Cherish Editions author, therapist and therapy survivor Rachel Townsend (MBACP, Dip Couns, Dip Sup) wrote an open letter about mental health as part of our charity partner Shawmind’s #SockItToStigma campaign. This month, across the Trigger Group, we are striving to encourage people to be open about mental health struggles. We’re confronting mental health stigma head-on.
NB: This post is an edited version of an article that was originally shared on the Cherish Editions website. It contains references to physical abuse, substance abuse and suicide.
I never used to think about the experiences in my life as traumatic… not until I was reading through the very last edit of my debut book, Finding Frank. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot for one person to go through.” And I suppose it was. I guess that’s part of the problem with mental health stigma – until we talk about our experiences, we don’t acknowledge them and others can’t take comfort from knowing that someone else has been through something similar.
The abuse began when I was around five years old. My mother would lash out, slapping me so hard with the back of her hand that I would often stumble. I became an object for the release of her terrible rage, time and time again. I left home at seventeen and it wasn’t long before I began experimenting with drugs. I found a tremendous release in the London party scene. I was doing everything in my power to escape. But soon, the highs wore off and the lows became intolerable. I began looking around for something else to fill the void. I met a charismatic man who became my entire world. It mattered little to me that he was heavily into drugs. Naively, I believed that we would heal each other.
Love and Loss
Alex and I married and I quickly fell pregnant with twins. I stopped smoking cannabis immediately. I felt excited about the prospect of becoming a mother, but Alex was really struggling. After Finn and Faye were born, he moved on to a much stronger strain — skunk. He quickly became volatile. Life at home had become unbearable and one day, in a moment of madness, I grabbed the joint out of Alex’s hand and began to smoke it myself. If you can’t beat them, my fragile, exhausted mind was thinking. Stupid me. I wanted to escape and soon, I was hooked.
I hid my grief away in a neat little box and I came out fighting. For almost two years, I fought to keep the roof over our heads. With a little help, I succeeded.
I would watch Alex through the kitchen window, lighting up a joint as he pulled out of the drive each morning, a steaming hot mug of coffee balancing precariously on the dashboard of his van. I would only smoke a joint after supper, once the children had gone to bed. Alex and I would sit together in silence every evening, stoned. My despair grew. Eventually, I reached rock bottom. Finn and Fay were now five and had begun primary school. I was keen to get back to work but couldn’t contemplate employment. My mind was foggy and I’d lost all confidence. However, I dug deeper than I ever had before and, against the odds, I finally quit drugs. I wrote Alex a letter explaining that I wasn’t prepared to fight for our marriage if he continued to smoke cannabis. The very next evening, he went out with his two best friends and smoked a joint. I knew then that this problem was much bigger than we could cope with.
Perhaps Alex thought that he’d lost us for good because something snapped inside of him and that evening, he took his life in the most horrific way. My entire world fell apart. I was in shock for a long time, with only just enough strength to look after the twins. I hid my grief away in a neat little box and I came out fighting. For almost two years, I fought to keep the roof over our heads. With a little help, I succeeded. Only then did I return to the box.
Processing the Past
Finally, when I was ready, I opened the door on everything in my life that had inadvertently led me to that fateful day. The abuse in my childhood, my drug addiction and finally, the terrible and traumatic loss of Alex — it all came pouring out in therapy. Four long years of therapy. I began to realise that everything I’d been looking for to fill the void inside of me, could only be filled by me. I soon became an entirely different person — a person who no longer needed to escape. I felt empowered for the very first time in my life.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Rachel for sharing her story with us. We hope that this helps others to talk about what they’re going through and to reach out for help, breaking down mental health stigma.
If you have been affected by any of the topics in this post or would like to talk to someone, you can contact:
Samaritans (or call 116 123 for free)
FRANK (0300 1236600)
Refuge (0808 2000 247)
There are also lots of useful resources available here.