Tag Archives: ‘She

‘She changed my world’: how a teacher saved me after my mum died

My world was rocked at the age of 12 – but my extraordinary English teacher helped me through it. Now we’re reconnecting

Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey.


Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey, which aims to tackle the stigmas surrounding mental health. Photograph: Ella Young

I was 12 years old, and my mum had just died from cancer. It was horrific to watch that happen to someone. My dad had an alcohol problem that mum had been managing all these years – suddenly he had a good reason to drink, and no one to stop him any more. He hit the bottle hard.

I went from being quite a high achieving student to being in the bottom quarter for English. But among all this, there was my English teacher, Miss Ward, who was so supportive. She wasn’t trained in mental health: she just saw someone who was distressed and unhappy, but who also had potential. She changed my world.

She listened to me and engaged with me. She had me talking in front of the English class, and was always chasing me to write something for the school magazine. She’d always find the good in the stuff I wrote.

I started the #FindMissWard campaign after going to a class reunion. Nobody knew what had happened to her. I’d just written a book about my journey on foot around the edge of the UK to highlight the stigmas surrounding mental health – and I thought it would be fantastic if she came to the launch. I think about 1.3 million people saw the tweet asking for help finding her, and tens of thousands of people retweeted and engaged with it.

Chris Young (@walkamileuk)

#FindMissWard

Dear, lovely people of Twitter – Miss Ward HAS BEEN FOUND!!

Thanks to social media – a load of emails and an old school style letter we’ve exchanged some emails and we’ll be meeting up soon

She wishes to remain anonymous & I’ll respect that

Thank you Twitter!!

February 1, 2018

The lovely thing was that so many people came out and said they had a “Miss Ward” too. One person on Twitter sent a message about their own Miss Ward and about five tweets later this woman said, “Here I am!”. They were reunited almost instantly – it was astonishing. I’m certain there’ll be lots of people who have never got round to looking for the teacher who made a lasting impact on their lives, but maybe wish they had.

When I think back, it took a long while for the personal difficulties after my mum died to really hit home. I fell to bits for a long time. I left school with almost no qualifications, but I had my O-level English and a few others. I ended up training to become a social worker because not many people had been there for me – and I wanted to be there for other people.

Later, in 2007, when I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I became homeless after leaving my job. The experiences I had during that time made me feel it was important to challenge the stigmas surrounding mental health. By walking around the edge of the UK, I wanted to highlight how people with mental health problems feel on the edge of society. I was really pleased when I finally produced the book.

I’m not sure I would have had belief in my writing without Miss Ward. I think a lot of my other teachers at school were just a bit busy and didn’t see what was going on. It’s challenging to look after more than 30 pupils at a time, but somehow I came away from her classes feeling special.

We’re going to be meeting up in a couple of weeks. I just want to touch base and say thank you. I feel very lucky to have had her in my life.

Chris Young is founder of the Walk a Mile in My Shoes campaign, challenging stigma around mental health, and author of Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon.

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Looking for a teaching job? Or perhaps you need to recruit school staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs, the education specialist.

‘She changed my world’: how a teacher saved me after my mum died

My world was rocked at the age of 12 – but my extraordinary English teacher helped me through it. Now we’re reconnecting

Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey.


Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey, which aims to tackle the stigmas surrounding mental health. Photograph: Ella Young

I was 12 years old, and my mum had just died from cancer. It was horrific to watch that happen to someone. My dad had an alcohol problem that mum had been managing all these years – suddenly he had a good reason to drink, and no one to stop him any more. He hit the bottle hard.

I went from being quite a high achieving student to being in the bottom quarter for English. But among all this, there was my English teacher, Miss Ward, who was so supportive. She wasn’t trained in mental health: she just saw someone who was distressed and unhappy, but who also had potential. She changed my world.

She listened to me and engaged with me. She had me talking in front of the English class, and was always chasing me to write something for the school magazine. She’d always find the good in the stuff I wrote.

I started the #FindMissWard campaign after going to a class reunion. Nobody knew what had happened to her. I’d just written a book about my journey on foot around the edge of the UK to highlight the stigmas surrounding mental health – and I thought it would be fantastic if she came to the launch. I think about 1.3 million people saw the tweet asking for help finding her, and tens of thousands of people retweeted and engaged with it.

