Category Archives: Dad

House-hunting Outside the Box

 

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My dad calls it divergent thinking, but I suspect my need to think outside the box in any and every situation has been a large part of my mental health issues these last twelve months. If I have one thought it spreads like a firework. If I have a box of thoughts, I need plenty of space to watch all the fireworks.

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When I got very ill twelve months ago the fireworks fizzled and fell. I had to accept limitations and let go.

This letting go has not come about lightly: there are a dozen areas I would like to do more in, a hundred people I would like to help, a thousand things that need thinking through.

But I am learning to let go. Let go of ideals I cannot reach. Let go of people who hurt me. Let go of wrong self-image. Let go of anger. Let go of trying to ‘achieve’ to impress. Let go of turning up the heat. The cold never bothered me anyway.

I am now at a stage where I need to harness what is good and right about my divergent thinking. The instant creativity when I’m in a good place and Joe decides we need to make an apple tree from things in the kitchen, for example. Or helping Lily remember a new times table. Or finding a recipe for ingredients we already have in. Being academically thorough because it hurts not to. Little baby steps that indicate I’m heading in a good direction.

And I’m part of a great team. My husband is single-minded and inspires me to focus rather than diverge. As a result we now have a great ‘get the house ready for viewings’ system, including keeping things in sensible places, having empty drawers at the ready for items on surfaces and not panicking when the ‘wrong’ load of washing is doing as I know it will all get straightened out soon and that I’m going to be ok whatever the outcome. Just keep swimming, Lucy.

We are convinced that God’s purposes are driving our endeavours to relocate, so the emotional energy I have can be spent focused on practical and reasonable tasks. Today Joe and I got to toddlers; a wonderful opportunity to see friends and how things have developed in great ways there. Later this afternoon I showed the fifth couple in eight days around our house. It used up all I had left emotionally. Corners have to be cut elsewhere: manageable cleaning and tidying, efficient use of time, time off alone, not counting the calories, not stressing over what I cannot control. Improvements are evident in lots of directions, for which I am utterly grateful, even when pushed to my emotional limits.

One task I love doing is house-hunting, and I go at it with a combination of God-driven purpose, single-mindedness learnt from my husband and outside-the-box problem-solving techniques I can’t help but bring to the table. One of my sustaining strengths is writing and it appears that another is researching.

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Armed with access to the internet and a couple of clever spreadsheets, I review the houses that have appeared on our search radius on a frequent basis. They are constantly changing as we are moving to an area of short supply and high demand. A house we viewed at the weekend is currently in a bidding war and already at  £43,000 above the asking price, days after appearing on the market. We did not bid on it, as we cannot buy until we sell. But I am making sure I do my outside-the-box homework. Systematically.

Rightmove is the most useful of the property search websites I use, with their various search tools, floor plans, school distance maps, and invaluable Saved Properties feature. Zoopla is better for learning about sold house prices, with interesting heat maps and information on what sold in various streets if you are prepared to work through in detail when you are serious about a property. As we are searching within a target geographical area we’ve realised it also pays to get registered with local agents who send you information ahead of homes appearing on the market and to check their own websites, which update sooner than Rightmove.

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We like to know how long a property has been marketed, and whether the sellers have changed agent at some stage. While EPC checks on the energy rating are some use if they have a date, they are valid for up to ten years so weren’t necessarily produced for the most recent sale. We downloaded a toolbar from Property Bee (which uses Firefox) with a sidebar listing price changes and number of weeks on the market. Fascinating stuff. As our own house is proving to be a niche market, we know this doesn’t prove everything, but is useful to check out whether a property has not sold for some months, so that we can check why that might be and whether the vendors are willing to consider a lower offer.

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If a house looks promising, I like to familiarise myself with the area. Nothing beats driving or walking around in person, but some useful sites for getting extra information from a distance are Google Maps (especially with Street View and to check distances and routes by car, foot, bike or public transport, which may impact upon the children as they get older), Bing Maps (for Bird’s eye views of the location from North, South, East and West) and the Environment Agency‘s pages on flood risks from rivers and elsewhere. Online regional planning information is useful to determine the scale and dates of development for a property, currency of local greenbelt, the year the street was built and an indication of whether extensions of one sort or another might be granted. Wikipedia is a surprisingly good source of information on village life if there are links to local community websites as well as history of the area.

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I have learnt a lot about school catchments (including relevant high schools) from Cambridgeshire’s education admissions website, and we applied for Joseph’s school place based on data we picked up online as well as a couple of visits. If he should not get any of our three choices, we will be able to find out quickly where there are spaces in both his and Lily’s year groups for September so that they can be together if possible in another local school. Ofsted reports and data tables tell you a certain amount, as do schools’ own websites, but going around a real school and meeting staff there, as well as learning about schools from local people where possible are much more fruitful. We have also taken a keen interest in location and websites of churches in the places we’ve been looking at, as a strong community church will have a big impact on us as a family and we’d like it to be not too far to travel to. Hakuna Matata, as they say.

