“If I know what love is, it is because of you.”
I think this might actually be a I’m NOT Disordered first – a blog piece in celebration of Father’s Day! Of course, the most obvious reason for the lack of posts marking this Day is that my Dad is nowhere to be seen! So, in my opinion, if my Mum plays both roles; why shouldn’t she celebrate on both of the special Days devoted to parents? Having never written a post for Father’s Day, I feel the pressure that this piece should be really special; so hopefully I’ve accomplished that in talking about why I’m so grateful for my Mum…
My idyllic childhood:
When I was fifteen and the abuse began, it instantly felt as though so much of my time and energy was going into remembering those horrific six months that I didn’t have any effort left to dedicate to remembering all those years before it… This was so sad and disappointing because I knew my childhood had been so lovely and uneventful that I wanted memories of that time to comfort me on the occasions when I would remember the abuse.
A few times – and for multiple reasons – my Mum has questioned whether she’s given me a good childhood and a good upbringing. I honestly don’t think ‘yes,’ or words to that effect, will ever feel good enough and proportionate to just how good my childhood was. So, I’ve found the worthiest response is to assure her that when I eventually have children, I would want them to have the exact same childhood. I would want to bring them up the same way – with the same innocence, fun, generosity, kindness, love, laughter, and positivity.
In this reply, I’ve always been honest in explaining that because of the abuse, one thing I’d change for my own children’s childhood would be about improving their education, knowledge, and awareness of mental illness, and abuse (including rape). However, I don’t see the absence of this in my upbringing to be a fault or failure on my Mum’s part in any way. It was really the responsibility of my schooling and I’m 100% sure that if my Mum had known I’d need that knowledge to help me in some way later in my life, she would’ve put in all of her effort to get me it!
Ironically, it turned out that whilst yes, I wish there’d been some sort of warning that this kind of thing happens in society; having experienced the abuse, it did actually make me even more grateful for my innocent childhood. Grateful that from ages zero to fifteen, there was no real reason for me to have any understanding or education around abuse and mental illness. Yes, that meant my experiences were shocking and left me feeling lonely because I believed no one else had gone through this.
Now, I know this is kind of totally different, but one time I was at one of my best friend’s house with two of my godchildren. My eldest Godson has a number of different difficulties and when he began screaming my best friend tried to calm him down. I noticed my goddaughter kept looking from her cartoons to her brother and decided to take her from the room. Part of me wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do because there’s bound to be some instances where she’ll see her brother struggling and won’t have someone to take her out of the room. So, is it best that she experiences it as early on in her life as possible so that there’s no great shock if it happens when she’s older? Or should she be ‘protected’ from it for as long as is appropriate and practical? (Fortunately, my best friend said I’d made the right call and thanked me!)
The only person who questioned my change:
I honestly feel as though when I started High School aged thirteen, I was one person, and when I finished aged sixteen, I was someone completely different! And perhaps that sounds understandable and even predictable to all those readers with a stereotypical view on, or assumption of, teenagers. But it stops being that way when I say that it was during that last year in High School that the abuse began…
I think the biggest/most obvious changes in me as a result of the abuse were around my attitude and behaviour. Before the abuse, I had kind of sailed through my numerous years of schooling with maybe one disciplinary instance when someone lied to the teachers that I had been part of a group of pupils bullying him. I remember my favourite teacher yelling at me in the corridor about it and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up as other pupils walked past staring at me and laughing. After that experience, I really avoided leaving any sort of impression on teachers. I nodded and smiled and did as I was told – even when I thought it wrong or unfair.
When the abuse began, so many things changed in my head. It felt like I suddenly had so many reasons to stop cooperating with teachers and to start rebelling at school. A large rationale behind this was that my abuser was connected to my school, so it felt completely appropriate and understandable that I use them as a proxy for my anger at my abuser.
Honestly, I was kind of grateful for this because I assumed that teachers were trained in spotting and developing suspicions where they think a child is being abused. And in changing myself so much, I really hoped that it would cause at least one of them to question whether I was ok. But no. In some ways, this actually added to my disrespectful attitude and uncooperative behaviours, because I felt so frustrated at them all for not realizing and not asking me why I was behaving in this way. To me, it felt as though I was screaming for help and was being met with silence.
