On Finding Balance: a personal update - my journey through PMDD

When I chose "Balance" as my One Word for this year, I had no idea how apt it would turn out to be.

And totally not in the way I expected.

One of the definitions of "balance", according to Merriam-Webster, is "mental and emotional steadiness."

If I'm honest, I've always prided myself on my steadiness. I'm (generally) a pretty calm and level-headed person. I've always been positive and optimistic about life. I've never been prone to dramatic mood swings. I didn't even experience PMS until post-kids hormones came along. I'm the sort of person who would rather do something to fix a problem instead of whining about it. A go-getter, pull myself up by my bootstraps kind of person.

Then came this year.

It took me a long time to admit something was wrong. Even when the doctor diagnosed me with depression, I didn't want to go on medication right away. I avoided everything he suggested, actually, including getting counselling from a psychologist. Instead I decided to try a DIY approach in typical "fix it myself" fashion. I started a gratitude journal. Dragged myself to the gym to exercise (more and more sporadically). Tried my utmost to "think positive".

Let me tell you, it's very difficult to "positive think" your way out of depression.

In part, my denial came from the fact that my emotions this year have been SO up and down. On a bad week, I felt so horrible I can't even describe it. Life was just too hard. I wanted to lie down and go to sleep and never wake up again.

On a good week, I felt completely normal. In those times, it was easy to convince myself that I was fine, that all my thoughts about not coping were just an overreaction. I'm starting to think it's human nature to forget the really bad stuff. It's like childbirth. When you're in the middle of it, it's so intense you're pretty sure you're going to die. Then afterward, the details get kinda hazy and you wonder - was it really that bad after all? So you go back and do it all over again. And then the second time around you REMEMBER and it's too late and you're all WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING GETTING PREGNANT AGAIN?!! DID I FORGET THIS CHILD HAD TO ACTUALLY COME OUT SOMEHOW?!!

So my denial dragged on for six months, with good weeks and horrible weeks, until the whole awful cycle had happened enough times that 1. I finally recognised the pattern and 2. I was absolutely desperate.

I'd actually been in to my doctor on the Friday to get some blood test results, and he asked how I was feeling and because it happened to be a good week I was all, "Yeah, GREAT actually! Feeling fabulous! I'm totally fine!" And then by Sunday I wanted to die and on Monday I was back in his office saying, "So as it turns out, I'm not fine after all. Actually I'm terrible. I need help. Also I'm really sorry because I know this is terribly confusing. I'm confused too."

So he had me fill out another psychological evaluation, and this time I hesitated over it. The questions are all "Do you feel like such and such..... a little of the time? Some of the time? Most of the time? or All the time?" and you're supposed to base it off how you've felt for the last 4 weeks. The problem being, every month I usually have a couple of great weeks and a couple of horrible weeks. So the first time I filled out the form, I just took an average. I went with "some of the time" for most of the questions, and the score indicated moderate depression. So this time, I asked how I should answer, and he said to base it on the period of time when I'm actually feeling low, so we could get a clearer picture. Doing it that way, turns out I have severe depression. Huh. Probably explains a few things.

I've always felt the up-and-down cycle was hormonally linked in some way, and after six months of the same pattern recurring, the doctor agreed. He diagnosed Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Turns out the hormones released when I ovulate are affecting the neurotransmitters in my brain. So halfway through the month, I'm plunged into dark depression - sometimes for a couple of days, sometimes for a couple of weeks, sometimes on and off unpredictably until the end of the month. It also explains why the rest of the time, I feel fine, and why as a result it's taken me so long to seek the help I need. Because when I'm fine, the darkness feels so far away that I doubt its reality... until the next time.

A diagnosis of PMDD has explained so much. It's a huge relief. I'm not actually going crazy. (Well... I guess that's debatable.) But this roller-coaster of emotions has a chemical explanation.

