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Is there any future for me? I feel broken by my past.(26 Posts)
Ok, I do feel a bit weird starting a thread, but this is playing on my mind. I'd like some advice. I feel I'm letting my childhood/upbringing spoil my life. My DH feels this way too. I can't stop thinking about things that happened. They're not so bad, compared to many people, so I feel that I'm just playing the victim of my own life. Some bullet points:
- I was reasonably ok as a child, but I never felt safe or secure, because I wasn't. I was raised by a paranoid pathological liar (my mother), and have a lot of memories of homelessness, sleeping in bus stations / tents / strangers' bedsits. I didn't understand what was going on, but I loved my mother. I also was forced to live with a (physically) abusive uncle when I was 8/9, of whome I was afraid.
- I was brought up thinking my dad had died before I was born. I realised this was a lie during my childhood (because my mother is an inconsitent liar), but was never able to find out the truth until I was in my 20s, after a lot of pleading down the phone. I found out who my father was a month before my 29th birthday. He had died three years before. I found this out through facebook, and was devastated. More so when I learned that he had looked for me when I was a baby, and my whole family (maternal side) knew and had kept it from me.
- My mother's periods of homelessness continued after my childhood. It cost me homes (I would pay for her, she would let me down), and a job. I was sacked from my dream job at 21, and have felt incompetent ever since. I had a breakdown during my Master's at Oxford, when a homeless woman approached me and told me the violence she regularly experienced (my mother was sleeping rough in London at the time, for which I blamed myself. She visited me once, and as I showed her round my college she pointed out the best trees to sleep under).
- In the last two years (during which I found out about and was profoundly bereaved by my father's death) I've been dealing with unexpected but significant infertility. We just had a failed round of IVF. I have many things wrong with me, and the infertility is mine. DH's sperm are awesome.
- My career is screwed. I trained for ten years to be an academic (including four years doing a PhD), but couldn't hack the teaching and pressure and gave up. Everyone I know from that time now has an academic post; I'm a stay-at-home-nothing, and can't even get a job in a shop (I've tried).
This is a massive sob story but I feel so broken and fucked. I feel I'm stopping myself from being successful, failing to live up to my potential, and just dwelling on the past. I've tried psychotherapy and counselling before, and just ended up in fits of tears and found it unhelpful. On good days I feel I have a lot to offer, but I don't know how to get started. My mother still causes me distress, but she can't see it. I have developed a bit of a drinking problem over all this. I have felt jealousy towards my peers, who don't seem to have these problems. I'm jealous of people who can have babies; I'm jealous of people who get academic jobs. I have felt drawn to down-and-outs, with whom I feel I share something. I miss my dad, who I never met. I feel I let down my husband massively, though he would never agree with that. Most of all I just think I'm too late to do anything with my life (I'm 30). If I wasn't infertile we would pay for me to retrain as something that would give me a career and some meaning. But the future of IVF treatment means that we feel we have to keep any future credit card debts for that.
I don't expect anyone to have any answers. I just wanted to vent. I feel so lost. Please excuse typos. Also, feel free to tell me to snap out of it. But please be gentle, if you can.
You are awesome. You don't feel it but you are.
I am not good for much else - crap at advice but I read your story and thought that you are a very strong woman indeed.
Thank you all for your replies. It helps that some people think I'm not a complete fuck up. (*FriendofBill*, I'll reply to your PM soon).
textfan I didn't give therapy / counselling as long as it needed, probably. I had a very bad early experience with counselling (DHs counsellor deciding it was his duty to break us up during a session, followed by a day of uncontrollable crying in DH's car - talk about massive abuse of power on the counsellor's part). As for the psychotherapy, I had three sessions. Every one of them involved masses of tears, then being ejected out onto the street to walk a couple of miles home in despair. I decided that bottling it up was preferable. I now think that if I had therapy, I probably wouldn't cry at all - I'm older now. But I wonder how talking therapy would work. I know the problems by heart, have communicated them on a very deep and detailed level with DH. They're not resolvable. I just have to deal with them. Somehow. You know? Self-help worksheets don't help; I think I'm a victim of my own cynical/sarcastic intelligence when it comes to things like that. There's this problem, when you're so intimately in tune with all of your issues, that talking about them just entrenches you? Yet here I am, I guess.
