TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ABUSE, SELF HARM
It’s difficult to say for sure when my experience of mental ill health began but it’s likely the catalyst was moving to Brackley.
I was 9 years old and I felt that I was being torn away from everything I knew and loved. I literally couldn’t cope with the move. I was very quiet when I started at my new school and I didn’t make friends easily. Eventually I made friends with a boy in my class and he asked me if I’d like to be his girlfriend. I said yes and we started ‘dating’. It was good at first and he invited me around to his house to play. He wanted to play doctors and nurses which I didn’t mind, except that he wanted me to lie naked. I knew I shouldn’t but it was exciting so I agreed. He performed the usual ‘checks’ on my arms and legs which was okay. But then he moved his hand between my legs. I told him no but he told me it was ‘what all boyfriends and girlfriends did’ and I believed him. I wasn’t comfortable but I let him carry on and decided not to play the game with him again. It didn’t cross my mind that he would want to do anything similar again.
I was wrong. Every time we met he would want to touch me or for me to touch him. I was 11 the first time he asked me if I wanted to have sex. I told him I didn’t but he said again it was what boyfriends and girlfriends did so I didn’t feel like I had a choice. He didn’t penetrate far at all but I didn’t know then that legally I had just been raped. The abuse continued into secondary school where it just got more frequent. By year 9 I couldn’t take it any more and told a teacher ‘I’m being touched and I don’t like it.’ They asked me questions about what was happening but I didn’t tell them about the ‘sex’ because I didn’t want to get in trouble.
They listened but it was obvious they didn’t believe me and just thought it was a misunderstanding. They didn’t inform my parents and had a chat with the boy where they told him he shouldn’t touch someone without asking first. Obviously the abuse got worse after that because he knew he could get away with it. I’d been scratching at my arms and wrists since I was 10 or 11. I didn’t do it consciously to hurt myself, I just knew it made me feel better. I started to scratch more often after school did nothing about the touching and then I saw Lisa Hunter cutting herself on Hollyoaks. I remember one of the other characters finding out what she was doing and asking if she was okay. She told them she was fine and they said that something must be wrong for her to be cutting herself. And I desperately wanted that. I wanted someone to realise I was really hurting.
I wanted someone to help me and make things stop. So I started cutting myself too. I kept it hidden but secretly hoped someone would notice. I hid it too well and nobody did. School finished for the holidays and I was on my own.
I stayed away from him as much as I could, helped by the fact that we were going away on holiday and that I had the scout summer camp to attend. Summer camp was great until one of the boys snuck into my tent and tried to rape me. They only penetrated slightly before I managed to push them away but it really shook me. I didn’t tell an adult because I didn’t think they would believe me. I started to think there must be something really wrong with me for people to keep doing these things. I began to self harm more frequently and became even more vulnerable to my first abuser. At some point a rumour went round school that I had been raped by my first abuser and it made its way back to my mum. She asked if I had had sex with him and changed my mind and I said no. But I lied and said that I had fainted at the time and I’m not a fainter.
As a result my mum didn’t believe me. I don’t know why I lied and said I’d fainted, I think I thought that if she thought I’d fainted then it couldn’t possibly be my fault. I was on my own and in some way that helped because it was up to me now to make the abuse stop. He tried to touch me during school again when other people were about and I finally snapped and screamed at him to get off me. He didn’t touch me again. I struggled with everything that had happened still and carried on self harming. The cuts got more frequent and deeper and school finally noticed and informed my parents. My mum was very cross about it and when she and my Dad divorced later that year I remember her saying not to go cutting myself over it. I was upset they were divorcing but happy because it meant I didn’t have to live with mum anymore. I was still angry at her for not believing me, even though it was my lie that made her feel that way. I got through my GCSE’s and started sixth form but my mental health was spiralling out of control. In year 13, sick of people getting on at me for self harming I took an overdose at school.
I don’t think I really wanted to die. I just wanted things to end and I really wanted people to get off my back about the self harm. It was my body and I was in control of it. I never wanted anybody else to have control of it again. I recovered quickly but continued to self harm. I called school and re-enrolled into sixth form to start again the following September but I was raped by penetration again that summer by a so called cf recovered) Therapy helped me to understand that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. I talked through everything and learned some extra coping skills. I didn’t stop self harming until I was 30 and still have thoughts of self harm now, though they are few and far between. I’ve learned to allow myself to experience an emotion, to sit with it and allow it to pass, instead of self harming to make it go away. This was especially difficult with anger. I’ve always been frightened by the power of my anger and it’s the emotion that would always lead me to self harm because I’d rather hurt myself than someone else.
I don’t think I will ever be fully recovered from my experiences but they don’t dominate my life like they used to and I only think about them when I choose to now, where before thoughts, feelings and images would flash into my mind unwanted. I’m in a good place mentally and know I have strong coping mechanisms in case anything awful should happen again. I’m also more aware of my mental health and better at reaching out for help.
I don’t have to do it alone any more and this group helps to keep me in check and gives me people I can reach out to. I hope I haven’t upset people too much with what I’ve written and it’s not too graphic. I just wanted to share my story in the hope it might help someone else who has experienced similar things, that it might show them that recovery is possible and that a good and fulfilling life is possible.