Off the mat.

“People with PTSD don’t do well when things are really busy,” said a counsellor to me, perhaps a year ago. And, inconveniently, we’re coming up to the pointy end of the year (music to learn, anyone?), and if last week was too busy to write, it’s nothing compared to how busy the rest of November and December will be. For the moment, and before I go on holiday next week, I’m battening down the hatches in the calm before the storm.

People with PTSD don’t do well with over-stimulation – I am aware of that, and while I’m confident that this year’s pre-Christmas demands will be less heavy and traumatic than last year’s (healing is a great blessing), I’m also aware of the fact that I am feeling under the pump, and I am starting to have difficulties sleeping again, and I am finding that more nights than not at the moment I’m visited by nightmares, which linger into the feeling of the day. All early warning signs that I might not be coping as well as I could; all something to watch out for; all indicators that I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself.

The other thing I’m aware of, though, is how long it’s been since this time last year, and how far I’ve come. Singing is sometimes still fraught, and my last panic attack was only a month ago, and it was a doozy. But even in that, I no longer wake up wondering if I’ll get through the day, and it’s been a long time since I’ve regretted waking up at all.

I’ll always carry the damage that’s been done, and I’ll always live with the consequences of ten years of domestic violence. Possibly, I’ll have to manage PTSD for the rest of my life, to greater or lesser extents. There are some things on which I will never be able to retain a sense of equanimity and probably some scars will always hurt.

But there’s been healing, and I’m stronger than I was a year ago, and I can stand and look people in the face without cringing, and most of the time I manage my symptoms without really having to think about it, and I have a sense of future as strong as my sense of past, and I feel like I’ve got out from under this. I took the hit, and I fell heavily, but I’m up off the mat.

It’s an incredible feeling.


So much for back into routine.

So I had planned to get back into routine; I was enjoying the sense of being back in routine, with all that entails – and then I got sick. Spectacularly, painfully, too-miserable-even-to-rue-not-being-able-to-sing, messily sick. I don’t like being sick and I don’t do it well. Plus, it’s bad for my to-do list.

And here’s the thing about being sick: it can’t matter. It can’t matter that we were singing a piece of music I really love, and I was stuck at home in bed, watching a fever shimmering in the air around me. It can’t matter that I’d planned to spend my day off going through my poetry notebook, getting back into routine on that too. It can’t matter that I needed to clear my desk, and that the dust bunnies on the kitchen floor were getting close to developing their own consciousness, and that there’s a half-written letter to a friend sitting on my kitchen table, and that I want to get back into the routine of going to the gym, and that there’s no food in the fridge other than carrots and a venerable bok choi. It can’t matter that I see myself as an active person – sometimes physically, always mentally – who doesn’t naturally sit around doing, and thinking, nothing. Nothing at all can matter, except that I shut my eyes, let the cat snuggle me, and sleep.

I’m generally not good at listening to my body. I can be hungry, or chilly, or nursing tension or even pain, without really noticing. So I guess sometimes messages from my body have to be pretty blatant. Yes, I get it: time to slow down.

I said at the beginning of the year that this year would be my year of care. I would care for the world around me. I would care for myself, physically, mentally, emotionally, creatively and spiritually. And then life got in the way.

My resolution to do a better job at caring for myself will last precisely until the next busy period – I know myself well enough to know that. But I have three-ish months left of my year of care, and maybe next year can be Year of Care Mark II.

I might have better success second time round.

Good enough.

We’ve done recruitment this week at work and I’ve spent a lot of time reading CVs, shortlisting, doing phone screening and then conducting interviews all day yesterday. Today was reference checks and ensuring that all my notes on the process are comprehensive, as well as catching up on all those normal tasks which I’ve neglected throughout this whole process. I’m tired and I’m struggling to think of anything remotely intelligent or worthwhile to write, but I feel guilty if I don’t write a blog on a blogging day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday have become non-blogging days; every other day carries an expectation, in my own mind at least, that I’ll write at least something on here).

