I have come to the conclusion, after much pondering, that I may well have had my second breakdown/burnout/whatever it’s name is now.

The weird thing is…I didn’t feel it, as such. I’ve felt crushing anxiety – that much is true. About a year ago I upped my low dose antidepressant because of all the bother that was starting the academy take over. So, yes, the anxiety was there.

What wasn’t there, was that deep dark numb pit that I fell in. The one that, last time, I hadn’t known was swallowing my whole path until I was in it head first. When I think back to that time – weirdly around this time of year too (!!!!) in 2017, I can’t remember a great deal. I remember that first moment. I remember days staring out the window at the field opposite accompanied by my cat and a hot drink. I remember that I didn’t shower much and I wore my depression hat – a glittery silver woolly hat – to hide my grief.

So no, that hasn’t happened. I’ve avoided the deep dark pit. Don’t get me wrong, a few times I’ve thought I’ve seen him far up ahead but I was wrong.

Anxiety- yes. Depression – no. However, there are signs that I’ve not been quite right recently.

First, Wildcard noticed. He notices everything. Second, I’ve put weight on and my nails are short. Third, I can’t get on top of my house. You’d think with not working for 6 months I would have mastered it. Despite feeling like I’ve tried nearly every day, I’ve failed. Completely. More recently, I’ve even stopped with my facials and putting make up on and I think that was why Wildcard was so suspicious when I went to the Christmas Market spruced up like a turkey. This last month I’ve stopped using the Fabulous App. I’ve stopped drawing and painting.

There is sufficient evidence there to say that despite feeling otherwise, I’ve had some sort of mental episode. Why haven’t I felt the depression? Well, it could be my tablets working. It could be that I am generally happier (that needs some pondering). It could be because of Wildcard. He’s the only new thing in my life.

I’m avoiding stuff though. I’m plodding along, doing whatever I actually do each day and avoiding a whole heap of crap in the corner. I know I need to deal with it. I know that if I don’t, eventually that pile of crap is going to devour me. I just can’t seem to start or sustain a start.

I was notified this week that I have been writing this blog for five years. Five years! My blog is nowhere near as successful as some, and particularly some of you who read my blog. I know in part that’s because I don’t always put myself out there and join in with other blogs. Something else I stopped doing and need to start. But my near 500 followers mean a lot to me, the ones that have been with me for a long time (Anna and Susie) and those who comment and give me advice (Kay and Writerswithoutwords). Thank you to all of you. 🥰🥰

It was a shock though to realise that I started this blog because my life had been through a major life changing event- the permanent separation from my husband. I wanted a new life, a new me, and this blog was going to document that. My Cinderella style transformation.

Yeah. That hasn’t happened.

Life has hit me with a few more catastrophic events to deal with.

And yet, I am a very different person than I was five years ago. My priorities have changed. My goals. I’m still lost but in a different way.

I’ve written before about not quite knowing how I want my life to be. Not being sure how or where to start.

I think I’ve realised that there is a really good reason I haven’t done much over the last six months.

I just wasn’t ready.

Six months rest and recuperation is nothing over the course of a whole life time. So my friend wisely said.

And so, whilst I didn’t feel it the same, I acknowledge the time nonetheless.

I was not ready. But now I am.

The beech tree

I am living in the same house that I was brought up in although it is somewhat altered. I’ve lived here for 38 of my 40 years.

I bought the house from my parents 14 years ago and extended it. The garden is huge but not as big as it was when I was a child as it was then a small holding.

Before the extension was built, there was a line of beech hedging that ran along the side of the house and drive, separating the farm. The hedge was tall and my dad cut a walk way through it so we could access the caravan-come-play den. Even when the caravan was gone, the archway was an entrance to a magical world or a great escape route for hide and seek. In spring I loved to touch the slightly furry unopened leaves.

When the extension was built, the hedge came down – all except one lone bush. That bush became a tree.

Over the years I’ve had a few rows with my dad about this tree and others. Whilst I love trees, I’m not sure they should be that big and so close to the house. I also believe in some strategic pruning to help them retain a good shape. My dad disagreed. He loved trees and didn’t believe in pruning.

Dad died, but the tree still stands. In spring and summer, I love sitting back in my chair and gazing up at the patterned leaves against the blue sky.

This summer, I moved my seating area to under this tree and fought with dead leaves and bugs to wrap fairy lights around it.

And now, in autumn, I love gazing at the changing colours and tactfully ignore the thousands of leaves I should be brushing up.

Life changes. We change, we shift. We can be quick to dismiss something, lodged in a mindset that ends up being the wrong one. We should pause, reflect , and see things for what they truly are – not what we suppose them to be.

Corona change

It’s Thursday so I probably shouldn’t be thinking about this yet but, hey, it’s what I do.

