I read this article yesterday, and found myself agreeing with everything Meg Rosoff wrote. Children are far more intelligent and intuitive than we like to admit, and they know when things are wrong, however much we try to keep the truth from them. And we should be honest with them, because their fertile imaginations are powerful enough to invent monsters under the bed, when really it’s just an old pair of shoes and an abandoned book. One thing all parents say to their children at some point is ‘Tell me the truth’. Why should we hold our children to standards we can’t stick to ourselves?
Then I had a new and unwelcome thought.
One day I will have to tell my children that I tried to kill myself.
Just typing that sends a shudder down my spine. They’re my children. I should try to keep bad things from them, protect them, take the sting from life as much as I can.
But they’re not stupid. They know that something happened three and a half years ago. The Girl was only 18 months old at the time, so she doesn’t remember. But The Boy does. He was five. He remembers being taken out of bed and bundled in the car by a frantic Alistair. He remembers being told that ‘Mummy is upset’ and that ‘The Police are coming to look after Mummy’. He remembers my blank-eyed stare when he came into the bedroom to see me the following evening, and how he cried because I didn’t look like me.
And obviously he knows that soon after that, he had to move house, move to a new school, say goodbye to his old life and get used to something utterly foreign. It caused him a lot of unhappiness and that’s what I regret the most. Seeing my confident, happy and blithe son change to a moody, difficult and aggressive child who acted up all the time, refused to go to bed, answered back and cried every morning before school. It didn’t help that I was in such a state myself that I could barely find the will to get up each day, or that Alistair, driven by desperation, was working 15 hour days so I was alone with the children most of the time. I wasn’t a good parent for those months. I just about managed to take care of their more pressing needs, but emotional security and support just weren’t possible.
I got better, eventually. And The Boy settled down too, once he’d made friends and got used to this new life. He’s more himself now than he ever was before, if that makes sense. You see, in our old life, he was permanently with his cousin who is 25 days older and very much a born leader. The Boy is not. That’s not to say he’s easily led or a pushover. But generally he just fell in with whatever his cousin wanted to do, and I could see that he was very much in his cousin’s shadow, and it worried me that he put himself a firm second. Being forced to make his own friends and his own way in the world has given him more confidence in himself. And whilst I hate the disruption and confusion that my mental disintegration caused him, I can at least see that something good has come from it.
But it’s not something I’ve ever felt able to talk to him about, despite the fact that we talk about everything else. Nothing is off limits when we talk. From ancient Egypt to the night sky, periods, love and facebook, it’s all covered. The boy even once kickstarted a chat with ‘There’s a muscle in my willy that makes it stand up and look like a finger, it’s really annoying’. Yet I can’t find it within myself to tell him about my depression. Partly because I worry that he will, for some reason, blame himself. Or that he’ll fear it might happen again, and that he can somehow control whether or not it does.
Then there’s the question of love. Talking to my mum about it not so long ago, she said she couldn’t forgive me for intending to leave my children, that it made her think I couldn't love my children as much as I should. She instantly corrected what she’d said, saying she couldn’t understand it, but we both knew what she meant. And I tried to explain that, in the fog of misery I was inhabiting, I felt like I was doing what was best for my family. That my presence could only hurt them more, so by killing myself, I was actually doing them a kindness. And she nodded and said ‘Mmm’, but I know she couldn’t get her head around the idea. Perhaps you can’t. It made sense to me at the time. But if an adult can’t grasp that concept, what chance does a child have?
And really, the thing I don’t want to have to face is The Boy asking me not to do it again. Because I can’t promise I won’t. I hope I don’t, I’ll do everything I can to prevent myself from getting into that terrible state again. But I can’t promise I won’t. Like I’ve said before, depression is insidious, gradual and utterly destroying. It takes away your ability to think rationally, to have perspective and understanding, so that the most stupid ideas gain traction. And if I do become haunted by the black dog (or evil fucking hellhound, as I prefer to think of it), then I might reach that point again. And hopefully, if I do, I will reach out and get the help I need. But if I don’t, if I do fall into that hole again, if I do decide that death is the answer, then it won’t really be me making that decision, it’ll be depression making it. But how do you explain that to a child? And how can they hope to understand?