#Whatyoudontsee or hear or feel

Last week was Depression Awareness Week with #whatyoudontsee as the illustrative hashtag, popping up with heartening frequency across social media. Social media can feel a contradiction in terms though. I’ve been particularly active on FB over the past six months, over-sharing selected trials and tribulations, beautiful words and beautiful pictures, the antics of small animals and children, grief at the relentlessly regular passing of the gifted and famous. But what I haven’t shared is the fact that I have been ‘enjoying’ one of the longest bouts of depression I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve dithered about publishing this blogpost, though not about writing it. #whatyoudontsee needs expanding, because in my case it’s not just what you don’t see but it’s what I can’t see, hear or feel. For me it’s about not wanting to see, hear or feel, keeping the senses in a state of deprivation. To the question, “What triggered it?” I can answer that the possibilities are both obvious and possibly trite, and the webwaves are rife with notions of nurture vs nature, the nn combo, blah blah. But to be honest I don’t care what caused it, because caring suggests a strength of feeling and most days I could barely muster the inclination to decide what to have for breakfast.

I’m not convinced there is an actual cause, more a convention of obstacles and difficulties that crowds into me. The crowding effect pushes much of me out of the way. Large parts of me are squished under a clump of anthracite polystyrene, it’s not a heaviness, more a breathless emptiness – a vacuum that fills with a dread that makes me dizzy and physically nauseous. I have dreaded waking up, that split second feeling between teeth-grinding deep sleep and opening my eyes when my guts start churning in anticipation of having to somehow be in the day to come. Oddly the dullness was accompanied by relentless crying, but not about the world and its miseries, no that would be a step forward. My tears were all about me, my physical and mental ineptitude, frustration and something approaching anger at everything and nothing.

I’m covered in bruises and eczema, and every joint and muscle aches. Not much is said about the physical effects of depression but trust me, they are all too real. From its arrival around November last year I have felt a degree of frailty that is at times the only sensation open to me. Dull pain can, on those really bad days, feel like a leaden comfort blanket and oddly reassuring. I walk into things, elbows clash with door handles, ankles with the edges of car doors, dishwashers, edge of the bath and all while I can see that it just as it is going to happen. My peripheral vision shuts down as that dark something demands that the world stops doing what it’s doing. My head, neck and shoulders need to be held up by the backs of chairs, or ideally a pillow. The headaches make me physically ill and no amount of pain relief seems to work. But even noticing the occasional absence of pain isn’t as good as it should be. It isn’t anything really.

Less is everything: worthless, pointless, meaningless. Pointless is the biggie, everything can and has felt pointless, with me at the centre. And I know it isn’t true, I know I’m loved but to be honest, so what? Being loved can’t compete with being nothing. Logic becomes an odd notion because none of it makes sense. Relationships are really difficult because I don’t often have the energy to try and be kind or responsive to those that tell me IT will be over soon (will IT? Really? What the fuck do you know?). Being told that someone loves me and is there for me can feel like a responsibility I have recoiled from. Cruelty knows no bounds in depression, even if things aren’t said I’m usually thinking them. My jaw is clenched so tight most of the time that my dentist is readying herself for a break in Tuscany on the proceeds, possibly!

I knew in the midst of the interminable tears that I should do something, see my doctor, tell someone something, anything, but in this state the action of saying is near impossible. I can’t explain this thing that is beyond sadness, anger, fear – it’s all emotions rolled into something unwieldy and uncomfortable, set aside for others to enjoy but not me, and no I can’t cheer up or fight IT, or get on with things, keep busy, look on the effing bright side – because IT doesn’t have one. IT has no sides, rhyme, reason, logic, pity. IT doesn’t acknowledge reality and is lodged deep inside. I have told friends in a somewhat frenetic way that I have depression (note: I am not depressed) because it only seems fair when I’ve cancelled at the last minute or cried at the drop of a hat. It can also seem strange because I’m often quite jolly in the midst of this (note: people with depression can still smile, laugh, outwardly enjoy. Sometimes.)

