Sunday, 10 April 2011

Enough of being a victim

This last week has felt like it needed a theme song, just because everything seems to pointing me forward. I have been feeling challenged about playing the victim. It is really easy to feel that I have very little choice about how I feel and I have also noticed how I often feel that I can't change situations that I am finding difficult. As I start to feel better I can see solutions or compromises which can be made and suddenly something which seemed to be "just how it is" has changed and things are better.

An example of this is wrestling with night weaning and needing more sleep and space. In the last fortnight Ella has moved into her own bed in what is now her room. Daddy is helping her get to sleep and soothing her back to sleep when she wakes in the night. This had seemed so impossible before but the combination of being honest with myself about what I needed and also Ella being ready means I have the amazing joy of evenings without what had turned into a marathon of feeding her to sleep. It feels wonderful to know that we are still being sensitive to Ella's needs but I am also being realistic about my own.

This experience has given me a chance to look at the rest of my life and start to take responsibility for the things I wish were different. If I look back over most of my life, I have never felt that I was an active participant in how things turned out for me. That is probably where a lot of my perfectionist and controlling tendencies come from; a sense that I actually have no control. I have always been really sensitive and my emotions have often felt outside of my control. Once I "felt" a certain way that seemed to be reality, rather than something I could think about and check. And often I have believed that some emotions such as anger were not acceptable.

This creates a constant sense of internal conflict where I am at the mercy of my emotions but these emotions are not always "good" or "right". So then guilt and shame are pulled into the mix and life becomes a roller coaster where everything feels unpredictable and nothing seems to be in my control. Hence I act like a victim.

Depression works to make you a victim, even if you have never been before. You lose motivation and energy and everything seems overwhelming. As I feel better and better I can see what a deception it is. If you do nothing and just keep asking "why me?" you feel worse and you get no answers.

Instead I can now see how I can choose to be honest with myself about how I feel, no matter whether it is "good" or not. And then I can do something about it. Doing something might mean just accepting that "this is the way it is". Or it might mean doing something about it such as changing how Ella gets to sleep and where she sleeps.

The reality is that this is the only life I have. And I can spend my time feeling crap about how things are or have been and all the things I have no control over, or I can get involved and live my life. Be an active part of it, question my knee jerk reactions and live what I believe, even if sometimes it is a struggle.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Easter with Ella

This Easter is Ella's second but the first where she will be help to understand some of why we are remembering Jesus and what he did. My hubby thinks it is silly that we celebrate it in autumn instead of spring just because the church apparently co-opted a pagan festival. The new life of the resurrection would make so much more sense to Ella if the world outside was living proof of the concept. Since we have little control over when our country recognises Easter, we are stuck with it for now. I have been thinking about the ways we could make it meaningful for us and for her and the rituals and traditions we want to use.

I am a big fan of traditions. They are the things which create meaning and stability for me and also repetition is so useful for allowing me to approach things from different angles but also with reminders that the essential truths remain. The Easter traditions which I grew up with were attending church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Mum creating an Easter garden including a stone and a cave, little trees and sand. We always had an Easter hunt, which was quite interesting when we were away on the boat and they had to be hidden around the confined space of a yacht. We also tended to visit different churches at Easter because we were often on holiday. Coromandel Anglican church was a real favourite. The vicar was a woman, which always seemed to bode well, and she wore a gorgeous brightly coloured robe on Easter Sunday. There was always a great children's talk and the service was never too long (got to love the Anglican 15 minute sermon). We could always follow along in the prayer book and there was morning tea - especially important with three young children. Oh and when we went up for communion she blessed all the children. Talk about a way to make kids feel special.

So now that it is my turn to set the traditions and also to think about what is appropriate for an almost two year old, it seems very important business. Hubby and I have already adopted the Easter Egg hunt and have even done ones with only adults involved and some very cryptic clues. We want to make our own hot crossed buns this year as food seems to always be popular around here. Some other lovely suggestions I heard at my church Mum's group this week were decorating egg shells, creating an egg tree out of an old branch, reading children's versions of the Easter story and baking easter treats. A great product I was recommended is a plastic egg carton with 12 plastics eggs. Each egg has a tiny object inside which is a symbol representing a step in the Easter story. I think that would be wonderful for next year so that we can tell the story and she can learn by touching and playing with each object. Maybe we could even make our own.

