Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Life Raft of Forgiveness

This was an article I originally wrote for Amy Boucher Pye‘s blog series Forgiveness Fridays. She writes lots of awesome stuff, check out her website and books.

When I was a kid, my dad drank. A lot.

It’s hard to pull apart the memories, but I remember alcohol always being there, even before I knew it was a problem. I remember being afraid, and feeling guilty, although I still don’t know for what. And I remember frequently being disappointed, for every time he said he was going to stop drinking, I naively believed him. It never lasted.

Fast forward to adulthood. My dad drinks. A lot.

When I wrote my first book, Secret Scars, I was encouraged by my editor to end it on a happy note. Whilst I didn’t claim in the book that he had stopped drinking, the epilogue certainly suggested that our relationship had been repaired. The truth is, we’re still on the merry-go-round – up and down, round and round, the same arguments over and over again.

I’d always thought that when it was all over, and he stopped drinking, then I’d forgive him. I thought that forgiveness came at the end of the sin, with the forgiven party who would go and sin no more. I had this innocent idea that he would see the light, stop drinking, apologise profusely for everything he’d put us though and beg for forgiveness. I pictured a happy family reunion with tears and hugs and a happy-every-after. As it turns out, I’m probably not going to get this hoped-for resolution. I’ve had to come to the sad but inevitable conclusion that my dad will almost certainly never remain sober for more than a couple of months.

Thinking about forgiving someone when they can’t or won’t change is tricky. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’m putting myself in the firing line for getting hurt. He says sorry; I forgive him; I let my guard down; he starts drinking… and repeat.

So what does forgiveness look like when you can’t see an end to the behaviour you’re supposed to be forgiving? It’s a road often travelled by those of us affected by addiction. Forgiveness feels futile when it’s shrouded in the knowledge that it will probably just keep happening. But since God has commanded us to forgive, it must be possible. He never says it is easy, but he wouldn’t command us to do something that can’t be done.

I need to be clear here. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything is ok, or that the things someone does or has done are acceptable**. What it does mean is that I can go to my parents’ house and spend time with my dad, without constantly thinking about what happened last time. It means I can hold a conversation with him about the things that interest us. Will I end up coming away hurt or upset at the end of each visit? Probably. But through my new way of consistently offering him forgiveness, I don’t arrive expecting to be hurt; nor am I still wounded and raw from the last time.

For me, this woundedness is the crux of the whole thing. What I’ve come to learn (much slower than I would have liked) is that forgiving my father actually has very little to do with him. Rather, forgiving him has become about saving myself. When someone keeps on hurting you, there comes a time when the answer becomes forgive, or sink. Forgiveness is a life raft in a situation where nothing else can change. Forgiveness keeps me safe from being hurt over and over again. As a friend of mine says, unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison then waiting for the rat to die. Each time I see my dad I come away with new baggage, and the only way I can deal with it is to bring it to God and forgive, and forgive and forgive.

So, my advice? Start where you are. Don’t wait until everything is hunky dory to begin forgiving, and don’t wait for all the loose ends to be tied up; now is the time. Trust God to put before you what he wants you to deal with, knowing that his love and timing are perfect, and that forgiveness is his gift to you. It’s not about the other person’s sin – it’s about our freedom.

** A very important disclaimer: If someone is hurting you regularly, or if you are unsafe in a relationship or situation, do not stay. Forgiving someone abusive is tricky, but is not the same as staying somewhere or with someone who puts you at risk. I am in the situation where I can continually forgive my father because we don’t live in the same house, and he doesn’t pose any threat to me. Do not stay anywhere you are not safe.

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Threads of the Tapestry

This post was originally published on the ThinkTwice blog last summer as part of their Offer Your Story campaign. Check out their website, they are awesome.

I’ve had bipolar all my life. I know some people would say that’s not possible, but I can’t remember any year of my life without seeing the thread of bipolar running through. At seven I can remember wishing I wasn’t alive. At times the depression expressed itself in self-harm or eating disorders, but much of the time it has just been a grey cloud sat over my head waiting to rain.

Mania is harder to pin down, and it’s only in hindsight I can see the first flickers of it. Terms when homework suddenly seemed easy because I didn’t ned to sleep, the time when I decided to redecorate my parents’ dining room in only two days, the all-nighters I pulled when inspired to write a masterpiece.

I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until after my second child was born – the hormone typhoon attacked with force and spun my mental health completely off axis. Seth was only eight weeks old when I went back on antidepressants, repeatedly changing tablets and increasing doses, trying to find something – anything – that worked.

