Be The Light

Podcast Episode 47. The job of a parent is to be there whatever and whenever for your child – those are the rules! That certainly applies to Claire Sutton, this week’s podcast guest. Claire shares her truly inspiring, but sometimes heart-breaking, story. Her daughter Jade, who is now 14 years old, has ADHD. The road to getting Jade diagnosed was drawn out. As Claire put it, Jade “slipped through the cracks of the education system.” Her early school years were a struggle and it wasn’t until year 5 that she was formally diagnosed. Claire and her family moved across the country and enrolled Jade in a much smaller school that was better equipped for Jade’s needs. Unfortunately, even though Jade seemed happier, her struggles continued.

By the time Jade started secondary school, Claire had discovered the heart-breaking news that Jade had been self-harming for over a year. Jade had managed to hide this from her family, and when it was discovered Jade was adamant that she didn’t want any external help. This is when Claire realized that she needed, as she puts it, “to be the light”.

Claire talks in depth about what being the light really meant in terms of listening to how Jade was feeling and hearing some things that parents never want to hear from their children. She talks about the need to stay calm and not get drawn in to what she calls the darkness. Although a lot of the things Jade talked about were quite dark and upsetting, Claire knew she had to be her rock, so she couldn’t let emotions get in the way of that. Claire was determined to be the light in her daughter’s life and get her through the darkness.

Claire talks about how she would constantly reassure Jade that they would get through it and that there was light at the end of the tunnel, and they were heading for it no matter what. And slowly Jade began to gravitate towards her mother’s light. Claire’s ultimate goal was to help Jade see the value in herself again.

Claire talks also about the need to shift the focus to something more positive in situations like this. Jade was a fan of pageants, and although Claire had her concerns, she soon realised that modern-day pageants are less about physical appearances and more about showing off the beauty inside a person. Jade loved the idea of competing in a pageant and Claire talks about these as a key part of her daughter’s recovery.

Being a contestant has also meant that Jade had to do a lot of charity work, and give back to the community. So Jade began focusing on a new project that helped other kids her age who struggled with similar issues. She went and talked at assemblies in local schools about her experience with ADHD and depression. This project is now growing, and Jade has appeared on television in the UK, talking about her life and how she has come through the other side. She has now become an identifiable role model for other young people going through similar challenges in their lives.

Finally, Claire talks about the three main areas she focused on with her daughter to bring her back to a more positive, happier place in her life:

1. To value herself again
2. To set inspiring goals
3. To give back

These 3 things have helped her daughter not only come to the light but also to be a light for other young people struggling with the same challenges she has faced.

Both Claire and Jade are inspiring individuals and remind us all what love and perseverance can achieve.

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 47 of the Journey Skills podcast. The last couple of episodes, it’s been about practical solutions- jobs, employment and hearing about two amazing programmes helping to ensure our young people get the paid work they deserve. But this episode is personal. It’s all about another parent’s journey. I’m talking to Claire, who has a daughter with ADHD. Claire shares her journey with us. And I’ll be honest, at times it’s pretty intense. But I know you’ll all empathize with Claire. We might not have been down the exact same as Claire, but we all have very similar stories to tell. Claire talks about the superhuman strength that you hear about parents finding when it’s needed. And maybe you’ve never lifted a car but as far as I can see, parents who have children with additional needs do have superpowers in buckets. In fact, if you haven’t told yourself lately, I’ll do it for you. You were amazing!

Each day can be a challenge. In the future, what if they’re all challenges, we do have to deal with things most parents don’t and we just get on with it. Claire has quite a journey with her daughter but as the name of the podcast suggests, for her, it was about being the light. Always being there, always telling her daughter it would be okay. Even if in the times, she didn’t believe in herself. I’m not gonna talk about what Claire says because I think you need to hear it from her voice. But I can be honest and say, I’ve never been through what Claire has been through with my daughter, but there have been occasions when I’ve tried to the light for her and told her it would be okay. Had there been moments when didn’t believe what I was saying? Of course, I have! But like every single one of you, I just got on with it.

