Water: A Short Story for World Mental Health Day

I would like to thank Paula Andrews from the UK for her short story submission ‘Water’. A relatable fictional story, based on true events, reflecting the inner world of a mother suffering from mental health issues.

Around the world it’s World Mental Health Day today (or yesterday for us Aussies!) and where I live in QLD, it’s mental health week. I believe depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are a a bigger part of many people’s lives than we know or can even fathom. Motherhood in particular can be an emotionally draining rollercoaster at times and many of us can suffer in silence for years, believing that no-one understands or could ever help us out of the dark abyss that threatens to steal every moment that was meant for joy.

But there are people who understand, those who have been there, those who are still there and those who may be there in the future. There’s no easy cure for mental illness but there is help. If you suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental illnesses, please seek help through your local helpline. If your in Australia, Lifeline is a great resource if you’d like someone to talk to. Their number is 13 11 14.

Don’t suffer alone. From someone who has been there ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’

Paula Andrews was born in Yorkshire (origin: England) and has lived in Scotland for 29 years. She is married to a Glaswegian and has two grown-up children (21 and 19 years) both born in Glasgow. She worked as a midwife for twenty-two years; having owned her own craft business, has taught arts and crafts to blind people and has been writing seriously for around eight years. She published her debut novel for teenagers (and adults) early this year, just before lockdown commenced! It is a time-travel ghost story called Oranges and Lemons, crossing modern day with the 1860s.

Paula tells us “I have had work published in Aquila magazine, Scribble magazine and Scottish Memories magazine and have taken first place and other placings across various genres in writing competitions at the Scottish Association of Writers and within my own writers’ group, Strathkelvin Writers’ Group. I have a website and blog dedicated to my writing, which can be found at www.paulaandrews.co.uk“.

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Photo by Blanche Peulot on Unsplash

WATER

She hangs the small pink mac on its peg; she knows it’s the right one from the picture card on the wall, displaying a solitary polar bear. Ellie runs away from her. Excited. She’s running towards her favourite thing at the crèche: the water tray. She’ll pour and splash for as long as they’ll let her. A water baby. Like her. Solitary. Like her, too. They’ve identified this as being problematic, on several occasions, in reproachful tones, which annoys her.

            “She needs to play with the other children. And share. Can you work on this at home?”

            Suzie sees her daughter skip through the swing doors without looking back and feels a stab of sadness in the bottom of her chest. Little Ellie is happy yet surprisingly tuned in to her mother’s mood. Suzie knows Ellie doesn’t believe her when she says:

            “I’m fine, Ellie.”

            Because Ellie asks. Often.

            “Are you sad, Mummy?”

            “No, I’m not sad, baby.” Usually, those five words are all she can manage. It feels to Suzie, the less she speaks, the less she lies.

            Sam is at school. Two years Ellie’s senior. They say he’s an old man in a wee boy’s body. My fault, Suzie thinks. She sees it as a negative trait. Another solitary child. How could they be anything else when she’s that way? She should’ve taken him to more classes; art, gymnastics, Little Nature Lovers, everything time would allow, maybe. Well, money wasn’t really an issue. But money hadn’t magically cloaked him with an aura of cordiality at toddler group twice a week. She’d felt bemused when she’d watched him choose his play space: always a couple of metres away from the other children. He’d selected his toy and carried it off, looking back at the group; seeming to measure with his footsteps as he walked. Content with his chosen spot, he’d settled and played with that one toy for the entire session.

            Nevertheless, school seems to be changing him. She feels a detached satisfaction when she watches him run up to his friend, Leo, in the playground each morning.  

            On this morning, she drives home, barely observing the traffic, not using her mirrors. Staring ahead, feeling still but heavy; calm but sad. Sadder than she can even think about. There is no sound inside the car. Her senses seem flattened. Squashed between two heavy mattresses.

            At home, she fumbles with the house keys. For a minute she can’t remember which is the right one. It annoys her. She sighs and lets her arms drop by her sides. She sighs again and a wave of melancholy washes up from her tummy to her scalp and she’s glad of it. A feeling, however bad. Something that makes her real; not some automaton stumbling through this interminable cycle of life: feeding children; a spousal ‘have a good day’ on John’s way out the door each morning; school run; tidying up; washing pots; laundry; two pocket-money hours in the village bookshop every day; and sleeping, but never properly. The keys drop from her limp hand and when she bends to pick them up her knees are wobbling and she nearly keels over.

