Historically, hysteria only affected those with wombs. Bizarrely, it was believed that the womb wasn’t fixed in a woman’s abdomen – it could go wandering about her body wherever the hell it felt like, going up and down and side to side like an animal within an animal. And depending on where it happened to be and what parts of the body it was pressing on, it could cause physical symptoms like headaches and nosebleeds and even bad knees. That’s the reason the words ‘hysteria’ and ‘hysterectomy’ are so similar – ‘hystera’ is ancient Greek for uterus.
By the time the Victorians got hold of it, knowledge about the location of the womb had moved on, but so too had the symptoms of being a woman. Instead of causing physical ailments, hysteria now described a cluster of mental symptoms typically associated with a drunk fifteen-year-old girl at a party: anxiety, excitability, irrationality, excessive outpouring of emotion, irritability, weepiness and fainting. Hence in modern parlance the word ‘hysteria’, and its derivative ‘hysterical’, means a ridiculously over-the-top reaction with a level of emotional performance not normally seen outside of musical theatre or reality TV.
I give this lesson in etymology because we have reached a phase with Izzie that can best be characterized by, you guessed it, hysteria.
Basically, multiple times per day for the past couple of weeks she has broken down in floods of tears, sobs and screams. Sometimes I think she’s broken a bone, she’s so distressed. She cries so hard she can’t breathe and starts to choke. She gets so hysterical, it’s scary, and she won’t be soothed. Cuddles, sing-songs, kisses, rocking, water, milk, biscuits, nothing. The only way to stop her sometimes is to run a bath and put her in it, stroke her back until she gradually gets her breathing back under control. And when she’s finally calm, you say, ‘My God, girl, you were hysterical!’ and she giggles.
It takes very little to set it off. One of the most regular is that she wants to hold your hand all the time and walk from every here to every there. The second you let go, she drops to the floor, her forehead touches her knees and the screeching begins.
Same with leaving the room. That’s all it takes. Your foot crosses the threshold and she’s reduced to a wreck.
The other times are weird and unpredictable. She undid the zip on her bag, right to the bottom, but as the zip didn’t keep going any further, she burst into tears. She ate her banana, then cried because she had finished her banana. The chair was against the wall and she wanted to squeeze through the inch-wide gap instead of go around it, and because she couldn’t fit, no matter how hard she forced her head against the wood, she started screaming.
She pointed at a cactus on the window sill and cried because I wouldn’t give it to her; she held a book horizontally with the spine at the top, and screamed because the pages wouldn’t open right to left; she sobbed uncontrollably because her right shoe had to go on her right foot when she wanted it on the left.
Then there are the times when you can’t work out what the hell is the reason. She’s sitting on your lap perfectly fine, and suddenly she’s out-and-out screaming and crying, and nothing has changed from one moment to the next. It frays your nerves and tests your patience. In your mind, a good dad keeps his kids happy, and this screaming, crying baby taunts you, every tear a knife to the heart saying, ‘bad dad, bad dad, bad dad, bad dad.’ She’s having a bath every day now – not to keep her clean but to stop the tantrums when they start.
So this is the phase we have reached. At least, I hope it’s just a phase and not her personality coming to the fore. In ancient Greece, the cure for a wandering womb was to get pregnant. If that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of years to wait until this passes!