Gay and Roxy Longworth on coercion, psychotic breakdown and the long road back
July 4, 2022. Series 6. Episode 48
Gay and Roxy Longworth are a mother and daughter who overcame an incredibly difficult, long and dangerous mental health crisis and collaborated to write a powerful book, ‘When You Lose It’, documenting each shocking step. Although at times extraordinary, the story they tell in this episode will, I think, resonate with parents and teenagers struggling to navigate the dangers of the modern, digital world.
When Roxy was just 13 years old, she was pressurised by much older boys from her school into sending intimate photographs of herself. Over time, these demands grew and finally after a series of coercive and threatening messages, Roxy, who was hiding all of this from her family, returned to school to find the pictures had been widely shared amongst her peer group and brought to the attention of her teachers.
What followed was a series of events which led to Roxy suffering a psychotic breakdown. She was admitted to a mental health facility – voices in her head now controlling her every move. Roxy’s breakdown caused deep distress for her of course, but it also ripped through her family and in particular her relationship with Gay, a successful author. The book tells the story of Roxy’s illness from both their perspectives. It is, at times, a brutal account of their relationship.
This conversation is an important one, because, of course, this is not an isolated incident. With phones now such a central part of our children’s lives – and from such a young age – it’s easy to lose track of what they are looking at, who they are communicating with, what they’re sharing and of course what pressures they’re under. As Roxy says in this conversation, “Once they had those photos, they owned me.”
Roxy, is now studying maths and statistics with neuroscience at UCL. Although at times it’s clear she finds it hard to talk about some of these events, she has moved forward in her life brilliantly and wants her story to send a powerful message. Not only to discourage youngsters from doing what she did, but also to boys who may coerce others and to teachers who as she says, “tell you a million times what not to do, but not what to do if you’ve already done it.”
My thanks to Roxy and Gay for sharing their story and I hope you find this episode useful.
Gay’s Crisis Cures:
1. Find people who know more than you do. Friends, neighbours.. anyone. That’s key in the position I was in.
2. I need to go to a really quiet place by coming out of my head and back into my body. I have a trick which is to stand on one leg because you have to focus to balance. If that doesn’t work, try doing it on tip-toes or with your eyes closed. That definitely gets you to focus the mind.
3. When you have big decisions to make – particularly when the outcomes could be life altering, try to view them as informed choices. So if they don’t work out in the way you need, you can look back and think – I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.
Roxy’s Crisis Cures:
1. I work very hard and fully commit all of the time. I always make sure I’m doing at least four things at once too because I manage best when there’s as little time to think as possible.
2. I found an amazing therapist who helped me navigate my way through, working out where I could take responsibility for things I’d done and where I needed to accept I’d been taken advantage of. He showed me how to manage my brain and use it to my advantage.
3. I draw cubes – literally everywhere. I can use them to help ground myself and keep myself calm when I feel like I’m spiralling.
When you lose it – https://amzn.to/3xn3KC8
Stem 4 – https://stem4.org.uk/
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682
Host– Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:19.24 Andy Coulson:
Welcome to Crisis What Crisis? where we aim to guide you towards a more resilient approach to life and whatever it might throw at you. I’m Andy Coulson and on this podcast, you’ll hear from the embattled, shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, resilient, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. Their stories I hope you agree are as useful as they are compelling.
00:00:42.24:00 Andy Coulson
My guests today are Gay and Roxy Longworth – a mother and daughter who have overcome an incredibly difficult, long and dangerous mental health crisis and who collaborated to write an extraordinarily powerful book, ‘When You Lose It’, documenting each shocking step. I should warn you – this episode is not an easy listen, but if you are a parent to a child in this digital age – I think it’s one you’ll want to hear.
00:01:06:00 Andy Coulson:
When Roxy was just 13 years old, she was pressurised by much older boys from her school into sending intimate photographs of herself. Over time, these demands grew and finally after a series of coercive and threatening messages, Roxy, who was hiding all of this from her family, returned to school to find the pictures had been widely shared amongst her peer group and brought to the attention of her Head teacher.
00:01:29:00 Andy Coulson:
What followed was series of events which led to Roxy suffering such terrifying mental trauma, that she was admitted to a mental health facility – voices in her head now controlling her every move.
00:01:43:00 Andy Coulson:
Her breakdown caused deep distress for her of course, but it ripped through her family as well. The book tells the story from both her and mum’s perspective in real time. The effect as I say is shocking but utterly compelling. This conversation is an important one I think, because this is not of course an isolated incident – with children owning phones or rather these mini computers which we put in their hands from such an increasingly young age, it’s easy to lose track of what they are looking at, who they are communicating with, what they’re sharing and of course what pressures they’re under. As Roxy says – “Once they had those photos, they owned me”
00:02:24:00 Andy Coulson:
Roxy, is now doing well – she is studying at university and though at times it’s clear she finds it hard to talk about some of these events, she has moved forward in her life brilliantly and she wants her story to send a powerful message – not only to discourage youngsters from doing what she did, but also to boys who may coerce others and to teachers who as she says, “tell you a million times what not to do, but not what to do if you’ve already done it” My thanks to Roxy and Gay for sharing their story and I hope you find this episode useful.
00:02:56.01 Andy Coulson:
Roxy and Gay, welcome and thank you for both joining me on Crisis What Crisis?
00:03:02.01 Roxy Longworth:
Thank you for having us.
00:03:03.11 Gay Longworth:
00: 03:04.23 Andy Coulson:
So this book of yours, the story it tells, of course, is extraordinary, although elements of it I’m sure will resonate with an enormous number of people. But it’s also the way in which you’ve told it. The book flips from your account of events, Gay, to yours, Roxy. And as I understand it, you didn’t sort of check each other’s notes, right? Two separate accounts, two separate perspectives of this, terrifying really, shared journey that you were on. I’ve got that right have I?
00:03:40.01 Gay Longworth:
Absolutely, in fact the first person who read it all together was my agent and a friend of ours who’s a reader. And it was only when it was put together by them, that we actually sat down and read what had happened to the other one. So we wrote it blind, that’s the only way we can think of explaining it. We wrote it blind.
