I have been trying to avoid the news of the Ulster Rugby Rape Case (I can’t even bring myself to Google and insert a link here so you’ll have to go searching for the grey and gory details yourself – be warned: it ain’t pretty).
I just can’t cope with the verdict.
Can you cope with the verdict?
It took the jury two hours to reach a decision. Two hours.
There were eight men and four women.
Hands in pockets as they left the courtroom.
The woman’s name and image have appeared widely in public social media groups. Anonymity means little in our digital age.
Have I got these facts right? It’s all a blur – I have actively resisted any information but it gets through, the news, these days.
No Man Is An Island – unless, of course, you’re an island protected by a school of solicitous sharks who predate on those who exist outside the old boys’ network. A young woman on a night out: how many drinks?; how tight were her jeans?; how many kisses?; why no screams?; why did she go back for her phone?; what kind of underwear was she wearing?
She had no chance against them.
No woman has a chance against a justice system so inherently male; masculine; colonial; prejudiced.
Innocent until proven guilty, you say. And now they are proven innocent.
There are the hundreds of thousands who mock and fume that they were ever doubted, son.
The man who raped me would be found innocent too, of that I am sure. There is precious little evidence to verify any of my story apart from the testimony of my best friend; a few post-event notes scribbled on scraps of copy book paper; my parents’ memories of my first breakdown six months later; the notes of my counsellor from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre; a lifetime of despair; unworthiness and self-doubt.
But I was raped. I can say that word now. I said the R word without hesitation for the first time in my first counselling session with my potentially new counsellor yesterday: she asked me if she could refer to the incident that occurred when I was sixteen as a “rape” or if I’d prefer “attack” or “assault”. It has never felt like an attack in that the shock horror element of it didn’t hit me until a long time after. I don’t feel like it qualifies as an attack – attack is too sudden, and wasn’t I asking for it?
I doubt that young woman in Belfast felt like it was an “attack” either – she was manipulated and used and coerced into her own rape. But she was raped – the medical evidence supported a guilty verdict; her story has been validated; their messages attested to their misogynistic, entitled hubris.
And that makes sense to me.
And I believe her.
Do you believe me?
… I try out a new counsellor who is not with the Rape Crisis Centre and I’m apprehensive.
When on the phone to her for an initial chat, I mentioned that I’d prefer to go on a day when the King was not in work in Dublin so that I’d have a safety net when I was done with her. She said that she hoped that I’d be in a stable state of mind when I left her and that I wouldn’t need the support – something which made me suspicious: a therapist who specialises in PTSD who thinks I should be ok after an hour of discussing all that shite. It’s my experience that one does not feel ready to face the world after revealing all one’s darkest moments to a stranger.
I haven’t been to counselling since we left Dublin, which is now a year ago, and that just drifted to an end as I couldn’t face the drive into the city centre for 9.30am on a Monday morning from North Wexford: commuter rush hour plus parking in Dublin can only be counterproductive for a counselling session which is meant to calm you down.
So I put it off and off and off and now here I am, at the point when I can’t put it off any longer.
At least the King is off tomorrow so he will be around to pick up the pieces of me should I fall apart. WHICH I WON’T.
Do you get anxious before your counselling appointments?
The idea of power is a new concept in the psyche of the general Western female .population: inherited from the long line of oppressed and silent XX chromosome comes a discomfort with power and a reluctance towards glory.
I do not much go in for religion or spirituality (although I’m a firm believer in yoga); angels and talismans mean little more to me than pretty objects and yet, the concept of an inherited psychological memory framework is one theory I can get behind. Surely, buried deep within our genetic makeup lingers the torment of our women ancestors and the exquisite fleeting glory that only a moment of power can bring.
The feeling of losing control is my bête noire: not being the sole decider of my fate – be it for good or for ill; not being the captain of my own ship.
