An object cannot compete with an experience

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I finished work and walked to my car.  For a few moments I sat in the driver’s seat with the door still open, feeling the fresh evening air, aware of the big tree nearby and the fields surrounding me.  I felt the pull of the outdoors, a longing to stay there a little longer.  But I also wanted to get away from work so I drove home, still feeling torn, wistful for the cool air, the big tree.

I decided it would be a disservice to myself and to my husband to arrive home not feeling right, so I parked outside town and went for a walk.  (Previously I had written off the idea of going for a walk after work when it is dark, except for around the town.  In the summer I sometimes go for a walk across the fields after work, and of course even in winter I can do this on my days off.)  I walked out of town along a footpath and down little lanes and roads, a circular route that we often do in the daytime but that I have never done in darkness.  I stopped to hug a tree, feeling its body against my belly and resting my cheek against its bark.  It was such a little thing, but it made such a difference, doing something different and realising I can have a proper walk after work even in wintertime.

So the next day I thought, that was so good, I’ll do that again.  Likewise, with doing a good yoga session, not eating late, and continuing writing an article, I made plans for the evening based on the previous evening.  But when the end of the working day came, I was tired and hungry, and it was raining.  I didn’t feel like going for a walk.  I went to the fish and chip shop and bought chips.  At home, I ate a whole portion of chips, followed by two vegan ‘magnums’ (from Morrisons).  Too full of food to do yoga now, so I sit down and write my article.

Yesterday it felt easy but today it feels hard.  I feel in a funk.  I’ve also got the bathroom to clean, as someone is coming round tomorrow, and duvet covers to change.  I think, should I do all that now, and come back to writing later, should I stop altogether for today.  Because writing is the most important activity, I keep writing and I do break through to a place where the work feels like its going well and I am back, enthused.  I clean the bathroom, change the duvets, then, breaking more of yesterday’s rules re don’t eat late or stay up late, I eat a plate of nuts and sultanas, have a cup of tea and stay up writing.  When I eventually feel like it I do plenty of yoga and really enjoy it and feel good afterwards.  Everything gets done, I feel good and apart from the early part of the evening, I enjoyed the whole thing.

Trust the process…  I don’t want to not enjoy my evening; enjoying the evening is more important than completing a manuscript; the two are interconnected; I want to enjoy the evening at the time of living it, not just afterwards in retrospect based on what I have achieved.

I can assist The Process by altering the order of tasks, by eating snacks (trail mix seems to be the thing to sustain me through an evening of writing, even though the little pieces of coconut are impractical and messy).

Learning to play the evening, not like a game, but maybe like a musical instrument, or like making something out of words…

Managing the dialectics of making and following through on plans versus doing what you feel like at the time.  Every day is a day to both make and rip up the plan.

Because, what is more important?  To enjoy the evening or to get things done?  Same re life.  Maybe by being a bit aware and a bit flexible, it’s possible to do both.

 

A little over a year ago I took ketamine for the first time and experienced the falling away of everything.  I knew that the carpet was red and we had a woodburner, but those things were very far away.  Lying curled up on the sofa, unable to move.  In the centre of a sensation of nothingness/awareness that at the time I conceptualised as being like one bubble within a sheet of bubble wrap.  Nothing physical was left, only feelings.  Lying curled up on the sofa with my husband, I said:  This is what love feels like.

Since then, we discovered the person I have referred to in previous posts as my ‘awareness advisor’.  From there we realised that beyond all emotions, beyond love even is awareness, and made that the goal.  Whilst raising our awareness we also explored the ideas around why we are here, what is the world, what is the real truth, and so on.  The central idea is that we are living in some kind of generated reality, some may call it a computer simulation, some may call it a dream.  Right now, I can believe that this world is a creation.

(If I were going to label myself, I could call myself a vegan, a minimalist, a hippy, an atheist, a creationist.  But it’s probably best not to, as I doubt there’s a club for me to fit into).

A creation made out of my thoughts, and/or the creation of mine and others’ thoughts.  At the height of being deep into all this theorising, I did spend some time contemplating everything being a creation of my thoughts, meaning, everything is in my head.  Everything, even all the people I know.  Now, when trying to embed a theory or wrap your mind around a strange new idea, it is useful to be completely immersed in it.  This particular belief is also really handy for dealing with difficult people, and for encouraging oneself to look inside at ones thoughts, responsibility and actions.  It can create more of a sense of personal agency, and that’s useful.  It also helped me conceptualise my reality.

But, then here’s the thing:  life is a richer experience when you regard it as real (even if you don’t believe it is).  Riding these two opposing horses is I suppose what it’s all about for me right now.

And so by being really there within an activity or when with a person, it’s possible to engage completely, to have an experience to cherish and value whilst at the same time maintaining an underlying belief that one is living in a dream of one’s own creation.  Because if that’s true, one has the agency to make each person to person and activity experience even richer.

But beliefs are objects too and it seems that as we declutter our possessions our beliefs seem to fall away too.

My husband saying that right now he does not believe in anything.  Although it felt true, he felt disconnected and unsettled for a few days.

