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Voices VO LU M E S I X


Voices is a student-led campaign headed by Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union, providing a platform for people whose voices might previously have been lost in the noise.

Trigger Warning This volume contains language which may be offensive to some readers and references to issues which may be triggering to survivors. Stories deal with: abuse (page 66), chronic illnesses (12, 40, 48, 54), discrimination (60, 66), eating disorders (4, 24, 36, 44, 60), mental illness (8, 20, 28, 46), self-harm and suicide (20, 28, 46), sexual assault, harrassment or rape (16, 32, 50, 58, 62). If you need to talk to someone, please contact the Student Support Services team or visit fxu.org.uk/welfare

VOICES VOLUME SIX SURVIVORS O C T O B E R 2018


Survivors A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR


Welcome to the first edition of Voices Series Two. We’re delighted to be back after such a successful launch last year. This year, we begin to tackle a wider range of topics, commencing with Survivors. As always, our aim is to provide a platform for those who feel that their voice has been lost in the noise. This edition tells the stories of 19 survivors who have been through ordeals in their lives which they have overcome or are currently battling. In a world where survivors often feel ashamed to talk about what they have experienced, or scared that they won’t be believed, it is crucial that we stand together to change that. The people in this publication have bravely stepped forward to lead the fight, reaching out a hand to those who might still feel isolated by what life has handed them. Allie Guy Editor-in-Chief


EMMA BAKER


7 I was not always aware of it, I felt the weight of that expectation and responsibility. I come from a privileged background which I have always felt undeserving of, and guilty for. When you stop eating, you also stop feeling. Denying myself food was a way to numb my emotions, to mask my deeper insecurities. My experience of an eating disorder has been a journey. In the beginning, I felt special. My eating disorder told me that losing more weight, faster

F

than anyone else, meant I was better than others. Eating disorders are often competitive and I compared myself to everyone. I was selfish (more so

or six years, I have suffered from an eat-

than your average human being). I was completely

ing disorder. It began as an attempt to lose some

self-absorbed. Eating disorders are intensely pri-

weight and get a bit fitter. I have always been con-

vate, they force you to isolate yourself, to push

scious of my size; I am tall and naturally athletic,

others away. In order to survive, they need you to

so I will never be ‘petite’. At the time, I believed my

listen and obey. They are your most loyal friends

insecurity and desire to be smaller were just to look

because they have to be. My eating disorder served

a certain way but, retrospectively, I have learned

me. It gave me a focus and a sense of certainty, at

that it was caused by something much deeper. An

a time when I felt so lost. I have encountered many

eating disorder is a coping mechanism. Changes in

others who have suffered, or are suffering from,

weight and disordered eating are just symptoms;

an eating disorder, and/or other mental illnesses.

physical manifestations of a mental illness.

I used to look at people in recovery, or who had

No matter how much weight I lost, it was never

recovered, and all I would see was the weight gain.

enough. I always felt too big, too greedy, like I took

For years, I saw recovery as a failure; the thing that

up too much space. I didn’t think I deserved to eat.

scared me the most.

My self-esteem was so low. When I look back at

In year 13, my illness peaked. Years of restricting

old photos, I can’t believe I was ever so small. It

had inevitably led to a period of binging, through

shocks me and scares me that I couldn’t see it at

which I unintentionally became ‘weight-restored’.

the time. An eating disorder is all-consuming. It

Mentally, I was the sickest I’ve ever been. I was de-

is a demon inside your head, yet it was also my

pressed and anxious. Instead of restricting, I was

best friend. It gave me a sense of control when

self-harming in other ways. At that time, I couldn’t

everything else felt uncertain. Weight loss gave me

cope without my eating disorder. I’d seen various

a sense of achievement. My eating disorder was

professionals in the past, but after some negative

not triggered by a single significant trauma. I be-

experiences (mostly because I was unwilling to

lieve it was a combination of factors: the society

engage), I had since refused all further offers of

in which we live, my self-critical and perfectionist

counselling. I never felt ‘sick enough’ to justify the

nature, a relentless fear of failure, my inner vulner-

support; I hadn’t been ready to let go. I still wasn’t,

ability. I wanted people to know that I was fragile.

but this time I had no choice. I was incredibly for-

I am the eldest of four sisters and, academical-

tunate that my family were able to afford a private

ly, I have always been a high-achiever. Although

counsellor. At first, I only saw her because I had to,


EMMA BAKER

but I am so grateful that I was made to. I cannot express how much she helped me. I saw her for eight months; from Christmas until I left home for university. I was in no way recovered, and physically I was close to my lowest weight, but mentally I was so much stronger. Counselling gave me the skills and understanding of myself that would later be so crucial to my recovery. In this time, I also took up running. Throughout school, I played team sports at a high level and, when my eating disorder developed, I used running purely as a means to lose weight. Although that was partly how I fell into it again, this time, running was more than just a way to burn calories. Running became therapeutic, as I got fitter and it got physically easier; it became almost meditative. When I run, I am present. I used to dismiss the idea of mindfulness, but the headspace I get from running outside (and of course, the endorphins) are now a fundamental tool of mine; a much healthier way of coping. Of course, for a long time, I ran too much and ate far too little. There is a fine line between exercising for its benefits and exercising as a means of self-harm. It took time to find that balance, to be able to go on a 20-minute dog walk with my mum, instead of a 10-mile run on my own like my eating disorder wanted. My recovery has been gradual. When I started university, my weight continued to drop. Physically, I was the sickest I’d ever been. I wasn’t enjoying my course and I still wasn’t ready to recover. I managed my depression and anxiety by restricting what I ate. I was lucky enough to share a flat with some genuinely lovely people, but my eating disorder prevented me from socialising.

There is a difference between giving up


9

Mentally, I was relatively stable but consumed by my illness. At the end of my first year, I made the decision to transfer courses. I moved out of halls and to a new campus. I met new people who I really connected with. The course was entirely new to me and, on top of investing in new friendships, I had less time and energy to spend preoccupied with food. Once more, my weight began to increase. Weight-restoration (rather than gain; the weight was never meant to be lost) is so hard. At first, I tried to resist it, to deny it, but the closer I came to

and knowing when you have had enough.

letting go, the more of life I gained. With an eating disorder, you lose more than just weight: relationships, a social life, exam results, the trust of loved ones—something shifted. I started to see others who had recovered as strong. I looked up to them. I no longer wanted, or needed, pity. The last six months have been a challenging journey. Learning—or rather giving myself permission to accept—what I look like and who I am. There is a quote that I really love, which says, “There is a difference between giving up, and knowing when you have had enough”. Beauty is confidence—and that comes from accepting the person you are within. I am so grateful to everyone (and my body) for being so patient and for sticking by whilst I figured that out. I’m just sorry it’s taken so long. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. My illness has made me the person I am today. I’m not perfect. Life is messy and ugly. But I have so much more empathy and understanding, and infinite patience for anyone experiencing what I did. Time and love heal all things.


DANIEL GRAHAM


11

I

t was the first year of my GCSEs, in 2011,

around February. We had our PE session in the gym and I was using the pull-down weights when something malfunctioned and I slipped. When I slipped, I fell on a metallic hook, which dug into the back of my spine. I thought nothing of it. I just thought it was going to hurt for a little bit. So I carried on the rest of the day. Days and months went by and I noticed I was putting on tracksuit bottoms and there were lots of little blood spatters around the lower back. I went to A&E and they looked and the wound hadn’t healed. It’s something called a pilonidal cyst, it’s like the skin expands and doesn’t close over and scab.

I was clinically dead

A year on, and I had different treatments to try

and treat it without going into surgery. Eventually, in November that year, they operated and removed the pilonidal cyst to help increase the growth around the area. Then I was on bedrest. They were like, “We’ll rush you to school”, so the rehab was rushed. I had to go in and out of the doctor’s every day to get my dressing changed. In that process, an infection got into the wound because it was still closed over and the pilonidal cyst returned. At the base of my spine, there was an abscess, which is a build up of infection about four to five centimetres. The danger was that if it exploded, it would either make me wheelchair-bound or it would cause a spinal tear, which would cause cardiac arrest and kill me. So they operated again to strip out the pilonidal cyst and drain the infection. This would have been in March 2012, a couple of months before my final GCSE exams. Afterwards, when I was in the resuscitation unit, I found out that, attached to my back, was this machine. It’s called a VAC. It was an experimental treatment. It’s supposed to promote regrowth of skin tissue, so it’s able to circulate blood.


DANIEL GRAHAM

Two days after, I was back home and the VAC

about the size of my fist. Because of the shock and

started leaking blood—my blood. Not like the

trauma, and being confined and being contorted,

specks I’d found months earlier, but proper gushes

my muscles completely retracted into themselves,

of blood. I called my mother. She came round and

like minor atrophy episodes. Every time I walked,

helped me. The ambulance services couldn’t fit me

I would just get massive cramps and it was so ag-

onto the gurney with the VAC on. I had this tape

onising. During that time, I was doing my GCSE

thing on my back that held it on, so it was like

exams with a massive hole in my back, recovering,

when you have a plaster and you want to remove

completely exhausted.

it. I had this massive thing, probably twice the size

Eventually, I transferred to North West Regional

of an A5 piece of paper, ripped off. I was in agony.

College, which was an artsy type college. The em-

I was rushed to hospital for the emergency services

barrassing thing was obviously walking in with

to cauterize the wound. Before then, I was clini-

a walking stick when you’re 17 years of age. The

cally dead from shock and trauma from the blood

trauma and the blood loss had caused a lot more

loss for 12 seconds.

physical and mental damage. I was very aggres-

When I came to, they explained what had hap-

sive with people and I was obviously embarrassed,

pened. Because of my weakened state from the

walking with the walking stick. Around this time, 16,

anaesthetic, the VAC machine had taken a blood

17, everyone’s getting in their stride socially. Then

vessel and ripped it off along with something

there was me, in my room, in my house, wondering


13

No one really got that. No one ever got that. if I was going to die that day. In my mind, this was

find my place in the world. No one really got that.

the age group who’d abandoned me, this was why I

No one ever got that.

had to be confined. The only thing I had was books,

I got help through more experiences, through

and the knowledge I had, and you couldn’t just go

talking to people. I just generally have a bigger ap-

in and go, “Oh, look, I know all this really cool sh*t”

preciation for the little things. I feel like some peo-

because that’s just pretentious.

ple take those minor social encounters for granted.

