Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Being Courageous

For 39 years, I lived a simple, middle class life.  I rarely stepped out of my comfort zone.  I did as I was told.  An adventure for me was asking a waiter for a coffee in France, or doing a presentation at work, or perhaps buying a red coat.

But then, everything started to go a bit twonk.  I gradually broke free of sensible living and become a risk taker, a trier of new things, a bit 'devil may care'.  I had an affair. (Stupid and dangerous.)  I learned how to fly.  (Stupid, dangerous AND expensive.)  I cycled and cycled for miles and miles.  (Actually quite sensible and jolly good for firming the thighs.)

When I turned 40 I decided that I would have a year of saying 'yes' to everything.  This got me in some deep water, but also meant that I tried Ceroc, went to gigs on my own, met lots of interesting people, and tried some interesting sexual positions.

I had one day off in the week and I decided that it would be my adventure day.  I would fly or go somewhere or do something entirely different.  I would scare myself on purpose.

Looking back, it is obvious now that I was looking for an escape to my depressing married life.  Instead of finding the motivation to unpick what was going wrong at home, I'd rather throw myself off a cliff with a piece of cloth on my back.  Some might say this is called 'running away'.  I think they might be right.

The bravest thing I have ever done is make that decision to leave my husband.  I'm not saying it was right, or that I handled it well, or anything like that - but when your future is now a yawning void and not the lovely safe middle class bubble that you envisaged, you feel like your safety net has been whipped away and there's the very real possibility that you may be spending next Christmas round a bin on fire outside Sainsburys.

Or Aldi.

This article by the Huffington Post made me smile.  Facing your fears is sodding hard.  It's frightening.  But it makes you feel alive.  And if you do it again and again, it gives you building blocks of confidence that you can use in your daily life.

Do you know, I never went inter-railing as a teenager?  I never travelled on my own. Also - I never asked questions in class - at school and university - because I was afraid of looking a fool.

I regret these things.  So when my kids are old enough to be left alone, I'm going to sodding well travel the world.  And I'm going to ask lots of questions along the way.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Illness and Families

My stepmother has motor neurone disease.  It's a disease that attacks the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord, and makes everything a bit shit, then a lot shit, and then you die.

There is really no good news.

There are four different types of the disease and Stephen Hawking has one of them.  He is being kept alive by God knows what - it just shows how unpredictable the disease is.

My stepmother, Anne, has Progressive Bulbar Palsey (PBP).  The first signs were that she was slurring her speech.  My sister in law (more on her later) phoned me to say she thought she had a drinking problem.  I thought that perhaps she wore false teeth and they were giving her some gip.  She also started to have problems swallowing and weirdly, found that she was struggling to get out of the swimming pool, but couldn't quite work out why.

After tests, tests and more tests, she was diagnosed with MND.  Prognosis: three year.  How do you come to terms with that?  Still in your 60s, recently retired to enjoy a well earned rest in life, fit and, until now, well.  It beggars belief.  Whatever that means.

So after talk of Dignitas my Dad and Anne started the long road of getting on with life.  Now about 18 months from diagnosis, Anne's tongue function has pretty much given up the ghost.  She can't swallow much at all, and that includes her own saliva, which constantly drips from her lips.  She chokes regularly on food and spittle.  She cannot talk at all.  She has had a PEG operation - has had a tube put into her stomach through her belly button - which she can fix to bags of nutrients which keep her going.  She uses a ventilator at night to help her breathe.  She can just about still walk with a stick, but she clings onto my Dad as her balance is terrible.  About 50 metres is her lot.  Just keeping alive is exhausting, and she sleeps during the day,

It will just get worse.

She, amazingly, still laughs with my Dad about the things we all laugh about in life.  She uses an iPad to talk, Stephen Hawking stylee, and is the faster 'dibber' in the west.  (The dibber is the pen thing you use with the iPad.  Not sure if this is a real word or if I've just made it up.)  She has lost weight and looks ill, but she still has her hair done every week, wears full make up, dresses beautifully - and she and my Dad play bridge three times a week.

