Lying Dormant

Nothing Blooms All Year

Nothing Blooms All Year

There’s a phrase I’ve seen on Facebook recently (although a quick Google search has failed to produce an origin, so call it ‘anon’) that says, “Nothing in Nature Blooms All Year Round.”

It’s been echoing in my head for the past few weeks because, hey, January.

I don’t do January well.

All the hubbub and frantic organisation (and, let’s be honest, shopping and gift wrapping – my two favourite pastimes) of November and December are replaced by the guilt of January.

There is shopping in January too, as it’s my daughter’s birthday, but that is overlaid with the guilt of how much I spent at Christmas. Add to that exhaustion after the holidays, erratic sleep patterns from having a lark daughter and an owl husband and son, and I’m quite frankly a wreck.

I’ve written before  (more than once!) about the January blues. I beat myself up that I can’t start writing the minute the children return to school. I become low.

This year has been no different. Except I’ve been playing Minecraft instead of mooching on Facebook. Same screen, different brain-dead.

And then that phrase: Nothing blooms all year round. It’s like a ray of winter sunshine in my head. Perhaps it’s okay that I sleep during the day, or hit the sack at 8pm (or both), hardly seeing my husband at all. Perhaps it’s okay that my mind is like sludge, and I crawled through 7,000 words of a new novel, (that’s 70%, as it’s a Chapter Book) and then realised the plot had a hole to end all gaping plot disasters.

Perhaps it’s okay just to think of myself as dormant, awaiting the spring sunshine to bring me back to life. The fact that I’ve written virtually the same post for the last two years shows it isn’t me being rubbish. Not really.

It’s just January.

Summer Holidays Week 4: I Love My Meds

Holidays are for ice cream

Holidays are for ice cream

Day 27 of the summer holidays: I love my meds!

I know that makes me sound like some kind of drug addict, but it isn’t like that at all. This time last year I was climbing the walls.

This is a quote from my August 17th blog post: “Three weeks and I’m ready to do pretty much anything other than listen to twelve hours of squabbling for another three weeks.”

I am still as exhausted as I was last year, but it’s a different type of tired. It’s ‘I swam quarter of a mile at the pool yesterday’ tired. It’s ‘we did four day trips this week and I didn’t cry once, but I walked about twenty miles’ tired.

It isn’t just the meds of course. My children are a year older. They can be left alone more often, so I can read, or shower, or mow the lawn. They still squabble but I can move out of earshot, so I’m not ‘switched on’ all the time.

I also planned this holiday to within an inch of its life. I didn’t have one day where I woke up not having a plan for the day, even if the plan was, ‘Go away and play, Mummy is reading this morning!’

Son gave up his dummies for a skateboard

Son gave up his dummies for a skateboard

I always wanted the children to have the summers I did – unsupervised, unscheduled, running in a pack of kids and climbing trees. But they can’t. There is no pack here – just a busy road. There are no trees – only a climbing frame they use every day. So I take them places where they can pretend – where there are trees to climb and open spaces to fly a kite.

The biggest difference, though, aside from the meds (or actually probably as a direct result of taking them and making the dark dog of self-loathing and self-doubt shut up) is that I opted to put my own mask on before helping others. I made time for me. I booked a holiday camp for my daughter, left my son in nursery for a few days. I fought the guilt.

I thought, as a stay at home parent, I had to be there 100% for the children, putting them before myself. That’s what reading too much Mumsnet and media does for you.

It’s rubbish. ‘Happy Mummy, Happy Baby,’ that’s what I said when I had a sneaky of glass of wine when I was pregnant. Before PND ate away my sanity. Last summer I gave up writing, reading, being me. Silly girl. All it did was destroy me.

Becoming a knight at Warwick Castle

Becoming a knight at Warwick Castle

This year I took a few days to write. I’ve read dozens of books – treating myself to the kindle versions so I can read on my phone or tablet in the odd quiet moment. Yes I’m that parent at the park reading on her phone. Judge me if you like. Bovvered?

I paid someone to do my ironing, because it’s been too hot and I’m tired. I didn’t get four A Levels and two degrees to spend my life ironing. If I ever sell a book to a publisher, I’ll never iron again. Does that make me a terrible housewife? Probably. Not bovvered.

I stay in bed reading in the morning, while the kids watch a movie and eat dry cereal. I don’t think we’ve managed two of our five a day this holidays, and that’s only raisins and fruit juice. Bovvered? (A little bit – but I’m feeding their brains with trips to museums and castles. Summers are for ice cream and easy dinners.)

It isn’t all perfect. Nothing ever is. We’re all a bit snappy, and I’m whining as much as the kids. I’ve let them have too many toys and now they want to buy stuff all the time. We could all benefit from some healthy food and a bit more sleep. The dog is as eager for September as anyone, because we’re either out all day or the kids are super-huggy.

Bad parent, you think? Bovvered?

Bad parent, you think? Bovvered?

But we’re coping.

My son gave up his dummies and is dealing with it brilliantly, and so am I. Last year you would have had to prise those plastic tantruming-ending wonder-soothers out of my cold dead hands.

