I make no secret of the fact that I have had (and still do suffer) Mental Health issues. Much of this stems from events in my life and also from having a parent that suffered from an array of mental health issues. Sometimes conditions like depression are learnt behaviour, particularly if you are exposed to it at a young age.
I have had plenty of ups and downs in my life. But I don’t dwell on them or live with regrets. Everything I have encountered has made me who I am today. And I am happy with who I am now. Ten years ago I lived in denial and if anyone had asked I would never had said I had a troubled or difficult upbringing. I didn’t want anyone to think I was weak. But now I can look back admit and accept that there were certain people and events in my life that contributed to mental health issues. Mine ranged from low-self esteem, no self-confidence, a need to please, OCD, Depression, Post Natal Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder etc. The list is long. But I am one of life’s “doers” so I just battled on and got on with things.
My reason for writing this post is because a Mindfulness challenge I am taking part in on Instagram led me to think about ME and who I am. What or Who shaped me. So I thought I would put together a post about things that have shaped my mental health. Writing journals like this is good therapy for those of us that have metal health issues. And although my life is calmer and for the most part I am free from the restraints that having this type of illness cause, and it is an illness. It is important to always be aware of your mental state and ensure that you still continue with anything that offers therapy.
This is also by no means a post to facilitate pity from people. That is absolutely the last thing someone like me wants. It is to show that no matter how hard life can be and how low you feel there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I love the life I have now. I am happy and content and even if life does throw me a curve ball I know that I can cope.
So here are ten things that have affected my mental health at some point in my life.
1. I am the product of teenage parents. My Mum was only 16 when I was born and my Dad 17. They had known each almost a year to the day when I arrived in the world. A shotgun wedding took place 10 days after my Mum’s 16th Birthday (yes she was only 15 when I was conceived) and for the first year of my life we all with my Grandparents until a small council flat became our home. Neither my Mum or Dad were ready to be parents. Both were pretty immature for their age and had plenty of emotional baggage from their own difficult childhoods. I have had plenty of conversations with my Dad in the last year about this and he admits they didn’t have a clue when I was born. My two sisters and brother came along in quick succession. My childhood wasn’t all bad but at a very young age I realised that my Mum suffered from pretty severe mood swings. I learnt to be “good” to keep quiet and make sure I helped out as much as possible. I did well at school and by the time I was 12 I was looking after my siblings and cooking the evening meal on a daily basis. I grew up quickly and became a “parent” to my siblings at a very young age.
2. My Mum suffered from mental illness. I didn’t know the full extent of her illness until I was in my 30’s. Growing up I thought my Mum was moody. I also thought she didn’t love me. She favoured my siblings even into my adult life this was noticeable by most people. We did not have a Mother-Daughter bond which meant that I had no real maternal influence in my life. Probably why I always say I am a better Dad than I am a Mum. My Mum would often take to her bed for days on end and sometimes disappear altogether. Leaving us children to be shipped off to various relatives for a couple of days at a time. This was actually my respite. I would stay with my Grandparents, where I had my own room and felt loved. During my teenage years I started to spend more and more time at my Grandparents homes. Sometimes up to a month at a time. I have vivid memories of my Dad turning up to take me home and I would burst into tears at the thought of going back with him. I loved living with my Grandparents and actually was much closer to them than I was my parents. I preferred the company of adults and had very few female friends (even though I went to an all girls school). I didn’t realise until I had children myself how much of an impact this had on my life.
3. I was bullied at school. I was one of a small number of “council estate” girls who went to the all girls Grammar School I attended. The first couple of years were ok. My best friend was a girl from my Primary School and we spent a lot of time together. But sadly she died in a car accident when we were 13 years old. I then had to try and make new friends, which was not easy particulary for someone who did not have a lot of self-confidence. Anyone who has been to an all girls school will know how bitchy it can be. It’s a very competitive environment. I did join a group of girls but as I suffered from low-self esteem I soon became an easy target for being picked on and “being sent to Coventry”. This is the worst kind of bullying. I felt isolated at school and lonely at home. I would shut myself away in my room and cry. I think this is the point where I became insular. I am still like this a little. I revel in my own company and having my own space. I never told anyone about the bullying. Certainly not my Mum. The last thing I wanted would be to cause my Mum any stress or upset. She could not cope with stuff like that so I just got through the last couple of years as best I could. I left school at 16 and got myself a job in London. This was my first sense of Freedom and where I discovered that work was my happy place. I have always excelled at work and since having a Saturday job at 14 I have always worked.
