My life changing recovery from 25 years of depression

 

depressedcollage

After decades of suffering from depression, which sometimes made me so catatonic that all I could do was stare at walls in silence, I have now fully recovered from it. For many years I wanted to kill myself, getting very close on one occasion. Thank God I did not take that irrevocable step, as I am now happier than I have ever been with all my mental health problems and addictions, so numerous they could fill a football stadium, in complete recovery.

My depression started at the age of 12/13 when my father left home to live with another woman. I had always been incredibly close to my father, who is white, and had almost no bond with my black Jamaican mother. This was because she had been out of the house six days a week working while I was growing up. After the breakup of my parents’ marriage, both of them became extremely hostile to me. My mother threatened to put a contract out on my father, saying I was “just like him” and denying that I was even her daughter. She also frequently tried to throw me out of the house, because I was untidy, taking me to a lawyer’s office to evict me when I was 15. The lawyer said it was not possible to evict me, but the threat of being thrown out on the street was ever present. I asked my father if I could go to live with him but he said no.

My father, as I grew up, started to tell me I was ugly and out of proportion as, he said, my head was too big and my legs too short. He dismissed my academic achievements describing it as “boring” when I came top of the class at secondary school. When I got into Oxford University at the age of 16, he said “that’s all very well but why don’t you just grow.” He would also sit around with his white girlfriend taking the piss out of Jamaicans and saying it was important to realise black people were “different” as they “had a different pelvis shape.” He would frequently question me trying to get confidential information about my mother’s financial affairs, as they were going through a bitter divorce squabbling over money.

By the age of sixteen I was very depressed. My parents took me to see a psychiatrist who said it was their fault that I was in a state. I believe this put them off from continuing treatment with him as I only saw him once or twice more.

During my first year at Oxford University I was extremely depressed and withdrawn. My bedroom was filthy, so much so that people from other colleges would come for “tours” of the room, and I was living in a fantasy world where I was the Queen of Spain. My tutor said I needed to see a psychologist and I started looking for a therapist. Unfortunately I could not find one in Oxford.

My depression became even worse. I frequently contemplated suicide wondering how I could kill myself and make it look like an accident. I did not want to upset my parents with an open suicide attempt, which was ironic given their behaviour.

The depression reached its darkest period in my early twenties. This was because, having been rejected by a man I thought I was in love with, I had gone off men and thought I was gay. I went to see various therapists, telling them that I was only attracted to women. But they said I was not gay. I was consumed with thoughts of suicide and was referred by my doctor to a psychiatrist at St Mary’s hospital. I was there diagnosed with clinical depression and offered in-patient treatment at a psychiatric hospital. I declined this, not wanting to take time off work. I was by then working for the BBC as a producer and trainee reporter and was very committed to my job. I was prescribed paroxetine for the depression, which did not lift it, merely taking the edge off.

After the failure of a relationship with a man I considered my “soulmate” at the BBC and who I hoped would “rescue” me from being gay, I became more actively suicidal. I ended up with a carving knife at my throat about to cut my throat. Apart from wanting to kill myself, I had also had a phobia of serial killers cutting my throat since the trauma of viewing such a scene in Friday the 13th on American cable TV when I was 8. Such was my fear of having my throat cut that I thought I had better prevent this by doing it myself. Luckily I was interrupted. The psychiatrists advised I was too depressed to go into therapy. And indeed I was often catatonic not able to speak or move. At the BBC they said it was obvious I had “severe emotional problems.”

Although some people cannot work because of depression, I think my job helped keep me alive. It was very stimulating and the fact that it forced me to get out of bed every morning and leave the house distracted me from the depression. Despite being suicidal, I still had a desire to succeed in my career as a journalist. I was also determined to recover from the depression and, ignoring the psychiatrists, began efforts to look for a private therapist. Having found one, I began to see her twice a week.

For the first time, I talked in depth about what had happened during my parents’ divorce. One theory about depression is that it is anger turned inwards and I had certainly not been able to express, or even connect with, my anger towards my parents as a child as it was too unsafe to confront them.

After three years of therapy, the clinical depression lifted, and I realised I was angry with my parents. However I still felt too unsafe to confront them, believing they would cut me off if I did.

I continued taking anti-depressants throughout my twenties, as I was still depressed but not suicidal.

drugs, addiction, Jamaica, mental health, Kingston

At the age of 32, I became suicidal again. My mother, who’d moved to Jamaica, had become distressingly ill after multiple strokes. She was paralysed but shaking uncontrollably, having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am till midnight every day. Her mental age was that of a baby. I had moved to Jamaica to spend more time with her but found the effects of living with her constant screaming made me want to kill myself. Partly because of pressure from my family, I felt I had to stay in Jamaica, despite the impact her illness was having on me. I started drinking on my own at home, deliberately trying to get drunk, which I had never done before. My drinking out of the house also escalated, leading my family to say I had a drink problem. In denial about my alcohol issues, I said that everyone in England collapsed on the floor of toilets in nightclubs and then practically caused a car crash by kicking the person who’d rescued them in the head. I genuinely believed this was true. In my mind to be an alcoholic you had to be filmed on reality TV attacking the police in Newcastle. I had never been to Newcastle so clearly my drinking was fine. Instead of cutting back on my drinking, I started taking more cocaine.

