Ma’people

Readers of the last few months may have gathered… I am a huge Nashville fan.  I am committed to not giving away any series 5 plot spoilers for my friends on this side of the pond, so let me just say that Rayna is one of my heroes (and I do know that she is a TV character – but she’s my hero anyway!)  I love the way that we have seen her grow as a mother as her girls have entered turbulent teenage years,  I love how passionate and open-hearted she is, and I love the way that we’ve seen her struggle to balance her career and her dreams with her life as a mentor, mother and lover.

 

There’s a scene in Nashville a few years back where Rayna has to play at a Country Club benefit.  I remember her raising her eyebrows and assuring her band leader, “These are not ma’people” (try and imagine a lovely Southern drawl)

But here’s the thing, Rayna grew up with those people.  Yet the comfortable world of the elite wasn’t for her.  She knew they weren’t her people.

Ever since we moved from a cosmopolitan, diverse Northern city to a sleepy market town in the South West, I’ve been searching for “ma’people”.  The direction life took us when Eldest was born meant that our local conservative, evangelical church began to feel less and less like home.  We had too many questions.  One of the reasons I left Facebook earlier this year was because I felt so aware that the views of many mainstream Christians just don’t reflect mine.  These are not ma’people.

When life throws a lot of crap your way, it’s interesting how it can help you find your people!  Over the last ten years or so, my friendships have deepened with other people who know what it is to feel broken.  My little WordPress community is full of amazing people who are learning to live with limits.  Next weekend I’ll be meeting up with the other mums from the ‘Head up, Heart strong’ film who have all battled postnatal illness. We will be sharing cocktails and stories of relapse.  These are just some of ma’people.

 

This week I took a new step to reach out and find ma’people.  I joined Team East Devon Swimmers for an evening swim in Sidmouth.  The water was 12 degrees C and the swimming was magical!  It was a special thing for me after a number of years living with mental illness to meet people based firstly on a shared interest, rather than on a shared experience of suffering.  I learned a new word – Thalassophile – meaning someone who loves the sea.  These too, are ma’people… and I can’t wait to get to know them better.

Here’s where we will be swimming.  Just beautiful.

Derailed

The wisdom of a cushion

April has been a testing month at times. Challenges have come and gone in lots of different aspects of life.  For a little while I had a blog post entitled ‘parenting on the edge’ formulating in my mind! Maybe I’ll still write it some day…

cushion

One of my first tasks of the day in my support worker role is to ‘wake up’ my friend’s living room. I let the light in as I open the curtains, I fold blankets and straighten the beautiful sofa cushions. Next to the hand-knitted yellow cushion is a simple cotton cushion that reads “Do small things with great love”.

I’ve been musing on the cushion a lot this month.  I’ve been finding myself at my happiest when doing the small things. Trying to do the big, scary things (like training courses) perfectly gets overwhelming.  But with the wisdom of the cushion I can remind myself to do a small thing, like encourage a participant with an affirming smile.

I can do a small thing like change Little One’s toilet-training accidents, with great love.  It might seem like such a small thing to be packing spare knickers and jersey trousers into a schoolbag, but for us it’s a huge, incredible step forward.

I sometimes feel I can only do such small things to protect and support Eldest as she walks through this horrible bullying at school…  But I can talk to the headteacher with great love, rather than demanding punishment or exclusion of the child involved.  I can let my fierce love for my child motivate me to keep doing the small things that help her feel safe.  Cups of tea, late-night cuddles in our bed, sitting at the end of her bed reading a chapter of “Divergent”, baking together.

The wisdom of a cushion has kept me going, kept me grounded this month.  I’m realising just how important the small things are, as they contain the greatest love not just for others, but for myself.  Small things allow me to be limited, to not have all the answers, but to know that I am loving greatly nonetheless.

 

Nourish

A beautiful friend pointed out to me that my balance of work at the moment is a winning combination for my personality!  I have space to explore my creativity through cooking & writing, there’s intellectual stimulation through being part of cutting-edge research applications, and I get periods of ‘extrovert time’ when I’m delivering training.

