Autobiography & Memoir
Finding Renewed Zest for Life
I didn't have a care in the world in 2005. I lived contentedly with my wonderful loving, charming husband Martin Breese, magician, publisher, photographer, inventor, writer-cum-editor, compiler and modern first editions book collector and dealer. We lived in a beautiful Georgian house located in one of the most prestigious crescents in Brighton.
Suddenly my world was shattered. One evening he sat at the dining table in our black, chrome and yellow kitchen and calmly announced that he would be leaving me after 25 years of marriage. He had been unfaithful with the Cuban housekeeper, had fallen in love with the Argentinian neighbour, was no longer in love with me and had loaned her, without anything in writing, £25,000 of our joint money supposedly for 10 days. He didn't know at the time she was a professional trickster and liar.
I tried to take it all in and thought I could cope .He calmly took 6 months to move himself and his home office out of the house while I slowly had a complete mental breakdown. He then took bit by bit everything of material value and finally moved into another flat we owned, which was bought as an investment buy-to-let property in the same crescent. His attitude was that he had lost everything in his first marriage and so he wasn't going to loose out again in his second! Then at the age of 72, he smoked and harvested hash, owned a colonic irrigation clinic in our flat with a new business partner, got a tattoo, drank copious amounts of red wine every night and when he realised he had been conned, used the services of Coco, a Chinese Madame, and paid £120 for an evening's entertainment. He would show me all his conquest photographs. Two years later, he began Chinese and eventually Thai internet dating disappearing off to China and later Thailand in search of love before finally finding himself a Thai bride. He was running out of time and intended to grow old disgracefully and get away with it. Which he did before he departed this life, tragically with a strong will to live until the end.
I ran off to Chania, Western Crete, to get away from the reality of our separation. Next I joined a Holocaust University Field Trip to Krakow, where I experienced the first signs of my forthcoming breakdown. On I went in November to Prague to meet my best friend Helga who came in from Jerusalem as winter descended. Finally in January I flew to Havana where I had fallen in love with my Cuban companion Victor who I had been friends with for 10 years. We had finally realised we were in love in a revealing moment of truth. When I got back to Brighton my husband had become a frightening alter-ego and the realisation created a complete devastating breakdown that was to change my life forever.
Our marital roles had reversed. I was no longer top dog. I was collapsing on the floor at any given moment, barking like a dog or rather howling, suffering from agoraphobia and stammering. I stopped cooking and eating. Martin became a Jekyll and Hyde personality overnight. The lovely man I had shared my life with had disappeared, and another mentally abusive one had appeared in his place who terrified me. Demanding money, writing poison pen emails and letters, shouting in my face until I collapsed in a heap on the floor to be picked up by my caring faithful next-door neighbour who had my keys.
I ended up in mental hospitals twice. Once with the NHS and the second time at The Priory, surrounded by NHS drug addicts and alcoholics. I believe I was the only inmate who paid their extortionate fees. I spent two weeks there without any therapy but coerced into taking strong medication for the first time in my life. I was a complete human wreck. I discharged myself into the unknown. Martin called the ambulance service to get me put back inside but all they gave me was a tranquilliser. I recall the nurse saying what a shame she could not understand what I was trying to say because I could not get beyond stammering I zillions of times.
I was a complete human wreck. The only thing I could do was write. I eventually threw out all my 25 years of notes from courses and my Creative Writing pieces and journals. I wanted to break with the past and most of my friends. I even threw out all my precious family photographs, albums and traces of my past life. My Paris address book went in the bin. I had zero confidence so I knew I would never be going back to work there or see my old friends, even though I had spent 25 years of my life in that city. After all I was never going back and who would want to see me anyhow in the state I was in?
I couldn't cope with the upkeep of the empty house, despite at one time getting a Spanish student who ended up cooking and doing the laundry for me because he felt sorry for me. My tenants in the basement could hear me howling and sometimes brought me food. I was the mad woman of Chaillot. The house became a slum and stank of hash left over from the time when he grew a crop under photographic lamps on the top floor. Someone called the police that I was at risk and an aggressive policewoman called round one Saturday night. I was convinced that she would smell the lingering stale odour but she made no comment thankfully. She threatened me saying she would be back
What he didn't take, I gave away to Japanese Buddhists who used to come over and chant for me daily. The house was full of strangers leeching off me. One lovely religious woman would come all the way from Eastbourne with food and fill my fridge. I had a carer who would take me supermarket shopping. The hospital sent follow up nurses, social workers and carers to look after me. No one would leave me alone in peace. How I hated my life. There seemed to be no way out.
I lost four years of my life. I kept a few close friends. a lifelong friend who was a highly qualified psychotherapist did not give up on me. Another friend would say don't be so silly'. Of course she had to go because she didn't understand anything about mental health problems. However, one new friend did. Pauline came into my life and became a wonderful companion and close friend. She had had an insight herself into the world of Mental Health. She founded with others an interesting ethnic group which I was asked to join called Woven (Women of an enterprising nature) and today she is a life coach amongst her many other talents. I call her my Tuttofare. (Italian for Girl Friday). She has even put the word proudly on her visiting card.
