Monday, 23 June 2014

This Shadow Life - My Story

Okay, so this is a story that I have never really told in full to anyone. To be honest, there are a few details that I probably won't even include here. Even after almost 8 years there are things that I can't say, not even to strangers on the internet who probably don't really care about me or what I have done.
I'll do my best, but even with a few details missing this will be the most complete account of what happened to me.

I don't know what I am hoping to achieve by writing this. I think that everyone's experience with depression is different so maybe reading my story will help put together the picture of what it is like. Maybe it will be one of the pieces that help people understand. 
As always, I hope that by sharing my experiences I may be able to help someone in some small way. If it makes you feel less alone, or even allows you to say, "Well at least I'm not as crazy as her," then the pain of sharing this will have been worth while. 
I think my reason for sharing is probably more selfish than all that though. 
I feel like on some level I am looking for closure and catharsis, but I don't know how writing about it will get me there. Maybe I'm hoping that going through the process of writing it down and forcing it all to form some kind of logical progression will have some kind of therapeutic benefits. So for all intents and purposes, you are my shrink for the day. 
Also, I have this desperate desire for someone to know me. To really know me. In and out. Good and bad. To know me and not who I pretend to be. It's pathetic, but it's true. 
Most of all I think I just love the sweet agony of taking a trip down memory lane. It's not something that I allow myself to think about all that often and I still kind of love how much it hurts. It's one of the few things that makes me feel like I still have a connection to what happened and what I lost. 

Prepare yourself, this is not a short story.


When I was a little kid I was relatively normal. I say relatively normal because as I have explained in other posts I don't think I was ever exactly the same as most people, I just didn't have the mental abilities to ponder it and figure out what was different about me at that stage. 
Anyway. I went to school and ran around. I had friends and we had sleepovers. I laughed and cried. I got in trouble off my parents sometimes and tried my best to be good. I won awards at school and my dad called me his "little ray of sunshine." I was happy and bright and seemingly normal. 
I certainly always felt a bit different, but never enough that it was actually a problem. I was always quite restrained. Like if I ever relaxed or let myself get too out of control, people would notice that I was "weird" and stuff. I was also a massive people pleaser, so that helped hide that I was a bit strange. I let myself be completely guided by what would make other people happy (I actually still kind of do this but I'm trying to stay on track with this so all the rest of my crazy will have to wait for another day). 

My point is, I was still pretty normal. Now, if I had been writing this post a year or so ago, I would have said that that all changed in 2007. That that was the year my life fell apart. 
Now I'm not so sure. 


Something happened a little earlier than that which I am gradually beginning to realise has had a profound impact on me. I have no idea of the extent to which it has altered me, and I probably never will. 
I was sexually assaulted. That is a sentence I have said to two people in my entire life. Two people who didn't really care, and made me feel that it was no big deal, so talking about it was a waste of time. 

It happened when I was on holidays when I was about 15. The person I was sharing a room with started touching me early one morning. I freaked out and had no idea what to do so I just pretended to still be asleep. I rolled over in my "sleep" to try and shield myself, but that didn't work. It stopped when someone knocked on the door. I didn't do anything about it. I didn't tell anyone or act in a way that anyone would question. I don't even think that I really thought about it. 

When the holiday was over and I was back in school I gradually worked up the courage to tell my best friend. She was pretty dismissive. She said, "Are you sure you didn't just dream it? Like you know how when you are almost to the point of waking up and dreams take on that really lifelike quality?" It was a giant slap in the face and it kind of killed the conversation.
I have no proof that it happened other than the memory, and in that moment she planted the seed of doubt. How do I know it happened? Maybe she is right. Maybe it was just a dream. 
In just a few sentences she completely dismissed and discredited ma and destroyed any desire I had to talk about what happened to me.

Prior to her questions I had not even considered that it might not have been real. It was a thing that happened, just like when I ate breakfast that morning or kissed my first boyfriend for the first time. None of the events had any proof other than my memory, but all are part of my reality. I don't know how to explain it better than that. One moment it was as real as anything else that had ever happened to me, the next minute that seed of doubt was growing in my mind. 

I warred with myself for a really long time over her questions, until I realised that it doesn't matter if it was a dream or if it actually happened. What matters is that in my heart of hearts I believe that it happened. That is my reality. That is the reality that changed my life.
I still remember it as clear as day, even though I tried so hard to forget it and so many other pleasant memories from that holiday have faded. 
I was sexually assaulted. It doesn't matter if it really happened. What matters is that to me, it really happened. It was the event that started me down the road to ruin.

