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.


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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

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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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The Sacrifices We Make: A Mum Life Story

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One of the greatest things I love about having a blog, is the opportunity to share other women’s stories. Stories of triumph, inspiration and life lessons. Whilst browsing through Quora I came across this story by Almondie Shampine, a single mum of 2 from New York, and I had to ask her if I could share it.

Almondie tells of her experience of being a working mum and how her perceptions and goals changed after her health took a turn for the worst. I was inspired by her story.

As a stay at home mum myself for nearly 16 years, I have often thought about what it would have been like to have been a full time worker instead and if that would have been the more noble of decisions. Recently I’ve been reminded that every life story is different and every person has a different calling and direction to fulfill. We can often overlook the benefits of the situation we find ourselves in and long for what we don’t have, not knowing that the situation we long for can often bring unforseen regrets that we would happily avoid if we could.

Almondie’s story is one of reflection. A story of how she may have done things differently if she had the chance to start again but also, of how she is now moving forward into a more balanced, contented life in hindsight of that realisation.

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The Sacrifices We Make

I’ve been a single Mom and sole income earner for 16 out of 17 years since I was 18 years old. I was always extremely ambitious and I’ve had a good 40 jobs, working in pretty much every field you can imagine. I typically always had 2–3 different jobs going on at the same time. This does not include my authoring, publishing, and the hundreds of writing/editing freelance and singing gigs I’ve performed. I’ve attended 14 colleges and collected quite a variety of degrees, diplomas, and certifications.

My children were raised by babysitters and childcare providers the first 11 years of their lives, of which one full-time job was needed just to pay for their childcare alone. My own mother was a workaholic and my four siblings were 4, 7, and 15 years younger than I, so the babysitters and childcare providers were random strangers with a high turnover rate. Not a very consistent and secure upbringing for young children, to say the least. Nor was it safe. Some of the providers were decent. Most were not.

By the time I was 25 years old, my daughter 3, and my son 5 1/2, I was putting in 100 plus hours a week, 7 days a week. Even when I was home from work, I was not there with my children, because I was tripling up on college classes, doing my freelancing, writing novels and continuing to try to get my books published, in addition to cooking and cleaning and trying to keep my home spotless, as was instilled in me by my mother as well. I remember my son being so needy for my attention that he and I came up with a plan where I would set my alarm every hour, and when that alarm went off, I would then spend 20 minutes doing whatever he wanted to do to try to keep him happy. But still that hour of letting me work was really hard on him. I remember working on a recorded speech for my public speaking class, and it took me 8 hours of re-recording, because my daughter would keep climbing up on my lap in the midst of me recording my speech and I would have to start all over again.

I told them repeatedly throughout the years (and told myself) that what I was doing was absolutely necessary. I would cry how hard and how unfair it was to have been left in the position of being a single mom and the sole income earner, with hardly any family support. I would convince myself I didn’t do anything wrong. After all, I’d been engaged to be married when my son’s father walked out a month before our wedding, and though years later my daughter came as a surprise, I was with the guy that I was going to spend the rest of my life with … until he determined he didn’t want to be a family guy. I didn’t choose this life. It was the hand I’d been dealt, and I was trying to do my absolute best by it.

Just because I was a single parent, it shouldn’t mean that my children should be raised on the system and that they should be more disadvantaged and have less things than other children in two-income or two-person homes. That is what I told myself. I’d tell my children, “I just need a couple more years. That’s why I’m tripling up on college courses. Once I get my degree, I’ll be able to get a higher-paying job and then only have to work one job, and then once I get my PH.D, I can set up an office right from home and work for myself as a Psychologist, and then I’ll be home with you guys all the time and we’ll have all the time in the world together.”

Two years later, I had over $20,000 to put down on a house so my kids could have their own bedrooms and never have to live in an apartment again where the downstairs neighbor is cooking meth or the next door neighbor is screaming bloody murder while getting the crap beat out of her, or I’m being placed in unsavory situations just to try to keep my kids from being without a place to sleep. We finally had a home, safety, security…as long as I could keep paying the thousand-dollar mortgage every month for the next 30 years.


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I’d graduated with near perfect scores, and had applied for a joint JD/PHD program and a scholarship, and I’d gotten 100 on my Civil Service Exam to work for the state with start-out salary at $43,000 a year, insurance, 401k, the works. Things were looking really good. My kids were happy and liked their new home and bedrooms, and I even got a few weeks home with them while waiting for the State job to start, where training would last a couple months 8–4 Monday through Friday and weekends free.

I’d always worked weekends. Always worked holidays. By the time I started the State job, my scholarship for SU came through. I was devastated that I didn’t get into the JD program, even though I’d taken the LSAT twice to achieve higher scores than average, which is what I got. Just average. Guess I’d just have to accept being only a Psychologist and not a Lawyer too.

That first month was like a dream come true. Home at 6 every night to actually be able to have sit-down dinners with my children, Friday family-fun nights, tuck them into bed and read bedtime stories and say our prayers together, and then I’d still have a good 3 or 4 hours to do my writing and keep submitting my novels to publishers before bed.

The second month, all I wanted to do was cry, because of how exhausted I was. From waking up, getting my daughter to school, the hour commute there, being in training for 8 hours, the two hour commute to pick up my son, making homemade meals, cleaning the house, getting the kids bathed and to bed, and hardly even being able to keep my eyes open thereafter during the week, to the weekends of 14-hour days with very active young ones that were constantly bored and wanted me to entertain them, having to make three meals a day and having to clean it up three times a day and constantly do dishes. It was crazy. I was going crazy.

I looked forward to the end of training where I would go back to working second shift and weekends, and I looked forward to beginning my graduate classes during the day when my kids were in school. Once training ended, I underestimated the overwhelming amount of mandated overtime every other day and consecutively on weekends that I’d be needed to work. 16-hour shifts and working both second and third shift and not getting out until 8 in the morning.


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What was the point of my children having a home and their own bedrooms if they had to sleep at a sitter’s house, where I wouldn’t even be able to get back in time to get my daughter to school? She was tardy 46 times in that year, and I began getting notices from the school threatening to take action. I moved in a friend who had two kids and had just lost his job, where his kids could have room and board in exchange for him taking care of mine when I was at work and getting my daughter to school on time.

SU came at me with concerns that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload of full-time college, a full-time job, and the mandatory field hours. The state job I’d gotten was in the mental health field and I assumed it would count as field hours. How could working in a State Psychiatric Center not count for field hours in mental health? That’s when one shoe dropped. It would not count as field hours and I would have to choose between my state job or my graduate degree or forfeit my scholarship and only attend college on a part-time basis.

I had to choose what was paying for my mortgage. The other shoe dropped when I helped my roommate get another job and encouraged him to find a girlfriend and I wound up with a note and him moving out, leaving me abruptly without a babysitter. Then my entire foundation collapsed when I wound up with a court petition seeking for me to have my son on weekends, whereas previously his father had him while I was working my 32-hour weekends, and the court ruled in his favor. I had to choose between my son and my job.

I chose my son, resigned from my position with the state, and being unemployed, I advertised for tenants to rent our home. My children and I were back to sleeping on friend’s couches or staying with the tenants. I had to start at the bottom again, but I couldn’t find a job that would pay more than 10 an hour, regardless of my degree, which wouldn’t allow me to financially survive while paying childcare costs.

Work-from-home jobs were becoming increasingly in demand at that point, so I determined I would go for it. I got a job working for Sprint with $9 an hour start-out-pay that only required I work one day on the weekend and I would be home, so I wouldn’t have to pay a sitter. That still being poverty-level, I was back on the system again with Medicaid and Snap benefits and back on the waiting list for Hud housing.


