My mum was in her early 40s when some dramatic changes became apparent. I have kept a photo of her in which she has a big, saggy belly emerging. It was a look she hated and was so out of keeping with her svelte, elegant and active self. She kept dieting, and worked physically hard but the low hanging, softly bulging belly did not recede. It made her feel even worse about herself. Her personal beauty had always been a protective shield, a defending wall, which hid the messed up and frantic child beneath.
I was only 15 but I sensed all of this. She had never really ‘let me in’ but I knew she was tormented by bad dreams, extreme ideas and paranoia. The outside world was a threat. People wanted to steal her things. People were dirty, lazy, liars, left wing, spoke incorrectly, didn’t hold their knife and fork properly , were rude, (mostly this applied to my choice of friends and sometimes to me). Her mental view of the world was that it was scary and not to be trusted.
Despite all this, she made sure we were fed properly every day, clothed mostly by her genius with thrift, and a sewing needle. We lived in a very tidy home and her standards wore her down. Her focus was homemaking in the day but mostly obeying and adoring my father. She always made sure he got everything his way. His needs were top of her list even when I was old enough to know she was bored and wanted more freedom and variety.
Then her temper (which had always been erratic and scary) became unlivable with. Her jealousy, mood swings and sometimes, what felt like downright hatred of me, were very damaging to my self confidence and our relationship. Her mental health could never be questioned, because she was always, always, right. She’d never been easy to get close to – now I tiptoed around her even more. She was not a woman I could confide in, or trust.
At aged 18, I fell deeply in love. He wasn’t what she would have chosen for me (because, bless her memory, she was an outright snob) but she was also insanely jealous of me, beating a door down once, where he and I were hoping for some privacy: screaming at me and hurling insults. Half an hour later – she was once again, the locked down, aloof and perfectly mannered middle class woman. It was never referred to. I found out she was secretly taking sedatives which her twin sister had given to her (Patsy also died of breast cancer a year after my mum) and from 6 pm every day in the week, she was sipping Martinis before getting her ‘face on’ to go to the local with my dad. She knew how to anesthetise, for sure.
She died at age 51. The big saggy belly, despite trips to the GP (who assured her it was ‘just her age’) turned out to be grapefruit sized cancerous growths on her ovaries. They erupted when she was visiting her sister in Australia and only then was the extent of her illness revealed. She of course, had never said a word.
What was happening in my mother has – without my knowing it – driven me for answers to the questions I asked after nursing her and watching her illness take her away from us day by painful day.
I now believe that my mother’s illness, while there was a potential for it in her genes (my cousin also died from ovarian cancer and we know she has the BRCA1/2 gene defect) was also driven by her environment. I don’t just mean her home, or her food choices – I mean her mental wellbeing and her ability to self-regulate, ask for help and manage stress.
My mother had a secret need to express herself as a fiery, active, creative beauty, This was held firmly down by her beliefs, conditioning and the expectations she had created for herself. My father allegedly, did not want her going to work (“It would look as though we needed the money”). We did. My father – and by now my mum – were drinking every night and all weekend. They were considered to be fun, social party animals – which they were – but the prison of her life had her trapped and I knew her spirit longed for more.
Could her cancer have been avoided? How can I say? I can say that I have been in a couple of genetic research programmes, donated my blood and time to help solve some of the mysteries but I’ve always believed it’s my mind set and my own determination not to let my self expression be forced to wither, that has helped me stay well. I have shared this in every research programme I’ve been part of.
My hero, Dr Bruce Lipton, the Harvard cellular biologist, author and luminary (“The Biology of Belief”) says that the amount of DNA responsible for illness is about 1%. Everything else is mind stuff.
I see that at mid life, the combination (about which I have written widely) of Kundalini energy rising up, and the opening of the Chiron gate allowing the influx of more Uranian/Saturnian energy down, is potent. If this annoys you or means nothing, just think of petrol being poured on an oil leak that is already alight. That’s what I see.
Nature just wants to flippin’ well expand and when that force is restricted – well, try keeping a stallion away from a mare that’s in season. You’ll see what I mean.
My friend Katie Phillips has recently blogged about her mother’s suicide at age 49, which she feels, was possibly related to the stress of unsupported perimenopause.
If you, or a woman you know, is feeling lost: mentally unwell or acting eratically, please do not dismiss it as just ‘her hormones’ or ‘her time of life’. The push, the energetic impulse, to come to terms with life at mid way – to deal with unresolved trauma and pain, is likely to be driven by hormones – but it is not a random ‘thing’. It is not disassociated from the woman’s lived experience – it is something that does need support and proper guidance.
I know a lot of dark secrets now, about my mother’s early life. She would be shocked and embarrassed that I do. How I wish that she had lived in an age when discussion and admission of her pain, her confusion and her fears was acceptable.
Sure, she looked OK: fabulous, even. She was beautifully turned out at every moment of the day. Certainly, she lived was in what seemed a safe and secure environment. But underneath that carefully presented surface was a heaving mass of pain, fear and rage which eventually turned into a heaving mass of cancerous cells.
My mother, Maureen Bluebell Bennett (15.4.1929 – 25.1.1981) is on the right hand side, just a few short weeks after her partial hysterectomy in Australia, in 1976. One ovary was partially left and her fallopian tubes were also left intact. She had to have her procedures completed in the UK, for reasons of finance, I believe. There was a long delay between the two operations. Her best friend (in the purple sweater) also died of ovarian cancer. RIP sweet ladies, I am hoping you are free to be YOU now.
https://debsdevries.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/woman_ill.jpeg475400Debs de Vrieshttps://debsdevries.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/logo-sig-300x92.pngDebs de Vries2018-10-08 15:47:192018-10-10 16:51:08Menopause, mental illness and my mum.