My first panic attack: a non-encounter with a really nice truck driver set me running into my house where I started to shake and sob, then my breath abandoned me and all I saw was an oddly framed view of my trembling hands and the roaring in my head was deafening. I was convinced my heart was shrieking to escape my ribcage. My heart has taken to being a rather noisy over-functioning organ, but regular blood pressure checks show absurd normality. I was weeping copiously at my delightful doctor within two hours. I see him regularly and we laugh a lot.

Medication has helped, especially after the dose was doubled. But the medication does a funny thing. Emotions bubble up occasionally and I have genuinely laughed a lot of late, but tears stay encased in a grubby Perspex cube. I can sense them somewhere just out of reach and have often thought, ‘I’d be crying now if it wasn’t for the meds’. Things that would have upset me even before the depression are comfortably wrapped in something fluffy with a label that invites me to, ‘ignore and retreat because you cannot be arsed today’. IT lurks. I’ve had another panic attack in the meantime and I think I’d be worried at the thought of another but the fluffy wrapping has packaged that fear too. Meds place another layer of disassociation between me and the world, between me, my depression and the world, which is slightly odd. I know this is not real life, or the real me, but facing the world without that fluffy wrapping, just the thought of it, makes my heart beat even harder and my stomach rise, so I’m sticking with it for now.

I’m exhausted by the lessness and its lurkiness! I have no advice to offer anyone. Depression holds a limitless supply of nameless greyness. I am unlikable and unlovable and pointless while I’m liked, loved and generally quite useful. The pain is real and at times unrelenting but it is can be impossible to articulate where it hurts, why it hurts. I’m not a fighter, I’m not battling depression, my depression just is. It’s a bigger part of me than it was six months ago and it’s likely to be a smaller part of me in six months time.

I have disabled comments on this post but if you find anything that I’ve said useful please can you share in the spirit of Depression Awareness Week.

 

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Prize maps write to my heart

Using four out of the five fingers on my left hand I can count the number of worthwhile prizes I have ever received. The £4.30 lottery wins don’t count. Scratch cards enthusiastically pressed into your hand by an over-eager young person leaping at you when you’re ambling along a Calle on a Costa, ie. timeshare touts, don’t count. The annual progress prize, presented to me on no less than four occasions at my posh school for girls, didn’t count; in fact the memory of going up on that stage year after year has left its scars.

So receiving an email from Shaun at Writing Maps to tell me I was going to receive some goodies was a big deal. And what a fantabulous jiffy bag of goodies it is! A wonderful selection of Writing Maps each beautifully illustrated and with a veritable plethora of prompts to get me writing, a notebook (which has already found its way to a new life as a portable Japanese vocab revision book), A3 reviews containing the stories and poems of other Writing Maps enthusiasts, postcards…

Lots of lovely Writing Maps

Lots of lovely Writing Maps

Writing Maps runs a monthly writing competition (no, that’s not what I won) so all you writing chums get entering now. And all you not-quite-sure-I-am-a-writer yet chums: what are you waiting for? Winners are included in the A3 Review of which I am now the proud owner of two, and jolly good they are too! But I know that each and every one of my three, sometimes four, readers are always on the lookout for wonderful and thoughtful gifts for others, and treats for themselves and really you need look no further.
For the past half an hour my favourite Writing Map is Writing Things, a writing map of the things we carry. By late evening my favourite may be The City of Inspiration. By lunchtime tomorrow, who knows.

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From the heart

Knowing More or Less was a project I began a few years ago in response to a series in the Guardian which gave step by step guidance on setting up a blog, a blog that could in turn generate cash. No, no cash yet (but hey potential sponsors I’m your go-to-girl for espousing the virtues of (the so far undiscovered) comfortable bra, milk or dark chocolate raisins and gin for martinis, the pink variety or with tonic. I could even review the tonic). I ignore KMoL for ages, months and more, but I always enjoy getting back to it when I remember it’s there. It often serves as the means to get me writing again. It’s amazing how just a few hundred words can feel like such an achievement, particularly when I manage to say not a lot.

