A gift of gratitude

Walking up to primary school in the morning gives me precious chat times with Child The Second, and the walk back gives me time to gather my thoughts for the day ahead.


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, the TV’s full of adverts for all manner of tat. Social media is heavy with expectation, with plans for elaborate Christmas dinners and lavish gifts. It is also, of course, teaming with one-upmanship, with photos of expensive toys that are this year’s ‘must have’ item, with plans for elaborate ‘Christmas Eve Boxes’ (when did spending a small fortune on a special box for the night before the little smashers get a ton of other boxes become a thing?). Everything is gearing up for the obligatory pile-of-presents-look-how-much-we-love-them Facebook photo late on Christmas Eve.

I’m glad my children are older and are past the idea that the bigger the pile = the more they are loved. This year they have asked for experiences, of things they can do together or we can do as a family. These things don’t cost a fortune, can be spread handily throughout the year, and will give the gift of memories long after Toy of the Year is languishing, broken, in the bottom of the toybox.

There are many positives to the idea of experiences for gifts. We have chosen experiences that support local businesses rather than the multinational chains so we are actively putting back into our local community. Experiences have no plastic packaging that ends up in landfill, don’t exploit workers in other countries, don’t break and don’t make a mess in already full bedrooms. We will make memories, we will talk and laugh and learn more about each other.

It has also meant that we have, essentially, been able to shift the whole focus of Christmas away from the giving of physical gifts, and more to spending time and making plans as a family. This has freed up a lot of time I would have spent stressing about what to buy, when to buy it and where to store it; and I hadn’t really noticed before how anxious the run-up to Christmas had left me, to the point where I was mentally exhausted by the time the day itself arrived.

I’m fighting a virus at the moment that has been causing me considerable fatigue; but thanks to our ‘new look’ Christmas, instead of making myself more ill stressing out about having X, Y and Z ready, I can take valuable time to take things slowly, fight the bug, relax and recover. It was during one of my ‘resting my eyes’ sessions (read: ‘nanna-nap’) that I started mulling over gratitude and how, once you come to a point in your life where you are content with it as it is, that gratitude just grows and grows and – I hope – spreads to others as well as to other areas of your life.

Earlier this year, I had a Eureka moment where I was suddenly overcome, whilst on the Hawthorn Path, with an intense and overwhelming sense of deep contentment and happiness. I realised, in a moment, that my life is one of peace, harmony and love. Yes, of course there will be sadness, and grief, and struggle at times, as befall us all; but that I am exceptionally lucky to have what I do, to be who I am, and to have the people in my life that I do.

My husband and I – maybe now we are married I should just call him by his name – Richard – are not and never have been particularly materialistic. We replace things when they wear out. Some things, like the microwave, we decided we didn’t really need. We have t-shirts that are fifteen years old. A blissful holiday is a fortnight in the tent on a quiet campsite with few facilities with some good places to explore nearby. Although Richard has to fly down south for work fairly regularly these days, we’ve not been on an international flight since 2001. I am grateful that I am this type of person, that I’m not a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type; that I won’t simply die if I don’t get my foreign beach holiday every year; or long for perfect shoes or expensive gadgets. It just takes so much stress out of our lives, that’s the wonderful thing about contentment.

Social media – particularly Instagram – is currently obsessed with being ‘perfect’ for the festive parties. The perfect figure (‘How many calories are lurking in that canape, you failure of a woman, you?’), the perfect make-up, the perfect dress. Insta is full of women who have used so much make up and filters they look chiselled from stone (why do so many 15 year olds obsess about looking like 26 year olds? It’s just weird). Facebook is full of people fishing for compliments or stressing out because they’ve put on some weight. It’s easy to fall into these traps when you’re surrounded by these impossibly perfect, highly manipulated images. A wee while ago, I would be eating salads and googling diets because a size 16 is deemed unacceptable by so many.

Now, loaded with this virus, I am grateful that I am strong enough to kick it into touch when I have seen it deck so many people. I’m able, and healthy, and can walk for miles and can appreciate the places I wander through. I have so many friends and family fighting with illnesses that mean they can’t do what I have just been blithely taking for granted.

