I'm Jo, known as 'Joanna!' at school during the sixties. I like my name, but 'Joanna' was only if I was in trouble, and I rarely got into trouble. I was the artistic, quiet, shy one who baulked at the idea of trouble. Although the fact that I had a refreshing sense of humour written on a school report towards the end of my schooling pleased me.
I was never academic, and useless at passing exams. My parents were encouraging, but that was, I suppose, the beginning of my inferiority complex, particularly as both my older brothers - even the non-academic one - managed to get into grammar school. I tolerated school and didn't particularly like it. Girls can be nasty when they put their minds to It. When I reached school leaving age, I decided that I'd been quiet long enough. I did a year's foundation art course at a local college and that's when my 'uncouth youth-ess' (as my dear mother called me) tendencies broke out. I chucked my posh shoes and skirts and began wearing jeans and battledress jackets and cut my hair short. I was mistaken for an attractive boy three times - I remember the moments very well - and relished It. I smoked a cigar and rode on the back of a boyfriend's motorbike, although, in truth, I wanted my own bike. Just couldn't afford one. Besides, there were too many other things I wanted to do.
After college I worked for a London art studio for a year, then for various other studios. In between times I travelled, having discovered foreign travel as being something I really wanted to do, among the myriad other things I was beginning to discover. I managed a few hours of flying lessons - I love flying - and have always been proud of the fact that I can row boats and paddle canoes (we own a traditional Canadian canoe today).
By now I knew that I also had eccentric tendencies as well - to the left, as some people have said - and was becoming fascinated in the wild west, wanting very much to dress as a hard-shootin', cussin', drinkin', prospecting cowgal! Although I wanted eventually to get married and have a family, I wanted to travel more, and I wasn't going to settle for 'ordinary' - whatever that meant. I'm not in the least bit domesticated. I wanted adventure, out of the ordinary, the extraordinary, off beat. All of that! I wanted to do volunteering work abroad, but was worried about being homesick, and being shy of the people with you. 'Afraid that put the kibosh on doing any of that, something I do regret. Alternatively I did manage to make two Greyhound bus trips around the States, one month and then two months. They were fabulous.
Up to now, mentally, I had been okay. I'd had my moods, but nothing serious, although my mother had always had problems dealing with them. Being the practical, 'get on with it' kind of person, she found my ups and downs difficult. In fact her manner of mothering, I learned in later years, were wrong. My family, in all honesty, were toxic, but I wasn't made aware of that till later. Dad, my soul mate, was a police officer. A loveable man, rather shy, but, according to my eldest brother in later years - benignly negligent of me. My mother was dominant, an organiser. She 'knew' what was best for me.
'You're not a career girl.'
'You should have thought about that before.'
'You don't want to....(fill in gap).'
'You need a man to pull you along by the hair.'
And so forth.
Despite that I did get on well with them. And one thing I did sincerely appreciate was my family's ribald, irreverent sense of humour, which I happily inherited. We loved listening to UK's The Goons and The Navy Lark on the radio over Sunday dinner during the seventies and getting sloshed on my mother's beautiful home made apple wine. We'd watch dad's nose growing more and more purple and tell him he was 'flying without a licence'. (His trouser zip was invariably undone).
But there was little communication between me and my two brothers. The older one, seven years older than me, left home at eighteen to to go to Dartmouth college in Devon and join the navy, so I never really knew him back then. My other brother, a year and a half older, was what you would call a man's man. He hero worshipped our brother, and he and I had absolutely nothing in common, aside from having the same parents. He barely spoke to me and considered me a pesky little sister.
When I met my husband, I was delighted, but after our decision to get married, rather than excitement, I was scared. I was weepy. This was possibly the start of my depressive disorder. Six months later I was fine and we got married. But, driving down the motorway towards our honeymoon, I felt miserable and we had to stop. Husband comforted me.
