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So I come back from a week away in Portugal to find the family in a sad state. Joe has worked really hard to make sure that everything is provided, but it’s clear I’ve been missed. Everyone looks exhausted and joyless, and Julie has self harmed repeatedly.

There’s a certain pleasure to being Mary Poppins when your children are young: setting the table, tidying up the toy box, bringing out the sunshine. It’s nice to feel that you can make everyone happy, soothe tears, resolve arguments. But it’s not something you want to be doing for adults. You want to be able to come back and hear all the amazing things they’ve been doing in your absence, be glad to see one another, but not find that you have to pick up all the pieces of their lives for them again.

I enjoyed my holiday: it was good for me to take a break, even though I missed the family while I was away. It gave me a chance to look at the rest of the family in perspective, to think about what they need from me, and why I appear to be so essential to them. And whether that is a good thing.

Surely someone has written a song about this.

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Remember staycations, when we all stopped going abroad because of the recession? Well I’ve gone one better by not even leaving home at all. In fact two better because I’m still working during the days!

Julie and her dad have set off for Scotland, leaving me to look after Duncan. We get on pretty well, my son and I, but we’re not exactly in each other’s pockets. So once I’ve cooked supper for the two of us I have most of the evening free. Hours! With almost complete and solitary control of both the television and the stereo.

I love Julie so much, but it’s only when she’s away that I appreciate how much time her illness takes up; how much time I spend checking in with her, discussing problems, dreaming up new strategies. Only now I realise how many things I do every day just to make sure she stays OK; how many TV programs I watch that I don’t really Iike, just to keep her company, how much food I prepare just to make sure she eats sensibly, how many emails I compose to the school or her care coordinator. And then there are the many things I don’t do in case she suddenly needs me: get lost in a good book, listen to music I love, phone friends, have a second drink (in case I have to drive).

We all do these things for the people we love; we all have moments when we grumble about it; there are far worse things in life than having to compromise on the television you watch. But oh what a luxury to have a few weeks alone!

So for the next couple of weeks I’m going to spend my evenings watching some operas on DVD, reading lots of books, listening to lots of music, and down a few extra beers. That’s all I need from a holiday at the moment.

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It is a year, a whole year, since Julie had to spend a night in hospital. She remained a day patient right up until a few months ago, but for the last 12 months she has slept in her own bed, and has not slept at the hospital.

How resilient the young are! Julie was surprised when I pointed this anniversary out to her: surprised and a little dismissive. She has already forgotten her shuttling, nomadic existence last spring when weeks at home would be interspersed with weeks back inside the hospital. She has forgotten the monotonous journeys, the charts, the meetings, the phone calls, forgotten the tiny triumphs of leaving the safety of the hospital for a night, and the disappointment of having to return to it, temporarily beaten.

Thank goodness she has forgotten! And I, though I remember more, am fast forgetting how it felt: I have almost forgotten, for example, the particular gut-wrenching dread of the phone that rang in the middle of the night. Much of the anxiety, fear and anger is fading fast away. I bump into staff who treated her in those two horrible years of hospital care, and I no longer try to avoid them – I can greet them with an open welcoming face. (Well most of them: those that were kind and meant well.)

Some things are harder to erase, and perhaps erasure is not what we want. There are some things that maybe we should occasionally remember, if we are ever to move on from them, to exorcise them. Going further back in time, to the year before the last one, Julie spent a year entirely in hospital with rare visits home; and this was a very dark period. There are things we sometimes bring out and roll around between us, Julie and I, delicately dissecting them, exploring them like a tongue a missing tooth. We cannot make sense of them alone because neither of us knew completely what was happening. She tells me in pieces her experiences, the staff, the other patients, I tell her some of what the doctors told me, what it felt like on the outside, how I loved her and missed her.

But we bring these memories out only when we want to now; they do not hijack our days and intrude where we do not want them. Not this week for sure, when there is more to celebrate: because we are about to go away on our first family holiday in three years! We tried and failed repeatedly to arrange holidays during those years, but Julie’s illness (and the hospital’s response to it) was too unpredictable: there would be another crisis, another change of hospital leave policy, a sudden change of medication. Now she is free, and we are free, to travel as a family again.

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