Congratulations (On Life and All its Consequences)
You made it into the world in the late 70s, the youngest in a working-class family where money was tight and life wasn’t always easy.
As a baby, you were accidentally dropped on your head by your big sister, and your family said that’s why you’ve always been a little weird.
Your first, hazy memories are of singing Abba songs with a colander as a prop, of playing under a tent made of curtains and chairs, of trying on orthopaedic shoes.
You grew up and became tall and quiet. At school, you were forever made to sit at the back of the classroom. Often you, the so-called ‘good girl’, were sat by the teacher next to a ‘naughty student’. Perhaps that’s when your mistrust of labels started, because in a sense we are all icebergs, so much more than what others think they know about us.
One day, when you were at home with a cold and bored, your sister entertained you by creating a game for you – this was your first writing assignment. That love of writing has accompanied you always, and you could never quantify how much making sense of your life through words has helped you through the years.
At primary school you made friends, excelled at literature, struggled with maths and were terrible at sports. You lacked the confidence to talk to boys, and grew up watching from a distance the guy you fancied dating the most popular girl at school.
Some people say their teenage years were the best ones, but for you those years seemed to last forever. You were bullied at secondary school - the name calling and finger pointing casting a long shadow across your teenage years. Always an outsider, you never forgot two guys who took a stand and cleared some graffiti for you. Not everybody understood you. Someone else laughed at you because you were socially awkward and so quiet. And that mixture of the good and the crap moments continued, as the gulf grew between you and others around you.
University was like a breath of fresh air, enjoying the company of classmates with a different attitude and shared goals. In your early 20s, you moved abroad for a study exchange programme, craving a break from your loving but overprotective parents. You loved the freedom to come and go, think and write as you pleased. That spring you fell in love – it was a revelation. You were amazed at the sense of completeness that came from love and which led to eventually accepting yourself. For the first time in your life, you felt like a whole woman, an adult capable of thinking and acting, loving and hoping.
So when your lover turned around and said yours was only ‘a friendship, a fling’, you were devastated and moved away. You wanted to disentangle yourself from that part of your life. You did this with such intensity that your bittersweet memories were lost, a small price to pay for emotional survival.
Eventually, after some dark times, you moved on, found your place in the world and wanted to look for love again. The second time around, love felt less like fireworks that sweep you off your feet and more like inner peace. It was about the instant recognition of being reunited with someone you had met in another life, the twin who completes you, the certainty of knowing that this person always has your back and creating together that glue of history that will cement your foundations as the years go by.
Life seemed a tremendous adventure of self-discovery back then: concerts and trips, books and films, impromptu drinks in the sunshine, learning more about each other, volunteering. Relative poverty didn’t matter then. Your first house in England was a damp room overlooking a jungle-like garden where a broken car had been abandoned. You met new friends, changed jobs and moved cities. With every new responsibility, more struggles came into your life: making your money last until the end of the month, saving for a house deposit, climbing the career ladder, surviving redundancy, learning to parent your baby through the haze of sleep deprivation.
And when your toddler was diagnosed with additional needs, after that shipwreck of denial, depression and anger that shook your foundations, one day something clicked and you learnt to accept your life as it is, tunnels and bright lights, supported by your ‘sister in autism’ and so many others. You were able then to learn more about autism, so you could support your child on their journey ahead.
But it can be toxic to live so much for others and so little for yourself. Where was your voice gone? Not the mother, wife, employee, but the person of quiet dreams and ideals. In giving yourself to others, you forgot to nourish your soul. For years it didn’t seem to matter, but as you went further down the road, it seemed that the old you had been erased.
Domesticity became poisonous, and you wondered many times whose turn it was to put the bin out or why was that dirty mug still on the table. The ironing pile would grow into something akin to the Everest, and sometimes it became so hard to talk about how things were due to tiredness, despair, frustration or distance fanning the flames of anger or misunderstanding … Some days you felt the size of a grain of sand, as if life was passing you by, stuck in the hamster’s wheel of modern life.
One day you woke up and realised you were in danger of becoming someone else, a person you didn’t want to be. Instead, you wanted to find your soul again, to develop ambitions of your own - not just being somebody’s wife, mum or employee. Call it selfishness or self-preservation, as you wish. I’ll call it harvest time, the day when you started clawing back a tiny space of your own was the day when things that you wanted for yourself matter again. Because you are so much more than the things you do for others, guided by love.
Don’t worry if your soul is covered in scars, they are all that remains of your old wounds, reminding you of the tough lessons learnt along the way.
Becoming an adult is about embracing life and all its consequences, wherever this journey takes us - through love and loss, loneliness, contradictions, revelations and accepting the faults in your soul. It is about looking after yourself, because you are worth it, and because it is the first step towards being able to look after others.
You had a total lack of role models, it has been tough.
And so on this harvest day, I say to you - congratulations, because you have truly lived, and you will not drown in murky waters.
Eva Oliver is a communications professional and mum. She lives in the UK with her family. She has been writing all her life, both in Spanish (her mother tongue) and English. Eva often delves into non-fiction and memoir to explore issues around identity, disabilities and inclusion, and the challenges that our society faces. She blogs on The Critical Thought https://thecriticalthought.wordpress.com/