My sister and her partner arrived from the UK at the end of February and we hired a campervan and spent two weeks travelling around the lower South Island. We visited places we hadn’t seen since we were kids and reminisced about our camping holidays with Mum all those years ago as we explored Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Omarama, Wanaka, Queenstown, Naesby, Oamaru and Geraldine. After we returned there were only few days left in Diamond Harbour before they flew back to England. Prior to leaving England, my sister had found some old video cassettes from Mum’s old camcorder which she had mixed into a compilation that she’d put onto a DVD. One night after we’d had dinner I suggested it would be fun to watch it together, so I opened a bottle of wine, filled our glasses and pressed PLAY.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was watching my 35-year-old self playing with my son and even breaking into a run as I chased after my two-year-old daughter tottering toward the pool at our house in Oxenford. My husband was doing the filming and his commentary explained that we were making a video of the children for him to show to his parents when he returned to New Zealand for his Dad’s 70th Birthday in just a few days’ time. Although my movement was obviously unconstrained in those days, there was something forced and unnatural about my manner. I was smiling and laughing but my face was a mask without any real joy behind it. And then the realisation dawned on me and I understood why. This video was taken just days before a series of events conspired to bring about the final death of our marriage. That person I was watching on the screen was about to go through events that had lain hidden and unresolved until relatively recently. If I could transport myself back to that time, what would I do differently? If I could talk to that person on the screen, what would I say to her?
I remembered feeling frustrated and angry many times since those days and asking myself: “What more does the fucking Universe want from me?” I knew the answer to that question now and that’s exactly what I would tell that younger me on the video. I would tell her that the Universe only ever wanted one thing from me and that was to stop being so afraid. That awful fear, most of the time over things that never happened, literally brought me to my knees, prevented me from going after the things that I really wanted and left me wide open to manipulation.
Not long after his father died my ex-husband phoned of the blue and told me that he wanted to apologise to me. He said he had been making himself appear as the victim but that he could no longer live that lie anymore. He went on to say that for all those years he had tried to make himself look better by lying and by cheating and mainly it seemed, to me. Without detailing the rest of the conversation, I was left reeling. Why had we gone through all that appalling grief for the sake of an illusion?
By this time, we’d been separated for nearly six years and I didn’t really have terribly much to do with his life other than childcare arrangements. The thing that I was on the alert for, and would have intervened had I detected any trace of it, was if he were to use manipulative tactics on the children. To the best of my knowledge, I am happy to say that this has never happened.
In her book “Dodging Energy Vampires”, Dr Christiane Northrup explains that there is a spectrum of vampires – some individuals simply have manipulative traits whilst others are full-blown psychopaths. Those on the milder end of the scale can sometimes change, but it is extremely rare and she has only ever seen it happen once. There is no doubt that my case was exacerbated once my husband’s business partner appeared on the scene, and who in my opinion was a lot further up the spectrum than my husband was. I don’t know what prompted the change, but I suspect that my ex-husband is one of those rare individuals who genuinely has transformed. I certainly hope so.
Probably the most important thing that I would tell my thirty-five-year-old self would be to take the time after leaving our twenty-year relationship to deal with my emotions and grief so that I could heal from it. I didn’t do this for two reasons. Firstly, I had two children to look after. I wanted to be strong for them and I feared that my ex-husband would see me ‘not coping’ and decide that I wasn’t a fit mother. The other reason was that as the months passed, I began to wonder if what I’d been through was bad enough to have to go and see someone to get help.
Both reasons may seem valid on the face of it, yet both are a recipe for depression. Firstly, is it really such a good thing as a parent to be putting up this façade that you’re emotionally really strong and that nothing ever gets to you? Might it not be better for all concerned to demonstrate to children that life isn’t always ‘perfect’ and that it’s okay to show your vulnerability? Secondly, did it really matter whether I minimised what happened to me or whether I made a complete mountain out of a molehill? No. What I needed was to give myself permission to acknowledge that it had affected me greatly and to accept that I might need help to cope with it. No doubt others have gone through a lot worse than I did but I didn’t need to try to rank it in terms of awfulness. When you’re really feeling down/depressed/anxious about something, does it ever help to have some well-meaning soul point out that there are others who are worse off? For me, unless I’m only suffering a superficial irritation, pretty much never.
Despite this, I don’t suffer from depression. I get down temporarily and I have suffered from anxiety at times, but I’m too much of an optimist to sink down to a level that could be classified as real depression. In some ways I’ve been a victim of that optimism – forever believing my marriage would improve and persisting with the idea that my financial woes were temporary.
Finally, I would tell my younger self to ease up on myself. I may have been criticised in the past but it was over. There was absolutely no need for me to fill the void and carry on doing it to myself.
… And that it’s okay to relax and enjoy life because that’s what we’re here for!