Just A Normal Day

One long covid patient to take care of: hot water bottles to alleviate the stomach cramps, herbal tea, healthy food, tablets, a bit of movement (but not too much), a bit of singing (because singing is a great way for kids to gain strength without exhausting themselves)

One typical teenager with social anxiety to tread softly around – I managed to upset her by steering a dinner conversation away from two kids stabbing each other over a discussion of whether a comment was racist or not.

One classical piece to analyse for a school performance the next day

One first heartbreak to assist with, initially packaged up as a minor panic attack

One couple evening cancelled at the last moment, that I had really been looking forward to as a break from all this crazy

One UTI to help deal with

Oh yeah, and that full-time job I’ve got of course…

There are some positive outcomes though too. Henceforth, Saturdays are going to be reserved for couple time. The touchy teenager didn’t stay upset but was happily working on the analysis with me later that day. Plus she summoned up the courage to go to school and deliver her performance, even with the UTI bothering her. The long covid patient wants to go back to school tomorrow. The heartbreak looks much more manageable after a good night’s sleep, plus he learned that talking about painful things and having a cry, getting sonebody else’s perspective on problems is a good thing and helps with the pain and sense of feeling overwhelmed.

Through the chaos

Life is worrying at the moment, and feels very unpredictable. It seems like anything could happen; there is a general sense of unease in the air, even though right now, nothing is very different than usual for us. (I might write some more about that – but not tonight.)

So through the dim chaos, the background noise of worrying and all the gut-wrenchingly bad news every day, little islands of shared normality and peacefulness seem like luxury.

I’ve had an especially luxurious day today : a visit to the garden center in the afternoon with Y (just a few herbs for the balcony, I restrained myself quite successfully from Buying Every Pretty Plant).

In the evening my daughter and I cooked up some delicious ramen (we may have gone a little overboard with the chicken… This is what happens when people who never cook meat decide to cook meat for once…). I really like cooking with the kids when I have the time to relax, plus it relieves me to know that they will be able to feed themselves once they grow up and decide to leave home.

Slow Grind

I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I’m grinding to a stop again. Work is slow, but that’s fairly normal. Family life is an uphill push, but that is also normal, particularly during grey, wet and cold February. Covid has kept Y and me isolated, with only a few brief chats in the doorway with the excuse of running an errand, but masked up and at a distance over the last 2 weeks.

I started writing this last night. Since then, Y has tested negative and we were able to spend some time together again. I’ve also had a therapy session, hunting for whatever made me feel overwhelmed and ready to creep away somewhere and hide.

We got somewhere when I started listing the things that felt like they were too heavy for me to carry on my own. My daughter and her emotional instability came up quite a few times.

She has had a hard couple of weeks. First, I misunderstood how she felt about her half term school report, which is better than it has been, but not great all the same. French remains a big problem. She was pleased with herself, but I misunderstood her, because of a typo and because I was doing three things at once again. For her, it seemed as if I was only seeing the weaknesses, although she’s overcome so many of her previous difficulties. Although the misunderstanding was quickly resolved, she had still been hurt and it left a bit of a dent.

Then she had her first therapy session. It was hard for her, although the session centered around gathering the facts – where she lives, who her siblings are, parents, grandparents, school history, interests and talents, etc. Just being reminded that she is struggling with certain things left her utterly exhausted for the rest of the day and beyond.

Her reaction and the fact that such a small issue had thrown her off track so forcefully put me into a kind of hyper alert state, trying to read her every move and be there for her if I could at all be of any help, tracking her energy levels and moods and trying to be wherever she might fall before she falls.

I had already noticed that she mirrors me. If I’m having a bad phase, it rubs off on her and pulls her down. Apparently, it works the other way around too. I mirror her as well, and maybe that is why everything started feeling too heavy for me.

My therapist had something helpful to say about the whole thing. Of course there are deeper layers to this, but he said that first of all, what I can help with is calm. And to help her calm down, I have to calm myself, or even better, stay calm right from the beginning.

So next time I’m going to try and put extra focus on being calm myself. I don’t usually struggle with being calm. In fact, I’m so used to people admiring my calmness and feeling calmed by me doing absolutely nothing apart from being me, that I don’t always notice when I’m not calm – especially if I become unsettled little by little.

