The delete button is missing. Can’t find it anywhere. Am out of correction fluid and there are no erasers anywhere in the house. It’s not like I am looking for a blank sheet of paper or aiming for a complete white wash, it’d just be nice to fix a few things, that’s all.
Maybe I can just cross bits out. Of course, the mistakes will still be visible, but at least they’re acknowledged, fixed.
That long, long chapter that was adolescence has some poetic quality, but it’s too awkward, too lacking in punch. Be nice to give me a bit more confidence, in one or two areas, at least. A teen is not a teen without a little awkwardness afterall.
Those mid twenties saw a voice develop, but it was inconsistent and often shaky. Some editing, with a little hindsight, would straighten that all out.
Somethings, it would be nice to erase. There are a few tales that no one needs to hear. A few incidents it would be good to wipe away. Forget. Erase. Expunge.
Alas. There is no way to redraft entirely. It is fixed the moment ink touches paper. There is no delete and no clean sheets. There is only the past, the present, and the future.
The present is writing itself with the lessons learnt in the past. The future will be a draft crafted of the two. Of imperfections there will be plenty. And in this draft, deletion is impossible. Corrections can be attempted and improvements will be sought. In this vein, the story will keep writing itself, aiming for that unattainable finished draft.
Standing at the classroom door, I scanned for you. I was expecting to see you lying somewhere kicking your legs, grizzling in a bouncy chair, or gulping down some milk. I looked once then searched twice. You weren’t there. There were no babies to be seen.
There was, however, a little boy stood grasping a chair and bouncing happily. His eyes were as wide as his grin. With his fine, blonde hair and familiar eyes, he laughed warmly at the sight of me standing panic stricken at the door. His little knees went up and down with enthusiasm and his hand waved in the uncoordinated manner of a child who’s intentions and abilities are still out of sync.
Who was this lovely child so interested in me and where on Earth were you, my baby?
The teacher seemed to sense my unease. She took the little boy by the hands and walked him toward me.
The panic melted away.
In a space of that second, that one terrifying moment, I saw that my tiny baby was a baby no more. In your new surroundings, you stood tall and confident. As delighted as you were to see me, you didn’t need me right then. As happy as the rest of the day was at home, you would have been fine a little longer, stretching yourself a little further. Wrestling you into your winter things and walking you out to the bus for home, I fought an internal battle; a battle where pride and happiness at how far you’ve come fought with sadness that the tiny guy is forever gone.
We need to keep talking about mental health until it is as acceptable to call in sick for a panic attack as it is a stomach flu.
We need to keep talking about mental health until it is as easy to tell your family and friends about your condition as it is your diary. Visits to a mental health professional needn’t be a secret unless you want them to be. When grandpa Joe tells you about his blood pressure tablets, tell him – if you want to – about your antidepressants. Until both are legitimate, we have a problem.
We need to keep talking about mental health until we can tell someone we are seeing a therapist as easily as we can tell someone we are seeing a physio. The reaction to either piece of information from a friend or colleague need only be: oh, sorry to hear that. Hope you’re doing okay. Want to talk about it or want to talk about the game last night?
We need to keep talking about mental health until employers recognise that a mentally fit staff is as important as a physically fit one. If more people can admit that the working day is hard due to mental health reasons, the faster they can get support, the faster they can be work-fit. It’s a win-win deal.
We need to keep talking about mental health until good mental health stops being defined by how happy a person is. We don’t have an inbuilt happy-o-metre that we can just choose to top up. A mentally healthy person, however, is able to get on with the basics of life in a fulfilling way. They can feel happiness and cope with sadness. (Don’t take my word for it – ask the World Health Organisation.) It can be to do with how comfortable you feel in society and how comfortable you feel alone. It can be to do with how you cope with set backs and how resilient you are to stress. A mentally healthy person can still feel sad or lonely or worried. Just not all the time.
Yes, we need to keep talking about mental health until the mention of it no longer brings conversations to an end. We can peel away the awkwardness and the fear of saying the wrong thing slowly and surely. We can learn to talk about mental health in the same way as we do physical health. We show sympathy to someone with a broken leg without feeling we should know how to fix it. Mental health is no different. Of course, each person’s circumstance is nuanced and varying, but that is true for all aspects of life from how well work is going, how well one is coping with illness x, or the state of a person’s finances.
