From Depression to Cheerleading

Two, four, six, eight… here’s a story you might appreciate. The Senior Captain of Hertfordshire’s Sirens cheerleading squad, Katie Oldham, revealed to Yuppee Magazine that life wasn’t all smiles and pompoms back in her school days. “I wish I could have sat down and just told myself that, like, it does get better, and it will get so much better. Just wait.”

“It was just that one night, I knew I was never going to do it, but it was that one moment… it didn’t seem so scandalous. But I think I needed that absolute earth shattering shock to wake up and realise.”

When Katie was sixteen she fell very ill and was rushed into hospital, where she responded badly to anaesthetic in an operation, had CPR performed on her three times then had a tube thrust down her throat to force her to breathe. When she came back around, she felt a change within herself. “I grew up too quick, I think. I was a child and then an adult. Everyone else dawdled around being a teenager and I didn’t really have that.”

Katie’s new mindset changed her outlook on things. She began to take pride in the things that she enjoyed, like vintage shopping. “I used to go into Topshop and write down the clothes I saw and then go into a charity shop and see if I could find it. People weren’t happy; they thought I was being pretentious. One day I bought this big fake fur coat because I thought it was beautiful, and then I wore it to school… it went silent. I could hear people whispering ‘what is she wearing?’”

The judgement and the name calling continued, becoming worse and worse. Soon Katie cut herself off from everyone; but the bullying moved into other directions. “All these other things started culminating into this hate campaign and then it moved on to eating. People would say ‘oh you fat b****’, so I decided right, if I eat before and after school they won’t see it.”

This worked seamlessly until one day she missed breakfast and found herself shaking and feeling dizzy. “I remember I got an Aero out of the vending machine, and put it in my bag, and waiting for the end of school to eat it. When it came, I sat at the back of the bus like normal, and just ate an Aero.” However when Katie got home, she had fifteen abusive messages. “I narrowed it down to it being someone on that bus, but all the people that got the bus were my best friends…”

Over time the bullying began calming down and Katie found herself feeling more relaxed at school, thinking that it had all been a phase and it was over. She therefore agreed to go to a party with a large group of people from her year. “I remember being woken up at four, like half four – five, in the morning, someone was shaking me awake. I was like ‘what?’ and they said ‘you need to get up, Katie just get up’. I heard the tone of his voice, he said, ‘it’s your, er, your car, someone put some rubbish on it’, and I was like, ‘I don’t care I’ll clean it off in the morning’. In my head I was thinking someone had put a Big Mac wrapper on it or just like thrown an apple core on it, you know.”

As Katie got closer she realised what they’d done. “They’d pulled up the windscreen wipers, covered it in washing up liquid and hand soap, and then they’d got dog [insert expletive here!] off the floor and smeared it on the windscreen and all over the windows and then they’d emptied all of the big dumpsters, onto my car. There were chicken bones and vegetable peelings, tampons and sanitary towels, just rubbish, so much of it; it piled all over my car. All stuffed on the inside of my doors and in all the vents and stuff, so many eggs as well. There wasn’t even a register for shock.”

“I had to stand there and pick all the grim stuff off of the car. It was all covered on my hands, and it smelt so bad, it was all rotten. Everyone was standing around just watching me in the middle, me trying not to cry, just picking this stuff off my car. That was; well that was the worst point. No one was smiling or laughing, everyone’s faces were just blank. Just complete blank.”

“I managed to get enough off to drive away, that’s when I realised that they’d invited me on purpose to do that. I drove to the petrol station to use the car wash and called my mum. All she could say was ‘I’m just so sorry’. I went home and she made me a cup of tea. We just sat in silence for like two hours I swear. I didn’t even imagine it would get to be this bad.”

“I sunk into the worst depression, ever. I didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t upset or lonely – I was blank; a complete absence of anything. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d lie there for hours. I wouldn’t have even thought about anything. I felt like I didn’t have a mind anymore.”

Katie began to skip school and even when confronted by teachers she felt nothing, until one day her psychology teacher kept her behind and advised her to visit a doctor. She did, and got diagnosed with depression. “I remember sitting in a cafe with my best friend Harriet, and I said there’s something I need to tell you. It was really hard to say it. I was crying in this cafe, it was the first time I’d ever admitted it. I was choking on my words, I kept thinking I am not that weak, I am not that weak.”

The abuse finally stopped once Katie received a message saying: you should kill yourself. “I think that was the point people realise that they’d gone too far. For me, oh man, I was already in the worst place I ever thought I could be and that tipped me over the edge really.”

Katie reached her lowest point the summer before she started university, where she decided to be brave and chase her dream of becoming a cheerleader.

One of the most gruelling parts of being a cheerleader is the pressure of an upcoming performance. According to Katie the key to keeping a cool head is simply to just man up. She reflected on her first ever competition. “It was after the summer when this all happened. I was so nervous, so nervous; I thought ‘what am I doing here’? I was so scared the whole time, shaking on the mat. In the end I just learnt to take it not so seriously. I think I actually performed better when I thought, just ‘man up’, rather than being so cripplingly nervous that I’d get it wrong. It’s all fun now, a lot more laid back.”

Katie only recently got appointed the position of Senior Cheerleading Captain. “Our coach is so adorable; she sat us down and was like ‘Katie has always tried to bring the team together’, a team spirit kind of thing. She had two spirit sticks, have you seen Bring It On? It’s like a really old fashioned thing, a baton I guess they call it in America. It’s a cheerleading urban legend. You channel all your good energy – it’s so cheesy, I know – it’s just like a funny thing for us but Americans take it really seriously. But anyway, they were amazing and they had jewels on, all decorated and they said ‘Sirens’ and ‘Captain’ and stuff like that. So I guess it’s more of an award. I still like saying it though, my little claim to fame forever!”

“It wasn’t so much that it gave me confidence; it was that it gave me purpose again. To go from being such a helpless lump of human at the start of uni to now being able to say that, ‘oh I’m now senior captain and in my second year and social sec’, it’s kind of like ‘yay me!’, I’m proud of myself, not because of what I’ve achieved but because of what I came from and what I arrived to, I guess.”

“Cheerleading is absolutely invaluable. Being involved in a massive group of girls was really daunting but everyone comes a here a bit nervous, it doesn’t matter what their background is. You go from being on your own in a scary place to being with 60 other people in a scary place. Cheerleading isn’t just the performance side; you really get to know people.”

“I believe in fate, but that you have to take fate into your own hands. You have to make it work for you. Life will happen, but you can make it happen better if you choose to. I’m a strong believer in ceasing every opportunity.”

Katie explained that insecurities don’t have to hold you back when you perform. Getting knocked back can drive you forwards. “Only you can know your true potential and your own, sort of, personal power when you’ve been reduced to nothing, I think. When you’re at your weakest point, that’s only when you can appreciate what you can achieve at your strongest.”

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