Saturday 31 December 2011


I do not generally do resolutions, and if I did I certainly wouldn't write about them here. I do not generally do a word of the year, or goals, or in fact anything that might in any way be construed as inspirational. This is not that kind of blog, people! You know that by now, right? If I'm honest, I think it's probably because I've always thought that goals = something that might not be achieved = one more chance to fail = more than my poor, frail psyche can handle. 

That's probably really stupid. Failure is part of life. Failure is fine. Failure is better than not trying. Also, opening myself up to the possibility of failing also gives me the option of succeeding, right?  (I'm sorry if that sounds inspirational. I didn't do it on purpose, and I promise not to do it again). 

I didn't give 2011 a word when it started, but as it ends I'm going to award it one in retrospect - survival. I'm really glad that I did survive it, but I want 2012 to be better than that. So, here goes. I'm setting some goals for the coming year. I'm only doing two, because the secret to success is low standards I'd rather finish two things than start six.  (These are non-spiritual things. I want to set some God-focused goals too, but I need to do more thinking about that first and I'm not sure that this blog is the right place to seek accountability in that area of my life). So, my two goals. First: 

In 2012, I am going to finish my book.  

That's kind of a predictable goal for me. I've been working on it for ages (more than a year now, which sort of kills me to think about) and with lots more steady work, I can get this done. It needs to happen. Barring major illnesses or accidents, I think it will happen.  In fact, it's kind of a cop-out because I would be doing this whether or not I called it a goal. 

And here's where I wish that we knew each other in real life - not just because you are awesome (which you are) and incredibly good-looking (also true) but because I would like to see you crease up with laughter when I tell you my second goal: 

In 2012, I am going to run 5km. 

I told my sister in law this today, and she screeched with amusement and said you? and I wasn't offended at all, I just said I know, isn't it crazy? and she said crazy? It's insane! and then we had a good chortle about it. I've never been particularly big, but I was always the slowest kid in my class at school, until I moved schools and met a girl called Anna and then for a while I was the second slowest.  And these days, I have the kind of carefully honed body that comes from spending all my spare time writing a book. Oh, and also eating a lot of carbohydrates and butter. 

I sort of feel like I can't do it.  And then I think why not? I've got two legs and two lungs, just like everybody else. (Well, you know, most people). There's no reason I shouldn't be able to do this. I'm doing a couch to 5K programme (although I've done a four runs now, starting in placebo week, and I would argue that couch is a bit of a misnomer) and there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to achieve this. I just have to do it. Sure, there is a 0.00001% chance of me being attacked by a serial killer on the river path, or a 0.0000001% chance of me having a serious asthmatic episode (you know, because I had a really bad one when I was FOUR) but I think there's about a 100% chance that I'm going to die of heart disease in my fifties if I don't start taking better care of my body. I have always had lots of reasons why I couldn't do something like this, and now I'm sick of it. I'm going to do it. 

I guess it's just that running - or any kind of concerted exercise - is an intensely un-Claudia-like thing to be doing. It's hard work, and I'm not good at it, so where's the fun? I run like a toddler, arms and legs swinging wildly in all directions. When I went to buy running shoes, I was wearing a denim miniskirt and bright pink tights and I didn't realise it was the kind of place where they videotape you running on a treadmill in order to sell you the most expensive right shoes. Oh, the shame. I suspect they put me on youtube as soon as I left - the videoed rear view of my denim-clad self jogging while my skirt flapped above my neon thighs was nearly enough to make me quit before I started. I am not a Running Person.  

But the weird thing is that sometimes I dream about running.  In my dreams, I run like I am flying. I spring off the ball of my foot and leap into the air, effortless momentum carrying me forward and up and forward and up until I am airborne, almost floating, before I arc downwards and land on my other foot and spring up again, feeling the wind on my face and the joy of forward motion.  In my dreams, I run like I was born to do it. I want to feel like that in real life, even if only a little bit, even if me running never looks like that to anybody else. Even if it's not what I think of as me.

So that's my goals. One goal that is me being me, and another one that is me being not-me. In some ways, I'm much more excited about the second. And since - I'll admit it - the combination of new year and new brain medicine is making me feel inspired, I'm going to pass it on, unapologetically and totally without cynicism (for once) and ask you - what would you do in 2012 that would be like the you that you already are? What could you do in 2012 that would be a surprising, unnatural version of you? 

Whatever you do do, I want to wish you a happy 2012. 

