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.


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)

Week eight: ups and downs

What a strange week this one’s been – again. After last week’s lengthy rant about the possibility of lifting lockdown shortly before Johnson’s pre-recorded ‘address’, we’ve all been stuck in a weird confused limbo which hasn’t really been clarified by various press conferences and guidelines. We are staying safe at home still, as that seems the most sensible thing to do at the moment. And don’t even get me started on school reopenings…

All three children (and I) have had a wobble at some point this week. It’s been important for us all to recognise that this is not a normal time, and that it’s OK to be able to put our hands up and say ‘right, I am not coping today’ and to retire to the sofa. Thing 2 had a meltdown on Thursday when it became clear that the family holiday in Wales was going to have to be cancelled and we wouldn’t be seeing the cousins and the grandparents this summer, let alone the aunties and uncles. My parents live in France and my youngest sister in Northern Ireland, so getting everyone together every couple of years is something we all look forward to. Thing 1 is missing her friends and has lost motivation, and Thing 3 is not sleeping well and is having trouble focusing. He enjoys learning and the stimulation of the classroom, as well as being with his peers. Being stuck at home with his big sisters isn’t a lot of fun, he tells me.

My own meltdown was Tuesday. I couldn’t wake up, and spent the day feeling as if I was wading through treacle. I didn’t even pick up a crochet hook or a needle which, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know is pretty unusual for me. I lay on the sofa, read a book, and napped through the afternoon before feeding the family things from the freezer for dinner. I’ve learned over the last twenty years or so of periodic depression that some days are bad days, and there’s often no rhyme or reason for it. I’m not in a period where the first thing I do when I wake up is do a mental check to see if I’m OK, thank heavens, but there’s still the odd downturn. I take Citalopram, like many other people like me, and that seems to keep me pretty level most of the time.

What about the rest of the week?

Luckily up days outnumbered down, and despite a few frosty mornings I’ve been able to get out walking every other day. I’ve been varying my route only slightly, by taking the odd different path, but mostly I’ve stuck to a wide semi-circle around the village which takes in fields, woods, a farm and – one day – the golf course. The pink flowers are coming into bloom now alongside the white and yellow, and one early morning I saw three hares. There are coot chicks on the ponds, and the sound of skylarks in one particular field on the stretch of Essex Way I cover is glorious.

Today we went on a bike ride round my usual route – all five of us! – and were lucky enough to run into friends. It was so good to have a conversation with other adults – albeit from a distance! The kids had enormous fun in the giant climbing oak on Friday too, when we dragged them out of their pits for a walk.

Things 2 and 3 – monkeys in a tree again

My sock fixation has continued, and I finished the pair that had me cursing last week because I wasn’t reading the pattern properly. They’re very pretty, and quite lacy – it’ll be a shame to put shoes over them!

I’ve managed some sewing too. After last weekend’s organising of patterns and fabric, I was able to grab the kits I wanted and get straight on – apart from with the True Bias Shelby Dress, which I cut out and then discovered I didn’t have any interfacing! Annoying, as this was the one I really wanted to make!

Virtually everything else has been using jersey and other stretch fabrics, for which I bless my overlocker. The first thing was the Jump Up Suit by Alice and Co, which is yet another item in my collection of work appropriate pyjamas. I made this in a grey Ponte Roma fabric, and before cutting I took 6 inches off the legs (and another three when I hemmed it!) and lengthened the waist by a couple of centimetres which I then ended up taking out again. I CANNOT get the hang of blind hemming, so couldn’t do the pretty scalloped neckline, so after much swearing I ended up doing a rolled hem on the overlocker which still seems to work. I can see this being much worn…

Alice and Co Patterns Jump Up Suit

I used scraps of jersey fabric to make the Watson bra by Cloth Habit – a toile, really, to practise new techniques and to check the fit. Apart from needing to pull in the elastic under the arms, it’s pretty much a perfect fit and the pattern instructions really do guide you through the process step by step. As I was working on smalls, I also whipped up a pair of Superhero Boxers by MBJM Patterns for my beloved, who was the only person in the house who didn’t have any handmade undies – he was sceptical but they fitted perfectly and he wants to know when the rest are coming…

Finally, I gave in and made some face coverings after the lovely Patrick Grant launched The Big Community Sew project – I used leftover fabric from my red quilt (which still isn’t bound) and from Thing 2’s shaggy pants, and some fat quarters from the stash. Luckily I also had some elastic, as that’s proving hard to source at the moment. I chose the McCalls face covering pattern as it looked pretty straighforward. I whipped up ten – not perfect but they’ll do the job.

Face coverings

I made another Greenstyle Centerfield top, using plain black jersey and a printed jersey I bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show a few years ago and have had in the stash. I bought it as I thought it had sheep on it, but it turns out to be alpacas so at least I’m on trend. This is a DREAM to sew and comes together in less than an hour’s sewing time. I chose the plain scoop neckline rather than a hood this time round, so it was superspeedy. And SO comfortable – particularly with the MBJM Patterns Four Seasons joggers that I used the rest of my black jersey on. I love MBJM patterns, they are so versatile – I made these in capri length with phone pockets, but you can also choose three other lengths, two waistbands, a faux drawstring and another pocket style.

Finally, we have been lucky with the wildlife this week – I’ll leave you with our regular badger, and see you at the end of week nine.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Jump! – Jilly Cooper

Home School – Charles Webb

Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook – Terry Pratchett

Week seven: preemptive pizzas in the park*, AKA you can’t quarantine stupid

*not my pizza, or my park. I stayed home.

