It’s been quite a while,
since the last time my cheek
It’s been quite a while,
since the last time my cheek
This week, god has made the decision to hand me a pair of grey tinted glasses to try on. I have taken these glasses, adjusted the fit and seen through the lens what an absolute fucking shambles my life is when it is viewed from a different perspective altogether.
Last week I was skipping about, happy as Larry. Sociable Megan. Invincible Megan. Going through a hard year but still, let’s just take it as it comes Megan.
Thats what mental illness is, isn’t it? It’s a pair of grey tinted glasses.
I have endured, the past few days, life as I have been flipped upside down and I am standing on my head. I feel unsettled. Uncomfortable. Everything is tilted and backwards. What was the capable has now become the escapable. My home is now a prison, not a place I can hide in for comfort. I feel trapped in a room that’s physically too big for me – now that’s a surreal feeling. Replying to a text message now too colossal a task. I want to be away from people, from the world but I am too on edge and anxious to be alone.
I know this will pass. It always does. It will be forgotten, and I will be swept up in the world of colours again. But tonight, I cannot stand to lie here in my own skin, in the silence of this house, stopped in time.
My life is fine, the people around me are fine. My soul however, is not.
This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Claire* who bravely opened up to tell me her story of how she grew up in a domestically and emotionally challenged environment, and the impact this had on her mental health as an adult. Claire is now a parent and a homeowner with her long term Partner, and when she’s not caring for her two children she works part time as a registered medical professional. This is Claire’s story of her experience with an abusive parent.
*WARNING – this post contains some reference of domestic and sexual violence, and some contents can be triggering. All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
TMY – “So what made you want to speak out?
CLAIRE – Mostly to help your blog, and to touch on subjects that I don’t really speak about which could help other young adults or children. Um… about – it’s really hard to say it now – if you are having a tough time at home when you are young but you don’t see it as abuse or anything… But when you get old you know it is, do you know what I mean?
And how it can affect you a little bit really.
So tell me about the background of it all, obviously I know quite a bit about the life you had with your mum?
Even now I’ll try and discuss it, and I still won’t see it as abuse. But now when I think about it with my children, and if I was ever to do something like that, I wouldn’t do it – you know what I mean – so I know it’s wrong. But even discussing it I’ll think – ‘No, it’s not really, it’s not’ – but then again it was. So I’ll think about the way my mum used to speak to me… see even now I think people will just think it’s attention seeking or you are just being stupid, but that’s just my mum talking.
Do you see what I mean?
Yes. I think when you are that age as well you just don’t know, you haven’t got the experience to compare it to. You haven’t got that self-worth built up over the years.
No, I remember when I was at school and I went to one of the mentors who helps students, and I really wanted to tell her what had been going on, and I approached her and she said to me, ‘Someone’s mum died today’, and then just blanked me so I never spoke out to anyone again after that. So I do think it’s quite important for children to be able to approach people and mentors who are supposed to be there to help you. And actually get acknowledged and not brushed off, because that actually reinforces you saying well, maybe it is nothing? If she’s not going to listen to me who is? Maybe it is nothing, maybe it is just in my head.
It’s quite a big deal for someone to – how old was you at the time?
So… I think I was in year 8 when that happened…
So 13, 14 maybe?
And that was the first time I actually went to approach somebody about it and it was the last time I ever did.
I suppose things might have been a little bit different if I’d actually said; look this is what’s happening at home, I’m not very happy.
It’s a big thing to do, was it just… built up? What made you want to talk to somebody?
I can’t remember to be honest I just remember thinking I need to tell someone, and then I never did again.
And to face that kind of rejection as well at such a young age, it must have made you feel like…
It’s something that has always stayed with me, what happened, it’s not something I will ever forget.
Yeah. Do you remember the next time you spoke out after that, when you told somebody?
I think it was….. I think it was when I had had my proper fall out with my mum, and I went to the doctors with panic attacks – I couldn’t breathe – and like, I kind of spoke about it but not really. I can’t remember really? I think I have obviously spoke about it to my friends as I got older, but at the time it was normalised, you sort of get desensitised to things you know like, you don’t see it as… maybe when I went to councillor really, but that was when I was about… I was pregnant with my son, so, about 13 years later. And that’s when I really opened up to a stranger about wanting to seek help again, so that’s probably about 12, 13 years later.
It’s a long time.
Yeah. Oh and I did at university actually, I had this lady called S that I used to speak to. And I wrote a massive long letter about all the things my mum had done and she like took me under her wing a little bit. Um… yeah, it affected me whilst I was at university; I used to self-harm, I tried committing suicide. I had to stay in observations with the nurse for a couple of nights, I wasn’t allowed to be on my own. I had to sleep there before they were worried I was going to kill myself. I think that’s when I wrote the letter to this women who tried to help students.
Trying to reach out?
Yeah, yeah. I’m a little bit all over the place, sorry.
It’s okay. Do you think that…you said you was pregnant with your son at the time when you really started opening up… Do you think that being pregnant with your first born kind of helped to see your own worth in a way?
No, I sought help because I didn’t want to feel that pain anymore, and bringing a child in to it.
I was so… I think it highlighted things more because my mum would, we’d obviously had that fall out, and she wasn’t bothered with my – you know with me being pregnant or anything – and I think it just hit home just how hurt I was still and that’s when I sought counselling, I didn’t want to bring a child in to it. Well, since having children it’s got better, but I still feel feelings of guilt towards my mum, I still feel like sometimes in my head… was it acceptable behaviour? And I’m just… You know… But I wouldn’t do the things she has done to me to my children, you know then it’s wrong, you know?
Yeah, I suppose you’ve got something to compare it to now, you are on the different perspective, you are on your mum’s perspective in a way.
Yeah. Because I think really, it would be nice for people to read this, and acknowledge that there are similarities in their stories, where they have got a narcissistic mum, that they are getting abused and that it’s okay to stand up – and if they are in the situation like, with the woman at the school who didn’t acknowledge it and brushed it off, because she’d heard that something more important had happened to someone else – there are other people who you can speak to, you don’t have to just walk away and then try and find help 13 years later because you wouldn’t have to go through all that suffering.
Do you think your life would have been different if she did say, ‘Okay, let’s sit down and talk?’
I think I would have been under the eyes of social services. But my mum was under social services with my younger brother. I’m not really sure of the story behind that, I know she had a social worker to take him out, but I don’t know we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what that was all about. But because that had happened, maybe… Well, if I had gone in to more detail, gone in to any detail what had happened, I think she would have spoke to various agencies to try and take me away.
When did it all start with you mum? Can you remember?
I don’t know if this is a memory… or it’s something she had told me. But she left alcohol out in the living room when I was about 2 or 3. I got really drunk and passed out, then I got bit by a dog. And I don’t know where she was then, and I find that quite neglectful because you don’t, like –
It’s very young.
– ‘Where are you?’ You know. But, um… I do have a memory of her pushing me down the stairs when I was 4. And I have another memory… the one memory I remember really well is, I was – I can’t remember why she was angry at me – but I was in primary school and I must have been about 5 (I started school when I was 5), and she was really annoyed with me, I can’t remember why. And she pushed me. We had this sofa where it had all these little metal studs going all around it, she ended up blacking my eye? And she told me I had to tell people that I had fallen over my toys. Um, and I remember that, and pushing me down the stairs, but I can’t remember anything else after that. So I think… what I can remember… I think she was neglectful from me being a toddler, because why else would a two year old get drunk and get attacked by a dog?
But my first memories are more when I was about 5, um… yeah.
Did you feel like it was normal, growing up in that environment? Or did you know something was wrong?
I used to watch films and I would see like, these families being really happy, and I used to think, ‘Why is my family not like that, you know why are we not like that?’ and I used to say that to her and she’d be like, ‘Oh it’s just in the films, it’s just films.’ I just saw it as normal I think though really, I used to see the films and think why is my family not like that. But… yeah I saw it as normal really. I think it was as I grew in to an adult where I thought, you know, it’s not right, it’s not right.
Yeah. Did you tell your friends?
I can’t remember. I don’t know if they witnessed it or… I know one of my friends said that ‘I know your mum is always a bit funny with you.’ I don’t think I told my friends at the time actually, what was going on. They must have known something because when I was about 15, I lived with my friend and her mum for a while, and her mum used to say to my nan, ‘Oh I used to have her all the time as a toddler,’ and my nan was like ‘Well I used to have her all the time as well,’ so when did my mum actually have me? My mum had me quite young, and I think she felt she had missed out on a lot of her teenage years where you are going out and getting drunk and all that, so I think she wanted to experience those that everyone else was feeling? And I think she took it out on me. Quite a lot. Blamed me.
Do you know if she had a history of any abuse, anything similar?
No, she was doted on by my grandad, absolutely doted on and the problem with my mum and how she is, is that my grandad doted on her, and gave her anything she wanted, but he was a strict parent. But my nan used to hide things from my grandad too so she wouldn’t get in to trouble, and I think she has always get away with stuff and walk all over her mum because my nan wouldn’t say anything. Like my mum used to come home drunk and my nan would make cover stories up for her, you know… so. But I don’t think she was abused. She once said in anger that my dad had raped her, but I think she just said that because she’s just…
There are some stories about my dad and how he’d pushed her down the stairs when she was pregnant, and that he’d held her face to dog shit, but I don’t know how real these stories are because she, with my mum, you never know what to believe. She tells so many lies, it’s like the boy who cried wolf, you don’t know if it’s true or if it’s not true. So you just doubt everything she says.
