My life whilst growing up has been marked by different degrees of brutalisation from my parents, both of whom beat me at various stages. My Dad’s speciality was to whack me round the head; he wouldn’t care whether or not he broke my glasses. My mother would tan my backside with a brush, or slap my legs. When I was five and in the bath, my father beat me and knocked me unconscious, resulting in a hospitalisation. My feeling about this is that he would have paid the doctors off, seeing that he had a secondhand furntiture shop just over the road. He would have paid them off so that the authorities were not involved and the police were not called.
At about the age of five or six I became depersonalised, so that I too began to hate the little boy that I still was; I began to regard my soul as an “it” to be disguised and my inner personality as a “thing” rather than a person.
I remember getting my first crop of suicidal thoughts when I was about seven or eight. Even today I would think this was quite rare. I first remember having these thoughts when Mother took me to the cinema; she would sit with me in the circle – I used to count the minutes and want her to talk to me within three minutes, otherwise I would fantasise about chucking myself off the balcony and being found a tangled wreck on the stalls below. I used to think that this would teach them a lesson. I did not think that I would be killing all of myself and that I would not be allowed to come back on this earth again – I used these thoughts as a comforting ritual for the fact that I was ignored and to comfort myself for my parents hatred of me. What it is to be hated by one’s parents at seven or eight years old is beyond description.
My thoughts and feelings were not so much a precursor to suicide as a comfort blanket. If I couldn’t get out of it at least I could think of getting out of it. Along with the thoughts of suicide as a comfort blanket were the thoughts and feelings I had when a teenager of how nice it would be to murder my parents – I did not have the means or the opportunity but again the thoughts were a comfort blanket.
I really thought that my school days were something of a disaster zone – despite being in the top stream all the way along I never seemed to make any headway. The only subjects that I could appreciate by 5th form stage were English Literature, Economic History and English Language and these were the first three Ordinary Levels which I ever obtained. I don’t think I was a popular boy until I reached the sixth form. All the others were given their house prefect badges about 9 months before I ever was and when I was given one I was like a maniac with the authority which had been granted. I think the rest of them had decent parents; my Dad was the one who had appeared on the front page of the Streatham News for assaulting a police inspector in the execution of his duty. I don’t somehow think I was liked and I think a lot of it was down to my father; they must have thought that he was a yob. He did a lot of drinking and raising hell in the Kennington area whilst I was a studious little boy trying to keep the company of lower middle class kids with brand new pianos and tape recorders, whilst I had to make do in a house with a dodgy two pin system and a ready means of electrocution whenever the fancy might take me.
I remember getting to a point in the sixth form where I just sat on the wall opposite the school and thought of leaving straightaway – I just felt so alienated from the other kids. I thought “What is the point of all of it all” and “If I left now, no-one would really miss me”! I don’t think my colleagues had the faintest idea of the emotional trauma I was going through and the horrible sense of detachment and bifurcation I had from everyone and everything. I just did not belong.
I think what made everything a good deal worse was that my Dad had been up until that point (when I was 19) a complete an utter alcoholic wretch; I remember days and nights when I was a small boy trying to comfort my mother because he was never in the house and when he would come in he was steaming drunk and would be steaming mad as well.
He would never seem to understand anything about my schooling. He would say in a terse sort of way “You must get your levels”. He had no idea what level were in any shape or form. I caught him once when I was 12 saying to my mother “Don’t worry, when he is 15 he will bugger off and you won’t see him again!” I was regarded as someone who would leave school at 15 without anything and just get out of the house. However I managed to beat him for another four years and stay in the house. Even then he was a horror story.
I suppose during my late teenage years I managed to commit suicide in a different way by being rude to teachers and my colleagues in the sixth form; I would detest their authority and try to undermine it and in doing so would undermine myself. At the age of 19 I managed to get work in the Inner London Education Authority but would always be undermining myself; I could never hang on to friendships or relationships and would be attracted to girls who would hit me or who would want to get off with other men in front of me. I went to teacher training college at the age of 22 but was seriously disturbed there because I just did not like anybody and I did not like teaching. I suffered serious depression after I left, with symptoms of anxiety, depression and depersonalisation.
I think my approach to self-annhialation has been a case of messing around with thoughts of it, rather than having any real means and opportunity of doing it, apart from my strange attempts at trying to electrocute myself at the age of 15. I had to have the thoughts to comfort and control the terrible pain that I have gone through with the maniac parents.
The kind of parenting that I have been through has caused me to feel unwanted and unloved all my life: I do not relate well – I get pretty paranoid from time to time and although I do not suffer from active suicidal thoughts most of the time, I do have the occasional one. The last time I had these flashes was when I was training to be an RPI on South West Trains. I was at Woking Station and I felt the loneliest and most depersonalised that I have done for years. The railways can be an awfully lonely and alienating environment and I think that this is why it can be the suicide place of choice for people – most recently a 14 year old took her own life on the station not half a mile from where I live up here in Bitterne.
I did not have to be bullied at school to know what it is to suffer from this dreadful sense of de-realisation, I was bullied all my life by my father who in turn has spent most of his life in an alcoholic stupor; counselling has gone some way to restoring the status quo, even though it is possible that people like me will never get over the sense of de-personalisation and alienation that having such an abusive parent will cause.
That is why I think it is essential that the way we treat our kids must be first and foremost on the mental health agenda and why we must try and stop people becoming depersonalised and alienated within this society. Every tragedy that we see with a juvenile suicide is on the same level as seeing the body of a child washed up on a beach whilst trying to escape Syrian mass murder. I therefore believe that suicide in this country is an issue that we must try and tackle and we must try and stop turning our backs on mental health issues.
Donald Hedges. 6th September 2015.