What’s Your Normal?

Almost a year ago, I sat here on this very sofa, in much the same cross-legged position, and I wrote about how I needed to find balance in living with my husband and our children in my house. All together. All the time. I expressed the opinion that it often feels as if I operate better solo, and I vouchsafed that, in spite of this fact, I loved having us all together in a home of our own; I just needed to find a way to balance the seemingly endless company with the solitude that I desperately seem to need.

Now, this evening, I am sitting here and, while I still concur with the general findings of my musings at that time, I find I have something to add. An important something – for me at least – that deserves to be said; that needs to be acknowledged. It is a something that struck me last Friday when I was off work sick – which seems to the only time I ever have the house to myself – and, though the words took a while to fully come through, I eventually had a bit of a Eureka moment. (An Eureka moment? Dunno. Anyway.) It’s quite simple, and it’s probably quite obvious, but then things often are from a distance, aren’t they?

My realisation (and I mean my real, astonishingly clear, brain-freezingly important realisation) is that living with other people is not my normal way of life. The reason that I find it difficult is that I have done it so rarely in my life, and it really is something I need to be gentle with myself about. I blithely toddled into being a married woman  again just over two years ago, and totally ignored the fact that the last time that I shared my living space with another adult full time was when I lived at home with my mother – and that was at least fourteen years ago, and only for about four or five months. I shared a house with people in my final year in college in ’99 but I had my own huge room and I wasn’t part of their gang of friends; D and I shared the same house when we were living together/married before, but he always worked nights so for at least five nights a week, I had the place to myself. (I’m not including the children in this because, somehow, for this issue, they don’t count.) TRM never lived with me so that doesn’t count either.

I’m an only child, of only children. My mother and I are solitary sorts by nature. We like other people for a while, but we get exhausted by them very quickly – the more so as we age, I suspect. My father is Mr. Gregarious, but he is quite happy to live on his own if he can meet people of an evening for pints, or for dinner, and he no longer needs the constant company that he thrived on in his working days two decades and more ago. People find me odd because I have the hermit compulsion quite strongly within me; I am deliriously happy to lock myself away from everyone and everything for a weekend, and not talking to anyone at all from Friday at 5pm to Monday at 8.30am is my kind of heaven. There used to be time for me to do that, but that came to an end when we became a two-adult family again. I did really well for the first year or so, until Christmas rolled around when I descended into a fog of depression. All of a sudden, even though I had been looking forward to Christmas for the first time in possibly ever, I got sucked into a major gloom and couldn’t get out.  I have been in varying states of grey since then, and I wonder now if I am feeling stuck because, subconsciously, I have no room to manoeuvre. I also feel that there’s a very strong chance that my at-home only sleeping-verging-on-narcolepsy may well be another subconscious escape mechanism. Everywhere I turn there is another human being taking up my precious space and oxygen! I think I have also finally realised that I do not have to be immediately rational about this feeling, although it would nice to become so in time.

I am making my way through Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star and this is one of the things that has arisen for me. I think it was also the thrill of an illicit afternoon one day last week, spent entirely alone with my headphones and my book in Starbucks, that made me realise what I have been so very desperately missing. (The fact that I left work early on day because I was feeling horrendous – cold, sore throat, stuffed up head, etc. – and realised that I couldn’t go home without spending the rest of the afternoon running around after other people, never mind being able to just give into being sick and go to bed, made me pause for thought.) Settled at a table with my salted caramel mocha, Ms. Beck, and Rudimental, I realised that it was one of those occasions where I could feel the blood rushing through my veins with sheer exhilaration. If you had offered me a free round trip to anywhere else in the world at that moment in time, I wouldn’t’ve taken you up on it. Not even if it was my own bed which, two hours previously, I had almost been crying for! I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and it felt like a long time since that had been the case. (Which, upon reflection, isn’t very fair given that I spent a wonderful Saturday with my best friend in Glastonbury the weekend before that so, y’know, probably a bit spoilt overall but moving along….!) The secret to it all, I think, it the no other people bit. That is what so much of it hinges on, and maybe why I am so unhinged. Whatever the case may be, I have made myself a promise. It involves me, and a coffee shop (because, at the moment, this seems to be the sort of environment that I crave: homely yet anonymous, I suppose) and at least one hour a week of whatever feels best, consciously acknowledged as Me Time where no one else is invited, or wanted, or required. And perhaps, if I give myself this time, in this way, changing the components as desired, I will, in time, make it back into balance with my home life.