Saturday 24 December 2011

Placebo Day Brain Wants To Say Thank You (And Merry Christmas)

So, I went to the doctor.  Thing is, I already had an appointment booked about something totally different. Part of me had been thinking 'you should just tell the doctor up what you really want help with' but I was pretty sure I was going to chicken out.  But then, but then I got so many thoughtful, kind, wise words from so many people in comments and emails I thought I'm going to ask for help. 

I should probably back up a little bit and say that, over here, we don't really have therapists like the US. Antidepressants are prescribed by GPs (family doctors) and they are also the people who refer to psychologists if necessary - as a totally separate thing. It's not a great system, because a GP's appointment is only ten minutes long and they are usually in a rush. It's not really enough time for - well, anything. What can I say. I love free healthcare, obviously, but there are lots of things about the NHS that aren't great. This is one of them. Anyway. 

I went to the doctor. And the sooner I forget about that appointment, the happier I will be. First of all - I cried. Immediately. As in, I opened my mouth to say 'I need to ask you for some help' and I bawled like a child. And then everything I said after that was sort of incoherent. He asked me about what was making life feel difficult, and I told him about the children, and stress at work, and the fact that I always struggle with Winter but this year I have felt like February came in October and won't leave. I've seen this guy a few times before and he's been really good, and I guess that maybe, if I heard myself say those things I would probably think that those actual things were the problem.  So, anyway, he said that I should go to 'talking therapies' and believe me, I am in favour of evidence-based psychological counselling, but the leaflet he gave me just looked like ... nothing. An advice service, sort of. I said I'm not sure that this is what I really need. And I said how will this service help me? and he said well, they might be able to give you tips for coping with stressful situations at work. And he also said well, I don't really like prescribing medication for depression. Medication won't make your problems go away.. 

And for a moment, I just sat there. My worst fear about seeing  a doctor was actually that I would screw up all my courage to do it, and then nothing would change. I feared that he would say you know what, Claudia, your life actually is pretty stressful and I guess you're just going to have to suck it up. And I couldn't believe that I was sitting there and that was actually happening.  Not in so many words, but I knew that I needed more help than just tips for coping with stressful situations at work. But I nearly just said okay and walked out, because, well, what else was I going to do? And then, I suddenly realised NO FREAKING WAY AM I LEAVING THIS BUILDING WITHOUT ANY DRUGS. 

It was odd, but it wasn't until that moment that I realised that was what I really wanted. I knew, deep down, that something wasn't functioning properly. I always get Seasonal Affective Disorder through Winter, so I'm familiar with that feeling of a chemical lowness that feels absolutely real until April suddenly comes and suddenly, everything looks different. And I knew it felt the same (but much worse), like my brain wasn't processing enough of something, or too much of something, and that it wasn't anything that I could really fix on my own. I should have realised earlier, but I didn't. 

So, empowered by all your support, and support from friends through email and a few conversations, I shook my head at him and said No. That's not the problem. I could quit my job tomorrow and I would still feel like this. It's not really the situations in my life that are the problem, it's that I'm not coping properly with those situations. Something is wrong in my head. And I decided that I was going to sit on that chair until he would either write me a prescription or at least agree to discuss it further.

He wrote me the prescription. 

It's a super-low dose of antidepressant, and who knows, it might not be The Answer for me, but I feel a hundred times better for having done something concrete to help myself, and not just accepting that I feel awful because I am awful. And also, at the risk of pre-empting myself, I have to admit that I already feel fantastic. I can't quite explain it. I can't quite describe it, except to say that about four hours after taking the first dose, I felt like the sun came out from behind a cloud.  I would think that I'm imagining it, except that a friend said that this particular drug helped her immediately, too. Most likely, it's just the placebo effect, but if that is the case I think everybody should be taking placebos All! The! Time! 

Placebo Day Brain is a fantastic companion. I took her shopping, and she did a great job of finishing off my Christmas gifts. Then we played happily with the children. Then we bought a pair of running shoes (more on that, perhaps, another day). Then, after the children were in bed, we went and got Christmas groceries and we didn't get stressed or unhappy about any of it. When we got home at 10pm, rather than just unpacking as quickly as possible, the two of us saw the pantry and said 'who can stand having such a messy pantry? Let's clean this thing, stat!, and we did. 

And then the next day (today) I cooked two huge meals and was patient with the kids and I looked at all the twinkling lights and listened to some carols and thought oh, isn't this the most wonderful time of year? 

In short, Placebo Day Brain can kick Bad Day Brain's butt. 

