The confusion, guilt and self-doubt of being abused

In my last three posts, When you’re in love with Dr Jekyll…, Coronavirus and domestic abuse, and It must be so much easier as a girl, I’ve finally started being honest about the kind of relationship I’m in. It’s very, very hard to get your head round the fact that you’re being abused. It’s even more difficult to accept that the person you love is an abuser. And even after making those statements, you’re not free of the guilt, confusion and self-doubt.

You see, I don’t want to call my wife an abuser, because I love her. I don’t want to call her an abuser because it reduces the wonderfully complex range of attitudes, beliefs, opinions and behaviours of the mother of my children into a single, negative label. And yet, if I am being abused, then I have to say who is carrying out that abuse, as ugly and disloyal as that is.

I asked my support worker today if I’m overreacting; if I’m blowing it all out of proportion; if I’m somehow causing her behaviour and therefore it’s my responsibility to fix it. By tolerating it for so long, haven’t I taught her it’s okay to treat me this way? So how can I throw her to the wolves? I’m her husband – isn’t it my duty to stand by her through thick and thin?

I guess I was desperate for confirmation that I’m being abused and she’s an abuser. I mean, it’s not like she’s beating me up. It would probably be easier if she was, because at least then I could point at the bruises or the split lip and say: there! Abuse. Cut and dried.

Instead, I’m full of doubts. Where’s the line where being awkward and aggressive crosses into abuse? Who draws that line? Who is responsible for it?

I’ve spent six weeks desperately trying to get my wife to stick to the lockdown, only to be told by both Social Services and my doctor that I should just let it go and she can visit whoever she wants. Does that mean I’ve been the one in the wrong for the past six weeks? Does that mean her reactions have been acceptable rebellions against my oppressive values? Because it seems to me that the professionals don’t care about following the rules half as much as I do.

My support worker reminded me that this isn’t just about the lockdown – I’ve been going through this for years, and no matter how many times she’s promised to change, she hasn’t. Now I’ve finally taken the decision to leave for the sake of the children and my own sanity, I need to stick to it because it’s the right decision.

But I’m even more confused and guilt-ridden by my wife’s recent behaviour. Since she learned that I was talking to Adult Social Services on Friday, she’s been weirdly pleasant and compliant. At least when she’s being mean to me all the time, I feel a righteous sense of being wronged; when she starts being nice to me, it messes with my mind, because I start thinking, ‘Well, she’s not that bad, is she? You’ve got a nice life here, really, and if you’d just ignore all the shit she puts you through, nothing has to change. Wouldn’t that be easier than walking out and becoming a single dad? Wouldn’t it be better just to tolerate it because you love her?’

Or is this all just part of the game?

The most confusing thing is her reaction to what’s going on. When I said I was going to see the doctor, she was really pleased for me because she thinks I need my head sorting out. When I came back and told her the doctor had said that, for her mental health, she can go visit [redacted] whenever she wants, I thought she’d be happy – instead, she said she’s not going to visit [redacted] because it’s against the rules.

I almost choked on my own spit! For six weeks she’s been visiting [redacted] in open defiance of the lockdown rules, and when I tell her she’s now allowed to visit, she won’t because it’s against the rules! What the hell? I told her I don’t understand her. I don’t understand her at all.

Maybe that’s what she wants?

So today, after six weeks of cycling to the dairy most days, and the day after I told her I no longer object to her cycling to the dairy, she’s told the children they’re not allowed to cycle to the dairy because it’s against the rules! How perverse is that?

And the oddest thing happened this afternoon. When I contacted [redacted] six weeks ago to say that my wife was mistreating me and the kids, she told me I deserved it; that I was a manipulative monster who caused my wife to attack me; that I wasn’t a good father or husband; that I was disloyal; and that she’d never talk to me again and never forgive me. She’s told my wife to openly defy me over the lockdown; she’s told my wife and kids to lie to me about seeing her or they’ll all get into trouble because I’m a bad man; and she’s told my wife to gather evidence against me to support their attempt to paint me as the abuser instead of the victim.

So why did my wife read out a text she received from [redacted] this afternoon saying, ‘I’m looking forward to seeing Gillan when this is all over. I’ve really missed talking to him. I’m very fond of him.’

‘What are you trying to do to my head?’ I asked my wife.

‘What?’ she said. ‘I thought it was nice.’

‘She sent you this just now?’

‘Yes. See, we’re not all against you like you think.’

What? What!?

So I’ve been sitting here feeling guilty, feeling confused. Is it all in my head? Am I the one with the problem?

It would be so easy to just roll over and let things go back to normal. Remain a husband in a nuclear family. Avoid the upset and the turmoil of taking my kids away from their home. Not end up a divorced single dad.

And then I looked back through the past six weeks of blogs, starting with It’s not meant to be this hard and coming up to date, and all the crap she’s put me through, and I remember that the niceness is just the thin layer of ice over the black depths below. And I realise that actually, while she is being nice, she’s not being that nice.

Like yesterday morning. I slept on the sofa the night before, so in the morning my wife sobbed to her support worker about it. She wanted to know what she’d done because she didn’t understand. I was heartbroken for her – I can’t bear to see people in distress, particularly those I love – and I don’t want to hurt her, so I offered to talk about it with her if she’d come into the other room with me, so it wasn’t in front of the children. But she refused – I could tell her in front of the children or not at all. I asked her again and again to go into the other room with me so we could talk about it, and again and again she refused.

So how serious were the tears, and how desperate was her need to understand, if she refused to discuss it? And by extension, how real is any of her current behaviour?

I just have to remember the bad times every time I’m blindsided by the good.

This is the confusion, guilt and self-doubt you face when you’re the victim of abuse.

It must be so much easier as a girl

I know, I know, I’m liable to get lynched even for suggesting that women might have an advantage over men in certain areas (the gall!), but before you sharpen your pitchforks, hear me out.

