We can’t control everything.
This time last year, I had to know every single thing that was going on in my life. I had lists upon lists of homework, revision I hoped to get done, universities I wanted to go to and then back up universities just in case I didn’t get into my top 5 choices. I had lists of medicines in my head that I could give to Mum if she needed it, lists of Mum’s friends saved on my phone so that if she was ill and needed me to call someone, I was always prepared.
In my life, I always had to be prepared for worst case scenario. Whether it was having a back up plan in case I failed my exams if Mum got seriously ill again, or planning what to do/who to call if I came out of school to a voicemail saying Mum’s been taken into hospital, again.
If you asked me how I was this time last year, I would have said I was “happy”, and I truly thought I was. In fact, all I was was relieved and tired. February had been a horrific month for my family, and March was a short recovery period for us, where we could begin to hope for smoother sailing. I could finally focus on my exams again, and that was all I had wanted to do. I counted myself as “lucky”; Only the first part of the year had been terrible. Now it was time to make this year “my year”.
But at the same time, I was exhausted. I was frantically trying to make up for lost time with my revision and workload. I kept thinking “wait until Summer, and then this will all be worth it.”
Then the cancer spread to my Mum’s eye. Mum didn’t want to tell Katie about it, because she needed to focus on her exams. Everyday I asked myself how I would get through this, and everyday I told myself I didn’t have a choice not to. I have never been more alone in my life.
Eventually the things I could control I over-controlled and micro-managed every step of the way. Luckily my poison was only revision, and making sure I would get into university.
My mental health spiralled in February last year, and then from June to November of last year, because I couldn’t control anything. I couldn’t control my days, what I was doing in my days, whether I could be alone for an hour, whether I could sleep at 10, or if my family would be up with Mum until 2. I could count on nothing; friends slipped away, some teachers no longer knew how to talk to me or the right things to say. Once I was honest with my teacher about the place I was in, and she replied “Well… The sun is shining.”
In 2018, we couldn’t afford to make mistakes. One mistake, like someone not making Mum breakfast, had bad consequences; Mum couldn’t remember if she had eaten or not, but had severe stomach cramps because she had already taken her strong medicines. Or for example, if I didn’t remember all of the shopping we needed, that would mean Katie would have to go back to ASDA. This doesn’t seem like an issue to you, but the thing is, we were all so tired, but Katie most of all. She handled the medicine, Mum looked to my sister far more than the rest of us, Katie never slept because Mum needed her in the night, and she was also the sole driver within the family.
Katie would often drive and just cry. The guilt and shame I began to feel every time I made a mistake is impossible to explain. Now that I think about it, I am so sad for myself that I began to hate myself so much just because I forgot to bring Mum water, or forgot to get bread from the shops. Sometimes I still feel that panic around my throat if I forget something or lose something, but I am now in a position to be able to talk myself out of it. I simply breathe, focus on relaxing my muscles, and I tell myself I am okay, safe and secure. Fighting yourself is not an option anymore. You are enough, you are good, and you’re doing really, really well.
The only people Katie and I felt we could really trust to do something 100% right, was each other; partly because we had been working as a team against cancer since 2011, but also because we believed “we’re the only ones who can do this right.”
Eventually our team expanded slowly, which I am forever grateful for. I don’t know if we would be here if not (please see Useful Links if you need any help with these topics). Up until that point, we had to be perfect carers, perfect nurses, perfect daughters, perfect students, 24/7. I remember one time I didn’t do so well on a test, and I lost it. Something inside of me snapped and I had a huge, nasty, snotty breakdown. Actually, there are so many times that sort of thing happened.
Inevitably, we couldn’t be in control all of the time. Doctors messed up medicines, nurses came late, the syringe drive alarms went off and no one knew what to do, or Mum was just a bit difficult, because she was frustrated, scared and sad, too.
We can’t be in control of everything, and slowly, I am realising this. I try to “go with the flow”, even though that sounds ludicrous and irresponsible to me. I find I am happiest when I do something impromptu and spontaneous, I think because I could never do that before; I never had that liberty.
Absolutely crippling circumstances unfold around us, and we realise how small and vulnerable we are. Swear, shout, cry, let it out. But please know that slowly we heal. Slowly, we learn we can be happy again. Slowly we learn how to be ourselves again. You’re doing your best. Do what you need to do, and only do that for a while. You will find yourself planting a beautiful garden within yourself you never knew could have existed. You don’t have to be in control all of the time and mistakes are inevitable.
Most of all, all I want you to know is that if you feel like this, you are not alone.