1996 was the terminal year for my rocky marriage. No marriage is perfect and we all have our ups and downs, but the latest in a string of violent episodes was too much for me to bare. Enough is enough. My ex and I had bought a home together with an endowment type mortgage with Northern Rock. We hadn’t had that mortgage very long when we received a letter from the bank to say that it was unlikely our current plan would see the capital cleared at the end of the term so things were already on the back foot with the bank. Now, however, was not the time to be restructuring the mortgage. There were other priorities.

During this period I was working full-time as a secretary. I was a busy single mum of one daughter, who by this point had left home, and two growing boys living at home. With this lifestyle, there is not much chance of respite from the daily grind. My ex-partner wasn’t contributing anything of note financially, or otherwise and so I kept my nose to the grindstone. I soon fell into that familiar cycle of work, kids, school lunches and new uniforms, stealing whatever moments I could for myself. That is what a mother does. Cares.

After the split, my ex kept up the pressure. Physical punches became metaphorical ones as he chose to start complaining about losing the marital home. 12 months after we split, I was made redundant for the first time. I managed to get another job pretty much straight away although it was in effect a pay cut, being a term time only admin role at Keele University. By the time we have reached the semester breaks, I signed up with the temp agencies and got temp work. One of these temp jobs then became permanent bringing a substantial increase in salary. As I continued to work hard at my job, increased responsibility led to wage increases which led to choice. Choice, as they say, is power.

In an attempt to keep the peace and broker some kind of workable relationship with him I suggested that I sign the house over to him lock stock and barrel. This would cut the cord that tied us, allowing me to start over afresh. I could afford a place on my own now and it would be a clean slate for me and the boys to build from. Unsurprisingly he agreed to this and so taking the lead, I took it upon myself to sort out the paperwork with Northern Rock. I duly paid the £350.00 for the administration required to give my ex the house. It was sometime in 1998 that I invited him over to sign the paperwork and assume the house into his name. We sat at the table, paperwork ready and I handed him the pen. Here was his chance to assume some responsibility for his own life and start his own journey. He looked at me and simply said, “I don’t want it”.

Maybe we will never understand the inner working of men who punch to hide their own weakness. Those narcissistic personalities that seek to control another and feed off the negative energy that they create. I for one won’t.

I persisted with the house for another 4 years, having it signed over to my name only. However, the chance of a fresh start had passed through my fingertips and I wanted that so much for myself and for my boys. The incoming endowment issue was still lurking in the background too. There was no equity in the marital home but I decided to sell. We just covered what was required and I cashed in the dubious endowment to provide the deposit for our new home. I was so excited. This was that fresh start. Maybe the tide was turning. I put the deposit into a new mortgage with Northern Rock and we flew the nest to pastures new. I unofficially named my new house ‘Home At Last’.

As with many who find themselves in this situation, the path behind us is littered with regrets. I was still working full time to keep the new home afloat and provide for my boys. Work hard was the ethic drummed into those of us of a certain age. “Work hard and you can have anything”. Late in 2002, with the Christmas lights already twinkling and the rising excitement kids get as they start to think about what they would like and the ever-growing list of festive necessities making its presence felt, I received my second redundancy notice in 5 years.

This was a huge blow, as I had more than doubled the mortgage from my previous home. Despite the shock, I was lucky enough to get another job quite quickly with a temp agency and then subsequently a permanent position. Those punches keep rolling. Everyone leaves a mark.

Over the course of the next five years, I was to be redundant twice more. I kept picking myself up and dusting myself off. A woman’s tenacity and strength is her gift. My two sons were still at home and were thankfully able to contribute financially. My life was becoming a blur of bland jobs and overtime.

I decided to retrain because I wanted to do something different, so I enrolled on a foundation degree course at Staffordshire University. As I’d had a little bit of redundancy money I managed the first year of the course without having to work. But as soon as that was over I had to take temporary work to cover me over the summer. I was lucky enough to find the job at the hospital I now work in. Throughout my degree, I was able to go into work on a temporary, zero hours basis between my courses at uni. I finished the degree in 2010 and then had a year’s break before starting my PGCE at Keele University. Again working at the hospital in between times. On completing my PGCE I did get some teaching work, but only on a supply basis as there was nothing permanent available in Stoke-on-Trent at that time and I didn’t want to move again. Nor did I have the energy and time to end up travel in a car for hours each day on a commute.