00:04:03.00 Andy Coulson:
Goodness. It’s both, brutal in its honesty, and at times quite beautiful. Brutally beautiful, because ultimately it is a two way love letter between mother and daughter, with this sort of heart breaking backdrop. I mean, when you finally did put those two pieces together did it feel like that for you? How did you react when you saw the complete piece if you like?
00:04:35.22 Roxy Longworth:
I mean, it was terrifying and just, I think, quite shocking, we didn’t realise how little we both knew.
00:04:46.24 Gay Longworth:
00:04:47.07 Roxy Longworth:
But I think the overwhelming feeling was that it was quite good. It read quite well. We were like, oh god, we might actually have something here.
00:04:59.15 Gay Longworth:
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. We were both sort of weeping and hugging each other and as brutal as it is, and it is, we were like, wow, okay, this isn’t nothing.
00:05:13.15 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, and it just sort of comes together, those two entirely separate stories, there are points in the book where they just kind of cross the same path and then maybe you’ll kind of go off in a different direction again. But you keep then kind of finding each other again. It is an amazing book. How do you both feel that this shared story is about to be shared to be shared with the world?
00:05:37:22 Gay Longworth:
Denial I think.
00:05:43.22 Andy Coulson:
Roxy, you’re just sort of smiling rather nervously.
00:05:48.15 Roxy Longworth:
I’m very scared. It’s an extremely exposing story that is my entire nineteen years of life laid out in a book. And to read my quite complex brain, like to read about it in words just laid out on the page, it’s quite scary. But the people we’ve started slowly telling people about it, and that it’s coming out, and the responses have been pretty incredible. I mean, it’s sort of made me feel like the details of our story have become almost irrelevant because whenever I start to tell people about the book someone else’s very complex, scary story comes out of them. So it’s almost becomes like… I think we’ve started to realise, wow, like this is going to resonate with so many more people than we thought and the specifics of our story are yeah… not so relevant.
00:06:46.21 Andy Coulson:
Exactly, that’s why I say it’s important, I think it is going to resonate with so many people and I want to talk about that today, in terms of the important messages that I think it communicates. So this is a multi-layered crisis story, unlike any that we’ve certainly had on this podcast. Roxy, if I may, I’d like to ask you to talk us through the first stage, if you like, of what happened to you. In a moment I want you to tell those people who are listening what happened when you were thirteen. But before you do I think it’s important that we briefly explain some of the issues that you had as a younger child. Issues that included sort of crippling insomnia and night terrors and also some terrible bullying, violent bullying, as a young girl at school.
00:07:39.04 Roxy Longworth:
From the age of four I found sleep a very, very scary place. I mean, the word anxiety, as a word that wasn’t what it… like now I would say that but at the time honestly it didn’t feel like anxiety, I was just terrified. I just pretty much read, I think I got through on about four hours of sleep from the age of four to about thirteen. I read all night, like I wouldn’t really let myself fall asleep.
00:08:13.16 Gay Longworth:
Eventually you stayed in bed, eventually you’d sort of give up and stay in bed. So I assumed you were asleep.
00:08:21.00 Andy Coulson:
Roxy, do you look back now on these early years of your childhood as the sort of first pebbles in the river, if you like, before your crisis finally breaks the surface? Do you attach significance, when we come to later stages of this story, do you attach significance to this earlier moments? I mean, you’ve glossed over the bullying. The bullying was deeply unpleasant as you describe it int he book, as a young girl, what significance do you attach to those moments now?
00:08:55.00 Roxy Longworth:
I mean, it’s easy now to look back and look at those events and link it all together. I guess it’s always been this like not being comfortable in my own head and in my own brain. I suppose I battled with my own brain for my whole life and I just didn’t really realise until that big crisis when I was thirteen, fourteen.
00:09:22.00 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, except that the bullying is not a battle in your head, is it? That’s other people and unpleasantness, to put it mildly. You make the decision though, it’s your decision as I understand it, to go to boarding school at ten. You felt that that was the right place for you at the right time. And at first I think it worked quite well, didn’t it? I mean you still were dealing with your issues with sleep, and there’s some scary stuff there that you describe in the book. But you’re a very talented child at that stage and talented academically and with your sport, and it sort of worked didn’t it at first? Boarding school?
00:10:09.00 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, it worked, I never had to sleep on my own. I was always with at least six other people. That was very good. I did start sleeping with hockey sticks, that was probably slightly less healthy.
00:10:29.25 Andy Coulson:
And the hockey sticks are there because you… protection right?
00:10:30.09 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah. I mean not rational but yes.
00:10:34.12 Gay Longworth:
Well, that’s quite rational actually. You think something’s coming to get you, you get a weapon.
00:10:40.23 Andy Coulson:
00:10:42.10 Roxy Longworth:
It did at one point get to five hockey sticks and then I got called into a teacher’s office, quite rightly I think. I still found, yeah, boarding school worked, I still found people, I still struggled with the people in my year. I didn’t find the kind of hanging out… I loved school I liked the lessons, I was good at that. I found the kind of hanging out and chatting, I found that difficult.
00:11:10.13 Andy Coulson:
Let’s fast forward a little bit then to thirteen. And like a lot of thirteen year old girls, there’s a lot of stuff going on in your life. In your school. Obviously that’s a huge part of your life and on your phone. By then presumably you’re, like everyone else, you’ve got a phone where you can communicate in lots of different ways including social media.
00:11:31.01 Gay Longworth:
When that happened, when Rox went to senior school, yeah, to her senior school.
00:11:39.19 Andy Coulson:
So what you describe in the book Roxy, is really an addiction that slowly develops. I don’t know whether you would phrase it that way, but it seems to be an addiction to attention. Is that right? Is that an accurate description? That’s sort of fuelled by the technology, if you like.
00:11:58.07 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, it didn’t feel like an addiction but now looking back it was like a hit, it was like a buzz.
00:12:05.01 Andy Coulson:
At one point though in the book I think you say that without that buzz of attention you felt like you might die without it. It was sustaining, it was almost life sustaining. Can you remember that sort of feeling that it gave you? Because I think this is a number of several important elements to your story. But this is certainly one of them that will resonate, I think, with so many young girls. That idea that it becomes such an important, sustaining part of your life.
