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Lessons in fear – Domestic violence starts and ends with the children

Domestic Violence in Childhood is a major problem of our times, effecting 1.8 million children across the UK and even more alarmingly 1 in 3 will have a mental illness as a result.

Since launching Free Your Mind in 2013, I have worked to create better awareness of this issue and to create a support system for children affected after realising that there was no specific service for them, only finding that their care was slotted in as part of the support given to their parent, meaning that the child would often be put into family counselling or support sessions with their parent and have their needs merged together, this is ineffective for many reasons:

  • It doesn’t give the child an open outlet to be honest about their experience of the violence
  • It makes their experience seem secondary and less important to their parent
  • It assumes the parent and child relationship has been unaffected by the violence
  • Many children are often scared to speak out about the violence and family sessions could be intimidating and harmful to them.

There’s also the developmental and behavioural effects that the violence can have on children, which means that they will have very different needs to their parents.

Domestic Violence has a massive effect on a child’s brain development due to them trying to handle being constantly stressed and anxious and not having the mental capacity to cope with such intensity and violence at such a young age.

During my years of working with children and young people with lived experience of Domestic Violence I found that they had many needs, but there was one thing that arose often: They wanted to have their voices heard and someone to listen to them, particularly for children living in domestic violence refuges, they are often surprised when I go in to have sessions with them, that suddenly all the attention is on them, not their mom, not their dad not the violence but them. Through play, 121 workshops and sometimes just chatty sessions, we create a space for children affected to speak out about their experience whilst working through the complex needs and worries that they may have.

What makes our service unique is that we are ‘peer led’, meaning that all of us working directly with the children have also been victims of childhood domestic violence ourselves. This automatically creates a bond and a space for the children to feel safe that they are in the company of not only someone who is professional but who completely understands their experience from a personal perspective.

In the very early stages of sessions, in particular many young adults affected understandably have a defence up, often wondering what can we do for them and how can we relate to them? That is until they realise we have once been in the same place as them and the only difference is that we have healed, recovered and now help others to do the same.

This creates realistic role models for these children and young people to see that they can change their lives and that violence isn’t the only way. Our aim is to stop the victim perpetrator cycle, assist them to make better decisions and view their future differently.

The victim perpetrator cycle indicates that it can either affect you in two ways; You either become the anxious, quiet fearful child, or the angry but still fearful child who can go on to repeat the cycle they have grown up with.

We provide a range of support from an online blogging community, support groups online and offline, one to one support sessions and workshops, ensuring that children have a variety of accessible support that they can choose from. We also provide training for those who work with children and young people affected.

There are many high profile Child Victims of Domestic Violence such as, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Stewart, Bill Clinton and Alesha Dixon. All great examples of how childhood adversity can be overcome.

I was a child of Domestic Violence myself, a child who spent my most formative years aged 6 to 12 living on the edge terrified of not knowing when the next violent episode would happen next. Not quite understanding why, but hating the perpetrator (an at the time stepfather) every moment I heard his breath in my presence.

I had such a vengeful feeling towards him that my young mind couldn’t properly comprehend that still remains now, I didn’t understand why he would just get angry over nothing or walk into the house already angry and start to beat up my mom sometimes id even get caught in the middle of it because I couldn’t bear to see him hurt my mom. One of my worst memories of the violence was at Christmas where ended up fleeing with just the clothes on our backs.

I can’t quite put it into words how alarming this was for me, my love, my protector, my everything in one person being beaten up suddenly becoming a helpless pulp, if he could do that to the only person responsible for me then there was no way that we could ever feel safe.

It would frighten the living daylights out of me, but at the same time built an inner strength in me that I never would realise I had for many years later.

I often spent his violent moments getting involved because I couldn’t bear to see him hurting my mom the way he did, something a child should never have to endure or participate in.

Domestic Violence traumatises children; it shapes the way that they look at the world and wires their brain to expect danger, all the time. I became a very fearful and anxious child and it set me up for a lot of what transpired as I grew older.

 

Feeling both guilty and innocent tears you apart – guilty because I was told it was my fault or at least that I could or should have done something to stop it. Trying to make sense of these issues when you’re young, especially when you feel you have nobody to turn to or confide in, is horrible.

I developed a mental illness of PTSD, depression, selective mutisim, anxiety and panic attacks. I self harmed by over eating so I was bullied at school for being overweight.

As I grew older into my teens and into adulthood my mental health problems, and the reluctance to speak up for myself created problems in every area of my life from friendships, relationships and employment.

This is so many other children’s experience and through my own work since launching

Changing this begins and ends with the children and how we help them to recover and heal from these experiences. That is why we need more awareness and focus on how domestic violence affects them.

