Childhood Trauma and the Poignance of Spirit
Topic: Voices of young people
Author: Annmarie Campbell
In National Storytelling Week 2023, Annmarie Campbell, member of CELCIS's Strategic Advisory Board, explains what inspired her to turn to writing as she shares a piece written under her author penname for the Scottish Book Trust's Scotland's Stories project.
From childhood, I have always loved creative writing. By writing you can portray particular messages and navigate many tricky emotions; I see storytelling as an important way of reaching and supporting others. I have escaped to many a fantasy world that I have designed, finding myself liberated there, resonating with the characters and the undamaged concepts of hope and justice created within these.
Stories connect us to self, and others. Serving as useful tools in raising awareness, they have the power to change lives. As an avid writer, when the Scottish Book Trust launched their annual writing project last year, Scotland’s Stories for Book Week Scotland, they prompted people all over Scotland to submit their true stories. With a rip-roaring tale or two to tell about my spirited ways, I seized the opportunity. Clacking my keyboard, without batting an eyelid, I penned a piece for submission.
Following a journey from despair to triumph, ‘Because Ah Matter’ follows the journey of a child I left behind, tempered with a keen sense of regret. The narrative does not intend to be a tale of martyrdom but, what was initially intended to raise a giggle, has been illuminating in demonstrating the spirit and determination I applied as a youngster to overcome the odds so tumultuously stacked against me, fuelled by my iron will.
Through the narrative of a childhood, I impart my experience of what began as relatively normal beginnings, and then came ‘the hard times’ and pulling myself out of dark places.
Through the detriments of childhood adversity, the story relays how I was jack-knifed without warning into a life I did not fit into.
As I wrote, forever holding that feisty child in mind, I recalled the elements of my own story: from the beating heart of a community that bled good hearted folks, with ambiguous memories, yet the values I hold true, I landed like the proverbial ‘alien’ smack bang in Edinburgh, without warning or consultation. In a defining moment, the transition shaped my life, and outcomes.
My broad West Coast of Scotland mother tongue is unashamedly my voice and dominates the narrative, it’s my origin, the sound of a place on earth I hold close to my heart, which has forever shaped my identity, yet also made me the subject of playground ridicule. Not appreciating my diversity, and trivialising my West Coast culture, in Edinburgh the stigma, discrimination and prejudice I was exposed to dominated decision making, and drove my prolific school refusal. ‘Weegie’* was perpetually called out as a slur; rooted in bullying and rejection, it morphed my identity in their eyes.
Through the lens of this childhood, the story I wrote brought to life the stark truth of the injustices of well-intentioned system responses that ought to have protected and promoted my outcomes. In reality, these further perpetuated traumas I’d already endured. Perceived as defective, perhaps even delinquent, the statutory system was in my experience, meanspirited, and to my detriment. The reasons concerning my way of being were unasked.
Historically, within systems, children were voiceless, not this one though! Try as they might to wag an accusatory finger and dictate next steps, I dug in my heels, and refused to fit into the new world that refused to include me, just to tick their bureaucratic box. Why would I accept such injustice, in a mind-boggling world full of adults tempered with a keen sense of ridiculousness, who made unrealistic demands? Why would I do things that I saw would take me further from peers who already purposely excluded me from them, who sought to heckle and harm?
Instilled with a keen sense of justice, affronted by what was presented to me as customary civilised behaviour but frustrated and stigmatised me, how to communicate became daunting: there was no taming this free spirit. Although somewhat more civilised these days, not much has changed in that regard where systemic injustice requires challenge!
Albeit I was a pain in society’s bahookie**, the system got it wrong. I’d been catapulted into a world that had lost its magic, and I was going to pick up my own wand and brandish it to change my own outcomes. The story I wrote captures how I took ownership of my feisty and determined spirit, borne from those experiences, and showcases the power of hope. I soared from being a prolific school refuser to finding academia intoxicating in later life. Winging it lots, from humble beginnings, I built a life out of busting a gut, but got there in the end nevertheless, and now practice as a Children and Families Social Worker, now my lifetime vocation. In spite of academic accomplishments, and my being my own mentor, there has been no learning better for fulfilling my role than that I learned at the ‘University of Life’, and the hard knocks, and yes, laughs, along the way.