So let’s keep talking about mental health until we can talk about it as we would any other issue in life: with respect, with an open-mind, without judgement, and in the knowledge that even if we all can do is talk and listen, that can enough.
A decade ago, it didn’t seem possible. Watching her spin, it seemed nothing could slow the spiralling. She’d wake each morning exhausted, feeling as if she’d lived a day already. She started wound up and managed to squeeze herself tighter. She never stood straight. She moved everywhere with such speed, occupied at all times, but getting nothing done. Yes, it seemed unthinkable that she would ever be anywhere but on the edge.
She was scared of the edge, you see, and the only way to be sure she didn’t fall was to keep the edge in sight at all times. She feared mistakes, feared being on the wrong side of right, feared being blamed. She knew she could not cope if she got it wrong. She knew she would not cope when she eventually made the crippling mistake she was destined to make. And so she spiralled. Her nerves fuelled her, kept a part of her moments, minutes, even months in the future. A chunk of her was always steps ahead of the now, scanning for problems, planning their prevention whilst preparing to solve them.
Oh yes, from teens through twenties she spiralled higher and higher, tighter and tighter, closer and closer to the unthinkable edge.
But that was a decade ago. That was before help came her way. A skeptical shell, she sought support, shared her shameful secret and took a vital step towards change. She learned what caused the spiralling, began to understand how her mind worked against her, and began the long and arduous retraining programme. She learned how to breath, how to pause, how to accept set backs and how to separate self from self doubt, self from anxiety.
And today, well, she still spins. She still worries about the what ifs and the what about whens. She still spirals inwards and cracks from the tension. But now I can talk her down. She is me plus. She is defined by me plus all the things that haven’t happened, might never happen, and would be manageable even if they did. And, even though it is hard, when I have to, I can talk her down, cut away the excess, and return to the person I am not, the she I can easily become.
You know how many coffees I drink and how often I really stop for cake.
You watch as I hide paperwork in books so that I don’t have to file them away.
You hear me sing out of tune and dance out of time.
You know that I cry at the news and at reruns of early millennial dramas.
You see me at my best and at my worst.
You share the days when I sing and laugh and play. You share the days when I am silent, removed, sombre.
You have seen me spend too much time trying to smooth that one piece of hair only to smudge yesterday’s mascara under my eyes for today’s smokey look.
The best of it? You don’t mind. If I am happy, you laugh along too. If I am sad, you look at me with those innocent eyes and pull me into the light. When I am dressed in pyjamas at 11 am, hair greasy and face unwashed, you love me just the same as the days when I am dressed and pressed and looking my best.
You know all my secrets, all the shades in which I exist. You know my good, my bad, and my ugly. Yet you don’t seem to mind. You don’t object as you take so much from me, but give so much back: my sharer of days, my attentive listener, my keeper of secrets.
I am looking neither for praise nor sympathy. I have a comfortable life with privilege and support. In the first hours of the day, other people are out there saving lives, inspiring students in schools, or just surviving. This post is simply what the title says it is: it is my life, just how it is, with everything from the immense joy and hilarious “problems” to the silly moments and harsh upheavals. It exists because I find my new life with a child amazing and impossibly hard, because every time I see a parent striding comfortably and happily down the street, I know at some point, be it now or in the past, they’ve dealt with their own set of ups and downs, and because you don’t always hear how it is with complete honesty.
The day starts between six and six thirty with a cry from the baby’s room. Sometimes we let him try and get back to sleep, but after a night of more crying than shut eye, peace trumps sleep. Thus, I often find myself at 6.15 am on the sofa nursing my son who doesn’t really need nursing anymore, staring into space, and secretly hoping that we both fall asleep in this awkward position. It wouldn’t be the first time, afterall. Sleep, as if so often does at the moment, evades us, however, and that leaves only one thing to do: play. Out come the blocks, the plastic keys, and the keyboard. What does he want? My phone, the tv remote and his Dad’s actual keys. Cue half an hour of shuffling, pulling himself up, and grabbing the forbidden items while I munch down some cereal and try to swap out non toys for actual toys with the cunning of a thief replacing the crown jewels with an identically-weighted fake to avoid setting of alarms. It is great fun though, watching him explore, and I sit enjoying it, not worrying too much about the day ahead.
