Sunday 28th June, lunchtime.
Standing in a messy kitchen feeling slightly ticked off that I am making another meal, harboring the thought that if the world was a reasonable place weekend catering would be outsourced so I can get on and tackle ‘higher order’ things. And then I stop and ask myself what’s going on. I love cooking, I love inviting people to eat with us, I love listening to Radio 4 whilst I potter.
But there is just TOO MUCH TO DO; I am overcommitted and there’s just no spare capacity. That’s what’s wrong. How did I get here I ask myself? I won an election, that’s what happened. I am became a district councillor in May and when I decided to stand people asked me if I was mad. I told them it was important that I move from just banging the drum about the under-representation of women in politics to being part of the solution and encouraging other women to join me. I needed to get involved and there were some specific local issues I wanted to do something about. I took on the challenge knowing it would be tight, challenging and overwhelming at times. And I’ve made a good start drawing boundaries about when I do council work (because I work four days and council work cannot impinge on this time) and I have been clear with myself about what would need to go out of the window to make time for it (TV, piano lessons and piano practice for instance).
I give myself a bit of a talking to. The talking is as follows:
- You knew there would be pressure points; times when a lot came along at once, when many people wanted your help, your views and your attendance at meetings and events all at the same time. You’re at one of those points now. It is fine, it will be fine. You can handle this.
- Make a list, write it down. Get clear on what is on your plate and what can be passed to someone else.
- Decide what needs to be done now (as in REALLY needs to be done because there are deadlines not because of your personal standards, Jessica).
- Summer holidays are nearly here and you have pretty much sorted your childcare. It will be great to ditch school-related hassle (remembering random things to take into school, uniform washing, last minute requests to do plaits just before we leave the house etc etc).
- Sleep. Have a nap this afternoon, you always feel better afterwards.
- Don’t even think about sacking off a spinning class or time for a run. These are a great return on investment.
Then I think to myself “imagine if something else happened now, would you topple? Just how much more could you take if you had to?” I smile and tell myself that I don’t really have it that hard and even if ‘something else’ did happen I would cope. I ask myself to think of the women who walk miles to the water hole. I ask myself to compare my situation to the people who are enslaved in the UK behind closed doors. I am fine. I have got my perspective back.
Sunday 28th June 8.43pm.
And then it happens. The house phone rings. I ignore it. My mobile rings. I ignore it. The house phone rings again and I swear. Nick answers the phone. It’s a police officer from my hometown. My mother has passed out on her living room floor (alcohol), the police have broken in and the ambulance has taken her to hospital. Fast-forward a couple of days and it’s clear that she has alcohol-induced dementia. I drive five and half hours to see her and she is pleased to see me and knows who I am. It’s the nicest time we have had together in a very long time (alcohol wrecks lives and relationships suffice to say). It’s now two weeks and three days since her admission as she remains confused. I visited her yesterday by train – up and down in a day – and did some work on her house. I thank the train guard who listened whilst I cried on Leeds station platform 6 and the social worker who has taken some of the burden from me. There is a big job ahead for me and my brother to clear her house (she has a hoarding disorder) and make it clean again. That’s next week’s challenge.
In the immediate days that followed my mother’s admission to hospital I talked to many people, including a male colleague. It turns out our coping strategies are more or less completely aligned. In summary they are:
- Ask for help
- Prioritise sleep
- Keep exercising
- Lower expectations temporarily (in at least some areas)
- Scale back – it’s OK to undo commitments and promises to children
- Remember overwhelm will pass
- Recall other difficult times and what got you through
- Talk it out as much as you need to with others
- Focus on what’s good about your life, not what’s missing
- Eat out!