Sue from Worcester emerges proud with her journey from buried seed to blossoming warrior…
The Warrior Awakens
On the 6th November 2017, I celebrated my unofficial 4th birthday, which might sound a little strange, since I turned 56 in January 2018. But you see, four years ago on that day, the warrior which had lain dormant inside me for so many years, woke up, and it was an anniversary worthy of celebration.
Being a keen gardener, I like to compare that warrior to a seed, a seed which had over the years, been bruised and beaten and denied the sustenance it needed to grow. At times it had gasped for breath, and searched desperately for water so that it might at least remain intact, but the environment around it was often barren, and yet somehow it managed to survive all those years in the wilderness. That brave and resilient seed had waited patiently as it held on to hope, held on to a dream that one day, given the right conditions and with the right help, it might awaken and begin to spread its roots, start to grow and produce colourful flowers.
Of course, a seed doesn’t just turn into a beautiful flower overnight, and most cannot begin to grow without help. This is where a gardener is necessary, to nurture the seed, so that it will blossom and flourish. The gardener must pay attention to its needs, plant it in the right soil, water it and ensure that it is fed – basically love and care for that seed until it has spread its roots and is able to love and care for itself. A gardener must also have the courage to take risks, to perhaps place the young seedling outside, away from the warmth and comfort of the greenhouse, despite the risk of a frosty night or insects which may destroy it.
Over the years, I had existed and survived by looking outside of myself, too frightened to delve into what lay beneath my skin. I had grown up in an ordinary family, the youngest of three siblings. I’d attended ordinary state schools, gained average grades in exams. I travelled and lived for a while in a few other countries. I gained a degree in European languages, found employment and got married. I gave birth to two beautiful and unique daughters. At the age of 35 I became pregnant with my third child and to the outside world (and to me) my life appeared straightforward.
But, I had a secret, a secret that I had managed to hide since childhood, and a secret that I shared with only one other person. The consequences of sharing this secret with anyone else would be devastating (or so I was led to believe) and whenever I contemplated it, sheer terror would engulf me and I would feel overwhelmed. So much so, that I remained silent – or rather, I was silenced, and so I buried that secret deep within me, in the hope that it would over time disappear. But it was not to be, and I wonder sometimes, how I ever thought it would disappear.
The birth of my son in December 1996, proved to be the moment when this secret reared its ugly head and shortly after his birth, I found myself in need of support to manage my distress. Believing that I could trust in the expertise of professionals, I turned to statutory mental health services for help. I was immediately prescribed medication for my symptoms and so began a journey that was to last 17 long and at times desperate years. By the time my son was about to celebrate his 17th birthday I had become one of those infamous revolving-door patients – I was simply a set of numbers from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I had slowly become dependent on doctors, nurses, locked wards, cocktails of medication and ECT and believed that this was the only way to keep me alive and existing. I began to self-harm by cutting and burning myself, I abused alcohol and smoked cannabis. I attempted to take my own life on more than one occasion, and I’m sad and ashamed to say that at one point I wanted to take my own children’s lives as well as my own. Unfortunately, throughout all those years, I never felt safe enough nor was I able to find someone who I trusted enough to disclose the horrifying nature and cause of my distress. Finding words to express what had happened to me, how I was feeling and what I was experiencing felt an impossible task and so I was communicating to others in what seemed like a foreign tongue.
By November 2013, my spirit felt completely broken, I felt disempowered, dehumanised, re-traumatised, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, terrified, guilty and angry, but most of all I felt desperate. I believed the time had come to leave this world for good and I put together a solid plan to end my life – I chose the method I would use and a comforting place where I would spend my final moments. I did my best to write a meaningful letter to each of my children in an effort to explain my actions. I organised my finances so that my family would not have to worry about the cost of funeral expenses and I wrote a will.
But that warrior, that seed – essentially the essence of me – would not allow me to carry out my plan.
On the 6th November 2013, it was decided that I should come off, overnight, the cocktail of psychiatric medications I had been taking for 17 years, and my world was turned upside down. Whilst this rather brutal decision was made for me and I had no choice in the matter, it proved to be a momentous turning point in my life. Little did I know it at the time, but the moment had arrived where I would now have to search for a gardener and the right environment where that seed could be nurtured.
Four years later, it turns out that the head gardener was me, and although I feel exhausted, I am grateful that I am still here to tell the tale. I remain medication free, I parted company with statutory mental health services three years ago, and I am now slowly managing to confront and deal with the damaging effects of that toxic secret.
A friend recently wrote out a list of characteristics that she saw in me and if I’m honest, I was shocked and a little embarrassed when I read it. But whilst I am no superwoman or saint by any stretch of the imagination, I am able to recognise that the warrior within me has enormous inner strength, courage, passion and determination.
I have gradually found ways to nurture that seed within me over the last four years and am allowing it to spread its roots, to grow and to flourish and it’s taking every ounce of courage and strength that I possess. But I haven’t done it alone, there have been “other gardeners” (my children, my friends, my work colleagues, my peers and my therapists), whose courage, strength and love for me have enabled me in one way or another to feel safe, in control and a valuable member of the human race.
However there is one more gardener who I must not forget to mention – without her courage, strength and love I would not be here today, writing this piece. That other gardener is the little Sue who kept that seed alive with her bravery, sheer stubbornness and outright bloody-mindedness, and managed to survive the horrors she was subjected to.
Finally, I thought you might like to know how marked I this day – the child in me went for a walk in the local woods and splashed through some muddy footpaths, kicked my way through the fallen leaves (mindful of the small animals that may be hibernating in them) whilst singing some of my favourite songs. There was also time for a messy play hour. The teenager in me hoped to get a small tattoo (perhaps a seedling) to mark the occasion, but this has yet to be fulfilled. And the adult in me to spent some time with my family and friends, eating, talking and laughing together.
We welcome you Sue, (little and adult), to the Emerging Proud family ❤
We will hear from Sue again soon as she invites us to learn more about why she ended up chosing to leave the mental health system again, this time from her job as a Peer Support Worker…