Seventeen things that absolutely ARE worth your time

Welcome, friends, to winter.

Let me just say here, I don’t care if you think it’s not winter until December 21st, until the first snows, or the Christmas tree goes up. For me, winter starts when the sun slides below the trees at the primary school before 3pm and you hurry home before the night slams down on the village. It doesn’t seem to gradually darken here at this time of year, it’s like a lamp being extinguished. It still shocks me with its suddenness.

I’ve been quiet of late. My dislike of, and worry about, these colder months is well documented and I don’t fear about speaking openly about them, particularly if my experiences might be a help to someone else. I have, however, found myself at something of a loss at what to say that might be useful and not sound trite. To be honest, I’ve been coping. Getting my head down, doing my tasks – volunteering at the school on a Tuesday, leading our Beaver Scout colony on a Wednesday (and all the planning that takes), working three mornings a week. Anything else is a bonus – a bonus I am so glad of that I am enjoying myself to much to want to stop doing it to write about it. I have been doing things that have made me feel so contented I sometimes just want to purr.

The only thing casting a shadow on the past few weeks is the concern that I ought be writing about it – and other things, besides.

As part of my Coping With Winter plan, I have been collecting oddments of beauty, inspiration and words of wisdom and storing them on Pinterest. I could literally lose months to Pinterest, so I have to ration myself. After a while you realise that most of the lifestyle/mindfulness how-to guides are all very much of a muchness, thousands of Instagram-ready, perfect home dwelling lifestyle bloggers all preaching from the same hymn sheet. I find this both infuriating and comforting – they don’t have anything new to say, either!

I stumbled across this post – 17 things that aren’t worth your time and yes, whilst I agreed with it, I thought that now is maybe not the time to look at things so negatively, and instead look at 17 things that absolutely ARE worth your time.

Walks: I’ve not felt great, physically, for a while now. I feel as though I have something working away at me, slowly, sapping my strength. I think it’s winter to blame, but massive stomps are a thing of the past. I still get out for a wee walk every day though. I take my time, listen to the radio on my headphone (Radio 4, bit addicted!), and even if it’s just a stroll to the school gates, I feel so much better for the fresh air. Even when it’s pouring.

IMG_20181124_145928_137

Books: Three amazing novels I’ve read recently – Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Melissa Harrison’s All Among The Barley and Polly Clark’s Larchfield. I’m currently reading Malachy Tallack’s The Valley At The Centre of the World. I haven’t felt so warm, contented and happy curled up with a book since Friday evenings as a child, just back from our tiny local lending library, eagerly clutching a new selection of Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome to devour.

Coffee: Make time for good coffee. We only have a wee cafetiere, nothing fancy at all, but I like to have a coffee I feel I deserve after completing something. After a morning of work, household chores or a long walk, it’s become something of a ritual to steer away from the jar of instant and indulge myself in something a little more special. Favourite mug, check. That wonderful smell of the coffee when you open the packet, check. Water just before boiling, check. Waiting just long enough before pushing down that plunger-thing, check. Sitting on the back step, eyes closed, hands wrapped around a mug that smells divine and tastes even better is one of life’s tiny pleasures that shouldn’t be denied.

Crap TV: Whatever it is, if it takes you away from worry and buggering about on social media for a wee while, indulge yourself. I watch very little TV, I prefer the radio, but in the run up to Christmas I do love a truly dreadful Christmas movie to escape into. It’s a treat. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t feel guilty.

Early nights: Early to bed is the new staying out late. Really it is.

Spotify playlists: I live for these at the moment. I get freaked out by how spot-on their algorithms are for being able to tell what I’d like, but maybe I am just depressingly predictable. Spotify always give me new things to listen to and fall in love with though, so I never get bored.

Cake: Making, particularly. Also eating. Cakes are calorie-free when the weather is cold.

Hot chocolate: With an extra sugar, lashings of squirty cream and a scrunched up Flake on top. Because to hell with Type II diabetes.

Friends, real-life ones: Reach out beyond social media. Plan a week-night get together for dinner and a chat, if you can. Pub quiz? Bingo? Walk? Whatever floats your boats. We are too reliant on social media these days, but nothing beats a good chinwag catch-up.

Hobbies: Whatever they are. Crochet, cake decorating, cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling. Does it make you happy? Yes? Then do it more. Even if you’re not very good at it. Four years ago I was utterly hopeless at crochet, I couldn’t even chain, but I decided I was going to teach myself and I wasn’t going to stop until I had learned. Why crochet? Because everyone else in my family are good knitters, but can’t crochet. I’m a trend-bucker like that. Also, my knitting is bloody atrocious.

Sending kind words to someone you think a lot of: For no reason other than that your life is better for having them in it. Send them a text, a Twitter DM, a card. Just say it.

Politeness: It costs nothing. Smiling and remembering your pleases and thank yous sounds like something you’d remind a five year old; but you’d be amazed how many people don’t think it’s important anymore.

Turning off the news: I like being informed. I have children who often ask me difficult questions and, as a parent, I owe them an answer – or at least a discussion on a subject. But there is nothing to be gained from watching 24 hour news or dwelling over headlines. We can do what we can do – we can educate and inform and share advice and resources. Worrying and getting paranoid and upset about what the news decides suits their agenda helps nobody, and only distracts from what we can do.

