Thursday, 24 May 2018

FIVE YEARS LATER...

It's taken that long to get where I am today. 

CREATIVE, SENSITIVE AND MOODY
    I'd always been a moody, sensitive, creative child. Over-sensitive, my family - parents and two older brothers - always said. They never understood. They'd tease me and I'd be accused of 'over-reacting'. Double whammy.
      Mother was the dominant daughter of the man who organised the first London Olympics after the war. Says everything, that does. Dad was a shy, loveable police officer. Although we were similar in character, he was benignly negligent of me, my big brother said of him in later years. Despite this, I loved my parents dearly, and we were good friends as I grew up, and enjoyed our conversations. But neither of them knew how to handle my depressions. It wasn't for lack of trying, but since neither of them had suffered from mental disorders (although my paternal granny had during the thirties), and they were products of the wartime 'get on with it' generation, they weren't to understand.
      I felt like a stranger with both of my older brothers as we grew up because I had nothing in common with them beyond our parentage, and they barely spoke to me. The older, posher, one - seven years older than me - joined the navy when I was young so I didn't know him 'till later in life. My other brother was a year-and-a-half older than me, played darts and guzzled beer. He'd grunt at me, and in black and white family photos of us together taken by mother, he's posing to please her, and I'm laughing and looking at him, trying to be friendly, but he's looking sulkily at the ground or at the camera. In later years the sulk vanished but he's still not looking at me. Possibly grinning at the camera. He introduced me to a crowd of his friends once:
     'And this is my sister.'  He sounded embarrassed. It stung me and it's engrained in my head..
     Life consisted of mother's naggings:     
     'Stand up straight.'
     'What do you want to do that for?'
     'You're not a career girl.'
     'Don't stand with your arms crossed. You look like a washer- woman.'
     'You should have thought about that before...' (Fill in gap).
     ...and so forth. Controlling. Although she couldn't control me, because, like her, I'm very strong minded, as is my daughter.

      Life wasn't all bad, but I couldn't tell her certain things, such as the fact that I was investigating Christianity, because she was an aethiest. But I'm deeply grateful that I've inherited my family's irreverent, sometimes ribald humour. We'd have Sunday dinners during the seventies, drinking mother's home-made wine (fab!), accusing dad of 'flying without a licence' because his trouser flies were undone - again, and chortling hysterically over The Goons, or The Navy Lark , two hilarious British radio programmes.
      I was also proud of my parents for being so active and having a variety of interests, including travels abroad and around the UK.
      But as the years progressed, matters grew worse for me. One sister-in-law, married to posher, older brother, was a snob and missed Husband and I off the invitation list to my niece's wedding. We weren't good enough, according to my brother in later years. Other sister-in-law was sarcasm exemplified and many times I received her sharp tongue. I stood up for myself, and negitiviities in general but was told not to 'let it get to me'. So it was my fault! I couldn't win. I grew up with an inferiority complex, was told that I opened my mouth too much, I spoilt everything, I wasn't diplomatic, etcetera...
      Marrying Husband was the best thing I ever did. A great escape from my family, although I didn't realise it at the time. I was jealous of him and his closeness with his siblings, and his brain the-size-of-a-small-planet. A friend of my family told me:
     'You should be honoured that he's marrying you.' 😮
      Even then I was scared before marrying. Am I doing the right thing? My moods yo-yo'd up and down. My brain couldn't cope with it. I'd be tearful and wondered why. But Husband was the best person ever to come into my life. My best friend, my rock. My soul mate. We've been married since 1980, so that must be saying something! People utter: 'Ooh!' when I tell them. 😃 He has the same potty sense of schoolboy humour. He's kind, understanding. As many interests as I have. Wanting to travel and do adventurous things. Creative (writing, art and building his railway) and so humungously supportive over my wild west he created an alias for himself as a quack doctor and joined me at living history camps.

