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A Shout From The Attic, A Shout From The Attic: The June Years - 6

...Cathy transformed herself from an attractive but cheap looking girl into a winsome and well-dressed young lady. Most of Cathy’s problems had their genesis in her self-image, for she defined herself as less than she was...

Ronnie Bray tells of a troubled young lady who turned her life around.

*
Oh, wad sum pow’r the giftie gie us
Tae see urselves as ithers see us.
But ‘twere a better gift by far
Tae see us as we really are. -

Robert Burns
*

Cathy had many problems. Most of them were not her fault. Her parents became unable to look after her, so she was fostered to a strict religious couple who redesigned her to be their ideal of what they imagined a little girl ought to be, ignoring the little girl she already was. They changed her name from Cathy to Beryl Mary, which she made the subject of a self-effacing pun, and resisted the changes they sought to bring about in her.

She lived with their constant criticisms and hourly reminders of what they had sacrificed to take in a child of sin and how they tried to make her into a good girl. Their criticism made her resentful, rebellious, and hurt her deeply as she grew under the weight of their censure and sought to determine for herself and on her own terms, who she really was. The result was that she became two little girls: theirs and her own person who grew into two young women, occupying the two worlds of
her life whilst speeding downhill on the course of her destiny before she could control what was happening to her.

Cathy sought affection from her foster parents, but their love was conditional upon her being a 'good girl' according to their exacting standards, so she turned elsewhere to find love, and discovered that many soldiers were willing to show her affection in the garrison town of Colchester. She was eleven years old when she found her first love, and she believed that
every one of the many soldiers who embraced her truly loved her.

I met Cathy when I was working as a psychiatric nurse at Ipswich in the psychoneurosis unit of Saint Clement’s Hospital. I had gone on duty as a departmental transfer one day at 2 pm and entered the day room to witness a scene of utter uproar. Several nurses were occupied in a futile endeavour to calm Cathy, who was in a passion. Her foster mother was gripping Cathy’s baby tight, and her foster father was all but delivering a moralising sermon calculated to be heard miles away.

Cathy was disturbed and crying to be permitted to hold her baby, a chubby girl of some twenty months, but her demeanour was not calculated to inspire confidence in family or staff that she was, at that moment, fit to have a baby in her arms.

As I neared the warring parties, Cathy launched a heavy glass ashtray through the day room window to emphasise her demand to have her infant in her arms. This violence confirmed everyone’s worst fears, and her foster mother clutched the baby even tighter. The solution to this melee flashed into my mind, and I took the babe from grandmother’s frantic grasp and put her into Cathy’s arms. The result was an immediate cessation of hostilities, as Cathy’s emotional and human needs were met.

From that point forward, Cathy was my patient and I was her nurse. More than that, we became good friends and developed a relationship of trust, following which I became her therapeutic nurse when she started insight therapy with lysergic acid diethylamide. She recounted the story of her life as I recorded it into notebooks for her. Surveying her tattered life, and the several steps that had led her to a mental hospital, her attitude changed as drastically as had her dress and she changed into a rational young woman.

Cathy opened her mind and heart to me, confiding that she always seemed to attract the wrong kind of men. I suggested that she needed to change her wardrobe and her watering places to meet the kind of men she really wanted to meet. I explained that she was an attractive young lady – she was twenty years old – and that short skirts and knickers with an invitation printed on them that was visible when she bent over, even a little, sent the wrong kind of message to the right kind of men.

Over the next week, Cathy transformed herself from an attractive but cheap looking girl into a winsome and well-dressed young lady. Most of Cathy’s problems had their genesis in her self-image, for she defined herself as less than she was. That is what her increasingly frustrated and judgmental foster parents had drummed into her. They did not understand that little girls are not automatons, and do not respond to the acrimonious regime that is the consequence of a dogmatic sectarian view of the total depravity of humanity. Little girls need love and lots of it. If they do not find it where they ought to have it lavished on them they will find it in more sordid settings.

When she was discharged from hospital, she resumed her employment as a secretary for an electronics company, whose trust and confidence she had earned. She took a flat in Ipswich, and we kept in touch as good friends. True to her new understanding of herself and her re-evaluation of her worth, she climbed out of the slough of despair she had accepted as her proper place in life, and moved in different circles.


She found a new life by finding herself outside the image of self that she had been raised with, and from the image of self
that was born of disgust, her sense of failure, and self-loathing. The last time I heard from Cathy, she was engaged to a vicar and finally living the life she yearned for.

Cathy, if you are reading this, I hope you made it. No one I ever met worked harder to succeed in re-defining themselves,
and no one deserves it more than you.

For each of us whose lives have not worked out as we would wish, Cathy’s success should encourage us that it is never too
late to change from self-destructive ways, never too late to discover our real worth, and never too late to abandon misery
and remorse in exchange for joy and contentment.

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