Toddler F screamed at me four times overnight, for no reason I could discern, each time abruptly waking me from what felt like a bottomless pit of sleep that I can never get enough of. It is school holidays and the boys fight all day. They seem to be growing further and further apart, tormenting and teasing each other constantly in a way that distresses me so much. My oldest son is not happy. He is obsessed with weapons and fighting and war and everything bad in the world. He is clever, but starting to struggle at school because his handwriting is so poor. His teacher insists he isn’t trying, but I know his is. The problem is he can’t do it. He can be ungrateful, stubborn, and meaner than any adult I know. It breaks my heart because he is clearly so miserable, and angry and unhappy and I do not know what to do to fix it.
My brother has fought a 9 year battle with psychosis and is doing very badly again. His problems have never coincided with my mother’s problems, but for the first time both of them are now under daily visits from the mental health crisis team and only a step away from readmission, in different cities. I have toured the psychiatric wards in this country and they are all the same depressing hell-holes of wasted lives and lost opportunities.
My brother developed a heroin addiction as a teenager, and although he has been clean for years as far as I know, he ended up in A&E over the weekend after injecting and then calling 999 because he was feeling so unwell and frightened (bearing in mind his as-yet undiagnosed heart condition this was probably sensible on his part – although he has missed two doctors appointments in a row just because he couldn’t remember the right day). He is convinced someone is trying to kill him and can’t sleep. My mum answers the phone in a quiet, depressed voice and she never eats or sleeps.
I don’t sleep much either these days, and life hasn’t been a walk in the park for me, but for some reason (personally I attribute it to stubbornness), I don’t hallucinate, receive telepathic messages or think that I am being persecuted. And as much as I love them a part of me is annoyed at them for not being stronger. For not putting up with all the shit, like me, and just getting the fuck on with things.
Half of my childhood family is on its knees, heading towards a hole in the ground and I am powerless to save them or help them or stop them. I am going to lose my Mum and my brother – in many ways they are already lost to me – it breaks my heart. I blame my parents for my brother’s condition. I blame my grandparents for my mother. My grandmother’s parents were strict as hell, hailing from the East End of London, so I guess I can blame them for her issues. They once chased her boyfriend (later her husband), down the street with a knife. They married in secret and the legacy of our fucked up family continued.
I am afraid for my kids. I hope I am not passing on the mistakes of so many generations, but I am irritable, intolerant and critical sometimes. I suffer endless guilt for not being the happy smiling mother you see in cake commercials, baking with her kids and laughing with indulgent delight at the mess.
F is at nursery, so I took the boys to the cinema this morning and then we went for lunch. Lunch options in your average eating establishment are meat, sugar, gluten, and cheese. None of these things make me feel good or give me energy. My kids stuff down processed junk and love it, and I join in because it’s what everybody else in the UK eats. I feel sick afterwards, and ponder that it will just add to the weight I can’t shift and my dull, aggravated skin. I think about Michael Douglas in Falling Down and I wonder if anyone else feels like I do at the state of the world and the things that we all blindly do.
I scroll through social media and see hundreds of adverts and sponsored posts all vying for my attention, all wanting my money, all selling me happiness and success and contentment. Friends post luxurious holiday photos and lovely pictures of family walks. All of it makes me feel bad, as if what I do, and what I provide is not enough.
At home the endless bickering turns into physical violence, so I put the television on because sometimes it’s the only way to break the vicious circle of anger and antagonistic behaviour between my kids. And I cry silent tears in my room because this life seems to be so wrong. It isn’t making us healthy or happy. It doesn’t feed our souls or nourish our bodies. I fantasise about taking the kids away to Africa, or Vietnam, and living in a small village and helping other people, making a difference. I want to make something right in the world when everything feels so wrong, so excessive, so gluttonous, so obsessed with shit celebrities.
But I can’t really do that. So I dream of chucking out the TV, ditching social media, finding other families who are less connected to the grid. Insisting we stay out of food halls, and feed ourselves real food. But I am afraid. I am afraid of my kids hating me for being the Mum that gave them a weird childhood and making them the odd ones out at school. I carry the weight of responsibility of their future so heavily. How do my parents deal with the fact that their son, their baby boy, has grown into a psychotic ex-herion addict? They must feel to blame in some way – how can they live with it? It would kill me.
And I am afraid of other families that have rejected modern life. Ironically maybe, I am scared they are weird, even though it’s what I think about all the time.
What is the answer? I really don’t know. I’ve always had this deep, niggling feeling that the way we live our lives is not right, even from when I was a child. I don’t know the right way though. I can’t see the path. I don’t know where to go other than in the footsteps of the crowd.
So I follow. And I do what all other families do and what all other women do and what all other mums do. But inside I am sad. But I am also afraid that different is not going to make me happy either. Maybe I am just scared of living, because I see how easy it is to lose everything you love.