Two and a half weeks to go until school starts and I’m doing fine. It’s all scheduled, we know what’s what. There’s a bit of food in the fridge and a smidgeon of energy in my tank.

Summer holidays? Past me the sertraline and Bring It On.

How I Survived Half Term

The Holiday Lists

The Holiday Lists

It’s no secret that, while I love my children ‘in all my heart’ as my daughter would say, I struggle when they’re home together for long periods of time.

To be fair, half term is only a week, and this one had a bank holiday weekend as well. Even so, I feel it went surprisingly well considering.

My strategy, developed in desperation on the first Saturday morning, was to kill the pestering.

For weeks I’ve been answering the children’s random activity requests with, ‘We’ll do it at half term’. So, of course, Saturday started with, ‘Mummy, when can we paint our nails, go swimming, learn to plait/knit, go to the park….’

My brain exploded.

In exasperation I said, ‘write a list and we’ll schedule it all in.’

And they did!

Well, my daughter wrote the lists for her and her brother, which might explain why ‘learn to knit’ crept into his top ten. Then I numbered them, made a chart of Monday to Friday, and pencilled everything in.

I forgot my son was still at nursery for two days, and we had an unexpected bonus play date, but other than that we more or less stuck to the plan.

The best part was feeling in control. When the kids whined, ‘When are we going swimming at Grandma’s?’ I could look at my scrap of paper and say, ‘Friday’.

I’m sure this scheduled parenting is the norm for many, but it’s new to me. I’ve always wanted my kids to be as free range as possible when they’re not at school. I fill the playroom with toys and craft, the garden with climbing frames and sand, and let them just get on with it.

And sometimes they do.

But, weirdly, they like doing stuff with me. Even though I whine and moan more than they do, especially when I’m tired, they still like doing stuff with Mummy. And, this week, I even enjoyed some of it too, even if it was being able to say, ‘tick!’

So, we survived half term. We didn’t do a couple of things (no knitting lesson, phew!), but we had a bonus trip to ToysRUs to spend the money they raised selling off old toys. We got a grown up bed for our son. (The end of the toddler bed era!) And I even managed a bit of work.

The tablets helped. I could feel the medication tightening protectively as I got increasingly tired and tetchy. It’s weird to feel you want to sit in a corner and sob but your body won’t let you, but if definitely makes parenting easier. And I’m sure my family appreciate the lack of drama.

I’m not quite saying, ‘Roll on Summer Holidays’ but at least I’m not gibbering at the thought of it. It’s a start.

The Effects of Changing Medication

The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

I recently upped my dose of Sertraline, to help me deal with the school holidays. It sounds awful (and no doubt many think I’m a terrible mother. Pah, I’ve dealt with those demons), but I am strongly affected by not having periods of time alone to settle the churned up waters of my mind.

I become grumpy, short-tempered, teary, forgetful, shattered and eventually broken.

Changing medication dose isn’t as extreme as starting on them in the first place. I changed my dose just before the Easter holidays, so I’ve been through this once already. But I was splitting a tablet and my doctor disapproved – because you can’t get a precise dose. So, on recommendation, I’ve upped to two full tablets. It’s not as awful as the early days of starting on Sertraline (the yawning, the sweating, the perpetual motion) but there are still effects. (The same goes for missing a dose)

I thought it would be useful for anyone else starting on the world of depression medication, or concerned about changing their dose, to hear my experience.

The first day I increase my medication, my mind scatters. It feels like a pond after a pebble has been chucked into the middle of previously mirror-calm water. My thoughts become fragmented and rippled. My normally lucid incessant internal monologue breaks and distorts. I can pull out a single coherent sentence but it takes effort.

This is most noticeable in the quiet moments before sleep or while walking the dog. Sleep becomes elusive for a day or two.

Physically my body becomes restless. It feels like I’ve eaten an entire tray of Terry’s All Gold (not that I’ve ever eaten a whole tray of chocolates. ahem). My body becomes twitchy, agitated. I rub my feet together constantly and my arms and legs fidget like I need to run and run. Except I wouldn’t have the energy.

I feel trapped inside these reactions, as if they are happening to someone else. But I am calm, too, because I recognise them. I know the pond will gradually settle as the ripples spread and fade. The metaphorical sugar in my system will be used up and I’ll be me.

Me but happier, more tolerant.

Whole.

Life (Before and After Kids)

This is the first time I’ve tried to do a cartoon to describe my life. Actually it was a lot of fun!

With a broken tooth, a broken dish and a burnt arm all within ten minutes last night (mostly all tiredness-related) and the doctor telling me it isn’t the drugs making me tired, it’s just being a parent (and by the way, was it affecting my bond with my kids and my ability to be a good mum?) life felt a tad hard yesterday. I couldn’t understand why a broken dish had me sobbing, when a decade or so ago I travelled round New Zealand by myself, literally conquering mountains single handed.

Then I thought this:

cartoonb4CartoonAfter

Grow Up and Get Back to Work

Back to work (crochet away!)

Back to work (crochet away!)

I’ve really struggled to get back into writing this January. After six weeks of Christmas planning and the children being home for the holidays, my brain is foggier than the dull winter skies outside.

