No Going Back

I’ve been waiting recently.
Waiting to get back to normal.
I’ve felt wrong – sometimes unwell, sometimes tired, sometimes exceptionally withdrawn and unable to communicate effectively. I thought this would go when my studying finished, when the children were all well at the same time, when summer came, when we’d recovered from the shock of losing both our fathers, when… well… I suppose I was waiting for a period of unease to become a period of feeling more light-hearted.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. I suppose some kind of lifting of dark clouds, a new energy, my mind and body sighing with relief. Cheerfulness maybe.

My plan was that every night I was going to go to bed with a book and read for pleasure again, free my mind of academic pressure, enjoy not feeling stressed or gloomy or overwhelmed by study pressure or family worries. I was going to spend more time with my husband and we would laugh more, talk more, and feel released from (some of) the confines of stress that we’ve had to deal with recently.

But it hasn’t come. I’m still not laughing. I still don’t feel released. I’m still not reading – books feel like a commitment for which I can’t promise my full attention right to the end. And I guess I’m scared: scared of reading something demanding – emotionally or intellectually – perhaps. And I don’t want to be disappointed either. Life has disappointed me too often in the last 4 years. God forbid I should read a disappointing book on top of everything else!

I still feel stuck in a new way of regarding life – as a serious of difficulties, stresses, worries and losses. I still feel uneasy and troubled. I am fluttery and nervous like a butterfly unable to land on wet ground for fear of drowning. I don’t trust life now. It’s as if there is no dry land anymore.

Maybe it’s something about being British – or English perhaps – a certain avoidance of the realities of life and death. So that when our lives do throw those realities at us it is so unexpected that we recoil and struggle to readjust. In seven years the very shape and makeup of my and Richard’s families have changed drastically through several deaths (and births, but mostly deaths). It’s not something we were ready for and maybe that’s a fault of our culture in this country: denial of the reality and brevity of life.

I now know how quickly life can change and life can go. I can’t assume old age will be awarded to everyone and I think throwing myself into things that demanded that I got outside of my own head for years and concentrated on other people’s words helped me avoid dealing with what had happened inside me and around me.

The shape of my life and the shape of me have changed. There is no getting back into my cocoon like an uneasy butterfly longing for my caterpillar years. I have to learn to deal with who I am now – what I have and do not have now. I have fewer of the people I love in my life now and so does Richard. We have both lost that youthful security that being surrounding by elderly relatives provided.
We can’t go back. We can’t ever feel how we did before. We have to sift those lighter moments from each day and enjoy them for what they are and live with less expectation.

So instead of living with a ‘Phew. I’ve got through that. Where’s my reward? Now let’s get back to normal’ mentality, and thinking I might go back to less stressful times, I now have to learn to flap my wings even though I feel heavy. And I have to land occasionally – even though I sense danger – because you can’t flutter forever.
I suppose a period of readjustment takes time as well as swapping expectance for acceptance.

Richard’s recently acquired a new catchphrase from somewhere: ‘It is what it is, isn’t it?’

It is.

PS. Books: If you’re reading this and know of a cast-iron guaranteed page-turner that’s not too demanding intellectually or emotionally but also not disappointing please let me know. (Not a youthful rom-com that reminds me that I’m past it either!) I think it’s just the kick up the butt I need to get me reading again.

23 thoughts on “No Going Back

  1. So much of that rings true. I feel similarly worn out. There seems no safe ground anymore. Nothing certain, nothing that can be taken for granted. You sum these types of feelings up so well.
    Difficult to recommend the ‘right’ book for the mood but Tania Hershman’s ‘My Mother Was An Upright Piano’ and Vanessa Gebbie’s ’The Coward’s Tale’ are both bloody brilliant.


