Day 30

Hangnails. Holy annoying fuck.

Probably should print multiple copies of this and stick them around the house as a reminder to myself

They have always been my weakness and I can never let go of one until my nail bed turns into a bloody ruin. But it’s never really been about the hangnail itself though.

When I get into a mental vortex, I start to feel my skin catching on things. Suddenly my skin gets that much drier, catching on fabric, scraping against the clothes that I wear. Suddenly my nails that weren’t brittle before, now are. I can feel every single hangnail when I run my fingertips against each nail. And lord, don’t even get me started about how they feel when I knit or when I write.

And they are so very grating.

I start peeling. I start grinding. I start scraping.

I get at a good one and continue as I let my thoughts swirl around me. It helps me go deeper, it helps me chase the thoughts further.

Further? Where, you ask?

Deep.

Ah shit, and now I am bleeding.

Like I said, it’s not really about the hangnail.

Image: nail_sunny/Instagram

Day 29

I have ghosted. Ghosting is something that I do. I ghost.

To be quite clear, I have been ghosted before as well. I know what it feels like. I know what it’s like to feel the pull of trying to get closure, to attempt to understand if the other person “actually cared” about what we had and not get any.

I know what it feels like and yet I still do it.

The most recent time I ghosted was also the most wide-reaching. I disappeared on social media, going so far as to deleting certain accounts. I stopped responding to messages from many acquaintances, several friends and some family members. Eventually messages from people that demanded to know what’s going on with me turned to messages expressing worry and concern. And eventually those disappeared too.

At the time, I felt impotent in the face of their questions. I felt helpless. I myself barely understood what was going on in my life and yet people demanded answers and clarification from me. I knew that if I had just carried on, came through and gave my friends and family something, they would still be here, and I would still be surrounded by people who cared.

Now after a year I am sat here looking metaphorically at the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the shore overlooking all my burnt bridges. Finally enough time has passed. Things are always clearer in hindsight and now I can see. I still don’t have any actual answers to anything, nothing is coherent but my head is clearer and I feel I am at last ready to explore those questions and get somewhere close to coherency. Or at least I want to. And even though I have fewer emotional connections to people than I had a year and a half ago, the ones that are still there are real and they count.

And I also have you.

Image: Elizabeth Bourne/The Norwegian American

Day 28

Sunny Wednesday coffee in front of the fountains in the gardens of the Palais Royal. 

After having taken a break for a few days because of immense fatigue, here I am again. Typing, just typing, because I can. 

I have not known fatigue like this in a long time. A fatigue that takes me and binds me to the bed, despite me and my will. 

Underneath there is also an anxiety, a desperation that claws at me about all the things that I am not doing, that I am missing. I feel it tie up my chest, making it difficult for me to breathe. I want to cry and scream, in an effort to release some tension—any tension—but I cannot.

I close my eyes and I am taken back into the dark again. It’s not sleep because my brain is running a mile a minute. I try to will myself to stop it but instead of stopping, my brain just flies off to another corner. I hear voices, I see faces, some that I recognise, some that I do not. I call out to no one in particular that I want this to stop. I want to stop feeling this way but obviously it does not. The dark continues to wrap me up in its embrace, immobilising me, taking away with it my strength and willpower. I want to go, to just do anything, to stretch, but this is bigger than me and I have no choice but to give in to it.

I can feel a chill settle around me despite the layers of wool that I am wrapped up in. And with it, a soreness. Without warning the chill turns to heat and I am suddenly clammy. 

Despite it all the tightness in my chest doesn’t leave, reminding me that I have responsibilities and a list of things to do that just keeps extending. I can’t find the energy in me to type, to write, to knit the only thing that convinces me that I am not going through a depression is that I can still find the energy to wash and dress myself. And to cook and to eat. But beyond that, I have not much else to keep me going. Where has it all gone? 

