I’m not going to retell Laura’s childhood story from my perspective. She was far better at telling her story then I would be… Not to mention that I can’t remember half of it. But what I can tell you is my story of growing up with my mental illness. Yes, it gets a little personal but what’s the use in telling only part of the story.
Growing up I was would be called ‘naughty’. I guess all little kids are. But then there were the things I’d do, such as misunderstand an expression or joke. I’d laugh at the wrong time or say inappropriate things I’d heard adults laugh at before.
But with my stepdad the punishments were far more severe than warranted. Most adults would try to teach their small child that it was wrong to say or do something. I remember how he’d shout in my face. Imagine a giant man yelling at full volume in your face. Or whispering threats about sending you away.
When I’d refuse to obey or try hide from the big loud man, I’d be grabbed and pulled around until I found myself on dad’s doorstep.
Advice: Though it won’t stop people like my stepfather, punishments should be the last resort for a young child. It may simply be a misunderstanding on their part. No punishment should be a form of violence as that will normalise threatening behavior and some will later see that as okay.
When I managed to break free from that terrible situation, I was happy for the first time ever. I was allowed friends and I could watch television. My meals were more than purposely half-frozen microwave things.
I would have home cooked meals every night: bolognese on Thursdays, fish and chips on Fridays and roast dinners on Sundays.
But I was evil… apparently. I would disobey rules and fight. I didn’t have a filter.
Dad and my step-mum had grown tired of blaming my behaviour on my stepdad’s abuse. It had been a year or two and it was becoming clear there was something else ‘wrong’.
I remember they first told me about going to a doctor about my head on the way to our GP. It is a clear memory as if it happened yesterday.
“If they don’t find anything wrong with you, we’re going to have to send you somewhere,” my stepmother said, looking back at me from the passenger seat of the car.
I was rightfully terrified. Wouldn’t you be?
So when we went to the doctor, I had tried to be on my best behaviour as dad and step mum told the doctor of all the things I was bad at and good at. It was a true character assassination at a very young age.
And then? The doctor referred us to another doctor. And then that doctor referred us to a family psychiatrist.
That psychiatrist then told them what they wanted to hear: that Amy has a mental illness. Amy has ADHD.
We were told years later that I had autism when a psychologist tested me again.
Advice: If you live in the UK or a country with a similar healthcare system to the NHS, make sure you go to a doctor if you feel there is something wrong with yourself or your child. They are there to help you and make your life easier – It is sometimes advised for people who have been through grief or have a stressful life to go even if you feel okay. Mental health isn’t clear-cut.
With these new labels hanging over my head, life was slightly easier for everyone. Until something happened and all fingers pointed at me.
People would blame me for things that either didn’t happen or were misunderstood. If it wasn’t their already preconceived ideas of ADHD and autism creating this filter in their heads, it was the autism itself preventing me from voicing my reasons.
I remember clearly how two girls – far older than me – made jokes about my surname and bullied me relentlessly. When I quoted the cat from Stuart Little (A ‘U’ film), they ran to the teacher and told them what I’d said. Instead of listening to me or giving me the time to think straight, I was immediately punished.
Another time I was made to sit in a hula hoop away from the rest of the class, on a the carpet while they were at tables. The teacher made the excuse that I would hit other children.
I am clumsy and can clearly remember every ‘malicious attack’ I’d commit as me falling over someone or dropping something accidentally.
Babysitters would say I purposely pulled their hair because I tried to play with it and found a tangle.
Advice: Take your time with people who you think have wronged you or others. Innocent people are persecuted everyday – and though I was not actually persecuted, a young child will feel that way if no one listens to them and are punished regardless. It makes them close in on themselves and unable to trust others. This isn’t the 1600s.
Physically I grew up very very fast, but mentally I couldn’t catch up with the strange things happening. It didn’t help that my step-mum was leaving my dad around that time – or that dad was struggling with depression. Laura did all she could, but she wasn’t an adult who’d lived with that stuff for twenty years.
In fact, I avoided and ran away from those conversations whenever I could.
I started a certain stage of puberty while on a school camping trip and I was literally living a nightmare. I’m sure every girl has had it growing up. I was too afraid to go to a teacher and was sharing a large tent with all of my female bullies. Yes, they did find out but luckily they had mistaken it for something else.
Nowadays I am always worried and panicking about my hygiene, but I feel I have it under control now.
Bras were less of a traumatic experience but I still struggled with them for years. From the age of eleven I had been cramming E sized breasts into anything D and smaller. Only recently did I get the courage to be properly fitted.
Advice: Never ever shy away from important topics such as puberty with your child. The sooner you help them build communication with you, the more likely your child is to turn to you for help. Encourage confidence rather than shy away from it all. You may not feel comfortable about it, but it’s your responsibility to protect your child – and what better way than to give them the weapon to protect themselves with? Knowledge.
NOW AND FOREVER
I am twenty one now and I am finally aware of my mind and body. Most girls have fully matured by sixteen and boys by eighteen (as told to my school from a teacher). I have only just finished learning what all sixteen year old girls should have.
Final Advice: Slow down and listen to the people around you. Everything you do affects someone else. Keeping a calm head even in the most fist-clenching situation might just help someone who needs it most.
Is there any advice you would give to someone in these situations? What were your experiences growing up (with mental illnesses or not)?