Music and Meditation

By 8am this morning I had cleaned the kitchen, searched out some knitting patterns, researched three potential new career ideas, and made breakfast. My brain was like scrambled egg. I don’t know if it’s new extra self-awareness, or the menopause, or a lack of exercise, but these days I feel like a toad in a blender (Cubs song lyric).

I try to meditate. It’s hard. Deep breathing exercises make me panic and forget how to breathe at all. I used to hyperventilate during antenatal classes when they did breathing exercises, even though I found concentrating on my breathing really powerful during labour. Similarly if I approach anything like an out of body sensation, which does occasionally happen when I meditate, it completely freaks me out. But meditation is meant to be good for things like ADHD so I persist. I guess you have to develop your own style.

I had a mini breakthrough today. I really like metaphors to help me grasp concepts. This morning I imagined my brain was a pond that I was chucking stone after stone into, until it was muddy and turbulent. That helped me imagine that I needed to let the pond water become still, so I could throw in one pebble at a time and actually see the effect of the ripples. As an image it really worked, especially because I find water very relaxing. I used to sit up to my chin in my mum’s pool and let the water go mirror smooth before swimming slowly through.

I’ve missed the pool this year, after it was damaged in a garage fire. Being in water allows me to be restless in a restful way. In the summer, I spent an hour every morning in the hot tub, just feeling the water on my skin and letting my brain wander. With no dogs chucking tennis balls at me, which was an added bonus. If only it wasn’t so expensive to run, I’d have it up all year round.

Having the right music to meditate to is important for me as well. A lot of tracks that are called ‘calming’ on streaming sites like Spotify actually make me very agitated. I need music that is not too tinkly or repetitive. I also need to make sure the music is completely familiar, to the point where I don’t actually hear it but it is still filling up the gaps in my brain.

In fact, I use Spotify playlists a lot to help me structure my day. I have a playlist for doing physio exercises (when I actually do them) and a playlist for cleaning the kitchen. I also have a playlist that I have on constantly, especially at night, which acts like white noise. The only time I enjoy silence is when out walking. I guess all the sensations of weather and nature keep me distracted.

I saw a meme once that said fidget toys keep the cat in the mind busy so it doesn’t push your executive functioning off the table. Music and water stop my cat lashing out and scratching everyone.

Most of the time.

Where’s the Conductor?

So, I’m pretty certain I have ADHD. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, and if I go off to look, I’ll forget what I’m doing and the idea I’ve had for this post will vanish. Although the forgetfulness might be peri-menopausal, so there’s that too. Or it could be depression. Aint it grand to be alive?

Anyway, I started investigating when I suspected my children of being neuro-divergent. Ironically, thanks to a call to my GP, it appears I might get an assessment before they do, which is just wrong. But the broken NHS, broken mental health systems, broken school system, broken government, they’re all distractions, other posts I won’t write here. But they lead me nicely into what I wanted to write about.

There are lots of ADHD Facebook pages, YouTube Channels, memes. Too many, in a way, as I feel I shouldn’t be adding to that noise, especially as an undiagnosed person. Still. The pages are wonderful, nevertheless. Helpful, supportive, affirming. I’m not lazy, I’m not crazy, I’m not broken or stupid or worthless. I’m just (potentially) wired differently. (I feel like a journalist writing ‘allegedly’ when it was quite clear who the murderer was, but there you go.)

However, enlightening as they are, the various analogies weren’t working for me. Yes, my head feels like a washing machine on spin; yes I’m exhausted; yes I’m out of spoons (a wonderful phrase to describe the depletion caused by neurodiversity), but none helped me explain me to my husband, or gave me a way to help myself or my daughter. After all, if you switch the washing machine off mid-spin, you just get a soggy mess and your clothes are trapped.

The analogy I’ve come up with to describe the feeling is that of an orchestra. I played in the orchestra at school, it was quite a big part of my life then. I was fortunate to have hobbies that kept the manic cats in my head occupied. I wish my daughter did. So, an orchestra is a useful metaphor. Sometimes, the orchestra is tuning up. It’s just noise. A cacophony of nonsense that I block my ears from and run away. Sleep is my friend.

