped red peppers, garlic and fresh ginger. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  • If you like chilli, add either ¼ or ½ half of the scotch bonnet pepper, very finely chopped. Otherwise, throw in a whole scotch bonnet when you add water to the rice, taking care not to break the pepper. That way it gives your jollof a wonderful aroma and you can choose to add a bit of the pepper to your plate later.
  • Add in the rice, tomato passata and tomato paste. Add the curry powder, thyme, some salt and blackpepper. Stir until well mixed.
  • Meanwhile, put the stock cube in the same mug used to measure the rice and pour over the boiling hot water. Use a spoon to stir ensuring the stock cube is fully dissolved.
  • Add the stock to the pot. Add in another mug of hot water.
  • Stir all the contents in the pot and put the lid of the pot on. Once it starts to bubble, turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Do not stir at this point
  • Check your rice after 10 minutes. When the rice still has a little water in it but has a bit of bite, it is time to add in the carrots, the runner beans and drained cooked beans at this stage. Stir once and lid back on for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the sweetcorn and peas. Cook for 1 minute. Check that your rice is fully cooked then switch off the heat and leave to stand for 1 minute.
  • Serve with sides of choice. Mine would be a hard-boiled egg, smoked mackerel and coleslaw. Fried golden brown plaintain if you have it.

Enjoy!

Physician Heal Thyself

Yet another doctor has committed suicide recently. The 3rd in the past year in the UK that I know about. There are probably more. It is so sad. On the face of it, many people might think what do doctors have to be so depressed about? The public still imagine that being a doctor comes with a good job, good income and the respect of the population in general. Those of us in the profession and our loved ones know better. For most doctors, the work is relentless. The NHS is no longer fit for purpose. There are too many patients with less resources to care for them. There is more and more paperwork borne out of the NHS having too many ‘managers’ who analyse medical errors and harm and feel that creating another form to fill in will prevent future incidents. They fail to realise that what is needed is more funding to employ enough staff for the numbers of patients we treat. They fail to realise that they need to invest in their staff and make them feel appreciated and valued for their hard work and for doing more than they are contracted to do. They need to examine the levels of sickness and absenteeism and realise that burnout is real and so is depression. Above all, they need to realise that without preventative measures, doctors will continue to work themselves until they simply can’t.

Although the UK rates highly in a lot of economic and living standards indices, being a rich developed 1st world nation, it doesn’t do so well with mental illness. The positive news is that the UK had made it into the top 20 of the world’s happiest countries in 2017 (it was previously 23rd and is now 19th) for the first time since 2012 when the world happiness report started being published annually.

In March 2017, the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a survey to look into prevalence of mental health in the UK and to identify the factors about individual that make them vulnerable to suffering from a mental illness. It found that 7 out of 10 women, those aged 18-34 and those living alone had a mental illness. Only 1 in 10 of the whole population are happy most of the time. Women are 3 times as likely as men to suffer a mental illness. Stress is a growing problem. Majority of people suffer from either a generalised anxiety disorder, depression or phobia. Self-harm and suicide are not classed as mental disorders but are a response to mental distress usually cause by mental illness that has not been recognised and treated.

With these statistics in mind, it is easy to see why young female doctors are at risk of mental illness. Couple that with the fact that medicine attracts people with a type A personality who are high achievers and do not like to admit they have a ‘weakness’ or that they need help. I have already described working conditions in today’s NHS. No wonder so many young female doctors are struggling and every year, we lose a few to suicide. What I find particularly difficult with this is that when colleagues pay tribute to those who have died, there is always a huge sense of shock. Unfortunately, these women hide their illness so well that often even their closest confidants have no idea how much despair they are in. Their friends often describe them as ‘superwoman’, someone who ‘has it all’, always helping others, taking on incredible amounts and managing to ‘juggle it all’ somehow. They give so much to others that they forget to give their selves.

