Life

img_5537The more the world goes crazy, the harder it is to write a blog post. I can’t gather myself enough to write anything meaningful about Trump or the NZ earthquake (tearing up roads I remember driving along fifteen years ago) or the gutter press (too many horrors to mention).

But equally a trivial post about my little personal battles with depression, children, writing, builders or being an HSP seems too frivolous to mention. (I hate the term HSP – Highly Sensitive Person. it makes me sound like Mrs Bennett: ‘Oh Kitty, stop coughing, have a thought for my poor nerves nerves.’ Although actually that pretty much sums me up at the moment.)

img_5523I went to Remembrance parade with the children yesterday, as they marched proudly, and stood silently and respectfully for hours, with their Beavers and Brownies packs.¬†When the Brigadier addressed them all at the end, she said, ‘We were blessed with wonderful weather, although it’s always cold in November. Yet we parade whether it’s sunny, or raining, or pounding with hail. And it’s those times, when the weather is atrocious, that we come closest to understanding, albeit for a short time, what our soldiers endure for us.’ [I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but that was the gist.]

And sitting here now, finally in silence after my own personal few weeks of awfulness, on my own micro scale, it occurs to me that – trivial as my problems are – perhaps my context allows me to access the world’s suffering in a way I couldn’t if life were always sunny.

And when the sun does shine again (When my HSP stops being Hell is Sound and People and becomes Haven in Serenity and Personal space), I can imagine the world finding sunshine again too. When it feels, like now, that I’ll never not be teary and tired, angry and wired, I can know that healing comes to everything eventually. Trump isn’t president yet, and can be booted out in four years (unlike Brexit ūüėĒ) New Zealand will recover and thrive, as it has done so many times. The Millennials will come together and fix the world, if only we 80s kids will step out of the way and let them.

Hope will survive.

Until then, HSP can mean Hoping Sanity Prevails.

Kids, Apps, and Knitted Toys

AmberSportsDay

Happy Daughter

It’s been a strange couple of weeks. I’m trying really hard to get a grip on reality, but my connection keeps timing out. End of term is always a bit crazy, with parties and sports day and homework to be handed in.

I’m trying to claw my way off the edge of the black hole of depression. It’s too easy to let myself slip in, but once I get past the event horizon, it will be a long long way back out. So, as I’m glued to my phone killing dinosaurs, I decided to try for some app motivation.

I downloaded a running app and a yoga app (paying for both, shock horror!) I’ve used them both a couple of times and like them a lot, the running more than the yoga. The yoga is a bit fast for me, moving from one pose to another in a few seconds. It will probably be easier when I know what the poses are and I’m not trying to stare at a tiny screen to see what I’m supposed to be doing.

AaronSportsDay

Winning Son

The running is a Couch to 5k app. I could probably run 5k already if I pushed it, but it would hurt. As I’m bunged up with hayfever, using an app to control how much I run is not a bad idea. I like it. I’ve been a few times in the last week or so, although I’m so goddarn tired it’s hard to find a time in the day to do it. But I ran over two miles at sports day on Wednesday, legging it between the Reception and Year 2 groups to watch my kids’ events, so I’m doing okay!

Error

How I feel about Half Term

The children are on half-term this week and I seem to have started with a complete sense-of-humour failure.

I’m finding that looking after them is less physical but far more emotional/intellectual as they get older. I was just about okay at¬†the dashing¬†around, soothing hurts, rescuing from climbing frames, mopping up poop, because I only needed half a brain. Now I have to negotiate the tricky path of hurt feelings, setting a good example, and the constant challenges of my seven-going-on-seventeen year old daughter, I find I can’t quite cope. It’s not a great time to be an over-thinker, and that’s me with bells on.

So the books have taken a back step. I’m putting my creativity into knitting, and painting the garden fence, and planting flowers. My son asked for a knitted jester, and I’m trying out an Alan Dart pattern (not sure if I’m allowed to share the finished picture on here, he has pretty strict copyright!)

I’m reading a few children’s classics to plug a gap in my knowledge (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett¬†at the moment) and grabbing sleep when I can. Life isn’t a race, although it feels like it most of the time.

I’d like to get back to blogging more regularly. I tend not to blog because I’m worried it will be a misery-fest, a place to rant and be boring. It was never meant to be that!

JuneJournalsYesterday, while walking the dog, I came up with the idea of doing a June Journal, trying to find a positive thing every day to write about, even if it’s just watching the dog run through the corn, or sharing a passage from my favourite book. Of course that will probably be even more boring and annoying, but the first piece of writing advice is always ‘write every day’ so at least it will keep me writing! No one has to read it, after all.

