The ‘A’ train

This will probably be the hardest part, I don’t talk about myself or my past much, to put it on paper (well virtual paper…) makes it real and that’s embarrassing.

Why is it embarrassing? Well, throughout my journey of life, like most of us, I’ve made mistakes. No big deal really, everyone makes mistakes that’s how we learn isn’t it?

Well I should be a philosopher then….

Not only have I made mistakes, I’ve repeated those mistakes several times and been judged for them before I’ve learnt my lesson, glutton for punishment maybe? Not quite.

‘A’ made me, ‘A’ loves seeing me fail and because ‘A’ has been in my life the longest I listen to what it says.

Its familiar, it’s easier. It’s uncomfortably comfortable.

‘A’ has been with me long before I knew what anxiety was, before I even knew about mental health and way before I could identify or understand it. I still don’t know whether ‘A’ was with me from birth, hiding in my genetics and was always going to be with me no matter what or whether my upbringing had a part in activating ‘A’.

My personal opinion is that I had the genetics at birth and the extreme ill health and exposure to bipolar disorder has brought it out of me.

I don’t feel that doctors know the best course of action either. (It might just be my doctors). Every time I go to the doctors for my mental health, I get asked to fill in this pointless questionnaire about suicidal thoughts which the doctor then scores me off, (I quite often lie with my answers because honestly I find it easier to describe my last shit in detail, WITH DIAGRAMS, than answer how many times I’ve felt my life wasn’t worthwhile in the last month) then I get prescription drugs thrown at me that are likely to make me feel 100% worse in the next two weeks. After that I just battle with side effects and feel like everyday is a Monday morning after a 123 hour marathon and my mind has constant brain freeze. I personally can not live like that anymore, I did it for 10 years.

I called my hitch hiker ‘A’ because although I’ve been a bit of a slut and had relations with other mental health disorders, such as, depression, bipolar, post traumatic stress disorder and anorexia, anxiety has been there from the start. The more time I spend looking back the more I see ‘A’.

  • I see ‘A’ how come no one else saw it?

In my previous post I mentioned that I spent a lot of my childhood petrified of catching what my nanny had (uncontrolled bipolar disorder).

  • What if the people around me saw it in me but choose to brush over it?
  • Should I feel let down by them or would I have known my hitch hiker either way?

When I look back now it feels like it was a choice to mask it with medication and words of encouragement (* insert sarcastic emoji here…) like ‘get over it, pull yourself together, and snap out of it’. Words that are no longer welcome, words that have been identified as destructive to someone who is suffering from ill mental health.

  • Did I stand a chance either way?

I have been at war for over 20 years with ‘A’, a war that at times has defeated me but there have been victories, breakthroughs and setbacks. There has been treason and betrayal and unlike in the Hollywood movies the only love story apparent here is between myself and ‘A’.

Who could possibly ever choose to love me? I’m broken.

I stand before you today as a mental health war veteran.

In my previous blog I mentioned that I was one of four daughters, the runt of the litter. I call myself the runt of the litter because my three sisters are healthy; they have no illnesses and weren’t born with any defects or disabilities. I however was born with all sorts of issues. I am basically allergic to life, have severe life threatening allergies, asthma and when I was younger I was riddled with eczema.

I was a gross, scabby little runt.

I spent so much of my time in hospital and that’s where I think ‘A’ manifested. From a young age I felt like I was diseased and disgusting. I honestly don’t know how my parents and grandparents loved me. My eczema was so bad that even to move my skin it would crack and bleed; my mother use to have to change my bed sheets every day because through the night id cover them in blood. (I’m sorry for the image!)

I use to be wrapped head to toe in medically treated bandages and then had my clothes over them. I use to scream and cry my eyes out, I hated them. I remember one day removing them from underneath my leggings before school and half way through the day my leggings stuck to my legs (because of my weeping scabs… again sorry for the image) and I had to go home and be bathed in salt water so they could be removed without ripping off skin. I spent days and days being left in hospitals wrapped up in bandages or on oxygen, screaming for my mum. I would over hear doctors telling my mother that my skin would be scarred for life due to the eczema. I would come home from hospital (once my eczema had healed), my older sister would say she’d play games with me now that I looked normal but once the scabs came back she wouldn’t.

