My life before Harmeny was quite turbulent, quite chaotic.
I was expelled from Nursery. I got expelled from Primary School. I was violent towards teachers. My language was incredibly inappropriate and sexualised, especially for my age. My life was out of control.
Harmeny changed that.
I remember being carried down the drive on a staff member’s back, crying my eyes out. I felt very insecure, lost and confused; but at the same time, I think there was some excitement for that new life.
It was actually easier to make friends in Harmeny than in mainstream Primary School, because the other kids had problems that were quite similar to mine, so I found them easier to relate and to. In mainstream school, some of the kids were a bit scared of making friends with me because of my behaviours.
Some of my happiest and most vivid memories at Harmeny are going skiing and on canoeing trips. For me, nature was quite freeing, a place to get away from it all and the chance to burn off some energy – to do some adventurous activities. It was perfectly safe, but from a child’s perspective there was a bit of danger, and that’s what you want. You became aware of the changes within yourself that come from that, and a lot of the team building and trust exercises were built into activities, so seamlessly that you didn’t even realise. You learnt to work more as a team. You learnt to listen more.
Harmeny helped me understand myself and my past more. There was a lot of talk about ADHD and possibly Asperger’s at the time but this was never diagnosed. I think when the staff at Harmeny started on the path of emotional neglect and speculated that there was a lot emotional trauma driving these behaviours within me, that was probably the most accurate diagnosis.
My mother told me that when I was born she had post-natal depression and just never really felt she developed a bond with me, so found it difficult to love me. And that lasted throughout childhood. There was never any emotional nurturing from my father. He really didn’t have any role other than to punish when he felt it was necessary.
You can’t leave Harmeny without being better at reflecting on your own life because that’s what the staff here encourage you to do – to reflect on your own difficulties and think about the way forward. And when you’re doing that consistently, in my case over four years, you turn into an adult that’s much better at figuring the way forward.
Even when I was at my most difficult, the staff never gave up, never judged me for anything; they just accepted how I was – to have judged would have made it worse.
The staff at Harmeny don’t just do a job. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a commitment and a passion.
I’ve always had the impression that if you stripped the salaries away from the staff, they’d still be there. They’d remain there, above all, compassionate.