How my parents influenced my mental health

Monsters weren’t under my bed, instead they were all around me. I tried to hide under my blankets and hope they’d go away – as any normal child scared of monsters under their bed would do – but for me, they’d never go away. They were in my school, in my thoughts, in my group of friends, in the guys I associated with, in my home. Especially in my home. I’d try to escape the monsters by huddling under my blanket, shaking, crying, wishing for it to end.

My pillow is wet from my tears, my blanket pulled up to my chin. It’s dark, and I’m scared of the dark. The fear I feel is intense, but there’s no one around to comfort me. There never is. I should be asleep – it’s late and I have school tomorrow – but the yelling and screaming keeps me awake. I desperately want to be asleep, it’s my saving grace, the only thing that can put a stop to the fear and the pain and the yelling. If this is what love is, then I don’t ever want to have love. It sounds horrible. Why can’t they stop yelling? Why can’t they be happy? My tears won’t stop coming, but they’re too focused on their argument to care. The only person I can rely on is myself. I huddle under my blanket, shaking, crying, wishing for it to end. But at least the yelling and screaming wasn’t directed at me that night.

My face is wet again, only this time it’s my father’s spit as he yells in my face over something silly and insignificant. He’s so angry, I haven’t seem him like this before, flecks of spit fly from his mouth and land on my face as he yells, his face is so red, his eyes are bloodshot from all of the alcohol he’s consumed, his words slur. He calls me an “ungrateful little bitch” and it hurts. I don’t think I’m ungrateful at all, but maybe I am, because I shouldn’t be arguing with my dad. I call him the most vile thing I can think of, a word I hate and never use (that I will not use now), I call him a c***. It’s a horrible word, and in this moment, he feels like a horrible, hurtful man. But I shouldn’t have said it, it only provokes him more, because now he’s so much angrier. He raises his fist and I turn and bolt from the kitchen. I’m running down a darkened hallway filled with shadows, it’s only a few metres long, but it feels like it goes forever. Dad is right behind me. I’m so scared. I’m crying while I run. I run outside looking for my mum. She’ll save me. I hear her and her friend laughing in the room at the back of our house, so I run for it. I reach the door and cry, “Dad’s going to kill me!” before I run and hide behind my mum. Dad appears at the door, and just like I was hoping, he stops when he sees Mum. She tells him to stop, and he yells about how I called him the c-word. Mum sends him back inside, but first he tells me to not be weak, as I huddle behind my mum. When he leaves, she turns to me and tells me what I already knew, I shouldn’t have provoked him. Instead of provoking him further, I go to bed, huddle under my blanket, crying, shaking, wishing for it to end. But at least I wasn’t dead by the hands of my father that night.

Mum’s gone for the week; it’s good for her because she gets to play lawn bowls, but it’s not good for my siblings and I because we’re left at home with Dad. I hate being left alone with him, he drinks more and becomes even more unbearable. Mum can put a stop to his aggressiveness when she’s home, but leaving us means she’s leaving us alone with it. This night is particularly bad, Dad is in a really bad mood and has been yelling all night. My sister and I escape to our room to avoid it. We sit on her bed, but Dad hasn’t finished with us yet. He opens the sliding door and he continues yelling, my sister gets really upset. When Dad leaves, she pushes the sliding door as hard as she can in an attempt to slam it, but Dad’s still not finished. He turns to yell some more and the door slams into him. His head cracks open. Blood pours from above his eyebrow, down his face, around his eye. He’s so angry. He’s, quite literally, seeing red. He kicks out at my sister, kicking her between her neck and shoulder, and she’s flung into the door of the wardrobe next to the bed, before falling down the gap between the wardrobe and bed. I sit there silently, I’m in shock. I can’t believe what just happened. Dad looks so scary, with his face covered in blood. I hesitantly suggest that he should go to the hospital, he tells me to not be stupid before stalking off. After making sure my sister is okay, I go to bed, huddle under my blanket, crying, shaking, wishing for it to end. But at least Mum got to enjoy her week away.

I’m thirteen and playing on my laptop. It’s a good distraction because my family is falling apart; my oldest sister has quit school and moved out at 16 and is now living with people who do drugs, and she is possibly doing them too. Mum cries every night for her, but tonight, Mum’s at work. I get a break from my broken family. Dad walks into the kitchen and tells me to go and have a shower. I don’t want to, it’s 10pm and I’m about to go to bed, I want to shower in the morning because it wakes me up. I’m thirteen now, I don’t need to be told what to do, so I tell him no. Dad doesn’t like this, and the newest argument unfolds. Like usual, he’s drunk, his eyes are bloodshot, he yells, but I stand my ground. I want to shower in the morning. “Get out!” he says, and I stop. Surely he’s not saying what I think he’s saying just because I don’t want to shower? I tell him no again, but he screams it, “GET OUT!”. What else am I meant to do? I leave the house. I’m wearing tiny pajama shorts and I have no shoes on. I don’t live in a safe town. I’m probably going to get killed or worse. How could he kick his own daughter out in a situation like this? I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m scared and alone. I reach the end of my driveway, I still don’t know what to do. Should I walk to Mum’s work and tell her what’s happened? That’s the safer option, she only works five minutes away. Should I walk the half an hour to my sister’s not-so-safe drug-filled house and stay the night there? It’s not safe to walk through the town, but it’s what I settle on. Just as I take my first step onto the pavement, Dad appears at the front door and yells at me to get back inside. I refuse, he can’t just kick me out and then tell me to come back, but ultimately, fear of the night sends me back inside my house. I don’t talk to him. I go to bed, huddle under my blanket, crying, shaking, wishing for it to end. But at least I didn’t have to shower that night.

