Life is a journey, and as we navigate through it, we carry our experiences with us like a rucksack on our back. This invisible load is a collection of all the moments, emotions, and challenges that make us who we are. The weight of these experiences can shape our outlook on life, our self-esteem, and our overall well being.
The Weight of Our Experiences
Imagine waking up every day with a heavy rucksack on your back. It’s there when you go to bed, and it accompanies you through life’s ups and downs. This rucksack contains your experiences – from your relationships and family dynamics to your self-esteem, financial struggles, and friendships. They shape your identity, but the question remains: do they define you?
We often feel exhausted from the weight we carry. It’s important to acknowledge that we are not alone in this journey. Some people carry even heavier burdens, and among them are children, burdened with early traumas and adversities.
Imagine a child struggling to fit in at school, carrying the weight of judgement, exclusion, and isolation. As they try to keep up with their peers, the weight in their rucksack grows as they face laughter from others, slow progress, and the consequences of “poor behaviour.”
Seeking Basic Needs
Sometimes, life offers us a way to shed some of this weight. Love, shelter, money, and a sense of belonging – basic human needs that can be both a lifeline and a trap. These essentials often come with strings attached. In our quest to meet these needs, we might find ourselves trapped in situations that further complicate our lives.
“The paradox of trauma is that it has the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect,” says Peter A. Levine. This paradox is a recurring theme in many lives, including my own.
My Personal Journey
By the time I turned 21, I had lived in 15 countries and stayed in 27 different houses. From squats and refuges to trading rent for sex and sleeping on smelly old sofas, I’d experienced it all. The strings attached to these experiences often led me to run away in search of safety, only to find that each new place was riskier and scarier than the last. It wasn’t until I found stability in motherhood that I began to work on myself and discover the person I’d always been but didn’t know how to be. I wanted a better life for my child.
Ten years ago, I began my journey to create an organisation that could help individuals with little or no self-belief and those who had experienced trauma. It all started when I was made redundant, and my survival instinct kicked in. I seized the opportunities around me and founded Yellow Brick Road Projects in 2014.
Yellow Brick Road Projects
Our vision at Yellow Brick Road Projects is to create a world where everyone has equal access to a safe and happy life. Our mission is to work with young people to build confidence and skills and help them fulfil their potential, which we call finding their “seam of gold.”
YBRP began as an idea on a kitchen table and our first pilot program, “Young Mums Matter,” aimed to reach out to young mothers living in hostels with their babies. These young women had ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and were at significant risk of homelessness due to their lack of life skills and support networks. They were caught in a cycle of deprivation and neglect perpetuated by their traumatic experiences.
Today, we’re a team of 13 incredible individuals with various backgrounds but a shared commitment to supporting young people through trauma-informed services. Sadly, we often see young people judged, excluded, and isolated for their behaviour, which is often a form of communication. A student may be sent to isolation within moments of entering a classroom, or a detention may be issued for not wearing the right school shoes, despite their family’s financial constraints.
Recently, we met a 13-year-old girl who was struggling with school attendance, self-harming, and feeling lost. After 12 weeks with a mentor from YBRP, she found a safe outlet for her feelings, a path to follow, and her seam of gold. She was back in school, enjoying life once more. Her story could have been mine, if only.
In the ten years we’ve been in existence, YBRP has worked with over 8,000 young people. We’ve reached out to those in schools, hostels, and unsuitable accommodations, offering them someone who believes in them, helping them move from feeling helpless to hopeful.
Our rucksacks may be heavy with experiences, but they don’t have to define us. With the right support and a belief in our potential, we can shed some of the weight and find our own seam of gold. I’m on a mission to help young people do just that – to discover their potential and move from hopelessness to hopefulness, one step at a time. I want to see a more trauma informed society that sees beyond behaviour to the person underneath. So I ask you, how can you support a young person to make the weight of life’s experience a little lighter?
About the author
Siobhan Down is the Founder and CEO of Yellow Brick Road Projects. Siobhan has used her life experiences as the foundation for the charity. Having experienced poor education, homelessness, debt, exploitation, exclusion, Siobhan now supports young people who face similar experiences to find their seam of GOLD to amplify their voices so that everyone can hear what is going on. Instead of feeling angry and resentful of her experiences, Siobhan embraces them for her teaching how to help others and invest in herself. Yellow Brick Road Projects are on mission to engage and educate young people by supporting them in learning life skills.
Twitter @SiobhanDown67 @YBRPYouMatter Instagram @yellowbrickroadprojects