I had lost everything. I had to really build my-

From this experience, I learned you can’t take the

self from the ground up. I went to go and see one

people who really are close to you, the people you

or two specialists and, apparently, from the trau-

really do love, for granted. Obviously, I’ve gotten

ma I had developed an antisocial personality dis-

over a lot of the psychological issues. I knew I had

order, borderline personality disorder, and mild

to shake them off and work through them. Looking

cases of psychosis. I had a lot of hallucinations.

back, it’s this very weird relationship I have with

Antisocial personality disorder is also a name for

the entire event. If I didn’t have it, I don’t even think

psychopathy, which is a lack of emotions, a lack

I’d be here now because it was the catalyst that set

of empathy; there was this emotional numbness I

me on this career path, on this life path.

had to work through. Everyone else was normal. Everyone else had this great life and great summers, and I was freaking out, panicking, trying to


JESSICA JACOBS


15


JESSICA JACOBS

I

me and I cried for about ten seconds, just kind of am currently surviving, not quite yet a sur-

balled my eyes out, then it just stopped. Then, for

vivor of, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. I was di-

the rest of the day, I didn’t cry at all. I was chatting

agnosed in February of this year.

with my mum because I had to get blood at the

The week before the Christmas holidays I was

hospital that day, so we were there for a while af-

in the flat on my own. I was getting ready to head

terwards. It was a weird rush of emotions and then,

home to see my parents and I just woke up feeling

yeah, we moved on.

really odd. I felt like I was coming down with ter-

The doctor called me up and said I could go

rible flu and I didn’t really want to get out of bed.

to Exeter but recommended that I go to Bristol,

Throughout that week I kept having fainting spells

so that is where we went. We drove that night. The

and feeling tired and breathless. It felt basically

next morning, the doctor told me it could be be-

like bad flu. I went to my dad’s for Christmas and

tween five to seven months of treatment before

I was still feeling tired and nauseous and just not

I could go onto maintenance, which I’m on now.

engaging with anything around me. Christmas is

My mum counted for me: for seven months and

supposed to be a time for the whole family to get

two weeks I was in Bristol. Three months I actually

together and I just didn’t want to do anything.

spent in hospital and then four months after that it

It took a while for my dad to realise something

was four or five days because I was well enough to

was wrong, telling me I wasn’t drinking enough wa-

stay at this charity accommodation near the hos-

ter, not moving enough, and not getting enough

pital, which was why I didn’t come home.

fresh air. Going to my mum’s the day after Boxing

It was tough in hospital. You become a bit in-

Day, I had a blood test at the local GP and a

stitutionalised and you become a bit reliant on

week later was told I was severely anaemic. I had

the doctors and nurses. It was a bit of a routine

a lowered immune system which is why I caught

of waking up, having my blood taken, having ob-

so many colds the previous months, I had a B12

servations, having breakfast, seeing the doctor and

(folate) deficiency, which was a bit of a red herring

then waiting for anything exciting happening dur-

for the doctors. The doctor was reading me a list of

ing the day.

what I might have and at the end she said cancer,

For the first two weeks, I was essentially a

but told me not to worry, they were just doing it to

pin cushion, taking blood every day. Some of my

cross the Ts and dot the Is.

chemotherapy went into my muscles, which isn’t

I saw that doctor on Friday and on Sunday I

great when you have a fear of needles. But, lucki-

was in A&E because I was so severely anaemic; I

ly, they fitted a line, which is like a large cannula,

was barely moving. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t eating,

which they can keep in for a long period of time.

I just wanted to sleep.

I had two lines in total. I had a central line put in

Two weeks later, in hospital, they still couldn’t

first, which went into my chest and tunnelled under

understand why, after giving me blood and not

the skin, over the collarbone and into the atrium of

being anaemic, I would just become anaemic

the heart. When they put mine in, they put it in too

again. Then they perfomed a bone marrow bi-

far and it was tickling against the wall of the heart,

opsy and that was what diagnosed me. But, like I

giving me all sorts of problems. I was getting heart

said, this was six weeks after getting ill. It was a bit

palpitations, I had tachycardia. The fastest my

of a rollercoaster.

heart went to was 160 beats per minute. I felt like I

It’s a bit of a bombshell to be told you’ve got

was going to pass out. I almost pressed the emer-

cancer. I was in the doctor’s office when she told

gency button at that point. But after a CT scan,


17 they realised it was too far into my heart, took it out and gave me a new line. Terrifying but alright. I was too old for anaesthetic, I could only have local, so they just gave me heavy sedation. So I guess I’ve been high a lot. I had my pick line out after my seven months in Bristol and now I only need to do a blood test once a week. Getting the line out was just the most amazing moment for me because my nurse just pulled it out and gave me a plaster—that was it and I could just go home. Proper home. It’s strange being home. I feel a bit sick and a bit tired and I haven’t really gotten out of bed today. I’m getting used to feeling a bit more normal but still being sick. I still take a lot of tablets, amounting to over 100 a week, and I still have to go back to Bristol once a month. But I don’t feel as awful as I did before, in hospital, and not having to feel like a cancer patient all the time is great. Before I was diagnosed, I was sleeping 15 hours a day but, during chemo, it was a different level of pain. They were able to give me different things for different pains. I got randomised onto a highly powerful drug which made me feel awful. I was losing weight because I couldn’t stomach anything and splitting headaches. It was almost as if sleeping was the only thing that could make it bearable but, sometimes, no matter the anti-sickness drugs, I couldn’t escape from feeling like that. The worst feeling was when I felt nauseous but I just couldn’t get rid of it. A lot of the side effects were a bit like a hangover, but just without the fun of the night before. I’m aiming to move on from this. It’s been such a big part of my life but it’s been so traumatizing I just want to forget about it. It has changed me. I’m not the person who I was this time last year. I just want to learn from it and live with a new perspective. It has taught me a lot about life and being healthy and, right now, that is all I want to be. Happy and healthy.

Soon I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t eating


HARRY BISHOP felt physically sick and when he loosened his grip I ran to the bathroom and heaved over the toilet. My hands were shaking and I felt dizzy. My trousers were still around my ankles. He quietly entered the room with a bottle of water and handed it to me before laughing about what had just happened

I

and telling me not to tell anyone or else my mum would kick me out. So I didn’t. I woke up at 5am on Christmas morning and sat on the edge of the often struggle to look at myself in the mir-

bath, in pain, and cried because I wanted to tell my

ror; I have eczema and chapped lips, white lumps

mum, but I was scared to lose her. So I didn’t tell

around my eyes, a flaky scalp, I’m overweight, I’m

her—and it happened again and again and again. I

often short on sleep and have bags under my eyes.

became numb to it, kind of.

I am my own biggest critic but I can feel the rest of the world scowling at me, too.

Four years later, on a Sunday evening, I rang a friend and told them everything. I don’t know

I was bullied at school for being fat and femi-

where it came from but I blurted it out. They told

nine. I distinctly remember one time during Sports

me that I needed to tell someone at school. I dis-

Week, when all of your years were in the changing

missed it; there was no way, after all this time, that

rooms together, two boys from a couple of years

I was going to tell somebody at school about this.

above took my clothes and pinched different parts

I didn’t need to. After Monday morning assembly, I

of my body and held me so I couldn’t move and

walked out and headed to my first class but heard

made the rest of the room laugh at me. I suppose

the footsteps of one of my favourite teachers be-

you could say I didn’t have the best time in school.

hind me and in a split second moment I turned

I didn’t really have proper friends, just people that

and asked to speak to her. That was the moment

I co-existed on the playground with. I wouldn’t go

my life changed forever and there was no going

out after school and I kept myself to myself.

back. By the second period I was walking to the

We would go to a family friends’ house every

Assistant Headteacher’s office with a friend and

Friday and the parents would stay downstairs and

teacher. The moment I sat down I burst into tears

catch up and the kids would go upstairs and play.

and curled in the arms of my friend, sobbing so

After a while, my brother, who is four years old-

hard I couldn’t breathe. I was so scared and I felt

er than me, didn’t have to come with us anymore

like I was losing control over my life. Everything

because he was old enough to stay home. That’s

was just spilling out.

when things changed. Their son, who was about

And so began a process of police interviews

the same age as my brother, started being weird

and sexual health meetings. Two months later,

with me. He would talk to me a lot about sexual

the Assistant Headteacher brought my mum into

stuff and make me do sexual things. This went on

school to tell her and I waited anxiously in the

for a while and then he started telling me I was

library to be brought into the room once she’d

fat and ugly, why I didn’t have a girlfriend, how

been told. The Assistant Headteacher looked tear-

nobody would ever love me—not even my mum.

ful as she came to collect me and said that my

I didn’t understand where it came from or why

mum was very upset. I walked in and she squeezed

he was doing it. Eventually, on Christmas Eve, he

me so hard in a cuddle and told me how much

raped me. I remember being in so much pain that I

she loved me. I was so relieved. I had gone from


19


HARRY BISHOP

an unbearable and irrational fear, forced into my head by a manipulator, to feeling like I could actually go through this process and I wasn’t so afraid anymore. I really do have the best mum in the whole world. Two years later, we took our case to court, where his defence barrister spent hours breaking me down. After a week of giving evidence, it was a mistrial. Four months later, I had to do it all over again and this time it was even worse. I had a panic attack looking at the court building. I had been prescribed fluoxetine and diazepam to cope with my anxiety and depression being caused by the whole thing, and then I had to spend another day giving evidence in court. After you give evidence, you’re not allowed to talk to anybody else who is a witness, so I wasn’t allowed to see my family and was put in a separate room on my own. One by one, my family went in and each one of them came out crying and telling me they were sorry. On Friday, 21 March, after only a couple of hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a not guilty verdict. The whole room looked at me and the weight of ten people’s emotions fell on my shoulders. I saw the tears fill up in my mum’s eyes, the rage across my brother’s face, even the Officer in Charge was stood staring blankly at the wall, trying to hold back tears. My mum’s Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) was trying to comfort my mum, even Victim Support sat there trying not to cry, my brother’s girlfriend held my brother, tears in her eyes, my stepdad looked away defeated, and my friend sat next to me waiting for however I was going to react. As I looked at the room, all I could say was, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay”. I shook the hand of my barrister and thanked him for presenting our case both times (something he didn’t have

There are just two people in the world that know what happened


21

to do). As we left the court grounds, my stepdad,

wasn’t okay. But in second year, with a push from

brother, and his girlfriend went to get the cars, the

the best friends I’ve ever had, I tried one last time

Officer in Charge walked one way, Victim Support

and reached out to Cornwall Rape & Sexual Assault

another, and my mum’s ISVA another. It was in that

Centre who, when I asked, gave me a female coun-

moment that it all hit me and I collapsed in a ball

sellor and we clicked. I was ready to move past

of tears and everyone came running back to com-

all of that anger and hate and start giving time to

fort me. I know it sounds stupid but these people

Harry. I forgive him for what he did to me because

had become like a family to me. They believed me,

being filled with all that hate only hurts me, and

and I had this support network around me, and I

in that space inside of me I have built somebody

was about to lose that and never see these people

who I am truly proud of. I have pushed myself and

ever again, and that is the part that broke me.

spend every waking moment trying to overcome

There are just two people in the world that

my inner saboteur. I created a drag persona and,

know what happened and that is him and me. ‘Not

for the first time in years, stepped back onto a

guilty’ does not mean that the person is innocent.

stage. I became a volunteer at Truro Crown Court

The court system states that you must only give a

because I wanted to give back (stepping back into

guilty verdict if you are 100% certain that the per-

a courtroom had become a fear). I started getting

son on trial committed that crime. From believing

good grades at university because I was actually

that person is innocent to being 99% sure they did

engaging with my course. I surrounded myself with

it, you must give a not guilty verdict.

some of the best people I’ve ever met and I ran to

My trial broke me. During the whole process, I

be the next President Community & Welfare.

was not offered support because I was a man. My

People often ask me whether, if I could go

mum was entitled to more support than I was. I

back and change what happened to me, would

reached out to Survivors UK, the men’s rape sup-

I? And, of course, if I could go back and not get

port charity, who told me they could only support

raped, of course I’d choose not to. But the reali-

people over 18. When I was eventually offered

ty is I can’t. So what happened to me, happened

counselling, I was asked what I wanted and all I

to me. But it has shaped who I am today and it

asked for was a female counsellor—I was then giv-

has given me a drive and energy to campaign on

en four male counsellors. I gave up.

this issue—to give a voice to other survivors. Not

My mental health at university was not good, I

and that is him and me.

everybody gets to have the happy ending I’m living right now and we who have overcome these battles must use our collective strength to help others out of that black hole—together we can fight back against this. I’m proud of the person looking back at me in the mirror.