By 7.15, the toys are getting boring; we need a change of pace. What could be more fun than getting dressed? Manipulating a ten-month old in and out of clothes is like trying to get tooth paste back in the tube, although at least the baby can be distracted with a toy car, which is great when you’re dealing with trousers but trickier when it’s time for a jumper. Still, dressed and pressed, it is time to move to the kitchen.
While the porridge cools, and we play an apparently hilarious game of peek-a-boo, I chop a few veggies for some baby food and make myself another cup of coffee. The cookbook of exciting baby meals has been replaced by my internal meal planner entitled Easy Stuff I Know He’ll Eat. I mess about on my phone because, for some inexplicable reason, that seems more important than anything else sometimes. Breakfast eaten, dad waved off to work, and I need to shower and etc. Babies do not like it when you leave them alone and disappear behind a closed door. Also not leaving a baby alone is like rule four after feed baby, change baby, and try not to drop baby. This baby, however, does really like paper. Therefore, I reach into my parenting reserves and pull out the game Let’s Play With the Paper Recycling In Front Of The Open Bathroom Door. It’s unconventional. It involves a lot of irritating mess. It provides a few minutes of peace. (Peace is relative: peace is singing Twinkle Twinkle around the shower curtain and gambling that you have thirty seconds to also condition your hair).
Getting myself dressed and pressed involves some tricks too. Based on his current speed and turning rate, when placed in the middle of the bedroom I have about three minutes to get dressed before he reaches a non-baby proofed space (i.e. our entire flat). I can do my hair in peace if I accept that all the towels will be removed from the cupboard during the very minimal styling process. It’s worth it though; you get sick of looking a mess.
The next hour or two passes off peacefully: another cuppa, some play time, a few errands between a few rounds of no, that’s not for you, here’s your singing alligator. Then, with nap time closing in, things get tense. It’s too early, really, but the alligator just isn’t cutting it any more. Thus, we turn the radio up loud, I scoop up Mr Grouchy, and we whizz around the living room singing and dancing to Taylor Swift. I am not embarrassed. Sometimes you gotta just shake it out. It’s one of my favourite things to do. It earns me smiles and the feeling of excited little legs bouncing against me as if to say keep going, mama.
When the yawning starts, it’s time for calm and a little sing song as we snuggle baby into sleeping bag. I’d love to say the calm remains. I’d love to say that I have a self-soothing champ who just drifts off, but I am in the majority. My baby is not a great sleeper. We lie down and he fights the sleep he so desperately wants. I fight the voices telling me to just leave him. I take a few deep breaths and wait, knowing sleep will come and yet finding it as hard as yesterday to wait it out. As he settles, his head lands on my stomach and the only thing spoiling this peaceful, perfect moment is the nagging whispers that I am too soft. Transferring him to his bed, I recall all the tears of the night before when, after an hour of perseverance, he went to sleep in his space, and forgive myself. The nights are hard enough. I’m cutting myself some slack in the day.
By 9.30 am, we’ve done lots and nothing. We’ve had fun and frustration, got the necessary done, and played too. With the house in quiet, it takes twenty minutes to straigten up, to hide most of the mess so that anyone coming round will be tricked into believing we’ve got this under control. Then it is time for another coffee and half an hour with myself – my tired, busy, not busy, happy, overwhelmed self.
Even though I believe that a healthy mind is as important as a healthy body,
And even though I advocate for taking mental well being as seriously as physical well being,
I feel guilty. I feel a fraud.
I should have snapped out of it. I should have been stronger.
Even though I believe that our emotions can be as fragile as our immune system,
And even though I know a bought of depression or anxiety can hit as unexpectedly as a bought of sickness or flu,
I feel apologetic. I feel responsible.
I should have been more prepared. I should have coped.
Because looking back, I don’t understand why I felt so bad. I don’t understand why it hit so hard. I can’t even remember what it felt like. So like the flu, like a sickness bug, even though you know you felt awful and like it’d never pass, it’s hard to clearly capture how it felt when you’re no longer feeling it.
So even though I feel ashamed and embarrassed, even though I want to promise to do better next time, a modicum of forgiveness is needn’t. Even though I’d rather not repeat it, I have to accept that these things happen, that all the mental vitamins tablets, that all the healthy choices won’t always protect from being poorly sometimes. Even though you wish they would.