This will not be an easy read, kittens. Let’s get that out there right up front.
Before I begin, I must give you multiple TRIGGER WARNINGS.
This post will discuss violence, sexual assault, trauma, rape, bullying, and, suicide. If any of this might trigger you, I would strongly suggest that you close your browser window or scroll past quickly to another post.
If you have ever sat in any of my lectures, at colleges and universities, you will be familiar with much of what I am about to discuss here. Why publish it now? Because some people need to hear this to be able to understand. Some to understand that they are not alone and that I, and my soul sisters, we get it, and as much as we wish the club would never add another member, we know that it does multiple times per hour. Some to understand that violence causes trauma which in turn can cause other issues, and people will act or react in certain ways because of it.
There are certain aspects and things from my past that I have never discussed and likely never would in any environment. Literally I have one or two people (thank you Katherine 💙💙) who I feel comfortable with discussing those things because they’ve been there too.
Before digging in, again, I’m reminding you of the TRIGGER WARNINGS.
Let us begin.
Let’s drop in the first slide for discussion…
From the first day of school until I graduated from grade 13, bullying was a constant. Daily, hourly, without end. I dreaded school, hated every single second of it. It was due to this that between the ages of 9 and 10 I was diagnosed with anxiety. My memory is not what it used to be, so if you want the term used in the 70s, feel free to hit Google. High Strung. Nervous. “Sensitive”. Ugh. Add in a diagnosis of depression in my teens. When I look over the top of my glasses at some “expert” it’s usually because I’m thinking, “listen cleverarse, I’ve been living with this for fucking near 40 years now… been there, done that, didn’t want the fucking t-shirt, ‘k?” Was there any peace at home? No. This was a time when my Mum was working 2 jobs and she never knew what went on until many, many, years later. What one teacher did discover, for years, the ring leader behind it had been my sister, egged on by her father (he had a psychotic hatred of both Mum and me). They offered to move me to another school to finish grade 13. Hardly worth it by that time… just get to June, give me my diploma, and I’ll never darken the bloody halls of this place ever again.
Oh, the anxiety and depression? Treated, but not really successfully at all. Other physical issues began to show up over the years. More on that later. Suffice it to say, being physically ill before having to leave for school was a daily thing. And the thought of it on Sunday nights would cause multiple issues.
There was the usual nonsense over the years, and one evening in my 30s, the anxiety went off the charts without warning, and I was gasping for air. I didn’t know it in the moment, but I was having a full-blown panic attack. I literally felt like I was about to die. I’m used to them now, if there is such a thing as becoming used to that, but, I have tools to manage them now that I never had access to then. What would lay you out on the floor curled in a ball, I may get a slight twitch in one eye while I’m talking myself through it.
8 years ago, January 2010, Mum had been sick, but couldn’t figure out what. Waking up to her paralyzed down her right side one morning set off a cascade of events. Two weeks later those words. “You have terminal brain cancer. You have 6 weeks to live. Unless you sign up for this experimental program, you should go home and get your affairs in order.”
It had always been just the two of us, and that’s how she would slip away quietly in July of that year, just the two of us in her room, I was holding her hand, she gave it a squeeze and she was gone. I still have all those what if’s in my mind, and the if only’s. Mum wanted to die at home… could not do that for her, by May she was beyond what I could manage for her medically at home, with a visiting nurse in every day. I spent days and nights with her in Palliative Care, as my voice was the only one she would respond to. While I was busy taking care of her and hoping she would have an easy path to the next life, I never knew that family were busily emptying her accounts and stripping anything of value from the apartment. I had to stop working to look after her, and once she slipped away quietly after midnight, I went into automatic mode.
My friend of many years said he was surprised I was so emotionless throughout it all. I had to be. It was my natural state of being functional, I turned all that off in my childhood. Mum would say I was 40 since I was 5, and 50 since I was 20. It’s true. Experiences over the years pushed me further and further back into my shell, and it’s rare that anyone caught a glimpse of me, let alone see behind the defences I had been constructing for years to keep people at a safe distance. I had learned, if you let them in, you will get hurt, and not just a bruise, but fucked up in multiple ways. The people who are close to me now, who have seen behind the mask, behind the walls, they are indeed special for me to let them get that close. That’s the emotionless part, the being “terribly English, stiff upper lip and all that…” and the rest of the assorted sillybuggers that goes with it. I needed to function and get things done, that was what mattered. I could have a meltdown later when there was nobody around to see or hear me.
By the time I had wrapped up the estate, I had been out of work for over a year, and people forget you exist quickly in my old career field. There was no fast way back to making a buck, and I ended up losing our apartment. Where we had lived for 35 years. The place Mom had begged me to promise her that no matter what I would stay there. Yeah. Stellar. First suicide attempt. Ended up on the street with a bag of clothes and my cat. Family stood on the sidelines and watched it happen and never made a move. But I hear they had a field day when they could take the remaining contents and made a big show out of dumping photos in the garbage dumpsters out back.
