Wonder

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Wonder

I have 3 very vocal boys. Daily they come out of school over-worked and under-played. Manifestations of hungry tummies, irritable thoughts and fidgety legs play out; a cheeky snipe that gains momentum as a foot reacts. A squeal as a finger pinches, a tummy growl that needs a biscuit. And an internal monologue that sings its own song, to the tune of ‘breathe in...and out’. As a car-full of feelings and frustrations we very naturally find our own sound.

My 8 year old gets home and he runs... arms and legs flail in different directions as he begins a song that carries him into the depth of his imagination, abandoned wholly to the very essence of who he is. A child, created to create- to pay attention to the song deep inside of him and to delight in its sound.

I believe that inside all of us is a well of creativity that holds the fragile essence of who we are. As someone who has had my own agonising journey with mental health since I was a little girl, I have learnt that when the noise in my head is loud; to sing and to write is to connect with and allow space for the release of the purest expression of who I am, made in the image of The Creator. When I do, the fire in my belly takes authority over the chaos and begins to burn off the dross. Often it’s only God that listens, and through my surrender He brings healing. 

And I think part of the reason mental health has become such a pandemic is because as we grow, our God-breathed ability to run with arms and legs flailing becomes lost. Our song becomes muffled under the weight of limitation, disappointment, rejection, expectation. And our internal fragile alignment is severed. 

Maybe we lose sight of what the Psalms mean when they speak of ‘deep calling out to deep’. Of our corporate song as a bedrock for the sometimes inexpressible: our deep pain, desolation, isolation, hopelessness.....

Our shared sense of wonder at the beauty of his creation, a tapestry of colour; flawless work of art. 

Ephesians 5:19 speaks of ‘making music with each other with Psalms, hymns and songs from the spirit...from your heart to the Lord’. 

And when we sing together we take hold of and claim the truth of who we are as children of God. As the words fill our spirit so we magnify Him. 

Our Father delights in our sound, and even when we don’t hear it, our song is always there. 

 

Emily



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RISE

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RISE

It’s been a crazy-ass amount of time since I last posted anything on here. A large degree of the last year and a half has been spent flying by the seat of my pants between children, the washing machine, dishwasher, oven, anti-bac spray, untidy pants drawers (the drawers, not the pants. Although I know drawers to some are also pants), footballs (generally punting them at faces, accidentally…because I’m competitive and suck at it so just have to boot it when I can), Lattes (trying to make my coffee art look less phallic), and books about God, faith, learning the piano, Eleanor Oliphant (quickly reading handfuls of pages whilst desperately trying not to fall asleep). Oh, and fields (whilst welling up as my boys run over finish lines, scores goals and overcome penalty-related fears).

The remainder of the time I have mostly been telling my children that “ if you’re going to play rough then you need to be ok if you get whacked in the face with a cricket bat”. (I jest…kind of).

I am so blessed, and love that I get to focus my attention on just allowing my boys to be boys….for as long as is humanly possible.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that as a Mum the distinction between what I do and who I am can often feel overwhelmingly subtle. The lines become blurred partly because I am ‘needed’ in a mostly wonderful, but sometimes suffocating way. Even when my children are not with me, the noise still is. The whirring of the washing machine that tells me that soon I will be heading to the garden and reaching for the pegs. The Cheerio on the floor that tells me my work here is far from done. The text message that reminds me I’m free on Friday and although I was looking forward to having nothing to do I really should help out on the school trip because when they are at high school and don’t need me as much I will wish I had invested more in these primary school days.

I second guess.

I sit and ruminate over those age old cliches you often hear coming out of the mouths of meaningful older ladies in Sainsbury’s - ‘In the blink of an eye….all grown up…job will be done…big wide world. I loved mine when they were that little…then they grow up! Enjoy them. They’re not little for long. Don’t waste this time. Whatever you do, DON’T WASTE THIS TIME ’. And I look over at the cheerio and think about the meaty, freckly little hand that threw it there. And the fact that, that hand will one day be big. And I hear the beep of the washing machine, reminding me to thank God that I have boys that need me to wash their pants and keep their football kits clean and spend £10 a week on stain remover, because after my next blink they will be that little bit older, and then when I have blinked 100,000 more times they will be huge and someone else will be washing their pants and I will miss it and probably wish I had done it with more joy. And later I’ll hear that little squeaky voice saying “Muuuummmmyyyyy” just as I’m pouring my post-bedtime glass of wine and I may or may not think about the fact that in maybe 50,000 more blinks, that voice will be cracked and rugged and probably won’t want me to stroke his back until he falls asleep anymore.

So some more beautiful cliches for you:

‘Because Moments are like sand. They slip through your fingers and in a heartbeat, they are gone.’

’Make the most of this time. They grow up far too quick my love’.

‘Hold them while they still let you.’

‘Because Mothers hold their children’s hands a while and their hearts forever.’

#gagreflexactivated #guiltometerreachesredzone

And today this monologue is obediently playing loudly on repeat. Its rhythm strangely melodic and comforting. Its words like an old security blanket, complete with musty smell and slight discolouration. I’m listening, and it’s ok. Don’t worry, I’m feeling guilty. I’ve heard you. I will be present. I will enjoy this. I won’t waste any time. I will make Every. Minute. Count.

Blink.

Blink.

Several more blinks.

And then I realise. Why is this monologue even playing? Who presses play and why do I let them? Why am I allowing myself to stop and listen?

These words don’t help me, they shift my gaze away from now and towards what lies ahead. They stop me doing the very thing my spirit longs to do now. To enjoy just being. To enjoy now. With no judgement about what that means or how I might feel in 10 years time. To just be true to who I am, as a Mum and also as someone that needs friends, time alone with God, my husband, creativity, exercise, days off… to allow myself to not enjoy everything. And to love the things that bring me life. Even if that means that one day I look back and wish I’d read my children a few more stories.

Below is a piece of writing I did recently, and I wanted to share it because in typical Ansell style it captures my slightly non-sensical stream of consciousness from another angle… and that’s how I like to roll 😏. Enjoy 👇

Now…off to hang some washing.

Shall I do Chicken Casserole or Spag Bol for tea?

RISE 

Out of the corner of my eye I see him. He soars through the sky, every fibre of his being stretched, exposed, abandoned to the melodic, detailed arrangements of the air around him. The way he moves is celestial, a tapestry of colour dents the space, painting a flawless work of art. A moment of beauty captured. In a heartbeat it’s gone. 

His wing occupies a bead of light, my eyes blink as it’s swallowed up by the shadows. He rests. His eyes are pure, alive, with a depth that absorbs every part of me. I want to go inside, to be part of what he sees. Get lost in the very essence of his being... breathing liberty. 


I feel surrounded. I become aware of my limits. My lethargy. The covenant I made with myself to yoke with the small print that says ‘be... but not too much’. He looks around him and sees space. I watch as the pigmentation in his feathers shifts with every breath. 


He is void of fear. 

Of stipulation. 

Of expectation. 

Of guilt.

He is free.


And my heart aches. Aches for more. And I feel almost glacial as I watch him.

He looks up.

As his wings unfold I feel a weight in my feet. A weight of heat that begins to rise. A heat that soothes my ache. That ignites my fingertips. A heat that begins to thaw the hard mass of tumult in my chest. And I hear the heart of my Father God that says ‘This life is but a breath. Be who I’ve made you’. 


So I rise. 

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Free-wheeling

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Free-wheeling

On Saturday I went to a worship team awayday. The morning was spent having to engage my brain in a way I have become very unaccustomed to.

I actually had to use it.

Not just to work out what a sextant was, but to ascertain what would be closest to the top of my list of necessities were I stranded in a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: a shaving mirror or a 5 litre canister of water. Naturally, as per how my brain manifests wisdom I concluded that water would of course be at the top, and a shaving mirror utterly useless.

BUT..NO.

Keeping my little red face firmly pointing to the floor I allowed others around me to draw ALL the conclusions while I nodded and prayed that I wouldn't be asked any questions. 

Before lunch we were asked to ponder the question 'what first got you into music'? with a view to then sharing with the crowd after lunch.

My face had only just returned to its original colour. Now the cold sweats were beginning to surface. 

My left brain shuts down when spontaneous cognitive sharing is required. Quizzes, intellectual debates, spontaneous public speaking, team building exercises that require 'brain' make me want to find a small corner to withdraw into with a large kitchen knife. The rocking motion soothes me. #jokingnotjoking. 

During these kinds of exercises I'm like that annoying kid at school who always put his hand up against the side of his paper to stop anyone copying his work. Not because I'm arrogant (like him), but because I'm slightly pooping myself at the prospect of being 'found out' - that people will see that my intelligence does not quite extend as far as common sense or general knowledge. I have learnt to be ok with that, that actually 'intelligence' covers a far wider spectrum.

This wasn't the case, however, when I was a child. 

Emily Spanner (perfect piss-taking material. MC Spanner was probably up there with the best) was an easily-distracted little girl. She was blonde and freckly and would sit at her desk with her purple rimmed glasses, gazing out of the window at the cloud that looked like a bottom. If she felt nervous she would say that her tummy felt fizzy. She was rather like Mr Daydream, but less blue with longer legs. During parents' evenings her teachers, when chatting to the Reverend and his wife, would look at them with sympathy in their eyes, sigh, and say "so you are Emily's parents". This kind of sentence was often muttered by those involved with me in a teaching capacity and instead of encouraging me to wake up, would drive me closer to the bottom-shaped cloud, and deeper into my imagination.

I therefore grew up believing that intelligence was measured by knowledge, achievement and ability and so viewed this as something I lacked. 

At secondary school I was introduced to drama. Something I hated to begin with as Mrs Gower insisted that we did something called 'spontaneous' most weeks, which involved being given a line, and asked to stand mid-stage and spontaneously create a scene that was both intentional and entertaining. No time to think, reliant 100% on your own capacity to 'dig deep' and self-direct. It was terrifyingly exposing and pushed all my panic buttons, but interestingly became something I found wonderfully liberating and instinctive. It tapped into a part of me that believed it 'didn't fit'. The drama class became life-giving for me; an island where I didn't have to strive. Where I could be myself.

Free-wheeling...unconstrained...sanctioned.

I sat and tried to explain to the worship team that my love of music stems from school. That I landed only after I was given the opportunity to create. That music and drama made me feel alive in a way that nothing else did, or could. As I spoke I remembered why I prefer to write, as the words awkwardly tumbled out of my mouth in a nonsensical, slightly-devoid-of-any-meaning, kind of way; while I told myself to "Shut up. Shut up now".

I am not being self-deprecating and I'm absolutely not crying out to be validated....quite the opposite. 

My intelligence lies in the intra-personal and Interpersonal. And that's why I love to write, I love to sing, and I love meaningful relationships. Because these things require a connection with somewhere that goes way beyond cognition. Thank goodness. 

I spent years worrying about what I wasn't. Eyes on everyone else. Striving to be better. Only feeling as good as my last mistake. Feeling a fraud.

