Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Am I addicted to wrapping paper?

Packing away the Christmas things this year seems kind of different - we probably won't be living in this house next Christmas, so I'm trying to do a bit of sorting as I go.  The first task on my ever lengthening To Do list was the wrapping paper.

I should point out right now that I am an adult wannabe.  I drool over colour coordinated displays of towels, folded in neat piles with all the edges facing the same way, and wonder why my airing cupboard doesn't look like that.  I indulge my domestic goddess fantasies by flicking through cookbooks bursting with supposedly simple but delicious and nutritious meals that I know I will never sustain the concentration to make.  I have great intentions, but not quite so great at the sustained effort part.  I wish I was one of those tidy and organised souls that has the exact right size box for rolls of paper, maybe even compartments for birthdays and Christmas,  a bit for ribbons and bows... you know,  all sorted and easy.  But I'm not.  Not just not tidy and not organised,  also not sorted and not easy.  Which may explain why I buy a few rolls of wrapping paper every year - after Christmas,  reduced - and why our wrapping paper is in a suitcase.   Scrappy rolls of paper with ripped and dog eared edges surrounded by squashed metallic bows,  all wound around (and around) in a tangle of plastic-y curling ribbon.  Along with some folded gift bags - reduce reuse recycle and all that - Mr Manley's mum usually presents the kids with an extremely fancy gift bag of presents, so we save the bags for the following year.  And also in the suitcase, two or three almost empty rolls of sticky tape and a blunt pair of scissors.

So yesterday, I emptied the suitcase, and uncovered thirteen rolls of paper.   Thirteen.  And I realised that although I buy three or four rolls every year,  I use less than that, so it's been building up.  I think the one that provided the necessary shock to the system was an unopened roll from Woolworths.  How long ago did they close exactly?  I just checked - I would have bought them right after Christmas 2008.  Six years ago. Oh dear.

Anyway,  I binned a load of squashed bows and have reorganised the wrapping paper and bows and everything,  although it has gone back in the suitcase.   Mr Manley said it was easier to get into and out of the loft than a box,  but I pressed a couple of cardboard delivery boxes into service inside it,  so hopefully the remaining un-squashed bows will survive to next Christmas.  And I haven't bought any wrapping paper.  At all.  Even though it's reduced.  Everywhere.  I've resisted the temptation - quite proud of that actually.

I think the origin of my wrapping paper fetish (and probably the whole domestic goddess / wannabe grown up thing in fact) was the crappy first sixteen years or so of my life - one christmas in particular has stayed with me and I've strived ever since for the chance to experience the opposite.  A twinkling tree surrounded by beautifully wrapped and ribboned gifts, hands cupped around mugs of creamy hot chocolate with a handful of marshmallows melting on top, smiles and kisses, giggles and wishes.  Yep, I want a perfect christmas.  Never going to happen of course, someone is bound to eat too many chocolate coins and end up feeling very sick as well as very sorry for themselves (Petal), or start a silly argument over whether we should watch Elf on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (Noah), or refuse point blank to get out of bed until they get a cuppa (me).  And I know that, deep inside, but apparently this seems to be yet another example of being logically and intellectually certain of something but unable to apply that knowledge.

It might be wishful thinking as much as anything else, but perhaps I'm one tiny step closer to that dream version of me, Lucas the grown up.  Not because we had a perfect christmas - we didn't - but because I didn't expect to, and that lessening of pressure, letting myself off the hook, made all the difference.

- - - - -

Monday, 22 December 2014

I saw it through

Trigger warning : includes references to abuse - please take care of yourself

I've never heard a woman describe having a cervical smear test as a pleasant experience, but when your history includes sexual assault it's difficult to explain how genuinely traumatising it can be.  But, on Friday, I achieved a victory over my own history - it was something that might seem insignificant to most people, but I'm trying to celebrate the ups these days, so here goes.

I hadn't managed to keep any food down since Wednesday evening, I was running on fumes for sleep and I was snapping at everyone for everything.  My body and mind felt brittle, stiff, so tense that every sound seemed amplified a thousand times, and as I sat in the waiting room I could feel myself shaking.