When you’re a guy on the receiving end of domestic abuse, it’s easy to feel a bit like Michael J Fox’s character in Casualties of War. He’s an American soldier in Vietnam who witnesses the other four members of his patrol rape and murder a Vietnamese girl. When they get back to base, he’s desperate. He tells his friends, he tells his officers, he does all the things he’s meant to do and none of them give a shit. The four rapists try to murder him, so he hits one of them with a shovel and in despair cries, ‘You don’t need to try to kill me, man. I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’

That’s what it’s like as a male victim.

Of course, it’s not entirely true, because there are people who care deeply about me and what I’m suffering. But I can’t help feeling that I’d be taken a little more seriously if I was a woman.

I mean, as I wrote yesterday, when I told Children’s Services about all the abuse I’ve been suffering at the hands of my wife, they offered me parenting lessons to help me learn how to better cooperate with her. I can’t imagine they’d have said the same to a wife reporting her abusive husband.

When, in consequence, my care manager forwarded my blog post to them this morning and said, ‘Read this and bloody do something,’ it threw them into a bit of a quandary. They called together all their staff to see what they could do, and admitted that if the roles were reversed – if I was a woman and the abuser was a man – they’d have me and the children out already. Because there are no shelters for men, they’re not sure what to do, but leave it with them and they’ll think about it some more. And this is 2020!

The one thing they did manage to clear up was that, since I found out last night that my wife has been taking the kids to a local dairy, where they’ve been mixing with the Polish workers and their children in addition to my in-laws, they can’t go back to school or nursery until after 14 days of quarantine – just what I wanted to hear!

So my care manager made an appointment for me with a GP to discuss my mental health, which my wife was happy about because she thinks it’s about time I get my head sorted and simply accept what she’s doing to me without complaining so much. He was a nice young chap with a West Country accent who kept calling me ‘mate’, and the episode would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

I told him, at length, what was going on. I told him about my wife breaking the lockdown every day to visit [redacted], about the lies, about getting my children to lie, about poisoning them against me, about telling them I’m being mean to [redacted], about how my kids have turned against me, about the betrayal of our marriage, about the gaslighting, about disrupting bedtimes, about the shouting and the swearing and the screaming, about denying me access to their schooling, about my wife secretly filming me and keeping a diary of my supposed misdeeds, about being locked out of the house, about threats of violence, about having to walk on eggshells to avoid Dr Jekyll transforming into Mrs Hyde, about the likelihood of my becoming homeless, about my fear of having another breakdown, about the threat of the kids going into care, about the unbearable weight pressing down on me, about feeling abandoned by Social Services, about how I’d reached the point where I didn’t know how I could go on anymore and I had nothing left and I was going to end up in the nut house.

Well. The doctor seemed very concerned about my wife’s mental wellbeing, and how hard it must be for her to be separated from the support structure of [redacted]. How she must be struggling at this difficult time! He said that while my commitment to the lockdown is commendable, it’s time to let it go. He said I should allow her to visit [redacted] if she needs to and maybe even have supper with them and sleepovers, and you know what? Why not let [redacted] come round to my house, because she clearly needs that. It’s not ideal, mate, and it goes against the government guidelines, but if I look the other way and just let her do whatever she wants, he’s sure she’ll treat me better. The lockdown could go on for a while, so I really ought to do whatever I can to keep her calm and stable and make life bearable.

I just looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. On telling him I’m being abused and I want out, his first instinct was to empathise with my abuser. Must be great to have people who have never even met you make excuses for your behaviour, eh?

He told me to focus on the positives – my care manager had said some very nice things about me, and I was clearly doing a wonderful job, so I should keep doing what I’m doing. In fact, he had no idea where I found the strength to keep going, so what a great guy I must be – which was kind of missing the reason I was sitting in his office.

‘But I’m at breaking point,’ I growled. ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to get to the end of today. I’ve been carrying too much for too long and I’m all used up. I’ve built a wall around my emotions so I can keep functioning, but it’s starting to crumble and the trickle is going to become a tsunami that’s going to wash everything away.’

He asked if I was suicidal or thinking of killing the kids, so I reassured him I wasn’t.

As time was getting on, he said, ‘Well, mate, what would you like me to do for you? I mean, what do you want to get out of this appointment?’

I hate that question. You’re the doctor, you’re the specialist, I’ve come to you for help so you tell me.

‘I could give you some pills that might make it easier, but you’re already on two lots of pills and I think it’s helped to talk it through. I think you’re doing the right thing, mate. Your support workers can be the eyes on the ground and can feed back what’s happening, so stay strong for your children, mate, because they’re the most important thing in all this, and keep doing what you’re doing.’

And then he sent me home to the abuser, with the salutary lesson that I should use the strength I no longer have to appease my abuser so she abuses me less.

I guess I was expecting something more. Like, isn’t the message we give people that if they’re being abused, whether physically, emotionally or psychologically, they need to tell someone? It takes a lot to admit that the partner you love is also subjecting you to controlling, threatening, bullying and coercive behaviour, especially when you’re a man who outweighs his wife by several stones. You have to overcome guilt, shame, denial; you feel disloyal; you blame yourself; you make excuses; you’re afraid of the repercussions of speaking out; you doubt yourself; you pretend it isn’t that bad; you never stop hoping that things will get better; and just when they’ve got you at breaking point, and you’re ready to walk out, they start being nice and mess with your head. And worst of all, you still fucking love them.

To go through all of that, to finally have the courage to speak out, and have people shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Best not to piss her off then,’ and ‘We could do something for you…if you were a woman’…surely men deserve better than that, don’t we?

Don’t let the words that have been spinning around my head serve as a testament for male victims of domestic abuse: ‘I told them. I told everybody. I told them, and they DON’T CARE!’

Coronavirus and domestic abuse

This afternoon, when my wife brought my kids back from visiting [redacted] in spite of the lockdown, my two-year-old asked me to leave the lounge and go into my office – she didn’t want me in the room while she watched Paw Patrol. I’m pretty sure she learned this behaviour from her sister, my four-year-old, who in addition to wanting me out of the room most of the time, has also made it clear she wants me to sleep downstairs from now on.

Why do my kids want me out of the way? Because they’re being poisoned against me.

