I bumped into some old friends today. They were about to go for coffee and asked me to join. I couldn’t, I just clammed up, I couldn’t speak, I felt my skin crawling and a deep and overwhelming discomfort washing over me. I walked away, muttering something about work, dropped some bread into my partner’s shop, nearly cried because I thought I had lost a five-pound note, rushed home and just sat and cried and shook.
This is not normal behaviour! However, this is the behaviour of someone who has reached a point so overwhelming that it is impossible to even try to remove your feet from the tarlike emotional quagmire that you are in.
So what was this final, insurmountable breaking point? My dad has been diagnosed with aggressive skin cancer and will be operated on as a matter of emergency. He’s nearly 78, you can expect him to have illnesses and to die at some point, probably soon. So why would this be the thing that tips the balance and that would stop me from functioning as I had previously done? It’s all the responsibility.
I feel that it’s probably time to put all of this into perspective. While I understand that everyone has issues and problems that they need to deal with, that break their hearts and sometimes their souls, I just can’t help but think that I’ve had enough already. I’m sick of the responsibility.
My mum died when I was 26, she’d been an alcoholic since she’d lost her own parents when I was 4. As a kid, aside from having to explain away to people why she was seeing black cats and moving ceilings, I also had to deal with her hospitalisation in a mental asylum and other spells in various hospitals and institutions. I was asked to meet her psychiatrist when I was 10 and forced to go and sit in a waiting room every day for the whole of the school holidays. They had a nice hot chocolate machine.
As I became a teenager, she drank more and became more violent, it was awful. I would sleep on friend’s sofas and spare beds (charitably allowed by their parents) and when the worst came to it I would sleep in my car (once I had one). There were times when I would get drunk and wade into the sea at parties and as a result, I was dubbed “a bit intense”. It was my coping mechanism.
When I became an adult and swiftly moved out, my dad decided that he didn’t want to take responsibility for her either. Cue last-minute dashes to hospitals because she was suffering from jaundice, it was odd for her not to recognise her only child, or the time dad was hospitalised during my finals and mum went cold turkey, ringing me every 10 minutes, begging for me to buy her alcohol. By the time I had managed to move 25 miles away, Social Services would be ringing me to ask if she could live at my house. She never came to visit any of my houses or saw me graduate.
So when she died, my private therapist said that I looked like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Cue a 6 year horrific and abusive relationship with a horrible and violent man.
That’s enough right? Surely that has to be enough.
In the last 12 months, my father has been diagnosed with cancer twice. The first time led me to desperately google sperm donors in a fear that I would be left as the last one standing from my family. I have been cheated on, I have been made redundant, lost my home and my dad has been in hospital since February. I’ve had to choose a home for him whilst also moving in with my partner, juggle starting a new business while trying not to look like an awful daughter, jump through endless hoops, shout at people, not shout at people and generally try to hold it all together.
The tipping point actually wasn’t cancer, it was the delivery of the wrong air mattress, but that isn’t really what started the whole shaking thing.
That was the insurmountable knowledge that there is more to come. That this is just the beginning. How much goodwill does one person use up before people start becoming bored? At what point do platitudes lose their significance (I know that I’ve been guilty of a grimace when I’ve spotted someone who always seems to be down on their luck)? And actually, how long before I catch a break? I’ve always joked that I don’t have kids because I have too many other responsibilities, but you know what, it’s not a joke, it’s true. When can I finally have a holiday without worrying about a parent? When can I have a week that doesn’t involve a phone call about them (yesterday I received more calls about my dad than I did of people actually wanting to talk to me)?
You know what, I know that others have it worse, others have no roof over their heads or are the ones with the horrific illnesses, but this makes it worse because it makes me feel selfish.
And there you have it, I’m damned if I feel bad and I’m damned if I don’t.