1971 One of my father’s letters survived from this year.
I am even more reluctant to write about the opening of 1971 when I became mentally ill. Now I can see that I was in a dangerous place but also now I can see that it was perhaps the most formative period of these early years and though I have lived through some truly terrible times since, none were as difficult .Many times I have told myself, ’This is awful, but not as awful as …’ With little self-awareness or sense of self-determination I was only dimly aware of choice ; I had no one to help me and no tools with which to help myself …no words. Perhaps for this reason I think I have spent the rest of my life trying to understand myself and those around me.
Only one of my father’s letters survived from much later during this year and it reflects the happiness/ calm after the storm. I never opened my heart to my parents or felt that I could look to them for support … I knew that I would be told to cheer up.
My life had been taking a dip for quite some time and I was lost. Dave ( the poet ex-boyfriend) one day invited me to join him walking in Wales. I went and while we made our way through a forest he offered me a tab of LSD and I took it. Initially everything was exquisitely beautiful –I had never seen such beauty but later on the return journey when the train pulled into the station I was terrified. I can’t remember how I got home but I do remember the terror. Time became totally disjointed and I found myself cowering under the bathroom sink with no memory of how I got there. The next day the terror had gone but not its memory or the sense of being completely at the mercy of the drug. I became reclusive and obsessed with the need to know why I was alive…to find some meaning. Outwardly for weeks I continued as though ‘normal.’ I signed on, went out to Wales with John and Paddy, spent time with Dave and hosted afternoon teas with Henry but my heart wasn’t in it. Sheila was my last remaining woman friend in Liverpool but her marriage was in trouble Sheila and Paul were working anyway and had small children. I spent increasing amounts of time in my room unable to motivate myself. I felt like a black hole and was sure that I would tumble down into it…nothingness. Eventually I couldn’t hear. Paul spoke to me but his words came from far away. One day in the street I fell over, terrified of the outside. I knew that I was alone.
When I was small I did not receive good enough mothering. In front of others my mother was warmer but children know. Touch has always been important to me and I was touched /gripped harshly, pushed harshly down into my cot when I had night terrors; never touched tenderly. Chris is three years older than me and I can still remember the eons of time I spent alone when he was at school. Mam was always busy and my interruptions were an annoyance. A therapist once told me that I had an air about me of having learned very young that we are all alone. My father was always trying to keep those dark clouds at bay and would have been horrified by this depressed Joy. Mam was harsh with me because her upbringing had been very severe.
One late Spring weekend while staying out in Pantasaph, Wales with Paddy and John I went for a walk to the coast. I was wearing wellies, I often did. The walk to the sea was filled with panic…the hedges pressed in on me and I was terrified of the open spaces. I had no plan. When I arrived at the estuary the tide was out, exposing the mud flats. I kept on walking and became engrossed in getting through the mud. It was difficult to make any progress and far out in the estuary a welly got stuck. When I tried to take another step it stayed stuck and for a moment I couldn’t move. The sucking sound when I tried to take another step made me laugh and I realised that I hadn’t laughed for weeks. I also realised that I had forgotten to feel afraid, having been wholly absorbed in making progress through the mud. I made my muddy way back to the shore. On the way home I decided that the way in was out and that for me meaning could be found through engaging with the world. I was not afraid when I walked back to the house.
During all the dark weeks I had not been entirely idle, I’d been applying for many teaching jobs and courses. When I returned to my flat I redoubled my efforts and sent out many more applications. I was accepted for the art degree at Newcastle University and at the art college there but sadly both courses were longer than three years which ruled out the possibility of a grant. I applied to study English at Liverpool and for many summer jobs abroad. In one week, just before Easter, I received three letters. One offered me a place to study English at Liverpool University, one, a post teaching for a term in Kirby and the last offered me a summer job as a barmaid in Davos, Switzerland. Much of my precious dole money had been spent on postage ; the last three stamps were stuck onto acceptance letters.
It turned out that Derek in the top flat at No 28 worked near Kirby and could give me a lift most of the way to the new teaching job. It was with a class of juniors but I didn’t care, I was overjoyed to be working and busy; I had a future to look forward to. After Derek dropped me off I had to catch a bus some of the way and my work was cut out trying to decide where to get off. Kirby was a bleak place with uniform tower blocks and housing clustered around centres of one shopping street and community facilities. Much of it had been vandalised and every shopping street with its metal grill shop fronts looked the same . My class was housed in a prefab. The children were aged eight and great fun . The day I left I was overwhelmed by gifts …ragged stemmed roses obviously torn out of front gardens and half full bottles of smelly this and that probably stolen from big sisters.