I was eventually left with one large pink carrier bag with white dots, which I still have in the cupboard as a reminder of my past. Inside at the time were two pairs of glasses, an alarm clock, a pair of scissors, one pink sweater poor quality sweater and underwear that no longer fitted. I had gone from size 16 plus down to size 10. At night, I gradually threw out all my expensive 1980s designer clothes from Paris where I had lived and had a relationship with the city for 25 years. I was almost a bag lady! I would look at my clock and divide the hour into quarters watching my life tick away. I would sit on park benches not having anywhere to go or anything to do. This went on and on. I don't recall playing the music I used to love that was constant in my previous life.
I continued to write. I inspired myself. I couldn't concentrate on reading. I was not computer literate. I only knew how to send emails. My clinical psychologist advised me to embrace the New World. I was still ignorant only knowing about antiques and nostalgia as I had founded a social history library based on consumer advertising and packaging. What did I know about the Noughties? But, I learned to understand people more and listen to their lives and their problems. People I met in the classes under the umbrella of mental health. I could communicate with people on the other side of that invisible line of insanity. The psychiatrists had a massive file on me. I was shunted to different departments, but they didn't know what 'treatment' to give me or what to do with me. Ironically my ex psychiatrist is now my neighbour but I can't call him by his first name even after all these years. he is, to me, Dr. X. The file is closed forever. The verdict. Jilliana had 'an adjustment problem' not a mental health problem. So I was never 'Mad' after all. There were big debates, so I was told later, on my special case. I was told finally 'They wanted to get it right'.
My writing became more profound. I wrote about my past life, my cultural background rather than my thoughts and feelings. I reminisced about synchronicity in my life. I had plenty to write about but I never actually wrote at the time about my breakdown and what I really felt as I was going through it. I still haven't written to this day. The experience is locked away in a compartment of my mind and the key thrown away forever.
Of my own accord, I weaned myself off the terrible medication that had made me gain about three stones until I became a stout middle aged woman. People see me today and marvel, passing comment on the 'new' Jilliana. They ask me what my secret is. How come I look younger, soigne and dress differently? Throughout my marriage I never wore a vestige of makeup other than lipstick. If I wore no red lipstick, I felt undressed. Today I feel undressed without makeup, jewellery and a hat.
I have been reborn and have renewed my zest for life with a vengeance. I was blocked from returning to Paris for four years to see my lifelong friends because it was not the right moment. I knew when that moment would come and it finally did,. I hadn't lost my good French conversational skills, in fact somehow they had improved because I had improved as a human being.
The renewal happened when I moved from the depressing cream buy-to-let flat I was forced to move into for three years after the house was sold. It was bought on impulse by the local antique dealer. Martin had sold it like an antique, which it was, exactly as our Victorian house in prestigious Notting Hill had been sold to an antiquarian clock dealer. The house is Biba House and is now worth five million pounds today in 2014. I named it Biba House officially as we had bought it from the famous fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki in 1983. It was sold with one phone call in 2003, just as 10 Hanover Crescent in Brighton was sold. History had repeated itself.
One day, the mortgage company, Coutts of London, said I had to leave the flat as it was a buy-to-let property and it was illegal for me, as the owner, to be living in it myself. I panicked over the idea of The Move. I had bought a flat with half the money from the sale of the house as an investment to rent out and live off the needed income. However, The Move liberated me beyond belief even though I had to give up the income. It was like Miss Haversham opening the curtains of life and letting the sun shine in. I was liberated and revitalised. I began to invite my old and new friends over and socialise once more. They all complimented me on my lovely traditional high ceilinged flat in a private park where I am now reside in state with my beautiful black and white companion Neko, the doyen of Catlandia.
Another incident happened too. I regained my passion. This time it was for modern costume jewellery. I got inspired in Spain on holiday at a music festival. Another door opened. A new interest. This led me searching in other cities in Spain and eventually to Berlin. Then I reverted back to what I knew best - vintage. I got hooked on vintage jewellery. I became fascinated visually. A new never ending subject. This new interest for new and old took me to New York, Florida, Berlin, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Greece and back to France. My new passion is everywhere - even in Sussex. I have become a little girl in a sweet shop trying new sweets (or in my case jewellery) every day. I now take a pride in my appearance and actually look at myself in the mirror before I leave my flat. Something I never did in my 25 years of marriage...............
Today I socialise, travel and consider I am only based in Brighton. I have moved on and resumed the life I once had in the 70s before I married all those years ago. I have opened a new chapter in my now eventful life. I advise everyone to let Change happen. Move with the Times. Become involved with the technological revolution. Become a conversationalist and a raconteur. Never let an opportunity pass by. Carpe Diem. Ask a better question and you will get a better answer. You have nothing more valuable than the ideas you embrace.
Jilliana's Vignettes 5th April, 2013 and updated 14th April, 2014, Brighton.