Monday, July 12, 2010

the war of two belles

The flat feels like an adult space catastrophically overrun by children. On opposite walls, just out of reach, some club posters, framed rave artwork from the early nineties, and over in a corner, propped up by a computer station, a guitar and a keyboard, both in protective flight bags. But the rest of the room - it’s as if a river of toys has burst its banks and flooded the place; half-opened boxes of games, disassembled dolls, a great tidal line of brightly coloured plastic washed up on every surface when the day receded. There’s just enough clear space for Belle to sit on the edge of the sofa and cry, whilst her husband, Tom, picks through the wreckage in a hunt for tobacco.
‘I can’t do it,’ she says. ‘I just can’t do it anymore.’ Then adds almost immediately, in a strangely off-to-the-side voice, ‘Listen to her. What’s she got to moan about?’
Belle has only taken a small overdose. Six citalopram hardly counts, even with the bottle of wine she washed them down with. But the fact she took them, the fact she came to press the tablets out of their blister pack into her palm, this has flipped her upside down.
‘I’m not normally like this,’ she says. ‘But it’s just all too much for me.’ She smiles at us. ‘Sorry. You’ve got better things to be doing. I don’t want to waste your time.’
‘Come on, babe,’ says Tom, sitting down next to her and putting his arm round her shoulder. ‘I love you. Yeah?’
‘I love you, too, honey.’ But her shoulders are stiff, and very soon Tom gets back up. ‘Where’s the tin?’ he says.
‘I don’t know.’

Tom stays in the flat whilst Belle walks with us out to the ambulance.
‘Can I have a hug?’ she says.
‘Not from me, I’m afraid,’ I say, opening the ambulance door.
‘How embarrassing. Everyone’s looking.’
‘I don’t think so. I don’t suppose they’ll even notice.’
She throws herself down on a seat, and folds her arms and legs.
I sit opposite, Rae next to her.
‘Tell us what happened tonight, Belle.’
She blows her nose, then looks at me with watery eyes.
‘I do my best. I really do. I try and try and try. But it’s hard. I don’t want to put the kids into nursery. They’re not small for long. I wanted to enjoy them, give them as much as I could. I take them to play groups, they get out and about. But Tom’s started a new business, he’s out all the time – and I mean, all the time. He’s never home. It feels like I’m bringing the kids up by myself. And I get so tired. The kids bicker and fight. They’re having a horrible time. All I do is shout at them. They’re so incredibly demanding. And I get absolutely no time for myself. None. I’ve lost sight of who I am. What I want. I don’t know who I am anymore. We went on a little holiday last week, down to see friends in Dorset, surfing. Well, actually I was looking after the kids. Tom did the surfing.’
Then again, she drops her hands and the other Belle speaks.
‘Hark at her and her poor little hard luck story. God, some people just don’t know when they’re well off.’
I put the clipboard down and rub my eyes.
‘It’s hard,’ I say. ‘Bringing up small children is very, very hard. It’s no wonder you’re struggling. Anyone would.’
‘Would they?’ she says. ‘Did you?’
‘Well for a start me and my partner put both our girls through nursery, even though it was a stretch. We couldn’t have managed if we didn’t. I’m not saying it’s wrong or right. It’s just how we did it. My mum would never have put any of us into nursery even if she could’ve afforded it. She wanted to stay at home and look after us, which isn’t better or worse. It’s just different. Although I think she’d say looking after kids at home is better. Whenever I spoke to her on the phone she’d always end up asking how long their day was, and then sound really shocked. But you have to look at your own circumstances and decide what suits you best.’
‘I don’t have to go to hospital, do I? I don’t want to be locked up and never see my kids again.’
‘No-one’s going to be locking you up tonight, Belle. The only reason to take you to hospital would be to get you to talk to someone about what happened. Our worry would be if you stayed at home you’d do something else to hurt yourself. But you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. We can think of something else.’
‘I feel so stupid. Such a fraud. You’ve got better things to do.’
‘Nope. Not at the moment.’
‘Tom doesn’t understand what it’s like. He’s never there. He comes home and all he wants is something to eat and then go to sleep. He’s exhausted – but so am I. I’m completely exhausted. I get up in the morning and it’s like I never went to bed.’ She looks down and speaks in the other voice. ‘Some wife. There’s her husband trying to make a go of it and the mad bitch brings him down.’
‘I think it’s very difficult to be clear about what you want, and to go about getting it. I think that can make you feel very guilty, which just adds to the pain.’
‘I am guilty,’ she says. ‘My poor kids. They deserve someone better.’
She cries some more. Rae gives her fresh tissues.
When the crisis passes she asks me if I’ve ever done something similar.
‘I’ve never taken an overdose,’ I say.
She laughs.
‘You could at least have lied about it to make me feel better.’
‘I was on anti-depressants for a while, when I got really stressed towards the end of my teaching career.’
‘Did they help?’
‘Yeah, they helped.’
‘They let me stand back from it all and realise that teaching was driving me crazy.’
‘I’m just terrified I’m going to get stuck on them for the rest of my life.’
‘Not this sort. I know what you mean, but they’re not like tranquilisers or sleeping pills. If your doctor’s any good they’ll be able to reassure you. Is your doctor any good?’
‘I don’t like to bother them. They’ve got more important things to be doing.’
There’s a knock on the side door and Tom climbs in.
‘I can’t be long ‘cos of the kids. You going to be all right, babe?’ he says.
She smiles, and accepts a kiss on her forehead.
‘You taking her up the hospital?’
I look at Belle and she nods.
‘Here’s your keys, then, your phone and your purse. Get a taxi back, hon,’ he says. ‘Okay?’
He kisses her again and jumps back out.
‘Let’s go,’ she says, this other, tougher Belle. ‘Take the crazy bitch away.’


