A very Personal Story by Susan Musselwhite
A couple weeks ago our Chairman shared his families sad and heartbreaking history from his father being at the Nuclear Tests.
I read the blog with tears in my eyes and sadness in my heart that such a wonderful man and family have been through so much suffering but have come through and inspired. The suffering that their family have gone through resonates with us all though doesn’t it?
It made me sit and think of all the Nuclear families that I have spoken to over the years, made me think of my family and how much my father being at the tests has affected us.
I hear about the wonderful fathers that our descendants had and still have and sadly it makes me feel so many emotions. Because myself and my sister didn’t have that, we were abandoned just before Christmas when I was 8 years old. I was such a daddies girl that it affected myself more than my little sister. It did affect us both and still to this day affects us, might be subconsciously but it’s an effect that could leave us bitter.
My father walking out and leaving us out had such a mental anguish on myself that it’s affected the relationships that I have had with everyone. It would though wouldn’t it! My mother and her family were our main support system and looking back I am so grateful to them. But I was still a daddies girl that missed her daddy and wanted a connection, I found in my father’s sister. She was my rock, my world. She was poorly though but to me that didn’t matter cause we got to spend time just talking and watching kids TV. With my Auntie I could be a kid that didn’t have a care in the world. I treasured every day that I spent with her.
I then got into my teens, as any teen knows that’s a trying time but I was different, I had a single mum that worked all hours god sends. Mum gave me a strong work life ethic that I still continue with today. Bet your thinking, single mum? 25 years ago where I lived that wasn’t a common occurrence so people thought we were different!
I wasn’t the best teenager, I rebelled, started smoking and drank. As I grew in age drinking was an out for me, I drank to forget the loss. In a short space in time my Auntie, Nan and two people close to me passed away. I thought I’d got over my father leaving but it was still haunting me, these deaths were haunting me. I drank, drank to forget. Guess I was my father’s daughter because he was a drinker to!
Years passed I still drank, drank to forget the pain that I was constantly in. Didn’t stop me in life though, I worked hard but life didn’t have meaning. I got into seriously wrong relationships that brought me down more. I tried to take my own life because I just couldn’t cope, didn’t know who to talk to or really where to start talking, I was so lost.
My mother was at her wits end, she didn’t know what to do. Then one Christmas I found out that my mother knew where my father was. She contacted him and he called, we spoke and agreed to meet. The day of meeting him I had all these emotions. The meeting didn’t go that well and I took it as a sign to stay away because I thought this would only make the mess I was in worse. He blamed anything and everything but not himself for what he had done.
He mentioned being at the Nuclear Tests and blamed them for leaving. I didn’t need another toxic relationship. I needed to get away and out of where I lived out of my head. I did get out and got a job away from the toxic people and the toxic life that I had, but had I run away just like my father did? Unlike him though I didn’t have children, I didn’t abandon anyone.
I knew I could never let my children down cause I couldn’t have any. Was this because my father was at the Tests? Was my constant racing brain because of my father being at the tests? I may have got away from the toxic relationships but I could not escape my toxic brain. I worked and worked, kept my head down but was still drinking and it didn’t help that the people I worked with enjoyed a drink as well. I was getting into the ever decreasing circle again, I didn’t want that!
I had to go to a doctor, bent over picked up a piece of paper and busted my back, great! Went and saw the doctor and he was talking about my surname (Musselwhite) and how you don’t hear many people called that name. Then he dropped a bombshell ! He said he was sorry to hear about my father , whatttttttttt! My father? What you mean? I could see in his face he didn’t know what to say so he back tracked.
Only a few months later my mother called to say my father had died. Now I know what the doctor was on about. I said I didn’t want to go the funeral, my mother though was as always a rock and said that this could close the chapter of my life, the hurt, the loneliness that him leaving left me.
My sister picked me up and took me to the funeral, I was so nervous. My little sister acted that day like a big protective sister, cause we have always stuck together like glue even though we always argue. The funeral was a charming affair and the best part of it was that I got to see two of my half sisters, they had been out of our lives for so long. That day changed my life in more ways than one. I had more family but I also laid a ghost that had been hanging around my neck for 20 years to rest.
My life really did change that day, I felt better, a different person. Nothing was dragging me down. I changed my career, I moved back to Devon and even though I’d had more devastating news and had a mini breakdown I was great. Loved my career and was happy in myself for the first time ever, I even found love! Then my world came crumbling down, why? I was so happy, settled and for once looking forward to the future.