Chris Young (@walkamileuk)

#FindMissWard

Dear, lovely people of Twitter – Miss Ward HAS BEEN FOUND!!

Thanks to social media – a load of emails and an old school style letter we’ve exchanged some emails and we’ll be meeting up soon

She wishes to remain anonymous & I’ll respect that

Thank you Twitter!!

February 1, 2018

The lovely thing was that so many people came out and said they had a “Miss Ward” too. One person on Twitter sent a message about their own Miss Ward and about five tweets later this woman said, “Here I am!”. They were reunited almost instantly – it was astonishing. I’m certain there’ll be lots of people who have never got round to looking for the teacher who made a lasting impact on their lives, but maybe wish they had.

When I think back, it took a long while for the personal difficulties after my mum died to really hit home. I fell to bits for a long time. I left school with almost no qualifications, but I had my O-level English and a few others. I ended up training to become a social worker because not many people had been there for me – and I wanted to be there for other people.

Later, in 2007, when I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I became homeless after leaving my job. The experiences I had during that time made me feel it was important to challenge the stigmas surrounding mental health. By walking around the edge of the UK, I wanted to highlight how people with mental health problems feel on the edge of society. I was really pleased when I finally produced the book.

I’m not sure I would have had belief in my writing without Miss Ward. I think a lot of my other teachers at school were just a bit busy and didn’t see what was going on. It’s challenging to look after more than 30 pupils at a time, but somehow I came away from her classes feeling special.

We’re going to be meeting up in a couple of weeks. I just want to touch base and say thank you. I feel very lucky to have had her in my life.

Chris Young is founder of the Walk a Mile in My Shoes campaign, challenging stigma around mental health, and author of Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon.

Follow us on Twitter via @GuardianTeach, like us on Facebook, and join the Guardian Teacher Network the latest articles direct to your inbox

Looking for a teaching job? Or perhaps you need to recruit school staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs, the education specialist.

‘She changed my world’: how a teacher saved me after my mum died

My world was rocked at the age of 12 – but my extraordinary English teacher helped me through it. Now we’re reconnecting

Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey.


Chris Young in Largs, Scotland, as part of his Walk a Mile in My Shoes journey, which aims to tackle the stigmas surrounding mental health. Photograph: Ella Young

I was 12 years old, and my mum had just died from cancer. It was horrific to watch that happen to someone. My dad had an alcohol problem that mum had been managing all these years – suddenly he had a good reason to drink, and no one to stop him any more. He hit the bottle hard.

I went from being quite a high achieving student to being in the bottom quarter for English. But among all this, there was my English teacher, Miss Ward, who was so supportive. She wasn’t trained in mental health: she just saw someone who was distressed and unhappy, but who also had potential. She changed my world.

She listened to me and engaged with me. She had me talking in front of the English class, and was always chasing me to write something for the school magazine. She’d always find the good in the stuff I wrote.

I started the #FindMissWard campaign after going to a class reunion. Nobody knew what had happened to her. I’d just written a book about my journey on foot around the edge of the UK to highlight the stigmas surrounding mental health – and I thought it would be fantastic if she came to the launch. I think about 1.3 million people saw the tweet asking for help finding her, and tens of thousands of people retweeted and engaged with it.

Chris Young (@walkamileuk)

#FindMissWard

Dear, lovely people of Twitter – Miss Ward HAS BEEN FOUND!!

Thanks to social media – a load of emails and an old school style letter we’ve exchanged some emails and we’ll be meeting up soon

She wishes to remain anonymous & I’ll respect that

Thank you Twitter!!

February 1, 2018

The lovely thing was that so many people came out and said they had a “Miss Ward” too. One person on Twitter sent a message about their own Miss Ward and about five tweets later this woman said, “Here I am!”. They were reunited almost instantly – it was astonishing. I’m certain there’ll be lots of people who have never got round to looking for the teacher who made a lasting impact on their lives, but maybe wish they had.

When I think back, it took a long while for the personal difficulties after my mum died to really hit home. I fell to bits for a long time. I left school with almost no qualifications, but I had my O-level English and a few others. I ended up training to become a social worker because not many people had been there for me – and I wanted to be there for other people.

