The thing is with trauma – is that it isn’t one size fits all. So when I started to have a meltdown – I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.
Cue: another shite time in my life.
I was living in South Korea at this point. My great plan was – to move to South Korea, read a ton of books and stay away from the party scene. Well. Guess what! That never happened!!! Little did I know that there is a huge drinking culture in South Korea. I managed to hibernate for my first few weeks in the country. But that quickly got boring and pretty isolating. It was not like I could just pop to the shop and pick up a magazine or a new book. So I needed to meet some other people. Some other people who could speak english. There was a huge British ex-pat scene where I was residing – and it was very welcoming. Every weekend people would visit a music festival or get the coach and hang out in Seoul. A jimjilbang is relatively cheap so travelling is pretty easy. Living in Korea felt like being in a 1950’s England. And despite what was going on with the North, it felt generally quite safe to reside there. A lot of that felt due to the fact that Asian men didn’t seem inherently sexually interested in western women. And British men seemed far more interested in the Asian women. Although don’t get me wrong I did have a few flings/dates. But nothing that developed further than first base. This is important to know… for the rest of the story…
There were some fun times spent in Korea. Until I started to develop OCD. Also known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The pianist James Rhodes has most bravely written about the after effects of his childhood abuse in his book Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music, which was blocked from publication by a temporary court injunction prompted by his former wife. She had claimed that publishing the book, in which James Rhodes discusses details of sexual abuse as a child, would psychologically harm their child. Tsk.
For me. That book was like reading a tick list of the generic after effects of sexual abuse.
OCD was one of them. And I could relate. Of course I didn’t read that book til many years later.. so I’ve yet again.. digressed.
So there I was in Korea. On the other side of the freaking world. When I started to have intrusive thoughts. I started to panic about HIV infection. HIV infection or fear of contamination is actually one of the number one concerns of someone with OCD. My ‘father’.. my oh so lovely biological father – had told me as a child that I was going to die of HIV if I ever had sex with a man. I believe that that is where it all started. The fear had been imprinted into my mind at a young age. He would then show me a picture in the Encylopedia, of a female hymen that had been torn.
“I will KNOW if you have had sex with someone!” he would whisper coldly staring at me. He would then go on to tell me that if a guy ever ‘fingered me’ (gross wording there) then he would probably scratch the whole inside of my vagina and I would bleed to death.
I do remember having a crush on my big brothers friend Michael. God. He was gorgeous. And, whenever he used to come round to visit, I would scramble up to my bedroom window and look out for him. My ‘father’ would appear at my bedroom door.
“I know what you’re doing” he would insinuate. Warning me. Shaming me. Attempting to control me. I don’t know how he knew what I was always up to.
And so, like a ton of bricks PTSD and OCD came to haunt me whilst I was living in the deepest darkest depths of a foreign country.
An old university friend at the time had invited me to visit in Hong Kong.
“I think you have OCD Becks”.. she had written to me, listening to my panic over email.
I had since moved to Busan which was on the southern tip of Korea. It was mainly an american expat scene, and I was far away from the more cosmopolitan Seoul. My new school was amazing. It’s interior was like a den of different Wendy houses. One room would be decorated like a hospital ward and another might be like a rainforest. Owned by a multi-millionaire who had had a ton of plastic surgery, she homed me in a dirty apartment on the other side of town. All night the windows shook from the wind and men glugged beers outside my window hocking and spitting as they drank (in some areas of Korea they spit a lot).
That was the final straw. I woke up early the next morning. Packed my stuff. And snuck in to the school before anyone else arrived to retrieve my passport that I had given in.
And off I flew to Hong Kong with the intention of travelling up to China to work.
The first thing I did when I got to Hong Kong was have a HIV test. It was of course, clear. Because I hadn’t actually had sex with anyone. And of course, when you enter South Korea as a teacher you are tested for diseases, HIV being one of them. Not to mention I’d been in a trusting long term relationship before I jetted off.
But logic does not come into a mental illness.
Hong Kong was amazing. And I felt revived after spending some time with an old familiar friend. So I decided to travel on the 24 hour night train through China to Beijing. I absolutely loved this part of the journey. Watching people working in the fields as we passed through. It was a wonderful way to see the country. I was the only foreigner on the train, which I didn’t mind. I was designated the top bunk opposite a priest who spent the night with a pillow over his head (I suspected it was because he was sleeping opposite a woman). Sometimes I have found that the journey can quite often be more exciting than arriving at the destination.
Going to China, whilst I’m grateful of having been was in hindsight (always in hindsight) a terrible idea. Beijing is pretty hard to navigate. And I was already on the verge of crashing. It didn’t matter how far I ran, I could not escape.
Cue: my next sexual health check.
On reflection it really wasn’t ‘normal’ to seek out another sexual health clinic (having just been to one in HK and being told I was fine). I was running out of money swiftly. But there I was. Number one tourist destination! The sexual health clinic! What absolute FUN!
I entered the white walled building. Filled in a form. And had the tests. Swabs. Spatulas. The full works. Chinese doctor/nurses were scrambling about between my legs speaking not a word of English (makes sense. I was in China at this point). But I must of missed something. Because, when they gave me the bill, it was a small fortune that I didn’t have. And they wouldn’t give me the results until I paid it.