We can keep talking about domestic violence with the focus solely on the adults, but it begins and ends with a child who witnesses the violence in their homes and that is my aim through the work we do with free your mind, campaigning, working with children in refuges and in schools to create change by those affected.

Every day I work towards shedding the effect that the trauma had on me, I am quite self aware now and what I would say to anyone working through something like this, is to keep going, talk to about it to someone about it and rather than just looking at the trauma of what happened also look at what its taught you about life and what you won’t accept.

Think about this; as much as it may still hurt, you have survived intense adversity and trauma at a young age but never forget that you are still here. If you can overcome this you really can overcome anything. We are not victims we are survivors and we are here for you.

Find out more, volunteer, donate here: www.freeyourmindcic.com

Natasha Benjamin is founder of Free Your Mind CIC.

Twitter: @Tashakbenjamin
www.freeyourmindcic.com

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Portrait of Daniel Thomas

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Back in early October I was fortunate enough to work with a small group of artists (and friends) on an exhibition exploring mental health called “Into My Escape”.

We all had different art styles and backgrounds (I am an emerging portrait artist who uses biro as my medium) so we figured it would be interesting to communicate this complex illness in various ways using different mediums. I produced 4 portraits for that exhibition; each exploring different individual perspectives, but the most personal of those pieces was the portrait of Daniel Douglas, a young man who struggled with mental health as a result of domestic violence, who tragically died in 2008 aged 22.

I can honestly say that it was and still is the most difficult portrait I have ever done. My introduction to Daniel came several months earlier when the Into My Escape project began. We had met with Natasha to discuss the exhibition and how we would work with Free Your Mind to present both our work and the work of the organisation at a venue for an evening event. She kindly got me into contact with Mandy Thomas who kindly gave me permission to draw her eldest son, Daniel.

My initial thought was “wow” what an incredible honour, I have been given this opportunity to draw someone who meant so much to this lady, of course that was shortly followed with an internal monologue reminding me that yeah it is a privilege so get this right and don’t screw this up. Before I could get underway with the portrait I needed to find out more about Daniel and understand his background. I felt that there should be more to the portrait than simply me drawing a picture.

I knew how sensitive this subject would be to Mandy so I was reluctant to discuss this with her, instead I decided to get Mandy’s book; “You Can’t Run”, which detailed the traumatic journey she and her children went through, I thought it would contain enough information about Daniel. As it turned out one of the other artists had already read it, and she mentioned what an emotional experience it had been to read the book.

As I read through I got a glimpse of the person Daniel was, what a great inspiration he was to his siblings, how smart and talented he was as a personal fitness trainer, an artist and a poet, all this despite the things he witnessed and experienced. This might sound silly but I didn’t realise how harrowing it would be to read the book and find out what Mandy and her children had endured. I had watched programs and read articles on domestic violence but this book gave me an insight that I had never had before, and I feel it was in a way because of Daniel, I tried to see things from his perspective as a son and a brother and it really hit home how he and his family felt trapped, at one end there was a violent person who presence was always in the forefront of their lives and on the other the people who let them down when they were meant to help them. When I finished the book my heart sank, the family had overcome so much but at such great cost, when they lost Daniel.

I can only imagine the battles he was fighting and the fears he was trying to overcome, but I can understand that not all battles can be won. It was at the time when I reached the stage of the book where Mandy and the family buried Daniel that I started on the picture.

At the time the only thing I could think of was how important it was for this picture to work, that the picture captured as much of Daniel as possible. I felt that it was so important that his family and friends could look at and say “this is Daniel”, if I can get that right then this piece could show my respect and admiration for him, and for his family.

That mind-set made the drawing process quite frustrating, I would redraw an eye or mouth several times so that I could capture the smallest of details, I did not want to lose any aspect of him that people could recognise. It was an arduous process but in the end the portrait was completed. So did I do him justice? Did I show him the respect he deserves? Well I like to think so but I personally don’t feel I am the right person to say, I will always be my harshest critic and will always look for things to improve, ultimately it’s for other people to judge.

It is the most difficult portrait I have ever done but I would do it all again without hesitation. Daniel, my friend, I never got to know you in person but you have truly inspired me,

Thank you.

Andre Phillips

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/MrAndrePhillips
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/andrephillipsart/
Email: andrephillipsart@gmail.com

 

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The most tainted way to see love and to learn love.

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A blog written by our ambassador – Joss Simmons

For me growing up around domestic violence was life changing it was scary and tearful. I feel as though it is the most tainted way to see love and to learn love.

