My blog is not unique in using imagery of light and darkness to describe depression. The picture you see here is what I now see out of my window. I have actually tried to lighten it but it really is that dark – my beloved hay field has been ploughed.

Those of you will know that spending contemplative time looking out of this window has been part of a successful process in getting over my breakdown. I would complete set tasks and then my reward would be a coffee and a sit down whilst I would look out of my window. Seems so simple, doesn’t it? I suppose it was a kind of Mindfulness – appreciating the world around me. I loved how the changing daylight would affect the colour of the hay stubble. I loved seeing various birds and mammals. Read about it here:

https://wp.me/p86hNl-aq

So, there was a momentary feeling of angst when I came home from work to see the ploughed field. It’s strange how such a simple thing has completely changed the quality of light: for a moment, the darkness of that earth felt oppressive and I certainly didn’t and don’t want to sit and look at it any more.

But, as only someone who has now recovered from depression can, I tried to look for the positive:

This is symbolic perhaps of where I am now. The earth has been turned over, allowing life to start again, allowing a new crop to grow. Is this not what I have been aiming for all this time? I’ve got to see my recovery as a do-over – a chance to change certain areas of my life for the better.

And… This has got me thinking about my love life or, more accurately, lack of it.

I have felt for some time now that I can’t be bothered with the stress of it all… the rejection, the wondering, the over thinking. I also believed strongly that it would be unfair to start a potential relationship when I was mentally unfit – those are my problems to deal with. And I suppose that my low self-esteem recognises that I’m not what I might once have been. Three pregnancies and weight issues will do that to you. 😊

But I don’t want to be alone forever and I don’t know how long forever will be. One depression-thought that hasn’t left me but that is in a much healthier place, is my own mortality.

You have got to live for each day, enjoy your life whilst you can. Clichés but so true! Somewhere there may be someone who will love me, all of me… wobbly bits and all. I can’t close my mind off to that possibility out of fear, just as I can’t close my mind off to things that I can’t influence. Sometimes life throws change at you whether you want it or not. Like the ploughed field, I choose to see the positive in this.

Break

It is my first day back and I am on a break.

It has been much tougher than I expected and I feel on the verge of tears.

I had some lovely comments from staff and pupils which have made me feel welcome. And yet I feel so displaced, unsettled. Like I don’t belong here anymore.

I suppose the only way I can explain it is that I thought it would be like putting on an old pair of shoes again: they would feel different to what I usually wear but comfortable too, particularly once I had got used to them again. Instead they feel like shoes that no longer fit, that actually aren’t as comfortable as I remember.

When you have depression, when you have a breakdown, you lose yourself: the person you were; the things you liked and disliked; your reactions and the way you coped with life.

For me, recovery wasn’t just about finding myself again but about tweaking my old life to prevent this from happening again. I suppose by going back, I’m trying to fit new me into an old me shape. Does that make sense?

I can’t change my job. I can’t leave work. Nor do I really want to. But today I feel trapped and lost at the same time. Work is familiar yet unfamiliar too. It is disorientating. It is displacing. It’s horrible.

Do I keep pretending? Roll out the same behaviours, expressions and tools that made me, once, so good at this job? Will that shoe finally fit again? Or does it need breaking in anew?

*Update*

So, I lasted until 2pm then I came home. I couldn’t take anymore. I know I should feel proud for lasting that long but it feels like I step backwards. I really thought that it would feel like I had never been away but it didn’t. I was told to not be hard on myself – this would a good start. Let’s hope I feel that way tomorrow.

Day zero

I am not in work today – more on this later.

For the first time in weeks, I went back to bed yesterday (after the children had gone to school with their dad). I don’t know whether it was a reaction to knowing that I was in work the next day, or simply that I was tired after being ill the previous week and that it was still lingering.

I woke at 10.30 and felt pretty good. I did my chores, got ready and went out. Another small victory – this is the first time since my breakdown that I have gone out on my own without the need to go food shopping.

I had set myself the task to look into getting my completed cross stitch framed.

As an English teacher, you will not be surprised to hear that Jane Austen is my favourite author. Years ago, in a (very) rare moment of romantic consideration, my husband organised a road trip which included Stratford upon Avon (Shakespeare), Oxford (Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy) and Chawton (Jane Austen). Despite husband not being a fan of these authors, we had a lovely time. And I got to see Jane Austen’s House and museum ☺. The cross-stitch was bought in the gift shop and is a representation of one of the only images we have of Austen – a watercolour painted by her sister Cassandra.

