Growing up in an abusive household made Keeley Stephenson fear for her own life, until a social worker took her to a safe place, and ensured her mum received help to manage her schizophrenia. Now, Keeley is on her road to recovery, and while it will take sometime to heal, she wants to support other young people who’ve been abused
Reader warning: please note this story includes detail of abuse that some readers may find upsetting.
The smells, voices and traumatic scenes of my past still haunt me. I hold 23 years worth of experience in the world of pain. It’s my responsibility now to try and overcome what’s happened, and what is still happening every single day.
Although I’ve said goodbye to the rejection and fear, they still try to creep their way back in, causing me to feel anxious, and that I can’t trust anyone, and that my future is far from bright. But I know that it’s a lie.
It all began when I was a newborn, just days old, when my mother abandoned me in a supermarket and was nowhere in sight. If you’re wondering where my father was, well I’ve only witnessed his existence through pictures.
As a result of this incident, I was taken to foster care for a few months until my mother could get back on her feet. She has schizophrenia and was trying to overcome this affecting her life by taking her daily medication.
However, it’s when I finally went back into her care that it all began to spiral. Living with her was really a gamble; there would be some days you think you’d survive, and some where you literally thought life was going to be over.
Due to the battling thoughts that went through her mind – the paranoia and false illusions she had about the people around her – I felt the impact of it. She would calling me ugly, stupid, good for nothing and worthless, alongside physically abusing me. She would treat me as if I was less than human; she once used my face as an ashtray to put out her cigarette. She chased me up the stairs with a knife, tried to shut my head in the window, and continuously beat me.
It was a living hell, but I always believed there was someone who could take my pain away and help my mum with the mental illness that caused her to hurt me – and that person was God. At that age I didn’t know anything about religion, or that there was somebody who could perhaps help me. I guess when you’re in a place of complete darkness, you cannot help but think that there is a way out from this.
As time went on, I understood more about what was happening, and the shame eroded in me – most often when I was leaving school.
Going home was always a battle; we would always walk no matter what the weather was like. I hated it because she’d try to push me in the road, shouting that she didn’t want me anymore and that it would be better if I got run over. My heart felt as if it was going to come out of my chest as I gripped the bollards or gates – the only way that I could maintain my safety, while longing for the intervention of a passerby.
Don’t get me wrong, when she took her medication it wasn’t all bad. She’d take me to the park and buy me something nice to eat, while smiling with the other parents. But when things got bad, they were bad.
Luckily, one day a neighbour witnessed my mother’s abuse in our garden. My mother began punching me so much that I screamed. I then saw my neighbour open the door and the shock on his face. My mother looked over and smiled, taking me inside as if nothing happened. She petted me and asked if I was hurt, and I could now see the guilt on her face for what she knew she’d done.
The next day we received a knock at the door. This was a shock because my mum had cut ties with the majority of our friends and family, so we practically had no one coming to see us. But the visitor turned out to be someone very necessary; someone who had the power to remove me from this mess, so that I could play, breathe, and enjoy life as an 11-year-old child again.
It was a social worker, who explained that her reason for the visit was due to an anonymous call about a disturbance at this address. I was excited and scared at the same time; excited because it meant my pain would end, but scared because I knew that if I was left in my mother’s care another day, I could potentially die. Luckily, staying with her was no longer an option, and my social worker came prepared, ready to remove me immediately.
I could finally sleep at night, knowing that my mother was getting the treatment she deserved while speaking my mind without the fear of judgement, being a real child again, and somehow learning to trust again. Although this was going to take some time, I was ready to become the real me. But in trying to do so, I came into contact with many hurdles.
Trusting people was one of them; I believed that if my own mother could hurt me the way that she had, then nobody else owed me anything. I had immense anxiety, and experienced suicidal thoughts, believing that my life was such a mess that ending it and keeping it to myself it would be the better option for me. However, I chose to deal with these experiences myself and use poetry as an outlet to express what I was going through.
It all began to transform for me when I received what I would call “spiritual healing”. My foster carer taking me to church was the big game changer; I felt loved, accepted like never before and experienced a personal relationship with God. My outlook on life changed, providing me with an escape from my past to the purpose I believe God had for me.
I blossomed like never before, and began to feel as if I was a real individual – one that had meaning, a sense of value and hope attached to her. I’m glad that I’ve experienced life at its worst, because I can now appreciate life at its best!
I blossomed like never before, and began to feel as if I was a real individual – one that had meaning, a sense of value and hope attached to her
Although I’m still in the process of recovering, I’m a million times better than I was 12 years ago.
If you’re wondering whether I still keep in contact with my mum, the answer is no. A few weeks ago I saw her at the same road crossing as me, but she didn’t recognise me. I spoke to her mental health nurse last year, with the hope of planning supervised contact, but she explained that my mother is adamant she doesn’t have any family. They believed it would be better to leave her to access treatment until improvements are made.
As a result of this, I have managed to move on with my life. I’m on my way to completing a three-year degree – which has taken me eight years to do. I am a project manager for a Youth Violence Forum, a lifestyle blogger, and in the near future I plan to have my own charity that empowers young people who have gone through similar experiences to me.
Keeley’s story is a sobering account of the difficulties that schizophrenia can cause when treatment is not in place. No child should suffer the experiences that she lived through. Her neighbour’s intervention reminds us all of our responsibility to be aware and speak up when we have safeguarding concerns. Keeley’s experience of spiritual practice reminds us of how finding a connection beyond ourselves can support healing. What Keeley has already achieved shows her resilience, strength, and resourcefulness, and I wish her well.