Both are about trying to balance career with other things, in the first being a Mum, in the second illness. So this is not for the people happily churning out a book every month, or painting prolifically. It’s for the people who could but haven’t the time. My books take about 2 years to write. If I had the glorious luxury of being able to write 9-5, the whole year I reckon each one’d take 6 months, tops. That, right there people, is frustration.
However, these days, I think I’m surprisingly happy with my lot and I’ll tell you the secret. Shingles. run with me on this one, it’s going to take a while.
This isn’t a Mummy Blog but I am a Mum, which is why I thought I’d write this post is for the other Glacier Girls and Guys who are living slowly because they’re parents and they have to. It’s also for anyone who is a Parent who feels that by not enjoying each and every single minute they are somehow betraying their child(ren). In any job there are going to be bits you don’t enjoy. Being a parent is a job and in this respect, it’s like any other.
The other trick, I think is that we all tend to get a bit Monty Python Fork Sketch about being parents. Sometimes, all we see are the bad bits. That’s a habit but it’s not an easy one to shake especially among those of us who tend to be a bit anal about getting everything right. Seriously, though it’s amazing how quickly the good bits become background noise.
McMini goes to school but in the holidays, mostly, it’s just me and him. Sometimes it’s a challenge – usually on days when my energy levels are not quite compatible with his – but mostly we have fun. I think we always have but it’s only recently I’ve been able to see it like that. Because… well… the truth is, I had a bit of a melt down.
A little while back, three, four years ago? Something like that, the reactor really cracked. The journey down took a year.
My in laws came to live with us for three months, from May to September. I love them dearly and gladly took them in but I found it peculiarly stressful. The fact that I did upset me. November, the cold set in and my Dad took a real nose dive. My worry about my parents intensified along with me feeling that I was failing them. I crept through the winter, torn between staying at home and looking after my boy and going down to Sussex and looking after my folks.
Meanwhile, I was trying to be a decent Mum, fun to be with, understanding, full of ideas, kind and loving, when I couldn’t remember the last time I’d completed a thought without being interrupted and felt like shit.
Then one of my friends was diagnosed with lung cancer and given 5 weeks to live and I took stock. I had a loving husband, a lovely little boy, a very dear family, a fantastic group of friends and a car to die for. Hell, I’d even written a book. I knew it was all good but the frustration of caring for a little one and being torn in two different directions at once was beginning to get a bit much. I knew I was happy ‘on paper’ it was just that in reality I didn’t seem to be able to convince myself. I was perennially angry and mardy and grim and I didn’t like it. Or me.
During this time, I didn’t write or paint. There just wasn’t the slack in the system. The ambient levels of background worry continued to climb into the red zone, my emotional glass was full and the tiniest thing on top would make it brim over and have me in tears. Eventually it all went pop.
It was a Friday, late March or early April and I got home from dropping McMini off at nursery and started to cry. I cried for hours. I mourned for my Dad, for my friend, and for my Mum as she shouldered responsibility for everything my Dad had used to do. I picked up McMini from playgroup puffy eyed and wondered if I was having a nervous breakdown. But I finally understood how it was I could love my life, and the people in it, the way I did and still be sad. And it was OK and it made sense.
The next morning, I woke up feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted, with a new and certain understanding of my world…. and shingles. I’ve never felt so shit and so relieved at the same time. Sure, shingles was bloody painful, but I knew I’d hit the bottom. The only way from here was up, and finally I had some fucking clue which direction up was in. And I felt something else. I felt strong, and solid, and grounded.
Shortly after that, my friend with lung cancer died and in the same week another one did, too, unexpectedly, three days before his 42nd Birthday. I became aware that you can lead a full and happy life, and still find your brain is in a bit of a knot. So, thinking I might need a bit of help I went to the Doctor to see if I could get some counselling on the NHS. She referred me for something called cognitive behavioural therapy although by the time I got to the top of the waiting list, I’d kind of worked it out for myself, but the basic gist is this:
- You cannot do everything you want to do, only what you can do. This is the hardest thing in the world to accept.
- Once you’ve understood your limitations, think of ways to work within them and let the other stuff go.
- Concentrate on doing things that play to your strengths.
- Draw a line under your mistakes. You can’t change them. Move forward and aim to avoid making them again.
- Concentrate what you’ve achieved rather than what you’ve failed to do.
- If something is wrong, tackle it. Fix it.
- Don’t look at other people and compare them to you, they and their circumstances are different.
If you can manage that, you can enjoy and appreciate the things you are able to achieve and you’ll feel less trapped by the stuff you haven’t done. And that will make for an easier going, happier you and perversely, I’ve found I achieve more now that I’ve stopped worrying about it… (mostly). Sure, I am not the daughter I hoped I’d be and probably not the mum, but I know I’m fulfilling both roles about as well as I can and I’ll settle for that.
Yes, is difficult to adjust to the glacially slow process of your own life once there are kids in it – and I’m the queen of the big Jessies there, because I only have one. It’s also difficult to adjust to the fact there are bits of your brain, like your intellect, that you don’t get the chance or just don’t have the energy to use.
However, Amanda Martin’s post (the first link) summed it up perfectly when she said that the whole point is, she wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. I wouldn’t and as for progress on other things. Well, it’s a bit like getting over shingles. When you are chipping away at something day after day, it’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved.
A few years ago, when I was absolutely at the end of my tether, I remember complaining to a friend, in tears, that I’d only written five words that day.
“Well,” he said, “That’s five words that weren’t there yesterday.”
And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Not to look at the oceans of stuff you haven’t done and the stuff you don’t have but to let all that bollocks go and look it the way it really is.
Life hasn’t stopped. It’s just slowed down; and who knows, we may be hankering for this when faster times come.