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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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.

 

He loves me. July 15, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Marriage,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:35 pm

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So we’re back from our weekend in the forest. Four generations in two log cabins. The children have been in absolute heaven – water pistols, candy floss, parks, soft play, cake, frogs, swimming, running and, in a departure from our standard holiday procedure, glorious sunshine! Very nice it was too.

But for me, there was at least one cloud in the sky this weekend. The knowledge that my first therapy session was scheduled for our return. So this afternoon I found myself sitting in a waiting room, looking round to judge my level of crazy against the others. It’s a fun game, until you realise that some people are just there for blood tests. Joke’s on me.

I’ve been worried about therapy for some time. Worried about having to go over the same old ground again. Worried that I don’t have the energy to put in to recovering. Worried that they’ll judge me for not being able to ‘stay better’ after beating it once. Worried that just having a therapist makes me sound like a self-obsessed New Yorker.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought. When will I learn? She was very sweet, listened well and, if she did judge me, she hid it brilliantly. She even told me that people who’ve suffered from PND before are more likely to get it again. Which was kind. During the conversation she asked me about my triggers – what sets off all the gloomy fireworks in my brain. There was no hesitation – my main problem at the moment is Wes going away, or getting unexpected work that I’ve not had time to plan for.

The reality of life with a working-away husband is tough. Especially if they’re self employed and the working-away has no pattern. It’s confusing for the children; they’re too young to understand dates and days and times so, much as I try to explain it, all they know is that sometimes Daddy is here and sometimes he’s not. It’s confusing for me too – I get into a rhythm of having Wes around and having an extra pair of hands, and suddenly he’s gone. Then I get into a rhythm of doing everything by myself and suddenly he’s back. There’s no consistency, and that’s hard. I end up resentful and irritable that he’s coming and going as he pleases, disrupting our routines and leaving me on my own with the babies. Which is something that he will never understand. Obviously.

This afternoon I heard myself say that “it just makes me feel like I’m not important.” Which surprised me. I’d always thought it was the lack of control that bothered me. Turns out it’s not. It’s that all this leaving makes me feel as though I’m not worth hanging around for. Like he has better things to do or more exciting places to be. Like he’s ready to drop everything for work, but not for me. And then my stomach gets heavy and all my energy falls out of my feet like a balloon that’s been popped.

I know from the bottom of my heart that none of it is true. I know that he works because he has to, because he wants to make our lives better and keep a roof over our head, and that he misses us horribly while he’s away. I know that there have been times that he has called off work to get me through a really dark day. It’s not that I’m worried about him being unfaithful – although I could do without all the naked French models, damn you Paris Fashion Week! It’s just that there’s something deep inside me that takes all this leaving as a personal insult.

It’s ludicrous to take everything so personally. I know that. But I still do it. Even with the children – if Joel is whinging in his highchair it’s because he wants to stop me enjoying my dinner, if Elvie decides she needs the toilet while Joel has just fallen asleep in my arms it’s all a ploy to attack me for daring to have another child, and if either of them wakes up in the night it’s a calculated attempt to stop me sleeping. Not just that they’re small children. Don’t be ridiculous. Even the helicopter that’s circling at the moment has come deliberately to annoy me by waking up my too-hot, fretful baby. It’s such nonsense.

I’ve decided to tackle that nonsense head on. I don’t really have much choice – he goes away again on Saturday. For a week. So I need something that works. Other than hiding under the duvet and not getting up until he’s home. Tempting though that is. I’ve decided I need a new mantra. To go against the voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough or I’m too dull or he’s going away to escape. And this is it. “He loves me.” Simple as that. Because he does. That’s the truth of it.

Every time he goes away, or takes on more work, or stays on later than planned, I’m going to make a conscious effort that my first thought is “he loves me.” Even if I don’t feel like it. Especially then. I suspect that starting from there will make it harder for all the nonsense to sneak in. It won’t solve everything, but it’s worth a shot. At least I’ll have something to tell the therapist.