#pcos, Guest Blog

PCOS Interview with Jess from The Good In Everyday

Okay guys, I’m going to attempt to keep this introduction short and to the point but we all know how that normally goes. Does taking the time to say it, or write it in this case, work against this goal? I feel like it does? Here I am, unironically delaying the introduction, definitely not keeping it short and I have yet to get to the point. Oops.

I often mention when the subject comes up that PCOS is so widely complex. My PCOS symptoms and experience might look entirely different with a fellow cyster. You get insulin resistant PCOS, you get lean PCOS, you get constant cyst PCOS and the list goes on and on. PCOS truly is a gift that keeps on giving. The other day I found an actual black as night, a bit too long for my comfort, chest hair. Smack bang between my titties. It stood out like a sore thumb. I called my husband to show him, and he called it cute. I plucked it and studied the little hair with a chuckle. Thank you so much PCOS, I really didn’t need something else to feel self-conscious about. The acne and weight gain are more than enough, thank you very much.

PCOS is so incredibly confusing and trying to figure it out is a mind fuck. Where do you even start? Some of the ladies has seen great success on the Keto diet while others noted no change, heck some saw a negative change. What I’m trying to say is what works or helps me isn’t going to work and help another lady with PCOS. What I find so absolutely wonderful about the internet though is that we’re able to connect with others on the same metaphorical boat, read their story and learn a thing or two. We can then walk away feeling less alone and hopefully a tiny bit hopeful that one day we will find a way to combat those terrible symptoms.

I stumbled onto Jess when I was searching for a possible cyster to collab with. I get quite a few newly diagnosed and completely lost PCOS ladies on my website and I wanted you to have another lady to connect with. I know it’s so hard to find someone real. I don’t know about you but I appreciate real, here is the good, the bad and the really ugly type of content. I don’t want to read blogs where you have everything figured out. I want to read blogs where you share the in between part. You know nothing, but you’re on the journey to hopefully find some answers. I want to read your bad days. I want to feel less like an alien and a part of a community that just gets it. A community that understands that you’re not unhinged because you started to sob like the day you were born after the TV remote fell off the couch. Jess talks about her experience with PCOS on her blog The Good In Everyday. It doesn’t end there though. She has opened up her platform by having conversations with multiple women who struggle with a wide range of struggles. The conversation topics range from ADHD, Disability, Mental Health, Suicide, IBS, Transitioning, Body Positivity and so much more. It’s empowering to read these blogs. I hundred percent recommend you give it a glance.

It’s safe to say I fell in love with Jess’s blog and I jumped at the idea to possibly have her on my website. She responded and well, you can guess what happened. So…enough about me. I’m going to hand over the reins to Jess.

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I’m Jess, a twenty-five-year-old writer currently exploring my new home of Sydney with my fiancé, Jack. Originally from England, I left the UK in December 2018 to travel America and Australia. Back home, I used to be a primary school teacher and LOVED it, but to be a writer has always been my biggest ambition so I used my time travelling to pursue my dreams.

My PCOS diagnosis story:

I was officially diagnosed with PCOS in July 2018, but really, I could have been diagnosed a lot sooner. I had always had irregular periods and my body hair has always been dark, thick and excessive. I used to be incredibly self conscious of how hairy I was, going as far as using hair removal cream on my arms to hide it. When I was 16, I had two instances of ovarian cysts, both of which I went to the hospital for. At that point, I feel like more investigation could have been done, but instead I was just told to go on the contraceptive pill. I was on the pill happily until summer 2017. I had never had any side effects from the pill – my skin was clear and I stayed the exact same slim weight. All of a sudden, I began to get horrific headaches. When I went back to the doctor, I was taken off the pill immediately and decided to have a bit of time away from using a contraceptive. When I was off the pill, I noticed how I could ‘feel’ properly. I hadn’t realised at the time because I had been on it for so long, but I was suppressed by the pill, almost as if I was living within a very small emotional range. Realising how much the pill dimmed my emotions and flattened me out as a person made me not want to go back on it at all. However, after having two periods, I then had a stretch of over six months without a period. This worried me enough for me to go back to the doctors, who took my bloods and sent me for an ultrasound. I remember being terrified of the ultrasound because it was an internal one, but I it wasn’t as bad as I had told myself it would be. The woman performing the ultrasound told me there and then that it was a pretty clear diagnosis of PCOS and my bloods later confirmed it.

