Bleak midwinter

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

As in I’m feeling incredibly sad. I knew this was coming even thoughout the past couple of months I have been genuinely happy and at peace with my life. A friend suggested that maybe I had been burying these issues. But it didn’t feel like I was denial. More that my happiness was that bittersweet sensation of a person who knows that winter is coming but dances in the sunshine anyway.

Like Jacob Marley I’ve been visited by some familiar ghosts. The first let’s call the ghost of primordial darkness. I’ve always found this time of year difficult. And I know from speaking to others and from working with people struggling with their mental health that I’m not alone in this. As the darkness grows like ink swirling through water, as the trees stretch skeletal fingers towards the dying sun, as the earth freezes appearing so barren nothing will grow. Some primal fear catches me and I begin to worry that the light will never come back and we’ll remain in this internal twilight forever. And I always breathe a sigh of relief when we pass midwinter and the longest night and begin to move back towards the light.

The Ghost of past trauma

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It’s fitting that the actual longest night has always been the anniversary of the darkest night in our family history. 32 years ago today, my first Christmas, my sister was knocked down in a hit and run. I haven’t written about this on the blog before. It isn’t my story and I don’t want to cause any pain by talking about it in detail. But it has always been a difficult day. There is an ambivalence between the pain of what happened to my sister, the loss of the person she could have been, and the joy at the person she has become despite the most difficult odds. My sister is the kindest person I know, a talented artist and a silly bugger. To think only about how she became disabled is to ignore the gift that is her, ‘the girl that lived’. But neither can I deny how sad it is that choices have been taken away from her.

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Tonight in Brighton there is this pagan festival that sums up this ambivalence. During the burning of the clocks people march through the streets with paper mache clocks and sculptures which they throw in the sea. We are going as a family. Although we haven’t talked about it I think it reminds us that even in the darkest night the sun still rises eventually.

The Ghost of recent loss

I’m sad because Christmas always reminds me of Lianne. If you’ve ever experienced a loss you will know that anniversaries and special occasions are bittersweet. She loved Christmas and every year we would go drinking Christmas eve in reindeer antlers. Spending every Christmas day with a stinking hangover was a small price to pay for a night of laughing with your friends until your ribs ached. Even before she died as she got sicker and sicker and finally was unable to come out, Christmas became infused with fear. Would this be the last Christmas with her? I really miss her and have so much I want to ask her and talk to her about. So Lianne if you’re there and not a ball of energy somewhere or been reincarnated as grumpy cat: what’s heaven like? Are the angels hot? Do you miss us too?

The Ghost of future pain

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So we’ve covered seasonal pain, old trauma, recent loss and that brings us nicely like Jacob Marley to the ghost of future pain. Another year passes and I am still not pregnant. And I’m not going to lie Internet friends, this fucking sucks. When I started trying for a baby every month I would get my period I would console myself by saying don’t worry it will happen next month or surely the next month after that. By the end of last year during a similar depressive episode I told myself dont worry it will definitely happen next year. This year that hope has burnt away to ash and I no longer make any predictions at all. I hope against all evidence that I could get pregnant next year but know it is equally likely to take years and also there is a possibility, slim but it exists, that it may never happen for us.

Do you want to know the cruelest thing about infertility? As it becomes more clear that the problem is with me I realize I can bear my pain. But I love HWSNBN so much, how can I bear the thought of being the one to prevent his dream of being a father? We talk about it and I know this is my fear not his. That he loves me more than that. But it hurts.

My period was late for a week and a half this month and even though HWSNBN and I tried not to hope we couldn’t help but imagine a different Christmas one of possibility that next year would be different. My period came last night and I wept inconsolably. Speaking to HWSNBN and my parents helped. Knowing that they will be on my side wherever this journey takes me helps. This pain is changing me, tempering me in the fire into a new person but I worry about losing who I was. I worry I might snap and break under the crushing weight of a thousand disappointments.

And so it goes
ESTRAGON: ‘I can’t go on like this.’
VLADIMIR: ‘That’s what you think.
Waiting for Godot, Beckett

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Like many others with depression I’ve been here before. This is territory I’ve mapped too many times. And there is something almost comforting about the bleakness of the vista, the scarred rock face, the waves tumbling over my head.