I hope that just knowing that it is a good idea to seek calm whenever I’m confronted with something that could be unsettling will help us both, my daughter and me. If there’s one thing I’m really afraid of, it’s spiralling out of control myself when the kids need me. Being ready, knowing what to do to prevent that from happening and maybe even removing that fear altogether will be a huge relief.

World Cancer Day

For me, cancer has always been quite a long way off. Funnily enough, I spent quite a few years in my 20s vaguely fearing cancer for myself. I didn’t have any reason or symptoms I was worried about, there was just an undercurrent of worry about cancer deep down in my mind. It all felt very vague and distant though, and it went away completely when I hit my 30s.

All of a sudden though, cancer has made its appearance in the family. Not my kids or me, but the affected branch of the family is close enough to be very dear to me and more important and present in my thoughts than they probably imagine.

Dan has taken up writing as a way to process his experience and share much needed valuable information with fellow sufferers. After his doctors advised him that gentle exercise would help him cope with the side effects of chemo, he’s started doing his very own version of gentle exercise; 5k’s in less than 30 minutes and 10k runs, on the grounds of which I think he might be just a tad crazy, but I’m also very proud and a little bit envious of him. Not for the cancer, just the running abilities.

Pancreatic Cancer UK is running a fundraising challenge throughout February. The charity is supporting Dan a great deal, and he in turn has taken up the challenge to run 40 miles throughout February (while receiving rigorous chemotherapy treatments every other weekend). He’s raising money for the charity, the supportive work they do for patients and affected families, and research in the field of pancreatic cancer.

If you would like to support him with a donation, please visit his charity donation page. His blog is also well worth following – not only does he write excellent, informative and very honest posts, he will also find a way to make you giggle in nearly every post.

I’m very proud of you, Dan!

Therapy

I started looking for a therapist at the beginning of 2021, when depression threw me off my feet and made it very clear that I didn’t want to carry on dragging myself out of those dark holes by myself anymore. In talking to my doctor, I also realised that I have more than enough baggage that might benefit from therapy, so I felt better about it and less of a failure for needing therapy in the first place. Hadn’t the toxic men in my life always angrily suggested that I needed therapy, because there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with their perception of things, and it was clearly me who had a few screws loose and was impossible to get on with? This is one of the things that had kept me from seeking help earlier. I knew I was not the root problem, so I wasn’t going to prove them right after all by heading off to therapy.

Back at the beginning of the year, I found one therapist who could do a session with me, but it ended there.

That first session was helpful though, all the same. He confirmed again that some of my experiences were indeed traumatic and that they could lead to depression like I had. He also toldĀ me something very valuable: he said that depression is like any other illness, a flu for example. It comes and goes, but in the end, you do usually recover. Time and your body does its thing, and the weakness etc passes in the end, although it doesn’t feel like it while you’re in the middle of it. This little piece of wisdom allowed me to relax a little and be less afraid of getting caught in an episode again and not managing to get out of it by myself.

I am now with my ‘forever’ therapist, and the therapy sessions have just been approved. I see him for an hour every week. He does analytical psychology, as I want to unravel the causes of my dark phases rather than develop strategies and behaviour to deal with them better. I’m intuitively quite good at the strategies.

Therapy is an interesting experience. My therapist usually starts the session off with asking me what came up during the week. This irritated me at first, because wasn’t he supposed to be leading me to deeper understanding, and show me how to unravel whatever has got stuck in my mind? Didn’t he know the way through this murky mess? But I’ve got used to it and find something to talk about, and we get going.

Up until now, I’ve told him bits and pieces about myself, usually something associated with something that ‘came up during the week’. I decided I liked working with him after a session or two, because he listens to my thoughts and feelings, and then shows me parallels and patterns to something I said earlier, or even mentioned off hand some sessions earlier. I felt he was working me out quite quickly, and reckoned that would be a good thing for somebody who’s job it was to work me out, then sort me out.

I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern. The sessions aren’t quite as random as I first thought. He closes the session by summarizing what we’ve been talking about, and puts it in a way that makes me continue thinking about it a little bit differently than the week before. So without even noticing, I spend time between sessions mulling things over, remembering things, and seeing them in a different, more distanced and reflected light. Just that by itself opens up a different level of understanding of myself and the way I feel and think about things.

Until now it’s felt very easy, as it happens by itself. Understanding things better actually makes me feel more peaceful. He warned me though that there would be times when it would get tough, and I might want to quit. So I feel I should leave room for that to happen and not feel too optimistic about the whole process just yet.

