The Washing Line Prop and the Existential Crisis

A washing line prop. The long package, wrapped in black plastic, sitting in my kitchen was a washing line prop. A telescopic one dontcha know. A step up from the square wooden prop my Nanna had. The one that lived in a brackets attached to the fence, with a V cut out of the top and duck tape round the middle to protect the hands from splinters.

Mine might be metal and telescopic, but it does the same job. It holds the line up to allow washing to dry higher in the air.

And holding it my hands took my breath away.

I’ve never lived anywhere with an outdoor line. I’ve used metal stand alone airers and tumble driers all my adult life. I’ve wanted a line for a while. Well, since we got our own garden it seemed like the right thing to do. But every time I’ve tried to think about it, I’ve found reasons not to. A whirligig line would block my view, Oscar would pull on it etc etc. But this year (and since we have a new fence to hold it) I decided a retractable line stretched across the garden would be the solution. And then the prop arrived.

I can’t really explain the feeling of holding it in my hands. I’m married, I’ve bought a house, given birth to my son and yet none of those things made me feel the passing of the years like holding that stupid prop. It literally took my breath away and I may have even teared up. Because here I was. A proper adult. With next to no idea how I got here.

I’m not surprised things as innocuous as as washing line prop (which by the way I love. Long line drying is totally where it’s at!) are giving me cause to stop and catch my breath. This is my 40th year on earth and they say people often become more introspective in the year before a ‘big’ birthday. Big decisions get taken, big changes happen (and always one not to disappoint, I got married at 29). And something in me, in my 39 year old self is feeling all these things. Introspective, questioning, anxious, just trying to hold on, in the face of a violently changing tide. Maybe a prop is just what I need to help me do that.

And maybe the part of me that doesn’t want to hold on, that just wants me to let go and change with the tide, knows it too.

And maybe it’s that, that makes me gasp.

The End of The World

Do you keep momentos? Of times, of events, of places? I do. Not masses. At least when I began keeping things it wasn’t masses. But it all adds up doesn’t it. And here I am, staring down the barrel of 40 and suddenly wondering why I have kept the cuttings I had on my wall at 17 and the t-shirt everyone signed when I got made redundant at 26.¬†I’m not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the things I devote my space to would, I’m pretty sure, make most people raise an eyebrow.

I don’t have a big house (have I mentioned that before ūüėČ ). But I am devoting at least some of this, frankly non existent space, to things that rarely get looked at and have no practical purpose. Which can only lead to me deduce that they have some emotional purpose. Some reason that I choose to let them reside still. Not to let them go.

I’m not one for knick-knacks. I have few ornaments on show or photos on the wall (beyond beautiful ones of my son). So what compels me to keep a corner of my office full of boxes devoted to my youth. Is it a tangible reminder of just that? That once I was young? Or is it proof that not all of my teenage years were horrendous? That loyalty and happiness and love existed? Or is it proof that any of it happened at all? Who am I proving it to? Surely not me. After all I was there! Or perhaps it’s some form of security blanket, fashioned out of ephemera. One I know I can go to, should I need a quick fix. A fix of what though, that is the question? What does any of it mean?

And what would it mean to get rid of it?

Let’s just think about that for a minute. What would it mean to take the stuff, the theatre programmes, the tickets, the clippings, the useless bits and bobs that would mean jack to literally anyone else and just bin it? Anything?

Everything?

I watched the film The World’s End the other day (easy watching fun for fans of Simon Pegg/Ed Wright collaborations). The protagonist cannot move on from the happiest time of his life, so much so that he still drives the same car and wears the same clothes twenty years on. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying my situation is quite the same, but the idea of hanging onto tangible items in this way really struck a chord with me. As did the idea that living this way, can hold you back from moving forward and living your life now.

I once ate a peach, that was the juiciest, ripest, most delicious peach I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find its likeness for years but to no avail. The fact that this peach of dreams was eaten on on our honeymoon, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was probably harvested from a tree two minutes down the road and was eaten in the sun, while relaxing, well….. How can any future peach measure up?

I guess what I’m just coming to realise is when you view the past through¬†the tinted rear view mirrors of time (which can only grow rosier the further away you get), how will any subsequent time in your life measure up? Perhaps precious memories, need only to be that. Not a crutch, not a yardstick, not something to aspire to.

