Mother

The most complex relationship I’ve ever had is with my mother. Only a handful of people know that prior to finding out my mum was terminally ill I didn’t like her very much. I loved her, that was a given, but like? That was a lot more complicated.

The rift that tore us apart came when I was 14, when I found out mum had been having an affair with her best friend’s husband. The women who gave birth to me, who held my hair back when I was sick, who trudged miles through a snowstorm to get me medicine for an ear infection had just broken my heart. When I was little I idolised her. She was the cleverest person I knew, she was generous, funny and strong. On that September night my trust disappeared. I was always her ally and found the lies over her cheating harder to get over than the infidelity. My parents separated for one whole night and after a short session of marriage counselling their relationship was back on track but I couldn’t forgive her actions that easily.

Mum and I spent the three years before I left home at 17 arguing. I used my parents marital woes as an excuse to act out and started drinking, dressing provocatively, going to nightclubs and kissing guys much older than me. When mum and I fought we would both be cruel in a way that only a person who really knows you can, we’d pick on each others insecurities and use them as weapons. When I left home we didn’t talk for six months and I honestly didn’t miss her. Once I saw her in the supermarket and walked past without acknowledging her, an act I found out 10 years later hurt more than our verbal sparring ever did. When I left an abusive relationship and turned up on my parents doorstep physically and mentally broken it was mum who was reluctant to take me back. I heard my parents arguing through the thin walls and her not wanting me to stay because I was “trouble”. Years later, when my marriage broke down and I ended up staying with my parents (again) I overheard my mum tell a friend, “ I don’t know why she’s upset, they had nothing in common.”

There’s a U2 song that reminds me of us, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” and this verse punches me in the gut every time:U2We started to repair our relationship in my late twenties, thanks to my best friend (and now sister in law) who adored mum and couldn’t understand the years of animosity between us. I tried to explain that mum had shattered my trust, broken my dad’s heart and obliterated my belief in Happy Ever After. She told me to grow up.

I was 30 when mum got sick and I want to say the years of resentment evaporated immediately but it took time. We got drunk one night, when dad was out with friends and aired out a lot of the feelings that had tortured us both. We decided to forgive the past and treasure the little time we had left together as mother and daughter. Mum told me she was jealous that every time I had gotten myself into a bad situation, be it with a boyfriend or a job, I had always left. Mum had been married to the same man for 36 years and in the same job for 27 and had wanted to leave both many times but never felt brave enough. I learned more about mum in the last 14 months of her life than I had in the previous 30 years.

When mum died I regretted all the years I’d spent arguing with her, it was all such a waste of time and energy. She was flawed but I am far from perfect. There’s no law that says you have to like your parents but holding onto anger for a prolonged period of time is utterly pointless and emotionally draining. If you have truly toxic people in your life, by all means cut them out. But when you love people you need to make sure they know it, even if they piss you off and make your blood boil sometimes. Before it’s too late.

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Trauma

Trauma

This morning I received a text message that convinced me I was going to die. It was a perfectly innocuous message from a courier company telling me that Colin would deliver my package between 2 and 3. What was threatening about that? I was convinced that this man was going to deliver my parcel of dresses. During our time together he was a courier driver and my brain made the illogical step of making him today’s courier. That’s PTSD for you. It makes no sense to anyone but me that a message about a delivery could send me on a thought spiral which ended with me being murdered on my doorstep. I was terrified, shaking and crying and felt sick knowing I would be alone when he arrived.

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Speaking About My Broken Brain

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At 17 I left home, by 22 I was married, divorced at 26 but I never truly felt grown up until I was 30. That was the age I decided to (wo)man up and ask for help with my failing mental health. I had been experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia since my teens but when the issue came up with my GP it was always by accident. Luckily my doctor wasn’t clueless and when I would say “Oh, I have a twisted ankle and by the way I haven’t slept properly in three weeks” he would always probe me on the insomnia rather than the ankle. I fell into a cycle of taking some tablets, being referred for counselling that I inevitably cancelled after one session and eventually feeling “better”.

In early 2012 I turned 30 and had everything I could possibly need: a job I enjoyed, good friends, a loving family, money in the bank and a roof over my head. I had nothing to be sad about but I felt completely and utterly empty. I was given good news by people I loved and I couldn’t raise a smile. I didn’t suffer from low mood – I had no mood. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and would find myself reading the same article in a magazine repeatedly and not absorbing the words. I became so forgetful it scared me. I would look at people I know and struggle to recall their names and forgot my PIN number so many times I had to save it in my phone to avoid embarrassment in the supermarket.

In March 2012, I made an emergency appointment at the doctor after I realised that I had been subconsciously stockpiling paracetamol. I wasn’t sure if this was because of genuine forgetfulness or if I was planning a suicide attempt. My appointment was due to last 10 minutes but I left after half an hour with a puffy tearstained face, two prescriptions and an urgent referral to the local mental health assessment centre. I had completed the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and was found to be severely depressed. I remember my doctor asked if I planned to take my own life I said that I had no real plans but every night I went to bed hoping I wouldn’t wake up. That’s when the tears started. It was the first time I had ever said that out loud.

