I AM SO A GRADUATE WITH A BACHELOR OF ARTS WITH HONOURS (in the arts and humanities)
I haven’t had my graduation ceremony yet and with all that has happened this year, I totally forgot that I have finally finished my degree. My other half was going ballistic (in a good way) and looked at me and asked me why I looked so down. I guess either I am still in shock or I don’t think it is that big a deal compared to what other goals and shit I have had to focus on this year. So let me high 5 myself and reflect on how the path to get my degree became – the successful one.
Way back in 2007,I had just come out of the hospital with a BMI of 16. I enrolled at my local college in the U.K. to do my BA in acting performance.
I was with a lovely group of talented individuals and managed one term. I was quickly losing more weight again and my mental health went down. I could not maintain a low BMI. I either had to go lower or higher and I went lower. I managed to get merit (when they still called it that) for my classical acting. How amazing is that?
I wanted to engage with my group but I couldn’t shift the anorexia. I had become a sub-host to it.
Back in 2008, I decided to have another go at it. I had gained a normal amount of weight. I met a seemingly lovely man who swept me off my feet. He worked in the army and ended up going on tour for 3 months in Canada. I went to live in Barcelona with my Aunt for a few months and partied hard. Hit Ibiza with my cuz and when I came back to the U.K I was ready to piece my life back together.
The night I arrived back in the U.K. was the same night the army guy got back and he came straight to see me, bringing me little gifts back from his tour. I was so touched and couldn’t believe we had another chance to get to know this one another again and give him my heart. I invited him for a meal at my Nan’s house the following evening as he was rather ‘fatigued'(such an elegant way of putting it) from his flight.
The following day he texted me to tell me he was getting his car serviced and would see me later. Later turned into 6pm And 8pm and then 9pm. The curry was losing it’s cool. I rang him asking him why he hadn’t pitched up and he completely dissed me on the phone and told me he was with his family and I can’t make him choose his family over me! WTAF?
If he had explained that he wanted to be with his family then I would of got it.-The lovely army guy broke my heart. He didn’t want to be with me. I internalised all this as my fault. I had put on weight, I had been homeless and had recently found somewhere in the U.K. to live and I thought I wasn’t good enough. I remember walking my Nan from my new home to the bus stop and I broke down. I didn’t know how much I liked this guy until I felt my heart tearing. Each sob caused another tear and another.
In 2009 I was finally in a better place and I was ready for another attempt to get a degree in the arts arena. I started a two Foundation Degree with 24 students. By week two that had whittled down to 7 students. Again a totally different bunch of lovely people. I fucked up. I stopped taking my meds. I was trying so hard to fit in but I guess I felt a bit intimidated by all the talented actors and talent. I didn’t know then that they were all just as frightened of failing as me. At first I was coping and I managed to go out get wasted and silly and form friendships. Standard uni stuff. One night a girl on my course rang me and told me to come out. She said the night was on her. I got dressed and put on my party face even though at that time I was taking 100 laxatives a day.
When people asked me out I would say ‘Awesome. I will be there’ I had a bad habit and once I had taken those tablets I was ill. I mean of course, I had the shits. Haha. Never thought I would be typing this but the moment before I purged I had stomach cramps that pushed and pulled and stabbed at me from the inside. I couldn’t walk from the spasms. SO that night I gave a big fuck you to Anorexia and went out to have some fun and bond with some friends.
My taxi pulled up at ‘the only reputable club’ in that locality and I saw my college friend wave at me and she was laughing and she gave me £50 and told me to come with her. It was a bit. Well, I was sober and everyone else was hammered. I didn’t find it funny. I wasn’t in the zone yet. I went to the bathroom and then I went to look for the pack and I couldn’t find them anywhere.
My mobile battery died and I turned around to the first person I saw to ask that person if I could use their mobile. I happened to bump into the person who went on to degrade and disrespect me in the most colourful and inventive ways. I couldn’t find anyone so we went back to mine and drank until………… I passed out mid-sentence.
This guy wouldn’t leave me alone. He was lovely at first but really full-on. I tried to back away. My friends told me he looked creepy. Leave him alone.