Of course, as history now testifies, in 2008 the world economy crashed. With it, went one of the organizations responsible for the fall, Lehman Brothers, who in turn took down their UK counterpart Northern Rock. In all honesty, I was oblivious to the implications.

My life carried on. I was supply teaching and when not teaching, I was working at the hospital. Then the supply work dried up a little bit and I began to get into financial difficulty. It was so bad I had to borrow money from my children. It was at that point I decided to take a 6-month fixed term contract here at the hospital, while I looked for something permanent in teaching. However, as is often the case, the temporary situation became permanent as I struggled to make ends meet. Life at the hospital is as you would expect. Relentless workloads of administration, red tape and targets. With 5 consultants and enough workload for two of me, it was not what I had dreamed of when taking my degree. The problem is that the monthly commitment still rolls in and I am eternally grateful for my NHS job.

In around 2005 I had taken out a further secured mortgage to allow for home improvements and consolidate some credit card debt. We were living in borrowing times. Everyone wanted to lend money and at that point, I felt there was more to be had in my career. That something would happen for me and so I borrowed. Everyone was borrowing. The house was growing inequity and it seemed a safe option. In that restructuring, I swapped to a five year fixed term. The five-year fixed term ended when I was at university and I had hoped that as the mortgage rate had been coming down with the Bank of England, that Northern Rock would put their rate down. That didn’t happen. Despite working part-time, my university course meant that I was classed as unemployed so I could not move to another mortgage. This, despite the fact that when I had re-mortgaged they had tried to push an extra 5 figure sum on to me and stretch the mortgage until I was 70! I’m glad I refused.

In 2017 I was diagnosed with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – Scar tissue in the lungs. With this disease, my body is slowly filling the lung space with scar tissue. Eventually, there will be no lung space. There is no cure. Generally, from diagnosis, there is a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years. Thankfully I am on a new kind of medication and that has been shown to extend life expectancy by on average 2 years. So, in theory, I am looking at 5 to 7 years minus the 18 months that I have already had since diagnosis. I have three children, my eldest is my daughter Sarah, and two sons, Christopher and Matthew. No grandchildren. I have been on my own since 1996. I have had the odd short-term relationship, but after having a less than ideal marriage, I decided that I would not settle, that if I wasn’t 100% happy with someone then I would prefer to be on my own. Now that I have this disease I have given up on finding a life partner as I don’t think it would be fair to start a relationship with someone and expect them to deal with the inevitable consequences.

I just hope that I do have more time. Sure life isn’t ideal with this disease. Symptoms of this illness besides the ever decreasing ability to breathe are general tiredness and a constant feeling of being unwell most of the time. Side effects of the medication are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, not necessarily separately. I can and have had them all at the same time! So most days I am feeling sick and dizzy and nauseous from the morning dose. It is so important that I don’t get a cold, flu, chest infection or any chest based trauma. I probably shouldn’t be working with the risk of infection, especially in a busy hospital. I still go to work every day; some days I have had to go home because it has been quite bad, but the monthly bills keep coming.

All I want is for my interest to be reduced. To make my payments affordable so that I can reduce my hours. Recompense for the historic overpayment could change my life. Compensation for the stresses would be a bonus. I work hard full time. I can’t afford to reduce the number of days I work. I can’t re-mortgage with a zombie bank.

I’m not sure how much time I have left. It is an unknown quantity. I am positive, strong and determined because I have to be. I am finding immense comfort in knowing that I am not alone. In reality, though, I want to enjoy the years that I have left. I want to explore and see some of the worlds. To have some payback for the years I have grafted to keep my family safe and secure.

I can’t stomach the idea that after everything I’ve been through, all the hard work and sacrifice, that I would reach the last mortgage payment and then just drop.

#mortgageprisoners #northernrock #reallifestories #idiopathicpulmonaryfibrosis