From One Nervous Wreck to Another

nervous

So. You’re having your first panic attack. At the outset there are a few things we should probably clear up:

  1. Your limbs have not been reduced to giant lumbering sausages and you will start to feel more human than hotdog again soon.
  2. Your throat is not narrowing like the walls in one of those really difficult levels of Super Mario.
  3. That surge of heat rushing through your entire body is not your blood reaching boiling point and you will not explode.
  4. Your heart has not chosen to interpret Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” FAR too literally.
  5. Your mind has not up and left you and decided to emigrate to Shutter Island.

The logical part of you knows all this but, unfortunately for you, “logic” has bid you a farewell for the next few minutes and left you with your unbearably irrational self.  What led you to this point is of little significance.  It might have been what some would consider a “minor hiccup” or just some completely nonsensical notion that you managed to get into your head and couldn’t shift. Nonetheless you are here and, for this brief time, it feels like the world has abandoned you.

There’s little I – or anyone for that matter – can do by way of consoling you. All I can do is tell you “You’re not nuts and it happens.”  Whatever it was that triggered this episode is not your fault; life just seems to have a gotten a little bit too much for you. The aftermath of this will be strange.  You’ll wonder how it happened, why it happened and whether or not it will happen again – questions that will remain unanswerable to you for some time.

On one hand, you may have been lucky enough to have had company during this little mishap.  On the other, you’re now likely to feel tarred with the “crazy” brush.  And while life was seemingly stressful enough for you before this fit of panic, you now have the added bonus of worrying that at, any moment, you might be induced into another one of these frenzies.

I have no interest in patronising you by making ill-founded claims and promises that I can’t keep. You have no doubt hit a stumbling block in your life and you’ve some work to do before you’ll regain that sense of normalcy you once took for granted. Inevitably, you’re going to get a lot of advice over the next while, none of which is strictly wrong or right.  A doctor might attribute it to a chemical imbalance and recommend medication to remedy this; your mother might see it as a continuation of your nervous little ways stemming from childhood; or a friend might simply tell you “You need to just chill out.”  In truth, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.  Take it all on board with an open heart and an open mind but do not let anyone infer that you are in some way weaker because you have a greater tendency to worry. You could not have foreseen or prevented this.

Equally, do not become resigned to this panic-stricken way of life. Acceptance, of course, has its place in this whole thing – but only to the extent that you allow it. You can remind yourself that it’s ok not to be ok and from this derive a sense of comfort but the fighter in you (yes, it’s somewhere in there) must take action. Anxiety is something you might have to live with but there are ways and means of coping with it and while much of your progress comes down to you, it is important that you do not shut out those who wish to – and can – help you.

I relay this to you because there was a time I wish I had known some of this. By using this opportunity to take a step back and relive the motions of an anxiety attack and all it’s ensuing bullshit, I am reminded of how far I have come. I may have opened with an apparent flippancy but I assure you there is nothing flippant about anxiety. It’s simply my way of relating how the whole thing feels, which admittedly has been rather challenging. It’s odd that these events – so singular and, at the time, traumatising – are so hard to recollect. I imagine it’s because we do not wish to remember these darker days.

It is no secret that Anxiety, its close friend Depression and its other annoying relatives you may be familiar with, are gradually beginning to make a mark on many of us. And while I have little wisdom to offer in relation to this, I can say from my own meandering experience that there is another side.

I look forward to seeing you there.

 

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The Good, the Bad and the Unpredictable

UnknownMy mum came to visit me yesterday – seemingly only to listen to me give off for half an hour about how hard done by I was. Her parting words were: “The only thing you can predict is their unpredictability” (in reference to babies, of course). One year on from the birth of my son and this couldn’t be anymore accurate.

Caleb never ceases to surprise me. Because he turned one last week, I knew I’d have to write a post about him – it seemed only fair since I somehow managed to find the time to basically write one about Whoopi Goldberg a few weeks ago. I had originally planned on writing this post last week and it was going to be very sentimental and sweet as you could imagine. I was thinking of writing a little letter to him that he would read when he was older and say to himself, “Awe, look how great I was to my mummy”.  I never found the time though because the rascal wouldn’t give me peace.

And then there was yesterday. I’ll not even tell you what I thought of writing about yesterday. I had seen almost every hour the night before on account of Caleb’s crying, had broke out with very painful acne which rendered me housebound, and was subject to clingy moaning and grabbing all day.  Sitting down today to write – in the peace and quiet – having slept a good solid eight hours, I could now write the most beautiful sonnet about Caleb, likening his face to a most heavenly cherub, counting the ways in which I love him in true Shakespearian style.

