AGAINST ALL ODDS... LOVE FOUND US
How love conquers all
‘HIS MENTAL ILLNESS NEVER FAZED ME’
What would you do if your new boyfriend told you he had severe OCD? For Paulette Jones, her love for Alex was never in doubt...
PAULETTE SAYS: I met Alex at a party 10 years ago. He seemed very down to earth and made me laugh. He was about to move to Portsmouth, where I lived, so on our first date I showed him around the city. Our connection was impossible to ignore.
I started noticing Alex had obsessive tendencies. When he locked the doors of the car, he’d often go back to double-check. I didn’t think much of it, assuming he was careful. A few weeks later, he said he needed to tell me something he’d never told anyone outside his family. Then he revealed he suffered from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I pictured hand-washing and organised shelves, but Alex’s OCD manifested itself in intrusive thoughts. He explained that his mind would trick him into believing he’d done something horrible – like attacking someone – and he’d be unable to see reality. As a result, he’d become incredibly distressed, anxious and could often sink into depression.
This was a shock, but it didn’t put me off. I was saddened that this lovely, kind and charming man was suffering with such torment every day. It made me love him even more, and when he proposed a month
later, I said yes without hesitation.
In 2009, just a few months after our wedding, Alex was made redundant and his OCD worsened. His intrusive thoughts became linked to the fear of losing me. We’d walk down the street holding hands, and he’d think he’d flirted with a woman who walked past. I would reassure him, saying, ‘No darling, you haven’t said or done anything wrong.’ But he wouldn’t trust himself, and would ask me the same question eight times, becoming increasingly panicked. I’m patient but it could be draining. I felt helpless, and if he had a particularly bad bout, I’d become run-down with the stress of it all.
The OCD started improving last year when we discovered a new treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses short bursts of magnetic energy to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. The first time Alex had the treatment, he didn’t ask me for reassurance once on the train ride home. It was amazing and freeing for both of us.
There are still times when his OCD worsens, particularly if he’s stressed. But most of the time, our relationship is wonderful. He is romantic, understanding and thoughtful. The OCD can sometimes feel like the third party in our marriage, but I have no regrets. I would marry Alex again in a heartbeat.
‘SOME WOMEN WOULD HAVE RUN A MILE’ ALEX SAYS: I was diagnosed with OCD at university. I would go for lunch in between lectures and think I had pushed people into the road. Then I’d be sitting on a bench in tears, terrified of going to prison. When I got my first job as an architect, I’d think I’d drawn all over a colleague’s sketches to sabotage them. I’m unable to distinguish reality from unreality, and constantly catastrophise about the worst-case scenario.
When I met Paulette – with her radiant smile and bubbly, warm character – I knew quickly that she was the one. I was terrified about telling her I had OCD, and was amazed by how understanding she was. I’m sure some women would have run a mile.
Sometimes I worry about the amount of pressure I put on Paulette to reassure me, so I do what I can to make up for it. My mind can be full of darkness, but Paulette brings brightness to my life.
‘I RISKED PRISON TO BE WITH HIM’
Marriage was forbidden under South Africa’s apartheid regime, but Geraldine and Neville Wilson fought back
GERALDINE SAYS: Growing up in Cape Town during apartheid, I never imagined I’d marry a white man. I was forbidden from riding the same buses, eating in the same restaurants and even going to the beach with white people. Most of all, interracial relationships were illegal. But I risked it all for Neville.
We met in 1983 when I joined Boswell Wilkie Circus, one of the first companies to allow racially mixed audiences and performers. I was a dancer and he was the assistant manager. He liked me but I wasn’t interested at first – I didn’t like his huge beard. Then one day I discovered he’d shaved it off, apparently to impress me. It was a sweet gesture, and I noticed he had a lovely face, with kind eyes and a mischievous smile. We kissed and instantly became inseparable.
Although our relationship was illegal, we felt safe inside the circus. The crew were a big family, and they supported us. But in 1986, we were nearly arrested. While I was asleep in Neville’s caravan, a policeman followed him in for a routine search. It was just luck that he didn’t see me. We realised we had to leave if we wanted to be together.