The life of a fourteen year old sucks, my life is hell everywhere I go, I can’t escape it. I’m in a really dark place, and my best friend, the one person that makes me feel any good about my life, is soon moving inter-state. My left arm is riddled with deep cuts that probably needed medical attention, because it helps me cope with the pain. Somehow, Mum finds out, she forces me to show her my arm. She’s horrified; my entire arm is covered in cuts, there isn’t an inch of skin that’s intact. Mum’s horror quickly becomes anger. She calls me an idiot. She asks what people will think when they see all these scars. She tells me I’m going in the same direction as my oldest sister. For the first time in my life, I’m grounded. I’m to come straight home after school and I’m not allowed out on the weekends. She can’t do this. This is the last weekend my best friend will be here before she moves, we’d arranged to have a sleep over all weekend, I can’t miss my opportunity to say goodbye. Mum doesn’t care, I should have thought of that before I cut up my arm. She hardly talks to me for the rest of the week, that is, until I don’t come home from school one day. She rings and rings but I don’t answer, so she sends a text asking where the hell I am. I tell her I’m at my best friend’s house and I won’t be coming home this weekend. She’s so angry at me, but I get my way in the end. That night I go to bed, huddle under my blanket, crying, shaking, wishing for it to end. But at least I got to say goodbye to my best friend.

These are just a few of the memories from my childhood that have helped me in accepting that my parents didn’t treat me right throughout my childhood. At the time, it seemed unfair, but they were in control so it must be normal, but now that I’m older I know that none of this was appropriate at all. When I reflect on these memories, I can see why I struggle with being assertive, why I feel so much shame around my emotions, why I feel like a burden, why I feel unwanted. It wasn’t until I started attending therapy that I was able to see my childhood for what it was – emotionally abusive, something I still haven’t entirely accepted even now. It’s a concept that makes me feel guilty, because I know my parents love me. They’re not bad people, even if they haven’t always been the best parents – they did the best they could (though thanks to my psychologist I now know that doesn’t mean what they did is okay). Last week I sat in my therapy session feeling like my whole world had just imploded. My good old psych had just opened a door that I’m still not sure I was ready to open (so thank you for the many internal conflicts!) by asking what should have been a simple enough question, “how do you know they love you?”. It made me stop and think – how did I know? I could think of reasons that show my dad loves me, but I was at a complete standstill when it came to my mum. This woman who had never initiated affectionate hugs, kisses or ‘I love you’s. This woman who had only said “I told you this wouldn’t work out” when I went looking for support from her after things blew up with the toxic person in my house. This woman who outright denied the possibility of me having depression in my childhood because I was always ‘bubbly’. This woman who claims that my father wasn’t abusive because my sisters and I ‘baited’ him into reacting. “I feel like you’ve just given me an existential crisis,” I told my psych, because holy shit, I’ve been emotionally abused my whole life. It felt like I was just learning this now, even though it’s something I’ve been coming to terms with for months. I’m beginning to link how my parents treated me as major influences in several of the negative aspects about my life. I struggle with being open about my feelings because this wasn’t accepted in my childhood, if I expressed any negative emotions I would be criticised; I often feel like a burden when I talk about my issues, because there was no one in my childhood who cared to listen; I feel unwanted, because it’s never felt like my own family particularly liked me; I can’t stand up for myself or be assertive, because any time I tried I would be shut down and treated like the bad guy. Then there are other issues that have formed because of these issues – I feel like everybody would be better off if I was dead, I feel like a failure, I struggle with perfectionism and always need to maintain a good appearance. I can now see how it’s all related to the emotional abuse I suffered in my childhood. I think something that a lot of people don’t realise is just how much influence parents have on their children and who they become later in life. I don’t think people realise just how much impact a parent’s words and actions can have on their children. My parents so heavily influenced me into believing that I’m messed up, broken, and a failure at life, and it’s taken years for me to realise what it is that’s caused me to feel like this. It’s so heavily ingrained in us that we can’t talk badly about our parents, that when a child tries to, they’re ignored, as was often the case for me. People don’t realise the lasting effects that abusive parents have on their children, it’s often normal that abused children go on to become the abuser’s themselves. I was so terrified of this happening, that I would end up like my parents, that I wondered if I should even have children of my own. But I’m slowly beginning to accept that I’m not like my parents, and I’m breaking the cycle. I have learned from my parents, but I’ve learned what not to do. I’m going to end this post with a quote that has helped me in learning how my parents’ have affected me: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

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3 thoughts on “How my parents influenced my mental health”

      1. Yes, it sure does Kate. But I’m determined not to let it define me, or for all that shit to control my life! It’s taken so much from me already! Fuck those who’ve abused me and fuck depression! I’m gonna fight on! Lots of hard days, but I’m practicing what I’ve learned, everyday! XX

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