Then something clicked. Within a week of upping antidepressants yet again, everything felt wonderful. I could finally feel again! Words tumbled out of my mouth at great speed – there was so much to say and so little time to say it. So what if I thought everyone around me could read my thoughts and I couldn’t stop shaking? I was finally better!

Needless to say, it didn’t last. The lesser known ‘mixed state’ of bipolar kicked in, with the worst bits of both depression and mania – feeling suicidal and self-destructive but at four times the speed. I tumbled down through the rabbit hole, not understanding myself at all, until I landed in a black pit of almost catatonic depression that didn’t lift for six months.

I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but that’s rarely how bipolar works. As early summer arrives each year I find myself getting a little bit too enthusiastic, argumentative and anxious. Then, as soon as I (or someone else) has noticed that, I start to dip, and feel low for the rest of the summer before picking up again in the autumn. Over the years I’ve learnt to recognise the warning signs earlier and adjust medication and lifestyle choices accordingly – last summer I was almost symptom free.

The most important thing I’ve learnt – and have to keep learning – is that bipolar is just a small part of my story. In the tapestry of my life there will always be the black stitches of depression, the red of mixed states and the stunning gold of hypomania. But they will never make up the whole picture. My story isn’t full without bipolar, but there’s so much more. And, when I think about it, that’s just the way a story should be.

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Depression

Sometimes people ask me what depression feels like, and this is what I say.

Depression is like a cat burglar – it creeps up behind ready to steal your most precious things, and although you see the shadow from behind it doesn’t occur to you that it might leap. And yet when it does you realise it’s been behind you for weeks. You started off running away from it, but as time goes on you get tired and can’t run as fast, and it catches up, jumps and covers you completely.

Depression doesn’t make me sad. I cry a lot more and at much smaller things – and at nothing. I cry a lot in self-pity – if only I were good at something, talented in some way. I wanted to do so much with my life – depression makes me think nothing I do is worth anything. But sadness isn’t the main character in my depression drama.

I spend hours asking myself what the point is of anything. The lethargy of inaction, giving up aiming to do anything productive because it won’t do anything anyway. When I’m ok I can see the ripples of my actions spread across the water of my everyday being. When I’m depressed there are no ripples. Every activity drops dead in the water, and I wonder why I bother doing it in the first place.

Depression makes me nearly scared. If I had the mental energy I’d be scared of everything, but as it is I don’t have the energy of thought to get properly frightened about the state of the world, because I know if I do it’ll be overwhelming.

The main fear of my depression is the fear of being found out. I feel the dread of having done something wrong, but I have no idea what it is. I feel like an imposter in my own life. A phoney, pretending to be normal when I’m not, but also knowing that I’m actually making a big fuss about nothing – why do I give my experience such gravity when everyone else has just as hard a time of it?

I feel guilty all the time – I have no good reason for feeling the way I do. So many people have so much more reason to be depressed.

None of this is really a response to real life. I can see that it’s not reactive. I know it’s my brain going screwy again, and that I need to do something about it, but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to admit that it’s managed to engulf me again. If I pretend it’s not there it might go away…

Will it…?

 

 

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Anxiety

Someone asked me what anxiety was like the other day, and it’s something I find hard to explain. But it goes something like this:

You wake up to a cup of tea and cards and cuddles, then have a wonderful morning out as a family. After an afternoon chilling out, you have a takeaway followed by snuggling on the sofa with a film. Then an evening with the hubster and cats, eating mini eggs and watching crappy telly before going to bed. Hubby falls asleep.

Then suddenly your chest feels tight, and you have to go and check on the doors are locked and make sure the children are still breathing. You try to pray and distract yourself but you can’t stop thinking that one day you may be without all the things that are important and you’ve no idea when or how that might happen and it all feels too much. After a perfect day all you can think is that you might never have that again, and the only way to start breathing again is to take tablets and hope you sleep.

That’s what anxiety is like.

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Look

Sometimes I can look and look, and yet I still don’t see.

This happens to all of us in some ways – especially in my house. CableGuy will quite often spend ages looking for yoghurt in the fridge without actually seeing it, and the small people will wail about losing a toy when it’s sat looking at them from the shelf on which it has always had its home.

Looking is one thing, but seeing – really seeing – is a different one altogether.