And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

This blog post is a confessional. I didn’t want to reveal the full extent of what’s been going on out of respect for the parties involved. Now, I don’t care anymore. Domestic abuse is wrong, whatever form it takes. I might be a man, with a beard and a few extra stones around my middle, but that doesn’t make me any less a victim.

In order to keep it on point, because it’s long, I’m only going to focus on the lockdown. Stuff that happened before – siphoning money from the bills account into her own, for example, or all the times she’s taken a swing at me – is water under the bridge at this point.

As I’ve mentioned before, as soon as the lockdown started, I became Public Enemy Number One to my wife and [redacted]. When the Prime Minister told us to stay at home and not visit anyone who didn’t live in the same household, I took that as it was meant. My wife, on the other hand, took it to mean ‘keep visiting [redacted] despite living in three separate households’.

As someone who believes in doing what’s right, I was adamant we’d respect the lockdown. I was therefore horrified when [redacted] turned up on my doorstep a couple of days later. When I didn’t let her in, much shouting and crying ensued, in which I was made out to be the bad guy. To my children, I was being mean and upsetting mummy and [redacted]; to my wife and [redacted], I was being unreasonable and irrational.

The following day, my wife took the children out for ‘exercise’. When I asked to go with them, she became defensive and aggressive, so I dropped the matter because I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids. However, it was obvious she was really going to visit [redacted].

A couple of days after this, [redacted] demanded my wife and I stop having support sessions – the very support that is allowed under government guidelines and without which our family would fall apart. [Redacted] said it would be my fault if they caught coronavirus from my children – not their fault for breaking the lockdown rules!

I let it go until a few days later, when my eldest said she was seeing [redacted], but she wasn’t meant to tell me or they’ll all get in trouble. I had it out with my wife after that. I told her I knew she was visiting [redacted], and I wanted her to stop, but that as she was an adult, I couldn’t physically stop her. I asked her to stop lying, stop getting the kids to lie to me, and at the very least to stay two metres apart, which she agreed to do.

I then emailed [redacted] and told them the same – that I’d like them to support me and not come between me and my wife, but that if they were going to meet up, they were all adults and there was no need to sneak around and ask my kids to lie to me. It was, I thought, a reasonable request to make.

Their response was to call me a hypocrite who didn’t need support, and accused me of deliberately misinterpreting the guidelines.

I replied in a manner that was far more polite than I felt. I provided a link to the government guidelines that spelled out in black and white that I was following the rules. Regarding not needing support, I pointed out that I have autism and depression, while my wife has autism and a personality disorder, and I have spent four years protecting my family from Social Services, who have said that if I wasn’t around, they’d have grave concerns about my wife’s fitness as a mother. I said that this has taken a toll on my mental health, given my wife’s multiple behavioural explosions in front of support workers, including shouting, swearing, throwing things, storming off, slamming doors, making threats, raising her fists to hit me, and totally losing all connection with reality. I said that without support, my marriage wouldn’t survive.

Well. I don’t know why I expected understanding, because none was forthcoming. They tore me a new one. How dare I threaten them with Social Services, they said. How dare I label my wife (it was actually the psychiatrists who labelled her). And they said that if my wife shouted at me, swore at me, threw things at me, threatened me and raised her fists to strike me, they could understand why. That’s right, it’s my fault if she attacks me!

They said they’ll never forgive me for putting them through this ‘ordeal’, that I should be grateful to them, and that I’m a terrible father and husband who might be able to hide his true temperament from others, but they can see right through me. And they don’t want to speak to me ever again, so I didn’t even get the chance to defend myself.

I’m not entirely sure what ‘ordeal’ I’ve put them through. I asked my wife not to visit [redacted]; she ignored me. That’s it. Hardly an ordeal.

From that point on, my wife took the kids to see [redacted] every day, even though she knew I didn’t approve. When my kids told me they’d been hugging [redacted], my wife denied it and called them liars, before admitting that okay, yes they had, and she wasn’t going to stop him, so mind your own business. And when she told me she hadn’t seen [redacted], it turned out she had.

Our care manager came out to talk to her, and point out how awful it was to ask the children to lie to me. ‘What happens when the man down the street wants to play a game with them, but they can’t tell mummy or daddy or they’ll all get into trouble?’ she said. ‘You’ve trained your children that that’s normal.’ I reiterated that she’s an adult and can make her own decisions and doesn’t need to lie to me, so she agreed to be honest with me from then on.

Two days later, I caught her lying again and coercing the children into lying.

Given what my wife said in the meeting with our care manager, and from hints in [redacted]’s emails, I know they’re trying to set me up as some kind of monster. I caught her filming me in secret, trying to get evidence against me for God-knows-what, and [redacted] has told her to keep a secret diary in which to record all my misdeeds, whatever on earth these might be. I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing wrong.

I took legal advice from a specialist in family law, who told me that I’m in quite the predicament. You see, the house I live in is co-owned between my wife and [redacted]. If my wife owned it, if our relationship fell apart I would have the right to remain in the house until our divorce; because it’s co-owned, they can kick me out any time they want.

Worse, because of coronavirus, all the hotels, B&Bs and shelters are closed. With my wife being so unstable, if our relationship breaks down during the lockdown and the home situation becomes untenable, Social Services will have nowhere for me and the kids to go so would put the children into foster care until the end of the lockdown. If, on the other hand, it all became too much for me and I walked out and left the kids, I would be deemed to have abandoned them in an unsafe situation and would lose any right to them. Meanwhile, because of my wife’s instability, without me around Social Services would take the kids and put them into foster care permanently.

So, to recap – if I stay and the relationship becomes unworkable, my kids go into foster care; if I leave, the kids go into foster care. Therefore, the only way to keep my kids out of foster care is to stay and make the relationship work until the end of the lockdown, which is what I resolved to do.

A couple of days later, a police car pulled into the close and flashed its lights for a minute, the message being a clear STAY-AT-HOME. My wife waited ten minutes before heading to [redacted]’s again, but she was nervous about being stopped and asked what she should say if the police pulled her over, so she knows it’s wrong. I told her that if she’s decided to break the rules, she has to come up with her own excuses.

