The One Where I Can’t Wait For School to Start Again

Maybe that’s not the cool thing to say.

And while I type this, I hear the lady shopkeeper down the road rolling her eyeballs like marbles in a cup as she says once again, her tone more urgent as time wears on, serving another cheery mum, scanning her celebratory caramel digestives which she can now enjoy with a cup of tea which will now be the in “vaguely warm” category. “Why have children if you don’t want to see them?”

Looking forward to school isn’t about doing a somersault in the car park after drop off at the thought of not seeing your kids, with an added “BOOM!” for dramatic effect, it’s about space.

That’s all.

Every single day I drop Bean off to school, the second his fingertips leave mine, the moment my tiny shadow breaks apart from me to whirlwind around the playground with his friends, or worse, to head into the classroom for another six hours, I feel bereft. I feel lost. I miss him the nanosecond he’s gone from our safe little world together into his big bright exciting world of his classroom.

I have all the admiration in the world for people who can regiment their families in the summer holidays, can get the house cleaned, jobs done, themselves and their kids dressed and out the door for some fabulous adventure by 9am – but I can’t do that. Depression doesn’t work very well with free and easy and “Well let’s just see where today takes us.” Free and easy translates to “Can I go back to bed yet, please?” It generally doesn’t take too well to getting dressed even if I’m not planning on leaving the house today, thank you very much Mr Postman as you eye my Ninja Turtle pyjamas with glaring disdain.

Let’s be blunt, depression doesn’t really work with anything, apart from I MUST be at THIS location tomorrow at THIS time and if I’m not I’ll have to explain why I wasn’t and deal with it, which will highly likely involve talking on the phone. (Depression hates talking on the phone and will do almost anything to avoid such grave consequences).

Dealing with the aftermath of a breakdown and the summer holidays at the same time makes me feel like a terrible parent. Too much yellow food, no routine, pyjama days that turn into weeks, a daily showing of The Return of the Jedi and a very sad summer holiday scrapbook that consists of one, somewhat desperate entry of “Erm… We went to the ZOO?!” You can give me 100 Fun Free Things To Do in the Holidays and I’ll do ‘em all day long, but it’s just not the same.

School makes me feel like a kind of, passably better mum.

I get up before noon, I get myself and Bean dressed, I shove something vaguely healthy in his face for breakfast and with his obligatory book bag, lunchbag, PE bag and suchlike – we walk to school (casually or breaking a sweat, losing-all-dignity-jogging depending on timings).

And while I see his untameable blond mane disappearing in a sea Frozen rucksacks and red sweatshirts, I feel sad, but also I feel I have done A Good Thing. Something positive. Something positive for my family. Something that works. A routine that sticks and isn’t inspired by a Pinterest board in a 3am binge of madness.

So, it might not be cool to say I’m looking forward to school starting again.

But I totally am.

Secrets

From a very, very young age, I’ve learnt that mental health is something we do not talk about. Ever. Unless it’s in a small, quiet room with someone whose name starts with Dr or you’re paying someone by the hour, just so you unbottle all the junk messing up your grey matter until the next appointment comes around.

It’s been hidden away.

Sordid and shameful.

Secret.

I was never allowed friends over to play or have tea with or make dens with when I was little. In case they saw something. My mum’s bottles, scattered over the carpet, empty and silent. Or her hoarded, collected mess. They’d know, and that simply wasn’t allowed.

As I got older, and I began my own epic journey through the NHS and assessments and therapy and “Tell me Cassie, have you any traumatic memories from your childhood?” My mum would take me, keen to coach me on what to say, what not to say and “Don’t tell them about my drinking.” Before the door was even closed behind me and the counsellor and I’d located all the exits in my mind and where they kept the ever-present box of tissues, without realising it, I was already keeping secrets. Don’t mention this, don’t tell them about that and never ever mention the gin problem.

