Thursday, May 28, 2009

Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist...not

Most of my life just feels so wrong right now.

Although I have lived in Chicago for nearly 10 years, I still don't feel at home. Being here - so far away from my nearest and dearest - is fundamentally wrong. Being a single parent also feels, understandably, wrong.

I like to perceive myself as a 'glass half full' person, but obviously I'm just kidding myself. When I consider my life as it stands I can only see that I will be happy in the future...happy when I am back at home near my family, happy when I get my working life together and am more productive professionally, happy when I am in a relationship again. But all those things are some way off in time. And the key to happiness, if you read all the books on the subject, is just making the decision to be happy NOW.

If only it was that easy. Or rather, if only I found it that easy. But like so many other things in life, it just presents itself as a little bit fallacy and a whole lot chore. I understand the theory, but trying to put it into practice makes me feel an even greater failure. 'Life is just a game' 'Life is what you make of it' 'Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change'. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. And I'm not deeply UNhappy - it just all feels sublimely wrong.

The boys were with their father for the first five nights of the half-term break. They had a lovely time. I didn't. I have come to realise that the pleasure of sleeping in is only truly appreciated when a) you are sharing the experience with someone else or b) it is at someone else's expense. Just being able to sleep in for the sake of it is not half as gratifying. I didn't have much to do for those five days - and ended up doing much less. I am sure a prisoner in solitary confinement could have been more productive.

I spent most of the five days in some variation of a supine position, just switching locations to add a little interest to my day. I got up and managed to relocate my sluggish body to the sofa, where I would watch TV and read Kate Atkinson, before succumbing to a nap. The only point I was relatively horizontal was when I sat glued for hours watching YouTube clips of Britain's Got Talent, sucking out the creme filling of a pack of double stuff Oreos. I did manage to leave the house on one occasion to go and eat my body weight in ribs at a friend's barbeque (although quite how I have lived here nine years and have never quite registered the national requirement of grilling food outside to commemorate Memorial Day is a little perturbing).

Of course, with the advantage of Skype, I did get to 'see' the boys on a daily basis, having a whale of a time in their dad's place. And that's just great. How wonderful that they are having such a happy, relaxing time. Just what I want. Only it just feels plain wrong to witness all that vibrant chirpiness in a location just over a mile away, with the man that I loved for years pottering about in the background. How has this happened to our family? How did we reach this point where we are now so totally dismantled? How is it that there is one adult in this situation taking everything in their stride...and that adult isn't me?

The boys came home yesterday and it was fantastic to have all that life and energy back in the house. For the first hour. After that I felt the need to self-medicate with a gin and tonic in order to observe all the bouncing off the walls without throwing a hissy fit. All I have wanted in my life over the past few years has been a little balance. But at the present time it is either an all or nothing scenario. I am either in sole charge of both boys and am totally exhausted by the non-stop nature of all this testosterone in action. Or I am alone. Both scenarios feel utterly unfulfilling.

What I would give to add another adult (okay, let's be greedy here for a minute...maybe two) to the mix. Preferably one not accompanied by errant children of their own. My parents, my sister or my brother would be good candidates - someone who delights in my children's company, takes great joy in sitting elbow deep in playdoh for an hour, plays hide and seek till the cows come home and, most importantly, continues to see the inherent goodness in them even when they are being the vilest of tykes. And maybe once in a while I will get a proper hug from someone that I deeply care about and be reassured that I really AM doing a good job.

Anyway, as there isn't another adult in the vicinity, last night saw me sitting on my arse as soon as the kids were in bed, in preparation for hours of trash TV viewing. The gloss is also starting to wear off being in sole charge of the remote control. In my previous life I would be forced on a regular basis to companionably observe shows that required the viewer to have more than half a brain cell to comprehend. That is no longer the case. So now I watch back-to-back episodes of all the dross that I could never get away with before. The Real Housewives of New Jersey is the current favourite. Most of my more cerebral favourites (Mistresses, Ashes to Ashes, Millionaire Matchmaker, Desperate Housewives) have all recently come to the end of a season and now TRHONJ is pretty much all I am left with.

However, I was up-to-date on all the shenanigans in NJ. So in a bit of a grump and with a cynical sigh I opted to watch a documentary by Michael J Fox called Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. Oh here we go. Someone with all the answers. Someone with an incurable degenerative disease with all the answers. This is really going to make me feel good about myself.

Well...the programme itself was entertaining and informative and certainly provoked a lot of thought. Did you know that Bhutan measures GNH as a greater measure of the country's success than GDP? That's Gross National Happiness. They even have a Commissioner for it and a political manifesto - they take it very, very seriously (but always with a smile and sometimes with an impish wink).

The key findings of the programme were that there are two key factors generally governing optimism.

1. Genetics - you are either born predisposed to optimism. Or you're not. (oh fart, I am so screwed)

2. Your social environment - feeling part of a family and community. Being surrounded by people that you care about and that care about you. (Oh double fart, with follow-through.)

Actually, it did raise my optimism a little. It was nice to have confirmed that my feelings of everything being off kilter is not just me going a wee bit mad-in-the-nappa. That, despite the dodgy inherent genetics which cause me to dwell on the worst case scenario, my current situation is lacking in the essential ingredients that create happiness and quench your soul.

So not mad then. Or really depressed. Just a bit blah. Just a bit lost.

Just a bit wrong.


  1. Oh Nicola. I logged on this morning and came across Iota's blog about cancer and then yours about life feeling wrong and I feel as though there is an army of women out there who need to get together over a glass (bottle?) of wine and just talk and cry and laugh. Why is it that there are so many people out there (me included) who need some really good friends, the kind that make optimism easy, yet just don't have them on hand on a daily basis?

