#15 Living on her nerves

Have you ever known a woman, bird like in stature, eats little, preoccupied with ‘keeping busy’ running around after everyone, never slowing the pace or focussing on herself?

I’ve met many women who fit this description & today I’m going to introduce you to Joyce, a fictional woman who represents many of them.

As you read Joyce’s story consider these questions. 

  • How has Joyce’s trauma been medicalised throughout her life, labelled & medicated.
  • Had she been supported in a trauma informed way & had a loving partner, how might her’s & Stephen’s life have been different.



Joyce is in her 70’s, she’s a mother & a wife to Richard.

Joyce was diagnosed with post natal depression & anxiety, shortly after the birth of her twin boys.

Joyce is prescribed a cocktail of pills some for her ‘symptoms’ some to counteract the side effects of this psychotropic medication.

She smokes heavily & makes a lot of tea, rarely finishes a meal in fact she rarely sits down to eat, unless Richard reaches the end of his tether & bellows “for crying out loud, woman! Sit down & eat” she will then immediately relent & do as she is told.

Scoffing the food obediently.

Joyce was born in the 1950’s, she was part of the ‘baby boomer’ generation and enjoyed a good education & opportunities the previous post 1st world war generation didn’t have. Something she was reminded of by her parents frequently during her childhood.

She married Richard in the 1970’s, they had twin boys James & Stephen a year later.

Joyce had a harrowing pregnancy & childbirth, with lots of complications.

She struggled with early motherhood, but didn’t feel able to confide in her family, husband or health professionals. Her midwife eventually recognised she was struggling and referred Joyce to her GP.

Gradually she coped but she always felt she wasn’t good enough, which was reinforced by Richard’s constant criticism about how she fed, bathed, and generally cared for the boys.

Joyce felt inadequate

As they grew it was evident James developed his father’s personality traits. He was sporty, competitive & later on went to study law, he was celebrated by Richard as a high achiever.

Stephen was more like Joyce, creative, sensitive & quiet. Richard would often use terms like ‘man up’ to Stephen and would constantly tease him about needing to cut the apron strings from his ‘mummy’.

Being twins meant they were constantly compared, despite being very different, they got on very well. Both were vehemently protective of their mother, Joyce, who they felt lived on her nerves & in the shadow of their highly critical father.

As the boys aged, the pressure on Stephen to be ‘more like James’ grew, comparisons were often made, by teachers, sports coaches, & relatives.

Stephen was loving & kind, felt criticism deeply, which in those days was perceived as ‘weak’. Not by Joyce though, she adored Stephen’s emotional intelligence & empathy for others. They would talk for hours about his ambitions, hopes & dreams, Richard felt contempt of their affection for each other.

Joyce’s world was torn apart when Stephen aged only 19 ended his life by suicide, it was no accident or mistake. Stephen had wrestled with feelings of self loathing & pressure to fit in. Joyce was in no doubt that his intention was crystal clear.

Richard felt Stephen’s death brought huge shame on his family unit. He referred to his death as ‘an accident’. James was devastated but coped by throwing himself into his studies and sport. He moved to university as far away as possible, to escape the grief & pain.

For Joyce she felt she had lost 2 sons, life was unbearable. Richard insisted she was unwell again & needed to be referred to a psychiatrist who added another diagnosis & prescribed sedative medication to dampen down her grief.

Joyce felt numb, nothingness, worthlessness.

Richard coped with silence towards Joyce. He forbid conversations about Stephen & gradually removed his existence. Photographs were destroyed & if his name was mentioned he would leave the room or change the subject. It was subtle but noticeable to James, on the rare occasions he visited his parents.

For Richard he only had one son.

In time Joyce regained some feelings, she gradually weaned herself off the sedation, but her response was chronic fear & worry.

She kept busy, focusing on anyone else’s needs, using substances (nicotine) to feel calmer. These strategies helped her to cope & survive the deep sense of loss. 

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