Buying local and buying from craftspeople: Going out for something to eat? Go to a local restaurant/cafe run by people in your community rather than the big chains. Buy your veg at the greengrocer, your trinkets, cards, jewellery from crafters not production lines in China. Help support a local business or a talented craftsperson. Yes, you will pay £40 or so for one of my crocheted baby blankets, for example, but they will be a quality you can pass down as an heirloom and every stitch will have been made – by hand, not machine, with care and love, because I love my craft.

local

Volunteering: I’m going to write a more detailed post about this soon, so I shall just say that volunteering has brought me so much joy and personal satisfaction, as well as great talking points for my CV, that I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whatever you like doing, would like to learn, or cause you support, you will be able to volunteer to help. Do it!

Cooking from scratch: I find cooking is brilliant for anxiety. The slow, careful preparation and weighing of ingredients, the combining, the cooking, the watching, the clearing up (I am an ‘as you go’ person rather than an ‘at the end’ person), there is something mindful and meditative about it, and whenever I’m feeling at odds with the world, I take great pleasure in the whole process, from planning and buying to the finished dish. I know I’m really lucky to have the time to do it, I’m not rushing in from work and juggling taking kids to various after-school activities, but if you can find an hour in your week to potter about in the kitchen, you won’t regret it.

IMG_20181002_160739_339

 

Plans: When the nights are long, nothing feels nicer than making plans for the future. Whether that be plans to budget for your summer holiday, plan what you want to do to your house, plan your new career or – my personal favourite – plan what I’m going to grow for food next year, now is the time to get everything down and see how you can convert them into more than just dreams.

I hope you’ve been able to take something from this wee listicle; it’s certainly helped me to get something written after weeks of beating myself up for not being able to do so, and I thank you for reading it. I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be so long next time!

 

 

Advertisements

Self Care September

 

I was mooching around on Twitter this morning, as I do, and I came across the hashtag #selfcareseptember . I will confess right now that it’s the first time I had heard of it, but it immediately struck me that a) this is a fabulous idea and b) I have been subconsciously using September as my own self-care month.

OK, I am getting married at the beginning of October; and part of this urge for self-care is, quite frankly, to stop me getting so stressed that I’m an absolute wreck and on three bottles of gin a day by the big event and also, in a rather uncharacteristically girlie way, a chance for me to feel and, hopefully look, the best I can. Although, let’s face it, given my usual look is slept-in-a-hedge chic, just having my hair brushed and no dirt on my face will be a vast improvement.

Just a quick disclaimer: I don’t have any medical training, though I’m very good at putting randoms in the recovery position, and I’m not squeamish about blood. I’m not trying to say that a bit of self-care is going to solve all your problems and ‘cure’ mental illness. It would be a gross and insensitive underestimation of all our intelligence to even imply that this could be the case. What I can attest to, however, is how various things I do at this time of the year personally help me.

For those of you who don’t know me, I suffer from a delightful combination of clinical depression and severe anxiety. I am currently on Citalopram for the depression side and beta-blockers and mindfulness for the anxiety and, touch wood, I have been pretty stable with only fairly minor peaks and troughs for the past few months. So yes, having lived with this for at least the past thirty years, I do get mental illness. I also appreciate that we are all totally different, and what helps some will not necessarily help others. Always remember that mental illness is a spectrum, and all of us are on it somewhere, and wherever we are can be massively traumatic and confusing – do try not to compare your emotions with those around you.

There are times where you might like to try some of these. There are times where you might be too scared to leave the house, or too wired to concentrate, or too sad to get out of bed. Don’t worry, there will be other days to try, if you want to. Don’t add to your troubles by feeling you somehow fail because you can’t always manage self-care. That defeats the purpose.

“Autumn casts a spell
and dying never was so beautiful.” – Amelia Dashwood

September is a strange time of the year for me. It is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful, with the myriad colours and early frosts and morning mists; but also tinged with sadness. It has always represented, for me, an ending of things. The close of summer, the death of warmth. I’m not sure why I was always so pessimistic about the changing of the seasons, I can only put it down to the fact that I love hot, sunny weather and, as a naturally outdoorsy type I love the long days and the buzz of nature.

Last year I decided to do my best to get a grip on how I dealt with the colder, darker months. I was already unwell, I knew that, and understood that I needed to knuckle down and deal with getting through that without being bogged down with additional seasonal depression; and the best way I could think to be proactive was to find things that I really enjoyed doing and fit them into a self care routine as a way of treating myself whilst my poorly brain rested and recovered.

Here are a few things that work for me:

Walking It Out

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. They have obviously never spent November in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for a stroll, whatever the weather. Some of my favourite stomps have been on the dreichest of days where I have sloshed through mud, felt icy rain batter my face, and watched the rippled circles from raindrops dance on the Clyde. Coming home and drying off and putting on my cosiest clothes and indulging in a cup of tea in front of the fire is a treat in itself. I also find frosty mornings when it is so cold your jaws ache hard to beat.

My pro-tip here would be to always carry your phone or a camera; and invest in a pair of small binoculars and take every opportunity to stop and investigate your surroundings, and notice things you might never have noticed before. I’m going to write more about this, and the concept of Awe Walks in a later piece, else I ramble on forever.

Cosy Crafts

Autumn and Winter are perfect times to curl up with your favourite crafts and get stuff done in front of the fire with plenty of tea on the go. As you know if you’ve read my blog before, I am an avid crocheter and spend much of the colder months working on longer projects – last year I worked on my Hebridean Islands ripple blanket (you can find Lucy at Attic24’s pattern and tutorial here).

Another really worthwhile thing I was able to do was to stay involved with the local craftbomb club, and we organised a Christmas craftbomb in the village – it wasn’t an awful lot of work, but it kept me in touch with friendly faces and I enjoyed our meet-ups and discussions very much. Craftbomb / yarnbomb groups are popping up all over the country and often meet in local cafes and libraries so it is worth checking out your local community noticeboards.