Neither of these accounts, however, would serve as an accurate reflection of motherhood. It is not a blissful poem, just as it’s not some hellish nightmare. It is a wonderful combination of the two and all that’s in between. The point is, you can never quite predict what’s coming next.  The moment you feel like you’ve finally got the whole thing under control, you will inevitably lose it again.  That is one thing I will take with me from this whole  experience – you cannot get used to anything or become complacent because once you do, as sure as anything, they’ll turn around and throw the whole thing on its head.  Instead, you must learn to embrace the chaos.

I, myself, am only finally coming to terms with this. Caleb might have eaten three square meals and slept like a baby (excuse the pun) yesterday but today he will probably be throwing his food back at me and pulling my hair into the wee hours. Who knows? But isn’t that the beauty of it all?

So, one year on and where am I? In all honesty, I have incredibly mixed feelings. I watch with pride how my son is beginning to support himself while still pining for the days when I was all the support he needed. I miss how he used to helplessly roll around the floor but, at the same time, eagerly anticipate his very first step. I feel proud of myself for having got him this far and yet worry about what’s to come and whether I’ll be good enough. Time seems to have gone so fast since his arrival and yet it feels like he has always been here. Motherhood, it seems, is just one massive contradiction rife with good days, bad days and a complete lack of predicability.

We mothers spend a lot of our time giving advice we can’t take ourselves and, in true fashion, I am about to do the same. I will parcel up some small nugget of wisdom and pretend it has completely transformed my life when, in reality, I am still learning. I propose that instead of trying to pre-empt their every move and frustrating yourself when they don’t do as they did yesterday, we should welcome their little unpredictability ways.  Just as you’re finding your way in all of this, so are they. By allowing them to just be as they are and accepting that they’re going to have good and bad days, just like us, we will find for ourselves at least some predictability – that they’re going to be unpredictable.

P.S. Caleb, for when you do read this in years to come, you were great to your mummy and she cannot thank you enough for the beautiful chaos you have brought to her life.

A Most Welcome Visit

UnknownYou came to visit me last night as you sometimes do – though not as often as I’d like. Your hair was as dark and you were as handsome as ever. Time has been much kinder to you than the rest of us but, alas, you’ve been in the warm all this time.

You asked if I would sit with you for a while and reminisce about “the good old days” when we were much younger and without a care in the world. You weren’t as cheerful as you normally are but, I suppose, neither was I. I comforted you as best I could – I even offered to rub your head.

I told you of the things I could remember from, what seemed like, an age ago now. The out of tune piano at the back of the house; the room that was always filled with sandwiches; the coloured pasta which I never see anymore; the tree house were your brother and I spent so much time.

It was you, wasn’t it? Yes, I’m sure it was. Perhaps you’ve missed me just as much as I’ve missed you, though I suspect you’ve been keeping an eye on me without my knowing so. That would be like you – mischievous in your own special way.

When you left you unknowingly took, what was, a huge part of me with you. The promise that time heals all wounds has been true to its word but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t still a void. A hole of sorts amongst the rest of me which is fortunately filled with the assurance that your are in an eternal state of happiness and peace. I doubt this vacancy will ever be filled until we are reunited – for longer than a dream.

I expect you’re busy, visiting us all in the night, and I understand that you can’t join me more but, on the off chance that you ever think I might be too occupied with thoughts of today or worries of tomorrow, know that there is an open-ended invitation for you and you alone.

Some may say “It was just a dream” but we know better. Little do they know, we’ve been meeting in secret for some years now in this quiet place.  Our encounters are brief and we can never seem to make plans but isn’t that the beauty of our impromptu meetings?

I am happy to say that I am at peace and while tears will inevitably be shed throughout the years – at birthdays, anniversaries and those other unpredictable moments when memories catch us off guard – I live in the certainty that you are there and you are taken care of, just as you should be.

So, my dear friend; I patiently await our next encounter in my restful and hazy slumber.  Who knows where we’ll be, what we’ll do, or who will join us.  In the mean time, don’t forget to visit the rest of them. They miss you an awful lot, you know.

