Last Words – a love letter

Dear Mum

I drove past you today on the school run. It was bound to happen eventually but it still came as a shock. My breath caught in my throat and I started to cry. You looked tired. I could tell your knees were hurting. You’d changed your hair.

H was in the back of the car, still to be dropped off. He asked why I was crying. I told him ‘I saw Nanny and it made me feel sad’. He said, ‘I miss Nanny too’.

But there’s the thing. I don’t miss you. It’s eleven weeks since I last saw or spoke to you and I know I’ve made the right decision. Ending contact with you was essential for my mental and physical health. My recently diagnosed heart problems prove to me that you really can die of a broken heart. And my heart has been broken by you again and again and again. It feels like a miracle that I’m still breathing.

The reason I was crying, sobbing actually; loud, ugly, breathless sobbing, was because I am hurting FOR you.

You deserve better from life.

You deserve to be happy.

You deserve to feel loved.

You deserve to be looked after.

You are a victim too.

Your Mother’s spiteful tongue meant you grew up feeling rejected and unloved. Nanny herself was the victim of a cruel Mother, mistreated and abandoned. She entered motherhood with good intentions I’m sure, but somehow she ended up repeating her Mothers’ mistakes. And your Dad? My Grandad, the fallen hero. You idolized him, he made you feel loved and he spoiled you. But he never intervened when Nan was abusing you. He never discussed or corrected her behavior. His apathy probably caused more damage then you know. In turning a blind eye to your suffering, he set a precedent. All problems will be swept under the carpet. Complaints will be ignored. Retaliation will not be tolerated.

Please leave all truths at the door…

It’s no wonder when you met my Dad at 14, a handsome, hardworking 17 year old, that you fell blindly in love. When he began hitting you, you kept quiet. Because he loved you. Your parents approved of him. They must have done because they allowed him to be alone with you downstairs in their house, when everyone else was in bed. And that’s how I was conceived.

So there you were a very bright and beautiful young woman of 16 with a job lined up in the civil service. Until you fell pregnant with me. I imagine how scared you were telling your Father. I wonder how you felt about his ultimatum? You were rushed into marrying my dad with me growing in your belly. A month before your 17th birthday I came into the world. Your one and only daughter. Your first child. You and Dad moved into a flat in Crystal Palace. He worked long hours. You were mostly alone. No friends nearby. No family. You didn’t drive. Did they move you far away from their family home on purpose? So they wouldn’t have to be involved?

Me age one

My earliest memory, and I could only have been a year old, was of Dad yelling and crying and punching the walls. The impact of losing his Dad was catastrophic. Anyone I ever met who knew my Grandad J, told of a truly good man, a kind man, a provider, a sweet heart. When his light was snuffed out, Dad was traumatized. He lived in the shadow of his Father’s early death, terrified he’d meet the same fate. His drinking escalated. His temper flared. The beatings he gave you increased.

My next memory; we are still in the same flat in Crystal Palace. You, Dad, and me. I had a little doll, an Indian Squaw. She was so pretty. You stood on her while you were cleaning and the brittle plastic was crushed under your feet. It was my turn to cry. It crossed my mind the other day; did you step on my doll on purpose? Did you want to hurt me even then? I wish I knew.

The dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park. These feature strongly in my early memories. Walking with you, spying the magnificent towering reptiles amongst the trees. Sometimes there were pony rides in a clearing. Then we are in a house. Our first family home, in Penge. You made me a costume out of blue crepe paper. I am little Bo Peep. I stand in the school hall with Cinderella and Snow White. There is a prize for the best dressed. I wish with all my heart ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ It’s not me. On the walk home, heavy hearted I spot a diamond ring on the ground. Of course, it’s not a real diamond. It’s plastic gold with a pink plastic gem. But to me it’s a precious jewel. The winner after all. Did you put that ring there for me to find or was it really lost treasure?

Crystal Palace Park dinosaurs

My brothers arrived in quick succession. You had five children by the age of twenty five. By the second boy I found it impossible to hide my disappointment. I wanted a sister, who never came. You would let me have the baby bottle of rose-hip syrup from the hospital; a sweet but temporary distraction to my disappointment.

In those early years, I was utterly devoted to you Mum. I thought you were the most beautiful, the kindest, the best Mum in the World. As a toddler I’d fetch warm water and cotton wool balls when it was time to change my brothers’ nappies. I always wanted to help, to be useful. I’d brush your hair and rub your feet. In fact I can remember squabbling with the boys over who would get to pamper you, back then I think we were all devoted to you. Can you imagine if you asked them to rub your feet now?! I remember happy times. Picnics in the woods with our Auntie and cousins. Swimming at the public baths. Bedtime stories. I felt loved, I definitely felt loved by you. But I never felt safe. How can you feel safe when your Dad is an alcoholic who frequently smashes up the house and beats up your Mum?

Me age 5

The only ‘quality’ time we’d have with Dad was on a Sunday. He would take us to Chislehurst ponds to net fish for tiddlers. You would often stay behind. We’d walk behind him in single file. There was no mucking about, teasing or chasing. He expected total compliance. Ironically, net fishing in rivers and lakes with my boys is now one of my favourite pastimes. But there is much splashing, laughter and fun on our trips and we are all in the water together, not huddled on the muddy bank.

I never saw Dad in water, not in a swimming pool or in the sea. I never saw his bare feet. As an adult I realise how strange that is and I wonder if he was afraid because he couldn’t swim? Or whether it was a sensory aversion? What I do know is that the more I reflect the more I think he was Autistic like me. After all it’s a genetic condition, a different neurotype passed through generations. Think about his need for control, the strict routines, the repetition, the inability to regulate his emotions. It makes me sad for him. I know how lonely it is growing up feeling different, uncomfortable in your own skin, unsure why you don’t fit in anywhere, embarrassed by your fits of emotion, often anger. I also know what it’s like to use alcohol to be able to socialize, how your inhibitions drop, how you can suddenly talk to people you barely know. The trouble with my Dad was, he never questioned why he was different, not to my knowledge anyway. He allowed himself to be angry at the whole world. He let alcohol consume him. He punished the people who tried to love him. And he became a man his family feared.

Did I ever tell you Mum that I did eventually see Dad’s bare feet. N and I took him on holiday to the Isle of Wight with us, it must have been 2006, before we were married. He was on the beach in socks and brown leather lace up shoes. He stepped in a rock pool by accident. His shoes were soaked. How I cried with laughter. He looked mortified. He took off his socks and shoes and laid them in the sun to dry. His feet were the whitest skin I’d ever seen. Painfully white. He rolled up his trousers above his skinny ankles. I was struck by his vulnerability then and confused how I could feel this combination of pity and warmth towards someone who had ruined my childhood. Someone who would be out of my life for good, just five years later. As you know, he didn’t die. That would have been too easy. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.

We also spent time as a family on our annual holiday to Mullion on The Lizard in Cornwall. Neither of you could drive so we’d get the train down to Red Ruth where a taxi would collect us and take us to the caravan park. Dad was different in Cornwall. I think he genuinely loved it there. Every day we’d walk for miles (in single file of course) to Mullion Harbour. Or we’d take a bus to the surrounding beaches, Polurion Cove, the Lizard. We’d eat picnics on the cliffs overlooking the sea. We’d play in the sand, paddle, rock pool (rock pooling is still one of my all time favorite pastimes). You would sunbathe and dad would sit and read his newspaper.

Cornwall late 80’s

In the evenings we’d go to the ‘night club’ at the caravan park. That was where things would get difficult. Because dad would sink pint after pint, through the bingo, the kids games, the entertainment show and then finally the late night disco. He’d end up dancing alone on the dance floor while my brothers and I tried to stay awake. The younger two would usually be asleep stretched out across two chairs or in a pram. What was going through your head then? Did you ever ask him to let you take us back to the caravan so we could sleep? Did you long for the loud music to finish like I did? Long for the walk in the cool dark back to the caravan. He’d usually be too drunk to start an argument. The fact the caravan offered no sound proofing and he’d have to pay if he smashed up their doors, must have motivated him to control his temper.

I remember one time we were getting ready to go out in the evening and you and I were being silly in the shower room, tickling each other. You accidentally pushed me and I fell backwards smashing my lower spine against the rim of the shower tray. The pain took my breath away. I burst into tears and you looked terrified. ‘Don’t say it was me, say you slipped!’ you whispered urgently. Then you carried me to the sofa where I laid in agony, furious that you were so scared of him even on holiday.

But it all changed. You’ve never attempted to explain why but I’ve had eleven weeks to reflect and dig through my memories, trying to make sense of the hurt you’ve caused me. You told me more than once, that you’ve never felt truly loved. That you were never someone’s ‘number one’, never put first. You told me that’s why you’ve always put the men in your life first, because you just wanted someone to love you the way you believed you should be loved.

So Mum, I think I’ve worked it out. I think I finally understand why I went from being someone you loved to someone you bitterly resented. I loved you completely, wholly, obsessively. YOU were MY number one, my best friend. I looked after you. I was your helper. I was like a ‘mini mum’ to my brothers. You were all I wanted and I could never imagine leaving you. We were in a bubble and I was happy to stay there.

For the first 11 years of my life I was your constant companion

But then at around 11 or 12 years old, when I started secondary school, and especially at 15 when I started puberty, I became aware of life outside our bubble. I made friends. I realized I was good at ‘other stuff’ besides housework and rearing my brothers with you. I realized I was academically gifted. I was told I could have a bright career. I realized that I wanted to have a boyfriend. That maybe I wanted to get married and have children of my own one day. Simultaneous to these realizations about the wider world, Dad’s violence towards me had intensified. And as you know, you did nothing. So there I was, angry, scared, let down and faced with the realization that I could leave our bubble, could make my OWN life away from the control and violence and social isolation.

At the time, I thought you must be evil, to let me suffer so much. To ridicule and belittle me, shame me about my looks and my body. My teenage years are a horrible blur of arguments and physical assaults, degradation. But I understand now. I let you down. I stopped loving you as much as I did before. I went from being a devoted daughter who made you feel loved and important and worthwhile to being an independent and fiery young woman who wanted to get away from you. And that must have hurt you deeply.

And we all fall down…

I’m sorry I hurt you Mum. It was never my intention. I didn’t want to upset or reject you. I wanted to save me. I think it made you jealous when you saw I had friends and boyfriends. It made you angry that I dropped out of University because you would have killed for the chance to pursue your higher education. I remember you studying your Biology (GCSE or A level)? while we were at school. You got an A. You knew you were capable of so much more than child rearing and minimum wage employment.

I think you saw me find a husband, two in fact, who were genuinely good men. Who loved me and supported me despite my emotional and mental instability due to my undiagnosed Autism and Bipolar 2 disorder. You would criticize me as wife for not ironing their clothes, for being a rubbish cook, for standing up to them when I was cross or unhappy. Yet still they loved me, laughed with me, stayed with me. I think that made your resentment grow even deeper.

I’m sorry I hurt you Mum. I’m sorry I left you. But the things I pursued for myself were only the same, entirely normal and natural things my peers aspired to have. My successes in my career, in my relationships, as a Mother, should have made you proud. And it’s not like I didn’t have my share of pain too; my first born lost to a rare lethal chromosome disorder, my first marriage lost to my mental health issues, my body carved up by breast cancer…my life has been anything but easy. Yet still you view me with bitterness and resentment as I if I stole your winning lottery ticket.

In recent years since I had children, we have both tried to get along, to become closer. I genuinely think we both wanted that. But there was always an undercurrent of resentment. For my part, I admit I have never been able to shake off my deep anger towards you for the way you failed to protect our childhood (yes, I know you were scared but we were your children and we had no one but you to protect us). Beyond childhood, my teenage years, I have been unable to forgive you for the shaming, ridiculing, hitting, the inadequate preparation for puberty and becoming a young woman. You failed me on every level as an adolescent and despite prayers and therapy and the passing of time, I have been unable to forgive you…because you have continuously failed to acknowledge and admit your mistakes. You have flatly refused to apologize. And without that, it’s been impossible for me to move on.

Eleven weeks ago Mum, when we had our final falling out, I begged for that apology. I was desperate for that fresh start, to hear you admit the pain you’d caused me. Because I wanted to forgive you. I truly did, God’s honest truth.

Words spread poison, lies crawl like creepers

But during this eleven weeks a lot of stuff has come to light. And it’s apparent to me now that ever since I was a teenager, you have been spreading rumors and lies about me to people I love, or loved. Such was your resentment and anger that you wanted or needed to discredit me and as such you’ve caused irreparable damage to my relationships with other people in my birth family. What did you tell the Uncle who attacked me to make him do that to me? What did I EVER do that was bad or wrong, that would cause him to attack a teenage girl who had grown up adoring him? What did you tell my brothers to make them call me ‘the bike of St Paul’s Cray’ when I was actually known as frigid amongst my friends for rejecting boys’ sexual advances. What did you say to my brothers as adults that has made them complain to me about how much time you spend with us, as if we have been a burden to you or selfish with your time? Each time this has been raised, I’ve felt mortified, thinking ‘we barely even see her!!’ These brothers of mine who (so you told me) take all your money, live like slobs, mistreat their women, made you cash in your pension, look after their children when you are exhausted from work and caring for your own parents…I realize how naive I was now to listen to all your complaints about them without realizing that you would of course be complaining about me. And since I now know the lies you’ve told them about me, about ‘how much you do for us’, does that mean what you told me about them, was a lie? I guess I’ll never know.

