How an overwhelmed mother of three brought herself back from the brink of a nervous breakdown
Screaming kids, mounting debts, absent husband... How did I get here?
A throaty scream rips Belinda from her soporific sanctuary.
It's 5 am and Josh, her three-year-old, is wailing like a banshee on speed. He's not well: he was coughing last night and now he's clutching his throat. Dazed, she ushers her little boy into the bed she shares with her husband, Simon. A second of cherished peace passes before Josh collects more breath to resume his roar.
"Mommy, Mommy, MOMMYYY!"
"Sssh! It's okay. I'm here! Don't scream so much, Josh."
"Where does it hurt, honey?"
Mini fingers tap the tiny neck. "There, it hurt me!"
"It will do, sweetie."
His wet forehead says fever and he's howling enough to wake the dead - but not Simon.
"You'll hurt your throat even more screaming like that, Josh!"
"It hurt! It hurt, Mommy!" The inner tips of Josh's little eyebrows arch downwards as a mask of pure anger.
Suddenly, 'it' happens again. Her heart thumps furiously and her breathing comes in sobs. She desperately tries to cover this by pasting on her mommy smile, but she feels sick and worries she'll have a heart attack at 35.
"It's okay, baby. Mommy's here!"
"Why do I feel so alone?"
How can Simon sleep through this? Why is it all down to her? She glances at her slumbering husband with envy and notices her hands are shaking - half anxious, half angry. Simon often jokes he could sleep through an earthquake. "I'd like to put that to the test!" she thinks.
Ninety minutes later, the whole house is awake. Simon is shaving slowly, eyes half-open in an imitation of world-weary chic. Oh, great. Their seven-year-old, Katie, is fighting with Pauline, the oldest child.
"Mommy, Mommy, MOMMY!"
"What!!" Belinda almost screams as she suddenly becomes aware of her heart thumping again, like the flipper of a caffeinated sea lion.
She feels it in her throat first, the way she always does when she wants to cry. But how can she? This is a kid's fight.
"It's not fair, Mommy..." What's 'not fair' gets lost in the flurry of the morning maelstrom.
"I love you but I hate you!"
Pauline is nine, yet sometimes she acts like she's the baby of the family. Belinda says this to Simon as he munches his toast and grips his coffee mug like it's the Olympic torch. But he just smiles like he's on some far distant mountain peak and can barely see her. She worries about Simon, yet is weirdly angry with him. He never seems to get involved in the children's fights.
Simon's innate amiability can't be broken by life's adversities or his soul-sapping routine. Belinda pictures him under the wheels of a truck, still grinning chirpily, thumbs up, crushed ribs and organs, saying, "No problem; it'll be fine!" like a handsome infomercial actor.
But his smile of late is a ghost of optimism, like the automatic nerve twitching of some freshly killed creature, a deceptive and sad parody of life.
"I wish I could escape to a 'stressful' job"
By 7 am, Simon has left for the day. Escaped to the city. He's a financial advisor. Which is ironic, as their finances have never been worse. Belinda has a vision of their debt. It's a huge whale, like the one in Disney's Pinocchio, bearing down on their little family as they bob and weave, up and down, side to side, in a leaky, rotting boat. It threatens to swallow them whole.
Simon will be home at 8 tonight. He works increasing hours for less money. Guilt nips away like a crab's pincer as she waves goodbye to Katie and Pauline as they go to school. With herculean effort, she smiles, shows teeth. Then Belinda closes the door to talk to her guilt.
Should she be working during the day? But how can she? Should she do something from home when Josh is preoccupied, to help bring in some money? But what? She used to edit websites, but how can she find the time?
"I can't remember the last time we made love. Is it my fault?"
When did she and Simon last make love? He's joked recently they have the sex life of a couple of tetraplegic octogenarians...who've never met. She feels this is somehow a reflection on her as a woman. He says it just is what it is, circumstances, and not to worry.
But it's not just that. Everything feels...heavy. Her energy took a trip to destinations unknown months ago and, after a couple of sightings, hasn't been heard of since. Now she can barely muster the force to put the kettle on as the familiar daylong task of self-caffeination begins, increasingly interspersed with something more worrying.
"I'm such a bad mother. And I feel so guilty."
"Why am I so useless? Why do I lose my temper with the kids? I'm a lousy mom, a lousy human being!" Her voice sounds tinny and now she worries it's not normal to speak out loud to yourself. "I must really be nuts!" she says, again out loud.
Guilt isn't just nipping anymore. It's caught hold and refuses to let go; its sharp grip is painful. "I'm a bad mother, useless wife and lover, and can't even make any money!"
