140: so, when are we coming back then?

After being named and shamed twice in last week’s post, Jill would like me to point out that she not only made it down to breakfast at 8am yesterday, she arrived a whole five minutes before I did. And she absolutely did not have two naps on Friday afternoon in the Relaxation Lounge.

This weekend eleven of us have been away on an overnighter to Lifehouse, a spa and hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex as part of a ‘big birthday’ celebration. Booked last March, it’s been a long time coming and we have all been looking forward to it – and the wait was worthwhile. A few of us had booked Friday off work and arrived before lunchtime, while the others drifted up over the day. It’s just over an hour away from our bit of Essex, so not too far, but still far enough away for it to feel like a break.

Lifehouse, although set in some beautiful English Heritage gardens, is a contemporary hotel and the spa is very well-equipped: pool, hydropool (aka a bloody great jacuzzi thing), sauna and steam room, ‘salt inhalation experience’ and a plunge pool kept at 16 degrees, which after a sauna or steam feels a LOT colder. There are treatment rooms, a HUGE nail salon, and two lovely relaxation lounges – one dark with blankets, and the other light with views over the gardens. There’s a terrace balcony outside this one but it’s November so we admired it from within.

The pool was quite cool, so it was nice to hop out of there and into one of the hot rooms, and there were loungers around so you could relax and read (or crochet). It was quite busy when we arrived and when we left, but there were quieter periods in the day – it being Essex there was a terrifying amount of fake-tanned skin on display as well as our pale (but interesting) skin, and the friendly staff are excellent advertisements for the wide range of beauty treatments on offer. Various members of the gang indulged in massages, wraps, manicures and pedicures, facials, and two of us even did the guided meditation session. I always feel that a day in a dressing gown being terribly indulgent is a day well-spent, and we all made the most of it. Apparently there is also a gym, but I forgot my PE kit, honest. Somewhere there is a ‘hidden sanctuary’ for couples, but we didn’t see that! You can roam the hotel in your robes and slippers, but after 6pm you have to put your clothes on, bringing a whole new meaning to ‘dressing for dinner’. No wet bottoms are allowed in the bar or restaurant which caused much hilarity: maturity is not coming with age, it seems.

We made time in our hectic schedule for a few meals in the hotel restaurant: for lunch on Saturday I had cumin-roasted cauliflower which came with roasted kale, baba ghanoush, mint and pomegranate while others tried out various sandwiches and a risotto, and for dinner I tried the home made gnocchi with slow-cooked bolognese sauce. Chicken in a basket and scampi and chips were not featured on the menu, although I think a bar menu with more than peanuts would be a good addition. The menu is limited but done well, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it’s quite reasonably priced.

Breakfast (always a high point of any hotel stay) was excellent: hot and freshly cooked traditional ‘English’ selection (though it was missing black pudding, it did have good fresh mushrooms and tomatoes); fruits; porridge and overnight oats; cereal; continental meats and cheeses; pastries; toast and jams (Tiptree, of course) and juices. Coffee was generous and fresh, and they would probably have been horrified at the conversations the gang of 40 and 50 something ‘ladies’ were having over their bacon….

We’re already planning a return visit for some other significant birthdays that may be coming up next year…

Other things making me happy this week….

  1. A great night out with work colleagues at Draughts, where we played noisy board games and ate our way through the ‘Players Bundle’ menu. The Korean Fried Chicken bites were so good.
  2. Crochet, naturally. Still making tiny jumpers – now I am being asked to make them in football strips.
  3. Thing 1 is on the mend, and Thing 3 is in Wales with his aunty and our cousins enjoying his first rugby international.
  4. Working with Miriam on her social media posts. More writing!
  5. Sub-10 degrees swim in the lake this morning – still in skins, and according to Isla’s daughter we are ‘all maniacs!’.

This week I will be piloting new KS3 design sessions at a school in Ilford, making more stock for my stall, and dreaming of relaxation lounges.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

This Much is True – Miriam Margolyes

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes – Rob Wilkins (Audible)

Week forty eight: but my mind is broken, not my leg

When I was 29 I thought I had my life in order: I was a home owner, I had a settled relationship and I had a job I loved.

