Down and Up and Down Again

Two and a half weeks ago, I sat down and wrote this:

I don’t want sympathy and I don’t want pity. I don’t really want anything from you, except for you to know that this is really, really hard sometimes. I want you to know so you understand when I cancel plans, so you understand when I am full of rage about the empty cereal packet left lying on the fridge, and so you don’t feel alone if you are feeling this too.

My life is pretty great. Amazing, actually. I was born fortunate and have had every chance in life. Now, I have a family and they are the most important things in my world. Two people in equal first place. However, I am desperately sad sometimes. My insides feel pulled towards an unforgiving centre as if there is a stone at my core, just above my bellybutton that sucks every good feeling from me and turns happiness into frustration, unhappiness, and guilt.

My lovely boy is a wonder. He is a joy to be around so much of the time. He laughs and smiles. He is developing just fine. He doesn’t sleep that well, but is not a bad sleeper by many people’s experiences. He’s a baby, after all, and babies don’t often sleep that well. I am no more challenged than most mums, I am supported by a husband who adores his son, and I have a midwife, a doctor, and family and friends to prop me up. 

The thing is, I still can’t do it, but I can’t give up either. And it’s killing me.

Some days I just function, going through the motions to ensure my baby’s basic needs are met, that we have something for dinner, and the house doesn’t look like a disaster zone. On these days, it’s a plus if I find the inclination to shower. I can’t play with my child for more than a few minutes. I spend nap times staring at a screen, taking nothing in. Sometimes I sleep too, but it’s a tortured sleep, full of dreams that could be reality, filled with crying babies and household chores, so that I wake unrefreshed and cheated. 

Some days I cry and cry, sobbing being the only way to release the tension that mounts inside. My nails are chewed and my skin raw from where I’ve tried to scratch away the tension. 

I can’t do it, but I can’t give up either. 

My mind never stops. It counts the hours, planning the day: wake, eat, play, sleep, wake, eat, play sleep. Every minute is accounted for, yet the minutes drag and drag. When the basic needs are met, then there’s the extras: cook meals, sort out winter clothes, fill the baby bag so we can go out, clean the high chair, pack for trips, work out the best time to meet friends around wake, eat, play, sleep. These things shouldn’t weigh a lot, yet my brain feels unbalanced on my shoulders and ready to explode under the burden.

The post stops there. O. probably woke up and life went on. Wake. Eat. Play. Sleep.

I returned to this piece several times, but I found that I couldn’t finish it in the same tone. I tried to pick up that voice again, tried to capture how terrible I’d been feeling, but nothing came. You see, these lows, these deep, deep lows come out of nowhere and vanish as quickly. A lot of the time, sitting in the peace of my house, playing with my son, or pottering about doing the laundry,  I don’t recognise the person who wrote the above. I don’t feel capable of feeling that awful. In fact, I feel like a fraud, an attention seeker who shouted at her husband, punched the sofa in frustration at something silly, and sobbed about not being able to cope.

Then there is the accompanying guilt. There are at least three woman in my immediate family with several kids and full-time jobs who hold it together. I have a good income, stability, a great social welfare system, and an incredible support system as well as a relatively easy baby and no post-birth complications or traumas. Compared to so many people, what right do I have to feel bad? I have so many luck stars that I might lose count.

Thus, I am living in a vicious circle of emotions that squeeze me tighter and tighter: Unexplained sadness, frustration and anxiety, a return to feeling well, guilt and shame over previous feelings, unexplained sadness, frustration, and anxiety, and so on. Each stage lasts different periods of time. Sometimes I cycle through the set multiple times a day; other times I go days and days before there’s a change. There is little rhyme or reason, no predictability, and no hints as to when the changes will come.

And now, 19 days after I first started writing, this post is no closer to being finished. There are two reasons, I guess. Firstly, because it’s scary to share things like this. Will people think it’s oversharing or will they think I am crazy or stupid? ? Maybe, maybe not, but I am damn sure I am not alone in these feelings and know that every time I read someone else’s tale, it helps me feel less alone. Thus I am willing to share because it might be good for just one other person and that’s good enough for me.