When I finally reported the abuse and the teachers were questioned, I imagined a ton of blank faces and speechless interviews. But actually, the Police told me that they all said something along the lines of “I didn’t witness it, but I did wonder” or “that makes sense; I didn’t see it but I can believe it happened.” That brings up so many thoughts and feelings around anger, frustration, disappointment, and upset. Thoughts that they had the perfect opportunity to protect me – to jump in and save me – and yet they did nothing.
The one person who did something, was my Mum. I was going to say ‘only person’ but that would imply my Mum’s questioning was insufficient or unimportant – and that would be very wrong. In fact, it would be the exact opposite, because the time my Mum asked: “is something wrong? Has something happened?” was one of the most monumental moments in my journey with the abuse and my mental ill health.
It honestly took everything I had to not scream ‘yes! Please help!’ to her, but in my head, there were so many echoes of my abuser’s assurances that telling my Mum would only upset her and leave her disappointed. The hardest thing here, is the worry that listening to his words will look as though I can imagine my Mum responding that way – and that isn’t true. Me listening to my abuser’s words says more about him, his influence and his power over me, than it does about my Mum. And actually, recognising that his words had changed my relationship with my Mum, filled me with a whole new anger that was powerful enough for me to fuel my internal fire to start fighting back. It was kind of like, the straw that broke the camel’s back, you know? Like, he could twist so many things out of shape and he could destroy me, but I couldn’t sit back and let him change things with my Mum.
In questioning whether something had happened – even though I lied, and nothing really came from it – I will always hold a gratitude to my Mum for having that insight. And I think it’s actually something that’s gone to carry on in my mental ill health as she’s always had some sort of ‘feeling’ when I was struggling before I’d even opened my mouth! And having someone who can knows you that well? Its life changing and – in my case at least – life saving.
Finding comfort in pets:
My mum had a few pets growing up (namely a dog called Judy who liked to sit next to me when I was a baby) so I think that her experience with them really helped for the occasionally inevitable moment when a child asks for their first pet.
My first few pets were the stereotypical children’s pets of a fish and then two rabbits, some hamsters, a gerbil, and finally; my Mum agreed we could add a cat – Saffy – to the family! I remember either not long after, or not long before, getting Saffy; my Mum got a new job and suddenly she was my little companion for if I was home and Mum was at work.
When the abuse started, I found Saffy to be a great support – she was the only one I could tell and talk to about it. I believed that she was the only one who could hear the entirety of my day and not judge me for any of it. Not blame me for anything. Saffy seemed to be the only one I could cuddle while I cried. And having that – having the opportunity to release those tears and those words – made me so grateful to my Mum for adding Saffy to our home and providing me with the outlet that she probably didn’t completely realize I desperately needed.
Having this bond with Saffy meant that when I was sectioned to a psychiatric hospital in Bradford (over 100 miles away from home), where the average length of admission was stated to be 12 – 18 months, she was one of my biggest misses! So, whenever I was allowed to use the ward phone to call my Mum, she would put the phone next to Saffy and I’d talk to her in that high-pitched voice everyone seems to use when talking to a cute animal and she’d give a few meows back. Being in the hospital, I very quickly realized that Saffy was going to become my Mum’s rock. I thought that if Mum hadn’t already had Saffy, I’d have been suggesting she buy a pet for company and comfort whist I was so far away.
Inspired by Saffy, in both the comfort and reassurance she had provided to me, and the company and love she had provided to my Mum; my recovery goal was not only to have my own home, but also to have my own cat. So, within a week of moving into my little bungalow just a twenty-minute walk from my Mum’s home, I bought my first cat, Dolly.
Living just Dolly and I for two years, meant that I felt I could really empathize and identify with how my Mum felt when – after living just her and Saffy for over four years – Saffy was put to sleep on Boxing Day 2016. It felt like losing a piece of yourself. A piece of your heart. And I was very aware that through the grief, at least I still had Dolly… Whereas my Mum was alone. Being saddened but not afraid of that thought, is – I think – really just testament to my Mum’s strength and determination. And this was really evidenced when she made a healthy and smart decision to adopt a new cat; Millie from a local animal shelter.