Mum, I have neither asked nor taken anything from either of my parents my whole life. I have always been acutely sensitive to how stressful your life is and how overloaded you are. I have tried everything possible to make your life easier. Do you ever tell anyone the good things I do? All the times we’ve taken you on holiday with us or for weekends away, usually at N’s expense. All the practical help, doing stuff in the house, running errands, all the little thoughtful adhoc gifts and surprises be that hand wash to match the color of your bathroom, special blankets for your dog so she doesn’t wee on the floor, or drawing chalk pictures on your driveway during lockdown. We never asked you to babysit unless it was an important medical or school appointment because we knew you were already stretched to the max. We would never be so selfish, unlike others in the family.

As you know, I wrote to Grandad last year, begging him to reconsider a couple’s care home or moving to our local town, because I could see how the constant long distance traveling to them and caring for them was killing you; he never even acknowledged my letter. You told me how upset he was but me, he ignored completely. In my opinion he’s quite happy to throw you under the bus and let you see out your life clearing up after them like a servant. It’s what suits them best. He doesn’t want to factor your needs in, he never has.

Talking of Grandad, his recent and most spiteful message to me talks of my ‘appallingly bad behavior over the years, (often nasty)’. What behavior is this he talks of Mum? What have I EVER done that was appallingly bad or nasty? I’d love to know. And it’s interesting because in recent years, despite being the only one of your children who has made the effort to visit him and Nanny on a regular basis, I’ve often felt his inexplicable disapproval. And I’ve asked you outright ‘Mum have you said mean things about me to Grandad as he treats me differently’ and you looked shocked and said ‘You have to trust me! I would never talk badly of you or do anything to hurt you’. How gullible I am.

Now the thing is, bipolar and OCD and anxiety aside, I’m NOT mad nor in crisis. I am seeing clearly for the first time in my life. You have been campaigning against me for almost three quarters of my life!! Did you honestly think I’d never find out? And it hurts, Lord knows the tears I’ve cried the last eleven weeks. And yes, my heart is broken. For all my health problems, I’ve never had trouble with my heart, but since recent events my heart is now firing off blood clots into other parts of my body blocking my arteries. Maybe it’s bad timing. Or maybe you really HAVE broken my heart.

As for my brothers, I love them. I feel sad for them. I feel angry. I think they’re cowards. Friends and family have made me understand that their desire to silence me, to sweep my allegations under the carpet, is both selfish and driven by fear. The past has scarred them deeply and they don’t want to deal with it, not now anyway.

And so I say goodbye and walk towards the light

So before I say goodbye for good, I want to say that I love you Mum. I’ve never stopped loving you. I want to hate you but it’s too hard. Seeing you walking by yesterday as I drove H to school, all I wanted to do is jump out the car and hug you and tell you to get in. But I couldn’t and I can’t. N said I care too much. That I let pity overrule me. He says we are better off without you and I know he’s right. But still; I love you. I want you to live well. I want you to be happy. I want you to know that I’m thankful for the first 11 years of my life when I know you truly loved me. Your life as a parent started painfully young and without the support you needed from your own parents. The choices you made later on, when I pursued independence and you punished me all the way…I don’t blame you for. I blame my Dad. I blame your parents. For letting you down. For mistreating you. For denying you the help you so clearly needed. For letting the violence against you continue in plain sight because it was more convenient for them.

I still wish you’d been braver, stronger, kinder. I wish you’d tried to break the cycle of abuse, I wish you’d been proud of my achievements. I wish you’d helped me fly instead of throwing stones behind my back.

No one knows how much time anyone has left on this Earth but I pray you spend your time left doing things you enjoy with people you love, instead of sacrificing yourself blindly to people who use you. Maybe not having me to blame and resent anymore will be the push you need, to do what makes you happy. Take care Mum xxx

Lizzy Van Tromp

10th September 2020

Find your Tribe – life beyond labels

An Autistic advocate I really admire has recently decided that she will no longer use the label ‘Autistic’ and is no longer going to identify as an Autistic advocate. This is as a result of bullying from within the Autistic community who have criticized and judged her harshly because of terminology she has used, because of her beliefs, her opinions, her life choices…it’s really been quite horrible to witness. And it got me thinking….that whilst I am proudly Autistic, I don’t want to be a part of the elitist and ableist culture that seems to be growing in parts of the Autistic community.

Like this writer, I too am late diagnosed Autistic. I’m also mum to 2 Autistic boys. My diagnosis has been wonderful in many ways e.g. in how I understand myself and my differently wired brain. But I’ve been disheartened to meet and come across many outspoken Autistics whose behavior verges on bullying. I hoped I’d found my ‘tribe’ when I was diagnosed, but in truth many of the Autistic adults I’ve met try and dictate how other Autistic people identify and label themselves, they regard themselves as intellectually superior and talk down to neurotypicals (people with the most common/frequently seen type of brain). If you dare to think differently to these people they accuse you of ignorance or discrimination.

All the same tribe? Certainly the same species yet gloriously different! Photos taken at Sealife London Aquarium.

When abuse from my birth family almost broke me, my Autistic ‘tribe’ weren’t there. Their silence was deafening. Now I loathe functioning labels for many reasons, maybe I’ll write about that another day. But as someone who meets other Autistic people regularly through my work and through the communities I navigate on social media, I started to realize that amongst the ‘high functioning’ verbal and intellectually able Autistic population, there are some very mean spirits. There are people who aren’t kind. Who don’t accept others differences. People who are selfish, mercenary. Who block constructive feedback and seek adoration purely because they’re Autistic. That makes me very uncomfortable.

Then I realized something else…these types of people, who judge and talk down to anyone who doesn’t think and speak like them, exist in every neurotype, in every breed of human being. There are good guys and bad guys in every walk of life. There is also a huge apathy crew who sit on the fence and won’t commit to any cause be that climate change, Black Lives Matter or Autistic acceptance. These people can be even more dangerous than the bad guys! There are do-gooders too. Now these people look like they’re being good guys, but usually they blindly follow a cause without understanding it. They attach themselves to a group like a Remora to a Dugong because it makes them look good, because the cause is popular, because it gives them a sense of belonging. But they are slow to learn about the issues they claim to represent and quick to demonize people who challenge their beliefs. In time they’ll get bored and move on to the next new cause.

The incredible Dugong my husband and I encountered diving in Sharm el Sheikh.

So I finally figured out, my tribe are whichever people love and respect me and show me the same honesty, support and understanding as I show them. My tribe are the people who make the effort to learn how my brain works and who accept my quirks and rituals. My tribe give me feedback kindly when I mess up and they show me forgiveness because they know I try hard to learn from my mistakes. My tribe know I can be brittle and over sensitive from a lifetime of being misunderstood and judged, so they try their best to understand me just like I try to understand them.

Discovering I am Autistic was life changing and overwhelmingly positive. I adore working as an Autism trainer teaching other parents, carers, teachers and employers how to best support the Autistic people in their lives. I love writing my blog and sharing my experiences of living with Autism. But I’m just one person. Talking about my life. My experiences. My tragedy and trauma. My happiness and joy. I don’t speak on behalf of all Autistic people because I don’t walk in their shoes. I have no right to claim Autism is a Superpower, neither can I say it affects all of us as a disability. There are Autistic people for whom learning difficulties or co-morbid physical conditions are extremely disabling. In my lived experience, it is my mental health conditions that disable me, that and the judgement of others.

I hope that some people can relate to my writing, that it teaches them something about Autism. But my stories are mine, unique to me. Because we are ALL unique and belonging to any type of group does NOT mean we have to conform religiously to the language and beliefs of that group as if it were a cult!

All birds but so diverse in their abilities, their look, the way they sound, what they eat…. Photos taken in various locations, in the wild and captivity.

There is comfort and security and learning in mixing with others ‘like you’ but when I look at my tribe, they are truly diverse in age, race, sexuality and neurotype. What unites us is a common set of values, a genuine desire to be kind, to look out for each other, to understand each other and to forgive each other when needed.

What I’m trying to say is, you do you and I’ll do me. Let’s all make the effort to be more tolerant and kind. With empathy and making the effort to learn about others’ challenges we won’t need to hide behind labels. I’m Autistic. I’m Bipolar 2. I’m OCD and Anxiety and PTSD. I’m a wife, a mum, a friend. Most of all I’m ME.

Wanna be in my tribe?? 😉

Lizzy Van Tromp

8th September 2020

An Ode to my Thumb; Reasons to be grateful…

If reincarnation is real I hope I come back as a tree. A beautiful, wise, strong, tree. I want to look out across amazing views. There must be water in sight, a rolling river or soothing sea. I’d want to be a protected tree, free from risk of being chopped down, burned or built on. This life has dealt me quite enough blows, I’d like to be left in peace in the next one please.

So let me tell you about my THUMB. It all started with our recent camping holiday. Seven days of adventures in rural Kent. We had three nights in a hop pickers hut on a farm. Countryside views and campfires galore, compost toilets and no electricity. I was most impressed by our nine year old L, who used static electricity to charge his iPad from zero to 8%!

Next we moved to a riverside campsite for four nights. Storm Francis did its best to blow our tent away. The smell of the chemical waste disposal (10 paces from our tent) and greasy burgers wasn’t quite what we’d pictured. But the canoeing on the river made up for the stink and the ‘old beardo’ germs H declared were in the rather yucky toilets and showers.

I woke up on day one and my left thumb was absolute agony. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought I’d hit it with a hammer. It felt hot, tight, burning. I moaned a bit because I’m a wimp with pain, took an antihistamine in case it was an insect bite and tried to forget about it.

As the holiday continued the pain got worse. My thumb started to turn a horrible purplish blue color. The nail beds on the other fingers of my left hand started to feel bruised and sore. It was irritating that the pain wouldn’t ease and it started to keep me awake in the night. The day we came home I noticed the thumb had gone freezing cold. The tip was numb. The pain now radiated into my palm, wrist and forearm. I made a vague commitment to N to call the Doctors but of course it was a bank holiday so they were closed.

Now being Autistic I hate using the phone, it makes me horribly anxious. But you can make initial contact with NHS 111 online now and within an hour a lovely GP called me back. To my surprise she mentioned clots and vascular issues. I felt mildly panicked but my personal Jiminy Cricket was telling me to calm down because I’d had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. (If you haven’t already, check out my recent blog on gaslighting and domestic abuse to get the full picture. It’s not an easy read so if you don’t want to cry, just take my word for it that I really lucked out in the parent and sibling stakes)…

Anyway after stalling for most of Sunday I took myself to A&E. Over the course of several hours and the hard work of numerous wonderful Doctors and Nurses I had bloods done, an X-ray, an ECG and an angiogram to look at the blood circulation in my left arm. It turns out my poor purple thumb is being starved of blood supply, and the consensus is that I have clot(s) in my arm.

I finally got home around midnight, took some codeine and waited for the Vascular Surgeon to call me this morning.

The Surgeon has started me on immediate blood thinners to reduce the risk of further clot formation. The vascular team will arrange more tests; heart scans, heart rhythm monitoring, more blood tests….answers are going to take time but I’m fine with that as they’ve assured me I’m not in immediate danger.

One of the most worrying things for me is that my thumb may never recover and in the next few weeks we’ll have to see if it goes black and separates…It was bad enough losing a breast but losing a thumb is just way too gory for me and I can’t help feeling I will scare small children!

Meanwhile the pain continues in my thumb, spreading into my wrist, arm and now behind my shoulder blade. I’m not feeling great and can’t see myself participating in body combat or breakdancing any time soon. But I am very glad to be alive and this has definitely put my suicidal thoughts into perspective. Despite the horrors of my childhood and the rejection by my mother, siblings and maternal grandparents, I will not let their cruelty stop me wanting to live. My loving paternal grandfather died a young man from a clot that travelled to his brain. My father has DVT and has been hospitalized when clots have travelled from his legs to his lungs. So you can appreciate how scared I was alone in hospital being told I had blood clots in my body…my highly emotional Autistic brain went into overdrive. I imagined one wrong sneeze would send a clot hurtling to my lungs or heart to finish me off.

The moral of this story is that you should listen to your purple thumb! Trust your instincts. Pay attention to your bodies. Most importantly, pay attention to the unique connection between our body and minds. It’s no coincidence that I’ve developed blood clots, for the first time in my life, whilst suffering horrendous stress and heartache at the hands of my birth family over the last month. Stress and trauma really does cause blood to clot, that’s not speculation, that’s medical fact. When I developed breast cancer at 39, as a healthy, non smoking, vegetarian I researched causes at length and discussed them with my oncologist. Emotions affect hormones and immune health. Childhood trauma and psychological distress create the perfect biological landscape for disease to spread. I’m not just ‘unlucky’ to have fallen foul of ill health. I’ve been groomed to succumb to disease because of a lifetime of abuse.

But I’m taking back control. My body, my life. I am caring for my biological terrain. I am surrounding myself with the love of my amazing husband and sons; we are an unbeatable campfire making, tandem canoeing, rock pooling, wild swimming, kitchen partying, movie night snuggling team. I am embracing the people who do love me and mine. My dear friends old and new, my husband’s maternal family, my kick-ass Aunties and Cousins on my maternal and paternal sides who know my truth and aren’t afraid to stand up for me; my 2 beautiful sister in laws who have overcome marriage to my siblings and who give me the dignity and strength to retreat from my persecutors and not to lash out in spite like they do to me.

Stay healthy, live well.

Lizzy Van Tromp

31/08/20

Nothing but the Truth – A story of Abuse and Gaslighting

Trigger warning: Sensitive content. Gaslighting, physical and emotional abuse of children, domestic violence, alcoholism, mental illness, suicide.

