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This is my last night in this house. I had a hundred different ways I wanted this post to lean, a thousand different ideas of what to get out of my head. But my head is spaghetti right now, nothing that comes out is going to be very linear or interesting. But I feel the need to Say. So here I am. Saying.
When I moved into this house we had just immigrated to England for the 2nd time and I was 5 months pregnant. I didn’t give half a shit where anything went, I just sort of waved my hand around and laid down a lot and let my husband put things where he wanted. Three years later very little has changed, and visually this home is much like it was when I was part of a Married Thing. The curtains were chosen to just get by, the bed was free, the carpet is obnoxiously pink and we never got around to changing it. Everything just sort of… froze.
I told my ex that I was leaving him when our littlest was only 1 year old. And again, things froze. Now nothing in the house would change because the boys were already going to have to deal with the trauma of their father finding a new home, and I couldn’t bear to rock the boat for them any further than I had to. I kept as much about their life as Basic and Same as I could, particularly because my eldest has such anxiety problems.
Then divorcing happened. And dating. And heartbreaks. And loneliness. And learning how to live emotionally healthily and independently after a decade with a man who was not a good puzzle piece for me. Things started to unfreeze but in a chaotic, swarming kind of way.
I’m now moving, and the chaos is coming to an end. For now, of course… until the next time life gets insane. For for now… I’m seeing the end of a major chapter in my life and I’m feeling quite sentimental about it. After a year and a half of living here on my own with the boys, my ex is only tomorrow taking his final things out of here. It is the end of the Big Transition. It makes me feel proud of myself. And when I feel proud of myself I miss my mother.
I miss being married. Not to my ex, but just the institution of it. I miss being so entwined with another person’s life. I miss being a family unit. A “normal” family. I miss being hugged. I miss being paired.
So moving out of this house is a bit more emotional than I thought it was, bringing around all kinds of feelings I didn’t think I’d have. I thought it would be pure exhaustion and stress, as I’m doing it all on my own. But nope. I know myself better than that. And I’m glad that my ex has the kids tonight, on this last night here, so I can say goodbye to the home in quiet, by myself, and have a good cry about it all before having my final sleep here.
The last year and a half has been the biggest learning curve of my life. Even more than becoming a parent… because in a way I’ve even had to relearn how to parent because the new dynamic is so different to how it used to be. I’ve had to discover which friends mattered and which were invisible. I’ve had to learn how to be single, and learn where all my newly needed boundaries between friendship and sex and love and drama would lie. I’ve had to rediscover myself in a thousand ways. It has been hard, it has been excruciatingly lonely at times, but it has been so worth it. And there are times when I can almost feel my mother here telling me she’s proud of me for getting through what I’ve been through in the last decade with my optimism, humour, and sweetness in tact.
Tomorrow marks a beautiful beginning for the boys and I. I am excited, I am hopeful, and so far I’m managing the stress of it all reasonably well by nurturing the silly side of myself.
So. To new beginnings.
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One of my closest friends has recently gone through a breakup and I’ve stepped forward to be a key player in hugging him until he barfs with healing. He and I are both introspective to a degree that borders on disorder, and we’ve spent hours discussing the ins and outs and ups and downs of the grieving process. And when we got to discussing the “I’m not allowed to feel better yet” stage, it reminded me of the times Ive felt that the most recently.
After each miscarriage I felt guilty during the next pregnancy, feeling like I was in some way insinuating the Lost Child was replaceable. After my mom’s death I felt guilty for every happy day I had, feeling like I owed it to her to feel 100% destroyed all the time.
I think after a Great Pain, we can easily find ourselves in the habit of mourning. And when our natural instincts of survival and coping kick in, when we catch ourselves smiling or enjoying something, it is easy to tell our brains “No… no that pain was Big and if you don’t keep paying attention to it you’re not giving it enough respect, you’re not able to excuse your mood anymore, and if things are better than it makes that huge meltdown you just had look a bit unnecessary.” It is like we don’t allow ourselves the happiness of healing because it takes validity away from the source of pain, or maybe even because we just don’t think we deserve to be happy yet.