When my name was called I exchanged a tight smile of acknowledgement with the doctor as I slowly stood and walked towards her, briefly wondering if it was too late to run screaming from the building before dismissing this as being likely to be noticed.

I am tagged as 'complex', something that means I'm seen at the sexual health clinic in the city centre as opposed to the treatment room at my gp surgery.  My reasoning is that staff who deal exclusively with sexual health are likely to be able to carry out the procedures more quickly than those who during the course of an ordinary day also carry out immunisations, change dressings and take blood.  The appointments for the complex clinic are longer, and the staff are aware that the women coming in might be struggling with all kinds of issues.

'So,' the doctor commented, 'Am I right in thinking you need a smear test today as well as a coil change?'  There was no stern look as I hesitantly explained the smear was two and a half years overdue, and the coil had reached it's expiry date six months ago - no tutting, no judgement, no fuss.  She nodded as I told her, in fits and starts, that this was something I dreaded intensely, and could not face submitting to as often as I knew that I should.  Hence the delayed smear test - although I'm recalled every three years, my coil lasts for five, and it had taken another six months to bring myself to arrange the appointment, and even then only because there were indicators the coil was becoming less effective.  Her calm and confident manner as she explained the order she would be carrying out the necessary tasks was reassuring to a point, but I could still feel anxiety churning up my insides.

'If you could just undress from the waist down and take a seat here, lay this paper over your lap and Helen [the newly introduced assistant who was tasked with supporting me] will show you how to position your legs'


Cold air on my clammy legs, the indignity of being partially clothed in the company of others, worrying about hairy legs and whether I smelled - it was all eclipsed in my mind as I struggled to get enough breath... images flashing before my eyes of times I'd had no control over what was happening to my body, I heard whispered threats, and heavy panting right next to my ear, faster and faster, and I clenched my eyes so tightly closed that I saw colours exploding...

I heard the doctor saying my name, asking me if I wanted them to talk to me for distraction, reminding me that I was in control and if I wanted them to stop then they would do so straight away.  'I'm okay' I whispered - of course I was far from it but the quicker this was done then the quicker I could get out of here.  'I'm fine'.  I tried to breathe slowly as I felt the speculum, as my insides were jacked open like a car in need of a new tyre.

'Lucas, the smear is done, you're doing really well...just try to relax, let your bottom sink into the couch, it's just going to take a minute...'

A twinge of pain, as if someone had flicked an elastic band against my insides...  I kept my eyes tight shut, and realised I was clutching Helen's gloved hand.  I was intensely aware that I was overreacting, but could do nothing about it, still focusing on breathing in and out.

'Okay - that's the old coil out Lucas - do you need me to stop?  You're doing great but we can leave it for now if you want, what do you think?'

My thoughts were whirling round - stop it stop it stop it stop it - but I knew I needed to see this through.  It was nothing to do with the pain (I've had three babies after all), or selfconsciousness of my body, but just the entirety of the situation - there was very little that could be done to make this easier for me.  It was about the struggle to get to this point, on this day, in this room, under this paper sheet - the struggle to relinquish control of my body to someone else.  'I'm okay, please finish' I managed to force out from between gritted teeth - I knew if I freaked out now it would be years before I was able to work myself back to here.

Another twinge and then 'okay Lucas, we're done...  I'm taking the speculum out now, we're finished.  Take a few deep breaths - you did it.  The smear is done, the old coil is out, and the new one is in.  You did so well Lucas - just relax a minute before you hop up, don't want you passing out.  I'm drawing the curtain round, to give you some privacy.  Sit up slowly once you feel okay, pop your trousers on and then there's just a couple of things to tell you and you can get out of here.'