I thought, at first, it was all about missing my house which was so very much my space – and to some degree, that is the case – but I have come to realise that it might in fact be missing the room to breathe, unencumbered by anyone else. There is a strong possibility that Room To Breathe may be my next tattoo: it really is that important to me!

Little Things.

Relative contentment. Tired but sleeping better so starting to feel a bit more human. Aching: hip and shoulder joints of an eighty year old woman; think this will improve over time. Back on the gluten-free train but added dairy-free this time for fun. Would cheerfully maim most humans for a vast mug of tea with milk and three sugars. Detoxing following gluten and increased sugar consumption over the last three months. Losing weight. Able to read again after months of not being able to focus sufficiently. Was scary. Now nice to be able to finish a book when I start it. Strange longing to take my bike out for a bit of a spin. Covered in dogs.

New addition to the Furry Familiars – Oberon: Akita/GSD cross. Quite, quite mental. Large. Incredible cuddle-bug who parades – it’s the only word for it, honestly! – around the house displaying his magnificence. Known as Ronnie…much to confusion of Honey who’s never really sure of her name at the best of times.

Unsure about the onset of winter this year. Or even Autumn. Most unusual for me. Would really love to go on a shopping spree for clothes. Nothing majorly exciting, just jeans and sweaters etc. Unlikely to happen.

Re-learning Lamb love.

Got to see two of my favourite people this month – very happy.


In Which A Resolution Is Made.

I slept until very late this morning and, when I woke, after my ritual checks of Instagram and Facebook, I found myself ambling down memory lane here on my own blog. I have been feeling frustrated for some time now about my (lack of) finances and bemoaning my lack of disposable income. This is not aided by my dearly beloved who tells me, “it’s OK, I have money!” For some reason, this doesn’t help. Probably due to the simple fact that I’ve always made it my business to have my own. However, I suspect that the time has come – because yes, I really am that slow – to reassess my opinions on money and what I do with it. I believe that the time has come to accept that, for the next six months at least, I am going to have to work to a very strict budget indeed. And it’s going to be a budget of paying off my credit card month by month, and my mortgage arrears month by month until such time as I can afford not to again.

The simple fact is that if I intend to stay in my current place of employment, I am going to have to shift my perspective in a fairly major way. This is going to mean drawing out a small amount of ‘Me Money’ after each pay day and leaving all the rest to the standing orders I’ll be setting up. Going through bank statements, I can see that I don’t spend very much on frivolous things at all, but the reality is that there’s just not money to spend on frivolities at all. I can, however, see a way in which there might be….in the future. It’s really no good to keep complaining about it any more; I simply have to do something constructive instead. I am hoping that, as so often in the past, the doing will make the being easier. It will also mean that Etsy, eBay and Amazon will be strictly verboten  which causes me almost physical pain! It’s time to drag out all the books in my home that I haven’t read and work my way through them instead of buying new ones, even second-hand new ones. No more sparklies for the time being either; I have lots already. This is no longer a case of an optional paring back on spending – it absolutely has to happen. It may also help that we are going to embark on a serious de-cluttering exercise shortly which will include A SKIP! I never thought I would be so excited to hear about such a thing but there’s so much bulky stuff that really needs to be removed from our surroundings: the dog-chewed sofa in the boiler house, the two old beds in the garage, the wardrobe in the spare room that would give us a lot more space if we simply took it down and left a hanging rail there. It encourages us to just chuck things in and leave them there as it is.

This is going to be a lesson in impulse control and I think it’s going to be useful in the long run.

Thoughts On Home.