AMBER SKYE


E

23

very day is a battle of living or surviving.

With all the odds stacked against me, I fight to live the best life I can imagine. I wish to tell my story to inspire people and raise awareness of mental health, trauma and disabilities. Please do not pity me but, instead, learn from me and my struggles. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a voice, I just wish I’d used mine sooner. My name is Amber Skye Higginson and this is my story. It all starts with a leg twitch; one little movement begins it all. Aged 11 and fresh into secondary school, I lay in bed unable to control my leg from moving. Fast, sudden involuntary movements developed and worsened until my whole body would twitch. The feeling of complete lack of control and uncertainty of your body is a feeling one cannot articulate; for there is none like it. The joy I had as a young child quickly faded as I became familiar with darkness and fear. Mentally struggling and suffocated with intrusive thoughts, my skin became an outlet. The desire to express and visualise this internal torture gifted me with scars and a damaged and broken body. I was 13 when I woke up one day and had little control over my speech, body or actions. That evening I swallowed all of my antidepressants; the first of countless attempts. Terrified of having to live a life where I had little control over my body, I found myself spiralling downwards. I had appointment after appointment, test after test, until I was 15, to get my diagnosis, which (as suspected) was Tourette’s, alongside depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In the mix were anorexia and trichotillomania (hair pulling). It didn’t take long before I was hospitalized and was placed in an adolescent mental health unit. It was a short stay at my first of seven different units. I started to feel slightly better after the stay and I finally had a diagnosis, I had some clarity. That summer was incredible, I went to a festival, hung out with good friends and just had a


AMBER SKYE

lovely time. I thought things were working out until

the toilet. My dignity, human rights and hope were

school kicked back in—and boy it kicked.

stripped from me. The patients around me pan-

Kids at school would be complaining about

icked me and the sound of emergency alarms rang

struggling with homework, relationship issues,

through my ears constantly. In my lowest point,

drama, while I was struggling to keep myself alive

everyone around me wanted to push me beneath

and sane. School soon became too much, as my

the shaking ground I stumbled on. These hushed

health was increasingly risky, disruptive and un-

voices will never hurt me, I said, while their words

manageable. Yet there was one thing that I held

lingered under my skin, echoing and circling my

firmly on to throughout it all, no matter what…

mind. Being kept safe resulted in being taken hun-

music. There was no better respite nor escape than

dreds of miles away from my family and home,

when I was sat at a piano playing to all the amazing

restrained, sedated, and this lead to trauma and

people in my life, singing along to my guitar when

fears I still battle with every day.

everyone was out of the house, as I was trusted

After six months in hospital, I returned home.

and well enough to be alone. I remember just sing-

By this time I was heavily institutionalised and

ing my heart out, discovering and experimenting

struggled to do anything other than survive. For

with my voice, building up confidence and lots of

a year, I fought at home with visits from a sup-

hours of practice.

port worker and carers who helped me with daily

I used music as a positive release and distrac-

tasks. Despite my very best efforts, I had to return

tion from the hell I was living in. It was, and is, so

to hospital and was once again sectioned. I used

important and holds the foundations for my entire

my skills that I’d learned so I could manage at

recovery. I dreamed of helping people with music,

home and I was transferred to a quieter, open unit

so here I am, getting back into university. With all

that was close to home. During my time there, I re-

the excitement and anticipation to get studying

ceived therapy from Great Ormond Street Hospital

again, I rest at this moment. Clouds paint the sky

for Tourette’s and OCD. I worked the hardest I’ve

and the trees glow with beauty, yet the air is crisp

ever worked on this therapy and symptoms start-

and my hands begin to change colour while I’m

ed to decrease. Day by day, I grew stronger and I

sat here and I consider this. How does someone

found my faith in God once more, who carried me

go from one place to another? They travel on a

throughout this storm and saved my life on count-

journey. To be where I am today required a massive

less occasions.

amount of resilience, perseverance and strength.

After several months in hospital, I was moved

It wasn’t always this way and, for a while, I would

to a shared house with 24-hour care. There, I

take more steps backwards than forwards.

worked on growing as a person and on finding

After the amazing summer, I found myself re-

independence, while tackling some deep-rooted

turning to a very dark place. When a person falls

issues. I started to trust again and, soon enough,

down as far as I did, they don’t often make it back. I

I could see my goals start to become a reality.

found myself sectioned and detained in a fear-rid-

Unfortunately, when my mental health started to

den psychiatric intensive care unit. Behind three

become better, my physical health waned. Dealing

locked doors, I paced the corridors, yearning to be

with daily pain throughout my body is something

let outside. I was observed by a support worker at

I still manage today. Abdominal pain that would

arms distance at all times, including while using

have me writhing around and doubled over became


25

a nightly occurrence and ambulances would often be called. After months of fighting this, I was taken to my first of three operations and diagnosed with endometriosis (a condition in which the tissue from the lining of the womb is found outside the womb), with tissue found in all different places. The progression into my wheelchair was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever experienced. My mind and body were exhausted and I found myself in excruciating pain day after day. I was left with the choice to continue with my life as much as I possibly could through my wheelchair, or to quit and stay in bed for the foreseeable future. There is one thing I’m not and that’s a quitter. I knew I needed to do everything in my power to get out of my wheelchair. I worked my hardest, building up strength through walking and yoga when I could, but sudden lengthy hospital admissions and

I used music as a positive release and distraction from the hell I was living in. seizures restricted this.

Starting university was a huge step for me. To

be independent and to get around in my wheelchair by myself was terrifying and really hard work on my body and mind. I struggled and relied on people so much, yet this was the push that has made me who I am. I learned that I deserved to do this for myself and that no matter how hard it would be, I would keep going. All these skills, mistakes and lessons learned were put to good use and I am living the most incredible life these days. Every day is a battle of living or surviving. With all the odds stacked against me, I fight to live the best life I can imagine, and this is more than I ever could have imagined.


ANONYMOUS I was diagnosed with bulimia in May of this year. I have always struggled with my body image and weight, and it had a significant knock on my mental health in March. I went into a sort of panic mode, during which I started making myself sick in order to control the binge eating that I was using to comfort myself, which was horrible and, unfortunately, became quite validating because I am a bigger girl who lost a lot of weight, so people were complimenting me on it. People still compliment me on it—and that’s difficult. It is difficult to survive an illness when externally it looks like you’re healthier than you are. My advice to anyone going through the same thing would be to talk to someone immediately; don’t put off talking to someone. I complained

I don’t feel like I’m a survivor, yet I feel like I’m B surviving.

about throwing up a lot before I got my diagnosis and no one really knew that I was doing it to myself. It’s hard not to blame yourself and not to feel that the side effects of the illness were not completely brought on by yourself, but it is a mental

eing a survivor, it can mean as little or as

much as you want it to. I’m a very privileged person

who has lived a comfortable and happy life, filled

with hard work and really good friends. But I’ve had hardship and, in the last year especially, have really come to terms with it and would say that I don’t think anyone is a survivor but, more so, surviving. Surviving is what I do day-to-day. I wouldn’t call myself a survivor because all my struggles are ongoing, and probably because they are mental health related. I mean, physical stuff, you can survive, but with mental health, there is stuff associated with it all the time.


27


ANONYMOUS health issue, it’s not optional. When you look back you think you didn’t have to do that, but at the time it doesn’t feel optional, so don’t beat yourself up about that. What specifically makes me feel better is getting the fitness models and the clean eating people off your Instagram. Start following body positive accounts and people who put health before size and encourage health. I now follow a lot of these kinds of accounts, and follow people who are happy and healthy and have bodies like mine, because losing weight made me look healthier but not actually healthy. I have to come to terms with the fact that I am a bigger girl and I’m healthier when I’m at a bigger size than I am maybe comfortable with, which is difficult. I have to bring my mental health up to speed with my physical health. It is difficult to look in the mirror and think that’s a healthy body, but I have to because being smaller isn’t healthy for me—or at least the way that I went about being smaller. Nothing seemed to have worked so far in losing weight other than that, and I think that I’ve always had a very unhealthy way of coping with the way that I look. I will either be exercising excessively, or eating excessively, or being sick excessively, or not eating anything excessively. The moderation bit is the most difficult for me. Surviving can be more obvious when it’s physical, but I think, in a lot of ways, the process of physically surviving something is more of a mental struggle than a physical one. For example, I was in a really bad skiing accident when I was younger and I dislocated my knee cap. Getting back on skis was far more of a mental struggle than a physical one and still is. Every time I fall over I’m worried it’s going to happen again, even though I know I’m very strong now, and have physically recovered. The difficulty with bulimia is that the physical recovering means that I will put on weight and that is more of a mental struggle.


29 I think the thing about eating disorders is that, if you’re already thin and you have an eating disorder people worry about you, but if you’re bigger and you get an eating disorder, you’re a success story and people ask how you did it. People are like, “Oh, you look really great!” and it’s like, “Thanks, I’m throwing up every day”. There’s still a large amount of prejudice against bigger people in the health industry and in the faces that we see in the media every day. I think my personal struggle is not seeing myself represented as a healthy body in the world or media. So, although thinner people (not just girls actually, boys too) have body image issues, they also don’t experience the side of it where actually people think of you as not being able to do things because you are bigger. I read an article about how everything you’ve heard about obesity is wrong, and doctors are coming around to the idea that being a size 10 isn’t actually healthy for everyone. I think health is catching up with the body positive movement, which is cool because mental health and physical health are so intertwined. When I’m mentally well, I generally feel a lot physically healthier because I’m not punishing my body. I love my body; my body is great because it puts up with all I put it through, which is a lot. I’m really lucky. There are people who aren’t as lucky as me; a lot of people die each year from eating disorder related illnesses. I don’t feel like I’m a survivor, yet I feel like I’m surviving. Please go to your doctor. I never realised how many of my eating patterns were eating disorder related when I was younger, so I never really had a healthy routine of eating at all. It’s difficult because it’s like, do you regiment it or do you not? If it’s so regimented, is it healthy then either? There have been signs of eating disorders throughout my life but it never got serious enough, I never had to go to a doctor until March this year. But I would say talk to someone as soon as you can. I would have loved to have been taken seriously with that stuff before it became more serious.


