In the dark, among carrier bags of wool and overalls hanging from hooks, wedged between too many hoovers, and perched on a box of old toys picked up at the car boot, I spent many a Saturday afternoon in the cupboard under the stairs at my Grandma Evelyn’s house. My sister Helen would be there, and often a cousin or two, sometimes more, with bellies full of Grandma’s chips and gravy, a sour waft of homemade beet chutney in the still air.
We hadn’t been banished here. This was no Harry Potter under the stairs cupboard, although there was a kind of magic to it.
This was where my Auntie Mal, or sometimes Uncle Bob, or Chris on visits from Nottingham, would make up tales of daring and fun and heroism (often their own). Stories set in familiar places – Cambois beach, the riverside park, or the river at Morwick Mill – where we could imagine the fanciful adventures taking place. And the characters too – Tom, Lizzie, Janice, Helen, Denise, Peter, Wayne – were people we knew, only they were cleverer, braver, stronger than the girls and boys we were. They could rescue someone from a sinking dinghy or pull a stranded glider pilot up a sheer cliff face.
The darkhole at Grandma Evelyn’s house was a place where we sat wrapt listening to stories where we were the heroes of the hour.
It’s a happy memory and I must admit, something I hadn’t really thought about for a lot of years. But this morning it crept into my head and I woke up with a craving at the bottom of my stomach, a yearning to be back there, in the safety of the darkhole.
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression when my second child was five months old.
I’m pretty sure I had postnatal depression with my first baby, but I was too scared or ashamed or proud or something else, to talk about the way I was feeling.
This time I asked for help and with the support of my family and friends, an amazing health visitor, and medication, most days are fine. But I still have bad days. Days where I am detached, in a daze, somewhere else, zoned out. Where I am there but not there, unable to feel happy, or sad either, with no trigger or reasoning behind it. And on those days I only feel alone. For as much as my family and friends, and particularly my husband, will notice my blankness and try to understand and support me, I can’t quite explain the what or the why, or what I need to feel ‘better’. On those days I often have this craving to shift space and time and arrive back in a safe place – the darkhole on a Saturday afternoon, or curled up on my Mam and Dad’s sofa on a cold night watching You Bet.
And it’s a funny thing, but borne out of feeling so crappy is a little bit of light. Even on bad days I know I am lucky to have had the kind of childhood and family that I can withdraw to when grown up life is shit.
I hope my two girls never experience depression, but I want to make sure that on their dark days they too can retreat to the security of a happy childhood memory – to the safety of our living room sofa or a Saturday at Grandma’s house.