In a deeply personal piece, Leanne Quinn explains why after struggling with her identity for years, that making the brave decision to start counselling was one of the best things she ever did, and could be for you too...

In an age where your identity is everything and finding out who you are takes bravery and soul-searching, what do you do when you’re faced with the nature vs. nurture debate? Are we all products of our environment or is it built in our DNA who we will inevitably become? If it is indeed nature, what do you do when you don’t know one half of your genetic make-up? Does this mean that you will never know all of whom you really are? Or when your G.P asks you your medical history and you can only tell them about one half of your family? Or come Fathers’ Day when everyone else seems to be showering their dads in love and gifts and thanks for always being there for them but you can’t celebrate the occasion? Or at weddings when the Father of the Bride’s speech always leaves the room in floods of tears at the pride in his voice for his little girl but your tears aren’t empathetic ones but genuine, heartbroken tears knowing that you will never have that speech where the man who is supposed to be number one in your life, simply won’t be there?

For a long time, I have struggled with this nature vs. nurture debate. Why? Because I’m adopted. But not in the traditional sense of the word. I grew up with a mother and a father. My mother is my biological mother but my father wasn't. I didn't know this until I was 15 years old. There was always something off, something unstable between us, my 'Dad' and I. We never got on, still don't. I could never understand it. Being the eldest of 5, I could see that he treated me differently, from as young as 8 years old. I remember crying to my mother, telling her how I couldn't see 'Dad' ever walking me down the aisle; I was 9.

As it turns out, my biological father had plainly told my mother that he wanted nothing to do with me. They were both in their late teens when my Mam fell pregnant with me and in his own words he had his “own life to live”. Oddly enough, being told that a parent wanted nothing to do with me didn't have the detrimental effect on me as I thought it might have. I don't have 'Daddy Issues', I don't hate or disrespect all men, I don't feel 'incomplete' not knowing half of my genes or my family for that matter and I don't feel the need to 'find myself' by finding him.

I can say this now, I can't say that I could have said that when I was 15. It used to be the first thing I thought of every morning and the last thing to cross my mind each night. While I thought I was coping with it just fine, looking back I was hurt and felt that I had missed out on a huge part of life, unnecessarily so.

When I got to college, it became much harder. Whatever about knowing who you are in your community and a relatively small secondary school, when you’re thrown into the ocean with the big sharks of University, that’s where the real questions are asked. That’s where you really find who you are but all that I could think of was how I would never know.

In an effort to do some soul-searching, I took a year out and moved to Canada. While it was the best thing that I have ever done for many reasons, I didn’t get the answer to the one question I went in search of: why?

When I came back, I was more lost than I had ever been. I had even more questions about who I was than I had left with. I knew I needed help, I just didn’t know where to begin. There seemed to be such a stigma attached to someone asking for help; that it would expose a great deficit of character, that it was shameful to admit to being ‘weak’. The phrase “going for counselling” wasn’t a popular one and seemed to be a conversation killer whenever it was brought up. Because of this, I was wary of where I went. I didn’t want anyone to know that I wasn’t coping well. I didn’t want anyone to know because I felt ashamed that I could not deal with this alone.

I turned to the counselling service in my own University. It was tough, I won’t lie. There were days where I poured my heart out and wept uncontrollably and others where I wasn’t able to talk or muster the willingness to even participate. It took time but once a relationship of trust and a mutual respect was established, I started to feel much lighter, relieved even. I know it’s cliché to say that a problem shared is a problem halved, but it is a cliché for a reason; it’s proven to be true.

While at counselling, I realised that I was so hung up on the “Why did it happen to me?” that I was missing the core of the issue; I wasn’t the problem. This revelation was ground-breaking for me. I will never know why and it honestly doesn’t bother me in the slightest anymore. What I do know is that I have a great family and circle of friends around me that love me more than enough to make up for any love that may have been lost along the way.

I couldn’t see this before counselling.

I know now that there is no shame in admitting that you are struggling and asking for help, no matter what you are going through. Everyone has a story and some stories are more intricately laced with heartbreak and hurt than others. That is not to say that because someone may be worse off than you that your problems are not worthy of seeking help. Every person in the world needs someone to open up to at the end of the day and we shouldn’t be expected to be capable of bearing the heaviest of burdens on our own shoulders.

My biological father has lived ten minutes away from me for my entire life. And nothing. No birthday card, Christmas card, text or phone-call, no contact whatsoever for 21 years.

I’ve decided that I will never go searching for him because to be honest, I don’t feel the need. I don't feel like I don't know who I am because I don't know him. Life is a journey of self-discovery, we are never ‘finished products’; we are constantly changing. Knowing him won’t give me more knowledge of myself than I already have. I don't feel the need to have him in my life because I’ve made it this far without him.

It should be a privilege for anyone to be a part of your story, a privilege that has to be earned; one that he never will.