Then, at other times, the different instruments all start playing. This is most common at 5 a.m. They’re playing, but they’re all playing something different. The lead violinist is nailing the twiddly section that opens the second movement of Vivaldi’s Winter, whilst the violinist in the next chair is playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, which is basically a musical panic attack. The cellist is lost in the dramatic opening to Elgar’s concerto in E Minor; it’s so beautiful that I want to listen all day. But the guy on the timpani is crashing out the first bars of Fanfare for the Common Man like he’s auditioning for the ghost scene in Moana. Briefly the brass section joins in, and it sounds like Star Trek, which takes my mind off on a tangent, thinking about why the red shirts didn’t see danger coming. They all pause to listen to the clarinet playing Mozart, and then they’re off again with their solos. Together. Loudly. Each trying to be heard over everyone else.

And it isn’t just noise. I sit in the audience and listen to each beautiful musician and each is worthy of attention. I sit and think, oh I’ll listen to the Four Seasons today, or I haven’t heard Jacqueline du Pre’s rendition of Elgar for ages, or what is it the viola is playing, I must look that up. I might even settle on one thing to do with my day, but by the time I’ve got up, fed kids, made lunches, done the school run, walked the dogs and stacked the dishwasher, I’ve forgotten. Or I realise that I should, metaphorically, be practicing scales, and that’s boring, so I do nothing.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m a crafter, so the house is full of half-finished knitting or crochet or painting or drawing or watercolours. I’m supposed to be doing physio for a bad back so I can start running again. The house is a crazy mess in constant state of flux. I have EHA meetings with the school about the children’s issues, and I want to solve my daughter’s loneliness. I need to lose weight, and eat well, and fix my brain and calm my hormones. It’s suddenly so damn hot, do I have Covid or a hot flush? I need to find a job or a way to earn money, since I quit my invigilator job because the training was so awful. The dog is scratching her ear again and probably should go back to the vet. The car insurance is due. The fridge is empty. The ironing basket is over-flowing. The floors are crusty and there’s dog hair in the bath. The lawn needs mowing if it ever dries out, and I must pick up the dog shit and clean out the hamster. And feed the locusts to feed the gecko. And find the lost shin pad and make sure the football kit is clean. Find the old milk glass stinking up the boy’s bedroom and read the book the girl is studying so I can understand her homework. Oh, look, it’s time for the school run again and all I did was play Alphabetty or sleep. I’ll try again tomorrow.

It’s exhausting. ADHD may be about hyperactivity, but when it’s brain activity, it is draining. Running and karate helped because they created energy and gave focus and a moment of calm. I haven’t done either for a year and it’s awful. But physio exercises? Something boring and difficult that I have to do every day? Not a chance. I need an app to remind me to brush my teeth and then it’s once a day at best. Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve lost my car keys in public. I terrified a woman in the Co-op yesterday because I rang my Tile (best. gift. ever) and the keys were below her till.

Where is the upside? Because there is an upside to (possibly having) ADHD. Occasionally a conductor shows up. Sometimes he’s called ‘Crisis’ or she’s called ‘Urgent Deadline’ or maybe ‘Hyperfocus’ makes an appearance. They tap their baton, clear their throat, and all those little thoughts hush and pay attention. Suddenly there’s a purpose, someone is in charge. The conductor says, ‘Today we’re playing Paint the Kitchen before the Parents come to tea.’ The lead violinist opens with, I’ve got a plan, and the second violinist joins in with make a list. Then the brass section weave in, move the furniture, take down the paintings, don’t forget to put something in the slow cooker for dinner. The percussionist taps out cut in the ceiling, roller the walls, walk the dogs, repeat. And before you know it, it’s all come together into something beautiful, something that can move mountains. Or paint a whole kitchen in two days.

But, I tell you what, those players are EXHAUSTED at the end. They’ve given everything to stay in sync. The conductor disappears off, possibly before the piece is actually finished and, in the audience, I sob at the beauty of it, knowing I won’t see the like for a long time. We all sleep for a week. And then, slowly, one by one, the players start practicing their solos and we’re back at the beginning.

And I’m left, trying to sort my Copland from my Smetana and wandering off on a tangent wondering what happened to my awesome music teacher, and wishing we’d done musical theatre in our GCSE like they do today. And did you see Strictly on Saturday? That Paso?

