I’m seven years old… and I’m sitting on the living room floor in my new outfit, the warmth from the electric fan heater gently blow-drying my freshly washed hair. Twisting my fingers in the blue, rose-smattered material that covers my crossed legs, I fidget and fuss, biting down on my tongue to keep from asking, yet again, where we are going, concentrating really hard on how good I feel in my dress.
Sometimes we go to the jumble sale to get new clothes, but Mummy often fixes my old ones with needle and thread. Sometimes she pulls out her big machine with the wheel on it and magics bits of material into something completely new for me to wear. However, this beautiful dress that I can’t stop touching, came from a shop. I haven’t tried it yet but I just know that when I stand up, in a few minutes time, and I start to spin, it is going to lift and swirl and twirl around me, and I can barely contain myself.
Mummy is so good at drawing and painting too. She’s always making things: she’s really very clever. My favourite times are when she gets all the glitter and the papers and glue out on the big table. We make and we draw, we sing and we laugh.
Those are the very best times…
I look back up at Mummy’s face as she brushes my hair… Her eyes are like Bambi’s: big, brown and beautiful and framed by thick, heavy lashes.
Bambi was a very sad film.
Mummy’s eyes sometimes look sad, but today, they are sparkling and that gives me a warm feeling right to the tip of my toes.
I’m eleven years old… and Dad picked us up from school again yesterday. I instinctively knew that Mum must have gone back in. She has been in and out of that big hospital for what feels like a very long time now. Dad says they keep her there to help her to find her smile again. Sometimes we visit her, and although her eyes still seem really sad, I think she is happy to see us. We go for walks or sit in her bedroom and we get to cuddle with her. I don’t like it when she cries.
Last night, though, after we got back from school, we got bundled into the car.
We have come to live at Grandad’s house for a while.
And we get to miss school.
As I sit here, the smell of the freshly washed bedding invades my senses making it difficult for me to concentrate on what I want to say to Dad. He looks at me with tired eyes, and I find it uncomfortable to look back at him. Instead, I take in the disarray at my feet: the stuffed-full-in-a-hurry-last-night suitcase that lies open with unfamiliar items of ladies clothing strewn across the lid – I know they’re not Mum’s things. She’s not coming to live here with us – and the black bin-liners that are almost bursting with my own and my brother’s belongings.
The door to the en suite in Grandad’s bedroom sits ajar, and instead of asking the question that has been sitting on my tongue for the last half an hour, I imagine the creatures that might live behind it…
Tiny winged beasts that crawl up the spouts of the taps at dawn…
Fungus the Bogeyman who visits while we sleep, filling the bath with slime…
I trace the delicate pattern on the duvet cover with my finger, following each swirl on its journey to meet the next one.
The sound of my cousins’ laughter floats up the stairwell distracting me again as I wonder what it is I am missing out on this time, and I snap my attention back to my father. The lines on his face seem to have doubled today, and I take a deep breath to try to still my racing pulse.
“Dad, what is divorce?”
I’m fifteen years old… and I have a bad feeling about this weekend before it even starts. I sit nervously, dreading the imminent coach journey that I’m now so familiar with. Every other weekend, we visit her in the home where we laughed as little children, and every time, I feel like this. Nauseous.
If I never see another one of their enormous, white coaches again it will be too soon.
Dad helps us with our bags, waving and giving us the usual spiel about being careful and reminding us to ring him when we get to Mum’s. I sigh, understanding that there is something worrying him. I just know this isn’t going to end well.
When we eventually arrive. My stomach lurches, and I know that my instincts were correct.
A trip to Chester Zoo has been planned, which is great really. It means we’ll be out of the house with things to talk about instead of uncomfortable, painful silence. However, I go to bed with a knot in my stomach, leaving Mum in the kitchen stressing over picnic food that she planned way too far in advance. I guess you might ask why I haven’t helped her….
It’s not worth it.
I wouldn’t do it the way she wanted, which would make things worse, and her fussing and over-checking would antagonise me. We’d end up arguing.
Be more patient, you say. Put yourself in her shoes.
Well I can’t…
The journey to the zoo is a difficult one. I try to keep Mum talking so that the silence doesn’t become unbearable. She is hard work, and I soon give up. James doesn’t really ‘get’ what’s going on, but I have grown in my knowledge and understanding as I have gotten older.
He finds not being with her incredibly difficult. There have been times where Dad has had to physically drag him, kicking and screaming away from Mum. It’s just heartbreaking. Seeing him like that, seeing Mum destroyed, seeing Dad trying to keep everything together, it breaks me. And for this reason, I dread coming. I dread coming because I just don’t know what I’m going to be faced with. I don’t know how many egg shells I’m going to have to step over.
She’s not always like this. Sometimes she seems her old self, but I just don’t know when those days will be.
Mum starts to laugh.
“One of the things you need to look out for is when she starts to laugh inappropriately. This is a good sign that she is not well.” My dad’s words reverberate in the back of my mind, and I push them to the side giving Mum the benefit of the doubt.
“What are you laughing at?”
She snaps her head around to try to look at me. “Nothing.”
I challenge her, mainly because I need to know what I am dealing with here.
