Mummy Diaries: Tribe of Support

All of us know what it’s like to be sad, but not all of us understand what it’s like to be so sad that you want to give up.

Everyone has an opinion about extreme sadness. I am going to call it that because I loathe the term “depression” – there is nothing more limiting to complex human beings than labels. “Why is everyone so depressed here? It’s ridiculous!” a friend once exclaimed to me in New Zealand and I guess it’s true. Did people even have time to be so down in the old days, what with all the washing and chicken plucking and trips to the dunny outside?

I’m actually not depressed. There’s nothing wrong with my seratonin levels or my hormones.  What I have is overwhelming anxiety but the line between the two is fine, and I have been depressed before. What is it like? Imagine waking up every day sad that you did, or looking at the most beautiful things in creation and thinking … nothing. Imagine dreams filled with murky doom and worry causing you to wake up constantly, or sleeping your life away because you just cannot bear it. Smiles would stretch too thin across my teeth and my body would be tense like a violin – this, coupled with being anxious, would make me seem to the onlooker like a crackhead flying higher than some of my neighbours.

Why am I so anxious? If you’ve been reading then you will know I’ve been suffering with my health since November. This is all nothing to new to me – since I was a girl I’ve been suffering in my body, mind racing to a thousand and one planets when it should be in the moment. I’ve always been unsteady on my feet as if my thoughts were weighing my head down to cause me to be lopsided. Doctors can’t help – my ear drums are just the wrong shape – and so I have to push through the Annapurna Circuit just to achieve the simple things.

Depression sneaks up … but with force. Life throws curveballs and unless your steady it can be hard to catch them. My pregnancy came at one of the most awful periods of my life, the details of which I won’t bore you with. If you remember my blog about drawing strength from my son, then you will understand it was the same principal that kept me hanging on when I was pregnant: my swollen belly.  That always-the-wrong-size pregnant ball on my front that kept me awake all night long (hello for the 8th time this hour, toilet!), and that gave me a purpose even when I felt as though I was all alone in the world. I lived way out in the bush – in the middle of nowhere – and with one friend a good hour away. I faded into myself and when Emilio was born I no longer even remembered that I had a personality. I was a mummy drone, changing nappies and breastfeeding day and night, through sickness and sadness. I don’t even remember much of those first 9 months with Emilio but I do remember that I struggled, and that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

But something really helped me during the 18 months of unbearably conflicting emotions.  I can’t believe I’m going to write this but it was … Facebook. It actually pains me to admit that given all that it represents, but when I was all alone and struggling to process overwhelming family drama with the pressure of being a new solo mother, and I have to admit that it really helped me. So when I was holed up in my cave, still horizontal from all the breastfeeding, the connections I made with people known and unknown gave me a sense of normalcy.  They were a band of mummies reaching out across the distance to form a tribe of support.

When I finally reconnected with Luis again it felt like a punch in the gut.  I couldn’t figure out how to pull myself out of the mummy role to be a seperate person. I had forgotten things like sexual attraction or what it meant to laugh at a joke. We faced some hurdles falling back in love and learning to live together as a family. We are getting married in March – how far I have come since moving back to Chile more than a year and a half ago.

Now I am struggling to find the confidence to be alone again after the last few months leaning on Luis entirely. I am anxious and I am still struggling to look people in the eye but I am not sad. I have a wonderful support network in Chile (and I get lots of Emilio cuddles) and I still have my Facebook tribe, which has grown immensely since I started this blog, but it’s a delicate situation, especially when money rears its ugly head (made worse by my difficulty working). So I am baring all today because the connection between your health and your actions is so tight – they must be in balance. When the balance is off life can become really, really difficult, and unfortunately people cannot help what they don’t understand. So I wrote this to draw attention to all the people who struggle to do the everyday things (I am so jealous of people who can walk up stairs properly), or the people who look normal but who are actually fighting a battle inside. Or the people who are really, really sad and who need our kindess, not our cruelty.  Instead of pulling apart, band together. Make a tribe of support – even if all you can offer is through Facebook.

It sure helped me.

If you are suffering with Meniere’s Disease, anxiety or depression and need a friend, please send me an email. Do not be afraid to ask for help and seek medical assistence.

Our family in 2016

This blog is dedicated to my friends who reached out when I needed it most, Amanda and Melissa.

The Good and The Ugly

The day is dark.

The sun has shone but it was a cold, muddy kind of sunlight today, almost as if it is feeling the pangs of a hangover from too much chicha, which I’m sure most of Chile will sympathize with. Outside my window there is a lone tree that I like to stare at whenever I feel like i want to escape the city, because it is fairly easy to ignore the various black power lines that run around it. That is what I am doing now, watching that tree sway in the breeze like it is my lifeline to a much simpler world.


It’s hard to live in a foreign land and not get the blues from time to time. I don’t miss New Zealand but sometimes I am overcome by such feelings of melancholy that the only thing that shakes me out of the dumps is a human-sized chocolate bar, a nap and back to back episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

In times like this, Chile only has to exist and I get riled up. Going to get my carnet (ID card) saw me transform into some kind of fiery beast, especially after we queued for an age to get a number only to be rejected as we weren’t ready with passport photocopies.

“jhojlodfijioasdofno!!” I snarled at the inconvenience and the woman responded by saying:

“The instructions are on the sign!” She then turned, lifted up a fallen-down, wrong way up sign and then placed it back on the floor, still facing the wrong way.  I’m pretty sure horns erupted from my skull at that moment.