Although I write openly (possibly too openly) about the state of my head on here, I still struggle very much in real life. It’s wrong. We don’t go there. No one needs to know. Keep it schtum. And on and on and on. I’ve lied to taxi drivers when they’ve asked, taking me to strange buildings in the late evening, instead of just saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to therapy.” I’ve come out with preposterous lies, “I’m going to a yoga class.” Or “I’m having acupuncture.” Like, seriously, FFS.

But.

Something’s shifting.

The pills I’m currently taking, the ones that make it impossible to function in the mornings, the ones that leave me 20 minutes in the morning to wake up as a grumbling, growling mess once Noah’s sat on my head and said rather urgently “Mummy… The clock says eight, two, zero…” and get my shit together and deposit him to school, avec lunch bag, book bag, suncream applied and teeth brushed. Yeah? Yeah, those ones. They’ve shat all over my “must never be late, must never be late” mantra. They’ve flung my at least sort-of-pretending -to-be-holding-everything-together out of the nearest window.

They’ve left me pretty naked. No amount of Bobbi Brown Under Eye Concealer can save me. And a “Whoops! Woke up late!” said in the jolliest tone you can manage while your mates pass you in the opposite direction, somewhat bemused – just doesn’t have the same effect four fourteen days running.

I did the unthinkable the other day. Seeing the usual gaggle of mums gathered around the school gate, having already dropped their children off, I almost fell to the ground into an army crab crawl to the nearest bit of shrubbery until they left. I tried. But Noah didn’t join in. Instead, I was forced to hope my literal bed hair was mistaken for stylishly dishevelled and camouflaged any coffee stains upon my clothes rather artfully with my scarf.

Once I’d done the mock hurrying into the playground / eye roll and “Come on, darling, quick quick!” and saw the kid into his classroom, I made my way back to the gate and all eyes fell on me. “Everything OK?” and then there was silence.

Before I knew it, my censorship button still asleep, I said it.

“Oh, just the new antidepressants I’m taking. They’re making so drowsy, I can’t wake up.”

Just like that.

Twenty six years of secrets, of keeping the truth hidden away. Of smoke and mirrors and biting my tongue.

Gone.

The silence that followed felt like an eternity.

But do you know what? Nothing happened. No one screamed or ran away, or gathered their pre-schoolers into their petticoats, shielding them from the mental case. Nothing happened at all.

It was OK.

The secrets were dispelled, the mystery revealed and somehow, the world didn’t end.

The Intruders

*unexpected, sudden noise*

What the shitting hell was that? I think to myself while I shove my face through the curtains in a fashion I think is completely stealthy and surreptitious. Once I’m satisfied that there’s no one lurking behind the rubbish bags on the street, I go through the house and do the same at the back door, taking particular interest in the pop-up tent and trampoline. There could be a cackling maniac on the loose, hell-bent on invading people’s gardens at night to frolic on their play equipment while the owners sleep, totally unaware.

But nope.

Nothing.

Oh God, what if they’re in the house?

I close the curtains again, lock the doors and creep upstairs, my back flat against the wall, because ya know, that’s what they do in films, right? The cat joins me, squirming around my ankles, she knows some shit’s going down too and spurs me on.

I bypass my own bedroom, the constant low (yet somehow deafening) snore emanating from within would surely put them off hiding in there and head straight to Bean’s room to prize the door open.

I’m met with nothing more than snuffly grunts while Bean writhes around his bed, sweaty and fast asleep.

Checking under the bed only to find the usual devastation of an entire castle scene, Playmobil men decapitated and bodies strewn everywhere, like Game of Thrones for fucking five year olds, I admit defeat and head back downstairs, making sure everything’s locked and arm myself with a toy light sabre for protection. I sit on the sofa and somewhat shaken, resume what I was doing when I was startled by the unexpected noise.

I press play on the TV.

And THWACK – it hits me, straight between the eyes. (I mean this figuratively, obvs, the flashback of the sound, not the axe belonging to my imagined intruder.)

I was laughing.

Out loud.

A sound I didn’t recognise. A sound I’ve not heard properly for over a year. A sound I’ve tried to fake and force unsuccessfully a gazillion times, when really, it’s the easiest sound to make naturally.

