What was your best day?

For all those who have been following my blog in recent weeks, I don’t have the strength or the will to write about what happened today. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, I’m spent. I’m broken.

Instead, here’s a quote from the movie City Slickers that sums it up far better than I could right now.

Mitch: Alright Ed, your best day, what was it, twins in a trapeze, what?

Ed: No, I don’t wanna play.

Mitch: C’mon, we did it.

Ed: I don’t feel like it.

Mitch: Uh, okay.

[pause]

Ed: I’m 14 and my mother and father are fighting again… y’know, because she caught him again. Caught him… This time the girl drove by the house to pick him up. And I finally realized, he wasn’t just cheating on my mother, he was cheating on us. So I told him, I said, “You’re bad to us. We don’t love you. I’ll take care of my mother and my sister. We don’t need you any more.” And he made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn’t budge. And he turned around and he left. He never bothered us again. Well, I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That’s my best day.

Phil: What was your worst day?

Ed: Same day.

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!’

When you’re in love with Dr Jekyll…

…then Mrs Hyde comes as part of the package.

I knew that when I married her. I knew that if I wanted to be with Dr Jekyll, I was inviting Mrs Hyde into my life. But I didn’t care, because Mrs Hyde was a small thing to put up with in order to spend time with Dr Jekyll.

You see, Dr Jekyll is lovely. Dr Jekyll is kind, and attentive, and a joy to be around. I love Dr Jekyll.

Mrs Hyde, on the other hand, is awful. She’s irrational, unreasonable and aggressive. The stubbornness and lying, the disruption and heartbreak – that is all Mrs Hyde. And I loathe her.

I understood why people warned me off. From the outside, they only saw Mrs Hyde, and allowed Mrs Hyde’s behaviour to taint their impression of Dr Jekyll. I knew different. Two identities competed for control of one body, and I could not sacrifice the positive aspects of one for the negative aspects of the other. I fell in love with Dr Jekyll in spite of Mrs Hyde.

Most importantly, I knew that Mrs Hyde wasn’t Dr Jekyll’s fault. She was as much a victim of Mrs Hyde as I was. I couldn’t abandon my sweet and innocent lover to the ravages of her alter ego. I had to protect her from it. And if I punished Dr Jekyll for something that Mrs Hyde had done, that goes against every precept of justice I believe in. We take responsibility for our own actions, not those of others.

But Mrs Hyde – Mrs Hyde takes no responsibility for anything. Like a wrecking ball through our lives, she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake, and then she’s gone. She never has to face up to the consequences of her actions. Dr Jekyll and I are both left to pick up the pieces.

This would be easier to bear if there was any pattern to Mrs Hyde’s visits, but she comes and goes without warning. Sometimes I spend days with Dr Jekyll; sometimes days with Mrs Hyde. Sometimes, in the midst of a sunny afternoon, Mrs Hyde will descend upon us as if from the sky, and stay just long enough to ruin any pleasure we were having, before disappearing again just as quickly.

Sometimes in hindsight I can identify the triggers – the innocuous word, the momentary look, or even the lack of words or looks, that transformed sweet Dr Jekyll into evil Mrs Hyde – but mostly, it’s impossible to locate. And afterwards, when Dr Jekyll returns to me, she often has no idea what it was either.

We’re held prisoners to Mrs Hyde. The question of my marriage has always been: how much can I take? How much can I endure? There’s never been any discussion of how much should I take. How much should I endure?

But there are children in our lives now. Mrs Hyde’s behaviour doesn’t just impact me and Dr Jekyll anymore, it impacts our children. After twelve years shielding Dr Jekyll from the effects of Mrs Hyde’s behaviour, and four years shielding the children, I’m all burned out. How much can I take? The real question is: how much do I want to take? And I don’t want to take anymore.

Somebody asked me the other day if I spend more time with Dr Jekyll or with Mrs Hyde – if that’s a way to settle my chaotic headspace. That’s not the point, I replied – it’s not about how much time, but the extent of the damage that Mrs Hyde causes. If you spend six days with Dr Jekyll, and on the seventh Mrs Hyde burns down your house, the negative consequences of one day with Mrs Hyde far outweigh the six positive days with Dr Jekyll.

And it no longer matters whether it’s the fault of Mrs Hyde or Dr Jekyll – the effects are still the same. If I don’t want to put up with Mrs Hyde anymore, that means I have to give up Dr Jekyll too.

It would be so much easier if I could hate them both. I wish I didn’t love Dr Jekyll as much as I hate Mrs Hyde. To save my children and myself from Mrs Hyde, I’d have to abandon Dr Jekyll to her fate. And how can I abandon someone I love?

Or is this mental gymnastics the reason the abused so often stay with their abusers? And was it always easier to pretend the lover and the abuser were two different people instead of one and the same?

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?

