‘It has been eight years since Drifting in and out of my Two Worlds, part-one of my candid, riveting (pardon my forthrightness), edifying autobiography was born once I had left the icy grips of my schooling career tarnished with my debilitating social anxiety disorder, Selective Mutism, which rendered me physically unable to speak at school.
I wish I could say I lived happily ever after and the anxiety did not beset me again. I wish I could. But of course, without being therapised, it was still apt to govern and control my life, and be managed by a detrimental crutch.
Writing opens deep wells of memory (many of which, however, are naturally unobtainable on account of my three bottle of wine a day for years on end drinking habit) and if you delve deep with me within this next chapter of my appalling succession of further events, you may find that I could be classified by one as an epitome, a text-book version of an individual suffering the negative repercussions of undiagnosed Selective Mutism. My life, consequently, has been like one continuous adjustment to loss, perceived abandonment, whilst hell-bent on self-destruction, including meeting my father after twelve years and impotently watching him demise until his death, turbulent relationships with ex partners and my ex fiance, until I finally found the light and blossomed thereforth drifting along the bright, long road to recovery. Resentfully, so many precious years withered away, much like my health, in a cruel heartbeat. My mind was a kaleidoscope. I have been intimately honest in this account, because it is to warn about undiagnosed and untreated Selective Mutism, the affects of alcohol and addiction, and the resiliency, to turn your life around regardless of where you are in life. If there is one thing I have learnt about life over these past eight years, is it goes on. It goes on in quick succession. In this story, I hope to bring about positive change, being a catalyst for inspiring others to choose goodness. You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep on re-reading the first and second one. I believe in the healing power of story-telling. ’
– Jessica Thorpe – Drifting Away and then Toward.
Anyway, that was the foreword of the second part of my journey after Selective Mutism (to be released next year if I stop procrastinating).
My brother Rowan (I have a brother? Sounds a strange notion) and I drifted as we grew older. Mother mollycoddled him and learned to detest me. I can only assume the main reason being on the grounds that I was ever so much like my father in looks and personality. An example to show the degree of this would be Rowan pointing to a red fire-engine proclaiming that it is green whilst I would voice that, no, it is red and Mother would transpire with a mocking laugh that ‘It’s green, Jess.’ From the time we left school (me being three years Rowan’s junior), he never came out of his bedroom again and my Selective Mutism dispersed once seventeen. Their close relationship made me very close to my father throughout his last years. Rowan has never got out of bed in the years since with the exceptions of briefly going into the bathroom or kitchen, and four holidays which he reluctantly went on. He has never had a job, has no friends and probably doesn’t even know the first thing about women. I don’t know how many months ago he had seen the sun shine.
Mother always had somebody to shift the blame on to. I was told in my adult years by her “You are just like your father. Exactly like him.” As she shook her head in disgust wrinkling her murderous looking face up. I was always the only person responsible for the disease which so terribly affected me. It was only natural for me to hit the bottle. Being socially anxious, she felt the need to ‘please’ authority. It gave her problems because it of course gave her a hard time getting her needs met. Because she was very defensive, she would often come across cold. It’s a defence mechanism which seems to have been a barrier so she didn’t get hurt.
Her over-protection, particularly towards Rowan, delayed us from growing up. I recently watched a video which my auntie had admiringly filmed during my fifth birthday party and my mother’s behaviour manifested the most transparent signifiers of this. Rowan was two years old, with his white blonde, ringlet curly hair and each and every time somebody called his name she swooped towards him, picked him up and carried him into another room. I followed her around every step she went, almost clinging onto her dress whilst she carried Rowan around everywhere. She ignored me and my chronic distress following her round and round and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had never seen children act so strangely before. Nobody was allowed to speak to us or to go near us. She did not know how to act in public and was for the most part of the time emotionally unavailable and responsive towards us because my grandmother had treated her and her brother in the same way throughout their childhood. A typical avoidant-attachment.
I suppose every generation blames the one before.
How did I get through my adult life with the social anxiety still lingering?
You guessed it. Alcohol. It was my most important and only relationship. It was my handrail in social settings. I can grudgingly remember the days of being plagued with deep denial concerning it. I was always doing such things as: Going into a different shop each time to get a bottle of wine (even if it meant paying a few quid more), refusing a carrier bag when they went to bag up the alcohol depositing it in to my bag instead to hide the shame of carrying yet another cheap bottle of wine. It’s when you are drinking at a table with friends, or ‘so called’ friends not being able to concentrate on the conversation at hand because in your mind you are dividing up the portions so you can be sure that you will have more than a sufficient amount of alcohol for yourself. And when in the toilet, being prudent to urinate on the bowl whilst seated so others can’t hear how much you have drunk. It defined me then. I was nineteen. We all need food and water to survive. But I needed a third… I couldn’t speak spontaneously at school. Not unless somebody asked me a question. I become my vision of ‘The Ideal Person’ around others. It meant I didn’t have to suffer in silence. My heart raced round others. Sweats. Panic whirring in my mind. This was years ago. It got to the point where your body needed it and you could not function without it. It was self- destruction. You would rather live for just a few more years, doing what you love, and all you know rather than spare no effort to dry out and live for the rest of the years which you should be entitled to. You have abused your body, most relationships around you, and it’s so much easier to continue drowning and blocking out those further escalating issues than confront them. So one continues. It is a selfish act, yes. Incredibly selfish.
“Don’t you know what you’re putting those through around you? Don’t you know you’re wasting all that you have to give to the world?” Well, no. Or maybe I was too intoxicated to want to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it would mean I would have to stop drinking. Alcohol will take, take, and keep on taking. It will take your money, your relationships, your home, your dignity….and keep on taking until it finally takes your life.
Today, I am sober.
I am living again. As one should live. I have a full-time job as a painter and decorator in North London and Hertfordshire, and am building my life up more and more every day. Having grown up with Selective Mutism for seventeen years, I hated structure and I hated authority. The last career I could have seen myself pursuing is an office job – sitting at the same desk, around the same people, at the same times, every day – not a chance. It would be like being back at school all over again. Being a decorator, I am very lucky to work with fantastic company, and the jobs are different every time. I work all over the place, there is no pressure, little structure, if I don’t fancy sanding or filling, I will go in another room and paint instead – that kind of freedom. My Selective Mutism was also a lot severe around women as well, since I sensed more of an expectation in the past to speak to women. I like the diversity of it. It has given me a new-found confidence in life and very rarely do I suffer with anxiety. I have a lot more self-esteem and confidence within myself, as well as often being too busy, to worry too much about the things which I used to worry about.
I speak with such intimacy because it is the reality if this condition is not addressed as it should be. Rowan is terrified of people and human interaction. He sufferers with depression, avoidant personality disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia and Selective Mutism. My mother’s brother is exactly the same as Rowan at fifty-something. So I have resigned myself to the fact that I will still never have or know my brother. In an affectionate way – the mother’s did breed them to end up like that. That life has held me back enough, it’s time for me to forget about all of that now.
Jess at SSM