I left my sanity at home

I have been on long term sick due to labyrinthitis, M.E and fybromyalgia. Today I had a meeting at work. Although I was initially excited, as time drew near I started dreading it in a heart dropping, stomach churning way. What if they thought I was faking because externally, I look no different. What if they pushed me to return or allocated work which would, at the moment, be too much? My imagination fired up as non-existent conversations between colleagues in my absence came to mind. “Ere, I bet she’s dragged this out coz her kid’s had the summer holidays, don’t you?” “She’ll have forgotten everything, we’ll have to train her again! Imagine the time that’ll take!” “Have you noticed how quiet it is?!” “She’ll be wanting annual leave next!” I distracted my mind before it traveled further into the realms of the untrue..

I ambled slowly to the bus stop (I am, for now, unable to drive due to symptoms). I felt as though I was in a Victorian novel:

The sky was a blanket of grey, draining the world below of all light and energy. The wind blew icy cold and light rain bit the face of Angel as she pulled her coat tighter around her. “I should’ve let this coat dry after washing it! Now I feel colder than ever” she thought (O.k, that veered from the Victorianesque slightly). She shivered and kept her head down as she battled through the winds. The streets were empty. save a few brave souls, blowing into their hands and marching on to their destinations. Cats lurked down every pathway, glaring accusingly as Angel passed: their whiskers kissed by the fine rain, their eyes bright with the challenge of the day.

The bus stop, when I got there, was busy with people waiting: A lady in her tracksuit smoking to “pass the time.” A young man in a t-shirt bouncing from foot to foot, puffing on an electronic cigarette and swearing profusely, his mother giving him the odd smack on the shins with her walking stick. A young mum rocking a pushchair gently back and forth. Her baby shoeless, coatless, sockless, hatless and blanketless wriggling red toes in the rain. I perched on a wall away from the group and started to plan things to say at the meeting.

Maybe I could ask for a fan. I struggle controlling my temperature. Maybe they would let me have drinks by my workstation. Maybe I should mention my hearing is now damaged in my left ear and my memory is shocking. Maybe not. The bus came, the group of people boarded and I stayed put. My bus was next. A lady joined me and asked if she had missed the bus. She was relieved to learn that I was waiting for the same one. We watched a postman across the road slip and drop his letters. How long before the red vans, the post boxes and the daily deliveries from, generally, cheery postman become a memory of the past? Will Abi tell her children about it:

When I was a kid, we posted letters in a red letter box to Father Christmas. He would write back, you know. And we got post everyday. If the postman had a big parcel, he would pull up in his red van outside the door. My stepmum was a postwoman for a while, and our neighbour was too. They have some stories to tell about banging heads on hanging baskets, running away from barking dogs and finding pet rabbits on pavements! (all true!)

I digress.

The bus arrived. The clock was now ticking. In exactly fifteen minutes I would be walking off the bus right on the doorstep of work. My heart started beating faster. I distracted myself further by staring out the window trying to get gardening ideas from the properties we passed. I started feeling travel sick. I looked down. I looked ahead. I looked to my left. Nothing helped.

By the time I got off the bus, I felt dizzy, exhausted and sick. I stumbled in to the door frame of my workplace and came face to face with my two bosses. Well, I thought, at least I look ill! My worries were instantly quelled as they both held me and were happy I had made it. Over coffee and a catch up, all my questions were answered and my worries eased. In two to three weeks I will be back at work. In my swanky new workspace complete with new chair and new blinds (so I am more in control of the light in the room). I will be meeting the rest of my colleagues next week and I am told there will be a buffet for the occasion. I do hope there is carrot cake!

I am a notorious deep thinker and worrier. Nothing is ever as bad as I fear it will be and today is a classic example. The results of my worry are, as always, exhaustion. I have spent the rest of today power napping whenever I can. I have longed for pyjamas since the meeting closed. I have wanted to run back to the safety of my home and close the door on the world for the day, safe in my cocoon of home comforts: my partner, my stepdaughter, my space, my cats, my sanity! At home I am, for the most part, calm. I am free to be me. I don’t need to wear the “i’m fine, really” mask. I don’t need to worry about what’s about to happen. At home, I am never alone. At home I have unconditional love and support. At home I am complete.

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Cue the over the glasses stare: “And which one are you?”

