The Revelation

I bumped into some old friends today. They were about to go for coffee and asked me to join. I couldn’t, I just clammed up, I couldn’t speak, I felt my skin crawling and a deep and overwhelming discomfort washing over me. I walked away, muttering something about work, dropped some bread into my partner’s shop, nearly cried because I thought I had lost a five-pound note, rushed home and just sat and cried and shook.

This is not normal behaviour! However, this is the behaviour of someone who has reached a point so overwhelming that it is impossible to even try to remove your feet from the tarlike emotional quagmire that you are in.

So what was this final, insurmountable breaking point? My dad has been diagnosed with aggressive skin cancer and will be operated on as a matter of emergency. He’s nearly 78, you can expect him to have illnesses and to die at some point, probably soon. So why would this be the thing that tips the balance and that would stop me from functioning as I had previously done? It’s all the responsibility.

I feel that it’s probably time to put all of this into perspective. While I understand that everyone has issues and problems that they need to deal with, that break their hearts and sometimes their souls, I just can’t help but think that I’ve had enough already. I’m sick of the responsibility.

My mum died when I was 26, she’d been an alcoholic since she’d lost her own parents when I was 4. As a kid, aside from having to explain away to people why she was seeing black cats and moving ceilings, I also had to deal with her hospitalisation in a mental asylum and other spells in various hospitals and institutions. I was asked to meet her psychiatrist when I was 10 and forced to go and sit in a waiting room every day for the whole of a school holidays. They had a nice hot chocolate machine.

As I became a teenager, she drank more and became more violent, it was awful. I would sleep on friend’s sofas and spare beds (charitably allowed by their parents) and when the worst came to it I would sleep in my car (once I had one). There were times when I would get drunk and wade into the sea at parties and as a result I was dubbed “a bit intense”. It was my coping mechanism.

When I became an adult and swiftly moved out, my dad decided that he didn’t want to take responsibility for her either. Cue last-minute dashes to hospitals because she was suffering from jaundice, it was odd for her not to recognise her only child, or the time dad was hospitalised during my finals and mum went cold turkey, ringing me every 10 minutes, begging for me to buy her alcohol. By the time I had managed to move 25 miles away, Social Services would be ringing me to ask if she could live at my house. She never came to visit any of my houses or saw me graduate.

So when she died, my private therapist said that I looked like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Cue a 6 year horrific and abusive relationship with a horrible and violent man.

That’s enough right? Surely that has to be enough.

In the last 12 months my father has been diagnosed with cancer twice. The first time led me to desperately google sperm donors in a fear that I would be left as the last one standing from my family. I have been cheated on, I have been made redundant, lost my home and my dad has been in hospital since February. I’ve had to choose a home for him whilst also moving in with my partner, juggle starting a new business while trying not to look like an awful daughter, jump through endless hoops, shout at people, not shout at people and generally try to hold it all together.

The tipping point actually wasn’t cancer, it was the delivery of the wrong air mattress, but that isn’t really what started the whole shaking thing.

That was the insurmountable knowledge that there is more to come. That this is just the beginning. How much good will does one person use up before people start becoming bored? At what point do platitudes lose their significance (I know that I’ve been guilty of a grimace when I’ve spotted someone who always seems to be down on their luck)? And actually, how long before I catch a break? I’ve always joked that I don’t have kids because I have too many other responsibilities, but you know what, it’s not a joke, it’s true. When can I finally have a holiday without worrying about a parent? When can I have a week that doesn’t involve a phone call about them (yesterday I received more calls about my dad than I did of people actually wanting to talk to me)?

You know what, I know that others have it worse, others have no roof over their heads or are the ones with the horrific illnesses, but this makes it worse, because it makes me feel selfish.

And there you have it, I’m damned if I feel bad and I’m damned if I don’t.

 

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Heaven or Hell?

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Last Friday my dad’s best and oldest friend’s ashes were scattered around a remote railway in North Wales. Dad misses him very much and yesterday we had a chat about the situation. I felt terrible that I hadn’t found the time to drive him to Wales to say one final goodbye. Dad was circumspect. “It’s alright, I asked his niece to let him know that I’ll see him up or down soon. I expect it will be down.”

“Down? What to hell?” My dad replied that that was exactly where he expected and he imagined that his friend was hanging out there in a bar waiting for him.

I need to take a moment to explain Dad to you. He is not in the slightest bit religious. In fact he is so unreligious that when I was  a teenager my way of rebelling was to become a Catholic. He’s also lovely, grumpy, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti semitic and islamophobic. Actually, any label of hatred towards another group of people and he’s it. But, he’s 77 and he’s generous to a fault (even helping one of my friends to buy a car when she needed it and never asking for the money back) and he is one of the cleverest people I know. When my mum was drinking and ill he looked after me in a sweet Kramer V Kramer way that only he could and I know that he would never willingly hurt anyone.