But that little girl (MC Spanner, captivated by the bottom-shaped cloud) grew up and did a degree followed by an MA. During that time she wrote two dissertations, one of which was awarded a distinction. She worked as a drama and movement therapist and bought and developed a music and play business, and now would love to be a writer.

When my point of focus takes me away from who I am it is like I'm kind of transient. Drifting in and out of people's lives, morphing into the perfect interpretation of their expectations. And it doesn't take long to drift so far away that I don't know how to get back. 

I think I'm always going to have the tendency to drift. Maybe we all have. Because who we are can be so shaped by those around us. By our experiences of the world. And when we look around us and we see shapes to walk through, stumble over, dive into, shelter in, it's too bloody easy to lose sight of and forget ourselves. 

I want to feel alive. To be able to free-wheel without falling off. And I think I can only do that by staying rooted in who I am.

Which is a discipline in itself. 

      

 

  

 

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Noise

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Noise

I am currently sitting in my bed. Some of the best things happen in bed (like sleeping, having time away from my children watching mindless drivel, sometimes with a glass of wine).

What were you thinking I meant...? Naughty.

I'm sitting in bed because at the moment there is nowhere else to sit. The downstairs of our house is currently a building site. At the moment my kitchen is home to a plasterer; a rather burly man with a slightly troubled look on his face. I can hear the boom boom of his radio, and every now and then a little grunt which is probably followed by a fart but fortunately I'm too far away to be sure.

I like it up here. I have shut the door on the chaos and I am using this time to withdraw into myself for the day. My friend thinks that recently I have been hibernating. I seem to have developed an aversion to going out, particularly in the evenings, and love nothing more than my slippers, a cup of tea and complete silence. I hope Burly doesn't need me for anything.

Ben and I have been binge watching a series called Motherland. It's all kinds of wonderful:

A group of Mums (and a Dad) candidly embodying all the many characteristics of a parent. What we choose to show the world and what we keep just for our kids. What we have and what we fear we don't have. I find it far from relaxing as I recognise myself in each woman. The painfully funny way they demonstate the universal need we have as parents to do it right, to be loved ourselves, to be recognised and affirmed makes my insides recoil and I sit and laugh in a kind of hysterical 'I so do that, that is so me' way.

They even think of the tiny details - the stress-induced sweat patches, the mum who pushes her five year old in a buggy to save face and prevent a melt-down, the mum with walls in her house littered with inspirational quotes.  

So much of our identity is wrapped up in who we are as mothers. The weight of the responsibilty can feel overwhelming. To raise children that are well-behaved, respectful and well-mannered. That know they are 100% loved with their needs always being met. That have an excellent imagination and capacity to play. That are kind and generous and thoughtful. That eat anything and everything and never complain. That are quiet when they need to be and able to self-regulate. That can talk openly and eloquently about their feelings. That spend no longer than half an hour a day on screens and some days don't even ask for them at all. 

I always thought I'd be the kind of mum that would love doing role-play with my children. That wouldn't find it even remotely boring. That would enjoy daily walks to find conkers, pinecones and interesting leaves for collages. That would love to sit down for hours and chat to them about life and that would look forward to reading them their bedtime stories and take my time every evening to savour those cherished moments. 

I'm a little bit different to the kind of mum I thought I would be.

And I think I'm so different because being a Mum can actually be really hard.  

My boys are so much fun. My eldest is strong, determined and earnest. My middle boy is passionate, sensitive and caring. My youngest is single-minded, feisty and fun-loving. They are wonderful, and they are exhausting. They know how to show me love in abundance, and they know how to hurt me. They bring me so much joy and they drive me to tears of frustration. They are the people I think about as soon as I wake up, and they are the people I need to not see when I go to bed.

When they are hurting I feel physical pain.

My love for them is fierce and my heart without borders.         

My boys are LOUD. They are physical. They are beautiful. 

After my middle boy was born I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. At the time I was struggling with very debilitating health anxiety and not coping with anything beyond getting myself up and dressed and feeding him. We were living in a flat that permanently smelt of weed (because of our downstairs neighbour, not me. Although that probably would have helped). We were dealing with a neighbour who liked to go out all night and leave her dog alone. Judging by the frequency and tone of his barks, he clearly hated it. And to add insult to injury, we would regularly be awoken in the small hours by the sounds of bonking upstairs.

So with sounds of incessant howling coming from above and below it hardly needs saying I didn’t feel safe in my space.

I felt violated.

And as a result, the tiniest of diversions from the strict routine I had built around us sent me into a whirlwind of panic. (By the grace of God he was a dream baby and slept well, but on the rare occasions that he cried I felt like my insides might implode.)

Because for me, It has always been to do with capacity.

Living with anxiety as a Mum whilst running a home has meant that I only have a certain amount of capacity for anything else. 

When you have anxiety and it gets dark you want to close your eyes and go to sleep.

When the noise levels rise around your head they fight with the sounds inside it.  

The smells, colours and voices of others encircle around your whole being but nothing is able to penetrate because you are too full. So they collide, bounce, fall to the ground around you.  

So sometimes, in order not to drop anything you have to just sit still, and allow yourself a safe space.

Whatever that is.  

 

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Bubbles

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Bubbles

I'm visiting my sister. The house is noisy. There are two cheeky little boys sitting with me at the table, quietly colouring.

A rare sight.

A rare quiet moment.

My restless Nephew has just started playing Chopsticks on the piano and my sweet Niece is making cakes, deliberating whether butter or margarine are better. My Sister is telling her butter makes cakes 'heavy', but she's using it anyway because she 'can't be bothered to go to the Coop, because it's boring'. My restless Nephew whistles and gets told off. My boy joins in but gets away with it. There is a sound of mixing behind me and a crackling noise as my cheeky Nephew takes a brand new pencil out of a packet. Oh dear, a cup has just fallen on the floor. Thank goodness it's not got anything in it. My Sister is painting an amazing lion. I wish I could draw like her. She's also done a lovely quiff in her hair today and has no wrinkles around her eyes. I'd love to be able to say that my eyes were like that. They're not. I can hear my other boys playing gymnastics upstairs. Happy little giggles. I hope the ceiling doesn’t collapse on my head. 

I can hear the clock ticking and the rhythmic whirring of the washing machine behind me. 

My sweet Niece is worrying that her cake mix is too watery.

My big boy is munching a croissant. He is so beautiful.

Everyone is absorbed in the moment.

This moment.

Now. 

Practising the art of ‘being in the moment’ doesn't feel natural, easy, instinctive. Engaging all your senses and just allowing yourself to absorb your surroundings in a very deliberate way. It takes concentration. Effort. Today I write as I experience, and what I write feels underwhelming and unimaginative. Boring. 

Surely there should be more? It needs to be more exciting.

No?

Mindfulness is becoming the go-to method of self help. While I was having CBT they talked about it a lot. I would set up a little station of adult colouring books and pens. As an anxious thought shot into my head I would reach for my book and practice the art of mindful colouring. Alas, while I had a pretty picture of a badger on roller skates to show for it, my mindful time just gave me space to plan how exactly I would remove that red stain from my parachute. Just in case.

My phone is off, permanently. Because if it is on, it doesn't work unless it's plugged in. It drives me crazy but I'm actually learning to kind of love it. Because my phone (and social media) is an enabler. Something to ‘do’ when I find myself without a task. Something to look at whilst I’m simultaneously watching TV and thinking about the length of my to-do list.

It enables me to feed my addiction to visual stimulation, to other people’s worlds, to distraction, to anything beyond just being. Here. Now. 

I'm often amazed when I look back at my photographs. Amazed by how quickly things seem to have changed when the time between the photograph and now seems so short.  

I regularly hear people (and myself) say “where has the time gone?”

I sit and look at photos of my boys in nappies on the beach. I watch videos of them learning to talk and taking their first steps. I read cards they have dictated to Ben that say they love me and I smell of poo. And I struggle even to be in that moment, because when I’m there I feel the pain of all I have missed - the gaps in the memories that were stolen by fear. 

Because I had no capacity to absorb anything more.

My head was too full. Too full of fear of death. The lump behind my ear, the pain I kept having in my right side, the sensation I had when eating - like my food was struggling to go down. It was full of fear of noise, of people coming into my space uninvited, of entrapment. It was full of fear of causing harm. And it was full of guilt. Of looking at my precious boys and feeling numb, dreaming of a space and time where I wasn’t in my head anymore. Wanting to exist somewhere else. 

I was too full to really see them. To stop. To just be. 

That’s where the time went. 

And I think my mind kind of became conditioned to this way of living. I think I became so driven by fear of myself that somewhere along the line I lost the capacity to just to exist in the moment. To just be and to find the joy in that.

And maybe anxiety has become such a pandemic because we spend too much time looking outside of ourselves. Worrying that our reality isn't enough, or is too much. We are living in a world that tells us we need to be doing. That just being isn't enough.  Because being is scary, or unproductive, or boring, or under-stimulating, or over-stimulating or upsetting, or overwhelming or maybe all of these things. So we look to do instead. And do. And do. And do. Until we are so far past the end of ourselves that we have lost ourself and don’t know how to get back. 

So part of my journey has been learning first to come back to myself. 

Learning how I experience and receive love through acts of service (I’d take my husband tidying the kitchen and hanging the washing out without being asked over a bunch of flowers any day of the week).

learning that I am an extroverted introvert that loves being with people for a time- until I really don't any more, and need to stop being with them NOW.

Learning that I am someone that scrutinises, over and over, other people's responses, words. That feels deeply and acutely. 

Learning that I connect most with God through worship, and that singing awakens something deep inside me and makes me feel alive. 

And I’m learning to force myself to wear NOW the nice clothes I buy, rather than waiting for a special occasion.

To play with my children NOW rather than wasting time panicking about how fast time is going and how much I’m potentially missing.

To eat food I buy NOW rather than saving it up in case we run out before the end of the week.

To turn the TV off NOW and have a meaningful conversation with Ben about his day.

To meet my friend for coffee NOW, even if I want to be on my own. 

To sit for some time every day and just to breathe.

Because a moment is like a bubble.

It sits inside and unless you see it, really see it... Unless you give permission to every part of your being to embrace it... Unless you stop and you breathe and you touch and you rest... it pops before you have even noticed it.

And you will never get it back. 

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Fierce

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Fierce

When our children show spirit- and when I say 'spirit' I mean determination, grit, a strong sense of injustice, a look in their eye that tells me 'I am going to do this whether you like it or not' kind of spirit- Ben says to me "I wonder where they get that from"? I look at him, eyes wide open, eyebrows raised and hands on hips with an "I love the way that when any of the more challenging character traits are channelled it all lands on me" tone of voice. And he knows he's been a jerk and scuttles off to find something really important to do like stack his plates on top of the dishwasher or empty his football bag next to the wash basket.

I jest because it's fun.

Thank the Living Lord that A) I have a wonderful husband, and B) I have a feisty determination in my spirit that rises up when it matters.