    • Thanks, Pete. It’s hard to plan things in advance when you dont trust life to be kind to you, isn’t it? I love Tania Hershman and discovered her White Road when I could read nothing but very short stories a couple of years ago. I have The Coward’s Tale and have been scared I won’t do it justice, so it’s next to the bed full of patience and promise. 🙂


  2. I’ve been going through a similar process these last few years. (And I totally know what you mean about not wanting to be disappointed by a book on top of everything else! I think that’s partly why I like flash-fiction so much. Because it’s short it feels like less of an emotional investment.) For a long time after recovering (Ha!) from post-natal depression I thought that everything would be all right once things went back to the way they were before Dad died, before Sophie was born, before the depression, when I only weighed 9st etc, but I’ve come to realise that there really is no going back. Time marches on. We age. We change. Now, I try to take each day as it comes and to just be me, who I am now in that day. Having said that though, I also try to look to the future with hope, especially on days when I just want to crawl under the duvet … If I didn’t, I might never crawl out again! 😉

    Love and hugs to you, Rachel. Thanks for sharing your story.


  3. Very brave of you to share your story. I understand some of what you’re feeling and I had a long period (several years) after my kids were born of not being able to read, or write, any more. I look back on that time now and can’t really understand what had happened to me. I’d been through a time of bereavement (my Dad – my Mum had already died when I was a child) and massive change (going to uni as a mature student, marriage, two children, house move). I think I was worn out on many levels! A two-week holiday in France with not much to do and I started reading ‘Angel’ by Elizabeth Taylor and the joy of reading just flooded back. Really cannot explain why. After that I found reading graphic novels, ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman and ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi very stimulating – they felt different, refreshing. Then I started reading a lot of poetry – Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, then the Bloodaxe trilogy (Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human). All these helped me rediscover my love of reading and helped me to start writing again. It’s been almost three years now since the holiday in France and we’re going back to the same house in about six weeks time. You will come through!


    • Thanks Josephine. A good selection there and some that are new to me.
      I think I have a habit of *doing* – of trying to be useful, practical and organised when troubled. Reading and writing are guilty pleasures which I feel are self-indulgent when someone I know is suffering. It’s as if we need permission to be happy again and I take a long time to allow myself that.
      I think…!


  4. I recommend Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, my review on Amazon was: I picked this up as a quick, fun read and it perfectly fulfilled that requirement. It made me smile and almost provoked a tear at the end. Yet contained within the humour is the worthy message that elderly relatives are all to easily ignored once in a home. Sadie’s exciting life was lost as she aged. As her ghost states: her body is aged, but inside she is always young & sparkly. Re-discovering a relative’s life is not always so easy once they are gone. Also highlighted is the effect of one successful sibling overshadowing the rest of the family. These serious messages are slipped into the text and layered with humour and romance. A clever, light hearted way to write a moral into a book which is labelled as chick-lit.

    Or Emily Barr, Stranded, My Amazon review was: I read this book in almost one sitting. I found myself wanting to to get to the end. The narrative never appears sluggish, which could have been the case with the setting and lack of chronological pointers while they were on the Island. I really didn’t guess who Catherine was, I thought I had but I was wrong. I really didn’t guess that until it was revealed in a very clever and subtle way. It’s unusual to experience that in a book with shifting identities. This is a perfect holiday read, unless you really are alone on a desert island!

    I really understand the need to read an easy, uncomplicated book. I used to feel the same during the summer breaks from Uni. I have always retreeated into ‘chik-lit’ during times of stress, it seems to help clear my mind ready for the next challenge. I hope the suggestions are useful.

    Jan xx
    (@janmayo_ on twitter)


    • That’s very kind and helpful, Jan. I feel it has given me something to look forward to. I’m always very interested in paying more attention to old age and think Twenties Girl sounds good. Thank you so much for taking the time. 🙂 xx


  5. Oh Rachel, I so emphasise with you! I too lost my father to a violent, merciless strain of leukemia in July 2009 – a catastrophic event which came in the middle of a series of personal traumas. And it’s really only been in the past few months that I’ve truly felt both the desire and the ability to write again. Thankfully I never lost my appetite for reading though, in fact I’d have to say that reading has been my solace. I have read so many books in the past three years which have made me howl with either joy (Mystery Man by Colin Bateman), grief (One Day by David Nicholl) or darn right rage (wasn’t going to mention any names here, but okay, Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson – so awful I threw it at the wall) – but if you are genuinely looking for a mad-cap pick-me-up which is both bonkers and beautifully written and will almost certainly get you laughing aloud in inappropriate places, you should really try The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. I’ve literally just finished it – and it worked for me!

