“You are never alone in this fight” – Charis’ Story

As a kid, I was always told I was a ‘bright wee spark’. I loved to make people laugh, whether it be at
home or at school. I loved to learn, anything and everything and skipped my way down to Primary
every morning.

There was a part of me though, that was highly perfectionist. It hadn’t really become an issue until I
reached secondary school, which was a huge culture shock for my already sensitive disposition.
Academics became my life. Partly because of how isolated I felt there; how devoid I was of any real
friendships, but also because I felt the need to escape from the anguish at home. My Dad’s turbulent
battle with alcoholism had shredded the picture-perfect memory of my childhood, turning home life
into a constant pressure-cooker of stress and worry. Bullying also became a big part of my daily life
at school. The continual verbal and sometimes physical abuse affected both me and my twin sister
deeply, to the point where even the mere mention of school made us physically sick with nerves.
I finally hit a crisis point at the age of sixteen, just as I had entered my AS level. Depression had taken me over, snatched all emotion I had in my body and left me like an empty shell with no drive to continue my studies. I dropped out and spent the next two years hidden away from the world under my duvet, plagued with nightmares, voices and suicidal thoughts and too frightened to step outside my front door. By this point, I had attempted to take my life three times, and needed drastic help before it became too late.

Gradually, through Doctors referrals I accessed various programmes, all which helped to some degree, but the journey seemed interminable. It was my Mum that first suggested a short Drama course in AMH New Horizons Downpatrick. And although it was the very last thing I felt like doing (I was deeply insecure and was terrified of the
thought of acting), I took the plunge and signed up.  As soon as I entered the building I felt welcomed, the whole atmosphere of the class was different than any group I’d been to before. Within a few weeks, I felt like I had a place to express myself without judgment, somewhere safe I could learn without pressure or expectation. I quickly signed up to the year long version of the course, which helped improve my confidence immensely. Kitty, the tutor, was more than I ever could of asked for in a support worker. She was patient and kind, incredibly understanding and selfless in her encouragement. She listened when I needed someone there the most, and allowed me to dip my toe into learning again at a pace that suited me.

After drama came communication skills, stress management, confidence building, employability and a slew of other personal development classes. I also went regularly to the weekly art class, run by Tom, whose humour and upbeat nature made even my most distressed days bearable.

The next step in my development was to get a placement in a work environment without the responsibility of being a paid employee. The possibility of getting a job utterly terrified me, but through completing my NVQ Customer Service skills with Kitty once again as my tutor, I was able to build up my skills and dilute my trepidation tenfold.

Over the next year my mood still fluctuated, with panic attacks almost weekly. No words are enough to describe the gratitude and admiration I have for the staff at AMH New Horizons Downpatrick for their support and understanding through those turbulent times.  On completion of my NVQ, Stephanie, (my employment officer) encouraged me to consider getting a part time job in retail as this was something I came to really enjoy. She was incredible. She worked tirelessly on my behalf researching possible employment options, filling out my CVs and travelling miles to accompany me to interviews when I was too anxious to do it alone. She was always on hand
to encourage me, even when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore.

Eventually I secured my first official job at Edinburgh Woolen Mill where I’m gaining confidence and experience with hours that suit my needs. It’s a wonderful working environment; every staff member is friendly and supportive. I actually look forward to work everyday, which I never thought would be possible.

I am always going to be a work in progress, but looking back over the last six years I hardly recognise the person that I was. As for my journey, I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet the most amazing and dedicated people, all of whom have helped me realise that life can be worth living again.

My message to anyone reading this:

“I know how it is to feel empty and trapped in pain. If anyone is offering you help, just grab it with both hands, because it can and will get better. I promise you. You are never, ever alone in this fight. All I can say is-the staff in AMH New Horizons gave me my life back.”

Many thanks to Charis for sharing her story.  Charis is taking part in the “Working It Out” project which is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts. To find out more please click here.

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