Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Feasting and Famine. And everything in between. February 18, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Faith,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:30 pm

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person. Which can be annoying.

It means that 10 minutes after watching ‘The Great British Sewing Bee,’ I’m wondering how best to find time in my busy schedule to hand-make my children’s wardrobes. Rather than actually just finishing Elvie’s curtains.

It means that I want to blog every day. Maybe three times a day. That I get frustrated when I only have the time and energy to do it once a week. If I’m lucky.

It means that I buy a new lipstick and then don’t wear it. Because I don’t have a new look, career and personality to go with it.

It’s an exhausting way to live. But I can cope. Provided that everything else in my life is on an even keel.

Ha.

Our family is not easily described as normal. 9-5 is not something we’re familiar with. Wes is self employed, so he goes where the work is, when it’s available. Often he’ll turn up at a venue with no idea what he’s going to be working on. Those are usually the days I get a call to let me know Emma Thompson is in the next room for a press conference. Or that he’s just built a stage for the Jersey Boys.

He loves his work. He’s brilliant at it. And it definitely has it’s advantages. I’m lucky to be married to someone who can make you a table in half an hour, or throw together a garden bench for a party. He’s just built the most beautiful cabin bed for Elvie’s room. We have piles of timber, paint and perfume just waiting to be used – all salvaged from various jobs.

There’s just one problem. For me at least. That even keel I was after. It’s not much good for that.

Turns out I’m not the only part of this family that’s all-or-nothing.

There can be months in the year when there is so much work that we pass like ships in the night. Usually the middle of the night. Clutching a vomiting baby, or a crying child, or a packet of paracetamol. Times when we’d forget the sound of each other’s voice if it weren’t for all the answerphone messages. Wondering where the remote went, or whether he made it to Birmingham, or why I still haven’t returned his call and is everything actually ok?

Those times are great for making money. And stressful in every other possible way.

And then there are the slow times. When there are weeks with no work. No money coming in. Water bills, and a mortgage to pay and hoping that more work comes in before the money from the busy times runs out.

Now is one of those times.

I would so dearly love to be reasonable about it all. To adopt the same approach Wes has. The approach that says we’ve been doing this for years and it always balances out, so let’s just calm down.

I find that really hard.

When times are busy, I’m stressed because I have the children by myself for weeks on end and I’m losing my mind and I just need a break and how come work is so much more important than me?

When times are quiet, I’m stressed because the money is going to run out and what if we never get any more work and maybe I should just set up my own business selling jam because that’s the only logical solution.

Awkward.

Normally, I can cope. Just about. In as much as I only melt down once a week. Maybe twice.

At the moment, it feels as though everything is all-or-nothing. I know. Ironic.

Elvie, who is normally so independent that you’re lucky to get a cuddle, has decided she can’t sleep unless she’s in our bed. All night.

Which is adorable, obviously. Except that I really need my childfree space. And I resent having to share a bed all night with a snoring, wriggling three year old. Who likes to kick the duvet halfway down the bed, and ninja-whack you in the face with her elbows. While you’re sleeping.

We’ve managed to start around a hundred home improvement projects in the last month. Elvie’s room is half-finished. Unsurprisingly, given the scale of the mural she requested.

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We’re halfway through creating the photo wall in the kitchen. The paints and curtain rail for our bedroom are loitering at the end of our bed. And the garden looks like a earthquake has ripped through the middle of a building site.

It’s no wonder that I have been obsessively tidying shelves. In a desperate attempt to have control over something. Anything. Even if it is just a few inanimate objects.

It all feels a bit like chaos. Which, as you may have gathered, is not something my brain enjoys. At all.

In the midst of all the soupy, swirling fogginess in my brain, one phrase has been going round and round and round. ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ It’s from the Bible. Philippians 4:11 to be precise. Don’t be too impressed by my knowledge. I may have had assistance from Google.

