“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
So, I woke up with this Taylor Swift song in my head (Never Grow Up) and with the therapeutic tools that I’ve learnt over the years, I decided to try ‘flooding’ myself with the song… but instead of playing that one song over and over, it ended up turning into a marathon of all my favourite Taylor Swift songs!! And in the process of my little appreciation concert(!), I found myself – as I’m sure we all do when listening to music – thinking about everything that the lyrics reminded me of. In doing this, I got to wondering whether the meaning of those songs for me, would be a surprise to others…
So, even if you’ve been reading, I’m NOT Disordered for a while, you may not know that the abuse I experienced when I was younger was a result of a very well-respected man being given an opportunity.
The reasons you may not know is because for legal reasons I can’t name my abuser and this side of the abuse – the details of how it started – has always been difficult to describe without disclosing identifiable information about my abuser. I’m at a point now though, that if I don’t disclose his name, but can give sort of abstract details about him and people will know who I’m talking about, that says more about him than it should about the legalities of the situation. And to know that this is the case, is actually really helpful for my mental health.
So, in 2006, I was attacked by a complete stranger on my way to school and at the time, there was a person in my life who was in a position of trust and of power. And after the attack happened and I began experiencing panic attacks, he suggested that if I were to struggle during the day, I could be excused from my commitments with the condition that when I do, I find him and stay with him until I felt better.
I mean, in all honesty, even just saying the idea/plan feels like it should’ve been kind of obvious that it would all go wrong! And I think that the fact that thought or worry didn’t even occur at the time, just illustrates the amount of trust, respect, and appreciation I – and those around me who also supported the plan – held towards him.
So, I think that in a way, I wish he’d been horrible from the offset… because at least then I would have either known or been better prepared that the abuse would happen if I went along with his idea. Like, it wouldn’t have been a surprise and I wouldn’t have felt so utterly stupid and naïve for not predicting it. And if I were to feel more prepared, I may have created my own little plan about what I would do if he did those things because instead, I was caught completely off-guard and left floundering in the dark in terms of figuring out what I should do about it.
Better Than Revenge
I never saw it coming, wouldn’t have suspected it
I underestimated just who I was dealing with
For so many reasons, I reached the decision – or maybe I even felt like I was backed into that decision because of all those reasons – not to report the abuse when it started.
One of the biggest reasons for this, was that he made so many comments to lead me to believe that reporting it would do no good. He told me everything I already knew. Firstly, he said that no one would believe me. That everyone looked up to him and if I said anything, he’d deny it and it would him who would be believed because “look at us” he said “look at me and then look at who you are. No one would believe someone like you!” And he said that when I wasn’t believed, I’d be in so much trouble for making those ‘allegations.’ That I’d be removed from the building he worked in, the area of my life he and that building were a part of would suffer, and that would have a huge knock-on effect with my future – going to University, getting a job, having a life away from him… None of it would happen because I’d be branded a liar and would be in so much trouble for that.
It wasn’t just about education and a career though, he also reassured me that my Mum would hate me. That she wouldn’t believe me either. Honestly? This was probably the one threat he made which took no numerous mentions for me to believe it. And that definitely isn’t a slight at my Mum as though I could instantly trust she wouldn’t believe me. It’s actually a huge compliment to my Mum and our relationship because I appreciate and love her so much that the thought of what he was saying absolutely terrified me.
The irony of not reporting things earlier with the fear I wouldn’t be believed, is that had I gone to the Police at the time, there would’ve been so much more physical evidence which would’ve aided in actually prosecuting him. Instead, because it took me over two years to report it to the Police, the only real evidence was me being able to list some of the dates and times things happened and me being able to describe details which I wouldn’t know if it hadn’t happened. Unfortunately, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that it wasn’t good enough and after the Police arrested him, he had to be let go.
Something which actually really helped in my reporting of it was that when CPS made their decision on the case, the Police told me and my Mum that it was really frustrating for them because they believed me, but there was no more they could do. And believe me, I recognise how lucky (if that’s the right word in this situation!) I am to have the Police believe me because there are so many abused people whose validity of their allegations is questioned, and they are massively doubted. Whilst it’s understandable that the Police must see people lie about being abused, their disbelief in already vulnerable people, can have a hugely detrimental impact. So, I really appreciated their belief in me and my report.
