The trouble of seeking help

After my exams had finished in June I vowed to myself that I would seek help in the summer holidays because I felt like I was going insane. For the past 2 years I’ve felt stressed all the time about everything. My depressive moods were starting to affect my daily life: I couldn’t sleep, I lost my appetite and I was too scared to talk to people. My mind was the noisiest place I knew and it became my biggest enemy.

I filled in a self referral form online and they said they’d get back to me soon. Fast forward a few weeks, I’m in the heat of the Italian countryside at my uncle’s house with my family when I get a call. I discreetly go to the balcony to take it and I’m told that I’m not eligible for therapy because I’m a year too young and in full time education. I felt shocked and appalled at how difficult it is to get help for for mental health problems in comparison to physical ones. Surely as a “minor” I’m just as vulnerable, if not more, than anyone else over 18? Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults from age 15-24. [1]  Yet mental health services fail to make themselves readily available to prevent many unfortunate cases ranging from suicides to the intensification of serious mental disorders.

The next logical step was to go directly to my GP but it took me until mid September to actually book an appointment because I feared that my doctor wouldn’t take me seriously. The thought of going to one to talk about my feelings was stomach churning. What was worse is that I had to request confidentiality because I was going behind my parents’ backs as my  entire problem is deeply rooted childhood abuse.

I was given a priority appointment so I was the first patient to be seen as soon as as my doctor arrived. When I walked into his room, I noticed that he was new and quite young so he had presumably just graduated from medical school. He cheerfully told me that it was his first day and as small talk goes, he asked me “how are you?” before I even managed to sit down. At this point my heart sank because:

1) I was there because I was not fine at all but this question invited the answer “fine”, which is what I hesitantly replied.
2) I was probably his first ever real patient in his working life and I felt extremely guilty that I was just about to ruin his entire day by being, quite literally, a depressing patient.

The way in which I explained everything to him is a blur in my mind. I remember just spilling my life out and being on the verge of tears because in that moment it dawned on me what a torturous and isolated life I’ve lived at the hands of my own father. So much so that it had come to the point where I was expecting a stranger male with a medical degree to understand me and deliver in the short space of 10 mins. I could tell that he felt awkward as he listened at the beginning but I saw that his eyes started to water when I finished.

He cleared his throat and proceeded to tell me that being from the same background, he’s familiar with the abusive nature of certain people in our culture and that he empathises greatly, as doctors tend to. But that was the extent of his service. He then pulled out a sticky note and wrote down two numbers:  one for social services and the other for “child and family” therapy. There was no way on earth that I was calling either of those numbers but that was all he could do. He didn’t even directly refer me to a therapist. I walked out with a sticky note.

The outcome isn’t a result of my doctor’s incompetency though. It’s a reflection on the lack of transparency in mental health services on the NHS for minors. What’s concerning and ironic is that had I chosen to make a poor decision after my appointment, my doctor would’ve be entirely responsible for it. 

A few weeks passed, I felt worse and I always carried that sticky note with me in my bag. One lunch I was out with a close friend who was well aware of my situation and after days of trying, she finally persuaded me to call the second number because therapy with parents is better than nothing. When I called, they said they’d need to consult me for an hour by asking me questions over the phone. I was free the next period so I managed to get a free room arranged for me so that I could take the call at school.

The questions were deep to say the least and they certainly gathered a thorough picture of my case. I felt hopeful. At the end of the call, the woman thanked me and said that they would get back to me in nine weeks because of the long waiting list. Nine weeks. 

As I left the room, a member of staff asked me how it went and I told her about how long I had to wait. To my surprise, she told me about a counselor in the school who is qualified to carry out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I didn’t even know we had a counselor.

I’m very lucky that this is the woman who I meet every Monday to receive CBT privately in the comfort of my own school.

However I’m aware that a lot of my fellow sufferers have been less successful in finding the right support and it upsets me that mental health is dealt with so poorly in the system when it’s such a pressing issue.

Let me know if you’d like to hear about my CBT experience.

