Long before Covid-19 came onto the scene, I’d had a morbid sense that I was sitting around the table with ONE oxygen mask, and there were lots of us, I was the smallest one (in my family) and at the back(bottom of the pecking order). This had been my modus operandi, shallow breathing and holding my breath had been responsible for countless missed opportunities: interviews for jobs made for me, exams, driving licence tests, the list is endless.
Somewhere in this lifetime, I’d learnt that life was better safer lived from the inside out. I was a closet punk rocker, artist, writer and entertainer. But shush, no one was supposed to know about this. The world felt like such a violent and volatile place that I ushered my kids indoors as soon as they could read to counteract the passive aggressive abuse we got on a daily basis living as a ‘peculiar looking family’ on our council estate. We only came out to go to school/work/library/shops and kept ourselves to ourselves. I hoped that this would be sufficient to keep my family safe. However, I tried to ignore the fact that we were existing but not really living. I was also doing my bloody best as a disabled migrant and single parent on a low income.
Years later, I look at myself and see someone older, fatter and calmer look back at me in the mirror. The last few years have been cathartic as I’d hit rockbottom with my family having been let down by the education system having turned a blind eye to the systematic bullying my daughters had gone through at the school that should really be renamed ‘Camden school for slurs’. Following this tragedy (I am not exaggerating: it was for me, as I was raising kids and not looking after gerbils), my anxiety and panic grew exponentially and I would take hours before stepping outside, so traumatic the outside world had become. However strong the urge to retreat inside was, my survival instinct told me that I’d already locked myself in with my kids and would need to look at another strategy for coping. The answer came inexplicably through a vision to start running social group for parents of under 5’s, putting them in touch with other parents in their vicinity and building a network of support that would ensure other isolated families would not endure what we had to go through. Standing up, terrified in front of a group of parents and modelling singing to them has helped me forget about myself and focus on turning my pain and regrets into joy and hope. Now, five years later, I understand more about the benefits of singing to parents and babies: I am really singing to myself, to the terrified little girl inside, looking to self-soothe and comfort whilst I practice ‘exposure therapy’ and hope for the best.
This lockdown has forced me to up my game in ‘coming out’ when I had to work from home alongside my lovely (but noisy!) neighbours . After suffering in silence for days, I drafted and sent them a text acknowledging our individual needs , theirs for exercising their little ones and mine for rest and silence to concentrate. This has felt cathartic and self-honouring. I feel like I have finally arrived in taking my space in the world. After all, I live here too.