Photo: Me age 2 years

Nothing but the Truth. Because the truth is real. The truth is right. Tell the truth and nothing bad will happen to you. That’s correct isn’t it?…

Growing up as an undiagnosed Autistic female amongst alcoholism and domestic violence, I clung to the truth in my heart and my head, because I wasn’t allowed to say it out loud. Say it out loud and you are punished.

I have always hated lies and deception. To me it is obvious that telling the truth is the right thing to do. It took me many years to realise that my particular brand of honesty and directness can hurt people. What I saw as blunt and bold could light fires and build barriers, not bridges.

I have tried so hard to fight against my instincts to just say what I think. I don’t enjoy hurting others; in fact I am hyper empathic and feel the pain and sadness of others so deeply that it makes me feel like I’m drowning. It’s why I’ve wasted so many years trying to ‘save’ members of my birth family when they don’t want to be saved. It’s why I stayed up all night when they turned off Alfie Evans life support, breathing for baby Alfie and his family, slow deep breaths, willing him to live, paralysed with fear that he wouldn’t make it. The suffering of his parents was unbearable to me. It’s why I’m quick to apologise after an argument, prone to blame myself, the first to seek ways to change so I can be a better person.

It’s taken me 45 years to realise that actually, many (most?) people are afraid of the truth. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. Pretence is King. Feelings are swept under the carpet like annoying specks of dirt. And that’s where gaslighting creeps in.

Ode to Gaslighting

I have been gaslighted my entire life. Do you know what that means, what it really means? I’m going to take the liberty of explaining this (with a little help from Wikipedia) because it is so fundamental to my life, my truth and learning what it is, has helped set me free from my abusers.

‘Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group sows seeds of doubt in another person, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. This can often evoke low self esteem and cognitive dissonance (struggling to differentiate between truth and lies, what is real and not real). Instances can range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents occurred, to belittling the victim’s emotions and feelings….’

Excerpt from a recent message from my Mother after I tried to address the abuse I’ve suffered:

‘Please try and think through the memories that live in your head, whether every memory is real.

You all had 3 good meals a day. A warm home , a warm bed with clean sheets. A new winter coat every year…I could go on and on yet I know it won’t help alter your memory’.

Now I don’t want to appear ungrateful, but the hot meals and clean sheets didn’t make up for the physical beatings and emotional abuse that both my parents subjected me to. The fear, the rejection, the humiliation I experienced; am I meant to just forget that and how it has carved me into who I am today, because I had well fitting shoes and a bedtime story?

Excerpt from the same message, after I begged my mother to acknowledge the truth and apologise for the harm she has caused me:

‘It would be so easy for me to just not put up a fight and just admit that your accusations, whatever they are, are true. And to just say sorry. But they’re not true’.

Excerpt from a message from my brother O, after I told him I was stepping away from my mother for good and pleaded for his understanding.

‘This is all complete bull***t. I hope you show this message to N (my husband) so he can take care of you and give you the help you need’.

The ‘help I need’ refers to my lifelong mental health issues. I am diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, symptoms of PTSD and Bipolar 2 aka manic depression. I jokingly call it the boring type of Bipolar. I don’t experience manic highs, or reckless, risky behaviour. I just get very low and sad, again and again and again.

God how I wish I hadn’t been so honest about my mental health issues with my birth family. So stupid of me to make myself vulnerable by giving them that mallet to beat me with. It’s their ‘get out of jail free’ card. It’s ok, she’s mentally ill! We’ll tell her she’s lying, she’s confused, she needs help. Then her uncomfortable truths will go away….

Photo: me age 3 or 4

The Truth Hurts

Well, I’m going to tell MY truth. And I realise it will hurt some people. But if it helps even one person who has been victimised like me, gaslighted like me, then it will be worth it.

Before I do, I just want to say this – I don’t believe my parents are ‘evil’. I don’t believe my brothers are bad people. They each have their own demons, tragedy and trauma. More than anything my brother’s are just weak. They hurt me with their apathy and lack of action. They choose ignorance over truth and hey, that’s their choice. I still only wish good things for them. I don’t want or need people to criticise or judge them. I’m not speaking out to hurt them. I’m speaking out to take back control of my life. To stop the gaslighting, the bullying, the coercion. To heal myself and set myself free from their judgement. They don’t understand me. They never really tried. My neurodiversity as an Autistic woman and my Bipolar 2 diagnosis have only been used to criticise and undermine me. At times, to ridicule me.

So here is my truth.

My Mother, the Trigger

I have battled with anxiety and OCD since I was in infant school. It will never leave me. It’s an ongoing struggle to cope with the day to day and to stay healthy and well for my husband and young sons. I’ve done everything I can to stay mentally fit over the years. I’ve had counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. I take long term prescribed medication for my anxiety and depression. I gave up alcohol completely in September 2019 which is a huge deal for me as I’ve used alcohol to cope with my social communication difficulties since I was 17 years old. I exercise to put the right chemicals in my brain. My only vice now is comfort eating, which is still destructive but a lesser evil than drink or drugs.

But despite all this, I continue to battle with cycles of severe depression and suicidal thoughts. And more often that not, I relapse as a direct result of a confrontation with my Mother.

It terrifies me how easily she can get into my head and send me hurtling backwards into my bad place. She makes me feel like I’m a terrible person, she says that my memories aren’t real. And she blames the confrontations on my poor mental health. It’s always a shock to see how quickly and completely she can turn against me.

But this most recent time, luckily, my husband can vouch that my mental health was really good. The national lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic was largely a positive experience for me. I didn’t have to go out and interact with strangers. I didn’t have to juggle school runs and appointments and training courses which are always a huge stress due to my poor executive functioning. It was just me and my sons, exploring Sussex and making amazing discoveries. Sea swimming, rock pooling, nature walks. And of course my camera came everywhere with me capturing the beautiful things we saw and the precious memories we were making. I was exercising daily, I even lost 10lb. Every time I did a doorstep visit to mum, delivered her prescription meds, or took flowers or sweet treats to cheer her up; she would comment how well I looked, how happy I seemed. When I met her on the beach with my husband and our boys, she said the same things to him about how upbeat and happy I was.

So when we fell out and she immediately started sending me messages saying I was at fault and that I needed help, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe she would be so cruel as to try and blame my mental health rather than look at how her own actions contributed to our conflict. She even sent messages to my husband, blaming my mental health, despite the fact days before she’d told him how lovely it was to see me doing so well.

Photo: Me age 5

Broken but not Fixable

In case you’re wondering, this blog is not a knee jerk reaction or a pain response. I’ve tried to fix my relationship with mum, my whole adult life. I’ve tried to get her to talk about the past, I’ve searched for signs of remorse, longed for her apology. Because I do love her. Or I did. She always says how cruel my grandma was and still is to her. My grandma herself was abused by her mother and abandoned to a children’s home. Can you see the cycle of abuse perpetuating? Yet my mother is blind to the fact she plays the same games and causes me to feel rejected and disliked and inadequate just like her mum did and does to her. Interestingly, my Mum’s dad, my Grandfather, was her knight in shining armour. She worshipped him and he loved his little girl. Not enough to intervene when my grandma abused her mind you, but he was a stable and benevolent presence in her life, which is more than I ever had.

But first there was my Father

In those early years, I was utterly devoted to my mother and I feared my father. I was a silent observer to the shouting and screaming. He beat her regularly but she never spoke about it. To me, he was aloof. He never took my hand, never hugged me. He never came to school plays or parents evenings. I felt no warmth from him. Sometimes on a weekend we would go to my maternal grandparents house. My grandparents were young and glamorous. They lived comfortably and had a wide social circle. They would throw lively parties where alcohol flowed freely. The men played card games. The women danced and talked. My dad was the DJ. Music made him come alive. He would play one record after another. His eyes glassy and wild, his face sweaty, he would dance and joke as the alcohol fumes rolled off him. It baffled me how my grandparents adored him. Did they not know what he was doing to my mum behind closed doors? I realised many years later that they turned a blind eye because the truth was too uncomfortable for them to address. And my mum of course was too ashamed to ask for help. She probably blamed herself for falling pregnant so young. She was rushed into marrying my father at 16 at my grandfather’s behest. To maintain a veneer of respectability.

So while the adults partied, myself and my two younger brothers (one day I’d have five) would play hide and seek with our cousins and tell ghost stories under a blanket. Steal coins from the card table and chocolate from the tin. These were happy times I suppose, although at the back of my mind the clock ticked because when we went home the fighting would start. And he would hit her. And she would cry. Just like they always did when he’d been drinking. Alcoholic was not in my vocabulary back then, but I recognised the change in him all too well from the day to day sullen and indifferent robot to the gregarious and popular drunk to the staggering, violent bully who covered my mum in bruises and punched holes through all the doors in our house. But the worst bit was after. When he’d isolate himself in the lounge, put his headphones on and blast music so loud you could hear it upstairs. ELO. Mario Lanza. Bread. The headphones couldn’t contain the music or his heartbroken sobs. I cannot adequately describe the conflict I felt then. Between hating him and pitying him. I could feel his pain so strongly but I didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop his destructive behaviour.

But actually, that wasn’t the worst bit. The worst bit was the next day or the day after, when he’d come home full of remorse bearing gifts for her. Usually jewellery or ornaments. Garish watches or necklaces with a hologram pendant. And she accepted the gifts and she’d fall into his arms and they’d disappear upstairs for hours leaving me to mind my brothers. Even though I didn’t know a thing about sex at that age, I had a horrible heavy feeling of knowing they were being intimate and knowing we children were shut out. Surplus to requirements. It made me want to scream. The mother I adored, who I followed like a loyal pet and did chore after chore just to please her. But when he turned his kind eyes on her she was gone to us. We were invisible and I was childcare, not old enough to look after myself let alone 2 younger brothers. To me it was revolting and humiliating that she would give herself to him after what he’d done. And so the seeds of resentment were sewn and the rejection laid heavy in my heart.

Of course, it was not long before she did something else to displease him. A burned dinner. A shirt un-ironed. He didn’t need much of an excuse to head to the pub and I for one was happy when he was gone. It was when he returned that the cycle started again.

Photo: Me age 9

Impossible promises

Until I started secondary school I think I was almost obsessed with my mum. I loved her too much. I saw her as a victim and I wanted to save her. I would tell her that I’d never get married; I’d never leave her. I’d tell her that I wanted to adopt disabled children like my Uncle Robert, who was in a wheelchair. She never discouraged me from these fantasies. I think she enjoyed my slavish devotion. I shared responsibility in the home for my brothers and for cleaning. All I wanted to do was serve her and protect her from him. What struck me as strange then and even stranger now, is that she never talked to us about any of it while it was happening. It was an open secret. We never even discussed it amongst ourselves (my brothers and I that is). I don’t know why. I suspect my brain was so overloaded as an undiagnosed Autistic that I just accepted the fighting as normal. And despite everything, she WAS a good mum in many ways during those early years. I felt loved by her and she tried her best to bring us up well. There were always bedtime stories and trips to public swimming baths. Playing with our cousins at the park. Baking fairy cakes and licking the bowl clean after. In the evenings when he was out drinking she’d let me stay up to watch Moonlighting with her. Or she’d take me to slimming club with her on the bus and we’d eat chocolate on the way home. To me, she was the best mum in the world and I was devoted to her. I just couldn’t sustain it for the lifetime I’d promised her.

Finding my independence

Secondary school brought many changes and affected the dynamic between my mother and I. Suddenly I was away from my brothers. I didn’t have to look after them all day like I’d had to at primary school. I was actually able to make friends because I didn’t feel obliged to spend my break times protecting my siblings from bullies. Also the learning got a lot harder and I had the daily demands of homework to contend with. I struggled here because despite being very clever, I processed information more slowly and I struggled to manage time and organise myself.

Looking back I think my mum resented the fact that she wasn’t the centre of my attention any more. Or maybe that’s unfair. Maybe she was just hurt and felt sad and rejected by me because I wasn’t so devoted to her anymore.

What I do know is, I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a good kid. I was kind and sensible. I helped out at home. I did really well at school. I never smoked or drank alcohol or went off with boys. In fact I was ridiculously immature and naive compared to other girls. I knew nothing about puberty or sex. I still read comics meant for little kids like ‘Bunty’ and ‘Judy’. I still played with dolls. But I did have more things to fit into my life and so I had less time and energy to focus on mum. I started doing voluntary work at a local club for children with disabilities on a Saturday. It made me feel worthwhile and got me out of the house. I even used to take my brothers; it was the only socialising any of us did back then. At 15 I started being interested in boys because they showed an interest in me. I’d always hated my face but suddenly boys were calling me pretty and saying I had nice eyes. Like any teenager, my hormones were confusing and overwhelming. Maybe Mum and I would have stayed close if I’d been able to talk to her about my thoughts and feelings but I literally couldn’t talk to anyone. I was so emotionally immature and terrified of being judged by her. I kept a diary but even my diary was sanitised, like I was writing it whilst being the character of Lizzy who I thought everyone expected me to be. The good girl. The obedient servant. The other thing that changed is that I started to fight back with my father. I wasn’t going to let him beat her up in front of me. If he hit her I’d hit him. He hated me and I hated him. We either ignored each other or screamed at each other. He couldn’t bear me challenging his behaviour and gradually his violence turned onto me rather than mum. And this is why I started to not trust her anymore and why I doubted her love for me, because she did nothing to protect me. She just let my dad and me war on. I wonder if she was just relieved that it wasn’t her anymore on the receiving end of his fists. One significant event I remember is when I was 13 or 14. My mum was at work and I’d had a horrific argument with my Dad. To punish me he’d picked up my guinea-pig hutch and thrown it to the floor with them inside. They were squealing with fear, there was wood shavings everywhere. My pets were everything to me, my bedroom was like a miniature zoo, I kept birds and various small mammals, I showered them with love and spent hours each day cleaning them out and exercising them. Now my guinea-pigs were shrieking inside their upside down hutch. He got up in my face, spit sprayed out of his mouth as he screamed at me. I couldn’t even hear the words. I was terrified, adrenaline was pumping through my body and I suddenly realised I’d wet myself. My pants and trousers were soaked in urine. I was overcome with shame. I went running to my Aunt’s house a few streets away crying my eyes out. It was the first time I’d ever told ANYONE in the family about what went on at home. She calmed me down and cleaned me up and took me home when mum returned from work. I didn’t hear what she said to my mum, I assume she told her it had to stop. But as soon as she’d left, my mother gave me a good hiding. She beat me for telling my Aunt what he’d done. I get that she was ashamed and afraid herself. I accept she was a victim of domestic violence too. But I was the child. Not her. I was the one who needed protecting.