So far though, it feels like a slow and steady house clean. You open up a drawer, sort out what’s in it, put some of the things in a different place, others you fold and put back, and some get thrown out. Then on to the next drawer, until it’s all neat and clean.

I’m still on the first drawer at the moment, and it’s quite a big one. I wonder how far I’ve got with it already, and how much more I’ll find that’s been hastily stuffed in to keep it out of sight.

Passion

I’ve been sort-of challenged to think about my passion by a dear family member. It got me thinking – what is my passion compared to what it used to be?

I have no trouble telling you what my passion used to be – it was music, classical music in every shape and form. I loved finding the essence of a piece, learning about the composer and trying to find evidence of their life and experiences in their music. I tried to put myself in their shoes, getting as close as possible to how their music was intended. In doing so, I quite often learned things about myself, exploring different ways of feeling emotions, and connecting previously unconscious thought patterns to patterns I found in the music.

I’m sure I could rekindle that passion again if I chose to, and found enough time to dedicate to music again. The same goes for cellular biology. I loved mucking about in the lab, reading up on the latest scientific discoveries in the area, and pouring over the results of experiements. I still get quite excited when I get to explain something to the kids. I’ve had loads of fun explaining rna vaccines to people who were sceptical of the whole idea, and showing them how elegant and beautiful the whole thing is. But again, I’m not making the time to read the latest papers, and I can only dream of one day getting back into it and studying for a phd in the field – a dream I put to rest in favour of moving the family to France to start our home education journey. And earning enough money to support the entire family of course.

My passions have become a lot more subtle and abstract over the years. I love being a helpful presence to others. I burst with pride each time one of my children comes to me for help, whether that’s help to understand something, or help with sorting their feelings out, or help overcoming their fears and doubts. I truly enjoy helping an overwhelmed friend calm down and see what positive side there is to see. I get a kick out of people on teams that I serve as a manager letting me know that they are happy being on my team. I dance a happy dance when I see people I’ve been nudging forward take big steps and grow. I’m ultimately proud when they refer back to me as the main reason they felt ready to take the next step. At work I can get quite passionate about building good software solutions too (my actual job as a product manager) – but in the end, it’s all about helping users and making their lives easier. On the other hand, I’m very bad at feeling interested in the financial success of the software – I really couldn’t care less about that part of my job…

I would love to do some proper, serious helping. Like foster parenting, or volunteering at a childrens home, or helping underprivileged kids with their education, or help overwhelmed single mums find their feet, or help grieving parents find their way, etc. Everytime I am close to writing an email though, I stop. I hardly have time and energy to get all my stuff done. I really can’t take on anything else at the moment without giving up on sleep, friends, the little music I do, running or work.

So for now, I’ll be content with the opportunities life offers without seeking new ones. And who knows, maybe one day I will go and get myself a phd.

Keeping Depression at Bay

Christmas last year was break down time for me. It started with a small trigger, which sent me into a spiral of mess. Heavy thoughts persistently roared through my head, shutting me down on the outside. All I could do was sit on the floor and fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together – it kept my fingers and my mind busy so that I wouldn’t listen to the accusations and blame flying around in my head too much, while I waited for the storm to pass.

Since then, I’ve got myself therapy, and I’ve learned to see depression like any other passing illness, like a cold. It comes, it feels horrible, but as a rule, you recover at some point. You may feel weak for a bit afterwards, but everything will be back to normal given time and patience for recovery – even if it takes weeks, months, or even years.

It raised its ugly head again this year. The combination of work being heavy and feeling done with the never-ending fights I have to have there, together with the days getting short and dark makes a small trigger a lot stronger than it would usually be.

On top of that, Y had been cancelling plans often, which robbed me of a wall of stability. By the time I brought it up because it was bothering me so much I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I had been collecting my injured feelings in a safe, locked place. When they came out, they were already a raging storm, and came as an attack out of the blue.

It’s a good thing I had a therapy session just after that. He helped me separate my inner reactions from the facts, and I’m beginning to understand myself better, and why some little things hurt me more than they should.