I may, or may not be back in work full time on Monday. Being honest, I started this half term week with the understanding that I am back in work full time from June 1st. Since then, I’ve been in school, spoke to the Head and was told ‘it is up for discussion’. And then yesterday, the local authority published a report saying that despite government instruction, Lancashire does not yet meet all the requirements to reopen schools due to the levels of Coronavirus. So, who knows?

The point is, things are changing every day. I’m not political but there seems to be no clear direction, no leadership: ambiguous comments built on ambiguous comments. I can’t believe that, even though hundreds of people are still dying every day here, we are being told that we can ‘stay alert’ but go out when Wild Card’s country is still in complete lockdown with under ten people dying a day. They’ve had under 200 people die in total. And they are still in lockdown.

But, thinking about change with the forever-changing possibility that I am back in work, I’ve considered how life has changed for me.

I’m exercising. Regularly. I know, I can’t believe it myself. It started months ago with a free 30 day subscription to an online exercise site. And then I just took some of the exercises and started doing my own thing. Each time I do the routine I add more repetitions or a new move. I’m now up to 30 minutes three times a week. On top of that, I’m walking for 30 minutes most days too. That is a big deal for me. I haven’t exercised that much or frequently since my early 20s. It probably needs improvement but, you know what, I’m proud of myself. I actually have muscles – definition – in my legs.

Talking of which, I haven’t put any weight on over lockdown. That is another achievement. Due to my gluten intolerance which was diagnosed last September, my eating habits completely changed and I dropped a significant amount of weight very quickly. I wasn’t eating properly though and that couldn’t be sustained. I was upset that I’d stopped losing weight at first until my best friend pointed it out – I’m eating properly, no longer denying myself anything (apart from gluten) and yet I haven’t put any weight on. I still need to lose some weight which is why I am increasing my exercise and have started to log my food again. But no weight gain is good.

I have had a face skin care routine from August last year when a friend introduced me to double cleansing. (I may have a slight obsession with face products now). But since lockdown, I’ve been much better with moisturising my whole body – I exercise, shower and moisturise. Similarly, whilst my relationship with Wild Card has ensured that I wear make up everyday, not just when I’m in work, scrolling through Facebook Watch videos has taught me a few tricks and my make up looks much better, more natural. I hate the whole ‘Instagram plaster your face until you look like something out of Star Trek’ look (sorry girls) but I’ve found a happy medium now.

Talking of happy mediums, I’m afraid I am not one of those people who took lockdown and completely transformed their house. I kind of thought, if there is a chance I could get corona and die I don’t want my last days to have been about painting the living room. But my house is cleaner and more tidy and I have organised and sorted through a few key areas. My garden is also looking better but not finished. I’m OK with that.

I have been reading a lot more though. I love reading, always have, but the last few years have seen pockets of reading and longer periods of not. I was just too tired. I’ve read lots of books since lockdown and I’m loving it all over again.

Being a teacher and therefore a key worker, I have worked over lockdown. I’ve been going into school a couple of times a week and setting and checking work each day. But there has been balance too. Yes, my job is very important to me, but my family and health are more important. It was hard at first – guilt plagued me – but I’m slowly finding a better balance between it all: work, home, family, me. Of course, this will all need re-evaluation when I go back to work.

And you know what? Despite the sometimes tumultuous ups and downs, I’ve been able to sustain a long distance relationship with Wild Card. I mean, how difficult has this situation been and yet we are still together, still loving each other. Yesterday, he told me I am his life. That’s a big statement from him – he’s normally about actions rather than words – and it has really touched me. 😊

So, how has this situation changed your life for the better? Remember, every cloud has a silver lining.

Irony

The irony of this blog has not been lost on me. I started it when I separated from my husband in an attempt to see this as a positive chance to start my life again.

The irony of course, comes from what happened afterwards. Seems like Life wanted to change anyway, regardless of my marital status.

In November last year I had a ‘breakdown’, although I much prefer the Teaching Unions’ labelling of ‘burnout’. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Once the tiredness had finally ebbed, I was left with a numbing darkness: a malevolent emptiness which reeked on my own self-dissatisfaction and sense of failure. In those burned out eyes of mine, I had failed at my marriage, failed to keep my Dad well, failed at my job because I wasn’t strong enough, and failed as a mother because I was weak and a mess.

Months later, sedated by antidepressants and the memories of counselling, I returned to work. The phased return helped and soon I was feeling like the old me again. Not the new me my blog had promised to recount, but the old me.

And then, only a couple of months later, Dad deteriorated further. We thought we were losing him in April but he survived somehow and we were told that he was at the end of his life and we should prepare that he would have about twelve months with us. I believed we would be lucky to have another Christmas with him, but I hoped. He was a strong man despite his illness.

He returned home frail and didn’t seem to recover the way we had hoped. There were more tests, doctor’s appointments, carers… And then the ambulance calls in the middle of the night, only for him to be sent home days later with more medication.