There are so many times Chile gets me worked up. Like when I spent 6000 pesos for a curry and was given .. six prawns with a drizzle of sauce and a lettuce leaf. Or the time my Dad spent forever in the line waiting to check in for a flight to the UK, only to get the counter and find they had sold his seat to someone else and it was HIS FAULT (story coming soon!).  Or the time my Mum posted me a really old camera using DHL, and when it arrived they wanted almost $300 in handling fees (it wasn’t even tax and duties that put the price up!). Or the time Emilio was hospitalized and the tecnical assistant made me cry for not speaking enough Spanish, therefore meaning I “had no right to be with him.”  Finding a job here is also enough to make me scream. I am now pretty much unemployed and up to my eyes in debt – but I’m foreign so must be rich right (don’t you hate that?!)

As a mother, there are certain other aspects that drive me up the wall and around most of the garden too. Here is an example. Dieciocho, an important day for many Chileans, took us to Luis’ dad’s house for a family BBQ. Emilio cried the whole time and when he was finally happy playing with a ball, the adults took it off him and began to play some kind of ball wrestling that Emilio tried desperately to join. When he began inconsoleable grizzling with a fever, my suggestion that it was time for me to take him home was met with uncomfortable silence.

“But why can’t he stay here? He’s fine!” They all said while Emilio screamed and tried to run away. But I stood my ground and took him home anyway, which was a good thing because he got worse and worse throughout the night and ended up back in Roberto del Rio hospital. This has got to be my biggest pet peeve about having a son with a Chilean: they parent differently to how I am accustomed to. In my experience, the evening is not a time for children to be settling down for bed, instead it’s like a normal time of day. Luis’ parents often turn up randomly at 7pm and want to take him out, and if I say but he sleeps at 8 they just look at Luis. If I say bring him back at 8pm they say “ok 8pm … mas o menos” and return at 11pm. When Emilio is out and starts to cry because he’s tired, people tell me he’s very mamon and needs less sleep.

They also allow Emilio to do anything he wants. If he throws a stone at a person, they laugh. If he hits, they don’t say anything.  Emilio is a very strong-willed boy who also does not like to be touched, and whenever he gets hurt and comes to me, they crowd around and try to pull him away, and then get shocked when he starts screaming. “Manioso … regalon … mamite … agresivo … violento” I am given a rich list of unsatisfactory charactersitics each time which makes me retreat from them like a scared turtle.  Emilio is two and doesn’t talk, and so he resorts to other more extreme ways to communicate.  He also regresses every time someone tries to force him to do something to the time he was in hospital, which appears to have left a permanent scar on him (he started a particular squeal there that he uses whenever he is really scared).

I know they love him and 99% of the time I remember this. 99% of the time I appreciate all the good they have done and are doing, and I am so thankful they are in Emilio’s life. But on days like today – when I’m sick and tired and miserable – that tiny 1% finds its way out.  That goes for Chile too.  I adore this country and it is the only place in the world I have ever travelled to and felt completely and utterly at home. My skin cleared up, my hair shone and I lost weight after just 3 weeks in Santiago, of all places.  I felt at peace amongst Santiago’s ordered chaos.  I don’t want to leave but I don’t have to like everything (and same goes for anywhere including NZ). It bothers me when Chileans get riled up about a complaint about their country, because they usually a) deny its a problem and b) Chile is obviously perfect. Nowhere is perfect (I agree though that there are plenty of gringos who like to moan about everything!)  I hope whoever is reading this blog knows how much I love this country. What other place in the world gets together under the flag so proudly and so happily as Chile during las Fiestas Patrias? This is truly a marvellous place.  As always, let me know your experiences!

Delicious food over Las Fiestas Patrias
Emilio is in some of his too-big Huaso outfit
Empanadas de pino are synonimous with Dieciocho

The Mummy Rules: A Guide to Raising a Child in Santiago

Just moved to Chile? Or maybe you have a child with a Chilean? It can be difficult navigating the cultural millieu of any country, let alone as a new parent. Allow me to assist you by providing this most-excellent list of the Top Ten things you should quickly learn and accept in order to survive in the Chilean Mummy Jungle.

NOTE: This post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek and in no way is attempting to be derogatory about any Chilean customs. These are merely my own experiences. My partner could easily write his own list about my crazy NZ habits, most likely starting with “Helen, you don’t even wear SHOES in New Zealand!”

  1. No matter how hot it is outside, your child is always cold and on the verge of catching a deadly illness. A trip out of the house should always include snow gear.
  2. Any cough or droplet of beautiful snot is a sign of terrible contamination and requires urgent medical attention. You should thus make sure that your first-aid kit is large enough to store a small elephant.
  3. (continued from point 2) 37.5c is already fever. Intervene immediately.
  4. Breastfeeding past age 1? Toughen up your layers Mummy, your going to take a knocking!
  5. Winter is, and always will be, a hellhole of multiplying germs, particularly if you live in Santiago and your child goes to Day Care. You must get out of the city Mama, or suffer the consequences!
  6. Jardin is a requirement as soon as is financially possible. If your child can walk but does not yet attend, your playgroup mummies will think you so very, very odd.
  7. The staple food of you infants diet (according to professionals) should be sugar in the form of processed foods, or the chocolate that strangers kindly offer your child when you are not looking.
  8. The general requirement for girls is long hair, pierced ears and perfume. Boys must never appear “mamite” or “mamon” by showing timidity or an attachment to the mother.
  9. Your child should avoid crying as much as possible.
  10. Allow total strangers to touch, kiss and hug your child. And then remind you that they are cold.