After unsuccessfully dabbling with kinesiology treatments and more physiotherapy, I began to wonder if the problem might be psychosomatic. As I explored this mind-body concept more fully I stumbled across the work of John E Sarno MD and a condition I had not heard of before called Tension Myositis Syndrome. He explained how chronic back pain can be the result of the mind’s attempt to create a distraction from emotions that they don’t want to expose and have to deal with. How anger and tension hidden deep within the subconscious accumulate due to the demands on our lives to be a good person, push harder, be liked, helpful, make everyone happy, never fail.
This not only explained my mysterious symptoms and the lack of hard evidence of any real ‘disease’, I also recognised myself as being very accurately described in the personality traits of people most likely to suffer from it. Those who suffer with TMS tend to have restrictive personalities, repressing or suppressing emotions such as, rage, anger, aggression and guilt. Although this made perfect sense to me and I knew that I had been seriously pissed off by things in my past, I sincerely thought I had crossed the forgiveness barrier and moved on. Despite this, I figured it couldn’t do any harm to at least investigate the possibility, so off I went to see a psychoanalyst. She told me to write a letter to anyone in my past who I considered might have ‘wronged’ me in some way. Hmmm … where to begin? My sister? My ex-husband? My former boss?
I decided to start with my sister. Just before I moved to Diamond Harbour I had been receiving some rather peculiar nocturnal phone calls that eventually stopped but were followed up by a volley of emails that were both confusing and abusive. I say confusing because I’m not entirely certain that all her anger was directed at me as she was seemed to be equally angry with Mum. The emails, some comprising thirty or more pages were unparagraphed, single spaced, incomprehensible tirades about things that I was either too young to remember or had no memory of whatsoever. I spent literally hours reading them and constructing compassionate replies to try and help her accept and let go of the past or seek some professional help. My time would have been better spent teaching the dog to play canasta. The fact that I wasn’t prepared to get into an argument with her only angered her more. It was only when she started having a go at my kids, that I phoned her up and told her on no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable, and I changed my phone number and blocked her emails.
For a few glorious months I was free from the trepidation that came over me whenever I launched Outlook Express. Then one evening in February 2005 I learned from my other sister, her twin, that she had booked a trip to New Zealand with her boyfriend and they were due to arrive on the 12th of April. On hearing the news I was immediately gripped by a sense of … what? Fear, I think is the only way I can describe it. I unblocked her emails and found that all I had done by blocking them was prevent them being downloaded from the server. As soon as I unblocked them about half a dozen lengthy emails came through from the server, all written in her usual format – single line spacing with no paragraphs. What made them so hard to decipher is that one moment she’d be cheerfully describing what she did in the weekend and the next of giving me an account of the deep-seated hatred that she felt towards me. Or describing something that had happened to her before I was born or when I was a baby that she seemed to think that I was responsible for. Her emails left me in no doubt that she was coming over for the express purpose of starting a fight with me over issues that were beyond my understanding and some contained veiled threats of violence.
Over the next few weeks I made several pleas to get her to seek help and to abandon her trip to New Zealand. I didn’t want to see her in this current frame of mind, let alone have her stay in my house but there was no stopping her. She was hell bent on revenge of some sort and I began to get very frightened. As a single parent with two children and no other family in New Zealand, I wasn’t at all confident of my ability to cope with this.
I contacted a support service for families coping with mental illness who thought that she appeared to be suffering from one of the Cluster B Personality disorders. They said I should have a chat to the local police who suggested I obtain a Protection Order. Unfortunately, because she is a family member, I had to go through the Family Court and apply for an order under the Domestic Violence Act, even though a Harassment order would probably have made more sense to all involved. I applied for an urgent order without a hearing to give us protection for the time that she would be in New Zealand and presented excerpts from her emails in which she threatened violence, as my evidence.
Unfortunately, the Family Court made the order subject to a hearing, set down for two days after she was due to travel back to England. To make matters worse, the paperwork they issued me to serve on her in the UK incorrectly cited Brown v Brown (my married name, not her name) and referred to her as a “he”, as though the case was a typical Male/Female domestic violence application with mutual children involved. This was obviously something outside the nature of applications the Family Court receives and I suspect that no-one had bothered to go through any of the peculiar emails I had presented as evidence although I can’t say I blame them.
I obtained some information from the family support service in the vain hope that I might be able to get her assessed under the Mental Health Act but it stipulates that an application must include a medical certificate from a doctor who has examined the person in the last three days. I figured I had Buckley’s chance of getting her to nip to a doctor and get a certificate to accompany an assessment application being lodged by her sister. There was provision for obtaining a compulsory assessment if a crime was committed in which the police were involved but I was unsure whether threatening emails constituted a crime, particularly since no-one seemed willing to sit down and actually read them. The Mental Health Ambulance it seemed, had taken up its permanent parking spot well and truly at the bottom of the cliff.
With no other options at my disposal, I spent most of the time while she was in the country at home clutching the telephone and the handful of police and emergency support numbers I had managed to gather. The police were excellent in their advice and I had a large over-protective dog on the property, which caused me to wonder what on earth might have happened if she had come to stay at our house and tried to start some sort of fight as she had intended.
She came to our house in Diamond Harbour a couple of times when she was in Christchurch. Once I had seen her outside on the street, but she hadn’t come to the door and had been scared off by Levi barking. Another time a neighbour reported seeing a woman stomping up and down outside my house, taking photographs and putting something in the letterbox. It was of course another lengthy letter much along the same lines as the emails. I phoned her once at her hotel but she just shouted at me hysterically, so I left it at that.
That episode had been one of the more disempowering, frustrating and frightening journeys in my life, but I found that writing about it eleven years later engendered feelings of sadness rather than anger. Although I had certainly felt like the victim at the time, she was the real victim here. She was the one suffering the isolation of living in an overwhelmingly confused and uncontrollably angry state. The letters and emails continued for a time afterwards and I just ignored them which is probably what I should’ve done in the first place. Gradually they stopped and once she learned of my MS, our relationship improved. I won’t say we’re close but we’re probably as close as we’re ever likely to be, so I didn’t really think she was a key factor in any concealed anger issues that I might have.
Then there was the redundancy incident at work. That certainly still angered me, but I’d quite recently written them a real letter that I’d actually sent via a solicitor. I didn’t have any more I could add to that and since this issue with my back and legs had been around for a few years before all that blew up, I was fairly certain that wasn’t behind it.
That only left my ex-husband. I still sincerely believed that I had successfully dealt with that and moved on however as hard as I tried to write it down in letter form, I found myself faltering, trying to empathise and adopt the mature, rational, level-headed approach of a non-judgemental adult who can see both sides of the argument. I was almost being apologetic for the way I had reacted to it.
“Get angry for goodness sake,” said my psychoanalyst during the next session when we discussed the letters I had written. “You’re not going to be sending it to him. Just let rip.”
I found that the only way I could depart from my apologetic approach and ‘let rip’ was to write it like a novel. I soon became very aware that I had hit pay dirt as far as unearthing the source of my underlying rage. Before long I was writing whenever I possibly could, and I wrote continuously for several weeks. It was a good opportunity to do so because my daughter was away on a family holiday in Europe with her father and his partner along with her two girls.
I had hoped to feel better after lancing this boil of unwanted emotional detritus, but I didn’t. I felt considerably worse. This was a huge disappointment for me and I was keen to discuss this at my next session with the psychoanalyst. But I never made that appointment because something happened to trigger a chain of events that solved the mystery once and for all.