Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Brain failure

My depression is playing up at the moment.  Having increased the dose of my previous medication to the point where I was falling asleep while putting the girls to bed and had no time or energy left to do even the most minimal of housework, my GP suggested I tried a different drug.  So I weaned myself off Drug One (having a moment of giddiness and euphoria on the way down, when the soporific side-effects were first removed) and started, very cautiously, to take Drug Two.  Drug Two has not improved things.  Drug Two has left me feeling gloomy and tired, unable to make conversation, indecisive, apathetic and troubled by constant morbid thoughts.

It is like being swarmed by wasps at a picnic – no matter how much I shoo them away, they come back, relentless, until I give up.  And my surrender, in itself, becomes another shameful failure to despise myself for.

It is like trying to swim to shore.  I know that when I get there, there will be sandcastles and ice-cream.  And I desperately don’t want to drown.  But I’m tired of fighting the tide.

It is like running, unable to keep up, struggling under a weighted pack which no-one else is carrying; trying so hard and moving so slowly.

It’s a lack of oxygen, struggling to breathe.

It’s a surge of tears, threatening, behind my eyes.

It’s looking for something good and finding nothing.

It’s flatness and inadequacy, conversation dying on my tongue.

It’s a fear of something terrible, just out of sight.

It’s a wasted day, inert and immobile.

It’s self-accusation: blessed with abundance and unable to enjoy it.

It’s the hope that if I cry, or sleep, or run, this anxiety might be released.  But it never is for long.

It’s merely a failure of brain chemistry.

I think about my depression as a physical illness.  It’s not a rational response to something terrible which happened to me, and I don’t need to pick apart how I feel about to find a resolution.  I just think my brain got too tired last summer and stopped doing all the things it needs to do with chemicals.  I spoke to my GP this morning and she reassured me that, with a bit of scaffolding in place for a while, my brain may well get back to what it’s supposed to be doing.  There are probably things I can do to help: exercise; eat well; train it to look for positives rather than negatives; send it to bed at a sensible time; avoid too much stress.  And we’re moving onto Drug Three, which I hope will be more successful, at least, than Drug Two.

I feel fortunate to be able to see, most of the time, that there is a difference between my depression-warped perception and reality, even if I’m not entirely sure what reality is.  I know that what I feel about myself and my life and my abilities is probably not the truth.  I look at my friends, who seem to like me, and think that if I really were all the things I sometimes feel I am, they probably wouldn’t like me, so I’m probably not.  I’m engaged in a battle with and for my brain*, and it’s one I’m hoping to win.

*There’s a sci-fi film in there somewhere, I’m sure there is: The Girl Who Battled For Her Brain. Awesome B-Movie stuff.

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Completing the Manchester 10k last Sunday was quite an experience.  So many people were running for charities (I started just behind a man wearing a lifeboat costume who lost me quite early on, much to my disappointment), and it felt as if all the supporters, spectators and organisers were working together with the participants to get us all to the finish.  People came out to stand and watch and clap and cheer.  Small children high-fived us.  Charity volunteers held up signs saying ‘Smile! You paid to do this’ and ‘Run like someone called you a jogger’ and passed out jelly-babies.  I ran the first 4k then alternated running and walking until a stitch hit at around 6k.  I tried to pick up the running again for the last couple of kilometers and then, finally, went for what was intended to be a sprint finish, but probably looked more like a desperate stagger across the line.  It was incredibly emotional – the culmination of a few months of training, the support of family,friends and random strangers, and a sense of achievement and relief.  I was delighted to have  actually finished the course, and in about 15 minutes less than I had hoped to, and elated and exhausted all at the same time.  I found my family and we went for food, and then cake and cocktails.  I’m now looking for another 10k to run – now that I know what a 10k feels like, I think I could run it faster and, probably, with more running and less staggering.

Today has also felt quite special.  It’s my divorciversary – the first anniversary of getting my divorce.  I stopped last night with friends who I haven’t seen for a few years, and spent the day with them and their children, and had a wonderful, relaxed time catching up, discussing politics, playing in the park.  It wasn’t planned to coincide with the divorciversary and it wasn’t something we discussed much,except as part of catching up on the past two years, and I’m spending the evening cleaning out my guinea pigs: a lovely-but-normal child-free Saturday.  I’d had vague plans to go out to mark the anniversary but they never quite came together, and I’m glad.  Firstly, the guinea pigs had got quite stinky, and now they’re not.  But, more importantly, the divorce no longer seems significant enough to need any kind of celebration.  A year ago it was a significant event, the culmination of a process which shut the door on a painful experience, but the celebration of that is in living this new, good, normal life I have, every single day.

