Kind of feel like I’m jumping on a blogging bandwagon because everyone’s started publishing their Valentines content (typically in the form of gift guides). I wanted this post to be a nice balance in recognising that I’m NOT Disordered is primarily a ‘mental health blog,’ whilst also still being able to create a gift guide… So, here’s a chat about the impact mental health can have on Valentines Day and a gift guide with a twist…
Growing up, I was surrounded by love, support, and respect. I was always told how much I meant to my family and how important and appreciated I was. So, I literally had no reason or influence on me holding such opposite thoughts about myself… until the abuse.
When I was fifteen and the abuse began, it was like… Like almost everything I’d ever known had disappeared and what was left had just completely changed to the point where it wasn’t at all recognisable or in any way familiar. All of a sudden, I felt so insignificant; but I guess that was almost bound to be my response when I was being treat so horribly. I mean, it’d take a pretty robust person to go through that sort of abuse and still remain kind and loving to yourself!
I think that the most influential part of the abuse on my thoughts of myself, was the things that my abuser would say whilst he hurt me. I mean, it didn’t start off with a terrible… I don’t know. Just that in the beginning he would say that he actually really liked me and that I was pretty, and whilst what happened was still so completely against my wishes; it kind of meant that I felt I couldn’t report it immediately because his words made me question the degree of wrong-ness of the entire thing! Like, how could I tell the Police, knowing that when they questioned him, he would likely say he cared about me? How could I expect them to see it as a crime when he would say he had ‘innocent’ intentions/motivations?
When the Police finally became involved over four years after the abuse had started, they told me that this stage of it – his assurances he would leave his family because he liked me, and his ‘compliments’ on my appearance – was another element of the ‘grooming’ I had begun to experience during the two months prior to the abuse actually beginning. And looking back, I can see they were right – that he manipulated me and the entire situation in order to have the desired impact on him. He said these ‘lovely’ things about me so that I’d be reluctant to report him. So that I would question whether it was right to fight him off. But that’s in hindsight… At the time, I definitely did not have that view or thought process.
Chocolate Hamper: £21.99
Bath Pillow: £32.95
Moet Champagne: £26.00
Crystal Bath Bombs: £12.99
Neom Candle: £48.00
Feather & Down: £11.99
Self-Reflection Journal: £24.90
Sherpa Blanket: £23.99
His comments on my appearance were one of the most challenging aspects of the abuse because I felt so confused in my reaction to this. I mean, it felt strange to find – what would be deemed in any other situation as – a ‘compliment,’ to be offensive, negative (in so many ways), and derogatory. And knowing that in any other situation someone might actually be appreciative of my abuser’s words; left me wondering if I was being rude and ungrateful. But I guess that’s the other thing that started to be said during the abuse, the blame game.
To be honest – even before my abuser started saying it – I blamed myself. I mean, firstly because I questioned whether he’d be doing what he was if I just took his comments as complimentary. Like, maybe I was complicating the entire situation… Surely if I just said a polite ‘thanks’ and carried about my day, he’d lose interest? As though me rebuffing those comments was almost spurring him on and driving him to hurt me. Then, looking at those same comments with a completely different view, it also left me feeling responsible for the abuse. I wondered whether being ‘pretty’ meant that I was deserving of his actions. That no matter which way I looked at it, it was my fault he was doing these things.
The comments on my appearance made me feel so unnerved and self-conscious and I thought that the only way to take that away – both it being motivation for him to hurt me and the impact it was having on me – was to make myself ‘ugly.’ To do something that would leave him reluctant to touch me. And so – two months into the abuse – I began self-harming. I’ll never forget when he first saw what I had done, and he said “you can’t go around like that! People will figure out there’s something going on!” Like his first thought was how my self-harm was going to impact him and not what it meant for my safety, my wellbeing, and my life in general. No, it was all about him. Himself, and any possible consequences he could experience, were his number one priority.
Having felt that I’d put so much thought and consideration into self-harming and had fully believed it would be beneficial (in that it would end the abuse) it was incredibly frustrating and – to be honest – pretty damn devastating to see that it was actually making things worse. I mean, it gave him a worse attitude, it made me feel worse, and there was no sign of things ending any time soon. That hopelessness was the reason why I can remember being in his office and wondering what would happen if I just jumped out of the window. That would end it.
Of course, I didn’t act on that thought and so the abuse continued for another four months… During those months, I continued to self-harm and to add to my intention to make myself ‘less attractive,’ I also began restricting my food intake and was labelled a ‘bag of bones’ by some bullies at School. I think that because I was so focused on my diet and hurting myself, when the abuse worsened, (because yes, even though any amount of abuse is bad, it can still feel like it hadn’t been ‘too bad’ until a certain point) I didn’t respond as quickly as I wish I had.