Also when I was 29, I found myself single and looking for somewhere to live. It was after viewing yet another dingy bedsit (sorry, ‘studio flat’) in East London that I found myself on Mile End station, standing at the end of the platform where the wall went all the way to the edge and the driver wouldn’t have time to see me. I stood there for a long, long time, staring at the track, and eventually a kind person came and talked to me and put me on a train instead of under one. Without the kindness of that stranger I would, in all probability, not be here.

That moment should have been the one where I recognised I needed some help, but as I had always seen myself as a bit of a Tigger – when I hit the ground I bounced. I put it down to viewing dingy bedsits, decided to stay in Epping, and carried on. I found a flat and moved in. The day after I moved in, someone phoned to check in on me. I opened my mouth and started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Even then, I didn’t go and get help.

I decided I would be brave and grown up and do Christmas on my own, as it felt like an admission of failure to go home. It wasn’t until I met my best friend for lunch in London and she went straight home and phoned my mother that things started to move: my dad came and got me and took me home for Christmas. My mum found me sobbing over the sellotape, phoned the doctor I’d known for many years and marched me off to see her. I was diagnosed with depression. 2003 is known to me and my friends as ‘Kirsty’s lost year’: I made very questionable decisions, I cooked a lot but ate nothing, I drank far too much (not a good idea with anti-depressants), I slept little. My beloved Grandad Bill died that year, which is one of the few things I remember. I made some new friends, who took me under their collective wing and put up with the fact that I was so far away with the fairies that Tinkerbell was my next door neighbour. My best friend had a baby and made me godmother, despite me being so patently unsuitable for the job at the time. It was a year of feeling like a ghost in my own life

In late 2003 I started to pull myself back together: I got a second job, in a pub, which meant I wasn’t drinking or staying home alone. I moved to another flat and met the man who would become my beloved, and slowly I started to feel ‘normal’ again. I came off the antidepressants after a couple of false starts, and a couple of years later Thing One arrived. I was terrified: labour had been frightening, long and painful as she was lying on my sciatic nerve. An aggressive healthcare assistant kept telling me I was breastfeeding wrong: I was failing at parenting after less than a day! They took my baby away as she kept breathing too fast and brought her back several hours later without a lot of explanation. The expectation is that your baby will arrive, you will fall instantly in love and motherhood will kick in instinctively – but it doesn’t. It wasn’t too long before that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself, and now there was a baby?

I went back to work when she was five and a half months old, to find I had a new line manager who I barely knew (he was lovely, but that shouldn’t have happened while I was on mat leave: this was before ‘keeping in touch’ days). I worked full time and I was exhausted. I felt guilty for going back to work but we had to eat and pay rent, didn’t we? She had terrible colic, so evenings were horrendous and for six nights out of seven I was on my own with her till 8pm as my beloved was either working or with the older children at his mother’s. At a couple of months old she stopped putting on weight, which was another worry.

I was desperately afraid I’d hurt her, but I had no one to talk to about whether this feeling was normal or not (it wasn’t). I loved my baby so much that sometimes just looking at her made me cry, but I was terrified of what I might do because I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t tell anyone though, in case they thought there was something wrong with me and took her away.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’

C.S. Lewis, author

There was a baby boom that year, so her nine month check was delayed. When it eventually came round the health visitor took one look at me, said we’d deal with the baby next time, and made a doctor’s appointment for me on the spot. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, signed off work, and put back on the tablets – this time with some counselling support, which took the form of cognitive behaviour therapy and which helped me see that I wasn’t a total failure. My London sister became my lifeline, as she was close enough to help – my parents were settled in France by then. Luckily her work brought her to the east side of London regularly. I don’t know what I would have done without her appearing and doing the aunty thing.

