Shadows of the past


November is a time when thoughts leans backwards, tilting away from the present, like the earth tilts from the winter sun. For me the loud and sparkly bangs of Bonfire Night toll me back to the night 2 years ago when I was taken in an ambulance to St George’s psychiatric hospital Mother and Baby Unit, strapped to a stretcher with my baby in a car seat by my side.

The inexorable corkscrew of time pushes painfully on, cycling round but moving ever forwards. The fireworks give way to remembrance, then to the lights and shine of Christmas, the shadows overlain with stained glass moments, frosted in the morning light.

This year, with a second lockdown upon us, we seem to be breathing a collective deflated sigh. The same sigh those with lifelong mental illness breathe when they feel their mood slipping again. That awful dawning realisation that you are back there again. But the repetition also makes recognition easier and we are never back where we started because we have lived through the experience before. So too this lockdown. Our stomachs sink at the realisation we are not on a soaring trajectory of improvement but once again on a downward curve. But we are not the same people we were in March. We have lived through it before and have resources we don’t even realise. Whilst we felt like we were barely surviving, clinging desperately to our sanity, home-schooling and hiding, queuing for toilet rolls and getting caught going the wrong way round the supermarket one-way system; failing again and again and again – we got through, and the sun rose again.

We have learnt how to survive and how to help those around us to survive. There might not be any garden parties this time round but the bonds we built last time round are still strong. The same is true of those of us who are prone to recurrent bouts of mental illness/low mood. Each time we feel that familiar flattening, that dulling, sinking, doubting sadness take us, we feel as though nothing has changed. Worse, we feel like the familiarity of the ride makes it ever harder to get off. But we are never back where we were, the inexorable corkscrew takes us ever onwards, each twist of the spiral familiar but subtly different to the last.

Each time we get up from the floor, each time we face the abyss, we forge bonds within ourselves and with those who sit there with us. Those bonds are strong, forged in darkness and fire and, far from making us weaker, make us better able to withstand the next storm.

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