By Bree Leahy
Whenever I think back to my time at school and college (which only ended a mere year ago!) I feel a sense of unease. From roughly year 3 all the way to year 13, my life was made a misery by the different social groups I encountered. I always blamed myself for the bullying, putting the malicious name calling and shoves in the hallways down to me being too different. I come from a working-class background but I’m not your typical ‘Cockney’ – I love reading, writing, learning, pop-punk music; everything you’re supposed to hate in the place I’m from. In primary school the name calling was constant – I played sport so I was gay, I struggled with maths so I was stupid, I didn’t look like the others so I was fat and ugly. Overtime I built up a wall, convinced that they were right and took the insults with a smile, being careful not to let anyone into my bubble of self-hatred.
It wasn’t until I was in year 8 that the differences between me and my peers became even more apparent. Along with constant lesbian jokes and comments made at my expense (which is a story for another time), I gradually started to become a young carer.
My Nan’s arthritis had started to cause her pain, so I took over the majority of the household chores – apart from the cooking and ironing as I’m awful at both! This left me with less time to watch all of the TV programmes that the cool kids watched and to listen to the music they liked, so I could no longer participate in conversations with my peers.
Luckily, I had a couple of close friends who were genuinely lifesavers at points but I was still seen as an outcast by the rest of my year group. It was around this time I started to develop anxiety, constantly feeling as if I couldn’t breathe and replaying all of the conversations I’d had in a day, honing in on all of the negatives and how I thought I was such a social disaster.
As I got older, my Nan became more ill and developed more conditions. In year 9 she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a facial paralysis condition that is supposed to heal on its own. Unfortunately, it didn’t for my Nan. This meant constant appointments with doctors and physios, leaving me with no time for my own life. Gradually, my anxiety started to worsen and I started to have panic attacks daily – anywhere up to five a day.
I couldn’t sit in a classroom without feeling like the walls were going to cave in and spent most of my time in the PE office with my favourite teachers, the only place in school where I felt comfortable. Depression also started to creep in, although I have no memory of when I first started to feel like this. I would wake up every day and not see the point in bothering – I just wanted to lay in bed and waste away.
In year 10, my Nan was diagnosed with cancer. When I found out, it was if someone had submerged my lungs into the ocean. I couldn’t feel anything, apart from numbness and I lived everyday on autopilot. School should’ve been my place to escape and better myself but it became more hellish by the day. The bullying had become more focused on my Nan, which was much harder to deal with. I heard them call her every name from ‘ugly’ to ‘spaz’ to ‘mong’. They called her ‘denty’ and would pull their faces to one side to mock the way her Bell’s palsy made her look. I would get on the bus to school and hear whispers of plots to cut my hair or mock me publicly in the canteen. The worst thing anyone ever said is that it was my fault my Nan was ill and she deserved to have cancer and that if it was up to them she would be dead.
I got home from school that day and cried all night. I thought my life wasn’t worth living – I stopped playing football and reading because I no longer had the time or energy, my grades at school were slipping as I never did my homework and I was dealing with situations most adults would struggle with. I was a zombie, each day was the same. So I made a pact with myself – if my Nan died, then so would I.
My Nan died two months before I had to sit my GCSE exams. I felt awful, but I was free. I thrived off knowing that I would kill myself; it brought me genuine happiness to know I wouldn’t have to live anymore.
Five days after my 16th birthday, I attempted an overdose. I had previously attempted suicide at both 13 and 14 but both were cries for help and I had never taken enough tablets to do any real harm. I remember sitting on my bed, surrounded by a cocktail of tablets, with a broken mind that felt the clearest it had been in years. I started to take the tablets, not caring who I left behind until I heard my Granddad walking upstairs. Just a simple set of footsteps was enough to remind me that this was my home and I couldn’t destroy his life further after he had just lost his wife. I walked out of the room and gave him the biggest hug – it was the start of me getting help.
As soon as I started college, I attended weekly counselling sessions, which took a while to work. I found myself unable to trust her enough to open up about what it was really like to be a young carer, instead brushing it off to be a minor part of my life that had no effect on me. I was still socially isolated from my peers – they didn’t know how to handle my mood swings or communicate with someone who was so different to them. Eventually, I found myself talking to my counsellor and finally started to release all of the anger, shame and sadness I had been desperately clinging onto.
It was there I learned about some mental tools I could use to help manage my depression and anxiety – associating happy memories with a simple action, for example when I tap my fingers on a table I think about my Nan singing to me when I was younger. I also learned how to focus the anxiety that I felt in my core by using deep breathing techniques and questioning all negative thought patterns.
Since starting university, my life has been a million times better. I play football again; both the constant exercise and the team spirit has been important in my recovery. I’ve made genuine friends who love that I’m different to them; I read and write regularly as a way to express my emotions and previous experiences in a healthier way. I can honestly say that this is the best my life has ever been. Of course, I know that this is not the end of my recovery. I know that I will have bad days but I know that when I do I’ll be able to manage.
During my teenage years, I needed a site like Vent. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone and that it would be okay to talk about my problems. 16-year-old me would never admit to feeling this way, so it’s crazy how far I’ve come in just three years! I hope that by me writing this, at least a few people will feel like they can open up and get help when they need it.
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