Category Archives: mental health

The V word…

Vagina, vixen, vaccination, vinyl….. I won’t go on.

What i would like to talk about Vegan products. Disclaimer: I am not vegan.

I have a number of vegan friends, and the reason for their diet is varied, it can be down to health, going ‘free from’, not liking meat, animal rights and everything inbetween.

Now this isn’t the first time that I have spoken about being Vegan – and i was of a mind to write this in January when we were all having the benefits of joining in on Veganuary but you know, life happens!

One of the things that I came accross and that seems to garner a lot of backlash, is Holland & Barrett’s Veganuary campaign. The idea was that you could be a vegan part time. Either you chose to go down the cruelty free makeup route (there is a difference between vegan and cruelty free) or you are vegan only when you are at home. There were a lot of other examples, like I said, an entire advertising campaign was designed around this idea that you could be ‘Vegan: your way’. This seemed especially abhorrent to be people, on both sides of the fence.

Now there is an argument, for example, people not using a brand (Urban Decay, Body Shop) because they are owned by a company that isn’t vegan or still uses animal testing. But this argument for me, fails. SImply because these same people are still shopping in supermarkets that sell animal products, buying a latte in a coffee shop that serves 90% of their hot drinks with cows milk.

Like my previous blog, I would say that buying vegan/cruelty free products no matter where, sends a clear message to companies that this is something to invest in. Now like I have said, I am not vegan, but try my best to buy vegan as and where I can (to the point i rope the fiance into it by making him vegan meals). I don’t like meat, I don’t like the smell, texture, flavour. So for the longest time, I couldn’t understand why people would eat ‘fake meat’. I mean if you won’t want to eat meat, why would you want to eat something that reminds you of meat.

Well it is pretty simple. The meat industry is failing, the amount of stock needed to break even, let alone make a profit makes the farm a bad business model. We don’t have the space either, and with leaving the EU soon, farmers will be losing the EU subsidies that they have become reliant on. That is just the UK. Globally the population continues to rise, and we aren’t able to produce enough food.

So yes, the idea would be that we all become vegan, it would be great if we could help our planet, our selves, stem global warming, and be kinder. But lets be realistic, as anyone who had attempted to diet will tell you, the moment your restrict access to a certain food; the more you want it.

So what do we do? Well we start looking at alternatives, we start looking at like for like swaps, so that people won’t miss the animal by products. And you know what, I am all for it – I am here for the vegan cheese, the vegan pain au chocolate, for the vegan burgers. And I would honestly encourage you to try some. Even if you just do it for one meal. Pop into a super market ( I personally recommend M&S and their fab range) and grab a vegan meal. Sit down with friends or family (both) and see how you enjoy it. Because trust me, you will.

And every item sold, encourages the company to make more, try more, invest more. Which can only be a good thing.

Boys, girls, sex

This morning I watched a man break down toward the end of an interview about having ‘come out’ as being sexually abused as a young footballer. He was asked if he had felt that it was safer now, for children going into football. No, he felt it wasn’t any safer. And is it surprising when you look at the figures?

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In the last year, 748 victims have stepped forward, and 285 people coaches, and otherwise connected with football, have been named. That is a lot of people. This spans decades, the majority of cases from 70/80 and 90’s but there are earlier. And I imagine that there will be more recent.

So is it surprising that Andy suggested that little, if anything had changed? Not only does change take time, statements are still being taken. When you look at those involved, we are looking at people who have since passed and you can’t ask a dead man to give evidence or stand accountable for their actions. And on the other side, we have victims who are older, are parents, potentially even grandparents who have moved on with their lives and don’t want to drag up things from the past.

I admire the strength it has taken this man, to stand up in a very macho environment and call out abuse. He has risked everything in doing so, he has bought a spotlight onto his life, his family, and meant that the last 30+ of his existence has been pulled apart by the media. He has been questioned, risked ridicule, abuse, loss of friendship and breakdowns in his family.

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This is the same old story, one we see played out again and again. Money and power, people are afraid to said something because the people involved are powerful and often, good at their jobs. This can lead to collusion and a witch hunt again the accuser to ensure they are not a believable source. And on top of this we have to remember how slow these things are to move. Is it worth the years of going through questioning, courts, giving evidence and having it all dragged up repeatedly, have to relive stuff that you have spent so long trying to forget, trying to bury, trying not to effect your everyday life.

Now, this bothers me on several levels but as you know, I have a keep interest in banishing mental health stigma, especially among men. And this is what concerns me. This is a footballer, and call them what you like, it is a male institution and concern. 

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I started writing this post in 2017. So really I should be trashing it, starting over, rethinking. This blog was initially written in the pre #metoo world. Now you might think, considering some of the things that i have written about, that I would not really concern myself with things being pre or post such a movement. That it was a long time coming, that eyes should have been open to this a long time ago. 

However, one of the big names to have come out of this is Amanda Heard. We all remember the images of her bruised face, of her harrowing tales of life with Johnny Depp. How the papers salaciously rooted around in their life together, that he didn’t have any money. That one of the reasons that he didn’t have any money is because he was spending an obscene amount on wine. Which in a round about way, was explaining his behavior. 

So what relevance does this have? We have spent at least a year of reports about Johnny Depp losing the plot. that he is putting on weight, he looks haggard, what has happened, how the mighty have fallen. And fall he did – work dried up, and the fact he wasn’t sacked from the Harry Potter films was questioned with some enthusiasm. 

Meanwhile, Amanda has gone from strength to strength, going from a relatively unknown actress, to the sweetheart of Hollywood, a survivor of domestic abuse, the perfect spokes person. 

Well, a couple of weeks ago, there was a whisper that Johnny Depp had filed a defamation claim against Amanda. I searched and couldn’t find anything. Nearly a week went by before I found a couple of articles. The basis of Johnny Depps claim is that Amanda had gone ahead and written an article regarding being in an abusive relationship. This went against the agreement on their previous court case, and subsequent divorce, which was one of none disclosure. 

