This should be a post about moving house, which was crazy (and sorted) or the holidays since but I need to write the following as a memory for myself and as a way of making sense of things;
Turn the clock back 18 months - maybe a little more; it was the beginning of December and I was working as a Learning Mentor in a senior school. I had a reasonable caseload, teens in crisis, often parents in crisis too and it hadn't yet taken its toll on me personally.
I was given a student, we could call her Anna. I was asked to talk to her about religion, and that in doing so she'd probably 'sort herself out', she just needed someone to talk to.
I admit to procrastinating over this job! It seemed an anathema to me that I should be asked to talk to anyone about religion, I'm agnostic at best and I had no idea where to start. So it was almost 2 weeks before I set up the required meeting.
She was small, slight - 4'11" to be correct and she had an amazing smile. She talked, I listened, reflected back, did all the counselling stuff and for a while, my process (what I was thinking while she was talking) was, where is this going? You seem fine, you're smiling and all seems well. And then, something I said, something she felt, I don't know... she fell apart. I have never seen such a transformation, how a person can change, like a metamorphosis right before my eyes. She cried, but not just crying, a heartfelt, heart wrenching desperateness; her beautiful smile was gone and a desperate haunted look filled it's place, it seemed that this had been waiting for the right moment, and she chose that moment and she chose me to unload to.
Both our lives changed in that moment. What I heard could not be unheard, and she could not unsay all that was said. There was no going back, saying it had made it real. Once these things have been said, it's like opening the flood gates, there's no return.
Over the weeks before Christmas things were put in place to support her through the holidays, a life line, some contact with me via school email was allowed providing it was CC'd to another member of staff.
She got through the 2 weeks, just. On return she started talking about not 'being there', leaving, 'what's the point?' etc. I believed her to be talking about taking her own life. By the end of February she started to eat less, by March she stopped. I flagged up all theses things, all of them, I've read a lot, I've been on courses, I knew the signs. It was too late. By Easter she was admitted to the children's ward at the hospital.
This was chronic depression caused by her living situation. Her family was deeply religious, but she didn't believe, had never believed. She was destined to an arranged marriage in the near future and to live the life her mother lead. She could only see one way out, to kill herself. In her eyes the 'honourable way' to do that was to fade away. For her it was simple, she would harm herself so much from not eating that she would slowly die. Her family and community would not shoulder any blame and she would be free of the life that she foresaw and could not bear.
Unbeknown to her it doesn't work that way. Doctors and nurses aren't in the habit of letting you fade away once you are admitted and so, to cut a long story short, she went in and out of hospital, mental health units, Bristol, London and narrowly missed being sectioned (thankfully or she'd still be incarcerated) several times. [There is not space here to write about the horrendous conditions within child and adult mental heath - suffice to say that nothing much seems to have changed since Victoria was on the throne]
All the professionals she came into contact with all knew that the answer was for her to leave her family home and go into care but, despite everything, she didn't want to bring shame on her family. It was her choice to make.
I visited the hospital weekly - with permission from my workplace. My intuition was so strong, I felt compelled to support her from my soul. Perhaps that sounds weird but it felt incredibly right. I got her through meetings, became her advocate and was there for her whenever she needed me to be - her parents were part of the problem - there was no one else.
I visited with permission from school until the summer holidays. In the holidays I went anyway. Without permission I knew I was breaking the rules.
I'd do it all again, I'd make that choice every time, and I was aware of the consiquences. We had a bond - I was the first person she had told her life history to, she trusted me, and the nurses encouraged visits because it breathed a little life into her, I asked the questions her parents didn't ask, I gave the various agencies her back story when she'd lost the strength to do so, it was right that I did.
In The Autumn I was dismissed from my job. Gross misconduct. I visited without permission. I was without a job and they refused a reference. A single mum with 2 kids and a mortgage. They said I was too involved ( I was very involved) they called it a 'Child Protection Issue'. It was the worst thing anyone could have ever said, I felt sullied by the words, yet I knew I couldn't have done anything differently, it had had to be that way.
A year passed. Somehow she had my phone number - sneaked from the hospital files. She kept in touch, begged to see me. I was scared - those words 'Child Protection' rang heavy in my ears.
Over the last year she has been close to death. I have, over time had to accept that she may get her way in the end and cease to exist. But slowly, very slowly, the strength of character in her, that I had seen right from the start became stronger. He family life had become intolerable and a whole 18 months later she made the momentous and emotional decision to put herself into care. And everyone involved in her care could breath again.
And the point of this story is that today we shared coffee together in a cafe. She is alive, there is no tube feeding her into her stomach and I sob as I write as it seemed so impossible, not so long ago, that she would live. The spirit has won, her spirit, the one Carl Rogers talks about, the one that has to be in the life it wants to be in or it withers and dies. That one. And he was right. I have proof. The life she wanted and the one she now has are synchronised. Before they were miles apart. She eats. She sleeps. She is rejoicing in all the things she wasn't allowed to do. She is 16. She goes for walks with such joy, just because she can. She can see friends. Her hair is fluorescent red! She is grateful.
Today she told me she wanted to be a lawyer. I believe she can do it. Tonight she is with friends getting ready for a party she would never have been allowed to attend not long ago. She chose life. Her spirit chose life. She is grateful for all that the rest of us take for granted. She will make it, my work is done - but I will always help her along the way if she needs me.
I have faith.