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The tenants wound up being awful and not making their payments, so I had to go through the process of evicting them, and that thousand-dollar mortgage continued to loom over my head. We returned to the house after evicting the tenants, who wound up stealing a lot of the furnishings that came with renting the house, including my table and couches.

$9 an hour was hardly enough to cover the mortgage and living costs, so I was the fastest-ever employee to get a supervisor role. $9.50! That’s all I got. 50c more an hour, which wasn’t specified when I did everything to be able to get the promotion. I was back to working 7 days a week again, and when I wasn’t working the job, I was scouring and applying for freelance work for extra money.

I remember my children knocking at the door to my office, continuously, asking if I was done working, wanting me to spend time with them. I remember getting so frustrated with them and crying because the requirement of my work-from-home job was to ensure there was no background noise, and my children would start running around and playing, or more often than not, fighting, and I was so paranoid of losing my job, so my agitation and frustration would come out on my children.

“Do you want me to lose this job? Do you want to lose this house again and your bedrooms? Do you want to be back out on the streets?” I’d cry at them. Only 6 and 8 1/2 years old and I demanded quiet during the 8 hours I was on the phone with escalation calls and ticked off customers.

I worked the at-home job a year and two months. Four of my family members died in that time. I wasn’t able to see my Poppy in the hospital before he passed because of work. Nor was I able to see my Aunt when she went into surgery for her cancer, which she died of soon thereafter, because she was in the same hospital as my 26-year-old brother whom had shattered his skull and was comatose, and I only had limited time to be by his side before I had to return to work. That almost got me fired because I had to take off work to go see him.

It was my trainer that vouched and fought for me that saved my job. I was not there when my brother died, and a few months later, my 52-year-old Dad wound up hospitalized and placed in a medical coma. I was so afraid that he would die and I wouldn’t be there, but I was more afraid of losing my job, so when the Doctor assured me that he wouldn’t die that evening, I rushed home to prepare for work the following morning. 20 minutes home, I got the call. ‘Your Dad just passed.’


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When I logged into work next, and my first call came in, a customer yelling about their bill and calling me worthless after I’d done everything in my power to get him credited $120, which was more than the maximum credit we could provide, I stopped being able to breathe, my mind fogged over and went blank, and I could no longer remember how to do anything while the customer kept yelling and degrading me. It was the first time I’d ever just hung up the phone. A few days later, I made arrangements for my children while waiting for the pills I’d OD’d on to end my life, because I couldn’t even manage to keep a job and provide for my children. At that moment, I felt like I’d failed everyone.

You see, during that same period of time when I’d gotten my scholarship and the State job, I’d already been through a number of specialists and Doctors throughout the years, as I’d been getting increasingly sick. Right before starting my state job, I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness that required treatment in order to keep it from getting worse. I had finally just gotten to the point of being able to work only one job, like I had promised my children all those years before. I had no intention of letting anything get in my way or letting anything stop me.

I denied the Doctor’s diagnosis and told him I wanted a second opinion. I just never went and got one at that time, so I remained untreated, and took the risk of my amnesia and blackouts getting worse and lasting for longer periods of time.

I went on FMLA from the Sprint job, while waiting for my memories to return. Each passing day, I remembered less and less, until I no longer even remembered how to log in to the system. Per my superiors and customer ratings, I’d been pretty tech-savvy and knew how to do just about anything with every type of cell phone out there. I’d gotten a high-paying freelance job to write up a manual on the new Galaxy that had just been released.

Those memories never did return to me. To this day, when you see me poking around my smart phone, I’m like a kindergartener learning how to use a phone for the first time. I’d sit in my office for hours, for days, on end, thinking that at any moment, it’d come back to me. It had to. My children’s financial well-being depended on it.

I finally went for the second opinion and the diagnosis was the same, as it was for the third opinion, and for the federal Doctor that then placed me on total disability. I remember her looking at me and shaking her head and saying, “I don’t even know how you managed to work the jobs that you did.” I don’t know why she said that or what she meant by it, but it was the only part of the evaluation that I could even remember.

Thereafter, I began treatment, ambitious and determined as I always was. They said it could take 10–15 years of consistent treatment to get me stabilized and functioning well enough to be okay. I figured if I doubled or tripled up on my treatment and learned how to treat myself the remainder of the time, I could fast-forward the whole process and be done with it and go back to being completely normal and a contributing member to society once again. I didn’t want to be on disability, not to mention, it couldn’t even cover one month’s mortgage, let alone all my other bills.

That first year, I spent more time being bedridden than out of it, but it humbled me to the core. In a way, it was like seeing my children for the first time. My daughter 7 and my son almost 10. Where was my 3-year-old? When did she grow up? Where was I? I couldn’t remember birthdays or holidays. Couldn’t remember holding her as a baby. My kids would say, “Mom, do you remember when …?” and I was hearing it for the first time, because no, I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember anything. I didn’t remember my own childhood. Could hardly remember much prior to being 28. I couldn’t even remember when my daughter took her first step or spoke for the first time. My kids had been raised by sitters. My babies were gone and I’d missed out on SO much.

I do remember how much it bothered my son when I forgot his birth year, and how much it bothered both of my children when I would cook something and they’d say, “Mom, you know I hate red sauce. I can’t stand sour cream.”

I’d smile and say, “Since when?”

“Since always, Mom. I’ve told you a hundred times.”


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While being extremely ill and having no option of being able to go back to work at that time, I got to know my children. I learned about their lives. They shared their memories with me that I didn’t have. I learned what they liked and what they didn’t like. Their favorite books and movies. Who their friends were. I tried to make up for as many memories and moments as I could, but it was all bittersweet, because I was a worker. It’s all I’d ever known and the only life I could remember. I struggled with severe depression. I needed to work. I felt worthless, without purpose or meaning, useless, a waste of human existence.

I hated being on disability. I hated telling people I was on disability, where they’d look me up and down and say, “You look fine to me. I forget things too. It’s normal.” I’d be called lazy. Told that I just didn’t want to work and wanted to live off the system. My self-esteem, self-confidence, self-efficacy, were in the negatives. Christmas was closing in and I was behind on my mortgage while trying to get a home loan modification. I had nothing to offer my children.

My amazing son said to me, “Mom, all I want for Christmas is the first published copy of The Modules, and I want it dedicated to me so I can show all my friends and teachers at school.” Alongside that, I’d gotten free scrap wood to be able to build things. I worked tirelessly, but for Christmas, my son had the one and only hardcover copy of the combined versions of The Reform and The Modules, dedicated to him, and I’d built my daughter a desk with family and growing-up photos laid out all along the top of it. Of course, only a few months hadn’t been enough time for me to publish the books, so my son’s copy was a pre-release.

Humility forgotten, I then went on to write 15 novels the next couple years, publishing 10 of them, and checking off my bucket list all the things I’d wanted to accomplish. I was finally living my dream – at least, another one of my many. Personally, I was thriving. My children supported me every step of the way. My daughter attended every event I had. My son read every book I published. I’ll never forget – at least I hope I won’t – this one event in particular where I didn’t have enough time to be able to pick my son up from his father’s after school for him to be able to go. He came hauling butt, red-faced, a huge grin on his face, into this room filled with strangers, calling out across the room, “Mom! Mom, I made it!” He had called every family member he could to beg for a ride to get to my event and made it 20 minutes before it ended. All to support Mom.