I started on medication the next day. For one day I felt a bit spaced-out in the head and had this awesome feeling of wellbeing. It wasn't euphoria - actually I felt like I couldn't have been exhilarated about something if I tried. It was like the peaks and valleys of my emotional landscape had been neatly trimmed off, leaving me somewhere in the middle in a place I could only describe as pleasant. The next day, the spaced-out feeling had gone and I felt normal again. Just.... myself. Happy. Steady. Interested in life.

I took the medication for two weeks and felt great. Then I stopped taking it. I did that because that's what you do for PMDD and it's what I'd been told to do. Two weeks on, two weeks off. The doctor said he thought I'd end up taking the medication all the time, but to try it this way first.

Well, I tried it. Two days after I stopped the medication, I felt myself plummeting down again into the same familiar pit. My boys left for school and my husband left for work and I was home alone with Allegra. I felt a climbing dread and despair. What would I do all day? How would I cope? It felt impossible to do anything. Everyday tasks became monumental tests of endurance. I had to drag myself around the house, one foot in front of the other, just trying to survive. I couldn't inject any inflection into my voice. I felt constantly on the verge of tears. It felt like my whole being was one suspended, silent scream for help. Oh my God please help me. I can't do this. This is too hard.

Stubbornly I resisted taking my medication because I'm a good girl and I follow the rules. Maybe it would get better. Three days later, it had not gotten better. I knew irrevocably that I was a failure as a person. I would never succeed at any of my dreams. Writing, blogging... it was all too much. It was time to give up. I wanted to give up, not just on my dreams, but on life. I could barely function, let alone parent. I sat Allegra in front of the TV and crawled into bed and spent a whole day mindlessly scrolling on Facebook. I was desperate for someone to help me but I couldn't even cry out for help. No-one wanted to hear about how horrible I felt. It was too depressing. I thought about texting a friend, but what could they say? It would be pointless to project my misery onto someone else. Nobody could help me. I felt truly alone. I imagined what a relief it would be to just let go... to float away into a blue sky of oblivion where I could stop trying, stop hurting, stop existing.

The next day I started taking my medication again. It only took one day to feel normal again. It was the first day in weeks that I even felt capable of writing a blog post. And so I sat down to write this while it was fresh in my mind... before I forgot, once again, what it's really been like.

I wrote it all down and then I chickened out, and there it sat for the next two months, unpublished.

What have those intervening months been like? The ups and downs haven't gone away. The medication has made it bearable to the extent that at my lowest points I no longer feel that terrifying blackness where I wish it could all end. Now I just have sporadic days of feeling pretty miserable. I've struggled with finding any form of motivation. My house has never been so messy and un-magazine-like and I've never cared so little. There are also wonderful days. Plenty of completely-normal, surely-I-must-be-all-better-now kinds of days.

It's disorienting to be me right now, that's for sure.

I feel silly for resisting medication for so long. I feel frustrated that medication hasn't fixed me completely. I wish it wasn't so complicated. I wish there was a simple cure. "Just take this purple pill three times a day and you'll never be sad again. Yay!"

When I dragged my defeated self into my doctor's surgery to concede that I did, after all, need medication, I humbly agreed to every single thing he suggested. I've started seeing a psychologist for counselling. It's confronting and weird and cathartic all at the same time. Of course, in typical PMDD fashion, I was feeling great the day I went in, and it's hard to take therapy seriously when you're in a fab-u-lous mood. I felt like a fraudster. Like some really lame hypochondriac-type person making a huge big deal outta nothing at all.

But I did it anyway.

I did it because I'm a good girl and that's what the doctor said to do and for goodness sake, I nearly self-helped myself to death this year trying to fix it all on my own and THAT sure as hell didn't work, so what else am I gonna do?

I did it because I know the day will come when I will not be feeling fab-u-lous, in fact I'll be feeling freakin' horrible again, and I'll need some tools in my tool-belt just to keep me going.

Life is good. I can say that today. Last week was a different story. Life was pretty sucky last week.

