This will not be an easy read, let’s get that out there right up front.
I must give you multiple TRIGGER WARNINGS.
This post will discuss violence, sexual assault, trauma, 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. For some to understand that they are not alone and that myself and my sister, we get it. As much as we wish the club would never add another member, we know that it does multiple times per hour. 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.
Before digging in, again, I’m reminding you of the TRIGGER WARNINGS.
Let us begin.
I am a survivor of bullying.
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 before age 6, I was diagnosed with anxiety. My memory is not what it used to be, so if you want the term used in the 60s & 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 50-something years now … been there, done that, didn’t want the t-shirt, ‘k?” Was there any peace at home? No. This was a time when my Mom 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. 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 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. 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, Mom had been sick, but couldn’t figure out what. I woke up to her paralyzed down her right side one morning, setting 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. Mom 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. Mom 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, 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; not just a bruise, but messed 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 quickly forget you exist 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. First suicide attempt. (First time diagnosed with PTSD.) Ended up on the street with the clothes I was wearing and my cat in her carrier. “Family” stood on the sidelines and watched it happen and never made a move. I was told 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.
I am a survivor of sexual assault.
I was sexually assaulted. 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 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, they did whatever they had to do, and once I could stand up, given a bus token, 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. 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 employees decided they were going to close up early because the owner wasn’t around. Go for a walk to wait for an all clear text message, I can go home. Not fully paying attention to what was around me, I never heard somebody come up behind me.
I don’t have much memory of it, beyond being hauled down to the sidewalk from behind by my purse strap. I had slipped into depersonalization, from what my therapist told me. The incident was enough to 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 hip 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. 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.
Four 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.
I was 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 before she retired. If not for her, I am sure there would have been a third suicide attempt. 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. Nat, 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 also battles PTSD with every ounce of her being. We are still battling every day. 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 things. I know exactly what moment that something has triggered their traumas and they have gone from survivor back to victim. We gather and lift them up until they can move forward as a survivor again.
I’m asking you to please never refer to me as a victim. I have seen hell and made it to the other side. I’m a survivor.
For those whom I hoped would see this and be able to make it through to here: I see you, I hear you, I honour you, I understand you. I am proud of your courage. 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, 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.
Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.