Something completely innocuous on TV actually managed to wheedle through the barriers and caused a good reaction in me, rather than making me feel worse or causing me to think about how things should be, how I should be.

The pills, it’s the pills. Is this me or is it the pills making a beta 2.0 version of me? The guilt of all those times when I should have been able to react normally, and smile and nod and laugh at the funny bits when Bean’s talking to me about school and ninjas and poo.

For a brief moment, I consider grabbing the small white box stuffed with blister packs of the little intruders and flushing them down the toilet. Hating them a little bit for giving me something in just three weeks that I haven’t managed alone in over a year.

I pause the TV again, another sound, my mouth gaping open to listen better for a moment, and I realise it’s Bean, giggling in his sleep, muffled into his pillow, dreaming.

And that’s the moment I know I couldn’t. That I couldn’t deprive my home of another second of laughter and silliness, of my son never being able to remember his mum laughing, only the same stretched smile with dead eyes.

That’s when I let the intruders stay and put down the fucking light sabre that was still gripped in my hand.

I (Don’t) Wanna be Sedated

Morning. Bedroom. Waking up.

Rationality: Oh. It’s 8.20. Shit.

Irrationality: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. We’re doomed. DOOMED.

R: It’s OK. It’s cool. Erm. Yeah. Let’s just get dressed, grab some biscuits and run out the door.

I: NO! It’s all fucked. I’m fucked. I’m going to have to go to the school office and see the judgey receptionist AGAIN and they’re going to give me that LOOK. They KNOW. They KNOW I’m fucked up. They’re going to start asking questions and they’ll see that I didn’t brush his hair properly or iron his uniform and they’ll remember that time I forgot to bring in his reading diary and I REFUSE to give him a bag of crisps on the way to school for breakfast.

R: No, no they won’t. We can get there in twenty minutes. It’s fine. And they’re breakfast biscuits innit. Totally allowed. It’s fine.

I: It’s not fine. Nothing’s fine. He’s going to be THAT kid. The one everyone gives the side eye and feel sorry for him for having a shit mum.

R: Oh shut up, no they won’t.

I: LOOK! LOOK AT HIS HAIR! It looks like I’ve backcombed it, not brushed it.

R: Come on. Let’s go.

I: Er…

R: What is it? What now?

I: I can’t move. The new pills. OMG, OMG, OMG. Something’s happened. My body’s made of lead. Has someone filled my veins up with sand when I was asleep?  I’m stuck like Neo in the Matrix when he goes all slo-mo ninja.

R: Oh FFS.

I: I TOLD YOU WE’RE FUCKED!

8.46am. Outside. Walking.

R: Can you go any faster?

I: I AM walking fast. Look. Look at me go.

R: You’re staggering a bit, dude.

I: DON’T TELL ME THAT.

R: OK. Don’t worry, we’re nearly there.

I: We’ve been walking for EVER – OH SHIT, WHERE’S HIS LUNCH BAG?

R: Oh Christ.

I: Oh no. I can’t make him have school dinners, he won’t eat them, I can’t take the guilt. And I’m not sure I can talk without slurring to the receptionist so I can explain. Why won’t my body just work?! This is like walking through concrete. Can you see a dart anywhere on me? Have I been tranquilised?

R: We’ll sort it, honestly.

I: Oh shit, look. Parents. Fucking loads of them. WALKING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. They KNOW, they totally KNOW.

9.03am. Outside school gates.

I: Dude. That was way too hard.

R: You’ve done it now. We just need to get you home somehow and do it again in a few hours.

I: Oh sweet Jesus, no. No. No. No. I’m staying here.

R: What? You can’t stay here for six hours.

I: It’s going to take me six hours to walk home. I’m totally staying here.

R: Well could you look less… Drunk? And weird? And not sit in a bush?

I: I’m just going to take a little nap.

R: What..? NO! We’re going to get arrested! We’re outside a SCHOOL. You can’t just sleep in a hedge outside a school.

