Thursday, 27 February 2014

What made me the man I am today (part 1)

I may as well get some things off my chest while I still have time so I thought I’d write down the formative events that created the broken, emotionally damaged man who writes this blog and who cannot function in society. 

My story begins not at birth but at the age of seven when for some reason, still undetermined, my personality altered from the out-going, happy child I was into the introverted treader of the dark path I am today.  No one during all the group therapy and appointments with psychiatrists has even attempted to help me ascertain what happened at that age and I have no idea of my own, having no clear recollection of most of my early life except for the odd flashes of memory that surface from time to time and the stories I get from my parents that I cannot confirm or deny.  All I really know is that the change happened overnight and that, because it happened in the late 1970s, nothing was done about it due to either a lack of knowledge or a complete lack of any interest in my welfare from my parents.  I would have sought help myself if I had known that the feelings I had were anything but normal, however, I was of the opinion that what I was feeling was the normal everyday childhood angst and that every kid felt the way I did.  Of course, I suppose I should have realised differently by observing the fact that no other kid around me had the air of melancholy surrounding them but that’s the beauty of hindsight, isn’t it?

My parents realised quite early on in my life that I was the brightest member of the family, a fact that they will confirm quite openly so is not a case of narcissism on my part.  As a result, my parents kind of left me to my own devices as they could tell that they could offer little in the way of support regarding my educational endeavours and my older brother, who suffered with an undiagnosed case of dyslexia, required more attention.  Of course, this does not completely excuse my parents’ attitude towards me completely as I was later told that the reason they wanted two children was so that, when they shuffled off this mortal coil, they two kids would have someone to turn to in their hour of grief.  This meant, however, as I was the younger child, that I was really only born to be my brother’s shoulder to cry on and I have been treated as such whether they care to admit it to themselves or not.  My brother has always been treated as the favoured son and probably always will be and I have resigned myself to that role in perpetuity.  If I wanted any attention from my parents I had to take part in the activities that my brother engaged in so that I was caught up in his world.

My school life followed much the same path, being seen as Derek’s younger brother rather than an individual in my own right.  My brother was a competitive athlete so I was expected to be one too and, whilst I liked to run and was a pretty good long distance runner, I had no ambitions in that respect and so I became embittered towards running.  I also drew some flak from failing to live up to the competitive athlete role I was placed into from the school’s athletic team and the PE teachers.  I am, however, getting a little ahead of myself as the pressure to become my brother’s replacement on the athletic team was in my teens and I still have some way to go before I get to that part of my life; it just seemed like the most appropriate place in which to mention it.

My altered personality made me catnip for the local bullies and the kind of fair weather  friends that tend to hang around while you can provide help and entertainment and drop you like a stone when they find someone they really like or they can exploit in your stead.  My life started to become one of slow, inexorable isolation from the rest of my peer group although I still had some level of engagement with others of my age and it was at the age of about ten that I had my first schoolboy love.

Linda was a lovely girl from California, or at least that is my recollection, who was in my class because her father worked for British Airways and her family moved here for his work.  She was the first girl I ever kissed, or rather, she was the first girl who ever kissed me.  I had become a very shy boy by this point so it was Linda, backed up by several of her friends, who made the first move.  Whether it could really be called love is anyone’s guess but it felt that way to me but there was a problem.  Although she liked me and I liked her, a bully who liked to target me also liked her and I didn’t want to bring any more unwanted attention from him so I stood down and let her slip through my fingers.  I truly believe that if I hadn’t let that bully dissuade me from going out with Linda, I would not have fallen so deeply into depression and may still have had a chance at a normal life.

It was only a year later when I started to have suicidal thoughts.  I didn’t say anything to my parents because I still believed that the feelings I was having were normal.  I withdrew even further into myself and sank deeper into the depression that would dog my life.  The only bright spark in my dark world was my Grandma who was the only person who treated me as a person in my own right.  She treated both myself and my brother equally so we took turns spending our school holidays at her flat which were always my favourite times during my childhood.  She was always happy to see either of us and, as she lived just across the road from the flat in which we lived, we had ample chances to see her.  I never grew tired of the stories of her family even though I heard them on an almost constant loop throughout my youth.  If there was something my Grandma could do well, it was talking.