Caring. Freedom. Generosity. Honesty. Health. Income. Good governance. These are the things that increase happiness and promote mental well-being according to the Mental Health Organisation. I would sum it up as friendship. I think human beings are social creatures (yes, even the introverts) and need to have at least one good nurturing relationship. This is intrinsically linked to self-worth. Many people who have attempted suicide and lived to tell their story say that depression and anxiety eroded their self-worth to such an extent that they felt useless and that the world would be better without them in it. Depression interferes with rational ordered thinking. When it is severe, it is like being in a deep dark hole, full of doubts and lacking in any hope. Far from being selfish, I believe people who contemplate suicide are (in their warped thinking) being selfless and believe in that moment that they are un-burdening those around them.

So is there anything we can do to turn the tide? Most experts agree that by the time a person has planned to commit suicide, it is probably too late to do anything. The depression has taken over and has them fully in its grasp. Where we can make a difference is at a much earlier stage. We need to prevent people with low mood going on to develop depression. We need to be that friend who validates their self-worth. The one who lets them know in words and action that their presence is very much appreciated in your life. We need to talk about mental health more so that someone at the early stages of depression feels able to confide in someone and seek help. If mental illness is so prevalent, why do we not talk about it more? Why are we ashamed to say, ‘I am depressed, I need time off work to get treatment/rest to get better’? Would any of us feel ashamed to call in sick at work if we developed appendicitis, had to have surgery and needed a few days to recover? Just because mental illness is invisible doesn’t make it less valid. I think this ultimately is what will turn the tide. Talking about it, admitting we have a problem and asking for help early, taking time out now to prevent getting to the point where all hope is lost and we feel like we have no other option other than suicide.

If you are reading this post and can identify with the desperation that mental illness can induce, please reach out to somebody. Ask for help and support. If you are in the UK, there are some very good resources. Your GP should be your first port of call. If you are feeling suicidal, call the Samaritans on the free phone 116 123. Mind has help pages online that can be accessed at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/helping-yourself-now/#.WX8lFojyvIU as does Turn2Me at https://turn2me.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvKCtr8Sz1QIVT5PtCh2D7QnCEAAYAiAAEgKyyPD_BwE. The Mental Health Foundation has some great guides for promoting mental wellbeing which can be accessed on https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health . The app Headspace comes very well recommended for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression.

If you are a medic, there is a wonderful Facebook group called Tea & Empathy for peer support for all those working in healthcare. It was founded after we lost another one of our young doctor colleagues a couple of years ago and is a brilliant space full of supportive caring people. The Wales Deanery has published a booklet specifically aimed at helping medics cope with the stress of the job. You can access it here: https://www.walesdeanery.org/sites/default/files/bakers_dozen_toolkit.pdf.

Finally, I want to say to you all: You matter. You are loved. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself x

 

The Things I Never Knew About Childbirth and Having a New-born

I love to read so during pregnancy, I signed up to a few baby sites. They sent information through weekly and I read it all. I like to be prepared. I felt prepared but still I have had many surprises that I am going to write about. Mostly so when my daughter asks me in 25 years’ time, I will have a reminder of those ‘whaaaat?’ moments.