I know it's Christmas eve. I should really be wrapping my presents (in the grey paper, heh) but I wanted to write this and say a huge, words-fail-me thank you for all the support that you gave me about this. (I haven't replied to emails yet, I will get to it, I promise!) I really hope that I won't be the only person who benefits from all the wisdom you left in the comments section- I can't tell you what a huge help it was to me. You made me feel like I wasn't crazy. You made me feel like I should reach out and ask for help, and if I hadn't read what everyone wrote, I think I would have just taken that stupid leaflet and spent most of Christmas crying. I don't think that the help I asked for is what everyone would need, but I know there are others of you who are feeling like I am and I want to tell you that it's possible, it's okay, it's worth it to do whatever you need to do to say HELP. Please. If you need it, do it. Go back and read what everyone else wrote and I hope it will give you courage like it did for me. 

And for the rest of you, I this time I actually want to say: 

Oh, and I just had another look at the wrapping paper, and I've decided it's fine. Grey? Meh, no. I'm pretty sure it's silver.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Tis The Season To Be (Not) Jolly

I bought wrapping paper and ribbon for Christmas. They seemed like a good choices at the time but when I brought them home I looked at them and asked myself - when did grey and black become appropriate colours for Christmas wrapping? Merry Christmas, kids. Your gifts were chosen by Bram Stoker. 

At least I bought some wrapping; I wasn't entirely sure that was going to happen. Lately, things have been not so good around here. I've talked recently about some of the reasons I've been finding life hard, and they're all legitimate reasons, but I've reached a point where it's not really about the reasons any more. Its hard raising kids, I tell myself, and yes of course it is but I'm pretty sure it's not as hard as I've been finding it. The last six months or so things have been sliding downwards - in my mind, I mean - and I think I've finally reached a point where I need to acknowledge that I'm depressed okay, not quite ready to use the D-word yet I don't feel like myself any more. I'm doing what I absolutely have to do, but I can't face doing anything else. Worse - I don't even want to do anything else.I can't be bothered. I just want to make it to the end of the day, and then I want to go to sleep. Not every day. But enough. If Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch is a 10, and Sylvia Plath in 1963 is a zero, at the moment I'm probably averaging about a four. I've mentioned this to a few people and they always ask me if I'm going to hurt myself or the kids and the answer is no. That's not what I'm trying to say at all.  But everything feels grey. Life is like driving a car through fog. It's possible, but it's hard work and nothing is in focus. 

It's an impossible thing, trying to think rationally about your own mind. I've found it so, anyway. Especially when things alter slowly - like they have for me-  it doesn't feel possible to separate out how the world seems from how the world is. How can I possibly know if my perceptions are skewed? What I mean is: I don't feel like I'm looking through a grey filter. I just feel like the world is grey.  And I assume that everyone else sees it as grey too. I don't feel depressed; I just feel like the world is an immensely difficult place to live. 

 It's only recently I've started to think: I don't think everyone else around me is experiencing things the same way that I am. At first, I just assumed that they were all wrong. (Anybody who knows me in real life will not find that reaction surprising). Or - as a Christian I just assume that probably I should just be praying more, or complaining less, or quoting to myself the verse about rejoicing always. But now - I'm not so sure. I'm starting to think there's something wrong in my head. I can't tell you how much I hate that thought. 

I just want to crawl out of my own skin, but I dont' think that's an option.  So, after talking to my sister last week (thanks, L), I did an online diagnostic thing instead. The questions were things like 'do you feel constantly overwhelmed? Have you exhibited any of the following behaviours: social withdrawal, irritability, stopped doing things you enjoy? And so on and so on. And I'm reading it all going well of course! Doesn't everybody? Then I clicked enter and it told me: If your score is above 3 you may be depressed. Your score is 24. 

Okay then.   

I know I should probably speak to a doctor about it, but the thing is - I don't want to.  On a good day, I don't feel like I need any help. And on a bad day, I don't feel like I deserve any help. Good day brain tells me - You aren't overwhelmed and miserable, Claudia, you're fine. Bad day brain tells me - Of course you are overwhelmed, Claudia, it's because you're lazy. Of course you are miserable, Claudia, it's because you're an awful person. I don't like bad day brain, but bad day brain is getting a lot of airtime at the moment. Bad day brain thinks that she is the only show in town. 

Since this is largely a blog about my kids, I need to say that I don't really think this is about the kids. If it was, I would at least know what to do with it. I could put a label on it - post adoption depression - and maybe make some progress and get past it. I want to be past it. But this? I think it's just me, independent of them.  I've been frantically googling anaemia and hormonal imbalances and all kinds of other ailments that I wouldn't really wish on myself, hoping to find an answer to why I feel this way that I can live with. Because hey, if I feel miserable because I have a malfunctioning thyroid, I will happily take thyroid medication. Same goes for how willing I would be to discuss my (totally fictional) anaemia with the world. But I have much, much more resistance to the idea of taking any medicine that is just for my mind. I suspect antidepressants would probably help but I'm frightened of them. More to the point, I'm frightened of needing them. 

