With the issue of mental health very much out in the open, I have started to reflect on my journey of self-discovery. As I sit here and write this blog for The Group Hug today, it has just occurred to me that my road to mental wellbeing started with a Daily Mail article dating back to 27th July 2013.
The article was written by psychotherapist Benjamin Fry and it changed the course of my life forever. Benjamin attended the prestigious Eton College and by his own admission said “I had a golden life, so why was I falling apart?” He was a millionaire by age 30, but when he suffered a breakdown he realised that he had to delve into his childhood to understand the cause. The article was about his self-discovery.
My life in 2013
I read the article with great interest and similar to Benjamin, to anyone looking into my life in 2013, I had everything. A seven-bedroom house just outside London, three children all privately-educated and we were all members of various private clubs. Money was not a problem as my husband was from a very wealthy family. So, what was wrong with me?
Since 2007, I had been regularly waking during the night screaming and in a panic, thinking that I was swallowing sharp objects such as my earrings from the bedside table or staples or needles. I felt overwhelmed and muted and although I had everything I had nothing. My life and everything I did was someone else’s decision and choice; I was suffocating. It is only today that I can link that feeling of suffocation with the nightmares of choking during my sleep.
I was aware of the fact that at the first opportunity, age 20, I had found a job which gave me the perfect excuse to leave home. I knew the reason behind my decision to flee was due to a childhood of listening to my parents arguing like cat and dog, but what I don’t remember are any enjoyable, relaxing holidays because the travel to get anywhere, was especially traumatic with the atmosphere like ice between my mum and dad.
The tense situation would commence before we even left home, with the packing of the car turning into a huge scene. If I look back, (which I can now do, and digest after therapy), I recall the sensations my body experienced during those times. I would feel anxious, my stomach would churn and I would be fearful of what would happen next.
Doors would be slammed and the two people who were supposed to care for me were at logger-heads. There would be lots of noise, shouting, crying and sometimes things would be thrown. This was normal life for myself and my siblings and I guess that if you grow up in that environment, you believe it to be the norm
Positive role models
Around the age of 10, I would see friends’ parents during something such as a sleepover weekend. I then started to realise that my home life was very different to other peoples. I would see grown-ups being kind to each other, hugging and kissing and it was all alien to me. I believed that all parents argued and that’s just how life was. I realised that something was not quite right with my life.
During our early years, the emotional side of our brain seriously develops, so it is understandable that if we suffer some kind of trauma, maybe we can become “stuck” in the past.
Reading The Daily Mail article that day in 2013 struck a chord. Of course I didn’t know at that point that it was my past childhood experience which was causing me issues and distress as an adult in the present.
In the article, Benjamin Fry mentioned CBT therapy so I decided to find out where he was based and to seek help from him directly. Unfortunately he was based in London and for one reason or another I couldn’t see him personally at his clinic so I started to investigate CBT. Back in 2013 I recall that it wasn’t easy to find a therapist.
What is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.
CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.
You’re shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.
Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past.
It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.From https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/
CBT and me
I decided to try and find someone more conveniently located to me and fortunately after a search on the internet, found a psychotherapist who could see me the following week. Back in 2013, “going to therapy” was a fairly new concept and looking back, I feel that it was around this time that was the beginning of Mental Health awareness. The sessions lasted an hour and I attended weekly for around 10 weeks. I quickly discovered that the therapist was not going to give me the answers, I would need to find them myself.
We would speak about a different topic every week and we delved into my childhood quite a bit. I had never really thought about my childhood until I was there, sat with the therapist. She would ask me to revert back to being the child I was and to explain how I was feeling. It was a very upsetting and emotional experience as memories came flooding back.
She asked me to speak to the child (me) and to reassure her. For days after a session, I would have previously hidden memories popping back into the present day and was able to deal with the upset and trauma and talk to the me, the child. I always felt absolutely drained and exhausted after a session, but by the same token, I felt good. I was dealing with stuff.