It’s one of those phrases. The kind where I’m pretty sure that if I ever met the guy who said it, I’d want to punch him in the face. Along with whoever tried to convince the world that your ‘school days are the best days of your life’. Seriously. We can all be grateful that’s not true.

It’s always seemed a little smug. So, you’ve learned to be content whatever happens. Great. Good for you. Now not only is my brain suffering from it’s own private hurricane, but I can feel guilty for not having the answers.

Not that I make snap judgements. At all.

It’s only today that I wondered if it’s possible there was more to it. Whether I had, in fact, been a little harsh. Jumped up and bitten a little too early, to project all my own problems onto some poor writer who has been dead for a couple of thousand years and will never be able to fight back.

Today, I read the whole passage. Turns out Google really does know everything. It’s Philippians 4:11-13 and it goes like this:

…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.

I know. So far, so smug. But wait for it…

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

There it is. Right there.

Turns out he didn’t have all the answers. It’s possible he wasn’t even trying to be smug. Perhaps he was, genuinely, just trying to help.

I know, beyond a doubt, that finding contentment in every situation would change my life. Whether there’s work coming in or not. However many small children end up sleeping on my pillow. Whatever state the garden / kitchen wall / house is in.

I break my back trying to control everything.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to step back. Breathe a few deep breaths. Hand it over to someone bigger and wiser than me. Wait for him to give me strength. Instead of trying to find it myself through organising sock drawers and bookshelves.

I’m not sure how it works. But I need to try. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even finish those curtains.

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Curling up at the edges – or, why it’s important to marry the right man. November 11, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Marriage,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 4:39 pm

Friday is our fifth wedding anniversary. Five whole years. Nothing short of amazing.

It certainly hasn’t gone according to plan.

I blame Disney. And every romantic comedy ever made. All those stories of near-disaster, misunderstandings, evil stepmothers and talking mice have one thing in common. As soon as the wedding bells are over, so is the story.

They all live happily ever after. Don’t ask any questions.

That’s what I was brought up on. I devoured it. And, despite my best efforts to read stories about twins who love to recycle, or little girls who play with tigers, it’s what Elvie is being raised on too. There’s nothing she loves more than a princess. Except perhaps a cake.

She plays weddings a lot. Talks about the dresses. The flowers. The dancing. In her mind, it’s the dancing that means you’re actually married. She’s going to be a menace at school discos.

The wedding is the goal. The big day. The big dress. The princess moment.

To be married. To be chosen. Publicly. And loved forever.

Nothing wrong with that. I’ll be the first to admit that, even as a stony-hearted twentysomething, I desperately wanted someone to pick me. To love me.

And then he did.

A man walked into my life one evening at a networking event, and went home with my phone number and a spring in his step. I hadn’t even realised he was hitting on me and, slightly embarrasingly, I couldn’t remember his name. It was Wes.

He’d said he’d call me. And he did. We went out for a lunch date that lasted eight hours, discovered we had half the world in common, and quickly became inseparable. Despite the thirty mile distance.

I was swept off my feet. I’d never imagined that anybody could love me so well. Warts and all.

Things got serious very quickly. I moved thirty miles to be with him. And then it got messy. I had a deep-rooted fear of abandonment. He had previous-girlfriend-induced commitment issues. It wasn’t pretty.

We broke up a few times. I cried a lot. But we never managed to stay apart. And then, in the midst of another standoff, at the point where I had deleted his number from my phone so that I couldn’t send him any more ridiculously over-emotional texts, he snuck into my garden in the middle of the night and proposed via the medium of tealights.

There were flowers. And a ring. And quite possibly sub-zero temperatures. It was beautiful. I was taken completely off guard, and so stunned that I spent the rest of the night talking about garden gnomes and woke up wondering if it had all been a dream.

If this was a Disney film, or a Richard Curtis comedy, it would all end there. With a few token shots of the wedding to fill the closing credits. (They’d be worth staying for. It was stunning.)