How was the relationship between you mum and your little brother? Was it different to the relationship that you had?
Yeah. Um, my mum hated… So my Mum used to buy all my brothers clothes and stuff, she wouldn’t buy me any, so my nan would get them for me, my mum hated that. And my mum was very all for my brother, my brother was a little turd when he was younger sometimes… But my mum was quite nasty with him growing up though, I just remember little things, you know? And I’d think ‘It’s a bit mean that’, but… not half as much as she was like with me. They were quite close.
When you had your first born, was anything like, brought out of you?
Yeah so, some of the mental health things that I experienced was, when I was with my son, and one of the other reasons why I tried to sought counselling was that I was getting nightmares of my mum. Um, every night really, waking up screaming and stuff… and even though my mum had been abusive like, I still wanted her, I still wanted her in my life and I wanted her to care for me, and I still want her to care for me but she’s never going to be that person so you’ve kind of accept and acknowledge the fact that she’s never going to be the person that I want her to be… and a lot of anger and resentment came out for her really as well when I had my son because I thought how could you do that? How could you treat your daughter that way, like I could never be like that with my children, you know? Um… Yeah. But… There’s a lot of things though that I think ‘I could write a book about my life’ and there’s a lot of things I find it hard to talk about.
Does your partner know about what you have been through?
He knows everything, I think he knows everything really? Most things yeah.
I bet it feels nice to have someone who you can share your life with in that way?
He doesn’t… he hates her with a passion.
But… He gets so angry when I’m upset about her, because he hates what I have been through… where it can come to the point where he’s not really supportive and he’s just angry at her? And sometimes, like, I mean I’m not really like it anymore because of my medication but when I used to get really down… he didn’t get it? He just didn’t get it, because he has never experienced any bad things in his life, everything is perfect and rosy and he doesn’t really understand that anyone can ever suffer in pain or anything, and feel down.
Do you get depressed? Do you have bouts of depression?
Not at the minute though, because of my tablets, they really help. If I was to come off my tablets tomorrow, I’d say in a few months’ time I would be back down there feeling anxious, feeling paranoid that everyone is out to get me, like nobody likes me, I’ll get a funny look off someone and I’ll think, ‘Oh they are talking about me!’ I feel devalued, I feel below everyone, I don’t feel like I’m… I feel like everyone up here? *Raised hand above head.*
But I’m down here… *lowers hand.*
I don’t feel like my worth is…. Everyone else’s standard…
Um… I’ll look at myself in the mirror and think – ‘You’re ugly, you are so fucking ugly!’ Um… and I’ll… I’ll just have really bad… Yeah… and, but… I’m on the tablets and I’m a lot happier, I try to avoid thinking about my mum now, but I do question my own parenting, I get paranoid that I’m not a good parent? And I feel like I’m letting my children down, but I try so hard. I think I overcompensate, but I just, I just want to be everything that my mum’s not. Um, but yeah without the tablets, I would be very down I think.
How long have you been on them for?
About 2 years… yeah.
And who’s decision was it to be on them, was it your doctor’s?
That was mine. That was mine.
And was you in counselling before that?
I think I started with CBT…
But that was before, that, I think it was before I was pregnant. But I didn’t like that, I didn’t like the female therapist, I thought she was young and I would have wanted someone a bit older and I’m my eyes a bit more experienced and someone who could actually listen to me, I felt like I was talking to someone my own age who was being judgemental of me, so I didn’t go to any more of them. So that’s when I opted for counselling, that’s when I was pregnant.
Was that through the NHS? (National Health Service)
Yeah – do you think it helped at all?
It did yeah, but unfortunately got cut short because I had my son early…
And we never really followed it through after because obviously with a newborn it is quite difficult to go to counselling.
But, with my first born I had suspected mild psychosis, which is what my mum had. Well, she didn’t have mild, she had strong psychosis where she would see blood coming out of the walls. Um, I can talk about that if you want, with psychosis and stuff?
So… when I was pregnant with my first born, I used to, like see the devil coming out of the ceiling like out of the corner, um… I used to see the number 6 everywhere, and think of the devil, I thought he was after me. I’d be screaming at night telling my partner I could see the devil coming out of the wall. I used to have nightmares. And then when I had my son I was hearing voices where, I could hear voices but I could never make out what they were saying it was like whispering it was like…
…One time, I heard somebody go, ‘Go on…’ like an old man’s voice but there was nobody there, because I was on the postnatal ward and it was in the middle of the night, but I was so tired and drained it was just normal to me. And then when I got home I could see bears coming out of the walls, and on the way home I could see shadows climbing up trees, and loads of weird things going on. I went back to hospital because of what I could see in the walls… And then it kind of just disappeared, it kind of disappeared after all. But I remember, like, when I used to breastfeed my son, and I’d be looking at his toys and I could see them moving and I though they was alive, so when I used to feed him I used to hide his toys away so I couldn’t see them. I used to hide them behind the cot the teddies because I genuinely thought they were moving! But then that kind of disappeared then, I went to a support group for women with postnatal depression, and I found that really helpful and it all so gave me a bit of structure – that helped. But with my first son I had to be super mum, I had to do everything, I couldn’t sit still. In one day we’d go swimming, library, park… everywhere like, it would be jam packed my schedule, I’d never keep still. Whereas this time around I’m a little bit more relaxed but then I’m thinking am I a bad mum because I’m not being super woman, I’m not doing this and doing that, you know? Um… but I’ve not had any signs of psychosis this time around. But, the hospital was quite rude though with my second son, because I got told because I had mild psychosis with my first, then I had to see a psychiatrist in order to get discharged?
So… about 7 days after having him, I said, ‘Can I see the psychiatrist now?’ So when it comes to me leaving the hospital, I can just leave, instead of waiting around to see the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came in… And he was asking me all these questions – which they have to do – do you think you have got super powers? Do you think everyone’s after you? And I was like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine there’s nothing wrong with me, I feel so much better than I did when I had my first…’
And then they was like, ‘Well I think you should get supervised whilst you look after your baby for the next few weeks, can you agree to that?’ and I was like, ‘No!’ I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m getting supervised, there’s nowt wrong with my parenting, I’m not giving you any answers that would make you feel that way?’
I requested this psychiatric assessment because it’s what I need to get discharged, and I didn’t want to be fannying about! Because I’m in hospital for so long, I want to get discharged, I don’t want to be waiting around, I wanted this to be over and done with, and I found it quite…. Infuriating. Because I’d had it the first time around that they had assumed… Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like that at all.
What did they say to that then, when you put your foot down and said No?
He just said – ‘Okay then!’ – he didn’t say anything. But he was a student psychiatrist and I think he was just covering his own back.
Yeah maybe, maybe… Did you have any signs of psychosis or paranoia, or anything like that when you was younger?
Paranoia, yeah. Psychosis, no.
I was always frightened of ghosts and stuff. But no not really…
A lot of my memory is blanked out. I don’t have a lot of happy memories. I do of my nan and grandad. I don’t really remember a lot. I remember one time when we was sat on the floor next to our house and we was chatting a lot, and that was really nice? But my mum could turn really quick, and I always remember being really disappointed where one minute she’s be really happy, and the next minute she’ll take it out on me. You’d feel lifted and nice and comforted, and the next minute… You were back down to the bottom again…
Um… yeah… I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood to be honest, I have a lot of stuff from what had happened but the happy memories, I don’t have many of them.
Do you feel like you missed out on a childhood?
Yeah. Because I don’t have a dad. Haven’t got a dad that has bothered with me as they say, and my mum’s not particularly the best mum you could ever have…so yeah I do feel like… I wish that I had a family where, like my partners mum and dad; where they come and help with DIY and you can go round for your dinner and you can raid the fridge without being judged or… and I had a mum where I went shopping with her and drank champagne. Maybe those things don’t happen, and maybe that’s not reality and that’s just created in my head because that’s what I want? And I see it in films and stuff maybe that’s not what family life is really like and that’s what I have created and it’s not really real. But that’s what I’d like – a mum and dad – with no mental health issues and that cared about me and loved me and took me shopping, did the normal things that mother and daughters do, and a dad that cares about you and judges all your boyfriends and… Instead… Instead of having emptiness. It is, it’s just like a childhood of emptiness, I don’t remember anything… Apart from the bad things…
You seem quite close to your partner’s mum and dad, do you see them as a family?
I know they are family because they are my children grandparents, but I don’t feel like… I get on with them but I don’t feel like I am part of them, I don’t feel like I a worthy of being part of their family. I just feel like, it’s me, my partner, my children and my nan. I feel quite lonely. I feel like my children family, it’s all about my partner’s side, because I haven’t really got anybody. That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m quite lonely, like I feel like I’m not really part of my son’s life.
