1. Maria

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Some relationships are too unhealthy to keep. I’ve learnt that the hard way. As someone who likes to try to see the best in everyone, I used to be a big fan of the idea that honest conversations and heart-to-hearts can solve anything.

The problem, though, is that not everyone likes to have honest conversations. Some people prefer to keep things as they are, even if they know it isn’t working for you. Some people like you to keep quiet about how you are feeling.

Maria was one of the first friends I made at university. I met her at a time when I was too anxious to go out or go to any of the clubs that I had been so excited about trying. She was just as anxious as I was.

We spent most of our time in her room or mine moaning about the world or our essays or other people. Whenever I did manage to go out and have fun, she was jealous. Whenever she managed to go out and have fun, so was I. We created our own world where it was okay to be miserable and never take any risks. It was a fragile world, constantly on the verge of collapse, as we tried to convince ourselves that we were happy with living such small lives.

When I went to live abroad for a year, I started to receive regular, concerned reports from other friends. They said that Maria was spending almost all of her time in her room. When asked if I would talk to her about it, I said no.

They thought that I was the only person who could maybe get through to her, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. What no one realised was that me and Maria had made a silent pact on the day we had become friends. We agreed, without ever talking about it, that we would never point out our destructive behaviours to each other. That we would allow ourselves to become more and more anxious and isolated, without ever looking each other in the face and saying “There has to be another way”.

Eventually, she started to retreat from me as well. I started hearing from her less and less. In the end, she stopped replying to me at all.

I tried to not say anything about how upset her new silence made me. I tried to respect the pact that we’d made.  But I couldn’t do it. I am too honest. Months later, I saw her at a party and was too hurt to talk to her. The next day, I sent her a message, saying how upset I was that she hadn’t replied to me for so long.

I haven’t heard from her since.

There have been times, many times, when I have regretted the words I used in that message. Maybe how I phrased my feelings was too strong. Maybe I was insensitive. I have spent a lot of time and energy wishing that I could go back and do something differently, anything differently, that would mean that we could still be friends, now.

But, instead, I have come to think of it like this: we are all fragile, imperfect beings who make mistakes and live beautiful, imperfect lives. Sometimes we get upset over tiny things and overreact. Sometimes huge things happen, and we underreact. Sometimes we don’t speak up and voice our needs, and sometimes we are too demanding of others.

I’m someone whose been through a lot in my life. Trust comes difficult for me, and so does giving people space and speaking up when I’m upset. I do get things wrong. I always will. That’s why I only keep people in my life now who I know that I can talk to openly about how I feel, including if they’ve done something that’s upset me. And if I’ve done something that’s upset them, then I want to hear about it too. It works both ways.

Keeping secrets has never, ever done me any good. I can’t afford to keep them anymore, not even one. So, I have made a new pact, only this time, with myself: to be open and honest about how I feel. And I only want people in my life who are okay with that.

 

 

 

 

* Photo Credit: http://www.patriciasadler.co.uk/seascapes.php

 

Mountain

sunrise

Your stomach is a boulder.
To hold you up, your legs grow stony too.

You zip your jacket up
and nobody notices you are a mountain.

– Helen Mort

 

It is April. My second year of living in London. My second year of working at a primary school, just off Chancery Lane tube station. My second year of living without the best friends I made at university.

It is April. My room in my apartment is cold, because it is always cold. The windows are paper thin; the water from the shower is thin; the walls are thin.

My alarm goes.

I get up, blearily, force myself out of my room and into the kitchen. I boil the kettle. I pour the water. The tea goes in, and the milk, and the sugar. I take it back to my room and turn on loud pop music to wake myself up, while I hold the cup to my lips and stare straight ahead at nothing.

Another day.

The tube.

I walk to the station. The sunrise glints from behind the mosque and the terraced houses. It is insultingly bright.

The thoughts start.

They tell me about Fiona; a woman who I met over a year ago. We’d arranged to have coffee, but I’d backed out. The anxiety was already too much even then. The voices tell me that, because I have done this, I will never be happy.

It was over a year ago.

Another day.

I am in reception. I sign myself in, say “Alright?” to the receptionist in the same falsely bright way that I always do. Into the classroom. The children pile in with their parents and their small hands and their homework.

Break time.

The thoughts and the buzz of the noise from the classroom still ring in my ears, and I am trying to smile and make small talk in the staff room, but I can’t manage it. It doesn’t matter. Everyone there has got so used to me sitting there, eating silently.

Another day.

I message Fiona. I apologize at length for the mistake that I made.

Another day.

It is insultingly bright.

Another day.

