The Truth Is Uncovered
Letters Exchanged with Mum’s Family
In 2014, following Mum’s admission into a care home, I decided to investigate her condition and the treatment she had received. I sent letters to her family, asking them for any information they could give me about Mum’s illness. A cousin replied, saying that Mum had been in Winwick Hospital, a psychiatric hospital near Warrington, in the 1960s. I had not known about this. My mum’s sister and her daughter ignored my first letter, so I sent a second, after which I received a horrible reply from my aunt in which she tried to:
- Avoid explaining the history of Mum’s mental illness.
- Blame my father for the actions he took with my mother.
- Criticise my father for committing suicide.
- Blame me for Mum and I staying in Scotland after my dad’s death.
- Blame me for bruising Mum when I was restraining her.
- Avoid the fact that Mum’s family had done nothing to support us.
I was amazed by the anger, lies and hatred in her letter. For years Mum’s sister had done nothing to help, but now she had written a letter blaming everyone else and trying to avoid the truth. I wrote a detailed letter replying to every point she had made, telling her exactly what I thought of her and finishing all contact. It is obvious to me that the anger in the letter from my aunt was because she knew I was about to discover the truth. I was right.
I then wrote to Mum’s GP in Widnes asking to access her medical notes, which I subsequently did. These pointed me to other hospitals which I also contacted asking for information.
Mum’s Medical Notes
In spring 2014 I accessed Mum’s medical records, which contained hundreds of pages of notes about her condition and the care she has received. A summary of those notes and other key information is as follows.
The first reference to my mother’s illness is a doctor’s note from 1961, which records a conversation with Mum’s sister, when my aunt said Mum became mentally unwell at the age of 20-21. A doctor’s note also dated 1961 says Mum is under the care of a psychiatrist in Winwick Hospital. Hospital discharge papers from 1963 say Mum spent six months in Winwick Hospital, during which time she received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which was a treatment for mentally ill patients involving electric shocks being given to the brain. In 1966 Mum is formally diagnosed as having schizophrenia and is prescribed anti-psychotic medication to suppress her symptoms.
My parents met and got married in 1970. They settled in Thingwall on the Wirral and I was born in November 1973. Mum’s mental illness was again mentioned in 1974, months after my birth, when I was cared for by relatives from Dad’s family.
We moved to Scotland in 1975 and there were notes from medical professionals near Oban. In 1980 there are numerous entries from the local doctor’s surgery and a psychiatric hospital in Lochgilphead. Those entries all state that Mum was schizophrenic with affective disorder, which means she had mood swings. Later that year there were several entries saying the doctor had received letters from my father saying my mother was unwell and asking for help.
In 1986 a doctor’s note mentioned my father’s suicide, but did not raise any concerns about Mum or I. A doctor’s note from 1990 describes bruising I had left on Mum being raised as a concern by relatives. The same note describes Mum defecating in a bucket, emptying her poo into the kitchen sick, mashing her poo with her fingers and pushing it down the plug-hole. This entry is a statement of what happened but does not raise any concerns or make any suggestions.
In 1991 Mum moved to Widnes, so her medical notes contained entries from medical professionals in Widnes and the surrounding area.
I was amazed to discover Mum had mentioned to a doctor in 1995 that she was feeling suicidal. Her notes then said that in 1999 Mum had attempted suicide with a drug overdose, but it had not worked. I found it incredible that I had not been told this information. The medical notes continued by describing the time in 1999 when Mum was found at night wandering on a motorway, after which she was sectioned. There are two notable entries from the psychiatric unit which state “there was more than one occasion of hostility and verbal aggression towards staff”, and “she was verbally threatening and staff believe she may become physically violent”.
Following Mum’s discharge from the psychiatric unit in 2000 she was regularly visited by social workers. A note says “Health visitors have expressed concerns for their own safety because Valerie opens the door holding a screwdriver. Decision made that from now on staff will always visit in pairs” This was also new information to me. From 2000 onwards there were numerous entries describing Mum drinking too much alcohol and various hospital admissions.
Letters Exchanged with Dad’s Family
In order to gain a balanced opinion of what had happened, I also wrote to Dad’s family and asked them various questions. This brought some interesting information to light.
Dad’s family said that prior to my birth there was no indication of Mum’s mental health problems, though apparently she could be very quiet at times. As far as they were aware, the problems occurred after I was born.
I learned more about the times when Dad’s family had looked after me when I was a baby. Apparently Mum’s behaviour had been extremely erratic. She had not been providing adequate care for me, and she had been ignoring advice from medical professionals. She had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, so some of Dad’s family looked after me, which included increasing my food intake and providing affection. Apparently Dad asked Mum’s family for help, but they refused, giving a variety of reasons why it would be inconvenient for them to look after me.
I also discovered more about Dad’s decision to leave his sales job and move to Scotland to become a gardener. His sales job in England involved travel and sometimes he had to spend nights away from home. He was worried about Mum’s ability to care for me when he was away, so he decided to find a job that would allow him to work close to our home. He also thought that moving to a quiet place would help Mum to relax, which was why he took the gardener’s job offering a cottage as part of the job. Presumably this is also why Dad declined the job offer from his friend Bob, when I was about ten years old.
A Chat With Mum
As a final stage in my investigation, I decided to ask Mum about her attempted suicide. I visited her, had a relaxed chat about usual stuff, and then I quietly mentioned that I had found out. Mum obviously felt awkward, though she was able to tell me that in 1999 she had decided she was ready to die, so she had taken a lot of pills and lain down on her bed. She had expected to die, but when she woke up she realised the attempted suicide had not worked, so she decided to carry on with life. I asked her how she thought I would feel if she had committed suicide, but she avoided the question and started to become defensive. I decided not to push it any further.
A Final Word
I find it very sad that my dad has committed suicide and my mum has attempted suicide. I find the behaviour of some of my relatives to be absolutely disgusting.
I am extremely disappointed that Mum and Dad were not better supported by numerous health and care professionals.
I cannot change my past, but I do want to improve the future for young carers who are having difficult times. I also want to show that someone who has had a sad childhood can still have a happy adult life. The second part of my book gives advice for young carers across a range of topics.