I’m nourished by all of these things.  I’m nourished by writing recipes, translating research into everyday language and working with my co-facilitator to plan engaging, supportive training.  I’m also continuing to learn to replenish my energy with time that’s just for me. Is it weird that I find watching an episode of Skins on the sofa in the daytime deeply relaxing? (Maybe it’s an attempt to prepare myself for the imminent teenage years for Eldest…)

Nashville: The Complete Soundtrack has been the accompaniment to my cooking today. Country music is so full of storytelling, and so melodic.  I love being able to join in with the harmonies while I slice vegetables and select spices.

Here are a couple of really simple soups from my growing collection

soup3

Roasted veg & brown lentil soup

  • 1/2 swede or celeriac
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 jar passata
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • 150g brown lentils
  1. Chop all the root vegetables into small-medium sized chunks
  2. Roast with the olive oil, maple syrup and wholegrain mustard for 30 mins at 180c
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the lentils in the passata and stock
  4. Add the root vegetables to the lentils & passata and simmer for a further 10-20 mins

 

Red pepper, carrot and red lentil soup

  • 4 carrots
  • 4 red peppers
  • 250g red lentils
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1200-1500ml vegetable stock, depending on how thick you like the soup
  1. Fry the garlic and fennel seeds in olive oil for 2-3 mins
  2. Add the red peppers and carrots, cut into medium sized chunks
  3. Add the lentils, oregano and stock
  4. Season
  5. Simmer for 30-40 mins
  6. Blend

 

 

 

 

 

In my cabin

storm

It has taken me a while, but I have made a start on the playlist.  I have called it ‘hunker down’ – imagining myself in a wooden cabin in some Nordic country. Darkness, a fire and woollen blankets for company. Hail, snow and wind raging outside. A place of confinement and refuge at the same time.

During the confinement of depression, I want to take refuge in these songs. To be enfolded in the blankets of their melodies, to be strengthened by the fire-glow of their lyrics.  To hunker down and accept the storm.

I’m going to let a few of the songs speak for themselves

‘Believing’ Nashville Cast

I don’t remember
How I got here
When my rose coloured glasses disappeared
Sometimes my fingers
They can lose touch
Start letting go of everything I love
When I get the feeling
That my prayers have hit the ceiling
On those darker days when my faith has lost all meaning
You keep me believing

‘I won’t give up’ Jason Mraz

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

Well I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up

‘Everybody Hurts’ REM

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

‘MLK’ U2

Sleep
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be

I hope some of these words and melodies will bring comfort to you whatever season you find yourself in.

Squiggly

Life sometimes feels very squiggly when you are in a period of remission.  You’re busy trying to rebuild life and pick up old threads but there is messiness in trying to find your equilibrium.

Recovery_reality

I used to feel quite scared of the scribble, the days when out of nowhere I don’t feel like getting up again or I find myself mind-busy and frazzled.  But as you look at the featured image for this blog don’t you think that in some ways that the messy line is actually quite beautiful?

Quite a few things have been squiggling me lately (but I’m learning to accept them as part of the beautiful tangle of life and recovery).  I was offered an ongoing role facilitating mums’ mental health courses from September this year.  In many ways it’s the role I have been dreaming of – but I knew I had to turn it down at this point in my own life journey.  I felt torn between guilt and relief as I sent off the email to say no.  No is a hard thing, but a precious thing too.

Little One has been providing us with some very tangly challenges.  The shift from winter to spring has really unsettled bedtimes and we have had more than a few nights of really screaming at the top of her voice “It’s day not night! I don’t go to bed in the day!” There have been moments of parenting genius like digging out the ‘Sunshine at Bedtime’ poem from Shirley Hughes Out and About collection. There have been many more moments of wondering what on earth to do and the pain of listening to an angry, crying child behind the bedroom door who is so very, very tired but doesn’t understand.

Eldest is going through her own messy time at the moment too and I’m there helping her to untangle some of it. There have been many cups of tea and slices of cheese on toast at the end of another upsetting day at school.  Friendships for pre-teen girls have always been challenging and fraught, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this when your precious girl is in tears as she tries to be her authentic self and gets knocked back.