I was running, and hating it this morning, but when I know it's for the greater good (ie. to help iron out some of the jellified mess that is my thighs) I can find that voice within me that says 'keep going...don't stop'! Unfortunately this voice says this exact same thing when I'm eating cake, and tells me all about the rest of the crap in the cupboard that I might like to eat. I sometimes manage to (politely) tell it to shush its noise. Other times it just becomes a bit muffled under the weight of the calories I'm consuming.

After my time with the Crisis Team I began a course of CBT. My therapist was amazing. She was ethereal and gentle with a fierce tenacity. She taught me what OCD was, and helped me let go of all the pre-conceptions I had about the illness, authenticating my feelings and helping me to understand that I thought this way because I was poorly, not because I was irresponsible, and not because the world was too scary to function in.

She introduced me to my 'OCD monster' which I found an interesting concept: my mind instantly created a picture of a little green fur-ball with big goofy fangs and googly eyes. This monster was tiny, but it would sit on my shoulder and just provoke me with its constant monologue of 'what if's' - catastrophizing, undermining, condemning, chastising, shaming. The fact it looked like a little green geeky piece of mangled up snot made the transition from fixating on, to laughing in the face of a little easier to grab hold of. And I'm grateful that my mind immediately went there. 

She asked me what I thought 'being well' looked like. I told her that it was being able to walk out of my house without fear of something terrible happening. Being able to go for a whole day without having an anxious thought. Being responsible for something or someone without fear that I might accidentally cause harm to them. But instead of reassuring me that my treatment was going to get me to this place, she told me that I would never be without anxiety. I would probably never go a whole day without anxiety because we are all designed to feel fear.

Anxiety exists to stop us making choices that will potentially devastate. And thank God for that.

She taught me about some of the characteristics of OCD, and linked them to my struggles:

 

Avoidance and safety-seeking:

Anxiety about experiencing anxiety.

If I don't remove that object that has something red on it then it might go into someone's mouth. I will feel intolerable guilt. I will want to confess - tell someone what I did. My desire to ring the helpline will be so strong that I know I'll do it. I won't be able to sleep. I won't be able to tolerate the intensity of the sensations I will experience. And I will never know for sure if I have infected someone.

I know harm is possible. I should do everything I can to prevent it. 

So just in case.

I have no evidence at all that it is blood.

But I will put the object in my bag.

Just in case. 

 

Intrusive thoughts

I look on Facebook and see that there has been a car accident on the road I go down to take the boys to school every day.

Where was I at 1.43pm yesterday afternoon?  I head out to check my car. I look up other accounts of the accident. I analyse my movements between 1 and 2pm. 

I thought it, so it must be true.

So just in case. Just in case I have killed someone.

I check again. 

 

Inflated responsibility:

I'm told to proceed with caution.

How can I be sure that the cut on his knee is because he fell over and not because his Dad beat him up? Should I report it?

Do I need to say something to staff about her yellow teeth because if I don't and she's not being cared for properly then I'll be responsible?

I heard her tell her friend that she's really stressed out. Do I need to report this in case she has post-natal depression? She might suffer in silence if I don't do anything with what I've heard? 

That customer just put her phone in her bra. What if she doesn't know that can cause breast cancer? If she gets it, I never warned her. Maybe I should tell her.

Just in case.

 

Overestimation of danger:

A child in class has a nose bleed.

I wash all my props before I let my next class in. 

Just in case.

 

We ascertained that my struggles came under the banner of an inability to tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity. A need for utter certainty that nothing bad would result from anything I did. 

Attaining that was impossible.

We discovered that the faster I chased after certainty, the further I sunk into a impetuous world of obsessive behaviours - reassurance-seeking, cleaning, checking, googling, avoiding, checking, cleaning, rituals, reassurance-seeking, googling, checking, reassurance-seeking.

Avoiding.

And I'd stop when it felt OK. Until it didn't again.

I sat and stared at her, longing for her to fix me. Her gentle but tenacious eyes told me very quickly that she wasn't going to. That this was going to take determination. Grit. Hard work. That the onus was on me. That she would help me to understand, show me compassion, even cry with me. But the getting better part needed to come from within me. The fire in my spirit needed to rise up, to break out and foment in the face of chaos, entrapment, unrest. I needed to learn that feeling unsafe wasn't going to kill me. 

I began to learn that I could tolerate anxiety. I could sit with it. I didn't have to tell it to go away. I didn't have to judge it. I didn't have to feel panicked by it - even though everything in me told me I did. 

I began to learn that I didn't need to seek reassurance. That the answers came from within me. I just needed to sit and wait for them to materialise - even though everything in me told me they wouldn't.

I began to make rules. When temptations to avoid situations and seek safety felt strong I had my perimeters. Going beyond those was giving in to, and giving voice to, that little green monster - even though everything in me told me I should.

I began to learn how to distract myself - even though everything in me told me I shouldn't.

I began to learn that through resisting anxiety-neutralising behaviours, my levels of anxiety would begin to go down. 

And I began to learn that I am bloody strong. 

My year of CBT turned my full-stop into a semi-colon. My life wasn't finished, it was just starting. 

 

 

 

 

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Today is World Mental Health Day.

The brains behind Facebook have obviously picked up on my affiliation with mental health and I have, this week, been bombarded with inspirational quotes, gripes against the Mental Health Service, and articles written by experts. Some helpful, some misinformed (IMHO). A quote that really resonated with me was this:

‘Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are reminders that we are all in this together’.

Some really fight against 'labels' in mental health. For me, getting a diagnosis marked the beginning of my journey towards freedom, and I am so very grateful for it, and for the clarity and the comprehension it has given me. I am not my diagnosis (far from it), but I am partly the way I am because of it, and awareness of that enables me to seek appropriate help, to help myself, to discern which of my thoughts are healthy and which are unhelpful, and to feel connected to a body of imperfect people that view the world like I do.

To struggle is not to fail.

To talk about struggles is not weakness.

I'm not defined by my diagnosis. It's enabled me to acknowledge my brokenness and to understand it. And in the process of fixing myself, learn who I really am. 

And this is the reason I share my heart so openly, despite it feeling scary and raw. Because I think we are all broken. We have all had bits of our world shattered. We all live with a certain degree of uncertainty and fear. We all crave, need real relationship, even if we are at times too scared to ask for or seek it. 

And I think this is why it's so easy for our minds to become so unwell.

So this blog is a part of the story between the bookends. 

 

The End of Myself

2 1/2 years ago I sat on my sofa struggling to catch my breath.  

The helpline that I had relied on was no longer active. The man I had been speaking to 3, 4, sometimes even 5 times a day had made it very clear that he wanted me to stop calling him. That he could no longer help me. That nothing he could say would offer me the reassurance that I needed. That I didn't believe anything he told me anyway. That I needed help from elsewhere. 

What if my constant calls had sent him into a state of neurosis himself which left him helpless - unable to support people, therefore incapable. What if this had (subsequently) resulted in him taking his own life? Suicide?

This would be all my fault. How could I ever find out if this was the case?

 

I smelt what could have been mouse wee in my garage.

What if this had somehow got onto the props that I used for my sessions? As I googled 'effects of ingesting mouse urine', a myriad of terrifying diseases shot like a bullet onto my screen. I scrolled down and managed to eliminate a few which are only found in countries so far away that I didn't need to entertain the idea of a bit of dust from a mouse flying over with some urine on then landing in my garage. Although this thought as a distinct possibility did linger for longer than it should.

And then I land on the Hantavirus. 

I smelt the offending article maybe 20 or more times, making sure I got my nose right in there so as to not miss even the faintest bit of evidence. Each time it smelt slightly different so I went back for another sniff. There was no evidence of a mouse coming anywhere near our garage but it was definitely mouse wee. Definitely. My whole being was telling me so. I must act responsibly. Here goes...

Any prop from any bag that could have come within any kind of proximity to the wee must go in the bath NOW. Fortunately I have three boxes of Milton tablets and fortunately there are instructions on the back so my washing procedure can be done with the utmost accuracy. I set my timer, and the ten minutes of sterilising begins - though I add on two hours for good measure. Just to be sure. Phew! I have prevented a Hantavirus outbreak!... Or have I? Did the finger puppet spider touch the bells that touched the beach ball that touched the wee?  

 

I lost a memory stick.

What if there was stuff saved on there that was confidential - like a report that I wrote 8 years ago? Someone might find it and then put it into their computer and open up all my files and read the report then report me to the authorities and then the boy that the report was about might find out that I had lost the report about him and whoever finds it might try and find him and then his life will be ruined, sabotaged, and it will be all my fault. How could I be so careless? Though I don't think that the report is on there as I'm 99.9% certain that it was only saved on the other memory stick which is hidden away under lock and key with all my paper notes but then maybe it was? I might have saved it on there without knowing? I'll never know for sure if I don't find it. 

 

This is a stream-of-consciousness, 10-minutes-in-the-life-of MY HEAD.

A trigger.

A thought.

An obsessive cycle of behaviour to try to prevent the catastrophic outcome that my body and mind are telling me is the only possible eventuality.  

I thought it, I felt it, therefore it must be true. The thing the experts call 'Thought, Action, Fusion'.

I imagine as the reader that you are exhausted already. I had these kinds of thought cycles set to repeat from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep...and then most nights dreamt them too. 

 

I sat on that sofa. Broken. I had no idea what to do next. I wanted to die and this scared me more than anything. I violently shook as I cried out to Ben that I'd rather have chronic pain. At least that way I could take some morphine and have some respite. I thought I was beyond help. I was a prisoner in my own head with nowhere to run to.

How could my mind be making me so unwell? 

I remember Ben holding my hand and looking into my terrified eyes. And I remember him saying to me: "Darling, we need to get you some help".

Within an hour I was sitting with a Doctor. I tried, through my sobs, to explain to her that I was so scared that I had inadvertently harmed someone or was about to, and that I thought I needed to be admitted to hospital as I didn't want to live anymore and that was really scary so I needed someone to just lock me away and make me better. 

I looked up at her and she gazed back at me with kindness in her eyes. A kindness that said to me that she could see my suffering. A kindness that said "you're not irresponsible, you're not bad: you are poorly". 

The weight on my chest eased slightly.  Maybe this wasn't totally hopeless. If she understood even a little bit then maybe there was something or someone that might be able to help me? She picked up her phone and rang a mental health centre and very calmly said something to them that I couldn't hear. I then remember Ben taking me to my Mum and Dad’s and being told to wait for a phone call. I sat on my Mum's bedroom chair and rocked backwards and forwards silently crying at the thought that I might have my children taken away from me. I looked in her bedroom mirror and saw a helpless little girl staring back at me.

I had a call from a social worker that afternoon. She asked me lots of questions and then made an appointment for me to come in to the local mental health centre to meet with one of the team. I was surprised by how quickly this all happened, and the next day I was being referred to a crisis team which is like a 'hospital at home' service. The following day a mental health nurse and a social worker came round and I was able to ask them questions about my children and their perception of whether I was fit to care for them. They assured me that my children would stay with me, but made a plan to come and see me every day and to get the ball rolling with their in-house Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.  