Goodnight.

Not Fine In School

Twas the night before school, and all through the place

Neither child was sleeping, both anxious, awake.

New shoes and school bags sit neat on the floor

In hopes that they’ll make it outside the front door.

The children are restless, jumping up from their beds

At spiders, and itches, and pains in their heads.

And Mamma holds on to her patience with care,

As sounds of dad’s snoring rip through the air.

The two dogs are eager to gambol and play

Convinced by the children that it’s actually day.

Warm milk is offered, spiders are sought.

Calm words are murmured from one equally fraught.

Morning will come, our safe summer gone.

Back now to school, where it all feels so wrong.

Snuggle down, babies, and lie here with mum.

Only six long more years until we are done.

Not Waving, Still Drowning

Note: this post was from a few months ago but hadn’t published. I think it’s still relevant so have hit Publish.

I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘not waving but drowning’ recently, realising that so many of the funny posts shared on social media at the moment are really a frantic wave.

Then I recalled the course on water safety I did as part of homeschooling my son last year, particularly the fact that drowning is actually a swift, silent killer. The drowning person is too busy using their arms to stay above water to be able to wave. Too busy struggling for breath to shout for help. Before anyone notices, they slide beneath the surface and are gone.

We learned, too, that walkers and runners are most at risk of drowning in the UK. Not the surfers and swimmers who might be prepared for danger and equipped to deal with it, but people going about their day, not considered by themselves or others to be at risk.

So, my message is, watch your loved ones. Be a lifeguard. As someone who knows all the signs of slowly slipping beneath the surface, and is still desperately looking around for a lifeboat right now, I assure you, people you know are struggling to breathe. Maybe even people like me, who ‘have it easy’; who aren’t trying to hold down a job and teach five kids and care for aged parents, but are still wondering how to get the next breath.

We worry about out kids’ mental health right now, but their minds are elastic, they will bounce back. An adult who already found life hard might not be so lucky. Check on your friends and loved ones, make sure they’re not too exhausted to wave or shout for help.

Finding Your Tribe

I’m ready to start writing again. Or trying to, at least. The last two years of Covid Crazy have been more than tough, particularly on my children. We’re all discovering neurodiversity we didn’t realise we had (ADHD for me) and time away from systems (like school and karate) have shown how broken and toxic those places can be.

I’ve had to accept that my full-time job is filling in the gaps for the family between who they are and who society thinks they should be. That actually involves taking a lot of naps to restore depleted spoons (that’s another post if you haven’t heard the term).

But I want to write. Reading has kept me going all my life, but never more so than now. I’ve been trying to think what to write about that’s authenticity me, though. I can’t write about ADHD – I’m not diagnosed, and I’m only just understanding what it means. Besides, I like Middle Grade magical fiction.

So, I’ve tried to understand the common theme across the wide range of books I do (and, more importantly, don’t) read. Then it came to me as I swam in the hot tub this morning (which is possible, as long as you don’t mind not getting anywhere!) The books I love are always optimistic, at least in the end. And they’re all about finding your tribe. The wizards, the people in Nevermoor, the elves of the Lost Cities. Finding people who understand your weirdness and explain why you didn’t fit in where you were before. A sense of belonging.

It turns out I’ve spent my life reading about neurodivergent people without ever realising it. Even a book called Divergent didn’t give a hint. All the stories I’ve written have been about not fitting in, in a way that can’t be fixed by taking a bath and learning to relax (the advice my ADHD daughter keeps getting from Counsellors).

So, that’s my genre. And it is a genre. Finding Your Tribe. That’s the easy bit. Now I just have to sit down and write. I should probably get out the hot tub…

Guilt

I finally broke today. Again. There’s a lot of breaking at the moment, with a hormonal tween in the house and short days and a constant to-do list I’ll never get to the end of.

Mostly, though, what’s destroying me is guilt.