    Good luck, and hope you feel more like yourself soon

    Lesley 🙂


    • Hi Lesley.
      My mother, sisters and I lost Dad to “a violent, merciless strain of leukemia in 2009” too. It is such a cruel disease isn’t it? Dad’s was so rare that there were no previous cases to base any course of treatment on.
      My sister recommended David Nicholl’s One Day and I haven’t read it yet.
      My solace became wine and TV – brain-numbing escapism. But television so often disappoints.
      I love your blog name, by the way!
      Thank you so much for your comments


  6. Hi Rachel

    You’ve been through such a tough couple of years, but you got through it, while achieving so much, so it’s hardly surprising you feel changed. It’s so difficult to come back after such terrible losses and I know there’s not an easy answer, but you seem to throw yourself into many positive things, which can only be a good thing.

    One thing I thought as I read your post is that it’s only been a couple of weeks since the end of your degree, and I think it always takes a while to get over the exhaustion and brain wooliness after something so challenging and consuming. So give yourself time to adjust.

    I hope things get lighter for you and you get back into your rhythm of writing and reading what you enjoy.

    Some light-hearted reads I’d recommend: Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is sweet, nostalgiac coming-of-age family tale (I return to it every midsummer). Nick Hornby’s How to be Good is a wry comedy (for those married with kids rather than looking for romance). I’m reading Bella Pollen’s Hunting Unicorns currently and am loving every page: really great fun characters. Also When God Was a Rabbit is one of my fave books of last year: a bit quirky, fantastic characters. Hope you find something you like.

    Take care of yourself
    Noosh x


  7. You write so beautifully, even when the subject is so difficult.

    I can’t beat any of these recommendations for books, but I wanted you to know I am thinking of you xx


  8. Hello there, sorry you’re feeling down. Have you read this?
    It’s not the most cheery book but it’s empathetic and beautifully sensual, and it’s one of those books to curl up with honey on toast and a glass of mead — really roll around in the honey thing until you can smell the story. So it’s not just a book, but a real treat — and not at 1am when you’ve finished the accounts but in the afternoon when you spare half an hour for yourself.
    We’re at a funny age in a funny time — looking after kids, bashing through a recession, and missing the feeling of being looked after. If you lived down the road I’d turn up on your doorstep with hot bread from the bakers, honey, and proper butter and my copy of the book. x


    • No I haven’t read that, Martha. Empathetic and sensual sounds lovely (as does honey on toast and I’m drooling now). It’s true – I do miss that feeling of being looked after. It’s still nice to be someone’s child sometimes however old you are.
      Thanks for the breakfast inspiration!


  9. Books that I’ve particularly enjoyed recently were ‘The Song of Achilles’ – lovely story, beautifully told; ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ – odd but enjoyable; ‘The Map That Changed the World’ – not fiction, but nicely written, interesting for the non-specialist and plenty of west-country interest; and ‘Beowulf’ by Seamus Heaney – I’d always thought this sort of book was a bit too clever for me, but this version read as a well told adventure story without having to do any study to understand it. Achilles would be my favourite ‘getting lost in’ type of story, but sometimes something completely different is a good break too. I also love Annie Proulx’s writing, and loved her account of the building of her ranch house, but could re-read The Shipping News any time too – that might fit quite well with both how you feel and a life by the sea…


    • Thanks, Amanda. I shall add those to the wishlist I have made. Interesting that you think some books might be too clever for you… That’s probably more to do with self-confidence than anything, don’t you think?


      • I guess it is partly about confidence, but I’ve not studied literature past my GCSE and have an idea that there are some ‘classics’ that you need to be taught how to understand the language before you can read. This would have been on that list for me, along with stuff like Chaucer that I know nothing about other than a vague idea that it’s ‘difficult’. I guess that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t read them if I learned the language, but I enjoy reading and never wanted to study English because I was worried that dissecting things would somehow stop them from being fun…


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