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Now what this also includes is proof, ranging from impartial witnesses through to surveillance videos that it was Amanda who was the violent partner.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with the beginnings of this article,  but this is it. Men do not get believed. There has been extreme silence on Johnny Depp and his court case. On the possibility that he was not him, but his partner, his wife, a woman, who was the aggressor. There have been a lot of sympathetic articles, pointing out that he was doing his best to protect her. That he allowed it all to play out – in front of the world, took it, and lived with the consequences. Right up until she decided to continue following the settlement. But there have been as many articles questioning why he waiting, why not make a big deal. Why not call her out. 

But mostly, everything is quiet, is there a degree of embarrassment about everyone having turned their back on him. Not believing him, throwing him away. 

And that really is what it is to me, men do not come forward because like Terry Crews who was asked why he didn’t stand up to sexual aggression, there is an unbalance of power. 

Women often are not able to fend off, be it due to physical circumstances, maybe it is down to financial, or any number of reasons, but a man? Who would believe them? They will have their entire being questioned. What man isn’t able to fend an assault off, what man allows themselves to find themselves in that situation, that isn’t able to get out of it, what man allows themselves to be emasculated. 

Say hallo to toxic masculinity. 

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Grief or guilt?

When my great aunt died, it was a massive shock, as I had said in my last blog. I was not something I was at all prepared for. Not that I didn’t realise that she has been unwell, or that she was old, but that I had managed to convince myself that she was just always going to be there.

I am going to assume that this is a fairly normal reaction – that you just can’t see a time when someone isn’t around. That they are just so, present, that life without them just doesn’t seem right?

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I have been grieving for over 2 months. It took almost all that time to stop crying at the drop of a hat. That even thinking about Tante Hilde would mean that I would either expend a lot of energy forcing the tears back, or running and hiding.

The thing, for me, when I reflect on my feelings and consider what I am going though. It is guilt. Like I said in my last blog, I have managed to escape dealing with grief for most of my life so this has hit me hard, I just don’t have the coping skills, or frankly the emotional support network.

Why was I guilty? Was it the fact I couldn’t remember whether I had sent anything at Christmas? Or that I had ignored her phone calls last year – she had left voicemails on my mobile because although I have a landline, I didn’t had an actual phone plugged in. And if I had, no doubt I would have spoken to her. But you know how quickly time passes, you just … forget. days turn into weeks and into months, then you realise that she had last called you to wish you a happy birthday. Last July.

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Or was the guilt over not having been to see her? I recall her comments coming up to her 90th Birthday, that she kept saying that she wasn’t going to see my before she died. And boy, if I thought that cut deep at the time? Nothing compared to how I feel writing that. Realising that although she was saying it to get a reaction, her was making a prophecy.

She was supposed to be alive for longer, she was supposed to at least wait until I got to see her in August. Until I had made my prodigal return to the home I had not seen in over 2 decades. The home I loved and selfishly assumed would just continue to be there. Patiently waiting for my return at a time that suits me.

Guilt because times waits for no man. Time doesn’t give us a reprieve, it doesn’t slow because we are juggling too many things and just need an extra moment. Time just marches on and we are left holding the pieces after everything comes crashing down. That is it, isn’t it? Guilt is for the survivors, the ones that were left behind. The ones that are still here, still working through memories. Wondering what they could or should have done differently.

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It is more than clear to me, that I shouldn’t have kept putting off getting my passport, that a ticket to Germany isn’t all that expensive and staying with my aunt would have been at minimal cost and would have made both of us happy. And because I could only think of myself, because I expected the world to wait until I was ready, she lost out on seeing me and I lost out on precious memories with my great aunt. My grandmother, my hero.

That is the thing, she isn’t close just because I would spend summers with her, Christmas holidays, evening visiting on my own. It wasn’t a relationship of convenience. I really loved her and looked up to her and understood some of her quirks and shared similarities. She was stubborn, headstrong, independent and fierce. I look over her old photos, and I see her smile, her love for animals, I see her climbing trees and I see some of myself in her. I may just be finding things because I want them to be there, I want a small part of her to be reflected in me.

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Because I am guilty that I didn’t spend more time with her. Not that I didn’t have more time with her, I didn’t spend the time I could have had, with her. That was my choice. I could wax lyrical about how obtaining a German passport is a massive ball ache, how the Brits are staunch in their refusal and dragged my heels over an Irish passport.

See? How easy did those excused slip out? Because that is what they are. I am an inherently self absorbed and self centred person. Over the last 3 months I have had reason to reevaluate some of the things I have done, how through laziness (no better word) I had allowed things to happen. And how to build relationships. And while I type this I realise that it has been 2 days since I last spoke to my mother and am going to cut this short to go call her….

 

The long shadow of grief

My great aunt, Tante Hilde had been poorly for a long time. She had many damaging habits, including smoking, drinking and poor eating habits. She was in her nineties and should have moved into a nursing home last year at the very latest. She needed a lot of care and was resistant to having people in her home.

Not the most auspicious starts to a blog but I do tend to write as things come to me and not outline correctly. Three years reading English Lit at uni entirely lost on me.

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In February I went home to celebrate my FIL’s birthday (eightieth) and while there, I had lunch with my mother. My mother had power of attorney for my great aunt. Tante Hilde helped raise my mother, and since I really had no contact with my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents died while I was still in primary school, Tante Hilde was the closest approximation to a grandparent. Certainly the closest relative next to my mother. But I won’t go into my estranged family in too much detail as I can see this blog running away from me and I want to discuss grief.

