I have been lucky enough to have gone to Saturday matinees at the theatre for the last two weekends. I am by no means a theatre critic and whilst it may sound indulgent, both are luxury treats.

The first was the Full Monty, my birthday present to my mum, which meant she’d had a fair wait as her birthday is in January. Mum got married very recently to the lovely Ken, this is our first ‘girls out’ since the wedding, we shop and have some lunch before heading to the Arts theatre. There is a buzz, groups of women, alcohol flowing, chatting, laughing and giddy on what’s to come. The theatre is packed, there is the odd male who is with a partner, looking bewildered at being surrounded by women and slightly not at ease; there are women, young and old, groups of granddaughters, daughters and mums, groups of women out to have fun.

Ultimately it is an uplifting story, despite the harsh reality of unemployment and the stories of the men, they overcome adversity. As it goes, in the stage version, their cocks hang in their natural form in the last scene, us women go wild. There are some bittersweet tender moments in the play, each character has its demons to face and as a group of men they build their own support network which bonds them. I sure as hell wouldn’t go starkers in front of a male audience and I am struck by the bottle it must have taken for a group of unemployed steel workers to do it. It is complete entertainment, we both leave laughing as well as having had a tear or  two, everyone is on a high as they make their way out, fun has been had by all.

My second matinee the following Saturday was with Matt and the boys, I decided that we would go and see 1984, as we have only taken the boys to see panto before, I thought that we should expand their experience of the theatre. For the 101 minutes that the play lasted, with no interval I was transfixed by it and immersed by the whole production. The sets, lighting, film, acting were dramatic and yes I guess that is the point! It is a dark book of a dystopian future, Big Brother & Room 101 are features of modern society, they have been formatted into tv shows which reach new audiences. The play resonates, affirms my values, my questioning of authority; as we walk to the bus stop we talk about the play and point out to the boys that our every move since getting to the park and ride earlier has been recorded, our movements traced, our whereabouts known, all stored for safe keeping…but.. by who? For what purposes? We tell them that we are the most surveillance society there is, I start singing “Spying, Lying, there’s no denying, if you cant accept then be discreet”, it is a Hawkind track, the boys are now ashamed of me and totally embarrassed, and are thankful that the bus arrives and they can sit away from me. Matt and me chat about the play and the boys reaction, Toby hadn’t liked the lighting or the loud noises, Hugh although pretending to have been bored had absorbed it. How technology is used, by who, for what purpose etc should be questioned, but as it creeps in, it starts to become invisible. Hughs secondary school, along with many others, use a fingerprint ID system in school, I was spitting feathers at the time and had a long chat with him about what it meant and that I didn’t agree and didn’t want him to have his fingerprint scanned. He on the other hand, did, he understood what I was saying but didn’t have an issue and didn’t want to be different or stand out. It made me realise how quickly technology enables change and how we can easily accept its convenience and ease; whilst not necessarily questioning how or why that technology is being used. It becomes filtered into a black box, that as individuals we place inside without thinking about.

1984 is harsh, it is stark, I hope that by having seen it, if not now, then at some future point, the boys will understand why they got taken to watch it.

 

“You’ll find me in the matinee….you’ll find me in the dark of the matinee….it’s better in the matinee….the dark of the matinee”

Franz Ferdinand: The Dark Of The Matinee

 

 

Advertisements

Post natal depression made it on the news this week, a report got published which quoted the numbers of women who suffer it and the cost this bears to society. I just read an article in this week Saturday Guardian online, which has irritated me. It is written by a middle aged man, whose mother experienced post natal depression and years of heavy duty anti-psychotic medication, which was common treatment for depressed mothers not that long  back. His article had an edge to it which was saying he had been affected by post natal depression and contributed this to his own depression, it got my hackles up.

Depression had not been something I was prone to, teenage angst and grief is not the same thing and whilst I’d had a dose of both I hadn’t been depressed until after my first son was born. It hit me 6 months after he was born, when my maternity leave was coming to an end and I had to return to work, anxiety began to creep in and strangled me slowly. Leaving the house became difficult and I started to withdraw, feeling crushed by the enormity of everything and just wanting to protect my precious little baby.

I didn’t make it through my first day back, as soon as I walked back into my office, I crumbled and at that point I knew I had finally broken. I was singed off sick by my GP, given anti-depressants and within 2 months had effectively ended my career. 

Depression & anxiety became a feature of my life over the following 11 years, not a constant but they did visit regularly. I had pre-natal depression with my second son, a month before he was born, a much loved friend at the time, gave birth to her stillborn daughter. I remember feeling guilty because I’d felt so relieved when he was born, the whole pregnancy with him had been hard and then when he was finally born, that moment quickly filled with guilt, because he was alive.

I became consumed by black holes that would slowly envelop me until I was barely me anymore, anxiety crippling me, my mind was never quiet, the chatter got louder, its voice reinforcing every negative thought.

The boys grew as did my episodes of depression, when we moved here to the fen was when it scared me the most. Suicidal thoughts seemed the most logical answer, at that point in time I genuinely believed the boys would be better off without me. Yet at the same time, the boys were also both the reasons that kept me grounded to this earth.

