This is the story of my first contact with a counselling service, and what followed after.
I haven’t spoken about this in public before, because it has been too upsetting.
However, it’s necessary. My life’s mission now is to tell about the events that would’ve been left untold had I died when I tried to in June 2017. First-hand accounts such as mine are important for the greater awareness of the general public and the medical community for better recognition and treatment of trauma disorders. I write because I don’t have other talents. However, I feel like I’d be wasting the second chance I got in life if I didn’t use my talent to help others.
If me speaking up about what happened helps to stop one person from going through the same horror, it’s worth me writing about it.
I don’t know why I’m in agony. Still, every second of every day is insufferable. It’s like my chest cavity is filled with broken glass. Every time I take a breath, the shards puncture my lungs, dig deeper inside my core and internal organs. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. All I look forward to when I wake up is for the day to be over.
I have just broken up with my boyfriend and he’s moved out. Still, this feeling has lasted for much longer. I don’t know how long for anymore, but the pieces of broken glass have been my constant companion for a long, long time.
I shop for groceries. I see my friends. Whenever I’m outside I can hold it together but the moment the front door is closed, I collapse. I still live in the house that we shared. Half of his belongings are still there. Everything that happened has soaked inside the pores of the walls like cigarette smoke. No matter how many times you air the room, you can still smell it. I can’t breathe.
I genuinely don’t know why I feel so awful every moment of every day. However, I know on some nonverbal level that it’s my responsibility to contain the horror. As long as it’s with just me, it’s controllable. If it’s let out, it’s out of my control and what unspeakable terror is going to happen then? I can hold it. I’m used to it.
It’s getting too hard though, and other people start noticing.
My GP surgery very gently guides me to a counselling service.
At every session, I feel like there is a stone in my mouth. I can’t let out anything past it, just small words manage to wiggle past. Superficial statements. However, those superficialities feel like I have already said too much. My heart beats in that room that tries to imitate a safe haven like I’m being chased. I can hear my heart echoing from the walls illuminated by the safe golden light of a reading lamp.
“You keep mentioning your ex-boyfriend but you haven’t actually said anything about him”, my counsellor points out in one session.
I feel I’ve said too much already.
I touch upon something I haven’t said to a single human being. I quickly brush my hand over the gaping, disease-ridden, festering wound but that swift touch is too much to bear already. I can hear the voice that has been with me for so long it might as well be forever screaming NO, NO YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING THERE WILL BE A PUNISHMENT HAVEN’T YOU LEARNT YOU STUPID COW NO NO NO NO NO.
I manage to say, almost vomiting, that he wasn’t very nice to me all the time.
That’s nothing but to me that’s everything. That’s too much already. Way too much.
I must tell something more, it can’t have been just that but it would’ve been very superficial. I have to tread carefully. There’s glass.
She tells me to look up a book called ‘Women who love too much.’
“Thank god you didn’t have children, it would’ve been much more difficult then.”
I take the information, nod.
I can only look up the book when I get home. In case you haven’t read ‘Women who love too much’ by Robin Norwood , here’s an extract of the blurb so you can read the same words I did once I got into my house with the heaving walls that leaned against each other above me on the brink of collapse.
This version has been largely quietly deleted from the internet, I can understand why, but this was the exact wording I read on that day when I googled this book.
In those three words, everything he had ever told me was confirmed.
It had been all my fault.
It was so dismissive, so swift and whatever there was left of my will to fight was gone.
I genuinely can’t remember anything after I read this, but the shame I felt then still burns my cheeks after all these years. Even though I know better now.
The shame. The sinking, sickening shame laughing at my face. There was a mirror above the desk with the laptop and I was too ashamed to look myself in the eye. Now it was official. An outsider, a trained professional on top of that, had confirmed what he had told me over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. The lights went out. I think I threw up in my lap or the wastepaper basket, I can’t remember.
I never went back to counselling. Now the confusion was replaced with cutting, burning, pulsating self-hatred.
I will be graceful enough to admit that I was very vague in my statements at the time. You could argue that this counsellor wasn’t trained enough to understand trauma.
That’s however where my understanding ends.
I started drinking a lot. The purpose of drinking changed. Every moment I was knocked out was better than being awake. By the grace of my friends at the time I wasn’t kidnapped, murdered or assaulted, which all would’ve been very real possibilities.
None of this came to my mind at the time. I honestly didn’t care what happened to me. I just didn’t care.
After a while I ‘straightened up’ and decided to make my studies the centre focus of my life.
I thought I was putting things behind me.
However, that was just swapping one drug to another. When you spend every waking moment studying, working on essays and revising, you don’t have time to think about any of the awful stuff.
I will never tell anyone ever again.
I graduated with First Class Honours. I don’t remember a single lecture.
I kept going. I remain the only non-native English speaker to have been accepted on my journalism course in the school’s history. I got my first job as a reporter before finishing the course.
Everywhere I went, I carried it.
I’d have moments when I couldn’t stop crying. Something would bring it on, and I wouldn’t be able to stop. Frustrations and disappointments of everyday life.
