Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A spoonful of apology and gratitude

It's been weeks since I have slept properly, possibly even months. I don't know any more; I lose track of time in the familiar cycle - extreme tiredness, almost tearful desperation for sleep, followed by a short bout of deep sleep (this, if I'm lucky, happens occasionally), then the constant wakings of the children or noises around me and then that inevitable catching of my mind on the sharp hook of a negative, circular thought. From then on, it spirals and escalates until hours later, the initial thought has become a nauseating anxiety, elaborately decorated on all sides with appellant worries and regrets, all underlined by a burning heat behind my eyes and the area between the skin on my forehead and the bone underneath it.

At some point, very late at night or very early in the morning - that night/day distinction melts in the mire of my mind - I do fall asleep, exhausted, simply because my body gives up, not because my mind is stilled. And I wake up too soon, drained, to the unrelenting rhythm of family life. From that point on, I focus my energies stubbornly on doing the things I need to do to get through that day. 

There are always too many things to do each day, with the children so young. Then there are the things I need to do which may seem unnecessary to a concerned observer: making the beds everyday, folding the laundry away carefully, stacking things away on shelves. I need to do these things because these are the mechanisms with which I get through the day in measured units through depression, especially when my defences are down due to exhaustion and insomnia. The rhythms of life, a notion of normalcy and order gives me deep comfort. It's like the quiet humming of a generator in the background that I know will power me through the episodic depression. The reliable nature of these activities and the predictable results from them reassure me that this episode too will pass, like it always does, and the next day, maybe the day after that, or later, the fog will lift and everything will be easier, lighter, quicker. Meanwhile, as much as it seems like a distorted slow motion sequence in a film, I just need to keep doing these things.

I read about an interesting strategy: measuring the capacity for a day's activities in spoonfuls of energy. Each activity should be assigned a number of spoonfuls of energy it requires of me, physical and emotional, and I must know the number of spoonfuls I have to offer in a day. Once I exceed my quota of spoonfuls, I have nothing more to give. I like this analogy and find it very helpful. It helps me quantify and manage what I need to do. The challenge here is quantifying the human and relational interactions in a day, the number of spoonfuls of emotional energy it takes to talk to people, communicate, maintain relationships. I find this is the bit that tips my carefully balanced spoonfuls over most regularly.

Perceived isolation and paranoia, and the thought process to acknowledge and combat them, takes up quite a few spoonfuls.  I'm often in the company of good people but feel like the diseased, damaged one. I can't help thinking that something unhealthy seeps out of my body, like from an over pressurised container. Then to be chirpy and sociable to the people around me, overriding this and overcoming disassociation, requires those precious extra spoonfuls. There are days when I simply don't have those extra spoonfuls, or am conserving them for the kids' bedtime or something else. How this translates externally is that I look, sound and behave like a grumpy, ungrateful, moody cow. (I get around this when I can by communicating freely and clearly via email/text.) I realise this is very difficult to put up with. I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me and put up with me anyway, because I truly am grateful for the love and company of my family and friends and want to be around you. I also recognise the saint-like forbearance of my husband, with whom I can always dispense with all efforts to explain or justify. He always knows and accepts and accommodates.

Anxiety and depression are not rational. It's difficult to explain how some things make me feel lighter and others make me want to curl up in a foetal position in a dark soundless room and scream. I realise how difficult it is for the people around me who love me and try to make me happy. They are effectively shooting in the dark! Some shots hit the mark and I may make your world light up with effusive affection and gratitude and joy. Other shots will be met with that bovine countenance I described earlier. Again, I'm sorry. It's not that I'm ungrateful. I'm out of spoonfuls or some electrical impulse has fired unexpectedly in my brain.

I sometimes hesitate to reconnect with old friends from school or uni, because I just don't even know how or where to begin to explain why I'm where I am and how I might be encountering a bad day when I speak to them next. I remember this smart, ambitious girl I met at uni and liked instantly. She seemed to think I was smart and going places too. We ran into each other a few times and chatted about books and culture and politics in passing. One day we made plans to get some dinner together and hang out. The day came, I turned up at her dorm room and I was a mess, my spoonfuls had run out early in the morning and by evening, I felt like a zombie. I was so confused I could barely work out how to use my bank card in a cash machine. She was baffled; I couldn't or didn't want to explain, she recoiled, we cancelled and I never heard from her again. I still remember the shame I felt after that. 