Sooo. Today, my dearly beloved left the house at 4.30am to hop in a taxi to the airport on his way to Bristol where he was doing very grown-up training on a new system that his employer is implementing. “Ooh,” I said, all excited. “That means you can have a bit of a look around while you’re there, doesn’t it, and you can see if you think it’s a livable-in area.” Never one to give up completely on the dream of living in the same country as my best friend and the bits of my family that I’d actually want to see a bit more often than every five or six years, I have been holding out hope that perhaps D could get a transfer at some point in the next two years; his employers have offices in Bristol which would be – how convenient! – almost midway between the aforementioned personages. He sent me a text at lunch time to say that it’s definitely not a pretty city. “Perhaps a bit further out would be better?” I queried, knowing full well that I have travelled through Bristol several times but have no knowledge of it as a place. I do know, however, that extreme prettiness can be found on either side of it so I have not lost all hope yet.

Having the children and the house to myself today has reminded me of how happy I have been here in this place. I don’t know why but in many ways I function better on my own. I think my own natural laziness means that if I’m left to my own devices, I will get things done but if there’s someone else here who will do them for me, well, the chances are that I will jolly well let them. All the same, there’s a sort of peace in reclaiming my house for a few hours. The house is so very much ours these days that, on a day to day basis, it’s hard to remember a time when it was just mine. Tonight, I have lit candles in the fireplace and on the mantelpiece, the lights are down low and the dogs as snoring gently, flaked out on the floor. It is as it was before except now I’m sitting on one of the sofas that we chose together and that D bought last summer. It sounds, I know, as if I’m saying that I prefer it when it’s just me in my house sort of thing, but that’s not it. I think it’s more that this was the first place that I felt completely at home in since I was about five. When I moved in here first, I used to stand out in the back garden at night watching the stars with a mug of tea in my hand and I could almost feel roots growing from the soles of my feet into the ground where I stood. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be finally; that at the age of thirty-three, I had at long last found my place in the world. Since D moved in, that feeling has been lost a little bit. Perhaps it’s in part due to feeling like I have to compensate somehow for the fact that it’s my house, rather than our house – legally, I mean. Maybe it’s because I know he gave up a place here he was happy so he could move in with me and, subconsciously perhaps, I felt I had to give up something too. It could be either or none of those things. I haven’t spent enough time thinking about it to be sure. But I do know that the thought of an evening to myself when the children were in bed had me thinking about doing things I never do when he’s around: reading tarot cards, colouring pictures or drawing with markers, blogging, making things calm and tidy and peaceful. I know the issue is mine and not his. I don’t doubt that for a minute. The thing is, what am I going to do about it? How do I reclaim my life in a house I love without making my husband feel that he’s not welcome here, when the opposite is true? How do I find my own space again in a house that I share with three other people and two space-invading dogs? I suppose really, I have the best of both worlds because I love having the place to myself and I love having us all here together. It seems as if I just have to find the balance between the two so that I can live comfortably too.

Picture This.

On this Wednesday evening we find:

A daughter out rollerblading and picking blackberries with her friends; a son watching videos on YouTube on the laptop in the sitting room; a husband cooking dinner and watching a DVD, also in the sitting room; a wife sorting laundry into piles and lamenting its never-ending increase, cramming socks and pants and school t-shirts into the machine; two dogs lolling about, enjoying the fact that (most) of their family is home while they roll on their backs to ask for belly rubs.

Also, the determination of the wife that the trampoline be unearthed from behind the summer growth of the berry patch and relieved of its brambley visitors before being cleaned and put back into use. Preferably before the end of the week.

Also, proper autumnal golden sun gilding everything with gentle golden beams, glinting on the pale curls of the daughter, purple of mouth and sticky of finger, and on the rings on the hand of the wife hanging out washing, while a breeze sets the pillow slips fluttering on the line.

I’m still alive. Just about. Even though I haven’t been here for the last two months or so.

It’s been a tricky two – or is it three? – months. One one hand, some lovely and very happy things have happened so that it feels as if progress is being made in life. On the other hand, I have been unrelentingly unwell. I have taken course after course of antibiotics, I have added vitamin C and D to my daily pill consumption, I have been taking Colloidal Silver as a further deterrent to bugs. I have gone through two tubes of exceedingly expensive immuno-suppressant cream in the last three weeks in a vain attempt to make my skin calm. The. Fuck. Down. I have cried myself to sleep from pain and exhaustion only to wake up half an hour later, unable to sleep again for the night. I have been scaldingly hot and freezingly cold, and I have felt as if I might never feel clean and whole again. I have twitched and itched and felt like my nerves were stripped of any protection. I have been angry, depressed, sulky, miserable, worn down by the seemingly endless ways in which my body has conspired against me to ensure that The Happy doesn’t become all-pervasive. Most of all, I have been tired.