Then in May he was admitted again with severe anaemia. Within days, a chest infection started. Then a little heart attack. And still we had hope. We had til Christmas, didn’t we? We had a year! He’d pulled through before.

After a week we started to doubt. He was not getting better. The hospital were not giving up, but our hope was fading. Our handsome, strong Dad was pale and weak and sleepy. He was black and blue from blood tests and transfusions.

And then, on June 6th, after discussion with the doctors, we made the decision to withdraw treatment – Dad’s non-invasive ventilator – the thing that was keeping him alive. He wasn’t getting better and we couldn’t see him suffer any longer.

Dad died less than twelve hours later with me and my two sisters by his side. And my life as I knew it ended.

I’m not the same person without my Dad. I’ve lost what little strength I had recovered after my ‘burnout’. A colleague has described me as a ‘broken woman’ and its stark accuracy startled me. I feel broken.

The clichés – a ‘part of me is missing’, ‘something has died inside me’ – how I wish they were metaphorical! I always thought they were but then I had never experienced grief like this before.

I write about my grief to cope with it. To remember it. Because it, in a slightly strange way, is also a part of Dad and I don’t want to forget this part either. And I hope these honest reflections can help someone too. Help them realise that they are not going mad, that these tumultuous feelings are a normal part of grief. Grief is not just crippling sadness – something I didn’t know until now. Grief is a very lonely place.

Change was a positive aspiration two years ago. It’s now a source of anxiety and pain.

My counsellor tells me that my grief is ‘healthy’. I’m told that it’s ‘selfless’ which is a good thing apparently. These are just words to me. I’m glad I’m not dipping back into depression again but these words mean nothing. I’m still grieving.

For six months I have tried to do what is expected of me. Carry on with my life. Keep being a mum and a teacher, a sister and a homeowner. As each month has passed, I’ve tried to hide the grief which is still as strong as it has ever been. (Maybe that’s it – you never get over it, you just learn to hide it better? ) Apparently, I’m not doing very well at this.

Last Sunday, after some Christmas shopping, I returned home and cried and cried and cried. I went into work Monday morning, frog-eyed and raw, to speak to HR in the hope they’d let me hide myself away in my office and work. Carry on, the way I’m supposed to.

An hour later, I’d let out my grief again. I’d discussed my pain, my fear about Christmas. My fear that people saw through my very carefully constructed facade of being OK.

My fears were well founded. My colleagues say that I am not the same, that I don’t have the same ‘gumption’ I once had.

How hard I have tried to hide this! I know I don’t have the same strength, but I didn’t want everyone else to see this. It was OK in the beginning, people expect you to be that way. But after a time, I believed that I should be back to myself, externally at least.

Although I feel like a failure, I’ve been told that I’m not and people don’t see me as one. I’m not sure I agree on either count.

Day to day, most days, my grief is a burning ember inside me. It’s a gossamer veil that covers me. Change is a catalyst though. It stokes the embers and the grief burns in my chest. Like today – simply preparing for Christmas with final shopping and cleaning and tidying has caused anxiety all day. Such a strange emotion as I’m not sure why it’s anxiety, but that is what I have felt and what I always feel when I experience change since Dad has died.

I know Christmas will be hard. Its a change. I’ve never had a Christmas before without my Dad: now I will never have one again with him. My anxiety is a symptom of this knowledge.

But somehow, this week’s grief and work revelations have created something new in me. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want people to see me as weak. How can I find myself again? I haven’t created these changes but I need to embrace them somehow. Use them as a catalyst for positivity if that is at all possible. That determination, the strength that has been bred in me, encouraged in me, from my Dad, is wanting to fight back. It was fine for me to pretend to be OK if I thought no one realised. Now I know that I have failed to hide it, I’m even more determined.

I can’t change my grief. I can’t erase it or end it. It’s there because I loved my Dad and will always love my Dad so it will always be there too.

I have no answers to this. It’s another irony. I share my grief in this blog because I believe that grief is personal but should not be private. And yet, I’m determined to find a way to hide it.

I’m shaking my head at myself as I write this.

So, to all of you that are missing someone this Christmas, I know how hard this is. I’m with you. We are not alone. I will be sending a prayer to you all, as I pray to my Dad, asking him to send a little bit more of his strength my way.

Merry Christmas xx

Why happiness is mine to accept

To understand this post, you may want to read the previous one first! https://startingfromthemiddleblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/why-am-i-depressed/

I have a good job, a nice home and three beautiful and healthy children.

My dad has survived lung cancer and his prostate cancer is in remission. He is still with us.

My relationship with my mum has improved. She is happy and I know she will always be there if I need her.

Never say never. The job I have now is suitable for my situation on the whole. I get time off with my children. My job is enjoyable and challenging and I am good at it. There will be time for change in the future when the moment is right.

