Remembering to pack the Salt

Tomorrow we head out. Out of the Outpost.

For three whole weeks I will be an escapee.

And so I am packing a picnic, to sustain and distract and keep us going during the first of three days hard driving.

I emulate my mother’s picnics: hard-boiled eggs, buttered bread, ham and a flask of hot tea. I will pack a jar of marmalade, a pot of mustard and I shall try to remember a twist of salt for the eggs; Mum never forgot the salt.

There is some deep seated pleasure in these picnics. They are sustaining for more than the food; they extend the bliss of childhood, heighten memories and flavours, remind me where I am from. For we do it all exactly as we did it when I was a little girl: we negotiate when would be a good time to stop, have we driven for long enough, how much longer is there to go? We argue over precisely what constitutes a Good Tree. We pile out to stretch legs and the boys amble off to explore and I unpack eggs and buttered bread and ham. And I register, with a twinge of irritation, that I have forgotten the salt.

I am caught in curious reflection now. Mum is not able to do for my children, for my eldest daughter, what she would like to do. (She cannot conceive of what to eat for lunch). She wants to do these things – escort her grand-daughter to Heathrow for her first solo flight home, be inspired about what to prepare for lunch – but Depression is a chain and ball and she cannot drag herself from a capsule of enervation. And that she cannot do what she would like to do, what would ordinarily empower her and endorse her as the granny she wants to be, upsets her and she is fearful my daughter will not cope.

‘Of course she will, ma’, I tell her, ‘she will be fine’. And I mean it.

But witnessing her angst and I am struck that she must have felt similarly when Depression compromised her energy as a mother. And her anguish must have been worse without the slight remove afforded by a generational gap. There must have been a million occasions when she couldn’t summon the interest or the vigour to be the mum she wanted to be, had been until Depression reduced her to inertia; the mother she always was in-between bouts. There are times in most mothers’ lives when doing the job properly is hard, how often have you worried, ‘did I get it right today, could I have done better?’. I cannot imagine the pain of enduring that anxiety for weeks, months, at a time.

And yet I do not remember pain. I remember episodes. Shadows. Which came and went. Briefly clouded bright horizons. But mostly I remember sunshine. If Mum knew that, would it help? She cannot distance herself from the torment of her illness. We can. She cannot embrace life; she can’t even engage with it. We are immersed in it; her illness stalks and points and shakes a finger at me from the periphery of my days, but I have things to do (words to write; suitcases to fill; stuff to look forward to; picnics to pack) and those afford me blessed distraction. Respite. That’s why we on the outside cannot – mercifully – perceive the same pain.

And as much as Depression defines me (because I make it my business: if I keep my eye on the ball perhaps I won’t drop it?), oddly it does not define Mum. Depression divides her: my sick mum and my well one. But the well one got here first. And that will always be the one that wins-out.

I do not remember that Depression spoiled picnics.

I only remember that Mum never forgot the salt.

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14 Responses to “Remembering to pack the Salt”

  1. TheMadHouse Says:

    This post so, so resonates with me, aside from the fact that in my childhood, it was my dad that made sure my mum never forgot the salt. Her depression was hard for me, I bore the brunt of it and therefore, I try to make sure my children dont.

  2. Heather Says:

    What a wonderfully written post. It is so hard to say, would it help her to know that you don’t look back and remember the dark times but the sunshine and happiness or would it hurt more to realise how much others can distance themselves from it whilst she can’t?

  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    MadHouse – thank you for visiting, and for – courtesy of your post today – directing me to a mum whose depression makes her worry she isn’t worthy of her children’s love. she is. she so is.

    I don’t know Heather. What would be worse? A difficult conundrum. But i think as a mum she might be relieved to know that her children can distance themselves?

  4. Momcat Says:

    It is a great testimony to your mom that you dont remember your youth having been scarred or ruined by your mom’s suffering. I take my hat off to her that she managed to bring up her children while still suffering from this debilitating illness.