“Enjoy the little things, because one day you might look back and realise they were the big things” – Robert Brault

The list goes on and on, with so many examples. But with gratitude comes peace, and when you suffer from anxiety and depression, peace is a beautiful thing to be treasured. Who could want a better gift than that?

So this year, cut yourself some slack. Look about you with fresh eyes and appreciate what you have now. Relax, and know you’ve done enough.

Give yourself the ultimate gift, the gift of peace. 

Advertisements

Cheer up, goth.

So, dear reader, here we are again. Another post, another afternoon of sitting with a slightly anguished expression and another (probably unwise) coffee pondering on why someone who loves to write finds blogging so dreadfully difficult.

I wanted to write a piece on gratitude, and have managed to successfully procrastinate for several days on this particular subject, not because I feel I have nothing to be grateful for, you understand, but because I don’t know where to start without it all sounding rather twee and like I am giving you a lecture in stopping ruddy moaning and be thankful, thou churlish wretch. Which I would not want to do. No. Not at all.

So I shall just sit here and do the whole stream-of-consciousness thing and just type what comes into my head, or ‘doing a Virginia’ as I prefer to call it. Gratitude might certainly work its way into the whole word-soup eventually, it might not. It’s my blog, I can do as I please.

Shall we have a meme? One of those nice inspirational ones? Oh, let’s.

 

 

Oh, I don’t know about you; but I feel instantly 400% more inspired. Shall we have another? Shall we? Oh, OK then. If you insist.

 

There we go. That even has the ubiquitous brush-writing seen in every issue of Elephant Journal, every gift shop and certainly every branch of B&M Bargains in the UK. It would probably look pretty good on a mug, that, wouldn’t it? Maybe your Monday-morning-back-in-the-office-with-a-bit-of-a-hangover mug, the one that you really secretly want to throw at someone’s head. You’d read that and feel so overwhelmed with joie de vivre and a deep sense of oneness with the cosmos that you would leave a trail of eco-friendly glitter in your wake and a unicorn would come and fix the printer.

So yes, anyway. I was on the Facebook this morning and, as usual, up popped my memories from the days of yore – all those things that happened on this day in history (well, Facebook history). Shall we see what those things were, dear reader?

2016 – Ranty posts about David Cameron resigning, Brexit, more Brexit. Oh look, a barely concealed full-on panic attack about Brexit. Whinge about the children. A very real worry about chopping my fingers off with my new knife set (won in a pub raffle in Wales, in case you have always had a long-held desire to know where I get my knives).

2015 – Occupy Welfare wordy Nye Bevan meme cunningly disguising the fact I was panicking / ranting / have a sulky whinge about the cuts to the NHS. Something about the SNP opposing something (link no longer works and I have no clue what I was ranting about). Admission of being slumped on sofa for much of the day gripped with anxiety. Another moan about the children.

2014 – Moan about children, stress about indie referendum, uploaded some photos from when we were in Tenby (I complained that it was raining), comment about not having a very good day and ‘crashing to earth with a bump’. Brief interlude where I claimed to have enjoyed the Great Gatsby film.

2013 – Miserable semi-ranting about losing friends, why I shouldn’t have an opinion and having anxiety.

2012 – Ominous silence. That must have been when TalkTalk cut off our internet for no reason. Or I might have broken another laptop.

2011 – Was strangely upbeat and consisted mainly of friends posting up things with rude names on my wall. Yes, YOU, Emma. It was also the day I broke my ribs in a bizarre hanging basket accident, incidentally.

I think we’ll leave it there, shall we? I think we get the picture, don’t we?

 

I don’t think he does, yanno.

 

(Feel free to print that out and colour it in, if you’d like to. Mindful colouring is a thing, isn’t it?)

Next year, my Facebook memories from 2017 will include me asking:

Just been looking back on my memories, what a little ray of sunshine I have been all these years. Why didn’t anyone tell me to shut up with the incessant whining?!

And lots of lovely people telling me that I hardly ever whine, no, not hardly ever. Which was lovely and made me all smiley and a wee bit smug.

Thing is, though, it really rammed home to me today how much I took for granted, how I grinched my way through the days only commenting on the ‘bad’ things. The things that made me sad, or frightened, or frustrated or annoyed. Oh, there are mentions of the community garden, there are mentions of cooking, mentions of going out with the children.

