Finding The Music

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato

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Monkey and I were temporarily stranded in our car the other day on account of a veritable monsoon outside. Trees seemed to bend at unnatural angles nearby as rain smashed horizontally into my windscreen. The sky was a menacing and murky shade of black and mid-morning looked very much like dusk.

Like a stuck record I found myself sighing, complaining and moaning about the weather, as we waited for a gap in the downpour lengthy enough to allow us to dash from car to shop and hopefully back again.

It was at this point that my little boy said:
“I like the sound of the rain on the roof, mummy. It sounds like music“.

Music
? I hadn’t thought of that. The soundtrack to my bad mood was in fact melodic to his ears. Despite the grey, the cold and the wet he had somehow found the music. Found harmony. Exacted some joy from the situation.

I think children are incredible teachers if we can only learn to listen to their lessons, but in order to do so we need to slow down. In actual fact, on that rainy day recently we were in no particular hurry. It really didn’t matter if we spent five minutes longer in the car. It wasn’t necessary for me to huff and puff and moan. I could’ve just enjoyed some one-on-one time with my son and made the most of it. Tuned in to life’s radio, turned the volume up and sang along, as it were.
Life can be so fast paced. Dashing between drop-offs, panicking over pick-ups, hurrying through homework, procuring presents for parties and worrying about work. I sometimes think that if this phase of my life were to have a soundtrack it would be the Flight of the Bumblebee. Go go go… Don’t stop! Press on! Hurry!

In actual fact, musical moments are everywhere if only we can make ourselves slow down enough to hear them. We race through life at warp speed without pausing to listen to it’s harmonies.

Obviously the sweet sounding laughter of my babies and their words of love and affection are like music to my soul. But in all honesty, sometimes the sound of my husband’s key in the door is the sweetest music to my ears, with the words “Goodnight Mummy” coming in at number two in the chart.

As I sit writing today, it’s almost 11am on a Monday morning. It’s quiet. Both children are in school. I can hear the clock ticking quietly, the gentle hum of the fridge and birdsong from outside. These sounds are peaceful. Undisturbed. Mundane, even. But alongside the rhythmic, understated percussion from my tapping keyboard they make an uplifting melody. Their tones resonate positivity after several weeks of silent, whispered apathy.

I’m able to write again, which means I’m in a better place. The keystrokes a tip-tap of positivity and hope. Of words which, until recently, had been drowned out by the din of self-doubt, deafening depression and audible anxiety. But as I sit here now, in this moment. I hear calm and I feel more peaceful than I have in weeks, if not months. And really, this moment, this verse and this note is all that matters. All that ever matters. Hearing the harmonies, listening to life’s lyrics. Slowing down, seeking out and taking in those few joyful moments a day. One day at a time.

Because let’s face it; All the world may be a stage but we aren’t characters in a musical.

We won’t skip from place to place with orchestral accompaniment, joyfully and gleefully dancing our way from one blissfully perfect day to the next; Merrily separating our fighting children and going about our daily chores with palpable ebullience. (In fact, if this is the case, we might need to speak to the doctor about getting our meds changed again).

Life is not always up-tempo. Sometimes the backing track will be more melancholy than mellifluous. Now and then you might find ear-splitting death-metal will be the anthem of the day and even locking yourself in the bathroom won’t afford you a nanosecond’s peace and quiet from your little monsters.

We can’t expect symphonic raptures all day, every day. But if we can stop and find the music every so often… if we can fill our ears with their polyphonic laughter and their gentle, sleeping breaths, allowing the music to sink in to our souls once in a while, I think we’re winning.

Some days life’s orchestra is pitch perfect. Others are more attuned to a beginner’s recorder recital but there’s meaning in the music and melody in the moments, if we listen hard enough for it.

So this week, try to keep your internal jukebox in check, Avoid discordant stuck records and negative thoughts if you can. Turn the volume down on them. Crank up the bass on a tune that makes you smile and dance with your children until they begin to look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Make your own music if you can’t find any. Listen out for the joy.

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Dear You

The Recovery Letters is a blog which publishes letters addressed to those suffering with depression, written by people who are recovering. They kindly approached me to write one for them. I hope you like it.
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Dear You

Did you know that there are flowers which bloom only in the darkness? Even on the blackest night, Moonflowers blossom, their beauty shining through.