So I started to love her less. I started to imagine a future away from him and her, my own job, house, my own family. I began to plan my escape.

Photo: Me age 12

Paying the Price

I was stupid to think I could break away from my family without there being repercussions. When I was 17 and doing my A levels I got my first proper boyfriend who I really, really liked. We both had weekend jobs at Homebase, the local DIY store. He was funny, easygoing and kind. Of course, she hated me dating and every time I left the house there would be conflict. I used to wonder if she was afraid I’d end up a pregnant teenager like her. But she never offered any advice or friendship. Only judgement and mean comments that made me feel humiliated and horrible about myself. We never spoke about contraception and when I took the step to have a physical relationship it was an awkward, messy disaster and I ended up taking the morning after pill from the doctor as I was scared I’d get ‘caught out’ like she did. I stupidly confided this to my diary. A few days later my boyfriend came to pick me up and mum invited him in. She’d NEVER invited him into the house before. I felt so scared. I knew I was walking into a trap. She took us to my bedroom where she slowly took out my diary. She said the morning after pill was very bad and that I’d effectively had an abortion. She said I might never be able to have children. I just cried and cried while he stayed silent, his face bright red. He was mortified. When he got home that night he found out that she’d called his mum and told her everything. His mum was furious. She asked him if it was true and told him that she understood ‘young girls could be very silly and have fantasies’. So he said I’d made it up, he denied we’d had sex. A few days later he broke up with me. Can you imagine how I felt? I believed I was in love with that boy. I naively wanted to be with him forever. He was my first love and my mother had turned our relationship into something dirty and deceitful, something to be ashamed of. She wasn’t trying to protect me she was trying to punish me for growing up.

Sometime around then, she asked me to move out. I remember Dad had been gone for a while. I don’t know where. There were always periods when he’d disappear. To his mothers or his brothers. But then suddenly mum told me he wanted to come back home. She said she’d found me somewhere else to live. A house share in Sidcup with 2 estate agents in their 20’s. He wouldn’t come home if I was there so I had to leave. She tried to paint it as an opportunity, a way for me to have freedom. I tried to act like I wasn’t bothered but inside I was devastated. I desperately hated change and feared strangers (because I was Autistic of course but my parents either ignored or just didn’t see my obvious differences). I couldn’t believe she was choosing him over me. Again. No matter what he did to her she chose him. So I moved out. The weirdest thing was, my Dad helped me move house and he was crying as he said goodbye. So he must have felt bad but not enough to talk to me about it or to try and build a relationship with me.

By then I’d started seeing the boy who would later become my first husband. I skipped school a lot and got drunk with my friends. Having previously been a straight A student, I scraped a B and two C’s at A level which was a miracle as I did little work and frequently skipped classes. But I wasn’t being parented by anyone so I did what I wanted.

I decided I didn’t want to go to University. I wanted to get a job and earn my own money so I wasn’t relying on anyone else. Other people just let me down. Also, as predictable and lame as it might sound, I was in love with my boyfriend and I didn’t want to go to Uni and risk us splitting up.

I arranged to meet up with my mum and brothers at a mini golf course in Sidcup. I tried to explain gently that I was going to get a job instead of going to Uni. I tried to explain my reasons. Focus on the positives. But she just freaked. She screamed and cried. She was shaking and trembling like she was having a panic attack. It scared the life out of me and in that moment I knew I had no choice I had to go because otherwise she’d never forgive me.

So I went to Uni. And was desperately unhappy. I missed my boyfriend. I had no money, my student loan barely covered my rent and travel. I lived off cans of soup that mum gave me each week. I felt totally cut adrift, surrounded by strangers. It was like I’d been hollowed out, a ghostly observer of my fellow students, never a part of the story that played out in front of me. My course was so hard, the first term was poetry and being a very literal Autistic person I found it impossible to interpret the complicated poems they gave us. I remember writing an essay on a famous poem I had thought was about War. It turned out it was about HIV and AIDS. I had no clue. I think I managed one and a half terms. Then one day I woke up, packed what I could carry and boarded a train home. I never, ever went back. I left so many possessions there. For years I fretted over the things I’d left behind. Not so much for the things themselves but the fact of abandoning them; that felt deeply wrong to me. The whole experience felt doomed, haunted. Like a chapter from someone else’s life story that I’d accidentally fallen into.

So I went home praying mum would understand. But of course she was really upset and angry. We’d had several difficult weeks in the run up to me leaving Uni, as she hated the fact I would travel home on a weekend, shower and grab clean clothes then disappear to my boyfriend’s house all weekend. She said I treated her house like a hotel and I can definitely see why she thought that. But I was in love and I just wanted to be with him. She KNEW what that feeling was like. But she hated me for it. She had nothing to say to me except spiteful comments and accusations. She never stopped to think about how I felt or why we were in that situation. She started to turn everyone against me. My younger brothers called me ‘the bike of St Paul’s Cray’ (our local district) because mum told them I was sleeping around. On separate occasions both my maternal Auntie and Uncle turned on me because of the lies my mum was feeding them. But what had I done wrong? Yes I had a spiteful tongue as I’d learned the art of personal attacks from my mother, the grand mistress of belittling and demeaning comments. I would get into awful rows with her. But I wasn’t a bad person. I just wanted to be independent, to enjoy being with my boyfriend, the first person who truly loved me and made me feel safe. His mum and dad were so kind to me, their place felt like a real home. They felt like a real family.

In contrast my mum seemed to despise me. She constantly told me I was mad which really scared me as I’d grown up overhearing the adults talk about my Grandma’s mental health struggles and her suicide attempts, so I thought I must be just like her. I was regularly having (what I now realise were) uncontrollable Autistic meltdowns. These feel like giant suffocating waves of emotion, anger, fear, confusion. You lose all sense of reality, your senses are boiling over and you are so frightened. But these meltdowns would earn me beatings. And I can hand on heart say that my mum hit me and assaulted me far worse than my dad ever did. I was bickering with her once, sitting cross legged in the lounge doing homework on the floor. She grabbed my hair and smashed my face full force into the carpet. My nose burst with blood and I went to school the next day with 2 massive black eyes, having to say I’d fallen over. Another time, I was walking through the downstairs hall in a towel and she launched herself at me and ripped off the towel, opened the front door and tried to force me outside naked. I was screaming and crying, trying to hold onto the bannister. My crime? I’d back chatted her. I’m not going to pretend I was an angel. I was a confused, extremely angry and hurting undiagnosed Autistic. We bickered over everything and yes I would answer back and use swear words. I also tried to physically defend myself when she was attacking me. But does that mean I deserved what she put me through? The violent attacks, the pure mental torture of hearing her criticisms and put downs. No matter what my dad did, he could never really hurt me because I didn’t love him. I hated him. I pitied him. But I ADORED my mum. I loved her so intensely and purely. I’d devoted my childhood to protecting her and looking after her.

Photo: Me age approximately 13

Just a few weeks before our final fall out in June, she shared a picture of herself and I on holiday in Cornwall on our family WhatsApp group. I must have been 13 or 14. And she wrote to our family group how I was ‘always looking after her when it should have been the other way around’. But as soon as I strayed from that path of serving her, as soon as I wanted some independence and happiness for myself, she turned against me. She didn’t just turn against me, I think she really did hate me. Compared to her who having sex with my dad when she was 14, under my Grandfather’s roof, I was the most innocent, hardworking, sensible and frankly boring teenager. The first time at 15 when a boy tried to kiss me and put his tongue in my mouth I was horrified and completely shocked. But I had to grow up and as soon as I wanted to experience normal things like friendship and romance she acted like I was betraying her and made me feel dirty and disgusting for wanting these things, ordinary things that my school friends wanted and enjoyed.

My three eldest brothers have many, many examples of her violent behaviour they could share. If they chose to tell the truth, to be brave. If they stopped pitying our mother, the victim, for just a moment. If they stopped taking the path of least resistance. They joke about it sometimes but it affected them deeply. This wasn’t normal discipline or ‘just smacking your kids’. This was screwing their faces up in her hand, punching them so hard their head bounced of the wall behind them. I can see she was probably mentally ill herself, having some kind of extended breakdown, trying to bring the boys up on her own. She sees herself completely as a victim, someone who ‘tried her best’. But that’s a lie. She didn’t try her best. We were the victims, we were children. No one teaches you to be a parent. You have to find your own way. And I accept she had a very difficult time because of the toxic relationship with her own mother. But she ALSO had a father who adored her, spoiled her and gave her security and love. She had my Great Nanny Rose as a confidante and loving protector. I had NO ONE. I grew up in isolation, the adults I should have been able to trust let me down and if I dared to try and confide in anyone or ask for help I was punished for it.

Dear Diary

When I first moved in with my second husband N, the man who has stood by me for almost 17 years, we found my old diary in a box of papers. Inserted inside was a letter to Esther Rantzen from Childline. 0800 1111. That number is still so clear in my head. I’d never had the courage to send my letter or to pick up the phone. But it shows how bad things were. Had I sent that letter, I’ve no doubt we would have been taken into care. Would that have been a better life for us children? I don’t know. But I know I regret not finding out. I regret letting my guilt at wanting to escape suffocate my hopes of a better life, a normal life where the parents didn’t beat up on their children. N was horrified when he read that diary. He was so upset he decided to confront my mother. He wanted answers. He wanted her to appreciate what she’d done and for her to apologise to me. But of course, a brick wall went up straight away. She refused to entertain the conversation, she even got one of my brothers to tell him to back off and ‘keep out of it’. The horrors of my childhood were to stay firmly swept under the carpet where they couldn’t offend or upset anyone.

Turning point

Let me take you back now, to when I dropped out of university. I was 18 years old. I came home that day to find all my possessions in bin bags in my mum’s front garden. Literally everything apart from my pets. She had the audacity to phone my dad, the man who hated and abused me all my childhood and he turned up in a van with his brother. They’d decided I should live with him. Can you imagine what that was like? I was 18 years old, and the only adult I’d ever properly loved for the second time in my life was banishing me from her home. Dad got his brother to drop us in Bromley high street. He necked several pints in a pub while I fearfully sipped a lemonade. Then we walked the length of the high street and each time we reached a public phone box he phoned her and called her a c**t. He was crying and punching the metal phone keys until his fist was mashed and bloody. Then we walked to the next phone box and he did it again. And again. She had forced him to take responsibility for me but he didn’t know how to and didn’t want to. By the time we got back to his flat, his knuckles were crushed and misshapen. A bloody mess. I lasted about 3 weeks living with him. To be fair to him he tried to be kind. He bought me vegetarian ready meals and he did my ironing (he ironed everything, even underwear. To this day I don’t iron unless I absolutely have to). All the time I was with him, I felt like he could hardly bear to look at me. I think I reminded him too much of mum. I never felt safe around him. I hated him hugging me. It was so false and it just felt wrong receiving affection from him.

Photo: Me age 17

Thank god, my boyfriend’s parents took pity on me. They asked me if I’d like to live with them. It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me. I had no money, nothing. But they took me in as a daughter and they were just ordinary working class people, they weren’t rich, they didn’t have a huge home. But they could see how broken I was and they could see how much their son loved me.

So I lived with them. I got a job in retail. I met my brothers in Sidcup to watch a movie occasionally or I saw them infrequently at my dads for dinner. I didn’t speak with my mum for a long time. I don’t know how long. Autistics have a funny relationship with time, it passes by us without us realising. I heard nothing from her until my beloved cat Fluffy died and she called my boyfriend’s house to let me know. Her voice was cold and unfriendly but so weakened was my childish heart that within seconds I was desperate to ingratiate myself with her and become part of her life again.

Let’s talk about Sex

During my 20’s I tried hard to rebuild my relationship with mum, with my boyfriend’s support. But I could never overcome my resentment and anger at how she’d treated me. It was made harder by the fact that she took so many different men into her life and her home after my dad finally left. Strangers that she’d invite to the house where my younger brothers were living. Some of them moved in to live with her within weeks of meeting. I did like one, DE. He was my youngest brother’s dad. I felt sorry for him and I could see he suffered with mental health issues like me. I was over the moon when A was born and it gave me a reason to visit her more.

Photo: Me age 20.

