Medicate Me: Day Fifteen

Sleeping Family

Sleeping Family

Day fifteen on my antidepressants and I have found a love for life. I laugh more. I am more gentle on myself. I take time to read my book with a cup of tea, or cook dinner while watching Homes Under the Hammer on the iPad, instead of trying to blog, fold laundry and iron at the same time, doing all four things badly.

I leave early for the school run and read my book in the car, arriving at the school gate with a smile on my face. I walk the dog mid-morning rather than running around ten minutes before I need to collect the children. I sleep when I need to, preferably in a sunbeam in the playroom.

I haven’t bellowed at the children or sworn at them in a fortnight.

I’m still not sleeping. I still feel anxious about lots of things (schools, food, teeth!) My writing and particularly the blog have taken a back seat. I miss it. I miss logging on in the morning and seeing blog post likes and new comments. I worry I’ll lose everything I fought so hard to build up last year. But not having to come up with a new topic to discuss everyday is giving me time to breathe. Not having to make time to take pictures to go with my posts is increasing my reading time.

I'm awake!

I’m awake!

It isn’t all a result of the medication. Reading The Five Love Languages brought smiles and understanding back to my marriage and increased my ability to see when the children need my time or a cuddle. The longer days, the sunshine and warmer weather are all mood enhancers, especially for me.

But most of all I have given myself permission to heal. I’ve accepted I don’t have to do everything all the time. I don’t have to fill every minute with sixty seconds run. I accept I am the luckiest woman in the world to be able to cook dinner calmly at 11am while watching TV, or to be able to read my book.

But also I acknowledge that I get up at 5am to wipe bums, crawl out of warm covers at 2am to replace blankets that have fallen off chilly children, and fold laundry at midnight when hubbie is already asleep.

Mine is the responsibility to cook, clean, empty the bins, iron and shop. Mine is the juggling routine of remembering when to collect the children and when to make them packed lunches or sign forms.

I realise I’ve been competing mentally against working mums, needing to prove I work just as hard as they do. Why? What does it matter if I don’t? We made choices for me to be at home. We go without meals out, babysitters, expensive holidays. Surely a happy mummy is an important part of that?

It reminds me of the poem I read at my Mum’s wedding; the Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence … Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

Words to live by.

Who Says Money Can’t Buy Happiness?

Kids find happiness in the rain

Kids find happiness in the rain

I read this great post by Valerie Alexander on her Speak Happiness blog today about our inalienable right to pursue happiness (well, for the Americans anyway, I’m not sure anyone has told us Brits. Complaining is a national sport!) and how there is nothing noble in suffering.

It came at a good time. The combination of rain and illness over the last few weeks has completely stolen my fairly fragile mojo. It’s good to be reminded that happiness costs nothing, and that “suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive.  You can survive immense difficulties and still remain a happy person.”

Not that a family full of cold and coughs, a few sleepless nights, and the most miserable weather count as immense suffering. I can see the ridiculousness in that idea. Still, there is something horrible about shuttling small children through puddles and mud, angry parents and umbrellas, twice a day that leaves me grumpy.

Actually, it reminds me of the phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.” I don’t mind the rain so much when I’m walking the dog, in (mostly) waterproof boots and coat (although the sea of mud around us at the moment makes walking a treacherous thing.) But walking to school, juggling umbrella, school bags and – at the moment – pushchair for poorly child, with my feet slowly soaking in my long-since lacking in waterproofness shoes, and with my drag-in-the-puddles jeans drinking up rainwater, I am only reminded how long it’s been since I afforded myself the luxury of new clothes or footwear (have you seen the price of kids’ shoes these days? None left for Mummy!)

Grrr there I go again, full of misery and self pity. So I’m going to try and follow Valerie’s excellent advice; “I will embrace and grow my happiness, regardless of what challenges the world throws at me.” And I will start by buying myself some new shoes! Who says money can’t buy happiness? 😉

Smiley, Sunny Days: 2013 365 Challenge #324

Scooting through the park to school

Scooting through the park to school

I’ve spent today trying to work out why the sun makes us feel so much happier. The skies have been blue today, without a cloud in view. It makes the autumn leaves sparkle and dance in waves of red and gold.

