My parents didn’t know how to care for me – and it’s affected my mental health forever

It’s dark and cold outside and yet again I find myself unable to sleep.

My mind is racing, my skin is itchy and my heart is pounding. I call them mini-panic attacks. They are nowhere near as severe as the debilitating breathlessness I get when I go into full meltdown, but the emotions and physical effects are similar.

I’ve always had these, even as far back as age 5 I remember ‘being a worrier’, and I’ve never known why. I’ve had counselling, tablets, and even hypnotherapy but no one has ever been able to explain why I’m so highly strung.

However, like a light switching on, my brain has finally given me a clue, or a pathway to explore. A potential reason why I’ve always felt empty, lonely and miserable. I’ve never been loved.

Your parents are supposed to support you, develop you, and push you. They are to be there, to encourage, and to help you grow strong. And mine tried really hard. I’ve spent 25 years making up excuses, and explaining away their shortcomings and now I see what everyone else has always thought.

They never knew how to be parents. I don’t mean in the way any adult is unprepared to change nappies but is somehow pre-wired with love and affection, and hopes and dreams for their bundle of joy, rather I mean the opposite.

They knew how to feed me, clothe me, and potty train me but they had no real love or connection to me.

Over the years we developed a symbiotic relationship whereby they provided me with food and shelter, and I provided them with emotional support and a referee for their fighting. I learned how to sweep up broken glass, mend broken hearts, and tread carefully through emotional land mines, long before I even learned how to do long division.

As I took over the house finances and started functioning as the chef/confidant/parent to my younger siblings, mum’s drinking started to get out of hand. Dads drinking made him violent and as I started taking my GCSEs I was perfectly able to diffuse even the most heated of pre-war discussions between the two of them.

They were however never there for me.

When I was raped, age 13, I couldn’t tell my mum for fear of how much more she might drink, or how much angrier dad might get. When I was bullied and beaten, I hid the worst of it so not to make my parents life any worse.

As I got older, and got into abusive relationships, I presented a more family-friendly image to them to give them hope and joy at all I had achieved. I tried hard at school, at college, and at uni and I was determined to make them proud and to make them love me. I wanted to do music, or drama, or anything I loved doing; however they discouraged me as it wasn’t a good career move and there was no money in it.

By the time I was in my early twenties I was very unwell, depressed and bipolar.

I was quite literally falling apart at the seams when I returned to the family home to try and pull my life back together. I was an inconvenience to them, although they never said that.

They would tell their friends how sick I was, and give excuses as to what might be wrong. When a doctor suggested it might have been something to do with my childhood and development, mum burst into tears and wailed in the hospital declaring she couldn’t have done anything wrong.

Eventually, I got myself normal enough to leave again and left. Never realising that this wasn’t normal and that I shouldn’t be feeling as damaged as I did.

Even now, when my boyfriend tries to love me, I clam up.

I thought it was because I wasn’t very touchy feely. But I realise now, it’s because I’ve got absolutely no idea how to respond to it.

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