            She gets inside and sees so many obstacles. Slippers, a bouncy ball, John’s trainers, the tools he fixed the waggly door handle with last night; Ellie’s teddy lies forlornly on the stairs. She relates to the teddy: bedraggled, her clothes slightly askew like its ribbon, her hair and nails a bit grubby like its fur. She could lie beside it at an angle on the stairs and she wouldn’t care. She’d lie there all day. She’d stay there when the phone rang. She’d listen to the message on the answerphone:

            “Mrs Peters, Ellie’s here, waiting to be picked up. Can you call the crèche as soon as you get this message?”

            She wouldn’t move. Not during the message. Not after the message. Perhaps the teddy would turn and look at her, accusingly. Perhaps he’d growl and say:

            “Aren’t you going to answer that? That’s my Ellie you’re neglecting.”

            But instead of lying beside the teddy, she opens the kitchen door. In here, it’s clean and tidy. She filled the dishwasher and wiped the surfaces before the school run. She walks to the sink and turns on the cold tap. The sound of water settles her; it makes her feel clean and refreshed. She runs a bowlful and presses her hands to the bottom. She feels scratch lines radiating across the grey plastic. The dripping tap plinks as she examines her fingernails which are not grubby after all; she just feels that they are. It is so difficult to keep anything clean: the children, the house, herself. Everything feels messy, cluttered, disorganised; her thoughts, muddled; her sleep, disjointed and broken. A miniature bubble forms on the back of one hand then dashes to the surface and pops. I’m going to do that, she thinks. Rise up, all of a sudden and…burst. Unless…unless…


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            Her nose prickles and a tear forms in the corner of her right eye and swells rapidly, building into something monstrous like a tsunami. It’s still there, threatening to spill over. The left eye is starting too. Funny how tears form in one eye first. She looks out of the window into the garden but everything is dull and blurry. Like her sense of place. She can’t distil her purpose into anything meaningful. She can’t see the way forward to the bright future of fulfilment. She can’t battle herway out of the black mire she’s trying to wade through.

            John will know what to do. John, ever loving, ever kind, ever thoughtful, ever, ever, ever, so much it suffocates her sometimes.

            Please phone, John. Tell me what to do.

            But John will ask if she’s taking her medicine and she’ll have to lie. Because the medicine makes her sooo tired.

            John is busy; always in meetings. Please phone, John, she urges. She needs to hear his voice but the phone doesn’t ring and Suzie doesn’t move. Her hands are getting chilled; the ache is rising to her wrists. She looks at the ugly blue pipe of a vein with its jagged junctions. She lifts her hands out of the water and lets them drip on the floor. She looks around the kitchen. It’s a good kitchen. The children’s drawings are stuck neatly in a grid pattern on one wall and she hears Ellie’s voice:

            “Mummy, I’ve painted the sea for you. Because you love the sea, don’t you, Mummy?”

            The painting didn’t really look like the sea. It was a dark mass of flaking black, navy and grey with a swish of ultramarine at the edges where the colours hadn’t merged.

            When the phone did ring, it wasn’t John. It was the school, with their usual opening message.

            “It’s Carol Brown from the school office. Don’t worry, Mrs Peters, there’s nothing the matter with Sam. I’m just calling to check if you have Ellie’s birth certificate. We don’t seem to have received it when you brought her for enrolment. Do you think you could bring it in and we’ll copy it?”

            “Yes, yes, okay, I can do that,” Suzie mumbles, dabbing her eyes. Her voice sounds stilted. She clears her throat with a cough then puts the phone down.

            Did she say birth certificate? Or baptismal certificate? Birth, baptism, both connected with water and the flow of liquid.

            “Water. I need water,” she says. This time her voice is clear and Suzie thinks it sounds loud and intrusive in the house. She tries it again. Just one word.

            “Water.” She remembers she hasn’t spoken out loud for some time. Breakfast this morning had been hurried, the children both chattering and clattering. John had been in a hurry too.

            “Early meeting,” he’d said, kissing her on the cheek and striding, carelessly, obliviously, thoughtlessly to the door. “See you tonight, honey. Bye, kids.”

            The sound of her voice seems to spur Suzie into action. She looks at the clock. Nine-thirty. If she leaves right away, she’ll have time to get back.

            She has purpose now and it feels good. Everything here reminds her how crowded her life is. On the stairs, Mum’s gloves, left by mistake. On the spare bed, a tote containing John’s sister’s birthday present. Ellie’s room, stuffed full with bags; Ellie loves bags. She is always playing weird, solitary games which involve going on a trip and her bags contain random objects. Suzie picks one up. Green sparkly backpack, covered in sequins which are always littering the house, turning up in the strangest places: in John’s socks, trapped between the dinner plates, stuck on the outside of a jam jar in the fridge. Inside the bag are a wooden train (pilfered from Sam), a fabric flower, scrunched paper, a toy banana and a single stripy sock stuffed with plastic animals. God knows what flight of imagination this cornucopia of Ellie’s means. Only Ellie knows that.