The ketamine experience, me desperately trying to hold onto the red carpet and the woodburner.  If all we are left with is nothing, no possessions, no beliefs, what do we hold onto?

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There’s an image that goes around Facebook, with a man saying to Jesus, why don’t you do something about all the wars and starvation and suffering in the world, how can you just let it go on?  Jesus says to the man, I was just about to ask you the same thing.  Those aren’t the exact words but I’m sure you get the gist.

I sometimes think if we were to be parachuted down here and saw things with fresh eyes, we’d be amazed at what we accept as normal.  What, human beings let other human beings sleep outside?  In winter?  In sub zero temperatures?  But don’t they suffer, don’t they get ill, might they even be at risk of dying of the cold?

Oh yeah, rough sleepers die all the time.  But why aren’t you all outside your local city hall, protesting until there’s not one person left without shelter and food?  Why don’t you all club together and help those people?  What, you mean people just walk right past them?  You don’t take them home with you, even when you have spare rooms?  You don’t even pay for them to stay the night in a budget hotel?  What, sometimes you just walk on by without even stopping to say hello and give them some money or buy them a meal?!  What kind of world is this that you live in?

I’m opening with this to make two points:  one, that I am most certainly very far from perfect, ethics wise.  I have two spare rooms, I do not have homeless people staying with me and sometimes I don’t even stop to give money or food.  Two, that what we accept, what we think of as normal, is all down to our conditioning:  the ideas we have been fed from early childhood and into our adult lives, from our parents, teachers, other adults, authority figures, the government, the media, advertising and so on, as well as what we actually see around us each and every day, reinforcing what we have been taught, making it seem normal, and well, it’s always been this way.

I am sure you have your own special something that is closest to your heart.  This is mine:

I don’t really like having to call myself a vegan.  I eat exactly the same foods that everyone does, I mean most people eat vegetables don’t they?  But what I don’t eat is animals.  To my mind, there shouldn’t even be a word for someone who eats plant based foods, isn’t that what everyone eats; most meat eaters don’t generally eat only meat.

For those of us who love animals, and by this I mean those of us who love ALL animals, not just the ones society labels as pets, wouldn’t it be better to have a word for people who eat animals?  But unfortunately for us it isn’t some kind of underground thing, where there’s special clubs, restaurants and hidden away shops where people can go to eat animals, it’s everywhere.  It’s in almost every shop and establishment you can think of.  It’s so everywhere, that everyone thinks it’s normal.  It’s got to be okay, right, because everyone’s doing it?  And it’s not like these animals that people are eating committed suicide, died of natural causes, or were accidentally killed (except a very tiny proportion e.g. ‘roadkill’).

They were brought into this world for one purpose only, and then they were transported to a place where, alongside loads of others, they were killed.  And it’s not just a few animals, it’s some enormous and wildly depressing number.

To return to the ‘pet animals’ versus ‘food animals’ point, I have known of people having pigs and chickens as pets and being very fond of them, seeing them as having personalities and regarding them as a member of the family.  I read about a woman who has a very small flock of sheep and each one comes when she calls their name.  Likewise I’ve known British meat eaters getting very upset about dogs being eaten in countries they went to on holiday.  I think the distinctions are arbitrary.

I’m not criticising individuals.  Like I said, there’s much to criticise in my own life, my car ownership, for example, would seem lazy and careless to some, whilst ‘society’ deems it normal.  It is our society and conditioning that I am questioning.  Plus, this is my ‘thing’, one of the central pivots that I live by and so I’m sharing what that feels like, I’m opening up to you.

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The Minimalists

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The Minimalists is a Netflix documentary.  It is what I watched last night whilst trying not to cry about the cats.

I remember reading some time ago that people as they get older tend to stop wanting to read fiction and instead turn to autobiographies.  I understand that, although it is hard as in my experience a lot of autobiographies aren’t that well written, or else the best and only really good bit in it was the bit that was read out on the radio that got me to buy it.

That said, even if there’s one good bit in a book, if the bit is really good, it’s worth it.  Chris Packham’s bit about suicide in his book Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, about all the wonders that he’s seen, which encouraged him, and then about his dogs, which stopped him.  Guy Martin’s description of the big crash, that was the bit that was read out on the radio.  But the bit I really liked was him walking home after a hard day’s work mending trucks and seeing all the houses with people sitting around a big screen tv and him saying:  You don’t get that time back at the end you know.  I love, love love that, and I say it to myself regularly.

Anyway, maybe the visual equivalent is getting into watching documentaries on Netflix rather than watching films.

My husband said that maybe everyone has to experience capitalism and materialism before they can begin to reject it, and so it is fitting that this documentary is American and the movement is being started by super successful people.  These people are smartly dressed, ex high powered career people.  They are not scruffy unwashed hippies.

Oh, and to go off topic for a moment, their teeth!  How do Americans have such incredible teeth (or why do us Brits have such bad ones?  What is the American situation with fluoride?  We have it in our water and in most toothpaste, but some people think it blocks your third eye.)  My teeth are considered good by British standards, but they are not white like kitchen paper, or white like a thick blanket of freshly fallen snow.  It is one of the few things that annoys me about the Walking Dead, although it’s not unique to that show.  Their teeth are still perfect, wouldn’t they be stained and worse, have some missing either from decay or having been knocked out in battle?  Are they all still flossing?  Have all the dentists survived?  I have to suspend my disbelief about the teeth, I complained to my husband.  What, that’s the only thing you have to suspend your disbelief about?! my husband said.

