Joe and I finally managed to sit down and have a useful conversation about how we felt about Julie’s continuing self harm. It’s difficult to find time for this sort of complicated and subtle conversation when you are both busy working, and also trying to manage the practical problems of having to care for a member of the family with such a serious mental illness.

Such a conversation was long overdue. We were both having difficulties with the situation. Incidents still occur regularly, and there is no sign yet of them coming to an end. Julie has been improving in lots of ways – she has been on a very successful work experience placement for example – but she is still ill. In the bad old days everybody knew that she was ill; these days not many people realise what goes on behind the scenes, but quite a bit still goes on. She had to call for an ambulance for example, the other day, to the astonishment (and alarm) of many of our neighbours.

The problem in the long term for parents is that you don’t stop reacting, and the reaction doesn’t stop being painful and destructive. When there is a particularly frightening or messy incident, you experience a wave of distress and anxiety which can continue for days, long after Julie herself is beginning to bounce back. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re very actively involved in the event – getting stuck in with the First Aid box and then sitting with her in A&E – or just hearing about it afterwards from your partner.

Nor does there seem to be any way of protecting yourself, keeping the emotion boxed in, or bracing yourself for the impact. I know that some families reject a child who has serious mental illness (quite a few end up in care) and I can see how for some families this is the only solution that gives them a fighting chance of survival.

Sometimes I get angry after an incident. I got more angry when I was recovering from an operation and I was feeling physically very vulnerable. Joe often gets angry. It does feel sometimes as if all the love and care you pour in is being rejected, and it can take a day or two before you can forget this when you speak to them. Joe still feels guilt too – I stopped feeling guilty long ago – but he still wishes he could keep his little girl safe and stop these bad things happening to her. Both of us experience feelings of despair and hopelessness, overwhelming grief, sudden flashbacks, and difficulties sleeping.

It’s important to acknowledge these huge emotions and their impact on us and on Julie. There’s no point trying to pretend to Julie that we don’t feel anything, as if we were automatons. At the same time, we have to be careful not to beat up on her when she herself is at her most vulnerable. How easy it is to let the anger slip out, to list all the things she has jeopardised, to threaten and invoke the spectre of the disaster she has almost brought down on our heads. The hard thing is to find safe ways of saying “We love you, we hold you, we hate what you’re doing to yourself, but we know we can’t stop you doing it. We will go on being here for you no matter what you do.”


For the last few weeks I have been reading ‘Far From the Tree’ by Andrew Solomon, which is my excuse for not writing a great deal. At 976 pages it is a fairly hefty read! But the pages fly by quite quickly – the writing is simple and vivid – and thank goodness, it turns out that the footnotes take up half the book!

Solomon is exploring what it is like to raise children that are different from you (and, sometimes, what it is like to be those kids). His idea is that we all have multiple identities, and some of those are vertical – inherited from our parents – such as nationality, religion, or red hair. But some are horizontal – unexpected traits that are not shared with parents – such as being deaf, dwarf, or autistic – and some of which, like his own account of being gay, may be rejected by parents. He tackles each of these categories in its own chapter, describing the unique challenges and strengths of the group, and some of the science, intermixed with people he has interviewed at length about their experience. It is the case studies that make the book: some of these characters leap off the page, and there are some extraordinary stories. Solomon makes a very sympathetic interviewer: he spends time with his subjects – not just an afternoon, but returning to visit again and again over years, building close relationships that often become real friendships. He stays in their homes, he keeps in touch, and it does feel as if some of his subjects – especially the most poor, isolated and discriminated against – gained a real sense of validation from his involvement.

Later in the book, Solomon deliberately moves away from what we all think of as “special needs” families. He looks at families where children are prodigies, or the product of rape, or become involved in crime. There were some good points here, and the interviews were thought-provoking, but I’m not sure he made such a good case for some of these categories. The chapter on children of rape, in particular, felt as if it needed a book all of its own. As Solomon admitted, the real connection here was amongst the mothers, not the children, and this group sat uneasily amongst the rest: a story to be told, yes, but perhaps in a different way. It didn’t help that while many of the families in the early chapters were similar to each other (mostly American), in this chapter, Solomon travelled to Rwanda to explore the subject of rape in war. Changing cultures so dramatically is pretty jarring – how can we relate these women’s experience to mothers in New York? This section felt very compressed, awkward and uneven.

But even just for the first half, I’d recommend Solomon’s book to anyone who has found themselves parenting kids who are “different”. Much of the time, parenting odd kids feels isolating and thankless, but this book is full of parents struggling to raise such children. Amongst these pages you find people you recognize, muddling along from day to day, sometimes showing amazing courage and tenacity, sometimes laughing at themselves, sometimes giving up and hiding under the duvet. But for most of these parents, amazingly, once they had got the hang of it, a lot of them seemed to gain from the experience. It was hard, and they grieved at first, but they no longer wanted their child to be any different.

