Sunday, 20 November 2011


Depression can make you do some bloody barking things. Even afterwards, when you aren't in the abyss. I've written about black dogs, and howling madness, but I find sometimes the most aggravating of all things related to mental health are the niggles, the things you can't trust, the draw of magical thinking and other delusions, the mind games your brain can play on you.

I'm an okay baker, if not a great cook or a prospective contestant for GBBO, but I like making them, stirring, watching them rise. I like playing with icing and making things to go on top, I enjoy the moment where butter-icing goes glossy then fluffs back up. Mostly though, I enjoy doing something soothing, which I've learned by rote and can do, if not with my eyes exactly closed then without the a recipe book open or having to double check what I'm doing.

Since I learned to bake a cake, and got good enough to do it so it was raised and bouncy, and usually nice enough for compliments I've taken it on as a feather in my cap and something to rely on. A standby skill. An easy cooking target. An open goal for my self-esteem and sense of self, especially when things are hairy. I've also noticed that though whipping up (well, folding carefully) a lemon drizzle which rises like a Madeira sponge can be a real boon if I'm feeling a bit shit and want to cheer myself up, when the shit really hits the fan for me, so too does any hope for my cooking.

When I had pnd I lost my ability to bake. I still get the shudders when I think of one disaster, I still had some skills, the sponge was bouncy and nice enough for the back of a WI table, but the icing? It was melted almost to a glaze. Except it wasn't a glaze, it was a pool of sludge dripping over the lip of the plate.

I made one cake without butter. I forgot it, although in a completest way - I never even got it out. This isn't to mention the two cakes I dropped - only one of which was at least fixable in a stick-together-with-jam-and-hope-no-one-notices way.

A fiendishly clever foodblogger I know once told me she couldn't make mayonnaise after a terrible heartbreak. I wonder how common it is? And whether it is just food? Certainly I know other by rote actions, learned and almost automatic can falter in the face of depression and great sadness (sex, reading, puzzles, playing music), although it is hard to know whether apathy is overriding the learned-so-well-you-can-do-it-with-your-eyes-closed-ness, or somehow you are sabotaging anything which might be fun or instigate any sense of self worth.

For Spider-boy's first birthday we made him bread. And my husband had to handhold me through a caramel cake which disguised any imperfections with thick, thick chocolaty silky sauce for the grown ups. Those were dark days, it took pretty much up to his 2nd birthday for me to be confident of getting it right and even then I needed help with the icing.

For Newborn's first birthday I was quietly confident with my cocky idea for icing, and hadn't even bothered thinking, let alone worrying, about the vanilla sponge base. I wasn't even perturbed by knowing I was only getting back from a business trip midevening the night before so I'd have to throw it together after the boys' bedtime and stick it in the oven at 10pm.

I got mine. It fell in, and shrank, and collapsed. A metaphor for a melting mind, a sign of bad stuff to come, a reflection on modern life often being rubbish? Were the ingredients wrong, had I been too quick or over confident, were the eggs not room temperature, was it the new greaseproof paper? Whatever it was, the cake (see above) was a bloody mess, like me I'd say, sweet enough but saggy in the middle, insubstantial, and not appropriate for public display.

Obviously a cake's a cake, and a mistake is a mistake, and it is possible for anyone to funk up a bake. And I know both this and that almost certainly there was something about the eggs being too cold or some such. But I had to make sure. So I baked the cake again, on the brink of midnight, in exactly the same way, just to check. And thus in my attempt to prove to myself I hadn't gone crackers, behaved as if I was completely half-baked.

I just told my husband about this post, explaining it was about the disastrous cake and saying I found writing a conclusion tough. 'Well,' he said, 'Endings are always hard. I suppose it is all about learning things can't be perfect all the time.'  A wiser man than me.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reckless truthes: Blogging & therapy

Blake Morrison, one of my literary idols, wrote a wonderful memoir called And When Did You Last See Your Father? It isn't my favourite of his books, I prefer the engaging enraging force of exploration behind As If, his account of covering the trial of the two children accused and convicted of murdering James Bulger, which ranges around almost unmanageable into the unimaginable, and probes and pushes and licks the truth to see what it might taste like. But I do love AWDYLSYF, as an elegant and intricate search for the reality of a relationship (Blake's with his father), and indeed a person (who was his father, does Blake know him? when did he last see him? what does his death mean?). The thundering intent Morrison displays in his search through memory, significant and banal, and his meticulous intrusion on his own thoughts has sifted around in my own self-conscious ponderings since I read it a decade ago.

