Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

Elton John sang ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. But for Autistic people like me, the social expectation to provide greetings and farewells can be one of the hardest and most uncomfortable aspects of interacting with others.

It sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Saying hello and goodbye is surely one of the first social rules we are taught when we are children, alongside ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

But it’s not simple. Even when you know the person or people really well. Our youngest son H is 6 and when I walk him through the playground every morning he stares straight ahead and appears not to hear the chimes of hello from his headmistress nor his class teachers. I fight the urge to apologise for him as I remind him ‘say hello H!’ But he doesn’t say it, he doesn’t even look up at them. And I know exactly how he feels.

H, our intrepid explorer who encouraged us on this climb by announcing ‘embrace your inner billy goat!’

If I notice a familiar face when I’m out and about at the supermarket I stare at the floor, studiously read labels on tins or pretend I’m on a phone call, praying the other person hasn’t noticed me. Even if I meet up with a friend or family member, I find it hard to deliver an appropriate greeting. It’s like a cloak of awkwardness that I can’t get undone in time to appear ‘normal’. It’s worse if I haven’t seen the person for a while. No matter how close we are, those first few minutes of greeting and welcome feel excruciatingly awkward. It’s almost like I’m starting from scratch every time I see someone after a few weeks or months apart.

Our little fish (can you spot them swimming) are doing a good job of disguising themselves much like their Mumma.

Goodbye’s are even worse. It’s such an ambiguous word. Unless you know exactly when you will see the other person again, the uncertainty makes the Autistic heart feel vulnerable and anxious. Or we may feel overcome by embarrassment. Should we hug or kiss the other person? Shake hands? Wave? Keep waving as they walk away? Should we close the door once they’re off the step or wait until they reach their car? I’m laughing to myself as I write this because it is oddly comical to me, the way I torture myself wondering if I’ve said and done the correct thing.

Like this winding path, it’s easy to get lost trying to find the right thing to say or do…

There have been countless occasions where I’ve simply disappeared without saying a word rather than experience that awkward goodbye. It doesn’t even have to be an important person in my life. Just saying goodbye to someone I’ve admired at work, or a teacher I was grateful for, or a work experience student I mentored; each farewell seems to fill me with regret and loss, so it’s easier to avoid the leaving drinks or not turn up for the ‘last day’ to escape the dreaded goodbye.

I escape around the boulders like the water in this river to avoid uncomfortable social interactions.

Even worse are the ‘forever’ goodbyes. When I separated from my first husband, I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. I worried about him constantly and insisted on seeing him regularly as friends. I thought I was right to hold onto that person who had been so important in my life for so many years. But of course, you can’t have it both ways. I was only prolonging the agony for both of us. As for his family, I had loved them very much. They were kinder to me and had done more for me than my own parents ever had. But I was so ashamed for letting them down and hurting their son, that instead of talking, explaining, apologising, I went underground. I stayed away. I didn’t phone or visit. This is something that has weighed heavy on my heart for 18 years. And now I’m crying because I’m angry at myself for not doing things the way I should have, the way they deserved.

Time and distance doesn’t stop the regret when you mishandle a goodbye

I never even realised that my issues with greetings and farewells was part of my Autism until I saw how my sweet boy H struggled with the very same thing. So I did my research and hallelujah! I wasn’t rude, weird, cold or unfeeling – I was simply Autistic. At the very core of our neurology is our difficulty with social communication and social interaction. Marry this with the fact we find transitions and change very difficult, how vulnerable we feel with ambiguity and uncertainty – and it’s no wonder that the hellos and goodbyes most neurotypical people take for granted, can be a source of great stress for Autistic individuals. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we feel too much! All of our emotions are dialled up to ‘ten’. The finality of goodbye can be physically painful, gut wrenching. So sometimes we avoid it all together, wounding others in the process.

Yesterday my therapist, guardian of my sanity and keeper of secrets for the last 10 months, told me he is changing jobs. Consequently, my therapy will come to an end in September. And I will need to say goodbye.

He asked me how I felt about my therapy coming to an end and I told him I felt sad, whilst trying to swallow the wave of overwhelming grief and fear that flooded through me. This man, this stranger, has listened patiently, without judgement, while I shared my most personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. He has steered me to find answers and coping strategies. He has helped me to prioritise my needs and recognise my strengths.

My priorities, my strengths, are right there playing in Stickle Tarn after climbing to the top of a mountain!

Most importantly, this man has been incredibly kind, patient and consistent, which is priceless to someone like me. Throughout my life I’ve been hurt, manipulated and let down by family members who I loved and trusted, leaving me wounded and defensive, on high alert for danger. But this man, my psychologist, has provided a safe space where I don’t feel awkward or weird for being Autistic, where I don’t feel like a failure for having a mental illness.

Our early therapy sessions were exhausting and confusing. I struggled to connect with the softly spoken man behind the mask. Not being able to see his face made the conversation feel surreal. I was so angry at the world and resentful that I needed therapy in the first place. I just wanted to be fixed but of course mental health doesn’t work like that.

Foxgloves everywhere. A stunning riot of colour, fragile in the breeze…but can be harmful. This is how I see my neurodiverse brain.

It got easier when our sessions moved online. A video call from the safety of my own home, no masks to obscure our identities. No unwanted sensory distractions, no badly lit meeting rooms or unfamiliar sound or smells.

Through therapy I cried (a lot), laughed (mostly at myself) and I have slowly realised that much of the pain I feel at being estranged from my birth family is because I never got to say goodbye. I realize now, that thing I fear and dread is a necessary part of grieving. Without a farewell there is just unfinished business and unspoken words. There is no closure. This is something I will learn to live with because I have to. Because we all have to sometimes, right?

Therapy is climbing gorges and jumping off waterfalls because you can!!!

And in a few short weeks I will say goodbye to my therapist who I am so thankful for. That will hurt. I will feel scared and sad. But I will also feel proud because I’ve come a long way in 10 months. I am stronger, calmer, healthier, happier. I’m still Autistic, you can’t escape neurology and actually I wouldn’t want to. I’m still mental – Bipolar is not something I’ll ever be cured of but it’s something I’m learning to live with.

Trust and acceptance in who you are and why you are. That’s what these 3 give me.

So I will say goodbye and I will try and do it properly. Maybe I’ll write a card. I will most definitely say thank you. At 46 I am finally able to accept that some people are only meant to be in my life for a short while. Others (like my husband N and our children) are in my forever plan and no matter what happens, I will love them till the end of time.

Until next time. Goodbye.

Sunset on Windermere.

All photos were taken on our recent holiday to the Lake District. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Memories – Torments and Treasures

Have you ever picked a scab until it bled or poked a sore tooth with your tongue, then wished you’d left it well alone?

My hurts are invisible, but they sting and bleed regardless. They are healing, but it’s a slow process and I’m an impatient person.

Memories can torment us, slowly healing wounds that we pick at like a scab. They can also be like precious treasure, sparkling, beautiful, something to be cherished. The balancing act for me is to not let those toxic and tragic memories overshadow the treasure.

Something I’ve observed in non-Autistic, people is that they can be skilled at smothering the memories they don’t want to think about. They can bury those memories that would otherwise torment them. The lock the vault, throw away the key. They don’t just lock away that which has hurt them, they bury the memories where they have behaved badly, where they have hurt others. Maybe it’s down to survival instinct? Or maybe they find it harder to reflect and learn from past mistakes?

In contrast, Autistic people like me may find it impossible to escape the hurts of the past, cannot hide from our mistakes. Let me explain why.

It all began with Dinosaurs

Prehistoric Monster trail – Crystal Palace Park

Some of my earliest memories are visiting Crystal Palace Park in London with my mum to explore it’s famous, prehistoric monster trail. I must only have been 2 years old. Mum would have been 18. Apparently I walked and talked very early and I was often the only one Mum had to talk to during those long and lonely hours when my dad was out at work or down the pub.

The gigantic dinosaur replicas lurking behind the trees and in the lakes filled me with awe. I still remember the little animal farm and queuing up to ride a pony. When I try and picture myself or my mum, my mind draws a blank. But the gaze of those magnificent dinosaurs stay with me.

Not scary at all according to the Pigeons!

Over the years I’ve often revisited my memories of Crystal Palace Park, but have never actually gone back there. I suppose because things that you recall with affection and wonder from your childhood and adolescence can disappoint when you revisit them in adulthood. There’s a disconnect, a gap between the original memory and the reality you experience when you revisit it.

Mind the Gap please

There’s many a movie I’ve adored in my younger years, that my adult eyes see as horribly dated or just plain cheesy! Or places that don’t affect me the same as they once did. I returned to my high school in my early twenties to deliver a careers presentation and was shocked by how small and ordinary it felt compared to the echoing, winding maze of the school in my memories.

Autistic people often have very specific recall of situations, places and people. We remember not just the event, or the conversation, we remember the smells, sights, sounds, emotions that we experienced in that moment. We can access our past in full technicolour, surround sound, we can rewind the full sensory experience.

Technicolour memories – Crystal Palace Park

The downside of this, is that negative memories can live inside us for a lifetime, with the power to injure and traumatise us like it was yesterday. Forgiveness is always possible but we can’t forget our hurts. They fight for headspace with the reliving of our past mistakes. Only answers can alleviate our pain, knowing why or how someone could cause us suffering. But the answers rarely come; they are buried in the brain vaults of the people who hurt us.

The upside of our detailed memory recall is the happiest memories, the moments of joy, the triumphs, times of peace and connection with your environment when you see a place so exquisitely beautiful…those can be called upon just as easily. These I’ll gladly share; screaming with laughter as I sled down the icy Cowboy Hill with my brother and cousins during snowy winters in Kent; sitting on a riverbank in New Zealand as the sun set, listening to the song of the Tui bird while Nick fished and I lost myself in a book, the sun warm on my neck; daytime naps on the bed with Leo and Henry when they were babies – the way they curled into my tummy as if they were trying to get back inside! The incredible relief I felt at discovering I am Autistic, as if I’d finally been handed the instruction manual to my brain. The gratitude I felt towards those friends and family who chose to learn about my differences.

The Before

For those of you that are new to my blog, I’ve been estranged from my father for ten years, since I was pregnant with my second son. I’ve been ‘no contact’ with my Mum since last June, after many years of fighting to get answers that were buried in her brain vault. Finally her silence and the conflict this caused became too much.

Every bit as fascinating and impressive as I remember, even better because I could share it with our sons.

I asked for understanding and support from my 5 younger siblings and my grandparents – I have always loved and supported these family members and believed they loved me back. I did not ask them to take sides. I just didn’t want them to reject me like she always rejected me when I stepped outside my role of loyal, unquestioning servant.

To my complete shock my brothers, their partners and my grandparents, all chose to take sides, gaslighting me, blaming my mental health, calling me a liar, or just plain ignoring me. I was scapegoated because none of them wanted to address the inter generational abuse that had been swept under the carpet in our family for so many years. It was ugly and inconvenient. Blaming me was far easier than unlocking the horrible past we’d shared.

So effectively, I lost my whole birth family at once, overnight, and it broke my heart. How’s that for a memory? How’s that for an oozing, itchy scab crying out out to be picked? My innocent sons (age 6 and 9) also lost their extended family overnight which was tough for them to comprehend. Thankfully they have healed far quicker for being young and for being truly loved by their parents.

