Strange title, you might think, but it genuinely felt like the hugest achievement today. I even got showered and dressed. Tick tick tick; the list of basic functioning is looking better than I felt capable of managing.
Yes…the world might not be the happiest place for me right now. There’s not one thing specifically wrong. One of the ring-men rang me on Sunday night, pretending that my close friends had been in a car accident, which knocked me sideways. I had an operation two weeks ago. I’ve had incredibly difficult flashbacks over the last few weeks, with a lot of grief and guilt attached to them. It’s anniversary time. I’m still exhausted from last term and don’t know how to manage the next mountain of workload. I’ve been ill. I miss my babies. I miss my daughter. I want her back. I just want to see her eyes light up one more time when I pull a silly face. I want to smell her again. The memory is fading and I’m scared of losing the fine details; the exact shape of her face, the way her cheeks dimpled, how her forehead creased when she was laughing, how she frowned when unsure, what it felt like to hold her and breathe into her hair, to smell her, to feel her warm weight against my chest. I want to hear her squeal. I want to see how she bent her legs upwards whenever I lowered her into the bath, and frowned at me in definite disapproval. I want to wake up and look at her sound asleep, her slow snuffly breathing, somehow her sprawled out in a space that surely was too big for someone so small. Watching her calmly dreaming; safe in sleep, away from the dangers I was too young to protect her from. I want to say sorry and know she understands. I crave the chance to speak to her again, and it will never come. I want my memory to stay crystal clear.
I feel simultaneously detached and yet also too much in the present. There’s no dissociation of emotions happening at all; I am wrecked and no part of me is trying to pretend that isn’t the case. I feel depressed. My mood is low, my heart is heavy with grief, my head filled with guilty ‘what ifs?’ I have no energy left to cry but then I lack energy for most things today. But at the same time I have a sensation of floating, as though my body is somewhere else. Perhaps it is. I don’t know. I feel frightened. Frightened of my friends getting hurt when I’m not around to help – frightened of feeling that consuming powerlessness. Frightened of leaving the house and falling apart.
Yesterday was a blur of tears and hysterical giggles. Hysterically giggling is a red flag for me; a sign my head is trying desperately hard to stabilise, to prevent the depression spiral. Last night especially I just sat and laughed madly at anything and everything, feeling the painful lump in my throat and stinging in my eyes – the pain was just waiting to hit. I went to bed, aware of the battle happening inside me, and I looked down at my arms. My empty arms. The arms of a mother, with no child to hold. And I laughed through tears.
In the middle of the night I was filled with the urge to run outside and just scream, just scream as loudly as I could – wake the whole world up, make the whole world aware of the pain happening right under their noses. Of all the children in the world who go to sleep in fear, whilst their neighbours are just a wall away and utterly oblivious. I wanted to curl up on the pavement and scream all the screams that went unheard or ignored in my childhood, to cry all the tears that were never cried, to wake the world up. How many go to sleep at night, unaware that a child just a wall away from them is silently crying through rape? Thousands of children are abused, and they have to live somewhere. Suddenly last night I wanted the world to stop living with their eyes closed. I was in pain and in bed. Just like before.
Instead I curled up, my knees tucked under my chin, my stomach around a toy elephant my partner got me, and I cried into it. And I didn’t stop crying, for hours. I can’t remember the last time I cried for so long. I kept thinking the tears would run out, or my body would grow exhausted, but neither happened. I curled up like I did as a child, and I cried into a toy in my arms wishing for my child back. Memories passed in front of my eyes in a slow blur, and it felt like all the grief of everything suddenly hit me.
I remembered being so small, and curling up in my duvet, hoping if I tightly wrapped maybe they wouldn’t bother. Of him walking in the room, unwrapping me, running his hand across my tiny vulnerable body. I remembered going floppy, or stiff, but mostly floppy. It was easier that way; go floppy and pretend I’m somewhere else. Pretend I’m the moths by the lightbulb, or the dust fairies, or the girl in class who runs into her daddy’s arms in the playground…and doesn’t look afraid. I remember biting my lip, just a child, knowing already that saying ‘it hurts’ only makes it worse. Holding my tiny hands across my chest, holding my own hands, biting my lip as slow fat tears dribbled down my face. Sometimes they’d pin my hands either side of my head. That meant I couldn’t hold my own hand. Nobody could.
I watched in slow motion me as a teenager, filled with a moment of angry defiance, of frightened fury. I watched myself screaming, hitting, as someone else tried side-tackling me and pulling me to the floor. I don’t even remember what I was so angry about. I didn’t hear the memory; I watched it in slow motion. I watched my mouth ‘STOP! STOP!’ over and over again, fighting against them, hot tears streaming down my face. I watched as the man shoved me against a wall, I remember flailing against him, trying to escape, as his hips pinned my own against it, he ran both of his hands under my top and gripped onto my breasts. It didn’t matter how hard I hit him, he didn’t seem to feel. He kissed me fully, slimy and wet, kneading my breasts, then raped me. I remember with each pound I seemed to climb higher up the wall, how the back of my head collided heavily with it. How my feet couldn’t reach the floor. And still I screamed stop. Still I sobbed. Still nobody cared. How he eventually stopped and unpinned me, and I fell in a sobbing painful heap to the floor. And then they took it turns to kick me. To kick the wrecked lump that I was. I remember shielding my face with my arms, holding my knees high to protect my abdomen, my back against the wall, and watching in slow motion as those black boots came in slow motion…then speeding up at the last second on impact… some friends at school the next day seeing bruises on my arms. ‘I fell down the stairs’ I told them. They believed me.
