Tonight is my last night living in a refuge. I came here six months ago, running from a situation where I lived constantly in fear. It's been a safe house, its been in all senses of the form, a refuge. Initially I imagined refuges to be a horrible type of hostel, almost like a halfway house like the ones people go to when they leave prison. You don't come here unless you're desperate, you can't.
I know that some friends reading this will be surprised, as they didn't know that I've been living in one, it's very unassuming. Perhaps they imagine I've been gallivanting round West London drinking juice baby's and running poorly to Ken High St and back having all the fun in the world. The reality is very different.
I came here a shell of a person, worn down completely and exhausted. I'll be leaving tomorrow the complete opposite. The confidence I've gained through constant on call support has been indispensable. The greatest lessons I've learnt are that sometimes, people for no rational reason, are relentless. I've learnt that if you don't feel safe, you have to do everything in your power to change it. Lastly, and most importantly, that I have worth. I have so much worth. I am not everything I have been told and made to believe I am. I am strong, and I am courageous and I am valued not just by myself, but by others around me.
Learning to love yourself is something people harp on about all the time, but it's so important. I know myself again, I know what I want, I know how to get it, and I get it. I'm not perfect, nobody is, I am who I am and I will not apologise for it. I will never again in my life be made to feel like I'm worthless, and that everything I do is wrong, and that I'm not wanted, that I'm not loved.
I feel like this whole experience has been invaluable, it's also not been easy. Sharing a house with 11 other women and their children never would be. Not being able to tell anyone the road you live in, also not easy. Not having people round, never having company, that's very lonely. Not being able to have anything sent to you and living technically in a PO BOX is also somewhat undesireable but very much a first world problem. Seeing my daughter interact with children at all times has been great. She made a little friend and I made a friend for life with his mother. We always looked out for each other and it's been quite lonely since she moved on. She showed me traditional Morrocan music and I showed her Metallica, which I don't think was appreciated but you can't win them all.
I've also had so much support, and weekly meetings with a key worker and a specific domestic abuse health visitor. It's like on call counselling, its great. They also help you with moving on. Unfortunately in London, that's a terrifying prospect. If I had applied to the borough that I live in, I would have gone into sheltered housing for another 6 months and if I did get housed it probably wouldn't even be in London, and if it was, I wouldn't be able to afford the rent.
London has exhausted me. I've been here on and off the best part of nearly 10 years. When I was a single girl, working with no children it was great. The best place in the world. I was always skint but I was always having fun and experiencing things, but now it doesn't feel so safe. I fear Arabella's being exposed to too much. She's not even three yet and in the past six months shes witnessed the aftermath of someone being hit by a train, shes seen violence in the street and she witnessed myself and another girl on a bus being sexually harassed which for me was terrifying, let alone her.
They say home is where the heart is, and that's where I'm going. I'm going home. I'm going back to where I feel the most safe, where I can have a settled life and finally be truly happy. I have a support network of friends, family and extended family far greater than what I have here. Sure, I'm going to be bored out my tree within five minutes and the monotony of the place with be mind numbingly dull but maybe that's what I need, safety, security. Something I don't think I've ever actually had, but the place once you leave to a big city for a lengthy time, is so much more desirable. I want to be able to go on dog walks through the country, and look up at the sky and see the stars. I want to know my community, I'm so fed up of ill mannered people shoving past you and not even looking up to say sorry. I want to know my neighbors names and see my friends at the park who also have children on a daily basis. I want to sit in a field and listen to Bob Dylan, and write and just be free.
So now, I'll go and pack the rest of my things, (impossible when child is awake.) Tomorrow I'll drop her off to her paternal grandmothers, come back, load up the car and I'll be gone.
I really do urge anyone that thinks they are in an abusive relationship or thinks that they could be, to get in contact with Womens Aid and The National Domestic Abuse Hotline and if they tell you to go, fucking go. The sooner you do, the better. I kick myself for not going earlier, and it's given me more than I could have ever imagined. That's why I will never be silenced, I will never, ever stop fighting for other women who need help, I will never stop fighting to stop DV and mental health being stigmatised, and I will never stop fighting for myself. I am proud of myself because it is terrifying and it is unbelievably hard and its taken every single fiber of my being to get to where I am today. People that try and silence you or stop you, only prove further that you are right, and don't forget that.
So au revoir London, I love you, but I really have to leave you.
Sunday, 19 June 2016
Today was a bad day. 99% of days are good, but everyone has the 1% sometime. You can keep yourself afloat most the time but it’s inevitable that you’re going to have just that one day that throws you off.
Someone recently asked me what anxiety feels like. At the time, I probably didn’t explain it so well. It’s hard to describe it to somebody who doesn’t understand. Most people think it’s a mental thing. That it’s like some kind of panic, which in reality it is, although it’s not all it is. It’s physical and it feels different to everyone.
