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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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

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.

Lullaby Nightmare

It’s 12.53 pm and the time has come. He’s rubbing his eyes, staring blankly at the brightly coloured butterfly suspended above his head, and there’s been a yawn. A fateful yawn. Taking the cues, you scoop him up, turn down the radio, and perhaps squeeze in a quiet story. Then, in the darkened nursery, you kiss his head, lay him down, clean, fed, and dry, following all the official guidelines, and off he drifts to sleep, lullabies playing softly from your phone on the window sill.

Except that happened exactly one, three and half weeks ago, and hasn’t been repeated. Instead, baby decides he’s not tired and wants to practice rolling. You’re treated to a rendition of shuffle, shuffle, boom, shuffle, shuffle bang as his legs come up and over before crashing down on the mattress. You leave him to it, relaxed in his bed, lullabies still gently playing.

Then the grizzling starts. A low growl from the back of his throat that escapes almost viciously from his mouth. A pause, then another. It’s okay though. You can stand a couple of those. More yawning and eye rubbing. Maybe he will take himself off to sleep.

And the lullabies play on gently in the background as you carry on washing the dishes or emptying the dryer, holding your breath, willing on sleep.

Suddenly, like you knew it would be, it’s not a growl or a grunt, it’s a cry. There are no pauses, no gaps. Arms and legs start to protest too as sleep seems a million miles away and the lullabies chime in the background, lost under the sound.

The internal debate begins: to leave or to pick up, to ignore or to sooth. Because there are the voices telling you to let him cry it out. It builds independence. He has to learn. He’ll think you’ll always come running the minute he lets out a cry. You have to be strong. Then there are the other voices arguing back, equally loudly. He’s clearly upset. He needs to know that you’re there. It’s completely natural for a baby to want his mother. It’s unhealthy to leave a baby crying. Imagine the sense of abandonment they must feel.

The voices compete for the stage against another rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle.

And baby still cries. Call it giving in, giving up, or giving your baby what he needs, whether you are ashamed of your weakness or confident in your decision to attend to the tears, you pick the little guy up. On your shoulder he nestles, cries calming, breath slowing. Quiet, calm, soothed, a deep breath that suggests he’s tipping gently from awake to asleep.

Except no. The deep breath was in proportion to the depth of scream that follows. Even in your arms, safe and sound, he finds energy to cry. Fists flailing, fingers grabbing, and head bumping against your neck, being tired has long passed. Over tiredness has kicked in.

The lullabies can barely be heard now. It makes no sense, you tell yourself. I read the signs, I set the scene, and I did it all right. How they told me too, whoever they are. The parenting Gods. The oracles of wisdom. The Internet.

You sing. You bounce. You walk.

You shhhh. You cradle. You hum.

You rock. You sing again.

The lullaby plays, mocking you with its calm predictability.

But calm does come. It does. Slowly, slowly. You lay him down, on the edge of sleep, and hold your breath again. Three, two, one. Alas,  no, not this time. The grizzles begin again. So does the debate. Sometimes the grizzles turn to snores and sometimes they turn to tears. Sometimes this is a sign that sleep is coming; other times it’s just the warm up to another chorus of upset.

It’s 1.18 pm and the lullabies are still playing.

The debate continues. The routines. The tried and tested tropes for daytime naps get repeated and repeated. Sooth, settle, place gently in bed. Gurgles (good), grizzles (not bad), cries (bad), screams (game over). And you’re still there, in the darkened nursery. The rest of the world does not exist. You are alone and cut off. No decision seems right. Nothing seems good enough. You worry about sixth months time when nursery begins. You worry about visiting your family and them seeing what a failure you are. You worry about this going on for weeks, months, years. What habits are you teaching? What expectations are you setting?

The lullabies drive you to distraction and there’s just you, alone, trying to work it out to the chimes of bells and piano scales.

It’s 1.30 pm and his eyes are closing. Gingerly you remove your hand from his stomach as it rises and falls in peaceful breath. He is an angel lying there. Perfect in every way. You wipe a tear from your own cheek, take a deep breath, and slip out into the lit hallway. Pausing at the door, you smile to the sweet sound of lullabies floating through the house and assure yourself that next time will be easier.

