Should I feel guilty?

Probably best to start with a summary of what has happened since September…

George and I are stronger than ever, we are planning something very special for 2019! I am no longer taking medication. Yes, you read that correctly. I have taken control of both my mental and physical health. I am using my coping strategies and I am no longer afraid to admit when things get too much and its time for me to take a step back. 

I have met up with my Dad, K, 3-4 times since our first meeting and I am so grateful to have him in my life and to be accepted into his family.

I am now 11 months into No Contact with “her”, I feel that I made the correct decision despite other people’s opinions. My relationship with my Nan is unstable at the moment, it hurts. But, I need her to accept and understand my situation. My Nan only wants to see the best in her daughter when it suits her. However, my uncle has now also cut all contact with “her” and he struggles to comprehend how my Nan cannot see what her daughter is.

Not wanting to go into too much detail. One of George’s parents is currently having medical problems, which in turn is emotionally trying for both of us. Today we got some news that I wanted to share with my Nan, so I called her. All I got in response to my update was…

“Your mother is very ill, she is on tablets…”

Now, what do I do with this? 

Do I say to my Nan that I forgive and forget everything that has happened and I will be by “her” side as soon as possible? – Nans wish. OR Do I say to my Nan that I hope it isn’t too serious for my brother’s sake? Then tell her I feel no more sympathy towards “her” than I would a stranger and reiterate the situation? – This is what I did.

Now, I am sat at my desk feeling a huge weight of guilt. 

My feelings are not new; my Nan is fully aware and has been since day one.

My guilt is nothing to do with “her”. I feel guilty for causing my Nan any hurt. Because, at the end of the day she is her mother and she will do anything for her daughter.

This has been a reoccurring event over the last few months. I have had to reiterate my position a number of times. Trying to maintain a relationship with my Nan is getting increasingly difficult. My Nan will fall out with “her” and then something materialistic will be exchanged and all is forgotten, yet again my Nan has let “her” get away with her behaviour.

I feel NOTHING towards “her” – My mother. I do not feel anything towards her because I do not know her.

Just to clarify, the illness my Nan referred to is a chest infection which is being treated with antibiotics. I know from my own experience that these can be very bad, however, in light of the current situation wish that George’s parent’s condition was as easily treatable.

My Mental Health @Work

I spent 3 years trying to prove that I wasn’t a failure and trying not to admit that I might be, by forcing myself to keep quiet about my depression at work. I felt that the stigma towards mental health in the workplace was a huge problem, you would hear people gossiping over coffee about Janet in Accounts who had been signed off “AGAIN!” but, they were adamant there wasn’t anything actually wrong with her because she “looked fine”. If I was given a £1 every time somebody said “but, you look fine!” I would be very rich! It’s not easy to present yourself as a successful happy go lucky individual every day. And while most people have a bad day, miss a deadline or have a meeting that doesn’t go so well, when they go home they don’t beat themselves up as hard as I did. I would convince myself that I hadn’t performed well enough, that I had failed, which I still do now to some extent.  I would then add that failure to my long list of ‘failings’ that just seemed to keep growing.

My coping technique is to distract myself with work. I was trying all the time to achieve perfection at work. But, what I was really doing was trying to not let my colleagues see that; a) sometimes I wasn’t perfect and b) sometimes I didn’t like myself and c) I suffer from depression. So I would pretend depression didn’t exist. I look back and think to myself, would most people really judge me if I was open about my depression?

Having had 4 different line managers throughout my 6 years in my job I have had experienced a range of management styles.

Manager 1 – 1.5 Years

My first “Proper” job, my first manager. She was lovely, but couldn’t really afford to spend the time managing as such. I was completely overwhelmed, I had no idea if I was performing as expected. Then the dreaded symptom of depression; procrastination set in, and before I knew it I was out of my depth. I was a complete failure in work and outside of work. I finally got the courage to talk to her about my situation, and she then contacted HR and Occupational Health to see if there was anything they could do. There was a waiting list for counselling and I would have to be triaged. It was very soon after the initial meeting that I hit rock bottom and I got signed off by the doctor.

