Having started training to be a counsellor, Stella explores the reasons why she found it so difficult to ask for help when she needed it most.

I received a conviction for fraud approximately 20 years ago which resulted in a 4.5 year prison sentence.

Shocking as it was to go to prison, I believe that it was prison that helped me become a better person – less uptight, less anxious, a person that wasn’t afraid to ask for help and ultimately somebody that was a lot happier in themselves.

To the outside world, my life prior to prison must have seemed perfect. Good job, great salary, lovely home, marvellous holidays abroad. But behind the scenes I was massively in debt, living beyond my means and defrauding the company I worked for. I was a mess.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what went wrong and what I could have done differently. Without a doubt, I should have spoken to somebody about my problems and asked for help. So why didn’t I?

There’s probably been loads of research on this but for me, it was fairly simple:

  • I was too proud
  • I didn’t want to come across as incompetent
  • I didn’t want to be judged

And maybe, I just didn’t really want to change. If I got help then I’d have lost the lifestyle and habits that I had.

I feel so ashamed writing that, it makes me sound unrepentant and that’s probably how I was at the time. I didn’t want to be told what I needed to hear, it was far easier to keep the status quo.

Twenty years on and I’m in a different place; training to be a counsellor and it’s obvious to me now that talking really does help.

I know from the clients I see in my current work placements that many of us are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. The Pandemic has seen us lose friends and family and lock-down has seen the mental health of many deteriorate. Talking won’t change what’s happened to us but it can help to bring us some relief.

When I started my counselling training, there were several times when I thought my criminal record might scupper my dreams. I couldn’t see an answer to my problems and started to be consumed with negative thoughts. But for once, I took my own advice and asked for help – I rang the Unlock helpline.

The advisor I spoke to didn’t immediately solve my problems but whenever I presented her with a negative statement, she’d come back at me with a couple of options – one of which seemed to be:

“Do nothing and keep feeling sorry for yourself.

These chats were a bit like re-programming a computer. Slowly all my old thoughts were erased replaced instead by more constructive ones.

As somebody with a conviction that will never be spent, I’m sure I’ll have a few more wobbles along the way but you know what – I’ll keep on talking.

By Stella (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

It’s good to hear that our helpline was able to help Stella. If you’re currently struggling with a problem because of your criminal record and need information or advice our helpline is available Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm.

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