So back to the message of the Minimalists.  I agreed with everything.  It was just what I needed.  If anyone thinks what I am doing is weird, I can feel reassured.  I could even say, ‘I’m a minimalist, there’s a film about it on Netflix’.   I love Netflix.

The people in the documentary had fewer clothes, but they loved them all, and they tended to be better quality, thus showing how we should be both less and more materialistic:  really value and take care of the things we have.

Obviously this would be terrible, but I used to say that I’d like to lose everything in a house fire, so that I could just start again.  This shows what a gloom merchant I was, but my husband is saying he isn’t going to keep any of his clothes (aside from ones he’s taking travelling) and I’m seriously considering doing the same.  I was going to keep work clothes and warm clothes.  But if I’m not intending to do the kind of work that entails shapeless black trousers and modest frumpy tops (a lot of the patients I work with are sex offenders), and my warm clothes are all either poor quality/worn out, isn’t this my golden opportunity to fulfil my long held dream and get rid of everything and start again, with a few well chosen quality items from Cotswold Outdoor?  Alongside my more recent dream of getting rid of everything and just being left with a backpack?  (Plus duvets, pillows, blankets and a few essential crockery items left in someone’s loft or garage for our return.)

It’s not just stuff, it’s ideas I’m realising might be superfluous distractions and worth shedding:  my step grandma picks up litter everywhere she goes, with no gloves, then eats cake at the cafe.  No wet wipes, no alcohol gel.  I’ve never heard of her being sick.  Spending time with her also made me wonder whether all this concern about nutrition is really worth it.  She eats a cereal bar for breakfast, then goes out to the cafe for coffee and cake, followed by a good walk.  As far as I can tell she doesn’t eat lunch, I know she never cooks at all anyway.  She grazes on custard creams and chocolate chip cookies and in the evening she has white sliced bread with organic lettuce and tomatoes.

I’ve been wrapping my mind around letting go of my career, and what that means, prompted by interactions with three separate people on the subject.  At work, one of the admin staff told me to ask the admin people for help.  We’re not here to have a career, she said, so we just want to be busy, it helps the day go quicker.  She is a smart, interesting person, with whom I had a good chat about Christmas and minimalism.  We’re not here for a career, rang in my ears.  For so long, I have been all about the career, but what if I could just become the kind of person who wasn’t bothered about all that?

Then there was this blog  about changing attitudes to work and different ways of working, and our happy little exchange in the comments section.  Lastly, me and my husband working out that if we lowered our overheads by living on a boat and sharing a car, maybe we’d only need to work an average of 2-3 days per week each.  We bounced around ideas, cleaning houses for letting agents, especially really filthy houses.  Neither of us is bothered about cleaning up shit.

Just think, he said, if you weren’t bothered about it being a career, then you’d be free to just do anything that came along.  It made me think that the whole career thing is a trap, you think you’re getting something special and even feel superior sometimes, I am very sorry to say, but really, by letting go of all that, I’m free to make my life, rather than my career, the centre of my life.  And that is what The Minimalists are trying to teach us.

You can’t take a cat in a backpack around India

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I suppose it was a good example of cosmic ordering, wish-fulfillment or just simple serendipity.

Just before Christmas I was ordering at the bar of my local pub.  It was around ten years ago.  I was with my old boyfriend.  My son, who is allergic to cats, had moved out.  The landlord said to me, so, what are you hoping to get for Christmas?  All I want for Christmas is two baby cats, I said, surprising myself, I didn’t actually think anyone was going to give me kittens for Christmas.  Quick as a flash, the landlord said, Peter over there’s looking for a home for two cats.  Peter’s son and daughter in law had moved back home, the daughter in law had two cats, Peter had dogs who chased cats, so the cats were currently living outside.

The next day I went to their house.  Halfway down the road a beautiful grey cat appeared.  As we came closer to each other, he gave a big meow and literally leapt into my arms.

But you can’t take a cat around India in a backpack, so this weekend I took them to their new home, my grandfather’s second wife, my step-grandma, I suppose she would be called.  She lives alone in a dear little house surrounded by gardens.  Her own cat died a few months ago.

I dealt with things in my usual way:  I filled a whole side of A4 with my ‘cat plan’, got super stressed out about finding exactly the right boxes (to make them nests that they could hide away in, with my blanket and pillow inside) and thinking about solving all the possible eventualities that could occur in the year we are away.  But all I really needed to do on Saturday was take them and their food over.  I stayed all the afternoon, stayed the night and stayed the whole of the following (yesterday) morning, long enough to see that they had both ventured out of their respective hiding places.  They didn’t use my boxes, the house was full of corners and hiding places.

Arriving home, no calling ‘puss puss’, no cat waiting for me by the car, seeing shapes and shadows everywhere that looked like cats.