Have a lovely bank holiday weekend, peeps, and join me in June for a month of happy thoughts. Here’s hoping.

 

Need For Praise

image

My Daughter’s Painting

I’ve been in a funk this week. I can’t seem to shift it, I feel shredded and permanently on the verge of tears.

I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s tiredness, illness, depression, or just the slump after a stressful few weeks.

What’s hard is that it becomes horribly self-perpetuating. I snack on chocolate and bleed caffeine and try and sleep all day like a cat. So my body feels sluggish and the family neglected. Then I get grumpy and they get grumpy and I oscillate between anger and self-loathing.

I’ve worked out that part of it is finishing a book. As soon as it’s ‘done’ I want someone to tell me if it’s any good. But I’d say only a third of my books have been read by a person I know (if anyone!)
And it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

image

My Painting

I’m horribly praise-driven. Unfortunately that’s probably why no one who knows me feels brave enough to read my books and pass comment. Despite my reassurances that I won’t take their criticism personally, I’m always gutted if the feedback is negative (or worse, silent).

The awful part is that I always tell my daughter not to do things just for praise. It drives me nuts when we’re doing painting together and she spends the first half of the time asking, ‘Do you like it, is it good?’ and the rest of the time crying because my painting is better than hers, even when I try to make it rough and ready, and point out I’ve been doing it much much longer… Turns out the need for praise is genetic!

So once more I’m hiding upstairs, swallowing down tears, feeling like the most terrible wife and mother. There’s no food in the fridge or dinner on the table and I can’t find it in me to do anything about it.

Never mind. Next week I’ll start a new book, numb the fear, feed the kids, get on with life. What other choice is there?

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.

Busy Is a Sickness

Busy is a Sickness Article

Busy is a Sickness Article

I read a brilliant article on HuffPost Parents this morning called Busy Is a Sickness.

The article discusses how everyone seems to be busy these days, but that Рwhen we scratch beneath the surface Рthat business is often self-inflicted. That we seem to be afraid to be still and be ourselves, so we fill our lives with doing.

The article’s author, Scott Dannemiller, says, “I wear busyness like a badge of honor. Only there’s no honor to be had.”

He explains how he became resentful when someone listened to him describe a crazy day ahead and said, “Sounds like a full day, have fun!”

I laughed out loud when I read that part, because I recognised myself so fully in the statement.

I have a friend who has said something similar to me, and I felt equally resentful.¬†Don’t you know how hard my life is?¬†I wanted to say.¬†Don’t you know how busy I am, how hard I find it remembering all the details and running round after my kids. Cooking meals, washing laundry, walking the dog, all while finding time to write and spend time with my children? Pity me.

Lately, though, I’ve come to see all those things as blessings in my life. I am blessed to have a family who need me, a dog who loves being walked and who makes me get outside every day, rain or shine. I am blessed to have time to write and to live in a beautiful (messy) house. I am blessed to be able to pick my children up from school every day and be home with them in the holidays. I am blessed to have a husband who doesn’t mind the mess and random meals.

It’s hard to remember those blessings all the time, though. Most of the time my internal dialogue reverts back to the ‘woe is me, I’m so busy’ script.

I’ve been learning about Transactional Analysis in the writing course I am doing at the moment, particularly about life scripts. The website Changingminds.org describes life scripts like this:

We create stories about our lives, what they have been and what they will be. This starts in childhood where we weave our perceptions of our selves and of the world around us into a narrative about what we can and will do.

These life scripts then continue to have a deep and unconscious effect on how we live our lives. They affect the decision we make. They control what we think we could easily do and could never do. They shape our self-image. And yet we seldom realize where they come from or even do not know that they exist at all.

Our life scripts are often encouraged and shaped by parents and other family members, whose life scripts were shaped by their parents and so on. In this way, we become a product of our family’s history. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces.

Life scripts are not all the same as they may also be significantly affected by individual events, such as being criticized by a teacher or bullied by other children. They also are constrained by inherited characteristics. For example it would be unusual (but not impossible) for a shorter person to include being a basketball player in their life script.

There are often overall shapes to life scripts that can be expressed very simply, for example ‘I am a loser’ or ‘I must help save the world’. Life scripts can be very detailed and they can be very vague. They can be very empowering, yet they can also severely limit our lives.