Now, it is like it happened to someone else because that person isn’t who I am anymore. I don’t want to become all survivalist about depression, but as human beings we are able to learn and grow. Depression & anxiety have taught me many things, its challenges and experiences have shaped who I am ….. despite everything I didn’t give up. In the midst of depression you can’t imagine that the situation you are in at that point will ever change, it feels like you are stuck and there is no imaginable way out, you feel trapped. But things do change, it is how life is, nothing stays the same forever.

Through depression the boys have learnt about mental health, we have talked about it, they have language they can use to communicate how they feel. Yes they have seen the tears, the hurt and the pain, but they have also seen determination, achievement and change.

I do not dismiss that I may experience a depressive episode again, I think it would be arrogant, but what I do think is that the last three and a half years of not experiencing anything more than the odd minor wobble around the very edges; are a good base to know that I can cope and manage. I have learnt what can trigger my negative thought patterns, I know that worrying feeds anxiety, I know that I am strong, I know that I have come through the other side of previous black holes. I know that I have much to be proud of and that from negativity, positivity has grown, I don’t sweat about the big stuff anymore.

Post natal depression does not mean you don’t love your children, it is the enormity of that love which can be overwhelming. There is no preparation for it, no knowing what it will be like to give birth to a child, all you can do is your best on the journey that it gives you.

 

Him and me time

23/10/2014

My youngest wants the day off tomorrow, end of half term, he asked very politely and pleadingly. I said I would listen to his reasons as to why he thinks he should have the day off. He writes the list on the whiteboard in the kitchen, and when I stand and read it, he is literally next to me so that he is touching me. I laugh; the list is so very Toby. He can be eternally optimistic and hopeful, and it beams out of him. His list is this:

  • I will help you with chores or cooking or baking 
  • I won’t miss anything
  • I will do my homework   
  • I will do anything 

Please! Next to it, he has drawn a smiley face with a speech bubble that also says please.

He is desperate for an answer, he offers to do anything I ask him, and so I put him to work.

I get him weighing out ingredients and mixing them, he likes getting the electric scales exact. He masters the hand mixer, after an initial showering of caster sugar and butter, he cracks an egg, chops walnuts and best of all enjoys licking the spoon at the end.

 At one point he puts on the Benny Hill theme tune, not because of scantily clad women being chased by a slightly disturbing milkman, which is my association as a child of the 70’s …. ….But to Toby and his mates in school it is simply speeded up music in which to go on fast-forward doing everyday things, in this case making the cake at top speed. He acted it all out as we just giggled and I joined in, it was that silly kind of fun, which had us both laughing.

I make a mental video, because it is one of those priceless, in the moment things, both enjoying making each other laugh, Toby lights up and shines.

When he was little he use to act out stories with his brother, in the old house there was a wooden arbour over the back gate. The boys would perform Jack & the Beanstalk and climb up each side, whilst assorted audience members would sit on the rug and watch them; there has always been a part of Toby which likes to perform so it is wonderful to see him enjoying drama since he started secondary school. He is finding his thing, he is in a place where he can now engage and manage what he likes and enjoys, he has found his coping strategies and a group of mates, and he can be himself. He has found his feet, so to speak, he works in the lessons he likes, we don’t count art, RE or PE, and we focus on the stuff he focuses on. We discount the red ‘homework not done’ stamps in his planner that aren’t English, Maths or History, he now knows this is the worst that can happen, that it is no big deal. Homework at one time equated into Sunday night hell with a nuclear fallout that no one could tread, half way through year 7 school and I negotiated boundaries where homework was concerned. Only necessary homework is to be done, this is not to say that homework nights are stress free but they are more manageable and therefore Toby copes which means the rest of us do not have to deal with the force of his aggression, so therefore we cope better as well.

Toby knows his limits, we know his limits, and we know when he has reached saturation point, now that he is older he is also wiser as to how to express when he needs a day off.

I know that a lot of kids’ angle for the last day of term off, but what is fantastic is that we are even at a point where Toby gets that. We have reached a point where he can tell us what he needs, we no longer have violent outbursts or screaming rages or the abusive language. What I hear, is him telling me that he needs a day at home and downtime with me. I know that he has been concerned about me since I had a minor procedure this week, it startled him and I know that what he needs is time with me, without his dad or his brother being home. He has been very cuddly with me and checking that I am ok and asking if I need anything, seemingly simple things on the surface but understanding or being able to express empathy is not a given. My heart melts because he is telling me that he needs him and me time.

As he is helping to tidy up, he asks me if I will give him an answer before bedtime, I string him out a bit longer and then tell him it is ok with me, but he has to ask dad. He comes back into the kitchen and gives me a hug, he tells me dad said yes and that he is going to make me breakfast in bed of tea and toast. He asks me if he can eat toast in bed with me in the morning, I smile and say yes.

 My boy needs him and me time.

