Finely tuned

I was talking to my husband a couple of nights ago.  I reflected on the ways that life seems to need a bit more fine-tuning for me than the average bear.

fine tuning

I’m enjoying it though, you know, the fine-tuning.  Sitting down with my Google calendar on the cusp of a new term, and making sure there is space.  Space to book in a day for oddly compelling jobs, like sorting out the crap drawer (we all have one… the random keys, Blu-Tac, tape-measure kind of drawer).

Space to swim in the river Dart or the sea down at Jacob’s Ladder.  To take a flask of peppermint tea and rest by the water’s edge.

Fine-tuning this term has meant resisting the temptation to take on a few more paid hours.  To recognise that Eldest has both excitement and challenges coming up as she starts high school, and she may well need her mum more.  She sometimes talks about her fears of me becoming unwell at the start of a new academic year – it’s such a season of change.

But this year the change is good.  It’s a change in my expectations of myself, a willingness to leave space and embrace it.  Two Septembers ago I was afraid of the space, driven by a fear that – at 40 – I was pretty much at the last chance saloon in terms of finding a career.

This September I’m at peace.  The work will still be there when the time is right.

 

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Patience, darling

If you’ve been journeying with me for a while, you may remember that one of my hopes for the gap year was to decorate the girls’ bedrooms

Wow, that was almost two years ago.  That’s the thing.  Sometimes you have to have a lot of patience to realise your hopes and dreams.  Guess what?  During March my consultancy work enabled me to pay a decorator to bring Eldest’s Ravenclaw themed bedroom to life (I really didn’t have the skills for a dark blue feature wall!)  Eldest and I sat at the kitchen table in April and made a decopatch Harry Potter lampshade inspired by this one from Sunshine Sings on Etsy.  She loved choosing her favourite quotes from the old copy which was falling apart, and it turned out pretty beautifully!

Harry potter lamp

Today I’ve been listening to Noah and the Whale in Little One’s room.  Sugar soap and sponge in hand, sandpaper for the woodwork.  I’m finally doing it!  I’m enjoying the metaphor of cleaning, smoothing down rough edges, creating a little friction in order for the new and the pretty to emerge.  She’s chosen a lollipop pink to go with her 1970’s inspired IKEA duvet cover which has brown, orange, yellow and pink birds and flowers. It’s going to be gorgeous and funky, just like her.

I’ll leave you with some thought-provoking lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s Life is Life

Well he used to be somebody
And now he’s someone else
Took apart his old life
Left it on the shelf
Sick of being someone
He did not admire
Took up all his old things
Set em all on fire

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

Left his house at midnight
Resolute and young
In search of something greater
Than the person he’d become
Threw his bags on to the back
Of his run down eighties car
Headed out to god knows where
The distance is too far

He’s gonna change
Gonna change his ways
Gonna change
Gonna change his ways

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven
And it feels like his new life can start
And it feels like heaven

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

Dreams resurrected

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Yesterday I signed a form to become an employee of the NHS for the first time in 19 years. At the age of 23, my dreams were in tatters as I quit my job as a Speech & Language Therapist.  My mental health had deteriorated so badly that I had been off sick for two months and I knew I couldn’t go back.  I had only lasted nine months after qualification. All that work for my degree, all the striving towards the four A grades at A-level to get into Newcastle University – it felt utterly wasted.

During my time off sick, I took a retreat to Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales.  It was early Spring and the gentleness of nature soothed my soul.  I vented to God – this didn’t make sense.  What on earth was I going to do with my future?  I have the carefully scripted pages of my retreat journal in front of me today. It’s a plain red exercise book with lined pages faded to yellow, but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  During the retreat I kept coming back to the book With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  I began to realise that letting go of my career was an important step.  It was going to require radical trust.  I believe God spoke during that retreat and here is what I heard:

Allow me to meet your needs

Love, security, value, purpose, worth, significance, dependence

Nothing else will satisfy your longings – allow me, precious one

Allow me, dear child

snowdrop

As I drove away from the interview yesterday having been offered my bank post as a Peer Trainer, it felt like my dream of working to support people in their recovery is slowly coming back to life.  Like a snowdrop emerging from its dormancy, heralding the hope of Spring.

