Need For Praise

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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.

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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 – when we scratch beneath the surface – that 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? 🙂

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?

Why being an Introvert is toughest in the Summer Holidays

My house, my head, my life...

My house, my head, my life…

I finally got to the bottom of my exhaustion today, after a friend on twitter suggested it might be due to my diet. I spent a lot of time musing on what is actually causing it, and whether sugar and caffeine are to blame.

It’s certainly true that there has been more coffee and cake this holiday, as survival against being home with the kids. But, if anything, my diet has been better, as I’ve had the children to feed too. Lunch is more likely to be pasta and veg than marmite toast, and there is much more fruit. I’m also drinking less tea, because I never get a chance to make and finish a cup while it’s hot.

But today I broke. We were meant to go and pick the car up from the garage and then go to the farm. Somewhere between trying to make a picnic as the kids hurled demands at me, and fighting to get two children dressed who declared they didn’t want to go out, I lost it. I walked away, climbed the stairs and crawled into bed. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Followers of this blog will know I am both an introvert and an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. The latter is a term I hate, because it sounds like something kids would taunt in the playground, but it’s a diagnosis that applies too closely to me to be ignored. Let’s look at the two terms:

Introvert: I found this brilliant definition on the gifted kids website (not because I think I’m gifted, but because I googled it!).

Definition: Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert! Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.

Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”

When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.

Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk.

[Emphasis mine]

Even the garden is a mess

Even the garden is a mess

Remind you of anyone? This is me. My life became a different place when I realised I was an introvert and that was okay. I am married to someone who recognises that I need plenty of alone time, and that even having him home in the garage can stop me from fully recharging. I am liberated by the knowledge, but it’s tough to handle at times, especially when most people I know are extroverts and think I’m antisocial or just plain weird.

The parents who tell me they love being home with their kids, love the constant chatter and the laughing and silliness are not introverts. And, possibly, they will never understand why, even though I love my children, it physically pains me to be around them all the time.

Highly Sensitive Person: On the HSP Website, it says this:

Is this you?

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?

I read this list and ticked every single one. I tick them in relief, because so many things I thought were just me being difficult or a freak turned out to be things that other people could relate to.  The two bits I’ve emphasised are the ones that have been hardest this holiday. As above with the introvert definition, I “need time alone to ‘recharge'”. This holiday that has been “bed or a darkened room”. A lot. Not very healthy. When the children are at school I recharge by writing and walking the dog, sitting alone in cafes and getting the weekly food shop. None of those options are available to me, so I sleep.

More Playroom Mayhem

More Playroom Mayhem

Another thing that has exhausted me this holiday is the constant conflict. I hate arguments. I grew up in an argumentative household and any sort of disagreement, even without raised voices, ties my stomach in knots and makes me shake. Recently I’ve been having heart palpitations and there is a permanent knot of angst in my tummy. When I went to get my contraceptive pills this week they wouldn’t give them to me because my blood pressure was high.

Today I realised why.

My children are three and five. They argue all the time. When they’re not arguing, with each other or with me, or having screaming heebie jeebies because their socks are the wrong colour, they’re shrieking with glee, which usually ends in someone crying because they get too hyper. And, try as I might to block it out, I can’t. I’ve been living amidst constant noise and angst and conflict for fourteen hours a day for over four weeks. I have had two hours by myself to recharge. Two hours in four weeks. It’s been five years since I had a child at home full time, and back then they couldn’t talk.

I don’t know if being an introvert and being HSP are the same thing. I don’t think so. But I know that being both, and being a stay at home mum, are definitely mutually exclusive things if you want to stay happy.

My exhaustion is because I’m ‘switched on’ all day. It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack that I can’t put down. It starts off manageable but gets heavier and heavier as the journey continues. So my body copes by shutting down. If it can’t make the noise go away, it will go to sleep and escape that way. That’s my thought anyway. And it makes me sad. I had such great plans for the holiday and, in small doses, I genuinely love spending time with the children, taking them to the park, listening to their shows and reading them stories. But this summer I reached my limit.

'Painting' hmmm

‘Painting’ hmmm

I suspect it is all exacerbated by the fact that my children are likely also introverts (with two parents that are, it’s pretty inevitable), so they’re also suffering from being with each other day after day. It’s noticeable that my son, who has had no time by himself, being either at home with his sister or at nursery, has reverted to a tantrummy two-year-old. Normally he has a day or two with me just watching TV and cuddling. Time to switch off. Then he becomes my sweet little boy. At the moment he’s angry and stroppy and teary much of the time. Needless to say that isn’t helping any of our stress levels!

So I just have to hang on. In a week and a half I’ll have a few hours by myself. I think it might take more than one day to regrow the layers of skin that have been stripped away, but just knowing it’s coming is helping me cling on to sanity. It doesn’t help that hubbie is between contracts and at home, but hopefully that at least will be a short-lived situation.

And next year? Like it or not, tears and tantrums or not, even if it’s only for a day a week, they’re going to camp!

The Rest Is Silence

*Trigger alert – talk of suicide and depression*

What terrible news to wake to, that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression. I write it like that on purpose, rather than ‘he took his own life.’ He didn’t. Depression and addiction took his life.

I have read so many heartfelt posts and social media statements this morning, saying ‘what a waste’ and ‘if only he’d sought help.’ And I can’t help but feel the need to defend his actions. He clearly did seek help, just as a cancer patient will seek the best care. But sometimes it isn’t enough.

My father died of pneumonia when he was 58, after battling cancer for several years. I believe part of him gave up the fight. But no one would say he took his own life, or blame him for refusing to live with the pain anymore. We think depression can always be treated but sometimes the drugs don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Knowing the world loves a version of you that maybe isn’t the complete you surely makes it worse. Knowing you bring joy to millions but not to yourself. I can only imagine how lonely and painful that might be.

So I will mourn his loss, and celebrate his greatness, and hope his suffering may cause others to seek help and live to celebrate another day. I hope people will recognise Depression for the debilitating illness it truly is, rather than a weakness of character.

Many speak of failed suicide attempts giving them new life and new purpose, and I am glad that is true. Matt Haig often writes of surviving suicide and I am grateful he lived to pour his pain and experience into The Humans. But how many more woke determined to try again? There should be no blame, only an attempt at understanding. Robin Williams battled an illness and lost.

Rest in eternal peace, Robin Williams, I hope you have defeated the dark dog within and can walk free.