A personal story
Let me tell you about mental health issues.
I’m not talking about the kind of issues that are visible, or the kind of issues that cause alarm with your friends and family. Like many disabilities a lot of mental health issues can be invisible.
Millions of people suffer daily with what seem to them to be relatively minor mental health issues. Issues that cause them problems with relationships. Issues that cause them anxiety. Issues that don’t allow them to appreciate their own self-worth. Issues that in isolation don’t really appear anything to be concerned about, but added together begin to take their toll on the way you adapt to live your life.
Most people in these groups are completely unaware that there is an issue until their coping mechanisms break down.
I am one of those people.
Since childhood I’ve struggled to fit in. I thought it was because I went to a different school, the school where I was bullied and blackmailed out of my lunch every day by another pupil at just 8 years old. I was therefore a pretty skinny child. So when my parents divorced and my father moved away I jumped at the opportunity to move away. I thought I was living a happier life, but the truth is I was still troubled.
My dad remarried, on the surface a nice woman with three small children. But somehow at 16 I felt the need to leave and start my own life.
I muddled through life, a number of marriages and children eventually finding solace in long distance cycling.
But I’m not writing all of this for you to feel sorry for me.
I developed a strong character, mental toughness, and I learned not to really care what other people thought. If they didn’t like me that was their problem not mine. I learned that the only way to change your life was to take action. I accepted responsibility for everything that did…or didn’t happen in my life.
And then last year in 2020 I did something that people say was extraordinary. And when I hear people say that, I agree that if I saw somebody do what I did I would say they were extraordinary too. But I struggle to feel that about myself.
The thing about mental health issues is they can rob you of the joy of your own accomplishments.
I am a determined person, and I know that only such a determined person could have done what I did. I know that my mum would have been proud, she would have shouted it from the rooftops. But she died 25 years ago. My children are proud of me. My husband, once he got over his tiredness from supporting me, was proud of me….is proud of me. But I have found it difficult to acknowledge for myself. I still feel fake, like I am reporting back on something that someone else accomplished, not me.
It took a death in the family for me to understand why.
On New Year’s Eve 2020 my father died and I really struggled to understand my emotions around this event. I knew he was ill and yet I didn’t visit. By the time I decided it was time to do something about it, it was too late. But the reason I couldn’t understand my emotions was that I didn’t feel grief. It wasn’t that he was a bad person, or that we had fallen out. We had just drifted so far apart since my teenage years that he was basically a stranger. I never had that conversation with him, to ask him why we had drifted apart so irreparably. His wife had told me quite categorically a few months earlier that I was a terrible daughter, and so that conversation with him never happened. I was sad that he never knew that I had become a record holder. I was sad that he could never be proud of me. I was sad that I don’t remember that he ever told me he loved me. I was sad that I remember very little about a loving relationship with him after the age of 14 when he split from mum.
What I hadn’t realised was that since that time, that lack of relationship with my father had affected everything. I became very low emotionally and in the end, this year, sought counselling.
For weeks in the sessions I talked about the relationships I had had throughout my life. And we talked very little about my father which was the reason I went to counselling in the first place. I wanted to understand why I didn’t field grief over his death. I wanted to understand if I really was such a bad daughter for not persevering and maintaining a father/daughter relationship. I wanted to understand if I should have worked harder at it. Was I just feeling guilty?
In the last two sessions we finally spoke about my father and the part that he played in my adult life. We spoke about the love and the relationship that was missing and it began to help me make sense of the relationships that I had in adult life. We established that in my adult relationships I had been forever searching for a missing piece of my life puzzle, and never quite finding it.
The thing that became apparent in these counselling sessions was that I have always subconsciously been trying to make my father proud of me but now that time has past.
There’s like a voice inside my head that say “if he can’t be proud of me then how can I be proud of myself?”. But now that subconscious thought has become conscious, I can endeavour to do something about it.
So here’s the thing, I NEVER thought I would go to counselling, and I waited 40 years to talk through something that has affected me all of my adult life. I can never repair the relationship with my dad, and that’s something I’ll just have to live with. I had thought I knew who I am and why I was the way I am. I was half right, but there was still important and life changing stuff to be discovered.
So why have I decided to write about this now?
If you are reading this and think that there’s something not quite right in your life, don’t be like me and wait so long to get help. 40 years and 2 failed marriages was far too long. And whilst I know that the hard times in my life have made me the strong character that I am, many of my relationships along the way have suffered. Thankfully now I have a very tolerant and understanding husband.
Cycling has forever been my coping mechanism, my safe place, my own personal mindfulness practice, but counselling helped me find the answers.
If you have characteristics that cause you problems or thoughts that cause you pain, then maybe you could try a talking therapy. Possibly a support group could be helpful or find a counsellor. Many employers have employee helplines that include a series of free independent & confidential counselling sessions.
Or why not get in touch with your local branch of Mind?
I fundraise for mental health charity Mind so that help is always available. If you need to talk, they are there for you.
Follow the link below if you want to find out more about what Mind can do for you.
And if you would like to donate, so that mental health help is available to more people, please use the link below.