I began this particular series in recognition of World Mental Health Day on 10th October, when I decided to tell you my story – publicly – for the first time. It’s taken a while and it’s been hard – I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to write it all down and to see it in print. However, I think I really needed to let go of it and I wanted it in writing, in the hope that it will encourage others to open up and raise awareness of how mental ill health can happen to any of us at, any time.
If you see anything of yourself or your own experiences in this post, perhaps you’ll feel relieved that you are not alone and seek help. Maybe you’ll even recognise some of the symptoms in a friend or family member? Hopefully, you’ll gain insight into different mental health problems and understand how difficult life is for people who experience mental ill-health?
………… I left the hospital that day after almost four hours with the Consultant Psychiatrist and two Psychologists, one of whom, the female, would be my Counsellor each Friday. I walked home, the long way, because I needed a little time to 1. wait for my face to rearrange itself into something half-normal after all the crying and 2. process what was said, before picking the boys up. I shouldn’t have worried – the boys’ grandparents said they would keep them that weekend.
Just like I’d been doing for many weekends, I unplugged the landline and closed the blinds, played sad songs (think pity party before the term became popular) and sobbed uncontrollably – until my crying became just gulps, hiccups and sniffs. Eventually, all cried out and absolutely shattered, I fell asleep on the sofa. I woke with a start just after midnight, hearing voices and having a panic attack. I’d been having a nightmare that I was being chased though I couldn’t put a face to my attacker.
Somehow I had this magic power and just like Super Mario, I could jump up onto the roof of buildings and leap down the other side. My attacker was always waiting for me so I had to jump again, and again. It was exhausting! This nightmare was always the same, only the buildings changed.
My first week in counselling was just history stuff; family composition, normal birth, education level and was I a happy child? – “Everyone told me I was and I’d often overheard people saying what a happy child I was, always smiling.” and I realised the second I’d said it, I’d been acting out what was expected of me. I knew really and honestly, I wasn’t the prettiest child so people probably didn’t know what to say when mum introduced me, but my smile seemed to appeal to people – so I smiled, a lot.
Then week by week, every Friday in counselling, things were slowly unravelling and beginning to make sense. It was painful; gut-wrenching at times and there was always tears, lots of them, along with the snivelling and snot. Linda, my Counsellor, gazed at me constantly, she asked difficult personal questions and waited, just waited – as long as it took – for me to respond. She picked and picked at the plasters I’d long been wearing, revealing one raw wound after another, leaving great big gaping holes.
So many questions
The questions about my mum and biological dad’s relationship answered so many of my own questions. “What was your mum doing when your dad was hitting her with the poker?” I realised that I had been doing exactly the same thing when Tony hit me! Cowering and whimpering! Yes, despite all his great attributes, he had a temper and he’d regularly hit me badly when coming down off the ‘E’s. Damn it, Tart and everyone else got the best of him while under the influence and I got the worst of him on his comedown.
The beatings were almost cyclical; every six weeks or so but he was careful never to hit my face. I got kicked in the ribs, stomach and back or punched in the chest and head; anywhere he could reach as I curled into a tiny ball whereafter, he would pull out clumps of my hair. The more Linda probed about my parents, the worse I felt – “How do you feel about your mum?” I love her. “How do you feel about your biological dad? I hate him – he wasn’t there when I needed him!
My waking nightmares were getting worse, the voices shouted louder and the horns on my head, when I looked in the mirror, terrified me and the panic attacks were crucifying me . The police were still circling my home. I still wasn’t eating and I was down to 6 stone 2 pounds. I decided that I couldn’t go back to counselling; it was dragging up all sorts of horrors I’d chosen to hide from many years ago, so I quit. After two weeks I received a letter from Linda telling me that I could return if and when I needed to. I didn’t.
Getting back together
By now, I was terrified of my own shadow, I jumped at the least little thing and my nerves were red-raw so, when after two years, Tony came begging to get back together, I did. Please don’t judge me? I just needed someone to hold me and to tell me everything would be alright. Tony did.
The first six months or so were great, just like old times; he was his usual charming self, nothing was too much trouble so I was happier, despite still experiencing many of the symptoms. I’d explained to Tony about the counselling and some of what had been discussed, hoping we could be more open and honest with each other now.