Hopefully, you can understand why I was shocked at his defiant belief that he was going somewhere flamey. It got me thinking, if my dad thinks that he’s going to go to hell for having a few beers, swearing and being a bit bad as a young man (and by this I mean stealing a station sign once and maybe trespassing), then surely the majority of us are going the same way. In today’s society, maybe we need to reconsider what is a sin, otherwise Hell is going to be massively over populated. We won’t be able to move for people who never married but had sex, pot smokers and those 90s teenagers who shoplifted pic’n’mix from Woolworths. In fact, Heaven is going to be a little bit sparse too. Maybe they might start advertising for people who only committed smallish sins to move on up. And actually, if Hell is as my dad imagines, full of people who stole train signs in their 20s, are there good and bad neighbourhoods?

Maybe, the parameters of Hell need to be changed. The resident’s committee that interviews would be tenants needs to reconsider their criteria. Otherwise Heaven is only going to be populated by a few religious figures, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and all the Lassies.

Sorry, this has been an odd post after so many months. So much happening that I can’t blog, but I’m going to end on a moral as usual, I think sometimes we forget the good that we are. It’s easy to consider the mistakes that we make and the wrongs that we’ve done and overlook the positives. Always remember the positives.

The art of being happy?

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Last week I sat on the beach with some friends and their children. It was close to sunset, we were salty from the surf, the kids were running around naked and I had some annoying sand in my swimsuit; the kind of sand that no matter how much you try to find it, it evades you. It was really a perfect evening, apart from the sand. The niggling, scratchy feeling began to take all my attention. It dragged me away from the Instagram perfect scene in front of me. Looking over at my friend, I realised that she was probably equally as sandy, but she looked relaxed, calm, almost serene. The niggle wasn’t niggling her.

That evening I came to a stark realisation. Sometimes, you have to overcome the small irritations of life in order to be happy. We so often overlook what we have in favour of what we don’t. It’s a crazy thought process. An old ex of mine was constantly in the throws of pain and anguish for what he didn’t have (both emotionally and physically) whilst living in an amazing house, with sea views and no debts to concern himself with. I never fully understood it, much like I never understood why the dinner ladies at school would tell me off for not eating beetroot, because there were children starving in Ethiopia.

This past month has been one of huge flux and change, but through all of it I’ve tried to consider that something good can come from most events in our lives. It might not feel it at the time, but even if it means that we can grasp empathy or sympathy for others, that is positive.

And so the end of a much shorter than usual post and a moral: sometimes the niggles in life are there not to be ignored, but to allow us to appreciate everything else that we enjoy.

Moth balls

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The other week, after a particularly hard day teaching about the Industrial Revolution, I lay on my bed watching the moths flitting around on the ceiling. There were 15 in total. That’s quite a lot of moths. Hold on, that’s a hell of a lot of moths. Oh god, I have moths! Hauling myself off the bed I leapt towards the wardrobe and frantically started pulling all of the clothes out. More moths and fur, lots of fur.

At the back of my wardrobe was my mother’s silver fox fur. I’d kept it because it smelt of her, not because I wanted to wear it. Sometimes, when I felt particularly nostalgic I would hold it and sniff it’s musty smells of Givenchy No5 and mum. Now it was in tatters, filled with moths, hanging, like road kill, in my wardrobe. I threw it on the floor and quickly followed it, weeping inconsolably. It just proved that I couldn’t look after my mum’s stuff.

She was an only child and I am too and one of the things we are really bad at is sharing. Mum had some really nice stuff. I remember looking at all of it as a kid and thinking “Wow, she’s kind of glamorous.” She didn’t really let me touch her things. She always said I would break them or damage them. So, when she died, after I’d recovered from the initial shock, I was fairly excited to finally get my hands on her sewing machine and fox fur.

The sewing machine was the first thing that broke. I tried to use it and it actually burst in to flames. I’m not trying to make a comment on the afterlife here, but you have to admit it’s ironic that the machine I wasn’t allowed to use for textiles homework caught fire the first time I tried to use it. And now the fox fur was decimated. I felt the full weight of failure on my shoulders. I Googled moth infestations. A useful mumsy website suggested that freezing would kill any larvae, so I promptly stuffed what was left in to a rubbish sack and rammed it into my freezer compartment. It made me feel a little better.