The physical symptoms are sodding awful, but the onset is slow, and Anne seems to cope with each new challenge thrown at her.  But it's not just the physical stuff that she is expected to overcome.

A family occasion

My Dad and Anne met up with my brother, his wife and their two children for a meal some months back.  There was no one else in the restaurant.  Anne started to choke.  My Dad, used to this, carried on regardless, talking about someorother.  Anne continues to choke.  My brother and his wife start to get concerned.  My niece starts to cry.  My nephew runs to the toilet.  Anne's colour changes.  My Dad carries on talking.

Eventually Anne recovers and conversation returns to the table.  My Dad doesn't refer to it, appears not to have noticed.

My brother and his wife, instead of feeling compassion for Anne, choose to feel upset that their children have been put through this episode.  After a few days discussing it, my brother phones my Dad and tells him that Anne 'frightened the children' and the whole episode was 'horrific', so they did not want to eat a meal with her again.

My Dad, so upset by this, temporarily loses his powers of tact and logic, and instead tells Anne exactly what was said.

Can you imagine how absolutely fucking shit this must have been?  My brother might as well have spat in Anne's face.  She not only has MND, and has to cope with all that entails, but is now an object that frightens children.  She is horrific.  A monster.

My brother, an Oxford graduate with two houses, a great job and supposedly a perfect family, is a twat.  Anne is a wonderful woman, has been more of a mother to me than my own mother, is kind and generous to my boys, and is going through a world of shit.  And my brother, the selfish tit, has in a moment shown that he lacks the humanity of a dung beetle.  I am crying as I write this, because I am ashamed of him.

I don't know where our family goes from here.  My brother has realised his mistake and, although he's not actually apologised, is phoning my Dad regularly.  Which is something.  But Anne never wants to see him or his family again.

The sad thing is that 'never' will probably be less than a year.

To find out more about motor neurone disease, visit the excellent website of the MND Association:

Follow me on Twitter: @secretdivorcee

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Ten things to consider before separating

Are you ready to leave?

All relationships go through ups and downs.  You're cross because he hasn't put the bins out AGAIN.  He's cross because you're talking over the football.  You both don't talk to each other for a while.

But usually, time - the great and ancient healer, just like TCP - knits everything up nicely and you forgive, he forgets, and you slowly slide from your parallel living to a joint relationship again.

In some relationships, time doesn't heal.  Instead of rubbing along with each other, you end up giving each other friction burns with your constant arguing.   Or worse - not speaking at all.

You've heard it all before, so I won't go on.  If you are in this type of relationship, there may come a point where you say to yourself, "I can't go on.  I need to leave."  And it really does feel like a breaking point, a tipping point.  It feels like you're at the pinnacle of a mountain, and you have nowhere to go.  You need to jump off.

Before you boldly step into the blue, just pause for a minute.  Have you done everything you possibly can to save this marriage?

Unless you're in an abusive relationship (in which case, just get the hell out of there), consider the following before making any rash moves.

1. Do you love him?

If you don't love him, but choose to stay, things are going to be difficult from now on.  You might be a better person than me and be able to grit your teeth and get on with it.  I refused to consider being with someone who I didn't love for the rest of my life.  Think about this question hard before moving onto the next, as love and respect and all that jazz are the fundamental building blocks of any relationship.  Without them, unless you find a way around it, your marriage will crumble.

2. Communicate

Let's say, when all the shit is stripped away, you love him.  Really try and talk to him about your problems.  Encourage him to open up to you.  Get a babysitter, go out for a nice meal (but don't get hammered).  See if, between you, you can build an action plan to get you back on the right track.

3. Seek relationship counselling

Didn't work?  Consider going to marriage counselling.  We didn't do it because my ex didn't want to, but I know others sing its praises.  It depends heavily on how good your counsellor is.  If you can get a personal recommendation, all the better.