The walls are thin and the paper is thin and the tea is thin and the day is insultingly bright and I stare straight ahead at nothing and say “Alright?” to the receptionist in the say falsely bright way I always say it.

Another day.

Fiona replies. She says that it was no big deal. There is no follow-up. The thoughts attack me for being stupid enough to message her in the first place.

Another day.

 

 

For poems by Helen Mort: http://www.helenmort.com/

Audience – Who am I writing for?

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A few days ago, I got a blogging prompt from my “new to blogging” course that went something like this: think about the kind of person that you are ideally trying to reach with your blog, and write a post specifically catered to them.

So I thought about it. I thought about the kinds of people who might be interested in what I write; people who I have something in common with. I thought about other abuse survivors and rape survivors. I thought about other members of the gay community, and the trans* community.

Of course, I want to reach those people. But, the truth is, really, I want to this space to be something broader than that. I want what I write to be able to resonate with more people that I communities I identify myself to be a part of.

I want to do that because, really, I think that, when we suffer, we have something in common with everyone who suffers. And, the fact is, everyone does suffer, at some point in their lives, in big ways and in small ways.

When I get really panicky, sometimes me and my dad’s girlfriend go on walks around the block, to calm me down. She was a food tech senior school teacher for 40 years, and is used to dealing with young people with problems. As we walk, she tells me about how she felt after her first husband suddenly left her for another woman. She tells me about her next door neighbour, who lost her brother and her dad before she was 19. She tells me about a girl in her school whose family tried to marry her to an older man when she was 12.

In my head, I call them “horror stories”. Horror stories of all the terrible, unexpected things that happen to people. But, the thing is, hearing them makes me feel better, and that’s why she tells me them.

They remind me that I’m not alone. They remind me that, while not everyone has been sexually abused, many people have been through other types of suffering that I’ve never experienced.

I wrote about grief the other day, after reading a blog post by a mum who had lost her teenage daughter to cancer*. Slowly. She watched her deteriorate, over a period of four years, after she was diagnosed. She had to come to terms with the fact that her beautiful girl was going to die, before she really went, so that she could make sure that she would go peacefully, at home.

I have no idea what that experience is like. I can’t even imagine it. But, when I read it, I recognized that I live in that same world. A world of that can contain immeasurable loss. A world that can contain rape.

I want what I write to fit in to that bigger picture. I want people who have had similar experiences to me to see the links in what we’ve both been through, and I also want people who have had different experiences to feel the connection between my suffering and theirs.

I want to be able to connect with other people in the LGBT community, because the kind of emotional disconnect that happens when you “go against your gain” (The Price of Salt) and try to be straight and try to conform to traditional gender expectations is specific, but I want this to reach so much further than that because the pain of trying to conform to other’s expectations, whatever they may be, is universal.

 

So, I guess, if I’m honest, I don’t really have a target audience. I know that is probably not the best blogging tactic. If this was a graded assignment, I don’t think I’d pass. But all readers who are respectful and ready to read this and see in it their own version of suffering are more than welcome here.

 

 

*Blog Post: https://longreads.com/2018/01/02/my-daughter-died-but-im-still-mothering-her/

Author’s Blog:  www.thehalfwaypath.com

 

 

Fresh Air

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It’s been a long winter, with more winter to come. The darkness of the mornings and the late afternoons has been stretching out before me like an endless tunnel, where I can only ever see one step ahead of me.

I try to make sure that I still get fresh air.

I take my dog for walks in the fields around this house, these fields that are water-clogged and wild with long grass. I take her on walks by the river, when the river is so high that it almost floods over its banks and bursts onto the footpath. I take her on walks by the canal, when the water is completely frozen, and the boats are as still as doll’s houses.

Going outside is such a relief from the noise that mounts up inside me. It can be as quiet as a low hum, buzzing with criticism and worry, or as loud as a siren of panic.

There is not much I can do when I hear the siren. I’ve read books that have told me to take three breaths, or breathe from my belly, or say calming words to myself, but there is never any space in my mind to do any of these things. There is no space to breathe.

I go to the doctor and she explains to me how panic creates the sensation of not being able to breathe. She uses big words to tell me how my lungs work and why they react the way they do to stress. I don’t understand a thing she says but it makes me feel better.

I remember the sound of her voice when she came to our house, after my mum had called the health centre’s emergency phone line.

I wouldn’t speak or respond. No one knew the last time I had eaten or drank.

It had been building for months; for years, even. The isolation, the psychosis – voices telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. I had become so practised in hiding it, in going to work day-in day-out, blocking out the sound of my thoughts with the constant demands of the classroom environment. Between the fights in the playground, and the school trips, and the glue shortages, and the displays that needed to be created at a minute’s notice, I could almost convince myself that I was cured, for a few hours of the day.

