At 4pm yesterday I had scheduled in a Zoom chat with my family down south. It had been a shocker of a day. The last thing I felt like doing was talking through all the ways I felt I had failed, but I'm so glad I made the call.
While trying to competently juggle posting intricately timed, relevant social media content, analyse data, focus on journal articles enough to recognise their key messages, and speak coherently to fellow parents from organisations across Scotland whose brains were as frazzled as mine, I had taken my eye off number one on my "to-do" list.
Trying to focus his beautiful, over-stimulated mind, filled with Super Mario karts leaping through hoops and being shelled by giant reptiles, my young son sat and quietly wept over his spelling then completely shut down. I had finally convinced him to sit with me - albeit incentivised with squash and cookies - and put pencil to paper. As I read his words aloud (this week's sound is "or"), he diligently wrote them down and looked up, his eyes shining with anticipation. "Will you put ticks next to all of them, please?" he smiled. But I couldn't, because he didn't get all of them right. His eyes filled with tears and he literally shrunk into himself and away from me and refused even to talk. I told him how well he had done, empathised with how tricky the words are, explained how we could make "sounding out" a little easier, with one eye - all the while - on the pile of as yet incomplete worksheets we needed to send to his teacher.
As he shrunk further still, literally deflated, I crept reluctantly into my husband's study and whispered, "I think he needs his daddy." The two of them huddled, whispering conspiratorially about "Tim and Tom" while I shakily made my zillionth coffee and wondered how long I could keep spinning in this circle, gradually dropping further towards the black hole, like one of those supermarket '90s coin machines.
So I didn't really fancy that 4pm Zoom call. As the launch screen showed me my reflection, I thought, "They're going to think you've gone doolally again," and, "The last thing they need is you blubbing about something that every parent in the country is dealing with right now." But then I was faced with my 3-year-old niece leaping maniacally around on a sofa, my mum telling me about how the care home had made my nana's 99th birthday so special, my dad producing two clocks he is painstakingly renovating, my exhausted sister breastfeeding her 4-month-old son. And I talked about my "shitty day" and worries for my children, my sister talked about her sleep deprivation, and our parents talked about their feelings of loneliness, isolation and missing their grandchildren. We reassured each other that we're always at the end of the phone, gently offered suggestions and advice and laughed at a story told by my dad, one about his childhood that has recounted over the years more times than we can remember.
Then my son climbed into my lap and talked to his nana and papa about how hard his spelling was, how it made him sad that he hadn't got them all right, but how much he has loved illustrating his stories, and mummy, "Please can you print me out another picture to colour in?". After we had all said our goodbyes, and hung up the call, my son and I sat together and coloured in dinosaurs, Pokemon and Star Wars figures, cut them out and staged the "biggest battle the galaxy has ever seen."
Not only did talking allow us to get some support, it broke up the thought patterns that so often discourage us, tell us we're failing or not worthwhile. It worked for us as a sort of "reset" button on our day, allowing that coin to keep spinning without descending any further.
That's why we're asking you to make a call to a friend or family member. It might be that you need to get some destructive thoughts out of your own head, ask for practical help or just an opportunity to vent. Or you could be hitting "pause" on your loved one's negative thoughts, simply by picking up the phone to them. Find out more about our #BrewWithABuddy campaign here and have a conversation about mental health this #TimeToTalkDay.
If you need a hand with ways to talk to friends or family about mental health, here are some useful pointers from NHS Education Scotland:
Whatever you're going through, you can call the Samaritans any time, from any phone for FREE on 116 123.