(As part of helping break the stigma surrounding mental health, we have decided to share real and vulnerable stories of defeat, hurt, hope and healing with you on the blog. If you have a story which you’re keen to share with our community, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Story submitted by Anonymous:
I don’t think that it’s hard to belong. I witness belonging every single day when I look at others. I do, however, believe that it’s difficult to belong when you grow up in a family with abuse, contempt and mental illness. I hesitate even now, while typing this anonymously from behind my screen to allow you to witness what I’m about to share. This is probably because so much of my own life was centered around listening to others and making sure that they were okay, that I somehow got lost in the background, begging for somebody to ask me how I really am and mean it. But nobody came. Nobody asked because I hid it all so well. I had to be strong – it was the only way out of what I had experienced.
It took me many outings and celebrations with my friends to recognise that there was something very, very wrong with the family which I grew up in. My mother, quite mentally unstable and very emotionally unpredictable, was never really a mother to me. Even looking back now, I cannot recall a single day of her asking me how I was doing, caring about school or knowing who my friends were or what my life entailed. When I came down with the flu, it annoyed her and she saw it as a burden that she had to take care of me, and so I made sure that I never got sick. I even strangely recall once showing her a picture of me, alongside a few of my friends, hoping that she’d take an interest in my social life. Instead, she pointed at me in the photo and asked who that girl was. It was strangely unsettling for me and I felt like she didn’t see me at all. She didn’t know me and neither did she want to. After the sudden death of my father when I was only 12, my mother released a rage which I can only best describe now as utterly terrifying. She already hated my father and his sudden demise meant that she now had to work two jobs, simply to feed us. Feeding us was something which we were constantly made to feel guilty for and I recall vividly thinking, at around the age of 13 years old, how I could contribute to the house, or at best, take off her burden of providing for me. So, I worked on weekends and during December holidays as a cashier at a local clothing shop. It ached me to watch my friends travel to the seaside or spend holidays with their loved ones and I experienced intense sadness watching them have fun. The holidays were the loneliest and worst times of my teenage years. They felt alienating. I recall sitting in my bedroom at around 4pm each day, the sun shining dimly in specific areas of our house and the shadows cast on the walls bearing a strong resemblance to an ending of sorts. I would experience this nearly every day, waiting for the day patiently to end and then welcome whatever turmoil the night time would bring with it. I was very sensitive and beautiful as a child and somebody who now, looking back, I can best describe as gifted. I had this unexplainable inner wisdom and even at a young age, would often relay how others’ energy felt to be around. I knew things which would defeat logic and would often be able to speak of others’ hidden and deep pains. I wrote deeply and intensely and felt this mysterious pull to something much bigger and greater than me. But even though I bore these tiny beauties within me, during the school holidays and when I had nobody to share it with, it felt like the world had left and I was all alone. I waited patiently until school started again so that I’d have some type of connection again, with people who somewhat saw me for who I was back then – funny, witty and intelligent. I didn’t know what grieving was and a part of me found it very strange that each year after my father passed away, I never really thought of him much or missed him. It took me a while to recognise that this was mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to grieve for him, mention his name or admit to being sad, or else a fury of contempt and anger would be released by my mother. For as long as I can remember, she spoke terribly of him, how he left her with no money and ‘us.’ This ‘us’ was the burden of having to look after two children by herself. What made matters worse was that not only do I bear a striking resemblance to my father, but that my personality and intelligence matched his too. This was very provoking for my mother, who continuously referred to me as ‘selfish like your father,’ ‘useless like your father’ and various unsettling words and terms related to his incompetence. At the time, my brother, also consumed with rage and sadness, began his physical abuse. Life felt utterly dark and helpless. I was often bullied at school and would come home, hoping that I would have a ‘safe night’ without getting hurt. Nobody protected me because nobody knew. Being born and raised Muslim and as an Indian, there was huge shame in speaking about what one was struggling with. My mum never dared to reach out to her already disjointed family and always advised us never to tell anybody what we were going through at home. My mum would sometimes join my brother in these physical fits of rage and I would be left alone, simply waiting for it to end. I never received any apologies. As soon as my mum fetched me from school, she would begin telling me about how her life was, the problems that she was facing and which sibling she was fighting with that day. I became a confidant to both her and my brother and relished in it as it was the only way that anybody took any notice of me. It was the only way that I mattered to either of them and had a voice to speak. The outside world marveled at my wisdom, strength and maturity, not recognizing that my maturity was partly because I wasn’t allowed to be a child. Till today, I still grieve that child in me who didn’t get to simply be a child.
Now, you might be wondering how I coped and wait for the life lessons which I pulled out of all of this grief and turmoil, to share with you here today. But today’s story is different. I want to share with you what not coping feels like and for maybe one of the first times in my life, give my pain a voice on a public platform, without worrying about making meaning out of it. I didn’t cope and right now I’m still not coping.
When I was 18, my mum decided to get remarried to a man who I had never met and told me that I was no longer her responsibility to take care of. Just 2 years later, when a wonderful and kind man came entered my own life, I decided to get married. On the day that I got married, something felt very, very wrong. I can’t explain it, except for the fact that my gut spoke to me louder than ever before. Interestingly enough, I knew that I had to get married at the time, that this was God’s escape plan for me to come out of a house with intense verbal, physical and emotional abuse and that one day, I would leave when I was safer and in a much better position…
(story to be continued in next blog post)
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