I blog about life as an Autistic female with Bipolar 2, giving parenting & marriage my best shot. I am a passionate Advocate for Autism & Mental Health. I'll make you laugh & cry. And I promise you the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth.
This is for the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…for all the abuse, manipulation and lies I was subjected to…
It’s been 18 months since I went ‘no contact’ with my mum and 18 months since my brothers and grandparents abandoned me for daring to question the multi generational abuse that was accepted and hidden in our so called ‘family’.
Even after years of counselling including 11 months of trauma therapy, the consequences of the abuse I suffered are far reaching. Unlike the lady who wrote the article linked below, I don’t take abuse anymore. I speak up if people hurt me and I advocate for myself fiercely. Sometimes that scares people; I hope they remember my back story and don’t take it personally.
For the child I was, the adolescent, the young adult, the wife and mum I am…
I love you I’m proud of you You are wonderfully neurodiverse You are bonkers Bipolar You are 2 years, 4 months sober You are brave and strong You are totally bad ass You are honest and real You have the biggest heart You have the best husband and children You have 2 awesome but stinky cats You are the future You are happy You are safe You are free
I have always loved Christmas and this one will be particularly special – our last in our current home. So I will bathe in the smiles of our beautiful boys, enjoy the twinkly lights, the presents, the Christmas movies, the ton of food and I will look to 2022 and our new beginnings.
It’s time to live the life I’ve always deserved. Are you living yours?
My recent blog post ‘The Art of Being Different’ explores my frustration at being judged and misunderstood for simply trying to be my true and authentic self, an Autistic female with a pick and mix of mental health problems and a heart marked ‘fragile – easily broken’.
This morning my husband sent me a link to a song and said ‘this could have been written about you!’
Now my husband is not one for grand gestures, nor is he expressive with his feelings. And over the last 18 years, despite the fact I love the bones of him, I’ve told him I want to leave him many times out of sheer frustration that our brains are so different. Lucky for me, he’s not a quitter!
So today I listened to the song he sent me, then I listened again. And I must admit (because I’m Autistic and the meaning of words can confuse me) I had to ask my husband ‘what do you mean, why is it about me?’
And he explained that I have a low opinion of myself, but that’s not how he sees me. And he explained that he understands I just want to be accepted (weirdness and all) rather than forced to be ‘normal’.
Then I felt a sparkly star burst of love for my husband because the song is his way of saying ‘I love you. I see you. I get you’. That means the World to me.
The song is by Fred, again. It’s called ‘Dermot (see yourself in my eyes)’.
If you love someone who has a different type of brain, go have a listen. The best gift you can ever give them is the freedom to be themselves, to make their own rules and to shine in their own unique way.
‘’And if only you could see yourself in my eyes You’d see you shine, you shine’’
“Fall in love with someone that enjoys your weirdness Not someone that tries to talk you into being normal”
Thanks to @fredagainagainagainagainagain for fab lyrics and an amazing song.
You do you, I’ll do me. That’s how it’s supposed to be…
I saw this image this morning and it resonated so strongly I had to share.
So often I’ve seen quotes and memes emphasising that Autistic people are ‘Different not Less’. Which of course is true and correct but that is rarely how we are treated in real life.
A Different Neurology
Most people are born with the typical brain you would expect to see in a human being. They have typical developmental, intellectual and cognitive abilities. Many (most) refer to this as ‘normal’. Normal, grinds my gears. There can be no normal if we are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Autistic children and adults are under constant pressure to behave like the neurotypical (or NT) majority, to appear ‘normal’. We are expected to adapt, conform, follow social rules and standards that AREN’T our rules.
The NT majority for whatever reason, think their way is the right way and not meeting their expectations means we are labelled as difficult, rude, bad, mad, uncooperative and over the top.
