Ellen Barker - Mind
Ellen has a number of conditions that have impacted on her life. After doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) she decided to start evening classes in Art and literature and now she's getting her life - and education - back on track.
I have a cocktail of conditions: high functioning autism, severe generalised anxiety and a rare medical condition called Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (CVS), a severe gastric migraine that causes three to five days of vomiting every 15 minutes. All these conditions can leave me worn out and I miss out on so much that life has to offer.
I’ve always loved education, but the last few years have been challenging. My attendance has been low due to having CVS. Also, because I have autism I was never understood by my teachers and I was diagnosed late, at 14 years old. Quite recently, in September 2017, after having to do a maths re-sit year at college and also having passed, I was victimised for my attendance and A‘ Level choices. I felt like a rock being passed around until it became too brittle not to crack. This left me spiralling into depression and severe anxiety. I felt worthless, to the point of wanting to self-harm. I was bullied and forced to leave college.
I’m pleased to say I’m doing better now – I’ve taken back control and have had time out from those who’ve had a negative impact on my life. In my experience it’s important to talk to your loved ones about what you’re going through. Emotional support has helped me towards recovery and my family has always had my back. My GP referred me to Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is about re-training your mind.
I’ve been doing CBT for six months and I’m making improvements. The biggest hurdles for me in CBT are my self-confidence and having to relive my past. The majority of my anxiety has been brought on by bad memories of negative people in my life and social groups at school. I was isolated and bullied – because I didn’t have the same interests and wasn’t on the same page as a ‘popular’ friend, I was rejected from their groups. I’ve had to stand on my own two feet because of it, but it has also made me feel worthless and ugly. It’s made me critical and untrusting of people for fear of rejection.
In CBT, I’ve learnt that I’m part of this world in amazing ways and I have faced a bigger mental battles than many would have in their lifetime. My therapist made me list qualities and hobbies I love. Overall, I have 25 qualities and interests, including my favourites, English and Art.
I’m a creative person at heart. I was never really good at subjects like maths and science. For me, doing a simple painting or reading a really fun book helps me through dark times. I’ve recently joined night school at a local high school, once a week, to do Abstract Art. In this class we use shapes and colours to come up with a piece of art that we can connect to. It’s all for the purpose of imagination.
The first time I went, I wasn’t in a good place. I hadn’t been in a classroom for six months, my throat went dry and my eyes were watery, I felt like crying. But as soon as I met my teacher, WB, it really helped me with the transition back into education. She was so kind, and understood mental health. I’ve learnt so much from her, like how to do textured painting mixing flour, PVA glue and acrylic paint. I’ve been experimenting with this technique and I’ve made some beautiful experimental paintings.
One of my paintings, ‘Rapunzel’, is a combination of abstract and mandala art. I’ve recently finished my first term at night school and have a official qualification in Abstract Art. I don’t start term two for a couple of weeks so in the meantime, I’ve been looking at Impressionism and from a YouTube video, I’ve re-created Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’. I’m very happy with the results.
I play around with my artwork. From photography, collages, watercolours, sketch books and calligraphy. I like to mix it around and experiment to help me develop as an artist and as an individual.
English has also been a big part of my life. I love reading, poetry and writing my own stories. The way to you can delve into your imagination and create stories is such an amazing thing. Because I have autism, I had early on speech delay and struggled with English. But I still love English even if I was academically lower than an average student.
I never did English Literature in high school, due to poor attendance and I felt let down because I wasn’t given the opportunity to do it. Instead I focused on my English Language, but I wasn’t confident about passing. Then I met my home English tutor, CM. She understood about my condition, gave me time to process information and even gave me book recommendations to help continue my love for books: Brontë, Flower for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Wonder by P J Palcio. Without her, I wouldn’t have passed English Language. She had faith in me, gave me confidence and knew I was capable of so much more than a label. And today, she is teaching me English Literature and I’m aiming towards a GCSE in 2019.
Right now, I’m working on my options with my support worker and looking towards combining an apprenticeship and qualifications. I don’t want to stop my education so the plan is that I expand the number of literature classes I do and take more art lessons in the near future. To give me experience of the working world, I’m looking to do a library job with support from my local council. I’m also getting more support. I’m to start Transport Training to gain confidence with using the bus and I’ve been applying for a PA to help out with my additional needs.
I feel that there needs more to be done, but not just for me – I don’t want this to happen to another person. There needs to be more choice and additional support for those with invisible conditions – people should be able to spot even the smallest of symptoms. A young person’s attendance at school or college is a small part of who they are – we have so much more to give. I never wanted to be an exception, I want the same chances as you.
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