I have learned since early years to do things my own way: not always with the best or soundest judgement and sometimes leading to catastrophe, but it was my way. Throughout every relationship there is a balance of power and I relished being the one in charge; the alpha. When power is taken from me, now often with benevolent intent, but previously, many times with malignant ambition, I brawl against it. The internal riots inside my mind when I feel my power shifting like a tectonic plate away from me cannot help but cast my own image with those militant Suffragettes, willing to chain myself to my railings of implacability.
The unfortunate thing about mental ill health – PTSD; BPD; anxiety; depression and chronic cold sweat nightmare disorder (I’m sure that has a proper term) is trying to balance it within a relationship with a man who is both kind and strong, who you know wants only the very best for you and for your marriage and children and life together. But any hint of wresting your power; your self-determination; even your own bad decisions from you – you bristle and fume against them.
Compromise is not something I do well; my brain seems now hardwired into a fixed meander of assumptions and conclusions.
So is it inherited through our mothers’ genes: our innate desire for the power they did not have but craved? Or are we a product of a century and a half of waves of feminism; its imagery and rhetoric. Are we shaped by our own commonplace degradation by the patriarchy (in Ireland, the Catholic Church and its infinite wisdom on sex; virginity and a woman’s place in the home as a production vessel for future farmers and Fianna Fáilers).
How do learn to compromise without undermining our own agency: how do we learn to work with men when history tells us we must fear them – those ubiquitous figureheads of power and symbols of glory?
I always know I’m near the bottom of my mental barrel when I redownload the Stephen Fry audiobook of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone; this means I need familiarity and comfort. Something I know inside out where there’ll be no surprises – good or bad. I can escape (such a cliché – “escapism” ) to that world and imagine that I too have a witch’s ability to create my own cheering charm or, even better, to conjure my own Patronus (which is a calico cat according to Pottermore) to keep me company in all its soothing silvery, ethereal beauty. Oh, to live in a world where Protego Totalum were a genuine option to hide a depressive from the world – letting the world proceed as normal but with you shielded from it momentarily, and it shielded from you.
Yesterday, I ended up at the Caredoc for a migraine shot ,which to be honest was a waste of fifty euro as it didn’t really work. The Difene that the doctor gave me to take home didn’t help either. Or the SolpaExtra. Or the Rivotril. So I slept and stayed in darkness and wished that I wouldn’t need to get up to pee or that nobody would open my bedroom door. I’m pretty sure that I cleaned my teeth at some point… so there’s an achievement.
Today I managed ten minute yoga; a slow walk with one dog to the forest; a bath; make up; lunch; teaching two classes and a second trip to Tesco, this time with my King, which was much more secure than the first quick trip on my own after my walk to buy smoothie ingredients. Oh, and I made a smoothie. All the way around Tesco, despite my being a complete and utter dick all weekend – not just about Ireland winning the Grand Slam by beating England – my King’s home country – in the final showdown of the Six Nations, but a total; unmanegeable; ungrateful; stubborn; superior bitch all weekend – he hugged me and kissed me and offered for me to go sit in the car in case I was struggling as I tend to sometimes with crowds. He held my hand with his left as he manoeuvred the trolley with his right. He bought me treats and ingredients for him to cook dinners for the week and paid for it all because I’m broke. He showed the world that he thinks I’m worth snogging in the chickpea aisle of the supermarket even when I think I must be the worst thing that ever happened to him.
Right now, two dogs are play fighting beside me while Scandi daughter embroiders something pretty and watches The West Wing. There’ll be roast chicken; salad and crusty bread for dinner and even though I know I should go to choir, I’m at my emotional limit for today so I am hoping that our lovely director will understand.
I am trying to be as honest as I can possibly be lately with how I am struggling – not for attention; I’d much rather be left alone and never have to talk to anyone about it, but I’m hoping that anything I say in brutal honesty might encourage even one or two others to admit to someone they trust that they need some help too.