I had something of an epiphany in the midst of the tangles.  I’ve been searching so long for that time I go “back to work” and I’m healed, whole, a functioning member of society again.  That time when I’ll have the career success I imagined when I headed off to University back in 1994.  But the thing is I already have a career.  The most important, draining, fabulous, meaningful work I could have imagined.  I’m a mother to Little One and Eldest.  The paid work is going to have to continue to take a back seat, as much for my wholeness and well-being as theirs.

Glorious mess

Things I learned on a spreadsheet

A poem inspired by the (not very nice) task of writing a spreadsheet to help me with my NHS occupational health form

11 lines on a spreadsheet

Stark black font in backlit cells

The statistics tell me it’s been roughly every two years

Since 1994

But they cannot tell me

How many more months?

Almost 52 so far

But who’s counting anyway?

 

Zen and the art of losing it

I guess there was a certain inevitability.  Mindfulness as a parent is hard work, it’s discipline, it’s continual practice.

It all started with the trees.  I tend to drive in some kind of reverie – caught up in lists, planning, evaluating, daydreaming.  In the spirit of everyday mindfulness I kept trying to bring myself back to the present, to notice the different shapes and shades of the trees along the journey.  Trying, trying, trying.  It wasn’t gentle and it certainly wasn’t very peaceful.  I found myself increasingly frustrated with my flighty mind and its insistence on fleeing back to the future or the past.

As best you can.  It’s a mantra often repeated during mindfulness-based therapy and I see it written down a lot in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books.  Cultivating a compassionate mind towards myself, can I accept that in each passing moment I will bring my attention to the present as best I can?

Moment by moment parenting.  Now there’s a challenge.  In the ‘spaces’ before and after school there is time pressure, competing demands, a structure and a schedule needed. Little One has a completely different schedule to mine. It consists of “play babies until it’s time to leave for school”.  Breakfast, getting dressed, phonics – mere distractions, taking mummy away from the important business of pretend play.  In contrast my mind is ticking over – lists, lists, what next, what time is it, has Eldest done her homework, how can I give her some time and attention before she skips out of the door to meet her friends?

I held it together before and after school yesterday.  I made a conscious decision to set aside time to be absorbed alongside Little One in ‘baby world’.  It wasn’t very long, perhaps ten minutes in the morning and half an hour after school, but still trying, trying, trying to be present and not planning the dinner or the work e-mail or the blog post.

I’m going to be honest, I felt proud of myself but also depleted.  It takes energy and commitment to shut out the world and play.  I think it takes practice too, and wisdom.  For me, the sensory world of playdough is better at the end of the day than the demands of the imaginary ‘baby world’.  Little One has learning difficulties, and so she likes quite routinized scenarios for playing babies yet often flits from one topic to another.  One minute we’ll be feeding baby in the high chair and I’m taking on the role of granny, the next minute Little One is ‘Jan Vann’ the paramedic rushing the baby to hospital.  It can be at the same moment boring, repetitive and difficult to keep up.

The rupture

Things reached boiling point after dinner.  You know those moments where it all feels perfect and delicious and then you’re suddenly plunged into a power struggle?  Eldest and Little One were sharing a bath, which doesn’t happen very often nowadays.  I was just looking at their beautiful bodies, enjoying their sisterly love and simply feeling grateful for them.  Time for a hair wash.  Trying to imagine my best mindful parent I gave Little One the choice, “shall we wet your hair with the pot or the shower?”  She chose the pot.  Wriggled away, climbed over her sister, resisted the water at all costs.  Patience, patience.  “This isn’t working love, I’m going to use the shower OK?  Put a cloth over your eyes and tip your head up”.

More wriggling, arching her back, standing up, turning around.  Absolutely no looking up or sitting still. Lather up, with help from Eldest.  “It’s time to sit really still now OK?  We need to wash the bubbles out of your hair”.  Climb over sister, arch back, wriggle away, stand up, repeat.  After imploring her three times to sit down with a cloth on her eyes I just lost it, spraying water directly above her head and down her face.  Shampoo in her eyes, stinging, shock and crying.  I felt so guilty and drained.  Too late after the event I tried to ask her why she didn’t sit still for the shower.

