My mum had postnatal depression when I was born and is also bipolar, so I’ve always known mental illness. When I was two years old, I was sent to Nigeria with my elder sister, Sabrina, and we stayed there, living with my father’s family for the following seven years. My mother remained in the UK and we would talk on the phone, but I remember her sounding strange and relatives would talk about her having ‘a madness’.
We were reunited when I returned to the UK at the age of nine. I had imagined that we would hug and kiss, but she was withdrawn and I now understand that she was numbed by her medication. She still wasn’t well enough to look after us so I was sent to an aunt’s. At school I did well academically, but I couldn’t relate to other students. A teacher took me under her wing and, gradually, I told her what was going on and she encouraged me to make friends.
By my early teens, our parents had divorced but Mum was well enough for Sabrina and I to live with her. It didn’t all go smoothly. She would have relapses and we would be sent to stay with relatives and went into foster care for a period.
I first became involved in Our Time through social services. Alan [Dr Cooklin] was the first person to describe my mum’s illness clearly to me. I realised why she was different and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I also met other children with the same problems and that made me feel that we weren’t abnormal.
At home, I had to behave like an adult; most of the time we couldn’t run around or make a lot of noise and we had to always make sure Mum was ok. Our Time was the one place I could be a child – I could play, have fun and laugh for a couple of hours and I really needed that.
In my mid-teens I went through some bullying problems that led to rebellion. I stopped taking my education seriously and bunked off school. I had been in the top set, but went down to foundation level. My English teacher picked up on it, talked to me and made me realise that I did care about being successful. I knuckled down and went to university, where I graduated in biomedical science before doing a master’s in psychological therapies. I now work in mental health.
Mum’s health is still up and down, but we are doing ok. Two things have got me to where I am: Our Time and my teachers. That’s why I am so keen to see ‘Who Cares?’ in schools. With the right information and support, teachers have the power to make a difference to children like me.