Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Love, love me do...

Often I listen to podcasts when I am driving. I used to listen to audio books in the car -I adore books, but with so little time to read it was a good compromise. I remember driving in North Wales through some stunning scenery while listening to Richard E Grant reading his autobiography With Nails and it's a memory that has stayed with me. A bit like driving along crying at every song on the radio. It was clearly another bad break up - there were so many I can't recall exact detail. I remembered this earlier this evening while I was listening to Caitlin Moran reading her autobiography. She describes a relationship with a man who treats her terribly, but she keeps trying to make up for this by loving him even more. It felt like someone had reached inside me and pulled my insides out.

Yes I have done that too Caitlin. Pretty much every woman I know has. I'm not talking about the 'bad boy' who appeals because you just know he's going to be trouble. I mean the man / boy who is charming and says all the right things. He is convincing and you are totally taken in. It starts small. A changed plan here or a cancelled date there. The broken promises. "We will do it another time." You don't. "I'll make it up to you." He doesn't. Then it gets bigger. "I'll let you know when I can see you. I'm just really busy." And days go by. Then weeks. If you have a particularly special case he will just take you for granted and act like he's doing you a favour when he does decide to come back into your life.

I once stood outside Top Shop in Oxford Circus to meet - let's call him smooth talker. I had arranged to meet him there - this was before mobile phones - and he was late. I kept checking to see if I was in the right place - called his office and he wasn't there either. Eventually I went home. I won't even say how long I waited as I'm so embarrassed. This was the lad who had a girlfriend and I was unwittingly the 'other woman." A friend told me on the phone as he was convinced I already knew. I didn't. It all made sense now. The lateness, the broken plans, the lack of contact. I was the chump in all this. I really wanted to think the best of him. I've done that a lot. I do that a lot.

Despite all my instincts and every fibre of my being telling me, "this is not someone who respects or loves you," I would just keep going. Convincing myself that this was a good man underneath it all. That if I just kept doing my best it would be ok. He didn't call because he's busy. Remember he said he would be ?

Then there's - let's call him Porto - who didn't turn up when we were supposed to go out and I just sat downstairs with my housemates not saying anything as it was clear he had forgotten or just not bothered. He eventually turned up at 11pm and had all the silver-tongued excuses for his behaviour. Turns out the truth (which he didn't tell me) was that he was an alcoholic and had been asleep all day. He was also the one who once we'd broken up would call me at the same time every Monday to ask if I wanted to go out and do something. When we were actually going out he never wanted to go anywhere. He couldn't seem to accept that it was over and I wasn't pining or suffering at him not being in my life any more.

When Moran talks about it all being ok 'because we are in love" I felt a catch in my throat. I naively believed that if someone loves you they treat you well. I can't do enough for the ones I love. I have driven hours to see someone I love, to give them a hug or to just say "I'm here for you." I've changed my plans just to see them for a little while. I've been at the end of the phone when things are going wrong in their life. Day and night. When they ignored me entirely I was still there when they decided to talk to me again. I know I'm an idiot - right ?

There was the guy who broke up with me during the interval of a show - I call him a lot of things, but that's not for here - and we sat next to each other with me knowing I had to share a car with him on the journey home now he had dumped me. Or the guy who goaded me all through dinner and when I reacted he walked off before the concert started. I went in alone not knowing if he was going to come back or not. He didn't.

What makes a person put up with this ? Is it a lack of self respect ? I suspect that is part of it. I didn't feel I deserved any better than I was getting. I was lucky any guy wanted to be with me. Whatever he was prepared to give I should be grateful. I never once thought to ask for more. How could I ? That meant risking him walking away. I didn't consider it might mean I could have better.

If I did have the courage to say something, I would always make light of it. "Yeah - just fitting me in between other commitments - ironic emoji." and in response I'd get, "Yep that's me doing my best to fit you in when I can. I'm such a terrible person." I mean who wouldn't feel incredibly flattered being fitted in between other far more important things ? How dare I not see this for the grand romantic gesture it clearly was ?

I would do more and more to make up for getting less and less. In yet another example of my stunning capacity to get it wrong I tried to tell him why I wasn't happy with how he was behaving towards me. I sat opposite him trying not to catch his eye. I know that I can't hide how I feel and I wanted to maintain my composure as much as I could. In the end I was standing in the street crying and ranting at him - because that's a great way to win over someone - clearly. I pointed out that if this was it I understood, but I just wasn't going to be taken for granted any more. Of course dear reader you already know that it made not a blind bit of difference. As usual I apologised for standing up for myself - repeatedly. Then things just went back to how they were before.