But then winter began.

I’ve moved back home. I’ve stopped work. New memories come up, realisations that can’t be erased, and now I am only awake in the dark, because I can’t sleep, and I wake up too late, and the voices have become unmanagable now, they make less and less sense and demand more and more isolation, promising complete recovery and transcendence, but it really only ever leads to more misery.

When I admit to the voices, after I am out of hospital, my family think I could be schizophrenic. But as the weeks pass, we realise that the thoughts I’ve been having are really a consequence of years of chronic stress and unexpressed trauma. As I talk about them, and about everything that’s happened, they disappear.

I am still left with the buzz of self-aggression and the siren stab of panic. I can’t pretend to be completely “cured”, in any sense other than this: I know that the panic and the criticism is mine. The voices before felt like they were wiser than me, or had more authority than me, but, now, when I look in the mirror, I only see myself.

It may still be too dark for too long in the mornings, the the noise may still get too much, sometimes, but at least, I now know that I can venture outside.

 

The Lighter Side

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Turtle with “I ❤ Kefalonia” written on its back, from my last holiday

Before I was taken to hospital in November because I’d become catatonic, I’d been writing a (different) blog about being a trauma survivor. I deleted it, in the end, in part because my mental health was becoming so unmanageable, but also because something kept happening which I found alarming; I kept writing lighter sentences and lighter entries in the middle of darker, more serious ones about what it’s like to be a survivor. And I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

I’ve lost count of the amount of books about being a rape or abuse survivor that I’ve read which are harrowing, from beginning to end. There’s nothing wrong with writing that way. These experiences are harrowing and unjust and horrible, as are the range of different ways that they can affect you, afterwards. But, here’s the thing: I think all of us, especially those of us who have experienced first-hand the worst that people can do to other people, deserve lives that are bigger than tragedy stories.

As survivors, we were also victims. There is no way that can ever be erased. Ignoring the depth of suffering we have been through will never be the solution, nor will it bring about change in our society. But, as victims or survivors or whatever your preferred way of calling it is, we all deserve to be happy. We all deserve to laugh. We all deserve to draw or doodle or take photos or make cakes or plant vegetables or whatever else it is that we are drawn to that makes us human.

We deserve to be able to cry and remember how inhumane our abusers and our rapists were, and we also deserve to watch stupid videos on youtube or gossip about dating with friends or sing songs we love, even if we can’t sing, or dance around our bedrooms, even if we never learnt how to dance.

The true tragedy, to me, about having been abused and having been raped is that the people who did that to me didn’t care about all of those things that I loved. They didn’t care that I was a person who deserved to laugh and feel comfortable with touch. It didn’t matter to them that I love the colour orange and 90s pop music and buying really tacky gifts from tourist shops when I go on holiday. They only saw me as someone who was vulnerable enough, either through age or through illness, for them to be able to take advantage of.

I don’t want to forget what they did to me. I used to want to, and I’ve tried very hard to in the past, but living in denial only created more unhappiness in my life. Instead, I want to remember how terrible it was, and I also want to allow myself to make light of the fact I am a sexually frustrated queer virgin, because I haven’t been able to let anyone physically close to me since I was raped. Some days, my crush on Wynnona Earp’s Melanie Scofano is so strong that I feel like I might actually start levitating off the floor from the sheer level of repressed sexual energy.

I know that a survivor’s blog that includes the lighter things won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Everyone has their own way to try to heal. I just want my way to include being amazed by the different colours and textures in fabric shops and laughing out loud at youtubers doing parodies of yoga classes.

 

 

The Pineapple Chronicles

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Because I am super new to blogging and also a recovering technophobe who still has no idea how to use Instagram or FaceTime or Snapchat, I’ve signed up for emails and prompts on how to blog and my last one was all about choosing your title and tagline.

My new title is ‘The Pineapple Chronicles’. Considering what this blog is about, I’ll admit that it’s an oddly cheery title. I guess I should have called it something more tragic, really, like ‘The Fallen Swallow’ or ‘The Crying Swan’ or the ‘The Hungry Robin’ (okay, that last one might be a bit off, I ran out of bird-themed reasons for unhappiness). But, the truth is, when I thought about it, I knew that my blog title had to contain the word ‘Pineapple’ even if it accidentally attracts unsuspecting readers looking for tropical fruit recipes.