Because I feel like, I’m here. That’s their family… And my nans over there? I don’t feel like really… yeah. Yeah, I don’t know.
Do you feel like… I know your mum came back in to your life quite recently and you tired making a go of it, and that didn’t work out. Do you feel like you was stronger to handle the situation this time?
I was a lot stronger this time than how I was when I was pregnant with my first born… I was a lot more accepting of it because I’d already been through it. But, I still get feelings of guilt that maybe it’s me who’s in the wrong? And being that person where you have always been put down… My mum is like, it’s like role reversal where I’m her mum and I have to look after her needs and her feelings, and it’s still like that now, I think that’s why I get the guilt. Because, she is narcissistic, she has got the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, she’s like that. Even now I’m thinking, ‘Oh I feel guilty on her, how is she feeling? How is she coping? I am being the bad person because I’m putting her through this?’ But, then I’ve also got to think I’m doing it for myself as well, and I’ve got to be in a good place to look after my children. And when I was friendly with her, she did nothing to make her horrible when we were friends, obviously the telephone calls she went a bit insane, but the times we saw each other she was okay. But there was always that doubt in myself thinking she’s not doing to stay like this, this is all an act. And she proved me exactly right when we fell out. Because of the social services things, and, ‘I’m going to take your kids on a Saturday,’ and, ‘It’s going to be on my terms,’ and I thought well you have not changed and I know I did the right thing my cutting her out again.
But it does mean I don’t feel guilty and that show I feel, but she doesn’t worry about how I feel because it’s all about her.
I know that you had quite a bad time with it again, but do you feel like you did the right thing by trying to give her a second chance?
Yeah I’m glad I did because if I didn’t I would always wonder what if? but I’ve done it, I have extended the branch, and it didn’t work out so. That’s the last time I ever do it because I don’t have any feeling of what if anymore. I know what it leads to… it leads to me feeling anxious, me feeling nervous, me worrying, me being paranoid – even if she doesn’t give me any reason to be paranoid. And then, it’s just not worth it, like I wasn’t sleeping, I was overthinking. Do you know? Whereas now I feel a lot better.
I still feel guilty. I feel like I have pushed herself out on purpose, but she proved me wrong anyway with calling social services on me and my children and stuff. I thought – you’ve not changed.
You’re still selfish.
Do you feel like you have come out stronger from it?
I’m back in the place where I was when it was me, my son and my partner, where it was just us and I didn’t have to think about her. But I feel like I think about her a bit more now because she has met my son and I’ve put her in that situation where I have introduced her to my son and then I’ve taken it away? But I took it away – not in spite – but for my own sanity, because I’m worrying so much, and also when she used to be with him I used to think, ‘You don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this happiness to be with my son, you are not worthy of being with my son, because you are so cruel.’ She’s been so cruel to me yet I’m letting her see my son? And I used to resent her and think why am I doing this? I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for her, I’m not doing it for me, I’m not doing it for my son, I’m doing it for her, and it’s the whole role reversal thing again of looking after her needs.
Yeah, I think there’s bit of a whole role reversal with your worth as well, I mean you grew up in that situation thinking that you wasn’t worthy, and now it’s she’s the one that’s not worthy?
Yeah. Kind of, um… but on the same token, I’m still looking after her needs by feeling guilty, you know?
I won’t… but then, I am more worthy than that so…
I think that’s what makes you human though? Like, we’re empathetic creatures aren’t we –
– Some of us.
Some of us…
I just… I’ll close my eyes and think of her when I was a child, and I’ll just see these evil eyes, looking through my nan’s window, shouting and swearing, and saying, ‘let me in’ or saying ‘You’re killing your nan and your grandad, they don’t want you here..’ And she didn’t want me because obviously her husband would beat me up. He’d bust my lip open. He tired breaking my nose, but my nose it like… malleable…
*laughs and squeezes tip of nose*
Um… I forgot what I was saying now. What was I saying? Yeah, so she didn’t want me and my grandad took me in and she hated that, because it made her feel jealous, so in turn shed make me feel like they didn’t want me, that I was killing them, she actually said -‘You’re killing them being here!’ and… she just made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anybody, of anybody loving me, of anybody taking care of me… You know if they ever brought me some clothes – even though I was living with them and she didn’t buy me any – she’d go sick, she’d hate it! And I used to think… why? You know, why am I not allowed a holiday, why am I not allowed clothes, why am I not allowed to be loved? And it did make me… because I know I look back on my school days, there was a time where someone would wind me up and I’d just go over to them and punch them in the stomach *laughs awkwardly*. Like, that I’d be so angry and I’d just go over and punch them… Like… I think if I ever worked in a school – which is something I do want to do – if anybody ever came to me and said, ‘I’m having problems at home’, even if it was something so daft I would sit down and I would listen to them, and I would acknowledge them and make them feel acknowledged, I wouldn’t turn them away because, schools hard enough as it is without having problems at home as well.
Yes, I agree.
And when you seek that help of someone who’s in an authority position, where they are in a position where they can help you, then they should stop listen, actually listen to what they are going to say, because you never know what that child is going to say or what they are going through. You can look at somebody, they can be well dressed, well groomed, going on holidays all the time, they can be the most happiest person in public – but if they come to you are say they are having problems you need to listen to them. You don’t just turn them away.
Do you think with the situation that you went through, it would make you be more aware of it with your children? You know, say if they are going through tough times at school?
Yeah I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want to see any child, regardless of it they are mine or not, I wouldn’t want to see any child going through any problems because it would really, you know… strike a chord with me, I wouldn’t like it. But it would make me feel more desperate for my children to be happy though, because it would make me feel guilty if they were so down? It would make me feel horrible. But my children will never experience anything from me or from their dad, you know… I don’t know really? I want my children to be more open with me and willing to discuss anything with me, without feeling judged. Where they can have ten minutes where they can shout and swear, and punch things and after ten minutes… *holds hand up* ‘right… Calm down now,’ do you know where they have got that time to be able speak about their emotions, you have ten minutes where you can shout and swear, you’re not going to get in trouble, just get it all out… You know, where they can just come to me and feel open and relaxed, to say – ‘Look mum I’m having problems’, and that’s something I wished I’d always had. My nan’s always been there for me, she’s been amazing, but there is going to come a time when my nan isn’t there anymore, and like I said before my partner and my sons are there and I’m literally on my own then I don’t have any branches off to anyone else really, you know what I mean? And I think there is going to be a time, when that time comes I’m going to feel incredibly lonely.
But then I’ve got to think that I’ve got two beautiful children now, and I don’t have to dwell on the past and that I’m not really on my own because I have these two beautiful babies and I can look after their emotions and help them to grow up to be strong people where they do feel wary that everyone is here, but they’re up there, and they are not on the same level they are up here…
You know? I want that for my children, I want everything that they didn’t have, where if they… You know… If they… where I can get them the shoes that they want so they fit in at school, where they can talk to me if they need to talk to me, where they can feel open to talk to me where they can get a cuddle from me or they feel comfortable to give me a hug because that’s what they want. Where they are not nervous to give they mum a hug because it’s not a natural thing, I want it to be natural where we give each other a hug and you know, where they speak to me and know that… Their worthiness is up here, so they can do well in life and they have the confidence to go forward, instead of thinking, ‘Oh everyone thinks I’m down here, you know…’
Yes. Well…they are two very lucky boys!
They are very lucky. So what would you want to say to somebody who read your story and was going through the same thing, what would you say to them?
Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that it is wrong. Speak out, don’t feel guilty for speaking out on that parent because that parent is not thinking about your emotions or your health or your happiness, they are not thinking about your happiness. Speak out and do something, and if the first person doesn’t listen to you don’t give up. Don’t just put up with it, and acknowledge that it is wrong, ask yourself would you do that to your child? And if it’s no, then it’s not right.”
The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is a registered UK charity that provides 24/7 support and information for children who are victims of abuse, and support for families. For more information about the NSPCC, research, and their services please follow the link to their website below:
For help for children and young people, the Childline website, provided by the NSPCC, is a great resource for information, advice and 24 hour support.
Tel: 0800 1111
The blog is looking for people to take part in telling their story. To take part in The Conversations, please drop me an email on email@example.com.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Annie in her home, to have an open discussion with her about her past struggles with drug addiction. Annie, who is a single mum of a little boy, aged 3, lives by herself and has volunteered as a mentor for recovering addicts after she became clean. Here is the conversation we had together.
TMY: “When did it all start?
ANNIE: About two years after I started taking drugs.
When did you start taking drugs, how old was you?
Do you know why you started taking them?
Why I started taking drugs? Because I wanted to be the cool kid didn’t I?
Yeah my Brother used to do it all the time so I thought, ‘Oh I want some of that’.
Do you think you was influenced by him?
Yeah. I think you are at that age aren’t you?
Yeah, plus – I liked drinking a lot as well, and I could drink whilst I was on drugs.
Did you start out with… well, I know you’ve had a bit of a past with cocaine. Did you start out with anything else?
No, straight in to class A’s.
Gosh. Is that the time when you was at the flat?
No, I started all that when I went in to my first ever house.
