Big life

Mental health

In another life, I lived on a tiny island called La Maddalena. One summer evening, the heady scent of wild gorse in the air, I flew around the island on the back of a friend’s scooter. ‘Che vuoi fare da grande?’ he yelled into the sea-fresh wind, thousands of tiny stars twinkling in the sky above as we sped on into the violet night.

My Italian wasn’t great then. I translated it literally, ‘What do you want do… in the big?’ (It means: What do you want to do when you grow up?’). I told him I wanted to write. I wanted to ‘be’ a writer.

Life took over: or more accurately, mental illness took over. I spent much of the next decade profoundly depressed. It wasn’t a mild, nagging grey cloud over my head. It was massively debilitating, utterly disabling. My whole spirit totally suffocated under its power. Often, I couldn’t even rouse myself from sleep. I threw away years being depressed, but I didn’t have a choice. I really didn’t understand how to get well.

This is the monumental might of human emotions. If you let them overwhelm you, they can be so powerful and so dangerous. There aren’t many solutions offered for young people who are struggling with mental illness. At the time, I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I thought I was incredibly lazy. I thought I had an undiagnosed disorder that made me sleep all the time.

The truth is that the weight of my thoughts had left me physically immobilized. It would be many years before I started to get well. I tried many different ways of trying to recover. Having children gave me a new determination not to succumb to the devil and the dark. Meditation started to heal my brain. I could feel it happening. And each time I do it, I feel it happening still.

Brain problems

Mental health

It’s so predictable. Your brain will tell you in a thousand different ways all the reasons why it’s a great idea not to do something that is good for you.

Take writing this post now, for example. My brain is being super helpful this morning. Honestly, it’s really cheering me on, lobbing uplifting ditties such as ‘What’s the point?’ ‘You’re sick, just rest’ ‘It’s Sunday, who’s reading this, anyway?’ and the classic, old reliable ‘Just to do it tomorrow, instead.’

I’ve been following that ‘Do it tomorrow’ command like a mole who has lost its way home for most of my life. It is lethal. Willpower is a muscle that you must use otherwise it drowns, suffocates, dies… whatever way you want to put it. It is a recent revelation to me that you get things done by doing them.

It’s the quintessential move from the depressive mind: Fix it tomorrow. Before children, I used to spend hours in bed, not sleeping, but trying to fix my problems. By thinking about them. It’s called rumination. It sucks. You build crappy neural networks and highways, constantly reinforcing the bad stuff with really dodgy construction work. I was convinced that if I thought about things for long enough, I would find a solution.

Thoughts are so seductive. They really will have you believe that it’s to your benefit to sit and think about the same things, over and over again, until they are ‘solved’. That they can actually seduce you into putting off stuff to an eternal tomorrow is truly astonishing.

Sometimes I think thoughts and action are two such opposing states that one is death, the other is life.

Put a sock in it


The sock situation when you have three small children is out of control. In our house, a pair of socks is worn once and then rarely reunited.

The baby wears my socks sometimes. I wear the boys’ socks sometimes. I’m pretty sure my husband has gone to work with one of my socks uncomfortably stretched over his foot at some point. He’s long squirreled away a secret stash of brand new socks somewhere that I have no access to because as soon as I get my grubby hands on them, it’s game over.

Dotted around the house, there are bags of teeny tiny socks. Stuffed in Tesco bags. A little dinosaur drawstring bag. Gift bags, cloth bags. The socks pile up, procreate in the washing machine, and come out in multiples with no other half in sight. The bag thing works fairly well. Anybody who needs socks will now trot happily to the nearest bag station to select a non-pair of socks.

I think the socks are like thoughts in your brain before you meditate. All different sizes and colours: big fluffy winter offerings, skinny fluorescent slip-of-things, mean little black ones, cosy and solid stalwarts; tattered, elegant grey ones. It’s a bit of a mess in there. Sometimes when you are meditating, you get the feeling you have pulled a matching pair out of your brain bag. All those thoughts, tumbling around, become reunited and your brain feels like it’s been put back together again, briefly in perfect harmony.

Matched up with the universe.