The ripple effect

There’s been a lot of talk on social media this week about mental health and suicide thanks to Zoe Ball’s Sport Relief challenge in memory of her partner Billy Yates. Hardest Road Home was difficult to watch but also incredibly inspiring and the money donated will go a huge way to supporting those at risk of suicide. Good job Zoe.

One of the things mentioned in the programme was the ripple effect of suicide and the impact it has on so many people. In the days, weeks and months after Joe died, this effect was palpable. Family, friends and strangers all impacted by the loss of our brilliant boy, visited, called, wrote and texted; we had a house full of people sharing stories, grieving, supporting… And now, nine months on when the visitors have gone and life ploughs on, the impact on those closest to Joe continues.unnamed

Grief can often lead to depression and it breaks my heart that this cruel, shitty, bastard of an illness has now taken hold of Claudia. My sweet, bright, hilarious, and determined girl is struggling and I desperately want to take the pain away. I couldn’t help Joe because he kept his illness to himself, although in his last week of life when we did know something was wrong, we didn’t take it seriously enough. The regret of not driving to Exeter, forcing him into the car and bringing him home, haunts me every day.

But I can do something to help Claudia. I understand depression much better now. I understand what it can do and that it can lead to feelings of such darkness and despair that death seems like the only answer.

The dynamic of Claudia’s life has shifted. She misses Joe so much and sometimes can’t see the point of a life without him in it. She was the middle child and had two brothers; now she’s the youngest and has lost her partner in crime, despite still being close to Connor. Their shared history, their childhood, school, university, their whole lives are intertwined. The stories that only Joe and Claudia knew, the memories only they shared, the love that only they had for each other has gone, and she’s really struggling to make sense of it.

P1040756

The two of them fought like cat and dog when they were younger but in the past few years, since they’d both moved away to university, they’d become incredibly close. Joe was often the first person Claudia would turn to when she needed to talk. He was always her baby brother and the smart arse who knew the answer to everything, but their relationship was maturing, and it was lovely to see.

19029314_10209755559389108_2162738293857643448_nThe stories they used to tell were hilarious: Joe standing in the ladies’ toilet of a bar with a drunk Claudia who needed to go home, telling all the girls – “Back off bitches, this is my sister” with a phone in each hand trying to get hold of David on one of them and me on the other; the two of them owning the dancefloor at a club; the hours spent at Top Golf; the car journeys; the Facetime chats…

And so, our girl is back home. Maybe for good and maybe just until she gets better and can finish her degree. She’s done all the right things – she’s gone to her GP, she’s talked about how she’s feeling and she’s been referred to the mental health crisis team in Nottingham. She has given her consent for them to talk to me and David about the things she finds difficult to say, and we’re in contact with them until we can get her moved to the outpatient care of our local mental health trust.

It’s hard, it’s shit and I’m scared. But she’s talking to us, to her friends – who are amazing – to her GP and to the mental health team. And talking about it has meant the difference between struggling in silence and having us put our arms around her, bring her home, listen and try to help. She’s worried because coming home and taking a break from uni wasn’t in her plan. I’ve told her we just need a new plan.19030767_10209755558909096_506762968273621912_n

Everything changed on that day in June when Joe decided that enough was enough, and Claudia’s plan now needs to be focused on getting better and not thinking too far ahead. My plan, David’s plan, our plan for this family changes every day so we’ve learned not to think about next month, the next six months, the next year… We just think about today, tomorrow, the manageable, the achievable, the here and now.

Amidst all the anxiety, the stress and the worry of the past couple of weeks, our family’s dark humour continues to shine through. Claudia found it hilarious that, while waiting for an appointment at the mental health hospital, this was the song they had blaring across the waiting room…

I’ll leave you on that note and carry on bobbing about in the ripples…

Advertisements

Life lessons from my Mama

Today I’m celebrating being 69 days alcohol-free (get in!) but more importantly, I’m celebrating my mum. We don’t usually go in for the ‘Hallmark holidays’ (something about being northern, I reckon) but this year, I hope she’ll forgive me if I jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon…

Kate Anderson, Titch, Katie-noodle, Mama. My mum grew up in the north of England and escaped down south as soon as her independent streak kicked in and my Gran would let her. She lived in London and worked at the BBC before meeting my dad – a fellow northerner – at a party where he was drinking beer from a vase (legend). They were married 6 months later and are celebrating 50 years of marriage in October. Boom!

My mum has been a strong and loving constant for me, and my brother, through our best and worst times. My dad travelled a lot for work when we were growing up so mum was often on her own – a long way from her own mum and family – with two young children who could turn arguing into an art form. She made the best chocolate crispy cakes and created a safe, warm, happy home that I’ll always treasure.

My parents have never been judgmental or placed any expectations on my brother and I, aside from wanting us to do our best and be happy. There’s been no pressure on either of us to have children (phew) and we’ve been raised to be independent and to live the lives we choose. I saw a mug the other day that said: “The best mothers are promoted to grandmothers” WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? The best mothers nurture their children and don’t place emotional pressure on them to procreate just so they can call themselves Grandma. In my humble opinion…

In the past 6 years – since David, the children and I moved in together – I’ve apologised to my mum and thanked her A LOT. Living with teenagers is hard, really effing hard, and I know I didn’t navigate my stepchildren’s teenage years with half as much grace, understanding and patience as my own mum did with me and my brother.