But, when I was in that flat, I was taking it every single day. So when I first started it was once a week, just partying, then by the time I was 22 I was taking it every single day.
It’s quite a long time to be taking drugs, was it like the 4 year stint of it? You didn’t have a break or anything like that?
No. 6 years all together I was taking drugs.
That’s a long time.
When did it start to become to the point where you feel like you needed to take them?
Err, probably when I was about 20, and I used to sniff coke in the toilets at work –
What was you working as at the time?
A receptionist. In a gym.
Did you have anything going on? Like, in the background, did anything trigger it?
I don’t think so? Not at that time no. Well – I had a bit of an eating disorder at the same time, so maybe that as well.
I think illnesses like that, eating disorders, depression and other things go quite hand in hand with addiction, it’s that whole idea of self-soothing….
It was a similar situation with me when I started self harming, I started taking paracetamol and stuff, sounds really daft because you can’t really get addicted to a substance thats not addictive – it’s not chemically addictive –
You can get mentally addicted.
– Mentally you can, yeah. It’s just one of those. When did your eating disorder start?
Probably when I was about 20 – no not 20 – about 18 when I met D.
When you met D?
Do you think she kind of had an influence on you?
Yeah I think she was a bit of a bully really, she used to always call me fat.
I know. So…
I know there was a lot of stuff going on with her as well. So with this eating disorder, was there anything else? I remember when I was going through the whole diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder…
Oh they tried getting me with that as well. But it’s, completely wrong.
…Yeah. I think it’s one of those disorders that they kind of like label on people when they don’t know whats wrong with them…
Yeah. No, I never told the doctors that I was taking drugs or anything like that so they tried like, diagnosing me with everything. I even saw a psychiatrist once and he even thought that I was Autistic, until I told him that I was actually taking drugs! *Laughs`*
*Laughs* Right… did you go to the doctors for help with it?
No not with that, I just… my life was just falling apart, I thought my life was shit so I was at the doctors every week, telling him I couldn’t cope with my life.
Yeah. It’s intense, to go through something at such a young age.
So when did you first reach out about the drug addition thing, when did you first admit it?
Erm, probably when I was about 24, after my ex, A, had been in rehab. And then I got homeless because I couldn’t pay my rent, I was buying too many drugs. All my friends fucked me off, and I though ‘Oh I think I’ve got a bit of a problem here…’ And then the doctors as well tried to get me sectioned, and involve social services in my life because I was that off the rails and mental, but instead of having that… because you can never get rid of a section or get rid of social services being on your file or on your life. So I thought I’d better…*laughs*…try and sort something out with my life eh? And I thought I was going to die as well.. But I don’t know if that was paranoia or not…
Did you have any friends at the time who you kind of, spoke up to about?
Not really, I told my mum that I had a problem with drugs…but, she could’t really do anything.
Was she there for you?
Not really. No. My mum’s got problems as well so I don’t think she finds it easy to see other people’s problems.
Yeah. Does mental illness or addiction or anything like that run in the family?
Erm, I don’t know, my mum has mental illness but I don’t think anyone else does. And my grandad was a gambling addict.
It’s… with my family, I see like a long line of it. And it’s all different things as well, it’s not just the bipolar thing, which is meant to be genetic – which is quite a scary thought really – Erm… but it was everything like S.A.D – seasonal affective disorder – addiction, alcoholism, and I didn’t know about all this until I started opening up about it.
Yeah, people don’t talk about it.
I’m well paranoid about turning out like my mum.
She’s well bad with it, yeah. Like any time I say something that sounds like my mum, I’ll like, shit myself.
I don’t want to turn out like that, I don’t want it to be genetic.
What’s she got in terms of mental illness?
She’s just got really bad anxiety and depression, like savage depression. But her anxiety, I can’t be around her when she’s like that, it annoys me.
Like I said yesterday, when she was doing my head in because you can feel the nerves coming off her, like it comes off on you doesn’t it, people say that it does?
No, it definitely does.
It’s really irritating. It’s like having a child, it’s like a toddler, she’s like a toddler when she’s like that, I can’t handle her.
Has she always been like that?
No, she was like that since her mum died.
How long ago was that?
About 16 years ago.
Did you pick up on it when you was younger?
Yeah I think that’s where my panic attacks came from. From being around her too much.
Because you can feel it can’t you? But she would never go shopping on her own, and I went through a phase too where I couldn’t even leave the house, you know, I started getting the same things as she did.
Yeah. What about when you was a teenager? Did you feel like you was going through a lot with her, being the way that she is?
No, I didn’t even bother with my mum when she was a teenager, I rebelled against it all.
Yeah. I hated my mum as a teenager. *Laughs*
Well that’s most teenagers really isn’t it? *Laughs*
Yeah, so I didn’t really speak to her, I don’t pick up on it.
You seem quite close now?
Yeah, we are now apart from when she’s like this. But that’s just part of growing up isn’t it?
Yeah I think so. Yeah, I had the same with mine, because my mum’s been ill since my dad left, she was fine before then, absolutely fine, and then I ended up leaving home when I was 13, because I just couldn’t be around her. And it seems daft –
– It is hard. When you go through something yourself and you know you can justify it, and you know that you need people, but at the same time it’s a hard kind of ‘burden’ – if that’s even the right word – to take.
Yeah, it is. It’s well hard.
So did you tell your mum about the drugs?
Yeah. Erm, I think this was before… when was it? I sat my mum and dad down and said ‘I think I’ve got a problem’ and they was just like ‘Oh, right okay. Stop doing it then.’
Do you know what I mean?
Did you tell them the full extent of it?
Yeah. I told them I just spent all my money on drugs and that I needed help and they was just like ‘Well just stop doing it then’. Which, didn’t help.
But I think, after all that had happened with my ex, like he said my mum’s mum dying and your dad leaving your mum I think sometimes, it gets worse when something bad happened doesn’t it? So, like after that I started having hallucinations, like proper, and it didn’t get better until I stopped taking drugs.
That’s pretty bad.
So was it the doctors decision to send you to rehab?
No, I did that on my own.
Did you? Like a self referral? Where did you go initially?
Erm, I started going to.. Well, my ex D told me about R.A.M.P – Reduction and Motivational Programme – and you went twice a week for two hours, and they just talked and did presentations about coming off drugs.
Did you feel like you fit in there, like –
– Or was you completely in denial about it?
I was in denial about being in rehab, it took me about… even when I’d graduated from it, I thought I was alright, you know what I mean I just thought I’d got in to a bit of a shit with it. Even though I must have known in my heart that I was an addict, but I’d never admit it.
And then obviously I relapsed, I went a bit off the rails again, I relapsed for about 6 months, and then I genuinely thought I was going to die from it, then I just stopped myself.
How long, so your first attempt to get off them. Did you have support there?
Well I was in rehab wasn’t I?
I mean with anyone outside, like family, friends? Did they kind of take it seriously then?
Not really, no I don’t think they did to be honest, at first. But, I think when I graduated, they were all happy for me and glad, but I don’t think they understood. I don’t think many people understood, they were all like ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you just like partying and having fun’. But, they only see the partying and having fun bit, they don’t see the… –
– … Yeah.
Behind the scenes.
Exactly. And the only reason I was partying and having fun was because my life was shit all the rest of the time, you know what I mean?
Yes. What do you feel was missing from your life at the time?
Honestly I think self-love. Because, I didn’t hate myself, but I din’t like myself. And I had no self esteem, and I think just knowing and accepting that people care about you, instead of pushing everyone away.
It’s easy to feel like when you are in a situation like that.
Yeah, if you see yourself as a bad person or not good enough, you are going to expect that everyone else thinks that about you.
And in the end they will think that about you because they cant be arsed trying with you, you know.
Tell me a bit more about this eating disorder, how extreme was that?
I think I got addicted to exercising first, thats how it started, I would do this exercise DVD like twice a day, every single day, and then it started to cutting down food. And at first it was sort of funny, because me and a friend was just licking the flavour off crisps and putting them back in to the bag so we had the flavour but you know, not having the calories. And then I started taking laxatives every single day, so if I did eat anything, I didn’t have to worry about it. It would just go straight through.
My lowest weight was about 6 stone 10, erm, I looked like a lollipop, but like I just thought I was fat all the time.
But I though if I was skinny, then I’ll be pretty, then people will like me. But that didn’t happen. *Laughs*
Do you feel like you have recovered from that? Or is there still something there?
Yeah, definitely. I still always see myself as bigger than what I am probably. Like I see people wearing dresses, and they are quite big and I think, ‘Oh they look so lovely, you can’t even see they are a little bit overweight’, but if I have anything on, if I wear something and I can see that theres like an inch sticking out on my belly, I cannot wear it.
Like.. I just cannot wear that outside because I look too fat. Do you know what I mean?
I don’t think anyone can truly be that comfortable, well – comfortable yes, they can be comfortable with themselves – but 100% happy? I don’t, even when they are dieting – ‘Oh, I’ll be happy when I get to 9 stone…’, and then when they get to 9 stone…
Hmm, I think it’s when people compliment you though when you have lost weight, it’s an ego boost. You think if I lose more I will get more compliments.