I frequently go out of my way to ensure no one is put out to see me. I'm not worth it you see. Why should I expect anyone to make any effort for me ? I won't ask. I don't expect. This is still an overhang from these destructive relationships that reaffirmed what I already believed. That no one would love me really. That I had to be better, look different, be nicer, not make a fuss. I should be grateful that a man was giving me any attention after all.

Raising my boys I am bringing them up to respect themselves and others. I don't want my sons to treat anyone this way. The bottom line is even if you can't make grand gestures you don't have to be cruel. Kindness is so important. It makes a person feel special and cared about. A kind word, a lovely message, an unexpected card or a surprise visit just to make someone's day. Maybe I'm a sap for thinking this simple stuff is of value, but I've always appreciated it.

I want my boys to remember some simple rules for life:

  • Kindness costs nothing 
  • Loving someone is an active thing not a passive one 
  • You can love someone, but not like they way they behave 
  • If someone loves you they won't make excuses - they will make time
  • You are precious and wonderful - don't let anyone ever treat you like you are not  

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Recall message - what do you mean I can't do that ?

Do you ever wish you could edit in real life ? Like when you prepare a document or write a message and you read it over to make sure you haven't made an error or said the wrong thing. Isn't it difficult when you can't do that with things you've said or done ? The conversation that didn't quite go as you had hoped. The message where you pressed send before really thinking it through and now wish you had the capability to get it back. Even email can be recalled if you get to it quick enough.

There are so many times I wish I had been able to say something in a different way. To have been calmer, kinder, less emotional. Whenever I am a the end of my tether with the boys, when I am overwrought about something and spiralling or even when I am so excited I just can't stop myself. It's not healthy to live with regret, I know this. However, I often think if I hadn't done it this way things would be better. Not the big things so much. More the every day actions or words that didn't have to happen. I have discovered that you can delete messages in WhatsApp, which is a blessing really. Messenger and text messages are irretrievable, so I now take my time to reply in case I get it wrong. Often I start replying to a message and then decide against it until I'm sure about what I want to say. Sometimes it takes so much effort to craft a response that when I get a reply I feel cheated as I know the respondent hasn't struggled nearly as much as I did.

Face to face is much harder to edit. I will practice what I want to say when I have a potentially difficult conversation, but I can't predict what the other person will say. I once spent an entire train journey getting myself increasingly distressed about meeting someone. I knew they wanted to talk to me about something important, but I was upset with them and just wanted to yell and say, "how dare you do that to me !" I didn't, but as I walked over to them at Victoria Station I thought I was going to throw up. I wished I hadn't come. It was already far worse than I could have expected. I couldn't speak. I was shaking with nerves. At times like this I just want to disappear. I want to edit myself out of the situation.

When I post photos to instagram or facebook I take my time to get them just right. I think about what I'm doing it for, what it says and whether it is good enough. Sometimes I decide not to. I'm posting fewer images of myself as I don't feel the need to share myself so much. It's not like a genuine anonymity because I'm still behind the image, but I don't want to be in them. I know what I look like - for better or worse. Instead of a heavily edited selfie I would rather show where I am or the feeling it evokes. Editing photos for me now is about how to arrange a series of images to best effect.

How I look in real life is also an act of editing my appearance to suit the situation. Ok so I'm at work and that is a particular look, but if I'm going out it's different. Having been a stay at home parent for so long I haven't needed to adapt from day to night and got used to being pretty low key all the time. If I went to the theatre I would just change my jumper, but still wear jeans. I didn't want to draw attention to myself so I didn't dress up at all. As it's Sunday I have been in scruffs all day. We've been building a bunk bed and I've been sorting out the house so it hardly warranted getting properly dressed. I do like to have my armour when needed though. Whether that is make up or clothes that make me feel powerful. I've had some pretty tough meetings at work lately and I go into them dressed and made up in a way that makes me feel self assured and strong. It isn't how I really feel, but I'm not letting on that I am nervous or out of my depth.

