"My childhood was crap. Mum did her best though. Dad was an alcoholic and never showed us any love or affection."

Jo, 55

My childhood was crap. Mum did her best though. Dad was an alcoholic and never showed us any love or affection. For him, it was all about the boys – cricket clubs, footy clubs - every Saturday there were always heaps of his mates at our place. I remember when I hurt myself when I was about seven and ended up in hospital. At the time, Dad was on a cricket trip with the boys, and when he turned up at the hospital, he was really pissed off because I’d interrupted his trip. He stayed for about 20 minutes and then left. To this day, he is still very difficult to deal with, especially now he has dementia. It makes it hard to look after him – but we do it because of Mum – I know it shouldn’t be like that, but he made our childhood bloody hard.

Although I had a crap childhood, I was still able to achieve my dream of being a hairdresser. I got my qualification at the age of 42 and it’s something I’m so proud of. I can’t do it now though because of my hands. I’m allergic to a chemical called PPD. Even though I worked in a salon that used organic products, I was still allergic to the organic chemical and had a reaction to it. I cried for two days when the doctor told me to give up hairdressing because the chemicals could kill me. If you think of dermatitis, my condition was 10 fold worse. My daughter used to help me run the house because I couldn’t use my hands. I really miss it.

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My hands issue was just part of the package of autoimmune diseases that I have.  The first autoimmune disease that I got, Alopecia areata, was when I was 30 years old. One day my hair started falling out in clumps and I had bald spots. When the doctor diagnosed it as Alopecia, I was grateful that I at least had a name for it. He said that they didn’t know too much about it, and weren’t sure what to do about it, but that I had to keep my sense of humour! I also have Asthma, Hayfever, and Rheumatoid Arthritis in my hands.  I had my spleen removed recently due to ITP. Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a rare autoimmune disease where my body destroys my clotting platelets. I now bruise easily. Both sides of the family have autoimmune issues – my son is ok, but my daughter also has Alopecia, and suffers badly from Endometriosis – she is now going through early menopause at 22. At the moment I’m having tests for a few unconscious episodes I’ve had lately and the doctors don’t know what is causing it. I hate it when I don’t have a name for something, so I’m paying a lot of money to get tests so I can work out what’s going on.

I still have a positive attitude though. I’m looking to travel up north to see a friend in the next few months, and I’m lucky that I’ve got the friends I’ve got. We have a lot of shared experiences and connection, and whilst we don’t live in each other’s pockets, I know they’ll help me if I need them. I know that I could rock up on their doorstep and it’d be like, ‘good to see you, come in, how long are you staying for?’ I’m grateful that there are no false personas, I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not, and that I’m not judged. Recently, my best friend died at the age of 51. It has given me a new perspective - I am even more thankful and grateful for what I have.  Whilst my world has turned upside down, and I’m still having a lot of trouble dealing with it, I’ve been blessed with two great kids, I’m still alive, and I’m thankful.



Dione Brockwell