Treasure

I have treasure a plenty too. I have a wonderful husband who stood up to my birth family and called them out for their cowardly behaviour. I also have a great psychologist who has helped me see how I’ve been groomed since childhood to take responsibility for my family members. He helped me see how one sided and harmful those relationships have been and how I’d never been accepted or supported with my differences (I am late diagnosed Autistic at 42 and have bipolar 2 disorder, the latter due in part to the trauma I experienced in my childhood and adolescence).

It’s been almost a year now with no contact. I’ve had a few horrible messages from two of my brothers via my blog; spiteful comments from my grandfather; but largely just silence. My life is undoubtedly calmer, happier and safer without them in it. I’m stronger mentally, I laugh more, I’m thriving in my career. My sons are enjoying a more relaxed and fun Mum and my husband is the glue holding us together.

A fearless duck posing on the spine of an impressive stone dinosaur!

Old Wounds

The problem is those old wounds. Those traumatic memories I can’t stop picking at. I keep having bad dreams about my mum. She often had poor health and in my dreams she is walking up a steep hill, but she falls and stumbles. I am in my car and I get out and try to help her up but she snarls at me and pushes me away. I wake up crying.

When I was growing up, I adolised my mum. She was only 16 when she had me, and she told me she was forced to marry my dad who was violent to her even then. As a child I saw her as someone I needed to save and protect. I feared and hated my father but I was besotted with my mum and just wanted to make her life better. I think it was almost a codependency. She leaned on me heavily and I accepted that role. I wanted to be her saviour.

The Park is vibrant with wildlife, it’s not just the Dinosaurs watching you!

In my teens I started to stand up to my dad when he would turn on her, and his response was to redirect his violence and aggression on me. The tipping point was that she did nothing about this. She ignored it, turned a blind eye. When I tried to get help from my Aunt, Mum beat me herself for sharing private family issues. She became more physically and emotionally cruel towards me than my father ever was. To this day I don’t know if her actions were deliberate or as a result of her own poor mental health because of the abuse she suffered.

Contributing to the growing separation between me and Mum was my high school experience. High school helped me develop some independence and self esteem. I realised how clever I was, that I could have a bright future. I saw that other families were not like mine. I realised that my Mum should have protected us children from growing up amongst alcoholism and domestic violence. I realised that I wanted to escape the family home and be nothing like my parents.

The boys named this squirrel Robert and shared their lunch with him.

I suspect now, that in striving to be independent and by showing my unhappiness with the way I’d been brought up, my mum must have felt deeply rejected and pushed away. I had loved her so completely and that must have meant a lot to her when my dad was treating her so badly. I do believe she really loved me as a child and that my unconditional, naive love was a lifeline for her. I feel sad that in trying to save myself and build a better life for me, I must have really hurt her. I never meant to do that.

I still carry anger and resentment towards my parents and my siblings for the way they have behaved towards me over the years. I’ve had fiery and emotional confrontations with them when I’ve felt mistreated and misunderstood. My psychologist says I shone a mirror on them, challenging their destructive behaviours and their refusal to change and do better. I wanted them to take responsibility and not to repeat our parents mistakes. I truly thought I could help them save their marriages, reconnect with lost children, look after themselves better, be happy. But they didn’t want to change or admit they had problems. I was trying to save them like I’d saved myself but I now realise that my honesty and directness only upset them and alienated them from me. They never asked for my help but I kept on trying to give it anyway.

Wild Parakeets providing a burst of colour against the grey sky

Despite the fiery adult relationship I had with my mum, I tried so hard to involve her in the family I built with my husband. I supported her emotionally, practically and financially over the years and most importantly I loved and cared for her when my brothers were too wrapped up in their own lives and only came to her for money she didn’t have or for child care. Save random grand gestures, they were not there for her on a daily basis like I was. I still felt that responsibility for her and thought I could save her. Give her a better life. I even imagined her living with us in her old age.

She was by far a better Grandma than she’d been a Mum and we had some truly happy times together. But periodically, when her life felt difficult or unfair to her, she’d blow up at me out of the blue and send me hurtling back into the shoes of my 15 year old self. The rejection, the degradation, the judgement would wash over me like a tidal wave. I’d feel literally terrified, she held so much power over me, and her desire to be right, to appear blameless would override any guilt she should have felt for her irrational attacks. She told terrible lies and twisted the truth to make herself look like a victim. Again, I have no idea if her behaviour was calculated and manipulative or simply her survival instinct kicking in after the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of my father.

Finding Peace without Answers

I still love my Mum and still worry for her. But I will never try to re-establish contact because I know she will never change and because the only person I am responsible for saving is myself.

I suspect that she never truly forgave me for ‘leaving’ her as a teen. She sacrificed her freedom and lived under my father’s tyranny so she could raise my brothers and I. In comparison my life must have seemed easy, even selfish to her – the way I built my career, my happy marriages to truly good, decent men who didn’t bully me or expect me to serve them like her husbands did to her. My financial independence and security. She has never had those things and I think that resentment and jealousy drove her to mistreat me even whilst she loved me.

Pterosaurs have frightened me since I was little. They are still just as scary close up. I couldn’t help glancing to the sky, just in case!

I also realise that my brothers will never understand and respect my experiences because she treated them entirely differently to me. My attempts to speak up and address the abuse I suffered was a massive inconvenience to them. I was expected to keep my head down and take that broom they are so fond of and sweep it all away under that carpet. Just to make things easy for them. They tried to blame my Autism and my mental health for my struggles. They told me I was the one that needed to change.

But I gave them back their broom and I held up my mirror and they turned and ran, rather than face themselves. Part of me doesn’t even blame them anymore. They’re just different to me. I miss the innocent little boys they were when I look at childhood photos on my wall. I feel sad at the way they’ve all struggled as adults. I know there is a good heart in each of them. I miss the nephew I’ve been kept from. But my brothers made a conscious choice to run away, and I won’t be looking for them again. I wish them well and hope they find peace and happiness with partners who will help heal them, instead of hiding their problems.

I had been thinking about writing Mum a letter to tell her that I wish her well, that I love her and hope she can be happy. I guess I want a calmer, gentler closure than the the eruption of emotion that happened last June when I ended contact. I wanted to explain why I made that decision and that I didn’t do it it to hurt or punish her, but to save myself. I’d tried to do it so many times over the years but it was my brothers that kept handing me that broom and I was weak and tried to sweep it all away, like they did and do. Because I truly loved her and I wanted her to love me back.

Some of the Dinosaurs are in need of repair, but this fellow was in great shape, right down to his jagged white teeth.

Now I realise, contacting my mum would be like picking that oozing scab. In my heart I’m still seeking validation, craving for her to apologise and admit the things she’s done because her denial is the hardest thing to bear. But I think she is incapable of self reflection and honesty when it comes to me. I think being the victim is her survival mode and she’s afraid her world will collapse if she unlocks that vault. I have to learn to live with that. She is not a pantomime villain, she’s lived through her own difficult and unhappy childhood, a violent marriage and had to raise 6 children on her own. I was the thing that got sacrificed, the place she could unleash her frustration at the world and the mistreatment she’d suffered.

I’m never going to be ok with that, but I hope she is ok. I hope my brothers step up and repay her for single handedly raising them. I hope her parents respect her right to her health and happiness. I hope she finds someone to love her the way I loved her as a child, unconditionally. And I hope she goes back to Crystal Palace Park one day and revisits happy memories under the gaze of those magnificent dinosaurs.

Happy Endings

There is a wonderful American drama series ‘This is Us’ that follows a family of adults siblings and their parents from childhood to adulthood. My husband teases me because I cry at every episode. I cry because no matter what ups and downs they experience, that family loves and supports each other. They overcome conflict and just grow stronger. I suppose some people would say it’s cliche, that it’s make believe. But to me, it’s beautiful. It shows me what a functional family looks like and yes, it makes me sad because I never had that with my birth family. But I have that with my husband and our children and I know my children will have that in their futures.

And for now while I’m still healing I will put a plaster over the wound, try not to look at it or pick it and wait for it to be gone. I figure it will leave a scar. I’m ok with that. This is ME and I am learning to accept me, warts and all. I was brave enough to look in that mirror, I faced the bad in me, head on. I learnt to be a better person; I found my true self and I found my happiness. My life will not be plain sailing. My bipolar means my mind drops away to sad and dark places more often than I’d like. Being Autistic means I’ll always be misunderstood by some people and feel hurt and rejected as a result.

But I will keep on healing and fixing myself because that’s my responsibility and my husband and children deserve the best of me.

Treasure made more precious by sharing it with my loved ones

The Reason I Write

Ode to Books

When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader. Books were my escape to another world, another timeline, another family. I imagined there was no better vocation that to be an author.

So it’s no surprise that from as early as I could first hold a pen, I loved to write stories. Sometimes they were fiction. Sometime they were narratives of my day to day life such as the journals Mum encouraged us to write during our annual holiday to Cornwall.

Growing up in a noisy house filled with younger brothers and warring parents, writing was my safe place and my sanity. But the only place I could guarantee to be alone with my thoughts and ideas was when I was on toilet! So I unashamedly admit that I whiled away many a half hour sitting on the loo, the plastic seat digging into my thighs while I scribbled ideas in a note pad or made up stories in my head.

Thankfully our house had a downstairs loo off the kitchen and next to the back door. Whilst it was freezing cold and full of spiders, it was good enough for my little brothers to have a quick wee. Of course, they soon turfed me out of the upstairs bathroom if they needed a number two!

The Tricky thing about Fiction…

As I got older I realized that I wasn’t great at bringing my creative ideas to a satisfactory conclusion. My head was bursting with opening scenes, colorful characters and surprising plot twists, but my imagination didn’t stretch to satisfactory endings that pulled all the parts of the story together.

My first ‘proper’ attempt at non fiction – My Autobiography – written age 13

That’s when I decided I was better at writing about real stuff, real life. I could still show off my wit, my tenderness, my fire, my powers of description…but writing about what I saw and experienced. This epiphany proved true when the autobiography I wrote at high school earned me my first ever A+ from my beloved English teacher.

Probably the proudest moment of my life at that point.

Plan B – aka the Lois Lane effect

So then I set my sights on becoming a journalist. I pictured myself in high heels and a sharp suit, clipboard and pen at the ready like Lois Lane reporting for the Daily Planet. I’d investigate important issues and wow the Editor with my passion for words and keen eye for detail.

Of course, what you aspire to be at 13 rarely comes true, in my experience anyway. I lacked focus; I couldn’t see the individual steps that would lead me to my goal. Careers advice at school was virtually non existent. I do remember doing a questionnaire that was fed into a computer, which spat out a priority list of career options based on my answers. Number 1, was Librarian. At least half my class also had Librarian in their top three! Now I’ve nothing against Librarians, in fact my very favourite place to escape to as a child was our local library. The smell, the feel, the weight of a book in my hand. The cosy corners where you can become invisible and lose yourself in someone else’s story… but I guess I’d always imagined that I’d be something more; something important, someone who left their imprint on the World.

My 13 year old brain’s vision for my future!