For a very long time I didn't really think that what happened had impacted me. With the exception of times when I was trying to figure out if it was real or not, for the most part I honestly just put it out of my mind. I never really even identified as someone who had been sexually assaulted.
However, reminiscing and looking at emails after that event I have noticed how I started drifting down a path of emotional isolation, sexual promiscuity and negativity. What happened in 2007 just pushed my flying off the edge.

After the assault I started really pushing away a lot of my friends, particularly the girl who I told and who doubted me. I was emotionally distant, I wouldn't talk about anything that really mattered to me and I was nasty to anyone who tried to get too close. Now, if you know anything about relationships between 15 year old females, you will see how this isn't conducive to making/keeping friends with other girls who typically enjoy spilling their guts at sleepovers and whatnot.
I also became emotionally unpredictable. One second I would be open and wanting someone to care enough to delve deeper, the next I would be completely closed off and ice cold, terrified that someone would get too close. You can imaging how this confused and hurt my friends. 
This unpredictability also extended to physical contact. I had had relatively physical relationships with my best friends up to that point (some girls are just touchy-feely like that), and sometimes I still was, but mostly I would completely freeze up if anyone touched me for any reason and I would feel this need to lash out at them and run far far away. I still feel like that a lot of the time, and writing this all down in this order makes me realise how incredibly obvious it is that I was dealing (poorly) with the ramifications of the sexual assault. After such forced intimate contact while trapped in a room with my attacker, any physical contact triggered feelings of panic and my flight/fight response. At the time I had no idea what was going on. I couldn't explain my feelings or reactions to anyone, not even myself. I just thought I was weird and that I didn't like being touched. 

Anyway. I also became sexually promiscuous. I had always been pretty comfortable with sex, but I think after what happened sex took on a kind of dirty quality. Like it became some kind of self inflicted punishment that I both despised and relished. 
Even when I was in a really loving relationship, I loved having sex but I also despised it. Even all loved up and happy, during or after sex I would just feel awful. Like this poison flowing through me. I want to use the word dirty again, but that seems to imply that some form of cleanliness would help, it was more sick. It felt sick, in the same way that the idea of kicking a puppy feels sick.

I have also struggled in any situation where I feel like sex is expected of me. Like if my boyfriend and I got into a routine of having sex ever night when we went to bed, after a little while I would find my anxiety levels increasing when I was getting ready for bed and I knew it was coming. I felt terrified and like I couldn't get away (even though my boyfriend was the sweetest person ever and would never NEVER force sex on me). A single touch from him when I was feeling like that would totally freak me out and I would shut down completely. Now I realise why, but at the time I was as hurt and bewildered as him. :/

I dunno. Overall I guess I just started really fucking up my life. I didn't do it in a really obvious way. I mean, I still had friends and boyfriends and good marks at school, but it's like my insides had started rotting and just a few cracks were beginning to show on the outside.
I continued on like that until June 2007, the year when my life just imploded and I completely fell apart. I like to think that without the events in June 2007 I might have managed to live a relatively normal life as just another slightly strange girl.


To cut a long story short, someone incredibly important to me died.
You might need a little more detail than that so I'll expand a little.
He was young, just starting out his beautiful life. He was kind and innocent and wonderful. I loved him. I trusted him. I pictured him in many of the greatest parts of my future. He loved me and he trusted me and I betrayed him. 
Anyone else will tell you that what happened had nothing to do with me. I will tell you that they are wrong. It was completely my fault. I still can't admit to you what I did. I'm not ready for that, but I'll tell you as much of the rest of the story as I can.

One morning when I woke up he was sick. I stayed home with my mum and dad to help take care of him but there wasn't much I could do. I walked with him and hugged him and told him that I loved him. There was like this ice hand gripping my heart and squeezing it. I remember being kind of fuzzy in the head, like my brain couldn't even process what was happening. 
After a very long day nothing really seemed to have changed. He was no worse or better than he had been in the morning. My parents told me to go to bed and get some rest. I did, and to this day that is one of the things I regret most. How could I have slept though some of my last hours with him?

I vividly remember waking up the next morning. The sun was shining through the window and it was the 15th of the month. I felt so sure that the nightmare has passed and that everything would be okay. I was practically buoyant with hope.
That part about the date might seem strange, but everything significant in my life seems to happen in some way related to the number 7. Him getting sick on the 14th just felt like an immediate death sentence, so with the dawning of the 15th I felt so so sure in my heart that the worst was over. 
That's when I noticed the look on my mum's face and that icy hand grabbed hold of my heart once more.
Turns out that the universe is a crafty bitch. I later realised that it was the 15th of June. The 15th day of the 6th month. 15+6=21 (a multiple of seven).
You might think this is a bit ridiculous, I agree with you. It's not normally something that I buy into, just something that I noticed once it was all over. It's really only relevant in terms of that insane hope I felt on the morning of the 15th. That insane hope that made it so much worse when reality crashed back down on me. 

