Ageing and such like

I have come across various quotations recently, including one today which said ‘it’s never too late to become the person you want to become’ and another – an advertisement by the Sanctuary Spa – encouraging women to relax and to ‘let go’ .  As I am just starting a college course, aiming for a change in career and it’s my birthday next week, both got me thinking.

Changing career is both exciting and daunting.   I am old enough to be the mother, if not the grandmother, of some of the other students.  But for some while now I have wanted to do something more creative.  Singing and writing were never going to pay the bills; cooking on the other hand, although at most levels not as well paid as surveying, could do.  I am torn between wanting to do something which is fulfilling for me; having to provide financially for my children; trying to balance work with looking after my children (picking them up from school, not too many hours in after school club, trying not to ask their father to look after them more than I do, etc. etc.).  I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing – I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone in many ways – but I do know that drifting along as a surveyor is not satisfying, not fulfilling and, ultimately, doesn’t seem to be providing the right opportunities to make of it either a career or a vocation any longer.  I’ve applied for jobs and got nowhere, whereas already opportunities for catering are coming my way.

The other issue I’m debating in my head is whether it’s selfish to find something which is fulfilling, career-wise (which is why being able to provide for my children financially is an important factor).  The Sanctuary advert popped into my consciousness at just the right moment: my Thursday evening run had been cancelled (partly by me – the weather was atrocious) and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit low.  Straight away I was thinking about my ‘to do’ list and how, as I wasn’t going running I then ‘must do… singing practice; learn/practice Italian; sort out my college folder; write all the features I’ve been meaning to write; go out for a run anyway…’ as if the suddenly empty time had to be filled.

The Sanctuary advert pulled me up short.  I roamed around a bit on Facebook, finding an inspiring clip about a man who had started running at 95 and long jump at 97; I lit some candles and had a bath (I normally have a shower as it’s quicker), lying there for ages not even reading but with bubbles about a foot higher than the surface of the water, just day dreaming; I eventually did some singing; and then I roamed around a bit more on Facebook and pinterest before writing this post.

I haven’t done all the things I could have done; but instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself I’ve enjoyed having some contemplative, peaceful time on my own.  I’m happy that I’m following my dream of being more creative, and excited about my change of career and where it might lead me: and I’m glad I’m doing it before I’m too old.

I still have a list of things to do, or that I wish to do, and I don’t want to live to regret not doing anything – but at the same time I know that sometimes it’s OK just to take some time out and do nothing.  As the Italians say, “la dolce far niente”.  And at those points, when you’re happy enough and confident enough to stop – to have a break from the rushing around we all do – you can look into yourself and see who you really are.  And you know what?  I like who I am (phew!).

Almost a Final Farewell

“take the road less travelled and simply open your eyes” – Laurence Shelley

icarus

The end of a year makes most of us consider all sorts of things: what we have achieved in the past year; what we have learnt; how next year will be different; how this year compares with those that have gone before.  As we approach 2017 I am looking in to setting up my own business, continue to try to promote my singing and writing, and am also trying to get extra work.  More importantly I am in a different place emotionally (calmer, happier and more accepting) to where I was this time last year or even a few months ago.  I have become aware that I just can’t do everything: and blogging is one thing which may need to take a back seat.  I don’t feel at the moment as if I can add anything useful or enlightening and I am conscious that I have started repeating myself.  It feels as if this blog has now come to a natural end (unlike in Febuary, when I thought of finishing but actually was only at the beginning of an emotional journey).

I started blogging in April 2010 with UnemployedinCumbria on Blogspot.  It was intended to be a blog about getting a new job in a rural county which has a small, low-density, population and not much of a commercial property market (I’m a Chartered Surveyor by profession) – though I also wanted to change career.  I had more of a career change than I expected as I found to my surprise that I was pregnant with a third child – at age 48.  The blog ended up being about being pregnant in my late 40s, having a baby at age 49, and having no job and therefore a much-reduced household income.  We had also moved into a house which needed a bit of TLC so there are bits about my coming to terms with sorting out the garden as well – the children still remember my poisoning the fish in an attempt to rid the pond of algae…!

Once child no. 3 was lustily here I began to think about doing triathlon again, and started a blog which was meant to be more or less a training diary – Supervet-Sarah.  As this second blog developed I stopped the other, but the aim of once again competing regularly in triathlon and at ‘supervet’ (50+) age still hasn’t been achieved.  However it did track my training for Kielder Marathon at age 51 including various micro-adventurous training runs I did with Kerry, who also did Kielder, and during that time I did Kendal sprint triathlon – though very badly (I was slow on the swim and fell off my bike: First Triathlon in How Long? ). That blog ends rather abruptly in August 2014, shortly before David left.  The final words of the final post are “I’m very proud of my little girl” – something I need reminding of from time to time as she’s also very feisty and wilful so I frequently get cross with her, sometimes quite unfairly.

In early 2015 I started this blog.  There’s a hiatus between David leaving at the end of August 2014 and the start – a time when I adjusted to being ‘young (at heart) free and single’ again and to being without the children every other weekend.  By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that 2014 was the year of broken things – my marriage, my washing machine and my dishwasher but on a less frivolous note sad ‘broken’ things happened to a lot of people.  They always do but I guess it’s how the year has been for you overall that remains in your memory.

