The last few weeks have been just incredible. After my appearance in The Telegraph’s Stella magazine, an editor and writer from their Wonder Women section got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in doing some writing for them. I of course said, ‘hell yes!’, and have since enjoyed writing two pieces for them, which have now been published, and others are in discussion. I’ve been approached via social media and asked if I’d like to take part in some pretty major radio and TV productions, but I’m too scared to reply to some of them yet! I have always wanted to reach as many people as possible and raise awareness about some of the incredibly difficult challenges I’ve experienced up to now, because I know I can’t be the only one affected by them. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been talking for a long time about mental health issues, rape and sexual assault, gender issues, multiculturalism, honour abuse and forced marriage. Back when I first read Jasvinder Sanghera’s book Daughters of Shame, and had a breakdown after realising that someone had been through similar experiences and put a name to it, I felt it was my duty to speak out and do for others what she had done for me.
I was immediately met with resistance and ended up losing contact with everyone in my family except one sibling. As time has passed, I came to understand that they were scared, partly of racist and extremist trolls who might somehow be able to track them down and hurt them, and partly because we could never be sure of what our abusers were still capable of doing to us. By making the choice to write in my own name, I also inflicted upon them the possibility of public interference into personal aspects of their lives, when all they wanted to do was forget about the past and move on. And it’s something that is constantly on my conscience and will have to live with. In the beginning, every time I published a post, or shared a little bit more about my experiences, my heart would race. I got so incredibly nervous that I had it all wrong, that I really was just an attention-seeking fool who needed to buck up and get on with life instead of boo-hooing online all the time. It takes a huge amount of healing to be able to even attach the word ‘abuse’ to your story, never mind words and phrases like ‘rape’, ‘borderline personality disorder’ or ‘suicide’. But I understand that to do so was the only way to really and truly move on from those things.
The last few years have been some of the darkest. At the beginning of 2013 I had a disagreement with an editor about this post, because I had not yet accepted the reality of what happened and I did not want to attach the word ‘rape’ to it. It made me realise that mine is an example of one of those ‘historic’ cases you read about in the paper, and it took me a long time to really accept that about myself. And that it had happened not just once, but three times. I picked through my understanding of those incidents and realised I was an extremely vulnerable young woman with mental health issues who was separated from parents and had no idea of how to deal with ‘freedom’ in a strange world from which I’d been kept carefully isolated. Up to that point of realisation I had blamed myself for drinking too much; for being too trusting and for agreeing to one sexual activity and having another forced on me. I had to accept that these were the reasons I could not enter another casual encounter that might lead to something more. I had to forgive myself. At times I’ve thought that others must read my stuff and say, ‘for fuck’s sake is there anything that this woman is going to say she hasn’t been through?!’ And I just have to remind myself again that yep, I’ve been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life at times. And I hate doing that, because it means having to accept that I had no control. It meant having to accept that I was a victim – and that I couldn’t bear for a long time.
So anyway, getting back to the point of my post. I’ve had a seriously crappy time of it being almost completely estranged from family, isolating myself from the world and having to support myself through mental illness and the rest. But – and get ready for some self-indulgent, sentimental moosh – I could not have processed so many of the difficult aspects of my experience if it hadn’t been for those hundreds of voices out there online helping me to understand myself, giving me confidence to speak up about things I (mistakenly) thought I was in no way qualified to comment on, and for cheering me on when I took up the challenge.
So I’ll say this to readers in the hope I don’t sound like too much of a wanker – thanks you lot. I couldn’t have got here without you. Here’s to some exciting times ahead. X