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I wound up getting three months behind on my mortgage (Primarily because I was told I had to be three months behind to qualify for a home loan modification that would lower my mortgage), and then the bank just stopped accepting my payments, enabling them to foreclose on the property within a month if I didn’t pay them everything I owed. In addition, I was getting restless being at home all the time, and I wanted to go back to working in the outside world.

Disability allows a person to try to compensate their disability income with a little over a grand a month of supplemental income. I took the job that hired me the fastest, starting at the bottom once again, as a delivery driver this time. My daughter was 11, very emotionally mature, and independent, so I believed she was old enough to supervise herself without needing childcare and with me only working part time. Working part-time as a delivery driver with GPS to get me to-from where I needed to go if I couldn’t remember, alongside disability, should have been sufficient.

I should have been happy with that. Should have been okay with that. Should have remembered I was on disability for a reason. I didn’t remember. Within 6 months, I was working 6 days a week, training for management, and happily giving the middle finger to the Social Security Administration, telling them I was cured and healed and back to work full-time and I didn’t need them anymore.




 My responsible 11-year-old daughter fed herself, showered herself, put herself to bed, got herself up for school, went to school, completed her homework, kept her grades up. She’d stay up later than she should have, waiting for me to come home, just so she could hug me and say goodnight. There were times we didn’t see each other for 2–3 days. There were times when I was at work, hanging out with my coworkers, when I would lose track of time, forget that she was waiting for me, and I wouldn’t remember until I was speeding down the road and running through the door and throwing all my things down – just to collapse to the floor and bawl my eyes out when she’d already gone to bed because I was too late.

While at work, I would be asked to work every holiday and I couldn’t see why not. Of course I’d work the holiday. I don’t have anything else going on. Only once driving home would I remember that I had children, and I’d smack myself up the head and feel like the worst mother in the world for scheduling to work a holiday, so I’d hurriedly make arrangements to celebrate the holiday on my day off of work. I’d walk through the door and see dishes piled up, my house unkept, four loads of dirty laundry stacked high. I’d look in the mirror and not even recognize myself. Take off my work hat. How long had I been wearing the same uniform? When did I shower last? And it was a total blank. I couldn’t remember.

I could have been showering twice a day, not remembering that I already showered, or not showering for a week thinking I’d just showered. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d come home from work and check my email and see that I had a five-book contract with my publishing business. I’d check my calendar and find I had author events stacked up. A new release coming out. Promotions going on. I’d emailed the owner with a business proposition and had books coming in with a free-pizza coupon at the back of the book. I’d emailed the school superintendent with an order form for all these books with the free-pizza coupon to be provided to all the students in the school district where all proceeds would go to the school district for their fundraising needs. I remembered none of it.

Before I could even much figure anything out, it was my daughter’s 13th birthday. My son and I wrestled and his knee pressed on the wire of my bra while he was trying to hold me down, and the metal won out over the bone. I fractured one of my ribs. And for 3 days, I’d wake up, not remember, and go to work, and not understand why I was in so much pain. The third night, I was practically in tears and couldn’t finish my shift. I blamed myself for being a baby. The following day when I was due to work, we’d been dumped on with three feet of heavy snow. I couldn’t even lift the shovel. The pain was excruciating.

Just like those many years before, I stopped being able to breathe. My mind fogged over. All I could hear was shouting in my head over how worthless and useless I was. How it didn’t matter how much pain I was in or the circumstances, I needed to go to work. My kids’ financial well-being depended on it! I could feel everything fading away. All my memories. No, not again! Like a numb, emotionless robot, I picked up my phone and called my girlfriend manager whom had depended on me those years, while the owner had done nothing but screw me over every time he returned to the store, and I told her it was the end of the road.


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Those feelings of failure returned. For my children, I should have sucked it all up and just found a way to keep working. You don’t get paid if you don’t work. Broken bones, serious illnesses, hospitalizations, don’t matter. The bills don’t get paid if you don’t work. And those kids don’t get a home, a comfortable bed to sleep in, heat and electricity, or food to fill their stomachs, medical care and insurance, if those bills don’t get paid. It was another extremely tough year filled with illness, depression and self-loathing, but with it, my humility was returned to me once again.

My kids are now 17 and almost 15 years old. I imagine, I, like many parents, thought I would beat the odds and still be having fun game nights and slumber parties with my teens, instead of each of us cherishing our own space. I, like so many working people, thought I could somehow later make up for the lost time.

I was a workaholic. I am now a recovering workaholic. I was raised that work comes first above any and everything else, but not just any work. It had to be respectable work. A steady paycheck, so anything that did not bring in a steady paycheck was not respectable, including my writing.

Working from home, even if it did provide a steady paycheck, was not respectable. Medicaid or Snap benefits. Not respectable. Being disabled – a joke. (Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t work. You are completely capable of working a job that doesn’t require you to have to see anything -as an example). My daughter’s grandfather was diagnosed with cancer one year before his retirement. So affronted by the idea of being considered disabled or placed on disability before being ‘respectfully retired’ resulted in unnecessary hardship in addition to his cancer.

All I’d ever wanted was to be able to raise my own children, watch them grow, be there for every big and small thing in their lives. I resented every time the sitters would tell me about some priceless moment I missed out on. In the earlier years, I would have given anything to be home with them. I resented all the bosses and all the jobs that didn’t respect that I was a single parent. That would so frequently put me in the position of having to choose between my children or my job. I resented having to work one full-time job just to pay for childcare, and an additional job or two to still not even be able to make sufficient income to cover the bills. One paycheck was just to cover the gas money of the commute.

Years of savings would only account for another vehicle I would have to purchase to get back and forth from work. So, so, so many of these jobs would ask that you work 5–6 days a week without going over 32 hours to avoid offering health insurance. Not having a babysitter, not having a vehicle or transportation isn’t an excuse to not attend work. Everything I strove for was to get to a place where I could work for myself, make enough to provide my children the same type of life as those less disadvantaged, and be available for my children – while doing so in a ‘respectable fashion’ so as not to be judged or stereotyped.

Over time, it just became a way of life for me.


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I stay home now. I spend most of my days sitting at my kitchen table, staring at the wall, trying not to get caught up in any work or projects (key word is trying), so that the moment that one or the other of my teenagers come out of their room and take a break from their own things, I might be able to spend a little bit of time with them, know what’s going on in their lives, try to support and encourage them, even if all I get is 15 minutes in a day. It’s like Cat’s in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon. I have all the time to finally be there for them, but they rarely have time for me anymore.

The majority of the time I sit at my kitchen table, waiting to just have those few minutes to spend with my teenagers, I’m still being harassed for not working a ‘real’ job. Outside the house. Collecting a steady paycheck. Because that’s what ‘normal working people do’. Everything inside my being wants to go back out there and work and make something of myself and go further with my life. The only thing that keeps me staying at home and doing my work at the desk that is placed beside my kitchen table is wanting to make up to my children all the times I was never there because I was too busy working while they were being raised by three dozen other people and random strangers that were being paid to care for them.

I realized that there were a hundred other different choices I could have made. I could have easily gotten an at-home data entry job, or several of them, with my ability to type 120 words per minute. I could have been happy with selling my books and running my publishing business that allowed me to be at home with my children.

All those years, I convinced myself and my children that I couldn’t be available to them as a full-time mother until I achieved x, y, z. Now I know that it was all based on pride and me just trying to prove myself. It was me wanting to go after every dream I ever had personally, while also wanting to become something my parents would be proud of.