00:12:45.02 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, this isn’t in the book because I wrote that without hindsight, but I now can remember that feeling clearly because I feel it. I feel it now, just with the way that my brain works. That kind of need to feel something to feel fulfilled. As if I’m sort of not feeling content without something intense going on.
00:13:10.10 Andy Coulson:
00:13:12.21 Roxy Longworth:
I recognise it now and I can deal with it now but back then I was looking for something to kind of fill this hole, I suppose. And it didn’t last, it was very quick so I was always needing to be replenished this feeling, this attention, this thing that made me feel good.
00:13:39.16 Andy Coulson:
Give me a sense if you can, of how it sort of worked, almost operationally. Your day starts and these cravings begin, for what we describe here as attention, it’s more complex than that, of course. So how would it work? How would your day operate? How would it manifest itself?
00:14:02.12 Roxy Longworth:
Well it was a much more complex process than that. We’re not talking about you wake up one day and you want to find this feeling. It’s this slow thing that starts. Like, I’d just gotten a phone and I started to get texts from people, from friends, and that feels good and then that sort of becomes normal. And then I started to feel much… I didn’t feel like I was thirteen, I felt much older. And these much older guys started… this much older guy started texting me. He was at my school but he was seventeen at the time and I was thirteen. And that was when it started. It’s slow, it’s like…
00:14:53.04 Gay Longworth:
It’s incremental isn’t it?
00:14:54.14 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, like it’s not…
00:14:57.09 Andy Coulson:
Incremental and also you’re not alone, right? This is you’re bouncing off your peer group, you’re bouncing off your friends. It’s slightly got a competitive element to it as well?
00:15:07.23 Roxy Longworth:
Yes, definitely. I mean, teenage girls talk about boys. It’s a bit pathetic but you do, like that’s what you chat about. And I finally could sort of join into that conversation which I hadn’t found easy when I was younger. And I think I felt that people were sort of, the girls were slightly impressed. You know, these guys were older, popular, good looking and I’d never been considered particularly… like I wasn’t cool at school. The guys didn’t like me when I was younger. And then I think when that started, I mean, I was flattered like anybody would be, I was.
00:15:52.18 Andy Coulson:
So tell us what happened Roxy, in your own words please?
00:16:01.06 Roxy Longworth:
So guys who had started showing more and more attention started texting me and that was okay. A couple of boys had asked for photos in bikinis and like it hadn’t felt so awful. I mean, people post photos in their bikinis on their public social media, it hadn’t felt that wrong. And then this guy, who was quite a lot older, texted me, started texting me. And we were just chatting, only on text obviously, not in person. And then he would say things like send something nice. And like… and I didn’t, I mean, it was, it’s terrifying. I didn’t feel that confident, I mean, it wasn’t like, you know, I didn’t feel that confident about what I looked like and it was scary. I didn’t… so I didn’t send anything and I would… I don’t know, I didn’t feel like I could just say no, so I would come up with excuses for why I couldn’t, like I was babysitting or I was with people or things. And then…
00:17:19.07 Andy Coulson:
This boy’s seventeen, right?
00:17:23.03 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah and I was thirteen. And he keeps asking and then I said no for a few weeks and then he started calling me frigid which I found very hurtful. And then he started saying that if… he would start to ignore my messages and not text me after a while and I hated that, that made me feel just disgusting and like I mean, rejected but it was more than that. It was like this kind of internal feeling of self-hatred. It’s really hard to say these things because they feel so ludicrous now. And then he would say things like if you don’t send them I’m going to have to tell everyone how frigid you are.
00:18:17.15 Andy Coulson:
So this is the point at which it becomes blackmail?
00:18:28.24 Roxy Longworth:
I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I struggle with the word blackmail. Coercion maybe, pressure. A lot of pressure. It wasn’t blackmail. I mean…
00:18:35.08 Andy Coulson:
Because there wasn’t a threat attached to it, if you like, you didn’t think? What do you think Gay?
00:18:43.23 Gay Longworth:
I think it’s hard to quantify. It’s not like somebody’s coming… It’s hard to say blackmail because blackmail feels like something so enormous. You know again, with the benefit of hindsight if there’s a transaction involved then it is blackmail. It doesn’t have to be financial. The transaction here was attention and popularity.
00:19:12.16 Roxy Longworth:
But I don’t want people to think that… blackmail is a very strong word so I think what that allows people who are putting pressure on people to do is to say, well I’m not blackmailing anybody.
00:19:22.20 Andy Coulson:
I understand, I understand what you’re saying.
00:19:26.12 Roxy Longworth:
So that’s why I’m cautious…
00:19:27.00 Andy Coulson:
What you’re saying is coercion was enough, right?
00:19:29.22 Roxy Longworth:
Coercion, pressure is enough. It doesn’t need to be blackmail.
00:19:36.03 Andy Coulson:
Yes, very important, okay.
00:19:38.18 Roxy Longworth:
That’s when and I felt, I didn’t want to send these photos but it was scary. But I didn’t want him to stop talking to me either and that was the other option. So I started off with it started off with kind of vests and bikini tops and it got worse.
00:19:58.20 Andy Coulson:
Okay so Gay, perhaps you can pick it up from here. When does this sort of become a problem that you are aware of?
00:20:12.16 Gay Longworth:
When I am called into the school and there are three people sitting in an office and I have absolutely no idea what I’m in there for. And a male teacher, who I don’t know, says, your daughter has been sending photos to boys. And that was basically how it the sort began. And the floor opened up at that moment. And that was weeks and weeks after Roxy had been dealing…
00:20:49.03 Roxy Longworth:
00:20:50.10 Gay Longworth:
Sorry months, it was months later. I mean, we were a good three, four weeks into term. And so the short answer is I knew nothing, By the time I knew something Roxy’s life was effectively over at school, the life she’d had before. Because by the time the teachers knew, those photos that she’d sent to one person were everywhere.
00:21:28.03 Andy Coulson:
Yes. So there’s this period of time where Roxy is really going through a truly nightmarish scenario for a thirteen year old girl, let’s just keep reminding the listener here. To say that you were hiding it from your mum, I don’t know whether those are the right words, but for good reason you were trying to find a way through it, right? On your own?