So in having this realisation with my friend, in talking him through that step with his breakup, I inadvertently realised I was blocking my own happiness as well. That I’ve been rejecting pride in myself, that I’ve been avoiding things that will make me too happy, that I feel like I just SHOULD be miserable right now because life is so hard. Money is a nightmare. Divorce isn’t pretty. Loneliness is suffocating. Rejection aches. Family so far away. George’s sleep and speech problems. Philips Asperger’s. It is all overwhelming. And I didn’t realise that I’d gotten into that same habit … that when my positive self tries to come out I’ve been sabotaging it. By eating too much, by negative self talk, by obsessing over problems with friends to the point of meaningless depressing repetitive circles.
So I’ve now got a fresh focus on allowing happiness in properly, not just letting it stick it’s foot in the door. I deserve it. Cultivating it doesn’t mean my pain doesn’t exist anymore, and it doesn’t mean that pain doesn’t matter. It is ok to be ok sometimes, it isn’t my JOB to be depressed and broken. I’m allowed to be depressed and have depression… but still have happy Coping Times.
And so this morning I decided to feel proud of myself. To allow it. To take credit for the good things I was seeing in my children rather than just taking credit (blame) for their faults. To take pride in the independence I’ve regained over this last year of being single. To be happy despite it all, and to give myself permission to feel happiness AND sadness…. I don’t have to choose one or the other.
My negative self talk and my negative over sharing with friends has stymied my progress, and now that I’ve shone a light on the issue I’m hoping to tackle it. I’m allowing myself to heal, giving permission to move on. I’m a professional self-abuser, usually with food but most effectively with thoughts. And I’m telling myself it is OK to change, to go back to being the girl who doesn’t just take care of everyone else but also takes care of herself. To stop my own cycle of sabotage.
And so. New leaves turned, and all that. Realising that I was still in the grieving process – for the divorce, for the disability statementing process for my son – means now that I know I’m on that ladder I can take the next step. I thought I’d just been standing on my own in the dark, and didn’t realise I had upward mobility.
So here’s to taking care of myself finally in 2013. I deserve it, I should do it, I can do it, I will do it, I already am.
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I decided to sit down this morning and write about depression, but realising that was as big and vague as saying I’m going to sit down and talk about the Earth, I’m going to try to be specific and talk about the shame of it and the accepting of it. Two things that have particularly provoked my thoughts and poked my thinks lately.
First, shame. Because I’ve lived with depression pretty much my whole life, I’m often drawn to the plights and journeys of other people who struggle with it. Less of a Misery Loves Company type of thing, more of a fundamental feeling that this person would understand my mood and not passively brush me off as Just Being Sad and hug me (physically or virtually) rather than belittle or dismiss me. Something many of us struggle with is the Shame of it all. The embarrassment of it. And I had this little lightbulb flicker in the caffeinated caverns of my mind and I thought Ooh. If I talk about this openly then that is one tiny step towards someone else saying Hey. No shame here, because look. We don’t have to hide.
I was hospitalised for a week in a mental institution many, many moons ago, back when my depression wasn’t being properly treated for various reasons. And I will never as long as I live forget the man who looked at me – a volunteer – and said “You are a pretty, middle-class white woman. You’re not depressed.” and rolled his eyes at me. This was oh… how old was I. This was 15 years ago or so. And while the help I received in that hospital was infinitely valuable, that one man’s uneducated and belittling comment is what stuck in my head the most.
I carried shame for years. Feeling like I shouldn’t struggle with depression made it worse. Thinking I should be able to cure it made me feel like a failure because after all of my efforts nothing was getting cured. But depression is a disease. And simply because I look normal doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It wasn’t until I accepted it as a part of myself that would never go away that I began properly dealing with it.
I had to accept it and say You Are Part Of Me and not look at it and say You Don’t Belong. I had to realise that accepting did not mean that I wasn’t allowed to be happy again. I felt as if admitting I had depression meant that in times of happiness I’d be a hypocrite. I couldn’t see that I could accept my depression for what it was: a disease that I could manage. A disease that wasn’t going to go away, but that when it flared up I’d be able to use tools to keep it from killing me and it would eventually calm back down.
Flare-ups. Just like other diseases. Flare-ups and remissions.
And so I lost a lot of my shame when I realised I could embrace my depression without being a slave to it. That I could admit it lived with me, but still allow myself to be happy without feeling like a hypocrite. That in times of feeling “myself” I could feel happy and healthy and whole but still realise the disease is there, being managed. Remission.