I was soon taking cocaine all day and night. This exacerbated the depression, leading me to not only want to die, but to take incredible risks with my life in pursuit of drugs. I also had rampant bulimia and was told by the doctors that, every time I made myself sick on that quantity of cocaine, I could have a fatal heart attack. But I thought I wanted to die as that was the only way to escape the unbearable situation with my mother’s illness. I was still taking anti-depressants but doubt they had much impact, as I was using so much alcohol and cocaine. I would also sometimes snort the anti-depressants, mixing them with cocaine to make it go further, which I doubt helped their efficacy.

I was forced into treatment by my family after admitting I was addicted to cocaine. I went to an extremely expensive rehab, St Chillin’s, where I briefly came off the anti-depressants and did the first 3 steps of the AA 12 Step Programme. After relating a catalogue of disasters with my mental health to the psychiatrist at St Chillin’s he said I had too many problems to be treated in the private sector as I would bankrupt my family.   I decided that I would follow his advice as my own decisions had ended me up in rehab, totally broke. I therefore transferred to a state funded rehab in South London, bristling with ex-cons, after my local council agreed to pay for me.

I was in residential rehab for the whole of 2005. And the experience I had was instrumental in permanently lifting my depression. My depression had started when my parents turned their hatred for each other on me. I was surrounded by love and support in rehab as all the staff were incredibly kind to me. I felt cared for in a way I had never done with my parents. The government also paid for my year’s treatment, giving me a drug support worker when I left, so I felt looked after by them. I started a serious relationship with a man who was very in love with me. This was an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer, who’d forgotten how long he’s spent in jail, who I’d met at the South London rehab. Throughout the relationship I insisted on calling him “mummy.”

I continued taking the anti-depressants in 2006 but felt much better and was really no longer that depressed. At the beginning of 2008, I came off anti-depressants as I no longer felt depressed, although I still had other mental health problems. The relationship with my boyfriend broke down after he hit me and smashed up the house. This caused me a lot of problems with my mental health, including thinking a demon was possessing my brain, but not a relapse into depression.

I started seeing a private therapist at the end of 2009 who I am still seeing and have a very close relationship with. She is an attachment therapist, who re-parent the client, and this has re-wired my brain, not only further alleviating the depression but leading to a feeling of positive happiness. I started the therapy with an emotional age of two but have now been re-parented and left secondary school.

I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013, because of financial problems and the fact that my ex-boyfriend, who I was still involved with, was having a baby with someone else. I started doing crazy OCD checking rituals for 10 hours a day, not able to sleep until 5am. Although I could see the irrational nature of what I was doing, the OCD actually made me want to cut my throat again. I reached out to my friends, both in and outside 12 step fellowships, and had a lot of support to pull me through the nervous breakdown. My therapist describes this as creating a “circle of care.” This is a much more stable support network that I had in early recovery, or before recovery, where I would be dependent for all my emotional needs on one person and, if the relationship with them fell apart, so did I. During the nervous breakdown, I went back on medication because of the OCD so am now taking a high dose of Prozac every day as an anti-anxiety medication. This no doubt has an impact on the depression although my experience is that, while SSRI’s like Prozac have an amazing effect on OCD and anxiety, they have a very limited impact on depression. Apart from the medication, the support I gathered during the nervous breakdown has stayed with me, meaning I have a lot of caring and loving friends also contributing to my feeling of happiness.

I get very angry when I hear in 12 Step meetings that the Steps can “cure” depression as I think this is dangerous nonsense and could prevent people seeking proper treatment for their depression. This, along with the antipathy to psychiatric medication from many people in 12 Step, is what I most dislike about the Programme. Nonetheless, my participation in 12 step programmes has been an important factor in my recovery from depression. If I hadn’t done Steps 1, 2 and 3 in my first rehab, which talk about handing over your will to a power greater than yourself,  I would never have followed the psychiatrist’s advice and moved to a state rehab.  I would never have opened myself up to receive such love.  After all, despite being given three months to live by my psychiatrist in Jamaica, I entered St Chillin’s thinking I was a socialite and party animal and that St Chillin’s was just the latest stop in the party circuit. State rehabs were part of an entirely different, very undesirable, circuit involving the courts, police and social services.

12 step fellowships also encourage you to create a network of support and pick up the phone and ask for help so, when I had the nervous breakdown, that is exactly what I did.  And although I am single and have almost no family support, in fact barely even have a family, I have meetings to go to and recovery people around me so I am never alone.  I have spent every Christmas with recovery people since I got clean at the beginning of 2005. Although I am now in family therapy with my father, my only relative, which is improving our relationship.

I have had so many breakthroughs with my mental health in the last year and am now in recovery from all my addictions and mental health problems and am happier than I have ever been.  But I still, after so many years of depression, find it difficult to sit with sadness as a voice in my head starts to panic, thinking the paralysing depression is coming back. I don’t know when that voice will ever go. But the voice telling me to kill myself has disappeared.

