Opening up and talking was one of the most crucial parts of overcoming everything for me. However, I quickly learnt that talking to the wrong people can have the complete opposite effect. And by wrong people, in summary, I mean any person who makes you feel bad for choosing to do what you think is best for you. You might have made plans but now you want to cancel because your anxiety has gotten worse, and you know a social situation won’t help. And that’s fine. You might have ignored your texts for a week because you needed to take a bit of time for yourself and didn’t really feel like talking. And guess what? That’s fine too. If you’re opening up to anyone who makes you feel like doing these things, and like putting yourself first is the wrong thing to do, then stop, because those people aren’t going to help you. The pace in which we overcome things is completely different for every single person, so don’t rush it, especially not for the sake of other people.
Back in February, I started going to counselling, and it was quite honestly the best thing I did. Don’t get me wrong, it was scary and daunting and before I started going, I didn’t really think it’d be that beneficial. In truth, I was also really worried about admitting that I was going. There seems to be such a stigma about seeking outside help, whether that’s from a doctor or a therapist. But why? I know it’s not in the human nature to open up easily, but surely that should mean that when someone does, it’s a good thing and not a bad. You’d go to a doctor if you had an infection, you’d go to hospital if you broke a bone, so what’s so wrong with going to a therapist when you’re facing an issue that’s affecting your mental health? Mental health is equally as important as our physical health, if not more so.
Before I had my first counselling session, I made a list of my feelings and emotions, and things that I wanted to talk about. I’d found it quite hard to open up in the beginning, so I thought a list might help me when it came to opening up to my counsellor (and who doesn’t love a good list?!). But when I got there, everything I’d been feeling hurtled out in a mixture of jumbled up words and sentences between sobs. Stacey (name changed) didn’t say very much at first, she just let me have that release. There was absolutely no structure to what I was saying, I don’t even think I stopped for breath! Every single emotion I’d felt, every single thing that had upset me or angered me, every single thing I’d cried about came flying out of my mouth before I could even think about what I was saying. Although I had opened up to some friends and family before my first counselling session, this was the first time when I was completely and utterly honest, not only with Stacey, but with myself about how much of an impact the last 6 weeks really had on me. And I know that this won’t be the same for everybody. Some people may go and not be able to get everything out like I did. Some people may go for their first session and sit in near silence. There’s no right or wrong way. But luckily for me, Stacey couldn’t have been more supportive. Eventually, once I’d relayed everything I could think of, Stacey picked out a few things I’d said and made me realise that I had one common theme – guilt. I still have the list that I made before my first session, and even now, I still read over it. I’m not fully sure why I still read it, it’s not something that I consciously do. But sometimes when I’m laid in bed thinking about the last year, I find myself pulling it out and reading it. I don’t know why, I’ll probably never know what draws me to that list, but what I do know is that it gives me some peace of mind and comfort, that I was in such a bad place, and I managed to overcome it. And if I can survive the last 8 months, then I can survive anything.
Now I can only talk in terms of my own experience, but I think it may be the same for many people. Opening up about a trauma can make you feel incredibly guilty. Not necessarily because you’re opening up, but because you may be hurting the ones you tell, and you experience that persons emotions with them. I’ll never forget the moment I walked into my house after spending hours at the police station, and told my parents what had happened to me. I saw the hurt on their face and the pain in their eyes. I could tell how much they were lost for words and I could see the tears building up. This was my story and this was my pain, but it was killing them both. The last thing I’ve ever wanted to do was to hurt them. They’re my parents, but my best friends more so. And I’d just told them something which would kill them. It wasn’t my fault, I know that. But the words were coming out of my mouth, I’m their daughter, and it had happened to me. So to me, I was the one causing that pain. It worked both ways in that I felt their pain just as much as they felt mine. No parent wants to hear that something so horrible has happened to their child, and I knew what they’d be thinking before they ever even said it. “I should have protected her”. It absolutely killed me to think that at any point, my parents were blaming themselves. They had no reason to be with me at the time it happened, and there was nothing that they could have done to prevent it. But I knew that they were partly blaming themselves, and once again, I was hit with a whole heap of guilt.
