The other day began as any other normal Monday would, my faithful alarm awoke me at 7:30 to begin my day. But this was not to be any ordinary day, this was to be an inspiring day, a day of celebrations, and a day of heartbreak. I began by entering my beautiful daughter's bedroom to wake her up ready for a day of school and activities. But this day was slightly different, she was awoken to the sound of me singing her happy birthday. On Monday, she turned 10. I looked at her as she was reluctantly waking up from what I hope was a world of wonderful and exciting dreams, and I couldn't believe that 10 years ago to that very moment I was in labour (for what seemed like an eternity at the time) about to become a first-time mother to the most beautiful and intelligent daughter. One thing you must understand about me from the very beginning, is that my daughter is my world. She is the reason that I still live and breathe today, the reason I want to be someone she can look up to with admiration. She once again protested how unfair it was that a child should be made to go to school on their birthday but I had heard it all before, and casually reminded her that only the Queen gets a day off on her birthday.
She eventually got out of bed and I carried on with my morning routine, which lately has consisted of sitting outside in the front garden with a cold bottle of water and (I'm ashamed to say) a cigarette. My 18-year-old step-son is fast asleep in his bedroom just off the conservatory downstairs and his girlfriend who now lives with us is outside with their jointly-owned 1 year old Japanese Akita patiently waiting for him to do his business. Today is also a big day for her, she starts her work experience this week at a local nursery. We chat for a while as I call upon my daughter to get out of the bathroom and to let our dog Spud (his name's actually Buddy, but we call him Spud) out of my bedroom but to make sure that she doesn't wake her father, who once again has been up most of the night with chronic pain. Of course, she is a proper Daddy's Little Girl and can't resist waking him up for her daily hug and kiss before she leaves for school, which my husband, no matter how exhausted he is or how much he is suffering with pain is always happy to receive. Spud comes running down the stairs and shoots straight out the front door for his turn to do his business. he's a 2-year-old Staffy that we got from a rescue centre down the road from our village when he was a puppy. Our family loves dogs, especially Staffs. We have another Staffy who is 14 called George, my husband bought him when he was a puppy and he truly is the most faithful and loving dog I have ever known. He is of course asleep in bed with my other step-son upstairs, he's older than the other dogs and therefore gets up when he feels like it, which is usually mid-afternoon the same time as my step-son!
Our daughter comes downstairs and declares that she's ready for school, so we all get in the car, and start the 10-minute journey to the village of Waunfawr where I grew up as a child. The weather is, as it has been for the past 2 weeks, incredibly hot and the air-con is on fully in the car to cool us all down. Fortunately, where we live is in the beautiful countryside, and therefore I can journey across neighbouring villages (or over the top as it is locally said) through the hills on the country lanes down to Waunfawr. Driving this way saves me the hassle of the rush hour traffic, and when the weather is as divine as it has been, it simply is a stunning scenery. Lush green hills as far as the eye can see, the sheep grazing with their lambs by their side, the sound of the birds singing. It truly is breath taking, and makes me feel so proud of the beautiful country I call home.
After waving my daughter goodbye at the school gates and once again wishing her a happy birthday, I head to town to get a bit of shopping done. In my rush and stress over the weekend organising our daughter's Hawaiian themed barbecue birthday party for her and her friends I've forgotten to get her a birthday card, so I head into the local card shop and purchase the biggest card they have for sale.
The rest of the day is spent catching up on e-mails, looking after my husband as he is having a particularly difficult day, then sitting under the gazebo in the garden trying to write my novel, but for some reason, I struggle to get the words out. I know what I want to say but for some reason I cannot get fired up. I dismiss it as just being a bit distracted and decide to leave it for the day. Another barbecue will be had later in the evening for our daughter over at my mother’s house.