I was pretty numb at my diagnosis. I always suspected from my problems in my teens that there might be an issue, but I didn’t know much about PCOS other than you can’t have children if you have it (a myth, but one at the time I thought was true). I remember crying and thinking that my future wouldn’t be as I had hoped. I had only been with my now fiancé for a few months at that point in time, so telling him when we left the hospital together scared me. I worried he would want to break up, but he was the opposite and was so incredibly supportive. In a way, finding out such big news so early on cemented that we wanted to be together and made us stronger as a couple.

To be honest, when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t really do much. I spoke to a few people who had PCOS, all of whom had managed to have children, and that was enough to appease me. I was told that the only way to control PCOS was to use the contraceptive pill and so I tried three different ones – one gave me horrific headaches, one made me gain a over stone in a month and the other was the one I was previously on and once again caused headaches. In the end, I said I didn’t want to be on any medication and my doctor agreed, telling me to come back if I ever wanted children.

I left the UK in December 2018 to travel and continued to live as I always had – eating whatever I wanted, doing whatever I wanted. I’d never been told much about PCOS and I found that there wasn’t a huge amount of information out there, although I admit initially I did very little of research. My diagnosis was so ‘you have this and unless you’re on the pill there isn’t much you can do’ that I didn’t understand all of the alternatives and implications of just carrying on as I always had. Whilst in Australia, my periods stopped again so I went back to the doctor. It was at this point thanks to the advice of my GP here and the gynaecologist that I saw that I realised I could help myself and that everything I had been doing was not good for me. I had gained weight, something I put down to stopping my active job as a teacher to pursue a writing career, but the weight wouldn’t go even when I tried to limit my diet or exercise. Having always had clear skin, I now had spots around my chin and mouth, I always felt just a little bit tired and my periods were painful.

How I manage my PCOS now:

I manage my PCOS through the diet and exercise changes I have made. Whilst I still feel like I can improve on this, I know that continuing to make these steps forward is something I want to do. I’m only at the beginning of my ‘managing PCOS journey’, but if I am already seeing and feeling improvements then I know that it is one to continue.

My PCOS diet:

Changing my diet is something I have only started since September, but I have already noticed a HUGE difference in how I look and feel. I have limited gluten because I didn’t want to cut it out completely in case, I developed an intolerance, and I have limited my dairy intake to the point that I have pretty much cut it out. As a vegetarian, my diet was never particularly bad, but I did eat a lot of pizza, pastas and cheese… I also had a sweet tooth! Swapping to things like gluten free pasta and dairy free cheese as well as upping my fruit intake has made a big difference.  My skin is clearer, I feel less bloated and I am not as tired. Part of me wishes I had made these changes sooner because the difference has been so stark.

PCOS changed the way I look at and plan my future:

It has made me worry about having children more. Before, I think I was a little naive to the idea of fertility struggles. Pregnancy seemed to be one of those things that happened if and when people wanted it to. Of course, I knew about miscarriages, IVF and had heard of PCOS, but really, I was just naive to it all. I was 24 when I was diagnosed, so having children wasn’t even on my radar at that point, but PCOS has made me think of them more seriously.

I know that if and when I am ready to ‘try’ for a baby, I would go to a doctor sooner if nothing happened after a few months than if I did not know I had PCOS. Other than children, it’s just made me appreciate what I have – a brilliant, supportive fiancé, wonderful family and friends and a life I am proud of. You never know what is going to happen and nothing in life is definite, so I try to take a step back, worry less and just enjoy it.

How I’m ‘treating’ my PCOS (Supplements/Medication):

I don’t take any supplements or medication but, from following natural remedy PCOS accounts on Instagram, I am looking into taking zinc and other supplements.

One of the things PCOS has really disturbed for me is my sleep. Whereas before I could sleep in, sleep through the night and loved a duvet day, I now wake up throughout the night. This has been really hard for me as I wake up feeling shocking which only adds to the feeling of fatigue. I’ve used some natural remedies that I have found really help – Lush’s Sleepy cream which I rub on my chest and wrists before I sleep, and Wilde Blends Sleepy aromatherapy oil which I put on the sole of my foot and down my spine. I can honestly say that using these has made such a difference to my sleeping pattern and I cannot recommend the products highly enough.

I think whatever works for the person is how they should treat their PCOS. Birth control worked for me whilst I was on it, but I feel that really it just masked my symptoms. I prefer being off medication and working with my body to figure out what it needs and what I should do, but that might not be what works best for someone else.

My PCOS insecurities:

Having always been the same, thin size, the weight gain and struggle to lose it has been hard. I write about body confidence and I have got a lot better with mine over time, but initially seeing someone I didn’t recognise and having clothes that don’t fit was hard. Some people say to me ‘but you’re still thin’, but for me gaining 2 dress sizes in such a short space of time after pretty much 10 years of my life being one way was hard. I still struggle now, but it’s not as bad as it was.