By contrast 2015 was then a year of freedom, joy and passion.  I relished my new-found freedom and realised who I truly was.  By the middle of the year I was on a high – I got a new job; fell deeply and whole-heartedly in love with a man who had fallen passionately in love with me; and my singing seemed to be flying too: I had more confidence and performed solo more than I had previously, including arranging concerts for my group Eight + 1.  I flew high – but like Icarus I perhaps flew too high – too close to the sun – and like Icarus I crashed.

Unlike Icarus I had plenty of people to catch me before I hit the ground, and to support me, but it led to a challenging time and made 2016 a challenging year.  It has also been a year of farewells – obviously the usual round of celebrities have died, including David Bowie and Alan Rickman – but also people who were briefly part of my everyday life have moved – my lovely neighbours Margaret & David, who moved to Cornwall; and Capernaum restaurant, which was one of my favourite restaurants ever – the children still judge food by ‘the Capernaum scale’ with few restaurants beating it.  It was also farewell to my friend Clare’s husband, Bob.  He had suffered from severe COPD for several years but hung on strongly for so long.  I am incredibly glad that Deborah and I went to sing Songs for Bob at their house in April, accompanied by Martin Johnson; I am sad that I missed the funeral; and I shall always appreciate the fact that he called me ‘Pocket Venus’.  Clare and her family at times have had more faith in me than I have had in myself.

At the same time however there were plenty of hellos and I got to do some travelling in a minor way, which is something I love and hadn’t done for ages.  I was pretty reclusive for the first part of the year, barely even going into the town centre where I live in case I bumped into anyone I knew and most of the time feeling desperate to run away abroad and ‘hide’.  Six months ago (June), just as I was finally coming out of my depression, I wrote “I want to learn Italian; do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write… and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills.  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.”  I have in fact managed, to a greater or lesser extent, to do all those things.

As I look forward to 2017 I hope to travel more (I still have a yen to go abroad to do some voluntary work, but it’s difficult with children and needing to earn money to pay for things for them); to write (I need to finish my long bike ride and write it up); to sing (there are four gigs coming up for Bellissima and we now have our own Facebook page as well); to run and cycle; and to earn enough money, ideally doing things I love (fingers crossed for the job I have applied for, but for keeping doing surveying as well, as I have a great boss and I don’t want to let him down) and to perhaps start my own business.  And, of course, to spend time with my kids – if I can earn enough then I want to be able to take the whole of August off to spend it with them – my dream is to tour Northumbria in a camper van.  But who knows what the new year will hold – I learnt long ago that you can’t plan your life.  Things you want do happen, but rarely in the way you expect.

I learnt a lot of lessons in 2016.  One was about being true to myself, which I already knew I should do but which, I learnt, means that sometimes I need to swim against the pack and follow my instincts and my heart despite what anybody else says (I’ve done so in the past and proved people wrong… and if you don’t try then you never know, do you?).  Another lesson, again which I already knew but which was reiterated, was that there are different outlooks on life and none is right or wrong.  David and I separated; we are happier separated but we still get on.  For us – and for our children – that works, but it’s not the solution for everybody and not everybody can manage to be as amicable as we (mostly) are (we had an argument today – he came round to make peace, we had a chat and he gave me a brief hug.  We no longer love each other but we can at least get on and not use the children as emotional blackmail against each other – which I  hope is best for the children too.  I guess he’s sort of a friend – which is what he was before we got together so there’s a sense of resolution in still being at least on friendly terms).

Finally, I learnt that I can’t do everything.  Emotionally, physically, mentally or even in terms of time.  I have had to accept that Child Tax Credits may need to bolster my income if I want to spend enough time with my children as well as, importantly, allowing the creative side of me some outlet; I also have to accept that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  I tried to do it all: to be a mother (teacher, taxi service, cook, housekeeper, gardener…), a writer, a singer, a lover, to keep fit, to work full-time and to commute, and it didn’t work.  2016 as much as anything has been about getting some balance back.  I’ve even said ‘no’ to some things – I didn’t sing with choir this term and I’m not going to be touring with them in May (I can’t afford to but more importantly I don’t want to go abroad without the children).  I have learnt over the past few years though that allowing the creative side of me some outlet is hugely important: it’s a fundamental part of who I am.  It’s not about being self-gratifying however but about how you can make it fit into a life where you have to provide for your children and do the washing up as well.

This blog has been great for getting my head straight and I hope I will look back at my posts and still enjoy reading them.  People have criticised me, mostly when they have felt criticised by me, but writing has always been a type of therapy for me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so public (though the maximum number of readers I have had for any post has been 210, which really isn’t that many) but if just one person has felt better because of a post I have written – if just one person has thought ‘yes, that’s how I feel too’ – then this blog has not been in vain.

From time to time there may perhaps be another, but for now this, my 99th post in this blog, is a farewell – with best wishes for the New Year to you all.

butterfly-in-hand

Acceptance

We’re told there are three stages to grief.  The initial devastating sorrow; anger; then acceptance.  There’s a peace in acceptance but, I have realised recently, it doesn’t necessarily mean that happiness has returned and that all pain has gone.

I had thought that acceptance was about feeling cheerful again; moving on; forgetting the loved one and the past.  It’s not.  It’s about accepting that you have a great hole in your life and that life goes on despite it.  You learn to live with it.

In the past I always ran away: a different country, a different job, a change of address. My immediate, and ongoing, reaction to the sad events of the past year or so has been that I would move away: but because of my children I can’t, and nor do I want to, leave them.  Not only do they need their father as well as their mother (however crazy and emotional/volatile she may be at times), but I need them.