Many years later…

It’s safe to say that at 46, I’m neither a published author nor an investigative journalist. But I still write. I write for pleasure. I write for me. When I went on a round the world trip with my second husband in 2005, I religiously kept a journal of our adventures for the whole 10 months. I’d email the entries to our family and friends. It brought them closer to us and it felt wonderful to share the new and fascinating experiences I was having compared to my very sheltered and controlled upbringing.

The Birth of my Blog

About 18 months ago, I started writing this blog. I’d ummed and ahhed about it for a while, unsure if I really wanted to open my life up to strangers. I had experienced judgement and criticism in the past from Facebook ‘friends’ for the my very honest, direct and passionate posts. But my desire to tell my story outweighed the fear of keyboard warriors and typewriter trolls. So I began to share my story, my life as a late diagnosed Autistic wife and mum to two Autistic boys.

I shared my mental health struggles and diagnosis with Bipolar 2 disorder. I shared my experience of losing our first child and my battle with breast cancer whilst pregnant with our youngest son H. As you can see, my life has been rather eventful and with each story I shared I felt lighter. The feedback as my readership grew was overwhelmingly positive. I received private messages from total strangers who said they could relate to me, that I’d helped them, inspired them, encouraged them. That’s pretty powerful stuff, especially for someone with such low self esteem.

Life after Estrangement

When I became permanently estranged from my birth family some 8 months ago now, I faced an onslaught of judgment, threats and lies. I experienced complete and utter rejection as they refused to listen to any of my feelings or experiences. I was viciously gaslighted by my birth family in their attempts to silence me, invalidate my past and prevent me from spotlighting the truth about my upbringing and the damage my parents had caused me throughout my life. I was ridiculed for even discussing gaslighting, as if it was something I’d invented, a fake term.

Suddenly my blog became my lifeline. It tethered me to reality, it became my place to defend myself, it was my act of defiance, that I would NOT be suffocated by their lies and bullying. In those early months especially, my blog was the place I could retreat to, to reflect and learn from this horrible experience.

Recently, I’ve had unpleasant messages from my various brothers criticizing me for writing my blog and sharing it publicly. I’m told it is embarrassing, sadistic and unnecessary. I don’t know how to adequately describe that overwhelming, suffocating feeling of injustice that the family I once loved slavishly and supported completely were STILL trying to hurt me by invading my personal platform for expressing myself. I also felt angry and indignant that they would assume my writing was for them. It was NEVER for them and never will be.

The Reason I Write

There is a famous book ‘The Reason I Jump’ by a non verbal Autistic teen from Japan, Naoki Higashida. With great humor and empathy, Naoki opens people’s eyes to what it’s really like to be Autistic and sets the record straight about things like stimming and sensory needs, hence the title of his book.

I was thinking about Naoki before I wrote this blog post. Thinking about ‘The Reason I Write’…

The only person I write my blog for, is ME. It’s my therapy. It’s what I owe myself after years and years of being forced to keep silent about what happened in our house, about how my Mum still treated me. My birth family did not care about my well-being, their priority was to avoid the shame and discomfort it would bring upon them if I sought answers, accountability and apologies.

It is my right to tell my story and in doing so I know I’m helping many other people who’ve been victims of family violence, emotional abuse and gaslighting.

I’m helping other people who have lived a lifetime with an undiagnosed disability like me, a lifetime of feeling different, judged and misunderstood.

I’m helping people who have suffered mental health problems like me, people who have been too afraid to discuss their struggles before because of the stigma and judgement that abounds.

I’m helping other people who’ve relied on alcohol to cope with stress, or to make social situations tolerable. People like me, who have drunk themselves into oblivion, to fit in and feel normal, when in fact alcohol only brings out the worst in you.

I’m helping people who binge and comfort eat to make themselves feel better when they are sad or bored. People like me who are in an endless battle with their weight, simultaneously exercising then rewarding themselves by over eating.

I write because as an Autistic woman, I struggle to communicate verbally. I mean of course I can talk and if you are in my circle of trust or you attend one of my training courses you’ll know I could compete at a national level in the Talking Championships. I specialize in oversharing, going off on tangents and crying while I talk. But when it comes to telling you how I feel, sharing important messages, dealing with conflict, I am very quickly triggered into a meltdown.

If you’ve seen me in a meltdown you’ll know it’s not pretty. It’s angry and sad and shouty and tearful and snotty and verbally spiteful. It’s me when I’ve lost control of my behavior. It’s irrational and scary. That’s what an Autistic meltdown is!

So I prefer to write. I have long been teased by my friends and family for my texts and emails of epic proportions. But writing is so much easier for me. It allows me essential extra time to think about what I want to say and gives me something to refer back to if needed. It works better for me as an Autistic person because of my slower processing speed than when I’m receiving information verbally.

Most of all, I’m a really good writer and I love finding out how I’m helping other people. I love reading people’s comments and messages telling me that they relate, that what I’ve written resonates with them. That they laughed or they were moved to tears.

Don’t look back in Anger

If I was the vengeful, sadistic person my brothers tell me I am, I would name every member of my birth family in my blog, rather than keep their names private. I’d share their darkest moments and secrets. I’d expose all their wrongdoings.

But I am NOT that person. I don’t make threats like they do. All I want is for them to stay out of my life and let me process what has happened to me, in my own way. There is so much I hold back on because I feel too embarrassed and ashamed to explain the full extent of my hurt and exploitation.

Also, I genuinely don’t want to harm my birth family because they’ve all suffered too. The abuse I’ve been subjected to has played out through generations. They just don’t have the desire, the skills, the courage or the energy to challenge and stand up to it like I have.

No one HAS to read my blog. Why can’t they just ignore it?! I have them blocked on every possible channel; phone, messenger, email, Facebook….because I am safer and happier when there is no contact between me and them.

But on WordPress (which allows me to have a proper published version of my blog that looks beautiful) I can only block people if they contact my site directly. Which is how my brothers insist on tormenting me, even using fake email accounts to overcome me blocking them.

My parents have caused irreparable harm to me in this life, and my siblings have enabled that by trying to silence me. I am living free now doing the things I love; my writing, my photography, my rock-pooling, being a Mum and a wife. I will never stop telling MY TRUTH.

The irony is the brothers (and their partners) judging me haven’t walked in my shoes! One of the most critical was born almost 10 years after me! He missed out on ‘Domestic Violence – the beginning’. I was kicked out of home at 16, so he never saw or experienced even of fraction of what I went through. That same brother has spent most of his adult life travelling and living abroad, in blissful ignorance of the pain, worry and trauma that my parents have caused me.

Over and Out

Have I made my point yet?

To those of your reading this blog who know and love me, thank you. Your support is everything.

To the followers who don’t know me but enjoy my writing, please keep reading and sharing my blog. I am honored that you make time to read my ramblings.

To the family who broke my heart and abandoned me, please leave me alone now. Let me be happy. Stop torturing yourself reading my blog and stop torturing me with your spiteful and manipulative messages. I wish you no harm, I only want to forget you and move forward with my own family that I have built with my husband, a family built on love, trust and honesty. I have my happy ending now and I hope you find yours one day.

So that’s the reason I write. My writing is as much a part of me as my hair, my eyes, my scars from childbirth and cancer. Asking me not to write is like telling me not to breathe. I have had so much taken from me in this life but my writing is one thing that cannot be taken. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to be the Author I always dreamed of becoming.

Lizzy Van Tromp

22/01/21

‘Free to be Me’ by Lizzy Van Tromp. Worthing Pier, Feb 2021

Greetings from the Other Side – the Beauty beyond Estrangement

I don’t usually share other people’s work on my personal blog but the article at the end of today’s piece really moved me.

Instead of feeling sorry for people that are estranged from their family, notice the courage it took for them to break free. Admire their determination to live a peaceful life free of judgement and abuse. Listen to their journey and celebrate their achievements.

Breaking free can be celebrated too

In the beginning, estrangement is ugly. Angry, bitter, tears and snot. What if’s and why’s bounce off the walls. But the storm does pass and for me it passed much quicker than I expected.

It’s been over 7 months since I saw or heard from my Mum. In the beginning the pain was searing, unbearable. But by the start of December I suddenly realized that I was feeling positive. I was sleeping better, the nightmares tailed off. I know it sounds crazy but I look better, I look younger! I’m still packing too many pounds, but my eyes are bright, my skin is smooth and clear and my smile comes easily.

For 45 years I persisted in trying to maintain relationships with my birth family because I believed that’s what I was meant to do. And I know I didn’t imagine the happy memories I hold onto – there were good times for which I’m grateful. I talk about those good memories with my sons and we laugh at photographs and I remind them that those good memories are forever.

Hold onto the light. Don’t let the dark times smother the good memories.

However, most of the time during that 45 years I carried a stone in my chest, a heart full of hurt. The criticisms. The judgements. The take, take, take and get little or nothing back. I never felt understood, never felt good enough. I naively tried to solve everyone else’s hurts whilst neglecting my own needs. In my birth family, secrets and lies were the fabric that held us together.

The hardest thing for me was that I ALWAYS wanted to be a better person. I loathed my hot temper and hypersensitive soul. My brain was full of chaos and dark. I knew I was different but didn’t know why. I wanted, I needed to understand myself so that I could heal my million hurts and be the person I wanted to be, a version of me I could like and be proud of. I wanted to be the BEST me, not the broken, damaged, shadow of me.

In contrast and without exception, my birth family wallowed in their woes. It was easier to blame others than tackle bad habits. Easier to let people down than change their behavior. Easier to keep repeating the same horrible mistakes than to take control and reshape their destinies.

But that’s what I did. I changed my destiny. I searched and fought for answers so I could understand my neurology. I was rewarded with my Autism diagnosis as well as one for Bipolar 2 disorder. How my heart sang! Finally I had answers, explanations. It was like someone had given me the rule book, the manual to my brain.

And suddenly I could see who I really was

I started to make more thoughtful decisions and lifestyle choices. I stopped forcing myself to socialize when I’d rather be at home with my boys. I started carving out regular time for myself to explore my passions in photography and writing. I gave up alcohol completely – too many years using it as a crutch to enable me to attend social gatherings. I took control of my anxiety and started driving my first car, finally using the license I’d earned years before.

Discovering the light in me to live a better life

I even got a job training other people about Autism. After years working in big corporates it felt so empowering and rewarding to give something back to real people. People like me. Helping them understand the Autistic brain is both a privilege and a passion. In those 3 years since I received my diagnosis and with the unwavering support of my lovely husband, I carved out a calmer, happier more gentle way of living that works for me, N and the boys.

Interestingly, the more I moved forward and whilst my confidence and self esteem grew, my birth family became increasingly irritated by my evolution. My openess about my needs as an Autistic person and my determination to protect my fragile mental health, saw me patronized and ridiculed. My sobriety was seen as spoiling their fun. My decision not to host big family gatherings (since the cost to my pocket and my emotional well-being was too high) saw me labeled as selfish. I can’t think of one occasion when any of them shared a genuine ‘well done’. My efforts were ignored and success went uncelebrated.

When I tried to use myself as an example, to show them what can be achieved with hard work and a commitment to change, I was rejected. How dare I criticize them, they were just fine being miserable, self medicating, blaming anyone and anything except themselves.