Tomorrow, despite the cost (fifty euro to see my GP and sixty five to see a trauma therapist), I’m making appointments to see them both because I will not let this get the better of me. This burning paralysis and fear of sleeping; of waking will pass – I know it will, if only I can push that damned boat of doom out to sea another time. I’ve done it before, I know this won’t be the last time I’ll have to launch it into the depths, weighed down by an anchor of love; resilience; writing; walking; talking; pharmaceuticals and of course; Harry Potter.
Thank fuck for anti-anxiety pills, that’s all I can say.
And a brisk walk.
And white soda bread and egg mayonnaise from Orla’s Kitchen. And cheesecake.
And the gym. And a bottle of Garnier Summer Body.
And red wine. And Solpa Extra. And Zadok the Priest.
And randomly bumping in to people in your hometown and having life affirming chats in the middle of the Main Street. And charity shops where you can treat yourself to a new dress for six euro.
And choir rehearsal which brings all that complexity of emotion to your larynx and throws it out into the air into a sound resonating joyously and uncomplicatedly. And to the wit of the women sitting beside you and around you in choir who make you feel human and present again.
Thanks to the friend who invites you to her beautiful pottery and ceramics studio for an impromptu crafting session of escapist bliss and peace.
And thanks to the daughter who knows that you just can’t muster up the energy to talk today and the fiancé who sends reassuring messages during the day and holds your hand as soon as he gets home. Thanks even to the dogs who might drive you up the walls when you’re trying to teach but then lick your hands and face in the morning as if to neutralise the toxic salty sweat emitted through last night’s nightmares.
Thanks to the children who randomly tell you they are so glad you’re their friend and teacher because you’re funny and you make them feel happy.
Thanks to the cousin who reads your blog and is on the phone instantly.
Thanks to the daughter who books afternoon tea for the two of you.
Thanks to those who speak openly about mental health and don’t shy away from the subject or cover up how they are feeing and aren’t afraid to ask you about your true debilitations. Thanks to the doctor who listens and understands and never fobs you off.
Thank you for Friday.
And in advance, thank you Ireland for beating England and winning the Grand Slam (I’m tempting fate, aren’t I?).
And thank you for Tadgh Furlong whom I once saw in IKEA, I presume to single handedly carry ALL the flatpacks.
The number above is for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre helpline.
Landmark week in the Dotty household: my Scandi daughter turned 18; was accepted into her journalism college course; we celebrated International Women’s Day with Bollinger and Mother’s Day was a feast of Victoriana.
All in all a good week, you would think, and yet here I am, taking refuge in my blog. The reading nook in our house – hidden away by drying laundry – consists of an upcycled pale grey rocking chair and cylindrical floor lamp emitting a soft golden glow warming the coral colour blanket and the delicately embroidered cushion. This is homely luxury unknown to so many and yet I could sleep and leave it all behind to float in nothingness.
If only sleep would bring nothingness, instead it brings anxiety surpassing the actual waking anxiety which has done all it can to try to break me and this running streak of productivity and positivity that I’ve enjoyed for the last prolonged period of what, a year, more? This is by far the lowest and most highly strung (such an oxymoron) I’ve been in a few years and apart from some triggers like the Ulster Rugby Rape Case which has bitten far too close to the bone of trauma festering in the marrow of victims all over the UK and Ireland, I’m not sure just why it’s all hitting me now. There is so much that I could write about the case; about the pervasive nature of sexual bravado and toxic masculinity drowning our young men in the medieval delusion of power over the bodies of those less physically powerful than theirs. It makes me sick to my core – my core that feels half corroded by the rust of abuse and societal acceptance of “boys will be boys”. There should be a grand reception of honour and gratitude for that young woman who has been brave enough to publicly accuse (and yes, I believe her – only between 2 and 6 per cent of cases result in an outcome of false accusation and that figure is inflated by the “no crime committed’ decision which is often inevitable due to a lack of corroborating evidence) two heroic sporting figures: big muscly fish in a small pond of testosterone and idolatry.