Why it’s important to me to write about PCOS on my blog:

As with everything I write and share online, I try to be honest and reflect my reality. This is just a part of who I am, so on a very basic level it is just my online life mirroring my personal life.

On a deeper level, though, I like to think that by being open about my PCOS experience I might help someone else. When I was first diagnosed, I did little to research and genuinely believed I only needed to think of PCOS when it came to wanting/having children because that was the impression doctors had given me. It was only when I stumbled across pages online that I realised how much PCOS impacts and also how much I could do to help myself. I’d like to think that someone else who has just been diagnosed and who doesn’t fully understand what it means might stumble across my page and that my words might help them. Just reading other people’s experiences and thinking ‘oh yeah, me too’ has made the world of difference to me, so if I can do that for someone else then great!

My advice to my fellow cysters, especially those newly diagnosed:

My main bit of advice would be to read other people’s stories. Whilst no two PCOS journeys are identical, for me it helped me to realise that other people had headaches and I didn’t need to worry about them as much as I was or see that yes, other people had children even with PCOS. I am someone who Googles things and tends to lean to the worst health outcome, so I found that Instagram accounts from PCOS nutritionalists and people with the condition have helped me more than random Google searches that only convince me of the worst.

Two of the accounts I follow on Instagram who have really helped me are @pcos_to_wellness and @pcos.weightloss. Even if you don’t want to lose weight, @pcos.weightloss has great tips about feeling good and working with your body and @pcos_to_wellness is so open and honest about struggles with acne and different conditions that for some people are relate to their PCOS like bruxism and dermatitis.

Some of the PCOS myths I’ve heard:

One of the most damaging things I have heard is that you can’t have children if you have PCOS. Being told this at 24 was awful and I can’t express how much I cried over it, how much guilt I felt at my partner’s future perhaps not being what he imagined. Over time, I have realised how wrong this is. Yes, having children might be difficult. Yes, you might need IVF and yes, it might not happen for you at all – but PCOS does not mean you cannot have children. I follow so many people who are either undergoing IVF or who have made changes to their diet and health routine and have become pregnant naturally. PCOS might make it harder, but it’s not impossible. I find knowing that a comfort and I wish more people knew it too.

I also wish I had been told about insulin resistance. When I was diagnosed, PCOS seemed like a blanket term – you have it and everyone with it is the same – this is not true. PCOS differs from person to person, some people’s bodies are insulin resistant whereas others aren’t. Knowing which type you have will help you manage your diet and exercise. For example, I know that my exercise needs to be regular, low impact exercise like yoga, Pilates and walks. Even though I don’t have insulin resistant PCOS, I don’t do high intensity exercise like running or HIT sessions because I know that’s not what will work for my body and could cause me damage.

My two cents on the argument that PCOS patients are having to basically treat themselves because there is a lack of understanding and research in the medical community about PCOS and other conditions like endometriosis:

I have to say that my experiences have made me agree. My doctors were great at diagnosing me, but then that was it – I was offered a contraceptive pill or nothing. I didn’t know about insulin resistance, I was never given an information leaflet or even a website recommendation, so I walked away clueless but knowing that I didn’t want to be on a contraceptive pill.

Knowing what I know now about PCOS, I realise how wrong this was. There were things I could have done to help and there is damage I could have done to my body by not doing them. I wish I had been told the advice I have been given in the last few months straight away so that I was better informed, from knowing what foods to try, what to cut down on, what exercises to do. Women are teaching each other how to manage things and offering support which is great, but I sometimes worry about the validity of the advice when I am recommended things like supplements as I feel wary about putting things into my body without knowing if I need them.

Being a part of a community that freely shares their health journey, and talk about important topics is empowering:

I really enjoy participating in the discussions and reading advice and tips from other people. I worry – a lot – so reading other people talk about headaches or aches and pains or tiredness really puts me at ease. PCOS has so many symptoms and effects other than the basic things like excessive hair growth and irregular periods which I was never made aware of before, so having that reassurance and being able to reassure others is great.

I also think that it is important for women to talk about these conditions so that the medical profession listens and advances in treatment, understanding and diagnosis can be made. For too long, women have minimised their pain, suffered in silence or put up with partial diagnosis’s, but to see that changing feels really empowering. My hope is that in the future, no one has to have a half-hearted diagnosis or walks away feeling confused and unsure of what they can do to help them self. If I can be a part of helping that day come sooner, then great.

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I hope that my PCOS story helps someone out there feel like their diagnosis is not the end of the world, because it’s not. You might have to change how you look at things or how you do things in life, but it will be okay. PCOS is a part of you, but it’s not all of you.