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Market Town Tales

It usually takes less than a half hour to spot someone you recognise. Your old dinner lady. The guy who had the sweet shop on the corner. The couple who ran the butchers. They’re neither family nor friends, but they’re wonderfully familiar.

There are ladies who have always been elderly. Even two decades ago they were grandmas in calf length florals with pull-along trolleys. They’ve been dignified in age for twenty years, and we all know of them. Their permanence here something we take for granted.

You can trace a percentage of the town to someone you know. A great aunt, a former colleague, a neighbour, or a cousin of a friend. Several people are your cousins. Or your cousin’s cousin. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you. From afar, at least, or by name or just reputation.

Then there are the lads that were in the year below at school, suddenly men pushing prams and managing the banks where they opened their first account at sixteen.  There are woman with faces you remember as girls, sitting cross legged with you on the carpet in pigtails and gingham.

Shops aren’t where you remember them. You first job is boarded up and the bakery is a chemist. Still, old faithfuls remain. The pubs. The photographers. The WH Smith. That’ll be there when we’re photos in the history books sold there.

Life beats here at a familiar pace. The routines and rhythms are reliable and safe. Saturday market and Tuesday cattle show. Annual Christmas light switch on and August festival day. Growing up, it’s too easy to take it for granted, to scorn even at the size and the limits.

Yet now it’s a haven. It’s clean, safe, and beautiful in places. Just another spot on the map, of course, made up of bricks and concrete, traffic and a disappointing council like a thousand other towns. But, it’s home and it’s special. It’s the same as so many places yet full of unique stories, faces, and most importantly, lives being led.

 

Bad Photos

The lighting is all wrong. Faces are in shadow. It’s overexposed.

Someone is talking instead of smiling. The baby is crying. Grandma isn’t looking.

There is a pile of washing in the background. Dad’s t-shirt clashes with the wallpaper. You can see Uncle in the background having a smoke.

They need a retouch, these pictures. They should have been taken on a better camera in better light with better timing.

Don’t get them printed. It’s a waste of money. Don’t back them up. It doesn’t matter if we lose a few.

But it does. It does.

Hastily taken snaps on borrowed time, they catch a moment. Perhaps the moment. When Grandad cracked a rare smile. When baby opened his eyes. When sisters shared a knowing glance.

Sure they could be more professional, filtered, and edited. Sure, we could have set them up better and cut out the red eye. Yes we could have taken more time and got the perfect shot. But we were too busy living and enjoying the moment. Too busy playing to set up the filter. We took okay photos, even bad photos, of wondrous times.

The bad hair, the funny expressions, and the shadow cast by the burning sun will not be blemishes to commiserate over. They will be talking points to memories when the albums are dusted off sometime down the line.

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Joede, “Simple Camera”, https://openclipart.org/detail/240744/simple-camera, 2016-2-11, accessed 25.07.2017

 

Mirror, Mirror

I feel bloody amazing. Heart beating so I know I am alive. Sweat creeping slowly down my back so I know I am working hard. Dull ache in my legs telling me I am on the move, getting stronger.

I am a champion. I see myself striding out confidently, looking every bit the pro. Nothing can beat me. No one can catch me. I was born to run.

Except.

Wait.

Who is that red-faced plodder coming towards me? She has the same shoes as me. And the same glasses. Huh. Weird. She looks tired, as if her legs are made of lead. She looks hot, and not in a good way. Her face isn’t sparkling with dewy moisture; it’s leaking salt. Her skin isn’t glowing with the effort of exercise; it’s burning red with the stress of sport.

She is amateur. Unfit. The Sunday driver of the jogging world.

And she is laughing. Laughing at the sight of me running towards her. She is grinning at the image, the reality headed her way.

And I am laughing too.  I am laughing because I am delighting in the knowledge that I can turn away from this picture and carry on carefree. That ungainly sight melts from my mind as I turn from the shop window and continue my stilted strides. I still feel amazing. I feel great about being out, great about moving, great about remembering that if you feel good, nothing else matters.

Photo on 20-06-2017 at 16.57