Derek said he was leaving. I was very keen to move and took his top floor flat. The ceilings were lower but the views over Liverpool were wonderful…and I immediately commandeered the big room. I was very happy…Davos next.
I had thirteen changes of bus, boat and train to get up to Davos. The last train was a short hop involving two stops. At the penultimate stop someone stole my suitcase so when I arrived all I possessed was my dress [a classy hot pants dress], my wedge sandals and my handbag. The owner of the Davos Platz Sports Hotel was at the station to meet me. I started work the next day and for four days wore my dress under my uniform and hobbled around on my wedges. My suitcase was found in the gents toilet down the line on the Thursday. At the hotel they worked me hard but I didn’t mind …I was determined to go out into life and not disappear inwards.
Returning to Liverpool I decorated the flat and thought about tenants. Dave moved in temporarily and I rented out a room to Ruth. This turned out to be a mistake since she was so unbalanced and needy her moods overshadowed the flat; we could tell what kind of evening was in store by the slamming of doors. Eventually I had to ask her to leave and the day she left I came home to find my room trashed.
If I hadn’t met Bridget then I wouldn’t have met Dave and he introduced me to Sonia. He was moving out so she replaced him and she too became a lifelong friend. John, another English student replaced Ruth. It was a busy and happy arrangement.
The English course was something of a disappointment …I found it very dry. However, I had friends. At my First year English cheese and wine ‘do’ I met Krystyna ( we are still friends.) It was so good to find women friends who lived close by .It hasn’t been that easy for me to make female friends because I often feel threatened by women, feeling more at ease with men. Now I had friends of both sexes and was happy and motivated. Spending time with my old friends Henry, Paddy and John was different …That terrible sense of detachment I experienced in the Spring had gone and I felt engaged in all my friendships so life was rich indeed.
In this letter my father refers to my swimming and my pupil. I began going for a swim in the university pool early each morning and one day jokingly referred to my swimming club. Word spread and people began asking me if they could join. To make some extra money I was also doing a little private tuition.
My Dear Joy,
Sunday morning , and still your letter unwritten-I must be slipping! But truth to tell, I seem to have been so busy completing the kitchen decorating. Ran out of paint, got to The Hollow and found I’d got a pancake flat tyre. Took it down on Saturday morning and thought I’d mended it then found I’d got another-then another (three)and that didn’t improve my temper. The cup final in the afternoon and then an hour later off to a concert in Melton Mowbury. They’d got a flower festival in the fine old church nearby and I’ve never seen anything so elaborate and pretty before. There was actually a garden laid out on one side with peas ( in flower), carrots and lettuce growing in a large bed of peat and soil-I’d never thought it possible-in a church.
Friday was a miserable wet day. Yesterday had improved a little for mam’s outing with The Guild though still had an odd heavy shower-but it was much warmer. Oh! I forgot . On my way to get the paint I called in to put my vote in for the labour bloke. Didn’t think much of either candidate –one a thick head and the other a big head so preferred the thick head as a the lesser of the two evils. I’m sick to death of politics anyway. Over the years I’ve found there is no progress or getting anywhere at all and just a waste of time and I’ve little enough of that to spare. Instead I’ve made my policy to vote , first as a duty, and secondly for the candidate better fitted for the stewardship, irrespective of party, and if there’s anything sounder than that I don’t know it.
Well! It was good to get your letter and many thanks. Another cheery one too. You seem to have been getting around quite a lot .and there’s always your cosy little flat to come home to. It’s very evident the time and work you have put into it- it must indeed be a snug little nest and I’d just love to pop in and see for myself. Perhaps when the opportunity arises I’ll do just that, and I can tell you it’s a source of comfort to us all to know how nicely you have settled and as things are today you are indeed fortunate. At university I do hope that your efforts in reading up will have their own reward and there’s always the well-being at the end of work well done, though how you manage into the wee small hours I just don’t know. In lighter vein I enjoyed reading of your sporting at the baths. Learning to drive now eh! It must be fun and exercise in such palatial surroundings too.
Well, must hurry to post this –Auntie Sylvia is coming for tea. Meanwhile the best of luck to you. Let’s be hearing more cheery accounts from you, especially of your swimming progress and that of your pupil-that was a feather in your cap. Love and Safe Keeping –Still all in one piece, Dad.