Survival strategy: 5 minutes at a time

So many thoughts whisking in and out of focus tonight, it’s hard to settle on just one. Phrases and images streaking through my head like comets, darting from the shadows into the centre of my awareness and away again. They’re reminders of things I haven’t gotten done yet and need to do, snippets of conversation, fragments of plans for upcoming projects now on my list, shards of dialogue and story concepts, a bombardment of words in restless movement. Overwhelming. 

I started my scarf again tonight, using needle markers to keep my counts accurate. I probably did a little too much, because my fingertips on the right hand are a little numb. But knitting made me content for a few hours, being a relatively simple task that I could problem-solve with a small degree of hassle. I can see it taking shape again, the time and effort paying off in each row of yarn. Wanted to do some reading and editing, but that kind of focus isn’t possible when one child is needing help with homework while the other has to be guided into bed. And once that’s over, the energy is gone. All that’s left is the bombardment, beating down inside my skull.

I think I’m struggling again. Tough time of year. Hell, it always seems like it’s a tough time of year for me. So many triggers, and so little relief. So tired, all of the time, it feels like. I do better when I have deadlines and creative projects, solid goals to achieve to make other peoples’ lives better, outside of my house. It’s within these four walls, staring at the mess that we can never seem to get the better of for more than a day, that I falter. Sometimes I daydream about living in my classroom, where there’s a microwave and couches and books and a washroom down the hall, because in a way, it’s simpler there. The responsibilities are different, more clear. At home, my worlds are colliding now that my son is in high school, because now his homework is of the type that I assign. The separation between professional and parent has thinned to nearly non-existent. I’m using my teacher-voice after-hours. 

My battle with mental illness began when I was around 10 or 11. I remember thinking about throwing myself out the window so I wouldn’t have to be alive anymore, dealing with the mean kids at school and the emotions that just seemed too much to handle. I was curious about death, as well. But I knew it was a fantasy, and I feared getting reincarnated in a place that was unhealthy or dangerous; I didn’t want to have to live through all the tough parts of being a little kid again, and I recognized how lucky I was to have a stable family. But the fantasizing never quite went away. 

Right now, I’m not in a deep pit. Been taking my medication and trying to do the things that make me happy, focusing on the positives, trying to get enough rest and eat healthy foods, identifying my triggers head-on so they don’t drag me down. But I’m starting to get that feeling lately that I’m moving through thicker air, as though there are weights on my arms and legs and shoulders. Urges to cry. Despair that I’ll ever accomplish the myriad little things that a parent and homemaker need to do to keep a family healthy, as well as keeping up with my professional responsibilities. My son wants to help, but I see him beginning to struggle with his own anxieties and feeling overwhelmed, and I don’t want him to spiral, either. I tell him, just focus on doing one little thing at a time, for five minutes at a time. That’s all we need to do. And when we watched Meet the Robinsons together today, which we hadn’t seen in years, we both got teary at the end, between Lewis finding his resolution and the song, “Little Wonders”, reminding us both to try to let go of the big stuff weighing us down. If only it were as easy to do in reality as it is in fiction.

Emotional Whiplash?

I’m in the thick of it now, in all things.

In my WIP, I am close to the halfway point, and remembered that i’d neglected some small but significant details in the most recent rising action. Adding those in — giving my protagonist a much-needed sling for his broken arm, and leaving his helmet where he could pick it up later — pushed my daily word count up and over the hump of 24,000 words. It feels rather like reaching the landing on a tall set of stairs, like climbing the Temagami Tower. Every step forward is more and more an accomplishment, and also scary as hell. Is it going to work? Am I going to find a suitable climax? Will I know who the skeleton belongs to, and who my protagonist has been talking to all this time?

My edits on Crystal and Wand are now in the hands of my publisher, and I need to push forward on promotions. Thinking of organizing a book release party in late May or early June, but the prices of the location I want are making me cringe, slightly. So many expenses are coming: the field trip to Ottawa in three weeks, registration for my son’s soccer team, day camp, and referee course, hubby’s trip to the Shriner convention, Bridget’s guitar lessons, and travelling to Montreal to drop the boy off and pick him up again after a week of Space Camp. If I do a release party, I’ll have to preorder a load of print copies — not just the final book of the trilogy, but the others as well, topping everything up so I have some tidy stacks. Swag needs updating and replenishing, too.

