A New Lesson

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| This is the 399th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in 1980 in Scotland and grew up in a small house on the outskirts of the small town of Oban. My parents taught us to work hard, help our neighbors and be respectful of others. My mum worked in an office and looked after her three children, of whom I am the oldest. We had a vegetable garden and always seemed to keep chickens for the fresh eggs. Growing up, our little plot of land felt so distant from the center of our little touristy town.

Oban, situated on the west coast of Scotland, is famous for its seafood. The city had many fishing boats which employed a large number of the town’s men, my dad being one of them. As the fishing boats returned with their day’s catch, the men would all head to the pub. They deserved a drink after all their hard work. Some of them would have a couple and then return home to their wives and families, others, like my dad, would stay out drinking until the pub closed.

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Oban, Scotland.

I’m not sure when my dad’s drinking became a problem or how long it took him to give up. At this time, I was about five years old. I don’t remember much of him at that point in my life as I always kept out of his way. He was either at sea fishing or in the pub.

Well, somehow, he found God in the bottom of a whiskey glass and decided to change his life. When I was six years old he sobered up for good, he began to attend church regularly, and my mum soon joined him. That’s when they decided to bring the family up as Christians, something I didn’t quite understand and often found boring. After all, I had never had to attend church before in my young life.

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In the following three years, my parents slowly made changes to their lives; slightly eccentric changes some may say. From that point, I felt like I was losing control. I had less and less choice.

First, we moved further out into the countryside so that we would have more land to grow vegetables and keep animals. The aim was to become more self-sufficient. My dad gave up going to sea and got a job on a construction site instead. One day he came home with two piglets. I was so excited when I saw their squishy faces! But soon, a couple of goats were added to our menagerie along with some geese, turkeys, and a miniature pony.

Then, in 1988 my younger sister turned five and was due to start school. However, instead of enrolling her, as all the other parents were doing with their children, my parents decided to pull me out of school and home school both of us. The reasoning being that schools taught evolution, and as Christians, we believed that God created the world. They wanted to be the ones in charge of what I was learning.

Initially, I was happy to stay at home. I enjoyed living close to nature and having a more basic life. I was given more freedom to play outside during the day than I would have had at school. My mum would teach my sister and me at the kitchen table. We would learn our times’ tables, practice our handwriting, and then help look after the animals.

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Our farm house.

But all of a sudden, I wasn’t happy anymore. I seemed to be repeating the same lessons every day and only saw my friends at the weekends. I would play with the neighbor’s kids every day when they came home from school. They would always have funny stories about things that had happened in lessons. I often felt left out and I frequently asked my parents if I could go to school, and they always refused.

I also felt like I wasn’t able to make my own decisions about anything. I desperately missed my friends after leaving school and didn’t understand why my parents didn’t want me to attend.

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I was smart enough but didn’t have any formal lessons. My parents encouraged me to read books, especially the Bible, and they taught me what they knew. That probably wasn’t enough. By the time I turned 12, I really should have gone to high school, but instead, my parents enrolled me in a correspondence course and I studied at home. I had to work hard to catch up as there were gaps in my education but I was interested in the subjects I had chosen and could read and write well, so I continued to progress.

It was then that freedom I’d had as a smaller child seemed to be taken away from me. It felt like my parents were taking away the one silver lining of staying home. They started to get stricter about my schooling and I began seeing less and less friends from primary school. My parents didn’t seem to listen to me, and I began to retreat more and more into loneliness. I just wanted a friend to confide in.

I went through puberty and found it hard. I started to obsess that I was getting fat. I studied hard to try and keep these thoughts at bay, but whenever I had any free time, they would come back stronger than ever. So, I got rid of my own free time. I studied.

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And then, when I became miserable, my appetite faded away and I lost weight. Turns out, that made me feel happier—like it was something I could control. I also felt angry and wanted to punish my parents, so, I started to exercise as much as I could. I would go for long runs or cycles by myself. Well, the weight fell off, and, as I hadn’t been fat in the first place, people started to notice.

At first, I took their concern it as a compliment. They made me feel cared for and their comments about “how’d I get so skinny?” and “the state of my health” filled an emptiness that had been developing inside me. I liked the attention it got me. But then…my eating disorder soon got out of hand. In the end, I was eating almost nothing.

I realized that I was getting scarily ill. My skin was pale, and my bones were sticking out. I could see that my parents were anxious, but I wasn’t able to start eating properly again on my own. I wore layers and layers of clothing as I was always cold. When I looked at myself in the mirror, my cheeks looked hollow, and I could hardly recognize myself.

I wanted to get better but couldn’t seem to change my behavior or redirect my thoughts. When I did make an effort to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls, I would immediately throw them back up.

At that time, my mum was pregnant again with my youngest sister. At the height of my illness, she attended one of her appointments with the midwife and broke down crying. Instead of talking about her pregnancy, she told the nurse all about my problems. The nurse listened to her patiently and then said that she needed to get help for me as soon as possible.

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On returning home, my mum made a doctor’s appointment for me for the following day. I had no energy and could hardly stand up as I walked into the hospital. After many, many tests and questions, I was given medication and allowed home, as I promised to start eating again.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as that, and I was soon back in the hospital. I spent six months living in a youth psychiatric ward when I was 15, where I managed to gain control of my eating. I had to establish set meal times and was able to gradually build up the amount I was eating, though often it felt like I was forcing myself to wat. It was a slow and grueling process—possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I often wanted to give up and often curled up into a little ball and cried for hours. I felt like it was all my own fault and I could believe that I had let myself get in such a state.

Slowly, I began to get better and recover my strength. The nurses and doctors there were great and helped me to sort out all the muddled thoughts and feelings in my head. I was given counseling and taught coping strategies. It felt good to have more normal eating habits, but I sometimes worried that I was going to get fat. After three months of therapy, I was allowed to go home for the weekends, and after six months, I had made enough progress to be able to return home.

I realized that, regardless of where I was or who was making the decisions, life was going to be hard, but it was not hopeless. I realize that I had a lot of willpower; when I decide to do something, I put all my effort in. It was that trait that may have gotten me into a mess, but it was going to be the same trait that would get me out again. Learning to accept that lesson was so worthwhile for me.

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When my parents realized that I needed some autonomy in my life, I was allowed to enroll myself in an animal care course at a local college at the age of 16. I knew that I wanted to be around people more and thought that enrolling in a college course would help. My therapist agreed. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that I loved animals. I always seemed to be able to connect with animals easily and know what they needed. I studied animal care for two years, during this time I made a lot of positive changes in my life. I made some friends and began to feel happier.

Looking back, I think that homeschooling did affect me in negative ways. However, I know that my parents made the decision that they thought was best at the time. Still, I don’t want to let anything hold me back and always try to follow my dreams. I have now accepted myself, I am kinder to myself and look after my health.

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This is the story of Isabella Graham

Isabella Graham lived on a small farm outside Oban in Scotland where her parents aimed to be self-sufficient, growing their own veg and keeping livestock. They also decided to home school their children. Isabella felt lonely as a child and often wished she could go to school like the neighbor’s kids. As a teenager, she felt like she had no control over her life and developed an eating disorder that almost killed her. She spent six months in a psychiatric ward and later made a full recovery. Isabella now works as a veterinary nurse and has many pets of her own. In her free time, she likes to travel and explore new places by bike, foot or kayak.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 14, 2019.

| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Colleen Walker |

 

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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