Recovering

I’ve talked here briefly about how I’ve had a difficult time recently, with anxiety and depression. It’s caused set backs, and difficulties, and I lost quite a lot of weight (when I didn’t really need to). I spoke to my doctor a few times and we’ve sorted out medication, and tweaked a few other things too.

After a few stops and starts, I’m in the process of healing, rather that just licking my wounds. I can tell I’m getting better! I cannot express how relieved I am to write those words. I think if you’ve experienced mental illness repeatedly, you always doubt if you will get better from each episode. Or if each new bout is just a new normal, and that your personality has forever been changed since the last bout. 

I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m not bouncing out of bed, or singing with the birds or anything. I’m still anxious at times, and have moments of bleakness or irritability. Who isn’t, right? But I’m excited about things, things that I thought I’d maybe never enjoy again.

I’m writing again, for a start. It’s not life changing, or ever going to be a career for me but I enjoy doing it. I’m thinking of starting fiction again, and maybe poetry too. I used to love those too, a lifetime ago. And I think I should give it a go again.

I’m motivated. I’ve cleaned, scrubbed, sorted and organised, and been more productive in the last few weeks than I probably have the last few years. And my god I feel better for it! I’m taking pride in keeping things tidy, of being organised. While I’ll never be thrilled at the prospect of housework, I’m cracking on and doing it – and more so than just the basics. We are even talking about doing some minor redecoration and I’m so excited – the thought alone of the change, effort and mess involved would have had me reeling.

And I’m back in my little kitchen again. I love to cook, usually. Feeding people and making them happy is a great feeling; pottering about trying new things was my happy place. I love watching cookery programmes, reading recipes, browsing spices and new ingredients to me. Until this latest bout, where I lost all enthusiasm for food – I couldn’t bring myself to eat, or keep food down I was so anxious. So the fact I’m cooking, and eating again means I’m definitely doing better. I haven’t put much weight back on, but I’m a little softer around the edges and eating in a healthy way.

I guess the main thing is that I feel able to do things again. For a while, everything felt so overwhelming that I thought I was suffocating. Even doing nothing felt impossibly hard, and going through the motions of life was all I could manage, in an anxious, panicked robotic motion. I couldn’t relax, or take pleasure in anything; I’m so thrilled now to be finding snippets of joy, no matter how small the pieces. And because I’m not choking on the tiniest of things, I’m able to be more productive with my days than I think I ever have been (it’s difficult to know whether I’ve always had underlying anxiety, or was just drunk/hungover. Could be both, neither or none. The main thing is I’m not like that today).

Dare I say, I’m even smiling at my bad days, or dips in mood, because for the first time in a bloody long time I can feel confident that it’s JUST A BAD DAY. And it will lift, and get easier. A bad day doesn’t make a bad life – seems to obvious but impossible to see when you’re stuck in the mire.

The only thing to be anxious about now is how I’ll be when I come off this medication… I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and just enjoy today instead. 

A Better Day

I’ll forgive you for choking on your tea when you realise this is a happy post. I know, right?! Yes, you are on the right blog. I think because I found it hard to see any joy for such a long time, that I’m overwhelmed with it today. I almost want to bottle it up, and keep it forever.

Today has just been a good day. Even at times when it felt incredibly stressful (that’s what two toddlers will do to you), we had a lovely day and did lovely things.

We went into town so I could pick my prescription up. And N chatted to me the whole time, explaining what he could see and giving me his tiny perspective on important things such as ‘rice really should be a vegetable or fruit mummy, if it comes from a plant’. And even though his incessant babble can sometimes be wearing, today I thought – how amazing is this? We can communicate, he can tell jokes, he can point out the things he loves to me, so I can share in his joy. He gets excitement from seeing a bumblebee, and I’m the first person he wants to show, and talk to me about it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

C has also been chatting away, blowing kisses to strangers and then very seriously waving and telling them ‘bye bye’. And it hit me how grown she is already, and how brave, charming and forward she is. Some of the qualities that drive me crazy (diva like attitude, death defying climbing, her insistence on escaping and determination to do EVERYTHING herself) will really take her far in life. She’s been signing to me that she loves me, and daddy, and she’s such a loving little thing that it’s hard to remember she was such a difficult baby who screeched if my poor husband dared to look at her. She learned some new signs today (makaton sign language) and she was so thrilled to do them, her joy was infectious. I don’t know which of us beamed the hardest.

We did some shopping, and N put everything in my basket, and helped me scan the items at the till very helpfully. I had comments about how lovely he was, and kind. And how happy C was. I saw them today as others see them – brilliant, loving and intelligent cherubs. I loved it.

