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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11 years of us

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In what has become an annual tradition around these parts, here is my anniversary letter to my other half He Who Shall Not Be Named. Because what is a blog for if not to be horrendously self indulgent?

Dear HWSNBN,

11 years ago today I was pre-drinking blue Wkds at my flat in Seven Dials with my friends unaware that in less than five hours my life would change and that I was heading out to meet my future husband.

Now, 11 years down the line I still can’t quite believe that I get to be with you. I am so lucky to have met you. (I think I used up all my luck in that one moment and I have never regretted it since.) You are still the first person I want to talk to when I wake up and the last person I wish to see before I fall asleep.

Words fail to express how much you mean to me, yet every year inadequately I try.

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When I was little I was obsessed with Morticia and Gomez Addams. They loved each other so intensely, not in spite of their strangeness but because of it. And I worried would anybody every love me as odd as I was? You do.

I know I can drive you crazy for all the wrong reasons. And that you have a way of infuriating me like few other people could master.

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This year has been full of ups and downs and infertility has a way of shattering the strongest couples. But it feels like the tough times have only tempered our relationship making it stronger. Thank you for always being there for me.

I’ve always believed that loving somebody is the millions of small choices you make each and every moment. Thank you for choosing me and I chose you, then, now, forever.

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Love now and forever,

Me xxx

What I learnt about marriage, two years in

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Two years ago, I married HWSNBN. In front of friends of family I vowed to:

‘love you til the seas run dry, until the sun grows cold and the stars grow old. And if there is another life beyond this, I will love you there too. With these words, and all the words of my heart, I marry you and bind my life to yours.’

One of the oddest things about being married is how natural it feels. I never dreamt I’d be this conventional. Growing up I wanted a loving partner eventually, but a husband never seemed part of my story. As HWSNBN delights in telling people in the early days of our relationship I vehemently announced I didn’t believe in marriage. But I love being married, and here’s the important bit, to him. Here is what I learnt about my marriage two years in.

It feels odd talking about our marriage even to a compulsive oversharer like me. It’s just not done. Other people’s marriages are another country, with their own secret languages and minefields. I am insatiably curious about what goes on there. (Seriously people, tell me more about what goes on in your relationship.)

In the first two years of a relationship you talk endlessly to your friends about ‘what’s going on.’ Why do the conversations about relationships stop? Is it because I don’t want to see the look of fear in their eyes when I tell them that sometimes when he has a cold he coughs in such an intensely irritating way I want to jab an icepick in his ear. Is it because if I have to hear about how my friends boyfriend prowess in bed or lack thereof and then sit opposite him in the pub, I might jab an icepick in my ear. Or is it because it gets bit boring.

People talk a lot about the wedding but not about the marriage. That ratio feels wrong. A wedding is day and if you’re lucky and I was it’s a really fucking good day. But marriage is what happens when the confetti has blown away, when the champagne is long drunk and live begins again. I really want to ask people questions like: how do you fight? How do you listen to somebody tell the same boring story about their day again? How do you stay together even when tragedy drops the sky?

Marriage is half luck, half work. As is said in our wedding reading. ‘Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.’ The fortunate accident is that in this big world we found each other because I cannot imagine doing this with anybody else. And yes, Tim I get the odds. But I still feel so lucky to have met you HWSNBN. As in I must have saved children from a burning building in a previous life lucky.

I try to not be complacent about marriage. I went into it knowing that half of marriages end in divorce. Statistically we have a fifty/fifty chance at best. I wouldn’t bet on anything else with those odds but I bet on us. And that’s not including the odds of us being separated by something outside of our control: death. So we try hard to be there for each other. To carve out little oasises of time for us. There are some things I just tell him. And vice versa. And whenever we can we dance by the light of the moon. It’s work but it doesn’t feel hard not yet anyway…

I love this quote from Tim Dowling: ‘A little paranoia is a good thing in marriage; complacency is the more dangerous enemy. You should never feel so secure that you are unable to imagine the whole thing falling apart over a long weekend. I can’t give you an exact figure for how many sleepless nights per year you should spend worrying that you’re going to die alone and unhappy if you don’t get your shit together spouse-wise, but it’s somewhere between five and eight.’

In recent months I seriously haven’t had my shit together spouse-wise. I work full-time and also am out most evenings counselling. When I’m not doing those things I am mostly staring at the wall and rocking. Connecting with my husband has moved further down the list as I struggle to find time to do the most basic things to keep myself functioning. I asked him if he felt abandoned expecting anger or hurt. But he simply said: ‘I miss you but I understand. This is not forever and it’s for us.’ I am so much harder on myself than he could ever be. Reader I loved him even more. For example: tonight instead of doing anything elaborate or romantic we’re spending it at home as I am bedridden with a cold. That is love.

People ask me what’s changed. Nothing has. Everything has. The most concrete difference is we fight differently. Before for me, at least, when we fought things felt unstable. There was always the nuclear options of running out the door. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Now when we argue it feels like we are both in the same ship bailing out from the tide. Sometimes we bicker fiercely over the tiller. But we still have the same goal, to keep the boat afloat. That helps. Knowing the way I know which way north is that we are in this together.

