Was my childhood a happy one, just like I mostly remember it, or was I just so manic and off my head that me and my behaviour was only a nightmare for those around me? Was I really the happy, bubbly and funny child that I remember or are my memories of that time tainted or being viewed through rose-tinted glasses? Was I only that “deeply troubled” child that I’ve read about in my old reports? Can these two very different scenarios really exist together? Was I both a very happy and deeply disturbed child? Personally I think that the answer is, yes.
Up until I was about 8 my behaviour, although disturbing to others, seemed to have little effect on me on the whole. Most of my memories of this time are happy ones: long summers playing out with friends climbing trees and building dens, swimming lessons at school and racing home from school on Wednesday afternoons in the summertime to meet the ice cream van but there has always been something, a niggle if you will, that’s been there when I remember these happy times. I don’t know what that niggle is, perhaps it’s memories that I’ve subconsciously tried to forget, perhaps I needed to forget and chose to forget or they have just naturally fragmented over the years but I have memories of me crying alone, of feeling unloved, hardly ever being invited to parties and if I was, never being invited back, of feeling left out by my peers and always being smacked and grounded for things I didn’t do*. These fragmented memories have no real context in my mind – I just know I felt like that but I don’t know when or why. That’s what puzzles me – I can remember every little detail of the good memories as if it all happened yesterday but it’s like these bad times caused me so much pain that I had to forget in order to protect myself but that now means that I’m left with some very strange childhood memories – on the one hand I remember playing with friends and having fun but on the other hand I remember having no friends. Has my mind created these happy memories out of pure necessity? Did I, in these early years, fill in the gaps with a wonderful fantasy in order to feel normal? Did I take role-play to a whole new level in order to satisfy the deep longing I’ve always felt? I’ve always known that I’m different from others so I guess these memories aren’t that surprising really, if you think about it. All the reports and letters from that time tend to support this too – “Julia is both a deeply disturbed and disturbing child who seems to have very little grasp of reality “, so perhaps I really did role-play a normal childhood……. Another and perhaps more realistic explanation could well be that I really struggled, and still do in fact, to believe that I am that child: the child who bullied, who was so cruel to my family, who had a spiteful and vicious mouth, who lied, who stole and the child, who was at times, evil. At the time perhaps, knowing I was different but being unable to change, did I lessen the truma of that by creating fantasies of the perfect childhood to protect my already fragile mind? Even now I have an issue with the me of then: how can I be her? The child who did so much wrong? I often feel very detached from the child part of me. It feels like they were two completely separate people. I can’t possibly be that child……can I??? When I think of that part of me I feel sad. I feel sorry for that child.
After the age of 8 things started on the terminal decline into the nightmare that soon followed. My behaviour spiralled out of control, my attendance at school become more problematic and the need for that unattainable diagnosis became more and more urgent but ever as elusive. By the time I was 11 I had been in trouble with the police for shoplifting and fighting, I had spent some time in care because I refused to live at home anymore, I was very promiscuous, I drank and smoked cigarettes regularly, I stole money from family, I ran away from home all the time, I was considering suicide and I self-harmed on a regular basis, I had no friends apart from Alf** and I had been expelled from mainstream school and was having a publicly-funded tutor for 3 hours a day, 3 times a week. As I am sure you can imagine this got me noticed by the professionals that had so far ignored me! After a 2 week spell in hospital, following a major self-harming episode, a visit to A&E and my mum’s refusal to take me home until I was helped, resulted in the professionals who had refused to listen to my mum realising that my behaviour wasn’t just naughtiness and bad parenting but was in fact something much more and, out of pure frustration and fear on their parts I guess, I was given Amitriptyline to quote “shut me up”. While I was in hospital I tried to harm myself numerous times. It was a drastic move on my mum’s part to refuse to take me home but thankfully it worked and led to my diagnosis in Nottingham at the ENC/Elizabeth Newson Centre (PDA) and also at Guys Hospital in London (ADHD). I was also diagnosed with psychotic episodes and prescribed the antipsychotic drug Chlorpromazine/Largactil, which I still take to this day. I also still take Ritalin. I have never been prescribed anything for my anxiety per se – this is something that I have often felt that I would benefit from but as yet is something that I haven’t pursued.
Most, if not all, of the above self-destructive behaviours continued on and off until I was about 13/14, by which point I had also been been given a SEN/statement of special educational needs, placed on the CPR/child protection register because I was so promiscuous and was therefore often putting myself at great risk. I was attending the local PRU/pupil referral unit with my old home tutor full-time. I never re-entered mainstream education and left at age 16 with no formal qualifications. By the time I was about 14 and after a year or so on Ritalin I was “a completely different child” – I was no longer drinking, stealing, fighting, running away, I had a few real friends and I was coping(ish) with school – although these behaviours lessened some like the self-harming, smoking and the sexual promiscuity remained for most of my teens. Once I met my first proper boyfriend at age 17 I’m glad to report that I was no longer promiscuous. I still smoke but I haven’t self-harmed for about 8 years now. I think that self-harming is a demon that will always be a temptation for me but it’s one that I want to fight and will. I don’t think that the urge to cut myself when I’m extremely upset or stressed will ever go but I think that acknowledging that fact is a big part of what’s helped me not to.
So are my childhood memories fact, fiction or a bit of both? I’ve recently asked some of my childhood friends what they remember about me and if I was happy or “deeply disturbed” – they’ve confirmed that we did build dens and climb trees but those memories weren’t ever really in any doubt, what was in doubt (by me) was just how accurate are these memories but I guess it’s just one of those questions that will just have to remain mostly unanswered. All of them though were unsurprised when I told them that I had been diagnosed and all of them remember there being “something” about me that made me different from everyone else.
So on reflection, I think that my childhood was a mixture of happy real events mixed with some fantasy due to my need to protect myself from my damaging behaviour and the negative feelings that those behaviours left me with and and, so yes, I agree that I was deeply disturbed but I was also happy. Some of the choices I made in my later childhood/early teens have left me with deep scars that I still bear to this day but in a way I am glad that I went through what I did. I’m not proud of who I was back then but am not ashamed either. Part of me feels sorry for the child-part of me – I feel like the services that were meant to help and support me actually made sure that I suffered by their complete lack of understanding and unwillingness to listen and learn. To this day this still makes me very angry, I know I should of perhaps let go of this anger by now but I can’t. It’s not a negative anger that eats me up inside so I’m not worried by it. It’s a positive anger that gives me the drive needed to try and make sure that no other child suffers the way I did. If I can help just one other child then it will all be worth while. 🙂 I don’t think of myself as a victim but I do think of myself as a survivor. I’m proud of who I am. I think considering the start I had and the things that have happened to me over the years I think I’m actually a well-rounded adult. Yes I still have many issues but that’s not unusual! I don’t think it’s the adversaries we face that define us but that it’s how we deal with those adversaries that does. 🙂
Thank you all for reading this and helping to raise awareness. Here’s to the PDA army! 🙂
What is Pathological Demand Avoidance?
* I would like to say that I wasn’t overly smacked or punished but that’s how it felt to me at the time. Neither was I smacked or punished “for the sake of it” or when I was innocent, again that’s just how it felt to me at the time.
** ALF, from the 80s American Sitcom, is a cuddly toy that I’ve had since I was 3. He’s still very important to me and I wouldn’t be without him even now I’m older but perhaps not wiser! 🙂