00:21:55.05 Roxy Longworth:
00:21:56.13 Andy Coulson:
That must have been an unbelievably difficult, you’ve had so many difficult moments, Roxy, but that must have been an unbelievably difficult period of time for you before that meeting with the teachers.
00:22:08.05 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah but by the time my parents found out it was so far gone. I felt like a complete shell of myself. So there was not very much my parents could have done. I mean, there had been months of basically avoiding my mum.
00:22:29.11 Gay Longworth:
Which I had keenly felt by the way.
00:22:32.15 Andy Coulson:
Right, so just give us a flavour, Roxy, of what was happening to you in that period of time?
00:22:43.08 Roxy Longworth:
I find it really… sorry can you tell I find it quite difficult to talk about? I haven’t got a clear answer for why I did it. But I find it hard to talk about because there’s this seriously complex mix of feelings with responsibility, but also… I was thirteen, I have to remind myself I was thirteen. And I still struggle with that. Because I take, you know, I did do it. So once I’d sent photos to this guy, a few, maybe a month later I got a text from a random guy who I didn’t know on Facebook I think. And he just said something like hello, I just ignored him, I didn’t know who it was and then he said can you send me a photo? It was like the second message. I was just like, again, I just ignored it. Didn’t know who this guy was.
00:23:50.20 Roxy Longworth:
And then he sent me a photo of myself and yeah… that, yeah. That’s when this became blackmail. He said that if I didn’t send him what he was asking for he would send the photos he already had to his cousin who was in my year at school. We were not friends, she didn’t like me very much and I knew she would send them to everybody. So that wasn’t an option. And now when I read the book obviously I’m just sitting there like for god’s sake just don’t send it. Like what are you doing? But it didn’t feel like I… like it wasn’t, I couldn’t live if anybody else saw those. It wasn’t an option to keep going after that. So it didn’t feel like a choice.
00:24:39.14 Andy Coulson:
So let’s talk about the school’s reaction when this becomes apparent. Gay, perhaps you can summarise how the school responded. Because as I understand it, you touched on it a moment ago, the first thing that’s almost being communicated is the fact that you, Roxy, were sharing these images, right? Not that you were being coerced or pressured into sharing them by boys who were considerably older than you, it’s this idea that you are sharing the images and that that somehow is the primary offence, have I got that right?
00:25:17.18 Gay Longworth:
Yeah, Roxy has been sending photos to boys. I remember sitting on the sofa thinking, photos, boys, plural, sending. And honestly it was like being punched in the solar plexus. So for a little bit of time you sort of almost go numb. Because you can’t… you emotionally respond and I just sort of didn’t know what to say to that. And he made it quite clear that these photos weren’t the okay sort of photos.
00:26:00.16 Roxy Longworth:
Can I just explain that before this, for the month before this, so once that guy had been pressing me to send and asking me to send more, the requests had gotten worse and worse and I hadn’t sent them until he’d asked for some pretty bad videos and that is when I blocked them on social media. And then I waited and then I got a text randomly one night. I’d almost sort of forgotten about it. And I got a text from this guy three days before school started who I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years but who was in my year at school. Pretty randomly. And as soon as I saw his name on my phone I was like, okay something’s happening. And he had sent me four photos of myself. And then the day that school started we’d been in the car on the way to school and my phone had rung, random number, unknown number, it was like a blocked caller and I picked up and someone asked me if this was the number for the local prostitute and then hung up. And then that was the… And then I went into school the next day knowing that everybody knew and had them.
00:27:14.19 Gay Longworth:
And three weeks after that I was called into the office, three weeks after.
00:27:15.19 Andy Coulson:
Right, okay. God, you’d been alone with it for such a long time. Let’s move forward in the story. I do want to pick up on this point about the school a little bit later but I’d like you to do it really from the perspective of really where you are now rather than in that moment. But things developed quite sort of dramatically from this point. Obviously the pressure that you are under is enormous. You begin to self-harm, to cut yourself. Gay, tell us please from your perspective, what happens when you first discovered that and how you first discover that.
00:27:555.13 Gay Longworth:
Well, friends had mentioned it to me but I’d seen nothing for myself so – Rox said no one was talking to her so I was quite, you know, I didn’t really know what was going on. But then the school phoned and confirmed it and they just said they were sending her home because they couldn’t keep her safe. So, I rang the GP surgery – the Duty Doctor rang me back and basically talked me through, not over-reacting, keeping as calm as possible. It was quite common. And the most important thing was to keep everything clean so nothing got infected. And so that is what I tried to do.
00:28:45.13 Gay Longworth:
And then a few weeks later we were sitting in a pub and Roxy just fiddled with her hair the jumper went up too and the wounds on her side were so deep and very different and I realised immediately that I wasn’t supposed to see those. And I didn’t know what to do because I realised that things had changed. And I didn’t say anything to Rox for about two or three days I didn’t really know what to do but..
00:29:30 Gay Longworth:
So the advice to keep them clean that was.. that was no longer good advice. That was no longer working anymore.
00:29:40.18 Andy Coulson:
So when you read each other’s accounts now of that time, I mean, Roxy, first you when you read how your mum is reacting at that moment, how does that feel to read it now?
00:29:58.01 Roxy Longworth:
I mean, I so felt that she thought I was attention seeking, making a big deal out of these photos that everybody was doing that just hadn’t been that important. And I hadn’t really explained about the photos, about how deep I had got into everything. But there, it wasn’t like, there was no sort of care coming, it was like this is a bit annoying, like this is an inconvenience, like snap out of it, basically.
