Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

New Year, New Job

A couple of weeks ago I started a new job.  After nine-and-a-half years working as a housing officer – well, aside from two maternity leaves and a secondment in another department, so really more like seven years as a housing officer – I’m now working in the training department of a local charity.

It’s been quite an experience, starting a new job in a new organisation.  The first week was crazy, trying to work out what my job involves and what my responsibilities are, and meeting lots of new people, most of whom seem to be doing a different job, or are about to start a different job, to what they’re shown as doing on the organisational chart.  And just trying to work out exactly what the organisation does, and get used to a different perspective, working in a new sector.  And, of course, learning all the new social etiquette that comes with a new workplace.

The first week was a classic honeymoon period.  I loved my job.  I was so excited about what I was doing.  My new colleagues were lovely.  It was a really positive workplace culture.  Everything was great.  I had no doubts about the change I’d made, even though it felt like a gamble.  It’s easy to feel you’re doing well at settling in when you have no expectations other than remembering where the toilets are.  (I totally aced that one, by the way).

This week, not so much.  I’ve felt anxious.  Do people like me? Am I annoying them by talking too much? Am I doing well enough at my job? Are they wishing they’d offered the job to someone else? Am I hitting the right level of independent working?  This week I’ve been researching things I know very little about and it has made my head hurt.  I’m used to knowing what I do and how to answer questions – about dog fouling and noise nuisance and trees and fences – and although not everyone I worked with liked me, at least I knew mostly where I stood with people.  This week it’s felt strange and uncertain and almost too difficult. However, I’m pretty certain this is a normal response to a new and challenging situation – reality hitting after a good start.  Things are always changing in the organisation I work for, and apparently it’s not unusual for new people to look like a rabbit caught in headlights for a while.

I applied for this job when my old post was at risk of redundancy. It did seem sensible to try to apply for things which might be suitable for me, in case I did lose my job, but in reality, my new job just felt like something I could really do.  Filling in the application form felt like spending a couple of hours talking about how brilliant I am (I’m actually not brilliant, but I’m good at sounding like I might be) and the interview and presentation, though hard, was a really positive experience.  The day after my interview, trudging round a housing estate getting rained on and looking at rubbish left in people’s front gardens, I thought, ‘If they offer me that job I’ll take it’.  And I did.

It’s not a perfect situation.  Leaving a permanent well-paid job with lots of holiday and a good pension for a one-year fixed term part time contract felt like a gamble.  But it almost feels like a positive incentive – if I work hard and do a good job, my contract will almost certainly be extended, and I like the idea that what I do will have a direct impact on my ongoing ability to pay my mortgage.  And, for the first time in a long time, I’m happy to live with the risk.  Yes, it may all go belly-up and that would be unpleasant, but I am confident that I would survive.  Feeling able to live with the uncertainty, and being able to move onto something new, is one of those markers of progress in my own journey which I like to see.

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Sadness and hope

For the past few months, I’ve been seeing someone.  Sadly, now I’m not.  It turns out that it’s much harder to get a relationship working when you’re in your mid-thirties with two children and all sorts of baggage than when you’re a student in your early twenties.  And sometimes, even if you try really hard and both do your best, some things are insurmountable.

It’s been interesting though.  And enlightening.  And fun.

Stopping seeing him has made me very sad.  For a while, it felt as if all the joy had gone from my world.  Things I had hoped for are not going to happen.  I woke up at 3 o’clock the following morning with the searing realisation that he is gone from my life forever, that his interesting thoughts and perspectives are no longer available to me.  A friendship I had valued and enjoyed is lost.

However, it’s much easier to survive this knowing that it’s not the most terrible thing to have happened to me.  I know from experience that actually, with time, pain does lessen.  I am waiting because I know I will feel happy again.  And, while I feel sad now, the girls still need collecting from school.  I need to get their uniforms ready for the next day and the dishwasher still needs loading.  I find that if I keep putting one metaphorical foot in front of the other, it keeps me moving forwards.  The act of keeping our lives continuing despite my grief forces me to believe that life does continue.

And, this weekend, while the girls were at their dad’s house, I was kind to myself – and so were my friends.  On Friday night I went to a games night where we played K2 – one of my mountaineers died not once but twice due to bad luck and ineptitude – and ate chocolates.  On Saturday I met my best friend in Leeds for coffee, cake and some shopping, and then spent the evening watching Doctor Who and wishing for a boyfriend like Rory.