I've been on Prozac a couple of times. I stopped for IVF, as I didn't want anything to potentially effect the outcome. Some of the drugs involved in IVF put me in a very dark place. Perhaps I should go back on Prozac? I don't know. It's not a fix.
I suppose my crap experience with counsellors has put me off - and I know they're not all the same, but when it comes to feeling more positive, well... how does talking about it make it more possible? I'd love to know. Do talking therapies work for people who've already talked themselves to death? Thanks for your advice, I do appreciate it so much. I will check out the Stately Homes thread. And yes, relating to homeless people has been a massive thing for me, though quite destructive.
I think part of me started this thread because I wanted to hear that I'm not to blame for my lack of productivity. Political rhetoric often nags at me on that score - if I'm not 'productive' or a wealth creator, or 'aspirational', I'm nothing. But I know that obviously, I really am to blame - I can't blame my mother or my DH or my past friendships. I'm responsible for myself.
Does anyone else feel this way? And if you're successful - do you feel you've done this despite of a bad upbringing? And if you don't feel yourself to be successful, do you feel jealous of other people? Example: Ex-colleague of mine recently got a job, tells all of facebook. Cue 200 likes. Previous post of hers mentions her parents buying a nice retirement cottage in Yorkshire Dales. My reaction: ah shit, look how well she's doing compared to me, if I had parents, or even just one parent who was normal and had money and a life, and if they/she had just bought a place in the dales and/or anywhere, I'd be functional and able to get a job too. Whereas I.... sulk, sulk.
Am I massively flawed an self-pitying? If so (and clearly I am), how can I snap out of it?
Also, I feel the need to correct that *whom in my first post.
Another thing, any words of encouragement, at all, would be so fucking welcome. I don't expect anyone to have an answer to my problems. God I just need some hope / basic approval.
merricat - first of all, your problem childhood is not trivial at all - it sounds terrible
You are not "self-pitying", you have good reasons for your current problems. I'm sorry that you had such a rotten experience of counsellors, they can be very helpful in steering you into different ways of thinking.
You are basically carrying an enormous load of shit around with you and it's hampering your everyday life.
The first thing would be to absolve yourself of ANY guilt where your mother is concerned. She has chosen her way of life, for whatever reason - but whatever reason it is, and however sad and fucked up it may be, it is NOT yours to own, it's HERS so leave it to her.
The next thing is to allow yourself to fully grieve your father - have you been able to find any of his family? Have you contacted them at all? Would this help you, do you think? Or open up more wounds that you'd rather not deal with? I expect you've already thought about it, but maybe write a list of pros and cons. And at the same time forgive your father for not being there for you - sounds like he didn't have much choice (even if you don't think you need to, do it anyway).
Your DH sounds fab, by the way. Glad you have him for support - let him support you and help you.
Re. your career - it's never too late to change direction. Consider the 10 years you've already spent doing what you've been doing as a stepping stone, or jumping point to find something that suits you better. Even if it's in a completely different direction, what you do next will still benefit from your years in study and work. I changed career when I was 31 because I feared my previous one was going to kill me through stress! Best thing I ever did, but my 10y in that previous career certainly helped me with my new one.
With the infertility - what checks have you had done? Have you had your vit D levels tested? This is my personal drum - I had 3 MCs between DS1 and DS2, and my vit D levels were below normal range (which is considered by the knowledgeable to be set too low anyway) - and vit D is associate with both infertility and miscarriage. Sorted my levels - got pg with DS2. I'm not saying it will definitely work for you, but it's another factor that you can sort out. And, if it's any consolation, I had Ds1 at 40 and Ds2 at 45. So, in theory, you've got AGES but obviously everyone is different and I don't know your personal situation and infertility issues.
Re. counselling - talking therapies can take a long time. I started training as a counsellor years ago, but stopped because I realised I was too fucked-up myself (and my problems really were minor in comparison with yours) - but ended up having counselling myself, and it was 2 years before I experienced a real breakthrough.
Your experiences sound too traumatic for you to go back to the same sort of counselling you've had before, but there are a number of different sorts of therapy that can help you deal with the emotional fall out, so that you can address your history in a more detached manner. My favourite of these is NLP - but you'd need to see an INLPTA trained therapist, not an "I've done a course off the internet" life coach. One of the best things about NLP is the way it can remove the intensity of the emotion from remembered experiences, and one of the other things I love about it is the "re-parenting" techniques that can be used.