Now in mid February I discussed getting my paws on a passport (another long story, for another blog) so I could go to Germany with my mother in August. She was planning on going over at the end of March which wouldn’t have given me enough time to get one organised and she was finding the visits increasingly difficult. Not long after my discussion, my aunt had a serious fall in her home and ended up in Hospital. My mother was in contact with both the hospital and local relatives. She was going to be placed in a local nursing home after being assessed and given the all clear by the medical staff. It was looking good and mother had discussed arrangements with the staff at the nursing home. Confident that while my great aunt would not like being in a nursing home and not her own home, she would at least be well looked after.

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And then, Tante Hilde had another fall. My mother was already concerned about the extend of her dementia (undiagnosed but at her age, not unexpected) and following the fall, it was decided that she should have her hip replaced to ease pain and promote recovery.

Which should have been a standard operation, one preformed many times, every day in every part of the globe, in most cases on elderly patients.

However, my great aunt had a D.N.R disclosure. Again, not something that would normally need to be acted upon after a relatively routine operation.

However, my mother received the call. The one that you don’t want to get. The one from medical staff asking for permission to resuscitate your relative. Because you are the only one who can make that choice. So at the end of February, my mother found herself going out to Germany a month earlier than anticipated. To sign paperwork to state that my great aunt was not to have a tube inserted to give her food. That she was to live on purely water until she passed. Which could be up to 3 weeks. Three weeks of watching your loved one, the person who helped raise you, who you ad spent over seventy years with. Who had been at your wedding, watched your children grow into adults. Who at her most vulnerable, could not tell you to ignore the D.N.R disclosure on her records.

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My great aunt died on Mother’s Day – 11th March for those outside the UK.

I remember the day well, I had been speaking to my mother daily while she was in Germany, visiting my aunt and staying in her house on her own. Various family members and friends visiting. There was no particular time for our phone calls, so when I picked my phone up to call Pete to pick my up after my gym session on the Sunday, and saw a missed call from Germany, I didn’t give it a second thought.

I called my mother, still hyped from the gym, expecting her to tell me about her breakfast on the veranda listening to the church bells. But that isn’t what happened. She told me that my aunt had died earlier that morning and I didn’t know what to say, I don’t remember exactly what I said but I remember I tried to distract my mother as I could tell she was on the verge of tears and I couldn’t do anything to comfort her.

I crossed the road and got in the car with Pete and … and I didn’t say a word. I didn’t tell him my great aunt had died. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to think about it. I needed time to process it. To understand.

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On the Monday I did everything possible to try and distract myself. On the Tuesday I was due to have dinner with two close friends. I had to cancel. I was just not able to pretend that everything was okay. I went home, and told Pete that Tante Hilde had died. And I don’t think he really knew what to say or do because I didn’t give him the ques to allow him to help me.

Because I am nearing 40 and this is the first time that I have had to deal with real grief. I had had loss before, I have been to a couple of funerals (although again, all children until a year ago). I had had relatives die – my paternal grandparents died in quick succession not long after I had started to get to know that side of my family. A close friend died this year and that did knock me sideways as it was unexpected.

To a degree, Tante Hilde was unexpected. I was making plans to see her in August. She had smoked at least 40 a day for longer than anyone cares to recall and had the lungs, and stamina of an ox. We often joked that she would outlive us all. So yes, shock was a big part of what I was going through, processing.

I realise that I am rambling but I am trying to get this all out in some sort of order. One thing that hit me hard, and I think has been the hardest thing to process, is losing my home.

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They say home is where the heart is, and I although I was born in England, I have always said that Germany was my home. And I never really had to give it any thought, I didn’t reflect. I grew up speaking German, most of the relatives that I had met or had a relationship with are from my mother’s side.

But what I began to realise is that, my heart, and home, where entwined with Tante Hilde. As I write this, I realise that it sounds like New Age bullshit. But hell, thanks for making it this far?

I have moved around a lot in my life, and I have lived in my current home, longer that any home prior to this. I guess it isn’t all that unusual to many people these days, but it means that I am lacking a rock. I have nowhere I can say stayed the same. But going to my great aunts? It never changed, it was always the same, she didn’t change. The town, for the most part, remained unchanged. There was a routine when we went there. We slotted into the routine without any real thought. Not only had I lost my great aunt, my rock, I had lost my home. I had lost my childhood. My security blanket.

And here we must stop for today because this has although become longer than I anticipated and need to break it up a little.

The long and the short of it …

Short hair.

Now I have been threatening for years, to shave my hair off. It was always an idle threat to a degree. There are a lot of reasons why you second guess doing it. I had been joking about shaving my hair off a lot at work because I have been mistreating it a lot and when we started planning what to do to raise money…. why not shave our heads. We had only been talking about it the week before hand.

So My colleague and I excitedly started making preparations, getting supplies, setting a date. There was certainly a lot of goading between the 2 of us, and it still didn’t seem real until we received our first donations on Just Giving.

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We started getting twitchy. But why? What is wrong with having short hair? It isn’t even down to gender, both men and women are dictated to when it comes to hair. Last week a friend’s child bought home a letter with the minimum length her son could have at school. And how many times are we told, impressed upon, or told that long hair is desirable in women (symbolism a la Mulan).

I haven’t had long hair for a good 5 years or so, I mean I grow it to my shoulders and get bored. But I remember shortly after I cut it all off, I had sat in the car with no makeup and looking in the mirror, saying ‘I look like a boy now’ .. a friend commented on a selfie I had posted ‘so … rock and roll grew up, gave up, and cut her hair off’ (I deserved that, I was pretty rude when he cut off his hair).

Hell, it was probably said in jest, but doesn’t everything have an element of truth? Every time I put on a wig, with long, luscious curls… I feel great. Like my makeup, it is another layer that stops me looking like… me? As an aside, I realised this summer that I have to wear makeup when I wear baseball caps as they hide (hid?) all my hair and facially it left me looking fairly androgynous.

