Life after the building safety crisis: Sophie’s story

I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t been on the ‘inside’ of the building safety crisis to understand what it has been like for leaseholders who have been impacted by it. For so many of us, the best way I can describe it is a traumatic experience.

I couldn’t see a way out for a long time, but I believe I was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. I was certainly very stressed, but I didn’t have to file for bankruptcy or have to open invoices for tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. I wasn’t living in my flat, so I didn’t have to encounter the waking watch timewasters, abusing their roles to watch the footy on their phones at my expense. I didn’t have to sit behind scaffolding, wishing for the day when natural light would fill the room again. Leaseholders have all been connected by this crisis, but our experiences have varied so much, and as hard as it was for me at times, I knew that it could have been even worse.

I will never forget the moment it was finally over. December 19th, 2022. I was sitting in a restaurant with one of my oldest friends, prosecco in hand, feeling very hopeful but still cautious that something might stop this dream from becoming a reality. When the solicitor called and told me the sale of my flat had gone through and my money was back in my bank account – and that this nightmare was over – I really did feel the weight I had been carrying, not only on my shoulders but through all parts of my being, finally lift. It was glorious. They were words I couldn’t bring myself to imagine hearing because on so many previous occasions my hopes had been dashed. That fall back to earth, to a sobering reality of facing up to these issues over and over again, was one I knew all too well.

Many of my loved ones celebrated with me, or checked in with me that day just so they could hear me say the words out loud. They too were heavily impacted by the building safety crisis. Watching someone they loved suffering and panicking had often left my friends, family and colleagues feeling helpless. Now their best wishes filled up WhatsApp, with many of them telling me to simply enjoy the moment and reminding me to ‘forget about it’ and to ‘look forward now’.

I was ready for this. The last couple of years had been brutal, 2023 was just around the corner, and it felt like a prime time to restart my life. But little did I know, while my spirit was leaping ahead doing celebratory cartwheels, my body and mind were trailing far behind. I had held on to the thought that one day I’d be free – but I hadn’t ever given a second thought to what would come after.

Stress loves to linger

In the week after the sale of my flat, it was Christmas. It should be a time of joy and this Christmas was exactly that – but the feeling of anxiety still lingered. ‘It will pass’, everyone kept telling me as we entered a whole new year which was labelled ‘Sophie’s Year’. This is your year, kid, make it whatever you want it to be!

As I planned my new life and thought about all the things I could now do, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still about to go wrong. The money was back in my account, my name was off the deeds, all was done – and yet the panic remained.

It took me a few weeks and some honest conversations with my parents to recognise that my brain was now trained for trauma. I realised I had grown to expect the worst, to expect things to fall through, to look at life bleakly. I couldn’t cope with the thought of everything being okay and life now being all rosy again, because that wasn’t my safe space. I’ve listened to podcasts on neuroplasticity for some time and revisiting them made me realise that this was now a habit, and one that would take some time to shift. I’m still very much working on this.

If you’re someone who is in a similar boat to me, or you’re dreaming of the day you receive your good news, it’s something to be aware of and not fear. I think it’s important that we don’t let dwelling on what has happened consume our future lives. I equally don’t think we should forgive and forget what’s happened, because that also doesn’t feel right. But something you can do is be kind to yourself. If you’re not feeling 100% or you can’t place why your feelings don’t match what everyone is telling you to feel, it’s not because there is something wrong with you: it’s simply because you’ve been through hell, and you need some time to process it. It’s not about needing to gain more resilience, because what you’ve just experienced couldn’t be a better definition of your resilience. It’s about time, patience, self-care and appreciation that these feelings don’t just disappear but that, slowly and surely, things will improve.

You’re not the guilty party

Leading up to the sale, I was so mindful of my fellow leaseholders. I have got to know some wonderful people over these years, who have picked me up when I was at my lowest. The last thing I wanted to do was wave my freedom in their face, when theirs could be much further away. I wanted to give hope, but not leave others feeling hopeless.

I’ve had time to process this feeling though, and I really think there is a balance. I was overwhelmed by the wonderful response from this community, who really do care about each other. I realised that you’re allowed to celebrate this. You absolutely should be doing so and by telling others, you might be giving them that little bit of extra hope that they can cling onto and helping them to recognise that progress has been made towards the day when this crisis will be over for everyone.

If we were to write a list right now of all parties involved in creating, hiding and profiting from this building safety scandal, we’d quickly identify that we’re not the guilty ones here – so try not to let this feeling weigh you down and instead think of how you can remain connected and support those who are still trapped.

Finding the positive

If you are still deep in the building safety crisis, if the anxiety is still sitting heavy on your chest, if your palms sweat when the mailperson drops off another brown envelope, or even if you’re just not feeling how you think you should, please remind yourself that your journey is your own and it’s okay to be feeling exactly how you are: your feelings are valid.

I have found looking backwards is painful. It’s easy to find myself feeling frustrated at what losses I have incurred over the past two years. Money, time, my health, my happiness; the cost of being a leaseholder in this scandal has been eye-watering. However, I now turn this thought process on its head.

What have I gained? Resilience like I’ve never known it before. So much understanding of my own physical and mental health. A connection to a wonderful community of people. Knowledge in areas I had never considered exploring. A real sense of what is important and what makes me happy. Confidence.

I have control back but most importantly, I have myself back. And you will too. Just remember to be kind to yourself… you’ve been through a lot.

Our thanks to Sophie for sharing her story and giving hope to leaseholders who are still trapped in the building safety crisis.

Looking after your mental health is incredibly important in these challenging circumstances. If you’re struggling, then help is available: see Mental Health Support for details.

Have you succeeded in selling your flat or escaping the building safety crisis? If you would like to share practical advice about what worked for you in a future blogpost, so that others can benefit from your experience, then please contact us with an outline of your story. You can also submit your details to the leasehold mortgages website, where James is crowdsourcing information to help affected leaseholders who have not yet been able to remortgage or sell.

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