ALLIE GUY

I’

ve struggled with depression and anxiety

since I was 13. I don’t remember most of my younger years; from 13 to 16 I basically can’t remember much at all, it was all grey—that’s kind of the only way to explain it. When I was 16, my parents found out I was self-harming and made me see a counsellor. From there I went through lots of cognitive behavioural therapy and talk therapy—I still carry on with that now. I see someone every week and I’ve been through practically every type of therapy in the book. My story is more about surviving, rather than being a survivor, because I spend every day trying to fight my own mind. There are times when I’ve felt like I’ve gotten through the worst of it. I feel great and sometimes I think it’s finally over, I can finally be happy, and

I don’t want people to know how weak I feel inside.

other times I don’t know if tomorrow I’ll wake up and be done with it all. I have a lot of problems with suicidal thoughts; things get too much for me. It affects my friendships badly. I used to hide

behind my friendships. I would have really loud friends that could take the stage from me; I would just hide behind them and no one had to know me. It was great at the time because I couldn’t deal with the limelight, I couldn’t deal with people paying attention to me, but it’s meant that I’ve never had many friends.


31


ALLIE GUY


33

I find that my depression and anxiety flow in

organised”, and inside I just think that’s hilarious

and out of each other. When I’m really depressed I

because last night I was crying, having horrible

don’t care about anything, I don’t want to see an-

thoughts and not able to do anything. I don’t want

yone, I don’t want to do anything, I don’t eat and

to tell people; I don’t want people to know how

I can’t sleep. Then, when my anxiety is high, it’s

weak I feel inside. I also don’t want to put my prob-

the opposite; I care too much about everything.

lems on other people, so when I have this exterior

Suddenly I’m terrified of dying and I become in-

that looks fine and acts like everything is ok, it’s

credibly anxious about what people think of me,

because I would feel too guilty to put my issues on

I workout excessively, I’m obsessive about my diet

other people. It’s the same guilt that I talked about

and how much sleep I get, I judge myself on every

previously that makes me want to hide what I’m

action I make. It gets to the point where I can’t

feeling so that I don’t affect others.

leave the house because my anxiety is telling me

It is easy to assume that a person suffering from

that the world hates me, that I’m a terrible person

depression should look sad and just do nothing all

who doesn’t deserve to live but is too scared to die.

day. This is often the image depicted by the media,

Trying to explain what is happening in my mind

but myself and many other sufferers use what is

during these times is almost impossible because

called a distraction technique. I make my life busy

there is simply no logic to it. It’s a constant inter-

so that I don’t have to think about what’s making

twining of these two completely separate worlds.

me depressed. I don’t have time to stop and let my

It’s exhausting. It’s a real strain on my friendships

thoughts get carried away because each time I let

and relationships because my moods can change

myself get caught up in those thoughts, it becomes

so drastically.

harder to escape that darkness.

I get very wrapped up with feelings of guilt. I

Now I’m on medication and I have someone I

feel guilty about practically everything that goes

see every week, which great. It’s taken a long time

on in the world to the point where I don’t know if I

to find someone that I feel so comfortable talk-

can deal with that guilt on top of me. Even though

ing to and that, along with the medication, has

I’m very much aware it’s not my own fault, the de-

changed my life. It doesn’t mean I’m happy all the

pression and anxiety won’t let me see that logic.

time but I can think far more logically and have

At the moment, I spend every day not knowing if

better control over unhealthy thoughts.

tomorrow’s the day I will kill myself. It’s a contin-

All you can do is keep trying. Each day is a new

ual struggle. When I look back at all the counsel-

day and you have to remember that what you’re

ling and medications I’ve tried, I don’t know if I will

feeling now won’t be what you feel tomorrow. It

ever be better, or if I will ever feel normal, and that

is a never-ending battle, quite frankly. It can be

thought terrifies me. That’s when I think that there

a small thing that pushes you into having a bad

is no way I can carry on like this. That’s when the

day, but the only thing you can really do is try to

suicidal thoughts are the worst.

stay healthy and remember what you have to live

When people see me, sometimes they com-

for. Every day I get through is another day that I’ve

ment saying, “Oh, you’re so happy, you do lots of

been a survivor of my own mind and that, for the

things, you handle things well and you’re really

meantime, is something to celebrate.


TILDA MEW


35

B

eing a survivor, to me, means facing

something that felt like death, and getting through it and just carrying on no matter what. In January, I was involved in an attack of a sexual nature as I was walking home from a night out. The attack itself didn’t last too long and I managed to get away unscathed physically, but emotionally it left a big mark. It started off with me not leaving my room for a good 48 hours. My friends were there, and they were trying to get me through it, but I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t do anything. It got to the point where my friend literally forced a McDonald’s breakfast down my throat because I just wasn’t doing anything. It took me about that long to tell my mum as well, because I didn’t know how to tell her, and I didn’t want to scare her or anything. The way it went through my mind was, “If she doesn’t know, it didn’t happen”, but then I realised that I did need my mum. For a while, I couldn’t even go near men at all, just because it just freaked me out, even my dad and my stepdad. I told my dad and he said

I had to learn to be the one asking for help

he would come round and give me a massive hug and just the thought of that sent dread through my body. I lost a lot of motivation after that towards my studies. I was just in a bad place but the thing that really got me through more than anything was friends and family, so I am so glad they were there because, otherwise, I don’t know what I would have done. I lost a lot of motivation and put no effort into my work, my grades all went downhill, considering I was on track for a first in the first term and then since that, I finished the year with a low 2:2. I just thought I could do so much better than that, so I made the hard decision to actually re-do the year, which means a year without my friends which will be hard but I’m making a lot of new ones who I can continue with.


TILDA MEW


37 Small things still affect me a lot. I can’t walk by

felt so much stronger. I needed to share my voice/

myself at night anymore, I hate being in a house

opinion on it. Whilst I had so many people come

by myself, especially at night—it’s the ‘at night’

to me saying how brave I was, and things like that,

things that impact the most. I have had quite a

there was one woman, just a single woman, who

few bad panic attacks since; I had one quite re-

posted saying, “When will girls learn not to walk

cently, actually, just in the middle of a club. I just

home alone” and it was almost shifting the blame

looked around and couldn’t see any familiar faces

onto me. I cried my eyes out and just couldn’t reply

and panicked to the point where I passed out and

to her. It was actually one of my good friends who

woke up then even more confused with just faces

did reply to her and said, “How dare you say that.”

all staring at me, which didn’t help. It’s small steps

It will be small things like that, even though I got

and I am getting better. It was so hard at first, but I

so much support, there was one negative comment

am seeing improvements every day. Uni has helped

and that will always touch you in a certain way.

a lot. It was really special that they did and if I was

I’ve definitely learned more about myself. Just

at uni anywhere else I don’t think I would have got-

with the struggle and by coping you learn, “I am

ten the same treatment. Friends and family have

a strong person, I have gotten through this, I have

been there every step of the way.

survived” and, not many people realise, it can re-

I did a post on Facebook for International

ally change lives. It has changed mine in a huge

Women’s Day just to raise awareness of it further.

way, but I try not to let it affect me. I’m still a hap-

It really helped to have everyone understand that

py, bubbly person even though I’m crying now. I’m

it can happen, and I just wanted everyone to be

always there for my friends still, and I’ll always be

safe, more than anything. I have always lived my

that person. I love being that person that everyone

life just so carefree, hence why I was walking home

can come and talk to if they want to. And it’s just

by myself. I was used to doing everything, I was my

proved to myself in a way, I was always that per-

own independent strong woman and didn’t need

son that people could come to but then I had to

any man. But you do need to be careful; as nice as

learn to be the one asking for help and that was

it is to be able to do what you want, sometimes you

hard. You need to be able to ask for help because

just need to be safe. The majority of Cornwall is a

sometimes it does get bad. Don’t be scared to talk

safe place and I don’t want my experience reflect-

about it if it’s happened to you. There is such a

ing badly on it but there will always be something

huge support network, you will have friends and

somewhere, there will be one bad person or one

family; the uni is so caring, even Cornwall itself is.

bad incident, and it will just lead to something a

I’ve had free counselling from the Cornwall

lot worse, so it is just best to be aware. I wouldn’t

Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC), and

recommend ever walking home by yourself or any-

that’s really helped as well, just small things, and

thing like that, just keep friends close, stay in twos,

you will discover that you do have a community

even if it means staying at your friend’s house for

around you; there are other people who have been

the night, things like that, just be careful.

through the same thing. I didn’t expect that when I

I did my International Women’s Day post and

did my post but I had a few people say, “I’ve been

I reflected on the #MeToo and #TimesUp move-

through similar things and it was so nice to hear

ments, just because I always respected them before

you talk about it.” There are other people. You are

so much and now kind of being a part of them just

not alone and you can talk about it.


IONA DAVIS


39


IONA DAVIS

W

hen I saw ‘Survivors’, the first thing I

thought was battling constant medical issues. It kind of started from an injury I had in late October 2012. It was at Girl Guides; I was running in the sports hall when I slid over. The weight of my body went all on my left ankle—I absolutely shattered it. That’s where it all started. We went to the hospital. It was so bruised and swollen that they couldn’t originally see that I’d fractured it. You could tell there was damage but they couldn’t diagnose anything. They then told me that I’d hurt it but it was absolutely fine. I started hydrotherapy and it didn’t feel right, it hurt. I kept telling people that I had this pain and I

trying to not let the fear of moving backwards

wasn’t listened to. They were kind of like, “We know it hurts but we can’t see anything so you just have

out again. My parents had to drive me to and from

to get on with it”. Eventually, the doctors came to

school. I stopped socialising; I didn’t want to talk

the conclusion that I had fractured my ankle. At

to my friends because I always thought that talk-

that point, my nerves had already been damaged

ing to people on crutches was a hassle and that I

and I ended up with what is known as complex re-

would be in the way. I would get upset about how

gional pain syndrome. I still have it to this day in

I would deal with that, what would happen if I got

my left ankle. It means that I will feel pain in my

a sudden rush of pain, so I just took myself out of

ankle for the foreseeable future. For so long, my

that whole situation.

body was sending messages to me telling me not

Eventually, I was sent to Great Ormond Street

to do physiotherapy to protect the ankle, and that

and spent a couple of weeks there doing major

message wasn’t listened to as I kept doing the hy-

physiotherapy, learning how to walk again and

drotherapy, so now that signal keeps getting sent.