Emma Mitchell, blogger at the lovely silverpebble blog has a whole book on beating the winter blues coming out next month.

You should probably buy it, like I will be doing the moment I can get my grubby paws on a copy. (Actually seriously cannot wait!).

Kitchen Witchery

 

Once you’ve burned all those calories with a good, bracing walk; why not indulge yourself with cooking something wonderful? I can understand that many people work really long hours and have other responsibilities such as caring for relatives, but if there is any way at all you can lose yourself in a recipe, you won’t regret it. When I am feeling particularly anxious, there is something incredibly soothing and comforting about just pottering in the kitchen, radio on, prepping and planning and taking time to concentrate on every aspect. I will confess I am not a very good baker and can destroy a Victoria sponge with a single glance; but I love making main meals for my family and experimenting with flavours and modifying recipes; and I have a particular love for making jams and chutneys. There is something very zen indeed about leaning over the jam pan, and something deeply satisfying about seeing all those lovely jars of hot preserve cooling on the windowsill.

 

Also, did anyone mention rhubarb gin? Quite ridiculously easy to make….

 

 

Over to Facebook

I thought I would ask my friends on Facebook how they liked to prep for the colder months, and what they would include in their personal September Self Care packages:

“Make time for yourself every day. You’re allowed to. It’s not selfish” – EO

“I get my SAD lamp out around about now and read by it most evenings. I also batch cook on the Sunday after pay day and freeze healthy meals for myself and my daughter – great for those nights you come in late and/or knackered after work.” – AG

I let things go – coming up to winter and going into summer are the two times of the year where I get rid of unnecessary things that weigh me down. Declutter of everything really – people, stuff, worries. A wonderful fire purge around Winternights/Halloween/Bonfire night is always welcome. It’s done almost subconsciously I think now. For winter its preparation for all the fabulous Christmas/Jul things. But also…you don’t want dead weight following you into a hard winter and a new year.
I feel similarly about spring into summer – shed the layers of clothes and any unnecessary baggage.” – CMcH

“I make a point of watching the sunrise from the swimming pool/sunset while I walk by the river. I make sure I stop and stare at everything beautiful that catches my eye on my walks – from a dramatic sky to a tree bending beautifully to catch the light.  I write those moments down for my memory jar too – a lot of repetition to others reading them but each one is memorable to me and makes me smile. Listening to music and TED talks too. Classical tunes, folk music etc for quiet relaxation and proper rock songs to lift my mood.” – CM

 

“I walk, a lot. It’s worth it to pay more attention to the changing seasons. Even in the rain, the sounds and scents change. I also have a clear out and rearrange where I can. An organised space definitely brings me a call mind. I try to do seasonal crafts with the kids.. I’m lucky they are going enough to still be interested. If not, we bake.. and have our treats for movie afternoons. Reading is a must too.” – LH

Wise words from some very wise women, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirt on my hands and the sun on my face.

This week is National Gardening Week here in the UK, and as you’d expect there have been quite a few pieces in the media on the topic of gardening – many of them are little more than advertising features to sell garden centres and labour-saving tools; but some, like this piece by MG Leonard for Standard Issue, blend two things I am passionate and vocal about – the outdoors, and mental health issues.

Our raised bed at Bothwell Community Garden the first year we opened. It doesn’t look quite that productive at the moment, I grant you.

 

Now, I think we can all agree that telling someone that weeding a raised bed or planting some bulbs is going to magically cure their mental illness would be incredibly unwise – we don’t want to be one of these ‘helpful’ people, as collated by the awesome Amy Jones for The Pool; but I thought it would write a little on how it improves my life, a life that is frequently blighted by severe anxiety and depression.

A quick Google search of ‘gardening’ and ‘mental health’ will bring up a plethora of scholarly articles and rather nauseating motivational memes on how gardening is a panacea for those of us with mental health issues, however – like going for a nice walk, having a bubble bath or getting into a downward-facing dog pose – it’s not as easy as that when your brain is in a place where, for weeks, you have been terrified to leave the house, or just cannot see the point, or only have the energy to function on the most basic of levels to get through the day safely. Those of us who live with this know that mental illness is not a bad day, or even a collection of bad days that can magically be made better by digging some weeds or taking a walk through the woods. It is far, far more complex than that.

I’ve always loved the outdoors. I was fortunate enough to have maternal grandparents who were keen gardeners and loved to involve us children, particularly with harvesting; and a paternal grandmother who was an avid walker and thought nothing of taking us out on eight mile yomps across the Welsh countryside or coastline. Our springs were filled with seedlings, and wildflowers and birdsong; our summers with arms full of sweetpeas, bowls of freshly picked raspberries and sand between our toes and pockets full of shells and pebbles.

Of course, it never seemed to rain and the days seemed endless until I fell, protesting, into bed in the still-light and felt the bed gently rocking with my tiredness.

My childhood smelled of tomatoes, ‘fish, blood and bone’ and boat varnish, and sounded of blackbirds, lawnmowers, waves.

As I have got older, I seem to spend increasing amounts of time reminiscing on my childhood; comparing my youth with that of my children (mostly when I am trying to shoo them off the electronics and out to play) and whilst I can understand that life is different now, and children are different now, I am sad that my children won’t experience nature and the outdoors in the same way as we did. As much as I try to get them outside, the more I’m sure they consider it a temporary, just-about-tolerable disturbance to their screen-time. I’m glad to report that they do, however, enjoy being outside and exploring and learning once they are there, so I’ll take that as a win, thanks.

