Gaynor was born and grew up in the Rhondda Valley of South Wales. She was the youngest of four children – two much older siblings and a brother closer to her in age. She was a real “Daddy’s girl” as a child and was devastated when he died when she was only 10. She says that she felt that all the love she had experienced died with him. Her older sister (14 years her senior) had special needs and her mother struggled to cope with her, with the help of her other sister who Gaynor describes as the responsible one in the family. Gaynor believes that her mother felt resentful that she had been left to cope on her own – and especially so with regard to bringing up Gaynor and her brother. Gaynor said she was looked after – fed and clothed – but she was shown no love, given no guidance about life and had to ask for things she needed. She noticed even at that young age that she was treated differently – her older sister always had everything she wanted and the other sister was always rewarded for helping – Gaynor and her brother felt like the black sheep.
As she hit her teenage years she became rebellious, and felt like an outcast in her family. However at age 17 she met Dave, her husband of more than 20 years now, and fell in love. Dave showed her the love she had been missing – showered her with gifts and affection. Her mother became jealous and was unfailingly unkind, didn’t come to her 18th birthday party, didn’t help her with her wedding preparations, wouldn’t make her wedding dress (although she was a seamstress). She was also unkind about Gaynor’s weight all through her married life (a problem with her thyroid caused the weight gain and she has never successfully lost it again) and took very little interest in Gaynor’s two children. The most sympathy she ever had from her mother was when at age 29 she discovered she was diabetic – it was her mother who recognized it in her and got her diagnosed.
At age 36, her mother discovered she had breast cancer and whilst she was being treated for that, Gaynor found that she had cancer of the womb which necessitated a full hysterectomy and tipped her into early menopause. She struggled with big mood swings and worried that she was damaging relationships in her family because of it.
Her husband Dave has a hereditary condition related to cerebral palsy which can cause restricted movement, stiffness and pain – this was made worse in a car crash when he was 25. Their daughter Sarah as a child was often tripping and falling and had lots of problems with pain – she had endless trips to doctors and specialists and was finally diagnosed in her early teens with the same condition as her Dad. This caused her to slip into depression – made worse because she was gay and afraid to tell Gaynor and Dave. At age 18, she put herself in a refuge, wanting help because she felt suicidal and not knowing where to turn. Gaynor was broken-hearted that she had not confided in her – and although shocked at her revelation that she was gay, accepted it completely and was hurt that her daughter thought she wouldn’t. There were other reasons for Sarah’s depression – her brother had gone to university and was achieving independence and she was struggling to survive on disability benefits and to create a future for herself at home.
Gaynor took it very hard – blaming herself for Sarah’s condition and feeling that she had failed as a Mum. She tried to take her own life and has continued to struggle with depression.
However, in the middle of all this, Gaynor found Just Girls Allowed – a self-reliant group originally started by Rhondda Housing as a support group but helped to become a self-reliant group by Purple Shoots. She struggled to commit to the group to start with – came once and then not again for a few weeks, but gradually she began to trust the group and made some firm friends amongst the members. The group encouraged her to try some of the things they were doing – and her confidence began to build as she found she could do things and she enjoyed doing them. She says “the rest is history” – she is a core member of the group, supports the group in all its activities. The group makes a range of handcrafts which they sell at local craft fairs, in shops and online to provide funds to give the group and its members choices. They put small amounts of money into a group pot each week too. They see their primary purpose as being a support group both for themselves and for other women who have struggled with anxiety and depression – a number of women have come through the group over the years, found help and support and been able to move on.
Gaynor still lives with the consequences of diabetes – which is now affecting her feet and for more than a year now one or both feet have been in plaster. She still has dark days too. Her pathway through life has been through neglect, illness and depression which gave her low confidence and low self-esteem as well as quite severe financial impacts on her and her family as she is not able to work. She says she would much rather work than put up with the stigma that she feels as a person who has to claim benefits. However she has kept on, with the constant support of her Dave, and she deals with her difficulties with resilience and humour, famously claiming one week that if she were a horse, she would have been shot by now.