“Certain things leave you in your life and certain things stay with you. And that’s why we’re all interested in movies – those ones what make you feel; you still think about.”
So, according to my blog post archive, it’s been quite a while since I’ve published a post from this kind of angle and in collaboration with the wonderful Netflix UK. I think people talk a lot about music and how song lyrics can be really relatable and therefore comforting in some ways, but there’s not a whole lot about movies or series’ affecting our mental health…
“If you’re going to let one stupid prick ruin your life, you’re not the girl I thought you were!”
One of the most common comments I’ve heard when talking about the abuse and suicide has been something along the lines of; “but then he would win!” From Day One, that comment has never been helpful for my mental health and suicidal thoughts and feelings; but the more I’ve had it said to me, the more it’s starting to grate on me. It now feels like a bit of a token gesture – as though people are saying it out of habit; like they believe it’s something they should say. My conviction that all those who have made this comment do genuinely believe – or at least they hope – that it’s helpful, means I tend to not bite their heads off when they say it (even though I’m really tempted to!)!
My dislike for this comment is that it gives the impression that the person making it knows the ins and outs of the abuse. That they know my abuser, and they know me. They know us and everything that happened between us. No one – not the Police, not my family and friends, not any readers – know all the deep, dark details of the abuse. So how would anyone be genuinely capable of telling me what my suicide would mean for him? And I get that the general idea of the comment is to drive some sort of determination in me… But to assume that the notion of my abuser ‘winning’ would leave me reluctant to kill myself, is to assume that I would care about how he may or may not feel if I committed suicide. It's to assume that my existence is some sort of competition…
Thing is, when you’re talking about abuse or suicide (or self-harm or mental health in general!) things can become incredibly awkward – no matter who the conversation is between nor any of the other elements that are behind it. This understandably causes a huge amount of anxiety and stress and that often leads to the ‘wrong’ thing being said. Like, sometimes, you can be so desperately tiptoeing around a topic that you put too much thought into it and just blurt out anything! Other times, you say something which may stereotypically seem a good idea, but you haven’t taken the time to carefully consider whether it’ll be useful for the actual individual you’re talking to. Because let’s be fair, everyone is different, and this comment that I find annoying, might be life-changing/saving for a completely different abuse survivor.
Whilst this quote I’ve chosen from Legally Blonde might be seen as kind of similar to the whole ‘he’ll-win’ kind of thing, I much prefer the wording used. And I think that’s because rather than putting the focus on my abuser and him having a sense of achievement, it’s more directed at me in encouraging the notion that the impact the abuse has on my life – whether it’s about ‘ruining’ it or not – says a lot about me. As though it has the potential to become my definition… I mean, it’s one thing to establish that the abuse has been a hugely influential moment in my life – a defining moment – but it’s important that doesn’t get confused with defining me as a person. As though all of his horrible qualities somehow rub off on me and all the wrong, he has committed becomes comparable to my own reputation.
I once had a friend tell me that another friend of his had said a huge motivation for her to not follow through with her suicidal thoughts and feelings was the idea that if she did, she’d be forever known as the girl who did that. That would be her definition. The thing that’s first mentioned when talking about her. And I see that mindset in this quote – that if my abuser ruins my life, that’ll become the most important part of my life. As though, those six months of abuse had actually lasted a lifetime. And whilst I think it’s important to recognise that it’s totally fair and reasonable for six months of abuse to roll into affecting a longer period of my life, it’s also worth ensuring that I don’t experience the feeling of my abuser owning any more of my time.
You know, my blog has brought so many amazing memories and so much purpose to my life; and it’s shown me that if I want any one thing to define me, it would be this – I’m NOT Disordered and everything it’s achieved and everything it stands for. When I’m in meetings and they’re doing introductions, I’m now so much more inclined and motivated to say that I’m a Blogger rather than anything about my mental health or trauma/abuse.
“Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me!”
There were so many reasons why I started blogging. I mean, firstly it was about providing some sort of insight and knowledge to my loved ones whilst I was a psychiatric hospital inpatient over 100 miles away from them. I mean, I had kept the abuse a secret for two years and hadn’t said a word about the auditory hallucinations I had been experiencing for ten days, before I made my first suicide attempt. But then, even after that – for the following three years – I lied to friends when cancelling plans so that they wouldn’t know I was in hospital, and I wore long-sleeved tops to cover my self-harm. To be fair, I think that the only real reason why I finally opened up about my mental health was because the psychiatric hospital I was going to, had an average length of admission of 12 – 18 months and I had no idea how to lie for that long!