Gripped with fear that I was and would continue to be responsible for causing harm, I was diagnosed with OCD. 

OCD is very real. It causes severe mental torture. It has become a term (and please don't read this as a judgement) that is used quite flippantly, and I often hear people saying "I'm a bit OCD about that". My husband likes to rotate his pants so the ones at the bottom always get a chance to be worn before the clean ones go back on top. He gets a bit antsy if this doesn't happen. This is a rather delightful quirk which makes me love him even more, but it isn't  because he has 'a little bit of OCD' about his pant drawer. 

OCD is fear about contamination, causing harm, of not being careful enough. Someone with OCD cares so much that they try to deal with their worry about slight risks in a way that is damaging, and exaggerates their perception of the risk itself. The fears triggered by the OCD are often by their very nature the worst possible outcome that the effected person could imagine happening. This then makes them go to extreme lengths to be sure they won't happen. To stay in control. It feels too irresponsible to ignore the risks, however tiny.  

OCD eats you up. Destroys. Steals your ability to see anything for what it is.  Causes you to fear your next move. Not trust yourself.

I know that some do not have positive experiences with the mental health sector and this makes me sad. But for me, I came to the end of myself and the Mental Health Service scooped me up and helped me catch my breath. When my mind had been scattered into tiny pieces they pulled in people who showed me support, understanding and guidance. My path to freedom involved doing a lot of the hard work myself, but I will always be grateful to the Crisis Team, and to that wonderful Doctor.

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

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Bookends

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Bookends

Last Monday I had a very tired boy, so when I saw his eyes prickle with tears as I said it was time to get ready for school, I made the decision that as he is only 8, and I'm never going to get this time back,  I was going to keep him at home. We spent the morning watching The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, whilst drinking hot chocolate and it was so precious. He asked lots of questions about Aslan and about the battle between good and evil and although some of the questions were hard to answer, it was such a meaningful moment in time where it was just me and him, sitting snuggled under a blanket in a mutual state of uncertainty, curiosity, wonder.

If you read my last blog post you will be well aware that I was bought up in church. It was all I knew from day dot. My parents were and still are really prayerful people, and everything that ever happened to us would always be both preceded with and followed by a 'Dear Lord Jesus' while kneeling by our beds, prayer. I always knew that God was with me, and have memories of being a little girl and feeling protected by 'something bigger'. I believed in Angels, that all I needed to do when I felt fear was to ask for God's Angels to protect me, and I would feel an instant sense of peace. I'd know that, despite what my thoughts were telling me, I was safe.

I was born with birthmarks across a lot of my face and neck. The doctors told my parents I would need surgery. Nevertheless my parents (along with others) prayed and one-by-one the birthmarks disappeared. By the time I was 4 my skin was completely clear. 

(I feel I need to say at this point that this is not a billboard blog. I will not be preaching. I am not on a quest to convert. This is just another little piece of me, of my experiences of another little fragment of my world being smashed up and pieced back together again.)  

👆 This was my world, right from the beginning. I never questioned it. 

Un-hindered. Un-inhibited. Un-spoilt.

Naive. Pure. Simple. A blank canvas.

Susceptible. 

As I grew bigger, my world did too, and my unquestioning spirit naturally began to ask questions. It began to notice things that didn't seem to fit the foundations that so far I was built on. It began to notice pain, suffering, injustice, exceptions to the rule. I am in my very nature a deep thinker, someone that wants all the answers, so the concept of 'faith' for me became, and remains, a challenging one. I started to grapple with ideas that had once been the very bedrock of everything that I was. 

About 4 years ago, as my mind grew more unwell the very notion of God became anything but simple. It became a battle ground of constant cross-examination. Gradually everything I had ever believed began to burst wide open until I was left exposed in a very different way; open to contradictions, ambiguity, doubt. I questioned the idea of God from every single angle. I continued to go to church for the sake of my children, but I stood in the congregation and felt lifeless. I continued to pray, but instead of talking to God I would scream at Him into my pillow. I would listen to worship music but question and dissect every single lyric, longing for it to be true, but gripped with fear that it wasn't. 

I was light-years away from that image I had of God as a little girl. 

Around that time I started to keep a diary. Reading through it I came across a little stream of consciousness:

'I am in a place of half-truths, 'what-if's', maybes. It's so hard, desperate, painful, all-consuming. I feel soul-less, joy-less, confused, scared, trapped, beyond help. So lonely'.

I can't really remember what happened after I wrote that, but I do know that this bit of writing marked the beginning of what would be the hardest, most terrifying two years of my life.  

And I look back, and I can see that this hideous period of my life was book-ended with evidence of the exact God that I loved as a little girl.

Around the time I wrote this I was setting up a music business (good timing, Em). Me and my husband were due to be going away for some training, and the night before the Pastor of our church offered to pray for me. I accepted, and I was handed a picture of when the sun streams through the clouds as it's setting. This happens a lot over the sea, and my mind was set to sceptical, so I shrugged it off as a nice, well-meaning cliche. 

Ben and I set off the next morning with our 4 month old strapped into the back, fast asleep. We were making good headway, cruising along at 40mph down the A24 trunk road. All of a sudden the car started to swerve all over the road. I looked at Ben and asked what he was doing and he responded "I don't know. The steering suddenly isn't working!" Everything then seemed to happen very quickly and before we knew it we were hurtling full speed into the ditch where the car then got wedged, side on. We were obviously quite shaken up, but despite our panic were able to reach round and get our boy (who was nothing more than just a bit annoyed to be woken up) and climb out of the passenger window. Just as we were emerging from the car a man was approaching and told us that he worked for the local highways team. Two others then stopped and before long we were being checked over in an ambulance. Later on my Dad came to collect us.

As we were driving home, naturally experiencing a whole myriad of feelings, I looked up to the sky. As clear as day in front of me was the exact image that I had been handed the day before. I felt a jolt in my spirit and a voice that said "I LET that happen. BUT. Your other two boys who would have been mentally scarred, weren't in the car. You didn't crash into anyone. You came out. Your little one came out. Unscathed. Unharmed. I sent one of my Angels to help you. YOU are going to be ok". 

This might seem beyond insane to you, and it's ok if it does. I was ill, but this voice came from a place in me that hadn't been heard for some time. There was reason, authority in this voice. I am one one of life's biggest questioners, doubters, sceptics, but there was and still is no denying what happened in that indisputable moment.

I wish I could say that from then on my faith was unshakeable, but my doubt and my scepticism remained, as did the pile of books by my bed entitled 'Why I'm Not An Atheist, 'Simply Christian' & 'The Problem of Pain'. (Fun times). 

I had no idea how tightly I would need to hold on to this promise.

And then the other bookend. The one that marked the beginnings of my gradual ascent towards freedom.

My (now) six year old tinker loves his scooter. We were taking one of our daily jaunts to the park and the classic happened. During a panicked crossing of the ridiculously busy, rage inducing road he fell off his scooter. We all then did the sensible thing and ran leaving his scooter lying abandoned. A kind soul stopped as I went back into the road to collect it, which I did with a heartfelt 'thank you', a special mouthed 'sorry' and a slightly stressed blotchy chest. Little did I know that I knew the lady in the car. She also knew me, but she didn't know me. She had no idea what was going on. At this point not many really did. 

At church the next day she came up to me and she said this: 

"I was the lady in the car yesterday that stopped when your son fell off his scooter. And in that moment I felt God speak to me about you. He said this: You are His daughter and there is nothing you can do or have done that can stop him doing whatever it takes to fix it/you. Let Him love you through each day no matter what you do. You are not and have not done anything that He cannot redeem, heal and make whole again. Just as you were prepared to go back into the road to retrieve your son's scooter, you still went back to get it because you are a mother and that's what we do for our children. He wants you to know that He will retrieve whatever it is you have dropped. He doesn't want you live in this place of inadequate, half-truths, could have been, maybes. Don't listen to the voice that lies about you". 

My mind remained a battleground for some time and the pile of books remained, but I went home that day and my heart felt like it was beginning to wake up.

My eyes began to notice colour.

My son went to find a sword and asked me "Mummy, can we play fighting?" 

I will always grapple and never stop asking questions. I will always read books and ponder others' ideas and understanding about life. But for me, these bookends literally picked me up and plonked me right back in the midst of my experiences of God as a child. 

And I felt whole.

I felt love.

Even when everything is hard, this is my unwavering, unquestionable truth.

And I try to be still and just sit there. Every day.  

The story between the bookends will begin to unfold next week. 

 

 

  

    

 

 

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Complete Spanners

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Complete Spanners

As this blog is about the Whole Me, working out where my thoughts end and I begin, this week I feel drawn to go a little off piste. So in the attempt to open up another little window of my life, I'm going to give you a teensy glimpse into some of the many joyful bits of my childhood.

Enjoy.

I am a vicar's daughter and grew up in a huge 5 bedroomed house with a garden the size of a small meadow. My Dad, the Revd. Spanner (yes, my maiden name was Spanner. It was a joy) is beautifully quirky and, having been an engineer before donning the clerical robes, loves a DIY project. It was not unusual to drive into our front garden and have to carefully manoeuvre yourself around an old caravan (or two), an old moped (or two) and a few clapped out trailers, all waiting for repair. Needless to say, my Mum would open the curtains every morning and sing sweet heartfelt songs of joy as she admired the view. My Dad was victim of a fair bit of mockery from the four of us, but I loved the fact that he was into pimping things up (he very much, even now, has a signature 'make'. Things he makes are always sturdy, always strong, always functional, but ALWAYS slightly special looking). My brothers only need to look at something once to know who was behind its design. 

My Mum and Dad took us to church every week. My sister and I were in the church choir (legends). I very much had my own sense of style and would regularly be seen walking to church with short orange hair (dyed 👊 ), multi-coloured train track braces (which matched my multi-coloured laced DM's) and round, purple framed glasses. We quietly rocked our blue choir robes with white puffy bits around the neck and bottoms of the sleeves. We would very faithfully sing in the way that we had been taught at school - teeth hidden, mouth completely circular, wide open with every. single. syllable. (👆 The Headmaster was an interesting character with very yellow teeth that stuck out so far that he unfortunately couldn't lead by example. He also used to make us sing the French National Anthem. To this day I am still baffled by this.) 

Anyway, I digress.

We had many 'unconventional' people at our church. The Choir Mistress used to tell us to 'be nice and gay' and snap her forefinger and thumb tightly together when she wanted us to stop singing. One Christmas a man was very happy to see that our midnight mass was candle-lit; perfect for him as he'd forgotten his lighter and was gagging for a fag. An older lady that loved a sing-song had a fave that she liked to sing at any given opportunity (we loved a talent show at our church and she'd always be right there, absolutely loving it). She had an astonishing tremolo that wobbled a full semitone up and down. The problem was that often, when she got to a high note she would get stuck. I'd sit in the audience listening to awkward shuffles and whispers from those around me and I'd be desperately wanting to go and give her a hard smack on the back to break her note. I (classically) would get the giggles, which would then spread to my sister, then my brothers, and my Mum would glare at me and my Dad would sit with his legs crossed and hands poised in clapping position willing it to end. It always did, eventually, but she never learned her lesson. 

