When reflecting on our lives to better know who we are, we
see the moment, or moments, that changed or shaped us; and the people who had
the biggest effect on us whether that be for the better or the worse.
I was chosen to be a leader for a school retreat and doing
this has been the most rewarding thing in my life as it enabled me to break
through my barriers and talk to someone. As a leader, you have to give a talk
to everyone about a certain topic. As I stood in front of a room, of relative
strangers and told them things my best friend and my mum don’t even know, I was
the most nervous I had ever been. Those who know me, know I like to talk a lot,
but I don’t like talking about myself. Why would I dare to openly tell a sea of
younger pupils things about me – things I had never said out loud before?
Because in a few words: this experience saved my life.
From a young age, I bottled up what I felt. I bottled up
everything that was going on in my life, and my mind, and told no one. Until
recently. It’s a long story as to how that happened and the journey, to me
bettering myself through opening up to people I trust, is a long one. I’m going
to tell you my story of how simply talking to a teacher that I trusted, not
only made me feel more comfortable giving my retreat talk, but impacted me
immensely, and I assume, will do for the rest of my life.
The things I’ve been through have shaped and affected me
my whole life. There are numerous moments that all contributed to me not
talking to people about what I was going through. So to fully understand why,
sitting across from Mr Ferrie, in a surprisingly comfortable seat, in an office
that wasn’t his, talking to him about my life, about things I’ve never told
anyone and him listening, was such an impactful moment in my life. You need to
first know the moments leading up to that. There is a moment in everyone’s life,
most likely a few, where their spirituality has been shaken; where they’ve
begun to question the world.
This moment for me didn’t come when, at 5 years old, my nan
died but rather a few months later when my dad left me and my mum. Or I guess
it’s more accurate to say that my mum kicked him out. I don’t remember much
leading up to the day my dad left in a lot of detail. I remember my mum and dad
fighting and looking back I must have known something was wrong because I
remember on the day he left I wasn’t surprised. It felt like the day I had been
dreading for months had finally come.
No matter how much time passed, or how unlikely it was,
there was always a little part of me that hoped that they would make up and I
could have that picture-perfect family that I had always seen in the movies and
TV shows. But that’s unrealistic. Now that I’m older, I know that you don’t
need two parents to be happy, you don’t need a dad or a father figure in your
life to be complete or to be normal. But when I was a little girl, I didn’t
know that. All I wanted was to have my dad. I simply wanted to have what all my
I know it’s a cliché, and people say all the time that when
parents leave it’s not the kids’ fault, but when my dad left I felt like it was
my fault. For the next two years, I hardly saw him and to this day I don’t know
how much of that was my mum pushing him away or how much was him staying away.
All I knew was that he was never there.
Society tells you that your parents are supposed to love you
unconditionally and I couldn’t understand why my dad didn’t love me enough to
stay. I concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. That thought, that
I wasn’t good enough, followed me for the next ten years. My dad leaving hasn’t
only affected my spirituality but it has affected every other relationship I
have ever had. My dad then started a whole other family and I felt left behind.
It was like if we were characters in A
Christmas Carol he was Marley and I was the shackle weighing him down. On
so many sleepless nights the same thought ran through my mind: if my dad can
stay with his other family; if he can love and not leave his other kids, why
couldn’t he do that for me? I spent every day after he left wondering what I
did wrong because he was capable of staying, so it must’ve been me. The only
logical explanation was that I must’ve been the problem.
When my dad got married I was around 8 and I wasn’t invited
to the wedding, He never even told me they had gotten married. The way that I
found out was that I saw their wedding photo on the mantelpiece in my nan’s
house. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited. I don’t know if he was trying to
protect me, or if it was easier for him, but whatever the reason was it will
never be justification enough. He never once addressed it. I was eight years
old. I wasn’t invited to my own dad’s wedding. So, no matter how logical the
reason might have been, he never told me and at that age, all I was going to
comprehend was the hurt.
I was beyond upset and angry at him, not only because of the
wedding but for all the days he wasn’t there, all the times he didn’t show up.
I struggled with self-worth issues and still do. They stem from my Dad and him
leaving. So even though I was upset and angry with my dad, as I had a right to
be, the main thing I felt was that it must’ve been my fault.