Now if I’ve got you thinking that maybe this episode is one to miss because it doesn’t sound that cheerful on a Monday morning, let me throw in a spoiler for you. Claire daughter’s Jade now goes into schools in the U. K. and shares her story. She has also appeared on TV and I know we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the future. So I put a link to Jade’s website in the show notes as well. It’s people like Claire that make this podcast so worthwhile for me and I hope for you as well. Yes, I want my daughter to have a paid job, to live independently, to have friends but there are times on my own journey when I need to know I’m not alone. That there are the parents out the on journeys who can give me ideas, strategies, stories. They can help me be like my own daughter.

DEBRA: Today I am talking to Claire Sutton. Claire has a daughter with ADHD. Welcome, Claire!

CLAIRE: Hello.

DEBRA: Tell us about your story or journey and a little bit about your daughter.

CLAIRE: Sure! So Jade is now 14. She has ADHD and she really slipped through the cracks of the education system. So the problems really became obvious to us and she was in year 5 but actually, she been struggling the whole way through. So, even when she was in deception, they said to me there or we think that she’s got ADHD or dyslexia or something but we don’t quite know what it is. And they gave me a letter to give to her next school which I did but every time I went into her new school which is a big state school, I went couple times a year and said, “Does she have ADHD or dyslexia?” And they said, “No, no she’s just an average kid. Please, just leave it.”

[Talks about the starting point for Jade] At the end of year 5, Jade had a proper emotional breakdown. It was far beyond the kind of normal kid freak out. It was a really kind of heartbreaking experience. It was at that point we realized that we really needed to do something different with Jade. So we decided that we were going to try to put her into a private school because she obviously wasn’t coping. That was financially really difficult for us but we decided we would just pursue it. And so we started getting a tutor involved and she had one lesson with this tutor and the lady said to me, “Your child has ADHD.” And I was like, “Well, okay, I thought there was something but we’ve always been told she’s fine.” And she was like, “No, I spent half an hour with her, and I can see absolutely that she has ADHD. You need to get her diagnosed immediately and then we need to make a plan for this”. So we got her diagnosed and she does have ADHD. Quite strongly. Girls tend to be a little bit different. Girls tend to internalize all of their struggles. They kinda learn to mask their problems in a way that boys just don’t. So with the boys, they learn running up the walls and get into fights. And obviously, disrupted in class was girls get dreamy, distracted in their own worlds and just kind of breakdown inside which is what was happening to Jade. So we looked into all different kinds of things. In the end, we decided to move down to Devon where she now goes to a very small school that really suits her, her needs and requirements. But the struggles continued all the way through year 6 and at the beginning of her first year at secondary school, we found out that she been self-harming. It was very hard for me to find that out. And that she had been cutting her arms with razors well over a year. So she had scars all up her arms. And she’s just been hiding that. She just always had long sleeves and I think in my mind, I always thought, well you know we’ve moved schools, we’ve moved house. She loves the new school. It’s all gonna get better. But actually, she was still really in the dark. She had a lot of troubles and sometimes I know that she wouldn’t really be happy for me to talk about publicly. But she was in a very very dark space. And my husband was away nearly all the time because our business was based up in London and I had a baby in the bed, a toddler who came in to my bed because she was jealous, and Jade moved in to my room as well and slept next to the bed, and the dog as well, couldn’t be left out.

