This is part 3 of a set of series, part 1 and part 2 are here.
The truth is, writing these blogs have been just as much about therapy for me as they have been about sharing my experiences to help others. In doing so, I have re-opened the most painful and darkest moments in my life. I felt a physical, searing pain in my body and cried when I wrote them.
This blog, in particular, has been one of the most difficult ones I have written. You will see that my experiences from my childhood, what most would say were adverse childhood experiences, shaped me as a person. It was not all bad. I consider myself a kind person which for me is something I choose to be and something I would never change. Kindness is what makes our world go round, and in light of the awful events we see again, (rest in peace George Floyd) ‘kindness’ is needed now more than ever.
My second therapy session with Becky was not what I expected in the least. Have you ever burst into tears when someone has asked how you are? Well, this is precisely what I did. I cried uncontrollably. I cried, and Becky didn’t say a word. She let me cry, and cry, and cry until I stopped. ‘Why are you crying?’ I didn’t know. How was I to know? I was all over the place, a mess. We sat in silence for a while, and before I knew it, I started talking about something I had not discussed in detail for 27 years.
Growing up in an ethnic minority household in the UK was difficult. My parents were strict, and I spent a lot of my teenage years rebelling against them. I hated that I didn’t have the freedom my ‘English’ friends did so I would find any opportunity I could to get out of the house and ‘have some fun’. On a Wednesday night, I was allowed to attend a drama youth theatre. This would be the highlight of my week. Not only did I get to mix with older people, but I didn’t have to be home until 9.15 pm. A group of older boys arrived one week and began to attend every week. They seemed funny and keen on taking part. I recognised one of the boys as I had seen him at the gate of my school on a few occasions waiting for some of my peers after school. He was put into the same group as me, and we seemed to hit it off straight away. I found myself thinking about him a lot, and I’m sure it was obvious that I fancied him.
After a few weeks, he asked me to be his girlfriend. He was just 18, and I was 15 and had never had a boyfriend before. I was scared and couldn’t believe that he wanted to be with me! It was a strange situation because I never saw him other than on a Wednesday, apart from a few times he came to my school but pretended he didn’t know me. I remember always being hurt by this, but always accepting his excuses. I wanted to be his girlfriend, and so I guessed that was just how boys behaved.
One night after Drama, he offered to walk me home, but for some reason, he wanted to go through the local park. This was a detour to my house, but I agreed anyway. As soon as we were out of sight of our friends, he turned and kissed me. I was on cloud 9. I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend in the morning that I had actually had my first kiss! We talked and he asked me if I was a virgin. I told him I was, albeit uncomfortable with the question. He smiled. ‘Good, I like that’. I was proud to be a virgin. I knew that when I decided to ‘lose it’ it would be to the man, I would spend the rest of my life with. Oh, the thoughts of an innocent 15-year-old. As we strolled through the park hand in hand, we crossed into a secluded car park. I had no idea what his intentions were, but I remember feeling worried that I would be late home. Little did I know at the time that he had plans to ‘pop my cherry’. I remember telling him I didn’t want to and that I was going to get into trouble for being late, but he didn’t seem to care. He kept pulling me towards him and telling me I had nothing to be afraid of. When he came to the realisation that I was not going to give in, he got nasty. ‘Why you so frigid?’ ‘Playing hard to get won’t get you anywhere’ ‘Look, touch me, you can see how much I want you, but it won’t last long if you carry on being a frigid bitch’. At this point, I got quite upset, and with tears in my eyes, I tried to walk away. I didn’t get very far before he tripped me up, and before long, I was forced to the ground.
It all happened so quickly. I was in such shock, I couldn’t even scream, or cry, or move. By the time it was all over, I had taken my mind to a far distant place. He got up, helped to my feet and before walking away rebuked me one last time. ‘Well, that was shit’. I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my mind at that moment. I just kept thinking about the excuses I was going to come up with for being late home.
The walk home was arduous. I was sure that the people walking past me knew what had just happened, and I felt so ashamed. I had to stop myself from crying because I couldn’t let me, my parents know what had happened. Not only would my dad go ape shit, but I would never be allowed out of the house again.
When my dad answered the door, he gave his usual suspicious look. ‘Where have you been?’ I told him that Drama had finished late as we had a performance the following week. ‘Why are you lying? I walked up the road to meet you, and the building was closed’. I had to think on my feet. What the hell do I say now? ‘Oh erm, I walked a friend of mine home first’. And here it started again ‘why do you always put others before you? One of these days something will happen to you because you always have to make sure other people are safe before yourself’.
