No, I’m Not Ok (Part #1)

Your mind is jolted awake by the sound of children. For the briefest of seconds you experience that hazy amnesia where you don’t quite remember who you are, or how you came to be here. Then your eyes flick open to a wash of blue – the blue of a bedroom wall. Why are you in here again? Oh, that’s right … you’re sleeping in there to try to get them into their own beds.
With that one recollection everything else comes flooding back into consciousness. You remember exactly who you are. You remember all the things in your life that led up to this point. You remember that you are in crisis. It happens in a few seconds, but its effect is like a punch to the core. You close your eyes, wishing you could sink into the mattress and not face any of it.
But you have to face it. The first demand of the day is already upon you. The children want their breakfast. You extract yourself off the floor and pad out to the kitchen, rubbing your sleep deprived eyes. The nightmares have started again – those demons that play in your mind when it is supposed to be resting.
The children bounce around your feet, making various demands as you attempt to complete the basic task of acquiring some cereal. You sort their breakfast and usher them to their table in the lounge. Coffee time. As you stir the coffee you vacantly gaze out the window, running through a poorly constructed list in your head of all the things you need to do today. You can see the ocean from your kitchen window … the window that your grandfather selected when he built this house 75 years ago. So many memories … so many people lost …
You shake yourself out of that unwelcome reminiscing, and re-focus on the list of things that need doing. But emotions are vying for your attention now. They have caught wind of that one tinge of weakness, and they are ready to pounce and flood your body. You cannot allow that. So you snatch the painkillers off the counter and quickly down three. That should be enough to keep the emotions at bay.
Out on the front veranda you sit down with your coffee and take a deep breath, hoping the children will give you at least five minutes. The view is beautiful, and it always gives you some small measure of peace. But sitting and thinking is always risky. You long for it, and whinge that you’re not given enough time to do it, but you fear it too. Because you know that the darker thoughts will come if given the chance. And the emotions will come. And if you can’t control them they will swallow you up. Focus on today will you please? Run through the list of things to do … day-care and school run, shopping, bills, calls to make appointments, and cleaning. Then there is also that portrait that needs finishing. And the application for the gallery exhibition which you haven’t even started yet. And you probably need to put aside some time to think about your relationship with your husband, who you’re currently separated from, contemplate how the fuck you got to this point in your life, and how on earth you’re going to fix it.
The sheer objective acknowledgement of all these things creates a wave of overwhelming nausea through your entire being. And it’s only 7:15am. You suddenly feel deficient and incapable – not able to achieve any of it. You want to fade away and escape. But you can’t escape. You have to carry on. You have to do all these things. There is no choice. You are a parent, and these things must all be done regardless of your frame of mind. The pressure to simply be okay is crushing you. Time for another painkiller …
You stand under the stream of the shower, willing the water to wash away the hopelessness, the sadness, and the guilt. But you don’t have the luxury of staying in there for long. You get out and quickly get dressed. Striding into the kids room, you extract uniforms and outfits and toss them into the lounge, ordering the kids to get dressed. They won’t of course. They will have far more important things to do. And you will argue about it up until about five minutes before departure time. Sighing heavily, you go back into the kitchen to make lunches and get bags packed, reminding yourself that you need to pick your son up at 11:30 for the paediatrician’s appointment.
You go back into the bathroom to attend to you hair and make-up. You hate this part … because it necessitates staring in the mirror. Nobody wants to be faced with having to look in the mirror when they are in internal crisis. But the show must go on. You apply foundation, mascara, lipstick, and straighten your fringe, as that’s all you’ve got time for this morning. You hope the make-up will cover the fact that you are in crisis. You paint over the crumbling interior in an attempt to make it invisible to the outside world. But of course it is still terrifyingly visible to you. And you can’t bear it. You stop and stare for a second. You look at your collarbones. They are more prominent now. You pull the scales out with your foot. You have lost another half kilo. You have lost 18 kg in the last six months; because of the eating disorder … because you cannot hold anything else in your body. You really should do something about that. You add it to the to-do list.
Barking at the children to put their shoes on, you gather bags and try to find your keys. You quickly message your husband to remind him about the paediatrician appointment. Finally you are out the door, kids in tow. You drop your daughter at day-care and feel guilty that you are relieved. You take your son to school. He has just started year one. As you walk through the corridors you feel that usual stab of pain. The school atmosphere reminds you of your mum. It reminds you of going in to her class to teach art on those many occasions she guilt tripped you into doing an art lesson. You take your sons hand and move quicker in an effort to repress your emotions. But they are still there. She never even got to meet her grandson. She died while you were pregnant with him. You feel a fresh stab of anger and deep, hot, searing pain. She should be here. She should be here, seeing him start year one, and helping him with his learning difficulties. But she is gone … forever.
