There’s No Easy Way to Say this, We Need a Divorce 

Dear A, 

We need a divorce. Our relationship has been showing signs of being toxic for a long time now. According to all the self-help books I’ve ever read, including the one I wrote myself, this is always the beginning of the end. I used to think I could rely on you, but lately you’ve let me down. In fact scrap that, you’ve been letting me down for years.

It needs to change, which is why I’m asking for this divorce

I don’t expect you to understand at this point. In fact I’m fully prepared for wanting to run back into your tempting embrace. Especially over the weekend, and more so on the weekends that we see friends. I’ve always been a sucker for your lure, since our very first encounter when I was just eleven years old.

Eleven, FFS!

divorceWe were living in Australia, and I drank half a bottle of neat Bundaberg Rum. I was ill, tried to vomit for hours, but can’t because of medical reasons. I was a state, and I’m sure it would have been the sort of classic story that goes on to put kids off you for life.

Not me though, nope siree. Our bond was too special, and wasn’t going to be broken that easily. There were other occasions prior to leaving home at fifteen, but once I was fending for myself, you became my trusted bestie.

You acted like my armour during those tough years, while I was discovering who I was and what direction I wanted to go in. Sometimes people tried to use you against me, and take advantage. Sometimes they got away with it too, but my memories are muddled, which I count as a blessing. You found me and lost me my first boyfriend at sixteen, and at eighteen I ended my second relationship because he loved you more than he loved me.

There were the nightclubs that I used to go to. Dancing to cheesy 90’s music and snogging random boys. Alcopops were my favourite back then, I used to love Hooch and Mad Dog 20/20. Oh the fun we had, until I overdid it, which I did frequently. I’d either pass out or end up lying on the filthy club toilet floor waiting for the waves of nausea to pass. I have too many memories like this, which is making me question whether you were ever my friend.

It solidifies my gut feeling that this divorce is going to be a great thing

Even when I went through my hard core, up all weekend, clubbing phase, you were always a feature. When everyone else was drinking water and gurning, I’d have a glass of something stronger in my hand. I used to think I was clever, playing silly games and often winning against the boys. Drinking Tequila shots watching the sun rise, or making healthy juices laced with you for my flatmates. I said that I would write a book one day called The Vodka Smoothie Diaries, and maybe I still will.

Going to work on a few hours sleep would be nothing for me, and even on a Monday night my rubber arm could be twisted to go out for a few sherbets. As long as you were with me, I could get through anything. The toughest of times were never that bad after drowning my sorrows.

You were a huge part of my persona – I was the Renster – bringer of fun!

divorceThen all of a sudden, it wasn’t just fun fun fun anymore. The darkness started featuring, and at twenty two it all came on top. My counsellor, Nina, tried to make me see that you were a bad influence, but I wasn’t ready to listen.

Four more years of hard core partying followed. Including meeting my husband, and living in one of the most rule free places on earth. Rather fitting really, to end up being drawn to Cambodia. With it’s shocking history and deep sadness at its core.

It’s fair to say that along with the back-then readily available pharmaceuticals, you almost killed me. Several times. You would have thought the night I fell off an actual bed and onto a bed of broken glass bottles would have been enough of a wake up call. But even the cut fingers, steri stripped and tightly bandaged hands that weren’t able to wipe my own arse couldn’t come between us.

A horrendous year followed. My personal annus horribilis. Too many things that I’m not proud of happened in 2006, and you were by my side every single time.

Rock bottom occurred in Reykjavík, eleven years ago to the day

I was on a work jolly, and overdid it as per. The mini bar bottle of white wine whilst having a shower is the thing I remember most vividly. I can’t really recall fighting with my then boss, falling off my bar stool, or taking a taxi by myself to the hotel on the other side of town in a strange country. I do know those things happened though, and I also know that I woke up the next day and felt truly ashamed.