So, lots of things to keep this divergent mind happy in a useful way on days when I want to crawl into my mindspace all by myself and shut the door. When we are moved I know what my next project will be, as I am preparing a book. However, I cannot write a book and move house and raise a family at the same time. I have learnt to let go and focus on what is best. Freedom within fixed constraints allows me opportunity to thrive and feel useful. I am moving from the first quadrant in the Grace Cycle (Acceptance) to the second (Sustaining Strength). I am allowed to write. I am allowed to research. I have a value and a purpose, and I feel like a room without a roof.

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The thing with the words

Can you use short words? Can you use just a few words? Does it help? Would it help the people who read the words?

Can you say a lot with a little?

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Many thanks to the rather wonderful xkcd site for this explanation of Saturn V using only the 1000 most common words in English.

I have a love-hate relationship with vocabulary. I do know many, many words. I use far fewer in writing, and a tiny subset verbally if it can be helped. Frequently I cannot remember the mot juste in the mother tongue these days. Not helpful when playing my parents at Scrabble online and the only words allowed are words none of us know. It turns out there are many, many words I do not know.

I am working on a book. I have had an idea for constraining my writing. Apparently lots of other people do this sort of thing. I am including a character with a learning disability, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should limit the words I am allowed to use, either by how common they are in English or maybe by whether it could be seen to be read neatly in the context it is set in. This exercise would actually be far from simple; I would need to be certain which words and versions of words I would be allowed, structure and plan carefully and try hard to make the prose read well. For example, I stumbled across something today which made me worry that perhaps this may result in something quite wooden:

A text for students of English:                                                                      It was a bright sunny morning the week before Christmas. Grandma Burns was knitting busily. The snow was deep and its crust shone like silver. Suddenly she heard sad sighs outside her door. She opened the door and there was Peter and Jimmy Rice, two very poor little boys. Their faces were in their hands and they were crying.

The same text written for native speakers of English:

Grandma Burns sat knitting busily in the sun one bright morning the week before Christmas. The snow lay deep, and the hard crust glistened like silver. All at once she heard little sighs of grief outside her door. When she opened it there sat Peter and Jimmy Rice, two very poor little boys, with their faces in their hands; and they were crying.

I think I am going to need to play with the idea and try out some different ways of running with it. I’d love it if the book I write could be accessed by people with a simpler range of vocabulary. Vocabulary can unlock so much emotion, nuance, connection and depth. However, it also has the capacity to act as a language barrier within a language. I have worked with many young offenders and students with low academic ability and have wanted to communicate meaningfully with them without patronising them or imitating patterns of speech I can’t use honestly. (Dja get me?)

7 years on

Today marks the seventh anniversary of dad’s heart attack. A heart attack which would have killed him if he had not had mum nearby. Or if he had lived in a different time, or a different place. In his own words ‘every day since then has been a gift. God has been good.’

Today is a gift. Each day I get to tickle my children, feed my guinea pigs, joke with my dad or learn from my mum is a gift. Each day I get to wake up next to my amazing husband is a gift. Each day I find something to smile about is a gift.

Dad’s health is good, but it is not perfect. Life is good; a good gift. I want to thank God for this precious gift.

And God has been healing me over this time too: there are new things on the horizon. A book. A relocation. New opportunities. Learning to let go of some aspects of the past, enjoy the gift of the present and trust deeply for all that the future will bring. Perhaps I will start a new blog. I’m not hurrying any decisions though. There is too much going on preparing for selling and moving and I am learning to work within my limits. I will always treasure my mum and my dad, and be grateful for all that God has done for me through them. But I am also learning to use the treasure he has given me to serve him wherever he calls us as a family, and whatever he creates through us, be it open or hidden.

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For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21

Pipwatch

 

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The piplings went on holiday to my parents’ house while we spent much of the summer away from home. Dad was good enough to keep the little trees alive and even separate out the conjoined triplets. There are still five. I am feeling the responsibility of growing these tinies as well as I can, and trying to keep the white mould which has been threatening them at bay. (There is also a sunflower in the picture, which apparently has something to do with my son.)

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For his birthday my husband went without a flame-thrower and instead received this mini-greenhouse from us. An utterly unselfish gift, honest. Anyway, the pips are trying it out. Great views, free drinks and penthouse suite. They probably think they’re still on holiday.

 

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Something entirely different

micahI like this for more than one reason.

See also the blog it comes from: http://theologygrams.wordpress.com/

And the blog I picked it up from: http://rachelheldevans.com/ (I recently read Rachel’s book on living – rather facetiously – as a biblical woman for a year and it had me in fits).