She didn’t get stopped, and as usual the kids came home with chocolate smeared all over their faces and didn’t want to eat the meal I cooked for them. I’ve told my wife before that I don’t approve of the way [redacted] buys their affection with chocolate (if he tells them off and they cry, he immediately gives them chocolate in case they stop liking him). I don’t think they should be eating Creme Eggs every day anyway, in addition to other chocolate, biscuits and sweets, and he knows this. So, what do you make of the fact that every day my wife doesn’t visit, an ice-cream tub full of chocolate appears on my garden wall?

It’s awful. I’ll finally manage to prevail upon my wife not to visit him for a day, I’ll take the girls on their scooters around the block, and every time I get back, a box of chocolate has been delivered in my absence. As soon as the girls see it, they scream in excitement, and if I tell them they can’t eat the chocolate, I’m the bad guy again. I’m trying not to be paranoid, but it comes across as a massive fuck you – it seems to say, ‘even when your wife doesn’t come to visit me, I can still get to your kids’.

I told my wife she was breaking my heart and betraying our marriage, and she decided to gaslight me in response. She told me I had it it all wrong, that she loved and respected me and was 100% committed to our marriage, and that’s why she hasn’t been visiting [redacted]. She said she goes to [redacted]’s house every day to exercise, and if he just happens to be there at his house when she visits, along with [redacted] who lives fifteen miles away, it’s coincidence. And if he chooses to cook them all a meal, or kiss them and cuddle them, there’s nothing she can do about that, is there? And the reason she lies to me and tells the kids to lie, is because she doesn’t want to upset me. But if I’d just look the other way it wouldn’t bother me so much. So really, I’m the one with the problem. And I’m not actually a very good husband and father anyway, and she only lies to me because I don’t trust her, and I should be grateful to her and [redacted] for taking the kids off my hands for a couple of hours a day. And anyway, she isn’t doing anything wrong and everyone knows I’m the crazy one and if anyone’s ruining our marriage, it’s me.

But that didn’t stop her from lying to me again last week. She said she’d only [redacted] through the car window leaving as my wife arrived, but my eldest said, ‘Mum, shush, remember what [redacted] said? We’re not supposed to tell him,’ to which my wife said to my four-year-old, ‘Shut up and stop lying, we didn’t see her, she’s lying! Liar!’

Later, my daughter told me they’d had a whale of a time with [redacted], who’d been chasing them with a hose, but [redacted] had told them not to tell daddy or they’d get in trouble because daddy’s very naughty. And she said, ‘But it’s okay, we didn’t have a cuddle with her.’

‘I did,’ said my two-year-old.

‘Well, okay, we both did,’ said my four-year-old, ‘but I’m not meant to tell you.’

No wonder they don’t like me. They’ve been told I’m being mean to [redacted] and they’re too young to understand any different.

Even worse is that the bedtime routine has been completely thrown out of whack, making my wife the hero and me the enemy. I put the kids to bed every night, and I’ve done that all their lives because after 7pm, my wife switches off as a parent. The handful of times she’s tried to put them to bed have been utter disasters that she’s abandoned halfway through because it’s hard and her job is to be the ‘fun’ parent.

Anyway, the past month my wife has been going up to bed at 8pm. What’s actually been happening is that, after I’ve put the kids to bed at 7pm, my wife’s been getting them up again and playing with them and telling them to keep quiet or daddy will come up and ruin their fun. Twice in the past two weeks, I’ve come up to bed to find my eldest camped on our bedroom floor because ‘mummy said I can sleep in here.’ Once she was in our bed itself, my wife fast asleep, so I sent her back to her own bed. This has turned me into the bad guy, and my daughter keeps asking me to sleep downstairs because she knows that if it’s just mummy upstairs, she can do whatever she wants. Consequently, discipline and respect have fallen apart.

Two weeks ago I put the kids to bed, waited fifteen minutes to make sure they were settled, then took the dog out for a walk. When I got back, my wife was in their room putting up a play tent and telling them they could sleep in it! I asked her what the hell she was doing, it was far too small, and said the kids had to sleep in their beds. It took me another 90 minutes to settle them again.

The next night she decided that from now on, she’s going to take over bedtimes. I told her this wasn’t a good idea because the girls see her as a playmate and not an authority figure, and now is not the time to disrupt their routine, but my wife had already told the kids she was doing it, and that was that. Again, I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids so I let it be.

After an hour of her screaming and shouting and the kids screaming and shouting, I went up to intervene and she closed the bedroom door in my face and wouldn’t let me in. I left it another half an hour before I’d decided that enough was enough. By this time, my eldest was crying uncontrollably while my youngest was screaming, hyperventilating and so agitated she was biting everything within reach. Walking into that room with my kids in such a state of distress, I was horrified.

I took them downstairs, and it was thirty minutes of holding my two-year-old tight to me before her breathing calmed down and she stopped sobbing. From there, it was another hour to get them to sleep.

I told my wife that from now on, she leaves bedtime alone. We can’t have this disruption. Once I’ve put the kids to bed, they stay in bed. They’re tired out and overstimulated. They’re being damaged and I need her support, because they’re the most important thing.

When the next day I told my support worker what had happened, she was equally horrified, and said she would have to report it, and in all likelihood it would be passed up the chain to Social Services. I figured the decision had been taken out of my hands. Whatever happened was no longer my responsibility – I had lost my kids.

This was a Friday, and I spent the whole weekend on tenterhooks, waiting for Children’s Services to come with a  van and take away my kids. I felt awful because since I’d clamped down on bedtime, things had improved. Worse, my wife was being nice to me, and I was racked with guilt over what this would do to her.

Nothing happened. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, I saw my support worker and she told me that her manager wouldn’t be passing it to Social Services because they’re my children and they’ll support me in keeping them, whatever it takes. It felt good to have that support.

Alas, it was the calm before the storm.

During my support session, my wife was home-schooling my eldest. Badly. Even though we were in a different room with the door closed, it was impossible not to hear the shouting and the crying. It was clear my wife wasn’t coping. So my support worker asked me why I wasn’t teaching my daughter.

