Dressing our Daughter in Pink & other modern parenting dilemmas

Back in a time before Baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting.

One of the things I developed a fairly strong opinion on in the run up to starting a family was gender-neutral parenting. What modern ‘liberal’ free-thinking middle-class woman hasn’t thought about how to give children positive messages about the fluidity of gender and enable them to make informed choices in their life which are  unconstrained by social conceptions of gender even if they are eventually conforming? I am keen to make sure traits and preferences are not gender-coded; that all clothing  and job choices are seen as valid options. I want blue and pink to just be colours, fairies & dinosaurs to be fun. But what if we overdo it, I worry that our little family is not equipped to demonstrate and articulate expressions of traditional femininity  – girly isn’t really our thing…
Then I look at the reality that snuck up on us.
A lot of the clothes we have for baby are second-hand or are gifts from relatives. Financially, it is daft for us to even contemplate not taking the help we have been offered. So pink it is.
Plus it turns out not only do some people just love buying girly stuff, only those with female shaped (and coded) babies been happy to donate clothing and actually it is surprisingly hard to buy things other than in very gendered blue or pink (ie no blue flowers or pink robots or green well anything)
But as I watch relatives and complete strangers flail around desparately trying to gender our child if they cannot see blue or pink cues I realise that this is not a battle that can even be fought just with accessories – perhaps it is more important that Small realises that even when they have to dress to conform for safety or other reasons that doesn’t restrict the way they fee lor their intrinsic worth.

One of my most difficult dilemmas is parent naming.
Small has 2 mummies and a daddy. But should the mummies have different names to her? How should we introduce ourselves? How should I enforce making relatives give Mummy W appropriate recognition? What if neither of the mummies have ever been entirely comfortable with the idea of motherhood? What if Daddy is wrapped up in a very traditonal 2 parent model?
And this is the key area of difficulty what are the boundaries and responsibilities of 3 parents? And how can we make that work for a small human who has her own needs?

Glorious Holidays

Like most people with ongoing depression issues I struggle with the holidays and find this whole time of year overwhelming.

Unlike several members of my intimate circle (friends and family) I like spending the christmas hols with my parents and siblings  -our political differences are not so dramatic as to cause real hurt and we are quite good avoiding ‘issues’ where that seems to be required. Though they often don’t understand my choices we seem to have reached a happy détente and I feel no need to rock the boat so to speak.
Similarly, I am too far removed from office politics to give a shit about who I should kiss when or how I should frame our holiday schedules to make them make sense to monogamous folk.
And yet even having decided to not worry about whether people know about my intimate relationships or not, and whether or not that changes how I have to live my life – I am still stressed.

I am stressed not just because being open is not sufficient protection for the people I care about and they still have to deal with the judgements of others both on the basis of their decisions and mine – and yes some of our more poly sceptical friends our coming round to at least the “well I don’t approve but I can’t see anything obviously wrong with YOUR lives” view but its not quite making up for the “I’m not saying you can’t but you do know you are fucking up x’s life don’t you” camps… There are people I have known for years I just don’t know how to say to – “I get you care but back the fuck off because we are making this work by making our own rules and your constant whining/worrying is making it harder”… yes this makes it hard at this time of year when everyone is all about fucking hetero, mono family values but because actually its not as hard as just being expected to talk to people.

All the fucking parties. Organise this, make sure you have x,y,z together for when you see so-and-so…. leaving the house is a fucking struggle in spring when no one notices and you only have to get to the shops/see Mrs A./ go to your Dr.’s appt once a month or less but in december when everyone has a party and you need to do the shopping and getting a dr’s appt is a miracle, suddenly a week is a stack of unreasonable goals piled on almost impossible imaginary ideals.
And oh gods above they are all so cheery – if I believed what I heard at parties I’d know for sure that their relationships always got better and their jobs got more interesting

But that’s not what I feel as I curl up and battle back the tears before each time I venture outside, each time I wonder how to stop the shaking and hyperventilating to start a new conversation and everytime I want to apologise as someone starts to congratulate me on our new venture.

The desire to tear my skin apart is worse than it has been for nearly a year, my shoulder is hurting a lot again and I feel like a failure before we have even begun. Yay for self-fucking-confidence and all that shit.

Work at t’Mill & Losing touch

I haven’t really talked much about my volunteering at the archive here (normally discussing it over at my other blog) but it deserves a bit of a mention since it is currently my only truly regular activity outside of the domestic sphere.