The memory of betrayal

I feel good in the night, when it’s dark and the house is quiet around me. I feel the gentle movements of the bedsheets as my wife breathes beside me, lost to sleep. It’s peaceful; restful. I exist in the moment.

In the night, somewhere between waking and sleep, we snuggle together as we always have. Arms and legs wrapped around each other, each seeking the physical comfort, the intimate security, of love.

When I wake in the morning, my head is empty. I lie in the warmth with my eyes closed, revelling in the stillness. I wish it could last forever.

Footsteps across the landing, little fingers scrabbling at the door, and then our children jump up and down on the bed. We smile; we laugh; enjoying the simple pleasures of each other. It’s the closest we get to heaven.

And then I become fully awake. And the memory of her betrayal floods in like ice.

Heaven withers.

I go downstairs to make breakfast, stare out at the sunshine, the clear skies of a glorious April day, and my insides twist. If there is beauty in this morning, if there is solace in this vista, my heart won’t let me feel it.

The memory is poisoning me. But I can’t stop poking the wound.

The breakfast tastes as bitter as my coffee.

So I fake a smile. Fake small talk. Fake love, fake joy, fake coping, fake life itself. And as the hours pass, I feel my face contort from the effort of holding back the grimace. Stomach knotted; gut sickened; chest tight and heart bursting.

I keep it hidden. I wait for night, when we can lie beside one another without the pressure to keep up this charade; when my thoughts return to silence, and there is no yesterday, and no tomorrow – only love and the gentle movements of the bedsheets.

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!

How hard is it to follow rules?

Maybe as an autistic person, it’s easier for me to follow rules. Nonsensical they might sometimes be, but rules are rules. I’m very black-and-white on this. I acknowledge that there are grey areas, extenuating circumstances, and human frailty, but we all know what we’ve been told to do and actions have consequences.

At a time like this, we can’t just follow the rules – we have to be seen to follow the rules. This isn’t a ‘keeping up with Joneses’ sort of thing, this is setting an example that people will stick to. What happens if the neighbours see us allowing a family member to visit? They think, ‘Oh, well if they’re having someone over, I might as well have someone over too.’ And before you know it, the whole thing falls apart because everyone makes exceptions. That’s why we have to follow the rules.

After yesterday’s war with my wife, she went out to the shops anyway in search of eggs because she wants to bake – I can’t exactly chain her up. But she couldn’t find any eggs. Never mind.

I thought that today, things were improving. She seemed calmer, more rational. While I was giving the kids a bath, I heard her ring [redacted] briefly – no problems, that’s absolutely fine.

What was not fine was [redacted] turning up at our door an hour later with a box of eggs that my wife had asked her to bring round.

I didn’t let her in. Of course I didn’t let her in. We are not allowed to see family members who are not part of our household, even if they’ve driven fifteen miles to see us.

She stood on the front lawn and asked me to open the windows so she could talk to my children, who were jumping up and down with excitement that [redacted] had come round. I said no – they can see her and talk to her through the glass. She made out like I was being ridiculous. My kids started crying. My wife started shouting.

Instead of engaging with my kids through the glass, [redacted] stormed back into the car, slammed the door and drove off at a rate of knots, leaving my children in bits and my wife fuming at me.

In the past hour there have been multiple phone calls about how awful I am, and my children are calling me mean for upsetting [redacted]. Currently, my wife is trying to find someone who can bring her some flour as she wants to bake, which is hardly endearing her to the people she’s asking to go out and get it for her.

But hey, at least she got her eggs!

It’s not meant to be this hard

When your wife has autism and Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, life isn’t going to be easy. I’m pretty sure, however, it’s not meant to be this hard.

When Boris Johnson announced last night that we can only leave our house to go to essential work, buy essential food, look after a vulnerable person or exercise (once a day), and specifically that we should not see friends or family members who don’t live with us, it was a time for couples all over the county to turn to one another and say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get through this. We’re in it together and we’ll emerge stronger on the other side. With love and mutual support, and a sense of humour, we’ll cherish this time as a family. Nothing can break us apart.’

That didn’t happen in my household. World War 3 broke out in my household.

‘They can’t stop me seeing [redacted],’ was my wife’s response.

Initially, when my wife met each new restriction and condition with, ‘They can’t do that,’ I took it literally to mean they can’t do that, so reminded her that yes, they can: they’re the government, the ones with the tanks and the bombs and the soldiers. They can do whatever they want.

On reflection, I decided that when she said, ‘They can’t,’ what she really meant was, ‘I’m scared, I don’t want to do that, this is going to be hard, hold me.’ So I softened my approach to simply supporting her rants.

Last night has made me realise that I was right the first time – she does really think the government literally can’t stop her from doing what she wants to do.

Having Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder means you struggle to control your impulses. The desire to do something results in the thing being done, with no consideration for the consequences and probable negative outcomes. And if someone tries to interject between the desire and its gratification, oh boy are they going to get it! Tantrums and behavioural explosions are par for the course, as is the sudden swing from ‘I love you, I need you, I can’t do anything without you’ to ‘How dare you, I fucking hate you, I’m ringing my lawyers in the morning!’

