I never got to see my father as an adult as he passed away when I was fourteen. Never got to get vital information regarding his family, or be able to share my experiences with him as I got older. Only ever saw him in turmoil.. Always looking as if he didn’t know where the next pennies would come from, and seeing the anxiety on his face when the next giro didn’t turn up. Watching him as his stomach ulcers worsened, getting myself ready for school while he’s vomiting blood…
Then not knowing what I was coming home to. Wondering why in the holidays everybody went away while we as a family were stuck in the house. Not knowing where he was going all day yet telling me he’s going to see a man about a dog, and hearing from my mum later in life that he was walking a sixteen mile round trip to sign on at the nearest jobcentre as the one in our hometown was closed down.
I then finally watched him disappear in the ambulance never to be seen again. Often wonder why people judge families like mine surviving on benefits, and then have the audacity to call us scroungers, yet not fully understanding the situations that have put us there.
“I will never get to tell my dad I was proud of him as I was made to feel embarrassed of him, due to the criticism of people in my community, the criticisms of people in society as a whole, and ultimately the way our media portray benefits as if it’s a lifestyle choice.”
There was so much more I wanted to touch on in this blog about my life, how the shame and guilt I was made to feel growing up caused me to gain social anxiety disorder and depression, and how that led me from the age of fourteen to self medicate with drugs. The suicidal thoughts I became accustomed to because I thought there was no place for someone like myself in our society, then how no adults in the community intervened to give me advice on how to handle grief as a teenager. And I wanted to write about how the death of my mother and a relationship breakup in 2009 caused me to become homeless.
I wanted to talk about how my relationship with heroin and benzodiazepines came about, and ultimately nearly killed me. My five years living on the streets and the four hostels that I lived in. And how I beat these issues, and how I now use my experiences in a lived experience team to help others to have a smoother journey from homelessness and addiction, into recovery then resettlement. Professionals have questioned my motivation of why I want to raise awareness of mental health and the effects of growing up in poverty, yet are not prepared to listen to my story.
I have grown up listening to politicians say how everybody should have the same opportunities regarding education and getting good job prospects, and eventually buying a home, and all I have seen is the demise of industry, and the divisions in my community caused by the right to buy council housing scheme, with minimal efforts made to replace those properties for future generations in need. I received no inheritance from family or opportunity to work in a family business. In fact I inherited my fathers debt plus funeral fees and for the first seven years of my life lived in a caravan as part of a council temporary housing scheme.
“So reducing stigma and raising awareness isn’t about a career, it’s very personal to me and being an expert citizen gives me a platform to be able to be a voice for the many people who face these issues everyday.”
I currently have started to write articles for the expert citizens website and attend various consultations with local authorities and services in Stoke On Trent. I’m also involved with the collating of peoples stories through media to present to commissioners to help to make services better in the city. I’m also a peer mentor for voices and use my experience to benefit others who are going through multiple complex needs.
I have been asked how my dad would have felt about what I do now, and I think that is irrelevant as I never got to know my father so for me to answer that would be illogical. But I promised my dad in my heart that I will do my best to raise awareness of mental health and poverty, and to make sure the next generations of children are not made to feel ashamed and second rate, because they are less privileged than most. We are only now realizing the true extent of the effects of this on children’s mental health through to adulthood, and I am now not ashamed by the situation that I was raised. It’s the proportion of society that judge less fortunate individuals and the rhetoric they choose to use that truly makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed to be a citizen of the United Kingdom.
And it’s that “I’m alright so f*** everybody else” attitude which is used that fuels my passion for raising awareness and influencing system change, and in doing so it then keeps me on top of dealing with my anxiety and depression issues. In the past I have only ever existed in silence with my mental health, but by being a part of shaping services and listening to those who need to use them, I now feel I’m living, and it’s having a life without fear of judgment and criticism that I am sure my dad would have wanted for his family, and other families going through hardship and times of crisis.
Lee (Expert Citizen).
These are only my view’s based on the experience’s I have had through life. I am wise enough to know that we all have different view’s and beliefs, and being respectful in challenging them is very important to me.