But yeah, I am happy with myself but at the same time I’m not. I don’t think I ever will be with weight.
This is the fattest I have ever been, and this is because of the pill, but like I always say, I would rather be pregnant than fat – I hate – like I actually hate being chubby. I can’t stand it. I feel disgusting. But what can you do?
It’s just one of those things, I think its a but part of being female as well, it’s media pressures and you know, some men who have these ideas that they need a pretty woman on their arm and not an intelligent woman on they arm… they are very physical aren’t they?
Do you know what though, sticking up for men, I think a lot of men don’t care as much as women do about the woman weight, or women think they care more than what they actually do.
You know. But some of them do, and some men are like proper up their own arses and expect that of women, but I think most normal men don’t really care a bit about belly fat.
I think it’s very magnetised in our eyes isn’t it?
It’s a bigger deal to us.
Yeah, and you want to be perfect when you have got a boyfriend don’t you, you want to be perfect for them? But, that’s never going to happen.
I wonder if men are the same?
I think they are, yes. Men don’t talk about it though do they?
No, no they don’t.
I know a lot of men who don’t like certain parts of their body. But they aren’t as bad as women.
No. It all comes back to that self-loving thing I suppose as well.
Did you get help for the eating disorder? Or did that all kind of dissolve when everything started getting a bit easier with the drugs?
No, that was the main goal in rehab, to learn to love yourself and learn to respect yourself. Because if you learn to love yourself you wouldn’t want to disrespect yourself by fucking your life up and putting drugs in to your body, *Laughs* so because the main reason most people take drugs is to cover up stuff. And it was about uncovering all that, and realising that whatever has happened to you, you are still a good person, you deserve a decent life, so most of the rehab was learning to love yourself. And empowering you and that. So that just came naturally.
So after the programme that you talked about, was there anything else involved in your recovery?
Like AA meetings? NA? (Narcotics anonymous).
NA, yes, but after rehab, because I got kicked out of rehab for having a relationship with someone, even though I graduated, erm… it was with someone who was in there as well, like all the help was cut off. And the only help that there was the AA/NA meetings, but, because I didn’t have to go to them, I just didn’t. Because I was pissed off that they kicked me out.
Did you fall back in to drugs after that?
Yeah, erm, I got kicked out of that, and then it was like two days later when I started drinking again. And I thought, well I will just drink, I won’t take drugs – because I know that I don’t have a problem with alcohol – and then about a month – probably not even a month after that – I thought ‘I’ll just have one line, just one little line’ and then I was straight back bang on it.
Do you feel like they failed you a bit with your aftercare? Do you feel like they could have done something better?
Erm. I don’t know, looking back maybe because I was really angry but… I did break the rules. There wasn’t much else they could have done. But, I think a lot of the clients, they’ve all got this sort of like, complex, this ‘Oh, I’m clean so I’m better than everybody’ and if you relapse they all look down on you, so none of the other clients spoke to me either. So, all that unity which was apparent, that was there, went.
That’s a big thing isn’t it?
Yeah, going from feeling in a bubble, because I lived in rehab didn’t I?
And I had everyone around me, like, who constantly lived there; went to meetings with them, spent all my time with them, all of a sudden all that to go, it was not nice.
It was like being booed out of your mums house, you know? But yeah, because it was a bubble, and then when that popped it was back to reality.
Yeah. How long was you back on the drinking and the drugs after that?
About 7 months. But yeah one day, I think I just took too much drugs and I genuinely thought I was going to die. I thought, if I ever manage to sleep tonight, I’m not going to wait up. And then the next day I was like that’s it, I cannot do it any more. I cannot do it.
Where did you go for help after that?
Nowhere, I just did it on my own.
Yeah. Because I’d learnt all the stuff when I was in rehab, but because I didn’t really believe it… I think the next couple of days I had a few drinks, and that was it, no drugs and I just thought, why am I doing this as well? So, I just cut it all off.
That’s big. That’s such a huge commitment to just decide by yourself. And in recovery, I think you need so many people to just cheer you on, but for you to actually say and make that decision yourself… it’s huge.
Yeah. I had to do it though. It’s jails, institution or death isn’t it?
Well, I would have ended up being sectioned if I didn’t die.
Yeah. Have you, do you still talk to the people from rehab? Anyone?
I still speak to my counsellor a couple of times per week. After I got kicked out, he rang me a few months after, just to see how I was and I lied to him and told him I wasn’t drinking and that. But then when I got clean, I spoke to him a few times, went to see him, had a few meetings with him and then obviously I started volunteering there myself, and I saw him every single day. But we still met for counselling like a couple of times a week. He’s not my counsellor now I’d say we are more friends, but if I ever do need help I will say to him ‘Can we just go and sit down togged and sort my head out?’
So.. I was well angry at him though for kicking me out, but like, I understand now.
Yeah. It’s good that you have someone there, and after so long as well, how long is it that you have been clean?
4 and a half years now.
Yeah. But I went in rehab nearly 6 years ago, but I’m 4 and a half years clean.
Do you ever think you will be tempted, or have you been tempted in the past four years?
Erm, no not by drugs. Only because it scares me so much, I’m scared of drugs. So… I remember once, speaking to my old counsellor on the phone, and I was saying – ‘Do you know what, Im really struggling with my life blah blah blah’- and he said, ‘Well what would you do if you ever went back to it all?’ and I said ‘Well I would have my son would I?’ I wouldn’t have him any more. And he said to me ‘No, your son wouldn’t have you.’ And I just thought, no I can’t do it, the fact that my child wouldn’t have me in his life? It scares the shit out of me.
He is very lucky.
What my son?
Oh I’m not sure about that!
No, he is. He is lucky.
I’m glad I got clean before I had kids. Because a lot of people when they are using and they already have kids, the kids don’t matter.
Because of the drugs, not because they are horrible people.
Do you feel like your mental health has improved since?
Yeah, well loads.
Do you feel like you have still got anything there at all?
Yeah I have some days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I have panic attacks still. I’m still on medication for it. I tried coming off my medication, I tried lowering it a bit but I just couldn’t cope with my life again.
Paroxitine. But erm, I know it’s really hard to come off. Like, when I come off that, when I lowered it I just, I just couldn’t… I just got depressed again. The medication is helping. But I started having panic attacks again. Some days I’m alright, most days, 6 out of 7 days I’m alright, but even with like my child, sometimes I just want to give him away to someone who can look after him better. But then a few days later I’m like ‘I can’t believe I was thinking that!’
But sometimes when I’m like that, I just want everyone to leave me alone, and I don’t want any responsibility, I just want to, you know…. I just want to have nothing.
Yeah, I erm, I think thats hit home that for me. Because I think exactly the same thing sometimes. Because I just love my daughter so much, but when it gets hard, it erm…. I just want to look after myself.
Yeah. Sometimes its hard enough just to look after yourself.
Do you worry about your son going through anything like this?
Yeah I think when my mum, and sometimes my dad can be quite anxious as well, and when they are being like that I say to they you know, can you stop around my child because I don’t want you picking up on anything. I want him to be happy all the time and not like, worry about things, because they sort of pick up on little things and you know, express them, which is probably fine, but when my son is running around and my dad is like – ‘Be careful with this, watch you head, don’t do this! He’s going to fall, he’s going to do this!’ – Because I don’t want him to have all this anxiety around him.
They are very intuitive aren’t they kids?
Yeah. So yeah, I don’t want him to… because he’s a natural worrier anyway, you know, he’s a really sensitive boy, and I was like that as a child, I was so sensitive. So I am worried he is going to turn out like me. But, at the same time every night I will sit down and I’ll tell him at least 5 things that I love about him, you know to try and bring out the positives. Because I never had that as a child. And I think this is where the self esteem issues have come from, it’s just trying to prevent it you know, because if you are happy with yourself, not much can get to you can it? Even though I know mental health can’t be stopped, but it’s just trying to not let him see it, because it can rub off on people.
Yeah, of course it can. Course it can. I feel quite grateful sometimes when I think about some of the things I have be through, because I know I have got the tools to share with her, like she will always have someone. Like, when I was younger, I couldn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. It’s not going to be the same with her.
I know what you mean.
And it’s erm, it makes me feel quite safe. I was the same with my mum, my mum was ill when I was growing up as well, and the only thing I didn’t want was to turn out like her. And I, well, I kind of did a little bit too much, and I ended up going crazy in my own way I suppose. *Laughs*
Yeah. Whatever is going to happen with your kids is going to happen anyway really, whatever happens, happens, but you can try an give them tools like you say. To be happy. That’s all it’s about really isn’t it? You just want them to be happy.
Have you ever thought about when he grows up, and when he starts going out drinking and partying for the first time, does that ever like, scare you?
Yeah! Because, I know what it’s like. Even though he’s a boy and it’s meant to be more different for boys isn’t it, you know, like ‘Boys can look after themselves..’ And you know, I know what it’s like. Because everyone does drugs, you know, everyone does them. I don’t know one person that hasn’t took drugs in their life. And obviously, because he’s not coming from me, got that genetic as well. That he might pick up on. But, I never want to really drink around him, or do anything like that around him. Because my mum and dad used to drink every night so I thought it was normal.