Seeming as it is the person doing the damage is the exact same person who claims they are doing it out of love. Being the child in the middle of it all, only left me to absorb every little bit of it, I never knew how it affected me until I grew up and looked back at it. It separated us all and at the same time made some of us closer. I think because of this, I feel now have some kind of “attachment disorder” like I can love and care with my heart and soul, but at any given moment I can let go, just like that.

Seeing my mum go through hell and back made me paint an extremely negative picture of my father at that point in my life. Somewhat confusing now, but words can’t explain the mixed emotions I have due to my past experiences.

As I grew older I taught myself to highlight the positives and still love my father, all in all, it taught me how to just love freely and always view life positively. The anxiety and mental health issues that may have stemmed from me witnessing domestic violence first hand are still vacant in me, but I do not let them conquer me.

This leads on to me being the way that I am within the work that I do, my experiences have made me care on a level that makes me want to raise a generation of children that don’t have issues that stem from domestic violence or mental health. In saying that it’s made me more understanding towards the children I work with that may have experience or witnessed domestic violence, I can relate to to them even more so.

Growing up I never really knew what I wanted to do in the future, I started djing at the age of 14 and left school with no GCSEs.  As well as a lot of suspensions on my school records from primary up until my last day of secondary school, they were all as a result of fighting and rudeness. Looking back now I can say that due to the environment that I was living in at home I became a product of my environment and my actions reflected just that. I use to lie a lot about everything anything big or small and that stemmed from seeing it at home so it just became a learnt behaviour almost second nature to me.

In my teens I became more loving, caring and affectionate, coming from a big family I was at first the youngest out of all my cousins, but as everyone grew up they all started to have their own children. I was always around my younger cousins and I played a big part in looking after them all. When my little brothers were born, I noticed that I was good with children. Whilst working in “Harrods” as a sales rep for a high end woman’s shoe brand. I was with a customer and whilst I was trying to serve her child was throwing what I call “a wobbly or having a moment”

I intervened and calmed the child down just by distracting her because I didn’t like seeing the child stress herself out unnecessarily. The mother “my customer” was left in awe, and said to me she has never been able to calm her down, in the 18 months that she has had her. This is when I noticed that I was somewhat paternal.

A few months later the same customer came back with her child but not too shop. She came in to ask me if I could babysit and help her at home with her child. I was left lost for words and didn’t know what to do, I said yes, but asked if my mum could speak to her, because I wasn’t sure how to go about any of this.

A few weeks later I got asked to babysit and over time the mum in question kept saying to me that I should work with children because she thinks that I may have a gift.

Around the same this was all happening I was also looking for a career of some sort. My mum found an advert in the local gazette for a nursery that was recruiting. I attended the open day and applied for a job which around 10 years ago.

I started in preschool and eventually worked with all the other nurseries’ from 4 months and up. It was at this nursery that the name for my now business *jossy* came about it’s what the children use to call me when we did phonics and letters. Whilst working here I got asked to babysit by some of my key children’s parents.

 

The first family I babysat for let everyone else know about what I did, and I then went on and made some business cards and called the business “JossyCare”

I stayed there for around 4 years and i managed to study a level 3 in childcare and completed it in 6 months even though it was a 2 year course.

I eventually moved on from the setting to a number of different nurseries over the years, and even got a role as a nursery manager. Whilst moving around I had a lot family’s approach that wanted me to babysit for them.

I became a nanny a role which has taught me a lot, it is only over the last 2 years or so that I have changed the direction of “JossyCare” and I now plan to offer fathers help and not just babysitters.

But it’s only now that my life experiences have really helped with the work that I do within in a government funded setting. I am now working with families and children that are coming from all different walks of life. I work with families that have a background of domestic violence with both parents and children being victims.

The work I do honestly makes me forget all the negative things that have ever happened in my life and puts me in a happier place.

All of this has geared me up to wanting to have my own childcare business that helps children and families. It’s my chosen career path that’s made a man out of me and growing up the way I did, it has made me more open to having emotions and expressing them and all different types of ways.

 

Website – TBC

Twitter – JossyCare

Instagram – JossyCare

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TURN ON YOUR LIGHT | OLIVIA D’S STORY

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It is only in recent years, maybe the last two or three, that I have really allowed myself to open up so publicly about my personal (home) life. I’m now in my early twenties, and consciously making the decision, everyday, to not allow my darkest memories to haunt me. Hence why I use my natural, vocal projection to inspire and engage with others, and I write…daily.

They say our earliest memories are from aged 3.5 years…well that’s around the age when I started to experience what was happening in my own home. I’ll take you back to one moment in particular, a vivid but unsettling memory.