I spent about six years of my life desperately wanting and
waiting for my dad to show up. Be the dad that I always wanted him to be. I
spent so long watching the door to see if he’d come walking back through it and
a little part of me always thought he’d come back, but he never did. After a
while, I stopped waiting for my dad to show up and I started wanting anyone to.
I had a hole in my life that my dad created which resulted in me searching for
a father figure relentlessly. Like I said before after my dad left I constantly
felt like I wasn’t good enough and that affected everything in my life after that.
It affected my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. For
most of my life, I’ve been so concerned with everyone liking me because I’m so
paranoid that one day they will realise that they don’t like me and leave.
Those abandonment issues clearly stem from my dad, but because I was desperate
for everyone to like me, I would change who I was to become the version of
myself I thought they’d like the best. I wore masks around everyone and
different ones around different people. I had probably 10 distinct, different
personalities that I would rotate between and after a while I didn’t know where
the masks ended and I began. I didn’t know who I was anymore and I blamed what
my dad did and what he didn’t do.
At this point in my
life, I didn’t believe in people anymore and I had no faith in the world or the
future. I lost faith in other people when my dad left and over the next couple
of years after that, I lost faith in myself. However, despite that, I still had
faith that there was a higher power somewhere. I believed that God had a plan
and eventually the scales would even out and all of the hard times would count
towards something; it would all balance out and the good times were sure to
There come moments that make it hard to believe in a greater
power, that makes it hard to be hopeful, to not be selfish and sometimes hard
When I was 11, I came home one day and there was a letter
from my nan saying to call her right away. So my mum did. At that moment I got
that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, where you just know, you don’t
know how you know or really what it is that you know, but you just know
something is wrong. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mum was
on the phone with my nan. My mum then came in and told me that my dad had died.
The first thing I did was laugh because I thought it was a
joke. In hindsight, if it was a joke, it’s a pretty bad one and to give my mum
some credit she’s a little funnier than that. But in that first second, I
laughed, because it didn’t feel real, but then the next second came and it hit
me. It was real. I remember running out of the living room and into my bedroom.
I sat on my bed. I was frozen for about 5 seconds and then I just burst into
tears. My dad had been away on a business trip to Africa and he suffocated in
his sleep. That was on Saturday. I found out on Sunday; the 19th of June 2016 –
Father’s Day. My dad wasn’t sick, I didn’t have any kind of pre-warning, and I
didn’t get to say goodbye.
The main thing I remember during that summer after my dad
died was not that he was gone but that everyone around me changed; they changed
how they treated me, what they said around me. They treated me like I was made
of glass and because of that I felt isolated by the grief I was going through.
That summer I was treated like a fragile Christmas decoration and shut away in
my very own terrarium of grief. Left to grow but isolated from the rest of the
world; made to watch everyone else through the thick pane of glass whilst they
never even saw me. I was made to feel that grief is only supposed to be sadness
and it’s not, because if it was there wouldn’t be another word for it. Grief is
different for every single person. I was sad, I was distraught, but I wasn’t
just sad. I was confused; I didn’t understand how, if there was a God, why he
would take my dad when he was so young.
I was also angry. I had hated my dad for 6 years and that
didn’t just go away because he died. In the last few months before he passed
away, he had started to step up more, he had started beginning to be the dad I
wanted him to be. He came to my primary 7 school show; he came to my interview
for St Aloysius; they were moving house and he told me how I was going to get
my own room. Things started to look like he might actually start finally being
Then he died. He never got the chance to do the work for me
to forgive him. I’ll never know if the months before my Dad died were just
filled with the same empty promises he had given me all my life. What I do know
is that I still was angry with him, but now he wasn’t here, and the only person
I was hurting was myself. Despite the number of times he let me down, the
number of promises he broke, no matter how many times he broke my heart, I
still loved him. I wouldn’t show it because I felt like he didn’t love me. Not
only do I not remember the last time I told my dad I loved him, but I can’t
remember a single time. Likewise, I can’t remember a single time he told me. I
remember that after my dad died people treated me like they were thinking, ‘She
must be so sad because she doesn’t have a dad anymore’, but the truth is, I
never felt like I had one. I had always gotten uncomfortable when a
conversation switched to the topic of people’s dads; I had always only written
Mum when writing school Christmas cards home; I had always only had one
parental signature on consent forms. I never had a dad. So when he died I
grieved, not just him, but more the possibility of what I could’ve had. I’ll
never have a dad or a real father figure, and it took me a long time to come to
terms with that and realise that it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with
me. I thought that everyone would judge me if they knew I was still angry with
him but I was just self-projecting because I felt guilty about still being
angry. I’ve forgiven my dad now, not for him but for me. I had to let go of
that hate and anger I had held in my heart since I was 5. He didn’t, and
doesn’t, deserve it but I do.
