My Self-Medicating Mum
28 May 2019
I grew up in a big family in Yorkshire. My granddad and nana, with their six sons and daughters, ran a successful small property business.
The sons and daughters all pitched into the family business. One day, many years ago, my mum went along to one property to put in a cleaning shift. And that day changed her life.
During mum's visit, the house next door got robbed. My mum had heard the commotion and, as she went outside to check, was violently attacked by a man with a knife.
Thankfully, mum wasn't physically hurt. But from that point on she was never the same: the incident started a catalogue of mental health problems that continue to this day. She became anxious, agoraphobic and suffered crippling panic attacks.
At the time I was a child - seven years old. No one told me what happened, all I knew was that mum was different. I came home from school one day to find the mum I knew was gone. She had been replaced by someone who cried all the time, was extremely volatile, and who drank a lot.
Mum sorely needed counselling but she didn't go down that road. Being from a traditional Yorkshire family, therapy was too indulgent. She was the Keep Calm and Carry On generation. Unfortunately she could do neither.
Only antidepressants, which came along later, helped to bring mum a little bit of peace. She periodically drank too much and was still prone to irrational behaviour, but the pills helped her even out and just about manage.
Until 2016, that is. This was the year my nana died - and the year my family, especially my mum, started to unravel.
My nana had died without a will or protection in place - and all six sons and daughters scrapped and screamed and fell out over who got what.
Today I work in the life insurance industry because of my experience: no family needs to go through what mine went through.
Day after day there was ugliness and spite as the family fought over money. Further arguments raged about nana’s funeral, whether it should be a burial or cremation, and more specifically, how much the sons and daughters should each have to pay.
By this point my mum, who had been struggling along, simply nosedived. Her mental health hit rock-bottom, the antidepressants stopped working, and the self medicating really started.
When I say self medicating, for mum that meant drinking. She had always used alcohol as a coping mechanism, but by now it was constant: she'd drink a bottle of vodka a day and, as you'd expect, she stopped functioning almost entirely.
Mum needed a carer - and that fell on me. I was so busy taking care of her house and affairs that I didn’t have time to grieve for my nana. That part still bothers me. Mum was in and out of hospital, she collapsed a lot and her mood worsened by the day.
From the incident at the house and its aftermath to the death of her mother and the family troubles, my mum drank to cope; to forget; to be able to live. By this time alcohol wasn't a coping mechanism but a necessity.
Needless to say, mum soon couldn’t handle her responsibilities at the property business. Like everything else, those fell on me. For the last six years I’ve worked my full-time job while caring for my alcoholic mum, and doing her job too.
For me it has been a constant stress, but somehow I get on with it. I've come to see the value not in bottling up the angst and the worries - I talk about what's going on. I can't take my family's example and keep the bad vibes tucked away. That's when they do the most damage.
I'm a big advocate for talking problems through, particularly with my husband. Many times he has stitched me back together after I crumble under the weight of a hopeless situation.
Like two years ago when mum's drinking very nearly killed her. One moment she was drinking as per usual, the next she was on life support with 50/50 odds of survival. The doctors told me to gather the family so everyone could say goodbye. Thankfully mum pulled through.
What was interesting was that, because we're a family that doesn't talk about things, no one had any idea about mum's drinking. She nearly drank herself to death, she was hooked up to life-support and given 50/50 odds. But no one knew - everyone was utterly astonished.
Mum was a master at putting a brave face on things. Very proud, she hid it beautifully well from everyone except me. It's not what she would have wanted but I had to tell the family there and then: mum's been doing this for years.
It hit them like a tonne of bricks.
I haven’t used my name in this article - not for my sake but for mum’s. She’s still alive and she still drinks every day. She’s still the queen of brave-facing it and she still tells the world that there’s nothing to see here.
All I can do is care for her and try to put my own wellbeing first. For me that means talking openly, honestly and regularly about my mental health. If I didn’t have that, I’d have given up long ago.
My mum's failure to open up and talk through the traumas of her life proved a fast track to addiction - and intensive care. If ever there was an advert for speaking up, or stopping a harmful crutch before it becomes a life-threatening problem, it's my self medicating mum.
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