Again, though, I keep being drawn back to my year of care – for those of you who don’t know, I’ve decided that 2014 is a year in which I will prioritise self-care, in all its forms. By and large, I’m doing a crappy job – I’m generally too busy to bother with much beyond the basics of self-care beyond the physical, and I often need a reminder to stop and reflect on my life, and why I make the choices I do.

So in this year of care, and after a week like this one (which isn’t quite over yet), and with someone who means the world to me lying in a hospital bed and a little bit of my consciousness and a lot of my love hovering over her, I’ve decided that part of self-care is not being hard on myself, and part of not being hard on myself is letting something be, not perfect, but good enough. Adequate. A reasonable attempt.

Like this blog post. A pretty uninspiring, utterly boring blog post (unless you want to know the specifics of the recruitment process – then, I guess, it’s slightly interesting) – but for tonight, it’s good enough.

Sometimes, good enough will do.

Something’s gotta give…

…and, this week, the thing that’s got to give is this blog.

It’s busy: Holy Week, singing, eating, sleeping, and the demands of work, which I have to do so I get paid so I can do all the other things. And there’s only so many hours in the day, and so many brain cells in my head, and part of this whole year-of-care thing (I haven’t forgotten that) is knowing my limitations and respecting them. Knowing when to say no. Knowing when to care for myself, to sit on the lounge and watch Firefly (I love, love Jos Whedon) and have an early night.

Because in order to be present – truly present – to the life-and-death mysteries we’re about to celebrate this week, there have to be times when I’m not present to my responsibilities. When I sit on the lounge and watch Firefly, and have an early night.

Because there’s miles to go before I sleep, and in order to get there I need to be taking care of myself. And not feel guilty. And watch Firefly, and have an early night.

Warning, and a year of care.

This is Warning, written by Kerri Smith, and which I have up on the wall in front of my desk:

Failure to participate in the following activities may result in loss of artistic inspiration and cause dissatisfaction and general malaise.
1. Going outside – time spent in nature.
2. Regular movement of body – limbs, blood, etc.
3. Exploration.
4. Wandering aimlessly.
5. Social activities.
6. Intellectual stimulation.
7. Artist dates*.
8. Time spent doing nothing.
9. Personal work.
10. Eating healthy food.

* My interpretation of the term “artist dates” is akin to that of Julia Cameron: something which feeds  and nourishes my creativity. Reading, going to the cinema, laying on the river wall and watching the clouds drift by above me, laying on the floor and listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – all of these are artist dates.

As with anything that you see daily, I tend to ignore this notice most of the time. But it caught my eye today, and I found myself reading it as though for the first time. And I was reminded again of my determination to have 2014 be my year of care.

Things have been pretty busy recently – demanding, in my face, and there’s been very little downtime and a lot of important things have fallen off the radar: creativity, spirituality, even this blog. I’ve skipped meals or eaten them at weird but convenient times; I’ve forgotten to message friends who I deeply value; I’ve allowed some of the vital frivolities of life – those things that actually feed my creativity – to take second place to the items on my to-do list, those necessary things which help me to keep my job and pay my bills. And while I’m doing my best, and I’m keeping my head above water, there’s very little care in all of that.

So it’s time to re-heed the warning. And, actually, Lent is a good time to do that: a reminder of the importance of stripping back, of returning again to simplicity, of holding on only to those things that are important, that feed me and allow me to be the person I was created to be. That allow me to reflect the beauty and the love of the Creator, rather than the busyness of the life I’ve created for myself.

So after two and a half months, how’s the year of care going? Hmm…time to heed the Warning I usually ignore.

Bleakness, choosing life, care and enough.

This is how it is sometimes: I flow with life during my day; I meet its challenges with equanimity and good humour; I enjoy the beauty of the day and the vibrancy of my colleagues’ company; I leave the office knowing that I have made a difference, and that the world is a little better for how I’ve spent my day.