 

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Climax of my love with the ex-armed robber as we visit my mother in Jamaica as she is dying

A picture of Caroline Turriff with her mother in Kingston Jamaica while Caroline was working for the BBCMy aunt Beverly in Jamaica, who shouldered the burden of organising my mother’s 24 hour nursing care, had been urging me to phone my mother more often saying my mother’s health was waning. After almost killing myself trying to look after my mother in Jamaica I had decided, since I went into rehab, that I needed to focus on my own needs and was more distant from her.  Before I’d left Jamaica, a psychiatrist I’d been seeing said: “your mother is already dead, she died a long time ago. You need to stop focusing on her and look after yourself or you’re going to die.” Ama, the head of one of my rehabs in London, was softer, saying that although my mother was mentally not there I could still have a relationship with her soul. But traumatised by the experience of my mother’s illness, my contact with her had become sporadic since I entered rehab and the psychiatric unit.  Beverly phoned me saying I really needed to come to Jamaica as my mother was deteriorating rapidly.  I would certainly have relapsed, risking death again, if I’d gone on such a stressful trip on my own.  So Fred who was by now my lover, new best friend, everything to me, came too.

We set off for Jamaica in the summer of 2006, not knowing what to expect. But I knew that, with Fred by my side, I could handle anything.

When we saw my mother it was a terrible shock for both of us. She was sitting, emaciated on a chair, like a concentration camp survivor, her eyes closed and mouth locked in a frightening grimace. She was completely paralysed and her hands were bent double like claws.

A picture of my mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when I went to visit her while I was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

At first, when she saw me, she didn’t recognize me was just staring blindly into space. But then she did realise who I was and gave me a filthy look. It had been a year and a half since I’d last seen her. My family in Jamaica obviously couldn’t tell her that I’d gone to rehab, she wouldn’t have understood, so they just said I had been doing a course in the UK. I saw a Mother’s Day card which I’d sent her earlier in the year, proudly displayed alongside a picture of me. Her nurses said she had clutched the Mother’s Day card for two weeks after she’d got it. She must have been feeling abandoned.

With tears in my eyes I said I was sorry that I had had to leave her but that I had almost died in Jamaica and had to go back to England. I thought something close to the truth would make her feel better. She cried when I said that, and we hugged. I took photographs of her in that terrible state, not wanting to forget.

Fred was incredibly supportive and would even go to see my mother on his own, telling her he would always look after me. That he’d been with me, seeing my mother’s plight in her dying days, gave us a special bond that I had with no one else in recovery.

We went briefly travelling around Jamaica so I could show him my second home. I took him to my abandoned flat, with its beautiful views, now ready to be sold. Its emptiness was like the shell of my former using life I’d left behind. He was surprised by the style and luxury in which my family in Jamaica lived, more familiar with yardies in South London. Ironically as he had less than 10 quid to his name, because he was white everyone in Jamaica thought he was rich and was constantly hassling him for money.

We drove around the magical tropical landscape of Jamaica in a navy blue Toyota Yaris. I took pictures of him staring wistfully into the distance at a lush roadside spot, bursting with greenery, deep in thought. He looked absolutely gorgeous, my tanned white van hero. He took a picture of me (with my fake Chanel bag) in a beautiful spot outside Kingston where he said we would get married.

A picture of Caroline Turriff at a wedding venue outside Kingston Jamaica

This trip was totally magical the absolute apogee of our love and relationship. I was absolutely convinced our love would never end.

As my mother was often completely detached not recognising anyone, couldn’t eat or drink and had no veins left for a drip, my aunt and I decided that we would let her die. I am haunted by this decision, as I saw her, briefly, smile so she was still capable of pleasure. I don’t think she wanted to die. I wonder if I would have made this choice if my mother had not been so abusive to me as a child. But my aunt Beverly was exhausted with the effort of catering to my mother’s needs and organising care for her. This had gone on for six years. We could have fed her through a tube into her stomach but decided the torture of her illness had gone on long enough.

I said goodbye to my mother for the last time, knowing I would never see her alive again.

A picture of Caroline Turriff and her mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in Kingston Jamaica when Caroline went to visit while she was attending the Waterview psychiatric unit

I gave her some water, urging her to drink, part of me not wanting her to die. She didn’t understand that she was dying. But there were tears in both of our eyes.

Determined to take some mementos of my mother back home, we carried a massive artificial palm tree, in a terracotta pot on the plane to England. This was so huge it caused some consternation at the Air Jamaica check in but with Caribbean tolerance they let the 6 foot plant through in its ramshackle packaging. I’m sure BA would have banned the tree from the plane. For the entire flight back, Fred and I held hands, both of us trying not to cry. When we got to Heathrow, Customs were very interested in the plant, thinking that this was a novel way to smuggle cocaine. I was terrified they were going to smash it up in their hunt for drugs. But when I said I had taken it from my mother’s room where she was dying, they backed off and didn’t search the plant. It was proudly positioned in a corner of my flat in the dry house, reminding me of my mother.

I was assured by the doctors when I left, that it would only be a couple of days after liquids were withdrawn from my mother that she would die. But in fact she clung on for eleven days, starving and thirsty, desperate to stay alive. Everyone around my mother had tried to instill faith into her so she was not so afraid of death. But at the end she was clearly terrified of going and clung onto her pretty wretched life. This has given me not a fear of death, but a fear of being incapacitated and helpless like her. I am far more frightened of Alzheimer’s than dying.