There may not be an edit facility in life, but I am making it my ambition to recognise when I need to and doing it anyway. It's a work in progress so if I still get it wrong just bear with me please.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Ooh aah just a little bit

Have you made a plan for this year ? Do you make resolutions ? Is it all about New Year New You ? If I'm entirely truthful I usually do. I decide to make a fresh start and make unrealistic plans to do things every day or or eat different things or stop eating things. Every January I give myself a 'reset' by stopping sugar, alcohol and bread. It isn't for long and I've been doing it for a few years now so I don't really notice it much any more. It's not a detox. That's what my liver is for thanks very much.

You already know that last year I was a hot mess. At the end of the year I lost my voice, my energy and on New Year's Eve my capacity to move as I put my back out. The upside to all this has been that not being able to move has forced me to stop. Every time I wanted to go and tidy or declutter or wash up or something urgent I would get up, feel dizzy and have to sit down again. In the end I gave in and decided it was best to just let my body and mind have what they were craving. Rest. For the first time in a long time I don't feel tired. I'm not exactly bouncing with energy yet, but that endless exhaustion has lifted - finally. I haven't been well enough to swim or run, but I also don't want to overdo it.

The thing is I'm taking my time because I don't want to fall into familiar bad habits. I'm already doing things differently. Instead of getting up and 'doing' from the minute I wake up I'm embracing the art of the weekend lie in. Ok sometimes I do have to get up to do my radio show, but if not I'm in no rush to get up. Yesterday I was out early because I went to see my gorgeous friend Yasmin for some pampering. After a relaxing facial and soothing massage I felt ready to take on the task of taking down the Christmas decorations.

This morning Hubbie went for a cycle ride (his new thing on a Sunday morning) so I made myself a cuppa and went back to bed. Brown Bear climbed in with me and Neo and we relaxed. It was blissful. I honestly don't know what I was doing on a Sunday morning before this (probably getting up and going for a run or something), but you know what this feels good to me right now.

Clutter stresses me out. I spend a ridiculous amount of time planning how to reorganise my home. Hubbie bought me the Marie Kondo book two years ago and it stressed me out even more. I now accept that as I have young children my home isn't going to be pristine or minimal. Yesterday while the boys were at football I sorted out the DVDs and CDs - are we the only people who still have those ? - and reorganised the living room. I am really pleased with how it looks. Hubbie laughed when I told him to sit down and appreciate the 'flow' of the decor. Brown Bear came in and immediately said, "it looks really good Mummy." Blue Bear asked, "What did you do ? It all looks different." Neo miaowed his disapproval at me, then settled down on the newly moved sofa and promptly fell asleep.

Yoga has always helped me to deal with stress both mentally and physically. With everything that happened last year I should have been doing more yoga. Instead I did less and finally I wasn't doing any at all. It's my promise to myself to get back to taking care of myself and others through yoga. I want to share the gift of yoga with other people, but if I'm not taking care of myself, how can I offer it to anyone else ? Self care has always eluded me. If I swim I go hard and swim until I'm shattered. If I run I go until I need to see a physio. Today I went for my first swim of the year. I didn't set a goal, I swam until felt I had done enough and then splashed around with Blue Bear. We played and he showed me how well he can swim now. It was just enough.

My lovely friend Pippa has been a great help in teaching me about taking care of myself and she has created these lovely 'Sea Soul Blessings' cards. Hubbie gave me some for Christmas and I have made a special place for them by my bed so I can draw a card whenever I feel the need. I am hoping to see her in a few weeks for a mini retreat as I find being in her presence does me so much good. Pippa is a big fan of sea swimming - her bravery and wisdom inspires me so much.

No resolutions then. Let's call them habits of kindness. A promise. To myself. To others.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Farewell 2018 Holla 2019

Things I did for the first time in 2018:

Trained for and ran a half marathon - I did it in just over 3 hours.

Cut off all my hair and donated it to a cancer charity.

Had a mammogram - it was fine, just a bit daunting really to be old enough to require one !

Went back to work full time after being at home with my kids for years - that was a bit of a shock to all of us.

Challenges I faced in 2018:

Spent more time in hospital waiting rooms than I would like.

Shed more tears than I knew possible, not always at the right time or in the right place.

Apologised for my feelings and myself and for things I cannot control. Too often.

Gave my time and energy to others who needed support - it helped me avoid my own stuff.

Saying no when I needed to rest.

Wanting to do everything and to see everyone and to be everywhere.

Promises I want to keep in 2019: 

Take better care of my health.

Train for and run another half marathon (in under 3 hours if possible).