[Talks about their night routines and how that helped Jade in the long process] So I had to kind hold full night time drama every night and that Jade, I think, first of all, I decided that as her mother it was my responsibility. Doesn’t matter what is going on around me, what other pressures I have. However tired I am. That this was my responsibility. That I am responsible to supporting her to come out of this difficult place. And we decided, or Jade decided that she didn’t want any external help at all. She couldn’t face anyone. She just wanted to be at home with me. So, in the beginning, I didn’t try to make her speak to me about it or have any deep meaningful conversations. Not in the beginning. I just allowed to feel that I was totally there with her and I started to create opportunities, trust, spend more time together. And so, for example, I would drive her to school. Instead of her getting the school bus. And I would make sure that I cooked foods that she liked even though before I was on a full mission to make healthy food. I just feel that way. We had pizza, pasta, ice cream, whatever she liked. I cooked because it made her want to sit and eat it with me around. I sort of engineered slowly. We painted nails. She was willing to painting her nails and so would look on the internet at different nail designs and started a little project with that. I just engineered time with her so that she could feel that I was present. And I would often say things to her like “I promise you we’re gonna work through this. I don’t have all the answers but I am here. And I promise you, I will never ever ever ever give up on you. We’re gonna work through this. We’re gonna get through this together.” This phase didn’t actually last that long, really, but it was just a period of time where I felt that the best thing I could do was let her feel that I was there. That I wasn’t going to be pulled off into another drama somewhere else. I did have drama all around, all kinds of things but I just made sure that she knew that I was committed with my whole heart. She then went through a phase at deciding that she would only speak to me after the 11th month. Which was challenging for me because I was exhausted, utterly exhausted with the baby, but I decided “Okay, that’s fine”. You know, if she’s gonna open up I’m gonna have to do it on her terms. Now is not the time for me to try to explain my personal needs. I said, “Okay and she actually slept in my bed a lot so I had because my husband was away, baby on one side, Jade on the other side, when my toddler came in, and Jade had to move on the floor. So, that was the kind of way that it went for quite a long time. I just really gave out my kind of what I wanted for myself. You know, like time to sleep. I was like “Okay, it doesn’t matter. I will just sleep in the day when the baby sleeps. I’m just consumed. She sleeps a lot next to me and she started to open up.

[Talks about how she became a listener for her daughter] So I know for some people this may take a long time. For Jade, it was actually relatively quick. So I think within a couple of weeks, we were actually talking not properly but I’ve spoken with other mums, I think sometimes, that stage might quite be torn out. So we would spend literally all night speaking, so some nights I felt like I’d had like just an hour of sleep or no sleep. And it just carried on like this and the key for me was to allow her to speak but not let myself get sucked in or actually believe what she’s saying. And not that I didn’t believe that she was going through a very difficult time. And I decide that now was the time to absolutely stop, with all philosophy, that I just have to be it, right here and now. That I had to just be a rock for this child. And me getting emotional or upset, crying or fearful was only going to make her feel more insecure. So just backtracking a bit actually, for example when I first found out she was self-harming, my instinct was to hide every knife in the house because I know she’s been taking one of my knives as well and I’ve often not been able to find it and I just thought it was my baby brain so I actually hid it for one night and I was like, “Claire, you’re being ridiculous. I had to project that I’m full, you know. if I stop behaving in a way that projects fear and that I’m not upset, I’m just worried, then that’s not the kind — so I put them all back. I’m not sure if she noticed or not but I’d take them in the first place and put more backup just like “Okay, if she’s going to do it, she’s gonna find a way.” So, we spoke a lot in the night time And I allowed her to tell me all kinds of stuff which I’m sure to many would be, and it was to me as well, but deeply disturbing things that she was experiencing, that she was going through, that she was thinking about. So I just stayed really calm in myself and I just allowed her to speak and I just was absolutely determined that I was going to be the light. Don’t know if that makes sense but I was just clear that I am gonna stay in the light. It doesn’t matter what she says. I’m not gonna sucked in into her darkness. She’s gonna be sucked into my light. There is no two-ways in that list and there are absolutely no shades of grey. And this is how it’s gonna be until we get out of it. And that’s more or less what we did so every night she would start to open up to me probably 11 or 12.