The moral of the story demonstrates, that from the depths of despair, resilience, hope and determination can be borne to challenge injustice, and those affected can emerge triumphant.
Looking at where we are now, I have reflected on the changes. As Scotland enters a new phase - most notably the creation of ‘The Promise’ after the review of children’s care here - whilst there has been some change for care experienced children and young people nationally, and those exposed to state intervention, there remains much to do. From my experience I believe that raising awareness of the wider detrimental impact of trauma, adversity, and unplanned transitions, in an unhearing system, can create unintended consequences from decision making that does not involve the child or the young person within the decisions being made and that this can make or break an adulthood.
A key message to professionals working with children is that behaviour is communication, participation is key, and not every child has my resilience, or iron will, and to that end, they can therefore succumb to the bureaucratic decisions affecting their lives no matter how well-meaning these might be. In current austere times, when workers are stretched, and resources and time limited, we risk going backwards.
It remains imperative that professionals view their interventions, and decision making at all levels and collectively through the lens of a child, and not the bureaucratic barriers constraining their practice. Relationships remain at the heart of practice and hold the biggest potential influence in promoting children and young people’s outcomes. So, at the heart of Because Ah Matter is an inherent appeal to anyone and everyone working with children: ask the questions, meet and accept children and young people where they are at, and work in partnership with them, in ways and spaces where they can grow safely. Think: ‘what do you think you need?’ And ‘what can we realistically do to get it right for you?’
What started out as a bit of a creative outlet to raise a smile, feedback I’ve received from readers of the story tells me that I’ve really struck a chord. Placing the story of one character in a wider narrative that recognises of systemic ills, system responses and shame has really resonated with those with lived experience of care.
I hope others can take comfort from the messages being conveyed. Extending my creativity beyond the characters I have created within my writing, I have learned to build and manage a website, with lots of free activities for children to access. It is forever a work in progress.
Every child should experience a happy and fulfilling childhood, so let’s get it right. From darkness there is always light. From experience, I feel that you glow differently when supporting others and telling stories is one way to do this. When I succeed in meeting the needs of the children and families I support, I know I am home.
*Slang for Glaswegian / person from Glasgow
**Scottish informal word for buttocks
Because Ah Matter
Author: Angel Rodgers
Year: Scotland's Stories
Like a rat up a drainpipe, I shot oot that school gate lik’ the devil was on mah tail. This wasnae mah gig, an’ ah wasnae unpacking. If ah was gonnae engage in education anywhere, it wasnae here. Ah totally had the fear, an’ the battle lines between me and mah maw were drawn. Day in, day oot, ah was frogmarched through the gate. Opposing the forces at play, ah shot right back oot it.
'Get back here!' Gangly Gibson with the protruding teeth stomped a path towards me.
'It’s no happenin!'
'Come at me tin-opener teeth ya absolute howler!'
Gibson snatched mah arm. In the tussle she somersaulted backside over elbow an’ splattered spread-eagled on the concourse lik’ an upturned turtle.
Thirteen years an’ a prolific school-refuser, ah was a gob on legs wi’ a tongue that held enough spark tae light a match. Filter less, mah thoughts tripped out mah mouth. Focused and fearless, ah thought they were justified. If there was ever a Holy Grail ae rebellion, then ah wrote the book. Defiance, not compliance that was mah motto, there was no taming this free spirit. Why, because ah matter.
'School…, or ah’ll get the jail!' mah maw was at her wits end.
'Orite Greta Garbo…, curb yir melodramatics!'
At war wi’ society, ah rolled wi’ mah posse, much tae her disapproval. Ah wasnae caring, they were mah pals, ah was accepted an’ ready tae roll wi’ whatever.
Pals or nae pals, ah was a one wuman yippin’, chippin’ nightmare. Regarded the family disappointment, ah acknowledged ah was an organic pain in society’s rectum, but debated ah was a product ae the soil she’d fertilised me in.
The day the Polis chapped, her mania skyrocketed.
'Get yir carcass tae school!' PC Bobbin roared on his unannounced visit, 'yer maw’s demented wi ye!'
Blanking him, ah gaped oot the windae an’ scanned the expanse of Jubilee Crescent.
