You want our lives to run like clockwork. A tight schedule dictated by funding, limits of patience, supply and demand imbalances. The timing cogs appear as a specified number of sessions or as deadlines. The ‘we’ll be working together for the next ten weeks’ and the ‘you have to sort yourself out by the end of the month or we’ll have to look at moving you on’. New school, new foster care placement, new treatment, basically moved on to somewhere new or back to somewhere old or dumped nowhere if we don’t have a new attitude, a new behaviour. We have to be fixed or at least less broken by the time the clock strikes midnight.
The tick tock is always there, the soundtrack to our time with you. Which is strange because for so much of our lives time stood still, the minute and second hands did not move. When we were being hit with hands or words, when we were being molested, time did not march on by. When someone we dearly loved died, our time stopped with theirs as we drowned in the pain and confusion. When we watched a parent cover the clock and hide in drugs and alcohol from the pain of the now and hurt of the past, we got stuck too, time and life did not proceed for us. When we sat and waited to feel loved, to be noticed, time was not an issue; we would wait for eternity.
So we do not understand your timescales, your hurry, your deadlines. Time has never hurried for us. It never went quickly when we cried out for it too. People didn’t move quickly enough to see us, to protect us, to care for us. And now you are trying to fix us, hurrying is all important. But why force us to hurry when others did not hurry for us before?
Our experiences do not fit into a box of a period of time. Try and the experiences leak out. Our experiences don’t just exist for us then, they also consume time for us now, each day, each hour, each breathing moment. They have moulded us, our thinking and our behaviour as we to try to cope, as we try to live with the leakage, to somehow carry on.
So to give us a timetable, a deadline to process and move on from our experiences, our pain before we even start would be like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Second World War, announcing when it would end at the same time as announcing that it had started. Just like he didn’t know when the war would end, you don’t know when our battle will end for us, we don’t know when time will be our own again either.
Deadlines concentrate the mind you say; they give us something to aim for. Problem is that deadlines equal pressure, and trust us when we say to you that for a lot of us there is enough pressure in our heads already. It might not seem like it by the way we behave, but we often do want to change, to do life differently. But we have no clue how to, and we don’t know if we can, we are running scared and running on emotional empty. There is untold internal pressure already without the addition of an external clock tick-tocking in our ears. For so many of us the addition of a deadline only causes us to admit defeat before we’ve even started. We know we’re not likely to meet the deadline so we don’t even try. Why waste time on a pointless exercise? Time has already robbed us of enough.
This has to be our time, not your time. We need to have space to breathe to take the time we need. Trying to cram as many of us onto your caseloads by limiting the time each of us has with you only limits the chances of you reaching any of us. Limiting the amount of time we have to check you out, to trust you, to decide that maybe you are someone worth taking the time and effort to work through our stuff with. You only end up limiting the possibility of healing connection. Breaking the relationship before it gets started, moving us on, only robs us of more time. Time to reconnect with ourselves, time to process the past so we have the time and energy to build a new future.
We get that you have limited resources and inevitable time limitations and where possible we would ask you to smash the clock. Where you cannot we would ask that you help us to see the bigger time picture.
Do not start a time limited period of intervention and make out like we will be ‘fixed’ at the end of it. Yes by all means encourage us with the hope of progress that will be made by the end but also help us to see that this will be an ongoing process. You are helping us start out. That way we can work with manageable bite-sized goals that are achievable.
And because you are helping us start, please at least try and ensure that there is some decent support to follow on at the end. It might mean connecting us up with a voluntary organisation or a mentor for example. But do not start something that you have no intention of helping us in some way finish. Do this and you will only end up adding to our bad experience box, that will only leak more and eat into our lives.
Where possible give us as much grace time as possible- the time to react to and process the feelings associated with trying to unravel, understand and move on from our histories. Our behaviour will often get worse for a while before it gets better. You try jumping into a well of pain and not thrashing around to save yourself from drowning. We will try and push you away, with harmful words and actions but you need to give us the grace to see it through. We need to see that you care enough to see us through, to give us the time to grieve for that we have not yet properly grieved for, for our childhoods, our golden time that turned to lead. So instead of declaring us a hopeless cause near the beginning due to our behavioural regression, see the hope that can be seen of us processing the unimaginable, of going through the dark time tunnel to get out the other side. Please, please give us this grace time. We have to go through it, to get through it. There is no shortcut; it takes as long as it takes.
We are no time travellers; oh how we wish we were. We cannot jump in a time machine and hit the fast forward button to get where we need to be, in the time frame you have given us. We are the hurting teenagers of today, the stolen children of yesterday and the ones who should have hope for tomorrow. You need to give us the time to be all those things, to come to some acceptance about them, to face the time forwards more hopefully than the time behind us. But this you cannot hurry. If time heals then you need to let time pass on its own terms in our lives, not on your terms. It didn’t hurry back then, it won’t now either however hard you try and make it.