Fighting From the Fringes: Going it Alone in a Microcosm of Hell

by Dawn M. Sanders

Content warning: brief mention of suicide.

For the last 6 to 7 years, I’ve been fighting a local authority surrounding my adult son who has complex additional needs in the form of hearing impairment/partially sighted with some learning difficulties. I can’t tell you the details of the living nightmare my tiny family of just my son and I have been put through, because it’s in and out of court, but suffice to say it has pushed, pushed and pushed me right to the edge of what any caring mother should have to experience. That said, I owe it to myself, my son and other families who are going through similar quiet torments, while having to just ‘get on with life’ as if all is well – so I’ll dance around specifics to give you just a flavour of it all.

In any collective struggle, there is solidarity: within a union there’s solidarity over crap pay and conditions in the form of a strike; on a grand scale as we’ve seen in the last few years, there’s solidarity for communities of colour in the form of Black Lives Matter – albeit questionable for some staying power or profile posturing on social media. There are support groups and programmes for those dealing with addiction; the umbrella of LGBTQ+ has made huge strides with multiple initiatives for particularly transgender or trans-fluid people and of course the more widespread mental health is prevalent in society, the less taboo it is and well, support is there, albeit seriously lacking – especially for young people.

Yet, for those of us fighting tooth and nail for our human rights on the side lines, with no support what-so-ever – whether it’s a solicitor who has lost interest, a steady stream of closed doors no matter how persistent or rigorous you try – where is the support for those fighting a lone battle with a mega machine who, not only yields far too much power and impunity, as local authorities are localised arms of government – the judicial system has long been known for its bias and systemic prejudice – so a long battle like ones I’m describing is often on two, even three fronts. Whether it’s a man of colour, who is mentally ill being inhumanely shackled and restrained by the police or court orders put in place, ‘just because’ – severely curtailing contact between family members, such as in my family’s situation – families and individuals up and down the country, suffer human rights abuses, routinely and without any form of redress. It’s usually when it’s too late and the damage is done that systems eek out tokenistic apologies or acknowledgements of malpractice, but if someone is institutionally disrespected or discriminated against, because of being a single parent, of colour, living with visible/invisible additional needs or just living below the threshold of the pecking order, like say, in a council flat – the barriers which render us as social refugees are nearly impossible to break down – unless you’re capable of singlehandedly  moving mountains.

On an international grand scale, we see extremes like the Uyghur Muslims being tortured in China or centuries of oppression of women in Saudi Arabia – all within an overt system of control or autocracy. Yet, I wonder what the likes of Human Rights Watch would uncover right here under our noses, under the guises of democracy and relative freedom, where human rights violations are more subtle, blend in with the woodwork of everyday life, but permeate marginalised groups within our own society. That’s why, I literally want to fucking puke when I hear the corporate-dominated western media, call out human rights abuses in the likes of China, yet I can no longer take my son to a cinema, visit friends or have the ‘normal’ family life we once enjoyed, to the tune of a draconian court-of-protection order severely limiting our contact.

As a single mum with a visual impairment, my son and I have always, always managed our challenges as a team, with a strong bond, mutual respect, communication repour and love which is unbreakable. He’s my soul mate, the centre of my world and the only person who keeps me on this planet. Like any caring, dedicated mum, I sacrificed many things, for his special education and pushed hard to get him into the right specialist college for the deaf. I influenced and was involved in, his education, such as pushing for sex education when, special education doesn’t often recognise students with additional needs as sexual beings, in the way it’s addressed in mainstream. I made sure he went to camp for kids with additional needs each summer, so he could meet peers and make connections within a safe, happy environment – where calculated risks were taken and, he was ‘never’ wrapped in cotton wool.

We had an alternative/bohemian flare to our lifestyle and certain spiritual influences in place, so went to a lot of eco-gatherings, nonmainstream festivals and protests as the world became a more dangerous place. So, the fact all of this – especially as he is now an adult, has been sabotaged from us as a family and he is expected to function in some kind of colourless environment, as a routine robot within the clutches of a support agency – funded by the huge power machine of the local authority, as we are slowly estranged, is nothing short of systemic torture, slow and deliberate and away from public scrutiny.

It of course isn’t just my family being targeted for its unique circumstances – I have a friend with dreads, a larger-than-life personality, who lives with mental health conditions, fighting a two-year battle with her local authority. The fact she is a single mum and has mental health challenges, means she has fallen prey to the vultures who, are ever-present, threatening and like in my situation, seem hellbent on backing her into a corner, but where is her support? When she articulates and presents evidence in her own defence, a trainee solicitor hasn’t even bothered to examine – as a perceived pee-on, you get what you get on legal aid, so be grateful, is the all-prevailing unspoken…

Another friend of mine got together with a guy who has learning difficulties and people who have seemingly taken their power-of-attorney status to new heights. My friend refers to them as the ‘control agents’ as they deny her, now husband, access to his money, under-estimate his cognitive abilities or wishes and were even known to just walk into his flat without knocking, as if entitled to.  It took my friend and her new husband pulling up stakes and settling in Scotland, just to get away from the intrusive control freaks, but even now, they still have a hold on his finances – affecting their income as a couple, but the fight is too great and intimidating for them to take further.