This evening, I also attended the Grade 8 Parent Information Night, in preparation for my son to enter high school in the fall. It’s occurred to me over the last few weeks that not only is Jack heading into grade 9 in six months or so — we have about five years to go, and then he’ll be off to post-secondary somewhere. And Bridget is nearly 5 years behind him. That means a bare ten years of children at home, and then we’ll be back to an empty nest, except on holidays, perhaps.

I feel like I’m developing emotional whiplash.

Missing my lawn and basking in the sun

I thought about taking a lawn chair out into the backyard today and sitting in the sunlight for a bit. It might have been nice for a little while, too. But that would have meant watching out for poop, and sinking up to my knees in wet, pebbly snow, and my weight would have pushed the legs of the chair down until my butt was touching, at which point my body heat would be melting the surface and I’d end up wet.

Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow. Oh, no, wait — it’s going to be -3C in the afternoon, with flurries.

I may be crazy, but I’m not quite that crazy.

I woke up at 3 am this morning, welling up with anxiety over this Ottawa ComicCon trip. I’d sent out an email to several male staff members I thought might be interested in chaperoning, and at 3 am, that suddenly felt like an enormously ridiculous thing to have done. Laid and obsessed over that for a good half an hour before I managed to fall back asleep. Then I woke up again at 6, and the pattern repeated. I ended up sleeping in until around 11, and because hubby was making a lovely breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns, the scent of it cooking on the stove made me dream about stuffing my mouth full of bacon before I actually woke up.

Despite my great list of things to do — finishing edits, marking, cleaning — I didn’t do much today other than sleeping and self-loathing. Got a bit weepy. I blame the long winter and my own laziness. Cuddled much with hubby and children, though; played with Bridget’s hair, trying out some braiding, and did some knitting. But the house is even more cluttered now that Bridget chose to rip apart a cardboard box while playing with her Barbies. The dolls gained a house, while the living room gained a new layer of messiness.

Hoping tomorrow is better.

Thinking to myself on a Sunday night.

That moment when you’re partway through a pile of quizzes, and having paused for a few good-night kisses, started mis-marking the questions . . . and you have to go back through all of them to fix your marking error. And you’re marking in pen because once, long ago, when you’d used pencil, a student had received work back and crowed in delight because (as she declared loudly), she could erase the incriminating feedback and her parents would never know the wiser, so you’ve pretty much kept to pen ever since. 

That space of time on a weekend morning, when you know how fast the hours are going to go by and yet you can’t summon the willpower to leave the coziness of the bed and binge-watching a new show while cuddled up next to the significant other. The minutes tick by, running you closer and closer to the return of the work week, and the pressure keeps you from really savouring the moment, yet actually doing something productive is more than you can manage.

That sinking feeling when you are reminded yet again that you’re a lousy housekeeper, according to social standards, and that you’re starting to accept it as a way of life. 

That triumph when you bypass the point in the knitting project where you’d had to unravel it all and start over again, and you’re succeeding. Two weeks ago you’d contemplated tossing the whole thing into a bag and never looking at it again. But the project has achieved a rhythm and you can see its shape now, and the first roll of yarn is nearing its end — you’ll soon have to switch to a new skein.

That tick of realization in planning a school trip that it’s perfectly okay to have an estimated goal for accommodations as long as the bus is paid for first. And the slump of the shoulders at the thought of all the paperwork yet to be filled out for it.

That knot of tension in the shoulders. 

That numbness of the butt after hours of late Sunday-night marking.

That comforting knowledge of a short week, thanks to an approaching holiday. 

Fresh knot at the prospect of shopping for said holiday.

Those dreams of being chased by zombies through theme parks, or being back in a childhood / adolescent home, trying to deal with prospective childbirth, from which you want to escape but you go back into sleep after using the washroom and letting the dog out for a pee because you need to see that everything turns out okay.

The ragged bits of cuticle that are vistual testimony to the nerves and anxiety that you can’t quite shake.

The memories of meditation, yoga, jogging attempts, and circuit training at the gym.

Sunday night.