When it came to my children, it was complete selfishness. I always put my kids on the backburner in light of my own achievements and accomplishments, while justifying it all with being a single parent with no support while just trying to pay the bills. My kids could have run around with wild abandon and been happy if I’d just picked up that data entry job, or online support chat. But it was never good enough for me. I didn’t want to be downgraded to that. I was worth so much more than that, I thought.

I lived and accomplished every dream I ever had … at the expense of my children, and each and every outside job I ever had screwed me over, because I was constantly placed in the position of choosing between my job or myself and my children. Hence the 40 jobs.

I’m not the only one that has learned this lesson. That has neglected their home, partnerships, friends, children, for the sake of a job and thinking they’re going somewhere in life and have a purpose, and then their children grow to resent them, and they gradually lose all their friends, and they lose their partner or have no chance at finding one, because the job controls their life, and they endure the death of a multitude of family members that they can’t be there for less they risk losing their job. Doesn’t matter if it’s working for McDonalds or being a CEO of a company, they expect you to sign over your soul.


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If I had been a less prideful and selfish person caught up in everything I’d been raised to believe, I would have stayed at home with my children. I would have held them as much as possible. I would have been there for their every accomplishment. I would have praised and encouraged them to be the best they could be. I would have been there for every award they got. Instead of resenting my daughter for crawling up in my lap or resenting my son for all the attention he wanted, I would have held my daughter and played with my son without a 20-minute time limit.

If I knew what I know now, I would have accepted being on Hud housing and being on the system if it meant me being there to see my children grow up. If I knew what I know now, I would have listened to the doctors, and taken the time I had to make the most memorable experiences with my children. Something that they’d at least be able to remember even if I wouldn’t/won’t remember myself.

There’s nothing more humbling than recognizing that you missed out on the greatest parts of your life, and neglected all those extraordinary pieces, for a boss that never gave a care about your life, your home, your family, your situation, and only ever cared about you doing as you were told and being available and on call for every moment that they needed you. Their gain was money. Your sacrifice was partnership and family. But they wouldn’t blink an eye when it comes to cutting your hours or firing you if someone else comes along with more flexibility and availability and accepts lower wages. You’re easily replaceable. Family is not.

You can never make up for all the lost years spent catering to a system with promises of life, liberty, and happiness never kept, while striving towards a type of security that is nothing more than an illusion when all can be lost in a moment’s breath. At the end, it is all but the memories we hold dearly and those moments we cherish that make it worth it.

Nothing I ever did was worth the years I lost with my own children.

I only hope I can help and inspire others from making the same mistakes.


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Almondie Shampine

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After 17 years as a single working mum, Almondie Shampine now stays home in NY with her teens and their two animals and works a variety of jobs from her very own kitchen, from authoring her own novels, to freelance editing/writing, and operating FreeBird Express Publishing to assist other authors with their publication needs.

For young adults, she’s written The Modules Series beginning with The Reform, and The Schoolhouse Kids. For adults, she’s dabbled in Psychological thrillers and Inspirational works, such as Otherland, Glimpses, and Blind Fate. She also writes non-fiction articles on Quora relative to her work in the industry and other expert knowledge she’s picked up on throughout the course of life, such as mental health and parenting.

You can visit Almondie’s website at www.freebirdexpresspublishing.com or follow her blog at www.freebirdexpresspublishing.blogspot.com

If your on Quora, you’ll find her profile here https://www.quora.com/profile/Almondie-Shampine

And you’ll find her books for sale on Amazon HERE (Available in both paperback and e-book).

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My Mum Life Story: Part 3 – Depression and Divorce

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This is probably going to be the most open and honest post I’ve ever written (so far) and probably the darkest. It covers a decade of my life that I practically pushed under the rug in order to move past. A lot of the details are foggy but the feelings and emotions and life lessons are all too vivid.

If you haven’t already read Part 1 & Part 2 of My Mum Life Story, feel free to do so now or simply read on.

This page contains affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. Affiliate links help me keep this site running. Thanks

I Had No Clue

I remember sitting on the cold plastic chair in the hospital waiting room, resting the clipboard on my ever increasing baby bump, filling in the form about my mental health. I very vividly remember thinking “I’m not going to get postnatal depression, I’m going to be fine”. Now I’m not the most optimistic person in the world so it still shocks me when I remember this.

I have struggled with my emotions most of my life, feeling every little thing deeply and constantly criticizing myself when I don’t reach the impossibly high standards I set for myself. Add to this the fact that I’d had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was 7 and had been unable to work full-time hours because of it. Did I not realise that Motherhood was more than a full-time job? Had I not read about the effects of severe sleep deprivation? One would think I didn’t realise I was having twins, yes that’s right, not just one life-consuming addition to the family, but 2.

This must have been during the second trimester, that magical 3 month period where “the glow” is at its peak. The morning sickness had finally subsided, my energy levels had increased somewhat and my mood was elevated with joyful expectancy and a naive perception that the rest of the pregnancy would be just as enjoyable.

Whilst I was the type of person to make plans ahead of time in order to get organised and prepared, I was also the type of person who lived in the “now”, thinking on and dealing with the present and all the emotions and feelings that came with that. So because I felt good in that moment, I couldn’t perceive that things could change, and so dramatically, nor that my experiences throughout the coming years would redefine the type of person I was.

Postnatal Depression

As you can imagine, incubating 2 babies was an exhausting task. My energy levels plummeted pretty fast in the 3rd trimester and by the time they were finally born at 37.5 weeks, I was completely over it.

The euphoria of having 2 gorgeous little people, that were part of me, my flesh and blood, with my brown hair and brown eyes, was blissful to say the least. I think my favourite times in life have been those precious few days I’ve spent in hospital getting to know my babies (spoiler alert, I have 5 now) but after coming home, reality hit harder than a freight train.

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I struggled through the days, barely keeping my eyelids open and the nights were beyond horrible. For the first two weeks, while my husband was off work, he would help by changing one boy while I fed the other, but once he went back to work, I was on my own because “he” needed his sleep and apparently I did not. I would rush one baby through his feed while the other one was crying in his cot, but for some reason they both had a habit of falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed and I could not wake them. So I would put the first one down and grab the second one, change him and feed him.

Now, the boys were waking every hour and a half because if one woke up the other would also wake, plus since they were falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed, they would be hungry again not long after. I had had a c-section because twin 1 was breech, so getting up several times of a night was painful and difficult to say the least. After 6 weeks of 5-6 feeds every night, I was beyond tired and was feeling very defeated. The health nurse tried to teach me the twin feed, with one under each arm like little footballs, but every time I put one baby on, the other would slide off. She told me I had to keep them awake by tickling them or talking to them, but it never worked and the dynamics of trying to get two babies onto my lap (without tearing my c-section scar) when no one was around, was definitely a lesson in futility.

I became so overwhelmed and felt so completely useless that when someone suggested I try formula, I abandoned all dreams of exclusively breastfeeding (which I’d assumed would be the only way I could feel like a ‘real’ mum) and switched to bottles.

This made life a little easier, I had two bottles and two hands, life was sweet. They would drink the whole bottle and fall asleep for a few hours at least. Unfortunately since bottles aren’t warm on demand like booby milk, I would have to calmly handle the crying as I ran to the kitchen to heat the bottles, and as I changed two nappies and often outfits if they had leaked through. Calmly handling it, worked for a few weeks but as time dragged on my energy supply went beyond rock bottom and patience was something I could no longer find, no matter how hard I tried.