We bought N some books and he proudly read them to his friend who runs the bookshop (they are truly lovely there). We had a chat and a biscuit with her, and he even used the staff toilet (no accidents! Still! And we were out for three hours!). And she touched my arm and said ‘you do wonderfully, look at how fantastic your children are’ and for a second I wanted to hug her. Because I must be doing ok, because they are kind, and loving, and fantastic.

As we ate strawberries on the railway bridge, waiting for a (late) train to spot, N counted the passengers and pigeons. C guzzled her strawberries and rubbed the mushy remains in her hair, making him laugh (‘look at that troublemaker!’). The train came, and he was beside himself with excitement, mimicking the sounds and waving enthusiastically to it. I felt his sticky little hand slip into mine as he said ‘I love you mummy. Today has been a wonderful day, with you here’. And you know what; he was right.

Recipe – Strawberry and Orange Oat Muffins

These are so easy to make, and because they have oats and fruit in, I can kid myself they’re healthy (as well as delicious). You can adapt this easily too – I’ve added lime zest before, used mixed berries (pictured), apricots or even pineapple. You could even do kiwi and mint if you fancied something a little different. Once you’ve cracked the basic recipe, you’ll have fun experimenting. You can use frozen fruit, no need to defrost, but make sure it’s chopped. Again I make my own buttermilk with full fat milk and lemon juice.

1) Pre-heat your oven to 200°c (180°c if fan assisted). Line deep muffin tins with paper cases – this should make 12.

2) Add 2.5 teaspoons of lemon juice to 175ml of full fat milk, stir and set aside to curdle into your buttermilk.

3) In a large bowl, add 50g porridge oats, 100g of plain flour, 3 tablespoons of ground almonds, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, a good pinch of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Fork through to mix.

4) Once your milk has curdled, add one egg, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and the juice of a large orange (make sure you finely grate this before juicing and set the zest aside – you’ll need it in a second!). Whisk with a fork to combine.

5) Whisk together 75g soft brown sugar, the zest of a large orange and 100ml of rapeseed oil (canola oil) in a bowl with the jug of wet ingredients above.

6) Make a well in your bowl of dry ingredients and add the jug of wet mix, and 150g of chopped strawberries (or chosen fruit). Stir until just combined.

7) Divide your finished mixture evenly into your muffin cases. Bake in the centre of the oven for 18-20 minutes (I would check from 16 minutes as ovens vary – if a toothpick comes out clean when it’s inserted in the centre of the muffin, they’re ready).

8) Leave to cool in the tin and enjoy!

To the struggling drinkers…

I see you. I know that you try to hide it but I understand the anguish underneath your front. You’re not alone in this. You are never alone in this. This is written as I remember the times that I’ve found hardest, and so directed at no one in particular – though if it helps, I’m glad.

To the drinker trying to figure out if they have a problem, or are having a hard time – hi, I see you there. Things are tough, and self medicating, or hiding,  with alcohol might feel like the answer. I can’t tell you if you’ve a problem or not, but I can tell you I’m here to listen, if ever you need. Only you can decide that. I can tell you that generally, if you are considering if you’re drinking is a problem it probably is. I can tell you that it will start to get better, if you open your heart and share what’s on your mind. You are not alone.

To the person hungover, or going through withdrawal. Hi, I see you. My heart goes out to you – this can be the worse feeling in the world. I want you to know that support is out there, please use it. That shaking feeling, the sweats, The Fear, the craving already hitting even as you’re vomiting up the drinks of yesterday – I understand. I’ve been there. You are worth getting better, you are worth recovery. You are not alone.

To the person who has recently relapsed – hi. I see you. You haven’t let anyone down, this is a fight for survival against a powerful and cunning disease. It’s ok. You can still do this. Let me help you now the paths got tough – we aren’t meant to hike this trek alone. Reach out, talk to me, hit a meeting. Don’t be angry at yourself – your previous sober count isn’t wasted. This is so fucking tough, but pick yourself up and let’s get on track again. Forgive yourself, and move on – don’t dwell on it. I believe you can do this, even if you don’t believe in yourself right now. You are not alone.

To the person in long term recovery, wondering what their role in life, recovery and the universe is – hi. I see you. This journey is still challenging, no matter how many years in and when the ‘recovery’ medals shine has maybe dimmed. Some things get easier, some get harder. I can tell you your voice still matters – your story is powerful and the wisdom you’ve figured out on the way here is invaluable. Your contribution is huge, and you are helping others just by being here. You will inspire so many without knowing, and I’m proud of you, and to know you. Life is still tough, but look at how far you’ve come in dealing with it! Amazing. It will get easier and the hard times will pass. You are not alone.

To the person who is hiding a slip, or relapse, in fear. Hi, I see you there. You’ve nothing to fear, this is a judgement free zone. We’ve all made mistakes, and this illness is powerful – for some relapse is part of the journey. Remember you need to be open and honest to be authentic, and for us to help you through this time. My heart is open to you. You are not alone.

