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"There it goes... Off it went,"
"Off it went..."

Joey scratched the sentences out in frustration. Why couldn't she form the words? Why couldn't she push past the panic that overwhelmed her at the moment? She felt like throwing the pen across the room, tearing up the paper before her. Why couldn't she even define what the problem was, describe this brain state? If she could just find the word-basket to hold the feeling in, she could fight it, could pack it away the way she used to manage when she was younger. She had always been able to distract before, to get relief from returning to her characters, or finding new tales to tell. Even from writing down the demons that blocked her path. This time her story ideas were there, were tempting her; Yet seemed blocked, held behind a whizzing wall of thoughts. Thoughts that wouldn't stay still, wouldn't let her settle.

She pushed the paper away, leant forward, resting her head on her arms. If only she could at least sleep, or talk, or exercise her way to getting her thoughts in order. Or write it down, corral the racing images, ideas, emotions into a smaller part of her brain. She felt as if every thought generated three others, which split into five more, and so multiplied until she could barely concentrate past the buzzing, bouncing thoughts. Cartoon images of millions of flies buzzing around something came to mind, seemed the best fit.

If she could just work out whether she had taken her tablets, that would help. It seemed sometimes a vicious cycle, as if her brain was playing tricks on her. She was petrified of taking too many, but also of forgetting too often and ending up on a downward spiral. Yet the more fuzzy her brain, the less certain she was whether she had remembered or not. After all, how do you remember a daily task when time stopped having much meaning ? When sometimes it seemed only a moment from morning to night, other times the day stretched out ahead as if seconds were hours? She would try to set a time, have reminders, but then a nudge out of routine and she'd be lost.

She closed her eyes, and the thought dance became woven in with semi-dreams, until reality became hard to pinpoint. This was part of the problem she was having with medication times, or tasks that needed to be done. She would think that she remembered something, but then it would turn out to have happened on a different day, or a different way, or even not to have happened at all.

She was used to coping with her brain misbehaving, made lists and got on with things, but at the moment it felt as though she were on a tightrope, when everyone around her was on solid ground. She was a good balancer, adept at keeping moving, but then the smallest slip to one side and she would fall, only hold on by finger tips. She was determined now not to ever let go, but it was so tiring, to keep pulling oneself up back onto the wire, to balance herself, then add the things she needed to carry, and pray that she could balance enough to move forward, tiny, tiny steps. Then bigger ones.

It was at that point that other people had most effect. Hilda and Nell, Hilary and Jack all seemed to provide balance, to gently take a carried burden where they could, without tipping her off the other side. Or simply to walk beside her, show her they were there to catch her if she fell. Others like Len and Con were always loving and helpful, but Joey's own guilt that they had to take on so much responsibility would always mean relieved burdens provided a slight wobble to her walk, and she hated that they had to even think about her as needing help.

The ones that were hardest however were those like Grizel, or Margot, those she loved. who wanted to help, but always managed somehow to turn things back to being about them, to take one burden and add three. She would just about be balancing, inching forward, swaying in the wind but succeeding, then someone like them would come along and add to, or rearrange the mental packages she carried, and she'd end up swaying more and more as she tried to juggle them herself, tried not to fall from the tightrope, or to need to reach out for someone else's steadying hand.

When she was calmer she knew that it was better to reach for a small amount of help, than fall right down and need a lot. But when the thoughts wouldn't stop buzzing, it seemed impossible to do anything but juggle things by herself, rearrange constantly in search of self balance. Later she would realise that this method always led to a fall, but at the time the thoughts just buzzed and wove around her, until it seemed impossible to know how to move forward. She wasn't falling, nor going back, but there was also no movement forward, she was stuck. Like treading water, surviving but not progressing.

Focusing on this image, on trying to explain the feeling helped. The thoughts lost just a little of their franticness, and her body finally took over. She had only rested her head down briefly, but she drifted into calmer thoughts, and from there to sleep. A physically uncomfortable one, to be sure, but at least a slight sign of better rest to come.

Jack found her stretched out over the desk, and for one heart stopping moment he thought she had gone, had found the battle too hard to continue. As his panic passed, he noticed the movement of her body and near snores, and he breathed more easily himself. He was loath to move her or make any sound, he knew she was getting very little mental rest, and he was trying not to give her tablets too often, for she needed the natural sleep. She ought to make the most of having dozed off.

He distracted the younger children and told them not to come in until Mamma was awake, and then shut the door. He could really do with some sleep herself, but he couldn't bring himself to leave her alone just yet. That tiny seed of doubt that she could have taken something by accident, or might despair if she woke distressed and disorientated still remained, so he settled himself down to read in a chair nearby, listening intently to any change in her breathing.

Hearing someone sleeping when you are tired would make the best of people doze off, and so it was that Jo woke to her husband's own deeper snores, and felt a smile pass over her face. Waking to see Jack beside her was one of the things that always made everything worthwhile. She got up quietly and moved to sit beside him, then closed her eyes again, for the sleep that had taken her was helping, was filtering the worst of the worries out from the ones that really didn't matter.

A few hours later, Len opened the door a crack, and smiled herself to see them settled so close and quietly sleeping. She checked the stove was at a good level, dimmed the lights and shut the door to, then organised the younger ones to dinner and bed, leaving a light on for whenever her parents woke and found their way up to their room. They did so in the middle of the night, and for once slept in the next day, allowed their bodies to decide when they ought to wake. Len and Con made sure that none of the younger ones made much noise, and took the whole family out, so that when their parents awoke they were able to take the next day gently, and spend a day completely alone together.

It didn't solve anything, but as Jo thought the next day, at least it reminded her that she most certainly wasn't alone, and the tiny steps along the tightrope were worth it. She wanted to be the one walking beside Jack and her children, ready to catch them if they fell, and to do that she had to get herself off the tightrope and on to solid ground. Once the old Josephine Maynard decided she was going to do something, there was no stopping her, and that was a fact to remember, to find that person within herself again. She would do it, however hard the road, she was a survivor, and she had to remember that, it would make the tightrope wider, and the ground just that little less far away.



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