Over-thinking and Under-playing…

I think I have a tendency to over-think things too much. A lifetime’s history of recurring depression and therapy and medication has left me hyper-vigilant to any warning signs of yet another potential depressive episode, to the extent that my constantly guarded concern gets in the way of the rest of life, clouding my judgement and darkening my horizons unnecessarily. Being so hyper-vigilant to attack all the time is quite frankly exhausting – it drains all the fun out of life, turning me into being a wizened, dried-up old stick-in-the-mud before my time.

I can see that what I really need to do is to loosen up, lighten up – let go a bit more, enjoying the good things in life as they come to me, and just have some fun while I can. Unfortunately, though, it seems that for me the other side of over-thinking the bad stuff is a tendency to under-play all the good stuff.

It’s not that I don’t see it as good as such, more that I just don’t always rate it as important to focus on – I don’t value it highly enough for it to register as meaningful on my internal radar. I’m always on the look-out for potential trouble in all things, so anything positive I see is automatically tainted with inherently negative threat, keeping me wary – a bit like the potential threat of being caught in friendly-fire in a front-line battle-zone. And that, too, is draining the life out of me.

So I feel that it’s way past time for me to move on from holding that persistently precarious position. Perhaps if I were deliberately to allow my blog to become only a positively creative space in which to explore the possibilities of having fun in life, playing both with words and pictures in whatever way I see fit, then that might help me break the bad habit of incessant doom-mongering. After all my real life is full enough of fretting and worrying without having (inadvertently) added another outlet for indulging the inevitable negativity that goes along with it.

It’s not so much a wholesale change of blog direction I’m looking for as a much-needed tightening up of remit – I can still be as randomly meandering as I like, just as long as each post radiates positive creativity overall rather than negatively draining the energy from the page. Part of my problem to date seems to be that I don’t associate a positive mind-set with being genuinely ‘me’ – but I feel it’s time that association changed for the better, allowing me to find a happier future, not only for me but also by extension for my long-suffering family… 🙂

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Drifting, Not Meandering…

My blog no longer feels as if it’s meandering comfortably with me through life – instead I feel as if I’m just drifting aimlessly from one post to the next, unsure of why I’m even still trying to keep it up.

I sometimes worry that I’m using blogging as a form of instant gratification to force myself to feel better about life – I post something, people like it or comment on it, and I feel better for a bit. I tell myself – see, you’re still taking photographs, still writing haiku, still holding an online conversation and making sense, so on the surface you must be alright.

But underneath it all, I have to ask myself – am I?

I know it doesn’t ever take much to knock me off-course in life; I feel as if I’m always balanced on a knife-edge looking steadfastly forwards with courage and hope that this time the equilibrium will last. Then some little insignificant thing causes me to take my eye off the future for a moment and suddenly I have no idea where I am, or even why I am?

Have you ever watched Runaway Bride, with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere? That moment on their first, would-be wedding day when Julia Roberts’ character is walking up the aisle towards Richard Gere with her eyes fixed firmly to his. Then her dad takes a photograph, and the camera flash dazzles her, breaking her eye contact, and suddenly she panics and bolts yet again.

That’s how tenuous my grip on any meaningful positive reality feels sometimes. I can be feeling relatively up-beat, and then in a flash of something or nothing, it’s all gone, just like that. So I know right now I need to get myself back on track before I seriously start to lose my way again; gently work through why I suddenly feel so lost, apparently out of the blue.

I guess the bottom line is I just want to feel like Mad Meandering Me again, not Desperately Drifting Depressive…

The Sound of Silence…

Screaming with no voice

Deep void filled with thoughts untold

The sound of silence

With a lifetime of recurring depressive episodes behind me I always try to remain alert to those tell-tale early warning signs, and for me an ominous inner silence often tends to be one of them. This silence does not bring peaceful harmony to my living soul, but sounds stifled, suffocated, stagnant… deathly still.

It seems it’s not just my blog that is suffering from being all surface and no depth lately, I’m not writing anything of note in my private journal either – looking back it’s been full of mindless trivia and forced positivity recently… never a good sign.

Usually I find writing my thoughts and feelings down to be very therapeutic, as it takes time to find the right words to accurately describe what’s going on in my head, which in turn helps clarify my emotional landscape and pinpoint exactly where I am within it. So when that constant creative conversation dries up it’s usually a sign that something somewhere is seriously amiss inside.

Hopefully remaining vigilant to such signs will help me work through whatever is bothering me so deeply, without depression descending… over the years I’ve discovered that avoiding that debilitating sense of helplessness and hopelessness is often enough to keep the worst at bay. So it’s not a case of fighting against it so much as consciously working within the particular parameters of whatever I find before me, in the hope of finding my own way through once more 🙂

Silence, and Denial…

I’ve been wondering why my blog has slowly become little more than a seamless series of blog challenge entries linked together; week after week of photographs and haiku with relatively few ‘me’ posts in between? Don’t get me wrong, I love taking part in blog challenges, but I don’t want to be doing only those.

I want my blog to be a real-time reflection of my life as it passes by, and right now I sense something lacking in my posts. So it’s not what I currently share in my blog posts that concerns me, but what I do not. And I realise I simply cannot share what I do not accept as reality.

On the surface, I’m going about my business as usual, but when I dig a little deeper I sense silence, and denial. I know I want to be happy in life, be grateful for what I have and enjoy my days, and on one level I do achieve that day to day.

But underneath the everyday veneer what I’m feeling is a growing sense of emptiness and unease, a vast cavern of unfulfilled need so expansive that the thought even of acknowledging it fills me with trepidation.

Maintaining my inner silence allows me to deny my distress, creating the illusion of peace, whereas even the slightest internal whisper that all is not well threatens to echo with acoustic amplification throughout the whole of my being, vibrating with more inharmonious dissonance than I can handle.

I know I have much to be grateful for in life, especially people to love who love me too, but still dissatisfaction plagues me. I alone have made the choices that have brought me to this exact place in life at this exact time, and yet still I struggle on, disheartened and disillusioned, puzzled and perplexed.

So I may feel that I want to explore some of this issues in my blog in the coming weeks, or I may not. But in the meantime, I’ll continue with my weekly blog challenges, and hope that, as ever before, this latest emotional difficulty too shall pass…

Easier Said Than Done…

Do you ever wonder at how you arrived at the exact point in life you currently inhabit? Question what compound set of convoluted decisions took you precisely to this place and this time rather than to the myriad alternative existences you may have had – or is it just me?

The dizzying going round and round in circles ‘what if?’ game drives me crazy, and I try so hard not to play it, but sometimes I can’t help but look back at my life and try to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong – not just once, but on a multiplicity of occasions when seemingly innocuous and inert choices ignited into explosive conflagrations resulting in deep chasms and toxic shockwaves, altering irrevocably the long-term landscape not only of my life but also the lives of those all around me.

Living with the fluctuating ebb and flow of recurring depressive episodes hasn’t helped, either. Over the years it has definitely clouded my thinking, twisted my logic, created overwhelming confusion, and has had me basing major life-changing decisions on what I can see now to be the flimsiest of foundations. The truth is I don’t always know what warped reasoning lies behind each particular decision I’ve made along the way, but nevertheless I know that make them I did, and so have no option but to live with them whether I like them or not.

And so by far the hardest truth I find myself facing in life is that the past cannot be changed no matter what, it can only be accepted and moved on from – but oh, in my deepest, darkest hours of tortuous self-doubt it all feels so much easier said than done…

Goodbye 50, Hello 51…

Tomorrow I turn 51…

This time last year I was struggling through each day with low-level depression, unsure of myself and my life and my future. Earlier in 2013, having hit an all-encompassing emotional wall of depression that stopped me dead in my tracks, I took a prescribed course of antidepressants and attended talking therapy sessions for a few months, and together the combined chemicals and conversation definitely lifted the worst of my black mood, but unfortunately not all of it.

