When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart, she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...
Everyone has their breaking point. In the last month, I discovered mine. It is the animal kingdom. Specifically, a small, grey rat.
In general, I think I’ve done pretty well on the living-without-another-adult front.
Related: I'm learning new ways to manage my stress
I’ve friends and family nearby who are always on call for a movie night or to hang out, so loneliness hasn’t been the issue it might be. The endless tidying and emptying of the dishwasher can seem relentless at times, but Herself learnt to operate the kitchen taps this week. Doing her own laundry can only be a mere matter of time.
But on the animal front, I have been vanquished.
In recent months, I resorted to calling the brother over to deal with a spider I had trapped under a glass. The schoolgirls WhatsApp group reported back that it was a False Widow; a known biter and spreader of poison – so in fact, this move seemed in retrospect less wimpish, more wise.
This unwanted visitor paled in comparison though, with the rat. You really learn what you are made of when a rat scurries out of your kitchen. I, it transpires, am made of the kind of stuff that (having screamed, leapt across the living room to slam the kitchen door on the retreating rat), calls its Father and then sits quaking on the arm of the couch until he arrives ten minutes later.
By the time he arrived, I had consumed all the internet has to offer on the finer points of identifying a rat from a mouse. "It didn’t have the innately evil demeanour you would assume comes with a rat," I told the Work Wife the next day. It wasn’t black, the size of a rabbit, or with an obscenely large tail. It was smallish, and light grey. Probably a mouse. But then Rentokil arrived, and confirmed the worst. A rat had made its way into our house.
The stress of it
As these things go, and as much as it is possible to be lucky in a situation in which a rat and your home are concerned, it seems we have been lucky. It was a temporary visitor rather than a resident. The entry point was immediately identified and blocked up by the father and brother (concrete and broken glass). The perimeter has not been breached since.
But the stress.
It had been a difficult month, for various reasons. But sometimes, in the face of being a single parent, or probably any kind of parent for whom things are going through a tricky phase, one can go into an overdrive of coping. If there is a child involved, falling apart isn’t an option.
Related: It's okay to talk about the bad stuff
But the rat pushed me over.
The next morning, I stood in my kitchen with my mother, about to embark upon the cleanup. But I was frozen. I literally could not come up with the next step. Where to begin?
Our home has been a haven during this stressful time, and for it to have been made a place that was not relaxing was too much.
I looked at my Mother, practically mute with overwhelm. Immobilized by stress.
Words of wisdom
"Just throw it all out," she said. Start again. And we did. And it was strangely cathartic. And when my phone died, and I couldn’t find my charger, I just left it off. Which may not seem like much of a thing, but when you work in a job with multiple deadlines, and people getting back to you, and things that might need to be urgently checked, going off grid is a big deal.
But sometimes you need to just admit; this is shit. This is really hard. And so I stepped out of my life for a few hours, to engage in a really satisfying bout of disinfecting my entire kitchen. Mindfulness, care of a rodent.
We moved home to my parents’ house, to be looked after for a few days. Or for Herself to be looked after by others, while I watched on.
Accepting the tough times
And then something lovely happened. A friend texted me, to say that her friend Zoe was setting up an app for single parents, Frolo. That she had already launched the Instagram account.
Related: I'm finally allowing myself time to rest
I don’t like binary thinking, being black and white about the situation. Yes, being separated and a single parent is hard, but up close, lots (most) of my good friends are struggling with something, if not right now, at some time of their lives. No one’s life is perfect. So I prefer not to go down the road of comparing my situation to others.
Everyone has stuff that causes difficulties. And at certain times of your life, the difficulties are worse than at others. This is mine at the moment. Single parenthood has difficulties and sometimes, there is a relief in just admitting to yourself: "yes, this is bloody hard at times". In the admitting, at the very least, you stop beating yourself up about finding it hard. You stop struggling and accept it, which does not feel depressing, but rather like taking a weight off.
This is what it is, for now.
Acceptance bestows its own relief.
Stop trying to run the marathon with a temporarily broken limb, all the while not admitting your own injury.
But sometimes you can’t tell yourself that.
I went on Frolo, and found, as Zoe has intended, a network of single parents. She is building a community. Right now, Frolo’s stories feel like a Whatapp group. People who have never met (although the idea is to organise meetups), but who through similarity in circumstances, get it. And seeing the things that they are finding difficult, you recognise them in your life too. It’s not just you.
We all need out tribes. I have my family. My friends. I didn’t know I needed it until I found my single-mum's tribe.