Sometimes you ARE alone – and that’s okay

This is in response to the dominant narrative around mental health, that is always telling us to ‘ask for help’, because ‘you are not alone’. In a world where mental health is not taken seriously and asking for help is so very hard, I understand the emphasis on this. I get the need to constantly press this message, in case it manages to convince that person who is in need of help but struggling to ask for it.

I know how asking for help can be the hardest thing in the world and how taking that brave step can be life saving. But I also know that sometimes, there is no help. Mental health services are far and few in between and that needs to be recognised too. We place all responsibility on those suffering by telling them to ask but don’t question if there is anything actually in place to meet that demand.

If help is available to you and you need it, please take it. Take it with both hands. Being vulnerable and putting yourself out there, risking rejection when you are already in a bad place, is so so scary but if it saves you, it is worth it. If it makes the tough times that little bit easier, it is worth it.

But if you are one of those people who knows that it is not as simple as asking and you are likely to not get it – that is okay too. You DON’T have to ask for help. If all your instincts are telling you not to, not because of self doubt and societal narratives around mental health, but because you have done it. Because you have asked for it repeatedly and know where you stand, because you know that you are already fragile and can’t take another blow – that is okay. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. It may not always feel like it but you do know what’s best for you – just be honest with yourself about where those feelings are coming from and trust them.

I have asked for help many times and I have not asked for it many times too. I have received help and I have been turned away. I have been taken care of and I have been left crying on the floor by myself. What I have learnt though is that my pain is mine to live with. And that’s not anyone’s fault. I am alone with it and while that really really sucks sometimes, it is okay. I am okay.

This is for those who can’t get help. For those who go it alone because they don’t have a choice, either because of lack of services or of supportive people in their life. You can do it. You are enough. It is hard and messy and yes it would be great to be taken care of and to let go for once. But if you can’t that’s okay. You are fighting for yourself because you are worth the fight. So keep on keeping on – for you.



From the pits of a breakdown

Getting into bed at 5, 6, 7, 8 – early or late, anything to make the day end because the next day has to be better. Tossing and turning. Getting up. Walking around the room. Getting back in. Giving in to the tears. Picking up the phone to text someone, desperate for love or comfort. Not knowing what to say and putting it back down. Sometimes saying random things and feeling like an idiot. Praying. Begging. Falling into a restless sleep. Waking up in panic. And today, finally picking up a pen instead.

Over the past many years, as I’ve struggled to fight the past that keeps entering my present, I’ve often wondered what a breakdown looks and feels like. Does it actually exist as separate from everyday anxiety and panic, the fight to get through each day? Apparently it does! All the times that I felt like I was on the brink of a dark hole but didn’t know if that hole exists – well, it does. And it’s every bit as scary and awful and lonely as I imagined.

A breakdown looks like just physically not being able to go on anymore. It feels like numbness and pain all at once. It makes you cry for your mother except not really for your mother, because she’s never been that comfort or that feeling of safety. So it makes you cry for the family you made for yourself and then it makes you cry because they aren’t actually your family. It looks like falling into a crying heap on the street because the next step feels impossible. It looks like ending up at A&E, shaking and crying, and being faced with a misogynistic ‘mental health nurse’ who makes you feel even worse. It looks like realising that while love and hugs don’t fix the problem, sometimes they are all you need to feel like maybe there is a point after all, and that maybe it will get better. At the same time, it also looks like not being able to ask for love and hugs because you are scared you won’t get them and it will break you even more. It looks like not even knowing why you are crying, but not being able to stop the tears. It looks like being afraid of everything and everyone and not knowing why.

I am writing this because one day, when this is over but life is hard, I can look back and know that I can get through anything. I survived years of abuse. I got through time after time of seeing the man who abused me trying to play with my head. I live through flashbacks and panic attacks every fucking day and still manage to make sure it doesn’t keep me from living my fullest life. I go to work. I go to university. I get my essays in on time. And I am preparing for an exam and am going to fucking ace it in the middle of this hell. If I can get through all this, I can get through anything. And this is my reminder to myself.

In the words of my absolute hero, Audre Lorde, ‘I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.’