Having already suffered several severe depressive episodes over the course of my life, I decided at that point just to sit with the tail end of that particular emotional storm, and leave the last of it to pass on its own, given time. For a while things improved a little, but yet again I got so far in my recovery, then everything stagnated, plateaued all over again. So as it happened I spent my 50th birthday feeling in limbo, stuck in an emotional rut, not at all sure how to get myself out of it.

After several months of frustratingly treading water emotionally, as 2014 dawned I finally got thoroughly fed up with feeling so permanently low and miserable all the time, and made the difficult choice to push myself through a period of deliberate change in the hope of breaking the deadlock I seemed to be stuck in. To actively challenge the worst of my negative habits, however uncomfortable I may find it to do so, in the hope of creating a more positive approach to living my life.

I chose three main areas of personal change to focus on: to talk about my ongoing mental health issues and finally find my voice after years of shameful silence; to get myself out of the house to meet people again and reduce my life-long, not-good-enough debilitating self-consciousness; and most importantly to be kinder to myself, to learn to be more self-compassionate and give myself the same caring consideration I seem to find it so easy to give to everyone else.

In February I decided to start writing a blog, Quietcalliope, with the aim of sharing my lived experience of depression, and for a while, that did help me feel empowered. But I very soon found it too much to be focusing so deeply only on depression and the more negative experiences of life. After only four months I chose to stop posting to that particular blog, and to start another with a different, more positive, less fixed focus. And so Mad Meandering Me was born, and since then I’ve never looked back.

I also went back to work after a whole year off – I took on a part time, minimum-wage job in a local pub, a million miles away from my previous ten years of relatively well-paid, office-based University administration – and that too has done me the world of good. Forcing myself to face lots of people every day with a smile and a friendly word has become so much easier the more time passes – my smile and my conversation has become more natural, surprisingly I find myself smiling inside more, and that feels good.

And lastly, and probably most importantly, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being a perfect person, by trying to focus on the many good things I have achieved in life rather than constantly punish myself for my myriad failings. I can clearly see how my constant emotional self-flagellation in the past has had a sadly negative impact over the years on my ongoing relationship with my children, and I don’t want to continue this negativity through to the next generation. I still have a long way to go, but I’m determined not to give up, to keep faith with myself, to believe I can become happier in life – with life.

And so as I say goodbye to 50 and hello to 51, I’m delighted to feel more hopeful for a happier future than I have for a long time. Although I’ll never say never, at least I feel confident that my depression has, for now, substantially subsided again. I have much in life to be grateful for – a loving husband, three loving children, and three loving grandchildren (so far – we’ve very recently learned that grandchild number four is due early next summer!). There’s a lot of love out there if only I’m willing to accept it, truly appreciate it, and return it multiplied to those that matter most 🙂

The Black Dog… (Reprise)

I wrote this poem back in March, at the tail end (no pun intended) of a particularly difficult depressive episode… I feel life beginning to weigh heavily on me again right now, and I feel my black dog hot on my heels, hounding me once more… Can I outrun him this time? Who knows…

The Black Dog…

Devouring all in its path

The black dog bites deep and grips tight.

It leaves you flayed and exposed,

Ripped ragged through to bare bone.

You endure, raw and ravaged until

insensible with pain you cease to feel.

Nothing stirs but shattered echoes

And whispers of what once was.

You heal in time, though jagged scars

Run deep through your damaged soul.

But still it stays close – a shadow demon

Suppressed, prowling and pacing.

It haunts you, it hungers after you,

Skulking and stalking.

And in your darkest dreams you feel its pall

As the black dog hunts you still…

Endless Endeavour…

There is nowhere to go

To escape life’s hourglass flow,

I feel caught for all time

In this glass cell of mine.