So.. I mean you can prevent it, you can try an prevent it as much as you wan’t cant you?
It’s that question of nature or nurture.
Yeah. I think he’s got the nature of the personality side. Definitely. Because I was so sensitive everything just got to me a lot, and when I was upset thats when I wanted to use or drink.
Yeah. So with your career you have volunteered and done the same thing, talking to people who are recovering addicts. When did you decide to go down that route?
I don’t know, I just noticed that they were opening a Women’s Only housing, and I thought I might as well give it a go, because it’s only women and I sort of know what I’m talking about. So I give it a go, I did the training and that, and I’d not been around recovery for years, like I don’t do this anymore, I don’t do that, and just being around it – I felt safe again. And I liked it, so it was good for me as well.
Yeah. A bit of a reminder about what you have done, and how far you have come.
Yeah, erm… it was like being back in that bubble again but not as… well, I was smarter about it this time, it’s not actually a ‘bubble’ it just feels like one. But erm, and then seeing other people happy as well, it makes you happy. Because I know now that I have a good life now, you know, I’ve got my child, I have everything I need in life, I’ve got my friends, and its just showing other people that they can have all that as well.
That’s really good. It’s really nice. I bet it feel liberating as well because it feels like – it sounds like – you are quite open about what you have been through, where as once before you may have been quit closed about it.
Yeah, I feel like I probably wanted to talk about it but I never did.
How open are you about it now? Like, new people in your life who are quite new and don’t really know what you have been through, do you ever say….
Yeah, I’ll always say it, I will always get it out of the way. When I met ‘him’ a few weeks ago, he was asking me why I didn’t drink hardly, and I said ‘To be honest, I had a bit of a problem a few years ago, I took too many drugs and ended up in rehab!’ And that, you either like it or you don’t.
I think it would be better telling someone at the beginning, than waiting 6 months and then saying ‘Oh by the way…’, because they would be like, why did you hide it?
Yeah. Do you feel more ashamed or do you feel proud that you can say that?
I’m proud that I have turned my life around yeah, I’m not ashamed of it because it made me who I am. I’m probably ashamed of some of the things that I did…
…You know, but I don’t need to tell anybody that because the people who need to know, and the people I have had to apologise to know, but not everybody needs to know what I got up to. To be honest when you say that you seem quite open, this has felt quite awkward at times for me.
It’s putting it out there I think as well isn’t it.
How do you feel now you have talked about it?
I feel alright yeah, because it’s not anything that most people don’t know.
Yeah. It’s a nice sorry to hear, I know there was a lot of bad things at the beginning, and how it all started off but… it’s a long way to come….”
RAMP (Reduction and Motivation programme) is a 12 week motivational programme aiming to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction. The programme is held by ACORN Treatment and Housing, a community recovery treatment centre in the North West, UK. Their contact details can be found at;
Tel: 0161 622 1577
Narcotics Anonymous (N.A) is a global organisation which aims to offer recovery through a 12-step programme and group meetings. They focus on recovery from the addition of both drugs and alcohol. To find more information of N.A or A.A. (alcoholics anonymous) in you area, this can be found the link below;
Talk to Frank is a great resource for information and support on drug and alcohol addiction. They also offer a confidential support helpline, email/text and live chat support. Information can be found at;
Helpline: 0300 123 6600
To take part in The Conversations, please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Manic Years is looking for UK Participants to take part in a relaxed, unstructured interview about their experiences with Mental Health.
To express your interest and for more information about the feature, please drop us an email on email@example.com.
“I have suffered with my mental health since I was young, and diagnosed at the age of 12. My mum had been a heavy drinker since I was 3 and I’d been in and out of foster care on several occurrences by the time I’d actually been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In the years before this, at primary school, I had just been called “soft” and picked on because I cried all the time or overreacted to the smallest of things and then just I’d sit there in silence just thinking.
Fast forward to when I was diagnosed. I was in year 7 at high school and not living at home with my mum because yet again she had fallen off the wagon and become physically abusive towards me. I was given counselling again from a child counsellor I had seen a few years earlier. She was great, I could let of steam, scream and shout all while being allowed to be the child I hadn’t ever been. By the time I was 14 I had been back home and back in care several times, again my mum was physically abusive towards me on several occasions. I felt like a yo-yo, back and forth, up and down. In school I was a loner, I didn’t have many friends; there was a few that were aware of things and supported me, an in addition of having a mentor. I was the one that people made jokes about; I was different, I didn’t live at home with my mum, other people didn’t really understand my situation and they’d make fun out of the fact that my mum was an alcoholic. I felt isolated, like no one liked me or wanted me around. I began to feel nervous about being around people, although generally I appeared to be this bubbly person who was always happy (I was good at putting on a mask) – no one saw how things had actually affected me over the years, they didn’t understand either as most of them couldn’t relate, only those really close to me knew what was going on. I continued through school bobbing in and out of depressive and anxious bouts, controlling it fairly well from 15 when I had a stable foster placement where I was treated well.
When I was 16 I fell pregnant, I wasn’t with the dad… ‘Oh s**t, what am I going to do?’ I thought about all my options and after a few days of knowing I was pregnant I was madly in love with this little blob inside me, I moved back home to my mum and everything was great throughout my pregnancy, my mum had stopped drinking and was being supportive and we were getting on great. My little girl was born in autumn 2007. I was 17 years old, I had this tiny being in front of me needing me, completely relying on me ‘I can and will do this she needs me’… I wanted to be the best mum I could and prove everyone wrong about ‘teenage mums’; I breastfed her so I knew she was getting the best I could give her, all her things were new, she was always immaculate, I wanted to be the best that I could… After 3 weeks of horrific pain and a baby stuck to me permanently I gave up breastfeeding, I’ve never felt so bad in my life and that is where it all began again.
I felt bad, I felt guilty, like I had let her down… I hadn’t – I had done my best – but it didn’t feel like that at the time. I went to see my doctor straight away this time as I didn’t want anything to effect the way I looked after my little girl, I was prescribed fluoxetine, an anti-depressant. Diagnosed with postnatal depression and pretty much just sent on my way, I was taking the medication for a few weeks and I felt worse, they actually made me feel like I wanted to do myself harm, and after another two weeks I came off them because the side effects were horrendous and made me feel worse physically and mentally. After a few months of battling by myself, using the strategies I had learnt through the years; once again I was ‘okay’. I continued to be okay for a good while afterwards too, and when my little girl was about 10 months I met someone; we had known each other a while, he was older than me and my mum disagreed… He made me feel special, I felt lovable for the first time in my life and I felt like everything I had been through was worth it for this. I finally felt accepted and it was amazing.
Shortly after getting together, to everyone’s surprise and a few people’s horror we moved in together and quite soon after that I fell pregnant again. We were on cloud 9… Unfortunately after 3 weeks of knowing I was pregnant I had a miscarriage (I was bitten by a stray cat which caused septicaemia and led to a miscarriage). We were heartbroken and again it made me feel bad as it was my job to protect this little life and I had failed to do that, I know it wasn’t really my fault but at the time I felt like it was. After the miscarriage we moved in with my partners parents to save up for a bigger house and a few months later I found out I was pregnant again. This time we told very few people, just to save heartache having to tell people if anything had happened. It was a worrying 9 months but in spring 2010 I gave birth to my second daughter (my partners first). We were delighted and everything was perfect, again I breastfed but this time with the notion of stopping when I needed too with out feeling guilty about it because I had done the best I could do. Roughly 10 days after our daughter was born I received a phone call that would haunt me for years to come.
My Nan, my rock, the most inspirational woman I had ever had in in life had lung cancer and had been given a maximum of 6 weeks to live. Due to the severity of the cancer and her age there was nothing they could do for her. Five short weeks later, she passed away in hospital surrounded by all of us. The next few weeks and months would be the hardest I had ever faced in my life, in the first few days after her death I just cried. I have never actually felt as broken as I did right then and I had been in some pretty low places over the years. I had to try and pull myself together for sake of my partner and my girls – I couldn’t carry on like this, just basically functioning and doing what I HAD to do. About 6 months after my Nan passed away we moved house again, a fresh start, or so I thought. I fought with my Nan’s passing for a fair few years, but I never dealt with it I accepted it, I ran on autopilot, forgetting important things, leaving the housework and just generally not being myself; I ended up going to the GP because I needed help to deal with my grief. It had been 3 years, I didn’t want medication this time though but my doctor strongly advised it, I was prescribed citalopram and was referred for counselling which actually helped. I faced a lot of demons in those sessions, dealt with why I couldn’t let go and why her death had destroyed me like it had done. A lot of it boiled down to anger stemming from childhood, my Nan was always there for me.
After the counselling I felt great, I weaned myself off my medication with my doctors guidance, I even went back to college to get some qualifications. Once I left college I applied for every care job in my area and within a few months I got an interview, a week later I got the job. I loved it, I’d always wanted to work in the healthcare sector and the aim was to start at the bottom and work my way up. I’d been there almost a year when I again fell pregnant, we were over the moon as we’d been trying trying for quite a while. During the early weeks of pregnancy, work was fine, but due to the complex needs of the people I was caring for and the fact we were extremely short staffed that soon changed. I began getting agitated and upset in the mornings before I went to work and I would dread every shift, yet I loved what I did, by the time I was 15 weeks pregnant I had thought about handing my notice in for the sake of my mental health several times; I was taking my work home with me, which is never good in my line of work.