            She moves to Sam’s room. His is more orderly: space books stacked on his chest of drawers; a picture he’s doing of a comic-book hero; his pencils; an Edinburgh Castle ornament that Mum bought him. His dressing gown is a big lump like some strange creature on the carpet. Suzie leaves it there.

            In her own room, John’s running kit makes a similar heap: he’d been out before work this morning. His jeans sprawl across the chair. On his bedside table are a collection of small toys waiting to be mended. From her own side of the bed, a mental health magazine lectures, soundlessly. He’d bought it for her. She doesn’t want it; its just being there makes her feel awful.

            People want to intrude in her life all the time.

            “I’m only trying to help, Suzie,” Mum said, impatiently, last week. “Because I love you. I think you should go and see Someone.”

            Suzie isn’t sure who Someone is but she doesn’t want to see them, whatever flavour of psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor they are.

            She thinks of her brother, saying:

            “Come to mine for a couple of days, Suzie. We’ll go out. Have a laugh. You can kip on my settee.”

            The thought of going to Dublin is intolerable even though it’s kind of him to offer. Suzie can’t imagine anything worse for someone who already feels hemmed in. A few years ago, she’d have jumped at the idea. But now, it’s impossible. She’d suffocate.

            She tries to swallow then she forces her voice through the lump in her throat.

            “I need space. Don’t they understand? More space than they can give me. I’m a solitary person and I need to be alone. At least for a while until I can think and concentrate. I need to be away from here, away from all the noise and the mess and the confusion and all those voices and demands and opinions.” Her throat aches.        

            She leaves her phone on the kitchen table. When she starts the car, she isn’t sure where she’ll go. First, she’ll drive. Then she’ll keep driving. She needs to get far away.

            At four o’clock, she reaches a suitable place and she sits on the beach and listens to the sea. She’s free. She feels light. The freezing wind blows through her hair and her thoughts become clear. I’m solitary and free, like a polar bear. She thinks of Ellie’s peg at the crèche.

            Ellie, she thinks. Ellie and Sam. Someone’s children.

            She takes off her shoes and socks and leaves them on the beach. She needs to feel the water, bathe her toes. It’s cold. It’s good. It’s strong. It isn’t enough. She lifts her feet, one, then the other. They suck out of their sandy sockets. She wades forwards. A water baby. Like Ellie. Solitary too. Just like Ellie.



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In Search of Self Destruction: The Myth of Self-Care

I’d like to thank Claire Taylor for contributing this article to Mum Life Stories. I know many of you will be able to relate and hopefully glean some insight into your own journey toward ‘Mum Life Self-Care.’

Claire Taylor is a mother, writer, and Licensed Massage Therapist. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Yellow Arrow Journal, The Loch Raven Review, Capsule Stories, American Writer’s Review, and Canary Literary Journal. Her writing about motherhood and depression has appeared on Scary Mommy. She is the creator of Little Thoughts, a monthly newsletter of original stories and poetry for children. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland (United States), and can be found online at clairemtaylor.com

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In Search of Self Destruction

I am the person who performs your self care.

With my hands and fingers, elbows and thumbs. An anatomical toolkit of relief. With my heated massage table and scented eye pillows, and an impeccable ability, honed over many years and countless bodies, to instantly find the spot you didn’t realize was so tender, to release the knot you didn’t even know you had.

For a long time, I relished the challenge of softening tight muscles, correcting harmful postural patterns, and bringing release and relaxation to the people who sought my care. I loved feeling useful and needed. Then I had a baby, and like many new moms, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the neediness of my newborn. I grew weary of constant daily touch. I would shift from an infant plastered to my chest, to my hands plastered to strangers for hours straight, then back to the infant pressed warm and helpless against me late into the night.

The feeling of being all touched out didn’t dissipate as my baby grew into a toddler, and I added to it a collection of physical ailments that no amount of stretching or self care of my own was able to alleviate. A deep, sharp pain settled into the muscles along my spine. I felt it whenever my son stretched his tiny hands out to me. “Carry you,” he’d say, and I’d lift him into my arms with a wince. “Carry me,” I’d correct him. My wrists ached. My thumbs throbbed. A hot, aching spark shot through my arm whenever I turned a doorknob, or twisted the cap onto a sippy cup.