So matter of fact.

  • Harmless things children say to each other without thinking aren’t they?

I was always thinking, always reading into what people said and how people looked at me.

  • Surely this kind of upbringing was always going to bring out the ‘A’ in me?

I was subject to being left alone from a young age which built up a fear of being abandoned by people and it prevented me from attaching to people in my life; I was always withdrawn, always preferred my own company and I still do. I find it hard to be myself in public and it exhausts me, once I’m home I feel free.

I had my first anxiety attack before the age of 10; I can remember it like it was yesterday. At that age that’s not something I could have brought on myself, it’s not something I could have made myself do.

It was brought on by fear . I felt so much fear for a small child.

Asthma attacks were scary, I had many of them and if I left the house without having an asthma inhaler in my pocket I would have an anxiety attack; pretty sure they were linked. My hands would curl up, I would get pins and needles in my hands and face and I would cry, uncontrollably. The shortness of breath would make me think I was having an asthma attack and this was the time death would finally claim the runt.

My mother was magnificent, she would act as if it was nothing.

I was fine, and everything was going to be ok.

So when I was around my mother I felt safe, like nothing would go wrong because she was there. I know most children feel this but mine felt strong, i never wanted to leave her side. Even at the age of 11 going into high school I cried my eyes out leaving my mother at the doorstep. There was one other person I felt that safety with and that was my grampy. He was there when my mother couldn’t be; I always had either my mother or my grampy at close range. As much as I loved my nanny I couldn’t’ depend on her good days.

‘A’ manifested through my ill health when I was growing up, ‘A’ caused panic attacks, worry, fear, and irrational thoughts, further ill health and a lot of tears. My grampy spent his life looking after my nanny with ill mental health and I know he saw in me what he saw in my nanny. He spent my lifetime trying to make me mentally stronger. He would teach me not to fear, hot to break my bad habits of being controlled by my ill health and I owe him a lot. He did more good than any doctor has done for me because he had firsthand experience, he had lived through it.

As a child I never took part in out of school clubs, I never went on school trips or school days out, I never took part in any school productions and I never stayed over school friends houses.

‘A’ made sure of it, ‘A’ controlled me. I was very much under ‘A’s wing.  As long as I did what ‘A’ wanted the anxiety attacks were kept at bay, the worry was to a minimum. The older I got the stronger ‘A’ become, I could no longer keep ‘A’ a secret.

People were starting to notice I was troubled but it wasn’t ‘A’ they saw, it was a stranger.

At the age of 14 ‘A’ took a vacation, literally up and left me, no warning and no timescale on its return. For 4 whole years I was anxiety attack free, I still worried about every single thing but I wasn’t controlled by the fear of an anxiety attack. My eczema cleared up and was barely noticeable, no scars, no scabs and my skin was soft. I choose to do drama in school and took part in talent contests.

I lived without fear and it was magical.

…..Until the next hitch hiker took ownership of my body……

…….You’ll meet it next….it isn’t pretty.

I accepted ‘A’ into my life, we had a mutual agreement, but this hitch hiker….. well…… lets just say it did what it wanted, it ripped me apart and it took no prisoners.

I finally caught my nanny’s virus.

The birth of ‘A’

There is not a lot of information out there about mental health and the possibility of it being hereditary (that I have the concentration or patience to find). For the majority of my life, I was told it is not passed on through genetics that it was all in my mind – HA the irony! I could get over it with counselling. (*insert eye rolling emoji here…)
Thankfully, over the past few years I have seen that opinion change dramatically. Scientists are now looking into genetics and the possibility of it being passed down in our genes. It’s a complex area, as mental health isn’t just one single gene that can be identified but a collection of them. I’m no scientist so it doesn’t mean much to me but apparently there are 20 genes associated with bipolar disorder alone. I can’t find much on ‘A’s genetics (much to ‘A’s delight).
I have been born into a family plagued with ill mental health, my father’s side of the family particularly. I never saw it from my great grand-mother but I was only young when she was an old lady however my grand-mother (nanny), my grand-aunt and my grand-uncle all suffered with bipolar disorder (referred to back then as manic depression). I never met my grand-uncle he sadly killed himself before I was born. I met my grand-aunt many times and I would have never thought she suffered with bipolar disorder (not that I knew what that was when I was young) but she was always the life and soul of any room; so happy, so full of energy and so enchanting to be around. (I understand now because I do the same, I mask my hitch hiker in public). The day I found out she died sticks to me like a sour taste in my mouth.
I don’t know how old I was but it was between 5-6 years of age. I was over my nanny and gramps house with my younger sister and two cousins. We were playing hide and seek and I was hiding in the coffee table in the hallway below the telephone. (No one ever found me; I was such a scrawny ill child that i would fit into the most impossible places). The telephone was a big contraption back in the 80s not like our mobiles now. It was the design where you dialled by moving a dial in the middle of the phone round in a circle. (Dialling 0 or 9 was always such a mission, really took some finger strength).

