#1 Don’t cry over spilt milk

A phrase that often means it doesn’t do any good to be unhappy about something that has already happened. Don’t dwell on the past, look to the future.

A familiar message we still hear today.

As you read the story below about Jean & her friend Molly consider these questions.

Was Molly’s experience common?

How was Molly’s trauma medicalised?

Would a man ever be described as ‘hysterical’? 

Jean, is 76, she was born post second world war in 1947. She reflects on her life, her experiences & her friendships.

There is one friend she remembers in particular, Molly, with deep sadness & regret.

Often referred  to as the ‘baby boomers’ Molly & Jean were told to be grateful, that their generation were privileged compared to the previous one.

“Never complain”

“You don’t know you’re born”

In the early 60’s, this generation of children were reaching an age where the majority of working class children had left school by their 15th birthday. But for some, there was an opportunity to access free higher education & the possibility of a ‘professional’ job.

The girls that had this opportunity were considered particularly ‘lucky’. 

Despite this, there was still a societal expectation for many women to marry young. This was still a time when women struggled to access mortgages or loans without their husband or father’s signature.

Having completed a secretarial & management course at college, Jean now 22, married Harry aged 28. They met locally, being introduced by Jean’s older brother.

Harry was handsome, charming & already had a good career in banking. He was considered a ‘good catch’ & came from a wealthy family.

Jean’s parents frequently reminded her of this. She went along with the wedding, she didn’t really feel there was much choice.

Harry had chosen her, so she ought to be grateful.

From the beginning of the marriage, Harry was unkind & unfaithful. He belittled her & the job she loved. He would give her the odd slap if she argued with him or spoke out of turn.

Something she’d seen her father do to her mother on many occasions.

She was relieved when a decade later, after years of not ‘gifting’ him a child, he left her for his younger secretary.

Now a single, childless woman with a successful career, friends would worry she might tempt their husbands to stray, Jean found herself uninvited to parties & events.

But she would still see her loyal friend Molly, regularly after work.

Molly was one of those friend’s Jean could have deeper conversations with. Molly gradually confided in Jean about her own ‘troubled’ marriage. Despite Molly telling Jean about the chronic fear she felt, Jean didn’t recognise what Molly was describing as abusive.

She didn’t see the similarities in her own experience.

After years of injuries caused by her husband, Molly developed health conditions & internalised the blame, thinking she was the cause of her husband’s bad temper.

He constantly told her she was mad & she believed him.

Eventually she went to the doctor & was prescribed Valium, this numbed the pain & she quickly became addicted to, needing higher doses to get through the day.

Again she confided in Jean, hoping she would reassure or even help her.

Jean would listen sympathetically, but assumed much of Molly’s troubles were ‘in her head’.

Some years later, Molly spent time in a large psychiatric hospital. Jean wasn’t allowed to visit. Molly was never the same after that.

At age 40, Molly ended her life with an overdose of the drugs that were meant to make her better.

Jean was devastated, she reflected on what Molly had told her, & carried the guilt of knowing the true cause of Molly’s death, but said nothing.

She knew Molly’s husband had persuaded the psychiatrist to admit Molly into hospital. She knew deep down that he was cruel & violent behind closed doors, yet like Harry was charming to the outside world.

If Jean spoke up now, she knew no-one would believe her. 

Women being framed as ‘hysterical’ were frequently prescribed the drug Valium, to calm them down, rather than address the cause of their deep sense of fear & sadness….

Male violence.

Frequently admitted into large psychiatric institutions where they would be heavily medicated & have their rights removed.

Like Molly.

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