What my recent trip to Italy made me realise in any case is that you can’t run away from the pain of losing someone.  That hole where that person fitted goes with you wherever you travel.  And, at the same time, I miss my children when I’m away, especially if – as occurred this time – I can’t contact them.  Coming home was painful in some ways but the cuddles of my children and their pleasure at seeing me more than made up for it.  My daughter, who doesn’t normally like kisses, has kissed me a couple of times over the past two days, and given me plenty of hugs; my eldest didn’t stop chatting in the car when I fetched him from school (he can sometimes be a silent almost-teenager); and my youngest was full of cuddles and kisses as he always is, but also didn’t object when he had to leave his Dad’s and come to my house.  Their love is priceless.  Perhaps I should add that they have just as much love for their Dad as they do for me, and if we can live separately but be amicable enough that the children don’t feel torn between us, then we will have, in some small way, succeeded.  Another form of acceptance: that we offer different parenting styles and a different emotional ‘background’ to the children, but that neither is wrong or right, and neither is better or worse than the other.

Meanwhile two authors have brought the pain of loss and how to deal with it home to me recently, both of whom found some solace in their children.  I’m grateful for their books as whilst they’re about loved ones dying, loss is loss however it occurs.  However much you try to put a brave face on it, get on with life, and be cheerful, ultimately there are times when the tears just have to be allowed to come and the hurt and pain surfaces all over again.  This beautiful passage from Cathy Rentzenbrink’s heart-rending book The Last Act of Love (pub. Picador), about coming to terms with the devasting accident to and then death of her brother, was something I wanted to keep and to share:

“I know I’m damaged.  As I’ve walked through fire, bits of me have burnt off – but I accept that.  I’ve come across a new word.  Kintsugi is a Japenese style of ceramics where broken crockery is mended in an intentionally obvious way.  Rather than try to hide the crack, it is filled in with gold and the breakage becomes a part of the object’s story.  I love this idea.

I think how I am often drawn to broken people and find them beautiful.  I have decided that I can stop yearning to be fixed or trying to hide the scars: I can decide to think of my brokenness as an integral and even beautiful part of me…

…I no longer expect that my tears will come to an end.  I am no longer surprised that my reservoir of grief is so full and refillable.  Because I am no longer surprised, I am much better able to live with it.  I weave it into my days.  I can cry and laugh at the same time.

I have worked out that the only way to be alive in the world is to carry out acts of love and hope for the best.”

kintsugi

Shattered

Broken glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass splinters.  A hundred pieces, sharp shards and lethal motes,

Shrapnel sticking in the vulnerable skin and pricking the vessels.

Rain runs down windows.  Pooling, flooding, ponding,

Creating bog where once ground was firm.

Broken hearts shatter, softness torn by unseen glass,

An explosion within the shell of ribs.  No protection now.

 

Running, she stops, doubling over as the pain

Blasts through her body.  Mind breaks, tears flow

Expressing sorrow where once was joy, laughter, love.

Everything now an effort.  Work might distract – doesn’t –

Children bring laughter but questions and memories –

Bed is a soft lingering haven but for the recollection of adoration

Lying there imprinted on the pillow.

Unfinished, a love not given the chance to become mundane

Creates endless heart, mind and soul ache where once was joy.

You learn to live with it.  But shattered.

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Grief, marriage, life – ruminations

I’ve just finished reading Nora McInery Purmort’s book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too).  It was one of those impulse buys in Waterstones – and a compulsive read (I’ve now passed it on to a friend).

There’s an awful lot in the book which reflects things I have thought and written myself, albeit triggered by different events and reasons.  She comments in one chapter on how grief makes you quite self-centred: I had been thinking recently how introverted and rather insular I had been as I moved through my depression.  To a certain extent I beat myself up for not thinking about others more, but I think it’s probably a survival of the fittest thing – face up to your blackest thoughts and moods on your own and come through them the stronger for it, and also give yourself the time to do so in order to recover.  Sadly, one of the things which stopped me being quite so self-centred was a friend’s husband leaving her: I began to think about her and supporting her rather than being quite so wrapped up in myself, although having said that I have only been able to do so as I had moved on enough from my blackest place.

I’ve always believed that too much time on your own engenders being self-centred in any case, but I also now think that sometimes it’s just necessary.  It’s like the passage I have previously referred to from Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, about walking into depression.  Recognising such feelings and living through them, instead of trying to sweep them under the carpet and pretend they don’t exist, is just sometimes what you have to do.  Nobody can be happy all the time: though Nora Mc P’s title is significant in that it is perfectly OK to laugh even in the middle of the worst grief you’ve ever suffered.  I’m sure the inmates of the concentration camps managed to laugh at times despite the appalling conditions in which they existed – they made the effort to form orchestras and play music, so why not also to laugh, difficult as that may seem?

There were a handful of passages in the book which I noted down as I wanted to keep them.  One chapter was, I think, perhaps as much as anything the writer wanting to make herself feel better – it was full of positive self-belief comments, and was about how you’re doing a good job.  I especially liked “you’re single because you just cannot be tamed right now”.  She also had things to say about marriage (I’ve always loved the comment that marriage should be to someone you can’t bear to be without, and also what she says which is “don’t marry a friend” – something which I’ve realised for myself (you need passion in a marriage): “Marriage isn’t supposed to feel like a cage, it’s supposed to feel like a hug that lasts just a few seconds too long”.