ImageWe all have labels, right? Mum, career seeker, health conscious, OCD (I believe most of us have an element of OCD – a need for routine of some sort). I have many labels. Although I don’t like the labeling society seems to crave! Why should we be put into neat little boxes and filed into the consciousness of the many?

I hid my sexuality until I was nineteen. From that moment on, I have been “filed!” I have a label which has been an interesting one to wear. I met a very unsavoury female and traveled each month to meet up with her. Of course I felt liberated. I had waited my whole life to be me and here was a door to a world I had only dreamed of. It was unhealthy though. Far too many negatives surrounded this relationship. My mother was worried and used to ask what I was up to every time I went away. One day she shone lights in my eyes and checked my arms to see if I had been taking drugs. I snapped. “I’m gay!” I shouted. “I’m seeing someone.”

“Oh I always knew that.” Mum said. Nineteen years of hiding my “label” and worrying about how Mum would react and she was fine. She knew all along! Her only worry was the absence of grandchildren. Now Mum knew, the rest of the world could. I worked with young people with special needs and had done for some years. I went to my boss and explained my sexuality. I did this because some male members of staff can’t do personal care for the girls and I wanted to check I wasn’t going to be in that bracket. I wasn’t. My honesty was appreciated and I carried on as normal. I went through school with some of my colleagues and their only problem was that I hadn’t told them earlier. It turns out one, who was in my “friendship group” (I was always on the outskirts of any group) also wore the secret label. I am pleased to report that she is now happily married to her wife, has a steady job in the police force and is doing very well for herself.

 

I met my current partner , Cath, seven years ago when I was 24. Eight years older than me, she had only worn her label openly for a year. The response from her family was different. Her Mum took baby Abi out of her arms believing it was an infectious disease. She was told it was a phase. Something she would try out then leave behind. Her parents have always been nice to me after all “If I had the right equipment, I would be the best thing since sliced bread.” So I have been told. Cath drip fed the label to her family for fear of being disowned. Her Aunt was fine. Her Nonna knew all along. Her Brother and sister in law were also accepting and this was a huge relief for Cath. It took her five years from meeting me to inform the family. They know but it is not talked about. Cath’s parents have really come to terms with this in the last two years. Maybe I have proven my worth. I have been supportive, loving and providing and always will be. In return, they are supportive and hello’s and goodbyes now involve a kiss on the cheek. The first time this happened I was elated! I felt acceptance. Nothing beats that feeling.

The negative reactions are still present. At Abi’s fifth birthday party (she is now eight), one Mum told her children to say “thank you for inviting me” to Abi’s Mum. She pointed to me. I said “oh, no. This is Abi’s Mum,” and pointed to Cath. (This often confuses people because ironically Abi does look more like me!) The mother said “Oh.” Threw us a filthy look and promptly dragged her children away from the party. If our paths cross now, she still blanks us. We are not worried by this but we do worry about how Abi will feel. She is, thankfully, savvy and headstrong. She knows that she is happy, healthy, loved and safe and that is all that matters.

More recently, a drunk man unfortunate enough to be homeless yelled “lesbians” at us from across the street. Our previous neighbours would shout “dirty f***ing dyke” at Cath and another parent from Abi’s school has targeted us in some kind of witch hunt which has seen him banned from school grounds.

On the other side of the coin, school have been excellent. We have solid friends old and new and family around us. Abi is growing up with an open mind to different lifestyles. We are used to the “so which one are you?” when people try to figure out who is the Mum. We are used to the “I thought one was meant to be more masculine?” (neither of us are) We are used to the surprise when people realise we are in a long term forever relationship. Stereotype seems to label us as sexual deviants who flit from one person to the other.  We are not.

We are also used to the “and who are you?” Which I often get.

Abi ended up in hospital with suspected meningitis when she was six. The doctor asked who “Mum” was. Cath verified it was her. She looked over her glasses and me and said “and who are you?!” I said I was Abi’s other mother. My name was scribbled into the margins of her paperwork. This happens often too. Hence the self made title “margin mother.”

We are no different to any other family! We do school runs and after school clubs, we deal with tantrums, illnesses and fads. We love to snuggle on the sofa and watch films or walk along the beaches to see what we can find. We bake, we read, we write, we love, we cry, we have routine and standards.  It isn’t easy but where there is acceptance, it is accepted whole heartedly. We also have labels but we wear them proudly.