Knowing What To Make Of It

Make the most of it they say. They grow up fast. This time will soon be a distant memory. And yes, I know what they mean, and I know they mean well. I find myself looking at photographs of our baby from twelve months ago, unable to believe how much has changed. It’s a fact: my child is no longer a baby. He doesn’t fit in the carrier anymore. When he sees me put my shoes on for work, he doesn’t get sad. No, he points and says “ca-ja”, so that I don’t forget my coat. He still needs me and his dad, but less so and differently. Believe me, I know that time goes fast.

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However, I am always reminded of an acquaintance of mine who asked me, when my son was only a few months old, if I got irritated by people commenting on how fast the time goes. She joked that there were plenty of days when hers were babies that could have gone faster. That comment was a breath of fresh air. Because, like every stage of life, the reality is that there are parts that there’s no making the most of. There is nothing enjoyable about nappies, for example. In my son’s memory box, there won’t be pictures of me or my husband at 4 am, wandering around the flat, humming softly while our insides scream with tiredness.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your time on this Earth, the make the most of it mantra fails to consider the nuances of living. It sells happiness as a choice, but I am not buying it.

It’s not just parenting either. There are lots of times we are told to embrace the moment when it’s not that easy. Take university, the freedom and possibility is a double-edged sword; it’s a wonderful time of chance, but also a time when the future is unsure and daunting. I will always be grateful for that time. I recognise it was a privilege. But it was a lonely time. It was a scary time.

Now I am safely in my thirties, I see young couples, and I too think: enjoy this time, this freedom, this youth whilst knowing it is not that easy. I have no idea what challenges they face, despite their apparent lack of responsibilities and carefree smiles. They could be without a job, living through an illness in the family, wanting marriage or a family of their own and unable for whatever reason. We are all masters at hiding what is going on behind our eyes.

Yet, I can’t dismiss the call to embrace the positives and look on the bright side. However, I think it is something we have to learn. We have to be guided by experience to really see what matters and what is worth making the most of. Otherwise, we just end up feeling guilty for not being happier. (Telling a new parent, on their knees with tiredness and questioning every decision that they should cherish every moment is only going to make them feel worse, believe me.)

In the end, I have learned that it comes down to treasuring what matters: the “adventures” my son and I go on; the comedy-drama that is lunchtime, sharing beans on toast followed by bananas and peanut butter: or the quiet moments, when it is me and my yoga mat, my book or my absolutely-the-last coffee of the day. In doing so, I build up my resilience for the harder times. The times when I am tired and frustrated and feel like I am failing. The times when I am pulled one way by work and another by family.

Oh yes, I am treasuring this time. I am making the most of these freely-given cuddles. I am aware of the privilege it is to watch him grown up. Already too many things are a distant memory.  But I won’t feel bad for feeling bad sometimes. I won’t feel bad for finding parenting hard or frustrating. And I say the same to you, in whatever “make the most of it” phase you find yourself. Make the most of the times that are worth making something of. Appreciate what you have and forgive yourself when you don’t feel like making something of everything.

 

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Working Overtime

6 am – 7.30 am – Mama: Cuddles, stories, brekkie, more stories.

7.30 am – 7.35 am – Mama with added guilt: Should get going. Hard to say bye-bye to the boys. One more Marmite-infused kiss and off.

8 am – 4 pm – Working woman: Lessons, meetings, E-mails, three cups of coffee (at least).

4 pm – 4.30 pm – Homemaker: Shopping, load washing machine, hoover.

4.30 pm – 5 pm – Me: Just me. Yoga, coffee, quiet.

5 pm – 5.30 pm – Housewife: Time to get the dinner on the table.

5.30 pm – 8 pm – Mama. Wife: One of our set of three. My favourite time, round the table, eating dinner, swapping stories, playing, baths, bedtime.

8 pm – Partner: TV, glass of something, hang out.

9.30 pm –  6 am – (on a good day) Asleep. (On a bad day) – wishing I was asleep.