As I am typing I look around and 90% of the people around me are without their masks. It is beyond ridiculous. We are sitting in such close proximity to one another with the wind blowing. We seem to think that we are special, somehow immune to this virus that does not discriminate and does not choose its victims based on any standard that we know.

I stop myself and let my ears focus on what’s coming through: music through my headphones, the fountain and wasps. It is soothing, in a way that white noise is soothing. I can see two wasps hover around me as I write. They stop me from moving my arms and my fingers. They bumble around, trying to bump into my arm, almost trying to make me give way.

Is this a metaphor?

Image: Beyond the Window Box

Day 20

During dinner this evening, Little told me about something that happened at school:

Little: Hey, you know there was a bunch of guys who tried to pick a fight with me the other day and they won’t back off, so I told my friend to punish them for me but she didn’t. [bottom lip starts trembling]

Otter: Wait, hold on. So, you asked your friend to step in and punish these guys for you? First, I don’t think it’s great that you expect your friend to punish people on your behalf. But before you went to ask her what did you do? Did you tell them to stop?

L: Well, you know…yes, but they won’t stop so I cried.

O: Hey, I have heard you scream stop from the bottom of your lungs whenever I do something you don’t like. Just imagine them with my face and tell them to stop!

L: But what if they don’t speak English?

O: Lucky for you, French people also understand and use the word “stop”.

L: But what if I get in trouble?

O: Get in trouble for yelling stop? Then you explain to the adult what happened. Also, why are you the one who’s worried about getting into trouble? Don’t you think they should be the ones to worry about getting into trouble for bullying? Let’s practice!

[Little and Otter practice fighting back and Little ends up laughing]

Little: Wait, but what if I laugh at them?

Otter: Even better. Stand up for yourself in the face of your bullies, stand up tall and laugh. Show them that they cannot hurt you.

Sometimes I think I should take some the advice I give to my kids and put them into practice in my own life.

It is undeniable, having kids gives one courage.

Image: Suzi Eszterhas

Day 19

Fall, or autumn, whichever you choose to call it, is upon us.

What plans do you have for this year’s? It seems to be unlike any other what with the US elections right round the corner, Corona unleashing hell, everyone staying at home more, etc.

My fall this year looks like tons of knitting, for starters. My mitts are coming along swimmingly and I am about to start my second project from the Knit How book. I have fallen in love with this knit designer’s stuff and have already downloaded four patterns that I am planning to work on for two sweaters and two cardigans. I am so flipping excited. I am about to choose the colourways for them and I am on the fence whether to go to my go-to palette (earth tones) or go wild.

If that isn’t a beautiful sweater then I don’t know what is (Image: PetiteKnit)

Chunky knits, here I come!

Couldn’t resist the urge to post another one (Image: PetiteKnit)

Fall is that perfect season where I can actually do “cozy” and feel that it’s just right. It’s the season for baths, candles, hot toddies, teas and hot chocolates. It’s that time where I can put on a sweater and wrap a scarf around me and it’d be warm enough. And now with the mask steaming up my face, I feel like I’d need even fewer layers than I usually would. I love it when I can smell the chill in the air, see the leaves changing their colour and when everyone around me doesn’t seem to be hating the cold just yet.

In the cooking department, I would like to experiment with new recipes, new ingredients. Maybe do some fall-inspired stuff, finally incorporate pumpkins and squashes into my repertoire in a way that won’t make me gag.

Aesthetics-wise, I have been trying to take it easy. What’s the point of putting on blush and highlighter if it’s all going to rub off? I still try to do a bold lip sometimes because it’s fun to feel like I am keeping a secret from the world under my mask. Gotta be careful of it rubbing off too, though. But really, lately the focus has been on the eyes, as I am sure it is for the rest of you. Mascara, bold shadow, strong brows and a bit of highlight right on top of the cheekbones where they peek above my mask.

Bring on the fall season! Don’t forget to break out the cream!

Image: From Britain With Love

Day 18

Yesterday I went through one of the greyest and darkest moments in my recent memory. It was so bad that I was actually proud of myself for having posted anything at all.

I felt like I lost my fight to win Big before the fight even started. I felt everything was pointless in raising my two stepchildren.

It started when I was sitting on the couch feeling completely devoid of energy. It was Sunday, we had just finished doing the housework and my partner had just finished helping Little with her homework and what should have been a good moment of doing absolutely nothing felt wrong. I remember wishing that I had the energy, even the tiniest bit of desire to do anything at all, but I had none. I remember feeling as if I had suddenly shuttled through time and turned sixty, except I am not. I am thirty something and I am exhausted.

I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I felt completely depleted of the energy that I am meant to have for myself, for my partner and for my kids. What completely broke me was seeing my partner and where there was fire and desire was just “meh”. That realisation hit me hard and saddened me in a way that nothing has ever done.

I love the kids so much but like I wrote in my letter to Big, taking care of someone else’s biological children is difficult and heart-rending in a way that can feel almost insurmountable. To mix metaphors into a grotesque salad, it is like treading water through a dark tunnel with no light at the end of the tunnel in flip-flops.

I want to say that I am hopeful but right now I am just taking it day by day.

Image: The Greyness of Autumn

Day 17

A letter to my stepchild


Big, 

Today you had a conversation with your father about bringing up Little and your role in her education and I am not sure if you realise that I had overheard the entire thing, or if you did, whether you cared or not. The thing is that I did and I do. 

I have never been more hurt by you in the entire time that I have known you, Big. 

I made a decision when I started being with your father to dedicate my time and my life to this house, and to you and Little. It meant an indirect decision to put a pause in pursuing my career. I made a decision to be a constant presence in your and Little’s lives. I made a decision to wake up at any time in the night when Little calls for me. I made a decision to put up with the good, bad and ugly of the both of you and not just press “quit” and push either of you away when it gets too much, like children do with old dolls. That is what it means to be to be a parent. It means to be there constantly and to be stable and to be consistent in what is okay and what is not. 

They were all insanely difficult decisions to make that have all impacted my life irrevocably and forever. It meant spending differently. I meant handling my finances totally differently because now I am participating in a household budget that is HUGE. It meant giving up the concept of weekends. It meant giving up on regularly seeing my own parents back home. It meant that time and space that I used to have for myself is a luxury. It meant changing my entire schedule that I have kept for most of my adult life to revolving around your school days and hours. It meant redefining the entire concept of privacy. 

Do you know what that means, Big? I mean, do you actually know truly in your heart? 

But in the end I made that decision willingly and gladly because you and your family are worth it. It led to long discussions with your father about what that would mean and what my role would be. I was hesitant of accepting their invitation not only because of the obvious legal ramifications (which we were dealing with in court with your own mother), but also because both you and Little have your own biological mothers and your own set of rules that I have to contend with. 

I am telling you all of this because I feel like you deserve to know. I am not asking for your pity or for you to acknowledge my burden as these were all my decisions I made consciously. We all live with the consequences of our choices (as you once said so eloquently to me on the subject of your father). The way you use the relationship that I have with your father as a bargaining chip in your discussions with your father as a way to hurt him hurts me directly, Big. They hurt me and insult the way I have chosen to conduct my life. 

You are right that you never had a say in whether I can (and should) be in this household and whether I get to have a say in raising Little or not. You are absolutely right. Let’s leave aside the fact that I think that you forget that you are your father’s child and always will be, which means that you are not his equal nor are you mine. Let’s not forget that have an age difference that accounts for a vast gap in life experience, knowledge and accountability. Let’s leave aside the fact that I truly believe that if an older child were enlisted to participate in the household and in the education of a younger child, then his or her role would be to help enforce the existing rules in the family and not to start changing them or starting new ones. That is not the role of the child. It is also not the role of the child to sneakily or passive aggressively “ignore” or “change” the rules when they want to or when they think “it is right”. Running a family is not a democratic procedure. However, it is clear to me that you see things differently and I am not here to debate about that right now in this letter to you. 

