Cheryl Joyce, 36, has spent the past eight years fighting for her autistic son, Liam – at the expense of her own mental health
Sitting down alone at her computer at 2am, after an argument with her husband, Cheryl Joyce felt desperate and completely lost.
For eight years, she had desperately fought for her autistic son, Liam, trying to give him the best therapy and childhood possible.
But now, she had reached a point where she felt like the only option was to “end it”.
Staring at the screen at her Merseyside home, the mum-of-three found herself Googling the words: “The gentlest ways to die…”
After numerous breakdowns, thoughts of self-harming and feelings of sadness and anger, she says she had finally “had enough”.
But thankfully, the thought of leaving her young children – something she “couldn’t” do – prevented her from ‘ending it’.
“I knew I needed help when I found myself Googling ‘the gentlest way to die’,” said the 36-year-old. “I had had enough.
“I wanted it over with so I wouldn’t have to carry on feeling like I did.
She added: “I would never regret anything for my son, but years of fighting for Liam almost destroyed me.
“I had suffered breakdowns, considered harming myself and then, the only way seemed to be to end it.”
It was Cheryl’s children, though, who ultimately saved her and kept her going.
“I couldn’t leave them,” said the mum, whose struggles had seen her gain two dress sizes, lose friends and become isolated.
“And as I Googled ways to take my life, a verse popped up ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
‘Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.’
The verse is from Deuteronomy 30:19.
She smiled: “I never thought I would have a tattoo, but it inspired me to get one with an angelic symbol meaning ‘Choose Life’.
Cheryl had only ever wanted the best for Liam, who was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old.
But her battle for her adorable boy came with a cost – her own mental health.
When Liam, now 10, was born in 2006 there was no indication anything was wrong.
He was meeting all his milestones; could name shapes, colours and numbers and had a great memory.
“We thought we had a little genius on our hands,” said Cheryl.
“But then he regressed and it was like Liam had been taken away and replaced by another child.
“He was eventually diagnosed with a severe form of autism.
“I remember feeling like the world was attacking me. I was emotional and angry, and was upsetting everyone around me.
“I had an emotional breakdown when I found myself kicking off at a policeman who said I had a bad attitude, which is not me.
“But I felt I had completely lost my identity.”
Cheryl managed to get herself well with counselling sessions.
She got to the point where she and her husband, Tony, wanted to have another baby, partly because they wanted a sibling for Liam.
But she ended up raising a newborn, Isabella, at the same time as she was trying to toilet train a four-year- old son, and deal with his sleep and communication issues.
Cheryl said she ended up feeling “exhausted’ and like a “complete failure”, with Liam only sleeping for about two hours every night.
“I asked for help from the disability social worker but was refused as they said his sleep problems were expected for a child of his age,” she claimed.
“I became severely depressed, not wanting to go out, not getting dressed.
“My job as a government procurement manager was about solving problems – why couldn’t I solve this one?”
After more counselling, Cheryl decided to return to work to give her something else to focus on.
She added: “A few months later, we found a therapy that actually helped Liam, Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA).
“On his very first session the therapist got him saying 100 words, including mummy and daddy, and helping with other skills such as toileting.
“It gave me hope but was very expensive, costing £60 an hour for a qualified therapist and £7.50-£15 per hour for tutors.”
Cheryl said she and Tony fundraised to help pay for the therapy – and some of the costs for school were covered by the council.
However, she said the couple had to pay for the costs at home – something that became difficult following a change in work situation.
“During this time, my husband was made redundant and had to change job, taking a significant drop in pay, which meant the pressure of paying for Liam’s therapy and keeping a roof over our heads fell to me,” she said.
“When, in 2011, I fell pregnant with our third child, Summer – unexpectedly – my mental well-being plummeted further.
“This time I needed medication as I was starting to have harmful thoughts and every time I tried to come off them, I couldn’t cope.
“And, as much as the antidepressants help with the sadness, they suppress the happiness too.
“I looked around at my beautiful family, the progress Liam had made, I couldn’t feel anything.
- “I gained two dress sizes, struggled to maintain myself at work, lost friends and became isolated as people didn’t understand my behaviour.
“I tried to come off the tablets again… and that’s when I thought it would be easier if I wasn’t here.”
Cheryl had previously arranged for Liam to undergo biomedical treatment, a combination of diet, nutritional supplements and detoxification.
However, this was also expensive, involving tests and consultations with nutritional therapists that cost the youngster’s parents at least £170.
Cheryl said there were a number of other potential therapies that she and Tony were unable to consider due to the price.
The mum started writing three years ago as an escape from the pressures and challenges of daily life.
She has recently self-published a novel, The Grass is Darker, about a modern day woman, Danielle, a wife, a mother and a businesswoman, and her struggle with everyday life. Like many, Danielle thinks an affair is the answer.
“I needed to write the book to prove to myself I wasn’t a failure,” said Cheryl.
“To remind me of the strength I have inside. That although sometimes I feel weak, at other times I feel invincible.
“This sort of stress can destroy marriages too but, thankfully, it brought Tony and I closer together – we go for walks up Snowdon to remind ourselves that we are strong and we have a life worth living.
“The battle goes on with Liam but we have now found a wonderful school for him where he can go until he is 25.
“I will never feel angry or bitter towards my boy, but I am cross that every day since he was diagnosed I have had to fight for what is best for him and that shouldn’t happen. I paid with my own health and that can’t be right.”