Later, in 2007, when I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I became homeless after leaving my job. The experiences I had during that time made me feel it was important to challenge the stigmas surrounding mental health. By walking around the edge of the UK, I wanted to highlight how people with mental health problems feel on the edge of society. I was really pleased when I finally produced the book.

I’m not sure I would have had belief in my writing without Miss Ward. I think a lot of my other teachers at school were just a bit busy and didn’t see what was going on. It’s challenging to look after more than 30 pupils at a time, but somehow I came away from her classes feeling special.

We’re going to be meeting up in a couple of weeks. I just want to touch base and say thank you. I feel very lucky to have had her in my life.

Chris Young is founder of the Walk a Mile in My Shoes campaign, challenging stigma around mental health, and author of Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon.

Follow us on Twitter via @GuardianTeach, like us on Facebook, and join the Guardian Teacher Network the latest articles direct to your inbox

Looking for a teaching job? Or perhaps you need to recruit school staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs, the education specialist.

‘She was radiant, way out of my league’: a story of love and mental illness

In 2009, Mark Lukach came home from his teaching job in San Francisco to find his wife, Giulia, sitting on the carpet, their dog sprawled next to her. He could instantly sense that something was wrong. Then Giulia looked up at him and said: “I can’t figure out what I’m going to do with the Vespa key.”

The couple had a Vespa scooter but Mark didn’t understand. “What do you mean? What would you have to do with the Vespa key?”

“I mean, when I drive to the Golden Gate Bridge,” Giulia replied, “I’ll probably take the Vespa. When I park it, what should I do with the key? If I leave it in the scooter for you, someone will probably steal the scooter. But if I bring it with me, and they don’t find my body after I jump, you’ll lose the only key we have to the scooter.” She looked at Mark pleadingly. “What am I supposed to do with the Vespa key?”

Mark and Giulia met at Georgetown University, Washington DC, in August 2000 when they were just 18. In his book, My Lovely Wife: A Memoir of Madness and Hope, Mark describes the first moment he saw Giulia. It was a coup de foudre: “She was radiant, way out of my league, but I was fearless and almost immediately in love.”

Mark and his wife, Giulia.


Mark and his wife, Giulia.

Giulia was highly ambitious and knew exactly how her life was going to pan out: she was going to be a marketing director with three children by the time she was 35. Mark was more laid-back but also knew what he wanted to be: a husband, a surfer and the father of lots of children with Giulia.

Those plans seem a long way away now. Giulia turned 35 earlier this year but her life is nothing like she had anticipated. Her ambitions have shrunk to accommodate her new identity: that of, in her own words, an “ongoing psychotic”.

In 2009, at 27, Giulia had a terrifying and unexpected psychotic break. Hospitalised in a psychiatric ward, she was tormented by delusions and paranoia. When she was released almost a month later, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had sunk into an extended suicidal depression during which Mark, struggling to support Giulia, exhausted himself trying to keep his wife safe, follow doctor’s orders, while keeping the job on which the family’s health insurance now relied.

Eventually, Giulia fully recovered and the couple had a son. But soon after he was born, Giulia had another breakdown and was diagnosed as bipolar. She had her third episode a few years later: in 2014. Pushed to the edge of the abyss, the couple’s golden present and glittering future, which they had taken for granted, was transforming into a harrowing reality.

It has been two and a half years since Giulia’s last episode but although she is on daily medication and has a team of psychiatrists and therapists fighting to preserve her delicate mental health, she and Mark know that it is improbable that she will fully recover. The family have to be on permanent alert in case she sinks into psychosis again.

“It’s just so crazy what happens to you in the psych ward that you just don’t want to live afterwards,” says Giulia. “Each time, I have had to start over with my job, and put on hold plans to get pregnant again. Hospitalisation disrupts everything and you have to start from scratch. If I’m being honest, I don’t know if I have the strength to do that one more time.”

Mark is silent. I ask how hearing that makes him feel. “It’s terrifying to hear but I’m not surprised,” he eventually says quietly. “I have seen three times how hard it is for Giulia to process these breaks. I do worry that she’s been able to process three but how about the fourth, fifth, sixth and so on? If you keep breaking your arm in the same place, your arm gets weaker and weaker. The same applies to your mind. I have a lot of admiration for her strength but can’t help having that nagging worry that she will not be able to keep recovering.”