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wedding 15th nov 233

It wasn’t a movie. Thank goodness. That was just the beginning.

We had a fairly disastrous honeymoon. It’s more common than you think. As it happens, France in December is really cold. Especially when you have a throat infection. And exhaustion. And barely any hot water. Thank goodness for Disneyland. It’s hard to be grumpy there.

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Mickey Mouse was good respite. I spent most of the following year wondering why more people don’t get divorced. I suspect Wes did too. I went on the pill, and felt as though I was actually losing my mind. I learnt the hard way that I’m more selfish than I’d ever imagined. I did not appreciate having to compromise. I sulked. I snarled. I was passive-aggressive. A lot. And Wes started running out of patience.

Eventually we booked a long holiday. South Africa and India. A month away. It was phenomenal. Sun, adventure and a lot of cocktails. Just what we needed. By the time we came back I was pregnant. The next four years were a blur of pregnancy, small babies, toddlers and post-natal depression. Which brings us to now.

There have been days when we’ve shouted. Or not spoken at all. Endless snaps, and losses of temper. He’s realised that I don’t notice when a room needs hoovering. I’ve discovered that he is incredibly resistant to washing up. I’ve found out that it’s best to feed him before trying to have a serious conversation. He’s learnt not to expect a constructive response before 7.30am.

There have been moments, sometimes weeks on end, when I’ve wondered if he liked me at all. There have been times when I didn’t like him. Days when we’ve argued for hours over nothing at all. Or given in too quickly on the important things. Days when I knew he was going to leave me. Days when I would have left me. Lots of those.

And yet, five years on, we’re still here. Still married. Still celebrating. By the skin of our teeth.

These last few years have been a learning curve. A steep one. With a few unnecessary assignments thrown in just for fun. I’m not sure what grade we’d get. But we’d pass. I know that much.

Not by chance. Through gritted teeth and determination. Because of those gut-wrenchingly vulnerable moments in the clear air of the morning when we’ve turned around and apologised. As a result of those tiny little tiptoe steps back towards romance in the wake of bitter arguments.

All of those raw, painful, wearing-your-heart-on-the-outside moments have got us to today. To a place where we are finally starting to appreciate each other again. Really, properly appreciate each other. It’s been a long time coming.

This weekend, I had a blip in my recovery process. Maybe because of the emotional upheaval of the last few weeks, or because I’m tired, or because I’ve been trying to do too much too soon. Who knows.

By the time I went to bed on Friday I was starting to fold in on myself. All I wanted to do, for the entire weekend, was curl up under a blanket and hide.

Wes was amazing. He asked me how I was. I told him I was curling up at the edges. And he understood. Completely. I couldn’t face the fireworks on Saturday night. So he took the children. And I stayed on the sofa with a blanket and Strictly.

Yesterday, he left me in bed when the children woke up. When I surfaced, they were tidying the living room shelves, which have been a jumble of overfilled chaos since we moved in. 11 months ago. Because he knew.

He knew that physical chaos makes the mental chaos worse. He knew that I wouldn’t have the motivation to tidy. He knew that it would lift my mood. And it did.

He’s the only one who knows me, faults, flaws, hoover-resistance and all. Inside out. And still loves me. He still kisses me, even after two huge babies turned my stomach into a saggy map of the London Underground.

He knows which mug to put my ‘I-need-some-comfort’ tea in. He knows when I need his arm around me to hold me up. He knows how to hold his place in a French queue. And how to give me hope.

Five years in. It hasn’t been plain sailing. It’s hard work.

But it’s worth it. Absolutely.

Happily ever after would be nice. But I’d rather have this. I’d rather have Wes.

Prince Charming may be perfect but I bet he’s dull. And he doesn’t tidy shelves.