I was in my flat in the dry house when I got the email saying she had died. I clung to Fred, not wanting to be alone. He stroked my hair and said he would always be there for me.

After a disagreement with my family in which they almost had my mother’s funeral without me, Fred and I went back to Jamaica for the ceremony. Although I have said that I never cried, I did cry on the way to my mother’s funeral. Fred was there, arm around me, wiping away my tears. At the funeral all the speakers kept asking why my mother had suffered so much. The state my mother was in for her last six years – paralysed, uncontrollably shaking, with psychotic hallucinations and screaming day and night – was so terrible you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But I do believe it was a result of her decision to have a lobotomy in her treatment for Parkinson’s rather than the implant that had been recommended by the doctors. This was just the last in a series of poor choices my mother made after my father left her, caused by her rampant stubbornness.

While I was heartbroken by my mother’s death, I felt we had done the right thing. Her life had shrivelled to a husk, she was barely living any more. Little did I know how desperately I would miss my mother as time went on, wishing she was still alive and had never got ill.

I had not discussed my mother’s illness and death with my father, believing he would not be interested. I broke my silence when I got back to the dry house after the funeral having a rare emotional conversation with him. He came out with one of his bombshells. “Well you know your mother never really loved you,” he said. “The person she loved was me.” This was hurtful because it was true, she had unconditional love for him, still worshipping him despite all his infidelities. The closest she came to saying she loved me was “I would love you if you were tidy.” I decided the timing of his comment was unforgivable and didn’t speak to him for three months.

After my mother died, there was a certain amount of chaos around her estate. No one could find a will, raising the spectre she had died intestate. Eventually the will was discovered saying that, although everything was left to me, I could not inherit it until I was 45. As I was 36 at the time this seemed like a life time away. This made no sense as my mother had been totally unaware of my drug addiction and up till the moment she lost her mental capacity I had been (more or less) successfully running two properties, two mortgages, a job and a set of tenants. I’d always known about this will but had never thought my mother would die before I reached 45.  Her desire to control me was now extending beyond the grave.

I had sold my flat in Maida Vale, thinking I could live on the interest and move back into my house in Notting Hill. This turned out to be a miscalculation. So I had one house I couldn’t afford to live in and needed to buy another property for when I finally came out of the dry house. This was going to prove impossible because of my mother’s will. So I now had an unwelcome battle on my hands to change the terms of the will.

As my mother’s death had approached, the craziness that had dominated my life in the first half of 2006 had subsided. I was no longer leaping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of artificial plants, or hopping like a frog on speed down streets at night  to avoid dark patches that might conceal a dog shit. My mother’s final illness and death had forced me to be an adult.

While all this was going on, Fred was still incredibly loving. Despite this, I began to pine to have a boyfriend who was less rough, and didn’t smoke. After over a year of being with me I thought, by now, Fred should be middle class. But he was stubbornly refusing to be a Sloane, saying “fuck” and “fuckin’” every other word and teaching me how to speak fluent Cockney rhyming slang. Despite saying he would give up smoking to be with me, he lived with a fag hanging out of his mouth. He had also developed a belly since he’d left the rehab. And amazingly (to someone like me who had an eating disorder) didn’t want to lose weight.

I developed an obsession with an Italian man, Leonardo, who was posher, thinner and didn’t smoke. Unlike blonde, blue eyed, white van man Fred, Leonardo had skin the colour of a café crème, ochre eyes and thick black corkscrew curls. I thought he would get on better with my family. He didn’t have a criminal record as long as the London Marathon. “Fuck” wasn’t his favourite word. I had met Leonardo at “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” and would accidentally (on purpose) bump into him at meetings where we would discuss “recovery” while he batted his long black eyelashes at me.

Fred and I had a massive row after one of these incidents. I said I wasn’t sure about the relationship with him and that perhaps he should move out. He left, smashing his phone against the wall, but came back half an hour later saying he wasn’t going anywhere. He had rented out his flat, so he could pay me rent so didn’t actually have anywhere to go.

I was torn wanting to leave him but at the same time not trusting the other guy. Leonardo had shagged a friend of mine, then dumped her, causing her to relapse. On the advice of my support worker I made a list of pros and cons for the two men. It was clear when I read the list that the only option was for me to stay with Fred. We renewed our relationship with a fabulous shag, spending our second Christmas together. As the New Year dawned a new obsession was upon me, far more dangerous than the leaves or the mobile phone. I decided I wanted a baby….                            Sign up for updates on this blog

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Next week: my miraculous recovery from a lifetime of depression.

Happy families with the ex-armed robber as we move into Lunatic Lane. And I enter the Waterview psychiatric unit with 13 spare personalities and 500 fake designer bags.

I set off from my dry house in Lunatic Lane to the Waterview Centre for personality disorders

After I’d finished a year of residential rehab, my ex-armed robber lover Fred and I soon settled into a dry house on the edge of Notting Hill. We realised, almost immediately, that the other residents of the street had some very strange ideas.