“What do you mean nothing? Something must be funny.” I’m glad she can’t see my face, because I don’t think it would help matters.
“I can laugh if I want to can’t I? Don’t have to be laughing at anything funny.” She is unreasonably angry with my comments.
I stare out of the window and brace myself for a difficult day.
I’m seventeen years old… and she’s hunched and rigid on the sofa again, a shell of the strong, beautiful woman I clung to as a young child. I’m helpless, irritated and out of my depth. I’ve got revision to do for school, but I can’t bear to leave her alone. Not like this.
They tell her that horrible things will happen to her. She won’t go swimming because of them, and she won’t ride a train. Once, they told her my auntie was a cannibal. A cannibal! She even locked herself in the house for days because of them, after they told her there was a war going on outside her front door.
I can’t even begin to understand that.
It gets frustrating and I shout at her to ignore them, to block them out. I tell her not to be so ridiculous, not to be so weak. I tell her there’s no such thing as ‘voices’.
But I know the fear is real for her.
I know because I can see it in her eyes.
With a sigh, I sit down next to her and take her hand. I have no words for her, or for myself. I don’t know what’s expected of me. This is adult stuff. Even if she cried, it would more sufferable than this.
I want to climb inside her head, to shut off the sad switch.
“Please smile.” I search her eyes for a glimmer of the bright, full-of-life mother from my early years, but I don’t see even a flicker of light, and I know what’s coming next.
She holds my gaze with her dull, lifeless stare. “I can’t, Beth.”
I give her a sideways glance before I curl my feet up, gently pulling her body towards me, and I try to embrace her wooden frame.
If I hold her, if I keep her close to me, then maybe my love for her will permeate her being and be enough to fight the demon that is wrapped around her soul.
They say I’m doing well, but at the moment, I’m not so sure.
I want my mum back.
Acute schizophrenia, that’s me… and I’m her mum.
It has been a tremendous long haul to reach this point now and to be able to say, not that I’ve completely beaten it, but that I am living a very purposeful life in spite of it.
Mornings are heavy and tiring due to medication, which seems to do its job.
Instead of sleeplessness and a clinging onto my bed in fear and trepidation, I now sleep well and get up early, dressed in clothes that are picked and laid out the night before in an attempt to achieve some sort of routine, and a fashion statement at sixty-three years young!
It helps me a great deal to get out in the air in the mornings, walking along a local country lane, talking to the horses and ducks along the way.
Riding on the local bus takes me to various shops and to friends at the nearby book and coffee shop. I love to browse the charity shops and it gives me a real lift when I find a bargain.
The voices are still there, still horrendous, and I find it hard to concentrate. When I talk back to them, tell them to leave me alone, they reply viciously and change my thoughts. It’s a fight every day still, I admit, but thankfully I get a lot of support.
My husband, and my official carer, does such a lot for me. I go to the Mind drop in on a Saturday afternoon and we are ‘like-minded’ there, accepting and understanding of one another, which helps. On Fridays, I go to Kim: a very helpful group where I have lots of friends and volunteer workers.
I feel the love of my family around me and can’t always believe that I’ve been given so much from them. They certainly keep me going!
I have strong Christian beliefs that give me peace and hope, experiencing the love of God and his goodness day by day. I gain much support and strength through His word that is preached each week at church. We all have good fellowship there, and it is a place where I feel at home and blessed.
I do quite a lot of art and craft for various things and people, especially church, and I even put myself through university, achieved a hard earned art degree.
I exercise twice weekly at the local gym: it sharpens my mind and gets me motivated. Also, I write to a little boy in Senegal who lives in a straw hut and eats a lot of bananas!
All these things that have come my way have helped me, no end, onto a better road.
I’m not afraid of the future now.
Even though anxiety can rear its ugly head very suddenly for ridiculous reasons and I can still fall into low feelings, things are usually worked out with different sorts of happenings that come my way.
Though I have been scarred forever on the horrendous journey of mental illness, which only the insides of can be seen by God, I trust each day that all is well, that all will be well.
They say I’m doing well, and I am. I’m doing ok.
Eleanor Lloyd-Jones © 2016
Raised in a little village in North Wales, a fierce love of books and reading was instilled in her by her parents from a very early age, and she has vivid memories of reading secretly under the blankets with a torch for hours after lights out, often getting caught! She was blown away by The Borribles Trilogy – Michael De Larrabeiti at nine years old, and it was then that Eleanor Lloyd-Jones fell head over heels with the idea of imaginary worlds.
A persistent and professional daydreamer, something she still prides herself on being, she spent most of her early childhood inside her own head making up stories or scenarios, climbing trees, building dens or doing anything arts and crafty. Music also played a huge part of her young life. Growing up on The Beatles, U2 and Status Quo, her obsession with Top of the Pops and vinyl twelve inches grew into a love affair with music that has only grown and expanded over time: there is rarely a moment where music is not playing in her life, and in turn, rarely a time when she is not singing, even if it is in her head!
Thank you so much for taking part Eleanor!
To see the full list of authors taking part in this month-long blog tour, [click here]
To find out what “They Say I’m Doing Well” is all about, [click here]