I have to learn to breathe underwater

These last few weeks have been difficult. I’ve been feeling like I’m trapped in water below an ice sheet. There’s an air hole above me and if I can reach that hole and breathe for an hour or two a day, then I can plunge back down into the black water and survive. But if I can’t do that, then I might drown. But I began to feel there was a conspiracy of people trying to stop me reaching the air hole.

Agency carers, cleaners, gardeners, neighbours, people have been expecting things of me. ‘Can you just do that?’ said one. ‘Can you just do this?’ asked another. ‘Can you make that phone call?’; ‘Can you make sure mum does X and Y?’. While none of these tasks were particularly onerous in themselves, I experienced them as straws being piled on my back.

Mum usually has a siesta in the afternoons and during that time (even though I’d often also like to take a siesta) I try to do something for myself – reading, writing, anything that makes me feel like I still have some sort of identity. But recently, on a Sunday afternoon when I was settling down to a couple of hours of peace and quiet the phone rang: it was the district nurse. She wanted to come round to talk to me about mum’s incontinence. She showed commendable commitment to her job but I felt like bursting into tears. It really was the last straw.

In my mind, I could hear someone whispering – ‘Just give up. You’ll be happier if you just abdicated from your own life.’ But everything I am fought against the idea of erasing my own identity – even if the battle to maintain my own inner autonomy exhausted me.

And then, mum asked me the same question for the twentieth time and it all seemed so completely absurd that I started to laugh. And I realised: to survive, I need to become a sort of mermaid. Somehow or other, I have to learn to breathe underwater.

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