Who exactly was Auntie Vi?

I have vague memories leftover from long-ago early childhood of an Auntie Vi, and yet there is no-one in my immediate family tree to fit my memory. As with many of my generation I grew up with a slew of honorary aunties and uncles, mainly parental family friends, and yet still there remains no trace of an Auntie Vi that I can see anywhere along the horizon of my dim and distant past. But I fuzzily remember a large-built woman with red-gold greying curly hair and a rather solid, plain face, so she must have existed?

Puzzled and intrigued, I asked my mum, and it seems the mystery is solved. Or rather, replaced with another kind of mystery…

Before my maternal grandparents got married, as a single man my grandfather lodged with a family who let out rooms. The daughter of the family was called Violet, and as they were round the same age she and my grandfather became friends. Once my grandparents married, as a newly married couple they carried on lodging there for a while and their continued friendship with Violet remained strong.

Eventually she became Auntie Vi to my mum and uncle, and was still close enough to the family for her to register in my earliest memories a couple of decades later.

But then apparently she just dropped off the radar, disappeared suddenly from all our lives and was never really mentioned again, and it was only years later that my mum discovered that Violet had developed some mental health problems, had been institutionalised, and had eventually died there. Mum has no idea what kind of problem she may have had – was it schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression? We have no clue, and it seems a sad epitaph for a sad end – who exactly was Auntie Vi?


Weekly Photo Challenge: Beloved


Hmmm… I struggled a bit in trying to decide what to post for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Beloved – in life my family matters most to me, and I wanted to find something generic but representative of everyday family life, so I chose this image taken of me out for a walk with my middle grandchild, and art-filtered it 🙂

I have five grandchildren altogether, three boys and two girls, and they are certainly most beloved to me. There’s something truly heart-warming about having yet another generation of little hands to hold, and about having those same warm little hands wanting the familiar reassurance of holding on to me too… ❤

Daily Prompt: Cherish

My most cherished memory from Christmas 2017 will probably be my precious telephone conversation with three out of my five grandchildren – my youngest daughter’s family.

My two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter came on first – ‘hello Nanny’, and then she began one of her epic marathon stories that I struggle to understand on the phone, but she seems happy to continue talking as long as the person on the other end of the line interjects with the occasional ‘oh, that’s good’ or whatever. Her sense of intonation is excellent, and you can hear the seriousness in her voice even when you can’t make out the exact words she’s saying.

Then my four-year-old grandson wanted to speak – he sang ‘Jingle Bells’ in good voice and listed all his favourite Christmas presents – including a pirate ship and a finger-puppet thing. But he was so excited to ‘show’ me everything he was running round the room with the phone in his hand pointing out his new toys he forgot to hold the phone still and talk into it, so that was quite a chaotic conversation.

And lastly my six-year-old granddaughter was effervescent with her usual bubbly enthusiasm, greeting me with ‘Merry Christmas Nanny!’ before also listing her favourite presents, and telling me about all her sister’s presents too. I really adore hearing her chatter away on the phone, telling me about what matters to her most on any given day – what happened at school, how many teeth she’s lost, what she’s eaten for dinner…

I love so much that they like to talk to me, want to tell me those little things that are of course the big things to children. Living so far away, those precious little conversations with my lovely little people truly mean the absolute world to me ❤

Daily Prompt: Cherish

The Birth of Hope…

It’s an important yet bittersweet anniversary for me today. Thirty years ago tonight I sat down in my living room after everyone else was in bed asleep, and swallowed a bottle of Valium (diazepam) with the best part of a bottle of paracetamol and washed it all down with neat vodka. I was a mentally fragile 24-year-old mum of three small kids in a desperately unhappy marriage, and all I wanted was for the emotional pain of living to stop, one way or another.

I was already receiving treatment for longterm depression, and as well as being under psychiatric care as an outpatient I had been taking Valium daily for a good couple of years. I think many unhappy housewives were prescribed it at that time yet ironically nowadays my history of depression would be a clear contra-indication. It didn’t really make me feel any less depressed, instead it turned me into a spaced-out zombie running on autopilot. From the outside I perhaps seemed quieter and more pliable but inside I still felt like a complete failure of a human being.

Trust me when I tell you it’s not easy getting that volume of dry pills and neat alcohol down your throat – your natural gag reflex kicks in early on, but you persevere, determined. You retch and bring some up but swallow it all back down again, and take even more. It burns like hell, but you do it anyway, choking on tears and tablets until you just can’t take any more of any of it and start to lose focus, both physically and mentally.

