The Beautiful Darkness

Emerging From The Darkness by Tim Rosier (via DeviantART)

Emerging From The Darkness by Tim Rosier (via DeviantART)

Emerging

In which I will write in the first person, because it feels important.

It’s an odd thing to realise that I have been cocooning myself away from the world without even realising that I was doing so. Slowly winding layers and layers of soft ‘not coping’ around me to protect myself from the rigorous expectations of others and the punishing expectations of my own self. Hiding in the darkness of my PND and using it as a barrier between me and the world ‘out there’, where I am ‘talented’, ‘strong’ and ‘capable’. The ‘out there’ where the bar is set so high in every area of my life, I have no hope of ever getting close to it.

In here, in this beautiful darkness, I am safe. It is quiet and peaceful and manageable. Out there is push and shove and noise and chaos and there is always drama and limits must be met and exceeded. In here, I am slow and sometimes melancholic and often angry but I have been given permission by my illness to simply put one foot in front of the other until the end of the long mothering day. In here, it is tight and restrictive and often uncomfortable, both mentally and emotionally, because it is the safety of failure, of ‘not good enough’ and in this small, tight darkness I have companions like Shame and Guilt and Anger. Yet squashed in here is still so much better than bearing the weight of all that other ‘stuff’ that waits for me, like a hungry wolf, out there.

I have come to realise that I have been cowed under the weight of everyone elses expectations of me. That carrying these expectations around on my shoulders has caused me to feel like I am simply going around and around in circles as I slowly grind myself into the ground. I was raised (unconsciously to be sure) to be ‘better than’. To always pit myself against the best and win. And if i didn’t? Well, there was sadness and guilt and shame. If I did, it was the best feeling in the world. I was loved and accepted by those whose love and acceptance I so desperately craved. Moreover, I was ‘Special’ and that seemed to be the most important thing to be. The problem with this type of early conditioning is that it becomes a part of your DNA without you even being aware of it. It’s not like, at the age of five, I had some kind of bullshit radar which kicked in  with a, ‘Hang on just a damn minute! You don’t have to better than X,Y & Z – or achieve X,Y, Z medals/distinctions, you just have to enjoy what you are doing!’ I only had the quiet urging in my ear to be the best. I am not blaming here. I want to make that absolutely clear. Everything that was said and done was said and done with the best of intentions. I am also aware of the old adage about the ‘road to hell’ being paved with such intentions. We do what we do when we know no better. And let’s face it, I am hardly without ‘sin’ when it comes to this shit. But still, since then I have always carried those expectations of greatness, high achieving and ‘better than’s’ with me and unconsciously tried to live up to them. The problem with this is that they are impossible to attain. Seriously. Equally problematic is the fact that logical argument (especially my own) never made me give up anything, let alone these deeply held beliefs about my own magnificence. I have, quite simply, grown up with the expectation that I will be something extraordinary and with an absolute horror of being ordinary. I am not tooting my own horn. I am stating a plain fact. I have always believed I was meant for something better. Something much more magical than a plain and ordinary life.

My lovely therapist, Kat, thinks this belief stems, not from unbelievable arrogance – as it may first appear, but from being ‘incorrectly mirrored’ as a child. I was a very clever little girl, precociously so. Because of this and the realisation that I was a bit smarter than the average bear, and also because of the many un-lived lives of my mother, I was expected to become something amazing. With all this cleverness, (and later with all the talent for dance and drama and such), I was expected to really excel at something. I was pitted against every other little girl or boy in every area of my life until I became so stressed out and so guilt ridden at the thought of failure, I began to experience severe migraines, vomiting and awful stage fright. I literally became sick of the pressure I was under to achieve. It was never enough to be good at things and I was and still am, naturally pretty good at stuff. I can pick things up very easily. At least, I could.  And I was always pretty capable. But it was never enough. I was never enough.