It holds me forever

Tipped for endless endeavour –

But still hope burns eternal

As my life turns, infernal.

Time’s sands trickling unchecked

Through life’s dark narrow neck,

Pull me down with them, choking

Tightness squeezing and gloating.

I stop struggling for breath

Wait for freedom, for death –

And time takes its harsh toll

On my parched empty soul…

I fall, jaded and tired,

No more pain, uninspired,

Long to sleep, rest in peace,

Force this trapped life to cease.

Ash to ash, dust to dust,

But yet keep on I must –

Live it all through again,

Grain by sharp, gritty grain.

Share Your World – 2014 Week 25

Cee’s Share Your World Challenge for this week asks the following questions:

What is your favourite type of dog?

Hmmm… I like all dogs really, large and small, but if I had to choose a favourite I’d say a big friendly soppy mutt like Scooby-Doo would be my preferred option…

Name one thing not many people know about you?

I have one leg almost one inch shorter than the other – it never bothered me at all when I was younger, gave me a bit of discomfort during all three pregnancies when my hip joints were loosening up ready to give birth, and nowadays I find the older I get and the more general aches and pains plague my joints, the more noticeable I feel it – oh, and sometimes it makes me limp ever so slightly, especially when I get tired…

Have you ever gone scuba diving? If not, would you want to?

No, and absolutely emphatically no! I’m asthmatic, and the thought of being under water with what is essentially a limited oxygen supply freaks me out so much I’m almost having a panic attack even just thinking about it…

What was the most important event in your life last week?

Having pretty much spent 2013 suffering then recovering from a particularly bad depressive episode, my most important events in life right now are more noticeable by their absence than their presence – not having to take daily anti-depressants any more, not having to go to therapy any more, not having another relapse, not spending too much time feeling low, not taking anything for granted… just being glad to still be here, and still in one piece, I suppose… 🙂

The lure of the liminal – life on the edge…

Historically I’m not much of a joiner, have never been in with the in crowd – I’m more of an on-the-outside-looking-in person. A peripheral paddler through the shallows of life rather than someone who just dives straight in and to hell with the consequences. I tend to feel most comfortable – at my most safe – when neither fully committed to remaining potentially stranded on the shore, nor fully immersed and potentially out of my depth in the unforgiving sea. The lure of the liminal – life on the edge. Thresholds and transient non-spaces, neither fully one place nor another, that’s where you’ll find me.

As a teenager I was always on the fringes of school-based group friendships, frequenting the edges of all social situations, regularly found in the kitchen at parties. For the longest time I did try to fit in with everyone else, but there was always that undefinable something (I know now to be depression) that somehow kept me apart, marked me out as other – I felt it deep within myself as well as experiencing the friendly-but-confused responses of my peers.

When it comes to growing up, displaying difference to accepted cultural norms brings its own difficulties, breeds its own desperation to belong, creates ever deeper chasms of separation between ourselves and those whose company we crave most. So as young adults we learn to adapt, find a hybrid way to live both on the family tree of choice yet out on a limb, becoming both a part of yet remaining apart from the larger group. And once we know we can survive quite well on the edges of life, it becomes a habit.

Now I’m older, a little part of me still yearns to be liked by everyone, but a much bigger part of me knows I just don’t play the game well enough ever to win the Miss Popularity vote, whatever I do in life. I’ve got used to being different, to living with recurring depressive episodes, and have finally learned to embrace that difference.

So now I’m asking myself the intriguing question – if people don’t like what I write on my blog, will I change what I choose to post? It’s my blog, my life, my choice – yet WordPress is ultimately a public forum, and if I wasn’t looking for some kind of public response, some kind of validation, then I suppose I wouldn’t be writing it at all… It’s a good question, and one I don’t have the answer to yet, so I guess I’ll just have go with the flow, and see what happens next… 🙂