Depression can make you forget everything you know and rob you of rational thought. It sucks the colour out of life and makes you feel like the world is spinning without you, like you’re absent. Like you don’t belong in any conversation. Like it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t present in the room, the town, the world.

The strength of depression lies in its ability to negate positivity. No matter how sincere the compliments others may pay you, you can’t believe them. You can’t accept that you’re worthy of love, acceptance or even happiness.

But you are. You really, really are. You can’t see it at the moment, because you’ve got a rain cloud over you. There’s a deluge of icy rain blurring your vision and a fog in your mind, obscuring your thoughts. But underneath it, the truth is you’re still there. You’re here and you matter. You’re kind, beautiful, loved. You’re important to so many people and you deserve to get better.

I know you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed these words either. I’d have discounted them, ruled out any positive words. Put myself down.

I spent long, dark, anxious nights awake. My mind raced and I felt like the only person awake in the world. As if the night would never end. Panicking and palpitating and crying.

But little did I know then, that even during darkness, flowers still bloom. And one day, without you even realising, you start to notice them again. It starts with a strange feeling one morning. You think of something you’ve got planned for later on that day, and an odd feeling comes over you. It takes a while to recognise it at first. Is is anxiety? No. It’s called positivity. You’re looking forward to things again. Fancy that.

You might look up at the blue sky, and really see it. Once clear sky seemed to mock you, going about it’s business despite your pain. But suddenly you’ll really see the sky again, appreciate it, allow it to bring you a sliver or joy.

One day soon you’ll notice a beautiful flower, or laugh at a joke, or sing along to something. Little by little, you WILL get better. Because you, as much as anyone, deserve happiness. You are worthy of love, of kindness and of compassion.

In the depths of the darkness it seems like you’ll never recover. But you simply must believe that you deserve better than this. Because you do. You are more than your depression and it does not define you. It is a chapter in your life, yes. Perhaps a big and significant one. But it’s not the final chapter.

Help is out there, so please, please, find someone who will listen to you. Who will sit with you in the dark place until you’re ready and capable of leaving it behind you. If it’s medication you need, take it. Seek out therapy, support, exercise…. Whatever you need. If you don’t know what you need, please find someone to guide you.

Falling apart gives you the opportunity to put yourself back together, like a phoenix from the ashes. You may never be quite the same, but that’s okay. Even in the dark you’ve been quietly blooming and learning. You just haven’t been able to see it in yourself. Soon you will.

Be kind to yourself, dear friend. It truly can and will get better. I promise. You’re not alone.

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You can find many more letters here.

Having A Word With Myself.

For the past couple of weeks ours has been a sick-house. For one week P had can’t-get-out-of-bed flu, and for the following week both kids had bugs too. This is, of course, no different to thousands of other families across the country in January. The thing is, though, is that their illnesses knock me for six. I don’t just mean that they pass their germs on to me (although I am writing this through streaming eyes with scratchy throat). What I mean is, psychologically, it takes a while for me to recover from the fact that they have been ill. The obvious reason for this would be that of course, any parent worries when their child is ill, even if it’s just a nasty cold. Having sick kids is stressful and exhausting and generally pretty horrible. As mums, our own needs are usually pretty low down on the priority list and when your children are sick, this is more apparent than ever. For me, I can live without an uninterrupted wee and deal with not getting in the shower until 2pm. Their needs are more important, particularly when they’re sick. And as soon as they’re better, in theory, things go back to normal.

Or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I consider myself to be “in recovery” from my depression, in that it’s a constant work-in-process that I need to remain aware of. One day at a time. There are thought processes and strategies that I use to keep myself on the upward bounce as much as I can. But I find that in stressful times and particularly when there’s been illness in the house, I don’t get the chance to pay attention to my own emotional wellbeing and this can take me down a slippery slope.

So the purpose of this post is to have a word with myself in order to get back on track. Contradictions will follow, I’m afraid! That’s how my mind works.

When I was getting professional help with my depression and anxiety (which I highly recommend. Getting help, that is, not the depression or anxiety. That really sucks) One of the things the counsellor repeated regularly was this: “Rachel. It is what it is.”

