No pictures today (you may be breathing a sigh of relief, my photos couldn’t be further from the aesthetically pleasing type you find on some blogs! I really must work on that!) because I had the same dinner I had a few nights ago – a homemade gluten free wrap with tomato puree and pumpkin butter, filled with sauteed smoked tofu, onion, mushroom and red pepper. Yumyumyum. I love making these wraps but up until the tofu experiments commenced a couple of weeks ago I only ever put boiled eggs and marinated butterbeans in them (Ellie asked me how I made said butterbeans a while ago and I forgot to answer, but I have to confess that I buy them from Sainsburys 😛 there is one particular variety which don’t have vinegar or garlic in the marinade, and they are a lifesaver for making quick meals. They taste lovely cooked with my corn pasta, the corn flour thickens the sauce a bit and it just…works. Very well. That was a long bracket – I don’t half go off on some tangents sometimes!), but now there’s a whole world of tofu-related fillings opened up to me! I am a tofu novice since I’ve only just discovered that it doesn’t make me ill (why I’m fine with tofu and not soya milk remains a mystery. I think my digestive system just likes being weird), so if anyone has some quick and easy recipes I would really appreciate them.
(the rest of this post is potentially triggering – talks about sexual assault)
So, after yesterday’s post Stef asked a couple of questions. I was thinking about whether to answer them here and I thought, why not? It’s my blog, and this was an important incident in my life – in fact, if it hadn’t happened, I would probably have recovered a long time ago. I’ve never put this story out anywhere public – I have told people on a password protected eating disorder website, but this blog is linked in my facebook profile, so my friends and family could read it if they wanted. That makes talking about this feel even more difficult. I feel quite detached from what happened, and writing about it on the eating disorder website I used to belong to didn’t really change that for me because it was somewhere completely private and detatched from my real life, if that makes sense. No one that I knew on there knew any of the people in my day to day life, and no one in my day to day life knew any of my friends online. This is more risky. But it’s a risk I want to take, because one of my main challenges to myself is to be more open with my family. I have very few friends in ‘real life’ – everyone I hang out with now I met in hospital or online. I always tell myself that this is because I am weird and unlikeable, but I think it’s actually because I am so self conscious about my mental health problems that I can never bring myself to be myself around people who don’t have experience with mental illness, in case they don’t want to know me. It’s easier to remain closed off from the start than to open up and risk rejection…but I’ve been doing that for a long time, and it’s really fucking boring and lonely, to be honest. So, basically, this is me trying something new.
Stef asked me when it was that I was raped and if I knew the people who did it. It was six and a half years ago now, in November 2002, when I was 18. I had been suffering from depression, anxiety and the accompanying coping mechanisms (ED/SI) for a long time already – I’ve had problems with anxiety since I was four, and depression since I was bullied at middle school. The eating disorder and self harm started when I was around 13. By the time I was 17 I was very unwell, in treatment and was forced into taking a year out of school. I worked really hard in therapy that year and started feeling a lot better, enough that I applied to college to restart my A levels. I started studying psychology, sociology and english lit A levels in September 2002, and I was determined to make things work this time. I was going to make lots of friends, have a great social life, work hard too and generally make up for all the time I’d lost through being ill. I wasn’t the sort of person to take risks but I did want to challenge all my anxieties and try to do normal teenager stuff, like go to parties and stay over peoples houses. I made friends with a few people, including one girl who also had a bit of a mental health history. I got on with and felt kind of sorry for her – she had an abusive boyfriend, a history of sexual abuse, it was obvious she didn’t think much of herself and she’d had a really shitty few years. I thought we could be friends.