We always had a house full, and had to learn from an early age the art of 'keeping up appearances'. I also learnt very quickly that when you live in a Vicarage you have to always expected the unexpected.

A regular visitor was a lady who wasn't very keen on washing and loved cats. She liked to come to the Vicar's house quite a lot to sell him things. Having been told off by my Mum the day before for being a bit abrasive to strangers, I naturally thought it right to invite her in. My Mum was a bit cross with me because she wouldn't leave, and our house got really smelly.

We had lots of parties, but the thing about the sort of parties we had is that you had to invite EVERYONE. The WHOLE church. I remember once being stuck in a room with an old lady and her friend and being asked lots of questions about school. I was 10 and reeeaallly wanted to go and play on my 'Jump Jumper' (I think it's called a Space Hopper, but I had my own unique names for many, many things. My 'bumper boots' were my absolute faves). I sat trying to think of a way I could leave them on their own without getting told off and had a genius idea. I asked them if they liked the programme 'Heartbeat', and fortunately for me their little cheeks went pink and their eyes looked happy. So I got my Dad's CD player and put on the theme tune, setting it to repeat. Suddenly their eyes went dreamy and their toes started tapping. As soon as one of them started to clap, I escaped. I must have been out on my Jump Jumper for 20 minutes or more, and when I came back into the house they were still there.

I had actually helped them find their happy place. Commendable, Em. Exemplary performance.    

As a family of six we had matching shell-suits. My Mum would pack a rucksack with sandwiches (so full of lettuce that my friends would ask me if I was eating grass sandwiches) and Panda Pop, and we would take long walks to showcase them. I liked to tuck mine into my white socks and wear my bumper boots (they were actually just trainers) with the tongues sewn OUT. Underneath I would wear one of those Global Hypercolour T-shirts, that didn't really work with my shell-suit as I got so blinkin' hot the whole t-shirt was permanently one colour, as opposed to the lovely sweat patchy mottled effect it was meant to have. We would turn up at parties and sing 'Black Forest Gateau' in six parts, with my sister yodelling the words 'Monosodium Saturate and Glutamate' at the end. Our songs would always receive a warm-hearted round of applause, particularly from our faves - the die-hard Spanner Family Fans (we had lots of those).

Why we didn't start a band is beyond me.

We regularly went on camping holidays - very much back-to-basics with strip-washes and an in-house (caravan) porta-potty. Unfortunately The Reverend paid it rather suffocating visits so we were too appalled to go anywhere near it. So whilst we dealt with constipation, he was seen regularly dragging the porta-loo, as well as his sorry arse, to the emptying station.

I liked to wet my bed, and on holiday I would sleep on a hammock above my little brother. One morning, whilst dreaming I was having a nice long wee on the toilet, my brother got up out of bed and loudly proclaimed that 'he'd finished'. 

At the root of my personality was mischief, adventure and spirit.

I made up languages, jumped down flights of stairs and puked all over my sister's new dressing table (deliberately). 

I cut my little brother's hair, squeezed his deliciously fat bum into my tutu and watched as he obediently drew red circles with lipstick on his cheeks. WE liked to do shows, you see.

I deliberately pooed in the bath when I was five (to annoy my brother). The sheer force of the waves I then created sent my brother into a slightly hypnotic state as he became captivated by the patterns that began to unfurl. 

I was so jealous of a rubber my sister bought in a gift shop that I tore off a bit and stuck it up my nose.

I dressed my cat in the nightie and bonnet my Mum had taken over a year to make. She was a bit cross when he immediately bolted and returned days later not looking nearly as pretty.

I thought that the duvet cover my Auntie had painstakingly made herself would look far prettier with 'frilly bits' so took it upon myself to adjust it accordingly. With scissors.

I created a spit corner in my bedroom because I thought it was the ultimate embodiment of cool. It didn't take long for my bedroom to start smelling musty. I had no idea why. 

I emptied a whole packet of chewing gum into my mouth while my older brother was filming himself playing football. Noticing the video camera perched carefully up on the windowsill, I decided it'd be fun to show the camera how wide I could open my mouth. I then discovered that once my mouth was open, if I stuck my tongue out I could, quite comfortably, balance this massive ball of gum on the end of it. The masticating noises very quickly became fun, as did the process of gathering enough gum around my tongue to blow a bubble that filled my face. I would dissolve into fits of giggles as I let it pop so it stuck to my eyelids and in my hair. Oh the fun I then had gazing at my reflection in the lens whilst picking it all off. Once my face was clean again, I became both fascinated and very entertained by how malleable my face was. After some time, I began to develop sounds to accompany what I was witnessing. It had reached a whole new level of special, and was all being caught on camera. Well, this was all kinds of wonderful. Until my brother (after countless warnings) picked me up and threw me from one end of the garden to the other.  

The sounds turned sinister. Collar-bone broken. No sympathy. From anyone.   

I was a JOY. 

My childhood was happy. Full of colour. So much laughter. My parents brought us up to love Jesus and, although they weren't perfect, they did a bloody good job of showing me what unconditional love looked like. 

 

 

 

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Am I Fighting Or Am I Flighting?

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Am I Fighting Or Am I Flighting?

My legs feel heavy, I can't move.

My face feels hot, my head is going to split in half.

I can feel my heart pounding in my head, and why is everyone shouting at me?

My hands and feet feel tingly, I think I'm going to die.

Fight or Flight is a serious business, though I jest, because I'm giving you as the reader permission to laugh because it's also funny.

Though it's very serious.

It's a horribly confusing, painful, desperate, horrendous feeling but I always learn in hindsight that the cause is something that actually just needs laughing at. This is why I write about my experiences with a such a brutal, raw kind of humour. Because however painful and terrifyingly real an anxious thought feels at the time - it's utter bollox. Its capacity to grip, to convince, to wrap itself so tightly around your neck, to make you think you might actually crap yourself (soz) is utterly shit and needs to be talked about. Normalised. (I realise I have used the words bollox, crap & shit here, and I'm sorry if this offends but these are the sort of profanities that this thing called anxiety deserves. Actually it deserves worse, but I think I've gone far enough.)

My first experience of this thing professionals call 'Fight or Flight' was when I was working in a daycare setting many moons ago. I was working with adults who had learning disabilities. The job warmed my heart, and even now when I think back to some of the treasures I had the pleasure of caring for I can still hear one of the ladies calling me 'Memily'. And another squeezing my hand so tightly as we walked along that it actually hurt a little bit but I didn't want to tell her because I knew she was doing it because it made her feel safe. I recount two happy memories here. One not so happy was a time some actual human poo was flicked onto my lip. This was a low moment and resulted in some rather frantic alone-time with some bleach and a cloth. I was a little bit sore for a few days, but I made sure I gave Ben a nice big kiss when I got home. 

I loved that job. I was good at it.

I remember reading an article about Hepatitis B, the 'Silent Disease' (which, by the way, is the worst kind of disease for someone with generalised anxiety, as was my diagnosis at the time).

It is worth pausing here for a moment to check that you are sitting comfortably, without distraction. For what I am about to say requires every single ounce of your attention. It will be the most life-changing information you will ever read and challenge every perspective you have ever had on life. Brace yourself, for I will write it as I heard it. Ready?   

 

Hepatitis B

This life threatening disease rarely has symptoms but slowly and silently damages your liver to the point of liver disease and eventual death. It can be passed on through a microscopic amount of blood that might not be even visible to the human eye, and can live outside the body for as long as two weeks, perhaps even up to six in certain environments. It can live on inanimate objects and requires only a minuscule opening in skin or membrane to enter the bloodstream. It doesn't die in hot or cold temperatures or with anti-bacterial/alcohol based products but can only be extinguished by a solution made of 10% bleach to water. This disease is a lot more prevalent than one would think, and many many people do not know all these dangers.

 

O.M.G(oodness) - just incase my Dad is reading this and thinks I have become a Heathen.

Could I have watched anything that was going to be more harmful to me right now?

Here began my Hepatitis B obsession which I now know would rear its ugly head during periods of vulnerability over the next 15 years of my life.

So as the new expert on this disease it was now my job to do everything within my power to both educate and to stop it spreading. My internal monologue became quite incessant. A mantra on repeat that varied only in tone. 'All it takes is a pin-prick of blood' was my song, which during moments of control sounded somewhat poetic. What a good job they had me! Imagine if I hadn't read that article? We would have an invisible blood bath on our hands! Sheesh, this care home has got lucky, big time. On other days this song would sound quite different. The accompaniment wouldn't be a frenzied smile and a perfectly tuned flute. It'd be a rush of hysteria and a flute just out of the loft, played (loudly) by a 6 year old boy. 

I quickly ascertained that the only responsible thing to do was to assume that I, along with everyone in the home, had it. Therefore my cleaning process needed to be painstakingly thorough, with even the slightest bits of open skin on my hands covered (as per the pin pricks of blood too small for the naked eye to see). If I were to be put in charge of creating a health and safety booklet about the care and prevention of this disease it would read a little something like this: 

 

HEPATITIS B: GUIDELINES

>   ANY CRACKS IN SKIN (EVEN IF YOU CAN'T SEE ANY BUT THINK YOU MAY HAVE SOME) SHOULD BE COVERED AT ALL TIMES

 >   STAFF ARE TO WEAR A PLASTIC FACE SHIELD AT ALL TIMES WHEN DEALING WITH BODILY FLUIDS OF ANY KIND

>   IF YOU HAVE NOTICED ANYONE BLEEDING, EVEN IF THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF BLOOD ON ANY SURFACE OR OBJECT AROUND YOU, THE IMMEDIATE AREA SHOULD BE EVACUATED IMMEDIATELY AND SCRUBBED WITH A 10% BLEACH SOLUTION

>   ALWAYS ASSUME THAT ANYTHING REMOTELY RED OR BROWN-ISH IN COLOUR IS BLOOD AND ACT ACCORDINGLY

NEVER BE TOO CAREFUL AND ALWAYS ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. THIS IS PEOPLE'S LIVES AND LIVERS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT.  

 

A period of bleaching the bath between clients began. But not just bleaching: bleaching then rinsing with lots and lots of water. Because although I was doing the responsible thing and protecting them from permanent liver damage, obviously I couldn't allow 3rd degrees burns as an alternative.  As I'm sure you can imagine, my desperate attempts to protect them from all harm meant that the bathing routine took some time and it didn't take me long to realise that I maybe wasn't very well. Routines and rituals went from mildly ridiculous (what could have been considered 'quirky') to utterly insane and came to a head when I found myself putting gloves on to do the most menial of tasks, then scrutinising both the gloves and my fingers for evidence of holes or blood. 

My eyes then began seeing things that weren't there...

My body began to feel like it was reacting to situations before my head got there. The sensations of my body were so strong, so unquestionable, that there was no doubt it was all real.

This felt catastrophic, therefore it must be.