But it’s freezing, around 3C, and the ground is frozen. Of course my boy still wore shorts to scoot on the school run, although I did manage to persuade him into jeans for the farm. Despite shivering from cold and the pain of red raw hands, (gloves have not yet been located as I’m in denial that it’s actually winter) I feel a hundred times better than I did yesterday in the mizzle and fog.

I want to get outside, I want to run and jump, and not just to keep warm. I’m smiling just because it’s sunny. I wonder why that is? I’m sat in a freezing barn with a ray of sunlight warming my arm, and life is good. We’ve been outside nearly all day today, at the farm and the park, feeding the ducks and scootering (with son back in shorts after his gymnastics class!) It’s been a great day.

Blue skies at the farm

Blue skies at the farm

I guess this is why people buy SAD lamps to see them through the winter, to replace the lost sunshine. I’ve thought about it. I miss the daylight, as it gets dark at 4pm and the sky is only starting to lighten when we leave for school.

Maybe on the sunny days we feel the long distant promise of spring; of warmer days and growing plants, of living and thriving, of life. Even now, in our twenty-first century world, with electric lights and central heating, TV and books and snuggly lightweight fleece jumpers, we’re still animals at heart. We want to hibernate in the winter and celebrate in spring.

Bring on the sunny days, bring on the frost and the snow, the nipped fingers and running nose. Enough of autumn’s mists, I want blue skies to make me smile. And then I want it to be spring, please.

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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:


Claire sat on her bunk and watched the boys as they lay, absorbed in their games. She could see Candy Crush on Alex’s screen, and wondered if she should’ve asked Robert what restrictions he placed on the boys’ screen time. She couldn’t help but feel that more educational apps would be a better way to spend their time, but didn’t feel as comfortable telling them so as she had with Sky.

Plus it’s the school holidays: they must have homework that needs doing. Do I trust that Francesca will supervise that, or should I do something?

Her anger at the now departed Robert flared up again, and only the indifference both boys showed at their father’s departure made her feel that she was doing the right thing. However little she knew about looking after boys, it didn’t seem as if they’d get much more care and attention from their dad.

I shouldn’t judge, of course. I know nothing about their family life. And, after all, it must be strange going home after boarding during term time.

She looked up again from her book, unable to concentrate on the words.

The question is, now they are here, what am I going to do with them?

A low grumbling noise echoed round the room and Claire giggled. “Alex, was that your stomach?” The boy grunted and didn’t look up. Claire sighed, quietly. “What about you, Jack, are you hungry? Did you boys have lunch?”

She looked at her phone and was surprised to see how late it was. “Never mind lunch, it’s nearly dinner time. What do you boys fancy? I can cook pasta or we can go out and find a restaurant.” At least Robert had made sure she didn’t need to scrimp too much.

Jack sat up and bumped his head on the bunk. “Ow. Alex, why did I get the bottom bunk?”

“Because you’re the baby,” his brother snarled. Jack’s face crumpled and Claire feared he might cry. He knuckled at his eyes, and when he met Claire’s gaze his eyes were red but dry.

“I’m hungry, Auntie Claire. Can we have a McDonalds? Do they have them out here? Father said we’re a long way from civilisation.”

“Are you allowed McDonalds? Your dad didn’t say, but I can’t imagine he and your mum would approve. It’s not very healthy.”

“They don’t give a shit about us,” Alex said.

The words struck at Claire’s heart, but she responded sternly, “I don’t think that language is appropriate, Alex. You’re an educated boy; you can express yourself without resorting to swearing.”

“Why should I? Father swears all the time. And Mother. Especially at each other.” He turned back to his game, and Claire felt an urge to give this troubled almost-man a hug.

Knowing that was the last thing he would want, she tried to keep her voice neutral and said, “Well, when you’re with me I would like you to refrain from swearing. In fact I think we’ll have a few rules.” Alex took no notice of her; his attention on his game.