THE KIDS ARRIVED
     Then we had the kids - a girl and a boy. I suffered mild depression during both pregnancies, and because daughter lay back-to-back in my womb, her delivery was agonizing and lengthy. Husband still bears the fingernail marks on his hand.
     It was 12.05 am on 15th February, 1985 when daughter was born. I felt horrible. I cried. (Since that time I've had an unerring desire to catapult newborn babies – particularly ugly ones - through open windows, their arms and legs waving, and see how far they fly! Psychiatrists love me).
      I plastered on a cheerful mask for my parents, when they visited, then howled when Husband's parents arrived, because they would understand. I wanted to go home, no, I didn't. Yes I did. When I did arrive home, the culture shock bashed me in the face. Mother and dad turned up and I howled. I wanted tea, a hug, and sympathy and didn't want to see dad, bless him. She said:
     'Poor dad. You should be happy...'
     I'm humungously creative. I'd travelled. I'm a wild west enthusiast. I wanted adventures. Nowhere had parenthood featured. In many ways I'm like my mother - practical, not given to airy-fairy, loved her own kids and not keen on other peoples' babies, preferred mixed company, and I had assumed that I'd be okay and would simply 'get on with it', and hopefully manage to do some freelance artwork and writing (I had had articles published and sold art). Mother had popped us like peas from a pod, then got on with raising us and pursuing her interests - gardening, tennis, swimming, theatre, walking, pub lunches. She was fine with all of it. When I was seventeen I asked her if she'd considered going back to work.
     'Gosh, no! I want to be my own boss.'
     I get her completely and I expected to be the same, but I hadn't expected to be depressed. I was totally not business minded. Never marketed myself, and have missed countless opportunities. Whether down to laziness, apathy or whatever, I never managed to do it. Besides, there are too many things I want to do to concentrate on just one or two things. There be the renaissance  soul habit.

     I struggled through that first year, but, between ensuring that the kids remained alive and checking the fridge for fungi once a week, I managed a writing course, started writing my epic western novel - feeding my daughter one-handed while typing with the other – and had an art exhibition. I visited toddler groups and started voluntary work. I hated being at home during the day.
    After a year of feeling low and gradually growing accustomed to motherhood, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and prescribed an antidepressant. That helped enormously and I began to feel much better. I've hypothesized since that my daughter's birth was so agonising that I suffered from post traumatic stress disorder on top of clinical post natal depression. Add to that my family's complete lack of emotional understanding and my upbringing and we have a right old psychological conundrum.
     Two years later, we had our son, much to the shock of Husband's mum. But we had always wanted another. We like family, and are both the youngest of three. Again I became depressed during pregnancy, but this birth was easier and I didn't succumb to depression immediately. I was able to enjoy him briefly.  But - shortly after our return home, depression swamped me. This depression was worse. I managed with antidepressants, and over the following years it came and went. Medications were changed, I had talking therapies and I was admitted to hospital briefly.
     'You don't need therapy.' Mother said.
     'You take motherhood too seriously.' Older brother said.
     The following years consisted of coping with children, one of whom had dyslexia. F***k!  I hated it. There were many good times, but I need reminding. Still no understanding from my family. I didn't bring up the subject because the response would be predictable. I told them I'd been to see the doctor about my depression. She responded:
      'The doctor must be fed up with seeing you!'
      I was gobsmacked. I don't remember my response to that.
      'I've never taken your jobs seriously. You don't clean your own home!'
      Her response to my part-time cleaning job.
      I gave her a piece of my mind and Dad forced her to apologise. A long time coming. So - years of this from my family contributed heavily towards my depression. I defended them to  Husband. They were my family, after all.

MEDICATION CRISIS 
      Five years ago I had my medication crisis...
      I'd yo-yo'd up and down over the years, anxiety added to the mix, and various medications tried. My first medication, Prothiaden, had helped me for twenty years. The next one, Venlafaxine, also for anxiety, lasted seven years. That wore off. Just before Christmas five years ago we saw my psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac, then buzzed off on holiday.
      On Christmas day I became suicidal. Husband was desperate. His family came to help. My own family were totally unaware of any of this. Elder brother was caring for our ninety-two year old dad by then. Mother had been in a home with Dementia for ten years. Other brother lived in Wales. He and I barely touched base.
    Husband's family left, but I grew worse. A lovely neighbour drove us to hospital, who gave me tranquilizers. Half the neighbours in the street came into my bedroom where I lay writhing and swearing. Our sweet neighbour said to her mum, who was with us:
     'Mum- didn't you used to work for the mental health team?'
     Those words began my journey towards what is now my absolute, complete recovery.  Bless you, Kate.