I: Aha, will the police take me home though?

R: *says nothing*.

I: *snores*.

R: Fuck.

Cul-de-sac

I feel I’ve got stuck in some almighty, emotionally fuelled dead end. Last week when I was all “Yeah, I’m fucking blogging again!” I really, truly believed it was there but it appears my bravado fizzled out as soon as I stabbed my finger on Publish and sent my post raged by Costa caramel latte out into the ether.

Stuff that’s been going on recently has made me realise I need to pay proper attention to real life rather than uttering a half-arsed “Just a minute…” with my face buried in my phone or laptop when I’m actually more concerned by the fact that my Klout score has gone down by a point or I haven’t replied to an email immediately.

Blogging ain’t as effortless as it may appear. Unfortunately words don’t just simply fall off your fingers and materialise on a screen, perfectly formatted into snappy paragraphs, just bursting with mind-blowing content that will stick to reader’s brains like glue.

Nor do good photos just happen, even sort of alright, passable photos don’t just happen. They rarely, if ever, fall into your lap while you’re sat at your desk, in three day old leggings, furiously just trying to finish this one last post.

And inspiration soon dries up once the caffeine rollercoaster ends, the sugar rush fades and your confidence evaporates along with it. Poof goes the heady, inflated inspiration. In comes the self doubt, the self loathing, the mental self-flagellation. Staring at screens. Typing. Deleting. Typing. Deleting again.

Once you’ve skimmed the surface for subject matter, you soon realise there’s not an awful lot left to choose from underneath. And yeah, you can still write stuff if you force it, but it’s not what you wanna write or what you feel good writing. I could write about taking Noah to the woods at the weekend or the scary psychiatrist at the private hospital – but really, who the fuck cares? If I don’t, how can I expect anyone else to?

While I’m lost in this cul-de-sac, all I’ve got is the same thing following me around. Depression and doubt. I’m completely bored with how I feel so I think it’s fair to say I’ve come up with all the inventive ways there are to say that I feel like shit, that I’m struggling and I’d quite happily not wake up tomorrow. Cos that’s all there is, on constant repeat in my head, again and again like the fucking Tetris theme tune only more soul destroying. Everything I do manage to sort of feel or half-think seems like deja vu.

I’ve been wondering if it’s all worth it for the end result, whether I’m getting what I used to out of it, and the answer is I honestly don’t know. All I do know is that all the medication coursing through my veins has changed something in me, all the drama has changed what’s important and I don’t know when the balance will return.

The thing with having a “break” is, when you think you think you should be all energised and full of stuff to say after a week or two, you kind of realise you enjoy the peace. That no one’s really noticed you’ve gone anyway and the pressure to perform like a monkey on a typewriter abates somewhat.

So yeah, I have no idea what the point of this exercise was, but I’ve said it and maybe now I can find another way out of this dead end.

Mint

“How are you, Cassandra? How can I help you today?” she says while looking at the screen as I sit on the orange padded chair I wonder if there’s any point in going through with this well rehearsed ordeal again and briefly flirt with the idea of heading straight out of the door.

“Erm, I just need some more pills. Please.”

“This is for your depression? How are you getting on with that?”

Yep. Fail. I should have left while I still had a chance.

I’m in the most excruciating pain you can imagine and soul crushingly numb simultaneously. I feel as if I’m floating and made completely of stone all at once. I’m wishing for nothing else but for someone to give me the permission to just not exist for a little while. I want to scream every single word polluting my thoughts and am not able to say a single word. I want to find comfort in anything I can to only discover that I’m not worth it anyway. They keep telling me that I need to fight and I don’t have any left. They keep saying that this doesn’t define me when I know nothing but. The shame of my child seeing the cuts and asking me what they are with fear in his eyes is haunting me by the minute. It’s the constant headache and shakes and ticks. It’s wanting to destroy everything I love because I don’t deserve to keep any of it. It’s ignoring the texts and emails and voicemails, because what’s the point? It’s collapsing on the floor and repeatedly banging my head until I pass out from pain and tears. It’s crying so hard that I’m sick and that I can’t remember why I started. It’s wishing I didn’t have to keep going and knowing that I can’t do anything to stop.

