I spoke last week about wanting to begin to talk about deeper stuff. What I mean by that is I want to start being really open about my own mental health. This is proving tougher than I first thought for a few reasons – it involves other people, I don’t just want to share directly with strangers but build some sort of rapport first, opening up your deepest feelings makes you vulnerable and I know that’s a good thing but it is also very hard.
What I don’t want to happen though is for these blogs/mental health messages to be sporadic and trying to set boundaries between what I share and what I don’t is leaving many a blog half written.
So I’ve decided telling my story, no holes barred, is the only way to do this honestly and in a way that I hope will make a difference. It is this narrative that will be the foundation for a lot of what I write and share in the future so it seems like the only proper place to start. So before I get cold feet again let’s do this thing, here is my story:
The Hole of Me
I’d say up until the age of nine my life was idyllic. I was born in the countryside in England and I spent my days building dens in woods and racing soap boxes down country lanes. Surely any young persons dream! I also had the most loving parents. Unfortunately, the innocence of youth shatters quickly and when I was nine years old my Dads work resulted in a move to Paris, France.
As a self-absorbed kid I assumed it was just me that didn’t want to move. Then one day I came home from school and found my Mum stumbling around our flat, slurring her words, knocking things over (you get the picture) – I didn’t understand what was going on. It wasn’t long before I found out my mum had been struggling with an alcohol problem (and depression) for a while, it was apparently one of the reasons we moved countries - a change is as good as a rest and all that jazz.
For the next couple of years life was a bit bizarre – I loved school, had some good friends, enjoyed amazing holidays/adventures with my Mum and Dad but every so often my Mum would go missing, or I’d find her comatose in bed. Needless to say a lot of stuff happened which a ten year old brain struggles to make sense of but you have that irascible belief, that only a child can possess, that everything will be alright.
That illusion was shattered when I was 12 – my mum went missing for the umpteenth time – initially I thought we’d find her passed out in the back of her car again or in the neighbours shed. Twenty-four hours went by and my Dad and I were both more worried than normal. The Police didn’t mount much of a search as they said people go missing all the time. My Dad and I mounted are own search (at that age it seemed like an adventure) but before long it turned in to a nightmare – we found my Mum floating face down in the river near home.
That image will live me for the rest of my life, as will the few minutes that followed, I wish a similar moment on no one. The autopsy said that she drowned due to “cold shock response”, did my mum commit suicide? I guess I’ll never know and honestly it doesn’t really matter either way. The best I can say is that she was suffering so at least she was now free of that.
What did matter was that life changed immeasurably. My Dad, who was already one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met, took on a whole new level of excess. There was no stopping and the coping mechanism was to do more, faster. Thankfully I ended up at boarding school which gave me some semblance of normality and my friends and teachers there became my family and my rocks…perhaps more so than they will ever know (I’ll definitely talk more about some of these people at some point, but for now they know who they are and THANK YOU!).
Outside of school my Dad was out of control – diving in to harbours in Mallorca pretending he was a member of MI6, getting arrested for a bomb scare in a US airport, developing plans to build artificial ski slopes on the English Downs, coming in to school in a soft top car and making donuts on the rugby pitch (pretty big role reversal for a teenager!).
Unable to hold down a job he flittered away all his money on hair brained schemes. Somehow in amongst all of this he wrote a book and tricked a lot of people in to believing there wasn’t a problem.
In short, my father had bi-polar disorder, an astonishingly damaging condition that takes a person from the pits of despair to the peaks of eccentricity and everything else in between.
Eventually my Dad was sectioned and after many ups and downs with work and personal life he found some form of harmony in Germany. Tragically the suffering he was going through became too much and a week before we were due to meet for a camping trip in the UK, just after my 18th birthday, my Dad took his own life.
Devastating as it was, in many ways it was a big release, not having the burden of never knowing what the next day will bring and feeling on edge. I went to university not long after this and for a while had some really good months but soon the toll of the six previous years came crashing through my life like an express train.
I took time off to face my demons and face up to the true magnitude of what had happened. In many ways I’ve been doing that ever since, often getting it wrong but always with the focus that I do not want to make the same mistakes my mum and dad made. I want to face my struggles head on.
I am now 31 and I don’t think I’ve ever felt “whole” since those heady days when I was a child running through the English countryside without a care in the world. There will always be a part of me missing, a hole, a hole the shape of my mum, a hole the shape of my dad, a hole the shape of life envisioned lost. It’s a hole that the black dog enjoys jumping in to and taking advantage of more often than I care for. It’s a hole I always have to be aware of and tend to regularly but it isn’t a hole that will stop me living the best life possible. I want to share the things I have learned to help me cope in that time. I also believe my Mum and Dad could have recovered if there services there to support them were in place and if mental health was better understood by everyone.
Life has been hard but it has also given me friends I wouldn’t change for the world, godparents/family that I know better and love more for what I have been through, a knowledge that despite everything I had parents who loved me. It has given me a sense of fragility that makes me want to laugh more, share more, travel more and adventure more. I have dark days but all these things make me fight for the bright days.
Here’s to a future of sharing our stories in order to support each other. To a future where the stigma of mental health can evaporate and we can put out a helping hand to whoever needs it. Here’s to a future where our struggles don’t stop us living our dreams! Please share your stories, let's talk.
Here's to taking the love and compassion we all share and filling in the hole of me.
The Hole of Me…