When my dog was at the vets and I thought he was about to die- he did- I washed all the walls down where his waggy tail had splashed mud everywhere.  Not to forget, but thinking, if this is going to be my life, dog free, then I might as well bring it into existence now.  (Actually I cracked and got another dog two weeks’ later).  Now I have this strange urge to wash blankets and vacuum and have everything fluff free.

The last night we left the bedroom door open so the cats could sleep on the bed.  We don’t often do that because even though it always seems like it will be cute, they always end up disturbing us by washing loudly, sleeping on my pillow and on my hair and scratching my face until I lift up the blanket so that they can get into bed.  They did all of those things, and those behaviours were still annoying, even though it was our last night with them.  When people or animals die, people often beat themselves up, saying, if only I’d known it was going to be our last day, maybe I’d have appreciated them more, maybe I wouldn’t have got irritated…  But knowing didn’t seem to make that much difference.

Lying on the floor of the sitting room post yoga with my blanket over me, one of the cats kneading me and then settling down upon me, I concentrated hard on this being the last time, but I couldn’t enjoy it any more than I normally do.  I’ve had a rich experience with the cats, I’ve loved them and cuddled them and enjoyed being with them, so much so that I couldn’t amplify that experience any more just because it was the last evening.  Which I suppose is a good thing, it means there’s no regrets.  But it does bring me face to face with the bare facts:  Much more than decluttering old photographs, selling the house or giving away the furniture, more even than leaving friends and family for a year.  Dismantling the cats’ home and breaking up our little family:  This is what I am prepared to do to live the life I want.

I cooked dinner quietly, declining offers of help, and with no music or videos or blogs for distraction.  Sorting out the laundry, realising I didn’t need to worry about the cats sitting in it.  Same with leaving jumpers on the sofa or carrier bags lying about.  So sad.  Feeling kind of anxious, bent out of shape.  I had already been for a walk, already had a burst of creative energy and written loads of notes.  It was evening and cold and dark outside.  So I did what usually works in such circumstances and did some yoga whilst listening to music on YouTube.  It didn’t work that well, maybe the music was too sad.

I broke the five second rule last night (don’t get emotional about anything for longer than..) but it’s got to be okay to feel sad sometimes hasn’t it?

Voluntary simplicity

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It turns out that what I am doing is ‘a thing’.  As in, with magazine articles, sites and blogs and forums dedicated to it.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised at this, but as someone who grew up without the internet I continually have to remind myself that IT HAS EVERYTHING.  That whatever I can imagine, is there, and that there is a ‘club’ for everyone.  Well almost everyone, but more on that later.

I was chatting to my stepson when he came up after Christmas about what it is like for young people with the internet having your mates post embarrassing pictures of you etc, where we got away with it with only each other’s memories which were hazy at best, but also about how you don’t ever have to be embarrassed about not knowing things, because you can just discreetly look them up.

I have huge holes in my knowledge partly from studying only a health course at university and so only knowing about limited field, and also from being lazy- I could have educated myself by reading huge books on history and philosophy, as my husband has, but I haven’t.  Plus I don’t watch and wasn’t brought up with much television, so my popular knowledge is patchy, compounded now by not reading magazines or newspapers.  Which is probably why I only came across the term ‘voluntary simplicity’ last week.

I ‘fit into’ this category in terms of the following:  in September I reduced my hours from working five days a week to four days a week, valuing time over money.  I have also been seriously decluttering:  I have given loads of stuff to charity and have arranged to give away the furniture when we go.  We will be keeping only a double futon and mattress, a blanket box/seat, two small wooden boxes, some storage baskets, a pouffe, a lamp, essential kitchen items, warm clothes and work clothes, a bit of camping stuff, a few tools and a small amount of basic crockery/kitchen stuff, all for our small space minimal life on our return; plus essential paperwork, and some sentimental items- I have mine down to one A4 box file of loved clippings, poems, photocopied pages from favourite books and two little Chinese cat ornaments.  Not bad for a person who has been here for 47 years.  Other than that, it will just be a backpack each with our things for travelling.

My son’s old schoolbooks, plaster handprints, special craft projects, and childhood drawings, which are all carefully mounted in polypockets in lever arch files, I will give to him to reminisce with/have a laugh with his girlfriend over, then they can be stored in my mum’s loft if he doesn’t have room for them.

My son is completely on board with my plans, whereas the older generations are finding it a little more challenging.  So before everyone arrived on Christmas Day my husband and I said, best not to mention too much about us selling the house etc.  My son said yes, he understood- he has been on the receiving end of much unsolicited advice from the older generation about getting normal job.  My husband and I completely support him doing his own thing and being an artist, so we laughingly said, just remember, we can always bring up how you haven’t got a job yet.  My son said, yeah, and I’ll say, hey what about mum and John, giving away all their possessions to live out of a back pack!  We all laughed.  I know it’s not nice to criticise others but it’s a good way to bond, and we’ve all struggled with the forceful opinions of the older generation as we’ve tried to go our own way.  I have explicitly told him that he is free to do whatever he wants, and he knows that he is.