The thing is the fur is still damaged. The sewing machine is still scorched. Despite my best laid plans and reverence towards them, those items are ruined. It made me wonder about the clutter that we collect. The mementos, the trinkets, the things that we hold dear, that chunk of Berlin Wall or shell from that first date on the beach. Where will they end up? In a charity shop, in a moth infested wardrobe, maybe placed on display as something we owned, holding someone that we love back because we once treasured that item and they treasured us?

Just like these objects, we hold on to emotional baggage that holds us back. That moment when you freak out because your new boyfriend wanders off at a gig because when you’re old boyfriend did that you knew there would be a whole heap of trouble. Or not wearing yellow because someone once told you that it made you look washed out. Not doing that thing that you always wanted to because you failed the first time or got turned down or didn’t feel so confident the last time you tried.

I think I might just put the remains of the fox fur in the bin, it’s in a bin bag already. And so today’s moral; don’t let your fears or past experiences hold you back. Do what makes you feel right, not what you think will please or appease others.

Sliding doors?

I remember watching Sliding Doors and thinking “Yes, it could work, but life is what you make it.” I was naïve.

Up until that point I’d followed the tenets of life as it was required and expected. I’d bought a house, I’d been engaged. I’d found a steady profession which I thought would see me (sadly) through to retirement, I’d adopted a cat. Life seemed as normal and ordinary as any visit to B&Q on a weekend with the other masses of homeowners looking for the right bathroom tiles. Yet, something was missing. It stayed missing for 10 years, until my “Sliding Doors” moment.

A moment of empathy is required here. I need you to picture for a second that you have been driving around the Mid West of America on your own, separated from your boyfriend of 6 years, spending your days in the desert or amongst holiday makers, avoiding rest stops that looked like you may get assaulted, yearning to get home to a warm, loving embrace at the airport. Got it? Now add in a facetime conversation where your love tells you that he can’t meet you at the airport because he’s going camping with his buddies in the New Forest. Then throw in the desperation of worrying about how you’ll get home, combined with trying to feel “fine” about the whole situation, because that’s what you’re expected to do. Not the most amazing Heathrow moment.

I got home, moved out, moved in to a flat and then sat on my own for a while. The boyfriend dumped me by text (better or worse than a post-it, I’m not sure). It was at this moment that the sliding doors moment happened. In the depths of my self loathing and questioning a friend from 20 years ago invited me to her wedding reception!

The main thought in my mind was that 20 years earlier I had been thin and interesting. Now I was a fat, 30something, teacher who had just been dumped by text. Not the best mindset. Two amazing friends came to the rescue, taught me contouring, made me cocktails to take, spilt lots of blood and sent me on my way to the wedding.

That wedding? Sliding doors moment. If I hadn’t gone to that wedding I wouldn’t have my house, my social life, my friends, my partner and (hopefully) my new career in copywriting. One evening made all the difference. When I consider how close I was to walking away and not going because I was embarrassed by who I perceived myself to be, I shudder.

And so time for another moral: Other people don’t see what you see, so never be embarrassed of who you are….ever.

Why blog?

When I was 9 I had a firm image of where exactly I wanted to be when I was 35. It was 1989, so you’ll have to forgive the terrible fashion choices, but I was working in London, in stilettos, with a perm (my mum never let me have a perm) and there were shoulder pads. Lots of shoulder pads. At home, I had John Nettles (from his Bergerac days), tending my two perfect children in a beautiful, double fronted, Victorian villa. Oh, and I could buy anything I wanted from the Kays catalogue.

Flash forward 16 years, I’m a secondary school teacher, I’m too fat to buy anything from the Kays catalogue if it existed now, I’ve never had a perm, I stopped wearing stilettos because I really hate that burny feeling you get after wearing them for 30 minutes, John Nettles no longer looks like he did in Bergerac and, while my boyfriend owns a lovely, double fronted, Victorian villa, I don’t live in it. Oh, and I’m being made redundant. And the redundancy part is quite important, because suddenly I’m going to have to make a massive change. I understand that people do this all the time, they have children, move abroad, climb mountains, lose important limbs, but for me, this whole redundancy thing has made me question exactly where my rent money comes from.

I need to make it clear, I wasn’t sad about being made redundant. I mean, I shed a tear at the idea that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent and that the warm, cosy, secure blanket of permanent employment was being ripped off me in an angry and unwelcome wake up call, but I wasn’t sad. Instead I’m trying to embrace the opportunity. This blog is dedicated to all of those people doing the same thing and those who wish they could. I figure that if I’m going through this, then others are too. Every post will try to end with a moral, so here is today’s; if you want to do something, do it, don’t regret that you never did.