Therapy

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Sat across from you I desperately began my search. I was longing for a different life and you felt like my last chance. But I was still unsure.

I tried to trust you, to trust myself. Inevitably, it felt impossible.

Week by week we waded through my thoughts; thick, tangled, twisted. Alongside you I allowed myself to face the darkness. My darkness.

For so long I had feared what I might find. Was it the truth? I am still unsure.

Fragments of feelings flashed burning and bright rather than the dim and distant memories I dreamed I might discover. They hurt. They still do.

And what am I left with? What might I make of these broken parts? How will I fix them together to form my future?

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The Mathematics of Being a Good (Enough) Mother

Family

I have a confession to make: today, I am a terrible mother.

When my daughter was born, I bought in to the idea that breast was best. I loved the suggestion that there was something I could do from day one that could give her the best start. I loved how that made me feel. And, fortunately for me, I found it easy.

As she grew older I could be found pulping and puréeing first thing in the morning. I found myself shopping everyday for yet more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and foods free from artificial colours or preservatives. I have never been much of a cook but, even to me, it seemed pretty straight forward.

In that first year I also became a familiar face at various mother and baby groups. Something that didn’t come quite so easily. I despised the prospect of singing in pubic and was pretty terrified of socialising with people I didn’t know. But I did it anyway. And survived.

And I filled the days with every manner of enriching activities! From swimming to baby signing, museums and visits to the library, arts and crafts, flash cards, singing and dancing, days at the farm, fresh air and exercise and everything in between. And the reading! Endless hours of reading! Repeated reading to the point where I can recite a whole host of children’s classics from memory alone. Because how could I ever refuse her requests to sit down together and devour a book?!

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And, possibly harder than finding the time to fit in all of the above, I found the faith to tell myself that everything I did for her, every choice I made, held her best interests at its heart.

But I didn’t do it because I am perfect.

I did it because I know I am not.

I have been worried about today for a long time. If I am honest, I cannot believe it didn’t come sooner. I never thought I would survive this long.

Because I had already been a statistic. 1 in 4 people this year with suffer with a mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, paranoia…the spectrum is wide and the term encompasses so many different things but, having been there more than once before, I know the symptoms are often the same.

Put simply, it can become hard to cope.

I am reluctant to label the feelings that have been growing inside me for the past few months. I hope that I won’t find myself forced to as I sit opposite the doctor and ask for their help. But these feelings are familiar.

And, for me, the worst part is how they fool me in to thinking I am a failure.

So today, after spending the morning sat on the sofa whilst my daughter watched too much television, feeding her lunch of fish fingers and baked beans for the third time in a week and then driving her to her grandparents to spend the rest of the day and night, I returned home and got in bed.

And now I lay here doing the maths. Will all my efforts count in my favour? Have I done enough to make my workings add up? Or will my weakness cancel out anything I had going in my favour?

What does it take to be good enough?

How not to face the future

Writing

“We are back here again, aren’t we?”

I paused for as long as I could manage. I broke.

“I guess.” My voice cut the silence with a cool, steely edge. At least, I wanted it to.

“You just can’t believe that it might be true, can you?”

“No,” I replied, “Obviously I can’t.”

“Every time we get here, it becomes so clear you are in distress. You must see that that is real?”

“Is it?” I hoped sincerely that it was. “Or is it just an excuse? It sounds like an excuse.”

She stared straight at me. I wanted to get up walk away. I let my focus become blurred and tried my hardest to escape her gaze. I checked the clock. It was impossible.

“Ok, so, let’s assume I am. Let’s assume it isn’t my fault and I’m not to blame. It doesn’t change anything, does it?”

“Maybe it will.”

She sat there, silent and still, her eyes fixed on me. I wanted to run but, again, I stayed. Something always makes stay. Silent and still, I allowed myself a moment to try to imagine if things were different.

I couldn’t.

I had nowhere to go from here. I had nothing to say that hadn’t been said too many times before.

So I sat there distressed, silent and still, and waited.

Losing myself

Writing

Aspirations can be elusive. Something you should hold solid, clear and strong but something I was stuck searching for. Because there is always that contrived question lurking when and where you want it least;

what do you want to be?

Answering was easy. I knew what I should say. And what I shouldn’t. I may not have known what I wanted to be but I knew how I wanted to feel. And how I wanted you to feel about me. So I shaped my answer carefully and constructed myself in this refracted reflection.

Eventually my identity became defined: a soul shifting herself to become someone whole in all eyes but her own.