 

Sometimes the small things are the big things… October 23, 2013

Filed under: Adventures,Depression — hannahoakland @ 7:20 pm

Last night I went to my first ever Pilates class. Somewhat disappointingly, it did not look like this.

copyright FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ponsuwan

copyright FreeDigitalPhotos.net Ponsuwan

I appreciate that for some of you, turning up at an exercise class is a regular occurrence. Or even your job. Let’s just say that I haven’t exercised for a while. In fact, not for a long time. Had-to-go-out-in-the-morning-to-actually-buy-some-joggers kind of long. Years.

It’s always been part of my recovery plan. Doing more exercise. But one of the sneakiest things about depression is how brilliant it is at making up excuses. They’re always so plausible. The baby isn’t settling properly, I shouldn’t really leave him. We can’t afford it. I’d only look like an idiot. I don’t have the energy. On and on and on.

I can’t count the amount of fun I’ve turned down over the last few years. Birthday parties, hen do’s, dinner invitations, playdates. I desperately wanted to go. I just couldn’t face it. Anything outside of my usual routine was too much for me to cope with. The stress was just too high.

Occasionally I would accept an invitation. Only to pull out at the last minute, using the children or babysitters or exhaustion as an excuse. Because I couldn’t admit the truth. That actually, I was scared. Scared I would fall apart. That everyone would realise I was no fun anymore. That I wouldn’t be able to keep my brave face on for long enough. Honestly, the sofa and the telly are much safer.

In the end, I was ambushed into exercising. Sometimes that’s the only way. A friend at Toddlers on Monday told me about the Pilates class. At the community centre at the end of my road. Which ruined my tried and tested ‘I don’t drive so I won’t be able to get there’ excuse. She said she was going. I expressed an interest, and by the time I got home she’d already picked up a leaflet and dropped it through my door. Efficiency wins.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go. To try and drag up some endorphins. To have an hour to myself with no danger of screaming children. To try and recapture something of the dance classes that I used to love.

The good news was that I only had 36 hours to stay positive, and not pull out. The bad news is that 36 hours gives you more than enough time to think of excuses.

I actually can’t do it. I don’t own a single pair of jogging bottoms.

That’s easily solved by a walk to Matalan. But it’s raining, and the children have colds. I probably shouldn’t put them through a well wrapped-up buggy trip to the shops.

Also, my knee hurts a bit while I’m walking. It might be dangerous to even attempt any exercise.

So even though I have the joggers, I haven’t had time to try them on. They probably won’t fit. I’ll just have to stay at home.

Oh. They do fit. But I don’t have any suitable footwear.

Well, I do have my old ballet shoes. But if I wear them everyone will presume I’m still a dancer and be disappointed by my lack of flexibility, or else they’ll think I’m some kind of pretentious knob.

Sack it, I love them. I’ll wear them. Although I’m not even sure if my friend’s going. I haven’t had a text. Should I call her? What if she’s changed her mind?

I’m a grown woman, I can go by myself. But I haven’t actually double checked if the class is on. What if I get there and it’s shut?

And the children are a bit angsty. Maybe I shouldn’t be leaving Wes to put them to bed by himself. Not when he’s had a hard day at work.

Ooh, it’s the Bake-Off final – I’ll miss the start if I go out now.

Honestly, it’s a wonder I made it out the door. Especially in the rain. But I did.

None of my friends were there, I had no idea what I was doing, my arms are so sore today that picking Joel up is a mission, and I’m definitely going back again. Every week. It was amazing.

I learnt some important things last night. Firstly, that I am more than capable of walking into a strange room, filled with strangers, and having a great time. Nobody even laughed at me once.

Secondly, if you deal with one excuse at a time, it’s much easier to get over them and achieve something. It’s looking at them all at once that makes it tricky.

And thirdly, it is impossible to overstate how comfortable a pair of £10 Matalan jogging bottoms are. I am literally never going to take them off.

Much as I hate to admit it, It is perhaps true that exercise does, in fact, make you feel better about yourself. It was either that or the cake and ice-cream we had afterwards while we watched the Bake-Off on catchup…

For some people, going to an exercise class is a very small thing. For me, it was a test of all the therapy and drugs and determination that I’ve put in over the last few months. And it made me think.

