I’m sitting at a lovely spot, a cafe overlooking the lake. Good coffee. People to watch. Smiles. It’s sunny but not humid-hot, and I feel calm and almost settled. This is where I need to come to write, I realise. I do love my house, but it can be too much of a cocoon, and I have to get out from time to time, to be among people, feel normal. It’s been a rocky journey, and while I feel happy today, I know tomorrow I might not. Having found a “happy place” to come to is a major step forwards.
A couple of weeks ago I completely cracked. After weeks of soldiering on, making it work, putting a smile on my face, and doing, doing, doing… I gave in. Dropped the kids off at school, came straight back home, crawled back under the duvet and cried. Same thing again the next day. I can’t stand it when I’m feeling low, and giving in to my sadness feels like defeat. I get very impatient with myself, but I guess there are feelings to acknowledge, and repressing them isn’t doing anybody any good.
I really thought I could take this move in my stride, having done it a few times and knowing what to expect. I relied on my experience and resilience. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be so exhausted. And so entirely sick of it all. Of being new. Moving is always hard, but it really knocks you for six when you’re older. And moving with kids means that in addition to your own inner struggles, you take on all their moods and sadness as well. Both girls have been amazing in handling their feelings, and have put on a big smile when they didn’t feel like it at all. But both have had time off school simply because they were feeling exhausted and sad, and tired of being the new kid trying to make friends. They both have made friends, and are doing great, but from time to time they’ll look at me with big sad eyes, and I feel so guilty guilty guilty. How much sadness can you ask a little person to bear? It’s not fair, is it? They have to deal with a lot of stuff other kids their age don’t have the slightest clue how to handle. Who knows, maybe all this will help them in life, make them stronger. But right now, their sadness makes me feel sad too.
Of course, we don’t let those moods really get us down – we have so much positivity in our lives that it feels simply wrong to focus on the bad. But a little wallowing in self-pity from time to time seems to be necessary, and maybe even healthy? At any rate, I find it hard not to be hard on myself. I’m quite a strong person, and I really don’t like it when I’m not. So, after having bawled for ten minutes under the duvet, I would give myself a mental slap and get up. Found stuff to do, put music on, did laundry, wrote emails, and resorted to the ultimate cure: a run. For some reason, going for a run, or even a brisk walk, usually puts things back in order. I got home full of ideas and energy, having staved off depression once more. Quite amazing really, but I’ve noticed the difference between days I get out, and days I don’t (unfortunately, Texas rain isn’t just any old bit of rain and makes running rather dangerous. Not to mention the thunderstorms!). There are numerous articles out there on how running helps you mentally, and can actually make you feel like a brand-new person. It feels good to know that, while I’m fit enough to run, I’ll be fine, and I can cope with anything. But is it a real solution to my worries? Am I actually facing my demons, armed with a pair of running shoes, or am I literally running away from my problems? What would happen if I got injured and couldn’t exercise? I know it wouldn’t be good.
Another source of distraction and escapism is, of course, social media. Truly a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it’s great to virtually spend time with friends and family, see what all those people I miss so much are up to, and to connect through little comments, pictures and sometimes even a chat. But on the other hand, it is a constant reminder of all the things I’m not part of any longer. Watching a video of grey whales under the Golden Gate Bridge hurts physically; a picture of the Bavarian Alps will give me such pangs of homesickness that I start counting the days until we leave for Munich. And listening to a BBC podcast makes me yearn for England, and the accents I miss so much. My life has become so diverse, multifaceted, disjointed – I sometimes don’t know how to handle it. And now I’m adding Austin to the mix.
I have experienced so many wonderful places, but those experiences come at a price, I realise. To get to live somewhere else means you get to develop a connection to that place, and so when you leave you grieve for that place as if it were a person. Yet missing a place is different to missing a person. You can still reach out and talk to a person, but a place?
What also gets me is people’s perception of what we’re up to. It is so easy to put up a picture, and everybody comments how happy we look, or how much fun we’re obviously having. And yet – I’ve looked through the pictures I posted since moving to Austin – my posts and pictures are not really telling anything about my state of mind. I marvel at the fact that people just see what they want to see. How can someone who hasn’t spoken to me in 3 months look at a photo that doesn’t show anything personal, and glean from that that I’m happy? Of course we all try to make things look pretty – this helps us focus on the good things. I guess most of us do, and of course I’m not posting a photo of myself or the girls crying in bed.
And then I wake up the next day, and I’m fine. I have energy, ideas and don’t know why I felt so down only a day earlier. No wonder I’m so exhausted!
I’m loving today: The chatty, friendly Austinites. I thought the Californians were friendly, but that was nothing compared to here. And I’m ignoring S’s comment that of course people smile at you all the time – they’re just making sure they show their good intentions, so you don’t shoot them…