I'm thinking about it now though because I was looking at some classics of family literature, and I discovered it was described, by Roy Hattersley in The Guardian, as a 'near-masterpiece' in which Morrison writes with 'a reckless respect for the truth'. Such a wonderful phrase, worthy indeed of Morrison himself.

People often ask how much I censor from this blog, how much I tell and whether I check myself. I do, of course, check myself. Both out of personal vanity, and respect for my children, husband, wider friends and families and their own private lives.

I'm interested though, in this dance of show and tell, and the degree to which telling the whole truth, hand on Bible style, and telling part of it with a spin pan out. Which is better for me, as a person, and for those who chose to read what I write? I'm reminded particularly of therapeutic relationships of which I have now had many - some searched out with force and determination others thrust upon me by institutions bigger than myself.

I always thought therapy, and the talking cure was about saying EVERYTHING and holding it out laid bare. Revealing for all to see the mad woman in the attic. But just as when I started using facebook, or twitter, I was briefly overcome by a lack of anything to say so too I am made mute even in a therapy room sitting by a bunch of tissues, or worse, for me at least and my sense of overriding parental failure, kneeling on the floor with one of my sons. I find myself lost in a sea of thoughts unable to find the beginning, to know where to start my story - did post-natal depression begin in the labour ward, the first nights of motherhood, in my pregnancy, in my dreams and expectations as a child playing with dollies (playing mummy even when I was probably a little too old)?

I have to see a psychologist at the moment, as part of a programme for supporting parents with very difficult non-sleepers, but also I fantasise and suspect, partly because I am being checked up upon this time after floundering around a lot last time. I say have to, of course I could not engage but I feel I should because I don't want to appear someone not interested in getting help for their baby and because it is starting to give me hope that we may be able to calm him down one day and all get enough sleep to not be thatfamily, all wobbly and sleepy and at the end of our collective tethers.

In talking about my son's lack of sleep many things come up, things which may or may not have a lot to do with why he screams and rails all night and behaves like he is new, just born and desperate to feed and responds with fury when he isn't being held all night (all at almost a year old).

Ideas about whether my behaviour is reflecting anxieties about my poor abilities at a mother, my fears of depression returning and the possibly terrible effects of my previous depression on Spider-boy. Thoughts about whether Newborn is still traumatised by being so very ill when he was tiny, unable to breath, fed through a tube, stuck in a cot because of his tubes and monitors unable to be cuddled by me? Interest in why I feel resistant to help (both in terms of sabotaging it and like a flame retardent blanket, repelling help). Talk of why still, I'm so shamefully, furious and easily rocked by my first labour, why I feel hatred and anger about my treatment, what it was about that night which still makes me, if I'm feeling sad or vulnerable enough, throw up with the force of my rage (and then just feel like I am lying in the cool thickness of the diving pool about to exhale and plunge down).

And more curiously, how the woman I was before I was crazy might have something fundamental to do with how I became the woman I was when I was crazy. What it is about me, not in a catastrophizing or narcissistic way, that lead me to that point, and what I might do to stop it all being so easily stirred up, and move to new ways of thinking so I have the courage to hold my own at night time and try and find a new pattern.

These are hypotheses, talking points, suggestions. Others may simply think I should let my baby cry or put up and shut up that he doesn't sleep. In the therapy room it is all incredibly calm and increasingly helpful, but Holy fuck is it depressing too. And like all therapy it is more helpful but sometimes tougher when you have to get down to brass tacks and give straight answers about yourself, thoughts which have been niggling around all along. I use this blog sometimes as a sounding out board, a place to muse and think and reflect and often come back to the ideas which prompt me to post when I'm in a therapy setting.

But blogging and therapy are similar for me, in the powerful pull they have towards wanting to TELL EVERYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF and, of course, the desire, sometimes too strong, others not strong enough, to protect yourself from thinking about things you don't want to, or portraying yourself in a particular way or offering a window for insight you don't want to hear or know will be wrong.

