has always been a cathartic experience for me. This is a brief profile
of the underpinning events that shaped my life.
I had my first panic attack at the age of four. I remember it very
clearly. My mother left me at the school gate for my first day at
school and told me that she probably wouldn’t collect me,
I would never see her again, as she would most likely be dead. At
four years old, I believed her. Now I realise that she was ill.
Panic attacks dominated my life, along with guilt and total self-loathing,
as I was the cause of her impending demise. I was constantly told
that not only was my existence a mistake but, my mother was going
to be ‘taken away’, because I was sending her mad. She
wished that I hadn’t been born and if I had to be around,
could I hurry up and grow up and get out of her life.
I loved my father; he was an intelligent man, but unfortunately
I didn’t see him much as he was either working or drunk. I
think he loved me in his own way. When my parents we together they
rowed constantly, and as we lived in only one room, I had no escape.
My grandparents lived in a dark adjoining room but my grandmother
worked long hours as a milliner at the Angel, Islington, and my
grandfather was an unemployed alcoholic who talked continually about
cutting his throat. I used to watch him shave with a cut-throat
razor while he looked at himself in a broken mirror, repeating to
himself ‘cut your throat’, like a mantra, while the
razor rasped across the stubble of his chin and throat.
I was abused.
I was born and grew up in Islington - or Canonbury, as my mother
would insist on - as she was terrified that she would be considered
common. I had to wear white gloves whenever I went out or met anybody
because she had seen Princess Anne in a pair of white gloves, and
these gloves became almost a status symbol. I was alone and frightened
of everybody and everything. I became a good target for bullying
and, on occasions, I truly prayed to die. My God, my cat and an
Enid Blyton book called Shadow the Sheepdog shared a parity of preciousness
in my childish emotional turmoil.
At the age of seven I discovered self-harm; something that I could
control. I would punch myself in the face resulting in spectacular
nose bleeds. My nose started to bleed spontaneously, but that was
never as satisfying. But, either way, she would have to touch me
and, along with a certain degree of irritation, display some signs
of caring about me. I threw myself down the stairs on numerous occasions
but only succeeded in injuring myself once - I broke my arm. I cut
my arms but would usually cut in places that only I knew about.
That brought me peace.
At the age of thirteen I realised that I could fight back. I had
grown up fast, both physically and psychologically; I knew what
I wanted, and I was determined that nobody would stand in my way.
I didn’t need to self harm any more, although I think it has
continued to the present day, manifesting itself as an eating disorder.
I gained nothing from my secondary education at Risinghill school;
my education and qualifications came later. Risinghill was just
another frightening place to be and I felt an enormous sense of
freedom when I passed through the gates and walked away from that
school for the last time.
I had my first daughter when I was seventeen. Despite the 1960s
being a time of love and liberation, there was a great stigma attached
to being an unmarried mother in 1966, but my new daughter increased
my resolve to fight. My parents were devastated when they found
out; I, being the coward that I am, was terrified, but for the first
time ever I felt that I had something to live and fight for.
In fairness to my mother, she made it possible for me to train as
a nurse as she did a lot of baby sitting to allow me to work long
shifts and unsocial hours. I watched them very closely with my daughter.
When my daughter was three years old, and I was a third year student
nurse, I met my future husband. We married a few weeks after we
met and my life took off. We went on to have four more daughters,
and so far we have seven granddaughters.
At the age of forty-one, in 1990, I confronted my mother with an
explosion of pent up emotions that were so much a part of me. She
was desperately upset and explained it all away with the fact that
she had been ill. This wasn’t good enough as I felt an anger
I had never experienced before; we didn’t talk for around
six months. I knew she was hurt and I felt so guilty that I thought
I would make my peace with her. The day I planned to turn up and
see her, she suddenly, without any apparent illness, died. Again,
I was denied a closure.
What I don’t want taken from my story is a feeling of self-pity.
What happened, happened to me. If I could choose a life to live
it would be the one I have. My experiences have made me the person
I am; most of the time now, I like that person. I know that I am
a good, loving and caring mother and in return I am loved and cared
for. My husband and I have a fantastic relationship and I have been
a sensitive, considerate and compassionate nurse. I have achieved
my academic ambitions so far and am still achieving. As I hope my
poems make clear, once I realised my worth, I gained the strength
to fight my way, albeit alone initially, into a world of opportunities
that I could grab if I wanted.