For me, I feel like I can’t breathe, or think, or rationalise. I’ve said before it feels like drowning, something I’ve actually experienced and I’ve never really forgotten it. I guess that’s why I use so many drowning based metaphors, because that’s the only way I can describe it and try and have it make sense. Sometimes, usually whilst I’m walking somewhere, I feel like I've been shot. The pressure on my chest in unbearable and I could almost fall to my knees. My mind races to all these thoughts that don’t make sense, that are completely irrational. It’s like white noise, you can’t make out exactly what it means but its there and it’s deafening.
My childhood was unsettled at best. I went from spending 7 years in an all-girls private boarding school from age 5 to going to a largely populated mixed school. To put it bluntly, the school I first attended consisted of white middle class very privileged girls, whose sole focus was their academia. The latter I have no qualms about, it took me years after I’d finished school to realise how vital that was and how much I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed being academic and also creative. The school I went to after was like walking into concentrated culture and as I had next to no sense of reality of the real world and its people, I was consumed by it. I got myself involved with the wrong crowd, I was in trouble all the time. I went from getting A’s to D’s and that’s if I bothered going to school at all. It was around then that I can first remember having what I could describe as an anxiety attack.
We didn’t know it then, but I’m autistic, and at private school I probably benefited from it. Being intelligent, wasn’t something critised by others it was supported, and specific intelligence would go unnoticed because everyone strived to do well. I was on pretty much every sports team and frequently competed, I had vocations. At the second school though, it all just fell to shit really. For example they put me into German classes and refused to put me into French even though they knew I was nearly fluent and enjoyed it. Everybody knew each other, I didn’t know anyone. A new girl in a class of 500 instead of just an average girl in a class of maybe 40 at best.
Part of my autism, especially then is that I couldn’t read people’s faces or signals and I struggled with new people and especially groups of them. It was completely overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why I was being mocked for being attentive in class or why someone I thought was being nice to me then stole my phone half an hour later. People thought I was rude, people thought I was really, really weird. I just remember regularly coming home and completely breaking down into this uncontrollable fit of rage and anger because I didn’t understand what was happening around me, and nobody was supporting me or even trying to help me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, and all I could do was just scream and lash out at anything in my path. All I wanted was for someone to hold me and tell me it’s going to be OK. That everything was going to be OK.
I didn’t even make it a full year in that school before I was sent to live with my Dad and go to school in Bristol. By this point I almost felt as if I’d been lobotomised, like an exoskeleton, an empty shell of a child. Luckily my Dad is patient and saw me as a priority and no matter how many times I kicked through doors or trashed my house or kicked him and screamed at him and spat at him, he never ever once gave up. He got me into the priory and into psychotherapy, he got me tested for learning difficulties, and helped me learn how to overcome them. I may have spent the last ten years teaching myself how to read signals and interpret body language, but he taught me how to overcome my anger and frustration and to have confidence in myself again.
That’s the problem with anxiety disorders, they strip you of all your confidence and self-worth and make you question every decision, every thought, every word said or being said to you. They distort your reality to the point where you don’t have any idea who you are anymore.
There’s so many solutions to anxiety, and a plethora of ways to overcome them, but only a third of people will get help for them and that’s mainly because they don’t think that what they feel is valid because you can’t see it, and it seems so irrational.
Breathing helps. Christ, always remember to breathe. At the time it seems so hard because you’re disorientated, but if you breathe slowly and count the seconds, focus on it, you’ll rationalise soon enough. In the last year I’ve started doing yoga most days, just beginners videos on YouTube, but there’s a way to centre yourself and take a breath at the same time and that works wonders, when I do it, it’s almost like I can feel the electricity of my anxiety moving through my body to the floor and then it’s gone. I will tell myself regularly that I’m being irrational and that the thoughts I have are just a trick. I’m now quite a pragmatic person and I know that there’s solutions to most problems and if there isn’t, then there isn’t much point getting myself worked up over it.
When I was a teenager I was so aggressive, even in the way I spoke and confrontational, angry. All a ruse designed to deflect from the problems I was having, now however seemingly obvious. People that knew me then and know me now often comment on how different I am. I’m not loud really, not at all confrontational and I’m quite calm within myself, albeit still a bit rude, what they don’t know is the years of work I’ve put in (with the help of others) to get to this point.
The problem with other people and trying to get them to understand doesn’t in my opinion lie with them always, I think it lies with us. We can’t expect people to understand or try to unless they are willing. I’ve spent a very, very long time resenting certain people for not being patient and at times provoking, but there’s no point. I didn’t need them to overcome my problems, I needed me to.
The times ive gone and got professional help, were the best decisions I made because not only did it help me become a normally functioning human (to an extent,) they helped me feel like one, and that’s really important. So I’ll keep going to therapy and I’ll still take the pills the doctor ordered and I’ll still do my weird breathing exercises and yoga and I’ll be fine. Even when like today, everything seems to be going wrong and I’ve made some poor decisions and someone sets fire to your house, I’ll be fine, because if you don’t want it to, it won’t last. Nothing is ever permanent, and that’s not so much of a bad thing.
So here’s to Dad’s and to not isolating yourself and getting help, and to the bad days, they remind you that you’re real.