Manager 2 – 2 Years

She was my work mother! She supported me through my first depressive episode at work. I returned to work after 3 months leave unsure whether I had a job to come back to. I worked my socks off to pull myself out of the drop zone and with her support I did it. Yes, she micromanaged me and that doesn’t suit everyone. But, when you are offered support you should take it. I can honestly say that without her support and guidance I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Manager 3 – 2 Years

He openly admitted after a few months that he wasn’t a people person. Brilliant! The support I received was limited. He couldn’t understand my situation and often said “what could you be depressed about?” “you’re not old enough!” I would always request leave for medical appointments or working from home days for therapy in advance, I would ensure they were in his calendar and I would even remind him the day before. He would always make a point of saying “did I approve this, I can’t remember you asking, what is it for again? Therapy or happy med review?” I always felt that my situation was never taken seriously.

Manager 4 – Current Manager

When I applied for my current job I ended my interview by asking what their approach was regarding mental health. Both my interviewers both suffer with mental health issues. My manager thankfully is very understanding and has offered so much support in the short time I have been in her team. We looked at workplace adjustments, flexibility in working hours/location, we went through my list of triggers and my safety plan. If I am concerned about my performance, I raise it with her and she is happy to sit down and discuss my concerns and put me at ease.

I manage my life in two different ways, so my life is in two halves. So the first half can be when I’m suffering from depression, and that’s all about getting on with daily tasks, so the smallest daily tasks can seem like a huge mountain to climb. So just getting out of bed in the morning can seem a difficult challenge. The other half of my life is spent managing my mental health, so when I’m not suffering from the illness, I’m actively managing it, looking for the symptoms that I’ve learnt to identify over the years, and that can dictate my choices every day, from the diet I choose to the exercise I choose to do and my social activities. I’ve found that a combination of medication and therapy, plus the support of my partner is all the support that I need.

I would definitely encourage other people to talk about their mental health, whether they’re having good mental health or bad mental health at the time, it always helps to talk to people, and especially at work with people that you see probably more often than family and friends, most of the time, because we all spend six, seven hours at work a day, and there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’re struggling. It’s beneficial to everybody to have good mental health, especially at work. I had to go through such a lot to get my treatment in the first place, but now I have a diverse toolbox of therapies, and there’s a lot more help available, so I’d just advise people to talk to others and get the help that they need.

Employers need to create a safe environment to allow employees to speak up if they are not coping and ensure they receive a rational response which is ‘how can we help?’ because with a little bit of help and less judgement, they can help. They can tell you that you’re doing a great job, that not everything has to be brilliant and that you are meeting their expectations. Re-structuring workload and work hours can seriously help to get a person back on track.

I work for a Global Organisation. Over the last few years there has been an increased amount of focus on MH in the workplace. They launched “The Mental Health Focus Group” in 2013 before the launch of ‘This Is Me’, the mental health awareness campaign that resulted in my company signing the ‘Time To Change’ pledge. The group’s main purpose is to monitor how the support for colleagues is working and to continue to embed acceptance and understanding across the organisation. The group provides a network of contacts that can help us eradicate stigma and improve outcomes for those colleagues with mental health conditions.

I met you.

Why did I want to meet K.?

1) Curiosity – I wanted to see the face of the man whose DNA shaped how I look. I wanted to see what similarities we had in our physical traits, and what his personality was like. Are we the same height? Same smile? Is he smart, funny, quiet, loud?

2) Understanding – It’s easy to just believe what others thought of him. But, I believe there are multiple perspectives to every story and he deserves a chance to explain himself. I wanted to hear his side of the story and understand. Why did he leave? Was he scared? Was having a child a responsibility he wasn’t ready for at the time?

3) Forgiveness/Clarity – I truly believe I was never angry and didn’t hold a grudge against him throughout my life. But I felt I couldn’t truly say to myself that I forgave him without meeting him and showing it through my actions. I believe forgiveness is key to personal freedom in life and that means a lot to me.

4) Opening Up Possibility – I wasn’t ever looking for a father/daughter relationship with him and I wasn’t expecting to develop a friendship, but I believe in opening up space for “possibility”. So after satisfying the previous points in this list, I wanted to allow for the possibility of some type of relationship if that is what would naturally come from meeting him.

5) Closure/No Regrets – This is the most important reason why I wanted to meet him. One of the worst emotions in life is that of regret and I know that one day I would regret not reaching out to my biological father.

So I did it. I had lunch with my father last week. A fairly normal, run-of-the-mill event for most daughters or sons. But in my case there was a certain pertinence: it was the first time I had ever met him.

Before we met I had so many questions and fears. Would I be accepted 100%? Was I ready for this emotionally? How would I feel? How would his family feel?

