Growing up I thought my mother a weak woman – constantly teetering on the edge of one breakdown or another. She wasn’t a sickly person or anything; she just seemed to take a lot of shit from everyone and I resented her a bit for it, as I’m sure a lot of people resent whatever or whomever they consider weak.
As a woman, I grew to learn that it’s not all black and white – mostly through experience than observation. What I considered weakness was behaviour caused by complex factors I still don’t fully understand. And I can acknowledge that now, regardless of whether or not I still consider it weakness.
At the very beginning of my adult life I found myself with a child, trying to maintain what I thought was a serious relationship and plan my life out. Add dealing with mental illness and a lack of a solid support structure to boot and I now realize that I was bound to crash, but at the time I was trying my hardest to keep my shit together and, in reality, I shouldn’t have.
Many women don’t know how to be there for themselves, but they’ve learned how to be there for everyone else.
There are certain expectations that don’t weigh on you until, well, they do. As a woman you’re raised to believe that you’re never truly your own: you’re always someone’s lover, daughter, friend, mother etc. Unlearning that on its own can be very difficult because it feels wrong. For many women, learning how to put themselves first involves a lot of shame – feeling like you’re letting others down or being selfish. Many women don’t know how to be there for themselves, but they’ve learned how to be there for everyone else.
As I mentioned before, I found myself trying to raise a baby and maintain a long distance relationship that was going nowhere fast while providing emotional support to my mother, like I’ve always felt was my duty, and I genuinely thought I could do it. I’d wake up, have my coffee, tend to the baby, check in with my partner, look forward to hopefully taking a shower that lasted longer than three minutes later on in the day at some point and take whatever came in the day as it did. Around midnight or 1 am when the baby fell asleep and the house was quiet and my partner was somewhere working or cheating on me or both, I’d sit in bed and cry until I realised I only had four or so hours to sleep and put that aside to get some rest – and I use that word very loosely.
I felt like I was coming apart, and the added strain that I felt when my partner opened up our relationship to a third partner he’d apparently met and fell in love with on Twitter, while cheating on me, did me no good. This came about at a time when my postpartum depression was rearing its gross head and I couldn’t have been fucked to deal with heartbreak on top of everything else so I gritted my teeth and welcomed her as best as I could.
Over the next few months I’d try my best to swallow the shit that had become my life. Because I was tired and depressed all the time I genuinely feared and completely avoided taking active control of anything; I let everything happen to me.
I’d find witty ways to tell my Twitter followers I wanted to die and hoped someone, anyone, would actually see that I was suffering and help me.
I’d convinced myself my partner’s betrayal wasn’t all bad because we now had Partner Number Three who was a nice girl but not nice enough to share the man I wanted to raise my child with, and who’d been brought into my life as a result of dishonesty. I told myself I was getting by as I slowly watched myself start to pull my own hair out as it manifested physically. I told myself I’d be fine as my life started looking bleaker by the day. I’d find witty ways to tell my Twitter followers I wanted to die and hoped someone, anyone, would actually see that I was suffering and help me.
I so desperately wanted to be helped because I couldn’t help myself and I hoped those around me who claimed to love me would see that I needed someone but no one did.
At the peak of my depression, while I contemplated suicide, my boyfriend wanted to argue about me being distant, and not loving his other girlfriend enough, and Twitter; while the other girlfriend was busy being cute and tending to whatever needs he told her he had, and living her life; and my mother was focused on whatever fresh hell she felt had befell her.
Because none of my close friends have children or open relationships or suffer from depression I had no one to talk to truthfully about anything I felt, and my absolute panic at failing to live made way for a very basic but profound realisation – at the core of things, you are alone, and yours to look after.
One night, as my daughter lay sleeping next to me and I stared at the ceiling feeling more nothing than anything, I simply wondered whether this was what womanhood meant – being everything for everyone and nothing for yourself.
No one was coming to save me. No one noticed me beyond what I did for them. No relationship that I thought I held dear at the time provided any sort of comfort or reciprocity and that was partly my fault because I’d allowed that. In all honesty I didn’t know that I needed support in relationships back then because up until that time maybe only one or two people I’d known had given me that. I’d always been the provider – of strength, humour, insight – whatever people needed, and at some point I’d accepted that basically no one would give it back and so I thought I was strong enough to not ask for or take it if it came.
As a result I was run down, miserable and angry.
It was going to seem weird for me to finally erupt on all the people who’d been taking from me, but I realised I had to. Ok maybe I didn’t but I was angry at the fact that people who told me they loved me almost daily could let this happen to me. They spoke to me every day, and yet no one had ever really stopped to ask how I really was.
When I told my mother I was depressed and wasn’t coping, she asked me what the hell my problem was and when I intended to go to school.
When I told my partner he said he was concerned and then would either pick a fight or sext or change the topic – every time without fail.
