I remember the day my daughter was born, it was Easter Monday and the sun shone brightly. I had been in hospital a couple of days and I amused myself knitting her a yellow cardigan and musing over baby names. One name struck me as appropriate - Jemima - which my baby names book informed me meant 'new day' in Hebrew. My husband liked it, so we called our beautiful baby girl Jemima.
Looking back, even in those heady, hazy, early days, there were signs our daughter was not neuro-typical. She hated loud noises such as the hoover and she resisted change with all the might of an infant tsunami. The potty petrified her. She didn't want to go to nursery because she insisted she liked playing with me. There were many intriguing positives: she could read quite fluently before she started school and she acquired this skill quite independently. I remember one day I was writing a shopping list. "That's not how you spell guacamole", she said - she was six.
For all her precocious talents, school was definitely no picnic. Other children were unfathomable and her attempts to find acceptance and friendship were always fraught with difficulty. I hoped that others would grow to appreciate her as we, her family, did but this never really happened. School was a social mine field and I noticed that she was becoming increasingly isolated and unhappy. There were other warning signs too - I noticed that she was chewing her clothes and quite often she wouldn't have had any lunch. I seemed to be spending an increasing amount of time trying to facilitate change at school but things never seemed to improve. Looking back, I feel we have a one size fits all educational system which is a disaster for any child who is not neuro-typical.
After two years of being passed around from one health professional to another, our daughter was finally assessed for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. It is the norm for diagnoses to take this long and sadly many young people's mental health deteriorates whilst waiting for an assessment that is so crucial in order to obtain the intervention they need.
Within a year of obtaining a diagnosis of ASD, Jemima's mental health had deteriorated both suddenly and dramatically. Her school arranged for an emergency referral to CAMHS. Emergency meant in reality that she would be seen within eight weeks. During this time, she started to become both paranoid and agitated. One night she was very distressed and she told me she had what she referred to as "secret thoughts". Alarm bells rang. Was my sweet natured daughter psychotic? I rang CAMHS. They told me to take her to A & E.
Arriving at A & E was a low point. I knew this was no place for a fourteen-year old girl with symptoms of a psychosis. Was this the best society could offer us? Like two deer caught in headlights, we waited for a doctor, too emotionally exhausted and bewildered to speak. The doctor we saw was quite wonderful, she told Jemima that she was brave and she assured me that she would speak to us every day, until we saw someone from CAMHS. She gave us medicine but most of all she gave us hope. It has been these small acts of kindness that have touched our lives the most.
Like many young people with intrusive thoughts, Jemima was petrified. Suicide seemed like a way out and we had to be vigilant as she attempted to try and jump out of windows and end it all. We were told that there were no hospital beds in our local area, so we gave the best care we could and thankfully her condition stabilised. Crisis over.
My daughter will be eighteen this year, she has a diagnosis of OCD and she cannot do many normal things such as watch television or read books, which was always her passion. OCD sets the parameters of her life. She has therapy now - we pay because it hasn't been available on the NHS. There are green shoots of recovery and two days ago something amazing happened, she shared with me what her intrusive thoughts are - a huge step for someone with OCD.
I've written this post because I want people to know that mental illness can affect any of us. When I sat in that hospital eighteen years ago waiting for the birth of my second child, I had no idea what to expect but I thought I would be able give her a happy childhood. I couldn't. I think it was Nelson Mandela who said it takes an entire village to raise a child and I think I get that now. Remember that's an entire village - that's all of us - to raise a single child. If we can do that, each playing our part, remembering those small acts of kindness, then we can begin to fix a broken system and hopefully, that bright new day might be possible at last.