Not Purged, Leeched or Chucked Off a Cliff ~by Jo Cutton
I’m grateful I wasn’t born centuries ago. I would have been purged, leeched, made to vomit, thrown off a cliff, or institutionalisred and never seen again. I arrived during the early fifties, when an anti-depressant was discovered purely by chance. I’m rather pleased about that.
My youth consisted of creativity, quirks, moods, and my dominant mother. She was the steel-minded daughter of a post war Olympics organiser. Says it all, really. She found my senstivities difficult, and the family teased me about them.
I was told off for ‘over reacting’.
Talk about a double whammy. They were a down-to-earth, practical lot of the ‘pull yourself together’ (like a pair of curtains – my words) sort. I felt judged by family and their friends, particularly my older siblings and their wives, and was discouraged from excitability. I mean, if you’re excitable, you’re exicable. So what?
I matured. So did my interests – hundreds of them. Not for me a golden future of domestic bliss, ta muchly. I wanted different. For example, I took flying lessons aged seventeen, when everyone else was learning to drive (a newspaper photo of me at small plane cockpit controls, trying to look intelligant, appeared on a school noticeboard. Someone bright spark had drawn a moustache on me. Well,- honestly!). I rowed on the Thames as soon as l learned the term ‘rollocks’ (the metal thingies that hold the oars). I travelled abroad. I Greyhounded the US up and down, then across and back, two years running, then I met Husband.
My soul mate/rock/best pal. As interested in Life, the World and Everything in it as I was/am. The same schoolboy humour. This was IT. We got engaged. I got scared. We married. I felt low. All this happiness and bliss biz applied to engagement and marrying had taken a trip to Outer Mongolia as far as I was concerned. ‘You should be happy.’ Mother said. She was ‘right’. She knew lots. I enrolled on a three year art course and felt better. Then I became pregnant.
Wham!Anti-natal depression. I recovered. Gorgeous daughter was born. Wham!Post natal depression. ‘You should be happy,’ they (mostly family) said. ‘Lovely baby, lovely husband, nice home..’
I coped, just about. Lots of tears. Fact was, looking back, even had I been well, I would have been bored silly. I’m not domesticated in the slightest. Mother used to comment on my undusted house. Whatever. Boooring. A year later I was prescribed anti-depressants, which helped enormously. ‘So that’s what it is!’ Said mother. She still didn’t fully understand. I attended coffee mornings like they were going out of fashion, did voluntary work with baby strapped to my front, produced art for exhibitions, and wrote light-hearted anecdotes. I even starting my humungous novel, typing with one hand while I fed baby with the other.
Three years later, I had my son. Husband and I had always wanted family, both being the youngest of three, and felt that we were now aware of depression and would manage it better. Hey ho. The depression was worse this time, and God – did I hate young motherhood! ‘Eat your greens.’ ‘Sit up straight.’ ‘Don’t get your clothes dirty.’ Guggh. Discipline had to be taught, and manners, respect, dadehdah. But I did it, and they’re brilliant kids/young adults, now. Our best mates. They reached eighteen and that was it. I booted them out of the house and told them to get on with it. Just kidding. But I did quit nannying. And oh, what a relief! I liked their teens. I like teenagers and their sometimes extreme points of view. Just point them in the right directions sometimes. When they drive you insane, you can nip out for coffee and leave them to stew.
When my daughter produced twin daughters of her own, ten years ago, we rejoiced. They’re brilliant. And fun. Oh, we love grannie/grandadhood! But I was still up and down with anxiety and depression, and my medications had changed over the years. I’d had a medication crisis – too many types and mixes – but when you’re relying on the medical establishment and official sources on the internet, what’s a person to do?
Two years ago nearing Christmas, I was prescribed another anti-depressant. On Christmas Day the crisis hit me, and I became suicidal for two days. The most revolting thing that’s ever happened to us, and my poor husband – my amazing carer – was at his wits end. The neighbours came in to help. One of them had worked with a local mental health team, and her daughter said: ‘Mum – have you got their phone number?’ I was invited in to see the team (I was a shambled wreck – ‘reasonably kempt’, according to the nursing report) on New Year’s Day. Gee whizz! I was taken off the new medication, stabalized, given another new one on top of my old medication, then, finally, CBT”d (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Both my parents died the following Christmas, and various other family crisis occurred, but, compared to THE crisis, they were nothing. I got better and better. Never felt this good. Ever.
I now have a new life to build, and build it I will. Just see if I don’t.
PS. You may now call me a blogger. I won’t be insulted. Promise.
PPS. Facebookers love my never-ending novel. Yo man!
Right – it’s Xmas. Grit your teeth folks and get in there! :-O
Okay, it’s not everyone’s favourite time of year, let’s face it. The obligations many of us feel we have to contend with really have a dampening effect on what should/could be a magical time. For me, as with most of us, Xmas (or Christmas, as many prefer it…) was magical when we were kids – and I’m not being ageist or declaring golden past-ish, it really was. And I loved it. Even school improved.