Long post, but I hope there are some useful bits in it. You have a lot to offer and you are still young (yes I know you probably don't feel it but you are!) - you can make changes now, at this stage, and achieve things - but you need to shift that deadweight of baggage you're lugging around with you. You may need professional help to achieve it - you may not - but it needs to go.
Thank you, ThumbWitchesAbroad that's really helpful. I've not heard of NLP. I assume it's not something that's offered on the NHS? Money is a factor here, but I'll look into it. I think just you saying the words 'your experiences were traumatic' is a major thing: my mother has always denied and/or minimised what I went through, and so I've taken to minimising it myself. Which is why, when it keeps coming up in my head, and when I keep dwelling on it, I feel that I'm playing victim, or self-dramatising. Because it can't have been that bad, right? I mean, if it was that bad, I never would've been able to go to Oxford / get a PhD / get married. But it is screwing up my life and health.
With the infertility - I've had a laparoscopy, which diagnosed severe Stage IV endometriosis, the treatment of which left my with low ovarian reserve. I also have ovulation problems, a backwards cervix, and no fertile cm. DH's sperm have no chance. Your story is definitely encouraging; but my DH is 15 years older than me, so waiting until my 40s to conceive wouldn't be the best. Also, I have poor egg quality, so it would be impossible anyway. I do everything I can to improve this, most of the time. It feels like an uphill battle though: infertility can be so imprisoning. It's hard not to feel resentment for the overweight couple in the supermarket queue, with their Pepsi and frozen pizzas and three young children...
About my father: yes, I found three half-siblings. It was through their facebook pages that I found him, and found that he had died (I will never forget the joy of seeing his pictures and how much he looked like me, then flicking through to the picture of him during cancer and chemotherapy, then the poem my half-sister had written for him after his death). I have been in touch with one of my half-sisters and my half-brother. Both are very nice, but they never ask about me. They have a family; they answer my questions, but express no interest in me, who I am, or meeting me). It was through my half-sister that I learned that my dad had gone looking for me. I have nothing to forgive him for. I only feel sorry that he went to his grave unable to find me, not even knowing if I was a boy or a girl
Oh I definitely wasn't recommending waiting until your 40s to attempt anything in the way of having children - I wouldn't have waited that long either if I'd met DH younger! Take the vit D anyway - it can't hurt and it might help. At least 3000IU daily, not the paltry 1000IU that is generally suggested.
NLP is unlikely to be offered on the NHS. They might offer you CBT, but in cases like yours it would be more like a sticking plaster than an actual wound cleanse - and you need your wounds cleaned and healed. (Definitely traumatic - I'm surprised you're as together as you sound, tbh!!)
I think you're waiting for your 3 half siblings to want you to join their family, are you? Have you asked to meet up with them and have they rejected you? If not, I would consider asking them - don't wait for them to ask you. It would have been a shock to them to have you turn up out of the blue as well, I'm sure, although it's good to know that your father told them about you.
merri I am in awe at all you have achieved after such a tough start in life. I think you are downplaying both your achievements and the very difficult circumstances of your childhood.
I imagine that coping with infertility and treatment and of course contemplating parenthood are enough to make you revisit the kind of mothering you had and all the pain associated with that. I understand that you have not found counselling/therapy that has worked but I would encourage you to keep trying because these are issues that will keep recurring at moments of transition and heightened emotion in your life unless you can find a way of grieving for the childhood and family you were not able to have.
I think the academic life demands a particular type of mental and emotional resilience. It is so isolating, competitive, insecure and wearing. Don't be hard on yourself that this did not work - I bet many of your peers are internally struggling too, even if on paper it looks as if they are 'successful'.
Hi OP. Would you consider approaching your half sisters with a view to egg donation? Consider it a way of honouring your father's memory and cutting the blood tie with the abuse.
As for your career, I would suggest something really different: HGV driving. Instead of using your very high intelligence to earn a living, use it for your own pleasure. Meanwhile you're engaged in a physically demanding occupation, among people whose characters are direct*, and in a sector where there is NO unemployment.
* "Morning, you ugly bastard!". "Fuck off yourself, twat. Fancy a coffee?"
