TRIGGER WARNING: Physical and sexual abuse mentioned
I had a miserable childhood. I don’t remember a day when I was happy. My father was a bully and was always shouting at someone, particularly at mealtimes. My mother was so intimidated by him that she barely said a word.
I left home with a black bin bag of clothes when I was 18. The bag split and my few belongings were strewn across the street as I’d ‘packed’ hangers. I had nowhere to go and no idea what I would do. I was about to sit my A’levels. My father had smashed my face into a lead pipe, breaking my glasses, which cut me around my eyes. When I fell to the ground, he kicked me. My crime: I’d bought a push bike to get to my Saturday job and he thought it wasn’t feminine for a woman to ride a bike. Years later, when he died, my mother confirmed that he didn’t like me. Apparently, I was an irritating baby, but he was angry with everyone. All my siblings have had worse mental health issues than I’ve had, including one suicide (he was the brother who had done most to protect me as a child, provided me with a temporary home when I left and gave me away when I got married).
I had a steady job and mortgage by the time I was 20. I married at 22 and had my first child at 24. My husband was a good man and a great father, but we weren’t well suited. Just before I entered my forties, I left my steady job and my husband and, when the children were with him, had the lifestyle of the teenager that I’d never been allowed to be. I went out all the time, drank too much and fell properly in love for the first time in my life.
At the time I was heading up a high-profile project. My CEO insisted I was the media spokesperson but then started to resent the profile I’d built for myself, so sabotaged the project in every way she could. It led to public humiliation. She also encouraged the whole company to bully me. I would enter a room of around 30 people and then she, or one of the others, would say something and laugh at me. The project came to an end with a huge event, so I kept my head down and tried to ignore what was happening and just get to the end point. I’d dealt with worse than her.
My project team also had problems. One resented the success of one of the others and tried to blackmail me over some issues with her past. Another’s husband committed suicide after I advised her to leave him. The remaining member of the team did no work, so I was left trying to do the work of six people; but somehow the event was successful.
And then the man I was in love with left me. It triggered something and I found I couldn’t cope any more. It was a shock; I’d always battled on. I started crying uncontrollably for hours on end and the fatigue set in. I could sleep all day and all night. My body clock thought it was permanently around 3 in the morning. Opening my eyes at all was an impossible struggle, so I went to the doctor. He diagnosed depression and medication, plus time off. I resisted the time off and medication, as I thought I’d cope, I didn’t want to give in to it. I stopped crying but found I was unable to process information. When I was reading, I couldn’t absorb what was being said, I couldn’t understand even simple cooking instructions, and then I stopped being able to follow TV dramas or even quizzes, nothing made sense, my brain had shut down, so I wasn’t able to work, or do anything at all. I was like a zombie for around 8 weeks.
When I recovered, I left the toxic job as soon as I could and became far more protective of my mental health. In depression you so often focus on yourself and your misery. I found that the best way out of it is to focus on others. Everyone has their own struggles and you don’t have to look far to find someone who needs you, even if they do have a smile painted on. I was not the only person who was treated badly by the company I left. Another was sacked after she took extended unpaid leave when her new-born baby died. I encouraged her to set up her own business and became her first customer. Her success does more to improve my mental health than any medication. It is so satisfying to see her do well.
My experience of depression was so frightening that it taught me not to struggle on, that rest is critical, no one should be proud of working all hours, it’s counterproductive. I don’t ever want to feel like a zombie again. I know the signs and take action earlier. But I’m still scarred; I try and avoid the limelight, which has held me back, and I don’t have the self-preservation instinct that most people have. It wouldn’t occur to me to worry about catching a virus and I’m terrible at going for check-ups and smears. I’m also very much single. Nearly 20 years on, I never did fall out of love. But, although life still has ups and downs, I now have happy days and some great friends.