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“You will certainly go mad in that house alone, my dear. You will see visions. We have all got to exert ourselves a little to keep sane, and call things by the same names as other people call them by. To be sure, for younger sons and women who have no money, it is a sort of provision to go mad: they are taken care of then. But you must not run into that.”

The indefatigable Mrs Cadwallader in Middlemarch. I love the fact that for her sanity is obviously something you have to work at, and seems to boil down to having the right vocabulary! As if insanity was a matter of having an unfortunate dialect.

Recovery has not been as easy as I imagined, and has not always gone in the right direction. I have discovered once again that patience is not so much a virtue as a necessary life skill. Good books help: I am glad I saved Middlemarch to my middle age, when I needed something to get me through these interminable afternoons (and when I was old enough to understand it).

However things are improving and I am looking forward to getting back to normal.

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I had the most wonderful dream that I was walking in bluebell woods, just as I had really done a few weeks before with Joe, when I took this picture. In my dream it was the warmest and most pleasant of days, and I was indignant when I was woken from this dream, not once but repeatedly.

Woken by my kind jolly anaesthetist to say that all was well, the operation was over, and the clock hands had mysteriously turned through two hours.

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As soon as it became British law that you could ask for flexible working, I was beating on my boss’ door asking to change my hours. My children were in primary school, and though I had more or less managed to cobble together solutions until then, finding childcare was a huge ongoing problem, especially during the holidays. We had been forced to move out of the city by the cost of housing, and though we loved (and still love) living in the countryside, rural areas provide far fewer options when it comes to childcare.

I knew it was a luxury to be able to negotiate my hours down, but it has never been really satisfactory for me: it has always been a pragmatic solution, not one I liked. Over the years I tried out all sorts of combinations, but in the end I settled down with a shorter working day, and term-time working. It was never a good fit for my workload, but gradually I became used to this rhythm of six or seven intensive weeks of work, followed by a week or two off.

It was only meant to be a short term fix for the few years until the children were old enough to be left at home on their own. How I would have laughed if someone had said I would still be working short hours when my eldest was eighteen! But then Julie got sick, I ended up clinging on to my job by my fingernails, and for a long time I was struggling to do the reduced hours I had, let alone increase them.

But suddenly things have changed. “Why are you taking the Easter holidays off work?” asks Duncan. “So I can look after you guys as usual.” I say, surprised. He pulls an incredulous face. “But we don’t need looking after.” And suddenly I realise it is almost true. Finally, I can say, after eighteen long years, that they are both just about able to cope alone. I’m sure I can be useful – making sure they eat properly and take a break from revising for their exams – but my presence is no longer essential.

Julie has just come back from spending a weekend on her own: an amazing feat (for her). I have written a bit more about that and how it feels over on my JuliesMum blog. She does still need me, but I no longer have to look forward in dread to exhausting days protecting her from herself, and trying to occupy her. She is – I hardly dare say it aloud – slowly getting better. Duncan, too, is gradually throwing off his depression, bouncing back, spikily shrugging off his mum’s attempts to cosset him.

Hallelujah!

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The two words you dread to hear when you rely on mental health services: budget cuts.

It’s not as bad as all that: the specialist service that supports Julie at the moment will now give her two years of support, not three. I mull it over – trying to get used to the idea of a second transition so soon after the last one – before she even finishes school. I do feel dismayed: this team is so good, especially compared to what went before. This team specialise in treatment of psychosis: they understand it, they are not afraid of it, they are confident and encouraging. When Julie was treated by mainstream psychiatric services for young people, psychosis was not well understood: it was either ignored or suppressed with ever larger doses of antipsychotics. But this service teaches you to just get on with your life, take the psychosis in your stride, make the best of it, work out strategies to cope with the difficult bits, and take control of your own medication.

I am not quite sure when our two years are up (the transition into this service alone took nearly a year); I am afraid of what will come after; and I want to hide some of this fear from Julie. But then I start to wonder: how much of this is just good old fear of change? This service was never meant to be a permanent support: it was always meant to lead to independence. She is changing so rapidly, it is really possible that within a year she (and I) will have learnt all we needed to learn anyway. A year ago she was managing just an hour a day at school, could not be left on her own for twenty minutes, and I was terrified the school would give up on her again. Fast forward to this October, and she loves her sixth form, cycles there unaided, has fantastic support and is forming a new group of friends. Every day my daughter grows a little more before my very eyes.

I am bound to fear for Julie’s future. She suffers from a condition which is life-threatening, and also stigmatised; she takes several psychoactive drugs which have serious side-effects, some of which are also life-threatening; she has missed years of normal life. I know that she has to learn not just to navigate through adult life, but also to manage her illness, and I know there will be mistakes ahead. One day she will have to take control of her medication, and some day I am going to have to trust her to look after herself. The illness may eventually recede, but it may also have some nasty surprises in store for us. She may need extra support and care from us for years; she may make a partial recovery into a rather vulnerable adult; she may make a full recovery into independence. There is no way of knowing what she will have gone through by the time she reaches sixty.

But she is just at that stage of life – poised before the jump into adulthood – where there are always risks and fears, even for the strong, healthy and confident, who have never known more sorrow in life than their acne. No one does know what life is going to bring. Of course in an ideal world there would be a safety net of services to catch people like Julie if they fall – but if we cannot have that, then we will just have to make her as self-reliant as we can. Then trust to the kindness of the future.

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Isn’t red cabbage wonderful? The colour and texture as you cut into it! I’m stewing it up slowly with some balsamic vinegar.

I have a few days of holiday from work, my son has gone on Easter camp, and I am supposed to be caring for my daughter. But at the moment my daughter is getting along quite well – I am not needed nearly as much as usual. Today she has even ventured out on her own, leaving me to play around in the kitchen and generally relax. It has been so long since I had time to myself I don’t know what to do!

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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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