So, there we were, my darling husband, our daughter all grown up and happy that she had finally reached "double digits" whilst constantly reminding us that it will only be 7 years until she's driving (a very scary thought!) and my mum, sister and brother-in-law. We were having a wonderful evening out in the garden, the sun was shining brightly upon us and I remember looking around, seeing how beautiful the countryside looked in the summer sun, and how fortunate we all were to live in such a naturally peaceful area. And as though someone had heard my thoughts I was interrupted from my appreciation of our green and pleasant land by a phone call from my step-son. The hills directly in front of our house was on fire, and it was spreading quickly. We got back in our car and I was advised by my husband that I should avoid the scenic route we would normally take and go across the main roads. As we headed home, about 3 miles away from the village we call home I had to pull over into a lay-by; I was shocked to my very core, as far as the eye could see the thick black smoke seemed to cover the entire hillside. How could this happen? I was admiring its beauty only that morning and now at 7 o'clock that evening it was all ablaze, spreading further and further across. As we pulled up outside our house we could see a gathering of spectators completely shocked by what was unfolding before their eyes. It was heart breaking to see a few hundred yards away from our home was this raging inferno destroying the beautiful countryside we had fallen in love with, scared children fearing that the wind was causing the fire to move further afield, the horrible realisation that beautiful cottages on the hillside were in danger of being engulfed in flames that the emergency services were working tirelessly to get under control. Many farmers had livestock on these very hills that we were watching burn right before our eyes, this was a very tight-knit community where many animals could be seen every day roaming freely along the hills, fields of horses that our daughter loved going to see almost every day were in danger and had to be moved immediately. A house on the edge of the hill had to be broken into to free a couple of dogs as they were trapped inside and the fire was coming closer and closer to them.
As my husband made sure that everyone in our household was safe, and made sure all the dogs were kept indoors for their own safety, I headed upstairs to close all the windows. As soon as I got to our bedroom I fell onto the empty chair beside the window; I could see so clearly the full horror and devastation of the fire, and all I could do was sit there helplessly and watch. Within minutes the normally quiet village was bustling with fire trucks rushing back and forth, trying to find the best way to get their vehicles as close to the fire as possible which was a difficult task in its own. The police were busy evacuating the houses closest to the fire, and just like that the whole village was out in force to help in any way they could. The evacuated residents were taken to the village hall and looked after by helpful locals, the electricity however had to be switched off immediately, the wind was starting to pick up and the fire was spreading quickly, getting dangerously too close to the power lines. We decided there was nothing for it but to all go out into the garden and sit around the dining table under the gazebo. Swarms of people were walking back and forth past our garden, I remember thinking that in the three years we had been living here, I had never seen so many people and cars go past our house. This was normally a very quiet village, but tonight it was the reason why people had come from neighbouring towns to witness for themselves the devastation unfolding.
As I watched the hillside burn, it made me think how there is a fire within us all, and the slightest thing can turn it into the force that drives us forward or the reason for our downfall. In the end, it is down to us whether we decide to control the fire, making sure it is safely contained within us or whether we let it run wild and unleash its devastating effect on others as well as ourselves. I thought about this for a while, and having spent my entire adult life containing my thoughts and emotions deep inside, ensuring that it never spills out onto the world it made me think that even though I thought I was controlling the fire within, in truth I was letting it control me, it was running wild like the inferno on the hillside, deep within my mind preventing me from escaping the negative effects of my own thoughts and feelings, affecting the way I lived my life. This was a turning point for me. Not a particularly life-altering point that would "cure" me, more like a force within myself that would give me that extra nudge in the right direction, that would motivate me to follow my dreams of being a writer. The fire was burning within me, but now I was in charge of its journey, I would decide on which course it would take, no longer would it imprison my mind, limit my abilities to lead a normal life. This was my fire, and I would control it.
I grabbed my laptop and notepad and headed out into the garden to join my family. As the village continued to watch the devastation I made the decision that my passion for writing was from now on going to be nurtured, and that I would make the leap of faith and let others read my work. You see not only am I a mother, a wife, a carer in some respects as well. I am also that 1 in every 4 persons who suffers from mental health issues. My life is controlled, and often limited by my battle with depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and anxiety. It what's been preventing me from doing the things that I love. It limits how much belief I have in myself, and constantly wears me down and makes me feel isolated. My battle with this illness is far from being over, but as I watched the stunning land I'm so privileged to call my home burn uncontrollably it gave me the push I had been waiting for to get my story out there to the world. Maybe no one will read what I have to say, maybe I'll be told that I'm not a writer like my mother, uncle, grandmother and grandfather have all been. Perhaps the literary talents of my family have ended with my mother being the last one in a long line of published authors. But one thing is for sure, there is a fire within me that will continue to drive me forward, that will help me get my message out there that you are not alone. Whatever demons you may be dealing with, whether it's mental illness, grief, or you feel like you are the only one struggling with life and the hand that you have been dealt, I can assure you, that there is always a way through. The uncontrollable fire can be extinguished, the land will be green once again, and no matter what life throws at you, you can always get back up.
Stay safe everyone. And look after each other.