“What are you so happy about? People like you don’t get to be happy in life.’

Heather’s #MadCovidDiaries – 5th of October 2020

Content warning: Abuse

One day in my teenage years, I came home excited. I’d been at work experience and I returned brimming full of stories of this new world of work. In this world, people joked and turned the radio up and wore cool shoes, just like my mates in the sixth form. They drove cars. They also got a payslip at the end of each month. My newfound world of work had possibilities.

My then boyfriend was less than thrilled to hear my stories. He said:

“What are you so happy about? People like you don’t get to be happy in life.’

I still remember the way my stomach turned at the disgust on his face. Deep down, I believed he was right. What excited me about work experience was that it was nothing like my profoundly unhappy home, my deeply unhappy abusive boyfriend. My work experience bubble burst.

It’s my first therapy session this week. This is supposed to be a sort of planning session. If I had a clear idea of what I wanted to work on when I was referred for therapy in June 2018, it’d be handy to articulate that in this weeks phonecall. My profoundly unhappy abusive family life is well documented, the therapist has the paperwork from the assessment done by their colleague, a paper timeline crammed with traumatic moments and a geneogram that reads like a tragic channel 5 family saga documentary (alcoholism, suicide, abandonment, abuse.) My therapist can see that then boyfriend made a prediction of sorts, I did not ‘get’ to be happy after all.

I suppose what I am after in therapy is to write a new story. The old story was that I was a bad daughter, the unwanted kid holding a fractured family together. After a breakdown at Uni, I became the mad daughter instead.

I was given lots of labels and regaled with terrible prognoses. People like me don’t work, can’t work, best to leave university to focus on treatment. People like me are unstable, labile, bipolar marriages tend to fail. People like me are promiscuous, impulsive and we make poor parents, mood stabiliser treatment is dependent upon having an IUD inserted. These prognoses were so absolute, ‘always’ and ‘never’, they were fairytale curses from beardy old consultants who would swoop in imperiously and then disappear leaving their pronouncements ringing in my ears. Mad people don’t get to be happy, except in our own way, a sort of second rate tribute to the happiness enjoyed by normal folks. Life, we are told, isn’t about happiness. It’s about stability or maybe it’s about compliance or perhaps gratitude. A flat affect is for life and not just for Christmas. Best accept that and get on with things, eh?

I didn’t like this story. It made my stomach turn like my then boyfriends story had done. If I believed this story to be true then I had to be willing to ‘accept’ my illness and that would mean giving up the possibilities of my twenties, getting a degree, travelling, going for a promotion, having baby. I’d be giving up on happiness. The thing is, I feared that these were experiences meant for other people. Normal people, happy people, good people.

I’m 36. I got a wildcard in the end, I did find a lovely man. He thinks happiness, the things that excite me, matter a great deal. He likes to make me happy, which is both sweet and squirmingly uncomfortable for me to accept. 
But when I disclosed the memories of abuse a few years ago, the doctors story about the ‘mad daughter’ fell apart. No doctor wants to think about child abuse, thanks. Once they were fascinated by the Risperidone lactation. They wanted to see mood charts and make a care plan to assess my risk. My suicidal ideation was a mystery to crack. Before it was fun to puzzle over, why is mad daughter so mad when she rattles with all the recommended pharmaceuticals? Why is she crying all the way during these appointments? 
Now I am no longer ‘mad daughter’, I am in fact a sad daughter. Sadness has no long term clinical evidence base, no treatment pathway can ameliorate the rage in a daughter whose future was stolen from her. Now the crying is just awkward for the doctors. I will say that sad daughters are not patient with beardy old consultants and their conflagration of fairytale curses. Up with this old story we will not put.

So I need a new story. That’s what I’ll say to this new therapist. This story needs to be big enough to fit the truth of my past. Beyond that it also needs possibilities, jokes, music to dance to. My new story needs to be a vehicle to somewhere else. I need to be able to climb into my story and feel the accelerator under my foot. I need a paycheck, a story generous enough to include possibilities and happiness. People like us, sad people who survived something awful, well, I know that we deserve all that happiness. We deserve all the excitement that the future can bring.

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