Thursday, 29 December 2016

Maradona, a Broken Home, Sugar Puffs and Freddie Mercury: the making of a strong independent woman

I was saddened to read about the 10% rise in homeless families this Christmas, compared to last year. There has been more than 300% increase in the number of families being illegally housed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation since 2014, thought largely to be the result in an escalation of private rent increases making it impossible for parents to be able to afford to stay in their homes.

But this isn't a case of me being a middle-class, young-middle-aged woman in a nice house, tutting and shaking my head in despondent gloom.

I was once in this situation myself, so reading about what these families are going through some thirty years after I was, makes me upset, to say the least.

A little share about my experience...

We (my parents, my brother and I) were living in a lovely house, in a beautiful coastal town. It was 1986: the year of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer , the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger tragedy; and Maradonna's Hand Of God controversy.
It was also the year that I packed away my 11 year-old self into boxes, to put into storage, for what I thought was going to be a few weeks, but turned out to be thirteen long, life-changing months. Every toy, book, keepsake and cassette tape (I smile as I remember my over-played Queen's Greatest Hits album, my Now That's What I Call Music 6, my colouring pens and books, and the kid's Ghetto Blaster I used to play my music whilst lying on the bed with my homemade patchwork quilt my mum made for me, in my Laura Ashley wallpapered room...well it was the 1980's...); our two cats and our two cockatiels, which went to the vets - I am still assured all these years later that they didn't go "to the farm", but were gladly re-homed - everything else we owned was packed away, except for enough clothes to last a few weeks, because we thought we'd only be in the bed and breakfast accommodation for a maximum of six weeks.

How wrong we were.

My parents split up and my dad moved to London to work, whilst my brother and I stayed with my mum, to live in a run-down B&B in the town. We went from a 6-bedroom house to a modest room with a couple of bunks, a double bed, a sink and a tiny little black and white TV. At first, it was a bit of a novelty, but the novelty wore off very quickly, especially by the following weekend when we discovered that we were only entitled to breakfast and an evening meal. My mum was an early-bird, so we were up and dressed by 8am on a Saturday, eating Sugar Puffs in the dining room before heading off to the launderette to wash the few clothes we had.
The launderette turned out to be our only contact with the "outside world" at weekends - aside from the owners of the B&B, who seemed to just about tolerate us living in their house. As time went on, I dreaded weekends and school holidays, which soon became a mixture of the worst kind of boredom mixed with an insatiable hunger headache and jealousy as we met the "real" guests in the B&B, the ones who were paying to come on holiday to the seaside, with children who told us all about their trips to the beach, the arcade, enjoyed ice-creams and paddling in the sea, and lovely family meals in cafes and restaurants.
My mum became very depressed, my brother and I argued a lot, and we had our own emotional reactions to our new-found circumstances. I remember wondering what the point of "me" was. At the age of 11, I distinctly remember questioning the point of my own existence, pondering upon whether I would ever see my belongings again, whether I would be able to invite friends to my (non-existent) home, whether I would be able to be a normal child again.
Six months later, we moved into a very small, very damp and dilapidated winter-let. Mouldy net curtains hung in the ice-laden windows; a tiny fireplace was our only source of heat as we huddled around it to watch The Waltons on a Sunday! I was thankful for Sunday roast chicken and spongecake, but our belongings were still packed away, our clothes were becoming too small for us, some of which were replaced; my brother developed whooping cough. A few months later we were back into the same B&B for a few more months, where we endured the same as before. In the meantime, we were adjusting to life as a broken family, with no home, a depressed mother who was increasingly turning to alcohol for comfort, meanwhile wistfully waiting for our dad to come to visit. We eventually moved into a lovely council flat for a year or so, which is in the same road as I moved into, eight years ago. The irony of coming full circle is not lost on me, and for each time I walk past the flat we lived in back in 1987, I am reminded of these things: the sixpence we found in the garden one day when digging for treasure; the kind lady and her young son who lived in the grounds who I talked to in order to try to make sense of the horrid time we'd lived through; the now non-existent telephone box I used to desperately contact Childline one day when mum was at her absolute lowest point, where I was scared and felt the weight of the world upon my shoulders and felt as though it was collapsing around me.