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Since I started writing this post, I have had my hair shaved, so this is becoming more reflective in tone. I won’t lie, it was emotional. For someone who had pretty much emotionally detached herself from her own hair nearly 2 years ago, the thought of losing it was difficult. I even shed a tear – I think that was more the high emotions of the entire day, people telling me how brave I am.

It is funny, this blog post has had 25 (at last count) revisions, I have retyped, deleted, moved, thought things through. What is it. Hair, that is all it is. But as the cover image states, hair is the crown you never take off. We are taught from a young age that long hair is more feminine and throughout history we have seen women being shorn of hair as not only defeminising but dehumanising. And more than that, we have to think that people might worry that there is a medical reason that you have lost your hair (especially if you wear a headscarf like me). And that raises awkward questions, people becoming embarrassed for assuming or asking and you trying to comfort them in their embarrassment.

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But what it comes down to, vanity. It really is that simple, when I get upset about looking like a boy, when I worry about having to wear makeup so I don’t look like an alien (no brows or hair), it is simple, it is because I don’t want to look androgynous, because I lose my sense of identity. But at the same time, not having my hair, it is making me question my vanity. Is hair really all that important, when it comes down to it. I wear wigs FFS so clearly I am not that invested in my hair. It makes me question myself and how I go through life, those moments when I worry about what my hair looks like, when I stop to look in a mirror to check my hair, when I reach to check my hair when I take off my coat, those moments throughout the day that I tweak, brush, move, adjust. 

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I am not brave, I am not fighting anything. It was only hair. I was so blase about shaving it off, and yes, I am not loving it. But me, cutting my hair off? All that has been effected is my vanity. People who are effected by cancer, who have no choice, they are the ones that are brave, they are the ones who deserve our respect.  So while I am not in love with my look, has it changed me? That much? Nope, I need to get over myself and keep my vanity in check.

Those people that we helped with our fundraising, everyone who supports and works with/for Coppafeel every day? They are the ones that we should be raising a glass to. 

And on that note, I am happy to say that we smashed out target of £200, and raised £420 (and counting) 

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Conditioned to say YES

to the dress…. and anything else that comes along.

Have you read about the chap in Bristol who set up a piano and explained to media, far and wide, that he would continue to play until his lady love until she came back to him.

Sounds like something out of a movie… anything from Princess Bride to Love Actually which a fair few infamous episodes from various sitcoms. And let us not forget the knight in white shining armour narrative which is barely questioned. It was only in the 70’s with authors like Margaret Atwood (Bloody Chamber) not questioning that someone might need saving, but rewriting the narrative as to whom is doing the rescuing.

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But let us not forget, as many men are growing up with the idea that they are the protector, the rescuer, the one who ‘does’ that is their narrative. The fact that there are more single parent families than ever has done little to disqualify this sentiment, in some cases, it could be argued that it is causing the idea that boys, need to become men who can look after their mother. A lovely sentiment but would this be the case if their father was the primary caregiver?

I digress, let us look at the Piano Dude, misguided? Enthusiastic? A Romantic? I mean what was he actually doing wrong?? Nothing! I mean what on earth, why am I taking such exception to him doing something entirely harmless, he is playing a piano. The world is watching. The media is primed to see him reunited with his love. And if that doesn’t raise any red flag for you, well… take a seat.

Some of the comments made when I shared the post : Inviting the media? It screams “Hey look at me ladies I’m a vulnerable romantic that has broken heart. I’M AVAILABLE!” At the same time it is also inviting intimidation with a crowd to take him back. There is just so much wrong with all of this.

Yup! If someone says they’re not interested just leave them alone. Being in a relationship and asking them to marry you is a bit different. Unless you just don’t want to get married ever. I’m happy just being with my boyfriend.

Yuk, he seems like a bit of a creep…perhaps why she left him in the first place, if a guy did this to me the only thing he would get is a restraining order

The way to win a woman’s affection isn’t ultimatums.

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Basically as someone who has suffered from violent unwanted advances and stalking. This is a big nope.

A. It screams of entitlement. What right does this woman have to say no. Now she can’t say no. I will embarrass her into compliance.

Compliance, this is slowly grooming a person into acting, saying or doing something you want to them to do. This can be by positive reinforcement (a la Penny and Sheldon in TBBT) offering a reward for doing as requested or wanted, or negative reinforcement where the result from stepping out of line can be physically or emotionally unsavoury. Telling an employer/friend/family member something, making fun of a person, breaking, damaging or removing something. You get the idea. 

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B. It gives others the impression that this is good idea. Either as the suitor or the victim. That big declarations of love are the way forward. That no, does not need to say no. And hell, make sure she was really sure that she is sure by repeatedly asking until she complies.

Like i said, it is wearing someone down – look I get that declarations and expressions of love are great. They really are. But they are also personal. You need to read a person. Four months is not long enough to know a person and certainly not long enough to warrant such a declaration of love. But again, it is wearing someone down and making them eventually agree. What about gut instincts. Yes, she/she may have ticked all the boxes, at the time. But no one, NO ONE is irreplaceable. And while I type that I understand that part of the grand gesture is to make that person feel that they are special. But it just continues to generate unrealistic standards. 

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C. Unrealistic romantic standards a la Hollywood are continued to be perpetuated and normalised meaning violent and abusive relationships are harder to spot and remove oneself from because, isn’t this the dream.

I was thinking about this when I switched my TV on this morning and saw Sleeping with the Enemy on. I have been accused of many things in the course of the discussion of this Piano Player. But my argument here is that he is just a lesson, as a person? Sure we don’t know much about him, but do we know any more about the characters we watch in movies, sitcoms, read about in books? They are all as one dimensional but their actions, never the less, impact on how we then interact. This isn’t to say, NO MORE ROMCOMS but that we open dialogue to understand damaging behaviours that could easily be a subtext and how they influence and how to spot when they become toxic.