When they napped during the day, I was finding myself just enjoying the quiet and the alone time instead of catching up on sleep like I should have been, so by the time the boys were 4 months of age, I was completely exhausted and the strength it took to stay awake during the day was like trying to walk up hill on the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with good sleepers and every technique I tried for getting them to sleep through the night either didn’t work or required more commitment than I had the strength for (It would be at least 2 years before they would sleep through the night, and by this time I would be pregnant again and in my 3rd trimester).

I was so completely shattered that even thinking about facing another sleepless night made me cry, in fact everything made me cry. There was no energy left in my body, I felt weak, drained, dizzy, lethargic, disconnected and miserable. Little did I know at the time but apparently having children makes Chronic Fatigue worse, and I’d just had twins. My body was protesting, my mind was protesting and my emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t see any hope of things changing (because I was that ‘live in the now’ person) and I wasn’t looking forward to anything at all. The doctor diagnosed me with Postnatal Depression, assuring me that it would get better eventually. Little did he or I know that it was just the beginning of 8 long years of mental torture.

Depression is such a difficult thing to talk about. When your in the midst of it, it consumes you completely, the thoughts and feelings associated control your entire being, sucking the life out of you and causing you to feel like a stranger in your own skin, but when your well again (like now) it’s hard to remember what was so bad, why you let yourself get to that point and how you could have hated yourself so much. I get small reminders of it sometimes when my youngest are sick and not sleeping or when circumstances get beyond my coping abilities but something changed later in my life that brought me to a much better place. (I will talk about this in Part 4)

This is where it gets real, and deep and dark. It’s hard for me to talk about what my mind went through back then but I think it’s important to share the raw realities of depression, so others can understand they are not alone, that there are people who get it, who have been there and come out the other side, stronger and happier.

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Pressure Rising

Not quite sure where to start with this, there’s so much that contributes to depression, so many thoughts and feelings and circumstances. I was overwhelmed to say the least at having two babies at once and even though I had a lot of help from my mother, I felt alone in it when it came to my relationship with my husband. I felt he was unavailable physically and emotionally and I was left to try and deal with the mental load alone. I always managed to find a smile when the camera came out but underneath it all I was dying inside.

When the boys were just 17 months old, I fell pregnant again. We were surprised but excited, thinking how nice it would be to have a little girl. I was incredibly nervous as I was struggling to deal with the first two let alone another one and I was terrified at our first ultrasound that we’d discover a second set of twins. I was shamefully relieved to see just one little peanut on the ultrasound screen! Out of 5 children this would be my one and only little girl.

Taking care of twins whilst pregnant was difficult to say the least, as the Chronic Fatigue worsened again and I suffered a lot of pain in the last trimester. Thank God I had my Mother there to support me, in fact we were living in the same house with them at the time as we were building a house together. My parents were a great source of support, but the dynamics of two mums in the house caused tension every now and then and added to the stress and anxiety that I was feeling.

The doctor had put me on anti-depressants that I would later discover were actually causing more depression and prolonging my symptoms rather than helping them. Plus my doctor failed to inform me that they would cause mild withdrawals in my newborn which sent me into a whirlwind of Mum Guilt that took months to get over.

The birth of my daughter was an exhausting one. I decided to try a natural birth and was in labour for at least 15 hours and had 3 epidurals which didn’t work. I ended up losing a lot of blood and after the umbilical cord had been around her neck, my daughter was not breathing when she was born. It took them working on her with the oxygen mask for what seemed like hours (in reality it was more like a couple of minutes) before she started crying, and I can tell you there was no greater sound.

After being awake all night in labour with an hour of pushing, 3 failed epidurals, 3 tares, a 2 litre blood loss and a very stressful birth, I had to fight immensely hard to keep my eyes open so I could hold my baby and give her her first feed. I didn’t get to sleep until that night and then I was awake every 20 minutes because of the withdrawals that made her want to suckle constantly.

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A difficult birth became a difficult recovery which would lead to two rounds of corrective surgery in the coming years. My daughter suffered reflux and feeding became a struggle that would force me to put her on formula at 3 months of age. I felt like I’d failed her somehow even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. I believed that breast feeding was best for my baby and wanted to continue it for at least a year this time, so there was a great deal of disappointment in that.

So with 3 children under the age of 3, I pushed through the extreme fatigue that came from none of my children being good sleepers (my boys gave up naps 2 months before my daughter was born) and the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that drained me of all energy and joy.

My Darkest Days

It wasn’t all bad, there were many happy moments. Watching my children play with each other and grow and learn was an amazing privilege that kept me going. It gave me a reason to keep getting up every morning despite how intensely difficult it was. They were my life, my breath, my very purpose. God had blessed me with their care and I’ve never felt any greater love on earth than that of my love for my children, but with that great blessing, came great responsibility and I felt the pressure like a rock under thousands of feet under the surface of the earth. I didn’t want to let anyone down but felt like that’s all I did.

I put my children first in every way possible, I came last in my own mind and felt it was selfish to think about my own needs. It was an enormous effort to get out of bed every day, but I did, because my kids relied on me. I built up this idea in my mind of the perfect mum and it looked nothing like me. I did the best I could every minute of the day but couldn’t reach this impossible standard I had set for myself, so mum guilt, frustration, anxiety and depression became my best friends. We spent every moment of the day together, we became inseparable for 8 long years.

I was tormented day and night with despair and hopelessness, believing it would never get any better, hating God for what I believed was his plan, to put me through hell, give me more than I could cope with, give me a condition that made me exhausted and unable to gain any energy, allow me to marry a man I had nothing in common with and who didn’t seem to love or understand me. The thoughts that tortured my mind every minute of the day, wouldn’t allow me to enjoy anything. I couldn’t feel happy, ever. Sometimes I just wanted to die. I hated myself for not being who I wanted to be, who I believed I should be and wished God would take me away from the world and the life that I really thought I hated.

I would get so frustrated with my inability to cope with the chaos of 3 little kids. I would try so hard to stay calm but would inevitably blow up, then hate myself for it and end up crying in the corner of my room, telling myself I was pathetic and useless and didn’t deserve children or even to live really. I was unhappy in so many ways. Unhappy with myself, unhappy with my marriage, unhappy with life at home, unhappy with not pursuing a career first before starting a family, unhappy with my relationship with God and unhappy that I was so unhappy. I was angry, so angry with my life and with myself because I wasn’t finding peace and happiness in all the blessings I had. My world just got darker and darker.

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I tried so many medications, some made me feel suicidal, some made me feel jittery and weak and others made me feel completely numb, I could neither laugh nor cry, I hated this the most, not feeling at all. Eventually someone told me about a doctor in a private practice who was trialing an epilepsy drug with patients with depression so I decided to go and see her. She put me on the medication and it wasn’t long before I was feeling better. The antidepressants were not good for me and I truly don’t believe they are good for anyone. I believe they make depression symptoms worse, not better. This medication was so much better and helped me to be able see the bigger picture.

Whilst I improved, I wasn’t cured (not yet anyway). I could see things in a better light and could see where my problems were, but there were so many areas in my life that needed changing, one of them was my marriage. I tried to work on making my marriage better but felt after a while I was the only one trying to make it work. After a difficult recovery from a tonsillectomy my health declined again and I found I was getting a lot of pain in my joints and muscles. I developed a neuropathy that made my nerves hypersensitive and my scalp felt like it was alive with creepy crawly things. It was the most irritating, frustrating and painful thing I could imagine. Of course this didn’t help my outlook on life and depression began to steal my resolve once again.

