Things changed just a couple of years later when my parents’ marriage finally fell apart.
It had been on its last legs for a long while, to be honest. I’ve made no secret of it: my mum suffered from clinical depression throughout her adult life and had had some pretty horrendous episodes. At the same time, she and my dad were becoming increasingly incompatible; the two things were somewhat intertwined. To cut a long story short, my father left home when I was 17, after a weird and painful break-up. He's never shown any interest in me or my life in all the years since, which feels more shitty now in retrospect than it did at the start, but that's another story. Going back to when they split, I witnessed a lot of shouting, tears, and even some broken crockery. Oh and mum playing David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ album in the early hours (I couldn’t fault her taste there – a great album - but I can’t disassociate it from that period!)
Anyway, when my father finally left, my older sister had just moved out too, and so there was a really odd and uncomfortable period in my life when it was just me and my mum living at home, and my mum was suffering from depression. She'd been hospitalised for it before so I was familiar with the scenario. Sometimes she would spend days on end in bed, and I’d have to go and get her prescriptions and take care of her, which - being a snotty, self-obsessed teenager - I resented. It's kind of what makes you resilient, though - natural teenage selfishness! At other times she’d be up and about but behaving strangely – her actions could be a bit over-the-top or misjudged. Not that it was always easy then for me to discern between what was strange and what was normal, because she was my mother – she was all I knew. However, I realise that this is the reason why I sometimes still feel a certain discomfort if life around me gets a bit chaotic, and why I also feel the need to steer clear of anyone or any situation which might be toxic in some way. Do you know what I mean? Some people seem to get off on all that in a weird way, but there are so many toxic people - toxic relationships - that can bleed into your psyche if you let them. I just can’t go there, I need to protect myself . One whiff of toxicity (it’s just like that smell of Polo mints masking cigarettes and alcohol) and I’m out.
But at the same time, something very positive came out of it, because I learned that I simply couldn’t depend on either parent at that time and thus, ultimately, I only have myself. It sounds harsh but it was as if there was no role model I could really lean on mentally because one was absent and the other could be a bit doolally. It felt as if there was no big, strong, 100% reliable, parent figure who could make everything alright. Whilst leaving me feeling a little cast adrift - unsafe, even - it also quickly instilled in me a very deep and strong sense of self-reliance, self-sufficiency. I'm a big believer in the notion that we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and our lives, so much so that it irks me when other people don't. I read somewhere recently that this often happens when the parents of teenagers divorce (which may be a different effect to that on those who are very young); their children quickly learn to develop their independence.
People have far worse situations to deal with when growing up so I've nothing to complain about, but the way our experiences shape us is something that fascinates me and I'm interested in the psychology of why we develop the way we do, and where some of our attitudes and characteristics come from. I'm pretty sure the way I feel about self-reliance is as a result of my odd home life in those teenage years, and it developed in me an innate determination to achieve my personal goals and not to expect nor depend on help. Maybe it’s no bad thing sometimes to have to grow up a little fast.
A lighter post to follow next time!
A lighter post to follow next time!