I get that my honesty and directness is unnerving. But to me it was a no brainer – don’t hurt the people who you love and who love you. Be better, be kinder. Commit to change. Stop lying. Because the alternative is being stuck living that tired and dusty lie that has passed through generations. Let me tell you, it’s a misconception that you must put up and shut up!

So whilst my recovery from the act of estrangement may seem quick, I now realize that I’ve been slowly cutting the strings, untangling myself, for the last 3 years, ever since I got my Autism diagnosis.

Of course it still makes me sad when I hear that some of my brothers persist in leading angry lives, hurting partners past or present, teaching their kids that conflict is normal and pretending to themselves that everything is ok. I think of the innocent, fun, loving little boys they were and I can’t blame them. We had no role models. We just learned to get by.

What I want to say to them is, live well. Be kind. It’s never too late to change, to improve, to grow. Don’t repeat our parents mistakes. Pity them if you want, make excuses for them, just don’t BE them.

As for my Mum who I loved with all my heart and invested so much time and care in….the Mum who repeatedly refused to discuss or revisit my hurts, who denied, denied, denied and in doing so abandoned my beautiful sons too….I only wish you well and hope one day you can forgive yourself.

My everything, the sweetest boys in the Universe

Pride is a dangerous thing. If you are too proud to look at your actions, to admit mistakes, to say sorry, you don’t just risk losing the person you damaged, I think you lose yourself too. Our children are only 6 and 9, but even they marvel that their Nanny hasn’t come banging on our door begging for forgiveness.

Still, that time has passed and as the article below describes, we have found new family now. Fellow parents of children with additional needs. Fellow cat lovers. Hockey team mates. The teachers, cub leaders and swimming tutors who help our boys achieve their potential. The work colleagues who have our backs. Maternal and paternal Aunties who keep us in their thoughts and hearts. N’s mum & stepdad, his siblings and their Littles – they are the ones who have helped us heal and are on the journey with us.

So anyway, read the article, it’s seriously good. Estrangement is ugly and painful and sad but coming out the other side can be truly beautiful.

Be Happy…

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/05/when-blood-no-longer-binds-walking-away-from-a-toxic-family-member-

All the Feels – why every emotion matters…

‘This is a thing that is hard to articulate. Some people don’t feel healed by forgiving people who hurt them, because that’s what they kept doing, over and over, and it only led to them getting more hurt. Sometimes you feel healed when you’re finally brave enough to say ‘This person was horrible to me and I did not deserve that treatment and I DON’T have to be ok with it’

‘For people who say I have to forgive everyone ‘for my own sake’, NO. I don’t. I worked hard for this anger. I worked hard to love myself enough to hate them’.

These anonymous quotes were shared in an online group I belong to, for estranged adult children. And they got me thinking, in a positive way.

They got me thinking about how important it is for good mental health to allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions. Because every emotion has a purpose and a role to play.

As a survivor of trauma and family abuse, I’ve had well meaning friends and family tell me that I need to ‘move on’ ‘allow myself to heal’ ‘offload my anger’ ‘forget the past’. Even my psychologist guilt tripped me recently by asking ‘what positive things could you be doing for yourself if you weren’t investing energy in being angry and sad?!’

And I’ve been trying you know, trying to take all this well meaning advice and let the negativity run out of me and embrace the positive, because I have so much to be grateful for.

But then I read these quotes and I saw a comment someone made referencing a Disney film I love, and I realized that how I’m feeling, is ok! That it is ok to feel sad and angry; as long as these aren’t the ONLY things I’m feeling.

For anyone that’s not see the glorious Disney/Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, it’s cleverly set in the mind of a young girl named Riley, where five personified emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—try to lead her through life’s challenges as her family relocate to a new city.

One of the things I love about this film is that Joy try’s to lead and control the other emotions, fixated on maintaining Riley’s happiness. But it’s only through experiencing the full range of emotions, and especially sadness, that Riley is able to admit her concerns to her parents and begin to settle into her new home and school.

Growing up I was fixated with the idea that I was responsible for everyone in my families happiness. I believed I could ‘fix’ my parents and save my brothers. I was all about putting on my brave face and focusing on the positives. I thought everyone had the capacity to feel remorse and offer forgiveness. I thought laughing about the fear and the violence I experienced made it less powerful. I made excuses in my head for my parents behavior. I pitied them and tried to convince myself that they loved me because the alternative was unthinkable.

But of course I was wrong. The hefty responsibility for my family was something I was groomed to feel from a young age. But as I approached high school and puberty, as I observed how other people lived and interacted, I realized my life was NOT ok, it was NOT normal and I was NOT going to put up with it.

So I was an angry teenager. Angry and resentful. Still pitifully immature and naive and in slavish love with my family. But I was also filled with contempt for the physical and emotional abuse that was part of my day to day life.

Fast forward to now, and it’s taken years, many years, to have the courage to embrace my anger and use it seek estrangement from my birth family. In fact it’s taken 45 years, to stop forcing myself to forgive them.

It’s taken 45 years to realize that my mental health would never recover if I kept allowing myself to be manipulated and guilt tripped and forced into taking responsibility for people who don’t love me or my own little family I’ve created. We were just a useful resource to be exploited.

And as I write this down I realize that my sadness is less. My anger is less. I feel calmer. I feel unburdened. I feel a beautiful closeness to my husband and children. I am finding myself again. I’m rebuilding my career.

I still miss them. I still wonder about them. I still look at photos and remember happy memories because there were happy ones too. I wish good things for them.

I still feel betrayed and tricked. Incredulous at the lies. Shocked at the cowardice. Confused that they aren’t capable of remorse or regret. Pride is worth more to them than the apology and acceptance I’ve searched for my whole life.

And this is all ok. There is room in my heart and my head for all these emotions. They all have a part to play in my recovery.

As human beings, we tend to find other people’s negative emotions difficult to deal with. Tears, anger, the deep sadness of depression…they freak people out. Even the people who love us the most can struggle to deal with our darkness.

I’m sure you’ve all said (or been told) at one time or another ‘stop crying’ ‘don’t be angry’. And it’s usually done in a well meaning way isn’t it? But maybe those tears are the key to overcoming grief. Maybe the anger is the trigger for that person to make positive changes in their life.

So when I spoke to my psychologist today and he asked how I’ve been using my positive energy, I told him about the photos I’ve taken, the job interviews I’ve had, the new course I’ve just run. I told him how happy the boys were at Christmas and about the beautiful cards they made for my birthday. I told him how close I feel to my husband because we are such a good team and we laugh a lot more these days.

But I also told him about Riley, about ‘Inside Out’. I told him how Sadness saved the day and how all my emotions have a role to play to ensure I achieve good mental health. And he agreed with me.

So if you haven’t watched the movie, please do. It speaks to all humans and is especially important if you are raising children. Plus its colorful, funny, sad, happy, visually stunning and wonderfully original!

Lizzy Van Tromp

07/01/21

4 Reasons to be Thankful this Christmas

Apologies for my silence on here, I haven’t quite had the headspace for writing the last few months.

Every time I’ve felt like putting pen to paper, sadness and anger flooded the page. It made me feel gross, like I was spreading negativity by sharing my dark thoughts.

So I’ve been trying to figure out my new normal, establish a routine post estrangement from my birth family. I’ve been trying to heal.

I attended a fantastic workshop over Zoom last weekend, led by the charity ‘Stand Alone’. Please look them up if you’re struggling with estrangement from family members.

It did me the world of good meeting others in a similar situation. Suddenly, I am not alone. The people I met are good people. Kind, empathic, intelligent, compassionate. I realized I am in good company.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I’ve also been pin-balled from one clinician to another while they try and work out what’s caused my blood clotting disorder. If there was one positive to breast cancer it’s that it cured me of my phobia of needles. Which is good, because I’ve been stabbed and pricked more times than I can count the last few months.

But I don’t want to talk about that today either.

I’ve been participating in weekly trauma therapy with an NHS psychologist. He’s a really nice man. Easy to talk to. A good listener.

I’ve only seen his eyes because the rest of his face is hidden by his mask, but his eyes are kind. Sometimes it seems they are filled with tears and I think ‘blimey is my life really that bad to make a grown man cry?’ Maybe he just has allergies. Who knows.

What I do know is that it hurts less with each new day. Talking about it strengthens my resolve. It makes it easier to embrace my freedom and throw my energy into my own family, the family I’ve built with my husband.

And that is what I want to talk about today.

Because despite all the horrible horribleness that I’ve lived through, I would do it all again in a heartbeat as long as my husband and I could raise our beautiful boys together.

Children are a gift, a true blessing. They are not possessions. They are not our servants. They are not spirits to be broken or tamed. They are not robots to be controlled, nor animals to be caged. They are not sent to achieve the things we failed at. They cannot hold together broken relationships or save broken souls.

Why didn’t anyone tell my parents this??

My Auntie shared a poem with me, many years ago, about how children are yours on loan and that a mother’s job is to nurture their independence and set them free. At the time it made me cry, I felt so terribly sad imagining my children of the future, if they ever came into existence, and the fact I would have to let them go.

In fact I put off having children for many years because I was afraid I would be a terrible mum. I was afraid I’d be like my parents. I convinced myself that my life was better without little people in it.

By the time I married my second husband and realised I did want children, I was in my mid 30’s with the nagging tick of my biological clock playing in the background like my personal backing track.

I got lucky because it turns out I could fall pregnant really quickly. The first time we tried, we were pregnant within a few weeks. Naively, I thought getting pregnant was the hard part. No one tells you that staying pregnant is the real journey.

To find out at our 12 week scan that our baby wasn’t developing properly, was the most shocking and painful thing I think I’ve ever experienced.

Our first son Pablo, had a rare lethal chromosome disorder, Triploidy. He had three of every chromosome, a destructive cocktail of genetic information. Triploid pregnancies usually end in early miscarriage, but Pablo was stubborn like his Mumma.

He stayed around long enough for me to collect his scan photos, hear his racing heartbeat. Long enough for me to fall forever in love with the promise of him.

But he did far more than that. You see when he was born sleeping at 14 weeks and we brought his tiny body home and began to plan his funeral, he brought Father George into our lives. At that time, Father George was the priest at St Nicholas Church in Saltdean.

We are not church goers. We didn’t even marry in a church. We got married in India followed by a civil service at our local Town Hall. But I read the Bible as a child and I had a deep longing to believe in a Godly creator who would welcome us to Heaven when we die.

So Father George came to our home and we cried and laughed as we shared our hopes and dreams for Pablo. He answered my clumsy questions about spirits and the afterlife with kindness and dignity and he made me feel safe and at peace that our son was in a better place.

He conducted a beautiful service at Pablo’s funeral, just my husband and I in attendance. He gave me faith in human kindness, he made it ok to mourn our first child who we’d barely known.

We don’t go to church now, life is so busy. And I’ve never felt comfortable with the violence and judgement represented in the Bible. But I believe in ‘God’ whoever that is. And I believe Pablo is a guardian Angel to his little brothers. He’s certainly got us through some tough times.

A friend invented a game recently ‘Opinion or Fact’…and I can’t say that my faith is based on facts or proof. It’s based on my opinions. It’s what I choose to believe. It’s what keeps me sane (as sane as you can be with Bipolar 2 disorder).

