Monday, 31 January 2011


Photo via eHow.
I've talked about the whole idea of how I measure myself before on this blog.  But problems often don't go away, they just come back round again in a different form, usually just when you think you've cracked it and get complacent.  Which is how I find that I have just bumped into the problem of Quality versus Quantity again.

I'm working on a new writing project.  I don't want to say too much about it at the moment in case I crush the rush of creativity that I am frolicking just now.  I'm loving every minute of it.  But right at the edge of my vision, like a ghost in an MR James story, there is the spectre of Measurement.  For which read:  'How many words have I written today?'

I'm fortunate in that I can write lots in one sitting.  Two or three thousand words in a day is not unusual..  I realise this is an enormous gift, because I have friends who struggle to grind out 250 words in a week.I am lucky - I just download the pictures in my brain.  (My problem always comes with the next phase, the redrafting, but that's another story.)  Once I have decided my hands can't pound away any more, I always, ALWAYS do a word count.  I can't seem to help it.  Try as I might, its an addiction I can't seem to overcome.

And then I judge myself on the result.

Have I done enough?

What is enough?  In our society, where everyone is judged on how much they've done, I watch the children of friends exhausting themselves with out of school activities so they will have something to put on their CV, pushing themselves beyond endurance to do scouting badges, ballet lessons, Duke of Edinburgh awards, amateur dramatics, work placements and volunteering, on top of numberless GCSEs, to prove they are 'well rounded candidates' for whatever job or University place they aspire to.  Once upon a time, I was one of them, although I admit the pressure was not so bad then.  Trouble is that I am still judging myself on how much I achieve, instead of appreciating that my life can't work that way anymore. 

We all need to recognise that our value lies in who we ARE, not how much we DO.

I need to recognise this.  When I measure myself, all the joy goes away.  I end up frozen into SHOULDland, my creativity stifled by a sense of obligation.  That is how I have been for most of the last year with my writing, unable to work.  I knew I OUGHT to be working on a rewrite of an existing work because that was what everyone around me wanted.  I was using other people's measuring sticks.  (They'll only love me if I finish this for them.)  Its not their fault.  It was how I interpreted their encouragement.  And it is amazing how uninspired you can get with that kind of obligation bearing down on you.

Only when I stop judging myself against a measuring stick, and start BEING instead of STRIVING, will my current state of continual, chronic stress go away.  Only when I start concentrating on the present instead of always worrying about the future or ranting about the past, will my life start to make real sense, and my creativity truly be released.  It's easy to do for an hour or maybe even a day, but to manage it consistently takes a sea-change of attitude that I am trying to implement right now.  Every new moment requires the same choice, over and over again:

  I choose not to measure myself.  I choose not to judge myself.  I choose to be myself.

(Oh, and can someone throttle the bastard who invented the CV please?  He's responsible for more misery than the entire Tory party put together.)

Friday, 21 January 2011


'Wibblies' page from my ME Journal, watercolour and india ink on cartridge paper
Today I have got 'the wibblies'.  This is where I have little or no strength in my arms, legs and neck, which makes me rather floppy.  I thought I would try and draw what this feels like. Its very smudgy but I think you get the picture.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Yay for the Frying Pan of Enlightenment!

Had a little bit of an 'episode' on Tuesday, so this morning it was off to the doctors to get it checked out.  Having a thorough neurological examination was a sobering experience.  The reflexes on my left side were definitely mushy, and I was not able to touch my nose with my left index finger and eyes closed.  Doesn't sound much; you'd think everyone could do it, so if you can't then something is out of sync.  Suffice it to say I am back on the NHS treadmill again, waiting on the munificence of the nearest neurologist.

And then I had this flash of realisation - or a slap upside the head with the frying pan of enlightenment as Dianne Sylvan puts it.  I have been reading  Kay Redfield Jamison's shocking memoir of manic depression, 'The Unquiet Mind', which details her war against having to take lithium in order to survive her illness.  Like many manic depressives, as soon as she got well, she would stop taking her lithium.  Her arguments were several:  that she should be able to pull herself together and cope with her illness without medication;  that lithium had horrible side effects and dulled both her sense of herself and her experience of the world around her; that it was muffling and subsuming her personality; that she missed the exciting highs of her manias, to which she felt addicted.

And I thought:  'That's me, that is!'