Most of my problems opening up to people, and asking for
help when I need it, are all tangled up in my Dad. I’ve had to go through a lot
of self-reflection to be at this point. The point where I can identify the
moments and people in my life that affect the way I am today.
I struggled with, and still do, self-loathing. I don’t know
when it started but I know for definite that from 1st to 5th year, I hated
myself. Everything there was about me that you could have an opinion on, I
hated it. I hated how I looked, what I did, what I said, what I didn’t do, what
I didn’t say. I wouldn’t get any sleep at night because I would be up all night
overthinking every little thing that I did. I had a compulsive and addictive
need for everyone to like me, so much so that I wore metaphorical masks around
everyone. For a few years, I was simultaneously overcome with emotion and at
the same time completely numb. Looking back, I can see that I was most likely
struggling with some form of depression. Around the beginning of 4th year, I
don’t know how or why, but I realised that how I was living wasn’t healthy and
I needed to make a change. So I actively tried to get better and slowly but
surely I was getting there.
Then COVID happened. We went into the first of many
lockdowns and I was isolated from everyone. It wrecked me. I had, what I guess
I could most accurately call, a relapse. I fell straight back into my self-hating
ways, but this time it was worse. Not only because I was aware of my problem
now, so my self-hating tendencies were just another thing for me to dislike
about myself, but also because I didn’t see other people that much anymore. I
realised that I might’ve been getting better but I was getting better in the
wrong way. I was getting all my self-worth from other people and their opinions
of me and that shouldn’t be where you get that from. You should like yourself
because you do, not because other people do.
At one point during the second lockdown in 5th year, I hit
rock bottom. I hit the lowest low ever in my life. For a long time before that,
I had been having the same thought every day, that I didn’t want to not be
alive anymore. I just didn’t want to be me anymore. Getting out of bed every
morning felt like tearing my skin off. However, no matter how bad it got, I
never told anyone. I would drag myself out of those dark moments.
I have never talked about any of this to anyone before. My
sixth year so far has been pretty stressful and at times I didn’t think I would
make it through, carrying on the way I was. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have been
able to have the experience leading the retreat that changed the trajectory of
my life, without a teacher who I trusted and who was willing to listen. It
wouldn’t be apt to owe all my self-improvement to Mr Ferrie and my retreat
experience, but I now can see that I owe a lot to myself.
My role as retreat leader didn’t just make me talk about
things I had never before, but it made me think and confront things I had long
since buried. It made me realise my self-worth and how much I am capable of. It
sounds cheesy to say that this experience has enabled to follow my dreams, but it
has. All my life I’ve been so scared that I’ll fail, that I’d never try. I was
so scared I wouldn’t be able to or good enough to do what I wanted. I want to
be a film director but for so long I wouldn’t let myself think I was capable of
doing it, and right up until my leadership role I wasn’t going to because I
didn’t think I could. My friends and
family have always been there for me and I now realise despite all that I’ve
been through, all that I don’t have and all that I’ve lost, how much I do have
and the privilege that I have.
Talking to someone. A cliché that’s been used time and time
again, but that doesn’t undermine its importance. There are people in your life
that you know you’ll always remember. I will never forget Mr Ferrie and the
group of people I was with on retreat for helping me break away from being that
girl helplessly tapping on the glass of her own grief terrarium, waiting for
someone to come and save her. They
helped me become this version of myself, where I can hold my head up high, and
be proud of who I am.