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D. Yes I will stand by entitled and frankly women being shot for saying no is enough evidence.

Every day, women are attacked, physically, verbally, and mentally for expressing an opinion. For having a mind of her own, her own strategy, agenda, her own agency. Women are expected to tow the line, to comply. To be agreeable and quiet. Now I want to say, yeah know you. It is just in relationships, it is that ‘9 out of 10 know their …’ but no. No it isn’t the case. women are cat called, shouted at, grabbed by complete strangers because they are still seen a commodity that can be bought and sold and worse (?) still, that has no agency. Remember the shooting a couple of years ago in America because a girl refused the shooters advances? Or my favourite – Brock Turner who decided having merely interacted with a girl at a party gave bum the right to violently rape her? Oh and it was violent and pre meditated and he was trying to hurt her. Power play.

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Now my argument has been thrown back at me, telling me that I am over reacting and that if this is how I feel then like I said above, rom coms should be banned, and a litany of other things. Think banning violent video games and music in the wake of school shootings. That is not what is meant by this discussion and this discourse. This is merely an example to allow points to be made, issues to be highlighted. To open the dialogue about what could be potentially damaging behaviour.

As always, I can only use my female gaze and experience, I full acknowledge that this is not a gender issue and welcome discussion and discourse on this subject.

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Grooming into submission

So let us take a moment to discuss grooming. We are well aware of the word, it is bandied around a lot. We may have a shiver run down the spine as the connotations become clear.

But what isn’t clear is the wider implication of the term. It is no different than the children that we hear about. We stop and think. How did this happen. Why did no one realise, why did no one notice? Put a stop to it, what were the red flags… surely it was obvious?

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Hindsight is 20/20 = that is something we all hear a lot but it is very true. We are able to make logical and reasoned conclusions when the information is laid out for us.

October is the month we will discuss domestic violence. It is not an easy topic. It is not clean, simple, it is not easy. And I want to discuss my own experiences. I have discussed it to a degree over several blogs. It is not something I enjoy discussing. Far from. But I want to give you an insight. What I experienced? Nothing. It is nothing in comparison to what others have experienced.

However, I will share a few things that have happened, with the benefit of hindsight and I am hoping that will help open the conversation up a little.

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I grew up in a violent house hold. This is something that was not really discussed at the time or for a long period afterwards. I remember one afternoon, after dinner. Something had set an argument off between my parents. We were all sitting at the dinner table, the meal had finished. There was a teapot on the table. The plates had been cleared. My brother was sent to his room. I have my back to the rest of the room and parents on either side. There was shouting, screaming. The teapot was thrown. The tea marked the ceiling after that day. The cupboards behind my fathers chair were slammed hard enough for glass to break.

This was far from isolated. My father was a very angry person. If things were not done just so, or when he said there was a raised voice. Hands were raised. Against each other? I don’t think so. I am sure that it was voices and emotional abuse. But that is my mother’s story and not mine to tell. She left with us, when I was 12 years old and not a moment too soon.

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Now fast forward a year or so. I used to go to school in Cornwall and lived in Devon, and not just over the bridge. It took well over an hour to get home. The second bus often had Dockyard workers. One man got talking to me about … look honestly I can’t remember. But he was very complimentary. He liked my purple eye shadow (I loved purple, don’t judge!) and would always make sure to sit next me to talk. Now, at the time I didn’t give it a second though. I was clearly in school uniform the first time he spoke to me and that was always a topic of conversation. I didn’t think there was anything more to it and didn’t for a moment think that I got off the bus practically on my door step was anything to concern myself with. Luckily I got chatting to a couple of kids my own age and this put a stop to anything that may have happened. I am not saying anything would have happened. But does it show you how easy it is?

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Let us move forward to someone I used to spend time with at 16. I had known him casually for a while, we shared similar interests and he met my friends, he was 10 years older than me. I had spent time at his home a number of times and there was never a thought it would be at all inappropriate. He had a live in girlfriend and seemed pleasant, laid back. One day I was hanging out at his house and we where both on the sofa. I was lying down and somehow he ended up lying down behind me. He made a comment about my perfume and I really didn’t know what to say or do. We finished the movie and I went home as planned. A few weeks later, he popped over to my house and we went for a drive. Nothing unusual about this, and I didn’t give it a second thought. Until we had driven to an out of the way car park and he started sliding his hands over my top, on my thigh. Now I was not stupid. I knew what was going on. I didn’t want it to happen and luckily he stopped and we went home. He wasn’t happy and yes, it was my fault, I had led him on and how I better not mention it to his girlfriend or he would tell my mother what a whore his daughter was.

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Now let us move onto the biggie. You see, I had met someone and dating him on and off. Ended up living with him. To say the relationship was complicated was somewhat of an understatement. We dated, we stopped dating, he slept with someone, we slept together, I was completely at his mercy.

This is the one. This is the big one. You see, in both previous (there are other incidents but 3 is the right number I guess) there was a degree of grooming involved. Compliments, listening, just keeping someone company. Similar interests. In older men – when you don’t have experience it is easy to be blamed for leading them on because you may be doing something they expect someone to do if interested. But I will say this. That is an excuse whatever your age and NEVER EVER let someone make you believe it. Well.

