The middle

The middle

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Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.

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I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:

Work

I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…

nope

Self-care

Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?

Body

I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing

Marriage

He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.

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Lianne, two years on

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Dearest Lianne,

1. It’s been two years since you died. Two fucking years. It feels like a lifetime. It feels like a week.

2. I miss you.

3. August used to be my favourite month. My birthday! Summer! No hellhole that I will never escape from aka school! You remember 🙂 Now I dread August because I know what’s coming and the deep well of grief that I will topple into.

4. Next week I will be 32, and you will forever be frozen in amber at 30. Part of me realises you’d be amused by this. At the thought of yourself young and beautiful whereas I get older, fatter, more wrinkled.

5. I read this advice column again and again. This sentence in particular hits me like a blow: ‘It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was 45 years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be—my mother at 89, my mother at 63, my mother at 46. Those things don’t exist. They never did.’

6. I haven’t yet accepted that your life was 30 and a half years long. That there never was or will be anything more. It was only my expectation, and yours, that we would sit with Debs, Ros and Greg in the nursing home and cackle about the male nurses. You will never be 70 or 50 or even 31 – and it breaks my fucking heart again.

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7.  I think about you at the oddest times when I see a grumpy cat that looks like you, a kitkat, or watching Sleepy Hollow and thinking ‘I have to tell Lianne about this’ and then remembering I can’t.

8. I collect quotes about grief like a macabre magpie. Why? Because knowing that other people ‘get it’ makes me feel less alone.

‘It turns out that Hollywood has grief and loss all wrong. The waves and spikes don’t arrive predictably in time or severity. It’s not an anniversary that brings the loss to mind, or someone else’s reminiscences, nor being in a restaurant where you once were together. It’s in the grocery aisle passing the romaine lettuce and recalling how they learned to make Caesar salad, with garlic-soaked croutons, because it was the only salad you’d agree to eat. Or when you glance at a rerun in an airport departure lounge and it’s one of the episodes that aired in the midst of a winter afternoon years earlier, an afternoon that you two had passed together. Or on the rise of a full moon, because they used to quote from The Sheltering Sky about how few you actually see in your entire life. It’s not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It’s phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there’s nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away.’

9. I’m celebrating my birthday this year. The first year I celebrated, numb to what had happened waiting for the feelings to rush back in. Last year I cancelled all plans and just spent time with HWSNBN who didn’t mind when I started crying into my meal. This year I’m going out with the other people who knew you and loved you. I’m going to drink big fruity cocktails, dance to cheesy music, and if I cry, and I will, I’m going to pretend that my tears are glitter.

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10. I have been and always shall be your friend. I’m glad to have known you. Thank you for that gift my friend. Thank you for everything.

love Row xxx

Limbo

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So far, 2013 has been very tough. I only realised just how tough it had been when the pressure alleviated and I felt like I could breathe again.

In early January I found out that somebody I love most in this world was seriously ill and it could be cancer. All I could think was not again, I can’t watch somebody else I love die. The universe cannot possibly be this cruel. While knowing that the universe is exactly this capricious and cruel.

I hardly told anybody. I was worried that if I spoke the words it would make it real. Even telling my best friends was so difficult. When I plucked up the courage to tell my counsellor, after 30 minutes of babbling about nothing, she cried with me. She knew better than anybody how devastating this would be.

I am not somebody who embraces uncertainty and unknowing. I am a bit of a control freak (with weekly, monthly, yearly and five yearly plans). But living in limbo seemed easier than hearing the worst. I dreaded the test results day. I lied to myself that I was coping well until I had a crying fit about our fridge breaking and realised it was nothing to do with the fridge at all.

We got the results and it wasn’t cancer but something else. Yes, he would need treatment but he was going to be OK. That night I slept better than I had in months. When I went for a walk the next day although nothing externally had changed, everything had. I was no longer living in limbo and the relief was amazing. The storm has passed but it has left its mark. So I am going to hug the people I love very tightly, as if it might be the last time. I am going to breathe in and out until the anxiety lessens. I am going to live, fully and deeply and so should you.

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