One of the most profound things I have done at Easter is to take communion. It is so poignant to break bread and drink wine at Easter because it is so raw, the pain, the tragedy but also the hope and the freedom. Ultimate sacrifice.

Another event which has made Easter real to me again has been attending a Stations of the Cross art exhibition. Meditating on the art and they interpretations of the steps Jesus took to the cross have moved me and helped me to recommit myself to Him.

This year in the neverending thing that is life and parenthood I need to make some space and time for Easter to be real to me again, otherwise what do I have to share with Ella, except an empty story and some cliched traditions.

How to help

With all my posts recently revealing the reality of depression as I experience it, I have had a few people ask me how they can help. And some people have commented on how they read my posts and then see me and I appear all chirpy. I think that these comments show why depression can be so difficult for those who care for someone who is depressed. And can make it very difficult to identify depression if the person doesn't want others to know.

To be honest, I don't go out if I can't be cheery, even if inside I am anxious and struggling. I am also an extrovert and so being around people is energising and often stops the circular and negative thoughts that can be so difficult to shake.

The things I have found helpful have been people keeping in touch, even if it is just a text to let me know they are thinking of me or just keeping me posted on their lives. When I see people I appreciate people treating me like normal or a listening ear. My hubby takes the brunt of it so I really appreciate people caring for him and supporting him by just keeping in touch and hanging out. When thing are really hard, meals have been a life saver and another couple have looked after Ella so I can attend therapy regularly. That help has been invaluable and helps me to do what I need to do to get well.

But in the end my mental health is my responsibility. No matter how much people may pray or offer help, it is all really going on in my head. And that is really hard to tell people. It is really hard for people to know that I can't cope not because of any physical reason that you can see. Instead it is a combination of brain chemistry, personality, life experience and patterns that have developed over my life. And it seems that the stress and tiredness of becoming a parent has brought it all to a head.

But I guess what I wish for is that you keep an eye out for the people around you. That you are aware of those who may be struggling and that you reach out to them. Mental illness is so lonely and knowing someone has noticed and cares can give me the courage to keep battling this and to feel that I am worth it.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

I think I love my cleaner

This week was the first week of having a cleaner. She is going to come once a fortnight for 2 hours and do all the basics. On the morning of her first visit I had wrestled about how much I should tidy up before she arrived. I made sure the floor was clear and there were no health department issues, but beyond that I just left it. It was challenging to have someone come into our home and see the proof of the fact that we have been just surviving. There is something about being a mother and the home as a reflection of your competence which makes me feel very vulnerable. I feel like the general mess and grime of our house was a visual representation of how I have been feeling inside. She could see my depression in all its pain and inability to manage.

Thankfully she is a very gentle and caring woman who was honest with me about her life and how she wants to work. And I was so proud of myself for being honest with her. And instead of escaping while she cleaned I just carried on doing things with Ella until it suited us to leave. As I watched her cleaning so carefully I wasn't filled with embarrassment or shame. Instead I felt such a joy and relief that it was something I wasn't going to have to worry about but not do anymore.

But this has led to me really questioning where all this baggage about cleaning and keeping house all comes from. Of course the image of the 1950s housewife with the perfect house, perfect child, meal on the table, kiss for the husband and perfectly groomed, is alive and well in our society. But there is a reason that "mothers little helpers" became so popular at that time. You can't exist as a person while trying to fulfill that stereotype. You can't be tired, or sick, or struggling or normal to be that mother. And I don't want to be, even if I could.

Instead I want to be able to enjoy time with Ella and Nick and not be thinking that all of our weekends and evenings and my days should be an endless list of chores to be done. And I want to be able to cook nice meals, but once I had done the bare minimum around the house, takeaways seemed like the only option for tea. And to be honest, I just want to enjoy my life. Survival is not enough for me. And I have enough to do with caring for Ella, working, trying to be a good partner to my husband and good to myself that paying someone to do the cleaning makes a lot of sense.

So here endeth justifying myself. And if you read this and find yourself judging me for not cleaning my own house then know that I couldn't give a hoot what you think cause I am too busy getting on with enjoying my life again. And what does it say about our society that women are responsible for the cleanliness of the house? I have always been a bit scathing about men driving cars as an extension of their own masculinity, but using the house as an extension of my competence as a mother, wife or woman is pretty sad too.