*Queue flash black transition sound*

I started my first serious relationship with a boy when I was 15. Of course, in an ideal world, I would have been with a girl (who would have been the teenage lovechild of youtuber Stevie and Adele Exarchopoulos), but those were the days when everyone thought that all lesbians were butch and could only become PE teachers, and I had long hair and a thin frame and was really, really bad at netball (“I said, PIVOT, Rowan. PIVOT”).

I don’t know what other lesbian’s experiences of having relationships with men are like, but mine felt something like getting continuously pricked by a needle carving out an invisible tattoo that shouted the words “THIS FEELS HORRIBLE”, inaudibly. I know that makes little sense, but neither did the feeling, to me, at the time, so I covered it over by muttering “But he’s a really nice guy” to myself, about 200 times a day (on reflection, having to repeat “But they’re really nice” 200 times a day to yourself is NEVER a good sign in a relationship. I digress).

So I stayed with him for 4 years and I was irritable and I was moody and I did a lot of sleeping in the day for hours and hours and hours, and one day he told me that, if I was a fruit, I would be a pineapple, because I was always so god damn prickly.

Thinking about it now still makes me smile. Because we can’t really hide who we are, even if we are also hiding it from ourselvesThe truth of who I am was always there, somewhere, even though I tried really, really hard to hide it behind the personality I created for myself, who had Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with dating (men), Bridget Jones’ obsession with writing (about men) and Caitlin Moran’s teenage obsession with having sex (with men). You’d think that it would have looked like I was overcompensating, but it worked.

I chose ‘Chronicles’ to be part of my title because the journey to being honest about who we are is big and important and deserves to sound like you are a character in Narnia who makes friends with a lion. It’s a process that, for me at least, was hard and often invisible, but the pay offs have been huge, and I say that even as someone who is unable to work due to PTSD, whose aim for this week is to manage to go to a sewing class.

That, and my experience of being in the closet would have been A LOT better if there had been a secret back entrance that OPENED ONTO A WINTER WONDERLAND WHERE JAMES MACAVOY IS A FAUN.

 

 

Grief

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Gampo Abbey is a vast place where the sea and the sky melt into each other. The horizon extends infinitely, and in this vast space float seagulls and ravens. The setting is like a huge mirror that exaggerates the sense of there being nowhere to hide

I keep thinking about that quote from Pema Chodron. About being in a space where there is nowhere to hide from yourself. I guess my situation is kind of like that. Well, if you replace the whole “becoming a nun” thing with me binge-watching episodes of Parks and Rec and filling up my “Girlfriend Goals” board on Pinterest with photos of Cate Blanchett (because my heart will forever hold onto the hope that one day she will morph back into Carol and just stay her).

Even with the Pinturest boards and the binge-watching, even with making cookies (they turned out really bad today. Turns out treacle was an important ingredient)  and learning how to do make-up for the first time from countless youtube tutorials, there isn’t really anywhere to escape from the grief.

I don’t know why the feeling I struggle with most about being sexually abused as a child and raped as an adult is grief. I expect the anxiety; I am almost bored by the panic. I have become used to speaking about my fears and my triggers with the people around me. I go on walks to get fresh air when my mind can’t calm down. I roll my eyes when I hear the clicking noise which is all that remains of my previous state of psychosis.

But I don’t know what to do with the grief. The heaviness and the hopelessness and the bleakness of it. The mourning for the me that has been trapped too many times in too many dark rooms. The sadness for all the chaos I created in trying to run away from it all.

I find it hard to understand why I’m mourning. After all, nobody close to me has died. And yet, I have lost so many people in my life. Old friends who disappeared when my memories of being sexually abused first started to come up. Close friends who couldn’t accept that I’d lied about liking boys. People who I would have done anything for who always looked slightly past me as I talked to them, bored.

I don’t know why my confidence was so low after I was sexually abused as a child. I don’t know what toxic combination of fear and anger and incomprehension that I internalised that did it. All I know is that, even before I raped at 22, I was already living in my own personalised kind of hell of not knowing who I was and pretending the people around me were good for me. I had no idea how vulnerable living in that way made me; but my then-boyfriend must have seen it from a mile away.

I guess that’s why I’m mourning; the unfairness of it all. Of being abused sending me spiralling into unconscious patterns that meant I was so much more likely to be a target of further abuse. Of all the times I blamed myself for not being able to be happy.

There’s a quote from a Buddy Wakefield poem that goes something like this: Forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past. I am nowhere near ready to forgive. But thinking about these words helps me to make sense of why I’m grieving. However unfair I may feel my past is, it can never be any different. I no longer wish to edit out the worst parts with denial and self-blame. All there is to do is mourn how it really was, and to keep on going.