It Ain’t All Roses and Hot Cups of Coffee

 

coffee and roses

Since you’ve had your baby, you’re likely to have experienced every emotion in high definition. When you cry, you could flood your entire living room; when you laugh, you’re on the verge of wetting yourself; and when you get angry, you can almost feel yourself turn green and your trousers start to shrink. Is it the raging hormones? The seemingly never-ending sleep deprivation? Perhaps, it’s just another symptom of your self-diagnosed cabin fever?

While these are all completely apt, I believe there’s another factor slowly driving us towards insanity in our new fragile state of “motherhood” and, thankfully, it’s something we can actually control. PRESSURE. The undying attempt to achieve perfection in every aspect of our lives, be it in our home life, career, or appearance.  This is, of course, not confined to motherhood but I can say, hand on heart, I’ve never quite felt the same level of strain as I do now. While this largely comes from within, there are external forces influencing and misshaping our thoughts and expectations everyday.

Whether it’s a trip to Tesco where you meet that Mother, sporting the latest trends from Topshop, casually strolling down the aisles with her equally fashionable child or it’s that Facebook friend with her perfectly decorated home sipping her, somehow still hot, cup of coffee. To all those who feel their lives gradually spiralling out of control, can I just say, the majority of us are right there with you.

Kudos to those mums who somehow have their shit perfectly together but this is not the bar to set yourself against. It’s fine if you didn’t have time to take your child to see Santa, bake cookies or wrap your presents in photographs of your children dressed as snowmen. I assure you, your children will grow up to be perfectly normal and well-balanced adults.

Thankfully, I am blessed enough to have a close network of “mummy friends” who, on a daily basis, send me images of their unwashed dishes and adorably unkempt children.  Without these women, I can safely say I might have more officially lost the plot (NB. I still have much plot to gain). We embrace the chaos of each others lives and remind each other that those other frills are exactly just that, “frills.”

Keeping your child healthy and happy, alongside maintaining a job and household, are in themselves phenomenal achievements. Neatly stacking your bookshelves and fluffing your cushions are not.

So, to those of you who maybe aren’t as fortunate as me and mummy friends, I say “you are doing great”. Your girls might be biting each other, your little boys might be dismantling your Christmas tree one bauble at a time, and you might still be two dress sizes bigger than you were, but your child is loved and so are you.

And to make you feel better, I’ve included some inspirational pictures of my life as it currently stands. My Christmas tree, missing the entire bottom row of baubles. Followed by my face, which is covered in adult acne. And finally my kitchen sink, which speaks for itself.

A Mother’s Covering Letter

mum's covering letter

I have recently began reflecting on my “career”, or what might better be characterised as a distinct lack thereof.  I am now a mother – a career that is interminable, underpaid, and largely overlooked. In today’s age, being a mother is simply not enough. While I might feel fulfilled in this role, unfortunately being a ‘stay at home mum’ is not a feasible option, at least not for me.  With this realisation comes the dreaded self-reevaluation: What experience do I have? Where do my skills lie? Having been immersed in only motherhood for the past six months, it is difficult to ascertain who I am outside of this remit.

When updating the almighty CV or creating that elusive covering letter, it seems unbelievable that my current role shouldn’t be specified as “Mother”. Surely, most of us would argue that we have experienced and developed more through parenting than any other stage of our lives.  Yes, I have a minimum of 5 GCSEs and experience using Microsoft packages, but how does this come even marginally close to the skills I’ve developed as a new mother?

On that note, I have included the following proposal.

Dear dubious employer,

In reference to ANY JOB

I have just had a baby. This has been the most difficult and extraordinary experience of my life. After months of discomfort and hours of even greater discomfort, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Since that wonderful moment, I have cared for my son relentlessly. Through physical pain and heightened levels of anxiety, I have managed to love, nurture, and meet the every need of that child. A full-time job, I have never for one second quit and continue to grow and thrive in this new role without the hope of any monetary gain.

For the past six and half months, my life has revolved entirely around my son. My every waking moment (and several sleeping) has been dedicated to his wellbeing and happiness. I have learned to be more selfless than ever, sacrificing my own pleasure and putting his needs firmly before mine.

I have mastered the art of efficiency and can perform numerous tasks simultaneously. I can now hold, without dropping, an upset (and rather heavy) child while preparing a bottle, cooking dinner, and eating lunch.

My time management skills have similarly flourished and I am proud to say that I can feed, medicate, bathe and change my baby in record time. I owe this to my organised self who has the foresight and preparedness to inventory and stock every essential item accordingly.