A man with a green mohican would constantly do Kung Fu in the middle of the road, ignoring the cars swerving by. I thought nothing odd about this, as a recovering exercise bulimic I knew the importance of not letting anything stand in the way of your daily exercise. There was no bird song, I noticed when I opened my windows. The birds had more sense than to live so close to the Westway with its sirens and juggernauts. But there was a Bird Man who would regale the street with strident renditions of a cuckoo at 8pm every evening. His loud “cuckoos” were sometimes drowned out by an angry Chinese woman shouting at her toes. Or a scrawny crackhead whose novel way of begging was to stand in the middle of the road and heckle the passing cars with ABBA songs.

After discounting the fact that a mushroom quiche from Tesco was making us hallucinate, Fred re-christened the street “Lunatic Lane.”

Half my neighbours seemed to have escaped from the nearby Psychiatric hospital and were being un-cared for in the community. The other half were pedalling crack or stolen bicycles. Almost every night, a phalanx of police cars would screech up, after residents would fling themselves through ground floor windows – sadly ignoring the glass – or stabbings would erupt in hostels infested with crack.

Fred loved it.   He may have given up drugs but there was something about the chaos he almost missed. He’d always moaned that being in recovery was like driving at thirty miles an hour with a seat belt on – something he flatly refused to do. But the seat belts were definitely off for the residents of my street – and so was a wheel of their cars.

The other curious thing about the dry house was that all the alcoholics and street drinkers in the area would sit around chugging down Red Stripe on our front wall. This was presumably allowed by the dry house to show us where we might be heading if we relapsed. One of them was called “Slasher” and would sit there in a surgeon’s outfit and a stethoscope. As he glugged down on a bottle of beer, he said he was a cardiac surgeon but had retired for “personal reasons.” He offered to check out my chest but I declined.

Even inside the dry house something very odd was going on. People would ring on our doorbell at 3 and 4 am and they weren’t trying to deliver a pizza they were looking for crack. We soon realised one of our neighbours had turned her flat in this supposed “dry house” into a crack house which she was dealing from. The organisation that ran the house refused to do anything about it until the neighbour stole my credit card and was filmed on CCTV using my card on Portobello Road. For once there was someone – apart from myself – who was committing fraud on my card. It was almost a relief it wasn’t me. Now I was out of rehab and had my credit cards back, my shopping addiction had had a bit of a relapse. I was compulsively purchasing furniture and exotic accoutrements to turn the flat in the dry house into a des res.

As I fitted in rather too well on Lunatic Lane, my substance abuse worker at Kensington Council said I needed to continue my treatment at a day programme. So I went for an assessment at the Addiction Association in Central London. I went to the interview wearing a large black cap with 50 bright pink rollers on underneath. I must have thought the Addiction Association was doubling up as a hairdresser. As the interview started, I took off the cap and then spent the entire assessment winding and unwinding all the pink curlers, placing them carefully on my lap then back in my hair again. I was absolutely astonished when they put me in the Dual Diagnosis ie crazy as well as addicted group. Not that I made it into the group that often, they had strict time keeping boundaries and so with my pathological lateness I was never allowed in.

I receive treatment for my drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems at a Dual Diagnosis group at an addiction treatment centre in central London

I was outraged that I was in a group with schizophrenics, who were much saner than my uncle but obviously, in my mind, much sicker than me. But the staff said the schizophrenics were much more under control than me as they were all on medication. I was frantically shopping online all night in a totally demented way.

It wasn’t just the clients at the Addiction Association that were dual diagnosis, their pets were unhinged as well. So one woman who had tried to hang herself had a dog which was not only an alcoholic but ate 30 cigarettes a day and compulsively self-harmed. Maybe the dog had picked up the behaviours from her as other dogs learn more usual skills from their owners such as walking to heel.

One of the schizophrenics who I got on very well with, in fact I think he fancied me, was incredibly happy one day wiggling and dancing around the therapy room singing the Black Eyed Peas song “My humps my humps my lovely lady lumps.” “Have a great weekend” I waved at him hoping to see him wiggling back in the following week. When we came back in on Monday we were told that that very weekend he had relapsed on heroin and committed suicide. This was a terrible shock and should once again have alerted me to the dangers of forming close friendships with people in treatment. Is it me, I thought, aware that this was almost exactly what had happened to my special friend at St Chillin’s.

As my time keeping was not conducive to me staying at the Addiction Association, I was referred by my doctor to the Waterview psychiatric unit, which had a three year programme to treat people with personality disorders. I immediately renamed this the “Prison View” psychiatric unit as views of water were as absent as lakes in the Sahara – it was actually overlooking a juvenile detention centre.

As soon as I arrived at Prison View, I decided that the crucial thing for being an outpatient at a psychiatric unit (7 days a week) was to have the correct (faux) designer wardrobe. I bought more designer sunglasses and oodles of new fake bags so I was always suitably dressed. My fake Chloe Paddington bag was realistic enough to be a clone but my fake Prada bag – from Prada of Peking – had a spelling mistake and was called Prickr instead of Prada. I was proud of my Prickr bag. I would strut down the street every day like a peacock from the dry house to the psychiatric unit not thinking “Oh God I’m going to a psychiatric unit,” but instead, “I wonder if someone’s going to photograph me I am in Notting Hill.”