Having told all those lies and kept all of those secrets, it was kind of like a weight had been lifted when I finally told the truth and began blogging so honestly about my mental health. And as I’m NOT Disordered’s popularity grew and the amazing opportunities to collaborate with incredible organisations and people began rolling into my email inbox, I found myself seeing it as a motivation to continue. I found that celebrating the numbers rising wasn’t a superficial, bragging kind of thing. It was about recognising the influence those numbers can have. That each number represents one person who I’ve had the opportunity and potential to have helped in some way. Whether that be through illustrating to them that they aren’t alone, or encouraging them to seek help and support when they’re struggling… My statistics mean I am allowed the chance to make a difference to someone else’s life – to help someone in ways that I didn’t have when I was at my most poorly, desperate, and suicidal.
The one motivation to blog which I very rarely (in fact, I’m not sure I ever have) talk about, is the belief that if I pour my heart out and tell you all everything, then there’ll be nothing left for my abuser to be able to say about me, that you don’t already know! And I think that this thought process largely stems from the fact that because he claimed to be innocent, he had to make up some horrible things about me to the Police. Calling me a liar and manipulative. Saying that I was disrespectful and attention-seeking. And finally, labelling me ‘crazy.’
This – his lies – were one of the many reasons I had taken so long (two years) to report the abuse. I knew he would say these things about me, and I had grown terrified at the thought that people would believe him. I mean, after all of his threats to silence me during the abuse, I knew that he would plead innocent if I ever reported him and that would mean anyone who was told what had happened, would have to pick a side. They’d have to decide who they believed, who they would support. And whilst I was pretty confident that my loved ones would be on my team, I hated the thought of them even just being in that situation – hence why I did my bit (by not reporting the abuse) to make sure they weren’t.
I recognise how fortunate I am though, to have been believed by the Police and my friends and family because I know so many other rape and abuse survivors have their testimony debated and the validity of it, doubted by the people who they most want or need to believe them. And having their trust and support, has meant that I’ve developed the confidence that no matter what my abuser were to say about me, those who matter the most to me, would not listen or waste any time considering it. Whilst my loved ones are very much the most important people in this, I still care what others would think… I think this is mostly because of my abuser attempting to fill people’s heads with terrible impressions and views of me as a person. So, I really hope that in reading I’m NOT Disordered, you are assured that I tell the truth and that I’m genuinely a very honest and open person.
“…took many days and weeks to plan out hate, but love responded in an instant.”
The abuse – I would say – technically started an entire two months before he actually first hurt me in a physical sense. In the September, my abuser became a bigger part of my life, and this meant that when I was attacked one day by a complete stranger on my way into school, he offered to be a hugely supportive figure for me. This, seemingly innocent and genuine offer, meant that when I began experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks, no one questioned his idea for me to sit in his office with him whenever I was struggling. I finally realised he had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes when the Police told me that his behaviour in the run-up to the abuse would be labelled and legally deemed to be ‘grooming.’
He spent those two months comforting me when I cried or felt like I couldn’t breathe and making me feel some sense of reliance on him. A notion of needing him just to get through the day. When I think back – knowing what I know now – I feel like a fool for not questioning his attitude and behaviours and I almost feel as though I just walked right into his trap with my eyes wide open. How could I be that stupid?! But then, when I told the Police this, they offered words of wisdom in telling me that none of this was to do with me. It was in no way my fault that it ended up becoming something totally different. And in no way was it my fault that I didn’t foresee it changing so dramatically. The Police explained that this had been the point of what he’d done. He’d planned it all with three things in mind: the first, that he’d have the opportunity to start hurting me, and the second; that no one would question him if he was starting to raise suspicion. The third? That he’d manipulated things to such an extent that I wouldn’t be believed if I reported him for it.
The thought that through the entirety of those two months of him gaining my trust and respect – to the point where if anyone was bad mouthing him; I’d be the one standing up for him – he was planning to hurt me, makes me feel sick. And it was a huge reason why I blamed myself for the abuse; because what kind of person would do that to someone who was completely undeserving of it?! What kind of person can control and corrupt another person in that way? And I guess that the thought of my abuser being that person – that exploitive and manipulative person – felt so much harder to accept and understand than it was if I just blamed myself. It felt almost like the lesser of two evils.