She suddenly finds herself feeling envious of Jo, her sister. Jo, who was always the wild one; the student most likely to mess up her own life. Jo, who now has plenty of money and time. Jo, whose loves-to-cook husband works from home for himself, for them, making a flood of money.
Belinda feels a sharp shard of self-hate. "Envy is such an unattractive trait" - she hears her long-dead mother's oft-repeated reprimand.
Why can't she ask Jo to help out? Even just to babysit? She lives close by, doesn't work, has no kids of her own yet. Simon suggests it everyday, but why won't she ask? Pride? Aggh!
Mercifully, Josh is sleeping, his gentle breath even and regular. The thought of a glass of gin winks at her like some smarmy guy trying to pick up a one-night stand. That's worrying. She's started drinking during the late mornings; not too much, she thinks, but it worries her. She fights it, but decides to have an early morning gin and tonic - the clue's in the name, she thinks.
Josh sleeps fitfully and Belinda has space to feel the full force of her misery.
How a little Uncommon Knowledge changed everything...
The child's scream forces entry into Belinda's dream and incongruously issues from the cozy mouth of a sweet old lady within that dream. Back in her waking life, Belinda sees her three-year-old, Josh, screaming his way into the day. She tries to comfort him, as he's not too well. Bad throat.
"Communicating my needs has made such a difference!"
But Josh won't be calmed by her and she decides maybe he wants his daddy. Nudging the sleeping Simon awake, she reflects on how much better things have been since she asked - and repeatedly asked until they agreed - that Simon would do 50% of the 'kid stuff' each morning.
"Daddy, it hurt, Daddy, Daddy, DADDY!"
Simon is amiable, though still drugged by the dredges of his stolen sleep.
"It's okay, Josh. It will hurt; sore throats do. But it won't hurt for long and then it will be better, you'll see."
The morning goes on and as Belinda prepares the children's packed lunches, their seven-year-old, Katie, is fighting with Pauline, the oldest child. Simon is patient for a while, but finally bellows at them - although even when he shouts, he seems to be smiling. Still, they quiet down and manage to eat their breakfast amidst a welcome ceasefire.
"Who knew you could feel so different after 15 minutes?"
Belinda feels calm. Each night, she has been practicing self-hypnosis to naturally manage her stress. The kids go off to school and she kisses, then ushers them out of the door, ensuring they're both deposited safely on the school bus. She's already kissed Simon goodbye. Things have been improving: she feels stronger and her energy has returned, safe and sound and more committed than ever to making things happen.
The horrible, seething sense of anger and hopelessness has gone, as have the crafty sips of gin that had been making her feel so much worse first thing each morning. She had practised 15 minutes of hypnosis every night and focussed on rehearsing, in her mind, not drinking each day until that felt natural again.
She had envisaged talking to her sister without shame and it had come to pass. She called her sister Jo and they met up one evening when Simon was home for the kids. Jo suggested - suggested before she was asked - that she could look after Josh during the week some of the time.
Since then, Belinda had started working on her laptop in a nearby cafe. Using an old contact, she secured a little editing work and now relished the eight or so hours of work per week. She was also starting to do an hour or so each evening and being paid quite well.
Jo knew a trusted babysitter and Simon had suggested they have regular 'date nights' - not a term Belinda liked for some reason, but what a revelation! They rediscovered passion for one another. Simon joked that although there had been few volcanoes in recent months, the subterranean fires of passion had never gone away underneath the necessary muddles of life.
Belinda and Simon grew closer again with more contact, even met up with other couples. For Belinda, making a few changes paid huge dividends. Learning self-hypnosis had turned her feelings of helplessness into a snowball of intention rolling into an avalanche of change. She had:
- Taken time to feel calm during each part of the day.
- Learned to 'switch off' panicky feelings when they arose.
- Rehearsed feeling able to go days at a time without the need to drink until it felt normal not to drink again.
- Practiced assertiveness in her mind during the peace and comfort of self-hypnosis so that it felt natural and normal to ask Simon for help with the kids each morning and speak to her sister Jo about babysitting Josh.
Belinda no longer feels guilty or shameful. Life is still tough sometimes - they have three kids and a mortgage to pay - but she is seeing more people, earning some money, and feeling her love for Simon again.
As Josh sleeps fitfully, she reflects on what a difference making a couple of changes can make. She starts up her computer and decides to get some extra work done, as Jo doesn't normally babysit today, anyway.
Before getting down to work, she looks at Josh, his soft face and delicate perfect hands, and a sudden wave of dizzy joy rides through her.
"We're going to be okay," she says out loud, her voice strong and light.