I adored my new baby brother. But Mum and DE’s relationship broke up when A was still tiny and suddenly she was seeing a another man, J, I think he was a policeman. He owned a boat and was married with kids. This really upset me. I have strong, quite old fashioned values I suppose. I felt ashamed that she was someone’s’ mistress’. I even overheard her saying that she’d stayed on his boat for a festival on the Isle of Wight and when she left she helped him change the sheets as his wife was arriving later that day. I challenged her about that years later and she giggled like a child and denied he was married. But she knows I know. One thing I’ve always struggled with about mum that is in stark contrast to me, is how overtly sexual she is. In her behaviour and how she talks about sex. Because of what happened to me growing up and how dirty she made he feel about my changing body and wanting boyfriends, I am very repressed sexually. I love affection (cuddles, holding hands) but I’ve only been able to relax if I’ve drunk alcohol and I have never fully enjoyed physical intimacy thanks to her. I feel self conscious and vulnerable and sometimes I almost feel like I’m going to have a panic attack if I’m touched in a certain way. So seeing mum throw herself at all these men was terrible for me. And for my brothers. During her fling with J, she asked me and my boyfriend to go to an open air concert with them. It poured with rain and she was dancing with a hot drink in her hand. She slipped in the mud and split boiling tea all over my chest. I screamed and yanked my top off, my skin was burning. She said something like ‘oh it’s like that is it’ and she pulled her blouse off and started dancing in her bra. I was mortified. Why would she do that? When we got back to her house I went upstairs to brush my teeth. I came back down and she was sitting in the lounge with J and my boyfriend and she’d put a porn movie on. I was disgusted. I started yelling at her and she laughed out loud and called me a prude. I went straight to bed so upset and confused. Why would a mum do that to her daughter? It was so humiliating and caused problems with my boyfriend because I was so confused and hurt that he’d allowed that situation to occur.

Then she was seeing another man. I found this out as my boyfriend and I went for a sleepover one weekend. I woke in the night to baby A crying. He was a toddler, one or two. I tried to settle him but he wanted Mummy. Mum’s bedroom was downstairs at the front. I called downstairs, ‘Mum! Mum! The babies’ crying’. No answer. I called again. No answer. As I walked downstairs I heard clear noises of her having sex. I felt outraged, I kicked open the door. She and this stranger were naked and having sex in the home she was bringing my five young brothers up in. Am I wrong for thinking this was bad? Am I a prude, a freak? To me it was disgusting. I screamed at her. I called her all the names under the sun. I thought she was immoral and I felt like my brothers weren’t safe with her taking strangers to the house.

I found out many years later from my brothers that where were many more ‘visitors’. She has tried to justify her behaviour by telling me she’d never experienced real love, or being someone’s priority, so she sought love from anywhere she could. Well you know what, I don’t care. She could have sought counselling like I did. I was beaten and betrayed by both parents, I grew up isolated and alone. But I didn’t throw myself at every random man again and again and again. I didn’t prioritise these strangers, these random men, before my kids. They weren’t even good men. They were all mess ups. Maybe not physically abusive like my dad, but mentally abusive, financially unstable or utterly dependent on her. They slept with prostitutes. Stole from her. She married Big A as we called him, after only 4 months! How that relationship lasted so long I’ll never understand. There was an endless cycle of him cheating and leaving and coming back for more cheating. Who picked up the pieces? Us kids. Every time he left she was bereft, suicidal. It was so frightening for us to see. Then just as she was finding her feet, often months down the line and usually after her meeting another potential suitor, big A would come back and she’d forgive him.

I know I must sound really angry and bitter. That’s because I am. She messed up my life and all my brothers lives. I have five younger brothers. They have all suffered with mental health issues and four of them have struggled with alcohol or substance abuse. I strongly suspect there is undiagnosed Autism in at least 3 of them. Some of them treat women very poorly. They swing between all consuming affection and deep resentment. The others are overly dependent on their partners, financially or emotionally. They struggle to commit. They are dishonest about their struggles and conceal personal issues or money worries often caused by gambling. The hardest thing for me is that my two youngest brothers refuse to discuss any of this. O in particular insists it never happened. I can’t work out if that’s because he was so much younger than me that he didn’t understand what went on, or whether he chooses to ignore the facts and block it out as he is totally overwhelmed by any conflict. Certainly he gets very depressed and overwhelmed by other people’s problems. Certainly he enjoyed a more favourable upbringing as my parents separated when he was young. In the coming years my oldest brother J would cut all contact with my mother, though he still has a relationship with my Dad. Two of my brothers have a fractious relationship with her, torn between resenting her for the past and needing her support now with childcare. Two of them clearly pity her and see her as a victim, what can I say, she plays the role so well. What I do know is that NONE of them have continued to experience the very personal, hateful, insidious attacks I have suffered from her in adulthood. She worships her boys now and of course their children. She ingratiates herself with their partners. She gives them money she doesn’t have. She lets herself be spoken to like a doormat. But me? I am her rival. I am expendable. I am someone she proclaims to love but treats with hatred. As I said, the cycle of maternal abuse perpetuates on her side of the family…

Then came blessings

Photo: Me age 40 with my beautiful boys

Having children with my second husband N, was a positive turning point for me. I’d always been scared I’d repeat the mistakes of my parents but as a mum, I flourished. I read every book I could get my hands on, on positive patenting and gentle parenting. Our sons are nurtured to be confident and follow their passions. They feel safe. They trust us. They know grown ups makes mistakes and they know (decent) grown ups say sorry for those mistakes too. There is no physical punishment, no shaming, no humiliation. We talk about anything and everything. We are all friends, we are a team. N and I have worked hard to make our natural parenting styles meet in the middle. I am immeasurably proud of our beautiful boys. I love them with every part of me and it is that love that stops me from killing myself when I’m at my lowest low. They really have saved my life.

It may surprise you that I really wanted mum to be involved with my children. I wanted her to see what a good mum I am, I wanted her to be proud of me, I wanted her to love me for bringing our amazing boys into her life. Well, she has definitely been a better grandma than she was a mum. She didn’t look after them, or take them out like N’s mum did. She babysat on the odd occasion, usually with strict instructions that we were back by 10pm and had the boys ready for bed before we left. My eldest has occasionally slept over at her house when his cousin is staying with her, which he loves as he can stay up as late as he wants and use his iPad as much as he wants. But she’s good at talking to them and being silly with them. She buys them sweets and listens to their chatter about their latest obsessions. They are very fond of her.

I think it was four years ago now that she relocated from Kent to Sussex, where we lived. None of my brothers lived in Kent anymore, in fact two live overseas. Only my youngest brother was still living with her. I thought we’d see her often after she moved. But especially over the last two years, she became quite reclusive. On a weekend she would travel to Ramsgate to care and clean for my elderly grandparents, still nobly tolerating the spite that spew forth from my grandmother’s mouth whilst my grandfather made excuses for her vicious words. The constant traveling wore her out and she would return home to her house in a mess courtesy of my youngest brother and her long suffering German Shepherd who would soil the floor from lack of being walked. When she came home from those visits, she just wanted to hibernate at home. She would go days without calling me which would always make me worry and I’d end up getting cross with her for not returning my messages, messages she’d insist she never received. It usually felt like unless she wanted a lift somewhere in our car, or to borrow money off N, then she was not interested in us. I wrote to my Grandfather, privately, expressing my fears for her health and asking him to be mindful of the strain she was under trying to combine her job and run a home whilst looking after him and my Nan who lived five hours away on the train. But of course I’m invisible. He completely ignored my letter. My mum told me he’d read it and he was ‘very upset’ – he was not used to any woman challenging him. It became clear to me that he was content to see mum sacrifice her health to care for them. It was her duty in his eyes. She didn’t have a partner, she didn’t even drive, so in his eyes it was an easy solution to his care needs. My mother meanwhile loved them slavishly and unreservedly, desperate to earn my grandfather’s approval and tempt a kind word out of my grandmother’s mouth.

This last year I started taking Mum to work maybe two days a week which meant we’d see her on those mornings. She’d come early and make the boy’s toast while I showered. Then I’d drive her to work. I enjoyed those brief catch ups. And that was the extent of our time together. When the Covid 19 pandemic started, we would meet her on the beach for socially distanced dog walks. She was very down so I was always trying to do thoughtful things to cheer her up. I’d buy her a nice candle or bubble bath. One day my sons and I drew rainbows for her windows and used street chalks to decorate he driveway. Seeing how low she was, I knew a fallout was coming. That’s always the pattern. She is unhappy with something in her life so she lashes out at me. Never my brothers. Her boys can walk all over her, talk to her like mud, take money she hasn’t got, she even cashed in one of her pensions early to bail one brother out of debt. In contrast, I have never asked for anything. Not a penny. Even when I had breast cancer it was N’s mum & step dad supporting me through chemo and helping us move house. Mum was there on the periphery but always with her own distractions and her own agenda. I think she quite enjoyed the attention of having a pregnant daughter battling cancer. She always gives the impression her life is so hard and so complicated that any problems I might have would pale into insignificance. It was easier just to keep my worries from her.

Now, I want to explain the pattern of conflict between my mother & I so you can try and understand what it’s been like for me as an adult versus as a child. These are just a few of many, many examples that stick strongly in my head.

The ticking time bomb

A few years ago we rented a farmhouse together for my brother A’s birthday. His birthday always clashes with our wedding anniversary. Every year I would try and explain that N and I wanted to do our own thing but she usually guilt-tripped us into going away with them or meeting up with them and this was one such time. The farmhouse was gorgeous and had a swimming pool, with a perfect location in the Kent countryside. The first night we cooked a big meal all together and everyone was in good spirits. Except, Mum was a bit down because Big A could only stay the one night. I think he had to work. I knew she was upset but she wasn’t making a fuss. She was just quiet. She did however keep complaining about the house. Little niggles, like she thought it wasn’t clean. It had a septic tank which overflowed so we couldn’t use the water for half a day – she acted like the world was ending. In the end N pulled her up on it. He told her to stop being negative as everyone was having a great time and the house and pool were lovely. I could tell that she was furious he’d told her off but she didn’t argue with him, she would never argue with a man.

Meanwhile our baby son L, was really poorly with a virus. He had a fever and was covered in hives. I literally spent most of the first 2 days in our bedroom, looking after him.

I think it was the third day, we were meant to be going out for a meal. In front of everyone she suddenly announced she wasn’t coming. I asked why and she went on full attack. She said I’d been ignoring her. That I’d deliberately left her out of conversations. All this hatred came pouring out of her mouth then she ran to her room. I was totally devastated and crying, I would never treat anyone like that, let alone my own mum. I followed her in floods of tears and asked why she was doing this. She told me to get away from her. I told her she couldn’t keep doing this, turning all this hatred towards me, blaming me for stuff that was nothing to do with me. She just ignored me, told me to get out of her room. I cried all night. My brothers were all awkward not wanting to take sides.

The next day we were doing an Easter Egg hunt. In the garden she suddenly started talking to me like nothing had happened. No explanation. No apology. She just decided to stop. And me being pathetic, weak me, I accepted it because I was so grateful the conflict was over.

The same thing happened last year, Autumn time. I picked L up from school at 2.45pm. It was a Tuesday. Mum didn’t finish work until 3.30pm but I’d agreed to wait for her so she could come in the car to see my nephew and sister in law for tea. I’d bought cans of drink and sweets for everyone in the garage and the boys and I played I-spy until she finished work. The second she climbed in the car she was moaning. She’d had a terrible day, people were horrible, she was exhausted etc. So I said, ‘Come on Mum, no moaning, we’ve all had busy days. Let’s go and have a nice time’. Straight away she started shaking. Her face twisted and in front of the boys she started shouting ‘how dare you start on me?!’ I was so shocked and upset; I could see she was about to cry and I felt awful for her. I put my arms around her in a hug and said ‘I’m sorry Mum. Please don’t cry. I’m sorry I’ve upset you’ but she pushed me away forcefully, screaming ‘don’t touch me’ and got out of the car. I was begging her to get back in but she stormed off crying. I felt heartbroken. Because I loved my mum and watching her walk away across the road in the cold and dark made me so utterly sad. I couldn’t bear to see her hurting. But then I started feeling angry, why was she doing this to me again? What had I actually done that warranted her behaviour? I felt so cut up that she wouldn’t let me hug her and all the old feelings started flooding back…panic, fear, what will she tell my brothers? What will she tell Grandad? That powerless feeling knowing she will be verbally destroying me to people I love and they’ll believe her because she is such a convincing victim.

After that day I vowed no more, I decided to stay away from her for good. We are bad for each other and my mental health took such a dive every time she melted down at me. I told my brothers. I deleted myself from the family WhatsApp group. I knew I had to take these steps to protect my sanity. And for a few weeks I felt ok, calm, safe. But Christmas was coming. My brother O and his and girlfriend were visiting from Ireland. He started messaging me telling me not to spoil Christmas. He said I was being silly. He said I had to think about everyone, not just myself. So I messaged Mum and asked to meet up. I said I wanted to move on but I needed to discuss things with her as I had to protect myself from this situation happening again. I said I couldn’t get over the past and I needed her to understand how it affected me and I needed to hear she was sorry. And at first she agreed we would meet. But then at the last minute she messaged me. She said she didn’t want to meet, that it wasn’t helpful. She said she had nothing to be sorry for, she was a victim and I had to accept that. So I was yet again devastated, that I wasn’t even worthy of a conversation. I couldn’t believe she could just put up a barrier like that. But like the pathetic idiot I am, I did nothing. I met up with them all over Christmas. It was awkward at first but she acted like nothing had happened and of course I loved her so seeing her softened me and made me feel sorry for her like I always do. Looking back I can see that yet again, I was just her easy target. When she blew up at me she was really unhappy. Her job was going badly as she was allegedly being bullied, she never had any money, no partner, she had seemed low for a while before it happened. I genuinely think she has no one else to take it out on and maybe she convinces herself that I deserve it because in her eyes, my life is so much better than hers. She’s sees I have a kind husband, my own home, a little bit of money…I think she honestly resents that. But I earned those things. I worked tirelessly for many years in my career. N didn’t come from a wealthy background, everything we’ve achieved has been down to our hard work alone. And yes I have had 2 lovely husbands. Because I’m sensible enough to choose decent men having learnt from my mum exactly how NOT to act and how NOT to choose a partner. Shouldn’t she be happy that I’ve been successful at these things?