Anyway. He wasn't better and from the moment I saw the look on my mum's face I have bitterly regretted those few hours I spent sleeping. 
We went over to see him and on the way my mum told me how he had started looking better briefly during the night, but that it hadn't lasted long. 
I remember feeling betrayed by the fact that she hadn't slept and I did. 

When I first saw him that morning I realised mum had been holding out on me. He was so much worse. I could feel it in my bones. The sight of doctors working over him, poking and prodding and testing was like running full pelt into a brick wall. I wouldn't be surprised if it literally stopped my heart from beating.
I got to spend some time alone with him, but he was so drugged out on pain medication I don't think he even realised I was there. I remember seeing a spot where some piece of equipment had rubbed the skin raw on part of his face and it absolutely breaking my heart.  It was such a small injury in the scheme of what he was going through, but to me that one little sore held all the hurt in the world. Here was this creature that I loved so completely, someone so full of life and energy, reduced to a barely concious shell. So far gone that an an injury we would have been treating on any normal day had been rendered totally inconsequential.
Ugh. I can't even come close to explaining what it was like. I was paralysed on the brink of hell. I was holding my breath as my numb brain refused to see the gaping chasm opening to fire and brimstone at my feet. I was completely unprepared when the ground crumbled away beneath my feet and hell engulfed me.

Later that morning he went into shock and died. I was there. I watched it happen. I felt it happen. I remember. I remember every agonising second of it. I remember how time kind of slowed down and the seconds felt like hours. I wont describe the details. Even though the film is playing over and over in my heart I don't think I could even find the words to describe it.
Right as he went into shock my mum held me back from him. She tried to pull me away so that I wouldn't see. I was appalled. I know she was just trying to protect me, but I needed to see him. I needed to see every moment of it. I vaguely remember shoving past her and standing helplessly in front of him as it all happened.
He fell to the ground and I knelt to hold his head as the doctor was working on him. The doctor kept saying words like "shock" and "ruptured" and then finally, things like "I'm sorry" and "nothing we can do."
I had his head cradled in my lap and I watched the light fade from his eyes.
That is something that I have noticed the movies always get right. I never really believed that death worked like that until I saw it for myself. It's true though, you really can see it  happening. You can see the life slipping away.
I remember the tears flowing unchecked down my face and realising that that awful choking sound was actually me screaming.

The world shrunk down until it contained nothing more than his face. It was just him and me surrounded by an eternity of emptiness.
I remember feeling something strange in my hand and then figuring out that it was his tongue hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
Revulsion mixed in with the horror and the indescribable agony, and then something snapped and I was just empty.
I don't really remember what happened for much after that. Suddenly everything stopped mattering so I don't think I really took any of it in well enough to remember it.
I do remember someone trying to drag me away from his body some time later. It was my dad. They wanted to cover him up and get me away from him. Maybe it creeped them out to see me cradling a corpse. I don't know. All I know was that I was in no way ready to let go.
I'm still not really ready to let go, but at least I'm not holding on as tight as I used to.


Virtually all my blog posts tell some part of the story of my life after June 2007. Of most relevance is probably my post about Living for Others, where I talked about my use of cutting to cope with what happened. Instead of going into that stuff again, I will try to talk in a broader sense now.

I honestly can't tell you much about the weeks and months after June 2007.
After he died the numbness of shock slowly wore off and I can't describe the agony that hit me when it was gone. It was like being burned alive on the outside while my inside was frozen solid, and all the while my heart was exploding and my soul was screaming. It was completely overwhelming.

Eventually something snapped again, but it was deeper this time. Not something to do with the shock that wore off after a few weeks. I guess I just went into zombie mode after that, kind of like Bella in the second Twilight book (can't believe I just made that reference, but it's one thing the author got kind of right). When I was at school or talking to people and I was forced to kind of make my brain work it felt like wading through mud. My thoughts were so sluggish.
I got to the point where I couldn't think or feel anything other than superficial nothings. I had completely shut down as a means of self preservation. It's like I was skating across the surface of my mind, terrified by what I might have to face if I went in too deep.
I guess you know the feeling if you have felt it, but basically there was no way that I could deal with the emotions that hit me after he died, and so in some magical subconscious self defence mechanism I shut it all out.
I still felt like I was both frozen and burning sometimes (which is when I would turn to self harm), but I was blessedly numb from the emotional pain that had previously gone with it.