I hate pat theories - x is like this because y happened to him/her, and hate having to rehash the history of me to sift for reasons and answers in memories good and bad. For all my naval gazing I prefer to stick to my current existence, the me now and fairly recent me. But I wonder sometimes if in my fear of overstepping by telling too much, and my vanity, I underplay by not telling crucial bits of the puzzle.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Repeat to fade

All I want is a good night's sleep
I love Newborn dearly but I don't want to hear a peep
So he'd better learn to count some sheep
'Cos a good night's sleep would be loverly LOV-ER-LY

You have more than a room somewhere
A lovely cot built with swearing and care
Monkey, giraffe, your book and a bear
So why, won't you sleep, my loverly? LOV-ER-LY

Your face is as perfect as a face could be
You're like a tyrant sweetheart, can't you see?
I know like you the fault lies with me
But some sleep (you know sleep?) would be loverly. LOV-ER-LY

I love you more than I ever could say
And I almost love our midnight play
But I really do long for the day
When you sleep for a night my loverly. LOV-ER-LY

On saturday you turn will one
A baby no more, you're a toddler my son
A year? Surely you know the battle is won...
So please let me sleep my little one. LITTLE ONE

I want you happy and loved you know
And safe and warm 'til the morning glow
But I'd cut off a finger or a toe
For just one full sleep my lover-ly. LOV-ER-LY

I know this isn't a traditional song
Writing it down seems a little bit wrong
But by God I really do long
For a good night's sleep my lover-ly.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Spider-boy has been shorn. A quick trim to curtail the curls tickling his eyes became a short back and sides. In a sitcom moment I both showered him in compliments and kisses whilst mouthing to thathusband: 'What have you done to my baby?'.

He looks sweet. And grown up (therein lies perhaps part of my instinctive mock-horror response, I am increasingly perturbed by the ease with which he assumes older and older guises, my fears rooted in those expressed in the post Tick Tock).

Also, however, he looks cheeky. All school boy crooked smile and sticky out ears. He looks like an extra in Just William, like if he were in short trousers and an untucked shirt (rather than the jersey and polyester of his more modern school uniform) he'd be scaling walls to go scrumping and playing practical jokes on sweet shop owners alongside a young Roald Dahl in Boy.

It is funny how a haircut can do that. It doesn't affect his behaviour, he's exactly as exuberant, occasionally over the top, socially confident, slightly cheeky, caring of his little friends, fun to be with, testing of boundaries, physically charged and desperate to explore as he ever was. But gets chastised more even in the few days since the chop.

I've noticed the snarl, rather than the benevolent smile on buses. He looks older than his years (well a crucial 18 months older, so is expected to behave like he's in Y1 or Y2 by strangers), and combining the grown up cut with his height it is easy to make a snapshot judgement that he's behaving exactly as young four-year-olds behave at 5/6 so ergo must be a naughty bad boy who needs admonishments and raised voices. I've also noticed how this makes him briefly withdrawn, confused at the less kind interpretation of his behaviour which hasn't changed. The emphasis, happily, is on 'briefly' though.

He'll cope, though, mostly as like all four-year-olds he has a brief attention span (rather than a dastardly wish to disobey), an inquisitive mind (so he tests out 'rules' and wants to try out things he learns but sort of understands why he's sometimes told off for it), and is fairly water off a duck's back with bollockings, in public at least.

I'm an eldest child and have been the oldest runner in groups, been tall and looked older than I was. I still have a 'haircut', or as much as can be done with a mound of untameable curls, which affects the way people treat me. Twice recently I've been asked about being new to my job (a field I've been in for nearly 8 years), treated like someone not particularly senior, by people who have merely seen the hair as I've arrived early, after a long journey across the country, fully equipped and ready to be professional. I am guessing it is the hair, mainly as these are the same people who haven't made such judgements on email or the phone, but only when they've met me and see an overflowing barnet over a smart blue coat. Perhaps I need to start wearing a badge which says 'I do use serum, I'm 34, I can (mostly) control my life and these are my qualifications:...'.

It doesn't really harm, this hair judgement, annoying though it can sometimes be. And for Spider-boy I'm hopeful he'll wind up merely a bit over sensitive to it like me, although I'm wondering if that will even be a problem. His ears may stick out more now, but he can still be selective in his hearing, an aggravation but sometimes a charm. Take Monday night, for example, when I had invoked some wrath. He paused to deliver his ultimate threat, rolling it round in his mouth and thinking over recent days at what would hurt me most before his eyes lit up. Saturday's kiss shower echoed in his words as he shouted:

'You know Mummy, that is it. I am not going to let you look at my new haircut ANY MORE!'

With which he stomped off into the playroom to hide the new himself from my sight.