Our guest writer and client has suffered from serious mental health problems in the past and has been on a positive road to recovery. Her experiences have impacted her identity as a daughter, a sister, and a mother. She prefers to remain anonymous to respect the privacy of those involved in her story.
Fifteen years ago, it happened. It all had culminated around the time I hit twenty. I was both numb and excited. Excited? And numb all at once? Hmm. Such a paradox of emotions. I suppose at this age very rarely is one so aware and reflective of one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. There’s a certain level of emotional immaturity. A lack of an awareness of reality. I jumped in the car next to my siblings and never looked back. Number 51, my family home for seventeen years, was just a number from then. Arbitrary. Meaningless. Denied. Dead. It was as though I had been fed a banquet of flavoursome foods for almost two decades and then been stripped of such privileges in the blink of an eye, being fed nothing but stale bread. I was hungry. Feeling undernourished. I missed the taste of structure. The flavours of togetherness. The aromas of love.
My father’s gambling problems cost him a marriage, his children, their stability and their opportunity for security and nurture in what was still our formative years. Yes, I still felt like a child at 20-lost and vulnerable. My father had forfeited the house. The family home. Our family home. Gone… just like a new-born bird flying its nest. Never to be seen again. The blame I shifted onto him was surreal. It was all his fault! The man who had put 51 on the line and dropped it so effortlessly without a fight. I remember intruders frequently waltzing into my bedroom, snooping around and smiling. I felt sick. I wanted to throw them out and chain myself to the walls. It was still my bedroom and my window that overlooked our enchanted garden.
I was three years old when my mother and father decided to move to number 51. I had no real concept of what was going on, yet somewhere deep down, subconsciously, I knew this house was ‘the one’. Not just a house, but a home. A base. A foundation of love, magic, stability, and growth. My parents put everything they had into this house. Extensions, new wallpaper, a lick of new paint, etc. Money..! Friends coming over for playdates. Parties in the living room which overlooked the garden patio. Mum baking cakes in our extended kitchen and dad sitting on the couch watching TV (usually football!). My younger brother out in the streets skateboarding up and down that memorable hill that 51 sat on, and my sister prancing and dancing around upstairs playing with her toys. Such a ‘typical’ and comfortable lifestyle we all had. ‘Normal’. Simplicity overruled any external complications, and tranquillity was always a recurring theme in our house. Our home. My home….
Time-jumping to teenage years whilst still at 51, tensions began to brew. Friction. Like two gripped hands clasping for survival upon a thick piece of rope! You can almost hear the red-raw chafing and see the smoke forming from the friction. Damn! What a burn! It felt so painful! If this were a fire, we would all slowly be burning a painful death. Parents arguing, mum discontent, and dad in his own world….Dad in his own bubble. Dad? What’s wrong? No response. I really wanted to read between the lines with him, but he didn’t want to open his book. We could read his front cover. A title of stress and turmoil, visions of cloud and rain, the cracks starting to show. What was once a beautiful-looking egg-so oval and smooth and flawless-had now been cracked, the gooey yolk starting to overspill on the family unit. The egg protected us. It held us. It encased us. It revived us. We grew inside this egg. The egg was no more now, and darkness began to linger over us all, as if some sort of evil entity had possessed the family. What was going on? D I V O R C E.
My brother and I knew it was coming but couldn’t quite believe it until we heard it. We were in my bedroom, lying on the floor with our ears pressed against the carpet listening intently to the words, “I want a divorce”. My brother made a fist and started banging on the carpet. His anger and sadness diffused through the floor like a toxic gas and started spreading throughout the house.
I remember my mother driving us away from number 51, cruising with both tension and hope towards new foundations; towards number 50. Number 50 sat on an unrecognisable street. A street that was like a piece of clothing that didn’t quite fit right. It covered us, but felt tight, tense and awkward. Settling was only to become unsettled yet again since, some years later, we were to lose this house too. Are we cursed?
Anxiety manifested and depression hit me during these next few years. I experienced major eating disorders and it was as though the breakdown of my parents’ marriage seriously affected my own relationship with both food and people, seeing little value in myself and seeking external acceptance.
My brother was off the rails-smoking, taking drugs, truanting, etc.-and my sister, being as young and naïve as she was, felt like her whole world was caving in. She felt unloved and undernourished in family values and morals. Her studies suffered as she strained to find solace within a broken home. I did my best to educate, inspire, and carry her. I knew it wasn’t enough- nowhere near -but it was all I could offer. We were all alone, and despite my mother’s efforts (which were few and far between), we saw little of her and felt emotionally neglected.
I am a mother now myself, still suffering the trauma of those many years ago. Yes, I wish I had been more resilient in the grand scheme of things, but alas, I wasn’t. I’ve since forgiven my father. In fact, I carry guilt for my blame I put on him. You see, my father was also a victim. A victim of an indescribable grief that I only recently uncovered. I learnt that my father was given a stark choice by my mother during the time my mother had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was my sister. She was Danielle. And she was born with Down’s syndrome.
My mother had decided to give Danielle up for adoption and this shattered my father. If he had refused, it would have resulted in his loss of both my mother and me. I learnt how my father would visit Danielle every day without my mother’s knowledge, leaving early from work, just to see her whilst she was in some sort of purgatory awaiting ‘rescue’ from a deserving and loving new family. When she was saved, a part of my father died too. He grieved, and his love for Danielle (and possibly his anger towards my mother) manifested in gambling which addictively consumed him. I don’t remember Danielle as I was barely a year old, and I have no idea of her whereabouts now. All I know is that I have another sister whom is a part of me, yet apart from me.
Danielle my darling, it’s like I can hear your thoughts: ‘How dare my mother do this to me?! What type of mother was she?’ But my mother has her own story – she was adopted herself at birth. So you see, by unwinding the tight ribbon and loosening the tension, an understanding is achieved, and with understanding comes acceptance and forgiveness. With all the challenges my mother had to go through as a Jewish Irish woman and the challenges faced by my father of having to forcefully accept the adoption of a daughter, I’ve surrendered to blaming people and taken comfort in forgiveness. People have incredible lives, some with tortured paths, trodden by no fault of their own but one too many an unguided turn. Acceptance, understanding and forgiveness are key to growth. Holding on to dark thoughts and feelings only disturbs the keeper of these feelings. Letting go through acceptance, understanding and forgiveness creates space for healing. I’m able to breathe a new lease of life now.
I’m happy with the person I’ve become. I’m certainly not perfect, but what is ‘perfect’? I am the perfect version of myself, perfectly imperfect. My safety net is as strong as ever, being surrounded by terrific and authentic friends. I own my own home and have a solid grasp of budgeting and investing. I recognise that the financial future I’ve set out for my son is far better than what my parents had available to them. Where am I now? I am in an ideal position to fulfil future endeavours and successes. Here’s to life!
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