Children need to experience this, too, namely that their parents are human, that at times we can be insensitive, misattuned, even unempathic – that we can get upset and angry.  Much can be learned from such moments of stress and disconnection, and from the important process of repair and recovery… the strength of the parent-child relationship… is based as much on this tumultuous process of rupture followed by repair as it is in feelings of closeness and safety

Everyday Blessings, p.73

The repair

Little One dried her own hair with the hairdryer.  I gently toweled her body and told her I was sorry.  She said she didn’t like the shower, so I asked her if she would like to play with it a bit while brushing her teeth, to get the feel of the water.  We shared a story, a song, a goodnight kiss, an “I love you”.

As best you can.  It’s all we can ask of ourselves.

Mushrooms, mindfulness and multitasking

I took down my copy of Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef from the shelf this evening. When it was printed back in 1999, Jamie was a fresh-faced TV chef fond of sliding down the banisters of his trendy London flat and zooming around on his moped.  I was a newlywed girl with a kitchen full of beautiful new stainless steel cooking equipment and Denby crockery carefully unpacked from our wedding gift boxes.  Nothing gave me greater pleasure in those days (and still does) than leafing through my recipe books and planning something delicious to cook for my husband.

I wanted to make risotto today.  The cold air has returned and a bowl of something rich, warming and simple seemed fitting.  I chose mushrooms, thyme, parsley and garlic to flavour the creamy arborio rice.

The real secret of a good risotto, I’m afraid, is that you have to stand over it and give it your loving and undivided attention for about 17 minutes, but it’s worth it. (The Naked Chef p.170)

Undivided attention.  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently as I read about mindfulness practice and mindful parenting.  I’m part way through Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s Everyday Blessings and am finding myself really challenged to give my full attention to my daughters in our everyday moments together.

Back to the risotto – how did I get on with the ‘loving and undivided attention’ it needed? The recipe calls on the cook to add the stock ladle by ladle over 17-20 minutes. Each time a ladleful is added, you stir smoothly and continuously until the stock is absorbed. Over time this gently and slowly swells the rice giving the risotto its creamy texture.  Here is what actually happened after each addition of stock…  I clearly still have some way to go in practising everyday mindfulness!

Ladle 1 – stir, clear up the vegetable peelings, realise the food waste bin has a gross blob of Weetabix inside the lid, take off the lid and wash it, tie up the food bin bag (in between nipping to and from the hob to stir)

Ladle 2 – stir, turn the heat down, kiss husband hello, look at Little One’s picture, ask Eldest to put some TV on for Little One and please set the table

Ladle 3 – stir, shove cardboard for recycling into the cupboard, stir for a little while and enjoy the waft of white wine and celery rising from the pan, congratulate myself on a moment of mindful attention (!)

Ladle 4 – stir, think about this blog (!) and make a mental list for the grocery shop tomorrow

Ladle 5 – stir, wipe the table and kitchen surfaces, look at Little One’s house-point certificate from school

Ladle 6 – stir, chop parsley in a cup with scissors, taste the rice to see if it’s cooked, wish that I was better at just staying still and paying attention to the risotto

Ladle 7 – stir, think about what I’m going to cook for the rest of the week, grate cheese and put it on the table, shout the family to tell them dinner’s ready

Although in many ways this is a funny example, it really got me thinking about how my modus operandi is multitasking.  I have this idea brewing…  What about using a 17-minute ‘risotto space’ to practise just stopping for a while to give what I’m doing my full and undivided attention?  Little One loves to play ‘babies’ – but we often need to set a timer to help her understand when the game has finished and mummy needs to do the next thing. Why not set a timer for 17 minutes and be fully present, holding a baby doll and changing its clothes, watching my Little One smile up at me, listening to her little names for the dolls, being grateful that she loves to nurture?  Could I manage a 17-minute cup of peppermint tea with no smartphone, no agenda? How about 17 minutes to sit down with Eldest and hear about her day, or look through our baking recipes together?

I do want to make a risotto without multitasking.  I want to create and enjoy moments where I am fully present with my girls and my husband.  Life means that there won’t always be 17 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, but maybe there will be 17 minutes to live just that bit slower and more purposefully.