You have gone through so many hardships in your life yet you have accomplished so much. Now, you must deal with infertility, which is a nightmare you wish you could wake up from but can't. I feel your pain after going through 9 IVF procedures myself and finally having a son at age 45. Give yourself a break, you are way too hard on yourself and you can't give up and consider yourself a failure when you have proved to yourself that you are awesome. You are only 30 years old & still have your whole life in front of you. I think you are an amazing woman and you never know what life has in store for you.
Thumb I'll look at the Vitamin D thing and make sure I'm getting lots. I did want my half-sibs to welcome me a bit more, yes, but I'm very lucky to have got as far as I have with them - if I initiate correspondence, two of them will reply (the third never has). They have told me everything about my dad, and will answer any silly question I have about him or them. But they never show any curiosity about me, so it feels very one sided. They've said they would meet me if I happened to be in the area, so that's something.
saffron thanks for your words of encouragement. You are absolutely right, the infertility is partly responsible for me ruminating like this. There's something about infertility that stops you dead, I've found; everyone else gets to have a future through children and family, but to the infertile woman the future feels like a dead end. All you're left with is the past. And with a past like mine, it's easy to get stuck there. What you've said about the issues recurring at moments of transition - this hadn't occured to me, and you're right.
Disgrace, that is some curveball advice there! My relationship with my half-siblings is nowhere near what it would need to be for me to ask them to donate their eggs. As it happens I am looking at egg donation IVF, but for reasons of my shoddy fertility. I find it painful...
Your HGV driving suggestion is unexpected. I have a driving phobia so maybe it wouldn't be the best, but it's useful to think about seemingly far-fetched alternatives, and what you say about keeping my intelligence for myself while engaging in a physically demanding job is probably exactly what I should be doing and would be good for me. I'll think about that. Thanks.
jbegood sorry to hear about your IVF struggles - it must have been horrendous. So glad you have your son. I'm in awe of your sticking at it nine times, what incredible tenacity. There's no way we could afford that many rolls of the dice, even if I had the emotional and physical endurance. Thank you for your encouraging, kind words. I'm so in need of them at the moment.
Well that's good that they'll meet you if you're in the area - how about you take them up on that, and arrange to be "in the area" sometime? See how it goes. I assume it's the half brother who's not bothered - they can be a bit less interested in sisters, I'd say, especially as he already has 2!
Yes, I agree with saffron that things are likely to resurge at different times through your life (I like the term "transition moments") - I used to liken it to having all your Stuff battened down in a box like Pandora's Box, and at difficult times, your ability to keep the lid on it would slip, and the Things inside would be trying to get out again. Actually when that happens is the best time to seek proper therapy, rip the lid off and bring it all out into the open - but you need to do that when you're ready.
OP - I think you sound amazing too. You got through a very bad start, got to Oxford, have a good relationship, and you are thoughtful and articulate in your posts.
If it makes you feel any better, please don't feel envious of people who have academic posts. Academia right now is a horrible place to be, and you'd be better off considering yourself as having had a lucky escape.
I second the poster who said maybe consider a manual type job and use your brain for yourself. If you enjoy the outdoors, there might be things you could retrain to do without too much expense or time. You could then be in a position where your academic post holding friends envy you your healthy lifestyle, free from the shackles of the REF and the teaching assessments and marking and admissions......
Firs of all you are extremely courageous to share your personal story with us.
I always believe that being able to talk about your pain is massive step towards recovery, and a step into the future.
You need to carry on looking for the right counsellor. There are many schools and many ways you can be counselled. I can imagine you are wary of opening up again but maybe next time make sure someone can pick you up and give you lift back home (even if it is only 2 miles).
Pain I experienced after separation with my ex, being made redundand 3 times in 2 years and my father - whom I didn't know that well- dying was so great I stayed in bed for a month and it took massive effort to get out and ask for help.
I first took AD and then found counselling, I only did 8 sessions but for me changes and difference it made to my well being is still with me, nearly 5 years later.
You must be very bright and able and should believe that you will find career.
I retained at the age of 32 (Masters in computer science) and was a new graduate at the age of 34. I asked friends and ex's family for advice and worked out that IT was safe option for me. I am not saying this was the best option looking at my strengths but I don't regret.