I am formally asking you right now via this letter whether or not I am welcome in this household. This is a legitimate question and I expect an honest answer. If your answer is no, then I will talk to your father and talk about how I can continue being with him without 1) living in this house and 2) participating any longer in this household. If your answer is yes, then I would like you actually accept me as a figure in this household and to no longer bring up the polyamorous beginnings of my and your father’s relationship, or any part of our relationship, in your discussions with him ever again. 

Yours (if you will have me),

Otter

Day 16

More knitting talk. Hope you’re not bored of it yet.

One of the most important lessons that knitting has taught me is to embrace the technique of tinking. For those of you who don’t knit and are too lazy to alt tab and google it right now, to tink means to undo a row of knitting one stitch at a time in order to correct a mistake.

One painful stitch at a time.

How does one find a happy medium between embracing one’s mistake and restarting from square one?

Being a perfectionist, this was a ridiculous concept for me. Isn’t it just easier to unravel the whole thing and start from zero (AKA frogging)? And that was exactly what I did in the beginning, to some of my friend’s annoyance. They saw that my work was okay, and I could have just undid one single row and go on from there. But I refused. I wanted to do the whole thing perfectly from start to finish and it was a lesson to myself to not make the same mistake again. What I hadn’t realised was that if I had tinked, then at least I can see how I made the mistake. By frogging and ripping the whole thing out, then the mistake would always elude me.

See where I am getting at?

Fast forward to a year later, now I know how to tink and I understand it. But the whole ”one stitch at a time thing” was still impossible for me to embrace. Now I would much rather move on in the guise of ”embracing the mistake” than undoing the work.

But sometimes you just have to. If one really wants to be proud of one’s work and wear one’s work, especially with something like knitting, then sometimes the best thing to do is to know when to call it quits and undo your work.

This has been one of the hardest lessons so far and I am still on my journey to making myself comfortable with it.

Checklist for the day:

  • Tink the mitt
  • Reknit the mitt
  • Start second mitt
  • Write entry for my book for Big
  • Cook
  • Clean
  • Blog
  • Play with Little
  • Talk to Big
  • Watch a few episodes of the second season of The Leftovers

Image: Zofia Niemtus

Day 14

I am on the edge of tears as I am writing this. I can almost cry but I know if I tried nothing would come out.

I feel lost with Big, our eldest kid.

Raising her has been like walking down a deep, long and dark tunnel with no end in sight. I keep walking, obviously, but feeling like I could do this forever and have no idea when it gets better.

She acts out, compares us constantly to her biological mother and her stepfather, makes us feel as if our company during the week that Little is not here is not enough, talks to us only to get help or to complain, and so on…

It feels like I am constantly being judged by some sort of standard that only she knows the ins and outs of and that if I fail, or if my partner fails, or if both of us fail, then we all get punished for it.

Parenthood is a thankless job, especially when we are talking about teens, but I didn’t expect it to be so punishing and exacting. Or maybe I am the one who’s being overdramatic?

I know deep down that she is probably hurting, that we can’t quit on her, that the best we can do is to be constant and that we should keep on trying to talk to her, but I am so very tired.

I am sorry for this short rambling post today. But being this sad has really sapped my creativity for the day. I wish there was more but I am all tapped out.

Checklist for the day:

  • Protein oatmeal with skyr
  • Shredded chicken lettuce and tomato sandwich
  • Soba in hot miso
  • Crispy beef and cauliflower rice

Sunday lists n.2: 5 things I do when the anxiety gets too much

Today is SUNDAY! Sunday means my beloved is at home. Every other Sunday means that we get the house to ourselves for some precious alone time. Sunday means writing lists for this blog. Sunday means reading. Sunday means really appreciating the things that I am grateful for. And as silly and trivial as it may sound, especially in the face of this global pandemic we are facing, I am truly happy that my anxiety has been relatively manageable these past few weeks.

