Health

Tammy Don­aghy has faced enor­mous chal­lenges in her young life. How­ever, she tells Joy Or­pen, she still man­aged to get to uni­ver­sity, and is look­ing for­ward to help­ing other young peo­ple like her turn their lives around

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Life - For more in­for­ma­tion, see spunout.ie To con­tact Char­lie Traynor, child and ado­les­cent psy­chother­a­pist MIACP, email char­li­[email protected]

Tales from the dark side

Al­though she is only 19, Tammy Don­aghy has ex­pe­ri­enced more of the dark side of life than most peo­ple three times her age. But she doesn’t let that stop her when it comes to forg­ing a bet­ter life for her­self and for those around her.

Tammy’s child­hood was punc­tu­ated by some dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. Her par­ents were quite young when she was born, and she ended up in foster care. There were drug prob­lems in her neigh­bour­hood and there was tragedy in her im­me­di­ate fam­ily.

Her fa­ther, Thomas (Tommy) Don­aghy, was, in her own words, “very car­ing, but he was in and out of jail”. For ex­am­ple, he would save what­ever money he could when he was in prison, so he could send her lit­tle presents. She vol­un­teers that his life was be­dev­illed by de­pres­sion and an ad­dic­tion to drugs.

By the time she was seven years old, Tammy was al­ready in the foster care of her pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents, Irene and Thomas Don­aghy. “Af­ter se­nior in­fants, I saw very lit­tle of my mother,” she says.

When she was in first class in Fin­glas, Tammy joined a club for chil­dren who had lost some­one close to them. “One of my un­cles died by his own hand when he was 20; he suf­fered from de­pres­sion,” she ex­plains. A few years later, her dad also took his own life. She be­lieves this tragedy was brought on by a psy­chosis caused by drugs.

It’s hard to imag­ine the im­pact this trau­matic event would have on an 11-year-old child. Luck­ily, Tammy had the sup­port of her de­voted grand­par­ents. “They’re re­ally young at heart and they’re very lov­ing,” says Tammy. “Even though they lost two chil­dren so trag­i­cally, they never turned to sub­stance abuse, and that taught me not to.”

Tammy says her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up in Dublin have con­vinced her that much needs to be done to tackle the is­sues of sub­stance abuse and men­tal health. “Al­though I have never taken drugs, they’ve ru­ined my life. I’ve al­ways been against them,” she says. “When I was grow­ing up, they were ev­ery­where. There are not nearly enough ser­vices for peo­ple with prob­lems. Many good peo­ple want to change, but they don’t know how; they des­per­ately need help and guid­ance.”

When Tammy was about 13, she be­gan to slip into a dark hole of de­pres­sion. “I started won­der­ing why my life was the way it was,” she re­calls. “I felt I had been re­jected. I had a lot of bad thoughts; I was anx­ious, and be­gan self-harm­ing.” This dark­ness would haunt Tammy spo­rad­i­cally over the next few years. Staff at St Michael’s Sec­ondary School in Fin­glas ar­ranged for her to have coun­selling. But, un­for­tu­nately, it wasn’t en­tirely suc­cess­ful. How­ever, Tammy was also get­ting good sup­port at the Youth Re­source Cen­tre in Fin­glas. She joined a mu­sic group, she did a ju­nior leader’s course, and she be­came a mem­ber of a youth fo­rum.

As time moved on, Tammy’s de­pres­sion wors­ened, and she be­gan to be plagued by panic at­tacks. Her school’s con­cerned vice-prin­ci­pal even­tu­ally per­suaded Tammy to see a par­tic­u­lar coun­sel­lor whom she felt would be help­ful. “I’d seen a few over the years, but none of them worked out for me,” Tammy con­cedes. But she hadn’t bar­gained on Char­lie Traynor’s in­nate abil­ity to reach a trou­bled young per­son’s in­ner core.

“I thought I was re­ally screwed up in the head, but he made me re­alise that my bad feel­ings and thoughts were be­cause of the dif­fi­cult things I’d been through,” she ex­plains. “I had de­cided there was no point do­ing the Leav­ing Cert. But Char­lie en­cour­aged me to do

“Al­though I have never taken drugs, they’ve ru­ined my life. I’ve al­ways been against them. When I was grow­ing up, they were ev­ery­where”

it at or­di­nary level, and I passed.”

Tammy had al­ways wanted a ca­reer that in­volved work­ing with young peo­ple, and in or­der to do that, she needed a Bach­e­lor of So­cial Science de­gree. So, the log­i­cal next step was a one-year PLC course at Lib­er­ties Col­lege. A good re­sult would get her ac­cess to third-level ed­u­ca­tion. “I needed five dis­tinc­tions to get into Maynooth Uni­ver­sity to do so­cial sci­ences,” she ex­plains.

She was in Spain last May, with her fam­ily, when the re­sults of the ex­ams came out. She had, in fact, achieved not five, but a whop­ping 10 dis­tinc­tions. “I started cry­ing,” says Tammy. “That was the hap­pi­est mo­ment of my life.”

Char­lie says this as­tound­ing re­sult is down to Tammy’s own sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion and guts. “She had al­ready stopped go­ing to school when I first met her; she was anx­ious and hav­ing panic at­tacks. The re­silience she has shown in over­com­ing all the ob­sta­cles fac­ing her has been un­be­liev­able. She doesn’t shy away from any­thing. Her very great­est sup­port is her­self,” he says.

Last July, Tammy spent two months in Slovenia as part of the Euro­pean Vol­un­tary Ser­vice pro­gramme. “It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. One day, while swim­ming in the sea at Pi­ran [a re­sort city on Slovenia’s Adri­atic coast], she be­gan to feel bliss­ful. “I couldn’t believe I was swim­ming in the Adri­atic Sea — it was so beau­ti­ful,” Tammy says. “I thought, ‘This is mad. And it’s only the start. I can’t wait to see what comes next’.”

Tammy re­alises that she will al­ways have to watch her emo­tional and men­tal health. “I go to the gym and I still see Char­lie on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” she says. “If I don’t do those things, I feel re­ally crap.”

As she ap­proached her 18th birth­day, Tammy be­gan to look on­line to see what ser­vices would be avail­able to her when she was no longer of­fi­cially in the care of her grand­par­ents. That’s when she came across SpunOut which is, ac­cord­ing to its

web­site, fo­cused on pro­vid­ing on­line youth in­for­ma­tion. Its tagline is, ‘By young peo­ple, for young peo­ple’.

“It’s just what I needed,” says Tammy. “It’s full of in­for­ma­tion about all the things that af­fect young peo­ple.” A quick scan of the web­site pro­duces in­for­ma­tion about abuse, sex­ual health, recipes, pol­i­tics, LGBTI is­sues, men­tal health, cli­mate change, drugs, study/ex­ams — all of it in a for­mat and lan­guage that young peo­ple can re­late to.

So, now that she is a full-time uni­ver­sity stu­dent with a ter­rific fu­ture ahead of her, the ques­tion has to be asked — what ad­vice would she give a young per­son who is fac­ing tough chal­lenges?

“Even if you’ve had a very dif­fi­cult be­gin­ning, you de­cide where your own story goes,” Tammy says. “Fin­ish that old hurt­ful chap­ter, turn the page and move on to the next one, which will hope­fully be big­ger and bet­ter. I want to show peo­ple that no mat­ter how bad things get, there are other op­tions, and you can turn your life around.”

She is cer­tainly do­ing that.

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