  5. Miss Welcome Says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful testimony to your mom.

  6. nuttycow Says:

    What a lovely post RM (again! You really must stop writing so well, you’re putting the rest of us to shame!).

    Enjoy these three weeks of getting away. One day your well mum will come back and I hope you tell her your memories of picnics and sunny days and salt. Even if she can’t remember this when she’s ill – it’s always a nice thing to know, deep down.

  7. Rob Says:

    As I negotiate the wind and rain to the smoking “shed” at work tomorrow morning, I shall think of you all munching on your boiled eggs and salt. Enjoy the well deserved escape and I look forward to reading all about it on your safe return.

  8. connie Says:

    This is beautiful. It spoke strongly to me regarding my own mother – it didn’t define her, it divided her. Thank you.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Momcat: yes, it must have been very, very hard sometimes to mother with Depression snapping at her heels, but she raised us all to happy adulthood, and all with children of our own now.

    Thank you Miss W.

    That’s just it Nutty: she doesn’t remember the good stuff when she’s ill but once Depression is no longer in residence, the happy memories come flooding back. So it supresses them, it doesn’t steal them.

    Aw Rob, poor you! Sending you sunshine.

    Thank you Connie – and I’m glad. Always important to remember the division, the separation. That is what helps me manage Depression in my head.

  10. Linda Says:

    Hi, I followed your link from my anonymous post about how I felt depression affected me, I was very touched by your reassurance and am very moved by what you have written here.

    I am scared that my children’s memories will be coloured by images of their mum ‘moping around’ and as you say, gripped by inertia. I wrote earlier on the same blog about what to say to children about it and on the times I have been affected, I say simply: “I’m a bit sad today.” We laugh lots and yesterday when someone there with us used the term “bonkers” about somebody, one of my 11-year-old daughters piped up: “All the best people are.” Hmmn.

    Your writing here is amazing, this post gives me so much to think about, I now know that my mum suffered on and off for years but it was never spoken about, I wonder if this was partly a ‘working class thing’ I wish we had so that I could have been better informed, but my mum is a fantastic, loving woman who has always done the best she can like any mum does. A recent turn of events though has made me more scared of what may lie ahead and I began to crumble again a little.

    Your comment and all the others on my post really helped me so much. When I am well I can shout from the rooftops about how any stigma should be banished but catch me on a bad day and there I am cowering in shame.

    You have also made me take time to think about how much depression shapes me, this is a revelation to me. I need to think about this. I’m also with Nutty Cow, thank you so much for writing so beautifully, evocatively and with such great spirit about this, you moved me to tears. I will be back.

    Thank you again.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Linda; that’s very generous praise. My grandmother suffered and never spoke to my mother about her experience until Mum herself first got sick at 38. I don’t know if that’s why Mum has let me in? Or perhaps with the knowledged the illness affected them both, I have muscled my way in? Desperate to know some small measure of their pain in the hope I might recognise it in myself? just know it and know them, perhaps?

  12. guineapigmum Says:

    The psychiatrist told one of my sisters (one who doesn’t suffer from depression) that the situation we find ourselves in now is a little like mourning for a sister we’ve lost. Which is true, in some ways, because she is such a different person now – she has very few good days any more, and her general health has suffered enormously from all the drugs she is on. But I think we all remember the good times and that’s what we hang on to, what gives us hope that this horrible disease will eventually be treated successfully.

    You’ve written a beautiful post. Thank you!

  13. Cheryl (Lizzy Frizzfrock) Says:

    Lovely post. It is so important that we now talk about depression and not hid it. It is nothing shameful, but an illness to be treated & hopefully overcome. Looking back on my own mother’s life I am convinced she suffered from depression as did yours. It is not something she would have ever admitted to nor sought relief from as she never visited a doctor. Of course then depression could probably not have be diagnosed as such.

  14. Iota Says:

    I suppose as mothers we always want to protect our children from the harshness of life, and then we wonder whether that’s quite right, or whether we should let them experience at least a little bit of difficult reality, and then we want to protect them again. I’m sure your mother, even in her darkest times, was caught in that dilemma.

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