how to deal with the pain. It was weird; I was 18

I was on crutches for three years. I had my 18th

at a hospital that had younger children in it. I was

birthday on crutches. I had to wear one of those

doing physio in a room full of seven-year-olds. But

big boots for three years, wearing no other shoe

they were the most amazing team. They got me off

on my left foot for that whole time, I couldn’t cope

crutches and out of the boot and I was eventu-

with the sensation, not even socks. I couldn’t drink

ally able to wear shoes again. I remember throw-

because I was knocked out on medication. I took

ing the boot into the bin at the hospital because

my GCSEs and A levels on very strong tablets. It

I’d had it for three years. My mum hated it, it was

got to the point that I’d been on these crutches

the bane of her existence, and to be able to put

for such a long time that I lost a huge amount of

a shoe on and to throw the boot away made her

muscle. I lost a lot of me, basically. I had to come

burst into tears; it was so significant a step that

out of school for so long. I returned almost like

we had made. I was moving forward and becoming

a part-time student, in for some lessons and then

better, but unfortunately, I just missed so much. I


41 took a gap year because we didn’t know if we were

I didn’t fit some criteria. I now understand I was

ready for university, which I’m glad I did. I was so

very very ill and the university was just asking

excited to be able to walk and do all these things

whether it was worth my while being here, spend-

that I tried to do everything at once. I was running

ing all this money if I wasn’t going to be able to

everywhere and just not eating enough, going from

make the most of the opportunity. I am really lucky

one medical battle to the next—this time it was an

that I knew what I wanted, and if I was going to

eating disorder.

have to be of a certain weight to study then I will

I had just got a sense of life back and then I

be of that weight. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t

slipped back into not being medically fit again. I

that easy: it’s been a really long, crappy battle. But

almost had to cancel travelling. My GP didn’t want

I think I can now say I am through the worst of it.

me to go, she put a flight restriction on me until

With an eating disorder, you’re never really recov-

get in the way

ered, you’re always in recovery and it’s a balancing act of keeping your head above water and not going below again. But right now I’m in a much better place. Sometimes it’s really hard, especially with the complex regional pain: I’ll be fine on some days and then I get really nasty shooting pains or burning pains in my foot, which stops me getting up and moving about. It’s now just taking each day as it comes, try-

I could get to a certain weight. Before I decided

ing to not let the fear of moving backwards get

to come to university I’d seen services in London

in the way of anything. Every time I have a bad

that told me I wasn’t in the criteria of an eating

day of it, I fear it’s starting again and it is taking

disorder and couldn’t be helped. But the services

me back to that period of being on crutches again,

in Falmouth took one look at me and said I needed

and spiralling worries that I’ll never not have these

to see their team, which meant letting the universi-

random pains. Will I have to be on crutches again?

ty know that I had to be at a medical appointment

Will I have to wear the boot again? It’s scary that

every Monday. I wasn’t willing to miss my lectures

I’ll never not have that pain and that’s hard to have

so I asked for them to be recorded, which led to

to accept and I guess not be angry about. I tried

them asking why they needed to be recorded, and

to tell people it hurt, to be heard. It was an undi-

they suddenly realised I might not be fit to study

agnosed fracture and wasn’t treated properly with

because I weighed so little. I wanted to be here

so many complications. Equally, I don’t think I’d

and I wanted to study here. I’d taken my A levels

be where I am if it hadn’t happened, and maybe I

in the period of coming off crutches and not done

would have gone to university straight away some-

as well as I hoped, but still managed to get here

where else and met other people rather than being

even though it was delayed by a year, and now they

in this amazing place, doing what I love. It’s a hard

were questioning whether I should be here, or if it

balance of looking at something that has caused

was better for me to be in a hospital.

so much pain but trying to find those good things

I now know why they did that but at the time I was really angry; it felt ridiculous that someone else was taking that option away from me because

that have happened because of it.


JESSICA BANKS

W

hen I was in college, I went through

so much stress, then I felt really ill one day. I came home and ended up having to go to hospital where I was told that my appendix was erupting. When it was erupting, they found cancer in the appendix and told me it had travelled to my bowel and that it was a stage four, a really high-risk cancer, so I could have died from it. When I was at college, people would start treating me differently. They wanted to show that they cared, but they were treating me like I was a different person. I usually laughed things off and joked about them, but people would pat me on the shoulder, which is nice and caring, but then they’d be like, “Do you want to sit down? Are you okay?” and it just felt uncomfortable because your best friends, who you thought that you knew, just weren’t the people you knew anymore. You just want people to treat you like a normal person, as well as caring, but they didn’t. If teachers thought something in class was ever so slightly to do with me being ill, they’d be like, “Do you want to leave the room?” and I’m like, “Just because I’m coughing, doesn’t mean I’m dying! I’m okay!” Once, someone asked me if I was okay just because I sneezed and it’s like, “I can sneeze. I can breathe. I just want to talk to someone like a normal person.” It was just uncomfortable to be around those people and, at the same time, I had a best friend who fully stopped talking to me. I wanted the support of that best friend and they just weren’t there either.

I just didn’t know what to do.


43


JESSICA BANKS


45 My family were just constantly crying over it,

with them either. I’m in the middle because I’ve

saying it should have been them. It was fine but, at

had it, but I’ve not had it to such a bad extent that

the same time, I just wanted them to treat me like

I’ve needed chemotherapy, which is really lucky

a normal person as well. But they didn’t. They just

but means I don’t know who to talk to. I did know

kept sitting me down, asking me if I wanted any-

one girl who, at the time, was going through some-

thing, and there’s a difference between caring and

thing similar to me, but she actually passed away

treating someone differently. I wanted to talk to

from it. I only knew her for a couple of weeks but

someone who didn’t want to discuss it. I wanted to

we really got along because it was like someone

talk about what films I liked; I didn’t want it to con-

finally saw it the same way. But then she passed

stantly be about cancer. I wanted someone to joke

away and I was like, “What do I do now, then?” I

about it with. Just have a bit of a laugh, a bit of fun.

think it’d be nicer if people talked about it more

I wanted support but I didn’t know who to go to at

openly, but you can talk about it like it’s a little

the time. At that age, you feel a bit uncomfortable

bit of a laugh. I’m on this other chat called ‘sense

talking to someone about things because you just

of tumour’ and it’s meant to be a bit of fun. Even

want to keep everything to yourself sometimes,

though it’s upsetting, you still need to have a laugh

it really depends. It felt like I didn’t trust anyone.

and enjoy yourself, and I feel like people don’t do

Even though my family were there for me, and I did

that anymore; they don’t smile. Because cancer is

trust them and love them, they had problems of

just so negative, it’s such a negative topic, which is

their own and, if they didn’t, they’d just constantly

obviously understandable because it can happen

be worrying about me. I didn’t really want to go to

to anyone, but you should still be able to smile

counselling because I didn’t know what to say. I

and look at each day like, “Oh my god, today I did

just didn’t know what to do.

this!”. Even if it’s just been a Netflix day, you should

People at uni have been alright. I’ve talked to a

be able to be like, “Oh my god, that episode was so

few people about it, you know, when it’s come up

good and worth it”. If you haven’t been ill, you kind

in conversation. People now don’t show too much

of forget what everyday normal life is. Even when

emotion with it. They can say, “Oh, that’s sad to

people say ‘live every day like it’s your last’, I think

hear”, and then we can talk about something else,

it just goes over people’s heads. But you should do

which is nice. It’s nice to have someone still just

one thing each day which you enjoy and that’s how

see me as a human.

it should be; you should just enjoy yourself. I feel

You’ll hear someone else’s cancer stories and

like people start losing that with their courses or

it’s really interesting knowing someone’s been

anything else. I was told when I was in college that

through the same as you. At the hospital I go to,

I should drop out; I should just get healthy, drop

you have to go for scans every six months. I have to

out, don’t even study more because I might not

go through different types of scans, like CT scans

even have a future. It was positive for them to say

and MRI scans, and every time I’m sat in that room,

it in a way because they were caring about me, but

especially for the cancer that I had, it’s always old-

I needed to have a goal to work towards so I could

er people. There’s never anyone my age in there. All

forget about it instead of making me constantly

the older people are talking to each other and you

think about it. They should have told me to keep

feel like you don’t match with anyone. I’m in a chat

working towards that because, instead, it felt like I

on Facebook and, in that chat, everyone has a dif-

was now working towards the goal on my own with

ferent type of cancer to me. I never went through

no support. You just want to be treated normally.

any chemotherapy so I feel like I don’t associate


ELLIOT FALKUS the worst; I was sleeping in my coat and four other blankets. I had no energy to do anything, I was just

I

existing, barely. I slept as much as I possibly could but never rested. The thing they don’t tell you is how it will affect don’t really know how to start. Although I

you down the line, the after effects from illnesses

am surviving various illnesses, I wanted to make

like this. I have anxiety, I get heart palpitations, the

this positive and talk about something I’ve sur-

cold sweats, shrunken stomach, an awful gag reflex

vived, rather than be all sad that I’ll probably never

(I can barely brush my teeth), the Valium needed to

be off medication. Five to six years ago, I was diag-

calm me down, my permanent nerve damage, and

nosed with anorexia nervosa, binge-purge subtype.

I still can get panic attacks when showing my skin.

It’s kind of specific but it’s the classic anorexia with

With my family, there were arguments. I denied for

added binging and purging and it sucks. It was ter-

as long as possible that I was throwing up what they

rible, but I’m going to talk about it and about how

were giving me. We ate together every day and it

I’ll never go back there. I’ve tried to write about it in

felt wrong that I was being given these gifts in food

the past, but I can never really grasp what it meant

and I was just getting rid of it because I couldn’t

and what it felt like in a way that I thought would

stomach it. The worst argument we got into was

be universal. Talking about it in a frank manner is

about this cup I had, and looking back you can see

probably the best way to do it.

how skewed my logic was, I could only eat from

My daily routine was wake up tired and cold,

this cup with a small spoon and I had to eat out of

go around tired and cold, do everything tired and

that. It made no sense then or now but I believed

cold. My dad would make me porridge because

a cup was better than a bowl. My mum couldn’t

it was the only thing I would eat in the morning.

stand this and I wouldn’t eat without my cup. That

I would eat the porridge, then I would purge my

was only resolved when the family counsellor told

breakfast to the fullest extent and take my med-

me to eat out of the tiny cup. It’s horrible and I

ication with my coffee. So, in my head, I could

ended up losing a third of my body weight. I was

throw up in a way that wouldn’t affect my depres-

already pretty small, so it ended up being muscle

sion, which it clearly did, but that was my logic at

and body fat. I don’t understand how it started and

the time. I could live without food but not my med-

how I went, in the space of a few months, from

ication. I would go to school with water biscuits,

reasonably happy about my body, to this. Food

dried cranberries and Ryvita. I would eat that dur-

tracking apps did not help. It was my goal for these

ing the day, totalling about 100 calories. Porridge

apps to tell me I was being unhealthy. It felt like an

was about 300, but I would purge that as much as

accomplishment and my project was going well. It

I could.

sucked, but as quick as it took to go out of control,

When I got home, tired and cold, I would try

I got it solved as quickly. It took a doctor telling me

to skip dinner. If I couldn’t, then I would purge it

I was going to die. My GP told me what to do and in

in the shower. I was calorie counting obsessively,

two to three months I was pretty much there.

getting to 250 calories a day, most of which I then

This false logic I created could be so easily de-

purged to, well, nothing. It’s better now, but an-

feated but I guess that it is also heartening. It’s an

orexia in the media has often been romanticised

illness, at the end of the day, that can be cured and

and even by myself to me. I just want to repeat that

I’m lucky that I didn’t have it for as long as others.

it’s not. It sucks and it’s cold. In the winter it was

I can eat whatever I want now, and I damn well do.