So Pablo is my first reason to be thankful.

Our rainbow baby L, took a little longer to conceive. But still, within a few months of trying, he was burrowed in my tummy growing beautifully and (thanks to Pablo and to God) he was healthy.

This pregnancy was not without event; I was diagnosed with swine flu in the first trimester and was very ill. But L was stubborn like his big brother and that nasty virus was no match for him.

There are no words to adequately explain the love I feel for L. He is my Sun. He is a passionate, brave and beautiful boy. He has a remarkable brain, the face of an Angel and he is very, very funny. Had it not been for L’s Autism diagnosis at 6, I would never had discovered that I was neurodivergent too.

I spent several hours in the birthing pool during my long labour with L and I think it left its mark on him because he is most vibrant, most alive, when he’s in water. He is an accomplished swimmer and loves nothing more than diving into the sea, a river or a mill pond. He is fearless, impervious to the cold and his obvious joy when in water is truly infectious.

L has an encyclopedic knowledge of Transformers and a collection worthy of a museum. He spends hours making review videos, stop motion animations and skits. He dreams of being a famous YouTuber and celebrates every new subscriber like he’s won the lottery.

They call the first child you birth after a pregnancy loss, your rainbow baby. L is definitely my rainbow. He is bold and colourful and he commands attention. He can also be elusive and private, it’s not easy for him to articulate complex feelings.

L bore witness to my battle with cancer at 3.5 years old. He has also seen me broken and beaten by the estrangement from my birth family. These are not things an innocent child should have up bear witness to.

But with my trademark honesty and his remarkable resilience, we have navigated these situations together. He knows I’m a bad ass warrior. He knows I’m don’t let things beat me. And he knows I love and accept him unconditionally.

L, our rainbow is my second reason to be thankful.

When L was 3 my husband and I decided to try for another baby. We both had siblings and wanted to give L a playmate. A best friend and confidante to grow old with.

It took longer this time, and I spent a small fortune on early pregnancy tests in my desperation to find out if we’d conceived. We were blessed with a positive test in June 2014. The line was so faint I kept thinking I’d imagined it, so I repeated tests every day watching the line get darker.

According to my calculations, we were 4 weeks pregnant when I went to hospital to discover the results of a recent breast biopsy. Hand on heart, I was not afraid. I’d had a non malignant breast lump in my 20’s. I expected this one to be the same.

Those of you who’ve read my earlier blog posts will know this story, so I’ll keep it brief.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I told them I was pregnant and they advised me to have a termination so I could start chemotherapy right away. Still raw from the trauma of losing Pablo, I refused. Within a week my right breast was removed along with the lymph nodes from my right armpit.

H was stubborn like his big brothers. My surgery was no match for him! H continued to grow strong inside of me, and by 15 weeks gestation it was safe for me to start chemotherapy.

We call H our Warrior because he fought so hard to get to us. But he is also our Miracle. Had we not discovered we were pregnant at exactly that time, our chances to give L a sibling would have been destroyed.

My cancer treatment and my ongoing medication to prevent reoccurrence, means I can no longer have children. So we really are blessed that Pablo sent us H, just in the nick of time.

But the real miracle is the way the existence of H, the promise of him, kept me safe through my cancer treatment. Had I not been so focused on growing a healthy baby and delivering him safely, in all likelihood I’d have crumbled. My history of poor mental health could easily have been my undoing, conspiring with the cancer to finish me off.

But H had other ideas. Delivered early at 34 weeks he was our tiny perfection. We were all besotted with him. He was such a calm, easygoing baby. How blissful it was to carry him around in the sling, his body warm against mine.

H is something of an enigma. The shy and anxious toddler blossomed into a hilarious entertainer. He is confident and cheeky, he is very outspoken! He is emotionally very mature, he talks about his feelings easily and is very sensitive and caring to others.

He has a colourful imagination and explosive energy. He bursts into a room, leaping, shouting, kung foo kicking. He wants to be a master of parkour. He is fascinated by his body and how he can teach it to move the way he wants. He is a master of disguise with his many costumes and face paints.

H, our Miracle, is my third reason to be thankful.

Without wanting to sound dramatic, having children most definitely saved me. Literally. I have spent so much of my life wishing I was dead. I have encountered so much physical and emotional pain at the hands of my abusive parents. I have been manipulated and judged and rejected and broken down so many times. When you’re constantly told you’re a bad person, that everything is your fault, when your own siblings reject you for daring to tell the truth and expose their shameful, dysfunctional upbringing, it’s only natural that you look for a way out.

But then I met N. And somehow, he saw through my crazy, spiky exterior. He made me feel so loved and safe, he made me believe I could be a good Mumma.

And I am. It turns out, it’s the thing I’m best at. I am raising strong, resilient, kind and confident young men. And I’m smashing it.

This would not have been possible without my patient, loyal, kind and hard working husband. It’s not easy loving someone with long term mental health issues, especially when that person doesn’t love themselves. But somehow he does it. So I guess I’ve got 4 reasons to be thankful.

As for our sons, (or our sons who lived, as L likes to say) they are everything we ever hoped for.

Our sons are free spirits with their own unique personalities, interests and passions. They are encouraged and invested in to pursue the things they choose, and they care about. We have taught them that they have a voice and can make decisions.

Our sons know that grown ups makes mistakes and that the can and should apologise to their children when they mess up.

Our sons know the value of family, what it means to be a team. The four of us spend quality time together throughout the week whether that’s walks on the beach or bedtime stories, Friday night movie night or family exercise sessions.

Our sons understand about different brains and neurodiversity. They value their differences and are honest about the things they struggle with. They will NEVER be shamed or judged for being different.

Our sons know that mental health is just as important as physical health. They know they can trust us with their feelings and worries. They know they can come to us if they need help to calm down or diffuse their anger.

Our sons know there is a whole big wide world out there to explore. They love to hear stories about our travels, about our diving adventures. Our sons know they have our blessing to discover that world, and make their own adventures.

Our sons know we are proud of them. Of course academic progress is wonderful to see and they are both very bright & keen learners. But we are just as proud if not more, of their kindness to others, their imaginative creations be that a YouTube video (L) or a cardboard box fort (H).

We are proud of their crazy dance moves, their building in Minecraft, their joyous relationship with water be that swimming in a pool, the sea, a lake or river.

We are proud of their love and devotion to our cats, such gentle, caring souls. We are proud of their passion for the magic and mystery of Christmas and the fact they are still ‘true believers’.

We are proud of their ever growing independence, L with his eagerness to experience puberty and grow his YouTube channel so he can emulate his online heroes. H with his unique ‘cool dude’ sense of style and ability to immerse himself in his fantasy world where he can be Spider-Man, a Zombie, Michael Jackson or a dinosaur.

One day, our boys will want to leave home. They’ll want to travel the world. They’ll fall in love. I hope they’ll give us grandchildren to love as much as we love them.

One day we’ll have to let them go. Part of that journey is accepting they’ll have secrets they don’t want to share. Respecting their freedom and choices. Allowing them to take risks. One day, maybe, they’ll berate us for mistakes they feel we’ve made.

I’m not scared about that. We aren’t perfect. Our sons aren’t perfect. But we are held together by a mutual love and respect. Our sons feel safe with us. Our sons trust us. Our sons are proud of US.

So I have 4 reasons to be thankful this Christmas. 4 beautiful blessings. And thanks to the support of my lovely husband, I am finally learning to make peace with my past and focus on our future.

Footnote:

Just one day after writing this blog and feeling lighter and happier than I have in ages, a parcel arrived in the post for our sons.

A parcel from my mother and brother, professing their love for L & H.

They have not seen or spoken to our sons in over 6 months. They chose to sacrifice their relationship with our sons when they began their horrible campaign of threats and lies against my husband and I. A campaign they started because I dared to stand up and protect myself, to put an end to being manipulated and mistreated.

How to explain the feeling of violation, intrusion. How to rid myself of the utter disbelief that my mother can attack and slander me, poison my siblings with her lies, refuse to admit or apologize for the physical and emotional abuse she has continued to subject me to while she hides in her victim disguise.

Please don’t pity her. She is not worthy. If she ‘loved’ my sons she would not have abused me, their mother who birthed them. If she ‘loved’ my sons she would not have slandered and threatened my husband when he wouldn’t be manipulated and sucked in by her wicked charade.

My mother is a bitter woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse at the hands of my father and her own parents. She has truly suffered and I wish things had been different for her. I used to love her so much and I tried so hard to make her life better.

She could have chosen to be different to her abusers. She could have broken the cycle. She should have wanted more for her own children. But my mother is weak woman looking for a scapegoat. Someone to punish for her unhappy life.

My mother has engineered a sustained campaign to undermine and discredit me. Meanwhile, my siblings have behaved like cowards, terrified their own dysfunction will be exposed if they admit the truth about our past.

And their partners? The ‘sister in laws’ I befriended and loved? There is nothing sisterly in showing support to my face and lying behind my back for their own selfish gain. Nothing sisterly in blind ignorance because the truth makes them uncomfortable.

They are complicit. They have chosen to bury their heads. And they have to live with the consequences of their behavior. They have robbed their own children of a relationship with the cousins they adored. That is their sorry choice.

The parcel will be returned today. As will every parcel, every card that they are foolish enough to send. They chose lies over truth. Wrong over right. They are not worthy to know our children. Our children who love and trust us and who know why Mummy had no choice but to break free from her birth family for her own safety and well-being.

As their parents we have to make hard decisions to protect our boys from the narcissistic reach of my mother and siblings. It brings me no pleasure. I never, ever wanted to hurt my birth family. I never wanted my sons to lose contact with their Nanny and Uncles. I never anticipated that my siblings and grandparents would choose sides. Why was that ever necessary?

All I asked was to free myself from my mother’s grasp because she was killing me. She was KILLING me. SHE had a choice. She could have chosen to act with dignity, to accept the end of my relationship with her and to be grateful that I was prepared to let her still be involved in our sons lives.

But she chose to retaliate, to poison the family I loved and was loyal to, to spread lies and encourage that family to either attack or ignore us. They made their bed as the saying goes and now they must live with the consequences of their choices.

I still have 4 reasons to be thankful, 4 blessings.

I will not rest until my heart is free of hurt and my beautiful family who I built with my husband are beyond the reach of my toxic past.

4 reasons to be thankful. 4 blessings.

Lizzy Van Tromp

21.12.20

Black Sheep

Dictionary.com describes a Black Sheep as ‘a person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group‘.

But what if those ‘accepted standards’ are NOT acceptable, what if those accepted standards involve lies, concealment, masking problems to keep the peace regardless of who gets hurt?….

Lambing at Gaston Farm 2019. A beautiful black lamb caught my eye as he lay amongst the straw, his back turned to his siblings.

As I sit crying my eyes out after a particularly spiteful email from my oldest brother, I wonder if I will ever be free from my family’s judgement.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts you’ll know I’m estranged from my birth family after a distressing and abusive childhood and many years of being gaslighted as an adult.

I naively reached out to my oldest brother asking if he would help me process some of the stuff we went through as kids because he was there, he knows. My other brothers are neck deep in pretense trying to convince themselves that what I say hasn’t happened because if they acknowledge the truth they may have to do something about it.