Let me explain….

I struggle with overcoming the notion that I have no justification in feeling depressed; I have two beautiful children, an amazing husband and the support of my family and friends. There is a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food on the table and countless other blessings. What right do I have to be depressed?

I have a strong tendency to compare my circumstances with others who I feel have far more reason to feel low. I have friends who have recently suffered through bereavement, infidelity, miscarriage, divorce and serious illness. And that’s just people I know. Don’t start me on the pain and suffering out there in the wider world.

Drawing these comparisons can leave me feeling self absorbed, selfish, ungrateful and ridiculous. None of these feel good, let me tell you. So I remind myself that my own struggles are no less valid because others have suffered more. Telling yourself you can’t feel sad or upset about certain things because others have it worse is like saying you can’t be happy because others have it better than you.

Depression is chemical. My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin to keep me on an even keel. This is simply not something I can control. (More on the subject of control on future posts). The same way that a diabetic can’t control their body’s insulin production, I can’t control the fact that primarily, the cause of my depression is chemical and physical. It “Is What It Is”. All I can do is be aware of it, “own” it, recognise what triggers it (like sickness in the house and letting myself get tired and run down) and use the tools at my disposal to manage it.

Luckily for me, on the whole, the good days far outweigh the bad and there is one quite simple tactic that I use which really helps me keep things in perspective, and that is practicing gratitude whenever I can. Because I really am grateful for what I’ve got.

In writing this I’m concerned that it’s going to come across as a bit sugary or cheesy. But It Is What It Is, it helps me be a happier person and maybe it’ll help someone reading this too. So I make no apologies.

Here’s an example;
A few minutes ago, I surveyed my living room. There are toy bricks EVERYWHERE. There are play-doh crumbs under the table. There are very small handprints all over the patio doors. A half-built train track lies abandoned in the kitchen waiting to trip someone over. A little pile of clothes shows me where my strip-o-gram of an eighteen month old daughter has stood and removed all of her clothes. Just because she can. She doesn’t care that it’s snowing out and she’s recovering from a nasty cold. My house looks like a bomb has hit it.

I can look at this situation in one of two ways; I can grumble and moan about the mess or I can smile, thinking of Madam’s excitement and pride at the big tower she built by herself, hence the bricks everywhere. I can be grateful for the toys we have that keep the children busy whilst I jot a few ideas down for this article. I can be grateful for the children themselves, that they’re better now. That they’re up to their usual mischief. That they’re well enough to climb the walls.

Another example, and one that I cringe a little bit about sharing, but I’m going to anyway, is the ironing. Boring subject I know. I LOATHE ironing. But at least once a week (ideally, but rarely, more often) I stand and I work through the enormous pile of ironing. I often huff and puff and complain about this. It’s categorically the dullest activity ever. But what I try to do, whilst I’m ironing, is be a tiny bit grateful. Grateful for the little ones who bring the clothes to life. Grateful for the fun times they spend wearing their clothes. Grateful for the job my husband has that requires him to wear a shirt each day. Despite the ironing it necessitates.

Similarly, when washing floors and cleaning mucky little handprints off a surprisingly varied array of surfaces, I try to be grateful for those little hands and feet. I try to remind myself that whilst raising (and especially cleaning up after) little ones is hard, one day they’ll be grown and gone. And I’ll look back on the days of smeary windows and crayon wall graffiti with nostalgia. And I’ll probably wish that I’d spent more time enjoying them and less time worrying about cleaning up after them.

And every so often, when they wake in the night, I might sit and hold them for a few extra minutes, and be grateful for them. I’ll hold them a few extra minutes after they’ve fallen back to sleep. I’ll drink in their sleepiness. I’ll try to forget and forgive myself for those dark early days and nights where I wanted to be somewhere or someone else and I’ll remind myself that they won’t remember. I’ll be grateful for the fact that I am able to be grateful. Because if I’m feeling grateful, then I’m feeling better. And now that I’ve finished writing this, I’m feeling a bit teary, but I’m feeling better. And I’m grateful for that, too.

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Picture credit: http://www.bravegirlsclub.com