'Whit’s she doin’?' he squinted.
'Lookin’ for who asked you!'
'Shift yirsel’ lady!'
'Eh, that’ll be a naw ya absolute fraggle!
Faking bravado, I darted away an’ locked myself in the lavvy as Bobbin pounded the hallway in hot pursuit.
'Ya cheeky wee….. !'
'Gon yirsel’ ya mutant!' I called fae mah hideout, 'remove your boggin’ breath fae mah maws keyhole wi’ immediacy, it reeks like a hogs butt!' Shots fired, the stench of fear rose as Bobbin and mah maw battered the door dementedly.
'Sorry officer!' mah maw squirmed, 'ah’m affronted wi’ her!'
'And thar she blows in 3-2-1…, gon’ yirsel’ maw!'
'Your jaikets on a shoogly peg!' she went from a steady simmer to near explosion in point four of a millisecond, hammerin’ the door lik’ a wuman possessed.
'Hawd yirsel’ together!' I cranked it up a gear, the door bolt ensuring mah safety, 'yir embarrasin’ yirsel’ in front ae the constabulary!' A stilled silence ensued as the stand-off continued.
'She’s disturbed!' mah maw sighed.
'Aye…...pot, kettle hen!'
'Well, yir brothers no lik’ that!'
'Aye, ah’m totally killin’ the whole family disappointment thing!'
The rebellion held out as Bobbin admitted defeat when his radio crackled, an’ his Gaffer ordered him elsewhere. Nane the less, rebel was trending, an’ like an infection, ah took hold.
Exiting mah hideout, ah prepared for the onslaught. In an ugly incident, if looks could have killed, ah was a goner. No the height ae nonsense but famed for her signature daggers, mah maw drew her eyes aff me, the look penetrating my soul.
'An’ that’ll no be happenin’!' I winked.
'Naw…., tally-ho maw!'
'You’re a pure riot!' ma posse chuckled as ah relayed rebel events.
Ah was a complex kid but so was mah fear. Life had torn cracks in mah maw cos ae her poor choices and she wasnae getting away wi’ tearing any more cracks in mine. A victim ae circumstance, mah rebellion rose fae frustration from our midnight flit tae Edinburgh, and being catapulted without warning, intae a life ah didnae fit intae. Mah broad Glaswegian accent made me the subject ae ridicule. So did the clothing grant shoes and jacket, indicating ah was a welfare wean, that made me the subject ae playground humiliation. They were bouffin’, they compromised mah dignity, an’ ah wasnae wearing them.
Wi’ the dreaded chap fae Peacock, the Education Welfare Officer, trouble brewed. An imposing character, he terrorised weans, no this wean though. The standoff continued until he put me before the Children’s Hearing.
Sat in silence, the glare of the opposition was slicing.
'Awkward!' I blurted out amid disbelieving gasps.
'Show some respect!' the bigwig peered over his spectacles.
'Bolt you ya fossil!'
Fit to explode, mah maw feigned patience, well she had tae, there were too many witnesses.
'You poor woman!' the bigwig sniffed.
'Hawd on…, how’s she the victim…, ye havnae asked mah side ae the story!'
'Just go to school!'
'Aye… so an’ ah will!'
Losing the battle, a Compulsory Supervision Order was imposed and ah was appointed a fangly dangly Social Worker. Let me tell ye, that was never gonnae work. Somethin’ in mah soul cried an’ ah rose in resistance.
'Ram yir Social Worker, ya bampot!'
Ah didnae fit intae the new world, an’ they wernae gonnae make me.
Life never gave me lemons, it turned me upside down an’ smacked mah backside, leavin’ scars naebody noticed. Social Worker or no, ah never returned tae school. It’s changed days though. Although the hardliner rebel still bubbles within, ah turned failure intae success, an’ made peace wi’ mah demons. A practicing Social Worker, ah support weans lik’ ah was, the difference, these weans have a voice.
Lookin’ back, mah maw had her misgivings, but so did ah. Throughout the battles, her patience was commendable. What she didnae see was that ah had inherited her fighting spirit.
All misrepresented rebels, salute yirself’s, live fast, rebel hard, regret nowt an’ stand up for what ye believe in, even if yir standin’ alone. Why, because ye matter!
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