There is nothing I can do about these ghosts. The more I work with trauma the more I realize how unhelpful the notion of closure is. There are some wounds that never heal, despite our best efforts we have to learn to limo along with them anyway. I can’t protect myself against past loss or from future pain. All I can do is sit and feel these feelings until they pass. The only way out is through.

Small things help. The realisation that I am not alone, that other people find this time of year difficult too. That there are people who love me even when I am not my best self. Letting go of expectations of how Christmas will be helps. If I cry then I’ll cry and if I laugh that’s OK too. Writing about how I feel here helps even if only my mum reads it.

But the thing that really helps that keeps me trudging forward when path is so dark I can barely see is the knowledge that no matter what long dark night of the soul I am experiencing this too shall pass and somehow, somewhere the light is returning.

20 things to do when it snows. Aka how to survive snowmaggedon

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I wrote this in January, just as the cold weather started to thaw and thought I’d save it for next year. But then the unthinkable happened SNOWMAGGEDON, in March? As a true Brit I know that I can get a least a fortnight’s worth of small talk out of this. Brilliant.
Ahem. This isn’t the only reason I love snow. Snows turns me into a big kid. Yes, I know it’s inconvenient. Yes, I worry about the old people. But because we live in a country where we have proper snow, perhaps once or twice a year it is always thrilling me. Whether it is the Blitz spirit of people struggling on it public transport. Or the kids playing in the park. I love the way snow transforms the landscape immediately, folding over houses and fields like a white blanket. The familiar is rendered unfamiliar, almost uncanny by the stark whiteness. I love the way the snow catches in your eyelashes melting them into starfish shapes. I love how when the wind blows, the flurries look like vapor twisting like smoke from a genie’s bottle.

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I love it all so much I have created the definitive what to do when it snows list!

2o things to do when it snows

Get up really early because the light outside your bedroom is different.

Pull back the curtains swiftly so the white light blinds you.

SNOWDAY! Do the snowday dance! Source

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Check the weather. Is this a tiny flurry or are we in for blizzard time? 100 per cent chance of snow? Hell yes. (Avoid BBC weather, they lie. ‘Light sleet my arse. It’s like the Day after Tomorrow in out there!’)

Update facebook. Friends may not have windows, they need to know the precipitation levels where you are.

Turn the heating up really high, strip down to your indies and enjoy the incongruence of staring out at cold when you are boiling.

Check your food cupboards. Imagine having to survive on some dried quinoa and kidney beans. Thank god when the local corner shop is open and instead your surviving on cadburys and wotsits.

Bake. Something about the cold always sends me into nesting mode and we always have the ingredients for a victoria sponge.

Wrap up warm. You want to be so roasting you have to unbutton yourself. The key is layers, layers, layers. Plus tucking your trousers in your socks to avoid the old snow in the wellies dilemma.

Snow angel time. Press your body evenly into the snow otherwise you’ll get a bum angel. Nobody wants a bum angel.

Make something out of snow. Think outside the box on the one, kids. Anybody can build a snowman but can they build an anatomically correct snowman, a snowcat or an igloo (my project of choice).

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Leave tracks. Choose your spot wisely. You’re looking for a patch of untouched virgin snow. Take a step. Ease into it. Then another. What animal left these tracks?

Start a snowball fight. Particularly with a group of kids who are not your match in size or intellect or HWSNBN… BURN! Rules? There are no rules…

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Take lots of pictures so you can annoy your friends later with pictures of your snowy antics.

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Make a snowmade slushie: get snow and add sugar syrup and food colouring. Avoid the yellow snow though…

Drive in the snow after dark (if its safe.) The snow falling against a background of black looks like the opening credits of Star Wars.

Finally when you are so cold you barely feel your extremities go back inside. Feel the thaw as your fingers start to regain sensation.

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Make hot chocolate like your gran used to make it.

Create a blanket nest and grab an appropriately themed old kids book. My favourites the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Don’t make me choose!

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Stare out at the snow.

Sadly, I’ve buggered my back. So my snowday consists of lying on the floor staring out at the sky. If your snowday is better than mine let me live vicariously through you in the comments.