Some of the inpatients at the unit were not so suitably dressed, shuffling around with their bums hanging out and toenails so long they could make a phone call. A disturbing number seemed to be Afro-Caribbean, and some were so bloated with medication they looked like the corpses of whales. Some would just sit on the grass outside, staring into space, totally dysfunctional. At least my uncle had a lot of energy in his hallucinations. He had in fact walked twelve miles home from a psychiatric hospital in his dressing gown and slippers in two feet of snow. None of the inmates at Prison View looked like they thought they owned Knightsbridge, or had discovered Julius Caesar’s Roman Bath under a traffic light. They didn’t even look like they owned the shabby clothes they were in. I wonder if their parents beat them as well.

After a visit to a car show, I purchased an imaginary car (the DVLA was still persisting in its insane conspiracy against me) a BMW Z5 which had not been manufactured yet. As I was driving my imaginary car to the psychiatric unit, I was struck by a deep sense of certainty that I was the only sane person there.

My flat in the dry house was far from ideal with wood chip wallpaper that looked like an outbreak of chicken pox, “wooden” furniture from the Forest of Melamine and purple carpets which, after being covered with rugs, still looked like a bad acid trip. After years of being threatened with a Power Key by (unpaid) electricity companies I now had my very own Power Key and could experience the joys of a blackout at 3am.

I had never lived in a council or housing association property before. But this change in my circumstances was absolutely not going to dent my interior designing flair. So I decorated the flat with my interesting collection of ethnic artefacts.

the kitchen at my alcohol and drug recovery dry house in Notting Hill

I also decided I needed to spruce up the communal parts of the dry house (which were simply not up to scratch to receive my important visitors like Susanna and parcels from Argos). I had a load of pictures, unwanted by the tenants, from my house in Notting Hill. But also resolved I needed to adorn the communal parts with artificial plants. I found a bunch of 5,000 fake green leaves in a shop on Portobello Road which were as realistic as fake diamond encrusted 6 inch nail extensions. But as a temporary solution it would do. I obtained suitably minimalist steel pots to hang the plants on the walls. But there was a serious defect with the leaves – the crease in the middle of the leaf was in the wrong place. As I’ve already said, the OCD was back on me again so this wrongly positioned crease was totally unacceptable.

I therefore started leaping out of bed at 3am every night to iron all the leaves, with the help of a mini travel iron which I’m absolutely sure the instructions said “can be used on plants.” I am not sure why I had to get out of bed at 3am but there was absolutely no question in my mind that it was precisely that moment that the leaves had to be ironed. I think this had a lot in common with my sprinting around the library at 4am when I was at Oxford. I would be full of manic energy in the small hours of the morning, which the doctors said was cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar. These leaf ironing interludes would not take half an hour or so I would be at it for the entire night. By 8am in the morning, having been ironing all night, I would be shattered and dysfunctional. I would go into the psychiatric unit, looking exhausted, almost crashing my imaginary car, and everyone would say “What on earth is wrong with you?” “I’ve been ironing leaves all night,” I would say with a sigh and everyone in my therapy group, would burst into laughter. This manic ironing went on for three months, interrupted by the odd night where I would jump out of bed and spend 7 hours removing split ends. My hair was pristine and split end free, I was completely frazzled.

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This eventually came to an end when the psychiatrist at the unit prescribed me respiridone, an anti-psychotic, which for the first time in my life made me sleep at night. I would still pop out of bed at 3 to go to the loo and relapsed slightly with the OCD not ironing leaves but doing a bit of gardening.

I developed other forms of disabling OCD, relating to dog shit and serial killers in my cereal drawer. Because of my phobia of dog shit I became completely unable to walk down the street at night. I would hop, like a frog on speed, from one lighted patch of the pavement to another. This was (obviously) in case the dark patches concealed a poo. Alternatively I would   just walk in the middle of the road, ignoring all the cars. I then had to dodge Kung Fu Man. When it snowed, I had to inform the psychiatric unit that I was completely housebound, as a dog shit might have been concealed under the snow.

After unfortunate further exposure to serial killer films (with my great sensitivity on the subject I found Shrek extremely harrowing) I spent huge amounts of time hunting serial killers. I had to check under the bath panel, the freezer, the cutlery drawer and even in my shoes. This did not strike me as irrational – these serial killers had an amazing propensity to shrink and the miniature serial killers were more deadly than malaria infested mosquitoes.

Another less helpful use for the cutlery drawer was that I had taken the 12 Step slogan “willing to go to any lengths for your recovery” to a slightly psychotic extreme. Thus every time I wanted a drink, which was frequent in that year, I would slash my arms with a carving knife instead. After one of these incidents my support worker at the project, who clearly had a doctorate in mental health, said that the solution to my complex mental health problems was simply “to eat more blueberries.” I tried this advice, I was willing to try anything I was so mad, but unfortunately the curative power of the berries passed me by.

I was in phase two of my life, the madness of using was (hopefully) over I was now into the Insanity of Being Sober. Fred was oddly sanguine about all this craziness and was about to register as my official “carer” on the NHS. He had, very tellingly, said when we were in rehab together “I love being with you, however mad I am I’m not as mad as you.”