My early years
I quickly realised that I had spent my entire childhood living “on the edge”; always worried and anxious about what would happen next. When would the next explosion happen?
My parents were both as bad as each other. I say that, because I was a child and I don’t know the ins and outs of their relationship. I don’t want to lay the blame at the door of one or the other. They are my parents and I don’t want to comment on why they were like they were. I just have to focus on how their relationship affected me as a child and then as an adult. Ultimately I have to face it, deal with it and move on to a more rewarding life.
In the Daily Mail article Benjamin explained further
This ‘frozen’ material is usually stored up in childhood and then triggered in adult life by a new stress, such as a bereavement, a break-up, a car accident or a redundancy – the kind of stresses that we’ll all experience at least once in our lives. Most of us recover fully from our traumas, but some of us don’t. Why some of us don’t, what happens to us as a result and how we can heal is at the heart of the new science of trauma.Daily Mail Article by Benjamin Fry
What I started to discover
I quickly realised that probably for the majority of my childhood I had been “under attack”. All I remember is the bad times. I don’t remember ever feeling completely relaxed, everyone in the house was always on edge.
I was never really physically reprimanded for bad behaviour, (actually, that’s a lie as I was regularly smacked and my Dad hit me in the face when I was a teenager for answering him back), the anger between the two of them was mental torture in many ways. It was the 70’s and 80’s and sitcoms made comedy from scenarios of husband and wife arguing; the British institution of the man arriving home late from the pub and the woman dumping his dinner on his head.
After around ten sessions with the psychotherapist she told me I was equipped to move forward. It was a few months after treatment that I started another journey of discovery. My marriage. With my eyes now very much open to the world, I realised that my husband was also a shouty person. As a couple we shouted at each other on a daily basis, mainly because he would always have to be right.
He controlled the finances and I was not allowed to work. He would belittle me by asking what I could bring to the table financially when he had so much wealth. (well.. his family did – he controlled the finances in our home, but his family controlled the finances coming to him. If he dared to upset them they would switch the money “on and off”. I had left home to be independent and here I was playing out the trauma of my childhood with my own children and I was heartbroken.
My husband was very loud and it was always his way or no way which inevitably just caused tension. Not only was there the constant drama between us as a couple, but his family were a nightmare and as a newly conscious person after therapy, I identified that there was definitely issues between them. What kind of Mother uses money to get what she wants from her adult son?
At one point she simply stopped giving him any money for an entire year but my husband still refused to get work. He preferred to spend 12 months arguing with her and the children and I would be at the receiving end of his despair and anger with her. Even though he had a Masters Degree and great work experience before we married, he seemed to believe that he was “too good” for working and he definitely had a sense that he was better than everyone else around him;“grandiose”.
I started to question who and what my husband actually was. He went through a particularly bad patch of control with his Mother which left me devastated as I realised that he was a weak man. He allowed his Mother to control him and he then controlled our children and I. As I mentioned before, he didn’t work as he said he worked for his family, but how can you “work” for a business which doesn’t pay you when you have a wife and family?
He became so desperate for money (but didn’t want to work himself) that in 2015 he allowed me to start a little business from home. I had only been doing it for two months when I realised who I was and what I could achieve. I had a successful career before I met my husband and I could do that again. The business ended when I asked him to leave; he was so bitter at losing his control, he sabotaged it.
My life timeline
Through the therapy I came to lots of conclusions and this is my timeline.
70’s and 80’s – My parents were constantly arguing, and as a child I was in a constant state of anxiety; always wondering what was next. I was always the gazelle running away from the lion.
90’s – I felt that I had to get away from that environment and ultimately, when I left home at age 20 I was running away. However, I was addicted to the anxiety (maybe a form of PTSD?) so would always be in situations where I could get the feeling of pressure and thrill. I ended up being very good at Sales and carved out a career in this industry as I worked best under pressure. If there were deadlines to be met, I was there.
