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A blog about OCD and Childhood Trauma whilst living in South Korea.

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. 

Fucking great. 

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. 

A man on the train to Beijing..

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.

My social services file..

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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Life is What Happens

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

The thing with life is – like the famous saying goes ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’.. that when you think everything is about to get better. It can hit you with another life issue and quite easily knock you off balance. Alice Herz Somme r in her documentary says that life goes UP and.. down UP and down and that’s life (she lived til 106!).

Sometimes I tell myself to ‘be like the oak tree that weathers the storms… strong, powerful and unwavering’. But. Quite frankly that can be quite hard to do sometimes. For the past year my mobility has gotten severely worse. And as a usually active person it has been a hard pill to swallow. It has taken a little over two years to get a proper diagnosis. It was put down to a sports injury by medical professionals and therefore the battle to be heard commenced. Friends who invited me out thought I was exaggerating when I replied saying ‘I can’t walk very well so won’t be able to’. A cloud of depression covered my world like a dark cloud, as I felt like all my own efforts to not drown were being ignored as I didn’t feel like I was being taken seriously. 

Unfortunately some of us in life do not have support from family. Which can be hard to disclose to others – I’ve spent many a Christmas alone. But. To be honest, I never really liked Christmas anyway. As a child my grandma would come to visit.  Well. She was a grumpy old bag… (honestly she really was)…. And of course she used to get my bed when she came to visit. In my room. And well you know what that means don’t you?

No you don’t. Oh I forget that. I forget, sometimes that people cannot read my mind. That we didn’t all have the same dark childhood that I had. 

Ok. Well it meant I had to sleep in my parents bedroom. And considering I was being abused by my biological father of course I dreaded being anywhere near him. I did not want to make the access to me any easier for him. In those days I used to pretend I was deaf a lot (I must of been around 8/9 at this point). Unfortunately, one day, when I was taken to the hearing specialist. The man who was examining me blew my cover. I wasn’t too happy about that as he finished the examination on my ears exclaiming “there’s nothing wrong with her!” to my mother. Tsk. Fucking idiot. Thanks for that. Now I can see why people are labelled as ‘survivors’. I never used to like that term much. But it’s true really isn’t it. You develop as a child – strategies to survive. 

Anyway I’ve digressed. Sometimes – the avoidance of thinking about my past has meant that it has come back two fold in adulthood. The memories and the flashbacks. Like a whole other world that has come back to haunt me. Like waking up from a very bad dream. But that was then. And this is now. 

So it wasn’t until I went to a hospital appointment – and decided to take a Boris bike as I needed to gain some fitness back taking the route across Hyde Park. The bike was so heavy. And I was probably moving at about 1 mile per hour. ‘Oh my god!’… ‘I’ve gotten so unfit’ I thought to myself as a hot guy on his racer sped past me giving me the most quizzical look. So embarrassing.

But now I was stuck in the middle of the huge park with not a bloody parking bay in sight so I had to continue. Over the December period I had been emailing my Rheumatology team – ‘I can’t walk!’ I had declared miserably to them. So when I finally waddled in to my hospital appointment, n a huge amount of pain – the nurse looked gobsmacked. I saw her. And burst into tears. And that was the beginning of hopefully the end of this shitty journey! I was heard. She took me seriously. And I was immediately sent for an X-Ray.

I have found that the worst thing in life – is when you don’t have any hope.

Shawshank Redemption: Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies…

And to be honest by the end of that year – 2018 – I was starting to lose it. I was spending weeks at a time not leaving my flat. I’d had to drop out of my Masters. And I was not seeing anybody at all. Becoming more and more isolated. And to be honest I was embarrassed really. To let others know what was really going on. And scared.

There is nothing worse in life – than reaching out – for help and the door being firmly closed, locked and bolted. The trust one has to develop to actually reach out can be quite painful. For some. For me. The fear of rejection. And I guess as someone who couldn’t rely on parents or family to be there for me – I’ve had to be an island. 

