My younger sister was a newlywed and my peers were getting married, yet there I was at 24, with three children, newly divorced.
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make was to walk away.
It was like a house on fire; you watch everything you know and love burn down without your control and despite the flames you feel compelled to go back, stay, hold on and rescue whatever may be left. Perhaps I can save my home. My children’s home. My family.
According to the Office for National Statistics an estimated two million adults between 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018.
Yet this alarming figure doesn’t include the unreported cases.
Domestic abuse may be physical, mental, sexual, financial. But although I 'ticked' all of those boxes, I didn’t consider myself a domestic violence victim as I hadn’t sustained any life-threatening injuries. I didn’t have the poster woman black eye – until I ended up in hospital.
It’s normal to feel afraid of the unknown and I had no idea how I would manage after leaving the four 'safe' walls of my home. But after I ended up in hospital I had to ask myself whether the suffocating blanket in which I kept wrapping myself to escape from the reality of the outside world was actually keeping me warm.
And so, with three children in tow, I had to start from scratch. The list of everything I needed was endless: a home, an income, a driving licence, a car. A life.
Fast-forward a few years, and I am so happy to say I am now a broadcast journalist for places like the BBC and ITV, creating content which is watched by millions, with my name in the credits. I also have all of the above!
Many people ask how I’ve achieved this in the five years since I became a single parent and so, for those of you who might find yourself in a similar position, I’ve listed a few tips which you may find helpful and which hopefully will leave you feeling inspired.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself – let yourself grieve and heal
My initial reaction was to get up and work hard, rather than focusing on resting and healing. I started to run before I could walk. As someone who didn’t like to worry family and friends, I was a total eccedentesiast: pasting on that smile and marching on. But it wasn’t long before the weight of it all finally took its toll and reality slapped me in the face. I curled up and cried. But it felt. So. Damn. Good.
As my mother kept telling me (and still does): "You can’t pour from an empty cup." I had to learn to look after myself first.
When you sustain a serious injury, doctors instruct you to rest, take it slow and gradually build yourself back up. We should implement the same care with our mental health and healing.
Find someone you can talk to, let yourself cry – it’s not a sign of weakness. Take each day as it comes and gradually work on what needs to be done in due time.
Don’t take everything on alone, get help and support – it’s out there!
I remember when my younger sister visited my new place. It was a small council flat and it didn’t have much in it. At that time, I didn’t tell her about my poor financial situation but it was obvious and she insisted on helping. I refused; how could I take money from my little sister, who just got married and was about to build her own family?
The day after she left, I found an envelope of money and a note: "You’re not alone."
I spent the next hour on the phone trying to convince her to take it back. But she kept telling me how important it was to get support. My family would come from 100 miles away to help and support me as much as they could; friends helped me too. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t get the help I received – so never turn it down.
I approached different services, went to the job centre and Citizens Advice Bureau and discussed my options and the support I could get. They helped me understand what I needed to do. I didn’t intend on living on the few benefits I received forever but I knew that in order to become self-sufficient, first I needed to survive.
There are many services and support centres which will help with benefit advice, make important phone calls, support with food vouchers and donations.
There’s also Gingerbread, a single parent charity which provides expert advice and practical support and organises regular local meet-ups for other single parents and children. Getting together and talking to people you can relate to can be really helpful.
The internet is a great place to find out what help is available and local to you. If you don’t understand something, make sure to ask. You don’t have to do everything alone.
Don’t let stigmas and stereotypes hold you back
After the first nightmare court case finished two years ago, I was determined to start studying towards a biomedical degree. I set myself the highest goals. Unfortunately another court case was thrown at me and it became clear that it wasn’t the right time to study. So I explored other options and started developing my skills through volunteering at a radio station. I found my passion in media and gradually progressed until I was asked to work with the BBC on a project and subsequently to train in production. Along the way some said my aspirations weren’t realistic, suggested I work somewhere 'more appropriate' for someone in my situation. It was one of many hurdles and closed doors I faced. But determination and persistence is powerful and it’s how I developed the most resilience and strength.
Never give up on your dreams and don’t get disheartened by what others say or think.
Parents are teachers by default, we teach our children to work hard and follow their dreams – so be the biggest example. Do not let others determine your future based on stereotypes and boxes.
Don’t spread yourself too thin
As I developed more confidence in myself, I started adding to my to-do list and my work ethic exploded. The thought of staying up late grafting excited me, and thinking of all the things I would try to achieve became my driving force. I started thinking of more things I could do to develop myself further so I could get to places faster – but I ended up just exhausting myself. The children needed my time, too.
I learned to pace myself, let things happen in time and to give myself, friends and family time as well.
Having aspirations is great but doing too many things at once means you'll end up compromising on quality, exhaustion will kick in and you won’t be able to keep it up.
Create a timetable of what to do and when – that way you can see how much time you have and the tasks you’re spreading yourself across. Set achievable goals and work towards completing them before adding more to the list.
Grow through what you go through – reflect and build
My job at the BBC wasn’t just handed to me, nor was it luck. I faced many closed doors: I didn’t have a media qualification, lived in a small town miles away from the BBC office in Birmingham, had little work experience and three dependent children with barely any childcare.
Alongside my studies I did voluntary work and developed my skills. I also helped at the local community centre and became more proactive in the community in any spare time I had. Not only did it help me gain more skills but also helped build my confidence. Get out there and get involved.
I addressed my obstacles and worked on how to get over them – you can’t get to the finish line without running the track, don’t be afraid of the hurdles you come across because every one you get over is an achievement in itself.
I’m a big believer in reflection and implementation. I often think over my day and think about how things can be done better and what changes can be made – there is always room for improvement.
Challenges, hurdles and obstacles are life’s way of teaching you valuable lessons so try not to take them as a setback. Observe and grow through each one – you’ve got this!
Refinery29 was first introduced to Husna through Gingerbread's incredible Stories community which allows single parents to write about their experiences across a wide range of issues. Whatever you're struggling with as a single parent, it's almost certain someone else has been through it.