I know that is probably stupid. 

Partly - cards on the table, here - it's because I think we would eventually like another kid. Or two. Not right now -oh, please, please, please not now, I can't can barely manage what I have - but I don't want to burn that bridge.  And I have no idea what U.K. social services would think about antidepressants -  I don't think they would be impressed. I'm frightened that me doing this now would mean that we never, ever get to have another child. I don't want another child at the moment, and can't imagine wanting another child, but I also know that I probably won't feel this way forever. I don't want to look back in, say, 2013 and hate 2011 Claudia for trying to take care of herself. 2011 Claudia doesn't need any more hate; she's doing a pretty good job on herself already. 

Okay, also: I'm frightened of what other people - people I work with, for example, would think if they found out just how poorly I was coping, and I feel like taking antidepressants would be admitting that I can't cope. What little common sense I have left tells me that this is stupid. Mostly because - actually, nobody cares. I don't care what medication other people take, why should they care about mine? But part of what my brain is doing to me at the moment is telling me horrible things about myself, and making me believe that everyone I know thinks those things about me too.  Not suicidal bad things, I hasten to add, just averagely bad things like wow, did you hear about how she can't even cope with two small children and a part time job? What a loser. (Shut up, bad day brain). 

Also - I'm just ashamed of feeling like this. I'm ashamed of how poorly I'm managing at the moment. I don't want this to be real, so I want to pretend it's not happening.  I don't want to click 'publish' on this, because I don't want to admit that I am struggling this much. Maybe it's the questions about whether I'm going to do something drastic that make me feel like there is something horribly, terribly wrong about this. Depression is an illness, apparently, like asthma is an illness, but when I say I have asthma nobody wonders whether I need to have my children removed. (Stop being such a drama queen, Claudia. There's nothing wrong with you that a good kick up the backside wouldn't fix). (Thanks for the input, bad day brain). I don't need to have my children removed; I just want to make that clear. And the fact that I'm assuming people want to remove my children, that people would assume this makes me an unfit mother - yep. That's bad day brain again. I think. Even though it just feels like hard logic. I feel like it says something about who I am, something that I wish it didn't say. But I think that's why I will click publish- because I know I shouldn't be ashamed. Even though I am. 

I want to pretend that my relentless negativity is actually a perfectly logical reaction to an impossible world. But the world isnt' impossible, is it? It's nearly Christmas. There are lights twinkling (not in MY house, obviously) and I have adorable toddlers and surely I should be enjoying this time of year? Everyone else seems happy about it all. And okay, even if 50% of them are faking, that's still a lot of happy that I'm not feeling. Realising that my perceptions are probably off is making me question myself more than I can explain. Maybe all of my perceptions are wrong. Maybe Justin Bieber is actually a really talented guy. How would I know? How would I know???? 

Why am I telling you this? Probably  because I don't know what I think about all this yet, and as EM Forster said - how will I know what I think until I see what I write? Although - hang on, just re-read it, and I still don't know what I think. 

Have you been through anything like this? Do you know what I mean? 

Ummmm.... and Merry Christmas, I guess. 

Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Cost

Of finally having a long talk on the phone with my sister.

Totally, totally worth it.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Why Writing a Book Is Like A Dysfunctional Relationship

As you all know, I'm in the middle of trying to write a memoir about our adoption. It's pretty much killing me.  So, since it's on my mind, here is the sum of all my fears: 

Why Writing A Book Is Like A Dysfunctional Relationship: 
Stage 1: Infatuation
The idea hits you like a hurricane and suddenly you can't think of anything else. On the train: thinking about the book you're going to write. In a cafe: scribbling notes for your book. On holiday: disappearing for the chance to be alone with the delicious possibility of your book.  You write down ideas for titles. You doodle cover designs. You feel smug and self-satisfied about how wonderful your book is going to be.  At this point, everybody else's books look like pale, undernourished, sad little things. Your book will be so much better than that. You feel like this. But about a book.

Stage 2: Gifts
Getting started properly is harder than it looked. You buy - and read - books written by writers who are writing books about how to write a book. This is not procrastination, it is an investment. Then you size up the task ahead of you. This is the point at which it becomes clear that an ordinary set of writing tools will simply not be sufficient to do justice to the beauty that is your book.  If it were a woman, you would buy her diamonds, but instead you buy scrivener and set up dropbox and those who have truly been bitten badly make excuses to buy new laptops [not me, by the way. Obsessive, yes, but not financially irresponsible]. Then you set up your dropbox folders and fire up scrivener and actually start to... write.