Then I found myself. Broken. Lost and alone and looking for a way back to who knows when.

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The darkness before dawn

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Imagine how, if you had lived in darkness for as long as you could remember, any light, no matter how dim, would come as a welcome relief.

Like the dull, reassuring green glow of the numbers on an alarm clock when you awake from a nightmare long before dawn.

You would stumble around for a bit. Find your way. Step by step. And, eventually, you would learn to see. It may even begin to feel ok. Normal, if you will.

But, after a while (who knows how long?), you would crave something more. Something greater. You would long to see sunrise; natural, beautiful, true.

And, with that, you would become aware of the darkness once again. A black sky suspended in time. Something all encompassing that seemed never ending and impossible to break.

And you would try with all your might to believe that dawn would come once again.

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Fresh Air and Exercise as the Darkness Descends

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It is 6.22am and I am up and out for a walk. It should be a run but I just can’t do it. I am torn between telling myself I am doing well just for being up and out and doing what I should and tearing myself apart for being too weak to run. I know what will win in the end. But still, I hope not.

The sky is grey and the air is crisp and clean on my sleepy skin. A few houses have their lights on but most remain silent and still. Golden leaves have started to cover the streets.

As I cross the main road, cars race past then nothing but a distant rumble. I pass a man walking two beautiful, bouncing dogs and attempt the half-smile that speaks of a shared situation and feigns a form of confidence that will be so successful in a few hours when I walk along with my daughter, hand in hand. But nothing. Maybe it’s my hood.

I bypass the playing fields in all their green glory, an all too perfect reminder that I should be running, and head towards the shops and station in desperate search for signs of life. The rubbish collection rumbles by and men jump from the truck, their day-glow vests and pitch and pace let the world know their morning is well underway. As I pass the familiar shop fully lit throughout, I realise that in the entire time I have lived here, I have never seen it closed.

I continue on and pass commuters and, listening again, realise the roads have come alive. I walk on towards the big houses. I stop. The future seems inevitable. I turn around and walk back.

To return home and say, yes, it helped.

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When enough is enough

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Sometimes you need to be kind to yourself. To relax. To forgive. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about all that you want to do or be and slow down. Sometimes simply treading water is hard enough. Sometimes you need to stop worrying about all that you want to do or be and simply slow down. Maybe even stop. To rest.

And sometimes you can be too comfortable. Sometimes you need to set yourself a goal, take up a challenge, formulate a plan and take those first shaky steps on what might be a difficult journey. But a journey that might take you further than you ever thought possible, to a place you never even dared to dream you might go…

Pieces of a person

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I discovered this quote hiding in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a book I lost myself in completely;
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” Francois De La Rouchefoucauld

In the middle of my twenties I had a complete breakdown. I say ‘the middle’ because the memory of it now is in montage. It broke me down so much that, at the time, I was just fragments of a person. Little tiny pieces struggling to survive. Often failing. And in order for me to even remember what it was like I have to reach out and grab those little pieces, often painfully, and pull them back. Some now feel familiar but others are still often so far out of reach, so apologies because this is not, and maybe never could be, the whole story.

But I remember the panic attacks. I remember them gripping hold of my heart and taking over my entire body; feeling sick, stiff legs, failing to breathe, head rushing as I screamed and cried uncontrollably. Uncontrollably. I also remember the near sense of relief when it was over. I could breathe. I could sleep.

And then the guilt. And the fear.

A cycle that I felt powerless to break. But that didn’t stop me trying. Smashing away at myself in whatever way I could. Self medication. Self criticism. Self loathing. Self punishment.

I learnt to survive by shutting down parts of me. I say survive but I wasn’t really. I played pretend. I learnt to be whoever you wanted to me to be. Whoever I thought you wanted me to be. Making the rules up as I went but sticking to them as if scripture, I became somebody else. Lots and lots of somebodies. So many that I lost myself in the crowd.

I listened to each one of those people. Some of their advice I followed. Some of their thoughts I lived by. Some of them I fought with. Some of them I struggled to silence. But I was never sure who to trust; who held my heart?

Silence. Silence helped. I stopped. I slept. I shut myself away. I slowed down. I listened. I forgave.

I have no solution. But this was the start …

Through closed eyes

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When I was twelve I didn’t see anything.