Of course, the main bit you’re probably waiting for is about his plea; he claimed to be completely innocent of each charge of abuse and the one charge of rape.
All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life
The first piece of anger around the abuse was simply the fact that it was happening! I mean, I really believed that only I should have the power and ability to hurt my body… Like, it’s mine – it’s up to me how much pain it’s in! But apparently not. Learning that I was wrong was annoying because I’m someone who will admit when I’m in the wrong, but I really like to be right! And the anger from that came from the fact that it was him who was proving me wrong.
Then, when I realised that my anger at him wasn’t going to change the fact that it was happening, I turned it on myself. I began wondering whether the abuse was actually all my fault and became furious with myself for deserving it. I thought that all of my bad behaviour over the years, had brought this hurt and upset on me. That I had earnt all of this horrible-ness! And it was this anger which made me so unsafe.
When I was angry at my abuser, I would argue and swear and be rude to him… Being angry with myself meant I had to find a way to punish me. And the best way I could think of was through causing pain. I kind of thought ‘well if he thinks he can do it; why can’t I?! It’s my body!’ And so, the self-harm started…
The next rush of anger came from my abusers claims of innocence in response to my report to the Police. Honestly? The thought of him being arrested and put in custody was so reassuring, comforting, and rewarding – it seemed to make all the tears I’d shed worth it. Like, spending all those hours answering the Police questions, writing the statement, describing details I was so uncomfortable discussing… even the self-harm – it was all worth it because now he couldn’t hurt anyone else. And that comfort felt ripped from my hands, my heart, and my mind, the moment he said he wasn’t guilty. The moment he didn’t own up to what he had done and just accept the consequences of his actions. And for him to not take responsibility, was a huge learning curve for myself. It left me confusing thoughts and conflicting feelings around right and wrong. I mean, if he was allowed to reject his responsibility, why should I take the consequences for all of my actions, thoughts, and feelings?!
Over the years, this anger honestly ate up my insides; my heart, my mind, my soul – everything became contaminated by this deep, dark, all-consuming, hatred I held towards my abuser. It took a lot of therapy and hard work and time for me to come to accept and learn to cope with a lot of the things fuelling my anger. I learnt that his lack of ownership for his actions, wasn’t an excuse for me to do the same. I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps and every time I blamed someone else for my actions, I was doing just that. And I knew I was better than him. I had to be better than him.
So, I tried to find comfort in the little things around the abuse – the fact that my Mum believed and supported me, that the Police believed me, and this helped me to realise that actually, I could turn this hugely negative experience into something that was… not positive – but productive. Something which would almost cancel all that anger out and then use the remainder of it as fuel to do better.
So, don’t think it’s in the past
These kind of wounds they last and last
Now did you think it all through?
All these things will catch up to you
And time can heal but this won’t
So, if you come in my way, don’t
I first started to self-harm not long after the abuse began, and that anger and hatred started to bubble and boil.
Part of the self-harm was centred around my hatred for my abuser because for some reason I seemed physically incapable of just slapping him across the face and hurting him in some way! And with taking my anger out on him being off the table, my anger had to come out in some way. I needed some release. Some sort of outlet…
I guess that in a way, it became a sort of adrenalin thing… and not getting help for it from the start, seemed like a totally understandable reason why the self-harm escalated. I mean, obviously at the time; it wasn’t. Like, I didn’t realise that my lack of motivation to get help for it, would result in what it has because the adrenaline and all the anger of the self-harm meant that a damage I would have previously been ‘satisfied’ by, stopped being ‘good enough…’ And I guess this happened (the escalation) because I didn’t have someone reassuring me that it would never really ‘help’ and who could teach me other, healthier and safer coping strategies.
Not getting that help sooner meant that eventually, it wasn’t my choice whether people knew about my self-harm and – occasionally – it wasn’t my choice whether I could even actually do it. Because then the hallucinations came. I mean, their first words were ‘you’re useless, kill yourself’ so how could I have imagined any different a result than me making my suicide attempts and having my self-harm escalate? You know? Like, why would anything good ever come from those snide, spiteful, angry voices?