But today is a new day.

For all those out there who know what it's like? For the ones who struggle, who've ever felt alone, or wished they too could let go and float away into the blue?

Don't let go.

It gets better.

It doesn't stay better, not all the time. We both know this. The waves roll by and some will knock you off your feet and leave you floundering in panic because you're down so deep you think for sure you'll drown; but you won't.

The wave will pass and you'll feel the heat of sunlight on your face again and the mirror glare will dazzle your eyes and you'll snort the water out of your nose and taste salt on your tongue and feel breathlessly alive.

The waves will keep coming. Beautiful, brutal, relentless, much like life itself.

And one day, if you can just keep your head above water long enough, who knows... you might find yourself cresting high, carried along with the rhythms of the sea, riding the wave exultant right into shore.


School memory boxes

I'm over at iHeart Organizing today sharing my brand new school memory-box filing system. Come on over and find out how I dug my way out from beneath the chaos of school paperwork!

If you're visiting from iHeart Organizing, welcome!

I'd love you to follow along with me:

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For my Aussie readers, here's the sources I used for this project:

Clear file boxes - Howard's Storage World
Pre-cut vinyl letters - Officeworks
Clear hanging files - K-mart
Display folders - Officeworks

So yes... I'm still alive. I've missed you guys!! It's been an "interesting" couple of months. Thanks to the sweet readers who reached out with an email or message to check in on me - I appreciate you!! Catch-up post coming up soon...


How to refinish a mirror (and an Entryway makeover!)

The entry to your home gives a greeting every time you or a guest walks in your door. 

For ages my home gave a pretty lacklustre sort of greeting, kind of equivalent to a bored teenager grunting an inaudible "hello".

Things started looking a little happier when I indulged my cushion obsession and added a bit of colour to that gorgeous old pew, which we purchased as newlyweds.

As well as some baskets underneath.

But we still had a bare wall to deal with, and nothing to hang there. Buying something new was not in the budget. What to do?

Enter: the Harem Mirror.

This mirror was a wedding present well over a decade ago. Back in the day, Moroccan-style mirrors with cage doors were a hot trend. Until, a few years later, they weren't. This mirror was a solid, good quality piece, but the has-been styling was seriously dating our home. We eventually moved the mirror into storage until we figured out what we wanted to do with it. And there it remained for the next four and a half years.

Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

While trying to figure out how to finish off our entryway, it occurred to me how easy it would be to bring this mirror back on trend.

The biggest issues I had with it were those doors - 90's harem style, anyone? - and the painted woodwork everywhere, which makes the mirror look too busy. But both of those things are easily fixed.

First, I removed the doors. The hinges took a bit of prying and levering with a screwdriver and pliers, but they eventually popped off. Aaaahhhh - better already. It's a good thing to be able to actually see a reflection in a mirror. You know... it's all about the small details.

Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

I sanded down the holes left by the hinges being pried loose.


... then spackled the holes.


I taped and cling-wrapped the mirror in preparation for spray-painting. Then I gave the frame a coat of Rust-o-leum spray paint in Gloss Black.

Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

After the first coat dried, I went over the whole surface with fine grade steel wool. Then I added a second coat of spray paint.

 in preparation for spray-painting, 
This is when the glossy brilliance of the paint really began to shine through.


All of that intricate fretwork which looked so tired and busy before, is now unified and simplified by the black paint. Paring back the color palette puts the focus squarely on the beautiful patterns and flourishes in the frame.

 in preparation for spray-painting, 

Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

A simple update that cost only a few dollars for a can of spray-paint and took a matter of minutes to execute. Now, instead of looking dated and woebegone in a storage facility someplace, my lovely mirror is looking hip and sophisticated as it takes pride of place in our entry.
Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

Mirror revamp by A house full of sunshine for Practically Functional

And there you have it - our completed entryway. So much more welcoming than before.

