Warning: This post contains references to suicide and sexual abuse which some readers may find triggering.
When I was in my late-40s, I attempted suicide for the first time. It would not be the last. By then I had a family, but they did not know about my past or about the mental health problems that I experienced. They still do not understand why I would feel the way I felt, and rejected me when I needed them the most. So, as it is World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, I am sharing my story here. I hope that it will help others to better understand the effects of trauma, and to empathise with those like me whose experiences led them into severe mental distress that made them to want to end their lives.
When I was very young – almost four years old – my mum had a brain tumour and I was separated totally from her for 14 months. This was in 1959, when surgery was very new, long and left her terribly disfigured. When I was five she came home but was not robust enough to fully care for me. Our roles changed and I really became her carer, more emotionally supportive as my father was unable to deal with the way she looked, was forgetful and not the woman he married!
I was a very vulnerable only child. Aged seven, I was sexually abused by an “opportunist paedophile” while walking alone from school. I couldn't tell mum as she was unable to cope with stress, distress etc., or father who thought that mum accompanied me to school every day. I went to a strict Catholic school, so told no-one what had happened to me.
Traumatised, nightmares, flashbacks, fear the man would be waiting for me every day, and no-one to tell. So, a very frightened, secretive little girl.
Father began abusing me aged eight years, and again I was unable to tell mum due to her own vulnerabilities. This continued until I was 11 years old. My father began an affair with a woman then, who he often brought to our home and flaunted in front of mum. Me and mum just looked after each other.
Mum had another brain tumour when I was 16. She was taken to the first hospice in the country – St. Josephs in Hackney. She was 42. I visited and sat with her every evening and weekends until she died when I was 17. I was her only visitor. My father was still seeing the woman who he then married. I was living alone. But he died when I was 22.
I told no-one of all the abuse I had been though for 47 years.
Married, had four sons and brought them up as a good mum. One day something just gave inside me and I attempted suicide. Locking in so many traumas and secrets suddenly became too much. It took a year for my psychiatrist to get me to tell my story for the very first time. Diagnosis: Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and Complex PTSD. I have attempted suicide a number of times since, often ending up in high dependency units then psychiatric hospitals under mental health sections.
"The exclusion and rejection by my own family is the worst part of my illness"
My husband and sons still cannot make sense of me being a "normal" mum for so long then suddenly such serious behaviour – my self-harming and suicide attempts. They all have distanced themselves from me as they say they cannot cope with the worry and disruption I cause. So I have become isolated from my lovely family. I feel again the shameful, dirty, contaminated little girl, different from all the other little girls, of my childhood. I re-live the pain, fears, guilt, shame of my past all over again, and it continues to make me unwell.
They do not understand, so they separate themselves from me. I feel as vulnerable and alone as I was as that little girl. And unable to share or turn to anyone around me. I try to keep strong, distract myself, practice mindfulness and when I am well, I am well. But with no trigger, all the rejection and feelings of being unwanted and different and alone envelopes me, and I harm myself again. I feel that only I can break the cycle of behaviour. It can be very difficult at times.
The 1960s were very different times. There were few support agencies around then. But if I lived in today's society, maybe I could have spoken to someone. Maybe I could have been accompanied to school by somebody, which would have taken away the fear of that "man" waiting for me again. Maybe mum could herself have had more support in her vulnerable condition. And that could have possibly protected me from the abuse by my father. Perhaps sharing, talking and support would have meant the fears and guilt were not locked inside for all those years, damaging me even more mentally.
The exclusion and rejection by my own family is the worst part of my illness, when all I longed for as a child was to be part of a big supportive loving family. But I am still here today, and I campaign for mental health awareness in many ways, helping change the stigma and discrimination and exclusion that still exists for those with mental health problems and conditions.