They say in marathon running that there is a point (usually at around 2/3 of the way through) where you ‘hit the wall’ and that in order to complete it you need to keep running – runners do it by pacing themselves, taking on nutrition and making a huge mental effort – mind over matter.
In fact, amusingly, E had a T shirt, from one of his more disastrous London marathon attempts (he did three, didn’t train for a single one of them, and then took fucking ages to limp round – I think one of them took him over eight hours – I have no idea why he put himself through it, but I suspect he liked the glory of saying he’d run the marathon), which said ‘I ran through the wall’. This used to occasionally draw attention and congratulations, (which he very graciously accepted), I never mentioned that he’d crawled over it/limped around it when people did this. Sort of wish I had now…
Back in February, I finally reached the point where I’d hit my own personal wall. A second court date had come and gone (E was, inevitably, a no show) and I was no closer to reaching an agreement re the sale of the house and how we’d split the equity. I was worried sick about Youngest Daughter, and I had accepted an offer on the house but E, for some reason has questioned the validity of (proving he does communicate sometimes, if only it’s to try and make things more difficult). The final straw, was a call to a rental agency after I’d accepted the offer on the house. I was full of optimism, I felt like I was getting on top of things. So, after I’d confirmed everything with the agent re the sale, I asked to be transferred to the lettings department. What I thought would be a positive conversation that would give me an idea of where I could hope to live for the next few years, left me feeling utterly bereft.
I’d worked out how much I could afford in rental (after all the debts were cleared) and I knew roughly what that rental money could buy. That was my first mistake. The girl I spoke to, asked what rental I was looking for, I told her and she asked ‘on what basis do you think you can you afford that?’ I replied on the basis of the fact that it was around half the price of the mortgage I was already managing to provide the funds for, and on the basis of a very detailed budget calculation. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.
She informed me that my salary would only support a maximum rental of around 75% of what I needed (pretty much a two-bedroom flat – which isn’t ideal for me and three kids), and only then with a guarantor. I explained that I also receive child maintenance payments, that were worth a substantial part of my income (around 50%), to which she replied she could only include them in my income calculations if they were mandated by a court settlement (at which point my heart sank a little further – E hadn’t responded to any of the court’s demands that he send in his details, so that we could come to an agreement). I then took a deep breath and talked about my credit record (apparently a guarantor would help with this), this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem (although I was made to feel that I should be extremely grateful if anyone was prepared to take me on), but then I mentioned the debt payment plan that I’d had to take out in order to try and keep paying the mortgage. There was an awkward silence, she explained that any kind of bad debt/bad debt payment plan would mean an automatic decline from the letting agency.
I was gutted. I’d spent over a year struggling to keep the kids and I in a house, keeping us fed, clothed, paying the bills. I’d done absolutely everything I could. I’d mired myself in debit just to keep everything ticking over. Then, when I realised I didn’t have enough credit left to keep paying the mortgage I’d done exactly what the mortgage company had told me to do and moved my unsecured debt into a payment plan. In doing this, I’d scuppered my chances of being able to get a rental house. I should I have just let arrears build up – they’d have looked bad on my credit record, but they wouldn’t have screwed it the way a debt payment plan had. The mortgage companies hadn’t mentioned this – their priority was making me pay the mortgage (they didn’t seem to be bothered about actually asking E to pay his share – he wasn’t responding to them, I was, so I was the person they were going for).
I then spoke to the council, and was told that I needed to go through a homelessness assessment (but that, as I was voluntarily selling the house, I may be seen as mentioning myself intentionally homeless, which could mean that they wouldn’t be obliged to help me).
If I thought I’d felt powerless when E was refusing to pay child maintenance, I now realised that that feeling was nothing. I was in a position where I’d been forced to sell the house, but I was facing the very real possibility that I had nowhere to go. I just didn’t know what to do. For the last three years I’d managed. For the last three years I’d kept going. All of a sudden, every door had been slammed in my face and I just didn’t know where to turn. A home to live in was one of the basics that I’d assumed I’d always be able to provide and I realised I might not even be able to do this.
For the next few days, I felt like I was walking around in a bit of a dream (well, a nightmare). I was tearful and snappy with the kids. I was going to work, I was doing everything as usual, but I was on autopilot. I just felt lost. For the first time in three years, I didn’t know what to do, I would never do anything stupid, but I began to understand why people jumped off buildings. I just wanted the world to stop. I’d hit the wall.
I’d had a medication review booked with my GP for a few weeks, and I went along expecting to tick a few boxes. But, when he asked if everything was ok, everything came flooding out. I admitted that I just wasn’t coping very well, explained how I was feeling. I explained that Youngest Daughter had moved out and not told me where she was living, I felt like I’d failed at the one thing E had left me – being a Mum. I felt like I was admitting defeat. I felt like I should have been able to cope and that I’d failed. In real terms I had failed – I couldn’t provide my children with a home. As a Mum, I was unable to do the most basic thing. I felt stupid, helpless and hopeless.
My GP was amazing. He suggested that I needed some time off work. Initially, I was worried (I’d only been in my new job a few months, and apart from ‘how it looked’ I knew I wasn’t’ entitled to sick pay until I’d been there for six months. But, in the end, I decided that I’d rather be short of money (again) then risk my mental health any further.