“For a start, I won’t have you ignoring me. Right, come down here please, Alex. You, too, Jack. Come sit here with me.” She patted the bed. Jack came across the room but Alex didn’t move.

“Alex Carleton, get down here now, or you’ll be on the next flight home.” The strength in her voice surprised Claire. The reaction was even more shocking. Alex glared at her, then rolled sideways off the bed and jumped to the floor without using the ladder. He didn’t sit, but she chose not to force the issue.

“Okay. Rule one, you will listen to me and do as I ask. I am in charge, got it?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Rule two, no swearing. Rule three, iPad will be limited to a few hours a day.” Alex began to protest and she cut him off. “I’m not unreasonable – I had an iPad until recently. But I also know how addictive some of the games are. We’re in the most beautiful part of the world, with castles and caves and beaches and places to visit. Games are for quiet time and, occasionally, car journeys. Got it?”

Jack said, “yes, Ma’am,” but Alex remained silent.

“Got it?” Claire said again, looking into Alex’s downcast eyes.

“Yes, Ma’am.

“Good. Oh, I forgot. Rule four–” Jack groaned and Claire laughed. “Don’t worry, this is a good one. Rule four, let’s have some fun!”

She jumped up from the bed. “Okay, shall we see if this sleepy backwater has a McDonalds?”

With a crazy grin she led them from the room without waiting to see if they were following her.


Learning Happiness: 2013 365 Challenge #141

The Speak Happiness Blog

The Speak Happiness Blog

One of the ebooks on my iPad waiting to be read is a book called Learning Happiness as a Second Language by Valerie Alexander.

I came across the book on the author’s blog Speak Happiness (which goes to show that having a blog can sell books. Maybe I just need to try harder).

The blog is one of my favourites (I recently nominated it in my Liebster Blogger Award) because Happiness is so vital, yet so elusive. It is also one of the more challenging blogs for me to read.

Something holds me back from happiness and I don’t understand why. It stems from this fear that, if I’m happy, bad things will happen. As a result whenever I come across a great blog like Speak Happiness I feel resistance.

While walking the dog recently, after reading a post on Valerie’s blog, I randomly asked myself a series of questions, to try and understand my resistance.

“Am I happier when the kids are happy?”

“Am I calmer when hubbie is happy?”

“Do I feel more in control when I’m happy?”

“Do I want the kids to learn how to be happy, to make friends and be popular in a good way?”

“Do I want their glass to be half full and to always see the positive?”

I answered yes to all the questions in my mind. Then I asked the final question:

“Am I prepared to change, throw off the shackles of my genes and my upbringing, and learn Happiness?”

The answer, of course, is yes. And still… There’s a part of me that welcomes sadness. That sees it as a comfortable place where there are no expectations of me. I remember a boyfriend who used to say “Smile, you boring old scrote.” All. The. Time. I still hear it in my head now, twenty years later. I can’t think of anything less likely to make me smile. Yet I felt there was something inherently wrong with me because I wasn’t smiling. I was 16. Happiness is not a natural state at 16.

My children are good at Happy

My children are good at Happy

Now, as an adult, it’s as if I’ve decided being miserable, guilty, sorry, negative is my prerogative and I’ll damn well do it if I want to. Sometimes, of course, it’s enhanced by a dip towards depression. Lowness that I can’t shift. But the danger is it becomes a habit. Something I get away with. No one tells me to Pull it Together because they know I battle depression.

Maybe sometimes they should. Or I should.

So I want to try. I want to learn happiness as a second language – for the same reason I’d like to learn Italian. For my kids, for me. Maybe what’s holding me back is the fear I will disappear. If I learn Italian I’ll be another voice in the crowd. I’ll be expected to join in, I won’t be different, I’ll have to make an effort. If I learn to be happy no one will notice me anymore. After all, sympathy is attention. If I have nothing to moan about will I have nothing to say?