Then yesterday I headed into Manchester for a Quaker meeting full of inspiration about austerity, protesting and how we relate to the Tories and state power, then a Quaker business meeting and a silent vigil on the steps of the Meeting House about poverty and inequality.  Finally I joined friends for the anti-austerity march through the streets of Manchester, followed by a rally at Castlefield, hearing Owen Jones speak, and discussion on the way home with my friends about how we can bring about effective change.  Being part of a crowd of 60,000 – 80,000 people who all believe, in diverse ways and with different language, that something better is desirable and achievable, is incredibly uplifting.  Seeing so many people I know, and thousands more that I don’t, being prepared to come out and march and take action gives me a sense of hope and purpose.

My mum says that at least I can have the confidence that there are people out there for me.  I’m not so sure just now – having tried to make a relationship work with someone I really liked, its ending feels more like evidence against her theory.  Despite this, I still look back and think this has been a good experience: I’ve learnt things about myself and what I want, and how to do this relationship thing as well as I can.  So I’m moving with hope into the next good part of my life.

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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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A week of two halves

I’m in the middle of a strange week, bookended as it is by my wedding anniversary on Monday and Ex-Husband’s wedding on Saturday.

I’m not really bothered about either event.  I’ve moved on. I’m happy. My life is full of interesting things.  Except, kind of, I am.  The date of my wedding anniversary is burnt into my brain.  Every time I wrote the date on Monday, there was a spark of recognition followed by a little sinking regret and disappointment that things didn’t work out how I’d hoped.  And while Ex-Husband’s wedding is nothing to do with me – two people I don’t really care about entering into an ill-advised union – I realised yesterday that I hope he has a horrible day and spends it thinking about the people who aren’t at his wedding, all the friends he’s lost by behaving like a dick.

So when I say I’m not really bothered that he’s getting married, what I mean is that I’m choosing not to be interested.  I decided to forgive him, to let it go, to walk away from the hurt he caused me.  And that takes practice, and sometimes it needs a bit of patching up.  I am way past the grief I felt at the time.  But like a scab which itches, or a broken bone which heals but aches when the weather is cold and damp, sometimes I am reminded more strongly of the scars that I think will always be with me.

Still, while the girls are away being bridesmaids, I’m having a pretty good week.  Yesterday I went out with a friend for curry.  Tonight I’ve been for a run and watched West Wing.  Tomorrow I’m going to the cinema and on Friday I’m going climbing.  And on Saturday, I’m going on a mystery coach trip with my friend Karen.  We considered crashing the wedding in giant hats and offering up reasons why Ex-Husband and his girlfriend couldn’t be lawfully married, but decided an adventure would be more fun.  We’re getting a coach quite early in the morning to an unknown destination.  We’re spending the day there, going on the coach to an hotel, then on Sunday going to a second mystery destination.  It could be amazing.  But even if it’s terrible, I think it’ll be that kind of so-bad-it’s-hilarious story which can be more fun in the long run.  I am very excited and considering only ever going on mystery coach adventures for all my future holidays.

So, the juxtaposition of remembered grief and eager anticipation, the contrast between what is now and how things were, gives me a sense of hope.  I know I’ve surived this far, and grown and flourished, and that I am surrounded by good friends and I think, I’ll probably be ok.  Even if I do feel wobbly from time to time.

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Adventures into a Brave New World

On Friday I cleaned out my bathroom cabinet, removing burnt-out candles, packets of Gavison which expired in 2011, emptied tubes of stuff, baby nail-scissors, plasters which are no longer sticky and baby shampoo we no longer use.  Into the space I managed to fit all the things which were lurking untidily on the shelf behind the toilet (apart from a few months’ back-copies of the Saturday Guardian magazine.  I recycled those), making my bathroom an almost-pleasant place to be.

Yesterday I tidied and cleaned all the work-tops in the kitchen – washing all the bits and pieces which can’t go in the dishwasher and therefore pile up on the side, and all the recycling which was waiting to be washed and thrown away, and tidying away toys and felt-tipped pens and bits of plastic wrapping which was hidden under the felt-tips.  My kitchen now looks quite peculiar: if you stand in exactly the right spot it looks shiny; if you stand anywhere else you see an oasis of tidiness in a desert of mess.

