I sometimes get sent articles from people describing how their mental ill health has affected their life. There are always factors that pop up time and time again. Their childhood, difficulties in the family, the poor mental health of their parents, parents divorcing, bullying, crime and thankfully better times as they have got older, such as finding employment and having a stable relationship and then children. This is the case for someone I know who wants to be known as Daniel. He describes his illness when he was a child, his upbringing, the teenage years and then how getting a job and having a father like boss, meeting a wonderful woman and then having a daughter, helped him turn his life around.
Please read as I think it is sad, powerful and inspiring.
It’s not where you come from, it’s where you want to be
When I decided to write this blog, I didn’t want to make it a self-indulgent or self-pitying story about my upbringing and what I had to go through to eventually turn my life around. I wanted it to be a positive account, with a few gritty bits along the way.
I was born with a congenital heart defect, known as a double inlet left ventricle. In layman’s terms - it’s half a heart. It’s a heart defect that is present from birth which affects the valves and chambers of the heart. Babies born with this condition have only one working pumping chamber (ventricle) in their heart.
They found this out when I was 10 days old. This meant I was in and out of hospital from diagnosis to around 7 years old, being poked, prodded and operated on. It was also during that time that I was told I had bacterial meningitis. My last major operation was at the age of seven, which was open heart surgery. I was very aware of mortality at a very young age. But me being me, I got through it and was out of ICU and then hospital faster than they expected. I wasn’t even expected to survive that long.
Unfortunately, along with my health issues, I came from a family with mental illness that was not identified and there were many other issues, which made my childhood (recovery included) less than functional. My great-grandmother was abusive to my mother’s father when he was young, then he went on to abuse his children and as a final consequence, my siblings and I were abused by our mother.
My father also had problems and I believe for a period as a young man, he was in a mental health unit battling anxiety and food disorders. As a son growing up with him I felt he could be unfeeling at times, very selfish, and bad tempered, but also weak. This was with a dominating wife he eventually left after an incident involving my older brother.
This all happened when I was around the age of ten. We were told once he left, our lives would be happier. Oh boy, was that wrong!! At 16, after loads of real abusive family arguments, my sister went to live with her friend and her family. Again, I was told when there was just the three of us with my mum, it would be different. Then my older brother took the brunt of my mother’s anger. Rage was the only way he was able to cope with it. He became a compulsive liar and unfortunately sought refuge in substances, and eventually in his late 20s, he became an alcoholic.
After my open-heart surgery, I started to become stronger. I went from a weak, yet happy cheeky little boy, to feeling this immense anger. With my dad gone, sister moved out and my older brother with his problems, my younger brother and I both dealt with abuse in our own way. My younger brother was kind of a mummy’s boy, so he wasn’t as badly abused but still had it here and there.
I on the other hand was in a weird situation, as I was also mentally and physically abused like the other three, but also due to my heart condition was her cash cow too. She was able to get a car with my disability, a toilet downstairs, an extension and a stair lift. She used me to get out of things she didn’t want to do. Basically, on the one hand she wanted me to be treated like everyone else, but on the other hand she wanted me to be an invalid. My coping mechanism was anger and trying to be tougher, basically not like my dad.
I eventually got kicked out of primary school and hung around with two older brothers down my street who would show and teach me things they shouldn’t to an 11 year old. The constant abuse at home, and watching my older sibling going on a downward spiral, I too went down my own bad path. I was put in a special school with other kids who had issues, as a mainstream school couldn’t handle me. All through my high school years I was in fights, having fits of rage and depression including self-harm.
At 17, after leaving school and not getting on at college, I got a job in Iceland supermarket which only lasted about two weeks. With my home life as bad as it was, I couldn’t hold it down, so eventually I went on to my career advisory service and applied for a job with my current boss as a painter decorator assistant. He saw through the ‘angry young man’ exterior and gave me a chance no one else had ever given me. Despite my mother trying to drag him into our dysfunctional family.
I remember saying to him: “I know what my problems are - my heart, schooling and dad!” Which his reply was: “No your problem is your mum!” This then caused a massive eruption with my brothers, mum and my boss. Moving on from then to my mid-twenties, I had my foot in both camps: where I came from and then my boss with his morals and good ethics (with the pull going more in the direction of my boss)! Over those years I’ve had the hardest lessons I have ever had to learn. Everything, everyone and most of what I thought was right, fun and good was actually wrong, bad and dangerous.
But I started to change. I started writing and recording lyrics and poems; I went to amateur dramatics (which boosted my confidence), made new friends and slowly disassociated myself from people who only wanted me around for my impulsiveness (and walking into dangerous situations without thinking or even at times, using me as a scapegoat). I cut off toxic negative people including my family (which was tough but right) and basically, got my act together.
I’m now in my mid-30s. I still go to the hospital once a year for checks on my heart, but fingers crossed I’m doing well, in good shape and feeling fit and healthy. I have been with my wife for about 8 years, who I love, and have been married for 4. She is beautiful, caring and smart and has given me a purpose in life. She understands me, gives me time and makes me realise I haven’t got to be a guard dog to anyone.
She had not had the best time growing up either, but in our 8 years of being together we have achieved more than probably both of us could have ever imagined! Which includes saving hard for our wedding, as well as a mortgage and owning our own place. Best of all was having our beautiful, stubborn, cheeky little girl, who is now 20 months old and thriving.
As I said in the beginning, I really didn’t want this to be a self-pitying story, which I hope was not the way it came across. But just to show, you really don’t have to play with the cards you’re dealt and although it’s tough, and even sometimes bloody impossible, you can dig deep to fight the battles and with the right mind set, turn the negative into a positive.
Paul Brown - Senior Member ACCPH - CBT Coach - Practitioner - Wellness Consultant - MHFA
I work with businesses and private clients, helping clients to overcome anxiety, stress and negative thinking. Let me help you to achieve optimum mental and physical well-being and
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