I should have heeded the warnings. Listened to my mind when it was racing at 3am for the hundredth night in a row. Listened to my body when it creaked with exhaustion getting out of bed at 6am to start another day. Listened to my heart when it beat hard and fast as I rushed from one place to another wondering what I had forgotten this time. Listened to my voice when I snapped at my little girl for taking too long to brush her teeth in the morning.
But I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to feel it. And I didn’t want it to be real.
Because as women we are supposed to be able to do everything, right?
I wanted to prove that I could. That against the odds I could still be a high achiever with a fulfilling career, hobbies I enjoy, a comfortable home and a happy family life. I wanted to prove that I could do all that while also caring and advocating for my disabled child and others like him as well as ‘living the dream’ a la Coast Magazine by the sea and holding the fort in one piece while my husband works away.
That I could take in my stride juggling school runs and homework and changing and feeding and administering meds and chasing appointments and test results and worrying and worrying over whether the latest chest infection or seizure would see us hospital bound again, while maintaining a professional and super productive work life in my job that I love.
And keeping house. And remembering to fill in the ticket requests for the school play on time, ballet and PE and swim kits and guitar sent in on the right day and party invitations RSVP’d.
A race against time every morning to get us all up and out the door, clean, dressed and fed. Coffee. To school on time. Traffic. To work. Coffee. Try to be professional and brilliant. Supercharge every minute with mindblowing feats of productivity. Squeeze more out of every day than should be possible.
But now it’s 5pm and it’s nowhere near all done.
Traffic. Traffic. School pick up just in time. Petrol pit stop and spelling practice in the car.
Children fed. Pyjamas on. Meds given. A quick smile and a cuddle. School bags emptied and filled. Post opened. Outfits ironed. Cats fed. Meals planned and bought online. Bins emptied. Piece of dry toast and some chocolate eaten for dinner. Feel my back twinge while I carry a growing boy up to bed.
“How many more times can I do this?”
Sitting in a dark bedroom every night while my anxious seven year old finds every reason not to let me leave or to go to sleep. She fights it. In the end, she sleeps. I creep out. Quick tidy up. Dishwasher loaded, floor swept, counters wiped, dryer emptied, laundry folded. Letters from the hospital read and filed. Emails to the adaptations manager, the social worker, school, a campaign group or two.
Work emails caught up on. A work project finished off in the quiet that only an evening alone on the sofa can bring.
“How many more times can I do this?”
Tweets tweeted. Sometimes about gin and sunsets. Usually about loos.
Worry about how we will ever go out as a family when we can’t change Orange in the boot of the car anymore and there are fewer bench and hoist toilets in the whole of the UK than there are normal loos in Wembley Stadium alone.
Realise I can’t fix that overnight and instead end up reading an article about terrible care homes in Cornwall and worry about Orange’s future. Wonder if I can live to 120. Realise I can’t and that I definitely won’t if I keep eating dry toast and chocolate for dinner. And worrying.
Worry some more. Blank out the worry by scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, mumsnet and repeat. Social media oblivion.
I had come to think that this was normal. I had also come to think that if I couldn’t also fit in shifting three stone with an intensive fitness regime and clean diet, expanding my mind each night with the latest Ted-Ex talks and Booker shortlisters while also trying to write my own, being a solid support and confidante to those around me in their times of need, giving back to the communities in which I am a part both in the flesh and online, and renovating and decorating our tumbledown house into this schedule, that I was a failure.
In a word, lazy.
I had heard and read too many times that all working parents face the same challenges and come to believe that I should just be able to get on with it without complaint and without dropping a ball. Because that’s what I thought the world tells you it’s possible to do and that if you can’t, you are somehow second rate.
That if I felt tired it must be because I am a weak individual and need to toughen up. That if I felt sad it must be because I am entitled and ungrateful. That if I found something hard it must be because I am stupid or lacking in sheer determination and grit that others seem to have.
That if I read enough motivational self-improvement books and stared at feel-good Instagram posts I would find my way to the top of this mountain.
Because anything’s possible, if you strive hard enough, right?
But this week I have realised that I have been trying to sprint up the mountain. And sprinting up a mountain gets you nowhere fast, other than altitude sick.
On Thursday, that’s exactly what happened. A difficult conversation at work that I would otherwise have taken in my stride tipped me completely over the edge.
For the first time in years I actually cried. And then I couldn’t stop. An avalanche on the mountainside that threatened to bury me alive.
The irony of this occurring inside a mental health unit at work did not escape me. But in fact, now I am grateful. Because it shocked me into realising that I need to slow down from that sprint if I am ever to get to the top and enjoy the view.
To remember that the hare did not win the race, the tortoise did. And that this is not a sprint. It’s an ultra-marathon.
I was never any good at long distance running at school. I’d always start too fast and get puffed out past about 400 metres. I have always been the hare, never the tortoise.
All through my life at this point I have given up and started again. Abseiled down the mountain to try a different one instead. Run to a different start line to sprint along another track.
But this time I need to find the right way to keep going. Not just because there is no choice but because I also want to.
I need to have faith that I’m in the right place, with the right people, doing the right things. Because in my heart, I know that’s true.
And so I need to adapt my pace. While I am pretty terrible at long distance running I know I can get there in the end if I slow right down.
Even when there are steep hills to climb.
The times I have tried to run since moving to Cornwall have taught me that. If I try to be the hare I never make it even half way up the hill out of the village. The hills here are steep but the views from the top are breathtaking. I have learnt that the only way to get there to enjoy them is to be more tortoise. To jog or even to walk before I sprint.
And from time to time I know I have to seek a little rest and sometimes shelter along the way. To take refuge from the wind and rain or simply to take a breath and enjoy the surroundings.
So as a new week starts I will try to slow down in the knowledge that this will help me get to the top of the mountain, not hinder me.
Because if I don’t, I will fall off a cliff. Thursday showed me that the edges really aren’t all that far away.
Thank you to my husband, my boss, my team and my friends Lucy, Ali, Effie and Alex for listening and showing me it’s ok to say you’re not ok, that talking about it is a good thing, and that trying to be superhuman is stoopid.