47


FRAN NORTHCOTT


49

Antidepressants are a great crutch for me, but when you first go on them, your symptoms briefly get worse. I had a lot of trouble getting used to the medication and my dose had to be increased within the first month. It was a couple of days after my boyfriend’s birthday, around the time when there was all that snow in Falmouth. I just felt so, so bad. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was paranoid again. I thought I was a terrible person and deserved to feel as low as I was. My mind was a mess and I became reckless.

I really wasn’t stable.

I cut myself worse than I ever had before. I

took a pill and hoped to just drift off and die. I

I

became really depressed over the Christmas

woke up to my friend banging on my door. They

break last year. I come from a very small town and

knew I was in a bad place and had come to check

all of my friends live at least an hour away and

on me. I agreed to go out for a pint with them;

public transportation isn’t great. I got very lone-

they didn’t know I’d taken anything. I proceeded

ly. It was really isolating. I got in a very bad, dark

to drink for the entirety of the day, mixing all the

place, very suddenly, and didn’t want to get out

alcohol I could find and feeling so ashamed of my

of it. It got to the point where I was cutting myself

attempt and hoping drinking would distract me

every night. I’d do it on my thighs, so my family

from confronting what I’d tried. I really was in a

wouldn’t see. I can’t really remember a lot of that

terrible place.

time because when you’re depressed it kind of

It’s eight months later now. When I remember

clouds your memory. But I remember it being an

to take my medication regularly and maintain a

incredibly dark and low time for me.

good balance between uni work, friends and alone

When I returned to Falmouth in January, I re-

time, I feel okay. I am still in recovery, but that is

ally wasn’t stable. I started to make impulsive de-

fine. I know that I am allowed to have slip-ups and

cisions and became reckless. I tried to commit su-

make mistakes as long as I keep fighting. I survived

icide twice this year. The first was in January when

my suicide attempts and I am so relieved about

I hadn’t started my antidepressants yet. My mind

that. It’s so important to remember this: no matter

was playing tricks on me and I got very paranoid

how dark it gets, how low you feel, how much you

and started believing very irrational, untrue things

want to give up—don’t. There are so many people

about my loved ones. I sank so low and had no

who care and whose worlds would come crashing

desire to get better. I couldn’t see any way out of

down if you are no longer here. You have so much

it. I just wanted out. So I slit my wrist. And it didn’t

potential in you and great experiences that are yet

work. The next week I went to my doctor to get help.

to come.


MELODY GILLETT

I was screaming down a ward


51

I

saw Voices: Survivors, and recognised in-

they only started investigating last year. It was

stantly that I had a story. I am a survivor of lung

pretty rough. After the surgery, I remember wak-

cancer. This time last year, I had the operation.

ing up in some sort of medical daze from all the

When I tell people, it’s still kind of shocking. They

drugs, and all my family were surrounding me. My

would have never expected it from me, someone

mum and sister were with me all the time, help-

who hasn’t smoked, doesn’t drink, never lived in a

ing me recover step by step. I remember the lights

house with asbestos, or anything like that. It’s quite

as they came up to start talking to me. The actual

a weird thing to talk about sometimes. The main

recovery was only about a week. The first couple

thing I got from this was that I knew something

of days after surgery was horrible. On Monday, I

was wrong, but people weren’t taking me seriously.

had the surgery and on Tuesday they had to get

Even though I was getting ill, they just said it was

me walking. I had two chest drains in, something

asthma because that is what I was wrongly diag-

going into my back and two IV’s into my hand.

nosed with. Once the tumour was removed, I no

I’ve got scars on one of my hands from where the

longer even had asthma anymore. I just kept try-

IV didn’t go in properly; I mean, I’ve got plenty of

ing to tell them something was wrong, but it took

scars from that week.

two years for them to find out something was. In

The worst thing was the chest drain, as it was

those two years, the tumour kept getting bigger

right on a nerve. Every time I was told to cough,

and worse and stopped me from doing all these

the nerves in my stomach felt like they were on

things I wanted to do.

fire. One of the registrars came in and asked me

When I tell this story, it’s always a case of, ‘you

to cough and it was so painful they had to sedate

know your body better than they do’. I’ve tried to

me. I was screaming down a ward filled with sick

help others tell their doctor what they’re experi-

elderly people and no one my age. It was horrible

encing isn’t just an iron deficiency, it can be worse.

but it was a quick recovery.

This had been going on for about five to six years,

I went home, still with the chest drain in, and it

but it was getting worse about two years ago. You

was awful having to change it; it really was disgust-

could hear something was wrong, but they would

ing. I’ve got the scar from the surgery and the scars

just give me these steroid inhalers, which weren’t

from the chest drain all up my side. I’ve got my

working. I wasn’t really having an asthma attack

first chest drain scar from the first collapsed lung.

either. Before I came to university, I had really bad

I’ve got a mark on my hand from the cannula not

pneumonia and a collapsed lung, but it was all

going in right. I don’t think I’d get them covered up.

on one side, and I was in the hospital for about

I’ve thought about getting some kind of tattoo to

a week. The doctors just said it was rare and it

remind me that I’ve gone through this; it happened

wouldn’t happen again.

and yet I’ve survived. It’s already a pale colour but

Three months later, it happened again. Then

it’s still healing and, in a cliché way, it reminds me

three months after that. And three months again.

of what I’ve gone through. It’s my thing. Something

There was a lot of talk of being on ventilators but

that doesn’t define me but speaks of my story.


AMELIA-JAYNE BANKS


I couldn’t think.

53 because we went outside. I didn’t have a coat and it was around the time when it had been snowing. I just remember a guy that I’d known for only two weeks saying we were going to a house party. And I was just following his lead. I was gradually getting worse and worse. I was shivering and crying. We got to the house party and I sat down and everything was spinning. He took me to the bathroom and I just remember throwing up and throwing up. Next thing, I’m in the room of one of the guys. I don’t know how I got there. A friend of mine said, “I think she’s got alcohol poisoning. We need to call an ambulance for her.” But I was really scared that I was going to get into trouble with my mum for going to the hospital because I’d been drinking, so I told them not to call an ambulance. Then I blacked out. I assume I fell asleep. I woke up and some guy was on top of me, looking down at me. No one else was in the room. At the moment, I thought, “F*ck, I’m on my own.

I

I couldn’t move.

t was a couple of days before Valentine’s

Day and, spontaneously, we went out. I was on my

This is horrible.” My dress was down. My bra was off. I woke up to pain. I went to look at what was causing me the pain on my breast and he pushed my face away so I couldn’t see. It was like my brain wasn’t working and I was trying to piece all these things together. I was still thinking about where my friends had gone, why had they left the room, what was causing me pain. All while masked by the alcohol. I couldn’t move. I felt so heavy, but also rubbery. How I see it is like photographs. That’s how I described it to the police.

way to being tipsy. I’d been part of that universi-

After that, I don’t even know how my under-

ty for four years. My university meant so much to

wear came off, but my underwear came off be-

me because I went to that university to have an

cause he was between my legs and I literally felt

escape, to get out of my hometown. I’d changed

like a doll. He was in that position where he was on

so much because I’d done my year abroad, so I

top of me, he could do whatever he wanted to me.

felt like I was super safe; I knew it like the back of

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move.

my hand, nothing could possibly go wrong. I got to

He was very rough because then he went to start

the other campus and there were a couple of my

fingering me and he was very, very rough. It was

friends there, so I thought, “I’m safe. They’ll look

like he wanted me to react, almost like machines

after me.” We had a really good night. I drank a

where you have to hit the buttons when they flash.

lot, but it didn’t hit me until about three o’clock

I kept blacking out and the pain would bring me


AMELIA-JAYNE BANKS

round again. I remember I was naked and he was

the police because there wasn’t enough evidence

fully clothed throughout the entire thing. After

and I was so frustrated by the amount of evidence

that, he had sex with me. He didn’t use any protec-

they needed. One of my friends said it’s not rape

tion. I don’t even remember him finishing. When I

because it’s not violent. What he had in his mind

went to the Police and they said, “Do you need any

of rape is not the everyday rape that happens. He

birth control, I didn’t know.

sees the rape that’s in films, on TV. Most rapes are

He woke me up at about 7am and he shook me and said he’d get me a taxi. The guy whose

people you know and people you know don’t want to leave evidence.

room it was still wasn’t there. He helped me up,

Nobody would take my side. The guys were so

put my shoes on. I don’t know where my pants

adamant, saying, “You have something against him.

were. The minute I got back in my own bed, I start-

You just regret it.” The policewoman said, “Just

ed throwing up again. He left me some water and

think about it from his point of view, if he thought

said, “I’m gonna go now”. In my head, I wonder why

you actually wanted it.” I did not give any signs,

he was even there in the first place? I didn’t invite

so how? It’s horrible to think that somebody you

him. I’m obviously very angry at him and I have a

know has raped you. It’s horrible to think that it’s

lot of questions.

rape. The police wanted me to use the terminolo-

When I came around, I knew I had to tell some-

gy. They wanted me to say, “I have been raped”. In

one about it. I rang one of the guys that were with

that initial period, that was the hardest thing to do.

me that night. I asked him about it and he said he

I had all my last semester’s assignments. I had an

didn’t remember anything. So I asked the guy that

exam worth 70%. I remember doing a class on eth-

did it and he was like, “Nothing. Doesn’t matter.

ical marketing. We were doing a lot of legal stuff

Laughing face.” It really hurt me that they weren’t

about consent and, in that class, I just had to walk

being honest because if it was something he was so

out because I didn’t want to hear about consent

sure was right, he wouldn’t feel wrong in saying it.

and not consenting because it angered me that he

I went to my flatmate, she was the mother of

didn’t have my consent.

the flat. It took me a while to tell her. After I told

I didn’t think I’d do my Masters. I just feel like

her, she just said there’s nothing I could do about

my whole life came to a halt because I didn’t want

it and that she hoped I’d take this as a lesson and

to be in a world where he wasn’t going to be pun-

not drink so much next time. I rang my other friend

ished. I’ll always have that memory there and I’ll

and she was like, “You need to go to the police.

always have that fear there. I just had to keep go-

I’m getting you. Don’t shower, don’t do anything.”

ing. I couldn’t sleep. There were times when I was

I went to the police and told them everything. I

lying on my back and I would see him. Sometimes I

made so many excuses up in my head: did I show

woke up and I just thought to myself that I got this

any signs, did I lead him on? But there’s nothing.

far, I’ve travelled the world, I can’t let him take that

There’s nothing I did that showed any interest.

from me now. I continued my application for my

He told the police he was so inexperienced

Masters. I continued my assignments, I got firsts

with girls that he didn’t know the difference be-

in them. I got a really good internship in London.

tween me flirting and me being friendly. I think that

The hardest part then was not letting the anxiety of

really angers me because he should have used his

being in the tube, of going to an unfamiliar area,

own judgement. It was obviously really hard with

eat away at me.