I would love to say that after that day everything fell into place and I was miraculously well again. Unfortunately that was not the case. My depression wasn’t triggered by anything specific and I didn’t gel with the counsellor I saw. I took the medication and whilst this helped with the depression my anxiety increased. My insomnia spiralled out of control and I had a constant sense of impending doom. I was convinced horrific things would happen to my family and had nightmares about car accidents, fires and violent deaths. But rather than give up, every time I felt worse I kept going back to my GP. My medication was changed, I self-referred to a work place counselling service which was much better suited to me and I started talking to people about how I was feeling. My mental health issues were always my dirty little secret, I was ashamed to tell people I was close to how I was feeling because I didn’t want to be judged.

I just started to feel a little lighter in mood then my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012. It was as if all the nightmares had come true. In my head I felt like all my anxiety had been justified and that I was somehow right to be so paranoid and pessimistic. I now realise this was my broken brain speaking. What happened to my physical and mental health during the period of mum’s illness and the time following her death were devastating but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be alive right now if I hadn’t sought help before the shit hit the fan. I don’t believe in psychic abilities but I have always had a decent sense of intuition. Maybe in the months before mum’s diagnosis my brain started sending me signals that I was going to need all the help I could get.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I am saddened that in 2017 many people still can’t talk openly about their mental health. They are ashamed, disgusted with themselves, misunderstood and maligned. I have been called selfish, lazy, an attention seeker and a psycho (that last one was from an ex-boyfriend, charming fellow). But the more we talk about mental health, the more normal it becomes. The more I talk to people about what I am experiencing, the more they understand. If you keep cancelling plans because you are too anxious to leave the house, tell someone that rather than make up a bullshit excuse, they are more likely to offer to help or come to you. Some of the best friends came to see me when I couldn’t face the outside world.

I am not “cured” as mental illness is something I will always have in some form. I deal with life one day at a time, take medication as anyone with a long-term health condition would and just try to be as kind to myself as possible. Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of failure. It’s scary and the process may suck sometimes but talking about how you feel may just save your life.

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from mental illness please seek professional help. I found the following websites and podcasts helpful:

Mental Health Foundation – Practical advice to help with your mental health and well-being
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – A-Z of mental health, an online community and tips for everyday living are just some of the excellent resources
https://mind.org.uk/

Samaritans – if you are in the UK or Republic of Ireland you can call Samaritans on 116 123, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World Podcast – A ten part podcast series in which Telegraph journalist and OCD sufferer Bryony discusses mental illness with a different guest every week. The Prince Harry episode gained worldwide attention and started a lot of important discussions around mental health.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/bryony-gordons-mad-world-podcast/

Breaking the silence

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I apologised to my rapist. It took me five years to write that sentence and will take me many more years to understand why. What happened that night in August 2011 has haunted my dreams, damaged my friendships and obliterated my trust in men.

I relive that night and the aftermath frequently. I know my rapist. He was a close friend. He’s the husband of one of my best friends. Before today we were the only two people who know what happened that night.Read More »

Just a bit of banter…

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I’ll always remember the first time I encountered sexual harassment in the workplace. I was 17, new to a small company where I was the only female employee. I was encouraged by my boss to be “one of the boys” and join in with the office banter which seemed to revolve around critiquing the tits of the models in lads magazines. I shared an office with Peter, who was in his late 30’s and proudly displayed pictures of his wife and children next to his desk. Peter became really interested in finding out about my life and would quiz me on my breaks. Did I have a boyfriend? Had I had a lot of previous boyfriends? Where did I like to go out? Had I ever had plastic surgery? I felt uncomfortable with his questions, especially when I found out he was relaying my answers to the rest of the team when I wasn’t around.

Peter kept finding ways to come over to my desk, usually under the pretence of borrowing some stationery. He liked to put his hands on my shoulders and slyly look down my top or he’d reach past me and brush his hand against my chest. I started wearing high necks and baggy clothes to deter him. I told him I didn’t like having my personal space invaded but he didn’t listen. I was friendly, smiley and chatty with anyone who came into the office but when we had client meetings I’d often hear one of the guys say, “Watch out for her, she’s a maneater.” I’d blush with embarrassment and tell them to shut up but it just seemed to encourage them.Read More »

Last Goodbye

The landline rang on Saturday afternoon. No good news is ever delivered via the home phone. It’s the hotline for cold callers and bad news. But I already knew, I’d seen the news online. I held the mobile in my hand with my Twitter feed still open as I picked up the receiver. It was my sister in law: “Have you heard?”  A small groan escaped from my lips. “He died this morning, it was sudden, are you ok?” She’s talking about my ex husband and the answer is no. I’m not ok.Read More »

Living with the Monster

My ex-boyfriend is in prison. This makes me happy. My only regret is I didn’t put him there.

They say you never forget your first love. This is certainly true for me. I was 17, C was almost double my age and recently estranged from his wife. We were co-workers who embarked on an intense and impulsive relationship which resulted in us moving in together within a month. He was everything I was looking for in a mate: strong, funny, intelligent and mature. Everything guys my age weren’t. He showered me with compliments, wrote me notes to tell me how much he loved me and a quick glance in my direction would give me butterflies. All very Mills and Boon. I soon discovered this was all a front.Read More »