No means no

No means no

Monday, 16 December 2013

Drying the tears



A year ago a young physiotherapy intern, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was brutally raped and sexually abused with an iron bar by six men in Delhi, India. My heart went with Jyoti when I read her story. Part of it is still with her. Most people could never imagine the horror she went through, the feeling of abject helplessness, the pain, the despair. People could feel empathy, but they couldn’t experience the feeling.

I could. I’d been there. The difference? I’m alive to remember my own story.

I never knew Jyoti and yet I felt like I knew a part of her very, very well. A year ago the soulless rape and murder of this young woman who had a lifetime ahead of her stirred memories I had tried so hard, unsuccessfully, to deal with. In the year since her death I have experienced a huge range of highs and lows as one thing after another seemed to want to grind me down. I have shed more tears than I thought possible, I have at times felt like I was going a little insane. Until I realised – I actually am a little insane.

How can you go through an experience like mine and not suffer PTSD in one form or another? All the years of people thinking I was a strong woman, only to now, 40 years on from that event, be feeling like a small child who needs her mother’s hugs.

When I wrote my website I was finally confronting memories and emotions I had closeted for 40 years.  Every time before I write now I choose a CD and listen for a while before I start writing. What I choose sets the mood for my writing, regardless of what the music actually is. Sometimes it could be a serious Tori Amos, sometimes a light orchestral. Today it was Dario G’s “Sunchyme”. I didn’t want anything too serious, and yet the tears started even before I started to type. Maybe it’s just the act of sitting down and knowing that I am going to revisit something so wicked that sets me off.

There are hundreds of thousands of women and girls like Jyoti and me all over the world. Some who won’t survive the brutalization inflicted on them, and others who survive and have to live with it. Some find an acceptance, some bury the memories. That was me, for the first 20 years. But you simply have no way of knowing what, if anything, can trigger a memory, and that was my undoing. And the longer I didn’t deal with it, the worse the triggers became until now my responses to a trigger can range from withdrawal and tears to fighting back – loud and angry.  The trigger is not necessarily the actual action of rape, but could be a smell, a colour, a word, a sound. It’s confronting for those who don’t know where I am coming from and why, to say something that they may have in all innocence not realised was not “safe” and to be faced with a hellcat tearing them down. Or to wonder where the sudden gush of tears came from. Or to watch my retreating back as I suddenly have to leave the room, no explanation.

I have been to counselling off and on for a number of years now, but the reports of what happened to Jyoti on top of other situations in my life finally overcame my carefully erected barriers and it all fell apart a year ago.

These days I cope by staying as busy as I can.  I get involved easily, but I also get un-involved easily if I recognise that a situation or cause is not right for me.

I know, this morning, that there was another second feeling of inadequacy that triggered the tears. It had absolutely nothing to do with rape or sexual abuse or Jyoti. It had everything to do with me feeling that I had let down my very best friend, my Johnson bulldog Jordan. I discovered some flecks of blood by her bedding, and checked her to see where it had come from. She has an infection in her ear which must have been giving her hell, and I hadn’t noticed it. I am ashamed that I missed something like that in my beautiful girl when I owe her – quite literally - my life. It was Jordan I thought about a year ago when I sat on my bed with a packet of sleeping tablets, at my lowest point ever, and just wanted the pain to go away. I thought about who would look after my two babies – Jordan and her kennel-brother Bundy, an English bull terrier. They are both senior dogs, both rescue dogs, and Jordan has been with me for 6 years – she’s now 11. I couldn’t leave her like that. She saved my life. I owe her so very much. And yet I had failed her.

So this morning the tears came from thoughts of Jyoti, my own survival, and my beautiful best friends. As I finish writing this the tears have stopped and Dario G is singing “the sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”. Perhaps I won’t have a party, but today I think I will take my best friends to the beach, buy some flowers, and leave them along the beach walk in memory of Jyoti. And perhaps also as a simple way of acknowledging that I am still working through the grief about what my life could have, should have been, but for the action of the men who took my freedom and self-respect all those years ago.

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