Even those neurotypical individuals who are well educated about Autism, and have good intentions, are disappointed and frustrated by our behaviour because it doesn’t match how they think people ‘should’ behave.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I know, love and respect are neurotypical. It’s rare that NT’s are deliberately dismissive and cruel. But very few truly understand and respect the neurological differences of the Autistic community. And that is so, so hard to live with on a day to day basis.
I’ve lived my whole life being told the way I feel is wrong, my emotions are wrong, my reactions are wrong. Not only is this exhausting but as someone with lifelong mental health challenges and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, it is soul destroying. It means I struggle to trust people, rarely feel accepted or that I belong and am under real pressure to mask, pretend, and ‘fake’ my behaviour to please others.
Equity not Equality
There is so much talk of equality, equal rights. But equality means everyone is treated the exact same way, regardless of their needs or differences.
What Autistic people need and deserve is equity. Equity means each individual is given what they personally need to succeed. For example, equality would be all offering all children a place in school. Equity would mean ensuring each child is given a school place where the environment and style of learning can be adapted to meet their individual needs.
D is for Discrimination
Think about this. If Autistic people were seen as a different culture, our customs and practices would be studied and respected.
Yet we are constantly discriminated against, often worse than any other minority group. The vile hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community is at least spoken about in the media, there is a good level of social awareness. But people with Autism and especially Autism and learning disabilities, are openly treated as ‘less than’ and our access to a suitable education, work and healthcare is severely restricted.
The medical profession classifies us as disabled, yet we receive few if any concessions or assistance like a physically disabled person would.
In my work as an Autism trainer I consistently find that my lived experience of Autism and professional expertise as a trainer are hugely valued and welcomed. However, my Autistic behaviours and ways of working can frustrate the people I work with. My obsessive attention to detail, need for control and struggle with ambiguity mean I ask a lot of questions, need a lot of context and am very opinionated. I often feel like other professionals want me to be an Autistic person ONLY when I’m designing and delivering training and a neurotypical person in all other aspects of the job!
Our Autistic brains are different to the typical human brain but you can’t see our differences. We look just like you. So even when you are told we are wired differently, your brains unconscious bias revolts against the way we think, feel and act.
You tell yourself you understand, that you are making concessions for us, flexing your rules; but if you do so with resentment in your heart, then you are still guilty of discrimination.
We will never feel safe or trust you nor will we feel accepted if you can’t let go of the idea that your way is the right way. Because it isn’t. Your way if ONE way. Not the only way.
A Different Future
I doubt things will change significantly in my lifetime and my hurts, the rejections, the judgements, the burden of being misunderstood, is tattooed all over me now like scars. But my hope and focus is that my sons will have a different experience to me. I am raising them to understand their neurology, the good and the not so good. I am teaching them to advocate for themselves. I am showing them how to look after their mental health and make lifestyle choices that will protect them from emotional and sensory overload. I am teaching them they are different, NOT less, and to educate or ignore people who judge them. I am celebrating their uniqueness, their strengths and their passions every day so they never have to feel the way I’ve been made to feel.
What Part will you Play?
You can play a part in this change by educating yourself on Autism and Neurodiversity. You can teach your brain and open your heart to embrace our differences and squash your unconscious bias. I’m not saying it will be easy. I can see why neurotypical people think we are awkward, difficult and frustrating. I have a very patient, loving, (sometimes infuriating!) neurotypical husband who has experienced more than his fair share of stress trying to understand me and our children. We are raising two very different but equally strong willed Autistic sons together, who make us cry, pull our hair out, laugh our heads off and burst with joy in equal measure. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Add two different neurotypes into the mix and of course it is harder, because different minds don’t think alike!
I don’t think there’s a magic formula and I don’t think it’s a one way street. One of the things I’m teaching my sons is about social rules and expectations because I want them to integrate in society and appreciate the typical customs of others. I also see how hard it’s been for my husband trying to understand my neurology when he has been brought up to believe there is a ‘normal’ and a right way for people to behave.
