I sit in the back of my parents’ car, my son gently snoring in his booster seat to my right. I marvel at the tiny freckles peppering his nose, and make a mental note that his hair has suddenly reached the too-long stage, even though it looked just fine yesterday.
My music is turned up too loud in my headphones and I have my sunglasses on, even though it’s 8 pm and the sun is low-slung over the horizon. At this precise moment, the world is just too bright; I need to dial it down.
I’ve been remembering the recurring daydream I used to retreat into as a teenager whenever my family went on a long car journey. It was an out of body experience: I would run alongside the car, sprinting through fields, leaping over hedges, somehow keeping pace. My hair, in the daydream, was long. It streamed out behind me as I ran.
I always thought that waking fantasy was about escape – in a figurative sense, or maybe a mundane and prosaic one. An escape from the nausea-inducing fug of my father’s pipe tobacco? Irritation at my sisters bickering in the back seat? Interesting, though, that I wasn’t actually running away, but always chose to chart a course parallel to our car. Something to discuss with my therapist, perhaps.
Today has been another perfect day; the latest in a long, unbroken sequence of good days. A morning visit to one of my oldest friends. Rummaging together through a treasure trove of photographs while our children bent their heads over an iPad. Watching my son gleefully peeing in the bushes with his cousin (“look how far my wee sprayed, mummy!”) Chasing a giggling toddler in circles around the garden, growling like a tiger with strep throat, and not caring how stupid I looked.
I’ve been off the meds for six or seven weeks now. At first, there were a few really unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms. Even now, a full night’s sleep is only possible with the help of a dose of melatonin.
But the overwhelming feeling I have is as though I’ve hit the un-mute button.
Food tastes amazing. The world throbs and glows. I see the beauty in little things, constantly pausing in the street to take photographs. I give money to beggars. I strike up conversations with the lady on the checkout or the mother peeping through the school gates into my son’s playground. I dare to reach out and make new friends, or rekindle old friendships. I make travel plans. I smile at strangers for no reason. The words flow from my fingertips.
At this halfway point in my life, I feel certain, today, that the blank pages ahead will be populated with friendships, loves, adventures and possibility. Looking over my shoulder, instead of a succession of failed relationships and long periods of time working in jobs that made me miserable, I’ve rediscovered the ability to focus on the positives: my girl and boy, people I’ve met, places I’ve visited, things I’d forgotten I’d done or written that now make me feel proud.
The mood stabilisers filtered out the lowest frequencies but also the highest. The darkness lifted but the lights remained dimmed. It’s too soon to tell whether I can function, long-term, without them but I so desperately want to believe that I can and I will. Because while I was in their thrall, I had to sacrifice too much.
Please don’t let me be a ticking time bomb. Let me choose this version of myself and settle in for the duration.