A Sense of It

I’m aware I have been silent for a long time on the blog. Lots of reason, some good, some not so good. So I thought I’d share this poignant description of living with depression. Particularly difficult at this time of year. To anyone who recognises at least part of this, know you are not alone. ❤️

Ubiquitous. Quotidian.

Depression is another planet. A planet that looks mostly like your own with the same basic physics and sometimes the same weather. The people here look like people you know, except they are all very far away and getting farther. Maybe you no longer speak the same language and no matter how very hard you try, you cannot communicate with each other. And maybe there is always something important that needs doing but you can’t remember what that something is or why it so urgently needs doing. Priorities are hell. Everything is equally weighted. Its all urgent or utterly inconsequential. You cannot know which. Everything is effort. You move from day to day, hopping across small islands of sleep. There are mercies. You don’t dream. You lie down and extinguish. You drift in the place of the not yet born and the no longer living. Eventually, you wake and your…

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Too Many ‘Me’s

FINALLOGOKNITTYCATSGIFTS

My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

MrsDeansDoll

Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

Sad

For some reason I felt the need to share this beautiful tribute to a person I don’t know (written by a writer-friend) ❤️

M T McGuire Authorholic

This is a difficult one to write.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I decided I needed to get my books a re-edit.  I’d rewritten bits, added scenes and generally jiggled things about and I wanted someone to go over them. Someone who knew the things I didn’t know like what sized dash to use when and when to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon. I needed a gimlet-eyed grammar spud and the fellow I usually used wasn’t around.

As I pondered whether to wait or find a second editor a post about editing appeared on a blog I follow. I’d give you a link but it isn’t there anymore. After a brief comment saying I thought I needed a line edit and a proof read someone popped up in the comments saying I might not. She said her name was Kate and what…

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Noticed

I read a quote on Facebook this morning that said,

We are all just waiting for someone to notice… notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.” – Rachel Macy Stafford, Only Love Today

It made me realise that all the things we see in the news, all the stuff happening – good and bad – is a result of people trying to be noticed.

Watching in horror at what is happening in Charlottesville, I realised that the problem with white privilege is that most people are not aware of it. If you are born into a position where you don’t have to fight to get a vote, fight to get equal pay, fight not to be searched for no reason on the streets, fight to be allowed to marry for love, fight for representation in government – if these things happen just because of who you are and where you were born – then you don’t feel noticed.

The counter-reaction ‘All Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the perfect example. We all want to feel special, but if you don’t realise that you are special just by winning the birth lottery, you need to find a new way of being noticed. Never mind that ‘being noticed’ for many is being abused, hated, feared, belittled and demonised.

And oh, social media; the perfect platform for the invisible. Trolls, trying to be noticed by being controversial. Bigots and racists and Trump supporters getting a voice and being noticed in their droves, screaming into the void and not caring who they are stomping over in their desperate need to be somebody. Even average, probably lovely, people on my local Facebook social page, bragging about calling 999 because someone is playing their music too loud at midnight on a Saturday.

Us creatives write our books, knit our toys, paint our pictures, and then wait for the world to notice and be impressed (or maybe that’s just me!) We look for nice reviews, good reactions, a heart emoji on a Facebook share, because it makes us feel special.

Actually, that’s true for everybody. I read somewhere that the physical reaction to getting likes on a Facebook post or a Tweet is similar to the high from a drug. That’s why children are glued to their phones, seeking affirmation. The louder, busier, noisier the world gets, the harder it is to feel special, the more extreme our efforts need to be to get heard.

I think about when I was a child. I knew about twenty people. I knew people were my friends because they said so, or sent me a note in class, or came round to play.

I got noticed by being good at school. I was desperate for teacher praise and it took me all the way to a first-class degree. My sister was ace at gymnastics and competed at county. We felt real because of what we achieved, and it made us try hard to excel at those things.

My kids now want to have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts. They’re 6 and 8. They want to be noticed by people who don’t know them and won’t care about hurting their feelings, and they don’t understand why I am reluctant to let them. I want them to have the simpler life I had – I want them to compete at karate if they want recognition, or excel at school. I suspect that feels like too much work, when they watch Kacy and Jacy with their 1.7M subscribers and 8M views (Although the girls must have worked so hard to make as many videos as they have, and they do some crazy things). I cringe every time they lovely girls sign off their videos with “We love you sooooo much.” Really?

