Thursday, 15 December 2016

A page from my memoirs...late 80's and early 90's

That sweet little face in the picture will be 25 years old in a couple of days. My heart is gladdened when I see that smile; she looks like a happy baby.  When I look at the young woman cuddling her, I feel a mixture of emotions. 

Throughout my family's childhood, I hid a secret from those outside my family, and I hid it very well.  I laughed and joked and functioned and most people who saw me on a daily basis in the playground or round the shops would never have guessed that I was struggling with hidden depression.

We had five small children, and Dave worked days out of the house whilst I worked weekends and evenings where possible. Both our fathers had died quite recently, mine just two months before the birth of our first baby, John.  When I was two and a half months pregnant with my fourth baby, my second daughter Lily, my mum died after being ill for about seven or eight months, closely followed by her sister, my favourite auntie Ada.  When Lily was 4 months old, Dave's mum died.  Dave's mum's death was sudden and unexpected even though she had been ill for a long time too.  A lot of things came out after her death, and Dave had a complete nervous breakdown.  He was off work for 18 months.  I went back to work full time until he returned to work, when I became pregnant with our fifth child, Jesse.  Life was tough, and we were on the absolute breadline a lot of the time. I could deal with the financial difficulties, but not the effect of our combined mental health on our relationship. We both isolated ourselves and showing affection was difficult.  That broke me every time, I could cope with not having things because there was not money, but I couldn't cope with being unable to enjoy something that should come for free.

My resilience to this series of bereavements was low, and I had been struggling since the birth of my first baby; in retrospect I realise I was suffering with a combination of birth trauma and postnatal depression on top of the loss of my dad. Everything was a struggle.  I suffered with anxiety and panic attacks, and a heavy blanket of grey that seemed to wrap itself around me.  Getting up in the mornings was so difficult, and our relationship was suffering terribly.  I just wanted to sleep all the time, and my concentration was non-existent.  When the little one in the picture, Rhiannon, was just a few weeks old, I broke my ankle, which in a weird kind of way was a blessing in disguise, and I think the rest and time spent with my foot elevated prevented me from spiralling into full blown breakdown.  It meant that I had to let people in, to take John and Jack to playschool, and to help me.  Of course, the ankle healed, and I retreated back into my grey world.

I felt like a ghost.  Everyone recognised me in town, and would smile and say hello, but I was one of those people who slips through the cracks of their own life and circle.  I was the one who wouldn't get invited to things, not because people aren't lovely, but because I probably unconsciously pushed them away. I think people sensed something about me, an aura of sadness behind the jokes, and the invisible wall I surrounded myself with.  I didn't really mind, because the thought of socialising with people made me anxious.  I didn't like myself at all, and just felt shame for...I don't even know what for, I just felt it pervading my life all the time, so the thought of opening up and talking to people was just another source of pain.

Our house wasn't great.  The tangle of family stuff in an affluent household is welcoming, but when money has been tight for ever, and you've only got a few functional things and nothing pleasant, any hint of untidiness only serves to make things worse. It's just another source of pain and shame, so I never asked anyone round. I went round to other women's houses for the kids to play and my feelings were reinforced by the difference between us.  My poor kids. I tried to keep cheery for them but children see straight through that bullshit when they're living it every day.

 I remember going to a school event and it being cancelled at the last minute.  The PTA chairwoman had dozens of bread rolls in her car ready for the event, and she offered them out to us all as they wouldn't keep.  Oh my secret delight at the thought of my ever-pressing problem finding the money for food being eased by the unexpected gift of bread.  And then my embarrassment and despair when some bright spark decided that those who wanted the rolls should pay for was only fair, and made sense, but I had absolutely not a penny to my name, so I turned and walked away.

Mrs PTA Chair laid into me for being mean.  I looked at her, standing by her top of the range car with her nails, and her highlights and the enormous sapphire ring and I felt that yawning gap between us.  We were two mums in the same village, same age, and we probably looked fairly similar from a distance, because you can't see hunger.

I can't blame her, she didn't know.  How could she...I hid it all so well.  At the doctors' surgery they were a bit more canny, and the health visitors had a box in a side room full of donated items of food for families in need.  You could slip in on your way past and take what you needed.  I only did it once, and I have never forgotten that feeling of taking charity. I wondered if shoplifting would somehow feel less shameful, but I never found out.

My mum paid for us to go on holiday to Devon for a week with her, and the picture above was taken on that trip.  How I wish I'd thought to get a photo of the three generations together.  A year down the line and mum was terminally ill;  three months later she died.  Strangely enough, and despite grieving hard for her, it was my dear mum's illness and death that taught me about the value of living my life to the full, and woke me up to the fact that I couldn't do this on my own, and that for the sake of my little ones, I needed to open up seek help. 


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