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Okay, I’m back. Did you miss me? I hope you enjoyed this blog. I truly loved working with Jess. She is super awesome, but you already know that by now. I’m going to round this one off but before I go – You can find Jess on Instagram @thegoodineverydayblog and of course subscribe/follow her blog here on WordPress.

Thank you so much for reading and I will see you in a click!

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Guest Blog

Fighting The Forgotten Land By Johan Pienaar

A good friend of mine is insanely talented and his latest poem resonated with me. It compelled me to share this with you today. Please go give him some love on his Facebook page.

 

Fighting the forgotten land.

My mind is trapped in a forgotten land,
A forgotten land that I know all to well,
A forgotten land of barren stone and sand,
A forgotten land with no hope of which to tell.

In this land I find myself isolated from others
By a thin layer of the mind’s insecurity,
And all hope by my mind is smothered
By my mind’s introspective scrutiny.

This land seems forgotten by all but me
And no matter how far seem to go
My mind refuses to set my heart free
So that I may once again to wholeness grow.

I am trapped by my self-built cage
To which I have key to the self-made lock,
My escape lies in the ink on a page,
Where the sea of emotion has my boat docked.

Guest Blog, Mental Health

Balancing A Full-Time Job And Being A Student Simultaneously | My Struggles With Anxiety | Guest Blog Part 2

In the previous part, Anje talked about her experience as a South African au pair in America. She also shared 5 tips on how to help with homesickness. She really opened up and talked about a lot of personal things. I’m sure her journey/story will help someone. All of her links will be below. Now, without further ado. Let’s jump straight in where we left off last time.

  1. You’re balancing a full-time job and being a student. Can you tell us more about this experience?

Yes, so I started studying online for a few months after arriving in the US. It all started when I had told my host mom that I was thinking of going to Canada as an au pair after I finished my contract in the US so I would be able to save up more money for my studies. My host mom took this as an “Oh no, she is going to leave us,” and immediately started researching colleges I could apply to while in the US. So the next morning she comes down and tells me about a college in South Africa that offers a three-year online course for a Bachelor’s degree in social sciences. With her encouragement and assistance in the application process, I got in. I soon had to adjust to having a full-time job and needing to study. I would work from 8 to 5, then immediately go downstairs and study until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Every few weeks I would have assignments and essays to do, which meant a lot of the weekends I was in my room or in Starbucks working.

It also became extremely important for me to budget and save most of my salary. What definitely counted in my favor was that I was paying for my college in Dollars and seeing as it is about 14 South African Rand for one Dollar, I was definitely saving a lot of money. That doesn’t mean, however, that it was always easy to save the money. I would make around $800 to $850 each month, and my studies came around to about $500 in the first year, and $650 in the second year. So needless to say I had to budget really well. I started prioritizing the necessities, making monthly lists of things I needed. Luckily I didn’t have to pay for my own food, so it was mainly just personal things, like clothes, shampoo, school books, etc. I would also work a lot of overtime, which helped a lot. I soon became used to it and was still able to enjoy my time in the US. If I knew that I wanted to do something or go somewhere, I would work overtime and save up until then.

It wasn’t always fun, there were days when I wanted to give up, but I am so happy I pushed through. I am now in my third year and after this, my goal will be to get my Masters and maybe even a Ph.D. as a clinical or child psychologist. Right now I don’t have any debt or student loans, which will help me so much.

  1. Unfortunately, you struggle with anxiety. Can you tell us more?

Anxiety is actually still a pretty new concept for me, though I’ve had it for most of my life. During high school I would often wake up with such a strong feeling of dread and panic, it often felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would have this weight on my chest and begin to feel so extremely stressed, even if I wasn’t doing anything stressful. When I told my mom one time she told me that I was probably just stressed about school, not having any other explanation I accepted it. That following year I went to the Netherlands to be an au pair and things seemed to be getting better. I still experienced that feeling, but whenever I traveled or explored a new place, it went away.

When I came home I did not adjust well at all. It felt weird being back, I missed the family, I missed my best friend. It was just really strange, so I became really moody, easily annoyed, and would have these bursts of anger I couldn’t control. I would lie in my bed for most of the day, not having any energy to get out. I then got a call from my aunt, she lives in Johannesburg which is about 2 hours by plane from where I live. She owned her own mobile grooming company and wanted me to help out. I jumped at the opportunity, eager to get out of the house and feel as though I am doing something meaningful with my time again.