55


INDIA HICKS just knew, and he sent me straight to the hospital. I had a scan there and went to London the next day via ambulance, and stayed in the hospital for quite a while. They quickly diagnosed it as stage four hepatoblastoma, which is liver cancer. I don’t know when they found out what stage it was, but stage four basically means that it’s spread to other parts of your body; it’s the worst it can get. Obviously, if they detect it earlier, it just means that it’s easier to cure. So, I then went through chemotherapy, when I was five. I remember I was in the hospital having chemo (which is like a drip into your body) and they sped it up so I could go home for my fifth birthday party. That was around January/February and then I had an operation in March. But the chemo wasn’t shrinking my tumour. It was the day before, and I remember I was just about to be put at the top of the waiting list for a liver transplant when the chemo kicked in; my tumour began to shrink. Then I had surgery. There were just a few traumatic things; like I remember the night before, the surgeon coming over and saying to my mum that he couldn’t make it and he

I could have died but I wasn’t at all afraid B

had to fly to India the next day for an operation for

eing a survivor, to me, means you’ve gone

through something quite tough that required you to survive, something that wasn’t in your ordinary life. It wasn’t just a day-to-day thing, like living and breathing; you did really have to survive some-

thing. A month before I turned five, I had some really bad stomach pains; I actually fell over in a tennis lesson. I went to the doctors and nothing came of it, and then still complained to my mum. I went back for the third time and then the doctor


57


INDIA HICKS


59

a private client and only he could do it, so, instead,

and I’m completely healthy, they just wouldn’t ex-

I was having the next best doctor in the UK, and

pect you to have gone through it.

he does have a very good reputation, I’ve heard

I don’t mind talking about it at all but I have

since, so it was fine, but it’s just a few things like

to be in the right sort of mood. I’m never upset

that, that sticks with you. Then, once I’d had the

about it, or I don’t feel bad for myself about it, but

operation, bile began leaking from my liver, which

I do for my parents because they bore the brunt

meant I had to be operated on again, on the same

of it. I had this weird knowledge of knowing that I

line, so I still have quite an obvious scar, which

could have died but I wasn’t at all afraid because

wasn’t meant to happen. I remember the surgeon

I was young.

coming to sit down with me and he said, “India,

My advice, I guess, for families, would be that

you’re going to have a scar, but it will go by the

your child probably feels like that; they probably

time you’re sixteen”—obviously, because it dou-

aren’t scared if they are younger. I don’t know how

bled, it didn’t. I also had a tube put in the bottom

I would react if it was now, I think it would be a lot

of my stomach to get rid of the bile and I have a

scarier because you know the realities of it. What

little scar there. I must have been put under anaes-

makes me upset is the thought of what my par-

thetic but I remember them taking it out, they must

ents went through and so, I guess, for parents, my

have numbed it, but I remember it hurting and I

advice would be just to reassure your child that

can still feel that pain of them pulling it out, which

you’re just proud of them, as my parents did; they

is so weird.

have never said how upset they were, but at the

Obviously, I was shielded from a lot of it be-

time I’m sure they were. They thought they were

cause I was young, so my parents kept a lot from

going to lose me, and I can’t imagine how that was

me. In my mind, I was ill and so I went into the hos-

for them. I do quite a bit of fundraising for cancer

pital and then I got better, but it definitely wasn’t

research now. I did a 10k run in June for gynae-

like that. I feel proud of my scars because I’ve nev-

cological cancer research for The Royal Marsden

er really known any different: I was five and so my

Hospital, where I was treated mainly. Doing some-

mum always put me in bikinis and stuff when I was

thing like that connects you to it and you feel a

younger and, to be honest, I forget they’re there. I

sense of pride. I am also the Coppafeel ambas-

completely forget about it, but sometimes, on hol-

sador on campus this year, raising awareness of

iday, especially other cultures, don’t really get it,

breast cancer. The cancer I had, only 10 children

like I don’t think an English person would come

get diagnosed with it a year, and they are all under

up to you and say, “Oh, where’s your scar from?”

one year old, so the fact I was four made it pretty

but sometimes people from other cultures do ask

rare. I do have this weird thought that, to me, can-

and then, I mean, I am not bothered at all, I am

cer isn’t a big deal, because I think I’m fine now

just quite proud of it. It is weird telling people, it is

and then it shocks me when people die from it,

quite a shocking thing to tell people what you’ve

because in my mind it’s not really the scary word

gone through, especially people that know me now

that other people associate it with.


RHEANNA OLSSEN


61 Over the past few years, I’ve told close friends one by one and it’s passed and it happened. And it has affected relationships sometimes. When I first realised it was a sexual assault, I was in a relation-

S

ship at the time, and it made it difficult because I felt very vulnerable, all of a sudden. It didn’t ruin the relationship but it made it very difficult. Every

urviving, for me, is overcoming something

now and then I struggle a little bit with sexual re-

that was difficult and coming out on a good side

lationships but it’s not too bad, you can move on.

of it. Coming out of it, looking back on it and not

It doesn’t linger forever. Every now and then, you

hating yourself. Moving on and going on with your

have vulnerable days, but it’s not forever. You can

life. When I was about 10 years old—I don’t really

move on from it.

remember exactly—I was sexually assaulted. I ha-

You do have down days and it’s hard. I wasn’t

ven’t reported it because I still don’t know whether

raped, I was only sexually assaulted. I can’t say for

it would be taken seriously because of rape culture

people that have been raped that it is the same

and sexual assault culture; these things aren’t al-

because I know that it is worse, but for me, I feel

ways taken seriously. It’s better in this country than

like you can get over it. You can have sexual re-

America, but it is still something that is a bit taboo.

lationships, you can have relationships. No matter

I feel like we should talk about these things just

whether they’re with male or female. I’ve had sexu-

because it shouldn’t be your own dirty little secret.

al relationships with males even though I was sex-

That’s what people feel like it is, it’s your secret,

ually assaulted by a male and I feel fine about it.

something that you shouldn’t talk about, but in

I’m not one of those people that have lots of sexual

my experience, the more I’ve spoken about it, the

relationships anyway, I only have sexual relation-

more I’ve felt like I’ve moved on. The more people

ships with someone I’m in a relationship with, so

I tell, one at a time, the more it feels like it’s in

it’s easier that way, I think. I know it has different

the past. So each person I’ve talked to about it, it’s

effects on different people though; they can just

literally like it’s one step further behind me. I feel

think it’s a waste of time keeping your body for

like we should talk about these things a bit more.

someone special. I feel like I’ve recovered from it

I didn’t even realise it was sexual assault until about four years ago, so up until then, I always felt

quite well, especially considering that I didn’t acknowledge it for six years.

like it was my fault that it happened, I felt embar-

I feel like you should reach out to someone

rassed and I didn’t want to tell anyone because it

who is a professional, I’m doing that now. I reached

was my secret. I felt stupid and naive and won-

out to a professional to talk about it in the last

dered why I had let it happen, but once I’d come to

year, whereas before I’d only spoken to friends.

realise that it wasn’t really my fault: he was the old-

Obviously, they’re not professional so I don’t take

er one, he knew what he was doing, whereas I was

any advice from them because that could be harm-

10, I didn’t know what that was, what he was doing.

ful, but it’s just getting it off your chest. If you have

The first six years after it happened, it was dif-

a friend that is willing to listen then you should

ficult. It was literally like, this is my fault. But after

take advantage of that because not everyone has

that, when I spoke to a friend about it for the first

that; I didn’t have that for years. It wasn’t until I

time, not even out loud, over message, seeing those

went into college that I had that, so you should

words, it became apparent to me that it was not my

definitely take advantage of having good friends

fault. It was just something that happened to me.

that will listen.


JAMES D’ARCY and I didn’t want to talk to them, so I learned how to say what they wanted to hear, and then sorted

W

myself out in my own way. I had a dietician that was more just being told off and another who came to my house. I didn’t want them so I just said

hen I was in year 11/12 I had an eating

what they wanted to hear so they would go away. I

disorder. As a guy, it was quite an odd place to

knew it was bad but I just didn’t know where it was

be. I slowly started eating less; it was really weird.

heading. What did it for me was when they told

By Christmas, it began to spiral out of control. I

me I had less than a month left before it would be

self-reported myself to the NHS because I was

seriously dangerous for me. Even when my parents

aware that there was a problem but wasn’t quite

knew about it, I still wasn’t telling them anything.

able to do anything about it. I went into the system,

It’s not been as bad for the past couple of years,

but they didn’t have any beds for men; there just

but for a couple of years immediately afterwards, it

wasn’t anything provided for us. I was off school

was still very much in my head. I just wasn’t acting

for a few months in year 11 which was... interesting.

on it as much. The thoughts were still there but I

I went back just before my exams. I didn’t really

had more control over it, both physically and men-

tell anyone about it. It didn’t really go very well for

tally. Coming to university was a good break from

the people who had to get involved. I didn’t want to

it all; it was what drew me to Cornwall, not being

tell my parents but as soon as I got into the hospi-

near home. You can’t just pop back so it helped

tal they said they were calling my mother in, which

me separate what happened before and my new

they said wouldn’t happen if I came in and spoke

life in a way. There was an awful lot of stuff that I

to them. I was like, “Okay, here we are.” I was stuck

left behind, so it was nice to have a clean slate. The

in a room and just had to do it. It worked out in the

stuff has happened, but none of that happened

end but it didn’t start out as a positive experience

here. Certainly, it’s not cured but the dangerous

with my parents, and was a bit rocky with them

thoughts are mostly gone. I don’t want to throw up

from there, because I wasn’t really telling them the

anymore but that doesn’t mean that I’m necessari-

whole truth. I was 15 at the time, so I didn’t have

ly thinking that my bod is perfect. I definitely say it

the right to not tell my parents.

isn’t a danger, which is the main thing.

I did it mostly to lose weight, at first. They

I had a Tumblr blog during the time that I

didn’t give me a specific title for it, but it was a

was ill and I had a read of it recently. I was a bit

mix of anorexia and bulimia. It was a really weird

younger then so it a lot of it was teenage angst

headspace to have been in, looking back. Now,

and stuff but it’s weird reading it back; it’s scary.

how I feel isn’t dangerous but, looking back, those

That was what my head was thinking at the time.

thoughts were much stronger. I lost two stone in

It’s odd to think I wrote those things. I remember

about three weeks at one point; that was when it

writing it and feeling that, but now it’s such an out

was really bad and the doctors told me that I need-

of body experience. I would never think like that

ed actual medical attention.

now. When I feel bad now, I can say at least it isn’t

It started the first term at school and then

as bad as it used to be. A dip today isn’t as big as a

slowly by Christmas it ramped up and reached its

dip from a couple of years ago. I was always aware

peak by Easter. I got myself out of the system be-

it was happening, but there was a weird unbalance

cause it wasn’t really helping me mentally, it was

of being aware and not being in control enough to

just too stressful. They kept coming to my house

stop anything.