I explained that from the start, my wife has elbowed me out of different aspects of the girls’ lives – birthdays, Christmas, days out, and in particular, schooling. When we were getting my daughter ready for school, I wanted to be involved but my wife kept pushing me out, going out to buy uniforms, pencil cases and suchlike with [redacted] instead of with me. She even wanted to take her to her first day at school by herself, without me.

I insisted I go too, but my wife conveniently ‘forgot’ to bring something vital and sent me home to get it. I asked her to wait and not go in without me, but of course, by the time I got back, she’d gone in, so I missed walking my daughter into her first day of school.

Anyway, my wife has always been incredibly territorial over our daughter’s homework, and I don’t get a look-in, and she’s the same with the home-schooling. So my support worker reminded me that she’s my daughter too, and if I want to be involved in her education, that’s my right as her father.

She had a point. My wife and I had been getting on for days, and that afternoon when she got back from visiting [redacted], we spent a very pleasant hour in the garden as a family. It was all fun and games so I thought it was a fair moment to broach the subject. I said I wanted to be more involved with the teaching, so could I have the login details for the school portal with all the lesson plans and resources she uses?

Everything changed. No, she said, no way. How dare I? Why did I have to ruin everything? No, I couldn’t have access to my daughter’s schooling – she would never give me access. She stormed inside and disappeared for thirty minutes, and when she reappeared, she looked at me like I was the dogshit she’d stepped in.

‘What have I done wrong?’ I asked, and she exploded with this whole rant about how I’d stolen bedtimes and bathtimes from her and there was no way she’d let me steal this. I said I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable; I wasn’t trying to steal anything, I just wanted to take a turn with the home-schooling. She replied with how I was selfish and nasty, and she stormed inside again.

But when the kids tried to follow, she told them to leave her alone, slammed the door in their faces and then locked us out in the garden! My kids burst into tears, I had to calm them down and it was five minutes of knocking before she let us in, while telling us she wouldn’t talk to any of us ever again, which again upset the kids.

I kept my head down and tried to keep the kids buoyant, but I was absolutely gutted, because things had been fine for a few days and suddenly it had all gone wrong.

Eventually, she started talking to the kids again. And then, with the kids sitting on her and glaring across at me, she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m putting the girls to bed tonight and there’s nothing you can do about it.’

I repeated what I’d said about routine and disruption, and I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she shot that down in a heartbeat, so again not wanting to argue in front of the kids, I went outside and wrote a long email to my care manager about the situation, before I had to hurry upstairs because my kids were screaming and crying again and bedtime was yet another disaster.

Later that night, I asked her why she was trying to push me out of my children’s lives – why she won’t let me have anything to do with education, why she’s just spent £200 on a children’s entertainer for my eldest’s fifth birthday without telling me, why she keeps arranging holidays and trips out with [redacted] and the kids but not me. She again told me she’d never let me steal this from her, and threatened to hit me if I said one more word on the matter.

Later that night, she texted me the login details, and the following day she told me not to change password and lock her out, like I’ve ‘done with everything else’. I knew immediately what she was talking about. The previous week, her account had been locked because she’d accidentally bought 17 lids for her inflatable hot tub (essential, I know), so she’d asked for my bank card so she could go shopping. When I pointed out we had plenty of food in the house and a menu plan covering the entire next week, she flipped out, so I thought it prudent to change the password on my Sainsbury’s (supermarket) account. Clearly I was right to do so, because she must have tried to get into it.

Anyway, I reassured her I wasn’t going to change the password and lock her out, nor did I want to take over or steal the home-schooling from her – I just wanted to be involved. And I asked her why she’d ever think it was okay to lock us out. ‘I was just joking,’ she said, like every abuser in history.

My care manager responded to my email and said she was very concerned about my wife’s increasingly unstable behaviour, particularly as it was damaging the kids and their relationship with me, and said that now was the time to bring in Social Services and get this resolved, and how did I feel about that?

I did a lot of soul-searching that day, but eventually I conceded that yes, the time had come. My children would be damaged by going into foster care, but they’re being damaged anyway. Things couldn’t go on as they were as it wasn’t healthy for any of us. It’s what’s in the best interests of the kids, after all.

This was a massive thing for me to do, because I knew it would spell the end of my marriage, but there needed to be resolution of some sort, whatever that was.

The next day, Adult Social Services rang and said I could have an extra couple hours of support each week. Not hugely helpful, but a start. But Children’s Services didn’t ring, so I waited for them to turn up and take my kids for a second weekend in a row.

Nothing.

Over the weekend, my wife has decided that [redacted] will now read the girls their bedtime story on a video call, despite me doing it for four years and it being one of the few fun things I have left to do with them. The girls told me they don’t want me putting them to bed anymore and want me to sleep downstairs from now on. As a father, that’s not pleasant to hear.

I spent the weekend doing everything an abused spouse does, like prevaricating, like making excuses for my partner’s behaviour, like wondering if I was the one in the wrong.

Finally yesterday (Monday) they rang. They told me they’d heard my wife had locked us out of the house and to tell them what was going on. So I did. I told them everything of the above. The lying, the undermining, visiting [redacted], poisoning my children against me, disrupting bedtime, shouting and swearing in front of them, all of it. Like I said – time for a resolution.

Well. Don’t believe what people say about Children’s Services wanting to take your kids away. They couldn’t care less. They said that if my wife decides to visit [redacted], so be it, it’s already done so there’s no point intervening. They said they can offer us some Early Years Support to teach us how to ‘cooperate better’ with each other, but not until after lockdown.

They asked to speak to my wife and said it wasn’t good to ask the children to lie to me, so she said ‘Okay, I’ll stop,’ and the person on the phone said that that was now all sorted, and if there was nothing else, thanks for calling.

I quickly asked her about the possibility of my eldest going back to school, just to get her away from the toxic atmosphere in the house, and she said she could perhaps ring the school and see if they’d take her for a couple of days, but she wouldn’t be able to do this until later in the week.