Yet just at that precarious not-quite-conscious, not-quite-unconscious point I remember suddenly calling the Samaritans – my best friend had been visiting a couple of weeks previously and, worried about my mental health, she had looked up the number and left it by the phone for me incase I ever needed it. So I saw the number sitting there and as I didn’t want to die alone I called them up and I remember speaking to a soft-voiced guy named Martin…

The next conscious memory I have is waking up in a hospital bed feeling dead, except I wasn’t. And my insides felt raw and violated from my throat downwards – having your stomach pumped out is neither a delicate nor a glamourous procedure, and not surprisingly it hurts like hell. Once I came to various professional people came and spoke to me, and although somewhere along the way I had lost a day I still had my life and I was eventually allowed to go home with my mum and dad – but not to my husband.

I learned afterwards that my husband had woken up in the middle of the night and had found me incoherent but still on the phone to the Samaritans, so in a panic he had called my parents and it was they who drove me straight to hospital, who explained to the A&E staff that I was a psychiatric outpatient being treated for depression. And it was my parents who eventually took me and my children home with them for the time being. After that catastrophic turning point, I never again returned to my marriage…

The gnawing guilt I still feel at almost abandoning my children in the most extreme way has never left me, but I have finally forgiven myself for being young and helpless and struggling with a longterm condition I had no idea how to handle and that was never openly discussed in public. Mental Health problems were still taboo, so my overdose was just swept under the carpet like an embarrassing glitch and family life just carried on for all of us, but never quite in the same way as before.

Anyway, the point of me telling you all of this is that although part of me died that night, something new was born, and that something was hope. The whole horrendous experience of my overdose and its decades-long nuclear-fallout aftermath has taught me that even when everything else in life feels like a barren wasteland, the smallest glimmer of hope always remains and with that glint of hope comes so many potential possibilities for a brighter and better future – eventually.

So every year I mark the anniversary of my overdose with enormous regret that I ever let things get that bad in my life, but with intense relief that I’m still here, thirty years on, and thankfully still have a close relationship with all of my adult children. Happily remarried I’ve also completed a degree and now have five beautiful, precious grandchildren to add to my wonderful family. I still struggle with life from time to time, still experience bad bouts of depression, but I just sit tight because I always know I’ll get through it somehow, because I’ll always have hope for a brighter tomorrow… ❤

One-Liner Wednesday: Portrait of Two Daughters

‘Why does everyone have to take a selfie these days – whats wrong with an old-fashioned taken-by-someone-elsie?’

My eldest daughter takes selfies all the time; pretty and pouty and always very carefully staged. My youngest daughter, however, just doesn’t understand the attraction (see above quote), and so where necessary prefers a more traditional approach to photographic portraiture 🙂

One-Liner Wednesday

An Extravaganza of Heartache

I’ve had a very uneasy relationship with the forced fake frivolity of Christmas celebrations for most of my adult life.

This year will be my 55th Christmas on this earth and I think it’s probably time I sorted it all out for myself psychologically once and for all. Basically the generally recognised concept of a traditional family Christmas represents for me an extravaganza of heartache, not happiness. The main issue seems to be that in my head I long ago internalised a highly idealised, fixed-focus view of how Christmas should be that is truly troublesome for me; a view I dispute and disagree with fundamentally and that has never been my personal desired reality anyway.

My extrovert mum loves (and has always loved) all the surface trappings and trimmings of a traditional family Christmas – the bigger the better. She puts up several different-sized Christmas trees over the entire house, creates Christmas dioramas, adds copious amounts of Christmas decorations all over, and really goes to town with a flurry of festive present-planning and seasonal socialising. Her vision has always been that everyone joins in harmoniously and ‘does their bit’ to help her create and fulfil her ideal dream of a wonderfully happy family life – the more the merrier in all things Christmassy.

However anyone who doesn’t share her overly-enthusiastic view – and ‘anyone’ here historically means her introvert depressive daughter, in other words, me – rather than being left alone in peace to do their own thing is accused of deliberately ‘spoiling Christmas for everyone else’. Yet another nit-picking nail added to my life-long ‘not good enough’ coffin. So it has aways felt to me that my birth family’s one-size-fits-all, over-the-top approach to Christmas celebrations was created as an added challenge to force people-pleasing me yet again to consider others’ desires while ignoring my own personal preferences.

Over the years, as my own children grew up and created their own scattered versions of Christmas after their father and I divorced, it gradually became far easier for me simply to say ‘I don’t do Christmas’ and to withdraw from it all wholesale than to stand up and say to my parents ‘I won’t continue to be party to the painful pretence of perfection that requires the aggressive application of emotional blackmail and behavioural manipulation channeled in my direction in order to create an illusion of familial festive fun for the rest of you at the cost of my personal sense of worth’. Because after all, why spoil things for everyone else…

But surely by now and at my age there should be ample room in my head for many different, equally legitimate ways to spend Christmas? Why in my mind’s eye does it still have to be an extrovert extravaganza or nothing? Why isn’t the offer of peace and goodwill to all men a two-way street in my brain, why should I continue to feel I should always be the one expected to sacrifice my peace and offer my goodwill all the time to make others feel better? What’s wrong with me as a depressive introvert preferring to spend Christmas quietly, intimately, differently, and not necessarily alone – but still being allowed to celebrate Christmas in my own way? And the answer, of course, is ‘nothing’.