Secondly and crucially though, it’s been so hard to conclude because there is no conclusion. I wasn’t feeling bad one day, and now I am fine. There’s not a pill to fix it instantly or an obvious answer. And, as the original piece said, I don’t want sympathy or anyone to do anything. I just want to get these feelings out of me. So yes, things are up and down and everywhere in between. I feel ashamed and guilty about that sometimes, and other times I am forgiving of myself and accept that it is part of who I am at this current stage in my life. I am up and down and up again. I am everywhere in between. I am a new mum having a hard time of it, and I am both sorry and not sorry.  There’s no conclusion, only now, and right now I am somewhere in between. Tomorrow I might be the woman from 19 days ago or I might the woman below, enjoying the sunshine with her beautiful boy. I guess I can’t keep looking for a conclusion; I just have to keep on going.

 

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When There Is Quiet

Everyone else in the house asleep. The neighbours are still in bed and the traffic is at a lull. Sunday morning: the world is waking up slowly.

There’s coffee in the pot still hot. There’s an unfinished book lying face down on the table abandonned there to save the page. 

Even on a bad day, the house will stay this quiet for half an hour. On a good day, an hour, more even, might be gifted.

So the challenge: turn away from  dishes by the sink, forget the vegetables that need preparing, and cast the piles of laundry to the back of your mind.

Instead, sip the coffee, snuggle down on the sofa, and savour a page or two of that book. You’ll thank yourself later. You will.

Too Big/Too Small

They start off in piles, in boxes under the bed, or in bags behind the sofa. Gradually they find a home, neatly stacked in drawers and trunks: tiny vests and tiny trousers along side all-in-ones decorated with animals driving cars or bows and balloons. 

Folding vest after vest, it’s impossible to imagine anything other than a doll in such clothes. The idea that a baby will ever be able to wear such items is both laughable and terrifying. 

And yet, that very first time you negotiate paper-thin hands through impossible sleeves, the material goes on and on and those hands seem lost forever.

From then on, folding ensues. Sleeves go over and over again, so that tiny fingers are free to grasp Dad’s thumb. Trouser legs go over once, twice, maybe three times so that newly purchased socks can be seen, so that feet the length of a finger are free to explore the world.

Seeing a tiny body lost in amongst the cotton, wriggling between layers of fabric covered in stars and moons, it’s hard to know what to do next. Vulnerable and dependant, a moment when you won’t be needed impossible, you’re tasked with meeting each need that arises; a clear but far from simple job.

And so, once or twice a day, you unfold the layers and re-bundle your precious one in yet another oversized vest, another jacket in which he seems lost, all the while disbelieving that he is too small for these already miniature clothes. That yellow stripey vest you love so hangs loose around his legs. That Star Wars vest you were desperate to see him in seemingly has room for two. Hats droop over his eyes. Socks fall off. He is delicate and fragile in his wardrobe of clothes that are all too big.

The days pass. A week or two tick over in a blur of visitors, sleepless nights, and celebrations of the tiniest hints of progress: eyes open, a smile that’s probably gas, or the first public outing. Then one day things feel a bit different. The poppers start to get a little tighter. You need to pull just a touch more to make the jacket buttons meet. Zips need more persuasion to close. Those yellow stripes are bent to a wiggle by a squidgy tummy ripe for tickling. The Yoda vest, now duly photographed and giggled at, is distorted, stretched out of shape by legs that are getting longer and longer by the day.

Then one day that beloved space-ship covered suit fits no more. Legs, once lost in material, are exposed to the calf. The buttons won’t do up and it’s clear that this outfit, carefully picked for the ride home from hospital, will be forever too small, will never be worn again.

He’s big now, holding up his head and looking around. The socks that fell from tiny feet cling to heels desperately, holding on for dear life. The vests the hung low strain to stay closed. There are moments now when you are not needed. He can occupy himself, pulling at his socks or admiring his hands. He sits on your knee in trousers no longer folded at the ends. He plays with toys in jumpers with sleeves just the perfect length. 

They won’t be the perfect length for long, of course. Soon it will be time to pick out some pants that are too big again. It will be time to fold and manipulate again, for a while at least. Too big will too soon be just right. Just right will soon be too small. And it will all go faster than you’d like as milestones pass with every new vest.

