Today, in recognition of World Mental Health Day I’m going to tell you my story – publicly – for the very first time and already it’s unsettling me. I didn’t realise how difficult writing it all down and seeing it in print would be. However, I want to do this in the hope that it will help others to open up and raise awareness of how mental ill health can happen to any of us at any time.
My relationship breakdown
The first time I split up with my ex, after nine years, I was thirty and our sons were seven and five. I was absolutely devastated as I hadn’t seen it coming. I believed we were happy and everyone thought we were the perfect couple.
However, one thing always came between us. He’d regularly smoked cannabis, and by this time he was taking E’s (Ecstasy)* which I totally disagreed with and I didn’t like being out with him when he was under the influence.
I also dreaded his ‘come down’ from the E’s which could last for days. It’s said that regular ecstasy use may lead to sleep problems, lack of energy and feeling depressed or anxious and along with these he was moody and angry.
We were with friends in a bar one night and I could see his mouth twitching, his jaw muscles tightening and moving and I told him I wasn’t happy that he’d taken E’s while out with me. He laughed and said “You need to take something Babes. Come on, lighten up a bit Darlin’. I was just saying to Maggie, we should go clubbing more.” Clubbing? More? We’d never been clubbing.
Oosh! It hit me like a physical blow to my guts! I was rooted to the spot as I remembered – he’d been on the phone (landline, before mobiles) a lot recently; female workmates had rang him, he’d called them all darlin’ and he’d been out at least once a week (on lads nights). He wore suits I’d had cleaned for him, the shirts I’d ironed and the aftershave I’d given him for his birthday.
Walking from that bar to the next I blurted out “You’re seeing someone?” and Tony replied “Eh? Sorry, what did you say?” giving himself time to form an answer.
I knew then that he was cheating, though he denied it. With my head spinning and my heart breaking we spent the rest of the evening with friends in our local, me all the while desperately hoping that it wasn’t true.
When we got home I calmly said “You’d best pack cos you’re not staying here.” More to see what he would say or do. He laughed nervously and thought I was joking. “Where will I go? I can’t leave now.”
“It’s not my problem. Go to your mum’s,”
“Babes, look, we’ll talk in the morning. Come on let’s go to bed.”
Pfft! I shook my head and told him I wouldn’t be sleeping with him, “you might have caught something.” I’d sleep in the one of the boys’ rooms as they were at their grandparents round the corner. Oh dear, the drugs were wearing off because he started yelling “You’re effin’ frigid you are.” and “I ain’t going nowhere you stroppy cow. You’re an effin’ nutter. Effin’ nuts just like your mother!” he spat.
Ouch! He really knew how to hurt. I’d told him some time ago that my mum had been in Stratheden (an old asylum in Scotland) many years ago and had Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)** as she had severe depression. The nasty imbecile, trying to detract from the real issue here, just threw this confidence right back in my face. Stomping up the stairs and banging doors he eventually went to bed and within minutes I could hearing him snoring like the damn pig he was, not a bloody care in the world!
I sat awake on the sofa unable to sleep all night, crushed and sobbing uncontrollably, thinking about what to to do next and what to say to people. My mood swung wildly from sad to angry, anxious and confused, fear and denial as I drank one coffee after another and smoked too many cigarettes.
Tony was mostly a good guy
Tony wasn’t always a monster. He was actually a good guy (without the drugs). He made me laugh, he was affectionate, kind and generous, he was popular and had lots of long-term friends who adored him. He was a great dad; he did most of the night feeds and loved playing with the boys, taking them to all their activities and to the Arsenal games. He loved a clean house and enjoyed decorating our home, he’d often wash the windows and blinds without prompting. He came from a huge loving family (Indian and Spanish) who thankfully adored me and thought I was a good influence on Tony.
We’d often go out in the summer on huge family picnics where there’d be up to fifty of us all in Regents Park, Hyde Park, Kenwood Park, at Alexander Palace or at the beach. Friends who joined us couldn’t believe how many people were there and were amazed at the range of food; tortilla’s, croquetas, paella, Russian salad, whole chickens and hams, breads, cheeses, samosas, onion bhajis.
We’d be there until it got dark, playing swingball, cricket and football with the all kids. We regularly had Christmas dinner for around twenty people where Tony would keep everyone entertained and all the New Year parties were held at out house along with the boys’ birthday parties which went on way into the night.
“Cor, it stinks down here. You been up all night?” rasped Tony as he wearily descended the stairs in the morning, still with his stupid nervous smile. I almost felt sorry for him. He made us both coffee then slumped on one of the two sofas and reached for the television controls. Too slow. I grabbed it first and put it out of his reach, behind my back on the other sofa. “Have you nothing to say?”
“Aaww, this ain’t one of them ‘we have to talk’ thingy’s is it? Anyway what do you want to talk about?”
“Last night. What was we saying? I can’t remember.” To be fair, he probably couldn’t remember too much after the fog of drugs and copious pints of beer. But I didn’t believe he could remember nothing and I knew he was just playing for time. “What’s her name?” I asked. He giggled anxiously and didn’t answer me – a sure sign he was cheating. “Ah, it’s one of those girls from the office.” I said. “Which one?”
He still refused to answer so I told him to start packing, still foolishly hoping he’d tell me it wasn’t true. The fact that he went upstairs to pack, so easily, with no arguing just confirmed it was. He packed some bits saying he’d come back for the rest, then he left and I watched from the kitchen window as he walked away without a backward glance. As he disappeared from view I locked the door. I turned, slid down and with my head in my hands I cried as I’ve never cried before, snot mingling with my salty tears.
When I eventually stopped crying my thoughts turned to the boys and off I went, howling again. How on earth was I going to tell them? I couldn’t bear to think of their gorgeous little faces, big brown eyes made even wider with disbelief as the life they knew would be turned upside down – just like that. That selfish b*stard, I hated him! What was worse, I knew he’d be down the pub laughing and joking with his pals.
Aaarrgghhh! I wanted to scream from the rooftops. Instead, I called his mum and dad to tell them the news and asked them to keep the boys for another night as I couldn’t face them right now. Not with my red-rimmed piggy eyes and blotchy face. I didn’t want them to see me so upset and I honestly hoped Tony would come back and tell me he’d made a mistake.
His mum and dad didn’t believe he’d leave and thought this would just blow over, bless them. Then I cried again. The thought of not seeing all my lovely family, missing out on weddings, picnics, celebrations and family gatherings. See it’s not just the couple involved in a breakup; think – when you throw a pebble into a lake and you see the water ripple outwards – it affects the bigger family and friends circle.
It makes no sense to consider
a life where we never met.
We met and that’s it.
Whatever pebbles we disturbed
started rolling down life’s mountain,
either missing other stones altogether
or eventually triggering landslides
where I always seemed to be standing.
But these avalanches of angst,
or anxiety, never touched you,
just the anger at all my dust
drifting by, obscuring your view
of what you found most important.
Your reflection may not look like
it once did in that mirror pool.
No, age didn’t cause the change.
It’s really the ripples
of concentric circles that your
fleet of pebbles set off now that
they’ve finally come to rest
upon what might’ve always mattered
to you most.
You can read the next part here now.
*Ecstacy makes people feel very happy – hence the name, ‘loved up’ – users often feel love and affection for the people they’re with and the strangers around them, they feel energised and alert.
**ECT is an invasive type of brain stimulation that’s sometimes recommended for severe depression if all other treatment options have failed, or when the situation is thought to be life threatening. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/treatment/