My own blog is me musing on life’s accepted norms and its idiosyncrasies but deciding on the tone, keeping it just light enough, still presents problems. Many blogs aim to be honest and from the heart, exploring personal issues to a point that I admit to finding rather alarming. I do have a heart, in a fair wind and when the sun shines, but I tend to believe that bits of its core are not for public consumption.

The more determined of my three readers (sometimes four, and I thank you) will notice the page on my site ‘Knowing Looks’. This was of course brazenly aimed at potential sponsors who might feel that my reviews and recommendations as a 50-something woman would have value. Never having had a shortage of opinions I believed this section would overflow with anecdotes and useful information. I have accrued a thorough knowledge of shampoos for grey hair for example and my recent move has turned me into a mine of information on many aspects of interior design, particularly cushions. Though this has been the section that I think I’ve actively shied away from. Why is that?

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I am off course off-trend as blogging is old hat these days. Now we can see and hear the reinvigorated blogger. Blogging is in its twilight time; vlogging is emerging with the dawn A friend recently said that I should think about vlogging. Apparently successful vloggers have agents and probably someone to sort out the html blips on their websites. That sounds both lovely and terrifying, but perhaps financially rewarding. I’m becoming a full-time student shortly and will be even more strapped for cash than usual, so if the vlog’s the thing maybe I should be climbing aboard that bandwagon. Mind you I’d need to sharpen up the sartorial act; hair washing, make up and either more glam pjs or actual clothes may be essential.

So, in an approximation of the hummable words of Lionel Bart’s Oliver, I’m reviewing the situation, but I think I’ll have to think it out again! Thank you for reading over the past seven days.

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July’s Top Ten

A lifetime favourite. It's a heritage thing.

A lifetime favourite. It’s a heritage thing.

A selection of this month’s highlights:

10. the number 56 bus

9. casareccia pollo piccante pasta

8. gin & tonic 

Flickr_-_cyclonebill_-_Gin_^_tonic

7. my almost too comfortable walking boots

6. Persian food

5. Minions / Inside Out                        

4. bunches of sunflowers

3. Chanel no 5 body lotion

2. maps of the medieval Mediterranean

1. Tunnocks tea cakes.

I said I was going to attempt a blog post a day for seven days. I didn’t say any or every blogpost would be enlightening or worth reading, did I?

 

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Never the same again

An 'invisible woman' in beach pyjamas - where can I get some?

An ‘invisible woman’ in beach pyjamas – where can I get some?

Births, deaths, house moves, marriages, divorces, new relationships, collapsed relationships are rightly accepted as life-will-never-be-the-same-again events. Stressful, terrifying, miserable, wondrous. Nothing can prepare us for the event or how we will be afterwards. No amount of planning, acceptance, gritting of teeth and outpourings of love will determine the person we are after the event. Because we’re never the same. How can we be? Everything shifts out of kilter and we are forced to readjust our bearings to get back onto a path with that ‘life goes on’ flickering neon signpost. (Warning: duvets and nice fleecy pjs are both a hindrance and a help in the readjustment. Though possibly beach pyjamas, as per the pic, are the answer.)

The readjustment is the thing though, isn’t it? Who am I going to be after this? Who do I want to be? Can I at long last be a woman with a selection of tablecloths (I moved house recently. It’s a valid question. I have a proper grown-up, non-IKEA table which might expect some fuss.) Will I grasp every opportunity to laugh, enjoy and perhaps even have ‘fun’? (Fun; a dodgy concept I grapple with fairly regularly before going back home to hot chocolate and my fleecy, but not beach, pjs.)

How should I be? Is there a right or wrong way to be? Can I now shout back at the complete strangers who tell me to “cheer up, it might never happen”? that ‘It already has you #’£%^@? pillock!’ But for honesty’s sake I should point out that I am a woman over 45 and so entered the magical realm of invisibility some time ago. This magical realm enables the non-gender specific world to look right through me, or indeed try to walk right through me – I am post-45 AND short – so the shouty point has not been an issue for a while.