We had arranged to meet in a couple of weeks at a half way point, my father and his family live 5 hours away. However, my father couldn’t wait to meet me and had decided with his wife that they would make the 5-hour drive to me. I was overwhelmed that somebody would actually do this to meet me! So we arranged to meet at a pub just out of town. The days leading up to the first meet up were filled with emotion and nervousness. However, when George pulled up into the car park all my fears melted away. I could see my father and his wife sitting outside in the glorious sunshine and I realised that this was really happening. I walked over to my father and we stared, we hugged, we smiled. There was silence. And the only thing I could find myself saying was that “I look just like you.”

I cannot even begin to put to words how therapeutic it was to look into the eyes of the man you came from, knowing WHERE you come from. See, I have always been told I resemble “her”, but my father? Overwhelming, disbelief, and relief all fill my heart and mind… there was no denying that I was his daughter and I finally felt a sense of belonging.

We talked for 7 hours, which flew by! Me and my father were both blunt and open (personality traits for the both of us!) about our past and current situations. I shared my feelings, opened up emotionally; I was shown pure love and acceptance. We had spoken on the phone most days in the run up to the first meeting. I personally think this helped me as I was able to converse and interact whilst being in my comfort zone initially. I already felt like I knew him before I had even met him in the flesh.

I cannot explain how welcoming my father and his wife were, it was such an amazing feeling to finally understand and experience the meaning of unconditional love. Even as I write this, I have tears in my eyes as this makes me so grateful and happy about this chapter, this little girl’s wish, and the new family who opened their arms to me. I wasn’t expecting it to ever happen.

This could have gone in so many different ways and I am grateful that I kept my heart open and reachable to allow my father and his family into my heart. I now feel, in the weirdest way, complete…

One Chapter closed and a new one to be written.

I am so grateful for this chance to let love into a place where fear, doubt, and emotional scars still live. Baby steps.

THIS will be the new step into my future. Mending old wounds, creating new memories, and learning who I am and where I come from.

So, next week me and George are making the 5-hour trip to them. On this occasion I will meet my auntie and cousins, as well as my father’s step daughter and her family. I honestly cannot wait to meet them all. The strange thing is I feel like already know them all and feel I am connected!

One thing I always remind myself of is that if you keep your heart wide open you will be received with open hearts — not always by everyone, but to be received by one open heart is more than worth the journey.

One of my many coping techniques is to match music and lyrics to prominent moments in my life.

The moment I met my father for the first time, I have chosen The Scientist by Coldplay, one section in particular;

Come up to meet you
Tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are
I had to find you
Tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart

Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions
Oh let’s go back to the start

Now when I listen to it I remember the beautiful first moments of our initial meeting. I will never forget the feeling of being the recipient of unconditional love.

Double Whammy.

It’s been another tough day at the office and I’m curled up on the sofa in the foetal position feeling desperately lonely, even though George is within arm’s reach, facing the opposite direction. The silence between us is somehow deafening, tense, and uncomfortable.

He’s secretly wishing I wasn’t there, and I’m torn between needing him to hold me and equally wanting to be left alone.

We haven’t had a fight. We aren’t on the brink of breaking up. We are very much in love and our relationship is strong but we are both suffering from depression. He is going into an episode and I am trying very hard to bring myself out of mine.

In a perfect world, when one or both of us is having a particularly rough day living with our mental illnesses, the other would understand. He’d make me a cup of tea and bring it to me in bed, kissing me ever so lightly on my head and telling me he loves me and it will all be okay. I’d play with his hair and give him a cuddle and reassure him that this feeling will pass. We’d smile at each other and believe the comforting words our partner had said, and everything would be well again.

But, it isn’t that simple. Depression can’t be just pushed away with a hug and a kiss. Anxiety doesn’t listen to comforting promises of things getting better. They are insidious, cruel and consuming illnesses. Logic is silenced. Reality becomes blurred. Self-destruct mode kicks in, and honestly, saying “I love you” doesn’t magically fix it and make everything ‘all better’.

Every case of anxiety or depression is different from the other, so no, we don’t experience the same thing or have the same symptoms. That means we also take care of our health in different ways.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful that my partner understands me and that he always has my back. Our relationship is unique and it presents us with challenges every single day, but we are stronger together for them. We’re just a regular couple, making it through the best way we can!

I found you.

My father was gone from my life before I was old enough to be aware of his existence. I have always considered Nick, who came into my life when I was 13 months old, to be my dad in every practical sense of the word.

