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Somethings never change. Five days after my thyroid op, I am healing up well but still a bit to go. But home comes Julie from school today, self harms yet again and has to be packed off to hospital for stitching. I must have done a good job at hiding my feebleness from her then 🙂

I have taken to writing more about these incidents back on my JuliesMum blog (today’s is here). I am not sure why I feel the need to separate out these two parts of my life: I suppose I am vaguely aware that not everyone relishes the (often rather gory) details. My JuliesMum blog is often read (or used to be read) by many people who have their own struggles with mental illness, who are neither surprised nor repelled by news from the roller coaster, but who may not have heard the tale from a carer’s perspective before.

It is hard for Julie at the moment, with exams looming and me out of action. I was a little harsh on her when I packed her off to the hospital, frustrated by being unable to change anything, but I am truly sorry she feels so bad. Let’s hope she feels stronger soon.

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I have been ill and in some ways being ill simplifies things. It becomes easier to say no, even when the demand is very pressing. It becomes easier to sit still and listen and watch the world go by.

I spent a day in the local hospital having some tests, and sitting there on the ward to which I was temporarily assigned, I watched the other patients; perhaps eight of us in all. The other patients were all very elderly, very frail, living from one moment to the next: a typical general emergency NHS ward. By comparison with these older patients I was young and, apart from this temporary suffering, generally in good health; I was fit enough to walk from the ward down the long hospital corridors to each of my various scans and tests without the indignity of a chair. I knew I would get home that night; most of my companions did not know exactly when they would see their homes again. I was not frightened by my condition: I was confident that whatever it was would be resolved somehow in one way or another. In all honesty I was enjoying the chance to be alone, to endure my pain in relative comfort without the constant demands of family. I was a tourist in this world of sickness, but the other patients, they all seemed to be natives.

Some of my companions had attendants, husbands or children, sitting patiently beside them, translating their needs, their vague discontents, to the nurses. Occasionally, voices raised for elderly ears, rang out across the ward: “She’s just going to take your temperature, Mum!” Some of the carers were elderly themselves, but they sat on on their hard chairs, holding hands with their particular old lady, sometimes chatting to the other patients, smiles and pleasantries lobbed tactfully between beds, conversations about the weather and the food. Staff flitted from bed to bed, fetching, soothing, attentive. Time passed slowly. The woman in the next bed offered me the lemonade which she, alas, could not drink. At the end of the day I was free to leave, and I left, slightly reluctant, slightly relieved to go.

The very next day I was back in the hospital and now I was the carer, the presence beside the bed. My daughter Julie had cut her leg again, deeply, needing stitches. She had been unsettled by my long absence at the hospital the day before. She was confused and disoriented, reciting the words from the notices on the walls. Her voices had told her to cut, and now they were telling her not to talk to us, it seemed. I translated her needs to the nurses, her vague discontents. I felt happier being on this side of the equation: not the subject of the conversation but from the safe “objective” perspective of the well; on the side of the nurses. After all these years of practice I can explain what my daughter needs with great precision. I had found it so much harder to explain what I myself needed when I was the one lying on the bed. But my daughter is quite at home on the bed: the world of sickness is her adoptive country.

DSCF1806 One of these beauties in the left hand tray is going to become a nice big sage bush in my back garden one day. I wonder which one. We had a snowfall yesterday so I hope they are not dismayed at what they can see of their future life outside the window.

Everyone in the house now has a cold – aching limbs, sore throats, streaming noses. It’s much easier to look after people with colds than with depression, even when you have the cold yourself. If I had a choice I would pick the cold every time.

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Where are we going to go for our family holiday this summer? It has been the subject of much heated debate in our house this week.

My daughter, Julie’s illness has meant that we have not had a family holiday – as in all four of us together – for the past three years. This is the first year that we can even begin to imagine it happening, but there are a lot of constraints. As I found out on our brief visit to Paris, travel with Julie needs to be taken very steadily and carefully. We managed Paris by train in winter, but a busy airport at the height of summer – and we are still locked into school holidays – is more stressful. If this is going to be a holiday we all enjoy, it looks like the best bet will be somewhere that we can reach easily by car, without going through any security barriers. A good old-fashioned British seaside holiday beckons.

The difficulty is Julie’s younger brother, Duncan, now turning fifteen. His last experience of a family summer holiday was an age ago, when he was just a child – and he is now a teenager. For the last couple of years, he has been treated to holidays alone with one parent – first his Dad, then me – travelling abroad, free from his sister, seeing the world. For him, any sort of family holiday is a retrograde step, let alone one practically on the doorstep, in dismal Britain. Quite understandably, he would rather not go on holiday at all, and is petitioning to be left behind. He won’t be – he is just too young.

What can we do? My husband and I desperately want to have a holiday anywhere where we can be together, Julie has to be with us but cannot travel far, my son wants to be anywhere else than with us! It looks like there is no compromise that can be reached. The likelihood is that we will go ahead and book ourselves a seaside retreat, and have to endure sharing it with a sullen and uncooperative teenage boy.

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I am taking my daughter away to Paris for a couple of nights. Each year, starting at the age when they began to appreciate travel and adventure, I’ve tried to take one of the children away alternately for a few days alone with me. I’ve used the small amount of money my mother left me to do this: she worked very hard all her life, before dying while still relatively young. It seemed a fitting way to use the money to remember her – she was always so full of life, and my most vivid memories of her are our travels together in Scotland during the school holidays. I can remember how wonderful it was to be just the two of us, the many things she used to teach me on these trips, and how I would see a different side of her, a much younger, funnier, more relaxed person.

The trips have served another important purpose that my mother might have appreciated, since she was the oldest of four children. I was lucky that as an only child, I took time alone with both my parents for granted, but I have two children, and even with two it can sometimes feel as if one of them is missing out. I use these trips to give each one special time with me for a few days, while the other gets special time at home with dad.

For the last few years I’ve taken my son to Paris, Rome and Lisbon – all much bigger adventures than I ever managed with my mother! But it has been a few years since his sister got her turn because she has been in and out of hospital herself. Last year, for example, we were all ready to go to Paris, tickets booked and planning done (and anything you do with my daughter does surely take a lot of planning because of her illness) when she had another relapse. I have been able to give her special time in other ways, but we sorely missed our adventure.

It has taken another year, but she is now finally ready to go. It has been three years since she has travelled anywhere. Many plans have been made and cancelled over those years, not just last year’s trip to Paris. So this is not just a few days away: it is a real celebration of how much stronger she has become.

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