As I type, the nation is waiting for today’s Boris and Co Show, where he’ll be addressing the the people from 10 Downing Street. Rumours have been flooding the more binary media for the last few days that lockdown will start to be lifted, that the schools will be open from the beginning of June – and at the same time the headlines tell us that we have now outstripped Italy in the coronavirus death charts and that we are second only to America in the world. Police forces on social media in the sunshine yesterday were telling us that there were whole swathes of people pre-empting any lockdown announcements by eating pizza in the parks. Other countries who have started lifting the lockdown are experiencing second waves, which should stand as a warning to those considering lifting restrictions only seven weeks in rather than the 12 that were initially mentioned.

I think the terribly English VE Day anniversary celebrations (socially distanced scones at 4pm, anyone?) and the Churchillian vibe that Johnson seems to want to project have clouded a lot of thinking coming from Westminster. The devolved nations have been very clear that lockdown will stay in place for at least the next three weeks – and while Westminster is apparently keen that the nations should stay in step, this means they want everyone to fall in with them rather than considering that maybe – just maybe – the devolved nations have the right idea. Construction workers are actually expecting to start work tomorrow, at least according to the one I was chatting to in the queue at the Co-op this morning.

I’m angry, and I’m worried – as in America, the economy seems to be driving the need to raise lockdown rather than the safety of the nation. I am worried about getting back on the tube – and I was on the Central Line the day after 7/7, because I work in London and we don’t back down. But this time – of all the times – we can and should be backing down, because this little virus – this invisible mugger, or whatever Johnson called it – is even harder to spot than a suspicious person. I’m angry that the government are abdicating responsibility for this decision, claiming that ‘the public’ have had enough. I’m aware that my chosen social media is by its very nature an echo-chamber, but I have yet to see or hear anyone pushing for this to be over. Inevitably there are the conspiracy theorists shouting about ‘plandemics’ and plots for world trade domination, but even they seem quite keen to stay alive and well. As Nicola Sturgeon says, the best defence against this is our own front door. Yes, people are bored – but we are healthy and bored.

Apologies for the rant!

Normal service will now be resumed….

My Google maps timeline for April appeared in my inbox this week and, like an idiot, I went through it to see if I’d done anything exciting – I did! I went a whole 1.75 miles from my house to the local farm shop to try and get some flour (no chance) but apart from that I stayed within about a mile radius of home. I’m looking forward to May’s timeline, when I can reminisce about that time I went to Tesco.

The lych gate at St Andrew’s Church, North Weald (dates from 1898)

Those walks within a mile or so of home do allow me to take in some beautiful scenery – after last week’s musings on spring colours coming in waves I made a point of looking for flowers in different colours on my walks. One of those walks took me past the church and the flood meadow – circling anti-clockwise round the village rather than clockwise – and I also took Thing 2 with me one morning who enjoyed spotting blooms at ground level. She insisted on collecting a dandelion clock for everyone so we could all have a wish. I made use of the PictureThis and LeafSnap apps to identify flowers, and we also enjoyed using the BirdNet app to identify birdsong (song thrush, blackbird, mistle thrush, blue tit, Eurasian blackcap, whitethroat, chiff chaff and lapwings!)

I’ve been quite stressed and anxious this week, which affected my concentration. The scrubs sets I was making took well over a week, as I took them very slowly and just did one step a day until my mind levelled out again. By Saturday my mojo (sewjo?) had returned and I whizzed through the scrubs trousers and also made Thing 2’s ‘Shaggy pants’, which she loves. I used New Look F6013 and she chose some fun printed cotton from Pound Fabrics. We decided on an elastic waistband rather than a drawstring, with a ribbon bow. The trousers only have two pattern pieces, and took about an hour and a half from opening the pattern packet to putting the trousers on for a photo so they were super simple. She loves them so much she has already requested a second pair… Thing 1 wants culottes (but with ‘flowy fabric, mum’) and my beloved has asked for some pyjama pants – so I’ve been back online this morning finding the right materials.

Thing 2 in her ‘Shaggy pants’

I’ve been superorganised today and made a list of all the things I want to sew in the next few weeks – then put the pattern, instructions and fabric for each into separate bags so I can grab and go. There’s a few in there that will stretch my skills a bit – a proper bra and pants, for example – and some quick wins.

I finished last week’s crochet socks, which felted a tiny bit in the washing machine so they are really soft – the pattern was the Magdalen sock by Vicki Brown, from Inside Crochet issue 101. I’m not sure she envisaged them in quite the same colourway, but I love them!

Magdalen socks – in Drops Nord, Regia sock (cuff) and Cygnet Wool Rich 4-ply (heel and toe)

I’ve now started a new pair of socks – this time the Vappu sock by Claire Montgomerie – and it’s a measure of just how away with the fairies I’ve been this week that it took three attempts to start the first one, and a lot of cursing, because I could NOT work out where the designer had got her stitch count…. and it turned out I was reading the pattern wrong. I’m using Stylecraft Head over Heels yarn in Sugarloaf for these. Watch this space!

(If you’re a crocheter and you haven’t had a go at making socks, I highly recommend it – this is a great book to start off with)

Thanks for sticking with me through this week’s rant! Let’s see what week 8 has in store for us all.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Evil Seed – Joanne Harris

The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter: Becoming British – Yasmin Hai

All the Little Places – Sophie Shillito

Listening to:

The Grove of the Caesars – Lindsey Davis (Audible)