Ironically, making myself into something so little, ended up strengthening me to the point where I finally reported it. I had just almost fainted because I hadn’t eaten properly for so long, and then my abuser had come along and we were in his office when it just seemed to hit me; if this kept going – if I kept coping in this way – I would end up dead sooner than he would stop it. Nothing I felt capable of doing was stopping him. And that notion became my fuel when I started shouting at him and he followed me from his office to continue arguing until his employer heard us and shouted, “what the hell do you think you’re both doing?!” Just like that, the words seemed to fall out of my mouth and almost just as quickly, I was being called a manipulative liar and banished from the building!
Truth or Dare for Couples: £6.55
Couple Print: £11.99
Coupon Book: £9.99
Mug Set: £19.90
Personalised Spotify Plaque: £20.99
Curry Night Kit: £12.14
Premium Liquors Chocolate: £18.99
Couples Pillowcase: £10.99
One continuity that I experienced throughout the six months of the abuse, was all the reasons for my belief that I really couldn’t tell anyone what was happening. It felt like… Like looking at the sky and saying “yeah, it’s definitely blue today!” Like it was obvious. A given. And something which didn’t feel at all argumentative – like in stating it, it wouldn’t enable someone else to disagree in any way. My belief that I couldn’t speak up felt so clear and solid that in the end, I think if any opportunity to report it came along, I didn’t even notice it. It felt like I no longer needed to make the decision anymore. So, when the only person to ask – my Mum – if there was something happening to me, I didn’t have to put any consideration into my answer – “no. There’s nothing.”
When my abuser’s boss had my Mum come and pick me up, saying that I wasn’t allowed in the building anymore, I was faced with another decision; should I continue talking about it? Should I tell my Mum all those words that I’d held onto for six months? All the things that had just been thrown back in my face?!
This time, though, instead of feeling like I had absolutely no choice in the matter, I was very aware of the decision I needed to make. And I hated that. I mean, it actually made me miss the days when I felt like there were no options. I missed the security of just knowing what to do. I missed not feeling like I was floundering and flailing in complete darkness, trying to take hold of anything resembling stability. And this time, having to make that decision; meant that I really did recognise the difference in the possible consequences that I’d face depending on which way I swayed. So, after careful consideration (which had to be over and done in the half an hour it took for my Mum to arrive) I decided to bite my tongue. Because I just wasn’t all that eager to risk anyone else throwing these things back at me. And it wasn’t even about my Mum… I didn’t think she’d doubt me. I just knew that if I told my Mum, I’d end up telling the Police and my brain just didn’t feel ready to absorb the notion of being interviewed and giving a statement and having my abuser arrested… That was too much.
Unfortunately, the decision not to continue talking ended up being another blow to my confidence and self-esteem. I now hated myself for lying to my Mum. I mean, when she came to pick me up; I told her the bare bones of there being an argument between me and my abuser and then me being told to leave. When she began demanding to see my abuser’s boss, I was so scared he’d come out and tell her what I’d said, but no. He refused to come out of his office and Mum, and I left. Left to spend the following two years with this hugely important and profound silence hanging over us.
Those two years are kind of… a bit of a blur. Not the kind of blur like when you’ve been drunk and it’s kind of tinged with humour and excitement. Not that kind. It was a whole lot darker and almost the kind of blur that precedes something huge. As though the wind blows some dust and then within seconds there’s a tornado. Like the dust – or the blur – was a warning. A warning I ignored. I just waded through it and powered on. Powered on until an auditory hallucination told me I was useless and that I should kill myself. The blur stopped then.
The fact that the abuse had really lowered my confidence and impacted my sense of self, meant that when the voices started, I had no motivation to seek help. No reason to tell anyone. And it was kind of like déjà vu with yet another enormous thing in my life being kept secret. Because yet again, I was terrified of the response of anyone I could tell. I worried people would think I was ‘crazy’ and I’d be locked away in the local psychiatric hospital that I’d only ever heard horror stories about. Also, as with the abuse, I was overwhelmed by the notion that I deserved the hardship of struggling through this on my own. It didn’t help that the hallucinations were almost constantly – and consistently – re-affirming this line of thought; I mean calling me I ‘useless’ was just the tip of the iceberg!
When the voices broke me down over the course of ten days, I finally came to that conclusion I’d considered during the abuse; except this time, it wasn’t about jumping out of an office window… My first suicide attempt came at a time when no one knew about both the abuse and the hallucinations, so it caught everyone off-guard and left people with a whole bunch of questions that eventually led to me being sectioned under the Mental Health Act and admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
At the time, I couldn’t have ever imagined that admission would be the first of so many. That it would be the start of the end of my life. Because, looking back, that’s how those years felt. The years of my mental health being so poorly that I made four suicide attempts and was hospitalised more that sixty times in the space of three years. It was like I had died and everything I did; all the things I heard, the things I said… They weren’t real. And it isn’t about me wishing things had never happened and being scared of trying to cope if I accept reality… It’s about me honestly feeling as though those years didn’t happen to ‘me’ – the real me.
After those sixty-something hospital admissions in three years, I was admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home and I spent two and a half years trying to rebuild my life. Trying to recover. And within the many different challenges I experienced, one of the key aspects that I needed to improve and repair in order to be discharged from hospital and able to live as full a life as possible; was my thoughts and opinions of myself.