00:30:35.00 Gay Longworth:
There is some truth in that. I mean, that kind of okay, this has happened, you know, you in my head I was like, look there’s this element of playing with fire. I had never seen the photos, I still, again until I’d read the book I didn’t know, I had no idea the extent of the trouble that Rox was in because of the pressure. So there was a part of me which was like, okay they all send photos this has got out of hand, I want you to go back to your old life. I didn’t understand that there was really no going back to the old life. I think I was just trying to fix it and move on and underplay it and not overreact and actually how that appeared to Rox was cold, unfeeling, uncaring and not really bothered. But actually what was really happening with Rox’s dad and me, we were like free falling but you know you’re trying to put on a brave face and…
00:31:56.22 Andy Coulson:
Of course. Gay, you introduce a counsellor into the process at around this point I think I’m right in saying. A counsellor who effectively turns, it’s clear from both accounts, turns mother against daughter. And your account of that process, as a parent, is terrifying to read. Now, you’ve both had, I mean, Roxy, maybe you, I’ve misinterpreted your view of that period, please tell me if I have, but you’ve both had, it seems from the book, good and bad counsellor experiences. How did you both maintain faith in sort of professional help, if you like?
00:32:49.24 Roxy Longworth:
00:32:51.01 Gay Longworth:
Oh, it took me a long time to go and speak to somebody professional, a long time. And I would say Roxy was doing A levels by the time I actually went and spoke to anybody.
00:33:04.10 Roxy Longworth:
And I didn’t find anybody, I didn’t find a person who was incredible until A levels as well. That, also, the counsellor who you’re speaking about, the school made me go and see her, not my parents. The school made me, as part of my three punishments, one of them was that I had to go and have counselling to deal with the self-esteem issues which had made me send pictures.
00:33:27.14 Andy Coulson:
Sorry, these were… you used the word punishments there. Is that how it was framed, was it?
00:33:33.11 Roxy Longworth:
Yes, there were three.
00:33:34.11 Andy Coulson:
What were the other two out of interest?
00:33:37.06 Roxy Longworth:
I was house gaited. So I had to stay in my… whenever I wasn’t in lessons I couldn’t leave my common room at school. And the other one was that I had to write a reflective essay on why I shouldn’t do what I had done again.
00:34:00.04 Andy Coulson:
But these were couched as punishments?
00:34:02.07 Roxy Longworth:
Yes, these were my three punishments.
00:34:05.08 Andy Coulson:
What happened to the boys?
00:34:08.16 Roxy Longworth:
Well the school did not send them to have counselling to deal with why they had pressured an underage girl into sending photos. I think they were like, they had to stay in their common room for maybe one day.
00:34:26.05 Gay Longworth:
I don’t know, no one told me.
00:34:27.17 Roxy Longworth:
They definitely, they weren’t suspended. Nobody.
00:34:28.01 Andy Coulson:
We’ll be right back after this.
00:34:34.04 Andy Coulson:
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00:35:16.11 Andy Coulson:
Getting your mindset right is the absolute key when you’re navigating a crisis or if you’re just struggling with day to day pressures. You’ll find them at myndstream.com that’s mind with a Y, they’re also on Spotify, Apple, Amazon, wherever you download your music from. So take back some control and consider making a Myndstream playlist one of your crisis cures, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
00:35:43.01 Andy Coulson:
And now back to Gay and Roxy.
00:35:45.11 Andy Coulson:
Okay, let’s move on again. Because I feel like I’m skimming over a lot of very important material here but we don’t have enough time to cover it all. And I’m going to say this now, and I’m going to say it again at the end, buy the book and you can read it all. But things do escalate and in again in a very dramatic and a terrifying way. Social services are involved at this stage, for reasons that you can read about in the book. But suffice to say that the relationship between the two of you is at a pretty difficult stage at this moment.
00:36:30.07 Andy Coulson:
And you’re told Gay, that your daughter is very, I think the words are your daughter is very, very ill. And you Roxy, are beginning to hear voices, you believe that there are people surrounding you. What’s happening of course is that you are already in the midst of a very serious mental health crisis, but this is one that’s now taken a different turn and a much more dangerous turn for you. Tell us, if you can, Gay, about the moment when that sort of manifests itself. There’s a moment when you, I think you were sitting with your grandmother, Roxy, your grandmother leaves the room and Gay, you walk back into what I assume is a bedroom.
00:37:23.19 Gay Longworth:
Yeah, so Rox had made it clear she didn’t want to be with any of us. And you know sometimes I know that that is true but on this occasion I didn’t feel right about leaving her on her own. So I went up and I walked into her door and could just see the back of her, just her back. And she’d opened the bedroom window and she was sitting facing out so I could just see the curve of her back and she was just sitting on the windowsill with her legs dangling out of the window. And she didn’t see me, so I didn’t want to frighten her and inadvertently make her tip out which I thought might be possible. And I asked her what she was doing, quietly. And she said she couldn’t, she was sitting on the window ledge because the room was too crowded. And of course her room was empty. And I knew then we were in a whole different area of mental health at that point.
00:38:31.13 Andy Coulson:
Can you begin to tell us how you felt at that moment, Gay?
00:38:37.09 Gay Longworth:
Well it’s really interesting. I can understand why people can be shot and still run three miles and not realise they’re bleeding out. It is a bit like that. You sort of, I stood in this empty bedroom and there were people everywhere and I absolutely one hundred per cent believed that her room was full of people because her voice was different and her eyes were very different. And I thought I’ve just got to get her in off that ledge because you know all she had to do was tip forward and that would have been that.
00:39:22.00 Gay Longworth:
So you go phenomenally calm. Although I can feel my heart pulsating as I tell you this now, because I can see myself in that room like it was a second ago. But when you’re faced with that not being calm isn’t going to help. So you kind of it’s like you sort of suck in all of your energy from your extreme digits. It’s like you almost go cold and your blood just has to go to your brain and you’ve got to think about what to do so you don’t make the situation worse. So it was weirdly calm. I was really pleased I had my mum there. And I got her in, I can’t really remember getting you in. I remember us then sitting on the floor with our backs to the radiator. And we the people stayed for quite a long time after that. We lived with the people.
00:40:34.21 Andy Coulson:
And that was your instinctive reaction, that’s what’s so interesting about this, right, is that this wasn’t something that you were taught to do or that you had read about or that you’d been advised, the approach you’re advised to take. You instinctively knew that that’s how you had to handle that moment.
00:40:53.19 Gay Longworth:
Something instinctive took over, but you never know if you’re doing the right thing.
00:39:59.21 Andy Coulson:
No, of course. Yeah.