All these things hold me back. Still, now I have the iPad I at least no longer have an excuse not to read the book. I started it this week and was hooked by the first chapter. By the concept, even, that happiness can be learned, has to be learned, rather than being a natural state. As Valerie explains on her blog (and in her book):

If you did not grow up speaking Greek, you wouldn’t expect to leave home and instantly be fluent in it, so why is it that we expect to suddenly be “fluent” in Happiness if Happiness wasn’t spoken in our homes?

Wise words. And hopeful ones. Maybe it isn’t too late for me to learn.


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:


“Louth: Capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds.”

Claire read the sign signalling her entry to the town. What is a wold? Whatever it is, it doesn’t look like there’ll be a Starbucks.

Even though she had grown up in the area, or maybe because of it, Claire couldn’t imagine there being anything impressive in Lincolnshire, apart from maybe the cathedral at Lincoln. And it’s raining too much for me to think about driving that far.

When Claire had looked out the window after a night of uninterrupted sleep, it was to see heavy rain clouds and deep puddles. Her plan to visit the Cathedral had been driven away by a strong need for caffeine. A glance at the map revealed Louth as the nearest town and she’d set off without checking what she would find when she got there.

Claire drove down the main street, reading the names of the shops through the rain being pushed slowly away by weary wipers. Luck of Louth, Dragonfly Kitchen, Madhatter’s Tearoom. Where am I, for goodness sake? I feel like Alice in bloody Wonderland. Maybe this was a bad idea.

She came to a small square, hemmed in by charity shops and a large Greggs. Great, I can have a soggy pie or buy some paperback books. I want coffee! Reluctantly, Claire parked the car and shrugged on her raincoat. There must be a coffee shop somewhere. I couldn’t move for them in Stamford and it was no bigger than here.

Not wanting to wander aimlessly in the rain, Claire ducked into the nearest charity shop to ask for directions. She shook the rain from her hood and threaded her way through racks of clothes and books until she located the counter. A lady of indeterminable age was serving a customer with a plastic hood over blue-rinse curls. Claire waited impatiently, dripping rain onto the clean floor.

Eventually the women ceased their chatter and, with many cheery farewells, the customer left.

“Excuse me, is there a café near here, please?”

The lady looked at Claire in surprise, as if she hadn’t noticed her waiting by the counter.

“I’m sorry, dear?” She spoke in the loud tones of the deaf, even though she had been conversing normally with the previous customer.

“Is there a café?” Claire decided two could play at that game, and enunciated her words slowly and loudly.

“Of course, dear. Tina and Lynne’s is just round the corner. They do lovely tea.” She rambled on about the quality of the home-made tiffin, while Claire resisted the urge to say it was coffee she was after and it was far too early for cake.

Gradually retreating backwards towards the door, with a smile fixed on her face, Claire managed to escape the lady’s chatter. She raised her hand and a muttered a quick goodbye, then ducked out into the street, not caring about the rain or where the coffee shop was.

Sod this, I might as well drive to Lincoln. At least it’s on the way to the next hostel. Bugger the rain, I need to be in a city and soon, before I’m stuck in Wonderland forever.


Health, happiness and commentator’s curse: 2013 Challenge #36

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

Feeling pretty terrible as a Mummy today. I have spent much of the last few days falling out with my daughter because she hasn’t been listening properly, hasn’t responded to a question repeated several times or has asked me something I’ve told her many times already.

It turns out that she has (hopefully temporarily) lost the hearing in one ear. I want to take back the crossness and tears and wrap her in cuddles.

It terrifies me when things happen to the children because it feels like, in life, when I’m happy bad things happen. I generally try not to be too happy with my lot in case it’s all taken away. Things like when I had a car accident, found out my dad had cancer, discovered my dad had died in hospital, these things all came immediately after a period of intense happiness. Like Commentator’s Curse. You know the minute a commentator says “this batsman is on fire, he can’t hit a thing wrong,” that he’s going to be out next ball.

Hadrian's Wall - Sycamore Gap - photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

Hadrian’s Wall – Sycamore Gap – photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

It’s a silly superstition but one that feels real from repeated experience I know bad things happen and it’s how you cope that matters. But I can’t help but feel that if I hedge my bets rather than over-counting my blessings I can somehow prevent disaster.

