THIS CRAZY LIFE and ALL THAT JAZZ
It’s World Mental Health Day #WMHD, so I thought about whether I should post something. After all, I’m ‘in the business’ so to speak. The business of helping people that is and that means that in my work, I often end up talking about and dealing with mental health challenges, the ones that my clients encounter.
But, if I’m going to share something for World Mental Health Day, I feel I ought to speak from personal experience. Be gentle because this is the first time for me. I haven't shared my own very personal story of struggle before. I've shared my background story but I've avoided talking about how it all really affected me...and still does. So, here goes.
If we’ve met before or you’re familiar with my work, you’ve probably heard me talk about my early life with my incredibly creative but tortured paranoid schizophrenic mother and my hugely talented jazz musician Dad who was, like me, an introvert who struggled to deal with life in the ‘real world’, turning to alcoholism for solace.
You’ve probably also know that I’ve worked with some of the most talented and creative people in the world, some well known publicly, some not so, who have fought their own black dogs. I may have told you about my work with offenders where I came to understand (not excuse) their motives.
What you may not have heard much about, because I’m a helper of others, is my own personal struggle. But, as you can imagine, growing up with a violent paranoid schizophrenic and later my recovering alcoholic and agoraphobic father, things were….challenging.
As a child, I looked for reasons and solutions for my mother’s condition. I thought if I could just fully understand it, I could fix it. What I didn’t realise was that she wasn’t broken, just disconnected. I tried and tried in vain. When I couldn’t work it out and the abuse I suffered not only continued but escalated to extremely dangerous levels, I too disconnected. I disconnected from her, from school, from my ability to make friends but mostly from myself. I developed a stammer and retreated so far inside myself I lost sight of myself entirely. The only way I knew, as a child, of coping with the constant fear and uncertainty, was to hide. I hid so well, I hid from myself.
Enter the ‘reinvention’ period of my life. When I finally escaped the horror of life with my disconnected mother to live with my Dad age 12, I stepped fully in to my first people helper role. As well as being there practically and financially for my Dad (I had 3 part time jobs age 14), I wanted to understand both his and my mother’s struggles. I started to read and study everything I could get my hands on, which in 1980 wasn’t a great deal actually. There was no internet and no Waterstones, let alone a ‘self help’ section. I really only had the library. I devoured volumes on psychology, neuro anthropology, psychiatry. You name it, I consumed it. Did I find the answers? Well, I found l