As I sat on the steps and, with all too much anticipation, watched the world expand, my eyes started to show the first glittering signs of defiance. I ran my fingers through my strong, straight hair to pull it back in to the agreed ponytail and looked on as older girls sat, surrounded by boys even older still, in the centre of the room. Their smiles spoke of something else. Something still secret. And I longed to hear it. To taste the excitement that escaped each time they laughed.

But I didn’t see a thing.

I didn’t see how quickly I would transform in to one of those girls. A transformation greater than rolling the top of my skirt over three times and upgrading to a pair of platform soles. I didn’t see how my smile would speak to other people, how my laugh would echo in their ears. I failed to notice at all so how could I consider the effect? I didn’t see how those glittering sparks would grow to burn hot and angry, silently screaming where my voice would fail to be heard. Where words would struggle to show what my heart would become afraid to say. I didn’t see how strikingly beautiful I would become. Or how little that mattered. Or how much damage that could do. I didn’t see the dangers the excitement disguised. Or how I would ignore all the warnings. I didn’t see my dreams beckon me and whisper gently of all that I might have. I didn’t see how easy that might be. Or how hard I might have to work. I didn’t see how quickly that beauty might transform into something different, into something dark.

I didn’t see how I would long for those innocent eyes. That honest heart.

When I was twelve I didn’t see anything. I was too busy looking for it all.

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Hot tips for how to survive

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When, a few weeks ago, people first realised I had begun blogging they text me, sent me messages on Facebook and spoke to me about it when I saw them. They had questions, kind words and, in some cases, stuff they decided to share with me. I loved it all! Thank you.

Something one of my friends sent me was a photo with a quote that uses language that is so strong even I am too embarrassed to share it here (the fact she can share language like that with me is just one of the many, many reasons I love her dearly!) but basically it summed up something I am only just starting to realise:

Everyone is struggling with something. Be nice.

And when I read it I began to see that, for me, this is what my blog is; me struggling to be nice.

And whilst at the moment (this week? today?) I am surviving that struggle, I thought I would share some of my tips for success. And document them so that when I am lost again and need them, they can be found here. But, please note, I am much like Alice as she stumbles blindly through Wonderland because she too “generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it)”.

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Develop an addiction
Not hard drugs (or even soft ones) or cigarettes or alcohol. Much well founded research only serves to prove that this generally makes things worse. Much worse. But find something that makes your skin itch. Something that picks away at your brain screaming at you to do it and do it now. And do it. Everyday. Be it running or yoga or painting or writing (thank you WordPress!) or baking cakes or watching a new TV series on Netflix, find something, anything, that makes you feel good and gives you that buzz. Understand that this is no long term solution but the sticky plaster to fix your focus on something beyond yourself. And do it anyway.

Fall in love. Again.
Although probably the worse time to embark upon a new relationship with another human being, when you have fallen out of love with yourself it is the best time to look for love. Look for it everywhere. In the places you go. In the things you do. In the people you meet. Find something that you can fall head-over-heels-crazy-in-love with. New shoes. A favourite book. Your BFF. Give your heart fully and completely to something that makes you smile.

Be kind to yourself…
Forgive yourself for feeling horrid. Don’t lay awake at night wrestling with what you should, could or might do to change things or beat yourself up day after day for the mistakes you make. Sleep. Take a bath. Sit down. Turn off your phone and switch off from the rest of the world. Take time to feel all the horrid feelings. Cry. And repeat to yourself over and over and over again until you almost begin to believe that it is true that is ok for things not to be, or even feel, ok.

…but not too kind.
There comes a point when, whatever your problem, forgiving yourself and being kind is not enough. I am sorry that I cannot tell you when that point is or how you will know when you arrive at it because I have all too often missed it. You will probably notice that your friends stop calling or asking how you are. You may feel that everything is hopeless. You might have given up even caring whether it is or not. But there will definitely come this point. At this point you must stop making excuses. Whatever your problem and whatever its cause, stop giving yourself an excuse. Forget it. Do whatever it is that you need to do to move forward. You will know what to do because it will be whatever it is that hurts the most.

And talk. To everyone. And anyone.
Feeling bad is lonely. And sometimes feeling as if you are alone makes you feel important, special, different (there’s my excuse). But most of the time it just makes you feel worse. Since beginning to write here (and maybe I found my way here because I had already started to see it) I have realised that I am not alone. I have chosen to write about the things that make me feel horrid and the (all be it minor) struggles I have everyday. And the thing that shocked me most was that people weren’t shocked by what I wrote. Some have confessed to feeling it too. Others have simply said nice things.

And that’s nice. And that makes me feel nice too. Thank you.