The amount of thought and effort my Mum put into considering whether to bring a new cat into her home was really inspirational for me when Dolly was put to sleep after just four years of being mine. Whilst I didn’t take as long as my Mum did to decide, I definitely put the thought and consideration in and even though I adopted Emmy just one week after losing Dolly, I was confident in my decision and could never imagine coming to a different conclusion that didn’t end in my little calico!
But it wasn’t just about cats for me… A few years into having Dolly, I began experiencing visual hallucinations of rabbits for the first time since being discharged from the psychiatric hospital a few years earlier. On a whim and completely impulsively, I decided to ask if I could hold one of the bunnies in my local Pets at Home store and an immediate thought – no! An immediate piece of wisdom! – came into my head that having a rabbit might help me. Having a real, live, fluffy bunny I could hug and stroke, in my home might provide me with a level of comfort. A level of reassurance and confirmation as to exactly what reality is.
Also, impulsively, I asked to hold the fluffy, Lionhead with lop ears and when the tears rolled down my face, I had the sudden ability to ask for help and to feel strong enough to accept it. The next day, I returned to the store and brought Pixie home and luckily, she and Dolly warmed to one another instantly and the sight of them together also warmed my heart.
When Dolly was put to sleep, whilst my Mum provided me with so much love and support, it felt as though I really turned to Pixie in my grief because she was the only one – aside from me – to have lived with Dolly 24/7 and that meant she was the only one who could really understand what I was going through. What we were going through. And the magical and special thing then was that my Mum was also supportive of this – of me turning to Pixie and relying on her through this unimaginably difficult time. I mean, I honestly think that there was no sadness in her that I wasn’t opening up to her more; there was just contentedness that at least I had some form of comfort and support.
Then, when Pixie was put to sleep, all of this turned onto Emmy. She was the one who really understood the grief. She was the one who understood how it felt to no longer have Pixie in our home. And when my impulses told me to get another bunny, my Mum was there to rationalize things and encouraged me to take my time to really think about it before committing to something really huge (I wish I’d done research before buying Pixie – not because I regretted her, just that I wish I’d been more prepared for how high maintenance rabbits can be!) and important. Something which I couldn’t just ‘take back.’ And I’m so thankful that she did because now, after some time since Pixie’s death, I’ve found that Emmy and I have such a special relationship and we’ve both adapted to not having a bunny that I think it’d be unfair to bring in a new addition to our home.
Teaching me to find my fight for my life:
From my very first suicide attempt in 2009, ten days after my auditory hallucinations began, my Mum fought for me. And whilst she – and perhaps others – may think it was the obvious thing to do; to fight for your loved one when they struggle to fight for themselves. As though there’s really no other choice or option. As though people – parents – who have given up on someone they care about when the person is going through hardship, don’t exist. They do. And knowing and recognizing this means I’m so much more appreciative of my Mum.
Initially, I hadn’t spoken to anyone – I hadn’t told anyone about the abuse, I didn’t get treatment for the hallucinations, and when my thoughts turned to suicide; I didn’t ask for help. So, when the Psychiatrists and Social Workers were asking my Mum why I would have attempted suicide, she was at a bit of a loss. I think the unknown of the situation gave the professionals more motivation to detain me under section 2 of the 1983 Mental Health Act and admit me to a psychiatric hospital for the first time in my life, at the age of 18.
I only realize now that perhaps if I’d talked and opened up to someone – my Mum – perhaps it wouldn’t have escalated in the way that it did; and perhaps my Mum wouldn’t have been left fighting for me to have the right treatment and to be discharged the instant being sectioned was no longer helpful.
The second time I was sectioned, after having made another suicide attempt, the Act assessment was done in my Mum’s home (as I lived there at the time) and when – even after being sectioned – I refused to leave the house, six Police came in and hauled me out into their van. I remember being carried out and looking back to see my Mum being comforted by a Social Worker and as stressful and overwhelming as the situation was, I can remember thinking ‘I won’t let them do this to her again.’
In my mentally unwell mind, I had no responsibility in the situation and believed that the blame lay with the psychiatric professionals and the police. And not recognizing my part in everything left me with overwhelming anger towards everyone else and that – plus, obviously, a lot of other things! – spurred on more hospitalizations, self-harm, and two more suicide attempts.
