Loneliness has been described as the biggest issue facing young people who have spent time within the care system. In her second blog this year, Marie Gibson writes about her experiences of loneliness, and how that can impact upon mental wellbeing. You can read her previous blog here.
I have known deep loneliness, but also deep connection and maybe that is why the loneliness is so difficult when it comes. I know just what I am missing. I spent the first six years of my life in Dunoon, where I have my happiest memories. Perhaps I am looking at my early years through rose tinted glasses, but I think I was incredibly lucky to have those years and to have had that home. Everyone knew each other in Dunoon and my family were involved in all parts of the community. There were always people around, kids playing outside and in and out of each other’s houses. I felt connected and I felt safe.
When I was six we moved to Perth and my life changed. Everything grew distant, as well as my family and in the coming years before the real trauma in my life, I felt very alone. I was searching for the connection that I had lost, and it made me vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. No-one noticed any of this. By the time they did, I had already found connection and a sense of community in the only way I could, but the people I was getting this from were using that to their advantage. Social workers, the police, mental health professionals, all became involved in my life, but I did not connect with any of them or they did not connect with me. What I needed, looking back, was connection and community. Somewhere I felt safe. Somewhere I could be myself. Where I could heal and be heard. With people who cared about each other.
With ongoing unhealed trauma, worsening mental health and chronic physical illness, I have felt isolated from any community. With the culture of celebrating competition and achievements, I have a lot of the time not felt I had anything to add to relationships and conversations. I have never had a place I could openly be myself, leading to feeling like I have to hide myself physically and mentally. Where can you go when you feel as if your life is not valued as much as others? Where can you find that connection to heal from trauma, when the impact of trauma has left you feeling terrified of it?
When I started working with young people who shared some similar experiences to me, it was the first time I truly felt connection. This was a space and community where these young people were able to feel safe in the knowledge that some of their experiences were shared. They could be themselves, and I could too. In fact, it was vital for me in learning how to truly build relationships, that I had to be authentically myself. These spaces and communities are what I feel is lacking in society. Of course, there are services out there and people trying their best to create these spaces, but as someone with complex trauma, chronic illness and mental health difficulties I have either found them impossible to access or I have felt like I don’t belong.
I started studying Community Learning and Development because that sense of community is what I felt like I needed and still need. So many people must feel the same way. I want to be able to fight for that change. When I am not at university or working, I spend almost all of my time on my own. Whilst I am sitting here feeling cut off from the world I often wonder how many other people are feeling the same way. In the fight to access support and the help I need, I often wonder how much more powerful my voice would be if it was shared with others fighting the same fight. Maybe we would be heard.
If we continue to see mental illness or the impact of trauma as an individual problem, I truly don’t believe anything will change. We need to understand that it is affecting us all in some way. That this culture of looking after only ourselves and hiding who we are in the hope to appear as if we are achieving more, is leaving some of us unable to participate at all in many spaces. I don’t know if things would have been different for me if my family had stayed in Dunoon, or if I still would have ended up isolated. But it is possible that more people could have noticed what was going on, that more community support could have been offered. That there might have been more places and people I could go to for support. Maybe that community support might have been enough for me to lean on. Maybe it would be enough now too.
I live in Dundee now and there is definitely more of a sense of community, although I have still struggled to feel connected to it. I still crave somewhere I can go and feel safe to be myself. When I am struggling with everything I still hide alone in my flat. I want somewhere to go, where trauma is understood. Where mental illness is understood. Where there is a chance for real connections to be made. Where a sense of a community is strong enough to support each other when things are falling apart. Where you aren’t fighting everything alone. I want to fight for change, and I want to find the people to fight alongside with.
About our blogger
Marie Gibson is a 27 year old Community Learning and Development student with an interest in sharing her experiences of social work involvement, the mental health and criminal justice systems and in questioning what it is to be care experienced. You can follow her on @mariesvoice_ and www.mariesvoice.com.