Stage 3: Comfortable Togetherness
This is working pretty well. The words are flowing, the ideas are coming. When there is spare time, you spend it together. You love being with Book, and you're pretty sure that Book feels the same way about you. The word count goes up.

Stage 4: Faint Disillusionment
The only thing is.... some of this is seeming a little repetitive. And the structure is not really as clear as it should be. It seems that there are about three thousand words on what actually happened to you, and ninety-seven thousand words about how  that made you feel. Can that really be right? Better check again. Just as well scrivener has such an advanced word-count function. Okay, it is right. You give some of it to your husband to read. He says he likes it, but he doesn't ask for any more and he doesn't laugh at the parts you were pretty sure were funny.  Also - this just feels like a , colossal, unbearable amount of work. Your mother suggests, gently, that your time might be better spent elsewhere. 

Stage 6: It's Not You, It's Me
Suddenly, spending time with Book doesn't seem quite so appealing,.  There's nothing wrong with the book, you tell yourself, it's just that you are really really busy. You have other demands on your time. You have an actual life, remember? And friends. And work. And other commitments. Sheesh, if only Book could stop being so self-centred and see that your entire life isn't about writing it, then it would see that you have got Stuff going on.  It would give you a break. It would stop nagging. You are committed to the relationship, but you've got a lot on your plate, okay? OKAY?

Stage 7: Actually, it IS You, Please Stop Ruining My Life
And then, you realise that no, all that was lies, the real problem is that you hate your manuscript. It's boring, it's wordy, it's self-indulgent and you don't even like the main character which is a giant bummer because the main character is, well, you. You contemplate all the hours you have poured into it, all the emotional energy, and shake your fist at the stupidity that made you start it. It all seems like such a waste. You write procrastinatory blog posts like this one. The only silver lining is - at least nobody got to read it. At least nobody else knows how bad it is.   At this point, everybody else's books look like works of genius. All of those pages, and all with those nice little numbers at the bottom!  You seethe with envy and wish you had had a different idea. In short, you think that probably, life would be better without Book. You wish you had taken up crochet instead.

Stage 8: We Can Work It Out
But the thing is, you really don't want to live without Book. You slink back and apologise. You make plans for how things will be different this time. You will be more realistic, and not expect Book to meet all your emotional needs. 

Stage 9: Isolation
Having other people around just makes things complicated. Your mother suggests, more forcefully this time, that you are throwing good effort after bad but you tell her that Book is wonderful, really, and when the two of you are alone, nobody could be better company.  If the rest of the world doesn't understand the love you have for each other, well, that's fine. FINE. You and Book will make it on your own. 

Stage 10: Trying to Leave
The first draft is nearly done. Suddenly, you start to fantasise about how it will be when this thing is finished. You will have your old life back! All those hobbies, all that housework, all that time to watch reality TV. You whisper as much to Book, and Book whispers back - how will you know when you are really finished? Sure, it feels like the editing is done, but how would you know for sure? You don't want to push it out there too soon. People will laugh at you! The comma placement leaves a lot to be desired. There are too many adverbs. Okay, you decide, you really can't be parted from Book now. This whole thing needs a major re-think. 

Stage 11: Until Death Us Do Part
You decide to rewrite the whole thing in future tense. Would that make it seem more edgy? Perhaps you will change it around so that the main character (you) speaks in Latin and has psychokinetic powers.   Maybe it would be better if you stared at the end, or in the middle, or wrote the whole thing in verse.  There are so many ways this could be so good, you tell yourself; it's just not quite there yet. You no longer have any plans to actually finish. All your friends have forgotten what you look like. Your husband can no longer remember your name. You realise that you and Book are in this thing alone, together, forever and ever, amen, until your heart stops beating and Book's non-existent pages start to crumble. This isn't quite how you pictured your life, but here you are. So you fire up the computer, and shut the door, and make another pot of tea. And you massage your bony, ancient fingers and 
Because really, what else is there to do? 

Thursday 1 December 2011

Look Up

See where it says 'Adoption 101?' I've finally, finally, finally finished the list of links I've been working on. And it's finally up.

No pun intended.

I hope some of you find it useful- there's a lot of cool stuff there. And while I was finishing it off earlier, I looked around to see this:

A major yoghurt extravaganza. (And yes, he is wearing a torch. Isn't your kid?) So, um, yeah. If you especially like it, please volunteer to come over here and clean some of the food off my kids!

[yes - this post used to have some other pictures but people were finding this blog by googling weird stuff and I think this post was the culprit, so.... yeah. I deleted them.  Buh-bye, crazy googlers!]