Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, assault, and suicidal thoughts.
This is a personal story being shared as part of personal recovery.
Two and a Half Years Ago
In moments of particular emotional stress I seem to regress back to the time of a previous abusive relationship. I hate that it happens and it actually hadn’t occurred for months until last week. During these moments I seem to get very disorientated as to where I am and who I am with. I start confusing facts and memories and muddle Samuel with aspects of my abusive ex. It’s stupid little things, mainly revolving around food for some reason. Food seems to have been one of the greatest impacts that my ex had on me, until a few weeks ago I actually hadn’t cooked anything for over two years. Whilst he hated everything that I made, I am still not sure why the relationship had such a drastic and lasting impact on this aspect of my life.
In the general I start muddling likes and dislikes, subconsciously remembering things about my ex and projecting them on to Samuel. This is not the only way that the past invades our marriage. In more severe instances I will actually flinch when Samuel approaches and recoil if he touches me.
None of this is conscious. I am not afraid of Samuel. He is the one man that I feel safe around and the one person that I trust completely. I wasn’t even aware of the flinching until recently when he observed that I had started doing it again. I can’t even imagine how it must feel for him when this happens and I hate the fact that my ex still lurks in my subconscious and even now infiltrates my marriage. Especially when, I at least, am certain that if it wasn’t for Samuel, I wouldn’t actually be here at all.
From Anxiety to Suicide
As I have become increasingly aware of my mental health over the past few years, I realised that anxiety and suicidal thoughts have been constant shadows. I developed anxiety in childhood and contemplated suicide on a number of occasions throughout my teens. Creative writing seemed to maintain an equilibrium and although I experienced panic attacks which at times culminated in suicidal thoughts, overall I my mental health was stable.
The stresses and pressures of starting university had no qualitive impact, but when I entered into a relationship during my third year, the panic attacks started becoming more frequent and started to interfere not only with my studies but my daily life. I would struggle to leave the flat, attend lectures and had no concentration for studying. My grades started to fall.
There is still so much of that relationship that I just don’t understand. To ourselves and, to my knowledge, to others we seemed a perfectly happy couple but when we disagreed it could become very vicious. Lots of couples argue, some even fight, and there were wrong-doings on both sides. But (I realise with the power of hindsight), as the relationship developed, he began to get subtly manipulative. What really should have been an alarm bell for me was when we’d had a discussion about what would happen if I became pregnant and he told me that he would feed me abortion cookies if I was adamant about keeping the child. I have no idea what he planned to put in these, or why I didn’t recognise this as a severe lack of compassion and respect for my body or my rights, but a few months down the line I was going to learn exactly how little right he considered I had over my body.
I paid for missing that warning. It is an example of what can be very difficult for many listeners or observers to understand, that individuals experiencing any form of abuse do not always recognise it as such, especially if it is not physical and escalates very gradually. I don’t know why I stayed with him or how I missed these earlier signs, but eventually it evolved into stalking, coercion and, eventually, rape.
At that point, I finally packed a bag and walked away, ending up homeless for a few months and fortunate to have friends who were able to let me stay for a couple of weeks at a time.
When I found a new flat, I thought that everything was behind me. Although my grades and university attendance had suffered, I was entering my final year with a recoverable average. But then I was sexually assaulted on my way home from work on Halloween and harassed by two individuals for the following six months.
These events had an accumulative effect and my anxiety reached a point were I was relying on adrenaline to function. As I mentioned above, my panic attacks are frequently accompanied by suicidal thoughts and these were growing increasingly invasive.
Deciding Not to Die
I was fortunate to have not developed a plan and that my encounters with suicide remained contemplative and not active. I believe this is due to the timing of meeting Samuel.
Samuel and I first met in the last few months of my degree, just as my dissertation was falling due. My coping mechanism is avoidance, which is very far from ideal when you have 12,000 words to produce and are rapidly running out of time. I had not been taking care of myself at all over the past semester, I wasn’t eating proper meals and my flat had no heating throughout Edinburgh’s experience of February. Samuel and I had just started dating and he suggested that I stay with him and his brother so that he could make sure I ate whilst I spent the last two weeks before my deadline finishing my dissertation.
I have very little recollection of what occurred over those final two weeks. All I know is that despite what felt and appeared like focused hard work, I did not have a dissertation at the end of them.
After a final weekend of very little sleep and a 12 hour long panic attack, I was at crisis point. Alone in the living room of the flat Samuel rented with his brother, I was hysterical and exhausted, feeling that I had let everybody down, feeling unable to face my family and feeling that I had no way out of the situation. The fear and desperation in what felt like a frozen moment was agonising.
Perhaps my subconscious intervened.
Through a renewed panic attack with my chest tightening and feeling unable to breathe, I stumbled to Samuel’s room. It was still early in the morning and he was asleep, but suddenly, for the first time since I was 13, death no longer felt like an option.
Samuel didn’t physically say or do anything that changed my mind, he simply represented a future beyond that moment of immense despair. As far as I am concerned, he saved my life.
‘my suffering reached a critical mass of desperation: either I was going to kill myself or a completely different way was going to be revealed’
(Women Food and God, G. Roth, 2011, p.24)
Because of the pause that seeing Samuel, the person who had provided me with a safe space, had created, and with suicide not being an option in that moment, I suddenly had to do something else. I finally reached out to the mental health support services at the university and the medical profession and together they opened up an alternative future.
I didn’t submit a dissertation in 2016, and I almost had a complete relapse when I finally submitted something and graduated in 2017. But by that time I was married and now am expecting a baby, and living a life that following my experiences of 2015, I had given up all hope of ever having.
If you are seeking mental health support, the Samaritans are free to call from any phone, any time, on 116 123. You do not have to be suicidal to call them.