There is an upside to social media of course. We can connect with our tribe. We can be noticed by people who are like us. As I was searching for the Rachel Stafford quotation above, I read the page of the book that it is from (I must read the whole book, it looks lovely. I follow the Facebook page). Rachel describes an incident in a café, where her daughter reassures someone who made an error by saying, “That happens to me.” That is the core of tribe. We can be noticed and appreciated by people who get us. Empathy goes a long way, and is at the heart of good noticing. Noticing to be able to say, “Me too”.

My blog is my happy space of followers who understand me, who accept me for who I am. Ditto the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook. The one where 500 people shared photos of their messy houses to make a mother feel better about not being able to live up to the glossy magazine ideal. The blogs with mums reaching for wine in the holidays or wanting to sell their kids on ebay (don’t be silly, you made him, sell him on etsy, one meme says). Being noticed by friends who see you having good days and bad days. Social media can stop us being lonely. But there is a fine line between quenching the desire to be noticed and life being defined by the search for it.

That said, actively noticing people can be such a positive thing. So much of children playing up is because they want to be seen. Although by this point in the summer holidays the phrase “Mummy, look at me!” is driving me to distraction, remembering what is at the heart of it makes life so much easier. I can tell when my children feel like I don’t see them. That’s when they nag and pester and fight and become impossible to live with. They’ll even take shouting and tears from me as evidence that they exist: Any reaction is better than no reaction. If I’m not careful I’ll turn them into Twitter Trolls. Recognising what is at the root of it means occasionally I know to stop, turn off the phone, make eye contact, actually notice what they’re trying to show me. It’s exhausting but oh so rewarding. And a little noticing goes a long way.

For me, too, I can tell when I’m grumpy with my husband because he hasn’t seen me, or something I’ve achieved. These days I just hand him the words. “Please notice that I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen because your dad is coming over. No, that’s not enough Wow, more noticing please.” It works, for us, even though it makes me feel like a petulant child. And for him too, often the most invisible person in the household because he asks for so little. Telling him he looks handsome (rather than noticing he needs a shower!) transforms him. I should do it more often. But we do our best.

Sometimes we steal the line from Avatar, which puts it more succinctly than a thousand-word blog post.

“I see you.”

No Words

IMG_9059The blog is my neglected third child. I don’t mean to be a terrible blog mummy any more than I ever mean to be a rubbish parent to my children.

But really I have no words.

I truly understand the phrase ‘words fail me’. It doesn’t just mean I am silent but that words have let me down. They no longer come, they no longer work. I can no longer use them to explain the world or describe my feelings.

I have no words of patience for the children or answers to their endless questions.

I have no words to put in my characters’ mouths or to make small talk at the school gate.

When I see a tower burning because some people’s lives seem to matter more than others, I am mute.

When a government gets votes despite failing the majority, the only words that come are unrepeatable.

When a PM with a vanishing mandate props up her party with money stolen from nurses and firefighters I am robbed of a voice.

So I am hiding in things that require no words from me. I run. I knit. I listen to the words of others who see the world the way I do, through songs and social media. (Spotify is my new soul mate).

Hopefully I’ll be back to my normal garrulous self one day. In the meantime you can always hang out with me on Facebook where I’m trying to kickstart Knitty Cats again.

After all, what can you do when the world smothers your words but express yourself in any way you can?

Time to knit.

Who Am I?

61nqqvtzerlI recently bought the Moana soundtrack and it’s become my new favourite CD. Partly because I spent a year in New Zealand and the music makes me homesick. Partly because I called my first venture, selling abstract art, Moana Studios (Moana means ocean). I play it non-stop partly because the songs are so catchy with cleverly-crafted lyrics. But mostly I think the soundtrack is awesome because it reminds me why the movie is so good.

All Disney movies are great, particularly the newer ones, with strong female leads and a lesson to learn. They support values like family and being true to yourself and following your dream. As the Disney ‘Dream Big Princess’ advert suggests, there is a princess for everyone. If that’s true then Moana is mine. (And even though she’s not a princess, Maui says she must be because she has a skirt and a sidekick – very clever!)