At the age of 21 I was informed by “her” that my biological auntie, Jane* was on Facebook. But, I was under strict instruction not to search for her. However, I always felt incomplete not knowing about my biological father and his family I didn’t even know what they looked like. Unfortunately, me and “her” look a lot alike. Everyone says so. But when I searched for her I was shocked. Here was a woman with the same eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, as mine. This was my auntie, a link to the man I had never known. The shock of it hit me suddenly, and I felt tears running down my cheeks.

Two months later, I had turned into an online stalker. That first glimpse has turned into a low-level obsession. I would find myself constantly checking her profile, going through her photos, looking and compiling a list of all the similarities.

One evening I had been looking at Jane’s profile. I hadn’t covered my tracks this time. It was time for “her” to spot check my phone, she scrolled through my Facebook search history. There it was in black and white. I won’t go into detail as I don’t want to talk about “her”, but I am sure you can imagine the consequences.

12 months later, and my obsession was resurrected. I had been scrolling through the photos and then one photo changed everything. It was a picture of my father on my aunties wedding day. This man was my father, we looked the same. I didn’t even read the comments or who was tagged. I just knew that the man in the photo was K.  He looked friendly, he didn’t look like the person I had been imagining all my life, he looked normal. Once again I felt tears running down my cheeks. I searched for him and his profile appeared.

“You must be friends with this person to see his full profile.” This is because we are not friends – either online or in real life. We have never even met. I looked at his profile picture every day for months.

So let’s fast forward to Saturday 11th August 2018.

I have previously posted a letter that I have wanted to send to my biological father. Well, on 11th August I decided to make contact with both my aunt and my father.

I made the decision to contact them after having a conversation with George. He understood why I needed to contact them and he was prepared to support me no matter what the outcome was.

My main reason for wanting to make contact was the fact that I had been lied to by “her” for 23 years. She had lied about the smallest things, therefore there was always the possibility that she would have lied about my existence. There were so many gaps in her story and I had heard other people’s opinions of my father and they just didn’t match what she was saying. Every story has two sides and I had only ever heard hers. Secondly, whenever there was an argument between me and “her” she would scream in my face “you are just like HIM!” ~ What did this mean? What was she trying to say?

I decided to send my first message to Jane. I wanted to ask her opinion on contacting K. I didn’t have anything to lose. The worst thing that could happen would be no response. I had a plan in place to help me overcome the rejection if that was to happen. Rejection was unfortunately something I was used to. George drove me to a little country pub, I had a glass of wine in hand and I sat down and wrote the message. It was detailed, I didn’t want to just send a “Hi, here I am” message. I wanted to explain why I was messaging, that I didn’t have any expectations and that we would manage any future communication they way she wanted. I ended the message by asking her if she thought it would be ok for me to contact K.  I didn’t overthink it and I didn’t re-read it, so be it if there were spelling errors.

I pressed send and waited. One message down.

I got the notification saying that my message request had been accepted. One hurdle down. I could see that Jane was actively typing, this was such a relief. I felt strangely calm, and my nerves had disappeared. She could have been writing to say she didn’t want contact but deep down I hoped it wasn’t and now I look back, deep down I knew it wouldn’t be.

Then the notification came through “New Message – Jane”.

I saw the words “I have always loved you…” and I crumbled. I hadn’t prepared myself for acceptance. I was overcome with emotion, the tears were uncontrollable. I felt such an explosion of emotions; joy, guilt, sadness, relief, love. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I finally felt accepted. Jane was able to release 23 years of emotion through one message. She told me to go ahead and message K.

I once again wrote the message and pressed send.

He accepted. He responded. I had been loved and wanted by my father and his family for 23 years. I couldn’t believe the response I received, it was so positive. Within an hour I was on the phone talking to him. This was the first time either of us had heard the others voice. It felt so natural. He had been waiting for this day, he was overcome with the same emotions I had.

There wasn’t a single expectation, no demands. As my auntie put it; their love was unconditional. This was the first time in 23 years I truly felt unconditional love.

It has been a week since the initial contact. I have spoken to them every day. It has been wonderful. I have been accepted by a family I have never met. But we have made plans to change that and I can’t wait. I feel like I know them so well already, and it has proven to me that nature is stronger than nurture. I feel closer to them than I have ever felt. The similarities are scary! My natural talents evidently come from them.

We have missed out on 23 years of each other’s life, but now we can move forward together.

It is a wonderful feeling. I want to tell the world, but I am unable to. I do not want “her” to find out and ruin it. I cannot tell my nan and run the risk of “her” being informed. I have confided in my uncle and my aunt, George’s father and a few close friends. Now I am confiding in you.

“Never believe it’s too late to begin.”