This last one, it was over a period of time, and started in my home town, he moved to London. I ended up in London and because I had never really lost contact, we started hanging out again. I knew a lot of his friends group so it was natural that I would fit into his social group again. He worked in the financial district and because I was very much in the PVC and lace goth period, I was somewhat of a novelty. He paraded me around like some toy. Luckily I can hold a fairly civilised conversation and got on well with his colleagues so I was never an embarrassment. But I helped add to his mystique. And all the time he told me I was stupid. Worthless. I worked in a hotel to begin with, then I moved and worked in a bar. I then moved back home and lived with a friend. He couldn’t let me go, this isn’t conceit on my side. He couldn’t let go because I had gone. He hadn’t had a say in the matter. I ended up agreeing to pop up for the weekend. That turned into a week.  I moved in. I can’t even remember it being an actual conversation. Isn’t that the excuse? ‘Oh well she just moved herself in, I felt trapped’. How he only cheated on me because I assumed he already had (he had) but honestly? I was past caring by this point. His flatmate (a mutual friend) had moved out. We moved house. I ended up sleeping on the sofa. It wasn’t something we discussed. I just did it. I needed to give myself some space. He was still sleeping around. He did it with intent. Always from our friends circle. Which shows how fucked up our relationship was. No one knew our status and clearly some people didn’t give a fuck.

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I am editing a lot here, I am sorry. But this is difficult enough as it is and I don’t know anyone wold want to read an even longer blog but please, feel free to contact me if you want to discuss.

So the final move, my boss had recently moved and his house was on the market. So we moved in. We had separate rooms by this point and led fairly independent lives. Up to a point. I remember my close friend spending time with us during all of this and would say what a lovely couple we made, how lovely we were, comfortable together. Well, we knew each other intimately, inside out. He had known me since I was 15. By the time I left? I was 23. That is a big chunk of time to know someone. And formative years. I wasn’t in a relationship with him the entire time but he was there, in the background.

One day, I remember, I was in the kitchen, and chatting to my friends, I had made 2 calls one after the other. I had expressed that I wasn’t happy. One was a good friend, one a relatively new one. Now I honestly can’t tell you who it was at the time. But I was just saying how unhappy I was. There were a number of reasons, failed relationship, money, sleeping on the sofa. I didn’t even realise that he was there. Suddenly he flew into the kitchen. Punched me. While I was on the phone. When I finished my call he called me out for acting shy around him. How I should know he wouldn’t hit me without reason. What always comes back to me especially with this one. The language. The cute names, the terms of endearment. There is something very sinister about someone using a cute name for you. Never using your given name. You know how if someone uses your full name at school? That the headmaster is calling? Or your mother calling your name and if she uses your entire name you may as well dress for your funeral? Well this is the same. The cuter the name, I can’t say them even now. But I remember at the time, I even thought… he cares enough to give me cute names. Social conditioning? It has taken a long time to get over my issue with it. And Batman knows I do it myself. Often I will use an ‘anti’ cute name for people or a level of sarcasm as somewhat of a defence mode. This isn’t to say don’t call your girlfriend ‘cupcake’ ‘sugartits’  whatever, but it is just another little part of the grooming that I endured and I am sure I am not alone but I don’t for a moment assume to project my own experience onto another.

Fighting Fit part 4

What utterly broke me – what was the straw? It was a mutual friend, whom I had spoken to about my issues with him. She knew more than … actually anyone. Because she had known him almost as long as I had, who had dated his best friend. We had an argument and she threw it all back in my face. The argument was not even directly related to me, it was to do with her BF and a mutual friend. So why it got so vicious. I don’t know. But she didn’t believe me. Had she ever? Was she just saying it to hurt me? Clearly I was such a good actress as she questioned it. Why would I still be there? Why would I live there? Why had I not said or done something. I mean… it wasn’t bad he wasn’t hitting me. We weren’t even dating at this point, what was stopping me.

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But all of this? It comes down to grooming. I am sorry, this has been more of a release of information that something more informative. But are you reading this as someone who had suffered from mental or physical abuse. To be told, no one would want you, you are useless, stupid, you did this, you caused this, you are responsible, that somehow, it is your fault. And this is from friends, family, strangers, society let alone your abuser ? When people stand around saying ‘once is enough, I would leave’ and make you feel like shit for staying. For not realising how difficult this is. That is isn’t always as simple as walking away, even if children are not involved? That your life is more than just who you are in a relationship with. It is more people. It is all those friends who you see all the time but don’t see a problem. That hell, might even whisper in his ear, she is no good, you can do better. Who don’t for a moment see the haunted look in your eye.

Because the problem is, behind closed doors people behave differently, when they are at work, when they are with their friends, family, when they are chatting to the barman? That isn’t always the person you see at bed time first thing in the morning, when the dinner isn’t just right, or you hadn’t had a chance to hoover because you were doing over time. Because your friend’s mutual or otherwise will have been won over by them, your family will have gotten to know them over a period of time. Maybe they didn’t agree with them to begin with, maybe now they are part of the furniture. Or won them over, after all you are still with them ?

Grooming is about slowing introducing behaviour that you would not normally tolerate, of changing your tolerance, your habits, of converting your social circle, friends, family. So that the changes are not noticed. It is not over night, it isn’t something that happens over a weekend, it is a long game. It is something that happens slowly, and this is where the danger is.

If you are in a position where you feel you are out of your depth, you need help or support? Or do you suspect someone needs helps?

Please, the worst thing you can do is say ‘well I managed/it is easy/why didn’t you’

Because every story is different, everyone has their own path.

Some places that can help :

Victim Support UK

Women’s Aid UK

Refuge UK

 

 

You’re so pretty when you smile….

So, I have… for reasons known only to journal keepers, been keeping my mental health journey updated here on my blog. I always feel strange whenever I do this because, it is not something I am particularly open about in most other forums.

So, I quit my, not badly paying, relatively speaking, I was comfortable, job working for the NHS which had security and a basic salary… to well.. what exactly. That is indeed the question.

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Now I am working part time in a salon and have had a lot of fun changing up my hair – going through various pink hues, and most recently a blue.

So, to anyone looking on, it looks like I have given up on being an adult, adulting in general, and decided in typical millennial fashion, to be selfish. Because we can’t all run away with the circus as much as we may want to. We have to suck it up, keep trucking, whatever else is thrown at us to keep us going.