 

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Headache

You know how all headaches aren’t the same? Some are mild and some are migraines. Some are caused by tension, others by hormones. Sometimes you can take a pill and the headache fades; other times you have to fade away for a day or two, sleep it off, rest.

Anxiety is like a headache in that way.

It can be subtle and it can be suffocating. It can be caused by stress and chemical imbalances; it can, unlike the headache, be a learned response, a result of conditioning. Sometimes you can take a pill and the anxiety fades; other times you have to fade away for a day or two, sleep it off, rest.

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Like a headache, you can usually live with anxiety: you get stuff done and you are still yourself. You don’t stop being the kind, or talented, or intelligent, or mean, or grumpy person that you are. (Headaches don’t discriminate between the good and bad guys. Presumably, Darth Vader felt anxious sometimes.)

Anxiety just makes the daily load heavier, from getting out the house on time to taking your kid to the playground. Except in extreme cases, life still gets done. The checking ends, the fear of parenting in public is suppressed, and you do your thing.

The things is, when you feel anxiety every day, it’s like living with a constant headache, a headache that wavers between a mild tension in the forehead and a pounding in the skull. It is triggered by different things: an irritating wondering about whether the oven got turned off, a nagging worry that your peers think you’re making mistake after mistake, and lingering misgivings about the way handled a meeting at work days ago. These fears prod and poke, niggling away, leaving you more tired than any of the days comings and goings.

The humble headache wreaks all kinds of havoc. It knocks us off our game, can make us irritable and tired. It can send us to our beds. However, with an underlying apology. It always feels as if its desire to be gone is as strong as your desire to get rid of it. Anxiety, on the other hand, lacks that humility. It wants to be fed. It wants to be engaged with.

So imagine living with a near-constant headache. Then imagine that headache getting worse just by you being aware of it. Picture that headache is brought on by spending time with friends, by leaving the house, by remembering something inconsequential that happened three days ago.

That is where the parallels diverge.

That is where the real headache starts.

 

Pearls of Wisdom

When I am jogging, I am often writing. I compose trite little reflections, usually metaphors about how running up a hill is just like life. (You know: hard work usually gets rewarded with a good view. A comfy pair of shoes and an encouraging smile can help no end.) It passes the time and helps distract me from the fact that I am a) running up hill, b) am not fit enough to run up said hill, and c) my legs hurt.

It is rare that I sit down and write out my cutesy metaphors or twee little analogies.  I know they are nothing original, nothing special. It’s funny though, because, in those moments, pounding the paths up behind my house into the hills, these most obvious of outlooks on life are often left ignored.

It is true that in most of my metaphorical uphill struggles, just like the route up my local hill, there are times when the path curves around and down for a moment, giving me a much-needed rest. It is also true that in life when we stop and see how far we’ve come rather than worrying about how we’ve still to go, the task doesn’t seem so crushing.

20180223_145151-effectsWe know this. But we really don’t live it all that often.

Just lately, I have noticed some bad habits creeping back in. Checking. Tapping. Tapping. Checking. And, once again, it feels like there is a sodding mountain ahead to scale. A mountain of which the top promises all kinds of calm, but the way up is brutal, weighed down further by own doubts.

Yet, the reality is of course different.

For one thing, this isn’t an untrodden path. I’ve been up here before, so I know I can do it. For another thing, compared to the dark days of a decade ago, this new challenge is really more of a bump in the road than a mountain. We’re not talking about taking an age to leave the house or going back time and time again to check and recheck. No, it’s just a few bad habits, some good practices let slip.

So, the life as an uphill struggle is hardly a new pearl of wisdom.  Yet, it would not do me any harm to remember that with a bit of determination, some friendly smiles from those I pass, and digging in deep around the last bend, I can make it. I have what I need to get up the hill, and it will be worth it.

 

 

The Days that Blend

Cool mornings and warm afternoons. Layers – hats, gloves, and coats down to jumpers, t-shirts, and tights under skirts that come off by noon.