Actually I have no idea. What I do know is that being told that one day, sooner or perhaps very much later, it’ll be better / easier / enjoyable / wonderful / something to laugh about probably doesn’t help much. Also being told that someone else has it harder somewhere else can reasonably be met with a raised eyebrow or a crude expletive. It’s unfortunately true that being at the receiving end of a life-will-never-be-the-same-again event somehow crushes every empathetic fibre in my being. This is not difficult given that my fibre count has always been a lot less than a silky high thread count Egyptian cotton sheet.

My conclusion, after encountering way too many of the life-will-never-be-the-same-again events, and in the knowledge that there are, terrifyingly, more to come, is that we are never the same afterwards. Each and every one of these events changes us.

And that’s fine because if I’ve discovered anything it is that yes, it really will be a wee bit better / easier / enjoyable / wonderful / something to laugh about and I can promise you’ll be wiser / funnier / sadder / cleverer / more tolerant / less tolerant / happier / more adventurous / cannier as a result. Somehow the same, but always different.

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Throwing down the wordy gauntlet

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A good friend and I worked together for a while and like many folk devised several methods for getting through that devised employee punishment: the team meeting. One of my personal favourites was buzzword bingo with the added frisson of having to interject the word ‘bingo’ into the meeting on hearing an agreed buzzword on three occasions. Retaining a veneer of calm professionalism: essential. Not making eye contact with said friend: P45-avoidance essential.

Occasionally we would pick random words to use in the meeting too. Ideally those words had to make vague sense, so adding ‘blancmange’ to a statement only really worked if you were discussing actual blancmange or exclaiming enthusiastically, “I say team mates, I do hope there isn’t blancmange on the pudding menu when we’re staying overnight in the TravelStop in Hathersedge. One does so detest blancmange.” I loved that game and when I’m having a wild and adventurous day (they happen!) I find it fun, educational and irritating on those days when being irritating is really enjoyable.

words 2

Please enjoy using the following when emailing complaints to your chosen energy supplier, speaking to the space invader on the seat next to you, participating in team meetings, looking at objects in a gallery or museum, buying a new bra or just because you can. I can’t promise a prize for the most imaginative use of the word but the praise of the other two readers of knowingmoreorless will be prize enough. Now move away from the balustrade, remove your gaze from the slovenly street scene below and take those manacles off the shelf…

Contemporaneously Slovenly Balustrade Superfluous Manacles

 

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Settling, carpe-ing or striking

 

A settling down sarnie with carpe-ing and striking filling

A settling down sarnie with carpe-ing and striking filling

Do people still talk about settling down? ‘Nice to see you settling down at last’ was one of the most insulting statements I was ever offered, about 30+ years ago. So I was in my twenties… The implication of a rabble rousing youth I now see as a glorious suggestion, but sadly it was not true. How exactly does one settle down? Is it the alternative to carpe diem, plucking the day and all that goes with it? Is settling down the bread in the carpe diem sandwich? Pluck the lifestyle, live the lifestyle, start plucking all over again when the tedium of settling down suddenly hits. But perhaps settling down needs a whole lot of carpe-ing just to manage the actual settling, and all that might go with the features of settling – perhaps a partner, somewhere to live – the costs of which allow you and said partner to eat regularly way and see each other in between the hours of work that have expanded exponentially to enable the eating… I digress.

Is settling down an actual thing in the 21st century or is it something that has connotations of dullness? We settle for things rather than meeting those challenges head on (another exhausting concept), if we’re not carpe-ing we’re not really living, and don’t get me started on striking while the iron is hot. My theory is that settling down is incorrectly tagged with resignation and complacency labels.  But I think those labels are just plain wrong.

Maybe settling down has more to do with arriving at a degree of happiness with life, having discovered along the way (while doing all that carpe-ing and striking perhaps) that happiness tends to arrive unannounced in and amongst the muddle and mess of daily life.

