Falling to pieces

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.

Mummy_falling_apartBefore 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.

11 thoughts on “Falling to pieces

  1. I’m sorry you are feeling this way. I really optimistically think we will get him out shortly, sweep him aside and get back to the positive work we all do most of the time. Well done on your interview, if we all put out a few here and there he will get the message. I felt disillusioned on Friday too, but the anger of everyone I meet locally proves he is not representative of those around us.

  2. Jess, brilliantly written as always… Wadebridge is and always has been a bit odd…. perhaps Mr Brewer is still in mourning for his 6th finger

  3. Jess, that is a truly moving piece of writing, so honestly and bravely written. In some way, I can apply what you have written to my own situation and how I have got to accept me now and not want to be the me I was. You’re so right – disability for me is totally isolating. And I had no idea that Bigot Brewer had been voted in once more – how and why, I just don’t know!!!

  4. And thank goodness our children are ours and didn’t end up as the children of someone like your councillor who lacks the ability and empathy to understand why his comment was so unthinkable and why having made it he should have had the grace to keep a low profile. A good friend says she uses people’s reactions to her son as an indicator of the type of people they are, so boyfriends/girlfriends of her other children have shown her how welcoming, inclusive and generous most of the human race are. I can understand completely you being knocked sideways by this man but don’t let him do this. You can go back to the MBA (or not), but your writing as always is brilliant, insightful, honest and you speak for more people than you know xxx

  5. I feel as if you were writing about yourself, about your burgeoning awareness that you are depressed and that your previous tactic of denying it and keeping busy hasn’t helped you the way you hoped it would. I expected the next sentence or paragraph to be about how you’ve finally decided to get help.

    Instead, you (as psychologists would say) deflected. You began talking about your son and about the horrible comments of Mr. Brewer and about disability in general. Those are all worthy topics to write about – in another post.

    As a stranger to you, speaking through the screen of anonymity that the internet gives us, and speaking from my own experience, I feel free to tell you like it is without pulling any punches. You need to take a disciplined and steady look at your own health and well being, not allowing yourself to be distracted by lifetime habits of stoicism. You need to put your pride aside and get treatment for your depression before you really do “fall to pieces”. You need to do this not just for yourself, but for your family who depend upon you. It’s your responsibility to yourself and to your family to do whatever is necessary to restore and maintain your well being, even if that goes against the grain. You cannot afford to shirk that responsibility. Your family cannot afford for you to shirk it. Please pick up a phone today and start the process of getting treatment for your depression. I promise, you won’t regret it.

    • I cannot reply to this now without appearing, as you say, to be deflecting.
      I’m fairly certain I’m not depressed yet and I hope I still have a long way to go. I can still see blue skies and silver linings and my delightful, amazing and well-balanced children keep me generally pretty upbeat. It’s just now, having had that shock of self-realisation to send me off-kilter, that I want to off-load the ridulous amount I’ve piled upon my shoulders and get back to enjoying their company (with all their inherent quirks) collectively and individually once again.
      But, I’m more than touched by your concern.

  6. Wow Jess. I understand so much of what you feel. Not all, but a lot.
    My coping mechanism is to detach emotion from people I don’t care for. It makes life so much easier to deal with ignorance. Of which we are all guilty of at times.
    Black, yellow, Asian, muslim, fat, disabled, gypsy, ginger, dyslexic, gay. I’m at least three of those and regularly put up with ignorance.
    As are some of my kids and foster kids.
    We refer to ignorance in a humorous way. And pity their lack of wholeness. No emotional intelligence. We all feel bigger than the people who naively spout their point. Of which we are all guilty of at times.
    You cannot change people you can only hope that time, wisdom and spiritual maturity will reach them one day.

  7. Jess, I’m glad you shared this – I hope you know you aren’t alone even if it feels like it. And I’m fairly sure the MBA contributed because it’s finance and accounting!! This bit will be over soon and thank goodness – for us creative souls we bring other things to the party! I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. : )

  8. Hi Jessica

    Thank you very much for contacting us and for your support. Many of our team have read your blog and were moved by your blog post ‘falling to pieces.’

    We produce Discover Magazine and would be interested to include this item in the next edition, although at present, we are not sure when this will be as it is funding dependant. We would of course contact you again when we know more and would be happy to maintain your anonymity.

    By reading your blog, we have noticed you are clearly facing some difficult times and if you feel you could perhaps benefit from some impartial information & support, then please feel free to contact our Disability Information & Advice Line (DIAL) and our trained Advisers will be more than happy to help wherever possible.

    T: 01736 759500
    E: dial@disabilitycornwall.org.uk

    Thanks again for your support & best wishes

    From all at Disability Cornwall.

  9. Whether it is stress, depression or just things are getting too much at the moment is irrelevant. A diagnosis isn’t likely to help. The main thing you are recognising that you need a break. MBAs (well done on starting by the way!) can usually be deferred – don’t beat yourself up for having to do so. Yourself and your family come first, and the voting public can be idiots sometime!

    Take care,

  10. Thank you for sharing this. Words and the attitudes they reflect DO affect the precarious balance that we as mothers, as lovers, and as human beings balance within ourselves. From far away I am very near to you in these regards. (Including and as a side note – the nightsweats and hot flashes don’t help sleep, which is critical for brain/mental health – talk to your doctor or consider natural remedies to get help on this, trust me hormonal imbalances sent me into a dark, dark tunnel for awhile.)
    I believe being honest and passionate will help others to advocate with us for a better world. Keep On, Sister.

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