Related to that was her philosophy about life generally, and about giving up certain things, and taking risks: “the world will keep spinning, and your life will get a little bit better every time you give up on the shit that is taking you away from your one wild and precious life”.  And along the same lines, I can’t remember whether she wrote this or quoted it or I read it somewhere else: “Life’s journey is not to arrive safely at the grave in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘holy fuck, what a ride!’ “.

The book was a fantastic reminder to live life to the full – to follow dreams and take risks (without being stupid about it).  Most of us still have to pay the mortgage and be responsible for our children, but we can surely do so whilst being true to the very essence of who we are.  And usually when you take the (sometimes brave or seemingly foolhardy) step of following a different path, of taking what appears to be a risk, things just amazingly slot into place and you find a happiness and fulfillment you never dreamed possible: your one wild and precious life.

One wild and precious life

Sea Therapy

“The most important step out of the karmic law is forgiveness” – Eckhart Tolle

I found this the other day – I had saved it somewhere and had fully intended to write a blogpost about how appearances can be deceptive and how the way in which someone comes across may not always reflect how he or she really feels or feels about him/herself (this has especially come across to me when people have described me in ways which have surprised me – for example (sorry Eloise, I hope this won’t embarrass you) I always looked up to Eloise at Railtrack who appeared far more confident than I was.  Apparently she remembers me as someone who was really kind towards her – I thought I came across as rather reserved and not very sure of myself…).

Anyway, I have started writing this blogpost with absolutely no idea about how I am going to tie karmic law and forgiveness in with writing about recent events in my life but I’m sure it will become clear.  If it doesn’t at least it’s a good quotation with which to start the post.

I’m generally feeling quite upbeat.  I imagine that two glasses of kir-boosted prosecco have helped, but on the whole I’m finding it easier to enjoy life and have mostly these days returned to my usual optimistic self.  I was discussing with a neighbour today how money always turns up when you really need it: this is despite the fact that I have agreed with my soon-to-be-ex-husband that I will pay him 15% of the value of the house when I sell it, which will go on the market at the latest when my eldest turns 18.  This is in only 5 and a half years’ time – time that will zip past, and my youngest will still only be in his final year of primary school at that point – but I feel happy with the conclusion of the negotiations with my ex and I think he does too, which means we are now getting on OK again.  I hate not getting on with people who are an important part of my life: but boundaries have to be drawn sometimes and none of us can – or should – always just give in to what other people want.  I’m not sure that there’s any karma involved with my ex but a certain amount of forgiveness on both sides has been necessary I think.

What is lovely is that as far as my in-laws (now out-laws, I guess) are concerned I am still part of the family.  I was very keen to meet my new not-a-niece and so yesterday I took Younger Son up to Sandyhills, on the Solway Coast south of Dumfries (so only about an hour and a half’s drive from here) to meet up with his grandparents, uncle, aunts and cousins.  It was real family time: we arrived in time for Younger Son to meet his newest cousin on his own and give her plenty of cuddles (he loves babies – she’s six months old) and then we headed down to the beach with Scotland Nanny to have ice cream, build sandcastles, paddle and dig holes.  The older cousins all came down to join us when they got back from mountain biking, including Older Son whom I hadn’t seen other than briefly for about a week, and then later I took all five boys swimming.  It’s great that my three children all get on so well with their cousins.

Sandyhills itself is lovely.  There’s little there: it’s not your average seaside resort with piers and fun fairs and stacks of shops.  There’s one very small shop, which smelt pleasantly of new paint, a relatively small but sandy beach, a caravan/campsite and some holiday chalets which have their own swimming pool and restaurant.  The ‘only’ occupations are cycling, walking/running, playing on the beach… the TV didn’t work and the children are going to have a week of very little screen time.

HOORAY!!!

It was Sea Therapy at its best, and followed a visit to small-but-perfectly-formed Aydon Castle (near Corbridge) on Saturday where we had been greeted by friendly medieval people including a lady wearing an amazing dress sewn out of glorious bright blue cloth of gold: it really shone in the sunlight.

I drove back home – with a diversion of several miles as there had been an accident on the narrow road to Dumfries – listening to U2 and feeling fairly relaxed about life.  And karma?  I don’t know.  I feel I’ve had a bad enough time recently that any karma must have been repaid.  I feel ready for my life to pick up momentum and get exciting again!

Three weeks of (not) blogging…

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote a post.  When I started to write this post two children were upstairs shouting and the other was downstairs watching some rubbish on television… by the time I got round to finishing it, the following day, I had the house to myself and all was quiet.

I haven’t felt terribly inspired to write, do much singing practice, do marketing and promotion for either of those things, nor indeed be motivated to do much other than the day-to-day things I have to do, recently.  I’m not depressed – I have moments of sadness and of tears and also moments of joy and I have three musical/singing projects to start work on – but I do sometimes just feel tired, and sometimes rather devoid of any emotion, or at least any emotion which takes any energy, whatsoever.  I work; I look after my children; and I try to sort things out in terms of pensions, house, divorce… oh, and I must sort out my broadband and phone (landline and mobile) provider…

So what have been the highlights recently?  Well, the children all got good school reports, which was great, and we had a lovely weekend down in York at the Royal York Hotel with my parents – thanks to my parents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where the service has been so consistently brilliant.  The hotel staff gave the impression that nothing was too much trouble and that loud, bouncy children were no problem whatsoever (in fact when I discussed it with one of the waiting staff in the restaurant he said that a drunk stag-party reveller is worse as at least my children are polite).  Bella rated the food as the best ever (and only days before she had been saying that Capernaum bistro in Brampton was the best ever – my cooking gets 7/10 compared with Capernaum’s 10/10, whereas the Royal York exceeded even that!).  Maybe it’s Yorkshire (or York) people generally as the staff at Pizza Express were also lovely.  Everybody seemed happy, and to be enjoying their work: perhaps the hot sunny weather had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed spending the time with my three children and we all enthused about the hotel.