My husband is taking my daughter to the doctor this morning.  I am waiting for them to tell me the results and I can feel the panic rise. Being unable to communicate with my children is one of my greatest fears. I have so much admiration for parents of children with autism or other things that hinder connection.

P.S. She has an inner ear infection. Nasty but treatable. Reading back through the post I wrote this morning I was tempted to delete it as it reeks of over-reaction. But it was genuine and real at the time and I think it’s interesting to read it with hindsight and see how things viewed through guilt and sleep-deprivation can seem HUGE.


The trill of the phone rang loud in the silent lounge. Claire and Josh had the place to themselves, having got back from their walk early in the afternoon. Claire twisted in her seat so she could retrieve her phone from her back pocket, only then becoming aware of the numb patch where it had been digging into her skin.

Claire, sorry to text again. I’m not stalking you I promise. It’s just I rang AJC and they said you’d left. I hope that’s not because of what happened at New Year. I’m sorry if it was. Forgive me. Michael.

Left? How dare they? What have they been saying to my clients? Claire felt the blood heating in her veins, surging up her neck to her face. She read the message again. And why did Michael ring work anyway? I don’t care what he says, it sounds like stalking to me.

Her mind twisted like tights in a tumble dryer. She wasn’t aware that her emotions were anything other than internal until she heard a snigger from Josh. She looked and saw him watching her with a questioning look on his face.

“I’ve never heard someone actually grind their teeth before. I always thought it was one of those things you read in bad novels when the author can’t think of a way to describe irritation better.”

Claire unclenched her jaw and forced her muscles to relax. “Just some seeds from my sandwich stuck in my molars that’s all.” She watched Josh with narrow eyes, waiting to see if he would contradict her. The sandwiches had been on white. He merely gave a wink and went back to reading a tattered paperback, holding it in one hand with pages turned over.

Claire put the phone down and pulled her iPad onto her lap. She opened her blog site dashboard with a sigh. The blank page of the “New Post” dragged at her like a cliff edge. A mind that could generate award-winning one-liners for Press Ads was bereft of words when faced with the challenge of penning something entertaining about her day. The best part had been arriving back at the hostel and wrapping her hands around a mug of tea. She’d even managed to ignore the chips and cracks and the teak-colour of the brew. Eight hours trudging in a ‘bracing’ wind had erased her fastidiousness for the moment.

Damn you Josh for convincing me to do a second circular walk when we finished the first one in five hours. Yes the Sycamore Tree was pretty but I could have lived without it. Although Cuddy’s Crags and East and West Crindledykes are going to make great Tags.

She looked at the two maps of her walks with notes scribbled on, barely legible because of cold, numb fingers. It was vaguely possible she could write something about the two circular routes that hadn’t been said before but it was still lacking in heart, whatever that was.

At least I have the photos of Josh to upload. He’s fairly easy on the eye: that should win some likes. She flicked through the images on her phone, trying to find the ones with most impact. It was a bit different to working with a lightbox in an editing studio. She chose a couple that made her heart beat a bit faster and set them to upload to the Cloud.  I should probably check with him before I publish them to the world. He might be in hiding or something although if he’s writing a blog back home they must have some idea where he is.

“Hey Josh, can I put a picture of you on the blog? That one of you up to your knees in the mud would be cool.”

There was silence from the sofa in the corner and Claire wondered if Josh had fallen asleep. The book hadn’t looked particularly thrilling. She glanced over and was surprised to meet troubled eyes peering around the pages of the upheld book. The expression on Josh’s normally carefree face jolted deep in Claire’s stomach and she was conscious of a strong urge to offer comfort.

“Er, sure, if you want. Or you could use the one of me on top of the wall.”

The one where the sun is on you and your face isn’t visible? “Maybe, although I’m sure you’re not meant to climb the wall so that’s probably not a great idea. Don’t worry, I’ll find something. I think you took one of me.”

She turned her head back to the laptop as if concentrating on her post. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Josh. His face remained focussed in her direction for a few moments before he sank back into his previous pose. Only the constant movement of his twisting feet gave anything away.