Slowly I am coming to realise that maybe I was not meant to be extraordinary or to live an extraordinary life. Maybe my talent is simply for enjoying life and enjoying the many and varied things it offers. Maybe my talent is to be a great writer. Maybe it’s to be a mediocre writer (look how well many of them are doing!) or maybe it’s to be no kind of writer at all. All that pressure, all those weighty expectations, all they ever did was make me afraid to fail. Afraid to really try those things to which I was most drawn in case I did badly and lost the love and respect of those I most dearly needed it from. And so. When my beautiful, challenging, heart expanding, anxiety inducing children came along, I again had a bar set so high for parenting that I couldn’t hope to ever attain it and I began the fast and angry descent into PND where I became one with this Beautiful Darkness. And here I have been ever since.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have thought all along that I was trying to climb out of this pit of self-loathing and angry parenting. Trying to escape from the feelings of overwhelm and terrible sadness at my own inability to parent well and with real heart. And I do believe I have. The trouble is that the pay off for being inside this angry little cocoon is that I am not expected to do or be or achieve ANYTHING. I don’t have to strive to be a perfect anything because just getting through an average day is achievement enough. I am not expected to have it all together because I clearly don’t have it all together. My husband comes home earlier, takes a bit more care, gives me more time and parents a bit more than I fear he will when I am well. He doesn’t expect a home cooked meal on the table every night or a perfectly clean house or a sexy little minx in the bedroom. He expects an exasperated, frazzled, chubby little house frau who may or may not be writhing in a puddle of parenting self loathing, when he comes home. And that means I don’t have to try so damn hard all the fucking time. I mean, it’s just so exhausting – all this stuff we are supposed to do/achieve/become. Being broken means never having to carry that heavy burden of other people’s expectations.

I know. It’s faulty logic. I will be so much happier without this black dog stalking me through every day. I know that I will be able to experience more joy if I can just let go of my little black cloud, but I’m scared. I’m scared that when I am well all of those expectations will come crashing back down on me like a comet and I will find myself pushing and pushing and pushing myself uphill, trying to achieve every last one of those golden dreams until I break. Out there, there is always more to want, more to need, more to achieve. In here, it’s just me. For better or worse.

The Boleigh Fogou in Penzance Cornwall

The Boleigh Fogou in Penzance Cornwall by Richard Stocker (richard_stocker via flickr)

Sadly, the cracks in the cocoon are showing and the light is starting to filter in. I know that I can’t stay in here much longer. I honestly don’t want to – not really. I know that I have to try to figure out some kind of middle ground, some bar setting skills that are not so cruel and remorseless. I have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other and see where that takes me, without looking up for the bigger and better dream all the time. Because, and I know this down to my boots, I need to live life at a pace that can be sustained by me without lots of support, because support won’t always be available. I need to find a way to live my life that makes me happy, that allows for more moments of ordinary grace, that gives me room to BE without always trying to be more. I need to find a lower bar and be ok with that.

I am Emerging – slowly – from this safe little hideaway. I am learning to put down the heavy burden of expectation. I am unravelling all the ideas, the beliefs, the un-lived lives – to see what remains at the end.

And that’s the journey my friends.

That is the journey.

Don’t Make Me Angry…

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

And I’m angry a lot.

You can call it frustration, irritation, having ‘the shits’ (Australian vernacular), being pissed off but it all amounts to the same thing. Anger. And if that anger is not positively expressed, then it becomes depression, guilt, resentment and self-loathing. I think I’ve experienced them all in varying amounts but the fact remains that I have ridden this frightening roller-coaster of exhausting and self-defeating emotional turmoil for far too long. I’d love to say that I’m coming out of it now. I’d love to say that I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel but honestly, being in a tunnel suggests forward movement. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a very, very deep pit. And that’s where I’m stuck.

I made the decision to come off my PND medication a couple of months ago. I have gradually been reducing the dosage and it’s been bumpy but bearable. However, I have noticed that the anger is amping up again. Certainly the anger was there even with the anti-depressants, but I guess I wasn’t as connected to it. I wasn’t as connected to anything actually – hence my decision to come off. But I am concerned about what it is happening to me right now.  I am yelling so much. I am swearing so much more. I plunge into irritation and frustration at the slightest provocation and, today, the cherry on the cake, my anxiety started to resurface. I had that fear, for the first time in ages, that something was going to happen to my child and that our last exchange was an angry one. I had to fight hard to not give in to the wave of panic that rose. I had to remind myself fiercely that, as Beanie is in school, it is unlikely that anything bad will happen to her and that I am simply feeling much of what has been dampened down by the medication. Honestly? I was quite happy to have this particular feeling dampened. It gives rise to this sense of hopelessness and guilt that is horrible to sit with. Because there is always a chance, isn’t there? Always a chance that this horrible ‘un-wish’ could come true. And then where would I be? How do you live with something like that? I hope that I never have to find out because just scanning that scenario is enough to send me limping for the Nutella and Gin.