I look at my friend carrying her son with cerebral palsy up the stairs for the thousandth time, but do I really see the pain she’s in every time she lifts him with an injured elbow? I look at my daughter crying because I won’t let her bring an empty cigarette box into the house from where she found it on the street, but do I actually see that what for me looks like rubbish is to her a dream house for a toy she cherishes? I look at TV sets and newspapers and think I grasp some of the depth of the refugee crisis in our world at the moment, but do I really see the pain in one mother’s eyes, knowing that she is alone with only one of her children still alive and a husband who will probably never be by her side?

My challenge – to you and me – is to look.

Really look, and See.

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Voice

This is a difficult day for me to talk about voice, because today it feels like my voice will be trampled over before it is even heard.

Here’s the context. I live on a small residential street, and my children’s primary school, which has only 200 children, is just along the road. I walk there every morning. Yesterday, news was released that there would be some changes. We will be turfed out of our building to make space for a special school, we will be forced to move into a new building and double our intake, and we will be sharing the not-very-big piece of ground with a brand new, 1500 pupil secondary school. All of this is supposed to happen in the next eighteen months.

It has been branded as a fait accompli – this will be happening, and everyone is supposed to be very excited about it. There has been no consultation, no plans submitted, and no suggestion of how our little estate will handle the traffic generated by transporting 2000 kids to school.

The worst thing is that no-one found out about it until the powers that be thought it was in the bag. And when I say no-one, I mean no-one – not the staff of the school, not the governing body, not our local councillors. It was all a complete surprise, timed very carefully to be press-released late at night, just before half term when parents can’t gather their forces.

I’m aware that this post sounds like a stream of frustrated consciousness, and I’m not going to apologise for it. I’m angry as hell right now. Because I live here, it’s on my doorstep, it’s my kids school, and no-one thought to ask me. No-one even wanted to hear my voice.

Well they will hear it now. Loud and long, and not just mine. We are going to shout it from the roof tops. I will make my voice make a difference.

I guess it’s about deciding what is worth lending your voice too.

What are you going to use yours for?

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Gather

I sort of wish this wasn’t the first word in the rethinkchurch.org‘s photo (blog) a day challenge, because when I look down the list I see also sorts of words I want to get my teeth into, and not much inspiration regarding gathering.

I mean, gather what? Crops? Elastic in too-big trousers belonging to my skinny MiniMe? The innumerable Lego bricks on the floor waiting to attack my feet when I least expect it?

When I think of the word ‘gather’, I think ‘collect’. I collect books I’m probably never going to read, kitchen utensils that seem like a good idea at the time, and dust balls behind furniture I’m too lazy to move and hoover behind. CableGuy’s collections include all things cycle related, drill bits, and – obviously – cables. MiniMe collects anything that could be described as sparkly tat, particularly of the yellow variety, and MicroBob collects…..

Actually, MicroBob doesn’t really collect ‘stuff’ at all. He has his special few toys, and his special few books, and his special few friends, and he keeps them close.

I wonder if her hasn’t got a much better grasp on gathering than the rest of us. Gather in what’s important, and don’t let it be threatened by all that is outside, waiting to detract us from what really matters.

Find out what matters most and gather it close. This endeth today’s lesson.

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Celebrating Lent

I’m no photographer, so, on the suggestion of some writerly friends, I am aiming to write a short post each day, based on just one word. I’m hoping this will get me out of my serious blogging slump. So, watch this space….

rtc-lent-fog-square-calendar.png

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To Colour, or Not to Colour?

I saw an article via facebook the other day that in its title shouted “Adult Colouring is a Waste of Time!”  Apparently there is science proving that it’s pointless, has no positive effect on the brain, and that people should basically buckle down and do something else.

As a proud owner of an assortment of colouring books and ‘posh’ pens (aka pens the children are not allowed to even breathe on), it wasn’t a headline that made me feel all gooey inside.

After a quick chinwag with some colouring friends, all of whom were somewhat dismayed at the idea of having wasted a huge portion of their time, I came up with a number of positive facts about colouring, endorsed by…. well, me and my friends.

Conversation

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had my fair share of awkward conversations . From dealing with my own difficult moods to counselling people with eating disorders and self-harm issues, I have often had difficult things to say or listen to. All the advice about having a therapeutic conversation concentrates on eye contact and open, welcoming, body language. And yet, sometimes, things are so painful to talk about that eye contact is discomforting, if not threatening. Colouring reduces that discomfort. Sometimes, looking makes the saying harder, and colouring can bridge that in a way most things can’t.

Children

My children love colouring, especially as they have now graduated to what they call ‘grown-up’ colouring books. If I’m doing the same as my children, I am endorsing their love for it. They like colouring, so I will like colouring. In fact, one of my favourite colouring books is called ‘Colour With Mum’, and has two pictures facing each other, designed to be coloured simultaneously, which MiniMe loves. It’s something we do together and, as above, doing that kind of activity can induce some profound conversations because they are focusing  on what they’re doing, not what they’re saying.

