Watch Ems’ story here. She shares her journey with childhood trauma, how she got through it and what her top tips are for dealing with this issue.
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she made it through these issues.
It has been such a privilege to interview people who are willing to share their personal stories in order to help you feel like you are not on your own. I caught up with Sarah, a twenty three-year-old woman from South London. Sarah has overcome a series of mental health issues and has worked hard to now be on the other side.
Sarah, can you tell me a bit about where your struggles with your mental health began?
Growing up I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by members of my family. I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions from the trauma. I had a horrific anger problem from about the age of ten onwards, which is also around the time when I started to self-harm. I was hitting my head on walls, punching walls, and burning myself.
This behaviour developed further and I started cutting myself when I was fifteen. My family said that I was doing these public displays of anger for attention, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t know how to get what I was feeling, out. Cutting myself in places where nobody could see, meant that nobody could say I was attention-seeking, because they didn’t know about it.
How did the cutting make you feel?
It was a release, but it was also felt like what I deserved. I felt like I should be hurt and punished for the abuse that had happened to me. I believed that I was wasn’t good enough and that my abuse was my fault, somehow. The cutting was firstly about me punishing myself; and secondly it was releasing the emotions that I didn’t know what else to do with. I was upset a lot of the time because living life within such a dysfunctional family was hard. Self-harming became a dependable outlet. Throughout my teens I was also taken advantage of on two occasions, once by a stranger, the other time by a friend that I thought I could trust. I began to believe that I was just put on this planet for the pleasure of men and for no other reason. I developed an eating disorder, I was desperately trying to do everything I could to destroy my body. I hated everything about it, I felt I had no purpose and no self-worth. I got in trouble at school and became a bully because I felt so out of control at home. I constantly felt guilt and shame for the people I hurt which built up massively over the years. This culminated in me not being able to leave the house, and caused severe anxiety being around people, especially men. I suffered with severe depression and anxiety as a result of these issues and also post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, and nightmares. I tried to commit suicide on two occasions but amazingly I got support right at the last minute. I was told everyday growing up that ‘I would be better off dead’, and ‘everyone would be happier if I wasn’t here’ so that’s what I believed. I only disclosed what had happened to me when I was seventeen. It had been a big secret for ten years, which had a massive effect on me. I was independent from a very young age, so my life motto was, ‘It’s me against the world” which meant I struggled getting help because I always had to be ‘fine’. I wouldn’t let people help me because growing up I was hit for showing any emotion other than being ‘okay.’ I had a fear of being anything other than that.
Thank you for sharing that hard journey with me and the readers. How have your recovered from such a difficult past?
I’m still on the journey of recovery, but when I was open about what happened to me that is when my journey of recovery began.
Who was the first person you opened up to?
My college tutor. I was studying childcare at college and we were doing a unit on child protection. After the first session, I couldn’t handle it and went to the bathroom and cut myself quite badly (I self-harmed that much that I felt I had to carry blades around with me.) My college tutor found me in the bathroom and she got someone to cover her class for the rest of the day. She just sat with me for hours and I told her everything. I still had a long way to go from there but I was able to start to look for the professional help I needed. I went to a recovery programme that helped me deal with the main issues I was facing. When I graduated from there I was still under the mental health services but they didn’t really give me much help. I felt like I was just ticking boxes for them.
I started working but stopped taking my medication, and stopped talking to people. I then got to the point where I was severely suicidal again. My doctor signed me off work and I had to go back into the recovery programme. I was so ashamed. But I realised that I had to want my recovery more than fear what people thought about me. Breaking that, was hard. I’m under different mental health services now which are a lot better. But in all honesty, the thing that has helped my recovery the most is my relationship with God and my church. If it wasn’t for the church, I would not be alive now. I am in no doubt about that.
Even though some days are still a battle I know I can get up and face the world. I know I don’t have to cut myself or face each meal with dread. I know I have a God that still loves me no matter what, and that He has been there from the start and will still be there till the end. He has placed new family around me that now love me completely unconditionally. I used to be scared of the word ‘family’ Ha! But now I feel I have been loved back to life.
Medication has helped me too. There is a huge stigma around taking it for mental health issues, and I kept stopping myself taking it for a long time. But this made me worse because my body would go through withdrawal. Now I just have to tell myself that people take medication for physical illnesses and that’s okay. So taking medication for a mental illness is okay too.
What was hard throughout your recovery?
People sometimes assume that there’s a time scale and that you have to be better within a certain amount of time. Every individual is different and everyone deals with things in different ways. Some doctors aren’t trained in mental health and so I’ve been to a few that haven’t known how to help me. Find a doctor that has mental health experience. You don’t have to just go with the first doctor you see. Ask the receptionist which doctor may be best to help you with your specific issue.
How is life working out for you now?
I’m getting there. I still have days that are really hard and I am aware that I can quite easily go into relapse, but I just have to remind myself of my future purpose. I want to impact young girls, I want to be a role model. I want to help children and young people who are in dysfunctional families because I know what it’s like to be in one. I have to remind myself that there are people out there that need ME to make it so that they can hear my story and be impacted by it. I’m just taking each day as it comes, and one step at a time. Sometimes that’s all you can do and that’s okay.”
What an amazing story! What bravery and what courage! Sarah didn’t do it all perfectly, there were relapses along the way, but that’s normal. Like you and I she is on a journey, but because she sought the help she needed, she has hope for a better future. If you’ve been affected by Sarah’s story why not get in touch, or visit the signposting page, where you can be redirected to specialist help within your local area. If you are feeling suicidal like Sarah was, please contact The Samaritans now on 116 123 (UK) 116 123 (ROI) they will be able to talk you through your thoughts and feelings totally confidentially.