Monday, July 28, 2008

Missing Myself

I've been missing myself.

It came to me finally a couple of nights ago. Three in the morning, insomniac, seeking comfort in Anna-mouse's room. I sat on the chair at the end of her bed and breathed in the sweet, peaceful darkness.

What happened, I wondered, what happened to you, Liv?

Where's that nervy, excitable, energetic girl who, yes, could be and was plagued by a darker, depressive side but who nevertheless had adventures! Where's that strong, singular creature who danced naked on rooftops in the rain; knew how to move an audience with a turn of the head; smoked, drank gin, made love with more than one man in a day? Where's that flat-stomached, muscular girl who could get away with that gorgeous little sundress - the girl who never, never looked her age?

It's a thoughtful place to be, the mid-forties. It's a reflective time. I've been forced to reflect after a quarter of madness. Four ridiculous months spent in an escalating state of imbalance with myself, my family, my life.

How are you? said the wise lady doctor this evening. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that I must have been very very bad, those three weeks ago when I could hardly breathe. I reminded myself before I went in today that I didn't have to make myself sound better than I am to this person, like I do to so many others. That I wasn't going to worry her if I didn't sound too positive.

I discovered as I talked that it isn't that I'm not positive - just that I have a silken shawl of many melancholic colours of sadness about me. The lady doctor wants to see me again in September, after I have re-started The Job.

Ah, the Job. Well as it turns out I couldn't have decided to make a bigger life-change and - hands-up - I entirely underestimated what its effect would be. Everything about the situation was change, from the Bim and me swopping places (me the main breadwinner, him at home with Anna-m, with all the endless guilt that entails); to being behind the footlights rather than in front of them; to having a pay cheque at the end of month - which, after thirty years of freelancing evoked in me a surprising degree of ambivalence - and finding myself organising for other people to be creative, rather than being the one organised for.

The first, honeymoon weeks were a joy. I couldn't believe my luck, couldn't believe how much I loved the Job. I threw myself into every task asked of me with gusto. Quite how I went from this to working fourteen long, long days on the trot, lurching from one sickening deadline to another and barely laying eyes on my family is... strange.

I hit a wall. One day I was this super-efficient, impressive newcomer, the next I was staring at my laptop quite unable to go on. I have to stop, I thought. I have to stop now.

I walked out to my car and phoned a friend. Go home, she said. You must go home now. My dear, special boss thought a long weekend would do it, but three days of sleeping and weeping later the wise lady doctor was writing me a Sick Note for 'Work-related Stress'. A counsellor friend of mine was appalled: How long have you been in the job? she said. Well it doesn't take very long to lose yourself when you're not looking.

And still I couldn't stop. That's the thing about nervous exhaustion, you may be exhausted, but the nerves run high. (I like to think I've been 'nervously exhausted' - wish she'd written that on my sick note; it evokes a gentler, more romantic age of illness, Katherine Mansfield's, perhaps, or Keats'). I insisted on staggering into work a few more times; had several helpful discussions with lovely boss; by sheer strength of concentration managed to complete a couple of outstanding duties and finally, finally, weary, battered and considerably drugged against the rising panic in my chest, got myself to holiday time.

So here I sit, ten days since. There's a cat beside me, lightning outside and the heat hangs heavy. I shouldn't be up this late - it's part of my new thing, not to be, at least until I come right again - but the words wanted out tonight, and who am I to argue?

The answer is that I don't know.

I do know that love beats keenly in me these days, now that I have the space to feel it. For my extraordinarily beautiful, skipping child. For the Bim. For my two flawed families and, most particularly just now, for my friends. I miss my friends. I miss some of them so much it hurts. Especially the ones who knew that Liv then, the younger Liv, the one I'm trying to reclaim.

There's obviously a trick to ageing. You don't have to know it when you're young - you wouldn't understand it then anyway. It's something to do with holding a sense of the bigger picture - of the long view. Otherwise it becomes all about the moment and the immediate feelings. But I don't think it can be done without review. My review list, the one I might write in the morning, goes like this:

Spend time with husband and child. You feel better this way.

Sleep, eat well, sleep.

Start to write again.

Contact your friends. The ones who shared the gin and cigarettes, who know what you looked like naked, or wished they did, who saw the performances, kept the faith - the ones who will forgive the long silence.

Tell the friends: Liv has been missing herself. Perhaps you could help find her?