Adjusting Focus

If you’ve been following the blog recently, you’ll be aware that I got the job! Most regular humans take to celebration when they get a job that they would LOVE to have and really, honestly, are not qualified to do. I, however, go completely, madly, utterly panic-stricken. I may be smiling and nodding at you, but inside, I’m performing my OMG-hand-flapping-90-miles-an-hour-how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-manage-what-was-I-thinking dance. Even moreso because my husband, a recognised ninja at weeding out all dodgy / skanky / untrustworthy folk, is on the OTHER SIDE of the Atlantic, and I have to interview people to care for our child after school, alone!

Thankfully, our daughter also has the ability to keep me grounded and focused on the things that truly matter. She is delighted I got the job. “Mum, it’s one of your favourite magazines, and you get to work there!” I am truly glad that she thinks this is cool, and something to aspire to, rather than the insane directorship and corner office which kept me prisoner 18 hours a day.

Yesterday was another seminal moment on my path to adjusting my sails: instead of continuing the panicked dance, because hey, I’m GREAT at it, I stepped outside my ‘comfort’ zone and zoned out. We had a picnic in our patio garden. We made a tent, and read our books in the shade when the sun got too hot. We chatted. We watched the clouds drift by. We made root beer floats. We watched TV. We read our books and went to sleep in my big white bed. I threw my concerns to the bright blue sky, and let them get burned away.

I woke up refreshed today. Genuinely refreshed, and ready to face the week. I’m still mildly stressed about the nanny interviews this afternoon, but I’m going to take a leaf out of my daughter’s book and blithely expect the best. 

Stay tuned for more adventures…

The Love-Hate Challenge

One of my favourite bloggers, Hollie de la MyBlogIsMyBoyfriend, tagged me to participate in the Love-Hate Challenge. I only know this because I get e-mail updates from my favourite blogs, rather than just relying on the randomly selective Reader. Boo, Reader! The rules are simple enough. List 10 things you love, 10 things you hate, and 10 nominees. Here goes…

10 things I love (in no particular order):

  1. A book which grips me!
  2. My best friend aka The Husband
  3. Our daughter
  4. My clean, white bedroom
  5. My really lovely white sheets – seriously!
  6. Soft, powdery sand beaches
  7. Laughing with husband and/or daughter
  8. The smell of the honeysuckle outside my bedroom window
  9. Lemon anything
  10. Cold, fizzy wine

Things I hate (again, in random order):

  1. Gluten
  2. Wasps & flies
  3. Tourists in central London during rush hour
  4. Warm wine
  5. Bad grammar
  6. The smell of salmon cooking
  7. Housework
  8. Filing documentation
  9. Grey, misty non-rain that makes you gloomy and your hair frizzy
  10. People with no sense of personal space

My nominees:

  1. Mother Mands
  2. Shy Little Pixie
  3. Fannie Frankfurter
  4. BrickHouseChick
  5. Fill Your Own Glass
  6. Shirley’s Heaven
  7. Rococo-a-gogo
  8. Waking the Wombat
  9. The Chymeera Diaries
  10. The Pickled Pastor

As always, those whom I nominated should not feel obligated to participate. Join in if you want, and if not, have a lovely weekend anyway!

Breathe deep and act normal

#panic #anxiety #depression

Possible trigger alert!

She felt hemmed in. Every second in this taxi was choking her. She could feel the sheen of sweat hovering over her skin. Her fingers tingled and twitched. She tried to breathe deeply, but the air was so thick. 

The driver was talking about the crowds, the traffic. Suggesting alternate routes. She could hear herself responding, Sure, whatever you think best. No, no rush.

Yes, there was a rush. Get me out. They passed a hospital. She looked longingly at it, picturing the cool white beds. Slightly starchy, rough sheets. Breathe in, breathe out. Flex the fingers. Wipe sweaty palms.

The traffic thins out, as the pain radiates from the epicentre of her chest. Can you crack ribs from this pain, like a stress fracture, she wondered? The feeling that she is about to tip over the edge dances on the fringes of her vision. 

Yes, thanks, up ahead on the left is fine, thanks. She falls out of the taxi like a limp noodle. Her throat hurts. Her teeth hurt. Has she been clenching her jaw again? Walk. Walk. Move forward. Say hello to the neighbour. Yes, lovely weather, isn’t it? 

Unlock door. Put bag & shoes away. Wash hands. Sip some stale water. Curl up in ball on the floor, and let the silent tears out. Home.

Where geography, wise men & the soul are tested

Motherhood

Motherhood

It’s been an odd few days. I’ve had some funny and sad conversations with Daughter Dear (DD). She is sharp, witty & observant, and I forget underneath all that, she’s a 9-year-old tween trying to make sense of her world as its boundaries expand. Here are a few snippets from yesterday…

Impromptu geography quiz on the walk to school…she got Chile, Morocco, the Dominican Republic….and then:

Me: Where is Papua New Guinea?
DD: You can’t start MAKING UP countries now!