4. I settled down early to escape living at home. I met my ex-husband at 17. It wasn’t love at first sight. We worked in the same Nightclub at weekends and were part of a group from work who used to go out socialising. We were friends who became a couple over a period of time. We got on well as friends. But we were both trying to escape from unhappy homes and moved in together after two years together. Over the following eight years we followed the path that was expected of us at that time. Engagement, marriage and a couple of children. We had a very volatile relationship. If I am honest I should have left many years before I did. I wanted to. But by being married with children I was living up to my Mum’s expectations. And all I ever wanted to do was please her. My ex-husband also suffered from self-esteem issues but his way of dealing with it was to belittle me. Mostly in public. I understand now it made him feel better about himself. But when I finally left him after 11 years I was damaged. I had not had a social life for years and had absolutely no self esteem or self worth and I only left the house to go to work or to do the food shopping. Thankfully I had my best friend by my side helping me financially, helping me with the kids and getting me out socialising. I do not know what I would have done if it wasn’t for her. She was my rock. My Mum and Dad were nowhere to be seen. They were going through their own break-up and even while I was trying to get my life together I was supporting both of them too and generally playing piggy in the middle. I was dealing with so many problems at this time I fell ill and spent several weeks in bed. Which again saw me sprial into depression and being on anti-depressants.
5. I suffered with severe Post Natal Depression with my first child. I struggled with motherhood and what was expected of me. I was not ready to be a Mum. I’m not sure I was ever ready but when it happened the first time I was shell-shocked. It was a difficult birth and I did not immediately bond with the baby. This led to feelings of guilt. Surely bonding with your newborn baby is natural. That’s what I thought at the time. I now know different. But I fell into pit of depression. It wasn’t the take to your bed and don’t function type of depression. Quite the opposite. I am what is known as a functioning depressive. I got up everyday, did everything I was meant to do. Fed and looked after my child. I went to work, cooked the meals and kept an immaculate house. But inside I felt empty. I was like a robot. This went on for about seven months until I broke down one day at work, in my bosses office. She called the company doctor in who gave me antidepressants and signed me off work for six weeks. I don’t really remember much about what followed but I know I eventaully felt better and went back to work. I also fell pregnant again with my youngest, when my eldest was 11 months old. I felt better about pregnancy and did not suffer with PND this time around. It was an easy birth and he was an easy baby. I had also managed to repair the bond with my eldest although I don’t think it will ever be as strong as it could have been.
6. I was a single parent for 16 years. And I loved every minute of it. I split from my ex-husband when my children were 2 years old and 6 months old. It was the hardest but best decision I ever made. My children grew up in a much better environment than they would have done had I stayed in my marriage. I am not the maternal type. But I am a good parent. I may not have been the cuddly, get down on the floor and play with the kids type of Mum but I did a good job. It suited me being on my own. The kids and I kids shared a close bond. It was us and the world. I continued to work and was lucky to have a good job that allowed me to pay the bills and have the odd treat. We didn’t have a lot in the material sense but I taught my children the value of money and to work work and be independent. Both left home at 18. This wasn’t a sad moment for me. Because they were both leaving to follow their dreams. I am so proud of them. They are the most amazing people. They have also supported me through some rough times. I have always been open with them about my depression and they knew when I was going through a low time. They helped me by being extra loving and helpful. I know this is not something that is considered the norm for your children but it has given both of them an understanding of mental health issues. They are both luckily free from the illness and are self-confident and well-rounded young adults. But they appreciate that this isn’t the case for everyone and they can recognise it in others and be empathetic to those that do suffer.
7. I met my soul mate at the age of 30. Three years after I had split with my ex-husband I felt ready to date again. For the first three years after my marriage break-up I had a lot of problems with my ex-husband. He would not accept the break-up and made life very difficult for me. I also felt guilty for leaving him and taking the children with me so I let him get away with unacceptable behaviour. He would stalk me when I was out and even on one occasion broke into my house and was waiting for me when I came home from a night out. He was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive towards me until one day I stopped feeling guilty, stood up to him and told him that I was going to seek legal advice. He then backed off and started to leave me alone. I felt stronger and more confident after this and when I least expected it I met Alan in a local bar. I felt immediately drawn to him and made the first move to talk to him. From the moment we met we clicked and have now been together for almost 17 years and married for nearly 3 of those . I can’t even put into words the impact Alan has had on my life. I was all over the place when we met. My life was chaos. I was in the process of being made homeless by my private landlord and was placed in the most awful temporary accommodattion by the council. For two months I lived in a cold damp flat on a pretty rough estate. The only person who visited me was Alan. Luckily we were only there for six weeks and on Christmas Eve I moved into a permanant council house which became our home for fifteen years. I handed it back to the Council when I moved out four years ago so that another family in need could have the opportunity of a nice home. Anyway going back to when I met Alan, I was not particurlarly stable emotionally. I was a little unpredictable, unable to relaxand could experience about ten different emotions in one day. In fact I was a nightmare to be in a relationship with but Alan persevered. And thank god he did. Alan bought stability into my life, he is a very calm and solid person and he grounded me. He was the first person to ever really make me feel safe and secure. He has been through many of my up’s and down’s and has been my calming influence. He knows me inside out and understands my mental health issues. He allows me to have the space I need when I am going through a low phase and he goes out of his way to look after me. With him I feel content and complete.