To the person who is testing how the word ‘alcoholic’ tastes in your mouth – hi, I see you. It might seem bitter to swallow now but I promise it is so much better than any alcohol you’ve drowned in before. This acceptance could be the first day of your best life, if you want. I know how terrifying, and overwhelming this feels. I know the thought alone makes you want to grab a drink. I know you wonder how you could ever enjoy life sober. You can, you can do this, and I’m here for whenever you need. You are not alone.

To the person who knows they desperately need to stop drinking, but doesn’t feel ready. Hi, I see you there. I can’t decide when the party stops for you – but at some point every drinker takes their last drink. I hope to God yours is because you’ve chosen to stop. Just do one thing for me, please – write down the five worst experiences that you’ve had due to drink. Sometimes this is frightening enough to realise we have crashed to our bottom but have been numb to the impact. You are not alone.

To the person doubting the sincerity of those in recovery – hi, I see you there. This might feel a little bit ‘much’ at times, and the phrases used might seem alien. But I can promise you that the kindness offered is meant – because the people that offer it have been in your position too. And it left such a healing on their hearts that they desperately want to pass it on, and help someone they recognise the pain in. You might feel no one understands, but trust me when I say these people do. Listen to the feelings, and the relatable parts. If you listen, it can help you. You are not alone.

To the person approaching a sober milestone but feeling flat and deflated – I see you. Birthdays are tough, and a complete head fuck at times. It’s ok to find them hard. Do what you need to to get through them, and know that I’m proud of you for doing that. You are valued, and doing amazing things. If it’s too tough remember, it’s just one day – and you can get through another. You are not alone.

There are so many more stories, and people, and experiences that I can’t begin to share. I’ve been most of these people, at one time or another, and so I get it. No matter what stage of drinking, or recovery you are, it can feel impossibly tough. Wherever you are at, remember it’s always a ‘we’ thing. We need you, you need us and together we help each other along. If you need help or support, reach out. If you think a member of our team might be struggling, reach out to them first. Check in with one another. Because without each other, we’ve got nothing to keep us on this road.

Go the f*ck to sleep…

I haven’t much to share here as my devil children are still wailing and generally causing my hair to silver and wrinkles to deepen as I type this. I love them dearly, but my god I love them so much more when they are quiet and asleep.

We had a terrible night last night with both of them grumbly/crying. Both have seemed to pick up viruses really easily at the moment and my patience is wearing thin.

I have to sort a few things for my son, as I’m wondering if he’s got water behind his ear drums (I had numerous operations for this as a small child) and it would explain a lot. He covers his ears if he hears specific noise pitches, and if he’s feeling under the weather he complains that his ears are sore. His speech has also deteriorated and he struggles to form certain sounds, so it could be linked. I’m speaking to his preschool about speech therapy tomorrow, so will see what they think.

I’m sorry this isn’t a particularly inspiring or interesting post, but I can’t not write something as I promised myself I would! 

It’s been one of those days of adulting. You know the ones – they’re dull, relentless and full of mundane tasks that need to be done even though I’d rather see Trump naked than do them. All the while accompanied by two bickering, screeching tiny children. At one point I pleaded with them to please just be nice to each other for forty five seconds because I wanted to pick dog poo up in the garden. It’s all glamour here, let me tell you.

So, this post might a little dreary, but hey, isn’t life sometimes? Fireworks and excitement are great, but it’s not representative of everyday. Plus I haven’t the energy to share anything more insightful… hopefully tomorrow will be better, and my children will finally go the fuck to sleep.

Daddy Issues

Ha, or rather, a lack of them.

A while ago, I wrote here about sending a letter (more a note, to be frank) to my father. He’s been absent from my life since I was almost four, so over twenty seven years. By his choice, I hasten to add – I don’t know why he made the choice he did at the time, but I hope he’s found peace with it and his path has caused him more happiness than pain.

I won’t go into a huge amount of detail, but I can empathise with him, and I bear him no ill will or resentment. His childhood was troubled, and there are a lot of unresolved issues still carried on with his siblings (more complicated relationships there – I have lovely relationships with two, little but kind contact with another, one recently died who I didn’t know, and I’m not sure if I met the last. And their relationships among themselves are complicated and strained too, so I’m glad of the close ones I have, and that my grandma had always been involved in life). So, while I can never truly get it, I imagine I can get a little of it. If that makes any sense at all.

When I was younger, I desperately wanted a father – even though I didn’t really fully understand what that meant. I imagine these fantasies were mostly driven by kindly characters in Enid Blyton stories, or perhaps television characters. I was quite an imaginative child (and was frequently told that I lived on Fantasy Island, which I was hugely disappointed to realise wasn’t a real place that we could visit in the holidays). I would imagine a reunion, or scour the faces of unknown men, to see if by some freakish coincidence they were actually him. Of course, nothing came of it (bar one chance sighting on a train onvecat age sixteen. Maybe I’ll share that another time). And at times it was painful, and I shed many tears, but I’ve resolved it in adulthood. It is what it is.