When the PND kicked in with Thing 2 I recognised what was happening and marched myself off to the doctor as soon as I started feeling odd. With Thing 3, I took up exercise and tried to prevent the slide, which mostly worked as long as I kept running.

This time round, I have been on the anti-depressants since 2014: a friend was killed in an accident, and I was heartbroken. Grieving so far away from their family and our mutual friends was hard. I went to Cornwall to scatter their ashes, foolishly thinking that that would give me ‘closure’ and I’d be fine afterwards, and…I wasn’t.

I don’t see the tablets as a cure, but they give me the time and the headspace to be able to see a way through each day. There are bad days still, when I feel as if I am wading through treacle and the world is a long way away. They are becoming further and further apart, which is a blessing, and I have to say that having six months on furlough last year made a huge difference to my mental state. I keep walking, and I keep making things, and I have friends who also have varying forms of depression and anxiety. We support each other and stage the odd intervention when we see things aren’t right.

On Thursday I took Thing One to the Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service for an assessment. We have been there before, when her anxiety first started in primary school after being bullied. We self-referred last September and pressure on the service is so high that it took this long to be seen, but the keyworker she’s been assigned was wonderful, and will be putting a care plan in place for her. She told me before half term that she just wants to go back to school: the routine, her friends, clear expectations. It’s hard enough being a 14 year old girl without a global pandemic preventing you from seeing your friends.

It’s a shame that this service stops when they are in their early twenties. Getting help after that becomes much more difficult, only really kicking in after a crisis and then anti-psychotics seem to be the default setting rather than care. This service is so underfunded, and a lot of responsibility is devolved to the schools who are also not equipped to cope with the levels of mental health issues being seen in pre-teens and teenagers at the moment. I’m pleased that Thing One feels she can tell me anything, and I hope that all my children (both natural and the timeshare teenagers) feel the same. I hope that my adult friends can too.

I’m going to break out into cliche here: if your leg was broken no one would tell you to pull yourself together, and it’s past time we had the same attitude to your heart and your mind. I was lucky to have friends who saw through the fragile bravado and the manic socialising, but not everyone – especially in this time of isolation – has support like that.

Postscript…

I started writing this on Friday, while I was reflecting on Thing One’s visit to EHWS, and over the past couple of days I’ve thought several times about deleting it. Is it too much? Have I been too honest? Do my friends, family and colleagues need to know this about me? There are things here that I have never  spoken aloud, for example. Then I re-read the last paragraph above and realised that to delete it would be to become guilty of hiding my own mental health issues, when the point of the post was to talk about depression and anxiety openly.

So, the post will stand and I will stand by it. This is me: not brave, because it should not take courage to speak when you’re ill, it should be normal.

The fun stuff

I finished my sock at last! Now to do the other one. I do love crocheting socks, and as I’ll be back in the office and on trains twice a week for a while these are a great portable project. In one of my magazines there was a supplement about Tunisian crochet and it had a sock pattern, so I’ll give that a go soon too.

One sock!

There’s been a lot of cross stitch: here’s the temperature tree update, and I have been working on a Happy Sloth design of a galaxy in a bottle. I’ve also been frankenpatterning (combining two patterns to make a new one) as I wanted something particular but couldn’t find it. More on that later!

Spot the really cold week…

On Friday we had a family Zoom call: my lovely dad was 80 and we couldn’t be with him. Obviously as a teenager I was convinced both my parents were trying to ruin my life, but they were pretty cool really. Without my dad I wouldn’t still be able to say the formula for solving quadratic equations on demand or my times tables. I would have no clue about the need for balance and options in my life. I wouldn’t know how to annoy my kids by standing in front of the TV, and as I get older I appreciate his afternoon nap habit more and more – even at 47 he’s a role model! I blame my parents for my love of books, and Dad specifically for the science fiction and fantasy habit. Happy birthday Dad – I love you!

Mum and Dad, 1969.

So that’s been my week! Normal service (well, as far as that goes) will resume next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Inspector Hobbes and the Blood/Inspector Hobbes and the Curse – Wilkie Martin

A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)