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The Unselfish Selfish Thing

When she was four, my eldest daughter Chloe started showing mental health problems. She threw scissors at a teacher, and she tried to get another teacher fired. Then I had her sisters, and her mental health took a massive dive. How can you help a little girl that's feeling replaced? We’re talking 15 years ago, the mental health services in this country were appalling. I kept putting in self-referrals to social services, but Chloe wasn’t meeting any thresholds so I just had to cope. I'd been with my partner for four years and had two children by him at this point, and she accused him of abusing her. They had a police investigation, and she hadn't been touched. But I realised my little girl was seriously unhappy, and something had to change. My ex never hurt Chloe physically, but he hurt her with words. So I broke up with him. Then he started stalking me. Milton Keynes Women’s Aid helped get me an immediate move here to Bicester.


But this is where it really started to go wrong. Despite the fact social services and the police were telling me nothing had happened, my family couldn't understand why I didn't believe Chloe. My mum said she wanted nothing to do with me. So I lost my family, I lost my job, my partner, my home, most of my friends. All gone in a flash. I was in a complete state of grief over my life. Unfortunately, Chloe's mental health kept on deteriorating. I was undiagnosed with my own mental health problems at the time. It was just hideous.


I’d been through parenting courses, I had done so much work, social services were praising me through the roof. Then Chloe made a new accusation. She said I was abusing the children. I've never been violent towards my children, never have, never will. My mental health was in the absolute gutter. I was on the point of losing my house, I'd been juggling work and benefits, things were just getting hard.


The social worker didn't believe I had any mental health problems at all. She really did not believe I was mentally ill, she thought I was putting it all on. She hired a psychologist to interview me, who diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder, and then I become an unfit mother because I've got mental health issues. Meghan and Emily went to live with their dad and Chloe went to live with my mum.

The diagnosis changed everything. I was so focused on helping Chloe that I had completely ignored myself. I grew up in the 80s, my parents were yuppies, I was raised by nannies and au pairs, that was the done thing. I was 36 when I spoke to the psychiatrist, and it was the first time anyone told me I'd had a neglectful childhood. Everything suddenly started making sense. And then three months after the children were taken, Mum’s on the phone to me saying, ‘I'm so sorry. How did you cope all these years?!’ She spent about a year apologising, every time I saw her. But life was hideous for a while, absolutely heart and soul-destroying. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.


After they removed my children, I used drugs a lot, just to cope with the pain. Maggie from Connection Support dragged me to the Salvation Army, kicking and screaming. I did not want to go. But I met Becks, the drug and alcohol counsellor there at the time. She hit me with some home truths I had been trying to avoid. I stormed out of her office, I was slamming doors. But within three or four days, I thought, ‘Damn. She's right about it all.’ It's just nice knowing that someone else cares. I haven't had much of that in my life.


So I went back the next week and that's the start of this story – recovery. I started addressing my addiction. Becks saw something in me, something I wasn't seeing in myself at the time. She knew Caroline from Aspire, and she put me in contact for this course on how to run a community hub. And then she brought in Sue, the Adult Education Liaison at Abingdon and Whitney College. Through those connections, I went to this course on confidence building. I'd been to mental health courses targeted for your children. This was the first I'd ever been on for myself. In the first lesson, every single one of us in the group just cried the entire hour, because everyone's sharing their stories. That first session was phenomenal.


A couple of the people in that course decided to join me on my new beginnings journey and we formed our hub. We held a meeting, elected officers, designed a logo, all sorts of stuff. There are about five of us, a nice little group. We put on a couple of mental health courses, a maths and English course. We were ticking along quite nicely, and then we got a grant to bring a new arts festival to Bicester Library. Music and poets, drawing, all sorts of stuff. That was booked for 24th March 2020. On 18th March it got cancelled. So, because of Covid, we can't do learning in person, there's no launch. I was an absolute mess. My lifelines had been cut off. But by June we're holding our first class on Zoom. It was a boundary-setting course for parents, online so they could do it at home. We contacted the schools here in Bicester. They thought it was absolutely fantastic. We held a two-hour course in the morning, and we had to put on a second one on later in the day to accommodate everyone. Every course we put on during Covid was full.


Now I’m moving back to Milton Keynes. I'm leaving behind all these bad memories. I'll be ten minutes away from my children. I love my children. Considering all of her mental health struggles, Chloe has become a most beautiful woman. My friends are in Milton Keynes. I can restart my career. I need to get a little job, get enrolled in college. And then we're re-opening the hub. I'm learning how to be an Adult Educator, and at some point soon I'll be delivering my own courses. Long-term I'll train to become a counsellor as well. I want to help people. I know just by sharing my story, I've made it easier for other women that have had their children taken unjustly by social services. I don't want another mum to go through what I've gone through. The way I've dug in, volunteering at the Salvation Army, doing these mental health courses, the learning hub – I'm really not the person painted in these reports. If anyone wants to come back at me today, it's a completely different ballgame. I proved them wrong.


I understand myself so much better now. It's liberating. I didn't realise how affected I was by phobia, depression, anxiety, stress, BPD. Each one of those things alone is all-encompassing, life-destroying, and then to realise that I've got a combination of about six… You start learning and reading, something will hit home and you'll just go, ‘Ah, that makes so much sense.’ I've had so many of those moments. I'm sure I haven't learned all there is to know, there's more big revelations coming. Now I just want to be involved and keep on growing and learning and helping. It’s the most unselfish selfish thing I can do!

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