"I keep it hidden, I keep it locked away."
Joey Essex - 'Grief and Me', BBC Three Documentary, 9pm June 3rd .
"I keep it hidden, I keep it locked away."
This year Joey is 30years old and he feels he's at a key point in his life when things need to change. At the start of this documentary we see him looking through box after box of 'stuff' that he proclaims himself "I've never been able to chuck something away". Hoarding almost always follows a loss and in this case the loss is huge and devastating - Joey's mum died by suicide when he was 10 years old, some 20 years ago .
"When my mum was around I was so happy. Life would be more normal and happy with mum here." Understandably, Joey doesn't want to process the reality, the trauma - even though he's living with the loss on a daily basis. "Mummy's gone." - he still remembers his dad saying those words; words he couldn't understand, couldn't grasp; she'll come back he thought, it can't be true.
Every year 41,000 young people lose a parent in the UK. Such a staggering figure. And maybe just like Joey they suffer with anger, anxiety and depression. Joey tells his cousin Chloe "I always put a brave face on." And maybe like Joey they don't talk about the traumatic death. "I keep it hidden, I keep it locked away."
Joey like so many others who grieve spends money;'retail therapy' and 'partying' have been his thing since featuring on TOWIE and achieving huge success. "I don't really know who I am...I've spent a decade building Joey Essex, but how does it help me get over losing my mum?" These are two very common distractions that many of us turn to to help us 'cope'. "Spending money was me trying to fill a gap - but nothing makes me happy."
Joey decides to see a therapist and "It feels like it's the biggest thing I've ever done in my life." He talked about how anxious and stressed he felt about the forthcoming session, and the fact that he didn't sleep the night before. But he's serious about doing this, despite it scaring him so much.
I love his honesty, the way he described his feelings as he sat in front of the therapist "I'm excited nervous".
"I put painful things to the back of my mind."
I'm not sure if it was before or after his 1st session but he had the following flashback ; "My dad putting me in a cold bath - I know I was hot, panicky." He said he'd never spoken to anyone about those panic attacks and the cold water baths. When he relayed the flashback to his dad, his dad said he didn't know if Joey had remembered. "No not forgotten, just didn't want to say it."
The anticipation of an event is frequently worse than the actual experience - this was what Joey discovered about his return to Billingsgate Fish Market, the place where the last 'family' photo was taken with his mum, some 20 years before. Up to this time Joey had never felt able to return. Last night we saw him do just that. He returns with his dad; " Memories are coming back, which I tried to keep hidden - but running away from memories hasn't done me any good at all."
Joey was only 10 years old when his mum died by suicide. He is still a 'little boy'. But he wants to change, wants to grow up, to settle down, but he sabotages every relationship - finishes it before they leave him. Understandably Joey has huge issues with trust and a fear of abandonment.
" Do you think letting your mum go will be something you can do?" asked his therapist
I believe so many people think this is impossible - it's as if 'letting go' equates to no longer loving, no longer missing, but it doesn't. 'Letting go' is learning to accept what happened, (as tragic and heartbreaking as it is and I know that is no easy feat) and processing your experience, which includes being aware of your own feelings. 'Letting go' of painful memories can make way for the happy ones, the positives. You never stop loving someone when they die. Likewise you never stop missing someone close when they die. But undertaking some form of 'talk therapy' can help you to 'let go' of the years of unresolved pain and grief.
"Why should I trust you?"
Opening up and trusting a therapist is an enormous ask, having a client trust you is the biggest privilege. To open up and share your most personal feelings and experiences takes enormous courage and Joey shows bucket loads of this.
" I just feel trapped."
After his 3rd session Joey starts to open up a little more, but then he struggles as it gets personal, deeper, more painful and he wants to stop. Consequently Joey questions whether therapy is right for him; he visits his sister Frankie and his cousin Chloe to tell them how he feels. They advise him to continue.
And I get that, I understand the doubt, it's a human response - 'I don't like this - I don't like feeling so vulnerable or sad'. I know from my experience as an Advanced Grief Recovery Specialist that if a client is going to have a 'wobble' it will be at session 4 when they look back at all their 'life losses' or session 5 when they examine closely a particular relationship. It happened recently and I could sense my client's reservation and fear, but they found the strength from somewhere and I am so proud of them for digging deep to find the courage to continue.
His therapist knows for this to work Joey needs to be honest with himself and honest with him the therapist too. He needs to drop his barriers. It's heartbreaking to see him so distraught "Mum, she loved me, but she left me." In his eyes, if his mum who loved him more than anyone did or ever could, left him, then why would anyone else ever stay? "I turn people away, and yet I'm so scared of being alone. If she loved me that much, why did she leave?"
"Therapy has made me realise I want things to change."
Joey is at the stage now where he realises he needs to love himself for who he really is, before engaging in a meaningful relationship. He owes this to himself.
Towards the end of this documentary we see Joey return to his childhood home - a place he never wanted to visit again. Naturally he felt anxious, sick and scared. What was especially lovely to see was how many of the memories he shared were really happy ones, sitting on the garden step with his mum and sister eating macaroni cheese.. naturally the tears flowed too. "This is the closest I have ever felt to being that little boy again. I want to move forward and find peace." And as he discovers that the anticipation was far worse, he starts to feel less panicky about the past.
"I've noticed a huge difference in myself, I'm happier, in control, relaxed and more open- clear headed."
" I feel like I've kept a secret in my head - and now I feel better than ever"
As his therapist says, timing is crucial - for Joey the time was now. It is only now that he feels ready to embark upon this very painful and challenging journey, to face up to the past and the hidden painful memories he is still carrying after 20 years. "If you don't face up to things it can really come back to you and knock you sideways."
This heart-warming documentary concludes with Joey, finally feeling ready to watch the family holiday home video of Disneyworld featuring his mum. He watches with his sister Frankie and his Nan, all of them sat together on the sofa. "I dreaded the tears, but I didn't cry. I'm so proud of myself that I faced it.. I can only take positives out of therapy."