My children know they are loved. They know they can depend on me. They may not have as much as some but they have more than others. They are polite and well mannered and have a healthy interest in reading and history and technology, of course.

Happiness is not just for those in a relationship. I can be happy without a man. But at the same time, love could be on the horizon til the day I die.

At least I know that the connection exists. Somewhere, out there is another connection – so strong that nothing will keep us apart.

I tried my best to keep my marriage alive. What I have now are lots of happy memories, three beautiful children and a much better relationship with their dad.

As I write, I am an able bodied woman with no major health concerns other than the need to lose weight. It could be worse.

Life can be good if we open our eyes to it.

Guilt

I had my second counselling session today. There is not enough time to write down all that we spoke about but a couple of things resonated with me which I would like to share.

The first was acceptance that my life is challenging and that it probably will be for the foreseeable future. And whilst I should look at little ways of easing the pressure in each area of my life, I also need to be proud of the way that I have managed. Moreover, I also need to look at ways of coping when ‘life happens’: you know, those extra things that happen in life that threaten to just tip you over the edge. This is the life I have and I need it to work for me instead of me always working so hard to please others first. In essence, by putting myself first I will be stronger in my responsibilities for them.

The second was guilt. My counsellor said that guilt was ‘like Marley’ s chain’ and that if we are not careful, we can feel the weight of that guilt all the time, dragging us down. I can’t tell you how much guilt I have, over so many things! The more I thought about it, the more if felt like that scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where the letters starts whooshing through the Dursley’s letterbox – unwanted and plaguing Mr Dursley. The things I feel guilt about or bad about kept coming to me, one after the other. I’m so negative about myself. I don’t believe I’m negative by nature: when myself I believe anything can be worked out if you try hard enough. But I am so negative towards me that it is no wonder I am what I have become.

I think I’ve spoken before about a working mother’s guilt and that has been with me for nearly fourteen years. That’s one very long, heavy chain to drag round. And as I have moved on in my career, it has added a few hefty padlocks too. A few more chains for not helping my kids more with homework (because we only get in at six and there is tea to make, housework to do, three year old to play with/bathe and then bedtime routine); guilt over the housework that I never finish… Forgetting people’s birthdays…. I could go on, and on. I am utterly weighed down by my constant guilt – guilt that I can’t be the person I think I should be. And if honest, this is also the reason why I haven’t tried to find someone new: I don’t believe I’m worthy to find anyone yet. I’m not good enough: I’m not managing my life the way I think I should.

More thinking to do then. 😊

Family

I’ve been off work since Monday. After the torent of tears and anxiety, I have felt somewhere south of numb ever since. Low. At different points in the week – before emailing work perhaps or before I walked to the counsellor’s door – there would be a surge of anxiety that bubbled from my solar plexus and radiated through me.

My antidepressants have been increased significantly and I have been given two weeks off which will carry me through to January. The counsellor told me not to rush back. I can’t tell you how I feel exactly. A fraud. A failure. Lost…. Relieved. Scared.

The Me that was ‘coping’ a week ago is still there. She’s questioning what is going on. She’s doubting the advice of family and friends, and a counsellor and a doctor. They don’t know how you truly feel. It’s a blip, that’s all. Get back to it. Keep your head held high. You can do this. You’ve been doing this for years. It will be alright.

This Me is a lone, quiet voice though, buried deep within at the moment. The outside is a cold, hard orb until the sparks of emotion begin to fly from within and cover the surface dancing lightening of fear, pain, guilt, doubt, anger, frustration.

I’ve been told that this has been coming for some time. That I have pushed aside my exhaustion, my stress, my pressure until finally it has overcome what was left of my spirit.

How can I go back to work? How can I face the people that are no doubt talking about me and my failure? How can I look people in the eye? And this is the irony of the situation: I could hold my head up high if I go back soon. But I can’t hold my head high until I have recovered the strength to do so.

Tonight I watched “The Family Man”, a Nicholas Cage film from 2000. I love this film, not just because you get to see a very toned Mr Cage in his underwear but because it just makes you think.

Cage plays Jack, a highly success single business man with the penthouse apartment, Ferrari and sexy one night stands. One morning he wakes up to the life he could have had if he hadn’t put his career before love: a marriage to his college sweetheart, two children and a family home. Jack gets to live the life he could have had and as in all good stories, he learns about himself in the process.

Is this my moment? My chance to learn about myself? My chance to stop and reflect and improve? This is what I have wanted since my separation. This is what this blog is supposed to be about. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, I have fought hard to cope. Fought and failed, apparently. I haven’t changed anything. I have done what I always do: worked harder and longer in the hope that I will come out the other side on top. Thing is, you NEVER do. You come out the other side a mere shadow of yourself. A tired, fed up shadow. One thing that I know is that things have got to change, for me and my family.