63


HOLLY SMITH

give any verbal confirmation that it’s okay, then you can’t do anything to them. I stayed with him for a month afterwards and I felt guilty for thinking he’d done something wrong to me. My main thing is for people to know that it’s not okay. The minute it happens you need to tell someone because I waited too long. It’s a horrible situation, especially because I changed so much of my life for this person and I trusted him with all my heart; he took advantage of me in my own bed. About a month after it had all happened, I broke up with him because I couldn’t deal with his mental manipulation, and then he went to speak to my mother for half an hour about all the things he was going to change, and how he was going to win me back. My mum told me and I just broke down and said, “Mum, don’t listen to a word he’s saying. He’s

You don’t ever think it’s going to happen I’ to you. d been with my boyfriend for nearly three

years. We were in a very committed relationship. He spoke about marrying me all the time, I kind

of thought he was the one. We were nearly at the three-year mark and one night he raped me while

I was asleep and I stayed with him after because nobody told me that wasn’t okay. I think it’s a really big problem within this generation that people get abused within relationships and they don’t understand it’s wrong: they’re told it’s okay because they’re together. Even his mum told me it was fine. This is the main reason that I’m doing this, because I don’t want other people to think it’s okay. If your partner is too tired, that means no. If they’re too drunk, that means no. If they’re not conscious to


65


HOLLY SMITH


67

done this to me.” The moment I told my mum, I was

I’m at the point now where I can look at him.

like, “Oh my god, that was so wrong. It wasn’t okay

I see him and I don’t feel anything towards him at

for that to happen.”

this point. So it’s a really big turning point in my

It all just came tumbling down after a month of

life, where I know that he can’t affect me anymore.

stifling it, realising I’d been raped, and I didn’t even

That does happen and it will happen for every-

realise for a month, it’s horrific. It genuinely took

body who’s experienced this. This isn’t the end of

telling someone that I really love to understand it

your life. It doesn’t put anything onto your worth if

was the wrong thing to happen to me, and the sad-

someone can treat you so badly. It’s all on them.

dest thing about it is that I lived a month of my life

It’s not my problem. It’s not anything that I did, it’s

thinking it was okay. First of all, I was really angry

him, and he’s the one who’s got issues and needs

that I’d let myself be manipulated by him because

help. My whole family have had to go through it as

I confronted him about it after about a week. We

well. It was even worse than it happening, seeing

got into an argument and I said, “Well, you’ve done

my dad’s face when I told him. It’s been a massive

this to me. You’ve slept with me while I was asleep.”

ordeal for my family and my friends, because all

And then he did the biggest thing he could do and

my friends were friends with him. I do feel like I’ve

he threatened to kill himself over it, so I stayed with

survived the worst he could throw at me and that

him. I was angry that I’d let somebody do that to

has made me an incredibly strong person. I am

me because I’ve always considered myself as quite

very proud of myself for the way I’ve conducted

a strong-willed person. It was heartbreaking. You

myself through this whole thing. He left all of his

don’t ever think it’s going to happen to you. You

stuff in my house for a month; I didn’t touch any

might expect it on a night out, but you don’t expect

of it. I stuck to the high road. I know that my life

it to happen in your own bedroom with someone

is going to be better than his. It’s really important

you’ve known for a long section of your life. I felt

to ask for help. It’s okay not to be okay after these

really betrayed and I still feel very betrayed by love

sorts of things, as cliché as it sounds. It is okay

and everything. I’ve had counselling for it, which

to struggle. Everybody will struggle. I’ve struggled.

is a massive thing I want to push people who go

It’s a horrific thing for anybody to go through and

through anything like that. Go and talk to some-

I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. If your partner is

body who doesn’t know you. Even if they don’t say

doing anything to you without asking you, if you’re

anything, it’s the most cathartic thing, pouring it all

asleep, if you’re passed out drunk, you need to nip

out and leaving it in that room.

that in the bud because that’s not okay.


ALFIE BRYAN


69

It was the most vulnerable I have ever felt.

I came out to her as bisexual at the age of 14. She belittled me for it and her parents even started to belittle me for it. Every time I would go over she would make fun of me, or her parents would make fun of me, saying that I was less academic than her because I was more into art, saying I wasn’t as clever as her. I felt that I was being hit at from all angles and the only break I would get from it was going home. I wouldn’t even get a break from it at school because we were seen as this ‘pair’; I was the one with less self-esteem and she was the more attractive, clever one. When I came out as bisexual to her she would tell me I was gay. I wasn’t out as trans at that point so I would just get called a lesbian. People would come up and say, “Oh, you fancy this person” and she would have told them, told everyone, things I had confided in her personally. She would tell everyone my secrets. It kind of sounds stupid that I stayed in that friendship, but she was my best friend and I didn’t want to let go of that. Eventually, her parents started telling me off for standing up against her, so then my parents started to fight back and there was just a big clash in our friendship group. Finally, it

I’

all blew up and I stopped hanging out with her. It really affected me in a way that I didn’t realise. Years later, I went to a therapist and they delved

m going to start with the person who was

into that with me and told me that that friendship

my best friend from the age of about 12 to when I

was probably the reason why I had anxiety and

left college in year 11, which was about 16. We were

self-esteem issues in the first place. I didn’t even

put together for a history project and it started as a

realise it had affected me that much; it was shock-

normal friendship. We spent more and more time

ing to hear. It didn’t set up the abusive romantic

together as time went on, and she was my only

relationship but it kind of set a base for that be-

‘real’ friend, so I held her dear to me. It turned out

cause I already had low self-esteem and felt vul-

she had scoliosis of the spine and ended up need-

nerable going into college.

ing surgery, kind of life-changing surgery, where

We met when I was about 16/17, leaving year

she had metal rods put in her back. I went over

11. He was also a trans guy, so I felt connected to

every day to look after her. Our friendship was

him instantly, thinking this was somebody I could

bonded at that point, but it slowly started getting

really trust and hang out with. He told me that he

more one-sided.

had romantic feelings for me, I told him I didn’t


ALFIE BRYAN

feel the same but he made me feel quite guilty

away and left me. I burst into tears; it was the most

about it by saying things like, “We’re two against

vulnerable I have ever felt. Everyone was looking at

the world. We’re both these minority figures, we

me thinking, “What’s wrong with him?”.

should be sticking together.” It took a few months

I think it takes a toll on your trust and, getting

but he wore me down and, eventually, I felt like I

into friendships, I can tell when someone is being

had to give it a go. Two people that were so simi-

slightly off with me and a time bomb starts tick-

lar; I kind of felt that I had to. My mum didn’t like

ing. I know it’s just in my head that it’s going to

him when she first met him because he had bullied

become a dangerous situation, and I know in the

me in year seven so she already had a bad feeling

bottom of my heart it’s unlikely to be dangerous

about him. But I thought he’d changed and gave

again, but that’s always going to be there, espe-

him the benefit of the doubt, as I have always been

cially when these things happen over such a long

very forgiving. It didn’t help that I didn’t really live

period of time when you’re developing as a teen-

at home for a chunk of my teenage years because

ager. Another thing I have learned going into ro-

my parents were finding it hard to accept the fact

mantic relationships is that it’s important to know

that I was trans, so he had me all to himself for that

that somebody knows what consent is and an ed-

period of time.

ucation on that is really important.

He would always make sure I was with him

My advice to others who may be going through

and become angry and jealous when I spent time

the same thing would be to definitely reach out to

with other people. At one point he broke up with

someone you’re close to, even if it’s just a family

me because I told him I might be polyamorous; he

member or a teacher. I actually spoke to a teacher,

thought I was trying to date his best friend when

which I never saw myself doing. I spoke about it to

actually I just wanted to talk to somebody about

my art teacher, who I wasn’t necessarily close with,

it. He got really angry and jealous and threatened

but as soon as I told someone and let it out a little

to kill himself. He ignored all of my messages for

bit, it was so much easier to go about doing that

a week and I thought he had died. He did this sort

with everyone else. It is so important to say that,

of thing a few times. One time, we broke up and he

even if you don’t go to the police about something,

said he was going to kill himself and I went over to

that doesn’t mean it is any less important to you or

his house at 2am. I just left the house. I have never

that it affected you any less. It is really hard to do

done anything like that before; my parents were

something like that because it is more a comment

strict, so I left the house without telling them. They

on the current justice system and how they deal

thought I’d just gone to school early when actu-

with that kind of thing, rather than a comment on

ally I was just going to his house to make sure he

you personally.

hadn’t done something; killed himself, essentially.

Once you’ve been through it once and are re-

I got there and he was absolutely fine and he was

covering, it makes it slightly easier to slip into that

doing it all just to get my attention.

pattern again. Three years after splitting up with

It made me feel awful. It was ongoing. He

my ex, I still have all the friends I thought were

wouldn’t reply to my messages and made me think

going to abandon me and not believe me about

that he had done something just to get me back.

all the things that happened, and I am now dating

One time he broke up with me in front of my entire

the best person I’ve ever met. Even if you are going

college saying, “I want to marry you but also I feel

through it now, you are surviving, you are always a

we should break up and have a break”. He walked

survivor if you’re going through that.


71


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS DIRECTOR

LOCATION PHOTOGRAPHER

Harry Bishop

Lucy Sarjeant

PROJECT MANAGER

STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHER

Lexi Goodland

Danielle Goodland

STRATEGIC ADVISOR

SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR

Madi Pringle

Mikki Choy

CREATIVE DIRECTOR

JOURNALISTS

Alice Cass

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Allie Guy

Maddy Gez Louis James Harri McLady Kira Taylor

EVENTS COORDINATORS

Abbi Whitney Fran Northcott

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Enrico Artuso

Our thanks go to FXU for their constant and ongoing support in facilitating this project and to Falmouth University and the University of Exeter. Thanks to Studytel, who has generously sponsored the printing of this publication. Printed by Booths Print in Cornwall, UK. Cover | Fedrigoni Symbol Matt Plus 350 GSM Text | Fedrigoni Arcoprint 1 EW 120 GSM

Find us on Facebook at: facebook.com/fxuvoices Find us on Instagram at: @fxu_voices fxu.org.uk/voices

© 2018 Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union is a registered charity in England & Wales No. 1145405.


The views expressed in this publication are the individuals’ own and do not reflect those of the universities, FXU and the team involved in its production.


Voices Volume Six — Survivors  

Voices is a student-led campaign headed by Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union, providing a platform for people whose voices might previousl...

Voices Volume Six — Survivors  

Voices is a student-led campaign headed by Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union, providing a platform for people whose voices might previousl...