And today I sorted through all the things attached to my notice-board, removing party-invitations from two summers ago and Small Girl’s hospital wristband from when she broke her leg aged 11 months (now aged 4 years old) and a pile of letters from school, and vouchers and coupons dating back to 2011 and recipes I haven’t cooked since I cut them out of a magazine two years ago, and can therefore probably assume I never will.

I’m not sure quite what has sparked this fit of tidiness, but it feels almost like nesting.  In late pregnancy with Big Girl, I decided I couldn’t give birth until I had cleaned all the skirting boards in my house, my reasoning being that lots of people would come to my house and might judge it not fit to keep a baby in, and that I would probably not have chance to clean them again for a while.  I don’t know about the first point, but I’ve definitely not cleaned most of them since.

I’ve not been hiding a third pregnancy, no matter how much my children would like me to provide them with a baby.  But it does feel like there are new things coming.  It’s the start of the summer holidays, so much more time at home with my children for the next few weeks, and opportunities to potter around tidying (while my children create mess in other parts of the house).  And in September Small Girl starts school, which means I will have child-free Fridays at home. I have romanticised visions of myself using this time to create a clean, calm, well-organised home, shopping for the food we need for the week ahead, changing sheets, hoovering and tidying and sorting laundry, trailing domestic bliss in my wake.  I want to get ready for that, even if we all know I’ll really be binge-watching West Wing for the six hours between dropping the girls off and picking them up.

And I’ve recently been doing some more dating.  I went on three dates with someone who turned out to be a local councillor for a party I have spent my entire life viewing as the source of all – well, most – evil.  Despite this, I liked him very much.  I also went on a date with a single dad who had far more compatible political views and had a very pleasant evening, but nothing more.  It’s been interesting to see what a range of people are out there, and try to work out what I’m looking for.  And comparing how I feel now to how I felt last time I tried dating, 18 months ago, I feel ready for a relationship.  I feel slightly more able to trust people, and willing to give up some of my free time to spend with a boy if I like them (apparently these things are crucial to having a successful relationship).  So while I’m not planning on changing my domestic habits to appear more attractive to a men (and let’s be honest, no-one with a real thing about tidiness is likely to go out with me), I would like my home to reflect the best of myself rather than the worst.

I am realistic about this.  I will get bored.  I will make a mess. I will end up shoving everything in bags and putting it in the cellar, until I am unable to get into the cellar to read the meter, find the car seats or get out the barbecue.  Eventually I will just brick up the door to the cellar, like Henry being shut up in a tunnel because he didn’t want to get his shiny paint wet, and in a hundred years’ time it will be discovered by a future owner of my house, who just thought there was something peculiar about the shape of the kitchen.

But until I get to that point, I’ll see how tidy I can be.

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Raging against the machine. And trains. And everything which is not exactly how I feel it should be.

I was looking forward to my Quaker meeting this morning.  I was eagerly anticipating the silence and seeing friends, and had planned to do some useful shopping while I was in Manchester: stabilisers for Small Girl’s new (to her) bike and some running shoes which don’t let water in.  And I’ve missed quite a few Meetings recently due to failing to get to the train on time.

Well, today the train failed me.  I arrived at the station on time, having got up early and got ready, only to find ‘cancelled’ on the display screen next to my train.  I felt outraged.  No apology, no explanation, as if it acceptable to just cancel trains – and my train at that! No replacement service and apparently no understanding that with only one train an hourto Manchester Piccadilly  on a Sunday, this constitutes a serious inconvenience.

I realise, eventually, that my anger is probably not entirely reasonable.  I dislike change.  I particluarly dislike unexpected change which is outside my control.  I perceive it as some kind of offence against the natural order of things: the unfortunate cancellation of a train becomes a breach of a social contract which almost cannot be borne.

Once I realise the problem is mainly in my head, I try to reshape my day.  No, I’m not in Manchester experiencing silence in my soul as I had hoped.  This is not a disaster and perhaps the day can be saved.  I can go to the nearest Halfords to get stabilisers – and also wander around looking at Bike Things.  I love specialist shops which sell a range of things that I didn’t know existed, and had never imagined people might need.  (I read Bikenomics recently and am now a little obsessed with the idea of becoming a cycling family.  I’m not sure how long this phase will last).  I can do a lot of that tidying and laundry-sorting and washing up which wil make the rest of the week run more easily.  I have been to the park and looked at some ducks and I’m about to sit on the sofa and watch an episode of West Wing, which is like having a very undemanding social life.  It’s not a spoilt, ruined and wasted day, just an unexpectedly different day.  I hope to train my brain to understand this eventually.

