daily life

Family meltdown

What do you do when everyone in your family is mentally ill?

My sister and I have tried to support our mother our whole lives. When she becomes ill, though, the stress can become too much for us – and for my sister in particular, the pressures of caring for someone make her ill.

We have fallen out, as we always do, because I feel I shoulder most of the responsibility. I tend to get stuck in when a problem arises, but because I have chronic ill health, I burn out very quickly. The cycle keeps on repeating and the answer I am given by observers is ‘Well, don’t do so much, then.’

It’s difficult to pull away if you suspect your mum isn’t taking her medication regularly, or is at risk of a fall. So I want to be there for her when she is not well.

I sent my sister a couple of plain-speaking emails about how I see things panning out over the next ten years as mum gets older and more frail: how both of us need to find ways to cope better.

As she pushed back and became defensive, I got irritated. I told her I was tired of her always putting her needs first, over anyone else’s.

Her response has been to block me. I am no longer able to call or text, and she enlisted my own partner to channel emails through him, something I have put a stop to as it is completely inappropriate.

She has also accused me of being abusive. Her accusation is excessive and unjust. Having read my emails back several times, I know I’d be happy to show them to anyone to demonstrate there is no abuse there whatsoever. Frustration, yes. Impatience, definitely. A lack of respect, absolutely. I told her I’ve lost respect for her, and she continues to demonstrate why.

Am I supposed to go from here as, effectively, an only child?

I feel that during exhausting family situations, my sister only makes things worse. Am I better off not dealing with her?



daily life

Sunny day

Trigger warning: I’m very depressed. If you are too, maybe read something more uplifting elsewhere. If you want to join me in my black hole, read on…

It’s beautiful outside today.

Spring is here, but I feel like I’m not invited. There have been many times I’ve emerged from winter with no enthusiasm for the sunshine or the flowers that start appearing. I see daffodils, crocuses, buds on the trees, and none of it registers.

The birds sing away, but it feels like they are singing despite my existence, and, of course, they are. The whole point of Sebastian Faulks’ bestselling novel Birdsong is that birds are oblivious and sing on through war, through birth, through death. They just sing, on and on and on, with no regard for humans or the terrible things they get up to. So I can’t hear the birds and feel like they symbolise new life or anything. I put food out for them though. On a good day, I enjoy seeing them arrive at my bird feeder. I know they aren’t my friends, but I can enjoy their pretty plumage from afar.

Spring makes people happy and I tend to go around in a daze because I can’t be happy, or share happiness.

When depression and dissociation is this bad, I wonder what can be done.

Do you keep forcing yourself to go out into the sunshine? Is there a moment when you feel the warmth move from your skin to your heart?

I’m not feeling it. I’m not feeling anything. I tend to stay inside because it’s a nothingy sort of a space, and it suits my emptiness.

You can’t force happiness. You can’t force joy.

There is, though, in everything that lives, a stubborn drive to continue, no matter what. I am reminded of a crocus that used to appear every year by our front door when I was a child.

It grew through concrete.

daily life

Stronger together

Today I put on my red shoes.

I thought about the men who abused me: men who were violent, bullying, manipulative and cruel. Not all men. But enough. Enough to drink together in a bar and laugh at what a pushover I was, how weak I was, how easy it was.

I looked at my red shoes, my favourite shoes, and I looked in the mirror.

I imagined myself standing before a group of women at the next table in that bar, and I said to all of them – the girl who was abused, the student who was raped, the young woman bullied at work, the mother just trying to cope, the disabled woman on her own, the older woman with a broken heart, the writer, the survivor:

You  will never, ever let a man do that to you again.

You will heed the warning signs next time.

You will stick up for yourself.

You will fight.

You will be strong.

And all of them, all of those women, young and old, raised their glasses.

And the men fell silent.

There are millions of women who don’t feel that strong today; women who may still be in a terrible situation. Let’s think of them. Let’s be strong for them. We are stronger together.

Happy International Women’s Day.


My double life

I worry about this double life I’m leading. I have it easier than some, in that I’m not out working and mixing with people all day, every day.

In fact, it was trying to work and function when very ill that led to me completely unravelling a couple of years ago.

But I still put on a front, a false me, in company.

False me is: cheerful, capable, talkative, smiling.
Real me is: miserable, scared, hopeless, ashamed.

Or is it the other way around? Is my current state influencing how I feel about myself, stopping me from going out and working and doing things that make me realise I don’t have to be ‘real me’ all the time?

What is real and when is it the depression talking?

In therapy, you get told to sit with your feelings rather than push them away. This week has seen me spend a lot of time in my head back in the house where I grew up, feeling how I felt as a child, connecting with a lonely little girl.

I can definitely see how taking that time makes me more aware of what I went through, and what I’ve lost. It helps me understand why I am so angry, changeable and messed up.

But getting the balance between acknowledging pain and getting on with life can be very difficult. Impossible, at the moment. I really struggle to see how I will get back to a ‘functioning me’ – whether it’s real me, false me, or a combination of the two.

I struggle to know where to even start. All I know is that writing helps, and so maybe a bit more of that before I try to get everything back.


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.