I think what helped was realising that parents are human, and flawed. They’ve got their own stuff, and issues, and bad decisions themselves. Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically mean you have your shit together, or that you can handle life. Or that you aren’t still hurting yourself from a past you had no influence over. 

I know at times he was desperately depressed, and contemplated suicide. I hope he’s in a better place now, and that he’s happy. I hope that his adult life had been kinder to him.

I have some memories of him, some good and some not so good. I have photos too, which are much the same. 

The silence is deafening, and so I think by his lack of reply, he is choosing to remain absent. Which is absolutely his right, and I understand. It causes me no pain, and instead has given me a sense of calm certainty that I can lay his chapter to rest. You can’t miss something you never had, as the old adage goes, and I waved goodbye to the father of my fantasies a while ago. I’ve been lucky to have a childhood where I have never doubted that I was loved, my family are close knit and supportive, and I have some amazing male role models in my life who have more than filled that role together. I have had far more than he ever had.

And now, I have something that I never imagined I would be able to have, or hold onto – a handsome man who I married, whose heart is huge and open and mine. He is an amazing dad to our children, and I am so thankful that he is so present, and such a kind and wonderful influence. It’s something I will never take for granted.

So now, I can keep my photographs and memories somewhere safe, to share with my children when they are old enough to understand. I’ll try to do as my own mum did, which is to not talk badly of him, to encourage empathy for a decision not taken lightly and to be as honest as I can about the whole situation. I’m at peace with it. 

Before I wrote to him, it felt as though I was in a situation of limbo due to it all being so unresolved. Inaction can be just as drought as taking action, sometimes. We were both neither here nor there, knowing at some point checkmate would occur, but unsure of who would make the best move first. My life was stuck on a page, with a cliffhanger ending due at any time, looming in the distance. Now I can say I’ve finished the book, and I’m pleased with the ending. I hope he is too.

Recipe – chocolate slab cake 

This is a delicious treat that requires no creaming together, and can be made in one pan. I bake mine in a flat bottomed roasting dish (no measurements to hand, I’m sorry! I use it to roast chicken and vegetables, if that helps). This is a tweak on Nigella’s Chocolate sheet cake and I’m so glad I found it. The recipe calls for buttermilk, but I make my own by adding the lemon juice to whole milk and leaving to stand for a while (you could use lime juice, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar instead. It’s the acid that curdles the milk). You could of course just use buttermilk if you prefer. Also, don’t expect this cake to rise much – it will end up being a brownie type, moist crumb. And the batter will be thin (double cream consistency) it’s supposed to be, so don’t worry! I’ve written this recipe as I like to read and follow them, but any feedback is welcomed! 

1) Preheat oven to 180C (or 160C if oven is fab assisted. Your cake will need to go in the middle, so move shelves etc now if necessary.

2) Butter the tin, and line with greaseproof paper. Make sure you trim any that is taller than the top of the tin.

3) Measure 125ml of full fat milk into a jug, and add two teaspoons of lemon juice (or equivalent acid). Stir, and set aside.

4) To a large pan, add 200g cubed unsalted butter, 25g cocoa powder (proper cocoa powder please, not premade hot chocolate, it won’t taste good) and 250ml of water. Melt together over a medium heat, but do not let boil or get too hot. Once combined, take off heat.

5) in a bowl, stir together 300g plain flour, 200g caster sugar, a good pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

6) Add two large eggs to your now curdled milk, and fork until incorporated together.

7) Add your dry mixture to your saucepan of gooey goodness and beat together – no need to be gentle, just tip the lot in at once (no sieving) and mix together. Once smooth, add the jugful of eggs/milk, and mix together. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract (or seeds of a vanilla pod if you prefer) and mix again. Pour your loose batter into your prepared tin and pop into the oven (middle shelf). Set a timer for 17 minutes.

8) Meanwhile, add to a saucepan 50g cubed butter, 3 tablespoons of whole milk and two heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder. Do not hear yet. Measure out 150g of icing sugar (this will need to be sieved).

9) Test your cake after 17 minutes with a toothpick – if it comes out clean, it’s ready. If not, return to the oven and check every 90 seconds until it’s done. Put on the side to cool in its tin.

10) Turn on the heat for the saucepan and slowly melt together the milk, butter and cocoa. Once melted and smooth, add the sieved icing sugar, beating quite vigorously.  Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and mix again- it should be glossy and smooth.

11) Pour over your cake and spread evenly (the cake will still be hot and that’s fine). Add your choice of decoration (I like to use milk and white chocokatr buttons with some cocoa nibs strewn too, but you could use anything you like). Leave to cool and devour!