Sunday, 22 September 2013

Honesty, the best policy



     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?

12 comments:

Lottie Lomas said...

What a brave post. And what a hard, hard time you have been through. I'm glad you're feeling better, but if you ever want to chat - about anything! - I'm always here. xxx

Lucy Benedict said...

Thank you Lottie, that means a lot. Life is so much better now, it's hard to believe I could have fallen as low as I did. But I kind of feel like I have an obligation to be as honest about it as I can be, because it might help someone who's feeling the same way I did... if that even makes any sense!

Anonymous said...

You know I think you're a very brave lady. And I totally get the whole thing - the thinking everyone would be better off etc - been there and done that. My mother never forgave me for 'doing that to her' - !!! - I hope you never go there again, I hope I never do either, but it's a tightrope we walk as humans, and those that haven't been there simply shouldn't judge xxxx

Sal T said...

I am cripplingly bad at leaving comments, but just wanted to say I came, I read, I enjoyed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A brave honest and emotional post, one I personally can identify with. To live in that fog while the world goes on outside is so very hard

Anonymous said...

Why do you need to tell your children? I too believe honesty is the best policy but this may be an exception. I too have tried to kill myself and have been hospitalised as a result. I think my older one worked out that I had taken too many tablets but my younger one is unaware (a view corroborated by my older child). The difficulty was the inevitable involvement of children's services and the time it took for reports to be finalised but they were and life continues. The road remains rocky and sadly I suspect we are not at the end of it yet. As others have said I get the thing about others being better off without me. I have however come to accept that the laundry would not be done as well without me, nor the house kept as clean. The challenge is to find a reason for me to live and not to rely on reasons involving others. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand where you're coming from re: The children would be better off without me, I felt the same.
It sounds like you have a very open and honest relationship with your children, and that they feel able to ask you any questions they want, what an amazing mother you must be! If they have questions, they will ask, and all you can do is tell them that you were in a dark place, you were ill, that people do things which make perfect sense to them, but not to anyone else.
My mother has also never forgiven me for doing it, it seems to be something they do.

Alex Tyrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm the grown up child of someone that tried to take their own life. Fortunately we all survived & I see no reason to burden your children or anyone about something that I sincerely hope for your sake & theirs is in the past. It's a hugely symbolic act whether it succeeds or not - I will never forget the night. It makes me shake to think about it. I am a mother too & believe strongly that it's important to never lie & be honest & authentic with your children but unless they ask you directly - "did you ever?" why on earth give them the immense strain of trying to work out why they were not enough to keep you going. I gather that you love your children & feel an immense responsibility for them but I don't think that putting the weight of the world - or rather your well being as they might see it - on their shoulders is necessarily a good thing. I've carried a lot of weight & anxiety around on behalf of other people in my life - it can been incredibly hard at times. I say let them be free & do your best to be optimistic for their sake & put as much of your sadness behind you as you can. If the blackness returns I think they will probably be better equipped to deal with it & more able support you through it than if they've been living in fear for the day it might happen! I'm sure as sults they will work it out for themselves but for as long as possible let them see the world through a shiny lens. I wish you all the best X

Anonymous said...

I'm the grown up child of someone that tried to take their own life. Fortunately we all survived & I see no reason to burden your children or anyone about something that I sincerely hope for your sake & theirs is in the past. It's a hugely symbolic act whether it succeeds or not - I will never forget the night. It makes me shake to think about it. I am a mother too & believe strongly that it's important to never lie & be honest & authentic with your children but unless they ask you directly - "did you ever?" why on earth give them the immense strain of trying to work out why they were not enough to keep you going. I gather that you love your children & feel an immense responsibility for them but I don't think that putting the weight of the world - or rather your well being as they might see it - on their shoulders is necessarily a good thing. I've carried a lot of weight & anxiety around on behalf of other people in my life - it can been incredibly hard at times. I say let them be free & do your best to be optimistic for their sake & put as much of your sadness behind you as you can. If the blackness returns I think they will probably be better equipped to deal with it & more able to support you through it than if they've been living in fear for the day it might happen! I'm sure as adults they will work it out for themselves & it won't be easy even then - but for as long as possible let them see the world through a shiny lens. I wish you all the best X

Anonymous said...

I'm the grown up child of someone that tried to take their own life. Fortunately we all survived & I see no reason to burden your children or anyone about something that I sincerely hope for your sake & theirs is in the past. It's a hugely symbolic act whether it succeeds or not - I will never forget the night. It makes me shake to think about it. I am a mother too & believe strongly that it's important to never lie & be honest & authentic with your children but unless they ask you directly - "did you ever?" why on earth give them the immense strain of trying to work out why they were not enough to keep you going. I gather that you love your children & feel an immense responsibility for them but I don't think that putting the weight of the world - or rather your well being as they might see it - on their shoulders is necessarily a good thing. I've carried a lot of weight & anxiety around on behalf of other people in my life - it can been incredibly hard at times. I say let them be free & do your best to be optimistic for their sake & put as much of your sadness behind you as you can. If the blackness returns I think they will probably be better equipped to deal with it & more able to support you through it than if they've been living in fear for the day it might happen! I'm sure as adults they will work it out for themselves & it won't be easy even then - but for as long as possible let them see the world through a shiny lens. I wish you all the best X

Anonymous said...

Yes we ask our children to be honest, but we don't ask or expect them to reveal every inner working of their souls. And honesty on your part doesn't mean you have to reveal this to them. It would be a huge burden on them. It would make them feel responsible for protecting you from the demon of depression, although they can't. It would make them anxious every time you are so much as even partially distressed. It would be selfish to tell them. I lived with a depressive parent and felt they were my responsibility well into my twenties. Eventually my deeply sane and gentle DH came along and I unlearned this nonsense but it hugely affected my relationship with and respect for my parent.

I too have depression and I suspect one of my children has inherited it too. I am super vigilant about his moods and bolstering him as best I can against it with CBT style techniques. But I hide it from my DC, except to explain, very rationally that I take medicine because my brain doesn't make the chemical most people's brains make to help them think normally. That's all they know about it and they are in their adolescence.

I think it's reasonable to explain that you got ill, that your brain malfunctioned so badly that you needed treatment and one of the scariest effects of this illness for you and for others is that you no longer before or feel like the familiar person you have always been, but that the effect is temporary and will pass when the illness passes and the medication or therapy takes hold. In other words, explain it's an illness without suggesting stigma. Explain it is temporary and treatable. explain it is scary but don't explain that you tried to die and might again. That's none of their business unless it happens, in which case it will be a tragedy that nothing could prepare them for, just like any other untimely death of a loved one.
Let's hope it doesn't happen.