Bostadh beach – the most beautiful place in the world

I have a Liebster award, thanks to MeWhoAmI (a great blog, do go and read it). I like the Liebster award – it is like a kind of social glue, cementing us smaller blogs together. However I have studied some maths, so I do feel a little bit nervous about the impact of ten recipients each nominating ten more recipients and so on – in no time at all we would be faced with a tidal wave of Liebster awards rippling around the internet. And though I am sure this would increase global happiness, it might also hammer the Western economy while everyone was busy answering their ten questions and thinking up ten more. So I am going to be a little naughty and modify the rules a bit and nominate just a handful of people, and propose just a handful of questions to answer.

The (original) rules:
-Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.
-Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominator.
-Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
-Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
-Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them

MeWhoAmI dreamt up some great questions for me, so here are my answers:

1. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done? Got married and started a family.

2. Where is the most beautiful place you have ever been to? (Easy!) Bostadh on Isle of Lewis – I often dream of returning.

3. If you could do one thing tomorrow that you have always dreamed of doing, what would it be? Visit Orkney and the Shetland Isles.

4. If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it? First, convert it to pounds sterling. Then pay off my house, take a sabbatical from work for the summer, rent a camper van, buy a Calmac ferry pass and some supplies of tinned food and head out to the Western Isles.

5. What is your favorite pastime memory? Playing music with a group of friends late at night one Christmas (I play tin whistle in a folk group).

6. Who is the first person you go to, in your times of need? Me, unfortunately.

7. What is one goal that you have not yet met, but are working to achieve? Learning to shut up.

8. What do you believe is the greatest flaw among people? Being afraid and refusing to admit it.

9. If you only had time to save one thing in your home, what would it be? Well obviously that would have to be the kids – so two things!

10. In your life, what brings you the most happiness? Chocolate.

Here are my nominees. This may not be the first time they’ve received this award – but can you have too much of a good thing?

1. Diary of a Teacher. A lovely lovely blog full of the gentle ups and downs of teaching in a primary school, gardening, cooking adventures and family and friends. Warning: quietly addictive!
2. LookingForBlueSky does have a little more than 200 followers – but hey, she deserves a bigger audience still! Non-standard family life taken with a good pinch of Irish humour.
3. MrBoosMum patiently charting her (sometimes not so straightforward) family life.

If they want some questions to answer, then here they are (just three, not ten):

1. What blog post are you most proud of?
2. Have you ever removed a blog post after publishing it, and if so, can you tell us why?
3. Who do you secretly hope reads your blog?


My wonderful husband, Joe, has bought us tickets for the Royal Opera House in London next month. I am so excited. It was incredibly thoughtful of him – I love opera and we haven’t been out together in nearly four years. Not only did he buy the tickets, but he also secretly contacted a good friend of the family to step in and look after our daughter Julie (who can’t be left alone for long periods of time). Both of the children had to be in on the secret too: in our house, mum and dad can’t just disappear without warning, changes to routine have to be managed.

It was supposed to be a secret, but Joe can’t keep secrets. He managed about three days before going on the computer and shyly composing an “invitation” to the opera that he gave to me later that evening. I was bowled over! I’m not too crazy on surprises anyway.

Joe has never been to a proper opera theatre before, and is not that familiar with opera of any sort. He only began to listen to much classical music comparatively recently. I have been lucky enough to see quite a lot of opera when I was younger, but I don’t know this one at all: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi. So we decided to buy a recording and find a libretto and swot up before we go. Impossible to concentrate while our teenagers are about, so we sit up late into the night, listening, reading and hammering out the plot.

Just as well we have plenty of time because Simon Boccanegra turns out to be one of the most convoluted plots in opera (some achievement). Poor Joe, not that familiar with opera at the best of times, is often hopelessly lost: “But why is he called Fiesco on this page and Andrea on that one?”, “So if she’s really his girlfriend how come he doesn’t recognise… oh no, hang on, she’s his daughter?” Our translation is flowery: “What is the refulgence of the angels?” Joe asks me plaintively. But we’ve now got the basic hang of the plot, and become acquainted with some stunningly beautiful arias. Most of the time we know roughly who is on stage even if we’re not quite sure what they’re singing about at any given time. Could be love, could be pizza: not quite sure.

“We’re in luck,” I tell Joe, “At least there’s no cross dressing in this one, and you don’t have to try to convince yourself that the stout woman singing on stage is really a boy pretending to be dressed as a woman.” That really does warp the imagination.


It only takes a step outside the door, to find something amazing. I planted these crocuses and anenomes years ago, and they have never come to very much – until this year for some reason. So spring seems to have arrived, quietly, during the week.

"A NEW NORMAL" by Celenia Delsol (c) 2021

M.A. Counseling Psychology & Grief Recovery Specialist

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