May is mental health awareness month. So lets talk about the children living with mental health and what it could look like for them…
I wake up suddenly. My eyes spring open and for a moment I am in that place when you don’t know if you are awake or still dreaming. I can hear crying…. sobbing. I lay there for a moment. This is not the first time I have been woken like this. I honestly don’t remember the first ever time.
I lay there for a moment and hear her sad crying. I squeeze my eyes close again…. forcing myself to sleep. The guilt is instant, hits me in a cold wave. I open my eyes again and let them get adjusted to the dark. I can tell by the sound of the crying that she may have been doing this quite a while before I woke up. Guilt again. I pick up my watch from the side of my bed and pull the curtain so that the street light outside lets me see what time it is. 3:45 am. Are you actually joking? Well I am not going in tomorrow. No way. Today even…I am not going in today. I sit up and slide my legs round and onto the floor and I quickly bring them back under the covers. It is freezing. Stone cold. The whole felt is going to be stone cold. Then I have a panic! Did I put money on the Gas! I think I did, when I got the shopping. Shit.
I put my feet on the cold floor and curse badly under my breath. I reach out for my dressing gown hanging on my wardrobe door and as I pull it off my uniform for tomorrow slides to the floor. I leave it there…bun that…
I open my bedroom door and I can hear here crying. I make my way to the living room and into the airing cupboard to turn on the emersion heater for hot water. She will need a bath. I light the calor gas heater in the living room… the only heating in the flat. I make my way to the bathroom where I know she will be. I push open the door and she is sitting on the bathroom floor. She is in a nighty, you know the ones that look like t-shirts, she is wearing one with Garfield on it. She looks up at me and my heart both melts and sinks and the same time. I should have got up straight away! I should have gotten up sooner. Look at her. Her eyes are so red and puffy. He fringe is stuck to her face from either sweat or tears. She is freezing and she looks so sad. I grab a towel off the back of the bathroom door and bend down and put it over her bare legs. She looks at me and says in a crying…gulping …little voice “Please don’t hurt me”. I feel my lip go. But firm it. “I won’t” I say. “Are you going to look after me” she says. Her voice…. much younger than her age. Her voice sounds 6 maybe 7 years of age. “I’m going to run you a hot bath” I say quietly.
I start running the bath. I go to put bubbles in but think better of it. I might need to wash her hair. I hope I don’t. She is still sitting on the floor. She is just looking at her hands, turning them over and over. I hate when she is scared. “Do you want a cup of tea” I say gently. Her head shoots up. She stairs at me for a moment. Her eyes are so blue. She nods slowly.
I go into the kitchen and fill the kettle. I want to go back to bed. I don’t want to do this.
I go back in the bathroom and the bath is ready. She is still on the floor. “We are going to have a hot bath…. make you feel better”. She looks at me. She looks so sad. She puts her arms high in the air for me to take her nighty up over her head. “No, you can do it” I say gently. She keeps them raised and says “You”. She is biting her bottom lip. She knows that she is being naughty. I give in and pull her nighty over her head. She dives into the bath the way little kids do, splashing water everywhere and she gives out a little laugh. The bath always cheers her up a bit. I wash her. She sings a sweet little tune. Like a nursey rhythm or something like that. I wash her and tell her to stop splashing. I get her out the bath and put the towel around her. I get a new nighty and we put in on. I take her to the living room and put her in front of the fire on a bean bag with a blanket and go and get the tea.
I am gone seconds and when I get back, she is already crying again. “Why are you crying” I say a little harsher than I mean too. I’m just tired. “Where is my Daddy” she asks and then…big crying again. I raise my eye brows and let out a sigh. I’m not doing this tonight. Fuck that. So, I don’t reply. She starts sobbing. Big sobs. Making her tiny frame bounce up and down. I’m going to have to hug her. I hate hugging her when she is like this. I sit next to her on the bean bag and put my arms round her. “Come on…dong be silly”. She cries.
