Sink Or Swim

Today is World Mental Health Day.

It’s also an anniversary.

10/10/10, three years ago exactly, I came back to the UK after a few years living in Switzerland. I returned with two kids and three suitcases, a broken heart and around £40 in my pocket. And the following day, I registered us all as homeless with our local council.

2010 and 2011 were the darkest times of my life. There are no adjectives to correctly describe the hopelessness I felt.

2012 wasn’t much easier, frankly.

And here we are, in 2013. I am still trying to get my little family back up on its feet. By no stretch of the imagination are we there yet.

I am still grateful, though. I give thanks every day for the fact that I’m not lonely. I know what loneliness feels like. And human connections are the only thing, when we eventually disappear into the dust, that will have mattered.

I met George quite soon after my return to the UK. A relationship was the last thing on my mind, as you can imagine. But I can quite categorically say that, if it wasn’t for him, I just don’t know if I’d be here today.

But, as with any relationship or situation, there are obstacles to face.

My husband, as I am proud to say he is now, once simply a Twitter username and now my partner, the man who saw me through those darkest times and cares for my children as if they are his own, suffers from a serious mental health issue. I can’t go into much detail, as it’s his own personal business and I do not speak for him. I can say, however, that the strain on me has been immense as I must support him emotionally and financially, even as I am not fully standing upright yet. There is little help. I don’t think he will mind me saying that, as he acknowledges that constantly.

But it’s never crossed my mind to abandon him, to seek out an easier life with someone that would look after me financially or, indeed, to go it alone.

I love him.

I love his brilliance.

He is my best friend.

He accepts me like no other.

There… I’ve made my choice.

However, I have discovered that the support for sufferers of mental health issues and the people who look after them is virtually non-existent. It’s as if society would prefer it if I just forgot about George, walked away and pretended that he never existed.

And now, to add to the hardship, I have issues of my own which need to be faced. And there is barely time for that.

You see, all my life there have been problems, struggles & obstacles. I know, I know. It’s the same for everyone.

Losing a parent to cancer after a long, cruel struggle with the disease, rape, divorce, another relationship break-up after starting again the first time, then homelessness. (I am bored of writing that list, frankly. I am so unbelievably BORED of my own story, yet it attaches itself to me like a parasite.)

All along, I have told myself:

I am a force to be reckoned with! I am a survivor!

I figured if I told myself I was strong, then I would find strength… somehow.

I’m a realist. I’ve accepted, at least up until now, that life is unfair to many and that we all have to deal with what comes our way.

Sink or swim.

I’ve tried my hardest to be grateful and positive, even during periods of sinking, for friendships, for family, for my health, for my own resilience, for the love I’ve had in my life.

I try to see the good in all things. I try to find reason within the darkness.

And then just recently, things started to go black.

The walls closed in on me, my vision blurred, the ceiling fell down. My throat tightened, my neck felt as if it was made of lead. I couldn’t breathe.

This has happened a few times now.

I’ve been terrified. I’ve been feeling as if I’m going mad.

It turns out that after many years of hardship, even going as far back to my teens when I suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after I was raped, my body has finally had enough and is telling me to STOP, LOOK, LISTEN.

I’m having severe panic attacks.

I am not entirely sure what these new episodes relate to. What is this next thing I have to deal with? The thing I must face?

I’m pretty sure I’ve glimpsed it before, many years ago, and it scared the living daylights out of me.

So I ignored it, locked it back up in a box somewhere in my psyche, and told myself, once again, that I was strong…

a force to be reckoned with.


 

Back in 2005, I was newly divorced and living with a friend in London. I was lonely, heartbroken and feeling hopeless. She and I used to do “healing” on each other. I’ve always been interested in alternative therapies and I’ve trained in Reiki.

Back then, when I was lying on my treatment couch, she placed my hand on my solar plexus.

The fear I felt was sudden, engulfing and left me shocked, frightened and completely bewildered.

It was as if there was a very dark space inside me, very black, very frightening, and she had made direct and sudden contact with it. I can only describe it as if she had awoken a demon, and it had threatened to take me over.

I was in floods of tears immediately and begged her to stop.

I’ve never told anyone about this. It has always been our secret. I think because, once again, I hate admitting that I’m terrified.

I don’t know what it meant then, and nor do I now. But these panic attacks have felt similar. Like the dark space within me is rising up once more, forcing me to face things that until now have been too terrifying.

I can only guess that some of it relates to anger. Acknowledging that things have happened in my life that are NOT ok… things that I cannot explain away logically just by declaring myself as unlucky or in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Being raped? Being held hostage for an evening, being tied up with masking tape and nearly suffocating?

It wasn’t OK.

He hurt me. He hurt me badly. He hurt me permanently.

Being abandoned? Being left to fend for myself and my children so suddenly, without any remorse or feeling?

It wasn’t OK.

I am a mother. A good mother, despite what you may hear. And I tried to be a good partner in difficult circumstances. I was worth more than that.

Over on Facebook earlier, someone posted a thread about whether things happen in life because of fate, or if we just make a series of decisions and that, at every given moment, there are choices.

