Three envelopes waiting to be filled
Letter number one to the girl who fears she is slipping
Peering over the edge into the darkness of ink
Courage, dear heart
The darkness has never overcome the pinprick light
Letter number two
To the girl who wants to flee
To taste nothingness now, to leave this pain behind
Stay, stay, stay
Find the solace of arms around you
Letter number three to the girl far from home
Courage, the kindness of strangers
The wisdom of trees
Colour, cook, rest, create
You will find home again.
Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul
Sun faded photograph
Can’t hide the depth, the knowing of your inky blue eyes
Your focus is unwavering
You know our hearts are eternally intertwined
You know I am your shelter
But did you sense my sorrow?
Did you feel my heart ache to be the mother you needed?
I look deeper into your eyes
Tell you I’m sorry, tell you you’re beautiful
Tell you I’m here, tell you thank you for being the Reason
Your gaze fixes on me from the photograph
Whispers to me “everything’s going to be OK”
I’m realising that creating new recipes is a good indicator of recovery for me. The Black Dog seems to sap all my ideas and my appetite. It’s been lovely to potter in the kitchen today and create healthy, seasonal dishes using our Riverford veg box.
Here are a few combinations I’ve tried out over the last few days.
Rhubarb cooked with rosewater and maple syrup
Salad of roasted butternut squash, avocado, goat’s cheese and kohl rabi
Red lentil dhal with turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds and cumin
Fish baked with red pepper, tomato and olive sauce
The house woke up and stretched, blinking in the sunlight. It flung its windows wide open and breathed in the scent of Spring air. It straightened the bed covers and wondered about what to have for breakfast.
The fridge was bursting with fruit and fresh green vegetables. The house took a handful of berries and ate them one by one, each a little explosion of sweet and tangy flavour.
The washing machine and tumble drier whirred contentedly, flinging tiny cardigans and sparkly t-shirts around ready for Little One and Eldest. The house drew back the living room curtains and filled itself with pale morning light.
The house lit a candle and sat down for a while, contemplating how long it had been since it had felt so alive.
I’ve been spending some time in the company of my colour-coded weekly plan. While I was in hospital, the Occupational Therapists shared with me a useful pie-chart comprising work-related activity, leisure and self-care. I added the category ‘mum time’ and got to work producing my own colour version. Red for work-related activity, green for self-care, pale blue for leisure, dark blue for mum-time. It transported me right back to revising for my A-levels with coloured biros in hand. I have a pack of beautiful coloured fine liners which were a gift from a friend for my hospital stay. Colouring in tiny butterflies gradually made way to writing a wish list for my reinvented gap year.
One of the things I learned in hospital was that I need more time in my own company. My weekly plan comprises busy mornings to encourage me out of bed, and more quiet reflective afternoons to recharge my batteries before collecting the girls from school. More often than not, you’ll find me chopping vegetables with the radio on, making a soffrito ready for the addition of stock, pulses and more vegetables. There’s something soothing and reassuring about stirring a big batch of wholesome soup with a wooden spoon. If I’m ever in doubt about how to spend one of my quiet afternoons, I make soup.
The Black Dog grew bigger and heavier. Soon enough he was the size of a small pony, heavy on her chest. She could hardly breathe. He slobbered in her face every morning, waiting for attention.
“Somehow” she thought “there has to be a way to shrink him back down.” He followed her everywhere, digging in his paws as she walked the children to school. He enticed her back to bed where she could be enveloped in his Black, Heavy scent.
People sent cards and colouring pens, they spoke out prayers and wishes for Small Dog days. Slowly and gradually, he was shrinking. She ran along woodland paths and he bounded beside her, but he was flagging. She ran and ran and thought about Freedom.
Now there was freedom, and space. “Too much space” she said, and made a list. A new list of ways to shrink the dratted Black Dog down to the size of a woodlouse.
- Host an Art Group at my house once a week
- Run whenever I’m lonely
- Book a different person in for coffee every week
- Blow more bubbles for Little One
- Bake more cakes with Eldest
- Escape to a Yurt with Gallant Husband
- Cook more soup
- Volunteer at the Children’s Centre
- Take pink pills, red pills and two kinds of white pills
After a few weeks, the dog was small enough to fit in her hand. He didn’t look so threatening from there. She put him in a tin on the kitchen shelf. “I’ll remember I can shrink you” she said to herself.
Shine a light through an open door
Love and life I will divide
Turn away ’cause I need you more
Feel the heartbeat in my mind
It’s been a rough term, fellow travellers… Finding a good way through relapse is never easy. Feeling the briefest of snatches of the real me, melting away so easily into hopelessness. Dear God, I’m 40 – what on earth am I going to do with the rest of my life?
What’s keeping us going? We’re refusing to give up on Love in a ‘hopeless’ place. Still, Christmas approaching has filled me with worry – will I be able to make it as special for the girls as I long for? Will the wet, heavy Black Dog make his appearance at the dinner table or under the Christmas tree?
I needn’t have worried. This year Love held me together. Waking up to hear the girls squealing with enjoyment at their first stocking presents, I knew we were going to be OK – we scooped them up into our bed to tip out their stickers, chocolate coins and hair clips (painstakingly wrapped by Gallant Husband). My fragile heart felt lifted by the simple joys of being a family. With a sigh of relief I connected with the real me.
May it not just be for the briefest of days, but even if tomorrow I have to greet that Black Dog, I’ll whisper to him that we will keep looking for Love in the hopeless place, and we’ll keep finding it.
I’m writing while eating a toasted Warburton’s crumpet topped with a sliver of salted butter. Sometimes you need the simplest things to be brave. This is the blog post I didn’t want to write, the words I didn’t really want to see on a screen in front of me. But I also want to be really honest about the journey, about what it’s like to try and rebuild your life after mental illness.
I’m in the middle of a relapse. My least favourite bedfellows, anxiety and depression, have made themselves a residence in my poor tired brain once again. At times it has felt like a complete disaster. I’ve grieved for the freedom and joy of the woman and mother I was in France just a few weeks ago. But it’s not a complete disaster. It’s bloody hard work but I have a daily decision to make: I have to choose to live life. In the midst of it all I’ve been finding ways to give and receive comfort. To notice the smell of little one’s hair when she’s fresh from her bath. To bake cheese scones with Eldest so that we can eat them fresh from the oven while watching the Bake Off final. Small things, small gestures, small but essential comforts. To weep and hug with Gallant Husband and Eldest, who both know how hard the road of relapse can be for us all.
It’s not the start of the gap year that I’d expected, but there is still comfort to be found. And I hope in the future there will be enjoyment and adventures to blog about. But right now is for living gently, and for trusting that relapses do end. Today I wore my softest red knitted jumper and on the walk home from school, the girls and I stopped to notice how many different autumn colours we could find.
I bought myself a beautiful tin of artists pencils today. The shades have fantastic names like Vandyke Brown, Phthalo Blue Green and Pansy Violet. Each pencil is fashioned from chalk, china clay, pigment and wood in a natural stain.
This might sound kind of odd but my tin of pencils is a statement of faith. Faith in myself that I can use this new commodity of time to be creative, to be at peace, to produce something of beauty.