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Finishing what I started

I’ve just done my final training run before the Great Manchester Run this Sunday.  Because it would be illegal to go out running leaving a 3- and 5-year-old alone in the house, and because I like lie-ins, I’ve not managed to train as much as I had hoped.  But still, I’ve come to like running.  And here’s why:

  • All day after I’ve been out for a run my legs feel a bit more alive.  It’s as if they are saying “Hell yeah! I think we just did something!”
  • I like the feel of pushing myself mentally – there’s something good about making myself do a little bit better.  Often when I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, I find I’m going at a comfortable (a.k.a. ‘slow’) pace.  I tell myself to go a bit faster, and then I do it.  Then I feel like a champion.
  • It provides opportunities to spend hours mapping runs rather than actually running, giving a sense of productivity and achievement without any actual effort.
  • I’ve improved.  I’ll never be a great runner, but I’ve gone from staggering round a 2k run to (this morning) doing 5k, probably 85% running rather than walking for most of it. (Yes, yes, Sunday’s run is 10k and 5k is not 10k.  I know that.  I’m going to get half-way round the course and demand that someone brings me a cup of coffee).
  • I like the idea that if someone tries to attack me in the street, I’m probably fit enough to get away from them.  As long as they wait for me to put on my sports bra and are willing to slow down and walk every once in a while when I get tired.
  • As long as I finish the 10k, I’ll get a medal.  You can’t argue with a medal.

Quite a lot of people I know are doing the 10k on Sunday (and about 39,080 people I don’t know), so it’s nothing that special, but for me it is an achievement.  And it has a particular significance for me – I signed up for the Manchester 10k 6 years ago, raising money for Christian Aid, and then found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with Big Girl.  I pulled out because I didn’t want to put the pregnancy at risk, but as it was too early to tell people, said I was ill (and I was! I felt *so* ill!).  Six years later there’s been a lot of water under the bridge – two babies and a divorce – but I’m finally finishing what I started.

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Finding space for silence

It’s much harder to find time to be silent in between getting up, getting the girls up and getting to nursery and work on time, than it is when on retreat.  It’s hard to find the energy for silence in the evening between the chaos and stress of bedtime and the desire to be asleep, not forgetting to feed the guinea pigs and take all the poo out of their cage.  It’s hard to settle into silence with thoughts of a hundred things I need to do and arguments replaying in my head and emails to reply to and plans to make.  And the more often I give up on silence to do something more urgent, more achievable, the less rewarding it feels, the less I expect it to be beneficial, the harder it is to commit to doing it.

Until Sunday I’d had the girls non-stop for two weeks, including a weekend away with the Quakers which I helped to organise, and a six-and-a-half hours-each-way trip to visit my grandparents.  By Saturday we were all tired and grumpy.  Big Girl had been a bit poorly, and she and Small Girl were arguing.  Small Girl wanted constant attention and to be cuddled and picked up, which is fine except for when I am trying to make breakfast.  Or get dressed.  Or make a cup of coffee.  Any attempts to put her off for five minutes induced crying and clinging and attempts to climb up my body, all of which made me want to hide in the bathroom and lock the door, except that they know how to unlock the door from the outside. Sigh.

So, when things were a little calmer, I thought I would try to have a little bit of silence, hoping to find a sense of peace to get me through the rest of the day.  I went to my bedroom.  The girls followed.  I explained that I was having some peace and quiet, and they were welcome to stay, but they had to sit still and be quiet – I want them to learn to respect my needs like I respect theirs, and to see how I practise my faith.  Small Girl got into bed next to me.  She wanted to sit on my knee.  I explained that she could sit next to me but she had to be quiet.  She asked me to pretend she was a dog.  I explained that she needed to be quiet while I was having some peace and quiet. Big Girl got into bed too.  She pretended that Small Girl was a dog.  Neither were sitting quietly.  So I decided to abandon my bedroom, leaving them playing at sleeping dogs, and make a new plan.

I’ve really struggled to find somewhere which feels conducive to silence, even when the girls aren’t in the house.  My attic should be ideal, being a room the girls aren’t allowed in without me, and being a lovely room, but it feels isolated from the rest of the house.  In the lounge I feel likely to be observed by passers-by, which is distracting.  My kitchen is… well, between the piles of washing up and the crap on the kitchen table, it’s not a place I choose to be.  And my bedroom is about sleeping and getting up and putting away laundry, but not about sitting in peace.  However, as I crept away to hide from my girls I found an unexpected solution – their bedroom: it has a door which shuts and it’s remarkably comfortable due to the piles of soft toys, clothes and bedding on the floor.  And it has almost no associations for me – in my mental picture of the house it barely exists.  In my mind, it’s more like a big cupboard than a functioning room, where I put the girls away at night, and store their clothes, but not a room I spend any time in.  I tucked myself away, sat and found calm, and then returned to my girls and their chaos: I’m not sure they realised I’d been away.  I visited again yesterday, while the girls were at their dad’s house, and enjoyed the silence, shut away from the world and the rest of my life – my own space for retreat.