Back to clubs (and categories and tribes).  It’s great that everything is a thing and that there is a group for everything but the trouble with me is that I don’t just do one thing.  I mean, I am into lots of different things but of the different things I might only be into one aspect.  It’s like if it was a Venn diagram, I’d be out there at the edges, part of loads of things but not intersecting with anything else, always just at the edges of a scene.

I might declutter and live somewhere small, but I drive a car and have zero interest in growing my own vegetables.  And I probably think pretty much like an original hippy, but I don’t look like one.  I like to do a bit of yoga and drink smoothies and eat healthily, except for when I don’t, so I can’t really say I’m part of the kale smoothie yoga club either.  And sometimes I like to be irresponsible and unhealthy.  But I only do it sometimes, my life is not infused with constant drama and hangovers, so I’m not really part of that scene either.

My life has always been like that.  Maybe travelling will be good for that, because I really won’t belong, so my outside will match my inside and be completely congruous- as a traveller I won’t belong anywhere.  Or maybe as a traveller I will actually belong anywhere and everywhere!

With metta

F is for Family*

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Warning, contains depressing content

My son is 28.  Christmas 2016, I pretended to go away for Christmas because I couldn’t face us spending Christmas together.  He wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway; we’d only been speaking since the September and things were still slightly frosty.  Prior to that we hadn’t spoken since Christmas 2015:  I had picked him up to bring him to ours for Christmas and he started fidgeting and then shouting in the car on the dual carriageway.  I was frightened, exasperated and completely incapable of dealing with it.  You work in mental health, you’re supposed to help people, I remember him saying.  I stupidly tried to reason with him, to connect with a part of us that was above all this, to explain that I wasn’t the one to help him, because if I had, I would have been.  In the middle of a panic attack isn’t the time, and he was extremely angry and disappointed with my response and my inability to respond.

I think what he doesn’t understand is how upsetting it is for me, but then he probably also doesn’t understand why I can’t just be all mumsy and cuddly, and I don’t either, but I can’t.  I don’t believe that would make any difference, but I understand why he’d be dismayed and upset that I couldn’t.

I remember one time dropping him off at the walk in centre with a girlfriend and just leaving him there, another time him at the doctor’s clinging onto me and me just being unable to touch him.  (This was when he was sixteen or older, in the middle of our relationship being very poor, him having a panic attack).

I used to think there was something deeply wrong with me, that I didn’t love him, or wasn’t able to love him, but then one night in meditation a year or so ago this came into my head:  you love him, that’s why it hurts so much.

Before I got pregnant, I wanted a baby very much.  When he was born his father and I were super attentive and loving.  When he was a young child we had lots of fun times, baking, playing with the dog, painting- there was always an easel and a washing line to hang up the paintings in the kitchen; riding trikes and bikes indoors, having big unruly birthday parties.  It’s nice to remember the good stuff.  Because there was bad stuff: it was quite hard for me, I was very young, a single mum from when he was one, and he was sometimes very ill with a serious medical condition, so there’s a lot of bad memories around that, hospitals, blood tests, unpleasant tests and medicines.  But even so, overall, it was a pretty happy, child centred life with supportive and loving friends and family.

Then he hit 12, 13, went to middle school, and having been very happy at first school, began school refusing, truanting, later at 15, petty criminal stuff and got arrested.  He and his friend would just mess up the house and break everything, so the sitting room ended up empty, it didn’t feel like a home…

Refusing all medical treatment, refusing to have baths or change his clothes… at 16, 17, 18, refusing to go to college or get a job or come out of his room.  I knew something was wrong but was powerless to fix it.  I sought mental health services advice, they said it was behavioural and he wouldn’t engage in any case.  I had no idea what to do.  The relationship had completely broken down.  Everyone gave different advice, I felt like a complete failure as a mother.

I became seriously suicidal.  When he was 16 I called the council about housing options for him.  The woman who answered the phone said you have to chuck him out and he has to turn up here with his bag and nowhere to go.  I can’t do that, I said.  She said, well you haven’t reached the end of your tether yet then, when you have, that’s what you’ll have to do.  Two years later, sitting at the top of the stairs, my boyfriend holding me, me screaming about suicide and paracetamol and knives, I reached it.  I packed up his stuff and called my mum and asked her to have him.  He was 18.  He actually went to stay with his girlfriend, got a place in a hostel, got given a council flat, couldn’t manage it, and now rents a room in a shared house where he’s been for several years.

I am sure there were a million other ways to handle those years but whether or not the person I was then would have been able to implement them even if she had known.  Like a series of random dropped stitches that ultimately cause everything to unravel.  Was there something, were there things I could have done differently?  Was there another way it could have turned out?  I’ll never know, because I can’t go back in time, and there’s no control group for a life.

Relatively speaking, the years up to twelve had been easy.  I suppose I’d always thought love would be enough.  So when this child who you’ve given so much love to, who had previously seemed so happy in your company, becomes someone who no longer responds to you, it is very difficult.  It is hurtful, confusing, and all confidence in parenting abilities goes out of the window.  I just didn’t have the skills to deal with this new person.