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Divorce

In the midst of this I started doing some counselling and came to a decision about my marriage. I wanted out. I found myself hating him. We never talked anymore. I never felt we had any kind of friendship and I didn’t trust him. What he told me was not what he told others and he truly didn’t seem to care about what I was going through. Whether this was true or not, I don’t really know but I know that I felt like I’d made a mistake getting married so young and I was convinced that our relationship was the reason I was so depressed.

I had hated our marriage for a very long time but was taught growing up through the church that God hated divorce and I was under the wrong assumption that if I got divorced, I would go to hell. I tried for so long to make it work and to hang in there for the kids sake, but after hearing about other Christian’s who’d gotten divorced and moved on and reading some Christian literature about God’s grace after divorce, I decided it was what was best for me and (in my mind) him as well. It wasn’t until years later that I would discover the real reason our marriage failed (I will discuss this further in part 4).

So I moved out with the kids, into my parents house (the house we had all built together, before we asked to be bought out) with my husband telling me he would fight for our marriage (he never did) and I began a year of mentally bashing myself for failing to keep my family together. I thought I would be happier with a fresh start. I thought healing would begin immediately but I soon discovered that God was putting me through a gruelling process of refinement that would feel like punishment at the time but produce a shining diamond in the end.

It wasn’t long after we separated that my ex husband found someone else to date and I felt like I was right all along and I had meant nothing to him. I didn’t want him back but my feelings of worthlessness increased to the point that I began comfort eating. My weight increased as did the pain in my joints and muscles, I was always tired, always sad, always finding it difficult to keep up with the kids and wondering what the point to life was. Had God abandoned me? Did he hate me? Was he punishing me for my divorce and my inability to be the good person I wanted to be? Or was it me and my self hatred that was causing me to be in so much pain mentally and physically?

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Declining Health

I was referred to a neurologist and a rheumatologist and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Whilst it was a relief to finally know what was going on in my body, it was devastating to know that I had a condition there was no known cure for. They put me on very strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories but I found that this only increased my weight and made me feel even sleepier. I was now trapped in this cycle of treating the symptoms only to make the problem worse. I hated it and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I never wanted my life to end more than I did at that time in my life. I stopped talking to God completely for a while because I was tired of asking him “why?” and not getting an answer. I was sure he’d stopped listening to me anyway and I felt like I probably deserved it.

Looking back now it was only the grace of God that got me through and kept me from turning to destructive habits and substances like so many people with depression can get caught up in. God was my rock, my foundation that kept me from self-destruction. Only my faith kept me alive and present so that my problems didn’t become my children’s problems.

It was whilst I was in the midst of the total despair and complete self loathing, that God brought along a friend who would introduce me onto the path that would eventually bring me back to him and allow him to transform me from a lowly, ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, flying free from oppression and darkness, taking me to a happier, lighter place of self discovery and purpose.

That, however is a story for Part 4.

There is so much more to my story than I can cover in just 4 parts but I will share bits and pieces throughout other articles in time. Some things have to stay private for a while, as for many reasons, now is not the time to share it, but one day it will all become part of my Life Story.

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If you’d like to share your story with us and all our amazing readers, please email us at mumlifestories@gmail.com

I believe everyone has a story to tell and whether you believe it or not, your story could be an inspiration to many. Many who are on the verge of giving up completely or giving in to all the things that will lead them onto a path of self destruction. I know now there is hope, that nothing is ever pointless or useless. There is a purpose and a plan and a reason for every season under heaven.

Feel free to ask questions or leave comments in the comment section below. I love to hear from my readers.

 


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How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

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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MUM LIFE BURNOUT: 10 ways to cool down

Mum Life Burnout PT 2 cover

So here’s a story most mums can relate to. I told my 3 year old and 20 month old the other day that I was just going to the toilet for 2 minutes and would be right back. Now I always leave the door open a crack so I can hear what’s going on in the other room, in case I need to bolt out to rescue a toddler under attack (see ‘Big Brother Syndrome’) or one that is under a ‘toddler attack’. Literally 10 seconds after I sat down to do what I needed to do, my adorably chubby toddler, barged his way in and presented me with a book which I was supposed to read to him. I was about to lose it (I mean can I not get just 2 minutes of privacy to do my business?) but he smiled at me with his precious little dimples and puppy dog brown eyes and I couldn’t help but laugh.

If he’d come in and started unravelling the toilet paper or tried to run off with the toilet brush again, it may have been a different story. My Mum Life Rage may have burst out of it’s metaphorical straight jacket and left a trail of smouldering debri in its wake, because it wasn’t the first frustrating event of the day, or week for that matter. I had been scooping him off the dining table at least 20 times throughout the morning, not to mention giving him numerous ‘time out’s’ inside the house every 2 minutes for continually throwing the sand pit toys into unreachable places. He’d been hitting his brother with wooden spoons stolen from the dish rack and turning his toys into projectiles, bashing both his brother and I in the head more times than I could count. To say I was at the end of my tether would be a gross understatement.

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The Effects of Mum Life Burnout

If you read the previous article ‘MUM LIFE BURNOUT: 5 Ways It Can Effect You & Your Family‘ then you’ll understand why my patience was thin and why I felt a second article was necessary. In the last article I talked about 5 effects Mum Life Burnout can have on you and your family, here’s the very condensed version of the list:

  1. Your more likely to get sick: If your so busy that getting a chance to rest is as rare as finding a matching pair of toddler socks in the clean washing, you could find that it takes much longer to recover and you could be more susceptible to recurrent illness.
  2. You can become less organised and productive: You just go with the flow, going into autopilot or survival mode and not putting effort into sticking to a routine or schedule.
  3. Your more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety &/or depression: Being overworked, under pressure and suffering Mum Life Fatigue can lead to all sorts of physical symptoms, from racing heart beat to fainting, palpitations, nausea, migraines, stomach problems, etc. A trip to the emergency department could be your Friday night out!
  4. Your at a higher risk of family separation and divorce: The unintentional pressures from family members, especially spouses can add to the burnout and if not dealt with, it can sometimes feel like the only option is to ‘get out’ of the relationships.
  5. You can lose confidence in yourself and your ability to be a good mum: When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone we will inevitably fail and this can lead us to feelings of discouragement and unworthiness.

So the effects of Mum Life Burnout are not at all insignificant and require some major changes to bring us back to a balanced, positive place.

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Why are we getting burned out?

I saw this video on CNN that talks about “the good old days” of parenting, when things were a lot simpler and we didn’t have the internet with it’s plethora of information about what parents “should do” and it really resonated with me. As I talked about in my article “Mum Life Guilt: A Breakdown (Literally)” there are far too many opinions out there about what a good parent looks like, not to mention all the perfect pictures on instagram and Facebook that give us a very false ideal to live up to. Our heads are filled with constant noise telling us that pretty much everything we are doing is not good enough.

On top of all that there is constant pressure on women these days to ‘have it all’, the perfect marriage, the perfect family and the perfect career. You need to be a professional housekeeper, nanny, chef, taxi driver, teacher, nurse, accountant, social media expert and the financial provider all rolled into one and do it without dropping a single ball.

As mums we are expected (including by ourselves) to be physically, mentally and emotionally available for every member of our family 24/7. The more family members you have the more time and commitment is required, and every member has different needs dependent on their personality, their emotional and mental development stage, their physical and mental capacities, etc etc. The role of Mum is so complicated and diverse that it’s like a thousand jobs rolled into one. Even the toughest, strongest Mums have moments where it all just becomes too much.

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10 Steps to cool down and get your sanity back.

