My childhood education was not one that I have ever felt proud of. I was an okay student, not a child who excelled, but a child who did her best. I had a solid friendship group, full of strong-minded girls whom I always adored. School was something I enjoyed and avoided almost simultaneously. I had many a day where I argued with my mother and did not want to attend, ultimately, I usually always ended up proving her right by loving it once I was there. The thought of school seeming to be far worse than the reality of it. My school experiences from the age of 4 through until 11 were positive ones. I was one of those individuals that was happy to lend a hand whenever asked and loved to make people smile and laugh. My school reports usually stated consistent variations of “Chloe is a delight to have in the classroom.”
What is that saying? ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.’My childhood education ended when I was 12 years old and I cannot explain how much I grew to miss it. I have always had a passion for knowledge, always being incredibly curious and inquisitive. Not being in school was difficult, in so many ways, but my biggest struggle ended up being the slow realisation that my mind was slowly becoming emptier and emptier. It was soul destroying. I had always been a very curious individual and I absorbed everything that I could, whether that be by choice or design. Once my mind started to deteriorate, I lost the hope of it ever returning. I eventually started to tell myself that any knowledge that I wanted to find, could be and would be discovered on my own. I was now, at age 12, in complete control of my own education.
There was so much uncertainty around me. Where was I? What was wrong with me? Was there something wrong? Is it attention seeking? Is she going to school? Is she coming back to school? Who needs to be in contact with us? Who do we talk to? Who can help us?
We started with the school, to try and address the issues that had been occurring there. The bullying that had too often than not, followed me straight home. One way or another, education welfare officers became involved. They were meant to help, to encourage and support – instead, they traumatised. I did not want to go to school, it made me feel like I might die. Having strangers show up at my door and give me no other option but to get into their car and be driven to said school was not appreciated. Being threatened and yelled at was not appreciated. Being manhandled and pulled from my own bed was not appreciated. I recall very vividly sitting in their car and considering the very serious possibility of jumping out of it while it was in motion. They gave me no choice and no solutions to any of my problems within school.
My mental health started to go downhill and once they had reached the point of trying to physically remove me from my home, they stood no chance of getting through to me. Eventually, the school’s response was silence and exclusion. We were then left with the question: Now what?
I was so young. A child with no real sense of what was happening within or around me. I was frequently asked, “Why?” in-regards to school. “Why won’t you go?” “Why are you doing this?” I never had an answer. I genuinely did not know why. “I just can’t go. I can’t get out of the front door.” I had been bullied, yes, but logically I knew that particular issue had been dealt with and I no longer had to worry over it.
More ‘professionals’ became involved, most I only ever met the once before they disappeared never to be heard from again. I couldn’t even tell you their names. I do remember their faces, though. As clear as day, as clear as if I had only met them yesterday. They would show up, sit down, talk about what they could do to help support us as a family, take down notes, say the standard ‘I’ll be in touch’ and then leave. The routine of months of silence and then having another stranger at the door asking the exact same questions as the last stranger started to depress me.
I found ways of keeping my brain engaged and awake, alternative ways of educating myself. I found documentaries to watch that I would then write a paragraph or two about, summing up the details of what I had just seen and learned. I would sit and do page after page of multiplication and division. Whenever I watched anything on DVD I would opt to view it with the subtitles on, believing that it might benefit my reading skills and help me to understand the meanings and definitions of certain words in different contexts. I spent around 65% of my time reading or writing in one variation or another, I wanted to learn. It was important to me that I do something worthwhile, that I kept my mind active.
As my mental health deteriorated, there was much discussion about medications. All of these no name professionals asking the same question, “Has she seen a doctor?” I eventually did agree to have my GP come and do a home visit, however, I vehemently refused to take any form of medication. It never struck me as logical that a doctor would happily prescribe antidepressants to a teenager that they’d only had limited contact with, who was suffering depression, agoraphobia and panic disorder and who was also self-harming on a semi-regular basis. ‘Oh, you’re suicidal? Let me just give you access to all these pills.’
