I don't know when I became aware that my Mother didn't like me very much but it may have been about the time she said to me “I never wanted any daughters”, it was like a punch in the stomach. Something inside me died a little at that time. I became used to the fact that I was simply there to help her to do housework and clean up after my 3 younger brothers. I didn't know then but my Mother had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) albeit a covert type. My Father was a very weak man who backed her no matter what and became an enabler over time. She rarely left the house but basked in the adulation of her ‘boys’, priding herself on being the perfect housewife and mother. At 10 I was attending prize giving events and friends weddings as my Fathers partner as she couldn't leave the house because “her boys needed her”. Although I was only 10 I had begun to mature physically very quickly and looked more like 15/16.
I spent my childhood just trying to please her, nothing was good enough, no matter what I excelled at it was never enough. I won prizes for singing and went on to sing most of my life but my Mother never came to hear me once. I excelled at school but I was never as good as her boys and she explained to me frequently that there was no point as I was expected to marry and have children. I was totally starved of any love or even a display of emotion other than anger. My introduction to puberty at 10 was to be told there was something wrong with me as I was far too young to be doing this, I must be some kind of freak! It took me sometime to even find where I was bleeding from.
I was 13 when I met the man that was to expand her type of control and pain. He was 18 years old then and wanted me to keep our love a secret as my parents would never understand. He followed me everywhere, even waiting outside the school gates in his Fathers car. I was so flattered and infatuated and with no idea what was happening. Now, nearly 50 years later, I understand it was because he paid attention to me and I so needed some attention I clearly mistook that for love, having no idea how real love felt. My introduction to sex was to be raped by him at just 13 years old and told “your mine now, we have something very special”, well any 13 year old with no one at home who cared would take that at face value. My sex education was porn pictures that he willingly supplied.
I was pregnant soon after my fifteenth birthday, it took a while for me to find out as I had no idea about anything like that, I really didn't understand what was happening. I couldn't marry, I was too young, my Mother frequently told me how lucky I was as just a few years earlier and I would have been sent away to be locked up in a mental institute. She told him he had to pay for my keep every week because she wasn't going to anymore and I had to get married as soon as I was 16, “no man would want you now, your used goods”. Well it didn't quite go to her plan as my baby was still born at full term, in a lonely painful 3 day labour, taken away and buried without even a cuddle from me, it haunts me even now. But even that didn't stop my Mother, “God, took her to save your shame, now you don't have to tell anyone of your shame, there's no evidence”. I was marched down the aisle just 6 weeks after losing my baby, my fate was sealed.
My return to school to finish exams never happened and I was catapulted into the frightening world of adult life without a clue. I spent 11 years married to the psychopath he became. He was violent from the off but it quickly degenerated to more and more perverse ways. I had nowhere to go and no one I could turn too. My Mother belonged to the school of “you've made your bed”. Doctors told me that I had to sort it out myself and offered antidepressants, police even laughed at me and talked among themselves about how there was no point in helping me as I'd simply run back to him! There was no refuge at that time for victims of domestic violence. He was so cruel, not just violent but in a sadistic way, when he was drunk, which he frequently was things were worse. My life was worth nothing to me at all, I survived to protect my 2 lovely children born before I was even 19. My life was hanging in a balance on more than one occasion.
But one day, I picked up my handbag, my 2 girls, and our toothbrushes and just ran. I had nowhere to go except back to my parents. OMG! what a stupid decision!! But I feared for my life and my children, worse I thought I might kill him in his sleep, I frequently day dreamed of doing so, but then what would happen to my babies. I spent 6 weeks at my parents and life was again an emotionless shambles. My Mother frequently told me she didn't care what he had done, she didn't want to hear about it as it was too upsetting for her. I was soon found a council flat when my Mother threatened me that she didn't care where I went as long as it wasn't bringing any trouble to her and her boys. My father covering up for her and telling me she didn't mean what she said, she was hurt that's why she said these things.
It was an awful divorce but I still didn't break down, I had to put my life together again for my daughters who couldn't understand what was happening and at 8 and 10 still wanted their Father.
Forward 10 years and my ex went on to murder his second wife and then killed himself. He tried hard to make it look like a double suicide but it was recorded as unlawful killing as you can't be charged with murder if your dead! As they didn't find him for two days after they discovered her body the police thought he might come after me too. That was a rough time again, even having to hide from the local press. For a while I was truly afraid again, even after his death thinking there were now no physical boundaries to keep him away from me, such was my fear still.