  1. The Pain: I already mentioned in previous blogs about birthing positions but it was such an eye-opener that I feel I must mention it here. First, I will acknowledge that pain is subjective and every woman experiences it differently. Having said that, the labour pain I felt was manageable despite being induced and on a syntocinon drip (which is meant to make it more painful). Until I made the mistake of lying flat on my back. Those minutes of being in that position where the most painful, second only to the post-birth examination. Upright was a million times better. Again, I’ll reiterate the hell the post-birth examination was. It was the single most painful part of giving birth and nothing to do with the baby. When the midwife had to examine me for tears/lacerations, it was all I could do not to scream the house down. After 8 hours of labour where I barely made a peep. Horrible. Steel yourself. Don’t be like me and mentally heave a sigh of relief once the baby is out. Hold it for that final examination to be over and pray you don’t need to have stitches.
  2. Inability to make decisions: even before the exhaustion and sleep deprivation peaked, I struggled with making the simplest decisions. Specially to do with the baby. First, I couldn’t decide what the room temperature was. I’d spent most of pregnancy feeling like I had a very hot water bottle strapped to me. I simply couldn’t tell if the ambient temperature was just right or if it was cold but that suited my constantly hot self. And it was important as there was a little baby who couldn’t tell me how she felt and she didn’t have much fat to insulate her in those first few weeks. I also struggled to decide what to dress her in, what to eat and when to eat it and when it was best to ask my mama to have her for an hour so I could try to have a nap. It took roughly 3 months to reset my brain into first gear. I’m nearly back to full capacity 9 months later.
  3. The sleeplessness: I thought I understood that a baby sleeps for short periods initially day and night but as time goes on, the intervals get longer and longer until you can manage some (few hours of) deep sleep. My baby never seemed to need much sleep. First two months, it was mostly 1-2 hours sleeps for her which means less for me as I was feeding, putting her to sleep then laying down and listening for too long if she was going to stay asleep. By the time I drifted off, she was beginning to surface so I was barely getting any quality restful sleep. Daytime was worse because whilst at night she would let me put her down, in the day time there was none of that (there still isn’t). She seems to have an internal sensor that is on in the day time. This sensor alerts her when she is asleep that she is being removed from human arms. As soon as her head touches down, her eyes spring open and all traces of sleep are gone. My mama was here for the first 6 weeks and she found a way to put her down for 1 nap a day. The idea was to give me the best chance of some sleep. Did I sleep? Not much. I would lie down and listen to even the minutest sound in the house. Eventually the exhaustion would come over me but usually I would have wasted an hour so that if I got 1 hour, I was lucky. By week 2, I felt like a zombie and that feeling didn’t leave until she was over 3 months old.
  4. The guilt: every time she cries, I feel guilty as hell. I can’t seem to rationalise the fact that babies cry. You can do your best and do everything you can think of and then some and still, they cry. Even when I ignore her and carry on with my essential tasks, my heart feels so heavy with guilt hearing her cry. Even when I can see she is faking it (they learn these tricks way too early) and there are no tears, I feel this overwhelming guilt. I spent the first few months focusing all my energy on her and avoiding her cries. So much so that I would forget to eat, drink or have a wee until my body was desperate. A couple of months after my mama left, I had to have a word with myself. It was only after I reminded myself that a few tears wouldn’t harm her that I started to get on with everyday tasks. In the early days when I was trying to get her to sleep in her basket, it was tough. She would wake every hour and I was exhausted. Lots of people advised just letting her cry herself to sleep once I was satisfied she was fed, had a dry nappy and the room temperature was just right. I struggled on and on until I thought I had to try it. That night, I settled her down in the basket and lay in bed next to her. She was up within the hour so I didn’t pick her up. I let her cry. She cried and cried and cried some more. She was not stopping! I lay awake listening to her and after about 5 minutes, I started to cry myself. I rocked her basket but didn’t pick her up. I left her for as long as I could (probably 15-20 minutes) and the guilt nearly killed me. I didn’t try that again for a month. Again, she just continued to cry until I gave in.
  1. The joy: so many little things that I always thought were cute in babies now bring me the most intense joy. When my daughter wakes up, searches for me and smiles the biggest happiest smile because I am there. When she reaches out her hand to touch my face as if to check I am real. When she laughs joyfully, as only children can. When she fakes a cough to get my attention. When she notices I am off-guard and pulls my glasses off with glee. When she grabs my sleeve/hip/belt as I walk past her highchair. When she splashes in the bath. When she comes back in from a walk with daddy and her face lights up on seeing me. My heart is always full to bursting with all the little joyous moments each day. And full of dread for when I must leave her and go back to work.
  2. The pride: Every time she does something the first time…the first social smile, the first proper belly laugh, the first babbles, the first time she rolled over, the first time she sat up without support, the first time she crawled, the first time she pulled to stand. I watch her figure out how do something the first time, the intense concentration on her little face as she works it out. I watch to see the triumphant expression on her face when she succeeds. I watch the surprise on her face when she falls over or bumps into something and how hard she tries not to cry. I was so impressed that when she was immunised on 3 separate occasions, she cried for less than a minute each time. Same with when she got her ears pierced. I know I am biased but she is such a brave little girl. Her joy, her determination to learn new skills and her bravery make me such a proud mama.

Our journey together is at its very infancy so I am certain I will discover many more unknowns along the way. Suffice it to say, I am loving motherhood and I cannot wait to see what our tomorrows will bring. What fun!