SLOWLY BUT SURELY
      The mental health team took me off Prozac and prescribed a medication combination of Mirtazipine and increased dosage of Venlafixine (known as California Rocket Fuel – love it. I said to my mental health nurse practitioner: ‘Gimme! I want!’!) and finally a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The medication lifted me up, up, and up. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I reached a certain point of wellness. I hadn't been that well in years. Then came the therapy, which I'd avoided because I'd always stated that my illness was clinical, not psychological. But when you've suffered from years of depression, your thoughts become distorted and need straightening out. The therapy raised me even more, and husband was seriously brilliant at helping me through it. (We've since learned, through the mental health charity Mind, that years of psychological mistreatment can cause chemical imbalance in the brain, causing depression, not the other way round. Well, blow me down!).
     A year later, my dad died in hospital on Christmas day - Husband and I were with him (I'll always be grateful for that) - and mother, spookily, died a few days later. All familial obligations vanished. I felt freer than I'd ever felt. And I didn't feel guilty. After another year or so, I said:
     'I feel better than I've ever felt - ever. I'm not letting anyone spoil my new found happiness!'
     Which meant ‘divorcing’ certain toxic members of the family, and one or two folk we've known for years, because we now recognise their negative vibes, as we (this includes Husband) have become relaxed to the point of horizontal, and he's started singing around the house! The real me has finally emerged. I was ‘expelled’ from the writing group I'd been a member of for over ten years, for being ‘too' outspoken, saying the ‘f' word – the only time I'd uttered it in ten years - and critiquing others' work (politely!). I'd outgrown the group anyway. I'm confident, my quirkiness is quirky, and I've started wearing my stetson complete with feathers - I'm gonna paint them – with regularity. That's saying something.

      It's been five years since the crisis.
      I theorise that my new medication gave my serotonin - the brain's feel good chemical - a good kick up the rear. I reached a level of wellness I'd never known. Which proves that depression is treatable. The most treatable of mental health issues. It's finding the right treatment that's so hard.
      A couple of years ago I started this blog, Creating My Odyssey. I wanted – needed -  to share my miraculous, stunning journey to complete wellness, and - less altruistically perhaps - to share my journey towards rebuilding a life I'd never had. To showcase my creativity, the travels I could do now, the interests I want to develop. My renaissance soul life.

THE NOVEL
     The next step towards my complete recovery was bringing my epic novel, a major cause of much of my depression, to light. That epic western kept me going through young parenthood and depression. It's given me a ton of angst, adding to my mental troubles.          
     Alias Jeannie Delaney is the life story of a devastating cowgirl who's the fastest gun in the west and also bisexual. The seed of this idea began way back after seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969.

Butch sundance poster.jpgMy fascination for the wild west had grown and I imagined a woman in the role of western hero.        
     The idea was so exciting that it grew until I had a plot in my head. I told no-one, but detail developed until my protagonist had the fastest gun, was devastating in every way, and she'd become bisexual. I tried to make her less over-the-top, but that proved impossible and less exciting, so her over-the-top-ness added to the plot. I couldn't tell anyone my idea until Husband came along. I had to tell him, otherwise my brain would burst.
     I confided in him. I'd made drawings of her. Embarrassed, pink, and gritting my teeth, I showed them to him.
     'She's sexy! Write that story!' He proclaimed.

