In honor of Mental Health Awareness week starting in the USA this weekend, I’d like to share with a story from another inspirational woman in my network. Annabelle Southcoat is a genuine polymath – someone whose intellectual curiosity and drive for humanity and social justice has led her down so many fruitful paths already. Her story is interesting because she so nearly wasn’t. Her story is relevant to business leaders because she demonstrates the value of authentic adjustments to our inclusion practice and how, with the right champion, we can change the course and direction of lives. Ms Southcoat is now a Psychologist at the UK Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) a drummer in a band, an innovative thinker and a pussy cat mother. She says,
”I’m also a dyslexic, gay, trans woman (though I tend to just say woman these days) and I have an ongoing and exciting relationship with my mental health.
I was born in the north east of England, my parents were fairly unconventional for the time in that after my younger brother was born my mum went back to work as a computer programmer, while my dad stayed home to look after the children. This caused a bit of friction with the family (so I’m told) and we left the north east before I started school. Following my mums career we moved around the country so that I attended eight different schools by the time I finished my A-levels (UK equivalent to High School Diploma).
When I was eight years old, Disney released The Little Mermaid, seeing it at the cinema also changed my life as it helped shape my questions of my gender identity. In 1989, with no Google to check this was challenging to face alone, it would also define my Master’s research into how childhood narratives shape our identity, with consequences for our mental health. I’m publishing this shortly, so watch this space!
Throughout school I was bullied and a bit of a loner, I was that child who would always get the school report ‘could try harder’ and ‘not achieving their full potential’. No one spotted my dyslexia or that, as it turns out, I’m pretty bright, with a General Ability Index (GAI) that puts me in the top 0.1% of the population. I wouldn’t learn of my dyslexia until my first year of university and wouldn’t really understand it or its impact until my late 30s. With a lot of hard work I got through my exams at sixteen (to everyone’s surprise, including my own) and onto A-levels”
What kind of system allows someone with a gifted intellect to struggle through exams? All children who ‘fail’ the school system suffer, gifted or not. It perpetuates needless anxiety, internalized self-hatred and isolation across a wide spectrum. We need to do better for all children. Ms Southcoat continues:
“After my friend tragically died by suicide, I tried to copy her. It would be the