The second drowning



It started as these things often do with a question; raised tentatively, not wanting to be the only one. Seeking out a collective, camaraderie and hoping in equal measure that it was and wasn’t a communal concern.

Actually, it probably started long before that. Perhaps when I noticed that yet another friend had disappeared from social media. Maybe even after the chat with a fellow special school mum, the internal frenzy about the looming summer holidays evident in her voice.

There were signs of course: the mounting niggles that all was not as it should be; the gut feeling; knowing that adrenaline was pooling in my system as my body switched intermittently into a flight or fight state; recognising the tightness across my chest as anxiety, the precursor to panic.

Acknowledging it all like a familiar foe because I have been here before. But it was years ago. Six years ago in fact.

So, I asked the question in a secret support group:

Do you think that we experience a second drowning? Years later when life settles down; similar to the first when we discovered our child, and by that token our life, was going to be different? 

Chewing my finger nail nervously, invisible yet never more exposed behind my computer screen, I waited. Expecting people to either scroll on past not knowing how to reply, or a small flurry of ‘you okay hun?’ and ‘sending love’ before everyone went back about their day.

But I didn’t. Instead what I got was a direct hit, smack on the rawest of nerves.

So I asked another question:

What the bloody hell is this?

You see I’ve done the hard graft. I worked through the stages of grief (and dallied far too long in denial) before landing eventually with a grateful thud at acceptance. We climbed the metaphorical mountain, got to the top and discovered that the views were far from unpleasant – they were in fact largely lovely; glorious even in the right light.

So why the second drowning when we are lying on the shoreline thinking we are safe, face upright, drinking in the sun? Did we fail to see, happy to have just survived, that the sand was still constantly shifting beneath us? That as fast as we moved forward, the rip current was close by, waiting to plunge us under once more?

It’s not our children, let me be absolutely clear, that make us sink. A disability campaigner I admire put it best this week when she said: “Our society is inherently ableist and generally not equipped to support people like us. Your disabled baby was being a disabled baby, not hatching an evil plan to wreak havoc on you and your family.”

So what is it? I had by own theories, but the group post threw up a few more I hadn’t even considered and it largely fell down to five things.

Self-imposed social isolation

I didn’t realise I was doing it, but I am. And it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it crept up on me unbeknownst. The reality of the situation is that I just don’t see people, at least not in the way I used too.

I have no idea why I’m not seeking out my friends’ company anymore; not popping in; arranging night outs or even sparing five minutes for a quick cup of tea. There has been no falling out, they are all still fist-pump ace, but the drift has happened regardless.

That is the first thing I need to correct before it is too late. One lovely lady told me that one day she looked up and everyone had gone, even her husband.

But you know, onward and upwards, cracking on.

We think we are annoying everyone so lock it up in our heads

They are just not cute anymore, one parent said to me. The older they get, the less interested people are in them.

This was a widespread theme and one woman said there was a stigma almost about bringing up concerns about our children for fear of being seen as ‘moaning’. Even the professionals expect that we will just cope with new problems as we’ve been doing the SEN thing for years, someone else added.

Then there is the guilt that we are too locked up in our lives that we are letting other loved ones down. After a manic couple of months on the work front, my husband and I went for a rare meal out the other night. It felt like this was the first time that we had lifted our heads up for a long time and it was lovely to escape together. But then we spent the first hour giggling about all the people we thought we’d annoyed recently and then sobered when we noticed the list felt far too long.

Interestingly and in the spirit of being British, we ended the debate exclaiming we weren’t dead yet; vowing to put it right whilst secretly wondering where we’d get the energy; knowing this people irritation-infestation might well have to persist.

But you know, onward and upwards, cracking on.

Access to medical information

The reduction of medical appointments, due to either being signed off clinics or moved to annual review, is a big one for me. A year is a long time to wait to voice your fears to a specialist doctor, no matter how fantastic your GP might be.

Lots of us have to resort to using A&E ‘inappropriately’ to get back into the system. I’m holding my hands up to doing this at Christmas last year when I couldn’t get a medic to take seriously my boy’s crippling migraines. As a simple preventative medication changed his quality of life immediately, I’d do it again in a heart beat. Sorry Mr Hunt – so sue me.

But you know, onward and upwards, cracking on.

Ghosts in a flawed system

When Gabe was six months old, I met a lady from Kids and she gave me some advice that I’ve never forgotten: put on your boxing gloves and don’t remove them. It is true. You have to fight for everything today. And even if you channel your inner Tyson, there is still no guarantee. The system is crazy flawed with too much money being spent on shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

For a non-verbal child our last speech and language appointment shouldn’t have been three years ago; adaptations are still not signed off nearly seven years on and no one is still taking my call about a specialised bed so I get him out of a cot. And let’s not even mention that naughty word R.E.S.P.I.T.E (aka “go and get slaughtered on cocktails with your husband” or “take the sibs the pics” packages.)

But you know, onward and upwards, cracking on.

Fear of the bogey-man who is adult disability services

This is the killer. If we think services for children are a joke, then a glance at the adult provision makes you want to commission Indiana Jones to find the elixir of life (I’m currently crowd funding). A parent of an older child told us looming adult disabled services are ‘like when you have a new baby and they’re either crying or you’re waiting for them to cry, and the waiting can be more stressful.’


Maybe they are not so bad, but I suspect there is no smoke without fire. I can’t bear for my other children, on Gabe’s behalf, to have to battle against a system obviously designed as a sideline by the same people who do the game show The Cube (you know the one only trillion-medal-holder Mo Farah won).

There are probably many more factors into the reasons why so many of us are getting knocked down again, whereas before we just muddled and juggled through. I think recognition that it is ‘a thing’ could be the first battle in the war and a reminder to be kinder to ourselves.

Even since I raised the question, the overwhelmed sensation has mostly evaporated as I knew it eventually would. I’ve been sunbathing on the beach again, paddling in the sea; looking out to the ocean wondering why it looked so scary.

Maybe we need these moments of going under to reassess, check in on our own needs, and prepare a little mentally for the future. Just so we have better balance the next time we stumble whilst jumping the waves.

Otherwise, where will we all end up?

Onward and upwards, cracking on…

Cracking on…



Mo Farah

Forget that Indiana Jones, I’ve got this!

Rare Disease UK is launching a study into the psychological and emotional aspects of parenting a child with a rare or undiagnosed condition. If you would like to take part I know they’d love to have you. For further information go to:

4 Comments on The second drowning

  1. Steph Curtis
    August 3, 2017 at 12:07 pm (5 years ago)

    Fabulously written post, made my heart sink a fair bit though. I know exactly where you are coming from, and I’m desperately trying not to think about adult services yet. Isolation is a tricky one to manage, when actually getting out of the house is sooo difficult! I’m prescribing myself lots of sun to cheer me up… except the weather doesn’t seem to be playing ball at the mo! :/

    • Alison
      September 12, 2017 at 3:53 pm (5 years ago)

      Hope you got that sun Steph. I don’t mind these autumn days when I can hide in a jumper and bed socks. Simple soul that I am ha x

  2. Teraisa
    September 5, 2017 at 5:34 pm (5 years ago)

    Absolutely beautiful and touching as are your other writings. Thank you for insight, hope, love, honesty, and YOU. I’ll be back and bringing others with me. Bless you. ~Teraisa

    • Alison
      September 12, 2017 at 3:52 pm (5 years ago)

      Thank you . What a lovely comment. xx


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