Today, 43-year-old Collete Knowles can make eye contact when she meets people, for a long time in her life this was one of the hardest things for her to do. Debilitated by a skin disorder that took away her confidence, she tells us how she has grown to accept the skin she was born in.
Born in Hanover Park, mother of three, Collete was diagnosed with an extreme case of eczema when she was a toddler, her case is unique and causes the skin across her body to tighten and appear red, dry and flaky.
“I was the first person in my family to be born with the disorder so my mother never knew what to do. I always felt different to my siblings and children in the area. I would often be pointed at, and teased.”
To keep her daughter safe, Collete’s mother tried to keep her daughter away from others for as long as she could.
“When others began going to school I was kept at home, my mother was trying to keep me safe. I only started school when I was about 8/9 when other kids started when they were 6.”
Collete says that she never knew how this part of her life affected her as an adult, until she came across the Salesian Life Choices.
Unemployed and volunteering at her neighbourhood community center, Collete says that she heard about the Family Affairs programme when one of the Life Choices’ staff gave a talk about it. She adds that she had originally joined because she had hoped that it would help her with her children and that she had no idea the impact it would have on herself.
“I was interested from the beginning, having three children is challenging and sometimes I struggle with them. We were also told about the psychosocial support and the job search counselling that was part of the offering. I amunemployed, so I knew that it could help me to make my life better – to be a better parent and have a job.”
The Family Affairs parental skills workshops are offered to groups of parents over a seven week period. Each week, parents are exposed to an interactive three-and-half hour session where different topics are discussed. Topics include self-development and reflection in the two first sessions – that deals with parents’ childhood, self-worth andnurturing gratitude – to other sessions were children’s needs, temperaments, stages of development and self-esteem are discussed.
Collete says a difference the programme made is the way she parents her three kids (16), (13), (7). “My middle child is caught up in gangsterism and it has been very difficult at home. Because I spent a lot of time ensuring that he is on the straight path, I used to neglect my daughter. Sometimes I would be frustrated and even lash out at her. With the parenting workshop I learned a better way to talk to my daughter, and how to parent her differently to the way I work with her brothers because she is a different child. Ever since I stop shouting, our home is different.” But for Collete, the sessions on confidence really helped her see how the rejection she endured as a child affected her adult life.
“I never wanted anyone to look at me, when children at school stared at me I would fight with them because I wanted to be left alone. I thought I was over this part of my life, but when we spoke about confidence in the group I felt like crying when I realised how what I thought of myself was still affecting my life”.
Collete’s feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem – a result of years of bullying and rejection – prompted her Family Affairs facilitator to immediately recommend psychosocial support. She received one-on-one counselling from Life Choices Therapist, a service offered to all participants of the programme.
“We spoke about how I can rebuild the way I feel about myself – how the way I think about myself affects me as a parent. I never had the opportunity to speak about what it is like to live with eczema. When I did it felt like my shoulders were lighter. As an adult living with my condition, my skin is very tight, red and painful, but I know how to treat it and have come to realize that I am the same as everyone else. The only difference is my skin. I began to interact with people around me more freely.”
Collete adds that her new found confidence has boosted her in many parts of her life. “When I hear my thinking going negative I stop and change it, no matter what the theme is in my head. I also tell my children that they must have positive thoughts about themselves – but I start with me. I hope they see what I’m doing and that they will follow my lead.”
Today, Collete continues to look for a job in the cleaning industry but she is hopeful that she will find one.
“I have revised my cv, reached out to placement companies and continue with my work at the centre I have even begun giving the kids netball lessons and showing the younger ones that come here after school to draw. I spent many years allowing what happened to me before to limit me, but that is over now. I know I can change my life for the better and I will – for me and my family.”