Life is hard when you’re a single mum. You have to be so many people all in one body. Sometimes I succeed at this very well, others not so much. I work. A lot. I study. And I try my best to give my daughter the sort of childhood I never had. One where she gets to be a child, and do childlike things. One where, in years to come, she will look back and have sunny memories of a childhood well-spent.
But always for me, there is the threat of madness just the other side of the door. The warning signs have been there or a while now. I get tired, but I can’t sleep. I start feeling suspicious of everyone around me, noises become deafening, people talk to me and it sounds like they’re shouting. Lights feel like they are burning my skin. I need to sit in dark, silent rooms, but I can’t because I am a single mum and there is too much to do. Always, too much to do.
So I try to carry on until people start noticing that I am not myself, that I’ve stopped making eye contact, that my body language has closed down. And all the while I work, and I get grade As in my essays and I achieve, achieve, achieve. Because that’s what I do. But inside things are short-circuiting. Facebook becomes my enemy because confronted with everyone else’s perfect lives I feel even more alone. I feel like I have failed.
Sometimes I wish that my dad were here, and in my darkest hours he comes, he sits with me. But doctors tell me that’s psychosis and give me pills to take him away, they say he can’t be there, because he died in 1997. Twenty years ago. Twenty years since he left. Is it psychosis? Or is it my dad being a parent and coming to his daughter when she can’t see the light? You tell me…
Once again I find myself in dysphoric mania – full of agitated, restless energy, driven by blackness. Driven by paranoia and rage and hopelessness. I try to fill the void with activity after activity. I spend until the cash registers no longer accept my cards, I spend until I can no longer bear being inside the shops with the lights and the whir of the tills and the stupid fucking Christmas music that feels like glass in my head. And then I crash. Then they medicate me to keep me still and bring me peace and things start to slow down.
So then I find myself wandering down a dual carriageway at 2am with no purse and I’ve lost my cards and I have no way to get home. But somewhere along the way I’ve stopped at McDonald’s because I have a burger in my bag.And I’m thinking if only I could find a man and get pregnant, anyone will do, my life will be better, my child will have a playmate. But my friend picks me up and brings me home. And then I’m back again, back in the darkness.
Mostly I am tired of this. I am tired of my reckless bipolar brain which will not give me a moment’s peace. It is so painful to keep trying only to fall over time and again. Now it’s a waiting game, until they titrate the rock salt in my blood enough to make me sane again. How disheartening to feel that no matter what you do, how you try, your life depends on a gram of salt a day.
And all the while the world keeps turning, people live their lives, have babies, buy houses, get married, invite all their loved ones round for Christmas. Normal life resumes. I am 40 next year, and I feel like I have achieved nothing in my life. I am so far from where I thought I’d be at this age. I thought I’d be married with lots of children, I thought I’d be normal.
But that is not how my life works, in my family, one solitary woman brings up another, generation after generation. I wanted so much more for my child. So much more than to be stuck with a mentally ill mother. I wanted her to have siblings to share her childhood with, I wanted normal for her. And every day it feels like I fail.
The truth is, when you are ill, you are alone in your madness. People try to talk to me but their words are meaningless. I can’t relate. People can try to empathise and sometimes that helps, but in reality, the demons that take hold of your mind are your companions. No one can reach in and grab them and pull them out. Only the rock salt quiets them, so it’s a waiting game of blood tests and ‘as required’ medication to still them until you can function again. Waiting, I am always waiting…