I feel like I saw the dark pit, and came right to the edge to look down – but I managed to stay out of it. I made some important decisions, I’m making an effort to make more connections with people and I’m taking part in real life instead of living in my head. Facebook and Instagram has disappeared off my phone. I am letting go of feeling every one of Y’s decisions as a reflection on how he might be feeling about me, about us. I know it’s not, so why let my very own patterns of feeling injured in certain situations make me form the worst possible assumptions?

I’m feeling quite proud of myself for staying out of it this time, although I was emotionally exhausted, and there was a trigger that could have sent me over the edge.

I’m still exhausted, but stable exhausted.

Bits and pieces

I really don’t know what I want to write about today, I just know that I want to write. Life is so quiet at the moment, although it isn’t of course. There’s my cousin’s cancer diagnosis. My daughters ongoing struggle with mental health. Watching my eldest get seriously worried over school. Helping my youngest through his big worries. There’s work, and the battle for trust that one faces as a new senior employee. There’s my stubborn issues with getting enough sleep.

On the upside, my daughter is amazingly resilient and is learning how to recover, and how to navigate her mind, even when it is playing evil tricks on her. My youngest is learning that having tough conversations and setting up boundaries is a good thing. My eldest is learning to be brave and face difficulties upfront, before they become bigger than necessary. I’m learning to trust myself at work, and to ask for help if I need it. I’m learning to get physical issues I can’t quite understand checked out, and am trying to model more trust in doctors for the kids (I’d rather they go to the doctors office more often than necessary and being overly insistent than ending up with a serious diagnosis of an advanced stage of disease as young adults). I’m also learning to just do things – like going out for runs, yoga and other things that do me good – and ignoring the reasons my mind throws my way on why it would be ok to skip these things just this once. I’m hoping that will help me get to bed, but I’m still waiting for that to happen.

Actually, there is one thing I’m really proud of. I’ve started practising the cello again, every day. I hadn’t been playing for a long time, only picking it up for orchestra rehearsals and maybe the occasional practise session before a concert with the orchestra. Naturally, I was getting worse and worse, and more and more unhappy at orchestra rehearsals and concerts.

Then, an unthinkable thing happend. I had a rehearsal to go to, and Y had stayed the night. Usually, if I have something to do and the kids are around, he clears off quite soon after we get up, but that time, he stuck around. He also insisted that I warm up at least, before heading to the rehearsal. I was very reluctant, mainly because I was so embarrassed of how bad I sounded by then, after such a long time with no practise whatsoever. But I did, because he was right. And it was terrible, embarrassing, and humiliating. He didn’t say or do anything to make me feel this way; it was all me. Anyway, after the rehearsal I felt awful, and decided I would have to give up altogether. I wrote to Y about my plan. And instead of agreeing (which I thought he would – he is a musician himself, he knows I sounded like crap! Have I mentioned that I feel incredibly lucky to have this gem of a person in my life?), he suggested not waisting all the time I had invested up until now and simply starting to pick the instrument up every day. Just for scales. Just 10 minutes. Anything really, as long as it included playing a few notes every day.

I did exactly that, still embarrassed, but he made me feel a lot better about myself. It’s been just over two months, and I have 3 bars left of the prelude to the first cello suite by Bach, one of my favourite pieces. I listen to it when I get frightened, because it calms me down and keeps my mind engaged and distracted from whatever is frightening me. I’m not playing it perfectly, but I’ve heard it worse too. I’ve gone from one scale to 10 of the 14 major scales, and I’m doing finger work with the metronome, all the while sticking to 30 mins practise a day max, so that I don’t get overwhelmed. And I keep calling myself back from having expectations. Having growing expectations ruins days that aren’t as good as the previous day, and that happens often enough. So it’s important to start each session without any expectations, and with a clean slate. It’s the only way for me to keep frustration out of it, and therefore ban the risk of giving up quickly.

So, there you have it. That’s what I’m doing. Trying to overcome the negative self talk, essentially. Trying to develop the habit of keeping it at bay. And trying to help the kids do the same, from a much earlier age than I started at.

New Job, New Me

Literally. I’m being a different person than I was in my old job.

In my old job, my work was very much appreciated, but I had a defined play field. I was also never considered a leader figure, although I led quite a bit. But I lead gently… I’m not noisy about it.