Micah 6:8, should it not come to mind immediately (!) is:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Depression Toolkit #24: Good times

I am on the upward curve, and the view is improving.

Not long ago, if I had spent more than ten minutes in public I would have been like this inside:

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This weekend, I managed two long train journeys, 8 hours in company at a fabulous wedding and the proof-reading and checking of a 10,000 word thesis for a friend. The sustained improvement in concentration and general absence of panic are hugely satisfying. I can honestly say I am feeling drained but fired up at the same time. Some elements were important in this, not least the medication, positive thinking and allowing myself not to need to be perfect. Also the presence of my husband, the kind and thoughtful university friends, games on my mobile, inspiring reading matter and the opportunity to take many many photos were a blessing in their own ways. We visited the amazing Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham; I highly recommend it should you get the opportunity this summer as it ticked many boxes for me. We had the comfort of knowing that the children were being very well looked after by my parents too, despite forgetting to transfer the car seats and causing extra work for them.

There was also incredibly good news from my brother and his wife. Their fourth child arrived safely on Saturday and completes the family. They now have two boys and two girls, and it was a huge relief and joy to hear the news, despite worrying in advance that I wouldn’t be able to manage hearing about a new baby in the family. One of my concerns has been in finding identity as a mother of two when I would have loved four children. Future child-bearing is not a decision which has to be fully decided at this point however – and we will probably stop at two in all likelihood. This season of life has given me much opportunity to think and has softened my heart towards those whose nests are, for whatever reason, less full than they would like. I was overjoyed and excited at the good news of my new niece’s early arrival. Far more than I would have anticipated. I can’t wait to see her photo and in time to hold her. She is utterly special and unique and is our little princess.

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Depression Toolkit #8: Honesty

honesty-smallJust had a rough morning falling apart inside while trying to explain myself and my situation to a lady at the local NHS wellbeing service, in person this time. Their initial phone assessment left all of us confused and had me labelled in every category from post-natal depression to anxiety. Apparently this won’t do and they can’t help you if they can’t categorise you, so I had to go in and meet them. Now I am just a perfectionist with low self-esteem (i.e. I won’t tell you if you spell something wrong). I don’t think they liked the fact that I don’t fit their boxes that neatly. I am not convinced that they officially ruled the other categories out either.

In any case, because I cannot meet in groups they can’t really offer group therapy, and you need to pass that level to access CBT. I would know if I could meet in groups because I miss my friends, but am terrified of meeting up with anyone more than one at a time. To be fair, I’m not even great one at a time at present, including with the children. This may be in part due to the medication still kicking in at the higher level.

And I have a bit of an idea about CBT from skills my youth leader taught me as a teenager; since then can recognise my thoughts heading into negative territory and have a range of practised strategies for diverting them. Yesterday I caught myself wondering if the guinea pigs were sulking, and before taking that thought further changed the subject in my head and parked the idea for humour value. The self-discipline is a habit which takes years, but mindfulness and self-evaluation are already very much part of my life. I am utterly grateful to him for his time and tenacity in helping me when I was at my previous low ebb. We all need heroes at times to open up to and places where we can be honest and let the truth set us free.

The more I read, the more I think that rather than one cause for my current ill health, there was a drip-drip effect from a large number of directions over a substantial period of time. Everything from the past 18 years got bottled and I ran out of bottle.

I am so grateful for two very useful conversations yesterday. Without them I would have bought a whole lot more comfort food on the way home. The first was an honest chat with dad, who remembers what I was like before and for both of us to recognise how far I have come. The second was with a remarkable friend from church who is like a mentor – she is in the pastoral care team and is wonderful at listening and speaking truth. From her I realised that I have various options going forward, and am hoping to ask for counselling with a Christian group, who can understand better the way I can address my insatiable protestant work ethic mentality which cannot be lived up to. Or at least, how to cut myself some slack.

There is another reason I find it more helpful to chat with Christians about tough times. When I am at my lowest, I still have the capacity to experience joy and hope. It’s like being in a desert and finding shade. My mentor reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit which would explain this. I remember visiting Death Valley with my husband nine years ago. It was 50 degrees Celsius in the shade. Even jumping out of the car to take a photo meant running through achingly hot air and trying not to touch metal in order to get back inside to the air conditioning.

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There were no trees in sight, and hardly any vegetation. Depression feels like that, but the deeper I go in my journey with God, the more I am able to find oases of joy, hope and calm. Going to the NHS today did not deliver, and I didn’t feel truly listened to or able to connect, but talking and praying with Christians means my honesty counts for something and is part of the healing. God’s presence is very real to me, and I find myself aching for Him as much as I am aching for healing. When I am through this valley there will be such a celebration of renewal and I know that I am on the journey there. I want to be able to talk over the hurts and come out the other side stronger and wiser.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me

Psalm 23:4

 

“…the truth will set you free…”

John 8:32