Other girlfriends would send me purple-heart emojis and when I reviewed all this behaviour I realized how ridiculous they all were.
Here I was, laying in bed every night trying to figure out how I could make everyone’s life easier or end my own and no one cared.
But why was I giving so much to them anyway?
What about and within me allowed that?
Looking past them, I had to assess my behaviour and realise that my actions stemmed from an intense lack of self love, but also lack of consideration for my child and us, as a duo.
At the very core of any relationship I deserved respect and reciprocity because I gave it, but I wasn’t getting any and I had to take a certain amount of responsibility for that. Day in and day out I watched people skip over me to live their own lives and as angry as I could get at them, I had to also hold myself accountable. I had put them before me and my child and our wellbeing and I’d fucked up.
Was this womanhood? Suffering? The weakness I’d detested in my mother? I felt like I was maintaining too many relationships and it was a strange feeling because I was certain people could have more than five people in their lives and not feel like dying. I had become one of those doormat ‘real women’ popular Instagram memes are about – and I had to decide whether that was who I wanted to be.
I can still recall the peaceful feeling I felt the morning after knowing there was no dishonesty, no tension to face.
To be honest, that wasn’t the decision that had to be made. The decision that had to be made was whether I wanted to live or not, and if I did – if I wanted to begin to lift the cloud of depression – I had to lift the relationships and behaviours that were weighing on me. As Toni Morrison once said ‘If you wanna fly you’ve gotta give up the shit that’s weighing you down’.
I’ve believed for a fair portion of my intelligent life that one always sees signs and opportunities to enter and exit situations and I was served mine on a polished silver platter.
My partner cheated on me again, numerous times, of course (Go big or go home right?) and other girlfriend had pretty much stopped speaking to me a few weeks before so that was as good as dead. I broke up with him the night he told me he’d been unfaithful and simply kept on living my life – I can still recall the peaceful feeling I felt the morning after knowing there was no dishonesty, no tension to face, probably because I’ve maintained that level of calm more or less since.
As for my mother, I simply stopped entertaining her shit.
For more than three quarters of my life, since I could communicate, I’d been her therapist, and her, never mine. I’d convinced myself I could stomach it but I obviously could not so I stopped being around her, listening to her, commenting on her things – I centred myself and my child in my life and sought to remind myself that there’s a difference between being self centred and being selfish – the former is smart, the latter, usually means you’re an asshole. It’s smart to put yourself at the core of your plans, however when that’s all you do, when you’re selfish, that’s some asshole shit.
Since nobody would put me before them, since no one had that level of adoration for me, I’d have to have it for myself. And that’s when I learned something about self love – you hardly ever notice when you lack it because almost everyone else does too.
The behaviour we’d find unacceptable in any other relationship, we engage in alone, to ourselves. We lack tenderness and care with ourselves but think the next person will care enough to provide it – Like this isn’t real life. Love is important. Not just while raising a child but while raising yourself. While navigating the world you need to know when to hold yourself and when to give yourself a rude awakening.
How do you want your perfect partner to treat you?
Have you treated yourself that way lately?
It’s very easy to end up weak because you’ve formed strong bonds to weak situations and people. Human beings attach to others very easily, and if they don’t they usually have to try very hard not to. The people around you though, affect you in subtle ways when you’re not watching. You need to be able to trust them with your idle self. And if you don’t then what is the point? In this difficult life, what are you holding on to if it’s not affirming?
She deserves a happy, healthy mother – and anyone who wants to be a part of my life needs to know, respect and appreciate that – myself included.
I’d spent months scared to end my shitty relationship because we looked good on paper, the sexual chemistry was great and a part of me was petrified to be alone again, like I hadn’t survived worse in my life.
When I finally did it, I was fine, happier, better within two weeks and I laughed at how desperately I’d feared being alone and being a single mother. I’m not quite sure what I’d feared most at the time but I’m doing both better than I have since I started doing them and I’m once again reminded that fear exaggerates things.
Once I started giving myself rewarding experiences life became easier to tackle and I’m getting to understand and accept the importance of looking after your head and heart, preserving your peace, especially as a parent and someone with mental health issues. It could very easily get pretty bad for me if I let it, and I shouldn’t. I can’t afford to.
I’m learning to build bonds with people who teach me how to love myself, and love myself in a way that allows me to teach people to do the same, because I deserve it, and so does my daughter. She deserves a happy, healthy mother – and anyone who wants to be a part of my life needs to know, respect and appreciate that – myself included.
I’ve tasted meme womanhood – the kind that has you half dead and keeping up appearances. I’ve tasted it and this is me telling you to spit it back out if you’re trying to swallow it. Happiness is a choice, made up of a hundred tiny choices you make every single day and it sounds stupid but it’s true. Be stronger than your mother, than your partner, than you think you are, and make those choices because you can.
You’ve a lot more to lose if you don’t than if you do.