I’ve been thinking about writing this for just about forever. Most of this mulling over has been done at around three o’clock in the morning, where I composed sentences much better than those written here. Although I’ve said all of this in my head many times over, it’s not a well-polished thing, so lower your expectations slightly on that account. I’m not a writer, I’m not trying to be, this is just a jumble of sentences that whirr around my head on an almost daily basis. If you know me in real life, you’ll notice that I don’t mention any names, places or times, I’d like to keep it like that. Posting this may turn out to be a very poor decision on my part, only time will tell.
This story explains to a large degree why I have returned to medical school eleven years after I first got a place and bumbled off to university one September with some ill-advised clothing and the sincere expectation that I would flower into some sort of heavily-sexed, excellently accessorised, intellectual Bardot lookalike. My usual explanation for the fact that I left after my first year and reapplied ten years down the line involves some stuttering, various airy hand gestures and vague references to past illness and personal problems. There’s no handy sentence to sum up all the different experiences I’ve had during those years. I don’t tell people I don’t like; sometimes I don’t tell people I do like because I worry that if they react badly, I’ll be left trying to make them feel better or remove any awkwardness, and that will make it worse.
So what happened? I arrived in my halls, mum and I shedding bucket loads of loud, snotty tears as she prepared to drive away and leave me alone in my new home. She left and I carried out my initial plans of crying some more, connecting my Boots-brand midi sound system and playing some really sad music. I could flower later, I decided. I sat staring out of the window, sporting a suitably tragic expression for the benefit of passers-by until a scruffy boy shouted up, “Do you want to come and get drunk with me?” DID I.
So within half an hour, I was having a very lovely time indeed. Meeting people in my halls, drinking rubbish beer, pontificating about god knows what; I felt so bloody grown up and it was all wonderful. Later I had the Medics event to look forward to, and was anticipating some sort of massive mind meld of young, earnest, do-gooding, well-rounded types. Brilliant, I thought. This is all going to be brilliant.
Well, by ‘later’ I was tipsy, flirty, and having a ball. A third year pulled me to one side and told me a fifth year (a fifth year!) thought I was beautiful and wanted to meet me. This was a fairly irregular occurrence for me in my teenage years, up until that point, people had only said things like that to me, well – precisely never. This flowering business was going a whole lot quicker than I had scheduled in many detailed timelines, but I decided to just go ahead and accept my destiny of being fabulously attractive and popular anyway.
Well, this fifth year, of the omnipresent ‘big, will turn to fat’ rugby player type that do so well at university, seemed very interested indeed. He was chatty and receptive to my naff stories, bought all my drinks, and looked after my stuff when I went to the toilet. I had been at university approximately eight hours by then, and it was all going swimmingly.
Then, fairly suddenly, I felt incredibly tired. I could hardly move my limbs, and within minutes I couldn’t walk, couldn’t speak. Strong arms lifted me into a taxi; next they were dragging me up a flight of stairs. I was a dead weight, so when he dropped me on the landing, I was pulled into his room by my hair and my shirt. Surprisingly few items of my clothing were removed, loud music was switched on, and then that bastard started to punch me all over my body. I was painfully, acutely aware that no-one in the world knew where I was at that moment, and I felt so terribly sorry for how upset my parents would be if I was ever found. He told me I was going to die, and it all felt pretty bloody convincing.
For the next five or six hours he raped me in all the dreadful ways that there are, sometimes in a frenzied fashion, occasionally with a sort of bored attitude. I remember very little, but was sure that I was going to die, and very fucking angry that I couldn’t do anything about it. In a particularly evil quirk of fate, this horrendous experience was soundtracked by music that I had always detested, and goes some way to explaining why hearing that Take That were reforming was one of the worst pieces of news I have ever received.
To continue with the upsetting stuff, when this was all over, I was driven back to my halls, where I was dropped off somewhere near the entrance and rolled unceremoniously under a bush. After a few hours, I staggered out of there and back to my flat, where I locked myself in my room and didn’t come out for several days. Blood seemed to pour out from me every time I stood up, but mostly I just slept and slept and slept. Everywhere from my breasts to my ankles was angry, purple, tender. I don’t remember crying.
