Book Review: Mad Girl

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Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon, is a darkly humourous account of living with mental illness. Since she was a child the author has suffered periods of debilitating OCD and clinical depression. As a young adult she developed eating disorders. She turned to alcohol and cocaine in an attempt to cope with her demons. Now she has decided to talk openly about these issues. Her aim is to out the prevalence of mental illness, to challenge the stigma society attaches to maladies that are ‘all in the head’, and to build understanding of the blight misconceptions can cause.

Bryony is the first to admit that she had a privileged upbringing. Privately educated and from a stable, supportive, middle class family she nevertheless developed anxieties at a young age. She recalls at age twelve fearing she may have AIDS despite never having indulged in risky activities. In an attempt to save her family from infection she washed her hands so frequently they cracked and avoided touching her parents and siblings. And then as suddenly as her acute fears had arrived they passed, until returning with a vengeance, in new and damaging forms, when she was in her late teens.

As Bryony recounts the hedonism of her twenties, how she acquired her dream job in journalism and travelled the world on glamourous assignments, she shares the self esteem problems that resulted in abusive relationships and her self-abusing lifestyle. None of this is to court sympathy but rather to demonstrate how adept people are at hiding what they do not wish others to see. She dreamed up happy scenarios, shared only the edited highlights of her life, and was reluctant to admit all was not as it seemed, even to herself.

Bryony lived what looked to be a normal and successful life, joking about many of her wilder exploits and using them as fodder for her writing career. Now what she wishes to do, in talking openly about what was actually going on during this time, is to demonstrate that mental illness is not shameful. She wishes to engender a wider acceptance that sufferers are not somehow to blame.

It is believed that one in four people experience mental health problems yet still the default is not to admit to such suffering. The cause is unknown, there is as yet no cure, and treatments are limited. This is before the woeful underfunding of mental health provision within the NHS is taken into account. Bryony eventually found help through CBT but only because she had the resources to fund it.

The raw honesty and self deprecating humour with which this account is written makes it a touching, sometimes shocking, yet continually entertaining read. The misery described is never gratuitous. As a social anxiety sufferer I found it uplifting. My hope is that those who do not have to endure such afflictions may gain a better understanding from this highly readable account. Those who do suffer may take comfort in the fact that they are not alone. They too are one of ‘The We’, and we are to be found everywhere.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: Beside Myself

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Beside Myself, by Ann Morgan, is a powerful exploration of family, identity and mental health. It examines a fractured family whose matriarch believes individuals should take responsibility for their problems; that they should be contained, hidden from the outside world; that to make a fuss is worse than whatever the cause may have been.

Ellie and Helen are twins, as alike as two peas in a pod. Helen is the leader, the good girl who has to look out for her stupider sister. Sometimes this means giving her a lesson, inflicting cruelties which Helen enjoys. One day she decides that they will play a game. Helen will pretend to be Ellie and Ellie is to pretend to be Helen. They swap the clothes and hairstyles that their mother gives them that people may tell them apart. Except the day they choose to play the game is the day that Mother moves her new man into their home. Everyone is fooled by the girls’ deceit, and then Ellie refuses to swap back.

This is Helen’s story, the twin who is now known as Ellie. Alternate chapters deal with her childhood and adulthood, the timelines converging as her tale is told. When we first meet her as an adult it is clear that her life is a mess. She is hungover, living in poverty, estranged from her family. When she hears that her sister is in a coma following a car accident she doesn’t wish to become involved. Her sister’s husband will not accept this.

From the first page I was hooked. The premise is intriguing but it is the development that really impressed. There is no filler. Every chapter offers up yet another reveal, another punch in the gut. Ellie is constantly reaching out to those around her and finding emptiness. It is an aloneness that hurts in its realism.

As adults it is too easy to look at a troubled child and believe that, with the right support, they could be mended. This story demonstrates that much of that support is misplaced. A child struggles to speak the language of adults who will always consider that they know best. Like many youngsters, Ellie tells stories as she grasps for attention. Her attempts to explain the truth then flounder, the words she struggles to find treated with contempt.

Ellie is labelled as backward and troublesome. Her hopes of fresh starts are blown away by the reports that go ahead of her, passed between the adults charged with her care. As realisation dawns that she has no power to change her situation she finds a way to cope by ceasing to care. With nothing now to lose, rules and conventions may be ignored.

I felt anger and sadness as Ellie’s story unfolded. I was awed at the author’s accomplishment in the telling. Difficult issues of nature, nurture, how adults treat children and society judges; are woven into a compelling story of relationships, and the blame apportioned when outcomes clash with ideals.