When a suicide attempt in 2012 resulted in me being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I was robbed of my ability to cope in the ways I had taught myself. The ways which I thought were the only reasonable means of coping with the abuse memories and the voices. After a period of ‘stabilisation,’ I finally began Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Though it took a while for me to begin engaging and cooperating with the Therapy, the exercises the Therapist would ask me to do, and the time and effort I had to put in, it helped!
After two and a half years in hospital, I was finally discharged, and a few medication hiccups occurred which taught me that the self-harm was only still there and only still happened because of the hallucinations. DBT had really impacted my self-harm thoughts which were caused by feelings and experiences around the abuse. So, once I was back on a medication for the hallucinations, I had no motive or sense of need to self-harm anymore.
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain
I felt that these lyrics perfectly sum up my thoughts on the beginning of mental illness because I think the key word for every single milestone in my mental illness is ‘change.’
I’d say that every single day from the moment I recognised my mental health had declined in 2009, there was a change. One day the hallucinations would get louder, then there’d be another one, and then I’d start hallucinating rabbits, and then I’d stop taking my medication, and then I ‘needed’ to self-harm to a more dramatic and debilitating level, and then I felt suicidal, and then I was being hospitalised, and then I was being called an attention seeker…
Initially, the changes came from me in that they were largely to do with my thoughts and feelings and memories around the abuse. I mean, for a long time, all the emotions around the abuse which started during the abuse, were actually still there even when the abuse had ‘finished.’ In fact, in a way, they were even worse because I felt as though I had no excuse to think and feel that way when I was no longer being abused. It meant I wasn’t entitled to continue to experience those things.
After a while, the changes started to become about the hallucinations. It was like my life had to resolve around something and if it wasn’t going to be the abuse anymore than it needed to be the hallucinations!
My thoughts on the hallucinations and that they were souls who were trapped inside of me, was perpetuated by the fact that they felt as though they were constantly changing. I mean, it started with one auditory hallucination on a man’s voice. And then there were two. And then three! And it honestly felt like I couldn’t keep up. It was like the hallucinations were just racing ahead of me and every time I almost caught up, they’d change! And it made me think that if they were really just parts of me then surely, I’d be in control of when they changed and how they changed…? Like, why would I put myself through it if I could control it?
And it didn’t just become about voices… I then started to experience visual hallucinations of rabbits. And it was frustrating because I felt as though I had just learnt to tolerate and manage the voices and then this huge, new challenge comes along and I’m back to square one and at a loss as to what to do about it! And still, the rabbits changed over the years… Sometimes there were more than others. Sometimes they were muddy, and it symbolised that something bad was going to happen. Sometimes they were clean and fluffy, and it was reassuring and comforting to have them with me.
felt so inconsistent and at a time when stability and sureness were really
crucial and important for my mental health, it was like it was just digging
itself a deeper hole or something! Or like it had already struck me so it
thought it may as well go to town on my head!
Everything Has Changed
So, dust off your highest hopes
All I know is pouring rain and everything has changed
All I know is a newfound grace
All my days I’ll know your face
All I know since yesterday is everything has changed
I try not to have regrets in my life because I think that doing so, does no good to you. In fact, if anything; it’s bad for your mental health. And the Crisis Team taught me that as long as you can learn from it, it shouldn’t be wished away.
So, I think that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from my years of being unwell with my mental health, was that you should always be aware that something which feels like it will last forever, doesn’t always! And so, be cautious and conscious of what you do to cope because your actions might have a longer aftermath.
This has been especially true around self-harm. You know? Like, I would feel overwhelmed with memories of the abuse or feeling crowded and outnumbered by the hallucinations, and I’d hurt myself. And yes, those things went away or become easier to cope with, but only temporarily and then, when they were gone, I was left with the consequences of my self-harm – whether that meant stitches, loss of blood, an admission to A&E, or even surgery!
I’ve shed so many tears over the fact that now I’m in recovery – now that I haven’t self-harmed for almost a year, I’m still dealing with the consequences of everything I did when I wasn’t in recovery. But I’m having to learn to accept that. To see it as a lesson and believe that if I were to ever feel so hopeless again, I would remember that it does end.
And I cut off
My nose just to spite my face
Then I hate my reflection
For years and years