Wow 2 whole months have past without me blogging. Its been summer holidays and life has been very much about the kids at home, going away and my last months of pregnancy.
Our summer holiday was 2 weeks spent in the south east where my parents now live. I was aware before we went that this would be my first holiday down there with my parents now installed and I knew that I should be aware that I wouldn’t know how that would feel, good/bad, relaxing/stressful, probably all of these. I was also expecting mum to be low while we were there – that’s where she was at in her old cycle. However Mum got ‘Happy’ a few days before we arrived and stayed that way for the duration.
It was lovely to see my kids enjoy ‘happy’ granny so fervently and not having to feel protective of them or mum. However, Mum’s ‘happiness’ felt fast and manic at times for me. This can bring me frustration; watching her do everything and anything, never stopping, constantly talking, not listening, getting confused. I couldn’t help being afraid that she could, every day, be on the verge of dropping off into ‘sadness’ again. Its not a great feeling, though I believe a natural one, given Mum’s recent 3 weekly pattern. And of course a reminder to me that ‘happy’ mum can get on my nerves in a way that no one else can!
Within an hour of arriving on holiday my parents came to welcome us and I was reminded of the daily issue arising from mum’s mental health. I could sense the tension between my parents, the strained nature of their exchanges, Dad’s repeated ignoring of anything mum said, Mum’s incessant shouting at Dad rather than talking. I’m well aware that this is the sad norm for my parents following mum’s bouts of ‘sadness’, in the period while mum is manic and not sleeping and dad is exhausted from caring. On this occasion mum was quickly attempting to bring me in on her version of the last few days and how horrid Dad was being to her. Though I don’t doubt some of her truth (I’ve witnessed what she was describing) it’s not what I wish to hear; especially on my first day of holiday. I attempted to move conversation on. The next day I was approached separately by two relatives telling me about their concern for dad’s treatment of mum – bullying language and meanness. I feel sad and angry, not least because these relatives are my elders and what they are telling me of I’ve been experiencing for years. I try my best to be honest with these relatives; I suggest that if they are that concerned then they should bring it up with my mum or dad; that perhaps they should consider the source of such behavior and ask themselves what more they could do in order that my dad not feel so tired and sad himself. I point out that though I am aware of problems between my parents at such times, and that I do indeed try to discuss this with both of them, I am their daughter and its not always my best position. And also I’m pregnant, on holiday – Leave me alone!!! It reminds me that in my experience of mental health the carer can often be unsupported and misunderstood, often most by the person they care for.
One day of this holiday provided a great example of mum’s behavior at this point in her pattern, of the fast and manic behavior. I had arranged a day of friends, they were coming to spend the day with us, we would have a picnic, enjoy the beach and company. My parents are 10 minutes away. I had repeatedly told mum our plans for this day, explaining that we’d see her the next. I remember, the night before, believing that Mum hadn’t heard me and our plans. In fact so convinced was I of this I text my Dad and brother (who was briefly staying with them) to explain. And then, there we were entertaining our friends, just settling into our day and who should arrive? Mum with all the ingredients for a picnic in tow. As I thought she’d mixed up her days and there she was expecting to spend the day with us. She announced her thoughts abruptly and loudly with no thought for my friends or me “Oh, but we’re meant to spend the day on the beach today”. I explain, with annoyance already rising in my voice that actually that was the plan for tomorrow. The upshot is that mum stays anyway, making herself unavoidable – busing herself with gardening tasks (we’re staying in her caravan), moving the garden furniture around us as we sit at it, regularly voicing her thoughts on what we should be doing that day, what she thinks our children need, how we should conduct ourselves. Within an hour I’m struggling to stay calm, my replies to her are voiced on edge and with aggression, I feel stressed and uptight. Luckily our friends know of my mum’s Bipolar and her related behaviors, they go with the flow and accept my mum’s presence for the day.
Mum, lets be clear, is oblivious to the above. When she picks up on my stress with her (its hard to conceal) Mum gets angry with me for being annoyed by her and feels that I’m inpatient and moody. Mum can never see the pattern in those around her, all sharing annoyance towards her when she’s first ‘happy’. Indeed I attempted to discuss it with her a few days later calmly and even I was shocked by her ability to have no idea what I was getting at. Her actions, for her, were entirely normal.
Despite my words above our holiday was a great one and some of that was directly because my parents were near by and the children were able to enjoy them, we even got a couple of hours freedom. I enjoyed seeing my mum while she was ‘happy’ and despite her behavior sometimes rubbing me the wrong way, it was lovely not having to look after her. I gained some clarity about how different my life is now. My parents moved south in January, prior to which they were living in the same city as me. I no longer have to be daily involved in mum’s health, sharing the caring during ‘sad’ bouts or being at the beck and call of ‘happy’ mum. Though I feel immensely for my Dad, who, despite hoping for support from my mums family near to them, still cares for mum 90% alone, I feel that its been healthy for me and my relationships with my parents, to be given some time apart and enable me to be their daughter and nothing more.