Restrained – a drabble

restrained

I watched my knuckles turn white as I gripped the arm of my chair.

Feeling tense and unhappy, I decided that this time would be different. I’d make my feelings known instead of just suffering in silence as usual.

He was a nice enough guy and everything — don’t get me wrong. We’d talked earlier and got a rapport going.

But afterwards, I was as disappointed and unsatisfied as ever. This time I would strike a blow for womankind…

“How’s that?” he asked, “are you happy?”

“Perfect thanks,” I lied, and gave a generous tip as I left the hair salon.

 

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Socrates and square pegs

round peg

One of the oddest reproaches I’ve had levelled at me in recent years is,

“But you didn’t used to think that!”

Let’s just consider that for a moment.

This person was berating me for changing my mind about something.

There I was, in my forties, having new and different opinions. Having different views about the world from the ones I’d held in my twenties.

This person was really saying, “How dare you develop and change!” and “Who gave you permission to think for yourself?”

It made me think of the words attributed to Socrates,

“The unexamined life is not worth living”.

There are various interpretations of this, but to me it means that we need to think about how we live, and where we’re going, in order to flourish and grow.

If I held the same views on my deathbed as I had when I was a teenager, I would consider myself an undeveloped person. Surely the experiences we have over the years and the people we meet — not to mention all the things we read — should open our minds and make us examine our beliefs?

This isn’t pretension or being a phoney. It’s growth and maturity.

So, no apologies from me about changing my views on politics, or religion or animal rights, or the myriad other things that affect the world and how I choose to live in it.

I’ve climbed out of that pigeon hole, the one that some people would like to keep me in.

I’m happy to be a square peg in a round hole

And they can either accept that and maybe come on the journey with me, or be left behind.

I intend to keep discovering new ideas and changing my mind until the day I die.

 

Hiding places, hidden spaces

hut

Didn’t we all love making hiding places or dens when we were children?

I graduated from a blanket draped over a couple of chairs when I was a toddler, to a shed-come-clubhouse in a neighbour’s garden at seven, to a tepee-like construction in some nearby woods by the time I was ten.

I’ve always been fascinated by creating little secret hideaways.

There’s something magical and exclusive about hiding away — but it didn’t always have to be alone. It was often most fun when a couple of friends joined in and we all brought food and drinks begged or pilfered from home. Strawberry jam sandwiches, apples and bottles of flat, unfizzy lemonade took on a special charm when shared illicitly, far from the grown-ups’ eyes.

Children’s literature is scattered with such hideouts — some of my favourites were Stig’s den in the dump, The Five Find-Outers’ clubhouse and Jennings’ Little Hut.

I remember adoring a TV programme in the 1970s called The Double Deckers, where the local kids hung out in — you guessed it — an old red London double-decker bus, in an unused junkyard.

And then I discovered Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators and I was in heaven. These guys were the epitome of cool! Jupiter Jones’ aunt and uncle owned a salvage business, if I remember rightly, and the three boy investigators had a secret den hidden deep under the scrap and bric-a-brac. Wow!

Anyway, you get the picture. I’m sure you had your favourites, too, both from books and television programmes and from your own childhood. You may not have thought about them for years. Did you have secret passwords to gain access? Can you recapture the excitement you felt?

And now, even though I’m (supposedly) grown up, with grown up kids, I still can’t resist a bit of a hideaway.

When we moved home a couple of summers ago, we needed to have a new central heating system installed, and we waved goodbye to a huge old Mexicana boiler housed in a cupboard in the dining room.

My husband thought we’d turn it into a linen cupboard.

But I had a much better idea.

After a bit of cajoling, he agreed to build me a Book Nook, and it’s one of my favourite spots to sit and read now. All my favourite books migrated from my bookshelves to the specially built shelves in the Book Nook, and I had so much fun choosing cushions and running fairy-lights around the shelves.

It’s now a favourite spot for young visitors to sit and share a picture book (when I let them…) and I hope it starts them on their own road to a love of hideaways.

And although we have two empty bedrooms in our house, only occupied occasionally by student sons, and both of these rooms have desks and computers where I could sit and write to my heart’s content, guess where I end up?

In a newly painted shed at the bottom of the garden, complete with comfortable armchair and writing desk.

I guess I still can’t resist hiding myself away and waiting for the magic to happen.

Speak up, speak out, break out

freedom

What’s holding you back?

Depression? Loneliness? Fear of failure?

My hearing loss and tinnitus are medical facts that I allowed to limit my life and my happiness for far too long.

Dealing with them has made me think about the other ways in which our lives can be limited.

Some of us get trapped in depression, which is also a medical fact — not a flight of fancy, not a whim. And which thankfully can be also be helped. I saw being deaf as a stigma, and too many people see depression in the same way and are ashamed to open up and talk about it, or seek help.

Some of us are socially isolated and lonely — maybe as a result of death, or divorce, or just through feeling out of step with our peers.