I went there thinking that she would only need me to work for her for about a week or so. When I actually arrived she told me that it would take more than a few months, I didn’t feel great about this, but didn’t argue. In all honesty, the first day was probably the best day of my whole time there. She showed me the work that needed to be done, we went out for lunch, had dinner at her friend’s house. It was great, but then the next day came and it was like she was a completely different person. As the months went by things got worse and worse. She would often yell at me about emails that were sent out, even if the date of the emails was before I had even arrived. She would talk about my family in such a negative way, telling people who were complete strangers to me about how my parents are struggling financially and how bad things are back home (she was lying). She would often call my grandma and tell her how ungrateful and spoiled I am, she would say I demand things and tell her she needs to buy me things (she was lying). She would tell me how I was ruining her business whenever I made a mistake and how I was causing her to lose a lot of money (surprise, surprise she was lying). She would also make comments about my weight and say that having a fat belly ran in my family on my mom’s side. I often cried myself to sleep, waking up with such intense dread and worry. Whenever I heard her drive up to the house, it would feel as though I needed to run away. I was so stressed and anxious, though I still didn’t have a name for how I was feeling.

It finally came to the point where I had had enough. I told her I needed to talk to her, so we sat down and I explained that I wanted to come home. She immediately started guilt tripping me, saying that I wouldn’t make as much money back home and that my parents are struggling with money. She said I would only be making it harder on them. Something you should know about me is that I am very sensitive when it comes to things like that, especially revolving around my parents. So I gave in. I went back down to Cape Town for three weeks as a holiday soon after that. It was amazing, I felt relaxed and at peace. When I found myself on a plane going back to Johannesburg again, the dread and panic returned. The second time around was even worse, I think it is because I was more aware of her emotional abuse and what she was doing. As the days went by I felt worse and worse. I’m not going to lie, suicide crossed my mind every now and again. I just thought about how easy it would be to end things. How I could take the pain away. I think what made everything worse is that I kept most of what was happening to myself. I didn’t want to burden my parents or anyone else for that matter. Tensions rose with every passing day, fights becoming a very regular thing, though they were often very one-sided. Growing up I was taught to respect those older than me, especially when it came to family. So, for the most part, I stayed quiet. But it hurt, a lot. Her verbal assaults became even more personal, as she targeted everything from my personality to my eating habits. She once sent me out to go to the store for her, which I didn’t mind but it turned out to be a complete disaster. I got lost more than once, seeing as I didn’t know the area well enough and Uber was a new concept to me. But I got everything she needed, at least, though my feet were full of blisters from the walking and my shoulders in pain from carrying everything. That night she went through everything I had bought and, of course, she wasn’t happy. Apparently, I had bought the wrong color fabric for the bandanas she made for her dogs, even though I had called her and she said it would be fine. For a whole week, yes a week, she continually brought it up. Telling me how careless I was and how I’m too used to having my parents do everything for me. Another incident I remember is when we went to her friend’s house for dinner, wanting to start a conversation I just asked her “so what do you think she made for dinner?” Of course, I didn’t mean this in a rude way, I was simply curious. She immediately went off to tell me how rude that was, how my parents should have taught me better. She again said that I was spoiled and too use to things being given to me. As always, I allowed it.

It was only once I was matched with a family in the US, that I finally decided I was done. Again I went to her, we sat down and I told her I wanted to go home. I told her how I felt in the nicest, most respectful way I could. She didn’t care for it, at all. I think it must have been half an hour of her telling me how ungrateful and spoiled I am. How the whole situation was my fault and how I needed to work harder in life. Her words cut deep, but not because they were true, they weren’t, but because after months of me putting in everything I had into her business, after crying myself to sleep for most nights, after giving everything I had, it wasn’t enough.

I booked the plane ticket for two days after that. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but I already felt like crap so I barely noticed. When I got back, again I felt a thousand times better. But it was only temporary. The dread and panic now came back regularly. It was only once I had begun studying when I finally had a name for it. I had anxiety. I don’t blame her for it, even though she definitely contributed to how bad it got, I know it was always in me. Being able to call it something definitely helped, I now knew why I was feeling like that, which made it a lot easier once I started getting panic attacks.

One thing I had to accept is that most of my family does not understand why I sometimes behave differently or why I get overwhelmed by certain situations. It is, unfortunately, a part of it. I wish I could say that I have conquered anxiety, that I no longer feel as though it is controlling me, but then I would be lying. I have accepted that it isn’t something that would one day just not be there anymore. I now know that some days are going to be better than others. I also know that I am strong enough and that what I am feeling is valid. I hear too often about how people are told to “get over it” or “just be happy.” This completely invalidates how they are feeling, which is beyond wrong.