Wayne Conrad said...

'Get a taxi back, hon,’ he says. ‘Okay?’

With that, he added a screaming apostrophe to everything she said about him.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's difficult, isn't it? He's struggling to get his new business off the ground, not able to turn any work down, away from home a lot, and she's left minding the kids. If she had used a nursery, I think it would've made her life a lot easier, but I understand she might not want to do that. It just seemed she was putting herself under even more pressure.
The other thing is not really knowing the background. From the outside it did look quite circumstantial, but maybe she has a longer history of depression.
I felt sorry for both of them - and the kids!
Difficult all round.

Thanks v much for the comment, Wayne. Hope you're well.
SK :)

Wayne Conrad said...

I admire your compassion, your way of looking at things without forming the judgments that leap into my mind. Admire as in, "I wish I was more like that." And also as in, "I hope, should I need EMS, that the people who come are like that."

Thanks again for sharing your world with me.

Jo said...

The poor woman - I really hope that she got the help that she needed, even if it was someone to help her accept that letting the children go to nursery one day a week would give her the break that she needed to save her sanity.

I'm a year or so off starting a family, but I already know that we are going to have to use daycare from early on, purely for financial reasons. It already makes me feel that I will be less of a mother than my mother was, who didn't return to work until my youngest sibling (six years younger than me) was at school.

Anonymous said...

Nursery isnt' always the answer... it can just accentuate the grief and despair.

I ended up having to give up my job for complicated reasons and nothing, but nothing I did at home ever added up.

I used to have some time out, but the time out accentuated the despair with the kids. Finally 9 years after #1 was born she was diagnosed Aspie (ironically I was allegedly diagnosed with post natal depression 4 years after the last babe was born... when #1 was 6 except I was never told!).

Whilst I love my kids, they have taken a great hole of a life away and filled a hole that is bigger but I couldn't see at first - but the first hole is still there...

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Anon

It sounds like you've been through some very difficult times. I know what you mean about children being both negative and positive influences - sources of stress, for sure, but great sources of positivity and joy, too.

I hope everything's good with you now, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Spence, everything is fine mostly. I have been trying to think about how to explain what I meant without putting too many allegories in.

I think what's key is recognising that there are different solutions to every problem. I could have been Belle but managed not to be by wiggling out - perhaps as she was trying to do with her two personas.

But how about a different context. Let's say you have been made redundant just at the point your OH is given/offered a really fab new job. YOu then see the opportunity to be the one that gives the kids stability rather than them having very weird child care arrangements. And much as you know it's the right decision, losing being called 'Spence' and just being 'Hetty's dad' (picking a random name) is hard. And in not doing a 'proper job' you feel as if you have to go overboard to prove that you are a good parent.

And if in your belief system - or family system - a tidy house=successful parenting, and if you can't achieve that then you will perceive you have failed. And all the anti depressants in the world or all the childcare ever won't necessarily turn you into a person who can tidy up and no matter how supportive your OH, you have to undertake a huge change in self comprehension at the point when you are no longer a person but just Hetty's Dad and a stay at home parent (under self imposed duress). (NB Shrek Fourever After?!)

My children are a huge source of joy, but as I said earlier, the hole that made me a successful career person isn't filled in though the rest of my life is full of different joy.

I would also suggest, without any health care training, that under stress *we* return to a set of expectations unconsciously formed in childhood. We aren't the same people our parents were but still we try to emulate them. Unconsciously we try and model the patterns we learned in 2 different families and get more stressed when our OHs have different patterns and expectations.

Aren't people INTERESTING!

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Anon

Def a problem sometimes that being the stay at home carer runs the risk of isolation and loss of identity. Not the easy option, by any stretch!

Def true, too, that stress can exacerbate problems laid down years ago. A person's early family history is always going to be an influential factor, even if it's just trying not to repeat earlier unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

And def true that people are interesting! One of the perks of the job - seeing how other people live!

Thanks v much for the comment, Anon.


lulu's missives said...

As a single mum, life can be stressful. My daughter is fantastic, but developing and changing daily. I don't always know how to best react, so I can only imagine that someone with bipolar(is that what she has)must find it difficult to switch 'hats' effectively. Must be very hard on the husband too.
Thanks for sharing.

Spence Kennedy said...

I can't imagine how difficult it must be as a single mum. If I had a hat I'd take it off right now.
Incredibly hard on the family. The dad was obviously trying hard to make his new business work - but the impact on Belle was devastating. I hope they manage to come to some more workable arrangement. x

Henners said...

You seem to come across quite a few mental health cases, Spence. Do you think those sort of jobs are becoming more common in the ambulance service?

I start my paramedic uni degree this September at Plymouth. I'm looking really forward to the course as a whole - It will be interesting to see what training we recieve on mental health issues.

Do you think enough emphasis is placed on mental health patients in the ambulance service?

Is the training up to stratch?

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi H
No - I think they've always been a 999 staple!

Best of luck with the course. I've no idea what percentage of it will be devoted to psych issues. A fair amount, I would think / hope.

So much depends on the local set-up / how your main feeder hospitals deal with the huge variety of MH cases that present acutely.

I suppose the thing is to accrue experience with these things over time, too. There are endless variations - but I suppose essentially the story's the same: have they done harm to themselves? (in which case they need hospital), or are they a danger to themselves? (in which case they need a secure facility - worst case scenario, a police station). Getting them to go to any of these is always delicate. You'll get the hang of it!

:) SK