My attempts to neutralise these feelings spiralled out of control with one action giving way for a new anxiety to snake its way in.

What am I going to do? How am I going to tell my manager what has happened? How could I be so irresponsible?

It wasn't long before I was at the doctor's. Signed off. Medication in hand. Diagnosis given.

I have never been brave enough to go back to care work.    

 

 

 

 

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A Beautiful Mess

10 Comments

A Beautiful Mess

A Blank Page

Today, everything is different. Today marks the beginning of something new. Before the summer holidays Ben and I had a big chat about dreams - and while thinking about what I love, what makes me feel alive, I think about sitting, staring at a blank screen and having space to let my thoughts fill a page. So I finished my job in July and am taking the year to get stuck in and see where my words take me. No judgement, no pressure, no specific agenda. However, I do have a new pair of glasses.

Exciting times.

So this morning, after I dropped my squeaky clean boys off to school for the first day of the new term wearing their slightly oversized trousers, crisp (slightly itchy...should have washed them, poor loves) white shirts, somewhat chavvy shoes with the hashtag #couldntfaceatriptoclarkssowenttosainsburys sewn in, I decided to go for a run to get the blood flowing before sitting down to write. I'm a bit of a funny runner. Maybe i'll write a WHOLE blog post about that one day (i can almost see your little eyes twinkle in anticipation).

I love running along the seafront. I love the beauty of the waves crashing on the shore, especially in the wind and rain, looking out to the vast expanse of the open sea and thinking about the amount of life inside it. I love the feeling of the wind in my face and the extra effort it takes to battle against it. I love the different sorts of people that walk past me. I love the sense of freedom that being on 'the edge' brings and I love the head space it gives me; the time to let my thoughts flow freely with no judgement or noise or reasoning. The space to actually notice what's around me, to pay attention to detail but not be restricted by it. When I was really poorly i'd often go and sit on the beach and just mindlessly gaze out to sea. Just looking at it always bought some calm to the paradox of sheer terror and apathy that was my mind. 

As I was running, with my bottom typically further out than usual, I started thinking about what i'd like to write. How I want to use this time. What I want to communicate. I thought about the fact that I have never been and probably will never be a linear writer. That my mind has spent so many years being tangled up in so many complicated knots and that I am left with very little remnants of a reliable memory. I never really managed to properly exist in the moment growing up, so I became an adult with very little clarity around who I really was. As I run I start to think about this, what this actually means. 'Who am I? What do I actually want to say? Do I actually have anything to give that people are going to want to read?' And as I let my thoughts loose on this for a while that familiar feeling begins to rise up. The weights on my legs, the pounding in my chest, the grip around my neck, the heat in my head. Why do these thoughts provoke such a physical reaction and drive me to such a place? As the wind pushes against my body I continue to run forwards, determined not to stop. Not to allow this all too familiar physical sensation disable me. Not to freeze, to dwell, to question, but to keep moving. 

 

Unlocking Creativity

A good friend once told me that creativity comes from the soul. To lose creativity is to lose your soul, and this is impossible. There is something about writing that makes me feel alive. Unlocking that place inside me that lay dormant, felt lifeless for so many years. A faint murmur of life muffled by the noises in my head. An expanse of breath suppressed by a weight of heat, agitation, fear. A place that wanted to be real. That wanted to be known. 

When someone really knows you, really loves you, it feels ok. You feel connected. You feel safe. Part of something bigger. You belong to something. Someone. 

I didn't really know that place existed.

I got too good at looking around me for answers, at allowing my identity to be shaped by how everybody else did it. I listened intently when my mind told me that if someone else did it differently to me, then they must be right. I felt deeply as I watched others succeed, becoming more and more grounded in who they were, as the gap between the bona fide and the counterfeit me grew wider.  

Because by myself I was stupid

Because by myself I could not make responsible decisions

Because by myself I wasn't safe

And this is why those questions 'Who am I? What do I actually want to say? Do I actually have anything to give that people are going to want to read?' awakened such fear in me. Because writing is something I love. It represents so much of who i am beyond who i have chosen to be. It gives voice to some of my broken-ness, confusion, imperfection, chaos. It represents the closing of the gap, the process of removing the mask. 

Scary. Empowering. Freeing.

Taking the biggest intake of breath I have ever taken and while I breathe out, aligning myself with the rawness of humanity.

And I realise that actually, we are all living in this beautiful mess together.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tightrope

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Tightrope

A testosterone-free 24 hours 

I'm on a train, going to Hertfordshire to meet my best Friend. A whole 24 hours child-free awaits me. In the car on the way to the station I had that feeling that I had left something behind, that sensation where you feel like you're split in half. Your mind is at home, ten minutes ago when you were throwing things into a bag because you'd typically left it 'til the last possible moment and you can hear your son downstairs emptying the cupboard where your favourite gravy boat is but you can't care because you have a job that needs doing and at least he's quiet...right? But your body is sat in the car at 2.45pm on the way to catch the 2.59pm train. As I sit here and write I realise, that sensation was due to the fact that I was about to go away ON MY OWN. No children. No tantrums. A testosterone-free 24 hours.  A night away in a spa hotel with your best friend (particularly when the estrogen levels in your house stop at you) is the sort of things that dreams are made of. And as I sit here, opposite a lady with some rather quirky dorbings on her hand, whilst listening to the toilet door banging incessantly in the wind, waiting to see who will be the first to peel themselves away from their phone to shut it (not me. Oop, someone just did. Under 2 minutes. BOOM!) whilst diverting my nose away from the man next to me with slightly smelly breath (although someone has just sprayed Lynx Africa which instantly takes me way back to the days of snogging contests. I won't be snogging him though). 

Diverting, sorry. Where was I? Oh yes... As I sit here I feel incomplete, uprooted somehow. Why do I feel slightly panicked and vulnerable?

And I realise it's because being with my family grounds me. Being in my house grounds me. Being surrounded by that unspoken kind of love that sees me on my contented 'life is tremendous and i think we are actually doing ok at this' days, and also sees me on my darkest 'i cannot guarantee that i'm going to get through this day unharmed, and if it wasn't for you and the boys i would have probably given all this up by now' days. The kind of love that sees the bits of me that no one else sees (including the wobbly bits on my hindquarters), that brings me a cup of tea in the morning, knowing that mornings are my hardest times. The kind of love that i feel holding me up by my shoulders when everything around me is crumbling, uncertain, hanging by a thread. The kind of love that assures me that even when everything feels hopeless and the tightrope feels endless there is reason to keep looking forward.

 

The battle ground

I said in my last post that next time I would be writing something a bit more hard hitting. I said that there are so many things I have done in the name of anxiety, and I said I would share some of these things. That was over a month ago, and this month has been a hard one, for many reasons. I often hear myself saying that every day is a battle, but a battle I'm winning. I've had days in recent months where I have been able to truthfully say to myself, after putting the boys to bed that 'today I definitely won'. Some days the battle is fierce, and some days I can look the opposition in the eye and see it for what it is; full of lies, deceit. A thief coming to embezzle, destroy. As the fire slowly diminishes and i learn to rise up i am beginning to see periods in my life for what they actually were.

My anxiety has never consistently followed a particular theme, rather 'hooked' itself onto areas of my life as and when i have walked through them. One specific area was my health after my middle son was born. 

My Dad had cancer when my little firecracker was born on 4th May 2011. He had waited months for a specific surgeon to remove a tumour the size of a litre bottle of squash (his words, not mine). As i had my boy, my brave, sparkly-eyed Dad who's weight had diminished so much that it was hard to even look at him, had his operation. Two years previously my Grandma died of ovarian cancer. She was one of those Grandmas that never seemed old (she actually wasn't that old). She was trendy with an ethereal kind of beauty. To say goodbye to her, kissing her barely recognisable face as she struggled to draw in her last breaths broke my heart, and even writing about it 7 years on makes my eyes prickle with tears. And i remember sitting in hospital with my brand new baby boy, all 6lb of him, holding him to my chest, his bony little finger reaching out toward mine. As I drew him close, swaddled in his blanket, a sudden fear of illness and death engulfed me, along with an overwhelming paradox of euphoric love and crippling fear. From that day i vowed that i would do all i could to make sure i didn't die. I would do everything in my power to make sure that i saw my boys grow up.

And a period of severe health anxiety followed.

 

Looking for joy in the ordinary

In my last post I said that laughter has been, and still is, my best medicine. So please understand me when i write about my experiences. They were and are anything BUT funny for me, but now i am learning to see them for what they are. JUST thoughts. I can now begin to laugh through the tears. 

So picture the scene...my little brother (the one with the rather serious adversity to Liver & Bacon) turned 30 two years ago. Now if you know my brother you'll understand that it is plain to see that this is 30 years of life worth celebrating. What started life as a rather soggy faced, roley poley, naive little squidgey thing who regularly bore victim to projections relating to my blatant yearning for a little sister was now 30, a commercially trained pilot (well actually, a 'Captain') with a beautiful wife and a little boy. We were all there, big smiles, my parents looking ever so slightly like they were on day release. Dining out isn't something they do much, so when they get the opportunity they scan the menu kind of like a small child would peruse a sweet shop, and as I look at them I wonder in that moment, If I stood right next to them and farted loud enough to make everyone stop eating and look over, whether they would notice. And I come to the conclusion that I actually don't think they would. They make lots of 'smacking lips' type noises and as I watch them my heart feels warm. I am exaggerating for shameless comedy value here, but I do love how my Mum and Dad find so much joy in the ordinary. I love how much happiness sitting surrounded by their family brings to them. I love how they sit and enjoy every single moment, how they savour every single mouthful, and how much they will treasure each moment for years to come. 

As conversations were had, interspersed with probably a few inappropriate comments from me, I remember looking round at my siblings faces. I remember the size of my parents excited eyes, I remember my husband bracing himself for pudding with a quick trip to the lav, and I remember looking at my sisters face and thinking how pretty she was and how much I looked like the older sister. But I don't remember anything beyond that, because physically I was there, noticing moments in time, but no actual substance penetrated as mentally, the conversation around me was just noise. As I sat there, a whole myriad of thoughts and anxieties encircled not just around my mind, but around my body. As those thoughts became louder I began to feel the pounding of my heart in my legs. As the thoughts sharpened my breath shortened. As the thoughts accelerated I began to panic as cold sweat started running down my back. Was I dieing? No I wasn't. Did I have an excruciating pain somewhere? No I didn't. What I did have was a weird twitch in the side of my left hand. It felt 'funny' when I used my fork to eat a bit of chicken, like my hands weren't working properly. If I squeezed the skin on the side of my left hand and then did the same on my right, it felt like I had a great deal more muscle on the right (especially after several hours/days/weeks of doing it.) I also had a mole that if I stretched it to capacity, looked like it had a teeny tiny scab on it, that of course was not visible to anyone else. But it was there. I could see it. It was plainly clear to me that I had a dual diagnosis;  MND and early stage Melanoma. I knew that because not only did all the physical sensations circling around my body tell me so (including the fact that all the blood had rushed away from my heart to my extremities, bracing itself for attack), but also, Google did. And if Google confirms all your worst fears then it must be true, right..? 