I don’t really know where I am going with this, the words just kind of spilled out. But just know, if you are struggling with mental health, you are not alone. You matter. Your feelings matter. And you are strong enough to get through it. Focus on yourself and do what makes you happy. Be unapologetic about who you are and what you need in order to be happy.

  1. What is your favorite quote?

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

***

I’ve thanked her privately but I’m going to thank her on here as well. Anje is the kindest person I know and I’m so incredibly grateful to have her in my life. She has been with me through the bad and the ugly. She is my sister. I’m so proud that she opened up and shared her struggles with Anxiety. I’m sure doing so made her feel anxious. Please show her some love on her Instagram or in the comments down below. I will send it all through to her.

Thank you so much for reading and I will see you in a click!

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Part One — https://fitcouchpotato.com/2019/02/15/my-experience-as-a-south-african-au-pair-in-america-5-tips-to-help-with-homesickness-guest-blog-part-1/

Abnormal Roses — https://www.wattpad.com/story/170208404-abnormal-roses

Anje’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/anje_tait/

 

Guest Blog

My Experience As A South African Au Pair In America | 5 Tips To Help With Homesickness | Guest Blog Part 1

I’ve been wanting to do a collab with someone else since I started my blog. I’m so happy to share that my best friend in the entire world agreed to answer a few questions of mine. I’m going to take this opportunity to announce that come April 2019, Anje and I will be releasing the first chapter of the book we’re co-writing together. It will be posted weekly on here every Sunday starting April. If you’re as excited as me and wish to check Anje’s writing out, please go show her some love on her Wattpad profile. She just released her new book called Abnormal Roses and I’m obsessed. She also has a traveler Instagram account where she posts about all the places she’s been too. And the girl has traveled the globe. All the links will be down below. Now that everything is out of the way, let’s get started!

Introduction

I’ve reached out to Anje who I felt could share a part of her journey with you, my readers, in hopes that she can help someone out there who have gone through this experience even if it’s just to show that you’re not alone.

  1. Can you tell me a little about yourself? Just a little introduction before we jump into the topic at hand.

Hello everyone, my name is Anje, I am 22 years old and currently living in South Africa. I often find it hard to describe myself other than saying I am a socially awkward introvert who absolutely loves to travel and experience new cultures and people. A bit of a contradiction if you ask me, but true all the same. I am a very heavy reader, my all-time favorite author being Arthur Conan Doyle, and my favorite novels being the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. My passions in life are writing, archery, and chocolate.

The probing begins…

  1. How was your experience as an au pair in America?

I absolutely loved it! The States completely blew away all my expectations, which honestly surprised me a lot. I think what had helped me a ton was that I had already been an au pair the year before, though I had been in the Netherlands, I still understood that being an au pair wasn’t just all fun and games and some days would be better than others.

Anyways, back to America; when I arrived in New York for a three-day orientation, it was the night before America was to find out who their new president was. Needless to say, it was quite crazy, but nothing could have ruined my time in New York City. It’s insane, loud, and slightly stinky, but it is beyond amazing. As we zipped through the streets, passing yellow taxi cabs and towering skyscrapers, I just thought “wow, I am so lucky to be here right now.” Having to deal with jetlag was annoying, but you got so busy with orientation and training, you barely thought about it. After the three days, I finally hopped on a train and went to what would become my new home; Washington DC. After about a three-hour ride, I stepped off the train and into Union Station, which is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen. My new host family was there, greeting me with welcoming signs and warm hugs, then we hopped into their car and went to their house. They have three children, when I had arrived they were aged 4, 2, and 6 weeks. Needless to say, I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I was beyond excited to start.

The host parents are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Me being a very awkward and shy person, I worried about being able to develop a proper relationship with them. But boy oh boy was I worried for nothing! They welcomed me into their home with such kindness and excitement, there was never a time I felt unwelcome or even uncomfortable about being in a stranger’s house. It wasn’t before long when I became very close to my host mom, we often laughed about how our relationship was closer to that between sisters than of an employee and her boss. They never treated me like “the help,” and always asked my opinion when it came to the kids.

I know that I had hit the jackpot with them, as I believe that a host family can really make or break your experience as an au pair. This is also why I always tell people who are considering being au pairs, that if they are uncomfortable with their host parents based out of actual concerns, for example, they ask you to work overtime but don’t pay you for it, or the kids treat you like dirt and the parents encourage it, then transfer to a different family! I had a friend who was completely miserable, to the point where she even began to hate America, because her host family was horrible to her. This being said, it is also extremely important for the au pair to understand that this job is anything but easy. You are basically helping raise kids, it is going to be exhausting, it is going to be hard, but it is also worth every minute of it. I’ve had au pair friends who became an au pair with the notion that it was going to be a lovely gap year, filled with relaxation and parties, but of course, that is not reality. I found that these friends often struggled the most with adapting to their new environment, generally becoming miserable as they didn’t expect to actually work.