He had decided to turn away from a life of crime by becoming an electrician and was studying electrics at a college near his house. So devoted was he to me that he would spend an hour taking three buses to the college every morning whereas he could have walked there in five minutes from his flat. Despite his commitment to a new life, contacts from his past would ring him up and offer him “jobs” all the time. One I dissuaded him from taking was working as a getaway driver on some enterprise, no doubt nefarious, in Birmingham.

The only thing Fred didn’t like about me was that I couldn’t sleep in the same bed as him and would end up on the sofa every night. This was allegedly because of his snoring but actually because I couldn’t handle the intimacy. Also when he went to bed, I would still be compulsively shopping on the internet. He wrote me a plaintive note saying “I go to bed alone I wake up alone.” I resolved to make more of an effort to sleep in the same bed as him so made him wear a gas mask to stop the snoring.

I developed a psychopathic obsession with getting a new mobile phone, spending 20 hours a day online looking for phones and all my time out of the house squatting in mobile phone shops. This replaced the ironing leaves as my new obsession. After 3 months in which I had talked of nothing but mobile phones and wanted to get a promotions job dressed as a giant charger, Fred said “I’ve had enough of you talking about phones why don’t you just go and buy one?” The phone that I bought (carefully colour coordinated to match my accessories) has been the most important phone in my life, as it still wakes me up every morning almost ten years later.

Despite his annoyance with the mobile phones, Fred was incredibly patient. When I looked into his dazzling cerulean eyes and felt his strong arms around me, I felt loved as I had never done before. I thought “this is the feeling I was looking for when I was on drugs.” The hole in my soul I’d had my entire life was now filled with love. Of course, with my mother complex, this meant I retreated to being a two year old again and started calling him “mummy.” I now decided that this ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d tried to kill at least one person and had left a man paralysed after a fight, was of course, my perfect mother.

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Next week: climax of my love with the ex-armed robber as we visit my mother in Jamaica as she is dying. And despite behaving like a two year old, I decide I want to have a baby…

 

 

 

 

 

Being hated at rehab Hope House before I even arrive, orgasms and the wrong pair of knickers in the (ex) armed robber’s car

ADDICTION REHAB RECOVERY 12 STEP

June 2005

It was after I’d been thrown out of “Prison Break” rehab St Margaret’s that I really learnt to appreciate the value of 12 Step Fellowships. Not as a place to meet sexy people you might go clubbing with, but as somewhere you needed to go if you actually wanted to stay clean. I crashed out of St Margaret’s into a women’s “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” (DDDA) meeting in Notting Hill, walking in with my tits hanging out and pouting suggestively. They all thought, Oh my God what train wreck is this, she won’t stay clean for a day. Luckily there was a girl there who’d been to St Margaret’s and also had its charismatic leader, Ama, as a counsellor. The girl took me under her wing, hung out with me that weekend, and became my first female friend in the fellowship. In fact because of the support from the women at that meeting I was never left alone in those first few days. I started going to two meetings a day and would pick up phone numbers from women I’d just met. Without knowing me at all, they’d spend hours on the phone when I called them saying I wanted to use. I was in my beautiful house in Notting Hill thinking “I’m going to lose all this.” But I still wanted to use cocaine, my finger hovering only a millimetre away from the self-destruct button. Luckily, after less than two weeks, I was told by my substance abuse worker at Kensington Council that a place had come up at a women’s only rehab in West London, Hope House. As I was (temporarily) out of my lesbian phase, they thought they could “work on” the over-sexed behaviour.

Unfortunately, a poisonous woman had gone from St Margaret’s to Hope House, spreading lies about my bulimia, saying I spent half my life with my head down the toilet. This was definitely not true, the period when I’d been virtually living in the toilet had ended when I was in Jamaica. So everybody hated me before I’d even arrived. I found out, shortly after I’d got there, that they’d had a special meeting about me with all the clients as there was such animosity towards me. I had a particular falling out with one woman, Camilla, who was very aggressive towards me leading me to say to her: “how dare you speak to me like that” in a group. She didn’t like me as I’d arrived with fake Louis Vuitton luggage. All of the seventy pairs of designer shoes I’d taken to my original, rather exclusive rehab, St Chillin’s were re-located to Hope House, along with hundreds of bags. Due to the chronic shortage of walk in wardrobes, I had to store them all under the bed. Camilla completely changed her tune when she realised that her family were friendly with my father’s family in Gloucestershire. We started getting on like a house on fire.

Now safely back in rehab, my commitment to 12 Step Fellowships began to falter a bit. I still went to meetings but would arrive at the end, with loads of makeup on and my cleavage showing, my telephone number tattooed on an exposed breast. The green contact lenses made a comeback. My age started shifting again. I thought “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” was primarily a dating club where you went to pick up men and was extremely excited to see Russell Brand at a meeting in Notting Hill. Not that I knew who he was, I just thought he was incredibly hot. Fred, my admirer from St Margaret’s, was phoning and texting but I was juggling all my different options. My efforts did not go unrewarded, I had 7 men from the fellowship wanting to date me while I was in treatment. I was told this was “using behaviour” in my therapy group but didn’t understand what they meant. I wasn’t doing anything with any of them.