     I started writing in sincerity after daughter was born. But I kept the story mostly under wraps. My family knew I was writing a novel, but they wouldn't appreciate it. They didn't pursue it. I just kept writing. Many times I've typed 'The End'! despite the muddle in the middle.
     Then I was cured and knew I had to 'get it out there'.
     I bit the bullet (!) and, in my blog introductionary message, added a  paragraph about it. I've received encouraging and inspiring comments, but was still embarrassed, and depressed by not 'having it out there'. I still can't  read it out loud - to myself let alone anyone else. I posted the first chapters to Facebook writing groups and received excellent feedback, which really lifted me. Husband had begun an excellent editing process with me, and every time I began to feel low over the novel, I'd print out another chapter for him to read and for me to correct. And I continued to post to Facebook. So, again, I yo-yo'd over my novel for some time.
      Then I posted to Facebook a basic plotline and one lovely gent commented:
     'Good job!'
     That made me feel good. I thanked him, and told him how good he had made me feel. Ever since then I've felt pretty damn good most of the time.
     The mind has a mind of its own. The subconscious doesn't believe certain things. In my case because I've convinced myself that my novel is 'wrong, 'bad', reinforced by what I was convinced was my family's non-interest. Quite possibly, to give them a bit of credit, it's possible that I was so convinced that they wouldn't approve I didn't enlarge. My subconscious may now be finally accepting that my novel is good because I'm finding that I'm angsting less over it.


AND NOW...
      I've been waking up feeling good. When that first happened I was delighted! That was a novelty. A wonderful feeling. I was never a morning person, so that feeling was amazing, and hasn't stopped.
      Since starting recovery, aside from foreign travel and starting a sculpture class which I love (my tutor is now my lovely friend), among other things, we've set out on a major redecoration of the house. Thirty years of neglect has left it in a sorry state. We've refitted and redecorated the utility room and downstairs loo. We've almost finished the upstairs bathroom, and it's looking fab! Best room in the house. We've demolished the old wood framed conservatory and had a new one built. White framed and spacious. Glorious. I've painted everything that doesn't move gloss white. My home is becoming nicer.
     I didn't like being at home for extended lengths of time, and I'd become depressed, even recently. Well, my home, in its pleasant seventies housing estate on the fringes of Alton, a historic market town an hour from UK's south coast and an hour from London, is gradually becoming nicer, somewhere for us to be between adventures. Our somewhat eccentric garden – it would be, wouldn't it?! - contain my western cabin, four ponds, wild patches and Husband's soon to-be-railway. I speculate that  my subconscious is finally accepting that my home is turning into a nice pad to be in.
     One area we have a problem with, and probably always will do, is exercise. Probably  because I'm a sedentary artist and writer, and this doesn't come naturally to either of us. We're not alone in that! After my recovery, I lost a comfort-eating 2st over a year of rowing machine and pretty stringent diet. I'm still reasonably sensible diet-wise, but nowhere near as good as I was. I enjoy yoga - always been flexible - we walk miles occasionally, we take our Canadian canoe out during warm weather, and we want to go cycling again. Not to forget my gardening. Mowing our extensive lawn, pruning bushes, weeding and turning our garden into a fun and relaxing place to be. We're getting there.
      I could be bitter about the lost years, and sometimes, when in a rotten mood (they do happen) I have a good moan about that. But mostly I'm determined to make the most of what I can now do, unhampered by depression and anxiety. I'm sixty-four and consider myself a role model for my age group. I'm fiercely anti-ageist. Always was, but even more so now. So many people in their seventies merge into the background in grey, brown and stone-coloured clothes. What happened?! Do they hit seventy and the possibly colourful, stylish clothes they wore yesterday are magically swopped for charity shop-bought baggy grey coats and, for the ladies, crimplene pastel, baggy trousers, old lady blouses and sensible shoes. I'm going the other way, inspired by my fashionable daughter, and I love it! I've just bought a pair of bright red, mock-suede ankle boots with heels and pointed toes.
Fab!
     And why do older women seem ashamed of their age?! Be grateful you got this far, missus!
     Earlier, I mentioned that Husband has begun whistling and singing his latest creative inspirational songs for our writing group as he wanders around the house. He never used to do that. That says something, doesn't it?
     Now, excuse me while I go and spray my hair pink...

     I'd love to hear from anyone else who's had a similar experience, because I know I'm not alone!

  




                                        
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