A lone moorhen joins the resting ducks at Sheerwater. She is met with indifference.

So brother J responded to my email. But instead of offering me support he chose to attack me and belittle me and threaten me because my birth family are all cut from the same, damaged cloth and thank God my saving grace is I am different from them.

I am Autistic. I may be their scapegoat but I am also their conscience. I am a good person who always strives to do better and right any wrongs. I am not perfect; I am hot tempered, outspoken, impatient. But I am also kind, generous and unfailingly honest. Why then does it hurt so much, their deliberate and spiteful rejection?

It hurt enough to make me punch and slap myself hard in the face which I haven’t done for years. Afterwards I felt stupid; my head ached, my cheeks and temples were tender. There was a nagging pain behind my left eye.

My psychiatrist says my family are toxic. He tells me they’ll probably never apologize, that I’ll never get the answers I need. It hurts to hear these things said out loud, it feels disloyal that a stranger is judging my family without ever hearing their story or understanding their hurts. He says I am brave and resilient and lucky to have such a good man in my husband (this part is true 💖). He says I should ensure my family are not allowed back into my life for my own wellbeing and safety. My husband echos this sentiment frequently; ‘forget about them, they don’t deserve you’.

When you look like your siblings, but you just have your own way of doing things!

And I know he’s right, but still it is so hard to accept this estrangement. My sons have lost half of their family. They are innocent of any wrong doing, just not important enough for their maternal grandma and uncles to admit the mistakes of the past and try to put things right.

People ask why I write so openly about such private things. The truth is, I can’t stop writing because it’s the only therapy I have and the pen truly IS mightier than the sword. My writing is an act of defiance, a promise to myself that I won’t be shamed, I won’t be silenced. My writing is my legacy to my sons so that one day when they’re older than can read about my life and understand why I chose truth over lies and freedom over emotional imprisonment.

Diving in Egypt 2007. I’ve always felt ‘out of my depth’ amongst other people, but I feel at home in the water, observing the natural world. Creatures don’t judge like humans do.

It is very hard for me to trust anyone right now. I’m so weary of people sweeping family dysfunction under the carpet. I used to believe that I could forgive anything as long as the other person involved wanted to work with me to put things right. Now I realise that my strict moral compass is polar opposite to the deception, false promises, and fake intimacy that my birth family share. Even those who stand by me, who know I speak the truth, keep a safe distance to protect themselves. And I understand that. I respect that. But God it is so lonely going through this on my own with only my husband truly in my corner.

I visited a friend recently, someone who is estranged from her relatives like I am. She told me something that struck me as so wise, so insightful, that I wanted to share it here. She said she used to think that the ‘black sheep’ was the bad guy in a family, the person who’d done something terribly wrong, who’d let people down. Then she realized that the black sheep is often the person in a family who dares to ask questions, who holds others accountable for their actions, who strives to be different and make better, kinder choices than their siblings or their parents. The black sheep is the one gifted with self reflection. Who can look at themselves and recognize where they need to change to be a better version of themselves.

So I guess I’m the black sheep in my birth family and I’m at peace with that. I was born different. I stand out like a sore thumb, I wear my heart and my truth on my sleeve. I have very little filter and I love with a fierce loyalty.

Egypt 2008. When you try to fit in but you stick out like a sore thumb!

I was selected by my mother, subconsciously I hope, to be her emotional punch bag. My guess is that this was her way of coping with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and her husband (my father). As an adult she used my poor mental health against me and pretended she was on my side whilst privately chipping away at how others saw me, with her gross exaggerations and lies. My brothers bought into her victim persona and chose to sit on the truth rather than face their own demons, a cowardice I don’t understand and can’t relate to. My grandfather, who I begged not to push me away, threw me to the wolves. His stubborn pride would not allow him to admit he’d turned a blind eye to the abuse my mother suffered and in turn dished out to her children.

When I read this back, see it staring off the page at me in black and white, the injustice I feel is enormous. I’ve spent 45 years loving and caring for these people who didn’t understand me and only mocked my differences. Am I really so unloveable that they would sacrifice me rather than tell the truth?

But wait, it’s not all bad. For the first time in my life, I can invest fully in my husband and sons without the nagging responsibility for ‘fixing’ my birth families’ problems. No requests to borrow money or perform favours at short notice. No guilt because I have a better quality of life than them (which my husband and I have worked so hard for yet they always resented). No judgement or ridicule or demands that I change to fix their prescribed way of being, adhere to their strict timekeeping, hide my feelings on demand. No more being lied to.

I read an article yesterday about a lady who met the man that killed her father and how she forgave him. It sounds unthinkable, yet she describes how she had to forgive him for her own sake and well-being. On one level I know she is right, she is brave, she is dignified, she has freed herself by letting her anger and resentment, go. On another level I know I may never get to that point because the people who have harmed and persecuted me, lied to me, betrayed me, they are still doing it. The spiteful email from my brother. The abandonment of my sons; not a thought given to the impact on them when my mother and brother began bombarding my husband with coercive and threatening emails and messages. The cowardly silence from my other siblings, not just a rejection of me but of their nephews, destroying the close bond they had with their cousin.

Brooklands Park, Worthing. This gull was chased away by his angry peers. A fellow black
sheep perhaps?

But there is a silver lining. I will get stronger, more resilient. I will focus forward. One of my sons asked recently why we still have photographs around the house of my birth family. And for a second I wondered, should I take them down? Do I want them staring back at me after all they’ve done? But I told my son that we have the photos up because I still love the people in them. They are in our past but they are part of our history. We have shared happy memories with them which I know were real. To deny this would be like trying to erase part of our lives.

A relative I have huge respect for has urged me to live for now, for today and tomorrow. To be happy in the moment and not get eaten up by broken promises and unanswered questions. This is sound advice that this black sheep is going to try and follow…one day at a time….

Wise words from Omar Khayyam

Why being a Mental Health ‘Lifer’ needn’t be a life sentence…

Unfortunately for some of us ‘Lifers’ poor mental health is an everyday, 365 day a year kind of thing. And it’s a long and lonely journey because friends and family often don’t have the understanding or the stamina to support us day in day out. In truth, we full time crazies can be a drain on the people who love us. They struggle to cope with the fact we’re not coping.

I was moved by the number of people on my news feed bravely volunteering their personal experience of mental health issues on World Mental Health Day. Telling your truth shows solidarity with others and helps squash the stigma associated with poor mental health. I have respect and virtual hugs for everyone who shared their lived experience.

Sharing your experience helps others
feel less isolated.

Like any health issue, people expect there to be a specific reason. A logical cause. They want to understand the why, so they can help you get better. But sometimes there ISN’T a why. And that is a very difficult thing to get your head a round.

Logically, I can pinpoint specific incidences that have previously triggered a dip in my mental health. Breakdowns in relationships (family and romantic), stress related to my studies or work, forced changes to my safe and familiar routines, death of a pet…..all obvious reasons I can make sense of. But often there is no reason. No definable event or cause. In fact some of my deepest depressions have occurred when I should have been at my happiest. I can’t explain how guilty and broken that makes you feel knowing you have so much to be grateful for yet your brain won’t let you be happy. Instead your brain is ice and fire, frantic, chaotic, moods changing like the tides, intrusive thoughts shaking your foundation, paranoia playing hide and seek in your head.

Ice and fire

I first saw a psychiatrist when my older son L was one. He prescribed medication for depression and anxiety. I also began cognitive behavior therapy to learn how to manage my OCD.

Accepting that there is not always a logical trigger or cause was a turning point in how I manage my mental health. If you’re a ‘Lifer’ like me, then maybe my experience can help you too…

Now I know medication for mental health is a contentious issue. I’ve heard people say it made them feel like zombies. I’ve met people who’ve celebrated coming off meds as a huge achievement (hurrah, I don’t need you anymore)! I know people who prefer to cope without because they don’t want to become reliant on medication. I’ll be honest, as that’s the only way I know how to be; I wouldn’t be alive without my meds. Fact. I have tried coming off medication twice in the last 10 years. Both times were disastrous.

When you try to cope but darkness presses heavy around you.

The most recent time 7 years ago, I was trying to fall pregnant again. I convinced myself it would be better to be unmedicated through pregnancy even though the meds I was on are proven very low risk. I carefully reduced my dose over 3 months as instructed by my GP and we started trying in the June of 2014. Simultaneous to this, my mother in law married her long term partner and they invited us on their ‘family moon’ to Dorset. I’d been completely off meds for a week. We stayed in a gorgeous house, great company, many beautiful walks along the coast. L was approaching his 3rd birthday and was at that magical stage where every experience is marvelous and enthralling to him. He was so happy to have his grandparents, Auntie and Uncle all together; N and I even managed a date night. And yet my brain, my mind, was frantic. I felt irrationally irritable. I had paranoid thoughts scratching around in my head. Waves of anxiety made me feel nauseous, untethered.

The underbelly of the pier is a rusting, complex spiderweb filled with echos and bird chorus. It is ugly and beautiful. It is my happy place.

Within days of getting home I arranged to see my GP and psychiatrist, distraught at my inability to cope with the day to day. My tears came like a flood, I demanded to know what was happening to me. Their message was the same…’You need medication. Some people can’t live without it. You wouldn’t refuse meds if you were diabetic or had high blood pressure, so why refuse meds for a chemical imbalance in your brain?’ My psychiatrist was even more blunt, stating that I could not be a good wife or mother if I couldn’t keep myself stable and safe. So I returned to medicating albeit on a lower dose. Shortly after I discovered I was pregnant again. A few weeks after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In retrospect I am so grateful to have gone back onto meds when I did as they undoubtedly helped me get through cancer treatment at the same time as growing a baby.

Now I’m not saying meds are the perfect solution, nor the only solution. Let’s imagine for a minute that you’re trying to perfect a recipe for mental healing. For the recipe to work you have to have some basic ingredients in place like a healthy diet, fresh air, exercise and adequate quality sleep. Without these core ingredients it doesn’t matter what else you add in, the recipe won’t work. The good news is, there isn’t a set order in which these ingredients need to be added. So you might start with some prescribed medication and that might help stabilize you so you can engage in some talking therapy. And if you’re lucky, you might then start to feel a bit better. Not ‘fixed’ but maybe calmer, more positive. So you then find the motivation to add some of those healthy core ingredients like sleep and a healthy diet. There are other ingredients you can throw in that might seem like a good idea at the time…until I gave up alcohol 13 months ago, vodka was liberally added to my recipe on a regular basis. I thought it helped me cope and maybe it did in social situations but it ultimately undermined my recipe, my ability to cope, to heal.

Water soothes me. Nature holds the answers.

For me, medication has been life changing, life saving. It helps stabilize my moods, it limits my suicidal thoughts. It has also enabled me to engage in talking therapies such an counselling and CBT, which have helped me understand myself better and change negative or destructive behaviors.

Over the years I’ve realized I need to be more proactive in managing my mental health through making the right lifestyle choices. I ensure exercise and fresh air are part of my routine. Sometimes I exercise energetically, obsessively. Sometimes I struggle to motivate myself to exercise or my knee injury limits me. But I still get outside for long walks with my camera, nature heals me in a way nothing else can.