Since I was diagnosed I have been fighting a full-on war with my treatment programme. I have complained that the diet has made me a difficult and unwelcome guest, requires more effort and energy in planning and organising ingredients than I have to spend on it; is inconvenient, embarrassing and boring.  I want to be normal.  I am addicted to high of normality, of being able to walk into a restaurant and order anything I like off the menu, and I don't want to give it up.  I have complained that the medication has stopped me drinking alcohol, and along with the necessarily limited lifestyle, has changed me into a person I no longer recognise, an invalid.  I have insisted that I ought to be able to pull myself together and get on with this.  In recent months I had even begun to consider giving up my medication, believing I no longer needed it, any more than I believed I needed my restricted diet or rest, not realising that I was better because I had been resting, not in spite of it..

Exactly.  Utterly deluded.

Which is how I ended up sitting in an art gallery on Tuesday, unable to move any part of my body, hold my head up properly, focus my eyes or speak.  It was half an hour before I managed to attract help.  And it has scared me.

Today I realised that I don't have any choice in this, any more than Jamison did in having to take her lithium.  The quality of my life depends on following my treatment regimen.  I will get ill again if I don't.  It is a simple as that.  And I don't know why I can't accept it.

I had already resolved to make 2011 my Year of Self Care.  Now I realise how important that resolution is.  Now I have to make an effort to stay on the wagon for my own good, and for the rest of my life.  Looks like Twelve Steps here I come....

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The film we didn't see, and the unexpected meeting

Picture by Jacqui Cawley of my disastrous 'Big Day'
Bizarre moment of serendipity last night.  Pat and I decided we were going to see the film 'The Kings Speech' at Cinema City in Norwich - but when we arrived, we couldn't get tickets.  So we sat in the bar, trying to decide what to do instead - whether to try another cinema (which we don't like) or just go home and blob in front of the telly, as we usually do.  We didn't really want to do that either because we were trying to have a 'date night'.  We ended up compromising by stopping off at Tesco to buy some cheap DVDs and watched those instead. 

While we were talking two women came into the bar and stood next to us to order drinks.  Later, while I waited in the lobby while Pat went off to the loo, one of them came up to me and said, 'Is that Pat you were with?  Because if it is, I went to your wedding!'

This beautiful lady turned out to be the ex-girlfriend of an old pal of Pat's with whom we had been at several weddings that singular summer.  Now I don't remember much about my wedding (long story), but how likely is it that you are going to have an apparent stranger (or at least someone you don't recognise) come up to you in a cinema lobby and say 'I went to your wedding' fourteen and a half years after the event?!  Anyway, it turned out they had a lovely time at our wedding.  I'm glad somebody did.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Aliens in the Kitchen

Its a weird experience, house sitting for friends.  Even people you know extremely well, and who seem pulse-stoppingly normal,  turn out to live lives that are utterly outlandish and alien when compared to your own.  All the things I think are essential to daily life are frequently absent from others', and vice versa.  And this is most apparent in other people's kitchens. 

A friend who is a great foodie always complains that I don't keep pliers in my kitchen.  He believes they are cooking essentials - for taking bones out of fish, apparently! (He's a bit picky about my potato peeler too!) 

I can't cook without my trusty aprons, which get quite disgusting and stained, because I am incredibly clumsy and spill everything down  me.  For example, today, house sitting for friends in Overstrand, I managed to sling a whole egg across the kitchen and break it (and hang it simultaneously) on the handle of their fabulous new range cooker.  That takes some doing, believe me.  Without an apron, I end up looking like an explosion in a paint factory, so I can't understand how anyone else lives without one - but not one of those plasticized ones, they're a nightmare, but that's for another post! 

Because we live 2 miles from the nearest shop, and 4 from the nearest supermarket, a freezer and microwave for us are absolute essentials that we could not manage without for storing and defrosting.  But we have friends who refuse to have a microwave in the house - it destroys the flavours, they say - and other friends whose only freezer is a tiny freezer compartment in the second fridge (!) they keep in an outhouse, which is used for ice cubes and sliced lemons for their gin and tonics.

All this seems peculiar in the extreme, but nothing compares to the infinite variety that is washing up in someone else's house.  Everyone uses a different scrubbing or wiping  instrument, some people don't have bowls in their sinks, and one or two believe that drying up is insanitary. I've washed up in one house where the owner insisted that every item had to be thoroughly rinsed down with hot water in a separate sink to remove carcinogens left from the washing up liquid.  And that's before you even consider the complex dance of etiquette that is using the dishwasher - should you rinse by hand before packing, do you include glasses, do you rinse between meals, even if you aren't doing a full wash, do you put pans in, do you put plates on the top shelf or only glasses and mugs,  etc etc etc.

And don't even get me started on the subject of knives!

So a word of advice.  You won't discover your best friends are aliens until you house sit for them.  But if you do, you'll discover you are clearly an alien too.