The cross-stitch is the biggest and most complex pattern I have ever completed. It has literally taken me years, partly because there was a long period of time when I simply didn’t do it. I find stitching very relaxing and so naturally, in an attempt to combat the stress and anxiety of my breakdown, I picked it back up again.

And so, the completed picture is very important. It is a memory of happier times. It is a beautiful image of my favourite writer and signifies a love of literature that lead to my English degree and career in teaching. It is a symbol of perseverance and my recovery.

So off I went. Turns out getting something framed is not as simple as I thought but I got a quote from one place and will be revisiting another framers at the weekend. I did do some shopping and had lunch on my own, book in hand, in a busy restaurant. Small victory number 2.

Last night I was a little nervous but no more than I am after the summer holiday.

I didn’t sleep particularly well but I expected that. I woke at 6am but knowing that I was only taking two of my children to school, I stayed in bed until 6.30am. It was then that I saw this:

This snow was completely unexpected. Typical I thought. First day back and I have to contend with snow. As you can imagine, a snowy school full of children is not an easy place to be in.

I showered, woke the children and started to get ready. It was still snowing quite heavily so kept an eye on the two school websites. Low and behold, at 7.30am, the message came through that my school was closed.

You’d think that this would be a welcome message. It wasn’t really. I had built myself up for being in school. I had been repeating my mantra all morning whilst drying my hair and putting on a full face of makeup (Confident, calm and controlled). When the message came I was ready for work and the children were ready for school. My daughter elwas ecstatic of course as this meant that she had a snow day too. Unfortunately for my son, his school has remained open. This through me in to a full scale panic. What do I do? Am I still expected to go into school (has happened previously)? Should I take my son in? What about my youngest’s nursery?

All of this was further compounded by my ex calling on his way home from work to say that the roads were treacherous and that it had tripled his journey home. I was in a headspin.

Ridiculous hey? It seems quite simple now that I have calmed, but for about 15 minutes I couldn’t think straight. I made him come round anyway.

He said that our middle son should not go to school despite it being open. We live some miles away from the school as we chose this one as it was near my work not near our home. Unlike other families who were in walking distance, we would need to drive. And if my own school had considered the roads to be too dangerous to drive on, it seemed silly to risk going that way for him.

So, I changed out of my work suit and here I am!

Just one

Tomorrow is my last day before I go back to work.

I have felt nothing for days about this. No anxiety or dread. No fear or sadness. No excitement or anticipation. Just, nothing.

Ironically, this confused me but my counsellor discussed this with me and I think I have thought it through now.

A thought has been developing the last few days though, like a rosebud slowly opening. I feel different. I’m not the same person anymore.

I can’t quite tell if that is because this experience has changed me or whether the fact that I battled so long with my stress and anxiety before my breakdown has meant that I couldn’t remember myself before that.

Will I be the same person on Thursday? Will I slip on my teaching persona like the suit I will wear? Or have I been tainted or altered by my experience?

Will I be better at recognising and controlling the stress or will my newly healed mental wounds be susceptible to reopening?

I don’t fear seeing anyone. I don’t particularly care what they think about me or my absence. What is important is me being able to do a good job, enjoy it, but protect my fragile sense of self.

Yes, I am mother, daughter, sister, teacher. But I don’t want to be defined by those things anymore.

I want to be defined by my own self. Those parts of me are facets on a diamond – they add to it, help create it – but do not define it. The facets help to make it special, to shine. But they do not create it. The beauty is there all the time.

So, what am going to do with my last day? I’m not sure yet. But I do know it will be what I want.

Small scenes

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of recognising small victories as you begin the slow process of recovery from depression.

Along this theme, I’m going to write about one thing that I have done that I think has also helped.

I’ve lived in this house for all of my life, bar about two years. The house and garden have changed extensively since my childhood: first, when the council took the land under a compulsory order turning it from a small holding to a house with a large garden. On the plus side, this meant that my parents could finally afford to buy the house when it was offered to them by the council. Dad created a beautiful garden.