What I do know is there can be no normal in an inclusive society. That there is more than one way, no right way. And that no one has the right to judge the correctness of another persons thoughts or feelings. My brain and my heart belong to me as does yours to you. But TOGETHER, we could achieve truly amazing things…
I can hardly see through my tears as I’m typing this.
This Autistic young man died whilst experiencing severe mental health issues including suicidal thoughts and attempts to take his own life. He begged for support from health & social care, as did his family. Yet he was fobbed off and told to download a mindfulness app…
As an Autistic adult with lifelong mental health issues and a Bipolar 2 diagnosis, I can confirm the fight for support is ridiculously hard and the lack of understanding of Autism in professionals is shameful. I am extremely lucky to have benefitted from an amazing NHS psychologist over the last year, but I’m 46. It shouldn’t have taken this long.
80% of Autistic adults experience mental health issues, compared to only a quarter of the general population.
Will’s mum describes him as having such a brilliant mind, loving, funny, many interests….she could have been talking about my Leo. THIS is why I work as an Autism trainer, educating parents, carers and professionals so they can understand and support us. THIS is why Autism training should ONLY be delivered by Autistic people, who are both qualified to facilitate learning and can share their unique lived experience.
Health & social care professionals will never understand Autism or take us seriously until they are able to walk in our shoes and understand our differently wired brains.
God bless Will. Prayers for your family and friends xxx
I used to joke that there’s a fat girl inside me trying to get out. Like the character of Monica in the sitcom Friends, my fight to keep my food lust under control has been a dominating feature in my life. Except that unlike Monica, I was skinny as a rake growing up and only started to gain weight in my 20’s.
Since my Autism diagnosis 4 years ago, I started to notice the link between my sensory processing differences and my relationship with food. A relationship that goes beyond simply enjoying food, to a realm where I crave certain textures and tastes and the rhythm of chewing becomes more like a stim than a necessary start to the digestion process.
My dad was a very plain eater and as a result, I was brought up on a diet of mainly beige food. Think meat and potatoes on repeat. It’s no wonder I decided to become a vegetarian age 14. My mum (for all her efforts) disliked cooking and it showed. I’m sure it was a thankless task cooking for so many of us.
I still shudder when I think of rice pudding with flabby, milk swollen raisins in, that made me wretch. Stew with chunks of soft steak and slimy carrot. Or custard with big pieces of soggy, browning banana in. I would gag and choke trying to swallow the pieces whole so I didn’t have to chew them.
I used to think I was ungrateful for not enjoying the food my Mum prepared. Now I understand my sensory processing differences it’s clear that raisin rice pudding and banana custard was the birthplace of my problems with texture.
My reasons for eating were also embedded in my childhood years. I observed my mum using food as a reward to treat herself with. Her life was lonely and stressful, raising 5 young children in a marriage dominated by alcoholism and violence. Who could blame her if she sought solace in comfort food. The problem was, my siblings and I adopted those same habits.
We have all experienced an unhealthy tendency to comfort eat, overeat and eat in secret. As adults we’ve all see-sawed between slim and fit, and overweight and sedentary. There has never been a happy medium because we are ‘all or nothing’ characters. Whether my brothers share my sensory relationship with eating I don’t know but they have all experienced my struggle to maintain a healthy weight and a balanced diet.
I have a clear memory of sneaking into the kitchen to steal a packet of crisps when I maybe 10 years old. But there was only enough packets for the school lunch boxes. So I carefully ripped open the corner of a packet of cheese and onion flavour, took out a crisp, laid it on my tongue, let the flavour dissolve then put it back in the packet!!! I repeated this revolting ritual a few more times until my my craving was satisfied. I do feel bad that my brothers must have eaten the crisps I licked first on more than one occasion! Such was my unusual and addictive relationship with food.