For the first time ever, I could clearly see that you’re no good for me. I should have filed for divorce back then, but instead, after three months of abstinence, I vowed to learn self-control around you. I did well, but I was in a different zone. I was going to rule the world, one jar of chutney at a time. Even business failure and bankruptcy couldn’t break me. We had holidays and weddings in 2008, and although you featured, I was in control. Or maybe I was just kidding myself? I honestly don’t know anymore.

A new chapter started at the end of 2008

divorceBabies. During pregnancy number one I didn’t touch caffeine, let alone you! You’d been well and truly kicked to the curb. Pregnancies two and three were different. Your lure was a lot more tempting, and most Friday nights involved a glass of red.

I’m pretty sure guidelines have changed recently, and they are now advising pregnant ladies to steer completely clear of you, and I think that’s sensible advice.

Us parents are bombarded with the idea that we need to drink all the booze to survive the horrors that our little darlings throw our way. Whilst it’s definitely true that you are able to take the edge off the witching hour, or a birthday party, I’ve come to see that I’m not like most people.

Most people can have a glass of prosecco and get on with their day, but me?

Once I’ve fallen for your charms, I find it hard to let you go. One or two drinks is never enough, and all I can think about is having more. Which is not fair on my children, because when I’m under your spell my attention is no longer being given to them.

My kids need me much more than you do. Which is why I need you to agree to this divorce and not try and tempt me back. I can’t carry on like this. Things needs to change, and that change is not going to happen while you’re still hanging around.

It’s early days, and I’m not so naive that I don’t expect tough times. I am fully expecting them, but already without you, I’m feeling strong enough to tackle them. I’ve even set up a new Instagram account solely to help me stay on the wagon.

I wish you well in life, I really do, but please don’t knock on my door again.

An Open Letter to Theresa May: Our Children’s Mental Health is Suffering for the Sake of Your School Statistics #CMHW17

An Open Letter to Theresa May: Our Children's Mental Health is Suffering for the Sake of Your School Statistics #CMHW17Dear Prime Minister,

I hope this note finds you well. I’m writing to you today as a mother of three. As it’s children’s mental health week, it feels like an appropriate time to do so.

Allow me to introduce myself  

I’m Reneé Davis. I’m the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood and was failed by the education system in the nineties (I left at 15 with no qualifications). I was also bullied throughout school, so know first hand how much damage it does to one’s mental health. I suffered two breakdowns, and numerous bouts of depression as a young adult. Through sheer determination I have broken the cycle of dysfunction, to ensure that my children have a better start to life than the one I had. 

My little family is neuro diverse, which means that we do not fit into a standard pigeon hole. My eldest daughter Polly was diagnosed high functioning autistic in 2015. So far, my two younger children appear to be neuro typical, but I don’t have a crystal ball. Who knows if further diagnoses are on the cards later on down the line? 

Polly is a July baby, and sending her to school weeks after her fourth birthday in 2013 felt like throwing her into the lions den. She was the smallest in her year, and due to her sleep problems back then largely wandered around in a little world of her own.

I believe it was a combination of these two things that made her an ‘easy target’. She would often come home with a red note to say that she had banged her head, or injured herself during the day.

Polly suffered low level bullying from the end of reception, and all throughout year one. Not only this, but the ridiculously high expectations of learning were too much for her to cope with. She lived in a perpetual state of anxiety, and her pre and post school meltdowns dominated the happiness of the whole family. My husband and I would plough all our energies into getting Polly on track during the holidays, only to see our hard work being undone almost as soon as she went back to school.

You see she’s a classic high functioning autistic girl. She is able to convincingly mask her autism, and appears to cope in public. All the pretending to cope takes a lot of effort, and is exceptionally overwhelming for her. It got to the point where she would come home, where she felt safe, and spend up to two hours screaming. This was her way of communicating to us that she was unhappy at school, and wasn’t coping as well as she appeared to be.