I don’t iron, my plucking days are fewer and further between so I think it’s quite possible that this is me settling down.

 

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Brief encounters of the reflective kind

L


ife offers many treats and one of my favourite is lone travel. It’s not that I don’t enjoy travelling with friends and loved ones but am I the only one that finds other people’s travel tics stress-inducing? Not all my friends or loved ones have these travel tics. I say this to put friends and loved ones’ minds at ease, or to get you to really think about the obsessive planning, that pocket patting panic at passport control or the repetitive questioning about arrangements on arrival… just saying!

Anyway I like to take myself off on teeny and mild mannered adventures these days. I’ve braved longer journeys to distant lands which I’ve enjoyed but my increasing fear of flying means that for me land-based travel is definitely the thing. I’m still of the mind that there is a romanticism to train travel, particularly overnight trains of which there are very few left in the UK. Memories of night time train trips from Umtali to Salisbury, probably a bit pink and fuzzy these days, got me thinking that an overnight train to the Highlands would be just the thing.strangers

But while I may write a slightly snarky blog about my Caledonian Sleeper experience later … this is about the people along the way. Lone travel, whether it’s an epic journey or a short trip, offers every sort of possibility for personal reinvention. When I meet a stranger will I be me? Or will I adopt an air of mystery, become the Clint Eastwood Pale Rider character passing through and saving the town on the way? The latter alternative seems like quite hard work for a woman who barely manages to hoist her own backpack onto her back, never mind the quandary of how many pairs of knickers to pack. So let’s be me then. I often rather like me so strangers might too. But the great thing is you don’t meet them for long enough that it matters, and if you really bond you can terrify them by asking for email or FB details to stalk them sometime into the future.

I made the definite decision to start conversations with everyone I liked the look of. The result: Japanese B&B owner in Stratford and I chatted about things to see in Osaka; a rather attractive young man and I conversed about gin; a mum and her teenage daughter and I chatted about Connor McCarthy’s (agreed) best book ever, All the Pretty Horses; I attempted to explain the concept of public ownership of the rail service to an American mum, teenage son and her mum; the elderly waitress in Fawlty Towers Mark II and I described the finer points of white pudding to an English woman; I discussed the merits of chips with the teenage waiter in the (amazing) fish and chip restaurant in Golspie; I had a brilliant chat with the woman who owns the flower shop in Tain (go, it’s great!) and discovered that when she was a teen she bought all her records in my family record shop in Rutherglen; the kindle vs tangible books debate with the mum of an exhausting toddler; the young woman behind the bar in an Inverness pub and I agreed that soup was the ultimate food; B&B owner in Inverness and I discussed the problems of varifocals and had a moment of hilarity when we realised we each had a pair of specis on our heads and another tucked into our cleavage – oh, what larks!

My strategy of talking to folk paid off and it made my trip all the better. Just don’t get me started on the people with whom I avoided eye contact…

Booked but elsewhere

Booked but elsewhere

 

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Only the tenacious need watch

By 21st century entertainment standards I am a failure. While I fully get the concept of the boxed set, whether in the solid format with illegible print that takes up space in boxes and clutters surfaces around the blu-ray player when the cobwebs are (not metaphorically) blown away, or accessible via the webby waves that permeate everything, I rarely get beyond series one; series one of anything that was produced post-2002*.

The Sopranos = series one and a couple of episodes from series two. Breaking Bad = nada. Mad Men = nil. The Good Wife = a few episodes. The Wire = also nil, though I had every intention of watching but realised I probably didn’t need to because everyone just assumed I had and it was easier to nod and smile knowingly at rehashings of the ‘good bits’. The list of series I haven’t watched in ubiquitous boxed set format is getting really, really long and will only get longer when at the third episode of series one I am gleefully informed that the second series is to be released in about five minutes. By then of course we really know that nothing, and I do mean nothing, will stop series three, four, five…. and I just can’t be bothered. I usually enjoy series one and maybe a little bit of me worries that a follow on series will disappoint.