But not one positive comment. Not one.

As someone who quite openly talks about the state of my mental health, and tries to advocate speaking up and shedding the stigma of mental health issues, I am not just shocked at my overwhelming pessimism in these posts, but also about my complete disregard for people reading who could have been having a far more awful time than me, and my complete and utter failure to link this pessimism and dissatisfaction with the state of my own mental health.

It would be easy to come out with something trite at this point like ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’, but that might imply that people are to blame for their mental health issues and that people struggling as I do with, say, anxiety and depression are ‘just not trying hard enough’ to get through it. And we all know that is a crock of shit, to not put too fine a point on it.

However…and there is a however (as well as the usual disclaimer of your-mileage-may-vary, the nature of spectrum disorders etc), I can certainly see a paradigm shift in my attitude to life over the last twelve months or so. So, what has caused it? Why am I so much more relaxed and positive in both my assessment and appreciation of current situations and my perception of the future, despite there no doubt being trouble ahead?

I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s actually a number of things, all working together.

Firstly, my meds. The combination of beta-blockers and Citalopram seem to be doing the trick – I have the mental energy to get up and get out and be interested in things – and anyone who has ever experienced depression will instantly recognise that ‘lack of interest in things’ as a major warning flag. I am able, thank God, to leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. I am confident enough to chat to a friend and say ‘Yes, that would be fantastic, I’d love to go walking with you / call round for a cuppa / have you over so the kids can play together’. I have been reading voraciously again – when I’m ill, I just cannot concentrate on even the shortest factual articles on a website, never mind get lost in a book. I have rediscovered the joys of art – drawing, sketching, painting, embroidery, silk painting. I’m not terribly good, but I wasn’t very good at crochet once. I persevered with it, I practiced over and over and over again until I got better.

They’re not very good but the fun I had was reward in itself.

 

Getting outdoors – this is, in so many cases, entirely dependent on the individual and I absolutely loathe that well-circulated meme along the lines that ‘nature is an anti-depressant, whereas as medicines are shit’. Can we knock that notion on the head, please? And may I respectfully add that, if all your mental health issues were miraculously cured by a stroll in the park, then I suspect you are mistaking ‘having a bad day’ with ‘a serious mental health issue’. Nevertheless, I am a great advocate of if you can get outdoors, get outdoors.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I cannot express how much peace I get from nature. It doesn’t have to be a long walk (though I do love a good stomp, it’s marvellous for shaking the stress and worries from muscles and giving you thinking space), just sitting in the garden listening to the birds and watching the bees busying around can be equally beneficial. I have taken much joy this spring and summer in watching the wild meadow areas around the village, and photographing and looking up and learning about the wildflowers, it has become something of an obsession. It has staggered me quite how rapidly life cycles, how the meadows look completely different week on week as different plants bloom and seed, attracting different insects, birds and animals. Maybe this is my mindful thing, this slow, quiet contemplation of the cycle of Mother Nature as she moves through the year.

There are other things too. My new habit of slowing things right down, my use of social media, my work/life balance, the people who inspire me; but I feel these should be saved for another day, another blog.

Just writing this has made me realise, actually, how lucky and grateful I am that I am responding positively to the meds, and that I am able to do these things; and I am painfully aware that not everyone is as fortunate. I do hope that this hasn’t come across as a brag about how jolly well everything is going in my life at the moment – that was not my intention at all. I just wanted to share some of the things that have helped me see the beauty around us, and to find a sense a balance in an otherwise pretty crazy world.

 

 

With thanks to Phil, who inspired this blog post.

A little more on Solstice – remembering Manchester and London.

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski
My love and prayers are with those who have been affected by the hideous events of this June, whilst I have been blessed with the peace to look at flowers. Take nothing for granted. Love every moment, and love each other.
solstice2
Clockwise from left: Police looking at tributes left after the Manchester attack; Police run to Borough Market / London Bridge attack; aftermath of Finsbury Park mosque attack; Grenfell Tower fire. All photos in public domain/permission granted for fair use.

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.