Disney movies often show writing at its best, with a compelling story and a carrying theme, and Moana is the perfect example of this. It has all the ingredients: personal growth, humour, the whiff of death, and an upbeat ending. Most of all it has a unifying theme. One of my favourite things in literature (and movies) is when it is all tied together with a theme, but one that you don’t really notice until the end. The new non-animated Cinderella (another favourite) has lots of repeating tags throughout that tie it all together.

I didn’t realise it when I watched it, but Moana’s theme is about answering the question ‘Who am I?’ Not just for Moana, but for other characters like Maui and Te Fiti as well.

What makes Moana such a realistic character, and what I most love about her, is that she is conflicted between disparate things that all mean so much to her. She is torn between her family and what’s inside her heart, doing her duty and doing what brings her alive. Actually I guess all the Disney princesses have that battle, and I certainly think we can all relate to it.

In my favourite song, in answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” Moana says,

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. I’m the girl who loves the sea, it calls me.”

maxresdefaultShe then lists all the conflicts that have resolved into making her who she is. When she belts out the last line, “I am Moana!” it gives me goosebumps every time.

And envy.

Similarly Maui has to come to terms with his past and find happiness inside himself instead of in the approval of others, and Moana helps him do that. Even though he is the demi-god. Talk about girl power!

At the end of the movie (and avoiding spoilers) Moana says to Ta Fiti,

“They have stolen the heart from inside you… but this does not define you. This is not who you are.”

You are not defined by what others have done to you. What a message.

The movie closes with Moana leading her entire island to a proper understanding of who they are inside. By following her own dream, her own calling, she brings happiness to everyone.

Now isn’t that a lesson to takeaway?

 

The ‘What For?’ Week

IMG_8039For about a week every month, although it might be a fortnight and feels like a year, I hit a point where hormones and brain chemistry clash and the anti-depressants don’t quite do their job.

I always know, thankfully, because I can count contraceptive pills left in the pack, and the point at which I start feeling super-low is always when there are just five left.

Who’d be a woman?

That first day I am aware of the descending gloom. I start taking vitamin B supplements and eating fish and brazil nuts in an effort to stave off the dark cloud of ‘what’s the point?’

But by day two or three it’s easy to forget it’s chemical. Life has no meaning, just getting up and moving is a struggle. The sun can be beating down, like it is today, and I’m just hot and bothered. My world narrows and I feel like I’m stuffed with clouds of misery. I genuinely can see no point in going on. I have a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig but I haven’t read it, because the only time I remember I have it is when I’m so low reading it seems too much effort.

It sucks.

The What For? week is when I wish I had a job. I need to have to do something, because I have zero motivation. I can feed the kids and the guinea pigs and the husband and the dog. Dog gets walked too, albeit a fairly short ploddy amble. But that’s it. I spend the rest of the time asleep, because I have no drive to do anything else.

It sounds pathetic now I write it down. Such a white middle class privileged nonsense of depression. Who can’t find the motivation to mow the lawn or stack the dishwasher or hang out the laundry?

Even on a good week I struggle to get stuff done. I’m managing to get about an hour of writing planning and research done a day before I’ve (almost literally) lost the will to live.

I guess the problem with being a stay-at-home/self-employed/unemployed parent (whatever I am) is that everything is a choice. Sleep or paint the garden fences, sleep or vacuum the carpets, sleep or tidy the kitchen. Given that choice, how many would find it easier to choose sleep?

Anyway, it is only a week (or maybe a fortnight – it’s hard to tell when I start feeling better, it’s a bit like getting over a cold). And on the plus side I have started running again. When my legs can manage it I slot a run in between the bouts of sleep, so at least I feel like I did something vaguely productive, if only to my body.

And at least I have started planning a new novel. It’s taken a long long time to make that choice. It’s going slower than a hungover snail, and I don’t have much enthusiasm for writing any more, and I feel like everything I’ve ever written is complete pants, but in the back of my mind is still the hope I’ll pull something together that will make an agent not chuck it in the bin. One day.

In the meantime, I’m off to have some more vitamin B supplements and eat some salmon.

See you on the other side.