With my new job, I’m entering the company as a leader. I’m expected to visibly lead, not the gentle, quite coaxing type of leading I’m used to. ‘We’re looking for your guidance here’, or ‘Please change whatever you like ; meetings, processes, structures – anything’ or the scariest of all – ‘your experience will really help us with this’

I don’t feel experienced, nor ready to guide a product I know very little about, built by a team I hardly know the names of. I’m seeing things that could be improved, but I don’t feel comfortable changing things without understanding why things are the way they are.

So I’m making an effort to be bold, believe in myself, and overcome my habit of moving slowly to begin with, observing more than I contribute, desperately trying to work out how things work in this new environment.

This is the most adult I’ve had to be in my whole life, I think…

Positive when it’s not supposed to be

I recently had a miscarriage. My first. I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant with the copper IUD I have sitting in my uterus. And yet, the tests were definitely positive, and soon after that, I began to feel pregnant. Sore, tired, nauseous.

It came as a complete surprise. I had a weird ‘period’ – on time, but no oomph to it. I wasn’t even filling a tiny pad. But I didn’t really think much of it, until a friend told me she was trying to get pregnant, and that she hoped that the weird, light bleeding that had started that day was not her period, but early pregnancy. I saw the parallel, and got a pregnancy test the next morning, mainly to put the thoughts and worries to rest quickly (because of course it would be negative, I had an IUD).

But I was in a hurry, so I did the test quickly, stared at it showing a convincing negative for half a minute, and wrote it off as definitely negative. I stuck it into the bag, and put it somewhere out of sight, determined to check it again after 2 minutes, the full reaction time.

I forgot. In my mind, it was already definitely negative.

Only, it wasn’t. I remembered it 4 days later, and there it was. An ever so faint positive line. Googling, I decided that it must be an evaporation line. Just to make sure, I did another test the next morning – which immediately showed a positive result. That wasn’t supposed to be possible.

I called the doctor’s, and got myself an appointment for the very next day. Then, I spent the rest of the day in panic, pacing the flat, going through the moves of the day, showing my face for meetings, answering a couple of emails, but I couldn’t concentrate. What would I do if this was true? It would have been the worst timing. Most urgently, should I tell Y? He was stressed out as it was, with an all-important day coming up, which he was preparing for and very stressed about. In the morning I though I wouldn’t tell him, and do all the dr’s appointments by myself until I knew what was going on. By the afternoon, I had changed my mind, knowing that he wouldn’t want to be excluded – even if that meant adding stress and things to be terrified of.

So I told him, that night. We were going to see each other anyway, and once we’d settled down, I told him what I knew. We then spent the night being terrified together. I was terrified because I can’t get comfortable with the idea of abortion for myself (pro choice!), and because I also didn’t want to face the prospect of bearing a child to somebody who didn’t want to be its father (again). Also, I had been spotting, which I hadn’t ever experienced in a previous pregnancy, which made me fear an ectopic pregnancy or something else that would require surgical attention or hard decisions. Then there were the timing issues – I had already laid out a plan to inform the new employer, and see whether they wanted to continue. I couldn’t risk being without a job and the protection that it comes with in Germany with a small baby on my hands. Y was mainly terrified of the prospect of me actually being pregnant, and of having to be ok with whatever happened next, while having to focus on finishing his degree and starting out in professional life.

He’s an absolute hero of a person. He’s my hero. He has been there every step of the way. He’s been to every doctor’s appointment, even if I was just nipping in to have a blood sample taken. He took care of me, physically and emotionally.

In the end, the ultrasound didn’t reveal anything. No embryo, neither in utero nor ex. After a few days, my hormone levels started going down. A long week later, the whole thing took care of itself. Other than cramping and a long and heavy flow, it could have been a normal period.

The week in between was a nightmare though. Hormones are horrible if they’re out of place. I had all the symptoms of pregnancy, but everything was off somehow. Relief set in when the hormones started going down, even if I was equipped with a referral note and a warning to head straight to the hospital if sudden pain set in. When the bleeding started, I had an emotional day, although I was relieved. I blame the hormones for those tears and feelings of loss.

In a weird way, it’s been a good experience altogether. I’m glad I’m not pregnant, but I’m also grateful for the conversations and levels of intimacy Y and I unlocked in the process. I have real proof that I am safe with him – it’s more than just a feeling now. Even if I’d like not to need ‘real proof’ – whatever that is – apparently I like it a lot. Apparently it makes me feel secure and able to relax more, and to stop questioning every move and weighing it subconsciously for any meaning for ‘the future’.