The most recent confrontation occurred because a few minor things had happened over the space of a week that really hurt me. I knew I wanted to address them with her but I also knew I needed to tread carefully so as not to trigger a massive fallout . I constantly try to improve myself and learn about myself and I know my directness and blunt talking upset other people. I truly believe that my initial messages to her where I raised the issue, were thoughtful and caring. I just wanted to make her aware that she’d really hurt me and for her to apologise so we could move on. I just needed to hear she was sorry. Just once.

The ridiculous thing is, the thing we fell out over was so minor really. She’d had my 14 year old niece staying with her and as a joke (I think) my niece told me she’d had her nipple pierced. I was shocked and worried by this but mum seemed to find it funny and she said she’d felt it so she knew it was true. Over the next few days I fretted over why my niece was doing such grown up things behind my sister in laws back. A few days later N and I met mum and my niece on the beach. Almost immediately Mum told N about the piercing. He was also horrified and said he thought it was very sexualised behaviour for a young girl. However my niece begged us not to tell her mum. The next day Mum told me they’d spoken to my sister in law on the phone and confessed about the piercing. I immediately messaged my sister in law apologising that I hadn’t told her the news myself. At which point my sister in law told me there WAS no nipple piercing. It had all been a hoax, apparently at my expense.

Well now I was very upset with mum! I couldn’t understand why she & my niece would play a trick like that knowing how gullible I am and how much I worry.

So I messaged mum to say I was really hurt, hoping she would apologise.

Unfortunately mum then went into full breakdown on me. She was the devastated victim, saying my ‘accusations’ were untrue. She wrote that she knew nothing about the nipple piercing!! She said that my memories of my childhood are false, that I should be grateful for the upbringing I had. She said that I was the one at fault and a ‘threat to her mental and physical well-being’ because I accuse her of things. She said I was taking my struggles out on her which is ridiculous when she knew how well I was doing and how happy I’d been, in fact she kept telling me how well I looked and how happy I seemed in the weeks building up to this incident.

Her reaction showed me that she still had so much control over me. So much power to break my heart and stamp on my mind. She can’t see that she treats me how my grandmother treats her and so, so much worse. The saddest thing is I really loved her and all I’ve ever wanted is to make her feel safe and happy and for her to love me back.

I keep wondering is she knowingly cruel to me or does her poor mental health mean she can’t see what she’s done and continues to do. Either way, her messages prove she feels very hurt whenever I try and address problems with her and she sees me as a negative influence on her wellbeing.

For all these reasons I have severed contact with her. It’s the best thing for me and the best thing for her. I don’t want to be her victim anymore, 45 years of gaslighting is enough. My heart feels broken but I know it’s the right decision because I can’t keep letting her hurt me like this. I have my own family now and they come first. I will worry for her and want good things for her for the rest of my life, but I can’t help hating her too.

I wish I was stronger. I wish I could be all zen and forgive her and ‘let it go’. And I would try, if it was all in the past. But it’s NOT in the past. Because countless times in my adult life she has turned against me and rejected me and judged me and I just can’t cope with it any more.

The last laugh

Unfortunately that was not the end of her destructive influence on my life. She was not content to just let me go, to let me be free. I’d written to her reassuring her that I wanted her to still be a grandma to my sons and that she could arrange contact with my husband. But that wasn’t enough for her. I’d disobeyed her. I had to pay the price. So my Mother has been on something of a campaign to discredit me and destroy my relationships with my extended family. To isolate me from anyone who may have been able to support me.

First she tried to convince my husband that I was a liar and having an episode of poor mental health. But my husband rejected her accusations, told her my mental health had been excellent before this incident, told her to accept responsibility for the past. She replied ‘at least I know where I stand’ then she blocked him on social media, effectively severing the communication channels by which to arrange contact with our sons.

Next my brother O bombarded N with abusive messages calling him a coward and a ‘yes man’ for not taking sides AGAINST me.

I had written to my brothers, apologising for bringing stress to their doors. I briefly explained what had happened to cause the final relationship breakdown and my decision to terminate all contact with mum. I asked them to check in on her and begged for their understanding. I asked them not to choose sides. My brother O, replied with an abusive and demeaning message. I reference it at the start of this blog. He truly seems to think I’m making this all up. That I’m mentally ill. That it will all blow over if I just SHUT UP. How to describe how that makes me feel? Crushed. Invisible. Pointless. Of no value whatsoever. He doesn’t care about me. He cares that my husband and I continue to look out for my mother so he can live his best life on the other side of the world with his girlfriend. He needs me to tow the line. To be the dutiful big sister. To guard our mother in his extended absence. My brothers D and A, totally ignored my message. No check in to see how I was, no questions asked. Utter silence. I have invested so much love and time in those boys, whether helping with homework or job applications, befriending their girlfriends, healing their broken hearts, helping them navigate their relationship with our Mother. So to me their silence is both heartbreaking and cowardly.

My two eldest brothers don’t speak to me. I managed to alienate them by standing up to them during the breakdown of their respective marriages. They both felt I should side with them, despite the awful way they treated their wives and the issues that subsequently caused for their children. I’ve had my fill of abused women and damaged children, enough to last me a lifetime. I love my brothers but I will not condone their behaviour now matter how much of it could be attributed to the abuse we experienced growing up. I tried to support BOTH people in their marriages. I told them I was on the side of their children. But they could not forgive me for judging their mistakes, and as much as that hurts me I wouldn’t change my actions because I know I was right to stand by their wives and children.

I wrote a letter to my Auntie, a letter I used as the basis to help me write this blog. The same Auntie I ran to, crying and soaked in urine all those years ago. I needed validation. I needed to know she believed me, I needed to know she remembered, I needed to know I wasn’t mad. I can’t describe the relief I felt to receive her support. To know that she knows, she remembers. Of course she’s in an awful position because Mum is her sister. And Mum has declared her a traitor for betraying her by accepting my email. What does that tell you about my Mother? That she is demanding family members take sides, that anyone who isn’t on her side is committing treachery? I’ve asked no one to take my side. I don’t want to hurt her or isolate her. I just wanted these family members to HEAR my truth, to ACCEPT my suffering and my decision to emancipate from her.

I wrote to my Grandfather. I again, asked him not to take sides. I didn’t want him to believe her lies about me. I didn’t want him to stop loving me, to alienate me. I grew up thinking my Grandfather was a wonderful man. Intelligent, strong, loyal. Everything my father wasn’t. But his message to me, that I received only yesterday was the most hurtful, damning, unjust communication I have ever received. It shook me to the core because it revealed he was NEVER the man I thought he was, that was just my fantasy, my naive Autistic brain choosing him to be my hero. What a terrible mistake I made believing that.

Here is my hero, my Grandfather’s message for you to read. I am including it here for every person who has ever been gaslighted by someone who is supposed to love and protect them. I want those victims of gaslighting to know that I BELIEVE them. I UNDERSTAND. We are subjected to cruel psychological manipulation, repeated attempts to control and silence us, to shackle us, because that is more convenient for our abusers and their allies than admitting the truth and trying to put wrongs right.

Darling.

I found that half way through your missive, I had to stop reading.

If this cruelty you speak of, occurred, why has it not come to the forefront before?

Nanny and I love you and the two boys very much. However, we are not prepared to be involved in your campaign to get the family to take your side against your Mum (as you tried with your siblings).

I realise that you have a problem mentally, however this is an illness and cannot be used as an excuse for outstandingly bad behaviour and (often) nastiness.

We are so, so sad that things have turned out the way they have. However, perhaps you are right and a clean break from the family is the best way forward.

Most of your problems, have been inherited from your lunatic grandmother, on your fathers side of the family and your alcoholic father himself.

Lastly, we are so disappointed in Nick.

We thought that he would be man enough, to look after you properly, which is not being a yes man, but to give you counselling and guidance. (Which you obviously need.)

Please don’t reply or contact us again, until you feel better.

Love to you and the boys.

Xxxxxxxxx

I can’t tell you how I cried when I read his message. The emotional overwhelm. The distress I felt knowing my grandparents would die without me ever seeing them again. Without them knowing the truth. The hatred I felt towards my mother then, hit me like a tidal wave. Her lies, her cowardice, her wicked intent to destroy my connections with every other member of my birth family to protect herself….

I will never forgive her. My love for her, that undying, pure, childlike love, the 45 years of making excuses for her, trying to understand her, trying to forgive her because she was a victim too…all that died when I read my Grandfathers message.

Moving on

Photo: Me and my World

I can honestly say that despite everything, I have a massive capacity for love and I will forgive anyone, anything, if they are sorry and want to work with me to put things right. But this experience has taught me that I can’t force my Mother to apologise, I can’t force her to tell the truth, I can’t force her to revisit all the beatings and the terrible dehumanising things she said to me about my sexuality and my personality and relationships over the years.

I accept she is the byproduct of her owns mother’s cruelty and her father’s apathy, but I’m choosing to break that cycle of abuse.

My priority is my children and my husband because they are MY family and they love me for who I am, they SEE me for who I am. They accept my truth and they will help me survive it.

Thank you for reading to the end. If my experience resonates with you, PLEASE share my blog. Help me connect with other people like me, children who are the products of abusive relationships who want to break that cycle, to start again, to NEVER repeat the mistakes of their abusers. Gaslighting is real. It is so, so dangerous, it has driven me to the brink of suicide. It is, in my experience, far more harmful and long lasting than physical abuse. But you can stop it. By telling YOUR truth. Don’t be shamed. Don’t be silenced. There may not be justice. Your abusers may never be punished. But you can SURVIVE. You can BREAK FREE. Take back the control over your life. Live well. Nothing but the truth.

Lizzy Van Tromp

26/08/20.

Social Isolation – Autistic Friend or Foe?

Hi everyone.

Today I’d like to invite you over to the blog I’ve just written for the non profit I work for ‘Aspie Trainers’.

Aspie Trainers are all Autistic adults with a passion for educating others. We receive incredible feedback for our training delivered from our unique first person perspective. But we are not only trainers, we are agents for positive change. Currently our reach is small but you can help us grow by heading over to our Facebook page to read and share our latest, highly topical blog.

Sincere thanks for your support

Lizzy – Aspie Trainer, Blogger, Autistic wife and parent and Cornish Rex slave 😊

The Secrets to a Long Marriage – an Autistic perspective

It’s our 11 year wedding anniversary today (16 years together). 11 years since we said ‘I do’ on beautiful Ashwem beach in Northern Goa.

I must confess we both forgot this year 😳 but Facebook compiled a lovely photo montage to remind us…. This included a rather apt picture of stormy seas taken on a diving holiday one Christmas in Tenerife! 😂 Thank you Facebook, we know, it’s not been an easy ride.

We have celebrated today with a family exercise session in the garden. Sunshine, sweat and H providing moral support by shouting ‘Mumma wants a pudding!!’ repeatedly whilst I wobbled through burpee tuck jumps…

So much has happened since I wore that impossibly tiny, impossibly beautiful dress. I can remember so clearly how wonderful it felt on my skin. I can remember looking into N’s eyes as the sun set around us and thinking he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. I can remember the magical sitar players serenading us and feeling relief that we’d convinced our wedding planner to cancel the ‘surprise’ local wedding singer ‘performing all the favorites like Ronan Keating’ 😂

After the wedding we spent a week hanging out with our families. We hired mopeds and explored the coast. We drank cold Indian beers and messed around in the feisty sea. We ate deliciously fragrant curries and drank intoxicating palm and cashew Fenny. We hurriedly ate ice lollies already half melted in the sweltering heat.

A week later and we grabbed our backpacks and caught a flight further South to beautiful and exotic Kerala. It was wonderful to be alone again with two precious weeks of adventure stretching ahead. In true back packing style we weren’t sure where we were headed, we had no accommodation booked. It was only us and a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ much like our original traveling adventures 4 years before. The highlight was 2 nights on a romantic wooden houseboat in Alleppey, travelling the backwaters, spotting wild kingfishers, meeting locals when we stopped off in tiny villages. It really was paradise.

It feels strange to remember our life back then, so self indulgent, no responsibilities. Just us two very much in love and excited for the future. The last 11 years seem to have raced by and I don’t quite understand how we’ve crammed so much living into that space.

We bought and sold our first flat (famed for the kitchen parties we held there) then bought our proper, family home by the sea.

We made 3 children including our Angel Pablo. The heartbreak of losing him during pregnancy forever changed me and put a strain on our marriage. L refers to himself as ‘your first son who lived’ and both boys talk about their brother in Heaven. Only N is quiet on the subject, preferring to live in the now, which is undoubtedly healthier but impossible for me.

We were both made redundant (at different times) and had to rethink our careers and financial obligations. Despite many years worked in HR management frequently being the bearer of bad news, nothing prepares you for the full on kick in the gut rejection of losing your job.

The June that L turned 3, I think we may have been the happiest we’d ever been. We were fit and healthy, we had a lovely home, we were enjoying trying for another baby. We excelled in our well paid jobs. My mental health was good following CBT and effective meds. I look at photos from L’s 3rd birthday and I look happy, young, pretty. I love those photos.

Two weeks later age 39, I found out I was pregnant with H. We were over the moon. Two weeks after that and I got my breast cancer diagnosis.

I’ve shared that journey with you, I don’t want to rehash it now. But what I want to say is that whilst I did recover from cancer from an oncologists perspective, I have never properly recovered ‘me’. My body and brain have aged significantly. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy physical age you and cause cognitive dulling. I’ve been thrown headfirst into a chemical menopause and all the joy that brings. And of course I’ve had several surgeries leaving my torso a patchwork of scars which are hard for me to look at even now. I don’t feel young, or pretty anymore. I feel lucky to be alive, but I don’t feel like a woman.