Tipping the Scales

I have always believed that love is greater than hate. That there is enough good in the world to overcome the bad. That life is never black and white and we must always look in the grey areas to find the humanity that exists somewhere in all of us and in each situation. The past few months, which have arguably been the hardest of my life, have convinced me that this is true. I say this not because life is okay for me at the moment but because it is not.

Over the past six months I have remembered horrific things from the past and every time I have thought that this must surely be it, there has been more. I have wondered how I ever survived it and how I am still here. And I am here because of the good in my life that has helped to counter the bad. It doesn’t make up for what happened and it doesn’t make it okay. But it helps tip the scales. I have been let down by people I trusted and failed by those who were meant to protect me. But I have also been held up, supported and loved by women who owed me absolutely nothing.

Eight years ago when I first realised I had been raped, I told my best friend who was as young and as unequipped to deal with this as I was. I was confused, terrified and angry – lashing out at anyone who came near me and being even more cruel to my own self. I went from being a top student, member of the student council and having a large circle of friends to being completed isolated. My grades fell, I was constantly in trouble and all positions of responsibility taken away from me.

Things at home were even worse. I attempted to tell my parents what happened, begging for help. They heard what they wanted to hear but didn’t believe that I needed any help. I was told to get over it and be strong, why could I not just be strong and the model high achieving daughter I had always been? Just the hint of sexual abuse and my half hearted attempts to speak out had made me the trouble maker.

At this time the only person who stood by me was my best friend. At 16, she tried to take care of me as best as she could, staying on the phone when I was too scared to sleep and helping me make sense of what probably made none to her either. She was the good that countered the bad.

Eight years on, I am in a similar position again. Let down by my parents once more who chose peace within the extended family over my sanity and my safety. There is nothing like being back where it all began – living in the same room that you were repeatedly raped in with your rapist next door – to convince you that safety is an illusion. That wherever you go, however independent you may become, whatever you may achieve, you can’t really escape. At the end of the day, you are what you always were.

At this point, the only thing reminding me of my existence as an actual person in my own right is the love and support of the amazing women in my life. Over the past few months, every time I have fallen apart they’ve put me back together. They’ve made me laugh when I thought I could never laugh again. They’ve somehow appeared by my side when I thought I was completely alone and taken care of me like my own family never did. Each day their hugs make up for his touch a little bit more, convince me that I am more than what he used me for, that I am not as dirty as he made me feel. I’ve rarely cried about the abuse I suffered but their love and kindness brings me to tears every day. They remind me of myself when I forget who I am.

Just like I don’t understand the awful things he did to me, I also don’t understand the wonderful ways my adopted family look after me. I don’t deserve either but I am grateful for the good that balances the bad. Each day, they tip the scales a little bit more. I am still bitter, angry and sad and it doesn’t always feel like I will survive but I still believe in people and that keeps me human. Like a friend recently said to me:

‘The thing that shows you the worst of humanity also ends up being what convinces you of the best of humanity.’

‘It’s Normal’

I don’t remember how old I was the first time he touched me, but I remember the feeling and I remember his words. It’s normal, he said. This is what people do.

Years later, a different city, a different man, the same conversation. Never ending days and nights of ‘normal’.

Fast forward to the first time I tried telling my mother. I was 16, struggling to understand the memories that kept popping up, spending each night stifling screams as I remembered. I was desperate for help, anything to make the pain go away.

It’s normal, she said. It happens to girls. Just be strong and try forget about it.

Now at 23, here I am again. Still remembering, still holding the screams in. Trying hard to be strong and failing miserably. Attempting to differentiate between what’s normal, what isn’t. What’s fact and what’s a figment of my own imagination.

So you tell me. What is normal?

Is it normal to be touched and raped and abused at four and eight and nine and so many times in between? Is it normal to relive it every day? Is it normal that he has the entire family on his side, and I have no one? Is all of this normal, just because I am a woman? Is it normal for my body to never have been my own, is that just what being a girl is about? Is it normal that nobody protected me and is it normal that nobody feels the need to do that still?

I am not blaming anyone for what happened to me. But I am blaming all of you for every thing since.