I often feel dizzy or nauseous before opening a conversation, because the confusion, unpleasant recollections and even shame seize my consciousness completely. I have to fight the urge to hide from people constantly, to stop myself from asking my husband to have a conversation on my behalf. Fortunately, my husband is blessed with poor recollection of facts and even poorer grasp of non verbal cues, so I learnt early that I could not rely on him to speak for me accurately.

So that's what it looks like, when it's been weeks since I have slept properly, possibly even months. It's a dip, but I have plans and strategies, which I have gradually managed to piece together over the past weeks and I'll slowly work at them, at my own pace. And I have faith, a lot of faith, the type that I believe can move mountains.

My husband, who sees me with kinder eyes than I do myself, encouraged me to write this out candidly. I felt the urge to write and apologise, generally, to all the loyal souls who stand by me, who I realise may be frustrated and worried. Thank you for being there for me.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The ever after

In this place where love once lived
a dried up festered dream remains.
Golden rust of autumnal woods,
meandering paths of possibilities
waiting for us to walk down them
with love songs on our lips;
Now lost are the ways, harsh and tangled.

Loving once only to watch it die
not in a glorious poetic moment
but putrefy, with age and resentment
in a cheap terraced house of no note,
magnolia, with unfinished edges.

There is a child.
His pure hymnal laughter
shatters the mortuary air.
Another child grows
oblivious in my warm tomb;
astounding that cadaver like
I can grow a perfect life.

That mother was a patchwork quilt,
threadbare patches screaming apart,
she never held it all together.
And then this mother
cracking face and bleeding eyes
barren goddess to a child.

Can a child grow without dreams?

(July 2013)

The other reality

Night brings on other realities
of a languid woman of lusty hues,
spreading her limbs apart in desire,
and him. Dark eyes and dark hair
beautiful and clear and burning.
He could desire me, admire me,
snake his arms around my waist
kiss my neck to envious eyes.
He could, and I would let him,
now, when my limbs are liquid,
my man and my child locked
away in another reality.
I could even let this woman look
into his dark eyes and fall.
But I know, through my stupor,
that if she were to look over his shoulder,
the dreamy mist would give way
to ugly black dying shapes.
Why should this lust fuelled night vision
have anything more than the inglorious end
of the other reality of day?

(From early 2011)

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Priory

(The Priory became the only sanctuary from the persecution of my own thoughts. Could not imagine life on the outside. And yet, here I am, well and getting better. Looking in at that place from the outside is nice.)

(Remembering Gary, Hilary, Matt, Danielle, Lana, Toby, Becca, Beth, George, Richard, Caitlin. And Caio, Bhavna, Nicola, Christos and Harry.)

I remember that place
where I walked with those others.
Rough carpets and blank ceilings,
bland pictures that said nothing,
nothing that could reject or invite
or allow belonging.
And us others passing through this place,
mothers and children, addicts and saints,
stories flowing into stoic walls.

Curtains of ivy framing sash windows,
consultants ensconced in warm academic rooms
upstairs, at the tap trickling drugs that blunted our demons
while we raged and wept on the lower floors.

The garden with the border of red tulips,
defiant buggers that demanded we look.
Deflated balls lying around
for us to kick and ruminate over
while we talked and walked,
bared and covered.

The cold corridors with doors along it
like a tedious metaphor.
I stalked and sweated there.
Once I opened a door and looked in
on a child woman's tormented mind -
raped, addicted, judged, ashamed.
I ran back down that calm, cold corridor
and through my own unremarkable door.
Demented hermits we were behind the doors.

In my room I lay still, watching TV
day after day, escaping my thoughts.
They came with food and drink and care
and too loud voices and too bright lights
and made me wake, shower, eat and step out some.

There was love and philosophy and some simple things
pragmatic grit and resolute hope.
A little bit of everything went
into the making of my new peace.

