You get better

I first met Jessica Rowe at a book launch and we became firm friends straight away. She is a rare bird, being able to re-invent herself after getting knocked down. A terrific storyteller, an honesty warrior and someone who I admire enormously. I am lucky today, to be able to publish an excerpt from her new book Diary of a Crap Housewife, which is a nod to celebrating mediocracy in a time that social media expects perfection.

Here, Jessica talks about why she walked away from her dream job. Thank you Jessica xxx

Listen, I wish I could tell you it gets better but it doesn’t get better. You get better. – Joan Rivers 

Holding back my tears each day until I got into the relative privacy of my car after work was a warning sign. Most days I could wait until reaching the relative safety of my jam-packed car—full of my own clothes, a few pairs of work shoes, water bottles, empty takeaway coffee cups and missing blue school jumpers—before I would burst into tears. However, this past week, my tears had begun soon after I left the producer’s office and walked across the open-plan newsroom. Some of my work colleagues saw those tears streaming down my face as I hurried quickly downstairs to the carpark.

Sure, we all have our bad days, especially when things don’t go our way, but I was frightened about revisiting those terribly dark days that I had experienced when I had postnatal depression. It had been such a struggle to manage my anxiety and panic attacks and I didn’t want to disappear down that hole of despair again. I recognised that what I was now experiencing was different to PND but some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression were making their ugly presence felt once again and I didn’t want to make room for those destructive emotions. Deep in my heart I knew that if I didn’t make some drastic changes to my life, I would fall apart.

 ‘Pussycat, how was the show . . . ?’ asked Peter, who would always call me at the same time each day, knowing that I’d be off air and in the car driving home. ‘Okay . . .’ I replied in a muffled voice.

Peter knew that when I said ‘okay’ it actually meant ‘terrible’. Other times, I would get weepy talking to my good friend and manager DW, who realised I was also just hanging in there by the tip of my shellac nails. I didn’t like the person I was turning into: someone who complained and blamed everyone else for my exhaustion. Also, it was getting harder to ignore my growing resentment and my increasingly dark moods and tears. Other times I’d cry in the dressing-room I shared with Neesy. She would hug me, even though she’s not a hugger, and tell me that no job was ever worth getting that upset about. ‘Just fuck them!’ she said, knowing that I wasn’t a fan of swearing but knew that I’d laugh at the flourish with which she said the f word! And she was right; it wasn’t worth risking my mental health or happiness for the sake of an ‘entertaining’ argument on a morning panel show.

On the outside, I had it all together: a happy family, the dream job that I had finally landed in the media, fabulous friends and our cats. But we all know that nothing is ever what it seems and I was managing to keep up appearances thanks to my morning dose of antidepressants. Despite the medication, I recognised that my daily tears and exhaustion were a sign that I needed to make some big, brave changes. It was time to do more than just fall into a heap every Friday night before then fortifying myself for another week at work. Thankfully, our family had a financial safety net, which meant I had no more excuses for making a sea change. No more procrastinating as I knew I needed to be more present and emotionally consistent with my girls and husband. It was time for me to make that big, bold leap into the deep blue.

All of us are influenced by our own upbringing; whether we want to emulate our parents, do it totally differently, or use a combination of these approaches when it comes to raising our own family. For me, I wanted to mix the wondrous bravery of my mother, the kindness of my stepfather, the enthusiasm of my father, the pragmatism of my stepmother along with my own energetic, eccentric approach. My own daughters—strong, stubborn souls—were on the cusp of their teenage years and it wouldn’t be long before they wouldn’t want me around cramping their style. It was time for me to more tightly weave those connections of love, self-esteem, confidence and self-worth before the girls took full flight into those risky, rebellious years.

When my girls were tiny I used to think I had to be ‘happy’ all the time. My constantly cheerful mummy routine had been a reaction to growing up with a mum whose bipolar disorder meant her mood plummeted for months at a time into the howling depths of despair, regardless of what was happening in our lives.

Now, as a parent, I found it exhausting having to keep up the constant tap-dancing routine for my children.

Over the years I’ve had professional help to deal with how I manage my emotions, which has in turn helped me to be a better parent. What I learnt during these sessions was the value of regulating my emotional behaviour for me and my girls. I discovered it has been much more important to show my girls natural, emotional responses to the vagaries of life. How would my girls learn how to regulate their own emotions if I wasn’t showing them the usual responses to happy, sad, boring, glorious, terrible or just okay situations? Sometimes it’s hard not to fall back on those ‘bad’ habits since I’m still working on undoing a lifetime of putting on a brave face. My self-cast role from when I was a little girl was to be ‘Miss Cheerful’. Naively, I had thought that if I remained sunny and upbeat, that would be enough to ‘fix’ my beautiful mother. If I was good enough, happy enough, funny enough and caring enough then this would make her better.

One of the first times I realised that Mum wasn’t ‘like other mothers’, I was about ten years old. Her bedroom was right next to mine, the walls not thick enough to muffle the cries that got louder and louder. Frightened, I crept out of my single bed and walked to Mum’s closed bedroom door, staring at the doorknob, wondering if I should open it. Frozen in that position, I was torn between opening the door to comfort her or sneaking back to bed. Eventually, I decided to sit against her door, still and quiet. Each night I couldn’t move from that spot until the anguished sounds on the other side of the door had stopped; only then would I go back to my bed and sleep. I never asked Mum about those noises in the night. The smiling, happy mother I knew in the waking hours was so different to the woman I heard behind her closed door once the stars had come out to brighten the night sky. At the age of ten I was obsessed with ballet and chocolate Monte biscuits, and I had already learnt about putting on a brave face to survive.

Click to order Diary of a Crap Housewife. I adored it!