And definitely not a box of bits kept in an office at the end of the garden.

Halt! Who goes there?

It’s a New Year. 2018. And despite not writing anything since October, I thought it might be a hoot to have a crack at this writing thing again. So I made my way to my favourite writing hang out (you all know where I mean!), ordered an Americano and whipped out my shiny, new, lightweight laptop. I know! Swanky or what!

Opening the dashboard of the blog, I had a notification that made me look at my About Me page. Which was clearly something I hadn’t done in way too long, when you think I’m now the grand old age of 39 and not the spritely 37 year old smiling at me from the first line.

Age withstanding though, when I read the rest of it I realised I either didn’t like it or didn’t recognise the person it was talking about. Hmmm thinks I, it’s probably time to update that. Make it read more like me, make it more relevant.

And that’s where I fell down. Not literally you understand. The old age hasn’t affected my balance just yet! But figuratively I just fell down. I just couldn’t think of a single thing to write. About me? Who even is that? Surely I’m more than the few sentences I’ve written previously about my relationships to others and the weight of the flesh that hangs off these bones? And that put me in a contemplative mood.

In conversation with a friend the other day, I realised that despite visiting various family and friends and meeting new people over New Year, no one and I really do mean no one, asked what I’m doing with my life or how that’s going or even what’s going on for me at the moment. Lots of people asked how Oscar was doing and everyone asked my husband. About his job, his hobbies, his interests. And it’s not like he foisted this information on people. They just asked. And no one asked me.

My friend thinks this is because people assume that they know me. That the life of a SAHM, with a disabled child is somehow obvious and therefore doesn’t require asking after. Maybe she’s right. People can be quick to pigeon hole and to do so must make assumptions. Judgements. So that would make sense. Or maybe they don’t want to know? It’s too vague and too open to being messy, so people don’t enquire. Full time caring doesn’t have a neat job title or one word to describe it like a hobby might and that scares people. It’s too unknown and that conversation could lead to places the asker might not be prepared to go. Maybe? Its a thought.

Either way it just supported the feeling that lately I have become somewhat invisible. To the outside world and to myself. And that makes me so sad. And actually its makes me mad. What arrogance to assume you could ever know anyone enough to not need to ask?

But I can’t be too angry with other people. I mean yes, people could at least ask, but seriously, what am I going to tell them, if I don’t even know myself?

I don’t believe in resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise. I think they are fated to fail and who would ever want to do that to themselves? But I have seen others talking about thinking of a key word to describe the focus for the New Year (or any time of the year!). I’ve done it before. I’ve used words like Happy and Brave. But looking at my About Me page and not recognising the person on the page has made my decision for this year.

This year I think its got to be Identity.

Oh and that reminds me, my passport’s up for renewal this year. How very apt!

Mightier than the Sword

Hi

It’s been a while. I know that. I’ve wanted to write. I’ve even tried to, but something is holding me back. And the longer I leave it the harder it gets.

I don’t know. It’s not like there hasn’t been stuff going on I could have written about. There’s been all sorts. It just doesn’t seem interesting enough. I don’t know, I think I’m experiencing something of a burnout. Creatively, emotionally, everythingly. I get through the day. I celebrate what I can about Oscar’s achievements, if we’re all still alive at the end of the day I class that as a success. Everything else just seems to fade into the background.

And then it gets that there’s so much I could write about, that I don’t know where to start. Like for example four days ago was my four year blogging anniversary. FOUR YEARS! I’ve celebrated every other ‘year’ milestone, but this year came and went without me really noticing. I should have at least acknowledged it. But as I hadn’t written for two months, I didn’t feel I had the right. I mean what’s that all about? I take a two month hiatus and all of a sudden my four years worth of back catalogue (that’s 352 posts if you’re interested), no longer means anything? Really?

I used to be so proud of my work, and in some respects I still am. It just doesn’t feel enough anymore. Good enough, solid enough, worthy enough. 80,000 views in four years really isn’t that much. I see new bloggers getting that in their first year, shit in their first six months if they’re savvy. What is it they say; comparison is the thief of joy? Hmmm.