Every time I told someone else what had been happening, I went through the feelings of guilt and heightened emotions all over again. You’re kind of forced to relive the situation over and over whilst you start to tell people what’s happened, and it becomes a bit of a repetitive process. And in all honesty, it’s exhausting. I went through so many emotions, from the relief of getting it off my chest, to the sadness I saw in peoples eyes and surprisingly, the feeling of being so alone. Most people might not understand why I felt most alone after I started to talk to people about what had happened, but it’s because very few people will fully understand. I was, and still am, so grateful for the support that I had from people around me, but even those people admitted that they didn’t fully know what I was going through. And that made me feel more alone than I did when barely anyone knew. I went through such a battle with myself throughout the period of telling people close to me what had happened. Some days I’d want to be completely honest about the whole thing, and other days I couldn’t bare for the words to come out of my mouth. Admitting to people, and saying out loud that you’ve been sexually assaulted is such a difficult thing to do. I’m not sure that I’d ever be able to put into words how that makes you feel. I’m not sure that there are enough words.
One of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed going to counselling, was that I didn’t have to worry about hurting Stacey. She didn’t know me, so she didn’t have any emotional connection. Of course I got the same pitiful looks and the same “I’m so sorry”, but she was the only person I felt that I could talk to without having to worry about how I was making her feel. It was such a relief that I could tell her anything, without having to try and be careful not to upset her. And of course, she’s a trained counsellor who was able to give me so many techniques and exercises that would help me when I was having bad days. She taught me to understand that “bad days” aren’t necessarily bad days, but are actually more about being “thinking days”. I would honestly love to share with you the way she described this to me, but honestly, the whole thing is so scientific that I really couldn’t do it justice! Long story short, thinking days (or bad days as I originally thought of them), are days which are crucial in overcoming trauma. Or anything really. A thinking day gave me time to reflect, and although on those days I thought a lot about the specific situation, which made me believe it was a bad day, it also gave me a lot of time to reflect on the steps I’d already taken to move forward. She helped me to acknowledge when I was thinking logically and irrationally. And she really helped me to control how much guilt I was feeling towards others. I’m not going to go into full details about my counselling sessions, because those sessions are something which were so personal to me. However, the difference in me from seeking the help of a counsellor was huge. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was beginning to feel like I was getting somewhere. I was having more good days than bad, I was getting out of bed more often, and I was motivated to start looking for work again, which was a huge step! Things were looking up, and I was looking forward. I’d booked a block number of sessions with Stacey, and at this point, I felt ready to walk away and to do things on my own using the things I’d learnt from her.
I touched on it briefly in my last blog post, that before any of this happened I was in a relationship, and up until this point I still was. I think any person who goes through a similar trauma, and who is in a relationship, will understand that the first month or 2 trying to deal with what has happened are pretty difficult. It was a nice feeling knowing that I had my boyfriend by my side, giving me emotional support, but at the same time, after going through something such as sexual assault, it can make being physical with someone extremely difficult. And when I say “physical” I mean from the very basics such as cuddling or kissing. This isn’t something that really impacted my relationship directly, because he was very understanding of how I felt, but it became something I constantly worried about. For a while, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to get into bed and cuddle with my own boyfriend. But the truth is, when someone has invaded your privacy, it can be very difficult to be as open towards other people. However, as much as having my boyfriend helping me through was a good thing, it didn’t come without any difficulties. The down side to been in a relationship when I was feeling so low was that it added an extra pressure. I had very little self confidence, low self esteem, I didn’t think I was good enough, and quite honestly, I didn’t understand why my boyfriend would want me after what had happened to me. All of these feelings were bubbling up inside of me, and I didn’t know how to control them. I was so insecure, the most insecure I’d ever been, and all it did was add to the long list of things I was trying to deal with. Being in a relationship also added to the guilt that I mentioned above. I felt guilty that I was putting him through this, guilty that I wasn’t being the best girlfriend to him, guilty that he was dealing with issues which stemmed from what had happened to me. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. It was a constant daily struggle and there were days when it would put a strain on us. I look back now and I don’t know whether I ever was 100% honest with him about how low I was, but I did mention it on more than a few occasions. Sometimes he’d be completely reassuring, and other times I didn’t feel like he was. But fortunately, despite all of this, we overcame the worst part and we were still together. We’d got back to a good place, we enjoyed time together, we laughed and joked like we used to, we’d even booked our first holiday. But a couple of weeks after this, around 2 weeks after I felt like I was getting better, the relationship ended out of the blue. And it quite frankly knocked me for six.
Heartbreaks a horrible thing. And when this happened, I felt like I’d gone right back to square one. I felt like I’d started to rebuild my life and had the whole thing knocked down within minutes. I felt more alone than I ever had. I felt lost, disposable, like I didn’t really matter. I felt like up until this point, I had been making improvements to get back to being myself, but the end of my relationship resurfaced every single thing I’d been through. And it led to the one night when everything just got too much. THAT night, when I came way too close to ending my life.