The denouement provides explanations for many of the problems Ellie faced. There are no easy answers but it is a satisfying end to the tale.

This is a remarkable work of literature that I have no hesitation in recommending. It will be amongst my best reads of the year.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bloomsbury Circus.

Book Review: Purity

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Purity, by Jonathan Franzen, is a story about power – within relationships and across nations – and the psychological damage it can cause to the powerful and the overpowered. Several of the key characters appear to be mentally unbalanced, forever seeking validation through emotional blackmail. What they think of as love is possession and control.

The story, which spans more than half a century, is told from the perspectives of each of these characters in turn. As with memory, the details vary depending on who is recalling events and where they currently are in their lives. What is common to each thread is the visceral honesty which can be disturbing and distasteful to read. The animal instincts and selfishness are presented unadorned.

The reader is first introduced to Purity Tyler who considers her name an embarrassment so calls herself Pip. She is working in telesales and living in a squat having amassed a huge debt getting through college. She is a good daughter, regularly phoning her needy mother, but has many neuroses including a lack of impulse control. She wishes to find out who her father is, a subject that her single mother has always refused to discuss.

A German visitor to the squat, Annagret, invites Purity to join a collective in Bolivia run by the charismatic Andreas Wolf. His Sunlight Project is presented as something akin to Wikileaks, shining light into the corners of the internet which the powerful prefer to keep hidden. Andreas grew up in East Germany, the child of prominent government employees. It soon becomes clear that he himself has plenty he wishes to hide.

When the Berlin Wall comes down Andreas meets Tom Aberant, an American journalist who is, at that time, facing the end of his ten year marriage to the mentally deranged Anabel. Andreas wishes to pursue a beautiful young girl whom he has come to know through his work as a counsellor at a church where he has been living. He asks Tom to help him, regarding him as a friend despite having only just met. The secrets he confides and the actions they take will haunt Andreas for the rest of his life.

The background to and inter-relationships between these characters are explored in excoriating detail. There is a great deal of masturbation and sex, there is cunilingus, porn and abuse. All of this is recounted alongside, and perhaps as a reaction to, the mental gymnastics that the parents and partners play as they attempt to bend those they claim to love to their will.

I found elements of the story difficult to read but consider it well written. The author gets under his reader’s skin with memorable characters and challenging situations. Do we blame upbringing or mental illness for a character’s flaws? Is it mental illness or an honest representation of base thoughts to which many are prone?

The search for purity is a recurring theme as well as a play on the protagonists name. Beauty and purity are mistakenly conflated, guilt excised by distance from the harmed. That each of the characters made mistakes in their treatment of others is undeniable. The exploration of the extenuating circumstances of those failures, the deliberation over how typical these experiences may be, are what give this tale its strength.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fourth Estate.   

 

Ghost

I feel as though I am floating, uncertain and alone. The tethers that once anchored me have come loose. The lines between the life others see, the books that I read and the stories that I write are becoming blurred. These are all my experiences, a part of what I am. How much of my life is real, how much imagined? An individual’s perception is his reality.

I wrote a piece last week about life on line. I wrote it as fiction and yet, when it was finished, I realised that I had created something personal. When I look at the life I am living it has lost its solidity.

I read books to escape from the rejection. I write to cope with the hurt. I no longer fit into the worlds of those around me. Now that my family has grown they have their own interests. They are kind to me, humour me but do not seem to understand what I am.

I am a ghost, not quite here. I drift through my days. I read and I write. I exist on the margins.

 

Reflections on 2013

However much I may like or loath the various traditions and expectations that the festive season throws up, it is hard not to reflect on the year just gone as it draws to a close. Mine has been nothing if not turbulent, even if only in my own head. As this is the only place where I can experience my life, the impact has been significant to me. In the words of the Bring Me The Horizon song, ‘I can’t drown my demons, they know how to swim’. I have therefore been trying to learn to manage my vexations and learn to swim with them.

We all change over time as events and experiences offer us new ways to see things. I believe that I am in a much better place now than I was a year ago, even if the journey has been challenging. This coming year I wish to build on the good  things that I have discovered. I want to write more and better, I want to find a way to share the pleasure that this gives me with my family, even if it is only that they may benefit from my more positive outlook. They have been the ones to suffer most from my moods, which have been all over the place in the last twelve months.