Guilt that I’m using plastic, guilt that I have enough to eat when so very many people don’t. Guilt that I get free healthcare, when people where my sister lives go bankrupt for having a baby. Guilt when I throw food away, guilt for not buying organic. Guilt for flying. Guilt for shopping in a supermarket and not buying local. Guilt for eating meat. Guilt for not making the kids eat vegetables. Guilt that the kids are always unhappy. Guilt that I have zero sex-drive. Guilt that the dogs haven’t been out because I can’t stand one more muddy bath. Guilt that the house is a shit-heap and I’m in bed playing Alphabetty.

Guilt that the kids don’t want anything for Christmas because they basically get whatever they want all the time. Guilt that I’m too tired to put them to bed and instead let them fall asleep watching YouTube. Guilt I don’t get outside more or take the kids to the park. Guilt that I haven’t put the lights up because I have zero Christmas spirit. Guilt that I’m sick of school and homework and yet dread them being home for the holidays. Guilt at the sheer waste of the gifts I’ve bought and the modern-day slaves in China that made it for peanuts and who live terrible lives. Guilt I didn’t buy the school photos, or get to the kids’ assembly. Guilt that I watch TV when I should be working and spend more than I earn.

Guilt that the planet is going to hell in a handcart and I’ve turned my heating up to 20C and loaded the tumble dryer. Guilt that I haven’t planted enough trees or joined Extinction Rebellion or been on a protest march. Guilt that I’m voting tactically in the next election because another day of the poverty caused by the current government makes my heart weep, but really I want to vote Green and save the world, not just the people in my country.

Mostly just guilt that I’m not doing enough, recycling enough, reusing enough, saving enough, being enough.

I’m working as a transcriber for a charity at the moment, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), focusing very heavily on the climate crisis and the importance of eating less and better meat. It’s very rewarding work, but listening to days and days of audio about the climate crisis is not helping. Then I hang out on Facebook, the only place I have friends, and am bombarded with food banks and politics and say no to plastic. So I turn off the gadgets and stare at my house, full of needless crap I’m too exhausted to sell and too guilty to chuck, and the only thing left is sleep. Until the dogs wake me up, wanting a walk, and it starts all over again.

I’d love to end this diatribe with something cheerful. The CEO of CIWF always ends his interviews with, ‘What gives you hope?’

Right now? Not a lot.

 

Let’s talk about things …

I’ve been absent for a long time, as parenting tweens slowly destroys my sanity and patience. This post from my lovely fellow writer MTN struck a chord today, so I wanted to share it with anyone still hanging around to see if I make it back to writermummy from the land of just ‘mum’.

M T McGuire Authorholic

Wow, I have a whole gamut of stuff washing around to talk about this week. I’m not sure if I’ll get through it all or do it justice but off we go.

First of all, last week, you’ll have noticed there was a break in transmission. Yep. No blog post. I meant to do one but then it was time for the Christmas Fayre I was getting all my shizz ready and … er hem … I forgot.

In my defence, my father’s memorial service took it out of me. It was wonderful but blimey I was knackered afterwards. Lots of emotional stamina required. Which reminds me, I should write and thank a lot of people. Yet more stuff to add to the gargantuan, War And Peace-length list of Shit MTM Hasn’t Done. Gulp.

The fayre was kind of a mix. It was the first time in a new venue…

View original post 2,150 more words

Checking In

It’s been a while since my last post. It feels like forty years. Given the nature of Invisible Illness, I thought I’d better check in and say I’m still here, just about.

You see, after my last post, a follower and friend messaged me to ask if I’d ever considered I might be autistic. Strangely enough, about a year ago another friend shared this image on Facebook on autism in girls, and I commented how that was me as a child. But I couldn’t go 42 years without knowing something like that about myself, surely?

Erm, yes. Turns out I could. I’m still awaiting an official diagnosis (not a priority for the NHS) but my GP concurs that I show all the traits of high-functioning autism, what once would have been called Aspergers.

It was like being given glasses for the first time, or maybe a tiny bit like finding out you’re adopted. Suddenly life made sense. Turns out 42 is the answer to life, if not the universe and everything.

