Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Free at last! But what to do…?

The symptoms of my depression have been getting worse over the past week or so.  I feel much more anxious.  I feel tired.  I feel like crying quite a lot.  I feel like a miserable failure at most of the things which matter to me. I am irritable.  I am unmotivated and I don’t really enjoy doing much.  It’s not fun.

It’s not very surprising either.  There’s a lot going on at the moment: the background stress of the threat of redundancy and the unsettled atmosphere at work, and the return to the pressured school day.  And it feels as if every day there is a new and overwhelming challenge: I arrived home to a letter stating that I had claimed free dental care that I am not entitled to, and as well as being asked to pay for it, I am being charged a penalty of £94.  My entitlement to free dental care and prescriptions has, I think, come with my entitlement to tax credits.  My circumstances have not changed and I did not realise I had to pay: no-one told me.  I need to appeal but I am too tired.  And the night before last I was up for an hour and a half with Big Girl – she woke up feeling sore and uncomfortable and crying with the pain.  I ended up ringing the out of hours GP (God bless the NHS!) and getting her sorted and back to sleep, but the worry, the sense of impotence, the disturbed sleep: the cumulative effect of these challenges is that I am not sure how much more I can carry.

So, here I am at home on a Friday – it’s my day off work and now the girls are at school, it’s an opportunity to have a little bit of time and space, and to get my house tidy and make life a little more ordered. But I also want to lie around doing nothing.  Or, more to the point, I want a break from the effort required to do anything.  I am, always, responsible.  I am responsible at home for ensuring we have food, clean clothes, an environment where Big Girl and Small Girl can be happy and healthy and feel loved and secure.  I am responsible for getting them to school on time and making sure they do their homework.  I am responsible for establishing a good bedtime routine and making sure they sleep.   I am responsible at work for dealing with complex and unresolveable problems, for keeping customers happy, for working with staff in other departments to achieve goals.  My job is actually impossible and unachievable, but I am not sure what level of lack of success is acceptable.  So I would like a break from all this responsibility, just for a while.

Depression is often described as a black dog in your life.  I am not sure how best to use today, my free time, to make living with this dog feel easier.  I could be productive, get things done now so I don’t have to worry about them later, feel productive, feel competent.  Or I could have a rest, have a break, be kind to myself.  There is something about the very act of doing nothing which is beneficial: I am proving to myself that my life is not unmanageable.  If my life were so very pressured, I would not be able to spend an hour watching Doctor Who. If I can spend half an hour lying quietly on the sofa, it must be ok.  And so, I must spend half an hour quietly doing nothing to remind myself that actually, everything is ok enough.  It is a discipline worth practising.

I’m not sure it has to be an either/or question.  I can be productive and spend time resting.  I can do things which need to be done but which I also enjoy – or at least don’t mind doing.  Part of the pleasure of these Fridays is that I am alone and, whatever I choose to do, no-one interrupts me: no arguments or requests for drinks or demands that I pretend to be a donkey.  In itself, this freedom from external accountability is something to cherish.  I can flow around my house, entirely in charge of my destiny, answerable only to myself for what I achieve.  So I wonder if, perhaps, it’s not so much what I do that matters, as how and why I do it.

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Under pressure

Small Girl started school last week.  Aside from some tears on Monday morning, and the usual complaining about having to get up in the morning and not being allowed to wear pyjamas all day, she seems to be enjoying it.  And I love seeing her beaming face when I pick her up each afternoon, as if being collected by me is equivalent to a lottery win.  But she’s only four-and-a-quarter, so she looks tiny and it’s quite a lot for her to adjust to.  She comes home exhausted every day but struggles to settle to sleep.  And Big Girl, now in Year 1, is also adjusting to more structured learning and a new classroom and a new teacher.  So we’re all pretty tired.

Getting two children dressed and to school is not much different to getting one to school and one to nursery, except you can’t pass off a pyjama top as school uniform in quite the same way that you can pretend it’s nursery clothes.  But during the chaos of the summer holidays, lazy days at home and trips out and juggling arrangements for the girls and never quite being sure what day it is, I forgot quite what the school routine is like.