Throughout it, the man I married slightly over ten years ago has been calm, patient and endlessly kind. He has propped me up, cheered me on, helped in every way thinkable to get me through this. He has run baths, changed beds, fetched pain killers, stayed awake to make sure I wasn’t alone, smoothed cream on skin on the many times when, horrified by what I saw and felt,  I couldn’t bring myself to touch my own body, collected prescriptions, held me when I couldn’t even begin to pretend to be stoical any more and kept daily life running more or less smoothly while I oscillated between being OK and wallowing in despair.

It helps that he has seen me in all states prior to this, having known me for eighteen years. He has seen almost every type of L-Q-S imaginable and it is that, more than anything, that means I have been less stressed out over the last few weeks than I might otherwise have been. In the end, though, frustrated by my doctor’s refusal to take things seriously and by my lack of (what I suppose he felt should be Righteous Ire,) he packed me off to his own GP who looked at me aghast and said the only possible solution was a dermatologist in a hospital who would pay attention and sort me out. The blessed man wrote to, and phoned, a skin consultant that he knew and, a week later, I had an appointment in St. Vincent’s University Hospital where a consultant did what they usually do, which is to look at you briefly, ask a few questions, issue a prescription as long as your arm and then palm you off on someone else as soon as humanly possible. The someone else was a dermatology nurse who plonked me into a bath full of greasy stuff, then when I was out and dried, slathered me in lots more greasy stuff and sent me home to do more of the same. Forty-eight hours later (or possibly slightly less) Dave had his wife back. And it’s been a lot better ever since.

Of Parental Visits.

Heaven help us. Dad’s staying tonight – and maybe tomorrow night too, I’m not sure – and that’s completely ok with all of us. He has taken Dave out for pints, and bought us all Chinese take-away for dinner because I pointed out that it would probably be cheaper than he and I going out to eat by ourselves. I did say (in my own defense) that I was going to be cooking dinner anyway so there was really no need for anything extra but I think he’s finally starting to feel comfortable enough to stay put in one place without the need to run off into the distance every five minutes which, I have to admit, it much nicer from my point of view. So we sat down together, stuffed our faces on good Chinese and then Dave kept an eye on the children getting ready for bed while I did a bit of hoovering and hung out some washing. Now I’m sitting at the kitchen table drinking camomile, vanilla and honey tea while the dishwasher lulls two snoozy dogs to sleep in their beds. And it feels really good. It feels like – lack of sofas and heating aside – we have a home where we can welcome people in.

I have this warm glow partially as a result of my mother visiting earlier. She arrived after Dad and managed to sit down long enough to have a cup of coffee with him. It’s quite plain that what she sees in this house horrifies her and is something that she cannot comprehend. The fact that we don’t live in a pristine state all the time is anathema to her; there was a reason why I used to joke about her polishing the grass in her garden, after all. But even as her dislike was so plain to see, it came to me all in a rush that what I have here is every bit as real and as precious as anything she could imagine. She told me, several months ago, when I called in to see her one day, that she didn’t think I would ever be happy. I was incredibly hurt by that initially. I couldn’t believe that even my mother, who has a tongue like a vipers at the best of times, could say such a thing to her only child. Now I understand truly that, though I might wish her to understand how I feel, it’s not essential that she does so. Nor does she have to find favour with what I do, or how I do it. There is no reward for trying to please those who have shut themselves off from the world. There is nothing to be gained, emotionally, spiritually or physically, from attempting to take on another person’s ill-feeling. I wish my mother all the happiness in the world; all the joy and contentment that she can feel. And I will make a concerted effort to stop judging her as she is judging me because I don’t want to be sucked into that vicious cycle of negativity and nastiness.

I can see what I have been blessed with and how lucky I am. To ask for more validation than I’m already receiving seems a bit over the top to me.