makar [ˈmækər]
n (Literature / Poetry) Scot a creative artist, esp a poet
[a Scot variant of maker]

Monday, April 17, 2017

I've been trying for ages to write something about anxiety, but I haven't been able to work out what I want to say. A month or so ago, I agonised over a post and then somehow managed to accidentally delete it. I took this as a sign, but also, to be honest, I just didn't have it in me to rewrite it. I never considered myself anxious, until I came to the realisation that the frustrating and somewhat erratic reactions of one of my kids was down to anxiety. I'd always considered anxious people to be super organised, neat types, who overthink every tiny detail and attempt to control and order all aspects of their lives. I was a bit of a worrier, but not anxious; a little lackadaisical and slapdash if anything. I took risks and was reckless at times; I was often more scared of not doing things, than of doing them. It was only through trying to understand the responses of my child to certain situations that I began to see that I too had irrational reactions to areas of my life; that there were activities and scenarios that I avoided at all costs; that my anxiety sometimes paralysed me. Of course, some anxiety is okay - it keeps us safe - but not when it reaches a debilitating level. Mine stops me from doing and enjoying certain things. It would be good to find a way around that, but if I can't, then so be it. The problem is when something traumatic happens, which feeds that baseline of anxiety and confirm its necessity: "You were right - bad stuff stuff does happen. See!" Last year, it was a miscarriage, 5 years ago it was a high risk result for downs syndrome, a few years earlier it was crashing the car, further back it was my mum dying, and so on and so on. These events have flipped me into a whole other dimension of anxiety, where my thoughts spiral out of all control and way beyond the reach of rationality. More than anything, anxiety is exhausting; it sucks up energy. I know there is no quick fix - that it is a question of managing it, rather than overcoming it - but I've also come to conclude that certain habits are a way of coping: reading, drawing, walking. These are the things I turn to when the world gets too loud, too fast, too much. They are solitary and slow and occupy me to the extent that time moves at a different pace. Anxiety seems like a totally reasonable reaction to our crazy world and way of living - it is certainly something you hear a great deal about these days - and I guess, sooner or later, we might all have to find our own ways to survive its tight grip.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm really good at remembering dates, which is great for history exams and appointments, but not so much for days you'd rather not recollect. I was going to have a baby this month. In recent weeks, there have been many humid, hot days, when I've thought how awful it would be to be in my final weeks of pregnancy, but still, there is no escaping it. It has been there, always, in the back of my mind. Mostly, I'm okay with it now. I have a lot of distractions, not least of all the tiny girl that squirms around inside me and makes my hips ache. Then, last week, when talking about something quite removed from the subject, I unexpectedly lost it and, once again, sobbed my heart out. It was cathartic, it felt like a release, and it left me exhausted.

The day I realised I was pregnant with that baby, days before my period was due, I was crossing the bridge on the train, when I saw two dolphins just below me. They were so close and so majestic, and I just had this very strong feeling that I was pregnant. And then all those weeks later, when I was sitting on a balcony on Rottnest Island, I saw a pod of dolphins in the bay. It was a subdued, cloudy day, but the light was incredible and seemed to match my grief and sense of helplessness at realising that there was no hope for this little life that was leaving my body. It felt special seeing them - a moment of beautiful, painful clarity in the fog of confused emotions. Yesterday, I was going over the bridge, as I now do every day, when I spotted them, far away this time, moving slowly through the flat, opaque water, like black stitches through steel-grey silk, and even though I see them all the time in the river, I felt suddenly overcome with loss and the tears welled up behind my sunglasses and ran down my cheeks. 

In the weeks after my miscarriage, I really wasn't sure that we would try again. I'm so pleased we did, and, as my daughter said: "If we'd had the other baby, then we wouldn't have this one." And, of course, she's right. 


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"Be careful. Don't read too much news." This is what my doctor said to me last time I saw her. Wise words, especially when addressing someone with a baby in their belly and anxiety. And yet, it's pretty hard to turn away and block out all that is happening in the world right now. I used to be a news addict before I had children. I listened religiously to radio news, read the newspapers, checked the websites all day long, and when, after university, I didn't have a job for a few months (just a string of unpaid work experience placements, two in national newspapers), I obsessively watched coverage of the Iraq war.

Once I became a mum, I stopped; I just couldn't stomach it anymore. It was a matter of survival. The small, immediate world of caring for my children couldn't exist alongside this huge, deeply troubling museum of horrors, so I turned away from it. But, of course, you can't live in a bubble forever; to ignore anything that doesn't directly impact on you is a kind of wilful negligence. It is to be complicit in some way with the bad things that are happening. So I started listening and reading again (although I draw the line at television news and have happily survived without a television for more than a decade), and to care about what was going on beyond my narrow day-to-day world. Anxiety is an entirely normal response to the news and yet, I believe it's important to know these things. I also have to function, as we all do, on another scale and, to do so, I need to be my own censor.

We apologise for worrying about the little things, for our "first-world problems", but this is what anchors us, this is what stops us from spinning out of control. I need to worry about what to cook for dinner, to fret over the kids' behaviour and friendships, to write lists of baby names and shopping and odd jobs, to procrastinate over my work, and to deliberate about the rickety fence and the higgledy piggledy garden and the mismatched furniture. It's a question of finding the balance.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

So it's a pretty standard holiday story. You go away and the kids swim and walk and cycle all day, eat foods that are normally treats, sleep well because they are physically exhausted, and are generally very happy to be lavished with attention from two parents and allowed to do all the things they love to do. Meanwhile, you watch on, delighting in the way it ought to be, this raising kids malarky, maybe even manage to read an entire book, actually have a conversation or two with one another, and inevitably indulge in the-why-don't-we-move-here-fantasy. And of course, we did do all this last week. We'd planned a business, selected a street to live on, even noticed a possible school...but it was all a FANTASY. Just part of going away to a different place and doing things differently and wondering what if... I love where we live and I have no real desire to move anywhere else, but still, there is something special about going away and seeing an alternative way of being. So rather than pack our bags, we decided to think about what made being on holiday better than not being on holiday, and to attempt to bring some of those things back with us to our everyday life. I won't bore you with all the details but let's just say less technology is good, so is lots of unscheduled time, cooking together seems to make eating together a lot more enjoyable, and spending as much time as possible outdoors in nature makes everyone happier. Simple, right?




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Monday, January 2, 2017

I love the end of the year - it brings a sense of closure and introspection and the opportunity to instigate some changes. In the last few days of 2016, I thought about what I want to focus on over the coming year and, in particular, over the next five months before our baby is due. I jotted down a list of what I'd like to achieve in this brief window of semi-freedom, while my third is in full-time education and my baby is still self-contained. It was an ambitious list, but not one beyond the realms of possibility. I'm hoping it will keep me on track. We shall see...

But a list is not a resolution and, by New Year's Eve, I still hadn't decided on one. Where to begin? There are so many things that I could do better, so much room for improvement. And then it came to me: something simple and entirely possible that would improve my well-being and my productivity. I would resolve to write every single day, no matter what. It needn't be a 1000-words of fiction, or anything meaningful or even good; I just need to write, be it a scrawled paragraph of a novel, a new plot-line development, a quick character sketch, a rant about a personal encounter or experience, an observational description of the colours or smells or feel of the day, even a blog post... just write every day.


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