And then, years later, I bought the house from them and extended it. From then on, due to Dad’s ill health, the garden has never looked quite the same. Over time of course, the bushes have turned to trees and his livestock have dwindled to a few chickens.

What hasn’t changed is the view from the front of the house. My extension is on what was once the drive. A drive that was beech tree lined down one side and which had an archway cut in that lead to our caravan and to the paddock where our pony grazed. I spent hours on that drive – playing hopscotch, riding my bike, climbing on the huge wooden gates that were forever open.

Now, it is the scene of my own family home. But the window looks out over a field and, a little further, a wood. From my childhood, I remember watching the wood burn when it caught on fire, trying to glimpse the firemen as they arrived on the many fire engines. I remember excitedly walking through the woods with my dad, a rare treat. I remember the time that my sister and my cousin and I built a den in the bracken near the wood and the scolding we got when we found out that my cousin had lied: we hadn’t got permission to go there alone.

The field was once rented by my dad and my uncle and I remember watching them work on it: planting, ploughing, harvesting. As a teen, dad allowed us to drive on it in an old, battered Ford Fiesta. As a young adult, I remember bringing a man I was interested in to have a go at clay pigeon shooting on Boxing Day.

Currently, the field has the stubble from the bales of straw that were cleated yesterday, protecting them from the snow.

Every day, usually after doing my housework, I sit in the window and look out. Usually, I’m accompanied by my cat.

In the morning, the field is the colour of platinum. When the sun rises higher, it turns into a rich gold but later this seems to be more muted and buttery. I watch pheasants strutting through the stubble and songbirds hopping about, looking for food. My cat also likes watching the songbirds.

I also like watching how the light travels on the tree branches that line the field and the road.

As I sit here, the world is calm and peaceful. I can listen to tweets of birds and the ticking of my kitchen clock. I can think about the past or the present or I can blank my mind and just look at the view. This has very much become my time and I think it has been invaluable in healing the wounds caused by anxiety and depression.

Little victories

I’m quite proud of the fact that I managed to get up at 6am again this morning. I know this may seem like a little thing but to me it’s a sign that I am mentally well and preparing for my return to work. These little signs that I have been getting better are very important: particularly in the beginning when the world was so dark.

Unfortunately, that’s where it stops for this morning. My attention has been taken by the warm glow coming from outside- snow has fallen in North West England and it’s heavy. I also have to say that the thing I was most looking forward to this morning was the chance to take my various nasal and throat sprays and good old paracetamol. I’m not feeling good with swollen glands and aching joints to add to the blocked nose and sore throat.

My son also continues to be unwell. We went to the doctors yesterday and he was put on antibiotics. For the third night in a row he came into my bed in the middle of the night and it takes some time for us both to fall back to sleep. He’s going to be very disappointed when he sees all the snow – the first substantial fall of his four years – and realise he can’t go out it.

So after taking various meds, I’ve turned the lights low, made a hot drink and opened the curtains so I can see outside. Beautiful.

I’ve got my final back to work meeting later on today. I’m not sure what else can be said but I have to go I suppose.

Wishing a good day for you all. 😊

Countdown

Eight days to go.

Today I actually felt happy. Yes, happy. I can not tell you why exactly, because I don’t actually know. Perhaps it was the Spring sunshine. Maybe it was the antidepressants doing an amazing job. Maybe it’s my new diet. But, without worrying too much about the why (as only someone with anxiety could) I decided to accept it with gratitude.

As I said in my last post, my little trip away has seemed to do my mental health the world of good. Wednesday I started a new eating plan too.

I have played around with Lifesum for a few months. I’ve previously had My Fitness Pal and have used it a few times quite happily. However I like Lifesum’s interface (is that the right word?) and so decided to pay for the subscription for a year. It’s two months payments for Slimming World /Weight Watchers – both of which I have tried and failed on multiple times- and so I thought it was worth a try. I have lost weight on both of these diets and I know they work really well for lots of people but just not me. I stop losing weight, yo-yo, and give up when I realise I am paying a £5 a week to be looked at pityingly by a group of smug slimmers.

After lots of reading up, I’ve decided to try low carb. I have PCOS and so cutting down on the sugar is a good idea amongst the other obvious health benefits. Problem is, I love carbs: a crispy jacket potato with butter and salad and spicy chicken. A decadent sandwich stuffed with turkey and rocket. Homemade lasagne. Chilli and rice.