After a few admissions, the psychiatric staff began looking for a diagnosis for me and after being asked nine questions, it was suggested that I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Back then, there was so much more stigma around BPD that even my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) told me that she was reluctant to list it as my diagnosis because she believed it to be a ‘death sentence’ in that ‘no services would touch you because no one gets better from BPD.’
The second it was written as a ‘possible diagnosis’ everything changed – particularly with my local Crisis Team who clearly misunderstood BPD and all nine possible ‘symptoms.’ I was branded an ‘attention seeker’ on many occasions and regularly dismissed whenever I came to the attention of professionals – whether that be psychiatric staff, A&E staff, or Police etc. And this is why my Mum had to begin fighting for my care.
On one occasion, she told me she’d actually said to staff that she wouldn’t watch them let me slip through their net. And when a suicide attempt left me on life support in Intensive Care in 2012, she was there demanding that I be sectioned and sent to the specialist psychiatric hospital a Psychiatrist had recommended. The Psychiatric Liaison Team in ICU though, turned around and said I’d be allowed home when I was conscious. My Mum asked what would happen if she didn’t want me in the house (not because she didn’t, but because she hoped the response would be that they’d hospitalise me then) and was told that I’d be classed as homeless and referred to a Hostel.
Honestly? Whilst I wasn’t in her exact position, I can imagine – and I think a lot of you will be able to as well – just how frustrating that would have been for my Mum. It almost begs the question: ‘what do you have to do to be hospitalized?!’ Like, ‘how far do you have to go?’ for professionals to provide help and support for someone regardless of their opinions on the person’s diagnosis. Because I believe that’s what the problem was – their misshapen, judgmental attitude of BPD.
When I regained consciousness, I agreed to go to the specialist hospital voluntarily and was set to be admitted a few days later once the funding had come through (it was a private healthcare hospital). I think I’d actually scared myself to see how close I could come to actually killing myself. That it really would happen if I continued the way I was. But also, I recognized how upset my Mum was and how despairing she seemed to be… And with the hospital being over 100 miles away from home, I had the idea that I would go to the hospital long enough to somehow run off and finally commit suicide without my Mum being around to stop it from happening. But getting to the hospital and hearing my Mum’s relief and reassurance that I was finally as safe as possible (because let’s not pretend that being in a psychiatric hospital means you can’t self-harm or attempt suicide), kind of motivated me into agreeing to give the staff – and the therapy – the chance to help. I figured that if it didn’t make a difference, at least I could say that I had tried.
Fortunately, the therapy did help, and the majority of the staff became fantastically supportive. I think that seeing my Mum fighting for my care, really encouraged me to maintain that strength and I found that if ever I came up against a wall in my care and support or if I faced some stigma, I now had the ability to fight for myself. Watching someone be so determined and brave in standing up for all they believe in, was inspiring and has really led me to feeling so eager to defend others too. To speak up on behalf of those who can’t voice their experiences for one reason or another.
Showing me unconditional love:
Similarly, to my Mum fighting for my mental health care, showing me unconditional love is also something some people will think is a ‘given’ for a parent/offspring relationship. However, it’s also something which so many parents don’t show towards their child and knowing that makes me extra grateful for my Mum.
Whilst I tried to distance myself and cut myself off from reality during the abuse, when my abuser began to use words around ‘love’ I was pretty much instantly brought back crashing down with the stark realization that his words were going to stay with me. Mainly because at that age – fifteen – I had no real knowledge or understanding of the word and the feeling. So, it seemed that having it talked about in such a terrible way and in a very poor context, would really shape my thoughts on it.
There was one instance which stands out to me from around that time, when I met a boy I really liked, and we started a relationship until my abuser spoke with him and ‘warned’ him about me! The boy told me that my abuser has said all these things about my attitude and that I was spiteful and would end up hurting the boy. So, just like that; I was dumped, and all of his friends were angry and started rumours saying terrible things about me!
Even at the time and at that age, I was so angry because I completely understood what he was doing. He was trying to keep me all for himself. As though, if I were in a relationship, it would stop him from being able to hurt me! As though claiming to ‘love’ me gave him the right – the justification – to prevent anyone else from actually feeling that way towards me.