I decided not to be ashamed of this dichotomy. That when I’m feeling healthy I am an outgoing, friendly, chatty, lovely girl who looks like she’s got the world all sussed out. But when I’m dealing with a spell of depression I am an introverted, silent, hopeless shell of feelings and catastrophising about everything.
I am allowed to be both. I am allowed to be both because I AM both, simple as that. That is acceptance. This acceptance has made my depressive times even easier to deal with, which is lovely for me. Treating it as a flare-up that will heal means that when I’m in my darkest moments I can say to myself – even if I don’t believe it at the time – that THIS WILL PASS. And it always does.
That is, of course, because I treat my depression as a shame-free disease and I manage it. I take antidepressants every day with no side effects whatsoever aside from feeling More Myself. I have been through extensive counselling, and the lessons learned there help me get through the times when I have to get through a spell on my own. I have kept a list of all the coping mechanisms that I can employ to help the flare-up heal faster, and I use those. And I have given myself permission to not use my coping skills if I don’t want to, to allow myself to be consumed by the darkness and retreat from the world and just FEEL the horrible… but I time it. And then I get up and force myself to do something from my list of coping mechanisms.
Doodle. Write a joke on twitter. Tickle one of my kids. Sit by a river. Watch a funny movie. Scream into a pillow. Fingerpaint. Listen to happy music. Draw on my skin with sharpies. Take a bath. Make a gift for someone. Look at pictures of baby animals. Email a friend. Write a blog post.
This last year and a bit of being single and going through a divorce has put these theories into practice. That first year was as hard as ever-loving holy shit. And in ways that were completely unexpected. But I got through it. It happened.
I hardly consider myself a Depression Role Model… but I am an example of someone who lives with it, hates it, yet accepts it and copes. I can only do that because I’ve had help. Medicine, talking therapies, counselling, supportive friends. I have one friend that I know in my absolute darkest moments I can send her a message and just basically let the evil out… and she will read it, tell me she loves me, and then we will go on to talk about whatever. She lets me get it out without helping me obsess about it. Just supports, doesn’t judge, and loves. Between her, the medicine, and the counselling … I’m okay. Even when I’m not okay, I’m okay.
And so I guess even though I’m not a role model for it, I’m at least an example of how it can be. That it can be managed, that there is hope. That for some of us it never goes away… but it can be handled. There’s no shame in it. It is part of me, and I’m pretty awesome. And I accept that I wouldn’t be Me if it wasn’t for this other aspect to me, the aspect people rarely see from the outside. And that’s cool. It is what it is. And it doesn’t define me any more than having curly hair defines me.
So. There we go. Having had a very low week, I decided that my “write a blog post” coping skill should be employed, and this is what we get. And hey. I feel happier now. Just like I knew I would. So if you’ve gotten this far then thanks… and here. Have an Internet Hug. Not as good as the real thing, but truly an example of “its the thought that counts”.
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Henry turns 6 tomorrow. This is the first year I’m approaching his birthday with nothing but happiness, and the significance of that is pretty deep to me. Henry was born prematurely 15 days after my mother died, and having just moved to a new city and my then-husband gone travelling at the time, I’d been forced to bring a 2 year old Philip with me to the hospital for 9 hours before help would arrive. It is his first memory actually, which I find sweet in a way – - my first memory is of my little brother being born – - he remembers the green lounge chair he had in my hospital room, the crayons the nurses gave him. I’d never been more proud of that kid sitting with me being an angel while I was slipping into memory loss and drug induced weirdness.
Because that whole time was such a disaster, I couldn’t get to his birthday for years without feeling first depressed, then sad, then bittersweet. But here I am finally, 6 years later, with nothing but joy. Enough time has passed, enough healing has happened… and tomorrow my ridiculously awesome little man and I are spending the day in London together – just the two of us – for special Alone Time.
Henry changed my life. Not just because of how he arrived in the world, but now for how he fills my world up with his life. He is hilarious, his “Pork on the Ceiling” song a favourite around here. He is the cuddliest boy of the three, the most artistic, the silliest, the weirdest, the palest… so hes a lot like me and my mom! And he inspired my amateur charity bug as well. The Crafters Against Sadness project that I run only happened because I couldn’t continue doing my initial charity project after I immigrated to England.
Here is a link to the original charity he inspired, and the story behind it. The blog is defunct now since I don’t do it anymore, but oooh did I just shed a few little sadhappy tears going through it and remembering it all.