As a kid, I remember the preparations leading up to the great event, probably starting with mother asking us kids to have a stir of the Xmas pud and making a wish. She could have chucked a handful of threepenny bits into the mix (they were around back then) but someone would doubtlessly crack a tooth on one. She’d ask me if I wanted to accompany her to the local farm to collect the stonking great turkey for Xmas dinner. She always had a gathering of family and friends. November was the magical start of it. That word again. And it was. Advent calenders, school nativity plays, decorations, gift wrapping (another memory – helping mother to wrap the pressies for various friends and relatives), our Christmas Eve sack (not stocking) and the day itself. Yay! My mother was an exempliary hostess with the mostest and Xmas was fun back then. My family, and various relatives and friends, were fun. But this was long before adulthood, depression and judgementalism hit.
I’m an optimist, always have been, despite depression. Something good comes out of most things, and the world is not as bad as many people seem to think it is (unfortunately bad news earns money ie. newspapers and tv. Good news doesn’t). Sadly, Christmas has definitely deteriorated into a free-for-all commercialised eat and drink yourself stupid state of affairs that starts in November, often involving the company of family members you can’t stand and only ever meet at weddings and funerals and dreaded Christmases. Many people adore Christmas. They have lovely family and friends and bask in a great time with them and don’t feel the obligation side of any of it. And yes – I do envy them.
I, as an adult, felt I had a lot to live up to within my mother’s shadow. I was encouraged – nay, forced – to be sociable. But I’m a bit of a loner, at least I was. I love my own company and that of my own little family. We all understand one another. But you were rude if you didn’t want to socialise, and Husband and me didn’t want to socialise, particularly with my oh, so hilarious family, bless ’em, who didn’t understand me in the slightest. Who thought I was oversensitive and over-reactive when teased. And ‘Come and play a game of cards or you’re an unsociable twat.’ (‘twat’ wasn’t said, but was implied). Dad, it turned out, was quite shy, but always did the ‘right’ thing by being sociable. In latter years he only did it to please everyone else. ‘So-and-so is bringing a cake so I suppose I’d better be a good host.’ Gagh. I told him he really shouldn’t feel obligated. Not to mention all that angst over one flippin’ day of the year.
I hated family gatherings. Fun for the others, definitely, but the older I got, and depression took hold, I felt judged, by both family and friends. And I was judged. But it’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to say: ‘I hate get-togethers and I’m not going.’ Took a long time coming. Took me forty years to say ‘no’ to mother, and to actually contradict her (think Mrs.Thatcher. Mother even had the hair). These gatherings were dire for me and Husband. Alternatively Husband’s family were kind and unjudgemental. I love them. They understood us and my foibles and didn’t insist we turn up to these horrendous (at the time, to me) events.
Alternatively we did want our kids to have fun Christmases. And they did, I think. But son was bright and had learning difficulties and daughter was bright and bossy. Hey ho. So any enjoyment of our intimate family Christmases we had vanished pretty quickly, too. The years marched on and Christmas became dreaded, with the addition of Slade’s ‘Here it is, Merry Bloody Xmas, Everone is Having Fun…’ No, we’re ******* not! I just wanted to shoot Noddy Holder.
Bang up to date. Well, two years ago, after my medication crisis… I made the brave decision – and it was brave – that I’d been given the chance to really go for it and enjoy life, and family ‘obligations’ could take a running jump. I was not longer going to do things I didn’t enjoy. They had contributed to my depression and I wasn’t going to allow anything to get in the way of my new found happiness. Husband’s family were fine and understanding. Always had been. By then, my mother had been in a nursing home with dementia for ten years and big bro was caring for my dad. And big bro was pretty understanding too. Two years ago, both my parents died within days of one another and any obligationary and judgemental feelings I had left evaporated. And I don’t have to explain myself to anybody. If anybody doesn’t like it – tough. You wouldn’t want anybody as a friend anyway.
Last year we didn’t send a single Christmas card. Last year we went to Looe, in Cornwall – one of our favourite haunts – and woke up to sea views and surfers, a lone artist at his easel below us (even on Christmas Day) and swimmers on the day, and went to the pub on Christmas Day and Husband cooked Christmas dinner and we wore silly hats on our balcony and drank wine overlooking the estuary… Magical. We had my mini pink fluffy Xmas tree all lit up and Rudolph the reindeer sat next to it and turkish delight and crackers and other delights sparkled in our harbourside apartment. Gorgeous.
We’re going back to Looe this year. But I will send cards. My Scrooge-ness has been challenged. I would like to enjoy Christmas again. Do it our way. Working on it. Even listen to Slade without wanting to shoot them…