In hindsight, I can very vaguely point towards brief moments where I become aware of something not being right within myself. I remember an extremely vivid moment where after losing my temper I had the awful realisation that people were cautious about being around me. I made the decision to never be angry again. I had told someone I was going to kill them, threatened them specifically, and meant it. The line was crossed, I had terrified them and myself. That was not ok and I was not ok. I recall all of the many moments after that day where I made the choice to walk away and stay silent.
It was years later when I looked back and realised how much that once choice, to walk away, impacted and changed my world. What had once been a decision, was no longer within my control. My automatic response, for so long, had been to erupt and lash out at whatever was causing me to have an emotional reaction. The choice to remove my own negativity ended up removing a lot more than just that. Speaking, communicating, socialising all became a very distant memory, I was now, for quite some time, mute.
The following years became blurry and remain so. To write this, I have tried again and again to speak about things in the order of which they happened, however, I have no recollection of what happened when or how old I was when it was happening. I went from a child of 12 to a child of 15 in the blink of an eye. I still spent a lot of time studying educational work booklets bought by my mother from WHSmith. I wrote poetry, a lot of it and was successfully teaching myself basic French and British Sign Language, albeit rather slowly. I was now completely isolated and had accepted that this was my life. I would never again be a part of the world.
My poetry became more and more of a lifeline, something that helped me to acknowledge and work through my feelings. The history books and documentaries kept my mind ticking over, the essays I would write after viewing them made me feel excited. I was learning! My brain was working and that was so important to me. I tried to keep my mind as active as I could which was not always possible. There were more bad days than good, too many days that saw me existing with no awareness of anything around me. I would lose hours at a time, sometimes longer. There is so much missing, so many moments. My mum often references something from those years and I have no memory of it, just blackness. If I try to think back on being a teenager, more often than not, the memories are not there. I lost years of my life. I disappeared.
I had found that I did not want to socialise, that any time I ended up in a situation with people, it did not end well. I was always spoken down to and patronised about the situation I was in. The fact that people often did not know my situation, did not hold them back. My safe place was always my bedroom and I did not appreciate anyone entering into it with or without my permission. The days where I had no control or choice were some of my worst. I lost count of how many times my bedroom door would open and there would be some random familiar face looking at me, telling me everything that they thought I should be doing with my life.
The day that I was left physically fighting to keep my bedroom door closed to prevent certain individuals from trying to force their way in, was the day I felt like home was no longer safe. The fear of getting over my front door step was at war with the need to escape, however, my phobia of the outside world prevented me from getting further than the driveway – but at least I no longer had to try and barricade myself in.
One day, a young woman showed up on the doorstep, ‘the gothic one’, and I felt I related to her as soon as she walked in the door. I told her I had a dream to go to New York City. She looked right at me as though she believed every word and told me it was possible and that when I did go, she expected a post card. I no longer remember her name, or where she was from.
A man walked in one day with a Dictaphone and notepad, I did not relate to him at all. He had smiled and laughed as though to put me at ease but it had only made me cringe and sit there in silence.
There was a lady who came to discuss my situation regarding my education. She looked through the work that I was doing at home. The booklets that I had filled in and the paragraphs of work I had written and the pages and pages of poetry, multiplication and French and looked astounded, “This is more work than you would have done if you were attending school.” She came twice, I liked her, she smiled a lot, but it always seemed genuine. Her honesty and attitude were things that I found intriguing. She did not talk down to me and did not tell me that I had to go to school. I felt relief. I had an adult sitting in front of me that looked me in the eye and spoke as she found. No matter who walked into my life, for whatever time frame, my writing always got mentioned. I was asked of my hobbies, things I liked to do and due to my writing being something that I always relied so heavily on, it was always the first to be spoken about. People often giving me their contact details to send them any new creations, however, I never once sent anything to anyone. I always believed them to be speaking out of politeness rather than genuine interest.