Even now, only five days in, these still appeal to me. Other things seem to be taking a back step: no sugar cravings in the last few days. And I am not hungry all the time. And I seem to get full really quickly. And finally my, ehem, toileting habits have improved. I’ve also been sucessfully intermittent fasting on 16:8 and have managed this on all but one day. Yay me! I have not had the bloating and my stomach feels smaller but, it’s not been weigh day yet and I’ve been fooled by ‘feeling thinner’ before.

Ultimately, if this can create some healthier eating habits – no late night binging so far and I am definitely eating more veg and less sugar – then it is worth it in the long term. I’ve been having a small amount of carbs with tea but may cut these out too if I don’t lose weight. My original plan was to do this until I am back in work because I wasn’t sure I could maintain it. But I’m going to take each day as it comes. I’m monitoring my calories on Lifesum also so where I have a bad day with carbs I will make sure I keep within my calorie allowance. And if it doesn’t work? I will just keep trying until I can see those lbs coming off.

I want next week to work a little differently. I have proved to myself that I can be a good housewife when I have time to do it. I am determined never to let those feelings of failure and guilty about my home plague me again: when I have the time, I can keep on top of the housework easily. What I need to work out now, is what I can manage outside of working hours. And so I have decided that next week I can not do any general housework between the hours of 7.45am and 5pm as this approximately is my working day with the odd few later nights here and there. I need to manage my housework before/after these hours and if I can’t, I will hire a cleaner as I will have proved to myself that it impossible to meet the standards I want with the limited hours I have.

So, what am I going to do in the daytime? Well, I have a few appointments next week. I’m also going to try to get out each day, somewhere… Anywhere. And after that? I will allow myself to do any ‘extra’ housework. You know, decluttering – not every day jobs but things you save until you have more time. I’m going to sit and plan my week and make sure it is a productive as I can. 😊

Have a good week everyone.

Renewed

It’s hard to believe that a week ago I was walking around Prague!

This week seems to have flown by, not helped by the fact that on my first day back my youngest injured himself and had to go to A&E! Tuesday we were at Alder Hey Children’s hospital and we went back this morning for a check-up. All is looking well though which is a relief. 😊

Prague is a beautiful city. If you like culture, history, museums and shopping I would not hesitate to go. From Manchester the flight is less than two hours. I’m not sure I would agree that Prague is inexpensive but it is certainly cheaper than Paris or London. Expect to pay City prices.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I saw some beautiful sites, ate some delicious food, drank too much alcohol and made a new friend. I also got a little male attention which massaged my ego nicely. Nothing else to report on that front though.

I’m feeling good. The trip seemed to blow the final whispers of darkness away from my mind. If I can get a train on my own… If I can walk around Prague on my own.. Well, I’m doing alright.

I have just over a week until I go back to work and I have made that decision. I can’t say I am excited to go back – I certainly don’t want to feel stressed again- but now I am well there is no point living a life I can’t have. I can’t be a stay-at-home mum and I’ve known that for fourteen years.

Instead, I sort of feel like I am chomping at the bit and ready to renew and restart my life. I’ve got a week to make preparations to make sure that happens properly, so I don’t end up in the same rut. Ironically, today I am facing the complete opposite problem to a few weeks ago. I want to go out today but know that I need to use my time wisely to sort a few things out before the weekend. Sigh.

And so to anyone who is just starting their recovery journey from depression and anxiety, know that you will get there. You will find yourself again, the days will be brighter and life will become good again.

Take care everyone and I hope you have a good weekend. X

Anxiety

This time tomorrow I will be boarding a plane to Prague.

It’s exciting – yes. I’ve not been there before, there’s eight of us ladies and plenty of time to sightsee, shop, lunch and have fun. Last time I went away with them, to Spain, I came back revived and full of life.

This past few weeks I have been in a really good place with some smatterings of anxiety (just so I don’t forget what I’ve been through). Today I’ve had full blown anxiety thinking about tomorrow.

What if something happens to my kids whilst I’m away? What if, what if, what if.