Those of you who know me of old will probably know that my mental health has been up and down for many years, and I suffered particularly badly with post-natal depression when my eldest was born. It caught me by surprise, I’d been expecting the symptoms to be your typical ‘lowness’ and sadness associated with depression, and for it to happen within weeks of the birth; so I thought I’d been lucky. How wrong I was.

What it actually did was appear as manic, paranoid and quite terrifying behaviour, when I look back on it now; and it hit when he was five months old, probably just as I was letting my guard down. I was like a stressed vixen pacing round her cub, snarling at the world, convinced that everything and everyone was out to hurt us. Every car was about to mount the pavement, the house was going to burn down (ironically when I set the grill on fire I acted so calmly I seemed to watch myself from outside my own body), every plane flying overhead was going to explode and its debris fall on us. I could see it. On a relationship level, everyone hated me. Everyone doubted me. I was hopeless with this tiny baby I loved so much, and everyone was conspiring to take him off me and lock me away.

Looking back on it now, the truly terrifying thing about it was how absolutely normal and rational these feelings seemed at the time.

To cut a long story short, I was lucky. I had an excellent Health Visitor who realised what was happening and got me help, and fast. Group therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and my very own psychiatrist and community team. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t thank NHS Scotland (and more specifically NHS Lanarkshire) because I don’t think I would be here now if they hadn’t acted as quickly as they did.

By 2008, another baby had arrived; and he was a wake-up. Literally. The little darling refused to sleep upstairs in the crib, or even in the pram top inside the cot in our room. I spent the first four months of his life sleeping on the sofa with him on the floor in the pram top. He liked to take an ounce of milk every half an hour or so, just to make sure I could never sleep. Once he settled upstairs (eventually), he got to the colic age, and would scream blue murder from 5pm until 3am. Every. Damn. Night. Then we both got Swine Flu. I could go on, I won’t.

Strangely, despite (or maybe because of) the stresses of Captain Squawk’s desire to drive me completely round the twist, I was not affected by PND this time round; but I was all too aware that depression and anxiety could hit me again at any moment, and for no discernible reason, as it had since I was fifteen or so.

We were up the Main Street in the village one day, the kids and I; and I was looking in the window of the butcher’s. Quite why, I have no idea – I was vegetarian at the time. There was a poster about a new community garden project to bring raised bed, no-dig organic gardening to Bothwell and a phone number and some lovely photos of the site it was modelled on in Fairlie.

The rest is history.

I plucked up the courage to phone the number, and attended the first meeting, where I plucked up the courage to volunteer to be on the steering committee to get the garden up and running.

Cutting the first sod, 2009. Jim, Ian, Norma, Avril, Bill, Sheena, Me and the kids. These are all still fantastic friends and have taught me so much.

The Organic Growers of Bothwell opened Bothwell Community Garden in 2010, and I’m still there, I’m still on the committee, and I still love it with the same enthusiasm that I did that first, glorious summer. I love to grow food, obviously, but I also appreciate – as a socially awkward introvert – the really lovely friendships I have made with people I would have been otherwise unlikely to have crossed paths with. I doubt they know it, but several garden members have been instrumental in helping to sort my head out in one way or another. The introvert in me should probably hate the thought of a community garden, particularly when one is on the committee and therefore viewed as some kind of fountain of all knowledge; but I actually appreciate how it can shake up my comfort zone, and ‘force’ me to be sociable and to indulge in the gentle chat I hide from but know, deep down, that I need.

There is the physical love of gardening and food growing that MG Leonard describes so eloquently in her piece above; but for me there is so much more. There are memories that make my heart swell. The smell of tomatoes in the polytunnel, always. That’s Grandad, I’m right back there in his garden, behind him as he shuffled in his slippers, rolly in hand, to adjust the windows of the greenhouse to best suit his Moneymakers. The smell of ‘fish blood and bone’ that I sprinkle on my bed as an organic fertiliser, I’m back in my maternal grandparents’ garden ‘helping’ to turn over the soil in the flowerbeds ready for the bedding plants to be planted out. When I walk to the gate past our woodland walk (a small wooded area at the front that we left intact) and see the wild garlic and bluebells and ragged robin and comfrey I am transported back to the Welsh woodlands of my walks with my Nanna.

The yomping, stomping grounds of Burry Port and Pembrey.

I’m back where I was happy, where I had nothing to bother me other than whether it would be sunny enough to go out to adventure tomorrow; and rather than depress me that I now have a life of responsibility and uncertainly, I find that hugely comforting. I can curl up inside my memories like a fox in its earth, safe and content, and even if it’s only for five minutes a day, and I find that massively beneficial to how I process the rest of my day.

Gardening and being around woodland and wildness remind me of stories, resurrect long-forgotten events; trigger the need to tell my children anecdotes about the family they never knew, and a place they haven’t grown up in; the names are strange to them, mythical. The place names are Welsh, and when we go back to Wales to visit family I will often wail that there are now houses on a particularly fine lane for blackberries.

I remember when all this was fields.

The boys like my stories of Wales, of our adventures up hills and along coastlines; of raspberry picking and competitions to ascertain which of us could chew on rhubarb without wincing, of dusk bonfires and being chased by cows. My grandparents live on in my stories, my gloriously happy memories of a childhood outdoors, my hands in the dirt and my face turned towards the sun.

 

 

Starting to unfurl

 

I wake each morning to the sound of the blackbird’s song. A song of future promise, of the seasons to come; but also a song of the past, hardwired into my brain over so many spring-times.

