A Sea of Rage Inside of Me (Better Choices, Better Person)
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Travelling miles to see either set of relatives, in Manchester and Wales respectively, is a logistical nightmare. My phone vibrates in my pocket; I have it on silent so as not to wake the baby in the precious moments that he sleeps. I miss calls, but then people are calling less. My whole life has become one of shutting down, switching off, retreating into darkness. I text back.
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I am the master of angry texts, especially angry nocturnal texts when he is away how come he gets to go away? I half expect him to. Not like me, with my three-day-old clothes and scraped-up hair and foul demeanour. He texts back. I look, expecting some lengthy and passionate defence of his beloved Minis, but no.
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I do not reply. I do not look for him on the cycle path.
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I stomp on. Everyone and everything is in my way. Sunday is in my way. Life is in my way. By the time I get to the marina I am a ball of rage, some kind of dying earthbound sun, a red giant on her way out. We buy burgers. As we sit down, where it is quieter, the baby wakes and looks at me. My heart pounds in my chest, as it does in the night, as it does any time he might need me. I pull out his bottle. The baby accepts the bottle and sucks on it. The knot in my chest — the constant knot — slackens off a little. I chomp on the burger joylessly, not tasting it, hawking and squeezing it down my dry throat.
My love for food — like my love for most things — has mostly disappeared.
I eat whole packs of biscuits, mindlessly, to stay awake in the afternoon. I shovel in jumbo bars of chocolate, barely chewing. Sugar is my fix — but also, I sense a self-destruction in these acts. Self-loathing, the like of which I have never known. A darkness that is deepening and widening, right through the centre of me. The Cartoonist watches me eat. I shake my head and scowl.
Leave me alone in my… My brain says it before I consciously allow it to. And there it is. I am so ashamed. How did this happen? I am tough. I am smart. I have built a career.
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I have lived alone. I have spent decades carving out a life for myself that feels fulfilling. Now I am cracking, right down the middle. Rewind six months, to November I tore badly. The only thing I was bonding to was the wrong kind of maternity pad. Breastfeeding was equally tough. I got mastitis, then thrush, and then my son got teeth — at 16 weeks. My hips hurt every night — sometimes so much I cried, maxed out on painkillers, unable to get comfortable. Meanwhile, I was Whac-a-Moling a haemorrhoid every other day.
The worst of it was the sleep deprivation. My son was a bad sleeper from the start. There are not even words to describe that level of tiredness. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as torture. At night, in bed, I get flashes of bright white behind my eyes — bursts of adrenaline, I learn — the split second the baby starts crying.
I run out of supermarkets — basket abandoned in the aisle — whenever he cries, dashing home in a panic, crying myself. As the months go on, and winter turns to spring, I get darker inside. I have to start working again — I want to start working again.
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But new mothers are not supported, financially or holistically, by the state or system. In fact, I feel actively discouraged. When I allow myself to compare myself to other people, my pride clouds things. I feel like a loser for not coping. I lie to my health visitor. I lie to my friends. I am lying to myself. I start overcompensating. I bake I am not a baker. I post happy pictures online.
I want to look like a capable person. A modern woman. A successful feminist, having it all her way. But, slowly and surely, I am breaking myself. I talk to a therapist. My friend Lauren tells me, on a walk through a bluebell wood, that she had postnatal depression PND after the birth of her second child. It feels like a secret confession from one of the strongest, coolest women I know. I sense her shame, and I hate her shame. Lauren recommends a therapist who lives locally, a specialist in family issues. After the Mini convention I email the therapist, Kim.
Kim lives on the seafront. I enjoy the walk there, alone, listening to music or just letting the sun hit my face. I splurge it all out at that first session. Imagine that.
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