What does that actually mean in the real world?
It means an incredibly beautiful, funny, cheeky and intelligent woman of only 66 being given a life sentence. It means filling us all with absolute fear of what will happen next and that fear being dragged out over years because no one knows the answer.
It means worrying each and every day whether this day, today, is the day that Mum will no longer recognise or remember who I am.
It means watching Mum’s face as she opens the diagnosis letter, (which arrived on her 66th birthday) and losing her mind upon seeing the words written there in black and white. Literally.
The diagnosis had been a long time coming. Or maybe it hadn’t. I don’t know for sure. Mum hadn’t been ‘right’ for a long while. She wasn’t happy. Hadn’t been happy for as long as I can remember. Neither of us had been happy since ‘he’ appeared in our lives.
I can only imagine that at first, in the very first flush of romance, ‘he’ had made Mum happy but that was very short lived because I don’t really remember much of that. I just remember that one awful day when she dragged me all the way to Heathrow Airport to meet him for the first time. It’s imprinted on my memory the same way a hot iron imprints a brand on a baby lamb.
So Mum’s not being ‘right’ had been the norm for ever, for at least as far back as I could remember. Her taking overdoses regularly also (I was to later discover) was also the norm. She was taking them out of frustration, to manipulate, to get her own way with ‘him.’ It was never going to happen. ‘He’ enjoyed the drama of her losing her mind and would continue to behave in a way that encouraged her to continuously be at the end of her tether. ‘He’ wanted to drive us both mad. Literally.
The descent into total oblivion reached a crescendo in 2003. I didn’t know. I was too busy surviving my own nightmares to give either my Mother or ‘him’ much thought.
In the May I had had been in two car crashes in the same hour. The first one in a car driven by my friend who was collecting me from Euston station. I had taken myself off on a residential crime writing course in deepest, darkest Wales and had left my car parked at hers whilst I was away.
We had only managed to get halfway back home from Euston – to the traffic lights half way through Camden Town to be specific – when a car driven by a man who was clearly under the influence did not realise that a red light meant ‘Stop!” so did not stop.
He went careering into the back of us and jolted us quite forcefully a few feet forward. Not fun.
After giving statements etc, we managed to get back to my friend’s home in Swiss Cottage without further incident and calmed ourselves with a chamomile tea and shrugged it off as best as our whiplash would allow.
I then headed home in my own car and set off along the Finchley Road towards the M1. Somewhere between Junction 1 and 2 of the motorway the heavens opened. Without any preamble it was like some sort of biblical flooding where there was suddenly no visible sign of the road ahead. Without any preamble there was no communication between my steering wheel and my wheels. The car was aqua-planing at 70 miles an hour in heavy traffic. Try as hard as I might (which was as hard as it is possible to do so when the outcome will be either life or death) I tried to steer my car away from the other fast moving cars in the next lane.
The steering was completely loose – no response to my twisting and turning of the wheel at all – so as time slowed down to frame by frame moments I tried to remember all the things I had learned about what to do if the ever car is skidded. It didn’t make any difference. With an almighty graunching noise my car collided with the car in the next lane, also travelling at 70 miles per hour, which resulted in my car spinning in the opposite direction even faster.
I couldn’t see anything around me as the rain was so heavy but felt the car do two or three full spins as it then hurtled head first towards the central reservation. I was braced for the fact that in such heavy traffic and in such abysmal conditions I would either be killed by the traffic racing towards me as I ricochetted haphazardly across the lanes, or as I broke through the barrier into oncoming traffic.
Death felt certain.
My car, miraculously just slightly off-centre, did hit the barrier and bounced backwards. Had it been totally head on it would have activated the airbags, which I understand is quite dangerous in itself. The barrier seemed to have taken the full force of the motion of the car and so my car came to a stop sideways on to oncoming traffic, just before the services at Junction 2.
I was alive.
Somehow I managed to get my car to limp over to the hard shoulder and judder to a standstill right behind the car that my car had originally collided with. I wanted to get out and say something to them. To explain and apologise for what had happened. But I couldn’t.
My legs had turned to jelly and it was all I could do to remain calm and count my blessings. Someone had called the police. I could hear their sirens shrieking and in my side mirror now that the rain had completely stopped falling, I could see them holding back all the traffic as policemen on foot scoured the road and picked up debris. Like my mangled front bumper.
A policeman appeared out of nowhere and spoke to the people in the car in front of mine and then walked towards my car.
“I’m for it!” I thought.
He looked extremely serious and avoided making eye contact with me as he walked purposefully around my car. All of a sudden he dropped to his knees in front of the car and looked as though he were praying. He then stood and walked over to my window, which I only just about managed to open with my shaking hands.
“God must have been holding you in his hands,” he said. “There is no way you should have survived that.”