The weather has been incredibly changeable – hot and stuffy for a couple of days followed by chilly and rainy.  Perhaps the most striking – and exciting – days were when we had thunder.  Edward and I had been feeding the neighbours’ fish while they were on holiday and for several days the weather had been almost perfect: dry, sunny and warm without being too stuffy.  Then it got heavier and thunder was forecast.  I woke up one morning to an amazing sky: dark, dark grey clouds but the morning sun making the houses shine red-gold.  I took a photograph, but it really doesn’t do justice to the incredible light and the contrast between the lowering sky and the brightness of the brickwork.  Just moments later the entire sky had darkened, the sun had disappeared, the rain was pouring down and it was thundering… exciting stuff!  (I love a good thunderstorm, particularly when we really need one when the air feels oppressive).

On another day when the outdoors was calling loudly to me, instead of being inside working I had cabin fever, and by the late afternoon/early evening I decided I had to go up Talkin Fell.  Previously I have described how the sky was blue above me but that I could see a band of rainclouds in the distance: it was similar this time but the other thing that struck me, which often strikes me, on starting the walk, is how noisy it is.  Not the urban noise of traffic and people and resonance from hard surfaces, but birdsong, dogs barking, cows mooing and the odd aeroplane high up but quietly clear.  I suppose there’s not that continual hum of background noise you get in a city so the individual noises are that much more distinct.

Once you’re at the top of Talkin Fell it’s quieter, and I know I’ve described before that ‘top of the world’ feeling.  This particular day I experimented with different settings on my camera, taking photos of the lovely white cottony flower thing (I have no idea what it’s called), which Phil Robbins used in the foreground when taking those fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell.  My camera has loads of different settings and I have used only a few of them, but I want to get more experimental – I’m hoping I’ll get some good photos when I’m on holiday in Italy in September.  I particularly like the dark, almost black-and-white one, for this particular plant, though it looks better taking up an entire computer screen than reduced to fit in a blogpost.

Before I go to Italy we have the school summer holidays lying ahead of us.  We’re well into week one (week three for Alex) and with any luck we’ll get some decent weather and be able to enjoy being outdoors – or perhaps, as we did today, enjoy being outdoors even without decent weather: splashing in puddles remains fun even when you’re 12, and Bella’s white leggings had to go in the bin as I could not get the grass stains out (even with multiple doses of Vanish) from where all three children had repeatedly slid down a grassy/muddy bank at Carlisle Castle

My divorce has turned painful and costly; but even though I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me in solicitor’s fees and whether I can really afford to go on holiday, I’ve blown my savings anyway on fulfilling a long-held ambition of going to Italy to learn Italian and then my birthday money from my Mum has been spent in advance on a holiday to Lanzarote later on.  I’m hoping getting away in the autumn will prevent any autumnal blues or depression… and money always turns up from somewhere when you really need it…  I can’t wait – it’s been 6 and a half years since I’ve had a holiday without the children and more than eighteen months since I went abroad skiing with them.  Last time I went to Club la Santa on Lanzarote I was pregnant with Alex.  I’m really looking forward to once again doing aerobics outdoors overlooking the Atlantic, and swimming in an outdoor 50m pool in November!

So however difficult things may feel from time to time, I have plenty to look forward to: and can’t help thinking that somehow everything has a way of sorting itself out for the best.  Such a change from how I felt even only two or three months ago!  Look out for news of my two new music projects on my ‘projects’ page before too long (and fingers crossed I also get more writing commissions soon).

Meanwhile from time to time… dolce far niente!

 

 

 

 

Leaving Depression behind

Everybody hurts… Hold On… my thoughts are with those for whom depression is a long-term if not ongoing chronic condition.  I was lucky: it was temporary and, in the overall scheme of things, not that severe.Weeping Angel

When I was walking around a regeneration area of Liverpool with that happy, slightly giggly, feeling in my stomach I knew I had finally said goodbye to depression.

In fact it’s not just the return of the giggly feeling (that returned once before – see my post Feeling Good two months ago, and others) but perhaps more importantly the fact that in the past couple of weeks I have coped with setbacks and criticism far better than I would have done even a month or so ago.  Rather than becoming a jelly of tears, fear and angst I am now able to be more objective about things.

The past few days I have had moments when my heart has felt light and I have felt carefree – something which has happened so rarely over the past 8-9 months or so.  Previously when it happened it was almost because I was trying to convince myself.  Now I know it is a genuine feeling.  For a few days now I have noticed a new acceptance, calmness, even optimism and joy; feelings which deserted me in the winter and were too easily snuffed out on the rare occasions they appeared in the late spring.  That’s not to say that I don’t still feel sad and weep at times; nor is it to say that I don’t have regrets.  But I feel inwardly stronger and more at peace with life, and therefore able to deal with setbacks and ‘attacks’ better.

