My name is Shelley. I'm 18 years old and I live in Hertfordshire. This is my story.
It all started when I left home and went to live with my aunty. I was 12. She looked after me for about 6 months, although she had 2 children of her own and lived in a flat with just 2 bedrooms. I was happy there and I felt safe, but I knew that it was only temporary.
Then it was time for me to move. Social Services had found me a foster family in a little village in another part of Hertfordshire. I was really nervous when I went to stay with them, but my foster mother was single and she tried to make me feel part of the family. That helped me to feel at ease. The problem was that she was always criticizing me about the way I looked, spoke and dressed, and then she also started making remarks about my family.
I put up with this for a year because I felt that I had no option. I was safe there and I thought it was better than going home. Social Services placed me with this lady because she was the only black teen-carer with a place. It sounds good to be with your own ethnic group, but she confused me. We didn't eat any West Indian food, only English. We never socialised with any black people and she thought that paying for the maintenance of my hair was a waste of money. But any person with afro hair knows that it's a necessity.
Inevitably, this placement broke down and I went to live in a children's home. The children's home had a terrible reputation, but I loved it. For the first time in ages, I could be myself. The staff supported me through school and with anything that I wanted to do. I could eat West Indian food when I felt like it and I could see my family without hearing negative things about them.
The staff encouraged me to apply to college, which I did. I chose a Health and Social Care course which interested me, and I was accepted. At about the same time, I was offered a bed-sitter in a new supported housing scheme. I moved there a week before I started my course. I saw the staff from the children's home just once after I left, which upset me because they were supposed to be doing outreach with me. But I was lucky enough to have found a really good social worker by now.
While I was in the bed-sitter, I had to make a court appearance in a trial against my abuser. The staff were wonderful to me at this really difficult time. But I couldn't deal with reliving the events that had taken place, when I had been trying for so long to forget them.
I started smoking a lot and I felt extremely low. The doctor told me that I had depression and suggested that I take anti-depressants. At this point, I was tempted. But I also knew that, if I started taking anti-depressants at 16 years old, I'd be on them for ever. I decided that I would fight it on my own.
A flat became available for me and it was time to move again. It gave me something to think about and it kept me occupied. After a while, my flat felt like home and I felt settled. I was into my second course at college and I felt that things were slotting into place.
Then my father was diagnosed with cancer. I was attending counselling sessions, however, which helped me to feel more positive. Gradually, the counselling sessions stopped.
What happened, I suppose, was that I discovered exercise as a way of getting myself out of my depression. I'd always liked the idea of it, but I never really got round to doing it! When I was in the children's home, we'd been to the gym a few times. Then I started going to an aerobics class, and I remember thinking that I always felt better after it.
When I got bored of aerobics, a friend took me kick boxing with her. I thought that I'd give it a try and that's when it all started. I now go about once a week. Exercising has helped to make me more energetic. I find that it also helps me to think clearly and it gives me a natural buzz. If my body feels fit and healthy, then my mind does too. I don't want to do it competitively – it's just something that I do for me.
I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for the love of my friends, especially one friend who was there through most of the hard times. It's so easy to lose faith and to feel like giving up. I think that everything happens in this life for a reason. All the things I've been through are like obstacles that I must get over, even if I don't always see it at the time. I believe that, the more obstacles you get over, the stronger you will be inside. You can use your experiences positively or negatively. I want to use mine to make me a better person.
From Who Cares? the UK magazine for young people in care