So, as I listened to the Prime Minister asking us to be decent human beings and abide by a few rules so that – God forbid! – we save thousands of lives, while most people might have been thinking of themselves and what it meant for them, all I could think was, ‘Oh hell, get ready for the fireworks.’

And fireworks there were.

‘They can’t stop me seeing [redacted].’

‘They can and they have.’

‘He didn’t mean I can’t see [redacted].’

‘He literally just said you can’t visit family members who aren’t part of your household.’

‘He can’t stop me from seeing my family.’

Everybody is in someone’s family. This doesn’t work if we all make exceptions.’

She looked at me with pure hatred on her face.

‘You can’t stop me.’

And then the screaming and the shouting started, because by stopping her from doing what she wanted, I became the enemy. It’s no longer the fault of the virus or the government, it’s mine. I am truly the devil.

Midway through, she declared she was going to ring [redacted] and tell her what an evil prick I am. I begged, pleaded, demanded that we talk it out between ourselves, that we deal with it as husband and wife, like a family, like adults, like rational human beings. We’re meant to be a team, and inviting someone to interfere in our marriage is not very sporting.

It was all to no avail. She rang [redacted], burst into tears, said I wanted to have her arrested and I wouldn’t let her see [redacted].

‘That’s not entirely true,’ I said, and she screamed at me and called me a liar, and [redacted] said she doesn’t see any reason why my wife can’t visit [redacted] (because clearly the rules don’t apply to them), and I’m being unreasonable, and I should think about the effects of my behaviour on my children, I’m needlessly scaring them and being a bad dad.

I feel so betrayed. We’re married. We’re supposed to support one another. We’re supposed to deal with issues between ourselves. We’re not meant to run to our mummies and tell them the mean man we married isn’t letting us get our own way.

After the phone call, my wife told me she’s going to take the kids and move in with [redacted] for the duration of the coronavirus, and I’m not invited. In no uncertain terms, I told her that would be the end of our marriage.

She insisted she’d keep visiting him, and I said that she’s quite welcome to move in with him by herself if it means that much to her.

We’ve been given rules to follow, and as responsible, socially-conscious, moral, upstanding and good people, the onus is on us to do everything we can to stop the transmission of the virus and thus save lives. I don’t understand what is so difficult to grasp about this. Her dad has multiple underlying health conditions anyway.

So, today she’s done everything she can to punish me for stopping her from seeing [redacted].

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘we’re in this together.’

‘No we’re not, you’re on your own.’

‘We need to support one another.’

‘You can take a run and jump if you think I’m going to support you.’

‘Please, we need to be civil, if not for our sake then at least for the kids.’

‘No. You don’t let me see [redacted], I won’t be civil. I’m divorcing you after this anyway.’

‘So you don’t love me anymore?’

‘No, no I don’t. I hate you. I hate everything about you.’

You know, really mature behaviour from your wife and the mother of your children.

I’m doing my best here. I’ve been trying to keep her calm this entire time; I’ve been trying to look after my family as best I can; but I can’t do it all alone, and I really shouldn’t have to. Not once has she asked me how I’m doing, how feel.

Every time I glance in her direction, she snaps, ‘Don’t look at me!’ So I kept the kids entertained today. We did more yoga, some writing, imaginative play. I took them for a short bike ride. I planned our meals for the next ten days so we don’t need to go out. I played with them in the garden. I cooked lunch. I cooked dinner when she refused to do it.

World War 4 happened this afternoon when she said, ‘I’m just popping out to the shop to get some eggs.’

‘You can’t just “pop out to the shop” anymore. We can’t leave the house except for essentials.’

‘Eggs are essential.’

‘We have enough food for the next ten days, and much longer than that if needs be.’

‘Are you telling me I’m not allowed to go to the shops now?’

‘We’ve been told to avoid shopping except for essentials. Going out to get one item when we don’t need it is hardly essential, is it?’

‘So you won’t let me go and get some eggs?’

‘No, we need to do as we’re told.’

‘For fuck’s sake, for fuck’s sake, you can’t stop me going to the shop! I want eggs! I want to bake!’

‘It’s day one of this – we’re going on be shut in together for at least three weeks, probably more. Please, let’s make it bearable.’

‘No, I’ll do what I want.’

In all honesty, if the coronavirus wasn’t going on right now, I would walk away from this toxic situation. Of course, without coronavirus, perhaps my wife wouldn’t be acting like such a crazy person.

The trouble is, some words once spoken can’t be taken back; some things once broken can’t be repaired; and when someone acts selfishly, unsupportingly, and irresponsibly during a national crisis, and makes it far harder on the people around her than it needs to be, sometimes that changes how you see that person.

We’ll revisit this conversation after the crisis is over. In the meantime, we just have to get through it.