BBC Asian Network: Honour Abuse, Forced Marriage and Estrangement

Here is my discussion with Nihal on the BBC Asian Network, where I talk about how I escaped from abuse and came to be estranged from almost my entire family. Becca Bland, the CEO of Stand Alone, a wonderful charity that provides support to people who are estranged, was also interviewed with me. Although at the time I found the experience of speaking live on national radio completely terrifying, I’m now extremely proud of myself for having done it at all. My confidence and determination to continue reaching those who can identify with my experiences has increased massively. It took enormous effort to keep myself from disassociating when asked about the specifics of my story, while simultaneously articulating and defending my views about honour abuse and forced marriage. This is of course aside from my main priority of protecting the identities as much as possible of those who were also involved in my story.

In short, this was really fucking hard, but it turned out alright – enjoy :-)

A New Phase

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

Dance of Honour

I remember how excited I was about this wedding. I loved her so much; her kind face, her arms always open for a hug, and an ear to listen when I was hurting. It was she who compiled the mix-tape I listened to over and over as I lay in hospital after I’d tried to kill myself. It was she who offered me a place to live in London when the aftermath of escaping abuse proved too much for me to stay in Scotland where I’d grown up. She helped me believe in myself; told me I could be and do anything I wanted; that I was beautiful and that I deserved the world. I wanted to make her proud with everything I did.

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The Good Patient

The last eight months have taught me that sometimes, it doesn’t matter one tiny bit how ‘good’ a patient I am when it comes to mental health treatment – I can still be plunged into the deepest of crises and left gasping in panic at the seemingly inevitable truth that I just cannot not bear to be alive for one more minute. It doesn’t matter how good my attitude is, or how hard I work to remain positive. It doesn’t matter how much I bust a gut to work through frustration and despair to keep up open and honest communication with doctors, employers and therapists, or how often I practice my tightly-honed coping techniques – at times I am just a slave to circumstances and/or brain chemistry. And I’m tired of seeing other people with mental health issues being vilified for apparently not doing enough to control their symptoms. Continue reading

Islam and Honour Abuse

Over the last year, I’m delighted to have made some great strides mental health-wise in continuing to heal from some pretty painful life experiences. I’ve become stronger in my purpose of helping others who might need support in identifying, escaping and recovering from honour abuse, and I’m glad that people finally appear to be paying attention to the issues involved, although there is much work yet to do. There’s little doubt, however, that a great deal of this interest from many quarters stems from the fact that I am quite willing at times to link Islam to my story as a cause or reason for the abuse.

I was interviewed recently by a PhD student in criminal justice from the US, whose research on institutional responses to honour abuse will be used to inform policy there. I definitely do not include this lovely woman as being one of those parties who is only interested in hearing what I have to say for its reinforcement of prejudiced thinking. But she did ask as part of her pre-prepared questions (as it was absolutely right of her to do given the current political climate) if I thought honour abuse had anything to do with religion. It was, of course, a loaded question. Continue reading

Mental Illness: Nature or Nurture?

In my last post, I was writing while in the midst of a highly dangerous BPD trigger episode that took me fearfully close to attempting suicide again. Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I am no expert in mental illness except when it comes to describing my own experience of it. There may be times when I use terminology that feels absolutely right in doing so, but which those who are experts may well apply more knowledgably. I’m glad to say that I’m feeling a lot better since then, although I’m still angry that I didn’t get the care I needed, and indeed am still not getting. I did, however, manage to get one session in with my psychotherapist, and as predicted she helped me to identify the trigger for this severe episode.

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