As part of a series of articles about Home-Start in Suffolk, which supports parents facing challenging circumstances, ANDREW PAPWORTH spoke to some of those the charity has helped. Here, Janet (not her real name) describes the support she received after her marriage broke down.

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When Janet’s marriage broke down more than five years ago, it sparked a series of events which left her feeling “trapped” with nowhere to turn.

As well as the sadness of a long-term relationship breakdown, Janet was forced to sell the family home as part of her divorce and struggled to find new housing - with the pressure of looking after three young children adding to the emotional strain.

Unable to continue working and feeling “trapped”, Janet often experienced dissociative features - where the mind feels as though it is disconnected with the body - which caused her to simply collapse and pass out from stress.

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But with the help of the charity Home-Start, which supports families with children, Janet - aged in her 40s - has steadily rebuilt her life to the point where she today says: “I feel as if I’m a different person.”

‘I was in this hell that I couldn’t get out of’

After splitting with her husband of several years, Janet said: “I got to a very low point where all my confidence had gone.”

Once her house was sold, Janet found herself under enormous pressure as she desperately tried to find a home. She found the process of applying for social housing slow.

“I was worrying where me and my family were going to live and whether we were going to get a council house,” she said, even collapsing at one meeting with council workers about where they would live in the future.

“My children were my main priority.”

Yet the pressure of ensuring her school-age children were provided for, while dealing with a divorce, caused pressure on her to build.

“I tried as much as I could not to let them in on everything,” she said.

“I was holding so much in because I didn’t want to burden them. I was trying to do everything I could to protect them.

“I’d get up to make sure the kids had breakfast and make sure they got off to school. Sometimes there were times when I was really low and I didn’t even get dressed for the whole day.

“With all this stress I was trying to keep in, I felt as if I was in this hell that I couldn’t get out of. I was scared I would have the children taken off me.”

Janet found it too difficult to go out and be amongst people, while her dissociative episodes meant she was forced to give up her driving licence - adding to her feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.

“When I got really, really stressed I just couldn’t cope and I would pass out,” she said.

‘Stronger now than I’ve ever been’

Janet was referred to Home-Start by her social services family support worker.

“She had no help from her family and so the Home-Start input was to provide company and emotional support,” the charity said.

The weekly visits gave someone Janet could finally share her burdens with and get advice and how to deal with her problems.

Her regular Home-Start visitor would also help with things such as seeing solicitors and sorting out her finances, as well as supporting the children when they got home from school.

The visitor would go out with Janet during the week and attend support groups with her, helping to rebuild her confidence around others.

She found an ideal house in a quiet, rural part of Suffolk which perfectly suited her family, using funds from her house sale to decorate it and truly make it feel like home.

As things improved, Janet’s dissociative episodes also stopped - allowing her to start driving and regain her independence

Home-Start said that “bit by bit and one step at a time things have improved for Janet and she’s now in a better place and feeling stronger”.

Janet - who would like to work in mental health in the future, helping people overcomes similar experiences to her own - said: “Home-Start have been amazing. My life has changed because of Home-Start and the help and support they have given me.

“They have actually encouraged me to get up and get things done around the house. They helped with the children so much.

“I’m definitely so much stronger now than I’ve ever have been. I’m in so much more control of everything. All the time I’m starting to get my confidence back.”

Of the depression she has suffered since her marriage breakdown, she said: “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

“However going through it, I’ve realised how to cope. I have a car and things have turned around completely for me. I still need a little bit of help and advice, but I’m managing.

“I feel as if I’m a different person.”

About Home-Start in Suffolk

Home-Start in Suffolk aids parents struggling with a range of challenges, so children enjoy the best start in life.

It helped 412 families between April 2018 and April 2019, a rise of 90 on the previous year.

A key part of its service are its home visitors, who visit families to provide invaluable support and a listening ear, although that is currently being adapted because of the coronavirus crisis.

It believes supporting families at the very start of a child’s life is the “best opportunity to break the cycle of adversity”.

Its patrons include author Anthony Horowitz, who has a home in Suffolk, and Maple Farm Kelsale owner Miranda Kendall.

MORE: Writer Anthony Horowitz: why I’m backing this small Suffolk charity