The first way I began tackling this issue was actually through building relationships with the other girls on the ward because the thing with that hospital was that whilst it offered the recommended therapy (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) for people with my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, you couldn’t begin the course until you’d had a period of stability. Which meant that I had ample opportunity to get to know the other girls and for so many reasons, I found myself very quickly forming friendships. Deep, intense friendships that felt as though they couldn’t be any truer. As though no one could know me better than those girls.
Aside from the typical and usual benefits of making new friends, I also found that in talking to these girls who had been through their own trauma and coped in their own ways, I began to reconsider my feelings about myself. One of the girls would come to me crying and we’d sit together (usually in the corridor because we weren’t allowed in each other’s bedrooms) and I’d tell her she didn’t deserve to feel this bad. That she hadn’t earned any of this. That she didn’t have to hurt herself to get through this. And whilst so many others pointed it out to me, it didn’t ‘click’ until I saw it for myself; how could I say these things to someone else and not feel them true to myself? In a way; why should I be any different? Or any special?
Personalised Door Mat: £34.95
Survival Date Night Game: £37.02
Chocolate Fondue Kit: £17.00
Date Night Decision Dice: £6.00
Journal For Couples: £19.95
Movie Night in a Box: £13.90
Couples Pamper Hamper: £12.99
Sip ‘n’ Paint Box: £40.00
Then, as I went through Therapy in the hospital, I began to really appreciate my potential. I mean, I realised that I was almost at a crossroads… I could continue the way the hallucinations and my trauma-ridden half wanted and kill myself. Or I could work my ass off, fight against all the things in me that were telling me to give up and put my time into something so much more positive and productive – recovery. Then, two things happened; a member of my family was faced with an enormous, almost life-threatening diagnosis, and I went AWOL, made another suicide attempt and was put on life support. And these things were my turning point. I began my up-hill battle and engaged in therapy, took my medication, and cooperated with the hospital staff.
Through my recovery, I’ve found that all the energy I had been using to run away, self-harm, and make suicide attempts could become my most powerful asset and my greatest motivator in taking on all of the incredible opportunities that have come my way – particularly through my blog – over the years. Having these amazing experiences also helped me with my romantic relationship at the time.
I had started seeing my ex literally months before my first suicide attempt, so he was literally there from the very beginning; but we split up three years later; just before I was sent to the specialist psychiatric hospital. So, moving back to my hometown two and a half years after my admission seemed to naturally mean that he and I would get back together and just pick up where we left off. And that’s what we did… But I wasn’t the same person. I wasn’t the same person, and he hadn’t changed. At all. In thirty months! He was still lacking in passion. Still desperate to prove himself useful, when he really wasn’t. And likely would never be.
I finally ended the relationship when I recognised that if I really had learned that I wasn’t deserving of pain or any sort of hardship, I needed to fill my life with relationship and friendships that encouraged me to live in that mindset. I couldn’t be with someone who was so completely different to me. I mean, coming out of the hospital after so long and after so much therapy, I felt like a whole new person having learnt a lot that had shaped me and my new thoughts of the world. And this new Aimee, just no longer matched up with him.
There have also been countless things that have happened as a result of I’m NOT Disordered that I had never imagined, predicted, or intended when I first started blogging. Two of these many things, were the changes in my confidence and self-esteem.
I spent the first few years of my blogging career really just enjoying my new-found favourite way to spend my spare time in the psychiatric hospital. It started out as a really good opportunity to have a rant about the daily dramas on the ward, and to have a space to reflect on how my mental health was changing. I think that finding blogging so enjoyable and interesting was really fundamental in how I’m NOT Disordered has grown and evolved. I mean, it’s meant that I have a real passion and love for my blog and that it isn’t all about landing collaborations and being offered opportunities and gifts. I actually care about blogging and I really, genuinely benefit from it in a deep and honest way.
Having this love in what I do – I think – has really been a driving force behind why I didn’t shrink away when it became apparent that I would need to put some effort, thought, and graft into I’m NOT Disordered if I wanted it to turn into all I hoped and dreamt it to be. And when that happened – when I started working my butt off and began attending events and having interviews in the media, I found that with each new milestone, my confidence improved. I became more and more proud and able to recognise the strengths of me and my blog, the achievements we shared, and the impact we were having on readers.
I think that whilst the abuse and my terrible relationship contributed towards my poor thoughts and opinions of myself, it’s logical that it also takes some sort of motivation and influence to create and maintain some good feelings about myself. But there really needs to be some sort of balance between recognising that an aspect in your life is influencing your confidence and self-esteem and not allowing something – or someone – to have an over-arching power and control of those things. You love you.
Embroidery Kit: £14.95
Luxury Aromatherapy Spa in a Box: £19.00
Self-Care Cards: £12.00
Affirmation Cards: £28.00
Bedtime Journal: £12.99
Vegan Spa Gift Box: £15.95
Self Care Pencils: £2.00
Positive Keyring: £2.99