And that was that. To say I felt like somebody had ripped out my insides is an understatement. Children’s Services weren’t helpful, they were positively harmful. Why? Because they’ve essentially just told my wife that everything she’s done is perfectly acceptable and the only consequence of her actions is to maybe attend a voluntary parenting course. So of course, last night when they should’ve been in bed, she painted their toenails and let them camp on the floor, because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

So, in summary, apparently you can:

  • Shout and swear in front of your kids;
  • Slam the door in your children’s faces;
  • Lock your husband and kids outside;
  • Take your children to visit family members during a pandemic despite it being against the government guidelines;
  • Undermine your husband with his children;
  • Tell the children to lie to him;
  • Call them liars when they tell him the truth;
  • Tell them daddy is the one being naughty;
  • Tell them that if they get caught, daddy will punish them;
  • Disrupt the bedtime routine in a way that makes the children frantic and distressed;
  • Refuse to give your partner access to your children’s lives;
  • Force your partner out of the fun stuff;
  • Not support your husband when the kids no longer want him in the same room as them or even sleeping on the same floor;
  • Use your children as weapons in some sort of twisted power game against your partner;

And Social Services will do nothing about it.

My care manager was utterly shocked by their response. She feels I’ve been badly let down by the system. While you’re in the house, she said, those children are not deemed to be ‘at risk’, so Children’s Services will sit on their hands until you leave, and then they’ll be in like a shot. Instead of preventing a crisis, they’ll wait until it becomes a crisis before intervening.

No wonder Baby P fell through the cracks.

My children have been poisoned against me, and will go on being poisoned against me.

And apparently there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

 

A coronavirus thought experiment

Let us today try a thought experiment.

Imagine a husband and wife. They live in a house owned by the husband’s father and have two adorable little daughters.

But the husband also has an ex-girlfriend he can’t live without. Instead of turning to his wife for emotional support, he can’t resist texting his ex-girlfriend at least two dozen times a day, and telling her all his wife’s secrets even though he knows his ex-girlfriend likes to interfere in his relationship. He even texts his ex-girlfriend from the marital bed, despite his wife asking him not to.

To make it more current, let’s suppose that there’s a virus infecting the country, and people have been asked to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Fantastical, I know, but bear with me here.

Now let’s suppose the wife is a long-term blood donor and former nurse who believes in following these rules to the letter, and asks her family to support her in this commitment to do what the Prime Minister, the Queen, the Cabinet, the scientists, the police, the newspapers, the doctors and the nurses have all asked us to do. Let’s pretend that the husband agrees.

But let’s also pretend that every day when the husband takes his kids out for ‘exercise’, they actually go to his ex-girlfriend’s house, where she cooks them a meal and smothers all three of them in hugs and kisses. Then they say to the children, ‘Don’t tell mummy what’s going on or we’ll all get in trouble. You don’t want to get us all in trouble, do you?’

And then, when they get home, they don’t want the meal that the wife has cooked because they’re already full.

Let’s pretend that, kids being kids, they can’t keep secrets, so the wife finds out about the visits to the ex-girlfriend, and knows she’s being lied to. Let’s suppose she confronts her husband, who says he’ll keep visiting whoever he damn well pleases, and there’s nothing she can do to stop him, and by the way, did you know this is my father’s house and since we’re in the middle of a lockdown there’s nowhere you can go?

What can she do then? Let’s suppose that the wife decides to appeal directly to the ex-girlfriend, from one woman to another. She asks her to please not come between a wife and her husband, or a parent and her children. She acknowledges she can’t stop her husband from visiting his ex-girlfriend, but she’d hope they’d at least be careful and follow the social distancing rules. They’re all adults so there’s no need to sneak around, and it’s really not appropriate expecting children to lie for them.

Imagine the ex-girlfriend replies by telling the wife to go screw herself, and that if she wasn’t such a terrible wife and terrible mother, her husband wouldn’t feel the need to visit his ex so often. Imagine the husband witnesses his wife’s humiliation and approves of it with a knowing smirk.

Now imagine the wife tells her husband she knows she can’t stop him from seeing his ex-girlfriend, but can he please take some precautions and just be honest about what he’s getting up to. He says he will.

But imagine he doesn’t. Imagine he keeps visiting his ex-girlfriend with the kids every day, and tells his wife he hasn’t seen her, despite the lipstick on his cheek and on his children’s faces. Imagine he tells his wife that nothing is going on, despite the children saying, ‘We saw her again, but they said not to tell you.’ Imagine the wife begs her husband to just be honest with her, and the husband continues to lie in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Imagine that eventually the wife breaks down and tells her husband that she feels betrayed. She feels heartbroken he’s chosen his ex-girlfriend’s short-term happiness over his wife and his marriage. She wishes he would stop visiting his ex-girlfriend and stop lying and getting the kids to lie and start respecting his wife and show some consideration for her feelings. And she warns that this will very likely end in divorce if it carries on.

If you’re expecting a tearful apology, you’re new to this game.

Imagine instead that the husband tells his wife she’s got it all wrong. He loves her and respects her, and is 100% committed to his marriage. True, he goes over to his ex-girlfriend’s house every day, but that’s not to see his ex-girlfriend, you see, it’s to exercise, and if she just happens to be there at her house when he visits, it’s happenstance. And of course, if she chooses to cook him and the children a meal, or kiss them and cuddle them, well, there’s nothing he can do about that, is there? It’s not his fault. Can’t his wife see that he’s doing absolutely nothing wrong? He’s the victim in all of this. And the reason he didn’t tell her, and asked the kids to lie, was because he didn’t want to upset her. But don’t worry, sweetheart, just be a dear and ignore it in future. I mean, if you look the other way it won’t bother you so much. Surely you can see that you’re the one with the problem? And you know what? You’re not a very good wife and mother anyway. You never trust me or give me any thanks for what I do. In fact, you should be grateful to me. You should be thanking me for taking the kids to my ex-girlfriend’s. Everyone knows that you’re the one being unreasonable here. It’s all in your head. And how dare you accuse me of seeing my ex-girlfriend? I haven’t seen her in weeks. If anyone’s ruining our marriage, it’s you with your paranoia. Now be quiet and do as you’re told and I don’t want to hear another peep out of you!

