We heard from Olivia a few weeks back, when she told us about her condition and the pain she deals with every day. I promised there would be more to tell. This is Olivia’s story, told straight up, without self-pity or self-aggrandising.
Olivia says at one point here that her spirit is not strong. Olivia, I disagree. Readers, this story will make you re-define “problem”; make you remember how lucky you are; and most of all remind you of the extraordinary way in which some people just survive.
Next year, I’ll be 30 years old. Apart from the usual panicking about turning 30, I am starting to wonder if there is something wrong with me for being an eternal singleton.
It’s not like I haven’t dated men, but I just can’t seem to get to the relationship part. There has always been something that gets in the way, or else I run. I have become an expert at shutting down and running. In fact I don’t even really know how to deal with the whole dating process if I’m totally honest.
You might ask, why run? I’m confident that if I was stuck in a room with a shrink they would say that it stems from being disillusioned by my parents’ marriage breakdown. It wasn’t pretty. At all. I was a strange child who loved reading and watching romance films and believed in the happily ever after. But after what happened in my life, the turmoil I feel with regards to marriage is difficult to explain.
I had to live through watching the spirit of the person I most admired, my mum, get crushed to bits. I swear that she died of a broken spirit and I was the pathetic girl who couldn’t be there for her when she most needed someone.
My biggest fear is ending up in a situation like my mum did, and have a man break my spirit, especially as it’s not that strong to start with.
I’m going to have to rewind back through my life to help explain why.
I have one brother and one sister and I am the eldest. My brother and I were born with an inherited disease that can causes a lot of grief to our health and lots of disruptions to our routine and lives. This disruption ranges from check ups every 3 months to every one month depending on the severity of the condition, to being hospitalised anything from 3 to more than 10 times in a year, to being off school or work for up to a month or more at a time due to illness and then having to play catch up.
When I turned 15, our parents’ marriage hit the wall and went downhill, cruise-control style. It wasn’t pretty to watch. We watched our father turn into a brute. On one occasion, I fought to intervene before it was too late. This, needless to say, did not go down well. My mum decided to give him a second chance which did not work out. At the age of 16, I tried to protect my little sister from my father. He disowned me for that, just days before my GCSEs started.
After my father left, things just seemed to cruise completely out of control. With no community or other support made available, our family network broke down in so many ways. We ended up having to move around a lot, and I struggled through my A-levels.
University was no longer an option. I became, in essence, a “carer” for my mum as she stopped believing in the world. To be honest, so did I. I was happy to hide away in whatever dump we lived in, and watch the days go by. By this time my brother was forced to leave us, as we didn’t have enough space or even food for us all. Our “dad” took custody of our sister.
However those three years of hell appeared to just be the beginning.
My sister came back to live with us as she was not happy with “dad” and his new family. On a seemingly bright day that summer my sister and I helplessly watched our mother collapse on the bedroom floor and appear to choke and convulse to death. That was one of the most surreal days of my life and I felt like my heart had been ripped out and stomped to bits.
The saddest part was that she never got to find out that I got my first job that very same day. It was the job she had pushed me into applying for, to get my life back on track.
What followed was weeks of numbly stumbling through routines and necessities.
The next hit was being made homeless and the realisation that I would have to let my sister go back to misery and live with our father, as I was in no position to support her. My brother thankfully came back to live with me and we fought together to get the council to take our case seriously. The next shock was being talked into going to University. At the age of 20, soon to be 21, I still felt like a mature student and wasn’t confident in my ability to fit in.
To my surprise university felt good. I no longer felt isolated from the world and my natural bookworm/geeky qualities kicked back in. Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Through the first year I had to struggle to prove I was an independent student, proving that I had no contact with my father and hence no financial support from him. The next bombshell was having my sister dumped on our doorstep (trust me you don’t want to know how it really happened). It turned out father dearest decided he didn’t want to be a parent to the last member of our family to whom he had a responsibility, so he literally took off with his new one.
On the plus side we were now all together again. It did however mean a serious tightening of belts and struggling even more with bills, etc. The good thing was that I was the sensible one when it came to money. The bad side was that my body couldn’t cope with studying and working, not with my condition.
We found a way to make it work. However my relationship with my sister was deteriorating, as I’d been her sister, and now I was like her mum.
The next big bombshell hit us towards the end of the second semester of second year. My brother contracted meningitis and went from being happy-go-lucky to being collapsed on the floor within hours. Within days, he ended up in a coma with the doctors attempting to take the conversation to the negative end.
I couldn’t handle it and walked out on them. I had a furious and passionate insistence that he would get through it and be okay. Every day I was by his bedside at the crack of dawn and didn’t leave until I was kicked out in the middle of the night. I couldn’t believe something like this was happening again. He slept through his 21st birthday. I would sit by his bedside revising, talking and playing music he liked.
It all paid off, as after a month he woke up.
There was, however a lot more work required to get him back on his feet. I switched back into carer mode. I had to fight to extend my third year placement start date as I needed more time to help him get back on his feet.
Thankfully he did.
I started to struggle more with my health in the third year, and as my fourth and final year began, my brother decided to move out. This only made the cracks in the relationship between my sister and myself more visible, and we fought like cats and dogs all the time. On top of that, the stress and pressure of University took its toll on my health. I missed all the exams from both semesters as I was hospitalised on a number of occasions.
I re-sat, and I got through them and then endured the anxious wait for the marks to come and woohoo… I made it!…through University at least.
So, it’s not without good reason that I was unable to deal with relationships. Between grieving, being a mature student with “dependants” (that’s how I was classed) and a carer I had too many priorities. The men I met either couldn’t understand, or didn’t want to. To top it off I was a naive and inexperienced girl who didn’t even have her first kiss until she was 21 (I think that says it all).
I couldn’t say I partied through University. It was, though, still one heck of an experience. Life goes on, and four years later I’m still single and a workaholic with serious and more persistent health issues. I would however drop everything in an instant if my family or friends needed me.
Does being single make my life of less value compared to someone who is married or has kids? Although I am used to being single, I don’t like feeling alone and there are times when that is exactly how I feel. How do I push myself through the barriers to get to the stage where I am comfortable with being held by a partner? How do I know he’ll stick around?