Unlike previous incarnations of this fear, I’m not quite as worried about something happening to me. I pay a lot of money a month for life insurance so that I know my children will be financially secure until my youngest is 21. Doesn’t replace a mother, but makes me feel like I’m still caring for them in a way, even in death. I arranged this cover during my postnatal depression four years ago and it has helped. Maybe I am overpaying but it is best for my peace of mind.

I’m having moments of crushing angst where I just don’t think I can go. I have periods of excitement too. Only one person going knows about my breakdown. The rest are relative strangers and I’m going somewhere where I will not see people I know. I can do this.

And this is what I wanted, surely? A social life: fun, laughter and friends. I love history and natural beauty and culture. Perhaps I will discover the old me over there.

I will go, only because I cannot afford to waste the money I have already paid. Moreover, this is the next big step: if I can conquer this, I can conquer anything.

Myself

Oh the house is so quiet! For the first time in a while I have not gone back to bed today. So I am sat in a quiet, empty house (for now) enjoying the silence and relative calm. Last week was difficult. Although I think I have said that the new tablet seems to be having a more positive effect on me, I’m still having relapses of low mood particularly when I perceive that I have to do something difficult. Last Friday I had a welfare meeting at work. I won’t bore you with the details. But I made myself go to the school (hiding from any pupils who might see me). I met with the Headteacher and the Business Manager. I cried – a lot – but sort of silent tears as I listened to what they had to say. But I left feeling supported and hopeful that when I return I can put all this behind me. I don’t know if the stress of that and the impending Occupational Health meeting on Monday juat were to blame, but I came down with a violent cold and severe eye infection the next day. I’d been feeling pretty smug the week before that I had managed to ‘get away with’ a head cold whilst everyone else around me seemed to have a full blown cold/flu. Seems like this was not the case as my week’s worth of head cold turned into a second week of sore throat, cough and constantly streaming nose. I spent all day Sunday on the couch asleep. Monday I went to the Occupational Health meeting. I had been dreading this and if the appointment had been later in the day, I probably would have cancelled. Instead I went, eyes and nose streaming, hair a little greasy (yuk – I know) and just wanting to get it over with so I could go back to bed. It was fine, you know. She said a lot that I’d heard from my gp and counsellor and so that helped to reinforce their messages. She’s going to suggest to work that I have more than six counselling sessions if I need them. She told me to give myself time, be kind to myself and work slowly to get back. She said my tablets would take a good month to have full affect – I’m only a week and a half in. Yesterday I looked after my three year old whilst nursing one of those headaches you get from constant coughing. I did more housework than I had done for a while (but not enough, of course) and then spent the day alternatively playing and cuddling with him on the couch as we watched a film. It was heavenly, apart from the headache ☺. This morning I feel like I have turned the corner. I woke up without headache, sore throat or streaming nose. I have taken the children to school and then have put washing on and have had a quick tidy. I’m now sat drinking my first coffee in a week. Delicious. So what? You’ve had a cold. All I can say is, it felt like yet another hurdle. You know how utterly fed up you feel when you’ve been ill for a while? Well picture that when you already feel low. Not good. I’m at the stage in my recovery where I want to start thinking about everything properly. It feels like an open wound at the moment. It’s there; I can see it and feel it, but if I don’t look at it, it doesn’t feel as bad. But I know that if I don’t deal with it, it isn’t going to heal. I keep glancing at it, knowing that I’ve got to face up to it soon. I feel like to do this I need to prepare, like going into battle or, (perhaps better so I don’t mix my metaphors) preparing for an operation. I need to focus on only this, without disruption or distraction or interruption. I need to think, and write and feel at my own pace without pressure of anything else. What I would really like is to go away for a few days on my own. I’d like a little cottage or maybe even a B&B somewhere beautiful like the Lakes. I want to walk, to write, to contemplate. I don’t know if I can afford it and I would need my Ex to move in for a few days. I just think that this space would help me to truly focus and I love the Lakes. I’m missing my walks there with my friend. To be honest, in just writing this I have summed up the cause of all that I am feeling. There is no time in my life where I don’t feel pressured by outside influences; my roles as mother, daughter, sister, homeowner, teacher. I need to unpick all this, refine and define my roles and carve out a new role as caretaker for ME. That is the one area I am truly failing at, not the others like I believe. I need to keep telling myself that. My one, and only one, failure in my life so far is not caring for myself.