Cue. They wouldn’t give me the results. Cue: heightened anxiety just made worse from having people poke about inside me in a foreign country. And I didn’t have the money. It was too much. A very stern doctor was speaking to me in very fast mandarin. Despite her hand gestures I still couldn’t gauge what she was trying to say. And so, I walked out of the building after being swabbed jabbed and prodded. None the wiser. And feeling a lot worse I crashed down on a step in the middle of Beijing alone. And cried. I cried and cried and cried.
And a little voice in my head spoke to me.. (my voice).. ‘there’s something wrong with you Becks.. you need to go home’.
I called my mother. Her partner at the time was in the background. We had an ok relationship. He was pretty controlling. You know the sort of guy that would prefer it if his partner didn’t have offspring.
“Well she can’t come and stay here!” he bellowed.
“Well fine! I don’t want to go and fucking stay there” I probably uttered in response. But to be honest. It would have been kind of fucking nice to have somewhere to go.
So that was that, I booked a flight and flew out of China. Unfortunately at this point I didn’t entirely know where it was I was going to go. Luckily, someone I barely knew had seen I was leaving the East and returning to the West, and offered to let me stay. This was a saving grace due to the power of social media. Phew.
I had at this point, literally, no money. However, what I did have was a case with Warwickshire council who was meant to look after me as a child but never actually did. I had requested my child file, before I had left England. I had been confused as to why I had had no support post trial. I understood that pre trial, a person isn’t allowed therapy. For it might affect the case.
But. I was promised therapy and support post trial when it came to the court case ending (he got a year of which he served six months – due to a plea bargain – but more on that another time) .. but of course. That never bloody happened. When I received my file from social services I was shocked. ‘Rachel won’t come downstairs today’.. was written by whomever was meant to be looking out for me but wasn’t. In fact, it called me Rachel throughout in various places. My name is Rebecca, in case anyone reading this has forgotten.
And so I had significant evidence of not being supported, as a child, who had to take her ‘father’ to court. The doctor had lost my referral for the therapy I was meant to have. And I was put on a waiting list. There were many pitfalls, but I won’t go into that now. The point is – at this point in time, I had a case on with the council – who were close to admitting fault. They had offered me a measly £1000 for the absolute terrible lack of care, that had resulted in my attempting to commit suicide, and being thrown out of the family home.
Initially I had refused to accept this offer. But I was now, quite literally, penniless, and struggling. And needed money. Quick. And so I accepted the £1000. When I phoned to ask for the cheque, giving in to the power greater than I… I was met with the rudest woman on the phone. As I cried. Her tone of voice was cold and cruel as she went through the specifics with me.
I now know that what I was suffering from was severe anxiety. Searching for a way to cope and feel safe in a world where I didn’t. I must have been on my 100th visit to the STD clinic – where I loved to obviously spend most of my time. When a nurse checked my records.
“We can’t test you today..” she said….
“What.. but why!?” I panicked.
“Because you were here last month, and the month before that.. and the month before that..”… she replied.
I could have been a sex worker that needed regular tests. But I didn’t think of pushing that line at the time.
At this point I was living in a shared house, in Peckham. It was depressing. My anxiety was so bad – that I couldn’t even sit on a shared toilet. I couldn’t even sit on a shared toilet. And if I did have to use the toilet there was a lot of scrubbing involved. And so.. I would take a bucket to my room. And pee in the bucket because it was easier to do that than have to deal with the intrusive thoughts.
I actually feel quite tearful writing this. Because when I look back, I wonder how I got through and survived these times.
“You are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation” my doctor had said at the time..
And so I had a breakdown in the sexual health clinic. And the nurse marched me to the counselling room. And there I was given a psychosexual therapist.. and she was the most brilliant of therapists..
“We only have 12 weeks so we’re going to have to work pretty fast” she had said to me. It felt like she cared. She was strong. She was powerful. And she pushed me.
“What are you feeling now?!” She would say. “Er Nothing. I would respond. She would push my buttons to rile me up. “NOW what are you feeling!?”. It kinda felt quite cruel.
“Er. Nothing..” I would carry on. “Angry!?” she would offer up. Do you feel angry..!?! she would push.
Finally I said it. “Yeah. I feel angry. I feel angry. And sad”.. I responded.
She winked at me, smiling. It took me twelve weeks to identify a feeling. And… that was just the beginning…
I am sharing this story. Because I wonder if I had read about someone else’s experience at the time – then perhaps it would have helped me. At the time of my depression I missed (at the time) a good friends christening. I heard it on the grapevine a few years later that rumour had it ‘that I couldn’t be bothered to go’. We live in a culture that encourages people to put a brave face on rather than open up. ‘Get over it, move on, or let it go’ without actually offering any real solutions as to how to do that. It is important to ask ourselves, am I truly listening to this person. Or am I judging. Condemning or shutting somebody down.
And if this helps one other person who is going through it right now.. you’re not alone.
Phew. I’m the strongest person I know.
But seriously. Could have done without all that shit really. And I could be embarrassed about all this. But seriously. What is the point. And how is that helpful? I am simply a human. Writing about my experience of being human.
Quite liking this tune by The Wombats.. Turn.
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