One of the highlights of my year was undoubtedly my trip to Berlin with my elder two children in late summer. We stayed with a very dear friend of mine and he made the trip just unbelievably fabulous for us. The city itself exceeded all my expectations, but those few days were precious for the company and the conversation as much as the location. After what had been a difficult summer for me it was just the pick me up that I needed. I cherish the memories that we made.

Other than that there were highlights, such as a night away in a lovely hotel by the seaside with my husband for his birthday in the spring; and lowlights, mainly triggered by the struggle I had coping with my adored children no longer needing nor wanting the interaction that has dominated my life for the last seventeen years. I still worry that I should be encouraging them to behave differently at times, but recognise that my sphere of influence has diminished. If we are to continue to get on then I need to grant them the freedom that they demand.

My husband has continued to support my eccentricities, it amazes me how good he is to me. Thanks to his generosity I was able to design and have built a little library in the heart of our home where I can curl up to read, write and tinker on our piano (my skill on this beautiful instrument has not, alas, improved). Surrounded by my books this is the perfect space for me to relax and create. I do a lot less housework and a lot more dreaming than I once did. Having me happy benefits my family more than having a dust free home, at least that is what I tell myself.

I am grateful that a core group of friends have stuck by me this year, even though I have not made the effort that I should to get together more often. I have actively avoided socialising in what would be regarded as normal venues, preferring to meet up for walks in the beautiful countryside around our home. Despite my inability to offer these friends comprehensible reasons why my moods have been so volatile they have offered me valued company and support.

And then there have been my growing number of on line friends who have offered encouragement, empathy and virtual hugs. This community has provided validation when I have felt that I have been losing my reason. I am grateful to my outernet friends for accepting me despite not understanding why I am upset; I am grateful to my internet friends for their comprehension, and for making me feel welcome anyway.

After the reflection comes the anticipation. A whole, shiny, bright, new year awaits just the other side of midnight. I wish to improve my health and fitness, both of which I have neglected over the past twelve months. I wish to manage my time better that I may see more of my friends, keep my house a little neater and still allow myself time to dream. I have books to read, stories to write and countryside to explore and appreciate.

Most of all though I wish to hug my husband more. He has not understood either my erratic moods or my desire to devote so much time to my writing, but has supported me anyway. My life can only be managed by me but, with him by my side, it is all so much more enjoyable.

pooh_and_piglet favorite card

Moods

Riding this roller coaster of moods is exhausting. Yesterday I woke up feeling low. By late afternoon I had cheered up sufficiently to pour myself a glass of wine and start my Christmas shopping. An hour or so later I was feeling festive and regretted not decking the halls as my youngest had requested. Yet a short and innocuous enough exchange with my husband whilst preparing dinner brought me close to tears again. I can’t be doing with this. It makes no sense. I retreated under my duvet early last night, I mean really early. I will try to do better today.

First though, an observation. I seem to have lost the ability to talk sense. As can only be expected, my family discuss an eclectic mix of topics. Space travel, chemical reactions, medical issues, the latest innovations in computer technology, and television programmes that I do not watch were all covered this weekend. There was little that I could join in with. I try to follow what is being discussed in the hope that I may learn something, but trying to take part merely shows up my ignorance. It is therefore galling that, on the rare occasions when I should know what I am talking about, I can still spout nonsense and allow myself to appear witless.

We have plenty of areas of mutual interest but they rarely get raised around the dinner table. I seem unable to present my thoughts in a way that generates curiosity. I no longer seem able to contribute anything coherent enough to be worthwhile. It is frustrating for me that I am turning into the foolish old woman that my children see me as.

What happened to the clever young thing that I used to be? Despite attempting to exercise it regularly, my brain appears to have atrophied. It exasperates me that I seem to be contributing to the low opinion my children have of my mental abilities each time I speak.

However, I must learn to live with what I am and seek to improve when I have the opportunity. Today is Day 2 of my countdown to Christmas and I am looking for positives in my day.

Our weather continues to be dry and not too cold so I decided to work outside. This view from the bottom section of my garden, even on a dull December day, is cheering. There are still enough leaves to add colour, but the view over the fields has opened up as the foliage descends.

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It is this descent that I was tidying up. Barrow load after barrow load of leaves were raked and lifted into sacks for disposal. I am sure it must be a great workout. As my husband has taken my little car to work, something that he does fairly regularly to keep it ticking over as I use it so infrequently, I was able to fold down the seats in our MPV and use it to cart rubbish to the recycling centre. Thus our garage is no longer clogged up with an old mattress and the broken door and bed end that have been gracing the front of our house for well over a month have now gone to be turned into…  I do wonder if the myriad of rubbish that is so carefully sorted and transported to the recycling centre actually get recycled.