00:41:03.17 Gay Longworth:
You know, you just I just knew it was really, really important to do this well for her.
00:41:09.18 Andy Coulson:
So as I mentioned earlier, it’s perfectly clear how ill Roxy is and you then, with Adam of course, your husband, you are then on a mission, really, to try and get Roxy the right help. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services is the first port of call for someone in that situation and of that age. Would you mind again, just telling us what happened there? So two you in the car, you are desperately trying to get her to the clinic and essentially to safety, right?
00:41:50.17 Gay Longworth:
It’s a very long road and it’s very straight and it’s surrounded by a very nature pine woodland. And I just got my eye on the road and Roxy opens the passenger door. Luckily she hasn’t taken her seatbelt off so it’s more, you know, she’d done the door then was going for the seatbelt, just lucky that she hadn’t done the other way around. I lean over, grab the door, pull it back, keep my hand on the handle. Drive with my other hand but there’s nowhere to stop and Rox tells me that it’s too dangerous, the people are telling her it’s too dangerous she has to get out. It’s not safe in the car.
00:42:33.15 Gay Longworth:
And I think I think that is the first time that I speak directly to the people who would, you know we’d had a thing. And I said, I’ve been driving for longer than the people, I know that falling out of a car is unsafe so you’re going to have to listen to me, they’re going to have to listen to me because they’re wrong. Its unsafe to open the car door and when I can pull over I’ll pull over. And I couldn’t stop for quite a long time because I was terrified that pulling over on that road, it was too dangerous because the cars were moving too fast. And if she decided to go into the road I wouldn’t, we’d both be dead. So we pull into a little cul-de-sac. And then we debate, you know, we debate. I debate with the people and we convince the people to let Rox get back in the car. And so we get back in the car and we drive to the services.
00:43:34.15 Andy Coulson:
I mean, Roxy, we’re telling this story now. I’m assuming that you don’t remember much of it. How did it feel, or do you? I don’t know. But how did it feel to read it? How does it feel to hear it now?
00:43:47.01 Roxy Longworth:
I have no recollection of that car, day, none at all. I didn’t know until I read my mum’s part. There were quite a few scenes like that that just did not happen. I remember the windowsill part. I also, I wrote a diary so there’s quite a lot that I don’t know if I remember or if I just read my diary section.
00:44:09.18 Andy Coulson:
Okay, so you kept a diary throughout did you?
00:44:12.09 Roxy Longworth:
Yes. So there are… yeah, I kept a diary when people were talking to me.
00:44:20.18 Gay Longworth:
The diary, there was a really sweet girl who had had some issues of her own at school in the couple of years above. And she gave her the journal and she said this helped me and was really sweet. So and she started it from right the day she was sent home from school, you started writing, didn’t you, all the way through.
00:44:44.04 Roxy Longworth:
The issue is that although there’s a clear point for my mum where she saw that I was ill, like you said, it’s obvious now that Roxy’s ill, it had been months of it had been two months where I had been deteriorating, so that there isn’t a moment like that for me. And so, I said before that you know when I was a child I felt this battle with my brain, and this would have been like that. Like I had this overwhelming voice in my head telling me to do things like keep hockey sticks in my bed. And that voice just sort of got louder and louder and more controlling until it wasn’t really a battle anymore and I was just being told what to do. But it was a really, really slow progression.
00:45:30.11 Andy Coulson:
That journey ends with you arriving at a clinic, that’s the start of, not an immediate, but a process that then ends, Gay, with you quite understandably, deciding that the answer for Roxy is to get her a bed in an adolescent psychiatric clinic. And you succeed in doing that, you actually fight pretty hard, right, that is not an easy thing. And maybe this is the right point to talk about what your view, both of you, on our approach to these issues, particularly with people in their teenage years. The help that you get, the process that we have, the access that we have in this country to these kind of services. What’s your reflection on it, the pair of you, what’s your view on it?
00:46:30.07 Gay Longworth:
Well we got the most amazing social worker, she was standout and I thank her for a great deal because she stayed on the phone when I just needed advice, even though we’d been signed off out of social services, so we got really lucky with her. But the headlines that there is a crisis in the mental health services is absolutely true. I think an awful lot of people go into the services with the best of intentions. But you have to be really, really, really ill to get that help. And by the time you’re that ill, really, what you are being is sort of restrained almost. That is the reality of the situation.
00:47:23.20 Andy Coulson:
Roxy, what about you?
00:47:28.10 Roxy Longworth:
I couldn’t talk about the photos at all at this point. And every time we saw a doctor the first thing they said was things like what can I help you with? Tell me what’s happened? No one ever passed it on to the next person and I couldn’t speak about it because I hadn’t told my parents really what had happened. So I just went silent and then I really couldn’t get help because I wasn’t speaking to them. The fact that I remember these two people said to me that I’d only have to say it once and then not again. And then the next appointment we went into the first thing he asked was tell me again. And I couldn’t. The hospital, the people who worked inside the hospital, were incredible. Like, these young I mean, not much older than I am now, working these crazy hours and just doing the most incredible work.
00:48:25.22 Andy Coulson:
And dealing with very ill young people with very acute problems, yeah.
00:48:32.10 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, and the system was completely, it didn’t work for them either. So we all had to be on one to one where we all had some… They were stopping us hurting ourselves or killing ourselves but we weren’t there to get better. Supposedly we were but that wasn’t really going to work. We were all supposed to be on one to one where we had one where we had a person who worked there within a metre, at least a metre away from us at all times. There was one guy there who was on four to one, he needed four people with him and there just weren’t enough people. So we all had to sit in a corridor.
00:49:09.04 Andy Coulson:
Let’s pick it up there. You’re in the hospital for a while but your mum decides, actually again your instincts, Gay, your instincts are this is not right. And although they may well be keeping my daughter safe she’s not going to get better here. Seems to be from the book, the sort of decision that you’re making in your head. And you take on the, and you know what you’re doing I think, the extraordinary decision, together with Adam, that you’re going to take this on. Because you know that by bringing her out of hospital you’re really kind of bringing her home and you are going to be responsible. Which is an astonishing decision. Just tell me about that decision and give me a flavour of what happened in those weeks and months after you’ve made the decision and the two of you are at home together.
00:50:18.00 Gay Longworth:
Well there were definitely moments when I thought I had made a terrible, terrible mistake, I’ll say that. I thought it’d done the wrong thing. But I realised because Roxy stopped eating or drinking inside the unit. And she had begged me for help. She had begged me on the floor in the foetal position, for me to get help. And when I realised that that wasn’t going to happen quickly enough for us in that place, and having been told by all the staff, if she begs you to come home don’t, whatever you do, don’t take her out. She didn’t beg me, she had just retreated somewhere, even further than from the person I had delivered.
00:51:16.06 Andy Coulson:
Just remind me how long Roxy had been in the unit for?
00:51:21.21 Roxy Longworth:
Two days, one night.
00:51:22.11 Gay Longworth:
Yeah, I mean, literally hardly any time. But I mean, they did tell me… it was no time at all but it was going to a weekend where there was no therapeutic care for the weekend.
00:51:32.03 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, but what’s interesting to me, and there are by the way several moments, many moments during the course of the book that reinforce this point, that you worked that out. Roxy, you are in… you’re seriously ill at this point, and yet you are able to work out the fundamental truth of that place. You are able to work out this is not a place where, this place might keep me safe but this is not a place where I’m going to get well. I mean, there are these little moments during the course of your story where you have absolute clarity about what you’re doing. And a sort of ability to sort of cut through it all, literally cut through these voices that you have, to see the truth of the situation. It’s quite a thing.
00:52:19.10 Roxy Longworth:
Yeah, it did feel like that. I think the thing about that place is that I think the other kids in there…
00:52:33.11 Gay Longworth:
It makes you really sad thinking about that.
00:52:37.12 Andy Coulson:
Yes, understandably so.
00:52:39.19 Gay Longworth:
I mean, I think it is true, and I say it right at the beginning of the book, that it’s my job as Roxy’s primary care giver to keep her safe. And so as a mother, parent I definitely felt like a failure for a lot of that time.
00:53:01.20 Roxy Longworth:
We asked… this is casting forwards a lot but after I got better we didn’t really speak for quite a long time. I didn’t feel like I had been protected. I didn’t feel like I’d been protected at all.
00:53:21.09 Andy Coulson:
Until you read what your mum had written?
00:53:27.16 Roxy Longworth:
I yes, I mean, reading the book meant that I understood so much more. Like your position and where everything had come from. I still probably haven’t completely come to terms with how unprotected and alone I felt for so long. But I understand it more. I just probably haven’t fully forgiven for it yet. Trying to.
00:54:05.23 Andy Coulson:
Let’s just fill in a couple of the blanks in the story if I may. So you’ve come back, I’ve alluded to it but that your recovery, like a lot of recoveries was not on a straight line, there were proper ups and downs. And at no point you decide, Gay, that …or maybe you did, I don’t know, but I can’t do this. It doesn’t seem to… there doesn’t seem to be that point in the story where you come close to giving up. The pressure not just for you, the pressure for you and your marriage, you know with Adam, and you’ve got two other daughters, your life, you’re a very successful woman. You’ve got a professional life to maintain. The pressure to find some other way of getting this handled must have been enormous but you chose not to.
00:55:07.23 Gay Longworth:
One of the benefits of Roxy having gone into the unit was I felt I knew exactly how it felt to have her not with me. And nothing will feel as bad. I mean, even with all the ups and downs and what I would really like to say about the ups and downs for anyone in this situation, recovery is full of ups and downs and it took me a long time to realise that the downs were never quite as bad. But I knew what it felt not to be caring for her and that was worse. However bad it did get and exhausting.
00:55:48.18 Andy Coulson:
The sending of the photos and the subsequent coercion is the word that we will use. This is really the reason why you both chose to write this book, it’s the reason why it’s important. What would you say, Roxy, to your twelve year old self now as she excitedly unwraps her first iPhone?
00:56:14.23 Roxy Longworth:
I suppose what I wish I’d felt when I was thirteen was that I was an interesting enough… I wish I’d valued myself enough to think that I was an interesting, cool enough person for somebody to like me without having to send photographs. And I wish that I could explain to that kid that firstly that she’s a child, because I definitely didn’t feel like that. I think it helps now that both my sisters are older. I mean, my youngest sister is over a year older than I was then. So now I can look at my sister and remind myself and think oh my god, you were over a year younger than she is now. That helps.
00:57:06.07 Roxy Longworth:
I wish I could say that to her. I wish I could try and explain that like this is all so much hindsight. But I wish I had… I wish that twelve thirteen year old person had had someone that she could have gone to really, because I was so alone. But also to explain that you know… I don’t know if I can say this but I worry that porn is extremely widely available. So the fact that these guys were asking for these photos I worry has more to do with power and control and being able to own some. I mean, they owned me as soon as they had them. Like I thought it was kind of sexy and flirty. But like they had porn and photos of girls much more attractive than some thirteen year old kid.
00:58:02.13 Andy Coulson:
You actually say in the book Roxy, this is not to yourself but this is to other girls who may find themselves in a similar situation, you actually say to the thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old girls that if you’re sending these photographs then you probably think that there’s no way what happened to me will happen to you. I thought that too. I’d heard stories of people whose lives were ruined but that wasn’t enough to stop me. I promise you it is not worth it.
00:58:28.15 Gay Longworth:
How do we get the thirteen year old to listen to that message? Because they are told all the time you know, there are loads and loads of PSHE sessions out there all saying don’t do this, don’t do that but you have to cut through the attraction of it and speak to the other side. You know as Rox said, we’re told a million times not what to do but we’re never told what to do if we have done that.
00:59:01.17 Roxy Longworth:
Also, can I just say that instead of talking to the twelve year old girl about why not to send photos I think you also need to, someone needs to talk to the person who feels the need to pressure people into sending photos in the first place.