In the end, I was signed off work for six weeks. Initially I’d hoped to spend it getting the house cleaned, getting everything sorted out, but what happened was I spent a lot of time sleeping, a lot of time thinking and a lot of time feeling absolutely helpless. I think, though that whilst I didn’t emerge from it feeling ‘better’, it did do me good. For a little while the work ball had been removed from my juggling set, and it was one less pressure to deal with. I enjoyed being home when the boys got in from school. I liked schlepping round the house in the quiet when there was no-one there. I caught up with Grey’s Anatomy, and for the first time in over a year I started reading again. They were all small things, but they helped me to reconnect with myself a little bit. When I went back to work, I did feel more myself, more able to cope. I’d managed to run through the wall.
Of course, none of this made any of the stuff that had caused me to struggle go away. Having popped his head above the parapet to ask a load of pointless questions about the house sale, E had now disappeared from view, and was once more ignoring all attempts by my solicitor to contact him, and paying no heed to the Court’s demands to send the information they needed to them. In fact, he’d decided that his house sale questions were far more important than his obligations to the Court and he had even demanded answers to them before he attended to the information the court needed – we provided these answers, but the information for the Court remains unsent. In fact, a third court date has now had to be postponed because he has still refused to send his information over.
Initially, E was responding to the Estate Agent (female, young, attractive – I wonder what appealed to him about her?). He assured her that he ‘wouldn’t see me homeless’ and promised that he’d be in touch that week (I can almost hear the sincerity dripping from his voice, from here). She spoke to me and passed on this message. She believed every word (bless her). Of course, this was nearly ten weeks ago and nobody has heard anything from him about the equity split since. In the meantime, I’ve answered solicitor’s queries about the house, and started packing my life into boxes. I’ve got removal quotes and asked friends if they can provide personal references for me, so that when I approach a private landlord with my atrocious credit record, they might provide some assurance that I’ll look after their house and pay their rent. I’m trying to reassure the kids that, even though I don’t know where we’re going that I’ll make sure we’re ok. I’ve sent several emails to E (all polite, some more sarcastic than others) asking him to respond and come to an agreement about the sale and the equity. But he’s just gone silent on everyone.
In fact, the only contact that there has been from him recently, was at the beginning of May – the Court had set a date for a hearing (by Skype) which we heard about at very short notice (I literally had a call the day before). Given his usual silence, E was pretty quick to respond and duck out of this one (he even paid the £50 to defer the hearing) and after whinging that he was ‘self-isolating’ (maybe ‘self-isolating’ is his new euphemism for never fucking getting in touch?) and didn’t have a printer to print/sign the documents needed, he assured my solicitor that he’d be in touch ‘this week’. Of course, that never happened, In fact if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s still texting the kids, I’d be tempted to ask the police to check if he’s still alive.
I’d hit another wall – a wall of complete, and rather cruel, silence. One where E’s actions (or lack thereof) meant my whole life, my whole future, was completely controlled by him and where no amount of mental or physical effort on my part would make any difference. I simply couldn’t get through this wall.
Inevitably this particular wall has caused real problems. Because of lockdown, until a few weeks ago, the house sale had been relatively non-pressured. However, when the Government decided that house moves would start again, one of the people in chain turned the pressure up a notch. She’d always been keen to complete very quickly and now we were all actually able to move, the pressure from her to complete the sales in the chain grew. This inevitably meant the personal pressure on me increased. The only thing stopping the chain completing was me finding somewhere to live. In order to do that, I needed to have some idea of how much money I’d have, and if I’d have a deposit. If I couldn’t find a private rental, I needed to speak to the council and do their homeless assessment. I desperately needed to know where I stood. On top of that (parental boast incoming) Oldest Daughter had won a place at Oxford University to study for her Master’s degree, I desperately needed to find a way of funding this, and the only way I could see was by allocating some of the equity from the sale to help her. The Estate Agent, my solicitor and I all tried to contact E. He didn’t reply to any of us.
Things came to a head a couple of weeks ago. The person in the chain who’d been pushing for a quick sale, decided enough was enough and demanded that the sale go through within a couple of weeks, or she was pulling out. The Estate Agent called me and said that another person in the chain was willing to stick to their sale, and move into rental, but that this would mean he’d incur lots of additional costs, and therefore would I be prepared to knock a considerable amount off the sale price of the house to allow this to happen. It was never stated, but obviously, the implication (actually the fact) was that the person holding the chain up was me, so I guess it was reasonable to ask me to take the financial hit. I had to explain that I simply couldn’t take the hit, and that, actually, even if I could, I’d have to agree it with E. The Estate Agent (ever hopeful) said she’d call him, but that was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing,
So, the chain has now collapsed and I’m living in a half-packed house, with three kids who have no idea where they’ll be living in a few months’ time. I’m still struggling to pay two mortgages (E is still not contributing to them – he seems to view the child maintenance he’s pay for the boys, as the only contribution he needs to make), I can’t find a rental, not just because I don’t have any money, but because I now don’t even have the remotest idea of when I’ll be able to move. I suppose this is the answer to all of the people who asked me why I couldn’t put the house up for sale, and then come to an agreement with E. I suppose, I’ve been proved right (I’ll take the victories where I can), but it’s still all completely unfathomable. The reason E withdrew child maintenance and defaulted on the mortgage was to put pressure on me to do what he wanted and sell the house. A house sale has been the one thing he has been demanding for 18 months. I’ve finally done want he wants and now he seems to be doing everything he can to obstruct it. I feel like Alice falling through the rabbit hole – nothing makes sense.
The worst thing about it is that it’s not just me he’s hurting. Oldest Daughter may be unable to do her hard-won MA if he doesn’t respond, all of his children are struggling because they just want to know where they’ll be living. Everyone in the sale chain has been made to suffer and put under undue pressure. All of this because E won’t answer an email.
It’s baffling, it’s hurtful, it’s a wall that, for the moment (the Court may help at some point) only he has the power to let us run through.