I have started several blog posts in my head in the last week or two, but none have made it further than that. They’ve had titles like “Christmas Chaos and Crochet Stole My Voice” and “Farmville Is Evil”. But that’s same ol same ol.

I’ve written before about how my addiction to knitting and Farmville has derailed my writing, how having the children home from school causes me to sleep non-stop (I was asleep at 4pm on Christmas Day) and how hard it is to get the balance between Writer and Mummy. It’s time to stop making excuses and get back to work.

Another post that floated in the unwritten ether of my mind at 3am, as is often the case, was a review of 2014, and how I found inner peace.

Happy children

Happy children

It’s a bit late for end-of-year reviews and, anyway, my new year starts in September, not January. But it is true nonetheless. I might still struggle with depression and the more negative aspects of being HSP. I might have struggled with having hubbie home for four months while he found a new job (he did, hurrah). I might have realised that being self published, self employed, is harder than even my pessimistic view of the world could have predicted. But still, peace was found.

Somewhere between Sertraline, Mindfulness and Good Enough Parenting, somewhere between my children telling me they love me All The Time and being able to be at home with my husband for four months and still look forward to retirement, somewhere between five-star reviews and knitted toys, I found me.

I’m reading a children’s book called Winterling by Sarah Prineas at the moment, and the main protagonist finally finds a place where she fits, where she feels she belongs. This year, especially this Christmas holiday, between making bread from scratch, hosting Christmas play dates for nine and five children, learning to crochet, and being there for my children, I realised I have found where I belong.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. My family and I thought I’d be a terrible parent. Turns out we were all wrong. For all my doubt and shoutiness and crying and constant need to hide, I am a great parent. My children are kind and happy, healthy and full of love.

Writing didn’t come naturally to me. My parents and my tutors at university said my writing was dull. But hard work beats genius every time, and six years in to my writing journey some people (not all!) love my stories. I began to doubt my writing after Class Act and Alfie and the Magic Arch but I need to realise I’m still learning, and not give up.

Huggable creativity

Huggable creativity

My writer’s blues, my lost voice, came from doubt and impatience. Knitting and Farmville are far more instant. I can make a toy in a few days, I can make cakes on my farm in minutes.

Writing is invisible and definitely the long climb to creativity. It’s intangible. At the end of each day I can’t measure my progress with a ruler, or gets oohs of delight from my friends. Just like parenting (my children thank me for working on their Farms, they never thank me for clean clothes or floors), you have to accept the results are a long way off and keep slogging anyway.

I reread a post from this time last year, and discovered I felt exactly the same. Lost, melancholy, restless. It’s January, dark, rainy, and exhaustion is rife after Christmas. Time to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.

So today my laptop is charged, my crochet bagged (except for the photo!), the farms switched off. Today I will return to Lucy and Edan, Andrew and Graham, and I will find their story. I will write until they find their happy ending and, in doing do, I will find mine.

Trying Not to Quit

Waiting for Ears

Monkeys Waiting for Ears

September was crazy, October is turning out to be (tries to think of a PG word) challenging. Despite having a lovely birthday, with lots of new wool to tempt me, so far the reasons to smile are becoming harder to find. The kicker is I can’t even blog about most of it.

The bit I can talk about is probably more a symptom than a cause. I want to quit. Again. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself all done with trying to be an author, but it’s the first time I’ve found something else (temporary I’m sure) to fill the creative void. Knitting.

Not that I don’t get frustrated with that as well. If I have to make another monkey (especially for the children) I might weep. Again! There were tears of frustration when I sewed a leg on back to front. But I am loving the creativity of inventing patterns as I go, seeing what I can create with my extremely basic skills and having something to hug at the end of it.

Critical as my children are (“Mummy, why doesn’t the bottom on my monkey squish like my brother’s does?” “Because Mummy used the wrong material to enclose the beads and, no, I’m not unpicking it to change it.”) it’s much easier to ignore. I can see the end product and decide if the critics are right. Same with my paintings.

But you can’t ‘see’ a novel. You can’t swiftly and dispassionately judge it against the criticism or the praise and decide if the comments are fair. I’m struggling as much with the five star reviews for Baby Blues as the two-star ones for Class Act. With the former, I feel I can’t write with that freedom and passion any more. It was a story close to my heart and one I rewrote many times.

Knitty Cats

Knitty Cats

Many of the good reviews talk about the emotional roller-coaster, and I know Class Act and now Finding Lucy lack that. Partly because I’m drained and medically subdued and partly because I’m writing much more self-consciously. It happened with my paintings. I started to try too hard to paint ‘right’ or ‘professionally’ and lost the spark that made them special.

I know I won’t quit. Writing is in my blood. Life will (hopefully, eventually) settle down, and I’ll find a way through. Find a story that needs me to tell it, so I can ignite the passion again. Maybe I’ll be brave and join a writing group, get more feedback to help me find that objectivity. But not right now. I need a layer of armour before I subject myself to that.

In the meantime I’ll go back to my Knitty Cats, and carpel tunnel pins and needles. Christmas is coming. If I can’t sell books, maybe I can sell cats (and definitely not monkeys!)