Obvs I can’t actually say any of that stuff out loud. I give a noncommittal shrug, “Not good.”

She looks at me blankly before scrolling through endless notes on the screen. I see words I don’t understand flash past and I desperately try to remember them, they feel important. I wonder if it’d be inappropriate to get my phone out to take a photo.

  • Dysthymia disorder.
  • Refusal to take antipsychotics.
  • Major depressive disorder.
  • Suicidal.
  • Self harm.

Dysthymia. Dysthymia. Dysthymia. Dysthymia… I think again and again so I can Google it when I finally get home. There’s mention of a drug called Minta-something too. I imagine a box of mint green capsules that taste like Tic Tacs.

She asks more questions, I have no idea what, and makes more scribbly notes on some headed paper, I begin to forget where I am and think to myself that she has nice nails. She mumbles something at me before hurriedly leaving the room.

Oh.

This is it, I think. This is when they make that phone call and take me away somewhere.

It should strike me as very wrong when I begin to question if there’s anything in the room I can hurt myself with but of course it doesn’t. Faced with boxes of sample bottles and wooden tongue depressors. Maybe I could break one? Or jab one in my eye really hard?

The tick carries on where it left off just as I was leaving home, sending my head back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I have the urge to leave to see if anyone notices.

Fifteen more painful minutes lapse before she returns.

“Are you able to cope with your son?”

I stare at her drunkly. My head shouts YES. NO. YES. NO and all I’m able to do is shrug.

“Would you like me to contact Social Services?”

“No.”

“They might be able to just – ,”

“No.”

“OK, if you have any thoughts to harm yourself you must come straight back.”

“But I have those thoughts right now – you’re still going to let me leave in thirty seconds, aren’t you?”

She looks at me seriously and wheels her chair a little too close, “I’ll see you again in two weeks, Cassandra.”

 

Divine Intervention

There’s an overwhelming sense that I’ve been here before, dozens of times if not more, I’ve thought the same things, answered the same questions, ignored the same phone calls and written the same words, again and again and again.

With the same certainty as the seasons changing or the phases of the moon; hopeless, veins full of paralysing indifference and a stomach weighed down with nightmarish despair to at least being able to pretend it’s OK, to smile and laugh and fool myself into thinking that it won’t return. Refusing to see the footprints, the whispers of unease, the moments that can’t be shrugged off as just feeling tired or hormonal.

And bam.

It’s back.

The next episode, bigger and better than ever before with Dolby surround sound and special FX. I watch it unfold in third person, unable to control what happens next and what’s said. I know the script from memory, but I’m not delivering the lines. Something else is, it’s running away from them, it’s ad-libbing with reckless abandon and all I can do is watch from the back on the cinema and scream for it to stop.

Frozen by thoughts of where I’d stab myself in the wrist. Would it even matter where? And what would I use? I know it won’t happen, I know we’ll cut to another scene before it gets that far, I’ll be sat in another waiting room, somewhere, desperately trying to remember how to behave in public and whether I’ve been taking those fat chalky pills. But I’m stuck, somewhere between here and there and all I can do is gaze at the three blue veins visible beneath the skin, two darker and one a shade of turquoise I’m sure would be called Summer Skies or some such bollocks on a Dulux paint chart.

Maybe I should Google it.

Where to do it, not the colour, obvs.

My mind wanders to the kitchen cupboard, full of pills, of his pain medication and I find myself curiously thinking how many I’d have to swallow before this pain goes away.

All the while the phone rings, another voicemail flashes on the screen and I wait. I wait for something to happen, for someone to step in and take me somewhere I’ve not been before because I don’t know how many more times I can watch the same episode and hear the same words delivered with the same tone of urgency and pity and “It’ll be OK, I promise.”

And while I wait, the screen fades to black.