The other night, when watching Career of Evil , I had a properly grotesque meltdown with my beloved and everything I had not managed to articulate to him about my traumatic sexual past came rolling down my cheeks. As I’ve said before, there wasn’t just one experience for me: yes, there was one that was the most damaging, or at least I place it as being “the worst”, perhaps because it was the first and possibly the most shockingly forceful and surprising – you don’t expect that when you are 16 – but whether through vulnerability; self hatred or an inherent sense of unworthiness, I found myself in dangerous and unwanted situations three more times that I can remember. I don’t blame the men; I still blame myself. I led them on; I wasn’t vociferous enough in my objections; I thought it was what I was meant to do. I can’t blame them entirely because society raises boys to believe that it is their right; their duty to conquer and their entitlement to sex whatever way they want it, which its often what they have seen from their main, if not only source of sexual information – porn.
I am constantly nervous and sickened at writing my most personal feelings and darkest chapters in this blog; it’s not that anonymous anymore and I know many will disapprove; scoff; belittle; turn away from me; denigrate… but the truth is, as much I am struggling, there are millions of others; male/female/other; who are in worse places than me with nobody to love and support them. I have the strongest support system imaginable – one I usually feel that I do not deserved as I reciprocate so minisculey- but I have it and they see who and what I can be when the layers of grimey self hatred are finally stripped away to reveal the unspoiled me.
We have to tell our stories – as gruesome as they might be, as acidic as it might feel. Not telling them is what led to this culture of hidden torment; secrecy and shame in the first place.
One of the things which sometimes bewilders others about depression is the unwillingness to listen to music; watch sad movies or odd tv shows. I find I avoid fiction or modern non-fiction because any little trigger can be hiding in there, seemingly innocuous, and it can jump out from a chord; a scene or a page and set me back to one of the worst places I’ve visited in my mind. Historical tragedy; massacre; famine and oppression though – no problem.
For example, I can’t listen to Chasing Cars; anything by Stars; Missy Higgins; The Scientist or Linger: I can’t watch Atonement or The Piano (which has an upsetting Stockholm syndrome premise anyway, if I remember correctly), movies I enjoyed enormously at the time, particularly for their scores. I have had a fear of Black Mirror which existed long before I saw just one episode that the King thought I’d enjoy and seeing as it was his birthday, I watched it. There are so many cultural experiences: music; film; novels; art exhibitions; plays; poetry that isn’t comic which terrify me because of the immediate sense of panic and uncomfortable heat stirred up to boiling by them. But even moreso, the residual simmering of doom; the sense of otherness and displacement brought on by a sad song; a tragic movie; a serious novel; a heartbroken poem; a shocking piece of art – like a nightmare; I can’t shake it, often for days.
I immerse myself in documentaries; historical biographies and the novels of Harry Potter are my recurrent refuge when I need to escape, and they’re not exactly all cheer and human goodness.
So am I just avoiding life? Or am I protecting myself? Am I living in a bubble of my own making or have I simply got to know my triggers well enough to intuitively cut them out?
Yet, I read the news. The recent case against two Ulster rugby players has been a huge source of anxiety for me and I fell into the trap of getting involved in online comments section on rugby forums – I was called an idiot twice in twelve hours for suggesting that most cases of rape are not false accusations. I think this has had much to do with my recent slip into a minor blue funk. I want to know what is happening in this world of tragedy and moreover, I wish I could do something tangible to help victims of rape; women and girls who are oppressed and undervalued and those for whom a different sort of education could prove the difference between a life loved and a life existed.
So, the question is: how do you avoid your triggers but still do something about them?
Answers on a postcard please…
I recall an ex of mine telling me that when I was good, there was nobody like me. I was the best person to be around and I attracted people to me. The downside of that was that when I was down, I was impossible: he had to get away from me. While I understood, and empathised with him being in love with a girl who was lovable only thirty percent of the time; I also resented that he could walk away – I couldn’t. I was stuck inside my head one hundred per cent of the time with no escape. Even when I sleep, like last night, I am at risk of being more drained because of the nightmares than when I went to bed. Cold sweats and dark images; terror and paralysis, like bloody Macbeth.