00:59:14.05 Andy Coulson:
Of course, absolutely, yeah, absolutely. A fundamentally important point. The book ends when you’re sixteen Roxy, it ends with your outstanding GCSE results but also an unbelievably eloquent self-diagnosis and understanding. You’ve touched on it during the course of this conversation, but an understanding of what sort of caused your crisis and as you put it, of how your brain works. Can you just give us a flavour of that process and how you’ve been able to reach that point. You’re now nineteen, how you’ve managed to reach that point and what as you look back on your crisis, you know we talk about this a lot on the podcast with people who’ve been through very different crises to you, but the importance of trying to find some perspective about it. How did you do that? What is the approach that you took? Aside from eh help that you’ve had and we’ve discussed, how have you found a sense of perspective?
01:00:23.12 Roxy Longworth:
I have spent, I have literally spent every day since I decided that I was going to turn my life around trying to work out how to manage my brain in a sustainable way.
01:00:39.14 Andy Coulson:
Sleep is incredibly important, I know we started the story with your insomnia as a child, sleep is incredibly important, right?
01:00:49.01 Roxy Longworth:
Sleep’s important and you know occasionally I slip into weeks where I sleep start sleeping less and less and that is a big sign I need to sort something out. Like that still happens. I don’t take pills to help me sleep anymore but I did have to for quite a long time. And sometimes if I slip back into it then I need to. I use distraction a lot. I sort of have to weigh up between just distracting myself enough to kind of stay on top of things and then when I’m feeling strong I can start to introduce not distracting myself enough to kind of embrace how I’m feeling. But it’s … I’m not really answering my question am I?
01:01:43.10 Andy Coulson:
You have answered my question. Roxy, at one stage you are seen by a neurosurgeon, in actual fact, Gay, there’s a passage in the book where you sort of describe how you are hoping that there is something sort of physical wrong because it will provide an explanation. An Argentinian doctor, I think, who we’re going to use that word brutal again, in brutal simplicity she tells you, boys are bastards, girls are bitches, don’t let them steal one more day. Now that may be a slight oversimplification of your crisis and your battle through it, Roxy and Gay, but my word, that’s a great piece of crisis advice, isn’t it?
01:02:36.01 Gay Longworth:
She was brilliant, wasn’t she?
01:02:37.20 Roxy Longworth:
I mean, I feel like we’ve moved on but that was, I was still very, very ill at that point and that was the only time that we walked out of a room together and we were like oh my god, we might get out of this.
01:02:50.00 Andy Coulson:
Amazing. And so it can come, right? There’s a woman who you hadn’t spent a lot of time with presumably before then, who didn’t know you very well and yet there comes a piece of advice and there’s a truth to it, isn’t that right? Keep your eyes and your ears open I think when you’re in crisis, always. Actually, there is another I prefer, Gay, and it’s there in the book as well when you say, I think this is your sort of crisis formula, you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, ‘generosity of spirit is the greatest strength of all, happiness is the greatest revenge, courage is essential’. I think I prefer that one actually, it’s quite brilliant.
01:03:35.07 Andy Coulson:
Look, we have skimmed through this story, as is the nature of podcasting, but it’s all there for people to read. When You Lose It, is the title of the book. It’s published in early July, please do go and buy it. I think it is essential reading for parents. I think it’s essential reading for anyone who is interested in what it is to be a modern teenager. And also to try and understand and try and navigate what we know is a growing problem here and elsewhere with young people’s mental health. So thank you both for writing it. I’m going to finish here though by asking you for your crisis cures.
01:04:26.16 Gay Longworth:
Umm… ok. For me, find people who know more than you do. That is my number one. Friends. Friends of friends, neighbours, local pharmacist – anyone. That’s key in the position I was in.
01:04:49.19 Andy Coulson:
01:04:50.05 Gay Longworth:
01:04:52.02 Roxy Longworth:
I can’t lie I probably haven’t completely mastered my crisis handling technique but I’d say…
01:05:04.21 Andy Coulson:
I’d say you’re kind of black belt. It’s perfectly clear, you’re like some kind of crisis management ninja.
01:05:16.22 Roxy Longworth:
But I work very hard, I just fully one hundred per cent commit a lot of the time. All of the time. And I always make sure I’m doing at least four things at once because I manage best when there’s as little time to think as possible.
01:05:32.06 Andy Coulson:
I happen to know that we had to change the time of this recording because of that. Because you’ve been doing some GCSE tutoring, am I right?
01:05:40.13 Roxy Longworth:
01:05:42.16 Andy Coulson:
So work, work, okay. It’s a theme that comes up a lot when we have this conversation. Not just the solace of work, but its importance in crisis. Okay, Gay, you’ve got another.
01:05:54.19 Gay Longworth:
Umm.. I’m the absolute opposite I need to go to a really quiet place and I actually do that by coming out of my head and back into my body and I have a trick for that which is, stand on one leg because I have to balance and you have to focus to balance. And if that doesn’t work, try doing it on tip-toes. And if that doesn’t work, do it with your eyes closed. And that definitely gets you to focus the mind and that’s my second. Stand on one leg.
01:06:12.27 Roxy Longworth:
Oh my god we are so different. Um.. my second one is that I found and amazing therapist who helped me navigate my way through working out where I could take responsibility for things I’d done and where I needed to accept I’d been taken advantage of. And he was just incredible and he showed me how to manage my brain and use it to my advantage.
01:06:56.23 Gay Longworth:
Umm – I would say, when you’re trying to make really big decisions, when you don’t know the outcome or the outcome could be fatal, I would say try to not make decisions, make choices and I guess my number one and number two lead to that. It’s like if you know, if you have all the information you can and you go to a quiet place, you can make a choice. And if they don’t work out, you can look back and think, I did what I could knowing what I did at the time. So I would say, don’t make decisions – try and make choices.
01:07:36.23 Roxy Longworth
My third one is that I draw cubes – literally everywhere. It can get pretty excessive sometimes. But also I can use them to help kind of ground myself and keep myself calm when I feel like I’m spiralling. So yeah maybe not the most sane crisis cure.
01:07:57.22 Andy Coulson:
Super. Thank you both for your time and for your story. It was incredibly valuable and I’ll say it just one more time, When You Lose It, published in July, go and buy it. Thank you both.
01:08:12.23 Roxy Longworth:
Thank you so much.
01:08:13.22 Gay Longworth:
01:04:15.03 End of transcription