They stole my mum

Trigger warning: the following contains memories of child abuse and neglect.

I am an eight-year-old girl.

I feel uncertain most days. I am bullied at school. I have few friends. When I get home, my mum doesn’t ask me about my day.

She doesn’t ask me because she has been taken from me by two thugs called Orap and Stelazine*.

They covered her with a blanket and stole her away. It happens every time she gets ill. My dad rings my gran and they go into a room and whisper. The doctor is called. My mum goes to hospital and when she comes back, she is there but she is gone.

She is dead-eyed and mute. Her face is frozen in a mask. She is expressionless. Nothing I do or say meets with any reaction.

If she doesn’t take her medication, she becomes frightened. She is convinced the IRA are hiding out in the wardrobe, that there’s a gunman in the loft. It is the 1970s and there is a lot of news about Northern Ireland. The world is a scary place, and my mum brings it into our home with her whispers.

One time, I go into the kitchen to find her hunched over a cassette recorder. I ask her what she’s doing. She tells me she’s recording the voices she’s hearing, because nobody believes her.

My 44-year-old self knows how terrifying that must have been for her – to hear a whole crowd of people in your head, some of them terrorists… to experience what they say to you as real, to be frightened and alone with these voices because nobody listens to you when you warn them.

My eight-year-old self, watching my mother, feels frightened and alone.
I stop telling her about things. There’s no point. She isn’t interested.

She brings me food, she washes my clothes. Friends never come to tea. It just wouldn’t work. We watch television in the evenings with my sister and father. But there’s little conversation, and there’s no joy.
There’s no joy in our house.

And once a week, a music teacher comes to teach me lessons in our front room, and he puts his hand in my knickers.

He can tell from the way my mum is that she isn’t at home.

Halfway through the lesson she brings him a cup of tea. She always knocks. He’s usually finished by then.

*Orap and Stelazine are psychiatric medications given to treat schizophrenia. My mother spent most of my childhood on one or the other. If you are on either of these, please understand I am writing through the eyes of my eight-year-old self. This is how I saw these drugs as a child. I do not advocate coming off medication, and I do not reject use of modern antipsychotics to treat psychosis.

Working through grief

When it hits you just how much you’ve lost in life, it hits hard.

Many people who end up in therapy arrive there because their coping mechanisms have broken down. They  may have been super-efficient types masking a lifetime of pain, or people who were broken by a particular incident and stayed broken.

I tried very, very hard in the early months of psychotherapy to present the face I normally show the world. I held it together, as I did through work and through life for many years. I was unemotional and articulate, when all the time my therapist was observing how disconnected I was from my feelings.

It’s true. I switched my feelings off a long time ago. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but being numb and distanced became my protection.

The more stressed I became, the more rigid my protective structure felt. I started building it in childhood when I was being abused. It grew increasingly toughened during my teens, through rape and on through an unhappy relationship, the death of my father, the loss of two babies… and the eventual loss of my health.

I have to say at this point that life hasn’t been all bad. I have a beautiful son. I have friends I love, but I haven’t been seeing them lately. I’ve not felt up to it.

The final retreat came a few years ago when I was emerging from a not very happy relationship. This man was the love of my life, but I presented to him the same face I present everyone else, and he too had layers and layers of pain hidden away. We met at the wrong time.

When I found that I couldn’t get over him, I sought help. Now, having heard myself talk empty words over many sessions, I am starting to experience feelings.

I am wondering, several months into therapy, whether I am not only grieving for him… I am mourning all my losses.




Living with trauma

My head has been completely fragmented for a long, long time.

It makes it very difficult to function. I’m not currently able to work, and I can’t concentrate very well on anything. I also experience total, obliterating exhaustion. Viruses seem to hang about for months and exercise… well, what exercise?

I started psychotherapy last July and it is very challenging, as it should be. My main problem so far seems to have been getting up the courage to even trust my therapist, let alone share all that has happened to me.

I have talked about abuse, about really dark things, even about my habit falling in love with people who don’t love me back… but I keep being told that I am not connecting with my feelings.

This made me very angry when it was first suggested. What do they know anyway? But actually, I am starting to connect with my feelings and experiences, many of which have been buried for more than thirty years.

I actually cried recently. I cry at home but somehow opening up in therapy, letting down the defences I have built, is extraordinarily difficult.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Do you know what it’s like to walk about feeling slightly detached, like you aren’t part of things, like life is going on around you?

I seem to have become used to an overwhelming sadness, a numbness. For many years I just gave up and didn’t care if I lived or died. I think starting therapy is acknowledging that maybe I do want to live, and live better. It’s just that I haven’t found out a way of doing that yet.