Then I get home and slip into bleakness. There’s only so much vibrancy I can do; there’s only so much I can give, and even when I’m not sleepy, I’m tired. Not necessarily physically, but spiritually. Intellectually. There are nights when I want to look at pictures of cats on the Internet, or stare into space, or soothe myself with things that mean nothing: junk food for the mind. Nights when I don’t want to have to think, when I don’t want to produce anything worthwhile or challenge myself. When I can barely bring myself to do those life-affirming things that usually feed me: get my music together for tomorrow night’s choir rehearsal, write, read, email someone I love or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook post because I value my friends and that contact is vital to me. Nights when it’s too early to go to bed but I want to anyway, not because I’m sleepy but because I want the day to end. Because I’m fucking tired and I want to turn everything off, just for a while, before I put my game face back on tomorrow. And there’s not necessarily a reason for it – nothing in particular triggers it, it’s not a reflection of anxiety or stress or even the difficulty of the day – it just is.

I don’t know what causes it or how to deal with it, other than to just roll with it. Give up for tonight and start again tomorrow, in the hope that it will be a better day. Tell myself that I’ve done well to get this far: eaten a healthy tea, played the string game with the cat, done the washing-up, and now written a blog post, even if it is just a long-winded complaint.

And even if tomorrow’s not a better day – even if I’m assailed by flashbacks or undermined by the insidious creeping anxiety which strikes without warning – I’ll still do my best. I’ll still choose to be vibrant while I can, and to value those things in my life which give it meaning. I’ll still engage with friends and colleagues, work hard during my day, put all my effort and my soul into tomorrow’s night’s rehearsal. Even if the life that tomorrow presents me with is bleak, I’ll still choose life. And the day after that, and the day after that.

And, in my year of care, I’ll try as hard as I can to care for myself in that. And, in my year of enough, I’ll remind myself that my best is sufficient.

And for now, that will do.


A year of care, and a year of enough.

If 2014 is my year of care, it’s also my year of enough (see for information on the Year of Enough). The care bit’s a mixed bag – I think that true, soul-deep self-care is one of the more difficult things I could have aspired to – but I’m also focusing on this year as a year of enough.

I don’t mean enough as in: Oh well, that’ll do. It’s not a year of settling for less, of being comfortable in mediocrity, of doing less than my best. It’s not a year for compromising my integrity and my skills and my self; it’s not a year for making and accepting excuses for why I can’t do it, why I will be happy in simply not trying. Why I will let me weakness determine how I will or will not be, how I will or will not live my life.

It’s not a year for making demands, either. It’s not a year in which I will reach beyond my capacities for the unimportant and unachievable, for the unattainable. It’s not a year for dinging my worth in the idea of more: more achievement, more skill, more learning. More money and more possessions. More busyness, more responsibility and importance. More, more, more. More is great, and important, but the problem is that if you’re always focusing on what more you want, you forget that, so often, you actually have enough.

Which I not to say that I don’t want more: if my aspirations die then so do I. I want to work to meet my potential: as a social worker, as a chorister and singer, as a person of faith, as a friend, as a creative force, as a creature of the Creator. And then I want that to be enough.

Choir went back today – the first choral Eucharist of the year. And my hands shook because that’s what they do when I sing, and for a while there wasn’t enough air in the Cathedral to penetrate the writhing anxiety screaming silently behind my sternum and up into my throat. And in that I sang fairly well-ish and at times quite badly, but I got through it and I put all my self into it, and I did my best and I wasn’t perfect but my best was enough. My best was enough for the choir and it was enough for the Creator to Which we sang, and now all I need to do is let it be enough for me.

Like my year of care, my year of enough will be a work in progress. It will be hard, and I’ll screw it up, and undermine myself, and if I’m lucky it will get easier with practise and habit. It will be hard, but I’ll do my best – and that’s just going to have to be enough.