Let's chat: Do you like the greeting your entryway gives your guests? What have you done to create a welcoming feel when people walk in your front door? What would you like to improve there? Does anyone else have a Harem mirror kicking around their home?


Colour-blocked bathroom storage caddies

Hey friends! I'm over at IHeart Organizing today sharing a sweet little DIY storage solution - geometric colour-blocked bathroom caddies. Can you guess what I repurposed to make them?

Pssst, did you hear? My home is being featured this month in IKEA Live Family Magazine. A print copy of the magazine is on its way to me in the mail - cannot wait to see it!! You can see the online version here!

In other fabulous news, the winner of the Complete Bundle giveaway from EzPacking is Ashley M.! Congratulations, Ashley!

If you're new here, you may also be interested to check out a couple of my recent organising projects.

Tips and tricks for packing with kids (with FREE printable):

Thanks as always for reading, my lovelies!


Marbled Mother's Day cards (that a kid can make!)

I've always loved the look of marbling, but for years I put it in the "too hard" basket. Here's a method that needs no special equipment and is easy enough for a child to make! Apart from cutting out the hearts, my two year old made these pretty cards herself. 

We made ours for Mother's Day. These would also be perfect for Valentine's Day or anytime you want to spread some love with a simple and beautiful handmade card. In a few minutes you'll have enough marbled paper to make a whole stash of lovely cards. Here's how.

Shaving foam - one full can
Food colouring (droppers are easiest for kids to handle)
Baking tray
Skewer or chopstick
A4 white paper
A4 white cardstock

STEP ONE: Select a baking tray a little bigger than an A4 size piece of paper, and fill the bottom with shaving foam. Smooth it over with the back of a spoon.

STEP TWO: Add drops of food colouring all over the foam. (Food colouring stains, so wear a paint shirt!)

STEP THREE: Use a skewer or a chopstick to swirl the colours together.

STEP FOUR: Lay an A4 piece of paper on top of the foam and pat it gently all over.

You should see the pattern start to emerge through the back of the paper.

STEP FIVE: Peel the paper away.

STEP SIX: Lay the paper flat and use a ruler to scrape the excess shaving foam off the surface.

Ta-da! You have a beautiful marbled print that even a child can make. Set it aside to dry. (It will only be very slightly damp, so it will dry fast.)

Note: You can make several prints from the one tray of foam. After a while the colours will start to mix together and become a bit "muddy". At this point you could scrape back the surface, add more foam and start again with some fresh colours. Or, you could get a bit more mileage by using your skewer to drag vertical and horizontal lines in a rough grid pattern, and you'll get a different sort of print that is softer and more subdued.

STEP SEVEN: Print out this free printable heart template on cardstock, then cut it out and trace around the template on your marbled paper.

STEP EIGHT: Use the dotted line on the template as a guide to trim your A4 white cardstock. Fold in half to make a square card, and glue the marbled heart to the front.

Finished! Such a simple way to create an elegant and pretty card for someone you love.

To all the wonderful mamas who read this blog - I wish you a very happy Mother's Day! I hope you get spoiled and loved on and pampered and hugged. You're amazing and you deserve it. Well done, mama!  xo

Tell me: What do you love best about your Mum?

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Packing for kids - with FREE printable and a giveaway!

Thank you so much to EzPacking for providing product for this post. All opinions, bad jokes and packing faux-pas are 100% my own.

Packing and me have had issues for a long time now. 

I procrastinate about it like crazy. It takes me forever. There's too much to remember with three kids to pack for, and I always forget something

And within ten minutes of arriving at our destination, someone needs to get something out of the suitcase and just like that all my neatly folded and segregated piles of kids' clothing are in one tangled mess. 

Today I am going to share something with you that has completed rocked my world. I can't even begin to explain the awesomeness. PLEASE OBSERVE:


I know. I'm shocked too. It looks so neat and orderly. 

This is the suitcase of an organised person. 