What happened next was not a conscious decision of mine, and I can’t explain it, so I won’t. I just shut off from the whole process. One day, I just got up, got dressed, and made my way into university for the first day of lectures. I sat through an introductory lecture from the Dean who told us that not only were we smarter, better, more worthwhile than any other students at the uni, but that we had stronger morals, more integrity. I couldn’t explain at the time why this had me running out of the lecture hall to be violently sick in one of the toilets; I decided I had a stomach bug. In the medics’ freshers fair afterwards, I seemed to attract an inexplicable amount of attention. Plenty of boys came and asked me if it was true I liked rough sex and was an easy lay, the horrendous fifth year who I only vaguely seemed to recognise was parading around with his top off showing scratches on his back that I feel fairly certain I wouldn’t have been able to give him, and there were posters with pictures of my face on and the word ‘Tiger’ written across them.
Probably my least favourite thing was a girl in the third year who came up to me and commended me on my ‘strategy’. I’d made a smart move, she said, and if I slept with a couple more of the ‘influential’ fourth and fifth years, what with that and me being blonde, I stood a very good chance of being elected Secretary of the Medical School Society. I couldn’t comprehend why I wanted to hit this particular girl so very, very hard, so I turned around and went home.
Beyond that, amazingly, life continued. I don’t really understand either why I stayed, but I did, and although I thoroughly detested going into university and seeing anyone on my course, I made friends at my halls, some of whom are still very much in my life, I learnt to look after myself, had fun, went out a lot and would generally have described myself as happy. I remembered nothing about that first night, and attributed my huge sense of unease about my course and everyone on it to it not being the right choice for me. At the end of the year, I withdrew from medicine to the general amazement of my friends and family, who had always known me to be incredibly enthusiastic about my choice.
So there we were. Three of four years passed with me attempting to study history but feeling lost and surprised that although I loved the subject, it didn’t feel right somehow. I felt like I was having a reasonably fun time, although later analysis would show that I drank too much, didn’t feel particularly great about the way I looked, and slept with too many idiots.
I met my first and only real boyfriend when I was 21. I maintain that I loved him from the moment I saw him, he recalls feeling incredibly drawn to my smile and my breasts. Oh well. It was wonderful though, I’ve never felt so clever, so beautiful, so happy. We’d been together for about a year, spending every day with each other, when we had one of those late night conversations, ruminating on the issues of the day. We talked about how dreadful it must be to be assaulted, to be attacked, to be raped. What followed was a complete mental breakdown on my part. It wasn’t the fact that all the brutal details of that night were suddenly uppermost in my mind, replaying endlessly, but the shock and horror that I had just been able to switch this off for all that time. I felt sick, didn’t trust myself, panicked about what else I might remember. I thought I was going insane, and wanted to bury myself somewhere before any other sick details forced themselves into my brain.
The next few years can be summed up as an endless cycle of feeling terrible, going to my GP, being offered anti-depressants, not wanting them, attempting to carry on with any one of a series of jobs I hated, interspersed with various periods of self-harm and suicide attempts. My GPs were usually busy, harassed and frustrated because, whilst I understood all too well that I was depressed and crippled with anxiety, I didn’t think that tablets were the solution to my particular problem. When I would be taken into hospital, the general psychiatric opinion was that I was not unwell enough to be referred to their service. In essence, my self-harm was not harmful enough and I wasn’t swallowing enough pills. People use the term ‘cry for help’ in a negative sense; but I think it is rather wonderful that despite longing so desperately for peace and a quiet mind, I could never quite overcome the part of me that adores being alive and has extensive plans to be an intensely irritating 120 year old.
Early on in this process, encouraged by my boyfriend, I told my parents what had happened to me, which is something I can only recommend you avoid if you don’t wish to watch the slow, agonised tearing of someone’s heart happening right in front of your eyes. I’m crying right now thinking about it, it still feels like the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone. My poor parents, who had never pushed me into anything, would have been as delighted if I’d wanted to be a professional triangle player as a doctor, because their greatest wish was for me to be happy. It sounds like such a simple wish, and I felt terrible that I didn’t seem to be able to give them that.
I was never very sure why those those people stuck by me during those horrible years, because I treated everyone like shit, would stay in the house for weeks on end, and generally subject them to some very low times indeed. There is for me a very real fear that one day I will be called to account for begging those who loved me to help me die because I didn’t have the courage to do it myself. That’s a hard thing to live with. I continued to work, but was a terrible employee with an atrocious sickness record, and although some people were very kind when they realised what I was dealing with, no-one (me least of all) knew what I wanted, or what would help. All I knew was that this was no fun, I had no concept of who I was anymore, I felt pretty much unrecognisable from the person I’d been, and I didn’t want to live my life.