As I look back over the past three-quarters of a year I can see how I have progressed, and how my mental and emotional health has improved.  I fell into a dark place back in November, a gloomy twilight world where I was too low to see more than a glimmer of light behind a grey haze.  I was too compos mentis to go completely loopy but each day (and during the night) I would wake to an almost physical pain, like the pins in the Little Mermaid’s feet, my heart feeling shattered and my mind a whirr.  I had no energy and no appetite, lost a lot of weight, and even the smallest things took a huge effort.  I remember one day when I really just could not get out of bed, and if it hadn’t been for my daughter pestering me, I probably wouldn’t have done.

While suicide crossed my mind, I don’t think I seriously contemplated it.  Someone in a YouTube video commented that suicide isn’t because you want to die, but because you want to stop hurting.  I toyed with the idea, but I think that’s all it was: trying to imagine what it would be like no longer to exist and how I would achieve that end.  Not existing doesn’t appeal and nor do any of the ways one might achieve it.  I want to see my children grow up, for a start – I am curious about how they are going to turn out, and I’m curious about how my own life is going to turn out.  In addition I’m not ready for complete oblivion, if that’s all that happens ‘next’, and the good things about life are really good whereas I suspect that heaven might be a bit boring.

By January I had decided I wanted to come off the anti-depressants.  I’ve never been a particularly avid drug-taker, and I wanted to feel my emotions genuinely rather than in a kind of numb haze.  The main emotion now was one of grieving anger though: I easily felt hurt, betrayed, belittled and criticised.  Sensitive and vulnerable to any criticism, I returned it.  If anyone hurt or criticized me, they got it back.  I would plunge into wound-up angst or fly off the handle, often with the children or at the smallest thing.  My moods were not stable.  At least I had more energy, but I did and said some things I regret – though some also ironically opened new doors for me.  I can understand how and why, though.  I was scared: scared of my own fragile emotional balance and that perhaps I really was ‘losing it’; scared of losing my children; scared of being out of control both emotionally and in terms of my life.  One Sunday in February, when I hit rock-bottom and felt as if my life was falling apart, I phoned the Samaritans.  I bless the sane, calm voice at the end of the phone who told me he thought I was being too hard on myself.

I carried on trying: trying to be cheerful; trying to put in more hours at work; trying to earn enough money; trying to keep it all together.  And writing – reading and writing about all sorts of things, trying to find some answers to the big unanswerable question which is ‘life’ and why mine had fallen apart in quite the way it had and how I could move forward.  Thank goodness it got no worse – but I realised how easy it would be to lose it all, and at times thought that was what was about to happen, partly because of my own volatility which seemed so difficult to control.  What I wrote wasn’t always taken how I had hoped it would be – a friend commented recently that what we say and write isn’t always understood how we intend it (if it is heard at all) – and we are all guilty of that.  So I’m attempting here to be honest and open about how I felt through the past 8-9 months, but it may be that some of you will interpret in a different way to how I mean it.  But then I’m sure there’s validity and use to other interpretations as well.

All the time I was conscious of climbing up – sometimes with a struggle, sometimes more easily (From Darkness into Light).  There were even moments when I felt as if I was flying free again, usually when I was singing or running.  And ultimately, eventually, I feel I have come back out into the daylight.  There is still much that I need to sort out, but at least my head and my emotions are in the right place to do so and I have more energy to push forward with the things I really want to do.

And my main feeling as I conclude this piece of writing?  Relief.  Relief that I am out of the turbulent, troubling place that I spent those months in.  Relief that I don’t wake up wishing that it wasn’t another day and that I could stay in bed; relief that I don’t drive along wishing someone would drive into me so I could just escape for a bit; relief that I feel as though I can handle life.

Thank You to all the friends who stood by me and supported me, whether in big ways or small, through those agonising months; and to the strangers whose comments or blogposts have inspired me, perhaps without them even knowing it.

sunflowers

Finally: 

I found this on the internet.  I have cut it drastically and edited it slightly, but I feel this expresses ‘transformation’ and emotional development well, for all of us:

There comes a time in your life when you finally get it…when in the midst of all your fears, angst and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out: ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying or struggling to hold on. You realize that it is time to stop hoping and waiting for happiness to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that there aren’t always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you. Then a sense of serenity is born of acceptance, and you find your real source of power and strength.

You stop blaming others for the things that were done to you or weren’t done for you, or indeed stop taking all the blame yourself.  You learn how to say ‘I was wrong’ as well as ‘actually I did my very best’ – and to forgive people for their own human frailties. You learn to build bridges instead of walls and about the healing power of love as it is expressed through a kind word, a warm smile or a friendly gesture.  At the same time you eliminate any relationships that are hurtful or fail to uplift and edify you. You stop working so hard at smoothing things over and setting your needs aside. You learn that feelings of entitlement are perfectly OK and that it is your right to want or expect certain things, and you learn the importance of communicating your needs with confidence and grace.

And you make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting and to stay open to every wonderful opportunity and exciting possibility.  Finally, with courage and faith in your heart you take a stand, you take a deep breath and you begin to design the life YOU want to live as best as you can.

Thank you to Sonny Carroll for writing an inspiring piece which captures this journey of the spirit.

