Let’s go for a walk….

This is retreat week. Jayber has now joined me so technically I should be very far removed from the internet. And I would be, except we are currently holed up in a pub, the only wifi spot in the village. We’ve come here most evenings for a wee early evening drink but tonight the alcohol is medicinal, the need to write an attempt to find the funny side of a day that went pretty badly wrong….

Jayber felt the need for a bracing walk this afternoon. He suggested a far flung mountain, I refused to spend that long in the car so we settled for Inch island wildlife reserve, a fairly tame there-and-back-again which looked pretty. And it was. Here we are:

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Happy. Fun times.
Then we decided, why do linear? Boring. I’m sure we can make it a loop, see there on the crappy tourist office map? That looks like we could go right round, doesn’t it? So off we went and it was fun going off piste. Let’s have an adventure, we thought.
Then there was a bit of mud. No problem, sure I’ve wellies on. Then the mud became more bog-like which historically I have not done so well with (last visit to Donegal had me submerged to mid-thigh in bog, Juju in my arms). Jayber, ever the optimist, ‘We’ll be grand…..’. When the bog became treacherous (wellies disappearing fast) we crawled under barbed wire, trespassed over some poor farmer’s field, then over some more barbed wire to a….road! Hooray! Nope, a track with an 8ft spiked gate at the end. Over the gate (dear lord), and then phew, map says it shouldn’t be too much further.
Never ever will I set off with a tourist office map again, it’s Ordinance Survey all the way next time. Jayber kept saying, ‘We’ll be back at the car in 10 minutes…..it’s just over there…….this next bend’. Forty minutes later, no road appeared. Even then I was ok until it got dark and the only thing between us and our car was a mile long road. This road had no footpath, no verge, just hedges and heavy traffic. And here we were, these two numpties, head-to-toe dark clothes literally clinging to the hedges as the traffic whooshed by, hooting at the two idiots who had a death wish. Honestly, it was completely terrifying. We knew the traffic couldn’t see us until it was on us and there was just nowhere else to go.

Just when the panic started to become overwhelming, and I was fairly sure at least one of us would die, a lorry driver stopped to give us abuse. He rolled down his window, ‘What the f…..?’, saw the terror on my face and just said, ‘Get in!’. I couldn’t have cared less if he was a serial killer, he was still a better bet than The Road of Death. We got a 5 minute tongue lashing about how we picked the worst road to walk on and how he had nearly killed us himself. All dished out with a generous dose of ‘Jaysus, Mary and Joseph’ for good measure.He was our angel of mercy and we told him so as we shakily climbed out of his cab, sure he would later be telling his wife about the two Nordie twits he saved from certain death.
There wasn’t much chat on the drive back to our cottage. Just general agreement that that was officially The Worst Walk Ever, that we would only do looped, mapped, bog-free walks from now on and we would be driving straight to the pub to recover ourselves.

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Done.

Retreat

I had dragged myself out to college one night last February, right when the wheels were starting to come off my life. I was burnt out, anxious and surrounded by gloom, but dammit I was not going to let it beat me. So off I went, just hoping I could make it through the 4 hour class without sobbing or hiding under the table.

We were looking that night at Gestalt theory. I’m not going to lie, I still don’t really understand it all but here’s the important part: I realised that night that I had been meeting my need to be seen to be coping, to be a good mum/wife/daughter/friend, to appear in control, competent, able, at the expense of an overwhelming and desperate need to rest. It had become more important to me for others to experience me as ‘well’, than for me to actually be well.

Maybe this is obvious to the rest of you, but understanding that completely floored me. I came home that night, told Jayber and asked if he thought he could hold the fort for a week. I needed to go away and get some heavy duty rest. Honestly, it was terrifying to even say it out loud, to ask for such a huge thing. It is a testament to the fine character and heart of my husband that, in the face of a week juggling work and three small children, he said, ‘of course’, without hesitation.

So a few weeks later I headed off to a wonderful cottage in Donegal, to rest and restore myself. While I craved the peace and space, it was a scary prospect too. When was the last time I had been by myself for that long? Would I be lonely and feel worse? I brought a mountain of wool to crochet, books, fire logs and comfort food. I went for a lot of walks on the beach and watched a lot of dreadful daytime television. It was hard at times: you can’t just leave the gloom and anxiety at home: unfortunately it travels well. But it was the turning point for me, the beginning of the long, slow, crawl out of the pit. The beginning of learning to pay attention and listen more deeply to myself. To value my wholeness enough to take risks in protecting it.

I am in a better place now, but this is still a hard time of year for me. So we have agreed for me to head off again for some rest and recuperation. Only this time Jayber gets to gate crash half way through the week and have some R&R too. I head off on Saturday for 4 days by myself before he joins me but I’m finding it harder this time around to know how to spend this time. Last year I was in crisis and just needed to do whatever. This time I feel like I want to switch off, chill, box sets/ crochet/ walks, but I also want to do something that will feed me too, without feeling like duty or homework.