I needed emergency surgery and I went home to rest and get better. My partner and I got through and started to look forward to the future again. Something wasn’t right, my fast brain was getting worse again. I’d become double incontinent and just felt that every fibre of my body hurt. Saw the consultant and he was concerned so I was sent to so many hospital appointments. My whole body was always trembling, my heart you could see was bouncing out my chest. Was I dying?
I was diagnosed in the same month with Graves’ disease, hyper thyroid, over active brain function, weak bowel, over active bladder and a crumbling spine. That was a lot to take in!
The hospital appointments, so many! I felt like I lived in hospital. I'd already had an infection that was so bad the surgeon had had to go in and scrape it all out, that was painful! I was then diagnosed with thyroid eye disease and that was affecting the Dawyne Syndrome, I felt like I was drowning. Didn’t know which way to turn.
One day laying in bed (spent more time in bed than out of it) my dad popped in my head and what he said about being at the tests. So started looking through Facebook and found Fallout, thank the lord. These people understood me, supported me and I didn’t feel like a freak any more. Then more bad news, I was told that my father was lying cheating thief. I didn’t think the best of him anyway but this and in a community that had accepted me and were kind to me. I was devastated.
Then more bad news I was at a friends and I was so ill that she had to take me to hospital were I was told that my kidneys were running at 6% and they were deciding if I needed to be airlifted to the spec list care unit. The next set of bloods would determine what would happen. The function went down to 3% but now I was being sick so had to be isolated in case I had MRSA. Luckily I didn’t! I was so determined not have to end up on dialysis, I’d seen my Auntie all them years ago go through that and that brought demons that I never wanted to feel again.
Sheer stubbornness kept me going, the kidneys started to function a bit better and I didn’t have to go on dialysis, whoop whoop. Oh the pain though and yet another illness to add to the list, I already had all these illnesses as well as the ones that I had from a kid and PCOS ( Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome) what more could I take? Every day was such a struggle, I hurt in ways that I couldn’t explain. I didn’t know what symptom was for what. I was taking more pills than anyone should ever have to and I was in a black hole. Was this going to end or was it going to end me?
But now I did have people in my life that really understood and could relate. Fallout and BNTVA gave me an even bigger family, an understanding family that are going through the same daily pains. I had even met people whose father’s had worked with my father.
People spoke about my father all the time and it wasn’t good for me them demons came back and people were saying what a wonderful man he was, hang on. The man that abandoned me and my family. Treated my half sisters badly, supposedly stole from BNTVA this man? Wonderful? Hold the boat! Wasn’t sure how to deal with all that needed to get better, get back to work and my own two feet again.
I was then told something that broke me, I would never be able to work again. That’s it, I want off the boat! To me this was devastating, I’ve always worked and worked hard. I felt like I’d lost my identity. I needed to concentrate on myself, I was falling into a black hole and I didn’t want to be in it.
The BNTVA called! They asked if I would become a Trustee, what me? I was sure they could find someone better than me. It turned out my father was on the board years ago and some members of the board that it would be nice if I sat on the board. What could I bring to the table though ? I wasn’t good at anything any more.
My first conference was daunting , what were the Veterans going to think of me? What ever I was thinking couldn’t have been further from the truth. They were all awesome, so friendly and accepting. I still didn’t want to say who my father was though, was ashamed . Wouldn’t you be?
My health was having ups and downs and I was always feeling guilty. Guilty that that pain I was in stopping me doing so much. This was putting such a strain on my relationship with my partner, it still does now. I’ve always been one to crack on and carry on, don’t need anyone. Learnt that from a young age from my mother. Did I really need to be in relationship? Do I want to be in it? God I over think all the time don’t I?
Now though I have been diagnosed with Anxiety and it makes sense really. It’s like worrying about everything and really caring but also not giving two flying figs. Why do I care that some stranger looked at me funny? Why am I checking the train ticket 20 times before I leave and then 100 times while on the journey. Why do I get so upset that my partner uses the sugar spoon to stir his coffee? Why can’t I sleep? Why can I really not sleep when I have to leave my bungalow?
Why’s my leg twitching again? Where is my cat? Does dinner taste good? Was that text that I sent a bit to short? Why am I always thinking? My brain just doesn’t stop, when I do sleep I wake up more tired than when I went to bed.