It’s nice to have somebody on on my side. So on my side he’ll call me on my bullshit.

There is a sweet spot between connection and distance. He’s my crack. If I could spent every moment together I would because I like the way he makes me feel safe as if nothing bad can touch me. Even if I know that’s not true. But it’s not good for me to always be together. It’s not for us. It’s not for our friends and family who want to spend time for us as people not as a couple. Spend too much time together and I begin to take him for granted. Being alone feels great the first night. I get shit done. I indulge in secret single behaviour (you know eating salted caramel sauce from a saucepan. With your finger. Just me eh?). But my day two I feel hollow as if some part of me has been amputated. I hate it. But I need time apart like a drink of fresh water to remind me of who I am without him. To remind me of how much I love and miss him.

Sometimes I spy him from a distance and I fall in love him all over again. His posture. That vulnerable spot at the nape of his neck. The way he throws his head back exposing his molars when he laughs.

We are stronger together. Without him, I would be a social recluse happier with books than people. Without me, he would be a bear in a china shop unaware of the undercurrents of polite behaviour.

We’ve been together ten years now. I’m not the same girl I was when I met him. My hair is shorter, my waistbands bigger. He’s changed too. But at moments I get glimmers of the boy he was when I first met him faintly like seeing something through water. His fluffy hair, the interest he takes in everything, the way he holds my hand. Softly as if I am precious.

Marriage is a choice we both make daily. I chose him when he’s popping to the supermarket and I chase after him kissing him ‘goodbye’ as if we’re starring in brief encounters. In case something awful happens I want him to know how much I love him. He hasn’t lived a life in the shadow of uncertainty like I have but he choses me when we kisses me back even though he thinks it’s silly. It’s on such small compromises that a marriage is made.

I chose him when I want to gnaw apart our relationship like an animal in a trap because I cannot stand another repetitive fight about who left crumbs on the bathroom floor but I stay. He chooses me when I woke from my frequent nightmares and he holds me close, strokes my hair and tells me I’ll be OK. He never seems to get bored or frustrated with telling me things are OK.

Over the last year we’ve been struggling with some tough things. But it’s only made us stronger. I chose him when I collapse in pieces on the bathroom floor knowing that he will catch me, always. He chooses me when he picks me up and patiently pieces me back together. He chooses me when he says he is sad knowing that I will hold him until it fades. Even if it takes days.

There are only two pieces of relationship advice I have. The first is figure out: what are you really fighting about? HWSNBN and have two main fights we’ve perfected through long and tedious repetition. The first fight is he loves order and cleanliness and although I like tidiness, I want a flat I can live in more. It was when we were conducting this fight like old pro’s for the 50 millionth time that I realised what we were really fighting about. He was really saying: I want you to respect my need to feel in control of my environment. And I was really saying: I need a space in our flat and to feel like I matter in this relationship. Once we discovered that we could talk about what we were actually fighting about.

My second relationship lesson? Be kind. This less a relationship lesson than a life lesson. You will never regret being kind.

OK, so talk to me in the comments about your relationships past and present. What have you learnt, what have you unlearnt?

Ten years of us

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Dear HWSNBN,

Ten years ago today I was sat next to you in the Funky Fish as this song played:

Praying you’d kiss me. Some wild god must have heard because you finally did and I realised that I never wanted to stop kissing you.

Us the day after. Already I'd decided I didn't want to part from you
Us the day after. Already I’d decided I didn’t want to part from you

It doesn’t feel like ten years has passed. I still feel as if I’m seeing you, discovering my love for you anew and hope I shall never become jaded to what we have.

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Over the last ten years a lot has happened, even in the last year.

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We’ve been to many, many parties.

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We’ve lived in three places, one separately and two together. In 2007 we bought our flat.

I’ve had ten jobs and you’ve had four, you slacker… 🙂

We’ve made some amazing friends and lost some along the way.

New Zealand 2004, Australia 2014, Cuba 2013, Scotland 2010
New Zealand 2004, Australia 2014, Cuba 2013, Scotland 2010

We’ve had so many adventures travelling to the furthest reaches of this small world.

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You asked me to marry you, and I, of course, said YES. After eight years I had to get used to not being your girlfriend anymore (no more girlfriend points) and becoming your wife.

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You supported me as I retrained in my dream job as a counsellor and never complained about the time I spent studying and with my clients but not with you.

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You can still make me laugh…

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like nobody else can.

There’s been so many changes that at times it feels as if the world is spinning vertiginously around me. But you remain my constant, my north star.

Thank you for loving me, for taking care of me and for letting me take care of you.

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I’m no longer the same girl that you met all those years ago and you aren’t the same boy. But like I wished we’ve grown together not apart. At dinner tonight we sat next to a couple who had been together 50 years, only 40 years to go!