Whenever I hear the blackbird, I am instantly transported to the back garden of my family home in West Wales. I’m five or so, lying under the heavy canvas of the old tent my mum has erected for me to play in. It’s afternoon, I’m alone – I assume my sister was having a nap and my mum was busy in the house – and it’s hot. I’m smelling freshly cut grass and that familiar, comforting tent smell that even now I love so much; I’m watching the dappled shadows of the hedges dance on the roof of the tent; I’m hearing the blackbird and the low thrum of a petrol lawnmower in one of the gardens behind us.

I don’t know why that particular memory stayed with me so clearly; I can only assume that it was one of my life’s defining moments; maybe a subtle change in my cognitive abilities caused by some brain pathways meeting, who knows? It’s burnt into my memory now, and I cherish it. I can still smell that tent, feel the ground beneath me, see the shadows bounce and flicker on the canvas as though it were yesterday; and whenever I do I feel instantly wrapped in comfort and warmth.

When you suffer with anxiety, stress or/and depression; turning your mind off from the constant worry of the ‘what if?’ scenarios can be exceptionally difficult. Brains tend to race from one stress to the next, sometimes cycling rapidly and sometimes bringing sufferers to their knees with worry and despair, particularly if a situation appears to be, or indeed is, out of our immediate control.

Let’s face it, at the moment the world – and Britain in particular –  is not a great place for your average anxious depressive. If we’re not worrying about our children, climate change, the housing market, job security and the NHS; we can always fall back on the rise of the far-right across the West, Trump, Russian intervention, terrorism and Brexit for things to keep us grinding our teeth and wringing our hands into the wee small hours. Happy days!

One of things I learned several years ago in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and more recently when I studied Mindfulness starting with this free online course is that in many instances, worrying changes nothing. There is a massive difference between looking realistically and practically at issues that affect us and doing our best to make contingency plans; and moithering and fretting about things that, in reality, we have very little sway over.

I’ve no idea who said this, I have seen it attributed to everyone from Gautama Buddha to Ernest Hemingway (though to listen to the internet, Hemingway was responsible for 98% of earnest – see what I did there? – psychobabble memes) but

Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.

And thus, on Friday evening, I decided to dedicate my long weekend from Friday night through to Tuesday night (I’m on a three day week this week) to relaxing, going with the flow, and doing only things that made me happy. It was a rare weekend with only one or two plans in place, so seemed an ideal time.

The ‘rules’ went a bit like this:

  • If you want to do something (within reason!) do it.
  • Stop when you want to stop, whether that’s after five hours or five minutes.
  • Put your foot down nicely, and only do things that make you happy. If you don’t think you’ll get anything out of it, then be polite but firm and say no. Obviously, keep an open mind and assess what you might gain from it before saying no – that stint of volunteering in the rain might lead to an interesting conversation or the start of a new friendship; or that trip to Lidl might lead to 30% off a real nice cheese….you get the idea!
  • Be mindful of what you are doing, and make a point of looking for the lovely in whatever you’re doing; whether that’s pride at the increasingly large pile of beautifully ironed clothes or a freshly weeded vegetable patch; or drinking in the beauty of your surroundings whilst out for a walk or appreciating a fantastic song on the radio.
  • Write things down to look back on. I have a small journal I carry around and write down things I am grateful for each day.

 

Saturday was a stunning day, we woke early and lay in bed bathed in spring morning sunshine and drank coffee and chatted before heading off to our local environmental group’s Spring Clean. We’ve done this for years as a family, it only takes an hour or so of our time but when there are enough of us it makes a huge difference to the village and it’s a lovely way to meet new and interesting people.

litter1

We were delighted to see the ponds absolutely chock-full of frogspawn and tadpoles…

20170325_102011

It was such a glorious day, we decided to go on a grand adventure; so we organised a couple of daypacks (always best in Scotland to pack for all eventualities, so we never go anywhere without waterproofs and food and a flask of coffee) and headed North, to Pitlochry. The town itself was buzzing with people, so we decided to drive up to Moulin and then walk back into Pitlochry along the route towards Black Spout; it was warm and the air was full of birds and blossom and I could feel myself start to unfurl, like a new leaf. It was magical.

pitlochry

We stopped for chips on the way home from a lovely wee chippy just outside Stirling, this chips-in-the-car thing is becoming something of a family tradition after one of our grand adventures; but we eat pretty healthily the rest of the time so I’m not going to stress about a fish supper once every blue moon.

Sunday, being Mother’s Day, meant I was Princess for the day. Kid One had bought me a lovely rose scented candle and some pencils, and Kid Two had bought me a very sweet felt ‘Twitter bird’ key-ring from the Mother’s Day stall at school. (I had given them the money for this, so I actually bought my own presents, but we shan’t dwell on that minor point!). We went to Hobbycraft for supplies for this week’s Beavers’ craft activity, Bunny Bums for Easter and I was proud to go in for tissue paper and card and leave with tissue paper and card and not 56 balls of yarn, some silk paints and a polystyrene life-sized giraffe. We then spent the afternoon up in Airdrie visiting the not-husband’s mum, and we greatly appreciated her keeping an eye on the boys for a cheeky half hour so we could nip off to Morrisons and do the weekly shop without them, which was bliss as our children turn into maniacs the moment they enter a supermarket. The rest of the day was delightfully chilled out, and involved snoozing, The Archers and a delicious dinner followed by a walk and a truly stunning, blazing red sunset.

IMG_20170326_210625_273

IMG_20170326_210347_869

 

Monday dawned gloriously – what a joy to wake to blue skies and birdsong – so I walked the kids to school and, rather than be fooled by my body telling me it’s tired and wants to go back to bed as usually happens on my days off, I decided to do the 5km circuit down past the entrance to Bothwell Castle , into Uddingston and home. It’s a route busy with walkers, and it was wonderful to share smiles and hellos with people as we passed. I listened to Radio 4, and just let the news wash over me – there is not much I can do to stop the triggering of Article 50 or hasten a second independence referendum, but I can remember to smile and say hi to people I pass.

