My husband had been unreachable since his disappearance. His movements and speech were slow, and painfully hopeless. He was inside his hell, and I couldn’t get in to retrieve him. I told him about a lovely doctor I had confided in, and he agreed to come with me on Sunday to the practice. This gentle man with a timbered voice listened after asking about my partner’s experiences in childhood and as an adult. He described his restlessness, his recklessness, his over-the-top behaviour and the savage, meteorite crashes onto earth. “I believe you have bi-polar, and have been trying to regulate your moods with alcohol,” the doctor finally spoke. He prescribed two different drug classes, one an anti-depressant and the other Lithium. When he indicated that it would be a hard, slow road, whilst the dosages were tweaked, but that the result would be that my husband would feel better than he had his whole adult life, my man broke down. I cried too. He may start to experience what it means to feel alive as opposed to feeling hyper or under-stimulated. The past five years have been hell. I look at the dishevelled, unhappy man seated next to me, and I know we are on a new journey, one I hadn’t anticipated nor prepared for. I buckle my seatbelt and prepare for blast-off.
I have five little birds. They are glorious creatures, whom live in my laundry. Two are finches, two are budgies and there is a canary. A breeder told me that they should not be put together, that they don’t get along. I left the choice up to them, opening up the houses (we don’t call them cages around here), so they could play freely. They care about each other. The others look on lovingly as the finches gather feathers and celery leaves to assemble a bed. Setrena the canary trills at the window whilst the budgies preen each other. Harmony. Even their songs collect inside a singing bowl like molten honey, the sound concordant. If a little pixie was in charge (me), women might be like these birds. Intrigued by each other’s customs and way of doing things. Lovingly looking on as one of their own is praised or elevated. Sharing from the same seed bowls, and being generous with each other. No gossiping, irritation, cliques or other such nonsense. If women were like birds…
I have often been alone in life. Sometimes, through illness. A destructive home life made me feel extremely isolated. I felt different, and often very alone. I came to grips with this sense of emptiness when I was doing Correspondence school after my fall. I could go weeks without seeing anyone other than my parents. Doctors’ visits were a chance to have some human connection, as was church, when I was well enough. I learnt that solitude can provide an immense amount of joy; not requiring others to fill deep voids in one’s soul is a rare privilege. I could gather my thoughts, be my own cheer squad, and had no need for corroboration. I left home, started writing and creating works of art, and the same applied. I would sit with people for a short while, revelling in the pleasure of sharing experiences. I was interacting with folks for the joy of it, not because I needed their energy, or anything else. Then, I had a baby. A child changes everything. Who you are, and certainly how you see the world. She was such a sociable little girl, and at six, this has expanded beyond my wildest imaginings. Everyone in our town seems to know her. For a hermit, this has been confronting. To mingle with scores of people at playgroups, mothers groups and now school and the extracurricular activities this coerces… I find I am more vulnerable.
Without an extended family around, I need validation that I am a good mother, a good person. The others come to social situations with the backup of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, parents and grandparents. I come alone, as does my husband. This is a very different sort of aloneness, and carries a peculiar melancholic aftertaste. To feel alone in a group… To have nothing to contribute amidst many of the conversations about their families, pregnancies, etc… To feel like I am left out, have only one foot in the parenting world… To wake in horrific pain, take some pain relief, and smile whilst my spine goes into spasms. To wince when a mother chats to someone alongside me, but doesn’t include me. Parenthood can bring up many childhood insecurities, and that has surprised me. It can be so difficult, having to be out there for the sake of your precious child, when your soul just wants to shut the door to your home, and not come out. The dance of friendship and connection feels like dancing on a high-wire at times. So fraught, so tender. I knew nothing of the delight of connection before, of having somewhere to be, and commitments to attend to. To be granted a smile and a hug, to have friends ask how I am and listen for the response. To laugh at nonsense and nod our heads emphatically with the thrill of identifying that someone else has had an experience such as ours. This makes the terrifying daily encounters with others bearable. I must learn to wrap myself in warmth of an evening, and praise the little girl for not having given up on people, and on life. I thank my beautiful daughter for bringing me out of my home, and showing me the ease of which she mingles with people. There is hope for me. I must not lose myself by seeking validation from outside. It isn’t fair on others, nor on myself. The aloneness… Some of the particles that make up the cloud can’t be dissipated. I will always be alone in some respects, but I need never be lonely.
I saw the new doctor at the practice, an older fellow with an assuring timbre in his voice. The sort of man one feels immediately at ease with. It was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had. My words tumbled out of my mouth, as I explained that my husband isn’t well. “He went missing. He drinks, a lot.” He listens, leans forward. I cry as I try to explain how down he has been, then accelerating to grand plans and spending sprees often in the same day. “I believe he might be suffering with bipolar,” the doctor asserts. “Bring him in to see me this Sunday.” The first smattering of hope I have felt in a long time. Hubby has been going to AA meetings. It has been a week without alcohol. The sky seems brighter, but he is still absent.
You let me know that you could see into my soul. “I know what you are hiding,” you whispered, and the relief was palpable. In a place where we holler greetings to each other over our shoulders, rarely glancing into each other’s faces, shielding our eyes with shades, more from other people than the sun. Trying not to be seen. If we are seen, then so is our sadness, and then stories may tumble out. What then? Embarrassment and awkward platitudes from the one we have confided in? A certainty that we will be fodder for the rumour mill. Entertainment even. You are my friend. You asked the question, and you waited for the answer, not deterred by my smile, my colourful attire, my made-up face. You held my hand, and squeezed it. You weren’t going anywhere. You sat with me, and shared my burden. This is kindness, and I felt safe within its embrace.