Warm afternoons and cool evenings. Choices – to stay home until the sun comes up and out, snuggled still in pjs and thick socks. Dashing out come lunch time to bask in the rays before home and cosy for dinner and TV, in pjs again, of course.

Cool evenings and cold nights. Sunshine and the threat of showers. Green leaves peppered with brown. Birds flying off, purposefully south.

Cold nights and cool mornings. Layers – blankets and quilts, pulled closer as the night goes on, kicked off, just a bit now, as the morning rolls in.

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Summer is gone, my friend, it just isn’t ready to be forgotten. The warm afternoons cling on, as we shed our layers and rush to be outside.

Autumn might have arrived, but mornings that feel like November can still be followed by October afternoons masquerading as June.

 

 

Changing Winds

You don’t see wind; you see the world as moved by it. You can’t describe it either. You can only describe the effect it has on the trees and the leaves, our hair and our skin. On a sunny spring afternoon, it is refreshing, tempering the warm rays with its subtle chill. On a dark winter’s evening, it rages in our faces as if in pure spite.

At its best, wind can be welcome, reenergising us on a baking summer day. At its worst, it is destructive, furious and fearsome, with no consideration for what stands in its path.

Wind is to Nature what anxiety is to the Anxious: an indescribable, unpredictable phenomenon that we have to learn to live with.

Like the wind, anxiety is almost always there, strong and overpowering on some days, a flutter in the background on others.

You can not see it. You can not describe it. Yet we are moved by it and see its effects. You can see anxiety in the trembling of a hand or the bead of sweat running down a cheek. You can describe it only by the effect it has: nervous, quiet, checking, and worrying.

On a summer’s day, when there is barely a breath of wind, we are calm. We can be still and unmoved. On a good day, the anxious soul is rested and still, too.

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In the dead of night, when the gale howls against the window, rattling the shutters as if to break them down, we are fraught. In the dead of night, the intrusive thoughts batter down our defences, too. For certain, we will be consumed by the monster within. The wind will win out; the dawn will surely never break.

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Some days there is a waining breeze, just enough to irritate and punctuate the day with doubts. Some days it is as if you are sitting the day long in a draft, never able to shake off the worries inside. There are days where it gales and howls, where the only thing to do is take to your bed and wait it out. There are those midsummer days, charged with energy and expectation – a test or an interview – when that little dash of nerves has you cooled off and ready.

Anxiety blows in and out of our days with no regard for the trail it leaves behind. One good gust, especially when we aren’t ready for it, knocks us off our feet. The rare but violent hurricane can take weeks to recover from.

Anxiety, from different directions, at different speeds, is like the wind; impossible to see and hard to describe. There will always be some, but get our defences wrong – bringing an extra sweater to protect from the storm or barricading ourselves in only to realise we were facing a soft, sea breeze – and we end up knocked off our feet just the same.

With the raging storm

On Saturday, waking up to the dark, we knew it was coming. Even after the sun broke through and we threw our jackets aside, we knew. We knew the warm rays had had to fight their way in. We knew the shade was now shadow, chilly on our skin in the unlit corners of the city.

Saturday ticked by, our fingers grasping the dying summer light. Oh, we could feel it coming.

Then Sunday promised a reckoning. The dawn brought only muddy grey skies and a wind that smacked of aggression, so unlike the early summer breezes.

All day we dithered: What to wear. Where to go. What to take.

It took its time. It gave us one last afternoon. We giddely spent the close of the weekend with one eye on the sky. A few drops here and there met with a sigh, a this is it.

Then finally it broke: the heavens opened and the wind let loose three months of pent up energy. The very season around us broke with each leaf that smacked to the ground. The rain, a sheet of water, misted the view and soaked the gamblers to their bones.

Autumn announced itself. Forty eight short hours stole ten degrees from the thermometer and an hour of daylight.

That announcement, a storm that built over two days, cleared within minutes. It cleared the way for the cooler air, darker nights, and golden days. It cleared the way for a new season, whatever it may bring.