I remembered the terror ignited by a sudden rough hand over my mouth, of being dragged into a van, of having no idea where I was going, and of the continued knowledge that nobody would care no matter how long I was gone. I remember lying in the bed, and screaming in frustration as I tried in vain to wriggle my way out of the cable ties. How they burned my wrists. How pathetically simple and breakable the cable ties looked, and how strong they were. I can still feel the burning pain now. Sometimes I have to touch my wrists to remind myself I’m not there anymore.
I remember threatening ‘you put that thing in my mouth and I’ll f*cking bite it off.’ I remember biting, and gagging, but I refused to loosen my grip. My jaw is strong. I felt like a monster afterwards as he howled in the pain I should have been howling in…
I remember the alien and harrowing pain of losing my first baby…a pain that’d become too familiar, whilst I was barely a teen myself. I lay in bed last night and my abdomen rippled with remembered pain. All of me grieved.
How did the world not know? How did nobody notice? There were so many times where it came close to the truth being known, and it was either dismissed by an adult, or misunderstood, or the concerns were relayed to my grandparents and then left. How was I abused? Why? Why did this have to happen to me? Why do I have to look at a normal household object and gasp inside in remembered pain…why do I know what it’s like to be raped with objects, beaten with hands, boots, anything they had to hand…why am I only 21 and a grieving mother…in my op the surgeons found scarring in my pelvic area…why is my body scarred and in constant pain as a result of what happened? I remembered being barely 4, and cowering in a corner as I awaited my punishment for using the wrong bowl…something that still haunts me, how making the tiniest mistake fills me with a sickening dread, as some part of my head waits to be beaten or raped.
How was it that as a child I begged for “just the rapey.”
Last night I cried and cried, for everything. For grief for myself, for the horror of it all, in anger, in pain and fear, I cried for my babies, I cried for the fading memory of her smell, I cried for the paranoia of having to feel such grief again, I cried for having felt ignored for so long, and cried at the understanding that I wasn’t ignored; society is just undereducated and blind.
At some point I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up this morning, my face was sticky and my eyes sore and swollen. I felt sick from crying for so long. My throat felt raw and my stomach muscles tense. The cuddly elephant was still nestled against my chest and for a moment I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was my daughter again. But I couldn’t. It just isn’t her. I was in the exact same position – curled up with my knees under my chin, with my spine protesting loudly. My head was pounding. I considered getting up and was smacked with a huge panic attack as a response. I couldn’t face the world. Reality hurts too much. I closed my eyes and fell back asleep. When I woke a bit later, I woke up crying. I can’t remember what I was dreaming about, something to do with friends. I cried and choked for a bit, had a smaller panic attack, and fell back asleep. I wanted to sleep for a long time. Sleep is escape. Sleep is safe; I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to try and function, I don’t have to face another unknown day. I can just shut down and go somewhere else.
Eventually though, I had to accept I was spiralling fast and the only person who could change that was me. It’s pancake day, and the littles were unnerved by my state. Thankfully my partner was in, so I text her (she was downstairs) and she said she’d make pancakes. I now had to get up. I lay in bed for another half an hour, trying to keep my breathing steady, reassuring myself that nothing extreme could happen just by going downstairs and eating a pancake or two. Shakily, I got out of bed, then stood in my room, looking around the corner of the room…looking at where the memories had played themselves to me like a projected film last night. Now the walls were all bare. The pain hadn’t gone though. I was abused, and so was my baby. And whatever they did to my physically, its the psychological trauma that has left the most intense scars and pain.
I somehow stumbled to the bathroom, tried to remind myself how to use the shower again. Stared at it for a while, unsure how it worked, remembering only how my childhood shower worked. Eventually I felt hot water cascading over my face, cleansing the tears away with tears of its own. Washing the sticky remains of grief off my tired cheeks. Soothing my aching spine so I could stand straight again. Coursing over my abdomen, gentle rivers running across my breasts and down over my navel, swirling around my abdomen, warmly holding where my babies once lay inside me safe, the water holding my grieving empty body. My stiff arms, desperate for the weight of a child again, relaxed under the water and stopped wrapping themselves around me. I stood with my head back, my face pointing towards the ceiling, the water just pouring down over me, cleansing me, grounding me, calming me and crying with me…
Then I got into my towel and stared at my face in the mirror. I looked wrecked. I feel wrecked. I rested my head on the cool glass, and reminded myself of the miracle that I can breathe and look wrecked at all.
Finally I made it downstairs. I hid against my partner for a while, who held me as I closed my eyes and reminded myself of the present. We had a few smiles making pancakes. I knew university wasn’t going to happen. But fuelled now by my partner’s endless optimism and gentle spirit, and now food and a cleansing shower, I decided I was going to do something productive that didn’t involve anything too scary like leaving the house. I’m in a funny unique place now where the future isn’t frightening; normally when I’m depressed it’s hard because the future is so unknown and dark and I’m scared. But I’m getting married. That’s exciting and even depression hasn’t removed that from me. Despite the mess I am in, I managed today to book our ceremony venue. I managed to anchor myself and hold onto the reality that however incredibly hard life is right now, and however harrowing and traumatic my past, the future is something to keep breathing for.
But crucially, today I got out of bed 🙂