I cried because of them, but there was always something remaining beneath. A constant sense of dread. The occasional meltdown eased the pressure a little though, and kept me going.
I’d revise for my shorthand and law while listening to people on the street going to Christmas parties.
I didn’t feel envious. It didn’t involve me in the slightest.
This is my part in life, I thought. I’m managing.
I fall out with people, I’m called selfish and full of myself.
How can I tell them that I’m the luckiest girl in the world but I also want to die?
Luckily my new job is all-consuming. There’s always something to do.
Nevertheless, the pain was still inside me. It was momentarily lifted whenever I had a success of some kind. It was short-lived, however. I was always after the next thing. There was always something else to chase. As long as I kept succeeding, I figured, eventually I’d be happy.
However, I was desperately unhappy. On the outside I had everything going for me. I was described as a go-getter. It was true, I had to keep going. If I’d stop, I’d have to face the horror inside me.
Things kept popping into my head. Images, sounds and smells. It was like a movie projector that flicked itself on at will. I kept remembering things I thought I had forgotten. Kept thinking had they even happened. Tried to make them stop.
What’s the answer? More work! I have too much time on my hands. I can go to that council meeting, I can go to that court hearing, I don’t mind, I’ll do it, Jesus Christ don’t make me go home I’ll do anything.
News are 24/7. They never stop. The cycle was ready.
I have stopped eating. I live on coffee. A few times a day I go to the toilets, throw up and cut myself with a little folding knife I’ve taken to carrying with me. The sleeves of my smart shirts and blouses cover dozens upon dozens of open wounds. I make sure to stay away from my wrists so I can still write. When someone touches my arm (the left) in passing, I wince.
Cutting doesn’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t done it, but to me it brings momentary relief. I make sure to keep the cuts open. It feels nice to be open, because I keep feeling I’m walking under water. It’s like I have gills. I can breathe. Still, every movement takes a lot of effort. I think I’m going deaf because I can see people are talking but can’t hear a word they are saying.
When I smell beer in a man’s breath, I panic. I map out even the slightest change in tone in everyday conversations like a seismic detector that looks out for the smallest sign of an earthquake. The slightest flicker of the needle results in panic.
Men grope me at night clubs. It doesn’t feel like anything. My body is made of stone.
I’m kissed. I’m held. I’m desired.
The seismic needle keeps thrashing from side to side. Either it feels like nothing or I can feel everything so intensely that I feel like I’m going to die. I lie next to them in bed like a frozen fish finger, too far.
What’s the matter, Ida? they keep asking.
Everyone is so far away from me.
I can’t hear what they are saying, and they can’t see me either.
I’m so alone.
I can’t remember what happened earlier on the day. Maybe something caused it. A small thing that led to another, even unconsciously. Like a coin in a carnival machine that causes a chain reaction. Poised just correctly to touch the next coin and then a following one, causing a windfall. Had the direction been one millimetre off, maybe nothing would’ve happened.
Or maybe nothing happened that day. Maybe it was an ordinary, uneventful day.
I remember I was working late. I had just finished typing up. A moment of silence between the finished task before I managed to fill my head with something else.
I have decided that an angel took that very moment to gently whisper in my ear: ‘Now. Now.’
Then I wrote the word for the first time.
It was difficult to put it in a sentence to form a search term.
Three words again.
Rape help and the name of the county where I lived.
I found a 24/7 number with an organisation called The Bridgeway. They deserve the shoutout because they were brilliant.
It took several late-night calls with a kind volunteer before I spoke about anything meaningful. There was never a rush, however. I can’t remember what we’d talk about but finally I described one of the memories that kept forcing itself into my consciousness whether I was asleep or awake.
I couldn’t say the word yet. It took months before I could.
Was this…that happened…normal?
With those words, the stone fell out of my mouth, on the floor, and out of sight.
I can’t remember the volunteer’s name, but I will remember the sound of her tongue touching her teeth, the deep breath she took. The endless, endless tender of her voice.
No. No it wasn’t.
I still can’t describe how that moment felt but it was the voice of that angel in my ear, now in the flesh, and I cried out of indescribable relief and gratitude.
I had been heard.
Those words formed the light of the guiding star that I began to follow out of the abyss.
The staff at Bridgeway then referred me to the Birchall Trust, a charity which helps survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I owe these kind, caring people every dawn I’ve seen since.
The Bridgeway website can be found here
The Birchall Trust website can be found here
Rape Crisis England and Wales website can be found here
Rape Crisis Scotland website can be found here
If you’re in danger, please call your national emergency number.
If you’re outside the UK, please make the same search I did with your local area. Help is out there.
The featured image is work of my very talented friend Zoe Shier.
I dedicate what is written above to the staff of The Bridgeway and The Birchall Trust, who worked tirelessly to bring me from darkness to light. I have been fundraising for the Birchall Trust, and if you find what I have written below helpful, please consider sharing my fundraising page in your social media. Thank you.