While he continued to shout at me, I walked upstairs and into the bathroom where I ran myself the hottest bath. I sat there for what seemed like hours. Flashbacks to what had just happened were continually running through my mind. I didn’t cry; I didn’t feel anything. I was numb. Needless to say, that night, I didn’t sleep very well. Tomorrow was going to be a new day, and I had to keep going and make sure that no one found out. And then, of course, my own self-berating mulled through my mind and stayed there… ‘Stupid girl, you really thought he liked you!’ ‘who in their right mind would want to be with you!’ ‘I’m not a virgin anymore’ ‘I’M NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE – No one will ever want to be with me now’. My heart that night broke in two, along with my dignity. I was ashamed. Ashamed that this had happened and ashamed that I had let it happen.
I would like to say that after that night, I started to pick up the pieces and move on, but unbeknownst to me, things were about to get a lot worse.
In the morning, I left the house early to avoid conversations with my family. I still felt quite sore, and my stomach was in agony. I got to the local sweetshop and noticed my best friend crying. My instinct to make sure she was ok kicked in, but before I could say anything, she ran towards me and slapped me around the face. ‘Why the fuck didn’t you call me last night? Why didn’t you call me?’ I just stood there staring at her. I didn’t know what to say. She continued to cry, ‘I know you… I know you would never do something like that… I know what happened, I know you would never do that in the car park. I’m your best friend. Why did you not call me to tell me you had been raped?” At that moment, I wanted the ground to swallow me up. How did she know? Who else knows? What am I going to do? My mind went into overdrive. I cried for the first time since it had happened. She hugged me and told me that we would get through it together. She knew exactly how I felt. She had been raped only a few months before it happened to me.
For months I endured the most horrendous torture from my peers. Sniggering in the playground, people openly shouting out that I had been ‘fucked in the car park’. There was no place for me to hide. I had to be strong. My younger sister was in the year below me, and I was petrified of her finding out in case she told my parents. If she had known about it, she certainly never told me, and I didn’t tell her for a long time afterwards.
I would like to have said that this was the only adverse experience I had. My first was when I was nine years old and although I was not raped, being touched by a man, my father’s age was wrong, and I knew it. Thankfully I was able to get away, but the grimace on his face was the last thing I would see before I went to sleep every night for a long time.
Back in the room with Becky, I was shocked that I had told her something I had locked away in the deepest part of my brain. I thought I had thrown the key away and yet here I was, transported back in time. My body language changed, and my heart was racing. I was 15 again. What seemed strange to me was that in that session, (and in many others), I had not just spoken about work. But I was signed off with work-related stress! How could this be? I felt guilty; I felt like a fraud. This, of course, only made my mental health worse over time.
My feelings of self-worth were creased from the age of 9 but they were crushed on the night I was raped. I fell into some damaging relationships after that that only perpetuated how I felt about myself. I look back now, and at what I have achieved and honestly, I could not tell you where the strength came from. But it was obviously there. I didn’t become a statistic. When I went into teaching, I made the choice to work with children who needed the most help, the most support, the most love. I have spent my entire teaching career trying to save children… and now I realise I need to help them to help themselves, support themselves and above all, love themselves. I didn’t love myself at 15. I didn’t love myself for many, many years, and when I had my breakdown, I hated myself even more.
Learning to love yourself is one of the hardest things I have had to relearn. My aunty used to tell me ‘if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect someone else to love you?’ So every day I tell myself these affirmations and one day I know that these will resonate deep within my soul.
I’m not telling you this story because I want your pity, I am telling you this story because I am a senior leader who has suffered trauma and needed support when I was vulnerable. I know that most Academy Trusts pay for some form of wellbeing counselling, however in my opinion this isn’t enough. In toxic schools where compassion is at the bottom of the list or where kindness is seen as weakness, school leaders and staff have no hope in staying in a career whilst battling with the horrendous life experiences they have tried to hold at bay. So although I was signed off for work related stress, this was the tip of the iceberg for me, the cherry on the cake, the avalanche on the mountain. The treatment I received in the last few months before I broke was not acceptable and the feeling I felt then were the same feelings I felt when ‘he’ walked away saying ‘well that was shit’.
Some people need to be told they are doing a good job, others get by without this validation. We need to do better at supporting our senior leaders, we need to do better at building schools around love, respect and kindness.