I’ve spent the last six weeks reading everything I can and replaying my life through this new filter. Exhausting but incredibly enlightening. All the parts of me, of my life, that I thought were broken were actually a result of me being ‘neuro-divergent’. The phrase ‘normal, not normal’ springs to mind. Mostly, for the first time in forever I don’t feel alone. (Go on, who now has a Frozen song playing in their head)

There’s a whole post to write on female autism and why it goes unrecognised. A second on high-functioning autism and why that’s a misnomer. A third on realising other family members also show traits, and the stress that’s put on our family unit, while at the same time bringing hope. Another on having a (suspected) autistic child and helping the world understand them without making them a victim.

I don’t have the energy to write any of them right now. If you’ve ever had therapy, or even a soul-bearing heart-to-heart, you’ll know how draining that is. Re-playing my whole life, all the complicated lonely anxious mess of it, and picking out new patterns has left me with an exhaustion I haven’t felt since having two babies under 2. (And realising some of those horror years of acrimonious self-doubt might have been avoided if I’d realised two out of the three of us were not neuro-typical is heartbreaking).

Anyway, it’s all good. It can only get better. We can only get stronger. There might not be a lot of NHS support, but there is plenty from friends living the same life.

And it turns out that most of the girl protagonists in my children’s books could be considered on the spectrum, so I can thank them for helping me make sense of my differences, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

More than anything, I am grateful beyond words to the very good friend who messaged with her suspicions about my place on the spectrum. There is a strong chance she literally saved my life.

My Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas my family gave to me

Twelve minutes’ silence

Eleven days til Hamilton

Ten years of parenting

Nine filthy rooms

Eight more days of school

Seven unshipped presents

Six empty cupboards

Five hungry rodents

Four loads of laundry

Three annoying children (including hubby!)

Two stinky dogs

And an empty cup of tea for Mummy!

Happy Christmas! And may all your online parcels arrive on time (even the ones you accidentally ordered from China)

Dependence before Independence?

It’s 4am and the puppy just woke up. She’s crying and I know that a) she needs a wee and b) if I don’t go soon not only will I have extra laundry, but she will have woken up the kids.

That’s fine. Parenting is about getting up in the night. The problem is I also know I won’t make it back to bed. Because once she’s done her business, she won’t go back in her crate without protest. And by protest I mean yelping, crying and rattling at the gate until it sounds like armageddon.

We’re on dog two. We know the rules. Ignore them when they cry and they stop. And we did. A bit. She goes in her crate at bedtime without crying now. But the mornings are different.

Firstly, I’m not so great at 4am. I go from calm to banshee really quickly. When I threatened (in hyperbole I hasten to add) to drown or sell her, I knew it wasn’t working. That whine, man, it’s like a chainsaw to the nerves pre-dawn.

Secondly, I’m not the only one who becomes vile on too little sleep. A couple of weeks ago I left the puppy crying and took off to the outside room, where I couldn’t hear her. I slept beautifully for a couple more hours, but awoke to carnage. The whole house was up, poo everywhere, tempers frayed. It took days for husband and kids to recover.

It was the same when my youngest child was born. My eldest was a light sleeper then, and only 19 months old, so whenever the baby cried he was instantly hushed. I spent the next five years dealing with the consequences. Even now I wonder if I caused his separation anxiety by trying to protect the family’s sleep/sanity.

And there’s the rub. At 4am, when I’m taking one for the team, I’m also telling myself what a terrible parent/dog owner I am. Creating a needy, spoilt puppy whilst also creating a grumpy exhausted me.

My only salvation is something a therapist said to me once. I wasn’t there for parenting advice, but it was the only good thing about the whole experience, since they did more harm than good for the thing I was there for. Anyway, the advice was ‘Dependence before Independence’. A child has to learn to trust you before they can leave you. A child has to know you’ll be there no matter what.

That phrase has been our parenting mantra. For every 3am cuddle, for every event left early or extra five minutes spent saying goodbye. It helped me too, because nothing triggers my anxiety like having a screaming child dragged from my arms, no matter how well-intentioned. I’ve had stern words with teachers and left childcare institutions that insisted my child was crying ‘crocodile tears’. I believed in my mantra.

And it’s worked, with the kids. My timid frightened children are now pulling away, finding their wings, choosing to forge their own path, without being shoved. They go on camp and sleepovers and run happily into school without a backward glance. And my sanity has remained intact.

Time will tell if it holds true for puppies.