It’s funny but nobody ever tells you how very scary your own mind can be. I have had times in my life, though thankfully they were short, where I truly wondered if I was losing my mind. Or if our family is just genetically more pre-disposed to mental, what shall we call it, disturbances? That sounds a little bit too ‘Psycho’. This is more of a mental gloominess. Understandable on many levels and yet, the spirit is strong in almost all of us. These stressful wonderings are made worse by the presence of real mental illness in the form of my older brother. The childhood thing was just too much for this sensitive boy and he turned inwards and became inaccessible with cataonia, and then unreachable with schizophrenia. Suddenly there were just too many ‘other’ voices in his head for him to hear ours and he changed from being a handsome young man with his whole life ahead of him, to a reclusive and increasingly paranoid late middle aged man who looks much older. A visibly shrunken, wizened version of himself, prematurely grey and with his troubles written all over his beautiful face. And there he stays. Taunted by voices from the past who berate him and keep him pinned in such a dark, dark place, very little light or love can reach him. So you can imagine how the thought that I might end up like him crosses my mind from time to time. Because I was there too. Not for as long and thank all the Gods for that sweet mercy, but long enough for just a little of that darkness to stick to my insides and cause these glitches in my otherwise happy existence.

It’s amusing because before I had children, I never thought of myself as a depressive personality. Sure I had been sad before, even experienced some real grief, but I always knew that it was fleeting and that it would pass. Even the depression I suspect I experienced after my relationship with Adam fell apart had an end. But our family don’t get depressed. At least I didn’t think so. Until, that is, I look hard at what feelings where experienced during difficult times. Understandable levels of grief at loss, and sadness where it was appropriate but when my mum’s sister died, she grieved alone and not for anywhere near long enough. She didn’t want to upset anyone else even though she was completely devastated. Our family has this toxic history of never truly expressing our emotions. Of never truly connecting with that big wall of ‘ack!’ that lives inside of each of us and that stems from all of the horrible psychic, emotional and physical beatings we have endured. And why would you want to? Because healing cannot come through such high walls, such well guarded fortresses. And so, with each tiny prick of sadness, each small niggle of grief, each small spark of rage – another brick is added until we are convinced that we are coping beautifully, while everything smokes and slowly burns away at our happiness unnoticed by our brisk, busy and cheerful air.

It’s all so deeply ingrained that we don’t even know it’s there most of the time. We just ‘get on with it’ or, my personal favourite, we ‘grin and bear it,’ as so many people do. As so many people of my mamma’s generation had drummed into them and indeed, there is most definitely a place for that. I don’t want to wallow in a big pool of self-pity, or at least not long enough for my skin to get all pruney. I want to ‘do’ and keep moving, even if I’m going around in circles at the bottom of this fucking pit. At least I’m doing something. I’m not waiting to be rescued, though clearly I would need someone to at least chuck down a ladder in order for me to climb out. Unless depression gives you wings anyway. And I hate feeling lethargic and useless. I am someone used to doing, achieving, action. So when the depression is at its worst and I can see no point in doing anything because it will only be there to tackle again tomorrow, it’s demoralising to my accustomed gusto too. I have been here for far too long now. I am missing so much of my children’s lives, bogged down in regret and self-loathing. I know that I am not a wholly bad mother. I realise that I am simply a loving mamma who has anger issues, but that’s not what I live with daily. I live with the outbursts, the foot-stomping, tantrum throwing, unreasonable, resentful mamma, who just wants everyone to fuck the hell off and let her alone to sew, for fucks sake! And that is who my children live with too. And that is what I find hard to forgive. I am so far from who I imagined I would be that I’m not sure who I am any more, and that’s more worrying than most things right now. I am, once more, in this process of unravelling, or revealing all the scarred and wounded places I would really rather not look at. Thankfully, I have a good woman by my side who can be stern and soft in equal measure (and believe me, I do need both, for I am an artful dodger when it comes to uncomfortable emotions) and who offers me a place to empty out. It’s slow going and I admit I find it frustrating sometimes. WHY do I need to go back to these pockets of darkness in order to feel the sunlight on my face again and be reminded of who I am? Why? Why? Why? (A question i get asked a lot by my nearly two year old!). Surely the past is exactly, exasperatingly that? THE PAST. But know, delve we must. Blah blah fucketty blah.

So this is where I am. Sitting in a big pile of my own emotional shite at the bottom of a very deep well, wanting a ladder and ignoring it when it’s there, in equal measure and trying to negotiate this progressively more unmedicated state with some degree of grace. Most days, it’s broke and I feel like I’ll never fix it. As I think I said to my hubble just the other day, some days my life feels like a Mike Leigh film and he’s not known for his rainbow unicorns. Ho hum.

Anyway – as this has been largely a big pile of emotional doodoo to write and, I’m sure, to read, I will leave you (or is it just myself I’m talking to?), with something cheerier to think about. Just be grateful Mr Leigh never brought out a fabric line…

Stuff I have made (and look, it’s in cheery bright colours too, ooooh: