IMG_2233Vicious cycles are just that, vicious.

You get used to the rhythms of your life and mental health. You know the things you do to make yourself feel better and give you a spring back into your step be it momentary, and you know the things that take you down or set you off into a spiral. Or maybe you don’t even know what they are, but you know that sometimes life just feels like an exhausting rollercoaster. Even if it does have the ups amidst the downs, you know that what you’d really like is a little more consistency and a little less stomach churning variety.

Yes, I’d quite like to get off now.

I have a couple of these cycles in my life. I’ve grown to know them, to predict them, to see the affect that they have on those I love around me. But that isn’t always enough to do the things required to enable me to hop off the bloody rollercoaster because those things often require energy and effort, whereas on the rollercoaster, you’re a little more passive I guess. I don’t mean to speak in riddles, but metaphors are the way my mind works.

Here are my cycles –

Drivenness and perfectionism….

Get inspired. Work. Get enjoyment from what I do. Work harder. Lose balance. Feel like I’m spread too thinly. Half heartedly try to find balance. Instilling logistics required for balance is time consuming. Carry on regardless. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly-strung heap. Get sick or run down because I’ve ignored the warnings to slow down. Be forced to stop. Take step back. Gain perspective. Rest…………Get inspired. Work…..(and thus the cycle begins again)

Self sufficiency…

Cope well. Feel like I have all the resources. Get tired. Feel like I should be coping. Feel like I should have the resources. Judge myself for not coping and not having all of the resources. Get tireder and worse at telling myself to reach out. Get a little rude and defensive to the voice that says I’m not made to do it alone. Continue to try to do it alone. Feel like a failure for not being able to. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly strung heap of supposed failure. Reach out for help. Tell people how I feel. Feel better and normalised. Wish I had spoken about it earlier……Cope well. Feel like have all the resources (and thus the cycle begins again).

I bet you have cycles too. Your own little rollercoasters that you know the ups and downs of, they are familiar and sometimes, even in a dysfunctional way, that’s what keeps us on them. We know what it feels like, the drop in the stomach, the same old same old internal battles. The world is an unfamiliar place, and even if the feelings are hard and we hate the predictability, that in itself can be a comforting certainty. They work for us whilst also working against us. I mean, I’m pretty damn great when I’m inspired and feeling like I have all the resources…but that’s not a sustainable feeling, and it’s not okay just to plough everything into what feels like your truth at that time. You’re not a machine. You’re a human being with needs and feelings and resources that run out – all of which need to be attended to with care! Not rinsed for their benefits and hung out to dry.

BUT……

We are worth more than these consistent cycles that keep you swimming in the same spot of stagnant water. Like being on a treadmill, you feel like you’re going somewhere when actually you’re not experiencing anything new, just the same old walls and windows. You’re really just getting knackered and going nowhere.

Yesterday I messaged a friend and said ‘I just feel like I should be feeling more content. I feel unbalanced and highly strung and I’m sick of it’. I mean, there are many problems with that phrase. Who ‘should’ be feeling anything in particular? We feel what we feel and as soon as we start to tell ourselves that it’s not acceptable, we cause problems. And as for contentment, that’s often something we feel in special snapshots rather than a continued state. But…what I was saying really, if I think about it, is that I’m tired. I’m tired of this rollercoaster. I’m tired of the familiar dysfunction. I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same damned result.

And then, a lightbulb moment. I wouldn’t say it was a rock bottom, but that one was perhaps in sight, and that I’d hit a few mini ones in quick succession. I guess I was at the end of both of my destructive cycles at exactly the same time – feeling a bit worthless and a lotta bit highly strung. I decided that I was just going to do something different. I suddenly experienced some wind in my sails as I lit a candle, dug out a journal, unrolled my yoga mat for the next morning and planned in some exercise.  I’m going to carve some new habits. All of these things work to increase seretonin (happy hormone) and re-anchor and re-engage. I’m going to do things that break these cycles rather than feed them. I’m going to dare to believe that i’m worth more than just treading the same old same old paths. Because I am. And you are too.

I’ve been resistant to the concept of new years resolutions. A little scathing about them perhaps. I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to make changes, I wanted to move away from all of the buzz, the forgoing and the fresh starts. It sounded like a lot of hard work and I didn’t have the energy to even consider it. But now I am up for it – because I have even less energy, but that’s the point. These things make us tired, and we don’t like change when we are tired. And on it goes, until one day you’re sick enough of it all to be too impatient to wait until you have energy to make changes. I’m a few days late, but it’s not really about the date. It’s really just a collective ‘hey, let’s make changes that stop the cycles that suck the life out of us. Let’s drink less, move more, be kinder to ourselves and others, do more of the things that re-invest, re-engage, re-ground’

So, what you going to do? Are you going to wait until you get to some messy sort of rock bottom, or until all your cycles come to their tricky end at some sort of incredibly uncomfortable but heaven-sent, change-inspiring moment? Or are you just going to take the risk in starting to act like you’re worth stepping off the treadmill, even if you don’t believe you are…yet. Because trust me, make some tweaks and some changes, and then, in time, you’ll believe that you’re worth all the positive, life affirming changes you can ever make.

This feels like a brain dump really. But I’m hoping that some of my words might resound for others. Here goes…

Ax

img_1668One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

I wrote this seated on the sofa, alone, last New Years Eve. How life can change within a year! It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. My restless babe lies upstairs in his cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

My wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. His birth bought with him a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for. We wished for another baby. I brought this on myself. We made this happen.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat. I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief. But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

The turning of autumn leaves, the burnt oranges and reds, always remind me of how nothing is permanent. No feeling is permanent. No depression, no mountain top high, no plodding along…nothing is permanent. It’s as if our life has seasons beyond the turning of the earth. I’ve had winters that have lasted days, months and years. Winters that have felt never-ending and hopeless. Dark clouds hanging, the air stagnant, thick and suffocating. I’ve had summers that have lasted minutes, hours, weeks. Where my heart has felt light and I’ve felt a swelling gratitude. Where I’ve felt carefree and excited.

So, are you in an Autumn? Where things are feeling stripped away and you just want to turn in and feel safe. Perhaps you’re in a Spring, a time of growth and change.

So if you’re in the midst of a winter, take stock. It will pass. It will. It simply can’t not. For nobody can stop the ticking of time that moves the seasons regardless off how still we stand. Or maybe, for you, the storm has passed, and it’s about standing and being grateful that you’re through it, and richer in experience and empathy than you ever could be had you not weathered that storm.

One of the most difficult thing about being alive, can be the acceptance of our humanness.Humanness, by it’s very nature, is imperfect.

We all have a dark side, a tricky bit, a part we don’t like people to see. The ugly parts, the grumpy moods, the judgemental, critical, shouty bit. The messy, the angry, the downright irritable. The bad choices, the pain inflicted on others knowingly or unknowingly. The humanness.

Perfectionism believes that if we are good enough, work hard enough, say all the right things, then perhaps we can bury the messy side. Perhaps if we are perfect, nobody will know the hidden parts, the human parts.

Perfectionism constantly moves the goalpost because we’re relentlessly fleeing a part of us that will always be a part of us.

That’s bloody exhausting (oh how I know). We see of other people what we want to see. See my face? You think you know what you think about me, about everyone else. You think you’re the only messy one. Oh friend. If only you knew how true it were that you are not alone (Part of the reason I’m so candid with the information I share is because I know the projections that happen within these small squares, and I want to inspire others to be open too. We’re all together in our messiness)

Maybe it’s time we learnt to accept the messy side as as much of us as the presentable bit. It’s a little more openness about the rougher edges that enables us to empathise, sympathise and meet with others on a deeper level. It’s the honesty and sharing of human experience that enriches relationship.

Acceptance is the ‘Really? Me too!’ I’m not saying we don’t need to challenge ourselves to grow and change (for that is always a good thing when done gently!), I’m challenging that we slowly need to learn to accept (and one day maybe even love) themessy, raw-edged part of us instead of stifling our humanness with perfectionism and shame.

So, you perfectionists out there (my hand is up), we’re all a mess. A messy mess. A mix of ugly, beautiful mess. For that, my fellow perfectionists, is being human xx