In the eyes of most people, I didn’t achieve much yesterday. I made it through the day with both children intact and went to an exercise class.  For me, that’s huge. Totally deserving of cake and ice-cream.

Sometimes the small things are the big things. And I think they deserve to be celebrated too.

 

 

Not all mental patients have chainsaws. October 7, 2013

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:29 pm

This is me.

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I am a mental patient.

I take prescribed medication every single day. I have fortnightly therapy sessions, and a computerised CBT course to keep me busy in between. All to try and calm the noise inside my head. To bring me back to a place where I can function properly. Where I can be happy.

It took a long time for me to admit that there was a problem. Years. Partly because it doesn’t fit neatly with my desire for a perfect life. Partly because I always assumed I’d be able to cope by myself. And partly because it’s just something that nobody ever talks about. It’s a tricky subject to broach.

No wonder.

This morning we went to the newsagents for a loaf of bread. In between manouvering the buggy through the only-just-big-enough door, and trying to stop Elvie scootering into the cakes, I caught sight of the papers. I could just see the top of the Sun’s headline. 1200 KILLED.

I racked my brains. I lost most of my weekend to man flu, chocolate pudding and Strictly, but I’m sure I would have noticed a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. If only because someone posted about it on Facebook. In the time it took me to buy my bread I was none the wiser, so I gave in. As I got closer, I could read the full headline.

1200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS. In blood red capital letters.

Angry doesn’t quite cover it. My blood was boiling. No wonder we keep these things to ourselves. No wonder we hide away, convinced that we’re monsters. No wonder Asda find it appropriate to sell ‘mental patient’ outfits for Halloween. We’re a cheap target.

It’s always easiest to go for the quiet ones. The ones who don’t stand up for themselves. The ones who have been shamed into silence.

I am assuming that there is some truth behind their story. That over the last ten years, 1200 people have been killed by people suffering from mental illness. That is horrendous. 1200 families ripped apart. 1200 tragedies that could potentially have been avoided. I have no issue with the facts.

My issue is with the reporting. The generalising and the scaremongering. I doubt very much whether anyone has commissioned a study into how many people were killed by cancer patients in the last decade. Or asthmatics. I doubt anyone has been collating data on the crime rate among the diabetic community.

There’s just not the same market for that kind of story. ‘Mental patients’ play into the worst kind of fears. People who can’t control themselves. High on prescription drugs. Dealing with their multiple personalities or depression, all whilst living on your street. Hiding amongst the ‘normal people’. Just waiting to whip out their chainsaws at the first sight of a full moon. Mental illness just doesn’t pull in the same kind of sympathy as other diseases.

It’s true, 1200 people is an awful total. But I would be willing to bet that, over the last decade, far more than 1200 people have taken their own lives as a result of mental illness. Unable to deal with the stigma. The shame. The fear that people will find out. And judge. This idea that somehow, we’re different. Broken. Dangerous.

The truth is, we’re no more broken or dangerous than anybody else. No matter what the publishers would have you believe.

I am a mental patient. But that’s not the sum total of my life. I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I collect recipe books. I am Team Kimberley for the Great British Bake-off and Team Dave for Strictly. I sincerely believe that Barrichello rejoining Formula One would be a bad idea. I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear my boots again. I make amazing roast potatoes. I have kept every picture my daughter has ever drawn. Just the thought of Christmas makes me smile.

Nobody can be summed up in one paragraph. Certainly not in one sentence, and absolutely not in two words. ‘Mental patients’ are people too. Real people.

We’re already facing huge challenges every day. We’re already being as brave as we can be. And too many of us are disappearing out of sight, Unable to tell our friends or family. Sometimes unable to face it ourselves.