old phone1

Anyway…went off track there. My concentration lets me down but you get it right? ‘A’ loves to distract me easily. FOCUS.

My gramps answered the phone above me, I remember feeling excitement because to me he had no idea I was there, he was quiet on the phone then went into the living-room and the next thing I heard was an almighty scream from my nanny. I was immediately petrified and out from under the coffee table in seconds but as children we were rushed upstairs out the way. I remember it like it was only yesterday, I knew something horrible had happened because I always had a sense for tragedy. I sat on the top of the stairs listening because I had to know, scared out of my mind that there was something wrong with someone I loved. I remember hearing ‘jumped off a cliff’. As a 5-6 year old how do you process that kind of information?

I grew up spending a lot of time with my nanny and gramps, mainly due to the fact that I was one of four daughters and basically the runt of the litter. I had so many alignments that I was always off nursery/school sick and as my parents were working class they couldn’t afford to take time off. My grampy was a retired veteran and my nanny never worked so they had ample time to spend with me. I spent a lot of time growing up in this household with my nanny, who suffered quite badly with bipolar disorder.

When I say quite badly I am massively under exaggerating, it was life changing; by the age of 10 years old I would know from how my nanny was acting whether the next day would be a good or bad day.

Good day – A manic episode, we would bake cakes, go to the park, and generally have loads of energy to do whatever we wanted. As a child I obviously preferred these days thinking my nanny was well again, she smiled, she was full of energy and she laughed. I loved hearing her sing especially after the bad days.

Bad day – I’d either be woken up by my nanny frantically crying, squeezing me to death with hugs and checking me over to make sure I was ok or my nanny wouldn’t move from bed; The fear in her eyes would make my blood run cold as she stared at nothing for days.

I would ask my grampy what was wrong, why is nanny not responding to me? Why is she crying? He never explained it to me.

I started to think it might be something I could catch. A virus that would infect me until my body fought it off because that’s what my nanny did. She got infected, had a few days/weeks in bed then fought it off. I would worry that I was too much of a runt to survive and it would kill me. My nanny had such a loving nature, it use to break my heart daily; watching her battle with her very own hitch hiker, a nasty one, that was winning the battle time and time again.

I was a small ball of fear disguised as a carefree child and no-one had any idea.

  • Is it simply a coincidence that out of four daughters the one exposed to it most days is the one that now suffers with ill mental health?
  • If it wasn’t hereditary then surely I could get rid of it like the doctors would tell me?

Erase it, Conquer it. Forget it.

  • It must be a frame of mind conditioned from a young age that I can re-condition. Right?
  • Maybe my nanny’s mother was the same when she was younger and it conditioned her, my grand-aunt and uncle the same way it did me?

I don’t think I’ll ever get the answers to these questions, all I know is I have an unwanted hitch hiker that taunts me and threatens me with attacks on a daily basis.

Nobody can completely be in control of their lives, things happen that you can’t plan or prepare for and it knocks you to your knees. It’s because of my mental health (and the fact I’m a stubborn bitch) that I refuse to stay down for fear that I will never recover.

I am damaged goods and therefore at risk of being defeated and permanently controlled by ‘A’. So I will continue to rise up time and time again after every battle ‘A’ throws at me.

Learning, Adapting, Strengthening.

Is that me winning or ‘A’ controlling me with fear again? Time will tell but for now ill enjoy being in the driving seat.

brrrrrrrrrrrrrm…….brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrm……

Join me will you?