 

Balance

 balance

Sometimes it hurts to follow your heart.  Sometimes however it can take you years to hear your heart properly – to trust the essence of who you are – and it takes several traumatic events happening at once to get you back on the right path.  Your heart can be yelling out at you to take a risk and do something you know feels right; but you ignore it because you ‘ought’ to do something else; you ‘ought’ to play safe; you ‘ought’ to be so-called responsible.

Sometimes responsibility is about being apparently irresponsible.  For me it’s the work-life balance and how much creativity I ‘allow’ myself in my working life.

Having been going through a separation leading to divorce, and just as I started a new job with a long commute, I fell in love last year – passionately, deeply in love – and was loved in return.  In many ways it was rather unreal and yet that was its very life-giving, mind body and soul reality: it was a wonderful, magical, romantic time.  The ‘real me’ was already stirring – this awoke it further and pushed it out into the world.

I flew high but I crashed hard.  For the past few months or so I’ve been working back towards balance: balancing the me I know I really am with the practicalities of life.  On an emotional level, getting a balance between self-esteem & self-awareness.  Not getting put down and falling to bits as soon as somebody criticises or attacks me, but being able to admit my own faults as well… seeing that in all relationships, apart from perhaps with your children, ‘it takes two to tango’.

Having the confidence to believe that my singing is good (it wasn’t years ago and it’s taken a long time not to have that little voice in my head saying ‘who do you think you are, standing up here and singing to people?’) and that Deborah and I have different strengths when it comes to singing. I think she is a far better singer and performer than me, but my voice appeals to a different section of the audience and has a totally different quality – but we now should have the confidence that we are good enough to be paid for singing.  Again, the man last year was a huge part of that as he always supported my singing – as did, also, the friend who came back into my musical life having not seen him for 35 years.  A huge Thank You to those two men: and to the man who kissed my hand when I last sang in the restaurant in Brampton; to the man who said it was ‘classy’; to my choir master for letting me sing the solo in Stanford’s Bluebird; and to my friend Clare and her family… etc.

Accepting that I can’t do everything – there just aren’t enough hours in the day – despite the fact that I want to live life to the full.  Life is an enormous playground and I’ve only tried out some of the rides so far, and I’m greedy to try more!  I want to learn Italian (that’s been an ambition for goodness knows how many years – I think it may possibly get fulfilled this year… watch this space); do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write.. and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills (and I have a great boss who again is supportive by being understanding).  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.  But again – it’s getting the balance.

Going through a divorce is making me reconsider my financial and childcare balance – perhaps I have to let child tax credits provide some of my income in order that I have more time with the children.  My ambition last year was to work full time and not need any child tax credits at all, and I wanted to be able to afford to take the children abroad on holiday with me.  I failed miserably but I was trying to do too many things – to be too much to too many people – and hence I crashed, letting down in the process my children, the man I loved (though he then failed to help me up when I was down and when I needed him most), my boss, and also myself.

The last point, about looking after yourself, is important because it reflects so much wisdom that is ‘out there’ – if you don’t look after and love yourself first and foremost, you’re pretty useless to other people.  It’s not about selfishness – it’s about (going back to the beginning) being who you truly and genuinely are, and being happy, in order to give happiness to other people.  And when you’re deeply, profoundly, happy in your own skin then it’s no effort to give to other people (I was good at that at the beginning of my love affair but then got insecure and tried too hard/gave too much; and with my ex-husband I always felt I gave a lot and then got resentful… and didn’t appreciate what he was doing (giving me freedom; being a good father)).

As a child – a good, going-to-church on a Sunday and singing in the choir-child – I was brought up to think that I should think about others first and that if you didn’t you were being selfish.  Years later I was at a church in Brighton where a friend sang in the choir, and the sermon was about ‘love others as you love yourself’.  It was a pivotal point for me as the vicar was saying that if you don’t love yourself you’re useless to anybody else… (though not in quite those words).  It’s not always easy to put into practice when deep down inside you think you ‘ought’ to put others first: but actually I’ve seen what happens when you identify too closely with others and put their needs and feelings before your own.  When you lose yourself, you are completely lost.

In relation to children again a balance has to be found, of course: they need to learn to grow up to consider others but have enough self-esteem to look after their own needs.  And whilst a parent has to look after their children, and to a certain extent put his or her children first, again showing them how to look after themselves and be kind to others as well is a fantastic lesson to teach them (and a difficult one if you struggle with it yourself).

So over the past few months I’ve been trying to scramble back up the mountain of self-esteem and happiness – but now I’m beginning to realise that I was making too much effort even to do that, although I’ve had some success.  It’s about letting go – truly letting go – and that’s when things fall into your life; abundance will return in due course (and it’s perhaps also about seeing that it is indeed abundance and joy – seeing that the glass is half full, not half empty – i.e. perception).

If you have constantly to make too much effort for anything and it’s not happening – if you feel as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall and you’re miserable for years on end (as David was in our marriage) – then you’re on the wrong track.  Having said that, my friend Clare wisely said she had realised that when things felt hard it wasn’t so much about giving up as working out how to keep the things in her life that she wanted (she works full-time;  has a very ill husband; has a lovely boyfriend and other people in her life she cares and worries about, and has got to the stage where it works) – again, balance between putting in the effort to keep what you really want and letting go at the right time.