I worked until I was 19 weeks pregnant when I finally bit the bullet and handed my notice in. I thought it was for the best but in hindsight it wasn’t, although it was stressful it gave me a distraction from my own mind. For 12 hours I was this big ball of fun, the joker, I got on with my colleagues and had fun whilst working. Ironic really considering what was really going on in my head! The rest of my pregnancy went well and I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I have ever laid eyes on. From the minute he was born, I worried. I wasn’t depressed, just anxious. Like the girls, I breastfed him and to my absolute amazement, I managed just over 6 months, I ate well, I slept so well (our son slept through from day one) and I was generally happy. When I stopped feeding him myself, I expected to feel guilty like I had done before this time I didn’t, I was fine, it was amazing! I finally felt like life was going my way…
Shortly after this my mum was on one of her usual drinking binges and was unhappy because I wouldn’t let her see the children; we’d had an on-off relationship for the previous 8 years due to her inappropriate behaviour and drinking which led to me me stopping her from having contact with them. She did the unthinkable and tried to have my children taken off me, luckily everyone saw through her lies and the children are still where they should be, at home with mummy and daddy… This again raised that horrible darkness that I hated so much! It made me question myself, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ How can someone that is supposed to love me do this?’
Now almost 7 months later I’ve been lower than I’ve ever been in my life, until recently when I realised I can’t keep myself down there, I don’t want treating with medication so I have to make myself feel good! I have done it before… I need to be proud of myself and what I have been through! I need to realise that I have everything in the world to be happy about and that is my little family.
I will get there eventually, I have support from good friends and family. In a way I’m glad of the life I’ve had, and made me who I am and I will find that person again. For now I will keep going; Life is precious.”
– By Emma Burns.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
Send your story with your name to firstname.lastname@example.org and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.
Sharing saves lives –
The solid floor, cold against my tear stained cheek was my body’s point of reference to centre myself. I open my eyes and allow them to explore the tiny flecks of iridescent colours shimmering upon it’s textured surface. I feel my chest beginning to expand again and finally I can breathe. I pull myself up, slowly, and grab a towel to dab the wet under my eyes, carefully cleaning the mascara and making myself look presentable. Then I take one last deep breath and go back in.
I enter, and go back to the task I had abandoned. I try and concentrate – I’m merely transcribing from one place to the other, but I can feel the exhaustion pulling me under from my brain working on overdrive. I’m so tired.
It’s a funny thing mental health. Our tiredness is not the same as the socially accepted common occurrence that every single person goes through on a daily basis. Our tiredness, is the exhaustion that makes every cell in our body scream defeat. It’s being overwhelmed by taking in the colours and the sights and the sounds and the smells of our environment. It’s not being able to reply to a text message and socialise. It’s spending days fabreezing our dirty clothes in the wonderment of how many days we can go trying and failing to convince ourselves to take a shower. When we say we are tired. We don’t mean we are tired. It means we cannot go on.
It takes 20 minutes of the most simple task, and I can feel my mind ebbing away again. The million thoughts stumbling in to each other, getting tangled in their meaning and producing one generic output of of white noise. I stutter, and I can feel the heated aggressive energy buzzing in my chest again, clutching its burning hands around my heart and slowly squeezing the life out of me.
Breathe. You have got this.
I close my eyes and take a breath in, my lungs struggling to take in the heavy air. I’m suffocating. My breathing accelerates, my chest getting tighter and tighter. I’m trying my best to regulate it, but I’m too exhausted. I calmly get up out of my chair and go back to the bathroom. I have to let it pass. It will be over soon. You have got this.
Locking the door behind me, checking it again just in case I am disturbed, I rest my back against the door and let my knees give way, sliding down to the ground. I feel it speeding up now, short whimpering bursts of inhalation, my lungs desperate for oxygen, I am choking. I cover my mouth with my sleeve and give way to it, trying to breathe hard through the fabric in an attempt to achieve some sort of regulation. You have got this.
I have come a long way in my approach towards my panic attacks. There came a time, many moons ago in the abyss of the lost soul, when I didn’t know that I had mental health issues and I punished myself for being different than everyone else. My attacks were more frequent then, and often lead to incomprehensible bouts of rage towards myself – screaming fits, self-harm and any other form of punishment I could find which ultimately made them worse. Today, I felt myself taking a more gentle approach – I allowed my body to release whatever nasty energy it needed to release, soothing myself whilst the waves came. It took some years to befriend myself, and that came with recovery. These days I still to have urges to self harm, once an addict always an addict, but as I ponder through this current panic I find myself thinking ‘Why don’t I?’, and I hear my inner voice in return saying ‘Because you have no desire to punish yourself. Not any more.’
This thought was a huge revelation.
My breathing starts to slow and steady after a minute or so. I lower my dizzy self to the floor and feel the cold on my cheek again. I wrap my arms around myself an remind myself that it is okay. I have myself, and I am comforted by the thought. Then when I am ready, I pick myself up off the bathroom floor and return to my desk at work.
I struggle through 5 more panic attacks before I admit defeat and email my manager to tell her I am sorry, but I just can’t be here. I pick up my stuff and run out. The aftermath of that I know I will have to face up to later, but not right now.
Life has been a struggle. My partner left in January, and I have been getting used to life on my own. The guy who I shared my home with, the person who I called the ‘Love of my Life’ is now nothing but an empty space in bed. These days, I drift off to a dreamless sleep besides a ghost of a future that I can no longer hold in the palm of my hand. That road has been closed off. I have to find a new path to walk down now.
The debt letters from what he left us in frequently greet me when I get home late at night from a long exhausting day at work. Another reminder on snooze, that won’t make me forget how much devastation this person who I thought cared about me once upon a time left me in. The 5p’s I now have to regularly scrape up so I can feed myself at night, bills being more of a priority than ever. There is bitterness and anger embedded in me now. This is not me. Hardship changes you as a person, but I have to keep telling myself now to let it change me for the worst. Let it go.
I let it go for a few hours, and then it burns up in me all over again watching my Daughter sob in to my arms when she can’t understand why I won’t let her see him.
Work is heavy at the moment, and sometimes too much for my bones to bare. The 5.30am alarms, the 3 hour car journeys to and fro. The intense workload that I’m fighting and fighting and fighting through. It’s no secret that over the past month I have had to indulge in a sneaky nap on my desk at my lunch break. The effect of my meds on my memory doesn’t help. I walked out of work last week wondering around the street looking for my car, that exhausted that I’d totally forgotten what my car actually looked like. It’s bloody BRIGHT RED for Christ’s sake. I had to flip through the images on my phone to remember what it looked like.
And to top it all off, I am now riding yet another bipolar wave. The increase in my medication has triggered an unwanted physiological response in me that I cannot contain. Anxiety screams in my face. I got home after my fateful escape from work to my empty home, and after a few tearful ponderings, I realised throughout it all how strong I actually am.
I still fighting to give 110% when my illness only provides me with enough to give 50%.
I am still building upon that relationship with myself, and that makes all the difference.
I am a mother to a beautiful striving girl, and I am still pushing for the both of us.
I am a warrior and I will keep pushing on.
I grab a glass of whiskey, and I smile through the tears. If I didn’t have the ability to laugh at my sorry arse through this, then I’d have no chance of getting through to the other side. I am a wolf, and I will getting running – it’s what I am built to do.
to be continued…
“Not all stories about mental illness are dramatic. Some, like mine, are rather mundane; no hospital visits, no incarcerations, no shattered lives. Yet even a simple cut on the skin, or a garden variety cold, can lead to more serious conditions if not treated properly. That’s how I choose to view my own struggle with depression – what should have remained a minor problem became, through years of neglect, a significant burden that threatened to harm myself and my family. And I suspect my story, due to its very lack of dramatic detail, is actually quite common.
During my teenage years, I began experiencing moments of acute sadness and anxiety. I knew these episodes were different from the ordinary feelings of unhappiness and stress I also felt, because my behavior at these times would be far different. I would stop talking unless it was unavoidable; lay in bed on weekends for hours, lights turned off, in nearly catatonic paralysis; have no appetite and difficulty sleeping, and the lack of food and rest only worsened my condition. Some of these episodes had a triggering event (bullying, a bad grade, not landing a role that should have been mine in a school play), but others would arise for no apparent reason, like an earthquake in my mind. These episodes would last a couple days, maybe three or four, and often came with a conviction that the feeling would never end. I was a fool for believing I could be happy – now I know the truth, that I’ll be miserable like this the rest of my life. And then suddenly, the mood would stop, rarely due to a triggering happy event. I would feel “normal” again, and marvel both at my past behavior and sudden recovery. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, and my lack of comprehension made me very afraid. I hid from that fear, hoping against all reason that the dark moods would never return.