After a couple of nights out on the street, make it to a shelter where I can keep my cat with me… she’s all I have left, adopted her at 6 weeks old, and she’s 8 at this time. Then I discovered the hell on earth that is our city’s shelter system. Violence is a daily fact of life. Street drugs were everywhere and used openly in front of staff who just didn’t care. Being assaulted in the bathrooms was standard procedure. And there is no easy way to couch this, so I’ll just drop in the next slide here…
I was raped. At knifepoint. By somebody wrecked on drugs. I reported it to the office the morning after. They did everything shy of laugh about it. What I was told though, “You can call the police if you like, but you’ll lose your bed, and your cat will go to the Humane Society.”
I said nothing. Did nothing.
After the third time being raped that week, I stopped caring. I could not safely sleep in my room, and I would sit up all night long in the common area. I knew there was no help from the staff. After being awake for almost 72 hours, I took an overdose. Suicide attempt #2. I was apparently discovered convulsing on my bed. Taken to hospital, and they did whatever they had to do, and once I could stand up, I was given a bus token and discharged and sent back. Without shoes. In a rainstorm.
I shut down completely.
I stopped talking, functioning, eating. I was so full of medications prescribed by ER doctors from recent panic attacks, I was like a zombie. It was the only way to get through it, I knew there was zero help available from staff, I just kept looking for a place to escape there. Even my cat was not spared abuse. And again, taking her to the office, missing her fur and skin above her right eye was not enough for them to do anything. Her vet made an emergency appointment when I sent them an e-mail, and she took pictures and reported it to the OSPCA. Staff didn’t want to believe that one of their frequent flyers would do this. My vet confirmed it.
Finally find a place, but would need a roommate to cover the rent. Fine, don’t care, just let me out of this hellhole. By the time the fourth roommate had moved in during the first year (they didn’t last too long, either new girlfriend and move in together, or in one case I asked one to leave, and two others skipped with unpaid rent). Roomie #4 was “entertaining” one evening, and I had gone to a local coffee shop to wait it out. The coffee shop employees decided they were going to close up early because the owner wasn’t around. Go for a walk to wait for a text message that all is clear, I can go home. Not fully paying attention to what was around me, never heard somebody come up behind me… and here’s where another slide goes…
I don’t have much memory of it, beyond being hauled down to the sidewalk from behind by my purse strap… I had during this, dissociated, from what my therapist told me. The incident was enough to turn off, step outside of myself and watch it from a distance. I managed to make it home that night, and within a day or so was bruised from shoulder to hips down one side. I was getting pressured to report it, but, without much detail to work from, why bother? I already had the seeds planted from before that you can’t report this, or else. (Goes back much further than I’ve ever told before.) And as many times as I was urged to file a report, I literally had next to no memory of it, beyond the bruising and a few little snippets here and there. Of course, in the interim, any Canadian woman can say one name to you, and when you hear it, will instantly understand why reporting is dismal — Ghomeshi. Reference that case and see why reporting doesn’t happen.
And yet, here I stand, 4 years later, still functioning, still teaching, still lecturing, still writing, still doing the work I do best with the people I enjoy being around most. Know what? They all wear uniforms. Of all my experiences in 55 years on the planet, the one place that I have consistently been welcomed with open arms has been where I spend my time and energy working to make change happen.
And one more thing, I was able to be weaned off all the medications I was on at that time. Over 30 pills a day to just get through another 24 hours. I was lucky, I had an amazing therapist, who wanted to help out before she retired. If not for her, I am sure there would have been a third suicide attempt. Also where I was diagnosed with PTSD (later on Complex PTSD as well, but I just use PTSD, it’s simpler). And after years of zero success in managing all the various physical ailments on top of anxiety and depression, once we started treating PTSD, the physical issues went away, and the anxiety and depression became manageable. Do I still struggle some days? Absolutely. But, my chosen sister, my soul sister, Natalie, has helped so much (love you forever and a million days more, Sis). She encouraged me to speak about all of this, not just the highlights, but the ups and downs and the struggles, to lay myself bare to help another. She battles PTSD, as does our other sister. And we are all still standing, still battling, and we all fight the same battles every day. We are still here. We are winning. We are survivors. We are warriors.
I love this graphic, the Survivor Psalm.
I have used it in lectures, seminars, and talks.
It helps me to distinguish the difference between victim and survivor.
I have friends who have been through similar hells on earth. And I know exactly what moment that something has triggered their traumas and they have gone from survivor back to victim. And we gather and lift them up until they can move forward as a survivor again.
Please, I’m asking you, never refer to me as a victim. I have seen hell and made it to the other side. I’m a survivor, and don’t you forget it.
For those whom I hoped would see this and be able to make it through to here: I see you, I honour you, I understand you. I am proud of your bravery. You are a survivor too. You can get there, I know you can. It seems impossible now, but persist, I can promise you, it is better when you can claim your survivor status proudly.
For the rest of you, kittens, I send my love, hugs, and a hope that you can take something from this and make the world a better place.
The one thing all humans want is to make a difference. I hope somebody gets that from this post.
I love you. Stay safe. Spread some kindness and happiness around, ‘k?
Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.