I kind of can't stop looking at it. It makes me feel like an actual grown-up. A very efficient grown-up at that. I feel like my kids should all be perfectly groomed and perfectly behaved to go along with the image of this perfect suitcase. Also I should probably start speaking in a British accent and saying things like "Spit spot! Run along now, children!" (Because *obviously* all truly organised people speak like Mary Poppins.)

But I digress.

Said suitcase contains five days' worth of clothes for myself and three kids. (This is the modus operandi at our place - hubby likes to throw a few clothes in a duffel bag and keep his stuff separate.) I could've easily fitted in a week's worth of outfits in the suitcase. Each child has their own little packing cube filled with clothes, and they all slot in together like Lego bricks.

Packing cubes, you ask? What is this magic?

They're my new secret weapon. I used the complete bundle of packing organisers from EzPacking (U.S. company). When it arrived in the mail, this is what it looked like:

My nerdy organisation-loving heart leapt a little at the sight of these lovely packing cubes. And then I saw these:

I will admit it, I giggled. They just made me think instantly of Sheldon...

So I'm OCD, but I'm not that OCD. However, I shouldn't mock. A couple of weeks ago my husband went on a business trip overseas. He actually asked me how to fold a T-shirt. As in, he wanted the step-by-step tutorial. I mean, this guy is smart. He can put together business deals like nobody's business. So how on earth has he lived for 36 years on this sweet earth and still doesn't know how to fold a T-shirt??

Clearly I am enabling this by doing all the laundry in our house. Note to self: slack off on the laundry, honey-cakes.

Moral of the story, clearly my husband would find this device useful. Also it would be entertaining to watch him use it.

Moving along. Here's how I packed the perfect family suitcase.

First, I used the large cubes for my clothes. This cube was exactly the right size to fit two stacks of T-shirts. I packed five T-shirts, three singlets, two "good" blouses and a dress. I could have easily fitted in a few more outfits if needed. 

In the second large cube, I packed five sets of shorts and skirts, and also a pair of jeans folded in half. Again, this was a loose fit - I could've fitted more if I wanted to.

When it comes to toiletries, one tip that really works for me is to keep a toiletry bag packed and ready to go at the back of the bathroom vanity. Just about everything comes in miniature these days, so I use the "travel" sizes of all my products, from contact lens solution to shampoo and conditioner.

I also have a separate bag for makeup, and of course no self-respecting woman can travel for more than twelve hours without her hair straightener. (Husband: Why do you need to take that thing?) *Hold me*

Onto the kids. For the boys I used one medium cube each. My five-year-old's shorts just fitted in lengthwise without doubling them in half, together with a stack of five T-shirts beside, and plenty of room for jocks and socks.

My six-year-old's shorts needed to be doubled over to fit, but there was still room for five pairs of shorts and five T-shirts. This was more snug, but still not a tight fit. I would have been able to fit in another couple of outfits without putting strain on the zipper. It's amazing how much air there is in clothes and how much they compress. The packing cubes are very space-saving that way.

I ran out of medium sized cubes at this point, so for my daughter I used the two small cubes. This was great too. One for shorts and skirts - a perfect fit lengthwise for size 3 clothes - and one for T-shirts, undies and hair stuff.
The "extra small cube" was perfect for stashing the kids' essential toiletries. All I usually pack for the kids is a travel-sized bottle of shampoo or bath-wash, the toothbrushes and toothpaste, a pair of nail scissors, and emergency medication in case of pain or fever. 

The complete bundle also included these neat little packages:

The shoe bag - what a fantastic idea!! No more sand and dirt in my nice clean suitcase. The bags could easily fit five pairs of sandals/ ballet flats. When not in use, the bags fold up into a tiny little package with an elastic loop to keep them flat.

I thought this laundry bag was another really thoughtful touch. For such a small package, it unfolds into a capacious and strong bag for all those dirty clothes. 