Colour. Light. Space. Healing.

I eat healthy meals (whilst struggling with a secret binge eating disorder), I try and get adequate sleep (although night terrors still plague me). I pursue my special interests of writing and photography and most importantly (for me at least) I have been sober for 13 months, my longest time other than when I was pregnant and breastfeeding.

I’m still a mental health Lifer. I won’t ever be cured. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder around three years ago. Type 2, the manic depressive kind. But I can manage this condition like any other. I take my meds. I try to have a healthy lifestyle balancing my physical and mental wellbeing. I know to tell my trusted people if I’m struggling. They can’t always help, but they can be patient, they can be kind. Because blaming me, judging me, ridiculing me, that will only alienate me and forever break our trust.

Sometimes I regret how open I’ve been with my mental health journey. My birth family have used my mental health as a weapon to judge me with. They have tried to manipulate me, undermine me, worst of all to excuse their appalling behavior towards me they blame it on me, because I’m ‘mad’.

But I’m NOT broken. I’m NOT permanently incapacitated by my mental health. I’m an intelligent, strong, resilient human being determined to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. I want to help others like me, I want to help the Lifers and those who experience one off, circumstantial periods of poor mental health.

The starlings roost under the dark and rusty pier but dance joyfully across the sky each day reminding us that we are free.

I’ve often wondered why I struggle more than most. My psychiatrist and I have talked about this at length. I grew up thinking I had bad genes, observing the erratic behavior and mental struggles of my mother and grandmother. Discovering I was Autistic at 42 opened my eyes to the complexity of my Neurodiverse brain. Autistic individuals are wired in such a way that we often struggle with emotional regulation and heightened sensory processing. We are frequently hyper empathic and FEEL every emotion and sensation so deeply and acutely that it’s often overwhelming, sometimes painful. Childhood trauma and abusive parenting have undoubtedly left their mark on me too. And as much as I am a Believer, God has definitely tested me with the life experiences I’ve been dealt (I’ve been known to say ‘whoever is writing my script up there is an a-hole!’)

What I do know for sure, is that my mental health issues do NOT impair my ability to be a good person. I am a brilliant mum, a loving wife and a caring friend. My house is always clean and tidy. My finances are in good order (largely thanks so my amazing husband). My children are thriving. They are clean and well fed and safe. But more importantly, they are supported and encouraged. They are challenged and developed. They are celebrated as unique individuals. They are involved in decision making. They are encouraged to learn independence. They know we will never judge them or blame them. We talk and laugh constantly. I am very open about my personal challenges because I want them to know how to protect their own mental health.

My wildlings. So loved, so free.

I don’t know when my next ‘dip’ will come. I never do. But I know I have an amazing team in my corner and I’ll get through it.

And for those that have wronged me, judged me, rejected me, be grateful that I do have that amazing team keeping me on the straight and narrow. Because without them my crazy ass would come after you like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, Edmund Dantes in the Count of Monte Cristo…and we all know how those stories ended 😉

Brotherly Love

My last few blogs have been pretty heavy and emotionally draining so I wanted to share something a bit more light hearted and positive with you all.

Some of you know I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 4 weeks pregnant over 6 years ago now (ok, ok I know this doesn’t sound positive but please bear with me….)!

I made the decision to continue with this pregnancy against my oncologist’s advice because, I knew this was my last chance to give L a sibling. Also, my experience losing Pablo and the pressure I felt to end that pregnancy because he had a rare lethal chromosome disorder, had devastated me. I would not let myself be pressured into letting go of this baby who could be perfectly healthy for all the Doctors knew.

Me straight after my first chemo session 💖

The upside of this decision was that I felt super positive and determined to get through treatment and have a healthy baby. I had this incredible motivation to just get on with it, to look after myself and to ensure we both survived. People used to say how brave I was but I wasn’t brave at all, I just had my eyes on the (baby shaped) prize and I trusted that we’d both come out the other side.

So H was my constant companion though treatment. He survived a general anesthetic during my mastectomy at 5 weeks gestation. He accompanied me through chemo from 15 weeks gestation. And when he was delivered healthy at 34 weeks, the look on L’s face was like someone who’d won the lottery.

H at approx 9 days old; L was 3 and a half.

This photo is their first cuddle after H ripped out his feeding tube and aspirated on his vomit at 9 days old. He scared the life out of us all, but the wonderful nurse at Worthing SBCU saw the opportunity for L to have a tube and wire free cuddle rather than just stroking him through through the incubator. The rest as they say, is history.

Today they still love a snuggle, last night’s bath time being a good example. I don’t know how long it will be before they decide they want separate bath times, or whether they will get fed up with me always asking to take their photograph. But for now I will enjoy every second. It’s moments like this when they are so loving to each other, that I feel truly lucky, glad and relieved that I trusted my instincts and kept my faith.

Snuggle buddies xxx

Don’t get me wrong, they squabble and fight like all siblings do. Some days by the time N gets home from work I’m half way hanging out the kitchen window about to do a runner as I can’t take their bickering any more! L & H are both Autistic like me so with the three of us being highly sensitive, outspoken and rather inflexible, it’s no wonder N says that we are not Neurodiverse but in fact Neuro-Difficult!

The upside is we have amazing banter, we laugh every day and we see beauty and adventure in the world so clearly where others may see doom and gloom. N is our safe place, our protector, our common sense and he helps separate us during a meltdown! The boys have a running joke about my weight at the moment as I’m always on a diet so when they catch me with a slab of cake or a bar of galaxy, they will shout ‘aren’t you meant to be fasting?!’ Or ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea do you Mum?!’ Recently H took my face between his hands and said solemnly ‘God had created a wonderful creature….Fatty Boom Boom’. I still cry tears of laughter every time I recall this!

Together the four of us have so much fun. The national lockdown due to Coronavirus was actually a real positive for us as it gave us so much time as a family to be outdoors, walking, running, swimming, and discovering places we never knew about before.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, even in the toughest times, the saddest times, you can find moments of joy. Twinkles of happiness. My boys cuddling in the bath yesterday, joking about weeing in the water and giggling when one of them farted, gave me 10 minutes of uninterrupted thankfulness, the benefits of which I can still feel today 💖

So as you go about your day to day, undoubtedly carrying pressures, worries, sadness and responsibilities of your of own, look out for those twinkles, those lighter moments, the things that make you smile. They are more refreshing than a £5 shot from a fresh juice bar and they last a lot longer too.

A Letter to my Children – the Unexpected Casualties of my Childhood

Note: I wrote this letter because one day, when my sons are older, I want them to read about this difficult time in their lives and know how hard I tried to get it right, even if I didn’t always succeed.

To my beautiful boys. I’m so sorry Mummy has been sad lately. You’ve caught me crying often. You comfort me with cuddles and ask me what is wrong. I tell you I’m ok, ‘Mummy’s just a little sad’ or ‘Mummy’s feeling stressed’ and at first that’s enough. But as the weeks have passed you start asking more difficult questions. ‘When are we going on a dog walk with Nanny again?’ ‘When will we see (our cousins) T & A?’ ‘When will we see Uncle O? Can we FaceTime him to see some magic tricks?’

What am I supposed to say? How do I protect you from the truth? How do I explain that my whole birth family has turned against me because I decided, at 45, to emancipate from my Mother. 

As the weeks have gone by, you have felt their absence more. No Nanny catching a lift on the school run. No trips after school to see your younger cousins. No FaceTime with your favourite Magician. You start to realise that my sadness and these absent relatives are linked. You want answers. Where do I start? How do I frame such a painful message in a way that is appropriate for a five and a nine year old?

On one of our recent adventures…

You are both Autistic like Mummy, you are both super bright and mature for your age. But you are both so different. L you are easier to manage. Unless extremely happy, or very angry, you experience emotions from a distance. You are very resilient and adaptable. You accept change even if you don’t  find it easy. Your world is Transformers toys and your YouTube channel. You eat, sleep and dream your special interests and although you tell me that you miss these relatives, you are mostly angry that they have upset me. Only when you ask after your new baby cousin do you seem visibly upset. You are remarkable with younger children and describe yourself as a baby magnet. I know your heart hurts at the thought you won’t see these cousins again. 

H, you are so like Mummy it is unreal. You feel every emotion so intensely, so acutely. You have deep thoughts and want to discuss everything. You say exactly what is in your head, even if it is rude or shocking. You are quick to cry, have bad dreams and hold onto hurts. The feelings you have been sharing with me have reduced me to tears. You usually do this when we’re in the car. I think it helps you talk when you don’t have to look into peoples’ eyes. You tell me you are sad. You tell me you are angry. You tell me you miss Nanny. You miss her dog that you were scared of for so many years and grew to love just this last year. You miss going to her house ‘because I like that place’. You tell me you want to punish her for upsetting me. Then you tell me you want to go and visit her when you’re a grown up. You fret about whether she will still live at the same house and how will you find her if she moves? 

The same yet uniquely different

So how do I answer your questions? It is so hard. To you, my Mother is just Nanny. Nanny who you love and who loves you. Nanny with the crazy hair and huge dog that you’ve both grown to adore.  But to me she is heartbreak. She is rejection. She is destructive. She is lies. 

You tell me how much you miss playing with your cousins and you get tearful because you think baby A will forget about you. You decide that T will remember you as he is three and you gave him lots of your toys. You ask whether you will see your Uncle who does magic tricks, again. You tell me he is funny. That he is kind. You are confused by the concept that people who love you and are kind to you, can at the same time be horrible to your Mummy and Daddy. You talk about Uncle A and his girlfriend A. ‘He is kind! He shows us funny things on his phone. A is nice, she gave us nerf guns!’ Its strange to realise the things that matter to you, my children, the things that make an impact, that make you value others outside our own little family.

Learning to see things from a different perspective

So I tell you about your Great Grandma, whose Mummy was very cruel to her. And how when your Great Grandma had her own little girl (that was Nanny) she ended up being mean to her too. And then Nanny had a little girl (that was me) and she tried very hard to love me. But the older I got and the more independent I got and the more I wanted to spend time with friends and build my own life, the more angry she became. She didn’t have the chances I had, because she’d had me too young and her husband (my Dad) was very mean to her which made her feel all alone.  I tell you about my Autistic brain and how my feelings are turned up to 100 and how badly my heart hurts and my brain aches when people are mean to me. I tell you that I couldn’t cope with Nanny being mean to me and not telling the truth or saying sorry, so I had to be brave and decide not to see her anymore. H, when I told you these things you were outraged. ‘Why didn’t she want you to grow up? You had to travel the World. It’s amazing!’ If it is so obvious to you at five, why was this not obvious to her?

I tell you that I never, ever intended for you to stop seeing your relatives. I know you love them and are loved by them. I would never do anything so selfish nor deliberate as to restrict your access to the people who love you. And I told Nanny that. I wrote that she could arrange to see you through Daddy.