Imagine a 4-year-old girl, playing in her room, with her younger brother, who is no older than 18 months. In the background, she hears an argument brewing between her parents, on the upstairs landing – one that unknowingly to her, will escalate. As they head to their bedroom (an attempt to move the altercation further away from earshot of their children), the little girl pops out.

“Olivia, go back to your room” says one parent.

“No, let her stay” says the other.

As the voices of both adults rise to another level, disagreeing yet again, thus intensifying the hostility – the door slams shut, in her face. To her innocent ears, what is taking place on the other side of the door cannot be fully understood but she knows that mummy and daddy are not laughing, and the emotions are raw, the unpleasant kind, rather than romantic.

Moments later…Olivia has slightly back stepped into her room. She remembers her little brother behind her, who is none the wiser of the incident and she now hears movement, footsteps even, heading towards the door. As the door flies open, her mother has walked out, towards the bathroom – completely gaunt. Glancing up, she can see her holding the left-side of her red-flushed face with both hands (easily noticeable, as she has a light skin tone), and tears have poured from her eyes.

This is not what love looks like, right? That’s my earliest memory as a child – witnessing domestic violence.

I remember having a conversation with my father many years later, and the subject of my childhood coming up. All I commented, honestly, was: “I don’t have many happy memories as a child” and he immediately became defensive, questioning what I really meant by that and how it was even possible.

Even now, I would struggle to explain what I had seen as a young child, to him. How would he react to the truth? But it’s my story. For years I had a phobia of the police…up to the second year of University. Strange, I know, since there’s no special or scientific word for that.

Well, upon reflection, the police were frequent visitors to my childhood home, given what was happening. That trauma carried on post-divorce, when I was about 6 years old and after deciding to live with my Mum full-time, shortly after starting secondary school.

I simply didn’t want to be labelled as someone from a ‘broken home’, as far as I knew, all the homes I lived in stood still, so I didn’t understand the term.

Innocence.

I learned a very powerful lesson at the age of 12, and it has become a part of my message ever since – keep moving forward. The day I ‘chose’ my mother over my father (this was a surprise to all, as my mum was the disciplinarian), I was told: “If you leave, don’t come back.”

I have always been a strong-minded individual, and my decision-making was simply a consequence of having to juggle between two homes, which was a result of the breakdown of my parents’ marriage. The child cannot be blamed for the root cause; in which they were an innocent party. But those words taught me something invaluable – Once you move on, don’t turn back; you may reflect but do not repeat or dwell in it, if it no longer serves you.

Looking to the future is your only option – Vision.

We, as the children, tend to have no say or relevance in custody battles, although we suffer some of the worst emotional and psychological effects. I personally had a young brother to protect and listening to my Mum’s story, he was a gift to me so that I didn’t grow up as an only child, in a toxic environment.

With maturity, I have taken off my ‘poker face’, as I call it – smiling on the outside, whilst dealing with turmoil within. I found ways to release the negative energy, which meant venturing beyond my comfort zone. I made myself courageous in exploring my depths and distances, through speaking and writing.

As an entrepreneur, championing the growth and development of young people, I coach and mentor on embracing all the facets of your being, to become of better service to others. We all have greatness within us but it’s the mental barriers we put in place that hinder us from moving forward, and stepping out on faith, into a brighter life.

I switched on the light in the midst of my darkness, so that I could be an example to others that childhood dreams are achievable – the nightmares will fade. I use my story as my message: “Don’t let your circumstances be the excuses for why you cannot succeed, but instead, make them the reasons why you can and WILL be a success.”

Thank you for reading my now unmuted truth.

Olivia D Hinds

Blog | Main Website: www.somadglobal.com 

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Siennas Story – Growing up around Domestic Violence.

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As far back the age of 5-6 years, I can remember, my father was very violent and aggressive towards everyone in my family, I use to watch my mother get throwing across the room, strangled, punched kicked, you name it, he did it. This affected my concentration at school all the way through to college.

Ages 5/6  in school I wasn’t focused on any work, but instead I used to sit wonder ‘he’s beating her up, will she have bruises… will I find her when I get home, and has he killed her?’ Extreme I know, but very realistic of what he could have done.

Growing up I saw my brother get locked in the living room with my dad beating him up with TV cables and a wooden plank, he must have been aged 15 at the time, this violence was a constant on going thing in our family and it was never spoken of outside, I think we were all too scared to speak of it to anyone else.

There was a time when my father held my brother and I by the neck, one on each hand, because we did not know where our school library books were and a small bill came through the door. (Was too young to take care of school books, I thought that was the parents job!)

At the age of 7-8, me and my sister was planning to leave home, I remember we were collecting penny’s and 5p’s… this plan was dangerous because we didn’t know the world or how dangerous it was, it’s not like we were going out to seek help, it was more about getting away from my dad.