2000’s – I met my husband. Weirdly, at that time I felt that I had to be with someone boring and he came across as dull during the initial “love-bombing” romance stage and we were married very quickly. I probably liked the thrill and excitement of that too because everything happened fast with very rash decisions. At one point, early on in the relationship, I tried to end things with him and he threatened to kill himself. I now wonder if this gave me the drama I was seeking and needed. Did he satisfy my addiction was borne from my childhood? “Normal” was feeling on edge and nervous.
2000’s to the present day. I led a married life of angst with my husband and he probably subconsciously replaced my addiction for living in an environment of shouting and arguing. There was never a quiet moment in the house. He would either be arguing with me or his family and there was always a scene unfolding.
The start of the end and the beginning
2014 – The article by Benjamin Fry struck a chord in me and I found a therapist and commenced CBT treatment. I soon realised how my childhood was actually “abnormal” and stressful and I realised that my marriage was completely fake and abnormal. I did not want to continue the chain where my children would also be addicted to stress and anxiety; “Can feelings of anxiousness cause a hormone to be released which we can become addicted to?”
Can we become addicted to a person who causes us anxiety? Here’s the experts view.
2015 – I realised that my husband was satisfying my cravings for anxiety and stress. I started my own business began to understand who I really was and that I didn’t need him in my life. More importantly I understood that unless I uncoupled from him, my children would have the same anxious childhood.
My husband definitely has issues too
2016 – I told my husband to leave and he couldn’t handle it. He started to be even more dramatic than he had been during the marriage to the point I would say today that he is absolutely evil with a whole array of issues. I was thrown into endless court proceedings and life was horrific for a couple of years but all of this simply magnified the fact that my husband wrong for me. He is a highly disturbed man and a compulsive liar. I knew I could do better than to be in a relationship with him.
2018 – I realised that I was STILL stuck in drama with him so I walked away from the court proceedings with £0. It was the best thing I ever did.
2019 – I’m in such an amazing and calm, mindful place. My children see the “drama” 50% of the time, when they are with my now ex-husband because he is, after-all their Father and my stance on that is that they have to feel what that is like and build their resilience. When they are with me I talk to them about being calm and make them aware that it is ok to have quiet times and to get stuck into a good book.
When the children are with me, I work hard and consciously to create a safe calm healthy nest for them. I can do no more. As adults, they will have had a wealth of experience; a calm life with me and a crazy life full of drama and junk food with their father; they will choose which type of life they want. They have experienced homelessness, living with lots of money and no money. Maybe it will make them better people? I hope they are open to therapy if they feel they also have frozen trauma. I talk to them regularly about the importance of mental health. No one has the perfect life.
With Prince William speaking out about Mental Health it is an issue which is very much out in the open and I guess everyone has some kind of life blip at some point.
My journey has led me to happiness and I now have the most amazing partner in my life. We have our ups and downs but I very much live a conscious life these days and I am mindful of my behaviour. Co-parenting with my ex isn’t easy and his blatant lies to the children irritate me, but they are just that; a minor irritation. He is still able to trigger me sometimes and I feel that I am still addicted to the drama but because I am conscious of that, I have it under control.
My biggest issue is learning to say no to people and I am still anxious of the consequences of saying that two letter word to my parents, which is odd.
I am happy and I believe that I do the best I can for my children. I am a role model for them and I hope I have broken the trauma circle. They will not have to spend their childhood listening to adults arguing. Now that I am away from him, I can give them the tools to deal with people like him and his family.
Thank you for that article Benjamin Fry – you changed my life!
If you would like to read more from Benjamin Fry here are my book recommendations:
Benjamin Fry’s mother died when he was eleven months old and he was cared for by various family friends until, aged two, he went to live with his father, and new step-mother. He had an apparently gilded youth: Eton, Oxford, brains, money, looks (photographed at eighteen by Mario Testino). As an entrepreneur, he managed to make his first million by the time he was thirty.Amazon
By forty, he had lost everything.