Time to stop using the globe as an indoor football, methinks.

Later last night, apropos of nothing:

DD: You know the three wise men?

Me: Not personally, no. I’m not THAT old. But I know of their work.

DD: Yeah, if they were so wise (air quotes here), why didn’t they bring useful stuff, like a cot, and a midwife, and maybe some takeaway?

Me: Yes, why not indeed? But perhaps Mary & Joseph could have traded the gold, frankincense & myrrh for other goods.

DD: What, like on the black market?

Most people who haven’t met DD assume I make these stories up. I’m flattered, naturally. But no, I don’t. It is my life’s delight when people have a conversation with her for the first time, turn to me and say, “She’s REALLY like you say she is.” Yes, indeed. I quote her verbatim, because she usually checks if I’m misquoting her and therefore “losing the good stuff”.

However, all the thinking and intelligence in the world don’t seem to stand her in good stead when dealing with playground bullies. She is naturally a lover, and a believer in the good, so she just doesn’t see when people are being, for lack of a better term, little sh*ts. She went through a bout of being bullied by a girl two years ago, and DD’s take on the situation was this: “Her parents are getting a divorce, she’s had to move house, she’s sad and angry, so it’s OK”. We moved back to London a few months after this, and she’s been very happy at her new school. Or so I thought.

Recently, she’s begun to mention being excluded from certain chats, or playgroups, at recess. Ordinarily, this doesn’t worry me, because I know friendships & loyalties at this age are fluid and can change between lunch & tea. However, when probed further, she admits that the exclusions are bothering her because she doesn’t know what’s triggering them, and she is spending more time with her Breton Best Friend, daughter of my Breton Best Friend. However, if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know our besties are expats, and returning to France in a few months. Last night was the first tangible realisation of her impending loss; she sobbed in my arms and asked why we couldn’t house the bestie and keep her at school in London? Apart from breaking my heart, this set off alarm bells in my head. Is the exclusion worse than DD let on? Is this normal? Christ, again, no baseline to work with. My first real friendships date back to age 16, so I have no map, no compass to navigate these waters with her.

Right now, if I had all the gold, frankincense and myrrh in the world, I’d trade it for an answer, a solution. My very real concern is that she internalises this, and starts to think it’s about her, when I truly doubt it is. I fear that this will be the first chink in her armour, the insidious whittling away of her psyche.

Am I making a mountain of a molehill? Parents of all ages, any anecdotes or wisdom to share?

Thinking Thursday

Daughter Dear (DD) is dancing in a ballet in ten days’ time, which means rehearsals and hours spent in dance studio waiting rooms which are overheated, smelly, noisy and panic-inducing. In between rehearsals & school, throw in castings for other odds & sods, and you have the recipe for exhaustion and/or febrile fits (read my old post here to see why I worry about these). When DD finally surfaced this morning, she decided we were doing ‘home school’ today. Happy days, she is recognising her physical limitations on her own and I don’t have to be the bad guy any more. Well, at least for today.

Her topic at school this term is the Stone Age, so I had to stretch my imagination this morning to come up with Mesolithically-appropriate challenges: if Croog hunts down a bison, and it weighs so much, and he devours so much per day, will he make it through the winter? Will he need to supplement his diet? I could feel my synapses short-circuiting and dreaded the next segment.

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Image from Pixabay

Thankfully, by the time we got to the English part of our entertainment learning, she just wanted to continue reading Anne Frank’s Diary. Great, let’s discuss fascism & genocide for a change. The last time I read Anne’s diary was more than 20 years ago, and I forgot how wonderful Anne is at describing the people in the Annexe and observing life within and without. It’s truly magical to rediscover one of my childhood favourites through my daughter’s eyes. DD has innocence & curiosity in spades, and is a budding writer with a strong voice of her own. She loves dissecting characters, understanding their motivations and challenges. We swept through several diary entries fairly quickly, until Anne starts describing the forced marches through the streets of Jews being deported to Westerbork. “Why, mummy, why?”

Damn you, books! How do I explain to my 9-year-old that this genocide was based on abstract, non-pragmatic ideology—which was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means? How do I explain how decent human beings had to subvert their goodness, their humanity, to keep their own loved ones safe from the Nazi machine? How do I explain the desperation, the pack mentality? While I’m mulling this over, trying to find the right words, she says, “You think I could watch Annie till you figure out an age-appropriate answer?”

YES! Let’s watch Annie. And give husband a heads up that he might be in for an interesting discussion over dinner.

Rage is my Superpower

Rage can work in a vicious cycle, destroying you & wearing you down, or you can turn its strength inwards, creating a virtuous cycle. Allow me to explain….

My rage is a supernova, an illogical, overwhelming roar of emotion that burns outwards, searing anything logical or calm in its path. Fighting and scratching from my emotional corner, I feel like I have little control over it.

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This then sucks itself inwards into a fiery ball of heat, to burn itself out gently.