Swim regularly again.

Eat well and cook proper food.

Look after myself and get more sleep.

Prioritise myself some of the time.


Wednesday, 26 December 2018

I'm letting it all go

Wow, it's almost over. This year has been so long and so difficult and so very painful for many reasons. You will have noticed I haven't posted as much as I usually do. Partly that was due to my emotional state and partly because my MacBook came to the end of its days. I have new, shiny and absolutely beautiful kit (hence I am typing now) and it's time to deal with the other thing too. 

I started the year on a high having had a fantastic skiing holiday with the boys and an almost stress-free Christmas. I don't enjoy Christmas. I wish I did, but I just don't. If I could just not take part it would make my life so much easier. Then a few days into the new year as I was driving to Lewes to do my first radio show of the year I found out my friend was ill. I had no idea how serious it was at that point. Then she died. I didn't know what to do so I went into doing mode and have been in that ever since. 

A lot of things fell by the wayside when this happened.

I stopped teaching yoga, then I just didn't practise yoga either. I also didn't meditate. I haven't been sharing my skill and I haven't been benefiting from it myself. 

The garden hasn't seen me at all. I love my garden and I haven't set foot in it all year. 

I've gone from someone who holds it all in and puts on a brave face to giving in to all my emotions all the time. I have apologised for my feelings more than I have ever known. I've been a wreck and yet I'm the one saying sorry to others for daring to not be ok so I can protect their feelings. This self indulgence has become boring to me and - I am sure - other people. 

The realisation has hit me that I really cannot rely on anyone else to take care of me. My well being is my responsibility. More than once this year I have been promised some support or help and it just hasn't materialised or it's been taken away from me at the last minute. If I want to to get a break it's up to me - no one else. 

I've been ill over Christmas. I have had to lie down and rest. It's given me time to think about what I should do next. 

So, I'm letting it all go.

The grief

The sadness

The fear

The need to apologise for my feelings

The relentless search for reasons. 

That is enough. Time to pull up the braces and roll up my sleeves. This is done with now.

I'm putting the brave face back on - no show of weakness means no risk of being taken down. 

The only way I can get better is if I protect myself. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

What are you doing for Christmas ?

I have been asked this question literally every day this week. Mostly by well meaning individuals and colleagues. I am baffled by it though. It is one day of the year. It's one meal and yet people go on a diet for it. They go into debt and seem to go loco about it. I just don't get it. I have had a cough for over a week and a few people have said. "oh you don't want to have that for Christmas." Really ? What difference will it make ?

Ok, to be clear I am not bah humbug about Christmas and I don't have any problem with it. I just don't get why it's such a big deal. Why people eat so much food, why they spend so much money, why this one day is so significant. I get it if you have a faith and it means something to you in that regard, but if it's a celebration of food and presents then that is just beyond me. It's not cultural. I grew up in England and my parents always celebrated Christmas. It wasn't the biggest day of the year for us though. 

In some ways I do envy people who have that whole excitement about it all. The family side of things, the social side, the dressing up, the presents, I do get that. Brown Bear was only 3 months old for his first Christmas and our house was filled floor to ceiling with presents for him. He had absolutely no idea. I dressed him up as Santa and we took him to visit my parents on Christmas Eve (my Dad's birthday) and then Hubbie's parents so they all got to see the baby for his first Christmas. 

Now I am a parent I do like to make a fuss of the boys and to get into the whole spirit of the thing. We go to see Santa, we have a roast dinner at home, we have presents. However, we don't fill the house with tangerines, bowls full of nuts or masses of sweets. I will confess I have three fruit cakes bought at the school Christmas fair, but that is because the TA who made them has form and her cakes are absolutely amazeballs. 

Don't get me wrong there is no deep-seated trauma or childhood memory behind my lack of enthusiasm for end of year festivities. It is all tied in with anxiety and depression that always reaches a peak around this time of year. I know I'm not alone in that. The enforced socialising and jollity is just too much to take for some of us. I'm not saying anyone else shouldn't have a good time. Just don't expect me to be as enthused. I can't do it. 

It is this expectation of plenty that makes me uncomfortable. This year we have donated toys, food, clothes and I also gave a bag filled with make up from my days as an Avon lady to a refuge that requested gift items for the women. People donate to the children in refuges, but seem to overlook the women. At a time when it seems that we are being pushed into spending money and eating too much I am painfully aware that there are people who are struggling to manage to basics. 

