I was a successful university academic, surrounded by friends, with an enviable lifestyle and a dark secret that no one has ever guessed. This secret nearly consumed me. Beyond this seemingly perfect life lay the secret – of mental illness. At home languished my tortured partner that no one had ever met.
It took consummate skill to allay people’s curiosity about my husband John. With ingenuity the persona of a glamorous and talented artist evolved. A few photos of his paintings with the handsome artist smiling congenially seemed to do the trick. However, it proved infinitely harder to explain the absence of Christmas festivities or the existence of any family. By comparison, it was a simple diversion tactic not to discuss holidays. They had the blessing of being rather vague and people are always eager to talk about themselves. Most of us are willing to believe appearances.
Over twenty years has now elapsed since John was first admitted to the Brookwood Psychiatric Hospital. No one has ever guessed my secret. This is just the way some carers need to cope. You may wonder why someone chose to keep mental illness a secret. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder struck suddenly and savagely. I was a stranger to the love of my life who seemed beyond my reach. When I turned to my family for support they decided it was for the best to sever contact. They told me I had let them down and John could be dangerous. It was a brutal lesson I was never to forget.
Over the years John’s mental and physical health has deteriorated, which now requires me to be a full time carer. This allows us to spend more time together. However, the decreased quality of our life has devastated my self esteem. At a conference last year I discovered that there were local support groups, such as the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People. Slowly my confidence is returning and I feel more positive. But if you were to meet me, you may never guess that behind this fashionable blond with smiling eyes lies a secret … but then you may already know me?