I’m open to suggestions …..

Blue Monday

They say this is the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday

 
The older I get the more I struggle with the depths of winter. Once the hullabaloo of Christmas has been and gone I tend to sink into an introvert hibernation: the darker days and all that extrovert activity of December catching up with me. There is always the fear I will sink too far and not be able to function, or fight my way past my gloom.

It’ s not that there is no light around; it sneaks in, peeps briefly through the clouds in a friend’s kindness, the kids’ capacity for joy and affection, damn good food, or wine by the fire. It’s my ability to drink it deeply and let it bring me life that is stunted this time of year.

 
Those who know me well will know that I am a woman of action, of pre-emptive measures. I should have been a girl guide but no self-respecting baptist back in the day went in for that sort of thing. This combined with the fear of really going down meant I put a lot in my arsenal this year. I have my herbal meds (5HTP and Higher nature’s ‘balance for nerves’), my daily walk, my SAD lamp and a week’s retreat from life (coming this weekend). And, do you know, for me this combination helps. I am not all singing all dancing, but I am above functional and that feels….well, ok actually.

Mullans from Ireland, you’re playing catch up….

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I’d like to draw your attention to this sweet family scene above. A new Xmas board game is getting its first outing, children eat cookies baked by the youngest child who was also taught to sew this morning and made that little pig to her right. Lovely.

And completely misrepresentative of the rest of our Christmas.

This has been the Christmas of sloth and pyjamas, of square-eyed children and inert parents. We’re all tired at the end of a long term, I have had crappy, crappy, sleep and all but Jayber were hit, to varying extremes, by the annual Xmas tummy bug. So it was just so much easier to not care who got dressed (we later discovered Caleb had worn the same socks for a whole week) or who ate what when and just keep handing the kids various devices when we were just too tired to engage . The upside to this approach is it cuts down on the washing drastically, but leads to cranky kids who know they are being fobbed off.

So we’ve reached the end of the Xmas hols all feeling a bit FNUH, like it all went by in a blur of duvets and screen time. I couldn’t quite send them back to school like that, with a fnuh Xmas. After a good 8 hours sleep last night (finally), we were in full quality-time mode this morning, with the monopoly and the cookies and the sewing. After cheese toasties for lunch (that counts as home-cooked, right?) we did the full loop of the forest with wellies for ultimate mud squelching.

The various blogs I have visited this past year, which have mostly had a crochet theme to them, are full of gorgeous photos of perfection. Perfect styling, perfect family behaviour, they all look idyllic. I come away sometimes feeling less inspired and more bitter and twisted. Less-than. Now, this is my stuff, the jealousy and the perfectionism, but I think the above picture demonstrates that any moment in time can be spun any which way. You haven’t heard the mean things I said to my husband earlier in the week or the harsh discipline I meted out to one child, or the way I ignored the needs of another. Family life is complicated and hard. It always feels like uncharted territory. Thank God for a few moments of grace where we enjoy each other, laugh and connect.

( Anybody other than my husband get the game show reference in the title?)

Reboot

Jayber’s one man mission to get everyone back blogging has slowly been wearing me down. I stopped blogging when it became another thing to put on the to-do list and an outlet for my perfectionism rather than creativity and honest expression.

2013 was a year of the small and the necessary. I began the year with burn-out, an holistic exhaustion, and I have spent the rest of the year slowing clawing my way back to health and wholeness and preventing relapse. It’s been a year of saying ‘no’, being careful, living life with very wide margins. But it’s begun to feel like those margins are so wide they haven’t left a whole lot of space in the middle to actually live. The fear of burn out has begun to make life boring.

2014 is about coming out of survival mode. I have no idea how to do this. In the past 15 years I have had chronic fatigue, two episodes of depression and now burn-out and it often feels like they have permanently left me depleted. As each one came, decimated me and then passed, my battery never seemed to fully recharge back to its previous level. I marvel at my fellow students who manage to do this degree with full-time jobs, or my friends in church who combine busy home lives with running various ministries. I don’t seem to have that extra gear. Or perhaps what the fatigue, the depression and the burn-out have taught me is to stop pushing myself, that striving never ends up any place good.

So here I am between my own particular rock and hard place: I’m done with surviving, but how do I live without striving? (unintentional rhyme, I promise). Perhaps that’s where I am with blogging too; somewhere between needing the discipline of it to stimulate creativity but not wanting the discipline to become another burden to carry.
I’m tempted by a return to 365ing- it’s like the all-bran of blogging, keeping you brief and regular. But perhaps if Jayber’s blog revival evangelism takes hold then the blogosphere itself will create a conversation worth following and inspire us all.