I am an expert communicator, fluent in “gaa-gaa” and able to communicate through facial expressions alone.

I am a proud supervisor, responsible for a team of two (my partner and baby) who, everyday, are supported to the best of my ability in their own individual roles. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there is certainly a ‘me’.

I have found more meaning in the word *‘patience’ than ever, allowing myself to be taken to boiling point and back without so much as flinching.

My capacity for empathy has grown to new levels as I notice myself increasingly able to relate to a frustrated, teething baby. I am more than happy to go to uncomfortable lengths, including hair pulling and face biting, to alleviate a pain which I can only imagine.

I have learned to deal effectively with setbacks on a daily basis. From nap refusals to seemingly senseless outbursts, I’ve grown to be thick-skinned and learned how to realign my expectations.

Ultimately, as a result of this role, I am now stronger than ever. Resolved to never give up, and handle every situation with openness and determination, I will give no less than 100% because in motherhood, there is no room for any less.

I *patiently await your response.

Yours sincerely,

A hopeful mother

Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned

BLESS ME

It has been one month since my last blog post and these are my sins…

If you’re Catholic, you should be fairly familiar with this paraphrase.  When I realised just how long it had been since I had written something, this religious statement – for reasons completely unknown – randomly popped into my head.  Perhaps I equate my neglect of writing as a sin; perhaps my subconscious is telling me that I’ve been particularly “bad” this month and ought to repent; or perhaps it was just a momentarily blip, attributable to nothing more than the random inner workings of my mind. Who knows?  Nonetheless, it popped.  It got me thinking about the entire confessional process.  While I’ve grown up with the practice and been a regular participant, in terms of its history and influences, I know little of it.  Even outside its religious connotations, I wonder about the paradigm itself – the idea of admitting to one’s wrong doings and repenting.

As a child, our sins are easily defined.  For instance, I remember the most popularly cited misdemeanors of my youth – fighting with my brothers and sisters, being disobedient to my parents, cursing, telling lies, not doing my homework etc.   As (bad) practice had it, you would regurgitate a handful of these “sins”, making sure to suitably vary these on each occasion (as though the Priest made a formal catalogue on every appearance), and using the most apologetic tone of voice you could muster up as a child, bare whatever soul it was you had to bare at this early stage of life.

Now, as I’ve matured (I use this term loosely), the boundary between wrong and right seems less certain.  While we can accept certain unanimous truths – that hurting others etc is wrong – the realities of right and wrong begin to haze as we face countless situations throughout our lives rife with ambiguity and complexity.  That line that was once so penetrating as a child begins to dissolve.  As we begin to assume our own mindsets and question the words of our elders and superiors, we learn to form our own opinions of what is wrong and vice versa, leaving the practice of Confession vulnerable.  It all becomes a lot more complicated than “not doing my homework”.  The more avid religious followers among us would probably argue that there’s nothing complicated about it. 

I myself have not formally confessed, so to speak, in years.  It’s remarkable when I consider my frequent attendance as a youth: when I was then so innocent to the ways of the world and generally unaware of the implications of “sin”.  To sin has been defined as “to miss the mark” and believe me, I miss the mark more now than I ever did.  Surely I should be a highly skilled confessor by now.  But if truth be told, the idea frightens me.  This led, not only, to the question of why I now refrain, but why we practice it in the first place.

Understandably, after all this time there is a level of reluctance on my part.   Like anything in life, once out of practice, we become vulnerable and uncomfortable, but perhaps especially in this instance.  During this process, we are completely exposed.  We are centre stage in, what is essentially, a role play with God.  We’re immediately transposed into a situation which is designed to bring out the worst in us: an admission of past grievances which we barely want to admit to ourselves, let alone a Priest… let alone God.

The whole process of Confession is inherently tied up in the concept of forgiveness.  Without the latter, the former would become redundant.  Pain without relief.  Even when you take religion out of the equation, the hope of forgiveness remains.  We all strive for forgiveness.  While I should probably quote the Bible at this stage, I feel compelled to quote Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer:

“To forgive is an act of compassion… It’s not done because people deserve it.  It’s done because they need it.”

