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.

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? 😉

Reblog: “All Retch and No Vomit”

Freedom: From the Alan Watts video

Freedom: From the Alan Watts video

Things are still hanging on by a feverish thread here in the Martin household, with little man peeling away my last layers of patience with his fractious, “Mummy, but..” “Mummy, can we just…” “Mummy, I’m bored / tired / miss Daddy” and “Mummy, I’m hungry…” followed by a refusal to eat anything, on eternal loop.

I  decided to look back twelve months to see if this is normal January/February stuff. It is. We need to holiday somewhere hot in the winter to avoid this annual decimation of the family health and happiness and to preserve my ongoing sanity.

In the meantime, as I have no words, I’ve decided to steal a post from back then, 9th February 2013 to be exact, to keep the blog alive in my absence. The title seemed very fitting, as it describes the coughing noise that’s become the soundtrack to my life! (Sorry, too much info!). Joking aside, the Alan Watts speech resonated with me back then and, listening to it again, now my daughter has started school, it has even more meaning now. This is the original post:

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The Alan Watts video, What if Money Didn’t Matter?, came my way today via Facebook. It’s been around a while so I’m sure most people have seen it. If you haven’t, check it out on YouTube.

My favourite line (describing schooling and how we raise our kids to want the things we want) is

“it’s all retch and no vomit.”

You can’t beat that for an image with impact.

Actually the line that truly resonated was this:

“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

What if Money Didn't Matter?

What if Money Didn’t Matter?

Now I know if you have kids, responsibilities, mortgages and so forth, this is a difficult thing to fit into your life. Many of the less positive comments beneath the video are along the lines of “that’s all well and good but I’m a single mum / I have a mortgage / I have bills to pay, I can’t afford to do what I want.” Or my favourite, “what; do I tell my kids not to bother with their homework?”.

To me that has missed the point. It doesn’t have to be so black and white. We can knuckle down to hard work and try to direct that towards something we will love doing in the future. And if in some ways we are already caught in the trap, stuck in a career that’s more about money than happiness, it doesn’t mean we can’t try and pass a different ethos onto our children.

Yes kids still need to do their homework.

Having aspirations doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work to realise them. I think the message is to find something you love and put it nearer the centre of your career than the need to get rich.

When my husband first watched the video he realised he didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have to earn money. That’s a sad realisation at forty. He’s given it some thought and come up with some answers but I think it’s important to know what you love doing even if it isn’t possible to do it.

I’m probably rambling making no sense: it’s been a long day on little sleep and too much coughing. I might revisit this topic when I’m feeling more lucid. In the meantime I love the first screenshot I captured, I think it encapsulates the journey Claire is on as she realises life is about more than earning enough money to buy the next must-have designer shoes.

P.S. Why did I never have Claire parascend into a cave? That would have been amazing! One for the sequel maybe…

Finding The Positives

Getting ready for school!

Getting ready for school!

1. It’s not raining

2. Our house isn’t flooded

3. I have two wonderful, loving children

4. I can still get up and look after everyone

5. My daughter doesn’t have a temperature and can go to school

6. The doctor says my son’s cold hands and feet don’t automatically mean he has septicaemia

7. The kitchen is clean after my “I’m ill so I must do housework” blitz yesterday

8. I remembered to buy milk and found some tea bags in the back of the cupboard

9. I no longer have to worry about planning a party

10. I sold a copy of Dragon Wraiths

Waving From The Trenches

Slightly blurry party pics

Slightly blurry party pics

Having survived my daughter’s birthday party weekend, despite illness and chaos, I thought I could finally breathe a sigh of relief and get a day to do some writing. Unfortunately the universe had other plans. As if to trump the coughs we’ve all had, our son decided to throw out a temperature of 39C last night, throwing up his party sweets and spending the night whimpering. I tried sleeping on his floor but he wanted to come in with us, so after hours spent checking his temperature, trying to keep him from cuddling up and getting too hot, and then a wide-awake daughter coming in at 5am wanting to play with her new gifts, I’m a bit spaced today.

I’m currently trying to figure out how to do the school run and the supermarket shop without spreading his germs around. Meanwhile he and his sister are playing guns with a new toy, happy as you like. Kids are amazing. I have no temperature at all and feel like the living dead and husband looks like willpower alone is keeping him walking. So, this is just a quick note to keep my daily blogging alive. I’d like to say normal service will resume soon but, quite frankly, the light at the end of the tunnel keeps being the London Express.

Sunday Ramble

Designing Party Invites

Designing Party Invites

It’s been a long, long weekend. Both my daughter’s teachers came out on Friday to say she’d been subdued during class (even though I told them when I dropped her off that she has a cold. They’re hot on attendance and so have to take the consequences!) and my son’s nursery key worker said he burst into tears fifteen minutes after I dropped him off (which isn’t like him).

We’ve all got this head cold that seems to have tiredness and grumpiness as by-products. I feel like I’ve done nothing but nag at the children and tell them off all weekend, which in turn leads to endless Mummy guilt and feelings of general despair that I’m scarring them for life with my constant snapping and snarling.

It certainly hasn’t been the weekend for trying to organise a child’s birthday party (I feel sorry for the other mum I’m planning the party with!) Still, I managed to get the invitations printed (although not written as I ran out of envelopes), the disco booked and we agreed on a village hall and booked it. Baby steps, little milestones. I have to say, I hate organising children’s parties. The child in question gets so hyped up and excited, “is it tomorrow, is it tomorrow?” and there are so many details to manage. Not to mention the idea of having 40 kids in a hall. That’s why the disco: trying to entertain eight children in our house last year showed us that we are not children’s entertainers! 🙂

My answer to everything this evening

My answer to everything this evening

I’m trying to think what else we did this weekend but it’s a bit of a blur. We went to see my father-in-law, who has just come back from a trip to New Zealand. He brought a newspaper back from the town I lived in while I was there – Dunedin – and it made me homesick. Even though I had the ups and downs of a turbulent romance during my months there, they still figure as some of the happiest moments of my life. There was a real sense of community amongst the ex-pats and I was happy to be included in it. I haven’t often felt part of a community, and it’s a lovely feeling.

