Alysha's story - YMCA DownsLink Group

Alysha’s story

Alysha smiling in the Horsham Y Centre Garden

Alysha has lived in our 24-hour supported accommodation for 2 years after being kicked out of her family home when she was just 17. Alysha had a difficult childhood, full of arguments and tension, which led to her battling with her mental health. Thrown out with nowhere to go, she sofa surfed at friend’s houses until she was given a home with us. With the support of YMCA, Alysha has turned her life around. She’s grown into an independent, determined young person who’s about to start university to train as mental health nurse.


Read Alysha’s story in her own words:

When I was growing up, things were never right at home and there were always arguments. When I was 13 and my brother was 17, he was kicked out. As soon as he left home, my parents came down on me because I was the next oldest. I had a lot going on with my mental health and was self-harming, but my parents never really understood. It caused so much tension that brewed for years.

When I turned 17, I was at college, had a boyfriend, a job and a good group of friends and so I wanted to go out and enjoy my life. But my parents always had a problem with that. We’d argue, and it would sometimes get physical. And then one morning before college, my mum said “you’re not allowed back home”. I literally had nothing on me, not even my phone. I walked to college and luckily bumped into my best friend and told her what happened. I was crying so much. I then stayed at my friend’s house for about 3-4 weeks.

I was back and forth between staying at my friends and trying to live back with my parents. After a couple of attempts, my social worker got me to go home again for 3 weeks. They were the worst weeks of my entire life. I had no access to the outside world. There were arguments every day and the day my parents gave me my phone back, I went out to see friends when my parents told me not to come back.

I sofa surfed for 2 weeks and it was horrible. My boyfriend’s mum kept calling the Council and YMCA because I had nowhere to stay and was only 17. Then I had my interview with YMCA and I’ve been here ever since.

I was terrified when I first moved in as I’d never been in a situation like that before. I was very shy and scared of the world. But on my first night, I met a girl who just adopted me, and I settled in a lot better because of her. It’s very intimidating coming into a place where there’s 40-50 other people. It shouldn’t, but it has a reputation about the people that are in here. I thought people would be horrible and scary but when I got here it was nothing like that.

Alysha learning to cook sweet potato fries
Alysha learning to cook sweet potato fries during the UK Harvest session

I thought I’d be here for a couple of weeks. I did try going home many times, but it didn’t work. I didn’t think living here would change me. I thought if it did, it would be for the worse, not the better. But it’s done the opposite. I’ve grown because of this place, as much as I hate admitting that.

I try to get involved with activities here. I used to love our monthly meetings where we would voice our opinions and then things would actually change which was good. I attended the UK Harvest session recently (pictured) and won an air fryer! I made hampers at Christmas, and we all watched the World Cup and made pizzas. It’s nice when everyone living here comes together and you can meet people you haven’t met before.

Living at YMCA has been a bit up and down. I go through phases where I love being independent and everything’s amazing. And then I kind of go down and feel like I hate this place and I take all my anger out on the staff and am just a horrible person to be around. But I think it’s very much what you make of it.

I was kicked out of college last year because I was adjusting to living on my own here and taking care of myself and then had to go back to college at the same time. I struggled to go into college but my college got fed up with that and asked me to leave. I later decided I wanted to go to university, but no one would take me as I only had 1 A Level. I started doing a diploma in mental health online last September and studied everything myself. I passed it this year with 95%.

In January I redid my university applications and Bedfordshire University offered me an unconditional place! It still hasn’t sunk in. This is the first good thing that I’ve done for myself. I’m very proud of myself. The fact that I managed to get myself to university is so cool. I’m the first person in my family to get into university.

I visited my university last week and liked it a lot. It was really big and everything is so modern with really big windows. The library had 6 floors and a lift! I’m going to be studying Health and Social care and might go into mental health nursing afterwards.

I first started self-harming when I was 11. Now I wonder, why was a child wanting to do that? I grew up in a family situation where our feelings weren’t spoken about, my parents thought that if you’re a child you had nothing to be sad or anxious about.

Alysha recently reunited with her Project Worker Sharron, who was working on Alysha’s first night at YMCA

Something I’ve learned while living at YMCA is how to speak about my feelings and not keep it in. I now journal every day and write everything down. I tried to get help with my mental health when I was younger but I was on a waiting list so long that I turned 18 before I got to see anyone and my case was closed.

Last summer I realised that I like helping people and wanted to study mental health nursing. I had a friend whose brother took his life recently and it affected her badly. I was the one to help her and I realised that it made me feel needed and I kind of liked that. And because I never really got my help, I just want to be the person that I needed, for someone else.

I’ve changed a lot since moving into YMCA. I’m a lot more patient with myself and so much more aware. I know why I act the way I act. I’m a lot more open with people and I’m a lot better at talking about my feelings. I wouldn’t have been able to sit here with you two years ago and talk about my experience. I didn’t even think it was worth listening to. But now I know it is and I love myself now. I feel like I have more meaningful connections with people now as well.

If I could give my younger self some advice, I would say: don’t give up. Your dreams aren’t stupid just because they’re big. Your past and what you’ve been through doesn’t have to define you, you don’t have to be your trauma. You have to take the happiness and love from everything you can and just put it into everything. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself.

I shouldn’t be sad about leaving YMCA, but it’s really bittersweet because I know it’s time for me to move on. But the staff have become my family. It’s like just having a bunch of my aunties and uncles who love you and just want the best for you. And it’s just nice. I’m not sad I’m leaving this place, I’m just so sad to be leaving the people.

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