If none of that was normal, then why don’t you do anything about it? I am one of many, one of so many. Why aren’t you angry? Why aren’t you sad? Is my life so unimportant and my pain so meaningless? Who grieves for me and who grieves with me? Why do you let it happen, again and again? Why don’t you speak for me, why don’t you shout, why don’t you rage?

You don’t because you say the same. You say it’s normal. Just an everyday, unpleasant reality of life. And in doing so, in your silence, you too stand with the man who raped me.

The danger of taxis and the safety of homes

Two women were sexually assaulted in taxis last weekend in Nottingham. This has lead to the usual flurry of safety advice for women as well as the need to mention that the women were drunk. Here are the safety tips released by Nottinghamshire Police and news coverage:

This is a pretty standard response to rape. All women and girls grow up with similar tips that put all the responsibility of staying safe on us while boys grow up never being taught to respect women’s bodies. I was angry when I saw it but dismissed it as a fairly typical response from a police force with hardly a great track record in terms of victim blaming.

Then it got personal when my parents sat me down to tell me exactly how I need to stay safe. Don’t stay out too late, don’t take a taxi home, do not walk home alone – we’ll pick you up. No need to act too strong or independent, safety first. Don’t wait alone in the dark, take the longer, better lit route home.

My parents teaching me how to stay safe in the big bad world is ironic to say the least. The timing is specially painful. It’s been a particularly bad week following a bad few months triggered by what I can only describe as quite a special kind of torture. I recently spent a week staying in the same house as the man who sexually abused me, in the same room in which most of the abuse took place. This was after repeatedly telling my family that I was NOT comfortable in this setting, that I did not feel safe. It is true that my family does not know the extent of what I went through and maybe I am unfair – but surely knowing that some kind of abuse took place is enough? More relevant safety tips: do not put your daughter in the same room as the man who raped her, believe her when she says she is not safe.

I know I sound bitter. I AM bitter. I am angry. I am exhausted and so done with this bullshit. I spent years trying to build myself back up and create a life only to be knocked out again and at risk of losing it all. In this context, useless safety tips from the very people who placed me in this position are a slap in the face. Let me be clear though – my parents are not solely responsible for this. It is the victim blaming messages and rape myths ingrained in our society which make it possible for them to not listen to me when it comes to abuse within family but jump to protect me from strangers in alleyways and taxis.

I was not raped in a taxi in the middle of the night. I was not alone when I was raped. I was not raped by a stranger. I was abused by a family member at all times of the day and night, sometimes right next to other people. I learnt how to keep myself safe because I knew no one else would. I do not need safety tips on how to protect myself from strange men. As it is for most women, if you want to protect me, protect me from my family.

A letter to the wife of the man who abused me

Dearest Sister-in-Law,

We have a strange relationship, don’t we? One of guilt and sisterhood and friendship and pain and lies.

You are the wife of the man who is supposedly the elder brother figure in my life and the man who abused me for years. Do you know that? I ask myself that all the time. Do you find it hard to look me in the eye too or is that just me? The guilt I feel for not telling you about your husband’s reality before you married him haunts me. It’s probably too late now – or would your rather know? Would you even believe me or would you wish I had kept it to myself?

You and I, the only women in a family of men. The way our culture works, we were bound to be pushed together, destined to be confidantes and that is what you want our relationship to be like, isn’t it? Do you ever wonder why I never keep in touch with you? You must think I am stuck up and aloof, but I am just full of guilt and running away from a past that refuses to let me go. I resent the happiness you give him – it’s not fair that he gets to live a normal life while I struggle with each day. I blame myself for letting you walk into the mess that is our family unequipped and unaware, and I blame you for being a reminder and a trigger just by your mere presence on my social media.

There is also the fact that you are so incredibly wonderful to me. Every time you do something nice for me, I sink a little bit further into guilt and self loathing. You try so hard to be the perfect sister and your take that role so seriously. All I want is for you not to be my sister-in-law, to not have another relation tying me to him. I do not understand why I don’t just break off all contact with you – I guess in some weird, messed up way I feel responsible for you too. I feel responsible for your happiness and I obsessively look for signs that he is not treating you right. But what would I do if he wasn’t? I could not stop him from doing everything he did to me, how would I protect you if you did need protecting?