Yikes! It’s one thing to have been in the spinning, hurtling car but to hear from someone else the absolute severity of what you had just survived was a shock. At that moment the reality of what had just happened minutes earlier really hit home. I had no idea what the outside of my car looked like but inside everything looked fine – no broken glass or jagged edges. I really was lucky.
An AA recovery truck also appeared as if from nowhere and just as swiftly almost disappeared back into nowhere as I jokingly asked, “Don’t things happen in threes?” He didn’t think it was funny at all that I had had two accidents in an hour and was expecting the third one to occur on the journey back to my home. Fortunately that was it on the car accident front for now but not in the way of unfortunate incidents for the year.
A few weeks after all of this drama I received a letter from my Mother’s friend. She started by telling me that she had bad news to tell me and then went on to say that a week or so earlier my Mother had tried to commit suicide and was now incarcerated in a Mental Hospital in North London. Why she had to send me a letter to tell me this important piece of news and hadn’t opted to pick up the ‘phone immediately still strikes me as odd. The letter was signed off with a request for me to call her to get more information and the details of where my Mother was etc. Odd. So, obviously I picked up the ‘phone and called.
It was clear that there was an element of judgement from this woman who started making comments that I ought to see my Mother more often and to try harder to have a relationship with her etc.
I responded politely that if she knew more about the circumstances she wouldn’t see things the same way and would understand why things were as they were. She dismissed that comment as if there was no reason good enough to excuse me from having distanced myself from my Mother, but more specifically distancing myself from the ‘stepmonster,’ so I felt obliged to explain myself. Again.
I explained without fuss that the reason I couldn’t spend time with my Mother was because her husband was a paedophile who had sexually abused me from when I was only five years of age, for the following fifteen years. It didn’t happen once, or twice – it was a constant barrage of unwanted and unwarranted attacks. I explained that my Mother knew and had done nothing to help me and the response I got was this,”That’s a very serious allegation to make, Toula.”
“It’s not an allegation, it’s the truth and you are right, it’s extremely serious and yet no one seems to give a damn!”
Literally everyone I had told didn’t seem to care about the effect it was having on me but I was supposed to care about everyone else’s feelings, regardless.
Off I went to see my Mother with no idea of what I was going to be confronted with when I got to the pale green, shiny painted walls of the mental institution. There she was, wandering around amongst a sea of clearly damaged people, many of whom were so drugged they had no idea which way was up, pretending that all was well in her world.
Well, it wasn’t well at all. She really had gone and done it now.
The result of being put under the care of Camden’s Mental Health Department was that along with all of those severely mentally ill people was that they also drugged her. I can only imagine that it was those drugs that they were giving her that then caused the symptoms that they then misdiagnosed as Bipolar. Mum has never been Bipolar ever. Depressed, yes. Anxious, yes. Bipolar, no.
Unfortunately, without my knowledge, mainly because Mum was so drugged up over the next ten years, she had no way of telling me what was going on, if she even knew. Week by week, month by month she got more and more like Howard Hughes on the high dosage of tranquilizers/ antipsychotics that they gave her, so that for all those years she barely functioned…and then she was diagnosed with dementia.
I spoke with her often on the telephone and for the most part she sounded fine. Some of the time. The thing with illness is that the person’s voice generally sounds the same, so I naively assumed that all was well and believed her when she said it was. I had no idea that she barely, if ever, knew which way was up.
It was only when I actually saw her that I was shocked to the core. She had lost a great deal of weight – at one point more than 30lbs in the space of only 3 or 4 weeks. Her hair was unwashed, unbrushed and unkempt. Her eyebrows, perfectly groomed in years gone by were now giving Denis Healey a run for his money and no one had thought to cut her finger nails or toenails. She had facial hair and was wearing nightclothes that had food and coffee stains all down them. The husband she had chosen over me had never lifted a finger to help her in his life and now that she was sick and unable he didn’t know what to do or how to do it.
Her home was filthy, she was filthy and as we know, he was filthy.
Without ever questioning the doctors he happily fed her all of the drugs they told him to. It was only when I saw the state she was in and questioned her GP that I even discovered what was going on. I had no idea that her condition was being caused by the drugs she was taking and wasn’t an actual illness.
The GP said the drugs were prescribed by the Consultant Psychiatrist. The Consultant Psychiatrist tried to convince me that her misdiagnosis of Bipolar was correct. It wasn’t remotely true and even if it was, clearly the treatment she was administering wasn’t working. My Mother was not functioning at all. I read the contraindications for the drug and spent hours on forums where other people also taking the drug discussed their reactions and soon learned that it was nightmare drug and the dose my tiny Mother was being given was more than a 22 stone man of 6′ 3″ with paranoid schizophrenia had been prescribed. What the hell were they doing?