I got home full of beans rather than feeling the exhaustion I have been feeling after the school run recently, and I went on to attack the ironing pile which has been getting somewhat out of hand. Though I did not quite reach the bottom, I have yet to find an undiscovered tribe living amongst the Minecraft t-shirts and odd socks, so I think I may have just taken action in time.

I spent the rest of the day pootling – I did a little crochet, a little embroidery, a little reading (Kevin MacNeil’s ‘The Stornoway Way’) interspersed with green tea drunk on the back step in the sun as my sheets dried on the line, and then decided to go up to the community garden and get our raised bed weeded and the strawberries tidied up and, my god, it was glorious.

I am so looking forward to getting growing this year, I found it hard to juggle my time last year what with my returning to work and my anxiety issues; and this year I am determined to make far better use of my time and remember that I view time spent in the community garden as a relaxing treat rather than a chore.

I decided to finish off a delightful Monday with a proper girlie pamper. I’m sure those of you who know me will agree that I am not the most feminine of creatures and can usually be found in a parka and wellies looking like I’ve slept in a hedge; but I am partial to the odd treat from time to time and I had just lavished a whole £12.00 on myself buying some Vitamin E creams and some face-packs from Superdrug whilst the boys were in Game at The Fort on Sunday morning. I locked myself in the bathroom, ran a bath full of bubbles and set about beautifying myself with an exfoliating face-pack, a body scrub, a soak and a read of the lovely Breathe magazine followed by a damn good moisturising. I came out as pug-ugly as I went in, naturally, but I was softer and smelled delightful.

It has been an absolutely lovely few days, despite having done nothing particularly special or even spent very much money; it was just time doing things that make me happy – even ironing gave me a great sense of satisfaction that I’d done some (and listened to Woman’s Hour at the same time, yay multi-tasking!). The key, I think, was that I chose not to worry about the things I cannot change. Whilst I cannot actually change many things, what I can choose to do is change the way in which I respond and react to them.

Welcome to British Summer Time. I hope you are unfurling too.

 

 

 

SmallGoodThings

Monday morning silence.

I have just got home having walked the children to school in horizontal rain; I have made myself a very strong black coffee and retreated to bed, with my trusty laptop on my knees. I usually sit at my desk (yes, the £10.00 drop-leaf, no expense spared for my working comfort) but it’s covered in wool and various bits of crafting gubbinses like my silk-painting frame and paints. It also puts me into ‘work-mode’ when the view outside is less than inspiring as I’ll spend longer procrastinating and checking the work database and emails for tomorrow if there aren’t any birds and squirrels entertaining me.

It’s so quiet. No traffic or construction noise from the fancy new-builds across the way. No beep-blink-beep-boom of electronic games; no gentle drone of Radio 4 for company. It is quite….delicious.

When you are coping with an anxiety disorder, I think there can be a tendency to seek comfort in background noise – perhaps the moving wallpaper of the TV on in the corner whether it is being watched or not or, as in my case, the radio. Is it company? Is it some kind of reassurance that people are close by in a time where we are less likely to reach out to neighbours or friends with their busy lives?

I listen, as I mentioned, to Radio 4. I love Radio 4. For me, it has the perfect balance of news, current affairs, special interest programmes, comedy and drama. For all the BBC’s problems, for all its issues with media bias (and, let’s face it, what media outlet isn’t going to be biased in some way?); Radio 4 seems to remain a flagship of quality programming.

(It also has The Shipping Forecast, which I have always found mysterious and bewitching; hoping one day to experience a cyclonic off Fastnet.)

This morning, however, is quiet morning.

I can hear the wind whip through the bare branches of the beloved sessile oak that makes up most of my view. I can hear the soft click-chipchip-click of my useless one finger typing. I can hear a bird, a wren, it sounds like, singing ; its surprisingly big voice soon lost on the wind.

I’ve left my phone downstairs too. I’m taking a break from chatter and the buzz of social media, at least for a few hours, alongside the radio. Resting my brain from the constant barrage of information, misinformation, paranoia, fear and – thankfully with the lovely folk I follow on Twitter and my friends on Facebook – a decent sized portion of good, decent British gallows humour in the face of testing times; and no small degree of beauty.

My blog this morning was going to be a furious and self-righteous libtard, snowflake rant about the alt-right and the communal hypnosis that seems to be affecting the Western World at the moment; culminating in a mildly amusing tirade about last night’s events that led to Twitter – that bastion of free speech – putting me on the Naughty Step for twelve hours for pointing out to stupid people that they were stupid. (OK, I might have used a bad word or two); but even just thinking about it is making my shoulders stiffen and my jaw clench, and defeats the object of not listening to the radio.