Tragedy struck when over fifty people were killed and seven hundred injured in the London Tube and bus bombings on the 7th of the 7th 2005. It was the worst terrorist attack on the UK since the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing. And it came just a day after jubilant celebrations that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. But as someone who never took the tube, and caught up with flirting with men, I didn’t connect with the disaster. Little did I know how these bombings would haunt me when I started to take the Tube.

Despite my obsession with men, the Mummy addiction continued. My next “perfect mother” was a blonde, Jamaican patois speaking Irish girl who’d had her children taken away because of crack. Despite this small lapse in her parenting, I decided she was perfect for me even when she woke me up at 3am chatting shit with some “friend” on the phone. I started following her around, trying to sit in her lap and convinced myself that crack was something all perfect mummies did.

I picked up an ideal Sponsor in the fellowship whose primary qualification was that she had more handbags than me.

ADDICTION REHAB RECOVERY 12 STEP

My handbags could be concealed under my bed; hers occupied whole rooms full of her house. If I had a collection of bags that would fill a small boutique, she had enough to supply the entire population of Beijing. I considered this a plus point as it completely took the heat off me.

But amongst all the drama there was Fred, solid, loving,  supportive and incredibly persistent. When his piercing blue eyes stared at me I felt totally safe, which was ironic given his mile long criminal record. Before we’d even kissed, he told me he loved me and would spend the rest of his life taking care of me. I said I didn’t want to go out with someone who smoked, he put out his fag and said he would give up. When we went to Hyde Park and his dazzling blue eyes mirrored the pure blue sky I stroked his face and thought, this is what I’ve never had. As we’d been in the same therapy group for months, sharing intimacies, I knew him in a way I had never known any man before. He told me that he’d started fighting and being violent when he was sexually abused, desperate to prove he was a man and wasn’t gay. I told him all him all my most shameful secrets, that I’d only told to Ama. He said he didn’t care, that the only thing that would have put him off was finding out that I was actually a man.

Neal, the alcoholic from St Margaret’s, was also on the scene saying he loved me too. By comparing the two, I started to learn what true love really meant. Neal kept encouraging me to leave the rehab and move in with him. Fred wanted me to stay and, when he took me out in his elderly Vauxhall Astra, which I grew to love, always made sure I got back to rehab on time. He wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardise my treatment. “Love is an act” he said and everything he did showed that he genuinely loved me.

Once I had sorted the situation with Camilla, who I now adored, and found a new (rather mouthy) replacement mother I was happy at Hope House. Although they restricted my visits to Fred, concerned about his criminal record. Another slightly negative point about him was that he had shared needles with someone who was HIV positive for six months and slept with over 200 people. He said he’d lost track after that. Despite my multiple involvements with men, I’d still slept with less than 10. This was because my lady parts had often shut up like a vice, not allowing any willies in, a psychological chastity belt caused by a) lack of foreplay b) my mother’s Catholicism or, c) copious quantities of cocaine. I made him go for a sexual health check before I agreed to have sex. He was terrified, expecting the worst, but amazingly it was all clear. This kind of extremely good luck is why so many addicts in recovery feel they’ve been looked after by God. Just as we were about to do it, he said I’d left my knickers in his bed. But when he fished them out they were clearly from Asda rather than Agent Provocateur and I said, outraged, that they belonged to another girl. He apologized, saying he couldn’t control himself as he was desperate to shag me. Then we both collapsed into giggles. We had sex in unusual places, often in public, at Westbourne Park Bus Garage and in his car outside Hope House, where I had an orgasm so huge it practically blew out the windows of the car.

Finally, reluctantly, as I was so happy there, I left Hope House and moved briefly into his flat. But it was far too small to accommodate my shoe and bag collection. My house in Notting Hill had been threatened with repossession – because I had spent the mortgage money on a Dior bikini and 5 pairs of designer sunglasses. But this had been lifted earlier in the year when  my aunt in Jamaica had paid off the mortgage arrears. It was now rented out, restoring my income to normal. My compulsive spending had gone into recovery in residential rehab after they had made me do an extraordinary thing – write down my income and outgoings so that I could calculate my “disposable income.”   This was a concept so complex and Kafkaesque that I had never considered it before – surely if you were earning 6,000 pounds a month you could spend 6,000 a month on fake designer handbags? But no they said there were minor necessities, like a mortgage, that had to be paid first. When I simply refused to grasp this they took away my credit cards. So I emerged from rehab solvent and for the first time in years, without an overdraft.

Despite my finances being restored, because I was “dual diagnosis” ie crazy as well as addicted, I was allowed to rent a housing association flat in a dry house in Ladbroke Grove, on the outskirts of Notting Hill. Almost as soon as I moved in, Fred moved in too. And we spent our first Christmas together with his mother and teenage daughter on a council estate in South London. It was different from the magnificent Christmases I’d spent with my rich family in Gloucestershire or relatives in Jamaica. But I was on an exciting new journey, into an unfamiliar world.

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Next week: Happy families with the ex-armed robber as we settle into domestic bliss in “Lunatic Lane.” And I enter the Prison View psychiatric unit with 13 spare personalities and 500 fake designer bags.