A guy from uni came up to me and told me that creepy ex was well and truly creepy and to stay away. Did I listen? no, I let my insecurities get the better of me. I melted into his world. At first it was flattering that someone would want to be around me so much. I didn’t think I was going to get in a relationship with him. I was trying to make friends and I had my eyes on someone else.
Out of respect to my daughter, I won’t go into a diatribe of events. He tried to take my soul. When he couldn’t have all of me he came up with a cunning plan to try and take my life away from me. Our daughter. During this time I could feel Anorexia clawing it’s way back inside. Cold, damp and merciless. I couldn’t allow it home again. I reached out to a couple I know and went on to meet my future husband to be. Before you judge- I have had my karma. I nearly lost my daughter as you may know from previous posts. I had time on my hands. Instead of being a full-time Mom to my daughter, I was a 10 hour per week Mom instead.
I decided while I battled it out in the court arena with social services and my creepy ex I would resume my studies. This time not in a mainstream uni but an online one. I worked my toosh off and today I can say I am a graduate. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my partner and my family.
DON’T JUDGE -if you can help it. That is a huge lesson I’ve learned. This piece of paper means so much more than the letters printed on it. It is a symbol – a tangible piece that reminds me of how I got to this place where I am today. I’m a bride to be with a gorgeous daughter who will be four in October. I’m working with mental health charities and I am a stable weight- super healthy. I don’t smoke. I drink mostly water ( with the odd cocktail of course) , I exersise. I am a success. I am proud of me. No one can take that from me. I won’t let them. Always be ready to learn a bit more. I may have officially finished learning but I will not let that stop me from learning in other ways. I treat every experience in my life as a learning curve. Always look for the silver lining no matter how bleak.
*REPOSTED THIS-I had only been blogging for a couple of months when I published this. (19/09/2015)
WOAH! Okay. So not only am I co-facilitating an Anti-stigma mental health workshop in October but I have agreed to stand up-publicly-not behind the comfy boundary of my room and blog. I have been asked to speak about my own issues related to mental health and any discrimination I may have felt. I expected to have thousands of examples on this topic.
I couldn’t stop asking myself the question throughout my day to day activities today. I actually had to lie down (so dramatic) for an hour. I decided I have felt it happen to me. When I have thoughts fired at me by myself and I can’t get anything constructive done in my day to day life, I usually exercise, do some cleaning, get out, spend time with my daughter, read or sleep. Sleep helps the thoughts to give me a break and some mindful silence.
Here we go. I am using this post as a soundboard.
I don’t have a presentation to give, all organised and ready at a click of a button. That is not my style. So, on that note, I’m just gonna talk and talk and see what comes out.
Okay so, I was born in South Africa. I had a colourful upbringing. Lots of drama. I have done a lot of talking therapy and going to psychologists to not go too deep into my past. I have dealt with a lot of my issues from my upbringing. What I would like to point out is: I was always insecure. I had a lot of tantrums as a toddler and crazy dreams. Arguments and conflict are themes that stand out. The smell of Mandrax, weed and alcohol is always part of every experience. My Mom and Dad divorced when I was 2 years old.
My mom got remarried to an ex-boyfriend who had just come out of doing his conscription. My Dad got remarried to his current wife — my step Mom. I don’t recall seeing my dad and stepmom until I was about 8-10 years old. I’m not sure why and I don’t hold a grudge.
My Mom struggled with her mental health for years and years. I don’t think her being in violent abusive situations helped ease the stress. When I was about 5 years old my mother found blood on my underwear. I think my ex step father sexually used me. We left him and our cat Muffet, in the middle of the night to go and live with my Aunt. My Mom was desperate to give me a secure home and we finally found a two bedroom apartment to live in.
Things and people I remember from that time
I remember coming home from school one day and not being allowed in the apartment.
I remember a letter I had written to the caretaker of the flats. Something along the lines of ‘please don’t make us homeless’ . I’m a pretty shitty persuader haha…
Me always walking home on my own because my nanny was late
Eating SMASH and loads of ketchup
My annoying cousin/brother who was exactly the adjective I described. He was a total pain in the arse!
I remember Mom suntanning in the complex swimming pool.
We went to live in my Gran’s home and I was intolerable. I wouldn’t go to school. I was always throwing tantrums. I lived outside my own boundaries. I connected with no-one but my Mom. My Mom’s mental health was getting worse and my Gran had her own issues to deal with. There was a phone call and a few words exchanged. A car drive. Headlights, me half asleep under a duvet. Destination: Nan’s house.
