I find myself staring at a long path in front of me, wondering how I came to be there and how I might even take one more step along it…
“Don’t look back” they say, for nostalgia clouds the pictures in your mind and regret hinders the ability to step forward. Yet, where you are is a reflection of where you have come from – the path already trod, the familiar footsteps that lay behind you, fading with the memories they have touched. Sometimes it seems obvious how to proceed – keep on going in the direction you have chosen for yourself, your family, your career. But life has a habit of throwing a curve ball and disrupting this. Then there is no obvious course of action available. As wool from a pull in a jumper, I have found myself to be unravelling lately. The very fabric of the foundations of my life fraying around the edges.
A Mum at a certain time of life, should know what she’s doing by now, shouldn’t she? I mean, I’ve been doing the job for over 20 years now! Yet, the task remains as complicated now as it ever was before. The boundaries are blurred. When my children were young, I called all the shots (well, jointly with my husband of course!) Looking back, I didn’t appreciate how simple things were at the time. The obvious tiredness from the demands of the baby and toddler stage can blind you to the pure joys of the discoveries our children are making among the daily routines and then, all too soon, they’re off to school and never quite just yours any more. Still, you know where they are; you direct their mealtimes and bedtimes, facilitate their hobbies – even if you joke with friends that their social life is better than your own and you note that you have added taxi driver to your ever growing list of jobs. Multi-tasker – that’s your middle name!
Perhaps the birth process triggers something deep within, kick starts an energy reserve that serves to get you through the early sleepless nights, the troublesome toddler years and the juggling of everyone’s time and resources to succeed with the military-type schedule of the school years? Or is it just that, at almost fifty, I’m just not young enough to manage daily demands now? A job, a home under refurbishment, two kids – one still a teenager, a dog, older family members that need support too. Okay, that sounds like quite a list but I’ve juggled a lot before, right?
Then, along comes a snake in the grass – slithering in unnoticed at first. I’ve heard its name but know little about it, for it seems to be a well-kept secret weapon which only unveils itself once it’s well and truly bitten you on the bum! The pre-menopausal stage. There, I’ve said it, and said it out loud! How is it that only once you’ve mentioned to others that you’re having a difficult time, do you discover that so many others are too? Women should really give each other the heads up about this. I’ve felt out of control, unsure what is happening to my body and my sanity, unable to sleep, weeping at the slightest things, incapable of rational thought at times, as well as having the symptoms that are far more publicised.
So, a menopausal mum I am. A stressful job I have. Nothing unusual there, I’m sure – except for suddenly adopting Yoda-type phrases! But to be serious, among all of this, I’ve had several years now of coming to terms with how mental health issues have affected close family members and, more recently, I’m starting to think myself. Have you ever thrown a pebble into a still, calm pond and watched the ripples emanate out in circles, widening and widening until they reach the furthest edges of the pond?
Observers are full of opinions about depression and anxiety. Stock phrases are quickly offered: “You have so many positive things to be thankful for” or “Cheer up, things aren’t that bad” Or there are the questions – “What started this then?” “What’s caused it all?” To be caught up in the maelstrom of mental health and see first-hand how it chips away at the loved one you know, changes their personality and seeps into every aspect of their daily life, is to be stuck on a twisting, turning roller-coaster that has no end.
I’ve had days of triumph as we’ve slowly worked on recovery techniques together as a family. I’ve had days of despair, when everything seems bleak and no answers seem possible to find. I’ve been on a journey that I wouldn’t invite anyone to accompany me on. Yet, I’ve learnt so much.Mental health issues are starting to hit headlines, they’ve even been somewhat exploited to form an advertising campaign for a bank! People are starting to talk about it and need to keep doing so. Talk therapies sound weak when you’re at the start and you’re looking for a magic wand to wave or a super pill to take. But we all need to keep talking.
So, ‘Mum’s the Word’ is an accurate description of who I am but the idiom – hold it all in, keep a secret – that’s a complete mistake. I’ve learnt to ask for help, to talk through what is on my mind and to recognise that it is okay to say that I am not coping well and I am not having a good day. That’s when you find out who your friends really are: those who are there to listen, are not afraid to say that they don’t have an answer but they will listen anyway. I may not be the best Mum in the world but I am doing the best I can in my world, my home, with my family and with the support that I have to carry on, facing the days as they each come along.
For now I guess I will take a few more steps along that path and see where it takes me…