If I have children

If I am blessed with the privilege of having children,

I’d tell them that I love them – often.
If they get hurt, have an awful day or go through a tough time, I’d hug them and make sure they know that crying is not a weakness. Crying is natural and it is welcome, regardless of your age.
I’d never make them feel worthless. I’d make sure that they know how special they truly are.
I’d make an effort to spend time with them. I’d make sure that they know I care.
I’d put emphasis on family holidays because this is a perfect chance to bond and make memories that last forever.
I’d take lots of photographs of them.
I’d guide them in the straight and safe path but I wouldn’t force them into something they don’t want to do.
I’d want them to pick a career that would make them happy. I’d teach them that any job is a great job if you truly enjoy what you do. Then it won’t even feel like work.
I’d never want to make them feel like they are a burden to me.
I’d ensure that we talk a lot.
To my daughters, I’d tell them that if the man of their dreams is not the same ethnicity as us, that I won’t discriminate. It’s character that matters.
I’d tell my husband I love him in front of them.
I’d avoid arguing with my husband in front of them.
I’d never insult them and call them names.
I’d remind them of how beautiful/ handsome they are. I’d praise where praise is due.
I’d teach them the importance of kindness from an early age.
I’d never punish them for making academic mistakes, as long as they are genuinely doing their best.
I’d never beat them up.
I’d be conscious of everything I say because I know that children have sharp memory and that everything I say has the potential to affect them in the long term.
I’d let them know that I’m always here for them.
If anything, my parents have taught me how to not be parents.

I hope that I will treat my children better than they ever treated me.

The Beginning of the End – Childhood Trauma

My childhood memories consist of nothing but pain and suffering among the rare ones that remind me of how freedom was abundant back then.

In France, there were stunning parks to be relished after every 5 minutes of walking; I’d been to all of them in my little town in Paris and always had the time of my life. I raced against my friends until we all on the floor laughing heartily whilst gasping for breath. I swinged so high on the swings I was certain I would be able to touch the sky one day. I  had sand particles in every fold of my clothing because I loved building sand castles – and someday I’d be a princess.

One evening in the summer after having a wild time in the park, my family and I were making our way back to our flat. I saw that somebody had just left our building so I ran to keep the door open until my younger sister reached me at the door and then took over holding the door open, waiting for our parents. At this point I was in front of the lift and pressed the button, watching it zoom down the 6 floors to reach me. When my parents finally came through the doors, we heard a piercing cry from behind us – the door had almost closed and my sister’s little finger was trapped in between the door.

The events to follow were my earliest memories of my father’s abusive behaviour and his deep hatred towards me – I was about 6. Immediately, my dad started cursing and yelling about what a worthless piece of garbage I was for being born because I failed to ensure that my sister entered the building before me safely – like that was my responsibility. He hit me in the face twice and pushed me hard before rushing my sister to the nearest hospital. My mum took me up to our flat continuing with my dad’s cursing, completely ignoring that I was in pain and a sobbing mess. She wouldn’t even look at me. My parents never did.

I went to my parents’ room – the room I still slept in at the time, shut the door behind me and cried my eyes out trying to process what had just happened. I always knew my dad was abusive because he’d been violent with my mum ever since I could remember, so I was used to it. I never thought that he loved me, because he was always so cold and harsh, but it never fully occurred to me that he didn’t love me – until that moment. Before that, I just assumed it was the way things were.

I sat at my parents’ bed looking out on the dimly lit night streets through the window still traumatised and shaking in fear of what he’ll do to me when he gets back. My mum didn’t even come to check up on me once, she was in the kitchen cooking and I might as well have been dead for all she knew. I’d never felt so alone and unwanted. His words kept replaying in my mind:

I wish you weren’t born. Why did God give me a stupid daughter like you?

They still plague my mind to this day.

They got back a few hours later and luckily for my sister, she only had a minor bone fracture and she’d need to wear a bandage for a few weeks. My dad tried to hit me again but I escaped his grip and ran to another room. When the coast was clear I just got changed, went to bed and slept.