She invited me to stay over at her house one weekend, I agreed, and her and her boyfriend raped me. People still get shocked when I tell them that I was raped by a woman. First of all she asked me if we could go for a drink with her boyfriend later. I was a bit scared of him but I didn’t think it could be too dangerous, we were going to be in a public place and I didn’t have the confidence to say that I wasn’t comfortable. Then she somehow got me to agree to go to his house for a drink before we went out, on the strict understanding that we would still be staying at her house. He picked us up, took us back to his place, and pretty much downed a bottle of vodka. Way too drunk to drive us back to her house. They carried on drinking (I drank one bacardi breezer then hid the others that they gave me under his bed), and started talking about some scary stuff. Both of them had a history of violence – he’d been in prison – and he had a gun, although he didn’t threaten me with it overtly. I was terrified. I didn’t know the area we were in and all my stuff was back at her house, the only thing I could think of to do was to agree with whatever they said and try and get through the night without making them angry. When they did start making sexual advances I still said no though, I pushed them away, I insisted I was going to sleep on the floor, and they let me for a couple of hours. But eventually I was too scared to carry on pushing them away and I stopped resisting. I was stuck in that bastard’s house for twelve hours, convinced for most of that time that they were going to kill me. For a good few years afterwards I wished that they had.
I got them to take me home early the next morning, saying I had forgotten about a piece of coursework that had to be in monday morning. I went up to my room and passed out for a few hours, woke up, curled up in a corner with my music on full blast and texted a couple of friends in a panic. One of them – an older girl I’d met through something-fishy, actually – responded really quickly, came and picked me up in her car and I told her what had happened. She wanted me to go to the police straight away, but I’d already had a (very long) shower, and I was too confused to know what had happened anyway – I wanted to talk to the psychologist I’d been seeing for the depression and anxiety for the last year before I told anyone else. I even went to college the next day, but couldn’t bring myself to go to any of my lessons in case I ran into her. I hid in the library instead. I just couldn’t bear to stay at home and think. I saw my psychologist, who was amazing and phoned the police for me. I talked to the police, another friend came with me. I told my mum. I…don’t remember much else for the next few months.
I know that I was extremely frightened. I decided not to press charges because I thought they would come back and kill me. My self harm got completely out of control. My anxiety became so bad that I started getting psychotic symptoms – I was convinced that men with guns were behind every wall and bush on my walk up to college, I started hallucinating at night, I thought monsters were going to come through my bedroom walls, I couldn’t be left alone at home for almost a year without ending up hiding in a bathroom or under a bed. Even writing about it I can feel my heart pounding and my palms sweating and there are chills running up and down my spine. Now, I can tell myself that it was a long time ago, that I haven’t seen them since a month after the attack (she dropped out of college luckily – but I didn’t. Despite being almost incapacitated by PTSD I finished the two years at college and got three A grades in my A levels. Fuck them, right?), that I am safe and can’t be hurt by memories. Back then, I was convinced that all my terrors were an accurate reflection of reality. I was going to die, soon. If not today, tomorrow. One of them coming back to finish me off, another rapist or murderer, a car accident, a stroke, a monster, a meteor bashing me on the head – I was going to die, I knew it.
After three months my anxiety burnt itself out and I became very depressed instead. I could barely get out of bed, and I’m not exaggerating. Although I’d suffered from depression and suicidal ideation before it had never been like this – this was clearly something very chemically wrong with my head. It felt physical, like walking through treacle, like breathing water. Everything was heavy and took a thousand times more effort than it had before. It took all the energy I had to leave the house and make it to college – once I was at college I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t take notes, couldn’t talk to anyone, I just sat in my classes staring into space. But I carried on going because I knew I had to leave the house. I just had to.
After six months my psychologist got a new job and left the adolescent services. I wasn’t referred on because I was 18 and too old for a new therapist there. She didn’t want to refer me to the adult services because she thought I would get labelled with some personality disorder, medicated to hell and end up more entrenched in my problems than I already was. I couldn’t cope without her though. I really loved that woman, she had kept me sane for eighteen months. Back then I didn’t have a great relationship with my family, they didn’t really understand my problems and I was too embarrassed about having mental health problems to talk openly with them, so my psychologist was my whole support network, other than people I knew from various eating disorder websites. My two best friends from the site I used most often, including the girl who helped me out after I was raped, also had a hard time coping with how suddenly crazy I’d gotten and dumped me within a few months of my psychologist leaving. All in all, 2003 was a bit of a shit year.