The archive itself is dedicated to Mills and milling heritage and operates from a lovely listed building about 40 mins walk from my house. I don’t really have enough background in archives to have any idea how it compares to others but they are certainly working hard to do things right both in terms of procedure and with regard to making sure the material is used rather than simply stored.
The theory is that I go two afternoons a week – the minimum commitment for a volunteer is supposed to be 1 full day a week but in a fit of self-awareness I acknowledged mornings are hard for me and therefore 2 afternoons are more achievable and also get me out the house twice rather than once a week. However, I still struggle; it turns out that going into an office ticks all of my social anxiety boxes and that heading out of the house in the middle of the day might allow me to wake up appropriately but does also give me time to worry about going. Usually once I get there I can relax unless someone tries to talk to me or worse I need to ask someone a question… which fortunately doesn’t happen very often because actually cataloguing stuff is pretty straightforward and I now know as much or more about it in this context as anyone else. (It is more interesting than it sounds too)

Its good to get out of the house, and not just to walk the dog, because I am finding socialising pretty daunting at the moment. Not being at the pub means that people notice when I walk in and then I feel pressured into making conversation but without the safety-net of a bar between us. This effectively means that I only go in when there is someone with me and worse I have been semi-avoiding other bars in town because I know that there will be people I know in them as well. I need to push myself to break through this not just because its bad practice to ‘give-in’ to my anxiety but also because otherwise I will end up totally out of the loop with regard to new beers and best-sellers. I need to know what is available, what tastes good and what is doing well in the area if I am going to retain my position as ‘guru’. I don’t want to lose touch with what is going on in the world of beer just because I am currently between jobs, especially if I am going to order beer for next year’s beer festival and even more especially if I am ever going to run a pub of my own…….

On Anxiety

I never used to think of myself as the anxious sort. As a child, I had a few repetitive  nightmares but nothing that cowed me; I was never terrified of any particular thing – even when I was obsessed with the causes and effects of chemical warfare aged 8… When I was small, I would face any challenge, not undaunted, not without any sense of danger, but with no sense that I would ‘fail’. My parents worked hard to make sure that I never felt I had to conform to fashion or to gender stereotypes – in fact they actively encouraged be to be individual, different, to stand up for myself and to question authority and I was good at all those things. I think it made it harder to admit to being afraid.

When I first began to recognise that I had slipped into the rabbit hole of depression I still didn’t see anxiety – I was reckless with my personal safety and I thought of my inability to face my life as being simply a manifestation of being suicidal… looking back though I see how much the depression was entwined with fear. I thought that I was a failure, and since I was terrified of failing at anything I was tormented almost as much by the fear as by the overwhelming certainty of my own awfulness (& yes I still fight those feelings).

Only now do I see the beginnings of the anxiety that haunts me every day. The protections I put in place to face people each morning were there at 14 even before the idea of them dropping away plunged me into misery. It easy to see how each quick tot calmed the nerves; easy to see that leaving exams to sob and shake on my knees because I could no longer control the hyperventilation were early panic attacks; easy to see how my sense of isolation led to the failed attempts to walk into seminars… I have watched the words dance chaotically across the page in every exam I have taken since I was 15, as I slipped in and out of full consciousness whilst hyperventilating and couldn’t even admit I was afraid.

Sometime in my first few months at uni I realised I wasn’t just “stressed” & a bit “depressed” I was pathologically miserable and terrified of everything around me. I muddled through partly by being more afraid not to and mostly because of a rather wonderful girl. However, I was offered a job by someone I trusted & didn’t want to let down in my 2nd year of uni and I believe it has got me out of the house most weeks since even once he left. All through 2 years of undergrad & 2 years taught masters I had panic attacks on public transport and every time I went into certain shops and more significantly I had panic attacks before I left the house each time I did  and again before going into lectures or seminars, even leaving in the middle to freak out in the toilets whilst trying to contribute (greek translation I’m looking at you especially) but I went to work and played my part because they relied on me to do so and those moments of being forced to fight saw me through university.

So every sodding day I fight

Sometimes the walking out the house isn’t too bad and crowds of people are easy to ignore; sometimes the knots even unwind a little but often it takes me 30 mins to walk out the door just to walk the dog and I never know how to express myself. As well as the physical discomfort of anxiety (racing heart, shortness of breath, insomnia, shaking, sweating, nausea, headaches etc.) there is a sensation of permanently struggling to get one’s head above water, of inadequacy, uncertainty of being permanently scrutinised. I grit my teeth and know when I need to find a quiet space and glass of water to stop the shakes and the stuttering. I don’t have many panic attacks now – I am much better at controlling my breathing  at least – and I have both the CBT and mindfulness techniques for recognising illogical ideas, living in the moment and pushing myself to keep going. But knowing something isn’t true or isn’t harmful is not the same as stopping feeling like it is (logic is not enough to stop the whirring) and it doesn’t go away.

Turns out I’m pathologically anxious after all

What do you Want?

I read a very perceptive blog post recently in which the author commented:
“Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.”

It would be fair to say that I am not very good about wanting stuff for precisely the reasons outlined above and because there is a little bit of my depressive brain that tells me that I do not deserve to want. I have not trained myself into the habit of creating a series of goals from the mundane to the fantastical and I am even more terrified of asking for things. In general I have got away with faking these things for most of my life – pick something that sounds a bit like what everyone else wants and amble towards it without commitment and/or work your life around aiming for the things that those nearest and dearest to you want.