So, if you wondered where I was, there you go. I was here, just having some sort of creative crisis. Putting so much pressure of myself to write brilliant posts that I write nothing at all. So do I give it up? And if I do, what’s left for just me? But if I keep going, I think I need to redefine my relationship with my blog. I never set out to be a blogger and I think that might be my problem. I care more about how things scan, and how interesting the words I write are, than how many people they’ll reach or their SEO value. because you see I think I’ve figured¬†something out.

I’m not a blogger, I’m a writer.

And if I just start writing again, perhaps I’ll find my new place, my new creative identity. I just need to pick up that pen….

 

 

 

 

Mental Health and the Autism Mama

9th March 2015. A Monday. A stuffy office in the paediatric department of the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Six adults all agreeing that a diagnosis of¬†Autism Spectrum Disorder was appropriate for my almost three year old, blonde haired, blue eyed son. I remember so much about that meeting. The room was so hot. I felt so sick. If I’d had to picture the setting my world would fall from under me in, this small grey room with uncomfortable chairs wouldn’t have been it. It would have been exotic, dramatic, or¬†at least better looking. But here we were.

In those first few moments I was given a plethora of leaflets about support for Oscar. This agency would help with this, this one with that. It was mind boggling, and most of it went straight in the bin. It was too much to take in at that moment. But the one question I did ask was which one of these leaflets was for the agency that was going to support me?¬†Which one was going to give me the help I was going to need now my parenting journey had been screwed up and chucked over the doctor’s shoulder. I remember saying “That’s great, thank you. And what support do I get?”. The paediatrician laughed in my face. Literally. “There isn’t any!” she told me. Any that was that.

I remember going to the doctors several months later to apply for a one off Carer’s prescription grant, as suggested by our Early Years case worker. The doctor asked why I wanted the grant and I started to explain how hard looking after Oscar was and how desperately sad the diagnosis had left me. She looked on awkwardly while I started to cry and ask again, where was the support for me? Was there nothing for post diagnosis depression similar to post partum depression. She scolded me and told me that was something very different and to come back if things got much worse. I left with the feeling I’d wasted someone’s time and that I should be coping better. I never went back.

But things didn’t get “better”. It just got ‘different’. And still no agency was interested in how I was coping. Several people suggested peer support, but I’m not good at leaning on friends. I tried to find a SEN support network online, but struggled taking on everyone else’s sadness as well as mine. It could have been extremely helpful, but I just felt like I wasn’t giving as much as I felt I was taking. Or as though everyone was doing SEN parenting better than me. Even down to the amount they worried. It felt I wasn’t worrying enough. So I had to step back.

And all the while what I was really feeling was akin to grief. A grief for the child I thought I had. A grief for the parenting journey I thought I was on. A grief for the kind of relationship I would never have with my son. For the mother I would never get to be. All while coping with child who needs me in a way I’m still figuring out on a daily basis. And mentally berating myself for not doing, or coping, or being better. Because I should be grateful I had a child at all.

Eventually I knew something needed to change. My heart felt like it was breaking all the time and I hadn’t experienced anxiety this bad since I was a teenager. I also realised no one was going to formally offer to help me. I was so disillusioned with the support (or lack of it) I’d been offered by the NHS, that I didn’t even bother going to them. I found a private therapist. And it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I struck lucky and found someone I felt comfortable talking to immediately (having seen counsellors in the past I know this is not always the case). And things I’ve never said to anyone have now been said. Burdens have been laid down for a while.

I’m not saying everything’s fine and hunky dory now. It’s not. I’m still coming to terms with plenty of stuff, stuff I sometimes think I might never find peace with. But I keep trying. Because for all the support Oscar gets as someone with ASD, none of it as important as the support he gets from his parents. From me. And if I don’t get the support I need to give him the best of me then none of the other services are worth jack.

I still think it’s a joke that parents going through such a traumatic event in their lives are just expected to get on with it without support. I hate that I was made to feel stupid for asking for help. And I’m so heartbreakingly sad that there probably other parents out there right now whose lives are being blown apart by a diagnosis they never wanted and with no idea how they will ever put their lives back together again.

So on this #worldmentalhealthday, I just wanted to fly the flag for SEN parents. The overworked, over looked, under supported. Your mental health is worth everything. You deserve support, as much as anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Ignore those who laugh in your face, or tell you you’re are not as in need as new parents. You are. Because supporting your mental health is really supporting your child.

And isn’t that the most important thing?