Anna's story
Anna, 22, wanted to be a professor of English. She took eight O-levels but then she dropped out. Now she lives in a housing association flat with her boyfriend and sells the `Big Issue'.

I was ecstatic when I finished my O-levels. I was fresh, innocent, and still lived in a large house with my parents. I had the whole summer ahead of me - plenty of time to take drugs, relax, have a good time. Come autumn, I didn't want it to end. So instead of taking a college place that was already set aside for me, I decided to take a year off. My career could come later.

Then I met this guy - he was a bit odd, but he seemed quite nice. We went out, talked, took drugs. I didn't fancy him, but he fancied me. I just let it go on. Then out of the blue he flipped. It must have been the drugs. Sometimes he said he was in love with me; at other times he said I was a witch and that I had to be killed.

He started hounding me, following me, threatening me, hitting and pushing me. One time he held me against a wall, a pair of scissors to my neck. I got a job to avoid him. He would wait outside for me and just watch. I felt frightened all the time. He turned me into a nervous wreck.

I couldn't tell my parents.

My dad had been made redundant. He had problems of his own. My brothers had their own lives to lead; and my sister was almost a stranger.

My former teachers were out of the question - I only wanted them to see me when I was strong and happy. So I just tried to cope.

My job, drilling holes into aluminium hinges, was driving me crazy. I would look at the people around me - women who had been doing the same job for 20 years, women for whom the bingo, the World Cup or the annual trip to Alton Towers was the highlight oftheir year - and I just felt like screaming.

The money was crap: £130 a week after tax. I couldn't get the dole or housing benefit because I was too young. By the time I had paid my rent and bought cigarettes, there was nothing left. Weekends had always been my high point but I couldn't even enjoy those now. I was too afraid that this guy would turn up.

One day it suddenly occurred to me: you can do something about this. The next day I collected my pay cheque, bought a jar of paracetamol and a bottle of whisky and went home. On the way back I bumped into my stalker. He pointed two fingers at me, mimicking a gun. "Too right!" I thought to myself. I got home, put on my favourite record and consumed the lot.

My brother found me. I was taken to hospital where I had my stomach pumped. My parents were upset: why hadn't I told them what was happening? I didn't have an answer.

Eventually my stalker was put in jail for two years; he had a string of 52 offences. And I did my best to pull my life back together. I went to France as an au pair. I got myself a place in college so I could do A-levels. But I kept feeling depressed. I would cry whenever I was alone.

When I did start college in London, two years after I should have done, I found it hard living on my own, on government benefit. My parents would send me a tenner occasionally to help pay for text books. But I was lonely. I went to a counsellor and she put me on anti-depressants.

I got three A-levels (grades A, A, B), but after I'd finished I had nowhere to live and no job. I didn't want to go home to my parents. He might be there (he was out of prison). So I ended up on the streets, squatting and begging. Then I started selling the Big Issue. I probably make about £20 a day.

I have my own flat now. But I feel cheated. People talk about the teenage years being the best in your life. Mine weren't. I had been a carefree 16-year-old then. He messed up my best, most fun years. And he taught me to hate.

But I still love reading.