So this week, after feeling incredibly low again on Monday morning, has been about letting go.  I’ve read some useful things which have helped (thank you to the facebook pages and writings of Lyn Thurman* in particular – and also to Phil Robbins whose fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell made me feel better about myself than I have for ages**) and then I burnt a whole load of paperwork yesterday and deleted some files on my computer.  I think that will do.  Again, balance – making too much of an effort to let go is again too much effort!  I have to just let it happen (and not beat myself up for the times when sadness overcomes me).  I’m hoping that letting go will let me fly again – this time in a stronger and more controlled way than I did last summer.  To soar, as my voice has been described as doing in The Bluebird.

There’s a passage at the beginning of one of the chapters of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (Peter Hoeg) where she says that she just walks into the tunnel, the blackness, that is depression: she lets herself fall.  It’s always stuck with me.  There’s no rule which says that you ‘ought’ not ever feel depressed.  Yes, life is amazing and we’re lucky to be here and to experience its rich, colourful tapestry – but if there are times when you get depressed or low, go with the flow (just don’t wallow).  There are events in life which are sad, and the unhappiness is a sign that you are human and have emotions – but learn from them, let go, and move on. Everything passes; everything changes.  Again, there was a short features in Psychologies magazine once which pointed out that bad times pass – and so do the good ones! – just to come round again (the wheel of fortune).

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do!

 got-balance*  I’ve previously recommended Lyn’s book The Inner Goddess Revolution but will again here in case anyone who might be interested in it has missed it.

** I can highly recommend Phil for professional photographs – if you’re looking for a photographer for any reason whatsoever, contact him via his Facebook page.  He’s based in Carlisle.

Ever onwards; always developing

Someone once described me as being like a butterfly – and later had a dream of me as the Ice Queen, fighting off his enemies.  Both beautiful images which I take as compliments, holding them dear and treasuring them in my heart (“Thank You” to the man who said them to me).  But they also made – and make – me consider myself: what do they say about me?  Obviously any interpretation is subjective – what they conjure up to me may be completely different for someone else.  The main thing that struck me was a sense of strength and elegance; of flying free; and yet of delicate beauty – of fragility.  A butterfly can so easily be crushed, and ice can shatter into seemingly glass-like shards, which melt away to water (another substance however which can seem so fragile and yet have such enormous strength).  But that is not to deny that there is an appropriate strength there.

That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling recently.  I know I am strong; I know I can get through the bad things which have happened and which continue to happen to me; but I am also conscious of how I flew too high and crashed so, so far, and I feel broken; splintered.  Is that possible?  Is there anything wrong with flying too high?  Do we sometimes have to do that in order to learn the very lessons that we need?  Do we need to fly that high in order truly to become freer – to fly off the path we were on and perhaps crash land onto the one we were meant to be on?

Hence the previous post: I am trying to face up to my pain and to learn from it: and there are all sorts of lessons I am learning.  Lessons about myself (as a mother; as a friend; as a singer and creative person; as a lover); lessons about human nature.  By stepping back and examining myself I am also learning better how to look out at the world and see myself in perspective.  Although I could be accused of being introspective, that is helping me at the same time to be more sensitive to the world around me, and to look at the bigger picture, and I’m reading all sorts of writing by all sorts of people from a worldwide spread of religious and non-religious viewpoints.  Some themes keep repeating themselves: for example that we are individuals but we are all made of the same matter, and interconnected.  Whilst we are tiny specks compared to the stars, I love thinking of us all as star dust.  I also want to help others – not in a social worker sort of way as that’s not me, but somehow through using my skills as a writer, performer and communicator.  I want to help change the world: and it’s interesting that my daughter seems to have the same ambition, which she has acquired completely on her own, not from anything I have said to her.  Perhaps she, at 10, has a better sense of her ‘life path’ than I did.

I went for a walk up Talkin Fell again yesterday.  As I walked up through the woods the bluebells waved under the trees, a blue haze splattered with sunshine and shadows (the photos at the top show the bluebells in Ridge Woods as well), birds singing as a backdrop.  Up on the solitary top the wind was strong and in the distance I could see it was raining over Scotland and the Lakeland Fells: but above me there was a bright blue sky with just floaty wisps of cirrus.  The tiny exquisitely graceful white wild flowers were brushed by the wind; a lapwing and its mate called anxiously to each other and then flew up together to check that no predators (me) were approaching their nest.  For a time I sat, leaning against stone, and just soaked it all in.

Later my friends Jo and Mike arrived, on their way home from Orkney.  They took me out to dinner at the Golden Fleece at Ruleholme – we had booked a table as it’s practically impossible to get in otherwise, it’s so popular.  Deservedly so – the décor is lovely (I particularly like the maps on the tables, and we all liked the way there are different dining areas); the ambiance is comfortable and busy without being too noisy; they had about 5 or 6 different gins to choose from; the service is professional but friendly; and the food was lovely and cooked exactly how we requested.  However it is probably one of the most expensive restaurants locally, though it’s good value for money as the food is good and the helpings are generous.  The only disappointment was that there was not more choice of vegetarian and fish options (and in fact that is where Capernaum bistro in Brampton has a real selling point – but perhaps people around here are predominantly carnivores!).  A 16 oz Chateaubriand was 57 GBP (sorry – the pound sign has disappeared from my computer)… none of us had that…

Today was Sunday, the day of the week which I have always found the lowest point if I’m feeling low already.  I refined a promotional leaflet for Two Red Heads and… for Care Homes, and delivered a few by foot; a big pile of ironing is waiting (perhaps to be done in front of a film) and a pile of washing is waiting to be hung up.  My children used to come back on a Sunday: I won’t see them until tomorrow after school.  Something has to change.