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However, understanding my triggers, and turning my ‘ball of fire’ into productive energy has a two-fold effect: getting a LOT of work done, and distracting me from the initial reaction, which calms me down. The more time I spend in the blogosphere, the more I realise how many of us are battling similar demons. Waking up & showing up every day IS an actual achievement. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that doing a root-cause analysis on the cause of my rage can (& does) send me into paroxysms of panic & anxiety, with a full-blown case of hives. I just don’t want to go there. The analysis will probably be best explored in stages, at some later date, because there’s no real reason to hyperventilate noxious fumes of rage because my hand baggage which should have been waiting at the foot of the gangway is now going round on a carousel in the terminal, potentially adding another five minutes to my journey time and throwing my careful plan to exit the airport in one piece to the winds, right? Doing my Rumpelstiltskin-after-the-queen-guesses-his-name dance was all part of the routine, folks. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Or I could just accept I have chronic anxiety. I am hyper-aware of the environment I’m in at any given point, treating every situation like a potentially hostile encounter. My husband once asked me what it was like to live without a filter, to feel, see & hear everything, to notice every detail. It is sensory overload. It is absolutely exhausting. It’s why something small can completely tip the fragile balance I establish every day.

But I still say I’m lucky & blessed. I have a husband and child who try to understand, and accept my fragility. Who respect my triggers. Who give me space when I need it. They let me cry. Storm around a bit doing the Rumpelstiltskin dance. And then gently remind me, in order of priority, it’s just a bag. And we have insurance.

Great balls of fire, baby!

London in Motion

The 2 K's

rough-housing? photo-bombing? cousins at play

London is a city perpetually in motion. It’s a never-ending series of stories playing out simultaneously, but also a rich source of triggers for anyone recovering from anything! In an earlier post, I talked about how I couldn’t hear an ambulance without bursting into tears after my daughter was born. Well, yesterday, I discovered I may be over ambulances, but seeing a Children’s Acute Transport with its special blue lights will still set me off. Of all the places to have this epiphany, crossing a busy road at rush hour with my daughter was really NOT ideal! If Pavlov’s dog had a face, it would probably be mine. However, all’s well with the world today, and it got me thinking about the funny things that annoy Londoners in motion. These are usually Tube-based, central London anecdotes.

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Here are my favourites:

Pops of Colour

Red Shoes

AM I STEPPING OFF A CLIFF, ONE KICKY RED PATENT PUMP AT A TIME?

I had a pretty bad setback on Saturday night (Sunday morning?) with a traumatic memory, but I got a handle on it yesterday afternoon and it fuelled my piece for Stigma Fighters last night. I will not share it here as it could be a graphic trigger for someone else, but writing it out eviscerated its power over me. Writing my bio for the piece led me to wonder if what I ‘know’ about my personality, such as the traits I think of as defining, or fixed, are really not, but just reactions and defence mechanisms from embedded memories and traumas?

Thinking about it today hasn’t triggered the same flood of tears, but I’m still feeling hollow. From experience, this will pass in a day or two. I’m celebrating the small wins & realisations that seem to come at me every day. I’m practising new habits, not sweating the small stuff, and generally trying to focus on the good. Eating macarons helps, too!

Raspberry Macaron

Back to Basics, or recovering from PTSD

When every day is a dance between hypervigilance, constant alertness, feeling jumpy, irritation & insomnia, committing to the basics and mastering the fundamentals of recovery can be hard. 

#panic #anxiety #PTSD

Nine years on, I still wait for the watershed that I believe is coming, that magical moment when I will be healed and whole. But it’s the hidden power of small choices, daily habits, and repeated actions that I make on a daily basis that are going to take me through to a new normal. 

I have to stop wasting hours of my life wondering about the ‘edge cases’. Edge cases are the what-ifs, the could-bes, the minor details — the things that have a 2 percent chance of happening, but mostly distract me from the real life I could be living the rest of the time. Keen eye for detail or inability to filter & block? 

I’ve become an obsessive planner, from someone that used to fly by the seat of my pants. I’m always trying to “get all my ducks in a row” or figure out “the right way to do this”, which gives me an easy ‘out’ of the hard decisions. Research & planning is only useful until it becomes a form of procrastination, or worst case, totally cripples you from taking any action. I used to be a doer rather than a researcher; I still bake like this, going on feel and sight rather than a recipe. I need to bring this back into the rest of my life. I don’t need any more time or better strategies. I’m good to go. Starting this blog was the first impulsive decision I’ve made in ages, and it was liberating.

Moving on, I need to do the real work and master the basics of figuring out and managing my triggers, minimising their impact on my life. Eventually, hopefully, shaking their hold on my life. It’s hard to say, “I’m focusing on the basics, but I haven’t made much progress yet.” A one-percent improvement isn’t note-worthy (or even noticeable). But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the long run, when you factor in the compounded effect of a thousand small adjustments and corrections. There is power in small wins and slow gains. I intend to own it.

Read the start of my journey here. Sign up on the right to read more Random Musings from Petal & Mortar!