After her diagnosis we thought we’d get support from the school, but none materialised. Perhaps if she had been subjecting her teachers to huge meltdowns things would have been different? That’s just my speculation though. Going against my gut instincts, I sent Polly back to school and into year two in September 2015. Within a few weeks our lives had once again become soul destroyingly hard. My husband and I knew that if we wanted different results, we were going to have to take matters into our own hands.

We made the decision to not send Polly back after the first half term of year two, and home educate her instead.

It’s not been an easy ride, but in the fifteen months that Polly’s been at home, we’ve made great progress. In addition to her core learning, we’ve invested a huge amount of effort in rebuilding her confidence, and fostering emotional intelligence. She is finally, at seven and a half, sleeping most nights. She is calmer and happier, and more patient. 

Now, no two children are the same, and this is especially pertinent in a neuro diverse family such as mine. My other daughter, Clara has always been laid back and mostly happy. I say mostly because no child is going to be sunshine and rainbows 24/7 are they? Especially when they are exposed to some times unpleasant behaviour from their older siblings.

For many reasons, my husband and I made the decision to send Clara to school in September. We figured that being such an easy going kid, as well as being super bright, she would excel and flourish.

Clara loved the first few weeks of school, but sadly it didn’t last.

When she returned after the first half term, things changed for her. She wasn’t so happy about going to school in the mornings, and has a few times, point blank refused to go. She started having meltdowns after school, like her sister used to. She broke out in the same stress eczema that my husband gets on his hands when he is bogged down at work. For the first time, Clara began displaying the familiar symptoms of being seriously overwhelmed.  

The decline in our girl has been shocking to witness. She has become highly sensitive, aggressive and inflexible. It’s as clear as day to me that she’s stressed out. She has little patience, and gets very upset very quickly, over things that wouldn’t have mattered to her six months ago. It feels like she’s a shadow of her former self. 

One day last week Clara wasn’t feeling well, and had a raised temperature, so I kept her off school. When she saw Polly getting her learning books out, she said she wanted to practice her writing. We got her dry wipe tracing book out, and she started tracing the alphabet full of enthusiasm. By the time she got to F she’d started crying. It wasn’t long before she was completely inconsolable, screaming that she wasn’t doing her writing perfectly. She ended up shutting herself off from the rest of us by hiding behind the furniture, and didn’t come out for over an hour.

Am I the only parent who feels it’s too much to expect four year old children to learn to read and write (in joined up handwriting) from the very first term of school?

I can’t imagine that I am, but know from experience that there’s a lot of turning a blind eye us parents have to do. My husband and I weren’t always in a financial position for me to stay at home with our children. In fact I only stopped working in my part time City job weeks before we began home educating Polly. The combination of a promotion for my husband, and voluntary redundancy presenting itself to me led to me being able to drop out of the traditional workplace.

Since then I’ve been able to make a little bit of money through writing, which has kept me afloat. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have the option of staying at home. If I had financial pressure to go back to an office based job, we would be, to put it bluntly, screwed. 

The school system has already failed one of my children, and it’s beginning to look like it’s failing another. The one size fits all approach does not work for so many. 

Seeing the change in Clara has been nothing short of heartbreaking. It feels to me that our children’s mental health is being sacrificed for the schools numeracy and literacy statistics. That all the emphasis is put onto their academic capabilities, and very little thought is given to their emotional well-being. 

I felt that too much pressure was being put on the kids when Polly was in reception. Now, three years on, I am truly astounded at the expectations put on their little shoulders. Surely at four and five, it makes more sense to invest in our children’s mental health. Wouldn’t it be better to let them learn through play, rather than forcing them to read and write?

For now I have put my faith into the Senco at Clara’s school, to see if there are interventions available to help her. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain. I’m not going to sit back and watch school turn my happy go lucky ray of sunshine into an anxious wreck.

I have signed this petition to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools. It currently has over 33,000 signatures, which means it will definitely get a parliamentary response. 

At this point, Mrs. May, anything is worth a shot, which is why I’ve written you this letter. To ask you personally to put our children’s mental health on your agenda.

Yours sincerely,

Reneé Davis 

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