In that time I had met and married the man I've now been with for 32 years, and had 2 more children with him. I returned to education when my youngest was 4, I completed a first class honours degree, a PGCE and also a PhD whilst working as a University Principal Lecturer for nearly 20 years.
Happy end of story it might seem - well not quite! I spent most of those years burying my feelings about what had happened by developing very unhelpful schemas of perfectionism, unrelenting standards, doormat syndrome, subjugation, etc. All very destructive schemas but they were my coping mechanisms. I was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and slowly the world I had fought to build came tumbling down around my ears. No longer able to do everything for everyone and keep the professional status I had attained to prove I was okay, I was so dependent on outside validation, my CPTSD symptoms took on a stranglehold. I was lucky that a therapist in my neurology team recognised it from her work with war veterans
Many sufferers of MS find that their road to diagnosis is long and arduous, for me it was particularly long. MS is active in your brain a long time before the first symptoms show and my first symptom at age 35, just after my youngest birth, was total blindness in my one eye for about 6 weeks. Not one consultant even mentioned MS at that point, I had a six month old baby, a toddler and 2 teenagers. I didn’t have time to be ill, so “bury head in sand” became my way of life. Over the next 13 years I had many brushes with symptoms that were perplexing, some very debilitating, some minor until I was told that I ‘might’ have MS. You see the problem with MS is it mimics other illnesses and comes and goes. By the time you see a consultant in the area it's mimicking this time, and I’ve seen many, the symptoms have gone. Plus because of my abusive first marriage I was often dismissed as ‘neurotic’! So it took another 5 years and another major relapse that left me in a wheelchair for some time to have a definite diagnosis. In that time I was also diagnosed with chronic arthritis in both knees and my back.
Over the next two years, I gave up hobbies I loved, I stopped going out with friends, I withdrew further and further from the busy, full life I’d had. A toxic combination of not being able to work and manage my condition and a worsening mental condition that I didn’t yet have a name for. All I felt was this sense that I was just not capable, just not good enough, just a “waste of time and space”, I just wanted to hide. I frequently cried silently in the shower so no one saw. People who knew me saw me as the ultimate professional, my children saw me simply as a great Mum, my husband just loved me and didn’t know why I was struggling and was lost as to how to help.
But I had a family and a career and didn’t have time to explore much around this until one day on the way home from work I found myself once more sitting in my car at the side of the road crying helplessly. I’d had to stop the car, not for the first time that month, trying to figure out how I could drive my car into a tree, guarantee I was killed and not just maimed, make sure I didn’t hurt anyone else and make it look like an accident so that my family were not devastated. That’s when I finally began to realise I needed help, there was something very wrong, but I still believed it was a failing in me. What followed was a major meltdown as my world gradually fell apart.
Research shows that people with MS are 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than any other neurological illness including Parkinson’s. They are also more likely to commit suicide. But this seemed more than depression, I had some awful symptoms, nightmares, dissociation, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, overwhelming sadness, in short I thought I was going mad.
It was the masks I had developed to help me cope that were now killing me, the unrelenting standards, perfectionism and subjugation that drove me, that gave me a sense of purpose and made others validation that I was a good enough person so important. It was what had driven me to get a PhD whilst bringing up 4 children and maintaining countless hobbies. I had asked for adjustments at work, when they weren’t forthcoming I blamed myself for asking for them. Finally in a desperate state I woke one morning in another full blown MS relapse, I couldn’t see properly and I struggled to walk and I had no choice but to phone in sick. I was off work for 3 months and during that time I was able to think and I decided to take ill health retirement encouraged by the help I had accepted from the clinical psychologist.
That was 4 years ago at age 58, I finally took ill health retirement from a job that I had worked so very hard to attain given my adverse starting point. But I was in no fit state to carry on, I was under a huge amount of pressure at work as big changes were happening and I was very close to ending it all. It was 6 months into my therapy before the realisation came that my parents had paved the way for my ex by preparing me to be a victim all my life! The day the realisation hit of how my Mother had played such an active part in my preparation for that victim role was the start of my release from the chains of shame and secrecy. I then began the lifetime work of healing.