After he moved out, I used to see him and drop off bits of money, always feeling bad for not giving enough whilst at the same time thinking I shouldn’t give much so that he’d be motivated to sign on or get a job…  He usually wanted a lift, and it was often difficult, him criticising my driving and us arguing.  His council flat was given to him bare and empty, the same as when I’d been given one at 22 when he was 3 years old.  But whereas I had bought and laid the cheapest office cord and painted it myself, he did not do anything.  His washing up and rubbish piled up everywhere.  My mum paid for flooring, my (now) husband spent a day mucking out the flat.  I went round one day after work when I had a cold and painted the kitchen but he didn’t help and we argued.  He got diagnosed with anxiety.  I paid for endless CBT.  My husband and I spent hours on the phone giving advice about panic attacks when he called us up.  Nothing made any difference.  Until I just kind of stopped trying to help as much.  He got himself a nice room in a shared house, where he still is.  He got himself into college and then university, where he is today.

A Round-Heeled Woman, predominantly about sex but includes a devastating passage about her son, who seemingly ‘punishes’ her failings as a mother by running away, not calling, and living on the streets, in freezing conditions, eventually calling her up on Christmas Day, destitute and freezing cold but refusing to come home.

The only other time I have come across people like me (mothers almost destroyed by guilt) is on an ASD training day where parents of kids with Autism spoke to us.  These mothers had kids who didn’t sleep, who flew into rages and smashed up the house.  They looked like battle worn survivors.  I was in awe of them.  But what I remember most is what they said about how they felt as mothers:  as a mother, you feel like you’ve got ‘guilty’ stamped on one side of you, and ‘failure’ on the other. 

What is the name of the emotion I feel when I see or think about his teeth, which are in a terrible state- I took him to the dentist and made sure he brushed his teeth as a child, but his illness, and poor care as a teenager and adult have taken a severe toll (recently he has said he is going to the dentist and going to go through with what is now major work, and I have given him the money to do this)…

Or when he recently asked for ‘anything from my childhood to remind me it wasn’t all bad because all I can remember is hospitals’…  To quote Alice Sebold, well that last comment just ripped me a new arsehole:  I spent my whole adult life from 18 to now, 47, loving, caring, worrying, and it was all for nothing, because all there was was bad and nothing I did mattered and nothing I do now makes any difference?

What is the name of the emotion again?  Suicidal, if that’s an emotion… despair… anger… panic… paralysis… horror… fear… tension.  Mostly there’s a bit of tension.

I used to work in an anorexia hospital and I am ashamed to say we used to judge the parents sometimes, we used to think they were cold.  Now I realise they were just wretched, forced to look at something no parent would ever want to see, their child yellow, furry and emaciated.  I was afraid of what I saw on my first day; they have to face both the horror and the fact that they haven’t been able to stop it or help with it.

Okay, I’ve felt it.  I’ve taken it all out and looked at it.  Instead of pushing those feelings away, tightening up and thinking that I can’t bear to look and won’t be able to cope, instead of that I’ve let my chest relax and my arms fall open and I’ve sat here with those feelings.  There’s a peace in accepting ‘guilt’, in letting it wash over me, just letting it be, sitting with it without fighting it.  Ready to start over…  To make mistakes every day.  We all do.  Start again every day.  What else can we do?

Is there anything I can do?  No.

There’s a comfort in this calm acceptance, in the moments where I can find it, that feels better than the pushing away or the anxious worrying or the futile attempts at problem solving.  It definitely feels better than endlessly going over past mistakes and missed opportunities.

Like a jumper that has unravelled beyond repair, the only way is to remake it from scratch.

And like my mother says re coping with the ageing process, well you don’t have any choice but to cope with it, because the only alternative is not to be here.

Right now, drag my mind into the present.  Right now, drag my thoughts and my gaze towards the positive.

So this Christmas, when my son said he’d come over Christmas Eve and stay until Boxing Day, especially as my husband was working and I would need to pick him up and drive him an hour to ours, I was a little nervous.  Whatever you do, don’t get angry, or don’t sound angry, my husband said.

The car journey was okay, and once home I made dinner, we swapped YouTube and Netflix recommendations, and the evening passed without incident.  Christmas Day we saw my mum, my husband came home, and my son’s girlfriend arrived in the evening and we all played Cluedo.  So yeah, I guess my Christmas was okay.

 

With metta

 

*F is for Family is my third favourite of the adult cartoons on Netflix, along with my second favourite Big Mouth which is a very warm portrayal of going through puberty, a largely neglected topic that has certainly never been covered like this before, and my favourite, so much loved that I wrote a post about it here, BoJack Horseman

 

 

Act Opposite!

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Act Opposite is a DBT skill.  Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was invented by Marsha Linehan, a US therapist, primarily to treat a particular client group for whom regular Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CBT) appeared ineffective.  Her clients were mainly women diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) who frequently self harmed, often severely, made multiple suicide attempts, whose lives were chaotic and whose therapists were frequently burned out.

These were women who had grown up in invalidating environments.  Just being told they needed to change was often experienced as further invalidation.  Enter the paradox:  DBT says, yes, the current situation is untenable and you do need to make changes, but given your circumstances it is completely understandable that you feel and behave this way.  I am going to support you in making the changes you need to make but I am also going to accept you just as you are.  And however difficult I may sometimes find this to do, I am going to hold fast to the belief that you are doing your very best.