Stuck all those years not knowing what to do or where to turn, watching everyone get abused from day-to-day, made me lose interest in doing well with education but instead I was focused on survival

By aged 14, Attempted running away without my parents finding out, my best friend and I bunked school, went to train station and was prepared to go anywhere this train was going to take us… until after 2-3 hours, my friend decided she couldn’t do it and wanted to go home.

My family and I moved to Tower Hamlets borough. This was where I saw other teens being confident and living a normal life. I started bunking high school just so I can have a social life as well as learning about the environment around me, becoming streetwise.  I realised Domestic Violence wasn’t uncommon here, this is when I learned a bit more about the services that were available.

By aged 16, my father was angry at me for being late (it was 4 pm) and he grabbed my face and put pillow over it, I struggled for air, I found myself unable to do anything, few more seconds I would have been gone! But luckily my mum and siblings managed to pull him away. I felt trapped and helpless, not knowing what he was going to do next. I wished I had died at that moment.

A year went by of planning how to escape this violence, and by being able to go to college meant on my way I could access a payphone (not may teens had phones at that time), so I called Women’s Aid, and from there I set a date to leave.  At the age of 17, I left home and was put in a hostel and that’s when my freedom began.

By 18 the cycle of Domestic Violence started again as I got myself into a very abusive relationship.

My mother suffered from severe depression, which then lead to schizophrenia which meant she was not mentally all there but physically she was. Growing up, I did not get the warmth, hugs or kisses. I feel as though I did not have a mother present and was left with this very abusive man who I could not call a father, because to me, a mother and father are two people that were meant to take care of my overall well-being  to guide me through life, not abuse me or let me feel neglected.

Took me years to get over my abusive relationship, as I felt loved for the first time by someone. (Short lived love, long lived violence!) I just stuck by him through the abuse as I had two children with him and felt trapped as he was very aggressive and would not let me go. Year after year police were called, in and out of prison he went, this is when I had a moment to realise I can take care of myself and my children, I didn’t need him. I started college and studied nursing.

My Ex partner kicked off again out of jealously of me having friends, things got bad, called police and finally, restrictions were put on place and thankfully that was the end of it all. I knew what I wanted to do something with my life, which was to be a counsellor or support worker but I wasn’t fully confident and needed to work on myself before I start helping others. So, I took a year out of education and went into work, started working in an office and quickly progressed to management level.

I would never forget what my father and ex put me through, it left deep scars, I feel as though I went to hell and back! I’ve had a lot of counselling over the years and I am on the waiting list for psychotherapy. But all is not bad, in the past year I have been working on myself and learnt how to deal with my feelings, and how to stay positive.

I did manage to get through this by seeing a counsellor, help from my doctor and with support of my siblings. I am now at University studying Counselling BSc and I will pass this and enable myself to help others professionally.

 

By Sienna .N. Mazaratt

 

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Dear PTSD – By Simone Powderly

World Mental Health Day 2016

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Simone writes a powerful letter to her experience of PTSD, a Mental Health Condition which affects 3 in 100 people. In this letter, Simone describes how it affects her life and her brave fight to overcome it daily.

 

Dear PTSD – By Simone Powderly

Why can’t you just let go what happened? Why are you still holding on to something that wasn’t your fault? Why do you go back there? What brings you back there? Why can’t you just move on? Why are you scared? Why are avoiding? Aren’t you tired of fighting with me? You won’t win this battle! I tell myself over and over again with you.

I tell you this every night before bed, yet you still keep me laying here for hours or waking up thinking and thinking or it turns into nightmares! You make me go back to the same moments of when I felt in danger, why would you want to do that? Then I have to wake up after only having 3-4 hours of sleep and get on with my day full of anxiety, tiredness & frustration.

It must bug you that I am able to control you throughout the day, to be able to smile, laugh and to my friends and family I am the outspoken, confident, smiley and people person!

Sad truth is, when I come and lay my head down on my pillow that’s when you come because it’s just you and I.  We fight often in the mornings where you make me not want to do anything, just stay here in my thoughts, turn my phone off, cancel plans with my friends and with no explanation just go missing because I feel that I can’t tell them about what I’m going through.

I can’t tell them that today is a hard day and I have woken up feeling like I can’t breathe. I tell them I’m busy and as much as that is true, the real truth is that, sometimes I’m busy being exhausted or that I have had such a bad night I won’t remember my plans, because my mind is always going at such great speed.

I could offer you sleeping tablets or medication, but that will give you a false sense of reality and that’s what I have never wanted for us. To heal I have got to be able to face the truth.

