Sometimes

I’m feeling happy, and have been for a quite a while. 

OK..

I say those words with some trepidation because I’ve implied similar before, and then the balloon bursts with a bang.  I’ve said it here, that to name the emotion you weaken its power. Is this the same for positive emotions? I hope not, but I feel robust enough right now to take the risk. 

My dark episodes never seem to last less than a year.  I’m grateful for the bludgeoning lack of self-awareness which makes me forget this in between times. Perhaps depression is a bit like childbirth (ponders the mother of five children all born naturally) only you don’t choose the triggering event and are without the brand new human at the end of it.  Hmmm… 

What I DO know without resorting to clumsy analogies, is that because it lasts so long my perspective is skewed.  I find I can’t remember what ‘normal’ I supposed to feel like.  I think I’m me again right now, but my responses don’t seem the same as before.  Perhaps episodes of depression change you, like other big life events do.

Nothing special has happened to make me feel better.  Well, perhaps that’s disingenuous of me seeing as I’ve had a full year of no-expense-spared therapy (thank you, years of Steph’s BUPA premiums for finally becoming useful), plus drugs and the unspeakable luxury to navel gaze.  I nearly wrote “naval gaze,” images thereof making me giggle. This is new, that I feel like laughing again, and want to make other people laugh too – a key, and a little chink of light that’s given me hope that this state might last. 

I’m looking outwards again. One of the killing things I find about depression, is how ruthlessly introspective it makes you.  You’re self-obsessed but it’s not selfishness.  Selfishness suggests some pleasure in the state, but in depression there is none.  Being depressed, for those lucky enough not to know is like being trapped in a self-conscious hell which you yourself have created.  All of your worst nightmares are there. You can’t remove yourself, and as much as you want to be interested in the world, your black ego turns you inwards. Depression strips you back to the dullest, most paranoid parts of yourself.  If you’re lucky enough to have help, therapy examines the carcass, picks the bones clean and then painfully, makes you rebuild the flesh.

That’s where I am, fleshed up – oh, literally, I have put on a heap of weight – and metaphorically.  I feel like myself again.  I love my family, I feel creative again.  In a couple of weeks I have an interview for a job I would adore. I lack obvious relevant experience or qualifications, but I know I could do it. Six months ago I would not have had the confidence to apply – hell, six years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence either.

It helps that I have fewer things to worry about.  Elodie is managing so much better than I could have imagined at her new sixth form.  She has difficult times and doesn’t have anything like as much energy as previously, but she’s missed a total of only seven days this half of term.  I’m so proud of her determination to overcome this horrible condition which has laid her low for so many months, and that she wants to get on with life. I can’t fix her, and I need to respect her enough to trust that she will work her own way through.  I never imagined that this would be one of the toughest things to implement as a parent.

As for me, the message that has been hammered home is that I’m utterly powerless to prevent things happening, and sometimes the sh*t will hit the fan despite my best efforts. The only thing I can control or at least be aware of, is how I react.  This is principally in relation to my long term loss of Juliette, but really it’s about everything else too. 

I spent the first eight years after Juliette died inventing another life, where things were wonderful despite her leaving, and then the past year longing for an alternative reality where she was still here. It’s tough to admit that I can’t make either of those lives, but there’s peace in accepting my own fallibility and to realise that all I can do is incorporate her loss into the huge amount love I still feel for her.  She’ll always be part of me.  I just have to keep on growing to hold her, as well as everyone and everything else.

Most of all, I feel hopeful that there’s more good to come. 

Sometimes 
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
 
Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.
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Hand

It was mid-way through our holiday in Southwold and Juliette wasn’t well. Steph had taken Elodie, Pierre and Raphi to the harbour wall in Southwold for crabbing.  As soon as they’d left, Juliette got up and wanted to play a game.  We sat at the kitchen table and played cards, then did some drawing.  Juliette drew around her hand, using her favourite pink, then wrote her name in purple.  Above this, she drew the two of us. 
‘Why have we got wings, darling?’  Juliette rolled her eyes at my stupidity. 
‘Because we’re flying, Mummy!’
Of course.

I concentrated on my own drawing, and can still hear the sound of her pen dropping onto the paper.  She looked awful, suddenly.  I didn’t need it, but I found the thermometer and took her temperature. It was high.  Her last normal blood test had been two days earlier, so I knew her white cell count could have plummeted.  I was still breastfeeding Raphi, so I packed an overnight bag for Steph and Juliette, collected the others from the harbour, and we all drove to hospital. 
That week she had brimmed with life.  Every morning she badgered us all to get ready so we could get down to the beach.  She giggled, wiggled her naked bottom out of the window as Elodie collapsed with mortified, awe-struck laughter.  She was the flag-bearer, fun captain, the sail and the rudder, demanding each day be different – “ittsiting” (exciting).  We saw best friends and precious family, watched otters and chased dragonflies.  Her cheeks had colour, her hair was glossy.  She was irrepressible.  We thought she’d be with us forever.
Taking her to hospital with a fever was a drill we’d done a hundred times, but at 2 o’clock the next afternoon the doctor asked for our permission to stop trying to resuscitate her.

That week and a bit was a gift.  We had the best of her in those days – her energy and love, sunshine and happy times.  I know I must be grateful and I am, but the pain that I’ll never know her older than 5 is always there.  I think she would have made an incredible adult.

Anniversaire

It’s Elodie’s birthday tomorrow, and I’m the only one still up.  I’m sitting here with a hot chocolate and my computer, having just blown up some balloons and fixed birthday banners to the spot on the wall next to the stairs, where they always go. 
It’s been our tradition since Juliette’s 5th birthday.  Her French godfather, Nicolas, bought her a banner saying “Joyeux Anniversaire,” and on every birthday since that one we have put this banner and others up on the wall, with balloons, so they’re the first thing the birthday person sees when they came out of their bedroom in the morning. 
Blowing up balloons late at night, looking for blu-tak and trying to untangle dog-eared strings for the banners on your own is a bit joyless. I thought of not doing it this year, or at least of replacing some of the decorations.  Elodie’s going to be 17 after all and I know for a fact that I bought one of these banners for her 6th birthday party.  I couldn’t though.  Elodie has an almost angry attachment to things and traditions, and defends them with ferocity. She anchors herself to solid stuff and to certainties, and to guess at why.  She understands the essential impermanence of things and change frightens her, but keeping the same birthday decorations is something she can control.  
Maybe I read too much into things. Over the past couple of blog-quiet weeks I’ve had particular reasons to think about my own feeling towards change.  I find I’m not afraid of it.  I think it’s a sickening strength I’ve gained from surviving Juliette’s death when I didn’t believe, back then, that it was possible. I know it’s a strength that has the potential to make me reckless. There’s no pride in it. In fact, there’s a bit of shame, as though finding the strength to survive is a betrayal of the child I lost, and an implicit betrayal of the children I still have.  How can you survive, as a mother, when your child dies?  Should you even want to?
I know that to survive, you do have to want to.  You grab the reason from a basket of possibilities; you live to bear witness that your child was here, to change the world for the better, raise money or promote a cause.  My reason was our other children.  I knew my life was over, but I could not accept this fact for Juliette’s sister and brothers.  They are still my reason for surviving, but my life is not over.  It’s altered beyond anything I imagined, but there are still people to love and experiences to have. All pretty good reasons to hang about.
The ‘Joyeux’ of the French birthday banner came adrift last year, and tonight I couldn’t find the word anywhere.  For once, this is not me scratching around for symbols and I just hope that the multi-coloured, foiled letters of ‘Anniversaire’ are enough for Elodie.  I rather like the way it looks and yes, I like what the word means to us all.