When I think about ‘getting back to normal,’ I’m usually thinking about how much I might be dreading it. The exhaustion is the same as people who move country feel, going about what would usually be their normal business. I’ve not exercised my peopling muscles for so long.
So last night was a wonderful reminder of what I have actually been missing.
A peaceful drive into Edinburgh. A parking space I could fit into, for free. Warm weather.
Dear, dear friends.
A celebration of a birthday – one of twenty seven I’ve now been part of with these guys. Talking about every decade we’ve spent together and apart. No need to avoid topics like gender – we’re all on the same page there. Good food. Hugs – finally! Hugs!
Thank you everyone who makes me feel like I might like peopling after all.
I am not a fan of adrenaline. The idea of anything from a roller coaster to swings in the park makes me feel sick. (Always assuming I can fit my hips into a swing in the first place!) I think since having labyrinthitis (which wasn’t labyrinthitis), dizziness will forever be connected with illness, not joy.
I’ve taken on some paid work. Of course a huge yay for this. Being able to pay my mobile phone bill is a Very Good Thing. Maybe I’m out of practice, but the whole ‘talking/communicating with people’ has become another thrilling ride. Which is to say, an unpleasant adrenaline rush.
I can have all the conversations, and usually I’m fine. I will do my work, and I excel in what I do. But because mental health, sometimes I come away shivery, over-stimulated, sloshing with adrenaline.
In between the published works –
the novel that did OK
a story in that collection put together by MA students,
a poem here, a poem there
the joy of a short-listing
the folder of ‘no longer on submission’ scribblings
there is the ‘other’ stuff.
I couldn’t fit it all into the bookshelf:
hours spent tinkering with broken friends, instead of broken sentences;
days spent with Netflix, instead of cutting, instead of copy-pasting;
weeks spent holding the cat, instead of the pen
piggy-bank empty and smashed. All spent.
Tears leaking from the hot water tank
shredded text messages used for mouse nests
reams of progress stacked, dormant
still in their polythene. Sterile blank pages.
Where is all the work I could have done
if other people had been
kind? accepting? loyal?
had trusted my life had to be lived this way?
As the parent of a non-binary child, I find myself often – too often – in the position of ‘calling out’ certain behaviour online.
I used to enjoy grammar policing until someone accused me, correctly, of snobbery. I spend a lot of time trying to remember how to respond when Mr HB says, ‘Stella, that’s racist.’ (Top tip: defensiveness is not how we learn. Top tip 2: we are all racist, whether we care to admit to it or not.)
I don’t relish calling out a person for pronoun use, or transphobia, or just a not-thinking of making an online comment that is damaging/othering/offensive to the community that parent the LGBTQ community. Maybe it looks like I enjoy it.
I can assure you: I write the comment.
I worry about it.
I brace myself.
But not saying anything at all? Not an option.
I spent a bit of time thinking about what to write today. And I still don’t know what to say.
But it seemed important to say something.
It’s a bit weird for me, because although I don’t usually stop seeing everyone or have my kids at home full-time, in many ways I’ve lived a tinylife for a while now. My thoughts are with those who live with less privilege than I do.
Also, I find the world much easier to understand when no one is expected to show up, be unstressed, suffer in silence, or operate in ‘normal’ human ways. So I’m feeling remarkably well in my mental health. My anxiety isn’t based in reality.
I hope you are all OK out there. If anyone wants to get in touch, my Twitter DMs are open, or you can comment below.
I have wonderful friends. And family. I’m lucky.
But the bar can always be raised, right? Right? We all went to a friend’s house the other day. Regular readers will know about my ongoing (whining about) mental health problems. It had been one of those weeks.
What is the best thing to do to help a friend who is struggling? I am rubbish at helping other people with their mental health – I know what it feels like, not how to help.
But this friend, she knew. She didn’t ask anything of me, not even my company. I was tucked up on a day bed, in their spare room, with my youngest, and a computer playing Spiderman and the Spiderverse. I had a power nap and managed to keep up with the story.
It was the best visit ever. Thanks guys!
I had agreed to go. Waking up at 5am with a headache, which developed into a migraine, then being sick just before I had to wake the children up and get them to school didn’t mean I was going to cancel.
In the car, Mr HB asked how I was. I told him the truth, the stress of my tiny insignificant worries leaking out in tears. We picked up a friend on the way, so I wiped my eyes and pulled myself together.
We got there, and I had a nice time. A small group of friends, celebrating, taking time out from their own lives to be there for someone else on a special day.
Postscript: later, I was reminded of the pains and worries carried by every other friend that had been there, talking, smiling, laughing – holding it together.
I feel like I’m becoming a bit of an expert on self-care. What I used to think of as ‘laziness.’ Here are some of my favourite things to do to help myself through a difficult week. I’d love to hear yours!
- Go to bed at 9pm.
- Go to bed at 8pm with Netflix.
- Put my pyjamas on at 4pm on weekends.
- Drink less overall, but have one night a week getting pleasantly sozzled, having completed steps 2 and 3.
- Have a bath.
- Cancel an engagement.
- Say ‘no’ to things.
- Buy stationery.
- Visit the GP if necessary.
- Take the tablets when necessary.
- Eat delicious, healthy food.
- Eat delicious, unhealthy food.
- Do a Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
- Read a book from my childhood.
- Doodle while listening to a CD (remember them?).
- Phone/Skype/write to a friend.
- Find where the cat is. Sit with him.
‘So hang on, you say you have social anxiety, but you perform, sing and do spoken word, and go to events to make contacts?’
Well now. Here’s how I put my game face on.
- Have an aim. If I have to, once I’ve tried to achieve, or achieved it, I can leave.
- Get close to the beginning of the line up if possible. Once I’ve done my ‘bit’, I can relax.
- I don’t drink alcohol if it’s a work thing.
- I don’t eat garlic for three days before the event.
- I leave myself extra time to sort out my hair (I could conquer the world if I thought my hair looked good).
- I recognise and accept the presence of ‘anxiety sweat.’ It smells different from exercise sweat.
- I check my teeth in the mirror.
- I (never) have tissues.
- I floss.
Christmas anxiety. A wash of feelings, pulling and pushing in opposite directions. I’m a sociable person, I love my friends. Now it’s December and I’m all ‘hopefully we can catch up before Christmas?’
I invite, or accept invitations, with joy, and then approach the days themselves with dread. Will I spend hours on my return, mulling over a throwaway comment I made, seeking malevolence in words that were not meant to hurt? Deliberately sabotaging my own friendships, and my own fragile resilience?
So last year, I stopped saying ‘let’s meet up before Christmas’ and started saying ‘have a lovely Christmas! See you next year.’
To anyone reading this who feels anxious around Christmas, I just want to say: you don’t have to see anyone, if you don’t feel like it. Look after yourself, OK? And I’ll see you next year.