Róisín Ingle on . . . a problem shared
I’ve never done this before, I probably won’t again, but this is a column about another column. Last week I sat down and wrote a piece about my relationship problems. It was one of those times when the sentences spilled effortlessly onto the page. As I was writing, a large part of me was desperate to grab the kitchen towels and mop up all those seeping words. To write about something else instead. (I mean, like statement necklaces. They’re everywhere. What’s that all about?) But I couldn’t stop the spillage. Then I filed the piece and put it out of my head.
Well, I pretended to put it out of my head. The truth is I was embarrassed. Morto. I took a redner every time I thought about what I’d done. I’d written a column about something I hadn’t spoken about with even my closest friends. I’d written something I hadn’t shown to my boyfriend first so he could have a say on whether he was comfortable with having our grubby washing aired in public. I’d written a piece illustrating in forensic detail how I was failing spectacularly at an element of life crucial to the happiness and stability of my family. “Nice one,” snorted my constant companion, the critical voice in my head. The same one I try to ignore around 50 times a day. “Nice one. You’ve really done it now. Way, too much information. And I’m not talking about the black pudding.”
But beneath the mortification I knew I had done something good. For me, anyway. And more importantly for us. Yes I was embarrassed but I also felt free. I had stopped pretending. I had told it like it was. I had admitted that I was finding this part of life horribly difficult. And there was something liberating in that.
What I didn’t mention in last week’s column was that I’d been in that exact place in a relationship before. (“Ha! See a pattern here, loser?” says the critical voice helpfully at this point.) I was married then. And when we tried to work it out, it became clear almost immediately that my husband wasn’t on the same page. He didn’t want to work on working it out. He wanted to give up. I couldn’t blame him although I did for a long time. He wanted out. And so he left.
I kept the pain of that break-up to myself. I kept it close to me, as though the pain was an invisible pet in my pocket that I’d stroke, lovingly, as it grumbled and growled. I learnt something basic from that experience. Keeping it to yourself may seems like the easiest option but it’s like feeding the Pain Pet the most nutritious superfood. The pain grew bigger, fatter, meaner. It took longer to heal than it might have done had I not been so busy putting on such a brave face.
You know sometimes how you admit something to a friend and they say “me too” and just in those two words the light shifts, the world looks a bit different, the problem seems to, if not, shrink than at least lose potency? Well last week’s column was like that. I’m not suggesting every couple in Ireland with small children is in the same state of chassis that we are, but there are more of us in that boat than are letting on.
Some of you emailed me. You said: “I read it at 6am while wedged between my two restless babies and felt like it was written for me . . . we all need to be more open about this topic.”
And: “I think we all got used to nice lives as couples going out, going on nice holidays, focusing on our careers and then next thing kids arrive. The recession kicks in. People lose jobs and take hefty pay cuts just at the time they need more money. And there is so much focus on the kids and the bills that the ‘relationship’ gets lost somewhere, in some cases forever but hopefully not for everyone.”
Also: “For all of us who are struggling to survive it is nice to know we are not alone. Let’s hope the hard work pays off . . . ”
I don’t know how any of these stories will end but I know I feel better for having been open about mine.
You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops like I did, but whatever is getting you down, holding you back or fuelling your pain in life there is something magical about sharing it with someone else. It’s the oldest trick in the self-healing book. I hope anybody who needs to can find a way to safely let it all out.
And for those of you wanting to know: When he eventually got around to reading it, my boyfriend loved the column. (Phew.)