So, wake up at 6.  Get up and eat breakfast, hoping the girls will sleep until I’ve finished.  Experience, again, the minor disappointment of interrupted coffee.  Get dressed while fending off demands to play on the tablet before they are dressed.  Encourage children to get dressed.  Ask if they’ve put their knickers on yet.  Put their knickers on for them.  Negotiate around use of the potty and/or toilet and whether they want to eat breakfast at home before going to breakfast club at school. Put more clothes on them.  Explain why they aren’t allowed to wear pyjamas to school.  Brush their hair and teeth.  Get my lunch out of the fridge.  Ask Big Girl to put her socks on.  Ask Big Girl again to put her socks on.  Ask Big Girl how many times I’ve asked her to put her socks on.  Put her socks on for her.  Advise Small Girl that if she doesn’t wear her school shoes she will be walking to school in just her socks and they will be dirty and uncomfortable.  Explain that they can’t take huge cuddly toys to school with them because I don’t want to carry them to work with me.  Remember that I haven’t fed the guinea pigs yet.  Put on my shoes and coat.  Check the bathroom tap is turned off to avoid a repeat of the flooding incident a couple of years ago.  Feed the guinea pigs.  Ask the girls to put on their coats and book bags.  Walk out of the door followed by children wailing about various things including cold legs and being hungry and tired.  Try to encourage the children to walk to school without screaming at them.  Explain that Small Girl can’t have a carry because she is at school now and needs to walk, and that yes, she is tired, because she didn’t go to sleep until late last night.  And that yes, she might feel poorly, and if she is poorly her teacher will ring her and I’ll pick her up.  And yes, if Big Girl is poorly, *her* teacher will ring me, and I’ll come and pick her up.  And if they are both poorly, I expect their teachers will work out between them who will ring me, and I’ll collect them both.  And then we get to school and there’s some reluctance from one or the other to go into breakfast club, but we manage it.

And finally, I’m released.  And I walk to work feeling like I’ve already done a working day, and then, like a pinball, fall into a world of customers and complaints and problems and emails and phonecalls and priorites and meetings, and a to-do list which is never done.  And then I’m spat out again, back to school to pick up my two children and usher them home and convince them to, eventually, stop climbing trees and cartwheeling so we can get home, and disagreements over who is going to carry their coats and book-bags and directives to avoid standing in dog poo, and a desperate desire for them to walk at a reasonable pace home, and then into the house and shoes off and arguments about whose turn it is on the tablet and making tea and making a mess and then the usual long drawn-out saga of bedtime – overtired but not sleepy – and my need to make my lunch for the next day and get uniforms out and hang up laundry and fill the dishwasher and, finally, I crawl into bed, and I really haven’t stopped all day.

All this is compounded, just now, by announcements last Thursday of redundancies at work: voluntary redundancies at first and then, probably, compulsory redundancies.  Some people are pleased to have an opportunity to leave earlier than they had expected and some people are planning to leave with a better deal now, rather than waiting for compulsory redundancies. I do not want to lose my job.  I have working arrangements which suit me and a job I can do and I work with people I like.  I have a mortgage to pay and not much to fall back on.

I’m not really anxious about this yet.  But there’s constant back-ground stress.  Work feels very uncertain, lots of questions and people discussing what might happen.  Everyone is at risk.  I hope that my job is at less risk than some, but we don’t know how things will pan out, and even if I do keep my job I may lose some of my flexibility or my part-time hours or my guarantee of a return to full-time hours if I wish.  Terms and conditions are being looked at, and we may have to take a pay cut.  And if I do survive, there will be far fewer people to do the work, so my job is very likely to change.  While this could be an opportunity to find new and better ways of working, it feels very scary.

Working to get through each day with enough food and clean clothes available, and then hoping to keep my job plus, last week, trying to influence government policy on refugees, means that other issues, anxieties, concerns, disappointments are, to an extent, left untouched.  I go to bed each night and sleep, weirdly, deeply but badly, and wake up feeling tired and ten steps behind myself already, before I even start.

So I’m very excited about this forthcoming weekend.  It’s the first full week of school and, as I don’t work on Fridays, my first day where I’ll drop both girls off at school and then go home.  Their dad is picking them up tomorrow and dropping them back at school on Monday.  So I have a whole child-free weekend with very little planned.  I’m going to read.  And sleep.  And read.  And run.  I might meet up with friends.  I’m going to eat good food without arguing with anyone about it (this isn’t true.  I’ll probably eat toast all weekend).  I’m going to live in a clean and tidy house for three days (this also isn’t true – I’ll do some frantic cleaning on Sunday evening and wonder why I didn’t do it sooner).  It’s going to be a mini-break from my normal life and all the pressures of the past week.

All I have to do is survive one more school run…

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