But please don’t be discouraged from ever becoming an au pair, it is an amazingly fulfilling job, where you get to experience a different culture, country and meet new interesting people. Just keep in mind that it isn’t always going to be easy, there will be days where you want to give up, but push through, it is worth it.

I remember when I first got there everything seemed so different and new. The food was bigger, the people greeted me on the streets, and when you pay for your meals at a restaurant the waitress takes your card to the machine. My host mom, who was still on maternity leave, showed me around the city a lot. We drove past the white house, countless museums, and visited her parents in Arlington, Virginia. I honestly didn’t have such a big issue with culture shock, other than having to use a few different words to describe some things (Not the boot, but the trunk, not a costume, but a bathing suit). I think this is because Cape Town, where I grew up, had a lot of American influences. That and we typically watch American shows, meaning I was always exposed to the American culture and kind of had an idea of what to expect.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have to deal with being homesick. I’ll admit, during my first year I was completely fine, but close to the end of my second year, things got a little tougher. It is, unfortunately, part of the job, but I do have some tips that worked for me, should you ever have to deal with being homesick as an au pair or traveler. Small disclaimer, though these tips did help me cope, it isn’t to say they will work for you. As you live and experience the new city you are in, you will start to realize what you enjoy doing during your free time and what helps you relax, do what makes you happy. But anyways, some things that helped me:

  • Skype with my family, even if it is just for a few minutes. I would catch up to what was happening back home and tell them how things were going with me. I often found that telling them about my day or week was a great stress reliever. It also allowed me to get excited again, especially when I told them about something new I did or saw.
  • Talk to your host family or friends. Finding someone who you can rely on for support is vital, not only for your mental health but your experience as an au pair. It is great when you can talk to your host family, but it is also good to have someone else. With a friend, you can complain and rant about the things that annoyed you about your day and lean on them whenever you feel homesick. I remember after a particularly tough day of work, it was a snow day so all three kids were home, I messaged my friend and she immediately told me to meet her at Union station. We then had a lovely time walking around the snow, taking pictures in front of the capitol building, and grabbing some dinner at a nice restaurant. When I arrived home I felt amazing, talking about my day had taken away so much stress and I felt ready to face the next day of hard work.
  • Go for a walk. This is a wonderful way to help clear your mind and take a step back from everything going on around you. You can listen to some music or just enjoy your surroundings, I found it often calmed me down a lot. This can even include exploring a little, whether it is going to a museum, a mall, or even nearby coffee shop.
  • Self-care. As an au pair, this is extremely important!! You will basically be taking on the role of mom and therefore will be tired and have little time for yourself while you are working. Self-care can be anything from going to bed earlier, taking a relaxing bubble bath, reading your favorite book, or listening to music while stuffing your face with chocolates. Self-care differs for everyone, do what you feel works for you.
  • Be sad. Yes, this sounds absolutely depressing, but part of being human means having feelings and emotions. We would be doing ourselves a disservice by completely ignoring how we feel, invalidating our own feelings can cause us even more distress. I had learned this the hard way, sadly, as my number one coping mechanism is to hide behind “No, I’m fine,” while actually falling apart inside. Then the smallest thing would happen like my favorite tv character would die (RIP Khal Drogo) or I would knock my elbow against the wall, and everything would just come crashing down. One night, after bawling my eyes out over having found a cricket in my bathroom, I had decided to think more about my feelings and to validate my emotions. Now when I am sad or angry, I go through those emotions, I allow myself to feel, no matter how hard it is. But it helps, when I had worked through the emotions they eventually fade away and I am able to move on from whatever had troubled me.

Now back to my time as an au pair. So in my first year, a typical day would be waking up, going upstairs at 8, saying goodbye to the oldest girl when her dad took her to school, and begin making breakfast for the 2-year-old. My morning would be spent entertaining him, while also taking care of the baby. My host mom luckily worked from home, which helped a lot seeing as the baby refused to take the bottle during the first month or so. One day, when my host mom had to go into the office, the baby had a 6-hour hunger strike. I tried everything to get her to drink, but she outright refused. It was also during this time that we were trying to potty train the 2-year-old boy. It was probably one of the most disgusting things I had ever experienced in my life, but luckily we all got through it. The months passed by rather quickly, the boy now 3 and the eldest now 5. Summer break then came, catching me slightly off guard. It was so humid outside we were confined indoors for most of the time. I kept them busy with science experiments, baking, art projects, and dance parties. When summer break was finally over, the 3-year-old also started school, meaning it was just me and the baby from that point on.

