At 17 I moved out of home. Within a year, my Dad & Step Mum who I previously lived with emigrated to Canada. My Mum lived in Wales. I was alone in London, with the world at my feet. I was ready.
…Or so I thought.
I bought a flat at 18, working in building maintenance. At 21 I fell pregnant; not ideal, unemployment and repossession ensued with me ending up – after lengthy process – in a Housing Association flat.
I refused to become a statistic of another single Mum on benefits.
Then in 1997 Labour got in to government – there was hope!
At this point I decided my career had to work for me. I went from working on a help desk in 1999 to managing engineers, to managing contracts. I did day release university and got qualified.
I started to manage bigger contracts, better contracts, profit margins increasing.
I was bold, brave and very good at my job.
In 10 years I went from part-time admin earning £10k to Projects Director in a multi-million pound engineering company, commanding a salary of £80k a year, managing literally hundreds of people.
I was now married with 3 children aged 13, 4 & 3. My stress levels were through the roof: I was being bullied at work (which most who knew couldn’t fathom) and my soul mate was dying of cancer.
It was a rollercoaster.
My soul mate died, work paid me off in a compromise agreement and then, just as I couldn’t get lower, my husband left.
It’s OK. I’m the breadwinner, I have child care, a cleaner, money… I can do this… NO.
No you can’t, not without a support network, which I didn’t have, I had opted for a career.
I was about to learn the hardest lesson.
I CAN’T DO IT ALL!
I lost 4 stone in as many weeks and never slept, apparently.
I have no recollection of 2011/12.
I still went to work every day, my kids were fed and clothed and attended school – in no small part thanks to my long-suffering teenager.
No one knew.
I saw not a cloud move, not a raindrop fall, didn’t taste or feel anything at all in this time.
I didn’t hear my children laugh or cry and from what I understand behind closed doors I was a vile ball of negativity and bitterness. I’ve no idea how my three beautiful babies coped while all I knew was blackness.
I sold my house, my beloved BMW convertible and got divorced. I started to regain what was missing and came to discover I was moving home.
I moved to Kent, I can’t quite tell you why; I do know rent was cheaper and I was born there which I assume took me back.
The moment I moved I could start to feel the ground under my feet (literally).
I saw I had an old ford Mondeo, my teenager was occupied as much as possible and we should all understand why, I saw my younger children cower from me and I was in so much physical pain it was hard to think.
I couldn’t fathom it… what was happening?
My hands didn’t work properly, I was physically sick most days and getting my children to school was a task. I had to have 4 operations: one on each wrist, one on my bladder and one on my throat. I had also gained a hiatus hernia and degenerative disc disease in my spine, not to mention the complex neurological disorder (nerve problems)…
But I’m bold and brave and very good at my job, I’m respected and established how could this happen?
My Doctor was incredible. I arrived gripping onto his desk, shaking, crying, scared and justifying that I was an intelligent, capable human being but I just needed help.
Please help me.
I went on antidepressants and got to know my children again. Did I mention autism? Yes we are an autism friendly family; not helpful if your Mum is having serious mental health issues.
I tried to go back to work, similar level but local on £60k. I couldn’t hack the pace, people were getting the better of me.
Tried again, still local but less responsibility on £40k.
I can’t EVEN do that.
It’s now 2015 I’ve moved twice and I am just going to have to finally admit I have mental health issues.
My spine is deteriorating, my children are not getting to school on time, my landlord might find out I’m not working and the school might find out I’m not coping.
Depression, anxiety, zero self-esteem and no support network… I’ve got to do this.
The school get involved, leading to a family conference with my family (now in Wales), my ex-husband’s family and my MENTAL HEALTH social worker, with me begging for help.
How does a bold brave person end up crawling so low. I’ll tell you…
By not taking care of the one organ which is bigger than you… your brain!
My landlord did find out I wasn’t working. I was still paying my £1145 a month rent in full but no, he wanted me out.
November 2015; 5 days before my youngest’s 9th birthday my three children and I were evicted, literally on the street. No temporary accommodation available locally, one North London and one in Harlow.
I emptied my home into a van and a garage I had rented. I find different places for all of us to stay.
Only two nights but two scary, lonely long nights.
I get a call. Erith. That’s somewhere I’ve heard of.
Another move but this time it means I’m in the system that offers help. A year later my family are offered a twee little 3 bed council house in the cutest of roads, garden, a downstairs bathroom to accommodate my disability.
I honestly couldn’t have been more grateful and slowly we start to heal.
So here I am in 2018, nearly another decade on from earning £80k with my BMW and two decades from refusing to be a single mum on benefits…
I AM a single Mum, on benefits with a disability to boot.
Would I have been better off with no career?
No, I loved almost every second of it.
Would I have stayed married?
No, I needed support.
Will I actively encourage people to look after their mental health?
EVERY SINGLE DAY!
I’m lucky. I am 43, once again with the world at my feet… it’s a blank canvas… now what is it I want to do?
By Lucy Robinson