I used to believe in fate, funnily enough. After the rape, I felt that my recovery process would help others. I felt that I was strong enough to carry the load and that I would eventually turn it into something positive. I felt it was my calling.

And I believe that, yes, there are usually choices. But sometimes life throws such rubbish at you, that you are actually forced into situations where there is little choice, or that you become so worn down, so defeated, that you cease to function effectively enough to make good choices.

If this… if my life, is indeed fate, then fate has been incredibly cruel.


 

We had our wedding day back in April, my soulmate and I. Our family and friends came to celebrate with us. Our house was covered in multi-coloured paper flowers and fairy lights. We had a huge tent in the back garden and our musically-inclined friends put on some amazing performances for us. (See "Book Of Love" link below.)

The whole day was filled with love, it was so overwhelming.

And despite the stress that our lives have been over the last three years, we just had this moment. We looked into eachother’s eyes, said our vows very tearily and…

…well, I just knew…

I’ll love this man until I die.

Something happened after that day. I realised that I had everything I wanted, pretty much. I had two beautiful kids, friends and family, and a man that I worshipped.

What would I have changed at that point?

It may sound trivial, but I’ve always struggled with weight. I’ve always gone from over-eating one minute, to starving myself the next. I’ve lost weight, and then piled it all back on and more. When bad things have happened, I’ve eaten my misery away. And caused more misery in the process.

Then, after 13 April, I just decided that I could let that part of me go. I simply allowed it. Said goodbye to that person and got myself moving, and lost two stone, so far. I honestly think that’s due to the unconditional love from my husband. When you have your best friend in your corner, that’s a very powerful thing.

If… IF… I can ever be a friend to myself, I think there will be no end to what I can achieve.


 

I am a force to be reckoned with.

That’s what I’ve wanted to convey, ever since I can remember.

If I can withstand a full-grown man dressed in a balaclava, sitting on my chest, his penis forced into my mouth as my nose is covered with masking tape and a knife at my throat, then I can withstand anything.

Too graphic? I make no apology. That’s the reality of rape. It’s horrific.

And that’s my life. Until I take my last breath.

Sink or swim.

But, the truth is…

… I cannot withstand anything.

“You know how you did that thing? That thing to hurt me? Well, I didn’t even flinch. Look at me, I’m still here, strong as ever! Not a mark on me!”

It’s not true. I’m damaged beyond recognition.

I think the next step in repairing that damage is to, once again, face things. The dark stuff. It’s the hand I’ve been dealt and I can’t change it.

I need to talk. To confess. To admit. To get angry.

I need to finally… FINALLY face that deep, dark, area in my soul that has been pushed down for years.

Because I appear to be actually ill. High blood pressure, woozy, dizzy, panicked, manic…

… ILL.

And I don’t want to become another statistic.

What DO I want?

I am a work in progress, as we all are. But I am sick of coping, I really want to feel what it’s like to live.

I want be successful. I want to feel like I mean something. People tell me I mean something, but until I can start to believe that myself…

I’m a mum, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend… a writer.

I think I’m ok at most of those. But it’s that last one that I think will be my key to letting this demon inside me go. Finally… once and for all.

Because I really don’t want people to stand beside my gravestone and think, “She tried so hard, poor thing, but she just couldn’t cope.”


 

That night, back in 1988, I sweet-talked that bastard into letting us go, my mum and I. I told him my name was Catherine, so I could dis-associate myself from what I actually endured that night.

We left with no real physical scars, but the mental ones have been insufferable.

And still, 26 years later, I’m not really… properly… dealing with them.

You see, I wasn’t Jane. I was “Catherine”. I was someone else.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Catherine and Jane need to meet, give eachother a hug and help eachother through.


 

So… that’s the work on my mental health I have to do, despite how terrifying it will be.

Even now, a glimmer within me thinks I’ll manage to turn things around.

Even now, the force to be reckoned with part of me just doesn’t see myself as someone who could give up, who could admit defeat and become a tragedy.

If the last shred of fight left in me means that I will stagger, lightheadedly, from tree to tree on the school run, gasping for air as the world turns black, fearful that a house is going to fall on top of me or something equally as irrational, so be it.

This is my life.

And I must sink or swim.

6 thoughts on “Sink Or Swim

  1. I wish you peace Jane, and I wish you the strength to carry on.

    I don’t think I believe in fate.

    I believe in a karma of sorts. Not the “what goes around comes around” sort. I believe karma is about how we react to things, things said, things done, people we meet. We can change very little in lives, except ourselves, and how we respond.

    I believe you are the epitome of good karma. Your love, your light, your strength – shine through.

    I wish you well on your journey, Jane. I hope for the best of days and the best of things for you. With love. X

    1. Thanks so much, BB.

      I needed to write that, to see the words in black and white IT’S NOT OK. I feel a lot better since writing it.

      Lots still to do, but isn’t there always?!

      In so many aspects of my life I am extremely lucky and I really do know that.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read xx

      1. It’s hard to see the good, at times – and it doesn’t cancel out the tough things, the bad things..As @Lilythepurr would say, it’s okay to not be okay. Take care, lovely. XX

  2. JP, it was a total privilege to be able to play the right song at the right time to the right people. And remember, it’s long and boring and no one can lift the damn thing. x

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