I enjoy a good clear out though. It has been a tiring but fulfilling day, I am well exercised and my garden looks a lot neater. I will put my hens safely back in their runs and prepare for the return of my children from their long day at school.

Then I just need to make sure that I hold on to this positive mood through the evening. That would make it the good day I am aiming for.

December

And so it begins. December. Today we can open the first door on our advent calendar and start the countdown to Christmas. Light the advent candle, deck the halls.

Despite having an enjoyable and relaxing day with my family yesterday, I felt jittery. After a pleasant and easy dinner, just before we settled down together to watch a film, I had to control myself to prevent weeping. For no reason. Nothing had happened to upset me.

I am fighting to overcome the dread that has settled in the pit of my stomach, that threatens to wrap itself around my heart.

Yet this will not do. The festive season will not go away and I have a family who will want to enjoy the build up and the event itself. Much as I would like to hide under my duvet for the rest of the month, this is not an option.

I need to find strategies that will enable me to cope. Perhaps if I exhaust myself at the gym each day I will be able to sleep, an elusive activity when I feel anxious. Perhaps if I avoid all gatherings and instead head out into the countryside to enjoy the stark, cold beauty of this time of year I will find solace.

There is only so much that I can choose to eschew without causing offence. I have no wish to cast a shadow on the bonhomie of the season. I want to run away and hide but am aware that my absence would tarnish what is a happy time for others.

A season of joy has become a season of obligation. The enforced sociability, the expectation of gaiety has stripped my resoluteness to the quick. I wish joy to the world, goodwill to all men, as I fight to quell the rising panic in myself.

So much negativity.

Throughout this month, as I open each door on my advent calendar, I will seek out a reason why this season is good, a reason that will help me to get me through that day. It is the anticipation of what is to come that I fear, not what is happening today.

So, what can I find that is good today?

In my garden there is a small flock of hens who crowd around me the moment I step into their garden. They follow me to the shed for the handful of corn that they know I will scatter for them to enjoy. They find happiness scratching over an area of freshly dug soil.

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These creatures rely on me yet demand so little. They always make me smile with their funny little ways. They tolerate my hugs and welcome me, even if it is only for the food that I provide. Their presence will help me get through today.

Numbers

Some people go to parties to socialise, or to organised groups, both formal and informal. They make music or things, exercise or discuss books; they get together with like minded people to enjoy their company, chat and hang out. They meet up with friends, get to know new faces, catch up on gossip and each other’s lives. Man is a sociable creature who thrives when welcomed and accepted by others.

For much of my adult life I did not question that this was the way I should live. I agonised over my inability to gain acceptance into any close friendship group. I had friends but we were not open with each other, not in the way I had been conditioned to think we should be.

And then, when I finally found my way into a clique, I discovered that I still struggled. I could go through the motions of attending and hosting the small and larger events as expected, but would worry afterwards about the detail of the things that I had said or done. I would do my best to cover my growing anxiety, but enjoyment was marred by the after effects as I suffered increasing bouts of mental self-flagellation.

Withdrawing from this way of life was not a concious decision but an act of self preservation. I could no longer cope with the days spent trying to deal with the growing anguish that followed each social encounter. No matter how often I told myself that my reaction was foolish and unnecessary, it was still all too real to me. The turmoil had become more than I could bear; I needed to allow myself space to be calm and peaceful.

I still very much enjoy getting together with a friend. I can cope with a walk or a meal out when it is with one or two people. Although I will still feel concern about what I have said and how I have come across at times, I do not wish to avoid society entirely.

I find it interesting that, given my anxiety when dealing with people face to face, the space in which I am most comfortable socially is on line. I know many people who feel that social networks are too public to allow them to relax; I know a few who are appalled that I share so much.

There are aspects of my on line presence, however, that give me cause to question my acceptance in this community. None of my many accounts are followed by large numbers of people; does this mean that I am lacking in some way? I do not agonise over the numbers but rather mull over what they may mean.

I do not know how one gains a following in cyber space. My Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts are all as public as this blog, yet attract little attention. It is only on my Facebook account that I actively manage the privacy settings. Even there the numbers tell a tale; I know all who I have befriended on the site but am not accepted as a friend by all I know.