I get up and go to the coffee table. On there are some felt tips and a colouring book. I take it all over to her. “Let’s colour” I say. She shakes her head widely, so her wet hair flicks me in the eye. It winds me up more than it should, but I say nothing. “Ok …well… I am going to colour in this book…if you want to do the page on this side you can” I open the page and on my side is the outline of a boy and a dog. On her side is butterfly’s. She will join in. I start to colour. My hands are still cold. But this is the only way to get her talking. “Why are you sad” I ask. She is sitting on the bean bag with her head on her knees and her arms around her knees, hugging them. I ask the question again. She looks at me through her wet hair. “Because people hurted me”. I don’t look up from the colouring. I can’t look at her when she says that. “Peoples are hurted me” she says again. “Stop speaking like a baby” I say. I can’t help it. I feel bad instantly. “Where is my Daddy” she asks again bottom lip quivering. I stop colouring and look at her. I sigh. “He is at work he will be back later”. Her mouth turns into a drop. She looks so sad. “Don’t he like me anymore”. I can’t …. I just start colouring again. “Drink your tea” I say. She picks up a pen and starts to colour the butterfly
I can hear the birds singing outside. Sunlight creeping through the living room curtains. We have been here doing this almost 2 hours. “I think you should go to sleep” I say. She shakes her head “Nope…not until Daddy comes home”. I can feel the frustration rising. “Come…lay down…I will lay with you” I say gently. Suddenly her eyes go wide “Lady “she says to me “I can’t breathe” She clutches at her throat and starts taking deep scary breaths. I stand up and just look down at the floor for a moment…counting to 5…before I blow… “Your having a panic attack…you need to calm down”. She is not listening to me; she is crying and sort of screaming. “Help…. please help” she starts shouting. I can’t deal with the shouting “Stop” I say loudly. She kind of does and then starts rocking back and forwards on the bean bag. I look at the clock on the tv unit. 6:50am. I turn to go to the toilet. “Stop…don’t leave me” she shouts. I don’t turn around I just stand there. “Where is my Daddy” she screams at my back. That’s it. That is fucking it. I spin round fast “Enough” I scream. She makes a yelp sound. I have scared her. “Please don’t shout at me” she looks so scared. “Please”. She is shaking. Not because of me. Never because of me. All the things she is scared of, all the things that are making her cry right now…they all happened long before I came along. I knew some of it. I knew too much. I knew that people had hurt her in so many ways. But I also knew that I couldn’t do this much longer. I just couldn’t.
I walked over to her and bent down. “I’m sorry” I say. She starts rocking again…” Where is my Daddy?” she begs me. I sigh. “He is dead” I say “He has been dead a long time” She doesn’t respond. She just rocks and cries. I put my hand on her knee. “Come on, go to bed”. She puts her thumb in her mouth and looks up at me. Sitting on that bean bag she looks so tiny. So tiered. So …weak. “Are you my new mum” she says with her thumb still in her mouth, so the words come out all muffled. I say nothing
I get her onto the sofa and lay her down. She sobs for a bit but falls asleep about 10 minutes later. I stand and look at her. You know when people say “They look so peaceful when they sleep” …I totally get that…she does.
I walk back to my room and open the curtains. Sunshine blares through the windows. I look at the uniform on the floor. Crumpled. It was dirty anyway I think to myself. I sit on my bed. Draw my knees to my chin and its my turn to cry. To sob. To rock. I cry for a while. Then I just sit there…listening to the “real world” outside. People going to school….to work. I won’t go anywhere today. Not if she is like that still when she wakes up. I get up and go and check on her/ Still sleeping on the sofa. She has got the blanket and made it cozy around her face. She looks comfy. I walk to the bathroom to wash my face. I do so and then take a long hard look in the mirror. I am 10 years of age and have just spent the past 7 hours trying to comfort my 41-year-old mother who…with no warning…regresses to around 8 years of age every now and then. I guess something bad happed around this time and that’s why, I know that now. But back then….I just thought she was crazy. Sometimes she gets angry at me when she is like that. I have been doing this as long as I can remember. I just lock us both in, so no one knows. Or they will take me away again. Take her away. “Lady” I hear a voice call “Lady …can I have juice please”. She has woken up. I shake my head. It’s gonna be long day “Coming” I call…..and go and see what my mum needs
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