For a while after it happened there were people who would listen. Someone would ask how I was and I could see that they actually cared, but at the very start I was too bewildered and overwhelmed to be able to talk about it, and by the time I was kind of ready to let it out almost everyone had moved on to other things.
During that later time I realised that when someone asks how you are, there are only so many times that you can say "I'm pretty awful actually" and vent all your feelings or say "no, I don't know if there is anything you can do that will make it better," before people stop caring about what you are saying, and only a few more times before people just avoid asking you at all.

After he died I also had to deal with the fact that I lost interest in everything. Honestly, everything that I had loved or cared about before simply ceased to matter. This was hard because it was one of the things that people noticed most, so it was one of the things that people brought up in conversation a lot (rather than asking me what was wrong and not getting a good answer for the millionth time). It was easy for someone to ask why I stopped writing as a means of starting casual conversation, but any time they did it was like a hook wrenching at my heart. It was so inadvertent on their part, but in addition to hurting me, I felt like they were shining a spotlight on how much what happened had broken me.
When I was trying to get better, it also served as a really conspicuous reminder of how much I was failing.
Most of the things I cared about before still don't matter to me now. some things are still too painful to care about again because they are things that I did with him, but I think am getting better at being interested in life.

I don't blame the friends that I talked to. They were even more out of their depth than I was when it came to trying to help me. Besides, 8 years of dealing with the same problem is kind of exhausting for me, so I can understand why my friends don't want to still be doing it too.
It just made it so much harder to get better. One of the biggest problems I found with depression was how alone and isolated it made me feel. Talking to my friends only made it clear that they had no idea what I was going though, and some of the reactions I got were far from encouraging. So just like with the sexual assault, I just stopped talking about it.

It also didn't help that I resented people who did try to fix me. I still do. People I talked to would tell me to just cheer up or exercise or smile more, as though just changing my outside would help the inside. I now realise that these superficial solutions are just a reflection of the insanely superficial understanding those people had for what they were really dealing with.
It has helped that right from the start I have known that I am not a project. I am damaged and I am broken, but that doesn't mean that I need to be fixed. If I can get better or heal a bit then that's great, but everyone just forcing the pieces of me back together and expecting me to be over it hasn't helped me at all.

I guess it also took me a really long time to even want to get better. I hated the idea of 'getting better' like I hated the idea of being fixed. I think that after having felt out of step all my life, it was a huge relief to be beyond caring who I seemed to be to other people. It felt amazing to just be me, as twisted and ruined as I am.
To an extent I still don't want to get better. I still shy away from the idea of getting better because I am desperate not to lose the pain. That sounds strange, but when time pushed me further and further from the one that I loved and lost, the pain I am left with is the strongest way that I have to still feel connected to him. I will never forget him, I know that, but there is something so raw and real about the pain. It is a tether to him and I don't see how I can lose it without losing some part of my connection to him. It is worth any amount of pain in the world to keep him with me.
Now, when I can no longer revel in the mess of my life, it's a difficult balance that I am trying to maintain. I am trying to move forward into my new life and in doing that walk away from what happened, but at the same time, I am dragging all that hurt with me. It might be drifting further and further behind, but I am not ready to cut the rope tying me to my past.

I don't really know where to end this post. There is no real end yet. I think the only real end would be my death, because I feel that the traumas in this post are things that I will be dealing with until the day that I die. I honestly don't think that I will ever be able to say that its over or that I'm cured of my depression. I don't think depression can be cured. I think it is possible to get better, but never to be perfectly whole again. Maybe it can be forced into remission, but I think it is always there. 

Naturally the story of my life is a long and complicated one. More complicated than most people's lives seem to be. I have been making this snail pace journey towards some semblance of sanity for the last 8 years. Obviously there was a lot of darkness at the start and there still is, but there has also been lots of awesomeness, so there are millions of other facets and details to my story that I have not had the time or the space to mention here.
Maybe another day I will write a part 2 and discuss how depression influenced my relationship with the guy I started dating in October 2007 or one of the many other things to have come in the aftermath of my world breaking. Maybe. I am too emotionally exhausted to write any more now. :[

Regardless, I will be doing a guest post on another blog in the near future which will deal with the more recent ramifications of my depression and what it has been like leaving the shelter of educational institutions and becoming a professional with stretched ears, tattoos and self harm scars that I make no effort to hide. 
I'll give more info in regards to timing of the post as it becomes available. 

I'm pretty nervous about posting this. As much as I want you to know me, I am terrified of what will happen when you do...
Here goes nothing I guess.

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