In the blink of an eye!
Firstly, thank you to everyone that took the time out to read my first blog entry. The response was immense and the sharing process opened up a dialogue with men and women in a way I could never have anticipated. There were overwhelming similarities in the stories that you people shared with me. Many, too, had at some point experienced the dark sensations of drowning into oblivion. Swimming against a relentless current. Wading through unforgiving mud. Depression doesn't discriminate. Nor is it a reflection on the sufferers' levels of content. I was right to be anxious about sharing my story as with anything shared there is an invitation to criticism. To demystify any miss-illusions about my home life, it's not the cause of my depression, rather the one constant that keeps me going.
8 weeks ago, my girls and I embarked on a 5 week retreat of sorts to help me rediscover my purpose. I was exactly 3 months into a 30 week maternity leave, and the countdown was looming over me to savour every waking hour. I packed enough for a short life time. My dear old friend anxiety, reminding me that any essentials left behind would wreak havoc on the girl's experience and I would be to blame. 1 outfit, per child, per day + 3 spares. A homeschooling catalogue that defied all luggage allowances and all the home comforts I knew I just wouldn't be able to live without.
My husband joined us for the first few days. As a natural protector, he needed to assess our surroundings, ensure we were safe and of course, help us all feel really settled. Oddly, I found myself counting down the days until he left -I was so eager to start the journey alone and mentally I had imposed on myself that this could only happen once I was flying solo. It didn't take long until I was wishing him right back, two children under 3 requires at least 4 hands, but once we were finally down to a trio there was an overwhelming sense of relief. The identity I had created as a mum, was no longer static. The family guidelines my husband and I had spent years discussing pre-children no longer needed to be as rigid. But most of all, with no friends or family around, I found I was being so much kinder to myself, as a parent. Back in London, a small mistake on my part would really set me back and bring up a wealth of inadequate feelings I'd worked hard to subdue. Here, the girls and I carved out our own routine and with no daily commitments, we manage to find our perfect daily rhythm. The wins were all in the preparation. Mornings were a success because for the first time in a long time, I was putting Israel first. London life is hectic at best, Israel is at nursery from 8am - 6pm Monday-Friday, meaning all of her core meals are eaten without us. Here, I revelled in the smallest moments like watching her happy dance as she devoured her porridge. Listening to her made up songs while I showered. Best of all, I really loved watching her keen sense of awareness for her baby sister develop.
We were fortunate enough to have a park less than 5 minutes away from us. That 5 minute walk featured a shadeless, steep incline and we regularly had to pause for (photo ops) breaks, but Israel knew what awaited us at the bottom of the hill and so she was always a high-spirited hiking companion. The park was somewhat of a saving grace for us. It was entirely shaded and usually empty, so Israel had her own oasis to relish in. Our days went something like this: Invitation to Play, Breakfast, Park, Lesson, Lunch, Nap, Park, Explore, Dinner, Park, Explore, Bed. Yes, 3 park trips -The latest, usually between 9-10pm, where the park would be full of all the lovely local kids. With so much to do each day, I found that I was no longer weighing myself down with negative thoughts because I didn't have the time to. My days were filled with my daughters. My heart was filled with my daughters. And despite missing my husband and siblings, I had a great sense of achievement in forging a daily routine where my girls were clearly thriving.
Although our daily activities were largely centred around Israel, through feeding and #babywearing, I had so much quality time with Ezra also. Baby wearing with my youngest not only allowed me to venture much further physically, but emotionally it allowed us to maintain our close bond despite the active focus very much being on my eldest and I absolutely lived for each feeding time when we could have our long cuddles. Babies don't want for much. In fact the only parental book I swear by, 10 things girls need most, basically states that between the ages of 0 and 2, all girls need from us, is to feel loved and secure. Knowing and believing this eased any guilt I might have otherwise had and allowed me put my eldest first every day.
I found the nights lonely and there was a huge opportunity to overthink, but by spending the evenings preparing for the next day (snacks, lessons, bus timetables etc.) I was so tired by the end of it that I was generally asleep an hour after the girls. 2 weeks in, with 16 weeks maternity leave left, two of my younger sisters came to visit me. It was beautiful! Although lessons went out of the window, we managed to maintain much of our daily rhythm. At just 16, my youngest sister, a loveable yet irritable millennial shocked me by how accommodating she was to our newfound routine. My other sister, a 23 year old self-confessed introvert pushed all of her own personal boundaries to ensure my girls had the most memorable time. We felt loved, and those few days will never be forgotten.
One evening, my accommodation host, Katherine, invited me to a girl's night. All Spanish women at least 15 years my senior. Over the years I have become skilled at dodging social activities. Even with close friends. Depression can do that, and having children provides the greatest cover. I had zero desire to sit with strangers speaking a language foreign to me, but this women's kindness in the duration of my trip was unlike anything I've experienced from a stranger before and so I decided to go.I met 5 other women that night. On tone, and facial expression alone, I followed along with the conversation as best as I could. I didn't speak except to introduce myself and laugh were appropriate. I absorbed and it was empowering! Do you ever find yourself deep in conversation and whilst the other person talks, all you can think about is what you're dying to say next? I'm terrible for that. I can be so excitable that truly listening is a skill that seems to have evaded me over the years. That night, I listened with all of my senses, I ate food I wouldn't dream of trying and I let my guard down amongst strangers. The next day I felt invincible. As anyone who has suffered with anxiety will know, it can become emotionally crippling. That night was a real break through for me.
As the weeks went on, there were some tough times. My best friends came to visit and I made the mistake of putting them before Israel. Our daily rhythm went out the window. I tried to be the perfect host by committing to too many activities and as a result, I found myself becoming more easily agitated by my daughters. My patience grew thinner and I could feel myself reverting to a version of me that I like less. One morning I had a melt down in the bathroom. My friends and I sat down and we discussed how they could help me feeling less overwhelmed. "I just need to centre it back around the girls" I told them. Because of nap times I could only commit to going out at certain times, for example. I knew our limits, but I had lost sight of them trying to be the perfect host. My friends were ,of course, super supportive and we were able to really enjoy our remaining days together. I was grateful that test came while we were still on holiday. It was a test and we passed it.
Every single day of that trip was magic. Every day. This beautiful little town opened it's walls and allowed me and my family to experience their everyday magic. As a city dweller I was grateful for the simplest of things. We had a beautiful pool but Israel spent most of her days splashing in a giant bucket. We brought many toys but Israel's favourite were simple animal habitat play trays. In the last week I started to make mental notes of all things we could easily apply back home. It's so easy to make limiting excuses. Since being home I feel like we live in a different city! Each morning, loaded with bread, we take a stroll down to the canal on the look out for ducks. When Israel stops to take in her surroundings, I resist the urge to hurry her along -instead, I take the opportunity to capture the moment with her. We indulge our local urban garden once a week and count butterflies. And we eat 3 meals a day together, every day.
This trip has passed in the blink of an eye. There are now less than 9 weeks left before I return to full-time work, Israel heads back to nursery and Ezra, to our childminder. Everyday, I remind myself there is one less day and I use that knowledge to put the tough days into perspective.
My key learnings on this trip have been:
1.) Pack less
2.) Show appreciation to your other half every single day
3.) Put your children first. If you and your partner share the same values, you're essentially putting them first also
4.) Be kind to yourself. Always. There will be times no one else will
5.) Slow down. Where are you rushing to?
6.) Physically count your blessings. Every day
Thank you for reading x