I don’t do depression, stress, anxiety or sadness very well. I’ve been brought up in one of those families who, to avoid misery, attempt to make light of even the worse predicaments. We’re not inclined to wallow in pity, or wail on each others shoulders, or seek much in the way of consoling hugs.
My parents appeared to keep themselves so busy that they gave no time to worry about bad stuff before it happened. With my mother’s growing dementia, my father was able to carry on. He didn’t show anxiety or spend a lot of time talking about her. He just got on with the business of her care. And when we finally lost her last October, after a gruelling ten months of slowly dying, he did, just as my mother would have, got on with the business of arranging whatever needed to be done, in the most practical and pragmatic way.
Old age might have bits falling off them, but never did either one fall apart.
Typical then, that I’ve tried to follow this example and pragmatism has been, pretty much, my own coping strategy: Keep busy and the mind occupied. Avoid self-reflection (unless forced). Never ask to be pitied or give into wallowing in regret. For there’s nothing worse, is there really, than being in the company of a gloomy person? Even the most sympathetic souls will have a limit on their time and tolerance.
More than anything, I’m terrified of sinking into depression. The first signs are when I reach for the wine, chocolate (or both) and emerge in the morning with puffy red eyes and a terrible headache. I’m scared of how bad I could get. My constant escape from being holed up with my miserable self is to seek some other seemingly more productive distraction. This might be work, the garden, or a course that will teach me a new skill or challenge me in the pursuit of some higher potential. Anything to avoid maudlin self-pity.
The net result of all this frantic activity aimed at actually avoiding time to think, is inevitable exhaustion. Made worse with bouts of menopausal night sweats and sleeplessness.
Before long I start to unravel. Things take longer to do, I make mistakes, I forget things, I get impatient with my children, we eat late and then I snap. Sometimes in a rage, other times in tears in the depth of the night. But I don’t just fall apart because I’m over-tired, there’s always a trigger which gets me thinking and then the despair washes over me like a spring tide.
Last September, I embarked on an MBA course. I believed it would fast track me to better pay and better employment. I thought it would add significant value and credibility to all the experiences I’ve gathered ‘moss-like’ over the past 25 years or so of my working life. I knew it would be hard work but it would stimulating,exciting and rewarding. Therefore – in spite of already having no spare time because it’s easy to under-estimate the time looking after family takes – I believed I manage it somehow.
I was wrong.
I’ve been brushing all the truths I’ve wanted to avoid aside. Over the years they’ve been mounting up. Sadnesses quashed in a cupboard and gradually growing into a monster. Only a question of time …before this lump of grief would burst forth and smoother me.
I can’t say when it started. It might have its root in the fact that my husband’s employment is offshore. For years it was irregular making planning time together impossible. Now he is only home on a four-week on, four-week off basis and any training courses eat into his time home. Consequently, I’ve lived this emotionally supported half-life. Half a single mother, half a wife and in a state of permanent limbo. Counting the days ’til he returns and the days ‘before he leaves. Even though I’m used to it, I can’t stop the feeling that I’m missing out on married life and my sons have grown up with a part-time father.
My mother’s dementia and death robed me too. It’s a double whammy in the grief department as you lose them twice. What should have been the release has turned into me realising how much, and for how long I’ve missed her words of encouragement and support. But mostly her sharing my lovely growing family.
The final trigger was a little piece of local news, in which I even had my piece to camera on local ITV news. In the interview my reaction was very measured, because the impact of what had been said had quite hit me yet. Your words hurt us…Mr. Brewer…
The thing is, I am a mother of a disabled child. And deep down the loss of my dream for him hurts like hell. He should be now taking his GCSEs. He ought to be thinking about a college course, about what girlfriend (or boyfriend, it no longer matters) he’ll take to the Year 11 ball…
More than anything, I wish he was able to be independent, to be starting out on a life of his own choosing.
I’ve found the experience of disability extremely isolating. I stopped, very early on, from meeting mums who had their babies around the same time as he was born. His not meeting milestones when other babies did became very disheartening. However, meeting mums with other special needs children – was even worse. My son has no diagnosis so I couldn’t compare him to any other or join a recognised group such as Down Syndrome. More often, I’d look at other parents with disabled children and feel lucky because, I believed I didn’t have as many care issues, even if I was just kidding myself. Parents of special needs children take on a heroic stance to the onlooker. I’ve been admired for my courage and ability to cope. Only inside I’ve felt constantly like a wretched failure.
Family life gets more complex as my children get older. The widening gap as my younger two surge on in their lives leaving him far behind and lonely. The thing I’ve been keeping buried and trying to avoid is that my hopes of reclaiming ‘my time’, as the children get older, is a fantasy. Dreams of achieving an MBA is foolish. One moment I was putting all my energy into my course then quite suddenly I lost all desire for it.
Overnight. Bang. I couldn’t open a book. Nine marks from passing the current module and the whole thing felt pointless, meaningless and fraudulent. If I passed, I wasn’t sure I’d actually learnt anything I could use. My rational head says: ‘just do it’. Physically, mentally, emotionally it’s a struggle.
I’m not sure. Is this stress talking or depression taking hold?
You see, disability isn’t a choice. It’s a responsibility. That’s why the flippant, mis-judged remark of Councillor Colin Brewer is so hurtful. It’s why it can’t be eradicated with a mere apology, brushed aside, dismissed and forgotten. My son is a lovely, joyful person and he has changed me from the person I was in so many ways. Not perfect by any means, but I am a better human being. He deserves the full life with all its opportunities that most of us take for granted. He won’t get half of it. But he’ll get more, a lot more, if I open the door, let out my grief and accept it. I am his mum, his champion and his pal.
The gut wrenching twist is Mr. Brewer, having been obliged to stand down as councillor for Wadebridge East in Cornwall at the end of February, stood again for election last week and was re-elected by just 4 votes.
Words fail me and, worse still, I’m at a loss to know how to pick up all the shattered pieces again.