Happiest on the mountain top
I wrote a couple of days ago about how I am content with life and was surprised to realise that, beneath the depression and the tiredness, it’s true.
After our discussion on the importance of a five-year plan, hubbie commented on how much I’ve changed over the last few weeks. I don’t think I have, or if I have it isn’t over weeks but months. But I do feel a change in me: an increase in confidence, in self-belief and in courage. I believe in my choices – both as a writer and a parent – and I’m starting to be able to take life in my stride.
I happened to mention to a friend recently that I have a first class degree. She immediately joked, “Oh, I only have a 2:1, but I had a life at university.” And I didn’t get upset and defensive. It’s true: I didn’t have much of a life outside study at university. It used to bother me, like I did it wrong somehow. That university should have been about making amazing life-long friendships, drinking until two in the morning, or winning at hockey.
I spent university in the library. Sometimes in the gym (to avoid being in the library). In my second year I had terrible depression and I remember spending most of the year in my dark and damp uni accommodation, listening to Metallica, not sleeping much and feeling miserable.
During the vacation before my third year I worked in a bar and made some great friends. I met a lad and thought all I wanted to do in life was be a bar manager.
I realise now that was because I found somewhere I belonged. Behind a bar I could be me: I didn’t have to keep up with the pretty girls or the brainy academics. People were nice to me because they wanted me to serve them and not throw them out. It was fun. When the lad dumped me at New Year (in hindsight, thank god!) I thought my life was over. It took until Easter (and the support of my amazing flatmates, bless you), for me to put my world back together. I then worked twelve hours a day for six weeks to get my dissertation written and still get my first.
Knee agony but still smiling
I seem to have spent my whole life since then trying to fit, trying to work out why I don’t have life-long friends; why I don’t want to go drinking or talk about fashion. I found my place, briefly, when I joined the Guide Association as a leader and realised hiking mountains is in my soul (if not in my knees!) But I lost that connection through depression, when I quit everything and went travelling (and climbed some more mountains!)
Since having kids I’ve tried to be the perfect parent: to get the right mix of love and discipline, together-time and independence, crafty mess and tidying up. Mostly I felt like I was doing it wrong.
Then, I started the daily blog challenge, and everything changed. I found my place in the world. Through writing every day I found that I like and I’m good at it. Not brilliant, not amazing, but good enough. I discovered how to edit, and to find a pleasure in editing. I met some amazing friends: friends who see the world the way I do. Through sharing my parenting highs and lows, and reading the stories of other mums, I’ve discovered I’m doing okay.
I lived my life after uni
The support, community and daily contact of the blog has built a wall of confidence around me that I never had before. The amazing thing is, even though I can feel the depression pulling at me: even though I’ve had days recently when I wanted to end it all, I can see that it’s mostly caused by lack of sleep. On a day, like today, when I managed to get five hours’ sleep in a row, I feel like I could sprint up Mount Everest. (Except I’m still so goddamn tired!)
My daily blog challenge has pushed me to the limits. But it’s stretched me open and connected me to a whole world of like-minded people. Ones I didn’t necessarily come across at school or university or even in my day-to-day life. Not that I don’t love the friends I’ve made in all those places. Now I’m more confident I love the differences, too. I love that I can have someone tell me I didn’t have a life at university and I can nod, and think quietly, “I had my life. I had the life I like to live: I read, I slept, I ran, I studied. It was enough. I did all that other stuff after I graduated.” I’m no longer making excuses for who I am or where I’ve come from. I feel empowered.
Blogging daily is a bit like therapy. A bit like life. Sometimes it hurts and you don’t want to do it: but those are the times when you learn the most about yourself and what you are capable of. To anyone considering taking on this crazy challenge next year, or to anyone thinking of taking part in NaNoWriMo, or any other challenge where you push yourself and commit yourself to finding out what’s beneath your skin, I’d advise you to say, “Bring it on.”
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“So, this is the place that’s lured you away from city life?” Kim looked out the window at the painted houses, dull beneath the clouds covering the summer sky, and snorted. “It’s not really your style. Is there even a Starbucks in this town?”
Claire tried to ignore the mockery in Kim’s voice. “I won’t be living here, at least not for a while. And, for your information, I no longer need to live within five minutes of a decent cup of coffee. I’ve broadened my horizons.” She dropped her prim voice and added, “Besides, there’s Starbucks in Poole, so I can nip over on the ferry.”
The girls laughed and, for a moment, it felt like the old days. Then Kim sighed. “You’ll be so far away. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since you left home.”
“That was nearly ten years ago. We’ve never seen much of each other – we went to different schools and different universities. You moved in with Jeff, I went to Manchester. We don’t have to be in walking distance to be friends you know.”
“It’s not the same. I wanted to bike over and talk to you, and you weren’t there.” Her voice held a hint of accusation and Claire braced herself for further attacks.
Kim sighed again. “Sorry. I know this isn’t your fault. Jeff says I accused you of causing the miscarriage – when you came to see the play. I don’t really remember; everything is foggy. If I did, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. I’m sorry I thought Michael could be trusted to keep his big gob shut.”
“Things are definitely over between you two, then?”
Claire thought about all the things her friend didn’t know about; Josh and the unnamed Scottish man and even Neal. For the first time it felt like a hundred years had passed since they’d last spoken.”
“I can’t say I’m disappointed. He never seemed right for you. Too boring. You need someone to make you laugh.” She stopped. “Poor Jeff, I’ve made his life a misery and he must be grieving as well. Even though it was only early on, it was his baby too.”
She fell silent again, and Claire glanced over, worried she was crying. Her face revealed dark thoughts, but she seemed in control of her emotions.
Turning her attention back to the road, Claire followed the SatNav’s instructions to take them to their B&B. They hadn’t managed to get beds in the hostel and Claire had to admit she wasn’t disappointed. She wasn’t entirely sure Kim was up to staying with strangers.
The B&B overlooked the bay. Claire looked out at the slate grey water, topped with white. The skies had grown darker and darker as they drove south and now they hung ominously overhead. Claire hoped it wasn’t a sign that they should have stopped driving and turned back.
“What do you want to do?” She looked over at Kim, who was also staring out across the sea. “Are you hungry?”
Kim looked blankly at her and the gloomy light from the window highlighted her sunken cheeks and the flatness of her eyes. She turned her face back to the window without speaking.
When she didn’t answer, Claire filled the silence with bright and brittle words. “Well, I’m hungry. Plus I need to contact Conor, see if we can catch up tonight. Then we can carry on into Devon and Cornwall tomorrow. You’ll like Conor, he’s full of Irish charm.”
She ran out of words. It felt like trying to get through to Sky when she was having a tantrum. Only much worse. All the emotions in Kim were raging on the inside; like watching a storm through thick glass.
“Do you want me to take you home?”
“I want to go to sleep and never wake up.”
Kim’s words poured like ice water over Claire. Her mind went blank. She wanted to bundle Kim in the car and take her back to Jeff, or the hospital. To people better suited to deal with the despair. Instead she took a deep breath, letting the air fill her lungs, and forced her lips to smile.
“Well, I’m not going to let you do that. Let’s go for a walk along the beach, spend some coppers in the amusement arcade then let Conor buy us dinner. It will all seem better tomorrow.”
She tugged her friend gently and was relieved when she allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. As she led her from the room, Claire looked one last time at the wind-tossed sea and hoped she was right that it would be better in the morning. It couldn’t be worse.