The looks of pure disdain, the frequent requests for money, the endless lifts, the hormones, the mess (teens) and of course the crying, the slamming of doors and the gallons of wine (me). So again, mum, thank you for the teenage years and for so much more…

My mum and dad once did an 8-hour round trip from their home in North Yorkshire to give me a hug when I’d had my heart broken. They celebrated with me when I got married at 26 – and picked up the pieces when I got divorced two years later. They pretended not to mind when I flew to Australia instead of going to my graduation. They listened patiently as I questioned their choice of education for me through a haze of cigarette smoke when I was 19; a choice I now thank and respect them for enormously.

And I’ll never forget the day, after years of pestering, that mum gave in as I announced, once and for all, that I was giving up meat. I was 12. She cooked more lentils during those years than anyone should have to. She also didn’t remove any of the photos of dying battery hens I used to pin to our fridge in an attempt to shame my parents and brother into going veggie…

And she’s done all of this at the same time as losing her parents and her brother, helping to look after her often cantankerous father-in-law, studying for a degree and graduating in her 50s, living alone when my dad moved to the States for work and supporting my brother through years of addiction.

And I’m sure there are a whole heap of things I don’t know about because she’s protected me from them. I remember being a bit taken aback once when she told me, “I’m not your friend, I’m your mum”, but now I know exactly what she meant; she protects me, not burdens me. Plus we don’t talk about sex. EVER.

Our shared love of New Zealand Sauvignon (gosh, I miss it), Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and reading have characterised our relationship more recently and I love doing mix CDs for mum of my latest music finds. When life gets too much, my parents’ house is the first place I want to escape to and I’m heading up in a few weeks for some much needed mum (and dad) cooking and hugs.

I’ve been unlucky enough to experience some incredibly unpleasant and bizarre behaviour from my stepchildren’s mother over the past few years – which I know isn’t normal or typical – but I suspect isn’t unique either, and that breaks my heart. My experience of motherhood – having the mum I have and watching my friends as mothers – is positive, warm, loving, caring, selfless and strong. Yes there are frustrations and irritations but that protectiveness and love is always there.

I hate that Connor and Claudia don’t have that, especially now, when they need it most as they grieve for Joe. Their mother’s frequent absences, incessant dishonesty and brazen self-centredness were confusing for them when they were younger, but as they grow up, they realise it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with her. They are safe in the knowledge that David and I will always give them unconditional love, emotional support and as much time as we possibly can.

I’ve learned the importance of that from my mum and while some may say it’s different when the children aren’t biologically you’re own, for me it’s no different at all. Love is love.

Ma and Pa

I know how hard it is for my mum and dad to see me, David and the children in so much pain since losing Joe. I know they wish they were closer and could see us all more often and I know mum lies awake worrying about us. All I can say, mum, is that you raised me, so stop worrying. You and dad made me the strong, independent and resilient woman I am, along with the whacking great dollop of cynicism, sarcasm, anxiety and humour you threw in there for good measure.

I’ll be fine, and I’ll make sure my family are fine as well. Better than fine, in fact, it’ll just take some time. The axes of our lives have permanently shifted, but we’ll find new paths and Joe will be with us, laughing at our choices, along the way.

So today, and every day, I raise a glass of non-alcoholic fizz to my mama, and to all the incredible women in my life. Thank you.

Don’t order the wine!

41 days with no alcohol. Hurrah!

I think I may have finally broken the habit that characterised my relationship with white wine. My stepdaughter, Claudia, was home from uni last weekend and we drove to Reading to meet up with my stepson, Connor, and have a family lunch. Sunday lunches for me would always – without fail – include as many large glasses of Sauvignon as I could justify, but I now realise I was on auto-pilot. I drank wine, it’s what I did. Everyone would expect Kit to go straight to the wine menu, find the New Zealand Sauvignon, complain if there wasn’t one, and then proceed to drink the best part of a bottle.

But now I’m THINKING. So effing simple but something I just hadn’t beunnameden doing where alcohol was concerned. I ordered wine, I bought wine, I drank wine. And now I don’t. I order sparkling water, alcohol free lager or tea. Yup, instead of my usual glass of wine for dessert, I now have tea (pictured, vying for attention with Claudia’s picture-hogging G&T). And I drive home so my partner can rest his eyes and not spend the weekend driving his tipsy girlfriend around when he drives so much during the week.

Do I find it hard? Sure I do. I miss the taste of a good white wine and that lovely fuzzy feeling you get after a glass or two. But I don’t miss the bad sleep, the alcohol-fuelled anxiety and the lethargy. The only time I felt like reaching for a bottle during lunch was when the children (24 and 21, but still children to me) started pestering David and I to get married…

Grief is different without alcohol as well. Oddly, I’m feeling more emotional despite being calmer and less anxious. The calmness is probably down to the fact that my anti-depressants are working more effectively without having to battle for bloodstream space with a very pushy Sauv Blanc, but I had thought giving up the booze might help me control my emotions. Apparently not. I suppose it was a big ask and that my grief wasn’t going to disappear along with my hangovers, but not being able to numb the emptiness, the loss, the regret and the despair with a few drinks is definitely one of the things I miss. Reality, sober, is a bitch.

On the flipside, I’m able to be more present for David, Connor and Claudia who all need sober Kit to help them navigate their grief. A lot of people tell us we’re coping really well but I think we’ve just learned how to keep the mask up for longer at work or when we’re going about our days. What people don’t see is the sadness that envelops us so often. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still able to laugh and joke, but we just need to be together – a lot – talking, hugging, crying and remembering.

Anyhoo, 41 days with no booze and I’m more than a little chuffed with myself.

I’m pretty sure Joe would be too.