I said goodbye to some new friends today. First there was S. He’s been in therapy for a while – younger than me, good looking and successful, living with his girlfriend and the collection of rabbits, dogs and chinchillas he has been adding to since his nervous breakdown. S is gentle and articulate, and not a person you’d imagine had been so desperately ill that they were on the point of admitting him a year ago as an inpatient. It’s been wonderful to hear him talk in our group sessions. Like so many I’ve met there he’s evangelical about the therapy that’s helped him back on his feet. As I sit there thinking that feeling “normal” is a long way away for me, he and the other friend I said goodbye to today are better now and ready to get on with life.
R looks like Billy Idol. Edgy clothes, but with one of the warmest smiles and natures I’ve ever known – the sort of person who remembers your name after meeting you once. R built up his own business, then got into drinking too much, and coke at the weekends. He got married at 16, a horrible divorce and custody battle at 17 which he won, then met his current wife and had 3 more children. He was an inpatient for a while, and talks frankly about what a mess he was. He sounds like the sage of the mountain now. We’ve talked a lot about parenthood, and the (for me very) guilty fantasy of being utterly alone on a desert island, if only for a moment or two. Alone, not together, you understand. For all the intimacy of group work, when a group of people have regularly seen each other covered in snot and tears there’s no chance of any of you fancying anybody else.
It is weird though. In some ways they like the other people in the group probably know me better now than Steph does. I hugged both men like my brothers today, feeling incredibly sad that I probably won’t see them again.
There must be a reason why we keep our inner selves back in normal society. Self-preservation, or British embarrassment perhaps. But four months into this, I do wonder about it. Today was the end of one of our groups, before the beginning of another on a different theme, and we were asked to talk about how we felt we had changed. I didn’t know, feeling that any difference in myself was intangible. Eventually, though I thought – I remember saying this here before, and I tried to say it again today without giving in to tears, but I didn’t manage that. What’s different is that I’m accepting that I’ve been kneecapped by this right now, but that it doesn’t wash away the last 8 years and that my children are in all probability alright. I’ve realised that I can protect them from the worst of my depression now by being open with them and explaining why I’m sad, what I’m doing about it and why they don’t need to be frightened. And, God, if it should ever happen to them in the future, they’ll remember that I got through it.
If I have any readers left, I’d like to say I’m sorry for the navel-gazing. But, well, perhaps we should all do a bit more. Me, I should have allowed myself to go on grieving for my daughter rather than ramming a poker against my spine and marching on, trailing puffs of my trumped-up optimism. I suppose, when I’m feeling kind, I did what I needed to do at the time. Not breaking down until now has meant that our children have had a good few years of non-miserable Mummy.
But while I’m using metaphors…when I’m better I don’t want the poker back. I’ll still be strong, but I want a mast. You can attach a sail to a mast.