Thursday, 21 March 2013

Telling pork pies

There’s been one massive change in my otherwise domestic goddess
existence.  From someone who was formally queen of the kitchen, I’ve
transformed into a woman ‘Who Does Not Cook’.  Since the great Crash of
Christmas Day, I’ve made a few salads, one apple and peach crumble with
ground pumpkin seeds in the crumble (very nice too – the bin enjoyed
most of it as I still think I’m cooking for twenty), several faux meat
dishes of the comfort food variety from Quorn, and the rest of the time
I’ve done an awful lot of pinging and become addicted to cashews and pork pies (the flavour cuts through the 'am felt that turns my mouth into that thing in the dryer that collects lint.

I have this kitchen that’s a shrine to the love of food.  Shelves of
much thumbed cookbooks that fall open automatically at some recipes,
and at others are stuck together with previously floured hands; gadgets
galore from a slicer (for cutting apples into air thin slivers and then
drying them slowly in the oven), a blender, two Magimixes, a Kitchen
Aid mixer and Duralit toaster, a panini press, a juicer, a steamer, a
coffee machine, and drawers full of things to slice, to core, to stuff
and to peel with.  My cupboards bulge with ingredients from the
cheating (packet hollandaise sauce mix and tins of pureed pumpkin) to
the rare (real saffron from Iran) and the luxurious (marron glacee).  I
have stock cupboards and baking cupboards and condiment cupboards and
lots of little jars with their contents inked on the front.  But in my
fridge you’ll find oranges, Halloumi Cheese, vacuum sealed Gnocchi and
several prick and serve microwave meals.  I should be ashamed.  I am,
in fact, slightly ashamed, but the truth is I’ve lost my taste for
cooking, even eating to some degree, and the thought of preparing a
meal for eight people, or even twenty-eight, which would once have
filled me with excitement and pleasure now just fills me with a black
aversion akin to dread and sets the trail of anxiety burning up my arms
(where thankfully it stays put instead of racing across my body and
making me writhe in pain).

It’s not just that I’ve fallen out of love with cooking, it’s more like
cooking has become a source of something closely associated with

Odd?  Indeed.  I’m not mad for nothing you know.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cats and the Art of Sleeping

But good things have come from this.  Better than I could ever have hoped for, or even have begun to imagine while I was shivering in terror on my sofa, living from one home visit to the other from the great team of people who took care of me when I was discharged.  I'm made some big decisions, and banished some ghosts.  I've come to appreciate the comfort of home that previously oppressed me so very much and relish it as a place of safety, and comfort, and refuge.  That's not to say I stay in it all the time, but at weekends where the bf and I usually had a timetabled list of activities, at the moment I'm content to linger at home and potter, and think about doing the garden (though so far the weather is in some disagreement), and lie on my bed and luxuriate in sleep,  now that I finally can.  Saturday night has been an orgy - of Spiral,  and before that Borgen.  I have art materials spread out all over the dining table, and finished a suitcase for my youngest's birthday, and a photograph album for a new bride in the office.  I eat too many biscuits and drink Yogi Rose Tea which is the only one out of the thirty or so herbal varieties I've tried that doesn't taste like the pee of a very well hydrated nun, and I peel juicy oranges to rival Barbara in Billy Liar, to the disgust of the ginger cat who, another pleasure, often curls up on my knee, or lies beside me purring in sleep.  There surely can be little better therapy than watching a sleeping cat, unless it's watching two sleeping cats.  They sleep like they have a gift for it, as though it's a learned skill; an activity at which they naturally excel - the stretching, the curling, the little paws tucked in, or wrapped around their faces - just gazing at them makes me feel good about the world, and when one of the other falls asleep on my chest, I've been known to sit there for half an hour longer than I meant to just to enjoy the warmth of the furry little body.  This from me - former Cat Hater.