H was born healthy at 34 weeks and was a dream of a baby. My active cancer treatment finished and we agreed I would not go back to work in HR but would focus on our boys instead.

Then of course while H was a toddler, L and I discovered we are Autistic. Whilst this discovery in itself was a welcome relief and has brought many positive changes to our lives, the journey to diagnosis was messy and winding, so many hurdles to trip over and professionals to joust with. Now we are on that same path with H and although we are much better equipped for the fight it is exhausting trying to ensure our boys get the education they deserve.

People say Autism is an invisible disability but the truth is you do feel invisible because the Neurotypical majority who run schools and businesses and medical services don’t understand our needs. It’s easier to blame us and label us as difficult or demanding than make the reasonable adjustments we’re entitled to.

I wonder how I sound to you? Ungrateful? Negative? Miserable? I don’t want to sound like that. Because I am a fighter. I’m a survivor. I try so hard to be positive and I’ve had to be so resilient through my life. But I’m tired. And angry. And sad. I don’t think it’s fair that I’ve been tested so much, time and again. Most of all I don’t think it’s fair that I’m not the wife N deserves.

I’m not that slip of a girl who married him on that heavenly beach. I’ve lost my looks, my confidence. I adore being a mum and love my boys completely, but as my life responsibilities

have increased my attention on my husband has suffered.

When it was just us two, he saw this career focused, successful, slim, sexy girl who he admired and he wanted to show me the world and heal my past hurts from a traumatic childhood. But I was just masking. Inside my head is chaos. My executive disfunction is my biggest weakness. I struggle hugely to plan, organize, execute. I stumble from one missed appointment to the next trying to keep the house clean and everyone fed, whilst earning £9 an hour as an Autism trainer, a job I love but don’t really have time for.

And I know N doesn’t get it. He wants to know where that driven, focused plate spinning career woman has gone? But she wasn’t real, the only reason I was so good at my job back then is that my life was my job, my job and N. Autistic people have a remarkable ability to hyper focus. So to do my job well I hyper focused on it. It had my full and complete attention and when I wasn’t at work, N had my full attention. But if you throw 2 other Autistic humans to care for into the mix, plus a life threatening illness and a bipolar diagnosis, is it any wonder I’m not keeping up?

I want to be that girl again. I want to have date nights, go running together, explore the world, just us and our backpacks. I want to have hungover Sundays on the sofa, binge watching tv series and eating takeaway. I want to travel to meet you in Lapland and Sweden. I want to camp in the freezing cold on the South Downs for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I can’t keep up. I’m sorry I’m a rubbish cook and that the boys always come first. I’m sorry I’m not dynamic or driven like I used to be. Executive disfunction is not a choice, its part of me, it’s my brain wiring. It’s why I try and keep life simple, limit people, places, choices. I don’t have the time to hyper focus on it anymore, I have too many competing responsibilities. And if you think back, even then, when I was pretending to be superwoman, my frequent meltdowns and reliance on alcohol were a huge red flag.

So what I want to say to my husband and to me, is thank you, congratulations, we made it to 11 years. I hope we make 11 more.

N, I hope I can find my lost sparkle so you admire me again. You deserve the best. The boys and I love you so much. And the cats of course! Last year we spent our wedding anniversary in a remote New Forest cabin with our own hot tub. This year we are in lockdown at home, waiting out this horrid virus. Regardless, I am grateful and I love you. Always and Forever. Your Neuro-Difficult Wife xxx

We four, 75% Neurodiverse, 100% loving each other.

Just. Keep. Breathing.

We went to the beach to blow away the cobwebs.

Blue sky and sunshine gave way to an ominous cluster of clouds, carrying rain.

Fortunately, the boys were already soaked through from leaping through rock pools.

I took some photos of the sun splintering through the darkening clouds and bouncing off sea.

When my brain hurts, taking photos helps me escape.

It lets in light when everything feels dark.

It shows me beautiful things when my thoughts are ugly.

I love my boys completely.

My children, my husband; they are my reason for existing.

But love is not enough when depression takes the steering wheel.

I’ve lived a lifetime wearing a heavy coat of anxiety, tied in knots by OCD, tormented by low mood that makes me irritable and angry.

With each wave of depression I withdraw into myself. I stop trusting others. I see danger all around. I am tortured by intrusive thoughts that I dare not share.

I become hypersensitive to noise; the shouting/teasing/arguing between my children feels like rock hammers slicing at my brain.

This is why I take photos. This is why I write. To escape from the clamor in my brain. These things connect with a part of me that I like, that I’m proud of. And trust me, there is very little I like about myself.

So why don’t I do it more? Why don’t I take more photos? Why can’t I commit to a regular blog?

Here’s what I think. I think that my current medication is smothering me. It has wrapped a cloak of fog around my brain. It makes me feel clumsy and confused. It’s slows my thoughts. It makes me forgetful. My medication stops me connecting with that creative part of me that I like. It suppresses my ideas. Suffocates my energy.

And it’s ironic because medication has kept me alive through the darkest times. Medication has helped me challenge my childhood trauma. It has enabled me to cope when my first marriage ended and when my first baby boy Pablo became an Angel. It kept me level whilst going through breast cancer treatment during pregnancy. It has helped me find my sanity all those times when I was deeply depressed FOR NO GOOD REASON except that’s what my brain does every few months. It folds in on itself. It is hateful and scared and angry. It is broken.

Do I have suicidal thoughts? Sometimes. But I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to live like this. I would never leave my boys. But I can’t bear to feel like I’m failing them. I can’t bear hearing me snap in irritation because H is having a meltdown over my failure to produce a Spider-Man suit that ‘really sticks to walls’ or because his strawberries are too seedy… meanwhile L is talking at me and over me at a million miles an hour about his special interest until I literally can’t think a single cohesive thought.

Will this ever end? I suspect not. I’ve been mad as a hatter since I was a child. You can’t fix what I am. I say that not to be negative, but because I’ve tried numerous psychotropic meds. I’ve had all sorts of talking therapies. I’ve slept through hypnotherapy and joined countless online support groups. I’ve stayed up all night reading and researching, hoping to stumble across the elusive cure for my poor mental health.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe. I’m waiting to see a new psychiatrist. I’m going to ask to come off my current meds. Maybe I’ll try some new cocktail of super drug that can help me stay happy for more than a few weeks at a time.

What I do know is, being Autistic is not what’s ‘wrong’ with me. Yes Autism makes me more prone to mental health issues but it also makes me passionate, committed, intelligent, creative. It enables me to hyper focus. It makes me honest. It makes me loyal. It makes me authentic.

What makes me mentally ill, is being an Autistic minority in a world designed to meet the needs of the neurotypical majority.

What makes me ill is the stress and exhaustion from masking, so I can pretend I fit in.

What makes me ill is that honesty and openness are frowned upon.

What makes me ill is feeling like I’m a disappointment because I don’t want to socialize in groups and I don’t want to host big family gatherings. I love my family and friends, I’m just not like them.

What makes me ill is knowing that my OCD upsets people and makes them feel uncomfortable in my home. If only you could understand my conflict in wanting to be a relaxed and friendly host with the burning compulsion to line up your shoes or wipe up your crumbs whilst you’re still eating.

I know that I am complicated and difficult by neurotypical standards, but I’m not neurotypical. I dance to my own clumsy beat. Right now my music is muffled and my brain has invented new and destructive ways to cope.

I’m eating, eating, always eating. It doesn’t even matter what. The sensation of chewing and swallowing is like an addiction.

I am also compelled to pick holes in my face, actual holes. I know this is stupid. It hurts. It makes me feel ugly. I stay inside rather than let people see my face.

The old me would have drunk vodka to cope and lots of it. But I’m 6 months sober and safer/saner for it.

So for now binge eating and skin picking help me block out the brain noise while I wait to see whether my new shrink will understand neurodiversity or whether they will be as ill prepared, inappropriate and ambiguous as the last one…

If you got this far, thank you. I appreciate you listening.

Please don’t worry about me.

I’m too stubborn to give up.

And I have so much to be grateful for.

A husband who is strong, patient and kind. Who persists in loving me even though I’m a pain in the arse (his words!)

We share two beautiful neurodiverse sons. They make me laugh and shower me with love every day whilst teaching me how to parent uniquely complicated and challenging personalities like my own..

We are enslaved to our Cornish Rex cats. They are equal parts clever and naughty, gentle and loving. We four are besotted with these thieves of small objects and makers of bad smells.

And of course we have friends and family who I care deeply about and want to stick around for (even if I don’t always want to see them in person)

We also have family who don’t understand or support us. The scientific term for them is ‘Skeksis’. For these Skeksis I remain devoted to staying alive, simply to piss them off.

So what can you do?

If you want to help #bekind. Don’t judge. You haven’t walked in my shoes so don’t tell me how to wear them.

Look around you for there are many, many more people like me (neurodiverse and neurotypical) who are held captive by poor mental health. Don’t hide behind your embarrassment. They rarely ask for help. In fact they’ll tell you they are ‘fine’ and don’t need anything because we all mask sometimes.

Please look into their eyes. See what’s really going on. Offer specific, practical help. Take them shopping. Cook them a meal. Put on the radio and have a cleaning party in their kitchen. Accompany them to appointments. DON’T buy them a drink (it won’t help, trust me). Drive them somewhere beautiful for a walk. Take photos together of what you see….

Hopefully next time we meet in real life or in the pages of this blog, I will be in a better place.

Regardless, I will still be here. Still breathing. Still putting one foot in front of the other. Still tripping up along the way….

Alcohol Free Me – Why drinking didn’t solve my social communication challenges (and other embarrassing stories)

When you grow up feeling like an alien, like an outsider looking in, when you desperately want to belong, to be included…but no amount of masking can equip you to pass as a ‘normal’ human being – that’s where alcohol comes in.

I didn’t discover I was Autistic until I was 42. Had I known earlier, maybe I would have accepted myself more, have understood myself better and embraced my neurological differences. As it was, I grew up thinking I was mad, broken, bad and wrong. I longed to be cool and popular; my school friends seemed so much more real than me, more alive, more present. Then I discovered alcohol shortly after getting my first part time job at 17 and I thought I’d found my answer.

You’d think I would have steered clear of alcohol giving my upbringing. My dad was an alcoholic. He worked hard 6 days a week and drank hard to make up for it. Growing up I both feared and loathed him, but hated myself more for not loving him like I knew I was meant to. I didn’t understand him anymore than I understood myself. I used to think his aggression made him a bad man, but I don’t think that anymore. Alcohol was his coping mechanism, but alcohol brought out the worst in him. In that way I guess I am more like him than I realized.

Fast forward. I’m 17, working in a DIY store with a load of other students, male and female. Some had their own cars, their own money, they certainly had more freedom than I.

The first time they invited me along to the pub I was almost giddy with excitement. Someone ordered me a Martini Rosso (since I couldn’t tell them what I drank…I’d never tasted alcohol and only knew of beer and wine). There were more Martinis and I think some Bacardi. I didn’t have to pay for a single drink. I felt warm and fuzzy. Relaxed. Silly. Pretty. I talked non stop and people laughed at me. But in a good way. They thought I was funny! It was a revelation. I was bowled over by my own confidence and shocked to realize that boys found me attractive. The fact that I vomited several times when I got home, that my head felt like it was going to split open the next morning; that all seemed a fair price to pay for the new version of me that came out to play when I drank.

So drinking became part of my weekend routine. Go to work, go to the pub, get smashed, be sick, do it all again next week. I had a succession of short relationships with male co-workers which were largely innocent as I was ridiculously naive on the sex front and had no intention of giving myself away. Yet to an outsider looking in I guess it wasn’t pretty and my poor mum was tearing her hair out. I’d always been her good as gold little girl, wouldn’t say boo to a goose, a model student. I’d spend most of my free time in my bedroom reading or caring for my menagerie of pets. I listened to Billy Joel and wrote stories. I wasn’t like other teens. Until I was (in her eyes anyway).

The more Mum tried to control me the more I rebelled with my trusty friend alcohol steadfast in my corner. She didn’t want me to ruin my life and I just wanted to have fun. And I did have fun. Throughout my teens and twenties. I laughed and danced. I kissed boys. I went to gigs. I shared secrets with my girlfriends. I was sick a LOT, sometimes over other people. I once woke up with nettle rash all over my backside having passed out whilst having a wee in the pitch black woods. I once let my best friend pierce my ear with nothing more than a needle, cork and frozen brussel sprout! I recall very clearly laying on the floor at a party in London with the whole room spinning and thinking, it’s ok, my boyfriend will come and get me soon. Then I spied him across the room, laying on the floor, in his own spinning world, waving at me. Oh the panic I felt then!

As brutal as the hangovers were and as much as I loathed being sick, what was worse was how difficult my sober Monday to Friday became. Because without alcohol, my social anxiety, my sense of isolation, that nagging sense of not being connected to anything, it was all a thousand times worse. Still, I held down really good jobs, I was recognized and rewarded, I grew my career and I got married. We bought a house. All the things you’re ‘meant’ to do when you’re a normal human being (which of course I was pretending to be). But behind the scenes my mental health was in tatters. I lived in a constant state of high stress (which I now know is very common for Autistic people). My emotions were all over the place. I struggled with uncontrollable rages, deep depression and acute fear of being judged and rejected. I had friends and family who loved me but they didn’t know me. I didn’t know me. I felt utterly alone.

