One way I really enjoy using this platform I have created is as a way to share real stories of real women who are living real lives – in the multitude of ways that displays.
Life is beautiful, yes, BUT it can also be incredibly hard. Often the only way we get through life is by going through “tough stuff” and coming out the other side stronger…
One of the best ways to heal is by talking and sharing and connecting with other women. Spending time with women who’ve been through similar experiences, women who are going through hard times or women who are available to make themselves vulnerable, to cry, share, commiserate, laugh and listen is the very best way to heal yourself… and ultimately help to heal others. A circle of love and life.
My Journey With… interview series is all about that.
It’s about allowing strong, courageous women who have lived a complicated life to share their journeys and encourage other women who are in a similar situation (or completely different, yet still struggling)
I love this series so much as it really speaks to my greater heart for this website… I hope you find it healing to our soul. Read the rest of the My Journey With interviews here.
Today’s interview is with Desirae Pillay, a South African blogger who writes over at A Million Beautiful Pieces.
Desirae is a mom of 3 and a popular motivational speaker, but to find out more about her and her remarkable journey read on below…
Today I am a mother of three children; Savannah aged twenty-two years old, Talisa aged sixteen years old and Eli aged eleven years old. I am married to Michael for eighteen years. Each day I am thankful for all that I have become because this should not be my story.
I was only able to articulate my journey with childhood trauma in the last few years. Even then, it was in bits and pieces and still always with this feeling that I was letting my family down by acknowledging what happened.
Like many children raised in homes with domestic abuse and narcissism it is a mammoth task to understand that you as the child are not responsible for the decisions your parents made or the consequences of those decisions.
Even today as a forty-year-old, it is a conscious effort not to accept responsibility for the aftermath of those days.
My eldest child is autistic with cerebral palsy and has other challenges. I became a mother when I was just eighteen years old and when my eldest child was diagnosed, it was devastating. It was not only her diagnosis that was devastating. It was also devastating being part of a family that found my daughter’s diagnosis the perfect opportunity for everyone else to play “God” to my child and I.
The very people that were responsible for the emotional chaos I had experienced were now going to deem themselves fit to make decisions for my child. It was an odd time in my life, as I had nowhere else to go but I knew that no one in my life was able to raise my daughter better than I could.
So, began the quiet fight to take my life back and to give my daughter a chance for hers.
I am now known as a disability advocate and that role was kindled by my early years as a parent. As the reality of my daughter’s diagnosis unfolded, it was so strange that the focus in my family and social circle was about what a disappointment I was and how they would have to step in and “fix” this mess I created. Yet, at no point was the question asked about why I had fallen pregnant? Or about how to support me in my role as a young mother? Or about my grief as I struggled to come to terms with my daughter’s diagnosis?
As I get older and I parent my own teenage children, I am still fascinated and horrified at how much blame was apportioned to me. It was such a bleak time in my life as I was recovering from a very short-lived marriage to the biological father of my daughter and was in the throes of a divorce from him. All before my nineteenth birthday.
The level of guilt that was thrown at me because I was a shame to the family was unbelievable. Even then, I was questioning how no-one was taking responsibility for allowing me to have come to such a place in my life and at such a young age.
Now as a parent I am stunned all over again by what happened to me and I am empowered to not let that happen to my children.
My younger two children have a deeper understanding about life than most of their peers because they were raised with a sibling with special needs.
Yet, I am absolutely aware that they are not yet mentally and emotionally equipped to make certain decisions or to hold certain responsibilities. To that end, my husband and I are careful about what they shoulder within the family. To this day, I have yet to experience that revelation from my own family.
Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you might have done differently before, during, or after, your tough life experience?
We live in a time where people have access to information in a way that no other generation before us had. In raising children, we know more about what children need to thrive and how to provide that.
We know more about psychological, emotional and mental wellbeing than ever before. In questioning myself on what I could have done differently, I can think off many answers. However, each one puts me right back into the mindset of a child shouldering a responsibility that was not hers to shoulder anyway.
Therefore, I am reminded that as a child I could not have done anything any differently. I was operating with the mind of a child and then a teenager while dealing with adult issues that were beyond my scope of reasonable comprehension.
Perhaps, if I could speak to the child I was then, I would warn her not to trust the adults who surrounded our family. Our relatives and family friends were complicit in keeping the secrets of my household, to protect the family image. The times when I reached out to them as a child (and I do mean a child between the ages of three and twelve), I was either taken advantage off in the form of sexual abuse or I was told how to manage my parents’ marital problems and to take care of my brothers. This was completely reasonable to them because they explained time and time again, that I was the eldest child in my home which meant that it was my responsibility to bare these issues.