I am starting to realise that my life script features phrases like, “woe is me,” or “I’m never good enough,” or “everyone expects me to help them,” or “pity me.”

I deliberately place¬†myself into positions where I am put upon, unappreciated, stressed or busy, and that reinforces my script. Being busy is part of that. A busy person is a useful person. A person who isn’t busy is lazy. These are things I have inside me.

When I first met my husband he was really good at just sitting and being. I saw it as laziness and it drove me crazy. I thought he should be fixing something, cleaning something or doing something useful. I probably drove him to be more busy and less happy. I regret that. Especially now I appreciate the true benefits of stillness. We need to just be. We don’t need to be busy all the time.

This is the quote from the HuffPost article that really resonated with me (from Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital.)

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

One of the things that makes me most stressed/unhappy/irritable is when my brain is full. There are two dozen things that need doing right away and my brain is processing them all.

I am learning (slowly) to prioritise. To accept my house will never be fully clean. I practice Mindfulness and tell those thoughts to just clear off for a while. It’s very liberating. But to the outside world I probably look lazy and, being an¬†HSP, I care what the world thinks.

When I chose to be a stay-at-home-mum/writer I felt I had to be busy all the time, or people would think less of me. That I was more important or a better person when I worked 12-hour days to meet crazy deadlines.

I felt I had to drive myself to fill every minute and rush rush rush. I had to rush the kids to school, even though I didn’t have to get to work on time. I made excuses, I never stopped.

Then I broke.

I had suicidal thoughts. I came to believe the world would be better without me because I was so rubbish, so lazy, so incapable of being as good and busy and productive as all my doctor, nurse, teacher friends who were making a real difference in the world.

It was a dark time and it took medication and a good doctor and the support of a loving family to come through it. But, most of all, I had to learn to be kind to myself and forgive myself for not being everything I wanted to be or thought I should be.

I learned to nap when I need it, to leave early to pick up the kids so I’m not rushing. I learned it’s okay to read a book, knowing I made my choices.

Do I feel guilty that some people are the ‘have to be busy to make ends meet’ sort because they have bills to pay? Yes, I do. But sometimes I think even that is about choices for some (not all, most definitely). How often are we working for the next car, house, holiday when we wouldn’t need those things if we were happier in ourselves?

Do I still care what the world thinks and have to justify my actions? Of course; that’s why I’m writing this post after all. I still have ‘pity me’ moments. I still want the world’s sympathy. Want my life, my worries, to be more important than everyone else’s. But I see those thoughts for the intruders they are. They aren’t my thoughts, they’re learnt and inherited. I can choose to ignore them.

I share this prayer with Scott:

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.

Full.”

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.

Autumn Already?

Smiley Son

Smiley Son

What happened to September? Someone stole it while I wasn’t paying attention. I can’t believe it’s October already (and nearly my birthday!) Despite the glorious warm and sunny days we’ve had recently, autumn is still in the air as we shiver our way to school in the morning, through rainbow coloured leaves and fallen conkers.

I love autumn, I think it’s my favourite time of year. Misty mornings, crisp afternoons, riotous colour everywhere and an excuse to wear jeans again.

My daughter has Harvest Festival today and I feel that I also want to celebrate the abundance and beauty around me. It’s been a year of ups and downs but, despite everything, we’re still muddling through, still smiling.

I’ve recently altered the time of day I¬†take my meds and have realised just how much they give me. Returning to the twitchy, ranty insomniac for even a few days was enough to be grateful for the change. I might have become a little more dozy, a little more befuddled, since starting on SSRIs, but I’m definitely happier.

My challenge for this month is to concentrate on finding things to be happy about rather than things to worry me. Good enough parenting, good enough housework. I’m taking up piano again and knitting like a demon. I even enjoyed spending time with my son yesterday, as he took a break from being a whiny, greedy, annoying four-year-old and (briefly) became my little boy again.

October is also about getting Dragon Wraiths entered into the Times / Chicken¬†House competition (the deadline is sneaking up fast. Thank goodness for my editor who has agreed to proofread it in a hurry). I’m almost convinced I shouldn’t waste my time and money, having had another half-dozen rejections on it in the summer. Almost, but not quite. Got to be in it to win it, isn’t that what they say? ūüôā

Meanwhile, Finding Lucy is slowly taking shape and Baby Blues is doing well on the new Kindle Unlimited. I have no idea yet if that earns me any money, but it’s nice to see the numbers ticking over.

That’s life in the Martin household at the moment. What does autumn mean to you?