I didn't have a childhood - 17 August 2016

My mum could be nice. That's how she seemed on the outside. Everything seemed nice on the outside. But there's an instinct we all have that tells us when something is wrong. There's a saying; evil only wins when good people do nothing. All my life I waited, I hoped, that someday someone would dare to look deeper than the surface and see even a glimpse of what I saw...what I went through. That one day someone would see me, understand and see straight past what was happening, put all the pieces together that I couldn't verbalize, save me I suppose. But they never did. 

Abuse can be physical or psychological. I was isolated from society, something which was made possible by being homeshooled from the age of about 7. I had no friends, I wasn't allowed them. Socializing for me was watching other children play in the street through the curtains in the afternoons. It would only be around 4pm, but I was supposed to be asleep already since 1 or 2pm. If I wasn't, I would be intimidated, yelled at, told all the ways in which I was stupid, belittled, blamed and berated for everything you can imagine. I lived in fear of my mother. At some point fear became more natural to me than breathing. Doctors told me it was called anxiety when I was 18, and that was why I couldn't keep a job. I now know it's PTSD, and my mum suffered from paranoia and narcissism. In her mind, everyone was out to get her, including me. Family members and family friends knew what she was like, and even admitted she would be just about the worst person ever to have a child, but still they did nothing to help me. I think they were afraid of her too. I didn't have a childhood. What I had was what felt like endless loneliness, gaslighting, manipulation, lies, accusations, emotional and mental abuse, emotional neglect, passive aggression, outward aggression, sexual abuse, and just so many things I still can't wrap my head around or explain. 

Every single aspect of my life was controlled and micromanaged, and if I was difficult in any way (real or imagined) it was taken as a direct threat to her dominance - in other words, she would lose the plot. I couldn't flush the toilet, make any noise, complain, seem or be sad, talk too much or too little, speak to or interact with anyone who came to the house in any way unless given explicit permission, use the phone (you had to put in a code to dial out) even in emergencies unless given permission. No internet. I was cut off from everything outside of the house, and confined to my room and bed more hours than I wasn't. I could watch TV or playstation from 7am (without sound) until mum got out of bed around midday - she had no need to work, she had benefits and child support. I would mostly spend my days avoiding her, being quiet drawing, reading, just being inside my own imagination as a constant escape. 

She never believed me, even when I was telling the truth. She never encouraged me, she held me back. She never talked to me about my problems, she only told me how to feel. She never loved me, she owned me. She never helped me grow, she only wanted me to do exactly what she wanted. But that wasn't good enough either. That's the problem. It never is. My mum had all the answers, all the excuses pre-prepared at all times for her behavior. She was in control, and she made sure everyone knew it, especially me.

There were a few times me and my mum and dad were happy together, way back when he was in the picture. It's very hard to remember, I was very young. I remember the day my parents surprised me with my dad moving in. I remember eating dinner with them and watching the news on the small black and white TV that sat on our dinner table. I remembered what happiness felt like, it's the only reason I always remained hopeful. Even though I can't forget the day mum surprised me with dad being taken away forever. She had told tales of abuse and alcoholism because she decided he was unfit. In reality, he wasn't a perfect person, no one is. All he did was work, all the time at the butchery to provide for us, he wanted me to go to school, have friends, get hurt, learn about life, and just to have the life of a normal child really. He saw through her, he was the only one that tried to fight for me, so she ruined his life. He went to prison, eventually became homeless, bankrupt and suicidal. In a way I can't blame people for not helping me, those who feed on misery will go to insanely imaginative extremes to keep control. But if there's anything I can say, anything I need people to know, it's to trust your gut instinct. If something feels wrong, please don't do nothing. I had to wait until I was 18 to escape. 

 

If you see a child that is obviously terrified of their parent and get that gut feeling, the best chance is to try to talk to them when they're alone. Because this is obviously impossible for outsiders most of the time, a family member or GP is the best bet. I think it would be a good idea to have at least annual mental health checks on children registered as homeschooled to ensure they're at least happy and well socialized. At public schools you usually get the option of a school counsellor, but when you're homeschooled and have a parent who is perhaps mentally unstable but hiding it and making you do the same, you have no lifeline. Everyone needs someone to ask if they're okay sometimes. Sometimes that can be all it takes to completely change someones life.

When I was little I had no concept of mental health whatsoever, I had no idea I could have talked to anyone, all I knew was that I was deeply unhappy and confused. I didn't know how to put it into words, I didn't think anyone would believe me anyway, and it didn't seem like anyone really cared about me. For me, all it would have taken would have been that one person somewhere along the line to have gone 'no, my gut says there's something wrong here, I need to look deeper'. It could be anyone, anywhere.

Just trust your gut, it has a way of leading you to all the answers and solutions on its own. Kids who walk on eggshells around their parents are masters of stealth from a young age and they will play along if they trust you. They desperately want to be able to trust anyone, and if they catch on that you're concerned about them, they'll find a way to reach out.

There needs to be more campaigns and awareness for mental health and different types of abuse. I had a hard time figuring out what was and wasn't healthy for years because I didn't know. There needs to be something available for kids in particular, much like we teach them stranger danger, we need to help them identify things that are and aren't okay, and particularly how and when to get help if they aren't safe. Leaflets at GP waiting rooms, TV ads, books, school visits, kindy lessons, school visits, could all help immensely.

I think everyone needs to know about different types of abuse and prevention methods. But nothing will ever help more than old fashioned human kindness and empathy. Have these conversations with the little ones in your life. Teach them that they matter, that their feelings matter, and that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Let them know you will be there for them. Let them know that they are worth more than passing pity, cause they may never be lucky enough to realize it for themselves.

 

For information on helping children affected by family violence go to this page: http://areyouok.org.nz/family-violence/children/

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