2021: A Reflection (aka F**k Off!)

Most people were beyond relieved to see the back of 2020, aka The Year That Never Was. I sincerely thought I was one of them, what with the cabin fever, swings and roundabouts of lockdown rules and the cancelled Christmas.

As it turns out, I personally, knew nothing. I sit here now, December 2021 and can categorically state that 2021 is The Year I Wish I’d Never Lived.

I have had some bad years mental health wise. 2006, when I was 17, I was isolated and lonely. I didn’t really go out because I didn’t have the confidence to make friends, or to know myself. I suppose it’s an affliction that all young people suffer. Problem is, the more I think about it, the less I am certain that I, now a 32 year old wife and mother have in fact made it out the other side.

2011 I was 22, living away from home for the first time in my first and still fledgling relationship. Most young people, so society’s narrative tells me thrive and find themselves. I shrunk further into myself, struggling to meet new people because I felt comparitively that I had nothing of note to say and I felt more alone than I had 5 years previously because I just felt constantly that things should look different and I should be better. This too, is a feeling that this year has brought back to the fore.

I wonder if lockdown responsible for my Personal Inadequacy 3.0. Lockdown experience has been lauded as unifying because we’ve all lived the same limited experiences since March 2020 right?

Except it is utterly and completely fucking wrong. I cannot speak for you, but I, and my family have been living through a Hell like I could never have imagined existed and simply and truthfully put, I am broken.

My pregnancy was so hard, in isolation and without specialised support. The calm and prepared experience I hoped for is now never going to be mine to experience. And whilst I am fully aware that there is nothing I can do about it, I am not at peace with it. I’m not sure that is fair to even expect. But at least for that experience, I received the wonderful gift of our beautiful Gabby Gabster. For this, I am grateful every day because it means I do not have to be alone as my wonderful Immy Squidge moves on in the world of big school, adventures and head-strong independence.

After 6 long hard years, I earned my Bachelors Degree this year. But my pride is so marred. Because every other defining experience my family has endured this year has been a loss.

First, my mum, in January. Then my lovely father-in-law in August, leaving essentially everyone I love in pain and feeling lost. And worse, I only began to feel my mum’s loss for the truth it is when we lost my father-in-law, because I couldn’t pick up the phone and tell Mum about it, or ask her what support she would have wanted when she nursed and lost my dad in 2015. And so, I grieved all the lost parents at once, whilst wishing I could protect my whole family from the pain and knowing I couldn’t.

Truthfully, had it not been for my babies needing me each and every day, I don’t know what would have become of me. All I do know is what has become of me and I find it so impossibly hard to admit to anyone, even myself. I have thrown myself absolutely and completely into keeping house and being mum. I thought I would find my peace there. I wished for it so much.

But honestly, right now, it isn’t there. Because I am killing myself with pressure and expectation of being “good” at it all, when really I am suffocating. It’s no-one’s fault. My children are my pride and joy and their existence and giggles is pretty much the only thing that can consistently feed my soul.

Otherwise, I am always over-tired, over caffeinated and overworked. Typical states for mothers I guess, but I have other things to contend with. Grief. Disability. Pain, pain, pain in all its forms.

I am increasingly desperate to talk to my mum. She had 5 children and I know that in the end, it overwhelmed her. I think I will always wonder if it was in fact, my arrival and all the worry and limitations chasing and dealing with my cerebral palsy diagnosis that finally broke my mum. But I also know she’d never have told me even if she was here now. I’m pretty sure she’d tell me my girls are the best children in the world and my husband is wonderful (all true) so how on earth could I be so overwhelmed by motherhood? So maybe talking to her about it would serve little use.

For one reason or another, my mum spiralled into alcohol abuse that marred her own experiences of motherhood. I have always hated that realisation, always when I was younger, what I did wong. Now I am older, and reeling from how lightning quick the blows that life can deal us all have rained down on my family, I am desperate to tell her I understand.

I think my mum would disagree and perhaps rightly so, because the lives we have lived are very different. But that does not mean either of our experiences are any less valid, or that I can’t understand the need for a crutch. I wish my mum had felt able to consider and reach out for other options, but times are different aren’t they? I wish I could give her a hug and tell her that facing everything she did, she did remarkably and I’m so sorry that she was lonely.

Because I understand how that happens. I have always felt loneliness on some level. The friends I have collected along the way are long-standing, the type that ask no questions when I get swept up in the minutiae of life and disappear. On the one hand, this is remarkably helpful, because friendships can be resumed and present ever similar levels of comfort and familiarity.