So I did what every sensible recipient to such a devastating diagnoses does; I left the table, feigning a very important incoming phone call, sat on the toilet and retrieved the big ball of string and scissors sitting safely in the zip pocket of my bag for such a crucial time as this. Oh, and my sharpie pen. My sharpie pen is instrumental in this kind of experimental operation. Because I needed to check whether my thighs were measuring the same size. I clearly had quite significant muscle wastage in my hands, and since that discovery my legs now felt very peculiar when I put one foot in front of the other and I felt like I just couldn't trust them to support me anymore. MND makes your muscles waste away, right? My hands were first, maybe my legs were the next part of my body to bare victim to this terrible disease. As I wrapped the string around the circumference of my legs, carefully measuring from the top of each thigh to ensure there was an exact equal distance, ie. I was measuring exactly the same 'bit of leg', the sharpie came into play as I marked the points the string met. I then cut the string and held both pieces together to compare the lengths. I now felt my heart pounding in my head as I discovered there was a slight difference in the lengths of the string, so I had to do it again, and again, and again. Here began an obsession. An obsession that went on in private, a compulsion that triggered other compulsions. A safety, neutralising, unhelpful series of behaviours that nobody saw. I was in an utter mess, anxiety was getting hold of me again....

 ...And now? When you have this kind of crippling anxiety the key is to try to never look further than an inch in front of you. If i think about tomorrow, what happens?

To get through a day and be able to honestly say 'i have noticed my boys today....'

That's my tightrope.

5 Comments

Hey Siri

6 Comments

Hey Siri

This one has felt like a long time coming. Over a month to be exact. The last month or so days have gone a bit like this: 6.30am wrench my eyes open to the sound of the cup of tea being placed next to me. Sit up, sip, think about how lucky i am that i have a husband who knows how to make the perfect cup of English Breakfast (also that i have a gracious husband who knows i don't even begin to closely resemble 'pleasant' until this happens). I think also, to be honest, he fears for our children. 6.45am things begin to look brighter, and sounds of a child screaming "that's mine, give it back", "Muuummmmyyyyy, can you wipe my boooottttooommm?" and "tan i dow in d darden (translated as 'can i go in the garden') begin to resonate around the house. And i know all is well. Then to get up, throw my clothes and sergeant major hat on and after a few little morning coughs, find my fish wife voice (this is fortunately never far away, as a mum of boys). It's a military operation. Breakfast, school uniforms on, one episode of whatever the current Netflix obsession is, out the door, back in the door, out the door, often back in one more time just for good measure (usually as a response to a 'this is the worst day of my life' kind of tantrum because the bear we need for school 'isn't allowed to have a label on', and various other nonsensical traumas). The drop-off comes and goes and i enjoy the routine of either going to work and racing back to collect the children, ready for chaos to re-commence, or having a day pottering with my darling little boy who likes to 'help' me with jobs and who has the capacity to evoke such an intense myriad of feelings all at once. I feel i need to just pause here for an example. 

It's 5.30am, my husband is away. My boy is ginger...so i will call him thus.

Me: "darling, it's sleepy time"

Ginger counts '1,2,3,7,9,5' freckles on my nose

Me: "nunite, byebyes time"

Ginger picks his nose and tells me his bogies 'are gross'

Me: "sshhhhh" (patting his back)

Ginger sticks his finger in my eye then sings 'I like to move it move it' whilst rhythmically bum shuffling around my bed.

Needless to say, a few minutes later, Ginger was drinking apple juice in front of Sarah & Duck

A myriad of feelings. AND there was no one there to make my tea.

Ok, back to it.

3.30pm and i have all my boys back with me. A comforting hubbub of bottom and willy chat circles around me, somebody screaming because they have been sat on or poked in the ear and it's so bad that there is 'blood' (a scratch too small for the naked eye to see, even with a proper special squint on) but nevertheless a plaster is needed. And one of my favourite kinds of noise: silence. I'm sorry but those who don't let their kids watch TV? I have all sorts of thoughts about those people. Don't get me wrong, i take great pleasure in listening to the squeals of delight as my children jump on and pummel each other. I sit and smile as i hear them playing hide and seek and playing the sorts of games that involve the perpetual use of the sentence 'pretend that you are...'. But i also relish every single one of those tv induced coma moments, when three beautifully innocent, blue-eyed, dirty-faced little boys sit still...in a line on the sofa...and i can just look at them and capture a moment. I can also get on with things without being harassed too, which is truly wonderful.     

5pm teatime comes and goes, normally ending with a flick or smear of something sticky on the wall, and a pile of regurgitated something on the side of a plate (because it tasted stringy).  A second wind  surfaces and three boys simultaneously explode into a whirlwind of all kinds of mental.  

Then the glorious 7pm is imminent.

A few days ago, just as bedtime stories were about to begin, i accidentally sat on my phone. "What's that noise?" one of the boys exclaimed as "Can i help you?" bellowed out of my back pocket. An eventful half an hour followed as my boys met Siri, asking the inevitable questions (that i'm sure she is used to when she meets small children) such as "why does my poo smell?", "do you look like a bottom?" and giggley (various renditions of) "pongy pongy poo poo pants". Siri was quite confused. Pictures of public toilets and the Bristol Stool Chart flashed up fleetingly before the next request was bellowed, as Siri repeated "poo poo pants" back to us, telling us she "didn't understand the question" (prudish loser). Typically i couldn't help myself and requested information that made her utter the words "well, that's not very nice". Standard.

Needless to say, the boys went to bed feeling happy that day. Tick. Love. Well done me for not shouting too much today. Success.

And then i start to think. Siri kind of represents all that i am trying to leave behind. She represents some of the many coping mechanisms, safety behaviours, neutralisers that i have so carefully and lovingly built around myself and nurtured over the last 33 years. She represents my need for immediate answers, my inability to tolerate uncertainty, my ability to instantaneously lose myself in a world of uncertainty until i feel so completely trapped in my own mind, so lost that i don't know how on earth i am going to 'do' another day.  

Siri represents my fear of getting it wrong. She represents my strive for perfection.

When you ask Siri a question there are so many different versions of 'right'.

Excessive mental chaos, utter exhaustion. 

Confusing and upsetting Siri was actually quite an exhilarating experience.

That moment in the day arrived. Time for myself. YES! Relief. Tiredness. Failure. At around 7pm my internal monologue fires up and goes something like this: "I really should sit and do some writing this evening. I have so much that i want to say. I haven't written for so long and i don't want to fail at it this soon. People are going to lose interest. All i actually want to do is sit and watch TV. Oh now it's 9pm, i couldn't possibly start anything now or i will be too wired and won't be able to go to sleep. I will DEFINITELY write my next blog tomorrow evening. I'll start as soon as they boys are in bed. Sigh, i'm off the hook (with myself). Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow is THE day. Tomorrow comes, the internal monologue is set to repeat, set for 7pm that day and every day thereafter.  

When i first started this blog, my plan was to write a weekly post. This happened twice, and only because on those two occasions i happened to be laid up in bed with hours and hours of space ahead of me. I had time, lots of it. Time to indulge my serious 'double edged sword' perfectionist streak. I could take hours over one paragraph. I could scrutinise over grammar, read and re-read sentences to ensure i was saying exactly what i wanted to say, that it was put in exactly the way i wanted to say it.   

I often think that i'd like to write a book one day, and i suppose this is the drive for doing this blog. I find writing therapeutic, cathartic. I have spent so many years feeling trapped in my own mind that actually beginning to finally try and make sense of it all, 'un-hook' myself from my thoughts is, albeit hard work, stirring up something in me. I often hear myself saying that i have done so many funny things in the name of anxiety that what i have to say could make for a very entertaining read to many. And paradoxically i'm sat here with so much to say, feeling like i have nothing to say. And i feel stuck. How do i even begin to write about something that has screwed with my mind, that has both terrified and protected me, that has been my attacker and my ally, that has robbed me of life, but has been my life's driving force? The thing that every single doctor i have ever seen before last year has called an 'anxiety disorder' and has thrown pills at. The thing i hold so much hate for, but find such security in. The thing i have been so scared to let go of, but want to throw at such force that it smashes and cracks into tiny pieces, tiny enough that i can hold them all under my feet?

The thing i now know is OCD. Not the sort of "I'm a little bit OCD about folding up all my pants before putting them back in my drawer" type of OCD. Thats not OCD, that's just quirky. I'd love just to be quirky :-)   

This blog has felt like a stream of disjointed consciousness. A lyrical (if that is even the right word) representation of the mass of contradictions that is my/the collective mind. A direct encounter with perfectionism, challenging my own desires to make sense, follow a linear pattern that encapsulates everything i want to say in a tidy way with no mess spilling over the sides. Because the mind is messy, and this blog feels messy, and putting it out there makes me feel vulnerable because nothing about it is perfect, and i don't actually feel like i have really actually said anything. Nothing about it feels like it makes sense. But in the same vain, everything about it feels like it makes perfect sense. 

I have to learn the art of being ok with getting things wrong, and waffling a bit because otherwise i shut down and i end up doing nothing and surely a messy blog post is better than nothing...right?

Brace yourself, for i am committing my next post (maybe more, we'll see...) to some periods in my life where anxiety has literally paralysed me. I will say now, in advance of reading them that you are free to laugh. Laughter has been, and still is, my best medicine in the shittiest (sorry, no other word seems appropriate) of times. I am not a writer that will over-dramatise things. I am a 'read between the lines' type of writer. I want to be real, to be authentic to who i am, even if at times there are a few spills along the way.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Captured

1 Comment

Captured

Last week i was baptised. I stood up in front of church and i told a bit of my story. The following day i could feel the enormity of what i had done, sitting in the crook of my neck. In a sleepy haze at 5am on Tuesday morning, having been woken up by the rhythmic, strangely comforting sound of my husband snoring, i had a teeny tiny itch on my back that needed scratching. I made the catastrophic mistake of doing so, and after an audible 'twang' spent the day sitting in bed unable to move my neck at all. Forced rest, once again. Hot legs, once again. Incase you are thinking 'hang on, last week she had a chest infection, my life she's a bit of a one isn't she?' my previous post was written over a month ago, but it's taken me that long to work out how to actually set up a blog (i needed significant help in the end). 