I was at the hospital on Wednesday when the nurse had to ask me about my parents health.

“Do you have anyone to come and check in on you. What about your Dad where is he?”. I was in a good mood weirdly enough, hopeful to be finally being able to bounce about again on my legs. So when I was asked that question it took me by surprise. I gave in and disclosed what and why I do not have that sort of support system. The thing is. I’m used to it. I’ve lived with it my whole life. But the fear of how others receive it can sometimes be worse. The look of pity. The judgement? What is it they’re thinking?

“Sorry too much information!” I declared worrying about the feelings of the recipient. A behaviour I must have learnt as a child. To take care of the adults feelings around me and not my own. Eurgh.

But it’s not very nice is it. Not being able to be authentic. It gets exhausting no? The fear of judgment, or being shamed by other people who don’t want to hear the realities of what it is one is going through. The fear of being put in ‘that’ box. Feeling/being different to everyone else. Or people become some sort of pyschologist. Or they ask you if you’ve thought of visiting one (like one hasn’t thought of that one after how many years??? Hilar!) But surely it’s easier to look at someone else than oneself. Or. They shut you down because they don’t want to hear it/can’t cope with it or it makes them uncomfortable. 

Sometimes… sometimes I wonder if I’m still being encouraged by society to hide. Hide how I feel. Hide my life experiences. Like I’ve done something wrong? And you know. It’s exhausting carrying other people’s shame. And if I’m an adult and still struggle with sharing my truth – then how might a child feel about sharing theirs?

I had a good friend hang himself last year. He and his wife had written me a wonderful card a few days beforehand. And I thought. How can I tell others to be open and not to care what others think if I’m not doing the same?! What a contradiction. 

So this post is me not giving a fuck. Of me sharing my truth. About what I’m going though. About the isolation of having a chronic disease. About how sometimes I have felt jealous of Age Uk because they have so many cool workshops for people over 50 to go and connect – but I didn’t know where I fitted in. But life is getting better. And I feel hopeful as I have a hip operation date coming up. I feel hopeful. And I feel scared. And I suspect that is normal.

Have a great day! Becki Xx

ps if anyone knows/could recommend a designer that might want to help me improve my site please do let me know! 

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POEM: SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED

I am an STD, hidden beneath
Lurking in the unseen,
Shamed for being me
A virus permeating. If you catch me..

You’ll be dirty too, so stay away.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
About my negativity.

But it wasn’t my fault.
It was passed on to me.

I thought it was love.
Well that’s what he told me.

Sharing is caring.
That’s what he’d said to me.

Don’t you.. look at me with your judgmental eyes.

You see… you don’t see.

You don’t really see me.
You just see what you want to see.

Look deep, look down.
Oh yep! There’s the frown.
You look disappointed…
Don’t worry. You can’t be as disappointed as me.

The echo’s get louder.

‘You don’t love yourself’ says he.
‘That’s not true…’ says me.
‘You lied.
You took what you wanted.
You rolled the die.
You left me here.
Did you think I’d cry?’

He laughs. That laugh. Infectiously.

But this time.

I see.
It’s not too late.

‘Catch’ he throws…
‘No thanks’ I reply..

I walk away.

‘How ridiculous’.. I think.
Just then. I thought that STD was me.

Written by Becki Burrows

May 2018

©Copyright owned Rebecca Burrows 2007

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POEM: AUTHENTICITY

AUTHENTICITY


Who are you.
I look behind the mask you wear.
Your fake smile and your well cut hair.

I look into your eyes. And yet.. you stare. Blankly.

At me.

Who are you? I wonder.

Can I trust you? You in the trackie bottoms
And the scruffy hair.

And I think…
Are we really going to be defined by what we wear?

Prada, ADIDAS, Primark, CARHARTT
Stupid big names that have made their mark.
On you. On me.. on all of us here.