I can totally understand why people with mental health issues turn to hardcore pharmaceuticals and often spiral into a demise of illegal street drugs. I’ve been taking Venlafaxine for three and a half years and it works in that I’m still alive; functioning and my fiancé and daughter can probably live with me for more than thirty percent of the time now. I can live in my own head for seventy percent of the time now so there exists some sort of numerical parallel. However, as my life has progressed towards what qualifies as my most successful years in terms of relationships; career and sociability since I was sixteen, the strain on my emotions becomes increasingly tense and I’m reminded that I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD – I forget that which makes sense because one of the features is being way too hard on yourself. I never think I have enough done in a day: my endless quest for productivity leads to almost complete burnout and then I end up sick, either physically with a cough I cannot shake off or a mental weariness so profound that I don’t have the will to get up to pee. No wonder my pelvic floor feels eighty years old. In short, I’m not sure the Venlafaxine is cutting it anymore. But at least, the migraines have subsided with the Sibellium .
One of the things that I am most looking forward to is the ground drying out in Spring and getting out to the garden to bring my plants back to life. The ground, like my mind, is sodden and heavy. It’s strange when you get to the age when gardening is a thing for you. I used to love baking but now the kitchen usually needs to be cleaned up before anyone can use it and I just don’t have the mental energy to do that, or the time, it seems. I do of course have the time, I could make the time, but it’s another of those things that just gets shunted to the side in the blur that is trying to get through the day and get everything done. Like reading. If I try to sit down to read, I fall asleep after five minutes, my eyes are so gritty from a day of keeping on top of everything. I am always tired, but tired in a way that my nerves are on edge and liable to fray at any moment. That’s why audiobooks are my saviour. I can keep moving while I listen and therefore not risk falling asleep for two hours and therefore, miss out on two hours of getting stuff done.
Which brings me to yoga. I didn’t get up till 2:45pm today. I went to bed at 11:15pm. I tried to get up around 11am but I could barely move. I could barely talk to anyone in the house. The burning paralysis was back. Then, I remembered my cousin sending me a link for a yoga teacher on YouTube and looked her up. I did the morning yoga routine (even though it was by now 3.30pm). It wasn’t easy and trying to follow the screen while manoeuvering into sun salutations was frustrating. Added to that the grotesque state of my almost size 14 body bubbling over at me in the mirror. My muscles and bones creaked and my fat got in the way but I did it and guess what, I felt better. I don’t; feel amazing now: I am sneezing and I could still go back to bed but I am washed and dressed in clean, comfy clothes and I’m going to watch the rugby on record.
I pity my fiance and my daughter, even the dogs, having to live in the same house as me on days like this. But they’re still here so maybe the good days are very good days, and my ex was right about one thing.
I’ve been sick today with a cough and general miasma of gloom in my bones and my soul.
Despite being self-employed, I stayed in bed and slept for the majority of the day but when not asleep, berated myself for being lazy and in bed which hasn’t led to much of a rest day.
I can feel things slipping away from me: bills; housework; parenting; wife-ing; work; fitness… and I have to get back on top of it all or I will drown in a lake of mundanity.
The King (I have no idea what nickname to call the husband-to-be in this blog anymore as no pseudonym seems to do his handsomeness; wit; generosity or patience justice so, he’s the King for now) and I had a blissfully secluded few days away in Ashley Park House this past weekend so I should be refreshed and grateful but instead I am wallowing in a fog of my brain’s own making.
Tomorrow, I will be better. Tomorrow, I will face the day despite my coughing in its face and I will begin to rise to the top of that pile of daily life shite. And if I don’t, I will breathe and remember to ask for help: I will sit; I will drink tea and count my blessings, of which there are many.
Anyone else need a kick up the arse?