Then one morning I wake up and I have this pain in my head, not a headache not a migraine. You know I just forgot how to spell migraine. This has been happening so often. Forgot my own cats names the other day. It’s just like the babes fell out my head! Anyway, back to where we were. This pain is indescribable, I have suffered with migraines since I was a little girl. This though is no migraine. I’m frightened, is it something serious? I finally go to the doctors and she to is worried, she sends me for head scans.
The pain is getting worse not only does my head feel on fire and in so much pain every nerve is twitching, my neck feels so weak and I just feel sick. It’s making every inch of me hurt. I’m letting people down cause I can’t do anything. Thing is though your not letting anyone down apart from yourself cause you can’t help being poorly but I always seem to be saying this now and it’s making my mind just race which is hurting my head even more.
No one knows what’s wrong with me, they thought I had a brain tumour then a brain bleed.
I then get rushed to hospital because I just can’t take this pain that has been going on for weeks now. I see a doctor, the acute unit is full but this one doctor only sees me, why? Strange things like this keep happening. She said that she’s read my medical file and that I’m diagnosed with all these health issues but then I’m always just left to it. She proclaims not today! By this point I’ll believe anything because I’m now just willing to chop my own head off to stop the pain, the dizzy spells, the feeling that I’m not me anymore. Does she help? Nah, she disappears never to be seen again!
I’ve told doctors that I’m a descendant of the Nuclear Tests many a times, I’ve had the looks, mouth drop and then say that couldn’t have anything to do with your health. I have given up saying about it now, but nine times out of ten I’ve a BNTVA polo on so they can't ignore me. I’ve side tracked again!
So I see this specialist and she says that I have genetic chronic migraine, hang on. Genetic? But my father had bad headaches. So I say to the consultant, say that my father was at the tests and he had bad headaches. She brushed me off like they all do. So now I have to start to learn to live with this Chronic Migraine, only words I can say about it is it’s horrendous. I have injections in my head and the consultant wants me to take more drug. Oh come on, read my file. My kidneys aren’t exactly the best so I’m trying to reduce medications because I’m trying to keep them functioning!
I feel like I can’t catch a break, can’t be bothered to smile cause it hurts and every day the pain in my head it’s all just a nightmare. We come to the All Tests Reunion, I love it . It’s my happy place being with people and a community that I love and have so much passion for. These people really have kept me going so I have to smile, show them I’m not in pain . I’m OK, honest!
One night at dinner though I get told something that shocks me to the core. I was told the truth about my father, that he didn’t steal anything that in fact he helped save BNTVA. Hang on a minute, how am I meant to feel? None of it was true. So the man that I though was a complete monster wasn’t really. He didn’t steal and his time at the tests really had just affected him. But emotions in me didn’t know how to process and think or feel about it all. What was I meant to think and feel?
Again my brain was in conflict and that really wasn’t helping the pain that was already in there. Oh I cried that night, thought it was best because if I kept it in I would break I don’t want to break I want to shout about our Nuclear Veterans from the roof tops and tell people what these men went though and their families.
I never really think about my father as a Nuclear Test Veteran, don’t really think much of him at all really. Because as much as I may forgive him with what I know now I still can’t forget what he put my mother and sister through. My mum has struggled all our life and now has health issues yet she always worries about me.
You may be wondering now why am I writing about all this, to be honest I don’t really want anyone knowing about my past, it’s in the past and it cant be changed but one big thing, the past is what makes you the person today. We don’t have a clue what will happen tomorrow so cherish this day. Our community goes through so much yet look at me.
Cancer scares, attempted suicides, more health issues than you can shake a stick at an the mental impact of my father being at the tests. It takes a toll but we can still smile while fighting.
My father’s name will die when my sister and I pass away and that will be a legacy that will never be. I can’t have children and everything that I have I believe that it’s because my father was at the tests . Doctors can keep telling me no and giving me that look but I know in my heart. I’ve heard to much and seen to much to never change my mind.
I’ve been reported to the DWP for working when I’m not, I’ve been told that my health can’t be anything to do with my father being at the tests and other things. But if people think that this will stop me campaigning for BNTVA, think again.
I didn’t ask to be born and my father didn’t ask to be at the tests. I can’t blame him because he had his demons that he took to his death.