There are many little homilies and sayings that pop up from time to time entreating us to take notice only of those who offer acceptance of what we are and to avoid those who bring us down. I wonder what it says about me that I am of interest to so few. I am wondering if the numbers matter.

It is not good for my mental health to dwell too much on what others may think of me. I wish to grow as a person; to be kind, understanding and accepting of others. When I look to improve my knowledge and to question why I think as I do I value input. For this I need interaction, yet I struggle to cope with that which is offered; to attract attention from the like minded individuals who must be out there.

Yesterday evening I was trying to discuss a book I am reading with my husband. He was nodding and making all the appropriate noises in response to my enthusiastic comments but, as I continued, I could see his interest wane. He had not read the book and had no views to impart. When I converse with others it too often feels like this; I am eagerly trying to share but am choosing the wrong audience. It is not that I am disliked, but that I struggle to tailor my interactions in a mutually satisfying way.

And that is my lack. Others seem to slip so naturally into discourse with whoever they are with. Perhaps that is why I struggle face to face when I can read the body language and worry about how I am being perceived, or when I know that I will torment myself afterwards with anxiety over whatever verbal diarrhea my nervousness caused me to impart.

On line there is just as much scope to appear foolish but it is the reader’s choice to follow or friend; to interact or ignore. And so we are back to those numbers. I love that I can use my social networks to keep in touch with my family and friends in far flung places; those who I would choose to see more of if distance were not an issue. Perhaps I ask too much in expecting to use cyber space in any other way. Perhaps I am asking more of myself than I am capable of being.

An example of a social network diagram.

So many feels

I had a wobbly couple of hours this morning. My sons cycle into school when the weather is good, but this morning was dull and wet so they were required to catch the bus. My eldest son had an important 9am exam so it mattered that he wasn’t late. He is always late; it drives me mad. I strive so hard to be on time for everything, even if it means a lot of hanging around. Like my husband, my son believes that his time is valuable and not to be wasted. The risks he takes with time baffle me.

I tried hard not to be cross or to show how stressed I was feeling as he gathered his books and equipment together. I mean, it is not me who has to sit the exam. My suggestion that he pack his bag the night before had obviously been ignored. He saw no problem with stepping in the shower ten minutes before he needed to leave the house. I decided that the easiest way to deal with the situation was for me to drive the boys to school. By taking control I could cope.

When I returned home I started to go through the motions of my day but I was on edge. My mood was plummeting and all the old gripes and concerns were bubbling to the surface in my mind. In need of some activity to wind me down I decided to go to the gym as this gives me time to think things through as I cycle and climb and row my way to nowhere on the machines. Mindless activity such as this helps me to process my thoughts and calm my mind; this is as much a benefit to me of gym membership as any improvements in my health or fitness.

It seems to me that a lot of the issues I have with my emotions stem from the fact that I need to feel in control of whatever is important to me. I think I may be a bit anal about this. I have probably created a lot of the problems that I now have to deal with because I couldn’t relinquish the control that I needed to cope with the difficult periods in my life. I had to do things my way, myself, in order to be sure that they would be done the way I wanted.

My husband’s illness last week, from which he is still not fully recovered, showed how lacking in sympathy I can be. I love my husband very much and I would have been happy to have provided him with some relief had any been available. I do struggle though to mop a brow and make the required ‘there, there’ noises. If I can be of practical help then you can count on me to make the effort. The touchy, feely stuff eludes me.

I have a chunk of ice inside that formed when my children were young. I found their early years incredibly hard, but those who offered to help didn’t do things the way I needed them to be done, and I couldn’t relinquish control. Of course, I know that letting them watch TV, not making them eat their vegetables or feeding them sugary puddings wasn’t going to make them bad people, but it went against what I wanted. I struggled on alone, doing things my way, rather than allowing others to treat my kids as they thought was fine rather than as I would.

I really don’t know how I could have done things differently. I see other mums who allowed their kids to be taken care of by family members or friends regularly in order to have a break; a little me time. I just couldn’t do it. In choosing to create these amazing young people I had accepted responsibility for their well being. I couldn’t rely on others to treat them as I would and I couldn’t make myself hand them over. It is not that I ever thought that the children would come to harm, it was my ability to deal with the situation that was the issue.

Somehow this wasn’t such a problem with formal childcare. I could leave the children at nursery and playgroup; the other children somehow diffused the impact. The social benefits gave reason to abdicating my responsibility for them in a way that just handing them over to another adult for my benefit did not.