Your wedding, oh your wedding. Why did I attend your wedding? I played the part of the only sister of the groom so beautifully, didn’t I? I was there at every ritual, but I wasn’t there for him, I was there for you. Did you know that? I don’t quite know how to forgive myself for actively participating in the wedding of the man who raped me. I think I was punishing myself for not telling you the truth and for some reason, I felt that I owed you this at least. Did you even care or was that my head?

I know you are trying to have kids and the thought terrifies me. I should say something. I should have said something years ago. I should have said something before you married him. I should have something at some point. What will I do when you do have children? Will I do anything or will I stay silent like I have been so far? What would you want me to do? I wish I could ask you. He caused so much destruction to my life. I do not want to do the same in yours. They say ignorance is bliss and when I look at you, so radiant and happy, I can’t help but agree.

There is so much I would like to say to you but mostly I just want to ask you – will you, can you, forgive my silence?

With love.

Breaking the Silence


This # which started appearing on Twitter this weekend, the same weekend as Reclaim the Night Nottingham, hit me hard. Taking to the streets on Saturday with my brave, powerful sisters to reclaim the streets as our own, to break the silence and to shout back, felt like one of the most difficult things I have ever done. This was my fourth Reclaim the Night march but for some reason the hardest of all – so much so that I all but collapsed at the end. It took some extreme measures to get through the night and the support of some of the wonderful women in my life, who don’t even know what they did for me.

So why was this so hard? It was hard because I have slowly been reaching breaking point and the silence is suffocating. Shouting about breaking the silence but not being able to break my own, wanting to just stop and grieve for my own self, something I have never done.

Several people know bits and pieces of what happened but not the full story. It felt mean to tell this to the people I love and those who love me. It is difficult stuff to read, difficult to hear and difficult to know. It was also difficult to live through. But please do not read it if you don’t feel able to – I do not want to spread more sadness in a world so grim.

The reality is that I do not remember a time before being in the hands of a man. My earliest memories are of being sexually abused and it is unbelievably hard to admit that. I do not remember how old I was when it started or when the last incident took place – my guess is from 3-4 to about 9. Nor do I know how many times it happened but I have distinct memories of at least two different men in many different places. I also have memories of wanting it to stop so badly. I have memories of begging God for forgiveness after even though I didn’t know what it was that I was asking to be forgiven for, just that I had done something wrong. Memories of fear and of a certain acceptance every time he came near me. During that time, I spent hours trying to find hiding places which were never ever good enough and plotting ways to make it stop, one of which eventually did work. I still remember that feeling of dread and expectation. Knowing that it could happen anytime, day or night, that my fate depended on the whim of this man. I didn’t understand any of this but I knew it. I knew that I was nothing more than a play thing.

When it finally stopped, it wasn’t because someone stepped up to protect me, it was because I found a way to make it stop. I only wish I had done it sooner and the guilt of not doing it haunts me to this day. This is one of the many reasons I didn’t report, didn’t say a word to anyone until about 8 years later. I didn’t report because I didn’t know it was rape, because I considered myself an equal participant – after all if I didn’t want it, I would have stopped it sooner. I didn’t report because I didn’t have the words to report. We don’t talk about rape or even sex in Pakistan. I didn’t even know what sex was at that age. I didn’t know what to say. Then I didn’t report because I found out what sex was, that it was something wrong, that I had committed ‘the biggest sin of all.’ So I didn’t report. I didn’t report because I thought rape was violent and he wasn’t violent, not really. Then I realised that maybe it was rape but I didn’t report because the first time I heard the word, it was in hushed tones and something that ruined lives. Finally, when I stopped caring about what society thought of me and and tried to tell people, I was told it was normal, that it happened to everyone and that I shouldn’t ruin his life after all this time. His life, his needs, his feelings – I grew up knowing that they were more important than my life, my pain and my body. So again, I didn’t report and never will.

I am just a stat and not even that but I am still here so no he didn’t won. I fight every day and when I feel like I can’t fight any longer, I fight even harder. I might not have reported but no he hasn’t won.