So, with the ‘grooming’ lasting two months, and then the abuse six months, I felt so hurt and unloved for what felt like years! I mean, of course my Mum still loved me and was there for me, but because of my abuser’s threats and lies, I couldn’t tell her what was happening, and that meant that whilst I felt her support and care everywhere else in my life, it couldn’t be illustrated in the worst part of it. I hadn’t given her the opportunity or ability to show me kindness and love in a way that would counteract all the horrible-ness I was experiencing with my abuser. It was like I was drowning in hatred, and I couldn’t be offered any kind of rescue – no sort of lifeline or floater, no out-stretched hand to pull me up. Nothing.
Not allowing people the opportunity to show me help or support, meant that when I finally talked about the abuse and the impact it was having on my mental health, I almost didn’t recognise it when professionals and loved ones began showing and providing me with it! This was probably also a response to the fact that reporting the abuse and my mental illness becoming well-known were a result of a suicide attempt. I guess it meant that the support offered was on a much higher and more intense level and standard because it meant that rather than have appointments with psychiatric professionals and receiving advice, I was being detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act and receiving medical treatment against my will. People instantly cared. My Mum was there by my side in a flash and has been beside me every step of the way since then.
“I’m tired of watching people I care about get killed!”
On my second psychiatric hospital admission, I made my first friend in mental health services. I remember being given a tour of the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) I had just been transferred to because of my flight risk on the low secure ward. As the staff and I walked down a corridor, a girl with white bandages wrapped from her wrists to her shoulders walked towards us and I kind of shrunk back into the wall away from her. But, within days, I found myself sitting in the walled and fenced-off courtyard when she asked staff to light her cigarette and came out too. And from there, I don’t know how it happened, but we ended up in a conversation deeper than any I’d been in with any Psychologist or Psychiatrist at that point! And almost out of nowhere, she was sharing what had happened to her and I found myself telling her about the abuse I’d gone through. I felt equal to her… Like, since being abused, I had – against my will – become different to everyone in the world. Almost like I had this new identity that no one had heard of or experienced for themselves. And then I met this girl and suddenly I wasn’t alone in the world.
Having that comfort and reassurance that she was ‘like me’ meant that I valued her encouragement to finally tell the staff of the PICU and then to give my statement to the Police. It was as though it meant more to me than if I’d had someone tell me to report it with absolutely no experience of what it would mean and the impact it could have. I mean, I was very aware that reporting the abuse and finally talking about it to others, would change everything. Me. My mental health. My loved ones. My future… Everything! And even though there were good and bad changes and affects from reporting it, I didn’t blame her for any of it because she’d had the experience and knowledge to inform and prepare me for those things.
My seemingly ever-lasting gratitude to her meant that when I was discharged before she was, we kept in touch for quite a while. And when she made a suicide attempt that left her on life support and then – when she was out of the coma – needing dialysis, I had a lot of blame for the mental health professionals who’d been around her. Who were meant to be helping and supporting her, and instead, they had failed. It was very much a huge catalyst for my us vs them attitude when it came to service users and professionals.
This outlook was more than doubled when I made friends with Vickie. I had been admitted to a medical hospital for stomach pain and Vickie was in the bed next to me. She’d had her own medical problem, but it’d meant she couldn’t eat properly and even when her condition was operated on, her attitude and behaviours around food seemed to stick. But rather than diagnose her with Anorexia and call it how it was, the Doctors continued to look for physical causes and so I was discharged before she was. But I visited her. I took balloons and made brownies once and she was so happy to see me that I was able to support her to take a bite of brownie.
One day, after she’d been discharged following the insertion of an NG tube to regulate and monitor her calorie intake, I thought I had seen her at the bus stop at the end of my Mum’s street, but I couldn’t stop to say hi. So, I messaged her to say I’d seen her and couldn’t stop to talk. A few days later, I received a text from her Sister telling me Vickie had committed suicide the day before I’d ‘seen’ her. And I remember feeling as though the ground beneath me was swaying, and then my Mum said that maybe when I thought I saw her, that was her saying goodbye to me.
As with most periods of grief, there were had good days and bad days. Days where I genuinely believed that I wanted to join Vickie and I would actually do what I could to make that happen. Then, days when I remembered her visiting me in hospital after self-harming and how she hugged me while I cried and told me I was ‘better than that’ which meant I wanted to stay safe to make her proud.
