Alongside all the up-in-the-airness of the last few weeks, paediatrics has been really quite lovely. I love children. A baby can get me smiling when frankly, little else will. I had a nice week on neonates, essentially following a doctor and sticking my pinky in babies’ mouths to comfort them whilst they got prodded and poked – and loved it. The hard side of paeds, is, of course, when children get exposed to things they shouldn’t be, whether that’s a serious illness, family hardship and disputes, or more sinister things like abuse. We see all of this – and nothing makes me question those big questions about life and fairness and morality, quite like an abandoned, disabled baby with a history of neglect, does, and such complex needs that few fosterparents will consider them. Some people just are not born with fair chances. I hate that.
One of the things people associate with toddlers and small children are the temper tantrums over trivial things – but for me, this is a good thing. Firstly because I’m patient and young enough that screaming children don’t put me off and don’t make me love them less – but also because when a child is crying because they didn’t get their choice of ice-cream, or DVD, or jumper, or whatever – it means they’re still shielded from the worse parts of the world. It means they are still innocent from the badness and hardship that happens to everyone, eventually. When a child doesn’t cry at those things, because they are frequently beaten, or hurt, or demeaned, and used to real pain, that’s so much worse. When they stop crying when you take blood because they’ve been through so many painful procedures, it’s so much worse than when they do. It’s difficult, seeing these babies with what the professionals call ‘frozen watchfullness’, before they’ve learned to smile. It’s hard, hearing the sound of a baby withdrawing from methadone, which is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. It’s hard, seeing the photographs and hearing the stories about the depths to which human cruelty can reach.
We all ‘grow up’ at some point. When I was at school, I remember being jealous of all the other kids who didn’t have a father that drank himself silly or was always on the cusp of violence. I envied their freedom and security. The petty disputes meant less to me, as I had so much more to handle. The arguments over boys, meant less, when I was spending evenings visiting in rehab, or hiding the whisky bottles, or making sure my younger brother was ok. I sometimes think that I grew up far too quickly, and missed a lot of milestones due to my families difficulties, and then started going backwards once I hit 21, and tried to see if drinking the same as everyone else would make me feel less different. It didn’t make me feel less different. It made me feel more alone, as no one else struggled with it as I did. Both drinking and not-drinking isolated me for a long time. My early experiences coloured everything and made me see things in a different light.
I have a happy-ish medium now, in that I am confident in choosing not to drink when I don’t want to, but can also enjoy a glass of wine occasionally without starting to panic about following in family footsteps. This has probably been the single best thing that’s happened this year, as having a healthier attitude towards drinking makes so many things easier. And yes, my early experiences do mean that sometimes I find it harder than others, and that I’m not comfortable around people who have drank a lot, and am actually quite scared of them – but I get by. I’ve found a vague balance.
I was back at the GP’s today, and she really is a good, lovely doctor. She asked me if I’d had bouts of depression before, and now, it’s easier to see that I have had periods of low mood, probably since I was sixteen, if not longer. And when she asked why I hadn’t seen anyone, all I could say was that my family was preoccupied with other things, and no one noticed that I was fading into the background. No one noticed at all. As for me, I thought it was normal, and it wasn’t until recently that I read my old journals, that I realised just how sad and lost I was, so determined to escape. It wasn’t until I came away that I realised just how hard my family life is.
I don’t remotely suggest that my own childhood even comes close to some of the things unfortunate children go through – but I do mourn, when I see that something has stolen their childhood from them irreparably, I do mourn, when I see that they are forced to grow up too soon and act in ways beyond their age. I wish that all every child had to cry about, was the wrong sort of icecream. I wish that all every teenager had to worry about, was whether some boy knew their name. We don’t live in a world of fair chances.