Saturday, 8 January 2011

On Eating Elephants

You all know the old joke, yes? The one about how you eat an elephant? Yes, we know, ONE SPOONFUL AT A TIME!

I’m not sure whether it’s even a joke, or even particularly funny. I’ve certainly never, to my knowledge, tasted elephant meat – I imagine some parts of the elephant would be a tad on the chewy side and might need to be simmered for a week or so to make them edible, and while I have no particular ideological opposition to eating elephant meat, it’s not something I shall seek out when our butcher does such a delicious piece of lamb!

However, the general principle of “one spoonful at a time” is something I’m very much applying to my life at the moment.

Those of you who have followed this blog or are friends with me on facebook, look at my blipfoto posts, or follow me on twitter will be aware that the last couple of years have been rather tempestuous ones in my life. Although, come to think of it, it has been longer, even, than the past couple of years. Pre-marriage I was a nervous wreck sitting in a beautifully perfectly clean flat, on my own, feeling dreadful. Just post-marriage people started to die, and we seemed to spend all our time viewing dead bodies and going to funerals, then we went through the whole infertility thing as we discovered we couldn’t have children, we’ve skirted bankruptcy, dealt with redundancy, and finally settled into some sort of uneasy stability with a family of five cats!

The stability has been uneasy because, for so many years, we’ve been “papering over the cracks” rather than building a sustainable life pattern. I’ve gradually taken “easier” and “easier” jobs, rather than actually thinking about what I actually want to do with my life, and we’ve travelled all round Europe, or comfort-eaten or done whatever was simplest at the time just to get through it or hide away from our problems.

The last two years have brought things to a head though. In early 2009 I started to suffer with depression again quite badly and was unable to work, unable to study, unable to practice, or really do anything very much. I sought solace in the internet, spending hours on twitter and facebook, neglecting real life because it was “too difficult” and retreating into a world where I felt safe. By late 2009, my depression had cycled to mania – I was convinced I’d found the “best friend” I’d been looking for all my life, I became obsessed with him and he did with me, we met a couple of times, and life was rosy, very very rosy, or so I thought.

As it turned out, this was just another “papering over the cracks” exercise. While I spent all night up, chatting to my new best friend on the internet, the Wonderspouse begged me to come to bed. I swore I wasn’t tired (I wasn’t). I became convinced that this new friend was the answer to all my problems, and that, in turn, I could solve all his problems – looking back now, classic symptoms of mania!

Then, at the end of January 2010, my new “best friend” dropped me like a stone. He no longer wanted to meet, he was going to go off, make himself ill and then die. No matter what I offered him or what I tried to do for him, he rejected me. He never gave a reason. I plunged into deep depression, and by the start of February was suicidally depressed. I talked of putting my head in the oven and such things – the Wonderspouse pointed out that it was an electric oven and the only result would be that my hair would get singed!

At that point I knew that the way I was doing things wasn’t working, so I started to listen to others. I started to take a more positive attitude to the Community Mental Health Team, to which I had been referred. I agreed to take the medication prescribed by my psychiatrist, and I began, slowly, to return to “normal” (whatever “normal” means, for someone who has swung between extremes of mood for the last 15 years or so – and probably longer, if I’m honest).

So, to cut a long, and potentially boring, story, short, in 2010 I took my medication dutifully, did all the exercises I was set (no matter how silly they seemed), finally cut off my maths studies and stopped asking for extensions, left my job, and returned my mind, as well as my body, to the Wonderspouse.

So now I’m at the start of a new year. I have many many things to do if I am to rebuild the life that almost came to an end (again) last February. And this time, I am taking charge of things, thinking about what will be sustainable and realistic, and what will allow me to make the best of life from now on. I’m also continuing to work with those who really care about my welfare: my GP, my psychiatrist, my community psychiatric nurse, my trainer at the gym, the lady who is helping me with employment, and, of course, the Wonderspouse. I’m also learning that some of the friends I’ve made online ARE genuine and just like their online personas in real life, even if some are not, and that I have a choice which ones to be friends with, and to whom I should listen.

So, having razed a huge chunk of my life to the ground, I’m now on a rebuilding exercise. 2011 is as good a year to do it as any – this year I’ll be 40, so maybe, just maybe, for me life really will begin (again) at 40! When I look at the list of things I need to do, it’s distinctly daunting – I need to find a new job (and fairly quickly before the finances collapse again), I need to sort out the chaos that is our house, I’d really like to complete my maths degree course, I’m want to start serious practice on viola, piano and flumpophone again, I have a great pile of books I’d like to read, and I’d really really like to shed the 4 stone I put on in 2010 as well as losing 1 extra, which will take me to my desired weight of 11 stone!

There is, of course, more than this, but I don’t want to bore you. What I shall say, however, is that I reread John Bird’s How to Change Your Life in 7 Steps last night. It’s one of the best books ever written, and offers extremely practical advice that I am starting to implement. The first chapter is about doing things gradually, 3% at a time, the idea being that 3% of your goal is an achieveable target – if you try to do everything at once, you’ll fail because the whole is too big and intimidating. I’m trying to tie this in from what I remember about target-setting at school in my teaching days – targets had to be SMART – and I’m particularly thinking about setting attainable targets with time limits.

I’m also looking harder than I have for a long time at what I actually WANT to do with my life. The final realization that I am not going to achieve life satisfaction through motherhood (yes, yes, I know, never give up etc etc etc, but I can’t live my life on the basis of something that has such a small chance of happening just because somebody’s neighbour’s dog’s girlfriend’s owner’s cousin happened to have a kid when they were 45 or whatever), means that I have to decide what I AM going to do with however many years I have remaining on this planet. I’m not religious, and believe that once I’m dead that’s it, so it’s time to ask what I want from life and to make plans and set goals that will help me to succeed at executing those plans.

And so, I am faced, now, with a roomful of elephants! And, the joke/saying I started this post with is going to help me eat them. I have made a list of things I hope to be, to have achieved, to be able to do, etc etc. by the time of my 45th birthday! These are the elephants. I am now chopping the elephants up into smaller and smaller pieces – looking at what I’d like to achieve by the end of 2011, and by the end of January 2011, and by the end of this week. Of course, there’ll be bits, like the tusks, that prove to be inedible – there will be things still to do when I’m 45 since I don’t imagine I shall cease to have goals in my life, whatever age I am. There may well be new elephants that enter the room too, and need dealing with.

But, for now, I’m starting on the life rebuild. I’m trying to do what I need to to stay sane, to have a fulfilling life, and to make some sort of sensible contribution to the world. I don’t fully know what the result of it will be, or what all the goals along the way will be – I’m still working on all this, and my thoughts certainly aren’t crystallized enough to form a more specific blog post at this stage. I do know, however, that if I DON’T try, then I have almost no chance of succeeding. If I DO try, there’s a good chance I might well succeed in many of my objectives (something the Wonderspouse is very fond of telling me).

Whatever the eventual outcome is, I know that the way to make progress with my goals is to tackle them one spoonful at a time!


  1. Rock on!

    I think you and I are thinking on the same wave length just now. And I am trying to take more control and start taking part in the whole life thing.

    I am very glad we are friends, it helps when I'm planning world domination ;)

  2. I don't think the instructionson on how to eat an elephant are a joke either. Funny yes but very practical and one of my favourite bits of advice that I have both been offered and given to others. As I followed you on twitter and blip last year(now I have a knitty blog I shall follow you here too) it was obvious that you have beeen nibbling away and it's brilliant. Good luck with th next lot of little 3% bites