No, that’s not it. The real issue is tenacity. I have none where extended viewing is concerned and in fact recently realised that I am happier watching re-runs of things that I either enjoyed a great deal or didn’t hate. This approach offers me the freedom of not paying attention, helping me to develop my multi-tasking approach to leisure – enabling me to read my book, crochet Hello Kitty characters, daydream, talk at loved ones. My ‘able to do while not really watching something’ list is consolingly long.

A Scottish bodice ripper has recently caught my attention and I’ve happily watched kilted antics for hours at a time. But series two has been announced which has made me remember that there are several ancient boxed sets in a crate under a bed that could do with meeting a feather duster sometime soon.

*please note the use of ‘rarely’. I admit to watching, indeed owning, all of Game of Thrones but only after it has come off the channel that I will not pay for or indeed advertise to the three people who might read this. My excuses for omitting this fact are three fold: 1. I was addicted to the books – and wish Georgie boy would get on and get the next written (my enjoyment of medieval machinations and warfare knows no tasteful bounds); 2. Sean Bean, Ian Glen; 3. This blog wouldn’t have worked without that teeny caveat, if in fact it works at all.  

Good old reliable Alec

Good old reliable Alec

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Downhill SKIing

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I wanted it and nagged damned hard for it, but it hasn’t quite worked out as hoped. Spending the Kids’ Inheritance while downsizing big time to a new home was my next big adventure; I would learn the meaning of the word ‘fun’, buy pretty things, book exotic trips and flit in and out of the new abode charming work folk with my easy, sunny manner. I was going to be in my organisational element, smiling gently as visitors gasped in delight at my wondrous new home, and muttered jealously as I told them of my impending travels…

To blow my own trumpet I’m a mighty fine project manager. I’m great at working out the critical path in most situations, and I also pride myself on having a firm grasp on the realities of contingency planning. ‘What if?’is my mantra and I have happily spouted it during training sessions and life situations until I (and I know this is true folks!) became Mrs Bleeding Annoying.

So what if completion on the flat is delayed? What if the delay means having to stay in a hotel a bit longer? What if the work on the bathroom is more extensive than originally known (of course it is I hear you cry!)? What if my bathroom boys vacate and move to another job, leaving me sans toilet and a bath parked in the kitchen directly in front of the only functioning tap? What if the flooring fellows are more elusive than a size 14 short sleeved navy blue polo neck top from M&S (I have one, it’s lovely. I wanted another one. M&S doesn’t think I should have one unless I drop at least three sizes)? What if we have to move from one aparthotel site to another a mile or so down the road? What if new room is situated on a main arterial road and the term ‘triple glazing’ was an unknown to the builder? What if the gear box seizes up on the way to an evening of escape, approximately ten miles from the hell hotel? What if I have to manage a change of accommodation, shout at the flooring fellows’ boss, organise a skip (if the one that’s supposed to arrive doesn’t, and trust me it won’t), re-jig my project plan to allow for the fifth version of my critical path, on less than an hour’s sleep?

downhill

‘What if?’ has been replaced with ‘why can’t?’ Explanations are thin on the ground, and the lack of imaginative response makes me worried for the future of civilisation. I have morphed from Mrs Bleeding Annoying to Mrs Effing Furious. And neither persona works. My jaw aches and stomach churns, and if I ever had charm in my armoury it has gone rusty and all I’m left with is sarkiness. Every day since 20 August, yes I can name the day, there has been an element of bad news. There has been the occasional glimmer of fun and joy; mainly through the purchase of bath mats, strangely. And I go to the cinema a lot. But even that hasn’t been without its issues. Sigh.

But what if it all changes? What if bathroom boys and flooring fellows flood my new home with dust and endeavour? What if I get a good night’s sleep tonight? What if Liam Neeson just said ‘no’? What if M&S produce more size 14s? What if there are no delays, again, ever? What if those pigs stop flying?

downhill2

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