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Happy 10th anniversary HWSNBN. Here’s to us.

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love,

your Rowan

 

 

Spring has sprung

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After a long, wet and windy winter, spring has finally sprung and it’s glorious. Happy spring equinox! There’s something about feeling the sunshine on your skin, on seeing the bright yellow yolks of the daffodils, on the impossible blue of the sky that makes me feel alive.

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Today I walked around campus soaking in the beauty of everything budding, flowering and unfurling. Being outside and connecting to the seasons is Prozac for my soul. I’m really excited because my dad and I are getting an allotment. Yes, I’m embracing my incipient decrepitude by wearing mumus, getting into gardening, and listening to Radio 4.

It’s been a really good month so far. Little over a week ago we landed after going on the holiday of a lifetime to Japan and Australia.

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Yes, it spanned continents but sadly not decades (niche Veronica Mars references, FTW!).  We trawled Tokyo, watched some very lovely people get hitched, saw Duffy at Disneyland, snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, trekked in rainforest, and went on a road trip with our lovely friends down the Great Ocean Road. Even writing about this is giving me pinpricks of joy all over again.

My personal highlight was spending lots of time with my best friend and love of my life HWSNBN. Nine years ago, we travelled around Australia and it was even more magical almost a decade on.

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I’ve started to feel better. It’s no secret that I’ve been finding things tough. But there was something about changing my environment that’s helped me open eyes about some situations I’ve been feeling stuck about and see some solutions I’ve been missing.

Like Persephone I had to spend some time in the darkness before emerging into the light.  I know it will all be OK, even if it takes a while. I will be OK. And that’s worth celebrating.

Dearest HWSNBN

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Dearest HWSNBN,

Happy nine-year anniversary! Just writing those words, I feel so old like an ancient relic. But it doesn’t feel like it’s been nine years. I can remember as if was yesterday being that girl sitting in a dingy club wishing with every fibre of her being that the boy sitting next to her would just kiss her. And when that kiss happened, it was worth the wait. You were worth the wait. Almost a decade on you still give me butterflies.

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I have nightmares sometimes and the most terrifying one even worst than the ferret man (*shudders*) is the ‘what ifs’. What if I hadn’t gone to Sussex? What if I hadn’t lived in Park Village in the house next door to you? What if I hadn’t become friends with Sam? What if I had skipped graduation? What if I hadn’t gone out that fateful night nine years? What if  I had never met you. These thoughts terrify me because you have utterly and inexorably changed my life for the better. I can’t imagine who I would be without you but I know I would be lesser, less happy, less grounded and less me.

My love for you grows everyday until I wonder how my body can contain it. Thank you for loving for me. Thank you for making this year despite all the sadness the best year of my life by marrying me. Nine months ago I vowed  ‘to love you til the seas run dry, until the sun grows cold and the stars grow old. And if there is another life beyond this, I will love you there too.’ I still mean every word and I always will.

Happy anniversary HWSNBN and here’s to another year with you. I can’t wait,

love me xxx

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2012: the rollercoaster year that was

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2012 has been a real rollercoaster year. It contained the most magnificient high as I said ‘I do’ and married the love of my life surrounded by my friends and family. I felt so full of absolute joy that day I worried my body would not be able to contain it. I know it’s a total cliche but it really was one of the happiest days of my life.

But 2012 also hosted my lowest day as my best friend Lianne lost her battle with brain tumours and passed away this summer. I still miss her like I have lost a limb and this world seems quieter, duller and empty without her. At points, I really wasn’t sure how I would survive the tsunami of grief. But somehow I have and battered and bruised it’s time for another year.

2012 ripped back the veil I had been hiding behind ever since I was a small child faced with my sisters accident. As children we don’t have the resources to conceptualise sudden tragedy so I decided that if I looked after people and tried to control everything I could keep tragedy at bay. This belief was a comfort blanket but it cost me in guilt as people I love got hurt despite my efforts. Unable to realise that this is how the world works I thought it was my fault: for not planning better, for not loving more. This year I realised that no matter how many plans you make, or how much you love somebody, you cannot keep them safe. Life is random, chaotic and tragedy falls from the sky. You can love somebody so much and still they might be hurt or die. You can do your best and try with every fibre in your being but your life might still fall apart to ashes in your hand. I had a full-on existential crisis. This was both very exciting (as a newbie counsellor I had read about this in books but to experience one first hand!) and horrifically painful and disorientating.

However as my mother, a very wise lady, reminded me it isn’t just tragedy that falls from the sky but serendipity. Life’s a rollercoaster and sometimes you’re at the top and sometimes you’re down and the only guarantee is that everything will change.

And so my wish for you, all my readers and for myself, is sadly not that the year ahead is smooth upward climb for that is outside of our power. But that when the lows come you, and I, have the courage and resilience to hang on tight to that rollercoaster and get through that low until the climb begins again. And when all is going well, we’ll appreciate every tiny moment of it. Here’s to 2013 and whatever it may bring.

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