That clinical psychologist was my saving grace, Complex PTSD is a psychological injury caused by neglect and/or abuse in childhood and teenage years. It often leaves victims without the ability to thrive in the world, many victims end up struggling with addictions of various types drugs, sex, alcohol, etc. The light began to dawn that my ‘drug’ of choice was education and work, that’s what drove me until it nearly killed me.
CPTSD feeds on secrets, victims are shrouded in shame and fear and can’t speak out as they feel they are to blame for what happened to them. So now I had MS, chronic arthritis and CPTSD, I was a mess. My husband was now my full time carer having to give up his job as I was really struggling. I couldn’t stand for long enough to cook a meal or clean house. I was so dependant on him that I wouldn’t even go out to see my psychologist without him being in the waiting room when I came out.
I have asked myself many times which came first the mental illness or the physical ones. There is some amazing work being done in the field of Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) and how suffering certain things in childhood changes our brains in some way even at DNA level and makes many people prone to illness when older. So my understanding is that my CPTSD may have been first but that MS also caused mental issues for me. It's a difficult balance as the schemas that were my mask usually leave us when we become old or disabled and mine were crumbling around me.
I finally went no contact from my ageing parents two years ago and that was a huge decision that I found very difficult, but it was also a release as old age had merely made their games all the more vicious. When my Mother died I struggled with a few things like whether to attend the funeral but I didn't grieve. I had grieved for my parents a long time ago, in fact her death has helped further release me from the inner critic which was her voice in my head.
Of course there is also the on going stress, anxiety and fear of living with an unpredictable illness, as soon as you get used to a new norm, you have another relapse that affects something else, some other bit of you taken away or altered, and you have to get used to it all over again. So healing from CPTSD was an imperative for me to cope with my illness. I've used many methods, theories and practises to do so and I won't pretend it's easy, in fact it's one of the most painful things I've ever done. Much more so than anything my illnesses can throw at me. Facing the past and my biggest fears was the hardest of all. Learning that my life had been so wasted and worth so little to those who are supposed to love you the most, your parents, is a terrible road to face. But it is so worth it! I knew I was healing the day I looked into my husbands eyes and actually recognised his love for me in those eyes. I had never seen that before, in spite of his reassurances over those 32 years. So I now live in hope that the future will be better even though my MS will progress I now have tools and techniques to get me through the times when my symptoms of hyper-vigilance, emotional flashbacks and pure fear return. But as time progresses those times are getting further and further apart.
Update: just when we think we are getting better, things can trigger us still. My uNPD Mother passed away earlier this year and true to my expectations I felt nothing. I didn't expect it to trigger me and it didn't. I felt very numb and didn't mourn her passing. I was very grateful for all the therapy I had done that helped me though and made me realise that I'd already mourned her a long time ago. My sadness at that time was for the Mother I never had and for my inner child who needed my love as she had no Mother. But then just five months later my enabling Father suddenly passed away to. Everyone was shocked as he had not been ill and those that knew them said he died of a ‘broken heart’. But I knew that he was so codependent on her that he possibly just couldn't cope without her. He also had his own version of uNPD and I often wondered how they lived together so long with that kind of clash. I was shocked at his sudden death but not triggered. But then came the bombshell, they had changed their will shortly before my Mother died and my Father had written a letter claiming he had no idea why there was any animosity between me and him and that it was not of his doing. It took me a while to realise that this man who had just thrown his toys out of the pram as he always did when he was angry had lashed out once more at the family scapegoat. Yes, it took me a while to realise that this simple act had thrown me once more into an emotional flashback. My inner child was reacting by being frightened, lonely, ashamed and lost. All the things they had made me feel when I was small and vulnerable. Why did it trigger me? I think that in spite of our therapy and understanding, the inner child may still feel there might be hope, just a small hope that parents might have a little humanity left, it comes as a shock to know that even as he was ready to leave this life he still turned his back on his own daughter. For no other reason than she was chosen as the scapegoat. Having it written in black and white makes it so very real and was a powerful trigger. But even this I can fight back from with taking care of my inner child and taking care of me. But what he would never have expected is this action has drawn me closer to my children whom he hurt too with this. It has also drawn me closer to some of my siblings who were waking up themselves to the reality of the dysfunction in our family. There is always hope.