Today was a bit about survival. It was too cold to contemplate going for our usual swim, and the kids ended up fending for themselves. Or fighting, mostly. The adults aren’t the only ones cranky with this cold. The children seemed to spend the day yelling, “It’s Mine!” and “I’m Telling!” until I wanted to run out into the street and scream. (The neighbours wouldn’t blink if I did – I quite often lock myself in the utility room and scream myself hoarse. Should I admit that?)

My daughter also keeps getting stabbing pains in her head, which we hope are just the headaches we’re also getting from the virus, but it does add to the general worry. I’m afraid I’m the kind of parent that will either ignore something completely or over-react and want to rush the child to A&E. Poor hubbie has to try and figure out the right response between the two.

All in all I’m glad it’s Sunday and we’re all back to school / work / nursery tomorrow. How do you survive a weekend with tired, ill, cranky kids? I’ve decided a large glass of wine is the answer…

The Power of Perspective: 2013 365 Challenge #107

My Sleeping Angels - Holding Hands

My Sleeping Angels – Holding Hands

Were it not for the tragic events that happened in Boston yesterday this would probably be another ranty post about the horrible day we’ve had; how I’m sick of (what I now take to be) Flu and sky-high temperatures, flushed cheeks, pale husband and endless snot.

How I want to lie in bed and be ill and feel sorry for myself. Or else yell at everyone for the fact that it has to be me that’s last person standing, even though I’m barely able to remain upright. How my head feels like a vice is clamped to it and there are nails through my sinuses. How the kids have gone from whiny-cuddly to mad energy and back as quickly as the clouds blowing over our house.

All those things are true.

My Precious Boy

My Precious Boy

But, when I logged on this morning, and read about the horrific events that ended the Boston Marathon, none of that mattered any more. My sister and her family live close to Boston. Thankfully they’re all fine. How many families are not fine, though? How many families wish the worst they had to deal with was a flu virus, some back ache and shivering? I made the mistake of clicking on Twitter photo links without fully understanding what had happened. I saw images that will haunt me because I tend to shield myself from horror. The bane of a writer’s life (and a parent’s life I guess) is far too vivid an imagination. Those could be my kids. My husband. My family.

The posts that have helped today (all listed below) are the ones that don’t talk of revenge: they talk of making a difference. We can’t necessarily help the families across the pond who are suffering. But we can help people around us. Begin small. I tried to keep my temper today and look after my family, grateful that they are mine to hold. Tomorrow I will look wider. Try to help someone near me, even if it’s buying a Big Issue or donating to a homeless shelter. We can all make a difference, we can all turn our back on hate and bring good to the world. Of course we want the people who did such a thing to be brought to justice, but hatred breeds hatred. There is enough darkness in the world: we must strive to find and bring forth the light.

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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:

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Claire reached for her phone and blinked until she could focus on the time. 4.07am.

“Urgh, seriously? Surely it must be morning already?” Her voice, made rough by dryness, sounded strange in the silence. She felt around until her hand clasped the bottle of water by the bed. Once the sand-paper in her throat was soothed, she rolled over and slid a hand onto Sky’s brow. It burned. The girl’s hair was matted and damp with sweat and Claire resisted the urge to find her hair brush and restore the bird’s nest back to its normal glossy mane. Tangled hair is the least of my worries.

Rolling back over, she felt on the bedside table for the in-ear thermometer the woman in the room next door had lent her for the night. I have no idea why someone brings a piece of kit like this on holiday, but I’m extremely grateful. Taking care not to wake Sky, Claire slid the thermometer into her niece’s ear and pressed the button. The green light flashed bright in the near-dark and the beep – signalling the reading was ready – echoed loudly.

Sky twisted her head away and coughed. Claire held her breath, praying she would go back to sleep. The girl shifted restlessly, kicking at the sheet wrapped around her legs. At last she was still and Claire felt able to shine her phone at the thermometer to take a reading. 38.8C. She knew from reading the NHS website that anything over 39 was cause for concern. Claire sank back against the pillows and tried to think. Her own head felt muggy. Please don’t let me get sick too.

A quick calculation informed her she could give Sky more Calpol if she wanted. But that would mean waking her up, even with the handy syringe the lovely lady with the baby had lent her. My first stop tomorrow is to a chemist. There’s obviously a reason why mothers carry such a well-stocked first aid kit with them. I wonder why Ruth didn’t provide one? A mental image of the last time she saw her sister flashed into her head.

Poor Ruth, she wasn’t thinking much of anything. Besides, I don’t suppose they venture more than ten miles from home. From what I can gather she and Sky have never been on holiday. Shifting up, so she could sit against the headboard, Claire thought that was probably wise: Travelling with children was nerve-wracking and Ruth was a nervous parent at the best of times.

Something stabbed deep beneath Claire’s ribcage, like cramp. She analysed the pain and realised it was guilt. They probably couldn’t afford to go on holiday, from what Sky has told me. I never realised things were so tough. Her planned trip to the Maldives seemed like an unholy extravagance. When this is over, and Ruth is better, I’m going to take my sister and niece somewhere nice. Warm and Sunny. Five-star. Room service. She looked at the sleeping child. Medics. Baby sitters. A fully-stocked bar.

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