I didn’t know at 23 that I would go on to struggle with my mental health for another twenty years (and will probably continue to struggle).  I didn’t know that my dream of motherhood would be tested to its absolute limits through the haze of psychosis and the dark, relentless agony of depression.  I still don’t understand this path, but I know there is the capacity for immense beauty in it.  My daughters are pure joy in human form!  My husband has been utterly faithful to his vow to love me “in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health”.

I feel like I am allowed to dream again.  I am still learning to be dependent on God, but I get this feeling that he is smiling too at the beauty of a snowdrop.

Pacing

VERB

  • 1  Walk at a steady speed, especially without a particular destination and as an expression of anxiety or annoyance:

    ‘we paced up and down in exasperation’
    ‘she had been pacing the room’
  •  2  Move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed:
‘our fast-paced daily lives’

2.1 Lead (another runner in a race) in order to establish a competitive speed:

‘McKenna paced us for four miles’

2.2 pace oneself Do something at a slow and steady rate in order to avoid overexertion:

‘Frank was pacing himself for the long night ahead’

Origin

Middle English: from Old French pas, from Latin passus stretch (of the leg), from pandere to stretch.

Oxford Living Dictionary

Way back in 2006 when Eldest was a baby, my care coordinator’s favourite phrase was “you need to pace yourself”.  I found this intensely frustrating as the mother of a beautiful tiny human who needed me to shake off this depression and ‘get back with the program’.  I wanted to play and bond with her;  I wanted to have a tidy home; I wanted to take her out to baby groups and meet other mums.  But I was so afraid.  I was paralysed by the list of things I needed to do to feel like I was back in control of my life and functioning as I should as a new mother.

I mentally paced the floor, worrying about how my poor mental health was going to have a disastrous impact on her development.  I wept and wept at the psychologist’s office.  All I could say was “I’m so sorry”.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’m in my psychotherapist’s sitting room, looking out over the garden.  I’m using photographs to talk about Little One.  I’m in her trusting gaze, transported right back to the moment that I lay with her on the floor as she clutched her brightly coloured mermaid toy.  All I can say is “I’m so sorry darling”.

Now I’m really learning the hard lessons of pacing myself.  I’m regularly fine-tuning that delicate balance between motherhood and occupation.  I am learning to lay things down, to journal about my future aspirations but to caution myself not to run before I can walk.  I’m learning to be aware of the clamour of thoughts and ideas within me and to spend time over a cup of tea without multi-tasking.  My race pacers come in many forms, from the CPN to the employment support worker; from friends to mindfulness posts on Facebook.  I am learning not to feel so guilty, and to say “I’m so sorry” to myself when I push life too hard.  This is the work of Recovery.

January sings the blues

This is a song for anyone with a broken heart
This is a song for anyone who can’t get out of bed
Or do anything to be happy
Oh, ’cause blue skies are coming
But I know that it’s hard

Noah and the Whale

Last January I wondered if I would ever feel able to get out of bed and face the real world. This January possibility lies ahead of me.  Blue skies did return.  I have so many ideas and things to enjoy that I can easily fill life until it’s bursting at the seams.  In the stillness I find myself aware though that the time may come again when it feels like I can’t do anything to be happy.

Music and song lyrics often rise up to speak to me about my recovery.  I have this idea for a Spotify playlist that I can create now with a relapse in mind.  Songs about how it’s worth it to hold on, about the tenacity of love, about loss.  Here’s one of my current favourites –

Life can weigh you down like a stone.
It can bend you, break you,
Leave you skin and bones.
It’s a long winding road,
You don’t have to walk it alone.

Baby, hold on to me,
Tighter than your sweetest memory, of you and me.
When you’re looking for an open door,
But it seems so out of reach.
Baby, hold on to me, on to me.

Connie Britton, Nashville Cast

I’d love to hear fellow travellers’ songs for the journey, post them in the comments below and I’ll let you know how my playlist goes.