In the last year, Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
“Why do you write that column?” Someone asked me recently. And before I launched into a blithering, meandering answer, as we do when we’re put on the spot, I stopped myself and said what I really thought.
"Why not?" My marriage broke down. Obviously, that was difficult. To pretend otherwise would be ludicrous.
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That’s not to suggest the next inevitable move for everyone is to start writing about it, or broadcasting in some other way. But I am a writer. And so to me, it sort of was a bit obvious. Or at least, not that big a deal, to write about life after separation. I’m not saying everyone needs to share their deepest and darkest, or should feel pressure to do so. But if it doesn’t bother you to be honest, then why not be?
The bad stuff
Partly, I think my questioner’s bafflement was a sort of puzzlement at why you would let your side down. Why admit to the bad stuff?
Again, why not?
Pretending there is no bad stuff is, as above, ludicrous. I think of my daughter a lot around this kind of stuff. I don’t want her to believe that there should be no bad stuff in life. What a terrible pressure that would be.
I would like for her to know, to accept, that there will be bad stuff along the way. That life happens to you. But that you will handle it. Whatever happens, you will be ok. And if at times you do not feel ok; if you do not feel like you are handling it, that is ok too. That that is normal.
And to know that the bad stuff happening to you is stuff, it is not you. Sad things do not make you a sad person. Scary things do not make you a terminally angry person. These are things that you deal with but they do not define you.
We're not alone in this
When I was pregnant, I was working in an office with the Work Wife’s mother. Work Wife senior? Work Mother? Maybe, if it was a teenage pregnancy. The Work Wife was six months ahead of me with her first child, and I would get daily updates as to how difficult a newborn was. “The first two weeks are a nightmare,” I was told. This expanded exponentially along with the baby. The first six weeks, first eight… all nightmares.
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Gran’s traditions with my daughter
I, tapping away beside her at my computer, smiled politely, and secretly, smugly, thought to myself, “Well she’s obviously just not reading the right books. I have Gina Ford, I will be fine.” And then, of course, I had my own baby, and it was a nightmare, because wonderful as they are, newborns are also a car crash into your life, and can make you feel as if you are failing on all fronts. And I remembered her words and held them close to me like a comfort blanket.
Thanks to these two friends, I knew it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t in some way uniquely failing at motherhood. What I was feeling was normal. A thing that happens to lots of (most?) new mothers, rather than a quality of weakness within me. Their honesty about the struggle of becoming a mother, rather than pretending that it was all going swimmingly (is it ever?), rather than keeping some sort of face up about it, was a life raft in those early days. It provided huge comfort.
The Work Wife herself arrived at our house one day in the early weeks of Herself, took one look at me, unwashed, still in originally-blue-now-slightly-greying dressing gown, a woman on the edge, and announced briskly, “you’re in the hole. Don’t worry, it’s totally normal.”
And suddenly the raw emotions, the tiredness so extreme it felt my skin had been flayed, the threatening sense of overwhelmedness, the frustration at seemingly not being able to manage to do one simple bloody thing (shower, eat, leave the house), all seemed like things that would, eventually, pass. Rather than symptoms of some inability to cope, of some 'lack' in me.
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that have helped me feel better
Another woman had done the same for her, arriving at her house one particularly bleak afternoon in the early days of her gorgeous boy and, taking one look at her, peremptorily diagnosed “the hole”.
It was like a gift being passed from one woman to another at their lowest ebb. This acknowledgement of also having hit rock bottom. The sharing of an experience like the passing of a comforting beacon.
I’ve been here. It’ll be ok. It’s normal.
Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash