This short story is part of my short story collection, In Their Shoes. Illusion of Happiness delves into the mind of a mother struggling with depression, and although it’s short, I hope it opens your mind and heart as you take a walk in her shoes.
Walking down the street, I smile as people pass. The uncomfortable expression is an illusion of happiness I’ve learnt to master over many years. No one understands what I survive every day – the eternal battle inside my mind. The doubts and questions force themselves deep into my brain, so deep I can’t let them go. No matter how much I want to.
I’m strong on the surface though. I’m calm and collected around my peers. A patient and loving mother. A trusting and caring wife. But behind closed doors, away from their peering eyes, I’m anything but. I’m a bomb waiting to explode with the slightest amount of pressure. Questions file through my mind, and doubts fill up any gaps between them. A sidewards glance interpreted the wrong way, or the right way. I can never tell. But for me they are telling signs they know there is something wrong with me. They just don’t know how to say it.
It’s hard to describe how it feels. My mind begins to race faster and faster, until the thoughts blur into one. It becomes confusing and overwhelming. The build-up has no escape. And every part of my body is shaking and pulsing, with nowhere for the energy to go. I was happy only yesterday. I thought life couldn’t get any better. I walked with my head held high. Two healthy happy children. An amazing husband who is also a great dad. But they’d tricked me. Tricked me into believing I deserved them.
As I walk back to my car, I smile. I smile so hard my face may split open. I say the right words, and laugh in all of the right places. All the while, the surges of emotion sweep through my body and I can’t contain or handle them.
I want to yell at everyone I talk to. “Help me! Stop these emotions building up inside of me that I don’t know what to do with!”
But how can I expect people to help me when I don’t know how to help myself? That’s why I keep it quiet, keep it to myself as best I can. All I want to do is stop this pain, stop the emotions overwhelming my every sense.
Home, I retreat to the sanctuary of my bedroom. I fall to the floor and pull my knees to my chest. I squeeze them tightly, attempting to release the extreme tension filling my entire being. I cry. Tears burst from my eyes, pouring over my cheeks. The cry turns into a deep sob, my body heaving as I try to control my breathing. Try to calm myself. I take deep breaths attempting to hold them in for a moment before releasing them. Attempting to compose myself.
As the tears subside a numbness falls over me, filling the places that were filled of intense emotions only moments before. I sit and stare into nothingness. My red swollen eyes glaze over with exhaustion. My husband talks to me, tries to make sure I’m okay. I’m not sure when he got home or how long I’ve been here for. I don’t care.
I can still hear him talking as I rise from the floor and make my way to bed. I don’t answer him, instead I lay quietly on my pillow staring blankly into the space in front of me.
“Mum?” Her small voice pulls me from my numbness, and I peer into her beautiful blue eyes. “Cuddles?”
I pull her close to me, breathing in every bit of her. She’s my daughter, and it is my job to look after her. Instead, I’m laying in my bedroom crying.
What sort of mother am I?
I wipe the tears from my face and spread a smile back across it.
“You okay, mummy?” Her innocence makes my smile more sincere.
“Yes, darling. Mummy is okay.” This time I can hold it together. I have to.