Voices of North Yorkshire: Miranda
My husband and I were posted to North Yorkshire from Germany in July, 2014, both of us very eager to be coming home to the UK. I will never forget cresting the hill and seeing Richmond for the first time; it was so beautiful I cried, and I embraced Richmond and its surrounds as home ever since.
We settled in and made a circle of friends with the structures in place for the military community, especially our padre and the Wives’ choir. Then, our world changed dramatically when I became pregnant for the first time and we discovered we were expecting twins.
Our children were born in April, 2016. I had to leave work as the cost of childcare for two exceeded my wage, and the needs of the army had not changed; my husband was away more than he was home for the first 3 years of our children’s lives. This left me alone, at one point for a year, without any family support and not driving. I felt completely isolated and fell into depression.
As a military spouse one often hears, “You knew what you signed up for”, which is perhaps the least helpful thing that can be said to us. It is also untrue in several ways: you can’t know until you’ve lived it, and as spouses, we didn’t sign up for anything. The world expects us to carry on with little understanding of the very real toll the lifestyle takes on our mental health and overall wellbeing. I tried my best to help myself: I went to coffee mornings and play groups. I contacted Homestart. I made myself known to our Unit Welfare Officer. Many of my previous friendships fell away and new friendships with other new mums just didn’t materialise.
For 21 hours a day, I was at home, alone, with two babies depending on me. I went from house proud to embarrassed to let people in, as I hadn’t dusted in weeks. I wanted help but couldn’t ask for it; it felt too wrong to ask recently-made friends to clean or watch the babies while I napped or showered, as I would have done with close friends or family. Without a vehicle, getting out and about with the children was nearly impossible. If I couldn’t get there on foot pushing a double pram, I didn’t go. The walls were closing in around me, changing into prison bars. I “emptied my cup” pouring out for my children, and there was nothing left for me. I was desperately lonely: for my husband as well as the close friendships I lost in the move to Yorkshire and in having the children. It felt like there was nobody I could rely on. For the first time in years, I relapsed into my eating disorder. It has taken two years to emerge from that relapse and inch back towards recovery.
When the first lockdown was announced, I felt dread I had never known before. The last time I was trapped in the house with my children nearly broke me, and the prospect of going back into that prison was my deepest fear. I didn’t want to let my family or myself down; I wanted to be strong and resilient as the whole nation is in this boat together, but I didn’t see how I would manage any better. People aren’t made to be alone.
As of this morning, my husband is abroad in the service of our nation, and I am once again under lockdown, in sole care of our young children with no family support. If they were not in school, I don’t know how I would manage this next month. So much of being a happy, whole person comes from our connections with other people, from hugs with our family and close friends to the people we chat to at work and sharing a glance with a stranger in a shop or on a bus. Now, being locked away in our homes as much as possible and with faces covered in public, it’s harder and harder to connect with other people. Mental health isn’t something that can be fixed once and then ignored, it is ongoing maintenance of mind and spirit that needs steady attention. The longer isolation goes on, the worse off we’ll all be. I just hope that I come through it in one piece.
To hear more stories about loneliness from the Voices of North Yorkshire, see here.