Today, as I’ve been lying in bed recovering from my operation (I had my appendix taken out last Thursday), thoughts have floated through my mind like falling autumn leaves as I’ve drifted in and out of sleep. I’ve been watching the life of the girl I see in the mirror every day. And as the day has gone on, I’ve cried more tears than I’ve ever felt possible. My heart has ached for the girl in the mirror.
She was diagnosed with clinical depression at the beginning of 2015, which she had been suffering quietly with for about three years. It began after her return to work as a Primary School teacher, at the end of her maternity leave with her second son, Ned.
She tried so hard to ‘snap out of it’ as people would say, and to ‘stop being so miserable, you have nothing to be depressed about’. But the black cloud wouldn’t lift. It began to suffocate her. She would cry the whole 30 minute journey to work; she had panic attacks whenever she left the house; she would lie on her bed at weekends, the thought of getting up physically too tiring.
When she began to have thoughts of not wanting to be here any more, she realised that she wasn’t just a miserable old cow, but there was something very wrong. She went to her GP and began to talk. She let it all spill out like vomit as her GP listened to every word she said. Her GP held her hand and said, ‘Sharon, you’re ill. You have depression and anxiety.’ Relief flooded through her. She was ill. She wasn’t just useless and a burden to everyone. And if she was ill then she could get better.
She started on antidepressants and although they took a while to have an effect, once they did, she felt like a different person. Through talking with her GP, she knew that the root of her illness was her job. This saddened her as at one time she had loved teaching. It wasn’t the children who had made her feel like this, it was the constant pressure to achieve targets, maintain almost impossible standards and always being told that she needed to change this and change that. She felt demoralised and deflated. What was the point? Nothing was ever going to be good enough. There was always something else needed from those up above.
She finally made the decision to give it up. It was a huge decision for her and her husband as it would mean a huge financial loss; but she knew that for her mental health, she had to leave.
Then came her hysterectomy. She had suffered for so long and now that they had their three beautiful boys, their family felt complete. It turned out to be a complicated operation which left her physically unwell. She was emotionally challenged – had she made the right decision?
It was whilst she was off on sick leave that she sent her letter of resignation. This she knew for certain was the right decision. Once she dropped the letter into the post box, she felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders. Finally she had broken free.
At the beginning of last year, life very slowly began to feel right for her. The dark cloud was lifting. Her world began to be one of colour not just a dull grey. She could finally see a future – a happy future.
She was writing whilst the boys were in school; eagerly anticipating the release of her debut book in September. She was able to take her boys to school and pick them up every day. She was able to take them to their swimming/running/football/rugby clubs. Her evenings were free for playing, homework and reading. Her weekends were free for days out, going to the park, doing arts and crafts. She was finally able to be the one thing, the only thing that she had truly ever wanted to be. She was being Mam.
Then tragedy struck on March the 25th – Good Friday. Her little Ned was killed in a horrific car crash. Her whole world was shattered. Since that day she has battled to stay alive. She has been hospitalised on several occasions when she’s begun to lose the battle. She cries endless tears every day. She curls up in a tight ball in Ned’s bed and begs why. She sits by Ned’s graveside and says sorry over and over again.
A year somehow passed and the anniversaries loomed. Ned’s birthday, the day of the accident and Good Friday.
Ned’s birthday happened to be World Book Day. She was invited to a school and she went in Ned’s memory. The date of the crash came and she physically couldn’t get out of bed. Good Friday came and she fought her biggest battle of all. She fought against her darkest thoughts which were sensed by her mental health team. She fought against being sectioned. Her two best friends were with her throughout the day. They were not going to let them take her away from her home; from her safe haven, from the closeness of Ned’s resting place.
She won the day-long battle. She was physically, emotionally and mentally drained. She took her prescribed medication and crawled into bed. Tomorrow would be a new day she thought. She felt a slight shift. She wasn’t going to let those darkest of thoughts win.
She woke on Easter Saturday with a phone call from her mam. Her dad had passed away in the early hours of that day.
Once more her world came crashing down. How could it be possible? Why was this happening? He was her dad. Her rock. Always there. Quiet and gentle. Her mam’s soulmate.
She went straight home and visited the hospital – she had to say goodbye again. Broken-hearted she held her dad’s hand and asked him to take care of her precious Ned, until her time came.
She is now lost in an abyss of anguish and sorrow. She doesn’t know who she is. She can’t find a space in the world for her. She’s still a mam, but she only has two sons physically present in her life. Two sons for who her heart aches with love. But there’s a huge gaping hole in the middle, an emptiness where Ned should be.
She’s still a daughter. But there’s a gaping big hole next to her mam; an empty chair where her dad should be.
I look at her in the mirror. She is lost and broken. Her sunken eyes are empty. Her cheeks are tear-streaked. She’s tired. So very, very tired.
I want to reach out to her. I want to hold her tight and tell her that somehow she’ll get through this. But my hand touches cold glass. I can’t reach the girl in the mirror. She’ll be forever trapped behind the glass; the girl with a shattered heart and a tortured soul.