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But you see, the world has and is changing, there is no ‘job for life’, it is rare to be able to stay in the same town, or even county of birth, that your family is within walking distance. That you don’t work 40+ hours a week with little, no or negative financial compensation. And that we are looked upon as craven when we suggest that we might want some sort of compensation for working long, unsocial hours. When we turn to social media for support and companionship, but have to remember to be careful what to share because social media is as often as not a screening tool for employers, the degrees of separation are now narrower so you never really know how is able to keep tabs on you.

Now, this blog has the potential to run away from me, so I won’t dig any further, the previous paragraph should give you a taste. It might seem silly that something like social media has such ‘power’ but it is what it is.

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So yes, after a lot of fighting, soul searching, realisations, and reflection, I quit a job in the NHS. There was a lot behind it, a lot of upheaval, stress, bullying – and I realised that as much as I want to be a people pleaser, not to let people down, pride and vanity didn’t allow me to make a bad job or just walk away… But I did. I walked away. And what is something that people almost immediately said ?

You seem so much happier, you are smiling. You look more relaxed.

Such a seemingly simple thing. That thing that people often bandy about, that people shout in anger, that people suggest in frustration. Just quit your job, we are often told when complaining about a bad day. Then you have the worry about what your partner, your family, your friends will say. Will they be judgemental, will they look down at you, laugh at you, will they understand? Or will they just see it as yet another symptom of being a millennial, without the skill set to cope with real life?

Remember. Your. Smile.

Because it is far too easy these days, in an effort to keep up, do everything, remember to eat, to work out, to finish that project, to try out that new restaurant, watch that film, hang out with people that you haven’t seen in a while. It is easy to let things just, slip by.

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Speaking now, it has been a year since I threw all the paper work up in the air and shouted ‘FUCK IT ALL’ while strolling out of the NHS. Well not quite what happened but it is certainly how I would like to remember it.

I really won’t lie, it is hard, so hard. I am working less, earning less, working in a completely alien environment that I also love. I love my work. It is rewarding, I love the people I work for. Of course, I could get another job or 2. But then I would end up in the same place I was this time last year. Juggling jobs, not getting a moment to stop, pause, enjoy life.

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So I guess, I sound like one of those pesky millennial snow flakes, not able to handle being a grownup, running away with responsibilities. But screw it. I want to be happy. I still see people I have worked with, and they still tell me I am happier. I see people I worked with, who just don’t seem happy at all. I honestly understand that not everyone is in a position to change things up on a whim (and trust me I didn’t do it on a whim) but on the other hand, only you can change your circumstances.

Revising Childhood

So it is that time of year, we are over the last year and all the trauma, we have either completely ignored or already forgotten our resolutions. We are realising the fresh new year is already nearing the end of it’s first month.

Have you noticed the nostalgic posts gathering steam? First FB photo versus current profile, memories, anniversaries of albums or lists of albums? I will freely admit I did a round of albums that meant something to me as a teenager. Which lead me to the following conclusion. I have really great taste in music. And I am old.

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You see, I totally understand looking back at what was, what might have been, could have been. And we are now far enough removed from 2016, but still close enough that we are reflective. We look at where we are, what we have managed to do, what have we changed in the last 12 months. Did you do anything we meant to do?

In our show this week (17th Jan) we were looking at age, and the question on what you would tell your teenage self. And what is age?

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One question that was asked on the show – perfect age. I mean you can totally over think this, look at your experiences at different ages or project where you wish or expect to be at a certain age. Me? 25 – I always default to being 25, I know, I know – you are all shocked to hear I am even that old. But why do I default to that age? Well to be perfectly fair it used to be 21, but I realised that I really couldn’t pull that off any more. I mean is there an age where you can honestly, hand on heart state that everything, EVERYTHING – and I mean the fucking planets aligned and angels sang a chorus, was perfect? Guessing the answer is no. But it isn’t really the question Audrey was asking. It wasn’t directed at our own experiences, but rather at the perceived age that we need to or want to be to gain what we need/want. So yes, I still stand by 25. Because it is long enough to get an education, and have experience. Although when I reflect at being back in a minimum wage job, I wonder at my life choices.

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Now when we look at what we would have liked to have known as a teenager, what life, experience, wisdom, age and reflection has taught us? Well.. nope. I wouldn’t. I may well be in the minority in this. But as much as there are several missed opportunities in my life, both work and love. I have moments, I am sure we all do, where we think about what might have been. But that is a fantasy and not reality. Because… and my not so inner hippy coming out now – life if a journey. The person we are today is a product of everything we have been through up to this point. So to change even one thing, will have a massive consequence. It sounds simple enough to say ‘be more confident’ ‘you will do the thing’ ‘don’t go out drinking instead of studying’ but actually… that all leads you to the person you are today. And by dwelling on what might have been, or what you should have done, you are missing a very important point. You are the only person who is responsible for your journey. And you need to realise, accept and understand this.

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Now something that I want to round this out with, perceived age, what you needed to or should have done, and actually dating. For me to say I will date someone younger than me. at my age? Not an issue. I have got to an age now that I would say that there are much more important things than age when looking at a partner. When you are say, 20 the issue is slightly more … obvious. So while we could white wash age, and state it is just a number, I think the point that we miss is that we need to have LIVED to be able to do that, and no amount of soul search, reflection or wishful thinking will help that. With age comes wisdom. We are able to make informed choices, we are basing them on experience not just our own, but experiences our peers have gone through and that we are able to critically analyse.

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What I am slowly getting at, in a way so round about you probably didn’t see it coming is that we need to stop assigning such importance to age. Age, like maturity, is not something easily assigned. There is no right time, no end time, no cut off point.Equally there is no point in looking back and wishing. All we can do is be flexible in our approach to all things and know that we are the architect of our destiny and journey. Blame can be placed no where else.

