When my youngest son was two months old, I would drop my eldest at nursery and push the pram to the local supermarket. By the time I got there, the baby had fallen asleep and I would sit in the café with a coffee (sometimes cake too) and write.
I was working on the novel I started before he was born. This felt ‘safe’ because the characters were familiar to me. I told myself all I needed to do was write a page a day. If I wrote more, great. If I only wrote one page, that was great too.
I often tweeted about my writing experiences afterwards and it was lovely to receive positive feedback from the writing community. It took a couple of months to finish that first draft, but I felt a real sense of achievement when it was finished.
I was really pleased I’d got into the habit of writing a page a day because, unfortunately, when my baby was about four months old, I developed post-natal depression.
Suddenly, my life felt extremely hard.
One of the difficulties with depression, as I experienced it, was it made every small thing feel insurmountable, even normal things like getting up, getting dressed, getting out of the house. But there was a flicker of light knowing that, if I managed to get both me and my children out successfully, I would get to that café and I would get to write.
There were days when I was really tired and it was tempting to go home. People told me I should take a nap, or put my feet up and watch television, or get some jobs done around the house so I wouldn’t have to do them later with two kids demanding my attention.
But I never did.
I’m glad because writing gave me four important things:
- Community – I couldn’t cope with going to baby groups: the endless chit chat about babies wasn’t for me and being confronted with happy mums rejoicing in motherhood made me feel jealous that I couldn’t feel the same way. Over time I got to know a few people in the café, both staff and customers, and we would chat, sometimes about my baby, sometimes about my writing, sometimes just day to day things. Often these people were the only adults I spoke to all day and I cherished these interactions.
- Purpose – Having given up work to become a full-time mum, I found that I really missed going to work. Not the job itself, necessarily, but the things associated with working: engaging with colleagues, teaching students, feeling like I was using my brain. Writing gave me an adult purpose once more.
- Headspace – For me, having post-natal depression was totally overwhelming and there were moments when I thought it would swallow me whole. Writing for an hour a day allowed me to push aside my real life and its troubles. Instead, I could inhabit the world of my characters and be somewhere else, be someone else, and having that slice of time away from myself, helped me to get through the rest of the day.
- Identity – Being a mum can be wonderful but I’ve learned that I need something for me too, something I can work around my family. Writing every day and being recognised as a writer is something that I didn’t even know I needed until it happened.
I found writing was essential for sifting through and sorting out how I felt about things. Through fictional settings and characters I was able to work through my feelings of fear and frustration, angst and anxiety. Capturing amusing snippets of conversation I overheard or situations I witnessed at the school gates also gave me a lift.
When I finished my novel, I had to keep going.
I turned to one of my favourite literary past times. Flash fiction.
When I started writing in those naptimes, I had no idea that the stories I was writing would end up being published. They were for me. They were my therapy. Now my flash fiction is published as a collection, I hope it will bring light to the lives of others too.
When life is hard, let writing be your friend. A moment for you.