Space, Strength, Stigma and Silence: Our Week So Far.

It has been a tough week. As we head off on holiday next week, it feels as if we stagger towards Friday. K is troubled and anxious and overwhelmed by homework. It doesn’t help that her Literature novel is Mrs Dalloway. What every depressed and anxious girl needs – a book about depression, suicide and existential angst. This week she is asked to write an essay about religion in Mrs Dalloway. I suggest she writes: There must be a great deal of religion in this book, because every time I read it I feel the urge to call out – “Jesus Christ!!!” This makes her laugh.

We have a family therapy session as well. We are so sick of them. K, L and I sit like sulky teenagers, while C talks politely. We don’t want to be here, L tries to be accommodating but I feel like rolling my eyes and saying What??!! I am sick of this place, I just want L to bloody eat. We have some useful discussions. I refer to L’s phrase in a recent message where she told me she wanted to be small and fragile. We reflect on this; the association with smallness and fragility with being worthy of love and care, of being protected, rather than being strong and powerful or substantial. There is so much pressure on women of any age to take up as little space as possible, to be meek, but not manipulative, to be attractive but not invite attention. We are mindful of the Great British Bake Off furore, the baying mob that called a 21 year old woman a filthy slag because they believed a judge wanted to sleep with her, or labelled a confident woman smug and full of herself for taking challenges in her stride. We also discuss the difficulties in telling others how we feel, how we really feel and how the temptation to say Fine to every one.

K has another hard day at school. In study skills they run a session about how everyone’s week was. K is asked about her week. She has learned from Family Therapy – so she says, “It was shit.” She tells them about Family Therapy and how shit it was. The other two girls in the group seem uncomfortable and ask her how the previous week was. She tells them there really isn’t any point in trying to find a better week; how she ends each week thinking “Well that week was shit, but another week is about to start.” And then it turns out as shit as the last. They ask her why that is and she tells them. Then they report back to the group, and are asked not to share personal information and so her classmates refer obliquely to Family Therapy as something they probably shouldn’t share.

K tells me about this and asks if she is wrong to tell people about Family Therapy. I tell her that she can tell who she likes, if she feels comfortable about it. But I can see that this experience has left her with a sense of shame, as if she shouldn’t share her feelings or tell people about mental health services. She says she feels sad because then one of her classmates subsequently shared with her she felt stressed and cried. She feels sorry for her and as if she made her feel bad. How strange we are – ashamed of our difficulties and struggles, guilty because someone else does so. I tell her she was brave, that she challenged the status quo and broke the observed rules – she didn’t say Fine, she told people how she really felt and sometimes that is the bravest thing we can do. I am so proud of her.

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