So i'm feeling like i should start way back when, tell you a little bit about who i was (am) besides being a vicars daughter with 3 siblings, an astronomically huge cat that growled rather than purred, various imaginary friends and my very own 'spit corner'. I was really good at drama at school. As a child i was the class clown and loved performing. My dad had one of those crazy bad boy VHS camcorders and would, at any given opportunity, get it out of it's crazy big bag and after waiting 15 minutes for it to load up (by which point the moment had passed), set it up on its tripod, shut one eye so one half of his face resembled a dehydrated prune, and the other a scary bug-eye that he would squash right up to the view finder. It was the 80's so we would be sitting at the dinner table eating liver and bacon, or microwave burgers (Tuesdays, after swimming). A liver and bacon day would go something like this: My sister (the girl i always looked up to, felt jealous of, the sensible one who could put her hand to anything and succeed) would be quietly enjoying the scrummy delights in front of her. My older brother (the boy who once threw me across the garden because i was chewing a whole packet of gum in front of the camcorder he had set up to video himself perfecting his football skills - and broke my collarbone) with, on this particular day (for the purposes of this story) an untouched plate of food due to a particularly bad case of verbal diarrhoea. My younger brother, ringlets stuck to his head, soggy from dribble and general malaise due to the sight of liver and bacon, complaining that eating it 'made his throat shiver'. And ME.  See i rarely focused on the food in front of me, on what i was actually sat at the table to do. My focus was often on the feeling inside me, the faces i was drawn to pull, the noise that wanted to come out, often in the form of 'Gongielli, pillipongi, Shumalaka', my made up language that over time became something quite spectacular. A treat for the ears. While my siblings were sensibly eating/prattling about/shivering into their food i was exploring the nether-regions of my mouth, loudly working out how far i could puff my cheeks out before they hurt. I was wondering how i would sound if i said 'i want my hooooney' while straining my voice to its limit (a bit like the sound i now know i make during childbirth), then trying it. I was practicing my new nervous twitch to show my friends the next day. Poor liver, poor bacon, discounted. 

I was very rarely in the moment. Or was I?

Bug-eye behind the camera captured it all.

It is in this dream-state that i have spent quite a lot of my life. I quite like it there. I would sit at the back of the classroom, a lovely comfortable spot by the window next to Daniel who always had a slightly musty, dare i say 'pooey' smell about him. Vaguely mindful of the fact that my teacher was prattling on about something to do with something that happened 100,000,000 years ago, i would sit and practice what they call 'active listening'. It was often in this spot that i discovered things like this: that if i opened and shut my eyes really quickly they made a strange clicking sound inside my head. That if i went cross-eyed and screwed my eyes up as small as they would go without shutting them, i could begin to understand what it must be like to have tunnel vision. And i decided it wouldn't be very nice at all. While my teacher talked about this number halved then halved again and again and again and again and showed us a picture of a pizza with slices missing and asked questions about it, i didn't understand because at that moment the caretaker was mowing the school field and was walking in a way that made his bottom stick out and i thought it was funny, and wanted to show all my friends, and stand up and walk around the classroom just like him. (Also the drone of the lawnmower was kind of rhythmical and sounded a bit like that song 'i'm special' that i played on my flute). 

In a school detention, when asked to write an essay on the importance of punctuality, i wrote two sides about full-stops and commas.

I got to grade 4 recorder. When asked to play a B i looked at the examiner blankly. I had been playing all those songs from memory. I didn't carry on with the recorder, and Mrs Franklin was a bit embarrassed.

Shortly after passing my driving test i almost drove to Surrey via Hull. I lived in St Albans.

"She's scatty, she's lovely, she struggles, she needs to listen, she's so entertaining, she has a twinkle in her eye, she's a character, she's unique, she's away with the fairies, she only scored 25% in her geography exam... "

That little girl, sat next to musty Daniel, was lost in a haze of internal noise, her own imagination, attention to detail. That little girl was captured in her own moment detached from anyone else around her. She never captured what it really meant to be present. Who she was in relation to the space around her. She never grasped what it meant to sit in a shared moment and just ‘be’. She learnt to allow herself to be defined by others. She learnt that if she had an opinion different to someone else’s then she must be wrong. She learnt to never completely trust her own judgement in response to things around her, because the likelihood was that she would miss something. That little girl believed that inside her skin wasn’t a safe place to be. She became well versed in the art of pretence. 

The thing about OCD is it robs you of so many moments. The thing about anxiety is that you are very rarely still. Stillness in your body, in your mind, isn't really something associated with anxiety. You have a thought, and as you are having it you are as good as writing it in one of those big black thick marker pens on a 6 ft wide white board 2 inches from your face. Your children are there, saying things that are actually quite funny for 2, 4 & 6 year olds to come up with themselves. Your husband is telling you that he loves you and is really grateful for how clean the house is and how many pairs of clean pants he has in his drawer. You’ve just read an email from a customer saying that her daughter loved your class and can’t wait ‘til next week. But in that moment, all you can see is the whiteboard. All you can feel is the pounding of your heart in your chest and the sheer weight of your legs as the blood rushes to your extremities preparing you for a fight. You have had this thought, and because you have had the thought it must be true. There is no alternative. No one can tell you otherwise and if they try to then you will just think they are being irresponsible, or just don’t ‘know all the facts’ so there is no point them even opening their mouth. You are in danger, those around you are in danger and it’s your job to put it right because if you don’t? It’ll be all your fault. So those little hands reaching out for cuddles, cheeky gigglesnorts as plots to ‘smack daddies bottom’ are derived, loving glances, stay hidden behind the white board. And those moments, they pass. 

My boy was sad tonight. he decided just today that Pokemon was his absolute favourite programme and he couldn't possibly go to sleep without watching it one last time. We said no, but came to a compromise that appeared to suit. Then came the boys stories about their day, the inevitable bottom and 'butt-face' jokes, the pre-bed wee checks. At that final moment just before tucking in, prayers, kissing goodnight and leaving the room to start that blissful part of the day i'd been dreaming of since the pandemonium that was 3 testosterone fuelled, hungry boys at teatime, i hear the words 'Poookkeemmon' followed by tears. Oh crap, we've not resolved this after all. A battle of wills begins as i say 'no' and he says 'but...' Totally aware that it was likely that every word i was still to say would come from a desperate attempt to start my evening as soon as possible, i knew i was setting myself up to either fail, or spend the evening ruminating over my complete an utter failure as a Mum. It wasn't working, my boy definitely wasn't anywhere near standing down and accepting my decision as final. Deep breaths, i decided to lay with him, and i held him. I could feel his little heart beating out of his chest, his whole body contract rhythmically with every little sob, the little damp patch on his pillow. As i held him tightly, whispered "deep breaths, you're ok, Mummy's here and i love you", he stopped fighting. The atmosphere changed. I could feel the tension in his little body begin to release, and his feelings began to impact me on a deeper level. He felt misunderstood, not listened to, frustrated, overwhelmed.

I had decided to be still, and i saw him. 

My cheeky little red-headed, footballing loving toddler told me he loved me today, completely un-prompted.

Yesterday my biggest boy skipped along the promenade after conquering his fears up on stage in front of 100's of people. 

A few weeks ago, after hearing me asking Daddy for a cup of tea my spirited, beautiful little boy disappeared, then minutes later presented me with a glass of (neat) squash in bed.

Last week i collected leaves and threw stones in the sea with three soggy boys. I watched them as their eyes sparkled with delight. Adoration. Contentment.

These are the type of moments I want to capture.

The whiteboard can do one. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting back on the monkey bars

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Getting back on the monkey bars

So I’m the kind of girl who feels envious of others when they are ill and get to stay in bed and watch mindless rubbish on the TV, sleep without being woken up, waited on and felt sorry for. “I never, ever get ill!” was the sentence I muttered to my husband last week, feigning an air of the grandiose, ‘there is no way on this earth you could ever do without me, could you, so it is a good job I am unshakeable’, type of super mum. A few days later my throat began to hurt. I went to work and gave it my all, knowing that all it was, was a sore throat and there was no way I’d be so lucky as to get something more serious that would result in actual forced rest. Well, this was obviously my time. I’m sitting in bed with a chest infection, antibiotics and an inhaler, my little family have all gone to Sainsbury’s to spend their pocket money. And I hate it. I’m missing out. I’m bored. They are coping without me. Tonight a whole day will have gone that I’ll never get back. It’s me, myself, and I. I’m rubbish company. It’s too quiet. My legs feel hot.

I’m the kind of girl that has dreams. Dreams about doing a parachute jump, leading worship at church, creating a family photo book every year, venturing big time into the field of SEN, using my creative and therapeutic skills to enhance those precious little lives and help them to feel seen, valued, be given a voice. Dreams of sitting in the evenings and expanding my mind by watching informative documentaries, learning to crochet, calling friends. Being the type of Mum that reads the ideas on the ‘Happy Hooligans’ facebook group and actually sits down and does them with her kids. Adopting a child. Writing a book. I also have dreams about running across a football pitch completely naked and following someone down the aisle on their wedding day in a flesh-coloured body stocking, but somehow I don’t think these dreams will ever be realised, which I think will be a relief to many, many people. 

But I’m the kind of girl who feels fear. Not the nervy sort of fear that makes your tummy feel like it’s full of bubbles but you know those bubbles will pop if you just do what it is you feel scared about doing. The kind of fear that feels like someone has their hands gripped tightly around your stomach, that prepares your whole body for a fight and makes you feel like every single noise around you has risen to a level that feels unbearable. The thought that if you make one false move, one mistake, something terrible might happen. So in order to make sure you are doing everything in your power to protect others from this terrible thing, in order to keep yourself completely blameless so you are not constantly weighted down by intolerable guilt, you’re on full alert. Because THAT is the responsible thing to do. Your mind has explored the channels of every single possible thing that could go wrong, every single possible outcome, so it’s ok. You are ready for whatever the day throws at you. But you can never be ready enough.

I'm 33, and have lived with varying levels of anxiety for as long as i can remember. As a little girl I loved doing the monkey bars. I used to lick my hands and rub them together to make them sticky so i could get all the way across without falling down. The feeling of elation and sense of pride was great. I wasn't particularly clever, but I was the gymnast of the family...which is quite hilarious now (witnessing me cartwheel is really something quite special). One day someone told me that eating dogs muck makes you go blind. I remember staring at them and a new feeling encompassing me that I didn’t understand. I remember deciding that what I was doing was no longer safe, because what if I had a tiny amount of dogs muck on my hand and I licked it and went blind and then couldn't see forever and ever and it would be my own stupid fault? This feeling felt too big, this feeling made me freeze, obsessively smell my hands, vow to never put my hands in mouth ever again 'just incase'. This feeling was the start of something bigger for me, and led me to believe that my little world wasn’t safe.

I laugh now when I recall this story, as i'm sure you are reading it, because it's funny! I was tiny, but not so tiny that I would crawl along the grass and stick my hand in a massive pile of dog turd with no awareness. Dog poo stinks! I was never alone, my mum has the nose of a blood hound. I think it's safe to say that the chances of me eating dogs muck and going blind were 1 in a million. But, be it microscopic, there was a chance. And this is the story of my life so far.  

So i am a girl that dreams dreams, that is full of life, colour, ambition, with a heart bursting with love that's bursting to be seen. But i am also a girl that stands still, that puts my boys to bed, gets in the bath and thinks about all the things that I want to/should be doing so watches crap on the TV and gets an early night to shut off.

And this blog is the start of me stepping forward. Putting a marker in the sand and moving, and I hope you'll journey with me as I embrace all that God has for me. As I begin to feel the fear, and do it anyway…

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