And finally, how clever is this??! It's a teensy little flat pouch that can just slip down the side of the suitcase, barely taking up any room at all. But if you go a bit overboard with the shopping on your holiday and just can't fit everything back in your suitcase (what is WITH the way luggage always expands on a trip, anyway?!)... you can unzip your secret pouch, and ta-da! you have an extra duffel bag at your fingertips.

So clever. It's actually quite big, too. It would also be great for if you're at the airport and about to be hit with excess baggage fees, and you need to quickly transfer some stuff out of your main suitcase and into a carry-on. (You can thank me for that tip when you save a wad of cash on your next trip.)

I love that once you reach your destination, unpacking is just a matter of pulling out an individual cube and placing it in the cupboard. Everyone gets their own cube - no more digging through an entire suitcase of muddled-up clothes in search of that one thing you just KNOW you put in there SOMEWHERE.

Here's a video to show you how it all fits in together:

Right, so that's the clothes and toiletries sorted in style. (Yes!!) The next step when packing for kids is to think entertainment. Toys can be bulky - but I have a few little tricks up my sleeve here.

Anything lightweight, small or flat is perfect to pack in a suitcase. Try to think of things that allow for extended creative play, rather than toys that they'll play with once and then be bored. 

These magnet books from Tiger Tribe are a great example. They're thin and lightweight when folded, but they open up to make a nice flat surface to play magnets on. We have a street scene with cars and trucks, an underwater mermaid scene, and a world map for the eldest. These are also really handy to slip into a nappy (diaper) bag on the plane.

I always pack colouring books, sticker books, and some sort of activity book like a dot-to-dot or painting with water.

I keep these in a magazine holder at home, so it's easy to just grab a quick selection and slip them into a plastic file folder. I always have a pencil case filled and ready to go in the cupboard (this is also handy to grab when rushing out the door to church or some appointment where the kids will need to pass time quietly.)

A4 plastic file folders are also great for puzzles, which otherwise are a nightmare to transport. One wooden child's puzzle fits in neatly, and when closed, the lid stops the pieces from falling out and getting all muddled.

I love Usborne activity cards for the amount of entertainment they pack into a small deck of cards. These don't take up much room at all. Our kids love the "Doodle cards" best - wipe-clean cards that come with a little dry-erase marker and funny, imaginative instructions.

Lego is always a winner, and it's miniature sizing makes it perfect for travel (providing you're willing to risk losing a piece in a hotel room here and there.) Minimise the risk by having an "only play at the table" rule. A sandwich keeper is the perfect size to store a small boxed set of Lego with instructions.

Our firm favourite are these Imaginets - magnetic shapes that can be arranged into an endless variety of creative shapes. The kids have gotten more entertainment mileage out of these than just about any other toy we own, and they've accompanied us on many family holidays.

If you're travelling by car, it can also be fun to put together little toy kits to keep the kids entertained. Here are some ideas I came up with for different interests and age groups, using a divided lunchbox:

To help you get your packing mojo on, I've put together this handy printable checklist of everything you'll need to pack for the whole family. Just tick and flick, and feel instantly organised. You can download it here.

If you want your suitcases to look THIS organised, don't forget to check out EzPacking's website and click on the SHOP tab. I used the complete bundle, but there's also a cheaper starter bundle if you want to start small. Packing cubes are also available separately for a very reasonable price, so you can mix and match to suit your needs, and add to your collection over time.  I'm totally in love with this product! 

That's why it's such great news that the good folks at EzPacking are giving away ONE COMPLETE BUNDLE this week to one lucky reader. 

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. My Aussie friends - I do sincerely apologise. You ARE able to order from EzPacking, but you'll need to factor in about $50-$70 for shipping - if you're interested, just contact them here for a personalised quote. 

To my U.S. friends - good luck! 

Family holiday in Tasmania.
Let's chat: Do you love packing or hate it? What tips and tricks would you add for packing with kids? And just for fun... what's your dream holiday destination?

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