That’s quite a long explanation;  when I am in a hurry I just say DBT is like CBT with Buddhism.

There is also a very tight framework which supports the therapists in delivering high quality consistent therapy, this is important as many therapists working with this client group can’t cope and end up abandoning their clients, who have often already been abandoned by previous therapists, friends, etc.

In DBT, the client has an individual therapist who helps the client to talk through their week, focussing on the most dangerous incidents first, in a strict hierarchy, using chain analysis to see what triggered the event and where the client could have employed alternative skills and strategies.  Separately the client attends a skills training group, where they learn the skills of interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and coping in crisis.  That way, even if individual sessions are dominated by chaining suicide attempts and self harm, the client is still getting protected time to learn the skills that will help them in the long term.  Oh and there’s lots of mindfulness.

I trained in DBT and learned all the skills myself.  So when on Sunday I found myself in a slump, groggy, no energy, slightly depressed, feeling kind of incapable, I knew what to do:  Act Opposite.

I wrapped the Christmas presents and actually didn’t hate it.   They look very pretty all together on a shelf in the dining room, surrounded by fairy lights, wrapped in brown paper and bright pink metallic ribbon.  I cleaned the bathroom, all of it, including the black and white lino floor.  (A word of advice, you might think a black and white checked floor will look nice, but it shows every mark, every piece of fluff, every strand of hair…)  I vacuumed everywhere.  All three of these tasks I dislike intensely, but I did them- with sensible breaks for food and smoothies and cat cuddling- and afterwards, my slump was over.  By the time evening came and I put my feet up on the sofa to read and write, I felt much, much better.

So what caused the slump?  Well, it was the weekend and at the moment that means sex:  Saturday night, early dinner, a roaring fire, the floor of the sitting room covered with rugs, blankets and cushions…

It was so good that the next morning we were hungover even though we’d only drunk tea!  In bed in the morning, we weren’t going to come, but then we did.  Afterwards we dragged ourselves out of bed and went for a hazardous walk in the ice, and about halfway back we both just felt the energy drain out of us.   Yes, it really is a thing, orgasms drain your energy.  Plus, we’ve both been slightly ill with colds.  Then at bedtime I realised my period had arrived.  I don’t follow a lot or read a lot, I manage my media and sensory input, and I don’t like much stuff.  But what I like, I really like, and I remember.  I remember this tweet from when I was on twitter about eight years ago:  ‘Do you ever get your period and think, wow, that explains a lot…’

Ready and waiting for 2018

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Like many people I am looking back on the year, to see how far I’ve come and to take stock of where I am right now.

This time last year was pretty wild.  I spent Christmas alone with my husband and we over indulged in everything, especially sex.  We would not have believed then that this would end up being the year that we started practising karezza and abstinence (well periods of abstinence anyway).

I had grand plans regarding work and my career, there’s a list in the back of my work diary that begins with ‘be the best at my job that I possibly can’ and included all sorts of personal and professional development plans that never really came to fruition as we got short staffed and other stuff demanded my attention.  I still developed though, I just did other things, and I have completely got over my regret that the progression I had planned didn’t happen.  I’ve never planned my career, and even if I had the chances are I would never have done everything or achieved everything I wanted to, stuff just happens as it does in life.

Still, I never would have thought that this was the year that I would be leaving not only this job but my career.  (It is my intention to burn my degree certificate and registration card when I leave, if I can be brave enough, as a show of faith that there’s something else out there for me.  If this sounds crazy, well it’s not as crazy as keeping your dead dog in a solid wood coffin that you drag from room to room so it can be with you while you watch television or do the dishes, as my mum’s neighbour does, and she’s out there, surviving.)

My relationship with my son is much better than it was this time last year:  as near as it can be to two adults who meet now and again and talk about their respective interests.  He is doing much better which makes everything easier, it is very painful for mothers to watch their children suffering, no matter how old they are.

My own mother is not totally on board with all my plans, even though I am not suffering and am in fact, when I am not worn out or run down as I have understandably been lately; very, very happy, and soon to be ecstatically excited- I can feel it brewing!

Apart from my wild teenage years I have not really gone against the opinions of my mother (except for having a baby at 19 and more recently getting married, and the tattoos…) but generally, I’ve gone to work, I’ve recycled, and on a day to day basis I’ve not done anything to provoke discord.  Which is why this is probably quite hard for both of us, but the sooner it’s past the point of no return, the better.

I was thinking this morning, when we are teenagers and can’t wait to leave home and be free of our parents, we have no idea that we’ll still be under their power and influence in our forties and beyond, not all of us, but definitely some of us.

I have photographed all our furniture and sent the pictures to friends to see if they want any of it, before the man who is buying the house comes round to decide if he wants anything.  Anything left is going to go to charity.  Tomorrow we are tackling the sheds and garage and making trips to the dump, as long as it isn’t raining.