This isn’t meant to be a diatribe of how ‘bad’ or fucked up things are for marginalised communities, I just needed to channel my desperation and fresh anguish coming from the minutes of a multi-disciplinary meeting (MDT) I chose not to attend, as they are little more than kangaroo courts where, I’m accused from all sides, people talk over each other, emotions run sky high and little is achieved. So, I sent my advocate, as I always articulate for myself, to speak on my behalf, to save my sanity and preserve my wellbeing. After avoiding reading the minutes of this meeting when they landed in my in-box from my son’s social worker, some two weeks ago – I read them and, it took literally three sittings to respond to a rap sheet of false allegations, twisted truths, and any opportunity to demonise me or paint me as a habitual complainer to my son’s support agency. In our situation, I’ve had the local authority, my son’s support agency and of course the judicial system to fight singlehandedly – two powerful machines and another acting as a constant barrier between my son and me. When I read the minutes and the exchanges of everyone who was present – my hands shook so bad, I could hardly type to respond.

I’m not in the business of crying victim – in fact I’ve never cried at all which, is what is lacking for the vultures – especially in court. I’ve never dissolved into tears, cracked under cross-examination, or ended up suicidal, due to the sheer level of stress, but I haven’t been far from it.  Yet, any form of representation has been short-lived, as I’ve not walked away and continued to fight, while solicitors either lose interest or simply can’t (or won’t) take on my case, because it’s so damn complicated – so where is any support? Where’s the support for my mate fighting to keep her home and mental health afloat; where’s the support for my friend and her husband up in Scotland, as she is demonised for helping him to realise his rights? Where’s the support for, another mate, who is a working single mum, but because she lives in a council flat, her youngest son is automatically deemed ‘a child in need’?

Being of a Pagan persuasion, I often seek solace with trees. Their slow, deep-rooted energy – their majestic beauty, standing tall, proud and silent is just the energetic, spiritual lift I need – only for a few minutes, after the interaction, I bid my gratitude, goodbyes and walk away – so for those few minutes I forget the sadness, the heartache, the white-hot rage.

Tree therapy.
Tree therapy. Photo by Celeste Pearce.

Friends often want to help or make things better if I talk about the continued private hell I’ve been saddled with for the better part of a decade, but of course they’re as powerless as I am. I don’t need someone to make suggestions, just listen, but it’s disturbing stuff – too disturbing to lay on friends, but when you don’t have any support…

Back out in the public arena where, on a grand scale – some individuals, the brave whistle blowers like Julian Assange, Craig Murray, Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner – two on this side and two on the other side of the pond, respectively and just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, although have ended up incarcerated – still have huge swathes of support for their bravery and rightfully so. It seems to me though, unless your high-profile, your plight is internationally recognised or, happens to make it into the public domain domestically – me and the countless others fighting private battles, suffer in silence.

When I was a student journalist and my situation started kicking off back in 2016 – I wrote this article, because I fully understood the magnitude of what was happening and the underlying reasons why. I knew without a doubt, I couldn’t possibly be the only family experiencing human rights abuses at the hands of monster power machines and of course I’m not. When doing my research, I was reduced to tears, when a single mother recounted her long-running ordeal with her son, who had multiple health conditions, was failed by three schools; or the lass who ended up to be a friend – bullied by the local authority, because of her mental health conditions, she was too much a soft target to ward off their threats and intimidation.

When embroiled in a constant microcosm of endless battle and private, silent hell – it makes it impossible to give a shit about my city’s public transport issues, protesting the latest war or marching against big oil, in the name of climate change – all things I would normally be conscientious and concerned about. Where is the solidarity for your family or your collective emotional resolve? I tried counselling, but after 2-and-a-half years on the NHS waiting list, I went private for about 6 months, but the counsellor was too expensive for my low-income budget, so I had to stop with her.

As no one apart from me asks my son of his feelings, I worry about him and the lack of being able to express his grief at the prolonged separation of us as a family and then the brief visits I have to inevitably cut short, due to the restrictions.

To be a warrior in fighting your own corner, which in my case, I do and continue to, means your fight is magnified by those who deem you a monster for ‘not shutting up, doing what you’re told or questioning anything.  If your story isn’t headline news – forget it, you’re really on your own – no ‘me too’ movement, no united front. A few years ago, I somewhat unwisely put up a petition for our plight in a plea to my contacts to support. People came forward, as I summarised the ongoing saga, but the vultures caught wind of it, everyone who had signed the petition against the local authority in question, my signatories, were sent a threatening gag order – frightening everyone off from supporting us, so it was shut down and further used in court against me.

So, I and others sonder on, walk down the high street observing gaggles of chattering students, cars with hip-hop booming out, as the arrival of summer envelops everyone into a mood of positivity and party fever when, all I want to do is go on holiday with my son, with no shackles of restriction or dancing on eggshells of what could be reported – a family holiday, the thing most take for granted.

I got into my wooden box of goddess cards yesterday, just to see what they might communicate, in their wise and magical way and, ironically or by no coincidence, I chose Maat, who is the attribute of fairness and it read: This situation will be handled in a fair and just manner. I thought, as further court hearings loom large, ‘HUH! I’ll believe it when I see it! As the sun shines.

© 2021

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lisa Wallace

    Tragic, I hope it resolves soon. Thank you for sharing.

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