For some reason, so many people still seem to underestimate just exactly what living as a survivor entails; so many people seem to underestimate the reality of our mental health, the things we’re able to do, the things we live with on a daily basis. Part of me, of course, knows this is just another general silencing tactic. You ignore, dismiss and belittle the mental and physical health conditions that survivors live with then it’s easy enough to ignore, dismiss and belittle the traumas that caused those responses.
Even within activist circles, even amongst those that proclaim to support and stand by survivors underestimate those realities; they will one minute be declaring their everlasting support for survivors and the next, be talking about how certain mental and physical health conditions just aren’t real or be questioning a survivor’s mental health.
I know that here, I’m probably talking to those that do believe and acknowledge the lived realities of survivorship and I equally recognise that I don’t fully have the words to get across just how awful, difficult and painful life can be whilst healing; whilst living with everything that we have to live with.
However, after a fucking horrific night, I feel the need to write this, so here goes.
Flashbacks aren’t fun, don’t expect them to be pleasant reading.
I’ve spent the night curled up in fear from flashbacks, resisting the urge to scream, resisting the urge to self-harm until I could focus on another source of pain – one I have control over, restless and hurting and desperate to do anything to make it stop. I tried to sleep, briefly and repeatedly found myself suffocating under the weight of the duvet; my head seeing and feeling man after man climb on top of me, feeling their breathe in my face, hearing their grunts and their moans and their disgusting words. Every time I started to drift off, the flashbacks would become more intense, my brain seeing vulnerability and a lack of resistance in my sleepy state. I just wanted to scream and keep screaming; to self-harm; to throw up; to do anything and everything to break the state I was in.
Despite this blog, despite my steps into activism, despite my living openly as a survivor, I still doubt the words that I use. I still doubt my own reality. I feel like a terrible fraud, that I have no right to use words like ‘rape’ or ‘abuse’ or ‘torture’ or ‘trafficking’ or even ‘survivor’, that I am causing harm to real survivors when I do so, by lumping my experiences with theirs I am taking away the care and attention and support they need.
Last night I had a very solid realisation; those words are appropriate. It’s one I’ve had before, but with time it always fades until each of us is ready to accept and believe and truly feel that reality. Last night was that night for me (but who’s to say if it’ll fade or not this time), the realisation that I have actually been raped and abused and tortured and trafficked hit me and it hit me hard. It knocked the breath out of me, I couldn’t breathe, I had panic attacks, the flashbacks overwhelmed me, I weeped and I weeped and I weeped for the pain I’ve endured. ‘Rape’ and ‘abuse’ and ‘torture’ and ‘trafficking’ are not just meaningless words I’ve abstractly assigned to my experiences, they’re real and they’re powerful and they’re my reality – and it’s a reality I’m not so sure I can live with.
I didn’t know what to do with myself or my body. I was writhing in pain at the realisation, I was weeping and sobbing, to the point where I ran out of tears and sound. I was consumed with flashbacks to the point where I simply gave up trying to resist them and let them overtake me. I was feeling as much as seeing; I was feeling those numerous men on top of me, I was feeling the pain and the tearing and the injuries. I was feeling every touch, their weight above me; my body was remembering as much as my mind was. I couldn’t move from where I was laid, I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do more than writhe from the pain and beg and plead for it to all stop.
By the time morning came (though the light itself made no difference, I have not slept without a light on at night for more than a decade) I was still struggling, still suffering from flashbacks and pain, I was still finding it hard to breathe, still soundlessly sobbing, still wanting it to stop.
I gave up on any prospects of therapy fairly quickly; I had zero sleep, an incredibly bad night and I simply didn’t have the energy to get up, get dressed, go outside into the world. This probably wasn’t the most sensible response, maybe therapy was exactly what I needed today, but the thought of going outside not so long after a terrible fucking night was far too much.
As far as most people are concerned, I have agoraphobia, which on some levels is definitely true, but in reality, my fear of the outside world, my inability to leave my flat is a direct response to my trauma. I become convinced that the moment I step foot outside the door, I will be hurt again. That my traffickers will find me, that a client will recognise me, that any man on the street is capable of and will hurt me (which fuck, we know is true because men fucking suck); my fear of this is especially heightened at the moment. Just a little less than a year ago I was assaulted on public transport, the thought of going outside alone at the moment, at this time of year, is terrifying to me.
But, no matter how crazy I am (yes, I am crazy, I’ve accepted that. No, you don’t get to call me crazy), life doesn’t stop. It would be so easy and at times probably healthy for me to just not go outside, ever, but the reality is I live alone and unless the cat suddenly decided to go out and do a food shop, I need to force myself to do so many things.
And this is where the sticking point comes in. People expect those with real mental health conditions to be thoroughly incapable of anything; to be permanently having panic attacks and flashbacks, to never eat, to never go outside, to never do anything, but life doesn’t work like that, especially not if you live alone, especially not if you’re skint. I’ve been lucky enough to have been oh so graciously deemed eligible for benefits, but I still don’t exactly have the money to be ordering food deliveries every week. Life still has to happen.
I still post on Facebook, I still write this blog, I talk to friends, I sometimes go outside and socialise, I go to the shop, I feed the cat (though probably not as often as he’d like), I just about keep on top of the cleaning, I have an amazing relationship and an amazing girlfriend. I can fake my way through a bad day if I have to. All of which works against me because I really mustn’t be ill, it really mustn’t be that bad if I can pull that off, right? But what you don’t see is how much of a cost doing those things has on me. You don’t see me curled up in fear, you don’t see me utterly exhausted, begging for sleep, downing coffee after coffee to avoid the nightmares, you don’t see me flinch at the slightest touch, burst into tears at the slightest sign of conflict (OK, actually, some of you that actually know me did see that happen tbf), unable to move from the exhaustion, being slowly surrounded by a pile of pots I’m unable to wash, the inability to eat, ordering take-away after take-away because cooking takes too much energy.
I lost track as to where I was going with this post, but to sum up, life fucking sucks for survivors and it takes time to heal to reach a point where it sucks a little less. But today, you’ll see me outside and socialising and forcing myself through, because that’s what I have to do no matter how much I just want to hide.