[Talks about how she became the light] There’d be some major breakdowns, there’d be a lot of crying, there’d be many freaky stories or things that were going on in her mind, things that were happening in her world. I just sat there and I just decided that I was going to be the light and that she was going to gravitate to me not the other way around. And slowly, miraculously, she did start to gravitate to my position and I think we started off, really my goal was that she would start to value herself again, I mean, she was really misplaced of hating herself. I felt like there was a lot of silent work that I did, if that makes sense, so I decided it was a full commitment from the deepest part of my being. That I was going to be the light in her world. And slowly, she began to gravitate towards my position. And I allowed her to talk. We did talk. I did talk to her. I didn’t just stay silent the whole time. But I didn’t try to say, “Don’t do that or don’t think that, or that’s bad, or you really must not think like that.” I never said those kinds of words. I’ve said things like, “Look, I am here. We’re gonna work through this. I promise that we’re gonna be okay. You just stay with me. We’re gonna be okay. We’re going to work through this.” And we did. Yeah, we did. So we started off with her speaking a lot, me being there. And I did not allow myself to get emotional. There was one time, only once, when I was alone when it started to really well off inside me. And I was crying but not openly, you know, when it’s really my heart was really broken. It’s not being English because it’s too far for me, I promise you. It was more about my will. I never had the strength to do this before it happened. You know how we all hear stories of mothers who performed acts of tremendous strength and courage to save their kids from danger, you know, like a kid is trapped on a car and her mum somehow manages to get it out, you know. There is some kind of power that kicks in and I don’t know how to fully explain it but there is something that kicks in when you make that commitment: “I am here and I’m not going to try to find a doctor or therapist or this or that. And I’m not saying those people can’t help, they can. And if the right person comes to me, I would have willingly called them in but I believed that there is a strength power within all mothers that can just kick in and that’s what happened. I don’t feel like I have anything special, I just made that decision: I’m going to be here and I’m not gonna let this darkness consume me. No matter what she says. I used to say things like, “Don’t worry, Sweetheart, this is so normal.” And actually, inside I was like “This is not normal.” And she said to me actually only like a year ago because this was mainly like 2 and a half years ago. She was like, “How did you manage to tell me that was normal, Mum? That was like not normal! You had me really convinced.” And I was like, you know what at that moment, actually, I kind of was convinced but there was always this voice saying on my shoulder that “It was not normal.”

[Talks about finding her daughter’s passion and how that became her focus] So what I decided was that Jade needed to have some focus, so there came a point where I felt like, we’ve done enough talking about all these stuff. And there wasn’t much else to say. Somehow she released a lot. I’ve begun to trust that she was not, I didn’t trust that she was not gonna cut herself again, but I felt that we were on the more stable ground than we were before. And I wanted to help her to start to have a more positive focus. So we sat down together and I was like, you know, “What do you love? What do you want to do?” I knew that she loved pageants, I think she’d already done one, actually, before. I was quite resistant to this world because it’s not a world that I ever imagine myself to be part of. I’ve never been attracted to that world at all, but she was and she’s like, “Mum, I wanna enter to pageants again.” And I was like, “Okay, alright, let’s enter a pageant.” So she wanted to enter the pageant but she entered the first time which was Face of the Globe which she had won, so we started looking to it and actually these things are far more positive than I originally realized so, half of it is about doing charity work in your local community and I thought, “Okay, so that’s a project, right? That’s a project that will get us out our little bubble of all this stuff that’s been going on. So, we started to- we had to pay to enter- I can’t remember what it was, not very much. And we got our place in this competition. We went out, we bought dresses for her and she had to start doing little things in our town. She helped out at a charity event. She did lots of little things like that. And she started to really enjoy all this stuff. And I could see that it was really building her confidence. I wouldn’t say that she was totally back or recovered at this stage, but it was really giving us a good focus so the time that we were spending together started to switch from time being together working through difficult things and we do all this two time of planning her next community project or how we gonna raise some money for charity. Yeah, she really really enjoyed it. It absolutely lifted her out this place that she’d been in. So I was like “Oh okay, we’re gonna really keep on with this.” We went to the competition and it was amazing! She actually won it, which was amazing. There were actually 5 winners so they don’t have like a top 5. Everyone in the top 5 was a winner and everyone got a place in the grand finals in Disneyland Paris which is like every little girl’s dream. You know, to go to Disneyland and to be a princess.
[Talks about finding other valuable things to do aside from pageantry] We decided then that we would start to do a project that had a little bit more meaning than just showing up for events and doing little things around the town. So that’s when Jade started to do assemblies. It was very early on so she was still actually struggling with herself a lot. But she’s a performer, that is absolutely her passion. She loves acting, performing. She always describes it as she has stage calm rather than stage fright. So as soon as she is in front of a lot of people, she’s like relaxed and happy. It’s really quite amazing. So she loved the idea of doing assemblies. So, we make simple assembly together. It was about how she had a really difficult time at primary school. We didn’t go into details, we just said that she’d been quite depressed and she has ADHD. Now, she’s got this really nice goal and she’s now going into schools in deliverness and assembly and how she had got out over her depression by doing these competitions and if she can do it, so could other kids. So we went into preschools and the assembly was only probably about 7 minutes long in the beginning but they all really loved it and Jade loved doing it and we kind of keep going that. And then just about 2 weeks before the Disneyland trip, Face of the Globe, the pageant that she’d won went into liquidation. And this is like, this was heartbreaking for her and for me, actually, because there had been so much invested in this experience. Not just about the competition, it was her healing. So it was her recovery so suddenly the whole thing cracked. And I was like “Oh, gosh what are we gonna do?” So I have to admit, at that point, I was concerned that she was gonna go back. I stayed very close. We immediately entered another pageant. So we just kind of picked ourselves up and kept going and we did more assemblies and now we need in the assembly we talked about how the competition had actually been canceled and how Jade had picked herself up and was now entering another one. So we added the element of determination and resilience into the assembly which went down really well.