I have also spent some time thinking about India.  I have written down the names of places we want to go, some for an extended period of time, some just passing through or for a brief stay, others in between, with a rough route planned whilst knowing we will be open and flexible to going with the flow when we actually get there.  I am happy that two hill stations that a friend recommended are in Tamil Nadu, where we want to spend a lot of time.  I am a little apprehensive about the heat*, so knowing about them gives me reassurance.  Plus they look beautiful! – Ooty and Kodaikanal.

*Mind you, I’m not doing so well in the cold of the English winter, yesterday we had all the heaters and about seven layers of clothes on but it wasn’t until the woodburner was roaring that we finally got warm.  Just as long as we didn’t venture outside…

Today

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Today I had arranged to go into the city.  It was raining, then it began to sleet and then snow.  My husband advised me to be careful as there’s people out there who don’t drive according to the conditions (he may have been slightly less polite than that).  We debated on the best route to go, the busier but straighter main road way or the back roads, and decided on the quieter back roads; like in the Walking Dead where the other humans are often more dangerous than the zombies, as long as I drove carefully I reasoned other drivers probably posed more of a threat than the roads.

I met my friend and we went to a lovely little cafe in St Benedict’s Street, Norwich.  I can’t remember what it’s called but it has a black cat on the door or window.  To go to the loo we had to take a key, go outside, down an alleyway and to one of a little row of outside loos backing onto a row of terraced houses.  I was confused at first, as there were loads of doors, to houses, flats and loos, and as usual I hadn’t really taken in the directions given, but luckily there was a big black cat stencilled on the door.  Inside was decorated in cool posters.  I reflected on how rare outside loos are nowadays and that in 10 years time this quirky little place may not exist as the whole courtyard may have been gentrified.

Prior to that I finished my Christmas shopping; everything this year has been products or massage vouchers from Neals Yard or locally made consumables, to be topped up with cash for the ‘kids’.  Luckily we get paid early so this can come out of next month’s payday as I seem to have spent quite a lot in a few fits of generosity, but no matter, I have much to be grateful for.

Prior to that, I had a chat with my son and was able to dish out some well deserved and specific praise, which I sometimes find hard to do, due more to awkwardness than anything.  I am the same at work, often needing to remind myself that what I say has an impact, and that just because I think something doesn’t mean people know it, unless I say it out loud.

Also we have sorted out Christmas Day, which as it is for many people, can be a time of second guessing what everyone wants to do, no one saying what they want, feeling dissatisfied and/or guilty, etc etc.  The plan is for me, my husband, stepdaughter and my mum to go to the local Indian Restaurant for lunch.  My son and his girlfriend will either come with us or come later on and have tea with us, which can be a kind of edited version of Christmas dinner; depending on her work rota which she will get in the next few days.  Boxing Day we’ve been invited to/invited ourselves to visit three lots of relatives on both sides, and have had the idea to just go and see all of them but just for an hour or so each.  This means we can get to see everyone’s relatives but not get stuck for too long anywhere, mindful of young person getting bored.  So now there’s a plan, I actually feel much more positive about it.  I might even find myself looking forward to it.

This post is essentially about being happy right now.  The piece of paper in the photograph contains my instructions to myself on how to ‘get into’ the present moment, written at the height of my first wave of awakening.

With metta

 

Narrowboat shopping and to do list

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Warning: another list post

Clothing from proper outdoors shop: one super warm, waterproof and windproof coat.  Two very warm funnel neck fleece type tops, two pairs of lined trousers, two long sleeved tops, two sets of base layers, all quick drying.  Extra warm socks, hat and scarf.  Bootie style thick lined slippers with proper soles.  Guest slippers.  A very warm dressing gown.

Buy/have made proper seating that converts to a guest bed.  Buy large Moroccan style floor cushions.  Buy electric heater(s) from chandlery (for when there’s not time to light the stove).  Buy an electric blanket.  Buy a MyFi internet box from BT.  In order to save space, instead of having dinner plates, side plates (which are pretty pointless anyway) and bowls, buy dinner plate sized bowls, shallow enough for dinner and sandwiches, deep enough for cereal.  (I am hoping such things exist outside of my imagination, if you have seen them do let me know!)  Buy proper working gloves.

Get bilge pump fitted.  Buy a new centre rope.  Buy and fit a horn.  Buy and fit cratch cover to keep wind off the doors (thank you to writer,  blogger and narrowboat dweller Ian Hutson for this).  Paint walking board with paint and sand to make a non slip surface.  Add a rope for safety when walking around the outside of the boat, if possible.  (Did I mention I am Little Ms Health and Safety?)  In the/a summer, get boat taken out of the water and blacked, and also paint outside if needed, if not just give it a good wash.  Attach tyres around the outside as extra bumper protection.  Upgrade the solar panels.

To summarise, I have two lists on the go:  a going travelling list and a living on a narrowboat list.  The narrowboat is for when we come back, although we may spend a few weeks on it before we go, just to make it real.  I also have notes for a new about page and plans to upgrade to a paid plan (is this a good thing to do fellow bloggers?  If so, personal or freelancer business package?) once I leave my job and can be both more dedicated and more open; there won’t be thirty intense hours of my week that I can’t write about, and I won’t have to worry about protecting my professional reputation.