So how does one combat Mum Life Burnout and regain composure? I can honestly say that I haven’t as yet worked out the perfect solution, but I know without a doubt that both “getting enough sleep” and finding “me time” are 2 things that are vitally important to our ability to cope with pressure and maintain a certain level of “self identity” that we can often lose as mums. As mums we feel it’s our job to take care of everyone, but who takes care of us? We need to take care of “us” if we are to be the best “us” that we can be and therefore have confidence in ourselves to “teach” our kids how to be the best “them” that they can be. 

After researching all over the internet (yes, that place that both creates and solves our problems) and digging into the deep dark recess’ of my brain where past conversations with my sisters in motherhood are kept till such times as they are needed in a blog article, I have come up with 10 tips on how to reduce the risk of Mum Life Burnout. 

  1. Get some sleep – It is oh so tempting to fall into that trap of staying up extremely late to get some time alone, to switch off the noise of the day and drown yourself in something you find either so mind-numbing its euphoric or so exciting it returns life to your zombified brain, but lack of sleep can cause all kinds of problems, from irritability, memory loss, confusion, brain fog, anxiety and depression to physical symptoms like impaired immune system, increased heart rate, tremors, aches, dizziness, migraines and weight gain. Getting enough sleep at night could not only save your sanity but increase the quality of your life.
  2.  Just say No – Come on practice it with me “No”, “Noooooo”, “N.O.” see how it just      rolls off the tongue. If your schedule is already overloaded and you know without a doubt you couldn’t possible add another thing to it, DON’T! I know this is easier said than done, most of us like to be able to help our family, friends and associates whenever possible but sometimes it’s just not possible. If saying “yes” is going to lead you to burnout then your not only going to be less helpful to that person but you’ll be under so much pressure that you’ll dramatically reduce the quality of your help in all the other things you’ve said “yes” to. 
  3. Take some ‘me time’ – Even though a month long European vacay would only just touch the sides of the empty glass that is your personal life, I’m sure most of us would do anything to get one. It’s not exactly realistic though when you have an entire tribe of villagers reliant on you as chief life planner, so a little bit of time here and a little bit of time there, is about all you can hope for. Make a regular time each day or week that is “your time”, time when you can do whatever you want uninterrupted. Whether its nap, read, write, make some pottery, go for a run, take salsa dancing lessons or plot world domination, you need this time to feel like a human being, a human being that is just as important as all the other human beings in your life.
  4. Delegate – I was going to call this one ‘get help’ but come on, lets face it, if there were more hours in the day, we could do it all because we are all capable, strong women who can do anything we set our minds to, but there are way too many responsibilities and not nearly enough time, so lets delegate some of that work to other family members (like our partner or older kids) or even pay someone (if you can afford to) to do those things that have been sitting at the bottom of the to-do-list for far too long. I recently noticed the pavers in our back yard had gone mouldy from a lot of rain and I thought to myself, I could go get a cheap pressure cleaner and spend 2 hours doing it myself or I could use the same money to pay someone else to do it. Once upon a time it would have been a no-brainer, I would have done it myself, but in an effort to reduce my Mum Life Burnout, I hired someone instead and it felt amazing to have the pressure taken off my shoulders to get it done.
  5. Spend time with your partner – If your blessed enough to have a partner, schedule regular date nights where you can spend time with just the two of you, behaving like adults (or not) for a while, just kicking back with your bestie, not talking about work or kids or how many bills you have due in the next week or so. Make each other a priority because that relationship is the most important one you have. If your family is to function well, you need to be working well with your team mate, the stronger your relationship is, the better you’ll be able to work together to lesson the load on you. 
  6. Be creative – Now you might say to me “I do not have a creative bone in my body” but creativity is simply something that comes out of you as an expression of who you are, so whether you like doing Maths equations, re-organising the linen cupboard, gardening, baking delicious sugary treats, sewing, writing, taking photographs, revamping old furniture or flipping houses, you have some creativity inside you that is bursting to get out. Whatever makes you feel alive and gives you satisfaction is what you need to do every now and then to express yourself and keep that ‘identity’ alive.
  7. Stop comparing yourself to others – No two people are the same and no two families are the same. Everyone is different and every family has different needs. No one knows your family like you do. Stop comparing yourself to the perfect photoshopped family on Instagram, you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and chances are things are far less than perfect. You are your children’s entire world and they love you unconditionally, to them you are already perfect and they wouldn’t trade you for any one else in the world, so be the best you, you can be. Go technology free for a day and see what a difference it can make to your perspective and how much you enjoy your day without the distraction.
  8. Drop the guiltMum Guilt is all too real. We all suffer from this monster from time to time and it can be at times a great motivator to make positive change but at other times our greatest enemy, taking us down and out when we least expect it. We are never going to be able to make everyone happy, life happens and we deal with it the best we can. Things don’t always work out the way we want them to or believe they should but feeling guilty about it doesn’t help us to move on. Use the guilt as a reality check, if you can do something to change the situation, do it but if you can’t, let it go and move forward. 
  9. Don’t overschedule your families life – It’s great for your kids to have activities outside of school to develop their fitness or talents and giftings but if you have them doing activities every day and all through the weekends, then your going to be running around like a lunatic all week long with no opportunity for rest or for being spontaneous. Believe it or not, your kids will have more opportunities as adults to try all the things they didn’t get to try as kids. They won’t be deprived if they don’t have a wall of trophies by aged 12 or know how to speak 3 languages by high school graduation and chances are less activities and more rest or spontaneity will help your kids feel happier and more like, well ‘kids’.
  10. Be kind to yourself – Lastly, remember how far you’ve come. Take a mental note of how much you’ve accomplished and give yourself credit for being the amazing woman that you are. Your kids are alive, they are fed, they are dressed and they have a roof over their head, everything else is a bonus! Look after yourself and love yourself so you can better look after and love your family.



You can only do so much, so be proud of what you have done, enjoy your family, enjoy your time alone, do what you can and delegate the rest, don’t worry about the little things, don’t compare yourself to others or take too much of what other people say to heart. Be the best version of yourself that you are capable of being and your family will thrive! 

More

If you like to read there are some insightful books out there with helpful advice on getting “yourself” back.

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One of them is ‘Motherhood Is a B#tch: 10 Steps to Regaining Your Sanity, Sexiness, and Inner Diva‘ by the very successful business woman and Writer/Producer Lyss Stern. 

Description (from Amazon):  This guide tells it like it is and explains how women lose their sense of self once they have children and why it’s so important to reclaim it. Motherhood is a B#tch! tackles the toughest issues facing moms today and empowers you to regain your once fierce and fab self. In the end, you’ll be happier, healthier, and hotter than ever.

 

 

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How To Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving Almost Every Minute. Written by KJ Dell’Antonia (former lead editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog).

Description (Amazon): Drawing from the latest research and interviews with families, KJ discovers that it’s possible to do more by doing less, and make our family life a refuge and pleasure, rather than another stress point in a hectic day. She focuses on nine common problem spots that cause parents the most grief, explores why they are hard, and offers small, doable, sometimes surprising steps you can take to make them better.

 

Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in The Process. Written by Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a Mum of 3 herself, this book is described as the ultimate must-read handbook for the modern mother: a practical, and positive tool to help free women from the debilitating notion of being the “perfect mom,” filled with funny and all too relatable true-life stories and realistic suggestions to stop the burnout cycle, and protect our kids from the damage burnout can cause.

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DANCING SHADOWS: A Short Story

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Well it’s been a while since I’ve shared one of my own stories and I am hoping I’ve chosen the right one to publish. I wrote this short story last year for a competition with Odyssey house Victoria. The theme was ‘reflection’ and it had to mention alcohol or drugs in some way. Unfortunately I didn’t win, there were over 700 quality entries and this was only my 4 or 5th competition. I’ve edited it a little and feel it’s better now, but I’ll let you be the judge. Feel free to leave comments and helpful feedback in the comments below the post.