I chose to become vegetarian when I was 14 and from there on in my diet consisted mostly of potato, eggs and cheese. Which are all perfectly delicious and can be combined any number of ways, but they’re hardly a balanced diet. I never knew pasta existed until my first husband made me a steaming bowl of pasta shells. Frozen mixed veg and flabby boiled to within an inch of its life broccoli, were the extent of my experience with vegetables.
And because I was able to eat unlimited amounts of chocolate without any repercussions, I did just that. Until I hit my mid 20’s and that fat girl inside me got out!
I never really appreciated that I was getting fat because I was happy in my life, I felt loved by my then husband, I enjoyed my job. But one New Years Eve whilst visiting the family home my Mum commented on my size. She always had this way of making very personal observations under the pretense of it being a joke. This was no exception. So I asked then husband ‘do you think I’m fat?’ He smiled affectionately and said ‘you’re like my little ladybird, a big round body with little arms and little legs’!!
At the time I laughed my head off because I think in pictures, and the image in my head was hilarious. But later, reflecting on that comment I was mortified.
I went to work a few days later with my weight on my mind, but unsure how to address it. I was an HR Director for a well known hotel chain. Once or twice a month all senior management had to complete duty manager shifts. That day I was in one of our flagship hotels, a grand, aging beauty with a sweeping spiral staircase that circled up to each of the 6 floors of bedrooms. All of a sudden the fire alarm went off. I radioed reception to check where it was triggered. It was the 6th floor! Now when a fire alarm is triggered, any lifts automatically go to ground and can’t be used. So I had to run up 6 sweeping flights of stairs on that huge spiral staircase to identify if the triggered alarm was down to an actual fire.
Thank goodness, it wasn’t a real fire. However picture if you will a short, bespectacled, heavily overweight blonde in a straining suit and stilettos trying to race up a 6 flights of stairs when she hasn’t done any proper exercise since PE at school!! By the third floor I could hardly breathe!
I remember the smooth feel of the highly polished wooden banister as I gripped it tightly and the way my heels sunk into the plush carpet. By the 4th floor my legs where like jelly and I was panting so hard you’d think I’d run a marathon. By the 5th floor I was overtaken by someone from Maintenance who’d realized I was taking too long and nimbly overtook me like a whippet on the way to the 6th floor.
The combination of my Mum and first husband’s comments plus the failed attempt to get to the 6th floor under my own steam, was the prod I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes.
First, I had to overcome my inbuilt stranger danger and self consciousness, to join a slimming club. I can’t pretend I wasn’t mortified being weighed in front of total strangers, but my desire to lose weight and get fit was more powerful.
My food diary went everywhere with me and I started buying recipe books to cook healthy meals. Now I can’t lie (nothing but the truth, right?), but I’m a horrible cook. I was a horrible cook then and I’m a horrible cook now. I specialise in burnt offerings and no matter how religiously I follow a recipe, it never, ever turns out like the picture! But for the first time in my life I understood what I was eating and could make sensible but still tasty, choices.
To my surprise the process of analysing calories and fat content, and the routine of writing down everything that I ate, quickly became addictive (unsurprising now I understand I am Autistic). Weight loss became my special interest, something to hyper focus on.
I was shocked at the relative calorie content of different foods and started to eat fruit and veg that I’d never tried before – mostly raw because of my preference for crunchy textures. I learned to enjoy rice and grains, salad and fruit smoothies (the texture of fruit is still something I find hard to overcome).
I also became addicted to exercise. I would run on the seafront every day before work. Often I’d run after work too! Or power up and down the hotel swimming pool, visualising the fat melting off me.
I started slimming club in the January and by early June I’d lost 4 stone. I literally leapt forward to grab the bell at my final weigh in and rang it enthusiastically over my slimmed down head to celebrate reaching my target. I was euphoric. I had a waist, actual hip bones, a flat stomach. I felt reborn.
Now being Autistic I have a number of sensory processing differences . For example I am hypersensitive (over sensitive) to noise and heat – both these things have the power to reduce me to a panicky tearful mess.
