I’ve always tried really hard to keep things running smoothly, to make sure my son’s got a stable, loving home. We've weathered a lot of storms together – Alex's not always had the easiest time, especially cause his dad’s had a lot of problems and hasn’t always been around - but we’ve always scraped by.
In the last year, though, it’s all gone wrong. If it wasn't for Cyrenians, I don’t know where we’d be now.
I’m working just as much as ever – in fact, I’ve been picking up more shifts every chance I get. But however many times I do the sums, my paycheck just doesn’t cover everything anymore.
Even small stuff – stuff I never used to even think about – kept on spiralling. The bus, for example – it's just a couple of quid but if I just don’t have that, it’s an hour’s walk to work. So I was late so often that my boss said I was on final notice, and I ended up dragging myself out of bed at 5am every day thinking ‘I can’t be late.’ Because if it’s this bad on a full-time income, what would happen if I lost my job?
I really didn’t want Alex to know how bad it was, but I was losing my mind. When you’ve cut everything to the bone, how are you supposed to keep on cutting? We got put on a pay as you go meter, and we couldn’t just sit in the dark forever, so we had to pay and it just kept costing more. I was already really far behind on the rent, and I was paying as much as I could scrape together, but it was getting to the point where I knew we were going to lose the flat as soon as the landlord could evict us.
I wasn’t doing well. I was barely eating most days – I'd lie and tell Alex I ate at work or wasn't hungry so there’d be enough for him. I was getting these really bad migraines where I could hardly move, but if I called in sick then that’s a day’s wages lost. Every day I would think, oh my god, I just want to lie down on the floor and give up, let it all fall apart – but I couldn’t, because what would happen to Alex?
Me and Alex have always been close, and he’s really needed me in his corner lately – he's been having a hard time, and he just kind of retreated into himself.
I worry about him all the time. He’s such a smart, creative kid, but he’s already not had the start in life that a lot of kids his age get – even though both me and his dad have always tried to keep him safe and secure, we can’t protect him from everything – he’s had to grow up fast.
Every minute I wasn’t at work it felt like I was on the phone with his school, or trying to sort out bills, or flat on my back with a migraine. I didn’t know how to talk to him without putting all my worry on him, and when we did talk, it felt like every word out of my mouth was a complaint. I just wanted to show him I cared, but it would get all twisted up and sharp coming out, and then he’d start yelling and I’d start yelling and it would end up with both of us in tears.
I knew I was making things worse, but I had nothing left to give. Back in the day, I could have turned to Mark for help – he was always a good dad to Alex. But he’s got even more to deal with than me, so me and Alex were just stuck sitting in a cold, dark house with debt piling up, saying horrible things to each other while things fell apart more every day.
That’s when Cyrenians reached out.
They said Mark had spoken to them about how hard things were between me and Alex, and they wanted to know how they could help. This is what they do, they said – they've got free mediation services for families, like me and Alex, who just don’t know how to fix things.
When Clare came to speak to me, she made me a cup of tea and asked how I was doing, and I just fell apart. With everything going on, I don’t think I’d had more than five minutes with my friends in months, and I was so focused on protecting Alex, I couldn’t talk to him. I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I’d had anyone to share the weight with. I just unloaded for what felt like hours.
She just listened, and let me talk, and at the end she said, ‘ok, let’s see what we can do to help’.
Less than a week after we first met, things were already looking better. Cyrenians helped top up my meter, so we had the power back up, and they gave me and Alex SIM cards with free internet and minutes, so I didn't have to worry about being cut off in the middle of an important call or missing shift changes because I couldn’t get online.
They also signed me up to one of their community pantries – it’s super cheap, so we can get food that we actually like, and we get some choice instead of scouring the shelves for the cheapest possible tins.
The most important thing was just knowing that I didn’t have to carry all this weight alone.
Over the weeks, Clare sat down with me and we talked through how we could tackle things. She helped me get a free bus pass sorted so I can get to work, and she’s helping me apply for in-work benefits as well. She helped me appeal the extra charges the power company hit us with, and set up a payment plan with our landlord to start paying off our arrears. Money’s still tight, but I can breathe for the first time in forever.
Alex’s doing better too. It helped a lot having that space to sit down and talk things through. Cyrenians supported us to have some difficult conversations and gave us some strategies to help Alex deal with things like getting overwhelmed or angry, and to help us communicate better. Alex has been on the waiting list for CAMHS for an autism assessment so as well as mediation, we had Clare’s support in terms of explaining what that would look like and pointed us in the direction of some helpful resources to allow us to understand Alex’s experiences better.
Clare also linked Alex in with this art programme with other people his age going through similar stuff, and he’s so much happier. He’s got real friends for the first time in years. I’m really excited for him – this is the most switched on he’s been in years, and he's genuinely excited about his future – it's amazing to see.
Nowadays Alex’s in and out of the house all the time, hanging out with his friends or spending time with his dad. And that means when I get time to myself, I actually get to spend it on myself. I can run a hot bath, take the weight off my feet, have a cuppa – I can be Eilidh. I don’t think I realised how much of an effect all this stress was having on my health – now I’m not battling through alone, I feel human for the first time in I don’t know how long.
There’s still a lot to sort out. But six months ago, I was giving everything I had and still sliding further and further down towards losing everything – my home, my son, myself. Cyrenians helped me get back onto solid ground, and now I can put my energy into making things better for me and my family.