And sometimes we are so afraid to fail that we put limits on our creativity, by thinking that our painting, or writing, or music are not good enough to show the world.

So we keep things locked inside of us, we don’t dare let our voice be heard. We wear mental straitjackets that keep us confined and choked.

But it’s only by speaking up, speaking out, and breaking out, that we can find our freedom and enjoy life.

Don’t be ashamed; don’t be silent. You aren’t the only person feeling that way — locked out, always on the outside, or maybe locked in, and voiceless.

And you are worth so much more than that. Take a small step and start changing your life.

My small step was finally going for a hearing test. I’d had my hearing tested in my mid thirties, and some loss was found, but wearing one hearing aid made me feel unbalanced (more unbalanced than usual!) and I also found it hugely uncomfortable. Instead of persevering or talking to my audiologist, I gave up on it.

Well, fifteen years passed, I’m 50 years old now, and my hearing has become progressively worse. There’s a history of hearing loss on my mother’s side of the family, and this together with my…ahem…increasing maturity, meant that deafness was tightening its grip on me.

Hearing loss is very isolating. You don’t want to be the person who continually says, “Sorry? What was that? Can you say that again?” That may be okay (if annoying) when you are in a one to one situation with someone, but if you are in a group and can’t keep up with the conversation, you just keep quiet. You switch off. You let the conversation carry on around you and you don’t attempt to take part.

I think that deafness and depression have a lot in common.

Other people think you’re unfriendly, or stand-offish, or unintelligent. And this can really affect how you see yourself and even how you live your life — always on the periphery, never quite part of what’s going on. It can knock your confidence and self-esteem, limit the jobs you go for, and keep you from going out and socialising.

In short, these conditions are life-changing.

I bit the bullet and got my hearing tested several months back, and was told that I now have significant loss in both ears. The day I had my tiny, digital hearing aids fitted will never fade from my memory. I could hear the clock ticking, other people’s conversations as I walked past them, birds singing, and the kettle boiling in the next room. I also immediately turned the volume down on the television from 38 to about 22. Wow — my poor family!

I kept bursting into tears as I realised how different my life would be now — and also when I considered how much I’d missed out on over the last few years.

On the first day, I wore my hearing aids around my busy city for a few hours, marvelling at this new world. And then I went home, took them out, lay on the sofa and slept for two hours right in the middle of the afternoon. Complete sensory overload — it was overwhelming.

Even now, after wearing the aids for a few hours, I sometimes choose to take them out. At first it’s like being underwater — everything is muffled and unclear. Then after a few minutes that settles down into normality and my brain readjusts. Because sometimes I don’t actually want to hear what’s going on. When rowdy people get on our local train and are being obnoxious, I take my hearing aids out. When my husband is watching a documentary on television and I’m trying to read, I take my hearing aids out. It’s quite pleasant having the choice to zone out!

One of the biggest benefits I’ve had is the massive reduction in my tinnitus. Tinnitus was what drove me to get my hearing tested again, to be honest — the noises in my ears were constant, and getting louder. When I’m not wearing my hearing aids I have whistling in my ears, and I’ve discovered that if I shake my head quickly (don’t ask me how I found this out), the sounds merge and become like high pitched church organ music…The good news is that when I’m wearing my hearing aids, I’m not aware of my tinnitus at all. My brain is hearing quite enough external noise, and doesn’t feel the need to manufacture any for me, thank goodness.

The quality of my life has improved dramatically, and I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t do something about this years ago.

I know that deafness can often be dealt with in a concrete way because it has a physical cause, while depression is that terrible, insidious, nebulous monster that stalks you and lies in wait. I know there are big differences. But there are also similarities.

Some of the people I love most in this world have suffered from anxiety and depression, and they suffered in silence for far too long because they were ashamed. They thought that admitting to depression was admitting a weakness.

I think the opposite is true; if you can get through day after day while suffering from depression or anxiety, you are one of the very bravest, most resilient of people.

And you have a 100% success rate in living with it so far.

They also thought that they were hopeless cases — that nobody would be able to help them. The best news is that a combination of medication, counselling, and using cognitive behavioural therapy has helped the people closest to me immeasurably. Hell, just talking about your problems with people who love you can help immeasurably. One person I know uses painting to feel better, another gets out into the woods and walks, a third writes about his feelings.

And for those people who find themselves lonely through social isolation, the hardest step of all is admitting to being lonely. They sometimes see loneliness as a stigma or a judgement too — what’s wrong with them, that out of a whole world full of people, they have ended up alone?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing is wrong with them. Just bad luck and circumstances.

But that first step — just getting out of the house — can be so hard. Charities who help lonely and isolated people suggest joining a book club, a church group, a walking club, or volunteering for a local charity. How about trying hang gliding for the over 50s? It doesn’t matter what one chooses — any of these activities can help people to connect and feel a sense of community again.

Facing the issues in your life is really, really hard sometimes.

But the rewards are huge.

Don’t give up. Things can get better. Just try and take that first step.

Hold out your hand and someone will take it.