I think that he also did put an end to my relationship with the aim of preventing me from learning what actual love is. Probably in case it meant I would realize how fake and wrong he was in claiming to feel that way towards me. Almost like if I did, he’d be unable to be so controlling and manipulative with me because I’d no longer be so naïve and impressionable.
So, when my Mum continued to tell me how much she loved me, it left me a little bit confused – it was like my abuser taught me that those who love you always have an ulterior motive and I couldn’t think what my Mum’s would be… Realizing that lesson wasn’t the case, and that it only applied to him and even then, it was wrong; was a difficult process because it ended up being essential to my acceptance that what had been happening to me was wrong too. It’d always felt wrong, but it wasn’t until that realization, that I could finally see that was the case and began considering finally reporting the abuse to someone.
Then, my mental health deteriorated and after being diagnosed with BPD, I looked into the Disorder and its symptoms (back then, the diagnostic criteria was to have at least 5 of 9 possible symptoms). I found out that every time I was doing something that would impact someone I loved (particularly my Mum) it was about having a ‘fear of abandonment’ and ‘unstable relationships.’ It was as though I was so scared and confused that unconditional love didn’t exist and that my Mum would one day stop loving me and completely abandon me, that I would ‘test’ out my theory. As though I just wanted proof – either way. To be proved right or wrong; because at least then I would know where I stood. At least then there’d be some stability and concrete ground beneath me.
Of course, as was the case regularly back then, I was wrong! My Mum’s love was 110% unconditional and no matter how terrible I felt for ‘testing’ her, she continued to love me and reassure me that she held no blame towards me. That I hadn’t been well and couldn’t really be judged for my actions during that time.
Having had that first experience of ‘love’ with my abuser, I was convinced that no matter how well my Mum illustrated it for me, it wouldn’t result in me being able to feel that way toward someone. I believed I’d been cold and distanced from my reality for so long, and my thoughts on love had been so misshapen, that it couldn’t be even remotely possible for me to experience unconditional love for someone else.
Once again, I was so wrong because not only did I experience it toward my Mum, but I also discovered it in relation to my pets, my best friends, and my godchildren.
Promoting my passion – shy bairns get nowt:
When I first started, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013, a huge motivation was to create a place where I could provide my friends and family with more information and understanding on my mental illness and all that I was experiencing in the psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away. And from Day One of my blogging career, my Mum was my cheerleader!
This was kind of funny at the very beginning because even I didn’t have much confidence in my blog and was skeptical that it would become all that it is now – over eight years later! But my Mum has this incredible intuition when it comes to things related to me – good and bad. And she’s always had this big belief and confidence in my writing, so I think that aided her in supporting me with I’m NOT Disordered.
My Mum used to read my little, short stories when I was younger and so it makes me proud that now she gets to read my words which are also seen by hundreds of thousands of people. As though it’s nice for her to see the journey of my writing. To see it go from those stories about animals going on adventures, to my blog, to my book!
Even though this has never been the case and there’s nothing my Mum has said that would make me think this way, I’ve always worried that being unemployed for so long was a bit shameful and embarrassing for my Mum. I guess I thought that she’ll have all these people in her life who might ask what her Daughter does for a living and my Mum has had to put thought into the answer in terms of whether it’s appropriate to tell that person I’m unemployed and why that’s the case. Now though, I’d like to think she can proudly say that her Daughter is a Blogger and she can add the gravity of my readership and the height of my audience. And making my Mum proud (though she is adamant that she is always proud of me), is a huge motivation in my blogging – and my life in general to be honest.
My Mum recognizing the benefits my blog has on my mental health, and supporting me in making improvements to it, has really encouraged me to appreciate it more too (if that’s possible!). In doing this – in improving and adding to my blog – my Mum has taught me that ‘shy bairns get nowt.’ If you aren’t too familiar with Geordie… it’s basically a way of saying that if you don’t ask for something, then you might never get it.
It’s a motto I’ve mainly adopted when I’m considering approaching charities, organisations, or individuals etc. with collaboration ideas, because it really helps me to find the confidence to make those suggestions to those people. It gives me the power and influence to put more thought and passion into my ideas and to fight off any hesitations or reluctance to put myself – and my blog – forward for opportunities.
“The influence of a mother in the lives of her children is beyond calculation”.
James E. Faust