Woohoo! Nan = party time.
Mom was crying the entire weekend. What on earth was going on? On a Sunday Mom came into Nan’s room. She said some words. ‘I love you’ was threaded and sewn into the sentence many times. I looked into her eyes and saw my own fear. My Nan was designated distracter of the day. I put two and two together and I ran to the window and saw my Mom’s car bonnet driving down the cobblestones.
I spoke regularly with my Mom. There are a lot of gaps in my memory of this time.
Travelling and living in Miami back and forth-back and forth. I went back and forth to andfrom Mom’s home to my Nan’s home. Two people who love me making the best out of a shitty situation.
I made a close set of friends and a family who adopted me as one of their own and they provided me with all the normal childhood milestones and experiences. Skateboarding, inventing stuff to do, getting money to get soft serve ice cream with a flake, body boarding at the beach , movies, music, lots of laughter and lots of love.I never knew how destructive I was until I took a major overdose (12 years old),after a disagreement with my Nan. I ended up overdosing on all her vitamins, so my wee was super colourful for a bit.
I ask myself over and over why did I turn to drugs and starving myself? Who wants that kind of label hanging over them? I turned to drugs and it was social and a laugh to begin with until I craved more and more. My Mom was diagnosed with “Manic depression” and tried to maintain a full-time job. My Nan was working full time.
My Dad and my step mom and my half sister moved next door to us and worked full time. Why didn’t I move in with him? We did — once. My Dad with me and my step mom with my step sister and then my half sister. It didn’t work out. I was getting more and more out of control.
The rave scene wasn’t enough. I went through most of my life from 9 years old to 16 years old as blind as a bat. I needed heavy prescription glasses or contacts. I couldn’t see shit. I don’t know what people thought. I thought about that a lot. The fact I couldn’t see properly. I decided to make decisions from a different source and those sources were my thoughts and misplaced emotions..
I found myself driven to go down the whole rebellion route. I didn’t stop. My Mom came to live with me in Durban when I was 15 years old.
I had been to 4 rehabs for my eating disorder and drug taking thus far. I had been ordered by the court to‘ the land of the forgotten and damned‘ in ,Magalies Oord.
There is a story how that came to be but not in this post. It was in the middle of nowhere. I ended up running away several times.
One night we waited until ‘lights out’ and we took our mattresses and threw them over the sides of the barbed wire fence and ran to freedom. We nearly boarded a plane to go to Port Saint Johns but we got caught as we were about to board the plane. I was sent back to Magalies Oord for an indefinite time. I got out in three months with a crack habit because the ‘ counsellor’ looking after me( along with three other under 18-year-olds) had got sacked. She in retaliation decided to release us from hell and the fucking daily wars with the peacocks.
They were like Odysseus’ sirens, except you knew from the start you did not want to listen to them because they did drive a person mad. There must be hundreds of Peacock graves n Magalies Oord. That I am sure of.
The recreational drug taker became a 30 pill per day Mandrax addict who only left the house to go and score other drugs. I got myself into a lot of shit. It would take too long to explain. By this stage, I seemed to be following a path with bright blinking arrows pointing the other way in which I was heading. My friends left. They couldn’t help me.
I met a medley of characters: Dirty cops.
“Privileged” crack users.
Cocaine may be seen as the acceptable drug to take but for them and for me it wasn’t enough. I would go many weeks missing with bizarre people(the road travelled is indeed a fucken trippy one-drug addict or not). Diamond Smugglers. Mercenaries. I had a few longer stays in rehabs and hospitals. I became not only an illegal drug taker but I had been diagnosed with Anorexia-a bad heart and a Unhealthy mind.
I experienced stigma from my friends and family members.
There were 4 people who still saw some kind of hope in me. My Gran, My Mom, My Grandpa and my Nan. I moved and entered England as disgracefully as possible. I went cold turkey and had a major seizure. I carried on with the eating disorder – My entire English family had never come across someone like me. They did not and still do not understand me. No loss to me but one to my Nan. I only would make an effort for my Nan.