I promise you my boys, that I tried so hard to manage my retreat from Nanny with dignity and kindness. I still love her, I worry about her. I want her to be happy. I wrote to your Uncles asking them to look out for her, to protect her and support her as I wasn’t able to do that anymore. Naively, I thought that everyone would understand. That I could remove myself from her harmful influence without it hurting you, my boys, or Daddy. I saw no reason for anyone else to get involved. I never anticipated that other family members would ‘take sides’. Why would they? After all, when I emancipated from my father when I was pregnant with L almost 10 years ago, there was no big drama. No showdown. We simply ceased to communicate. No one batted an eyelid then. No one tried to change my mind. In fact my brother D ceased contact with him shortly after too, unable to cope with the pressure of a father whose idea of quality family time was sinking 15 pints before passing out.

When you expect others to act with integrity and grace. Instead, they start a War.

How stupid I was to think that my Mother, your Nanny, would let me slip away without paying the price for standing up to her. To her, it was crucial that everyone take sides. It was essential to establish herself as the victim, the innocent, the person in the right! So began her campaign to discredit and harm me in ways I never anticipated.

First she sent messages to Daddy telling him that I was mentallyi ill and in crisis. She told Daddy to ‘be brave’ and to ‘use his intelligence’. She tried to shame him into admitting that this was all my fault, that your crazy, broken mummy couldn’t be trusted.

But she underestimated Daddy. She underestimated his love for me, his loyalty. She persisted in ignoring how good Mummy’s mental health had been during the Lockdown. She disregarded that Daddy had seen with his own eyes how manipulative and cruel she can be to me. She had forgotten that 10 years ago, having read my childhood diary, a distraught Daddy tried to discuss my past with her. But she’d refused to talk about any of it, the shutters firmly locked.  In fact, she has often told me over the years that she ‘has nothing to apologise for’ as if she  can blindside me into accepting her silence. 

Then came the messages from my brother O, your favourite Uncle, Master of Silliness and Magic Tricks. A brother I believed I was close to, who I thought understood and accepted me. His messages were aggressive and accusing, bullish attempts to coerce Daddy into blaming me for the inconvenient conflict, to blame my mental health. When Daddy refused, O met his resistance with furious accusations. He said terrible things about our parenting, spiteful and shocking lies from someone who has never had children nor shown willingness to accept such responsibility. O tried to turn our shared experiences of partying in our pre-children days into gruesome scenes as if from the movie ‘Trainspotting’! He conveniently forgot how Daddy and I owned our own home and held down successful and well paid careers during those carefree days where the only things we were responsible for other than our mortgage and jobs was our tropical fish tank. Yes we partied hard at weekends but we also worked hard, we were passionate about fitness, Daddy played national league hockey! We were like every other young couple we knew, trying to have fun and find purpose in life, a purpose we only found when we had you, our beautiful boys.

And so we found our purpose 💖

My other brothers, your Uncles, including L’s Godfather, have said nothing. Their silence is deafening. My one attempt to connect with them over three months ago now, to explain and ask for their understanding if not their support, was totally ignored. I’m still not sure what is worse. The angry, confrontational reaction of O or the apathy and ignorance of the others? No matter, it all amounts to the same outcome. They are not ready to accept my truth as it would mean revisiting their own past and the harm our Mother caused to them. It would mean them having to DO something, to make a decision, to consider how the way they were parented has impacted their behaviour, their relationships, the way they parent…

What makes their silence so  baffling is that I know my three oldest brothers have all spoken openly about our abusive childhood to their current partners and their exes and have shown bitterness and resentment towards both our parents. These conversations have often been fuelled by alcohol but there’s no denying that our terrible childhood and adolescence was a topic we all kept revisiting. In fact we often joked about it which probably seems in bad taste, but I now recognise this was a coping strategy. A way to downplay the seriousness of the situation because none of us knew what to do about it and none of us wanted to hurt our parents. I still don’t.

I had naively thought that my brothers’ girlfriends would at least have empathy, would try to maintain a relationship with me, particularly for the sake of your relationship with your cousins. I am confident I have been a good friend and sister to each of them, and a loving Auntie to my nephews. Yet with one exception, I have been met with cold silence or judgement and self serving lies. In a way I feel more betrayed by them than I do my brothers, because they could have done the right thing. They didn’t live our past, they don’t carry our baggage. They didn’t have to take sides. They could have guided my brothers to stay neutral, to enjoy separate relationships with our Mother and I, just as they do with our Father.

Thankfully I have loving support from the ex wives of my two oldest brothers. But even this has brought me grief. My brothers have told me that I made ‘bad decisions’ supporting my sister in laws. They think my loyalty should have been to my brothers. But they did not treat their wives fairly or correctly. I set up my stall early on, explaining I was on the side of their CHILDREN, not on his or hers. Still I was labeled a bad sister for not blindly supporting my siblings and ignoring their mistakes no matter how much harm it caused. This attitude is frightening and suffocating to me. I’m a strong woman and having watched my own mother live through a terrible marriage. I am a passionate advocate for women’s rights and equality. I love ALL of my brothers and I always will. In my head they are still the innocent little boys I played with and helped bring up. They were victims just like me, but with one critical difference….They were LOVED.

Without a shadow of a doubt, my mother and my father loved their boys. They excused their behaviour and ignored their mistakes because they KNEW they had both let my brothers down. They felt guilty. They felt ashamed.

But they did not love me. Certainly, not past the age of 11 when my desire for independence and sense of injustice led me to start challenging the violence and fear that was commonplace in our home. If I had to choose, my fathers pattern of drunken rages and cold indifference towards me was far preferable to my mothers insidious criticisms, calculated rejection and physical assaults. But perhaps I could have learned to forgive them both (and I certainly tried) if I had felt loved by either of them. But my father only showed me resentment or (once I’d grown up) used me to prop him up when he needed money or a roof over his head. My mother thought she loved me. And she could show me kindness and care when life was treating her well. But every single time her life got hard, whether down to her failed relationships, money worries, work stress or health issues; then her resentment for me would boil over. How dare I enjoy life when she couldn’t? How dare I find men who loved and respected me, who didn’t beat me? How dare I have a good career? How dare I earn money, own a home, drive a car? How dare I raise my children with such passion, confidence and self belief? My mother always used to criticise her appearance and say how ugly she was, then she would tell me how much I looked like her. My mother would constantly berate me for being so outspoken, for fighting my corner, for arguing with people (including my husband) if I felt mistreated. I think this angered her because she never stood up for herself and on the rare occasions she tried to seek help from her own parents, she was ignored. She could never understand why my husband tolerated that I didn’t do his ironing or carry dinner to him on a tray.

Dare to be Different – taken at Lancing Ring, Sussex.

It was always a bone of contention between my Mother and I, if I criticised my brothers.  She couldn’t bear to hear a word said against her boys, and has always been so quick to judge their partners because I truly think she doesn’t understand what it is to be a woman supporting another woman. It’s an alien concept for her, thanks to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her own mother. 

But still you ask questions, so I try my hardest to give a sanitised response. I tell you how your cousin’s Mummy has taken Nanny’s side because she never had a good relationship with her own Mummy and she needs Nanny’s help to look after your cousins. I tell you that your cousins love you and will never forget you even though my tears soak my pillow at night knowing I will never see T run towards you again with that look of utter adoration. 

I tell you how I sent your Great Grandad a message begging him not to take sides and to please let us still be in his and your Great Nanny’s lives. But he sent Mummy a very angry and spiteful reply. He accused me of lying and told me to stay away. He broke my heart with his cowardice. He was too proud to accept responsibility for his role in Nanny’s cruelty to me because he had wilfully ignored the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her own Mother and later, her husband. 

I haven’t told you how shaken I’ve been by the behaviour of my birth family. I haven’t told you how heartbroken, betrayed, how cheated I feel. I haven’t told you the disappointment I feel in some people even though privately I knew they could not be trusted because they have shown poor integrity in the past. I haven’t told you how the greatest wound has been caused by my grandfather, because I grew up comparing him to my father and convinced myself he was good and noble, how a man should be. But his determination to silence me and his vicious retaliations have made me realise my vision of him was just a daydream and that good, noble man doesn’t exist.

I saw light where there was none and mistook pride and control for goodness

Your Grandad S, my Father in Law has tried to help me understand my Grandfather’s reaction. He explained that in older generations, speaking up about family dysfunction and cruelty was taboo and somehow made the whistle blower seem worse than the perpetrator. Does that help me accept what’s happened? No. But it shows me how dangerous pride can be and how critical it is to tell the truth, to stand up for yourself because you can’t rely on others. You just can’t. 

I wish I had a crystal ball, I wish I could tell you what the future holds. What Daddy and I agree on is that there is no going back. It makes a Mummy physically and mentally ill having Nanny in her life. The last three months, despite the deep waves of sadness and your painful questions, I have felt lighter, freer, calmer. The lifelong weight of responsibility towards Nanny is gone. I can focus on what matters most, Daddy and you boys. I can give you more of myself because I am not weighed down with trying to force Nanny to like me, to love me, to value me. I don’t need her approval anymore and I don’t have to fear her rejection. 

As for my brothers, I try not to waste too much time grieving for these one sided relationships. I spent my whole life looking out for my brothers. Caring, advising, coaching, loving. I never got back even a quarter of the love I invested in them. When I was 16 I went to visit my Grandparents in Spain with my school friend. We were out walking one day and talking about my brothers and my Grandad said carelessly, ‘Ha, when you are older not one of you will speak to each other’. I was horrified that this man who

I viewed as wise, would say such a terrible thing. I told him he was wrong and he laughed easily. But it turns out he was right about that one thing at least.

As for your cousins, I miss them every day. I know they will forget us and I grieve all the happy memories we should have been able to make. But their parents have made their choice, they chose lies, they chose selfishly and I know they will come to regret their cowardice but regrets always come too late.

Children should NEVER be used as a weapon. You my children are everything to me and Daddy. We chose to make you, I grew you, we are responsible for raising you. We love and accept you completely. We give you the safety and security I never had and the freedom to be who you want to be.  Right now are you so young and it is hard for you to accept you have lost all these people you loved. I wish I had a magic wand to resolve all these hurts. I wish my brothers and their partners, my grandparents too, had chosen NOT to take sides. I wish they had not felt it necessary to lash out and attack Daddy and I with judgement and lies when they have never walked in our shoes. I am a forgiving person, Daddy, not so much! But we both respect honesty and integrity; bravery and apologies. Will those apologies ever come? Will my family ever take responsibility for their actions? I doubt it. It’s far to easy to repeat the selfish mistakes of previous generations and perpetuate abuse than it is to be different, to challenge, to dare to make your own path like I have. 

L, H, you are so loved. And you have a wealth of people who love you, people who ALSO love, respect and accept Mummy and Daddy for who they are. You have maternal and paternal relatives who will always support you. You have cherished friends, committed teachers. Most of all you have us. 

My wonderful Auntie V once shared a poem with me that made me really sad. I can’t remember it exactly but the gist of it was about how our children are not ours to keep but ours to nurture until they fly away. I understand that poem now and I promise I will do everything possible my boys, to help you fly. I trust our love will never be broken, not by time nor distance. I will never reject you and I will always be waiting when you need me.

One day you both shall Fly xxx

Lizzy Van Tromp

29/09/20

If anyone reading my blog is affected by estrangement from their family or a key family member, I’ve been advised of an amazing charity that supports adults in this situation. We are not alone xxx

We support adults that are estranged from their family or key family member