It’s time to start telling stories built on trust and hope and empathy. Rather than building on people’s fears and prejudices. Focusing on the things that bring us together. Not what makes us different. Time to celebrate people’s achievements. Not demonise their problems. That’s the only way things will get better.

It might not sell many papers. I’m ok with that. Mind you, I am mental.

 

One of them. September 4, 2013

Filed under: Adventures,Depression — hannahoakland @ 7:43 pm

Today we celebrated Joel’s first birthday. In the traditional way. Presents? Check. Cards? Check. Ice Cream? Check. First, slightly terrifying, dose of antidepressants? No? Just me then.

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These last few weeks have been really hard. The summer holidays have stolen away our carefully crafted routine. Wes has either been away or working crazy hours. And Joel has been scarily ill with what turned out to not be measles after all. It’s been a lot to deal with.

Wes was home for a few hours between jobs at the weekend and we embarked on a conversation that predictably, considering our mutual levels of exhaustion, turned into an argument. About how much work he does and how, although he always runs it by me first, I don’t feel like I have any real decision-making power. If he doesn’t work, we don’t eat. And if he does work, I can’t cope. It’s a tough call to make.

I did make a call, in the end. To the doctor. He thinks the drugs are a very good idea. I wish I could be so sure.

I know with absolute certainty that we can’t carry on as we are. Up until now, Wes has been my antidepressant. When he’s around I can keep my head above water. Things are manageable. When he’s not here, everything is too much. That’s not fair on any of us. Something needs to change. And that something is me.

It’s annoying. Really annoying. I’ve been doing everything right. I’m talking to people. I’m writing. I’m following all my therapy, albeit a little slower than I should. I’ve read some amazing books. I’m getting out of the house.

I was brought up to believe that if you work hard, and do what you’re supposed to, things will turn out right. Not this time, they haven’t.

I don’t actually like taking medicine. I took the pill for a few months and felt as though I’d lost my mind. I have to be persuaded to take nurofen if I have a migraine. Even then I’d rather not. When Joel was born, a year ago today, I made it through to the final pushing stage on a single dose of paracetamol. And now? Now I am ‘one of them.’

One of those people who ticks the “yes, I am on other medications” box. Who turns down alcohol because it’s not a good mix. Part of the ‘Prozac Nation’ that the 90’s held so dear.

I’m scared. Scared of what the side effects might be. Scared of how you stop once you’ve started. Scared of not knowing who I really am anymore. What’s actually me, and what’s the tablets.

In all honesty, I’m also embarrassed. At being one of those people who can’t cope by themselves. ‘One of them.’ I’ve always managed anything I’ve set my hand to. As long as I really wanted to, of course. (And providing there are no over-zealous security guards with buckets of water and threats of police. Letting that one go was very much the sensible option.)

But I can’t manage this. I wasn’t sure whether to even write about it. Whether maybe it would be one confession too far.

I think it’s important. For me, and for all the others who find themselves in the same boat, drifting around with no idea which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, and your tablets, and admit that you need help. This is one of those times.

I must have looked a little shocked when the doctor agreed so wholeheartedly to my suggestion of medication. He smiled his all-knowing smile and said, “if you’d broken your arm, would you want me to put it in a cast, or leave it dangling around?” It’s a fair point. It’s just that it gets tricky when it’s an illness that nobody can see. And which often gets dismissed as one big self-indulgent grump.

It’s going to take some getting used to. I took my prescription to the biggest pharmacy I could find in an attempt to be anonymous. And as I waited, with the old ladies collecting their osteoporosis tablets, the heroin addicts taking their methodone and the sweet teenage girl who was also picking up antidepressants, I realised something. I can’t get up on my high horse if you judge me for needing pills. Up until yesterday, I would have judged me too.

I don’t know where I stand on the idea that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ But I’m a firm believer in dragging good things out of a crisis. Kicking and screaming, if needs be. Whatever happens over the next few months, or the next few years, I will never be the same. Neither will my view of the world. Or the people in it.

