Below is an article I originally posted on my Facebook page. Writing it was a cathartic exercise and, due to its intensely personal nature, I thought long and hard about whether I should publish it at all. I’m so glad I did, as the response was overwhelming. The most wonderful thing is that a few people have taken the first brave steps after reading it. This is what I wrote:
On August 2nd 2018, it was exactly 40 years since my dad died. He was only 38. I was just about to turn 15.
This milestone anniversary, combined with the recent death of a childhood friend, has prompted me to share my story with you. After reading it, if just one of you finds the courage to seek help for your problems, it will be the best thing I’ve ever written.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here goes…
At some point between my parents’ bitter divorce and my dad’s death a few weeks before starting my last year at secondary school, I got lost. So lost that I can’t remember that school year at all. I must have taken exams as I’ve got a bunch of O’Levels but I don’t remember taking them.
Being a sensitive child caught up in the middle of their imploding marriage was tough. Even though I was living through a shitfest I obviously didn’t want my parents to separate, but when my dad did move out, it was a relief. At least there were no more rows I had to pretend not to hear or stony silences I had to sit through. Sadly though, this relief was short-lived, and things were about to get far worse.
During the following months, I had to cope with my mother’s two suicide attempts. I was also the lucky recipient of a letter she left for me after “going out for a drink with a friend”. The letter stated that she couldn’t cope anymore and had left home, never to return. My dad had already left and now my mum had gone too. The pain I felt from reading the last line of her letter: “never forget your mum”, remains the single most horrific moment of my entire life. It was so mind-shattering that for a long time I firmly believed that anyone I cared about would always leave me.
In the years that followed, my mother would often comment to friends, family and anyone who would listen that I was “just like my father”. Despite the smile that accompanied her words, it wasn’t a positive statement. Her resentment, although she didn’t realise it, was palpable.
I was now at an age when the emotional turmoil I’d suffered as a kid was about to collide with hormonal teenage angst. The self-doubt and debilitating lack of confidence I felt were horrible. I spent what should have been a joyous and carefree time in my life worrying about, well, everything. At least when I had a panic attack, I felt something. But mostly, there was lethargy and numbness.
Sadly, I barely knew my dad. Over the years, my young mind had blanked out any essence of who he was or what he meant to me. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I guess this was an attempt at mental self-preservation. In fact, I did such a good job on myself that on the day he died, although I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, I felt nothing. I didn’t even go to his funeral. This still saddens me so much.
As my formative years were such a massive psychological disaster, getting too close to anyone as an adult was a terrifying prospect. The trail of disastrous and broken relationships left in my wake is testament to this. I’ve also suffered several bouts of depression and anxiety, and I still have a tendency to self-destruct at the drop of a hat. Although I’ve dealt with many of my issues, my godlike comedy-genius and confident persona hide are still hiding the real me. Imposter syndrome? Check me out!
My reason for sharing this very personal story is simple. As I’m a massive coward, if I can find the strength to seek help and talk about my problems, I know you can too. When I was in a very dark place, just before my 40th birthday, I plucked up the courage to speak to someone. I was in denial, drinking too much and left things later than I should have. I was desperate and, I suspect, not far away from chucking myself off a tall building. I talked to my doctor and was then recommended an amazing counsellor. She listened and listened and then listened some more.
Gradually, through her patience and skill (and lots of my tears), I came to understand why I felt like I did. She gave me some tools and strategies to help me cope with these feelings. I still have my dark moments, they will never completely leave, but Rachel, my rock, is always there for me when I need emotional support.
Never feel that you have to suffer in silence because I promise you there is ALWAYS someone out there ready to listen and help. Take that horribly difficult first fucking step, you will thank me later.
RIP dad – I wish things could have been different x