Of course I can’t blame alcohol for all that. I was Autistic and rapidly spiraling into the land of bipolar which is a one way ticket. Had I known about my neurodiversity and mental health then, I hope I’d have cared for myself more and made better choices. What alcohol did though was temporarily make the bad thoughts and feelings go away. It gave me confidence to socialise, to be a louder, more colourful, entertaining version of myself. Then of course it just exacerbated my depression and made me feel hopeless. That’s not a good place to be.

My first marriage ended because I had a breakdown and I did what I always do when I’m broken. I retreat, I push people away, I reject them before they can hurt me. He was one of life’s good guys and and I’m eternally grateful for our time together. But I’m sure on reflection he thinks he had a lucky escape from me!

In my late twenties I met my second (hopefully forever) husband. N was younger than me but he seemed more grown up. He had a strong work ethic. He adored his family. He also loved to party. We had a fabulous first 5 years of working hard in our respective careers and partying hard all weekend. During that time we travelled the world together then came back and bought our first flat. Did it cause arguments that I would get paralytically drunk on a regular basis? Yes! Was my erratic behavior affecting my husband’s own mental well-being? Undoubtedly. Fortunately for me, his enduring love and the fun part of the fun times kept us together. When I think of us sharing Thai whisky buckets under the stars on Koh Phi Phi I smile; when I remember laying on the jetty the next day unable to get on the boat we had tickets for, I feel a bit stupid. When I remember us drinking cocktails with some rather gangster like Russians in Goa I remember the beauty of Ashwem beach and then the worry of how we would make our escape from them.

In 2010 we decided to start a family. Within 2 weeks I was pregnant with our sweet Angel Pablo. By that point I’d be drinking regularly and often heavily for well over 15 years. But the second I found out I was pregnant at 2 weeks, I stopped drinking. Completely. I also cut our caffeine. And it was easy! It was easy because my baby needed me, I had a role to fulfill, to grow our child and I guess it became my special interest. It was all I could focus on. If you’ve read my earlier blogs you’ll know that we lost Pablo during pregnancy to a rare lethal chromosome disorder. I’m yet to find the words to tell his story but suffice to say for now, that when he died a part of me died and I was utterly bereft. The hospital allocated me a bereavement counselor. Whilst kind, she only confused me. Her sessions were very abstract (arranging toys in a sand tray or selecting postcards from a pile that resonated with me). Autistic people tend to like facts and truths. We are very literal. Ambiguity confuses us. So when the counseling didn’t help I turned back to my old friend alcohol of course.

Vodka was my drink of choice back then and I had a remarkably high tolerance to it so I would free pour with whatever available mixer. Sometimes Diet Coke or soda and lime, but I’ve also been known to use orange squash or even powdered diet iced tea that my sister in law brought over from America! Fortunately I fell pregnant again with our beautiful rainbow L just a few months later. Again, I cut out alcohol and caffeine completely and it was an easy choice to make.

8 months pregnant with L

I maintained sobriety throughout my pregnancy and for 1 year and 13 days after his birth which is the length of time I was breast feeding him. In truth I did enjoy a few rare nights out with N that first year such as going to his work Christmas meal. But I stuck to two drinks and I maniacally pumped and dumped my milk when I got home as I didn’t want his precious body contaminated with alcohol.

When my breastfeeding ended (L got chickenpox and couldn’t nurse) I was delighted to welcome alcohol back in my life but my drinking pattern had to change. The clean, work hard weeks followed by the heavy duty partying weekends was not conducive to family life so we started drinking little and often. Just one or two vodkas once L was in bed but for five, sometimes six nights a week. It was a strange transition. Because I was never drunk, yet I’d never felt so dependent on alcohol. Now it wasn’t about making me more confident and sociable, it was about helping me relax and unwind from the intense stress of looking after a very demanding and unsettled baby (who would not be diagnosed Autistic until he was almost 6) and working part time as a Manager in a large international financial services firm where I felt constant pressure to prove I could still deliver and be committed to my career, despite now being a mum.

Occasionally one of the grandmas would look after L and we’d throw a house party. I’ve always preferred house parties to going out. I feel much more relaxed and safe in my own space with a handful of trusted friends than in a nightclub or pub full of strangers. Of course house parties brought their own anxiety because I have terrible OCD (for which I’m now medicated) so the mess and disruption caused by welcoming people into our home was a massive source of stress for me).

In 2014 I fell pregnant with our darling H. Our joy was short lived because 2 weeks later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. If you missed that story please read ‘The Baby Bump and the Bad Lump’ one of my earliest blogs. Anyway, long story short I was determined to protect H and deliver him safely whilst having treatment to kick cancer’s butt. Once again I kissed goodbye to alcohol and caffeine as well as (for a few months) sugar because I read it feeds cancer. It was such a surreal and terrifying time and arguably one where I could really have done with a stiff drink. But I was on a mission for my body to be the perfect safe haven to grow H whilst simultaneously fighting off cancer.

Me after my first chemo. 16 weeks pregnant.

So I smashed through a mastectomy, chemo and (post birth) radiotherapy all alcohol free. I remember for my 40th birthday we rented a gorgeous house in Deal and all our closest family came to be with us. It was 3 days after my final chemo and 4 weeks before H would be delivered. I sat in the village pub on a long table, having a celebration meal the night before. Everyone else was drinking. I felt dog tired and so wrung out from chemo I just wanted to sleep. The drunken behavior of my brothers was irritating me, the loud voices of everyone, the conflicting smells of people’s meals. I made my excuses and escaped to bed. When I woke up on my 40th birthday, most of my eyebrows and eyelashes had fallen out! Just like that!! I was horrified. Throughout chemo I’d been plastering them with a protective gel and was grateful to have held onto them. So waking up fat, bare faced and post-chemo grey on my special day was a bit of a kick in the balls. If I had balls that is. I think I ate a whole 2 tier box of Milk Tray chocolates that morning by way of coping.

I breastfed H from my one breast for 3 months before I was forced to start Tamoxifen and Zoladex injections (my post cancer medication regime). I was desperately sad about this and felt like my heart was breaking. So of course I turned to my old friend vodka. Again our drinking pattern was little and often (too often), it was part of our evening routine and I felt cheated if I didn’t have a drink. I noticed that N was always more sensible than me, he’d stick to one or none if he had an early start. I’m not going to lie, this irritated me. Because I felt like the bad guy for wanting more. Drinking relaxed me, it smoothed away the stress of the day, made me more chatty, hell – it helped with my libido if I’m honest because it’s hard to feel sexy when your body is a map of scars, your reconstructed breast is monstrous and you feel aged 10 years by cancer treatment.

And so it continued. By and large life was good. I was physically healthy (if not mentally), our boys were thriving and N’s career was going strength to strength. My Autism diagnosis which came 6 months after L’s brought overwhelming relief and answers to so many questions about my past and my present. I finally knew who I was, I started to meet others from my tribe and I even got a job working as an Autism trainer using my past experience in learning and development. The trouble was, my mental health continued to be a massive problem. I cycled rapidly in and out of deep depression and had dark periods of hopelessness and paranoia. Drinking absolutely made these feelings worse but it was also my go to response when I felt stressed.

My second significant diagnosis (Bipolar 2) set me on the path to better mental health management. I began taking lithium which did a great job of balancing my erratic moods and I started to feel in control of my life. However I discovered on a family holiday to Spain that lithium and alcohol don’t mix. A few cocktails whilst listening to music with the children and their cousins ended in me barely able to walk and being carried home by my sister in law and 12 year old niece! Waking up after that night, feeling absolutely awful but also deeply fearful because there were huge gaps in my memory of what happened…that was a wake up call. ‘You can’t allow yourself to get like that ever again’ I told myself and I had all the best intentions. But it was well over a year later at my brother in laws 40th that I finally found it in me to just STOP. Unfortunately the stop button didn’t kick in until I’d drunk three quarters of a liter of vodka, insulted several strangers, kicked N’s Uncle in the crotch (I have no idea why) and passed out on their couch by 7.30pm! 14th September 2019 will forever more be known as the day I went out with a bang.

In 5 days time on 14th November I will have been alcohol free for 2 months. This is the longest I’ve been AF in my life other than of course during my pregnancies. There have been fleeting moments when I’ve felt tempted like when the boys were fighting in the supermarket in front of a huge stack of pink G&T cans. But I know in my heart that I cannot drink alcohol anymore. That’s just me. People say ‘everything in moderation’. But I don’t do moderation. I am intense and full on. I don’t know when to stop. It’s why I’m so overweight right now because my binge eating is so difficult to repress. But I’ll crack it. Just like I’ve cracked this. Right now I’m just proud to be alcohol free. My lovely husband N is on the same bandwagon. Annoyingly he is super fit and has the body of a Greek God but hey ho. The boys have commented that it’s good I don’t drink alcohol anymore. From a ‘post cancer’ perspective, it is definitely wise for me to abstain. But most of all I just want to be me. The real authentic me without alcohol jazzing up my personality or numbing my fears and worries. Alcohol can’t solve my social communication challenges and anyway, who says they need solving. I’m authentic, Autistic, mental me and for all the dark times when I haven’t wanted to live I can honestly now say I’m glad to be alive.

My family

Back from the Brink

Hello again 🙂

So I think I’m finally getting my mojo back 💖 After many weeks wrestling with my bipolar, lost in clouds of black and unable to get any pleasure out of photography or writing, I can finally feel my passion and confidence creeping back. This week I took my sons to Petworth Park in Sussex. We spent a few happy hours tracking the wild deer, getting muddy, imagining fairy folk living under the colourful toadstools and delivering Halloween party invitations on behalf of Fangus the Bat as part of a Halloween trail.
I should have known that nature and our great outdoors would lead me back to sanity but when you’re in the grip of manic depression all you want to do is hide from the World.

Goodbye to Vodka

Usually when I’m struggling with my mental health I prop myself up with a bottle of vodka, literally. Vodka and I go way back. Vodka has seen me through a succession of traumas and has been a loyal companion at parties which (being Autistic) I tend to hate unless I’m wearing my trusty vodka jacket. But during my most recent bout of depression I attended my brother in laws 40th (under duress) and was passed out on the coach by 7.30pm having offended a great many people and kneed my husband’s very lovely uncle in his nether regions (I do not remember this and I’m still cringing about it even as I write). So after a night sleeping in the bathtub while my husband looked after the boys I realized Vodka had to go. For good. In part because of the humiliation I felt after the party but mostly because I had a realization that I have to start respecting my body more, especially as my body has fought cancer and should be nurtured not pickled if I want to stop it coming back.

Fresh start

So here I am almost 7 weeks stone cold sober. That’s the longest I’ve been sober since I was pregnant with H. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I wish I could say I felt healthier for it…I’m sure that bit is still to come. The truth is I’m spotty, in constant pain with my dodgy knees and overweight from comfort eating. But I feel really proud of myself for breaking the reliance on alcohol, which started when I was 17 and began drinking to cope with social situations.
I can’t emphasize enough how healing it can be to connect with nature and I’ve definitely felt my ‘selfness’ coming back during a few sunset visits to the beach and my recent expedition to Petworth. I’ve also got a new psychiatrist and some increased medication to thank for getting me back on the straight and narrow. But most of all, I want to thank my lovely husband for his love and support and for bringing me back from bipolar land. N, these photos are for you. xxxxxxx

Nine Years an Angel – A poem for Pablo

A Gift

From the moment we had the idea of you, we wanted you.

You came to us in India, our happy place, on our first wedding anniversary.

Finding out you were growing inside of me was one of the best days of my life.

Finding out you wouldn’t survive, was the worst.

Just because no one met you doesn’t mean you didn’t matter; you did & you do.

You were our first son, a first grandson, a nephew, a cousin.

In those weeks I carried you we loved you enough for a lifetime.

We dreamed so many dreams of you and planned a future filled with you.

We called you Pablo, ‘little one’ believing we had precious months to choose your name.

Goodbye:

We saw you kicking in my belly,

We heard your heartbeat strong and true…

But it wasn’t meant to be sweet boy, so God took us away from you.

They told us you were broken, that you never could survive.

They told us ‘try again’ while my heart shattered inside.

Then we held your tiny body as you embraced forever sleep,

A coffin rather than a crib, whilst all I did was weep.

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Father George said we gave you wings, I pray that is true.

Many (most) don’t understand the magnitude of our loss,

Think that pregnancy can be replaced with no emotional cost, Some told us we were lucky to find out early on,

That you were made for Heaven & not Earth, our little one.

Why must I apologize for feeling so much pain?

Why should I hide my grief and pretend I’m whole again?

A Garden:

Is it strange that your garden is a happy place for me?

A place where I can care for you and show you Mummy loves you.

Not with cuddles and stories, but flowers and trinkets, pruning and weeding, creating a safe space as beautiful as you.

I have breast fed your brothers and changed their nappies beside your garden,

They have taken their first wobbly steps in front of your resting place.

So many picnics eaten next to you over the years,

Each Easter, birthday, Christmas celebrated with new decorations for you.

Grateful:

Today I will make extra room for remembering & look at your photos & remember your tiny face, your hands, your feet.

My mind races with questions; are you still a baby in Heaven even though you are 9 years an Angel today? Or are you growing up like your brothers under the watchful eye of the other Angels?

My tears sting but I am glad and I am grateful Pablo,

Losing you meant that I did not doubt for one second that I should fight to continue my pregnancy with Henry, despite my cancer diagnosis. Would I have been as brave if I had not experienced losing you? I don’t think so.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending us your brothers Leo & Henry, for making us whole again, for shining your light on us, our Guardian Angel.

God bless you baby boy, our Pablo, our first born.

Until we see you again

25 June 2010 – Forever carried in our hearts

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