My Lovely Wife is not Giulia’s story but Mark’s. It is the compassionate and deeply honest account of how a husband copes when he is forced to become the carer for an ongoing psychotic wife, a young son (he will be five next week), while being his family’s main breadwinner.

“My greatest sadness is that at times, I wasn’t strong enough to be a father to my son and I had to let him down, or take him to stay with his grandparents,” Mark says. “I never thought that would be a consequence of being a carer. It still brings me to tears when I talk about it.”

Mark wrote the book to fill the void he discovered when, battling to get through his trauma, isolation and despair, he searched for support. “I couldn’t find any voices out there speaking to my experience,” he says. “I learned a lot about her and her symptoms and diagnoses, but there was nothing for me. No resources at all.

“An example of the lack of support is that the maximum my health insurance would offer me was one 30-minute session once a month. I was appalled. What was I supposed to do? Who was listening to me? It felt like I was the first one going through this, which is obviously not the case. The message was that the healthy one is not supposed to need help. I was supposed to be fine. I was on my own.”

[embedded content]
Mark’s Ted talk about Giulia.

Mark also had to readjust his idea of what a relationship was. “I have a really strong belief that relationships should be equal: that the effort one person puts in, needs to be balanced by an equal amount of effort being put in by the other partner. But I do so much caring for Giulia when she’s sick that that reciprocity becomes imbalanced.”

Mark admits his expectations led to a lot of tension after Giulia’s first episode. “It was like he was seeking retribution from me for my having got sick,” she says.

Mark admits this is true: “My expectations after the first episode were that she should ‘pay me back’ for the extra caring I put in when she was ill,” he says. “It created a lot of tension. Our marriage hit a very rocky patch partly because of that.”

It’s different now, Mark says. “It’s not that I do X for her, so she has to do X for me. Now it’s that we have to care for each other as much as we can at any given moment, and I’ve accepted that for periods of time, Giulia isn’t able to care for me or our son. That doesn’t put her in deficit.”

Nevertheless, Giulia admits she has learned a lot from reading Mark’s book. “For the first time, I was able to get into his shoes and see how awful it was: how scary it was for him, being a dad and being the best dad when his wife was in the psych ward. We’d talked about it already but reading it made me experience my illness from his perspective. The loneliness really came through,” she says.

But, ultimately, Giulia says, this book is about love. “This book is pretty much a love letter Mark has written to me,” she said, struggling to hold back the tears. “And it’s the gift that we can give to the world.”

Mark’s ultimate message to anyone who finds themselves in a situation that resembles his own is clear. “Without a doubt, you have to take care of yourself as a carer,” he says. “My first impulse was to put absolutely everything into trying to help Giulia and not pay attention to my needs at all.

“I felt that doing anything for myself was selfish and not good for Giulia. But I’ve learned that that’s how carers burn out, and then they’re no good to anyone,” he says. “So now, I continue to prioritise being active and being the best teacher and writer I can be, despite Giulia’s mental health.

“We’ve said we don’t want her to have another episode but have had to prepare ourselves for one, and this is part of that process,” he adds. “Keeping myself at the top of my game means that if – or, rather, when – Giulia has another episode, I will be able to be the best husband and best father I’m able to be for us all.”

My Lovely Wife: A Memoir of Madness and Hope is published by Macmillan, £16.99. To order a copy for £14.44, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here

‘She didn’t know me. That was the finish of my life’

Robert, aged 92, contacted me two years ago, when, as a widow, I was living alone for the initial time in my life and creating about my personal loneliness. “My wife died three months ago of Alzheimer’s illness right after 65 years of marriage, but more to the level, 72 years since we initial kissed,” he explained. “She waited all through the war for me and I for her. Loneliness, inform me about it!”

Today, reading through about the loyalty and love Timothy West feels for his wife of 50 many years, Prunella Scales, who is in the early stages of “a sort of’’ Alzheimer’s, I remembered Robert’s story. Theirs is a burden he understands nicely, for he carried it for the last six many years of his wife’s lifestyle.

Robert informed me he had met his beloved Kathleen in 1937, when he was sixteen and she was 14. “We met in the park where we lived, that is the place the younger men and women used to hang about. And from the moment I saw her I admired her. I knew I wished her to be my girlfriend. She could skate, we went dancing collectively at the nearby hop, and when it came to the last waltz and I explained, ‘Who’s taking you home?’, she explained, ‘You are.’

