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?
Ah yes. New Year’s Eve. Our almost sixteen year old son was just about out the door with his long-term girlfriend when he said “Dad, why are you wearing my new shirt?” Tony replied “It’s New Years and we’re going out. I like it. Why, what’s up Geez?” Eye roll here – “Dad, it’s my new shirt and I wanted to wear it tomorrow for my brother’s birthday party,” and Tony almost exploded, calling him all the names under the sun, effin’ and C-ing, telling him he was a selfish little sh*t, and said “I paid for it, we got it for your Christmas, I’m effin’ wearing it.”
“All you had to do was ask.” my son huffed.
“Who you effin’ talkin to? Eh? And I ain’t got to ask no one nothing mate. It’s my house and I’ll do what I effin’ want.” (He’d conveniently forgotten that I bought and continued to pay for the house, during one of his long absences). My son had never raised his voice to either of us but I could tell by his stance and quivering lips that he was a. angry because his father was shouting at him and b. upset about the shirt, the fact he was being yelled at and being called ‘mate’ by his father.
Tony rarely raised his voice to the boys and the boys were never witness to any of the beatings I got – as they spent a lot of weekends with their grandparents, whom they adored. However, both boys are black belts in Karate and I was terrified that one day, like today, our eldest son might lash out at this father. But I think we both knew; not to go there – his father would hit back and would fight to the end, just to prove a point. We’d all seen Tony headbutt his really mild-mannered friend to the ground one day, cracking his head open. So we knew what he was capable. of.
In that moment, I was afraid. As a mum, I didn’t like seeing my son angry, humiliated or upset, particularly as he was on his way out to a party with his girlfriend. I shot them both a warning look and ushered them out swiftly, with a big smile and and hugs. I whispered “Off you go Sunshine, I’ll speak to Daddy.”
I turned and there was Tony; in my face, his eyes popping, fists clenched and the veins in his neck pulsating with rage? He started to pace the hallway and I realised that, luckily I was dressed. Seeing the opportunity, I grabbed my bag from the kitchen worktop, dashed out of the front door and raced to my car.
I popped round to my best friend’s house, all bubbly and full of cheer to say hi for New Year. I couldn’t tell her – and certainly not tonight, probably not ever really, I was too ashamed. I sat with a glass of champers and, swallowing hard to get rid of the giant boulder in my throat, we clinked glasses. I smiled in all the right places and joined in the banter ’til about eleven o’clock and then went home.
I felt sure Tony would have gone out without me by now, to meet the girls he worked with and their partners, all people that I knew. However, there he was on the sofa, with a pal, drinking beers and smoking dope. “Alright darlin’, I’ve changed my shirt, we going now?” he grinned stupidly. Heart hammering, I looked at him incredulously and said “No, I’m not.”
“Come on you dopey cow,………” I shook my head. You could hear a pin drop……. Then ……. “No? Alright. You sure? Okay, we’re going, ain’t we George?” he nodded towards his pal. As they were leaving I reminded him it was his son’s birthday party the next day, so not to get too drunk please. “No worries darlin’, see ya,” and off they almost skipped, like a couple of silly teenagers. I poured a solitary glass of champagne and watched t.v. until I saw the New Year in, then went to bed, miserable.
Sleep evaded me, and I near jumped out of my skin when I heard Tony lumbering up the stairs, sometime after three-thirty. Pretend you’re asleep, I told myself, over and………. too late – the bedroom door almost came of its hinges as he burst in and lunged at me, catching my ear. I later realised it was torn as he’d ripped out an earring in his haste.
Then his fists; I felt the punches to the sides of my head, I felt my hair being ripped out at the roots. I felt sick and my mouth seemed as though it was full of cotton wool. I couldn’t shout, I wanted to scream but my voice wouldn’t work! Instead, I yelped and sobbed pitifully like an abandoned puppy.
Through it all, I wondered if the boys were home and I actually prayed that they weren’t. I’d have hated them to see me being dragged around akin to an old ragdoll. I felt deeply humiliated. Why wasn’t I fighting back? Why wasn’t I stronger? I didn’t defend myself, instead I curled into a pathetic little ball; my pathetic thoughts hitting me as hard as the blows.
Not satisfied, he yanked at my hair, time and again, and kicked out at my ribs and my back until I fell to the floor. He looked like a giant, standing up on there on the bed. He threw a pillow down at me, got undressed and got into our bed. I lay there, crushed and alone until, thirty seconds later I, heard him snoring.
My mind in turmoil, I tiptoed from the bedroom and went to the bathroom to see the damage. Fortunately, apart from my ear, there was no telltale marks or scratches on my face. I managed to get the loose hair into clumps, ball it up and flush it down the toilet. At this point, I checked the boys’ rooms. I didn’t expect either of them to be there and they weren’t, as I already knew our youngest was with their grandparents and the eldest at his girlfriends.
It was gone four now and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I snuck downstairs to start making the birthday cake and do some baking. I had plenty to keep my mind occupied but by sevenish, I was flagging; I’d have a couple of hours sleep as most of the big jobs were done and people weren’t due til after two. I snuck back into our bed – he didn’t like me sleeping anywhere else – and dozed off. I woke at the sound of the front doorbell, the clock said ten past ten, and thinking it was the boys, I jumped out of bed.
I raced round our room picking up fistfuls of hair and, for some odd reason, I tiptoed along our landing. Just in time to hear Tony telling George “Yeah, sh*t man. I gave her a bit of a slap last night. Listen mate, give me ten and I’ll be ready,” and I flew down those stairs to confront them both, chuckling in the kitchen. “A bit of a slap,” I spat at them both, “Really? It was a bit more than a slap” and I threw the hairballs at him, “and – if you’re going out, you’d best be back here by one, with a smile on your face and ready to help me set up for the party,” I stormed into the living room and turned the stereo up full blast – I couldn’t bear to listen to him, or his pal. Tony got dressed and a tad shame-faced, he slunk out the door.
He did come back, merry and full of smiles, laughing with all the guests; ten kids and up to forty adult family and friends. I’d always enjoyed this particular party on New Year’s Day and our son’s birthday; everyone ate too much, probably drank too much and danced ’til after midnight. By this time I was invariably shattered.
The boys had gone to bed and most of the tidying up had been done by mum and the others. I thought I’d throw myself on the sofa, drink my coffee and reflect on the day. Just at that Tony, still smiling and happy, said “I’m of to bed darlin’, you coming?” You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather. “No, not yet,” I offered quietly. I was scared.
The veiled threat was in his face but, knowing the boys were at home, Tony didn’t do anything other than growl in my face “There’s something wrong with you. You’re effin’ frigid,” and without coming up for air, he continued “all effin’ smiles and nice to everyone else, but not me. You effin’ C, ” and he stormed off to bed.
The next day, after the boys went out to see friends, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I said to Tony “The next time you hit me – and there will be a next time – you are out that door. I. have. had. enough.”
He attempted a conciliatory smile. But he knew. He could sense the change in me. I’d been preparing myself, mentally and emotionally. I just wasn’t ready – this time…………….
I really thought I’d be finished writing about my journey by now, but still it goes on. Please bear with me – until the next time.