These days, it feels like every time I go onto social media (usually Twitter) there’s been a suicide that has rocked many social circles varying from movie stars and sports heroes to the various online mental health communities. It’s kind of like… Well, someone I knew went through cancer and chemotherapy and ended up joining some support groups and when some of the members of them relapsed or passed away, I told her that it was kind of inevitable. In the same way that me being a part of the mental health world makes losing someone I know to suicide a little predictable and most definitely understandable. But that definitely doesn’t make losing someone you care about or know in this way, any ‘easier.’
I think that one of the largest challenges posed in suicide, is the impact it has on another person’s thoughts and feelings of the mental health services and psychiatric professionals who – for all intents and purposes – should have prevented it from happening. I mean, believing that a loved one has been failed by the people who claim to have a ‘duty of care’ and who promote talking when you’re struggling yet ignore or dismiss warning signs with excuses of waiting lists and large caseloads, can make your own relationship with them very challenging. Your expectations can lower, and your level of cooperation and compliance can be tested. The way I try to look at it though, is that these failures need to be seen as learning lessons; but it definitely shouldn't take someone dying to teach services and professionals how to better do their job and to be more efficient in providing help and support.
“That’s what people do; they mend... And sometimes you end up stronger at the broken places.”
This final quote gives me ‘what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger’ vibes! And that’s definitely a motto I like to live by.
Before I went to the place where the abuse began, I had the opportunity to go somewhere else, but for a few reasons, I chose not to. And for a long time, after the abuse, I found myself putting so much focus on that moment where if I’d make the opposite decision, the abuse would likely have never even happened. That way of thinking made me extremely angry with myself and I found that I began experiencing notions of resentment towards the people and the reasons why I’d made the decision I did. Like it was their fault. But I think that really, it was so much easier to cope with blaming others than if I were to really confront the anger at myself. It was safer, almost.
However, either way I looked at it, I felt full of regret and remorse; and I couldn’t help but think ‘what would have happened if I’d made a different decision?’ But living with that question and wonder, always thinking about a ‘what if’ proved to be an unhelpful thing that ended up encouraging my self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings. So, through my mental health recovery, I found myself developing a new way of looking at things. A more positive, healthy, and helpful way. In finding recovery, it meant I was filled with hope and determination, and this new outlook enabled med to discover some sort of confidence and happiness with myself.
I found myself finally recognising who I am, and who I have the potential to become. Rather than considering myself responsible for the abuse and being filled with thoughts and beliefs that I had deserved it in some way, I began to – rightly – see my abuser fully to blame for it. And rather than finding my anger towards him overwhelming and uncontrollable, I came to use it as a motivation and drive to do whatever I could to improve my life because I now knew I hadn’t earnt for it to be this terrible.
I also began to see that rather than think of myself as weak for self-harming and making suicide attempts, I recognised them as true reflections on how I was feeling. True testaments to show just how much emotional and psychological pain I was going through. I found it important to see that there was some sort of responsibility for me coping in these ways and the upset those instances had caused my loved ones, but it all came back to my abuser. If he hadn’t done what he did, would I have ever felt a need to use them to cope? Would I ever have even needed to cope?! So, I saw them as real illustrations of just how much I was struggling because if I wasn’t, how else would I have been pushed to the point where I honestly believed those things would be beneficial in some way?
Then, came my blog and the pride it led to... When I began to recognise, I’m NOT Disordered as a hugely important result of my mental illness, I found myself developing a real sense of confidence and a genuine pride in myself. You know? Like, I finally started to believe that all the things that had happened to me (not just the abuse, but the self-harm and hospital admissions too) were worthwhile. That there was a reason for it all. A purpose. It wasn’t worthless or pointless. My terrible, difficult experiences could be channelled into something that was actually helpful, healthy, safe, and productive.
In addition to filling my life with happiness, all the horrible moments have also influenced me, as a person and with my strength and tolerance levels. I mean, I have a better understanding of the impact the attitude and behaviours of other people will have on me and my mental health. And I think that having something like the abuse and rape happen, has made me more appreciative of nice gestures that others may otherwise overlook and deem ‘small.’ And for all those reasons, I can honestly say that where my abuser broke me, I’m now stronger.
Sign up to Netflix for just £6.99 per month!