“Now I cry whenever I hear any individual enjoying Auld Lang Syne. I bear in mind all individuals many years, holding hands, and kissing her on New Year’s Eve. I’m just an emotional previous fool.”

Robert was referred to as up to serve in the British Army in Africa in 1942, and, as soon as he had parted from Kath, realised how deeply he loved her. “So I wrote and asked her to marry me, and we acquired engaged. I couldn’t do anything about the ring, so she went out and purchased it herself. I’ve nevertheless acquired it. It’s received tiny square diamond chips in it. We had nothing. We married in 1946, and borrowed funds from our mothers and fathers to find the £100 deposit on a small property. No furniture, it was all rationed. But from then on we had been pleased, right up until the day I misplaced her.”

Robert and Kathleen on their wedding day in 1946

A double reduction, initial as her personality slowly withdrew, then when she died. Robert looked soon after her up to the end. Right after all, he pointed out, Kath had looked after him all their married existence with each other. “She was sweet, she was cuddly, she was sturdy-willed, definitely. A brilliant cook, she could make her personal outfits, she passed her driving check initial time. Then her memory started to go, so she couldn’t carry on cooking. Six many years just before she died, we were viewing the Proms collectively on tv and she turned to me and said, ‘How are we going to get house?’ And I mentioned, ‘Don’t fret, darling, I’ve got the automobile.’ But I was shattered.

“Then one horrible, horrible, terrible evening we were sitting with each other and she turned to me and said, ‘Where’s Robert?’ And that was the end of my lifestyle. Soon after all our years together she didn’t even know me.” Robert’s voice broke as he remembered that second.

As the sickness took its toll on them each, although by now he, too, was in his eighties, Robert was established to search following her and refused to let her go into a care home. “I informed the medical doctor, ‘If she goes, I go with her.’” So Kathleen remained in their loved ones house.

I asked how lonely he felt, caring for her himself. “It is lonely,” he replied, “but when you are caring, you’re so busy, getting foods, cooking it, dressing her, washing her, making an attempt to do the ironing. You’re so active striving to hold it all together. Even right after she’s gone, you don’t fully consider it in at very first, comprehend what you’ve misplaced. And the loved ones are close to you, supporting you. But they have to get on with their lives, and when they depart, that’s when it hits you. Some musicians see sounds in colour. I see loneliness as a great large mass of grey, there about you all the time.

“I keep asking myself more than and in excess of once more, did I do enough to make her lifestyle content? Was I good ample? The children say yes, I was. But by the finish I couldn’t request her. The medical doctor gave her some medication when she acquired worse, but it could have been aspirin for all the good it did her.”

Robert still has all Kath’s medical records, tracing the regular deterioration produced by her sickness, from slight memory reduction in 2006 appropriate up to the finish, six years later on, when she no longer knew him or could communicate with any individual. He has stored her dresses, coats and footwear. “I can not give them away or destroy them.”

But mercifully the recollections that come to him now in the even now of the night are not of Kath as she grew to become, her thoughts destroyed by the illness that killed her. They are of the Kath when they met and fell in love, the teenager he admired so much, and who adored him, the wonderful lady with the auburn hair that by no means turned grey, the consistent giggle, the blue-grey eyes that shone with entertaining.

Now in his nineties, he has written a poem describing his loneliness. “The rooms are empty, there’s not a sound, Sometimes I’m lost and wander all around.” But Kath is even now a presence in his existence and he expects one particular day to join her, “because beside me in her chair, she quietly waits our time to share.”

I asked him to choose his favourite recollections of her which were the happiest days they spent with each other? He couldn’t select a single. As an alternative he told me, “We had 21,500 happiest days. Each day of our married lifestyle.”

And that brings its personal message of hope to Timothy West and Prunella Scales. Whatever lies ahead of them, and the 1000′s of other individuals going through the identical tragic knowledge, even Alzheimer’s in the end cannot conquer love, or ruin loving recollections.

It’s a heavy burden. It can imply many years of challenging work, or loneliness, and a living death, as the illness takes hold and you slowly get rid of the particular person who meant the most to you. But that, too, is an illusion and it will pass.

Robert and Kath shared a deep abiding happiness, and these memories, that knowledge, that reality is nevertheless alive in his heart.

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