Livvy reminded me of this. In a recent post. So eloquent and graceful and honest and generous in its delivery. Livvy reminded me that most of us – lots of us – lose our way. Sometimes. It’s not surprising. Not when you’re a woman. Our route maps might as well be roughly sketched on the backs of cigarette packets: you could be any number of the following: daughter, sister, career girl, lover, wife, mother, carer, grandmother … or something like that … roughly speaking … if you see what I mean … and not necessarily in that order either, by the way … sorry I can’t be more specific …
But how will I know when I ought to shift gears, move from one to another: marriage to motherhood? From job to job? Career to career? One kids to two? Two to three? Is there a right time to change roles between career, say, and motherhood? Ought I work or stayathome? How do I even do my new job, come to think of it?
Quick, desperate glance at back of fag packet clutched between trembling fingers: … sorry I can’t be more specific …
It’s why, at least I think it’s why, women are more likely to succumb to Depression than men. Their myriad, merging, multi-faceted roles begin to smudge the boundaries of Me. That’s what happened to my mum. We moved. The last of her babies, with shy beating of newly stretched wings, flew the nest and Mum was sunk into a chasm of What Now? What Next? She lost her particular copy of that hastily drawn map and before she could confidently pick up the path again, Depression had slipped a cold clammy hand into hers and dragged her off into the dark.
I lost Me once. I remember it clearly. Not just because I wrote about it but because I remember what prompted the words. Changes. Mostly. Like with mum. And more role manipulation. No longer a full time mother because children were no longer at home full time: my days were emptied of demands to read, to feed, to watch Pingu on the telly. Pingu bugs the hell out of you until you’ve got nobody to watch it with.
I especially remember the moment the realization that I didn’t know Me anymore hit home: I sat on the kitchen counter consumed by an overwhelming feeling of disorientation. Loss of direction. Loss of definition. Loss of enough to do to the point of near-redundancy. Loss of self-esteem.
Just loss, really. Mum agrees: that’s what did it, she remembers, Loss.
And I cried. Great, big gulps of sadness and confusion and fear.
My husband looked on askance, regarding me with a peculiar mixture of sympathy and horror but mostly horror.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked as gently as he could.
I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell him that I had Lost Myself. You lose keys, Goddamnit (at least I do, often); you lose your glasses; you don’t lose yourself. Not if you’re a man. (My friend B, a man and dad of two, tells me men can’t lose themselves because they lack the emotional intelligence to know how).
So I didn’t test the fine veneer of his trying-to-be-patient-and-understanding facade by saying I have lost Me. Instead I said, ‘I don’t know what to do next’.
My husband is dear and kind and clever. And – above all – eminently practical.
‘Make jam?’, he suggested.
Make jam? Make jam!
I was indignant (which at least arrested the sobs, briefly) that he presumed knocking up preserves should replace the busy, important, involved, mothering, nurturing person I had – hitherto – been for ten odd years.
I didn’t make jam. I mean I do. Occasionally. Really, really badly. So that either it won’t set at all and slips and slides all over your plate and cannot be spread obediently on toast. Or else it cements itself inside the jar and won’t be coaxed out.
But I did begin to write; I began to fill hours with words. And I wrote my newspaper story about how it felt to lose your way. Its publication, of course, was gratifying. But much, much, much more gratifying than that were the letters I received subsequent to its running. Women aged early twenties to late eighties wrote to me. (Their messages are archived carefully, too). They’d all been there. Where I had found myself. In the wilderness of lost, wandering, women. Some were still there, flailing about, groping their way through the dark, trying to find somebody who could explain the Job Spec for wife or mum or whole, happy women, trying to find somebody who knew what the hell they were doing, who would be happy to impart a little wisdom without sounding smug. Others had navigated their way out the other side and were able to shine a light on my stumbling journey, ‘it gets better’, they said, ‘it gets easier’.
And it did. I continued to write. I still write. It’s My Thing; my metaphorical Jam Making.
It isn’t the jam that’s important, it’s certainly not how you make it that counts. My husband -wise boy – knew that. It’s the purpose, direction, happiness, engagement and occassional real achievement that comes with it, whether it’s fat glossy strawberry preserve winking at me from a hot jar, or a screen full of words that I have threaded together to make a pattern that suits my moods. It’s not big or important or even, usually, a money spinner (jam would earn me much more).
But it helps me to make sense of my world when life knocks the edges off and leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. It keeps me company when I feel lonely. It reminds me who I am when I am no longer sure.
I think, girls, we all need to learn to Make Jam.