A few things helped. My boyfriend found details of a free Rape Counselling Service, got them to see me, and took me along. I was terrified of being patronised, of being treated as a weak, sickly thing, and was disproportionately overjoyed to be told to ‘hit any stuff you like, we find it quite helpful’. The women there helped me a lot, mainly by making me feel normal. I’d never felt guilty about the rape, which a lot of people expected me to. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I struggled with the ‘why me?’ conundrum – did I somehow look more helpless than anyone else? My main guilt concerned how I dealt with it – I felt dreadful for blacking out the whole incident, for the years of depression and anxiety afterwards, for taking so long to move on from it. I hated to be seen as weak, when in truth I was probably the only person labelling myself as such.
It was normal, I was told, to shut out an incident like that until such time as your brain decided you would be able to deal safely with it. Day one away from home when you are 18 and haven’t made any friends yet is probably not that time. It was normal, for a person to mentally block this for so long, you would no longer be able to report the incident even if you wanted to. It was normal, when faced with the amount of chemicals that flood your body in response to your impending death, to go absolutely batshit crazy afterwards, and unless you have experienced that particular level of terror, you can’t really understand what it’s like to be hard-wired to be constantly prepared for your own demise. It’s not something that I would wish on anyone.
Later, I entered into a short relationship with anti-depressants, but I can’t say whether they helped or not, they didn’t seem to change very much at all beyond giving me an incredibly dry mouth and chronic insomnia. What helped the most was the passing of time. Boringly, and terrifyingly for someone who has been recently assaulted, that’s my top tip. If you can stay alive in the interim, and have very little success in your attempts at ending your life, then one day it just doesn’t hurt quite as much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still FUCKING OUTRAGED. I’m cross that that bastard drugged me so I couldn’t put up a fight. I’d have lost anyway, the fucker was a foot taller than me with a probable ten stone weight advantage, but I’d have liked to have had a go. I’m fuming that my body, which I’d quite enjoyed up until that point, was used like an ugly, worthless piece of meat. I’m livid that I have to listen to some medical professionals and plenty of young doctors-to-be chunter on about how depression is just a failure to get a grip on life, and that PTSD doesn’t really exist. I’m cross that I spent so long being so incredibly, ruinously unhappy. But often, I’m just very sad, and I cry fat, hot tears for that ridiculous little girl on her first night away from home.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I consider myself a very lucky person. I’m married to my best friend and the kindest man I know (that’s only one person, just to clear up any legal issues), I spend a large proportion of my time laughing and am surrounded by wonderful people, family and friends, one of whom met me when I was about as broken as I was ever going to be. She was busy being a very wonderful secretary whilst I was a piss-poor one but she never, ever treated me like the fuck-up I felt I was, and her eternal optimism that one day I would, quite simply, be better, was at first bewildering, then later inspiring. I sometimes feel like I have, in my time, done nearly all the jobs that there are, but people keep reassuring me that this is excellent life experience, and so I’m choosing to market myself along those lines, rather than as ‘flighty’. In addition, I’m now in my second year of my medical degree, back at university. When I first attempted to reapply, initial conversations with medical schools around the country ran along these lines: “You’ll have to leave it to the younger ones now, with you being a previous student and choosing to withdraw, I’m afraid you’ve had your chance”. I take it as a good sign of my recovery that my answer to this was, “No, I really fucking haven’t”. In fairness, once I’d had a chance to explain myself, every place I applied to was incredibly helpful and positive.
All things being equal, in three and a half years I will qualify as a doctor. I hope by that time I will also have been able to remedy the situation whereby, as my grandma put it, I seem ‘unable to keep a baby alive inside me.’ (Thanks Gran!) I hope that I will be someone who people feel able to speak to when they’re feeling really broken, I hope I let them know that it’s okay to be broken, to not like your life, I hope I never trivialise someone having a bad day, a low spell, feeling lost, lonely, empty, numb. I know that if anyone ever tells me they were raped, I will never utter the words, “I hope they caught him”, as it implies a sequence of events that may never have occurred. I will never make anyone feel guilty for not reporting a rape; no-one who has endured that has anything to feel guilty about. I hope I will focus on the person involved, not the crime or the person who committed it, they deserve no thought at all. I hope I will be able to look at that person when they’re feeling so weak, so defeated, so powerless and tell them how brave and strong they are. I’ll tell them that because I cried with happiness when someone said it to me.