This concept transcends religion of any kind.  Those without faith might argue that we use Confession selfishly – as a Get Out of Jail Free card – a way of “keeping in with” the big guy, but isn’t the entire process of forgiveness selfish?  We use it as a means to make ourselves feel better, to confirm that we’re “not that bad” and that “there’s hope for us yet”.  Perhaps Confession serves to heighten this process.  It gives us a sense of satisfaction that our repentance has been formally acknowledged and that we can now “go in peace”, free from the shackles of guilt and shame.  While religion looks to a higher power to exonerate us from our sins, forgiveness on earth asks those around us to grant us this privilege. Either we way, we want absolution.

We can, at any time, I believe make amends without the use of box.  If we are prepared to recognise and admit our wrongs, we’ve taken the most difficult step.  Whether it’s to a particular deity, a religious representative or a wronged party, confession is a fundamental part of our lives.  Without it there is no means of forgiveness, no cause for hope, no opportunity to move on.  Without it our guilt would only chew us up, leaving nothing but sinful scraps.

Alas, I digress. My sins are…

Optimistic about Optimism

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 21.25.07

By nature, I have always been a pessimist.  “I can’t do it”, “it’s my fault”, “what if…?” are commonplace in my vocabulary.  The mentality behind this disposition always appeared grounded in logic. If one can preempt disappointment, then perhaps one can also cushion the accompanying blow.

“That of course is the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant.”  Nero Wolfe in Fer-de-Lance (1934) by Rex Stout

Recently, I have began to reevaluate this position.  If I consider my adopted approach and its rate of success, it becomes apparent that life’s greatest disappointments have in no way been softened by this negative perspective.  Those moments of true disappointment – whether anticipated or not – can never be fully realised until experienced.  The blow is inevitable and the fact that you have imagined its occurrence in no way counters the accompanying feelings of displeasure.  In similar fashion, by adopting an overall negative stance in life, the “pleasant surprises” that Stout refers to are often overshadowed by alternative worries and potential threats. Pessimism becomes a permanent state of being as opposed to a temporary reaction.

In-keeping with Buddhist tradition, by maintaining this distorted view of life we shoot ourselves with two arrows.  The worry and doubts might be seen as providing the initial blow, while the ensuing reality, whatever this may be, acts as a second arrow. If we eradicate the negativity that surrounds our thinking, we might be able to avoid at least one wound.  Furthermore, we might find that we can cope more effectively with life’s disappointments with thoughts of hope and optimism, rather than being blinded by doubt.

Proponents of pessimism would argue that their beliefs are grounded in reality: that pessimism reflects likely outcomes while optimism focuses on far fetched, idealistic results.  In some cases, this may be so.  However, these negative thoughts have the propensity to be much more damaging than their counterparts. Where pessimists feel they are one step ahead, avoiding problems, they may in fact be creating them. The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy has been well established since ancient Greece. It rests on the principle that belief in your own prophecy may sufficiently influence your actions in order to bring that prophecy to fruition.  Take the rather arbitrary example of believing you’ll get fired versus believing you’ll get a promotion. Which is more harmful? Which is likely to effect your actions in negative way?

Whilst being able to put this position forward, it should be understood that pessimism is generally not a transient state of mind. It can be a temporary glitch in some individuals’ lives caused by a spell of negative experiences but on the whole it appears to be a way of life. Being able to spell out the benefits of a more optimistic approach is not going to, all of a sudden, revive those of us who have dwelled in pessimism for the majority of their lives.  Those who take this view, after all, do so for a reason:

  1. It is a choice or a philosophy for some people – a school of thought based on sound arguments and beliefs. Their glass is half empty and they have no interest in topping up.
  2. It is a product of one’s environment, perhaps learned through relationships with peers or previous experiences.  They are most likely unaware of their outlook.
  3. It is a genetic disposition believed to be “unfixable”.

This last instance is the most problematic. Research has indicated that some of us may in fact be “born with a frown” (Richie Holterman).  For an unfortunate number of us, this negative line of thinking is hardwired and it will take a lot more than a pat on the back and a message of “Cheer up” to bring about any significant change.  Fortunately though, there has been concurrent research to suggest that our brains are much more malleable than we previously thought. Just as we exercise the muscles of our body, we too can exercise the muscles of our mind. It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. With the aid of alternative techniques and practices, we can learn to reframe our thoughts and adopt much more positive ways of thinking. We can take some comfort in the fact that we are not destined to “be” a certain way but have the ability to choose our own course.  

In the end, the contents of the two glasses are the same and which glass we drink from is according to our own tastes.  As for me, I think I’ll take the glass that’s half-full; it seems to taste sweeter.