Here are some things that I find helpful, for me, for those times when shit gets rough.

Clean

I find cleaning to be akin to sorting out thought’s in one’s brain. As you are decluttering your desk, you are also decluttering your mind. As you throw out old receipts, candy wrappers, backs of band-aids and so on, from your bag, you’re also sorting out your memories. When I can afford it, the best way for me to calm down is housekeeping. The act of mopping the floor (I do it on my hands and knees) becomes meditative, and the same goes for washing the dishes. Even if the anxiety hasn’t gone away by the end, I can look around at a clean space and feel less overwhelmed by visual clutter.

Cook (a lot)

Since quitting the kitchens, cooking has become restorative for me again and I will work my hardest for it to stay that way. When my internal freak-out alarm is at its loudest, the kitchen is where I find my solace. The calm begins with choosing, or creating, a recipe. But the best part of it is meal prep. Chopping everything and getting them ready in their bowls is so calming. Making something so that your family’s fed and loved is so crucial to me and the way I love. When everything seems to be falling apart, knowing that I can be relied upon to make a big batch of pasta and meatballs, or curry, or chicken karaage that everyone will eat up in a split second is reassuring.

Exercise

Right, so sometimes I’ve done the first two and I would still find myself bouncing my leg up and down and picking at my cuticles. This is the time to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean some good ol’ HIIT and weightlifting. Full disclosure: I have been living with a seriously banged up knee for more than 20 years now, which means I have to maintain my weight at around 50kg. But to complicate things further, there are A LOT of exercises that I can’t do. Still, there is no better way to feel alive than feeling your whole body moving like an engine and then having sweat pour off of you. I know at that moment that I exist, and that life is a bit crap right now, but if I can do 10 pushups in 10 seconds, then maybe, just maybe, I am fucking awesome.

Maybe.

Write

So I only did the first three things for almost as long as I have had anxiety. I couldn’t keep up with something like journaling and I was basically writing for a living, so writing when I was panicking seemed like a busman’s holiday. Or, in this case, a busman’s nightmare. But sometime last year I got back into writing, but writing poetry to be specific. I really got into the groove of it and it helped to have a little notebook and pen on hand to whip out at any moment– on the street, on the metro, in a cafe, at a party– to sort of expunge myself of any panic I might be feeling at any moment. It worked until one of my exes told her mother that I was a poet when she was asked what my profession was. That lie, among many other screwed up things that were happening at the time, just made me want to stop writing. That is until I stared this blog 11 days ago!

Writing is like cataloguing one’s memories and thoughts. It’s better than a photograph because you need to describe everything that you are going through, in your own words.

Writing is cathartic.

Writing heals.

Plan ahead

Let’s be real, I have always been a planner. Sometimes the best part of a holiday is planning for it: the places you’ll go, the outfits you’re gonna wear, the things you’ll eat, etc. But I digress.

When I find myself spiralling, it helps me to have visibility on the future. It doesn’t even have to be that far ahead. It could just be planning for the day, or for the afternoon, even. It helps to tell myself I have these non-negotiable things that I need to accomplish, some things that I would perhaps like to do, and a couple of things that I would include to treat myself with if I happen to get everything done. It helps me focus on the immediate and it also gives me motivation to keep going forward.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

One of the things that I tell myself when my anxiety is riding dizzyingly high is that I need imagine myself walking on a tightrope. The tightrope walker makes it to the other end by placing one foot after the other. Sure, on a long piece of metal string (ok rope. fine, cable), but that’s basically the action. Dwelling on the height, on the morbidity, on its dangers, just renders the act impossible. To me, it’s kind of like managing anxiety. What matters in the end is that we keep on walking.

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

Image: © Getty Images/Unsplash