I know.  Look.  I know.  Cats, gardening, arts and crafts, Saturday Night TV - I might as well be dead, as I'm obviously brain dead, but the new me doesn't care.  I like it.  I'm wearing my Kalinda outfit today - PVC shirt, Shiny black patent knee high boots, short skirt, but with the Helen Mirren hair (but shaggy where as hers is short) and, sod it if the outward appearances don't match the inner reality.  For a year I was sitting at home in despair and nobody would have guessed that either, so if they don't realise that I put the red lipstick on for the cats, then go home to get into my pjs and watch a drama about Chicago Firemen, or muddle about with paste and paper, does that matter to any one but me.  I doubt anyone's looking.  We are all so invisible, even to ourselves.

There are lots of things to be happy about.  Not least the fact that, despite being suddenly in love with my house (partly it has to be said because I'm not alone in it since the bf is keeping me away from sharp objects and sheer drops) I've decided it's time to sell.  It's been five years since the husband left, and the kids are all finishing university and ready to get out there and on with their own lives.  They don't need a family home any more and I need to learn to live without the family in the home (not as difficult as you might think), and so in the few seconds before I fall into the 'am induced coma (which nevertheless features vivid and apocalyptic dreams accompanied by the need to pee every hour), I imagine my new place - squeaky clean and white and bright with nothing there I don't want, no noise, nobody talking at me, and everything just the way I want it, my make-up untouched (who took my Benefit eyebrow pencil?) my clothes folded and waiting for only me, me, me (who took my orange sweater, my Anthropologie silk shirt, my red dress, my purple LK Bennet?) and everything calm, peaceful and 100% tension free.  At least that's the theory.

I'm also working less since I realised that coming back to work was sending me backwards, not aiding my recovery but adding to my stress.  I've now discovered the wonderful word of a four day week.  It's bliss.  Discovering the world of the 4 day paycheck will be slightly less transcendental, but you can't spend it if you're dead.  So it's a compromise.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Happy Pills

I've been away for a while.  Away away, but now I'm back, sort of.  In a manner of speaking.

On Christmas Eve I had the house staged like the  an episode of a Hallmark Holiday film where Santa is a real old guy with genuine whiskers and the magic of the 'holidays' turns the mid-west into one long string of illuminated reindeers - just like the ones I watched on a loop almost continually during the period between Christmas and New Year.  The tree was dressed, complete with some new glass ornaments I'd bought on sale in a shop in Holland Park that was going out of business, my bling profiting from the downfall of others.  That should have told me something.  I had my string of tiny handprinted stockings for everyone, including the three cats which I did because I thought it would put a smile on everyone's face.  The fridge was stocked, the menus prepared, the pantry groaning with goodies, the presents wrapped and under the tree in their usual festive ribbon wrapped in old copies of the Guardian.  There was also cake just for the kitsch of it.

So scene set.  The family arrive.  And then it begins.  Nothing quite goes right from the very first,there's needling, there's bickering, there are a few minor skirmishes of food war, the man and I are shunned in the sitting room, I think to give us privacy, but what feels remarkably like a good old fashioned shunning, turning me into the nuisance guest in my own house. And I'm tense, anxious, miserable until what starts as a creeping sense of doom that I can't shake off, rapidly - and I do mean rapidly - spirals into a crash just around the time I am putting the roast beef into the oven on Christmas Day, four hours late.  By New Years Eve I have seen a GP who tells me I'm 'embarrassing him' and gives me an 'am that might as well be asprin for all the effect it has, a therapist who tells me I should take myself off to the hospital and present myself, and a psychiatric nurse who tells me not to take myself to hospital (those are very distressing places), but promises me a referral on New Year's Eve, only to call me up half an hour later and tell me I lived outside her team's area, and referred me to yet another team who didn't feel my case was urgent enough and that it could wait.  By 8am on New Years Eve I was lying on a plastic mattress with sheets that didn't quite fit the mattress in the local mental health facility (I mean the Hallmark films would have been enough to drive anyone mad on their own, let alone emotional stress, but they are a fairly effective sedative) taking even more pills that end with 'am, at least one of which actually worked.

