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For Single Parents With Chronic Illness Who Don't Feel Strong Right Now

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I’ve just pulled a double all-nighter. Unlike in the late ’90s, this wasn’t all sex, drugs, rock and roll; more snot and screaming.

I’m exhausted.

In all honesty, exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it. Before my toddler became ill with a run-of-the-mill viral infection, I had already hit a level six pain and had been struggling with a virus that sent me into a flare-up. Could I stop, rest, recover? Unfortunately not.  I’m a solo mother of four — there is no stop. On top of that, June is birthday month, so I have had multiple cakes, parties and sleepovers to make and host, or cancel and feel once again that my health destroys all fun. I kept all our plans; I had my rostered rest times and go to bed at 8 p.m. most nights. That should be enough, I hoped.

It wasn’t.

I don’t get to just stop. I don’t get to pass the ball off to someone else when I need five minutes, or 10, or a lie-in.

Undoubtedly I have been through the mill, partly by my own choices, partly due to an unwritten path that lay before me, decided by the past I had not reconciled until this past year. Either way it bought me to here and now, doing my best to keep going, but hitting the wall anyway.

I find it difficult to put into words how tough it is to be in so much pain, while four other humans have to be the priority. I have been a parent and doing this for 17 years now. I’m experienced but tired, emotionally drained. I have to be the constant, steering the ship at all times, positive, strong, kind, compassionate and relentlessly understanding when sometimes all I want to do is scream and shout my own truth.

I don’t. I won’t. That’s pressure in itself.

woman in bed wearing red sweatshirt

Last night it got too much. After two hours battling an angry, poorly toddler having been awake for 56 hours straight, I broke down. I sat on the stairs and cried and cried. It’s too hard. I just want to only worry about myself for once. I’m not strong enough to do this. I’ve got nothing left to give. I feel so alone. I can’t do this. I just want to sleep. Please. I just need to sleep.

Through the tears I was sensible enough to message my boyfriend, telling him, “I’ve hit the wall, I can’t cope.” He dropped everything and spent the next two hours listening, encouraging and supporting me through my continuing battle with a hyperactive militant toddler’s bedtime, counseling a worried 10-year-old and calming an angry teenager.

He didn’t for a second judge me.

He told me I was the strongest woman he’s ever met and that despite what I believed, I still have something left. “See,” he said, “an hour ago you felt you had nothing, but you’ve just survived a little longer. You’re doing it, baby. You always find that little bit more. I believe in you. You are stronger than you know. You’ve survived worse than this and smashed it. I know you can do this, just keep going baby, I love you.”

I reached out for help. I set up practical, physical and emotional support for the next 24 hours. Thank goodness I did. I don’t think I’ve felt like such a failure for a long time. I’m proud and stubborn and that holds me back so much sometimes. The fear of my health being used against me regarding the care of the children is overwhelming. My solicitor told me, “People get ill all the time. No court in the land can judge you for that. In fact, raising four incredible children alone while struggling with your own health is something that makes you stronger not weaker, in the eyes of the court.”

I should write that down and stick it on my wall.

The simple facts are that I am here. I am present. I am trying. I am committed. I put them before myself. I am doing my absolute best for them despite my health. I find a way to make it work and get what needs doing, both practically and emotionally, done. I am learning to ask for help when I need it. I am raising children who are smart, kind, polite, sensitive, funny and full of trust and love despite being spectacularly let down by someone they believed in. I have navigated the minefield of continued healthy positive contact with the extended families of the children. I have put the time in. I am not perfect, but I try my best, always.

I have earned the respect of my children, family and friends by doing so.

One crack in the armor. One moment of weakness. One temporary breakdown.

A terrible couple of hours.

Does that undo all the thousands of hours I’ve kept going when my body hurt so much I wanted to cry? Does it negate all the love, security and memories I’ve created when I’m dead on my feet? Does it eradicate the hundreds of hours I’ve sat and listened, wiping away streaks of tears, when my own heart is secretly breaking and all my energy is gone?

Of course it doesn’t.

It makes me human.

Originally published: July 11, 2016
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