TW: sexual assault
I’ve suffered with mental health issues since I was 16 when my dad upped and left us to be with his new family 10 minutes away and never looked back. The trauma of losing the man I’d always seen as my hero and my best friend has no doubt had a lasting effect on me. I’ve struggled with depression ever since.
A few years later, in my early 20s while working in an office as an administrative assistant, one day I just…broke. I woke up that morning and went and hid in the shed in the garden. Yep, you read that right. The garden shed. I couldn’t face going out into the street that day, let alone going to work, but I was embarrassed and didn’t know how to tell my family how I was feeling. Shit, I barely even understood how I was feeling myself. So I hid. It was at this point I also developed severe anxiety; so severe, in fact, that I didn’t leave the house – not even to go to the garden shed – for nearly 3 months.
From then on, I spiralled into a rut of depression and anxiety that I would been stuck in for years, a rut that had left me unemployed and desperately unhappy. I had to give up my job, – I simply couldn’t function well enough to be a useful employee – I lost friends because I couldn’t face even responding to a text sometimes for weeks at a time, I lost my relationship with my first love who I’d been with for 3 years, and I’d lost my independence; I relied on my ‘safe people’, those being my mum and my brother, to help me get about. If they couldn’t come with me, I wouldn’t go, even just to the shop down the road. I lived in a constant state of fear and dread and anxiety that something bad was going to happen to me. Perhaps I’d be attacked, mugged, raped, kidnapped, murdered. Perhaps I’d run into my dad and see him living his happy new life with his new family who he loved now instead of me.
Things turned around in April 2018. I got a job. And not just any job, it was a job I’d dreamt of doing since I was a child. I was given the incredible opportunity to be a teaching assistant! Amazing! Slowly, life began to look hopeful again. Good, even.
Within a month, it fell apart; I was raped. To this day, I still can’t say that out loud. Suddenly, the hope and excitement I’d felt only a month before had vanished. I went into work the next day, feeling numb. I remember having scrubbed myself raw in the shower as I cried, which became a morning ritual for many months afterwards. Every now and then I still do it; sometimes a nightmare will trigger the feelings of disgust and shame and repulsion at myself, at my body for allowing itself to be violated in such a way, and I’ll be compelled to scrub and scrub until I bleed. I do absolutely believe that one day I’ll do that for the last time and then I can say ‘fuck that guy. I beat you, you fucker’. Within ten minutes of the kids coming into the classroom that day, two of them came up to me and told me I was their favourite grown up and they loved me, and I wanted to burst into tears and hug them. Instead, I went into the toilet and cried. I didn’t want anyone to know something was wrong. I couldn’t risk anyone knowing what had happened to me. I didn’t want the questions or the pitying looks, but most of all, I was terrified people wouldn’t believe me, that somehow it was my fault.
I just wanted to pretend it had never happened and move on.
Of course, now I know that’s not how it works. You push something to the back of your mind, and it doesn’t disappear. No. It just waits there to ambush you at whatever moment it sees fit.
So after hiding it away for months, it sprung up and refused to be ignored any longer. I was seeing him everywhere. A black car would pass me on the street and I’d be convinced it was him, following me, coming back for round two, maybe even coming back to kill me. I started to see him in the corner of my eye, and I’d turn to look and there’d be no one there, or there would, but it would just be some poor, unsuspecting individual. One day I thought I saw him in the aisle of a supermarket and froze on the spot, terrified that he would come round the corner any minute. My brother had to come and find me when I didn’t come back to the shopping trolley for several minutes. I told him who I thought I’d seen, and he looked ready to commit murder. One thing I learnt over the years is that I might have lost my hero in my dad, but I replaced him with my brother who is now, and always was, far more worthy of the title of ‘hero’. Without my dad leaving, I would never have become as close with my brother as I am now and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Silver linings.
So in 2019, I added PTSD to the ever increasing list of diagnoses I had received. Depression, anxiety and PTSD; if mental illnesses were horses, I’d be a damn good cowgirl by now.
And now, here we are in 2021. Where are we now, you might ask. Well, today I took the plunge and spoke to my doctor – my amazing GP who has endless amounts of patience for me and all the problems I bring along with me. Over the years, I’ve often wondered if there’s something more going on than depression and anxiety. Sometimes, I still can’t leave the house. Some days I can fight it. Others, there is an invisible wall right outside my front door – I can’t see it, but I can feel it looming over me like an imaginary prison, and I physically cannot get past it. It really makes you feel bad for the Balrog whom Gandalf forbade passage. I spoke to my GP, reading out a long list of things I had written down after spending yesterday doing research into what the fuck could be wrong with my brain. I’ve had just about enough of my mental illnesses sabotaging me and turning everything upside down. I didn’t sign up for this rollercoaster of bullshit. I don’t even like rollercoasters.
I admitted to my GP that I’ve never quite been totally honest with any medical professionals about the extent of my feelings, thoughts and actions. There’s certain things I’ve never spoken about because I didn’t want to be judged, I felt like I was making a big deal out of nothing, or because I just felt stupid and didn’t want to waste their time. Some stuff I’ve never brought up because, until yesterday when I spent the whole day deep diving into the different mental illnesses many people have to deal with daily, I’d always just believed certain things were just… me. My personality. Normal. Not normal for most people, but normal for me – I’d been that way for as long as I can remember.
But what if it’s not my personality? What if I’m not naturally an anxious mess who is constantly on edge, thinking everyone hates me all the time, constantly finding new things to worry and stress about? What if it’s not really me that believes people are mocking me, people wish I was gone from their lives, that I’m a failure and I let everyone I love down all the time? What if it’s my brain just telling me that? What if there’s something that can be done to stop living my life like this and just be…calm? Serene? At peace?
Lesson of the day. Hell, lesson of my life; just be fucking honest about how you feel, ESPECIALLY with medical professionals – their job is to help you, not to judge you. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right and it’s okay to fight your corner, to be your own cheerleader. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I feel okay about that. For now, anyway. Ask me again tomorrow and the answer might be completely different. Such is life, but it’s MY life, and shit, why should anyone else but me have control over my life? Deep, I know.