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Holding on

Today, I will be holding on. As I have done for the past year, with limited success. Ever since the worst day of my life: Thursday, the 28th of April, 2016.

This Friday was the anniversary of the day we lost our incredibly kind-hearted and loving mother.

I don’t like using the word ‘anniversary’. To me, it suggests something that should be celebrated, when this was anything but. I don’t like the word ‘lost’ either. We didn’t lose her – the hospital did. But we’re the ones who’re still trying to cope with her absence.

I can’t believe a year has passed. It still feels so raw. Certain days have been worse than others, when I had to hold on just that little bit tighter. Holding on is functioning – carrying on like everything is normal when there’s this vast hole inside. I’m told it gets less painful over time, but it hasn’t seemed that way today.

In the week after her death, there was so much to do, it was impossible to grieve. Organising the funeral, making the myriad of decisions that needed to be made, and contacting all those who needed to be contacted. It was exhausting. I held on, but all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sob. That’s still all I want to do at times. I have days when I can’t believe she’s gone.

We were swamped with condolences. I found that the most difficult to deal with. I’m not a fan of cards, or flowers. I can appreciate the sentiments behind them, but to me, they’re not much use. I let go, many times, just to get through those days.

I’ve received so many messages, but it’s been the small, practical things which really made a difference. A friend burning a couple of songs to a CD for the Crematorium, and dropping them off somewhere easy for me to collect (that act alone probably saved my sanity). An offer of a cooked meal. Someone turning up and taking the dogs for a walk at times when I couldn’t do it myself. A friend popping around, to ensure everything was OK. The lawn being mowed. Driving me to the supermarket for groceries, so I was able to eat.

The time has passed, but normality still seems far off.

Last month, on Mothering Sunday, we were supposed to be committing my mother’s ashes. Due to my unreliable body and hospital appointments, I let my sisters down and wasn’t able to get to Wales.

As staying in the house alone would have been more painful, I went for a ride instead. I’ve been oblivious to Mothering Sunday in the past, but everywhere I looked that day, there were reminders. I held on. I saw a man of around my age, dressed in a suit holding a bunch of flowers in one hand and pulling his suitcase with the other. Going home. He had somewhere to go, and someone to go to. I held on. Other riders disappeared off early to pre-arranged dinners, to call their families. I drank more than I should have.

The tears of letting go began to fall as I cycled home. To be ecstatically greeted by the boys. Her boys – Toby and Bouncer. I love them so much, and I really don’t know what I would have done without them. In spite of everything, they’ve made me laugh more in the last year than I can remember. Play-fighting, gambolling, even seeing them run and prance around cheers me and helps me hold on. At the worst of times, they never understand when I’m hugging them and sobbing (though I try not to). And despite looking after the boys for over a year now, I know if she were to return, it’s her lap that they would be fighting to get on.

That day, I took them for their second walk, my tenuous hold slackening as the tears fell faster. And I let go completely when the boys were ferociously racing along the Thames Path, when I sat on a bench and hid my face, and when I’d cried so hard I could hardly see them wade into the stinkiest mud of the Thames. Though, my nose was blocked so badly that I couldn’t smell a thing.

I had to let go. Some days you just have to.

I have learnt another valuable lesson, one that’s been hammered into me over and over again: those you can rely on when you are desperate are true friends.

This past year, I held on when people let me down. I try not to expect much of people as I’m used to being disappointed. If I ever ask for help, it’s never a lightly considered request. Many people have said they would be there for me, but sadly been absent in practice. I don’t blame them – they don’t owe me anything. Most of the time, I’m more disappointed in myself than in them – I should know better by now.

A few friends have been steadfast and reliable, and have helped me with those practical things I’ve mentioned above. Others have had their own demons to battle, and I haven’t always been capable of helping in return, only hoping that I haven’t hindered. Plus, I can’t ask others to put aside their own grief or problems.

To everyone who has helped me, I thank you dearly. Sometimes, you won’t have even realised you’ve helped. Others, you may have thought I was ungrateful. I can assure you that’s never been the case, but holding on has taken up a lot of my energy.

Some days, I feel totally lost, like I’m adrift at sea, battered by unrelenting waves. Others, I’m becalmed, in an indifferent twilight of inaction and indecision. Or bobbing along, a steady breeze pushing me somewhere I’m not sure I want to go. And sometimes, I feel like I’m being dragged down into the depths.