When school started it felt quite weird having only one kid, but I wasn’t complaining one bit. I took her for walks in the stroller, taught her some Afrikaans words, and helped her learn how to walk. It was around October, a day or so before my birthday, that my host parents decided to move to a different house. It was only a few blocks from the old one, but a lot bigger. It was also during this time that a particularly nasty stomach bug was slowly making its way through the whole family. As luck would have it, on moving day, the day before my birthday, I got sick. I was confined to my bed for almost three days, not even able to eat my own birthday cake. My host mom, however, decided that this was unacceptable and said that my birthday would move to that weekend, when I am healthy again. That Saturday morning the whole family sang me a happy birthday, bringing a cupcake with a candle. It warmed my heart, as I had told her it was a tradition of my family to do that on someone’s birthday. That day my host mom, her mom, the 5-year-old girl and I went out to get our hair done and have lunch at a huge mall. It was a great day, we did some shopping and had a lot of fun bonding.

Halloween then came around and let me tell you, it was amazing!!!  Back home in South Africa, we do not celebrate Halloween, save for a few house parties some people throw, but we definitely do not go trick or treating. So walking down the street with the kids all dressed up, watching them fill their bags full of chocolate and candy, was probably a highlight of my year. That and the fact that I ate my bodyweight in chocolate that night.

Thanksgiving was also beyond amazing, we went to my host dad’s family in Rochester New York and his mom is a genius in the kitchen! She had like 4 types of pies!!! The amazing food aside it was also a great experience to be part of that holiday, especially when we sat around the table and said what we are grateful for. About a month after that it was Christmas, a holiday I thought I would be prepared for seeing as we celebrate it back home as well. But, boy was I wrong. America does Christmas like I have never seen Christmas being done before. I always said that America’s motto is “go big or go home.” Giant Christmas trees around every corner, beautiful Christmas lights wrapped around every building, green wreaths on every door, it was a kaleidoscope of color and cheer. It was beautiful and really makes you excited for Christmas. The day itself wasn’t at all different than how we celebrate it back in South Africa. The kids will open their presents that morning, the family will come over that evening for a delicious Christmas meal. It was strange being away from my family, but I skyped with them the whole morning and everyone at the Christmas dinner was so friendly, it made it so much easier.

So then New Years rolled around and 2018 marked my second year as an Au Pair. I had decided to extend with the same family, but that is a decision that depends on so many variables. For one thing, you have spent an entire year building a bond with these kids and their parents, you have a stable routine, you know how everything works, and you are comfortable with your surroundings. But on the other hand, there is a new adventure that awaits, a new State to explore, and new people to meet. I think it all depends on you as the au pair, if you feel that you want to experience a new family and city, then go for it, if you don’t, then stay. Just never feel as though you are obligated to stay in the same place, even if you don’t want to.

I think I also need to talk about traveling, definitely my all-time favorite topic in life. So when I was in the Netherlands I would only travel by train and use Couchsurfing. I traveled to so many places, I got to walk through the Colosseum in Rome, fell asleep on a beach in France, bought fresh fruit in Barcelona, and went up on the Eiffel Tower with my best friend. But I quickly learned that it isn’t that easy in America, obviously the US is a lot bigger and you need to use different ways of getting around. So my main form of traveling came in the shape of road trips. My friend and I would rent a car and go wherever we wanted. Keep in mind that if you are under the age of 24 you might have trouble renting a car or would have to pay a lot more. Also always get insurance, it might be a little more expensive, but trust me it’s worth it! We were also quite lucky being only a few hours drive from New York, but for that, we decided to take the bus. There are a lot of cheap busses in America, it might take you longer to get to your destination, but let me put it like this: A 3-hour train ride from DC to NY was around $60, while a 5-hour bus was around $15. I am a full-time student so saving money was important, which meant I was on the bus, rather than the train.

The best way of finding the cheapest ways to travel is by doing a lot of research! Go on different websites, use Hostels instead of Hotels, compare the prices of everything! It does take some time, but when you are on a budget it helps a lot. My all-time favorite website was Wanderu. Basically, you type in where you are and where you want to go and it gives you hundreds of options for busses and trains. It compares prices from a bunch of different travel services so you know you are getting the best deal.

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In part two we will talk about how Anje balanced being a full-time au pair in America while studying. Part two will go up on Monday, so stay tuned. Please show her some love on her Instagram or in the comments down below. I will send it all through to her.

Thank you so much for reading and I will see you in a click!

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Abnormal Roses — https://www.wattpad.com/story/170208404-abnormal-roses

Anje’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/anje_tait/