    I hope you can keep your glass half full. You're doing amazingly well so far. (Oh, and your writing is so good and captures so brilliantly life as a newly single parent, that there has to be a book in it).

  2. You are not lost. I know exactly where you are and I don't need Sat Nav to find you.
    Just remember, your glass is half full.
    You do have a lot of blessings in your life, albeit that some of them are 4000 miles away.
    Hang in there until we can practice supine position together with a bottle of wine.

  3. Oh Nicola, you could have been writing about me for most of that post, albeit me a few years ago. I'm a bit further along the road of singleparenthood, but it still feels wrong. It's how you deal with it that has to be managed. My ex has only recently (after 6 years) started taking my girls on a semi-regular basis for a weekend a month, and I'm only just getting used to making arrangements to Do Something!

    Unless you have a specific project to do at home that requires the kids to be elsewhere - i.e. decorating/building an extension/a wild orgy - then you should be planning ahead. I know you have friends you could do things with, so getting phoning them to arrange for next time. God listen to me, if only I took my own advice - although the ex is coming for the girls today and I've arranged to meet a friend for lunch tomorrow. See, even I can do it!

    You are doing a fantastic job, really. And you have a lot of people rooting for you. Keep your chin up. x

  4. Darling Nicola, the only thing 'wrong' is that you feel that you are in a situation that you can't control. Ex doesn't want to move home so you feel that you are well and truly stuck there. For once in your life, your double Aries ambition is being totally blocked because all of the things you think that you want don't seem like they are your option to have.

    Stop looking at the logic, write down what you want (no matter how unlikely the reality may seem), get your vision board together and start asking for answers. Play a game of 'wouldn't it be nice if..... (ex suddenly was offered a fab job near London...)...

    And in the meantime, if you are stuck on your own with no hugs and totally at a loose end and all you want to do is to watch TV, then don't beat yourself up about it. It's just a phase.

    I'll do a deal with you - when we get old and crinkly and meet up wearing purple hats, odd shoes and get legless on pear vodka, we won't discuss this period of our lives!

    Love you x x x

    btw: I have saved a mountain of hugs in my spare room for when you come over. Swapsies?

  5. You can have as many ribs as you want- stop by more often for a chat. I get it.

  6. I am planning a trip to Chicago in the fall, when my summer of horrors is over. We will have jollity and merriment and laughter. And I want to see some of that puppetry of the penis for myself, please, so could you arrange a show?

    For myself, I rock between miserableness (PMT AND cancer diagnosis - marvellous combination) and chirpy brave positive thinking (even I find myself irritating on this one).

    I think you have to find the still centre of the storm (even if it's center), but I'm still looking.

  7. HOM - I know. I do feel spoilt by the amazing friends that I have at home. Thank you so much for your support...and even if emotionally I am a little glass half empty - I always make sure the real wine glass is definitely at least half full, at all times!

    MTW - It is so weird that I remember you being in a similar state of mind and it is so reassuring to me to see you out the other end and happier than I have ever seen you. x

    NotSupermum - My problem is that many times I do get out and about with girlfriends...but sometimes that can make me feel even more lonely because they are more acquaintances than friends. Does that make sense? But I guess these friendships are never going to deepen unless I keep working at them.

    KR - Great advice. And look forward to that barrel full of hugs in a few weeks...

    HD - Love the new blog!!!! And thanks for the offer of more ribs - I will definitely take you up on it.

    Iota - The fact that you have made time to comment on this makes me feel such an immense gratitude. What an amazing woman you are. Best of luck for this week. I am thinking of you constantly. And can't WAIT to get together in the fall. How much fun is that going to be??!!

  8. I was hoping to come up with something inspiring and supportive to say to help you through it, but it looks like all your previous commenters beat me to it. How about Boy #1's favourite joke instead then...?
    "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Amos." "Amos who?" "A mosquito."
    "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Anna." "Anna who?" "Another mosquito."
    "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Betty." "Betty who?" "Bet'yre glad those mosquitoes have gone..."

    Go on, laugh dammit. Typing out those speech marks took ages.

  9. Anonymous03 June, 2009

    Sounds like you really missed your boys, which is understandable. It's difficult being a single parent and I share many of your feelings. I'm also quite low at the moment and have heard I should decide right now that I'm going to be happy. As you know, that's not possible. If it were that easy we'd all be happy. I've decided right now that I'm not going to be too hard on myself, and treat myself a little better. That's something I can do, I'm sure the rest will follow.

  10. From another single parent who's far away from old friends, I just wanted to say this post encapsulated so much of what I'm feeling right now.

    I am an optimistic person and I do thing things get better, but like you, I can only see those things being way in the future and I wish I could be happy now.

    My mantra isn't about choosing change or choosing happiness or any of that bollocks. Right now it's "this too shall pass".

    Not sure if that's going to be helpful in the slightest, but thanks for your post anyway. It's nice for me to know someone else feels the same sort of things.

  11. Potty Mummy - loved the jokes and laughed aloud. am trying to teach the kids that these are 'real' knock knock jokes but they're having none of it.

    Rosie - you're right. my mantra many days is 'I'm doing the best that I can'. The fact that my best that day is totally abysmal is beside the point.

    Sally - how lovely to hear from you and thanks for commenting. And thank you for reminding me of the saying 'this too shall pass'. I read that in a Wayne Dyer book once and it really struck a chord. Whilst I wish you weren't in a similar situation, it is nice to feel bonds with women who really do just get it.