However, after a few years, Tony’s mask started to slip and my anxiety increased. I visited my GP who prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which helped and within weeks, I was feeling a little less anxious and the other symptoms had reduced somewhat.
Little old me went to university
I’d already applied for and been accepted onto the Mental Health Nursing programme, Project 2000 (on the proviso that I would continue with the counselling and gain some weight) and was due to start in a few months. On my first day, Tony actually drove me round the corner to our local university, with my brother yelling proudly from the windows “This is my sister everyone. My sister’s going to university.” I hadn’t studied since I was sixteen so university wasn’t going to be easy for me and I’ve covered this in a previous post).
The course was tough enough but, at the end of our first year at uni, we had four exams which, of course, had me trembling in my little size three’s. I was trying to do everything; take care of the boys and our home, shop and cook for us all, study and cram for the exams so I didn’t have much time left for Tony. But he’s an adult, right? He’d understand? Nope! He became moody and sullen, telling me I was a snob for going to uni and meeting all the ‘yuppies’. However, despite tensions at home, I carried on my studies and guess who managed to pass all four exams?
I was so excited and like all the other students, I queued for the telephone in the student union room and called Tony to tell him my good news. I hadn’t even got the words ‘I passed all four’ out when he snapped ‘Did you take twenty pounds out of my pocket this morning?’ I said yes, and he hung up. I was hurt and mortified but I carried on chatting cheerily into the empty phone, while my heart was breaking, until my ten pence ran out. Why couldn’t he just be happy for me?
Many months after that, I was on a placement with the Chinese community and met a lovely midwife called Lin, who was Chinese herself. She was very much into colour therapy and during one of our meetings she told Sarah, a fellow nurse – a fiery Irish lass, that her aura was Red. Sarah flipped and yelled at Lin “Don’t say that. Red means angry or aggressive and I’m certainly not that!” Make out of that what you will. Lin told me my aura was yellow/orange, which was translated as being calm and sunny? Whether one is into colour therapy or not, this meeting was a calming and interesting one, despite Sarah’s tantrum.
At another meeting with Lin, she told of her recent split with her husband of ten years and the birth of her three-month-old son. Despite the difficulties of being a single mum, she said she was relieved to be separated as her husband was an arrogant bully. This led to me disclosing my first split with Tony and why I took him back after the beatings and the cheating. Lin said “Do you like him?” and as I started “Yes, I love…….” Wow! I understood exactly. No! I didn’t like him. And at that moment I appreciated how like can be more important than love. Yes, I truly loved him but no, I didn’t like him or his behaviours.
Still, I carried on and my next essay was themed “Crime in London.” This seemed to be a huge task so, I narrowed it down to something I knew about – Domestic Violence. I did a lot of research over the three months and during this time I visited several Domestic Violence units (DVU’s) and spoke to lots of women of different ages, backgrounds, race and religion.
I spoke with the DV team in police stations, I read the literature and looked at local statistics – I was fascinated. This topic was huge and I was only covering females who’d experienced domestic violence, the male side would also take an age. Did you know, (at that time) it takes around twenty-eight beatings before the woman finally leaves the man who beats her?
With all my evidence gathered, leaflets and books spread out on the dining table, I would sit typing my essay. Tony would pass by and he obviously saw the titles on the books but didn’t mention it. I get the feeling he was cringing inside.
Prior to handing in our essays we had peer review and having to present my findings to my peer group previously made me so anxious. But this time, I was confident about my findings and knowledge on the subject – I suddenly felt fearless as I discussed my essay and I was so happy with my peer feedback.. The lecturer also commented “It’s clear that this is a subject close to your heart and I can feel the emotion behind it.” The look in her eyes said she knew I’d personally experienced domestic violence.
By now, it was Christmas time and the holidays were upon us. We all had a lovely day at Tony’s dads with all the family around. However, only a week later, New Year’s Eve, was a disaster!
I really thought I’d be able to compress my journey thro’ psychotic depression into four blog posts but now I’ve been writing it all down, there seems so much more to tell. I hope you’ll bear with me as I write Part V and bring it to you soon. You’ll read about my flashbacks, return to counselling and ………….
Remember, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve described, please seek professional support.