As an adult I make it my duty to speak out when I am aware that children are in similar situations. To children in these situations, I make a point of explaining to them, that they are not responsible for their parents. They are not at all responsible on any level. To the parents, I am clear in explaining what they are doing to their children and what the repercussions will be.
Children cannot “unsee” or “unhear” or “unfeel” what they are exposed to. It imprints itself on their psyche and on their soul, changing them in a way that God never designed for children. I am unafraid of losing the relationship with another family and I am resolute in ensuring that I am not in any way part of a “cover up” when parents behave badly.
What, or who, helped you to overcome or push through this experience? A book, a person, an incident, therapy, medication or was it just simply time?
I am a firm believer in seeking professional help and I encourage people to do that. Yet, I know that professional help is unaffordable for many people, myself included.
Our daughter with special needs was the priority in our home in terms of therapy, schooling and medical care. After ensuring that all her needs were met, we simply did not have the funds for anything else.
What helped me to push through was simply that I was a parent to a very vulnerable child and I was not going to let her pay for the decisions I had made.
As I grew as a parent when Talisa and Eli were born, that truth was only re-affirmed in my heart. I may not always have known exactly what to do as a parent, but I certainly knew what not to do. So, in short, the very trauma that shaped me as a person, also taught me as a parent.
I also believe it was prayers. My paternal grandmother had a profound impact in my life and I believe it was her prayers and that of my husband that kept me from ruining myself.
My husband taught me so much about true love. He adopted Savannah knowing full well that we would be working for the rest of our lives to take care of her.
I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts from my teenage years well into my thirties and he stood by me. I myself became a person of prayer and so did my mother with whom I have a good relationship.
The other influence in my life that helped me to overcome and perhaps the most important was the deep and profound love one experiences as a parent. Parenting a child with a disability only deepens that experience and opens one up to a level of understanding of selflessness that is difficult to explain. I believe it is what saved me in many ways.
Yes, becoming Savannah’s mother steadied me and readied me for my life. Becoming Talisa and Eli’s mother gave me a chance to be what I did not have.
Obviously there is not always a reason for going through such hard times in life, but now that you have come out the other side of the “tough stuff” can you share any insights or personal growth that the experience taught you?
I learnt a few life lessons from that time in my life. I learnt that:
- Never underestimate the impact that both negative and positive experiences have on a child. It takes a lifetime to undo negative experiences.
- I trust no one when it comes to my children’s wellbeing. Unless, I’m paying the bill for their assistance in my child’s life, I do not appreciate anyone taking liberties of educating my children on any issue. Having said that, that does not mean that Michael and I are their be all and end all in life. Michael and I have periodically checked in with our children advising them of who we trust in our social circle on very specific issues. We also let that adult know when we have advised our child that they are a “go to” person.
- My husband and I have been conscious about creating a value system for our family. We have also worked at giving our children a moral compass which is based on loving God, loving themselves and loving others.
- We have taught our children to value the power of the word “no” and to never feel guilty for standing up for themselves.
- Adults are always the responsible party when the relationship includes children. Always.
- I have learnt so much in my journey. Mostly I learnt that the human spirit is indomitable when love is true. That is the truth that sustains me and continues to heal me.
Where do you find yourself now? Please share an update on your current progress or new space to encourage others who find themselves in the midst of the “tough stuff” right now.
My eldest daughter, who I fought so hard for in so many ways, is a person who faces challenges that I cannot comprehend. I can only be there for her. It is being responsible for her life and knowing that she and I are bound to each other in a way most mothers cannot relate too, that has helped me to live each day anew. The struggles she faces means that we do not know whether she will outlive us or we will outlive her. Either option is not one that is attractive to us. To leave her behind to this world is frightening, but to let her go and be here without her…unspeakable.
And so all that I have lived through pales in comparison to that reality. For right now, I make a point of appreciating each day.
I still experience the aftermath of my childhood, but I am better able to handle it whenever it creeps in on me.
To anyone who experiences “tough stuff” I would say this: after you recognise the injustices and feel the pain of the experience, after you cry without tears for a long time and face the emptiness within yourself; you learn to live past your experiences. You realise that no matter your condition, you are still here and still tying your shoelaces and going out to face the world.
Your heart has more compassion and understanding than most people you will meet.
When you have been broken and still have the capacity to give of yourself, you learn that this is the true meaning of life. In one of my darkest times, this poem by Naomi Shiyab Nye transformed me. I hope it will do the same for you.
Thank you so much Desirae for sharing your story here. I appreciate your strength and dignity and willingness to help others.
If you have a story to share and would be keen to appear in the My Journey With series (anon or not) please drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org