On my last day, I was alone a lot in the garden.
The tree strewing pink blossoms
effortlessly, impartially,
on whose bed I sat and stared
for an hour at air.
A perfect circle of time,
broken perfectly by my child's embrace.

Outside in the disjointed world
I remember that sanctuary.
We others are among everyone.
No one hears our gnashing teeth
through the chatter of rambling days.
I'm learning it all again, how to be
a mother, a wife, God's loved child,
How to just be.

A warm memory

Warm brown faces, dust-sweat streaked,
drooping trees and baking streets.
Brave little voices clamouring
in frenzied games of songs and stones.
Lost embraces from the past.

(Reworked. First draft 11/04/12 @The Priory. Listening to Jagjit Singh.)

Art Therapy

I feel ready to share what I wrote and write some new stuff about my time at the Priory, recovering from my breakdown. I met some wonderful folk there and I want to make sure I remember them. So here's the first instalment.

For George the doctor and Richard the musician.

On an insolent day of April blue
I sat with alabaster shadows.
Wan faces turned away
from tempestuous tulips
that hurt our eyes.

'Paint a picture. Anything you see.'
I see fear but I won't look
I won't look I won't look!
I gather my blankness around me:
white, clinical, sanitised.

'How about some colours and brushes?'
I say I was never one for art.
Shrug. Pick up the brush.
Ragged grotesque strokes.
Shame. Strangled scream.
I told you I didn't want to look.

George showed me his work:
a darling delicate daffodil.
We were children then
daring through our infancy.
A few pallid petals
that survived a burning bough.

(Reworked. First draft: 11/04/12 @The Priory.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

On a dull October afternoon

Today is one of those grey, dreary days. It's foggy and dark outside and inside my head. I'm that 'patient etherised upon a table'. I'm not really here, not anywhere. Feel little of anything,  maybe a little sad at some things, mostly disconnected from everything. I am exhausted easily by little things - showering, eating,  playing with my son. The effort involved in getting through the day is unreasonably high. I was ready to go back to the unchallenging comfort of bed after making my son breakfast.

Today is also one of those days where I can watch the tide flow and not drown in it. I'm learning to stand by the water, still,  and let the tide wash my feet. I'm learning to not rush into every emotion I feel, flailing in the rising waters and not being able to see past it. (A metaphor I was instructed in at the Priory, where I spent some time recovering from my breakdown.) It has been dark and dreary for a few days but it will pass. I have faith.

Am I happy? I keep asking myself this, as an index to decide which direction I should take, what choices I should make. When I asked myself this over the past few years, the answer was always shaky. I was happy momentarily a lot when I did some things but I always felt fearful of those things ending. I used to fear waking up in the morning to go to work, fear returning home from anywhere, fear looking in the mirror. I used to fear meeting people. I felt afraid and anxious, always. Nowadays when I ask myself 'am I happy?' I notice that the answer is more certainly, more regularly 'yes'. I am more at peace with myself. I am still trying to work out all the tags and labels that make me, but it's a great ride, this exploring of me. I like who I am more now. I have surprised myself. I am not at all unfulfilled as a stay at home mother, in fact I have never felt more creative, more enlightened, more content. I have very little money and I find it liberating. It's so much easier to say no to the pressures of a consumerist culture's recognisable traps when you just don't have the enabling agent! I have freed myself from relationships that were meaningless and bound simply in expectations and pretensions. I have detached myself from relationships which I am still duty bound to, but which provide no joy, no nourishment. I have found poetry in my child's voice. I have found stronger reaffirmation of my faith than in any time spent amongst the loudly faithful.

So today when I'm in that familiar displaced, dislocated fog, I have just stopped struggling and let it have its run. This too shall pass. It will be a brighter day soon. I am this displaced self and much more. I am ok with who I am.

So today I smile at the black dog and tell it to stick around and watch as I make Halloween craft with my son and some cakes for a friend's birthday. The bats, spiders and bugs are really taking shape (note you unforgiving school teachers who wrote off my art skills). The cakes look messy, have to wait to taste them. The black dog is still sulking in the background but I'll probably go for a walk in the awful weather if he gets too unpleasant. My grey fog can meet the grey fog outside; I can stay busy with the special madness that muddy puddles excite in a toddler.