I know you have put strain on my life and because of you I have not lived freely as I should, but I’m not about to just make myself numb from it. I’ve got to go through it. So I keep pushing on!

I was officially diagnosed with you when I was 22 years old but we have been going through this for years, since my early 20’s when you were testing my strength and will power. I was a young woman still trapped in childhood of feelings that I had not processed.

I never wanted to be labelled or a statistic, I didn’t want my present to be affected by the past and I didn’t want to blame it on that.

I had choice in my life, to either let it drag me down or I would fight it through healing and I have been working on that for 5 years, I have grown so much in self awareness and confidence that I’ve taken the power away from a situation that I had no control of and I now help to empower others and myself.

My healing will forever be a journey and the best healing for me has been in helping others, the more I talk about it, the more easier it gets for me. Someone once said to me ‘how are you standing their speaking and smiling today’ I said, because I now have the power. I have to remind myself that every day.

Today I might feel that I’m ready to go get em, but in couple days I might work myself up in such a panic, that I feel like I’m falling apart and I can’t cope but it’s being aware of what is going on and using techniques to help you get through it.

To most I am that girl with the BIG HAIR, model, confident, outspoken and always happy! Not many see my weaknesses because I am scared to be taken advantage of, I am only vulnerable around a handful of people.

I wrote this as a letter talking to my condition because that’s what most people have the battle with, their state of MIND. It’s a conversation with yourself constantly because you’re trying to gain control, but I will keep going.

Twitter: @Hairissimba

 

 

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Mental Health Awareness Week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Ambassador and Social Media Coordinator Annika, shares her experience with Mental Illness.

For a long time I thought depression was something I’d experienced after we’d experienced deaths in my family. But as I’ve grown older and understand mental health better, I can identify various times in my teens and my childhood that I’ve been anxious and depressed. I can remember wanting to disappear, to run away, to be someone else because I was so unhappy being me and living my life.

I found personal therapy in writing stories and just writing in general. It took me to a different place and through writing I was able to express myself in ways I hadn’t the confidence to verbally.

As an adult, I sometimes forget about that. Self care is so important and it requires daily practice, but I forget about that. Those mornings when the tiredness is at another level, when I’m falling asleep way before bed time and never seem to feel rested, that is how I know it is coming. Feeling teary for no apparent reason, reluctant to talk to anyone and having zero patience, all of these show me now that something isn’t right. Feeling empty or low or numb or just emotionally heavy, and too heavy to pick myself up, that tells me it’s coming. And it doesn’t last for an hour or a day or two. It says for a week, maybe even three, leaving me exhausted and with no motivation to do anything. Social engagements are hard to keep and challenging, I can’t think clearly, I have no desire to tidy my home or go anywhere, nothing interests me and it slows me down.

It doesn’t stop me. I suppose it did once but I’ve found and created myself a support network. I’ve discovered that it helps to talk, that even when it doesn’t make sense to me it will make sense to someone. It means I know I’m not alone. It’s a relief to know that I’m not alone in my struggles, that I know people who are open about their mental health because it enables me to be open about mine.

@AnnikaSpalding

 

Want to share your story for Mental Health week? Email: info@freeyourmindcic.com

 

 

 

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Our Parent Ambassador – Mandy’s Story

 

MY BABIES
Mandy’s Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having suffered most of my life from one form of abuse to another, I feel I am capable of speaking out now to explain where the mistakes lay within the government and the justice system. So many people are failed by constant let downs. Abusers just seem to get away with their crimes or get off with light sentencing. There’s clearly no deterrence. Maybe even encouragements as prisons are ‘ soft ‘allowing inmates too many privileges. To the point where they can even control you from the inside of a prison cell.

Domestic violence isn’t just G.B.H. with intent it is rape it is mind control, it is life controlling and can lead to death.

I suffered some of the worst attacks imaginable, not all could be included in my book ‘ You Can’t Run’  It is  this attitude of everything connected to D.V. being forced behind closed doors and silent victims not having a voice, that we have got to this state GLOBALLY !

JAHMENE AND MANDY THOMAS AT BEST AWARDS
Mandy and her son X Factor star Jahmene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have buried two sons because of one man. He was continually beating the system and reveling in his wins. Our government let this happen and it still happens today. So many changes are needed. Victims need to speak out their ugly, raw painful truths from the roof tops and be heard. We need to unite our voices and stand together.

Domestic violence isn’t going anywhere it’s like a silent deadly disease spreading fast through generations. With weapons, games, internet and films innocently poisoning the minds of our youth. This subject is so vast it covers many subjects within from starvation, to rape, to mind twisting. I have often compared it with terrorism because my ex tortured me depriving me of sleep beating me raping me torturing me with weapons even a blow torch. His warped mind in the end was beyond anything I could expect to prepare for ……the things he did came from a very dark sadistic place.