I’ve been working so hard this year to try to finally lay that old ‘not good enough’ coffin to rest, and part of that ongoing exercise is to re-evaulate my difficult and decidedly dysfunctional relationship with all things Christmas. So this year I’m going to try to resist the resistance and actively embrace the concept of Christmas with compassion and consideration for my own happiness, and see where my newborn confidence takes me… ❤

Thoughts On My Dad

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad today. He’s still in hospital recovering from a recent series of small but troublesome strokes, and it may be a while before he gets home again. Always assuming he doesn’t have yet another stroke, of course – and at 81, with his health having been noticably deteriorating over the last few months, sadly nothing is certain any more. He is getting old, and the realities of age are causing him to fail almost in front of our eyes: A diagnosis of vascular dementia is adding a cognitive element to his physical limitations.

I’m thinking about the last time I saw him at home, not even a month ago, standing watching out the kitchen window and waving at my train as it passed the house. The thing is, the train to London from Inverness doesn’t usually pass by that way, but on that particular occasion due to engineering works we were diverted via Aberdeen, which meant travelling along the railway line next to my mum and dad’s house.

Dad had said beforehand that he would watch out for the train and wave, so I was looking out for him. Even in the dark and after all these years living elsewhere I still remember the area like the back of my hand so I knew we would go through a short deep cutting, pass under a road bridge, and immediately after we would rush past four houses in a row, with mum and dad’s house being the last to see.

I know it takes only a few precious seconds for the train to pass and it was dark outside, so I decided not to try to take a photograph of the house as we rattled by but just to see how much I could see at that time of the evening. I just didn’t want to risk missing anything by concentrating too hard on my camera instead of looking out and maybe not even getting a shot in focus, so I left my camera off.

As it happened, it was actually the darkness that helped me see him so clearly, a solid dark figure reassuringly framed squarely in the centre of the brightly lit window, waving slowly and steadily with both arms, a familiar gesture I’d seen a million times before. Every time we had visitors I remember dad standing in the road waving them off in just the same way, keeping waving until the car had disappeared over the top of the hill.

So I simply kept watching for as long as I could, tears blurring my vision, as dad and the window grew smaller, flickered, and in an instant vanished from sight. I felt overwhelmed with love and longing for those happy family memories, and a sudden flash of fear that I might not ever see him stand there again. Five days later, he had the stroke that took him off to hospital and has kept him there so far. It seems that train diversion was meant to be.

I do have a photograph I took a bare month ago of my dad sitting in his front porch, snoozing in his usual armchair in his well-worn jeans, old navy blue heavy-knit jumper and workboots – his everyday garb for being at home and messing about outdoors. He had come in supposedly to read the paper, but after only a page or two had dropped off – having forty winks, as he would often say, although forty minutes was more usual these days. I snapped him snoozing from through the grubby rain-spotted window so as not to disturb him, and the ordinariness of that candid shot touches my heart.

I also have a photograph of him in hospital, only a week or so later, taken on the ward with my not-so-great phone camera. He had just had his hair trimmed by a nurse so was looking very smart, and in that moment he looked directly at me and smiled just as I clicked the silent shutter button. In contrast to the previous photo there is nothing ordinary about that image, a clean-shaven spruced-up dad sitting in a dress shirt (well, his version of a dress shirt) in a high-backed hospital chair, but somehow in that split second he looks more like dad than he has in months.

His brilliant blue eyes are sparkling and bright, with no hint of the dull bewildered confusion that has been plaguing him on and off since these little vascular incidents have been challenging his brain. That lucid look of complete clarity didn’t last long, but I’m so pleased I managed to capture it while it was there…

Love you, Dad, I wish you could get well soon… ❤


When I most struggle being a mum…

When my three kids were small, they had small-kid-sized problems that I could either solve for them, or easily help them solve for themselves, and they were happy. And then the day came during their early teenage years when one of them asked for my advice on something I didn’t have any experience of, and I admitted that I didn’t know – I remember the shock on their faces as they said ‘What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re mum – you know everything, don’t you?’ But I’ve never seen the point of pretending – I’m not an expert in all of  life’s issues, no parent ever is…

And now here they all are in their mid-thirties, my beautiful babies, and although they no longer immediately look to me to help solve their problems I still feel their hurt from afar, and give advice to the best of my ability when requested but try to keep my opinions to myself when my input is clearly not required. Often, they just need a neutral sounding-board to explore their options out loud; usually they are looking for moral support and reassurance that they’re on the right track. Occasionally they do ask for my advice and then don’t like what I tell them, but I’ll give it anyway, because that’s my job…

Without doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to try to give reassurance over was when my youngest daughter had two miscarriages in a row.  She had already had her first baby, and was so delighted to be pregnant again. Not long after she let us know her second baby was on the way, I took a call from her while I was on my lunch-break at work. She was in floods of tears, on her hands and knees in pain half-curled up in a ball on the floor, cramping profusely and bleeding her baby out.