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Massage therapists are encouraged to practice regular self care. It improves the long term viability of our careers, prevents burnout, and allows us to work with the energy and flexibility needed to reduce injury and fatigue. We’re supposed to routinely stretch our forearms, backs and shoulders. We should ice our hands. Schedule breaks between sessions to rest and refuel. I do all of my appointments back-to-back to reduce the time that I’m away from my young child. I skip lunch, stuffing small handfuls of trail mix into my mouth between sessions whenever my vision goes blurry, my blood sugar about to crater. I collapse onto the couch at the end of the day and don’t give a moment’s thought to stretching or icing. When I’m worn down from working the last thing I want to do is anything even loosely resembling more work. Even if it would be to my benefit.

Mothers are similarly encouraged to make time for self care. Our doctors and doulas, the moms who came before us, those alongside us in the trenches, everyone asking: are you making any time for yourself? Are you getting out of the house? Finding time to rest? Sleep when the baby is sleeping. Don’t forget to exercise and eat well. Be sure you’re still socializing. Talk about something other than your children. Carve out opportunities to relax and restore. Treat yourself to something special. Take a step back and reconnect to the person you were before you became someone’s mom.

I understand intimately the aches and pains of my clients who are new mothers. Sore backs, curved and curled from breastfeeding and baby cradling. Neck tension from long hours of staring lovingly down at your tiny creation. Feet, knees, and hips fatigued from bearing the full weight of a body with limited core stability. Good for you, I tell them. You did it! You spent an hour taking care of yourself for a change. Or rather, you dedicated an hour to letting me take care of you.

The trouble with self care is that yours is yet another name to add to the list of people you’re responsible for taking care of. I’m tired of taking care of people, myself included. We tell new parents that it gets easier, and it’s true that with time you regain some capacity to care for yourself again. It’s not the ability to feel better that I long for, so much as the permission to fall apart.

During my freshman year of college, I presented a film I made at a conference on depression. One of the first presentations I attended while there was from a young Black professor who asserted that Black women were denied the privilege of experiencing depression. Because of the vital roles they played in their families and communities, she argued, because of limited resources and inflexible schedules, Black women were not afforded the option of succumbing to their own despair. They were the engines that kept the lives around them chugging along. If they stopped, everything stopped, and so they just kept pushing forward, depression be damned.





As a lifelong depression sufferer, I was baffled that anyone could consider this disease a privilege. It’s a privilege to slip into a hole of unshakeable despair? A privilege to not be able to pull yourself out of bed in the morning? To collapse onto your living room floor and stay there for hours because you have neither the strength nor energy to pick yourself up? Depression is a curse, not a privilege. Or so I thought. Now, so many years later, with the benefit of age and experience, and the daily demands of raising a young child, I’m better able to see the truth in the point she was making.

The experiences of my depressed self pre-motherhood were ones of despair and exhaustion, yes, but also indulgence. I could call out sick from work if I absolutely could not gather the energy to get up in the morning. I could go home at the end of a long day and sit in total silence, left alone to fixate on my irrational, self-abusing thoughts. I could stare mindlessly at the television and fall asleep on the couch. I could cry, loudly and outwardly, give myself over entirely to wallowing in my own despair. I can’t do any of those things anymore.

Now the little person I gave life to forces me out of bed in the morning whether I like it or not. There are waffles to be made and cups of milk to be poured. There are games to be played as the sun comes up, and more questions to answer than is reasonable to be asked in a lifetime, much less in the span of an hour before the coffee has even finished percolating. If I cry, my son immediately bursts into tears and shouts, “I don’t like it when you’re sad!” If I let my eyelids droop, heavy with the emotional weight I’ve been dragging around for days, weeks, my whole life, I’m immediately commanded to wake up and keep playing. One day I allowed myself to surrender to my low mood and moved through every interaction with him like a zombie. At one point, he rested his head in my lap and told me he felt sad that “something’s wrong with Mommy.” I went to bed terrified that I was ruining this sweet, sensitive little boy who was too tuned in to my emotions.

As he grows, I am indeed able to carve out more time for myself. I have gotten back to running regularly. I read daily. I’ve started monthly therapy sessions. Sometimes I even get to sit alone for a glorious hour where no one needs anything from me. But no amount of self care can fully sate my desire for the occasional emotional implosion. It’s not the freedom to care for myself that I lost with motherhood, but the freedom to self-destruct. I didn’t even know it was a privilege until it was gone.


Thanks

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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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