So now I live with this sort of mental exhaustion that has left me numb and unable to articulate my needs, to seek solace and understanding. When I try to talk about what I am feeling I detect exasperation; I know that I brought this on myself but it is still a problem. Does it being all my own fault preclude me from requesting support?

I know that I have friends who want to help me through this but I am not yet convinced that they can see the issues through my eyes. I need empathy not blame; I judge myself harshly enough. At the moment it feels very much like another problem that I am going to have to deal with on my own, myself.  I hope I can do so.

English: Representation of the Hitchhiker's Gu...

I love the following quote. There are some people who seem to think that all feelings of depression would be solved if the sufferer would just snap out of it, that their life looks fine and they should stop being so self centred. If only it were that straightforward. 
From Douglas Adam’s ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’:
Trillian:’What are you supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?’
Marvin: ‘You think you’ve got problems. What are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don’t even bother answering. I’m 50,000 times more intelligent than you and even I don’t know the answer.’

Listening to our bodies

The human body is an amazing thing. It will flag up problems that need attention and self repair all but the most serious of issues with a minimum of intervention. Good health and pain free living are too easily taken for granted until we suffer their loss. Most of us will face our daily tasks, chores and entertainments assuming that we can cope with whatever treatment we give our bodies and will recover. Perhaps it is only as we age and the aches and complaints take longer to heal that we realise how much better life can be if we take good care of ourselves.

As another new week begins I will be trying to treat my body better. Last week was a lot of fun with birthdays to celebrate and parties to look forward to but the aftermath of such frivolity and high living hit me yesterday. It would seem that I need my sleep and am not good at coping with the effects of rich food and wine consumed at odd times. My body was telling me that I have not been treating it well and, as it is the only one I will ever have, I intend to listen to it.

There are those in my local friendship group who appear to socialise and party with a regularity that I do not believe I could cope with. When my body tells me to rest and recuperate it does so loudly; I suspect it is attitude as much as age. I am happy to accept the excuse that I need to give myself time to recover as I enjoy a time of solitude and reflection as I go about my daily routine. I am generally content to live repetitively and quietly with just the occasional highlight to look forward to from time to time.

My children are now home from their various school and scout trips and camps. Much as I like to see them enjoying the experiences that travel and adventure offer it felt good to have them all back and safe in their own beds. We felt rather jaded yesterday evening and welcomed the chance of an early night. This morning I awoke feeling ever so much better after a full eight hours sleep – it is quite some time since I have managed that.

Waking my children for school was not so easy. Overtired and physically weary they were not in the best of moods as they headed out to catch their bus. I do hope that they manage to stay calm through their day but suspect that this evening could be trying. They do not always react well to the effects of excessive activity and poor sleep. It doesn’t help that they will also have had to cope with an unusual diet. The fuel that we give to our bodies has a significant effect on how well we operate. The young may be more capable of a quick recovery from such treatment than their elders but they still require recovery time – a fact that they do not always seem to appreciate.

Having had one of the laziest days ever yesterday, which probably helped my mood if not the state of my house, today will be busy for me. As well as the damp and muddy clothing that the children presented to me on their return I have a sodden tent opened out on the floor of our family room to dry. There is a lot of sorting out for me to tackle but this is fine. It would seem that a quiet and ordinary life suits me better than high excitement. As the weather has returned to the cold and damp of winter, even if we are now well through March, I will not be tempted to venture far. A little hibernation this week will do me good.

Listening to our bodies and responding appropriately to physical needs requires awareness but is generally obvious and straightforward. Listening to our minds and responding appropriately to our mental health requirements can be more challenging. Accepting myself for what I am and avoiding attempts to follow a more conventional lifestyle with it’s social highlights and large group get togethers can be hard, but only because I am allowing myself to think that I should be having the sort of fun that others appear to enjoy. I have no wish to shun society but am much more comfortable meeting up with one person or a small group on an occasional basis. I need to allow myself to live a life that suits me.

What worked well last week was my night away with my husband. How fortunate I am that the person whose company I enjoy the most lives with me. A night out with him, but not too late a one, can be a social highlight that I will truly enjoy. With my friends I think I am best sticking to a walk or a coffee. Neither of these is likely to result in my body feeling as though it has been brutalised as it did yesterday. I am such a party lightweight.

For now I have much to do as I face this new week. A gentle approach to the tasks to be completed along with sparse and simple food will soon have me feeling healthy again. My body is telling me to be mindful of my needs and, on this occasion at least, I am going to do as I am told.

Health