Because in reality, we’re all ‘one of them.’ It’s just that some of us hide it better than others.

Hiding isn’t much of an option anymore. Not now. Not for me. Who knows, this nasty, unexpected little adventure may yet be the making of me.

Let’s hope that’s not just the pills talking.

 

Hard weeks and little things. August 19, 2013

Filed under: Depression — hannahoakland @ 2:01 pm

Last week was hard.

It shouldn’t have been. We stayed with my parents while Wes was away, and got up to all kinds of fun.

Coffee shops.

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Soft play.

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Walks in the woods.

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We had visits from friends, spent hours in the library, went swimming, and ate far more cake than normal. The children had a lot of fun. But I was numb.

As the week went on, I drifted further and further into my safe little box of feelinglessness. The more early mornings I had – because of teething, or a noisy cat, or the sheer excitement of being at Grandma’s house – the grumpier and more tired I became. Some evenings I had my pyjamas on by seven o’clock. It didn’t help. Turns out you actually need to go to bed as well.

I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally. Even with my own parents around, there’s no escaping the fact that I was the only parent my children had this week. The only one getting up in the night when their teeth hurt or the duvet had rolled off their bed. The only one with a monitor in my room to hear Joel stirring at 5.30 in the morning. The only one who they wanted when the tantrums set in or the fun became a bit too much.

That’s been the pattern this summer. Over the last four weeks Wes has had 16 nights away with work. It wasn’t entirely unexpected – this is always his busy season. But it’s tipped me over the edge. Aided and abetted by my manic tendency to fill my days as soon as I feel even remotely better.

Suffice to say, this week I was not feeling better. Not even slightly. When my therapist called on Thursday she was a little surprised that my scores were worse than before. I could have told her that before she even picked up the phone. I didn’t write anything all week, determined to ‘give myself a rest.’ Ironically, it probably would have helped.

Looking back, from the safety of my own lounge, I’m mostly angry. Not with my children, or my parents. Not even with myself. But with this big stupid heavy sack that I’m carrying around. I can’t seem to let go of it as quickly as I’d like.

This week has taught me two things. Firstly, that when you have depression, you can’t just ‘snap out of it.’ I’ve known that for a while. But I tried so hard this week – to smile and enjoy things and have normal conversations with people. Safe to say, it didn’t quite work.

There is no magic fix for depression. You won’t just wake up one morning and feel better. It’s not like having a bad day, or being in a grump. You can’t just suck it up and get over it. That sounds defeatist, or pessimistic. It’s not. It’s the truth. Depression is an illness. A very real one. And it needs treating, just like any other illness would. Therapy, or medication, or self-help, or all of the above. It takes time. At the moment it feels like forever.

The second thing I’ve learnt is this: I need to look after myself. Not just my children. Not just Wes. Myself as well. I’ve done alright at looking after everyone else through my depression. This time round, anway. There has always been food for everyone to eat, and clothes for everyone to wear. Clean dishes and fun activities. It hasn’t always been service with a smile, but it has at least been service.

Last week even that was too hard. I couldn’t find any motivation, or any willpower. No matter how hard I tried. Every little task felt like too much effort. Every conversation felt as though people were criticising my children or my parenting. Every morning felt too early. Every bedtime too late.

Part of me knows that, if I looked after myself better, I’d stand a chance of avoiding these extreme weeks. Or limiting them, anyway. If I slept more, allowed myself the occasional little treat, fought harder for time by myself. Asked for help when I needed it, instead of expecting everyone to be telepathic. Simple things. Little things. But it’s always the little things that make the difference.

Wes is home now. Things feel brighter already. I breathe a bit easier just knowing hes around. Today he’s taken the children to his mum’s, so I’m enjoying the most peace and quiet I’ve had for months. I’ve picked blackberries from the front garden. And drunk a whole cup of tea. Next I’m off to make a fish finger sandwich and watch Masterchef. Simple things. Little things. But they’re making a difference already.

