There’s a train. It’s a superb high speed train. It’s admired, a feat of engineering. The train is chugging easily along until, let’s say, a weakened valve breaks under pressure and suddenly the train goes faster and faster. Knuckles clench around the armrests. Panic ensues. People scream. Bolts loosen. Metal clangs against metal and the excessive air whistling through the valve rips holes in the sides, as easily as knives slashing through paper. The train cannot hold it together at three times its normal speed. It wasn’t designed to cope with it. The train and everything in the train is falling apart. But the massive destruction is not only to itself but to the rails, the sidings, the embankment, the people on the embankment. In fact everything that train touches as it unravels is at risk of being hurt by flying debris and metal as it cascades off the rails. Just because of that tiny valve.
This is what my anxiety feels like. There is a valve which regulates my stress levels. It needs to be maintained, regularly, and strengthened through self-care… in my own case through writing and introspection. But sometimes there is no time to maintain it. I feel the pressure, and know that I have to slow down… yet no one but me knows or sees. They don’t see and they choose not to believe me.
When I say I need to slow down they don’t understand because to the outside world, I am a gleaming high speed train. I even have awards for speed which I’ve won when my valve is strong. Even if the valve breaks, you can’t see it immediately. People can’t see cause and effect. Because the breakdown only happens a couple of miles down the track. So it needs to be attended to immediately otherwise breakdown will occur… but the world doesn’t understand how caring for one tiny valve be of any importance. There is no time, understanding or compassion for my need of self care. Still the valve needs downtime, more than anyone wants to be true. They don’t like to think of me as having any weaknesses. Like the Titanic, they prefer to think of me as unsinkable.
Let’s say for example, that I choose to write over doing chores. It is regarded as selfish. It is deprioritized. Worse still, if I choose to write over doing something for my children, they mock and humiliate me…
‘Why are you neglecting your children? How can you be so selfish?’
This attitude is pervasive in our society. They force you to keep going until you break.
In Sweden, when a new sibling is born, any other sibling at nursery is supposed to reduce their hours at nursery so that the entire family can spend time together to adjust. And since nursery is state funded, this is actually the law.
But that tiny valve for me was stretched to the maximum just with a new baby. Add an insecure and uncomprehending sibling to the mix and I knew that valve would break. That would have meant disaster not only for me, but for my new baby, his sister and my partner. Both my children are in my train. My partners are the people on the embankment. They are the people closest to me who would be hurt if everything were to break down. And so even though the government was telling me that I was an irresponsible parent by fighting against the law to maintain my daughter’s nursery hours, they were wrong. I am responsible for maintaining that valve, to make sure it works properly. And only I know how much it can take. So I fought the system, even though they regarded the very act of doing so as neglectful parenting. And I won, even though we had to take it to court. I held my train together.
Because if the valve goes unattended, unmaintained, the hurt instead of being containable, becomes a massive catastrophe. And no matter how many times I’ve warned them that I need to strengthen my valve when it happens, everyone says,
‘Wow, we never saw that coming. Why didn’t she fix that valve? What a selfish mother.’