I don’t know what the future holds. Who does? I’d like to become the author my mother had faith I would become, although without her support and encouragement, I’m feeling rather lost. I’d like to get my recalcitrant body back under control, but that’s proving an even bigger battle. Returning to Wales is in my future, but to where is undecided.

It’s late. Or early – I can hear birds singing and my two boys snoring. The sky is lightening but I had to finish this before I sleep. I know the signs of letting go will be visible in the morning, but there’s no one here to see me. To be honest, I don’t really care anyway. What’s a swollen visage compared to what we’ve lost?

Time will pass and memories may fade, and maybe I’ll be holding on for longer before I next let go. Maybe the loss will fade, and the hole in my soul will gradually mend itself. I doubt it though.  There’s only so much time can do.

A True Horror Story

This is a true story. There is no exaggeration, this is exactly what happened.

 

I have no warning before it happens.

It’s true that I haven’t been sleeping well, and the nap on the sofa was probably a mistake. I didn’t think this would happen, this stomach-churning journey of horror.

First I wake. The middle of the night, still pitch-black outside. I’m lying on my back, the way I normally sleep.

I feel It in the room, a certain heaviness. It’s come to visit. I hear the bed creak as It sits down beside me.

It’s heavy, the bed is noticeably lower. I keep my eyes shut. If I believed in deities, now would be the time to start praying.

The pressure begins, hands making Their way up my body. To my breasts, I feel Them cup and press down on my breasts. I hear It’s heavy breath.

Enough!

I begin to struggle, to free myself from the paralysis. I force my heavy eyelids open. There are shadows all around my room, unnaturally bright due to the full moon.

Where is It?

I move my body, turn slightly to the side. My breath is loud in my ears. My heart beats like a drum.

Where is It?

The shadow there, that’s a hanger on on the front of the wardrobe. The one opposite the bed, is that It? No, that’s the clothes stand. Is It crouched behind the bed? Looking in the window at me? The dark patch by the door, is that It?

My eyelids are heavy, I close them, and feel It return. Pressing me down, feeling my body. This unwelcome Visitor. This Creep. This Assailant.

Eyes open again. I force my legs to move, force my shoulders to shift. I’m so tired, so utterly tired. I want to relax into the welcoming embrace of sleep, but every time I do, It’s waiting there for me. Lurking. Haunting. I can’t see It, but I can still feel It there, just waiting for me to close my eyes again.

I shift further. I move my arms and legs, change the side I’m balanced on. I feel It stand up off the bed, hear the bed creak again, and Its malevolent presence seems to have gone.

I don’t trust It. I fumble to turn on the bedside light. My eyes hurt from the harshness.

My room is empty. There is no one in here but me. The door and windows are all closed. I hear creaks outside the door. Perhaps It’s waiting for me?

I pull out my laptop, force my exhausted brain to start reading something innocuous.

Force myself to calm down.

Force myself to stay awake until the sky begins to lighten.

 

The next night, I’m scared to go to bed, and to turn the light off. I turn the light back on. Someone has suggested I sprinkle rice or salt around my bed, to give It something to count, instead of bothering me. In the bright light of day, the idea seemed ridiculous. Now, it seems like a harmless thing to allay my worst fears.

I sprinkle a light amount of fine salt around my bed.

It doesn’t work.

This time It wakes me up lying down beside me, on the opposite side to the previous night. It’s in a more playful mood this night – it tugs my hair a couple of times. I think I hear a chuckle, and the bed creaks as It moves away.

 

The next night, I have a few drinks to help me sleep. The night after, some tablets. I couldn’t take another night of this.

Sleep paralysis. The Old Hag.

I have been assaulted by my own brain. Tricked, terrified and left feeling sick and exhausted.

 

I’ve had episodes since I was young, though it was only in the last fifteen years that they became as terrifying as this. They’re sporadic, and have happened in many different places. I’ve read that you’re supposed to ‘relax’ into them, and the feeling is supposed to go away. This doesn’t work. I’ve read that once you’ve woken up and moved, it won’t return. It does. I’ve read that drugs and/or alcohol are supposed to make them worse. They don’t.

The only common pattern I can find is sleep disruption, when I’ve either napped earlier in the evening or gone to bed earlier than usual.

I’ve told other people about them – sometimes I have to as the next day, I can be completely on edge and unsettled. Some insist that it must be something paranormal – a ghost, a malevolent spirit or demons. That’s what it feels like.

However, I’m a scientist. A pragmatist. No matter what tricks my brain is playing, I know that it’s just that, just tricks.

Or do I?