8. I battled early stage cervical cancer. I was 30. I had skipped a previous smear test and when I finally went after 6 years I found out I had abnormal cells. A hospital appointment followed quickly and after a Colposcopy I was told I had early stage cervical cancer. I also found out that I was pregnant at the same time. I had to make the decision to have a termination so that I could go ahead with treatment, which I have never regretted even though there are times I think… What if….. It’s natural to think what an unborn child may have been. They would have been 16 now. I don’t dwell on it. It is a fleeting thought once or twice a year. Anyway after the termination I initially had laser treatment in one specific area of my cervix but at a check-up six months later there was another area of concern so I then had large loop excision of the whole Cervix. No the most pleasant of experiences and quite possibly one of the factors of my early menopause. But I was lucky that the treatment did it’s job and after ten years of six monthly check ups I was officially given the all clear and signed off from the Doctor. This was a frightening time and again I went through this without any support from my family. In fact the day I told my Mum she then went on to have a major drama of her own that saw all the family having to rally round her. This was a regular occurrence in our lives. Birthdays, family celebrations, in fact any event where someone else was the centre of attention would result in my Mum going off the rails and causing a drama so the attention switched to her.
9. My Mum’s death was a turning point in my life. My Mum died 12 1/2 years ago when she was only 52. She committed suicide. I remember the night like it was yesterday. When it happened we had been estranged for a couple of years. Her behaviour had become destructive over the last few years of her life and I had to make a decision to step away from having her in my life because it was having a detrimental affect on my mental health and the lives of my children. When the police called and told us I did not feel sad. In truth I was expecting it. I felt numb at first. I actually felt nothing. We had never had a close relationship. I had managed for 36 years without having a proper Mum in my life and I was very self-sufficient. The turning point came when I came across her diary when we were clearing out her flat. When I read it I found that a lot of what she had written resonated with me. I felt some of the same things. This scared me. I knew that I didn’t want to end up like her. So I sought counselling. I left my job and spent six months as a stay at home Mum. Concentrating on my children and my own well-being. I took a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This was the start of a new life for me. It changed me completely and over a number of years my self-esteem grew and I was able to get my own mental health illness under control. Alan and I often joke about the “old me” and the “new me”. I still seek out self-help books to read and am continually working on managing my mental health. I know that I will always have this illness hanging over me. It will never leave me but I can recognise the symptoms and deal with it so that it doesn’t control me or my life.
10. Leaving London for a life in the Kent Countryside. When my children left home four years ago I finally moved in with Alan, after 13 years together. A year later we were married. That was one of the best day’s of my life. I can’t look at the photo’s without a big smile spreading across my face. Just before our first Wedding Anniversary we moved from an area of SE London that I had lived all my life to start a new life in a Village in Kent. We bought a run down 1950’s Semi which requires completely renovating. But despite the dated interior it is the first house that I feel completly at home in. It reminds me of my Nan’s house in some ways. It has this really cosy feel to it. It is the place I have felt at peace with myself. A couple of months after we moved in I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to apply for a job as a School Business Manager in a local Primary School. A job that I had never done before and more surprising to my family (who know my lack of maternal instinct) it was in a place surrounded by children. I was offered the job on the same day as my interview and I accepted immediately even though it meant taking a substantial pay cut. I have never worked so hard in my life but I absolutely love my job. I was promoted after the first year onto the Senior Leadership Team and rewarded with an impressive pay increase. The Village has become our home, we socialise in the local pub and have made many friends and I also now have a circle of girlfriends that I also socialise with. I still have some minor incidents of mental health illness. Particularly the odd twinge of low-self esteem and Seasonal Affective Disorder. But I am able to quickly combat these with a little self-care. Life will never be perfect but at the moment it is pretty damn close.
Thank you for taking the time to read my mini life story and I hope that it gives you a little insight into mental health illness.
My next step in life is to look at training as a life coach later in the year, using my own experiences to help others. And I am always happy to lend an ear to anyone who needs someone to talk to about their own struggles.
Meanwhile the sun is shining. Enjoy your weekend.