Where my parents seemed to ignore me, assuming that I was self-sufficient, my Grandma was always there for me whenever I needed the emotional support that I wasn’t getting at home.  Some may think from this that my parents neglected me and, from an emotional respect, they kind of did but I never went without what I wanted or needed from a financial point of view as long as it was in their financial means to provide it.  That being said, I felt as though I was a non-person at home so my Grandma became the most important person in my life.

During my teens, my family had a neighbour who was a recipient of the new ‘care in the community’ programme for people with mental health issues.  We had a fairly good relationship with him and my mother helped him out when he needed assistance to bind up his latest injury from whatever alcohol-related incident caused it.  The relationship would have continued to be cordial had it not been for a post-midnight visit from our neighbour.  I was awake so I opened the door to see what he wanted and he grabbed me around the throat and tried to choke me to death.  If it wasn’t for the fact that my mother heard the commotion and got out of bed to investigate, I would certainly not be here now.  My family never spoke to him again but, although I know he would never have been charged with the assault due to his mental health, I felt completely worthless when my parents didn’t even bother to report the assault.  My depression worsened as a result and it really couldn’t have gotten any lower at that point.

I continued to try to make friendships at school but they were mostly school-time only friends who I didn’t see outside of the school environment and I was still getting targeted by bullies who wanted to make themselves look like big men to their friends by picking on those seen as weaker than themselves.

I also started to find myself getting interested in girls and throughout my comprehensive schooling I fell for one girl after the other, either getting rejected or not even having the courage to ask them out in the first place.  And so it went on.  Julie was my first crush, followed by Wendy and finally Michelle.  I really had no chance with any of them but I spent lots of time pining after them and neglecting my homework.

My whole school career was a mess of not being engaged by the teachers so that, although I was learning the subjects, I wasn’t exactly ever going to excel academically despite most of my teachers saying that I had great potential.  That and the fact that I was constantly trying to make friends and failing miserably meant that my academic record wasn’t the best.  I was also being bullied quite a bit.

And, as if being bullied at school wasn’t bad enough, I was attacked by a man and his friend who decided to jump out of their car and rough me up because someone had tried to break into his car earlier in the day and he wanted to take it out on someone.  I still remember his registration number – TMT 371S.

During my last year of compulsory schooling, my depression reached almost suicidal levels.  It was at this point that I could have been spared a lifetime of journeying on the dark path if only my English teacher had bothered to take notice and flag up a particular incident.  The class was given a number of titles to pick from to then write a short story about; it was quite by chance that one of those titles was called “A Cry for Help” and that it coincided with a period of intense depression.  I loved to write but, as I like to take my time and choose my words carefully, I tended towards a slow rate of writing.  My preference was for science fiction as well which was not a favourite genre for my teacher.  The piece I wrote that day was the most heart-felt and deeply emotional piece I had ever written and chronicled the final journey of a man walking into a forest to commit suicide.  It entirely reflected my inner turmoil and suicidal ideation at the time.  It was, however, short and ended with the line “and the man’s name was...?”  Any responsible teacher should have highlighted it as something of concern and reported it but my teacher did nothing of the sort; she gave me a ‘C+’ grade for the piece and complained that it was too short and had a rushed ending.  If she had paid attention, I could have been saved but that was not to happen.

In the lead up to the mock exams in my final year I moved into my Grandma’s flat so that I could get some peace and quiet away from my brother to study for the exams.  This was the start of probably the best and worst period in my life as staying with Grandma for the exam period extended into living with her on a permanent basis.  I stayed with Grandma for the summer holiday following the exams and returned home at the end of the holiday only for Grandma to ask me to go back to live with her because she felt safer in the flat with me there.

It was the best period of my life up to that point because I finally lived with someone who really cared for me as an individual although there were still bad things happening to me at school.  In fact it was during this period that one bully attacked me during one of my evening walks and, shaken, I returned home to Grandma’s, got a knife and was about to go out to get him if she hadn’t have stopped me. 

Grandma really took good care of me but both our lives were about to be thrown into turmoil when, in 1987, Grandma suffered a major stroke and my life would never be the same again.

To be continued...

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