I am also reminded of my strength; my conviction to believe that something would change. OK, I imagined that someone would come to rescue us, that someone would come to make mum happy and that this person would be really kind to us. I became engrossed in adult fiction over one summer, because mum wouldn't engage with us, so all I had for entertainment was my few beloved cassette tapes, my ghetto blaster, and my mum's bookshelf to tuck into. At the age of 12 I prolifically read, wide-eyed in a mixture of curiosity and naivety  as I consumed The Thorn Birds and If Tomorrow Comes during the summer holidays. In fact, these books served as a convenient form of escapism, in between my self-choreographed interpretive dance to my Queen album...needless to stay, the summer of 1987 was interminably long, painful, and boring. My brother and I would raid the kitchen cupboards and eat golden syrup and hot chocolate powder for lunch whilst mum indulged her sadness in her dressing gown, listening to her vinyl collection in the lounge. The strength I had resembled hanging on to a cliff edge for dear life: I am uncertain where I would be if I had lost my grip and fallen.

So what has any of this got to do with mindfulness? What bearing does any of this have on my work, or my adult life?

Our childhood experiences shape us into the adults we become. Some of these experiences allow us to bloom in positive, sunlit ways; other events cause us to bloom in the darkness, only to reveal our beauty when we choose to be seen, or when someone notices we are there. I feel that I am in the latter. These events I describe caused me to shrink, to hide away, to believe that I was not worth investing in, not worth the time or effort to listen to or to nurture. But something changed within. Something inside of me told me that I HAD to keep going. I have Freddie Mercury to largely thank for this, whose music inspired me and kept me going in my darkest of days. Without my clumsy, calamitous interpretive dance to Bohemian Rhapsody (I admit to an embarrassed face-palm at this point, by the way) - the lyrics of which I clearly understand now, but as a child could feel the emotion and deeper meaning behind the dramatic score - I would have retracted deep into my self, to a deep, dark place where I would probably never had the opportunity to understand my own emotions and make sense of them, let alone develop the empathy and understanding to be able to connect with those around me; nor the gratitude to know that I always had something, even if it wasn't what I wanted - remember, you can't always get what you want, but you often get what you need...
You see, I remember deeply feeling the despair my mum felt, because I was vicariously living it. I felt my brother's frustration and sadness, because I was feeling the same.
So, as an adult, I am particularly passionate about helping children who are going through difficulties in their lives. I can identify their emotions in a number of ways: as a healthcare professional who has worked with children in my jobs for a number of years, as a former child, as a mother; and as a mindfulness and meditation tutor to children. The mixture of all of these ingredients in my life have helped me help others, which I strongly believe is my purpose in life: to heal one person at a time, in order to help make this world a better, brighter, more peaceful place to be. It gives me the greatest of pleasures to be able to gift a child the opportunity to heal from the inside out. For every child I work with successfully in some way, I also heal a little part of me, which is ultimately what makes me who I am, as well as helps someone else see and love who they are and who they choose to become. I work with adults doing inner child work with powerful and inspiring results, too.

Go here if you are in need of a foodbank; check with your local supermarkets or churches if you would like to donate food to families and individuals in need.

Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids™ trainer and tutor, teaching mindfulness and meditation to children as well as those who care for or work with children of all ages. Nikki is the founder of The Inner Space Project, teaching mindfulness to adults, is a reiki master practitioner; and is a part-time registered nurse working in the NHS. Nikki has written a course specifically for healthcare workers who work with children and is available to teach in the NHS and privately. Nikki has also written a book on mindfulness and her life experiences, due to be published this year. Contact her for more details on booking a session or a course with her.