Happy Birthday, Henry …. the world is infinitely better for having you in it, you gorgeous & amazing little man.
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My mind is overactive. Anyone who has ever listened to me drunk-talk, or when I’m happy, or seen me tweet, or really has ever gotten to know me at all knows I have too many words in my head. Despite learning to really adore silence, even silence with someone else, I still have a “word problem” so I tweet, I talk, I write. And lately, I draw.
I’ve found that if I keep a corner of my mind busy doing drawings, it means the thought machine runs slower and more clearly. I could never distract myself completely from my hamster-like thought process but I can sift trough it more peacefully if I’m drawing.
In dealing with my eldest who has severe anxiety problems, I’ve learned that he is the same. Our minds are similar, and are relaxed in similar ways. So doodling has become a hobby we will do together in the evening before bedtime to relax. Him sitting beside me drawing the trains he obsesses over, thinking & talking about his stress. Me doodling at his side, listening to him quietly, drawing flowers or robots, happy that only 20% of my mind is now obsessing over my own problems because I’m keeping the other 80% artistically occupied.
My middle son & I bond over art as well, though for us it is about amusing rather than soothing. We will draw scenes of great strange battles together and create an accompanying story.
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Reminding myself how to be healthy. Teaching myself how to be wise. Consoling myself because a boy I like doesn’t like me back. Hugging my heart by talking some sense into it. Generally good advice for anyone in the game of relationship finding anyway. Here we go.
1. Don’t develop feelings for potential, develop feelings for what already exists.
2. What you see is what you get.
3. It is important to feel beautiful to someone. Make sure they feel it and express it.
4. If you find yourself saying “yeah but…” when talking about them, it is a bad idea.
5. Do not remain with someone simply because you feel you might not do any better.
6. Compromise is important, but not on the big things.
7. Time is the only thing that truly heals. Suck it up, it will get better.
8. Don’t let the habit of being part of a couple be the reason you want someone.
9. Everyone is lovable. Everyone. Even horrible people.
10. Be nicer to yourself. Always.
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Six years ago today my mother died. I wouldn’t say this time of year gets easier each time, but I’d concede that at least it gets different. I miss her in different ways now than I did last year, or the first year, or on Mother’s Day or my birthday. I’m a different person now to who I was six years ago in a few pretty significant ways. And my remembrance of her changes because some of my memories of her have naturally faded away, some have come back to surprise me.
Being an “anniversary person”, it is hard to describe how I feel today to someone who isn’t. I don’t consciously set out to remember dates, they just glue themselves into the background of my skull, sometimes just for a few years, sometimes forever. The date of my first miscarriage, the first time I met my ex-husband, the last time I ever saw my mother alive. I usually do something small and symbolic on days like that… I figure that if a memory has worked its way into the fabric of my life and won out over many other thoughts & memories that have much more right to stay with me (for instance I’d rather remember where my passport is than the date of my first kiss) then it deserves a little emotional nod. The fact that her deathiversary is the day before her birthiversary probably makes this time of year even more significant for my Emotional Milestone Loving heart.
This particular year is weird because my heart is hurting over something else at the same time, and so I sort of feel like just burying myself in a pile of cake and not coming out until Sunday. But I wouldn’t be honouring her spirit at all if I did that. Of all the qualities she and I share, my depressive tendencies are not one of them. And so today I’ll embrace the Sara-ness in me (not beat myself up for crying, not be hard on myself for being sensitive… remembering that I got these squishy sensitive traits from my other great love: my father) while embracing the Jane-ness in me (coping with humour, being creative, being strong).
So today I’ll do what I’ve done for 5 years now, I’m buying myself a birthday gift. Her birthday is tomorrow and because I can’t do anything for her I do something for myself. Last year I bought myself a lovely little ceramic robin from an art shop in Cambridge. The year before it was a tree of life pendant. Something small, something that reminds me of her. The boys are with their dad tonight and so I shall be shopping (which I hate but she loved) and then eating something gorgeously delicious and unhealthy for dinner (one of our shared passions) and then doing artwork. And if I feel like having more Ugly Cries, I can do it over a canvas with a paintbrush in hand, or over my embroidering, or let my tears be part of my watercolour robot paintings.
I miss you, mom. Every. Single. Day.