It all falls apart somewhat when the expectations of normal life fall away (in my case through lifestyle and relationship choices) and those nearest and dearest to you are even worse than you are at picking things that they want.
B is actually a little more open about what he desires unless his mood has dipped significantly but whilst he does talk about dreams he is a little more conservative and often unclear about his plans. On the other hand, my dearly beloved wife, W, couldn’t admit to herself wanting even so much as a steak dinner for fear of imploding (and believe me she nearly always wants a steak dinner). Wanting is anathema to her being; it involves a consideration of the self (where only others are acceptable), it suggests a striving against the status quo (which might be non-catholic), it potentially involves conflict with those she has been taught to defer to such as her parents and the social order. In short getting her to admit to wanting to be my wife was a miracle & wanting  a lifestyle or even a holiday is beyond impossible.
I believe there are secret fantasies lurking there in her sub-conscious surrounding grandchildren and cake and deer-stalking but I can’t begin to coax something out of her that I can use to create a life-plan and this means I have to try and work on my own desires.

And what do I want?
A family, a little small-holding and a steady source of income.
I want my family to be happy and I want to help make it that way

Drat!

So apparently depression has properly been biting my backside the last month or so.
Best laid plans have not come to fruition and I haven’t really been able to see where I am going or why. Mostly I have slept, felt tired and complained about how much shoulder hurts (apparently the new physio exercises are very uncomfortable and not making the days easier), and all i have wanted to do is sleep and curl up in the dark.

So.. um. Sorry

 

Recovering Agoraphobic learns to drive

Sounds like the start of a comedy skit?
Ha bloody Ha

Lets be clear this is massive simplification of my own experiences not a psych study..
Firstly, since I currently leave the house most days of the week and work in a people facing job I would say I mostly have the agoraphobia and social phobia under control but, like all the clichés about the lifelong struggles of addicts, every time I step out the door I have to battle the fear. Some days I can’t fight it and the more often I do put the effort into going out the more I need time to recover from that effort.
Secondly, driving fills me with all kinds of dread related to my perfectionism and pressure from my family which rather complicate my progress.

Nonetheless.. when panic is induced by the swirling movements of people and the way crowds trap you and by being in unfamiliar places there is something particularly odd about forcing yourself out to a position where judging group reactions and making quick decisions in unfamiliar settings are what keep you alive.
When driving  there is an illusion of isolation and protection of the car which is contrasted with the reliance on the behaviour of other road users and their judgements. As I manoeuvre the vehicle I am excruciatingly aware that other people are basing their actions and reactions on what I do, judging me in a very real sense – to other drivers I am not an individual, I am a driver already marked out as to be cautious of by the driving-school board on the top of the car.
The number of things to remember, to pay attention to, and to deal with seem to turn into a blur as I struggle to contain my anxiety, exacerbated as it is by the sheer mass of stimuli. Simply breathing and not tensing all of my muscles become tasks in their own right. My instructor commented recently on how long it seems to take me to settle into managing simple sequences of action such as gear-changing and I wanted to tell her that its because I am fighting the tears and waves of panic at every new scenario, at every moment that she needs to correct me, wanted to but couldn’t find the words.

It wasn’t this hard before. When I first learnt to drive at 18, I was deeply depressed but oddly hopeful about starting a new life at university, I didn’t know that those unexpected breakdowns were called panic attacks and I’d never actually failed to walk outside my own door. I didn’t think I would be good at driving but nor did I think the whole world would think me a failure for not learning it then and there. I failed my test (mostly by being hungover and a bit nervous) and didn’t see the point in trying again in the middle of a town, no point worrying about that kind of thing – then I didn’t go out and people who don’t go out don’t need to drive and then I was busy and broke and struggling academics don’t think about driving. But the years crept by and the depression didn’t lift and the anxiety got worse and I still know that its a skill I need, so now I try to drive and it is new and harder.

Of course – maybe I just imagine that this is different for me. Adrenaline can help your reactions and surely everyone is made nervous by the power of life and death that a speeding hunk of metal puts at their fingertips – the ability to kill someone with simple inattention, the ease with which you could kill yourself…
But that doesn’t mean I’m not having to fight myself every step of the way

Old Familiar

The old familiar darkness in my head is definitely making its presence felt at the moment.
I recognise the increased startle reflex and the inability to deal with crowded spaces as the precursors to uncontolled panic. My desire to avoid people and to find quiet, dark spaces is very strong. I have noticed the oddly distorted sleep and dreams as a sign my brain is running on over-time. I feel tired both physically and mentally and I keep slipping into tears. The urge to pick up the blades is stronger than it has been for a long time. The whole set of feelings, the patterns of behaviour and ‘coping’ are annoyingly familiar – a reminder that this beast is only ever dormant and never gone.
Mother’s day doesn’t always hit me this hard but when I am already low it feels overwhelming.
I know this too shall pass.

In other news though…
I am progressing ok with the corrections – I have done a first run through of the external’s comments and am about a third of the way through the internal’s. I’m looking forward to sending it in again.
I also have a new project at the museum.
These are good things.

So near and yet so far…

I can almost see the end.. and yet its not quite there.

I could scream.

I think I have the number of footnotes I need to sort don to single figures… I think I am at the stage of very seriously sorting my internal page refs… I think I could consider having this bound next week…
But I am waiting on refs from small independent libraries for obscure archival holdings, I trust my own ability to footnote and cross reference like I trust a salmon to swim across the sahara and I don’t know if I have the guts to let it go.

Bloody thesis