However I am hyposensitive (under sensitive) to interoception, the sense we use to interpret our bodies internal signals. Interoception tells you when you’re hot or cold, hungry or thirsty, or when you need the loo or feel unwell.
My under sensitivity to interoception means I don’t usually realise I need a wee until I’m hoping on one leg and shallow breathing because I’m wetting myself! It also means I seek out food and think I’m hungry when I’m actually tired, bored, stressed or thirsty.
What I also realise now in my 40’s, since my Autism diagnosis, is that the sensory experience of eating food is itself very addictive. I love foods that are crunchy and chewy. Or that start out hard but them melt into creamy smoothness. The physical act of chewing and swallowing provides a soothing rhythm that calms my hectic mind. Often when I eat, I do so for that sensory experience, my body craving the familiar textures and tastes. This explains why I eat when I’m not even hungry. And why I’m drawn to the same foods again and again.
In contrast anything soft, soggy or watery is stomach churning. It’s why I can’t enjoy soft fruits and why fragrant but watery soups and noodles make me feel nauseous just by looking at them.
I clearly remember a school holiday when I was 13 – it was a ‘PGL’ adventure trip. We had to make up our own pack lunch each day and the teacher supervising lunches insisted I pack an orange. Now I really didn’t like oranges. The stringy white pith all over them freaked me out. The leaky juiciness was far too messy. And the squishy texture made my stomach turn. So there I was half way up a mountain in Wales and said teacher reminds me to eat my orange. I reluctantly commenced the unpeeling, trying hard to remove all the pith. It was quite a small orange, more of a large clementine, and I suddenly thought if I shoved it in all at once I could get it over and done with. So that’s what I did. I put the orange in my mouth whole….
I tried to chew but a combination of the texture and size of it made me gag, then inhale. The orange became stuck in my throat and I was choking. The terrifying thing was, I wasn’t making a sound. I couldn’t make a sound. So I just stumbled around flapping my arms in panic until a teacher realised what was happening and gave me an almighty whack on the back. The orange shot out. The still whole, saliva covered orange. The astonished stares of my classmates burned into me, more painful than the burning in my throat. Such is my phobia of food I don’t like, that I almost killed myself trying to avoid it!
At 46 I still struggle with managing my eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight. I understand how to eat healthily and I love to exercise but my motivation and commitment fluctuate and therefore so does my weight.
Back in my twenties when I first became overweight, my weight loss journey became my special interest. My Autistic brain performs best when I can hyper focus.,So food diary’s and portion control and intense exercise became my hyper focus to the exclusion of most other things. It’s not so easy now to hyper focus when you have two young children to look after…That’s not an excuse that’s my truthful experience.
So I’m trying to find a balance. Eating healthily as a family. Doing exercise together that everyone enjoys. That’s why I bought Guinevere my trusty trike! I haven’t yet found a solution to the sensory cravings I fulfil by eating, but I’m trying to use mind over matter and talk myself out of reaching for food unless I’m sure I’m hungry. Mindfulness is also helpful to improve your ability to read your body’s internal signals. Think of it as fine tuning your radio reception, so that you get a clear signal instead of a crackly, fuzzy one!
My children, the family I’ve created with my husband, are my hyper focus. Meeting their needs and having fun and adventures with them takes priority over everything else and I choose to live this way. Before I know it they’ll be more interested in going out with their friends than rock-pooling or cycling trips or family movie nights.
Ultimately food is fuel, we all need it to survive. But for Autistic individuals like me, the sensory relationship between what we eat and drink and how we feel is an important one to explore. If we can satisfy our sensory cravings with healthier options that still provide the texture, colour and taste we need; if we can learn to interpret our bodies signals so we don’t confuse thirst, boredom or tiredness with hunger; then we can achieve a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight without it becoming an obsession or a burden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
All photos were taken on our recent holiday to the Lake District. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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!