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.
"Take it one day at a time," a very wise woman said to me in the early days of my separation. She too is separated.
Yes yes, I thought at the time, slightly dismissing it as one of those things people say during a hard time. Kind, well-meaning, but also generic, and lacking in actual meaning.
I should have known better; she is a particularly wise woman.
Much further down the road, with the perspective of many days passed, I realised how right she was. Take it one day at a time. Look at the small picture, never the bigger. For that way lies the threat of overwhelm.
Pace yourself. For this is a marathon, this recovery. This putting it all back together.
This week, listening to Zoe Desmond’s inaugural episode of her Frolo podcast for single parents, I hear it again.
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Take it one day at a time. When overwhelm threatens, think just about the day that you are in. How you will get that day’s school run managed, work done, dinner made. Do not take on the greater questions. How will your child cope? What will old age be like? Will you never feel like you are not, to some extent, chasing your tail?
That simple mantra, one day at a time, helps then with the frustration, at feeling oneself under a mountain of emotions again that you thought you were done with. That you can not move this thing along by sheer force of will. That sometimes you have to sit it out. Wait it out.
Things get better
Anyone who has grieved knows there is no point declaring the grief has gone; it’s tantamount to daring another wave to hit. And even then, when the grief does seem to have passed, it seems you move from grief over the past, to fear over the future. And then that needs to be dealt with.
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your world has fallen apart, this letter's for you
You do get better though, at knowing the things that make you susceptible to these waves. Tiredness. Overpacked schedule. No white space (I listened to a Matt Haig podcast. It essentially means room between the to-do list, and the point you reach exhaustion. Space to do nothing. To rest. Waiting in a queue and not looking at your phone. Having time to just potter in your home).
You tell yourself that this feeling will pass, you will get back to a place of feeling balance. And you know it is true because you’ve done it so many times before. So you really believe yourself.
The little things
A friend calls for the afternoon and we chat about those early days of babyhood. When both our daughters resisted any and all efforts to go to sleep for any great length of time. And I remember that some things are just an immovable force that will only come in their own time. Or go, as is the case with grief, or anxiety, or any of those things caused by a rupture in the life plan.
My daughter is, on certain matters, her own person and has been since birth. Of fixed opinions. Matters around sleep for example – give in, she will break you.
On food, like most four-year-olds, she has set opinions as to what she will and will not eat.
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So when I got her to eat burgers for the first time recently, it felt like a breakthrough. I know in the grand panoply of healthy foods, burgers do not rank highly. But burgers and sweet potato chips is an easy but relatively ok Monday night dinner. “I don’t like it mommy,” she says with a downcast face. Then erupts. “I love them.” She has taken to referring to them as Mommy’s burgers, these Lidl burgers. I decide I will take the compliment.
And then we make huge progress. “Could I have a boiled egg too?” she says, eyeing mine. And so I make it. With zero expectation of her actually eating it. And she gobbles it up. It feels life-changing. I’m not sure exactly why I’ve invested such a sense of triumph into this humble egg. It’s the little things.
Two steps forward, one step back
Then the next morning. We’ve talked about the mutual boiled egg breakfast we will have since bedtime the night before. I see her watching me prepare it. Eyeing me. It’s making me nervous. “Persevere, as if it’s no big deal,” I tell myself. With forced casualness, I place it in front of her. “Let's get bashing” I carol, cracking the top of my own. She looks dubious.
“Mommy, I don’t think I can eat the yellow,” she says.
“No problem,” I say, in tones laced with faint hysteria. “No problem, I’ll pick it all off. Just the white.”
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when things get too much
Which of course any parent knows is a battle lost. Picking it off never works, there are always traces of THE FOOD THAT TOUCHED THE OTHER FOOD.
She fake gags. Pushes away the plate. Eggs are done for.
But that day after school, she says “burgers tonight mommy?”
Two steps forward, one step back. Yes to hamburgers and sweet potato chips, no to eggs. Yes to the new life, with some days of anxiety.
One day at a time.