It’s a cold night in the middle of July, and I’m putting you to sleep. We’re in the grips of a ridiculously harsh winter and we’ve all been battling chesty, painful coughs and leaky noses the last few weeks – me, you, your dad. At this moment in time I'm longing for the feel of the sun on my skin. Craving it the way I do a piece of chocolate. My mouth is practically watering, my body quivering. I have my eyes closed and I’m sitting on the floor with my head resting against the frame of your bed.
As I listen to your breathing fall into a steady rhythm, I relax and my mind wanders. It takes me back to last summer – specifically a day we had gone to the beach just you and me. Before you came I used to love the beach and I guess I still do, but it’s just so much harder now – all the bags, all the supplies we need to take, all the mess. The whole process overwhelms me and so we’d only gone a grand total of two times that summer – something I regret now, as I shiver through the current grey gloom.
I’d worn a plain black one-piece bathing suit. You were in a little one-piece too – one that covered the tops of your arms and legs to protect the delicate, doughy skin your father and I so love to kiss and tickle. It was pink with strawberries printed all over. Your favourite hat sat atop your head of bronze curls – floppy and wide brimmed, with a picture of Minnie Mouse on the front. You were petrified of the water - it took me several attempts to convince you to come in with me. When you finally agreed, you wanted to take your dummy AND your comforter with us. It took another five minutes of gentle coaxing before you put your squishy hand in mine and let me lead you into the water sans comforting agents – this was a huge win for us both. Of course, once you were in the water you wouldn’t get out. I wish a similar scenario had played out the first time I fed you broccoli.
Golden sand, deliciously warm sunshine, oodles of light and love, clear blue water - and a mother with her daughter.
As my mind scans this 6-month-old memory I see the clear blue water – so beautifully shallow for hundreds of metres. I see the golden yellow sand and remember how it made its way into every single compartment of the bag I had brought with us. I remember – no – I can feel the heat of the sun – it was so hot that day that the water in the bottle I brought with us was warm in a matter of minutes. I remember the pink in your little cheeks and how the salt water dried on my skin in pretty, intricate patterns. And I remember how much I smiled that day, with you, in the sun, on the sand, in the sea. And then, back at home, in the bath – washing off the day’s adventure.
Is it unusual that I smiled on that day at the beach with you? Well, not unusual, but surprising, yes, because that day – one amongst many – I was suffocating under the weight of my anxiety. During that time of my life, I was consumed by a negative cycle of thoughts – trapped. I couldn’t break free. I couldn’t breathe. I felt paralysed. Worst-case scenarios flooded my mind at every moment until I sat, hunched-over on my bed, sobbing. I would sleep for two hours each day when you went down for your nap, but would still have to go to bed for the night at 8pm. I was, quite simply, exhausted. But no amount of sleep vanquished my mental illness – though I was grateful that at least I could sleep; that I had temporary respite. My jaw was constantly clenched; my muscles were tight. I was always nauseous and could not eat a thing before 3pm most days. I was a tangled heap of frayed nerves posing as a human being. Trying to function, but most of all, trying to be a good mother.
So yeah, it was unusual for my mind’s eye to show me that on that day, six months ago, I was actually experiencing happiness. I was surprised to see that I could, in fact, smile through my anxiety. That I could relax my clenched jaw, straighten my hunched shoulders, loosen my stiff muscles – and just smile. Sure the flight or fight remained, but so too did a sweet memory. I experienced a small moment of joy, even though I was mentally unwell. I smiled through my anxiety.
Back in the darkness of your room, with you sleeping soundly in your bed beside me, and my brain in a much more balanced state thanks to a daily dose of Zoloft, I open my eyes, stunned. Then I smile again, and kiss your little head. Caress your face. Part of me is sad that such a pure memory is clouded by the shadows of anxiety and depression. Sad that you had to live that part of your life with a mother in the midst of a mental breakdown.
Though, another part of me is grateful that I could experience a moment of pure happiness in one of the bleakest periods of my life. Grateful that despite the way I had been feeling that day, I had packed us up and taken us to a sunny place. Grateful for such a precious memory. A memory created under such pressure. A diamond.
That day at the beach in my anxiety-ridden state, I smiled. You made me smile. Many times. Then six months later I stumble upon that joy again. A lucky woman I am, with a tiny girl to guide me towards all the things that matter the most – light, love and happiness. Aren’t I supposed to be your guide? It seems that we guide each other. A lucky woman indeed.