It wasn't too bad.  It was actually a relief to get out of the house and away from the strain I was putting on everyone, and the strain they were all putting on me.  I've stayed in worse hotels.  If the communal bathroom didn't have water pooling all over the floor, it could have a been budget spa, or an Eastern European Health Farm.  Admittedly one of the women sat in front of a laptop in the dining room all day talking to herself in very cross Spanish, and laughing maniacally at what I hoped was You Tube, but may well not have been.  Another didn't take her coat off and walked round carrying several bags, plastic carriers, and holdalls, all in black from her shoes to her Adam's Family hairstyle.  She also didn't sleep in her bed as I heard one of the nurses telling her she would lose her room if she didn't.  There was a short man who managed a fairly nice routine of show tunes on New Year's Eve while I lay in my little bare white room, covered with my coat for extra warmth, staring at the broken wardrobe and the pinboard with its single blob of blu-tac.  (No pins of course, no mirrors, no sharp things (even my keys were confiscated) and no wires, so I couldn't charge my iphone until one of my kids came in with a spare cord and I smuggled it into my room in my knickers.

I'm glossing over the rest because it's too awful to contemplate and too personal to share.

Three months on and I've stopped most of the 'ams and the sleeping pills and only take the anti-depressants which also end in 'am but are easier to stop than the others, or so I was told.  According to my GP, this is not the case.  She congratulated me cheerily and with astonishment when I told her I'd stopped taking them, and said:  'Those are very hard to get off, most people get stuck on them.'

The current 'ams make me sleepy, so I don't need actual sleeping pills now.  After weeks of being unable to sleep, or afraid to sleep, or afraid while asleep, I now can't get past 10 o'clock and invariable miss the last five or ten minutes of the current ITV/BBC4 thriller/Boxed set of Game of Thrones, which at least are better than Love finds Mrs Christmas (so my viewing has improved).  I'm back at work.  I went back too early to be told that I would be paid for the hours I managed to work (quickly rescinded) but nevertheless leaving me feeling that I would have to make an effort to normalise myself so as not to lose my job. So for a month, while signed off sick, I worked on average an hour less a day.  I quickly realised that I would have to take a cut in salary and a cut in hours to survive as every day I rode past the hospital in which I had been detained and thought about checking myself back in.

I lost some weight, though the nervous breakdown diet is not one I'd recommend, it's like the 5/2 diet but reversed.  I stopped drinking and haven't had as much as a sip of wine since Christmas Day.  I don't drink coffee, or tea, or eat chocolate and a few nights ago I sat in a room with sixteen strangers and listened to a raisin for ten minutes in an attempt to retrain my brain not to succumb to stress and negative thinking.  I don't even like raisins.  And it didn't have anything very interesting to say.

I've begun my daily guided meditation practice, though I've yet to get all the way through it.  Sleep - once a rare commodity that I prized more than life itself (well death and sleep are fairly similar) is now one in which I am overly wealthy.  I could sell my surplus to nightworkers and insomniacs.  So I listen and I fall asleep about the time I get to the chest as I work my way up breathing into my toes, never once having got further than the jaw.  Still I will keep on persevering.  I feel I have to make more changes than the just the recent  dying of my hair peroxide white.  It's not enough to be cosmetically different.

I learned a lot, some heartwarming such as the enormous support of my boyfriend without whom I would not have survived, and the random acts of kindness from people who had no need to offer me any.  You find out who your friends are when you think you have none, and the ones you did think you had avoid you.  Not that I blame them, but it makes a bad situation worse when your daughter puts on her coat and goes out two hours after you get out of a mental hospital without asking if you'll be alright (to be fair, I probably drove her mad as well and she had almost a worse Christmas than I did so I have to cut her some slack).  The saddest thing was how little most of my children seemed to care that I teetering on the edge.  At the one time of your life you would like someone to show concern and affection for you, it only adds to the depression to find it's not there and underlines everything you are telling yourself about how dispensable you are.  Nevertheless, I'm not complaining, it's a fact.  I got over it.  And I'm getting over everything else.  So far.  Today. This second.

Vanessa is suggesting we take the remainder of my Valium to the pub and have a vodka and tonic.  'Does that sound nice?' she asks.  I laugh.  'If you make it a bottle of vodka it sounds remarkably like my exit plan,'  I say, and she laughs too.  As I said.  I'm getting over it.