In the above example, it would be very hard to defend or justify the husband’s behaviour. You’d be forgiven if you think he comes across as a selfish, deceitful, manipulative douchebag who doesn’t even have the balls to take responsibility for his own decisions. From a psychological standpoint, I’d say he’s gaslighting his wife, a form of abuse that undermines a person’s reality.

Now, for the last part of our thought experiment, I’d like you to imagine that the roles are reversed. Imagine it’s the husband staying at home and the wife who’s sneaking off with the kids, not to see her ex, but to see family members. Imagine they’re the ones who told him to mind his own business, they’re the ones who own his house, and they’re the ones who’d rather his marriage fail than suffer the indignity of staying away from children for a few weeks. Imagine she’s chosen their desires over her husband’s scruples, that she lies about seeing them, lies about the kisses and cuddles, asks the children to lie to their daddy, and when confronted, denies she’s doing anything wrong and suggests that he’s the one with the problem.

Does that make the abuse any less real?

Spare a thought for the broken hearted

Spare a thought for the broken hearted, those whose marriages have fallen apart; those for whom there is nowhere to go, and nothing to say, until this lockdown’s over.

Spare a thought for those pretending that everything’s okay when everything’s not; those who smile to hide the hurt inside. Waiting.

Spare a thought for those sitting at a table that’s no longer theirs, in a chair where they used to belong; a guest where once they were host. Toiling in a garden that’s now someone else’s; walking a dog of whom they’re not master any more; mocked by the happy family photos on the walls.

Spare a thought for those who wrap their children in the comforts of their home, knowing that this innocence will soon be wrenched away from them; who talk of a future now out of reach; who tell them the forecast’s fine when a storm’s edging over the horizon.

When will it come? Who knows? Weeks, months, it’s all the same.

Spare a thought for the lied-to lovers, those who see the truth but cannot speak it; those who know that their love just wasn’t enough.

Spare a thought for the broken hearted.

Trying to keep your true feelings hidden

Keeping your true feelings hidden is all well and good when you’re conscious. When you’re asleep, it’s another matter altogether.

I had a dream last night in which I was arguing with [redacted]. And midway through the argument, backed into a corner and unfairly maligned, I straightened my shoulders, drew a deep breath, and at the top of my lungs bellowed, ‘[REDACTED] ARE WANKERS!’

Not particularly articulate, I admit, but hey, it was my unconscious talking.

Trouble is, I didn’t only shout in my dream – I shouted in the real world, too. At 3.30 in the morning. In my loudest possible voice.

”[REDACTED] ARE WANKERS!’

It’s practically the definition of a ‘rude awakening’. But not only did I wake myself up, I unfortunately woke my wife too. It would’ve been impossible not to – I’m surprised the kids slept through it.

‘What did you just say about [redacted]?’

‘Er…’

‘Seriously, what did you just say about [redacted]?’

‘I was having a dream, that’s all. Go back to sleep.’

She rubbed her face and then, waking fully, froze as it came to her. ‘Did you just say [redacted] are wankers?’

I shrugged. ‘They were being mean.’

‘In your dream.’

‘Sure. In my dream. No matter.’

‘Do you think [redacted] are wankers?’

‘Apparently I do.’

‘Well, I don’t like that.’

‘Go back to sleep, you’ll have forgotten this by the morning.’

But the way she’s been looking at me all morning, I don’t think she has forgotten it. Under coronavirus lockdown, when we’re trying to get on and be pleasant, it’s not really the time to have a conversation about my feelings for [redacted].

So I’m going to have a stern word with myself before I go to bed tonight, and hope I don’t come out with anything worse!

The importance of language

I’m a writer. I believe that language creates the world. That’s why, at times like this, it’s so important to watch our language.

‘We’re stuck at home for the next few weeks’ creates an entirely different mental space than ‘We’re at home for the next few weeks.’

‘I can’t cope’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereas ‘I’m finding this hard but will get through it’ gives you strength.

‘I hate my wife and kids’ generates resentment in your chest, while ‘Finding my family difficult at a difficult time is perfectly normal’ keeps your relationships healthy.

And saying, ‘It’s not a problem, I’m enjoying this downtime,’ is better than screaming, ‘Holy shit, it’s the end of the world and we’re all going to die!’

Changing the language you use is a quick and easy way to change your mood and your attitude. Our body tends to believe what we tell it. Smile and it makes you feel good. Stand up straight and lift your chin, it makes you feel confident even when you’re not. Force yourself to breathe slowly and deeply when you’re panicking, it calms your body down because if you’re not hyperventilating, there’s nothing to panic about, is there?

The opposite is also true. Hunch your shoulders and huddle up, you feel edgy, as though you need protection from the world. Frown and you feel bad. Laze about and you lose all motivation to do anything that helps you.

So start telling yourself the reality in which you want to live.

What applies in your own home applies to the world outside. Be careful what you read. Be careful what you listen to. You can’t have a healthy mental space when you fill it with negative words.

A brief survey of headlines is enough to make you die of fear. ‘Killer disease’ is far more terrifying than ‘Covid-19’; ‘chaos’, ‘panic’, ‘tragedy’, ‘death toll’ are much worse than ‘hope’, ‘solidarity’, ‘positivity’, ‘recovery’.

So in this time of crisis, do what I tell my children when they’re moaning and whining: use your words.

And forgive yourself the occasional weakness, outburst, rant or cry – you’re only humsn, after all.

Home Support during lockdown

As a person with autism and depression, and a wife with both autism and Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, I have home support. This means that twice a week, a support worker comes to my house for three hours to support me with my activities of daily living – making a menu plan, cleaning, washing, sorting the post, basic self-care, and all the things I don’t do when left to my own devices.

This help is essential, not just to keep me safe and hygienic and stop me getting into a mess with my finances and medication, it is my only means of ‘offloading’ my obsessive thoughts and preventing me descending into depression or worse. When you have autism, your thoughts often spiral out of control, particularly when you don’t have time to yourself, and left to their own devices, they can take you to a dark place indeed. Support workers help you put your thoughts safely to bed.