Sunday night cramming and torn fingernails

Here I am, back at my usual Sunday night cramming. My nails and cuticles painfully ripped and pulled down to the quick — that’s one sure sign of my anxiety level. On Friday night, I was so sure I’d be productive this weekend: finish marking the Writer’s Craft stories, the grade 11 blogs, develop the summative tasks for grades 11 and 9 English classes . . .


I slept in Saturday morning until my parents phoned around 11, and even then, I lingered and lolled around until it was time to get ready for my daughter’s ski lesson. Skied for an hour and had a great time (see Saturday’s blog), came home and . . . oh, gosh, I can’t even remember how I spent Saturday night. Maybe I should check my blog, or my Facebook posts. Was definitely tired, though. Oh, now I remember — I got a coffee around 6:30 to make sure I’d stay awake long enough to do my school work, but I ended up knitting and playing strategy games until bedtime, and then I started watching Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and my son wanted to watch with me and we ended up talking about WWI and the movie until close to 1 am. So no marking got done Saturday night, or that afternoon, or that morning.

This morning I woke up with a killer headache. I slept on and off until 10, then got up and tried different things to get rid of the headache. If it was from having too much caffeine lately, I decided to do the stupid thing and have more coffee. That didn’t work, though. Didn’t make it worse, but pain didn’t go away. I tried going back to bed for a little while before taking the kids back to the ski hill (Bridget’s ski test day) in the afternoon. That didn’t work either. I took an Advil right before we left, and that seemed to help for a while. Head’s been hurting since supper, though. And of course, I was so tired by the second day of exercise that I needed a nap. So no marking done this afternoon or earlier tonight.

Maybe the havoc I wreak on my nails is some form of self-punishment, a modern and miniaturized hair shirt or self-flagellation, because for every key I hit, my fingers hurt. Not every nail has been picked at or ripped, but enough to sting when I wash my hands. There’s one bit of nail sticking out in the tip of my right middle finger, like a sliver, and if I can find tweezers to pull it out (just clipping it won’t do at this point), it will bleed. I’m not a nail biter, I’m a picker. I do it when I’m nervous, under stress, bored (strange sort of satisfaction in pulling away a neat width of nail, particularly from a toe), while watching movies or waiting. This is why I think knitting is good for me — it’s something to do with my fingers that doesn’t involve causing physical irritation. Unfortunately, knitting doesn’t help me get the marking done, and it’s not particularly well-received during meetings at work.

Anyway . . . The good news is that I think I’m ready to go with my students’ tests, which only need to be photocopied at this point. I have a variety of short stories for my grade 9s to read, already at school (I realized this about a half hour ago and had to convince myself not to go looking for any other new ones). Next is reviewing my students’ blogs so I can put their most recent marks on their progress reports tomorrow. I really, really wanted to get those flash fictions completed this weekend, though. It’s as frustrating to me as it is to my students. Why can’t I just buckle down and focus?

Shadows in the darkness…

It seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it? The title of this blog. How can shadows — which are themselves, dark — exist where there is no light?

They simply do.

My life is filled with them. They haunt me when I am trying to fall asleep. I see them on these grey and dreary days of fall, as the yearly cycle comes to a close. I feel them in my heart, as the dwindling light begins to sap the energy reserves I built all summer.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. I love Hallowe’en and Samhain, but as an adult, I haven’t expressed that feeling as I did when I was younger. My husband is also an eager devotee to Hallowe’en, and given a free rein, would turn our home into the creepiest on the block. So what stops me from fulfilling my every spooky desire at this time of year?

The shadows, in the form of depression. I feel them gathering in the corners and moving slowly toward me, as inexorable as the winter dark. I’m better armed against them this year, and I’m not spiralling as I have done in the past. But nevertheless, I feel them. It is the lack of motivation to get off the couch…the increasing desire to sleep…the lack of motivation to do anything, really, but those low-energy activities that help me feel less lonely. Like going on Facebook, looking at lolsnaps, fails, etc. The more I indulge in these time-suckers, the more connected I do feel but the less I get done in the things that matter in a physical sense. The shadows are gaining ground.