A year after I was raped I had relapsed into my eating disorder and was getting to quite a dangerous weight. I guess I’d used up my allowance of bad luck for one year though, because I ran into a boy I’d been friends with and had a huge crush on as a teenager in October 2003. He had had problems too – he had been in and out of hospital for bipolar disorder for the last few years. We hung out a bit, he got me a bit drunk one afternoon and I asked him out. Just like that, there was something good in my life again. We did normal things. We went out to eat, to the cinema, to pubs where he was playing with his band. I met his friends, I stayed at his house and he at mine, we talked a lot. He was very patient about the physical side of things, we didn’t sleep together for six months. I was a virgin when I was raped, I didn’t have any memories of good, safe sexual experiences to hang on to so it was scary, but it was also pretty fucking wonderful. He sort of reverse bullied me – told me I was beautiful and lovely so often that I almost started to believe him. At any rate, he filled up my time and thoughts and stole a lot of the power from the eating disorder. I relaxed and gained the weight back, and felt ok with that.
Four years after I was raped I was back in the mental health services, but had yet to get any treatment for the PTSD. I was still sleeping with the light and the TV on, still imagining monsters, still virtually becoming psychotic from 11pm – 6am every day. I had been to university and dropped out because living on my own in that state, away from my boyfriend and family, made me incredibly depressed. I had started another degree at a university closer to home, so I could commute and live at home, but although I adored the degree and the rest of my life – my boyfriend, friends, relationship with my family, I was healthy, I was training for the London marathon – I was still very, very depressed. I just couldn’t see the point in being alive. I know now that these are symptoms of PTSD – feeling that life is pointless, that it can be snatched away at any second, being constantly hypervigilent for the next crisis, wondering why, when we all die anyway, anyone bothers with shopping and studying and…getting out of bed in the first place. But at the time I thought that that was reality and everyone else was…I don’t know, deluded. Or maybe that I was essentially faulty and wasn’t meant to be alive, because I couldn’t seem to make myself want to be alive, even though most of my life was great. It all crashed down on me when I changed medications and had a bad reaction to the new lot (effexor+me=crazy) and I ended up in a psychiatric ward for three months, where I lost a lot of weight due to the side effects of the meds, then became physically unwell (probably due to switching meds seven times in six months) and lost more, then ended up in ED treatment, recovered, relapsed…and here I am.
Last summer I finally started working on the PTSD in therapy with a woman from the local EDU. We did get through a lot before I closed back off again (it was nearly time for me to leave for university again, and I didn’t feel safe continuing to talk about it after a certain point, in case it left me too unstable when I moved away again), and now I…think I feel ok about what happened. I am left with a lot of the psychological effects of the PTSD – I am agoraphobic, my OCD and emetophobia have gotten a LOT worse since it happened, I am terrified of any situation which makes me feel out of control, I always need to know where the door or the escape route is, I always need to know that I can leave a situation or place and get home or to a safe place FAST. I have become incredibly tightly wound, rigid and inflexible – whereas before I was raped I was more bulimic, more impulsive, more chaotic, now I am obsessive, controlling and ruled by rules. Everything has to be ordered. Everything has to be safe, always. But the actual memories of the rape don’t hurt me anymore, these are just echoes. I would still cry if I talked about what happened. I would still dissociate a bit and feel unsettled for a few days. I still have nightmares and slight paranoia around the ‘anniversary’. But I am 95% better than I was. I feel like I’m slowly catching up with my history. I recovered from the effects of being bullied while I was seeing that psychologist six or seven years ago. I stopped self harming two years ago. I mostly made peace with the actual event and memories of the rape last summer. Now I have to deal with the indirect effects – the anorexia, OCD, phobias. I have to fight to fend off that pointless obsession with pointlessness. That is a lot better too now, most of the time I *know* that life is worth hanging on to and I believe that everyone can recover and be happy. Even a year ago I couldn’t say that. Things in my head are constantly evolving – behaviours and memories which make up 90% of the problem five years, one year, or six months ago are in the background now and something else has taken it’s place, it’s a struggle to keep up – but I get the general feeling that the general direction is the right one. Things are slowly starting to click into place, I feel clearer and stronger and more positive. Those people have stolen enough of my life from me, they are not getting any more of it.
This is the worlds longest post. I feel kind of embarrassed that it’s so long, but it’s therapeutic to write about it sometimes, it doesn’t do to get too detached, to buy into the feeling that it happened to someone else, some girl in a film I watched a few years ago. If anyone actually read all of this I will be amazed, heh. It’s ok, it’s here for me, not anyone else. I am the one who has to live with it.