In my book, I explain my need for neurotypical support using a model I made up called the Mini and the Tractor. When those of us with autism are born, we’re given a Mini, while neurotypical people are given tractors. On the roads – those things we can do – we speed along quite happily, and are often able to overtake people in tractors. But either side of these roads are ploughed fields – the things we can’t do. While neurotypical people drive through them at the same speed, people with autism struggle, and bog down and get stuck, and often need a person with a tractor to come along and pull their Mini through the field and put them back on the road. We aren’t better or worse than neurotypical people, we simply have different wheels suited to a different surface.

So I need home support. Not only that, Social Services deem that I need six hours of support a week. I’ve thought carefully about this in light of coronavirus, and discussed it with my autism support service, and since caring for vulnerable people in their own homes is one of the government’s exceptions to the ‘stay at home’ rule, I don’t see anything wrong in continuing to have a carer.

My support worker engages with four other households. The way I see it, if our five households are doing what we should (i.e. staying at home and not interacting with family members), and she’s doing what she should (not seeing friends and family), then we’re a closed unit. If she gets coronavirus and passes it on to us, it will end with us – we certainly won’t be passing it on.

And this is why I believe it’s okay to have a support worker come round twice a week, but not okay to have friends or family round. My support worker is not a friend – she’s a key worker in the field of social care carrying out care in the community. She is here for work, not socialising.

Unfortunately, not everyone in my wife’s family sees it this way.

If I see my support worker, they think they should be allowed to visit too; and if I don’t allow them to visit, then I shouldn’t be allowing a support worker into my house either. That’s right, they think two people who are unable to live independently without support at the best of times should now live independently without support at the worst of them. All in the name of ‘fairness’.

There’s a line from the criminally-underrated What About Bob? where Bill Murray says something like, ‘Treat people like a telephone. If there’s a crossed connection, you just hang up and dial again.’

I used to believe that. Now I think perhaps there comes a time when you have to rip that telephone from the wall and throw it on the bonfire.

Day Five of Home-Schooling: teachers, you are busted!

I saw a lovely thing on Facebook last night from a school up in Surrey. It told its parents that what we’re doing right now isn’t home-schooling. Home-schooling is a choice where you considered things, planned for it, and were ready – this is more like distance-learning. But in reality, it’s trying to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It said that parents have always always been the child’s primary educator, but are not trained teachers, and that if you feel it’s better for your family to play in the garden, bake, or watch TV, that’s your right and there’s nothing to feel guilty about, because these are exceptional circumstances.

And it said that it’s impossible to facilitate distance-learning with a primary-aged child and work from home at the same time, so if you’re doing that, stop. Your primary focus is your job and your survival. You’re not a superhero. They’re not expecting miracles.

I thought it was great. Very insightful and reassuring.

Then I got an email from the headteacher of my school down here in Dorset sharing some of her thoughts. She said that home-schooling is a choice, whereas this is more a necessity. She said that parents have always always been the child’s primary educator, and that if you feel it’s better for your family to play in the dirt, bake, or watch TV, that’s your right and there’s nothing to feel guilty about. And she said that if you’re working from home and juggling home learning at the same time, STOP – you’re not superheroes. Your focus should be your job and survival.

Sound familiar?

Looking on Facebook, it appears that many headteachers up and down the country have had the exact same thoughts as each other at exactly the same time. How weird!

You know when every kid in the class copies from the same book and they put it in their own words so they don’t get accused of plagiarism? Teachers, you are busted!

Now, I don’t mind that they’re all copying from the same source. It’s a good message and it deserves to be spread far and wide. But don’t pretend as though it’s something that just occurred to you. And perhaps next time, don’t use many of the exact same words!

The only people who don’t know about coronavirus…

…are the assholes in the Department of Work and Pensions.

My wife receives PIP (Personal Independence Payment) – what used to be called DLA (Disability Living Allowance) – to help her cope with her needs.

When they came up with PIP, the government outsourced the transferral of people over from DLA to an external company called Atos, whose remit was pretty much, ‘Cancel everyone’s benefits, make it next to impossible to appeal, and see how much money we can save.’

Now, delegating the decision on who gets welfare to private industry is essentially the government saying, ‘We don’t give a shit about the needy and we can’t do our jobs so let someone else sort it out,’ and that’s how it worked in practice. Atos would reject almost all applications for PIP and then make the appeals process a logistical and administrative nightmare in the hope that a significant proportion of claimants would be incapable (i.e. too vulnerable) to appeal. You know, a really caring, morally upright philosophy that proved so popular they had to change their name to Independent Assessment Services to avoid the backlash.

That’s the reason why, when they moved my wife from DLA to PIP, they decided she was 100% capable of looking after herself on her own, despite her having supporting documents from Social Services, her doctor and her autism support service to say she was quite incapable of that. It then took six months of appeals for them to concede that, okay, they were wrong, she’s a nutbar.

The DWP are the people who ask someone with Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy, a hole in his heart and severe scoliosis that confines him to a wheelchair to attend a fitness-for-work interview. They’re the people who ask terminal cancer patients when they think they might get better. They’re the people who at my interview asked me how to spell autism, and then told me I must be really good at Sudoku.

So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they haven’t noticed we’re in the middle of a global health crisis.

Today my wife received a letter from the geniuses at the DWP saying that, as she’s had PIP for a year, they need to see if anything’s changed. There isn’t an option to say, ‘Nope, still autistic.’ There is, instead, a 24-page form that must be filled-in in excruciating detail, with corroborating evidence from Social Services, the autism support service, and her GP, to be returned by the 17th April, or they will cut her off.

By my reckoning, that’s three weeks away. We’re now only three days into a three-week lockdown where we have to stay at home, everyone’s off work, doctors, social and care services are stretched to breaking point, and we can’t see our families for support filling in a complicated, misleading form. Are they freaking joking?!

I’d only just managed to calm her down about coronavirus when this little present landed on our doormat like a wet turd to stink out the house we can’t leave. I was never a fan of Jeremy Corbyn, but I can’t help thinking that this kind of shit would never happen under a Labour government.