We wear these dumb labels with pride. And…

Yet I ponder. Who am I?

Stripped naked I see you stand and shiver.

Too masked in the pressure,
To stand up and stand tall.
Until one day.

The tears bleed out.. rolling down your cheeks like a waterfall.

I look.
And I see you.
Because it’s just like a mirror.

What was it all for?
Your eyes request an answer.
An answer.
An answer I do not have.
And so I shrug back.
‘Life is pain’ and that’s a fact.
Just don’t be afraid.
This too shall pass.

And he removes the mask.
‘Do you like what you see?’ he asks.

It really. It really doesn’t matter to me.

Smiling gently…the mirrored image
Disappears back into the glass.

And there I am.
Left with me.

 

Dedicated to all those I have met on my journey. To all those I haven’t met yet. And to those simply passing by. I wish you all well.. 

Written by Becki Burrows

Everything written on this website is copyright protected. 

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POEM: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY ‘LIFE ON PLANET EARTH’
I… have written a poem. For International Women’s Day… #internationalwomensday
 
LIFE ON PLANET EARTH: I AM A WOMAN
by Rebecca Burrows
 
The soft and safe space of my mothers womb
I sleep and grow.. comfortable in my warm cocoon.
No need to come out in to the world just yet.
Quite happy here thanks! Despite the fact it’s rather small and wet.
 
Trials and tribulations await. But I will not know this until I’m fully awake.
And as time ticks and I’m forced to come out..
My resistance kicks in and I scream and I shout.
 
The cold air strikes and hits my face.
Fear kicks in and tells me this could be a cruel place.
 
The days pass by…and I work hard as a good girl might.
Wash the dishes, be quiet, sit still and not shout.
Little girls do not scream, play with boys or go out.
 
Study more, eat less, play with dolls, wear a dress.
Only good girls do well.. those who curtsy to guests.
 
‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.’
The old saying goes.
“So take that! And shut up!” the ole man moans.
 
But why?! The girl asks herself as she’s left in the house.
With a hoover,
The iron, and an ole dusty shelf.
“And don’t fuss!” he bellows as he takes the boys out.
 
“It’s not fair..” she whispers to the small little mouse
Before grabbing the broom and chasing it out…
 
Left behind. Clean the house! What’s the point of all this?
Scribbling in her diary which she hides behind the shelf.
 
“When I grow up…” she neatly writes down (in secret code – just in case it is found!)
“I will never marry a man like..hmmm” she scribbles with a frown.
And as the days pass by, and she grows up and moves on.
The marks on her body have taught her to just ‘bite her tongue’…
 
“You want equality? Well doors open no more!” the suited man laughs
As he goes on ahead slamming the door made of glass.
She wanders on behind with a shattered heart.
“Equal pay? Go away! And how dare you ask!.. Do you really think you’re as good as a man at the task?!”
 
“You tweeted #metoo.. er no job for you. Calling rape *all the time…let’s make THAT a crime!”
“It was simply a slight little pat on the arse!”
“But how do you know.. were you there..” she asks.
“Read the papers” the arrogant man laughs.
“Do you really think it’s that easy to pass…
Such a crime through CPS” her anger sparked…
“And what about not trusting everything we read where’s that gone!?” she starts to plead..
 
“Oh Sit down! Shut up! And chill the fuck out…stop complaining, stop moaning.
And stop making out… you’re so ‘hard done by’ just be a good little girl and help me out”
“Too skinny, too fat, too educated or too thick.”
“Too weak, too sensitive.. and you’ve not got a dick.”
 
“You’ll never win” the guy slyly laughs…
“But THEN… since equality’s in.. let’s pay halves”
He winks.
And she decides to do what society has taught her she should.
Keeps her mouth shut. Takes a slug of her drink. Just be appeasing. And just act ‘good’.
#internationalwomensday
I will leave this with the Aretha Franklin’s epic tune ‘Respect’
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