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Little by little

This morning I ran my third Parkrun.  I got a new best time, and I think I ran more consistently, and I had a coffee afterwards with someone I know and someone he knows, so it felt like a good start to the day.  This was followed by a long stint in the bath reading the Saturday Guardian magazine, and now I am lounging around in my pyjamas eating chocolate.

One of the things I enjoy about running is the sense of accomplishment it gives me, of challenging myself and meeting that challenge, at my own pace.  Often I settle into a comfortable pace and then realise I could try a little harder, run a little faster.  I suggest to my legs that perhaps we could, if we wanted, pick up the pace ever so slightly.  And then I congratulate myself on just doing a little more than I thought I could.  It’s very affirming, and I am grateful to my legs for the valuable role they play in improving my self-esteem.

I also find, in Quakerism, that sense of challenging myself to try a little harder.  ‘Advices and Queries‘ is a little booklet with a gramatically dubious title, produced by British Quakers.  It poses questions and offers advice but is not prescriptive: the introduction says that “we are all therefore asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies”.  It encourages me to think about where I would like to develop or stretch myself, what things I could do differently, but there is no pressure to conform.

I have been thinking recently about what I’m doing with my time and how to balance the different parts of my life, and the extent to which I see the point in doing any housework.  I was looking through Advices and Queries during my Quaker meeting last week and came across no. 26, which seemed to speak to my questions:

Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your family and household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God’s presence.

So things are worth doing to the extent that they increase our enjoyment as a family and as individuals.  Housework which contributes to a peaceful and refreshing environment is beneficial.  And although my primary relationship to and responsibility for Big Girl and Small Girl is as their mother, I try to do this in a manner of loving friendship as much as possible.

  • Recently I’ve been feeling that I need some quiet time to myself at the end of the day.  When Big Girl is in bed, she wants to ‘just tell me something’ or hurts herself or wants me to help her with something.  Every time she shouts to me I come to the bottom of the stairs to hear what she is saying, disrupting whatever activity I was involved in.  Usually I am doing something like hanging up laundry or getting clothes ready for the next day or loading the dishwasher.  I am not enjoying myself or having a party.  But I would like to finish my jobs in peace and, possibly, then enjoy myself after a day of caring for my children and responding to demands and complaints and needs at work.  So I’ve bought a gro-clock.  This is after only about four years of people suggesting it, so I hope friends feel I have been listening.  During sleep time, the clock face is blue and has stars on it.  When it’s an appropriate getting-up time, the face turns yellow and the sun comes out.  So when the sun is on the screen, they can ask me things.  When the stars are out, I’m available for emergencies only.  Of course, they can still climb into my bed when I’m asleep in it, but they can’t get me up until the sun comes up.  Probably.  So far it seems to be reasonably effective and I am delighted.
  • It is far more efficient to sort the laundry once a week or so and put everything away than spend ten minutes every day rummaging around for pants and socks.  This reduces stress and frees up time for playing and sleeping.  I’m planning on teaching the girls how to sort their laundry with me, although they mainly see laundry-sorting as an opportunity to roll around on my bed in the middle of all the piles of sorted clothes.  It’s a work in progress.
  • I have been asked why I tidy up when visitors are coming if I’m not bothered by the mess.  This question was posed by someone who cleans a lot and has never been to my house, but still, it’s a good question.  Now I have an explanation.  I want people to feel peaceful and refreshed when they come to my house.  I’m not bothered by my mess, but that’s because it’s mine and I’m used to it.  It’s much nicer to go to a house where there’s space to sit on the sofa and there aren’t bits of guinea-pig hay and toys strewn around the floor causing mental distress for those not used to this degreeof mess.  And there’s a tendency to equate messiness with dirtiness. I think it’s courteous to save visitors the anxiety of wondering if they may get typhoid drinking a cup of tea in my house.
  • If there are clean bowls and plates and cups ready in the morning, and school and nursery clothes are set out, there is much less shouting and much more kindness in the morning.  It’s worth running the dishwasher before I go to bed to give us a better chance of a peaceful start to the day.

