What is brave? A working mother’s truth

What is brave? A working mother's truth

Bravery. Is it base-jumping? Running with bulls? Standing up for your beliefs and waving a placard? Being a working mother and sole carer of an artistic, intelligent family with various mental health problems? Yeah, bravery. It comes in many forms.

WHAT IS BRAVE? Is it base-jumping? Is it running with the bulls? Well, yes. But I’m brave too. Do you want to know why?

Every day, I get up at the crack of dawn and hit the ground running. I don’t stop until I collapse from exhaustion in the mid evening.

I have four kids (15, 12, 5 and 3) and one husband and I am the only one working. I am the only driver, cooker, cleaner, shopper, parent evening attender, accountant, problem solver and facilitator. I work 6 hours a day in a school where I sort out staff and student problems (I work directly with about 25 16-19 year olds). I also work evenings when performances are on (my school has specialist schools status in performing arts). I am paid very little because the government do not think support staff deserve the money teachers earn, even though they could not do their job or run a school without us. I had to take five weeks off with stress and mental exhaustion during June and July this year.

My husband had a break down 12 years ago and is still on medication and has sociophobias. He doesn’t ‘do’ going out, travelling on public transport – or handling a crisis or any problem, for that matter. My eldest daughter suffers from mental health problems, self harms and is under counselling. She attends the school I work at and I am under a constant barrage from them to sort her out and get her back to school. Right now her educational future is f*cked. Even though she is bright, she has missed a lot of time in the past year (she is in year 11). My eldest son is dyslexic and needs constant encouragement. I am so busy most days, I don’t even have the time to cuddle or sit with my youngest kids.

After the bills are paid and the food is bought, there is very little money left, but I am beset by constant demands for ‘necessary’ purchases.

Most mornings it is a struggle to get going, to even want to face the day. I’m screaming inside for some peace and quiet and rest. I am never alone. I am constantly in demand by home when I am at work, and by work when I am at home.

Don’t even talk about the state of my marriage. I sleep on a sofa in the front room that is about 4 foot long, so I can’t stretch out. My husband cannot accept or even acknowledge that I am unhappy. He is in denial. If he doesn’t face it, it doesn’t exist. He’s also an alcoholic, but won’t admit it.

I either sleep too much or not at all. I don’t get lay-ins. I am an insomniac. I am bi-polar (manic depressive). I cope with extreme mood swings going from hyper-mania, mania and deep depression. I’ve seen a psychiatrist a couple of times and have been prescribed mood stabilisers, Prozac for the deep depressive periods and benzodiazepine for the manic times. I don’t take any of them. I have no time in my daily schedule to be sedated. I feel very guilty about the legacy I have left my children. I am aware that the spectre of manic depression is the key to my eldest daughter’s mental health problems.

I cold tell you more but it would only depress you and you are probably already bored reading this. And frankly, I don’t blame you.

BUT. I am artistic and intelligent and so are all my kids. That helps you through life and gives you skills to cope. Because I have very little money, I cut and colour my own hair, shop at charity shops and am inventive with my style – which is simple, pared-down and dramatic (I only wear five colours, black, grey, white, red and purple – but mainly black). I get compliments for my style and dress sense. People like my hair. My eldest daughter manages her style in the same way; she’s got a great sense of style.

I am also lucky enough to have some wonderful, artistic, intelligent, caring and expressive friends. They tell me they don’t know how I manage to cope with everything. They make sure I get out and about when I need a break.

So, every morning, when all the kids are sorted, I get showered, dressed and paint my mask on, drive to work with extra strong coffee in hand and face another day, because not-coping is not an option.