The honeymoon is over. After seven weeks back at her old rest home, Mum is feeling low. She thinks she might be depressed and keeps asking what she can do. She says she’s no use to anyone, that she has nothing to aim for, no purpose in life.
Mum is from the pull-your-socks-up generation. She feels bad for feeling bad.
Yesterday we were sitting on Mum’s bed talking about how she feels.
“I’ve been thinking,” I told Mum, “and I’d like to make a suggestion.”
“Yes?” said Mum, sitting up a little straighter.
So I told her about the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing—things you can do to give yourself some purpose and make you feel happier.
"Sounds good,” said Mum. “Let’s start.”
I got out the printout and pointed to the first strategy: Give.
“Volunteering and community involvement have been strongly linked with positive feelings and functioning. Helping others, sharing one’s skills and resources—behaviors that promote a sense of purpose and team orientation—increase self-worth and produce a positive emotional effect.”
Mum has always been crafty, constantly knitting, spinning and sewing. She is also a keen recycler and fixer. All of her adult life, Mum has run an informal mending and tailoring service for family and friends. In recent years, though, she has stopped.
So, for “Give,” the first wellbeing goal, we have come up with a two-step plan.
Step One: I will advertise Mum’s services among family and friends. On Saturdays, with my help, Mum will mend. She will provide services like darning, hemming and button replacement.
“You wouldn't believe what people can’t do anymore,” said Mum, “or don’t have time for.”
That leaves Saturdays sorted, but we still needed a project for the other days.
Since learning to knit at age nine, Mum has never stopped. Patterns and complicated projects are too taxing for her these days, so she knits scarves, scarves and more scarves. Just the other week, Mum asked about knitting for charity. So here is the second part of our plan:
Step Two: I will find a charity that wants knitting done. Mum will knit to their required specifications and I will source wool from the local op shops for her to use on these projects.
“You have to write about this,” said Mum. “We’ll call it ‘The Experiment.’ ”
I wrote that down, and then she came up with a subtitle. “The Experiment: In relation to ageing, dependent mothers.”
So we have started our experiment.
“If it works,” says Mum, “we’ll write a book.”