For the first time, Yvette, CEO of SOS, speaks about her emotional health – what affected her, what challenged her and what’s ultimately shaped her.
Yvette co-founded SOS Silence of Suicide with her husband Michael following the loss to suicide of a lifelong friend of hers, and Michael’s daughter Anna.
‘As a child, I suffered from bullying at an all girl’s boarding school. My last year was spent completely alone and I hated it. I felt continuously sick, anxious and despised myself. It was easier to turn the blame on myself than stand up to the bullies and their followers and ask them why they were picking on me. To this day, I still don’t know what prompted the bullying that never ended to start.
The bullying affected everything. I became ultra conscious about myself – too scared to speak in case people laughed. Wishing I was invisible. I felt less than normal. Not as clever as everyone else, not as pretty as the other girls, not wanting to look in the mirror as I disliked everything I saw. My face, my body – it was all ugly. I was repulsed by myself. I look back now and feel alarmed at how unwell I was. But even more alarmed that no one else saw it, or, if they did, they did not address it. I was told to ‘grow up’ or ‘stop being silly’.
I wanted to talk, I desperately wanted to talk to other girls about how they felt about developing boobs, periods, buying their first bra, listening to the latest hits on Radio 1, their relationships with their parents and siblings. Instead, I binged on ‘teen’ magazines to give me the answers that I needed.
At just 19, I was the victim of a serious assault at the hands of my then boyfriend, leaving me in hospital for over a week. I was mistaking (and did do for sometime) sexual desire for love. If a man showed attention, then I felt absurdly grateful, forgetting about myself, my needs and what was best for me. The only thing in my mind was to please them, get their approval and keep their attention. Because being rejected, becoming unseen and unheard simply evoked more feelings than I could deal with. I got very good at convincing myself I was happy when I was screaming tears inside.
A failed marriage and one further relationship that was also physically abusive and mentally controlling followed. I always fell head over heels for men who showered me with attention to start with, but imprisoned me physically and psycholocially as time progressed. What I mistook for love, their desire to ‘look after me’, to ‘protect’ me, was abuse. It took me a long time to realise the difference. And only someone who’s been through it can understand this, let alone admit it.
Psychological damage at any age can follow you through the rest of your life. It can be either a destructive force or can shape you positively into someone you never thought you would be, in a good way.
Whilst feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence are still issues I have to work through, I have found ‘tools’ that help me. Rather than shying away and hiding, I now at least try. I don’t always succeed. But I feel better for having tried.
I wouldn’t swap my experiences for anything. It’s because of these that I can relate to others who struggle, who are vulnerable. I am able to see vulnerability through a smiling face. See someone’s internal tears and fears through a seemingly confident exterior. Without my experiences, I would not have these skills.
Michael, my husband, says he believes he is now seeing the person I should have been a long time ago. I think he is probably right.
There is always a positive. Finding it can be tough. But not without its rewards.’