4. Check your finances

No good?  Still unhappy and about to jump?  Wait.  Check your finances.  Can you afford to leave?  Check his finances, too.  If you are serious, and he is the main earner, be a bit underhand and make copies of statements, P60s and pay slips.  If you have children, check whether you'll be eligible for any benefits as a single parent.  If you think you will be the main custodian of the children, use the Child Maintenance Calculator to work out how much he will pay you per month.  Make sure that Child Benefit is paid into your account.

Consider cobbling together an Escape Fund.  If things go totally tits up (see no. 7), you might be glad of it.

5. Find a good solicitor and use your free half hour

If you leave, your solicitor will become your best friend for MONTHS.  He or she will also suck up a vast amount of your money.  So choose wisely.  Get a recommendation if you can.  Most solicitors offer at least half an hour for free.  There is nothing to stop you from seeing every damn solicitor in your town and getting a large amount of free advice, before choosing the one you feel most comfortable with.

6. Tell your close family or a friend

If you're going to do this, you'll need emotional - and possibly financial - support.  Tell someone you trust and respect, if you haven't already.  Talk through the whole thing with them.  Tell them how you feel.  Be brutally honest - and then ask them what they think.  If they come back saying you are a fool, think very carefully before carrying on to number 7.

If you are still sure you want to leave...

7. Imagine the worst case scenario

Think through what will or might happen once you drop the bomb.  Imagine it as a chess game, with a whole load of possible futures.  From 'oh yes, he was quite happy, turns out it was what he wanted too', to 'oh no, he actually wants to throw me out of the house with nothing, keep the kids and never allow me to see them again'.

Remember that people under stress or who feel humiliated, can act in uncharacteristic ways.  You'll need to cover all possibilities.  Or as many as you can.  If you think you can cope with them all, move on to number 8.

8. Hide anything sentimental

See number 7.  You might announce that you are leaving; next day, all of your Granny's jewellery has been flushed down the toilet.  Hide anything that you really care about.  We're not talking about wads of cash here - but anything sentimental that you cannot replace.  Hide it for now, or even better, give it to a relative to look after, until the dust has settled.

9. Have a plan for the children

I don't mean have a long term plan - you'll work this out with your partner.  Rather, think about how you will tell them.  In my case, I had to tell mine why I wanted to leave, and it was the worst part, by far, of the whole process.  Making your own children cry makes you feel like a monster.

But let me tell you this.  My children are happier now, a year on, than they were before the split.  When we were together, my ex and I thought that we were shielding them from our unhappiness, but far from it; kids will pick up on emotions, unsaid words, lack of love, separate beds...They will overhear arguments when you think they are asleep.  They will not want to ask about it in case it makes it worse.

And so in the end, admitting to it, voicing it, was ok.  Don't get me wrong - I'd have loved them to had had an idyllic childhood, ensconced in a family with a mum and dad who loved each other - but it was not to be.

10. Prepare yourself for a tough road

Bloody hell.  There will be shit times.  You will feel lower than you do now.  There will be money worries, stress, arguments, tears.  No matter what is thrown at you, try to be dignified.  Try to be fair.  But don't be tempted to do what I did; don't feel that it was all your fault and let this guilt cloud your judgement when it comes to money.  Remember that it takes two to make a marriage work.  Your circumstances will be different from mine, but when agreeing a settlement, fight for a fair (not greedy) slice.

It will be ok.  There will be good times too.  In a year's time, you will look back and feel like you've been in a washing machine, or a concrete mixer, or both at the same time (think of the mess) - but will be happier.  Just think carefully before making the leap.  Because once that's done, there's no going back.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Ten things I wish I'd known before leaving my husband

A lovely Twitter friend of mine suggested I write this.  Leaving my husband was really like stepping off a precipice for me; everything was completely unknown and I felt extremely vulnerable for a very long time.  All I knew for sure was that I was so unhappy I couldn't stay where I was for any longer.

It's been a bit of a wobbly path but it's coming right in the end.  This is what I've learnt along the way.

