Nearly two years ago, the father of my children and I parted ways - but that’s not the point of this story. Shortly afterwards, struggling financially and emotionally with the weight of being a newly single mother, I packed up my life and went travelling with my two young children. We journeyed through Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Australia and as my senses came back to life and my heart healed, I started to remember bits of who I used to be… before the babies and the financial struggles and the refusal to accept help and the drowning in the weight of raising humans and running businesses. Before the slow drift from human connection to numbness, that sleepless journey into the place where the light in your eyes goes out and you don’t recognise yourself anymore.
I started to remember the girl I was before that. The one who listened to music all day long, who was always the last to come off the dancefloor when the lights came on, who backpacked and surfed, who broke into abandoned buildings to breathe ancient air and played chase with security guards, who laughed and laughed and was unafraid. I used to love working out until my skin felt tight, I played pool, I read books (The Gruffalo doesn’t count), I knew what was happening with my friends. And then somehow I had gotten to a place where I couldn’t even summon the courage to answer the phone when they called. Those memories came back to me thick and fast during my adventures with my children. I had wanted to show them that the world is a welcoming place, full of beautiful people with warm hearts - we witnessed that truth so many times on our journey and I needed it as much as they did.
The one thing that was constant throughout our travels was the presence of mothers. They looked out for us wherever we went. They shared fruit with us and scooped my daughter up when they could see my back was sore from carrying her. They quietly told me who and where to avoid if I didn’t want to get ripped off. I met single mothers who were further along their journey and gave my sage advice. They gave us warm clothes when we arrived in Australia during the most horrendous rains NSW had seen in years. They even opened their homes to us. It was the first time I truly understood that if you let down your mask, other women will have your back. When we touched back down in England, I felt alive again, but that’s not really the point of the story either.
On our return I set about finding a place for us to live, researching schools and nursery and trying to figure out what life would look like moving forward. The bills began weighing down on me again and work was scarce and that old familiar dread began creeping back in. The children began to spend alternate weekends with their father and here’s where the story really starts. Every fortnight I had two days to myself. Not the kind of days where your children are with grandparents and you feel that sense of uncomfortable guilt about leaving them while you spend time alone. They were with their father - he wanted to be with them and they wanted to be with him so this was guilt-free alone time.
In the run up to my first weekend completely on my own, anxiety crushed my chest. I had been screaming out for time alone for so many years but I had no idea how to fill the days. My identity was so tied to my family that I didn’t know who the fuck I was anymore. My needs had been bottom of the pile for so long that I’d forgotten what they were…. and that’s where the real work starts. Who are you without your children, what are your personal goals, what do you want to achieve, what creative projects do you need to breathe life into, what truth do you need to speak? I’ve spent the last nine months considering those questions and allowing the answers to find me. They found me while meditating, they found me walking in the woods with the sun on my face, they found me on drunken nights and lazy days in bed with my friends, they found me on a surfboard at sunrise, they found me drumming on a hilltop with my sisters and they found me between sheets with a man who lit me on fire again.
One of the answers is a desire to show up for other mothers, to give them a space to connect as women and outside of their role within the family. I’ve always been fiercely independent and, as a result, I never asked for advice on how to raise my children and function within a family. I did everything alone until I couldn’t anymore. When I launched Wildling Magazine three years ago, women came flooding into my life…. graceful women who recognised that I was falling apart and supported me so gently that I barely noticed. Since then, I’ve tried to do the same for the women around me but I recognise that it’s not enough. Even whilst tentatively discussing this project with friends, there were silent nods and flowing tears. It takes a lot to admit that parenting is not how we imagined and that it’s lonely as fuck sometimes. It takes a village and I intend on creating one… virtually of course.
I hope that Wildling Woman will encourage women to find time for self care - not just having a bath with a glass of wine when it gets too much, but deep personal work that will help you maintain your self identity and stop you from sinking into mental health issues. We won't be talking about children or family issues here, we'll be talking about you. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring stories of women who are finding ways to prioritise themselves amidst the chaos of motherhood, as well as offering ideas on how to exercise self care in practical ways. This is not indulgent, it is absolutely necessary.
As always, if you have a story to share then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org