We had contacts in an English circus, and it was easy for South Africans to get working visas, so we came to the UK. British people accepted us, and we were free to hold hands in the street without being afraid. When apartheid ended in 1994, we had our wedding in Cape Town. It felt like closure being able to celebrate our love at home. A few years later, we had a son, Luke, now 21. He’s conscious of his family history and we return to South Africa every year.
Neville is still the only person who truly understands me. I am so proud of how compassionate he is – he now runs Circus Starr, a travelling show for disadvantaged and disabled children here in the UK.
Our relationship was an act of defiance, but we just did what we had to do. Neville is fun, thoughtful and brilliant – nothing could stop me from loving him.
‘I ADORED GERALDINE THEN, AND I ADORE HER NOW’ NEVILLE SAYS: The first time I saw Geraldine she was walking to rehearsals wearing a blue leotard with yellow tights. I thought, ‘One day, I will marry her.’ But as our relationship developed, I worried about the consequences. At one stage, I told her we couldn’t be together. She could’ve been locked up – and I wanted to protect her. But our break-up only lasted two days.
At first my family didn’t support our union, but I told my parents they could either come to our wedding and accept Geraldine, or lose me. They chose to be there. Geraldine and my mother got on so well, and Mum said it was her deepest regret that she wasted all those years. We are happier than ever. I adored Geraldine then, and I adore her now.
Our love was an act of defiance but we did what we had to do
‘I COULDN’T HIDE THE TRUTH ANY LONGER’
Too afraid to come out as gay, Helen Brearley (far right) married a man. Now, she and her wife Teresa Millward can celebrate the obstacles they’ve overcome
HELEN SAYS: Until I was 38, I spent my life hiding. Growing up in a small village in Yorkshire, I thought I might be gay from a young age, but I was scared to come out to my family. My dad died suddenly when I was 13, and I was terrified of disappointing my mum.
I ended up marrying when I was 30. Pete and I met through work and got on well. It was easy at first. But eight years later, I realised I couldn’t go on any longer. One night, we were watching a romcom and I couldn’t hold it in. I finally told him I was gay. He was upset, but he didn’t judge me and we remained friends.
A few months after our split in 2003, I met Teresa at a women’s group. I was immediately drawn to her. She had thick, dark hair and a lovely voice. She was living with her girlfriend of three years, so I assumed nothing would come of it. I attended the group more, and Teresa and I flirted between meetings. When she revealed she was now single, I invited her for a drink and we shared our first kiss. She needed a place to stay after her break-up, so we moved in together. It was a whirlwind, but we’ve never looked back.
Around this time, the people around me were just learning I was gay. I dropped it casually into conversation with my mum over the phone and she ignored me for a couple of weeks. I respected her need to come to terms with it.
When same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, we were one of the first couples to tie the knot. We had a small ceremony surrounded by our family and friends. It was perfect. After years of dealing with homophobia – we were called names in the street – it felt like we were finally accepted.
‘OUR LOVE IS AS STRONG AS IT GETS’ TERESA SAYS: I would have married Helen the day I met her if I could. But as a lesbian – I came out aged 16 – I never thought marriage would be possible. Helen and I knew we would be together for ever, but we didn’t want a civil partnership – we didn’t think our love was worth less than straight couples’. Early on, Helen said we’d get married as soon as it was legal. I took this literally, and called up the register office the day the bill was announced. We planned it in six weeks and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
We became guardians of my two nieces when they were young, but I dreamed of having a baby of my own. In 2014, we found a sperm donor and started the process of IVF. When I became pregnant I was thrilled, but I miscarried. I didn’t get out from under the duvet for a week. Helen was so supportive. When Hylton was born a year later, on the exact same day I miscarried, we cried in each other’s arms.
Our average day revolves around running our gift shop, Pretty Pink Pearl, doing the school run and messy mealtimes with Amber, 13, Keira, 11, and Hylton, three. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other: I’m chatty and open, while she’s reserved. I’m emotional and she’s practical. She loves golf – I absolutely hate it. But our differences make us perfect together. We can be ourselves and help each other through the toughest times. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.
Our differences make us perfect together