I remember the anguish and sheer helplessness I felt at not not being there in person, not being able to ease her physical pain her or comfort her emotionally, not even being able to tell her that everything would be alright. All I could do was be there on the end of a phone, 600 miles away, trying to keep calm for her while inside I felt as if a piece of me was dying too. So I simply listened, and soothed, and waited until she was ready to hang up. And then I cried too.

The thing is I’ve never had a miscarriage – I’ve only ever had three problem-free pregnancies that all went to full term, resulting in three live babies. I could only imagine what my daughter was going through, try to put myself in her shoes, offer empathy and understanding and hope that could be enough. We talked it through afterwards, discussed statistics, agreed that hopefully it was just one of those things and would be unlikely ever to happen again.

But a couple of months or so later, another early pregnancy ended in much the same way, another devastating blow. Since that difficult time, thankfully, she has had two further pregnancies resulting in two healthy babies, none the wiser as to why her two previous pregnancies ended as they did. Sadly her joy at being mum to her three beautiful babies will always be clouded by the knowledge that she has in fact been pregnant five times, not just three…

And now it is the turn of my eldest daughter to test my adult mothering skills to the maximum – she has suddenly decided her four-and-a-half year old marriage is over and she wants to separate from her husband. My difficulty here is that I do have personal experience of divorce, and I know it is never an easy option to take. Especially when children are involved – they have a two-and-a-half year old together, and my daughter’s not-quite-sixteen-year old from a previous relationship also lives with them.

My daughter, however, is simply adamant that she is unhappy and no longer wants to be married, and that’s an end to it – no discussion necessary. I’m worried that she seems to be completely unrealistic about her future options as a single parent, and I have tried to broach the potential reality of her situation with her but my unwelcome observations have fallen on decidedly deaf ears. My advice is neither asked for nor appreciated, and so she has chosen not to speak to me about whatever her immediate plans may be.

Unfortunately she isn’t talking to her siblings about it either, or even her husband for that matter, who is as in the dark as we are at the moment about how this potential separation might work. I feel completely torn – I know I’m her mother, but she’s a grown woman with a mind of her own and I have to respect her right to make her own choices in life. The trouble is, I also know that she may be a 34 year old mother of two herself, but she has never supported herself in her life before and financially has lived a really sheltered, protected life to date.

Of course as a mother I want to support my adult child in her life choices, whatever they may be, but I also don’t want to encourage her to take such a momentous step without her being entirely sure of the consequences of her actions. I’m struggling with knowing how best to handle such a complex issue, how to strike an appropriate balance between acknowledging her right to decide for herself, yet ensuring she is aware of the seriousness of that decision and the inevitable difficulties that will follow.

Situations like this cause me such heartache and grief, because there are no easy answers, no simple solutions. Nothing I can say to my youngest daughter can take away her pain. And if I insist on saying my piece to my eldest daughter about her marriage, I’m interfering. If I say nothing, I’m uncaring. Either way I’m in the wrong, stuck between a rock and a hard place. It feels like parenting never stops as such, it just changes shape and size over the years. But does it get easier? Not a snowball’s chance in Hell…


Familiar Disappointment…

I’m quite a practical person at heart – I do feel things intensely but in a crisis tend to hold my emotions in check while I get my functional coping mechanism into gear and get on quietly in the background with whatever is needed to deal with any particular situation with minimal fuss and bother. And only once things are dealt with to the best of my ability and the crisis point has passed do I feel safe to withdraw and allow myself precious time for my own personal falling apart and crying in private.

Sadly for me, some female members of my immediate family prefer to take the overtly dramatic approach to crisis management – the kind of oh-woe-is-me, hand-wringing, over-the-top sob-stuff that revolves more around their own internal centrifugal certainties than any external peripheral-to-them realities. They tend to measure alleged levels of caring and concern only against their own suitably inflated yardstick of public suffering and pseudo-self-flagellation, as if nothing else could possibly count.

Although in some ways family crises can bring us closer together, they can also serve to further highlight those distances and differences that have marked me out as decidedly deficient and difficult to understand over the years. I’m a troubled, troubling introvert in a gossiping family of attention-seeking drama-queens, and however much I tell myself I don’t ever have to apologise for simply being myself, even now in my fifties I still feel keenly the familiar disappointment of my constant failure to fit in…