Years passed, turning into decades. A lifetime of graduations, jobs, hobbies, lovers, friends and family. Times both good and bad, pleasure and pain, victories and defeats. But even in years when I was generally happy and relaxed, those episodes of acute sadness and anxiety never completely left. I’d feel an episode come on, and would be powerless to stop it. The same conviction would return: This time it’s for real – I’m never getting over this. My behavior during these bouts became more irrational. Have tickets to a ball game I was eagerly anticipating? An invitation to a good friend’s party? When I was depressed, I not only couldn’t make myself go, I relished the sensation of disappointing myself. And then, just as before, the feeling would vanish, and I couldn’t believe the decisions I had made. By my late twenties, it didn’t seem right to continue experiencing these bouts of mental anguish. I sought counselling, which always proved effective (by the third session I’d feel energized and empowered) yet temporary (a new attack would come within months after the last session). Still, I had become a functional, productive member of society, and resigned myself to accepting these periodic bouts as just part of what made me who I was, as permanent and unchangeable as the color of my eyes and skin.
I then met a wonderful, patient women. We married, and brought forth two delightful children. These were good times, but while the attacks may have been less frequent, they certainly did not diminish in intensity (I’m grateful to have never become physically violent during any of these episodes). And when I regained my composure, I could no longer ignore the impact of my episodic emotional violence.
The truth can hurt as it sets you free. When the person whose happiness is so important to you says that she’s tired of walking on eggshells around you, or that your children are afraid of you, and her words speak to a reality you’ve already seen in the eyes of your family… those are words you cannot ignore. You are forced to react. You can respond by finally embracing those feelings you’ve feared for so long, and let the consequences be damned, even if you turn into a monster.
You get fed up with thirty years of denial. You realize you’ve been sick for a very long time, and won’t be getting better until you get help. It was the only choice that made sense at the time.
I’ve been in counselling on a regular basis, and taking antidepressants for a decade now. I had been concerned about the medication making me feeling ‘unnatural’, artificially happy perhaps, but that hasn’t been the case; I still feel as much disappointment, frustration, and sorrow as before. And if I’m not careful, I can still succumb to those agonizing bouts of despair that plagued me so frequently in the past. What’s different now is that I can sense when those feelings are creeping into my psyche, and have the ability to keep them from taking hold. I’m not cured, and doubt I’ll ever stop treating this disease. But my wife loves our weekend getaways, my children enjoy going to superhero movies with me, and my hope is far more powerful than my fear. Life, yes, is good.
I began this story comparing my depression to a minor injury or disease, as a means of summarizing what has been, for the most part, a fairly uneventful experience. But that comparison trivializes the impact depression has had on my life, so at the conclusion I want to pivot towards a different medical metaphor. I don’t know many diabetics (and apologize to any of my readers should this coming analogy not be true to your experience), but depression seems to me a similar chronic condition. There is no cure, and ignoring the problem can be literally fatal, but with proper medication and attention you can live a normal life, however you choose to define that term. Depression will always be with me – I don’t like that, but like a diabetic, I can’t wish my condition away. But I no longer fear it.
Thank you for reading. May you enjoy health and happiness you deserve.”
– By Keigh Ahr
You can find Keigh Arh’s blog here at The Diligent Dilettante.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
Send your story with your name to email@example.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.
Sharing saves lives –
“As I read and learn more and more about bipolar disorder, I realise that my daughter Jessie has been textbook. The volatile behaviour in children with bipolar is extreme and common. Physical violence and verbal abuse is not short lived as it is with ADHD. Whereas rages in ADHD children usually last 30-40 minutes, they can last for hours with bipolar kids.
Jessie was typical in that she experienced the rage and aggression, and rarely the euphoria or elation. Discipline was fought, and she couldn’t deal with disappointment at all. She would fly into violent rages, smashing my things. Foul language and screaming abuse at the top of her lungs became Jessie’s way of communicating. I used to wonder if she’d just become a spoilt brat. Her behaviour was so out of character, and so extreme. In fact, she was actually behaving as kids with bipolar do. And understandably so – kids don’t have the understanding or maturity to cope with emotions bigger than themselves. I was parenting the way I always had, but Jessie stood up to all discipline and raged at any disappointment. Life was incredibly tumultuous in our house, and at that time I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. Any parts of me left exposed were being squished between other rocks and hard places!
The abuse and destruction were what I found the hardest to cope with. I don’t stay in abusive relationships. But, you can’t leave your child. And she was no more than a child – she was just triggering things in me. Therefore I was hearing her as if I was listening to an adult. I had no control though and there’s nowhere to escape to to get away. Jessie would relentlessly follow me around the house, wherever I went – literally! She’s be in a rage, calling me every name under the sun, throwing things, smashing things and damaging my things. She was a baby the last time she saw her father, but I couldn’t get over their behavioural similarities and ways of thinking.
Being on a first name basis with many of our local police was just how it was for a couple of years. Jessie’s experiences were undoubtedly traumatic for a 10-11 year old. Calling 000 became a necessary safety measure for us both. It came to the point where I’d ask for an ambulance and the police would turn up. Every time. I only just realised why as I’m writing this – maybe only the police can section someone under the Mental Health Act, not paramedics? Police drove Jessie to hospital a couple of times, but due to self harm or talk of suicide, she usually travelled by ambulance. This could happen up to 3 times a week.
On two of those occasions she went against her will – carried out by police with wrists and ankles cuffed with the plastic tie-like cuffs they sometimes use. I’ll never forget it. At 11 she was carried out this way after being put down on the lounge with a knee pinning her head down until she settled enough to cuff her. Jessie was spitting at the officer, trying to bite her, fighting to free herself and swearing at and abusing the officer. The officer tried to get Jessie to settle, but she was out of control. She had got to that point where the brain flips and reason can no longer be seen. It was so distressing, I was in tears. And by the end so was Jessie.
Police applied for an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) for me against Jessie when she was just 11. She’d chased me with a big knife, but fortunately my bedroom door came between us. It still has 8-10 stab marks in it. Police would arrive to what looked like the aftermath of a cyclone! Jessie had destroyed so many of my things, and the unit was being damaged. With the strength that comes with such rage, Jessie was a danger to herself and to me. We had the Sergeant come a few times to say something had to change. Well no shit Sherlock, but an AVO wasn’t the answer! Thankfully the court agreed. Jessie needed help. Psychiatric care was what she needed, but her aggression and volatility along with her young age made her ineligible for any of the many programs we applied to.
It was such a horrible time, and there was no respite. Our caseworker, Stella, from The Benevolent Society was truly our saving grace. There were times when I said to her that I couldn’t do this anymore. I’d had enough, Jessie needed to go into care where she could have good parents. For so long I seemed to get more wrong than I did right with Jessie. Consequently my confidence in parenting plummeted. I didn’t know this young person. How to deal with her was something that actually felt impossible at times.
Stella would remain calm and talk to me. Not once did she accept my parenting resignation, neither did she ever actually refuse my request for a better home for Jessie. She didn’t need to. She listened, she heard me and acknowledged where I was at and why. During our conversation she would teach me about Jessie’s behaviour, and remind me that I’m a good mum. By the end she would ask me if I still wanted her to make some calls. Of course not! I always felt empowered and determined after these visits where my frame of mind was so defeatist at the start.
I completed the Circle of Security parenting course with Stella. Doing one on one I was able to do that one in a lot of depth, relating it to specific situations I encountered. It’s a BRILLIANT course that every expectant parent would benefit from. It gives parents the opportunity to learn what babies need emotionally to grow into confident, resilient, well balanced people. The principles apply to children of all ages though, and I found it invaluable. It is all about positive, calm engagement and recognising, understanding and attending to children’s emotional needs and behaviours. This is the parents’ manual we all wish we had!! It should be way more widely promoted! Another brilliant course is the Triple P Positive Parenting course for parents of teens. The principles are very similar as Circle of Security, but you learn about the teenage brain and what changes it is going through. Positive communication skills are also taught along with practical example responses.
It’s now been 3 years since I’ve needed to call 000 and home life is very different now. We have other challenges we are currently faced with, but the highly volatile days are in the past. These days Jessie apologises to me if speaks to me in an angry tone, or storms off slamming her bedroom door. She’ll then talk to me about what upset her and why. Our bond is strong and has proven to be enduring which I really love.”
– By Kat.
More of Kat’s stories can be found at her blog FamilyFurore, where she shares her personal experiences with raising her teenage daughter who has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
Send your story with your name to firstname.lastname@example.org and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.
Sharing saves lives –
Tonight I stepped out, placed my toes in the sea
Felt the waves on my skin, how cold they might be
Looked out past the shore, past the river than ran
Tonight I went swimming, the night that I swam.
I plunged in the deep, to the dark and the blue
And swam in the water, the ocean anew
No light was I leading, for only the sky
Was lit up with stars, the only light by
The waters I swam through, no current aflow
Could have swept me up with no direction to go
But tonight I went swimming, this night that I swam
I swam through the rivers, I swam through the damn
I swam through the mountains, I swam through the sky
For even the songbirds, the birds I swam by!
Still the waters so deep, could not swallow me whole
I swam all my might no direction to go
Until all my shackles, my shackles were free
Tonight I went swimming, I did it for me