1. Everything takes ten times longer than you think.

Getting divorced is a waiting game.  Actually, the getting divorced bit is quite straightforward.  It's a legal process which takes a set amount of time, if you're both on board with it.

It's the financial settlement that took the time.  We tried to agree it between ourselves and it was mostly me who held it all up.  I couldn't stand it.  I just couldn't stand the intensity of our negotiations, and the rude way in which he addressed me.  Found it hard to get past his tone, to see what he was really wanting.  Always assumed he was being unfair or underhand.  So I would delay even opening his emails because I didn't have the energy to read them.

That was hard.

I ended up using a solicitor quite a lot because it was me trying to lever money out of him.  It takes money to get money, of course.

And there were 'pinchpoint' times when I needed my solicitor to do something quickly and she wasn't available.  I got very stressed and I really shouldn't have.  Because everything - everything - takes ten times longer than you think it will.

2. Rejection makes people unreasonable and act out of character

When I left my husband, I was of the (as it turns out, misguided) opinion that he was keen for the split too.  In actual fact, things couldn't have been further from the truth.  He couldn't speak to me.  Couldn't look at me.  Didn't want to pay me any maintenance.  Wanted his surname back.

I thought that time would mend things.  But still, a year on, he refuses to cross the threshold of my door.  When he drops the kids off, he stays in the car.

My parents have tried writing to him but he ignores them.  (I still write to his parents - and his aunt - and his cousin.)  He is currently stinging me for every penny I have.  He is behaving like a moron when, in reality, I know he is a reasonable, logical person.

He has been hideously hurt and does not know how to react, so he has closed down from me.  Which is a shame because I am still the mother of his children.  In fact, scrape away all the shit and I still like him.  But the trouble lies with the fact that, under it all, he still loves me - and I have shoved that into his face and ground it into his eyes.

3. Children are resilient

Before I had decided to leave, the children were what I worried about most.  Of course they were.  The kids are at the centre of your life.  Hearsay tells you that children from broken homes will end up as crack heads, dope fiends, drop outs, journalists...They will be constantly unhappy.  And it will be all your fault.

Being a product of a broken home myself, I knew this wasn't true.  I'm not a junkie.  I've done ok.  And my children were upset at first, but they very quickly, miraculously get used to the idea.  Having a separated mum and dad is no longer the unusual thing it once was.  At least five out of the 30 kids in my youngest's class have one main carer. And so it's less unusual than being left handed.  (Which I am, by the way.)

My view is this; if you're happy, you feel like you have more air to breathe, more space to live, more love to give.  Your children feel it - and so they're happy too.

4. You will not realise how stressed you are until something tiny goes wrong and you lose the plot

Divorce is stressful - supposedly the most stressful live event after a spouse dying.  Look at the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale :  divorce scores 73.  Add to this the fact that you may be moving house (a measly 20 on this scale but should score more if you're giving up the family home), change in financial state (38), change in frequency of arguments (35), and probably a change in sleeping (16) and eating (15) habits - means that you score 197.  The same as having two spouses die at once (now that would be bad luck).  You are at risk of illness - although it doesn't say what sort of illness, but I'm assuming it means stress-related stuff rather than Yellow Fever.

I don't think divorce causes Yellow Fever.

Anyway, my point is, it's sodding stressful.  And everyone reacts to stress in different ways.  With me, I handle it, handle it, handle it - oops, I've dropped some gravy on the kitchen floor and suddenly MELTDOWN.  Full out, racking sobs.  Kneeling on the floor.  Snot and drool.  Feeling sorry for myself does not cover it.

After several of these episodes I started to be easier on myself.  I recognised that, perhaps it wasn't actually the fact that my son was five minutes late that was at the centre of my breakdown.  Perhaps it was, in fact, the ten months of steamingly hard negotiations, the worry of having no money, the frustration of getting nowhere, that was at the heart of the trouble.  And so I became my own internal therapist and 'allowed' myself to be sad.  It sounds a bit psychobabbly, but that's exactly what I did.  I told myself I was doing quite well, considering, and well done you.  Patted myself on the back.  Asked myself if I wanted to go out for a drink with me sometime.