With that in mind – be at peace with what has been. It is in the past and has become part of the person you are today. But you can do nothing to change the past. You are though, in control of your future – ENJOY!

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Asking for it

So, as an introduction to this blog post :

Myth: Wearing revealing clothing, behaving provocatively, or drinking a lot means the victim was “asking for it”.

Fact: The perpetrator selects the victim- the victim’s behavior or clothing choices do not mean that they are consenting to sexual activity

Two-thirds of rape survivors know their attacker; more than a third of rapists are a family member or friend of the victim. The statistics are even more extreme on college campuses, where 80 to 90 percent of sexual assaults involve students who know each other

Jaclyn Friedman, sexual assault educator and author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety, told Cosmopolitan.com via email. “There is evidence that rapists choose victims based on how vulnerable they’re perceived to be. Will they go along? Will they make a fuss? There is literally zero evidence that rapists choose victims based on how sexy or sexual they’re perceived to be. None. Not one study. If that old toxic myth were true, someone would have been able to prove it by now.”

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 It is the myth that a woman dressing in a provocative manner, or one that drinks, or any other behaviours that might suggest in a non verbal way that she may have loose morals, will be a more likely rape victim. This is harmful in several ways, and I want to explore this in the hope that it might help further dispel the myth.
The first way that this is harmful is that it tells girls that if they dress in a certain way, they have to be expected to be treated in a certain way. This might be directly, through family and friends, or indirectly in society, via pop culture. This gives the girl low expectations but also might lead her to make poor choices for a number of reasons.
The second way is that it tells girls who are not dressed in a provocative way, or not drinking, not going out or generally behaving in a way that society dictates as ‘unladylike’ that she will be protected. That it will never happen to her. 
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Now if you look at both side by side, it is equally destructive. In the first instance the rape or assault may go unreported because the victim doesn’t feel that anything wrong happened, or that she will not be believed. In the second instance, the victim may not have skills to protect herself, and may let it go unreported because she isn’t sure that anyone would believe her. On one hand, we have a victim who feels that she should have expected it, on the other a victim who feels she shouldn’t have expected it with exactly the same result.
And in both cases, society has trained the victim to accept that the reason she was attacked is through something she has or hasn’t done. Victim blaming, which is abhorrent but easily done, you list the things that led up to the attack. What were you wearing, what did you say, what did you do, did you drink too much, say too much? What could you have done differently? What would you do differently? And this is compounded by the treatment you receive at the hands of professionals (although they may be compassionate) but then you have society at large. The fact I even used the phrase ‘loose morals’ says a lot about how little society has not moved on. And because of this a victim will not want to say anything to family and friends, so there will not be the support network you might traditionally have. 
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I know many women who have been attacked, assaulted and in extreme cases, raped. The worst thing is, the figured I quoted at the beginning of the post, they are not lying. In most cases, the victim not only knew the attacker. But knew them well. Not in a passing, barely know his name, but enough to trust him.
A friend recently recounted an episode that thankfully was a near miss as her partner called, but she got into a car with someone she considered a friend to get a lift home instead of getting a taxi. A friend who proceeded to drive in the opposite direction to her house although he knew exactly where it was. She was tipsy but she was not drunk, and has since questioned what happened. Why as she picked, what was he thinking, how can she possibly trust her friends? This was someone she had trusted enough to have in her house on several occasions.
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Personally, I had a bad experience as a teenager which little experience of men. A friend, older, kept pushing boundaries, every so gently. Subtle even, to see what my limit would be. Thankfully, as inexperienced as I might have been, I did managed to extract myself from the situations with no physical damage (I can’t say mental as it has taken years to undo but I won’t go into it). But it makes me wonder how many other women, girls, might find themselves in a similar situation? And this was before the internet, mobile phones. So in a way I was less protected as I had no way of getting help if needed. But it also meant that I was able to cut him out of my life pretty easily.
Something that happened a couple of years ago, again makes me see a pattern of boundaries being tested. I was waiting to be served at a bar, suddenly a hand is touching my bottom. Not over my clothes, no, a man whom I hadn’t even noticed, let alone spoken to, had taken it upon himself to force his hands literally into my knickers. Why did he do it? I mean obviously it was because I was a little drunk, I was wearing a corset, full length tutu and pink wig, that must have been what made him think it was a great idea, or that I would be up for it. On my way to the bar, I was asked a few times if I was celebrating an impending wedding.. hen night maybe. Did this guy think that I was up for one last hurrah before getting married? (for the record, I wasn’t, I had dressed up for a themed burlesque show). He was drunk, he probably didn’t really think things through. My reaction was to immediately grab his hand and twist it up behind his back. Then calmly order my drink and take it back to my table. He spent the night stalking me. Because I was obviously a willing accomplice? 
Do you see what I did in that last explanation? I am trying to legitimise and justify the guys reaction. Because that is what you do when something, good or bad happens to you. You try and rationalise it, make excuses, explain it. 
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This is not okay, there is no stereotype for what a victim of assault or rape looks like, there is no stereotype. The fact is, you are more likely to be targeted by someone you trust and because of that, your defences will be down. Of course many, many people are attacked by complete strangers, but again this is not dependant on time of day, area, activity. It is a crime of opportunity, like many crimes. So to try and work out what you did wrong or could do differently is unhelpful.
The fact is, what you wear, how much you drink, how you get home, who you speak to and in what way, will have no bearing on your potential to be a victim. So we need to bury the myth that the way you dress has any bearing on you as a person. We need to stop searching for visual clues and be more understanding. We need to make sure that we are opening our eyes, and listening, and stop being so judgemental.
For anyone who may have been a victim of a crime and isn’t sure where to turn, this website may be of some help Victim Support UK and it is worthwhile looking locally as there are often support services and groups organised by local charities and or NHS trusts.
One last thing…… simple words…. ‘I believe you’.