My grandad was diagnosed with Cancer round about the same time- and My Mom and Gran and then me all moved to France. I was drinking at least one bottle of champagne a day. I got so drunk I stole some of my Grandads morphine tablets. I lived gutter low morals with a mismatched luxurious lifestyle. I eventually came back to England and started full-time work.
I had boyfriends and friends but I didn’t let people get too close. The more my mental health deteriorated the more reclusive I became. I ended up resigning from a travel career I loved because I allowed Anorexia to get into my head.
Multiple lengthy stays in Eating Disorder clinics. I tried to be ‘normal’. In 2007 I decided to enrol in a local college and get some kind of stability and life back. I had been out (of an 11-month stint in an ED clinic in York) for less than a week and signed up to a foundation degree in Acting. I didn’t know how to communicate with any of my peers.
I would tremble when I spoke because I hadn’t spoken to people — normally: for so long. I withdrew. I managed one term. I got a distinction for my classical acting and then ended back in hospital again for another 7-month stint in Cheadle.
A few of us girls went for a day out as a privilege to Blackpool for good behaviour and consistent weight gain. I was still too ill but one of the nurses said to me ‘ Ignore them-they are ignorant.’
I asked her what she meant. Apparently, a group of people passed us on the street and were taking the piss out of me and how I looked and being human, I guess. I didn’t let it bother me.
I left Cheadle and went back to college to carry on with my studies and then CRASH BOOM BANG I got involved with ‘he who shall not be named‘-I’m not going into to it too much at this point in time. Long story short. Shitty relationship. Bruises. Overdoses. Alcohol. Concerned people at college and then indifference. I didn’t see what they saw. Hindsight’s a bitch. I suppose I felt discriminated then.I do feel that every time I have felt judged or side carted it has been for a justified reason.
Then I was put through another challenging test of giving birth to a child and having that child taken from me and then having three years of lengthy legal proceedings to get her back.
THIS WAS WHERE I FELT THE MOST STIGMA.
Professionals need to be aware of mental health. What I saw happening in the courts and in the social service meetings shocks me even to this day. I’m not perfect but I was asking people to help me and my daughter. I did everything possible to get my baby girl back. She was taken from me on the 13/12/2011 at 12 weeks old due to a horrific accusation fuelled by hate and jealousy.
I finally got her back 16 months later under a care order. Social services and I shared parental responsibility. I’ve never felt more helpless and discriminated in a system that professes to help people with troubles. I cut ties in the relationship with the ex for good.
My anxiety levels came down naturally from being in my own home and feeling safe and I naturally didn’t need to misuse drink anymore. I didn’t need to overdose. I did need to get my baby back. She should have come back to my care much earlier than she did.
They threw Domestic violence at me.
Alcohol misuse. ( I did a hair strand test that came out negative to alcoholism).
Drug use. Clean.
My past- my family.
One psychiatrist came out with this gem ‘ the past is a great indicator for future behaviour’ .. Doctor, Let me prove you wrong.
I did. They moved the obstacle when and as many times as possible. They did not want to lose this case and take responsibility for where they had gone wrong.
We were one day away from going to a 12-day court hearing and I told my legal team to annihilate them. As it already was they were charged by the court to pay money from their penny fund for their ineptitude in our case.
6/7 social workers and many arguments with the independent reviewing officer and having a black storm cloud over my head we went back to court and the care order was revoked on 6/05/2015.
They sung my praises in court. I was advised by my legal team to address the judge myself. I was more than capable and I didn’t need anyone to speak for me.
This is why I started to use all my extra time into mental health charities and working with them on issues like a stigma. This issue within the government and institutions need to change. I want to show parents and carers how they can find a voice and what they can do to gain them some leverage against social services. How to work with them as a team. I know where to signpost troubled parents. It doesn’t stop there.
I have so many people I am in touch with to work on projects for people with mental health issues in the pipeline. I get to use my creativity and my writing. I’m excited and kind of shitting myself at the same time. I don’t know what I am going to say at this workshop.
I do know one thing if I said no to talking I would have strengthened the stigma barrier for people with mental health issues.
I am not perfect. I still have days when I get it wrong. I do use different coping mechanisms to help me more than the older safer and not so helpful ones. I can finally truly feel what it means to be control of my destiny.