 

Growing Up

19/10/2014

My youngest has been complaining about having his room back, it is well justified, he moves into the spare room when his uncle, aunt & niece come to stay. He has been in the spare room for months and whilst I have had good intentions they haven’t actually happened in reality.
So today was d Day and it turned into a fairly major de-clutter.
He was very adamant in how he wanted his room to be, and after some negotiation and discussion we agreed a plan. He wants minimal things in his room, he wants his wardrobe to be for clothes only and he would like new curtains – dark blue with a duvet cover to match; he no longer wants the bookcase which I painted blue when he and his brother shared a bedroom when they were small boys. The bookcase was given to us by Grandma’s neighbour, we had just moved off the boat into a rented house and had little furniture, we were grateful for her donation of 3 bookcases. I painted the bedroom for the boys and had leftover paint, so sanded, primed and painted the bookcase; in order to actually get it into the boys’ room we had to man handle it through their bedroom window. When we moved out, I had a wrist injury so our friend Stef came and helped dad get it back out through the window. Toby recalls this story as we are going through the books he no longer wants. It is really lovely to hear him speak about Stef and remembering a funny event which still makes him laugh. I have a feeling of peace as he talks, his words have peace and acceptance as well as understanding that life goes on. Death is final and that is hard to deal with, he has reached a milestone and come a long way on his path with grief. There is no sadness in his voice but lightness and laughter, it is a beautiful moment.
It is quite a cathartic afternoon, in order for Toby to have his room exactly how he wants it, he has to sort through his things. He accepts this with no qualms and takes each book off the shelf saying which pile it should go in. This is the first time that he has been able or willing to do so, as he picks each book up he gives a running commentary, which makes us giggle. He flicks through some of them and hands me two of his old railway books.
I flick through them as well and remember the days when he would be transfixed by the pictures; he would spend hours looking at them – at one time the book use to go to bed with him.
By the time he has sorted all of his books they are all in piles – charity shop, Fidget, Roan, Thomas and some which are keepers or mine. As I am bagging them up I am both reminded and amazed at time, when we moved into this house he was 7.
He is nearly a teenager, no longer a little boy, he is a young man and has decided it’s time to pack away his childhood.
Today my youngest son, in his way, told me that he is growing up.

Unemployment

19/10/2014


My last official working day was 21.5.2014. Unemployment was not a lifestyle choice but it sure was an experience, mainly of a hideous bureaucratic nature that I don’t wish to have to repeat ever again.
You soon become seen by the DWP as not just a ‘claimant’ but as a non-person, another benefit bum.
The Poor Law act introduced the idea of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’, this remains and has been a continuous stable feature of the welfare system. Firstly you demonise the poor and then you divide them, those that are down on their luck and those that just can’t be arsed. Whilst all the time within wider society ensuring that they are all benefit scoundrels and cheats. One homogenous group ready to be scorned, blamed, and used as scapegoats.
I did not choose to become unemployed, my fixed term contract ended and despite actively looking for work and attending interviews, nothing had my name on it. I signed on because I have to feed my family.
I can honestly say the job centre did fuck all in actually helping me, instead they made me do weekly sign on’s… you meet some interesting people while you’re waiting and you hear their stories. I have seen people walk out in tears and I have seen people lose their cool. For all you civil servants out there, you really shouldn’t be surprised. I suggest you think about how you treat people – people being the operative word. My worst experience totalled an hour and half wait with the scantest, muttered apology. You have little choice if you don’t sit it out, if you don’t sign, you don’t get your money. By the way don’t forget to be grateful for the £72 per week JSA, which of course will feed 4 mouths and pay your travel to interview,
I was technically only unemployed for four months, it felt a lot longer. I gave up counting the number of job applications, CV’s & covering letters I wrote and the number of interviews and second interviews I had, only to be told I didn’t get the job, it is a soul destroying treadmill.
But then as I was sat waiting to be called to see my advisor, a pasty ill looking man with long manicured fingernails, I picked up a flyer about NEA New Enterprise Allowance and thought that’s the answer – I will work for myself, time to stop thinking about it and bloody well do it. So I have.
Bev’s Bakes is now in business, I have:
• completed the Enterprise course
• passed the Btech modules,
• registered my kitchen
• been inspected by Environmental Health – I got a 5 star rating
• written my HACCP
• got insurance
• registered with HMRC as a Soletrader

I am now baking traditional home baked cakes for a living. I am my own boss. I have some regular customers and orders as well as an order book waiting to be baked. My little blackboard signs and 5 start rating sticker are proudly on display in my kitchen windows.
I have dreamed the dream of working for myself for a very long time, and for those that know me well, know that I have a plan and café name in the waiting. But in the here and now I have started something and that feels pretty damn good; the hard work starts now – building up my business.
It always amazes me how things happen, how circumstances in time bring us opportunities. Sometimes we see them and sometimes we grab them and ride the wave; not knowing where the wave will take us. The challenge is to trust the wave, because you are trusting your own judgement that made you grab the wave. You are trusting yourself, and you are the best person you can possibly invest in.
I am riding the wave.