There was one lady that made me laugh, who gave me the greatest gift, an opportunity that I shall treasure forever. The gift of one last moment, one last visit, one last memory. This same lady got me out of the house, she had expectations but not overwhelming ones. We worked together, made choices together and spoke of goals to work towards. We worked together for many months with very little success. She eventually changed her job role and someone else took her place. What little progress there had been, once again disappeared. Her replacement – well, the less said the better. This replacement made me go from being silent to arguing in the street. Her goals were not clear. Getting me out of the house with the goal of, ‘just to the bus stop and back’ to then change the goal once we reached the bus stop, telling me, ‘we’re getting on the next bus.’ Her demand was met with me turning back, her grip on my wrist and me breaking my silence and shouting ‘NO’ in her face. I proceeded to run back home, locking the doors once I was safely back inside.
There was a male psychiatrist that I found held no expectations of me, I liked him. The female psychiatrist that replaced him did nothing but have high expectations and make threats (bribes), “If you don’t do what we want, we can’t help you.” The woman came across very distant, initially sending out two others to assess me rather than meet with me herself. These two others idea of an assessment appeared to be mocking my anxiety and laughing when I told them I often felt as though I could not breathe, “well, you obviously can breathe, or you’d be dead!” I never did know their names, I got no introduction. They just invaded and tore me to shreds. I was once again a number, a name on a file and she had no idea who I was. I was frequently given anti-depressants to take, both by her and my GP, and I believe I only ever took them for at most, 3 days before becoming angry at being given a ‘quick fix’ and refusing to continue taking them.
The occupational therapists differed frequently. I was often with one person and then the following week another. I once had someone knock on my door, ask me for one goal I wanted to achieve (a cinema visit) and then told me to ‘just go and do it’. She did not even come into the house. Go do it. How does that work? I cannot answer the front door alone because standing near it whilst it is open is terrifying, but yes, go to the cinema, Chloe! I was told by more than one that if they were in my position they would “go mad if they didn’t go out.”
The lady who walked in and claimed she knew how it was, she had been in a similar situation and could understand the struggle – she made a big difference. I never asked or pried into her life, but it helped to hear I was not the only person struggling and to see her being successful in her life provided me with a long-lost hope of being able to recover. A hope that one day I would also recover and move forward. A connection made that felt stronger than it had with previous people. She stayed a lot longer than the majority, the faces around me changing constantly but hers always remaining until it was no longer required.
Anti-depressants were always something I was desperate to avoid. I had heard horror stories of addiction and the possibility of never being free of them. I often took them for a couple of days and then either conveniently forgot about them or found some long-lost inner determination to battle on and do it all by myself, however, I found that therapy works well for me, talking therapy or counselling. I have experienced CBT and while I can see the benefits it offers it had no effect on me. Having someone to talk to about past trauma, someone who is there to listen and can be trusted to remain impartial and keep your confidences – that has been a godsend. I had the same therapist for many years, someone reliable and with whom I built up a strong trust with. She was a light along the tunnel for me and I will be forever grateful for her support and guidance with many of the issues I faced through the years. Through observing her and speaking to her, I found a person with a much more open mind than I was used to. It was mind blowing to realise that my thoughts were not odd or unnerving but were often very relevant.
In 2010, two women walked into the house and I felt something shift. The whole world tilted on its axis. This was it! These people were different. They sat with me and explained things, they went through fight and flight and listed every single symptom that I had ever experienced. They talked me through goals and steps that I would need to focus on to achieve the goals. They then helped me with these steps, supporting constantly but never once taking choice away from me. They were straight up and honest and made it very clear that they would not accept me cancelling any appointments. It was stability and it was a breath of fresh air. Some strength when I had none, some fierceness. They taught me that I could. That I was a strong and independent woman! That took me a while to believe, but I got there eventually.