I took my Mother to her GP and explained that I needed someone to step in and help me get Mum off the drug because it wasn’t working, was extremely dangerous and most importantly of all, Mum did not have the condition it was being prescribed for. The side effects were enormous and dangerous and if she had other conditions like dementia, it could prove fatal.
A meeting was organised and the GP and the Consultant Psychiatrist spent fifteen minutes together alone prior to me joining them. The GP backed the psychiatrist up in everything she said, even though he barely knew my Mother and certainly had no knowledge of anything Mental Health related. He was an arrogant arse.
I explained that I thought perhaps Mum should be tested for dementia – her memory was not good and getting worse. Heck, she had no memory at all to speak of and if it was dementia the medication they were giving her could kill her. They laughed it off. I left the meeting horrified at my total lack of power when up against the NHS. I even called the police to explain the situation and they were not remotely interested either. Who to turn to?
No one seemed to care.
Weeks later on Mum’s 66th birthday she was finally and unfortunately diagnosed with dementia.
Two weeks later Mum was admitted to hospital as an emergency case because she had almost died. If you have ever seen anyone with clinical anxiety you will know what we were seeing (although until she was diagnosed months later, we didn’t know that that was what it was).
Mum hadn’t eaten in ages and was tiny – just skin and bone. Her eyes were glassy and unable to focus. She couldn’t speak at all, just grunt and her body would jerk constantly. She was put in an adult nappy and every day I would either drive from Hertfordshire to London to visit or call to make sure that she was still alive and tried to avoid coinciding those visits with the ‘stepmonster.’
I have never felt so despondent in my life.
But…I digress. I was telling you about the unfortunate events of 2003. I had had two car crashes in an hour in May, Mum had tried to kill herself and ended up in a Mental Institution in June and then, because things do happen in threes, my house was broken into in September. Whilst I was in it.
It wasn’t even 10pm and I had decided that I would watch the final of Fame Academy in bed. I was living alone in an enormous detached five bedroomed house in the country (not alone by choice but because I had been in a relationship with a cheat who I had asked to leave).
I switched everything off downstairs, put the mitten in her bed in the kitchen, making sure that she had plenty of food and water to see her through and had then locked all of the downstairs doors from the internal hallway. Once in my bedroom, I had locked that door, set the house alarm and got into bed.
Less than 10 minutes later the alarm started to go off. My heart started beating fast and I hoped that it was a mistake. Perhaps Princess Adorabella had tripped the alarm somehow and it would switch itself off shortly.
You could tell by the code that appeared on the screen whether it was a mistake or whether security really had been breached and where. The code said very clearly that someone had opened that patio doors into the kitchen.
It was right. All of a sudden I could hear someone, or many people going crazy in the kitchen trying to smash their way into the rest of the house. The noise was incredible and terrifying.
Remaining as calm as possible, I dialled 999 and explained to the operator that there was someone in my house and they were crazily smashing the place up. The operator did not seem remotely worried about this and instead spent ages asking me how to spell my surname and repeatedly asking whether I was sure it wasn’t a pet making the noise.
I was sure. I explained that someone clearly wanted to get further into the house and the only thing holding them back thus far was a wooden door that they were doing their utmost to break down. Still she wasn’t bothered. Instead she said, “The officers will be with you shortly. Can you go downstairs and let them in?”
Had she not heard what I had just been saying to her. There were crazy violent people in my house. Downstairs.
Was she seriously suggesting that I walk past them as they axed their way through the door with a ‘Good evening, Sir!” as I sauntered past to the front door?
Yes, she was.
The officers did arrive and they then asked me to come down and let them in. I told them that the burglar(s) had climbed over the fence and broken in through the kitchen door at the back so why didn’t they also climb over the fence and do the same? They looked nonplussed. Even the German Shepherd dog.
All this time the alarm was still screaming and the crashing and banging was still going on. And then it stopped. For about 10 seconds.
Then the alarm of the house directly behind mine went off. The burglar(s) had heard the police, or had given up as the internal doors hadn’t been easy to break down (they tried to smash their way in through two different rooms) and went off to pastures new.
The police hung around for a while and did what police do. Not sure what that was and then they left me alone with a couple of young police officers – a boy and a girl. They were very sweet and clearly extremely concerned about me. That scared me more.
Again I was asked (like the time I was attacked in 1996) whether there was anyone they could call. No, unfortunately my Mother is drugged up to the eyebrows, my biological father had donated £20 to get me aborted and then scarpered and I knew not to where and my ex boyfriend was a lying cheat who was the last person I wanted to see.
This time I was more resilient that after the attack in 1996. With the entire back of the house now boarded up and with shards of broken glass and smashed wood everywhere, I scooped up my terrified furry Princess and went back to bed.
Same process as before; locked the door, set the alarm and put the television back on.
Life goes on.
*For all the posts in this series, please click here: