Five days after my 21st birthday my entire world changed. My mum; the strongest, most vulnerable, most important woman I'd known, was dead. It was the worst day of my life, but it also caused me to finally confront all my demons, and start moving forward from them.
It wasn't until much later I learned the name for what I experienced during my childhood. Emotional neglect isn't something a teenager knows how to articulate. It wasn't deliberate, my mum never meant to hurt me. She was very ill, and the result is that I grew up pretty much raising myself. By the time I was 15 I was regularly alone in our flat whilst she was in hospital.
She had Parkinson's Disease, along with other physical and mental health issues and was constantly in and out of hospital. I got little help. Mum got a social worker, so did my brother, but I was left to it. Everyone assumed that I was dealing with it all OK. At 16 I moved out and lived in youth housing for half a year, which was a nightmare of locked doors, little sleep, and travelling for hours to get to sixth form and visit my mum each day.
'I grew up fast' as people often like to describe it. It's shorthand for 'had a shitty childhood' but the reality is that I missed out on properly growing up. When my peers were out shopping and kissing boys, I was travelling to hospitals and phoning the disability benefits people. I did manage to get in some underage drinking during sixth form - mostly because I was pretty much living on my own by that point, and had nobody to tell me what to do or check up on me. I could easily have spiralled out of control and ended up going down a bad path, but my involvement with volunteering and social action was the only thing that kept me going.
Moving to London for uni was a fresh start. I could be who I wanted to be, and finally be happy. The thing about trying to run away from your past is that it doesn't disappear that easily. Ignoring it just causes it to keep knocking at the door trying to get in again. I had bad relationships because I was looking for the validation and comfort I'd been missing for so long, I tried to fit in with the 'cool kids', I drank, I tried drugs. All in an effort to be normal and feel loved. Of course my Mum loved me, but over the years she had become a shadow of herself, and I became the parent in the family.
A teenage girl needs her mother to show her about the world. To talk to about boys, and periods, and how to shave her legs properly. I didn't have any of that, I didn't dare bother Mum with my worries and problems, she had enough of her own to deal with. I thought I'd be fine once I got away from it, but the things I'd learned to do like washing and cooking didn't cancel out the fact I'd never seen a real life example of a healthy relationship or even friendship. I was plagued by self doubt, lack of self worth, and an inability to look after myself properly, which seemed ridiculous as I'd taken care of my Mum for so long. I limped through uni for 3 years, finally making it to my final year no closer to the 'better' me I'd been searching for.
Then I officially became the orphan I'd felt like for so long. Though I'd been told Parkinson's is degenerative, I didn't really comprehend the word. I figured I'd be in my 30's when she died, having got married and with a successful career. As it was I had just become a 'proper' adult but really didn't feel like one (I still don't!), my life was a mess held together by the bubble-wrap of university, and I was as far from a stable, healthy relationship as I'd ever been. It hit me hard. However once I'd done some grieving, and with the weight of worrying about my Mum gone, I started seeing things with a lot more clarity.
I began my blog to talk about my experiences; a form of therapy for me, but also in hope that even one young woman would read it and feel she could overcome her own demons. Three years on, I'm far from perfect, but I feel I've done a lot of working through the things I faced growing up, and now I'm on a mission to help young people do the same.
As they say: you don't know how strong you are until strong is your only option.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about