This doesn’t feel revolutionary, or a work of domestic genius – just a change in focus from aspiring to external standards of a well-run house, which I could never hope to meet, to finding ways to make our routines work for us.  And if I am working towards an increasing sense of peace and friendliness, I find things run much more smoothly than if I’m motivated by an unachievable domestic standard – my children respond better.  In the words of the lovely Dr Greene*, ‘I set the tone’.

*ER nostalgia never really goes away.

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Seeking myself

When my children are away, I have a tendency to feel a little deflated.  The past week and a half has been very full-on: we went on holiday to Butlins – beach, playground, swimming pool, lessons about not running by a swimming pool, bravery at venturing onto the flumes, shows, soft play, fairground rides (here’s my tip – if you have to take your children on big rides one at a time, take the bravest first onto the scary ones, and then explain to the more timid child that they really wouldn’t like it, and take them on something different), ice-cream, candy floss, puppets – non-stop fun.  And then straight home into Small Girl’s fourth birthday celebrations: on Saturday making a cake for her party on Sunday and unpacking; then on Sunday icing the cake, leaving for the party and dropping the cake upside down in the middle of the road.  The party, fortunately, was at a soft play centre, so didn’t involve too much organising, but when we got home Big Girl gave herself a small hair cut to add to the excitement.  Oh, and I also made a mermaid skirt/tail for Big Girl’s ‘Under the Sea’ dressing up day the following day, which had all but fallen apart by the time she got to school.  Apparently space blankets are not as robust as I imagined.  Having remembered how to get into school and work, with a streaming cold, and survived Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was Small Girl’s actually birthday: lots of presents, a trip to the park, a visit to the supermarket to buy a birthday cake and for Small Girl to spend some birthday money, and then I discovered I’d lost my housekeys so had to call a locksmith out.  My family arrived and we had a barbecue, and then Thursday there was school and work again.  It has felt somewhat like a runaway train I couldn’t stop, an ordeal I am surprised to have survived.  And now my girls have gone to their dad’s house, and I feel like a ship with dead sails. I’ve been driven by my children’s needs and demands, and the requirement to produce food and clean clothes and a good birthday celebration, and now the wind has gone and I am becalmed.

I’m not sure if this feeling is a natural response to having been so constantly busy or if it’s a sign that my life is out of balance.  This feast-or-famine way of living doesn’t really suit my temperament.  I don’t want to spend all my free time recovering from and preparing to be a parent.  But equally I want to be able to enjoy the time I have with my children without feeling exhausted, and overwhelmed by housework.  When first I had my childfree evenings and then weekends, I was so busy, fitting things in, having fun, making the most of every moment.  And then I realised that actually I like having an evening in by myself, and need some space and time to relax.

But now I feel somewhat purposeless, unsure of where I’m going.  I feel like I’m drifting – not so much like a fallow period as wasted time.  I’m not actually doing anything – I’m watching old episodes of West Wing, which are onto their third viewing now, by myself.  I’m not growing or changing or learning anything.  I’m not making new friendships or deepening older ones.  I’m trawling Facebook hoping to feel connected to something and mostly just seeing that other people are doing things which look more fun.

I don’t think the problem is with how I use my child-free time.  I think it’s that I allow myself to get lost, subsumed, when I’m caring for my children.  Somehow I need to refind the boundaries between myself and my children: when I was on retreat, I found that I could distinguish between me and them, their needs and my needs.  Somehow I had become blended with them and blurry around the edges, and the time alone enabled me to become distinct again.  I think I need to find that distinctness again.  It’s hard as a single parent: my children can be demanding and all-consuming, and there’s that sense of competition, of someone biting at my heels – if I am not good enough they may decide they’d prefer to live with Daddy.  I have to make the most of them, because they grow up so quickly and this time is precious.  But equally, I cannot have them be my full life, because they are not always here, and because my hope is for them to grow up and away, and to become independent, and it will be harder to do that if I also want to cling to them as a source of my self-worth and identity.  I am pulled in many directions, and I allow myself to become ragged and thin.

I’m not sure how I can do this, but I think there must be a way: more silence; more community; more sleep; and a little bit of courage. I think I owe myself that.

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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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Achieving

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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