DEBRA: The pageant is really an interesting choice, aren’t they? Because if anything, you’re being judged.

CLAIRE: It’s not, actually. That’s quite a big misconception, actually. I mean, that was my first impression as well. I was like, “Oh my God, we don’t want more body-focused.” You know what I mean? There’s enough of that going on here. No. It’s not really that bad. I think there’s been a lot of press about pageants from America and there’s a lot of things about mums dressing their kids up, pushing them into these things for their own personal joy or something. But it’s not about that. The ones that she does, they call themselves natural beauty pageants, probably because that’s because of all the press from America but it’s all about being beautiful on the inside and shining that out. So it’s about being a healthy role model for other kids. Half of the competition is also about getting out there in your community and doing good things is a big, big focus on that. So it’s about being confident, being able to present what you’ve done and doing lots of things. It kind of gives someone ongoing focus which is what she needs– ongoing projects. It has a goal, it has an event in the end which is great and fun and everything. But there is a day-to-day focus and project that she’s working on, that is actually really positive. There’s a lot more positive doing that than thinking about other crazy stuff. I changed my view of pageants completely. So for Jade, there had been 3 main principles that we’ve worked for. The first was helping her to value herself and believe in herself again which was really the initial work that I explained earlier. The second was about setting inspiring goals which was really about, for her, was about pageants. Now, this could be anything else. Every child is different so it could be about writing a book or something or sport, or doing something else, or building a computer or something, it could be anything! Whatever inspires the child. But for Jade, she was really interested in pageants. So that was her inspiring goal. And then the third thing that we really worked on was giving back, which I feel also was a huge thing for Jade. To finally feel that she not only could overcome these problems herself but also by sharing her journey, she’s helping others who are potentially similar space to her. Because for her, all the struggles started in primary school and I think for many, that’s where it all starts. The pressures at school, the peer pressure, the comparison. So it was really those 3 things. If I had to boil it down, it would be those 3 points.

DEBRA: Claire, thank you so much for your time.


DEBRA: Key takeaways? Listen, sometimes, it’s all you can do. Don’t beat yourself. I’m sure at times, it isn’t easy, but you are doing a pretty amazing job.


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