Rainy Day

It’s grey, it’s cold, and the heavens are full.

You could hide away, stick on the TV, and give up on the day. It would be easy, judgement free, excusable.

But you could wrap up, cover up, and brave it. You could take the chance, appreciate the fresher air and quieter streets.

Visibility is low, the puddles are growing, and the the ground is soft. You could cancel plans, draw the curtains, and try again tomorrow.

But you could dig out those rain boots, tie your hair back from your face, and grab an umbrella. A bit of water never hurt anyone, and you never know what you’ll find.

Maybe you’ll just feel better for blowing the cobwebs away.

Maybe you’ll come across an expected event where you can take shelter with all the others who ventured out.

Maybe you’ll only make it to the bakery for hot coffee and a cinnamon bun.

It doesn’t matter. 

You will have made connections, had fun with friends, and splashed in puddles. 

You’ll feel clearer and calmer for peeking out at the world from under an umbrella or floppy rain hood.

You’ll have made a memory out of a day that could easily have been one of the forgotten ones. 

And you never know, the sun can always come out.

Copenhagen: where sometimes it rains when it’s sunny

Bridging the Gap

It’s 8.07 and already four pictures have landed on my phone. It’s breakfast time in my sister’s house.

By 9.00 I’ve let off some stream, a hangover from a long night with a baby battling sleep, by tapping out an essay-length text on my phone.

There are typos and corrections, bad spelling and a lack of full stops.

There’s short hand and emojis, words that are always spelt wrong, yet we understand each other perfectly.

Mum will join the conversation soon. In a roll reversal, she’ll be the last one up.

By lunch time, I’ve swapped a handful of messages with the girls back home. Someone has spotted a star from our childhood, come across a funny quote, or just wanted to check in, say hi.

Come evening, when it’s time to look in on my emails, I can sit and enjoy the news from afar. From Australia to America, updates from across the miles bring smiles and a sentimal tear.

And just before bed, a final few photos fly back and forth. Cousins smile out from the screen in pyjamas and oversized sunglasses as we say our good nights.

It’s like they are here. Reading the messages, I hear their voices, their intonation, and expressions. My much-missed friends and family are just a little bit closer.

I don’t feel so far away. I don’t feel so alone because we can bridge the gap between visits with our quickly tapped out news and hastily taken snaps. We can share and connect until we can hug and chat. A modern day miracle to close up the miles.

 

 

The Perfect Picture

My hair is all over the place in that one, sticking out and frizzy.

No, not that one, he’s got a funny expression on his face.

Hmmm, that one is better, the stray strands are clipped back, but I am not looking.

Oh, that one might do it, except we got that guy walking past in the background. Damn.

How about this one? Yes, it’s a little bright, but we can fix in later, I guess.

Hmm, none of them perfect. None of them quite what I wanted.

But look. Just look.

Look at the smile, not the hair do.

Notice the laughter behind the expression.

See how the man walking past is smiling with us.

Ignore the lighting and focus on the joy in the eyes

The perfect picture?

Artistic and beautifully framed would be great, but this is really about the story being told.

Look at our eyes. Look at our faces. That was a perfect afternoon, preserved in four average photographs that capture four perfect memories.

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Smile!

 

 

Cake For Lunch

Some days you can hold your head high, force your smile, and take on the world armed with clichés and a can-do attitude.

And some days you have to have cake for lunch.

Some days you can tackle your problems with all the force of a prop forward, knocking each one over with a well-timed barge, then eyeing up the next.

And some days you have to have cake for lunch. Just a slice, perhaps two. No sandwiches or salads today.

Some days no one can stop you, there ain’t no mountain high enough, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Cake for lunch? Yes, please. The mountain is too high and I’m lost at the bottom of the valley.

Yes, cake.

Rich, chocolatey, and full of calories.

Pie with sweet apples and cream.

Brownie with chunks and hidden marshmallows.

Any kind of cake, made with any kind of  wicked goodness.

It wouldn’t do every day. It’s not a habit to form. It’s okay though, every now and then, to admit defeat and do what you need to do to feel better. And when you’re done, dust up every last crumb, enjoy every last speck of cream, then put the plate away and give the day another go.

Tomorrow, you’ll be back to those salads, mind my words, you will.