It’s a sad one, so have some tissues on the ready! Please be aware that there’s mention of the loss of a child so if this is a trigger for you, perhaps another story would be better 🙂


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Dancing Shadows

She stared fixedly at the beige jacquard wallpaper that clothed the far wall of her room. The subtlest of smile’s tugged at the faintly wrinkled corners of her mouth as she observed the sunlight dancing with the shadows of the tree branches in an exuberant waltz. She shut her eyes, listening to the sleepy rustling of leaves as the tall Eucalyptus trees swayed in the breeze just outside the French doors leading to the patio. If she relied on her senses of sight and hearing alone, she would imagine herself to be in a beautiful, magical place, but perception and reality danced in her mind to a more sombre tune than that of the light and shadows on her wall.

She thought about the relationship between the two contrasting elements. How completely different they were, opposite in fact. Neither could exist in the same space as the other, yet neither one could exist without the other. It occurred to her how similar this was to the overwhelming emotions that were happiness and sorrow. Did not the two consistently fail to co-exist in one’s heart and soul and was one not undefined without the other?

The drugs the nurses in their clinically white scrubs coerced her to consume every morning did little to change her perspective. The thoughts that haunted her mind before she arrived, were still alive and thriving, however the fierce emotions that kept company with them and screamed at her night and day, were now nothing more than a whisper and she often felt she was viewing her life from a distant point, as though outside of herself. She remembered happiness and sorrow like the loss of controlling relatives, with vague nostalgia but no real mournfulness to speak of.

Elaine, so adrift in her thoughts, hadn’t noticed the arrival of the young man sitting adjacent from her in the arm chair reserved for visitors. He sat patiently, his soft un-calloused hands with fingers intertwined, resting in his lap. He smiled widely at Elaine’s sudden perception of his presence, her blue eyes beaming with jubilation, furrowing at the corners as she returned the sentiment.

“Thomas” she declared, her heart warming at the sight of him “you snuck up on me again.” She giggled at his sneakiness, remembering what a playful child he’d been. His loving smile consumed his entire face, forcing his Emerald green eyes to close half-way. Elaine noticed he had matured since the last time he came. He had grown even more handsome and muscular. His broad shoulders sprung up and down as he chuckled at her bewilderment to see him and the apparent delight it gave her.

“Your always so far away, it’s not hard to come in unnoticed” he proclaimed leaning forward to impart an affectionate kiss on her wrinkled cheek. Falling back into the armchair, he swept aside the stray dark portion of hair that fell heavily in front of his eyes. He stared at her for a moment as though analysing her thoughts. He seemed reluctant to speak which Elaine found unnerving as he was generally the one person who spoke to her without reservation. “How are you?” He finally questioned her, concern forcing a wrinkle between his brows.

“The same as always Thomas, why do you ask?” her smile waned to an apprehensive frown and her heart quickened slightly. Why was he being so sober? It was unlike him. Their visits had always been full of laughter and lightness like a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day. No matter how much the drugs numbed her feelings, she could always find a glimmer of hope and joy in his company. Today seemed divergent though.

“Did you talk to the doctors this week?” he asked nervously, searching Elaine’s face for signs of surrender. He began rapidly tapping the arm of the chair with his right index finger. Elaine recognised the fear in his eyes and immediately desired to eliminate the burden from him, to encourage him that all was well.

“Yes, I did. It was time to at least answer some of their questions and let them know what was what” she answered steadfastly.

“They don’t want me to visit you anymore, do they?” He’d never been one to waste time with subtlety and today was no different. His directness was usually for Elaine’s benefit, to draw her out of her shell, but today it was evidence of his own apprehension.

“No, they don’t” she began sympathetically “but I told them they could keep their opinions to themselves as I have no intention of asking you to cease visitation. Your company is the only thing that keeps me going. I could not bear it if you went away.”

He relaxed, alleviation relighting the joy on his expressive face “I’m so glad you said that, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t come anymore, I’d be lost” his tone turned sorrowful and concern returned to his young face as he looked at Elaine, pleading to her with his eyes “I’d be all alone. You would never leave me alone would you, not ever again?” a single tear dropped from his lower eyelid and rushed down his pale cheek, resting motionless at the precipice of his jawline.

Elaine felt anguish return to her broken soul and she desperately needed him to know that nothing and no one could ever convince her to abandon him. “No, never” she passionately declared. She noticed that the light in the room was fading, the dancing shadows disappeared as clouds began to gather outside, camouflaging the sun. Footsteps and muffled voices could be heard at the end of the hallway, growing in volume as they approached the door to her room. Thomas slipped out the French doors just as the knob began to turn on the bedroom door and the nurse on duty entered, closely followed by Elaine’s 42-year old daughter, Ashley.

Ashley thanked the nurse who smiled in acknowledgement and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Ashley kissed her mother on the cheek, squeezing her arm affectionately and pulling closer the armchair Thomas had been sitting in moments before. Elaine noticed Ashley’s whiff of perfume was missing the usual underlying hint of whiskey.

“Hello Mother” her tone reflected despair at her mother’s unchanged disposition. “How are you today?”

“Fine dear”

“Has it been a good day?”

“Yes, Thomas came to visit so it can’t be bad, can it love?” She smiled knowingly at her daughter.

“No, I guess not.” Ashley replied matter of factly, rubbing her temple with her forefinger. Did you see the Doctors this week?”

“Yes dear, I spoke to them just like you asked.” She smiled and patted Ashley’s hand just like she used to do when Ashley was little and needed encouragement.

“Good, I’m glad. Did they say anything about your progress?”

“Yes, they said they had expected me to be a lot better by now, but I’m sure you know that already dear, as I’m sure you know they told me I should ask Thomas to stop coming to see me.”

“Yes Mother, I believe they are right. You have to let him go…I have.”

“Oh, but Ashley what happened wasn’t YOUR fault, was it?”

“It wasn’t YOUR fault either Mother, I really wish you’d believe that.” Her tone sounded desperate.

“But it was, I left him alone in the car while I went into the store. I shouldn’t have done that, even if it was just for a minute. He was only two, just a baby.” Elaine’s voice became shaky and she turned away from Ashley to stare out the window at the clouds moving quickly in the afternoon sky.

“He was asleep Mother, you thought it best not to wake him. How could you know someone would take him in that short time? I really feel his visits are hindering you from getting well.”

Elaine snapped her head back to glare at Ashley, frowning in disbelief “How can you say that about your own son?”

“He’s dead Mother” her graceful face contorted with agony at the memory and tears filled her eyes “you have to forgive yourself and let him go in peace. You have other children who need you, other grandchildren.”

Elaine’s gaze softened with empathy and she touched her daughters shoulder softly “You have your father love, and there are other grandparents. Thomas only has me now, that’s why I can’t ask him to go, I can’t leave him alone again, I wont.”

Tears spilled from Ashley’s eyes and she wept as her heart broke again at the realisation her Mother was never coming back to her. The pain was second only to the day her heart first broke, the day they pulled her son’s tiny limp body from the lake just outside of town. She kissed her mother gently on the forehead and left the room quietly.

Elaine watched as the clouds parted and the sun came into view again. She turned her eyes toward the far wall and smiled once again as the shadows and light resumed their passionate waltz. Like the light, her moments of joy where made beautiful because of the shadows, the shadows that were forever a part of her.

~ Jo Caddy

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