 

Not-So-Great Expectations August 1, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:21 pm

Expectations are tricky old beasts. Unfortunately, mine tend to be rather high. It’s my imagination that’s the problem. Wes has learnt the hard way not to promise me a surprise. Even five minutes warning is more than enough for my brain to skip twelve miles ahead and plan a candlelit picnic with wine and roses and an amazing gift that I once admired in passing. When in reality, he’s bought me a copy of Time Out from his day in London. Which is lovely. Or it would have been if my expectations weren’t in overdrive. Poor man.

He’s learning to play me at my own game. On my twenty-ninth birthday he convinced me that he’d barely remembered I existed. And then whisked me off to The Fat Duck for lunch. Serious brownie points! Or rather, ‘jam tarts hidden inside chocolate playing cards’ points. Unbelievable.

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At the moment I feel like I’m fighting my expectations every day. And so are the rest of my poor long-suffering family. I’ve been a mummy for almost three years now, but there’s a huge part of me that expects my life to be the same as it was in ‘the old days’. I get frustrated every time I get woken up early. Or when I don’t get time to myself. Or when tiny people demand my attention on a constant basis.

I am usually ‘blessed’ with the ability to forget. If a shopfront changes, I can’t tell you what it used to be. I’m the embodiment of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ One day I came home to find Wes looking very pleased with himself. After a while the look was wearing thin. Eventually he cracked; “Have you really not noticed?” Turns out he’d taken a door out of the lounge. An actual door. I hadn’t noticed at all. It wasn’t there anymore, so as far as I was concerned, it may as well have never existed.

And yet somehow, I’ve not managed to forget my ‘previous life’. Not even slightly. It sounds like a small thing. In reality, it affects my expectations of every single day. And means that I get incredibly frustrated.

So I’m trying. Last week, while Wes was away, Joel was in a bad sleeping pattern. Waking up at five every morning, thanks to a combination of the heat, early sunrise and the disorientation of our weekend away. I knew that it would drive me mad. Unless I adjusted my expectations. So I did. I went to bed every night, expecting to be woken up at five. I went to bed early so that I got enough sleep. And when he was up at five in the morning, it didn’t come as a surprise. When he slept until quarter to six, I felt like I’d had a lie-in. And the time they both slept until seven? It may as well have been my birthday.

It worked. So I’m adopting a new policy. I’ve used all my creative brilliance to call it ‘Low Expections.’ Of me, of Wes and of the children. Not because I think badly of any of us. Because I need to hold on to my sanity. I know that my house is going to be messy. I know that I won’t be cooking gourmet meals for a few years. I know that my children are tiny, and they’re not always going to listen. If I stop expecting all these things to happen, a huge weight will be taken off my shoulders. Goodness knows they could do with a lift.

The fun part is that when your expectations are low, it’s much easier for them to be surpassed. As I’ve discovered today.

Sometimes they’re surpassed in a good way. Friends dropping in for dinner. Elvie sitting on my lap for half an hour putting all the stickers from her CBeebies magazine exactly where they’re supposed to go. Joel going to sleep so easily that I had to check on him to make sure he was alright.

And sometimes it’s the opposite. Joel displaying his incredible wilfulness when I take away the toys he’s trying to eat. Elvie sticking gaffer tape to my forehead when I doze off on the sofa – and then ripping it off to wake me up. Cleaning up the mess after she’s taken off her pull-ups to wee on her pillow at bedtime. It’s possible that the definition of a mother is someone who can say “Thank goodness it was just a wee on the pillow.”. With no sarcasm at all.

I don’t want to let go of my expectations completely. I will always want the best for my children and my family, and I will always expect the best from them. I’ll always want to push myself as far as I can. For now, I need to dial it down. Set my expectations to ‘low’. I’m hoping that this way, occasionally, there might be a few surprises. Good ones.