 

 

 

The Monsters In The Shadows

In the early hours of the morning, Hillary Clinton won the race to become the 45th President of the USA, with 79% of the vote.

And then I woke up.

I turned on my side and switched on my phone, turned to BBC News. The screen was achingly bright in the pitch black of the bedroom. I read the page. It was 5.50am and the world was changing forever.

I was lightheaded as I went downstairs and made what was to be my first of many coffees today; I turned on the news, turned on the fire, curled up in my chair clutching my coffee and waiting, and hoping, and praying.

A flashback to June, when we woke up and felt sick to our stomachs as we turned on the news and realised  we were taking our country back.

A flashback to the heartbreak of September 2014 when that glorious summer of optimism and hope suddenly seemed to end with the Arctic blast of the status-quo.

Other flashbacks, flashbacks of being much, much younger. Sitting in primary school, aged ten or so, learning about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. How long we would have to get home if Reagan dropped a bomb on Moscow, or Minsk, or Kiev – how I panicked about whether I would have time to grab my little sister from the infants block and still be able to get home to mammy. I lay in bed at night worrying about my friends who lived much further from the school than I did – how would they get home in time if Gdansk took a direct hit? These, after all, were the days of the Cold War, of Able Archer 83, when the adults in our lives lived in a real terror of suddenly being annihilated in the most hideous way imaginable, as portrayed in Barry Hines’ acclaimed but, frankly, traumatising BBC drama ‘Threads’ (please don’t watch that link if you are easily upset, although I think ‘Threads’ is one of the most important pieces of drama ever written, not a day goes by where I don’t regret watching it).

Even earlier than that, I remember sitting on the parquet flooring of the TV and assembly room of the infants block of Pwll Primary School and watching a map of the United Kingdom slowly turn blue. Friday, May 4th 1979. Even then, you knew that the world was changing. Not just your narrow little world of playing in the woods and scuffing your shoes and backies on your pals’ Choppers, you knew it was bigger than that. It’s days like these that make your cosy, warm, familiar child-world that little bit more adult. A little bit more ripped apart, a little bit less cosy. Sinister. Inhabited by those dark, shadowy monsters that hide in the periphery of your dreams and on the lips of your parents who suddenly look shifty and change the subject to something jolly the minute you walk in the room. You release with a horrid stomach lurch (that you will experience many times throughout your life) the monsters have, in fact, always been there, they haven’t just invaded. Your adults were just hiding them from you, playing an increasingly desperate game as you grew up and became more savvy about the world. The game of childhood innocence.

Today I had to tell my children that Donald Trump had become the most powerful man in the world.

I have heard several people say this today, and I can only echo the words. That we do what we can to bring up our children to be kind, responsible, thoughtful citizens. We tell them ‘Do not lie, do not cheat, do not be a bully, do not be a bigot. Respect all other people’.

Then we have to tell them that a man who is a bullying, bigoted, racist, intolerant, misogynistic cheat, liar and accused child-abuser has become the most powerful man in the world. In their world.

Because the white and privileged of America decided this is how it should be. Because, seemingly, the only thing scarier to middle America than a black President is a female President.

Yes, I am aware that there have been many years of disaffection and distrust amongst many members of society – a society that were still getting it better than many others – but this is very much a global issue, not one exclusive to the US; and Trump – like all fascists – has jumped on the anxiety bandwagon, played the blame card, and suckered them all into his rhetoric of hate and distrust. Same happened here with Brexit. Same is happening in France with the abhorrent Marine Le Pen, and in Germany and across many of the countries of Europe.

I am heartbroken for my friends in the US. I am frightened for them, I know the disbelief, the grief, the what-could-have-beens, the incrimination, the sense of betrayal, the anger and the fears to come; we have been there already through the Independence Referendum, and then through Brexit. It is hard. You doubt those around you, you might well lose friends – or certainly never have the same relationship you had before. Your country will probably be forever fractured by this, as ours has been by Brexit.

But you will come through it. You may, as Scotland has started to do, come through it stronger than you ever expected. Take your time to grieve, to regroup, and come back fighting. Your weapons are love, and tolerance, and peace, and growth.

The changed world is watching, and most of us are standing with you, at your side.

You may not feel like it now, but you’ve got this.

bacon