Sunday, 14 April 2019

This too shall pass.

At lunchtime on Thursday this week I was sitting on a bench in Soho Square. It was only when I stood up to go to my meeting that I noticed the plaque on the bench. It was the one dedicated to Kirsty MacColl. Now you probably know that I love her music so that made this significant and moving.Not least as I had just been having a telephone assessment for counselling and it was not the easiest conversation to hold in a public place. I gave the general details of what's been going on in the last year and a bit - to recap, bereavement, breast cancer (not me) and return to working full time. The most recent events have, however, pushed me over the edge. While everything else was happening to people I love I was able to keep busy by helping them. It was possible to just keep going and avoid dealing with my own stuff the whole time. This most recent thing, however. is happening to me and I can't avoid it or 'do' my way out of it.

I spent the first week in shock and unable to speak to anyone without crying. It made talking to anyone very difficult. In conversation with friends I found myself saying, "I'm so, so sorry it's just one thing after another with me isn't it ?" It was like I was cashing in all my friendship chips in one big hit. Thankfully they didn't respond with, "Well it is a bit much actually and it's about time you just pulled yourself together." Instead I had the reassurance and kindness of those I love and who love me in return. However, I am the one who has to make decisions about my life and my kids. It's down to me to be the adult for all of us. No amount of advice from others can make that any easier, but it does help to have someone listen and sympathise. 

A counsellor doesn't sympathise, but the person doing the initial assessment can.
"It does sound like a very difficult time. I can hear in your voice that it's a struggle." 
A murmur of agreement.
"Now I have to ask this question."
"Have you considered harming yourself."
"I know it's not an easy question to answer."
Not recently. 
"What makes you stop yourself."
I wouldn't do that to my children. Or my family. I don't want to hurt anyone else.
"Do you know what to do if you have those thoughts or you feel you are at risk of harming yourself ?"
Yes I think so.
"What would you do ?"
I'd call Samaritans. 
"That's good. You can also call your GP for an urgent appointment or you can present yourself to A&E." 
There's a bit more explanation of what happens next then she asks me,
"What are you doing for the rest of the day ?"
I'm going to meet a friend for coffee and a catch up. Then I'm picking up my boys and spending the evening with them.
"That sounds nice."

I walk to where I'm meeting my friend. We sit with her holding my hands for support. The tears start and just don't stop. I notice all the people around us. She looks me straight in the eye as I dart my eyes around to see who's looking at me. "Keep talking" she says, so I do. Everything. How I feel unloved, ugly, unwanted. The fear of getting things wrong for my kids. The inability to think straight or to make a single decision. "You are going to feel like this, but let me tell you that voice in your head is wrong." I need to keep reminding myself that the voice telling me I am rubbish, I am negative, I am a bad person and all manner of other stuff is a symptom of this. 

And this will pass. 

Sunday, 7 April 2019

All you need is love

Are you a touchy feely person ? Does it make you feel a bit creeped out if someone you barely know touches you ? Are you someone who will immediately kiss a person you've just met in a friendly manner ? Is it normal for you to touch the person you're talking to - on the elbow or something, nothing rude obvs ! I only ask because the issue of inappropriate touch has been in the news again and it's made me think about what touch means to different people.

I've lived in London most of my life so being in close proximity to other people is a way of life. However, there are boundaries. It is perfectly possible to have the merest sliver of space between yourself and another commuter on the tube, but if your hands touch it's terribly awkward and apologies ensue. To be frank if personal space is an issue for you I'd avoid the underground altogether as it really will mess with your head. I steer clear of it at all costs and will go on foot if I have time or by bus. If I'm running very late and absolutely have to use the underground I will, but I really don't enjoy it.

Touch has to be consensual doesn't it ? In recent years parents have been more aware of the need to respect a child's wishes not to kiss Aunty Maureen if they don't want to. Growing up we all had to hug aunties didn't we ? I had uncles and aunties who would pinch my cheeks and while I hated it I couldn't refuse - it was rude. When people talk about children having the right to say no I fully support it. It's also an acknowledgment that some children really don't respond well to physical interactions. When Blue Bear first came to live with us he was used to being picked up and held but he wasn't keen on being hugged by people he didn't know. Even now he can be reticent with people he knows really well if he's just not in the mood for being hugged. It took me a long time to go from hugging him to it being a two way thing. He doesn't always want to be touched even now. When I go to kiss him goodnight he will say, "kiss me on my head," instead of his face. I respect his wishes. Brown Bear is used to being smothered with hugs and kisses by aunties and grandparents and responds as any 8 (going on 18) boy would. He is patient with us, but makes it clear he is only doing this out of the goodness of his heart and it could all end any time.

Hugs are really important to me. When I meet up with a friend or family member I always go in for a big hug with them. It's a greeting, but also a way of showing that I've missed them. It's also - for me - a way of destressing. When I'm having a difficult time or a bad day I find a hug makes things so much more bearable. The people who love me know this and make time to see me just to give me a hug and make things better. I do the same for the people I love. Let's be clear that these are not necessarily the same people. the Venn diagram of people who I am nice to and who are also nice to me has an overlap, but it's a small one. I remember talking to a friend who couldn't understand why his partner was so upset with him for giving her money as a present. I explained that she wanted to spend time with him so giving her the money to spend on a 'nice day out with someone' was not the same thing. He couldn't see it. Closeness isn't for everyone - I get that.

Touch is shorthand for "I am here for you," "I've got you," "It's going to be ok," "Don't worry, we've got this." When my kids are sleeping I go in and touch their faces or kiss them on the head. I know they are aware of it when I see the faint smile in response.

Yes, hugs mean love. And love is all you need.