Almost a year ago, I sat here on this very sofa, in much the same cross-legged position, and I wrote about how I needed to find balance in living with my husband and our children in my house. All together. All the time. I expressed the opinion that it often feels as if I operate better solo, and I vouchsafed that, in spite of this fact, I loved having us all together in a home of our own; I just needed to find a way to balance the seemingly endless company with the solitude that I desperately seem to need.
Now, this evening, I am sitting here and, while I still concur with the general findings of my musings at that time, I find I have something to add. An important something – for me at least – that deserves to be said; that needs to be acknowledged. It is a something that struck me last Friday when I was off work sick – which seems to the only time I ever have the house to myself – and, though the words took a while to fully come through, I eventually had a bit of a Eureka moment. (An Eureka moment? Dunno. Anyway.) It’s quite simple, and it’s probably quite obvious, but then things often are from a distance, aren’t they?
My realisation (and I mean my real, astonishingly clear, brain-freezingly important realisation) is that living with other people is not my normal way of life. The reason that I find it difficult is that I have done it so rarely in my life, and it really is something I need to be gentle with myself about. I blithely toddled into being a married woman again just over two years ago, and totally ignored the fact that the last time that I shared my living space with another adult full time was when I lived at home with my mother – and that was at least fourteen years ago, and only for about four or five months. I shared a house with people in my final year in college in ’99 but I had my own huge room and I wasn’t part of their gang of friends; D and I shared the same house when we were living together/married before, but he always worked nights so for at least five nights a week, I had the place to myself. (I’m not including the children in this because, somehow, for this issue, they don’t count.) TRM never lived with me so that doesn’t count either.
I’m an only child, of only children. My mother and I are solitary sorts by nature. We like other people for a while, but we get exhausted by them very quickly – the more so as we age, I suspect. My father is Mr. Gregarious, but he is quite happy to live on his own if he can meet people of an evening for pints, or for dinner, and he no longer needs the constant company that he thrived on in his working days two decades and more ago. People find me odd because I have the hermit compulsion quite strongly within me; I am deliriously happy to lock myself away from everyone and everything for a weekend, and not talking to anyone at all from Friday at 5pm to Monday at 8.30am is my kind of heaven. There used to be time for me to do that, but that came to an end when we became a two-adult family again. I did really well for the first year or so, until Christmas rolled around when I descended into a fog of depression. All of a sudden, even though I had been looking forward to Christmas for the first time in possibly ever, I got sucked into a major gloom and couldn’t get out. I have been in varying states of grey since then, and I wonder now if I am feeling stuck because, subconsciously, I have no room to manoeuvre. I also feel that there’s a very strong chance that my at-home only sleeping-verging-on-narcolepsy may well be another subconscious escape mechanism. Everywhere I turn there is another human being taking up my precious space and oxygen! I think I have also finally realised that I do not have to be immediately rational about this feeling, although it would nice to become so in time.
I am making my way through Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star and this is one of the things that has arisen for me. I think it was also the thrill of an illicit afternoon one day last week, spent entirely alone with my headphones and my book in Starbucks, that made me realise what I have been so very desperately missing. (The fact that I left work early on day because I was feeling horrendous – cold, sore throat, stuffed up head, etc. – and realised that I couldn’t go home without spending the rest of the afternoon running around after other people, never mind being able to just give into being sick and go to bed, made me pause for thought.) Settled at a table with my salted caramel mocha, Ms. Beck, and Rudimental, I realised that it was one of those occasions where I could feel the blood rushing through my veins with sheer exhilaration. If you had offered me a free round trip to anywhere else in the world at that moment in time, I wouldn’t've taken you up on it. Not even if it was my own bed which, two hours previously, I had almost been crying for! I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and it felt like a long time since that had been the case. (Which, upon reflection, isn’t very fair given that I spent a wonderful Saturday with my best friend in Glastonbury the weekend before that so, y’know, probably a bit spoilt overall but moving along….!) The secret to it all, I think, it the no other people bit. That is what so much of it hinges on, and maybe why I am so unhinged. Whatever the case may be, I have made myself a promise. It involves me, and a coffee shop (because, at the moment, this seems to be the sort of environment that I crave: homely yet anonymous, I suppose) and at least one hour a week of whatever feels best, consciously acknowledged as Me Time where no one else is invited, or wanted, or required. And perhaps, if I give myself this time, in this way, changing the components as desired, I will, in time, make it back into balance with my home life.
I thought, at first, it was all about missing my house which was so very much my space – and to some degree, that is the case – but I have come to realise that it might in fact be missing the room to breathe, unencumbered by anyone else. There is a strong possibility that Room To Breathe may be my next tattoo: it really is that important to me!