Except, lockdown forced us all to let our connections drop somehwhat and I simply don’t know how to reinsert myself into someone’s life when I am carrying so much pain that I don’t know how to process. Why would anyone want that when they are dealing with their own stresses and strains? So, in a self fulfilling prophecy I guess, I stay away and I stay lonely. I never really understood how my mum reached that point, or how anyone else let it happen, but now that I am living it, I do. It’s life. Cruel, uncontrollable life. I don’t know where to start, even with people I have known and trusted for years.

And now, for the catalyst in my terrible year and the state of my mental health. When Mum passed, I kidded myself for months she was just being her reclusive self and was holed up in her flat with the dog as usual. I’d see her soon, it would be fine. My siblings were inconsolable, but I, although sad, was surprisingly calm, for me anyway.

I am no longer calm. I am in the worst state I have been all year and I have no idea how to tell anyone. But it has to go somewhere or it’s going to physically hurt me whilst it sits and festers.

The dog did it. My mum’s beloved dog, Rusty. She bought him home to my childhood home as a 12 week old puppy when I was 18. We’re all quite aware and at peace with the fact that Rusty was not only my mum’s favourite child, but the love of her life. He kept the loneliness at bay as much as a stinky, overexcitable four legged friend can. He gave her a reason to get up and function every day.

Just before she died, Mum asked me to have him, because she knew I loved him and that he loved me. She’d always put him on the phone when we talked because she said he’d wag his tail everytime he heard my voice. She’d always tell him it was me and use my daft little pet names for him “Rushypup” or “Mr Trot Along”. I agonised over whether we should take him. But between my disabilities and having a brand new baby, we didn’t. Not that Mum ever knew. My older sister did instead and my God, he loved his time with her.

But time did to Rusty what it will do to us all, and last week week, Rusty died, a happy, grey old man, going back over the rainbow to the parents that loved him the most. That was comforting, that the three of them could be happy to be reunited.

The death of a little, well-loved pup is what broke me. Because it has made all the other loss this year ever more true. Because I don’t need to check what my mum will do without her beloved dog. She’s not without him.

I no longer have parents. The last four legged link to them is gone. I cannot kid that there’s anyone in the flat anymore. And I have been hit by a train. My expectations of myself as a mother have not relented because it increasigly feels that they are all I have left. I am no-one’s child anymore.

This year, having taken my mum’s Christmas sweetie jars from her flat when she passed, I will be filling them over and over, just as she did for me, to give my own children some of the magic I remember. But the magic is broken because it is no longer for me. I am the grown up now and I cannot even tell my mum what a wonderful job she did with so little.

There will be no delicious food made at my dad’s clever chef hands, no chastising the dog for rolling in the wrapping paper or chewing the obligatory new socks. A whole chapter of my life is gone. Which in another sense means that a new one has begun, which is lovely but when you feel so much like a frightened little child, how in the Hell can you expect to feel in control of anything you wish was within this new chapter?

I am exhausted. I barely know who I am, or what day it is. I live by lists and caffeine. I cry constantly and I wonder when or even where the hurt will go. And I wish I knew how to tell those I love. All suggestions welcome.

Until then, my wonderful husband has gifted me a night to myself. I’ve eaten cake, bought a book and some bubble bath. I’m going to have a long hot bath, do my hair for no reason and drink wine under a hotel duvet. And I’m going to sleep, sleep, sleep the pain away and wake up in a new time. Different times are unavailable, the loss will remain real. But I have to believe I can do this. Because even though I don’t feel able to live ore of this, I am fortunate enough that I have people to live for.

So I choose to own and name my pain. I do not believe it should be hidden away, even if it can be argued that is precisely what I have done. But my defense is simply my inability to articulate so many huge and hurtful feelings. It does not mean they are not there or that I should pretend they are not. I just need the time and space to take care of myself. Because so many versions of me are hurting right now, because some can never be again and that is a hard realisation when I barely know who I am.

Some people just know. They can look at themselves in the mirror, see their growth and know who they are, what they believe and what they are about. All I can see just now is how tired I am, how desperate I am to live different times and not hurt anymore. But as I said, different is unavalable.

So fuck you very much 2021. You have taken so much from me, my sanity being your most recent steal so it feels. But 2022 is coming. Time cannot be stopped. I choose to believe 2022 will be better. And so will I. Somehow. Because when I already feel so awful thanks to the things I cannot control, I should not be piling pressure onto my own being and experiences. I should be able to look in the mirror, see that tiredness and pain and say with all sincerity:

“Fucking hell, Jo. You survived all that. Well done.”