I know so many friends who had to put away their Phd and pretend they don't have it - you may have to consider this option. Managers are mostly scared of people who are clever and able. Sad but true.
What was your masters in?
Sorry to hear about your childhood. Mine was pretty shite too and I started psychotherapy for it when I was about 29. I cried lots and lots but there was a point to the tears. I was grieving for the very sad little girl I was then, and I was grieving in a safe place with a very supportive therapist. (Incidentally I was broke and she offered me reduced rates - never dismiss this happening for you)
Over six years I went over the past and my parents with her. I often found myself asking 'why me?' and 'it's not fair' and 'I wish I could just feel happier' but in retrospect the therapy can't answer these questions. They can help provide a different perspective. They can also help you permit yourself to hold these thoughts and still be calm and peaceful. A major revelation for me was that it is ok to have conflicting emotions: eg I loved my mum/I'm angry she neglected me. I can hear this tangle of emotions in your posts. I'm intelligent/I'm a failure, I'm angry/I'm guilty. I'm envious/I'm selfish. There is a way of resolving this conflict but it does involve therapy.
My therapist was also warm and I felt that here for the first time was a nurturing relationship where I could be completely honest.
I still have episodes of depression and I can't pretend that I feel ok all the time but psychotherapy was really massively helpful.
As for the work situation - there is something out there you can do. You can use your academic skills, just in a different way. But don't stress about this. Focus on feeling better first.
So you came from a background of homelessness, got a masters at Oxford and now have a PhD?
That sounds about as far from failure as I can think! That's a serious achievement. You've had some great advice about therapy etc above, which I can't add anything too, but...
I too left academia and suffered a period of depression afterwards. You're told in academia that if you leave, you're a failure. Doesn't matter what you leave for does it? You could leave to have wonderful kids or start your own international business - there are still those idiots in the academic fold who insist it's the One True Way.
It took me a long time to get over that. And I was absolutely convinced that I only had academic skills. But you know what? A few years down the road I see their attitude is bullshit. Yes, academia can be wonderful, it can be deeply fulfilling and if you've got good funding and a good group I think it's one of the best jobs around.
But you and I know how the funding situation is, how downright fucked up a lot of lab leaders are...and the further you are from it, the more you think, wow, it's kind of like a cult. At best like a really shitty pyramid scheme..
So now, ten years after I left, I have a career. It turned out that PhDs were valued, for the skills inherent in them (self starting, intelligence, capacity to process vast amounts of info, the list is endless.) it was not an easy road and I had to start out at the bottom but I progressed quickly, and you can too. You've already shown you can start out at the bottom and work up.
Can I ask what kind of field you were in?
Hello merri - this resonates with me. Similar situation here, although I didn't burn out til after my PhD, which you would think would make things easier, but not particularly, and that my family situation is nowhere near as difficult as yours. You are definitely amazing to have got so far from a start like that.
Anyway, I also have found therapy very helpful. I thought I wouldn't because, like you, I have already thought it through and talked it through as nauseam. But somehow it is helpful. One thing my therapist pointed out is that thinking only takes you so far - I tend to be over analytical and assume that if I can figure out why something happened I will be able to resolve it. But this is not true. She often suggests I try to switch my mind off and heal in other ways - e.g. running, yoga, meditation, which I have found more effective that you might think. Can you try any of these? I think it's the feeling that you are taking control and making a positive change that helps as much as anything.
Another thing that is helpful is a professional saying to you 'you had a really hard time' - it gives you permission to take your troubles seriously. It sounds like you need that too. And believe me you clearly did have a REALLY hard time.
As regards work, firstly, what was the dream job? And could you go back to something related? I am also thinking about work that does not involve thinking, though probably not HGV driving ;) - I think it would be a real relief. And believe me academia is no picnic at the minute.
What you say about sympathy with the homeless is interesting. I find that my experiences have given me a definite sense of ambivalence about success - I often wonder if I self-sabotage at some level. I was thinking about this watching Mad Men a few days ago. Is that the kind of thing you mean?
Anyway sorry this has become a long post. Good luck! And you are not alone.
ps fuck that neo-con bullshit about productivity and responsibility - you're doing good.
Thanks for your replies everyone, and I'm really sorry for appearing to bail on the thread. We currently have DH's best friend staying with us, we haven't seen him in three or four years as he lives overseas. He's lovely, easy company, but I'm finding it hard to keep up socially. Massive introvert + anxiety + head all over the place... so I've stayed home alone today while they go out and meet up with people for dinner and fun times.
Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what you've all said. I spent an entire day exploring work / training possibilies, but turned up nothing that didn't have some very tricky obstacles (financial, geographical, qualifications-wise, etc). I won't give up yet though. I just haven't found what I'm looking for yet (actually, I don't know what I'm looking for).
For those asking - my degrees are all in English Literature, which is actually quite problematic when it comes to retraining; as a subject it's far less transferable than I thought, except for a narrow selection of things I absolutely do not want to do (teaching, marketing, sales...). However, I couldn't afford to do a second Master's anyway, so that's actually a moot point.
Because of this thread, I see with total clarity now that my past is going to keep bubbling up and causing problems whenever something bad happens. And thanks to infertility, that bad thing is happening more or less constantly, so it's no wonder I'm feeling so fragile. The failed IVF was a major trigger, and I'm not going to try again with that until I'm in a much better place mentally. I still don't know if getting there will involve therapy, because despite all you've said, everything in me screams no. I'm pretty much terrified of it. Whenever therapy is suggested I frantically start trying to minimise my problems.
scattercusion thanks for the insight, and also here Your description of the various mental conflicts I'm inhabiting is completely spot on. I'd love to know how therapy manages to solve / resolve them. Maybe I could write them out at length to myself, as a way of exploring it without the danger of opening up to someone I don't trust.
ultrathule and skiptonlass - you're right, academia is shit and perhaps I had a lucky escape. It took me a good few years of feeling like a total, unforgiveable fuck-up before I was able to frame that thought, but yes. Thank you for reminding me that the glorious careers I imagine my peers to be enjoying are actually probably rather fraught and stressful and claustrophobic
however brimming with confidence and personal fulfilment and productivity and sheer contentment they seem on facebook. I know the score, because my DH is an academic himself. I hear and understand DH's complaints and the things he has to put up with. I suppose part of me is always thinking 'ok but at least you have a job' though. Which is ridiculous, because there's no way I would be able to do what he does. And without his job we'd be living in the car. Self-pity really is abominable.
simone I can't be too specific about the dream job for fear of outing myself, but it involved books and it was in London. There's absolutely no way I could get something like that again, for lots of reasons. It seems a lifetime ago. Thanks for sharing your impressions of therapy, and how it helped you. I will steal the line about switching one's mind off and trying to heal in other ways. I like to swim, and to garden, and that has been helpful in the past. I started yoga and did enjoy it; there was a voice somewhere in there though, asking wtf I thought I was doing - 'you're not a yoga type, you're way too self-destructive, stop kidding yourself'. I guess I can add that to my list of inner conflicts.
Funny you should mention Mad Men. I haven't seen the current series, but have the rest on DVD. I have often, strongly related to Don Draper. I know that sounds very silly. I have a lot of identity issues because of being lied to about my dad, but also because my mother was always fabricating family history and changing our names constantly, and moving around the country all the time, and lying about anything to anyone. As a kid I would dread being asked a) what my name was, and b) where I was from. There's a Mad Men episode that ends with Don trick-or-treating with his family, a woman opens the door and asks 'And who are you?' and he just freezes. And then 'Where is love?' comes on. Ugh, it got to me. BUT ANYWAY, yes, the self-sabotaging instinct is very strong in me.
Someone (sorry I forget who) expressed surprise that I sound as together as I do. That's obviously a good thing, but the reality is that after eating disorders and self-harm in my teens and early twenties, I discovered alcohol (with which I still struggle, though thankfully I've learned how to live sober and only drink occasionally now - when I do it's always a binge though). I also have anxiety problems and, obviously, bouts of depression, and am a textbook definition of a burn-out. God, just writing this paragraph out makes it obvious I need therapy.
This has been very rambling, I'm sorry. to all who replied, I'm really very grateful for your insight and encouragement.
Your childhood sounds terrible you are not overreacting to that at all imho op. My heart goes out to you yet you are incredibly gifted to have done so well academically. The stately homes thread and the book by Susan forward changed my life where counselling failed for me. You sound like a wonderful person and I wish you the best and the joy yes real joy I have been able to find in my life after an abusive childhood and feelings of hopelessness.
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