I attended a series of workshops in the spring, learning methods for dealing with my anxiety and chronic depression. To some extent, those techniques are working. I’ve been treated for anemia since May, also, which is helping. The techniques are going to become even more vital, now.

Part of that is learning to accept my own limitations and not comparing myself to others. I need to stop saying “I should” and be satisfied with what I do accomplish. For example, this weekend I aimed to finish my Hallowe’en decorating. Didn’t even start. I constantly visualize one of the best moms I know and berate myself for not being more like her, but at the same time, the logical part of my brain is fighting back to tell me what I am doing well and why I should not be ashamed or feel inferior. That particular mom doesn’t have a mental illness. That particular mom hasn’t gone through the money troubles we have experienced. That particular mom has gone through her own battles, faced her own demons, and for her own personal reasons, has gained victory. Maybe I’m just jealous of that and I want my own battles to be over. Could be a form of battle fatigue — maybe I could call it “life fatigue”.

I remember my mother giving me full control over decorating for Hallowe’en, and not understanding why she didn’t want to do it. Now I know…it’s just not on my to-do list of things that must be done. What I am supposed to be doing — housework, marking, shopping — those things aren’t be done either. And the whole avoidance makes me feel ashamed all over again, so I shrink further into my shell and keep avoiding until every dish is dirty, the clean laundry threatens to topple over in its mountain, and/or people are coming to the house so clean is a must.

I miss decorating for Hallowe’en.

I miss setting up for Samhain.

I miss my enthusiasm. It’s there, just dampened.

I once had a conversation with two of my colleagues and friends (one of whom was the above super-mom), about the point of Hallowe’en. The points of view were a) it’s all about spending money on candy and costumes, which is a waste, and b) it’s the Devil’s holiday, so if anything, the candy and costumes are the main focal point to take power away from the skulls and gore. My perspective is Pagan, Wiccan, witchy, and anthropological: we need a day in the fall to blow off some steam. It was once the Devil’s night, yes — after months of hard work, harvesting, preparing for winter, young people would perform acts of mischief like tipping outhouses and soaping windows. Kids needed that release, and some adults did as well. It still happens in places, when eggs are thrown or trees toilet papered.

Pagans and Wiccans of all stripes recognize Samhain as the night when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, and it’s important to remember those who have passed on. The traditions in this sense cross many cultural boundaries, and the food that is shared represents honouring the dead, feeding hungry spirits that come to the door, appeasing evil spirits wishing to do mischief, and I think, sharing the bounty of one’s harvest.

Today, the costumes and decorations and candy are mainly symbolic of cultures long dead. How many of us really believe that children in masks will frighten away spirits on the streets, or that the jack’o’lantern will protect the home? Why do we buy sugary junk to fill their sacks? I think it’s a remnant of the community spirit of making sure that all have enough before winter. We have our Thanksgivings, an official harvest festival of light and warmth and nourishing food — Hallowe’en / Samhain is another, celebrating the coming darkness with noise, colour, sweets, and candlelight. As the trees bare their skeletal arms to the sky, the rain and snow chill the air, the plants wither and die, those of us with depression (and even those who are not) are brought to thoughts of death, loss, and loneliness. Death is a solitary thing, after all. So at Hallowe’en, we push back our fears of death by poking fun at it, admonishing it by taking control of it with decorative skulls, gravestones, ghost stories, and gifts to those who represent the dead. If we laugh at what we fear, it has less control over us (or so we would like to believe). Hallowe’en is a powerful psychological device in helping us to deal with our fears. It’s a necessary device, I think.

Which brings me back to my shadows.

One of them is always money, because there is never enough. We live constantly in debt, which is a long story; my wish to indulge in Hallowe’en is necessarily curtailed by budget. I am perfectly capable of whipping up papier-mâché bats and spiders, sewing costumes from clothing remnants, etc., but I find it difficult as an adult with two children to raise. Much easier when I was single and a dependent. When I was a teenager and a young married wife, I envisioned my house changing with the seasons — throw pillows, blankets, tableware, towels, even the pictures on the walls changed to reflect each turn of the wheel of the year. We’re not even close to that goal. But I take out that dream, every October, and December with the approach of Yule, and I polish it. Maybe I should print it and post it on my fridge.

My dreams keep the shadows away.