There is no time for such thoughts right now. You must stuff them back down and focus on the task at hand. You follow your son into class and weave your way to his desk. You are met with friends and acquaintances on the way, all smiling and saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’
You smile back, ‘Good’.
It is a blatant lie. You wonder if you fool them. You are about as far from ok as you can be. Yet that is the answer you give every time is it asked, just like you do every single morning. You reply with, ‘I’m good, you?’
Why do you have to hide it all? Why is there so much pressure to be ok? You consider that with annoyance as you help your son organise his things and do his morning activities. Internally you scream while you sound out the letters with him. Why does he struggle so much? Why can’t I help him more? The bell goes and you hold him tight, reminding him that you will be picking him up at lunchtime to go see the special doctor. You want to keep holding him. But you also need to get out – fast. You leave and weave your way through the throngs of parents to get to your escape vehicle.
You throw yourself in the car with a huge sigh. Start the car. Right … coffee run. You are alone now. You have two hours.
Back at home you indulge in the silence and the coffee. Your mind turns naturally to the appointment you have today. Your son has had problems ever since he started school. The kindy teacher had concerns that he was not keeping up, but he was left to grow at his own pace. The ruthless testing in pre-primary raised significant concerns. He was way behind his peers. The school psychologist was called in to investigate. A cognitive IQ test revealed that he had an intellectual disability. And then came all the specialists. It was the year of attempted diagnoses.
One specialist thought he had autism. That was the day your eating disorder started. You remember it vividly – the shock of that diagnosis, and the intense guilt and pain. You went along thinking he was autistic for months, before the paediatrician assessed him and disagreed. And then more opposing opinions were added to the mix. The confusion was palpable.
Now he has started year one, with an education assistant, under the diagnosis of having just an intellectual disability. You thought that would be the end of it. That you had reached a conclusion after a year of investigation, and that you could move forward, tackling his learning difficulties. But was not the end. He has started to look ill this last month. He is ghostly white, with dark circles under his eyes, and he has lost weight and is tired and lethargic. Something else is at play here, and that too needs to be discussed with the doctor today. What is wrong with my son?
The contemplation of this is too much. You take another few painkillers to prevent complete emotional collapse. You MUST remain stable and hold it together. What the hell is wrong with you at the moment? You had managed to keep yourself stable, repressing anything even remotely dark, for the last six years. Then it all began to crumble last year. The problems with your son, the slow erosion of your marriage, the eating disorder, the separation … it all came to a head last year. How the hell do you move through this forest of obstacles and challenges? It seems utterly impossible. But there is no more time to think about it. It is time to stuff it all back down and get ready for today’s appointment.
You drift in to school to collect your son. You try to remain happy and to hide your worry. The extra painkillers help you do that. You try to answer his questions about why he has to see the doctor without alarming him. You sit in the paediatrician’s office and watch your son play as you answer her questions and discuss his progress. You mention your concerns about his physical health. She gives you a list of things you need to remember to do, and orders a complete blood work up, including a DNA test to look for abnormalities in his chromosomes. You feel another hideous wave of nausea. You will have to take your son for the blood tests after school.
You drop your son back to school and go home. You can’t deal with the shops right now – that will have to wait. You make another coffee and sit out the back this time so no-one can see the tears. You replay the conversation in your head. There is still so much confusion. This process will never be over. He will always struggle with learning. He will always need more help. And now he may be ill with something else. And it is all … your … FAULT …
You were six months pregnant with him when your mum died. You fell apart. For six weeks you went mad. You drank alcohol, and smoked cigarettes … for six weeks you let the grief consume you. You did that. And now your son is paying the price. And it doesn’t matter how many doctors and specialists tell you that it’s likely that had no bearing on his intellect or health, you know, with upmost certainty, that you will never be convinced. The guilt will never go away. You will carry it forever. And you deserve to carry it forever for doing what you did. That knowledge makes you feel sick; it’s no wonder you can’t keep any food down. It also makes you freshly angry at your mother, for daring to die so suddenly, thus putting you in this situation. And for having the audacity to not be here to help you now. You are completely alone. With the only certainty being that you have to survive. You have no choice. Madness, even temporary insanity, is not an option for a parent. You have to get up every day and do what needs to be done. You have to hide your darkness from other people, and especially from your kids. You have to remember to experience joy and laughter with your kids every day, because you flatly refuse to drag them into your internal landscape of pain. The pressure is completely overwhelming. The only way you can deal with it is to take some more painkillers to try to numb the assault of conflicting emotions. It is the only way to survive the day with some semblance of happiness and sanity. And pretty soon it will be time to go and collect your kids, and begin the afternoon and evening routine. No … it doesn’t matter what is happening inside, breakdown is simply not an option.

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