JK Rowling, Jim Carrey, Hugh Laurie are just a few stars who have suffered with depression. It can hit us unexpectedly or develop over time.
Mine developed over time. Crept over me like a fungus.
She had fads. Obesity in children had reached the headlines in the early 90s, and she was determined I wasn’t going to become one of them and put me on the Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh Diet.
I was five years old.
A normal, healthy little girl who weighed barely fifty pounds (3.5 stone). She bought exercise videos and insisted I did them with her. If I didn’t work hard enough she’d cry.
If it wasn’t for Dad’s stabilising influence I’m sure I’d have issues with my weight today. Though some would say I did have a poor body image. I wore dark colours, and high-necked blouses, and tons and tons of makeup. When I was dressed in my uniform of black and thick makeup I ceased to be the vulnerable and hurting Valerie, and instead I became a cutthroat business woman.
I can remember exactly the day my life went wrong: August 17th 1994. It was Wednesday, and half-way through the school summer holidays. I had a new baby brother, and Mum had transferred her irrational behaviour onto him, so for a few short, sweet months I was free.
Dad persuaded her that we all go to the funfair that was travelling the region that fatal day. Telling her, I deserved a treat.
It became a nightmare.
Sean, my brother, was normally a good baby, but he wouldn’t stop crying. Mum was fussing, but Dad chose that day not to pander to her. During their row and Sean’s crying, I became separated from them.
I was eight years old and terrified. The funfair was crowded and noisy, and no one noticed my plight—except for an old lady who beckoned me over. I followed her up a few steps into a caravan.
A fortune teller’s caravan.
My mind is slightly blank after that. I’m having counselling now. I can remember her telling me I was cursed, and that the curse would follow me until everyone I loved would die.
I don’t remember Dad finding me, all I know was that I was taken home and Mum, as ever, was fussing was over Sean. I was completely ignored, not because she was angry with me but because Sean was taking all of her attention. I think Dad was determined that her obsessions wouldn’t affect Sean’s childhood like it had mine. Boy, did he choose the wrong day to put his foot down! They argued. Sean cried, and I stewed alone in my room.
Then, that night, Sean died.
The sheer horror of it all made me forget about the ‘witch’ in the caravan. I had to forget to look after Mum. Dad withdrew and was no longer the stabilising influence I needed. He became a shadow. A thin, gaunt shadow with a sickly pale complexion and hollows beneath his eyes. Mum became more fixated on health. Vitamins and the latest health pill were often hidden in my food. If I rebelled, she would cry and Dad would just pat my head and say, ‘Just do what your mother wants.’
So, for the next eight years I bent to her will. It was easier that way.
When I was sixteen, she committed suicide. We could see it coming, Dad and I. Probably why we let her get away with so much, had we not, her death would have been sooner. Dad had a heart attack a week later. He died too. I was devastated. My nan, his mother, came to live with me but she was crushed by his death. I think I felt I couldn’t grieve because I didn’t want to upset her. But, anyway, she died a year later. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest. God, that sounds awful.
At seventeen, I was all alone in the world, and I decided being alone was the best thing for me. A lot less painful, anyway. But you can’t stop teenage hormones! I met a boy called Matthew. He was everything to me. But then I began getting strange dreams, and for the life of me, I could never remember them when I was awake. My sleep was disturbed, and I’d be lying if I said it never affected me.
I had a strange notion that the dreams were linked to Matthew with the horrid feeling that something bad was going to happen him. We had a row one night, mainly because I was cranky through lack of sleep, and I told him that I didn’t want to see him any more.
He stormed out, and on his way home he crashed his motorbike. Oh, he survived, thank God, but I was convinced it wasn’t fatal because I’d finished with him. I think he was expecting I would rush to his house with grapes, chocolate and apologises, but I didn’t. I blanked him. We were over, and guess what?
The dreams stopped.
I had a few short-term relationships after that. They didn’t last; I didn’t let them.
Read the rest of my story in the novel: The Fall of the Misanthrope: I bitch therefore I am. Available in most stores:
It’s funny, heat-rendering, and so true for many suffering the infamous Black Dog. It was therapeutic writing it, but it’s not a story just about me. Lex Kendal was a big-headed playboy with too much money and an ego the size of The Statue of Liberty.
I guess we both went on a journey in those hectic few months of meeting.
The Fall of the Misanthrope: I bitch therefore I am is cheaper than the energy pills I used to pop.
Thanks for reading