We settled into married life and I was okay, but Husband was one of the best people I ever met! We're soul mates, we're each other's rocks. We've cared for one another over the years. We're like a couple of naughty schoolboys. We have umpteen zillion interests and hobbies. He has a brain the size of a small planet and our conversations over morning coffee encompass the latest technology on Star trek or Dr.Who, where we're travelling to next, food, fashion, the solar system, ghost hunting...
Looking back, I escaped my family's continual digs and nags. One sister-in-law was sarcastic towards me, the other was a snob and dismissed me (I wasn't good enough to be invited to my niece's wedding).
Full blown depression swamped me like the proverbial wet blanket after my kids were born, and over the next thirty years I was okay, then fine, then bad in various stages. I detested domesticity, even less looking after small children. I've always said that even had I been well, I would still have been bored. My mother, who'd had a lot of interests, hadn't minded home-making and she enjoyed motherhood. I had assumed I'd take after her. I'd take up freelance artwork and work from home. Work for art exhibitions. Eh, well...
I got through that first year, then was diagnosed with post natal depression and prescribed Prothiaden, my first antidepressant. I felt a lot better. I had started writing my epic western novel, Alias Jeannie Delaney, the life story of a devastating cowgirl who's the fastest gun in the west and also bisexual. I was getting anecdotal articles published. I was creating art for exhibitions. I did voluntary work. I couldn't simply settle for homemaker and young parenthood.
My renaissance soul personality stated that art, writing, travelling and the wild west were my chief interests. I added archery to that (I'd discovered it at the local gym), canoeing and narrow boating, the paranormal (always been fascinated), architecture, archaeology, interior design... Very few things I'm not interested in!
We began fulfilling my wild west fantasies with western groups and living history camps, but was suffering from anxiety prior to events. Husband used to worry that depression would eventually affect my passtime and he was right. Years of depression had left my mind with the false thought that women had no place in the western sphere, reinforced by a few negative people I had encountered online and at events. As a result, I was unable to watch westerns or anything related to the west without feeling sad. I still find it hard. So, before leaving for camping events, my anxiety was rife. I was nervous about the kind of folk I would encounter. Usually the people we did encounter were great, but there was no guarantee every time. I was also becoming very frustrated over the writing of my novel, unable to talk about it to many people, including Husband.
About five years ago over the Christmas period, I had my medication crisis. My psychiatrist prescribed Prozac, then went on holiday. On Christmas day I became suicidal. At his wits end, Husband sought the help of neighbours. One of them had worked for a local mental health team, whom we contacted. They ordered me off Prozac. To cut a long story short, I was stabilised then prescribed Mirtazapine and Venlafaxine (known as California Rocket Fuel!) then given a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. I had always said that my depression was clinical, not psychological, but years of family attitudes towards me, and of depression itself, had led to distorted thinking patterns. Medication brought me up to a certain level of wellness, then cognitive behavioural therapy finally made me feel better than I've ever been. The whole process took three years. Added to this, a year after my medication crisis both my parents' deaths, within days of one another, completed my wellness. I no longer felt any obligations towards family and I felt freer than I'd ever felt. It's been a heck of a journey, and it's not yet finished. Husband is helping me to edit my novel - after my recovery I decided it was time to get it out there.
As I speak Husband and I are in Madeira on the first two week holiday we've ever done abroad. Yesterday we took a bonkers local bus trip halfway up the mountain in Funchal, Madeira's capital. What a ride! Amazing buses, amazing drivers, taking us on a mad ride up hairpin bends, narrow roads bordered by tropical vegetation and beautiful tropical houses built virtually on top of one another. Today Husband and I walked a levada, one of the island's irrigation systems of narrow concrete channels that water the island's banana palms. They follow the island contours inland and out. Incredible!
Back home, our kids are young adults and we love their company. We have twin granddaughters and we're building our polymath creativity and life, all of which I'm chronicling on this blog..
It's becoming a bit of an adventure!