We have enough and for that I am so very grateful. I have made it to the end of this year a significantly different woman from who I was this time last year. So much has altered in my life and for people I care about. It isn't a time of celebration for me. It is a time of gratitude. I am thankful.   

I have friends who will be experiencing their first Christmas without a partner, a parent and in the case of my brother in law his first without either of his parents. In my family we will spend time together knowing that we are so very lucky to have each other. My gorgeous baby niece will have her first  Christmas and Blue Bear and Brown Bear will fuss over and spoil her rotten.

The other day I found a post I had written in December 2009 when we were childless and desperate to be parents. It was titled, "Christmas is for kids." I had no idea how prophetic that would prove to be. Less than a month later I found out I was pregnant and the following Christmas we had our much longed for baby son. The point is nothing is forever. It's just a moment in time and that will pass. I won't stop having anxiety or depression, but I won't feel this way forever either. 

If you struggle with Christmas please don't suffer alone. Here are some organisations that will be open to help if you need it: 

Monday, 17 December 2018

When enough is still not enough

The belief that we are enough is one I think a lot of us struggle with. I have a lovely bracelet engraved with the word 'enough' on it that is to remind me that however badly I think I'm doing it's ok. I don't feel that way though. It's been a struggle to get through this year and I previously wrote about how it felt like I was on a relentless upward ride that I was not in control of. If I'm honest it now feels as if I've hit the buffers. I kept going and going in the hope that this would not reach me, but it found me.

In the last year I have been running regularly - training for a half marathon - and this was helping to stave off the feelings of sadness. In the last two weeks I have been too unwell to run so my moods have been unpredictable and unstable. I'm not at my best when this happens. My emotions are all over the place and I get all sorts of weird physical symptoms that make no sense, but add up to anxiety. Then I have the outbursts brought on by self-loathing. Pushing people away so that they don't have to deal with my unreasonable needy self. The worst thing is I can't control who this happens with and often it's the wrong people who see this 'faulty' version of me. The ones who have little empathy or who like to say, "I care about you," so long as it doesn't involve actually doing anything. I care about people in a practical way - you know hugs, cups of tea, silly little gifts,  sending them a song to make them smile or an invitation to do something to cheer them up. Not just saying the words and getting on with my day.

At the moment I am not doing well at parenting. Since I returned to work the boys have had a change of routine that seems to have unsettled them (and us to be honest). It isn't as simple as saying if I was at home things would be better. After all we did that for years. I was fortunate enough to be around for the early days when they needed a lot of care and attention. Of course they still need that, but they are also independent, confident and at school all day so I decided I was ready to do something else. Now I have that dual guilt that comes from thinking about home when I'm at work and vice versa. I get the calls from school to tell me Blue Bear has bumped his head, but he's ok or Brown Bear has been in trouble during football club. The frequency of these calls has a direct impact on my ability to concentrate on my work. I realise I should be able to 'compartmentalise' these different areas, but for me it's all interconnected.

I went back to work full time this year which has meant the whole family has a new routine and new challenges. It is tiring. I leave the house before my kids wake up and some days I don't see Blue Bear at all if I'm out after work as well. It's not what I wanted for them and it is costing me in my relationship with them. I feel so disconnected from my sons sometimes that I really want to spend more time doing the mundane things like dropping them off to school. Not just the frantic pick up in the dark just before the cut-off time for late charges. I know they are in safe hands and they love being in after school clubs, but sometimes I would like to be there a bit more. I know they put up with the absence because they have to, not because it's what they want.

It feels like I am losing my grasp of the 'brave face,' I have been putting on for so long. If anyone asks how I am I barely hold it together to answer them. The banks burst open and I break down in tears and then I feel really embarrassed. I can't really justify being upset about the thing that has made me cry, but I find myself apologising and trying to find explanations to assure the person that it's ok and they didn't do anything wrong. They feel better and I'm still in bits and now I'm too ashamed to talk to them because I made a fool of myself.

The safest thing to do is to retreat into a space that is not filled with judgement or the potential to hurt anyone else. If I just keep myself on safe ground - silly jokes, amusing gifs and familiar memes I can turn their gaze away from how out of control it all feels. I can go through the motions of doing all the things you're supposed to and make small talk. I can't have any deep and meaningful discussions until this passes. I don't know when that will be.

For now I just want to get through one day without crying.