Instead, I am going to talk about #SmallGoodThings.

crocus2.jpg

It fell into my Twitter timeline thanks to the lovely Emma of Silverpebble and is, in short, a collection of those lovely little things that make our hearts sing, rather than despair. It might be an inspiring view, something beautiful you’ve read, a delicious slice of cake or an amazing run. Emma herself is something of an inspiration to me, and I often find myself stalking her looking for her exquisite drawings of local flora, or her gorgeous Instagram pictures that just make me want to grab my wellies and go mooching around for what I too might find. I think I found out about Emma through Lucy of Attic 24 who in turn will probably never know the effect she had on me during my early struggle with learning to crochet with seven hundred fingers and ninety thumbs and also the sales of Robin DK yarn in the local branch of Watt Bros! Thank you to both of them for bringing such beautiful things into my life.

beavs

On Friday night, we took 13 Beaver Scouts and 11 Cubs along to a Strathcalder District sleepover at the Glasgow Science Centre. I won’t try and kid on that I wasn’t at all worried about this – this was my first major outing leading a group without most of the parents being within easy grabbing distance, and I’m not the most confident of souls; but I’m delighted to report that it was absolutely amazing. We didn’t lose any in the throng of 400-odd other children all dressed the same; nobody required the First Aid kit; and any homesick tears were soon gone with bribes of arms full of (well deserved) badges and certificates. It was the first-night-away-from-family for a lot of them (sometimes I forget how young they are), and they were fantastic. Their behaviour and attitude was remarkable and I was so, so proud of each and every one of them and won’t hesitate to organise more trips with them.

fin

I was full of the cold yesterday and spent the morning lounging about cat-like in the sun’s rays on my bed; annoying people on Twitter, drinking copious amounts of tea and catching up with the gossip from Ambridge; but by the afternoon I was becoming stir-crazy and suggested a wee daunder down the farm lane to the Old Mine Nature Park. Boy 2 could have used the perfectly adequate wheelchair, bike and pram friendly gate at the side, but hey, where’s the fun in that?

Despite the snowdrop and crocus displays in the village and in the woods being tremendous this year; the lane is still cloaked in winter. There is the first sign of budding on the prolific hawthorn bushes, but not much else and I was just starting to feel rather melancholy and despondent when Boy 2 pointed out birdsong. The skylark! We often hear it along this walk as there are farm fields surrounding the lane on all sides; and we weren’t able to see it yesterday, but that unmistakable song never fails to raise the spirits. We continued along our way chatting about nature, and school. He described what adjectives were:

“Adjectives are describing words; like red, or blonde, or disgraceful.”

We came home to warmth, and tea, and the not-husband making dinner and I settled down to listen to Poetry Please, my Sunday afternoon guilty pleasure, where I heard this absolutely beautiful poem by Carol Ann Duffy:

The Light Gatherer

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,
and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,
warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I’d enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,
the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,
and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.
Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,
like a jewelled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.

gameschop

After bathtime, we managed to drag them away from their various bleep-bleep machines, to which they were appearing to be glued, for a game of Family Trivial Pursuit. It doesn’t happen as much as it should do. All too often we sit together in the living room with Boy 1 on a headset in front of the XBox, Boy 2 on headphones watching YouTube on his tablet, the not-husband on headphones watching a film on the laptop; and me crocheting and listening to the radio or something on Spotify; so although we are together, I am very conscious of the fact that we are all sat there in our own little bubbles; so it was really lovely to break out of that.

It’s now 10.36am. I have been typing for an hour and a half. It is still silent, but for the wind and the occasional bird. Have I missed Twitter or Facebook? No. Not at all. Have I missed the radio? Do I feel as though I have missed something vital to my understanding of the world in which we live? Do I fear I will fail my children by not keeping up with the minutiae of daily political intrigue? No.

I was chatting to someone about anxiety this weekend; we were talking about trying to find brightness on dark days; trying to find these self-same #SmallGoodThings; and how we need to treat them like kindling flames; to nurture them so they become bigger flames, light that illuminates the dark corners and keeps us warm.

Silence, today, has been my #SmallGoodThing

Thank you for reading xx

snowdrops

Snowdrops at Bothwell Woods through Prisma filter.

 

 

 

There And Back Again

singlestep

As, indeed, starting to write again starts with a single word. A word that has been a very long time coming, it seems.

I lost my words. They deserted me. My brain deserted me. It also made sure it gave me a damn good kicking on the way out.

Hindsight is a quite marvellous thing, it affords us the chance to look back and realise, with no small degree of shock, how deep the holes we fall into can be, how deep and how very dark, because you don’t always notice it at the time, and you can’t remember the light.

I didn’t fall, like Alice down the rabbit hole.

I slipped, slowly; grasping desperately at times onto the bank, clawing onto grasses and rushes, dragging my bleeding fingers through the dry earth; occasionally being gifted a breathing space, a chance to relax a while and forget the danger before my feet started kicking away at the sides and I would find myself slipping deeper. A hole of my own making. Maybe – like someone drowning in quicksand – I shouldn’t have struggled so hard. Maybe I should have just stayed still and waited patiently for help.

I had forgotten about the side effects of starting on Citalopram. I had forgotten the constant drouth (exacerbated by warfarin and central heating), the constant nausea, the trembles and the nervous twitches, the shaking, the itching, the monstrous fatigue. The paranoia and the temporary worsening of the anxiety and the sense of complete and utter hopelessness and desolation. They don’t warn you enough that you will feel worse before you feel better, they don’t warn you enough that, for a few days, you might well feel like you need to be put somewhere safe for your own protection.*

I tried to carry on as normal, tried to be the partner, the lover, the mother, friend, the Beaver Scout Leader, the confident marketing professional. I held it together through gritted teeth and when I wasn’t doing something I absolutely had to do, I was sleeping. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, I slept.

I refused to feel guilt about that. Having been through this a few times in my life, I realise now that the brain shutting down is its way of coping; and that sleeping is helping the brain to heal. So I slept. I slept as much as I could. At least when I was sleeping, I wasn’t frightened of the world, or weeping at the state of it, or worrying myself into biting my fingernails until blood ran down my hands thinking about our futures.

On Friday, I found myself singing.

I sat for an hour engrossed in my book. So engrossed I almost forgot to go and pick up the children.

I listened to Radio 4 and could actually remember what I had just learned.