Once I was sat back down, dressed but still shaking, I almost dissolved into hysterical giggling when the doctor commented that I looked pale - of course I did! - and asked if I needed to lie down for a while.  But I just wanted to be done and get home.  'You're not covered for seven days' she reminded me, and though I knew it was going to take longer than that to unwind from this I nodded and thanked her.  I was scared and dizzy and tearful and trembling, but I had seen it through and that was partly because of her.  She'd been professional, but thoughtful; empathetic, but not condescending; confident, but not pushy.  Because I had faith that if I needed it to stop then it would, I had been able to continue.

Mr Manley was waiting outside, having been barred from the women only complex clinic, and hugged me tight against him as he asked if I was okay.  I spent the afternoon on the sofa, wrapped in several blankets, with a steady supply of cups of tea and biscuits.  I have a follow up appointment in a few weeks which, to be completely honest, I will probably cancel as it will include an internal exam, and I just don't think I'll be able to do it.  Then, in five years I'll make another appointment, and go through it all again.

There's a voice in my head pointing out that the smear was way way way overdue; that the doctor and Helen are most likely laughing together over the state I was in (both emotional and physical - I mentioned the tears and the hairy legs, right?); that for most women, ordinary women, this is no big deal; that I should be over this by now.  But there's another voice in there too - a quiet voice...not quite a whisper, but without the confident tone implying years of practice.  A voice that tells me none of that matters.  A voice that suggests I concentrate on the fact that I saw it through, even though it was a struggle.  A voice that reminds me to look forward, instead of back.

Friday, 5 December 2014

news *TW*

Possible triggers regarding mental health distress - please be aware.

***I edited this post after hearing that the family of the individual I mention are asking for media privacy.  I have taken out the limited information that I included on her, but have made the decision to repost this, and hope that it is read and recognised as my personal reaction and desire to promote openness over the issues relating to mental health. ***

Hot tears chased one another down my cheeks as I tried to keep my breathing even, not wanting to draw the attention of the kids.  If they noticed my red eyes and running nose I'd have to explain the reason for my distress, and I didn't know if I could.  Along with many others, my heart was aching for a woman I'd never met, and the pain she must have been experiencing.  My chest felt dull, empty, and I wanted to howl - to protest against the universe about how this was not fair - a woman who had just become a mother, a baby who had just begun her life - gone.

On twitter I found I wasn't the only one who had been shaken by the news that the baby's body had been found.  If we were brutally honest with ourselves we knew that if she'd been left on someone's doorstep then she would have been found already and returned to safety; and if she'd been tucked into a bush then the temperatures overnight would have been too cold for her to survive.  I think for me the news that the baby had been found brought not only grief for her death, but also added another layer of pain for her mother - that she had reached that level of desperation and disconnection.

A huge assumption needs to be acknowledged here.  I am assuming that the mum's mental health deteriorated before she left the hospital with her baby girl.  That may not be accurate, but I'm writing with that in my mind as the likely course of events.  Something else I'd like to point out is the dangers of confusion and missed complexity when relying on social media.  With no body language cues or tones of voice we're forced to rely on emoticons and our own understanding of language, and this can easily go wrong.  A group of us on twitter realised this and the importance of 'think before you tweet' - hopefully mainstream media will be responsible when reporting the circumstances - in fact the Samaritans have an established media protocol, focused on reducing risk to vulnerable readers, respecting privacy and recognising the complexities involved.

As utterly devastating as this must be for all those who knew and loved her I find my focus is not on their grief but on the mum herself.  Not because I don't feel for them - my most sincere condolences go to all those who knew her.  I think my mind is drawn to her distress because, along with many others, I identify with some of her pain - that recognition of her anguish resonates deep within me and brings up memories of times I struggled to connect with the world around me and found myself bereft of hope and unable to look forwards.

Even now writing this I'm in tears, and so I'm purposefully making the choice to tend to my own needs and leave it there for now.  I hope to be able to share with you my experience of post natal depression, as well as the stories of others and the importance of fighting the taboo and stigma relating to mental health and pregnancy and birth.  If you'd like to join in, please get in touch - you can email me, make contact through twitter (@abstractLucas) or leave me a message in the comments box.  

If you need support or want to talk please consider getting in touch with the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (from within the uk) or click here .