Mental Health

If you are someone who struggles with anxiety, or – like me – find yourself jittery and fidgety during hypomania, colouring can provide a way to be still. I often find that concentrating on sitting still just makes me even more jittery, but because concentrating on something like colouring stills my mind, my body seems to follow suit. There are lots of people and organisations who claim that colouring can help in a more active way, and that mindfulness therapy can use colouring to bring otherwise hidden thoughts to mind. I don’t know about that, but I know it’s helped me, and I will never knock it.

Creating

I have a relative who thinks colouring is a complete waste of time, because you’re not actually creating anything. This is fine for her, because she comes from a family of professional artists, and she seems to have inherited the gene. I have no artistic cell in my body – not one. But I can still pick out colours, use them to fill in other people’s lines, and enjoy looking at the end result. It won’t ever hang in a gallery, but it’s the closest I’m going to get, and I’m happy with that.

Why Not?

When it comes down to it, I like colouring. I’ve always liked colouring – since way before it was trendy – and I don’t see why I shouldn’t do it if that’s what makes me happy. As far as I know, no-one has said it is intrinsically harming (although I did see a Colour Your Own Kama Sutra the other week, which I think would probably be detrimental to my childrens education…). If I enjoy it, and it’s not bad for me, does it matter if it’s good for me?

Adventures in Colouring - Bible Inspirations

Giveaway time!

This post was inspired by my lovely friend Pippa, who has produced her own colouring book, ‘Biblical Inspirations’. She has kindly agreed to do a give-away for us, and although I haven’t managed to get my pens on it yet, but I can promise it will be awesome. If you want to be in with a chance, leave a comment saying why colouring is cool, and Pippa can pick her favourite as a winner. Happy colouring!
If you are unlucky in the giveaway, you can order yourself a copy by going to Pippa’s Adventures in Colouring page on Facebook – just click here.

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Mummy Land?

I’ve been thinking recently that despite my blog being called Pink and Blue Mummyland, I’ve written far more about my life being affected by my pink and blue moods than I have about being a mum. I’m not sure why this is, seeing as most of my life the last seven years, and certainly the lifetime of this blog, has been spent caring for small people. Maybe it’s because I have lots of parenty friends to share the mummying  with, whereas the bipolar stays private enough that having an outlet is valuable to me. Maybe it’s because so much of parenting seems mundane on a day to day basis. I’m not sure, but one thing is certain – if I don’t at least mention parenting every once in a while, I should probably change the name of my blog, and seeing as it’s one of the few witty things about it, I’m fairly keen to keep it!

When I started blogging, neither MicroBob nor MiniMe were at school. I was very much still a stay at home mum – home being the operative word. In the early diagnosis days, when the depression was at its most debilitating, getting up was as much as I could do, and I spent long days sat on the floor watching whilst they entertained themselves (I like to think that’s why they play so well together, but I’m not sure I can take any credit for anything that happened in those years).

MiniMe and MicroBob

MiniMe and MicroBob

For a long time, the diagnosis filled most of my thoughts. Every day was spent either waiting for the depression to lift, desperately wanting the highs to carry on, or constantly watching for what my mood might do next. Everything else was incidental.

Recently I’ve noticed a change. The bipolar, as much as it is still a major part of my life, has become incidental, whilst raising the children has pushed itself front and centre. Most of my thoughts each day now concern them, not the ilness. My moods are finally taking a back seat to my children.

The trouble is, the fear hasn’t improved – it’s still as present as it’s ever been. It’s just pointing in a different direction. Most days involve some kind of fear with regards to them – am I doing this parenting thing right? Are they getting what they need? How much should I go into school to make sure they are learning enough? Should I be pushing them to achieve or helping them learn just to be?

And yet, I think the scariest fears have a foot in both camps, children first and foremost, but still bending back towards the bipolar – what if I’ve missed spotting things they need due to being so unwell? What if I haven’t noticed how they feel? And – the big one – what if I’ve somehow infected them with this hideous disease? Which ones going to have it? Will I notice it? And will they keep it from me the way I keep it from my own mother, leaving me impotent to help?

There’s been a big argument recently about whether people like me should say they have bipolar, or ‘I am bipolar’. Personally I interchange, depending on who I’m talking to. But one thing is certain as far as I’m concerned. I may have children, but I am a mum – bipolar or not.

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