I went to our Scout Parents’ Evening and I was able to make conversation without feeling that rising sense of dread and panic that I might say something ridiculous.

On Saturday, I went to an unusual supermarket without preparation. I had a list, but it wasn’t in the same order as the shop is laid out (I know, I know, but it’s something I have always done in order to stay on budget and avoid unnecessary temptations). I coped. I even smiled at people.

I went up to the community garden, a place I adore but have found myself avoiding because I didn’t want to have to speak to people – because I felt I couldn’t speak to people.

20161210_131117

I neglected the bed this year. I just couldn’t deal with it, and I did feel guilty at how much had gone to waste. The carrots were ruined with root-fly anyway (that deserves a rant of its own), the beetroot were small, the strange weather this year had caused a lot of things to bolt; but I could have done considerably more with it than I managed this year, so it was cathartic to cut back and pull out, weed and rake and tidy everything up; leaving just the strawberries, kale and sprouts in to overwinter. Next year is a new year, a new start, and I look forward again to spending old Winter nights pouring over seed catalogues and working out my companion planting plan.

20161210_132338

Today we walked. We went looking for holly berries. We found none, despite me seeing loads in the woods a few weeks ago. We walked, and talked, and laughed.

We made plans.

I thought of Christmas, and the thoughts weren’t panicked and full of dread. I thought how much I am looking forward to my sister and her family visiting for Hogmanay, despite us not being the best at entertaining (not least in comparison to her, who throws amazing parties).

I’m climbing out of the hole, out of that inky, dank, suffocating darkness.

The views are quite beautiful.

Hello again.

 

 

 

*IMPORTANT Pro-tip – If you are starting on an SSRI, or restarting on one, please consider asking for support during the day. Take time off your normal job and routine, ask a friend or loved one to be with you as much as you need them to be, to remind you that these feelings are all fine and just stop that feeling of isolation. If these sensations are still very prevolent after four weeks, or get unbearable or are accompanied by side effects such as migraines or hallucinations or a feeling of ‘detachment’, please speak to a professional immediately – it could be that your meds need to be swapped. I tried several types of SSRI before settling on Citalopram as the best choice for me. However ill you feel, you still know yourself better than anyone else does. Trust your instincts, and if you feel worse, please don’t be afraid to say so.

Guilt vs Fear

You know when you really need to talk, to blurt everything out, to admit to how you’re feeling; but you cannot find the words? Aye. That.

I’ve sat here staring and crying at a blank screen for the last twenty-four minutes. Tick, tock, tick, tock.

“This is time you are wasting that you’re never getting back” says Guilt Brain.

“Oh, do fuck off” says Fear Brain, and, just to reiterate its dominance, gives me the next delightful bout of faintness and motion-sickness (which tends to be unusual when you are not actually in motion).

“You should do some yoga, you lazy bitch. No wonder you’re a state” says Guilt Brain. “How do you expect to feel better when you just hide in bed all day doing sweet FA?”.

Fear Brain makes me think fleetingly of suicide (Fear Brain likes doing this), so I gather the resolve to click between tabs to have a look at Twitter and Facebook, to see if there is anything there that can stop the internal bickering.

Social media is bleak at the moment. Of the two, I have started to prefer Twitter (after a few years of a tumultuous love/hate relationship where, amongst other dramas, I was chased around the hinterwebz by knuckle-dragging mouth breather Tommy Robinson of EDL fame and my details, apparently, posted on ‘Redwatch’); but at the moment Twitter is a rolling news channel of ever-increasing hysteria with a sprinkling of British gallows humour. Facebook, on the other hand, is just full of drama, vague-booking, photographs of dinner and people dusting off the essential social media festive ornament, the ‘Muslims are demanding Christmas becomes Winterval’ story. I do have friends there – really good friends – but I feel as though my constant whining about my dodgy blood, my hormones, and now my depression and anxiety is getting them down. Of course, my own thoughts fly in the face of my actual beliefs that we should talk openly about these things, but hey – that’s what fucked up brains do, isn’t it?

I really don’t know where I’m going with this, to be honest. I know what I want to say – I want to say that I am going to get up tomorrow and go on a brisk, healing, walk and then do my yoga and my meditation, and this fug will lift and everything will be OK. This time, however, it feels like this is going to be a longer term thing and I have an awful lot of processing to do, including making some very hard decisions on whether it would be better for both parties if I were to say firm goodbyes to a couple of people who I love to bits but, for one reason or another, the relationships have become painful (through no real fault of theirs, just timings and distance and plans and whatnot that Fear Brain likes to dwell on as some kind of abandonment).

The GP has put me back on Citalopram, for once I didn’t kick up an almighty fuss about it; but I don’t remember the side-effects being this bad before and I don’t know whether it is reacting bizarrely with the beta-blockers, which I’m still supposed to be taking. I hope the side-effects wear off soon, I only have a week off work – if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and I need money for Christmas (another thing to panic about), but the days are, at the moment, mostly about hiding under the duvet feeling sick and shivery and anxious and frightened. I did manage to go on my Scout training in Auchengillan this weekend, which was terrifying but actually really great fun – perhaps the change of scene and the fact I was really busy and involved helped, because since I’ve been home everything just seems to have got that little bit darker, and the daily pool of treacle I feel like I’m pushing through that little bit deeper.

I just have to dig deeper. I’m not going to feel guilty about not doing much, my brain needs to heal, I just need to be well enough to work next week, that’s all I have to aim for at the moment, to be able to speak on the phone without panicking. Everything else will come with patience. Including those difficult decisions, I’m sure.

There are no photos today because, well, fuck it.