My children were witness to some of these events. My eldest son saw his father take a blow torch to me; he was frozen on his knees just staring at me. I am left with that HAUNTING image for eternity. I was powerless and had already been subjected to 8 hours of previous tortures, punching till my ears eyes nose mouth stomach bled out, glassed and knived.For the next 4 days I was left to lay in my blood not allowed to wash or leave the bedroom. Raped when it suited him, even as I was swollen black and blue with bits of scalp hanging off. I went in and out of consciousness until a policeman appeared on a ladder banging on the window, calling my name.

The mental side of being forced to live with D.V is a whole other story. Many have had their souls and minds broken .I had a certain kind of resilience to keep going and raise my children as normal as possible. That was something that riled him; because he couldn’t break me .The times when he left us alone throughout the years I recovered from my wounds and the house reigned with laughter. We were creative with art, music, expression and freedom.

However, as the years have passed I have had to go to counseling because losing Daniel to suicide just about broke me. After his father was early released from prison. Daniel screamed at the police saying we couldn’t keep running to be killed in the end. They weren’t stopping him finding us and carrying on where he left off with his tortures. We must live in a safe house, in a box of rules, so my ex can walk free. UNJUST…..  is the spike in my heart?

MANDY THOMAS

Free Your Mind, Women’s Aid, Victim Support, Rape Crisis and all the local services, together, have an ongoing battle of repairing and saving people daily. They helped us on occasions over the years with advice and providing a safe haven to run to.

A vital lifeline, hanging by a thread because of cut backs to local services.

I feel my mission, my reason for surviving and even coming back from the dead is ……to gather enough people together to stand up for change. Not just small hand outs from the government. A big change, one that will go down in history. A complete overhaul of the justice system!

Let’s put human worth at the top of the list where it belongs .You take a life you serve a fitting sentence, after all ….what are we worth? What are our children’s lives worth?  …..

priceless! NOT worthless! Certainly not 18 months a few years, or a slap on the wrist.

I am also a Survivors Ambassador for Women’s Aid and a Patron for Breaking The Silence. My time now is spent speaking out in the hope of saving as many lives as I can. Free Your Mind is a lifeline that needs to be there 24/7 that need support, funding and volunteers.

If the government spent as much time, effort, thought and preparation on saving lives in the real world than they do on arms, nuclear weapons and space missiles Then we would be able to help all victims of all nationalities be free of Domestic Violence

Our children are the future generation, they look to us for security and protection, guidance, education and love .If we cannot provide that then we are failing them. It won’t be because we are not trying our best, it will be because the system is failing us.

I am a fighter painting by Mandy
I am a fighter painting by Mandy

The media has a huge impact on society, I feel they have a duty to educate, explain, act out truths, and speak truths. I was asked to help the character ‘ Helen’ of the Archers with her role as a victim of abuse. It is vital that these issues are portrayed clearly with all their ugliness, depths of expression, depression and anxiety. We have had great feedback as she not only acted the role out with perfection, professionalism and emotion .She lived it, breathed it, felt it and was moved to the core.

We must work alongside all forms of media so that domestic violence isn’t shunned away and ignored as a taboo subject, but openly dealt with, spoken about and addressed. Then maybe it will be taken seriously for the horrors and destruction it causes. The ripples the abusers start off spread from one person to the next visually and by hearing. How can we allow this to continue? It affects everything and everyone from your baby’s first cry, to workplace and schools.

The mind is a very sensitive organ that if not cared for from birth can have devastating outcomes later in life. Children that act out are more than often covering up some form of abuse. Teachers, doctors, shop keepers, society as we know it needs to be alert for signs in order to help all ages. Then there needs to be a package in place to deal with each case.

Once a child plucks up the courage to speak out… they need to be able to trust an adult, a stranger, who is a professional in that specific subject. Who shows honest compassion and understanding? CONSISTENCY with the same person is VITAL!

Our music industry, the internet  and gaming industry are the basics of a foundation that breeds ideas, images and enactments to the minds of our children .If these are not addressed and monitored they can warp the minds of confused, abused broken children and adults.

Soaps that our society watch continuously are meant to portray real life. Isn’t it then their duty to be sensitive, honest and study the core subjects in depth before acting out on screens?

For the outcome, the fallout, the copy cats, the results are brought on by viewer’s perception and individual life patterns.

I shall continue to work alongside anyone that needs my input, viewpoint and thoughts on domestic violence situations. Covering child abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, slavery, rape, torture and false imprisonment.