Actually not that last one because that would be odd.  But you know, just taking a breather to look back at how far you've come.

5. Someone you do not know, have never met, takes the decision on whether you can get divorced or not

Isn't this amazing, in this day and age, that a man (probably) whom you've never met gets to judge whether you can divorce or not.  You and your ex have to write out your argument for divorce and it gets sent to this v important person, like the sheriff in medieval times, who ticks the box to say 'you're allowed'.


6. Everything is more expensive than you think

Getting divorced is a bit like getting married in this respect.  Everyone involved tends to put their prices up.  I'm thinking mainly of the solicitors here; my divorce solicitor is way, way more expensive than my house move solicitor.  And yet really, she has done no more work than him.  And when I get my monthly bill from her my heart always sinks.  £200 per hour, plus VAT, is a shed load of money (especially when you haven't got any money to spend).

I think I have spent about £3,000 on solicitor's fees so far.  But if you go to court, be prepared for this to rocket.

7. People will look at you differently

Your closest friends will probably be totally au fait with what's been going on in your life, so they won't be surprised when you finally call time.  Other people though will see you in a new light, and may blindside you with the strength of their reaction.  I got, on the one hand, a mum in the playground telling me that I obviously hadn't considered my children, because who in their right mind would destroy the family unit?  And on the other hand, I had other mums sidling up to me and asking for advice on how I did it.  Some people will think that you are selfish.  Others will think you are brave.  My advice is to just let them get on with it; they have no idea what's been going on in your life and if they judge you, they are not worthy of a second glance.

8. Dating post divorce is exciting but exhausting

My God, I've had some fun in this last year.  I've also had plenty of down days too; catapulting yourself back into the dating game is a bit like going back to the 1980s for me but without the raging hormones or Wham.   Or perms.

I've tried internet dating and liked it.  There are some good guys online but it is a bit like fishing; you'll need to dangle your hook in for a good while before you find one.

The most surprising thing I found about dating is that men still expect to pay.  Hallelujah!  Call me a noncy-non-feminist-victorian-traditional-user-of-men, but I find it all rather charming and manly.  That and the fact that I have no money anyway so if I paid, we'd just be hanging about outside McDonalds.

My advice on dating is - you have to be brave.  You might be lucky and meet your perfect man in Sainsburys, but it is not highly likely.  Don't bank on it.  Put on a frock and get out there.  Follow all the safety rules and apply tons of mascara.  Heels.  Smile.  Condoms.

9. If you share custody of the kids, you still have to maintain a relationship with your ex

I thought that, if I divorced my husband, I'd never have to see him again.  Get rid.  Job done.

You idiot Lottie!  Of course I see him.  And we will have to have some sort of relationship as long as we share custody of the children.  So all the things that annoyed me when we were married STILL annoy me now; his inability to do any washing (all the kids' clothes come back smelly), his refusal to have anything to do with school admin (I go to all the parents' evenings on my own), his disorganisation (always some important piece of kit missing in the boys' transfer bag).  I even find his socks mixed up with the boys' socks, and end up washing them. GAH!

10. Life will be better and sunnier, but it will be harder work

I am much happier post separation.  But sometimes life seems too full.  There is an awful lot to do, particularly if you have the lion's share of custody.  I am always ferrying the kids about, cooking, organising, washing up, worrying.  When you work too there's not much space left in your life for anything else.  (I must admit to having one of my sobbing sessions just this week.  Everything was going bananas and I had lost any sense of perspective.  And I was on the blob.  Funnily enough, I felt much better the next day after a bath and a good sleep.)

But I do have every other weekend off, when the boys are at their Dad's, and that is precious space for getting some air. And having fun as an adult.

Which is good, because if I was not having fun, I would have flung my family's lives in the air for nothing.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Saturday is Caption Day!

Found these three on my windowsill on Friday 13th!  What's a suitable caption?

Pop over to Mammasaurus for some more Saturday Caption Action!