I am an author, poet, artist and photographer……all forms of expression of emotion. I implore this creative channel is used in all sectors for victims of all ages races and places.

book cover
Mandys Book, You Cant Run is out now.

If you do not release pain, grief, depression, anger and emotions …it will consume you with ill health of body and mind.

We need to support each other as a nation not ignore the situation.

 

 

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Maureen’s Story

Maureen Elizabeth Worrell our Ambassador, shares some of her story:

Maureen Elizabeth Worrell

 

 

 

 

 

One of my most profound memories of growing up in a household dominated by domestic violence and abuse is the constant fear of waiting for the next explosive episode. I felt I was permanently on edge and filled with an almost indescribable anxiety that originates from the pit of your stomach.

It was always bad enough having to cover my ears to shut out the noise of the shouting, crying, cussing, threats of violence and sounds of flesh being struck, much less to be frozen in fear when the silence itself was deafening. To me, the silence was unbearable as that could indicate a lull in the physical violence or it meant her pain was so bad that she couldn’t even make a sound – until the next beating of course.

As a small child, witnessing it day after day was horrendous and impacted me to a point whereby I am not sure I could ever really describe just how much it really affected me then and now. Growing up in circumstances where domestic violence affected all aspects of my life meant that I grew without an identity of who I was meant to be. The long term effects impacted greatly on my self-confidence, my self-esteem and my trust in myself and others. It affected my choice of personal one-to-one relationships and communications and interactions with people in general.

At the time, I of course did not realise the effect on me in terms of Mental Health – in hindsight I would have easily been diagnosed with Depression and Suicidal Tendencies from the age of four or five years of age onwards.

Caught up in that kind of environment, it is inevitable that as a small child, you will absorb and take in all that negativity and fearfulness. From a very early age my health was affected in a very bad way – suppressed fear can and does manifest in various ways – migraines, stomach pains, joint pains, nerve pains, depression and dark thoughts of wanting to escape the torturous chaos of noise and upheaval.

The tangible mental health effects are not referred to or spoken of enough – adults do not want to comprehend or even acknowledge that very small children, in particular, can or do have mental health issues from the onset of witnessing domestic violence and abuse. This is why the works and awareness campaigns implemented by Free Your Mind is so vital, unique and necessary. The issues Free Your Mind tackles head on are the same issues we as children felt or feel even as adults, because we exist without having the fundamental resources or know how of how to express what we feel and why. As a Free Your Mind Ambassador, I can only state that I am committed to continue to speaking out in order to keep raising awareness and to also keep on breaking the insidious silence that prevents us all from removing the stigma of shame and embarrassment from the very essence of what is Mental Health and its effects on individuals – young and old alike. Our children deserve better and its up to each of us to step forward boldly to illustrate that someone, somewhere, fully understands what they are going through, how they feel and ultimately to prevent the potential of many years of silent suffering and struggles.

 

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Abid’s Story

 

abid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I remember as a child taking it for granted that my parents argued, shouting became a normal event whenever both my parents were home – that was just how it was in my house at the age of 4 living in London. I didn’t understand it then, and if anyone had suggested it as a teenager I would have told them they were crazy, but my adult personal relationships were definitely affected by seeing and hearing what went on between my parents.

As an adult today, I have recognised the affects those years had on me and the reason why I struggled previously with my own intimate relationships. It seemed that I was extremely fearful of having (what I would call today) a normal intimate relationship i.e. girlfriend. I couldn’t understand why I was always afraid to tell a girl I liked her, thought she was attractive, and the idea that a girl could like me back or find me attractive was completely alien to me. The thing is that while I have of course over the last few years had intimate relationships, I would always question why or how this amazing girl was with me and what it is that she saw in me?

I have of course with time gotten better, and now in later life am a little more confident to approach a girl I like – However on occasion do still suffer with a lack of confidence, but it’s getting better.

Since working for Hestia, those suspicions I had that what I saw/heard as a child has affected my later adult relationships have been confirmed. Through our Hidden Child campaign which the amazing team at Free Your Mind promoted for us, highlighted the facts behind domestic abuse/violence affecting children and their mental health at a young age, and then their personal adult relationships later on in life.

I believe that mental health across all ages and demographics is an issue that isn’t spoken about enough and which should be. Children unfortunately can be the hidden victims of domestic violence, and the effects on their mental health can cause irreversible behavioural and physical changes which are not understood. Free Your Mind is an organisation that brings to light just some of these issues, and through working with them we can only help bring about education and awareness to prevent years of personal struggle and anxiety such as those that I personally had to deal with’.

Written by :

Abid Gangat

Hestia – Media and Communications Manager